Lady Emma Cavensham opened her beaded reticule and checked it twice. The fifty pounds she’d saved from her pin money lay folded neatly inside. As the carriage accelerated through Mayfair, she exhaled the tension that had been building all night. In its place, pure unencumbered joy burst free like fireworks in the night sky over Vauxhall.
It had taken meticulous planning, but her efforts would pay off. Tonight, she’d purchase the rare first edition of Bentham’s Essays at the Black Falstaff Inn. She’d arrive within forty-five minutes, make the purchase, and return to Lady Dalton’s ball all within two hours. Moreover, she’d celebrate with a defiant glass of ale in the public taproom like any other person. Well, more specifically, like a man.
Why should it make any difference she was young, unmarried, and a female? Why should it make any difference she was a duke’s daughter? Even if society thought such action ruinous, she didn’t see the harm. Society’s strictures for appropriate behavior wouldn’t keep her from attaining her goal tonight.
No one, not even her cousin Claire, who had escorted her to Lady Dalton’s ball, had an inkling that she was on her way to meet Lord Paul Barstowe at an inn outside of London. After discovering he owned a rare copy of the coveted book, Emma had sent him a note earlier in the evening inviting him to the inn so she could make the acquisition. It was the perfect place to meet, as no one would recognize her.
Every piece of Emma’s brilliant plan fit perfectly together. She’d pat herself on the back if she could reach it. She’d have the adventure under her proverbial belt along with Bentham’s Essays and be back at the ball hopefully before Claire or anyone else knew she was missing. The groomsmen and driver who had picked her up from Lady Dalton’s would keep her secrets.
“Whoa!” The loud command came from the driving box. The sudden stop practically threw Emma to the floor as the ducal carriage with its team of four came to an abrupt halt.
Quickly, she peeked outside the window. At the intersection of the street perpendicular to their route, a carriage similar to hers had stopped. Odd place to leave a vehicle, and there was no one milling around it. Not a single groomsman or coachman to be found. It was as if someone had abandoned it.
“What is it, Russell?” she called to one of the Duke of Langham’s groomsmen.
Russell leaned down from the driving box. “I’m not certain, Lady Emma.”
“Can we go around it?”
“No, my lady,” he answered.
A man with a deep voice, one she didn’t recognize, started to speak. Russell turned his attention to the stranger. Disaster loomed if she stuck her head out the carriage window and someone discovered her alone. Tamping down the urge to peek, she strained to hear the conversation. The even cadence and the rhythm of the stranger’s words thrummed like a drumbeat, one that suddenly caused goose bumps to skate down her arms. Precious time was slipping through her fingers, and she couldn’t afford any delays.
“Russell—” Before she could say more, the carriage door sprang open and a tall man dressed in black entered. When he closed the door, the carriage lurched forward, continuing the path they’d taken earlier.
“Who are you?” Her heart beat so hard she feared it’d explode from her chest.
With his back to her, the stranger blew out the sole carriage lantern that lit the interior. Then with a stealthy grace, he sat on the bench opposite of her.
Trouble had found her.
“Why did you extinguish the light?” Her voice quavered, betraying her unease.
Hidden in the shadows, he resembled some type of phantom, one who had settled into position ready to attack. He didn’t waste a glance as he removed his hat and threw it on the bench next to him.
“Who are you?” she repeated as a hint of hysteria nipped at her reserve.
“Lady Emma,” the man chided. “The light is out to lessen the chance someone might recognize you.”
The stranger’s rich but dark whisper intrigued her. Who was this mystery man who had taken control of her carriage? Short-lived, her curiosity faded when they passed by a streetlight.
“Lord Somerton,” she hissed. The night she wanted to stay hidden, the elusive earl who rarely ever showed his face in society found her. This wasn’t bad luck. This was fate playing a cruel joke and then laughing hysterically.
There was no denying he was breathtakingly handsome with his turquoise eyes and lithe stature. However, she couldn’t be bothered with his looks or with him—not tonight. The earl’s best friend just happened to be Claire’s husband. Her parents would know of her adventure before the night was over.
Her goose was cooked.
“I’m at your service, Lady Emma,” he drawled.
“I didn’t ask for your service. What do you want?” With a deep breath, she subdued the petulance in her voice. She had to save the evening and her book. All she needed was a little charm. “Lord Somerton, I apologize for my manners. You’ve taken me by surprise.”
Instead of heading straight, the carriage barreled through a sharp right turn causing her to slide across the leather seat. Certain a tumble to the floor was in her future, she braced for the fall.
With a gentle strength, he grabbed her around the waist, causing her to gasp. As if she were a fragile porcelain doll, he settled her on the bench.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“There’s no need. I promised I’d bring you home safe and sound, and I plan on accomplishing it.” He pulled the curtain aside for a moment. When he released it, he leaned back against the squab.
“Who asked you to bring me home?” She dreaded the answer but asked anyway.
“Your cousin and her husband,” he offered.
She released the breath she’d been holding. It’d be difficult, but she could convince Claire not to tell her parents. The unknown was whether she could trust Claire’s husband Pembrooke and the enigma sitting across from her.
She would salvage her evening. Somerton’s presence was nothing more than a slight hindrance, much like an annoying gnat.
“My lord, I appreciate the escort, but I’ve other plans. Is there some place I could have the coachman drop you? White’s perhaps?” Lud, her calm demeanor was astounding.
“No, thank you.”
Bold action called for bold moves. If she told him her purpose, perhaps he’d leave her be. Surely, a man would understand the desire for a book. If he thought her a bluestocking, a woman who constantly had her nose in a book, it made little difference. She was going to capture her prize.
“I’m on my way to buy Bentham’s Essays, first edition. For over a year, I’ve been hunting for it.” In the darkness, she couldn’t see his expression, making it difficult to gage his response. If only he hadn’t extinguished the lantern.
“Have you thought of securing your book someplace else . . . more respectable? I’ve heard there are these shops called bookstores,” he teased.
She bit her lip to keep from lashing him with a verbal blistering. That would seal her doom. “Please, this is my only chance to make the purchase. I’ve sent inquiries to every bookstore within London to no avail. No one has it. Mr. Goodwin at Goodwin’s Book Emporium thought he had found a seller ready to part with their copy, but unfortunately, the seller changed his mind.”
“Goodwin?” he scoffed. “What the devil are you doing shopping at Goodwin’s? That’s not an acceptable shop for a young woman.”
Though she couldn’t see him, she sensed Somerton towered over her, his presence pushing her back into the squabs.
“Goodwin isn’t known for his selection of books.” He enunciated every word in a husky manner designed to frighten her. “His real business is selling information— he’s a snitch, and a very successful one at that.”
The impertinent Earl of Somerton would not intimidate her. She pulled herself forward to give him an appropriate set-down. Without warning, the carriage lurched, causing her forehead to bump his chin.
“Careful.” His hand cupped the back of her head as he pulled her close. His scent—clean, spicy, and male, one so different from the other men of the ton—wrapped itself around her like a binding. She didn’t move.
Neither did he.
“You can’t kidnap me,” she whispered and forced herself to lean back. He was so close, his breath brushed against her cheek like a kiss. Without thinking, she ran her fingers over his lips. She’d never noticed before, but his mouth was perfect. Perfectly kissable. She jerked her hand away and mumbled, “Pardon me.”
This was pure madness.
A streetlamp cast enough light that she saw his face clearly along with the dangerous flare in his eyes.
“I’m not your responsibility,” she demanded softly. “Please, I beg of you. Let me go.”
“For your assignation?” he whispered. “With Lord Paul Barstowe?”
“What? No.” She shook her head hoping she’d wake from this nightmare. “How do you know I’m meeting him to purchase the book?”
“One of the guests at Lady Dalton’s informed me after overhearing your plans.”
“Of all the rotten luck,” she muttered. She shouldn’t have told her friends Lena and Daphne in public, as there were too many ears at a ball. Determined, she’d persevere. “Come with me if you don’t believe I’m speaking the truth. Please, I need that book.”
Again, silence reigned between them except for the trotting of the horses’ hooves. Even that sound drifted to nothing as the carriage slowed to a halt. A glance outside confirmed they’d arrived at her home. Soft light flooded the carriage from the lanterns that surrounded the courtyard.
With her last chance looming before her, Emma swallowed her pride, nearly choking. Lacing her fingers together to keep from fidgeting, she stared into his eyes. “Please, my lord, I’m begging you. Come with me if you’re concerned for my safety. I’ll prove to you I only want the book.” She opened her reticule and pulled out the fifty pounds. “I’ll pay you. If this isn’t enough, I’ll get more….”
He released a deep breath and studied his clasped hands.
Dare she hope she’d convinced him? Indeed, he seemed truly conflicted. She sat on the edge of the bench waiting for his agreement. To nudge him a little, she made her final plea. “Please?”
“I’m truly sorry.” He covered her hand with his and squeezed. “Let me escort you inside.”
His effort offered little comfort. For an eternity, she sat unable to move and stared at nothing. There was little doubt she’d face a harsh reprimand from her parents and some fitting punishment to accompany the lecture. Her heavy heart slid to the floor. It mattered little as she’d already been punished. Bentham’s Essays was again out of her reach.
“Lady Emma?” Somerton squeezed her hand again—his gentle touch still a betrayal. “Come.”
He helped her from the carriage and walked her to the door. As if she were being lead to the gallows, she held her head high masking her stinging disappointment.
“Good night,” Somerton whispered. “I apologize I’ve caused you such distress.” He bowed over her hand in farewell.
“My lord?” Her question caused his gaze to capture hers. The sincerity in his eyes stole her breath. Briefly, she turned away until her emotions were somewhat under control. “I can’t offer my thanks for your assistance. I’m sure you understand.” She turned and entered Langham Hall.
Intact, her pride was still stuck in her throat.Return to The Bride Who Got Lucky