To Kiss a Thief
Signet Regency Romance (InterMix)
A captivating Signet Regency Romance Available Digitally For the First Time
Dreadfully disappointed by her first season, Margaret Somerley flees London for the Earl of Haddon’s country estate to ease her mind. Her sanctuary is disturbed when she catches a thief in the act of stealing a cache of secret government papers from the library—who then promptly abducts her as well.
Now, the shy miss who seemed so unsuitable to high society’s eligible bachelors has caught the eye of a devilish rogue whose true purpose and real identity remain a mystery—and who seems determined to steal her heart…
Includes a preview of Blackstone’s Bride, available August 2012.
Don’t miss Kate Moore’s delightful Signet Regency Romance, An Improper Widow, available July 2012!
AT THE SOUND of heels clicking against the flagstones of the terrace Margaret drew up her slippered feet and pressed herself deeper into her hiding place. She did not wish to be caught truant from the drawing room the one evening the earl had invited other guests to join them. The great chair’s full wings must hide her face, and its cream silk upholstery must conceal her pale muslin should one of those passing outside the library glance through the open windows. She tucked the little book she had found into the folds of her gown.
“The man’s plagued with brothers!” came the old earl’s gruff voice through the window. Margaret held her breath as he developed his favorite theme—the obstacles to Wellington’s success in Spain. “If Richard were not so busy whoring and Henry so pathetic over his lost wife, Arthur would get the support he needs for this spring’s campaign.”
“They are a sad pair,” Margaret’s father agreed.
“A man should be allowed to see how his sons turn out before he gives his title or his blunt to any of them,” replied the earl, his voice swelling with indignation. The two men came into view, and passed the first of the library’s tall windows: the Earl of Haddon, tall and gaunt, Margaret’s father of more modest height and substantial proportions. Margaret held herself perfectly still.
“Seeing any son inherit, however, must be preferred to seeing the title go to a nephew or cousin,” her father said. In two strides the men passed from sight behind the next portion of the library wall.
“Never say you are disappointed in that girl of yours, Spencer,” exclaimed the earl.
“Not for a minute,” her father replied. “Apple of my eye and all. Didn’t take this season, though. Speaks the plain truth, you know, no flash to catch a man’s eye.” They reached the second window, and there was no softening or indistinctness in her father’s next words. “Her mother is very disappointed. All that fuss for nothing, you know.”
“Why, Spencer, that girl of yours is a Trojan! You saw her on my roan mare yesterday. What a seat, what courage! Sensible too.”
“Can’t take a horse into Almack’s,” her father said bluntly. “Maybe if she had been a son. No fuss to getting a son off, you know.” Her father’s words faded as the men’s steps again took them behind a portion of wall.
“Never say so,” came the earl’s voice. “There’s nothing like town to ruin a young fool.”
“The boy will come about, Edmund,” said her father quietly.
“So you have been saying these two years, Spencer. You don’t know what it is to have a worthless son,” answered the earl. There was an interval of silence between the two men as they passed before the last window, then the earl’s faint words, sad but resolute: “Well, he’s no son of mine any longer.”
“But you still have one son,” came her father’s reply. The rest of their conversation was lost in the mild evening air, and Margaret knew they had rounded the corner. She stared at the open window. Her father’s words shook her. All that fuss for nothing.
It had been a great fuss, preparing for her season. Margaret and her mother had begun by studying La Belle Assemblée for hours and visiting all the neighbors whose daughters had made great successes of themselves, at least in their mothers’ eyes.
They had traveled from Wynrose to Bath as often as the weather permitted, to choose Margaret’s fabrics and stand for fittings. Her mother had insisted on one satin and one sarsenet for balls, several crepes and jaconets for Almack’s, and a variety of figured muslins and cambrics for morning wear, all predominantly white of course, for what could be more elegant? Then it had been necessary to acquire gloves and hats and shoes, and Lady Somerley herself must have some new finery for the season, so as not to embarrass her daughter. Later they would shop in town for those last touches of elegance required of a baron’s only daughter at her come-out.
For weeks as the gowns were being made, their only topic had been the season. Her mother had never been happier than when she spoke of London, and she was most voluble on the subject of Margaret’s anticipated triumph, the notice Margaret would receive, the beaux who would call, the one, more distinguished than the others, who would request an interview with the baron. Then Margaret’s gowns had begun to arrive, each to be tried on with a little ritual of sighs and hugs and paraded before her father for his mild “How fine you look, Margaret.”
Margaret tried to return to those happy hours. She could not remember a time when she had thought her season would be anything other than wonderful, for she was meant to be a heroine. She had known it the first time she had read the story of Tom True.
Gingerly she pulled the little book she’d found from its hiding place in the folds of her gown. The spine was broken and some of the pages were loose, as if whoever had owned this copy had loved it well. Inside was Tom True in his brown jacket, green cap, and green nankeen britches. With his bright eyes, his fair locks, and his hands thrust in his pockets, he looked as carefree and ready for adventure as he had always been in Margaret’s youth. She smiled. It was comforting to find her hero again, for she had not seen his like in London.
She turned the page and saw Tom bidding farewell to his aged parents. His periwigged father and his mother in her panniers waved from their cottage door. The next page showed the young hero choosing two sturdy, sober youths as companions. These two, called Reason and Conscience, promised never to desert their friend, and with another turn of the page, Margaret found them introducing young Master True to Prudence.
It was Margaret’s childish resemblance to this character that had prompted her father to give her the book. Prudence wore a bright blue dress, blue stockings, and black shoes with silver buckles. Glossy brown curls peeped from beneath her white cap, and frank gray eyes regarded the hero unwaveringly.
At ten Margaret had readily believed herself the fortunate heroine chosen to guide Tom True through all his adventures. At sixteen she had believed she would meet him at the very next assembly in Bath. At seventeen she had looked for her hero in the ball-rooms of London. Alas, she had found no sign of him there.
Their first week in town Lady Somerley was inclined to fault Margaret’s wardrobe. It had been a mistake to purchase so many items in Bath after all. They sought a reputable modiste and pressed the woman to produce a half dozen new gowns, far more costly but otherwise indistinguishable in Margaret’s eyes from those she already possessed. In the second week her mother faulted the instructions she herself had given Margaret. Town ways had changed more than Lady Somerley had imagined. She consulted her friends and passed on to Margaret a bewildering and contradictory array of new strictures on appropriate topics of conversation, the use of the eyes and the fan, and all the other ways to fix a man’s interest.
In the third week Lady Somerley faulted her daughter. At the kind recommendation of several mothers of acknowledged beauties, a variety of creams and ointments were applied to Margaret’s face. Her diet was altered to produce a wan and delicate air. Her chestnut hair was cut in short curls. Apparently the lessons of her youth were of no use in London, so she struggled to learn a new primer. But she could discern no principles in the contradictory instructions her mother repeated. She never knew when to flutter her fan, arch an eyebrow, or toss her curls. Witty phrases tangled themselves into incomprehensible nonsense on the tip of her tongue, or she fell silent. She was to be pleasing rather than wise or good, and she could not even please her mother.
Then, at Almack’s, Lady Somerley took matters into her own hands, foolishly courting Brummell’s notice. “My dear Lady Somerley,” the Beau replied, “if you wish your daughter to be married, you must address your remarks about her merits, if indeed she has any, to some gentleman in the market for a wife.” This remark, which was widely repeated in several humiliating variations, had caused her mother such acute distress that her father had packed them off, height of the season or no, for the Earl of Haddon’s country seat.
Margaret would have welcomed the change, the quiet and the pleasures of the country, but her mother had not stopped talking about her daughter’s failure. Into each sympathetic ear Lady Somerley poured the story, ceaselessly asking where she had failed, what she might do, what was wrong with Margaret?
Then the old earl announced that his heir, Lord Lyndhurst, would join them for a few days. Margaret could not remember Lord Lyndhurst’s face, but she recalled well that he had been one of the most intimidating of the eligible males to whom she had been introduced in the few weeks of her season. As the moment of his arrival neared, Lady Somerley’s complaints diminished, and her former hints to Margaret about proper dress and manner increased until at last this evening as the party moved languidly from the dining room to the drawing room, Margaret had fled from her mother’s voice, seeking the earl’s library at the far end of the west wing of the hall.
The quiet library was wonderful, and Margaret would be content to linger at the Earl of Haddon’s estate all summer. Though her father had often been the earl’s guest for hunting, she and her mother had never come to Haddon before, the old earl being a widower and having little inclination to entertain female guests and less patience for their conversation. Her host’s gruffness could not spoil her pleasure, however. At Haddon they were close enough to the Dorset coast to feel the sea’s cooling breeze; the library would entertain her for weeks; and the horses, particularly the little roan mare, were all that Margaret could wish for.
And the great task of capturing a man’s attention, to which she had proved so unequal, could be put off for a while. Here, Wynrose, her home, where the story of her dismal season would be told again in the drawing rooms of all her mother’s friends, was so remote as to be forgotten, and London, which her mother spoke of with every breath, could be forgotten too. She could be the Margaret Somerley she had always been and not be found wanting by any man.
The April sky was pale as robins’ eggs, the trees black against it when the window through which she had been staring opened a bit wider as if on its own. A man’s boot, followed by a long, well-muscled leg sheathed in buckskin, slipped over the sill, seeming disembodied in the growing darkness until above them appeared a broad shoulder and a head of fair curls. The stranger shifted his weight to the foot in the library. His face was turned from Margaret as if he were looking to see if anyone outside the library had observed his entrance. Margaret felt her mouth open in surprise, but no sound emerged. The stranger drew in his other leg and without so much as a glance around him strode to the earl’s desk in the center of the long room. There he lit a lamp and from his waist-coat pocket removed a key.
In the glow of the lamp Margaret could see his face, the eyes deep-set under straight dark brows, darker than the thick curls on his forehead, the cheekbones high and the narrow-bridged nose fine, the jaw tapering to the firmly squared chin, the lips compressed, every feature golden in the lamplight. No such face had appeared before her in the ballrooms of London, and she could not help but stare. The stranger’s expression was grim, but Margaret thought his eyes and mouth were made for laughing.
Then he bent away from her behind the desk, and she heard the small metallic scrape of the key thrust into a lock, the low rumble of a drawer sliding open, and the rustle of papers. He straightened and held a thick packet of papers to the lamp, unfolding it and perusing the contents.
Margaret knew she should say something. She should not watch helplessly as the stranger examined the earl’s papers, but his movements were so deliberate, so sure rather than nervous or furtive, that she felt more curious than alarmed. He has a key, she told herself. He did not look up; apparently he did not expect anyone to be in the library. When he had examined the papers in the packet, he replaced them and picked up a similar one. She knew at once by a subtle change in his expression that he had found whatever it was he was looking for. Again he leaned over the drawers, opening another without the key, an unlocked drawer, she guessed. From this second drawer he took several sheets of clean paper, weighed them briefly in his hands against the first packet, folded them to match the ones he had removed, placed the altered packet in the drawer and the earl’s own papers in an inner pocket of his jacket. Again Margaret heard the key turn. He blew out the lamp, rose, and turned to the window. In a minute he would be gone, as quietly and mysteriously as he had come. Prompted by her stunned conscience, Margaret bravely whispered a single word. “Thief.”
The stranger whirled, and his gaze caught Margaret instantly. For a moment they regarded each other in silence. A stung look in his eyes faded so quickly, Margaret could not be sure she had seen any expression in them at all save one of cool appraisal.
“Thief?” he questioned.
She had to admit to herself that the appellation hardly fit the man standing so coolly before her, but she knew what she had seen. “You stole a packet of the Earl of Haddon’s papers,” she accused with more truth than eagerness.
“So it appears.” He advanced toward her so that she felt ever so slightly unsettled—not exactly frightened, but wary. In the fading light she could not judge his expression, but she could feel his gaze upon her face. “Do you never doubt your own eyes?”
“Seeing is believing,” she replied firmly, drawing herself up tall in the chair, sure of herself on this point at least.
“But so often we see what we think to see, rather than what really is.” He moved very close to her now so that she could see nothing beyond his broad shoulders.
He was a clever thief to be sure, she thought. “You mean to confuse me with sophistry,” she retorted, holding her gaze steady under his.
“Were you never taken in by a conjurer’s trick at a fair?” he asked.
“Yes, but you cannot say that what I saw here tonight was mere sleight of hand, and you cannot deny that the earl’s papers are in your coat pocket.” She felt, rather smugly she knew, that she had won the point.
“What do you mean to do about it?”
The question embarrassed her, for she had not thought beyond the necessity of stopping him, and now that she had, she was uncomfortably conscious that her reasons for doing so had perhaps little to do with the earl’s papers.
Before she could reply, he patted his pocket and said, “Come, take them back.”
She really ought to. She ought to end their whole unorthodox conversation. She, who had not been alone with any of the young men she met in London, should not prolong a tête-à-tête with a thief.
“If I take them,” she offered, “no one need ever hear of this incident.” She sensed rather than saw his smile. Resolutely she stood, but the long period she had spent curled in the chair made her legs a bit unsteady, so that she tottered. With the same quick deliberateness of motion that she had seen in him from the beginning, the thief caught her. He clapped a warm, firm hand across her mouth and with his other hand captured her about the waist and pulled her up against him.
At the thief’s unexpected use of force, Margaret gasped. She pushed against his chest, and shook her head in a vain attempt to free her mouth from his hand. Her brief, silent struggle merely left her breathless, her arms trembling. She had not the strength to break his hold, and he had stopped her words. She drew a steadying breath and raised her gaze to his.
His eyes, blue and vivid and solemn, met hers in a look that held her more firmly than his grip about her waist or his warm hand across her mouth.
Margaret summoned all that she knew of courage and conscience and let her eyes speak, but the force of her principles seemed as weak as straw against the fire of some unshakable purpose in him.
“My girl,” he whispered hoarsely, “I do not know who has greater cause to regret our meeting tonight. I do know we have tarried long enough. I must have the earl’s papers, and you, alas, must come with me.” Even with one hand the stranger had no difficulty restraining her movements as he removed his neck-cloth. With it he covered Margaret’s mouth, muffling further protest. He swept her along to the window as if she were a mere doll in his arms, apparently indifferent as she twisted helplessly in his hold. The low sill hardly presented an obstacle as he slung her over his shoulder and stepped out into the night.
To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication
Please alert me via email when: