Bonus Excerpt for What the Duke Desires
If circumstances had been different, Lisette Bonnaud would have laughed at the look of sheer outrage carving deep lines into the Duke of Lyons’ brow. But much as she would normally enjoy shocking a haughty English lord, this was not about that.
It was about making sure that her brother Tristan didn’t find himself at the end of a hangman’s noose. Because if he were in London or if the duke made a big to-do over searching for him in Paris . . .
It didn’t bear thinking on.
No, she had to avoid having the duke speak to the Sûreté in Paris, who would use any excuse to dismiss Tristan from his position. She would talk to Vidocq, who was Tristan’s friend. He might know what this was about.
But that meant she had to be there. The wily Vidocq would never reveal anything to the duke.
“You have lost your bloody mind,” Lyons said in a low hiss.
She squared her shoulders. “I have not. I know how men like you work. You run roughshod over whomever you please because you can. Well, you’re not going to run roughshod over my brother.”
He glowered at her. “And you won’t stop me from prosecuting him to the fullest extent of the law if I find he has attempted to defraud me.”
A chill froze her blood. She ignored it. “And I won’t try, either. If he’s guilty of such a horrible thing, I’ll hand you the shackles to secure him myself.”
Clearly that caught him by surprise. “Is that a promise?”
“It is,” she vowed. “But I’m not giving you any information about where he is until I determine that you have the right culprit.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “How do you propose to do that?”
“I don’t know,” she said truthfully. “I only know that if I hand you the means to find him and you muck up his life and future in France, I will never forgive myself. He and my half-brother Dom are my only family. I owe them better for all the years they’ve looked after me.”
That seemed to give him pause, thank heaven. He scrubbed one hand over his face, and she realized that he looked quite weary. If he’d been up since yesterday morning . . .
A sudden pang of sympathy made her scowl. Why should she care if he was tired? He was threatening to hunt Tristan down like some common criminal with nothing more to go on than that note.
And Tristan’s inexplicable disappearance.
She suppressed that thought. Tristan couldn’t be guilty of fraud. He could not!
“What if I swear to treat your brother fairly?” he said.
She eyed him with suspicion. “Men like you do not—”
“You know nothing about men like me,” he snapped.
“I know more than you think.” She thought of Lord Rathmoor’s determination to destroy Tristan. “Besides, I have connections of my own to the authorities in France. If you attempt to malign Tristan unfairly, I’ll have some recourse. But only if I am there when you do it.”
The duke prowled before the desk like, well, a lion . . . all tawny hair and muscular brute of the forest. He was a rather frightening fellow in a temper. His words and manner might be cold, but a terrifying anger simmered just beneath the surface, showing only in the wild glint of his eye and the tautness of his jaw.
So she didn’t wait for more of his protests. “I can be a help to you. I know not only where Tristan lives, but how he works, how to find him, where his haunts are.” And Vidocq still had friends in high places. Not to mention, a few in low places who might be useful.
The duke glared at her. “But you cannot travel alone with me, so I’ll lose precious time finding a chaperone for you.”
“Nonsense. I don’t need a chaperone. No one cares about my reputation. I’m a nobody.”
“You’re a respectable woman.”
“That’s not what you said earlier.”
That brought him up short. He stared at her, his gaze unreadable. “That was rude of me, and I apologize.”
“No need,” she said, though she was oddly gratified by the apology. She doubted he offered one very often. “I’ve grown used to people making such assumptions through the years. What people think of my mother is bound to reflect upon me.”
His eyes played over her. “All the same, I won’t ruin any chance you have for a decent marriage by carrying you off with me unchaperoned to France.”
A laugh burst from her. “I assure you I have few prospects for a ‘decent marriage.’ I’m nearly twenty-seven. I have no connections or fortune. Not to mention that I’m the daughter of a French actress.”
“And a viscount.”
“Who chose not to marry my mother.” When he looked as if he would say more, she added, “If the thought of damaging my reputation truly bothers you, just tell people I’m your relation. Your sister perhaps.”
He shot her an incredulous glance. “I’m the Duke of Lyons. Everyone knows I don’t have a sister.”
“Your mistress then? Truly, I don’t care what you tell anyone foolish enough to inquire. I am not the Duke of Lyons. No one will know that I’m not your mistress.”
Something flared in his eyes then, something hot and fierce and raw that caught her off guard. Something distinctly ungentlemanly.
Then it was gone, and he was flashing her his cool, mocking smile. “As intriguing as that sounds, Miss Bonnaud, you have no idea of the gossip that attends me wherever I go. The moment I announce myself, nay, the moment I arrive in my crested coach, the tongues start wagging.”
He strode up to the desk, his gaze hard upon her. “By the end of our first day on the road, whomever we meet will have resolved to find out your name, your family’s name, your rank, and your personal connection to me. In under a week, they will know everything about you, and you will be ruined. Not to mention that the world will learn that my elder brother may be alive, and I will be confronted with even more impostors and defrauders.”
“Then don’t announce yourself.” An idea swirled in her mind, taking form and substance. “Don’t travel in your crested coach. Travel as a regular person. Then you could pretend to be my relation without comment.” She couldn’t resist a mischievous smile. “We’ll be nobodies together, and no one will give a fig for my reputation. Or yours. Or the possibility that your elder brother is alive.”
The words echoed in the still room. He stared at her with a blank look.
She hastened to fill the silence. “It will make everything easier. If you masquerade as another of my brothers, there will be no attendants to accommodate, no questions to be answered. We will travel to France, find out what we can, and return without anyone’s being the wiser.”
“And what about the advantages my rank offers?”
“What advantages? In France you will still be a foreigner, a lord in a world that recently lopped off the heads of as many lords as it could find.” Her tone turned arch. “You may discover that being an English duke is actually a disadvantage in France, Your Grace. All things considered.”
She held her breath, waiting for more protests, but to her surprise, he grew thoughtful. “A regular person, eh? I’ve never been one of those, to be sure. That would be novel indeed.” Then his expression hardened, and he shook his head. “No, it will not work. I’ll be recognized.”
“Not if you dress and behave appropriately. People notice only what you reveal, and the key is to reveal only what you want them to see.” Not for nothing had she watched Vidocq manage his agents, who moved seamlessly through Paris’s underground, uncovering criminals. “You look about the same height and build as Dom. I can give you some of his clothing, so you aren’t bedecked in your usual finery. If we travel by mail coach to Brighton—”
“Why Brighton?” he cut in.
“Because coaches leave frequently for Brighton on Sundays. In fact, there’s one that leaves from the Golden Cross Inn at two. Since we can’t take a steam packet, we can still move forward and be ready tomorrow morning for the packet to Dieppe.”
“Ah yes, Dieppe shortens the route to Paris by ninety miles,” he said smoothly.
But she caught the calculating glint in his eye. The sly devil was still trying to figure out where Tristan was. “It shortens the route to Rouen and Dijon, too. And any number of French towns.” She wasn’t about to reveal that they were headed for Paris, not yet. She couldn’t take the chance that Lofty Lyons would abandon her once he knew their eventual destination.
With a scowl, he crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re really not going to tell me where Bonnaud has been living or who he’s been working for.”
“No.” She tilted up her chin. “Not unless you take me with you.”
What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries
Pocket Books Paperback (On sale June 18, 2013)