My Lady of Deception

 Book 1 in the >Brethren of the Lords Series

This dark, sweeping Regency novel was previously only offered as part of the limited edition box sets: “From the Ballroom and Beyond”, “Romancing the Rogue”, and “Dark Deceptions”. Now, available for the first time on its own, is “My Lady of Deception”


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Chapter 1

If children were guilty of the crimes of their fathers, Georgina Wilcox was going to burn in the eternal flames of hell.

Piteous moans from another of her father’s victims echoed from the other side of the wood panel door. Georgina clenched her hands into fists to keep from opening the door. She could not go in. Must not go in. The angry purple bruise on the inside of her wrist throbbed as a subtle reminder of what happened when she questioned her father.

A groan more befitting a wild boar echoed from within the room. Georgina wanted to clamp her hands over her ears and drown out the man’s pleas for help. I cannot bear this. She reached for the handle.

The floorboards creaked, echoing off the stillness of the corridor. On a gasp, Georgina spun around.

Jamie Marshall pinned her in place with his cold, hard stare. “What are you doing, Georgina?” The faintest hint of an Irish brogue lent his words a lyrical quality.

With his lean physique and black crop of curls, he had the look of a dark angel, only he possessed a soul black enough to rival the devil. To those in his traitorous circle, he was “The Hunter”, enemy to the Crown. To Georgina, he was also the orphan taken in by her father when English soldiers had murdered his parents those fifteen years ago.

“I-I…” She gestured to the door. “Who is in there?”

Jamie strode toward her and her heart climbed into her throat. “I asked you a question.”

Not wanting him to see the effect his presence always managed to have on her, she met his gaze evenly, detesting the faint tremble of her fingers. Yet, she’d witnessed the cruelties he was capable of.

A moan punctured the silence and she thrust back her fear of him, renewed in her determination to help the stranger on the other side of the door. “I heard a man screaming.”

An icy smile turned his perfect lips. “And you were compelled to help him?”

Long ago, she’d learned of his perversity; reveling in her fear, while delighting in her shows of defiance. She narrowed her gaze on him. “If the man in there is to be of any value to you then I must care for him.”

In three longs strides, he closed the small distance between them. “Do you presume to know what is best?” He grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger, squeezing painfully.

“No.” Georgina blinked back the tears that popped behind her lashes and glared. “Just what is right.”

His fingers dug into her jawline. “Are you being insolent?”

Unwilling to give him the pleasure of seeing how painful his touch was, or the fear he sent coursing through her limbs, she gentled her tone. “Let me care for him.”

Jamie lowered his head, his brandy-scented breath fanned her lips. Her pulse kicked up a beat. Life had taught her that liquor made him even more unpredictable. Then suddenly, he released her. His brows dipped as he appeared to contemplate her entreaty.

“Please, let me help him.” She drummed up her best impression of a debutante’s innocent smile. “I—”

Jamie pressed his finger to her lips. A shudder of revulsion snaked through her belly, and she pressed her lips into a tight line. Jamie had treated her first as a bothersome sister, then a useless servant, and now another shift had occurred. At some point, he’d begun looking at her in a way that made her flesh crawl with disgust. His obvious attraction, however, had also proven useful. A teasing smile and flutter of her lids had earned her the freedom to help prisoners in the past.

His pale blue gaze fell to her mouth.

She took a hasty step away from him. Her back thumped against the door. As if the unexpected movement had roused the beast within the chambers, a roar echoed through the house. “You bastard. Free me.”

Georgina jumped.

The maniacal chuckle that spilled past Jamie’s lips melded with the sheer terror of the stranger’s shouts. “Still want to tend his wounds?”

Oh, how she wanted Jamie to suffer. His time would come and when it did, she would relish it. She tamped down the words she longed to hurl at his traitorous face.

“Hunter?” her father’s voice boomed.

Jamie’s broad shoulders stiffened beneath his blue, cutaway frock coat.

She said a silent thanks for the timely intervention, even if it was her father.

“Above stairs,” Jamie called out. He paused, a black grin tilting the corners of his lips. “With Georgina.”

Her heartbeat kicked up its rhythm as her father labored up the stairs. He stopped and studied her.

His astute gaze went from Georgina to his newest prisoner’s closed door. He dabbed at his bald pate with a stained kerchief. “What are you doing up here, gel?” A wheezing cough escaped him and he spit into the cloth.

It was hard to fathom that this fat figure, known to the Irish Republicans as “The Fox”, could be one of the organization’s most powerful orchestrators in their plan to force an Irish revolt against British rule.

Georgina dropped her gaze to the frayed carpet and buried all hint of rebellion. She wet her lips. “I—uh…I was—”

“Speak up.”

Georgina looked up and held his stare. “I wanted to help.” It wasn’t altogether a lie. She had wanted to help—just not him.

“Help?” Father erupted into a fit of laughter until he began coughing. He swiped the back of his sleeve across his mouth. He dismissed her and turned to Jamie. “We have a meeting with Emmet. He’s returned from France.”

Jamie narrowed his eyes. “Does he know we have him?”

“He does.”

Georgina held her breath and attempted to make herself invisible.

Father’s talks of the Irish organization had been as common as a morning meal in their household. She had long heard the story of his mother, a delicate Irish lady who’d fallen in love with an Englishman. When her father had been a boy of five, he’d visited Ireland with his parents, a trip which had proven tragic. While riding one morning, the Irish beauty had been assaulted, and ultimately killed, by English soldiers. Her father had witnessed the whole horrific scene.

Georgina could imagine how such events would ever scar a person’s soul. Still, England was the only home she’d ever known. She wouldn’t blame an entire country for the sins of several, nor could she just sit idly by as witness to the wrongs done here.

Father continued. “Markham should break and give us the information we need.” Her ears perked up. “He…we’ll discuss the details later.”

Without another word, Father and Jamie walked off.

It had been nearly a fortnight since she’d gotten information to the man known as “The Sovereign”. Their absence had made it possible for her to pass along details about the Irish plot for independence.

She hurried after them. “When will you return?”

“We’ll be gone the night,” Jamie said, a dark frown curved his lips. “Lest you get the idea to do something foolish again, there is a guard stationed outside.”

Her mouth went dry as she remembered the last guard they’d assigned to watch her. The blare of his pistol echoed in her memory. She shook her head to erase the face of the nameless prisoner and the blood that had blossomed on his chest like a crimson butterfly spreading its wings.

He’d been the last man she’d freed. They’d both paid dearly for it.

Georgina bit back the stinging retort on her lips. “Should I allow the guard entry?”

Father shot an annoyed glance over his shoulder. “You’ve got a lot of questions, gel.”

“I just want to help,” she lied.

Jamie’s lips turned up in a sneer. “She is a dutiful girl,” he said. He no more trusted her than she did him.

Georgina bowed her head and a wry smile played about her lips. “I strive to do my father’s bidding.”

Father and Jamie had come to expect small showings of disobedience from her, but neither suspected the truth—she stole information from them and dashed notes off to the Crown, providing details about their plans. All the while, she plotted to leave this hell. She was biding her time, waiting to find a way out of this lonely, dark life. The only thing that had kept her in this hellish place was a sense of obligation to the men brought here to suffer at Father’s hands. That, and the fear they would hunt her and kill her themselves.

As if suspecting the deceptive path her thoughts had wandered down, Father glowered. “You aren’t to let anyone inside.”

She took a deep, slow breath when they finally left. Georgina locked the door and leaned against it. Her eyes slid closed at the blessed silence.

“I said let me out, you bastards!”

The thunderous shout above the stairs brought her back to reality.

Georgina hurried to the kitchens and prepared a tray of bread and cheese, a pitcher of water, and a glass of red wine to the sound of the captive’s furious shouts. She sliced an apple into neat little pieces. Then she carried the tray to the captive’s chambers and turned the door handle. For all intents and purposes, the room might as well have been an elegant bedroom for an esteemed guest. A four-poster bed sat in the center of the room and a small table with two chairs had been tucked in a corner.

She stepped inside.

One of those chairs was now occupied.

“You bloody bast—” His invective died a swift death. The stranger, his arms tied to the back of his seat, eyed her warily. The dimly lit room and the ten feet of space separating them did nothing to diminish the sparkle of wariness in his emerald green gaze.

With the tip of her slipper, Georgina closed the door and faced him. Her stomach turned over at his bloodied and battered face; his hard lips swollen and cracked, the green of his irises glimmered, like a wild animal’s, full of the need for retribution. The slight tilt of his aquiline nose indicated it had been broken at some point. Her heart tugged. She, too, had known physical pain. “Hullo,” she said quietly.

He studied her in mute silence. The black and blues marring his face did little to detract from his breathtaking beauty; the hard, chiseled lines of his angular face, a square jaw with the slightest indentation at its center. This wary man possessed the kind of power artists celebrated in stone. She cursed herself for thinking such thoughts at a time like this. Yet she could not take her eyes from him.

“Why are you here?” That hoarse question yanked her from her reverie.

Georgina rushed to his chair and set down the tray. Even strapped to the chair as he was, his long muscular frame filled the room. Her hand quaked as she dipped a rag into a bowl of water and gently wiped the blood from his face. It stained her fingers, and the potent smell that was sickly sweet and harsh metal combined, filled the air around them. Bile climbed to her throat.

A hiss slipped from between his teeth and she bit her lip, hating that she’d caused him further pain. Moments later, the blood was gone, but the bruises stood in dark purple contrast to the olive hue of his skin. Georgina knelt at his feet. When she picked up his bound wrists, a groan grumbled in his throat.

“Forgive me.” Georgina lightened her grip and focused on his left hand, bound to the back of the mahogany shell chair. She’d done this many times before—loosened each prisoner’s bindings one limb at a time in order to massage the bruised skin, knowing even as she did that it was dangerous. But compassion overrode logic. Within moments, she’d worked one binding over his wrist. Georgina probed the area for any breaks but found none. Wordlessly, she continued to rub his injured flesh.

The stranger held up his other wrist, clearly expecting her to release him.

Georgina shook her head. “I can’t.” With every breath in her body, she wished she could set him free of this hell. But it would mean death for him and other horrors for her. In time, she would plan a way to save him, but it couldn’t be right now or her own life would be forfeit.

His hand fell back to the side of the chair.

In a sudden move, he trapped her chin with his large, strong hand. A startled squeak escaped her. She tried to shake loose his grip but he held tight. “What do you want then?”

“I only want to help.”

“The men who brought me here, who are they?”

She shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”

He wrapped long fingers around her neck, his hold gentle, but firm. “Who are they?” Despite the furious demand, his thumb rubbed the spot where her pulse fluttered wildly.

She clawed at his hand, wanting to be free of his touch, to escape the vulnerable feeling of being helpless against him.

His grip tightened the slightest bit.

All Georgina’s earlier resolve to set aside her own well-being and help this man at all costs, slipped. For as dark and lonely as her life was and always had been, Georgina didn’t want to die. Not now. Not like this. She had given too much of her life to her father and the Crown to die here at the hands of this stranger. Enlivened, she raked sharp nails over the flesh of his forearm.

His lips curled in a sneering grin, as though he were amused by her ineffectual attempt at freedom.

“I could kill you right now.” That whisper-soft threat chilled her. Still, he didn’t harm her, proving with that hesitancy how vastly different he was than every other man she’d known. “Give me the answers I need.”

Some of her courage restored, she forced words past dry lips. “Release me.”

With a curse, he let her go. She stumbled backward and tripped over the empty chair. Instead of letting her tumble to the floor, he shot out his free hand to steady her.

Heart thudding hard in her chest, Georgina righted herself. She folded her arms close to her person. The greens of his eyes conveyed regret and some other indefinable emotion. She swallowed, uncomfortable. People did not worry about her and yet the remorse etched in the aquiline lines of his face indicated he cared. And no one cared of her or about her. Not her father, not Jamie, nor the men brought here as captors or captives. The stranger’s concern pierced Georgina’s soul. She cringed. What a silly, pathetic creature she was.

“Are you all right?” His quiet words slashed through her musings.

Well, my father is a traitor. I’m stealing his secrets and sending them off to the British government. Oh, and you nearly strangled me. How could I ever be better?

Georgina walked a wide path around him and paused at the small, chipped, wood table in the corner of the room. “I’m well enough,” she said, with a touch of impatience. She planted her hands on the edge of the hard surface and used her hip to shove the piece of furniture over to the prisoner. All the while her skin burned under the intensity of his gaze. Studiously avoiding his gaze, Georgina picked up the tray and slid it toward him.

“You should eat.” Georgina spun on her heel and hurried to the doorway. She’d come to help him, but this man had stirred a maelstrom of emotions beneath her breast that she didn’t care to examine.

“Don’t go!” His entreaty stopped her. “Please. I’m sorry…” He looked down, shame coloring his neck. “I would never have hurt you.”

Georgina turned around and once more took in his battered features. The truth was etched in painful lines on his face. He wouldn’t have hurt her, but that did not mean she had escaped danger. The longer she stayed here and talked to him, the more compelled she was to help him and risk her father’s wrath.

Leave, Georgina. Leave.

Yet she moved to the empty chair next to him. “I am so sorry about what they’ve done to you.” Even as the words left her lips, she flinched with the uselessness of them.

He arched a golden brow. “But not enough to free me?”

She poured a glass of water into the crystal tumbler and handed it to him.

The powerful man eyed it as though it contained witches’ brew. A strangled laugh escaped his lips. “You’re mad if you believe I would trust you.”

He was right. This man didn’t know about the previous prisoner she’d freed. Or the notes she dashed off to members of the Home Office. No one suspected the truth. This man only saw her as complicit in the ugliness that went on here. “You’ve no reason to trust me,” she said at last. Georgina thrust the glass toward him.

Apparently, his thirst won out over his skepticism for he reached for the glass. His fingers brushed hers.

Georgina’s skin heated at the brief meeting of flesh.

He drained the glass in one long, slow swallow. “What is your name?”

She stiffened and leaned forward in her chair, poised to flee. “Georgina Wilcox.”

He gave no outward reaction to her admission. “I am Adam Markham.”

Her shoulders relaxed as she realized he did not know who she was. Guilt niggled at her. She reminded herself she was not to blame for Father’s crimes, but the thought rang hollow in her heart.

“I am sorry to meet you under such circumstances, Mr. Markham.” Or really under any circumstances. There was no good in the world in which she dwelled.

He studied her intently and Georgina shifted in her seat. His gaze set a small flame alight in her bosom. The instinct for survival warred with her empathy. Except there was something more—some inexplicable feeling she didn’t understand nor care to analyze. No good could come in any kind of connection with the men taken as prisoners here. She reached for his bindings then stopped. If she were ever to help this man, she’d have to plan carefully. After all she’d learned the perils in thwarting Father and Jamie’s plans long ago.

The stranger’s beautiful lips turned down. “So, tell me. What manner of woman would leave me tied here at the mercy of those bastards—” As if sickened by the mere sight of her, he jerked his gaze away.

She leaned forward. “If I free you, there is a guard outside who will shoot you dead. If that isn’t enough, I will pay the price for your death. A price with my own flesh.” Georgina let the weight of this dark truth sink in.

Silence reigned between them. They sat in uneasy silence until his stomach gave a rebellious rumble reminding her of why she’d come above stairs. Eager to give her fingers something to do, she reached for a sliver of apple and held it to his lips.

Something in his gaze softened. “Are you Eve?”

She angled her head. “Georgina.”

A sharp bark of laughter burst from his chest. The explosion of mirth seemed to rob him of breath. He coughed in obvious pain. “Christ, either you’re an excellent actress or the most naïve woman I’ve ever met.”

“Oh.” Heat flooded her cheeks. “That Eve. Which, of course, makes you Adam.”

“Adam and Eve,” he murmured. He cast an almost empty gaze around the room. “And it would appear we’ve both been cast into hell.”

Georgina’s gut clenched at the all-too-familiar sentiment uttered by this man, Adam Markham. She cleared her throat. “Do you want the apple or not?” She waved it in his direction.

His lips parted, displaying an even row of pearl-white teeth. Georgina hesitated a moment, feeling a bit like a rabbit feeding a wolf, then slipped the fruit into his mouth.

He bit into the succulent fruit, all the while watching her as if he could divine her secret yearnings. When he opened his mouth again, she brought another piece of the apple to his lips.

“Why are you here?” he asked, after he finished his next bite.

Their gazes caught and held. “I have no choice.”

Adam Markham’s flinty stare threatened to bore through her. “They have you captive as well?”

In a way, she’d been trapped from the moment of her birth. “I am a victim of my circumstances, Mr. Markham.”

Understanding dawned in his eyes. “You are a servant.”

At his erroneous assumption, she stilled. She should tell him the truth. Confess who she was. What does it matter? a niggling voice whispered at the edge of her mind. It is your father who is hell bent on an Irish revolution—not you. “Why are you here?” She turned his question around on him, uncomfortable with his assumption.

“I, too, am a victim of my circumstances.” A veil fell across his eyes, indicating he intended to say nothing further.

Georgina glanced over her shoulder at the closed door. “I should go.” She stood.

He opened his mouth to speak. She had the distinct impression he wanted her to stay but she shoved the silly thought aside. Why should he desire her company?

Georgina reached for his bindings but the memory of his hand around her neck froze her mid-motion. She rubbed the sensitive skin where that possessive touch—firm but gentle—lingered. No one had ever handled her with even a modicum of tenderness. Reason had taught her to loathe such weakness. After all, compassion had brought her nothing but trouble.

His gaze went to her neck. “Forgive me,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I’ve never mistreated a woman.” Until now.

Considering her own experience with men and his earlier violent outburst, she didn’t put much faith in his statement. Nonetheless, Adam Markham was desperate, an emotion she knew well. She waved off his apology. “You’re not the first to…put me in my place.” A niggling whisper of a dream flitted through her mind. In a different life she would have been the beloved daughter of a loving couple. She may even have a doting suitor. How different might her life have been if she’d been born a daughter to loyal British subjects? Georgina brushed back a loose strand of hair. “I wish there was something I could do to help you, but I can’t.” At least not now.

“You can free me.” He was nothing if not persistent.

“I already said I can’t.”

His eyes ran a path over her face, but he said nothing.

Georgina bound his hands and hurried to leave before her father came home.

“Miss Wilcox?”

She paused.

“Thank you,” he said in hushed undertones.

With a nod, she took her leave and made her way to the kitchen, where she gathered potatoes for the evening meal. Self-preservation dictated she forget Adam Markham. Yet her heart wouldn’t allow her to do any such thing. All the while she prepared dinner, the visage of the handsome stranger danced through her mind.

He’d mistaken her for a servant.

Her skin tingled with the remembrance of his silken fingertips caressing her rapidly beating pulse.

If he’d wanted to strangle her before, what would he do if he learned she was really his captor’s daughter?

In his meeting with Napoleon, Robert Emmet was informed the British have in their employ an agent who is assisting France. This person has pledged to also help the United Irishmen.

Signed,

A Loyal British Subject

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