Book 1 in the >The Theodosia Sword Series
A curse. A sword. And the thief who stole her heart.
The Rayne family is trapped in a rut of bad luck. And now, it’s up to Lady Theodosia Rayne to steal back the Theodosia sword, a gladius that was pilfered by the rival, loathed Renshaw family. Hopefully, recovering the stolen sword will break the cycle and reverse her family’s fate.
Damian Renshaw, the Duke of Devlin, is feared by all–all, that is, except Lady Theodosia, the brazen spitfire who enters his home and wrestles an ancient relic from his wall. Intrigued by the vivacious woman, Devlin has no intentions of relinquishing the sword to her.
As Theodosia and Damian battle for ownership, passion ignites. Now, they are torn between their age-old feud and the fire that burns between them. Can two forbidden lovers find a way to make amends before their families’ war tears them apart?
“Not at all, honorable, I’ll say. Not at all.”
Lady Theodosia Rayne knew Herbert, the Viscount Fennimore, quite meant those words. He’d uttered them eleven times, and that was only since she’d climbed inside his and his sister’s carriage. Their families were long-standing friends. In fact, the only friends they’d known since the string of scandals had struck.
That blasted sword.
“Sneaking into a man’s ball, uninvited,” he mumbled under his breath. “Not at all honorable.”
Twelve times. “I’ll not overstay my welcome.” She leaned over and patted the top of his hand. Theodosia was not so self-absorbed that she’d not feel some string of guilt for forcing the oft-nervous viscount to assist in this, her latest, but most worthwhile, scheme. But sometimes, there were things far more important that merited those dishonorable acts.
“You already have overstayed your welcome,” he mumbled. “Dishonorable sneaking into a man’s masquerade all to steal another man’s property.”
Apparently his sister, Miss Carol Cresswall, Theodosia’s only true friend in the world, had also tired of the dishonorable charges being leveled. “Oh, do hush, Herbie.” She kicked him hard in the shins.
He grunted. “You shouldn’t go about kicking a person. Not at all—”
“I swear if you say dishonorable, honorable, or any variation in between, then I will do more than kick you.”
Herbie clamped his lips tight, indicating he’d been well on his way to fourteen.
Carol gave a flounce of her curls. “Theo is merely retrieving something that belongs to her family.”
The something in question was the great Theodosia sword. Legend held that ancient weapon was cursed and would bring great fortune to the holder. Yet, Theodosia knew enough of her own family’s history to know that Antonia Varyshkova had ultimately found the sword to open one to love and happiness. She squared her jaw. And through the hasty sale from a vile, if prosperous, shipping magnate, that good fortune had been transferred to the Duke of Devlin and his horrid kin. No, Theodosia’s family had been robbed of the artifact. They’d known their share of the toil and bad luck that went with that legend. “I promise, Herbie, I shall retrieve the weapon and be on my way. The Duke of Devlin shall never even know I’ve entered his hallowed home.”
He gave her a skeptical look. “Still not the very least honor—oomph.” Carol buried the tip of her boot in his shin once more.
Theo gave her friend a smile, a way of showing she truly appreciated her support. She did. And with the Raynes’ luck, these years, she’d take any and all support she could get.
“All I am saying—”
“I do not care what you are saying,” Carol, the viscount’s younger by two years sister, snapped.
As brother and sister launched into a squabble about the word honor, and Theo’s actions, and a pairing of that word dishonor that resulted in further grunts from Herbie, Theodosia turned her attention to the window. She tugged back the curtain and peered out into the passing, dark, London streets, her masked visage reflected back in the crystal panel.
The rub of it was…she did see the merit of Herbie’s argument. It wasn’t honorable, even if it was common, to enter someone’s ball without an invitation. But the Duke of Devlin and his lucky-in-every-way family were not going to be handing out invitations to any member of the Rayne family. It just wasn’t going to happen.
The rivalry between them was an age-old one that dated through the years; a bitter feud fought for some beautiful lady and the rights to that lady. The animosity between their two families had only been intensified when her family’s great sword had been sold off to none other than one of those monstrous Renshaw ancestors. Even with all the years that had passed since that theft, the acrimony burned just as strong.
She pursed her lips. Particularly when one of those blasted gentlemen went and stole another man’s love. Her poor brother. The carriage hit a particularly nasty bump in the road and she knocked into Carol’s side, interrupting her friend’s impressive rant.
“Pardon,” she murmured as Carol steadied her.
Her friend waved her hand dismissively. “Where was I?” She jabbed a finger at her brother and launched once more into her diatribe for poor Herbie. “I’ve not finished with you, Herbert Harold Cresswall.”
Before, Theo had felt just a niggling of guilt, now she felt all manner of guilt. When Carol was in one of her tempers it really wasn’t pleasant. When one of those tempers was directed at one person, it was all the worse. She should know. Closer to sisters than friends, Theo had been on the receiving end of one of those jabbing fingers far too many times.
Theo returned her attention to the surprisingly quiet streets as the carriage rattling through them at an impressive clip. Unease turned in her belly. She brushed it back. Or she tried to. The nasty little churning remained. She’d so carefully considered this whole scheme, knew the rightness of her plan, and her family’s claim to that sword, and yet now…unease rolled along her spine.
“Don’t be silly,” she muttered under her breath. Neither the Duke of Devlin nor any of his three devilish siblings would dare find her hidden amidst their masked guests at their annual, famed masquerade.
She pursed her lips. One of the most famed, favorite events of a London Season, which she’d never had an opportunity to attend. Granted she’d only just entered her third Season, but it never felt pleasant to be left out—of anything. She should know. Plenty of doors were closed to the Raynes, all because the Duke of Devlin and his devilish kin had done nothing to hide their disdain of the Rayne family.
Who would welcome a mere earl’s family when it would earn the displeasure of a duke? You didn’t do it. You just didn’t do it.
The carriage jerked to a sudden, unexpected stop. Her heart dipped. “We’re here?”
Carol’s lips, turned up in a gleeful smile. “We’re here.” Then, Carol had always found romanticism in subterfuge.
The driver pulled the door open and Herbie stepped down, wincing as his feet collided with the pavement, likely sore from having so many kicks dealt him by Carol in her shepherdess’ costume with those serviceable boots. Carol allowed the servant to hand her down, and turned, looking back questioningly at Theo, who was frozen inside the carriage.
The frisson of unease grew, spiraling inside her. And she knew it must be madness because she never worried about Herbie, the habitual worrier, well…worrying. But the manner in which the thick, London fog rolled over the pavement, and the night clouds eerily rolled past the moon bespoke doom. Oh, don’t be a ninny.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Come along then, Th—” She clamped her lips tight.
Giving her head a shake, Theo stepped down from the carriage. The metal of her costume rattled noisily. She adjusted her armor and then reached back for the enormous, and more importantly, fake broadsword upon her seat. Just a small piece in her plot. A necessary piece that would ensure her actions this night attracted no suspicious looks.
She fell into step alongside Carol and hurried after Herbie. As they walked, Theo studied the pink stucco townhouse awash in the soft glow of candles. The Devil, as she’d come to call him, of course, lived in London’s most fashionable end of Mayfair and likely had an elegant, white marble foyer and a grand sweeping staircase.
She climbed the handful of steps and the butler, resplendent in a mask, drew the door open. Theo filed in behind Herbie and Carol, entering…the elegant foyer resplendent in, of course, the white marble floor and grand sweeping staircase.
“Of course,” she mumbled to herself.
Footmen rushed forward to relieve them of their cloaks. She hesitated and then shrugged out of the green muslin garment, feeling entirely naked, even as she was fully concealed in her armor, piecemeal, and black breeches.
“Quite scandalous donning breeches,” Herbie muttered.
Yes. But then, it was the least scandalous thing she’d done yet this evening, and would do for the remainder of it.
He looked as though he wished to say more on it but then Carol quelled his words with another dark look.
Then, the butler led them toward the noise filtering from deep within the townhouse. The ballroom. Her heart sped up, a thrill that had nothing to do with the excitement likely filling every other unwed, young lady present. Those ladies would be seeking stolen kisses and the promise of a mere taste of passion.
Theodosia had only one manner of theft on her mind…and had for the better part of a fortnight.
Carol slowed her step and Theodosia adjusted her stride to match the pace set by her friend. “You’re blinking.”
“Of course I’m blinking,” Theodosia muttered. Except she knew what her friend meant.
“Oh, come, you know what I mean.” Yes, those rapid, too many blinks that had made her a deplorable liar as a child.
Did you steal your brother’s biscuit? Blinkblinkblink.
Did you cut up your brother’s shirt and stitch a gown for your pug? Blinkblinkblink.
Carol caught her hand. She passed her gaze over her face. “You’ve…we’ve, worked through all the details.”
Theodosia looked after Herbie and the butler…of course wildly—blinking. “I’ll not be discovered,” she said, not sure if she sought to convince herself or Carol.
“You’ll be in and then you’ll be gone.” The driver had, of course, been instructed to wait at the opposite end of the street for Lady Theodosia and Carol. Her faithful friend would forego the evening’s fun for her.
“It shall go perfectly smoothly.” She shifted her weapon to her other hand.
Carol took her by the other and pulled her down after Herbie, who stood in wait beside the butler, a pained expression revealed even through the black domino he’d donned as…a king’s jester. It really was the perfect costume for the ever-worrying Herbie.
At last, they reached the ballroom and Theo became an interloper from the enemy family, hidden by a mask and some armor and a carefully conceived plan. And as she slipped into the ballroom alongside Carol and Herbie, gay laughter and the thrum of the orchestra blared loud, nearly deafening in its exuberance.
For a moment, she allowed herself, who’d been far too serious for far too long with her hopelessly unfortunate family to forget that she’d snuck in uninvited, to steal the host’s ancient weapon.
Er…her family’s ancient weapon. For the promise she’d made Herbie to steal her sword and be on her way, she’d allow herself but a small moment to enjoy the evening’s festivities. Purely to avoid attracting notice is all.
Yes, that was it.
“You said you were leaving,” Herbie hissed.
“Do hush.” She nudged him with her elbow. “You’ve injured my feelings.”
He frowned. “It wasn’t my intention.”
She’d merely been teasing him. She knew he wasn’t trying to be unkind, but rather feared the duplicitous role he’d agreed to. “Do not worry, I’ll slip out and then you’ll…”
“Yes, yes, I know my role.” Sweat dotted his high forehead. Obviously, the fear of being discovered stealing something from the Devil Duke was a far more egregious offense than agreeing to secret her into the duke’s home. All entirely accurate.
“I shall meet you in the foyer,” Carol said from the side of her mouth.
Everyone knew his or her respective roles.
“Now, go,” she ordered brother and sister. It wouldn’t do for them to be discovered speaking or together…but for the end…when she was triumphant in her plan.
Herbie sprinted off, entirely too eager, by her thinking, to be free of her.
“That one gives me doubts,” Carol whispered hurriedly and then without another word, disappeared into the crowd.
Theo hesitated and surveyed the crowded room. She shifted her armor, wishing Joan of Arc had managed to fight a battle in something at least less sweltering. Then, gossamer or satin or silk provided little protection against an enemy’s blade.
The orchestra concluded a lively country reel and the room erupted into a blaring cheer. An involuntary grin pulled at her lips and, for a moment, she forgot what brought her here. Forgot that her brother Richard had taken to overindulging in spirits after his heart had been broken and forgot that another brother had gone missing after fighting Boney’s forces.
For in this moment, if even for just a bit, it felt nice to simply be any other young lady lost in the merriment of the evening. On the heel of that was the tug of guilt. Even if all her efforts here this evening were for her family…all they would know is that she’d entered the Devil’s lair.
Theo eyed the door. She really should be after the broadsword, now. In fact, she should have begun her search as soon as she’d arrived. And yet…she lingered in the corner of the ballroom, on the fringe, unnoticed by all.
Which was best. It was far safer this way. Yes, it was best if she remained as invisible as possible. Anything else would be calamitous.