A Rogue’s Pleasure

A Rogue's Pleasure

By Hope Tarr

Miss Chelsea Bellamy is desperate

Her beloved brother is being held for ransom! Impoverished after the deaths of her parents, Chelsea doesn't have five shillings, never mind the five hundred pounds the kidnappers are demanding. With no one to turn to, she resorts to highway robbery to raise the sum.

Lord Anthony Grenville is bored

Viscount Montrose's coach is overtaken by a highwayman—who turns out to be no man at all! Anthony hasn't been this intrigued by anything, or anyone, since his return from the war. And when he catches the flame-haired thief breaking into his London house to further fill her coffers, he comes up with a plan to rescue her brother—and resolves to seduce her into his bed!

Their passion is mutual

Chelsea accepts Anthony's aid, but she'll never become his mistress—even if the thought of it fills her veins with liquid fire…

Previously published.

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Prologue

Albuera, Spain: May 16, 1811

Not even the roar of exploding cannonballs could drown the anguished pleas of the wounded languishing on the corpse-littered field. Some of the wretches called for water, some for their mothers, and some simply for death. Standing on the low ridge, Anthony Grenville studied the carnage through the lens of his spyglass. Squinting through rain and gray-black smoke, he forced himself to view the battlefield dispassionately, as if it were a chessboard and the dead and dying merely rooks sacrificed to win the match.

The fighting had begun just before eight that morning when Soult's French forces attacked the British Allies to the right instead of to the east as the English had anticipated. Mayhem ensued, a grim slogging match with volleys at close range. Neither side would cede defeat even after a torrential downpour rendered many of the muskets unfireable.

Rainwater slid off the front flap of Anthony's felt shako so that he was looking out through a waterfall. Cursing, he took off the hat and shook it just as his fellow rifleman and best friend Peter came up beside him.

Peter pulled off his own headgear and wiped his freckled forehead with the mud-spattered sleeve of his dark green jacket. “How's it looking,
Captain?
” He grinned, apparently not yet tired of teasing Anthony over his recent promotion.

But the past forty-eight hours without sleep had stolen what little capacity for humor Anthony still possessed. And grief over the loss of their friend Steven to malaria the month before made it almost impossible to smile.

He passed Peter the spyglass. “Here, see for yourself.”

Predictably Peter's smile turned into a scowl. “Bloody, bloody hell.” He handed the telescope back to Anthony and pulled a silver flask from the haversack slung over his one shoulder. “Sweet Jesus,” he exclaimed around a mouthful of port, “what can Cole be thinking? If we hold back much longer, we're all done for.”

Anthony exhaled. Their division commander, Sir Lowry Cole, was a decent sort but, like many staff officers assigned to the Peninsula, he lacked the boldness of a born leader. If Cole didn't make his move soon, they'd end up trapped, their alternatives being to surrender or to stand and be massacred. Had they really abandoned Badajoz the day before and marched through the night only to come to
this?

His frustration—fueled by a week of spoiled food, spotty sleep, and stupid command decisions—roiled. “Something has to be done,” he muttered, more to himself than to Peter. “Someone has to get to Cole, make him see that continuing to hold back isn't prudence; it's suicide.”

Peter snorted. “Someone who doesn't mind spending the rest of the war clapped in irons.”

This time Anthony smiled.
At least I'll face the firing squad in one piece.

Scanning the melee below, Anthony spotted Cole's gold-trimmed cocked hat. Already the enemy's cavalry was breaking through. The general, withdrawing his sword from the rib cage of a French dragoon, apparently did not see the Polish lancer charging toward him.

“Sir, look out!”

Anthony threw his spyglass aside. Ignoring Peter shouting for him to stay back, he ran
down the incline and into the open field. Sword drawn, he shoved Cole aside and parried a deadly lance thrust aimed at the general's skull. Before the trooper could launch a second attack, Anthony seized him by the collar, yanked him off his horse, and threw him to the ground. Avoiding the frightened eyes, Anthony neatly severed his foe's jugular.

Sickened, he turned back to Cole. The general had a gash on his forehead; otherwise, he appeared unharmed. Anthony helped him to the periphery of the field where a crumbling stone wall provided temporary shelter from the enemy's artillery.

Sir Lowry pulled a lace-edged handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. “Well done, Grenville. I owe you my life.”

“I'll settle for a word with you, sir.”

“You have my attention, Captain.”

Anthony braced himself. What he was about to suggest was tantamount to inviting a court-martial.

“Sir, it is my belief that we shall all be dead men ere nightfall if we remain here as fodder for Soult's powder.”

“Our orders are to hold and let Soult make the first move.” Cole's face was set in stubborn lines, but his eyes mirrored his uncertainty.

“With all due respect, sir, I believe that to follow those orders is suicide. If Soult manages to hold on to the right much longer, it's only a matter of time before he cuts us off from the roads to both Badajoz and Valverde.”

“You've a keen eye, Grenville, and a keen mind along with it.” Cole's expression was world-weary. “What do you propose?”

“A counterattack to drive them back over the river. 'Tis a risk, to be sure, but if we fail at least we die fighting like men.”

Cole hesitated. “Very well, spread the word among the other company commanders. I'll give the order to move out as soon as they have their men in position.”

The next hours sped by like the whizzing artillery. Reality transmuted to the pelting rain, the metallic tang of blood, and the blinding haze of gunpowder. Anthony tried to keep an eye on Peter, fighting nearby. His friend was peerless with a rifle but his swordsmanship left much to be desired, and he had a bad habit of forgetting to watch his back. An expert swordsman, Anthony covered him as best he could, although his own sword arm was cramping dangerously.

He'd just gutted a French fusilier when a sudden burning sensation scored his bicep. At first he thought he was having a muscle spasm, and then he looked down. Wetness seeped through the powder burn below his shoulder. The blood turned the green fabric a muddy brown but, despite the liberal flow, the bullet had missed the bone and made a clean pass through the sinew. He was about to give thanks for his narrow escape when a second shot struck him above the right knee, knocking him off his feet. He landed facedown on the sodden ground less than a foot away from the slain Frenchman. Fighting nausea, he dragged himself up on his elbows, the grass beneath him slick with blood. His blood. He thought of the truncated limbs he'd seen stacked outside surgeons' tents, and fear clawed his insides. He closed his mind to the image and forced himself to concentrate on how to avoid being trampled.

The closest cover was a pigsty nearly a yard away. White-hot lightning streaked down his injured leg, and his arm burned as though someone held a brazier to it, but he had to try. Gritting his teeth, he dragged himself toward the wooden enclosure, his progress measured in inches and sweat streaming his face. He gave a cheerless laugh. Crawling on his belly in the mud hardly
seemed in keeping with the dignity of a future earl, but life, even the prospect of life as a one-legged cripple, suddenly seemed very precious.

He was halfway to the sty when horse's hooves thundered toward him. He looked up. The French cuirassier charged, the braided horsehair queue of his helmet lashing the air. From several yards away, Anthony could see the bloodlust blazing from the cavalryman's eyes.

One last, longing glance at the pen. Not a prayer of reaching it in time.

Not a prayer.

Dear God, I don't want to die. Not here. Not now. Not like this.

Saber raised, the cuirassier whooped his triumph. Anthony slumped to the ground. A few paces away, a horse reared, and then shrieked. Curses in French, then a man's scream melding with a sickening thud.

Anthony felt the rumble in the soaked soil pressed beneath his cheek. The coarse brown grass was a far cry from the verdant meadowlands of England, but with a little imagination…

I hope you're a skillful swordsman, Frenchman.

Anthony closed his eyes and waited for blackness to overtake him.

Chapter One

Upper Uckfield, a hamlet in Sussex, England: September 1, 1812

Robert, kidnapped!

More than an hour after Chelsea Bellamy spotted the black-edged letter lying amidst that morning's post, her hands still shook. As did the rest of her. Sitting in the center of her canopied bed, legs tucked beneath her voluminous black skirts, she scanned the dispatch yet again, searching the elegantly penned words for some clue she might have overlooked.

My Dear Miss Bellamy:

I have your brother. I've plucked the lad from the London Road like an overripe plum to be my guest for the month. The price of my hospitality—and his release? Five hundred pounds to be delivered by you at midnight on the thirtieth.

Five hundred pounds! A fortune. Biting her bottom lip, she forced herself to read on.

Come alone to the church of St. Mary-le-Bow in East London, place a satchel with the money on the first pew, then leave. Proceed directly to the Rutting Bull Tavern. Young Robert will join you there within the hour. Fail to obey even one of my instructions, so much as show this letter to another living soul, and you will be signing your brother's death warrant.

Palms damp, Chelsea refolded the crisp, cologne-scented foolscap and dropped it into her lap. Could it be a ruse? Might Robert be aboard his ship bound for Lisbon, safe for the time being from kidnappers and Boney's Butchers alike? She doubted it, but she'd write to the War Office in London anyway. Surely someone there would be able to tell her whether or not he'd reported to his duty officer?

Until she received a reply, she must assume the note was genuine. As it must be, for how else could Robert's signet ring have gotten inside? An intaglio
B
worked in onyx and ancient gold, it hadn't left Robert's middle finger since the vicar had removed it from their father's stiff hand.

Tears burned the backs of her eyes.
Oh, Papa, if only you were here to advise me.
But she could imagine what he'd say.
Cogito, ergo sum
.
I think, therefore I am,
she translated aloud, a wistful smile playing about her lips. A great admirer of Descartes, Richard Bellamy had reared his only daughter to believe that there was no problem in the universe so vast that a properly exercised intellect could not master it. Over the past year she'd been called on to put the French philosopher's maxim to the test more times than she cared to count.

Beginning with the carriage accident that had claimed the lives of both her parents the autumn before. Then a drought had ruined the corn crop. Robert had been in his second year at Oxford, and Chelsea had scrimped to pay his tuition. That he had rewarded her efforts by being sent down for behavior unbecoming a gentleman—a schoolboy prank involving a feisty goat placed in a professor's bed—had exerted a particularly depressing effect on her usually formidable spirit. And when he'd announced his intention to use the last of their money to purchase a commission in an army regiment bound for Portugal, they'd quarreled bitterly.

“Christ, Chels, I'm off to London in a week.” Robert, eyes wounded, crossed the library toward her. “I know you're not happy about it, but won't you at least wish me Godspeed?”

Barricaded behind their father's desk, she mounted her defense. “Don't blaspheme,” she spat, her own eyes brimming. “And no, I won't wish you Godspeed, bon voyage, or anything else. Not when it's bullets and cannonballs you're rushing to meet.”

She'd even refused to attend his farewell assembly. Everyone in Upper Uckfield between the ages of nine and ninety had turned out to bid farewell to their local hero. Even now, with guilt twisting her throat so taut she could barely swallow, she didn't think she could have borne it. An entire evening of their neighbors ruminating over every detail of Robert's impending departure—date, time, travel route—like cows chewing their cud.

She released a shaky breath. Date. Time. Travel route. Everything someone would need to know to plan an ambush.

Could Robert's kidnapper be one of their neighbors? The prospect chilled her, and she hastened to dismiss it. They had no enemies to speak of and, even if they had, their straightened circumstances were common knowledge. If the kidnapper lived among them, surely he—or she—must realize that five hundred pounds was a fortune to her, nearly as unreachable as moonstone and almost as dear.

But not as dear as Robert.

No, this mischief was the work of a stranger—some ne'er-do-well who'd passed through Upper Uckfield just as preparations for Robert's departure were under way. A nineteen-year-old who made no secret of his plans to travel to London alone, a sister left behind to fend for herself—Robert and she would seem easy marks. And, while Upper Uckfieldians didn't hesitate to gossip among themselves, most would be loath to admit to an outsider that their leading family was worse off than the proverbial church mouse.

Perhaps she should ignore the kidnapper's injunction and appeal to the parish magistrate? Of all people, John Minnington should know if any suspicious persons had visited the hamlet of late. Nibbling on her bottom lip, Chelsea weighed the risk. Unpopular with both his tenants and neighbors, Minnington was appointed magistrate only after Chelsea's father resigned and no one else came forward to fill the vacancy. In the course of his tenure, he'd shown himself to be both incompetent and lazy. Chelsea wouldn't entrust her horse to the blunderbuss let alone Robert.

That decided, she turned to her principal dilemma—how to raise the ransom? Twirling Robert's ring about her thumb, she finally concluded there was no help for it. She would swallow her pride and bespeak a loan from her neighbor, Squire Dumfreys.

The prospect was far from appealing on several counts. Stubborn, self-reliant pride was the bane of the Bellamys, and Chelsea had inherited it in full measure. But pride was not the only reason she was reluctant to ask for money she had no idea of how or when she could repay.

The owner of the adjacent estate, Dumfreys had been a frequent guest at Oatlands for as long as Chelsea could remember. A bachelor with a fondness for children, he had played the honorary uncle to Chelsea and Robert. It was during her sixteenth year that he changed toward her. Although she wanted to believe that his frequent touches and compliments conveyed nothing more than avuncular affection, his behavior over the past year put flesh on the bones of her suspicions. On his last visit he'd cornered her in the library, and she felt certain he meant to kiss her. Fortunately her maid-of-all-work appeared at the door, and Chelsea seized the excuse to slip away.

But Robert's life was on the line. If she were to save her brother, she would have to put
both the Bellamy pride and her misgivings about the squire aside. Her decision made, she rose and crossed to the wardrobe, the hem of her bombazine mourning gown rustling on the bare wooden floor.

Having long ago learned to live without the luxury of a lady's maid, she pulled her dove gray riding habit off its peg and dressed quickly. Then she picked up her brush from the dresser and stepped in front of the mirror. Even after braiding and pinning her waist-length hair into a prim coronet, the red-gold strands shimmered as if ablaze. Scowling at her reflection, she picked up her bonnet and put it on. The effect was like snuffing a candle flame, and Chelsea felt relieved. Some folk might admire red hair, but she considered the color more affliction than boon. For one thing, people were forever testing her to determine whether or not she possessed the redhead's fabled volatile temper, which she did—in abundance. Far too often she had been goaded into displaying it.

The last time she lost control was the morning of Robert's departure for London. She'd known it would likely be a year or more before she saw her brother again, assuming he survived the French soldiers' bullets and the malaria sweeping through Wellington's Peninsular Army. Yet she'd wasted their last precious moments together upbraiding him for his past irresponsible behavior. Now guilt stabbed at her.

Unless she could raise the ransom, she would never be able to retract those scathing reproaches. Never have the chance to put her arms around Robert and tell him that, in spite of everything, she loved him. Choking back tears, she slipped the folded message into her pocket. Her baby brother was in grave danger, and she would do everything in her power to save him.

 

“Chelsea, my dear, come in.” Squire Dumfreys rose from the desk and hurried to where Chelsea stood in the study doorway.

She bit her lower lip. “I hope I'm not disturbing you.”

“Nonsense. This is an unexpected pleasure.”

The squire was tall and distinguished, his dark hair shot with silver at the temples. In his early fifties, he still attracted his fair share of admiration from matrons and maids alike. Ordinarily, expert tailoring disguised his tendency toward portliness, but the afternoon was warm, and he had removed his jacket. The bulge at his midriff strained the buttons of his embroidered waistcoat.

His hand slid to her shoulder as he guided her to the camelback sofa. His eyes, however, slid a good deal farther until she felt as though she stood before him stripped to her shift.

“How charming you look. You've blossomed into a woman this twenty-first year, and a beautiful one at that.”

“That is very kind of you.” Fighting the urge to flee, she sat and untied her bonnet strings.

“May I offer you some refreshment? A glass of ratafia, perhaps?”

Chelsea set the bonnet aside and smoothed her hair. “No thank you. I do not care for anything.” Heart hammering, she watched him pour himself a glass of port. “I'm afraid I've come to ask a favor.”

He strolled toward her, glass in hand. “My dear child, I've always told you that if I can ever be of any assistance, you have only to ask.”

“Perhaps you had better hear me out first.”

Bypassing a pair of leather chairs, he sat next to her, his shoulder brushing hers. Fear
frissoned through her.

He leaned closer and patted the top of her hand. “Nonsense. Now tell me, how can I help?”

“I need to borrow—” she drew a bracing breath, “—five hundred pounds.”

His smile slipped. “That is a great deal of money.” He cleared his throat. “May I ask why you require such a sum?”

She hesitated, twisting her hands in her lap.

“You aren't in some sort of trouble, I trust?”

“I—I'm afraid I can't tell you that.” Realizing how rude she must sound, she rushed on. “It would only be a loan. I promise to repay you with interest after the next harvest.”

“This loan…it wouldn't happen to be for that young scamp Robert, now would it?”

She studied his face, wondering how she had betrayed herself. “How did you know?”

He chuckled, once more the indulgent uncle figure of her childhood. “Robert would not be the first young man to be lured into deep play by an experienced cardsharp.”

Chelsea exhaled in relief. Praying she could carry off the deception, she bowed her head. “Robert is having, er…difficulties, I'm afraid.” It was, after all, the truth.

His smile was sage. “Young men will sow their wild oats. 'Tis inevitable. You must not be too harsh with Robert for a first offense.”

Her throat tightened. “No, I suppose not.”

“Very well, my dear, you shall have your five hundred pounds.” His tone was beneficent, his smile benign. “I shall contact my solicitor directly. It should take only a few days for him to remand the sum.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “Oh, thank you. Thank you, sir. You shan't regret it, I promise.”

“I'm sure I shan't. But not another word about repayment. All this sordid talk of loans and interest dishonors me. I fully intend on making you a present of it.”

She turned to him, shamefaced in the presence of such generosity. “Oh, no, you are too good to us. I couldn't possibly accept.”

“But you must.” He raised a hand to stem her protests. “It gives me great pleasure to assist you.” He drained his glass, then set it aside. “In fact, Chelsea, you have always given me the greatest pleasure.”

Her stomach tightened. “Sir?”

“You were such a delightful child. I can see you even now. Such a pretty little thing. Those big, turquoise eyes of yours, so innocent looking up into mine.” Laying a hand on each of her shoulders, he drew her closer before she could move away. “Your child's hands, so soft, so small, reaching up for me to take you in my arms.”

The benevolent mask fell away, revealing the stark desire beneath. His hand slid down her arm, enfolding her cold fingers in his clammy grasp.

“Do you remember how you used to perch on my lap, letting me stroke your hair while I read to you?” He carried their linked hands to his face, stroking her knuckles down his smoothly shaven jaw. “Oh, Chelsea, it's been an eternity since I've felt your hands on me, since I've been able to kiss and fondle you as I once did.”

A sense of unreality descended, as though Chelsea's true self had separated from her body and stood watching from the safety of a shadowed corner.
This can't be happening. This must be a dream, a nightmare.

His glassy-eyed gaze fell to her breasts. “Even in that hideous riding habit, your beauty shines forth like a beacon to rescue a drowning man at sea. Only you can save me, Chelsea.
Save me!

Turning over her hand, he pressed his wet lips to her palm. The touch of his mouth returned her to reality. Fright churned her stomach in queasy waves.

“Squire Dumfreys…please.” She struggled to pull free. “You mustn't say such things.”

“Oh, but I must. If I keep the words locked inside me any longer, I shall burst. Chelsea, you must know how I feel about you. How I
burn
for you.”

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