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Authors: Victoria Alexander

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The Lady In Question

BOOK: The Lady In Question
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Victoria Alexander

The

Lady in Question

This book is dedicated

to Tory

with love from Mom.

Giving you roots was easy,

giving you wings was

the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

In spite of your wacko parents,

you’ve grown up beautifully

and your dad and I are so proud.

Stretch your wings, sweet baby girl,

and know we will always be here for you.

Contents

Prologue

Could he indeed change his life?

Chapter 1

Dearest Cassie…

Chapter 2

The door closed behind the Effington woman and he breathed…

Chapter 3

“Well” — Delia studied the piece of cheese she held between…

Chapter 4

Delia bolted upright in the night. She gasped for breath.

Chapter 5

“Blue in here, I should think.”

Chapter 6

Delia stepped into the entry at Effington Hall and drew…

Chapter 7

Tony had never particularly given much attention to the question…

Chapter 8

“I don’t believe I have ever felt quite so awkward…

Chapter 9

“I wasn’t entirely sure you’d meet me.”

Chapter 10

Dearest Cassie…

Chapter 11

This might well be an enormous mistake. Or a truly…

Chapter 12

If one was fortunate enough to have the resources of…

Chapter 13

My Dear Delia…

Chapter 14

Dearest Cassie…

Chapter 15

My Dear Delia…

Chapter 16

Delia was taking him to her bed. Right now, this…

Chapter 17

“I feel compelled to be honest with you.” Delia paced…

Chapter 18

“Don’t you think a blindfold is a rather excessive measure?”

Chapter 19

“And you have come to me for advice?” The Duke…

Chapter 20

The muscles in the back of his neck tensed the…

Chapter 21

Tony closed the door of her bedchamber — their bedchamber — firmly

Chapter 22

“Obviously, I am a better spy than you are.” Disdain…

Chapter 23

My Dear Delia…

About the Author

Avon Romances by Victoria Alexander

Cover

Copyright

About the Publisher

Prologue

January 1820

Could he indeed change his life?

He stared into the dark night and the darker water, his senses alert to any odd sound, any movement out of place in this secluded section of the Dover docks. Tonight, as always, his life depended on it. A man who was not vigilant every moment could find himself a failure and a dead failure, at that. He leaned against a stack of crates, well out of the lit areas of the docks, as much a part of the shadows as any creature of the night. He’d always rather liked this part, this waiting for the unknown. There was an odd sort of solitude, even comfort, offered by the dark. He was truly alone at moments like this, accompanied only by his own instincts and his private thoughts.
Or had she already changed it?

Even now, when he could ill afford any distraction, the question demanded attention. He hadn’t planned on allowing her into his life. Hadn’t planned on anything past using her to get the information he needed. And he certainly hadn’t planned on marriage.

But the blasted woman had touched something within him he thought long dead and buried. She’d looked beyond the carefully cultivated image of rakish scoundrel and womanizing rogue, tolerated in society only because of parentage and title, to what he’d once been. Perhaps what he could be again. No.

What he
would
be again, one way or another. Much depended on what happened tonight. He’d never before considered what he would have to do to leave the work he’d done, and done well, for more than a decade. Ending his relationship with the clandestine department that had quietly evolved after the war would not be easy. But who else among the brave fools he’d worked with could accomplish such a coup as well as he? St. Stephens, perhaps.

“I assume you brought the money.”

She emerged from the darkness like a specter made of nothing more substantial than the fog. He was hard-pressed to hide his shock at the sight of her. Of course, he should have realized the truth of her nature years ago. It was annoying that he hadn’t. And annoying as well that he hadn’t noted her approach. His mind was not where it should be, and that was as dangerous as the woman before him.

“I should have suspected your lovely hand in this.” His voice was cool, casual, as if they were meeting one another during an afternoon stroll in a park and not on a Dover dock late in the night.

“I am surprised you didn’t.” The tone of her response matched his. Even in the faint light, he could see the slight, familiar curve of her smile. “No doubt your mind was far too occupied with thoughts of your new wife.”

He shrugged, refusing to show so much as a twinge of emotion at her charge.

“I was surprised as well you had taken such a step.” Genuine curiosity sounded in her voice. “I did not think you were the type of man ever to wed.”

“Perhaps you did not know me as well as you thought.”

“Perhaps.” She paused. “Nor did I think she was the sort of woman you would choose to warm your bed.”

He bit back a satisfied smile. A voice in his head warned him to watch his step. He ignored it. “The sort of woman one chooses to warm one’s bed is rarely the same sort one marries.”

He sensed more than heard her sharp intake of breath. It was foolish of him to bait her this way. But she’d known, as well as he, their times together had been little more than an enjoyable diversion on either side. Odd, then, her reaction to his marriage.

“I believe you have something that belongs to me.” Her voice was brisk and businesslike but carried a sharp edge that did not bode well.

Again, he hid his surprise. If indeed she knew what he had found, this meeting was far more treacherous than he had expected. He chose his words carefully. “I brought the money.”

“Excellent. And I’m more than willing to give you the documents.” Her voice hardened. “But I want the notebook.”

He should have paid closer attention to the contents of the notebook, but there’d scarcely been enough time to do more than glance at it and find a hiding place where it would be safe until all this was resolved.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He shrugged.

“I don’t believe you.”

Her gaze slipped past him and at once he realized she was not alone. Without warning, strong hands gripped him on either side. It was pointless to struggle. Only his wits would get him out of this now.

“I’m here for the documents, nothing more. Now.” He glanced at the men on either side of him. Both outweighed him and were no doubt armed. Escape would be a challenge. “If you will have these gentlemen release me, the money is in my carriage.”

She studied him for a moment. “I don’t believe that either.”

Still, she nodded at the man to his right, who released him and headed off. The other pulled his arms behind his back and held him securely. At least the odds were better now. And his carriage was some distance away. It would take time for her other henchman to return. She was right, of course. He had the money on him.

“Now I want the notebook.”

“I have no idea —” The man behind him jerked his arms back harder and he winced. “Well, that’s scarcely polite.”

“I am not in the mood to be polite.” She stepped closer, and the moonlight glinted off a knife in her hand. Yet another thing he should have expected. She’d always been good with a knife.

“I cannot give you what I don’t have.” He stared down at her and wondered if there was a better way to get out of this than confrontation. He softened his tone. “But we have always given one another pleasure. We have been good together. Have you forgotten that?”

“I have forgotten nothing.”

“And nothing needs to change between us simply because I am now married.”

“And what of your wife?”

“My wife has a great deal of money.” He forced an offhand note to his voice. “She is a necessity. A man in my position needs a respectable wife and an heir. My marriage means nothing more than that.”

She moved closer, close enough to kiss. “Once again, I don’t believe you.”

But the tone in her voice said she wanted to believe him. It was at once a good sign and far and away more dangerous. Emotions always raised the stakes.

“Believe me, my dear. There has only ever been one woman for me.” He lowered his head to meet her lips.

Her lips whispered against his. “Do you love her?”

He hesitated for no more than a heartbeat, but it was enough.

“No,” he said in tandem with the plunge of her knife deep into his gut and the sharp pain that ripped away his breath and buckled his knees.

“Get rid of him.” Her voice was hard, cold, unyielding.

“But the money —” her cohort said.

“I don’t care,” she snapped.

The man released him and he realized his ploy for freedom had worked. Even as he tumbled into the cold water and unconsciousness enveloped him, confidence in his own abilities, his own invulnerability, never wavered.

He would not die like this. Not here and not tonight. He had survived before and he would survive again. Now he had far too much to live for.

Now he had her.

Chapter 1

June 1820

Dearest Cassie,

I have at last returned to London to take up residence in my husband’s house. I am all too
aware that Mother has yet to forgive me for my transgressions and continues to forbid you to so
much as speak to me, but if it is at all possible could you pay me a call this afternoon? I have
missed you terribly, dear sister. I arrived three days ago and there is no one here to talk to save
the servants, and they are an odd lot indeed…

“Given the circumstances, that is, all things considered, and the time that has passed…” Lady Wilmont, Philadelphia — Delia to her dearest friends, and, up until a scant six months ago, Miss Effington

— picked at an odd thread on the arm of the far-too-masculine sofa in the parlor of her late husband’s town house and forced a casual note to her voice. “Do you think Mother will ever speak to me again?”

“I certainly wouldn’t wager on it at the moment. She’s already gone on far longer than I would have expected.” Cassandra Effington, Delia’s younger sister by no more than two minutes, drew her brows together thoughtfully. “You know how Mother is. She has taken all of this as an affront to the stars, a defiance of destiny, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, she would, wouldn’t she?” Delia heaved a resigned sigh.

“Mother will come around eventually.” Cassie leaned closer and patted her twin’s hand. “In truth, I think now that you have returned from exile —”

“It wasn’t exile, Cassie, it was the Lake District.”

Cassie scoffed. “The Lake District in winter sounds very much like exile to me.”

“Not at all. Besides, each of our brothers visited and Father sent letters.”

“Even so, for the most part you were ensconced with a relative so distant we have scarcely heard of her.”

“Great-Aunt Cecily. She was quite nice — if rather private — which was well and good, because what I needed was time and distance,” Delia said firmly. “Away from London and gossip and scandal.”

“Perhaps we should send Mother to the Lake District. It’s taking her rather a long time to get over her —”

“Anger? Outrage? Embarrassment?”

“Yes, of course, all of that.” Cassie waved away her sister’s words as if they were of no importance.

“I believe Mother could manage anger, outrage, embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace, dishonor —”

“I don’t think I actually used the words
humiliation, disgrace
or
dishonor
,” Delia murmured.

“Use them or not, they are present nonetheless,” Cassie said firmly. “However, my point is that Mother could cope with all that and more. She is, even if merely by marriage, an Effington. And Effingtons are well used to dealing with the petty problems brought on by the occasional minor scandal.”

“You think this was minor, then?” Delia sat up a bit straighter.

“Oh, dear Lord, no. Not at the time anyway.” Cassie shook her head with far more enthusiasm than was necessary. “No, an Effington running off with a scoundrel of Lord Wilmont’s reputation was quite the
biggest
scandal of the year.”

“I suppose so.” Delia sank back in her seat, an odd rational portion of her mind chastising her for such posture. Miss Philadelphia Effington never slouched. Apparently, however, Lady Wilmont did.

BOOK: The Lady In Question
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