The Duchess and the Highwayman
By Beverley Oakley
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A duchess disguised as a lady’s maid; a gentleman parading as a highwayman.
She’s on the run from a murderer, he’s in pursuit of one…
In a remote Norfolk manor, Phoebe, Lady Cavanaugh is wrongfully accused by her servants of her brutal husband’s murder.
There’s little sympathy in the district for the duchess who’s taken a lover and made clear she despised her husband. The local magistrate has also vowed revenge since Lady Cavanaugh rebuffed his advances.
When Phoebe is discovered in the forest wearing only a chemise stained with the blood of her murdered husband, she persuades the noble ‘highwayman’ who rescues her that she is Lady Cavanaugh’s maidservant.
Hugh Redding has his own reasons for hunting down the man who would have Phoebe tried and hanged for murder. He plans to turn ‘the maidservant with aspirations above her station’ into the ‘lady’ who might testify against the very villain who would see Phoebe dead.
… Despite the fierce attraction between Phoebe and the ‘highwayman’, Phoebe is not in a position to admit she’s the ‘murderous duchess’ hunted across the land.
Seizing an opportunity to strike at the social and financial standing of the man who has profited by her distress, Phoebe is drawn into a dangerous intrigue.
… When disaster strikes, she fears Hugh will lack the sympathy or understanding of her unusual predicament to even want to save her a second time.
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She was astonished by the stab of feeling his amused and interested gaze unleashed within her. Her nipples hardened and she felt an instant heat in her lower belly that surely wasn’t just gratitude for the dress he’d paid for. Tempering her smile she looked away. It was a relief she was still capable of warm feelings for a man but she mustn’t allow herself to grow too fond of him. He was a means to an end.
“Well, together we shall prevail, Phoebe.” They’d reached the window embrasure where he put his finger beneath her chin and tipped her head. “I was thinking long and hard about what you said the other day.” At her inquiringly look he added, “That the way to bring Wentworth down would be discover what he most wanted.”
“I already told you what he most wants. The estate he’s inherited through murder.”
“And you plan to return to Blinley Manor to spy on him, is that right?”
She shook her head, suddenly afraid. “I can’t possibly go into company where he might recognise me.”
Mr Redding frowned. “But the new dress. I thought that was your very intention. I thought you planned to pretend to be a lady -”
“A lady, yes, but not …” She trailed off, miserable and fearful.
“You are very loyal to your mistress, aren’t you, Phoebe?” His tone softened. “Yet, despite your boldness, you’re doubting your abilities, aren’t you?” He drew her unexpectedly against him and his hands contoured her curves, skimming up and over the fine muslin before cupping her face. “Don’t worry, Phoebe, I shall be your tutor?”
“My tutor?” She pulled away, not liking the change in him. “I am not as easy as you might suppose, Mr Redding,” she ground out, fighting the urge to cry. Just when she’d begun to like and trust him he’d reverted to type.
He put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m curious. You pretend you’re an innocent, but you clearly have experience of men. You speak and behave like a lady. Who are you really, Phoebe?”
She felt her mouth drop open and didn’t know how to answer. She wasn’t ready to confess her identity when she wasn’t sure enough of Mr Redding.
“Were you trading on past experience to be so beguiling when you desired a new dress? Were you a rich man’s mistress, perhaps?”
Phoebe hung her head. That’s exactly what she’d been and her body language and silence seemed to confirm it in Mr Redding’s mind.
“So once you had a rich protector but now you’re a lady’s maid?”
Unable to look him in the eye, she nodded, tears threatening.
“And now I am your protector and am funding a new wardrobe.”
She gasped and jerked her head up. “So this is when you ask me to sleep with you?”
He shook his head. “Not if the idea is so repugnant. No, I promised a fair trade: your information to bolster a case against Wentworth.” His voice dropped as his eyes travelled over her, lingering on her décolletage which, for the first time, was shown to best advantage thanks to the stays the dressmaker had procured in a hurry. “I still hold out hope I might persuade you of my inherent charm, though.”
“Well, you can hope in vain, Mr Redding. I may have lost my virtue but not my dignity.”
He put out his hand slowly, as if coaxing a small animal and Phoebe watched his seeking fingers gently skim the puffed roulade of her sleeve before advancing across her shoulder towards her bared skin. Anticipation rose and she sucked in a shallow breath as he slowly contoured the edge of her gown, skimming the top of her breasts.
“I know you’ve felt more than just a passing interest in me, from the moment we met, Phoebe,” he whispered. His hand dipped beneath the fabric of her bodice and she gasped, unsure whether to resist or succumb.
By God, but he was making this difficult. She’d wanted any encounter of a physical nature to be on her terms if only to prove she was not the weak creature she’d always been with Wentworth.
Swallowing, she suddenly pulled away, saying in as disinterested voice as she could manage, “What news of the murder at the manor? You were out on horseback in the village this morning, were you not?”
Beverley Oakley was seventeen when she bundled up her first her 500+ page romance and sent it to a publisher. Unfortunately drowning her heroine on the last page was apparently not in line with the expectations of romance readers so Beverley became a journalist.
Twenty-six years later Beverley was delighted to receive her first publishing contract from Robert Hale (UK) for a romance in which she ensured her heroine was saved from drowning in the icy North Sea.
Since 2009 Beverley has written more than thirteen historical romances, mostly set in England during the early nineteenth century. Mystery, intrigue and adventure spill from their pages and if she can pull off a thrilling race to save someone’s honour – or a worthy damsel from the noose – it’s time to celebrate with a good single malt Scotch.
Beverley lives with her husband, two daughters and a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy the size of a pony opposite a picturesque nineteenth century lunatic asylum. She also writes Africa-set adventure-filled romances tarring handsome bush pilot heroes, and historical romances with less steam and more sexual tension, as Beverley Eikli.
You can get in contact with Beverley at:
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