When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancé brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.
Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with….But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?
Seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne shoved the note from Lord Margrave’s heir—Niall Lindsey—into her pocket. Then she slipped into her mother’s bedchamber. “Mama,” she whispered. “Are you awake?”
Her mother jerked her head up from amid the satin covers and feather pillows like a startled deer. Brilliana winced to see her mother’s lips drawn with pain and her eyes dulled by laudanum, even in mid-afternoon.
“What do you need, love?” Mama asked in her usual gentle voice.
Oh, how she loathed deceiving Mama. But until her suitor spoke to his parents about their marrying, she had to keep the association secret.
“I’m going for my walk in Green Park.” Where Niall, my love, will join me. “Do you need anything?”
Despite her pain, Mama smiled. “Not now, my dear. You go enjoy yourself. And tell Gilly to make sure you don’t stray near the woods.”
What a lie. The woods were where she would meet Niall, where Gilly would keep watch to make sure no one saw him and Brilliana together. Thank heaven her maid was utterly loyal to her.
Brilliana started to leave, then paused. “Um. Papa said he won’t be home until evening.” Which meant he wouldn’t be home until he’d lost all his money at whatever game he was playing tonight. “Are you sure you don’t need me?”
She dearly hoped not. Niall’s note had struck her with dread, partly because he rarely wrote to her. Usually he just met her at Green Park for her daily stroll when he could get away from friends or family. Something must be wrong.
Still, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to find out what. And perhaps let him steal a kiss or two.
She blushed. Niall was very good at that.
“I’ll be fine,” Mama said tightly. “I have my medicine right here.”
Guilt swamped Brilliana. “If you’re sure . . .”
“Go, dear girl! I’m just planning to sleep, anyway.”
That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.
A short while later, she and Gilly were in Green Park waiting at the big oak for Niall.
“Did he say why he wanted to meet, miss?” Gilly asked.
“No. Just that it was urgent. And it had to be today.”
“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”
Her breath caught. “I doubt it. He would have approached Papa if that were the case.”
Gilly’s face fell. “Then you’d best take care. ’Cause if he spends as much time with the soiled doves as I’ve heard—”
“He’s not like that,” Brilliana said. “Not with me.”
Except for those lovely kisses. But he was respectful otherwise. Besides, the gossips always painted a scandalous picture—that’s why they were called gossips—but through weeks of secret meetings, she’d seen his character, and it was a good one. She was sure of it.
“There you are,” said a masculine voice behind them. “Thank God you came.”
Her heart leapt as she turned to see Niall striding up to them. At twenty-three, he was quite the handsomest man she’d ever known—lean-hipped and tall and possessed of the most gorgeous hazel eyes, which changed color from cedar-brown to olive-green depending on the light. And his unruly mop of gold-streaked walnut-hued hair made her itch to set it to rights.
Though she didn’t dare be so forward in front of Gilly. Not until she and Niall were formally betrothed. Assuming that ever happened.
Offering Brilliana his arm, he cast Gilly a pointed glance. “I’ll need a few minutes alone with your mistress. Will you keep watch?”
Gilly curtsied deeply. “Of course, my lord.”
Normally, her maid balked a little at that, though she gave in at the end, but she was obviously eager to give Niall a chance to propose.
Indeed, his behavior did signal that today wasn’t like their usual meetings. Without any of his usual pleasantries, he led Brilliana into the woods to the little clearing where they usually talked.
All her joy in the meeting vanished. “You do realize how fortunate we are that Gilly is a romantic. Otherwise, she would never let us do these things.”
“I know, Bree.” Though he was the only one to call her that, she rather liked the nickname. It made her sound carefree when she felt anything but.
He halted well out of earshot of Gilly. “And then I wouldn’t get the chance to do this.”
He drew her into his arms for a long, ardent kiss, and she melted. If he was kissing her, he obviously didn’t mean to break with her. As long as they had this between them . . .
But it was over far too soon. And when he drew back to stare at her with a haunted look, her earlier dread returned.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
Glancing away, he mumbled a decidedly ungentlemanly oath. “You are going to be furious with me.”
She fought to ignore the alarm knotting her belly. “I could never be furious with you. What has happened? Just tell me.”
“This morning I fought a duel.”
“What?” Her heart dropped into her stomach. Good Lord. How could that be? “I-I don’t understand.” She must have heard him wrong. Surely the man she’d fallen in love with wasn’t the violent sort.
“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”
She hadn’t misheard him, then. Still scarcely able to believe it, she roamed the little clearing, her blood like sludge in her veins. “What on earth would even make you do such a thing?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He threaded his fingers through his sun-kissed hair. “It’s done, and now I risk being hanged.”
Hanged? Why would he be—
Of course. Dueling was considered murder. Her heart stilled. Her love was a murderer. And now he could die, too!
“So I’m leaving England tonight,” he went on. “For good.”
The full ramifications of all he’d told her hit her. “You . . . you’re leaving England,” she echoed hollowly. And me.
His gaze met hers. “Yes. And I want you to go with me.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and works of short fiction (some written under the pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas).
At home in front of a crowd, Jeffries is a sought-after speaker, as evidenced by her 2010 gig as emcee for the National Romance Writers of America’s 30th Anniversary Awards Ceremony.
Whatever time not spent speaking to organizations around the country or writing in a coffee-fueled haze is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and music.
With over 9 million books in print in more than 20 languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics (she has a Ph.D. in English literature) for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world.
She always dreams big.