AN EROTIC SECRET
As a maid at the Pleasure Emporium, Miss April Jardine has witnessed her share of sinful acts, but nothing as brazen as her own money-making scheme. By blackmailing the gentlemen named in the Madame’s private diaries, April can escape a life of drudgery—as long as she avoids the hangman’s noose. All goes swimmingly until she crosses paths with Lord Blackheath, the most powerful judge in England. His wicked gaze suggests he is torn between exposing April and seducing her—and April is only too pleased to oblige.
A SCANDALOUS EMBRACE
Blackheath has no doubt that the alluring firebrand could cripple his family’s finances and reputation with the bat of an eyelash. And yet…April outshines every dull Society belle he’s ever known, and nothing compares to the sensual bliss they share. But trusting this scheming Miss could cost him everything. Will he ever be able to welcome her into his home—and his heart?
Raves for When a Lady Misbehaves
“Debut author Marcos delivers a refreshing, creative take on the typical Regency, carried by the spirited April and buoyed throughout by lively plot twists.”
“Her heroine is a spunky delight, and her dark, hostile hero is an ideal foil. With this light, entertaining and enjoyable story, Marcos displays talents that are sure to grow with each new title.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
“WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES is the first in a bold and original new series by a bold and creative new voice in the romance world. Michelle Marcos is impressive in her debut. The characters in WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES are complex and immensely fascinating, the story is imaginative, and the plotting is excellent. Ms. Marcos makes some clever twists on the traditional romance. I highly recommend WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES...newcomer Michelle Marcos is an author to take note of.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“This rags-to-riches story by debut author [Marcos] absolutely sizzles. WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES is beautifully done and I highly recommend it.”
“WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES is loaded with smolder and charm…It was a joy to read this inventive, sexy and ultimately moving story.
—Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
My favorite historical romance is WHEN A LADY MISBEHAVES. The book has a surprise twist early on that was so refreshing and fun. It made this sweet, unconventional romance even harder to put down.”
—Angie Fox, New York Times bestselling author of Immortally Yours
Snuggled deep underneath a thick, warm comforter, April dreamed she was duchess of her own fiefdom, walking down the halls of her artfully decorated manse. She walked past rooms where servants gleefully dusted the furniture and arranged flowers, and she sighed contentedly at the knowledge that she was safe behind the walls of her riches and titles. Suddenly, she heard a rumbling footfall behind her. She turned but saw no one. Frightened by the thundering noise, she began to run. It seemed there were hundreds of men running after her, pounding closer and closer, until she felt them reach out for her…
April woke with a start. Dazed, she heard the rumble still. It came from beneath her window, in the courtyard below – the thunder of hooves on the flagstones. Ignoring her state of dishabille, she ran to the window and threw back the curtains. The late morning sun exploded in her face. Too late to make good their planned escape.
The voices below distracted her. A number of servants had assembled on the courtyard, huddling in a semicircle around the carriage, bowing and curtseying to the open door. Two men emerged, and disappeared into the house.
Jenny stormed in, startling April. “You overslept!”
“So did you!” April retorted.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Jenny’s question hung in the air.
There was a knock at the door, and an elfin chambermaid entered. “Morning, miss. Brought your breakfast tray.”
“Yes, come in,” April told her, ignoring Jenny’s nervous pacing. The slender maid set the tray down on the table, and efficiently began to tidy the bed linens.
“What was all that commotion downstairs?”
“The master of the house, miss. He and his father have just come home. Sorely missed, he is. Master Riley has been too long a time away at court.”
“Court? Was he attending the monarch?”
The maid giggled as she fluffed the pillow. “Oh, no, miss. Not that court. The Assizes. Master Riley serves as the Circuit Judge.”
“What?” shouted April and Jenny simultaneously, making the poor maid jump.
“I mean,” assuaged April, more composed, “did you say that Master Riley is a judge?”
“Why, yes, miss. We’re very lucky to have our Master Riley on the bench. And it’s not just ‘cause he’s a noble. He studied law at university. That makes him more qualified than anyone in the county to be judge. You’ll not find a more moral, upright man in all England. Straight as an arrow is our Master Riley. He’s as fair and true as they come. Friend to the honest man, I like to say, and worst nightmare to the ne’er-do-well. Don’t you worry, miss, you’re as safe as mother’s milk in this house,” she said proudly, and closed the door behind her.
April and Jenny looked at each other, neither able to speak.
Jenny was the first to find her tongue. “I told you to leave well enough alone, didn’t I? I told you that £2,000 were enough, didn’t I? I told you we should’ve stopped, didn’t I?”
“Shut up! I have to think.”
“We’re for it, now!” Jenny continued, her voice trembling. “We’ll be arrested. He’s going to throw us in jail for sure. D’ye have any idea what it’s like in a women’s jail? Oh, I wish I’d never left London!” Jenny began to cry.
“Don’t say that!” April threw her arms around her friend. “Look, we’re not for it. He hasn’t even met us yet. All we have to do is keep up the act. As long as we can convince them we’re April Devereux and her maid, nothing can go wrong. You just leave it to me. Just help get me dressed, and I’ll have him eating out of me palm before you can say flibbertigibbet.”
With a calm she did not feel, April descended the grand staircase toward the morning room behind Forrester. She didn’t like the idea of being introduced to the men alone; single ladies never entertained men unaccompanied. But shaken by the news that they were trapped in the house of the highest judiciary officer in the county, Jenny was in no fit state to meet the judge and his father.
Forrester stopped before the ornate double doors, and April took a deep breath.
Inside, three men came to their feet. She smiled at Jeremy. He smiled right back.
“April,” he began, drawing toward her with the older man, “may I present our father, Jonah Hawthorne, Duke of Westbrook. Father, this is April, whom I told you arrived yesterday. She’s Vivienne’s daughter.”
Jonah was a large man, but clearly the ghost of a man much taller and more robust. His hair was thinning and streaked with gray, and he leaned heavily on his cane.
The older man took her gloved hand gently. She smiled at him. “Your Grace, I’m so pleased to finally meet you.” She curtsied, her hand still held by his.
His eyes never left hers. He peered at her face, assessing, remembering.
“I…have a daughter?”
She smiled sheepishly. “Mother told me about you, but I regret that she never told you about me. I’m very sorry for springing upon you unannounced, but I knew no other way to contact you with discretion.”
Her hand still clasped tightly in his, April began to grow slightly uncomfortable under his scrutiny. She could sense him swaying from past to present, then to now, comparing her likeness to a memory. Surprise, guilt, tenderness, regret: his face was a kaleidoscope of emotions.
Jeremy spoke up again. “And this is our brother, Riley, Lord Blackheath.”
A curious excitement, laced with fear, rushed through her. Her eyes swept the room, and what they saw surprised her.
She had expected to see a scholarly man, bespectacled and stooped from poring over legal tomes. She had expected to see a man whose frame was as brittle as the pages in ancient books of law. She had expected to see a man whose expression was frozen into a perpetual air of disdain.
Instead, she saw Riley. And he was magnificent.
Easily among the tallest men she had ever seen, he was as imposing as if he had been the only person in the room. He was standing beside the tea table, pouring some of the steaming liquid into a china cup, and the sight of so large a man handling so delicate a teapot was oddly fascinating. His head was forested with hair as dense and black as a murder of crows, and it spiked over a snowy cravat. His face was harder and leaner than his brother’s, but there was the trace of a little boy in the impossibly thick fringe of black lashes that seemed to be a family trait. He was considerably younger than she imagined, thirty-five, perhaps, but his bearing was as incontrovertibly authoritative as it was vibrantly confident.
He looked up, and their eyes met. They were beautiful…an unusual shade warring between blue and green. From beneath the thick eyebrows that feathered back toward his temples, those eyes regarded her with a keen perspicacity that unsettled her. The person standing before her was the picture of a gentleman, but something lurked behind the regal façade. It was something so instinctively male, so seductively primitive, that she was forced to look away. Her gaze lowered, mesmerized by the way his shoulders filled the beautiful swallowtail coat, its fabric taut with the width of him. Lower her eyes went, trailing down the long lines of him that narrowed at his waist and widened at the sinews that stretched his dove‑gray breeches.
A flush suffused her face, she was sure, and she fervently hoped he hadn’t noticed the trail her gaze had taken. Her attention flew back to his dazzling blue-green eyes, which were now narrowing suspiciously upon her.
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said, extending her hand.
Riley stared into her face, probing beneath the pleasant smile she offered him. “Yes, I can see you are,” he answered, bringing the cup to his lips.
Mortified, April retracted her hand as fast as if he had slapped it away. His face became smug as he peered at her over the brim of his cup. She had never looked at a man the way she looked at him, and to be caught doing so was more than her pride could bear.
Jeremy, uncomfortable with their tense exchange, cleared his throat politely. “Mrs. Perkins brought in the tea. May I pour you some, April?”
She blazed at Riley. “Thank you, no, Jeremy. I just came down to meet our father.”
Jonah, who had not taken his eyes off of April, grew weak at the knees and had to sit down. “Do forgive me, but I’m afraid this is all just a little too much to absorb.”
April sat in a nearby chair. “It is I who should apologize, Your Grace. I suspected that the news would shock you. But it was imperative that I come to meet you. After all these years, I had to know my father.”
Jeremy brought over a glass of brandy, and Jonah’s hand trembled as he raised it to his lips. “I don’t understand. Why did Vivienne keep you from me all this time?”
It was an odd question. “She spoke of you often, Your Grace, and always with fondness. But she never told me why she kept me a secret. Judging from your station in life, I can only imagine it was out of respect for your reputation. She simply didn’t want to defile your family name.”
He looked aggrieved. “Oh, my poor Vivienne.”
While April puzzled at his response, Riley snorted derisively. “Father, don’t tell me you believe this girl’s fish tale.”
Jeremy responded. “Oh, it’s true, Riley. It’s as I told you in my letter. She knew all about Vivienne: where she came from, where she lived…everything.”
“That’s hardly privileged information, Jeremy,” Riley answered, never for a moment wavering his eyes from April.
“There are things she knows. Tell them, April. Tell them about Vivienne and Father.”
She didn’t hear the question at first. That man Riley kept staring at her. He didn’t even seem to blink. If it weren’t for the steady rise and fall of his chest, she would have thought him a statue.
With great force of will, she tore her eyes from Riley’s. Focusing on Jonah’s expectant face, she recited some of the details she had gleaned from the diary. Under the guise of reminiscences, she fabricated a vignette of a life with the Madame, made up of half-truths and carefully embellished stories from the Madame’s diary. April wove in moments where the Madame had shared confidences about her love affair with Jonah. She was secretly pleased at how convincingly she incorporated herself into the Madame’s life.
It would have been her finest performance yet, except that she kept glancing over at Riley, and every time she did so, her mind went blank. He was no statue, as she originally mused. He was far too alive, too alert, to be made of stone. Everything she uttered was eagerly absorbed by Jeremy and Jonah, as if her words were drops of water falling on parched soil. But that man Riley was not so receptive. He listened attentively, probingly, collecting every stutter and hesitation like he was searching for a chink in her armor.
When April reached the part about the Madame’s death, she had to stop. Jonah was almost in tears.
“She was such a good woman,” he said removing a handkerchief from a pocket. “I was wrong to let her go. I’ll never forgive myself.”
Jeremy threw an arm around him. “It’s all right, Father. Don’t mourn what you could never have.”
Their reaction bewildered her, but she was careful not to betray it.
Jonah looked up at her. “I’m sorry that your mother is gone, child. She meant the world to me. She was the most wonderful woman I have ever known.”
Riley bristled, and she felt an immense relief that his attention was finally drawn elsewhere. “That is because you have very low standards, Father.”
“I beg your pardon?” he said, turning towards his son.
Riley met his stare. “Firstly, I will not be drawn into a discussion wherein the praises of Vivienne Devereux are sung. And secondly, I have never heard such a heap of rubbish in my whole life. Damn it, Father, it’s not like you to be so credulous. Can’t you see how artfully this girl is playing upon your romantic sentiments?
Jonah glowered at Riley. “You’ll have to forgive my son, Miss Devereux. Riley is a good lad, but he’s a man of the law, and therefore highly skeptical. I’ll concede that I too was dubious when I received word of this. But I’m not anymore. Which makes me surprised at Riley. He is usually a very good judge of character.”
Riley moved to an armchair directly opposite April, his nearness sparking an alarm within her. April got that unsettling sensation again, the distracting impression that she was sitting too close to a viper that was about to strike, just as soon as it found the right vein.
“Tell me, Miss Devereux, what evidence do you have that you are who you claim?”
Jonah frowned at him. “You heard the girl. She knows things that no one but Vivienne and I were privy to. Conversations we’ve had, places we’d gone. The exotic flowers I brought her. Things that took place twenty years ago. How else could she know? She must be Vivienne’s daughter.”
“Yes, but is she your daughter?”
There was a long pause. She watched as his frown dissipated into a proud smile. “Even if she isn’t mine, she’s Vivienne’s, and that’s good enough for me.”
His words pulled her out from under the weight of Riley’s stare. April had been surprised by his grief at Vivienne’s supposed death, but she was astonished by his blind acceptance of her for Vivienne’s sake. Something warmed within her. April had that feeling again, that she was somehow out of her depth. Every instinct in her told her to run, that things here were not as they seemed. But these strangers were openly offering something that April didn’t even know she craved – a family of her own.
Riley leaned back in his chair. “Oh, come now, Father. Just have a look at her. I can’t even tell what side of the cradle she favors. She doesn’t look like the Vivienne I remember. There’s absolutely no resemblance to either of you. Go on, girl. Pack your things and get out.”
Jonah shot his son a pleading look. “No, Riley. Please. She’s all I have left.”
Riley’s swung his stormy gaze from his father’s wistful face back to April, who straightened under his inspection. “Very well, Father. Prove it to me. Why should I believe she is who she claims?”
Jonah reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out his watch. He released the catch and offered it to him. “There. In there is a picture of Vivienne. Maybe that will refresh your memory. See how much they look alike? What can you possibly remember of her? You were just a boy.”
Riley studied the inside of the watchcase. “Father, this is a silhouette.”
“That’s right. Can’t you see? They have the same nose!”
Riley rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed impatiently. “Notwithstanding your nasal similarities, Miss Devereux, I fail to connect you in any way with our family. Furthermore, I do not know why you should choose to show up on our doorstep now, claiming to be some long lost and best‑forgotten relative. What, exactly, are your intentions toward us?”
April squirmed. “I…I want only to be reunited with my father.”
Jonah’s eyes softened. “You have been, child. You’re part of our family now.”
There it was again, that softening of her heart. The feeling of being accepted, of belonging…it filled her with a strange elation.
Riley’s sensual mouth thinned, and his striking eyes retreated under his thick black eyebrows. “I can see I’ve been away at court too long. Have you both become so vulnerable to a woman’s charms? All she needed was a little information and a pretty smile, and she got you two to take her in like a lost puppy. Need I remind you what a precarious situation she has placed us in? Her very presence here is enough to cast suspicion upon us. She is the daughter of a harlot, and very likely one herself. I don’t know what you two intend, but I won’t have our family name tarnished by any sort of connection with a girl like that.”
Her teeth clenched uncontrollably. She could hardly believe his insufferable haughtiness. How dare he think his family above her kind, considering his own father bedded one of it! Much as it galled her, her indignation at his disdain gave way to a fierce obligation to protect those he maligned, many of which were her friends, Jenny included.
Rising from her chair, she put on her best lady-like hauteur. “Although my mother was indeed a harlot, sir, neither she nor I were ever accustomed to being treated like one. I came only out of a desire to learn the identity of my father – and to comply with my mother’s dying wish that I seek him out to ask him to look after me. I have done both. Now I shall trouble you no longer. Your Grace, Jeremy, thank you for your hospitality. Be assured I will leave as soon as my maid packs our things.” Her skirts whirled as she made for the door.
Amid their protestations, she heard only one remark. “Make certain she packs only your things.”
She cringed. She’d be damned before she left this house trounced by Lord High and Bloody Mighty. She turned upon him.
“As far as I’m concerned, your lordship, you can take the entire bloody manor and shove it right up your bottom!” With that, she turned and stormed out of the room.
Fifteen minutes later, April groaned into the pillow. “Oh, Jenny, I’m a fool. A right bloody brainless fool!”
Jenny sat beside her on the bed. “Stop kicking yourself. You did the right thing. Imagine the cheek!”
April jerked the pillow away from her face. “We really have to leave now, you know. There’s no way they’d let us stay.”
Jenny smiled sympathetically. “You know I’m not disappointed about that. I’m glad to be quit of this place. Let’s just take our loss and get out.”
April rolled her eyes upward. “But this house… And you should have seen the morning room! It was so beautiful, overlooking the gardens and all. Oh, I can’t stand it!”
Jenny pried the pillow from April’s face. “What good does it do to ‘ave all these rooms if it makes you mean and selfish? Is that what you want, to be like that Riley fellow? All uppity and ‘olier-than-thou? I don’t think I’d like you very much if you became like that.”
“I just wish I hadn’t let my temper get the best of me, that’s all. He was testing me – I could feel it. And I rose to the bait. Some ‘lady’ I turned out to be.”
“You are a lady,” Jenny insisted.
“Yes, but ladies don’t go about telling gentlemen to stuff themselves, do they?”
Jenny giggled. “Not usually, no. But you stood up for what you believed in, and that makes you lady enough in my book.”
A knock sounded on the door, and they froze. April leapt off the bed and told Jenny to start throwing their things in their valise. April then opened the door.
She blinked in disbelief. It was Riley.
“Lord Blackheath,” she breathed. “I did not expect to see you.”
He looked down, a lock of black hair falling onto his forehead. “I did not expect to come. May I speak with you a moment?”
She swallowed hard. “Of course.”
Now that he stood so near, she was able to appreciate his size. He was unusually tall for an Englishman, and incredibly broad about the shoulders. As he brushed past her, his masculine scent, mingled with a whisper of sandalwood, made her senses kindle in response.
The immense bedroom she so loved seemed cramped now that he stood in the center of it. He glanced at Jenny, and April realized he wanted her to dismiss her servant.
“Jenny, please excuse us.”
“Yes, miss,” she said haltingly, and practically ran out into the other room.
When they were finally alone, Riley spoke. “I cannot seem to dispel the memory of your parting remarks. It was rather less cordial than I am accustomed to.”
Despite the stern reprimand, she would not give him the satisfaction of appearing contrite. “If you’ve come seeking an apology, Lord Blackheath, I fear you may have wasted your time.”
“Actually, I came to make one.” Riley raked his fingers through his hair in the impatient gesture of a man who was forced into a course of action that countermanded his better instincts. “My father would have you stay on a bit longer, if you’ve a mind to. As you may have surmised, he was quite fond of Vivienne, and you are his link to her memory. He also has no wish to turn you out. Therefore, I invite you to be our guest here at the Manor, and if you would be so kind, acquaint my father with the years of Vivienne’s life since he saw her last.”
Wearing her triumph like a crown, she strode to the window. “I am not certain I can accept your invitation. Given what passes for a welcome here, I expect I shall be much more comfortable at the finishing school.”
She could not see him, but she heard him inhale sharply. “I shall have Forrester situate you in the Queen’s Bedchamber during your stay. It’s the suite Her Majesty uses when she visits, the finest in my home. I trust it will make you comfortable.”
April’s heart leapt at his sweetened offer of hospitality, but she quelled the delight. “I don’t think so, Lord Blackheath. I did not make arrangements for an extended stay. My things are not here. Please convey my regrets to His Grace.”
Riley made a guttural noise, and she could sense his palpable irritation at his vulnerable position. “My entire household will be at your disposal. I will have Forrester assign a contingent of servants to wait upon you, and if you wish, you can order a consignment of dresses from London so that you may remain fashionable while in the country. With my compliments, of course.”
April’s eyes gleamed. She was glad that she was not facing him, because she could not suppress her exhilaration at his offer. Her breathing quickened, and she could not erase the smile from her lips. What a victory!
She cleared her throat. His hospitality was not Riley’s own idea. He was clearly making amends at his father’s behest. “Perhaps I may be persuaded to stay on for a short time, until I find alternate arrangements,” she said, hoping her words cut him.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him turn towards the door.
“Is that all?” April called out, halting him.
His eyebrows drew together. “Excuse me?”
“You said you came to make an apology, and I have not yet heard it.” She faced him in a bold challenge.
Riley’s eyes widened, but he swallowed his flaring temper. “Yes, well, I realize I was a bit harsh on you, and I apologize if I insulted you or Vivienne Devereux.”
She boldly walked up to him. “You were exceedingly harsh, sir, both to me and to the memory of my mother. I knew there would be questions, but I did not expect an interrogation.”
Riley’s jaw clenched. “I do beg your pardon once more.”
“I must say I expected more of someone of your privileged upbringing. And indeed, of someone who is in fact my own blood relation.”
He moved so quickly, April jumped. In a second, his large hands slammed against the wardrobe on either side of her, pinning her between his massive arms.
“Don’t even try it! You may have charmed my father, Miss Devereux, but don’t think for one moment that you have fooled me. You haven’t uttered a single honest word since you entered my house, and I do not suffer liars gladly. I strongly suggest you abandon all pretenses, or you may find out what happens to those who try to deceive me. Do we understand one another?”
The heat emanating from his fiery eyes made her gasp for air. Even if she could, she dared not answer him.
He tore himself away and stormed out of her room, leaving in his wake only the sound of the vibrating wardrobe doors.
Her heart hammered against her chest. She chided herself for a fool. It had been an imprudent move to challenge him.
There was no turning back now. The war with Riley was underway.
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