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Excerpt: A Lady Never Surrenders

Book 1: Sisterhood of Scandal

Prologue

Cornwall, England, 1802

The carriage slowly rolled to a stop in front of an imposing country house. No, her mind was in a muddle; she remembered it was actually a castle—Marlowe Castle. Tiffany Deveraux’s eyes felt so heavy they refused to obey her command to stay open. She wanted to see her new home, but after the twelve days it had taken to travel from Yorkshire to Cornwall, she was exhausted. Besides, she’d seen it once before, be it a long time ago.

“Wake up, Tiffany,” Susan, her late mother’s lady’s maid, said. “We are finally here and your cousins have gathered to welcome you.”

Tiffany did her best to obey, but her tiredness sucked her under and fighting it was like trying to swim in a sodden cloak. She’d had little sleep since her parents murder, trying to comprehend the horror. Her days passed completely numb with grief and disbelief, while her nights were spent sobbing at the loss.

The carriage door opened, letting in mild midnight air. How odd, she drowsily thought. In Yorkshire the air would have had a bite to it, even though it was spring.

There were voices, and she felt rather than saw Susan exit the carriage.

A man’s voice carried over the others. Her uncle’s?

Two weeks ago, a highwayman had killed her parents and her life would never be the same. Gone was the mother and father she loved with all her heart. Gone was the happy family filled with devotion and now… now she didn’t know how to get over her loss.

Her uncle, the Earl of Marlowe, was now her guardian. As from today she was to live with him and his family. She had not seen her cousins since her tenth birthday, five years ago now. She had no idea why the visits between their families had suddenly ceased. She missed seeing Claire, even though they still wrote regularly. As an only child, she’d had her precious books but little else for company over the past few years.

“She’s exhausted, poor dear.” This voice was lovely. Warm and feminine. “Fane, you’ll have to carry her.”

“I would love to, Mother. But I wrenched my shoulder on the hunt this morning when Hero threw me.”

A deep masculine laugh skittered over her skin like a pleasant caress. “I never thought I’d see the day, Fane. A horse threw you.”

“And what man comes to the country to paint?” Fane mocked.

The older male voice she thought was her uncle’s interjected. “That’s enough you two. Wolf, I know you are our guest, but you’ll have to do the honors. Dayton is still away at school, and my knees won’t make it up the stairs.”

“Yes, sir.”

The carriage tilted under someone’s weight—the man with the smooth voice and goosebump-inducing laugh, presumably. Tiffany wanted to open her eyes, but they wouldn’t cooperate.

“Come now, my belle au bois dormant.”

Why was a Frenchman calling her his sleeping beauty?

Strong arms gently lifted her, one under her knees, the other around her back. She wasn’t exactly tiny, but he carried her as if she were no heavier than a feather filled pillow.

Tiffany snuggled closer to his warm hard chest and clutched the lapels of his jacket.

“Can you reach her pocket? Something’s digging into my ribs.”

She felt a hand rifle in her pocket.

“Her glasses.”

The man’s steady gait lulled her deeper toward sleep, and the sounds of excited voices faded away as he carried her up the stone steps of her new home.

She let her head rest against his shoulder, her thoughts drifting in and out. Odd that she should feel comforted, protected, in a stranger’s arms. The sensations were so delicious that when he laid her down on a soft mattress, she only reluctantly released her grip on his jacket lapels. Soon the heavenly feel of a soft mattress and warmed sheets seeped into her bones. But she felt the absence of his arms. She wanted to see him. This man who’d carried her as if she were the most precious cargo in the world.

She fought the fatigue and finally her eyelids lifted, and all her breath left her body in one long sigh as she took in the beauty of the masculine face staring back at her with an amused expression.

Handsome. Oh, he was so handsome it hurt to look at him.

She reached out her hand and stroked his chiseled cheek. “Are you my prince?” she whispered.

That throaty laugh again. “No, my sleeping beauty. I’m the big bad wolf. Sleep now.”

And, as if swallowed by a swirling mist, he faded away and she could no longer see him.

She drew the scent of him into her lungs and fell asleep, dreaming of the handsome prince who would rescue her from…from the one thing she’d endured all her life. Loneliness.

Chapter One

London, 1808, six years later

Miss Tiffany Deveraux stood between two of the most sought after bachelors in all of England. Her guardian and cousin, Fane Deveraux, the Earl of Marlowe, flanked her left side, while Marlowe’s rakish best friend, Slade Ware, Marquess of Wolfarth, stood at her right elbow.

Every woman in Lady Rutherford’s ballroom envied her. The armor piercing stares were wholly undeserved and Tiffany took no joy in the attention.

What the envious debutantes did not understand was that she was all but invisible to both men. Marlowe’s mother had always insisted on Fane escorting Tiffany and his sister, Lady Claire Deveraux, to every ball, and where Fane went, Wolf followed.

Since Lady Marlowe was no longer living, the thought of her gone cut deep. Tiffany still felt the loss. It had been like losing a second mother. The absence of Lady Marlowe also meant the men would soon deposit Claire and Tiffany with Lady Vale, a society matriarch, before heading to the sanctuary of the card room. Tiffany could almost smell the men’s fear. Mothers with marriageable daughters were closing in. Like a well-planned military advance, every mother present was maneuvering to introduce their daughters to the men.

Tiffany pushed her glasses back up her nose, feeling more and more invisible as the two men talked over her head, while Claire, who stood behind them, was busy filling her dance card. Her cousin was popular with men looking for a wealthy and pretty young lady of quality to marry, and also with the young ladies, who were eager to befriend her in order to meet her brother.

Tiffany was not bitter or jealous of her cousin. She herself was neither wealthy nor pretty: a fact that could not be disputed. What she had, thank the lord, was intelligence. She did not need to marry, or marry well. Her gift with numbers saw to that. Soon she would not even need Fane’s charity. She hugged her smug secret to herself, armor against those who looked down their noses at the penniless orphan.

“I suggest we see the girls safely to Lady Vale’s side before Lady Rutherford has us roped in as dance partners.” Wolf’s words flew over her head since she stood no taller than his shoulder. “Are you listening, Fane?” he persisted in that husky, innately sensual voice that always shook her feminine sensibilities.

“You go along. I think I see Lady Saline Porter,” her cousin replied.

She turned in the direction the men were now staring and noted the beautiful young widow with a flock of gentlemen surrounding her. She was certainly not invisible.

“I thought your actress was enough woman for you,” Wolf said, then glanced sharply at Tiffany as if he’d only just realized that she was in earshot.

Fane cleared his throat and smiled down at her. “Isn’t that Miss Valora standing with her mother? Look, she’s waving at you.”

Yes, Valora was standing next to her mother, Lady Vale. “I’m waiting for Claire,” she replied. Just then, Claire swung toward her.

“Tiffany, Lord Donahue was just saying that he’d love to beg a dance from you if you have any free?”

She inwardly sighed. Lord Donahue was a nice but dim and pimply young man who had taken a shine to her. Most likely because she’d been kind to him one night at the beginning of the season, and he’d sought her company ever since.

He stammered over her hand, his face turning a mottled red. “Miss Deveraux, ma-may I have the pleasure of the f-f-first waltz of the evening?”

She could feel Wolf and Fane’s amusement without needing to look at them. “That would be lovely, thank you, my lord,” and she held out her card for him to complete.

Once Lord Donahue had taken his leave, Fane shook his head. “Why do you encourage the man, Tif? You can do so much better than him.”

Claire slipped her arm through Tiffany’s and squeezed her hand.

Anger made her bite when really she should have ignored him, but it didn’t help that Wolf was there as well. “Not all of us are blessed with looks or money, Fane. You do not know what it is like to go unnoticed. Most of us mere mortals make the most of what God has given us. Lord Donahue is a delightful man.” She looked away from the two men beside her. They had never, ever had a moment’s doubt about how the world perceived them. Handsome and desirable were their middle names.

She shifted her weight, intending to set out across the room to greet her friend Valora, but before she’d taken a step, Wolf bent to whisper in her ear, “I think when God made you he knew exactly what he was doing.”

She stiffened. What was that supposed to mean? Was it a compliment? Her heart hiccupped and she looked at Wolf and found herself pinned by his crystal blue eyes. They weren’t, as she’d expected, mocking her. Instead, they were filled with something much worse: pity. She wished the floor would crack open and swallow her whole. Lowering her gaze, she tugged on Claire’s arm and escaped around the edge of the ballroom before tears welled.

She knew Wolf was only trying to be kind, but she’d been infatuated with him since that day six years ago when he’d carried her into her new home. But Wolf was not for the likes of her. Love did not easily find women of her ilk. She didn’t inspire poets to write sonnets or artists to paint her portrait. Her heart clenched tight in her chest. Love—oh, how she wished for a man to find her worthy of love.

Yet that was only partly true.

She wanted one man to love her—Wolf. But she was far too intelligent; she realized that was but a dream. Wolf could have any woman he wanted. Why would he want her?

“I could thump my brother. In fact, I should do so every morning until he learns to think before he speaks.”

She gave Claire a weak smile. “It’s not his fault. The world has always been easy for him. He does not understand what it is like for those not so blessed.”

Claire shook her head as she waved out to Valora. “No. That’s not it. He is shallow. He does not look deep enough. He is distracted by the beauty of a woman rather than what is in her heart, or in her soul. I’m hoping he grows out of it before he finds himself shackled to a woman who, when her beauty fades as we know it will, is empty and boring. Married for the rest of your life is a long time.”

Tiffany thought of the way the two men had drunk in Lady Saline. “We are shallow too,” she said. “You’re assuming a beauty like Lady Saline does not have a heart, yet I know she does.”

When Tiffany was a child, books were her best friends, as they were now. Tiffany read widely and because of that was worldlier than many of her age, and because she was one of those people who observed rather than partook in life, she had seen the way Lady Saline and her companion, Miss Murphy, interacted. The lingering of fingers as their hands brushed, the little smiles that only lovers understood, and the fact not one of the handsome gentlemen surrounding her, not even Tiffany’s cousin Fane, drew her complete attention away from Miss Murphy.

She snorted at the absurdity of life. “They think because we are younger, and female, that we don’t think at all. When in reality we see far more than they do.”

“What do we see?” Valora asked as they arrived at her side.

Tiffany pressed kisses to her cheeks. Valora would not understand, as she was beautiful beyond words. “Oh, nothing. It’s just that Fane annoyed me.”

Valora peered around her to stare at the men before they disappeared into the card room for the rest of the evening. “Well, something has upset them. Wolf is remonstrating with Fane rather vigorously.”

Tiffany glanced over her shoulder. The two men did appear to be arguing.

Valora soon lost interest and sighed. “I find most men are fairly annoying, especially those who insist on proposing when they are well aware I shall not accept.”

“You are getting quite the reputation for saying no,” Claire stated. “If you’re not careful you’ll wake up one day and find that every man is too scared to ask.”

Valora sniffed. “Then he is not the right man for me. Anyway, you can talk.”

Tiffany privately thought that perhaps there was not a man alive who would ever be right for Valora. She’d turned down handsome rogues, attractive dukes, and wealthy lords. She glanced at Lady Saline and wondered if her good friend Valora was that way inclined. She hoped not, as Valora’s brother Lord Vale was hell-bent on seeing her wed this year.

“Oh, I say,” Valora exclaimed, tapping Claire’s gloved arm with her fan. “Your brother and Wolf are dicing with danger. They’re coming this way and Fane looks most put out.”

The soft hum of female mutterings and twitching fans rose until the sound was like a swarm of bees in a hive. The men were not seeking the safety of the card room this evening. What were they about? Women were jumping to conclusions—dangerous conclusions. Tiffany hoped they were mistaken conclusions. Wolf could not possibly be announcing to the ton that he was looking for a wife. She knew Fane wasn’t.

Lady Rutherford, seeing her chance, gathered her two daughters and shooed them in the men’s direction.

Wolf continued on with purposeful strides, while Fane looked as if he’d like to shove a dagger in his friend’s back.

“The Wolf looks as if he’s hunting,” Claire said.

Tiffany thought the description very apt. Wolf’s lips were curved in a sly smile. She could imagine a snarl taking its place at any moment. His black hair, cut short to frame his face, gleamed blue-black in the candlelight, and his broad shoulders cast black shadows on the walls as he strode the length of the room. As he drew nearer, the sharp contours of his face, the aquiline nose and the chiseled cheeks added to his predatory appearance. People around them took a step back. Wolf did look like he was hunting. His gaze was hard and focused and—her heart began to pound in her chest—fixed exclusively on her.

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