When Nell Whitby breaks into an earl's house on a midnight quest for revenge, she finds her pistol pointed at the wrong man--one handsome as sin and naked as the day he was born. Pity he's a lunatic. He thinks her a missing heiress, but more to the point, he'll help her escape the slums and right a grave injustice. Not a bad bargain. All she has to do is marry him.
A NOTORIOUS LADIES' MAN COULD TAKE HER FROM POVERTY TO OPULENCE . . . BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
A rake of the first order, Simon St. Maur spent his restless youth burning every bridge he crossed. When he inherits an earldom without a single penny attached to it, he sees a chance to start over--provided he can find an heiress to fund his efforts. But his wicked reputation means courtship will be difficult--until fate sends him the most notorious missing heiress in history. All he needs now is to make her into a lady and keep himself from making the only mistake that could ruin everything: falling in love. . . .
By the time the whistle finished shrilling, Nell was already out the door. She knew she shouldn’t push; once or twice there’d been a stampede and somebody had gotten hurt, broken a leg or arm. But she couldn’t slow down. Ever since Mum had taken to wheezing, Nell was finding it harder to breathe, too. No longer could she ignore the thick stink of the workrooms or how often she had to cough as she rolled the cigars. By the end of the day there barely seemed air enough to fill her lungs.
Outside, in the dimming twilight, the damp breeze smelled sour from the coal smoke, but there was enough of it, and that was what mattered. She wove through the milling crowd, girls pausing to tuck their shawls down over their hair, to toss saucy remarks to the lads, chattering like they hadn’t got better places to be than this infernal, stinking factory, and maybe they didn’t, at that.
Finally she reached a stretch of open pavement. Relief hit her, and with it, a lifting of spirits. Nice thing about working at the factory: every day had a happy ending. She found a wall to lean on and settled against it just as a hand grabbed her elbow.
She ripped free and came face to face with Hannah. “You scared the life out of me!” she gasped.
Hannah’s pale, freckled face was alight with excitement. “That’s because you’re a goose, Nellie. What’s your take for the week?”
Nell looked around for eavesdroppers. “Nineteen shillings.” Her neck was cramped from hunching over the worktable and the ache in her knuckles would keep her awake tonight, but nineteen shillings was the best she’d ever done.
Of course, it would sink to ten after her stepbrother, Michael, took his share. That wasn’t enough to tempt a good doctor to the flat and eat next week besides.
Hannah pulled a face. “Only fifteen for me.” Usually she beat Nell by a crown; her fingers were cleverer. “Was yesterday that did me in. I was going gorgeously but then the labor-mistress took a temper and made me unroll half the pile. Ah, well.” She wiped a strand of honey blond hair from her eyes, then waggled the fingers of her uplifted hand. “D’ye like my gloves? Found ’em at Brennan’s dollyshop. Cost me two days’ wages, but they’re genuine kidskin, he said.”
“Oh, they’re lovely.” In fact, the knuckles were cracked, and the white leather had long since grown dingy with use. In her friend’s place, Nell could have found better uses for a crown. Good tough wool, for instance. A new kettle. Some fresh fruit--Lord alive, her mouth watered for a crisp country apple.
Then again, she had chilblains, and Hannah didn’t. So who was the wiser?
She took Hannah’s arm and pulled her into step along the pavement. “You won’t let your father see them.” If Garod Crowley found out that his daughter was keeping a bit of coin to herself, there’d be an awful row.
Hannah laughed. “I’m no fool!”
A passing lad made eyes in their direction. Nell didn’t recognize him, so she frowned to send him on his way. He winked at her before turning onward, but despite her blush, she wasn’t fooled: he’d been admiring Hannah. With her heart-shaped face and big, velvet brown eyes, Han had grown dangerously pretty in the last two years.
“Oh, say, Nellie--are you coming to the GFS?”
Nell had forgotten there was a meeting tonight. The ladies who ran the Girls’ Friendship Society had a tendency to lecture and a provoking way of trying to pry into a girl’s...