Leah Elliot sells secrets to survive. Donning boy's clothes, she uncovers society scandals for a London gossip rag to support herself and her sister, who were left destitute after their father's death. When she meets the dashing--and perhaps dangerous--Hal Forster, the Marquess of Denby, she learns he may be involved in treason. The rumor is too valuable not to sell, despite her attraction to him...
Hal does have a secret, but he's no traitor: he's a spy embroiled in a mystery, seeking the man who killed his contact in France. He sees the alluring woman behind Leah's disguise at once but is intrigued enough to play along...until he realizes that she's the source of the rumors interfering with his investigation and forcing him into an unwanted betrothal.
Now, Hal and Leah must work together to draw out the culprit and undo the damage caused by Leah's gossip. Or will their passion only cause more scandal?
"You've been away from the district for too long to appreciate the gravity of the situation, Lord Gabriel." Mrs. Wilkinson, the vicar's wife, screwed her features into an expression of extreme displeasure. "The ladies of the town daren't walk the main street in broad daylight. They fear for their lives." She paused to dramatically clutch her ample bosom. "Or worse."
Gabriel blinked, understandably confused. "Worse?"
"Yes, much worse." Mrs. Wilkinson settled her bulk more comfortably and glowered at him. "There, what do you have to say to that?"
"I can assure you, madam, that your fears are quite without foundation." Gabriel spoke in a smoothly reassuring tone. "The marquess is well aware of the situation and fully intends to--"
Hal, the marquess under discussion, was observing this encounter in his formal library from a hiding spot in an adjoining secret passage. He didn't discover what he fully intended to do since the formidable spokeswoman for this unwelcome group of visitors cut his brother Gabriel off with an impatient swipe of her hand.
"That's all very well. We've had such assurances often enough from Lord Robert, and now from you--"
"But the marquess never does anything about it," said Miss Lewis, the elderly owner of the draper's establishment on the main street. "It's as though our concerns are beneath his notice. It really won't serve. It's his responsibility to keep the village safe and prosperous. My business can't survive if my customers are afraid to make their way to my door."
"Quite so," added another female voice.
"Where is the marquess?" Mrs. Wilkinson demanded to know.
Miss Lewis threw Gabriel a darkling glance. "Too ashamed to show himself, I shouldn't wonder."
Several heads nodded in agreement, setting bonnet ribbons dancing.
"Really, his neglect of his duties is not to be borne."
Damn it, Gabe, you've allowed Mrs. Wilkinson to get fully into her stride. There'll be no stopping her now.
"We look to him for guidance and leadership. Or at least we would if we could find him."
As Gabriel, red-faced, struggled to exert himself, Hal shoved a hand over his mouth to avoid laughing aloud. Few people could handle Mrs. Wilkinson when she was in such a high dudgeon. Even he'd experienced difficulty on the few occasions when he'd been unable to avoid her, so young Gabe didn't stand a chance. It was hilarious.
It was also deucedly inconvenient.
Gabriel ought to tell the old witch that she, at least, was in no danger from actual bodily harm. No one in the locality was quite that desperate. The same could be said for the three matrons accompanying her.
"I really couldn't say," Gabriel muttered, looking more uncomfortable by the minute.
I should bloody well think not.
"Your evasiveness does you no credit, Lord Gabriel." Mrs. Wilkinson thumped the arm of her chair in an unladylike display of frustration. "We could all be murdered in our beds, our throats cut from ear to ear, whilst the marquess is off carousing about town, getting up to I know not what, and he wouldn't care one jot."
She has a point there.
"I shall, of course, do my Christian duty and ask the vicar to pray for him, but even a man of God can't work miracles when a soul is so very lost." A squawk slipped past Hal's lips. "What was that?" Mrs. Wilkinson asked, looking deeply suspiciously. "Is someone lurking back there?"