Her heart longs for justice, but her body clamors for sin.
Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant...and surely as corrupt as his father once was.
Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers' beloved Angel of Kindness to reveal the highwayman's identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing--except a sultry, bewildering kiss.
And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability--her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
March 06, 2012
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle
Meek. She would play meek.
She would absorb all his barbed anger and give him nothing to fight against. She would be honey and molasses, everything sweet and slow.
A lock scraped open and Radford filled the doorway, all broad shoulders and dark mood. He brought the mud and rain with him on his clothes.
From the corner of her vision, Mazie watched him step into her room and close the door. He studied her for a long moment. "Miss Mazie, I presume."
She let her feet shift nervously on the floor but did not move her eyes. "Yes, my lord."
He walked closer. His muddied boots reached up to his knees and gave way to powerful thighs. He was strong, of a physical nature. "I've been dragged all the way from London for this unfortunate bit of business." Low and firm, his voice played across her nerves like drums before a battle. "My magistrate Harrington tells me you have refused to assist our investigation into the Midnight Rider."
She lifted her chin and looked up at him, let her expression be round and guileless. She was everything worried and intimidated.
His frown cut deep groves into his otherwise handsome face. The years had changed him, enough that she wouldn't have recognized him passing by on the street. Gone was the distracted young man she remembered, replaced by sharp angles, dark hollows and glittering grey eyes entirely too piercing for her comfort. His damp hair--almost black in the wan light--let go of a drop of rain. He swiped it away with a rough hand. "It is unfortunate that your reticence is my inconvenience, Miss Mazie."
He had come to drag the information from her. Of course he had. She had to wonder at the tactics he would use, how far he would push. She slumped in her chair, giving the impression that he need not try hard at all. "I do not wish to be difficult, my lord."
He circled her chair and his muddy boots brushed her skirts. It did not matter. Her dress had been ruined days ago.
"The highwayman will be hanged for acts of treason." He stopped behind her, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She should have known better than to leave the chair in the middle of the room. "You do understand the danger you are in?"
"Yes." She whispered the word. It was not hard to fake her fear.
Radford did not say anything more. He would wait to see what she did next, give her space to expose something about herself.
She played into his hands. Stood, as if uncomfortable with him behind her--which she was--and smoothed her sweating palms over her coarse black skirts.
He reached across the chair. "What's this?"
Touch. He was touching her face. Rage jolted to her fingertips. She almost betrayed herself by lashing out. Not now, Mazie. Wait. Digging her fingernails into her palms, she let him turn her face to the window and examine the bruise on her cheek and cut on her lip.
"Who hit you?" he demanded.
She did not reply. She wouldn't be able to say anything without revealing the depth of her fury. Harrington would pay for his cruelty, not only to her but to others in the village. For now, she concentrated on being fluid like melting snow, and not the blaze of fire she wanted to be.
Radford's grey eyes scrutinized her. The hot stroke of his attention was everywhere on her skin, from her face down to her bare feet. She would not let herself worry. He would not recognize her. Placing her in that very different context--the context of her past life--would make matters even worse. She would push the thought aside.
She shifted her gaze to the slide of raindrops down the windowpane. Radford smelled of the rain, she noticed. The out-of-doors clung to his skin, as did the sweet scent of wet horse and wet wool. And something else, the musk only a man has after a day of physical exertion.
"You have the look of a Frenchwoman." Still, he touched her. Held her face in his hand. "Where are you from?"
"I was born in England." She modulated her words to be perfect, sloppy English. Nothing of her maman and her delicious French accent remained.
Finally, he let go of her chin. He paced to the door and she thought he might leave, but he simply opened it and instructed the footman to go to the kitchens and fetch a salve for her cut.
That, she had not expected.
Whether it was a kindness or a strategy on his part, she did not care. His misjudgment would be her gain. In three days, never had her door been without an armed guard. Radford exposed himself in a dangerous way--one she would take advantage of.
He turned back to her, his face set in hard edges--square jaw, sharp cheekbones and slash of brow. Yes, he looked different than she remembered. His handsomeness had power behind it now. "My dear woman, you will fare much worse in prison. Tell me what I want to know and perhaps I could be persuaded to view your crimes with leniency."
"I-I," Meek, Mazie. Softer. She lowered her voice. "I would like to assist your investigation, my lord."
"A wise choice. I am glad we shall play this out the easy way." He leaned back against the wall, his eyes narrowed on her. She knew what he was thinking, his wariness spoke volumes. Harrington would have told him she was a hellion, "all spit and fire" he'd called her. And she was. That Radford watched her with such consideration heartened her. She must be playing her role well.
"The hard way is much more unpleasant," he warned.
"I regret my earlier defiance against Mr. Harrington, and I...I thank you for offering me protection. He explained it was your choice to hold me here rather than at Radford gaol." She wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched her shoulders. Inside, she was fair to bursting with anticipation.
She had but one chance. She must play it out to perfection.
A knock sounded and Radford opened the door, took the salve.
"I am desperately hungry." Her voice shook with nerves. He would assume it was fear. "And some tea."
Radford paused for a moment, and she feared he would refuse.
"Something to eat for the woman." He closed the door, walked across the small room and offered her the jar of salve. "For your lip."
He motioned for her to take it, and she flinched as if frightened.
"I won't bite," he said on a long breath.
Mazie stepped forward and took the jar from his hand. Her fingers brushed his palm, such a large and warm hand. It would make a heavy fist.
Don't think on it.
The salve smelled of calendula and comfrey, and she smoothed some on her lip. Radford watched her as she gently dabbed the bruise and cut at the corner of her mouth.
She was close enough now. She would hit him once, as Roane had taught her. A strong, flat hand to the underside of his jaw, hard enough to stun him, incapacitate him.
His head would snap back. Maybe it would hit the wall. Maybe it would make a sound. She should be prepared for such unpleasantness.
Her heartbeat thundered. She needed to stop thinking and just do it already. She lowered her hand and his eyes jerked to hers, gauging her.
He was too alert, and she was too nervous. She must stop trembling. She must distract him. She must remember he would hang her. He would hang Roane.
Mazie slid her finger over her lower lip as she had seen the barmaids do. She had no idea if her gaoler would be so easily diverted. But, well, he was a man.
She watched Lord Radford watch her. A lock of dark hair had fallen over his forehead and made him appear much more innocent than he was.
His dipped his gaze to her lips again. Now. It was time to act now, before the footman returned. She stepped back and half-turned away. Her chin dropped down, shy. She hoped she looked coy. She was not much of a flirt, had never had cause to be one. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd been kissed.
The best liars were not actors. One had to believe in their story. Mazie peeked up at her captor, pushed aside her fear and studied him as a man. A very fine man. Dark hair, grey eyes and a face worthy of marble. He was a head taller than she, his shoulders broad and thick with muscle. If it came to a battle of might... She ignored the thought and slid her eyes over him, sought something innocuous to admire. A broad chest and flat belly. Long fingers and an uncanny ability to remain still.
It wasn't hard to feign attraction to him.
He must have noticed for he took a small step forward, tested her as she hoped he would. She snapped her head up and met his gaze, let there be fear in her eyes and something else as well.
His lips pressed together in a thin line. He would not make this easy, this attack.
"Thank you for the salve." She wondered if he noticed that her voice shook. Truly, she shook everywhere with nerves. Her breaths came in little puffs as fear bound her lungs. "The ointment tastes like honey and calendula." She ran her tongue over her lower lip.
He glanced away, but not before she saw the slight tightening of his posture. The hollows of his cheeks deepened, the jut of his jaw became more pronounced.
She stood up tall, drew in a full breath and pressed her breasts against the worn fabric of her gown. His gaze flashed down.
"Ah, I see how it is." Radford crossed his arms. "You are playing your last card, and not a very original one at that."
He called her bluff, but it did not matter. One way or another she would escape. She would be free or she would be killed.