But times are hard, and smuggling is a risky though profitable trade. So when a dashing agent for the English government catches her in the act, she desperately resists his charms and conceals her illicit profession. Not that his death was scandalous, but the results were. Rufus himself is now an English agent and searching for answers. She also does it to keep the women and children in the village fed and clothed.
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Thank God his plan was working. Normally he preferred to take his pleasure without an audience, but tonight he welcomed the intrusion—had planned on the intrusion Lord Strathmore, yes, oh, God, yes Perhaps too well. Thankfully the thieves were overly bold. He was grateful that her breathy entreaties were not loud enough to blanket the soft thud of clumsy tiptoeing feet. He knew the exact location of the men searching his room. Pushing desire aside, Rufus concentrated on his performance while keeping an eye on the rummaging thieves.
He hated to leave a woman unsatisfied, but he looked forward to a lengthy, all night apology afterward. Just the sort of men Rufus sought. One of the men moved closer to the bed.
The taste of woman and the edge of danger fed his tension. In his line of work it paid to find leverage. A thief would often squeal when faced with a choice between freedom and transportation to the colonies.
As with most of his adult life it was all an act. Enjoyable as that would be, and indeed, it was something he intended to do with lovely Lucy before the night was over, it was about gaining much needed information.
One of these thieves was going to provide it. Provide it—right—now— He lunged for the nearest man, whom he noted with heart sinking was the largest. Before the man could even shake his hand free, he went down like a shot grizzly bear. Heedless of his nakedness, Rufus turned toward the second man. Two muscle-bound arms wrapped around his bare torso from behind.
A kick of adrenaline gave him the strength he needed. He still held the advantage. He watched with satisfaction as the thief slammed to the floor, flat on his back, winded. He ruthlessly repressed his excitement.
The capture of an informant was only the beginning Would you be a love and bring me my right boot? Conscious of her own beauty, she swayed provocatively toward his Hessians, and both Rufus and the man on the floor followed the beauty with their eyes.
As she handed him his boot, he gave her a wicked smile and patted her bottom. At the sight, the man at his feet began to whimper. Rufus calmly stated, all hint of drunkenness vanishing from his posture, "You and I are going to have a pleasant little chat. A chat about the smuggler known as Dark Shadow.
He knew the name. Every villager in Deal knew the name. The minute "Dark Shadow" was mentioned, the townspeople clammed up as if the grim reaper would strike them down. Rufus waved the knife even closer and applied more pressure for good measure, his eyes gleaming with threat. The man started to shake. The vermin beneath his foot should be afraid.
Sensing how close he was to achieving his goal, nothing and no one would stand between him and the truth about his father. Rufus was nothing like his sire. That was partly true. But more important he did it to bury the stench of disgrace that had been his father, and to block from his mind the guilt eating him from the inside. He should have accompanied his father to Hastingleigh all those years ago and stopped him from betraying his country. Now he had the opportunity to lay the past to rest.
Rufus, however, wanted more. He prayed the spy could tell him about his father. Rumors Rufus longed to prove false. Only then would he be free. Watching his prey squirming below him, Rufus kept all his senses attuned.
Rufus eased the pressure on his throat so he could at least talk. Rufus hid his smile of triumph. I want all that you know about the infamous smuggler, Dark Shadow.
The men of Deal have no idea who Dark Shadow is. No one wants to know," the man choked out in a hoarse voice. Someone must want to collect the bounty on his head.
Yet the man looked more frightened instead of interested. They want his coin. Most of what Dark Shadow makes goes back to the village. God bless him, he gives to the elderly, the widows, orphans, and children. Lucy sat up, clutching the sheet to her ample bosom. He slips her something almost every month.
He needed time to think. This put a different slant on how he should proceed. Dark Shadow could be useful. Perhaps having him arrested was not the best plan. The Revenuers almost captured him once, but he disappeared like a ghost racing the dawn.
Men of his standing, men with money, found it easy to disappear. Perhaps Dark Shadow was a nobleman down on his luck. He knew this from experience. No matter how hard you tried, past sins always found you. Especially if his mother and sister were to survive. Pride was a luxury he and his family could not afford. He was sick of trying to earn their respect. Self-loathing pulsed through him, and despair.
Chasing the truth about his father. The father he could have sworn would die on his sword before dishonor. At twenty, Rufus had ceased his life of aimless leisure and gentlemanly comfort to ferret out the fact from fiction. So he continued to play his part, the part of a nobleman, even though he was deemed a tainted one.
A nobleman no one wanted. He drifted in and out of Society like a bad smell. A person of note, a person to be put up with, but not one you would openly welcome and acknowledge for fear of retribution.
He inwardly chuckled in self-mocking amusement. He was not worthy of knowing. He was a man who ruthlessly pursued his goal without heed to others. A man who knew the rules of gentlemanly conduct and ignored them as it suited. Perhaps he was exactly like his father. The thought pushed stinking fear into every pore. He pulled the man to his feet.
Take your friend with you when you leave. Do you know where his estate lies? I know where Hastingleigh is, my lord. Dark Shadow was not all he seemed, and that worried Rufus. Something about this situation was monstrously wrong. Of all the damnable luck.
Robin Hood. At the end of summer the spy would be gone. The winter storms made sending messages through smugglers too risky. They took too many chances in order not to be caught, and the loss of a ship meant the loss of intelligence. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tension.
Review: Invitation to Scandal by Bronwen Evans
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