Miss Lucinda Parnell is out of money. A dismal failure at the Marriage Mart, she’d just as soon leave Society far behind. Desperate to earn funds to retire with her grandmother to the country, Lucy disguises herself as a man to gamble in London’s hells. But the Earl of Dartford, an Untouchable she never imagined speaking to let alone spending time with, is onto her in a trice. When he insists on acting as her protector, Lucy fears her chance to remain an independent woman is destined to go up in flames.
After losing his entire family, Andrew Wentworth, Earl of Dartford built a wall to keep attachments at bay. He believed he could keep Miss Parnell safe without compromising his defenses, but she’s exciting and irresistible. Their deepening relationship makes him even more determined to push her away. Nothing will stop him from trying to avoid reliving the anguish of loss. Love is the one risk he doesn’t have the heart to dare.
Andrew took a deep breath and dashed across the street, intercepting her at the corner. “Good evening, Miss Parnell. Where are we off to this evening?”
She stopped upon seeing him and now glared up at him, her jaw clenched. “You were waiting for me.”
“I was. Couldn’t let you venture out alone again. I’m sure you understand.”
“I understand you’re a nuisance.”
He straightened his coat. “So you like to say, but I prefer to think of myself as an assistant. Or maybe even a guide.”
She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut again. Then she turned but didn’t move away. She spun back around, her gaze a glorious blaze of outraged affront. “How did you find out who I am?”
He’d felt beholden to learn her identity and to do whatever he could to prevent her from behaving recklessly. “I watched where you went last night, ascertained who lived at that address, and the rest was quite simple.”
“Well, good for you, but that changes nothing.” Her gaze turned wary. “Unless you plan to expose me.”
“I do not. I’m the Duke of Daring, not the Duke of Gossip.” He decided he liked the nickname she’d given him.
She frowned. It seemed she still didn’t trust him.
“Does your grandmother know what you’re about?” he asked.
For the first time, she looked worried. “No, and you mustn’t tell her.” She glanced away. “I don’t wish to concern her. She has enough weighing on her mind.”
He moved closer and spoke softly. “I won’t tell her, but you must agree to my terms.”
She went back to glaring at him, and he realized he’d tensed at her reaction to his question about her grandmother. It was much easier to deal with her anger than her distress. “I should’ve known you meant to extort me, but I still don’t understand why.”
“I’m a gentleman, Miss Parnell, and a gentleman does not allow a lady to continue as you are. I would never forgive myself. Daring exploits are fine and good for me, but not for you.”
Her eyes widened, and her lips curled into a snarl. “Is that what you think this is? Some sort of escapade I’ve undertaken for a bit of excitement? How nice it must be to live for such nonsense.”
He ignored her insults, realizing he’d hit another nerve—like the comment she’d made about being unmarried the night before. He’d learned very little about her today, just that her grandmother was the widow of a baronet and that Miss Parnell was as good as on the shelf. He might not be the Duke of Gossip, but he knew how to obtain information when he needed it.
He crossed his arms over his chest, undaunted. “Then tell me why you’re forced to do this. I truly wish to help. Is my solicitude that shocking?”
She stared at him, clearly disbelieving. “Yes, actually. No one pays me any mind. Or at least, they never have.” She glanced down at herself. “I suppose it took me dressing up as a man.” When she looked at him again, she seemed resigned. “You’re incredibly pompous.”
“Call me the Duke of Arrogance, then. I’ve been called worse.” He uncrossed his arms. “You have two choices. You can tell me what you’re about and allow me to help you, or you can go home, where we will inform your grandmother of your transgression.”
“This is not a transgression. It’s a necessity. I merely need funds, you half-wit.” Her cheeks flushed a pretty pink, and she’d never looked less like a man. He longed to see her without her costume. He thought she must be quite lovely.
He didn’t bother tamping down his exasperation. “I ascertained that all on my own, thank you. But then any half-witwould, since you’ve been gambling. Why do you need money?” He held up his hand. “And before you think to evade me again, let me remind you that it’s only a matter of time until you find trouble with this scheme.” He hadn’t expected her to be this stubborn. He decided it was time for a new tack. “Let me prove that you can trust me. I will take you to some hells this evening. You can gamble to your heart’s content, and I will ensure your safety.”
She gave him a mutinous glower. “I do not gamble to content my heart.”
“There’s no need to be defensive. Do we have an accord?”
She tipped her head to the side, and it was somehow a feminine action.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “You look too much like a woman.”
She instantly straightened.
“See how helpful I am?”
About the Author
Darcy Burke is the USA Today bestselling author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily-ever-after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations.
A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids-who each seem to have inherited the writing gene in some form-and two Bengal cats. In her "spare" time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say "no," but she keeps having to start over. Her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge.