Lord Crayle's Secret World

ISBN 13: 9780263916874

Lord Crayle's Secret World

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9780263916874: Lord Crayle's Secret World
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A desperate highwaywoman...
Holding a lord at gunpoint, Miss Sari Trevor wonders how it has come to this. One look into the icy grey eyes of Michael D'Alency Alistair, Earl of Crayle, and she knows she's out of her depth. But then this enigmatic lord makes Sari a mysterious offer of employment... Although she challenges his rigid self-control, Sari is perfect for the secret agency of spies Michael manages. But helping to tutor this daring beauty proves to be a sensual assault Michael isn't prepared for...and a temptation neither can resist!

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Lara Temple writes strong, sexy regency romances about complex individuals who give no quarter but do so with plenty of passion.

Her fourth book with Harlequin Mills & Boon, 'Lord Hunter's Cinderella Heiress' will be published in November 2017, and will be the first in her Wild Lords series. Her three previous books are: The Duke's Unexpected Bride, The Reluctant Viscount, and Lord Crayle's Secret World.
When she was fifteen Lara found a very grubby copy of Georgette Heyer's Faro's Daughter in an equally grubby book store. Several blissful hours later she emerged, blinking, into the light of day completely in love with Regency Romance but it took three decades of various fascinating but completely unrelated careers in finance and high tech before she returned to her first love.

Lara lives with her husband and two children who are very good about her taking over the kitchen table for her writing (so she can look out over the garden and dream). She loves to travel (especially to places steeped in history) and read as many books as possible. She recently went looking for that crowded little bookstore but couldn't quite remember around what corner it was...hopefully it is still there and another girl is in the corner by the window, reading and dreaming...   

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Hampstead Heath, March 1817

Sari rubbed her gloved but frozen hands together as she and George hid among the beeches lining the London road. It was past midnight, and even as she watched the limp leaves were turning crisp with frost. She wondered once again what on earth had convinced her that highway robbery was a good idea. Madness was the only reasonable explanation for resorting to such extreme measures, no matter how desperate they had become.

It was partially George's fault. As children, she and her brother had been captivated by his tales of the robber gangs on the Heath and he had taught them both how to ride and shoot, much to her parents' chagrin. As she had stared at the last few copper coins in their deflated purse, the Heath had seemed a viable means of escaping debt and starvation. But now, as George stood by her side in the dark, looking as defeated as she felt, but showing the same loyal doggedness that had kept him by her family's side, she knew she could not do this.

She was just opening her mouth to speak when she heard it a distant rumble, separating into the staccato of hooves and the uneven rattle of wheels. George gave a quick nod and swung into his saddle as if mere days rather than twenty years had passed since his last raid. Sari scrambled into hers, her heart jerking unevenly and her body alert. This was it; there was no turning back. When the carriage was close enough for them to see the mist rising from the horses' breath, George dug his heels into his mare's flanks, and Sari urged her horse after him, just as they had practised.

'Stand and deliver,' George called out as Sari's horse skidded to a halt in the middle of the road. The coachman, finding himself staring straight down the silvery rim of a pistol, pulled hard on the reins. The four horses twisted and whinnied in protest, but finally the whole steaming, huffing contraption shuddered to a halt barely two yards from her extended pistol.

The back rider diligently jumped off his perch, weapon at the ready, but George clipped him on the head with his musket and the man crumpled. The coachman made a futile grab for his shotgun, but Sari disabled it with a well-aimed shot. With a horrified look at the mangled wood and metal, the coachman raised his hands shakily.

Sari turned her attention to the carriage, moving her mare to cover George. She heard a muffled shriek from inside and smiled grimly. A woman. Hopefully well jewelled. Perhaps this would be their lucky night after all.

The two inhabitants of the carriage hardly shared Sari's optimism. Lord Crayle was tired and the tedious social rituals at the Stanton-Hills' ball had reminded him why he tried to avoid such events as much as possible. Unfortunately, his sister Alicia's debut in society required his occasional attendance. The last thing he felt like dealing with at the moment was footpads. It was sheer ill luck that these particular footpads had chosen that night, that road and their carriage. He had spent a third of his life getting shot at by the French and would have been happy to remain on the right side of firearms for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, fate apparently had other ideas. His only consolation was that at least he was better equipped to handle this unpleasant situation than Alicia and her usual chaperon, Lady Montvale.

'Do something, Michael,' Alicia squeaked from the corner of the carriage to where she had shrunk at the explosion of the shot.

Michael sighed. The blinds were drawn, but he had little doubt the momentary silence would soon be rudely interrupted.

'What precisely do you suggest I do, Allie?'

'I don't know. You always think of something.'

That last statement was a depressing truth. As head of the large Alistair family he had indeed always 'thought of something'; as major in the Ninety-Fifth Rifles during the Peninsular War he had always 'thought of something'; and now as advisor to the government and one of the founders of the Institute aimed at preventing foreign intrigue on British soil he always 'thought of something'.

'There is no need for heroics, Allie,' he said reassuringly, reaching over and giving her hand a squeeze. 'I had rather hand over my purse than get into a shooting match, especially with you in the carriage.'

'But, Mama's brooch! I would never forgive myself if they took it.'

He groaned inwardly as he registered the brooch pinned to her lace of her bodice. It had been their mother's favourite ornament and the thought of some greasy footpad wrenching the delicate and very ancient Celtic cross apart for its emeralds and diamonds was repugnant.

'What the devil did you wear that for?' he said impatiently even as he moved into action. He tugged off his greatcoat, tossed it in an ungainly pile on the seat facing him, and plucked a pistol from the coach pocket.

Alicia was about to retort hotly when the door was pulled open and a giant of a man filled the frame, musket in hand.

'Your valuables, if you please, sir,' he said in a deep voice.

Michael considered how best to deal with this rather large-looking person.

'My purse is in my coat.' He nodded at the lump of cloth on the seat opposite. 'If you will allow me to reach for it ?'

The giant grunted. 'If you don't mind, sir, I'll do that myself. If you'll sit well back, sir,' he continued, keeping his musket trained on them.

Michael did not mind in the least. Polite chap, he thought sardonically as the giant cautiously leaned over to reach for the coat, allowing Michael a view of the other rider illuminated by the carriage lamps.

Michael took a deep breath before he moved. It took no more than a few seconds to slam the butt of his pistol against the back of the giant's head with his left hand while he grabbed the man's weapon with his right. He took aim at the other rider outside and fired the musket.

The giant slumped to the floor at his feet, but to his frustration the rider was still in the saddle, his pistol now trained straight at Michael. Michael quickly switched his own loaded pistol to his right hand, aiming back. He cursed silently. He was sure he had scored a hit.

'It throws right, sir,' said the rider calmly. 'It is always risky to borrow someone else's firearm.'

He almost faltered at the voice and he heard his sister give a faint squeak of surprise. It was deep and intentionally husky, but most definitely a woman's voice and a cultured one He contained his surprise and focused on the problem at hand.

'It seems we are at an impasse,' he said after a moment.

'Indeed,' the robber replied laconically, not appearing the least bit concerned. 'Still, I am sure we can reach an understanding.'

He marvelled at the steadiness of her aim. It was no simple feat to keep a pistol firmly trained for any length of time. Nevertheless, he had little doubt he had the advantage. He heard a moan from outside, no doubt from his servant reviving. Surely she realised there was no way she could win this standoff? And yet she sat there calmly, apparently unconcerned. An 'understanding'. An outrageous idea flickered through his mind. The giant groaned at his feet. Obviously, he had not hit him hard enough. The man must have a head like a rock.

'An understanding?' he queried politely.

'It is late, sir. I have no doubt you and the lady are anxious for your bed.'

Michael's hand tightened on his pistol at the insinuation.

'You let my friend go and toss his musket after him and we will let you be on your way.'

'That is a rather generous hand you are dealing yourself,' he replied.

'You have some use for a pre-war musket then, sir?' she asked mockingly.

He paused, interested in testing this further. The idea had settled like a butterfly on a blade of grass. It was still tenuous, but it had potential.

'What would you say to another arrangement? You run along and I will keep your big friend. I will even give you a pound for him. You could buy two better highwaymen at the price '

He was cut off as a bullet tore through the squabs, inches from his head. He had to hold himself back from returning the compliment, with more extreme effects. He kept his arm firm despite the heat of sudden rage that surged through him.

'I don't sell out my friends,' she bit out.

Her voice shook slightly as she swiftly pulled another pistol from her saddle and cocked it. He saw her arm waver again as she raised it. She was tiring, he realised, his calm returning. He had tested her and he should be happy that she had exceeded his expectations.

'Miss, now be good and take yerself off, as the gentleman said,' the giant said from the floor, surprising them all.

Michael decided to cut to the chase before they got into further unnecessary arguments.

'All right, enough nonsense. You, man, get up and step back. The three of us are going to have a little talk.'

The giant hauled himself up and groggily stepped back onto the road. Michael stepped down after him. He knew it was a risk, but he had a feeling he understood the parameters of this particular game. As he descended, he noticed the mangled remains of his coachman's rifle that lay on the road and his brows rose in appreciation. So that shot had not been mere luck.

'Higgins, unhook a lamp for me and back on the coach with you. And, McCabe I want you to pull up the road some twenty yards and wait for me there.'

'My lord?' The coachman faltered.

'I believe I was clear, was I not?'

'Yes, my lord.' When he employed that tone his men knew it was best to act swiftly and without argument.

With a lamp in one hand and his pistol in the other, Michael faced his assailants. He surveyed the woman first. She had lowered her firearm and was resting it on the pommel of her saddle. In the lamplight he caught the glint of light-coloured eyes above a black kerchief. He bent to set the lamp carefully at their feet and noticed something else. A small dark puddle on the ground just by her horse. The giant noticed it at the same moment.

'You're hit, miss!' he exclaimed.

'Not hit. Grazed. I am perfectly fine.'

Michael stared at the rider. Up close he could see she was smaller than he had expected. And she had sat there holding him marked throughout this whole episode with a bullet wound. His resolve grew. This could prove extremely interesting.

'You should see a doctor,' he said mildly.

'Of your offering? Make sure we go healthy to the gallows? No, I thank you. What the devil do you want?' The veneer of politeness faded and he could hear the edge of pain in her voice. He decided to move quickly to his proposal before she fell off her horse. He had much rather they depart under their own steam.

'I have no intention of seeing you to the gallows. In fact, I have a business proposition for you, young woman. I would like to offer you a job at a government institution I help operate and where I believe your particular skills may be useful. It is all above board, if that has any appeal. And with good pay. Twenty pounds a month to start with and more if you prove suitable.'

Sari stared down at the madman standing before them. Now she knew what they meant when they said 'mad as a lord'. Or was it 'drunk as a lord'? And yet he had hardly appeared mad or foxed.

It had seemed endless, but the whole affair had probably not lasted more than a few minutes. The numbing throb of pain in her arm told her she would pay a price for her bravado in holding her ground. This man had knocked out George and taken his shot with a speed that had completely taken her off guard. If it were not for George's relic of a firearm, they would both either be dead or be on their way to the local magistrate. The thought sent a chill through her. Not merely for them, but for her brother Charlie.

From her limited experience, she'd thought of all aristocrats as indolent men more concerned with cravats than with fighting skills. This man was probably an officer from the wars. Trust her to hold up someone of his calibre.

She inspected him more carefully. Until now she had focused on him so intently she had hardly registered anything about him apart from the most crucial facts such as his firm aim. Now she could see he was tall, a few inches short of George's six and a half feet. In the half-darkness she could only make out the main lines of his sharply cut features. The lamp at their feet accentuated deep-set eyes, a tight mouth and clearly defined chin and cheekbones. She tried to lock all of those into one image, but it escaped her. She knew she was tiring. The throb had spread to her fingers and deep into her chest. She wished he would go so she could get home and lie down.

But a job, above board, with good pay. Offered by a man, a lord according to his servants, whom they had just tried to rob and whose carriage now sported a bullet hole courtesy of her pistol. He was clearly demented. She decided to humour him. Anything to get rid of him.

'It sounds most appealing my lord,' she added as a slightly mocking afterthought.

Ignoring the nervous movement of her gun, he reached into the pocket of his coat.

'This is my card. I am usually in during the early morning. And you may bring your friend here if you feel the need for protection,' he offered drily.

He moved to hand her the card, then with a glance at the rigid way she was now holding herself he handed it to George, who took it promptly.

'I am quite serious about this. If, however, you decide not to accept my offer, I hope you have memorised the coat of arms on my carriage as I would rather not run into you two again.'

The smile he gave them made Sari's hand clamp on to her pistol more firmly. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but it was unequivocally a warning.

'What on earth were you doing? What if they had killed you?' Alicia demanded as he reentered the carriage.

Michael gave her a reassuring hug and settled back into the relative warmth of the carriage. He didn't envy the poor devils. Highway robbery was cold work.

'I do not think they were intent on blood.'

'Not not intent on blood? What on earth is that then?' She indicated the hole by his head.

'That, my dear, is ventilation,' he said lightly, but he relented as she began to splutter. 'It was a good foot from my head, as it was meant to be. I thought them quite interesting. I merely wanted to find out more. And you still have Mama's brooch, which, if you do not mind, I will put in a nice deep safe at my bank.'

Alicia turned away with a huff, her beauty marred by the petulant moue on her lips. She had not even been ten years old when he had left to join the army and he sometimes felt he didn't really know her. He sighed and turned his mind to the two highway robbers. It was about time the Institute recruited a woman. He would discuss it with Anderson when they met for their game of chess the following day. His lips curved in anticipation of his friend's response. Poor Anderson.

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