The Millionaire Rogue (The Hope Diamond Trilogy)

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9780425272084: The Millionaire Rogue (The Hope Diamond Trilogy)

In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue—and a font of unimaginable adventure...

Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that’s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he’s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn’t be losing his reputation, but his heart...

Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season’s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own—with an alluring banker—she begins to question whether she’s suited to the proper life she’s always known...

Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever...

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

About the Author:

Jessica Peterson began reading romance to escape the decidedly unromantic awkwardness of her teenage years. Having found solace in the likes of Rhett Butler and Mr. Darcy, it wasn’t long before she began creating tall, dark, and handsome heroes of her own. She is the author of the Hope Diamond trilogy including The Gentleman Jewel Thief.

A graduate of Duke University, Jessica worked in investment banking before leaving to pursue her writerly dreams. She lives with her husband, the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Peterson, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

Prologue

THE FRENCH BLUE:

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST DIAMOND

Vol. I.

By Thomas Hope

Across lands dry and rivers wide, through centuries of bloodshed and the downfall of great kingdoms, the French Blue’s siren call has, like forbidden fruit, proven irresistible to royal and common man alike.

It all began in that mythic land across the great sea: India. Nearly three hundred years ago, a blue-gray diamond the size of a snuffbox was mined from the bowels of the earth. The great Shah Jehan, an emperor the likes of which the world had never seen, made an offering of the jewel to the goddess Sita; he commissioned a great statue of his goddess, the diamond glittering from the center of her forehead as an all-seeing third eye.

It was during this time that a Frenchman by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier traveled to the court of Shah Jehan. Being French, Tavernier was by nature dirty, wily, a born thief, and, of course, a libertine. Goading the Shah with false gifts and flattery, Tavernier gained his trust, and the love of his court.

It is impossible to know what, exactly, happened next; but it is widely assumed that, just as the Shah pressed Tavernier to his breast as brother and friend, Tavernier betrayed him. Some accounts even posit the Frenchman slit his host’s throat; others, that Tavernier poisoned him and half his glorious court.

The goddess Sita was witness to the violence; and when Tavernier pried the jewel from her forehead with a dagger thieved from Shah Jehan’s still-warm body, Sita cursed the Frenchman and all those who would come to own the diamond after him.

Sewn into the forearm of a slave girl, the diamond was brought to Europe, where Tavernier sold it to Louis XIV for the princely sum of two hundred thousand livres. The Sun King recut the jewel to improve its luster and wore it slung about his royal breast on a blue ribbon. As part of the crown jewels of France, the diamond would be henceforth known as the French Blue.

Alas, the jewel that bewitched the Frenchman and the king would also bring doom upon their heads; Sita would see her curse satisfied. Tavernier, living out his last days exiled in the wilds of Russia, was torn limb from lip by a pack of wild dogs, and buried in an unmarked grave.

Neither were the kings of France immune to Sita’s curse; it was on a bitterly cold day in January when the last king, Louis XVI, lost his crown, his fortune, and his head before a crowd of angry Parisians.

And yet Sita’s thirst for vengeance is not yet satisfied. The French Blue, along with most of the crown jewels, was thieved in late 1791 from the Garde Mueble, a royal warehouse on the outskirts of Paris. No one knows who stole it, or where it might be hidden away; in a Bavarian duke’s treasure chest, perhaps, or the dirty pocket of a serving wench in Calais. The diamond could be anywhere.

While the trail grows cold, Sita’s thirst burns hot. The French Blue is far too glorious a gem to remain hidden forever. Only when it is again brought into the light; only when it is claimed by whomever is brave, or perhaps daft, enough to claim it; only then will Sita’s lust for blood be satisfied, and her curse at last fulfilled.

One

City of London
Duchess Street, near Cavendish Square
Spring 1812

Resisting the impulse to leap from his chair, fists raised, with a great Huzzah!, Mr. Thomas Hope thrust the quill into its holder beside the inkwell. He gathered the pages scattered across his desk and settled in to read the History.

The gray afternoon light was fading, and he drew the oil lamp closer so that he might read his masterwork without having to squint. For a masterwork it was, surely; how could it not be, after the years Hope dreamed of the diamond, researched its origins and the fantastic claims behind its curse?

But as his eyes traveled the length of each sentence, it became abundantly clear that Hope’s History was no masterwork. Indeed, it was something else altogether.

Dear God, it was awful. Dramatic to the extreme, like an opera, but without the painted prima donna to compensate for its lack of narrative savvy. The size of a snuffbox. Whence had come that rubbish?

Tossing the pages onto the desk, Hope tugged a hand through his tangle of wayward curls. He was reading too much of that brooding, wicked man Lord Byron, and it was starting to take its toll on his pen.

He didn’t have time for such frivolity besides. Hope had a goodly bit of work waiting for him back at the bank, and an even larger bit—a barrel, actually—of cognac to drink this evening.

Literary aspirations all but shot to hell, Hope was about to crumple the pages into his fists, when a strange noise, sounding suspiciously like muffled laughter, broke out over his shoulder.

His blood rushed cold. Not one of his men, the butler or a steward or a cashier from the bank. He was not expecting any visitors, and the hour for social calls had long passed.

Hope glanced across the gleaming expanse of his desk. His eyes landed on a silver letter opener, winking from its place beside the inkwell. Then there was the pistol in the top right drawer, of course, and the bejeweled Italian dagger in its box on the shelf; and his fists, he couldn’t very well discount those weapons—

He swallowed, hard. Those days were behind him. The time for violence and subterfuge had passed; Hope was a respectable man of business now, like his father, and his father before him.

Respectable men of business did not greet visitors with a sock to the eye or a bejeweled dagger thrust at their throats.

At least not in England.

Removing his spectacles one ear at a time, he carefully placed them beside the pages on his desk. For a moment he closed his eyes, pulse racing.

Hope spun about in his chair. The breath left his body when his gaze fell on the hulking figure that loomed half a step behind him.

“Oh, God.” Hope gaped. “Not you. Not now.”

Smirking in that familiar way of his—one side of his mouth kicked up saucily, provokingly—Mr. Henry Beaton Lake reached past Hope and lifted the History from the desk.

“‘Forbidden fruit’?” Lake wheezed. “Oh God indeed! That’s bad, old man, very bad. I advise you to leave alliteration to the feebleminded, poets and the like. And the curse!”

Here Mr. Lake whooped with laughter, going so far as to bend over and slap his knee with great jollity. “Brilliant, I say, brilliant! Reading your little history, I’d almost venture you believed it. Heavens, what a good laugh you’ve given me, and how in the gloom of these past months I’ve needed it!”

Hope snatched the pages from Mr. Lake’s pawlike hand and stuffed them into a drawer. “It’s a work in progress,” he growled. “I wasn’t expecting to share it, not yet. What in hell are you doing here, and in daylight? Someone could have seen you.”

Lake turned and leaned the backs of his enormous thighs against the desk. He crossed his ankles, then his arms, and looked down at Hope. “Anxious as always, old friend. You haven’t changed a bit—well, except for those clothes. You look like a peacock.”

Hope watched as Lake’s penetrating gaze lingered a moment on Hope’s crisply knotted cravat, his simple but exquisitely cut kerseymere waistcoat, and the onyx-studded watch peeking from his pocket.

“And you, Lake, look like a pirate out of Robinson Crusoe. What of it?” Hope took in Lake’s broad shoulders, the corded muscles in his neck. He wore the black patch over his eye as some men wore a well-cut dinner jacket: with pride and a sort of impudent, knowing smile, confident any female in the vicinity would find him a little dangerous, wholly debonair, and far too tempting to resist.

“Thank you for the compliment.” Lake’s smile broadened. “And you needn’t worry about being seen associating with the likes of me. I used the alley, and came in through the drawing room window.”

“Of course you did. Still up to your old tricks, then?”

“King and country, Hope,” Mr. Lake sighed, the laughter fading from his face. “Boney didn’t stop when you and I parted ways. Someone needed to stay and fight.”

Hope looked away, blinking back the sting of Lake’s words. A beat of uncomfortable silence settled between them.

At last Lake pushed to his feet and made his way to the sideboard.

Hope watched the man limp across the room, his right leg remaining stiff at the knee. For a moment sadness and regret pressed heavy into his chest. Too many memories; memories that Hope did not care to revisit.

Mr. Lake held up an etched decanter. “Mind if I pour us a finger, or three?”

“I do indeed mind, very much,” Hope replied.

But as he expected, Lake paid him no heed. His guest busied himself at the sideboard, and a moment later returned with a generous pour of brandy in each of two bulbous snifters.

“I’ve too many engagements this evening to begin with brandy, and at so early an hour,” Hope said, but even as the words left his mouth he found himself reaching for the snifter Lake had set before him. Something about the man’s stone-set gaze made Hope feel as if he’d need a drink, and then some, after Mr. Lake revealed what he’d come for.

Hope watched Lake lower himself with a wince into the high-backed chair on the other side of the desk. He took a long pull of brandy and, after he felt the familiar fire relax his limbs, asked, “How’s the leg?”

Lake finished his own pull before replying. “Good, bad, it’s all the same. Scares off the right people, attracts all the wrong ones. I rather prefer it that way.”

Hope scoffed, grinning wistfully at his brandy. “And you. You haven’t changed, either. Not a bit.”

Again charged silence stretched across the desk. Hope gulped his liquor. Lake did the same.

“The outcome of the war in Spain shall be decided in the coming weeks.” Lake’s voice was low. He did not meet Hope’s gaze. “Wellington marches for Madrid; when the battle comes, it shall turn the tide of our fortunes there. For better or worse, I cannot say. That wastrel Frenchman Marmont, damn him, has the luck of the devil. The lives of thousands, tens of thousands, of British soldiers hang in the balance. My men—good men, smart men—they will die. Men like you.”

“I was never one of your men, Lake. I was a refugee in need of aid and asylum. You gave me what I needed, and in return I gave you the same.” Hope looked down at his glass. “I was never one of your men.”

Lake’s one pale eye snapped upward. “Yes, you were. You still are.”

Hope tried not to flinch as he waited for what he knew came next.

“We need you,” Lake said. “Your country needs you. To turn the tide in our favor.”

Ah, so there it was. Hope knew he should run and hide, for those very words spelled the death of hundreds of England’s finest men.

But with his earnest eye—the one eye the surgeon managed to save, after the accident—Lake pinned Mr. Hope to his chair.

“I would help if I could.” Hope splayed his palms on the desk. “But it’s the same as it was ten years ago. I was born to count, Lake, not to spy. My father was banker to the great houses of Europe, and his father before that. After I fled the Continent, I dreamed of restoring Hope and Company to its former glory. And now I’ve done that. I’m a respectable man of business—”

“Man of business, yes, but the respectable bit is questionable.”

Hope chewed the inside of his lip to keep from rolling his eyes. “Regardless, I’ve a lot at stake. People depend on me, lots of people. Clients, employees. I can’t risk the livelihood of thousands of families—never mind my own, my brothers, bless their black souls—by engaging in your sort of intrigue. It’s bad business. I’ve worked long and hard to build my reputation. I won’t see that work undone, and millions lost along the way.”

Hope sipped his brandy, then swirled it in its glass. “But you knew I would say all that. So, Lake. Tell me why you are here.”

Lake drained his glass and smacked his lips. “I’m here because of that diamond you write so very ardently about.”

“The French Blue?” Hope eyed his visitor. “Quite the coincidence, that you should appear out of the ether just as I am finishing my history.”

“I thought together we might begin a new chapter of your lovely little history,” Lake said. “And you know as well as I do it’s no coincidence. You’ve heard the rumors, same as me. You’re going to buy the diamond from her, aren’t you?”

Hope looked down at his hands. Damn him, how did Lake know everything? He assumed the existence of the French Blue in England was a well-kept secret. The Princess of Wales made sure of that, seeing as she likely came into possession of the diamond through illegal, perhaps even treasonous, means.

But Hope assumed wrong. He should have known better, especially when it came to Henry Beaton Lake, privateer-cum-spy extraordinaire. The man sniffed out secrets as a bloodhound would a fox: instinctively, confidently, his every sense alive with the hunt.

“Perhaps.” Hope swept back a pair of curls with his fingers. “I admit I am looking to expand my collection. And diamonds—jewels—they are good investments. In the last decade alone—”

“Psh!” Lake threw back his head. “You’re buying it for a woman, aren’t you?”

This time Hope did not hold back rolling his eyes. “I avoid attachments to women for the very same reasons I avoid the likes of you. Much as I admire the female sex.”

“You did a great deal more than admire said sex when we were in France.”

“That was almost ten years ago, and hardly signifies.”

Lake leveled his gaze with Hope’s. “The distractions of women aside. You are attempting to buy the French Blue from Princess Caroline. I’m asking you to buy it for me. For England.”

Hope choked on his brandy. Before he could protest, Lake pushed onward.

“We’ve tried to buy the stone from the princess, but she is holding it hostage from her husband the prince and, by extension, our operation. Relations between them are worse than ever. I’m shocked, frankly, that they haven’t yet tried to poison one another.”

“Would that we were so lucky as to be delivered from that nincompoop they have the nerve to call regent.”

Lake waved away his words. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. If we manage to obtain the French Blue, we could very well change the course of the war. For years now old Boney’s been on the hunt for the missing crown jewels of France. We have reason to believe he’d trade valuable concessions for the largest and most notorious of those jewels. In exchange for the French Blue, that blackhearted little toad might hand over prisoners, a Spanish city or two. We could very well save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and in a single stroke.”

Hope let out a long, hot breath. “You’re shameless, Lake. Absolutely shameless. I refuse to be cowed into thinking I’m a selfish bastard for wanting to protect the interests of those who depend on me for their livelihoods, and their fortunes. I care for the thousands of lives you’ll save, I do, but—”

“But.” Lake held up his finger. “You are ...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue--and a font of unimaginable adventure. Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn t be losing his reputation, but his heart. Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own--with an alluring banker--she begins to question whether she s suited to the proper life she s always known. Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780425272084

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