Home > When Dashing Met Danger

When Dashing Met Danger
Author: Shana Galen






Late March 1805

“This—this can’t be true—” The missive rattled in the man’s shaking hands. The spy’s eyes, the only features visible under his low bicorne and upturned collar, flicked to the speaker—William Pitt, England’s prime minister.

“The threat is genuine, sir,” the spy said. “Admiral Nelson must be notified.”

Outside, rain pelted the secluded building, while the wind moaned a forlorn lament as it battered and whipped the shutters. Over the churning water of the Channel, lightning flashed across the violent skies, streaking the room and the faces of the anxious men.

Alexander Scarston studied Pitt’s men. Petty officials and inexperienced spies from the Foreign Office, they looked more like they were playing at war than directing one. A stranger entering the room might mistake this for a gathering at one of the clubs on St. James’s—tailcoats of superfine, trousers tailored to fit without a crease, and gleaming black Hessians. A betting book and a bow window, and the ruse would be complete.

“Villeneuve and the French fleet must not be allowed to escape the blockade at Toulon,” Scarston said, breaking the tense silence. “This missive might prove the push the admiral needs to rally the forces and rid us of Bonaparte for good.”

“I agree,” Pitt said, “but you are too valuable to lose, and we do not yet know if you have compromised your position by coming here tonight.” He turned to a white-haired gentleman. “Mr. Wentworth, I rely upon you to choose a capable operative and send him immediately.”

Wentworth nodded his assent, and Scarston felt a slash of betrayal pierce his gut. Wentworth knew he wanted this assignment, and as his mentor, Wentworth understood his capabilities. Leashing his fury, Scarston focused on the prime minister. “Mr. Pitt, no other operative has my contacts and experience. I will reach Nelson, and I would have done so already if I hadn’t felt you needed to be notified of the danger.”

Wentworth shuffled forward, his meager weight supported by a gnarled cane. “It’s too risky. I’ve heard rumors—”

“Rumors?” Scarston waved a dismissive hand. “Sir, that’s no reason—”

“It’s more than that this time, Alex, and you know it,” Wentworth lowered his voice so that he could not be heard above the roar of the storm. “How you ever made it out of Calais is beyond me.”

A scene flickered in Scarston’s mind—a dank room, shrieks of pain, the smell of fear. He shoved the image away.

“If you haven’t been identified in France, we’ll need you. Alex, listen to reason.”

“Reason?” he snarled. “How can I listen to reason when every day more men are dying? When Bonaparte is a whisper away from victory? Listen to reason, sir?”

“Just this once,” Wentworth said, emphasizing each word.

Scarston locked his jaw and his feelings scowling as Wentworth issued his new orders.



Chapter One




Early May 1805

“Stop!” hissed a woman’s voice.

“Darling, just one kiss. Come here, you silly goose.”

“Not now, Reginald. Behave yourself, please.” Sprawled on a worn stone bench deep in the gardens of Lord and Lady Pool’s London town house, Alexander Scarston, the Earl of Selbourne, heaved a sigh. He’d retreated to the extensive gardens hoping to escape the hordes in attendance at one of the premier balls of the Season, and he was in no in mood for young lovers.

“Reginald, I said stop.” The woman’s voice was more insistent now. Closer as well. Looking for an escape, Alex peered into the shadows cast by the overgrown rhododendron bushes and wild roses. If he could avoid the garishly lit town house, he could be in his carriage and on his way to his club in a quarter hour at most.

He saw no reason to revisit the ball. Judging from his brief foray into the madness earlier, there was little likelihood that he would gain the information Pitt wanted, and every likelihood he would be accosted by some annoying matron who simply had to introduce him to her niece or daughter or second cousin twice removed, whom she knew an eligible earl such as himself would absolutely adore.

“Darling, don’t fight me.” An undertone of annoyance belied the man’s sickly sweet tone.

Selbourne decided to cut his losses, and he rose and melted into the shadows of the massive oaks towering behind him. But he’d waited a moment too long and found himself forgetting to breathe when he saw the woman glide through an opening in the hedge. Alex stared. How had he missed this exquisite creature inside?

In the cloud-filtered moonlight, the thick gold hair piled high on her head glittered. Her features had been molded by a true artist: high cheekbones; small, straight nose; full mouth; elegantly curved jaw line. Her neck was long and slender, her skin like fine ivory. A band of brilliant amethysts sparkled at her neck, and below the gems, he noted the swell of rounded breasts sheathed in shimmering white silk. The breeze played with her skirts and hinted at a willowy figure—small waist, shapely hips, and long, supple legs.

She was stunning, more so in her anger.

“If you don’t cease this instant, Reginald, I’ll—”

Her partner chuckled. “You’ll what?” He pushed through the hedge and grasped her elbow for support. With clumsy movements, his mouth fell on hers. She shoved him away but was prevented from escape when her gown caught on the protruding branches of the hedge.

“Stop teasing me.” The man’s words were slurred, and he almost knocked her over as he backed her toward the bench Alex had just vacated. All trace of charm was gone from his tone. In the shadows, Alex tensed.

The woman twisted, fighting to escape the drunken man’s hold. “Reginald, I said st—”

His lips savaged her neck, cutting her off. Alex took two steps forward but paused when the woman cried, “Get off me this instant!” She pushed Reginald back, and he flailed for an instant before grasping the back of her neck. His other hand snaked out and groped her breast. Alex heard her hand crack against the man’s cheek.

Reginald’s head jerked. “Lucia, stop acting so prudish,” he slurred. “No one can see us.”

Alex had grasped two handfuls of the bushes concealing him, prepared to intercede, when an alarm rang in his head.


Where had he heard that name before? It wasn’t a common name among ladies of the ton, and the Italian pronunciation the man had given it tickled Alex’s memory. “Bloody hell,” he said under his breath. “Not her.” Just his luck to run into Lucia when he was trying to save the bloody country.

“This isn’t proper, my lord,” Lucia was saying. “And if you weren’t so drunk, you’d realize that. Now let me go before I scream.”

Reginald chuckled. “You won’t scream.” He dragged his hand roughly through her hair, loosening it so it fell in heavy, silver-streaked waves to her waist. Lucia flinched.

“You don’t want to upset your father. He likes me.”

“Well, I don’t.” Alex’s voice was low and menacing as he strode from the murky dark of the foliage into full view of the bastard still gripping Lucia.

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