Title: The Lady Hellion
Series: Wicked Deceptions, Book 3
Author: Joanna Shupe
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Genre: Historical, Romance
A Marquess’ daughter, Lady Sophia Barnes doesn’t take no for an answer. Especially when she’s roaming London’s seedy underground…dressed as a man.
A rabble rouser for justice, Sophie’s latest mission is to fight for the rights of the poor, the wretched—and the employees at Madame Hartley’s brothel. She’s not concerned about the criminals who will cross her path, for Sophie has mastered the art of deception—including the art of wearing trousers. Now her fate is in her own hands, along with a loaded gun. All she needs is instruction on how to shoot it. But only one person can help her: Lord Quint, the man who broke her heart years ago. The man she won’t let destroy her again…
Other books in this series
Quint put his hands on his hips and stared down at the perfectly matched set of ivory-handled Manton dueling pistols. Should he give her these or the newer tube-lock pistols he’d purchased in January?
Antimony, why would a woman of such intelligence and wit participate in this primitive ritual? The levelheaded thing to do would be to parley with the aggrieved party, discuss the slight, and come to some sort of resolution satisfactory to both sides. To risk one’s life over something so trivial was absurd, in Quint’s opinion.
Reservations and common sense aside, however, he’d asked Taylor to retrieve the pistols. Quint planned to have them wrapped and delivered to her. If he could not teach her himself, at least she would be well armed. God knew he’d never need the deuced things again.
All day, he’d considered writing to the Marquess of Ardington. The marquess was a powerful man, involved at the highest levels of government, and Quint actually liked him quite well. Shouldn’t the marquess be warned of the danger his daughter faced? At best, her reputation would be shredded in a duel. At worst, she could be killed. Each time he’d picked up a pen to dash off a note, however, he’d set the pen back in the tray. He couldn’t do it. With anyone else, he would wash his hands of the whole business. But Sophie...
Though he was loath to admit it, there was another reason he hadn’t written to her father. After more than three years, he still had a soft spot for her—which merely proved his idiocy. After all that had happened between them, he could not deliberately hurt her.
His entire life, Quint had been considered odd. Different from other men in his pursuits and interests. From the first moment he’d met Sophie, however, he’d felt a deeper understanding in her sharp gaze, that she was a woman unlike any other. Another misfit. And he had hoped.
They’d begun a casual flirtation at events over many months, and she had seemed to enjoy teasing him. He’d often found her staring at him from under her long brown lashes, an occurrence guaranteed to send a bolt of lust to his groin. During one particularly dull ball, he’d wandered away, as he frequently did, to the host’s library, knowing the books would be far more interesting than the small talk, and Sophie, surprisingly, had followed.
A noise behind him caught his attention. Sophie stood there, breathtakingly beautiful in a cream-colored gown that shimmered as she moved. She shut the door, locked it, and Quint’s pulse leapt. “You should be in the ballroom, Sophie.”
The edge of her mouth kicked up as she drew near. “Are you ever going to kiss me, Quint?”
“Do you want me to?”
“I followed you in here, did I not?”
“You answered a question with another question, Sophie.”
“As did you.”
He smiled, unable to resist her, and stepped forward. Without asking permission, he placed one hand on her hip and another around her neck, thinking she’d back away. Instead, she leaned in to his touch, welcoming it, her skin soft and warm. Her chestnut eyes grew dark, fathomless pools of invitation, and he was lost. “Yes, then. I should very much like to kiss you,” he admitted. “But I should not.”
“Life would hardly be worth living if we were to obey all the rules.” Her hands reached up to tangle in his hair as he bent and sealed his mouth to hers.
That one kiss had been monumental. Life altering. She’d been willing and pliant, and he’d lost all sense of himself, forgetting they were mere yards away from a crowded soirée. And he’d been so sure, so certain at the time, that his feelings were reciprocated.
Only, he’d miscalculated. With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, she’d broken his heart into millions of molecules and scattered them like pebbles. He would be unwelcome as a suitor, she’d said, the encounter nothing but a momentary fancy.
Under normal circumstances, serving as a beautiful woman’s “momentary fancy” would not be a hardship. But with Sophie...it had mattered. A lot.
Ended up a fortunate turn of events for her, however. Quint would not wish himself on any woman, considering what his future held in store.
As a boy, he had witnessed his father’s mental decline and the toll it had taken on his mother. She had cried all the time, hardly eaten, and had consulted with countless apothecaries, physicians, and scientists about a potential cure. All for naught. She had exhausted herself and ignored her son, and the viscount had never recovered.
Quint had vowed never to let that happen to him. He would never succumb to the madness that had overtaken his father. He would be smarter. Sharper. Work harder at his focus, memory, and stamina. No matter the cost, he’d avoid his father’s fate.
And it had worked until a bullet had grazed his neck last February, nearly robbing him of his life.
A brisk knock on his study door interrupted his thoughts. Taylor appeared, a cloaked figure behind him. “My lord, a visitor.”
Every cell in Quint’s body came to attention. He recognized that shrouded form. Why had she returned? “See that we’re not disturbed, Taylor.” His butler started to turn away and Quint added, “And remind me to review my visitation policy with you later.”
Taylor nodded and left, after which Sophie drew down the hood of her cloak. She wore no bonnet or cap, her brown hair twisted in a simple knot at her nape. The yellow glint of candlelight reflected in her dark eyes. Her mouth quirked. “Do not blame Taylor. I was already in the house, coming up the servants’ stairs, when he found me. He couldn’t very well kick me out then.”
“Why have you come back, Sophie?”
“What have you there?” She came closer and peered at the box on his desk. “Are those pistols?”
He sighed. May as well deal with her now. Then he could get back to his cipher. “Yes. This pair was crafted by Manton, who produces the best dueling pistols in the world.”
“What makes them superior?”
He tried not to notice her nearness, how shifting an inch or two would bring their shoulders together. He cleared his throat. “Manton discovered weighting the barrel allowed for a steadier shot. Less recoil in the forearm when the charge is fired. They are remarkably accurate at the right distance. I have others, but this is likely the easier set for you to use."
“Hmm.” Her fingertip slid down the ivory handle. “Why did you have them out, if you do not plan to help me?”
“Because it is important to have the very best equipment for whatever task you undertake. Since I had no way of knowing what pistols you intended to use, I planned to send these to you. I will not need them.”
“Have they been loaded?”
“Absolutely not. The barrels are empty.” Less chance of someone—him, most likely—getting shot.
“But how can I practice if they are empty?”
“You need to build up your arm strength in order to hold them steady for a prolonged period of time. Women have a lower percentage of muscle mass in their upper body and torso, so you need more practice than pulling the trigger if you want an accurate shot.”
“See, that is exceedingly helpful. I cannot trust anyone else to tell me these things.”
A sharp and unexpected sense of satisfaction coursed through him, followed quickly by resentment. She was clever, using flattery to get what she wanted. He preferred facts, however. “You are aware, of course, that duels are illegal. And that most result in death or serious injury.”
She tilted her head up to find his eyes. “Some, but not most. And I question the validity of such a statement. No actual data can be gathered as most duels are private and unreported, especially those with no injuries.”
Heat suffused his body. Christ, when she used words such as “validity” and “data,” Quint wanted to do unspeakably improper things to her. Dragging a hand through his hair, he put some distance between them. “There’s little use in debating the point. In case you’ve forgotten, you’ve asked for my assistance and I have refused it.”
“Which I refuse to accept. Not only are you the most clever man I know, you’ve a friend. Who else is in a better position to help me than you?”
Now he would appear churlish to refuse. Smart.
He flexed his fingers, thinking. While he did not appreciate being manipulated, he did not want to see her hurt. And if he showed her how to operate the damn things, would she go away and leave him in peace?
“If I give you your hour, do you promise not to return?”
“Yes,” she answered quickly, enthusiasm lighting up her face.
“And what if you show no aptitude for firearms? Will you abandon this silliness?”
“Of course. I do not have a desire to die.” She removed her cloak and threw the heavy garment over a chair. “I’ll suggest swords instead.”
Award-winning author Joanna Shupe has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.