Highland series book #6June 25, 2019
Avon
ISBN-10: 0062019791
ISBN-13: 978-0062019790



It’s a case of mistaken identities and unmistakable attraction in New York Timesbestselling author Lynsay Sands’ classic historical romance, previously published as The Reluctant Reformer!

Lady Maggie Wentworth must support herself as an investigative reporter. Writing under another name, she’s been exposing the notorious scandals of the ton—this time it’s the “working girls” of London. While interviewing the women, a client enters, and Maggie is shocked to see her beau. She changes clothes with one of the girls and flees out the window, only to be whisked away by a stranger.

Lord James is honoring a deathbed promise: watch over his late friend’s sister. Following Maggie to a house of ill repute, he’s stunned to see her emerge dressed as the notorious Lady X! Hard times must have driven her to such a desperate act, and he is intent on reforming the wanton chit. No amount of protest will stop him from saving her reputation. Now if only he can hold his own desires in check—and keep himself from falling in love.

 

This is a reissue of one of my past historicals called the Reluctant Reformer...

The idea for this story came to me as I was sitting around thinking that, while I love writing Historicals, I don't think I'd have been very happy in those times. There weren't a lot of women writers back then, and then they often had to publish under men's names. Then I started wondering what it must have been like for women who enjoyed such pursuits.

 

Goodreads reviewers gave it 4 stars out of 5!

 

Chapter One

London, March 1815

Maggie shifted her feet slightly, trying to ease the ache her cramped position was causing in her legs. The small movement was enough to bang her knees against the door of the armoire she presently sat in, sending the door rattling. Wincing at the pain now shooting up her leg, Maggie was busily rubbing the appendage when the door she had knocked with her knee opened. Soft candlelight immediately spilled in over her.

“Stop yer banging about, or ye’ll be givin’ away that yer in there to himself.”

Giving up on her leg, Maggie managed an apologetic smile and glanced up at the scantily clad young woman glaring in at her. "I am sorry," she began in conciliatory tones, then paused and heaved a breath out before straightening and beginning to step out of the small closet affair. "No, actually I am not sorry, er- Daisy, is it?"

"Maisey," the girl corrected with a put upon air.

"Yes, well, Maisey then,” Maggie muttered, a bit impatient now herself as she tried futilely to brush the wrinkles out of her gown. “Anyway, this is all really rather silly, and quite beyond the information I was looking for. All I really wanted to do was-"

The sound of a tap at the door made Maggie pause, her face registering alarm as she met Maisey's own startled gaze. Then, steel seemed to enter the other girl’s eyes and she shoved Maggie firmly back into the armoire where she landed on her behind with a grunt.

"It's too late to be changing your mind now, my lady,” she announced, bending grimly to shove Maggie’s feet inside the small closet affair before she could regain her balance. “Madame says you are to watch, and watch you will. Now keep quiet," she hissed, then pushed the door closed with a decided snap.

“Damn,” Maggie breathed, then struggled to a sitting position as the door rattled slightly, nearly covering the sound of what appeared to be a bolt being slid home. Pressing one eye to the crack where the doors did not quite meet, she saw Maisey nod with a grunt of satisfaction and whirl away to answer the knock at the door. Frowning, Maggie lifted a hand to push experimentally at the door, her mouth tightening when it stayed firmly shut. The girl had locked her in. Well, this was just bloody beautiful, she thought irritably. Brilliant! She did tend to get herself into fixes, didn’t she, she thought on a sigh.

Not that she could have got out now, anyway. Maggie considered herself a thoroughly modern young woman; highly intelligent, independent and uncaring of what others thought of her....but only to a certain degree. Even she, thoroughly modern as she was, hesitated to deliberately draw the wrath and scorn of the modern world down upon herself. Especially when she merely had to sit quiet for a little while to avoid scandal. Patience was not one of her virtues, but she had been attempting to cultivate it of late. Yes, she would simply have to look at this as a chance to develop that particular virtue. A learning experience one might say.

She had barely finished that thought when it occurred to her that she was crouching down in a small armoire in one of the rooms of the infamous Madame Dubarry's. A brothel for God's sake! What she would learn in this room- Well, she just shouldn't know yet. What's more, she couldn't even write about it. Good Lord, how had she ended up here?! Madame Dubarry of course. The woman had been slow to warm to the idea of allowing Maggie to interview she and some of her girls for a story for the Daily express. Once Madame had agreed to the undertaking, however, she had become quite enthusiastic. The older woman had bustled Maggie from girl to girl, helping in the interviews to be sure the girls told the juiciest stories, then had rounded off this most peculiar day for Maggie by offering her tea in her private drawing room. It was while they had chatted over tea that Madame had had her impulsive brain wave. Setting her tea cup down in it's saucer with a clatter, she had sat up abruptly, her eyes shooting toward the clock in the corner.

"What time is it? Nearly seven. Oh really, this is perfect timing. You must witness this, Lady Maggie. Really, you must. You shall thank me for it, I promise you."

So saying, the woman had stood quickly, grasped Maggie's hand and dragged her from her chair, then hurried her from the room and along the hall. Before Maggie could even collect herself enough to ask what she must see and why, they had reached this room. Madame had hurried her inside, installed her in the cupboards with mere admonishments to remain quiet and see, then had instructed young Maisey that Maggie was to witness the night's proceedings. The woman had then fled the room nearly as quickly as she had ushered Maggie into it.

Maggie, stunned by the abruptness of the whole event, had sat still and silent for a moment before the cramped position she was in had forced her to shift her position, drawing the wrath of the shapely young Maisey.

Really, had she been a bit quicker she might have managed to sneak from the room before Maisey's customer had arrived. Now it appeared she was quite stuck here, she thought irritably as she listened to the murmur of voices outside the armoire. That did not, however, mean that she need learn anything more than she already had from her interviews. Truly, Maggie had no desire to learn that much of what went on here. She simply would not look through the crack to see who Maisey's client was and what they were doing, she decided, then frowned as the voices moved closer, the man's slightly deeper timber striking a cord of recognition within her. It sounded amazingly like-

Her gaze slid to the crack despite her best intentions and Maggie drew her breath in on a hiss of air. Good Lord, it was him. Pastor Frances. Her eyes narrowed on the man as she realized that she had been discussing the fact that Pastor Frances had been paying her court, and that she thought he might soon pop the question when Madame had suddenly rushed her up here. Maggie was distracted by further thought by an odd question from Maisey.

"Who am I to be tonight, my lord? Your mother?"

Maggie's eyes widened in shocked dismay at that, but they nearly fell out of her head at Frances’ answer.

"Nay. Tonight you shall be my dear Margaret."

"Sweet Lady Wentworth, is it?" Maggie was almost too shocked by Frances’ presence here to notice the sly irony in the other woman's voice. Almost. "The lady who personifies lady with all it's meaning? The woman who never sets a foot wrong? Who is discretion herself?"

Maggie had the grace to wince slightly at the pointy edges of the woman’s words. She also experienced a touch of alarm as she realized that in her excitement Lady Dubarry had addressed her by her real name when she had brought her up to this room. But she forgot all these concerns when Frances answered, "Aye, my sweet Maggie. I have decided to propose to her. I arranged to take her to the Cousin's ball tonight. I shall propose to her afterward. I believe she will accept."

"Oh, 'course she will, governor. A great strapping man like yerself." There was no missing the irony in her voice then. At least Maggie caught it, though it seemed to slip right past Frances who was really rather thin and emaciated in truth.

"Fine. You be Maggie then and I shall practice on you." There was a moment of critical silence before he abruptly murmured, "You had best put something else on."

"Something else?"

"Well, Maggie would never greet me so scantily clad."

"Not even if the house were afire," Maggie agreed under her breath, her gaze sliding to the other girl to take in her costume. What there was of it. Sheer silk, red, that covered absolutely nothing. It was scandalous.

There was a moment of uncertain silence, then Maisey heaved out an impatient breath. "Fine then. Ye step on out into the hall and I shall change. Give me five minutes, then knock."

"Why must I wait in the hall?"

"Well, ye want it to be as if ye were proposing to Lady Wentworth, don't ye? Would she dress in front of ye? Get on with ye. I'll only be a minute and it will seem more real."

Through the crack between the doors, Maggie saw her usher Frances out of the room as firmly as she herself had been shoved into the armoire. She closed the door behind him with a snap, then locked it for good measure. Maisey was a no-nonsense type of woman it seemed.

"Thank God," Maggie burst out of the cupboard as the door opened. "I thought I should suffocate in there. Now get me out of here."

"You know where the door is," came Maisey's unconcerned response as she began digging through the armoire, picking up and discarding gown after gown.

Maggie frowned and glanced from the door to the girl. "I can hardly exit that way. Frances is waiting out there."

"Then I guess ye'll just have to get back in the closet, won't ye?" Maisey said sardonically, discarding yet another gown with irritation.

"Get back in?” Maggie’s confusion was plain. “Did you not let me out to slip me from the room?"

"No. I let you out so I could find a gown suitable enough to play the likes of you. I could hardly dig about in here with you sitting there just waiting to be discovered by the Pastor, could I? Damn! I haven't a single dress as drab as the one you are wearing." Throwing the last gown down in disgust, she glared at Maggie as if her lack of wardrobe were somehow her fault, then her brow cleared. "You wouldn't consider letting me borrow yer gown fer a bit, would ye?"

"Certainly not," Maggie snapped, her gaze flying desperately around the room. "There simply has to be a way out of here."

"There isn't," the girl assured her. "Unless you can fly out the window."

"The window!" Maggie hurried across the room. Reaching the window, she pushed it open and leaned out. They were on the third floor. The ground was a long way down and she was about to give up on the idea of escaping out the window when her gaze dropped to the wall and she saw the ledge a couple of feet below the window. It was just wide enough that she could walk it if she were careful. She would be careful, she decided.

"Here!" Maisey grabbed her arm as she sat on the ledge and made to climb from the room. "What? Are ye daft? Ye'll break yer bones jumpin' from here."

"I am not going to jump,” Maggie hissed with exasperation, tugging her arm free. “I am going to walk the ledge to the next room, climb in through the window there, and get out of here."

Leaning past her, Maisey peered down, eyes widening slightly in surprise at the sight of the ledge. "Oh... well." She hesitated slightly, her gaze calculating, then announced, "Well, that would be nice, wouldn't it? Except that Lady X and Lord Hastings are in one of the rooms next door and your climbing in on them would cause the scandal of the decade."

Maggie frowned at this news, everyone, absolutely everyone had heard of the infamous Lady X. She was the most famous of Agatha Dubarry’s prostitutes, and as such, Maggie had not been allowed to speak to her, though she had caught a glimpse of her earlier while interviewing the other women. From what she had spied, Lady X was a lovely blonde with a perfect figure, full lovely lips and deep mysterious eyes. That was all she had seen. All anyone saw of her face. The rest of it was covered by a blazing red mask that never came off. Men paid highly for the privilege of bedding her and trying to discover her true identity, but no one had figured it out yet. It was rumored that the famous prostitute was actually a lady of nobility who worked as a prostitute on the side to help shore her sagging coffers. Many disputed the idea, claiming that surely no lady would risk being discovered in such an endeavor. Still, there were enough men out there willing to dig deep into their pockets to try to find out that Madame Dubarry was doing very well.

Maggie definitely did not need the scandal of walking in on the woman while she was entertaining the most honored Lord Hastings, one of the King's most distinguished councilors.

"Which room are they in?" she asked now.

Maisey smiled suddenly, the smile of a cat who has cornered a mouse. "Let me use your gown?"

Maggie stiffened, then shook her head. "I shall find out for myself," she decided and slid her legs over the window ledge. She straightened slowly, clinging nervously to the window as she waited for her balance to catch up to her.

"Have it your way," Maisey murmured with amusement as she watched her. "But it does look a long way down and I know I shouldn't like to make it all the way along that ledge to a window, simply to have to turn back and travel twice the distance to another window." When Maggie looked uncertain at that, Maisey pressed her advantage. "'Tis just a gown. I'll give ye one o' me own to wear in it's place. Then I'll send yours back to ye first thing on the morrow once it's been cleaned."

Maggie took in the hopeful gaze of the girl, peered at the ground such a long way down, then shifted cautiously on the ledge, her mind made up when her stomach jumped nervously. Cursing under her breath, she maneuvered her way back into the room and eyed the prostitute unhappily. "The other room is empty, isn't it?"

Maisey nodded solemnly.

"Fine. But-" A tap at the door cut her off and both women glanced sharply at the solid wall of oak as the door knob jiggled. Thankfully, Maisey had apparently thought to lock the door, for it stayed shut.

“Are you ready yet, my dear?” Frances cooed in a sickening tone Maggie had never heard from the usually dignified man.

“Oh keep yer pants on, I’m hurryin’ as fast as I can,” Maisey snapped, then turned on Maggie grimly. “Well?”

“Oh stuff!” Maggie huffed and immediately set to work at disrobing as quickly as she could. Satisfied, Maisey began to undress as well and the two worked in virtual silence until Maggie got her gown off. She handed it over, then crossed her arms, rubbing them as goose bumps began to form on her flesh.

"Yer shift and bloomers too."

"What?" When Maggie stared at her in dismay, she rolled her eyes.

"I'm supposed to be dressed like you. 'Sides, ye'll be caught fer sure if ye run around with those bloomers showing through the gown."

Maggie frowned at the see through gown the girl held out, then shook her head unhappily. "I will be recognized anyway if my face is seen and I left my veil in Agatha’s drawing room."

Whirling, Maisey hurried to the armoire, returning a moment later with a plain red silk mask for her to wear. "Here put this on. With the mask, my clothes, and yer cloak, ye should escape all right."

Maggie glanced at it curiously. "Is this Lady X's mask?"

"Nay. Mine. Lady X's mask is far more fancy." When Maggie continued to peer at her questioningly, she heaved a sigh. "Men like to play all sorts o' games. I-" She paused, scowling as the earlier tap on the door was repeated, more loudly and insistent this time.

"Maisey?” Frances crooned, sounding a little less patient this time.

"Only just another moment, my lord," Maisey answered with a roll of her eyes, then shoved the mask at her, hissing, "Take it."

******

"You are absolutely sure of this, Johnstone?" Ramsey asked slowly, his face reflecting his concern at this news.

"Aye, my lord. I tried to find you right away. I knew you'd be wanting this news right prompt, but when I went by your townhouse, they told me there that you were at your club. By the time I got there, they said you had left just moments earlier, and I had to begin searching-"

"Yes, yes." Ramsey waved the explanation away and turned to stare out the window of his library at the tranquil scene of the garden along the back of his townhouse in London proper.

Johnstone was silent for a moment, allowing his boss his thoughts, then pointed out gently, "It would explain where she's been getting the money to keep up the house and servants."

Ramsey whirled, a ferocious expression on his face. "You are not thinking that she works there?"

Johnstone appeared as surprised at the question as could be. "Well, what other business could a lady have at Madame Dubarry's?"

"For God's sake, Johnstone, she is a lady."

"Aye, well, the claim is that Lady X is a lady of nobility."

Ramsey's mouth dropped at that, then snapped shut. "Good God," he got out between gritted teeth as he turned toward the window again.

They were both silent for another moment, then Johnstone shifted uncertainly. "I left Henries there to keep an eye out while I came to see what ye wanted me to do?"

Ramsey remained silent for a moment, then whirled abruptly and strode toward the door of his library. "Hethers!" he bellowed as he stepped into the hall, relief covering his face when he spied the man approaching. "My coat. I am going out."

When the servant returned with his overcoat, hat and gloves and began to assist him in donning them, Ramsey added, "Have some things packed. I am leaving tonight."

"Tonight, my lord?"

"Aye. I will be staying at Ramsey for a while."

"Aye, my lord."

******

Maggie peered in at the tableau taking place in the room next to Maisey's and groaned aloud. Her fingers tightened on the stone she clung to as she leaned her head unhappily against the cold wall. After quickly trading clothes, Maisey had helped her climb back out onto the ledge, hissing to her that Lady X and her present customer were in the room on the left. She had then left Maggie to it and hurried to answer the door to the now impatiently pounding Frances.

Relieved to be out of the room, Maggie had quickly moved along the ledge to the next window, expecting to find that room empty. Unfortunately, what she had not considered was that Maisey may have been referring to her own left, which of course, with Maggie clinging to the wall facing her was Maggie's right, which meant Maggie should have gone right. Which she hadn't. She had ended up going all this way for nothing, for while curtains shrouded the window making the images inside blurred and foggy, they were discernible enough to see that it was two people engaged in the most energetic round of ride the pony it had ever been Maggie's misfortune to witness.

Sighing in resignation, Maggie turned to peer back along the ledge, took a deep breath, then began inching her way back the way she had come, clinging to the wall like a limpet as she did. She was nearly back at Maisey’s window before she realized that in her haste, the other woman had neglected to close it. Grimacing, she paused to the side of it and peered around the edge. The time since she had crept from the room had seemed like a century to Maggie and while she knew that was just the stress of the moment making it seem so, she was surprised to see that she must have taken quite a length of time anyway. A good ten minutes must have past at least, she guessed by the fact that Maisey - playing "Maggie" - had already served Frances a drink as the two sat by a small table and chairs set by the bed. Those drink were finished and whatever had passed for small talk between the two done, Frances now knelt at Maisey's feet, her hands clasped gently in his, heartfelt longing on his face as he peered up at her.

"I have known you for quite awhile now, Margaret. Long enough to know that you are the woman for me. I would be most honored if you would consent to be my bride."

"Yes."

Frances frowned at Maisey's bored answer. "Surely she wouldn't just say yes like that?"

"What would she say then?"

"Well, I don't know. Just...Try to sound a bit more enthusiastic, please."

"Yes," she cooed.

Frances continued to frown, but apparently decided that he wouldn't get much more out of the girl and shrugged slightly before surging to his feet, drawing Maisey with him and into his arms with the same move. "You won't be sorry, my dear. I shall make an outstanding husband, I promise you, we shall have a marvelous marriage." This he managed to gasp out between slobbering kisses across Maisey's cheeks and down her neck. When he reached the top of her prim, dark black gown, he paused and pulled back to eye her with a leer. "I love the proper little gowns you wear. They hide your lovely body from the eyes of other men, but there is no need to hide from me any longer." With that, he grasped the collar of the gown and ripped downward, shredding it nearly to the waist before lifting wide eyes to Maisey's dismayed face. "Ooops," he suggested lightly. "Now you shall have to punish me."

"Yer damn right, I will," Maisey snapped irritably. "And ye'll be replacin' that gown too. It weren't even mine."

"Than I, of course, shall replace it," Frances promised, unperturbed by the woman's apparent anger. Releasing her, he stepped back and quickly began shedding his clothes.

Maggie turned away then, unwilling to watch what would follow, her gaze judging the distance between where she stood and the other side of the window, wondering if she could traverse the distance quickly enough that she might not be detected. She supposed it depended on how distracted the couple in the room were and glanced back into the room reluctantly as Frances slid out of his top and dropped it across the chair he had just recently vacated. Glimpsing the welts on his back, Maggie paused in dismay, her gaze moving to Maisey to see that she had retrieved a long wide leather belt from the armoire and was now eyeing Frances with a decidedly jaundiced eye as he continued stripping.

Glancing reluctantly back to the man as he shed his trousers, Maggie took in the fact that the welts covered not just his back, but his buttocks and the backs of his upper thighs as well, and frowned in bewilderment. Was this what Madame Dubarry had wanted her to see? Did Frances really pay Maisey to beat him with the belt? Some of the women had told her such tales as she had done her interviews. Stories of men who enjoyed odd or even unhealthy diversions during their sexual exploits. Was Frances one of those? It would seem so, she thought and shook her head with a sort of pity combined with disgust. What would make a man turn to such games? Frances had seemed such a normal, well mannered, polite sort.

The first crack of the belt across Frances back drew Maggie from her ponderings and to the realization that she was perched on a ledge, outside the third floor window of a brothel, balanced delicately between breaking her neck and being discovered and ruined. This was no time to be sorting out Frances’ problems. She would just be grateful she had learned of them ere he had proposed else she might very well have accepted never knowing that just hours before the man was being whipped, among other things, by one of Madame Dubarry's girls.

Would he have expected her to beat him once they were married? She wondered, and immediately pushed the thought out of her head with a shudder. She had no time for these thoughts. She would not be accepting his proposal. On that determined thought, she peered into the room once more, relieved to see that the couple were suitably distracted, then forced herself to move past the window and continue on toward the next window along the wall.

Ramsey stood uncomfortably inside the door to Madame Dubarry's, waiting impatiently for Johnstone to conclude the whispered conversation he was having with the Madame herself. He had already been approached by, and turned down the offers of, three of the Madame's other girls, one of which had offered to do a thing or two to him that he had never considered trying before and did not wish to attempt now, here in this place.

"It's done, yer lordship. Madame says Lady X is with Lord Hastings now, but that you can have a go at her next."

"I do not intend to 'have a go at her' as you so delicately put it," Ramsey hissed impatiently, bringing a flicker of irritation to the other man's face before he controlled it.

"I didn't think you would, my lord. But I could hardly tell her ye wished to kidnap the lass now, could I?"

"I am not kidnapping her, I am rescuing her."

"Aye. Well, I'd guess that that there is a matter of perspective, ain't it?" Pausing, he shook his head. "Anyway, it'll cost ye deep," he announced, then mentioned a sum that made Ramsey's eyebrows fly off his forehead.

"You must be joking?"

"I never joke about money, me lord. But ye'll either be paying that or waiting till a week next Sunday to lay yer hands on her. She's booked full for the night. A different man every half hour. Dubarry was willing to bump everyone back a half hour, but wants to be paid well for the trouble. What should I tell her?"

Ramsey considered walking out the door, getting in his carriage and riding to Lady Wentworth's home to await her return, but his conscience would not let him. He had made a promise to look after the girl and looking after her did not mean looking the other way while she bedded some two dozen men or so. Muttering under his breath, Ramsey pulled a bag of coins from his pocket and dropped it in the hand Johnstone extended. "How long until Hasting's half hour is up?"

Johnstone's gaze slid to the clock in the hall. "About ten minutes. I'll just give Dubarry the money, then we'll go have a look around and see if there's another way out of here."

"Another way out of here?"

"You didn't think to march out the front door with her, did ye? Dubarry ain't like to take to that. The lass is her golden goose."

"Aye." Ramsey sighed and glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes.

*****

Maggie grabbed the edge of the window with relief and paused to rest her face on the cold glass. She was sweating from a combination of anxiety and straight out terror. Amazingly enough, she was more terrified of falling than of discovery at this point. Amazing because she could remember a time when the prospect of social ruin had been more frightful than death. But that had been when she could afford such pretty concerns as reputation etc., and before she had had the burden of so many lives put on her shoulder.

"Damn you, Gerald, for dying anyway," she cursed on a whisper, then immediately - if silently - apologized to her poor brother for cussing him so. Gerald had loved life. He had lived every moment of the short time he had spent on earth as if it might be his last. He had been the last to complain when he had been ordered to go off to fight Napoleon. And she had no doubt he had given his life in battle with as much passion and as little regret as he had lived the rest of his life. It was just too damn bad he had had to leave her in such a fix. As a woman she had been unable to inherit the title and estates he had left behind on his death. While he had left her his townhouse in London, a purchase he himself had made with money from investments before inheriting his title and station from their father, everything else had gone with the title to some blasted second or third cousin. If they had found the bloody man. The only money Maggie had had to live off of was a small investment she had made with her own inheritance from their mother.

It wasn't really that small an investment. In fact, she could have lived quite comfortably off of her investment for her entire life, had she not been saddled with Gerald's house and servants. It was a townhouse fit for a Duke, with lots of rooms, and even more servants in attendance. The practical side of Maggie had ordered her to release the servants, close the house, sell it, and move into a small cottage in the country where she could have lived very comfortably with one or two servants. However, sentiment would not allow her to sell the house. Gerald had loved that bloody townhouse in the city. He had rarely if ever bothered to even ride out to the estate he had inherited with his title. His spirit seemed everywhere in that house. Maggie simply could not part with the home of her brother, the last surviving member of her family before his death. As for the servants, faced with closing up part of the house and releasing a large portion of the staff, Maggie simply hadn't been able to do it. Gerald's staff were hard working, cheerful individuals. She hadn't been able to look a single one of them in the face and tell them they were no longer wanted.

That being the case, she had been forced to find a way to support the large staff she was now burdened with. The answer had come by chance. While sorting through her brother's papers, Maggie had come across the knowledge that her brother had lead a double life. That of Lord Gerald Wentworth, Duke of Clarendon, and G. W. Clark the adventurist writer who wrote columns for the Daily Express about the seedier side of London life; the rumors, the truth, the gaming hells, fortunes won and lost, affairs taking place, etc.. From Gerald's papers she had learned that he had met with Mr. Hartwick, the editor of the Daily Express, only once and then in a disguise to protect his identity. Members of the nobility did not do anything so crass as to work for a living.

She had also learned that he wrote the articles and dispatched them via Banks, his butler. That was when Maggie had had her brilliant idea. She could be G.W. Clark. She could do it...And she had for the last three months. She had gone to great lengths to continue her brother's column, going so far as dressing up as a young buck and traveling the seedier sections of London with Banks in tow to protect her, for all the good the elderly butler might really be. That was how she had ended up standing here on the ledge outside the third floor window of Madame Dubarry's. The lady had apparently been a great friend of her brother's, at least that was what his notes had said. And Madame Dubarry had also been privy to the fact that her brother was G.W. Clark, so when the column had started up again three weeks after his death, she had paid a visit on Maggie. With a sense of adventure equal to Maggie and her brother's, Madame Dubarry had arrived on her doorstep dressed as a poor fruit seller. On being admitted to see Maggie, she had announced her true identity, revealed that Gerald had been G.W. Clark and that some “dastardly devil” had stolen his name. In the end, Maggie had had to confess herself the culprit. By the end of the pot of tea Maggie had then sent for, the two women had struck up an unlikely friendship. They had been in cahoots ever since, hence the way she had ended up perched on a ledge on the third floor of the woman's brothel.

Amazing, Maggie thought and considered for the first time that perhaps Agatha Dubarry had been right when she had suggested Maggie should come dressed as a man as she sometimes did for her escapades. Maggie had shrugged away the suggestion, thinking that the women might be more forthwith with information while talking to another woman. She had been introduced as the sister of G.W. Clark, sent to interview them for him. No one had known her true identity until Agatha had slipped up in Maisey’s room, but Maggie wasn’t too concerned about Maisey. She had no doubt that Madame Dubarry could keep the girl quiet. As for the other women, Maggie had not feared recognition or detection by any of them since they moved in very different circles. However, should one of the lords who were their clients see her, she would definitely be recognized and ruined. There was no way Agatha Dubarry could keep them quiet. Which meant that right now would be a beneficial time to be disguised as a man. Such a disguise also would have made climbing about on ledges more seemly, she thought dryly, glancing nervously down past her long skirts.

*****

"We'll have to sneak her down the back stairs and smuggle her through the kitchen."

Ramsey nodded at this suggestion by Johnstone. After a brief but thorough examination of the brothel, that seemed the best bet to get the girl out. "Go have my driver move the carriage to the alley," he instructed grimly, his gaze sliding to the clock in the hall. "Hastings’ time is up. I'll go see if he has left yet."

Nodding, Johnstone hurried down the hall toward the front door as Ramsey started upstairs. He was at the top of the steps before he realized that Johnstone hadn't told him what room Lady X was supposed to be in. He was about to return below stairs to ask the woman, Dubarry, when he changed his mind. He would recognize Hastings. Everyone knew of Hastings, if not in person, then by reputation. He was second only to the king in power in the country. Whichever room Hastings left would be the room he sought. He had just come to that conclusion when the thud of a door made him turn back around on the landing. A glance up the hall showed Hastings coming jauntily toward him, whistling under his breath as he straightened his cravat. Ramsey almost cursed aloud as he realized that he had been slow enough that he couldn’t be sure which room the man had come from. There were a couple of possibilities. He would try them both, he decided resolutely, giving Hastings a curt nod and moving purposely past him down the hall.

******

The thud of a door closing, tore Maggie from her thoughts and she finally glanced into the room she now stood outside of. If her thoughts had distracted her so long that the empty room was now occupied, she thought she might very well throw up right there on the ledge. She did not think she had the stamina or nerve to traverse the length of the wall again. It was with some relief that she saw that the room was empty. Letting her breath out, she reached down, opened the window and silently slipped inside, not surprised to find that now that they were on solid ground her legs were more than just a bit rubbery. Ordering them to stand firm, she moved quickly across the room, pausing at the door to take a breath and listen for sounds in the hallway. When her ears picked up only silence, she eased the door open and almost started to slip out, then recalled the mask Maisey had given her. She had shoved it in her pocket in her rush to finish dressing and leave the room.

Pausing now, she turned back toward the room and started to lift the flimsy red silk toward her face, stilling when her eyes fell on the bed and the woman gaping at her from the shadows of the bed, her hand up-raised and at her forehead as if she had been soothing a headache. They both gaped at each other briefly, then the sound of footsteps in the hall reminded Maggie that she had to get out of there and she quickly finished raising the mask to her face, tied the strings of it in place, and slipped from the room without a mere murmur of apology.

She had just finished pulling the door closed when a hand slid around her from behind, covering her mouth and smothering her startled cry as she was lifted bodily, bundled in her cape, and carted swiftly down the hall.

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