A Good Rake is Hard to Find
A DANGEROUS GAME
Heartbroken by the loss of her brother, Miss Leonora Craven vows to uncover the truth about his “accident,” which seems to have been anything but. Jonathan Craven was involved with the Lords of Anarchy, a notorious driving club, and Leonora can’t help but suspect foul play. But the only way she can infiltrate their reckless inner circle is to enlist the help of Jonny’s closest ally, Lord Frederick Lisle. If only he didn’t also happen to be the man who broke Leonora’s heart…
AN UNDENIABLE DESIRE
Frederick isn’t surprised to find gorgeous, headstrong Leonora playing detective, but he knows that the Lords of Anarchy mean business—and he has no choice but to protect her. A sham engagement to Leonora will allow Frederick to bring her into the club and along for the ride. But it isn’t long before pretending to be lovers leads to very real passion. With everything to lose, is their tempestuous affair worth the risk?
“I’d like to know what the deuce Craven was thinking to get himself killed like that,” Lord Frederick Lisle said from his favorite chair in the corner of Brook’s Club.
As was his usual custom, he had been the first of his friends to arrive, and therefore had his choice of seats. Freddy, as he was known to his friends, was a planner. It was rare that he came into a situation not already knowing every possible outcome. And social gatherings were no exception.
But, he’d dashed well not planned on his friend Jonathan Craven dying unexpectedly. None of them had.
“‘The three horsemen’ simply doesn’t have the same ring to it,” the Earl of Mainwaring groused into his brandy from the other side of the table. “Damned inconvenient of Craven to force that on us.”
The third member of their party, the Duke of Trent, shrugged before taking a healthy drink. As a decorated soldier in the Napoleonic wars, Trent had become accustomed to friends dying. Or so Freddy surmised. Since Trent never said a damned thing about his time in the army, it was difficult to know either way.
It had been a month since Craven’s death during a race between members of the driving club, the Lords of Anarchy. And, since Trent had been away on business, this was their first gathering since losing their friend.
“I just wasn’t expecting it,” Freddy said glumly, stretching his long legs out before him and crossing them at the ankle. “One doesn’t expect someone your own age to shuffle off this mortal coil. Or at least not someone like Jon. With the exception of his penchant for horses, he was the least reckless of all of us.”
“It was those bloody Anarchists,” Trent said, his green eyes narrow with anger. “Don’t think I’ve had so much as a note from Jonny since he took up with them. I know you’re a ‘live and let live’ sort of fellow, Freddy, but that lot is the very devil. The only reason the Home Office hasn’t disbanded them for treason is because they’re too bloody foolish to succeed at true anarchy.”
“Aye,” Mainwaring said, rubbing a hand over his chin where dark whiskers were already beginning to show despite it being only early evening. “The Lords of Anarchy are not nearly so well-mannered as the Four Horse Club, that’s for certain. A staid journey to Bedfont for supper twice a month isn’t enough for Sir Gerard and his lot. If there’s no risk in it for ‘em, it’s not worth doing.”
Unlike the FHC, which drove in an orderly procession to their twice monthly suppers, the Lords of Anarchy raced to their meetings in Dartford—a fourteen mile drive from London. It was a dangerous prospect for anyone unlucky enough to venture onto the Dover Road on the first or fourteenth of the month.
“Live and let live, Trent,” Freddy protested, his fair skin turning ruddy with annoyance. “Not live and let die. I might be an easygoing sort of fellow but I don’t hold with just letting anything go without any sort of protest. I believe in the law, for god’s sake.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Trent responded without any hint of apology. “For I’ve got a mind to look into the workings of that club and the circumstances behind Jon’s death.”
Mainwaring paused with his glass halfway to his lips. Putting it back down, he asked, “What do you mean, ‘look into’? It’s not as if Sir Gerard Fincher and his cronies will step aside and invite you to question the members of the club. Sounds like a job for the runners if you ask me.”
“Not the Runners,” Freddy said thoughtfully. “There’s no way Fincher would let his club members talk to a runner. And even if he did invite one into the group he’d be damned sure that none of them said anything about illegal happenings. A man like that rules with an iron fist. And there’d be retribution for anyone foolish enough to speak out of turn.”
“Precisely,” Trent said, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs. “But, if the club were to induct a new member, then it mightn’t be too long before the inner circle let down its guard. I rather imagine it’s like any other organization of its type. The military being a similar example. They keep gossip, and discipline, in-house.”
“And I suppose you’re the one who will infiltrate this club?” Freddy asked, his brows raised in skepticism. It was all well and good for Trent to pose the idea, but the Anarchists were known to disdain the military almost as much as the working classes. There was no possible way for Trent to gain membership, his dukedom and fortune notwithstanding.
“No,” Trent said with a speaking glance “You are, Frederick.”
Freddy gaped. “Me?” Trent was known for his military strategy, but this was simple madness. “I might, in my younger days have been a candidate for such a club. I know as well as anyone that I was a bit of a hellion before I went to France. But I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. I’m too old for all that devilry.”
“But you’ve only been back for a couple of weeks,” Mainwaring said thoughtfully. “You might have changed inside, but the rest of the world still sees the old Freddy who up to every challenge. Besides they will never take Trent with his military service.”
“Et tu, Mainwaring?” Freddy said with disgust. “I suppose you wouldn’t work because you’re so damned lucky at cards you’d be run through before the week was out.”
“I don’t cheat,” Mainwaring said through clenched teeth. It was a charge lobbied at the earl’s head quite frequently by those who were unfortunate enough to sit across the card table from him. Which is why Freddy knew it would sting.
“And,” the earl continued, “It’s well known that I am an indifferent driver at best.”
Manwaring had a point there, Freddy thought morosely. His unusual childhood had prevented the earl from engaging in anything that might possibly be dangerous. As an adult he might be more of a risk-taker, but driving was still not one of his prime interests.
“He does have the right of it,” Trent said unapologetically. “You’re the only one of us who could possibly fit the club’s requirements. You drive to an inch and you’re known to be a hellion.”
Really, Freddy reflected, all it took was a night out with friends to convince him that he was better off spending time with his dogs. “Stop calling me that,” he said without much heat. The truth was that he had been a rake before he left for France. And a good while after. He’d had his reasons, but he hadn’t had time enough back in England to supplant his early reputation with a newer, more respectable one.
“Sorry, old fellow,” Mainwaring said with a shrug. “But it’s the truth. We know you’re not up to your old tricks, but the rest of the world doesn’t.”
Freddy drank the rest of his brandy. It was a damnable thing to have his misdeeds from half a decade ago held up to scrutiny now, when he’d worked so hard to change. With a sigh, he sat up straighter in his chair and flexed his shoulders. “I suppose I could manage to charm myself into Sir Gerard Fincher’s good graces. Repugnant though that would be.”
The other men simply nodded. At least they were not going to gloat about their victory.
“I still don’t know how Jonathan managed to spend any degree of time with the Fincher,” Mainwaring said with a shudder. “We were at school together. He was not a pleasant sort of chap. He was a prefect. And you know what it’s like when a bully gets the smallest bit of power. Damned fellow made life hell for any number of chaps in my year. I was on another hall thank the gods. Otherwise I’d have been a target for him as well.”
“I don’t think Jon was an Anarchist out of any real love for the members,” Freddy said thoughtfully.
“I think it was about the driving. He was always wanting to drive faster, more skillfully, farther distances. And they were, for all their bad behaviors, the only group in England who offered that sort of competition for him.”
“He dashed well wasn’t going to find it with us,” Trent said with a sigh. “I drive to get from one place to the next, but with Jon it was a passion.”
“At least with us he might still be alive,” Freddy said, looking into his now empty glass. “I’d never have countenanced driving that stretch of road in a curricle at that speed. Much less two abreast.”
“There’s no use complaining about what we could have done or should have done,” Mainwaring said gruffly. “It’s over. He’s gone. But if there’s a way for one of us to find out if it was because of something the Anarchists did, then we’ve got to find out. If not for Jon’s sake then for our own.”
“Aye,” Freddy said with a nod. “I’ll find out. Though it won’t be easy. With a man like Fincher there’s no way of knowing whether he’s lying or not. I’ve seen him tell untruths with such sincerity that I almost believed it—and it was a tale I knew without doubt was a lie. He’s always been that way. My father calls him colder than a north Yorkshire winter, and I know it to be the truth.”
Mainwaring’s dark brows drew together. “How do you know so much about Fincher? I thought he was just an acquaintance for all of us. But you sound like you’ve known him from childhood.”
Freddy ran a restless hand over his chin. “The thing is,” he admitted, “I’ve known Sir Gerald Fincher since we were in short coats. He’s my cousin.”
Mainwaring’s eyes widened and Trent shook his head in exasperation.
“How long were you going to keep that bit of information from us?” Trent asked coolly.
“It’s hardly a state secret,” Freddy said with a shrug. “I told Jonathan when he decided to join the blasted club what sort of chap Gerry was. But he didn’t care. It was all about the driving for him.”
Mainwaring, the peacemaker looked from one man to the other.
“We’ve all got family members we’d rather not claim, Trent,” he said hastily. “I’ve always suspected my Aunt Hazel of having Bonaparte’s leanings but it’s hardly been something I wanted to shout from the rooftops.”
“Of course we do.” Trent’s brow furrowed with frustration. “But if I thought your Aunt Hazel was inducing Freddy to spy for the French, I’d do something about it.”
“He was a grown man,” Freddy protested. “I told him about Gerard and he chose to ignore me. I could hardly lock him in the cellar until the impulse passed.”
He would have gone on, but a footman appeared beside their table at that moment looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“What is it, Ned?” Freddy asked, grateful for the interruption.
“My apologies, my lord,” the young man said with a grimace, “but there is a situation at the door that demands your attention.”
“The door?” Mainwaring echoed.
“The last time I saw a ‘situation at the door’,” Trent said with a raised brow, “was when Pinky Byng’s mistress showed up to throw his parting gift back in his face. I told him that garnets were too cheap for that one, but he didn’t listen.”
“I can assure you it’s nothing like that,” Freddy said with a laugh. “I always manage to make my mistresses think it’s their idea to break it off with me rather than the other way around. Cheaper that way, my being a younger son and all.”
Even so, he had a bad feeling about this. Some sixth sense told him that someone causing a scene at the door of Brooks was not going to bring glad tidings of great joy.
And when he reached the door, followed close behind by Trent and Mainwaring who were not willing to miss such a diversion, he knew he was right.
“I might have known I’d find the three of you together,” Miss Leonora Craven said, her generous red lips tight with annoyance. “Though you needn’t have brought your little friends with you to the door for protection, Lord Frederick. I’ve no intention of harming your person no matter how you might deserve it for getting my brother killed.”
Keenly aware of the curious glances they were getting from the club members who stood on the steps just behind her, Freddy turned to Ned. “I realize that ladies are not allowed in the club, Ned, but is there some small anteroom where we might be private for a few moments?”
It would do Leonora’s reputation little good to be seen going into a room alone with the three of them, but then again, if her reputation was her first concern, she’d not have come to St. James Street at all.
“Of course, my lord.” Ned ushered them to a door just off the hallway. “I’ll bring some tea for the lady.”
He didn’t think Leonora would be there long enough for tea, but Freddy agreed, then shepherded her into the small sitting room, surprised, as he always was by how tiny she seemed considering how large her personality could be.
The chamber was outfitted with a few club chairs, a settee and a low table. Leonora stalked into the room, her dark head held high, while Freddy followed and took a place before the fire. Trent and Mainwaring, perhaps sensing that this was a private matter, had slipped away with Ned.
“Well, Nora,” he said once the door closed behind them, “You’ve got me here and made a hash of your reputation in the process. I hope it will be worth it.”
Her green eyes flashed with anger, and Freddy couldn’t help but notice the shadows beneath them. Her dark hair was just as glossy as ever, and framed her heart shaped face in a halo of loose curls, one caressing her cheek like a kiss. But she looked thinner than the last time he’d seen her. The day she’d broken off their engagement and sent him on a reckless tear that ended with his leaving England for the freedoms of the continent.
He’d expected their first meeting to be difficult, but to his surprise, much the resentment he’d felt had dissipated in the years since they’d parted. It was true that she had not been particularly kind in breaking things off between them. Indeed, she’d never told him the true reason for it. Had tried to fob him off with some silly tale of being afraid of giving up her control of her own life. It was something that had not once come up between them, so when she declared it to be why she was ending what had up to that point been a perfectly agreeable connection, he had been dumbfounded. And hurt that she would dismiss him without any more explanation than that.
Even so, in the intervening years, he’d had a great deal of time to think. And he’d come to realize that whatever her true reason for breaking things off, it had been something serious. Something that was more important to her than her own happiness. For they had been happy before she ended things.
And though he was not yet sanguine about what had happened, he was no longer consumed with bitterness over it.
Which did not mean he wasn’t annoyed that she’d sought him out in Brook’s without a care for either of their reputations. It was the sort of reckless gesture he’d have been prone to in his wilder days, but he was trying to mend his reputation. Having a woman pursue him to St. James Street was not going to help things.
Leonora, however, obviously did not care.
“You know as well as I do that my reputation is able to withstand more than the usual society lady’s thanks to my writing,” she responded, waving off his concerns. “And besides that, in this instance, I wished to make a scene. I relish it, in fact.”
“To what purpose?” Freddy demanded, growing tired of her taunts. “My reputation is already not what it should be. So if you’re thinking to ruin me, you’re missing the mark.”
“Of course I know that,” Leonora said, her eyes bright with emotion. “But I’m not all that concerned with such things at present. I want only justice for my brother. And I wish to know what you plan to do to make your cousin, to whom you introduced my impressionable brother, pay for Jonny’s death.”
Ah. That’s where all this came from.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Miss Craven,” he said with stiff formality, despite the fact that he and his friends had been discussing this very matter only moments ago.
“Oh, give over, my lord,” she said sharply. “You know as well as I do that Jonathan’s death was no accident. He was murdered by that vicious club and I can prove it.”