The Rake's Mistress

By: Nicola Cornick

‘You are mighty quick to dismiss me, Miss Raleigh. What if I too had an offer to make you?’

Rebecca’s heart raced. She turned away, retreating behind her desk. ‘I am not interested in the type of offer a gentleman might make to me,’ she said. ‘They usually involve the sort of work that is…not my forte…’

Lucas was following her, his footsteps slow, soft and inevitable. He was smiling. ‘And what sort of offers might those be, Miss Raleigh?’

‘You know full well,’ Rebecca said, her mouth dry.

‘Yes, I think that I do. Have you ever accepted such a commission, Miss Raleigh?’

The angry sparks lit Rebecca’s blue eyes. ‘You should mind your own damned business, my lord.’

Lucas’s smile deepened. ‘You could become my business.’

Dear Reader

It is 1803, and along the coast of Suffolk the threat of French invasion is at its highest. Smugglers, pirates, treasure-seekers and spies are all drawn to the quiet Midwinter villages, where the comfortable surface of village life conceals treason and danger as well as romance and excitement…

This is the world that I have inhabited for the last year whilst I wrote the Bluestocking Brides trilogy. It has been a wonderful experience. I have always loved the county of Suffolk for its remoteness; the peace of the woods, the wind in the reeds at the water’s edge and the sunset over the sea. It is one of the most atmospheric and inspiring places for a storyteller.

About a year ago I was reading a book about ‘The Great Terror,’ the years between 1801 and 1805, when Britain was permanently on the alert against the threat of Napoleonic invasion. It made me wonder what life would have been like in the coastal villages of Britain, where there was always the chance that the business of everyday living would conceal something more dangerous. I thought about a group of gentlemen dedicated to hunting down a spy, gentlemen for whom romance was no part of the plan, but who found that the ladies of Midwinter were more than a match for them! And so the idea of the Bluestocking Brides trilogy was born…

I hope that you enjoy these stories of love and romance in the Midwinter villages! It has been a real pleasure to write this trilogy.

Chapter One

October 1803

The young man who climbed into Miss Rebecca Raleigh’s carriage that night looked as though he had escaped from a bawdy house.

It was not an encounter that Rebecca had been expecting. The carriage had paused briefly to avoid two drunken gentlemen who were weaving their way across Bond Street in the thin autumn rain. Rebecca, twitching the curtain back into place with a sigh, wished that she had not left it quite so late to return home from the Archangel Club. This was the time of night when the young bucks were out on the streets in search of an evening’s entertainment, and the fact that she was travelling in a coach with the crest of the Archangel on the door would be protection from some, and provocation to others, for it was known to be the most exclusive gentleman’s club in the whole of London.

The carriage was just picking up speed again when the door slammed open without warning and a young man tumbled inside in a welter of tangled limbs. On closer inspection—and Rebecca was able to make a very close inspection indeed—he looked to be about nineteen years of age. He had the sort of boyish good looks that would melt the heart of the sternest dowager: dark hair, hazel eyes and a sweetness of expression that was well nigh irresistible. He was also missing quite a quantity of clothing, he smelled pungently of a mixture of stale wine, cheap perfume and strong tobacco, and his face was covered in red carmine patches as though he had received a quantity of over-ardent kisses. Rebecca was hard-pressed not to laugh.

As soon as he saw that there was a lady in the carriage, the youth made a sound like a strangled cat and flapped his hands about in a vain attempt to cover those parts of his anatomy he evidently thought would cause her offence. He was still wearing his shirt, if little else, and had he kept still it would have successfully covered the one thing he most wished to hide. Unfortunately in his confusion he gave Rebecca a very clear view of precisely that which he was trying to conceal.

In her professional work, if not her private life, Rebecca had seen far worse sights than a semi-naked youth and, as he collapsed on to the seat, his hands in his lap, she calmly removed her cloak and passed it to him with a kindly smile.

‘Take this,’ she advised. ‘It will preserve your modesty and keep you warm. Indeed you look chilled to the bone. It is a cold night to be out without the proper attire.’

The young man grasped the cloak to him gratefully, though his gaze was still wary, as though he were waiting for her to swoon—or call out the Constable.

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