Ruined and jilted, Mariah Harris, with her cousin, plots against the rogue who dared to insult her and her family. What she doesn’t expect is for their plan to lead them astray…on the wrong side of the law.
Julian Kingsley is ready to give up working for the crown, only he’s given one last mission. He agrees, but gets more than he bargains for. When a dalliance with a mysterious woman suddenly reveals her connections to his case, he’s honor bound to turn her in, but his heart can’t seem to give her up.
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May 15, 1816
“Edwina Mosley, you are out of your ever-loving mind! We look like…You are dressed as a strumpet and well…I am in breeches. I look far too feminine to be a man!” Mariah Harris scowled and clenched her fists at her sides. This whole plot was idiotic, and if they were not thrown in Newgate, they would certainly end up in Bedlam.
“Yes, of course, dear. I thought you understood our plan from the beginning. It is a sound one, cousin. Once I stop the messenger and beg his assistance, you will sneak out of those bushes and snatch his bag,” Edwina retorted with a drawl. “My sources have informed me that he passes through here every night at the same time. So, we shall not be waiting long.”
How can she be so sure? Mariah gritted her teeth and curled her toes in irritation. “If there was ever a moment I regret, it was telling you about this mess with Crispin. I only meant to find out where he is staying in London and who with. My poor father is convinced he will come back, but if he does, it will only be for food and shelter.” Nothing more. He had successfully made Mariah the largest fool in all of Kent. That blasted scoundrel!
“Mariah, I am positive this plan will work. Once the satchel is in our possession, we will rifle through for anything addressed to Crispin. From there, you will be free to humiliate the stupid sod and carry on with your life. Now, stop being a ninny and go hide. Hurry! I think I hear a horse.”
Mariah wandered into the shrubbery, hoping she did not step on an adder, or even worse, walk through a spider’s web. Good heavens, if papa ever found out I dressed in a man’s riding outfit, he would send me away to a nunnery for certain.
A few moments passed before the sound of a galloping horse approached. The beast slowed his gait by trotting as he grew closer, coming to a halt where Edwina stood next to a wagon.
She pleaded in a tone befitting a damsel in distress, “Please, sir. I am in need of assistance. I implore you. I should have been home hours ago, but the cart…”
“Say no more, miss. I will see what I can do.” the messenger stated plainly. “Should I dare ask how long you have been stranded for?”
“Only for an hour, sir. I am on my way to London and thought to stop in Maidstone for the night.”
When Mariah popped her head out, she spotted the young man climbing down from his mount. Off in the distance, a rickety cart approached, the driver swaying in his seat. Now, we are were done for. Before they had left her shop, Edwina had managed to convince her that this road was not much travelled on after dark. Only the gent delivering messages from the militia in the north would be expected. What were the odds—on this particular night—that another traveler would pass through?
Sliding the sack off his shoulder, the messenger crouched down by the rear wheel of the pony wagon she and her cousin had sabotaged.
Not long after, Mariah heard the trundling of the other cart squeal until it came to a stop. A middle-aged man stumbled out, falling flat on his face. Too foxed to drive successfully, he clearly would not pose a problem to the scenario.
Now is my chance. Mariah leapt out of the bushes and, while everyone was too distracted in aiding the sotted fool, she grabbed the bag before running back to her hiding spot. Only this time, she did not stop. She ran like the devil until she found the meadow in which she had left her own clothing and horse.
Heart racing, she dropped the cap her long hair had been tucked into, kicked off her shoes, and quickly stripped out of the breeches and loose-fitting shirt she wore. Then, she slipped on her cream-colored riding gown and strapped the satchel to the mare, covering it with the blanket she had used to conceal her dress while in disguise.
She wasted no time taking her place in the saddle. Wrapping her cape around her shoulders, she shifted the side so that it hid the blanket as well before riding back to the inn where she planned on meeting with Edwina. It would be a miracle if they were not caught after this ludicrous theft.
The only visual she retained during the trip was the gallows, and it was that image which kept her from slowing her pace. She had never committed a crime before, and this would take the bucket as far as mischief went. Never in all her twenty-one years had she stooped so low. It was unprecedented, outlandish, and completely unforgivable.
Leave it to the man she had foolishly thought she was in love with. No one could drive her to the brink of madness like Crispen. His words meant nothing. In hindsight, his pledge of love and fidelity was meaningless. His ploy to get under her skirts had worked, and now she was ruined.
In return, Mariah would ruin him. And I cannot wait to see his face when he is discovered.