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Shy, plain Hetty has no ambition to rival her older sister, Araminta, the ton’s reigning beauty.

Nor does she intend to snare handsome Sir Aubrey, the rich, mysterious viscount who has entranced her vain and determined sibling.

Sir Aubrey is far too dangerous and unpredictable…albeit completely delicious.

But when Sir Aubrey mistakes Hetty for a lady of the night, the innocent debutante can’t resist his fiery kisses.

Spinsterhood has been her long-accepted destiny and their stolen encounters may be her only chance to experience the sensual attentions of a man who, to her surprise, appears increasingly entranced.

As Hetty begins to dream of a future together, the whispers in society that Sir Aubrey is a traitor and a murderer can no longer be ignored.

Now Hetty must find the courage to clear his name.

But can her reputation, and Sir Aubrey's feelings for her, survive what a suspicious and vengeful Araminta has up her sleeve?

Surprises abound in this steamy, suspenseful Regency-set drama where each nobly-born Partington sister will win the husband they truly deserve.

What Readers are Saying:

"Great characters and roller-coaster story with plot twists that surprised me at every turn. I could not believe how it ended but I loved it!"

"I really enjoyed all the characters... interesting story line .. had a hard time to put the book down until I read the last page... looking forward to reading the rest of the series."

"This is an intriguing and romantic story. Sir Aubrey is bold and arrogant but he is also sweet and caring. Hetty is quiet and insecure but also daring and brave."


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Brushing beetles out of her cleavage as she shrouded herself in the fronds of a concealing potted palm was not how Hetty envisaged making her grand London debut.
Nor had she expected to feel quite so wretched watching Sir Aubrey ask her beautiful sister for the third dance of the evening.
Of course, she had prepared herself for such an eventuality. All the gentlemen thought Araminta a prime article. She’d learned this, and many other interesting facts while in hiding.
“Have you seen Miss Henrietta? Her chaperone appears to have lost sight of her and was asking.”
Hetty held her breath and stepped behind a tasseled green velvet curtain as a pair of young ladies, whom she recognised as Lady Knox’s nieces, walked leisurely by.
“Have you seen Miss Araminta Partington?” the other young lady countered, her tone far from complimentary. Hetty was glad Araminta was not within hearing. Not for fear of Araminta’s feelings being wounded; more for fear of the consequences of Araminta’s pique.
The original speaker, a pretty redhead, dropped her voice as she turned to her cousin. Hetty froze. If she reached out her hand she could have touched her Pomona green silk skirts. “You’ll never guess what I overheard, Mary. Well, I’ll tell you! I heard Mr Freddy Tremain wager that Miss Partington would be a duchess before the end of the season and that he wished he were a duke so she’d consider him good enough.”
Hetty considered this with more resignation than surprise. Araminta’s ambition was nothing new. What was surprising, though, was that she would show interest in a mere baronet. For as Hetty looked past the two chattering cousins towards the dance floor as the orchestra tuned up for a cotillion, there was her bold and beautiful sister clasping hands with Sir Aubrey, the handsome baronet whose brief kindness toward Hetty at the beginning of the evening had ignited a torrent of never-before-experienced sensations. Not only had Sir Aubrey returned Hetty’s fan which she’d dropped, he’d said he hoped she was enjoying the evening as much as her sister clearly was. No gentleman had ever been so solicitous towards Hetty.
Hetty didn’t mind that he’d barely glanced at Hetty as he’d spoken, since his gaze was firmly fixed on Araminta who was fanning herself and laughing. The fact was, that he had actually taken notice of Hetty and evinced interest in her evening. Hetty’s chest expanded with joy at the memory. Sir Aubrey was the handsomest, most interesting gentleman she’d laid eyes on since she’d arrived in London the week before.
“I feel sorry for that drab little sister of hers,” Miss Mary remarked. “I’m sure her chaperone needn’t worry she’s been whisked into a dark corner by any gentleman here.”
It was as if a heavy cloud of cotton wool had suddenly smothered Hetty. She clapped her hand to her mouth to muffle her gasp. The fact that there was pity, rather than spite in Miss Mary Knox’s tone was what nearly undid her. If she could have burst out from behind the curtain and disappeared into oblivion so she didn’t have to ever walk through the crush of people in the ballroom, she would have.
Instead, she was forced to listen to Miss Mary’s cousin say in equally sympathetic tones, “Mama says it’s a shame Miss Henrietta is such a little brown peahen compared to her sister who’s such a dazzling peacock by comparison. She can’t see how Miss Henrietta will make a match this season or the next if her sister is in competition. The young men like a bit of dash but mama says that knowing what is just the right amount is what’s important.” She giggled. “Isn’t it funny what our mamas will say, sometimes, Eleanor?”
“My mama never says anything half so scandalous as yours!” gasped Eleanor before adding in confidential tones, “Though she did agree with your mama about Miss Partington and her sister. She thought perhaps some cousin might take pity on the younger one though of course there are gentlemen who’ll overlook anything when considering a dowry and Miss Henrietta is nice natured and has a very handsome dowry which is what some fortune hunters consider an ideal combination.”
“Oh Eleanor, you are too dreadful!”
Hetty put her hands to her flaming cheeks as the ladies resumed their gentle perambulation. In their wake, Hetty’s chaperone Mrs. Monks passed by, an anxious frown turning down the corners of her thin, bloodless mouth as she obviously went in search of Hetty. Hetty’s shoulders slumped and the syllabub she’d consumed during supper sat heavily in her stomach.
So, apparently she didn’t need a chaperone when none of the gentleman here even noticed her because they were so dazzled by Araminta.
A little sob escaped her as she gazed across at her sister who was now linking arms with Sir Aubrey as part of the dance set. Araminta looked beautiful in gold sarcenet with her blue eyes sparkling and her glossy dark ringlets framing her high cheekbones.
Yet for a few moments earlier this evening, dressed for her first ball in her lovely silk gown with its powder-blue sash, her light-brown hair tumbling in curls from a high topknot at the apex of a center parting, Hetty, too, had felt almost beautiful.
Then Araminta had swept her aside to admire her own gleaming reflection before the looking glass.
A frisson of hurt and anger coursed through Hetty as she stepped out of hiding. Gleaming and self-satisfied were appropriate epithets for her sister, though she knew she shouldn’t be uncharitable. Araminta’s first season had ended under a cloud and Hetty should be pleased her sister had caught the eye of a man as seriously handsome and eligible as Sir Aubrey who was set to inherit a viscountcy and vast estates in the north.
Oh yes, in the last week Hetty had learned all she could about Sir Aubrey for tonight wasn’t the first evening he’d caught her fancy. It was the evening he’d cemented her adoration.
A few minutes ago, when he’d asked Araminta for the third dance, Hetty had still held out hope he’d at least ask Hetty for one dance. She didn’t begrudge Araminta her looks or her success though it was hard to rejoice in Araminta’s good fortune with Sir Aubrey when Hetty still felt the pain of her sister’s dismissive, “I suppose you’re up to the mark as much as can be expected” after Hetty had asked her opinion on her appearance.
Still, Hetty never suffered from the blue devils for long and the lively music soon had her tapping her feet, enjoying her seclusion by the supper table, now, and fascinated by the way the light caught the extraordinary streak of white hair that cut a swathe through Sir Aubrey’s dark locks. Araminta, while pointing out the peculiarities of several gentlemen of interest, had told her earlier that it was a physical trait shared by all the men in his family.
The foot-tapping stopped abruptly when Hetty saw Araminta stumble, causing Sir Aubrey to tighten his hold.
Hetty was sure she’d done it on purpose, though perhaps that was not a charitable thought and being charitable and kind were several of Hetty’s few good traits, she’d learned.
Living with Araminta, however, had opened her eyes to the fact that vibrant beauties could get away without being nice or charitable, and Araminta was certainly neither. But in all those years, Hetty had not known jealousy.
The corrosive poison had only started dripping into her veins ten minutes ago at the beginning of Araminta’s third dance with Sir Aubrey. Of course, she was used to seeing her sister feted, admired and in continual demand. But it was hard to witness Sir Aubrey’s interest, even though Hetty had told herself a thousand times it should not come as a surprise that rakish, handsome Sir Aubrey didn’t notice debutantes like plain, plump and awkward Hetty.
Glancing past a group of guests, Hetty was relieved to see Sir Aubrey was no longer dancing with Araminta, though it was hardly consoling to see him partnering another beautiful brunette.
Especially when, in the midst of conversation, he brushed a lock of the young woman’s hair back from her face.
The intimacy of the gesture, or rather the look upon his face, sent tendrils of pain and pleasure deep into Hetty’s belly, though these hitherto alien bodily experiences turned to fright when a familiar growl warmed her ear at the same time as the speaker delivered her a playful slap upon the rump.
“Who, may I ask, Hetty dearest, has caught your discerning eye this evening? Tell me so that I might facilitate the joyful union before season’s end. You know I’ve made it my mission to see to your happiness.”
Hetty whirled ’round, blinking up at her cousin Stephen, unsure whether pity, amusement or—God forbid—scorn would be his response when she offered her almost guilty admission as to the object of her interest.
To her surprise, it was horror. Horror delivered with surely unnecessary force, given that all of London knew Sir Aubrey Banks was a prime catch. She’d heard him discussed in such terms by more than one designing mama.
Although, registering Cousin Stephen’s antipathy, Hetty reflected that there had been some caveat about Sir Aubrey’s eligibility whispered in an undertone by her mama’s friend Mrs. Dobson.
Stephen’s earlier good humor evaporated and he looked pained as he tapped the glass of champagne he was holding with some agitation. “My dear Hetty, lose your heart to anyone but Sir Aubrey,” he exhorted her. “Under no circumstances can he be a candidate for your affections.” Suspicion laced his next question. “He hasn’t spoken to you, has he?” Stephen put his hands on her shoulders, a troubled crease between his brows. What she’d thought anger was, she now realized, the gravest concern.
“He’s never looked twice at me, Cousin Stephen, and why would he? I’m in no danger from his advances.” Hetty sought for the word she’d heard whispered in the drawing room in the months preceding her come-out. A word she knew no innocent debutante ought to know. “Is he a philanderer?”
Stephen returned to his natural height with a look that was part wry amusement, part censure. “No, Sir Aubrey is not a renowned philanderer, but what he is must not concern you.” He became brisk. “Since it would appear you are not taken for the quadrille that is forming, perhaps you’d do me the honor?”
A passing debutante being hurried along by her chaperone cast Hetty an envious look as Hetty slipped her hand into the crook of her cousin’s arm. Her confidence was returning. Not only was darling Cousin Stephen the most amenable of men, he was extraordinarily handsome. Hetty wondered why, after all these months in London, his eye had not yet been caught by some dashing creature, though she reasoned he’d want to wait the few months until it was known if he’d remain heir to The Grange. That hinged on whether the child soon to be born to Hetty’s mama, Lady Partington, was a boy, in which case the infant would displace Cousin Stephen.
But if Mama had a girl, it was unlikely at her age she’d have more children and then Cousin Stephen would remain Lord Partington’s heir.
Hetty hoped that would be the case. If Cousin Stephen became the new viscount, he’d surely be charitable to Hetty during the long, lonely years of inevitable spinsterhood that stretched before her.
A great sense of security enveloped her when, with a brotherly smile, he patted her hand.
Cousin Stephen had caused quite a stir when he’d first arrived at The Grange a few months earlier, for Araminta had set out with determination to snare the affections of the heir to her ancestral home. She’d lost interest, however, when Cousin Stephen’s future was thrown in doubt.
Or rather, Stephen had lost interest in Araminta.
It didn’t matter now. Araminta was determined to make a glittering match, Stephen’s future would remain unknown for some months and Hetty looked set to finish her first season in glorious ignominy, perhaps standing up to dance only when Cousin Stephen took pity on her.
As Hetty took her place beside Stephen, she sent her sister, who was partnering an aging and apparently gout-ridden peer, as smug a look as she dared, under the circumstances. The ballroom was crowded and Araminta, who was adept at swift revenge, would understand Hetty’s inference. Araminta was the queen of set-downs and Hetty had to assert herself when she could.
She was amused and a little relieved when her sister puckered her full mouth in mock adoration of the poor specimen beside her. If Araminta was able to make a joke of it, perhaps her good humor would last through the evening and she’d be less inclined to harp upon Hetty’s lack of success.
Perhaps Hetty might even find she’d enjoyed herself by the end of the evening too. It was, after all, the grandest occasion she’d ever attended. Hundreds of beeswax candles cast a lustrous glow upon the assembled finery and the music and the food were of the highest quality.
As they waited to perform their steps, Hetty murmured, “You have not said, Cousin Stephen, why I should be wary of Sir Aubrey. If you have any knowledge of young ladies, you’d know your cautions are likely to have the opposite effect to that desired. Surely any designing mama would be perfectly delighted to see her daughter waltz off with such a handsome, rich gentleman of consequence?”
Stephen linked elbows with her for the next dance sequence, his lips set in a grim line. “This is no time for such a discussion, Hetty. Sir Aubrey is not the gentleman he presents to the rest of the world. Pray don’t concern yourself with a scoundrel like him when there’s a roomful of eligible young men who’d be only too delighted to further their acquaintance with you.”
This was hardly consolation, Hetty reflected. Good-natured Stephen had grown increasingly serious since taking up his position in the Foreign Office, though he clearly enjoyed the new responsibilities he’d assumed with the backing of his cousin, Hetty’s father. Viscount Partington was obviously fond of Stephen and had pulled strings to secure a position he believed would engage Stephen’s mind if he were to be ousted as heir.
“A scoundrel?” Hetty scanned the crowd for another glimpse of the gentleman who’d grown even more fascinating since Stephen’s strictures. With an unexpected pang, she found him partnering exactly the kind of bold and strikingly pretty young lady she would expect. Her gaze lingered on his mouth, lips pressed together almost grimly until his features were suddenly reordered by a moment’s animation, his dark- brown eyes lighting up and his lips curving to reveal good, strong teeth. When he brushed his hand across his elegantly chiseled sideburns to rake back his springy dark hair, cut short on the sides and worn longer and slightly brushed forward on top, Hetty shivered, completely in thrall.
Before she’d come to London, the only men she’d known were country squires and their uninspiring sons and…Cousin Edgar.
With sadness, she remembered her old playmate, kind but doltish Edgar, who’d died in a boating accident some months before. She’d believed the affection had been mutual until Araminta had lured him away with no more than the crook of her little finger.
“Surely I’m allowed to cast my gaze upon him?” She spoke softly and was ashamed at the longing in her voice as she looked up into her cousin’s pitying eyes.
Stephen smiled and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I can’t stop you but perhaps if I entrust you with a great secret—one I would reveal to no one else—it might temper your adolescent fantasies.” With a surreptitious glance at their neighbors waiting, like them, to perform their steps, he put his mouth to her ear and whispered, “Sir Aubrey is a suspected Spencean…a traitor to king and crown. If he’s convicted, you know what penalty that carries.”
Instead of rewarding this damning statement with the no-doubt horror expected, Hetty squared her shoulders. “Then why is he not awaiting trial?”
“Securing evidence is my job.” Stephen looked uncomfortable. “If that’s not sufficient to damn him in your eyes, then I must speak with a frankness I would ordinarily not employ when addressing an innocent debutante.”
“Really, Cousin Stephen, you’re sounding more and more like some pompous and important man of government than my cousin. I have no delicate sensibilities. I simply want to know how an apparently persona non grata—if that’s the right term—can be allowed to rub shoulders with the haute ton and dance with…innocent debutantes like me. Surely if his reputation is so fearful, he’d have been forcibly removed by the very supercilious butler who greeted us?”
Stephen looked unimpressed. Lowering his head again, he muttered, “Don’t shriek, then, Hetty, when I tell you that Sir Aubrey was married to a woman who became so fearful of him she ran away to seek refuge with her cousin, the new Viscount Debenham, as he’s become known since his recent inheritance.”
He gripped Hetty more tightly as he danced her down the room beneath an arch of fellow dancers’ arms, emerging to add, “When Sir Aubrey went after his wife, Lady Margaret, she took her own life, leaving a letter outlining the full extent of Sir Aubrey’s evil associations and crimes.”
“Oh.” Hetty swallowed. This was not at all what she’d expected. Distracted, she waited in line for the next part of the dance, her gaze returning to the dangerous gentleman who so fascinated her and who was now partnering his lovely consort beneath the arches. “Then why was the letter not sufficient to condemn him?”
Another look of discomfort flitted across Stephen’s face. He cleared his throat. “It has gone missing. Lord Debenham, or Mr. George Carruthers as he was formerly, informed Foreign Office of the contents of his cousin’s letter. He’d found it clutched in the late Lady Margaret’s hand but said that after leaving the room to seek assistance, the letter had disappeared when he returned. He believes it was stolen by a retainer, perhaps ignorant of its importance, who planned to gain by it through blackmail.”
Shaken, Hetty clasped Stephen’s hand for the final steps of the dance. “And has that happened? Has he been blackmailed? When did Lady Margaret die?”
“Eighteen months ago. And no, to date there has been no sign of the letter.” Hetty smiled but the force of Stephen’s response tempered her smugness.
“Keep your distance, Hetty. I’ve told you only what I believe appropriate for a girl of your delicacy, but there’s more.” Coming up from his bow at the conclusion of the dance, he added, “Those who fall foul of Sir Aubrey have not all lived to tell the tale.”
* * *
A traitor. The words chased themselves around Hetty’s head as Stephen led her toward the lackluster Mrs. Monks, a youngish widow and, like Hetty, not possessed of the kinds of qualities likely to inspire the passion the late Lady Margaret clearly had inspired in her male admirers.
So when Araminta sidled up to her sister to mention in her usual patronizing manner that Hetty had what appeared to be a poppy seed between her teeth, Hetty was glad of the excuse to scuttle away to the sanctuary afforded by her friendly, luxuriant potted palm to pick at the elusive poppy seed—which she soon suspected never existed. Resuming her earlier occupation, she gazed from amidst the greenery upon Sir Aubrey, in earnest discussion with two gentlemen Cousin Stephen had pointed out as government ministers.
How handsome and urbane he looked; how charming his manner. The thrill that curdled in her lower belly was followed by suspicion as she reviewed Stephen’s possible motives for damning his character.
Did he fear the man might break her heart? That Hetty was so bird-witted, painting him black would make inevitable rejection easier for her?
Sir Aubrey was everything Hetty would have thought she’d find repugnant in a man. He was immaculate with an edge of danger that unsettled her. Some might say his confidence verged on arrogance. He could not be more different from poor Edgar.
And yet for some inexplicable reason he set her pulse racing, made her throat dry and sent the heat to her cheeks every time he even looked in her direction.
Not that his few glances registered either his chivalry at the start of the evening or his painful disregard since. He simply looked right through her.
She was safely out of the gentleman’s orbit and always would be. Sir Aubrey consorted with bold beauties he never married. Not pale, plump and wilting wallflowers like Hetty.

Eventually the night was at an end. Hetty had been counting down the hours as increments of torture, but Araminta was positively glowing with success as she climbed into the carriage beside her sister for their return home.
“It’s a shame you didn’t dance with Sir Aubrey as I did—three times—Hetty dearest, for that might have livened up your spirits. When you look as glum as you do now, I’m reminded of last night’s roly-poly pudding sitting on my plate with two currants staring at me, just like your eyes.” Araminta’s pretty white teeth gleamed in the light of a street lamp above her ivory fan as she went on to reflect on her own success. “Mr. Minchin came to claim me for my second quadrille just as Sir Aubrey arrived to ask me. Well, you won’t believe what happened.”
Although Hetty evinced no desire to find out, Araminta breezed on. “Sir Aubrey said he’d waive the fifty pounds Mr. Minchin still owed him from a game of faro the night before if Mr. Minchin waived his claim to his dance with me.”
Araminta’s eyes glittered. “Of course, it wasn’t very chivalrous of Mr. Minchin to agree, was it, though who would you have preferred to partner you, Hetty? Mr. Minchin or Sir Aubrey?”
It was a rhetorical question, Hetty knew. Araminta did not concern herself with other people’s desires unless they ran counter to her own, in which case she was assiduous in trampling them. Hetty knew that to her cost. Still, like the dutiful sister she was, she murmured, “Sir Aubrey, I’m sure. He must admire you very much.”
“Indeed he does.” Araminta gazed thoughtfully at the carriage roof, unconsciously licking her lips. “He is a very good catch. Though only a baronet, he is in line for a viscountcy and set to inherit large landholdings in Wiltshire. His country seat would be the grandest for a hundred miles, I’m told. And of course, he’s very handsome. I couldn’t consider a husband who wasn’t.”
Bravely, Hetty said softly, “You didn’t think Edgar was handsome.”
She was not surprised when Araminta scoffed with no concern for her sister’s feelings. “Edgar was going to be master of The Grange. It didn’t matter what he looked like, for you know my greatest desire has always been to be mistress of my beloved family home.” She sniffed, her expression suddenly tragic, and for a moment Hetty thought she was at least paying lip service to the grief she should feel at poor Edgar’s untimely death. Instead, Araminta’s tone was bitter. “Now Mama’s enceinte and if our new sibling is a boy then he will inherit. If we get a sister and Cousin Stephen inherits, Cousin Stephen’s reluctance to marry me just because I’m his cousin forces me to make my way in the world as best I can.” A satisfied smile banished her grief as she pronounced, “I just can’t make up my mind whether to set my sights on Sir Aubrey or the new Lord Debenham.”
Gloomily, Hetty reflected that Araminta was just the kind of dazzling beauty who apparently appealed to Sir Aubrey. “Sir Aubrey is not looking for a wife, I’m told.” Hetty was suddenly combative. “He’s said to enjoy dalliances, though.”
“A handsome gentleman like Sir Aubrey is bound to be regarded with jealousy and to have detractors.”
“Of whom Lord Debenham is one.”
Araminta raised her eyebrows. “You know a lot for someone who only danced with our cousin.” She settled herself more comfortably against the squabs and smiled. “If you’re so good at ferreting out such information, perhaps you won’t be entirely useless this season after all.”

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