A Rogue of Her Own, Desperate and Daring Series, Book 7
by Dayna Quince
Love is an adventure for only the bravest hearts…
Left destitute by her father’s death, Rose Owens finds shelter and security as a companion to the eccentric Lady Belfrost. Rose once dreamed of getting married and having a family of her own, but now she knows she will likely live the rest of her life a spinster. Until Lady Belfrost’s nephew arrives. Though she tries to resist, Rose is drawn to him. The handsome rogue stirs to life emotions and secrets she’s desperate to forget.
Mr. Gabriel Connor travels the world discovering new treasures and adventures, ignoring his great aunt’s urgings to settle down in England. But when he meets Miss Owens, his restless soul is stirred anew. There is more to the lovely Rose than she reveals and being trapped with her in a hunting lodge may be his greatest adventure yet.
Yearning for the freedom of the far horizon, Gabriel must choose between destiny and duty…and his dreams of freedom. Even if the price of those dreams is love.
Read an excerpt from A Rogue of Her Own.
August 23, 1823
Rose hid in the shadows of the shop, praying no one would notice her. There was only one other patron present, and Rose kept her back to her. She wiped at her eyes and sniffed, about to turn to leave, when she suddenly got knocked to the ground.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!”
Rose pushed her hair out of her face and peered up at the woman, amazed by her bright Titian hair.
The young woman offered her hand to help. “Please forgive me.”
“’Tis no bother,” she replied, but she allowed the kind woman to assist her all the same.
“But you’re hurt!”
“No… It wasn’t the fall.”
Rose sniffed again. She could feel the woman assessing her appearance.
She knew how pitiful she must appear.
“You’re in mourning. You have my sincerest condolences.”
Rose nodded. “Thank you.”
A man appeared at the woman’s side then, and Rose quickly averted her face, recognizing him instantly as Lord Rigsby. He was staring adoringly at the woman.
Why must I come across an acquaintance when I am in such a wretched state?
She cursed fate.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” the woman assured him.
“Perhaps you should go,” the woman whispered.
Rose held her fist to her mouth and prayed he would, but then she felt a touch on her shoulder.
She stiffened and then wiped her face and turned to face him with a forced smile. “Lord Rigsby.”
“Miss Owens is a friend of Lucy’s,” Rigsby told the woman. “This is my wife, Maddie.”
Rose bobbed in a brief curtsy. “How do you do, my lady?”
The other woman grimaced. “Please call me Maddie.”
“Then you must call me Rose, if we meet again.”
She smiled weakly. Her chest ached as she regarded the two of them. Lord Rigsby had taken a wife.
“Lucy would love to hear from you, I’m sure, and we’d be delighted if you would join us for dinner. Are you staying with your father?” Lord Rigsby asked.
Rose shook her head. “He passed eight months ago, I’m afraid.”
“He was very ill,” she assured him, even though it never brought her any comfort. “I must be going.” She hesitated. “Please tell Lucy I miss her… I miss them all.”
“She’s staying in Margate with the Duke of Ablehill. They would love to see you.”
“I sorry, I can’t.”
Rose backed away.
“May I have an address so she may write to you?” he pressed.
She shook her head. “Goodbye.”
Then she darted from the store and into the waiting carriage, leaning back against the seat and closing her eyes. She knew coming down here was a mistake, but Lady Belfrost had insisted they all needed a bit of respite, and as her companion, Rose wasn’t in any position to argue about where they went and whom they saw. Even if it was humiliating for Rose.
She prayed that, at some point, she’d simply stop caring. Being a companion was a respectable position, but when she saw people she knew, she was reminded of all the things she’d lost. Like her father, her friends, and her youth. She was only two and twenty, but her social life was exactly nothing.
Which meant her dreams of love and children were likely never to happen now.
The carriage stopped in front of the teashop where Lady Belfrost was having tea with Lady Fenwick. When Lady Belfrost exited the tea shop, Caleb jumped down to open the door of the carriage for her. He winked at Rose before turning to hand Lady Belfrost inside.
Rose rolled her eyes and then schooled her features to hide her sadness.
“How was your tea with Lady Fenwick?”
“Lovely. How was your shopping?”
“Fruitless,” Rose replied.
Lady Belfrost adjusted her skirts and then settled back against the squabs. She narrowed her eyes as she scrutinized her companion. “You’ve been crying again.”
“No,” Rose lied. “I had a nice time browsing, but I didn’t see anything worth purchasing. I even saw someone I knew.”
She hoped that bit of information would distract Lady Belfrost.
“Whom did you see?”
“Lord and Lady Rigsby. I was friends with his sister, Lady Lucy.”
“Ah, yes, the newlyweds. Married four days ago, according to Lady Fenwick. She wasn’t invited.” Lady Belfrost raised both brows.
“Four days ago?” Rose mused. She sighed and peered out the window. “How fortunate they are.”
What she wouldn’t give to be a newlywed, instead of destined for spinsterhood.
She could feel Lady Belfrost’s stare but chose to ignore it.
“I’ve had enough of this sea air. Let’s go home.”
“What? But the little season has only just begun,” Rose said.
She shouldn’t argue. She would love nothing more than to leave Ramsgate.
“There’s nothing here to divert us. I’d rather watch the leaves change at Belfrost.”
“As you wish. I’ll have Glennis begin packing when we return.”
Rose tried not to appear too enthusiastic about leaving, but she was relieved beyond measure. Ramsgate was full of people she would know, friends she wished she could see. Belfrost was far away from all those things, and the farther away she was, the less she thought of them.
October 14, 1823
Rose rubbed her hands along the thick wool sleeves of her new dress, the black so deep she felt cloaked in midnight. Then she glanced out the window and sighed, wishing to feel something, anything like what she used to feel, when she admired the changing trees. Autumn was her favorite season—or rather, it used to be. She watched a leaf, blazoned with orange and red, glide in sweeping circles to the ground.
Everything was different now. Cloaked in sadness. Her sadness. She peeked up at the sky, the clouds brooding and swelling with unshed rain. At least the sky understood her, but the autumn trees no longer did. They changed in a riot of color, so proud and eager for the season’s turn. They shivered and scattered their leaves in the wind with pleasure, until there was nothing left, and the world settled into winter and sleep.
Rose wished she could change like the trees. She wished she could so gleefully accept her fate, but she could not. Her life was on a steady course of sameness.
She grunted in disgust. She was being morose. Her life wasn’t so bad. It was acceptable. She was a companion to an eccentric and entertaining woman who treated Rose as a friend more than a paid employee. She had food to eat, clothing to wear, and security. She should be grateful—and she was grateful… But she was still mourning. She’d lost her father, and then she’d lost everything else.
If she could turn it off and be happy with her life as it now was, she would.
She didn’t want to feel like this anymore, like a sad little raven, as Lady Belfrost sometimes called her. Try though she might, she was stuck. A metaphorical quicksand held her immobile. When she fought it, it only pulled her deeper, dragging her down, suffocating her in her sadness. She’d decided to stop fighting it, and instead, remained frozen.
A sad little raven she was now, never to change, never to bear color like the trees.
“Oh, heavens! How lovely!” Lady Belfrost cheered.
Rose turned away from the window to where the older woman sat at her desk opening correspondence.
She was not alarmed. Lady Belfrost was easily excitable.
The other woman beamed and waved the letter she’d been reading. “My great nephew is coming to Belfrost.”
“That is wonderful.”
“I swear, I must chain that boy in the cellar to keep him in one place.”
Lady Belfrost shook her head in amusement.
“I wouldn’t do that. Keeping someone prisoner is frowned upon.”
Lady Belfrost waved her concerns away. “How is he supposed to settle down and find a wife if he is off in…” She scanned the letter. “Goodness… The wilds of America!”
Rose chewed her lip to keep from laughing. “I daresay America is tamed. They have their own government, and established states.”
“Whoever heard of such things? Nonsense, I tell you.”
Rose wondered what Lady Belfrost imagined America to be. She knew better than to ask. She’d let the great nephew have that honor. From what Rose knew, he’d been there for quite some time, among many other places. Lady Belfrost called him a great explorer with pride in her voice, but she also feared he would never settle in England and do his duty.
“I should warn you, you know,” Lady Belfrost said in a sober voice.
Rose blinked. “I beg your pardon? Did you say warn me?”
“Is he unpleasant?” Rose asked, jesting.
Lady Belfrost spoke of her nephew often, but Rose had never met him. He didn’t sound unpleasant when Lady Belfrost spoke of him. He sounded interesting. Though he might be interesting, Rose did not look forward to meeting him.
Luckily, Lady Belfrost did not require her presence when she had visitors.
“He is a rogue.” The older woman set the letter down, as if about to impart something of grave importance. “A rake, my dear Rose. It will not be easy for him to ignore your charms, and should he fancy you…”
Rose couldn’t stop the giggle that burst forth from her. “Charms?” She glanced down at her plain wool dress in exaggeration. “Does he fancy ravens?”
Lady Belfrost cocked her head and squinted one eye. That meant she was thinking of something. Of what, Rose didn’t know, but the woman could concoct odd ideas from time to time.
“Please do not worry. I did not reach the advanced age of—”
“Ha! Advanced age, my goose. You are ripe for the picking, and the devil be hungry,” Lady Belfrost replied, hooting with laughter.
Rose was stunned into silence. Her cheeks burned. “Wha—should I leave?”
“Heavens, no, but heed my warning. He is a handsome devil, and he knows it. If I didn’t love him so much…”
“Yes?” Rose prompted after some time.
Lady Belfrost’s expression softened, her gaze miles away. She often left sentences unfinished when her thoughts scattered.
Then she blinked, and the far-off look faded.
“You were saying that if you didn’t love him so much…” Rose prompted again.
“Yes, well, to summarize, mind your maidenhead, lest you lose it.”
Lady Belfrost laughed again, appearing quite pleased with herself. “I’ve scandalized you, I can tell. My innocent, little raven. His visit will do us both good.”
Rose struggled to find her composure. “If you’ve seen fit to warn me, I think I shall avoid him entirely.”
“Nonsense. I cannot wait to introduce you. He will be here in a fortnight, just before the rain comes.”
Rose turned back toward the window. It rained daily here. They were in the Lake District, one of the wettest places in England.
“No, dear, the real rains. You haven’t seen the torrent of water that divides the estate every year.”
“No,” Rose agreed.
That was something she would like to see, but as for Mr. Connor, she would do her best to be utterly invisible when in his presence.
* * *
Two weeks later…
Rose huddled under her cloak, the wool doing little to keep her dry as she darted around puddles toward the house. She bounced up the small stone steps into the stable yard. Taking refuge under the gatehouse entry, she caught her breath, using the edge of her sleeve to blot the rain from her face.
Miserable. That was the perfect word to describe the day.
Usually, she loved rain. She even loved the intensity of a rousing thunderstorm, but today was different. Everything appeared miserably wet and cold, which was precisely how she felt. Her brief walk had turned into a mad dash, and now she wanted nothing more than to curl up in a blanket by the fire and read.
As a companion, that was wishful thinking. She’d be lucky if Lady Belfrost didn’t have any errands to attend to outside the manor. Weather never deterred the woman; nothing did.
She was single-minded to the extreme.
Rose girded her shivering loins for her dash across the stable yard to the kitchen, but then she heard the familiar sound of hoof beats. Who would be riding in this weather?
She turned in curiosity, holding her cloak closed with her damp, cold gloves. Her heart stuttered in fright as the rider approached like an entity from a nightmare, black tricorn and triple-caped greatcoat masking his features, rain coming off him in rivulets. His horse trotted up the small slope into the yard, but he reined it in under cover of the gatehouse next to her.
Rose pressed herself back against the wall. The horse stomped and blew clouds of warm air from its nostrils. If she were a fanciful woman, she’d think she’d been cornered by death himself. He removed his tricorn, shaking his head and tossing droplets of rain every which way. Rose sucked in a breath. Then he ran a gloved hand through his dark auburn hair, as if that would help the unsettling mess, and smiled down at her.
“Oh…” My God, she finished in her head. Her hands pressed to her thighs as she absorbed his presence, no longer feeling her cold damp clothing as heat spread over her skin.
His eyes glittered, green, or perhaps hazel—something between the two. He had a cleft in his chin, which was quite dashing and shaded by a thin beard.
Eventually his smile faltered and faded away when he took in the expression on her face.
“I beg your pardon if I’ve frightened you.”
Rose blinked. Frightened? Yes, and dumbfounded.
He’d stolen her wits already. This was Mr. Connor, the large, adult male version of the boy in the portrait in the gallery. It was all she’d had to go on to prepare for his very much anticipated arrival, and yet here she was, still completely unprepared.
She was overcome with a shiver, her teeth chattering, so she shook herself into action. “Good day, Mr. Connor,” she blurted, or to be precise, yelled somewhat aggressively.
He dismounted and came around his horse to stand before her. “I’m at a disadvantage, it seems.”
A groom approached then, saving Rose from having to reply immediately when he gave instructions to the groom. His horse was led away, and then those unsettling eyes returned to her.
She’d finally found her calmer voice, or so she hoped. She liked to think she was better than this. She was not a stammering fool by nature.
“I’m Miss Owens. I serve as a companion to Lady Belfrost. She’s been expecting you.”
“Companion?” He raised both brows. “Truly?”
Rose frowned and nodded. “Yes, her companion. Shall I show you inside?”
“Please. You look as though you may drown in this rain.”
She declined to comment. She turned toward the house and trudged across the muddy stable yard instead, keeping her head down and her face out of direct rain. She hurried into the kitchen with him right on her heels. The room was warm and inviting, the oven putting off cozy heat and the smell of biscuits.
There was only a scullery maid and the cook, Ellie, present.
Ellie smiled when she turned to see their new guest. Rose stood to the side as Mr. Connor greeted Ellie like an old friend. She turned to find Mary, one of the under maids, offering her a towel.
She stepped into the hall outside the kitchen, where she knew a mirror was hung. She almost screamed when she saw her reflection. Her dark hair hung like tangled wet ropes dipped in tar. She dried her hair and face, but soon he entered the hall holding a towel, as well.
“No doubt you will wish to change before greeting Lady Belfrost. Mary can show you to your room,” Rose offered.
“I know my way. I always have the same room when I visit.”
“Yes, of course.”
He flashed a brief smile and turned away, disappearing up the back stairs. Rose waited several minutes before following to her own room. Normally, she’d have a room below the stairs as a lowly companion, but Lady Belfrost had generously chosen to give her one of the nicer guest bedrooms.
She entered her room and put another log on the fire, stoking it until lovely warm heat wafted out in glorious waves. Then she peeled her wet clothing off, donning a fresh, dry shift, and wrapped herself in her robe. She kneeled before the fire and held out her hands, closing her eyes in relief.
But all she could see was his face—his eyes, and the creases that bracketed his mouth when he smiled. Her stomach tingled in response. He was so handsome, even when cold and dripping wet.
How much worse will it be when he is dry and sufficiently warm?
She didn’t want to find out, but she suspected she wouldn’t have a choice. Lady Belfrost was adamant that Rose meet her great nephew, but she was determined not to.
So determined, in fact, she wasn’t above telling a little fib or two.