Authors: Julie Anne Long
TO LOVE A THIEF
"A wonderful story."
A delightful read. The characters and their repartee sparkle with humor and charm
What an amazing book! I love a good romance story, but I love a book even more when it is well written
. To Love a Thief
may be one of the most wonderful Pygmalion stories yet to come out of the romance genre
A perfect blend of romance and humor… magical and engaging, a treat for anyone who believes that fairy tales can come true
Compelling and highly entertaining
… To Love a Thief
is extremely well written, fast-paced, and entirely enjoyable
Lily is a wonderful heroine, and
To Love a Thief
is a fun read
An excellent historical novel… the relationship between Lily and Gideon is the very substance of every young woman's romantic dreams
THE RUNAWAY DUKE
"Wonderful and charming… at the top of my list for best romance of the year… It is a delight in every way."
Thoroughly enjoyable… A charming love story brimming with intrigue, witty dialogue, and warmth
Hilarious, heartrending, and tender… ample suspense
"A must-read… Combining the ideal amount of romance, suspense, and mystery, Long gives us a marvelous and dazzling debut that overflows with intelligence, wit, and warmth."
Two fantastic lead protagonists… Fans will want to run away with this delightful pair
The Runaway Duke
If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
Copyright © 2006 by Julie Anne Long
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Book design by Stratford Publishing Services, Inc.
Time Warner Book Group
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing: March 2006
For Karen—for the times we nearly drove off the road because we were laughing so hard about something we could never
explain to anyone else; for Fritos on Christmas Eve; for the millions of little things that make up the language of sisters
And I do
look like a yam
My gratitude to Melanie Murray, an editor so completely wonderful that I killed off a (fictional) wife just to make her happy (teasing, M); to Diane Luger and Mimi Bark for yet another gorgeous cover; to Geoff Hancock for my new, daily view of hummingbirds and roses, which has done miraculous things for my peace of mind; to the Divas (http://www.fogcitydivas.com) for friendship, laughter, and advice about certain, shall we say,
of publishing that have nothing to do with writing; to Elizabeth Pomada, for helping to launch me on this thrill ride in the first place; to Ken and Kevin and Melisa and Karen for being so brilliant at just being there; to all the readers who've sent warm, funny, touching notes or stopped by to say hello at signings—I'm so delighted and honored that you enjoy my stories, and I hope you always do.
Years later, Anna would remember how big the moon had been that night, swollen and slung low like a pregnant woman on the brink of birth. The hard white light of it penetrated the shutters in her bedroom and kept her tossing and turning, and there was too much room in the bed to thrash. For Richard had been to visit, and Richard had left, as he always did, and tonight the bed seemed emptier than ever for it.
She tried soothing herself with thoughts of mundane things: Susannah, just three years old, was getting the last of her teeth, and was fussy and feverish with it.
must tell Richard
, Anna thought, so he could exclaim over it and make Susannah giggle, for she loved her papa. She was such a funny little thing, bubbling over with laughter so easily, already exhibiting a taste for luxuries. Yesterday she'd taken one bite from a cake and then handed it back to Anna. "It's broken, Mama," she'd said sadly, as though she couldn't possibly eat something that wasn't whole.
Then there was Sylvie, four years old now, who was proving to have her mother's quick tongue and temper and her father's intelligence. "I'd really rather
," she'd loftily said to Anna just this morning, when she'd been told to pick up her toys. Anna smiled, remembering. Sylvie would be a…
. And Sabrina, who leafed through books intently and couldn't keep her jam-sticky fingers away from the pianoforte; who always seemed to know when her mother was feeling sad, and brought her little offerings, flowers, and leaves. It unnerved Anna, how much Sabrina noticed. Her daughters were miracles, all beautiful, all made of the best of her and Richard. Her love for them frightened her with its exquisite, terrible totality. Like her love for Richard.
Ah, but thinking of Richard would not bring sleep; instead, her senses surged with a hunger that his absences kept honed. His light eyes with the lines raying from the corners, the way her body fit so perfectly against his—he still took her breath away. An arrangement born of economics and necessity—he'd needed a mistress, she'd needed money—had bloomed into a surprising, abiding love. Together they'd built a semblance of family life here in Gorringe, a town, legend had it, named by a duke who'd gone mad searching for a rhyme for "orange." It appealed to Richard's perhaps overly developed sense of the absurd and to Anna's desire for a quiet country home, and it was a mere few hours' coach ride from London where Richard, a much-beloved member of the House of Commons, spent most of his time.
There had never been talk of marriage; Anna had never expected it, or pressed him for it.
But lately she'd begun to suspect that Richard, having survived battlefields, had grown too accustomed to danger and was no longer capable of living without it. He'd told her over dinner once, while the girls slept, that he suspected one of the country's most influential politicians, Thaddeus Morley, had amassed his fortune by selling information to the French. And Richard, a patriot to the bone, intended to set out to prove it.
Anna had seen Morley precisely twice, and she had been struck by his stillness and sheer presence—he held himself like a man carrying a grenade in his pocket. The populace thought highly of him; he had risen from humble origins to a position of prominence. Anna knew a little something about what it took to rise so high from humble beginnings. She suspected he was a very dangerous man.
"If anything ever happens to us, Anna…" Richard had murmured against her mouth the other night, as his fingers had worked busily at the laces on her dress.
"Hush. Nothing will happen to us, except perhaps some marvelous lovemaking tonight."
He laughed a little, applied his lips to her neck. "If anything happens to us," he insisted, "I want the girls to have the miniatures of you. Promise me." He'd commissioned three exquisite miniatures of her, brought them with him during this all too short visit.
"Of me? Why not of their handsome father?"
"Of you, my love. Of their beautiful mother." He'd had her stays undone by then, and then his hands had covered her breasts—
Bam, bam, bam.
Anna shot upright, her heart clogging her throat. Someone was throwing a fist against the door downstairs.
In one motion she swept from her bed and thrust her arms through the sleeves of her robe; her trembling hands tried once, twice, three times before she finally managed to touch a light to a candle. Cupping the tiny flame with her hand, she moved into the hall. Susannah was whimpering, startled awake; Anna heard the whimpers become choking sobs.
The maid, a girl with eyes and a mouth too sultry for her own good, stood at the top of the stairs, dark hair spilling like two shadows down the front of her, hands twisting anxiously in her nightdress. She'd come highly recommended from the agency, and yet she'd proved nearly as hapless as she was handsome.
"Please go see to Susannah." Anna was amazed to hear her voice emerge so gently. The girl jerked as though shaken from a trance, then glided into the nursery. Anna heard murmuring, heard Susannah's sobs taper off into hiccups.
Somehow Anna's bare feet found each stair without stumbling, and then she was at the door. She threw the bolts and opened it.
A man stood heaving before her, hunched with exhaustion, breath bursting from him in harsh white puffs; a thick scarf coiled around his neck and a heavy overcoat protected him from the weather. Behind him Anna saw the dark outline of a coach against the star-spattered night; two spent horses bent their heads in their traces.
The man straightened: the white glare of the moon showed her the long nose, kind eyes, and small, ironic mouth of James Makepeace, Richard's friend from London. The whole of his message was written on his features.
"It's Richard." She said it before he could, as if doing so would somehow protect her from the blow.
"I'm so sorry, Anna." His voice was still a rasp, but it ached with truth.
Her chin went up. The deepest cuts, she knew, brought a blessed numbness before the agony set in. "How?"
"Murdered." He spat the word out, like the foul thing it was. "And Anna…" He paused, preparing her, it seemed. "They're coming to arrest you for it."
The words sank through her skin, cold as death.
." Her own voice came faintly to her through a burgeoning fear.
"I know, Anna. I
." Impatience and desperation rushed his words. "It's impossible. But witnesses claim to have seen you arguing with him at his town house yesterday; others have sworn they saw you leaving it shortly before he was… found. You can be certain clues will be discovered that point to you, as well. If he's gone this far, I'm sure he'll be thorough."
No word had ever sounded more bitterly ironic than that last one.
"Morley," she breathed. "It was Morley."
James's silence confirmed this. Then he made a strange, wild little sound. Almost a laugh.
Anna jumped at the crunch of approaching hooves and wheels, and the flame of her candle leaped tall, nearly flickering out. In that instant, Anna saw silvery tracks shining below James Makepeace's eyes.
His low, curt voice cut through her numbness. "The hackney you hear approaching is one I hired for you. Anna, pleases—you need to leave
. They know to look for you here. Take it anywhere but London—I've paid the driver well enough not to ask questions. But don't tell him your name, for God's sake."
"How… how was he…" She stopped, shook her head; she didn't want to know how Richard had been killed. She wanted to picture him in life, not death. "The girls—"
"I'll take them. I'll make sure they're cared for until… until it's safe for you to return, Anna. You've my vow."
"But I can't… they're… they're so small…" Such futile words, and not really what she meant to say.
Richard is dead
James Makepeace seized her cold, cold hand in his gloved fingers and squeezed it hard. She sensed that he wanted to shake her instead. "Anna…
listen to me
: a woman with three children… you'd be dangerously conspicuous. They'll find you, and who knows then what will become of the girls? You're a brilliant scapegoat; the public will tear you to pieces. I swear to you if there was some other way…" He threw a quick glance over his shoulder, turned back to her, and she could see him struggling for patience.
He'd risked his own life for her.
Would it be better to flee without her girls, if there was the slimmest chance to reunite with them later?
Or for her girls to grow up knowing their mother had hung for their father's murder?
Anna made the only sort of decision one could make in the frantic dark: she gave a quick shallow nod, acquiescing.
James exhaled in relief. "Good. I swear to you, Anna, if I could hide all of you, I would. I just… there wasn't time to make other plans."
"You've risked so much for us already, James. I would never ask it of you. I cannot thank you enough."
James ducked his head, acknowledging the gratitude he heard in her voice.
"How did you… how did you
He shook his head roughly. "It's best I not tell you. And forgive me, Anna, but I must ask one more thing: Did Richard say anything,
to you about where he kept some very important"—he chose his next word with care—"documents?"
"Richard said he'd found the perfect hiding place for them, a place no one would think to look, particularly Morley. He said it had something to do with 'Christian virtues.' Richard was amused by it, actually. Found it ironic." James's mouth actually twitched. A grim little attempt at a smile. "Richard was… Richard was clever."
"Oh, yes. Richard was clever." Anna felt a helpless, selfish rush of anger. When would love become more important to men than glory? How could one woman and three little girls ever compete with the glamour and excitement of capturing a political traitor? The thought itself was probably traitorous. "I'm sorry, he said nothing to me of it."
They stood facing each other. Frozen on the brink of a life without Richard, and hating to move forward into it.
"I loved him, too, Anna," James said hoarsely.
. Past tense.
Anna stepped aside to allow him into the house. And then she became a whirlwind in the predawn darkness.
James Makepeace waited while Anna dressed herself in dark mourning, covered herself in a heavy cloak, twisted up her hair, and pulled a shawl around her head. She woke the girls, Susannah and Sylvie and Sabrina, kissed and held their little bodies to her, breathed in their hair, felt the silky skin of their cheeks, murmured quick desperate promises they couldn't possibly understand. She bundled them with clothes and the miniatures.
Anna gazed down at those miniatures briefly and felt hot furious tears pushing at her eyes. Those miniatures meant he had known, damn him. He had known they were in danger. Had known that something might become of Anna, or of him.
She would love him for all time. She wondered if she would ever forgive him.
"For you," she said to James, thrusting a simple but very fine diamond necklace into his hands. "It should help with… well, it should help the girls."
James took it without question. Closed his fist over it, as though sealing a bargain.
"How will I…"
"Send a letter when you can, Anna, but wait a few months for the uproar to die. Leave the continent if you can; I doubt any place in England will be safe when word spreads. Godspeed."
And then Anna looked one last time at the house that only hours earlier had been the source of her greatest happiness, her greatest love, her only love.
She prayed for her girls. For Richard. For justice.
James helped her into the hackney. The driver cracked the ribbons over the backs of the horses and the hackney jerked forward and took Anna Holt away.