A Rogue to Ruin (The Pretenders #3) - Darcy Burke


Late February 1819


Scandal had nothing to do with following the rules and everything to do with getting caught. This was the code by which Anne Pemberton lived and the rationale she used to spend two hours every week tucked into a corner at Hatchard’s with a veil over her face while her “chaperone” was elsewhere.

Where that was, Anne never asked, nor did she want to know. She certainly wasn’t going to contribute to her godfather’s daughter—her godsister?—getting caught.

Anne also didn’t care. Not when it allowed her a reprieve from the demands of her parents and an escape into another world. Not the bookstore, but the books themselves. Though she was a fast reader, she wasn’t able to finish a story in one sitting. Perhaps she ought to stretch her visits to three hours. Would Deborah mind?

Distracted briefly from the book resting on her lap and tucked beneath her long veil, Anne refocused her energy. The Fast of St. Magdalen was not as enthralling as she’d hoped, which was unfortunate since The Hungarian Brothers was one of her most favorite stories.

“Back again, eh?”

The masculine voice invaded Anne’s mind and space. She closed the book on her forefinger and turned her head slightly toward whomever had interrupted her.

There were two young men, so she didn’t know which had spoken. Both were of average height and girth, dressed in rather average costumes, and in possession of utterly…average features. Though she supposed the one on the right had a rather long nose.

Anne chose to ignore them. Turning her head back, she reopened her book and found her place once more.

One of them coughed. Then they moved. Their legs were now visible beyond her book. Though Anne had taken care to angle her chair somewhat toward the corner, she’d stopped short of sitting actually in the corner for fear that would look bizarre and potentially invite notice when she was doing everything in her ability to escape it.

“What are you hiding beneath your veil?” one of them asked.

Anne looked up from the book and scowled at them, though they wouldn’t be able to see her expression. “A hideous visage,” she snapped. “Now, if you’ll be on your way, I prefer my solitude.”

“Hideous?” Long-nose glanced askance at his friend. “Sounds intriguing. I think we should have a look.”

“And I think you should be on your way.” The suggestion, low and deceptively pleasant, came from a third man. His tone was deceptive because the look in his eyes was unmistakably malevolent—even Anne could see it through the gauze of her veil.

She shivered.

Regular-nose pivoted and looked at the new man, who was incredibly tall and impeccably dressed. “Just who are you, her father?”

“Who I am is of no concern to you, and neither is this woman. Move along before I’m forced to help you do so.” He took a step toward the younger men.

Whether it was due to his imposing height or his menacing glare or his ominous tone or the nasty scar across his lower lip and chin that marred his otherwise strikingly handsome face, the men abruptly walked away.

Anne exhaled. “Thank you.” She eyed him warily. “What do you want?”

“Nothing. It seemed they were bothering you. I only sought to provide assistance.”

True relief made her breathe even easier. “I appreciate that. I believed a corner at Hatchard’s to be a safe place to avoid interruption.”

“Particularly when you’ve angled yourself away from everyone and you’re wearing a veil.” The edge of his mouth ticked up, but only briefly. So quickly, in fact, that she wondered if she’d been mistaken. “Would you like me to remain? I won’t disturb you.”

“Are you offering to be my bodyguard?” Anne turned so she faced him.

“I suppose I am.”

“I should decline, but if you have a book to read…” She inclined her head toward the one in his hand. “You’re welcome to join me. Is there another chair?” She looked about.

“I’ll fetch one.” He returned a few moments later, hefting a chair by the back with one hand. Setting it near hers so that he mostly blocked her from the rest of the room, he sat down.

Not only was he tall, but he was muscular in a thoroughly masculine way that differed from most men she’d met. Not that she’d met terribly many as of yet. Her Season was just getting under way.

Through her veil, she made out the aquiline planes of his face, the piercing blue of his eyes, and the lush sweep of his lips. The lower one was bisected by