Read The Midnight Rake Online

Authors: Anabelle Bryant

The Midnight Rake

A gentleman by day…
 

Phineas Betcham, Viscount Fenhurst is one of the country’s most eligible bachelors…which - to the heartbreak of each season’s new debutantes - is the way he intends to keep it. Because the broodingly handsome Viscount has vowed to keep emotions out of the bedchamber. And he is a man who
always
stays true to his word.

So when Penelope Rosebery arrives at his home, impoverished and in need of help, Phin is every inch the gentleman. But, beneath the surface, Penelope stirs a protective and passionate instinct within him. With her untamed beauty and lack of social ties, she’s something of a wildflower – delicate, spontaneous, and rare. And before long, Phineas finds himself tempted to abandon his rulebook…and leave etiquette behind until daybreak.   

Also by Anabelle Bryant

To Love a Wicked Scoundrel

Duke of Darkness

The Midnight Rake

Anabelle Bryant

www.CarinaUK.com

Contents

Cover

Blurb

Book List

Title Page

Author Bio

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Endpages

Copyright

ANABELLE BRYANT

began reading at the age of three and never stopped. Her passion for reading soon turned into a passion for writing and an author was born. Happy to grab her suitcase if it ensures a new adventure, Anabelle finds endless inspiration in travel; especially imaginary jaunts into romantic Regency England, a far cry from her home in New Jersey. Instead, her clever characters live out her daydreams because really, who wouldn’t want to dance with a handsome duke or kiss a wicked earl?

Though teaching keeps her grounded, photography, running and writing counterbalance her wanderlust. Often found with her nose in a book, Anabelle has earned her Master’s Degree and is pursuing her Doctorate Degree in Education. She proudly owns her addiction to French fries and stationery supplies, as well as her frightening ineptitude with technology.

A firm believer in romance, Anabelle knows sometimes life doesn’t provide a happily ever after, but her novels always do.

She enjoys talking with her fans. Visit her website at
AnabelleBryant.com
.

Writing a novel can be much like raising a child. You put your heart and soul into your efforts. You do your very best. You nurture and worry over every choice and then pray in the end you’ve done enough. Thank you, Mom and Dad for a loving, happy childhood.

Chapter One

“Charles! Why are we stopping?” Victoria Betcham, Countess of Fenhurst, pushed aside the crimson velvet curtain obstructing her view of the open road and poked her head through the square carriage window. Her eyes scanned the empty roadway. They’d been traveling at an excellent pace toward London. The unexpected slowing was not due to traffic. “Charles?”

The coachman’s voice rang over the noise of the slowing team as the carriage rolled to an abrupt stop. “A mail coach is blocking the road, my lady. There is no way for us to pass.”


Mon dieu!
This is inconvenient. Is anyone hurt? Can you locate the driver?” She angled her head in an attempt to see past the floorboard iron, but had no success. Reluctant to leave the safe confines of her carriage, Victoria trusted her coachman to resolve the issue with intelligence. She did not suffer fools well and Charles had been in her employ for over twenty years.

A country road far outside of London was nowhere to be stranded and a variety of perils flittered through her mind until the vision of a threatening highwayman determined to snare a respected aristocrat caused her to bundle her pelisse and reticule closer. A crack of thunder emphasized her concern. Would she have to contend with poor weather as well? The roads would become impassable, leaving her abandoned and at risk for danger. Vulnerability was not a desirable traveling companion. She anxiously awaited Charles’ return.

“It appears the driver needs assistance in pushing the conveyance to the side. Broken rear axle, as I can see.” Charles climbed from the front boot and addressed her through the window. “We will resume shortly, although I do not know how the two young ladies will manage.”

The coachman’s latter comment was spoken as an afterthought, but it pricked Victoria’s attention more than his announcement they’d soon continue their journey.

“Ladies? Where?” Quelle horreur! Genteel ladies did not travel by mail coach. If Charles’ assumption proved true, the two females were in a definite bind. Never mind the series of perils she’d catalogued only moments before. “Let me see them. Move aside, please.” She motioned at the door with a sharp wave of her hand.

Once the steps were extended, she exited the carriage far enough to assess the two petite travelers alongside the roadway. Their clothing portrayed them as quality and the sorrowful expression on the face of the taller miss tugged at Victoria’s heart.

“Bring them to me. Perhaps I can help. If the ladies mean to travel to London, there is room to share.”

Victoria watched the interaction with interest as her coachman complied with alacrity. The ladies approached and she noted their delicate features, most especially the innate poise of the older girl despite the weariness that clouded her eyes and descended to her dusty hems.

“My lady, may I present Miss Penelope Rosebery and her sister, Miss Aubry.” Charles nodded his head to initiate introductions. “Victoria Betcham, Countess of Fenhurst.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, although the circumstances are horrid.” She cast a disapproving glance to the disabled mail coach. “How fortunate I happened along. If you are bound for London, you’re welcome to accompany me.”

With mild amusement, Victoria watched Aubry’s eyes flare as she perused the luxurious carriage. Penelope, the older of the two and not a day past twenty-four if her assumption stood correct, looked as though she might fall asleep with the next breath.

“Thank you for your kindness. I am afraid we have little choice.” Penelope’s pensive expression softened as she accepted the offer. “We do appreciate your hospitality.”

“But of course. Conversation will be a welcome diversion during the long ride.”

Minutes later the carriage rolled on with all passengers settled inside. Victoria smiled with satisfaction despite the situation proved curious. Penelope remained silent, nestled beside her sister. Aubry appeared of the opposite nature, her bright eyes anxious for conversation with no shadow of the hesitation evident in her sister’s guarded demeanor. “I have never ridden in a vehicle so fine.” Aubry’s gaze flitted about the interior as if wishing to absorb every detail. “It’s very beautiful.”

The carriage swayed and Victoria noticed Penelope’s eyes slide closed before the girl forced them open, each attempt a little slower than the previous. In many ways the young miss evoked images of her daughter, Julia, currently living away from home.

“My dear, there is no need to clutter the air with conversation when fatigue plagues you.” She reached across the coach and offered Penelope’s knee a gentle pat. Who knew how long the ladies suffered in that cramped mail coach? With a full day of travel ahead, it made sense for the girl to take a nap.

“Please do not think me rude. I haven’t slept well in weeks, and now within the comfort of your wonderful carriage, sleep begs me forward no matter how I resist.”

“Not at all. You must take advantage of the time. It will be hours before we reach London.”

Aubry shifted on the bench, her attention drawn toward her sister. “Penny, you should rest.”

Victoria noticed the silent communication between the girls, as if pages of words were intimated with a flick of their eyelashes.

“I suppose a short nap would serve me well.” Penelope’s voice faded toward the end, a sigh of surrender overriding her admittance.

“Excellent.” Victoria’s tone echoed her approval. “Aubry and I will share pleasant conversation while you take respite. It will provide us a chance to become better acquainted.”

“Oh.” Penelope shot her shoulders straight and shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. “I can stay awake.” She glanced in Aubry’s direction, her eyes forced wide.

“Don’t be ridiculous, dear.” Victoria leaned forward and squeezed Penelope’s hand. “I insist.”

“As do I.” Aubry nodded her head confirming the sentiment.

As if fighting prevarication, time stretched before Penelope finally adjusted her position and reclined her head against the velvet bolster. They traveled only a quarter of a mile before she fell into a sound sleep and Aubry initiated conversation in a hushed tone.

“Thank you so much, Lady Fenhurst. My sister has been extremely worried these last weeks. I’m afraid the mail coach incident proved the final affront to her endurance.”

“I am happy to lend my assistance. If only I could do more.” Victoria eyed her reticule resting on the seat beside her, but abandoned her immediate thought. “Pardon my interference, but traveling by mail coach is not a prudent decision. Where will you stay when you reach London? Are you visiting family?” She continued, leaving no chance for a response. “One must be on guard against danger, most especially in the city. My daughter is of a similar age and has the same impetuous nature I suspect the two of you possess.”

For the slightest moment Victoria allowed a frown to turn her lips before she regained her cheerful demeanor. She worried for Julia and her broken heart, but nothing could be done about the matter. At least, not at the present.

“Oh, our decision to travel has nothing to do with adventure and we have no plans to see family.” Aubry glanced to her sister, in a sound sleep beside her. “Once we reach London, we need to visit a jeweler.” With care, she reached across the seat, grasped her sister’s reticule, and withdrew a gold pocket watch. She cradled it in her palm, gathering the long linked chain and closing her fingers tight.

Victoria watched Aubry’s actions with increased interest. The manner in which the girl handled the timepiece indicated it was precious indeed. Coupled with her forlorn expression and watery eyes, she surmised the watch held great sentimental value.

“What are you meaning to do?” The question needed to be asked regardless of its personal nature.

“Penelope hopes to sell my father’s watch so we have payment for a room in a lodging house.”

“A lodging house?” Victoria gasped at the words. “That idea will never do. Such unrefined housing would place you in the path of disreputable gentlemen and certain danger, most especially as you travel unchaperoned. My conscience could never survive were I to allow you to pursue this dreadful plan.” She shook her head to erase the thought, her eyes coming to rest on the glint of gold clenched in Aubry’s hand. “You cannot sell your father’s watch. I am sure it is a cherished keepsake.”

“He passed only eight months ago.” Aubry’s voice trembled as she whispered the words. Then with silent reserve, she replaced the watch inside her sister’s purse and cinched the drawstrings with more force than necessary. The action seemed to compose her unsettled emotions. When again she spoke, her voice sounded even. “I am afraid we have no other choice. We have a problem to solve. We need to locate someone.”

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