Seven Lovely Sins (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 7)
Seven Lovely Sins (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 7)
Can love redeem the most unworthy of rogues?
Nicolette Marsden is standing on the precipice of the rest of her life and she isn't sure what she wants. At a house party in honor of she and her sisters, Nicolette is supposed to choose one of the men present to marry, but none stir her heart. Not until one fateful night when the least marriageable of them all, the devilish rogue, Mr. Denham, happens to catch her singing. She knows she should not fall for him, but what can a caged bird do when freedom lies in the hands of a rake?
Theodore Denham has lived in his brother's shadow all his life. Though his parents loved them both equally, Theo could never measure up, so he went in the opposite direction. Letting his devilish side run free until he couldn't remember what it was to be good. But his sins have caught up with him and soon he will have to leave England or face retribution.
Seduced by Nicolettes angelic voice, Theo risks all to prove that he can be redeemed. But only after taking what should never have been his. Her heart.
Will Nicolette's love save Theo from exile and death or are they destined for love and loss?
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August 10, 1825
The damp sea air permeated his neck cloth and sent a chill down his spine. The moon shined brightly, illuminating the hills and valleys of the sand. Theo stood next to his brother, watching the rowboat come in, his gut tightening the closer the boat came.
The shadow of a man cranked oars efficiently as the small boat rose up and down with the swells of the ocean.
Callen remained silent, an air of stern judgment around him, as usual. Even during clandestine meetings, he looked every inch the Earl of Densmore. Theo wished he would say something to cut the tension. His own voice felt like a foreign object in his throat. But Callen never spoke unless he was imparting some lecture. Theo preferred lectures to this strange silence, though he’d never tell his brother that. He certainly didn’t want more lectures, but he hated to feel like his presence was something to be ignored, and yet he couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to his brother right now.
His pride choked him.
The pressure in his chest made him feel as if he couldn’t draw a full breath. He stared out at the boat edging closer and closer, the future as it were, the future he didn’t want but he had no control of. It was his own damn fault that he was here pretending to attend a house party and court nine lovely and dreadfully poor sisters when his true purpose was escaping England and the hangman.
And though he was certain his brother loathed him, there Callen stood, ever the protector, the dutiful brother, guarding Theo’s back as he’d promised their parents on their deathbed and ensuring he never saw the noose.
Even if Theo deserved it.
What was family worth if not for this moment?
Am I a criminal? Do I deserve to die?
No, he wanted to shout.
His brother finally broke the silence. “Captain Marlowe is taking a great risk by meeting us like this.”
“I know,” Theo said. “He wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t fully aware. Maybe he does things like this all the time.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw his brother glare at him.
“Not everyone has a moral compass as skewed as yours.”
“Perhaps not everyone, but certainly quite a few.”
“This is no joke,” his brother said, his voice edged with scorn.
“Who is joking?” Theo returned. “Leaving England, you think I take that lightly? I don’t want to do this.”
“I don’t want to do this, either. I have to because of you.”
Theo ground his teeth, his jaw aching. Bloody hell, did every conversation have to result in an argument? He exhaled loudly.
“Petulant whelp,” his brother muttered.
The rowboat glided onto the sand, and Captain Marlowe, a swarthy fellow of ambiguous origins—perhaps Spanish or maybe Mediterranean, Theo thought—leapt from the small dinghy. He approached them with a swagger only seen in seamen. They always walk as if the ship rolled under their feet. Would Theo carry the same gait just from crossing the sea? Probably not, the journey would not be long enough.
Only hours, maybe a day at most.
He’d have to spend months at sea before he achieved that kind of swaggering stride. Perhaps he ought not to make land anywhere and become a deck hand for Capt. Marlowe. The idea was appealing.
His mind filled with daring images of a piratical life, wanton women, swords clashing, but the fantasy quickly unraveled. Nothing more than a brief dream as the truth smothered his fanciful imagination.
“Good evening, Lord Densmore, Mr. Denham,” Captain Marlowe said. “I’m delighted to be doing business with you. How can I be of service?”
“Good evening, Captain. We need to leave England, preferably without being on any ship’s registry as passengers,” Callen replied. “Is that possible?”
“Anything’s possible,” Captain Marlowe answered with a confident cock to his head. “When one commands the sea, one commands their own fate.” He raised a brow and half smiled. “But if it’s a matter of treason, there is extra risk and that means extra cost.”
His brother stiffened.
Theo only grinned, seeing something of himself in Captain Marlowe. No doubt it was familiar wickedness and a sense of humor staring back at him.
“Nothing so damning as treason,” Theo said. “We are good Englishmen through and through, but I managed to shoot a relative of a judge, and if he dies, then so shall I.”
“Ah, avoiding prosecution,” the captain nodded in understanding. “You will be in good company abroad, and I think you’ll find that a man can make his home anywhere, even a noble son. Once you cut ties with your home country, the world becomes a lot bigger and far more interesting.”
It was tempting to believe him. The idea that there was an adventure to find seemed tantalizing. Less judgment, perhaps a bit of happiness for himself, or at least contentment. But the idea of leaving his home country, everything he knew, didn’t sit right in his gut. He already missed the familiar cooking of their London chef. What would he do abroad when he didn’t know the language being spoken around him?
“Where are we going?” he asked abruptly.
“Wherever you’d like,” Captain Marlowe answered. “There’s the usual places, France, Belgium, but if it’s anonymity you want, something more exotic is recommended. Morocco, perhaps India, Egypt. Even those places still have a very large English presence. Your king certainly likes to put his hand in every cookie jar. If you truly want to get away from the law, you have to go to lawless lands where there is enough sun, sea, booze, and women to make you forget who you were before.”
Theo’s stomach knotted. If he were drunk, that might sound tempting. If he were sitting at a card table deep in his cups, a dancer of the Fairy Circle lounged on his lap, that might sound like the answer to his prayers, but so much had happened since then. He’d shot a man. His brother had been shot. And it seemed as though his luck had run out.
“Why don’t we start with Europe,” Callen said, and Theo now understood why he wanted his brother to go with him. A brother that could barely stand the sight of him. Callen had the even keel logic that Theo lacked.
He couldn’t believe that Callen was part of this plan. It was Callen who orchestrated all of this, even with the wound in his side.
Theo had planned to shoot over Kirby’s head, as a gentleman ought to do, but what if Kirby hadn’t intended to do the same? If Callen had not stepped in between them, it might be Theo with a bullet hole in his side or maybe even dead.
“When do you wish to leave?” the captain asked.
“We’re attending a party here, and it would look suspicious if we left before the end of it. Can you stay in port for a fortnight?”
“Certainly, if you pay for my time.”
“We will,” Callen replied. “When we hear news of Sir Kirby, we will inform you when we will need to leave. If we have to leave at all.”
“They will only persecute me if the lad dies,” Theo said, “If he lives, well, then it was just another poorly executed duel.”
Captain Marlowe chuckled. “Interesting, very well.”
Callen withdrew a pouch of money from his cloak and handed it to Captain Marlowe. “The first deposit. You’ll receive the remainder when we board.”
Capt. Marlowe took the pouch and nodded. “As you wish. We’ll anchor in the harbor, and I’ll give my men some leave time. Will that suffice?”
“Yes,” Theo said.
“Good, then I believe we’re done here.” The men turned and Theo heard the clatter of a rock falling. He squinted at the dark bank of boulders that bordered the beach and a fist-sized stone rolled onto the sand. He shared a look with his brother, and they bolted to the shadows of the boulders near the path they’d use to reach the beach. They didn’t expect anyone to be out here, and they certainly didn’t want anyone to have seen them.
“Do you think it’s a person or an animal?” Callen whispered.
“We won’t know unless we look.”
They crept up the path, careful to keep to the shadows. Theo paused as they passed a small crevice between two boulders. He thought he heard someone breathing. He jerked his head to the crevice to warn his brother. Callen nodded toward the head of the path, and they moved up. They found a spot where they could watch the path and be concealed.
They didn’t have to wait long before a small cloaked form crawled out from the crevice and scurried up the path.
Theo reached out and grabbed the person, spinning and pressing them against the rock. The slight weight of the person astonished Theo as he held his forearm against their collar bone. As the hood fell back, the last thing he expected to see was a Marsden daughter staring back at him. He bit back a curse.
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