The Daring Miss Darcy (Lost Ladies of London #4)

The Daring Miss Darcy (Lost Ladies of London #4)

Adele Clee

Chapter One

The black unmarked carriage rolled to a stop on the corner of Longacre, a street north of Covent Garden. Here, so close to the narrow lanes and crooked timber buildings of St Giles, the night was anything but still. Drunken quarrels tumbled out from packed taverns onto the streets. The deep rumble resonated like that of a tenor singing the restless song of the poor. The soprano came in the form of women hawking their wares, of stray dogs whining and children crying.

Ross Sandford, Marquess of Trevane, Vane to his friends and enemies, shuffled to the edge of his seat and extinguished the candle in the lantern hanging from the roof of his conveyance. At night, a man could embrace the cold emptiness filling his heart. And yet the need to rouse a flicker of emotion in his lifeless chest had drawn him out from his house in Berkeley Square to this dirty and dangerous part of town.

Dressed in black, Vane opened the door and stepped down to the pavement. After straightening his coat, he jerked his head to his coachman, Wickett.

“Wait here. Twenty minutes is all I need.”

That would be enough time to lure a rogue or two out from the shadows, enough time to heat the blood as it rushed through his veins.

Wickett stared at the fog-drenched street and shook his head. “Ten minutes should be plenty, my lord. Every light-fingered cove in the district will be out on the hunt tonight.”

Vane knew that. Why else would he have come if not to practice his pugilistic skills? Pity the fool who thought him easy pickings.

“Strange, I do not recall asking for your opinion.”

“If you wanted a simple coachman, you would have hired one from The Dog and Duck.” From atop his box, Wickett inclined his head respectfully. “You wanted a man who isn’t afraid to take a shot. A man who can sew a wound as good as a French modiste sews silk. You wanted a man who can change your shirt so your sister won’t notice the blood, who can tie a cravat—”

“Yes, yes, Wickett. You have made your point.”

“Then as a man who’s survived these streets and has a need to protect his master, take heed. No more than fifteen minutes else I’ll be carting home a dead man.”

Vane inhaled deeply as a flash of excitement sparked. Death might bring the answer to the questions plaguing his waking thoughts, and those disturbing his dreams, too. Had Estelle Darcy survived the shipwreck? Was she out there somewhere, living and breathing? Did she ever think of him? Had she cared for him at all?

Vane shook himself and focused on the lithe, athletic figure glaring wide-eyed from the box seat.

“What’s wrong, Wickett?”


“You have the look of a man waiting to watch his friend dangle from the scaffold. Where is your faith in my ability to ward off an attack?”

“It’s no good looking for trouble when your mind’s not in the game. Ever since you came back from visiting Lord Ravenscroft, you’ve not been yourself.”

No, he was not himself.

The pledge he’d made to find Estelle Darcy and prove she was alive and well, gnawed away at his conscience like a starving rat with razor-sharp teeth. But he’d abandoned all hope of success. All leads led to naught. The runner he’d hired had sent him on a fool’s errand to Canterbury and then to Maidstone. An acquaintance in Whitechapel sent him to a woman on Upper Newman Street. While she had a smart mouth, and had recently returned from France, it soon became apparent that Estelle was her working name.

“Of course I’m not myself. My sister married a blasted pirate.”

That was not the reason for his morose mood. Ravenscroft had proven himself worthy. Anyone who saw Fabian and Lillian together could not question the depth of their love. Still, it was as good an excuse as any, and it would stop his coachman’s carping criticism, for now.

Wickett bent his head. “You miss Lady Lillian that’s for sure, but it’s no reason to dice with death at every given opportunity.”

Hell, he missed Lillian more than he could say. But after eight years spent learning to live with loss, suppressing pain was not a new concept.

Vane’s mind drifted from thoughts of his own sister to the miniature portrait of Ravenscroft’s sister locked away in his desk. Why would he want to remember Miss Darcy’s likeness when he’d spent an eternity trying to forget her?

“I suppose you think me foolish.” Vane tugged his coat sleeves and flexed his fingers.

“It doesn’t matter what I think, my lord. I’ll never understand the minds of intelligent folk.”


Only an imbecile would enter an alley in this part of town, at this time of night. But he’d rather partake in a fistfight than hover on the verge of consciousness in a laudanum-induced state. Besides, was a beating not a form of self-flagellation, punishment for his incompetence?

Through the thick, smothering cloud, Fate’s finger beckoned him, taunted him to step towards the alley.

“If I fail to appear in fifteen minutes, I suggest you come and find me.”

Wickett turned his head and muttered something into the raised collar of his driving coat. “Fifteen minutes,” Wickett repeated. A weary sigh left the coachman’s lips, the white mist joining the thousands of other frustrated breaths that made up this foggy night. “But then I’ve never been good at telling the time.”

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