A Lady Never Surrenders
From The Hellions of Halstead Hall
A Lady Never Surrenders
With two months left to find a husband to fulfill her grandmother’s ultimatum, Lady Celia Sharpe sets her sights on three eligible bachelors. Becoming betrothed to one of these wealthy, high-ranking men will surely prove her capable of getting married, so hopefully the wedding itself won’t be necessary for Celia and her siblings to receive their inheritance. Step two of her audacious plan is hiring the dangerously compelling Bow Street Runner Jackson Pinter to investigate the three men she’s chosen. But with Lady Celia bedeviling Jackson’s days and nights, the last thing he wants is to help her find a husband. And when she recalls shadowed memories that lead his investigation into her parents’ mysterious deaths in a new direction—putting her in danger—Jackson realizes the only man he wants Celia to marry is himself!
Celia realized she’d shocked Jackson Pinter with her pronouncement when the Bow Street runner’s thick black brows drew together in a frown. His lean form seemed even more rigid than usual, and his angular features—the arrow of a nose and bladed jaw—even more stark. In his severe morning attire of black serge and white linen, he radiated male disapproval.
But she couldn’t figure out why. He knew she was the only “hellion” left unmarried. Did he think she would let her brothers and sisters lose their inheritance out of some rebellious desire to thwart Gran’s ultimatum?
Of course he did. He’d been so kind and considerate during her recitation of the dream about her parents’ murders that she’d almost forgotten he hated her. Why else were his eyes, grey as slate after a storm, now so cold and remote? The blasted fellow was always so condescending and sure of himself, so… so…
“I was unaware you had any suitors, my lady,” he said in his oddly raspy voice.
Curse him for being right. “Well, I don’t… exactly. There are men who might be interested, but haven’t gone so far as to offer marriage.” Or even to show a partiality to her over other women.
“And you’re hoping I’ll twist their arms so they will?” he drawled.
She colored under his piercing gaze. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she muttered.
This was the Mr. Pinter she knew only too well, the one who’d called her “a reckless society miss” and a “troublemaker.”
Not that she cared what he thought of her. He was just like her brother’s friends, who saw her as a tomboy because she could demonstrate a rifle’s fine qualities. Or like Cousin Ned …
Scrawny bitch with no tits—you don’t have an ounce of anything female in you.
Curse Ned to hell. He was wrong about her. Wasn’t he? Surely she’d filled out a bit in the ten years since their… private encounter. Surely her sharp features had softened into more womanly ones.
But she still had Papa’s unfashionable olive skin and ungainly height, and Mama’s boyish frame. She still had deplorably straight brown hair, not to mention the most innocuous hazel eyes ever.
Celia would give anything to look like her sister. To fill out gowns in all the right places. To have wavy tresses with streaks of gold in them, eyes of brilliant jade, and features as classically perfect as a porcelain doll’s. Celia was sometimes described as pretty, but next to Minerva…
She swallowed her envy. She might not have her sister’s looks, but she did have other appealing qualities. For one thing, men were comfortable around her because of her interest in guns and shooting.
“You may find this hard to believe, Mr. Pinter,” she went on defensively, “but some men enjoy my company. They consider me easy to talk to.”
A ghost of a smile touched his handsome face. “You’re right. I do find that hard to believe.”
Arrogant, supercilious wretch. “All the same, there are three men who might consider marrying me. I just need your help in securing them.”
Lord, how she hated having to ask him for that. But he was necessary to her plan. She needed one good offer of marriage, one impressive offer that would show Gran she was perfectly capable of gaining a decent husband if she wished.
Gran didn’t believe she could—that was clear. Otherwise, she wouldn’t still be holding to that blasted ultimatum. If Celia could just prove Gran wrong, Gran might leave her to find a husband in her own good time.
And if Celia’s plan didn’t work, she’d still have a man she could marry to fulfill Gran’s terms.
“So you’ve finally decided to meet Mrs. Plumtree’s demands,” he said, his expression unreadable.
She wasn’t about to let him in on the entirety of her plan. He was Gran’s spy; he would run right off and tell her. “It’s not as if I have a choice, is it?” Bitterness crept into her tone. “In less than two months, my time is up. If I remain unmarried, my siblings will be cut off. I can’t do that to them, no matter how much I wish to resist Gran’s meddling.”
Something that looked oddly like sympathy flickered in his gaze. “Don’t you want to marry?”
“Of course I want to marry. Doesn’t every woman?”
“You’ve shown little interest in it before,” he said skeptically.
That’s because men had shown little interest in her. Oh, Gabe’s friends loved to stand about with her at balls and discuss the latest developments in cartridges, but they rarely asked her to dance, and if they did, it was only to consult her on rifles. She’d tried flirting, but she was terrible at it. It seemed so… false. So did men’s compliments, the few that there were.
It was easier to laugh them off than to figure out which ones were genuine, easier to pretend to be one of the lads. She might have tried harder at the flirting thing if she had come across a man she could love, who would ignore the scandals attached to her family’s name and wouldn’t mind her indulging her favorite hobby—target shooting.
Perhaps even one who could shoot as well as she. After all, she could never respect a man who couldn’t hit what he aimed at.
I’ll bet Mr. Pinter knows his way around a rifle, the errant thought came to her.
She scowled. He probably thought he was a grand shot, anyway. For a gentleman whose lineage was reputed to be unsavory, Mr. Pinter was rather high in the instep. He’d told Gabe only last week that most lords were good for only two things—redistributing funds from their estates into all the gambling hells and brothels in London, and ignoring their duty to God and country.
She knew he was only working for Oliver because he wanted the money and prestige. But secretly he held them all in contempt. Which was probably why he was being so snide about her marrying.
“Be that as it may,” she said, “I’m interested in marriage now.” She strode over to the fireplace to warm her hands. “That’s why I want you to investigate my potential suitors.”
“Why me?” he retorted.
She shot him a sideways glance. “Have you forgotten that Oliver hired you initially for that very purpose?”
His stiffening posture told her that he had. With a frown, he drew out the notebook and pencil he always seemed to keep in his pocket. “Very well. Exactly what do you want me to find out?”
Breathing a little easier, she left the fire. “The same things you found out for my siblings—the truth about my potential suitors’ finances, their eligibility for marriage, and… well…”
He paused in scratching his notes to arch an eyebrow at her. “Yes?”
Nervously she fiddled with the gold bracelet she wore. This part he might balk at. “And their secrets. Things I can use in my… er… campaign—their likes, their weaknesses, whatever isn’t obvious to the world.”
His expression chilled her even with the fire at her back. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Suppose you learn that one of them prefers women in red. That could be useful to me. I would wear red as much as possible.”
Amusement flashed in his eyes. “And what will you do if they all prefer different colors?”
“It’s just an example,” she said irritably. “In truth, I’m hoping you can provide me with more substantive information. You might discover that one of my suitors is paying money to maintain a by-blow. I could use that to—”
“Your brother pays me to make sure your potential suitors are acceptable and eligible,” he ground out, “not to help you blackmail men into marriage.”
Too late she remembered that he was a by-blow. “I didn’t mean it like that! I meant … well, if I knew he had an illegitimate child that he cared enough about to pay for, then I would know he liked children. So I could ramble on about how much I like children. That’s all.”
That seemed to mollify him only slightly. “In other words, you’ll pretend to be someone else in order to snag a husband.”
She winced at his too apt description. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she said defensively, “it’s no different than what half the women in society do to catch a man. I just don’t want to waste my time in pointless flirtation when a little inside knowledge will help me improve my aim on the targets.”
He flashed her a condescending smile.
“What is it?” she snapped.
“Only you would approach courtship as a marksman approaches a shooting match.” He licked the tip of his pencil. “So who are these hapless targets, anyway?”
“The Earl of Devonmont, the Duke of Lyons, and the Conte Giuseppe Grimani.”
His jaw dropped. “Are you insane?”
“See here, I know they’re rather beyond my reach, but they do seem to like my company—”
“I daresay they do!” He strode up to her, strangely angry. “The earl is a rakehell with a notorious reputation for trying to get beneath the skirts of every woman he meets. The duke’s father was mad; indeed, madness is said to run in his family, which is why most women steer clear of him. And Grimani is a Venetian idiot who’s too old for you and clearly trawling for some sweet young thing to grace his bed and nurse him in his declining years.”
“How can you say such things? The only one you know personally is Lord Devonmont, and even then I doubt you’ve seen him more than once or twice.”
“I don’t have to know them personally. I know them by reputation, and they are all utterly unacceptable.”
Unacceptable? Three of the most eligible bachelors in London? Mr. Pinter was mad, not her. “Lord Devonmont is Gabe’s wife’s cousin. The duke is Gabe’s best friend, whom I’ve known since childhood, and the count… well…”
“Is an oily sort, from what I hear,” he snapped.
“No, he isn’t. He’s very pleasant to talk to.” Really, this was the most ridiculous conversation. “Who the devil do you think I should marry, anyway?”
That seemed to take him aback. He glanced away. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “But not … That is, you shouldn’t…” He tugged at his stock. “They’re wrong for you, that’s all.”
For heaven’s sake, she’d actually managed to fluster Mr. Pinter. How astonishing. He was never flustered. It made him look vulnerable and much less… stiff. She rather liked that.
But she’d like it better if she understood what had provoked it. “Why do you care whom I choose as long as you’re paid? I’m willing to pay extra to ensure that you find out everything I want to know.”
Once more he turned into Mr. High-and-Mighty. “It isn’t a matter of payment, madam. I choose my own assignments, and this one isn’t to my taste. Good day.” Turning on his heel, he headed for the door.
Oh, dear, she hadn’t meant to run him off entirely. “So you’re reneging on your agreement with my brother?” she called out.
She pressed her point hastily. “At the very least, you owe me an investigation of my suitors’ backgrounds. If you don’t give me that, I’ll tell my brother you’ve refused to do what he paid you for.”
When he clenched his hands into fists, a twinge of guilt assailed her. He’d been so nice about her dream earlier that she felt bad forcing his hand. But blast it—it was his job. Oliver had established that from the very beginning, and Mr. Pinter had done it for Minerva as well as Gabe. He sure as the devil could do it for her.
He faced her once more, his expression now carefully modulated. “I daresay when I tell him whom you’re considering, he’ll side with me. He was not happy when your sister chose Mr. Masters.”
“But that worked out well in the end. Which I’ll point out to him if he protests. He won’t, though—he knows how important it is that I marry.”
He searched her face so intently that it made her uncomfortable. “And what of love, Lady Celia?” he asked in a hoarse rasp. “Do you love any of these men?”
He had the audacity to speak of love when he knew her situation? “Gran isn’t giving me a chance to fall in love.”
“So tell her you want more time. As long as she knows that you’re open to the idea, I’m sure she’ll—”
“Relent? Give me a reprieve? You know better than that. She’ll say that I’ve had nearly a year already, and I frittered it away.”
She’d be right, too. But Celia had hoped that her siblings’ devious plans would work and put an end to Gran’s diabolical ultimatum. Instead, her brothers and sister had all given in and married.
Or rather, they’d all fallen in love. It wasn’t fair. It had been easy for her beautiful sister to find a husband—she’d simply gone after the man she’d always wanted. Gabe had married his best friend’s sister, Jarret had found a wife who loved brewing as much as he, and Oliver had practically stumbled into the perfect woman.
But Celia had no old beaus waiting in the wings, no best friends with eligible brothers, and no fellow sharpshooters who fancied her. She had three men who might consider marrying her. She had to make do with that.
“It’s too late for love, Mr. Pinter,” she said wearily. “Gran is breathing down my neck, and this is hardly the season for matrimony. There are a few country balls and little else before the end of the year. The likelihood of my stumbling upon any other eligible gentlemen at this late date is quite small.”
“There must be someone else, someone more—”
“No one whom I know, whom I’m comfortable with. At least I like these three gentlemen. I can see myself married to one of them.” Possibly. If worse came to worst. “And since they’re all titled and wealthy, Gran would find them irreproachable.” Which was the point, though she couldn’t tell him that.
His expression changed abruptly, becoming more cynical. “So that’s what you’re looking for in a husband,” he said coldly. “A rich man of rank.”
“No!” How like him to assume she was mercenary. “That’s what Gran is looking for. I merely want a man I can tolerate. But at least if my suitors are wealthy, they won’t marry me simply to gain my fortune.” As Papa had done with Mama. “I prefer not to marry a fortune hunter.”
“I see.” A muscle ticked in his jaw. “Still, wealthy lords and fortune hunters aren’t your only choices. Surely there are other respectable gentlemen.”
“Why are you being so stubborn about this?” Suddenly it dawned on her. “Wait, is it because my suitors are noblemen? I know that you consider titled gentlemen to be beneath your contempt in general, but—”
“That’s not true,” he grumbled. “I count Lord Kirkwood and Mr. Masters among my friends, and even, if I venture to be so presumptuous, your brothers. It’s not all men of rank I find beneath contempt—just the ones who prey on women. Like Devonmont. And probably the other two, as well.”
“To my knowledge, none of them, not even Lord Devonmont, has ever taken advantage of a respectable female. Even my brothers had their… dalliances as bachelors.”
“So did your father,” Mr. Pinter said pointedly.
He would point that out. “That’s different. Papa broke his marriage vows. That doesn’t mean my suitors would do so.” She swallowed. “Unless you think it impossible for a woman like me to keep men like them satisfied and happy?”
He started. “No! I wasn’t trying to say…. That is—”
“It’s all right, Mr. Pinter,” she said, fighting to keep the hurt out of her voice. “I know what you think of me.”
His gaze locked with hers, confusing her with its sudden fierceness. “You have no idea what I think of you,” he clipped out.
She twisted her bracelet nervously, and the motion seemed to draw his eyes down to her hands. But as his gaze came back up, it slowed, lingering on her bosom.
Could Mr. Pinter… Was it possible that he…
That was absurd. He couldn’t be interested in her. Why, he didn’t even like her!
She’d dressed carefully today, hoping to sway him into doing her bidding by showing that she could look and act like a lady, not a tomboy. She’d been hoping to gain a measure of his respect.
But the intimate way his gaze continued up past her bosom to her throat and then paused again at her mouth was more how her brothers looked at their wives. It wasn’t so much disrespectful as it was… interested.
No, she must be imagining that. He was just trying to make her uncomfortable, and she was misinterpreting the seeming heat in his glance. She refused to let herself be taken in again by imagining what wasn’t there. Not after the nasty things Ned had said to her when she was fourteen.
I only kissed you to win a bet, you know.
She winced at the painful memory. She’d learned her lesson then. Men had an annoying habit of pretending interest in a woman just to gain something they wanted. Why, look at Mama, dreaming of fairy tales when Papa had only been dreaming of finance.
Celia was going to marry a man who didn’t need or want her fortune. Mr. Pinter didn’t fall into that category.
Indeed, given how blank his expression became as his gaze met hers once more, she’d been right to be skeptical. He’d never be interested in her in that way.
He confirmed it by saying, with his usual formality, “I doubt any man would consider your ladyship unacceptable as a wife.”
Oh, when he turned all hoity-toity with her, she could just murder him.
Women sharpshooters have probably been around longer than we realize. Take Alice Powell Ferree, for example. She tested her gunsmith husband’s rifles in the 18th century! So I figured I could get away with a female sharpshooter in the Regency. In fact, here’s a lovely period story (from 1824) about a woman who shot a guy with her muff pistol!
Speaking of muff pistols (get your mind out of the gutter—they’re pistols that you can keep inside your fur muff), small ladies pistols have been around for centuries. You can see examples here and here.
You really can start a fire (as Pinter did) by using gunpowder! Here’s how: http://www.grandpappy.info/hfire.htm
Sir Richard Birnie, whom Pinter refers to as the “saddler’s son,” was a real guy. You can read more about him here. So I figured if a saddler’s son could become Chief Magistrate, so could Pinter!
And yes, they were using laudanum and paregoric for children in this period. Hard to believe!
Letter from Hetty
Thank heavens Celia has taken seriously my demand that she marry. She has gathered several gentlemen here for a house party so she can make her choice.
Only one thing worries me—Jackson Pinter. The Bow Street Runner is showing a most inappropriate interest in her. I do not like it. He is apparently the bastard son of some nobleman who never claimed him, so he needs to marry well in order to further his ambition to be Chief Magistrate. That means he might consider her a very good choice for a wife.
It would not bother me if I did not suspect that she, too, harbors a secret interest in the man. I have caught them alone together on more than one occasion, and sometimes she gazes on him with such alarming evidence of a budding infatuation…
My other grandchildren think I should not interfere. Even my dear Isaac (yes, I have become quite friendly with that audacious cavalry general) says I meddle in matters beyond my ken. But she is so young and naïve! I cannot stand by and do nothing if his interest is merely in her rank and fortune. I did that once with her mother; I will not do it again.
Isaac, the old fool, insists that Mr. Pinter’s fascination for her is decidedly not mercenary. He claims that the man follows her with his eyes every time they are near each other. While I concede that Mr. Pinter does seem rather… intrigued by her, that does not necessarily mean that he is in love with her. He can desire her money and her body without caring a whit about her.
Meanwhile, she has a duke, an earl, and a viscount sniffing at her heels, none of whom need her money. She could be a duchess, my Celia! Why should she settle for a mere Runner, even if he is working hard to solve the murders of her parents? Can you blame me for wanting something more for her?
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #4 on the New York Times (stayed on for two weeks)
- #36 on USA Today (stayed on for two weeks)
- #4 on Publishers Weekly (stayed on for two weeks)
- #49 on ABA IndieBound mass-market paperback
- #117 on WalMart.com general fiction (stayed on for three weeks)
“Jeffries pulls out all the stops for her Hellions of Halsted Hall finale. With depth of character, emotional intensity and the resolution to the ongoing mystery rolled into a steamy love story, this one is not to be missed.” —Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
“…lively repartee, fast action, luscious sensuality, and an abundance of humor.” –Library Journal
“Brimming with superbly shaded characters, an abundance of simmering sensuality, and a splendidly wicked wit, the fifth Hellions of Halstead Hall romance wraps up the series nothing short of brilliantly.” —Booklist