If the Viscount Falls
If the Viscount Falls
The heir presumptive to the Viscount Rathmoor, Dominick Manton once had his heart’s desire within reach—a bright future as a barrister and engagement to Jane Vernon, a wealthy baron’s daughter. Then a shattering betrayal by his vindictive brother George snatched away Dom’s inheritance and his hopes of offering Jane a secure future. Brokenhearted, and attempting to end their engagement without destroying Jane’s reputation, Dom staged a betrayal of his own to convince her that he’s not the husband-to-be that she thought.
Now George is gone and the viscountcy restored to Dom, since his brother’s widow, Nancy—Jane’s cousin and closest confidant—never bore an heir. But when Nancy goes missing, a panicked Jane calls on her former fiancé to track down her cousin. Dom knows the mistakes of the past may be unforgiveable—but now, entangled together in mystery and danger, will they rekindle a passionate longing that was never lost to begin with?
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
#9 on the New York Times
#90 on USA Today
#39 on Bookscan Adult Fiction Overall
“This is the perfect combination of adventure, mystery and romance, without one outweighing another. The strong characters, their realistic emotions and painful pasts add another layer to the exciting plot. Jeffries once again proves she is a master storyteller.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
“Plenty of action, clever plotting, and a well-rendered pair of protagonists with an abundance of potent sexual chemistry make Jeffries’ latest Regency, the fourth in her Duke’s Men series (following How the Scoundrel Seduces, 2014), an absolute treasure.”
—John Charles, Booklist
“. . . fast-paced, deliciously passionate romance that brings love to the last “Duke’s Man” and is a perfect conclusion to Jeffries’s addictive quartet. A sizzling romantic adventure. . .”
—Library Journal, starred review
Jane Vernon couldn’t imagine being cooped up in one house all the time. Already, she was impatient to be gone from Mrs. Patch’s. Much as she liked the woman’s adorable spaniels, she was dying to know what Dominick Manton had discovered. Was it possible he’d actually found Jane’s cousin? Could that be why he was taking so long? Perhaps Nancy had simply stopped for a few nights at Ringrose’s Inn, and he was even now coming back to give them the triumphant news.
But no, when the Viscount Rathmoor arrived, there was nothing in his grim expression to say that he’d found Nancy. Dom had discovered something, however. She could tell. And it was clearly something he didn’t want to share with Mrs. Patch.
That made it all the harder for Jane to wait through the necessary goodbyes and repeated assurances that they would keep Mrs. Patch informed of what they learned.
By the time they were in the street, she was fit to be tied. “All right,” she said without preamble, “what took you so long? What did you find out at the inn?”
He walked with such long strides toward the Elephant and Castle that she had to hurry to keep up with him. “I didn’t go to the inn right away. I spent some time in this neighborhood first, asking about Nancy and her maid. The neighbors said that after visiting Mrs. Patch the two women always headed off for the more fashionable area of shops.”
“That means they were together,” Jane mused aloud. “So it’s highly unlikely that Nancy was doing anything but shopping.”
A scowl knit his brow. “There’s something else. Since finding out where they’d gone and questioning shopkeepers would require more time than we have today, I went on to the inn. I learned that Nancy arrived there around noon on the day you left Rathmoor Park. And then she apparently vanished.”
“What?” She seized his arm. “What do you mean, ‘vanished’?”
He stared over at her. “No one saw her leave. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell us much because not all of the ostlers from that day were working today.” Frustration crept into his voice. “They said I’d have to return tonight to speak with everyone who would have been here then. But . . .”
When he hesitated, she shook his arm. “But what?”
“One of the ostlers said that when he asked if he could fetch a hackney coach for Nancy, she told him there was no need because she was meeting a friend.”
Jane’s heart began to pound. “Mrs. Patch?”
“I doubt that.” Eyes hard and brittle as emeralds glittered at her. “She would have said ‘aunt.’ Besides, ‘meeting’ implies that Nancy expected someone to come there for her. And you heard Mrs. Patch say she never ventures from her house.”
This got worse by the moment. “Perhaps Nancy has a female friend in York.”
“One you’ve never heard of? Never met? How likely is that?”
Oh, the man was so infuriating! “I take it you’re determined to believe that Nancy was meeting with a lover.”
“As I said—it’s the most likely explanation.” When she frowned at him, he said smoothly, “Certainly the ostler’s words don’t fit your pet theory—that she was kidnapped.”
Seething with worry and anger and frustration that he could be such a . . . a man about this, she dropped his arm and quickened her pace. “You are attributing a great deal to one remark by an ostler.” She turned onto the street that led directly to the inn. “He might have misheard or misunderstood the fact that she really was heading to Mrs. Patch’s.”
He followed her. “Without telling the woman ahead of time? Didn’t Mrs. Patch say that Nancy always sent a note before she came?”
“She also said that murderers run rampant in the streets of York, but I don’t hear you quoting the woman on that.”
“Yes, but Jane—” he began in that condescending, arrogant tone of his that pricked her harder than any embroidery needle.
“So that’s it,” she bit out. “You’ve got your mind made up. Nancy ran off with a lover, and you’re washing your hands of the whole thing.”
“Can you give me a good reason why I shouldn’t?”
Something in his voice made her glance at him. He was regarding her as a naturalist regarded a beetle he intended to dissect.
That’s when it dawned on her—Dom wanted to unearth her secrets. Nancy’s secrets. And somewhere between Winborough and here he’d deduced that she was hiding some.
A shiver ran down her spine, and she jerked her gaze from him, fighting to hide her consternation. “Merely the same reason I gave you before. Nancy could be in trouble. And it’s your duty as her brother-in-law to keep her safe.”
“From what?” he demanded. “From whom? Is there more to this than you’re saying?”
Ooh, the fact that he was so determined to unveil the truth about Nancy while hiding his former collusion with her scraped Jane raw. “I could ask the same of you,” she said primly. “You’re obviously holding something back. You have some reason for your determination to believe ill of Nancy. I wonder what that might be.”
Two can play your game, Almighty Dom. Hah!
He was silent so long that she ventured a glance at him to find him looking rather discomfited. Good! It was about time.
“I am merely keeping an open mind about your cousin, which is more than I can say for you,” Dom finally answered. “She isn’t the woman you think she is.”
“Because she wouldn’t give in to your advances twelve years ago, you mean?” She would make him admit the truth about the night they parted if it was the last thing she did! “Perhaps that’s why you’re determined to blacken her character. You’re angry that she resisted you and went off to marry your brother instead.”
“That’s a lie!” When several people on the street turned to look his direction, Dom lowered his voice. “It wasn’t like that.”
She stifled a smile of satisfaction. At last she was getting a reaction from him that was something other than level-headed logic. “Wasn’t it? If you’d convinced Nancy to marry you, you might not have had to go off to be a Bow Street Runner. You could have had an easier life, a better life in high society than you could have had with me if you’d married me. Without being able to access my fortune, I could only have dragged you down.”
“You don’t really believe that I wanted to marry her for her money,” he gritted out.
“It’s either that or assume that you fell madly in love with her in the few weeks we weren’t able to see each other.” They were nearly to the inn now, so she added a plaintive note to her voice. “Or perhaps it was her you wanted all along. You knew my uncle would never accept a second son as a husband for his rich heiress of a daughter, so you courted me to get close to her. Nancy was always so beautiful, so—”
Without warning, he dragged her into one of the many alleyways that crisscrossed York. This one was deeply shadowed, the houses leaning into each other overhead, and as he pulled her around to face him, the brilliance of his eyes shone starkly in the dim light.
“I never cared one whit about Nancy.”
She tamped down her triumph—he hadn’t admitted the whole truth yet. “It certainly didn’t look that way to me. It looked like you had already forgotten me, forgotten what we meant to each—”
“The devil I had.” He shoved his face close to hers. “I never forgot you for one day, one hour, one moment. It was you, always you. Everything I did was for you, damn it. No one else.”
The passionate profession threw her off course. Dom had never been the sort to say such sweet things. But the fervent look in his eyes roused memories of how he used to look at her. And his hands gripping her arms, his body angling in closer, were so painfully familiar . . .
“I don’t . . . believe you,” she lied, her blood running wild through her veins.
His gleaming gaze impaled her. “Then believe this.” And suddenly his mouth was on hers.
He was kissing her. Kissing her, curse him! That was not what she’d set out to get from him.
But oh, the joy of it. The heat of it. His mouth covered hers, seeking, coaxing. Without breaking the kiss, he pushed her back against the wall, and she grabbed for his shoulders, his surprisingly broad and muscular shoulders. As he sent her plummeting into unfamiliar territory, she held on for dear life.
Time rewound to when they were in her uncle’s garden, sneaking a moment alone. But this time there was no hesitation, no fear of being caught.
Glorying in that, she slid her hands about his neck to bring him closer. He groaned, and his kiss turned intimate. He used both lips and tongue, delving inside her mouth in a tender exploration that stunned her. Enchanted her. Confused her.
Something both sweet and alien pooled in her belly, a kind of yearning she’d never felt with her fiancé. With any man but Dom.
As if he sensed it, he pulled back to look at her, his eyes searching hers, full of surprise. “My God, Jane,” he said hoarsely, turning her name into a prayer.
Or a curse? She had no time to figure out which before he clasped her head to hold her still for another darkly ravishing kiss. Only this one was greedier, needier. His mouth consumed hers with all the boldness of Viking raiders of yore. His tongue drove repeatedly inside in a rhythm that made her feel all trembly and hot, and his thumbs caressed her throat, rousing the pulse there.
Thank heaven there was a wall to hold her up, or she was quite sure she would dissolve into a puddle at his feet. Because after all these years apart, he was riding roughshod over her life again. And she was letting him.
How could she not? His scent engulfed her, made her dizzy with the pleasure of it. He roused urges she’d never known she had, sparked fires in places she’d thought were frozen. Then his hands swept down her possessively as if to memorize her body . . . or mark it as belonging to him.
Belonging to him. Oh, Lord!
She shoved him away. How could she have fallen for his kisses after what he did? How could she have let him slip that far under her guard?
Never again, curse him! Never!
For a moment, he looked as stunned by what had flared between them as she. Then he reached for her, and she slipped from between him and the wall, panic rising in her chest.
“You do not have the right to kiss me anymore,” she hissed. “I’m engaged, for heaven’s sake!”
As soon as her words registered, his eyes went cold. “It certainly took you long enough to remember it.”
She gaped at him. “You have the audacity to . . . to . . .” She stabbed his shoulder with one finger. “You have no business criticizing me! You threw me away years ago, and now you want to just . . . just take me up again, as if nothing ever happened between us?”
A shadow crossed his face. “I did not throw you away. You jilted me, remember?”
That was the last straw. “Right. I jilted you.” Turning on her heel, she stalked back for the road. “Just keep telling yourself that, since you’re obviously determined to believe your own fiction.”
“Fiction?” He hurried after her. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, why can’t you just admit what you really did and be done with it?”
“What I really did?” Grabbing her by the arm, he forced her to stop just short of the street. He searched her face, and she could see when awareness dawned in his eyes. “Good God. You know the truth. You know what really happened in the library that night.”
“That you manufactured that dalliance between you and Nancy to force me into jilting you?” She snatched her arm free of him. “Yes, I know.”
Then she strode out of the alley, leaving him to stew in his own juices.
* * *