Rogues Club, Book One
before the Battle of Waterloo
death down, Rogues, and take an oath to The Club.”
Rogues Club,” said the men.
St. Goddard cleared his throat. “Those of us blessed and cursed to
survive, and remember, hereby vow to protect the families of those
here, now, who go to their just rewards with the dawn.”
they all repeated.
nodded and read from the parchment they had composed together.
“Every dead rogue’s widow, mother, sister, brother, ward, will be
blessed with a family of rogues who provide for them. Every
corporeal need—food, shelter, warmth against the cold, and when due:
a spouse, an education or a living.”
The second response came stronger and held more conviction.
your flasks,” Gideon said. “And repeat after me. ‘We the members of
The Rogues Club, so do vow.’”
the vow, and a drink to seal it, cheers resounded and hands were
shaken, so it hardly seemed possible that in a few hours any of them
might meet their maker.
the men began to talk among themselves, exchanging information about
their families, and Hawksworth approached him.
dear Sabrina, if you read this, I have passed, yet the sun shines
for me now that you are settled. As I vowed, I found for you a
husband. With time running out, I exacted from him what amounts to a
deathbed promise to wed and protect you.
the new Duke of Stanthorpe, honorable, and wealthy beyond your
needs. Tell him of your enemy, I implore you, for he will help.
suffered as the wife of my late half-brother, and for that I make
recompense. I shall call you my beloved sister into eternity. Yours,
London, November 3, 1815
this time tomorrow, he would be wed.
St. Goddard, Duke of Stanthorpe, was having second thoughts. Though
he approached his Grosvenor Square home for the first time in
months, more dread than anticipation filled him, for beyond the
black enameled door of number twenty three, his mystery bride
curse for fate and a tug on his horse Deviltry’s reins, Gideon
slowed his pace, wishing the house stood empty of all but his few
loyal retainers. Loyal—odd choice of words, especially for him. But,
yes, they were, because he paid them well to be so.
Loyalty, constancy, fidelity; he did not possess the natural
capacity to inspire those virtues, and he did not need another upon
whom to test that ability and fail.
not need anyone.
Stanthorpe Place, tall, bright white and inviting in the gentle
winter sun, was not his best nor his biggest home. But Gideon had
chosen it to house the woman he had agreed sight-unseen to marry,
because of its proximity to the pleasures of London. If worse came
to worse and he found himself leg-shackled to an antidote, he could
always send her to the country to rusticate and bear his progeny,
while he remained in town.
realization that he need not bother with her more than once or twice
a year might actually serve to relieve his anxiety, if the specter
of his parents’ almost-perfect marriage did not crook its
come-hither finger so beguilingly.
least, Grandmama was pleased about his marriage. After his estranged
brother’s scurrilous and untimely demise, her letter informing him
of his unexpected ascendancy to the title had caught up with him in
Belgium on the eve of battle. Even now, the Grande Dame believed
that her letter insisting he “Hie thee home and get thee a bride,”
rather than the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, had ultimately brought
him back to England.
actuality, her promise to make him her heir, if he did so, had more
to do with it than her insistence, that and the mighty and mercurial
hand of fate.
coffers, while never empty, always needed topping-off. His first
bride—though she never got quite that far—ran off with a wealthier
bridegroom, reminding him that as far as money was concerned, one
could never have enough. And Miss Whitcomb, according to her
brother, needed a husband to protect her from a life of indigence.
“So,” he told himself as he made his way ‘round to the mews, “‘tis
all for the best.”
Nevertheless, as he left Deviltry to the eager stable-lad’s tender
ministrations, Gideon’s heart beat like a drummer-boy’s timorous
effort to divest himself of travel grime and don his best armor
before meeting his intended, Gideon chose the service entrance so he
could take the backstairs to his bedchamber.
kitchen, Cook was not to be found but a luscious wench looking set
to pup shrieked when she saw him.
Arrested by an eerie sense of recognition, though he had never seen
her before in his life, Gideon did not duck fast enough to evade the
flour she tossed in guileless self-defense. Reduced to dusty
ignobility, he bit off an oath that turned into a sneeze, and added
spirited to luscious in his estimation of her.
Dusting flour from his shoulders, Gideon gave his attacker a slow
sweeping perusal. Judging by the manner, if not the style, of her
dress, the nymph was no servant. Round in all the right places, and
then some, she obviously belonged to someone else. But who? And what
was she doing in his kitchen?
the devi—” A second sneeze diluted his vexation, to the point that
Gideon sighed and gave it up. “Where is Cook?”
attacker’s miffed mien turned sympathetic. “Oh, you must be hungry.”
he was, suddenly and inexplicably, but not for food, he decided,
chagrined over his reaction to her. He did not normally lust after
women in her interesting condition, though there had been that one
cleared his throat. “And you are?”
must appear as wide-eyed and assessing as she, he mused, even as he
tumbled headlong into the bottomless depths of the most amazing
violet eyes he had ever beheld. Sultry. Beguiling.
“S-Sabrina,” she said when the silence stretched nearly to snapping.
by the unlikely coincidence, Gideon waited without breath for her
“Whitcomb. Sabrina Whitcomb.”
the first time since the Battle of Waterloo, Gideon’s knees turned
first thought, the notion enticed, almost as much as it appalled.
Yet he knew instinctively that if he took this woman to wife, his
solitary existence would end in flames, for she burned bright and
alive, and had the power to singe if he got too close.
would get close, by God, especially if she were his. Be
damned to the burn.
lowered himself to a chair.
are hungry,” she all but cried, as she hurried to gather
bread, cheese, and fruit, and fill him a plate.
added compassionate to her list of qualities, but not graceful, at
least not in her delicate condition. Then again, delicate was not
the word he would use to describe her. Lush, ripe, and blooming, he
thought, yet with a naturally regal bearing, even now.
and shapely, Sabrina Whitcomb possessed a body that would give a man
ease and comfort. And despite every indication of perfidy—on the
part of her brother, at the least—Gideon wanted, absurdly, to be
that man and explore every gentle curve and rising crest.
at first sight.
Suddenly dry of throat, Gideon drank the ale she placed before him.
hoped for passable looks in his bride, but he found this woman
downright ravishing. By virtue of her, ah, assets, he expected she
would be a sweet and succulent bed partner.
how came she to him with child? Or by whom? he should ask. And why
had not Hawksworth prepared him for any of it?
to tell, time had been running out for his friend, if Hawksworth
could still be termed friend, after withholding certain weighty
information, though Gideon supposed one did not quite view one’s
sister as other men did.
least he could stop worrying about having to work up the necessary
enthusiasm to bed a homely virgin, Gideon thought, consoling
himself. There must be something to be said for experience in a
wife, but what that might be, he could not precisely recall as
having any import at this juncture. Given his bride’s impending
motherhood, however, he felt annoyed and duped. “I assume you were
widowed something less than nine months ago?”
colored, but raised her chin. “How do you know I am not married
Explaining his knowledge would reveal his identity, which seemed
precipitate and imprudent, of a sudden. Perhaps he should wait a
bit, at least until he regained his bearings and got a better grasp
on the situation.
teeth, he wished honor were not at stake here, much as he wanted the
delightful but surprising package before him, in the strictly carnal
sense, of course.
hunger for food also gnawed at him, Gideon cut a piece of cheese as
he considered his answer. “Widow’s weeds,” he said, after chewing
thoughtfully, indicating her black bombazine gown. “If I do not
mistake the matter.”
Sabrina rolled a mound of dough from a tawny clay bowl and nodded.
“You do not. I am eight months a widow. Perceptive of you.”
perceptive enough, by damn.
much for his wedding night. Gideon tore a piece of warm bread from
God, he was in danger of becoming a husband and father in one sweep.
Not that children, in themselves, frightened him, but the notion of
becoming immediately and directly responsible for one, certainly
wonder her brother had begged, as he lay dying, for Gideon to wed
and protect her. How well he remembered that plea for her
protection. But what Gideon’s erstwhile friend had not said was
that, without his protection, Sabrina Whitcomb might be forced to a
life on the streets.
without that knowledge, with the haze of smoke and the stench of
death all about them, and Grandmama’s letter in his pocket, Gideon
had grasped Hawksworth’s plea like a ticket to life.
Fulfilling his friend’s dying wish became a call to honor, while
caring for his sister would give Gideon purpose in a, heretofore,
meaningless existence. Having suffered enough ennui and regret,
Gideon had, in that moment stared his own mortality in its bony eye
sockets and yearned of a sudden for an heir, someone to carry on his
name. A small someone, who might fill the emptiness and accept him
simply not expected the tiny package to arrive quite so soon.
the begetting of heirs fell into line with his favorite and most
accomplished sport—he had practiced diligently for years—the offer
of a fresh and virginal bride upon whom to get his heir had seemed a
gift from above, though hell—and Bonaparte—had needed to be faced
Hawksworth had breathed a great sigh with Gideon’s final promise and
all but expired in his arms. Then Gideon was forced to rejoin his
regiment in the thick of battle.
time he returned, his friend’s body had been taken away.
after Napoleon had been routed, Gideon had finally been able to send
letters offering Sabrina Whitcomb his hand and arranging to have her
brought to Stanthorpe Place. After weeks aboard the Bellerophon
in Torbay Harbor, guarding the conquered Frenchman, he had then
sailed on the Northumberland to St. Helena to stand guard
there till his tour of duty ended.
until Dover’s Cliffs finally came into sight did Gideon have the
time and freedom to worry in earnest about the pitfalls in his
promise, namely, the bride, herself.
reasoned then that a poor and homely spinster should be particularly
grateful for his name and protection, and therefore amenable and
easy to the bit. But the bemused goddess watching him could, in no
way, even in her interesting condition, be compared to any creature
he might master. Nor, he suspected, would she ever be easy—to the
bit or anything else. And yet, something about her answered a need
in him, a longing he could not even name.
scoffed inwardly at his idiocy.
Grandmama had dubbed the alliance romantic, and destined, he had
called it daft and wondered if he was not sickening from something.
Not that he had any choice in the matter. Honor dictated that he not
deny the friend whose blood thinned the mud beneath them. No more
than he could deny this remarkable woman who called forth in him a
bizarre and unexplained need to care for and protect.
Moreover, it was entirely possible that, despite her temporary
indisposition, Sabrina Whitcomb, with her gull-winged brows and
sable-thick hair, might actually make him an acceptable wife.
who was he trying to fool? He was eager for her. He had heard it
said that expectant women glowed with vitality, but he had never
witnessed the like.
he should do, Gideon thought with derision, was take himself off to
Bedlam to get fitted for a straightjacket. Never mind that this
challenging mix of seductress and virgin, child and woman, could be
said to fulfill every male fantasy. Never mind that his long-time
mistress, svelte and skilled, awaited his arrival even now.
you unwell?” his intended asked, her brows knit with sincere
“Unquestionably,” Gideon replied in bad humor. “Positively dotty. I
must say, you do not seem particularly overcome with grief at your
Sabrina’s eyes darkened to liquid amethyst and Gideon regretfully
expected her to shrink before him. Instead a tigress emerged, all
bright fire and unsheathed claws. “I suppose your bad manners are
understandable,” she snapped, “begging at the back doors of your
betters, as you are, but you might at least pretend a degree of
that could draw blood, he must remember. Gideon suppressed an
unnatural and frightening urge to break into a smile. And did he
resemble a derelict so much that she did not realize who he must be?
bride raised her stubborn chin a fraction. “For your information,
not that you merit any, my husband was...less than a good man, but I
do grieve for a dear friend.
heard the truth of it in her voice, read sincerity in her eyes, and
was shamed. “Please,” he said. “Accept my apology. You have had a
bad time of it and did not deserve a show of temper. I do thank you
for the meal.” He began to eat in earnest. “Tell me about your
tigress nodded, claws instantly sheathed, seeming surprised at his
humble reaction to her scold. “The friend for whom I mourn was the
Duke of Hawksworth,” she said, love and sadness etching her
features. “And I do not know how I shall go on without him.”
Friend? Something dark, possessive, and ponderous rose up in Gideon.
The liar had called her, sister. Why would a man lie about his
relationship with a woman, unless—
God, had Hawksworth been looking to give his bastard a name?
and again, no.
true that he, Hawksworth, and several others, had been friends for
no more than a matter of months, their alliance forged by
circumstance, camaraderie, and shared patriotism. The rogues’
whimsical club formed in a tent, in time of war, so
life-stories had been dispensed with. So Gideon knew little of
Hawksworth’s family, less of his taste in women.
Nevertheless, his friend had been, without doubt, a man of honor.
That and some strong but nameless instinct about the woman before
him, made Gideon believe he must be wrong. And yet....
than twenty-four hours remained until his wedding and would have to
suffice as time enough to learn what he must. If his groundless
suspicions proved true and he found the prospect of marriage to this
woman insupportable, he would call off the wedding and she would
never know Stanthorpe had been here.
now, however, since he obviously appeared as much a derelict as he
felt, he had best get himself upstairs to wash. Blast and damnation,
how the devil would he manage that without revealing his name?
of a sudden, Gideon rose to stare out the window, as if an answer
could be found upon the sudden summer gale.
“Sir, I do not
know your name.”
read her bewilderment, and resigned himself to revealing his
identity. “You may call me Gideon.”
When she made
no sign of recognition, he began to hope for a reprieve. He bowed.
“Gideon St. Goddard, at your service.”
St. Goddard.” She curtseyed, inasmuch as she could, and bestowed
upon him a genuine smile of delight. When the deepest dimples that
ever felled man tugged at his cold rogue’s heart, Gideon feared
there would be no reprieve for him. None.
Mrs. Chalmer,” Sabrina said as they turned as one to the woman who
had just entered the kitchen. “Mr. St. Goddard, here, will be
staying with us for a while. Please have your husband put him in
with the others.”
Chalmer’s brows arched. But when Gideon shook his head,
imperceptibly, her way, his wizened old cook set her mouth, narrowed
her eyes, and led him wordlessly up the stairs.
* * *
Sabrina Whitcomb had never felt more gauche or nonplussed in her
four and twenty years of life. Never had she come face to face with
such a vital and disarming specimen of manhood.
his dark shadow of a beard, his intense emerald eyes, gave a first
stark impression. True, he regarded her like a hawk sighting prey.
that thick hair flowing away from his face, like waves in a midnight
wind, had only served to enhance the image, and he had frightened
despite all that, she had also been fascinated by his every
unexpected facet. His demeanor had seemed at differing moments to
shift from beggar to baron; scamp to sorcerer; champion to charmer.
was a man who might protect her from all comers, even from the likes
of the vile creature, she was afraid still searched for her. Not
that Homer Lowick would ever find her in as safe and unlikely a
location as Stanthorpe Place, a blessing for which she had
Hawksworth to thank.
Gideon St. Goddard was another matter entirely. Good Lord, that such
a bold, capable one should arrive at her door the day before her
wedding to another. Which made no account, because the man was
penniless, she must remember, a situation she could no longer
tolerate, for herself or her children.
Hawksworth had kept his promise with his last breath. For that
reason, first, if not for her vow to herself, she must remain true
to Stanthorpe. Forget that his assessing regard turned her to
pudding, that his verdant eyes made him appear, almost, to smile,
even when he did not. Never mind a mouth shaped to reveal an inborn
cheerfulness that inevitably tugged at her own smile.
when St. Goddard had finally bestowed his first true smile upon her,
full and deadly, before following Mrs. Chalmer up the stairs, the
sculpted grooves in his cheeks had deepened, revealing a rogue
undeniable, handsome as sin and rife with promise.
Sabrina thought, kneading her dough to India Rubber, palpitations
over a charming rogue did not belong in the breast of a woman
engaged to another. Especially not one past the blush of youth and
due to give birth at any moment.
doddering old Duke of Stanthorpe would do very well for her, thank
you very much. With his money, he would be as able to protect her as
well as any broad-shouldered pauper.
Tonight, after dinner, tomorrow at the latest, she would tell the
handsome St. Goddard that he must leave Stanthorpe Place at once.
had no room in her life for a seductive lady-killer.