Sweetest ScoundrelBy: Elizabeth Hoyt
Thank you to my beta reader, Susannah Taylor, and my editor, Amy Pierpont, because, dudes, you would not have wanted to read this book without them. ;-)
And thank you to my Facebook friend Jaclyn R. for naming Henry.
Once upon a time there lived a king so monstrous he devoured his own children.…
—From The Lion and the Dove
It took an extreme provocation to rouse Eve Dinwoody.
For five years her life had been quiet. She had a nice house in an unfashionable but respectable part of town. She had her three servants—Jean-Marie Pépin, her bodyguard; his pretty, plump wife, Tess, her cook; and Ruth, her rather scatterbrained young maid. She had a hobby—painting miniatures—which also served to bring in extra pin money. She even had a pet of sorts—a white dove she had yet to name.
Eve liked her quiet life. On most days she quite enjoyed staying inside, puttering around with her miniatures and feeding the unnamed dove oat kernels. Truth be told, Eve was rather shy.
But Eve could, in fact, rouse herself from her quiet life, given enough provocation. And Lord knew Mr. Harte, the owner and manager of Harte’s Folly, was very provoking indeed. Harte’s Folly was the preeminent pleasure garden in London—or at least it had been before it’d burned to the ground over a year ago. Now Mr. Harte was rebuilding his pleasure garden, and in the process spending quite scandalous amounts of money.
Which was why she stood on the third floor of a disreputable boarding house very early on a Monday morning, glaring at a stubbornly shut door.
A drop of rainwater dripped from the brim of her hat onto the worn floorboards beneath her feet. Really, it was an absolutely disgusting day outside.
“Do you wan’ me to break the door down?” Jean-Marie asked cheerfully. He stood well over six feet tall and his ebony face beneath a snowy wig gleamed in the low light. He still had a faint Creole accent from his youth in the French West Indies.
Eve squared her shoulders. “No, thank you. I shall handle Mr. Harte myself.”
Jean-Marie raised an eyebrow.
She glared. “I shall.” She rapped at the door again. “Mr. Harte, I know you’re within. Please answer your door at once.”
Eve had performed this maneuver twice already without result, save for a crash from inside the room after the second knock.
She raised her fist for a fourth time, determined to make Mr. Harte acknowledge her, when the door swung open.
Eve blinked and involuntarily stepped back, bumping into Jean-Marie’s broad chest. The man standing in the doorway was rather… intimidating.
He wasn’t tall exactly—Jean-Marie had several inches on him and the man was only half a head or so taller than Eve herself—but what he might have lacked in height he more than made up in breadth of shoulder. The man’s arms nearly touched the doorway on either side. He wore a white shirt, unlaced at the throat and revealing a V of tangled dark chest hair. Wild tawny hair fell to his shoulders. His face wasn’t pretty. The exact opposite, in fact: it was strong, lined, and fierce, and everything that was masculine.
Everything that Eve most dreaded.
The man glanced at Jean-Marie, narrowed his eyes, leaned one shoulder against the doorjamb, and turned his attention to Eve. “What.” His voice rasped deeply, like that of a man newly roused from sleep—a quite unseemly intimacy.
Eve straightened. “Mr. Harte?”
Instead of replying he yawned widely before running a hand over his face, pulling down the skin around his eyes and cheeks. “I’m sorry, luv, but I haven’t any more parts available for the theater. Per’aps if you come again in another two months when we stage As You Like It. You might make a passable”—here he paused, eyes fixed quite rudely on Eve’s nose—“maid, I suppose.”