The Mad Earl’s Daughter

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The Mad Earl’s Daughter

The Parlor Maid in the Library with a Candlestick.

Hugh Forsythe has been living his life on the straight and narrow since turning his back on a family legacy of swindling, bamboozling and fortune-hunting. When he is hired to find a parlor maid who disappeared with and a startling stash of priceless heirlooms, Hugh finds himself falling back on old habits in order to investigate the odd assortment of miscreants and unmarried women living in the mysterious house at Number 8 Huntley Street.

The Carpenter in the Dining Room with a Hammer.

Miss Annie Wellesley is in trouble. Someone is asking questions up and down Huntley Street and it is only a matter of time before the answers lead directly to her door. Deciding only a husband can save her from the secrets haunting her past and threatening her carefully crafted future, Annie sets out to seduce the handsome carpenter hired to refurbish her house. Amid the rubble of renovations, passion transforms into love, repairing Annie’s broken heart and restoring Hugh’s battered honor. But Annie is hiding more secrets, scandals and siblings than she can count and all too soon skeletons are popping out of the woodwork.

The Heiress in the Foyer with the Knife.

As Hugh begins to unravel the convoluted conundrum of her identity, one thing becomes all too clear. Parlor maid or heiress, Annie is the Mad Earl’s Daughter and her life is in danger.

This is an erotic romp filled with all sorts of dallying and debauchery, mystery and mayhem, and a touch of madness. It is not intended for the faint of heart or sticklers for regency propriety.

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What was one more lie on top of the others he’d told these people?

But he hadn’t known them when he’d set out on this course, when he’d introduced himself as Bert Forest, carpenter. He’d never expected to be invited to dine with them. He certainly hadn’t expected to be invited into Annie’s bed. He pushed aside a shadow of guilt.

He looked away from Mabel to where Annie sat watching him with a curious little smile tilting her lips and her eyes squinted as if she could see right into him, see his lies and his true intentions.

Hugh gave himself a mental shake. If Annie Wellesley knew what he was about, she would run from the house as fast as she could, taking Jamie with her. James Thomas, Mabel had called him yesterday. He wondered where she’d gotten the surname Thomas. If the boy was who Hugh believed, his name should be either Spencer or Wellesley.

But Hugh wasn’t convinced he’d found Mrs. Spencer’s husband’s illegitimate son.

Tomorrow he was to meet Jeremy Phish to see what the clerk had learned about Lady Heloise and how Silas Marshall came to sell the house to Annie.

“What sort of solicitor?” Annie’s question jolted Hugh from his thoughts and, for one heart-stopping moment, he thought she was asking him what sort of solicitor he was. Then reason returned and he realized she was referring to the fictitious solicitor who was his landlord.

“What sort of solicitor?” he repeated to buy himself a few moments to gather his wits. He hadn’t thought to contrive a background story for his landlord. In truth, it had never occurred to him that anyone would ask.

“Yes, does he practice criminal law, is he a financial wizard?” Annie answered.

 “Ah, I see,” he replied, thinking madly. If a person were to see him enter the building in which he lived and worked, they would see the brass plate beside the door. “Mr. Forsythe is a bit of a jack of all trades, defending the downtrodden, drawing up wills, settling property disputes.”

“Does he by chance file petitions for city licenses?” she asked, her flippant words at variance with the intensity that sharpened her gaze.

“He’s been known to.”

“Might be you’re putting the cart before the horse,” Tommy interjected.

“I don’t see the harm in getting the wheels in motion,” Annie replied without looking at the old man.

Hugh looked from Annie to Tommy and back again. He arched a brow in question.

“When the renovations are complete, I’d like to operate a business from the house,” Annie said. “I understand that in order to do so I must procure both a license to conduct commerce in a residential neighborhood and a tradesman’s certificate.”

“What sort of business would you run in your home?” Hugh asked in alarm. After all their talk of Liza Browne and the sorts of things that went on in her house, and looking from Daphne Mulroney to Sabrina Blake, he had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Not so much a business as a charitable institution,” Annie hurried to clarify.

“A charitable institution?” He only just managed not to laugh at her choice of words. He’d heard bawdy houses called many things, but charitable was not one of them.

“I’ve been told I will still need both the license and the certificate, as well as something called a grant of petition to establish a charity.”

“What exactly are you planning to do?” he asked, fully prepared to launch into all the reasons she could not open a whore house on Huntley Street.

Annie sat up straight in her chair, a soft smile playing around her full lips. “I intend to establish a foundling hospital and—”

“An orphanage?” Hugh interrupted with a bark of laughter. “You want to turn your house into an orphanage?”

“Not just an orphanage,” she said as her smile dimmed.

“An orphanage,” he repeated with a shake of his head. Christ, she was a revelation of contradictions. In the space of a few days she’d revealed herself to be infinitely more than the lonely spinster he’d first pegged her.

“I don’t see what’s so amusing about the idea of turning my house into a foundling hospital,” Annie answered him in a voice that was surprisingly strident.

“Now sweetheart—” Hugh began.

“Don’t you sweetheart me,” she interrupted, her voice climbing in both pitch and volume. “Do you have any idea how many women are forced to abandon their children because the London Foundling Hospital deems them to be of insufficient moral character? Or how many women visit the back doors of seedy physicians and apothecaries, or take potions peddled by charlatans, risking their very lives for fear their families or employers will toss them by the wayside if they learn of their condition? Do you know that many women who find themselves in such unfortunate situations want to keep their children, but have no means to do so?”

Silence reigned in the dining room as her passionate speech came to an end. Her gaze darted around the room and a wash of pink spread across her cheeks. She ducked her head, her fingers tapping madly on the table.

“What’s a charlatan?” Jamie asked from beside her.

Tommy let out a gruff laugh before slamming his hand over his mouth.

“Come along, Jamie, before you fall asleep in your cobbler.” Sabrina’s voice was laced with laughter and her words spurred the others around the table into action.

Chairs scraped back as everyone save Annie and Hugh rose to their feet. With perfect synchronicity hands reached for plates and platters, bowls and glasses, and they all shuffled into the kitchen. No doubt to discuss what an ass the carpenter was turning out to be.

“Annie,” Hugh murmured.

When she failed to raise her head to look at him, he pushed back his chair and rounded the table.

“I’m sorry, Annie,” Hugh said from behind her.

Her only response was the shaking of her head. He looked down at her exposed nape, at the wispy tendrils trailing down the slender column. She was so small, so delicate, and vulnerable in ways that only a woman could be. Hugh was overcome with a sudden wave of tenderness for this fragile woman who was proving to be so much more complicated than he’d imagined a woman could be.

Carefully, he eased her chair back. Her head popped up and she eyed him warily. Without a word he scooped her up.

“What are you doing?” she asked with a hitch in her voice.

In answer, he sat in her vacated chair, tucking her small frame against his chest, his chin resting atop her head. She stiffened for one brief moment before turning her face into his neck and wrapping her arms around his waist.

“I apologize,” she whispered against his neck.

“Shh,” he murmured. “You’ve nothing to apologize for. And I wasn’t laughing at the idea of you opening your home to those women and children in need.”

“Yes you were,” she countered. “But it’s all right. I know everyone does not feel as I do.”

“Truth be told, I was laughing with relief,” he admitted. “When you said you wanted to start a business in your home, I thought you meant to run a house.”

“Run a house?” she repeated before her laughter puffed against his skin. “You thought I meant to open a brothel?”

“You seem to know rather a bit more about them than the average lady,” he pointed out.

“I suppose I do,” she agreed. “In fact, my knowledge of the goings on in houses like Liza’s is one of the reasons I want to open a foundling hospital. But it isn’t only the working girls that find themselves in trouble. There are so many women from all spheres of society who find themselves in trouble with nowhere to turn.”

“Like Sabrina?” he asked.

“And Bridget, if Patrick hadn’t proven man enough to marry her,” she added.

“But she would have had somewhere to turn, someone to turn to.” Hugh pressed his lips to her dark curls, inhaled her peaches and cream scent.

“Yes,” she murmured.

“Have there been others you’ve helped?”

“Yes,” she replied, lifting her head to look at him. “But it is not only me. We all help them.”

“So you’ve been running a foundling hospital without proper licensing?” he teased.

Annie laughed softly. “Yes, I suppose I have.”

“For how long?”

“The first girl came to us not a month after we’d moved into the house,” she replied. “Constance Tuttle. She was only seventeen and already working for Charlotte Morris. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? She used to own Liza’s house.”

“The name rings a bell.”

“I’m certain it does,” Annie replied with a cheeky grin. “Charlotte was a force of nature, pleasant as a sunrise one moment, and a raging tempest the next. And nothing could send her into a temper quicker than for one of her girls to be roughed up, unless that was their forte.”


“Their specialty, their trick of the trade.” Annie waved one hand in the air. “Like Felicity dressing as a boy. Some of the girls will allow a man to take a crop to them, that sort of thing.”

“Jesus, Annie, how do you know so much about brothels and what goes on behind their doors?”

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