Penelope enlists investigator Barnaby Adair to solve the mystery.
Adair agrees, intrigued by both the case and by Penelope. This time, Penelope Ashford, operator of a home for foundlings in London, needs help tracking down five kidnapped orphans. One can't imagine anyone other than Simon Prebble performing Laurens's bodice-ripping prose. His subtle, gravelly voice suits both the naughty bits and the action sequences. Prebble can growl with a policeman's anger and purr with a virgin's delight at her first carnal adventure. In another scene, an elderly invalid and a cowering orphan sound just as believable. Flutter on, my heart!
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Description Best-selling author Stephanie Laurens begins a promising new series that blends romance and mystery. Author s : Stephanie Laurens. Genre: Historical Fiction , Mystery , Romance. Imprint: Romantic Sounds Audio. She drew breath; her gaze fixed on the fire as if she were reading from the flames.
He was eight years old, or so his uncle told us. He, the uncle, was dying, and…". Barnaby listened as she, not entirely to his surprise, did precisely as he'd requested and recited the details of each occurrence, chapter and verse.
Other than an occasional minor query, he didn't have to prod her or her memory. He was accustomed to dealing with ladies of the ton, to interrogating young ladies whose minds skittered and wandered around subjects, and flitted and danced around facts, so that it took the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Jove to gain any understanding of what they actually knew. Penelope Ashford was a different breed. He'd heard that she was something of a firebrand, one who paid scant attention to social restraints if said restraints stood in her way.
He'd heard her described as too intelligent for her own good, and direct and forthright to a fault, that combination of traits being popularly held to account for her unmarried state. As she was remarkably attractive in an unusual way-not pretty or beautiful but so vividly alive she effortlessly drew men's eyes-as well as being extremely well-connected, the daughter of a viscount, and with her brother Luc, the current title holder, eminently wealthy and able to dower her more than appropriately, that popular judgment might well be correct.
Yet her sister Portia had recently married Simon Cynster, and while Portia might perhaps be more subtle in her dealings, Barnaby recalled that the Cynster ladies, judges he trusted in such matters, saw little difference between Portia and Penelope beyond Penelope's directness. From what little he'd seen of the sisters, he, too, would have said that Portia would bend, or at least agree to negotiate, far earlier than Penelope.
He'd been collected by this mystery man at seven o'clock, barely after dawn. Barnaby held her gaze for a moment, then slowly nodded. We've never had this happen before, and now four instances in less than a month, and all with the same modus operandi.
Somewhat tersely, he nodded. As I was saying, these people, whoever they are, seem to know of your potential charges-". If you knew the people involved, you'd understand why I'm so sure of that. And indeed, although I've come to you with our four cases, there's nothing to say other newly orphaned boys in the East End aren't also disappearing. Most orphans aren't brought to our attention. There may be many more vanishing, but who is there who would sound any alarm?
I do realize that you generally investigate crimes involving the ton, but I wondered, as it is November and most of us have upped stakes for the country, whether you might have time to consider our problem. Penelope held his gaze and hoped he was as quick-witted as he was purported to be. Then again, in her experience, it rarely hurt to be blunt. Adair, I am here seeking aid in pursuing our lost charges, rather than merely wishing to inform someone of their disappearance and thereafter wash my hands of them.
I fully intend to search for Dick and the other three boys until I find them. Not being a simpleton, I would prefer to have beside me someone with experience of crime and the necessary investigative methods. Moreover, while through our work we naturally have contacts in the East End, few if any of those move among the criminal elements, so my ability to gain information in that arena is limited.
Halting, she searched his face. His expression gave little away; his broad brow, straight brown brows, the strong, well-delineated cheekbones, the rather austere lines of cheek and jaw, remained set and unrevealing. To her irritation, he didn't immediately reply. Didn't leap in, goaded to action by the notion of her tramping through the East End by herself. He didn't, however, refuse. For a long moment, he studied her, his expression unreadable-long enough for her to wonder if he'd seen through her ploy-then he shifted, resettling his shoulders against the chair, and gestured to her in invitation.
She hid her smile. Barnaby listened while she outlined an eminently rational strategy that would expose him to the basic facts, enough to ascertain where an investigation might lead, and consequently how best to proceed. Watching the sensible, logical words fall from her ruby lips-still lush and ripe, still distracting-only confirmed that Penelope Ashford was dangerous. Every bit as dangerous as her reputation suggested, possibly more.
In addition, she was offering him something no other young lady had ever thought to wave before his nose.
Her lips stopped moving. He raised his gaze to her eyes. Given he knew her family, he was unquestionably honor-bound to dissuade her from such a reckless endeavor, yet equally unquestionably any suggestion she retreat to the hearth and leave him to chase the villains would meet with stiff opposition. He inclined his head. Perhaps I could meet you at the Foundling House in the morning? He'd steer her out of the investigation after he had all the facts, after he'd learned everything she knew about this strange business. She'd gained what she wanted; it was time to leave. Before he could say anything she didn't want to hear.
Best not to get into any argument now. Not yet. He rose and waved her to the door. She led the way, pulling on her gloves. He had the loveliest hands she'd ever seen on a man, long-fingered, elegant and utterly distracting. She'd remembered them from before, which was why she hadn't offered to shake his hand. His lips twitched. She inclined her head.
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When he opened the door, she walked out onto the narrow front porch. Her nerves flickered as he joined her; large and rather overpoweringly male, he escorted her down the three steps to the pavement, then along to where her brother's town carriage stood, the coachman patient and resigned on the box. Adair reached for the carriage door, opened it and offered his hand. Holding her breath, she gave him her fingers-and tried hard not to register the sensation of her slender digits being engulfed by his much larger ones, tried not to notice the warmth of his firm clasp as he helped her up into the carriage.
She didn't-couldn't-breathe until he released her hand. She sank onto the leather seat, managed a smile and a nod. I'll see you tomorrow morning.
Where the Heart Leads
Through the enveloping gloom he studied her, then he raised his hand in salute, stepped back and closed the door. The coachman jigged his reins and the carriage jerked forward, then settled to a steady roll. With a sigh, Penelope sat back, and smiled into the darkness. Satisfied, and a trifle smug.