If You Deceive Online

《If_You_Deceive》

Prologue

Acknowledgments

Thank you to the wonderful staffs of the University of Florida research libraries. These guys knoweverything and helped me navigate all their many resources: obscure texts - filled with fascinating details to enrich fiction, Victorian diaries - with first person accounts of my era of interest, and mapping and imaging - for authentic historical settings. I greatly appreciate all your help.

The love of a good woman?

To save a wicked man like me?

Never...because there's no woman born

who's as good as I am bad.

- ETHAN ROSS MACCARRICK,

LAIRD OF CLAN MACCARRICK,

EIGHTH EARL OF KAVANAGH

I didn't steal it - I swear!

Oh, as if things never fall into your pocket!

- MADELEINE ISOBEL VAN ROWEN,

SNEAK THIEF, OPPORTUNIST

Prologue

Iveley Hall, Buxton, England

Spring 1846

Ethan MacCarrick thought the bored wife he was about to tup might be a bonny wench.

However, this was a best guess. At present, his vision was compromised by whisky, the great equalizer of women's charms. Even after the wind-whipped half-hour ride to her home, he was drunk; in fact, he seemed to be getting worse.

But the womanbehaved as if she was pretty, he assured himself as he removed his jacket, tossing it toward a divan in her opulent bedroom and missing it. Even in his muddled state, he detected a superficial silliness about her that men would tolerate only if she was fair. Plus, she'd been confident when she'd propositioned him in the shadowy hall of the Buxton tavern, having had no doubt whatsoever that he would meet her tonight.

She had a French accent and was tall, he thought, though she was now reclined, and he'd only briefly stood next to her when they'd met. They'd been together just long enough for her to pass him an expensively perfumed note with directions to her home, to ask if he could be circumspect, and to murmur what she planned to do to him.

Ethan was a red-blooded male of twenty-three - her wicked plans for him had seemed just the thing.

As he crossed the spacious room to the whisky service, she rose to her knees on the bed. "Did you wait to leave fifteen minutes after my maid and I left?" She feared her husband might hear of this indiscretion when he returned from his trip.

Ethan served himself a drink. "Aye, I waited." He wouldn't have traveled with her, anyway. A rake's first rule of thumb? Always ride your own horse to a meeting with a woman you're about to bed, so you can leave when you like. Else they'll want to cling for the night.

Ethan loathed clinging women.

"Did anyone see you riding here?" she asked.

"No, no' a soul."

"Because I can't have my husband hearing about - "

"Enough!" She was already grating on his nerves, and he hadn't even used her yet. "You're no' the first married woman I've had," he answered honestly. "I've done this many a time before."

"Of course, I'm sure you have," she said hastily. When he finally made his way toward her, she murmured, "You're such a handsome young devil, Ethan. So tall. So strapping."

He drank, frowning into his glass at her use of his given name. He hadn't quite caught hers back at the tavern, when she'd been whispering in his ear, describing herself on her knees, sucking him deep. "Youngdevil? I dinna get the impression you were that much older than I am," he said as he reached the bed.

She laughed. "Just a bit." Her features were clearer now. She was pleasing enough. Maybe early thirties. "I'm old enough to know what I want, and when I saw you, I knew I had to have you." She took his drink from him and set it on the bedside table. "But I bet women throw themselves at you, don't they?"

"Everywhere I go," he said, not bothering to hide his arrogance. It was true. He was a young, rich laird, and women liked his looks. And it seemed the more drunken and cruel he became, the more they wanted him.

"So if it hadn't been me tonight, it could easily have been another woman from the tavern?"

"Easily," he replied. When he'd left, the raven-haired barmaid he'd been contemplating had cast him a hurt expression. So had her sister. He'd shrugged at them as if he hadn't cared. Because he hadn't. "One woman or two."

"Then why me?" the wife asked breathlessly, angling for a compliment he wouldn't give.

"I like married women better, find them more convenient." He never heard from them again. A married woman readily faded into the past, one among many in