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Dear Reader,

In the midst of the war with Napoleon, Romney Marsh is far removed from the remainder of
England
; not geographically, but in the minds of its inhabitants, who believe the English Crown cares little that the area's precarious economy is being devastated by that war.

At the same time, those on the Marsh are grateful for this neglect, as this leaves them free to pursue that time-honored enterprise of Marshmen: smuggling.

Ainsley Becket had come to Romney Marsh to live in peace, raise his family and keep the dangerous secrets of their past well buried. But the winds of war blow where they will, and before long Ainsley and his sons are caught up in helping the Marshmen in their nocturnal pursuits, protecting them from a large, dangerous gang out to destroy any competition. The Black Ghost, so carefully hidden by the Beckets for more than a dozen years, has been resurrected, opening the family to danger that cannot be avoided.

When Morgan Becket is found riding out with the Black Ghost, Ainsley knows it is time for his headstrong daughter to leave Romney Marsh and discover the larger world that awaits, which hopefully is big enough to contain her strong will and even banish her own lingering demons.

As England looks to wage war on yet another front, Ainsley Becket
'
s carefully constructed new world faces danger and discovery yet again...and this time it is Morgan who unwittingly brings that danger home in the person of the man she loves.

I hope you enjoy this second book in The Beckets of Romney Marsh series. Don't miss
Beware of Virtuous Women,
Eleanor's story, available next month.

Sincerely,

HQN Books,
published with arrangement with Harlequin Books (www.HQNBooks.com)

Copyright 2006

CHAPTER ONE

11 March 1812

My dearest Chance and Julia,

Warmest greetings from Becket Hall, my children.

It seems so long since your visit at Christmastime, but we understand
h
ow occupied you must be at the War Office, Chance, what with our new Lord Wellington so busily preparing to storm Badajoz now that he has at last dispensed with opposition from Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellesley now an English duke, and even Duque de Ciudad Rodrigo into the bargain?
!
M
a
dre de Dios
! How we reward men for the efficient killing of other men in this upside-down world.

I wonder, do the honors change him, or will his good common sense prevail? With the rumblings we
hear about Bonaparte possibly setting his sights on Russia
,
Wellington would be wise
to
let
the
Litt
l
e Corsican have his head, and concentrate on the Peninsula
,
as I have a great respect for the Russian spirit No one, as we both know, fights with more determination than a man with his back to the wal
l
.

But that is a discussion for another time.

There continue to be no red skies at morning, and only clear black nights, all of them without incident, and we rejoice in the fair weather. Courtland keeps himself busy about the countryside.

All else remains quiet here, or will be as soon as Morgan is dispatched to you on Friday. She'll be heavily accompanied until well into civilization, and should be with you by dinnertime on Sunday, unless she bedevils Jacob into
s
ome mischief along the way. I have commissioned Jacob to guard her because the poor besotted boy would die for her.

I have, however, yet to decide whether this makes the
l
ad eminently suited for the position, or fatally flawed.

Cassandra
,
of course, is exceedingly jealous of her sister, and has demanded I remind yo
u
that she will be needing a Season of her own in a few years, a truth this father greatly wishes to ignore.

Fanny has
not asked for
thesame consideration, as she remains more invested with her horse and Ro
m
ney Marsh, and you know that Eleanor has made it quite plain she has no intentions of traveling to London, much less considering marri
a
ge.

I say this only in the hope you wil
l
not envision the whole of the thing at once, this continuing sponsoring of your sisters, and decide to pack your bags in the middle of the night
as
you and Julia flee to
America
.

As to
America
. Forgive this recluse his interest in the world. What hear you at the War Office about the possibility of war between our countries? Someone here has heard rumblings, although you, of course, cannot mention your most unreliable source if you speak to your superiors.

Were I a betting man, however, I would place my wager on the rumor becoming fact before summer.

Spencer and Rian keep themselves busy, with Jacko and some others beating in their heads with knowledge that should have been theirs years ago, while I have
,
as you know, made Courtland my special project for the nonce. So I suppose I should correct myself. All is not quiet here at Becket Hall, and I must say, life grows more enjoyable by the day.

Monsieur Aubert, the dancing master you were so kind to dispatch, has left here a fortnight past, contemplating the pursuit of another calling, and with the protective gad a sympathetic Odette fashioned for him. But Morgan has learned her steps, if she does tend to move with a
bit more flamboyance than the good monsieur felt he could countenance. Mon Dieu, but that Frenchman could weep!

I do feel I also must tell you that I have just yesterday received a rather impassioned note from the good monsieur, apologizing most profusely for allowing Morgan to tease him (the man said
tease
, and I shudder to consider the implication
s
!) into teaching her the steps to the Viennese waltz, supposedly considered quite acceptable in Paris, yet, mourns Monsieur Aubert, totally offensive to London society.

Yes, son, this all comes to you in the way of a warning. If, at a ball, you hear the strains of anything you believe even vaguely Bavarian or German in tone, you might wish to grab Morgan by the ear and drag her to the nearest refreshment table, so that she cannot disgrace you in public.

Although I
must tell you that Eleanor and I are pleased with the modiste that accompanied the monsieur, and Morgan's wardrobe should be most fitting for a
London
debutante with aspirations to set the ton on its collective ear.

It is Morgan herself, as you know, who is not quite so demure, as she is, physically, her mother's daughter. Clad in fine silks or sackcloth and ashes, our Morgan remains impossible to overlook.

But I need not tell you any of this. I know Morgan is in good hands, thanks to my dearest Julia
,
who could most probably whistle a
herd of stampeding elephants to heel.

You will see us all soon enough, God willing, and your siblings send their love, with Courtland adding a special message that he fully expects you to pop Morgan off on some unsuspecting Romeo before the man has a chance to see her with both eyes open.

Keeping you both to your promise to accompany Morgan back to her family at the end of the Season, I look forward to regular reports of the girl's progress. Do think to spare this old man's blushes, however, and don't tell me everything my dear daughter might do. My imagination is terrifying enough. I shall hold out only faint hope there exists a man in
London
who wil
l
be up to the challenge she presents.

A grateful parent's thanks, blessings, and prayers on you both.

Your loving father,

"You'll be delighted to know that my father remains the master of understatement," Chance Becket said, then handed the two-page letter to his wife before heading to the drinks table in the drawing room of their
Upper Brook Street
town house, to pour himself a glass of wine. "Would you care for some lemonade?"

"No, thank you, dearest," Julia said, quickly scanning both pages, then putting them down beside her. "Ainsley never worries about the cost of postage, does he? I'll
read this later. Why don't you tell
me what he has to sa
y

a
nd what you believe he was really saying."

Chance sat down beside his bride of nearly a year and took her hand, raised it to his lips. There was no sense in lying to her. "I believe, sweetings, he was warning us that Morgan could present a problem."

Julia rested her head against her husband's shoulder and sighed, for she knew Morgan, and believed Chance's words also to be in the way of a gross understatement. "Oh, is that all. I'm already expecting problems, and I'm certain the last thing Morga
n
woul
d want to do is to disappoint me. What else did he say?”

"
The Red Men Gang is still happily absent from Ro
m
ney Marsh, Court's still in charge as the Black Ghost, and everything continues to run smoothly on that head."

Julia straightened
,
thoughts of their time spent at Becket Hall rising to the surface, bringing back old memories, old fears. She'd first met Chance, met the Beckets, when she'd answered an advertisement and became nanny to Chance's young daughter, Alice. And her life
had never been the same. "He actually said that?"

"No, not in so many words. But he did say it." Chance put down his wineglass and became occupied in twirling a lock of his wife's blond hair around his finger. "He also sees a defeat in Bonaparte's future and an English war with
America
. Why a man who never leaves Romney Marsh is still so interested in the rest of the world amuses me. That he can know so much, analyze and deduce so much, amazes me. I wish he'd come to
London
, join me in the War Office."

Julia squeezed Chance's hand, the secrets they shared about Ainsley Becket, all of the Beckets, already holding them fast. "But he won't. He doesn't dare be recognized
,
or else everything he's so carefully built will come tumbling down."

"I'm not sure even he believes that anymore. He's been safe for more than a dozen years. Well, we'll soon have Morgan
,
at least. That's a start. Then possibly Spence and Rian will come for a visit
,
and I can chase them out of every gambling hell and whorehouse in the city."

"
They wouldn't do that
,
" Julia said, then bit her bottom lip for a moment. "Yes, they would, wouldn't they? I think I'll allow you to be in charge of your brothers when they visit, and I'll watch over the girls. Do we have a bargain, sir?"

Chance grinned, then kissed her cheek. "If I'd known how easily I could be shed of responsibility for Morgan, madam, I would have been a happier man these past months. So it's a promise? You're in charge of bearleading Morgan, and any of my sisters who want to cut a dash in society, and I'm in charge of my brothers?"

Julia saw
her husband's smile and reached for
Ains
l
ey's letter. "Before I agree to that, I think perhaps I ought to read your father's warnings for myself."

Chance rolled his eyes dramatically and picked up his wineglass again. "So much for my hopes. Did I tell you, dearest, that I'll be needed at the War Office almost continuously for the next three months?"

Julia's eyes had already widened as she read about Monsieur Aubert. "Oh, I doubt that, Chance. I doubt that
very
much. The waltz? She wouldn't dare. I may be new to society myself, but I know the waltz is frowned o
n

w
hy, even Lord Byron condemns it."

"As being unchaste. Yes, I know. While Byron himself, of course, is virgin as a new-fallen snow." Chance took a sip
of wine.
"
Ainsley seems to want Morgan married off quickly. I
think that's fairly clear. Do
you think we should be drawing up a list of eligible bachelors?"

"And then steer her toward them? Oh, I don't think so, darling. It's the one we'd steer her away from that she'd most likely find interesting. That said, yes. I believe I've reconsidered, and will join you in a glas
s
And
not
lemonade."

CHAPTER TWO

Jacob Whiting was so upset he could barely keepfrom wringing his hands like some fretful old lady as visions of disaster evilly danced in his head. He'd thought this would be such a grand adventure.

Just once before in his twenty years had he been anywhere interesting, when he'd been taken to Dy
m
church to have a tooth drawn. Traveling up to London-town had come to him unexpectedly, like a special treat from Father Christmas, and traveling there with Morgan Becket was like all of Christmas and his birthday combined.

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