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Authors: Anne Gracie

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Regency

The Perfect Stranger

BOOK: The Perfect Stranger
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“MS. GRACIE HAS A KNACK FOR DELVING INTO PEOPLE’S SOULS.”

—Rendezvous

Praise for

The Perfect Waltz


The Perfect Waltz
is much more than a simple dance of love; it’s a whole beautifully choreographed ballet of emotions…If you haven’t already discovered the powerfully moving romances of Anne Gracie, I can’t urge you strongly enough to hunt them up.”


Romance Reviews Today

“I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book so much. The characters are so rich and the story so refreshing, they reach deep into your heart. The dialogue is delightful and, at times, a hoot. I was simply enchanted by this wonderful book.”


Fresh Fiction

“One of the best Regency-set historicals I’ve read in years, with a beautifully developed love story at the center.”

—The Romance Reader

“A wonderful love story with vibrant characters.”

—Rendezvous Reviews


The Perfect Waltz
is a definite keeper, and is one of the best romances I have read in a long time.”

—All About Romance

“You’ll savour every page.”

—Romantic Times

“Duty vs. love is brilliantly battled as Anne Gracie writes the perfect historical.”

—The Best Reviews

Praise for

The Perfect Rake

“Contains bushels of humor, a tiny bit of farce, a generous dollop of romance, the right balance of sweet and tart, a dash of suspense, and, for spice, a soupçon of retribution.”

Romance Reviews Today

“Near perfect.”


Midwest Book Review

“A stellar read…the kind of book that will make one sigh with satisfaction, and make for enjoyable rereading over the years…Superb.”


Romance Reading

“Hysterical to read. Gracie’s humor is as engaging as ever.”


All About Romance

“With wit and tenderness…Gracie entertains and satisfies her fans.”


Romantic Times

Praise for the other novels of Anne Gracie

An Honorable Thief

“She’s turned out another wonderful story!”


All About Romance

“A true find and definitely a keeper.”


Romance Reviews

“A thoroughly marvelous heroine.”


The Best Reviews

“Dazzling characterizations…provocative, tantalizing, and wonderfully witty romantic fiction…Unexpected plot twists, tongue-in-cheek humor, and a sensually fraught battle of wits between hero and heroine…embraces the romance genre’s truest heart.”


Heartstrings

How the Sheriff Was Won

“Anne Gracie provide[s] pleasant diversions.”


Midwest Book Review

“An excellent story with an engaging plot and well-rounded characters.”


Romantic Times

THE
Perfect Stranger

Anne Gracie

BERKLEY SENSATION, NEW YORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand

(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE PERFECT STRANGER

A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2006 by Anne Gracie.

Cover art by Voth-Barrall Design.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation

of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-1011-9166-8

BERKLEY SENSATION®

Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

BERKLEY SENSATION
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For my sisters, Jan Westerveld and Jill Graham.

And for all my “sisters of the road”—you know who you are.

With love and thanks.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Epilogue

 

About the Author

Chapter One

Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.
JOHN MILTON

NEAR CALAIS, FRANCE. SEPTEMBER 1818

V
OICES
. T
HERE WERE VOICES IN THE DARK, IN THE SAND HILLS
. Men’s voices.

Faith Merridew sat up. A light bobbed in the sand hills above her. It was moving slowly, unevenly toward her hiding place.

“Où es-tu, ma jolie poulet?”
(Where are you, my pretty hen?) The man sounded drunk, whoever he was.

She heard another man stumble in the dark, crashing into one of the low bushes that dotted the sand hills. He cursed. “Are you sure she’s here?” he asked in rough French.


Oui.
I watched her go in and not come out. She’s waiting, snug in her little nest for us.” The speaker laughed coarsely. Two others laughed with him. Three men, maybe more.

Faith didn’t wait to be sure. She snatched up her homespun woolen cloak and her reticule and, keeping low, began to creep away as fast as she could.

Behind her lay the town; before her, who knew? But she had no intention of heading back to town. Not at night. The town would offer her no sanctuary. She’d discovered that the hard way. The town was full of men like these. Men who’d driven her to hide in the sand hills in the first place.

There was no alternative. She made toward the beach.

“Là-bas!”
(Over there!) They spotted her and gave chase.

It was too late to worry about noise. She ran as fast as she could, weaving through scrubby bushes and low grasses. Her skirt caught on twigs and spiny thorns. She snatched it up in desperate fists and ran on. Sticks and thorns slashed at her legs, but she was oblivious. Behind her, men crashed through the undergrowth. They were gaining on her.

Thump! Faith tripped over a root and crashed into the ground. Pain exploded in her face. She lay on the sandy ground, winded, her empty lungs gasping frantically for breath that would not come. Finally air gushed back into her, and she could breathe.

She scrambled to her feet and listened for her pursuers. And that’s when she heard it. Music. Soft, but not far away.

Where there was music there were people. People who might help her. Or not. They might be like the men in the town, like the ones who were chasing after her.

No choice. She could not let herself be run down like a hare by hounds. She had to risk it. She would run, run to the music, and pray for safety.

Music had once been her refuge. And lately her downfall.

Risking everything for the sake of speed, she plunged onto the open beach, down to the very water’s edge where the sand was firmest. Shafts of pain jabbed her ankle with every step. She heard shouts as her pursuers spotted her. Faith ran, ran for her life, ran toward the music.

Her heavy boots slowed her down. They’d protected her feet in the rough scrub—her own slippers would never have stood that punishment—but now the soft sand sucked at them. No time to stop and take them off. Her breath came in great gasps. Pain bit sharply into her side. She ignored it and fled on.

She rounded a small headland. Fire glowed in the base of the sand hills. Lungs heaving, she ran toward it. A campfire. A cooking pot hung above it. Fishermen?

A solitary shadowed figure sat beside the fire, playing music softly; Spanish-sounding music that rippled out into the night like water, or wine. A man. A gypsy? A huge dog rose out of the shadows. Faith froze. She’d had dogs set on her twice in the last week. This one was of a size to rip out her throat in one bite.

“Là-bas!”
Her pursuers came crashing across the headland. Nothing, not even a hound from hell, could be worse than what these men planned. Terror drove her forward.

“Aidez-moi!”
she gasped raggedly as she stumbled toward him.
“Aidez-moi…je vous implore!”
(Help me, I beg of you!)

The music stopped. The dog’s low growls blossomed into a frenzy of rage.

“Silence, Wulf!” The deep barking stopped instantly, though the dog kept growling.

“Aidez-moi!”
she gasped, her breath sobbing from exhausted lungs. The words came out as a whisper.

Somehow, he heard her. He held out his hand toward her, a dark lifeline etched in flame.
“À moi, petite,”
was all he said. (To me, little one.)

His voice was deep and calm and sure, and it seemed to speak to something deep inside her. And so, despite the fact that she could not see his face, despite the huge snarling beast at his side, Faith gathered the last of her strength and stumbled toward him. He was so tall and solid, and that voice, she imagined, held strength and reassurance. He could be no worse than those behind her, she thought, and besides, she had reached the end of her tether.

The toe of her boot caught again in the undergrowth. Her bad ankle buckled, and she pitched forward and crashed into the man. He caught her hard against his chest, but the impact knocked him backward and brought him down, flat on his back.

She lay for a moment on top of him, exhausted, gasping for breath on his big, hard body. Beneath her, the man lay still, as if his breath, too, had been knocked from him. His arms had closed around her. Hard, strong muscles. He smelled clean, of salt and woodsmoke and soap.

BOOK: The Perfect Stranger
10.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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