Read A Lady Betrayed Online

Authors: Nicole Byrd

A Lady Betrayed

“Byrd is fast becoming one of the best authors
of historical romance writing today.”

—The Best Reviews

P
RAISE FOR
Seducing Sir Oliver

“Charming and delicious—
Seducing Sir Oliver
will seduce anyone who loves witty, adventurous romance!”

—Celeste Bradley

“Superb.”

—Midwest Book Review

P
RAISE FOR
Gilding the Lady

“A riveting read.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

“Another awesome book by Nicole Byrd, and I look forward to reading more from such a wonderful author.”

—
Romance Junkies

P
RAISE FOR
Vision in Blue

“A superb and compelling Regency historical that will keep the reader riveted to the page…A wonderful, richly detailed reading experience. Complex, humorous, and sensual,
Vision in Blue
will delight historical fans.”

—
The Romance Readers Connection

“Ms. Byrd does a fantastic job of balancing the stories of these two couples. Both women are captivating heroines, both men irresistible heroes…I look forward to the next book in this intriguing, well-written series.”

—The Best Reviews

P
RAISE FOR
Beauty in Black

“Delightful…Witty…Hooks the audience.”

—Midwest Book Review

“The social whirl of Britain's Regency era springs to vivid life…Charming.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Another delightful tale by the multitalented Nicole Byrd…Heartwarming, humorous at times…a well-written page-turner.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

P
RAISE FOR
Widow in Scarlet

“Nicole Byrd scores again with her latest Regency historical…an exciting and engaging almost Cinderella-type story with touches of suspense, sensuality, and the exotic.”

—
The Romance Readers Connection

“A romantic tale filled with suspense and enough characters and plot to have you quickly turning the pages…A superb Regency tale you won't want to miss.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

P
RAISE FOR
Lady in Waiting

“Byrd's unpretentious writing style and sense of humor render this a delicious read.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Byrd sifts a measure of intrigue and danger into her latest historical confection, which should prove to be irresistible to readers with a taste for deliciously witty, delightfully clever romances.”

—
Booklist

“A prime example of a Regency-set romance done well, with personable characters, intrigue, and a lovely secondary romance adding spice to the mix.”

—
The Romance Reader

P
RAISE FOR
Dear Impostor

“Madcap fun with a touch of romantic intrigue…A stylish Regency-era romp…satisfying to the last word.”

—Cathy Maxwell,
New York Times
bestselling author

“A charming tale…Great characters, a plot that keeps the pages turning, and a smile-inducing ending make this a must-read. Delightful, charming, and refreshingly different…Don't miss
Dear Impostor
.”

—Patricia Potter


Dear Impostor
is the real thing—a story filled with passion, adventure, and the heart-stirring emotion that is the essence of romance.”

—Susan Wiggs

Titles by Nicole Byrd

ROBERT'S LADY

DEAR IMPOSTOR

LADY IN WAITING

WIDOW IN SCARLET

BEAUTY IN BLACK

VISION IN BLUE

GILDING THE LADY

SEDUCING SIR OLIVER

A LADY OF SCANDAL

A LADY BETRAYED

A Lady Betrayed
Nicole Byrd

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), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, 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.

A LADY BETRAYED

A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2007 by Cheryl Zach.
Cover art by Leslie Peck.
Cover design by George Long.

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: 978-1-1012-0645-4

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 and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For Marcia,
and a cherished friendship that dates back
to the times when we shared study hall
but didn't study—
sotto voce conversations were
so much more interesting!—
and made mud pies.

One

A
dagger pierced her temple….

Pain washed over her in waves so intense that her body shook with the force of them. Pushing back the nausea that came close to overwhelming her, Maddie fought for every breath.

She had hoped to make it home before she lost control of her limbs, but the weakness had increased too quickly. Staggering along the overgrown path among the trees, she paused to thrust aside a low-growing branch. As she did, she glimpsed the abandoned structure, its bare wooden skeleton outlined against the darkening sky. It stood in lonely isolation in the center of a grassy lea where nowadays only the occasional doe and fawn came to call.

She should have remembered the dilapidated gazebo, she told herself, by now almost beyond coherent thought. In happier times Madeline and her sisters had visited here often, bringing baskets filled with sandwiches and berries and flasks of lemonade.

Today the structure offered an almost-whole roof to protect against the rain that descended in torrents, soaking her light muslin dress and chilling her from head to toe before she could stumble inside. But the pain in her temple drowned out the other less significant discomfort, bringing her to her knees on the cold, shattered tiles of the floor.

How long would it be before anyone thought to come searching for her? Her father had warned her about walking alone through the woods and moors, but now that their servants were few, she had thought they were needed more—

Oh, the pain!

She put both her hands to her head, clutching it, trying to contain the physical torture that spiraled always to greater heights, like a pot boiling over, spilling huge drops that would burn and blister everywhere they touched. The pain wouldn't stop, wouldn't slow. Oh, dear God, why had she chosen to walk to the village today—why must she fall victim to this assault today—

Everything around her spun into a pulsating whirl of unbearable unending torment. Death would be easier than this.

Pain was everywhere—she curled into herself—and if someone sobbed, she no longer noticed.

The first drops of rain fell when he was only a few miles
past the village. Adrian wondered if he should have stopped there for the night after all. But he'd seen no decent inn, and he had no time to spare with a would-be murderer, who had an uncanny knack for finding his trail no matter how determinedly Adrian tried to hide it, hard on his heels.

No time to spare—a good jest, that. They could inscribe it on his tombstone.

He lifted his lips in a grim smile that might as easily pass for a grimace. The last man who had smiled back rested now beneath a marble slab, presumably at peace although still bearing Adrian's bullet.

As Adrian did his.

Inconvenient things, duels. They interrupted one's life so easily…as did dying.

Self-pity was an indulgence he would not allow himself…did not have time to allow himself.

He glanced again at the lowering sky, the dark clouds heavy with rain that would not be put off much longer. As if the thought had opened heaven's floodgates, he felt another large droplet smack his cheek. Adrian turned up his collar, pulled down his hat, and resigned himself to a wet and miserable ride.

His horse—an iron-mouthed, surly gray—seemed to take matters under its own control. Snorting, the gelding plunged into the trees that surrounded the narrow lane.

“What the hell?” Adrian tightened his grip on the reins and tried to turn his mount back toward the road, but it was too late. The horse had taken its head and seemed, as the damned beast sometimes did, to have been momentarily possessed by a devil. Or else, it wanted out of the wet, not being fond of rainstorms.

“And what makes you think this way leads to a stable, you fool?” Adrian demanded, as if the dumb brute could understand. But the insane thing was that the animal had, now and then, been right about which road to take when its master had lost his way.

After a moment Adrian realized that they were, in fact, following a narrow but discernable trail through the woods. Was this some local gentry's parkland? Perhaps they would find a house and stable at the end of this overgrown pathway, after all.

If it was a park, a gentleman's property, someone had come down in the world, Adrian told himself. The narrow path was poorly maintained, and—

Just then he saw the first sign of habitation. A servant's cottage? It was very small. No, he saw now that it was only a roof and frame, a gazebo set out for shelter on a nice summer day, now half derelict but still offering some shelter from the elements. This time, as the rain fell more steadily, the gray turned willingly under his hand and trotted toward the new goal.

Adrian dismounted and led his steed under what was left of the roof, pulling off a blanket from behind the saddle to throw over the horse and giving it handfuls of the oats that he carried in his bag. Only then did he turn and make out the body lying motionless amid the shadows.

“Good God!” Adrian exclaimed. He tied his horse to one of the roof supports a safe distance away, then took several long strides to see who lay so ominously still.

It was a young woman, her muslin dress sodden and sticking to her body—a very nicely made body, he could not help but notice, beneath the clinging fabric. She had golden brown hair, wet, too—she had obviously been caught in the storm—and her eyes were shut. Had she been injured in some way?

She lay sprawled on her side, curled in a semicircle like a babe. Something about the way she lay or the expression on her face—such suffering it seemed to show—caught at his heart. She looked so vulnerable, so helpless. Her cheeks were damp from raindrops or tears.

What had happened here?

Her face was very pale. He knelt beside her and leaned over to touch her hand. It was as frigid as a mountain stream. He drew a deep breath.

Was she dead?

Too alarmed to worry about propriety, he put his hand against her chest, searching for a heartbeat. He was relieved past measure to detect a steady rhythm beneath the skin and then to feel the slow rise and fall of her chest.

At another time his hand might have lingered, if she had been well and interested in flirtation, but she was not well at all, and he was still not sure what had caused her current distress. One thing was sure, she could not continue to lie against this cold tile floor in a wet gown. Whatever her other problems, if he left her in such a state, she would end up with a fluid on her lungs and die of a congestion and fever, as his own mother had done too young.

He had no idea where her home might lie. He could continue down the path and search for a likely structure or retrace his path to the village, but the sunlight was fading rapidly and the chill in the air deepening. He hesitated to leave her here in such an isolated location, with the temperature dropping and without anyone to watch over her.

Pausing only for a moment, Adrian made up his mind. He walked back to his horse and, with an ironic grin, stripped off the blanket he had only just put over the animal. “Sorry, old man, a greater need!”

He shook off as many horse hairs as he could, then came back and lay the blanket on the floor next to the unconscious woman.

Leaning closer, he unbuttoned the back of her wet gown—he'd had some practice removing women's apparel, though never before on a female who could not give him permission. Lifting her as gently as he could, he stripped off the soaked clothing. The gown stuck to her arms and clung to her full, well-shaped breasts, and he ripped one of the sleeves before he could pull it off, but finally she was free of it. He found that her shift was little better, dripping with cold water, so, with the ruthless determination that his friends, and his enemies, would have recognized, he stripped it and her other underthings off as well.

Her body was lovely, pale as alabaster in the blue of the fading light, with no bruises or obvious injuries. Drawing a deep breath, he put aside the surge of passion that threatened to rush through him.

Bloody hell, she was beautiful.

He laid her very carefully upon the blanket, pulled off his coat, and covered her with it, or as much of her as he could, hoping that removing the soaked clothing and putting dry wool over her would allow some heat to return to the young woman's body.

He knelt beside her and took both her ice-cold hands in his, rubbing them and trying to return some warmth to them, but she still seemed ominously chilled. He could not allow the life to seep out of her, not without a struggle, damn it!

“Wake up,” he said into her ear. “You must fight!”

He took one hand, than another, into his. She seemed almost like some nymph out of an oft-told fairy tale. She seemed so slight, so delicate next to his large-limbed frame. Ironically, he had never felt so healthy, so full of life.

He gently rubbed her hands, her arms—feeling how soft was her skin, how delicate the clean lines of her forearms. The rest of her body…no, she was helpless and in his care. Even in his thoughts, he could not trespass, not now. Nor did he have the leisure for idle fancies, he told himself. He must make sure she survived this ordeal some cruel fate had thrust upon her.

Bending closer, he muttered, “Live!”

She drew a breath more labored and more palpable than before. He felt a moment of encouragement.

“Stay with me,” he told her. “Lady with no name, stay with me. Surely if I can just make you warm again, bring back the heat of human blood and bone…”

Her skin was still so cold, especially her hands and feet, which had been as frigid as a corpse's from the beginning, as if the joyless grip of the grave already reached up to claim her. No, he would not consider such a possibility!

He continued to chafe her hands, gently but firmly, trying to force some hint of warmth back into her limbs. But the air around them cooled even more as the sun dropped behind the horizon, and everything seemed to conspire against him. The breeze had picked up, and as the wind whipped through the trees, the mournful sound made the horse toss its head.

Adrian pressed his lips together. Even he shivered, and he had not been soaked to the bone to start with. Whereas the woman on the ground…

He would not give up! How could he improve her condition?

Could he start a fire?

The trees and bushes around them were drenched, and the rain still fell, rattling against the leaves. He saw no way to find any brush dry enough to use as tinder, and he had no time to waste wandering through the dark in search of kindling suitable for immediate burning. What else could he do?

Try to ride with her in his arms as he sought help? He did not think he could balance her safely atop the fractious horse—he pushed the idea aside as wild and impractical.

He had to do something. He would warm her if he had to strip off his own skin to do it!

The madness of that notion made him smile grimly once more. Without thinking about the wisdom of his actions, he slid to the tile floor, wrapping his arms about the young woman, gathering her closer and pulling her naked body into his embrace.

Her slight body offered no resistence. It seemed as light as an eggshell. Smooth and finely made, its softness and pleasing curves were as exquisite as God could ever have created.

She was female in her essence. Her breasts were round and soft as they pressed against his chest, and he wanted badly to cradle them within his hands, knowing that they would fill his palms so sweetly. Her hips made a natural curve, and they would match his own body—he pulled his thoughts back with an effort.

He could not take advantage of her in such a state. But dear God, it was hard to hold her so close, knowing that this delectable body was bare and lovely against the inadequate shelter of his own patchwork of clothing, and not pull her nearer, closer, mold her hips into his and—

He could not think like this when she was unaware of their embrace. He had only meant to warm her, save her from illness or death. Feeling the sweat break out on his forehead, on his upper lip, Adrian tried to focus instead on the pale complexion of her face, the delicate blue veins that could be seen in her temples…

“You are so beautiful,” he said softly. “If only I could woo you properly. If only I had met you before I started this journey toward death…”

Her eyelids lifted.

Startled, he paused and stared into her eyes. They were as beautiful as the rest of her, green with the faintest specks of gold sprinkled across the iris. Her lashes were long and blinked now as if she did not believe what she saw.

For one long moment, they stared at each other as Adrian held her close—held her naked body next to him, with only the barest layer of cloth to separate them. He was acutely aware of how it felt to be this intimate, this near to the unknown woman from the damp wood where mist now rose in foggy fingers—but how did it feel to her to wake thus, in the arms of a stranger?

“Don't leave me,” she murmured.

“I won't. Don't be afraid,” he said quickly. “I was only—”

And as quickly as she had come to herself, she fell limp once again.

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