Catch Me If You Can
Plagued by scandalous rumors, Rheda Kerrich will stop at nothing to restore her reputation and make an honest living for herself—and she’s determined to do it without a husband. But times are hard, and smuggling is a risky though profitable trade. So when a dashing agent for the English government catches her in the act, she desperately resists his charms and conceals her illicit profession. Until she realizes he may be the key to her ultimate freedom—and unbridled passion…
Rufus Knight, Viscount Strathmore, has never had trouble beguiling the ladies of Kent. When his search for “Dark Shadow,” a cunningly elusive smuggler, leads him to alluring and headstrong Rhe, her objections to his amorous advances merely incite a tantalizing game of cat and mouse. Soon, they’ll find the very secrets driving them apart could ensnare them in a love they can’t escape…
“Passion, adventure, secrets and danger will keep you turning the pages.” —Anna Campbell
“A darkly sensual tale of intrigue, romance, and unexpected twists.” —Lorraine Heath
Deal, Kent, England, June 1809
The things I’m prepared to do for my country, Rufus
Knight, Viscount Strathmore, thought wryly. Thank
God his plan was working. He’d laid his trap and the weasels
were taking the bait.
He’d been aware of the two men the instant they’d entered
his room, even though his head was buried between
the serving wench’s slender thighs. Normally he preferred to
take his pleasure without an audience, but tonight he welcomed
the intrusion—had planned on the intrusion . . .
“Rufus—please ...Lord Strathmore, yes, oh, God, yes . . .”
If Lucy’s moans were anything to go by, he was performing
more than adequately for the inebriated gentleman he
Perhaps too well.
Thankfully the thieves were overly bold.
The open window in the tavern’s bedchamber allowed no
ventilation on this humid, still night. The scent of sex and
cheap perfume clung to the air, adding to his body’s thrumming
tension. With grim determination he suppressed his
burgeoning arousal at the woman’s near orgasmic cries. He
was grateful that her breathy entreaties were not loud
enough to blanket the soft thud of clumsy tiptoeing feet. He
knew the exact location of the men searching his room.
Pushing desire aside, Rufus concentrated on his performance
while keeping an eye on the rummaging thieves. He
knew he’d have to act soon. He hated to leave a woman unsatisfied,
but he looked forward to a lengthy, all night apology
He’d picked this inn, not just because of Lucy’s obvious
charms, there was only so much he’d do for his country; the
lass at least had to be pretty. He’d picked the tavern because
it was located next to the Deal docks. The Bosun’s Inn was
full of undesirables—cutthroats, ruffians, and drunkards. Just
the sort of men Rufus sought.
One of the men moved closer to the bed. The taste of
woman and the edge of danger fed his tension. Patience. Don’t
act too soon.
One of these brigands, currently rifling through Rufus’s
belongings, was going to provide him with the intelligence
he sought. In his line of work it paid to find leverage. A thief
would often squeal when faced with a choice between freedom
and transportation to the colonies.
He’d set up this intimate scene to perfection.
As with most of his adult life it was all an act.
Tonight’s role was not about a man sating his lust between
a pair of willing thighs. Enjoyable as that would be, and indeed,
it was something he intended to do with lovely Lucy
before the night was over, it was about gaining much needed
information. One of these thieves was going to provide it.
He lunged for the nearest man, whom he noted with heart
sinking was the largest. Luckily, the man’s hand was deep
within the pocket of Rufus’s discarded trousers. Rufus’s
punch landed squarely under the man’s jaw, snapping his
head back. Before the man could even shake his hand free,
he went down like a shot grizzly bear.
Heedless of his nakedness, Rufus turned toward the second
man. He wasn’t quick enough. Two muscle-bound arms
wrapped around his bare torso from behind.
A kick of adrenaline gave him the strength he needed. He
still held the advantage. His nakedness meant the robber had
nothing to hold on to, whereas Rufus was able to wrench
free of his assailant’s hold, grab the man’s shirt, and fling him
over his shoulder. He watched with satisfaction as the thief
slammed to the floor, flat on his back, winded.
Before he could move, Rufus placed a bare foot firmly on
the robber’s neck. He ruthlessly repressed his excitement.
The capture of an informant was only the beginning . . .
“Lucy, my dear. Would you be a love and bring me my
The buxom redhead eased from the bed. Conscious of her
own beauty, she swayed provocatively toward his Hessians,
and both Rufus and the man on the floor followed the
beauty with their eyes.
As she handed him his boot, he gave her a wicked smile
and patted her bottom. “Thank you, sweetheart. If you’d like
to wait on the bed for me I won’t be but a minute.”
Ensuring his weight was still on his captive’s neck, Rufus
slipped his hand inside his perfectly polished Hessian and
withdrew his dagger. At the sight, the man at his feet began
He applied more pressure, until the man’s eyes began to
pop from their sockets and his hands clawed at Rufus’s bare
Rufus calmly stated, all hint of drunkenness vanishing
from his posture, “You and I are going to have a pleasant little
chat. A chat about the smuggler known as Dark Shadow.”
The man’s eyes widened in alarm. He knew the name.
Every villager in Deal knew the name. The minute “Dark
Shadow” was mentioned, the townspeople clammed up as if
the grim reaper would strike them down.
Rufus waved the knife even closer and applied more pressure
for good measure, his eyes gleaming with threat. The
man started to shake.
The vermin beneath his foot should be afraid. Rufus had
sacrificed most of his life in the pursuit of only one thing: to
reclaim his family’s honor. Sensing how close he was to
achieving his goal, nothing and no one would stand between
him and the truth about his father.
Over the years he had risked his life for his country countless
times, driven by the need to prove to the world he
should not have to bear his father’s sins.
Rufus was nothing like his sire.
The Foreign Secretary, Lord Ashford, thought Rufus took
risks for God and country. That was partly true. But more
important he did it to bury the stench of disgrace that had
been his father, and to block from his mind the guilt eating
him from the inside. He should have accompanied his father
to Hastingleigh all those years ago and stopped him from betraying
Now he had the opportunity to lay the past to rest. Dark
Shadow would lead him to England’s most prolific and deadly
French spy. A spy who’d stolen British secrets and, if not
caught, would prolong this war for several years.
Rufus, however, wanted more. He prayed the spy could
tell him about his father. About his father’s rumored betrayal
of his own class, if not people—the French Aristocracy. Rumors
Rufus longed to prove false.
Only then would he be free.
Watching his prey squirming below him, Rufus kept all
his senses attuned. The man’s accomplice still lay unconscious,
and Rufus’s comely bedmate sat naked and unsatisfied
on the bed, clutching the sheet to her bosom.
Rufus bent down until his head stopped mere inches from
the crook’s face. “I think it only fair to tell you I’m an evil
man. A part of me hopes you won’t talk so I can put this dagger
to good use.” Rufus slid the cold steel down the man’s
front, stopping at his groin. “With women like pretty Lucy
in this world it would be a shame to unman you.”
The man’s mouth opened and closed like a dying fish. Rufus
eased the pressure on his throat so he could at least talk.
“What do you want?” his captive croaked.
Rufus hid his smile of triumph. “Thieves stick together. I
want all that you know about the infamous smuggler, Dark
Shadow. Preferably where he’s based and”—he dug the point
of his dagger into the man’s groin—“who he is.”
Fear quavered in the thief’s voice. “No one’s ever seen
him. The men of Deal have no idea who Dark Shadow is.
Most think he’s not from around here, while others think
he’s one of you lot—a nob fallen on hard times.”
He pressed his foot down harder. “You expect me to believe
he might be local gentry?”
“Believe what you will. No one wants to know,” the man
choked out in a hoarse voice. “They’re scared to know too
Rufus pressed the tip of his dagger through the layer of
clothes to bare skin. “Oh, come, surely someone has seen
him. Someone must want to collect the bounty on his head.
I’ll even double it.”
In his previous dealings with thieves and cutthroats, most
informants’ tongues loosened with the added incentive of
money. Yet the man looked more frightened instead of interested.
“There ain’t no way I’d tell you anything even if I knew
somethin’. I’d be dead before I could spend it. The villagers
think Dark Shadow’s a modern-day Robin Hood. They’d
harm anyone who thought to inform on him. They want his
coin. Most of what Dark Shadow makes goes back to the village.
God bless him, he gives to the elderly, the widows, orphans,
“He gives the money away?” Rufus asked dubiously.
Lucy sat up, clutching the sheet to her ample bosom.
“Aye, my lord, he does. He sent me mother ten pounds to
look after me brother, little Jack, so that Jack wouldn’t be
forced to work as a cabin boy on one of them ships. He slips
her something almost every month.”
Rufus straightened and ran a hand through his hair. He
needed time to think. He found it hard to believe that a
smuggler who took care of women and children would
knowingly harbor England’s most notorious spy. This put a
different slant on how he should proceed. Dark Shadow
could be useful. Perhaps having him arrested was not the best
plan. He lifted his foot off the man’s throat. “We’re done—
The man on the floor gingerly sat up. “He doesn’t even
run his ships from one particular cove. It’s a different place
every time. The Revenuers almost captured him once, but
he disappeared like a ghost racing the dawn. That’s how he
got his name.”
Rufus knew how easy it was to be a ghost. Men of his
standing, men with money, found it easy to disappear. Perhaps
Dark Shadow was a nobleman down on his luck. If so,
he’d be easy to find. He knew this from experience. No matter
how hard you tried, past sins always found you.
Twelve years ago, at the age of twenty, upon his father’s
death, Rufus and his family were ostracized. Faced with Society’s
scorn, he’d had no alternative but to try to regain the
family’s honor and position in Society. Especially if his
mother and sister were to survive. Pride was a luxury he and
his family could not afford.
He’d learned to push aside his own identity and portray a
character the ton wanted to see. An honorable man trying
desperately to atone for his sire’s shortfalls. A man prepared
to demonstrate the correct penance in order to earn Society’s
He was sick of trying to earn their respect.
Self-loathing pulsed through him, and despair. He was
afraid if he didn’t ascertain the truth, and soon, there would
be no honor left to restore.
For the past twelve years he’d worked tirelessly chasing a
phantom. Chasing the truth about his father. The father he
could have sworn would die on his sword before dishonor.
The father he obviously hadn’t known.
At twenty, Rufus had ceased his life of aimless leisure
and gentlemanly comfort to ferret out the fact from fiction.
Most nights he prayed he’d like what he found. Each time
he thought he’d glimpsed a facet of truth, it vanished like
the mist when the sun rose. So he continued to play his part,
the part of a nobleman, even though he was deemed a
A nobleman no one wanted. Due to his father’s fall from
grace, he became an embarrassment. He drifted in and out of
Society like a bad smell. A person of note, a person to be put
up with, but not one you would openly welcome and acknowledge
for fear of retribution.