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A Lady Never Surrenders

A Lady Never Surrenders

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A Lady Never Surrenders

ratings:
4/5 (62 ratings)
Length:
389 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 24, 2012
ISBN:
9781451642490
Format:
Book

Description

New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries delights readers with the final novel in her sexy Regency Hellions of Hallstead Hall romance series, featuring Lady Celia Sharpe and the upstanding Bow Street runner, Pinter.

Lady Celia Sharpe has always been wary of marriage…but now her future depends on it.

With two months left to find a husband and fulfill her grandmother’s ultimatum, Celia sets her sights on three eligible bachelors. Becoming betrothed to one of these wealthy, high-ranking men will surely prove her capable of getting married, so hopefully the wedding itself won’t be necessary for Celia to receive her inheritance. Step two of her audacious plan is hiring the dark and dangerously compelling Bow Street Runner, Jackson Pinter, to investigate the three men she’s chosen.

With Lady Celia bedeviling Jackson’s days and nights, the last thing he wants is to help her find a husband. And when she recalls shadowed memories that lead his investigation into her parents’ mysterious deaths in a new direction, putting her in danger, Jackson realizes the only man he wants Celia to marry is himself!
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 24, 2012
ISBN:
9781451642490
Format:
Book

About the author

Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of several Regency-set historical romance series, including the Royal Brotherhood, the School for Heiresses, the Hellions of Halstead Hall, the Duke’s Men, and the Sinful Suitors. When she’s not writing in a coffee-fueled haze, she’s traveling with her husband, caring for her adult autistic son, or indulging in one of her passions: jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, music, and costume parties. With more than nine million books in print in twenty languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world. She always dreams big.


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A Lady Never Surrenders - Sabrina Jeffries

Plumtree

Prologue

Halstead Hall

1806

Celia roused to the sound of grown-ups whispering in the nursery. The tickle in her throat made her want to cough. But if she did, the grown-ups would tell Nurse to put more nasty stuff on her chest, and Celia hated that. Nurse called it a mustard plaster. It was greasy and yellow, and it smelled bad.

The whispers got louder until they were right behind her. She lay still. Was it Mama and Nurse? Either one would put the mustard plaster on her chest. She kept her eyes shut so they would leave her be.

We can meet at the hunting lodge, whispered one voice.

Shh, she might hear you, whispered the other.

Don’t be absurd. She’s asleep. And anyway, she’s only four. She won’t understand.

Celia frowned. She was almost five. And she did too understand. Lots and lots. Like how she had two grandmamas—Nonna Lucia in heaven and Gran in London—and how she had to have stuff on her chest whenever she had a cough, and how she was the littlest of all the Sharpes. Papa called her Elf. He said she had pointy ears, but she didn’t. She always told him that, and he just laughed.

Everyone will be at the picnic, the second voice went on. If you plead a headache and don’t go, and I slip away in the hubbub, we could have an hour or two to ourselves before dinner.

I don’t know . . .

"Come now, you know you want to, mia dolce bellezza."

Mia dolce bellezza? Papa called Mama that. He said it meant my sweet beauty.

Her heart leapt. Papa was here! Whenever he came to the nursery, he told them about Nonna Lucia, his mama, and spoke funny words in ’talian. She wasn’t sure what ’talian was, but Papa talked it when he told stories about Nonna Lucia.

So the other person must be Mama. Which meant she still had to lie quiet to avoid the mustard plaster.

Don’t call me that. I hate it.

Why did Mama say that? Had Papa made her angry again? He made her angry a lot. Gran said it was on account of his hores. One time Celia asked Nurse what a hore was, and Nurse paddled her and told her that was a bad word. Then why did Papa have them?

Celia squinted one eye open to see if Mama was frowning, but Mama and Papa were behind her, and she would have to turn over to see them. Then they’d know she was awake.

Sorry, darling, Papa whispered. I didn’t mean to upset you. Promise you’ll meet me.

There was a long sigh. I can’t. I don’t want us to be caught.

Caught doing what? Were Mama and Papa doing something naughty?

Neither do I, Papa whispered. But now is not the time for us to attempt any sort of—

I know. But I loathe how she looks at me. I think she knows.

You’re imagining things. She knows nothing. She doesn’t want to know.

Someone’s coming. Quick—out the other door.

Why would Mama and Papa care if someone was coming?

Celia lifted her head to peek at them, but she couldn’t see the main door. Then the servant’s door opened, and she dropped her head back down and pretended to be sleeping.

It was hard, though. The tickle in her throat was really bad. She tried to resist, but finally it had to come out.

Nurse came up to the bed. Still got that nasty cough, do you, dearie?

Celia squeezed her eyes shut really hard, but that must have given her away, for Nurse turned her onto her back and started unbuttoning her nightdress.

It’s going away, Celia protested.

And it will go away quicker with the mustard plaster, Nurse said.

"I don’t like the mustard plaster," Celia complained.

I know, dearie. But you want the cough to go away, don’t you?

Celia frowned. I guess.

Nurse clucked at her, then got a glass and poured something from a bottle into it. Here, this will help.

She gave it to Celia to drink. It tasted odd, but she was thirsty, so she drank it as Nurse set about preparing the mustard plaster.

By the time Nurse started patting it on, Celia felt so sleepy. Her eyelids were so heavy she forgot about the bad-smelling stuff on her chest.

She slept a long time. When she woke again Nurse gave her gruel but said the mustard plaster could wait until night. Then she gave Celia more of that odd drink, and Celia got sleepy again. The next time she awoke, it was dark.

Lying there confused, she listened to her older sister Minerva and her older brother Gabe fight over who got the last pear tart. She wouldn’t mind a pear tart; she was hungry.

Nurse came in again, with two men: Gabe’s tutor, Mr. Virgil, and Tom, Celia’s favorite footman. Minerva, Nurse ordered, you and Gabe go down to the study with Tom. Your grandmother wants to speak to you.

After they left, Celia lay there, not sure what to do. If Minerva and Gabe were getting treats from Gran, she wanted some, but if Nurse meant to give her another mustard plaster . . .

She’d better keep quiet.

You’re not going to wake the girl? Mr. Virgil asked Nurse.

It’s better if she sleeps. She has to hear it eventually, and the little dear won’t understand. How can I tell her that her parents are gone? It’s too awful.

Gone? Like when they went off to London and left her and Minerva and Gabe at Halstead Hall?

And for her ladyship to shoot his lordship? Nurse went on. It ain’t right.

Papa went out shooting birds with guests sometimes. Her older brother Jarret told them all about it. The birds fell to the ground, and the dogs picked them up. And they never flew again. But Mama wouldn’t shoot Papa. Must be another ladyship. There were lots of them here for the house party.

It is upsetting, Mr. Virgil said.

And we both know her ladyship didn’t mistake him for an intruder. She probably shot him because she was angry with him over his soiled doves.

Mrs. Plumtree said it was an accident. Mr. Virgil sounded stern. If you know what’s good for you, madam, you’ll speak nothing to gainsay that.

"I know my duty. But what her ladyship did after she shot him . . . How could she leave the poor children without a father or a mother? That’s an abomination."

’Bomination sounded bad. And she began to fear it was Mama they were talking about.

As Dr. Sewell wrote in ‘The Suicide,’ Mr. Virgil said in his loftiest voice, ‘The coward sneaks to death, the brave live on.’ It’s sheer cowardice, is what it is. And I’m disappointed that her ladyship has proved a coward.

Celia began to cry. It couldn’t be Mama. Mama was not a coward! Coward was bad. Papa had explained it to her. It meant someone wasn’t brave. And Mama was always brave.

Now look what you’ve done, Nurse said. You’ve woke the lass.

Mama isn’t a coward! Celia sat up in bed. She’s brave! I w-want to see her. I want to s-see M-Mama!

Nurse picked her up and smoothed back her hair. Shh, now, dearie, calm down. It’s all right. Do you want something to eat?

No! I want Mama! she wailed.

I can take you down to see your grandmama. She’ll explain everything.

Panic seized her chest. Why wouldn’t they let her see Mama? Whenever Celia had one of her coughs, Mama always came if she asked. "I don’t want Gran! I want Mama! She was crying hard. I-want-Mama-I-want-Mama-I-want-Mama—"

She’ll make herself sick again with sobbing, Nurse said. Hand me that paregoric elixir, Mr. Virgil.

Mr. Virgil had a funny look on his face, like someone had struck him. The girl will have to learn the truth eventually.

She’s in no state to hear it right now. Nurse pressed a cup to Celia’s lips, and the drink that made her sleepy poured into her mouth. She nearly choked on it before she got it down. It did stop her wailing.

Nurse gave her more. Celia didn’t mind. She was thirsty. She drank it, then whispered, I want Mama.

Yes, dearie, Nurse said soothingly. But first, let your old nurse sing you a song, all right?

Her eyelids felt heavy again. Don’t want any songs, she complained, laying her head on Nurse’s shoulder. She glared at Mr. Virgil. Mama isn’t a coward, she spat.

Of course not, Nurse said soothingly. She picked up something and laid it in Celia’s arms. Here’s the pretty new doll your mama gave you.

Lady Bell! Celia clutched it to her.

Nurse carried her over to the rocking chair and sat to rock her, back and forth, back and forth. Is there a song you want me to sing to you and Lady Bell, my sweet?

Sing me about William Taylor. The lady in William Taylor wasn’t a coward, and she had shot someone.

Nurse shivered. Do you hear what the lass wants, Mr. Virgil? It’s downright spooky.

Clearly she understands more than you realize.

How do you know that song, dearie? Nurse asked her.

Minerva sings it.

I’m not going to sing you that, Nurse said. I’ll sing another. ‘Golden slumbers kiss your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise / Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry . . .’

Celia pushed fitfully against Nurse’s chest. She usually liked hearing about the golden slumbers, but not tonight. She wanted to hear about the lady who got a pistol and shot her true love William with the bride on his right arm. The captain in the song made the lady a commander for shooting William. That meant the lady was brave, right? And since Mama had shot someone, Mama was brave, too.

But she shot Papa.

That couldn’t be right. Mama wouldn’t shoot Papa.

Her eyelids got heavy. She didn’t want to sleep. She had to explain how Mama couldn’t be the ladyship. Mama was brave. Celia would tell them so.

Because Celia was brave, too. Not a coward … never a coward…

Chapter One

Ealing

November 1825

When Bow Street Runner Jackson Pinter entered Halstead Hall’s library, he wasn’t surprised to find only one person there. He was early, and no one in the Sharpe family was ever early.

Good morning, Masters, Jackson said, inclining his head toward the barrister who sat poring over some papers. Giles Masters was husband to the eldest Sharpe sister, Lady Minerva. Or Mrs. Masters, as she’d chosen to be called.

Masters looked up. Pinter! Good to see you, old fellow. How are things at Bow Street?

Well enough for me to take the time to hold this meeting.

I daresay the Sharpes have run you ragged investigating their parents’ deaths.

Murders, Jackson corrected him. We’ve determined that for certain now.

Right. I forgot that Minerva said the pistol found at the scene had never been fired. A pity no one noticed it nineteen years ago, or an investigation might have been mounted then and a great deal of heartache prevented.

Mrs. Plumtree paid off anyone who might have explored further.

Masters sighed. You can’t blame her. She thought she was preventing scandal.

Jackson frowned. Instead she’d prevented the discovery of the truth. And that was why she’d ended up with five grandchildren stuck in the past, unable to go on with their lives. That’s why she’d laid down her ultimatum—all of them had to marry by the end of the year or none would inherit. So far, they’d obliged her. All but one.

In his mind arose an image of Lady Celia that he swiftly squelched.

Where is everyone?

Still at breakfast. They’ll be trooping across the courtyard soon, I’m sure. Have a seat.

I’ll stand. He strode over to the window that overlooked the Crimson Courtyard, named for its red tile.

Being at Halstead Hall always made Jackson uneasy. The sprawling mansion shrieked aristocracy. Having spent his early childhood in a Liverpool slum before moving to a terrace house in Cheapside at age ten, he found Halstead Hall too large, too sumptuous—and too full of Sharpes.

After nearly a year with them as his clients, he still wasn’t sure how he felt about them. Even now, as he saw them walking across the courtyard beneath a cloud-darkened November sky, he tensed up.

They didn’t look as if they planned to spring anything on him. They looked happy and content.

First came the great lord himself—Oliver Sharpe, the ninth Marquess of Stoneville, said to be a near copy of his olive-skinned, black-haired, and black-eyed father. Initially Jackson had despised the man, having made the mistake of believing the gossip about him. He still thought Stoneville had chosen the wrong path after his parents’ deaths, but since the marquess seemed to be making up for it now, perhaps there was good in him after all.

Beside him walked Lord Jarret, whose blue-green eyes and black hair were said to make him look more a blend of his half-Italian father and blond mother. He was Jackson’s favorite of the brothers. No-nonsense and even-tempered, Jarret was the easiest to talk to. And once his scheming maternal grandmother, Mrs. Hester Plumtree, had allowed him to take over the family business, the man had flourished. Jarret worked hard at Plumtree Brewery; Jackson could admire that.

After him came Lord Gabriel with his new wife, Lady Gabriel, on one arm. No doubt the other two men’s wives were in their confinement—Lady Stoneville was expected to deliver within the month, and Lady Jarret wasn’t far behind. But Jackson wouldn’t be surprised to hear of an impending child soon from the youngest Sharpe brother. The couple seemed very much in love, which was rather astonishing, considering that their marriage had initially been contracted just to fulfill Mrs. Plumtree’s ridiculous ultimatum.

That august woman clung to Gabe’s other arm. Jackson admired Mrs. Plumtree’s determination and pluck—it reminded him of his beloved aunt Ada, who’d raised him and now lived with him. But what the elderly woman was demanding of her grandchildren reeked of hubris. No one should have such power over their descendants, not even a legend like Hetty Plumtree, who’d singlehandedly built the family brewery into a major concern after the death of her husband.

Behind her, the two Sharpe sisters came out to cross the courtyard. He dragged in a heavy breath as the younger one caught his eye.

Masters approached to look out the window, too. And there she comes, the most beautiful woman in the world.

And the most maddening, Jackson muttered.

Watch it, Pinter, Masters said in a voice tinged with amusement. That’s my wife you’re talking about.

Jackson started. He hadn’t been staring at Mrs. Masters. I beg your pardon, he murmured, figuring he’d best not explain.

Masters would never accept that Lady Celia was to her sister as a gazelle was to a brood mare. The newly wedded barrister was blinded by love.

Jackson wasn’t. Any fool could see that Lady Celia was the more arresting of the two. While Mrs. Masters had the lush charms of a dockside tart, Lady Celia was a Greek goddess—willowy and tall, small-breasted and long-limbed, with a fine lady’s elegant brow, a doe’s soft eyes. …

And a vixen’s temper. The damned female could flay the flesh from a man’s bones with her sharp tongue.

She could also heat his blood with one unguarded smile.

God save him, it was a good thing her smile had never been bestowed on him. Otherwise, he might act on the fantasy that had plagued him from the day he’d met her—to shove her into some private closet where he could plunder her mouth with impunity. Where she would wrap those slender arms about his neck and let him have his way with her.

Confound her, until she had come along, he’d never allowed himself to desire a woman he couldn’t have. He’d rarely allowed himself to desire anyone, only the occasional whore when he felt desperate for female companionship. Now he couldn’t seem to stop doing so.

It was because he’d seen too little of her lately. What he needed was a surfeit of Lady Celia to make him sick of her. Then he might purge this endless craving for the impossible.

With a scowl, he turned from the window, but it was too late. The sight of Lady Celia crossing the courtyard dressed in some rich fabric had already stirred his blood. She never wore such fetching clothes; generally her lithe figure was shrouded in smocks to protect her workaday gowns from powder smudges while she practiced her target shooting.

But this morning, in that lemon-colored gown, with her hair finely arranged and a jeweled bracelet on her delicate wrist, she was summer on a dreary winter day, sunshine in the bleak of night, music in the still silence of a deserted concert hall.

And he was a fool.

I can see how you might find her maddening, Masters said in a low voice.

Jackson stiffened. Your wife? he said, deliberately being obtuse.

Lady Celia.

Hell and blazes. He’d obviously let his feelings show. He’d spent his childhood learning to keep them hidden so the other children wouldn’t see how their epithets wounded him, and he’d refined that talent as an investigator who knew the value of an unemotional demeanor.

He drew on that talent as he faced the barrister. Anyone would find her maddening. She’s reckless and spoiled and liable to give her future husband grief at every turn. When she wasn’t tempting him to madness.

Masters raised an eyebrow. Yet you often watch her. Have you any interest there?

Jackson forced a shrug. Certainly not. You’ll have to find another way to inherit your new bride’s fortune.

He’d hoped to prick Masters’s pride and thus change the subject, but Masters laughed. You, marry my sister-in-law? That, I’d like to see. Aside from the fact that her grandmother would never approve, Lady Celia hates you.

She did indeed. The chit had taken an instant dislike to him when he’d interfered in an impromptu shooting match she’d been participating in with her brother and his friends at a public park. That should have set him on his guard right then.

A pity it hadn’t. Because even if she didn’t despise him and weren’t miles above him in rank, she’d never make him a good wife. She was young and indulged, not the sort of female to make do on a Bow Street Runner’s salary.

But she’ll be an heiress once she marries.

He gritted his teeth. That only made matters worse. She would assume he was marrying her for her inheritance. So would everyone else. And his pride chafed at that.

Dirty bastard. Son of shame. Whoreson. Love-brat. He’d been called them all as a boy. Later, as he’d moved up at Bow Street, those who resented his rapid advancement had called him a baseborn upstart. He wasn’t about to add money-grubbing fortune hunter to the list.

Besides, Masters went on, you may not realize this, since you haven’t been around much these past few weeks, but Minerva claims that Celia has her eye on three very eligible potential suitors.

Jackson’s startled gaze shot to him. Suitors? The word who was on his lips when the door opened and Stoneville entered. The rest of the family followed, leaving Jackson to force a smile and exchange pleasantries as they settled into seats about the table, but his mind kept running over Masters’s words.

Lady Celia had suitors. Eligible ones. Good—that was good. He needn’t worry about himself around her anymore. She was now out of his reach, thank God. Not that she was ever in his reach, but—

Have you got news? Stoneville asked.

Jackson started. Yes. He took a steadying breath and forced his mind to the matter at hand. As you know, your father’s valet insists that your father wasn’t having an affair with Mrs. Rawdon nineteen years ago.

Which I still don’t believe, Stoneville put in. She certainly led me to think otherwise when she … er … was found in my room.

In his lordship’s bed, to be precise. Although the entire family now knew of Mrs. Rawdon’s seduction of the sixteen-year-old heir on the day of his parents’ deaths, it wasn’t something they liked to dwell on, least of all Stoneville.

I’m aware of that, Jackson said. Which is why I’ve been trying to confirm it through another source.

What source? Mrs. Masters asked.

Mrs. Rawdon’s former lady’s maid, Elsie. The valet wouldn’t have been the only servant with private information. If your father and Mrs. Rawdon were involved, her lady’s maid probably knew of it, too. He sucked in a breath. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet located Elsie.

Then why are we here? Jarret asked, always right to the point.

Because while searching for her, I discovered a curious circumstance. It seems that her last place of employ was with a rich gentleman in Manchester.

Although the others took a moment to catch the significance of that, Jarret and Gabe realized it at once. They’d been with Jackson at the inquest of Halstead Hall’s former head groom, Benny May, whose body had been found after he’d traveled to visit a friend in Manchester.

Surely you don’t think that Elsie might have had something to do with Benny’s death, Mrs. Plumtree exclaimed, horror showing in her aging features.

I have no idea, Jackson said. But it seems quite the coincidence that Benny would travel to where Elsie had been, only to end up dead shortly after he left that city.

"Had been? Gabe asked. Elsie left Manchester?"

She did. I find that suspicious. According to her family, she sent them a quick note saying she was leaving her post and heading to London to look for a new one. Apparently, she’d always refused to tell them the identity of her employer. They suspected she was involved with the man romantically. Whatever the case, I’m having trouble finding her. No one in Manchester seems to know anything. But she told her family she would send them word as soon as she settled in London.

Is it possible we’re barking up the wrong tree with Elsie and Benny? Stoneville asked. The authorities were never sure he was murdered. He might have been the victim of a hunting accident. Elsie might have moved on because she didn’t like her employer. Their both being in Manchester at the same time could be coincidence.

True. But in Jackson’s business, genuine coincidences were rare. I did learn she was younger than your mother.

Quite pretty, too, as I recall, Stoneville said.

How strange that Mrs. Rawdon would have a fetching young lady’s maid, Mrs. Plumtree said. That’s asking for trouble, men being what they are.

Not all men, Gran, Mrs. Masters said stoutly.

Mrs. Plumtree cast a glance about the table, then smiled. No, not all men.

Jackson fought to shield his thoughts. Masters did seem an excellent husband, but he’d already reformed by the time he’d begun courting his wife. And the Sharpe men seemed devoted to their wives, but would it last?

His mother had been seduced by a nobleman, a brash young lord in Liverpool with a penchant for sweet maidens. Instead of marrying her, the arse had married a wealthy woman and set up Jackson’s mother as his mistress, abandoning her when Jackson was two. So Jackson had no illusions about what marriage meant to the aristocracy.

Don’t blame your father, Mother had said as she lay dying in his aunt and uncle’s home. If not for him, I wouldn’t have you. And that made it all worth it.

He couldn’t see how. The memory of her emaciated body lying on that bed …

With an effort, he tamped down his anger and forced himself to pay attention to the matter at hand. I’m waiting to hear from Elsie’s family about her location in London. I heard from Major Rawdon’s regiment in India that he’d taken a three-year post in Gibraltar, so I’ve sent a letter there asking him questions concerning the house party. Until I get responses, I should stay close to town rather than returning to Manchester on a probable wild-goose chase. He glanced to the marquess. With your lordship’s approval.

Whatever you think is best, Stoneville murmured. Just keep us apprised.

Of course.

Taking that for a dismissal, Jackson headed out the door. He had another appointment this afternoon, and he had to stop at home to pick up the report his aunt was transcribing. Only she could transform his scribbles into legible, intelligible prose. If he left now, he might have time to eat before—

Mr. Pinter!

He turned to find Lady Celia approaching. Yes, my lady?

To his surprise, she glanced nervously at the open door to the library and lowered her voice. I must speak to you privately. Do you have a moment?

He ruthlessly suppressed the leap in his pulse. Lady Celia had never asked to talk to him alone. The singularity of that made him nod curtly and gesture to a nearby parlor.

She preceded him, then stood looking about her with uncharacteristic anxiousness as he entered and left the door open, wanting no one to accuse him of impropriety.

What is it? he asked, trying not to sound impatient. Or intrigued. He’d never seen Lady Celia looking unsure of herself. It tugged annoyingly at his sympathies.

I had a dream last night. That is, I’m not sure if it actually was a dream. I mean, of course it was a dream, but…

What’s your point, madam?

Her chin came up, and a familiar martial light entered her gaze. There’s no need to be rude, Mr. Pinter.

He couldn’t help it; being this close to her was doing uncomfortable things to him. He could smell her perfume, a tempting mix of … whatever flowery things noblewomen wore to enhance their charms.

Her charms needed no enhancement.

Forgive me, he bit out. I’m in a hurry to return to town.

She nodded, taking his excuse at face value. Last night I had a dream that I often had as a child. I don’t know if it was because we’d been working in the nursery, or Annabel and Maria were discussing… When he raised his eyebrow, she steadied her shoulders. Anyway, when I used to have it, it seemed unreal, so I assumed it was only a dream, but now… She swallowed. I think it might also be a memory of the day my parents died.

That caught his attention. But you were only four.

A few weeks shy of five, actually.

Right. She was twenty-four now, and the murders had happened nineteen years ago last April. What makes you think it’s a memory?

Because I heard Papa making an assignation with a woman to meet her at the hunting lodge.

A chill coursed down his spine.

In the dream, I assume it’s Mama, but even there she doesn’t behave right.

In what way?

"Papa used to call Mama ‘mia dolce bellezza,’ and she would blush and tell him he was blind. Well, in the dream the man called the woman ‘mia dolce bellezza,’ and she got angry. She told him she hated it when he did that. Don’t you see? She probably resented being called the same thing he called his wife."

I don’t suppose you could tell who she was from the voice.

She sighed. "Unfortunately, they were both whispering. I only know it was Papa because of the ‘mia dolce bellezza.’"

I see.

If it really happened, it means Mama somehow found out about Papa’s assignation. That’s why she asked Benny not to tell Papa where she was going. Because she wanted to catch him and his mistress in the act. And whoever Papa was going there to meet arrived first and shot Mama.

Then when your father showed up, she shot him, too? he said skeptically. Now that she’d ensured that her lover was free to marry her?

Lady Celia’s expression turned uncertain. Perhaps Papa was angry that she’d killed Mama. Perhaps they struggled for the gun and it went off.

So she reloaded the gun after shooting your mother. She lay in wait for your father—her lover—with a loaded gun.

I-I don’t know. All I know is what I heard.

Which might have been a dream.

She sighed. It might. That’s why I came to you with it rather than mentioning it during our family meeting. I didn’t want to get everyone excited about it until we were sure.

We?

Yes. I want you to investigate and find out if it might have been real.

The plea in her lovely hazel eyes tugged at him, but she was asking the impossible. I don’t see how I can—

Other things happened in the dream, she said hastily. Gabe’s tutor, Mr. Virgil, came in later, and my nursemaid sang to me. I overheard things. She drew a folded sheaf of paper from her pocket and held it out to

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  • (4/5)
    Good book and conclusion to the Hellions series. Celia is the last of the unmarried Sharpes, and the deadline to meet her grandmother's ultimatum is rapidly approaching. She doesn't want to get married and is actively working to find a way to get out of it. In the meantime, she has picked three possible suitors. The next step is to make sure that there are no secrets in their backgrounds that would derail her plans, so she hires Jackson Pinter to investigate them. Jackson is the Bow Street Runner who has been investigating her parents' deaths.I really liked both Celia and Jackson. Celia is the youngest in the family and known best for her shooting ability. She is an expert marksman and takes great delight in showing up the men who show an interest in her. She is also haunted by her parents' deaths and the circumstances behind it, which has affected her outlook on marriage. She also has little confidence in her appeal as a woman, thanks to something that happened when she was younger. She is spirited, smart, and stubborn.Jackson is a hard-working, honorable man. He has built an excellent reputation and is up for a significant promotion. In spite of this success, he also has some rather deep insecurities, thanks to the circumstances of his birth. He is a bit rough around the edges but can be very kind and sensitive.I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Celia and Jackson. In the year that Jackson has been working with/for the Sharpes, the sparks have flown between them, and not always in a good way. Jackson isn't too happy about his attraction to Celia, as he sees no future in it, and reacts by finding ways that will keep her at a distance. All Celia knows is that something about him disturbs her, and she takes great pleasure in ruffling his feathers. By the time that Celia asks Jackson to investigate her suitors, he knows that he is in deep trouble. It was fun to see his jealousy of the other men, though I did ache for him also. I loved seeing her push him just a bit too far and him react by kissing her, starting a chain reaction of events.The first half of the book was a little slow, but once Celia and Jackson started working together on leads regarding her parents' murders, things started to pick up. Jackson wasn't too happy about Celia's insistence on being involved, but her stubbornness makes it impossible to keep her away. The combination of danger and attraction set the scene for them to throw caution aside, and boy did they. They were quite spectacular together, but there are still obstacles to overcome. I loved how well they shared their insecurities and that they were able to support each other through them. I loved how finding out about Celia's past gave Jackson a deeper insight into what made her the person she is. There was also an interesting twist to Jackson's life that I didn't see coming, but did a forehead slap and "of course" when it was revealed.Throughout the series, Celia's grandmother has been a master manipulator intent on getting her grandchildren married. In Celia's case, she has been pushing hard, creating a desperate situation for Celia. Though it is obvious that there is something growing between Celia and Jackson, Hetty allows her past to influence her actions. I hated what she said to both Celia and Jackson, which preyed on both their insecurities. It took a figurative slap upside the head from his aunt for Jackson to begin to see what an idiot he was, as well as a rather enlightening conversation with Celia's brother. I really did love Oliver's comment of "It's about time" and the dumbfounded reaction that Jackson had. I also liked Oliver's not-so-subtle assistance with Jackson's apology. I also liked that Celia didn't give in too quickly, but made Jackson work a bit for her forgiveness. Seeing Jackson stand up for Celia against Hetty and give her what was coming to her was great.This book also wrapped up the mystery of what had happened to the Sharpes' parents. New pieces of information had been uncovered, which sent Jackson's investigation in a different direction. Celia had also remembered something she witnessed as a child that opened up some more questions but also put her in danger. The final confrontation had some twists and turns that I didn't see coming, but explained a lot once they were revealed.The epilogue was terrific. I liked seeing Jackson and Celia settled into their life together. I enjoyed seeing Hetty and the General get their own happy ending, with Hetty having learned her lesson. The best part was the final conversation between Jackson and Celia.
  • (3/5)
    The plot of this historical romance was pretty good but I thought the action was slow going with characters thinking about the difference in social status over and over again. I skimmed a lot. Lady Celia asks bow street runner Jackson to investigate three men she is considering for a husband.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first book I've read by Jeffries, and I adored it! Great characters, interesting plot, enough tension to keep me going. None of that falling in love right away crap.
  • (4/5)
    This is the final installment of the Hellions of Halstead series. I'm sad to see it end. I've enjoyed spending time with the Sharpe family.

    I have to say, I was much more bothered by Hettie's interference in this novel. I'm not sure if it's because we got more from her POV, or if her meddling went over the top. While I understood her reasons for being wary of Pinter, it didn't make a lot of sense for her to push him so hard. Especially when it was obvious Celia cared for him.

    Aside from that, I enjoyed the novel. I liked that Pinter wasn't a member of the aristocracy. He was an investigator with Bow Street and lived in a modest home in Cheapside. Though he wasn't dirt poor, he wasn't rich, either. We don't see enough of these types of heroes in romance. Of course it was somewhat ruined by Celia's giant inheritance, but whatever.

    The mystery behind their parent's murder is finally resolved here. While I wouldn't say it was completely contrived, I did think the resolution was somewhat anti-climatic. I might have liked to see it come about earlier in the novel so more time could be spent on the reactions of the family. Still and all, this was an enjoyable read and a nice way to close out the series.

  • (3/5)
    I just couldn't finish this one, the two lead characters were so annoying, I had no desire to find out what happened to them. I wound up skimming all the way through to the end just to see what happens regarding the parents' murder mystery and who did it, since I did invest a lot of time in the series and wanted to find out at least who killed their parents. Even that was a bit anti-climatic. I'm afraid this is good-bye to this author for now. I just wasn't thrilled by this Hellions of Halstead Hall series at all with the exception of one book, How to Woo A Reluctant Lady.
  • (4/5)
    Reviewed by JenReview copy provided by authorI'm a longtime fan of Ms Jeffries and have loved her Hellions of Halstead Hall series. I'm sorry to see this series end, but loved the journey and the conclusion. A Lady Never Surrenders is the love story between the youngest sibling, Celia, and the Bow Street Runner, Jackson, who has been hired by Celia's family to investigate their parent's deaths. Over the course of the series, we've seen Celia and Jackson butt heads and it continues in this novel. However, all that fighting is just covering up deep seated feelings that finally bust forth. And really the only obstacle to the happy ending is Jackson's belief that he's not good enough for Celia. Other than the love story, the mystery that arced the series finally concludes. As the series progressed, we learned tidbits of how each of the siblings remembered the events surrounding their parent's deaths. Because this is the last book in the series, we know the mystery must be solved. And it is. However, for me it was a confusing conclusion. I think the murderer came completely out of left field and I wasn't terribly satisfied with the explanation. But that said, I really did enjoy this book and highly recommend this series to fans or regency romance. This series is best read in order due to the plot that flowed throughout, but it can stand alone.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those books I wouldn't recommend buying unless you are going to buy all five books. I did and it's one of those series that keeps the reader invested. The romance was good but the mystery surrounding the Hellions' parents was really well done. Usually I can figure out who did before it's revealed but I had no idea who the killer was and felt like it was wrapped up in a very satisfyng way.
  • (3/5)
    Well, it is a charming rift on the usual "must marry or will lose inheritance" meme, though in this case our heroine is the youngest, and the only unmarried sibling (because this is apparently one in a series of get-them-married-off regencies by Jeffries). The heroine is likeable and can shoot; is crippled by self esteem issues and that moment in her innocent past, etc. Personally, I'd have preferred the ending with more assertiveness on our heroine's part. You've got a lot of the typical themes, a bit of a mystery about the death of heroine's parents, a gorgeous house, not enough description of food (come on, Regency writers, you must describe the food and the clothing in detail! Did I not make this clear with the universe?) Erotic scenes are mildly hot (sort of like those canned chile peppers, you know; there's heat but they don't burn you up). Our writer sensibly refrains from the naming of the parts, pretty much (well, there may some "most secret and unexplored" place on heroine's lovely bod). The hero is quite likeable and convincing as well, and should others by this writer make their ways to me I will have my way with them.
  • (5/5)
    Absolutely delightful! Lady Celia is a sweet heroine with a huge heart and a sharp mind. The youngest of the Sharpe siblings, and the last to marry, Celia devises a plan to thwart her grandmother's ultimatum. Throw a house party and invite three of the most eligible suitors to attend and compete for her hand! Not willing to marry a scoundrel, Celia employees Jackson Pinter, bowstreet runner, to investigate the men competing for her affections. Little does she know that proud Pinter has his eye set on her as well.

    A bastard son, the handsome Jackson Pinter who has a strong dislike of nobility, does not imagine he could even win a lady so high up as Celia Sharpe. When he is forced to help her with her suitors as well as following what could be the missing link in her parents murders, he is thrown into close confines with the bewitching lady.

    Both Celia and Pinter learn troubling news that changes their views of their pasts. People are not always who they appear to be. Can they work together to solve the murders and prevent new ones? Can their hearts overcome their stubborn heads and will love prevail?

    Exciting revelations about the Sharpe parent's murder and an unexpected new marriage (not Celia's!) make this book a devilishly exciting page turner and an amazing conclusion to the Hellions of Halstead Hall series.

  • (4/5)
    Lady Celia, the last of the Halstead Hellions, and the Bow Street Runner, Proud Pinter.The mystery of their parents' deaths is resolved, too.
  • (4/5)
    Well done, Ms Jeffries...I did not rest till I finished this series. Love, humor, mystery...trust, betrayal, loyalty...a wonderful menu of emotions , virtues and vices too.