The Truth About Cads and Dukes (Rescued from Ruin Book 2)

By: Elisa Braden

CHAPTER ONE

“Humiliation is a sign either of poor judgment or poor timing. Or, in your case, both.” —The Dowager Marchioness of Wallingham to her nephew, upon his premature departure from Oxford for activities of a highly inappropriate nature.



May 5, 1817

London



Jane Huxley fervently hoped she had the correct address. To be caught with one’s backside hanging out of the wrong house’s window—clad in men’s breeches, no less—would be most unfortunate.

She wanted to laugh at her own predicament, but at the moment, air was in short supply. In truth, she was stuck: folded double, her right half inside a stranger’s London town house, her left half outside that stranger’s ground-floor window, and her generous middle squeezed until she could scarcely afford a shallow breath. She fancied she was beginning to see spots, but the darkness made it hard to say for certain.

Perhaps this is a bad idea, she thought, not for the first time.

Bracing her hands on the sill in front of her, she thrust her shoulders upward with all her strength. The window dug painfully into her upper back, but it did not budge. She took a breath, panting weakly. Brilliant. Suffocated by one’s own corpulence. If she had forty years and forty thousand sheaves of paper, she could not invent a more humiliating demise. Earlier, assessing the window from outside, she’d been sure she could fit through the opening—simply climb a short ladder retrieved from the stable, step through one leg at a time, and there you have it. She’d been mistaken.

It doesn’t matter. You must get through, Jane. If you are caught here, ruination shall be the least of your worries. She could almost hear her mother’s sobs upon witnessing one of her daughters being carted off to Newgate for burglary. Or, worse yet, Bedlam. The thought was shudder-inducing. Even injury would be better, and Jane was emphatically opposed to pain.

She leaned forward until her face brushed the opposite casing. The new position completely closed off her air and threatened to scrape off her spectacles, but it flattened her enough that she could feel her shoulders slide an inch or two farther into the room. Bending her neck sideways at an unnatural angle, she grasped the wall on either side and gave a mighty shove.

After her backside hit the wooden floor with a bruising thud, and her spectacles flew off to ping into a shadowy piece of furniture, Jane allowed herself to lie with one ankle still propped on the sill, pausing to wheeze air back into her burning lungs and let the pain throbbing in her cheek and ear subside. Heart pounding, she listened for sounds of an uproar in the house, signs that a servant had heard her grunting, graceless entrance into Lord Milton’s house.

All was quiet—for now. But the night was far from over.

Shaking her head and laughing silently at her own stupidity, she reached up to adjust her mask. It was a simple piece of cloth, cut from one of her brother’s old coats. An old woolen coat. The thing had been itchy when she’d first put it on, but after an hour of nervous sweat, it had grown unbearable. It was one of many reasons she could now reasonably declare herself the Worst Burglar in the History of Man. Or Woman. Could women be burglars?

She glanced down at her present ensemble—her brother’s boyhood breeches, a stable lad’s castoff coat, and a worn pair of riding boots she’d discovered in an attic trunk. Aside from the mask, it was all rather comfortable, the breeches in particular. The freedom of movement was something of a revelation. She arched a brow and sighed. Yes, she supposed women could be burglars, but in Jane’s considered opinion, it was not so much a daring profession as a daft one.

She rolled over and felt around the floor for her spectacles. Oak floors, plush carpet, the leg of a chair. Dash it all, they could not have gone far. Now on her hands and knees, she scuttled to her right, running her hands in wide sweeping motions. “Ow!” she hissed as her knuckles whapped into something hard, probably a table leg. Shaking her fingers vigorously against the sharp pain, she soon resumed her sweep.

There! Feeling the familiar curve of the wire rims against her fingertips did much to settle her thumping heart. She tested the lenses. Intact, thank heavens. Returning the spectacles to their rightful place, she pushed to her feet and struggled to get her bearings. It had been a full moon only a few nights past, but London’s thick layer of coal smoke and clouds made the darkness inside the room nearly impenetrable. Again, she wondered how she had allowed herself to be persuaded into this foolishness.

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