A Most Unconventional Courtship [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Louise Allen
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Benedict Casper Chancellor, Earl of Blakeney, is the kind of elegantly conservative English lord that Alessa despises. She wants nothing to do with him--even if he is shaped like a Greek statue come to life! But the maddening man seems determined to wrest her away from her comfortable life in beautiful Corfu. Worse, he'll return her to the bosom of her stuffy family. The Earl hasn't anticipated Alessa's propensity to get herself into a scrape. Now, in order to rescue her, this highly conventional Englishman will have to turn pirate!
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Historical
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2007
18 Reader Ratings:
Corfu Town—April 1817
Someone was trying to commit murder, and apparently they were doing it on her front step. The sounds were unmistakable. The scrape of boot leather on cobbles, the soft thud of wood on flesh, the clink of metal, the desperate, panting breaths.
Alessa sighed wearily, hefted the wicker basket up on her hip and retraced her steps around the corner to a spot where the shadows were deep and she could hide her burden out of the way of prying eyes. At eleven o'clock at night the familiar alleyways of Corfu Town were quiet, and apparently deserted, but she did not make the mistake of thinking that predators were not on the prowl.
One, at least, was in the tiny square formed by the back of the church of Saint Stefanos, Spiro's bakery and two houses, their storeys rising high so that light rarely penetrated for more than a few hours a day. Alessa stooped to slide the knife from its sheath in her short calfskin boot and melted back into the shadows.
As she slid around the corner, through the narrow passage that opened out into the courtyard, she instinctively checked behind herself for light that might cast a shadow and betray her presence. But she was coming from darkness, and the scene before her was well lit by the lantern over Spiro's door, the dim glow from the church windows and the oil lamp Kate had set by their shared entrance as dusk began to fall.
Her view, and much of the passage, was blocked by a pair of heavy shoulders. Their owner was propped against the wall, picking his teeth. A thick aroma of fish, garlic and unwashed man floated back to Alessa, so familiar that it provoked hardly a wrinkle of her nose. Georgi, the squid fisherman, of course, always to be found on the outskirts of anything in the neighbourhood where he might profit with little risk or effort to himself.
Alessa crept soundlessly up behind him and pressed the point of the knife into the unsavoury gap between his leather waistcoat and his belt. He stiffened, jerked, then was still.
'Hérete, Georgi,' Alessa murmured in Greek, forcing herself to stand close enough to whisper in his ear. 'I think you need to be somewhere else just now.' She winced at the coarseness of his hissed response, pressing the flat of the blade just a fraction further into the roll of fat. 'Do you want the Lord High Commissioner's men to know exactly what you are doing when you take your kaïki out on a moonless night, Georgi? I think they would be very interested if someone were to tell them.'
With another muttered oath he turned and pushed past her, back into the darkness. Alessa waited a moment for the sound of his boots on the cobbles to fade, then took his place.
There were two men fighting in the tiny space. One she recognised: Big Petro, a criminal bully who made no pretence of any other occupation, was wielding a cudgel in one hand and a long-bladed knife in the other. Facing him, dodging the alternating crude blows and vicious lunges, was a complete stranger. For a moment Alessa thought he was armed with a rapier, then she realised his only weapon was a slender cane that he was using to parry the knife, while keeping it out of the way of the cudgel that would surely shatter it.
He can certainly fence, she thought critically, watching the flickering cane and the man's rapidly shifting feet, while part of her brain wrestled with the problem of what to do now she had shortened the odds for him. This was an elegant gentleman in suave evening dress. Only his discarded hat and disordered hair betrayed any loss of poise. His focus on his opponent was unwavering and, if it had been anyone else but Petro, she might have thought he had a reasonable chance of escape and could be left to his own devices. But the stocky man was a killer, and some foppish English gentleman new to the island would be no match for him.
Alessa edged round the wall towards her own front steps, her irritation at this eruption of violence on her territory, under her children's window, growing. The stranger was forcing Petro back now—or, more likely, the wily Corfiot was tactically giving ground. Then she saw why: concealed in the shadows at the foot of the central fountain the drain gaped dark, like a trap waiting for an unwary foot. She bit back her instinctive cry of warning; that was likely to trip him as surely as anything. He was going to miss it—no, she saw the edge of his foot turn wrenchingly on the stone lip and he fell to one knee. Even as he did so he raised the cane defensively, but Petro smashed down on it with the cudgel, sweeping the weapon up again to catch the falling man on the side of his head. He went down with a thud, hard against the fountain base, and Petro stepped forward with a mutter of satisfaction, the long knife gleaming in his hand.
No, this was too much. Murder, even of inconvenient and reckless English tourists, could not be tolerated on her doorstep. Alessa reversed the knife in her hand, stepped out from the wall and brought the pommel down hard in the angle of Petro's neck and shoulder, just as she had been taught. The blow jarred up her arm like a hammer blow, but the stocky figure collapsed with a grunt, sprawled across his victim's legs—which meant that she now had two unconscious men cluttering up her courtyard. One of them was as likely as not to be in a killing frenzy of rage when he came to. The other one would probably yell for the Lord High Commissioner, the army, the navy and his valet—all of whose presence would be nothing but a thoroughgoing nuisance—or he would be murdered before dawn by some passing thief before he regained consciousness. And in common humanity, she could not leave him there, however much work he made.
Copyright © 2007 by Melanie Hilton.