A 2016 RITA Finalist for Historical Romance!
Catapulted from the seedy underbelly of London's slums
To the treacherous glamour of the ton
A 2016 RITA Finalist for Historical Romance!
Catapulted from the seedy underbelly of London's slums
To the treacherous glamour of the ton
Maxwell, Lord Dane, is intrigued when his brother ropes him into an investigation of the fiercely beautiful thief who is believed to be the lost daughter of the Marquess of Lyndon. He teaches her how to navigate the dangerous waters of the ton, but Marlowe will not escape her past so easily. Instead, Max is drawn into London's underworld, where the student becomes the teacher and love is the greatest risk of all.
Suspenseful and passionate, Earls Just Want to Have Fun is a captivating historical romance. Fans of Julia Quinn, Sabrina Jeffries, and Elizabeth Boyle will love this story that combines action and mystery with enchanting romance.
Covent Garden Cubs Series:
Earls Just Want to Have Fun (Book 1)
The Rogue You Know (Book 2)
I Kissed a Rogue (Book 3)
What readers are saying about Earls Just Want to Have Fun
"Just the right amount of mystery, adventure and attraction to draw you in and keep you satisfied."
"A fast-paced, well-written story with characters that you can't help but fall in love with."
"A tale of adventure, passion, danger and fascinating twists and turns that will enthrall you completely. Entertainment and laughter on every page. A PURE DELIGHT!!"
"I didn't just like this book, I ADORED it!"
She was five. She liked being five because it meant she could hold up every finger on her hand and spread them wide when an adult asked her age. Adults always asked how...
She was five. She liked being five because it meant she could hold up every finger on her hand and spread them wide when an adult asked her age. Adults always asked how old she was and her name. Sometimes they asked her favorite color. Those were easy questions. Her name was Elizabeth, and her favorite color was pink.
She liked candied violets and puppies and hated bedtime and her nanny. Nanny always made her stand up straight and keep her dress clean and brush her hair. Elizabeth had long light brown hair, and it tangled. She had to brush it three times a day. At least. Nanny asked difficult questions. She asked Elizabeth to spell her name. Elizabeth had once told Mama that she wished she had a name like Jane, which was Nanny’s name, because Elizabeth was too long.
Mama had laughed. Mama was always laughing, and Elizabeth wished she could be with Mama all the time and never have to see Nanny. But Mama and Papa had to go to the Season. That meant they dressed in clothes Elizabeth could not touch unless her hands were scrubbed clean, and they stayed up very late and slept all day. Elizabeth had to be so quiet.
She hated being quiet almost as much as she hated bedtime with Nanny, who yelled if Elizabeth didn’t stay in bed or if she chattered too much. Elizabeth loved it when Mama tucked her in, because Mama always sang her lullabies. Elizabeth’s favorite began “Lavender’s blue,” but Mama changed the words.
Elizabeth’s true, dilly, dilly,
A kiss I will give, dilly, dilly,
When next we meet.
Mama was not with her today. Today was sunny and warm, and Nanny had taken her to the park. Elizabeth was so happy. She could run—if Nanny wasn’t looking—and twirl and dance and pick wildflowers for Mama. Nanny had scolded her earlier for muddying her pinafore, but Elizabeth did not see how that could be avoided when everything that was interesting was either beside the mud or in it.
Elizabeth bent over to examine a pretty pink flower and jumped when a ball rolled to a stop at her feet. She looked up, searching for the owner of the ball. A boy, just about her age, waved at her and said, “Kick it back!”
Elizabeth blinked and glanced over her shoulder at Nanny. But Nanny was not watching her. Nanny was speaking to a man Elizabeth did not recognize. Nanny was also smiling and blinking a lot. Elizabeth wondered if her nanny had something in her eyes.
“Kick it!” the boy called again.
Elizabeth wanted to kick the ball, but she was not certain whether Nanny would approve. Of course, Nanny was not watching her at the moment. With a last furtive glance over her shoulder, Elizabeth kicked the ball. It sailed over the grass and down a small hill. The boy let out a whoop and chased after it. “Come on!” he called with a wave. He looked like he was having so much fun that Elizabeth followed. He kicked the ball, then let her have another turn. Then it was his turn, then hers again. Elizabeth was laughing and running and wishing the game would never end. She wondered if Nanny saw how much fun she was having, but when she turned, she did not see Nanny. She did not see anything that looked familiar. She was still in the park, but she’d run far away from the path where Nanny and the other people had been enjoying the day.
“Come on!” the boy yelled, kicking the ball again.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I can’t. I have to find my nanny.” She looked left and then right and frowned. She didn’t know which way to go. Her lip trembled, and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes.
Suddenly a man stepped out from behind a tree. The boy seemed to know him and went to him immediately, but the man ignored him. “Don’t cry, little girl,” he said. “I’ll help you find your nanny.” He held out his hand, and Elizabeth stepped forward. She looked up at the man and hesitated. His eyes were small and odd—one blue and one green—his teeth were sharp and crooked, and despite his fine clothing, his black hair hung in long and stringy clumps. He smiled, but his eyes did not smile like his mouth. Wordlessly, Elizabeth shook her head and backed away.
“Where are you going, little girl?”
She shook her head and turned to run just as his hands caught her about the waist.
Marlowe watched Gap stroll down Piccadilly as though he hadn’t a care in the world. That wasn’t as easy as it looked. Piccadilly was so crowded, even the largest of men were likely to be jostled. And the noise. Everyone was talking at once, trying to be heard over the calls of postboys and peddlers of every sort. Gap looked at home, which he was. Hands in his pockets, he whistled a tune through the gap in his teeth and appeared to stroll aimlessly. Men and women kept a watchful eye on him. He looked every inch the pickpocket ready to dive for the first easy bubble he spotted.
That was why Gap didn’t dive.
As he neared the corner where she stood, alternately pretending to watch a gentleman have his boots shined and study the printed bills that covered every available wall or scaffold, Marlowe tucked an errant strand of hair into her cap. She’d bound her breasts so tightly she could barely breathe. She had slim hips and legs, but her long hair and her ample bosom would betray her if she were not careful. There was nothing to do about her chest, but she wished Satin would allow her to cut her hair. He wanted her to keep it for some of their better-rackets.
She watched as Gap gave her the signal, tipping his hat to show her the bubble. Marlowe could dive as well as any of the gang, better than most because she practiced so often. She had the gift of manipulating her speech so she sounded much more cultured than she was. That and her sweet face meant the gentry trusted her. They thought she was one of their own, or not too far beneath them. They never suspected one of their own.
With a tap on the brim of her cap, she indicated she saw the bubble and approved. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and neat blondish-brown hair under his brushed beaver hat. He looked wealthy but not foolish, and she hesitated momentarily, wondering what Gap had been thinking. This was not their usual, easy game. He must have waved some blunt to attract Gap’s attention. And if there was blunt to be had, she had better bring it back to the flash ken. She didn’t relish another of Satin’s punishments.
She turned away from the boot boy and his gentleman, timing her movements perfectly. By the time she stepped into the crowd of people moving alongside Piccadilly, she was almost upon him. His eyes, a sharp, clear blue, met hers, and she had a moment to think this is a mistake. But it was too late, because she’d already collided with him, and her nimble hands had done their work.
She had his blunt in her hand by the time she stepped back and bowed to him. “Terribly sorry, sir. Pardon my clumsiness.” While one hand stuffed the pounds in her coat pocket, the other tipped her cap genially. Now was his turn to say think nothing of it, my fine lad. Then they would both go on their way.
But he didn’t say his line. In fact, he didn’t even look at her hand tipping her cap. His gaze arrowed directly down to the hand stuffing pounds in her pocket, and his lips curled in a smile. “Good day, Elizabeth. I’ve been waiting for you.”
She ducked into the flash ken with a curse on her lips. She was late, and Satin would have her hide. Strangely enough, that was the least of her worries at the moment. For once, she had bigger problems than Satin, and he was generally a rather substantial problem.
“Ye’re late,” Satin sneered from the corner of the large room the gang gathered in to eat and socialize. He was gnawing on a greasy chicken leg, his black hair hanging down about his face.
“Gap said you got nabbed.”
She shook her head with a quick look at Gap. Snitch. He’d be sorry later. “No. I took the long way back. I have the blunt.” She approached Satin warily and dumped the pile of blunt into the hat between his feet. She felt more than saw the necks of the other boys crane to get a look at her haul. It was impressive, but she didn’t pause to bask in Satin’s praise. She wanted to escape his attention as quickly as possible. She wanted to be alone, but she couldn’t disappear too soon.
Gideon sat to Satin’s right, and when she glanced at him, she saw the flicker of a question in his eyes. He knew something was wrong. She prayed Satin didn’t.
Satin nodded and grunted then glanced up at her. “That all of it?”
“Yes.” She turned out her pockets and dropped her empty purse on the floor. For once she was telling the truth. She hadn’t held anything back.
“Good. Go change. You’re working the better-racket tonight.”
His black gaze shot up to her face, and she shut her mouth.
“Because I said so. Need another reason?”
She shook her head.
“Good. I’m sure Gid here will be glad to have you.” He nodded at Gideon, whose face remained expressionless.
Marlowe didn’t dally. She knew better than that. She went to her room, which was nothing more than a curtained-off space in the room adjoining the main room. It was cold in the back, and she could see through the gaps in the wood to the world outside the building. When it rained, the roof leaked, and everything and everyone got wet. She was the only girl among the group, except for a couple of prostitutes Satin sometimes used for a racket or other. Because she was the only girl, and expected to have some feminine clothing for games like the one tonight, she also had a small trunk. She closed her curtain and opened the trunk, wiping her hands on her trousers to make sure they were clean. She didn’t want to soil the muslin of the dress.
Marlowe hated dressing like a girl. She hated it because it was uncomfortable, and she hated it because the other cubs looked at her differently. She worked hard to be one of them. She talked like them, dressed like them, spat like them. She didn’t want them to think of her as a girl—not only because it might give them ideas, but because she wanted to fit in. She wanted to be one of the Covent Garden Cubs, as they called their gang. It was the best gang in London, if anyone asked her.
But today had proved she didn’t fit in. That bubble had called her Elizabeth. She wasn’t Elizabeth. She tried to tell him, but he knew she was lying. She was usually a good liar, but she’d been taken off guard. The bubble should have been pleased. She was never taken off guard.
“Marlowe?” a quiet voice asked from the other side of the curtain.
She jumped. “Almost ready.” She wasn’t almost ready, and she stripped the men’s clothing off quickly, pulling on a shift and digging in the chest for a petti-coat, stays, and shoes. She was Marlowe, she told herself. That was her name. Not Elizabeth. That was a fantasy she’d conjured to soothe herself after one of Satin’s beatings or when she’d been a new cub and was cold and scared.
She wasn’t a cub anymore. She was twenty. And she was Marlowe. She shrugged the stays on, struggled with them for a moment, then gave up. “Is Barbara here?” she asked, knowing Gideon was still waiting for her on the other side of the curtain.
“No. She brought dinner and went back. Should I get her?”
Barbara was the wife of the owner of the Rouge Unicorn Cellar, a public house across the street in the cubs’ little corner of Seven Dials. Satin had some sort of arrangement with the couple. Marlowe suspected Satin had promised he wouldn’t rob the place if Barbara provided a hot meal once a day and cleaned up after the cubs. Barbara also helped Marlowe dress on the rare occasions she needed to look like a lady. But Gideon knew how to dress a woman too. He’d undressed enough of them, she thought.
“No, don’t bother,” Marlowe said, opening the curtain. She knew Gideon wanted to be on his way. And Marlowe didn’t care one way or another whether Gideon fastened her stays. He was more her friend than a man. They’d kissed a few times, when they’d been a bit younger, but neither had felt anything. There was no spark—not that Marlowe knew what a spark felt like, but Gideon said he did, and the two of them didn’t have it. That was probably a good thing, since Satin would kill both Marlowe and Gideon if they started sneaking around to make the beast with two backs.
Gideon stepped inside, and she turned. When he didn’t begin right away, she looked over her shoulder. He gestured to her chest. “You should probably unbind them first.”
She looked down at her all-but-flat chest under the shift. “Right.” The shift was loose, and she simply let it drop down to her elbows until she could untie the knot in the bindings. Then she began unwrapping the band of material, which was an arduous task, because there was so much of it. As soon as she’d unwound it a few turns, her breasts began to ache as the blood rushed back into them. She hated their heavy feeling and how they got in the way. She glanced at Gideon and noted he had looked the other way. “Gideon,” she said, “you like bubbies well enough.”
He laughed and shook his head, still not looking at her. She plucked at one dark nipple. “What makes you so daft over them? I think they’re a nuisance.”
“Marlowe, I’m not having this conversation with you right now. Pull up your shift and turn around.”
She did as he bade her, slipping the stays back on. With deft movements, he laced the back. They pushed her breasts up more than was comfortable, and she sighed, knowing she would be exposed for hours to come.
Interesting that Gideon didn’t want to look at her breasts and offer an opinion. She’d seen his noodle. She didn’t have much to say about it except that it looked like all the rest she’d seen. She supposed Gideon was trying to act like a gentleman. She didn’t know why, when she was no lady.
Gideon finished lacing, and she tied the petticoats on and pulled the dress over her head. Gideon had to help her with the ties and pins on that too. And then there were shoes and her hair, and she’d forgotten to tie her bloody pockets on. She needed them for her knife. Finally, she was ready. What an awful ordeal!
Marlowe stepped out of the curtain and walked back to the main room. Gideon and his cubs were ready—Tiny, Stub, and Joe. Tiny and Stub were young but quick. Joe was fast, and sometimes Satin called him Racer. Joe would stand lookout and race to tell them if they’d been discovered. It was her task to ensure the boys were not discovered.
When she stepped into the common room, every pair of eyes fastened on her. Not on her, exactly, but on her bubbies. This was why she hated dressing like a girl. The boys forgot she could give them a black eye, and started slobbering over her female parts. Marlowe put her hands on her hips. “What are you looking at? Haven’t you ever seen bubbies before?”
Some of the boys looked down, but a few grinned at her. One was a cub who’d joined the gang a few years after she had. She didn’t know his real name, but he went by Beezle. He was almost as tall as Gideon, and he was strong. Marlowe wasn’t certain she could beat him in a brawl. The bawds tended to avoid him, and Marlowe knew he had a reputation for violence. Beezle’s gaze stayed on her long after she met his glare straight on. Any other boy would have looked away.
Satin stepped between the two. “Off you go. I want a good haul. I’ll meet you at the fencing ken.” Gideon handed Marlowe a large burlap sack, and the four cronies stepped outside.
Seven Dials came alive at night. In daylight, it sometimes appeared the sole haunt of the lowest prostitutes and invalids who stooped in every doorway. The bawdy houses and taverns were shuttered and dark, though the gin shops were always open and filled with drunks. In the weak daylight, children and maimed soldiers who were out and about slinked by or crouched in corners, forgotten and forlorn, with their hands out. But darkness had descended now, and with it every man, woman, or child who thrived in the shadows. The streets were crowded, with men and women spilling out of brightly lit public houses. Marlowe watched gentlemen from Mayfair stumble about drunkenly. They would be easy pickings.
“We’ll make more on the better-racket,” Gideon said, tucking the bess under his coat. He’d use the tool to force the house’s door open. He walked beside her, almost protectively. She drew more attention in the dress than she liked. She nodded at the truth of his statement. Besides, she was in no hurry to encounter any more gentlemen tonight. She hadn’t forgotten her run-in with the man who called himself Sir Brook. Now she found herself studying every swell they passed, worried it might be he. But he’d said she could come to him. He’d told her where his office was located. Actually, he’d tried to give her his card. Was the man a fool? She couldn’t take his card. What if Satin found it?
“You know how this works,” Gideon said now as they moved toward the sundial, marking the entrance to Seven Dials. It also marked their exit. Marlowe focused on Gideon’s words, rather than think about the events of the afternoon. She couldn’t afford to be distracted.
“Marlowe will knock on the door and spill her tale.” He handed her a sheet of parchment. She opened it and sighed. She could pick out a few words and saw this was the shipwreck cock-and-bull. She’d used it a hundred times. The paper was a forged passport for Theodosia Buckley. She’d show it to make her story seem more credible. She’d ask for money so she could take the post back home to Shropshire. She probably wouldn’t get much blunt, if any, but that wasn’t the point. While she detained the owners of the house, Gideon, Stub, and Tiny would gut the place. Joe would stand guard in case the Watch or a carriage passed by. The boys would check all clear before they climbed back out the windows, and when she heard Joe’s signal, she’d finish her Banbury tale and meet at the rendezvous.
“Where is the rendezvous?” she asked when Gideon had finished going over the boys’ jobs. They all knew what to do, but Gideon liked to make sure everyone was prepared.
“The house is in Cheapside, near a bookstore,” Gideon told her. “We meet there. I’ll point it out when we pass.”
They passed out of Seven Dials, and Gideon suggested they split into two or three groups. A gang of five might look suspicious. Marlowe moved toward Tiny. Usually she walked with the smallest boy because people often thought they were mother and son, but Gideon put his hand on her arm. “Walk with me.” He tucked her arm in his, and the two strolled ahead as though they were lovers out for a walk. When they’d left the boys behind, Gideon said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said quickly.
“Marlowe, I know you. What’s wrong?”
She bit the pad of her thumb. Of course she hadn’t been able to hide anything from Gideon. “Gap and I were doing a dive on Piccadilly. Gap picked a bubble, and when I bumped into the game, he grabbed me and called me Elizabeth.” She whispered the name, though she knew no one could hear her.
“You looked like someone he knows,” Gideon suggested.
Marlowe shook her head. “I was dressed like a boy, but even if he’d seen through my disguise, he was looking for me. He told me he’d been waiting.”
“But Gap picked him.”
“I know.” The inspector must have been watching them for several days, noting their movements. It troubled her, but not as much as what he’d said when he’d pulled her into a private doorway. “He said my parents hired him to find me. They want me to come home.”
“I know what Satin said. He found me lost and abandoned in a park. He saved me.” But if that was true, why did she remember being loved, being happy? Satin had said she hadn’t known her name, probably hadn’t been given one. He claimed she was the daughter of a bunter—a half beggar, half whore. But she remembered a mother who was soft and smelled sweet. She remembered she’d been sung to and cradled and called Elizabeth.
As though he’d read her mind, Gideon said, “Are those memories or…” He trailed off, and she filled in the rest. She’d often wondered herself if her remembrances were just wishful thinking. But if they were just fantasies, how did she know that dilly, dilly lullaby? It wasn’t as though she’d heard it in St. Giles.
“Sir Brook couldn’t have known about any of that,” she said finally.
“He said that was his name. He’s an investigator.”
“Bow Street? Marlowe, either he’s trying to crimp you, or this is some sort of new rig.” He sped up. “That’s the bookstore.”
They ducked into the doorway, and Marlowe realized the conversation was over. Gideon was probably right. After all, how likely was it that she was the daughter of a great rum mort? More likely, she was the by-blow of a bunter. Brook had set up some sort of rig, and she was the bubble. But if it was a game, it was a good one. He’d even known when to walk away. He’d caught her attention and then told her to come to him if she was interested in meeting her parents. And then he’d walked away, leaving her standing on Piccadilly with her mouth hanging open. He hadn’t even asked for his blunt back.
“So what are you going to do?” Gideon asked as they waited for the boys to join them.
“Nothing,” she said. She hadn’t exactly decided, but if she told Gideon she was considering Sir Brook’s offer, he’d give her a long lecture about what a bad idea that was. And Gideon would be right. As Satin liked to point out, he spent a lot of time and effort training her and the other cubs. He’d fed them, clothed them, sheltered them. He took it personally when one of his cubs ran away. Few did so more than once. And if a boy did run away again, he was likely to be found floating in the Thames.
Marlowe had only ever tried to run away once, when she was about twelve. For her pains, Satin had beaten her to within an inch of her life. As she’d lain there, bleeding and crying, he’d leaned close to her ear and said, “I will never let you go, Marlowe. You’re too valuable to me. I’d rather you were dead than free.”
“Satin will never let me go,” she said.
“He has plans for you,” Gideon said without looking at her. He’d shoved his hands in his pockets and looked as if he didn’t care what Satin planned, but Marlowe had a feeling Gideon didn’t approve. “A big racket. He’ll have to cut line without you, and he’s invested too much for that.”
Marlowe suspected Satin was saving her for a big racket. She’d seen him whispering with Beezle on several occasions. Once or twice, they’d glanced her way. It was no surprise. She was the best thief the Covent Street Cubs had. But the better the suit, the more likely she’d be caught and thrown in Kings Head Inn. Newgate was not where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.
Neither did she want to spend it bilking for Satin. But what would she say to her parents now? If they had the blunt to hire a nob like Sir Brook, they were rich—by her standards, at any rate. They’d take one look at her and tell her to get out. At least she was wanted and needed by the Covent Garden Cubs.
“Here they come,” Gideon said, alerting her to the boys’ arrival. “You ready, Marlowe?”
“Always.” And she meant it. She put away thoughts of mothers and fathers. She couldn’t afford to feel mushy inside or worry whether someone would love her or not. If this racket produced only dead cargo, she’d have a lot more to worry about than whether lovebirds sang in the trees or if Mommy would tuck her in at night.
She straightened her shoulders, gave a nod to Gideon and the boys, then went around the house they’d be robbing. She gave them a moment to get in position before crossing the street and starting up the walk. She heard the clop of horse hooves on the street behind her, but it wasn’t unusual for people to be out and about this time of evening. She glanced back at Joe, who stood in the shadows on the corner, and he gave her the all clear. Just a carriage passing by. Nothing to concern her. There was nothing wrong with knocking on someone’s door, and that was all the carriage’s occupants would see her do.
She started up the steps, and too late spotted a movement from the servants’ steps leading to the basement below. Before she could react, a man grabbed her, lifted her as though she were a sack of potatoes, and threw her over his shoulder. She fought and she screamed, but for all her clawing and scratching and punching, he held on. Joe was coming for her, and she screamed for him. He’d save her. If not Joe, Gideon. She would not be spirited away like this. She was certain of that.
And then she was shoved into a carriage, and a sack pulled over her head. Darkness descended.
“Ms. Galen's accuracy of language is nothing short of stunning, her prose is luminous and lush, and her meticulous attention to detail enhances an already smashing story: Earls Just Want...
“Ms. Galen's accuracy of language is nothing short of stunning, her prose is luminous and lush, and her meticulous attention to detail enhances an already smashing story: Earls Just Want To Have Fun is not to be missed!” - Fresh Fiction
“The first installment of the Covent Garden Cubs series is pure Galen: a lively pace, wonderful repartee, colorful dialogue, a marvelous cast of characters and, most of all, emotional depth with just enough humor to make you smile and cry.” - RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars, TOP PICK!
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 384 pages