Scoundrels, thieves and rebels inhabit the rookeries--where the women are fierce and the men are dangerous.
SHE'S GIVEN UP ON LOVE, AND WANTS ONLY INDEPENDENCE...
Torn from her life of privilege by her father's death, Kate Morgan survives in London's dark and depraved rookeries as a fence for stolen goods. The last man she ever expects, or wants, to be reunited with is her first love, who promised to cherish, honor and protect her, and instead fled amidst accusations of murder.
HE'S THE REFORMED RAKE DETERMINED TO WIN HER BACK.
One drunken night cost Daniel O'Reilly the woman he loved. If he ever wants to reclaim Kate--and his old life--he'll not only have to prove he's innocent of murder, but convince the pistol-wielding hellion that he's no longer the scoundrel he once was.
Together, they'll have to face a killer. Time is running out...
Kate Morgan’s neck prickled with awareness. Someone was following her.
It was not an unusual occurrence. As a fence for stolen goods living east of the City in tenement housing with more thieves than honest men, Kate had grown accustomed to being followed. They approached slowly, until she crossed the alley that divided Upper Shadwell from Broad Street, where the light from the lamps grew dim.
There they met her, thinking the darkness would give them sufficient cover to filch her valuables. That was their grave mistake.
She had nothing of value left.
Her pace was steady as she neared the alley, but her hand clenched around the worn wood handle of a Forsyth flintlock pistol. She breathed in deep, instantly regretting it when the sick smells of excrement and bodily fluids assaulted her senses.READ MORE
She glanced over her shoulder discreetly and saw the tall, muscular frame of a man with a hat pulled down low on his brow. Without a lantern, she could not distinguish his exact features. She moved her finger to the trigger. The pistol was fully cocked and loaded.
His footsteps echoed in the alley. He made no pains to keep his presence unknown. When he was several yards away, Kate spun on her heel, lifting the gun upwards. She took a step back to lead him into the lamp glow that shone bright in a nearby window. If he would attack her, he must do it face to face, so that she could describe him to the Metropolitan Police. The Peelers had at least one use: there were more of them around than there had been of the old Watch.
No man would make a victim of her again.
She leveled the gun at the stranger’s chest. “I don’t want to shoot you.” Her voice was calm, even confident. In the past two and a half years, she’d learned to lie, to steal, and to brazen through the worst of situations. She’d had no other choice.
One more step forward, and she could see him clearly in the light.
The man stood his ground. Fear tightened her throat and she forced it down, until it was only a burning sensation in her stomach. Like every other useless emotion, fear was meant to be mastered.
He stood in front of the window, his damnably handsome features on display for her. Doffing his hat, he carded a hand through his short ginger hair, a gesture as familiar to her as the soothing weight of her pistol. His wide forehead was creased with worry, strong jaw set with determination. His straight nose led down to lips reddened from the cold.
“Kate.” His voice sent a shiver up her spine. A hint of a brogue, mottled with thicker country English, like he’d been raised by Irish immigrants.
It could not be Daniel.
He had fled London three years ago. Surely, he’d not be foolish enough to return. One hint of his whereabouts and the Peelers would be out for his blood.
“I won’t hold you accountable if you shot me.” His gaze never left her gun, green eyes wide.
Her heart pounded in her ears, every part of her body awakened by his presence. She didn’t meet his eyes, instead letting her gaze travel down from his face to his broad shoulders and narrow waist. He was lanky and well-built like a bar brawler, with powerful hands that had once brought forth the most salacious of moans from her lips.
Powerful hands that an eyewitness claimed had been used to slit a man’s throat with such force that it ripped out his esophagus and severed his windpipe. Those hands were currently raised, unarmed, in supplication. But Kate knew better: a man could secret away many weapons on his body.
With Daniel, his greatest weapon had always been the destruction he wreaked upon her carefully ordered existence.
“Put down your barking iron, love. I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to talk.” He placed his hat back on his head.
She narrowed her eyes. “There is nothing you could do to me that you haven’t already done.” Her hold on the gun shook and she quickly steadied it.
“While shooting me might be justifiable, it’d make a hellish mess…” A small smile creased his lips, an attempt at a joke she didn’t appreciate.
Kate lowered the gun but left it cocked. Stubbornly, she held on to that last defense. She tried to make herself believe she would fire on him—if the need arose.
She should be furious. Enough to want to shoot him, for if anyone in England deserved shooting it was Daniel O’Reilly. She should want to do anything but fling herself in his arms, crush up against his chest, and press her lips to his to see if they still fit so wondrously against hers.
This, like everything else, was a situation that could be met with order and rationality.
Kate tapped the butt of the pistol against her leg. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m proving to you that I didn’t kill Tommy Dalton.”
So simple, so direct, she almost believed him. As if the years were nothing and losing him hadn’t torn her carefully arranged world apart. But things had changed, and she couldn’t stand across him from as the besotted girl she’d been, desperate for his love and willing to do anything for him.
“Three years I’ve waited for you to bloody come back,” she hissed. “I thought you’d died, Daniel. For so many nights, I imagined you lying in a ditch off Brighton Road, with nobody to identify your body. I can’t come back from that.”
“I’m sorry. I thought if I left—” He stopped. Bit his lip, like he’d done whenever he wasn’t certain of something.
He damn well better not be sure of what they were to each other. She’d gone through too much to get him out of her head, too much to let him back in only to hurt her again.
Her eyes narrowed. “You should have stayed if you were innocent.”
Was that guilt in his tone? He tugged on his hat brim, pulling it lower over his eyes until it was a mourning shroud. Did he grieve the time lost, the life he could have had with her if he hadn’t been so foxed? Maybe he would have remembered more about the murder and proven to the police he wasn’t guilty.
No, he couldn’t regret the past. Because a repentant man—a caring man—would have reached out to her again.
She sunk back into anger, her voice rising with each question. “If you knew you were wrong to leave, why didn’t you come back? How am I supposed to believe in your innocence when you escape transport to Newgate? When you don’t write?”
He held a hand up to stop her. “Please, quiet your voice.”
“Why should I? Because this isn’t good and proper for you?” She spat the words out, refusing to lessen her volume. “Because someone might find you? God forbid, you finally face the Met’s officers.”
“Do you truly believe I could have slit that man’s throat?” His voice broke.
No. The local constable had an eyewitness to the murder. But here she stood across from Daniel, and part of her wanted to fall back against him and never be alone again. Even if being with him meant she’d lose everything she’d worked for—a life where she answered to no one.
His eyes never left her face, as if memorizing the contours. She fought the urge to cover her face with her hand. In the lamplight, every imperfection was on display. Time had not been kind to her. When he fled, she’d been on the cusp of the lowest levels of the ton, almost accepted but not quite. She had worn tailored silk, not a secondhand dress from the rag shops in Field Lane, originally made for a woman on a better diet than scraps.
Kate didn’t know who she hated most: the spoiled woman she had been then, the harridan she currently was, or Daniel.
She stepped back from him. “It doesn’t matter what I believe.”
“It matters to me,” he pleaded.
“You know, the Peelers interviewed me after you fled.” She ran her finger along the handle of her gun, tracing the inlaid roses. The pattern was familiar, but a comfortable familiar, one that did not fling her headfirst into a strange abyss like his presence. “They dredged up every bit of our past, told me all about finding you with that warehouse laborer’s corpse, and all I could think about was how we were supposed to be married. We were supposed to be happy.”
Happiness was illusive. It didn’t come to ruined women like her.
“I never lied to you. I’ve done many wretched things, but I never once lied to you.” His voice dipped lower, gentle and intimate, a caress to the tired parts of her soul that had ached to hear such confessions.
“What do you call telling me that you’d protect me? That we’d always be together? All you did was lie.” She flung each accusation at him with the same accuracy she shot her gun, knowing what weaknesses would hurt him most.
She hated every damn thing about him because he made her believe things that weren’t true. There was no haven in loving him. Devil take it, when laws defined women as property, there was no safe man.
She stepped back. On the edge of Upper Shadwell, a carriage clopped by, for at this late hour London didn’t sleep. Prostitutes lingered at the street corners, powder and rogue over skin stretched tight.
Daniel followed her out onto the street. He lingered too close. She wondered vaguely if he’d smell like bergamot and cloves, the scent that haunted her dreams. He’d obliterate the odor of rotting refuse of the rookeries, and make her believe she could go back into the past.
That woman didn’t exist any longer.
Kate retreated quickly, so fast that she didn’t notice the drunken sailor leaning against the doorway until she’d already backed into him. A hand brushed against her bottom, thankfully protected by her thick skirts. She tore away and turned to face the offender. His eyes were red-rimmed and a knife hung limply between his fingers, forgotten over the pursuit of her rump.
“’Ello, Merry bird, ye got somethin’ for me? Look at ’er, Jay, ’ave ye ever seen a better dimber mort?” The sailor gestured to a man hidden in the shadows of the doorway, his face clouded and barely visible in the darkness. “I tell ye, Jay, when we get ’em Things down by the Fortune—” The sailor’s knife twitched between his fingers.
Kate took another step back. The Fortune of War public house was a known haunt for grave robbers. Her fingers clenched around the handle of her fully cocked pistol. She could defend herself if it came to that.
The man in the shadows snapped something under his breath, and the sailor’s expression changed. Paleness swept over his yellow skin, his lower lip quivering. She felt the tension rise between them, thick and choking. A fight brewed.
She wanted to leave, but she wouldn’t turn her back on Daniel. Before she could form a plan of attack, Daniel grabbed hold of her arm and tugged. He kept moving until they had rounded one corner and then another, reluctantly releasing her when they entered a more populated area. In the distance, a low-pitched scream echoed from where they had been. It died off in the distance.
Another one killed, and no one to mourn him.
She doubted the sailor’s death would make the papers. He’d slip through the cracks like so many others. The warehouse laborer Tommy Dalton had only warranted a few broadsheets because of the gruesomeness of his murder and the connection to her father’s old company, Emporia Shipping.
Daniel had pulled her onto another part of Upper Shadwell. The road buzzed with activity, from the influx of patrons who wandered in and out of the dram houses to the dockworkers on the prowl for a cheap whore. Their noise filled her ears, snippets of various conversations clouding her thoughts.
“It kills me to see you here,” Daniel murmured.
A lover’s tone, softer and warmer than she wanted. “If it hurts you so bad, leave again. This is where I live now.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I couldn’t have known Emporia would go bankrupt. I thought your father’s company was insoluble, as did the rest of the shipping industry. You’ve got to believe me, Katiebelle.”
“Don’t call me that. You’ve got no right to call me that.” Her throat clenched at her father’s nickname for her, a sting of grief that had lessened but not dissipated in two and a half years.
“Once you liked it when I did.”
“Once I liked a lot of things you did.” She stepped out into the street, under the beam of the street lamp.
But now I don’t. If she told herself that enough times, she might start to believe it.
Daniel remained in the shadows, unwilling to risk the exposure offered by the lamp. He would always be in the dark: an accused murderer too scared to atone for past mistakes. He’d drag her down with him. She couldn’t risk tying herself to him, and the Peelers investigating her criminal activities.
She took one last look at him. He smiled at her, accepting her perusal as a sign of good will and not the goodbye it truly was.
When patrons came out of the nearby Three Boars public house, Kate took advantage of their exit, slipping in unnoticed by Daniel. From her vantage point at the door, she saw him turn slowly, first to the left and then the right. Eventually, he might follow her, but by the time he did she would be tucked away at a table far in the back.
This was her world. The rookeries were her life.
He could not change that with a simple reappearance.
Daniel’s stomach lurched. He should have known he’d have to enter a public house again. The single-floor dram joint was jammed between several other shops on Chapman Street. Set up above were tenements, reached by an entrance unseen from the road. Flaked green paint on the walls revealed bare, rotted wood in areas. A circular sign hung above the street, bearing the image of a three-headed boar on a rampage.
The Three Boars was in short, a public house like any other in the borough of Stepney. His breath came in short, irregular pants.
Devil take him, he wanted—he needed—to see Kate again. She had gone inside, leaving him no choice but to go in as well. He lingered too long at the door, blocking the entrance. People gathered behind him, shouting their inquiries on the wait. That was attention he didn’t need: should the police find out about his reappearance, he would surely be taken back to Newgate to face trial, not only for his escape, but for the murder.
But he had to be something better. He hated the man he was when he drank. His sister, Poppy, claimed he was ready. She supported him, and damn it all, he would not fail her again.
He stepped inside the door.
Almost all of the battered circular tables were occupied by a squalid collection of rogues, men with bleary red eyes and hard grips around mugs of gin. The whole place reeked of blue ruin, assaulting his senses and triggering memories of times after he’d left London, waking up on the floor of another brothel. He remembered fights he’d started because the gin made him wild and reckless.
He leaned on the end of the bar, searching the room for Kate.
“Care for a penny’s worth?” The barmaid ceased wiping the counter-top.
He blinked. Her accent was distinctly East London, yet her speech was polished. The lady had airs that didn’t fit with Ratcliffe. Her head barely rose above the tall counter; if she leaned down, only the simple white cap that confined her raven locks would be visible.
“I’m looking for a woman,” he said.
“And you think this is a brothel?” Her face hardened, brows knit in distaste. “This is Chapman territory. If you leave now, I won’t call them to escort your vile rear out.”
“No, no, you misunderstand me.” He quickly held up his hand. “I’m looking for Miss Kate Morgan. I saw her come in here.”
Recognition dawned in the girl’s green eyes, but she clamped her lips shut, taking a moment to survey him. “What do you want with Kate?”
“She is an old friend from when I lived in London. Please, I just want to speak to her. I don’t mean her any harm.” He scanned the room again. He couldn’t see Kate in the hordes of people. The bar was deceptively large, extending far beyond his view.
The barmaid stared at him a moment longer. Her button nose wrinkled as she thought. “She is at a table in the back.”
“Thank you.” He turned away, the tightness in his chest from the putrefaction of gin weighing heavily on him each breath was a struggle.
The barmaid called after him. “And sir? If you hurt her, not only will you have Chapman Street gang at your back, but I’ll personally draw your claret.”
“I’ve no intent to hurt her, Miss—?”
Her guarded expression was back. “Putnam. Jane Putnam.”
He nodded. “Miss Putnam.”
He made his way through the crowds. Finally, he pulled out a chair at her table. Kate had removed her greatcoat and bunched it underneath her to ward off thieves. Her gaze never wavered as she searched his face. He thought he knew what she saw: a marred image barely resembling who he had once been. His breath sucked inward, a futile attempt to draw in courage with the air.
Kate glowered. “Must we do this again? Whatever you want, Daniel, I’m not interested.”
“I don’t want anything except your company.” He wanted many things: to win her heart back, to prove his innocence, to regain some sense of control over his existence. But for now he’d settle for a civil conversation with her.
She folded her hands over each other. Her gloves were threadbare, the seams about to burst. “Tell me what is so important that you felt it necessary to linger in the exact alley I’d take to get home from the market. I don’t want to think of how long you may have been spying on me, biding your time.”
“I’ve been in London for five days.” Five long days in which he’d holed up at Madame Tousat’s Boarding House and pored over information from his friend, Atlas.
Finally, he had the names of people who might know something about the night of the murder. If he could avoid being captured by the Peelers long enough to figure out who had really killed Tommy Dalton, he might have another chance to prove to Kate he could be the man she deserved.
He glanced at the tables surrounding them. To their left, a group of sailors sat huddled around what was likely a pornographic pamphlet, from their jeers at the contents. One man in shirtsleeves with an anchor tattooed on his neck looked directly at him. Daniel pulled the brim of his hat down lower to shade more of his face, a lump high in his throat.
He couldn’t recognize me, not in this light.
The barmaid came by, setting Kate’s plate of mutton and a glass of ale in front of her. Jane turned to him. “Would you like something?”
“He won’t be staying,” Kate interjected.
Jane simply shrugged, unconcerned.
“I don’t need anything to drink.” Daniel managed to keep the right amount of calm in his voice, like he’d practiced with Poppy. He didn’t need a drink, but he wanted one with every fiber in his being.
As soon as Jane left, Kate turned back to him. “I never thought I’d see the day when Daniel O’Reilly wasn’t thirsty. You used to be a crank man.”
“I used to be a lot of things.” Stalwart, honorable, respectable: those were the terms which had once been applied to him. The taste of crank lingered on his tongue, though he had not drank the blessed gin and water in months.
Pulling the plate closer, Kate cut into the mutton with gusto, as if it was an epicurean treat served by her father’s old cook.
Daniel lowered his voice, deciding to play it safe. “Do you know a man named Atlas Greer? They call him the Gentlemen Thief.”
Kate drew back from him. “Do you really think I’d be foolish enough to confess my associations, so that you have something to hold over me if I don’t comply with what you want?”
“Christ, Kate, why do you think I’d do that?”
She gave him a look that told him exactly how little she thought of him.
“I asked because he’s a friend of mine. I wrote to him a few months ago to ask him to look into my case.” Daniel had penned that letter a month into sobriety, but he held that information back. “Atlas is a savant when it comes to puzzles. He sees conspiracies in a simple trip to the market. I thought maybe he’d find something the constable missed.”
“When we were together, you never once mentioned your friend Atlas.” Kate’s eyes held a hard glint.
“I’d been appointed your father’s assistant. Somehow I didn’t think it in my best interest to confess my affiliation with a known thief, brilliant lad that he is or not. That doesn’t matter much now, does it?” He’d always wanted Kate to meet Atlas, but not like this.
“No, I suppose not. All those hours Papa spent grooming you to take over the company, and you threw it away as if it was nothing. I don’t understand you, Daniel.” She spoke around bites of mutton.
“Your father was never going to let me lead the company.” He had known Morgan had plans for him, but he couldn’t see himself as the head of a large shipping company. Her father had never specified that Daniel was his successor.
“Why do you think he introduced you to all his damned suppliers, his business partners? Because he believed in you.” She hissed the last word as though it was the gravest insult.
Once you believed in me, too.
“When you got arrested, Papa’s good name was dragged through the ditches. Everything he’d done for you, and instead you brought shame to our door.”
“I’m sorry.” He’d been a fool to not imagine what wide-reaching effects his departure would have.
“Apologies won’t bring back the company or my life.” She wouldn’t look at him, gaze intent on the mutton.
He was so unimportant to her he didn’t deserve her attention.
They lapsed into silence. She patted at her hair, parted in the middle with short curls on her temples. When he had last seen her, she had worn her chocolate curls in ringlets with silk flowers. He liked this new, simpler style better. It felt more genuine.
He let his gaze run down her frame. She had always been tall, but she was gaunter now—her thinness was emphasized by the swell of her wide skirts, the puffed sleeves of her azure dress.
Yet she remained the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
Kate finished her mutton and took a swig of ale. He watched the line of her throat as she swallowed, imagined the taste of the frothy brown liquid on his tongue. Her fingers curled around the clay mug. An angry scratch ran across her wrist, in the space between her glove and sleeve. Dark circles lined her eyes.
I doomed her to a life of hard labor and injustice.
“After I left…” He didn’t know how to finish that sentence without hurting her, and so the words spilled out like the rapid clip-clop of horse hooves on cobblestone. “What happened to you? Why did no one help you when the company collapsed?”
He didn’t add what he truly wanted to know: why didn’t you marry? Could you still love me?
She sat up straighter, spine stiffened. “That is none of your business.”
When Atlas had told him she lived in the rookeries, he was aghast. She was the daughter of an upper middle class merchant; someone in her social class should have helped her. Even without her father’s money, she should’ve been able to marry well based on her beauty alone.
“You should have better than this, Katiebelle.” He leaned forward, pretending the smell of her soap pierced through the haze of gin.
“And who shall give that happy future to me? You?” She gave a harsh, guttural laugh.
“I could.” He hated the pleading tone of his voice. “If I can prove my innocence, then I’ll be able to find work in London again.”
“I deserve your scorn.” He deserved far more than that, yet he kept silent, lest he give her ideas on the best ways to throttle him from across the table.
“Damn right you do,” she muttered.
“But if you give me a chance, I’ll show you I’ve changed.” He searched her face, deluding himself into believing he saw a ghost of compassion in her brown eyes, in the slight quiver of her bottom lip.
Slowly, her posture rigid, she rearranged her thick skirts. She patted the greatcoat underneath her, where she had slipped the pistol. “You have five minutes to tell me what the Gentleman Thief has discovered.”COLLAPSE
Maria Rose on All About Romance wrote:
Regency historical, lower-class. Second chance at love -- Heroine is a fence, hero is her first love, once accused of murder, now back to win her.
Elyse on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote:
"Erica Monroe's début historical romance, A Dangerous Invitation, takes us into the back alleys of London in an engrossing tale of betrayal, redemption and second chances...Readers will find themselves unable to put the story down as it races to its conclusion. A Dangerous Invitation has everything I want in an historical romance - an excellently researched setting, wonderfully realistic flawed characters, steamy love scenes, fast paced action and an overwhelming feeling of complete satisfaction at the end of the story."
-Desert Island Keeper, A Review
Vanessa Kelly, Award-winning Author wrote:
If I could inject this book directly into my veins, I would...This book is the perfect escape. It's rich in setting and suspense, and it's a romance between two beautifully damaged people. - A+ Review
Delilah Marvelle, USA Today Bestselling Author wrote:
Gritty, engaging, and emotionally compelling, with a hero and heroine who will break your heart and have you rooting for them!
David on The Kindle Book Review wrote:
Engrossing...very evocative of the era. A book with grit, the kind of historical I want to read.
on Romantic Historical Reviews:
The book is outstanding, presenting a realistic picture of life in London in conjunction with a beautiful love story.
The author has a vision for creating the perfect atmosphere in each scene...like a Dickens novel, evokes compassion from the reader for the characters and their struggle
Letter to Readers
- Erica was inspired to write Kate Morgan after watching the first four seasons of the TV show Castle. Kate is named after Detective Kate Beckett.
- In 2014, A Dangerous Invitation was included in the limited time boxed set Tempted by His Touch, which hit the USA Today Bestseller's List twice.
- The villains in A Dangerous Invitation are resurrection men, or graverobbers that sold corpses to anatomists for profit. England's laws at the time only allowed surgeons to use the bodies of convicted criminals for autopsy, which meant that there very few bodies and many surgeons wanting to advance in their field. Because of this, a criminal could make good money as a resurrection man.
- The historical case referenced in A Dangerous Invitation is real. The Italian Boy case, where three men murdered a boy street peddler and sold his body to anatomists for money, took place in 1831. ADI starts in January 1832, after the three murderers have faced trial. This trial is used as motivation for villain Jasper Finn, who fears that the increased police vigilance for grave robbers will undo his operations. Approximately six months after the events of A Dangerous Invitation, the Anatomy Acts would be repealed and subsequently England would no longer have a need for resurrection men.
- A Dangerous Invitation heavily features the London Docks, where there truly are wool warehouses. Kate's father's defunct shipping company, Emporia, was based off of early plans for the East India Trading Company.