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The Charade [Mass Market Paperback]

Laura Lee Guhrke
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In the early months of 1775, Boston is seething with unrest ready to explode into revolution. Into this climate of hostility appears accomplished liar and thief Katie Armstrong, a runaway indentured servant. When two men observe the attractive young woman successfully plying her skills in the market, she has no choice but to do as each one bids in order to retain her precarious freedom. The ruthless Viscount Lowden forces Katie to spy on subversive colonial activity in hopes of learning the real identity of John Smith, a revolutionary leader who is constantly thwarting redcoat activities. Ethan Harding, a wealthy Tory sympathizer, forces Katie to spy for his side, and establishes her in elegant surroundings. Both men control Katie by threatening to return her to her sadistic master if she fails, but promise her freedom if she succeeds. Katie's dangerous existence becomes even more critical when she falls in love with Ethan--and discovers John Smith's true identity. Guhrke's (Breathless) cast of engaging characters, the well-researched historical background and a fast-paced plot provide a perfect context for the clever repartee and romantic tension between Katie and Ethan. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Laura Lee Guhrke isn't one of those lucky authors who knew from her childhood onward that she wanted to be a writer. As a child, she was sure she was going to be a marine biologist when she grew up and study the iguanas on the Galapagos Islands. Then she dissected her first (and last) frog in high school biology class and decided that a different career choice was in order. When an English teacher told her she could never be a writer because her stories were "too sappy", Laura vowed that someday she would prove that teacher wrong and become a writer, but her parents wanted her to go to college first (mainly so that she wouldn't spend her lifetime living in their house with no gainful employment while writing the Great American Novel).
It took four years of college studying business, and seven years on the corporate fast track before Laura decided it was time to fulfill the vow she'd made to herself and prove her English teacher wrong. She wrote her first novel in 1991, had her first published novel in 1994, and now has six published historical romances to her credit. For her 1997 book, Conor's Way, she has been honored with the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Historical Romance. Her latest book, The Charade, is a March, 2000, release from Pocket Books.
Laura loves writing historical romance because she has always wanted a time machine and this was the closest she could get. Historical romance enables her to go back in time, experience excitement and adventure, and capture the hearts of handsome heroes, all without leaving the safety and comfort of her home, dishwasher and cable tv.
Laura lives in Eagle, Idaho, a small town outside the state capital of Boise, and when she's not writing, she helps her parents run their construction company (which explains why they wanted her to get that business degree). She loves living in Idaho because she gets to ski and fly fish, and because she doesn't have that big-city, over-an-hour-each-way commute to work. Besides, her golden retriever, Sam, would HATE living in a big city because you can't chase pheasants and roll around in the mud when you live in a big city, and according to Sam, there would be no point to life if you couldn't roll around in the mud.
Laura loves hearing from readers, and you may write to her at P.O. Box 1143, Eagle, ID, 83616, or you may e-mail her at lauralee@micron.net.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Boston, February 1775

At dawn, North Square was seething with activity. Women with baskets stood amid the flimsy stalls of the marketplace, haggling with farmers or their agents over the high prices. Their voices mingled with the crowing of live turkeys for sale, the beckoning calls of merchants, and the rattle of carts that rolled through the square carrying precious firewood, apples, and onions from the country.

Preoccupied with their own business, no one noticed the man who stood in the doorway of an inn on the edge of the square. Perhaps it was because the winter morning was bleak, and his long black hair and black cloak blended into the dark shadows of the doorway. Or perhaps it was because he stood utterly motionless, little more than a shadow himself.

His position commanded an excellent view of the square, and in the dim light of early morning, his gray eyes restlessly scanned the area. He was looking for one man, and that man would tell him that his call for a meeting had been heeded.

Ethan Harding's acquaintances would have been astonished to see him skulking about in doorways in the wee small hours of the morning, since it was common knowledge that he never rose before noon. But then, they would not see him here, for they were fast asleep in their beds themselves, and it was unlikely they would have recognized him in any case. The dark clothing he wore was so unlike his customary wardrobe of colorful silks and lace, and his hair was not concealed by a powdered wig. The wealthy dandy of the Tory drawing rooms was completely unrecognizable in the serious man swathed in black who stood in the doorway of a second-rate inn on North Square. And that suited Ethan perfectly well.

A fishmonger's cart rolled into his line of vision and came to a stop. Ethan let out his breath in a slow sigh of relief at the sight of the driver, a big, bald Scotsman who jumped down from the cart, crying, "Fresh clams today! Fresh clams!"

Colin Macleod's fish were often wrapped in seditious newspapers. Ethan smiled to himself, knowing perfectly well that Samuel Adams didn't mind if his fiery prose smelled of cod or haddock, as long as the public was kept informed of every single transgression committed by the British government.

Ethan started toward Colin, but matrons and housekeepers eager for fresh clams swarmed around the cart, and he stepped back into the shadows, waiting for the women to depart. While he waited, he continued to observe his surroundings, a habit gained from long experience.

The baker, Matthew Hobbs, had a stall beside Colin's cart and seemed to be doing a brisk business. A pity, since the man was a staunch Tory. Ah, well, not everyone wanted liberty from England. What they didn't realize was that it was inevitable.

A young woman of perhaps nineteen or twenty paused beside the baker's stall, less than a dozen feet from Ethan's place in the shadows. Her clothes were rags, too tattered to make her the servant of even the meanest master. Against the chill of the Boston winter, she wore no hat. Her hair, the golden brown color of honey, was cropped short, and Ethan guessed she had probably sold the rest of it to buy food or lodgings. She stood in profile to him, and although the long cloak she wore hid the lines of her body, Ethan could see hunger in the hollow of her cheek and the line of her throat. She was clearly a beggar, a common street waif a man would seldom notice, unless it was with a wary eye and a hand on his purse. But when she turned his way, Ethan drew a deep breath of surprise and revised his opinion. There was nothing common about this girl. She had the face of an angel.

Ethan was not a man to be impressed by a woman's beauty. In truth, he seldom noticed women at all these days, which he considered rather a shame when he took the time to think of it. There had been a point in his life when women had been one of his major preoccupations, but suspicion was his only mistress now, and he knew all too well that treachery could hide easily behind a woman's charms. Ten years as a spy had taught him that. Nonetheless, he could not help staring.

Her wide eyes were the azure blue of a summer sky, with all the innocence of a child. Yet her thick, dark lashes and soft, generous lips had all the seductiveness of a courtesan. Her features were delicate, her flawless skin the color of cream. But it was her smile that fascinated Ethan. It was a smile that could make a man abandon his ideals, forget his honor, sell his soul. It was a smile that enslaved. It was magic.

He wondered what had brought that smile to her lips, but from this vantage point, he could not tell. She returned her attention to the baker, who, like Colin, was preoccupied with a crowd of customers. Because he was observing her so closely, Ethan did not miss the apparently casual glance she gave her surroundings or the two meat pies that slipped from the baker's table into the folds of her cloak.

Well done, he approved, watching in amusement. Anyone who stole from a Tory deserved high praise indeed. She moved out of Ethan's line of vision, and he leaned forward so that he could continue to watch her, but she disappeared into the crowd.

He leaned back in the comfortable shadows of the doorway to wait for Colin to be free of customers. Even though the two men would speak in seemingly trivial terms, Ethan did not want to run the risk of having anyone overhear their conversation. It was always best to be cautious.

A boy of about twelve stood near Ethan's doorway selling newspapers. Tory newspapers, no doubt, since it was almost impossible for a boy to sell Whig newspapers in the marketplace these days. The soldiers harassed the Whig newspaper sellers so mercilessly that such an occupation was hazardous for a boy. Ethan set his jaw grimly. Soon, boys would be able to sell newspapers with any opinions under the sun without fear of reprisal from the bored and unruly troops of a tyrannical king.

A man paused beside the boy to buy a newspaper, a man who was obviously wealthy. His shoe buckles were cast of silver, his cane was made of gold and ivory, and his wig was of the finest quality. Ethan could not see his face, but the fashionable cut of his clothes, the vivid peacock-blue color of his coat, and the lavish lace at his cuffs proclaimed him an even more dandified Tory than Ethan pretended to be.

"Thief! Thief!"

The sudden cry rose above the noise of the crowd, and Ethan once again leaned forward in the doorway, curious to see what was going on. To his surprise, he saw the angel girl again, but this time, she was in the grip of a prosperous merchant.

"I am no thief!" she said indignantly, trying to wrench her wrist free of her captor's grasp. "Unhand me!"

"You took my pocket watch. I know you did." Keeping a firm hold on her wrist, the man looked around for a constable. Ethan watched as she shoved and struggled against her captor, and he caught the glint of silver as she slipped the man's watch into his pocket.

Clever girl. Ethan grinned, knowing no one would be able to prove theft against her now. Unaware that his property had been returned, the merchant continued to shout for a constable, but the only person who came to assist was a young redcoat officer. "What is going on here?" he demanded as he stepped forward out of the gathering crowd.

"This girl stole my watch," the merchant accused, twisting the girl's wrist with enough force to make her cry out.

"I did not! It's a lie!" She looked up at the officer, her gorgeous eyes wide and pleading. She lifted her free hand in a helpless gesture. "A ghastly mistake has been made," she said in a voice that would have melted stone. "This man thinks I have stolen something from him, and I am unable to convince him of my innocence. Oh, Major, you seem such an able and intelligent gentleman. Please help me."

The officer, who was only a lieutenant, puffed up like an arrogant peacock at her flattery. He smiled and patted her arm. "I'm sure everything will be fine," he said soothingly, and turned to the merchant. "When did you lose your watch, sir?"

"I didn't lose it," the other man said angrily, scowling at the officer. "She stole it."

"Have you proof of this?"

"Proof? She'll have it on her, and that's all the proof you'll need."

The girl's expression was one of such martyred innocence that Ethan nearly laughed aloud. "By all means, search me if you must," she said with injured dignity. "I will gladly submit if it will convince you I am innocent. But, if you please, sir, ask this gentleman to search his own pockets as well, for I am sure he is mistaken."

The lieutenant would not have been human if he had not responded to such a plea. He turned to the merchant. "Sir, are you certain your watch is not on your person?"

"Of course I'm certain. Any fool can see she stole it."

Being called a fool did not sit well with the lieutenant. He frowned. "Would you mind verifying that the watch is missing?"

"Of all the ridiculous..." The merchant let go of the girl and patted his pockets, muttering impatiently to himself and scowling, but his irritated expression changed to astonishment as he pulled the heavy silver watch out of his coat pocket.

"It appears that you have falsely accused this young lady," the lieutenant said.

"I must have misplaced it," the other man murmured, and Ethan choked back his laughter only with a great deal of effort. Red-faced, the merchant bowed stiffly and walked away without another word.

The girl turned to the officer, her face shining with gratitude. "Oh, Major, I don't know how to thank you."

Now that the excitement had passed, the crowd that had gathered around them dissipated. The dandy with the peacock-blue coat walked on with his newspaper, and matrons returned their attention to Colin's clams.

Ethan, however, continued to watch the girl. After such a close call, he expected her to beat a hasty retreat, but he found he had un...
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