Chapter 1

July 9, 1792, London

Henry Gardner was on his way to stop a wedding.

Not the actual wedding, mind you. Although he was prepared to dash into the church shouting “I object!” if he must.

He hoped it would not come to that. He still had roughly twenty-four hours before a debacle in a church would be necessary.

If all went well, Caroline Laird would never arrive at the church at all. Unless it were a small church in the village of Gretna Green.

Now he just had to figure out a way to make her understand that.

Convincing a young woman who was about to become a countess to run away on the eve of her nuptials to marry him instead, when doing so could result not only in a dramatic horse chase to the Scottish border but also their being cut off without a penny to their names… Well, he fully acknowledged it would be a complicated conversation. One which he would worry about when he arrived at the masquerade.

He fiddled with the mask lying on the dark oak dresser beside him—black and gold, with a red rose painted along the left side. While lately, there was no consensus as to whether Henry was angel or devil, most of the fairer sex agreed he was handsome as sin. Caroline used to think so. In the right finery and with the right words, he hoped she would think so again tonight.

There was a time, not so long ago—six months to be exact—when an invitation to any Laird event would have been a guaranteed thing. The heads of the Laird and Gardner families had been like brothers.

Until they were not.

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