Pickpocket Countess

Pickpocket Countess
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It's Brandon Wycroft's duty as the Earl of Stockport to catch the "Cat," a notorious thief who is stealing from rich local homes to feed the poor.Discovering that the Cat is a woman, he changes his plan of action–to a game of seduction! Mysterious and tempting, she teases him. And, as the net closes around the Cat, Brandon realizes he wants to protect her as well as bed her. But the only way to catch her is to spring the parson's mousetrap–and make her his countess!

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For Jeff and Diane Clausen and Ellen Holt,

who are great fans and even better friends.

As always, for my awesome family.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter One

Near Manchester, England, Early December, 1831

Even in the darkness, he could sense the subtle alteration of the chamber. The room had been disturbed. Brandon Wycroft, the fifth Earl of Stockport, muttered curses under his breath. Damn, The Cat had been here.

The irony of the burglary was not lost on him. While twelve distinguished men of the district met downstairs in his library, smoking his fine cigars, drinking his expensive brandy and plotting how they’d catch the latest menace to the peace, that very menace had prowled free upstairs, daring to invade his most private sanctum: his bedroom.

It was only due to his keen hearing and the location of his rooms over the library that he had heard the faint scraping of a chair on the floor at all and had gone upstairs to investigate.

Curtains stirred at the window, calling his attention to the source of the winter chill permeating his quarters. The window was open. A slight movement behind the curtains gave away the intruder.

Brandon’s eyes narrowed. His body tensed. He amended his earlier thought. Not ‘had prowled’ but ‘was prowling’. Standing in the doorway of his chambers, he knew his instincts were right. The Cat was still in the room.

Brandon’s dissatisfaction transformed itself into a sense of vindication. After a month of burglarising the wealthy of Stockport-on-the-Medlock and other potential investors in Manchester who supported the proposed textile mill, The Cat’s reign would come to an abrupt end tonight. He would catch The Cat right now and be done with the blustering investors downstairs who had been more interested in kow-towing to the nobleman in residence than concocting a worthy plan. Then he could get back to Parliament and the controversial reform legislation that awaited him in London. But first, he had to catch the man behind the curtain.

A figure emerged from the shadow of the heavy curtains. The figure did not bolt as Brandon expected, but stood brashly at the sill, letting the moonlight outline her silhouette.

Her? The Cat, the daring intruder who stood between him and the success of the mill, which he needed to save Stockport-on-the-Medlock from the ignominy of agricultural penury, was unmistakably a woman. A provocatively dressed woman at that, Brandon conceded, raking his gaze over her form.

Loose folds of a dark shirt draped over the swell of promising breasts. Glove-tight black breeches showed off a slender waist, encasing shapely hips and long-booted legs.

The woman was alluring, but that didn’t change the fact she was a thief intruding on his private domain and now she was entirely at his mercy. Brandon crossed his arms and affected an air of negligence. He leaned against the door frame, letting his tall form fill the space as an obvious blockade.

There would be no escape through the door as long as he lounged there. The only other option was the impossibly high window that dropped two storeys to the ground, begging the question of how the thief had managed to gain entrance to the house and make her way unnoticed upstairs to his bedroom.

‘I am afraid I have cut off your escape route. That is unless you favour the window.’ Brandon drawled the last with a touch of sarcasm, knowing full well how inaccessible it was, set thirty feet from the ground. He could not conceive of a way anyone could gain access to it, let alone escape through it. The room’s inaccessibility was one of the features he liked about his chambers. A man needed his privacy and Brandon guarded his with dogged determination.

The woman shrugged, indicating a lack of concern over the latest development. ‘The window served well enough as an entrance. I am certain it will suffice as an exit.’

Brandon scoffed. The statement was a fool’s bluff. ‘You came in through the window? Forgive me if I find your claim bordering on the preposterous. Aside from the window’s height, I have trained men patrolling the area. I am prepared to ward off an army if necessary.’

‘Exactly so, my lord. You were prepared for an army. You weren’t prepared for me. It is much easier for one person to slip through the defences than for many.’

Brandon did not care for the cocksure way she dismissed his careful patrols. ‘You are overly confident for a criminal who is about to be caught. You will face imprisonment, perhaps transportation, for the crimes you’ve committed. With the right judge, you may face hanging.’ The thought of this audacious woman facing such punishment suddenly sat ill with him. She exuded a wildness that he sensed would not do well behind bars. Her very presence radiated an elemental quality that drew him, unwilling though he was, into her game. He recognised the signs. She was flirting with him, challenging him to catch her.

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