Cover image for Tiger by the tail
Title:
Tiger by the tail
Author:
Claybourne, Casey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Berkley Books, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
312 pages ; 18 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780425163214
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In this wonderful new romance from acclaimed author Casey Claybourne, two free spirits find that love is a greater power than their wills. William Taggart paces like a tiger in his jail cell, after a fit of his temper put him in there. A lovely woman Melisande Mooresby appears before him and proposes a temporary marriage, which he accepts. Soon enough, she learns that this tiger is hardly easily tamed. But through the power of the bond that forms between them, they may find greater happiness than either of them ever believed possible...


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Diminutive but seemingly fearless, 22-year-old Melisande Moorseby, known as the She-Devil of Moorseby Hall, seems an unstoppable force as she peruses the inhabitants of the local jail to find an urgently needed husband. After her selection is delivered to the hall, she discovers that William Taggert is far from the biddable lout she thought she had found. A Scot who had been living in America, Will has his own reasons for going through what is supposed to be a sham marriage that will be annulled as soon as Melisande's younger sister is safely wed, a plan that is thwarted by the unexpected passions of the newlyweds. Although the regency-era setting is lightly drawn, Melisande's managerial competence and her plan for penal reform in conjunction with rehabilitation of the Taggert distillery in Scotland add an interesting dimension. Claybourne's fascinatingly complex characters and a lively, fast-moving plot, along with sensual lovemaking, should make this a hit with readers of spicy historical romance. --Diana Tixier Herald


Publisher's Weekly Review

Claybourne's newest historical romance (after Jaguar Eyes) is fresh, fast-paced fun. Independent Melisande Mooresby requires a husbandÄone who can pass as a gentlemanÄfor three weeks only. Once her viscount grandfather is satisfied she's well wed, she'll finally gain her inheritance to fund a house of reformÄand her younger, secretly pregnant sister will be free to wed her beloved. Melisande plucks a very handsome Scot out of the town jail to play the part of groom. Reluctant until he realizes his freedom is only an easy "I do" and an annulment away, Will Taggart agrees, keeping his own motives to himself. Once at Mooresby Hall, Melisande's brother delightfully ups the stakes for Will. As Melisande turns her "brute" into a gentleman worthy of her hand, Will discovers that the fringe benefits of the marriage just may foil his own plans for the future. In all, this is a charming and entertaining love story. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Mr. Bell, the keeper of Cullscombe's gaol, jerked his head up from his desk, blinking like a sun-starved mole. He scratched at his chins--all three of them--as he tried to determine what had so rudely interrupted his dreams of young Sally, the Pelican's buxom serving wench.     He cleared his ears with a tug at his earlobes and cocked his head to the side. A coach could be heard rattling down the sleepy country lane, its iron-rimmed wheels squeaking like a family of mice. Wishing that he were still in Sally's plump arms, Mr. Bell yawned broadly and tilted back on the legs of his chair to squint through the grease-streaked windowpanes. A carriage approached amid a cloud of gray Devonshire dust. He squinted harder into the glass. He could just make out the crest emblazoned on the door--     The chair slammed back onto all four legs. Mr. Bell, suddenly wide awake, threw himself across the paper-strewn desk and snatched hold of a half-empty bottle of gin. He tossed the bottle to the back of the desk drawer, then leaped to his feet, brushing feverishly at the bread crumbs on his vest. Outside, the coachman called to the horses. A harness jingled cheerily.     Cupping his hand over his mouth, the gaoler tested the spirits on his breath. Blast .... He sent a hasty glance over the cluttered desk, searching for something-- A rusty tin of lavender pomade caught his eye. In a flash, he opened the tin and scooped out a thick, oily dollop which he spread across his tongue. He had just managed to swallow when the front door swung open.     The hinges creaked ominously as sunshine sliced into the anteroom's deep gloom. A figure appeared on the threshold--a dark silhouette, cloaked from head to toe in a swirling cape of midnight black. Mr. Bell gulped and resisted the urge to cross himself.     Bugger his luck, it was ... her . It was the She-Devil of Mooresby Hall!     "M-Miss Mooresby," he squeaked. He remained behind the desk, taking a vague comfort in its scant protection.     "And good day to you, Mr. Bell."     Though she spoke softly, the sound of his name on her lips caused poor Thomas Bell to shiver with dread. What could she be wanting with the likes of him? Whatever it was, dear Lord, he'd gladly give it to her, for all of Devonshire knew that whatever Melisande Mooresby wanted, she eventually got.     One way or the other.     On the diminutive side--she couldn't have even reached five feet, he reckoned--the lady of Mooresby Hall was not one to let size stand in her way. Sure, she might have looked no bigger than a mite, but anyone who'd ever had dealings with the She-Devil knew the truth of the matter. Melisande Mooresby was a large wolf in a tiny lamb's garb. She was as bold and confident and determined-- Well, some in town said too bold and too confident for a mere woman. Some like Mr. Bell.     Faith, there wasn't a man in all of Cullscombe who still didn't shudder when relating the story of poor Tim Frye. Riding into town one wet, wintry day last December, Tim had carelessly plodded through a puddle, splashing mud over Patty Porter's skirts. Now, like a fool, Tim had neither stopped to apologize nor taken note of the small black-cloaked figure standing nearby on the walk. Before anyone could blink, Melisande Mooresby had stomped into the middle of the street, right into the path of his cantering mount. 'Twas a miracle she'd not been trampled, some said, while others had claimed Lucifer had merely been protecting his own. At any rate, the She-Devil had dragged Tim--all twenty stone of him--down from the saddle, and by gum, if she didn't have the old cobbler blubbering like a babe by the time he made his apologies to Miss Porter. Needless to say, a lot of folks were riding through town more slowly these days. And giving Melisande Mooresby a wide berth.     But there was no wide berth for Thomas Bell, no sir. Not today. Across the cold stone floor she came toward him, her skirts rustling like autumn's dried leaves. Framed by a thick fringe of lashes, her dark brown eyes shone nearly black. As black as the witch's mane she'd tucked beneath her veiled silk bonnet.     "Mr. Bell, while it is good to see you," she said in a deceptively subdued voice, "time compels me to be direct. I have need of your assistance."     His fingers clutched at the edge of the desk. "Anything, m'lady. Anything 't all."     She smiled. A warm, gentle smile that made the gaoler's skin crawl.     "It is a matter of some ... delicacy. A matter that will require complete and utter confidentiality. I hope that I may trust in your discretion?" She questioned him with a subtle lifting of her ebony brow.     He hurried to assure her. "Course, yet ladyship. Absolute discretion. You can trust your life with ole Thomas Bell, you can."     She smiled again, causing the constable to question if Satan himself had blessed the lady with such wicked loveliness.     "I assure you, Mr. Bell, that your cooperation will not go unrewarded. I will see to it personally." She gave a pointed glance to the bulging reticule riding against her hip. "Now, as to my business, sir. I would have a look at your prisoners."     Mr. Bell's nose twitched. His eyes darted from the purse to the gaol door. He'd heard around town that Miss Mooresby fancied herself one of those high-minded prison reformers. One of those ramshackle idealists who believed that, with proper guidance and such, the ne'er-do-wells of society could somehow be made over into law-abiding English citizens. Personally, he thought it hogwash. "Sow's ears into silk purses" was what those crazy Quakers preached.     "Miss Mooresby, them in there"--his chins jiggled as he jerked his head toward the prisoners' cells--"why, they just ain't fit to be seen by a proper lady, miss. They're a sorry lot, they are. Petty criminals and ruffians. Pickpockets and riffraff. You cannot honestly be wantin' to soil your skirts among the likes of them, can you now?"     The lady folded her gloved hands in front of her, her expression cold.     "Not only do I wish to view your `ruffians' and `riffraff,' Mr. Bell, but I wish to do so immediately. Time is of the utmost importance in this matter and I have not a second to waste. Not one more second. "     Her black eyes flashed in the muted light.     He swallowed and fumbled for the keys. "This way then."     Mr. Bell unlocked the door that led to the heart of the prison and ushered Miss Mooresby inside. The Cullscombe lockup was really nothing more than an old brick stable that had been converted into a gaol after the previous lockup, an alehouse cellar, had burned to the ground last summer.     "Mind your step," the gaoler advised. "The stones are a bit slick."     "Little wonder," she murmured as she lifted her hem above the moss-covered floor. "`Tis as damp and cool as a cave in here."     Mr. Bell fought back a grimace, fearing that a speech on penal improvements was about to be delivered. But the lady merely drew her bonnet's veil over her face and pulled her cloak closed, hiding the trimness of her figure.     Shrewd thinkin', the gaoler thought with approval. Some of these blokes had been locked up nigh on to seven months now. The sight of a comely lass would have surely stirred up trouble.     "So, my lady, is it a stablehand you're wantin'? Someone to work at the Hall?"     "Yes," she answered slowly. "I am looking for someone for Mooresby Hall."     Mr. Bell shook his head. Why didn't the woman simply send her steward into the village like any other sensible body would do? Lord knew there were lads aplenty in Cullscombe looking for honest work; some who'd give their eyeteeth to land a plummy job in the Mooresby stables. But, like those reforming Quakers, the lady of the manor probably figured she was doing a good deed by saving some rascal from a well-deserved flogging or a six-month sentence at the house of correction.     The constable snorted quietly beneath his breath and ambled over to the first cell. Enclosed and fitted with a heavy wood door, the chamber had once been a horse stall. Now barred windows had been fitted into the doors so that the gaolkeeper could maintain a vigilant eye on his charges. In truth, however, Mr. Bell spent as little time as possible among the prisoners' cells, only venturing from the front room twice a day to deliver their meals. Long having suffered from a delicate constitution, he simply could not stomach the persistent stench of unwashed bodies and unemptied pots.     "Look lively now," the gaoler bellowed. "We got ourselves a visitor."     A few indistinct mutterings met this announcement, echoing hollowly against the barren brick walls.     The gaoler pointed a pudgy finger at the door of the first cell. "This fella here was brought in for coin clippin'. I'd imagine that, with a crime as serious as this, Lord Underwood'll send him off to the Guildhall in Exeter for sentencin'."     Since their parish did not boast an appointed justice of the peace, it was left to the young Viscount Underwood to serve as magistrate for Cullscombe and the surrounding area. Alas, the irresponsible Lord Underwood tended to be rather lax in his duties. Prisoners languished many long months--often nigh on to a year--before their cases were heard, a circumstance which added woefully to Thomas Bell's workload. Until his death six years ago, Jonathan Mooresby had been Cullscombe's magistrate and, to Mr. Bell's mind, the She-Devil's father had done a far better job of it than his youthful successor.     With a wave of his hand, the gaoler invited Miss Mooresby to take a look through the window.     She approached, her back stiff, and raised herself onto her toes. Her profile was but a shadow beneath the lacy veil as she peered into the chamber. "No," she said, dropping to the soles of her feet. "I fear he is too old."     "Ah." Mr. Bell nodded and shuffled a few feet down the row to the next lockup. "Well then, here's a young one for you. His family's been in Cullscombe six generations now. Father is the butcher, Saunders. Respectable sort, Saunders, even if the lad went bad."     "And what is young Mr. Saunders accused of?" Miss Mooresby asked.     "Poachin'. He was caught red-handed on Lord Underwood's property, so I don't reckon it'll go too easy on the lad."     She tilted forward and looked through the bars, then quickly stepped back.     "Why, the boy cannot yet have seen fifteen," she said indignantly. As if he, Thomas Bell, were to blame for either the lad's age or crime. "I am sorry, Mr. Bell, but he won't do at all. He is much too young."     Too old, too young. Too infirm, too coarse. And so it went as they traveled down the row of prisoners. The gaolkeeper masked a sigh when they stopped in front of the seventh lockup. The fetid air--and the lump of pomade sitting at the bottom of his belly--were making him decidedly queasy. He wished the woman would just hurry up and finish with her business, so he could have a lie-down.     "Here we got a pickpocket. Brought him in three months ago," the gaoler offered wearily.     Miss Mooresby stretched high to glance through the window bars.     "Hmm," she murmured. "This might be a possibility. How would you describe this prisoner's disposition, Mr. Bell?"     "Downing? He's manageable 'nough, I suppose. He don't fuss or carry on none."     "Ask him to smile."     "M'lady?"     "Ask him to smile, if you would."     Mr. Bell rolled his eyes. Behind her back. "Downing," he called out. "Give us a smile, man."     "Wha's 'at?" came the muffled--and astonished--reply.     "A smile," the gaoler repeated. "Let's see it. Right here at the window."     Miss Mooresby peered into the cell once more, then turned away in clear disappointment. "Mr. Downing is missing his teeth."     "Teeth?" he sputtered. What in blazes did a stablehand need with a good set of teeth?     Laying his palm against his roiling middle, Mr. Bell watched in dismay as the lady marched resolutely toward the next lockup. Confound it, did the dratted female plan to keep him here all afternoon?     "Miss Mooresby," he whined.     She pivoted around, and the look she gave him had him wondering how such a small slip of a girl could set his knees to shaking.     He licked at his lips. "I was thinkin' that we might get on faster here," he wheedled, "if you would be so good as to tell me what it is that you're looking for. Exactly."     She lifted her chin.     " Exactly , Mr. Bell, I am looking for a husband."     The gaoler's blood ran cold. Colder still as she began to walk toward him, her black skirts swishing back and forth, her fingers idly twisting her silk kerchief into knots.     "As a matter of fact, Mr. Bell ... Does it happen that you are married?"     His stomach lurched six ways to Sunday, and a painful belch lodged beneath his ribs.     "M-me? I ... I, no--"     Her eyes narrowed in shrewd deliberation. "Naturally, 'twould only be a marriage in name. I would have it annulled at the first possible opportunity, probably within the month."     Mr. Bell felt sweat bead along his brow. He asked himself if she might be mad.     Then, before Melisande Mooresby could drop the noose around his neck, Cullscombe's gaoler was struck with sudden inspiration.     "Wait! I've got just the man for you, miss, just the fella." Somehow he managed to coax his boneless legs into carrying him across to the other row of cells. "He just came in last evenin', my lady. A comely bloke. Just the right age. And he's got all his teeth, he does."     She glanced curiously to the door against which the gaoler leaned. "The nature of his crime?"     "Nothin' graver than a li'l tussle with the mayor's son. He's fresh off the boat from the colonies, headed back home to Scotland, you see. I suppose he tipped one too many at the Pelican last night, for he ended up breaking Charlie Bryant's nose clean in half. Not that that scoundrel Charlie didn't have it comin' to him, Miss Mooresby. No, sirree. Mayor's son or not, he's an out and outer that one is. Course I had no choice but to bring Taggart in when ole Bryant seen what had been done to his boy."     She ceased twisting her kerchief, her mouth pursed in a contemplative moue. "A Scot, you say?"     He bobbed his head up and down with such fervor that a crick pinched the back of his neck.     "And no one has come for him?"     "Nary a soul," he breathlessly assured. "And since he's bound to be in at least a month or two afore Lord Underwood can hear his case, I think he'd fair jump at the chance to get outta here." Even if it does mean hitchin' his fate to the Mooresby witch, he thought.     Her boot tip-tapped the floor for an interminably long second. "Very well. Open the door so that I may speak with him."     Now, under ordinary circumstances, Mr. Bell would have been most reluctant to allow anyone, much less a lady, admission to a prisoner's cell. He was responsible, after all; it was his head on the block if a prisoner were to escape or if someone were to become injured. However, when presented with the unthinkable alternative of becoming bridegroom to the She-Devil of Mooresby Hall--     The key was in the lock and the door was swinging open before either of them had taken another breath.     As Melisande Mooresby slipped into the cold, dark cell that reeked of urine and sludge, the gaolkeeper clasped his hands together and turned his eyes toward heaven.     Oh, Lord, I'll ask nothin' else of you ever again, I swear it. But please, I beg of you ... Please let her take him and not me. Melisande was growing impatient and she didn't care for the feeling. Patience, if she possessed any, had never been her primary virtue. She was not one to stand by and watch and wait. Not Melisande Mooresby. She was an achiever, a doer. If a situation had to be resolved, then she resolved it swiftly and efficiently. Decisively.     Today, however ... Today Melisande knew that she could not resolve her current dilemma swiftly enough. Scandal loomed. Disaster threatened. She had to act and act immediately. Before the sun set on this day, by God, she vowed that she would find herself a husband.     Drawing her cape around her, she stepped into the narrow, shadowed stall. Her nostrils flared in reaction to the vile aroma, but she resisted the urge to cough. The walls glistened with dampness and the air felt unnaturally cool.     A figure sat on the edge of a rickety cot, his elbows braced on widespread knees. Coatless, the man wore a ripped white shirt, plain gray breeches soiled at the knees, and boots desperately in need of a good polish. He looked dejected. Or tired, perhaps. He sat with his head bent, bent so low that his hair, untouched by gray, almost brushed the stone floor. His hands were linked behind his neck.     Melisande allowed her gaze to briefly linger on those hands. Sun-browned and large, they looked strong and capable, as if they belonged to a smithy or a bricklayer. She wondered what trade the man plied.     Surprisingly, he did not raise his head when she entered, although she knew that he must have heard the key's teeth-grating screech in the lock.     "Mr. Taggart?"     His shoulders rose and fell in what appeared to be a sigh.     "Mr. Taggart," she repeated, this time in a voice that rarely went unheeded. "If you could spare a moment of your time."     Once more the muscles of his back shifted, and a low, groaning chuckle accompanied the movement.     "A moment of my time," she heard him rasp. He slurred his words like a colonial, although a hint of the Scottish burr was yet evident in his speech. Strangely Melisande did not find the peculiar accent unattractive.     Very slowly, he lifted his head.     Of an instant, Melisande felt glad for her veil's protection, for without it Mr. Taggart surely would have taken notice of her reaction. And react she did. The gaoler had not spoken false when he had called the man comely.     Long brown hair, streaked with thick bands of gold, hung to his shoulders and framed a face that was, at once, both soft and hard. Hard lines formed his nose and brow, and hard angles defined where jaw met cheek. But there was softness in his features, as well. Softness in the wide mouth and the almond shape of the eyes. Well, softness in one eye, she mentally corrected. The other eye had purpled and swollen shut, probably courtesy of Charlie Bryant's fist.     She guessed the man to be older than her twenty-two years--but not by much. His face, though bronzed by the sun, did not show signs of age, and a youthful brawn was visible in the girth of his arms.     Hmm. Obviously a bit rough around the edges, but he just might do. Might do very nicely, in fact. After all, she had never thought to actually find a gentleman within these walls; merely the clay with which to mold one. She'd always said it could be done, had maintained that she could redeem the sorriest, lowliest, most unfortunate of men. This figure before her provided the right ingredients, the proper packaging. He could be made into a gentleman; he needed only to be shaped by a deft hand. Her deft hand.     "Mr. Taggart, I have a proposal to put forth to you. If you agree to accept my proposal, I will see to it that the charges against you are dropped and that you are released from this cell this very afternoon."     He said nothing, but continued to stare at her from his one good, bloodshot eye.     "Do you wish to hear more?"     "Go on," he invited, although not with much eagerness.     "I do not require a great deal of you, Mr. Taggart. In fact, very little when weighed against what you stand to gain by my offer. I need simply for you to play a role. The role of a gentleman in my home for a period of three to four weeks."     She paused. He remained silent.     "I will arrange to have you properly tutored in order for your masquerade to be successful. And you will need a wardrobe"--her gaze skimmed over the breadth of his shoulders--"appropriate for a gentleman of your assumed station, which I will, of course, provide. All that is asked of you is your cooperation in pulling off this harmless little charade. Then, after I no longer have need of your services, you will be free to go."     He shifted a fraction of an inch, revealing an aged white scar that ran parallel to his jaw. "Sounds to me," he drawled, "like you need to get yourself an actor."     Melisande smiled. Despite the odd, hybrid accent, his voice was, at least, cultured. She would not have to concern herself over that aspect of the pretense.     "Actually, Mr. Taggart, circumstances require someone unknown to my social-circle. An actor runs the risk of being recognized from the stage. I understand that you, however, are but recently returned to England, which suits my purposes very well indeed."     He sent a short glance to his hands splayed between his knees. "Sorry. Not interested."     "Now, now, I shouldn't encourage hastiness in your position, my good sir. The gaolkeeper informs me that you may be looking at a lengthy sojourn here. Months, I do believe he said."     The man's regard was direct, unflinching.     Melisande felt annoyance flit through her, but she dared not lose her temper as her options looked to be few. While she'd enjoyed watching Mr. Bell squirm, she'd never truly considered the portly constable a viable candidate. Whereas this man ...     "Ah, did I fail to mention remuneration? How silly of me. Naturally, you'll be compensated for your troubles, leaving Mooresby Hall with your pockets well-lined, I assure you. And when you consider the alternative, Mr. Taggart"--she waved her hand to indicate the cramped and dirty cell--"I-do believe my proposal to be an attractive one.     "There is one small detail," she added. "We will have to be married."     His good eye narrowed. "Married? As in `wedding'?"     "Yes. You do not already have a wife, do you?"     "No-o. Not that I recall."     "Excellent. As I said before, I do not think we will need to perpetuate the masquerade longer than a month or so. After that, I assure you that the marriage will be annulled posthaste."     "A month," he repeated, rubbing his palm over his whiskered chin. "And all I have to do is agree to this proposal of yours and you'll convince that overfed turnkey out there to let me go? You can do that?"     Melisande's lips quirked with a hint of smugness. "I assure you, Mr. Taggart, that Mr. Bell will accord me his full cooperation."     Taggart shrugged. As if he were agreeing to nothing of any importance at all. "All right. It's a deal."     "A deal," Melisande echoed in relief, surprised by the ease with which he had acquiesced. How effortless it had been. And how fortunate for her that she had stumbled upon an agreeable and compliant sort of character. 'Twould make her plan so much simpler to carry out.     "I'll ask Mr. Bell to bring you to Mooresby Hall this afternoon then." She started for the door, then checked her step. "Oh, I almost forgot. What is your full given name?"     He tilted his head to the side, his gold-streaked hair fanning across his shoulder. At the back of her mind, Melisande thought it would be a shame if they were forced to cut such a glorious mane.     "Will. William Erasmus Taggart."     She nodded. "Until this afternoon--"     "And yours?"     She wavered, then chided herself for being foolish. He would eventually have to learn her name if he were to play the role of her husband, for goodness' sake.     "Melisande Mooresby."     "Melisande," he repeated, gazing at her from that one almond-shaped eye.     She shivered and drew at the edges of her cloak. "I shall see you this afternoon, Mr. Taggart. Until then, I bid you a good day."     Without further ado, she swept out of the cell, nearly bumping into the gaolkeeper, who'd obviously been eavesdropping just outside the door. He hurriedly backed up.     "So he'll do?" the constable asked.     "He'll do very well indeed," Melisande answered, digging into her reticule and handing Mr. Bell a generous ten-pound note. "See to it that he is washed and delivered to the Hall before sunset." She glanced over her shoulder to the cell door, adding quietly, "To the servant's entrance, if you please. Then, once he is out of your hands, I expect that you will have no recollection of Mr. Taggart whatsoever, will you, Mr. Bell?"     The gaoler clutched the note behind his back. "None whatsoever, my lady, I assure you."     Melisande nodded briskly, shut her reticule with a sharp click, and headed for the anteroom door, leaving the constable to finish with his locking up. God help her, she still had much to see to before this day was done. She had a wedding to arrange. Copyright © 1999 Casey Mickle. All rights reserved.