Escape with a Rogue
“Page seamlessly blends erotic themes into an intensely emotional love story.”
— RT BOOKreviews on Engaged in Sin
First in the new Regency Prison Break series by Sharon Page
A group of men daringly break out of forbidding Dartmoor Prison and escape onto the moors. Racing to freedom, each man finds a woman who believes in him. But will love lead to their salvation or their capture?
Escape with a Rogue
Can a gently bred young lady prove that a notorious gaming hell owner who escaped from prison is innocent of murder? Wrongfully convicted, Jack Travers has spent two years in jail, first on a dismal prison hulk, then in isolated Dartmoor Prison. Can Lady Madeline Ashby heal his wounded heart and troubled soul?
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Reading Questions for ESCAPE WITH A ROGUE
Read an Excerpt
Dartmoor War Depot, August 1815
Breaking a man out of prison was no easy task.
Lady Madeline Ashby hunched her shoulders, prayed for courage, and shoved on the handle of her cart. Ahead, shrouded in early morning mist, loomed the large granite gateway to Dartmoor War Prison. A throng of farmers, many from the nearby market town of Tavistock, pressed onward through the open gates. But her cart refused to move in the rain-soaked mud. And her boots—her good ones, hidden underneath tattered and much-mended wool skirts—slid helplessly on the slick, compacted ground.
Damnation, Madeline cursed inwardly and brushed back the blonde curls of her wig. She was an earl’s daughter, she had never pushed carts before in her life, and she was proving unsuccessful in her disguise as a market girl. Fear made perspiration prickle on her skin under her borrowed dress.
She couldn’t fail. And she couldn’t get caught. If she did…Heaven only knew what would happen to her.
“’Ere, let me ’elp you, my—”
In panic, Madeline put her finger to her lips. She had paid Tom Delve, an elderly moorman and farmer, a veritable fortune to help her, but she’d quickly learned she couldn’t rely on him to remember she was supposed to be his relative, here to help him.
Tom grasped the front of the cart and pulled hard. “Push, lass,” he demanded, but his face had reddened. He’d talk to his own daughter this way, but he looked as though he expected to be hit by lightning for calling an earl’s daughter lass. He was a chivalrous, likable old fellow, but his awkwardness around her and his obvious deference was a problem.
Finally, with him tugging and her shoving, they pushed the load of vegetables through the Postern gate. And it swung closed behind her.
She was in. Inside Dartmoor Prison. Madeline fought to shake off the instant feeling of panic that settled low in her stomach. This was a victory. After weeks of petitions, protests, and plotting, she had achieved her goal. The very first part of her goal, at least.
Now she had to find Jack Travers and get him out of Dartmoor pirson.
She had studied everything she could about this place—this frightening place in which Jack was being wrongfully held.
Behind her, the high, thick granite walls made an enormous ring—a giant circle around seven granite prison blocks and other buildings, including a hospital and a separate prison for officers. The outer wall was actually two circular walls with a twenty-foot space between them. Armed soldiers stood on platforms, rifles at the ready. Any prisoner who made it over the first wall would be trapped between the two in the space of ‘no man’s land’.
She had to find Jack. Her sense of achievement quickly faded. Two red-coated militiamen waited at the gates that separated the prison blocks from the open rectangular space that served as the market. A grumbling, laughing swarm of men paced and jostled behind the iron bars, waiting for their chance to purchase wares at the market.
There seemed to be thousands of them, some in the ragged remnants of French uniforms, some in tattered white shirts. Most looked dirty and thin, unlike the French officers who, amazingly, lived on parole in Princetown, outside the boundaries of the prison.
Tom took the cart from her, negotiating it into the spot he used each day to sell his goods.
Where was Jack? All she could see beyond the iron gates was a sea of broad shoulders, tall, lanky bodies; dark heads, blond heads, bald heads…and so many male faces she began to panic again.
The gates opened and all those men poured in, spilling over each other, like water pouring out of a burst dam.
“Tell me what your lad looks like.” Tom awkwardly clasped her hand and gave a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll help you find him.”
“He—” How to describe Jack? The last time she’d seen him, he had not looked at her. He’d been in chains, being taken from the courtroom in Exeter, his head thrown back, his eyes looking everywhere but at her, and his face held a harsh fury that she’d never seen in him before—
Of course he was angry. He was innocent. He thought he was going to lose his life for a crime he didn’t commit.
“B—brown hair,” Madeline said. “It used to be long—to his shoulders almost. And in the sun, there was red in it. Mahogany was the word I’d use to describe it.” Her words came tumbling out. “Green eyes. He was…tall…taller than many men. And—” In a crowd of sweaty, smelly prisoners, she could not see green eyes. Some were remarkably tall, but it was hard to distinguish whether any were Jack’s height. In her mind’s eye, she saw Jack perfectly. His breeches, his loose white shirt, always open at the throat, and his cap that shaded a startlingly handsome face. He would be smoothing the coat of a horse with a brush or currycomb, or training a young animal with firm hands on the reins.
She used to stand by a fence near him, taking surreptitious glances at his wide shoulders or his muscular legs. One hot August afternoon, she’d been staring at his forearms—he always rolled up his sleeves. She had been twenty-three, but had been acting like a brash schoolgirl, tracing the lines of the veins in his arm with her eyes, wondering what his muscles would feel like if she stroked them. Then her gaze had gone up, guiltily, because he’d said her name, and she’d met his green eyes—green as clover when it was richly fed by spring rain—and she had completely forgotten how to breathe… “I…I will know him once I see him,” she managed to say.
Which meant Tom couldn’t help her. “Jack Travers is his name?”
“Yes, but don’t use it. You must be—”
Careful died on her lips. A group of men were coming to Tom Delve’s cart, one flipping a coin up and down in his hand. From their dark eyes, black hair, and the way they stopped to hug other compatriots, Madeline was certain these men were French. It astonished her they had money, but she’d learned that even prisoners of war were not to be treated as slave labor—one of the rules drawn up in treaties between England and France. They were paid to break up granite blocks in the quarry and to dig peat in the bogs.
The French had fired on British ships, had killed young men that she knew, and she should feel anger, but they looked like normal men, and they were suffering too.
Madeline glanced from the boisterous Frenchmen to the large, granite buildings that housed them. Thousands of men were crammed inside, with only small, high windows for ventilation. They strung their hammocks one atop the other, except for those who had to sleep on the hard, damp floor—freezing in the winter, almost suffocating with heat in summer.
Jack lived like this. Jack, who was completely innocent.
Please, let me find him. I owe him this. It is all my fault that he’s been living in hell—
“I’ll trade this, love, for some of your potatoes, and your plump-looking onions…”
An Englishman’s voice, almost right by her ear. Madeline jumped, then spun around. Hope shimmered deep
inside her. And fear too, because what was going to happen the first time he looked at her after two years of—?
It wasn’t Jack. The man standing in front of her had pale blond hair. His eyes were vivid blue, flashing and roguish as he took in her brassy blonde wig, and her breasts raised high beneath the country bodice.
Tom had moved away to barter with the group of Frenchmen.
Since she hadn’t said a word—her tongue was thick with disappointment and her heartbeat only just dropping back to normal—the blond man went on, “Potatoes and onions, for this…”
With care, he set a brown wool bag on the edge of the cart. He stood in front of her and blocked her view.
What was she going to do? She didn’t have time to waste. Could she shoo him away?
He undid the drawstring and the bag slithered down to reveal a carving. A knight with up-tilted lance, seated atop a rearing charger. “It’s bone,” he explained.
Madeline stared. Bone? Peering closely, she could see it was indeed made of pieces of smoothly polished bones.
“From the meals. We save them.” The blond man lifted his sculpture. “You can touch it. Examine it as carefully as you wish.”
Shakily, she stroked the horse’s back. “I-It is exquisite.”
Beneath the unruly hair, blue eyes narrowed. “You’ve got a lovely voice for a farmer’s daughter. You sound like a lady.”
She started at that, bumped Tom’s cart, and sent a turnip to its grave beneath a militiaman’s boot.
Mistake, mistake. The unbelievable beauty of the carving had made her slip up. She’d forgotten her role and had used her normal voice. Now she lifted a brow like a girl accustomed to men with one thing on their minds. “Flattery’ll get you nowt extra, sirrah.”
A dazzling smile lit up the man’s face. “Beausoliel, ma belle.
“You don’t sound French.”
“I’m not here as a prisoner of war, belle. In fact, I’m not supposed to be out here at all. Once the soldiers find out I’ve got out of my cell, I’ll end up over there—” He pointed a direction with a jerk of his chin.
What he’d indicated was a length of granite wall with a small gray roof above it. She’d thought the building a shed, but the roof was made of stone slabs. No shed would be so impenetrable.
“The French call it the cachot,” Beausoliel continued, “but despite my French name, I’m an Englishman born and bred, so I term it the ‘Black Hole’.”
An Englishman like Jack. Locked up in a war prison, which was now supposed to hold only French captives. That was the mystery of this. Why was Jack, an Englishman who was convicted of murder—a criminal and not a prisoner of war—here, in the Dartmoor War Depot?
Madeline had barely felt the horror of being plunged back into war following Napoleon’s escape from Elba because she’d found Grandfather’s letters while sorting through his correspondence. Confined to his bed, he’d been too sick to write. He’d trusted her to tackle some sensitive matters. But during her work, she’d uncovered a bundle letters in an oilcloth wrap, wedged in the back of a drawer.
Jack Travers had been written on the wrap. There’d been no excuse to read them—it was unforgivable to pry. But what she’d found—
Jack had not been hanged. For two years, Grandfather had let her believe she’d sent Jack to his death, yet he’d known Jack’s sentence of death had been commuted. He knew Jack had spent over a year on a prison hulk on the Tamar River. And that in January, Jack had been marched to Dartmoor prison.
Then she’d learned Jack was innocent. But no one, not one magistrate or peer, had listened to her about Jack—
“Do you know what the Black Hole is?”
She’d been staring at the building and Beausoliel must have taken her blank look to be fascination, for he leaned close. He smelled sweaty. “It’s built of granite blocks and inside is a dark, dank chamber about twenty feet square. The door is reinforced with metal plate, making it a prison from which no man can escape. Air and a bit of light come in a small iron grating, and the door closes with a thundering clang that reverberates through the cell—and through a man’s soul. They cram up to sixty men in there, in the dark, for punishment.”
“Sixty men?” She could hardly imagine it.
“In the summer, the place is sweltering. The heat builds up and can’t escape.”
“Good heavens. Is anyone in there now?”
“There’s one man in there now. One of the other Englishmen.”
Rooks set up furious calls that rang over the din in the yard. The summer sun beat down now, but Madeline felt impossibly cold. “There’s not supposed to be Englishmen in here. Ye’re all prisoners of war.” She tried to make her accent rougher.
The blond man watched her carefully. “Some of us are not.”
“I don’t believe you.” She did, but she wanted to make him talk. “What are ye then? Traitors? Did ye refuse to fight?”
“No. Not traitors. We’re criminals—” Beausoliel broke off.
Madeline followed his gaze. A door had opened along the wall, near the Black Hole and an armed soldier marched out into the market. His rifle was slung over his shoulder and he gripped a prisoner by the arm and shoved the man forward. A second soldier followed, pointing the muzzle of his weapon at the prisoner.
The prisoner wore a dirt-streaked shirt that might once have been white. He stood a half-head taller than the soldiers. Broad-shouldered but gaunt, his body was stooped as though he was too tired to hold up his own frame. If an artist had wanted to craft a man without hope, he could find no better pose.
She stared at the man’s hair, which was darkened with sweat, but still had glints of red-brown and gold. Dark-brown stubble shadowed his jaw. His cheekbones rose, high and sharp. Black shadows and bruising ringed his eyes. His face was thin and hard. It looked different, but also heart-wrenchingly the same as her memories. There was no mistaking his eyes—they gleamed like brilliant emeralds across the yard.
It was definitely Jack Travers.
Madeline’s heart soared for one brief second—like Icarus reaching for the sun—then hope made a crashing plunge. How could she make contact with him? The soldiers were dragging him across the yard toward the ominous gray buildings that held the prisoners.
As though her stare had prodded him in the chest, he stopped. Despite two armed men urging him forward, Jack Travers stood stock-still and stared at her.
One soldier shoved him ahead, but Jack resisted. Her throat went both dry and numb as she saw the other guard lift his rifle.
Go, Jack. Go. Go. Keep going.
He gave his head a sharp shake, dropped his chin in a pose of obedience, and followed the guards. But then his head cocked and he watched her beneath the dark, tousled mess of his hair.
Madeline’s breath left her chest so quickly she had to grasp the cart.
Jack couldn’t have recognized her. Not with her wig and her tattered clothes. But the way he’d stared at her…his gaze had bored into her soul.
She took a shaky breath. With an armed escort, there was no way Jack could approach her even if he had known who she was.
Naively, she’d thought once she used market day to get inside the prison, she would find Jack and be able to talk to him.
“Know him, sweetheart?” Beausoliel was leaning on her cart and his elbow knocked over two potatoes. He fixed her with a perceptive stare that made her quiver.
How ironic, after everyone said she never showed emotion on her face, that she would reveal too much now, when she should be circumspect. “No, but ’e looked awful. Didn’t ’e? ’E had been punished.”
“Yes, love. For trying to escape.”
She fixed a daft look on her face, hoping this man would not see her gut reaction to his words. She knew what was at stake. If she were caught helping Jack…she was an earl’s daughter but she doubted she’d escape punishment. Escapees were whipped…imprisoned on prison hulks…shot.
She had been determined to see this through. But fear was making her sweat and tremble. It was too late to turn back. She was so very close. She couldn’t lose her courage now—
Shouts came from somewhere in the crowd. A flurry of movement seemed to ripple through the men, rushing toward her. Then a group of Frenchmen, all smoking cheroots, parted, and that tall, familiar, distressing figure stepped out between them.
Somehow he had known. He had seen through her disguise.
After two years of thinking him dead at the end of a gibbet, she was looking up at his green eyes. At his mouth that had never done anything but smile for her when she’d seen him at the stables.
No smile for her now. Lines framed his tense lips, which were horribly swollen and bruised.
He studied her, not saying a word. The rooks went off again, crying stridently as they soared over the walls. Jack jerked up the torn tails of his shirt. Shuddering, she realized he was barefoot, his lower legs dusty.
His fingers closed around something at his waist—tucked into his trousers.
Madeline opened both hands to accept what he dropped in them. She’d not worn gloves and her palms stung from gripping the handles of the cart. Something smooth and warm pressed against her abraded skin.
She cradled a statue of a woman, one formed of ivory white bone. She let her thumb run along the curve of a woman’s skirt. Each fold of cloth had been beautifully rendered. The woman held a basket of flowers, her face tipped upward as though she was savoring a ray of the sun—a forbidden pleasure for a lady who should be beneath her parasol.
Madeline knew she used to sit in this exact pose as she perched on the fence beside the paddock on her father’s estate and watched Jack, the head groom, deftly tame a feisty horse…
The figurine was small, so it was terribly hard to tell, but she thought the delicate face was hers. Jack had carved a statue of her while locked up in prison. And he kept it—her likeness—in the waistband of his trousers.
She jerked her gaze from the figurine to his unsmiling face. Why wouldn’t he speak to her? Because you were the one to ensure he was found guilty. It was your words, your convictions that sent him to a prison hulk and now to this forbidding, awful place. You sent him to a living hell. You learned the truth but it was too late.
She was fortunate he was not saying a word to her. No doubt the ones he was thinking would burn her ears off.
The only hope in her heart came from that statue. He couldn’t hate her and so lovingly craft an image of her. Could he?
He grasped a potato from her cart.
Beausoliel slammed his fist into Jack’s shoulder, but despite the force of it, Jack did not move an inch. “You’re a madman, Travers. They’ll throw you back in—and all for the sake of a potato?” A mocking grin touched Beausoliel’s mouth, as he looked between Jack and her. “You’ll miss the night’s production of Othello in the cockcroft of Block Four.”
Jack growled; a low rumble in his throat that silenced Beausoliel at once.
She tried to remember what she’d planned to say. She’d hoped to be able to speak to Jack alone. “Is there something you would like?” she asked softly.
“Would you sell me a few…for the statue?”
“Yes, I would, sir. For that statue, I’d help you in whatever way you wish.”
She heard his breath catch. Then she saw raised rifles at the back of the crowd—guards trying to shove their way through the crowd of men. They must be searching for Jack. Beausoliel moved to stand in front of him, shielding him, an action that surprised her. Beausoliel couldn’t know who she was, or what she planned, but she had to make use of the chance he’d given her.
She moved close to Jack, holding up a turnip as though she was trying to convince him she held a tempting delicacy. Even though he smelled of sweat and dirt, her nostrils flared. His scent was unique, alluring even now, and she tripped over her words. “G—Grandfather told me you were innocent. Word has swept through the village, and now all eyes are looking elsewhere for the murderer. People think…they think Philip did it. No one accuses, not outright, but everyone looks at him with hatred and suspicion and it’s destroying him—”
She had to stop.
Impassive as the granite walls. That was Jack’s face. Just as it has so obviously destroyed you, she wanted to add. Her brother Philip was drinking heavily and would lash out in anger, crushed by the weight of suspicion. But Jack must be more deeply enraged than she could imagine. He seemed to have barricaded the anger inside him, imprisoning it just as he was imprisoned here.
But his beautiful eyes softened. “You aren’t a dream, then? I’m not going mad?”
Perplexed. She was utterly so. “What do you mean?”
“You’re real. And here.” A ragged groan. “Why?”
“I was wrong about you. Grandfather insisted you are innocent. Is it so?”
“It would be easier for you and for your brother,” Jack said, “if you believe I’m guilty, my lady.”
“My lady?” Beausoliel jerked around, but at Jack’s scowl, he turned back to be lookout.
She wanted to smack the turnip against Jack’s chest. But it would be as fruitful as trying to batter her way through the prison gate with the wretched vegetable.
“I believe my brother is innocent. If you are innocent, then someone else killed that young woman. And you do not belong in here—”
“Go away, Lady M.” His gaze slid from her to the militiamen who stood on the walls surrounding them. More guards were pushing through the crowd of imprisoned French soldiers and English tradesmen haggling over prices.
“It’s not so easy, Mr. Travers,” she snapped back. “I cannot let Philip be destroyed. I cannot let you suffer because my words put you in here. I need the truth—”
Callused and warm, his hand closed hard around hers, crushing her palm to the dirty side of the turnip. He’d never touched her before. Not on any of the times she’d spoken with him at the stables and wished he would—
Beausoliel watched them, curiosity plain in his blue eyes. But she wouldn’t have pulled her hand away for the world.
“You don’t need the truth to save your brother.”
“I’m not going to let you rot in here. I’ve gone to every magistrate from London to Plymouth, Jack. I’ve even petitioned to the Prince Regent.” Every magistrate had refused to listen to her, and she was still waiting for a response from Prinny. She feared one would never come.
“Don’t. Let this alone, my lady. Go home.”
“It’s not safe there anymore. Someone shot at me. They almost hit me in the head.”
Jack’s face paled. “Christ, Jesus, Lady M. What have you done?” Then he held up his hand. “Don’t tell me. We don’t have time. I can’t take the risk they’ll catch me with you.”
“I have a plan.”
“No, you don’t.” He braced his arm on her cart, and lowered his mouth closer to hers.
In the past, she’d yearned to kiss him a thousand times. Just being near him always made her hot and anxious and aroused. She’d dreamed of kisses, and passion, and even making love. But she’d never dared even touch him. It would be a scandalous act, and she always had tried to be the perfect lady. Here, it didn’t seem so impossible.
After all, some of the English lasses were letting the Frenchmen kiss their hands and cheeks, and one couple was stealing a quick, furtive kiss—
“I want you to get out of here and go somewhere where you will be safe.”
She saw fear in his eyes. Then he muttered, “Wherever in hell that will be. Lady Madeline, why did you involve yourself in this?”
“I am going to get you out of here, Jack,” she insisted in a whisper. “I heard about a French officer who was helped by a market trader named Mary Ellis. She smuggled in civilian clothes and he hid underneath her voluminous skirts, then got into the disguise and walked out with her. I can return tomorrow—with clothes.”
Jack caught hold of her chin. A touch he never would have dared when he was the head groom on her family’s estate. Her hope for a kiss had been madness. He looked as though he wanted to turn her over his knee and pummel her rump with the flat of his hand. “I’m not going to burrow under your skirts to change my clothes.” His green eyes went horribly cold. “Don’t come back, Lady M. I forbid it.”
“I have to, Jack. I got you in this wretched place. I’m going to get you out.”
“I’m only days away from an escape of my own. I tried it before but I got caught. This time, I won’t. I want you to go home. You are not to take any more risks. Not over me. I was just a groom, my lady. I’m not worth it.”
“You are an innocent man sentenced to hell. Of course you are worth it, Jack Travers.”
He looked stunned, as if she’d hit him. Then he shook his head. “I must be insane, but I do want you to know the truth. Your Grandfather was right. I’m innocent.”
Beausoliel let out a cautionary whistle. Madeline jerked around to look.
The red coats of the guards flashed through the crowd—they were seconds away from catching her with Jack.
When she looked back to Jack, he was gone.
“Stop!” someone shouted from within the crowd. The guards abruptly steered their course away from her. They were trying to run after Jack. She was safe; he was in trouble. There was nothing she could do—
“I’ve got to hop it,” Beausoliel muttered. “He’ll get a dozen lashes with the cat for running off from his guards. And likely go back into the Black Hole. I doubt very much you’ll see him here tomorrow, my lady. I doubt he’ll be escaping anytime soon. But if you want to help a man get out—”
She launched the turnip at his chest. With an audacious wink, Beausoliel caught it.
Then he was gone too, vanishing in the crowd.
Tom reached her side and began nervously rearranging his vegetables. “You found him, my—lass?” There was no mistaking the fear on Tom’s normally good-natured face.
She nodded. “I have to come back. He won’t accept the clothes and come out with me.”
Tom shook his head. “Don’t see any other way for him to get out, my—my dear.”
“Then I have to make him change his mind.” Madeline’s stomach felt as though it was spinning like a top. There was no other way unless he would accept her help.
She knew the soldiers would catch Jack—where could he hide in a prison? He would be brutally punished. Whipped. Locked up in that dark hole. Because of her.
How could she ever make things right?
I’m not worth it, he’d growled. He’d told her she didn’t need the truth to save her brother. She didn’t. But she needed it to save Jack.