The Runaway Countess
Book 1 in The Nottinghamshire Series

Nominated for Best Historical Romance 2012 by The Romance Reviews

   Nominated for Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award 2011



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Her heart longs for justice, but her body clamors for sin.

Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant…and surely as corrupt as his father once was.

Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers’ belovedAngel of Kindness to reveal the highwayman’s identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing—except a sultry, bewildering kiss.

And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability—her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong.

What Reviewers Are Saying
                                                                                                                                                                                                 
"A powerful debut. Leigh LaValle is a captivating new voice in historical romance." 
                                                                                                                                                                 Tessa Dare NYT Bestselling Author


"THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS is an enchanting debut, full of passion, angst, danger, and the promise of true love." 
                                                                                                                                                           Courtney Milan NYT Bestselling Author


"LaValle's debut is exciting and action packed, with a hero and heroine who play well off each other." 
                                                                                                                                                                                    RT Book Reviews 4 stars


"The characters are, indeed, so empathetic, with shifting first-person throughout the story, that you honestly feel like you are watching your two best friends fall in love." 
                                                                                                                                                                            TOP PICK Night Owl Reviews


"Leigh LaValle's debut is delicious! From the get go, I was submerged in a story that had me turning the pages with an urge to know more."
                                                                                                                                               The Season For Romance

"A fantastic debut and another author to add to my must-buy list!" Best Historical Romance 2012
                                                                                                                            Rogues Under The Covers

Excerpt
                                                                                                                                                                     


Mazie Chetwyn pressed her forehead against the sole window in her garret prison. She hardly noticed the relief of cool glass against heated skin. Her every thought was centered on the man galloping up the drive, his greatcoat billowing out behind him and his hat tilted against the afternoon downpour. She could not see his face, did not recognize him by horse or style. She knew him by his fury. He rode as if the hounds of hell were slavering at his heels.

Lord Radford had finally come.

Furious as the pelting rain, he galloped past the towering oaks, past the rows of tulips and past the fountain. Mazie's heart hammered in her chest with the same urgency as the pounding hooves.

It was done, then. Her captor was here.

Radford pulled his mount to a stop in front of the wide marble steps and jumped down. Mazie flattened her bruised cheek against the chilled windowpane and watched him toss the reins to a footman then refuse the umbrella, his arms sweeping this way and that. What was he saying? Her attic window remained stubbornly closed.

Then he disappeared into the house.

Her heart stopped--everything froze--then resumed again with a firmer stroke and beat. Would he come up here, to her garret prison? Would he rant and rave as Harrington had? Would he hit her as Harrington had?

She paced away from the window and combed her hair with trembling fingers. Radford was dangerous and beyond the reach of the law. To him, she was a nobody, an expendable inconvenience. He would get what he wanted from her, then send her to London to be hanged, proof that he was a great Lord Lieutenant.

But there was still hope. There was always hope.

She hastily braided her dark hair and looked around the room for...anything. A weapon, a prop, a diversion. There was nothing. The room was bare save a dresser with a washing bowl and a small nub of a candle, a narrow bed, a scarred desk and a chair in front of a cold fireplace.

A man's voice rumbled through the wood floor like distant thunder and sent ripples of fear through her belly. He was coming up the servants' stairs, biting out something about weapons and horses and lists. A space of quiet followed, and she pressed her ear to the door. Someone must have replied, and now he was on again about riding out in the morning. He would gather a militia, then. Search for Roane with an untried gathering of men, each one eager to shoot the famed highwayman and collect the reward.

Radford's footsteps were heavier now, echoing down the hallway outside her door. He wasted no time in coming to see her. She rushed to the chair, grasped her shaking hands together in her lap and cast her gaze to the floor.

Meek. She would play meek.

She would absorb all his barbed anger and give him nothing to fight against. She would be honey and molasses, everything sweet and slow.

A lock scraped open and Radford filled the doorway, all broad shoulders and dark mood. He brought the mud and rain with him on his clothes.

From the corner of her vision, Mazie watched him step into her room and close the door. He studied her for a long moment. "Miss Mazie, I presume."

She let her feet shift nervously on the floor but did not move her eyes. "Yes, my lord."

He walked closer. His muddied boots reached up to his knees and gave way to powerful thighs. He was strong, of a physical nature. "I've been dragged all the way from London for this unfortunate bit of business." Low and firm, his voice played across her nerves like drums before a battle. "My magistrate Harrington tells me you have refused to assist our investigation into the Midnight Rider."

She lifted her chin and looked up at him, let her expression be round and guileless. She was everything worried and intimidated.

His frown cut deep groves into his otherwise handsome face. The years had changed him, enough that she wouldn't have recognized him passing by on the street. Gone was the distracted young man she remembered, replaced by sharp angles, dark hollows and glittering grey eyes entirely too piercing for her comfort. His damp hair--almost black in the wan light--let go of a drop of rain. He swiped it away with a rough hand. "It is unfortunate that your reticence is my inconvenience, Miss Mazie."

He had come to drag the information from her. Of course he had. She had to wonder at the tactics he would use, how far he would push.