The Rogue’s Treasure Hunt

Holiday Pleasures book 4
Original publication date: October 7, 2014 (as Season for Desire)
Reissue date: November 15, 2022
ISBN: 979-8362767389

ReviewsAbout the Book • Excerpt

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One rascally American. One disgraced earl’s daughter. Eight dogs, a mysterious puzzle box, a fortune in lost jewels…and a partridge in a pear tree.

A rogue with a strong sense of duty, Giles Rutherford has accompanied his father from America on a search for long-lost gems. If found, these jewels would allow the family to start a new life in Regency London—a fresh start Giles isn’t sure he deserves, as he hides a worrisome secret.

Their quest through the wintry villages of northern England is complicated when they rescue Lady Audrina Bradleigh—the youngest and most rebellious daughter of an earl—from the threat of ruin. To save her reputation, Audrina joins the well-chaperoned Rutherford treasure hunt. As Christmas draws near, she and Giles collect a found family of fellow treasure-seekers…and discover the unexpected promise of romance.

As clues unfold, Giles and Audrina will be led toward a love they never expected. But even if they crack every code, they can’t puzzle out how a troubled American and a scandalous aristocrat could ever live happily-ever-after…

This book was previously published as SEASON FOR DESIRE.

Story elements: Class difference, road trip, found family, treasure hunt, snowbound, Christmas

Content Notes
References to parental illness and death
Depictions of and references to chronic illness
References to loss of child


“Toasty fireside reading. …Romain’s gift for creating a strong sense of place, complex characters, and gripping situations carries this holiday tale.”
Publishers Weekly

“Romain’s exquisite prose and extraordinary storytelling skills take us on a splendid and unforgettable journey.”
Fresh Fiction

“Tender, passionate, and written with a great deal of warmth. …Theresa Romain has become a favourite author of mine.”
Romantic Historical Reviews

“Lyrical and emotionally satisfying. Her characters are intelligent and the way she illuminates their insecurities and feelings is truly amazing.”
The Reading Wench

About the Book

  • The plot of this novel was inspired by the Christmas story–and also by the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Six Napoleons,” in which a treasure was tracked through clues in plain sight. I couldn’t bear for the puzzle boxes of this story to be smashed like Doyle’s busts of Napoleon, though!
  • Charissa’s wedding dress is based on the gown worn by the real-life Princess Charlotte for her 1816 wedding—though Charissa’s dress has more lace because, well, she’s Lady Alleyneham’s daughter. The princess’s dress has been preserved until the present day, and it’s still beautiful despite being two centuries old. You can see pictures of it here.
  • For the visual inspiration behind characters, objects, and settings in the Holiday Pleasures romances, check out the series’s Pinterest board.


Chapter 1
Wherein the Adventure Begins, Much Against the Will of Certain Participants

December 11, 1820

SUNSET FELL EARLY OVER the wintry moorlands of northern England, and prudent men abandoned the road to the criminal, the desperate, and the mail coaches.

Giles Rutherford’s father wasn’t prudent, but he also wasn’t criminal or desperate—for now. And though hale and fit for a man in his middle fifties, Richard enjoyed traveling at night no more than Giles, especially through steady rain. In the weeks before Christmas, their native Philadelphia shivered under a snow blanket, but this frigid rainfall went to the bone even more quickly.

For once, then, Richard marked the end of their day’s travel with little protest. He was willing enough to halt the carriage outside the Goat and Gauntlet, a post-house tucked within the ancient stone walls of York.

Once settled in a private parlor, Giles let the fire’s warmth lick at his sodden boots as his father ordered a generous dinner from a servant. The room to which they had been escorted was low-ceilinged and slope-floored like many old buildings in this country. Lamps on the table and mantel cast pools of warm light in the dim room. A simple table and chairs were drawn up near the fireplace, a wide structure of smoke-blackened bricks. Within, the coal fire glowered at its inability to banish the cold.

Ah, there was the problem: The parlor window’s wooden sash had warped in its frame, allowing the December chill to leak in. Before Giles could decide whether his aching hands were up to the task of setting the window to rights, the servant entered the parlor again with a stoneware jug. And, mysteriously, a man in a filthy red coat.

Giles lifted his brows. “That cannot be what you ordered for dinner, Father.”

Richard ignored him, standing to accept the jug—coffee, how Giles hoped it held coffee—while also accepting an introduction from the man in red. “You are a servant to the Earl of Alleyneham? My, my, this is an honor.” He sounded cheerful, as always.

“Are we meant to bow or to curtsy?” Giles took the urn from his father’s hands, nodding a dismissal to the servant who had brought it. Oh, blessed warmth. The stoneware was hot enough to make his hands prickle as though quilled; every little bone and joint tensed, then eased into relief. Giles could almost have groaned as he poured out the first cup.

He seated himself with cup in hand, then realized he had missed the first part of the exhausted-looking servant’s story.

“At first, Lady Audrina was thought to be visiting a friend,” the man was saying. A footman, Giles guessed, because of his scarlet livery—now splashed and dirtied by long hours on horseback and muddy roads. “But when the hours for calling passed and she did not return home, the earl suspected his daughter of an elopement.”

Giles had to break in. “That suspicion seems premature. Why shouldn’t he think she went shopping with her maid? Or calling on another friend?”

As Richard drew out a chair for himself, his look of reprimand fell on Giles with an almost physical weight.

Giles shrugged this off. “What? Those seem more likely possibilities than that a nobleman’s daughter eloped with some rakehell.”

The footman’s expression did not change, except that he blinked rather more quickly. “If you will pardon my frankness, sir, Lady Audrina is exactly the sort of young lady more likely to dash off to Scotland than to pay a call in Mayfair.”

“She sounds exhausting.” Giles took a sip of coffee. It was strong and scorched, bitter on his tongue and beautifully warm.

“The earl cannot permit his youngest daughter to elope,” continued the footman. “His lordship and Lady Irving, with whom he said you were acquainted, are traveling here with greatest possible speed.”

“Lady Irving,” Giles said. “Perfect. Wonderful. This is your doing, Father, isn’t it? You were so certain she’d want to sell her jewels that you told her all the details of our planned path through England.”

Richard seemed not to hear, which was a certain indication that Giles was correct. “I had not thought Lady Irving was much of a traveler,” he said to the servant. “I hope she’s been well since we met her in London several weeks ago.”

“Her ladyship is quite well, sir, I’m sure. She is willing to render assistance to Lord Alleyneham and was certain such amiable gentlemen as yourselves would be, too.”

“I’m not the slightest bit amiable.” Flexing his fingers, Giles grimaced. His hands were always more painful after a day of travel.

Another of his father’s reproachful looks. “I will be amiable enough for us both, then.”

Fidgeting, the footman tried to straighten the wig atop his short-cropped hair. The headpiece had gone sad and flat, but white hair powder still clung to it. How had it survived the ride? The servant must have tucked it inside his coat, only to slap it atop his head before requesting entrance to the Rutherfords’ private parlor.

These English and their priorities. Image was everything, wasn’t it? Though Giles was half English by birth, he would never understand them.

Once his head had been properly covered, the servant continued as though Giles had never attested to his own lack of amiability. “If the fugitives arrive before their pursuers, sir, his lordship requests that you arrest them.”

“Arrest them?” Interested, Richard sat up straighter in his solid wooden chair. Giles knew well the animating expression that crossed the elder Rutherford’s features. This sounds like an adventure!

Giles had inherited his mother’s raw-boned ruddiness, little resembling his father. And he never wore an expression of such craving for adventure. “‘Arrest,’ Father, is one way the English say ‘stop.’ You do mean ‘stop,’ don’t you, ah . . . man in the wig? And not anything more dramatic than that?”

“Yes, sir. I mean that you are requested to stop them, sir. If you would.”

“Stopping a carriage could be very dramatic,” Richard mused. “A few obstacles across the road, perhaps, to halt it. And then—rip the door open and carry the young lady to safety? What do you say, Giles?”

“I say that this has nothing to do with us whatsoever. One wild goose chase at a time is enough.”

“Where is your chivalry, son?”

“I left it on the gangplank in Philadelphia.” He’d had to. It was hardly chivalrous to leave his five younger siblings, all on the verge of adulthood, without guidance. But Richard held the funds from which his younger children drew stipends, and for all Giles knew, this quest in England would beggar them all.

In most families, sons formulated harebrained schemes and fathers tried to talk sense into them. For Giles and his father, the situation was entirely the reverse. Not that Giles had ever been able to talk his father out of any scheme the elder Rutherford set his mind to.

Which was why, after two months traipsing about every part of England where Giles’s late mother might have hidden either jewels or clues, the Rutherfords now found themselves in the parlor of the Goat and Gauntlet with not even a whisper of a hunch.

Instead, they had found a dirty footman asking for help for some spoiled English princess.

Giles’s wrists ached; he realized he was clenching his fists, resting them like stones on the table. Time ticked raggedly, unpredictably, when he felt these aches. And it was harder to have faith in the quest, the reason they had crossed an ocean. The reason he’d bidden good-bye to so many loved ones who needed him.

Lifting his hands to shake out their tension, he frowned at the servant. “How do you know the happy couple hasn’t already traveled beyond this inn? If you’d passed them on the road, you’d have seen them.”

The footman swayed on his feet.

“Sit if you like,” Giles added. “Here, by the fire. You must be cold.” A sidelong glance at his father: There, see? I’m not a complete monster.

“Thank you, sir, but I couldn’t seat myself. It would not be proper.” The servant shook his head, setting the wig askew again. “I do believe the carriage broke down at some point, as its tracks left the road. I could not trace them once they left it.”

“Why not? A carriage is large. As it rolled, it would have crushed grass and moved pebbles and—”

Richard cleared his throat. Stop finding fault.

“Well, perhaps such signs wouldn’t be visible in the rain,” Giles granted. The roads in this country were ancient and deeply rutted. Any moisture turned them into a sloppy stew, and rain and sleet had traded control of the sky for the past several days. Even assuming frequent changes of horses, three days was probably as quickly as a pair of eloping Londoners could reach York on their way to Scotland.

“They might choose not to stop at this inn, though,” Giles pointed out. “They could even be on a different road.”

“They’re not.” Richard shrugged off the possibility of events proceeding other than as he wished. “This is the swiftest road from London. And if they don’t choose to stop, we will make them stop. We’ll stop every carriage if we need to. It will be an—”

“Adventure.” Giles spoke the word along with his father, his mouth a wry twist.

Giles wanted to throttle whoever had coined the word adventure. Everything was an adventure to Richard Rutherford, from days on sleet-sludgy roads to his grandiose plan to establish a London jewelry firm to rival Rundell and Bridge.

“Perfect,” Giles murmured again. “Wonderful. A plan without flaw. Do tell me, man in the wig, why is the earl set against his daughter marrying? Don’t earls want their daughters married, as a rule?”

For the first time, the footman looked something besides tired; a stricken expression crossed his face. “That is a question best asked of his lordship, sir.”

Maybe it was the man’s sudden apprehension. Or maybe the fact that, for a wage that was likely no more than a pittance, this man had been willing to chase across England with nothing but the frailest of hopes, the smallest chance of success. To this footman, apparently fleeing was preferable to staying behind, and begging help from strangers was preferable to failure.

Giles didn’t seek out adventures—but he was not, as a rule, a monster. And this man had ridden for his life as though pursued by a fiend indeed. “We shall help in any way we can,” Giles said. Not for the sake of the heedless eloping aristocrat, but for the tired servant.

“Of course we shall,” agreed his father. There had never been a question in Richard’s mind, Giles knew; to be asked for a favor was to do all in one’s power to grant it.

Giles hefted the stoneware urn of coffee. “Take off your wig, man, and sit and have some coffee until your master arrives. I’ll keep watch on the road.”


AS THE YOUNGEST OF Lord Alleyneham’s five daughters, Lady Audrina Bradleigh had often dreamed of running away to Scotland.

This was not that dream.

A dream would never include the company of David Llewelyn, whose angular face wore an impatient expression as he peered down at her. “Finally coming around. Good. I thought you would sleep all the way to the border.”

Nor would a dream include a pounding head, the jouncing of carriage wheels over ruts, or the bitter aftertaste of laudanum.

Swallowing a groan, Audrina shoved herself to a seated position. Slowly, slowly, making sure her head didn’t fall off and her stomach didn’t reverse course. Through slitted eyes, she took in her surroundings. Rain sluiced down the coach windows and thudded on the roof; the carriage lamps were lit against the fall of night.

There was light enough for Audrina to recognize the deep green of the velvet squabs on which she reclined. “Llewellyn, you sneaking cur,” she said through dry lips. “If you must kidnap a woman, have the decency to acquire your own carriage instead of filching your mother’s.”

His mouth curled with humor, though he retreated to the opposite seat. “This is no kidnapping, my dear Audrina. It is the adventure you always wanted.”

This had to be a dream. But the flask he extended to her was real indeed, sloshing water that spotted her hands and gown as she fumbled open its lid. Water that soothed her throat enough to ask, “The border, you said. You are making for Gretna Green?”

“Coldstream Bridge, actually. It’s far closer. Unless you will save us both a great deal of trouble and marry me in England.”

She capped the flask and tossed it back to him, not wanting his fingers to brush hers a second time. “Not in England. Not anywhere.”

“What call have you to protest? We’ve already consummated our union, after all.”

“Spare me such twaddle. I know you have consummated with others before and since.”

“True.” His brows drew together, sharply dark in the flickering lamplight. “But I don’t mind marrying you. We amused each other, did we not?”

“That depends on what one means by amusement.” If he meant the physical crisis—he’d enjoyed himself, certainly, but she had never achieved the same level of delight.

Another jolt; her teeth snapped together, setting up a drumbeat in her temples. The rain must be turning the roads to a stew of ruts. “Ugh. As soon as my wits are clear I shall throw myself out into the elements.”

An empty threat. She was not even certain she could feel her fingers and toes.

“The laudanum is fogging your wits, I expect.” Llewellyn looked as bland and unconcerned as though pronouncing upon the weather.

Had she really ever thought him attractive? Dashing? She had indeed; his dark elegance and risk-mad recklessness had once seemed a male version of her own hopes and wishes. They had passed an exciting interlude of stolen moments and passionate embraces, of a heart that pounded with the delight of finally being chosen, being special. It was a feeling that came only rarely to the youngest of five daughters.

But that had been months ago, foolish months ago, and the feeling had proven false. In a careless moment, Llewellyn had admitted that he was counting on her dowry to cover his debts. He was never really fond of Audrina at all. So she had dropped him.

It seemed he felt entitled to the money all the same.

Audrina shut her eyes, letting her heavy head fall back against the squabs. “I expect you are right. I’m not in the habit of taking laudanum. How did you do it?”

“Get you to take it, you mean? Easy as anything, my dear. A small bribe to your lady’s maid, and she was willing to add a vial to your evening tea.”

“Do not,” she groaned, “call me your dear anything. I insist you stop at the next inn.” From which she would scribble a note about having her maid sacked.

“Of course! That’ll give people the chance to see us together.”

“No. You shall enter first, and I will . . .” Her vision was blurring; she squeezed her eyes shut, but could not imagine the next step to take. She had no chaperone and no money. Not even a change of clothing, unless the treacherous Sally had deigned to pack a few items. No one would ever believe Audrina was a lady of quality who had been carried off against her will.

“Don’t worry, Audrina. I will take care of you.” Llewellyn’s voice seemed to echo, as though he called from a long distance away.

“I won’t accept anything from you.”

His laugh clanged from the coach walls. “You already did; you drank from that flask. Didn’t even think to ask what was in it, did you?”

Water? Tinged with something else . . . still so bitter in her mouth.

“You cur,” she said again, weakly. Then the world went gray.


WHEN COLOR AND SIGHT returned, a new face was looking down at hers. This one was craggy, all strong spans and hollows, with short-cropped hair that glinted copper in the light of the . . .

Wait. Not the light of the carriage, but a lantern hanging from a hook on a rough plaster wall.

“Where’s the carriage? Where am I?” Her head felt so heavy, but instinct returned before sense. She did not know this man who loomed over her. Quicker than thought, she scrabbled to her feet and kicked out, catching him in the shin. He cursed under his breath.

With a strange accent.

“You are American?” Good God, where was she? She swayed, dizzy, and he took hold of her arms.

“Steady, there. Yes, I’m American and you are not. But you are the wayward daughter of Lord Alleyneham. Correct?”

“I . . . suppose so, yes.” Weakly, she struggled. “Please, let me go.”

He released her arms—not all at once, but slowly, letting her sag until her back found purchase against the solid wall. Then he lifted his hands at once, splaying them broad and empty, and stepped back.

How about that. A man actually listened to her. That didn’t happen often, and it certainly hadn’t happened yet today. Her protests seemed only to fire Llewellyn’s determination.

And where was that foul man? Was she free of him?

She tried to peer around the bulky figure of the American. “What has become of the…” What to call Llewellyn? It was so difficult to think of what might cause the least scandal.

“That fellow with you?” The large man rubbed at his chin. “He’s here. Been put in his place, but he’ll be all right. You’re at the Goat and Gauntlet, a post-house in York.”

“York.” Her knees went watery, and she slid, the plaster of the wall scraping against her wrecked hair and gown.

Gaze darting around, she noted the small span of the room. An antechamber to keep out the cold, its floor muddy from many boots. Doors flanked her. Outside one, rain fell in drops fat and hard as marbles; through the other, voices spilled in lilting northern accents. “York,” she said again. “What day is this? How much time has passed?”

The man ignored her questions. “You must be hungry,” he said, sounding impatient. “I’ll show you where to wash up; then you can join us in the private parlor for a meal.”

“’Us’ meaning you and—”

“My father.” He laughed, but the sound held as little humor as his previous sentence had held comfort. “And your father, and some harpy of a countess, and a poor footman who looks as though he’s been frightened to a shadow.”

Her father was here? This was too much to take in; Audrina shook her head. “Who are you?”

“Giles Rutherford.” He bowed, strong features twisting into a mocking smile. “And, princess, this is the end of your adventure.”

* * *

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