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Authors: Kalen Hughes

Lord Scandal

BOOK: Lord Scandal
11.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You're a rake,” she managed to say.

“Why yes, I am,” Gabriel almost purred, now fully in command of himself.

Imogen went suddenly still as he leaned over her, rolling more fully onto his side, and sliding one leg over her hips, trapping her on the bed.

Gabriel leaned down further, capturing her mouth with his, and when he felt her quiver, and not—he was positive—with desire, he pulled back and looked her right in the eye. “Don't you dare,” he warned sternly, before returning to the eminently enjoyable task of kissing her.

Also by Kalen Hughes


Published by Zebra Books


Kensington Publishing Corp.

For all my girlfriends, who've read this book over and over, made suggestions, loaned me books, cooked me dinner, got me drunk, and in all ways been the best friends I could ever hope for. I love you guys.


First and foremost the late Georgette Heyer, without whom I would never have written a romance novel. Julia Ross, whose books taught me that lyricism isn't dead in modern fiction. Candice Hern, whose insight into publishing has helped me immensely, and whose amazing collection of Georgian antiques literally inspires me (she knows exactly which scene I'm talking about!). The members of the San Francisco Bay Area RWA chapter, especially Monica, Jami, Nyree, and Doreen. The members of the Beau Monde RWA chapter, who share their knowledge and resources so generously—especially Nancy Mayer and Dee Hendrickson, fonts of knowledge, both of them. The Wild Cards, for their endless support and unflagging optimism. My agent, Paige Wheeler, and huge thanks to my editor, Hilary Sares, who makes everything seem effortless.

Chapter 1

The Angelstone Turk would appear to have given his opera dancer her congé. We eagerly await the impending melee amongst those desirous of taking his place…

Tête-à-Tête, 11 August 1789

He had her.

Gabriel Angelstone slid his hands around the countess's waist and pulled her back against him. God he'd missed her. Childhood friend, first love, best friend. She'd been the cynosure of his world and the sad truth was that without her, he was bored.

Bored with drinking. Bored with gaming. Bored with whoring. Bored with London. And when one was bored with London, one was bored with life. No truer words had ever been spoken.

She gasped and went stiff, sent her basket tumbling to the ground, and rammed him hard in the ribs with one sharp elbow. Gabriel let go of her immediately.

What in hell was wrong with her?

He was early, by a full day, but that was hardly unusual. What was a day or two between friends?

She spun around, skirts flying out, gravel churning underfoot, and backed away from him. She stopped only when her heels hit the edge of the fountain and threw out a hand to steady herself, tense as a cornered doe.

Staring up at him from under the most ridiculous portrait hat he'd ever seen was a face that clearly wasn't Georgianna's. Not George's, but oddly familiar all the same. Like a melody once heard in passing. Memory stirred, but refused to wake.

Little audible pops accompanied the greedy frenzy of the carp as they sucked up the bread crumbs she'd just scattered over the water, loud even over the merry splash of the fountain. Gabriel smiled, swept off his hat, and bowed.

His unknown victim watched him warily through large blue-grey eyes, thickly rimmed with sooty lashes the same color as her mass of spiral curls. She had a wide mouth; the top lip fuller than the bottom one. It should have looked luscious, well kissed, seductive, but at that exact moment her lips were pursed. Disapproving. A little downward curl marred their edges. As she studied him, she straightened, shoulders back, chest thrust out. Her eyes took on a decidedly flinty edge.

His garden nymph had a temper…how delightful.

Imogen stared at the man who'd just accosted her, struggling to keep her mouth from dropping open. He was undoubtedly one of the countess's friends. It was common knowledge Lady Somercote came from a wild set. But guests weren't due to arrive for at least another day or two.

As the countess's titular companion she'd been busy assisting with all the tasks no one had time for in the rush to finish the party preparations. Simple things: feeding the fish in the maze, taking the countess's dog for a walk, delivering a jar of pig's feet jelly to the parsonage. Servant-stuff really, but they were busy too. Helping out with such tasks was little enough considering all the Somercotes had done for her.

She stared at the smiling man before her, smoothed suddenly damp hands over her skirts. If only she'd brought the countess's mastiff with her on this errand. The elegant beau smiling predatorily down at her wouldn't look nearly so attractive with Caesar pinning him to the ground. It would serve him right to have the immaculate folds of his cravat disordered, his beautiful coat covered in dog drool, smeared with mud.

She could picture it as clearly as if it was actually happening.

He wouldn't be smiling at her in that impudent way, either, the jack-a-napes. She really should go, but it would be too undignified to scramble around him like some ninny of a girl. His had been the offense. It was for him to make reparations, not for her to run away. He certainly wouldn't hurt her—not if he was a guest of the Somercotes—and it had been a long time since anyone had looked at her with such open admiration. With such clear intent.

Had a man such as this one ever looked at her? It seemed unlikely. He was magnificent. Tall, with an odd cast to his features that put her strongly in mind of the foreign princes and Italian counts who littered the pages of the popular novels. Especially his eyes.

Those were
English eyes.

Gabriel smiled down at his nymph. She was undoubtedly another early arrival.

George would skin him alive if she caught him trifling with any of her friends, but he couldn't resist the challenge in the lady's snapping eyes. Anger brought out the best in some women. Firing the blood, raising a flush beneath their delicate skin, making their bosom rise and fall with entrancing rapidity. Yes. Angry, proud, and undeniably a wee bit intrigued.

He knew the signs.

Delicate lace mitts obscured her hands, but no tell-tale flash of gold warned him off.

Besides, what could a little flirtation hurt? Wasn't this what country house parties were for? He rose from his bow, eyes locked with hers, his free hand held to his still smarting ribs in theatrical display.

“‘She that makes me sin awards me pain.'”

The lady cocked her head, sparrow-like. The corners of her lips betrayed her, quirking up into the slightest of smiles.

Oh yes, he had her.

She dropped him a rather frosty curtsy, barely more than a dip of the knees accompanied by the slightest inclination of her head. “‘Nothing emboldens sin so much as mercy,' and so sir, I shall show you none.”

Gabriel's smile widened. Beautiful, well read, and witty? What were the odds? “‘And for this sin there is no remedy'—much like the wound you've done me, my fair Daphne.”

Her brows drew together as she considered him, the winged shape flattening. She crossed her arms, breasts rising another degree like an incoming tide. She really did look familiar. Why couldn't he remember? How could he have forgotten such a woman?

Gabriel took one small step to the right, placing himself between her and the courtyard's only exit. Her gaze left his, darted over his shoulder and back again. His strategy hadn't escaped her notice. Her moment of panic had dissipated, leaving her calm, and—he grinned again—condescending in a queenly way.

She stared him down, batting her eyes at him the way his cousin did when she thought him deliberately obtuse. “'Tis a sin to flatter,' sir, and you'd do well to remember your Greek; Apollo lost his nymph.”

Gabriel gave a bark of laughter, startling the thrushes in the hedge into flight. They escaped in a loud, chattering swarm, spiraling upwards and away.

“The sun god must have been a bit slow, but we were quoting Shakespeare, not the classics, let us return to whence we came…” He smiled his most beguiling smile, the one that set young ladies fluttering, scandalized dowagers, and always made his cousin rap him with her fan. He took a deliberate step towards the lady in the monstrous hat. She held her ground, merely raking her glance up and down him appraisingly. “‘Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.'”

“‘Man-like it is to fall into sin, Fiend-like to dwell therein.'”

“That's not Shakespeare.” His smile widened. It was beyond his control. He was going to have to kiss her. There was simply no help for it. “You're wandering afield again.”

“It's from a German poet, but apt all the same.”

“Now, now. Let's stick to our parameters…” He took another step towards her, getting within arms-length. “‘Repent you, fair one, of the sin you carry.'”

“The sin I carry?” One arched brow rose. “I thought we were speaking of your sin?”

“My sin? ‘Love is my sin.'”

She snorted.

There was no other word for it. It wasn't a giggle; couldn't even vaguely be construed a titter. It was a snort, and a rather derisive one at that. Gabriel closed the last step between them, casting his hat aside as he did so. His hands closed on crisply glazed cotton, and for the second time that day, he pulled her into his arms.

He leaned in, ducking his head beneath the brim of her hat, so close her curls tickled his face, fine hairs catching in the slight burr of his cheek. “‘Shall we continue in this sin?'”

“Now who's wandering?” One side of her mouth crinkled upwards. A dimple winked in her cheek, un-abashed and unintimidated. “Unless I'm mistaken, that's biblical. Better to have said, ‘but sin had his reward.'”

Mirth flooded through him, warming him from the inside out, making him want to taste her even more. He tipped back her hat. “Shall I wander further? ‘To sin in secret is no sin at all.'”

He lowered his head and captured her lips with his own. He kissed her softly, teasingly. Testing the waters. Giving her every chance to pull away, to slap him…to kiss him back.

She did none of them. She just stood there, cool and stiff as the laurel tree Apollo's nymph had become.

After a moment she sighed, boredom oozing from every pore, hands trapped limply against his chest. If only he could pretend such disaffection. She was soft and rounded in all the right places. High breasts full above a small waist, what he was sure would prove to be a perfectly heart-shaped bottom hidden beneath layers of petticoats held out by pads. She smelled ever so faintly of soap and rose water. Not the musky ambergris that opera dancers and paphians always seemed to be drenched in, but something that spoke of sunlight, of practicality…of virtue.

He ran the tip of his tongue along her lower lip, trying to provoke a response. No lady had a right to look as she did and smell of virtue. She pressed closer, sliding her arms around his neck, her body softening against his in unmistakable capitulation. He chuckled and adjusted his grip, sliding one hand down to press her hips against his.

With a deceptive twist of her body she stomped down on his instep, hard enough to make his eyes water.

He yelped and let go of her. She stepped back, her gaze scathing, her lips curled into a mocking little smile. She raised her chin another notch, and looking altogether pleased with herself, swept past him as composed as a dowager at court. She didn't even have the decency to hurry.

Gabriel gathered up his hat and the basket she'd left behind and limped back towards the house, smiling all the while at the temerity of his garden nymph. George's house party was going to be amusing on several counts, and the presence of his assailant promised to contribute mightily to his enjoyment of the next fortnight.

Still swinging the basket in one hand Gabriel let himself into the house via the French doors that had been left wide-open to capture the sea breeze. Just inside he found George sitting at the small desk, a blank sheet of foolscap spread out before her. She was staring off into space, caught up in thought, rhythmically running the soft end of her quill along one cheek.

“George?” he said from the doorway, smiling as she jumped in surprise. She tossed aside her quill and leapt up to welcome him, amid the deep baying that erupted as her dog was roused from his nap.

“Gabriel. You're early, you scoundrel.” She hurried across the room, hands extended, then stopped, a look of perplextion crossing her face when she spied the basket.

The mastiff wooffled a few more times, sniffed Gabriel's boots, then settled back down on the carpet with a thump that made the floorboards protest.

Gabriel took both George's hands in his, gave them a quick squeeze and dropped a brotherly kiss on her cheek. “You're looking well. Married life obviously agrees with you.”

“Ivo agrees with me at any rate,” she responded, with what he thought was just a hint of a blush.

“Much more so than widowhood did.” He let the blush go; there'd be plenty of time for teasing her about the joys of marital bliss when reinforcements arrived. And she did look happy. Almost sickeningly so. Was it wrong that he'd hoped to find her moped? It suddenly felt wrong. Like a shameful secret.

Love ruins everything. His motto. His one truth. A fact he'd been aware of nearly all his life, damn his parents, but George's having succumbed to the malady didn't appear to have ruined hers.

As he studied her, taking in the glow that lit her cheeks, the tumble of auburn curls and the slightly scandalous chemise dress, she eyed the basket he was carrying and raised one brow. “Taking up gardening? Or is that the latest rage in portmanteaus?”

“Neither, as well you know. This was abandoned by the lovely termagant I caught feeding your fish. Not only did she ruthlessly abandon the basket, but she left me to find my own way out of the maze after luring me into it, and she stomped on my foot in the bargain. And I think she's scuffed my boot.” He extended his damaged footwear for George's inspection.

George looked skeptical. “And what, my tulip, did you do to make her abandon her basket and stomp on your foot?”

“Do?” Gabriel responded, all mock innocence. “Nothing, I assure you.”

“Nothing indeed. No sooner did the lady lay eyes on you than she was overwhelmed with the need to assault your boots?”

“Something like that.” Gabriel pressed his lips together to keep from grinning. George was likely to slap him if he did.

“I'm sure,” George replied acerbically. “Shall we see if we can get through the rest of my house party without any of my other guests being overcome by a similar need?”

“I believe I can confine myself to the one guest. Unless your friend has a large, and perhaps, watchful husband in tow?”

“I'm warning you, Brimstone.” George eyed him sternly. “You're to leave Miss Mowbray alone.”

“Oh? And why is that?” He picked a bit of lint off his sleeve. She never called him Brimstone, except when she was annoyed. Never.

“Don't be childish.” She took hold of him by the arm and led him back outside. “Come and take a walk with me. I've been inside too long today.”

“George,” he growled, tossing the basket aside and allowing her to lead him off all the same.

“Don't take that tone with me. I'm well aware of your style of dalliance—having been witness to it for years—and believe me, she's not it. The last thing Imogen needs is her name coupled with yours.”

“Imogen…I like the name Imogen.”

BOOK: Lord Scandal
11.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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