The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel (5 page)

BOOK: The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel
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“I cannot do that, Lettie,” Sophia said, her heart pinching as the older woman’s eyes
brimmed with tears. “I have prepared for this moment my entire life. Nicholas’s involvement
cannot keep me from moving forward. You must understand.”

Her companion’s face fell as she struggled to accept Sophia’s decision. “I see. And
you are sure Lord Stonecliffe must not be told?”

Sophia had entrusted her companion with all that she knew, save for the Young Corinthians.
It had been a burden, but one worth carrying; revealing their existence would have
put Lettie’s life in danger.

“As I explained during our ride to the Primrose, it is absolutely essential that Langdon
remain unaware,” Sophia replied, her fingers grasping hold of Lettie’s. “There is
Nicholas, though.”

Lettie released Sophia’s hand and eased her tall frame against the cushions. “Cold
comfort, my dear.”

Nicholas waited impatiently in the common room of the Primrose. Mrs. Brimm was enthusiastically
reprimanding a kitchen girl for burning the muffins.

He’d hurriedly packed his things and was prepared to leave. He simply could not remain
another moment in the room. It reeked of Sophia’s delicate floral soap. He’d found
her shawl, a pale pink strip of fabric hardly useful against the cold, lying in a
silken pool atop the rickety wood desk. And no matter where he fixed his gaze, she
was there; leaning over his bed as she roused him, pity straining her beautiful face.
Standing directly before him, her body shaking with the need to be anywhere else but
in that room. And disappearing out the door, fear and disappointment fueling her escape.

Nicholas gritted his teeth in an effort to stave off the
humiliation. He had no need for her pity or disappointment, or his own self-loathing
that would accompany it; he’d managed a lethal level of abhorrence for his very existence
quite well over the years and saw no need to add to it.

Mrs. Brimm sent the young maid off with a vigorous shaking of her finger, and then
turned to Nicholas. “Impossible to find good help these days, Mr. Bourne. Wouldn’t
you agree?”

He nodded in agreement, in no mood to converse.

Mrs. Brimm levered her sizable girth forward and looked over the oaken bar that separated
them within the Primrose’s common room. “Checking out, are we? Not like you to let
a lover’s spat get in the way of your fun.”

Nicholas flinched as she dramatically winked not only one beady eye, but the entire
left half of her pockmarked face. It was grotesque. And infuriating.

The woman assumed Sophia was his lover, come from London to demand his return.

And why wouldn’t she, you lackwit?
No more than an hour had passed since Sophia had gone. Yet here he was, bags packed,
ready to settle up and be on his way.

The phrase “add insult to injury” appeared in Nicholas’s mind.
Somewhere, most likely hell, the Roman writer Phaedrus is having a good laugh at my
expense
.

Sophia had no information to go on; every last notation and detail concerning the
case were neatly stowed away in the bag at his feet. His delayed return would give
her time to reconsider her ridiculous request.

Moreover, it would afford Nicholas the opportunity to reclaim a portion of his manhood.
Sophia was not his. She never would be. It was high time he accepted the fact and
acted accordingly.

“Do you know, Mrs. Brimm, I’ve changed my mind. Put me down for one more night,” Nicholas
instructed
the innkeeper. “And I would like a new room. The old one is far too full of quarrelsome
spirits.”

Mrs. Brimm cackled with delight. “You’re a wicked man, Mr. Bourne.”

“So they tell me.”

4

May 28
T
HE
A
LBANY
P
ICCADILLY
L
ONDON

Nicholas spent not one, but two additional nights at the Primrose Inn. He’d locked
himself in his room and revisited the sheaf of papers concerning Lady Afton’s murder,
searching for something—anything—he may have missed.

And still, as his mare Guinevere jogged toward his London lodgings, a solution to
the problem that Sophia presented was nowhere in sight. He slowed the mare to a stop
in front of the Albany. Located just off Piccadilly, the elegant building was considered
by the fashionable ton to be choice rooms for a bachelor uninterested in maintaining
a larger house. Nicholas didn’t care whether society approved the residence. He stayed
at the Albany because it had been used by Langdon and therefore was ridiculously easy
to secure.

“Thomas,” he called out in greeting to the groom who’d appeared as if from thin air,
ready to take Guinevere.

Thomas waited for Nicholas to jump down then took the reins from him. “Mr. Bourne,
welcome home.”

“I trust all is as it should be in the great city of London?” Nicholas asked, patting
Guinevere on the neck.

“You could say that.”

Thomas had always been a man of few words. But mysterious? Never.

“Should I be concerned?”

Thomas clucked to the mare and kindly urged her on. “Depends upon your outlook, I
suppose.”

Nicholas decided to ignore the groom’s cryptic words. He’d slept very little the past
two nights, his ass ached from the saddle, and really, he wasn’t a terribly patient
person to begin with.

“She’s earned extra oats, Thomas,” he said, slapping Guinevere’s rump before mounting
the steps of the Albany and stepping across its threshold.

He strode down the hall of the main floor, reaching his door and opening it. At once,
he knew that something about the interior of the fashionable apartment was different
from when he had last been there, though he didn’t immediately perceive what it was.

Just to be safe, he pulled a slim stiletto knife from his boot, then stepped into
the room and kicked the door closed. The thud was rather satisfying in his disgruntled
mood. Tossing his beaver hat on a walnut side table, he crossed the entryway, entered
the salon, and collapsed onto the soft gold sofa. If there was an intruder, he would
have to come to Nicholas rather than the other way around.

The fading light slanting through the mullioned windows caught only the faintest trace
of rising dust motes.

“Oh God,” he muttered, closing his eyes with annoyance. Clearly, his housekeeper,
Mrs. Fitzroy, had seen fit to take advantage of his absence from London, and
tidy up
his quarters. An impressive multitude of dust motes should have been leaping and
dancing through the air at
that very moment. And the sofa cushions, he noted with a frown, were rather plumper
than they ought to be.

And then he smelled it. The rich, thick odor of champa incense that evoked instant
memories of India. He knew of only one person who would have invaded his rooms and
filled the air with the intoxicating sandalwood scent.

“Pavan Singh!” Nicholas yelled. “I warned you what would happen should you follow
me to London, didn’t I?”

“Breathe deeply.” The melodic, accented words were spoken in an all-too-familiar calm,
soothing tone.

Nicholas pushed up from the comfortable sofa, eyes narrowed as he searched the room.

Singh waited near the door to the hallway, his small frame swathed in the traditional
loose white dhoti loincloth and a bright orange cotton overdress known as a kurta
in his native India. “How could I forget, sahib Bourne? You threatened to disembowel
me and leave me to the ravens.”

“And yet, despite my threats,” Nicholas commented as he crossed the carpeted floor,
his curt tone hiding the surge of pleasure he felt at his old friend’s presence, “you
are here, in England, in my quarters at the Albany. And burning incense, no less,”
he added, looking at the small brass burner on the sideboard.

The older man raised both hands palms-up. “I had no choice, sahib Bourne. You saved
my life and those of the villagers. I am bound by duty to serve you. And I do so happily.”
Beneath the snowy white of the turban covering his black hair, his brown face held
an expression of innocence. His black eyes, however, twinkled with amused affection.

Privately, Nicholas reluctantly agreed that Singh spoke the truth—at least the bit
about how he’d saved the man’s life. Work in India was easy enough to find—unscrupulous,
ill-principled work, that is. Mercenaries
were in high demand and Nicholas possessed all of the required traits: strength, intelligence,
and the ability to not give a damn for his own safety.

Unfortunately, he also owned a conscience. And even more troubling, a moral code.
Thankfully there had been men like Singh’s village elder who found themselves in the
unenviable position of doing battle not only with English interest in the form of
the bloody East India Company, but also defending their people against bandits who
saw the ruthless British taking what wasn’t theirs and decided to follow suit.

The Maharajah of Amanphour had hired Nicholas to protect his people and their land;
a land whose hills held a fortune in buried jewels. The task had proven to be the
most challenging undertaking of all his Indian adventures. Still, Nicholas and his
men subdued even the most powerful of the Maharajah’s foes. In doing so, they saved
countless lives and protected the ruler’s precious jewels—including Singh.

Pavan Singh was a holy man, of sorts. Nicholas hadn’t the patience for his own religion,
never mind those of the rest of the world, so he could not be sure where Singh sat
in the order of Hindu importance. But none of that had mattered. Singh’s peaceful
countenance and friendly nature had drawn Nicholas. When not fighting, he could be
found in Singh’s humble home, enjoying the benefits of the aromatic incense and listening
to the man prattle on about destiny and other lofty ideas.

As luck would have it, that was exactly where he was when bandits surprised the village
with a late night attack. Had Nicholas not been in the hut, Singh would have fallen
to one particularly nasty soldier and his wicked tulwar knife.

So, in theory, yes, Nicholas had saved the man’s life. Because it was his job. The
jewels the Maharajah had
given him as payment for service well done were quite enough, as far as he was concerned.

He’d earned a bloody fortune in India.

He hadn’t any need for a holy man.

Clearly, Singh did not agree.

“England is a cold land, Singh—foggy, rainy, and miserable in winter months. You will
never be able to bear it,” Nicholas protested, reaching for a pitcher of water on
the sideboard and dousing the incense.

Singh sighed, his gaze following Nicholas’s movements with resignation.

He pressed his palms together as though he was readying to thank one of his gods.
“I will wrap myself in the warmth of your friendship, sahib,” he said solemnly.

“The food will not be to your liking—not at all.”

Singh bowed his head. “Vishnu provides nourishment for my soul, and will surely do
so for my body.”

“It is all coming back to me now,” Nicholas muttered, turning away from the irritatingly
calm man and stalking back to the sofa. He lay down, stretching out until he was comfortably
situated. “For a holy man, you are not terribly bright.”

BOOK: The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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