The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel (8 page)

BOOK: The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel
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And finally, Nicholas and Dash’s investigation began in earnest. “The Bishop” was
printed in dark, bold letters on the page; someone had clearly traced and retraced
the strokes until the paper was nearly torn. References to the Bishop’s appearance
within Carmichael’s original report were called out beneath the ominous headline,
including notations concerning several similar murders that took place in the years
following her mother’s death.

Sophia licked her fingertip and turned the page. A crude map of the Seven Dials district
followed, with a handful of nefarious businesses circled on the sketch. She pondered
what significance the infamous area held for the case before setting the map aside.

Mr. Smeade’s profile appeared next. According to Nicholas’s careful notes, the man
had killed in order to fund his lavish lifestyle and taste for the extravagant.

My mother was murdered for cheroots and coats by Bond Street tailors

Both outrage and sadness washed over her. She pushed
on, though, aware that she couldn’t afford to become distracted. After all, there
would never be a reason that made sense, Sophia silently acknowledged as she continued
to leaf through the bundle of bills of sale and specialty orders.

Still, there was something particularly demoralizing about the bill from Fribourg
& Treyer: a two weeks’ supply of the highest quality snuff.

Sophia forced herself to return the bill to the stack, and her gaze was caught by
the drawing on the small sheet of foolscap.

The shape of a Catholic bishop’s hat occupied most of the page, with a small chess
piece roughly sketched in the bottom right corner.

The Bishop

Could the church be part of this? Sophia had been raised to believe in God and His
holy rule. But even she had to admit that not all church officials were saints on

As to the chess piece? Sophia had less luck imagining a situation in which a game
took center stage.

The slamming of a door made her jump. She listened closely, Nicholas’s deep voice
reaching her through the closed study door.

Sophia wanted to stay there, safe in the study, where she could sort through the papers
again. She’d failed to take any notes of her own and surely the sketches deserved
more of her attention.

She folded her arms on the desk and pressed her forehead down.
. As if to say she wasn’t so when she was with Nicholas. It was ludicrous. Still,
her response to him at the Primrose continued to weigh heavily on her mind. Sophia
could not explain why she’d acted in such a manner. And even more worrisome, she could
not guarantee it would not happen again.

Even now she could feel his hands on her bare arms.
Her skin still pulsed with the memory of that moment when heat had poured into her
from him.

She dreaded facing him, afraid her countenance would reflect all the confusion and
turmoil she felt toward him. She was unaccountably vulnerable as never before in the
presence of a man. It wasn’t a circumstance she welcomed.

Perhaps she should slip out of his apartment as silently as she had entered, and return

“Stop making excuses,” she said aloud to herself, lifting her head and purposely squaring
her shoulders. She’d held her own against Nicholas many times before, and would do
so many times again.

There was no need to be afraid.


“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it,” Mouse exclaimed around a bite of stew. “You
poked him just like one of those thugs Miss May pays to beat up customers when they
won’t let loose of their money.”

Confused, Nicholas and Singh stared at Mouse as they sat around the scrubbed kitchen
table. The boy had not uttered a word during the hansom ride from the rookery to the
Albany, nor at any time since they’d arrived home, not until that moment.

“Perhaps young Mouse does not know what he is saying?” Singh offered, ladling more
stew into the youth’s bowl. Mouse’s gaze followed the transfer of carrot chunks, potatoes,
onions, and beef, all swimming in thick gravy, with an expression of awe and greedy

Nicholas swallowed his spoonful of stew, flavored with the faint bite of Singh’s curry
spice, and pushed his bowl away. “He is speaking of you, Singh.”

“And perhaps sahib is confused as well?” Singh’s perplexed brown gaze fastened on
Nicholas’s face, his dark eyebrows lifted in inquiry.

“Miss May is the proprietor of a local opium den,” Nicholas explained, leaning back
against the thick oak slats of his sturdy chair. “The thugs are Miss May’s family
and also in her employ. She brought them into her business for their fighting technique
skills—which come
in handy when dealing with customers who are reluctant to pay her fees.”

Singh’s brow cleared and he nodded in understanding. “Ah, I see. And these men, they
are quite adept at their craft?”

Mouse’s spoon scraped the bottom of his bowl and he shoveled the last bit of stew
into his mouth. “No one messes with Miss May’s boys if they know what’s good for ’em.”

Singh’s face lit with pride and approval. “Then I am glad for the comparison, young
Mouse. And I would very much like to meet these accomplished men.”

“No, you would not, Singh, nor they you,” Nicholas told him in no uncertain terms.
“Now, Mouse, tell us why those men—”

“Good evening.” The melodic feminine tone and unexpected greeting startled all three

Nicholas looked over his shoulder and found Sophia poised in the doorway.

She was dressed simply in a pale yellow gown with a modest neckline, no jewelry or
adornments visible.

He would have bet the last shilling he possessed that Sophia thought she presented
a plain appearance. She was wrong. Her skin glowed against the delicate yellow of
the gown and her dark hair shone in the candle’s glow. She was a slim, vibrant female
presence who subtly demanded the attention of all three males in the room.

She glanced at him through half-lowered lashes. There was a flash of uncertainty in
her green eyes and Nicholas suddenly realized that he’d been staring at her, silently,
for far too long.

He shoved his chair back and rose. “Well, this is a surprise.”

A broad smile broke out across Singh’s lips. “Sahib, will you
greet the beautiful lady or should I? It is not polite to keep her waiting, you understand.”

“Well, of course I know it is not,” Nicholas began, recovering from the impact of
Sophia’s sudden appearance. “And she is no beautiful lady, Singh. That is, she is …”

Nicholas looked to Sophia for help.

“Please, do finish your thought,” she said wryly. Her eyes gleamed with amusement,
her soft, plush lips curving in what surely was an unconsciously tempting smile.

Nicholas nearly groaned aloud.

“Singh, take Mouse upstairs and find a bed for him.”

Singh’s bright smile slowly dimmed until his disappointment was unmistakable. “If
that is what you wish, sahib. Then I will obey.”

“Obey? I am not your master, Singh,” Nicholas countered.

“But you are, sahib.”

“I am not.” Nicholas felt his jaw clench.

“I mean no disrespect, but you are.”

“I am not, and that is final!” Nicholas roared, slamming his hand on the table. “Bloody
hell,” he muttered. “That sounded like someone’s master, did it not?”

Singh and Mouse nodded in unison.

Sophia merely dipped her chin in quiet agreement, which was far worse.

Nicholas rubbed his fingertips over his temples, where a headache had begun to pound
in time with his pulse. “You will remain silent. Do I make myself clear?”

Singh nodded in understanding.

Mouse peered longingly at Nicholas’s bowl of stew. “Of course, my lord.”

“He is not a lord, young Mouse,” Singh corrected. “He is the second son, you see—”

“The particulars of the peerage may be addressed at a later time, Singh,” Nicholas
broke in, pushing his bowl across the table to Mouse.

“If you would make the introductions,” Sophia suggested leadingly.

“I wonder if we might simply avoid those two altogether and move on to the reason
for your visit?” Nicholas posed hopefully.

Sophia looked at him as though he were mad. “I believe the gentlemen are as curious
to know more of me as I am of them.”

“ ‘Gentlemen’ is rather stretching it,” Nicholas said under his breath, the headache
beginning to pulse harder. “But yes, by all means, let us be polite. Singh, Mouse,
stand up.” Chairs scraped back as the two obeyed with alacrity.

Nicholas waved a hand at his turbaned friend. “This is Singh.”

Sophia glared at Nicholas.

“Mr. Singh,” Nicholas amended begrudgingly.

“I am glad to properly make your acquaintance, Mr. Singh,” Sophia said graciously,
giving Singh an enchanting smile.

The man bowed before the woman as if born to do so. “My lady, you are too kind.”

“And you? You are not afraid to face me, are you?” Sophia asked warmly, turning her
attention to Mouse.

Mouse’s eyes widened and he backed up until his thin shoulders hit the wall. “Gov
said I was to be quiet. And that’s what I’m doin’, you see.”

This statement earned Nicholas a second glare from Sophia.

“Do you know my head is pounding—harder by the moment, if you were at all wondering,”
Nicholas said to no one in particular. “But by all means, let us not forget our manners.
Mouse, do step forward and meet the nice lady,” he instructed impatiently when the
boy seemed to hesitate.

The lad jumped to attention and stepped forward
three steps, hesitating before taking a fourth. “I’m not prepared for meetin’ no ladies,”
he explained, glaring down at his torn and dirty clothing. “Never met no lady before.”

“Well, Mouse, may I tell you something?” Sophia asked, leaning forward with friendly
intent. “You are the absolute first person I have ever met with the name Mouse. So
this is a day of firsts for us both.”

“Is that right, then? Well, I s’pose there’s no need for names like mine where you
come from,” Mouse confided, his inhibitions fading. “In the rookery? I’ve mates named
Hook, Badger, Knuckles, Penny Pete—”

“Thank you, Mouse. That will be quite enough,” Nicholas assured the boy, gesturing
for him to rejoin Singh.

“Sahib, I do not mean to interrupt,” Singh whispered loud enough for the whole of
London to hear. “But you’ve forgotten the beautiful lady’s name.”

“My apologies,” Nicholas groused. “May I introduce …”

He paused, garnering a look of confusion from each of the three.

He didn’t know why, precisely, Sophia was in his house, nor how she’d secured entry,
come to think of it.

And while it could be said that Mouse was somewhat endearing—if one were partial to
filthy, thieving children—the fact remained that Nicholas knew very little about him.
It simply was not safe to reveal Sophia’s true identity.

“Might I be of assistance?” Sophia offered helpfully.

Rather too helpfully, if Nicholas was being honest. God, he needed a drink.

“No, that’s quite all right, Sophia …” He paused again, reaching for a suitable surname.
Nothing too regal, nor too plain. His gaze landed on a serving spoon
lying next to the steaming pot of stew and inspiration struck.

“Sophia Spoon.”

To her credit, Sophia merely blinked at the sound of her new name, and then smiled
with friendly interest at Singh and Mouse. “That’s right. You may call me Miss Spoon.”

“Never heard of such a name for a doxie. I like it. Simple. Not too flow’ry,” Mouse
commented before returning to his stew.

Singh cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I am not familiar with this word ‘doxie.’ Miss
Spoon, please, if you would be so kind as to elaborate—”

“You’re quite mistaken, I’m afraid,” Sophia interrupted, her placid demeanor intact
though her cheeks were pink with embarrassment. “While my presence here—and at such
a late hour—certainly does appear improper, I assure you I am no light-skirt. I am,
in fact, Mr. Bourne’s secretary.”

BOOK: The Scoundrel Takes a Bride: A Regency Rogues Novel
7.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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