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Authors: Elizabeth Essex

After the Scandal

BOOK: After the Scandal
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Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
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For the Plotting Princesses:

 

Vicki Batman, Kathleen Baldwin, Karilyn Bentley, Jillian Burns, Barb Han, Kathy Ivan, Chris Keniston, Kelly Lee, Liz Lipperman, Sylvia McDaniel, Phyllis Middleton, Michelle Miles, Liese Sherwood-Fabre, Alisha Paige, Linda Steinberg, Pamela Stone, Sasha Summers, and Mary Sullivan; for services joyfully and so happily rendered in all matters of plot and story line.

 

Acknowledgments

It is with the deepest gratitude and wonder that I thank my ever thoughtful editor, Holly Ingraham, for making me write better books than I think I am capable of writing; my endlessly supportive agent, Barbara Poelle, for never letting me get out on a ledge; my patient critique partner, Joanne Lockyer, for reading chapters in the middle of the Australian night; and last, but certainly not least, the ever resourceful brains that are the Plotting Princesses for plotting the heck out of every story.

 

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Epilogue

Author’s Note

Coming Soon By Elizabeth Essex

Also by Elizabeth Essex

Praise for Elizabeth Essex

About the Author

Copyright

 

Prologue

Richmond upon Thames
August 1815

Tanner Evans, ninth Duke of Fenmore, should have known he would never truly be satisfied with a bride he hadn’t stolen fair and square. Despite years and years of careful training in the arcane arts of being a Duke of Fenmore, the more honest and useful art of larceny still ran red and ruddy within his veins.

When the opportunity to make the inestimable Lady Claire Jellicoe his very own dropped into his hand like a pilfered purse full of shining, golden guineas, he palmed it deep into the hidden pocket next to his heart, and held fast.

He stole her from the garden of his grandmother’s magnificent, ancient manor house in Richmond, during a ball, on a moonlit summer night so sweet and warm and comfortable, it never should have needed anything approaching larcenous stealth or guile. But even on such a soft evening, and even after all the years and years of training in the polite proprieties, stealth and guile came to him quite naturally. Like old friends out of the silent night.

Old friends he could trust.

This fortuitous piece of larceny came to his attention directly after the fourth couple of dances. Tanner had been standing along the north wall of the cavernous old greatroom—it was one of the sacrifices he made to preserve the honor of the dukedom, this standing about against walls, just to be seen—when he saw
her.

He saw everything, every ferocious little detail that others either didn’t notice, or didn’t want to see. All the things they did not want
him
to see—their nervous glances and telling looks, their nasty bad habits and impulsive, informing foibles. He saw them
think,
just as clearly and easily as if he were reading a broadsheet.

He saw the shift of their eyes and the clutch of their hands when they intended to cheat at cards. He saw their backhanded smiles and snide pleasure when they made plans to cuckold their friends. He saw them stuff silver salvers into their reticules, and stand idly by while innocent servants were given the sack. He saw them laugh and cry and flatter and flirt and lie and cheat and steal.

He saw it all.

But he had never seen Lady Claire Jellicoe do any of those things, not once, though he had watched her for years, in ballroom after ballroom, from London to Leicestershire. He was helpless not to—an informing foible
he
should have long overcome, but had not. He could not. She was as tiny and staggeringly beautiful as the fragile orchid blooms that filled his grandmother’s conservatory, and just as full of wondrous, vibrant life. She was always smiling, always laughing and chatting, and serenely happy, glowing with luminous vitality—a rare white orchid he fervently admired, but could never touch.

But others did touch. Others danced and twirled and took her hand—the young lordlings who were meant to be his peers, the men who were as different from Tanner as sharp chalk was from soft cheese. Because no matter how hard he tried, or how carefully he had trained himself to become the ninth Duke of Fenmore, Tanner Evans knew he could never wash himself clean of the sulfurous stink of his years on the streets.

And so he had given up trying, and settled for being different, for retreating into the fortress of his mind, and preserving his still-savage pride behind a wall of eccentric silence.

His sister had laughed at the change in him.
Never shut up when you were a boy,
Meggs had teased.

But he had learned to hold his tongue now, and refrained from talking, though he watched them still. He watched
her
still—his lovely, luminous orchid of a girl. Because watching her gave him a pleasure so incomprehensible and inexplicable and vast, it was beyond his understanding. And beyond his power to stop.

So when Lady Claire Jellicoe turned her wide, sparkling blue eyes upon her dance partner, and smiled that smile that absolutely slayed Tanner—the smile that was warm and open and entirely without guile—the spurt of some small pain that would be very much like jealousy, if he allowed it to be, made him follow the line of her gaze to her partner, Lord Peter Rosing.

God’s balls. God’s bloody, bleeding balls.

Beneath his spotless gloves, Tanner’s palms went damp and itchy, and his back propelled itself off the wall.

Not Rosing. Anybody but Rosing.

Tanner controlled himself enough to stop his face from contorting into a sneer, and immediately scanned the crowd. He tried to place Lady Claire’s parents, the Earl and Countess Sanderson, where he had seen them last, chatting with his grandmother near one of the greatroom’s arching doorways. Or her oldest brother, James, Viscount Jeffrey. One of them had to be near enough to act. One of them had to see and know and understand just how vile Rosing truly was beneath his charming veneer. One of them had to stop him.

One of them had to
save
her.

Because Rosing was as slick and plausible and cunning as he was opportunistic. And he was nothing if not opportunistic, the amoral bastard. Rosing took Lady Claire Jellicoe’s elbow in his filthy grip, and escorted her out the tall, open doors at the foot of the room so smoothly and quickly, no one seemed to notice they were gone.

No one but Tanner.

Tanner knew that out in the shadowed dark, where the garden plummeted into the river, Lady Claire would soon stop smiling her open, honest, guileless smile. Because people were terrible, awful, cruel creatures of habit. And Rosing was the most terrible, habitually cruel creature of them all. Rosing indulged himself with lethal impunity.

The walls of the greatroom tilted inward—the room narrowed to the spot where she had been.

Tanner was already moving, preparing to employ lethal habits of his own—his old friends stealth and guile. Stealth and guile, and single-minded devotion. Because he was devoted to Lady Claire Jellicoe, this exquisite orchid of a young woman he had never met, never danced with, never so much as spoken one single word to in all his years of propping up ballroom walls.

He had never dared.

Tanner Evans, ninth Duke of Fenmore, was madly, deeply, irrationally, and altogether secretly in love.

 

Chapter One

Lady Claire Jellicoe hadn’t thought to protest. She hadn’t thought Lord Peter Rosing would ever do anything untoward. She hadn’t thought someone she’d just met on a ballroom floor could ever wish her irreparable harm.

She simply hadn’t thought.

She had smiled. She had smiled because she was Lady Claire Jellicoe, pretty, privileged daughter of the Earl Sanderson. She had smiled because she was polite and considerate, and did as she was asked—she had been asked to dance with the handsome, fair-haired heir of the Marquess of Hadleigh. She had been taught to smile, and say yes.

“No” was what she said now. “No. No. No.”

No, when Lord Rosing pushed her into the dark seclusion of the boathouse at the Dowager Duchess of Fenmore’s lovely riverside villa in Richmond. No, when he pulled Claire’s arm, and grabbed her by the neck. No, no, no, when he shoved her face-first against the rough brick wall.

The brick was hard, and hurt. Stone bit into her face. Sharp grit clawed and scratched against her skin and tasted like dust. But the chalky, bitter bile in her mouth was really fear.

Fear that for the first time in her life, she was powerless.

Powerless because she had been spoiled. Powerless because all her life, she had been pampered and cosseted and buffered and protected from all the truly ugly unpleasantness of the world. And she had never known it until that exact moment when she screamed, “No.”

Because her voice was too small—shadowed with the fear pouring like acid down her throat, filling her chest with the high suffocating heat of panic.

She bit the gloved hand choked across her mouth as instinctively as a wild animal caught in a trap. Her teeth tore through the thick fabric, and the taste of blood suffused her mouth with the metallic tang of hatred and shame.

But all she got for her desperation was a low profanity spewed hot into her ear, the shifting of his grip to grind her face into the brick, and the bloody glove shoved into her mouth and held there as a gag.

He was everywhere around her, covering her mouth, standing on the train of her gown, pinning her against the wall with his weight. Closing out everything else, every hope of help, every thought of action. There was nothing but his body and his breath and his smell and his power.

And she had none.

She couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t move, and she couldn’t stop Lord Rosing.

She could only hear the roar of her heartbeat filling her ears until she was drowning in it. She could only taste the bloody fabric clamped inside her mouth, suffocating out sense. She could only feel the wall cutting into her skin, and the grabbing and pushing and rending of her clothes as he exposed her body.

She could only think in the tiny, screaming part of her mind that was still capable of thought, no, no, no.

No, this could not be happening to her. No, he had to stop. No, someone had to stop him. Please. Please. Please.

And then someone did.

Rosing fell away from her for one suspended moment. Then his head cracked hard against the bricks two inches from her wide-open eyes. He stared back at her, his own eyes open and blank and uncomprehending for one agonizingly sick moment before they rolled back in his head, and he slid slowly down the wall, collapsing in an untidy half-clothed heap at her feet.

Claire clung to the wall, paralyzed and cold and shaking, until something inside her finally rattled free. She spat out the choking glove and scrambled back—away from him, away from the danger. But there was no room to go anywhere with the corner of wall at her back. And there was another threat.

BOOK: After the Scandal
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