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Authors: Christie Kelley

Vexing the Viscount

BOOK: Vexing the Viscount
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Books by Christie Kelley

 

Every Night I'm Yours

Every Time We Kiss

Something Scandalous

Scandal of the Season

One Night Scandal

Bewitching the Duke

Enticing the Earl

Vexing the Viscount

 

 

Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.

VEXING
THE
V
ISCOUNT
CHRISTIE KELLEY

eKENSINGTON BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
www.kensingtonbooks.com

All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

Chapter 1

Staffordshire, England, 1814

 

T
he door to Braden Tavers's study hurled open and crashed against the wall. Glancing up from his papers, he cringed to see Mrs. Featherstone standing in the threshold with a look of fury upon her face. He'd never met a woman who could terrify him as she did. The cold stare she could give a person would scare the devil.

Mrs. Featherstone had been a wise woman for his friend, the Earl of Hartsfield, for years, but Braden had only met her a few times. Hart had forewarned him about her disposition and bluster. Braden wondered what brought her here to his estate. Her daughter, Tia, tended the ills and birthed the babies here. If there were something wrong with Miss Featherstone, one of the tenants would have informed him. And yet, based on the look upon her face, this was not a social call.

He rose slowly from his seat and bowed toward her. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Featherstone,” he said, as if her sudden appearance was a normal part of his day. “Is there something I can assist you with today?”

“Where is he?” she demanded before blustering into the room like a gale.

“Which
he
are you speaking of?”

She tilted her head and pursed her lips. “Mr. Jonathon Tavers.”

“My brother had some business to attend to in London.” If gambling and whoring could be called
business
. He prayed Jonathon's exploits would be limited to only gaming and prostitutes. He had done so well spending a few weeks away from town. His brother's abrupt return to town had Braden on edge.

She crossed her arms over her chest and stared down at him with her intense blue eyes. “And what are
you
going to do about this?”

What had Jonathon done now? Braden had rescued his younger brother from more scrapes than he could remember. Since Jonathon had run off again, Braden had hired two Bow Street runners to find him before he succumbed to his craving. After a fortnight of searching, they had no idea where he'd gone. “I have no idea to what you are referring, Mrs. Featherstone.”

“You don't know?” She heaved a sigh before taking a seat in the chair across from him. “I must apologize, my lord. I thought you must have heard by now.”

He waited for her to continue, but she stared at her hands for a long minute. With her graying hair pulled back from her face, she appeared far younger than he knew her to be.

“She left, my lord.”

“Who?”

“Tia,” she whispered in a shaky voice.

He'd never seen Mrs. Featherstone look so vulnerable. And where the bloody hell had his wise woman gone? “Where did she go?” he asked gently.

“She sent a letter over a week ago stating that she was leaving for London. Chasing after your brother.” She sighed. “I assumed you would have departed to bring them back, but only this morning, I discovered you were still in residence.”

“Why would I try to return them?”

Mrs. Featherstone stared at her hands. “She doesn't even know what happened to her sister.”

“What happened to her sister?” Miss Mia Featherstone assisted her mother at the Earl of Hartsfield's estate. Surely, he would have heard if something had happened to her.

“Yesterday she was beaten by a man who was her lover.”

Braden closed his eyes. “Does Hart know?”

“Yes, he's keeping her at the house to ensure her safety.”

He actually felt a twinge of pity for the man who had the gall to hurt the woman Hart loved. Braden doubted it would end well for the fellow. “Is she going to be all right?”

“She will be once she heals in a few weeks. But I couldn't bear anything happening to my other daughter, my lord.”

Oh, hell. Braden clenched his fists. He might have a reputation as a rake, but Jonathon was far worse. Jonathon seemed to enjoy ruining every woman he could seduce. And if the rumors Braden had heard were anywhere near the truth, Miss Tia Featherstone would be in serious trouble if she found his brother.

“So, exactly what are you going to do to about this mess?” Mrs. Featherstone demanded again.

Nothing. He was done saving his brother from trouble. Braden had done everything in his power to help his brother, but Jonathon was six and twenty, and it was far past time for him to grow up. And Miss Featherstone was no better, running off after him.

“What do you expect me to do?”

She had the audacity to laugh at him. “I expect you to go find your wise woman and bring her back to your estate, my lord. I can help out here but Tia is your healer. Bring her back home.”

Braden blinked. “You want me to drop everything and run after
your
daughter because she had the foolishness to chase after a man?”

“Not just any man,” she replied coldly. “
Your
brother. And don't think I haven't heard what he does to innocent women.”

He clenched his hands into tight fists to keep from throwing something. The last thing he'd expected was for Mrs. Featherstone to know how his brother liked nothing more than to defile innocent women and leave their reputations in ruins. While Miss Featherstone might not care about her reputation, her mother certainly did. Still, that didn't mean
he
had to chase after her.

“I'll hire another runner to find her and return her safely to you.”

Steely blue eyes pinned him to his seat. Slowly, she rose and leaned over the desk. “No, my lord. You will go to London yourself and bring her home. I don't trust a runner for this business. Only you.”

“I have no authority over her.”

“She works on your estate. She is your responsibility.”

His jaw tightened. There had to be some reason he couldn't do this. And yet, the more she stared at him, the more he realized he had no choice in the matter. But he wasn't about to let this woman one-up him. He rose slowly until he towered over her. “I will do this, but if Jonathon has already defiled her, there is nothing I can do.”

Instead of backing down like every other woman he knew would have done, she straightened herself and crossed her arms over her chest. Glaring up at him, she said, “Then you will make certain she returns a married woman.”

He laughed coarsely and shook his head. “I will do no such thing. I would never force my brother to marry—”

“Be very careful what your next words are, my lord.”

“Any woman,” he continued as if he hadn't heard her. “Neither would I force your daughter into marriage with my disreputable brother. She deserves far better than Jonathon.”

Mrs. Featherstone relaxed slightly. “At least on that we can agree.”

Braden released a sigh. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do right now. He'd only come out to the Midlands to get away from the constant barrage of gossip regarding his sudden ascension to viscount. Rumors of his involvement in both his uncle's and cousin's deaths were driving him mad. Becoming Viscount Middleton was the last thing he'd ever wanted or expected.

He had earned enough money on his own that becoming a viscount held no interest for him. But now that the choice had been taken out of his hands, he'd decided to do what his mother would have wanted and become a respectable lord.

“Well?” she said impatiently.

“Do you have any idea where she might be?” he asked, feeling defeated by a cantankerous middle-aged woman.

She tossed a letter on his desk and then walked toward the door. “That's all the information I have.”

“Mrs. Featherstone, wait.” Braden waited for her to stop and look back at him. “Why Jonathon?”

“She thinks she is in love with him,” she replied with a shake of her head. “Foolish girl.”

Foolish indeed. And now he'd be on a fool's errand, trying to rescue a woman who would not want to be rescued. Well, this should be an interesting trip. As Mrs. Featherstone departed, Braden sat down and scanned the letter. Thankfully, Tia had left an address where she would be staying with friends. He folded the letter and put it in his jacket pocket. At least finding her wouldn't be terribly difficult. Only convincing her to return would be a chore. If he could find Jonathon, then his brother could tell Tia the truth about his feelings for her. Once she heard his brother didn't love her, she would run back to the estate and perform her job there. Braden knew if he tried to tell her himself, she would never believe him.

Knowing it would take a few days to reach London, he ordered a horse saddled and a small bag packed. In less than a week, he would be on his way back with his wise woman in tow.

 

Tia Featherstone hurried her step as dusk fell. The area around Whitechapel became particularly unsafe as darkness swept over the dirty streets. She needed to be back in her tiny room at the Goat's Horn Inn as quickly as possible. Her walk to Mayfair had taken much longer than expected today. After investigating more places that Jonathon should have been, she had no idea where to look next.

“Come on over and let me take a look at ye,” an older man said from a step outside a decrepit house. He sipped from a gin bottle. “I got enough coin for the likes of you.”

Tia choked back a sob. “I am not for sale.”

She hurried to get farther away from the drunken man. Hearing footsteps fall into the same rhythm as hers, she peeked back and noticed a man in black stalking her. Her heart pounded in her chest as she broke into a run. It wasn't the drunken man who'd propositioned her, but in this part of London, it could be anyone chasing after her. The rumors of women being sold into prostitution and white slavery had reached even as far into the country as the Midlands. Before she'd thought those stories were to keep women from running to London, but after seeing the crime here, she wasn't so certain. Glancing back, she realized the man was starting to gain on her position. She rounded the corner and raced inside the inn.

“Good evening, Miss Featherstone,” Mrs. Turner's disapproving voice sounded from the salon as Tia slammed the door behind her.

“Good evening, Mrs. Turner.” Tia leaned against the door to catch her breath. At least now, she was safe.

“Tomorrow you shall have to pay if you wish to stay any more days here.”

“Of course, that won't be any trouble at all.” Tia climbed the stairs slowly, wondering where she would come up with another week's rent. After opening the door to her room, she pulled out her small reticule and dumped the few coins on the bed. She barely had enough for the post carriage back to the Midlands.

Problems had riddled this trip from the start. Her plan had been to stay with her friend Amy and her husband, but when she arrived at their flat, she'd discovered they had been evicted the week prior and left no forwarding address, forcing Tia to find more expensive accommodations. Mrs. Turner's establishment was one of the few that would accept an unmarried woman traveling alone, but the weekly rent was not cheap, even for Whitechapel. With breakfast provided, it came to be her only meal most days. Even now, her stomach grumbled for a bite of something.

She cursed softly and pushed the coins back in her reticule. For almost a fortnight, she'd spent every day walking back to Mayfair in search of Jonathon. He wasn't at any of the places he'd told her about during their talks at the estate. She'd been certain he would stay at either the viscount's town home or perhaps the Albany. But the servants at Middleton's home hadn't seen or even heard that Jonathon was in town. The man at the Albany had told her bluntly that Jonathon was not staying there. She had to locate him before he dove back into his old habits. He'd done so well while at the estate, finally breaking from the control the opium had over him.

The idea of not finding him before he succumbed to the drug was driving her mad. She couldn't face losing another patient after little Amelia. The guilt she felt over that child's death a year ago haunted her even today. She should have known what was wrong with her. The symptoms were obvious.

“Where are you, Jonathon?” she asked the ceiling as she collapsed on the hard bed. Even though Tia had walked the estate every day while she was the wise woman for Middleton, trudging through the streets of London was far harder as she dodged carts, horses, and people the entire time. And so far it was all for naught.

With a long sigh, she pulled out her small map and stared at the streets in Mayfair. Tomorrow might be her last day here. Mrs. Turner would evict her when she didn't pay for another week. Then what would she do?

Slowly, she sat up and pulled off her short boots. She rubbed her aching feet and wished for a moment that she could sit by the pond at the estate and dip her feet into the cold water. Reaching for her hair, she pulled out the pins holding it in place. She ran her fingers through the mass of curls.

What she needed was a plan.

But what?

She could tuck her tail between her legs and go back home. Middleton would let her resume her duties caring for his tenants and servants. She barely knew the man, but he didn't seem to be the type who would care if she lived on his land as long as his tenants and servants were happy.

But she didn't want that. London called to her. And Jonathon too. With his blond hair and amber eyes, he was beyond handsome, almost bordering on beautiful. His skin was fashionably pale and he wore only the finest of garments. She had to devise a plan that would help her find him. She stared at the map. Tomorrow, she would rise early and walk to Hyde Park. All the gentlemen took their morning rides through the park and she would be there waiting for him.

With a satisfied smile, she placed the map on her nightstand and worked at the buttons on her dress. Just as she reached the second button, loud voices sounded from the hall.

“You can't just force your way in there, my lord,” Mrs. Turner said loudly.

“She's my wife and I can do damn well whatever I want to get her back.”

BOOK: Vexing the Viscount
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