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Authors: Scoundrels Kiss

Margaret Moore

BOOK: Margaret Moore
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MARGARET
MOORE

A S
COUNDREL’S
K
ISS

To Karen Solem,
with much appreciation
for her expertise and sage advice

CONTENTS

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

About the Author

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter 1

C
ontinuously, loudly and in a manner completely uncivilized, some lout pounded on the door of Lord Farrington’s townhouse.

“I’faith, I’ll have that fellow’s head displayed upon London Bridge!” the heir to the earldom of Barrsettshire muttered as he very slowly eased his six-foot frame to an upright position and scratched his chest through his untied shirt.

Then, not a little disgusted by the dry, dead taste in his mouth, he rubbed his bleary eyes and bellowed for the only servant he retained.

What hour of the day was it? Neville wondered as he got to his feet. It could be any time between dawn and the middle of the afternoon, for all he knew.

He staggered to the diamond-paned second-floor window and peered into the street. A group of obviously curious, well-dressed people
had gathered in the cobbled street, pointing and sniggering at—

A curse flew from Neville’s lips at the sight of the familiar coach outside his door. He reeled backward, for a moment entangled in the draperies.

“Jarvis!” he shouted again, this time with urgency and what sounded suspiciously like desperation as he surveyed the paneled withdrawing room littered with empty wine bottles and goblets containing dark-red dregs.

The knocking waned a moment, and Neville held his breath.

Then, to his considerable chagrin, the pounding began anew.

Muttering more curses, he grabbed all the empty bottles he could see and shoved them into the fireplace under the ashes.

“My lord?”

In answer to the Irishman’s interrogative mutter, Neville turned to see Jarvis standing in the doorway, his disheveled state not unlike that of his master. His jacket was undone, his breeches half tied and his red hair tousled to a condition of brilliant messiness.

He also looked as stunned as Neville felt.

“Do up your jacket and answer the door!” Neville commanded. “The earl is on the threshold!”

“The earl?” Jarvis asked stupidly, by his foggy tone not yet fully awake.

“Yes,” Neville hissed. “The Earl of Barrsettshire. Your master! My father!”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth than the obviously irate earl began shouting Neville’s name in the street, an event which would no doubt provide the neighbors with a choice bit of gossip. Jarvis, meanwhile, had at last come to comprehension, for now he stared as if hearing the Trump of God.

“Answer the door,” Neville repeated deliberately.

“Oh, yes, at once, my lord!”

Jarvis bowed and hurried away.

What in the name of God was his father doing in London? Neville wondered as he raked his hand through his unkempt, shoulder-length curls. The room was a shambles, and he little better.

In addition to the dirty goblets, bread crumbs dotted the threadbare Turkey carpet where last night Sir Richard Blythe had brandished a loaf while enacting a scene from his newest play. Neville’s jacket lay tossed upon a chair on the other side of the room like half of a corpse, and his proudly plumed hat sat on the floor beside it. His baldric, sheath and sword leaned against the door frame.

Where the devil were his boots?

As he heard his father’s familiar, heavy tread approaching the withdrawing room, Neville
grabbed the wine goblets by their stems, shoved them into an open writing desk and pushed the lid shut. “Neville!”

His back still to the door, Neville winced at the sound of his father’s stern voice. Subduing his mortification and dismay at this unexpected visitation as best he could, he assumed a pleasant expression as he turned to face his parent.

Who stood just as Neville might have expected, dressed all in black like a carrion crow, his hands on his hips, his countenance condemning, his pointed goatee quivering like an accusing finger, while his nostrils flared as if he were a stallion about to bolt.

“This room is a disgrace,” the earl declared by way of greeting, growing red in the face so that his narrow mustache and trimmed, V-shaped beard seemed all the whiter.

He ran a displeased gaze over Neville, who made no move to tie his gaping shirt or tuck it into his partially unbuttoned breeches. “So are you.”

“Good day to you, too, Father,” Neville drawled languidly, stifling any faint hope he had harbored that his father would express some pleasure at seeing his only child. “I confess you come upon me unawares.”

Rather mysteriously remaining on the threshold
of the room, his father scowled. “Have you just awakened? It is the middle of the day! And look at this place! How can you let the servants be so remiss in their duties?”

“The servant, Father. I can afford but one.”

His father’s frown deepened. “Because you drink and gamble and whore too much!”

Neville did not trouble himself to deny the accusation.

“I perceive you continue to abuse my household by living like a pig wallowing in the mud,” the earl said.

“If you choose to think so, but I am a very happy swine.”

“Until the day you get slaughtered by those around you!”

Neville leaned back against the mantel and folded his arms over his chest. “I am no worse than my fellows.”

“No, nor no better, either! I suppose I should be grateful I don’t find you wearing those ridiculous petticoat breeches,” his father growled. “What would prompt a man to wear anything so ridiculously like a skirt?”

“I am surprised you know anything of fashion, living so out of the way as you do.”

“I have seen enough on the journey to expect to find you in something similar.”

“I understand they are quite comfortable. I’ve ordered ten pair from my tailor.”

This was an outrageous lie, for even if he had
been able to afford them, Neville detested the hideously baggy new fashion nearly as much as his father could.

Besides, his legs were nothing to hide, and he knew it.

Again Lord Barrsettshire scanned the room, his lip curling with displeasure. “Did you not receive my letter telling you of my visit?” he demanded. “Or have you neglected to read it, as you neglect my instructions regarding your duties as the heir to my estate?”

“Now that you remind me, I do seem to recall some mention of a proposed sojourn in your last delightful epistle. Unfortunately, your hand is so poor, I could not make out a date for the happy occasion. To what do I owe the honor of your company? I know it cannot be to see me, and it is no secret that you despise the City.”

“I have brought a friend of the family to London.”

“I would be charmed to meet the fellow who could patiently listen to your complaints all the way from Lincolnshire,” Neville replied truthfully. “I am sure the roads were terrible, the accommodations at the inns repulsive and the food indigestible.”

His father did not respond except to glower before he turned and held out his hand.

Neville almost fell over when a woman appeared beside him. She wore a plain cloak with
a large hood, so he could not see her face in its shadow.

“Is there an eclipse of the sun?” he asked, suppressing his shock beneath a mask of calm composure.

“Are you drunk? Or is this what passes for wit in these degenerate days?”

“I thought some sort of celestial cataclysm might explain this unusual occurrence,” he replied, wondering what he would see when the lady in question threw back her hood.

“You are as much a fool as ever,” his father growled. “And you wanted to see him,” he muttered to his companion.

Who finally, and with fluid grace, pushed back her hood to reveal her features.

Neville had not seen such a fresh-faced, pretty country lass in years. Soft, brown, natural curls framed a dewy, pink-tinged complexion free of any cosmetic addition. He had a glimpse of large blue eyes before she demurely lowered them to gaze at the floor and thick lashes fanned upon her undoubtedly satin-soft cheeks. Below a fine, delicate nose, she had full lips that could have been fashioned by Eros himself, so made for kissing did they seem.

Immediately, Neville contrasted the genuine loveliness of the fair unknown with that of the ladies of King Charles’s court. His conclusions
would not have pleased the women of Whitehall.

Who was she? Where had she come from? How old was she, and was she married or betrothed?

And more important perhaps, how had she endured listening to his father complain all the way from Lincolnshire?

“I doubt you remember Lady Arabella Martin,” his father said, his tone implying that Neville, through sheer perverse negligence, could scarcely be counted upon to remember anything at all.

Arabella? This was little Arabella Martin, all grown up? So
well
grown up!

Neville remembered that afternoon in the garden as if it were yesterday: her blushes, her shy smiles, her admiring eyes.

“She is the daughter of the late Duke of Bellhurst,” his father continued.

“Indeed, I do remember her,” Neville replied in his most beguiling tones and giving her his most charming smile as he made a low, sweeping bow. “I was simply too surprised and delighted to speak. I am utterly transported to see her again.”

“You sound like an imbecile, Neville,” his father grumbled, destroying his son’s pleasant thoughts as effectively as a splash of freezing water made a man shrivel. “Or a poet.”

BOOK: Margaret Moore
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