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Authors: Gaelen Foley

My Scandalous Viscount

BOOK: My Scandalous Viscount
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My Scandalous Viscount

Gaelen Foley

Epigraph

Truth will out.

—Old English Proverb

Chapter 1

S
ome people in this world (fools) were happy minding their own business.

Miss Carissa Portland wasn’t one of them.

Seated between her cousins, the formidable Denbury Daughters, with their governess, Miss Trent, snoring softly on the end, she trailed her dainty opera glass slowly over the capacity audience of about a thousand souls in attendance that Saturday night at Covent Garden Theatre.

To be sure, the little dramas, comedies, and farces playing out among the Quality present were far more intriguing than anything happening on the stage.

Besides, knowing everybody else’s secrets in the ton seemed the safest way to guard her own.

Perusing the three gilded tiers of private boxes, she scanned along at a leisurely pace, while the lenses of other ladies’ opera glasses winked right back at her.

Fluent in fan language, as well, she watched for those coy signals a lady could discreetly send her lover.

Hmm, over there.
Lady S——, sitting with her husband, had just flicked her fan in an arc to Colonel W——, who had come with the fellow officers from his regiment. The uniformed coxcomb smiled slyly in receipt of the invitation. Carissa narrowed her eyes.
Typical tomcat male. She’d better be careful with him.
Drifting on, she picked out the subjects of other various rumors here and there: the jeweled countess said to be dallying with her footman; the political lord who had just sired twins on the mistress he swore he didn’t have.

From opposite ends of the theatre, two branches of a feuding family glared at each other, while on the mezzanine, a notorious fortune hunter blew a subtle kiss to the heiress of some encroaching toadstool who apparently owned coal factories.

Tut, tut, poor man,
she thought when her casual spying happened across the sad figure of a cuckolded husband who had just filed a crim-con case against his wife’s seducer.

Well, the demireps preening in their box and putting their wares on display in low-cut gowns seemed more than happy to comfort him.

Hmmph,
thought Carissa.

All of a sudden, her idle scan of the audience slammed to a halt on a particular box, second tier, stage left.

A gasp escaped her.
He’s here!

At once, her foolish heart began to pound.
Oh, my.

Encircled in the lens of her dainty spyglass, there he sat, lounging in his chair, his muscled arms folded across his chest . . .

Staring right back at her.

A wicked smile slowly crept across his face, and just to confirm that, oh, yes, he saw her ogling him, the handsome hellion sent her a cheeky little salute.

She let out an almost feline hiss and dropped her lorgnette onto her lap as though she had been burned.

She vowed not to touch it again—at which the audience let out another wave of rumbling laughter.

Oh, bother.
She shifted in vexation in her seat and looked around uneasily. Of course, they weren’t laughing
at
her, though she probably deserved it.

Devil take him, that rogue’s glance made her feel like one of the demireps.

To her own dismay, Carissa Portland had secretly become fascinated by a libertine.

Again.

Where this weakness in her came from, this shameful susceptibility to a well-made man, she quite despaired to guess. Perhaps it was her auburn hair to blame.

Redheads were notorious for their more passionate nature. Probably hogwash, she admitted, but it sounded as good an excuse to her as any.

What
his
excuse was, well, he didn’t bother making one. A golden demigod striding the earth like a wayward son of Aphrodite didn’t have to. Charming, quick-witted, unbelievably handsome, with a smile that could have melted ice floes across the Nordic Sea.

Sebastian Walker, Viscount Beauchamp, could have got away with murder if he fancied. He was the Earl of Lockwood’s heir, known to the ton as Beau.

They had been introduced some weeks ago by mutual acquaintances: Her closest friends, Daphne and Kate, were married to his fellow Inferno Club members, Lord Rotherstone and the Duke of Warrington. So they moved in the same circles, and, of course, she’d heard his reputation. He had lived up to it in spades with her not long ago. The scandalous beast had actually kissed her.

In public!

She had made the mistake of stopping him when he was in a hurry on his way somewhere. She had been leery about confronting him, but she had needed a simple answer to a very serious question:
Where the dash has everybody gone?

Both Daphne and Kate had been missing from Town for weeks without explanation. This was totally unlike them.

Because of Lord Beauchamp’s friendship with their husbands, she was sure he must know something. The aforementioned husbands had also disappeared, supposedly on some hunting trip to the Alps.

But Carissa was starting to doubt everything she thought she knew about her friends. Everyone in their set had been acting so mysteriously before they had vanished. It was all very upsetting. She had no firm information (maddening!), but clearly, something was afoot. She did not understand why she had been excluded.

The truth was, frankly, it hurt.

Thankfully, she had received a letter from Daphne at last, confirming she was safe, but her friend’s verbiage seemed deliberately vague. And so, with relief had come even greater annoyance.

Why on earth were they keeping her in the dark? Didn’t they trust her!

In an effort to get answers, she had cornered Beauchamp in a safe (so she thought) public place. But when she had delayed him too long with her, as he put it, “nagging,” the gorgeous brute had simply snatched her up in his arms and put a stop to her questions with a lusty kiss.

As if she were some wanton trollop on the corner!

If it had not been raining . . . if he had not shielded them from public view with his umbrella . . . she was sure the scandal would have been so calamitous, she’d have hanged herself by now, or (more fashionably) drowned herself in the Serpentine.

Well, the blackguard clearly did not understand the first rules of decent behavior. Though he certainly knew how to give a woman one hell of a kiss.

She put him and the whole discomfiting episode out of her mind with a will, redirecting her attention toward the stage. The evening’s program had begun with a concert of Vivaldi’s exuberant “Spring,” followed by a mediocre tragedy called
The Grecian Daughter.

The comic afterpiece,
The Fortune of War,
was the one everyone had been waiting for. It was the latest bit of hilarity by the popular Mr. Kenney, a notable wit of the day and founding member of the gentleman’s club, Boodle’s.

Though the play lacked Mr. Kenney’s beloved recurring character, the rascally Jeremy Diddler, the crowd seemed to be enjoying it.

Waves of laughter washed over the audience as the characters bantered back and forth across the stage. Carissa did her best to pay attention, but from the corner of her eye, she was acutely aware of Lord Beauchamp.

When the curtain whisked closed briefly for the stagehands to change the scenery, she could not resist another cautious peek in his direction.

Her curiosity instantly perked up as she spied one of the orange-sellers stepping into his box to deliver a message to the viscount. Carissa saw him take the little note and read it while the orange-girl waited for her coin.

Well, Carissa had no choice. Her innately nosy nature compelled her. She snatched her opera glass from her lap and lifted it to her eye just in time to see the smoldering look that gathered on his chiseled face. Lord Beauchamp glanced across the theatre with a suave nod, acknowledging the sender: Carissa zoomed her opera glass in that direction, too, trying to follow his gaze.

To no avail.

Whoever had sent him the note was lost amid the crowd.

Indeed, it could have been any of Society’s highborn harlots wanting to take her turn with him tonight. Scowling, she searched the tiers across from him. Honestly, she did not know if she was more vexed at Beauchamp for having all the morals of a blood stallion, or at herself, for being jealous at how free he was with his meaningless affections.

She swung her opera glass back to the viscount to see what he’d do next. Beau turned to the orange-girl and asked for something; she handed him a pencil.

While he scrawled his reply, Carissa memorized what the orange-seller looked like: a tall, weary lump of a peasant girl. Then the libertine handed her his note along with a coin and sent her off to deliver his answer.

As the orange-girl disappeared through the small door of his private box, questions gnawed Carissa. Who was he involved with these days? Of course, she knew there were many women around him as a rule, but was there any one in particular?

And why do you care?
her better sense inquired.

I don’t know. Do I need a reason?

Yes,
it answered.

She shrugged, refusing to admit to anything.
I just want to know because—because I want to know!

Suddenly, she was seized with a wicked inspiration.

Why, she could either sit here festering on it, burning with curiosity about which feckless female meant to hurl herself into his clutches tonight, or
do
something. And go find out.

After all, as a lady of information, she had long since discovered that orange-girls . . . could be bribed.

Right.

Instantly rising from her chair, she excused herself with a whisper. Miss Trent awoke with a disoriented jolt, while the Denbury Daughters rolled their eyes. Which was the spoiled beauties’ response to most things, actually.

“What are you doing?” Lady Joss, age nineteen, complained at her.

“I have to go to the ladies’ lounge.”

“Can’t you just hold it?”

“No.”

“That’s disgusting,” Lady Min, age seventeen, opined.

“Sorry.” Dismissing her cousins’ perpetual irritation with her, she slipped out of the Denbury box and closed the little door behind her.

At once, Carissa swept off down the third-floor hallway, her slippered feet pattering busily in the quiet.

She had to find and intercept that orange-seller.

She knew she should not care who Beauchamp would be bedding tonight, but everything in her had to get a look at that note. Seeing it with her own eyes, she reasoned, would surely help remind her that gorgeous rakehells like Lord Beauchamp were nothing but trouble. They chased after pleasure and did not care who got hurt.

She should know.

On the other hand, in all fairness, she supposed, she had to admit there sometimes seemed to be more to him than just charm and charisma. And broad shoulders. Lovely muscles. Mesmerizing eyes the color of seafoam that danced when he laughed, which was often, a rugged jawline, and extremely kissable lips . . .

She shook herself back to the task at hand, hurrying on. Indeed, physical appeal aside, he had actually done a few interesting things in his life.

Using her usual methods, she had managed to ferret out a number of odd tidbits about him, including some highly colorful exploits in his past.

Of course, his origins came from a lineage as excellent as her own. His mother, Lady Lockwood, had been a great beauty of her day, indeed, still was, now in her fifties. His father, the Earl of Lockwood, was said to be a brusque curmudgeon who did not often come to Town but preferred the “huntin’, shootin’ ” life of a country lord.

She did not know where Beau had spent his childhood, but as a young man, he had gone to Oxford, studied Greek and Latin, and excelled in his classes without having to try—so she’d heard. Too smart for his own good, according to her sources, he had been easily bored and had occupied himself with carousing and all manner of wild adventures. And even from his youth, there had been women.

An indecent number of women.

But apparently, the lusty young aristocrat had his heroic moments, too. On one occasion, at age twenty-one, according to the rumor mill, he had been heading home in the wee hours after a long night’s revelries, when he had come across a lodging house on fire.

Whether the whiskey he’d been drinking all night had made him foolishly brave, or if he was always like that, she could not say. But he had rushed into the burning building and rescued everyone inside before the fire company could even get there.

He’d saved some twenty people’s lives.

Not long after that, his father, the earl, had made him a Member of Parliament for one of the pocket boroughs he controlled. He had thrust the post upon his son so he might gain experience to help prepare him for one day taking his seat in the House of Lords.

Little had the earl expected the young MP to stand up and outrage the leaders of both parties with his fiery idealism, his blistering reproaches, and his regrettable refusal to compromise.

It was nice to know he had not always been a cynic, she supposed, and that he had a sense of civic duty despite his many romantic peccadilloes. By the time he had resigned his post a year later in angry disgust and returned to his rakehell ways, he had made enough political enemies to last a lifetime.

These, in turn, got their revenge on the bold young viscount in due time, when word got out that he had fought a duel against some hotheaded rival for the favors of one of Society’s highborn wantons.

Beauchamp, universally acknowledged as a crack shot, had not deigned to kill the man who had challenged him but had wounded him. As a result, his opponent had to have his leg amputated below the knee, and unfortunately, he had turned out to be the nephew of a Cabinet minister.

Of course, there were rules on the books against dueling, but as a courtesy to the upper class, who lived and died by honor, these laws were almost never enforced.

Unless one had enemies in high places.

The bureaucrats had come down on Beauchamp like a hammer, claiming they must make an example of him to teach other young Englishmen that they could not simply go around shooting each other.

BOOK: My Scandalous Viscount
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