Here’s a snippet from the start of my new book, THE SCOUNDREL’S DAUGHTER — which comes out on Wednesday. It’s from the beginning, where Alice, Lady Charlton meets the scoundrel from the title. Generally in romances a ‘scoundrel’ is an affectionate term for he-who-will-become-the-hero. I’ll leave it to you do decide what sort of scoundrel this one is.
Alice entered the parlor quietly and came to an astonished halt. The man, his back to the door, was examining the contents of the room like a . . . like a bailiff. Or a debt collector. Lifting up ornaments, scrutinizing them, replacing them and moving on, quite as if he had every right to paw through her possessions. He peered at the signature on one of her paintings and scratched the ornate gold frame, presumably to test the gold leaf.
She cleared her throat, and he turned. His gaze swept over her in much the same way as he’d examined her belongings, as if calculating her value. One widowed countess, slightly used, not particularly pretty. She stiffened.
“So, Lady Charlton, you’ve finally deigned to see me.” Quite unembarrassed at being caught snooping, he replaced the jade figurine he’d been scrutinizing, crossed the floor and held out his hand. “About time, too. Octavius Bamber at your service.”
Who was he, and what could he possibly want? She’d never set eyes on him in her life. Of medium height, he was closer to fifty than forty and dressed expensively, if not particularly tastefully, in tight trousers, a florid waistcoat, a frilled shirt and a snugly fitted bottle-green coat. A number of gaudy fobs dangled from his gold watch chain, and he wore several large, glittery rings. His thinning gray hair was elaborately tousled, and he reeked of pomade.
“I’ve business to discuss.”
“If it’s business, take it to my late husband’s man of affairs.”
“Oh, but it’s not that sort of business, m’lady. This is more”—his smile widened—“personal.”
“Then state it quickly and begone,” she said, hoping her nervousness wasn’t visible. After eighteen months she’d thought she was finished with the mess Thaddeus had left her after his death. Apparently not.
He produced a thick packet of folded letters tied with a puce ribbon, placed it on the low table between them and sat back with a smug look.
Alice frowned. “What are they?” They didn’t look like bills.
“You know perfectly well what they are, my lady. Your husband’s letters.”
She shrugged, feigning indifference. “My husband wrote many letters.”
“Ah, but these are love letters. To Mrs. Jennings.”
Cold slithered down Alice’s spine. “Who?” she managed.
But Bamber wasn’t fooled. “Come, come, your ladyship, no point in pretending you don’t recognize the name of your husband’s mistress. Very loyal to her, he was. Twenty years and more these letters go back.”
Twenty years. Longer than her marriage.
He continued, “And the most recent, written just days before he died.” He gave her the kind of knowing look people gave when they knew just where and how—and in whose bed—her husband had died. Her brother-in-law, Edmund, the new earl, had tried to hush it up, but Alice could usually read it in their eyes when someone knew.
Bamber leaned forward, undid the ribbon, flipped through the letters familiarly, then pulled one out. “Here’s one of the older ones. Take a look. It mentions you—many of them do, actually. See if it sparks some memories.” He held it out to her.
Alice didn’t want to touch the wretched thing, wanted to snatch it and the rest of the letters and hurl them unread into the fire. But the stupid, self-destructive impulse to know, to turn the knife, made her reach out and take the offered letter between nerveless fingers.
She slowly unfolded it. Thaddeus’s writing, big and bold, sprawled across the page. Phrases jumped out at her . . . my dreary virgin bride . . . cold as a fish and about as appealing . . .
Bile rose in Alice’s throat. Oh God, it was a description of her wedding night. In the worst kind of detail. Mocking her. Making fun of his bride’s ignorance and inexperience—to his mistress.
She crumpled the letter between numb fingers. “Where did—”
Bamber placed another letter in front of her. And then another, and another and another, leaving just enough time for her to glimpse—and flinch at—the contents before placing another letter on the top of the growing pile.
Vile, clever, mocking phrases stabbed at her, stripping her composure bare, each letter adding to the excoriation. The most painful and humiliating moments of her life, laid out for all to see, in black and white, described in Thaddeus’s distinctive, ruthless, incisive style. The pile grew until finally she could bear to look no more. Sickened, she shoved them away and sat back in her seat.
“Where did you get these?” The words came out hoarse.
“Bought them from the lady herself. Cost me a pretty penny, they did.”
Alice said nothing. She was numb with shock and disgust.
“He had quite a way with words, your husband.” Bamber’s gaze slid over her speculatively. “The detail he goes into. Quite . . . specific. Juicy.”
Alice swallowed. She could just imagine.
He patted the pile of letters and said brightly, “Nasty fellow, wasn’t he?”
Sick to her stomach, Alice looked at the thick stack of letters resting under Bamber’s pudgy hand. So many more letters as yet unread. Thaddeus’s opinion of his wife had only worsened with time.
“What do you want?” It would be money, of course, but the question was how much. She would have to sell her home after all.
He smiled and nodded, as if pleased with her bluntness. “I want you to bring my daughter out.”
It was so very far from what she’d been expecting that it took a moment for Alice to make sense of what he’d said. “Out? Out where?”
“In high society, of course. You bring her out, take her to balls and whatnot, introduce her to all the toffs.”
Alice stared at him blankly. “Why?”
“I want her to marry a lord,” he said.
“Which lord?” she said faintly.
“I don’t mind—as long as he is a lord. I have a fancy for my grandson to have a title. Lucy’s no beauty, but she’s well enough, and with your sponsorship . . .” He sat back, crossed his legs and regarded her complacently.
* * * * *
You can buy THE SCOUNDREL’S DAUGHTER from any of the links below, or from your local bookstore
Universal link (which takes you to the e-tailer of your choice)
BookDepository: sends paperbacks anywhere in the world with free postage.
Tantor Audio Books