This Rogue is her only hope…
Today is release day for The Rogue’s Last Scandal!
This third book in my Sons of the Spy Lord series tells the story of Charles Everly, the youngest son of the Earl of Shaldon and Maria Graciela Kingsley y Romero, daughter of a sea captain and a woman of New Spain.
His lady had not made an appearance tonight, not that he’d have any reason to expect her at a Kingsley soirée.
Charles Rupert Armstrong Everly took a long drag upon his cigarillo and surveyed the shadowed tangles of the garden.
Lady Kingsley had failed to place inviting lanterns outside to lure ball-goers into wickedness. And in all the preparations for the Kingsleys’ grand party, no servant had been sent to sweep away dead leaves from the previous autumn, or chase away whatever vermin were rustling around in them.
Of course, Lady Kingsley had also discouragingly locked the ballroom’s terrace doors.
He and his old school chum, Quentin Penderbrook, had required little more than a minor diversion and their wits to manage the Kingsley servants and the flimsy terrace door lock.
“Kingsley is pockets to let, I hear,” Penderbrook said. “Wonder how he financed this grand display?” He took a long drag. “The heiress, I suppose. As my aunt used to say, you need money to draw in the grand mark.”
“Your aunt was a font of wisdom.”
Penderbrook laughed. “Outspoken, she was, for a clergyman’s wife. It’s a pity I don’t have a title. I wonder if my chance of a position in the Home Office would suffice for the Kingsleys? From what I saw, the girl looks to be a beauty.”
Charley tapped off a bit of ash. “She looks to be a handful.”
His friend laughed. “You didn’t see her up close, as I did, Everly.”
That was true enough. They’d been dragged off to this ball by his sister, Lady Perpetua Everly, and had arrived blessedly late. From the crowded distance of the ballroom floor, the heiress’s back bore the usual outline of white muslin and piled up hair. “I’m speaking from general principles. Spanish women.”
“Ah. Spanish women. Well, you would know.”
He would, and he did. He was looking for a Spanish woman, wealthy and beautiful. He had tracked down more than a few in this pre-coronation social whirl.
“She’ll be miserable if he throws her to that slimy fish,” Penderbrook said.
The door clicked behind them and a lady appeared, the light behind her shadowing her face. Nothing, however—not the furbelows and flounces on her white dress, not the dim light—nothing could hide that figure.
Speech failed him—as it never did. He dropped his tobacco and bowed, his eyes traveling over her, down and up. She was exquisite.
She cast a trembling glance back, and he caught his breath, tasting the fear rolling off her.
A ray of light from the ballroom flashed in her eyes as they widened.
Before he could even stutter, she put a finger to her lips and disappeared down the crumbled stairs to the brush below, as quick and as wispy as a water wraith, albeit a curvy one.
“Well.” Penderbrook dropped his own cigarillo and ground it with the heel of his scuffed dancing slipper.
Almost never at a loss for words was his friend Penderbrook. And if he thought to pursue the young lady, he would have to knock Charley out of the way.
The terrace door slammed open and all of his senses went to high alert.
“Come to join us?” Penderbrook’s words rolled out smoothly over the roiling tension. “Dreadfully hot in there,” he drawled.
That voice. Charley would recognize it anywhere, even without the dripping disdain, forged by the self-serving corruption of a smuggler’s lordship.
He’d met this particular slimy fish previously in Brussels.
Charley staggered against the crumbling terrace wall, slipped a flask from his pocket and swigged it.
“A flask? At a ball, Everly?” The man moved closer.
“Why, by Jove, it’s Gregory Carvelle.” Charley wiped his mouth and managed a belch. “Penderbrook, let me introduce you. I have not seen you since Brussels. Lady Devonshire’s ball, wasn’t it. What have you been up to all these many years, old man?”
“You are drunk.”
“Drunk?” Penderbrook said. “No one could be drunk on Kingsley’s lemonade. Not even Everly here, who we know cannot hold his liquor. I say, Everly, why not let your man here have one of those excellent Spanish cigars? Join us, Carvelle.”
“I will not. I am looking for a young lady. Has anyone else come out?”
Charley laughed, and threw back his head, projecting his voice to the garden. “Ah, April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”
“Shakespeare,” Penderbrook explained. “The sonnets.”
“Indeed,” Charley laughed again. “Is the young lady pretty?”
Penderbrook joined in with the laughter and snatched the flask. “If a girl had come out here, Everly would have pushed me back inside. Now that you have someone else to entertain you, Everly, I shall find some lemonade and doctor it up.”
“Don’t let my sister catch you at it. She’ll roast you for a week.”
Penderbrook laughed as if he hadn’t a care in the world, as if he wasn’t leaving Charley alone with a disreputable thug.
As if there wasn’t a beautiful woman hiding in the wild scrub below them.
His friend had made it known he was angling for a spot in the Earl of Shaldon’s service, desperately, from what Charley could surmise. If only Pender knew how dreadfully tedious it could be, working for Father. Chasing down a Spanish woman who was the key to a spy had proved to be less than heroic.
Though perhaps, this wouldn’t be one of those times.
Charley pulled a case from another pocket his clever tailor had managed to craft for him. “Will you have one of these tiny cigars?”
Carvelle waved him away. “I’m surprised you are here tonight, and not off at Mivart’s swinging your way down from the Duquesa’s hotel window. But, oh yes—the Duque has arrived in town, hasn’t he.”
Charley laughed. “Has he? I’m not keeping track, Carvelle, but I see you are.”
“I make it my business to keep track of many things. How is your father, the great Lord Shaldon?”
“Father? I imagine you must know.”
“He is in Bath.”
“Quite. Ill enough to take the waters.”
The other man’s lips turned up unpleasantly. “Your brother must be counting the hours until his succession.”
Heat spiked within him. “Perhaps.” He made himself drawl lazily. “Bakeley and I do not speak much.” It was not entirely a lie. Since his recent marriage, his elder brother, Viscount Bakeley, was busy with affairs of the heart.
That marriage, however, had restored the relationship between father and son. One thing Charley knew for sure, Bakeley did not wish his father dead.
“And what will become of you, eh, once the great diplomat, Lord Shaldon, is not around to pull his strings for you?”
“Have you not heard, Carvelle? I’ve entered Parliament. A politician never starves.”
“A smart politician. Not a drunken gambler who spends his time jumping through the beds of married women. You will need to marry money.”
Well, and wasn’t that interesting—the man was feeling very confident to speak so bluntly, the ignorant ass. Drunk or sober, another man might have called Carvelle out.
Charley managed a hiccup. “Have you got someone in mind for me?”
Again, that sneer.
He hiccupped again and tapped a finger against his cheek. “I hear Kingsley’s ward is very rich.”
Carvelle’s hand locked around Charley’s wrist. “You are not to touch her.”
His blood rose as he studied the hand grasping his. He counted to three, silently, forced it down. Made himself laugh.
Duty required him to let it be. This time.
The door rattled and a cloud of emerald silk filled the doorway.
“Gregory.” Lady Kingsley advanced on them bringing with her a gagging cloud of lavender. “Sir.” She curtsied her deference to the son of a powerful and very rich earl. “Gregory, you’ve not found her?”
Her plump little hands clenched as tightly as the bodice displaying her generous wares, as tightly as her scowl. She was a handsome enough woman, even now, if one could stomach a social-climbing harpy.
“This is the want of a rod,” she said.
Charley’s ears pricked up, aware that the wildlife in the untamed garden had gone silent.
“Which I have not, nor will not spare, nor should you, Gregory, when…”
She must have remembered his aristocratic presence, and with her pause he staggered again, bracing himself on the balustrade.
Her back stiffened. “Perhaps we should check again in the nursery. I will go myself. Carvelle, you are wanted inside by my husband.”
Charley let the door shut on them and waited. The night time noises rose again—the clattering of wheels on a nearby street, a watchman’s call, a breeze fluttering the new leaves of the untamed foliage.
“I hear there is a packet running daily from Portsmouth to Calais,” he said.
The bushes below rustled. He hurried down the terrace stairs.
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