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A Kiss with Scandal (Scandals & Secrets 4)

By:Janelle Daniels

A Kiss with Scandal (Scandals & Secrets 4)
Janelle Daniels

       The Scandals and Secrets Series - Book 4






For my fans.

You've been amazingly patient waiting for this story. I couldn't have done it without your support.



And Dan. The ultimate hero for all my stories.





Chapter 1





If Charlotte had to suffer through one more idiotic comment from a  pea-brained lord, she couldn't be held responsible for her actions.

It was a gorgeous night. Balmy, clear. The Leatherbys were lucky when  they held their social events. But instead of slipping through one of  the many windowed doors into the torch-lit garden, she burrowed in the  overheated house instead. She knew what was outside. She'd come across  her fair share of lovers in her three years on the marriage mart.

Three years. How had it gone by so quickly?

She wasn't still unmarried for lack of offers. Quite the opposite,  actually. Since her debut, when her sister, Aubrey, married the Duke of  Wathersby, she'd had numerous proposals, but none of them interested  her. None of the men interested her.

She crept into an empty sitting room. A fire popped in the grate,  filling the air with hints of wood smoke, but no candles were lit. The  dim light cast shadows around the lavishly furnished room, and her  muscles loosened, eased by the quiet.

Alone at last.

Sinking into the ivory, silk-upholstered couch, a sigh escaped her. She  peeled off her gloves one finger at a time, slumping into an unladylike  posture that would have made her mother faint.

Oh, sugar lumps. Is this what her life would consist of? One boring row  after another? Her days filled with monotonous calls to people who would  relish the chance to turn on her if she ever stepped a toe out of line,  and her nights with perfume-drenched dandies that wore corsets to hide  their bulging bellies? She had been so sure during her come out that  this is what she wanted. That this life would fulfill all her dreams.

But where was passion, fire, adventure? Where was the man who would  sweep her off her feet, who would free her while keeping her safe? She  had never begrudged her sister anything, but she wanted what Aubrey had  too. Oh, she didn't want the duke for herself. He was perfect for her  sister. She wanted someone of her own. Someone she could love with her  whole heart.

Instead, she found herself alone in a random dark room in the  Leatherbys' townhouse, no closer to finding that man than she was three  years ago.

And now she was wallowing. Perfect.

Gliding her fingers over the cool rose silk of her skirt, she prepared  herself to enter the foray after her short reprieve. She wouldn't find  what she was looking for in here, holed up and alone. She had to go out  there, to smile, to pretend to hang on every word each of her dance  partners said. One of them had to be the one she wished for. Right?

Hunting for her gloves, she swiped them off the cushion. There was no  time like the present. She fitted one of the gloves on, adjusting the  fingers until they were comfortable.

She paused, cocking her ear. Her eyes widened. Footsteps. Someone was coming this way.

Sugar lumps! She whirled around, her eyes darting to places large enough  to hide her. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but sitting alone in a  dim room did not appear innocent.

Scandal.

She couldn't let that happen. She would not be compromised just for wanting to escape boring conversation.

Whispered words were spoken outside the door, a man's voice, low and  dark. She gulped, diving behind the couch, praying the shadows hid her  form pressed against the base of the furniture.

The door handle turned, squeaking in the silence. More whispers, but this time a woman's. Oh no. She groaned. Not lovers.

Maybe she should announce herself, pretend she'd dropped something. They  might believe she'd merely wanted a moment to herself. Especially if  they sought their own rendezvous.

The door closed. Well, now or never. She gripped the couch to pull herself up.

"I won't tolerate your failure," the woman snapped.

Charlotte's hand froze.

"All I need is a little more time. I won't let you down." The man's words ended on a whine.

"See that you don't. I don't want to clean up another mess. Lord Barnsal  was close to outing us. But killing him was a mistake. They're onto us  now."

Breath clogged her lungs. Lord Barnsal. She'd heard he died, but hadn't  known how. Murder. The word skittered along her spine. These two had  killed him.

Feet shuffled on the wood floor. They must have moved off the runner  toward the fire. Toward her. She slowly withdrew her hand from the  sofa's back, burrowing further in the shadows, and prayed she wouldn't  be seen. She closed herself into a ball, hoping to block out the world,  to make herself as small as possible.                       
       
           



       

"There was no other choice," the man grated.

She tsked. "Careful. That almost sounded defiant."

Silence froze the room, and Charlotte strained to hear something, anything.

"Forgive me. It was a trying experience. It won't happen again."

The woman sniffed. "For your sake, I hope not. The minute you become a  liability … " She trailed off, but she didn't need to finish.

Charlotte gulped. How could someone speak of murder so casually?

Who were these people? They weren't the Leatherbys. They both sounded  much different. The man wasn't familiar to her, but there was something  about the woman's voice that sparked …  something. Charlotte couldn't  point her finger to who it was, but she knew this woman.

A ball knotted in her stomach. She was acquainted with these people.

The couch jolted, cushions deflated as one of them sat inches away from  her. Charlotte tilted her head back slowly as delicate fingers drummed  the spine of the couch. Fingers of a murderer.

The hand stilled. "You have two weeks. Not a day more. I need that  contract from France if I'm to succeed. My time is precious, and it's  running out." She paused. "As is yours. I don't think you'll enjoy what I  have in mind for you."

"No. Not any more than I would walking into the Thames with stones sewn into my clothes, I'm sure."

She waved him away. "Now go. You're bothering me. Send me a note once you have what I want."

The door opened and closed without another word. Silence ensued, and  Charlotte broke into a sweat. How long would the woman stay here?

Heat gathered in her corset as her heart pounded. Her body rigid, she  strained to hold still. One move, one slight adjustment would mean her  death. Charlotte wasn't ready to die. Not like this. Not behind a couch  in a darkened corner.

She would hold this position, fight through the cramp in her leg, until the woman left.

Rich laughter floated in the air, raising the hairs on the back of  Charlotte's neck. How could this woman laugh? How twisted was she? She  spoke of murder while threatening another.

This woman was mad. Dangerous.

But what could Charlotte do about it? There was no way to discern who she was.

Who could Charlotte trust? These two were guests tonight. They spoke too  well for servants. No, these were her peers. And they may not be the  only ones. Anyone could be involved in this. No one could be trusted.

She could confide in her family, but what would that accomplish? They  might tell the wrong person what she'd overheard. Then their lives would  be in danger as well.

This was all her fault. If she hadn't been adamant about choosing her  own path, her own life, she would have been settled by now-at home,  round with child, and unable to overhear anything that could get her  killed. But that wasn't enough for her. She wanted the freedom that only  love brought. The freedom to fully be one's self.

When the woman rose from the couch, Charlotte gulped.

Safe and secure never sounded so good.



* * *



Derek Haveston, the Viscount Lawrence, cursed his fortune. While he'd  idly danced with another quiet slip of a girl, he'd missed his window.  He knew better than to acknowledge an acquaintance when pressed for  time. Especially one with three daughters out this season. But he had,  and he'd ended up dancing with Miss Eloisa Grant when he should have  been gathering information.

He stiffly nodded to a friend he passed down the hall, but didn't slow  his step. If he didn't arrive in time to obtain a face, a name even,  there would be hell to pay.

The door to a sitting room was open. Although it wasn't likely his enemy  would be that sloppy, Derek moved with the shadows as he approached the  room, straining to hear voices within.

Damn. His shoulders loosened. He'd missed his targets. He could only imagine what his superiors would think of that.

He pushed open the door, breezing into the dark space. The air was  overly hot in the plush room. The door must have been shut for a while.  His eyes darted around the space, taking in the slight indent in the  couch, the scuff of mud on the floor by the fireplace, the annoying  twitch in his nose from too much body cologne. But there was something  else there. He forced in a deep draw, weeding out the musk for another.  There. A lighter scent. Roses, but not natural, not the scent of a  flower. It was the cloying, too ripe scent one purchased from a scent  shop. So, a man and a woman.

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