Two Scandals Are Better Than One Sneak Peek

Newsletter Pre-Release Sneak Peek

Scene from Chapter 9

Scene Set-Up: Miss Luci Wagner is searching for her missing father, the mysterious Lord Fairbank. Her best friend’s brother, Edward, the Viscount Meriden, has discovered her plan to infiltrate London’s seedy underworld on her quest, and has insisted he join her as her protector. Earlier in the day, dressed in servants clothes and acting the parts of thieves looking for partners for their next heist, they met with an underling in the Elephant and Castle gang, whose leader might know something about Fairbank’s disappearance. Now they must wait in an unsavory part of town to learn whether the gang leader will agree to join them in their made-up heist, which will get Luci and Edward inside the gang’s hideout to search for clues. They’ve taken rooms at the Fox and Hen, which offers a modicum of safety, but not enough. And then there’s the small matter of the dangerous attraction between Luci and Edward…

In his room at the Fox and Hen, Edward rinsed his hair for the third time and still came away with a bit of coal tar residue on the towel. He added it to the pile of dirty rags the landlord would charge him for ruining, then pulled on a shirt–one of his own, with smooth silk threads and crisp seams–and added his pale gray waistcoat. He pulled out a small cloth-wrapped parcel from the one drawer in the bedside table, slipped it into his waistcoat pocket, and glanced at the door between his and Luci’s adjoining rooms.

He hadn’t been sure how to read her face when they had arrived in their temporary lodgings. Despite Ollie’s praise, this was probably the least nice place either of them had ever stayed. The rooms were small but clean, with serviceable if not extravagant furnishings, each containing a wide bed and shaker-style bedside table, a vanity with room for two basins of fresh water and towels, a narrow wardrobe with a hanging rod, and a sofa and matching chair with a coffee table separating them. Still, Edward would much rather have sent her home or to Wrexham Hall or into the care of the Alcotts if he could, but they had to keep up appearances as a grifting couple for Hombrage’s sake, and if they didn’t stay in nearby accommodations, they were bound to raise more suspicions and might never get inside Chez Sansoucie.

Luci had seemed to be fine with the accommodations when they had crossed the threshold of her room, but a troubled look had crossed her face when Edward had unlocked the adjoining room door. Perhaps he should have ordered fully separated rooms, but in case of an emergency, he wanted a quick and private way to get to her.

He knocked on the door. She pulled it open and stepped aside. “Edward, please come in.” Her tone was stilted and awkward. It had to be the adjoining rooms.

He peered past her. In the time he had spent cleaning his hair, she had hung her few dresses, including the one she would wear to tea tomorrow, laid out her toilette, cleaned the powder and kohl off her face, and removed her wig and hair pins so her long golden hair now hung in loose waves down her back. She was stunning. And shorter, without her high-heeled boots. He liked her normal height. He wanted to pull her into an embrace so she could rest her head on his shoulder and he could breathe in the fresh, floral scent of her hair. Damn it, not here, not like this. It had only been a matter of hours since he’d had a stern talking-to with himself, and already he was set to abandon his duty to protect her from all predators, himself included.

None of that, tempting though it may be, was the reason he had invaded her privacy. “I wanted to make sure you’re settling in.” He glanced at the door to the hallway, pleased to see the lock bolted.

“And safe.” She left the door open between their rooms. “As you can see, I do know how to lock a door. Come, sit. I just had a pot of tea brought up.”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought to order one for you.” A fine guardian he was turning out to be, not even considering Luci’s most basic needs, being much too preoccupied with his own.

“I asked the chambermaid while you collected our room keys. There was much bowing and ‘miss’ing, but she agreed to bring me as many pots as I can drink. I told her one in the morning and one at night should suffice.”

She sat on the sofa and Edward sat in the chair, keeping a safe distance between them. “She’s probably never served a lady before,” he said.

She handed him a cup of tea. “But I’m no such thing, remember?”

He glanced at her hair, that silky, glorious main. “You’re also supposedly not a blonde, but current evidence points to the contrary.”

He set down his cup and checked his pocket for the package he intended to give her as soon as he determined how to approach the topic.

“Edward, what is it? You’re nervous as a cat.” She set down her own cup and glanced around the room. “And now you’re making me nervous. Should I be?”

“No. I’m sorry. I’m distracted.” By her hair, her scent, the blue gown that fit her so perfectly, her blue eyes that stared at him as she waited for his reassurance. By his owned blasted compulsion to sit beside her, pull her onto his lap, and kiss her until she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

He rubbed his temples. “It was true, what I said to Ollie. The men at the desk are there for some measure of security, and these locks are quite sturdy.”

She folded her hands in her lap. “Is that everything?”

“Not quite. After what happened today, the way Ollie looked at you, I was reminded anew how dangerous this truly is.”

She stared at him. “You sound jealous, which would explain why you introduced yourself as my…whatever it is he thinks you are now.”

“That’s what we agreed to say.”

“He hardly needed so much detail and innuendo.”

“Luci.” He smiled at her. “The things he was thinking were much worse than anything I said.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “If that’s true, it’s only because of the way you carried on.”

“When a man is interested in a woman—and make no mistake, young as he is, Ollie is interested in you—he notices how other men look at her. It wouldn’t have mattered what we said or how much we did or did not imply.” Which explained why he had been ready to pummel Ollie from the second he had stepped back into the pub from the piss-soaked alleyway and seen the boy leering at Luci. “I’m only human. I’d have needed magical powers to pull off the charade of appearing to not be attracted to you.”

“I see.” Her voice was soft, her eyes cast downward.

He hadn’t meant to say so much. First the adjoining rooms, then his rambling. As strong and spirited as Luci was, she was still young and relatively naïve. He must be terrifying her. And this wasn’t even what he had intended to discuss with her.

“Let’s forget all that,” he said. “We need to talk about your safety while we’re here. That’s why I got the adjoining rooms, so I can come quickly if anything happens. Or even if you’re just scared. I’m sorry if that door upsets you.”

“No.” She smoothed down her skirt. “It’s fine. That makes perfect sense. I was just surprised. I assumed we would be sharing a room.”

“Sharing? That would be unseemly.” And it would be impossible for him to be in the same room with her, to sleep just mere feet away with no wall between them to protect her, without attempting to seduce her. He wouldn’t put her in that terrible position.

“This was the wise thing to do.” She took another sip of her tea. “The respectable thing to do. Well, not terribly respectable, but…” She waved her hand in the air.

He nodded. He had no idea what to call this strange paradox, either, where keeping her safe would lead to her ruin if the truth of it were ever told. “Since I won’t be staying in this room, I’ve brought you something that will make you feel safer.” He reached into his pocket and slowly withdrew the cloth-wrapped offering. Flipping back the edge of the handkerchief, he revealed the glint of a four-inch silver barrel.

“A gun!” Luci jumped to her feet.

Edward held up his free hand. “It’s not loaded.” The shopkeeper who had sold the ladies’ pistol to him, after spouting off a litany of reasons a man should never give a woman a gun, had made a point that a man should never put said gun into the hand of a distressed woman. “Just stay calm and I’ll hand it to you when you’re ready.”

She held both her hands up in front of her. “Edward, I want you to listen to me very carefully. Leave the gun right there, just as it is.”

She took soft, slow steps toward him. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought she was trying to calm him. When she reached his side, she stopped.

“I’m going to take this out of your hand now.” She picked up the gun by its pearl inlaid handle, stepped away from him, and pointed the barrel toward the back wall. With a quick, fluid flurry of hand movements, she pulled back the handle and pumped the plunger. A bullet popped out of the chamber and she caught it before it hit the floor. She peered into the chamber, taking care to keep the barrel pointed at the back wall, then clicked the plunger and hammer back into place.

Edward sat in shocked silence. He couldn’t say whether he was more surprised by the unexpected bullet or by Luci’s prowess with a firearm.

She scowled as she pointed the now-empty gun toward the floor. “That is why you never believe a man who tells you a gun isn’t loaded.” She furrowed her brow. “Which begs the question, why on earth were you giving me what you thought was an unloaded weapon? What did you expect I would do with it?”

“In case someone breaks in, you brandish it about whilst screaming, and I’ll rush in from the other room.” He pointed to the stress-inducing adjoining room door. “Through that.”

“And then you’ll do what?” She put her free hand on her hip.

He wondered if she knew her nostrils flared quite prettily when she was angry. He wondered if they would do the same in the heat of passion.

“Edward, answer me. Did you buy a gun for yourself?”

“Yes, of course. A slightly bigger pistol.”

She let out a long sigh. “Have you ever even fired a pistol?”


“Before this morning?”

She was being awfully particular. He crossed his arms over his chest. “No.”

She leaned against the sofa back and narrowed her eyes as she stared down at the pearl-handled pistol. “Let me make sure I understand. I’m to brandish about an empty pistol, at which point you’ll rush in with a loaded one, take your best shot, and hope you hit my attacker and not me, or the person asleep on the other side of this thin wall, or your own hand.”

“You make it sound like a bad plan. I’ve been on several hunts, you know. Goose and duck, every fall.”

She nodded slowly. “Firstly, that’s a rifle. Secondly, have you ever made a kill?”

“Never.” He shrugged. “Don’t much like goose, and ducks start out as those cute, fuzzy little ducklings.”

“I stand by my opinion of this being a bad plan.” She laid the unloaded gun flat on her palm, the way Edward had been holding it. “I wish you had told me you thought we’d need pistols. I’d have brought my own. The handle fits better in my hand and it’s well-balanced. This one is not, so let’s hope I don’t have to use it before I can test it and learn how to adjust for the imbalance.”

“Balance? Test it?” He shook his head. “You have your own pistol?” He was about to ask whether her father knew about it, but she answered first.

“A percussion travelling pistol. My father gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday. He taught me to use it, but Dennison helps me keep up my skills. He’s quite the crack shot himself.”

Fairbank was the only man Edward could imagine giving his fifteen-year-old daughter a deadly weapon. Then again, given the criminal element he helped the police find, he was probably the only man Edward knew who understood exactly how much his daughter might need a gun.

Luci pulled back the pistol hammer, reloaded the bullet, and closed the gun inside her bedside table. “All right. Now, I need you to bring me…actually, show me your pistol.”

Edward unfolded his legs and stood, motioning for her to precede him through the door. Inside his room, he led her to the bedside table, and took notice of her running her hand along the blanket on his bed. She might not have realized she had even done it, but it was such an intimate act, he could barely think of anything other than her running her hand over his skin while they shared that bed. He pulled open the bedside drawer and stepped away to put much-needed space between them.

Luci took out the pistol, which had a black handle and six-inch barrel, and unloaded it as efficiently as she had the other one. She put this bullet into her dress pocket, and put the empty gun back in the drawer.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” he asked as he followed her back to her room.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Brandish it about whilst you scream, and I’ll rush into your room?”

“Well, you hardly need the excuse of my screaming to rush into my room.”

They fell silent and stared at each other. He had meant to say she could take shelter there if she became frightened, but it was too late to correct it. The very atmosphere around them had changed. He ached to touch her, to pull her against him, to sweep her off her feet and carry her to the bed. He reminded himself he might be a lecherous reprobate and a despicable scoundrel, but he wouldn’t act on his worst impulses because, first and foremost, he had to be Luci’s protector.

She reached out to touch him. If she hadn’t, he might have stood a chance.