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Lady Reckless
Author: Scarlett Scott


Chapter One

 

 

There remain those who question the wisdom of women being accorded Parliamentary franchise. One must wonder at the reasoning for their desire to perpetuate injustice. We must not stop until we are afforded the same privileges as men, as is only fair and right.

—From Lady’s Suffrage Society Times


London, 1885

She was not going to go through with it.

Huntingdon checked his pocket watch for at least the tenth time since his arrival, relief sliding through him. One quarter-hour late for the appointed assignation. Lady Helena must have seen the error of her reckless decision.

Thank merciful heavens.

His heart, which had been pounding with pained expectation ever since his arrival at the nondescript rooms where she had arranged to meet—and lose her virtue—to Lord Algernon Forsyte, eased to a normal rhythm at last. The notion of the innocent sister of his best friend so sullying herself had been appalling. Horrifying, in fact. He had scarcely been able to believe it when Lord Algernon had revealed the plan to him the night before.

Over a game of cards.

The swine had been laughing.

And then he had dared to include Lady Helena’s maidenhead in his wager. As if she were a trollop so accustomed to being ill-used that anyone’s prick would do. Huntingdon had been disgusted and outraged. He had also made certain he had won the game and that Lord Algernon would never again bandy about Lady Helena’s name without fear of losing his teeth.

Huntingdon’s sense of honor had prevented him from going directly to Lady Helena’s father. The Marquess of Northampton was an unforgiving, draconian clod, and Gabe had no doubt that the repercussions for Lady Helena would have been drastic. It had been his cursed compassion, along with his decade-long friendship with Lady Helena’s brother Shelbourne, which had brought him here this morning to save her from ruin himself.

Huntingdon paced the stained carpets, trying to tamp down his impatience. He would wait for a full half hour just to make certain she had not been somehow waylaid. As distasteful as he found it to be cloistered in Lord Algernon’s appallingly unkempt rooms, he had only—he checked his timepiece once more—ten minutes remaining until he could flee and forget all about this dreadful imposition upon his day.

A sudden noise drew him to a halt.

Surely it was not a knock?

He listened, and there it was again. A hesitant report. Once, twice, thrice.

His heart began to pound once more and the heavy weight of dread sank in his gut.

She had come.

He stalked to the door and hauled it open. There, on the threshold, stood a lady, her face obscured by a veil. There could be no doubt as to her identity. Huntingdon grasped her forearm and pulled her into the room before anyone happened upon them. The fewer witnesses to her folly, the better.

She gasped at the suddenness of his actions, stumbling forward and tripping over the hem of her skirts. There was nowhere for her to go but into his arms. Huntingdon was scarcely able to throw the door closed at her back before he had warm, feminine curves pressed against him.

The scent of bergamot and lemon oil, undeniably welcome in these shabby rooms badly in wont of cleaning and dusting, washed over him. Her hat fell from her head as she was jostled into him, revealing her face. He found himself looking down into the astonished emerald eyes of Lady Helena Davenport.

He had a moment to note her breasts were ample and full, crushed again his chest, and her lips were wider than he remembered. She had the most entrancing dusting of freckles on the bridge of her nose, her pale-blonde hair coming free of her coiffure in silken wisps.

She looked like a Renaissance Madonna.

But she had come to this cesspit to be thoroughly ruined.

The part of him which could never be entirely governed by reason and honor suddenly rose to rude prominence in his trousers. He was seized by a crushing urge to taste her lips. To slam his mouth on hers and give her a punishing kiss.

Would she kiss him back?

Would she be scandalized?

He inhaled sharply, shocked at himself, at the cursed weakness he could never seem to overcome no matter how hard he tried. This is wrong. He exhaled. Think of Lady Beatrice. Inhaled again. A mistake, as it turned out. All he could smell was Helena.

She clutched at his shoulders as if he were a lifeline. “Huntingdon! What are you doing here?”

He settled her on her feet and released her, stepping back, recalling his outrage. This was his friend’s sister. Shelbourne would be devastated if he knew what she was about. And as Shelbourne’s friend, he was duty-bound to act as another brother to her.

“I am saving you from the greatest mistake of your life, my lady,” he told her grimly, trying to forget the way her body had molded to his. “What in heaven’s name were you thinking, arranging an assignation with a disgusting scoundrel like Lord Algernon Forsyte?”

“I was thinking my reputation would be destroyed,” she snapped, irritation edging her voice now that she had regained her balance.

She was angry with him, he realized, astounded. She ought to have been awash in gratitude, thanking him for his generosity of spirit. Instead, her lips had thinned, and her jaw was clenched. Her brilliant green eyes glittered with irritation.

He blinked. “You wanted to be ruined?”

Surely he could not have heard her correctly. He had expected her to say Lord Algernon had wooed her with pretty words of love and coerced her into meeting him here. He had imagined she would tearfully thank him and then promise to never again do anything so rash and dangerous.

“Of course. Why else do you suppose I would have arranged to meet him at his private rooms?” she asked.

What the devil?

Huntingdon struggled to make sense of this bloody mire. “You do not fancy yourself in love with him, then.”

“No.”

“You know a man such as he will never marry you,” he pressed.

“I would not marry him, either.”

He frowned at her. “Then I fail to understand the meaning of this horrible folly, Lady Helena.”

“The meaning is freedom.” Lady Helena’s chin tipped up in defiance. “Mine.”

Freedom. The word was strangely alluring, the notion foreign. Huntingdon had been trapped by duty from the time he had been a lad in leading strings.

“Freedom,” he repeated, as if the word tasted bitter on his tongue.

Because it did.

He had been born into an acrimonious union marked by selfishness and mutual enmity. What had once begun as a love match had deteriorated into a state of perpetual hatred and misery for everyone involved, including Huntingdon and his sister, who had paid the ultimate price for their parents’ many sins. His grandfather had impressed upon him at an early age the need to uphold his honor and duty. Grandfather was gone, but the heavy weights of obligation which the former earl had set, rather like tombstones, had not left this earth with his mortal soul.

“Freedom, yes,” said those full, wicked lips.

Lips he had previously had occasion to notice were quite inviting. Lips he had promptly forced himself to forget. Lady Beatrice was the bride Grandfather had settled upon, the betrothal contract struck just before his death. Huntingdon had promised he would follow through, and his strict code of honor forbade him from courting his friend’s sister.

“You do not know what you are saying,” he said, as much to himself as to Lady Helena.

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