Home > The Redemption of a Rogue (The Duke's By-Blows #4)

The Redemption of a Rogue (The Duke's By-Blows #4)
Author: Jess Michaels

Chapter 1






It had all been a mistake from the beginning, but there was no changing it now. At least that was what Imogen Huxley kept telling herself as she stumbled down the long, dingy hallway of the Cat’s Companion. The brothel was in the very worst corner of London and yet she’d seen many a very important man haunting its not-so-hallowed halls. As many as in the finer establishments of its ilk.

And Imogen had been to them all recently. Or at least it felt like she had. Since her husband’s death, since she realized that Warren had left her with absolutely nothing to her name…

Well, what choice did she have but to seek a protector? By any means and at any location necessary.

“You gonna stand in the way, luv, or go earn your keep?”

The sharp female voice startled her from her thoughts, and Imogen pivoted. It was Maggie Monroe who stood there, hands on her hips, dark eyes barely visible through her smoldering glare. Imogen had met the woman once before, the first time she’d come here. The time she’d sworn she’d never come back. Maggie was abjectly terrifying then and it was no different now.

“I-I was just about to go in,” she said, pushing her back against the wall so Maggie could pass her in the narrow hall.

She did so, smacking Imogen with her shoulder as she moved. “You’d best forget you’re a lady right quick,” the woman snapped as she continued up the hall. “If these bastards wanted a lady, they would have stayed home.”

Imogen bent her head. She’d been a lady her whole life, daughter of a second son, wife of a third son. It was a sheltered life, she knew that now more than ever. Until it wasn’t. Until she’d been thrown out into the cold.

She took a long step toward the door she was meant to pass through. In that room was a man who wished to bed her. If she pleased him, he might take her as his mistress, he might pay for her to have a home and a little allowance. Lying on her back could save her.

“God, I hope he’s at least a good lover,” she murmured, trying not to think about the inexperienced fumblings of the man she’d been with last time she was here. She shuddered as she lifted her hand to open the door.

But before she could, there was a shout from behind it. A very drunken shout, indeed. “Where is that bitch?” the voice grunted, and there was a great crash. “I’ll not be made to wait by some poxy whore.”

She stepped back away from the door, her heart racing as she flattened to the wall as if she could disappear into it. In that moment, she wished it were true. That she could sprout wings and fly away.

There was a second bang from within the chamber, and she shook her head. “I will not do this,” she whispered, clenching her hands into fists at her sides as she pivoted toward the front exit of the establishment. But up that hallway were a group of loud and very drunk men. They were watching her. Go that way and it was out of the frying pan and potentially into a very bad fire.

So she turned the other direction, toward where Maggie had gone a few moments earlier. There were a dozen exits to this place, she knew that from the chatter of the other girls hired to work here on a more permanent basis. Plenty of modes of escape for client and lightskirt alike.

Now Imogen just had to find one of them and get out. Find some other means of getting protection. At least her best friend Aurora would be pleased. She hadn’t wanted Imogen to come back after the last time.

Imogen pushed those thoughts aside and scurried up the hall before her intended client burst through the door and simply took what he wanted. She meandered through the halls, turning left, then right, lost in a maze of dark hallways and closed doors. Moans and cries came from behind them, some pleasurable and others that were…not.

Her stomach turned and she blinked to clear the tears in her eyes. She needed to be focused now.

There was a door ahead, one with a big rusty smokehouse lock that dangled open from the hinge. Those locks were often used to protect the outside doors, and Imogen gasped in relief as she pushed the door open. But what she found wasn’t escape but a staircase that led to a little courtyard one floor below, closed in by the building’s walls. It wasn’t a pretty garden, though, but a dirty bricked-in place, smelling of piss and garbage and despair.

She moved forward to look down into the square, hoping to find some direct exit onto the street. There would be hacks there, waiting for the customers to leave. She had just enough blunt stuffed in her slipper to get home.

And then she’d have to work out what to do next.

Her fingers closed around the rusty metal railing, and she looked down into the abyss. To her surprise, there were people down there. Maggie, from the looks of it, and two men with her. They were talking, not overly loudly, but the closed-in walls made the sound bounce back up toward Imogen.

“Wrap her up in the damned carpet!” Maggie was snarling, pointing toward something at her feet.

When she moved, Imogen gasped. A woman laid there on the dirty brick, unmoving, blonde hair fanned out around her, her body twisted at an unnatural angle.

Dead. Imogen realized in a horrible flush of a moment that she was dead.

“Shut your whore mouth, Maggie,” one of the men said. “I’m a bloody earl—I don’t work for you.”

“You’re an earl who just killed one of my best girls,” Maggie snapped back. “I swear, Roddenbury, you can’t keep doing this just because they don’t please you. Now help Charlie. We can have her in the river before sunrise and that will end that.”

Imogen’s hand came up to cover her mouth as the full realization of what had happened dawned on her confused and horrified mind. Roddenbury…an earl…a friend of her late husband…had murdered one of Maggie’s girls, and they were working to not only cover up that fact, but dispose of her body before anyone else knew.

Imogen’s breath was coming sharper and harder as the truth of this matter washed over her. She needed to get out of here. Before they saw her. Before she joined that poor girl in the carpet. Bile lifted in her throat, and she swallowed hard to keep it down as she pivoted to go back into the bawdy house and find another escape route.

As she did so, she staggered and her fist hit the door with a clang that echoed through the courtyard as surely as the voices below had. She froze in horror and then looked back over her shoulder.

All three faces were turned up toward her from below. Maggie, Roddenbury and a huge hulk of a man she now recognized as the door guard.

“You there!” Maggie called up. “Stop!”

But Imogen didn’t stop. She tore the heavy door open and ran.



Oscar Fitzhugh sat in his carriage in the alleyway behind the Cat’s Companion, staring up at the imposing building. His hands clenched against his thighs as he struggled to rein in the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. It was the same any time he came to this place. Anger. Grief. Bitterness.

But mostly guilt. He came here and guilt washed over him.

“You should have done bloody better,” he muttered.

But doing better was why he was here, wasn’t it? Why he came here once a month, every month. Why he circulated into the crowd and tried to determine facts that would somehow absolve him. Or at least facts that would avenge her.

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