Home > The Counterfeit Scoundrel

The Counterfeit Scoundrel
Author: Lorraine Heath


Chapter 1




April 1875


Blackguard Blackwood.

David Blackwood decided a man could be called worse. Sitting at the mahogany desk in his grand library, perusing the latest gossip sheet, he was astounded by how quickly and decisively a man’s reputation could fall because of scandal. Two transgressions that had become very public the previous autumn were being rehashed in the gossip rags as a warning to the latest batch of debutantes and other ladies in search of a husband: a liaison with him was bound to bring about ruination. While he was not the only one to have made that damning list, it seemed he had secured the top position as the one to be avoided at any cost. Thankfully, he was more amused than insulted because he wasn’t on the hunt for a wife. Not this Season nor the next nor the following fifty. He understood all too well the pitfalls of marriage and intended to avoid being shackled until he drew his last breath.


He glanced up to see his slender, silver-haired butler standing as rigidly as a poker just inside the doorway. “What is it, Perkins?”

“I apologize for disturbing you when you are about your work, but a Mrs. Mallard wishes an audience.”

Slipping his golden timepiece from his waistcoat pocket, he glanced at the hour. A little after seven. At nine was a meeting of the Chessmen, a moniker given to him and his three firmest friends—while they were studying hard and wreaking havoc during their time at Oxford—because of their ruthless strategy when it came to investing. That ruthlessness was the reason he was presently able to do anything he damned well pleased without worrying about Society’s censure. “I’ll see her, but do have the carriage brought round as I’ll be departing once our business is concluded.”

The second his butler disappeared, he put away the newsprint as well as the numerous reports that outlined various investment opportunities he was considering. When his desk was tidied to his satisfaction, he shoved back the sturdy leather chair, stood, and moved to the center of the gigantic chamber. He’d purchased this ridiculously large residence because his father had wanted it, and Bishop had made it his life’s ambition to deny his sire anything he desired.

Now he waited patiently for his guest. Nothing good ever came from rushing into judgment, and he’d long ago learned the value of biding his time until all aspects of the situation presented themselves.

Only a few minutes passed before Perkins returned. A woman who lived up to her namesake waddled in behind him. Small of stature, she wore a frock of dark blue buttoned up to her chin. Her blond hair was tucked beneath a narrow-brimmed hat, its crown decorated with only a few light blue flowers and a sprig of green.

“Mrs. Ava Mallard,” Perkins announced gravely, and the lady gave a startled jerk as though he’d reached around and pinched her bum. She looked to be preparing to take flight at any moment, with the merest encouragement to flee. A loud noise. An unexpected action. The flickering of one of the gaslights.

Ensuring his strides were leisurely, long, and unthreatening, he crossed over to her. “Mrs. Mallard, how may I be of service?”

She looked at Perkins, then shifted her attention back to him. In a barely audible whisper, she asked, “Are you the bishop?”

“It’s merely Bishop, a sobriquet my mates bestowed upon me when I was at school. I must say it rather stuck.” A nickname given to him because at the time he’d been destined for the clergy. Until he’d discovered he was more suited to other endeavors.

“Mrs. Winters said you helped her last autumn.”

“I did indeed.” The assistance had cost him five thousand quid when Mr. Winters had sued him for damages, but he’d considered the money well spent and his coffers hadn’t mourned the loss. “Why don’t you join me by the fire, and we’ll discuss the reason you’ve called?”

Gnawing on her bottom lip, she glanced around. “Upon further reflection, I probably shouldn’t have come.”

“You’re perfectly safe with me, Mrs. Mallard. Perkins, have tea brought in.”

“Yes, sir.” Having never been entirely comfortable around the ladies who frequently visited and being terribly unskilled at hiding his disapproval of their presence, Perkins made a hasty retreat.

Bishop backed up several steps. “I think you’ll find this chair over here the most cozy. I’ll stand by the hearth, shall I?”

She gave a half nod before shuffling over to a large stuffed wingback chair. He stopped by his decanter table and poured himself some scotch before walking over to the massive marble fireplace, leaning against it, and studying the woman fidgeting so nervously before him. “I take it that you’ve come to me because you wish to obtain a divorce.”

She gave a jerky nod and clasped her hands tightly together. “He is not unfaithful, but neither is he a kind man. He has incredibly high expectations and when they are not met—”

In commiseration, he shook his head. “I don’t need to know the particulars, Mrs. Mallard. That you desire to be free of him is reason enough.”

“I do worry that I’ve delayed the inevitable for too long. I think he wishes to be rid of me, possibly to have me committed . . . or worse.”

Hearing the rattling of china, he held a finger to his lips. In order to meet with success in helping these women gain their freedom, he found it necessary that no one know of his true involvement with them.

Holding a tea tray, a young woman he didn’t recognize walked gracefully into his library. Her hair, the shade of the honey he poured over his scones at breakfast, was tightly secured into a neat knot beneath her white mobcap. Her eyes—a mesmerizing bright blue, like the delphiniums his mother had taken such delight in growing—were alert with an inquisitiveness that seemed to take in her surroundings and catalog each aspect. Wearing a simple black frock and frilly white bibbed apron, she required no adornment to make her one of the most strikingly beautiful women he’d ever laid eyes upon. Perkins handled all the hiring and letting go of servants, and Bishop generally paid them little notice. But she was somehow different, demanding attention by simply existing. She set the tray on the small table nearest to Mrs. Mallard.

“Have we been introduced?” He wasn’t in the habit of asking questions to which he already knew the answer—if he had ever crossed paths with her in the hallway, he’d not have forgotten—but he required something innocuous and who the devil are you didn’t seem the way to go.

Her attention had been on his guest, but she quickly shifted her focus to him and bobbed a shallow curtsy. “No, sir. I’ve been employed here less than a sennight.”

“Your name?”


He furrowed his brow. She didn’t look at all like a Daisy to him. The name sounded too common, and he suspected she was anything but typical. It was the confidence with which she spoke and met his gaze. Unlike most of his staff, she appeared neither intimidated by nor in awe of her employer. He wanted to question her further, but now was not the time. “Prepare some tea for Mrs. Mallard.”

During his conversation with the maid, his visitor had relaxed a tad, perhaps because she no longer felt she was being scrutinized. He preferred it when the women who came to him didn’t have a nervous constitution. The maid struck him as someone who didn’t. With a great deal of efficiency, she set about preparing the tea.

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