Home > How to Steal a Scoundrel's Heart

How to Steal a Scoundrel's Heart
Author: Vivienne Lorret




Prudence Thorogood drew the hood of her tattered mantle over her head and reached for the lion’s head door knocker. Taking a deep breath, she rapped soundly.

There was no turning back. Not for her.

After all, the marital prospects of a penniless, ruined debutante were grim. Such a woman may have the opportunity to wed the man who’d taken her innocence. If, perhaps, he was forced into a proposal while being beaten about the head with a reticule and dressmaker’s dummy until finally relenting with an agonized, “Very well! I’ll marry her!”

She would decline, vehemently.

There was also the possibility of allowing the clergyman to introduce her to a twice-widowed farmer in need of a healthy young wife who could cook, clean and sew for him and his fourteen children.

Thank you, no.

Of course, if she was truly selfish, she could continue to accept the kindness of dear friends and live beneath their roof, watching as society slowly turned their backs on them.

Or . . . she could take matters into her own hands.

But it was an undeniable truth that any future would require selling her very soul, in some form or another. The least she could do to honor the sacrifice was make her own choice.

She released the air in her lungs on a resolved exhale just as the black lacquered door opened.

A stately manservant greeted her with a bland inquiry, as if it were commonplace to see a cloaked female on this doorstep in the dead of night. A shiver of trepidation skated down her spine, but she shrugged it off and simply said, “Lord Savage, if you please.”

The man opened the door for her to step inside the foyer. “I shall see if his lordship is at home. Whom should I say is calling?”

“Miss Thorogood . . . ?” she said as if unfamiliar with her own name. So she repeated herself with more authority. After all, she knew who she was and why she’d come to the house of a notorious rake.

Now, if only her heart would stop beating four times faster than the golden pendulum vacillating in the curved belly of the longcase clock beside her.

The butler’s footsteps on the marble floor were crisp and concise as if he led dozens of visitors to the aubergine receiving parlor each evening by rote. And before he left, he absently set a bone-white bowl of bright red rose petals on the black marble console table by the door.

She stared at the bowl. How peculiar. Was every guest escorted into this room with their own rose petals?

It was possible, she supposed. The Marquess of Savage was known for having an appetite for excess, including all manner of hedonistic pleasures. Proof of that was in the sumptuous furnishings surrounding her, the windows swathed in heavy brocade, the upholstered bronze armchairs, the scallop-back settee, mahogany tables inlaid with gold . . . and the oil painting of a voluptuous woman in repose above the mantel, nude aside from a sliver of red silk draped down her body.

Prue quickly averted her gaze and tried not to think about his other indulgences. She didn’t want to lose her nerve, after all. And she needed every ounce of daring she possessed to face this man and tell him exactly why she’d come.

Distractedly, she coasted her fingertips over the cool, velvety petals. What an odd offering for guests. She could imagine cut flowers in vases. Decorative arrangements were typical in finer houses. But these?

Picking up the bowl, she breathed in the sweet aroma of the petals and felt her lips curve in a smile. They were so soft, so fragrant, so extravagant that they seemed almost romantic. And after the way their first meeting had commenced, she would never have taken him for a romantic.

Surely, he wouldn’t have these on hand for every guest. And certainly not for every unexpected . . . guest. Like . . . her.

Prue lifted her head at once. It suddenly occurred to her that these rose petals weren’t here for random guests at all, but for one in particular. The very guest he was likely entertaining right this moment . . . until she had interrupted.

A surge of dismay strangled her throat. She swallowed it down and began to pace, clutching the bowl to her chest.

Why hadn’t she thought of this before? Of course, he was with another woman. And they were engaged in whatever activities one normally did in the evening hours. Like reading a book. Watching the flames in the hearth. Resting after a long day, and . . .

Oh, who was she trying to fool?

He was a scoundrel. He was doubtless upstairs right this instant, otherwise engaged in something that he couldn’t tear himself away from. Something that involved two people, heavy breathing, perspiring, grunting . . . lots of grunting . . . And now, with her interruption, he would have to put his clothes on and—

The parlor door opened suddenly.

Prue startled like a rabbit caught in the garden with half a cabbage in her grasp. The dish went flying. Petals rained down everywhere. And gravity brought the spinning creamware down directly toward her head.

She squeezed her eyes shut, preparing for it to hit. Hard.

And yet . . . it didn’t.

When she opened her eyes again, she saw the staid butler holding the bowl in his grasp. Apparently, he was much quicker than he looked.

Then, as if this type of thing happened all the time, he merely set it down on the table and said, “Right this way, Miss Thorogood.”

“Actually, there’s been a mistake.” She shook her head and immediately crouched down to the rug, nervously scooping up as many petals as she could. The bowl may not have struck her on the noodle, but she had some sense knocked into her nonetheless. “I should never have come.”

“His lordship is waiting, ma’am. There’s no need to fret over the petals.” He gently, but firmly, took her elbow to assist her in standing.

Awkwardly, she transferred her handful into his. “Right. Well. Be that as it may, I really must go before I disturb his lordship from whatever it is that I’m . . . disturbing.”

The butler followed her hasty retreat into the foyer. “Would you care to leave a card or a message?”

“I think not.”

Reaching the door, her nervous hand fumbled with the latch. And just before she could finally manage to open it . . . she heard a familiar drawl behind her.

“Leaving so soon, Miss Thorogood? Is that any way to greet an old friend?”



Chapter 1



A month earlier


If the carriage went any slower, they’d be traveling back in time.

Leo Ramsgate, Marquess of Savage, muttered a curse beneath his breath and snapped his pocket watch closed before he tapped on the hood. “What appears to be the problem, Rogers?”

“Sheep, milord.”

Ah. That explained it, he thought with a glance through the rain-dappled window toward the rolling hills of the verdant Wiltshire countryside. He wondered—and not for the first time—why he’d agreed to escort his former paramour to Bath. Typically, when an affair ended, it was over and done with for good. And yet, here he was, waiting for sheep.

As they came to a complete stop, a heavy sigh drifted across the carriage. “Will I be so easy to forget, Savage? No, don’t answer that. You’ll only say something detached and uncaring to make me feel guilty for my part in this premature separation of ours. Yet you never take any blame for pushing me into the arms of another man.”

Thus far on their journey, Lady Chastaine had held fast to two topics of conversation—the weather and their misunderstanding, as she put it. If she wasn’t scourging the rain for frizzling her auburn coiffure and the dreary gray atmosphere for doing nothing to complement her complexion, then she was relentlessly denying any culpability for her adulterous tryst. Had her excuses been a dead horse, she would not only have beaten it but dismembered and buried it in the deepest pit from which nothing could return.

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