Scandal with a Sinful Scot – Karyn Gerrard

Garrett Wollstonecraft, and his nephew, Riordan, sat in the gallery of Insolvent Debtor’s Court, awaiting the hearing of Riordan’s father-in-law, Baron Thomas Durning. Four imperious-looking judges in robes and white wigs sat before a long table high above everyone. Directly below, the barristers sat to their right, the debtors to their left. The room was crowded, the air stale, the lighting as inadequate as the heat on this frigid winter day. Due to the dimness, an aura of gloom hung over the proceedings. Riordan’s bride, Sabrina, decided not to attend her father’s hearing, which was completely understandable since the loathsome man had tried to sell her on three different occasions, most recently to the equally loathsome Marquess of Sutherhorne. It was by sheer luck that the Wollstonecrafts managed to locate Sabrina before she’d been hidden away. Despite his despicable behavior, Garrett gave the baron a reluctant nod for not fleeing to France to escape his debts, as many peers before him had done. Durning had stood his ground, facing his fate head-on. Let justice be done. “The blasted man deserves a worse fate than debtor’s prison,” Riordan whispered fiercely to Garrett. “We all agreed to keep the incident quiet to protect Sabrina, but he deserves to be sent to Newgate Prison to rot. Surely kidnapping and selling another human for profit would be adequate enough for a conviction.” “For a common man, it would. It’s a miscarriage of justice when peers are protected above all others,” Garrett solemnly replied.

“This was the only solution, especially since you wished for Sabrina to be protected from speculative gossip, which I wholeheartedly agree with.” “Yet Sutherhorne walks free,” Riordan replied in a low voice. “A miscarriage of justice indeed.” Garrett couldn’t agree more. “We will remain vigilant. I don’t trust the marquess. He is a soulless cretin who will seek revenge. Mark my words.” He no sooner spoke when the marquess strode into court, causing a buzz of excitement. A lumbering brute of a man followed directly behind him and took a seat next to him in the front row of the gallery.

The marquess turned and stared at them, his expression dark and chilly. Once they had rescued Sabrina from her father and Sutherhorne’s clutches, the marquess had threatened: This is far from over. I will never forget the humiliation. Judging by the way Sutherhorne glared at them menacingly, Garrett believed this was far from over. He was ready. It would be his distinct pleasure to break the thin, putrid old marquess like a brittle stick. “Hear ye, hear ye! Court is in session.” Sutherhorne turned his attention toward the judges. The baron tried to catch the marquess’s attention. Was he hoping for a last-minute intervention? A payment of the debt? But Sutherhorne patently ignored the desperate man.

He had come to watch his downfall, not assist him. Garrett’s original assessment held true: the marquess was malevolence personified. As the court proceeded, people from all walks of life were hauled before the judges, their sentences rendered in swift fashion. At last, the baron stood before the austere justices. “With the sale of Durning House and all its possessions, the sum is inadequate to meet all creditors,” a barrister intoned. “How much of the debt is outstanding?” a judge asked. “Twenty-six hundred and twenty-two pounds, my lord,” the barrister answered, reading from an officious paper. “And thirteen shillings and seven pence.” “My lord. Here are thirteen shillings and seven pence.

I will at least cover that much,” Sutherhorne sniffed, holding up a handful of coins. The court broke out in raucous laughter, and Durning flushed with embarrassment. So the marquess was not only here to observe the baron’s disgrace, but to humiliate him as well. Garrett couldn’t keep the contempt from his expression as he glared at Sutherhorne. “Order!” One of the judges banged the gavel. “The bench acknowledges the Marquess of Sutherhorne. Even though you meant it as a jest, we will take the coin tendered.” The judge ordered the bailiff to gather up the offering. “Baron Durning, are you able to pay the outstanding amount?” “No…my lord,” he muttered, looking down at his shoes. “It is the judgment of this court that you be taken to Queen’s Prison in Southwark immediately, and remain there until such time you can meet your debt in full.

Next case.” “Debtor’s prison, as we surmised. Well, some justice at any rate. We should take our leave,” Garrett suggested. They headed for the exit, but were blocked by the marquess placing his silver cane across the doorjamb. “Satisfied by the verdict?” he sniffed. “Had to see for yourself the man’s downfall?” God, this man made Garrett’s blood boil. “As did you. And no, we are not satisfied. You are still free from the guilty verdict you so richly deserve,” he growled.

“Remove your cane or I will…” “What? Assault me once again? Here, in a room full of witnesses, including judges? Knowing of your animal urges it would not take much to provoke you to a response. Your temperamental Scottish blood will lead to your ruin.” Sutherhorne gave him a slimy smile of contempt. Garrett’s fury bubbled to the surface, but he fought showing it outright. Be damned if he would allow this sorry excuse of a peer to goad him. “Remove the cane, or I will snap it in two, and do the same to you, as I promised. Remember?” Garrett’s voice was low, the tone deadly. “Ah, a decided threat. Did you hear him, Delaney?” he said to his brute. Delaney, an indifferent expression on his face, replied with a brisk nod.

They were attracting attention. Sutherhorne, at last, moved his cane. “We will meet again, and then we will see who snaps whom in two. Good day, gentlemen.” Garrett pushed his way through the door, and Riordan followed until they stood outside on the cobbles. Hell, Sutherhorne could rile him. The family had made a true enemy of the marquess. “You’re correct, Garrett. He’s a soulless cretin. I detected the hate in his eyes—and the desire for revenge.

” Riordan blew out a cleansing breath. “Shall we head for Wollstonecraft Hall?” “I have further business. Since you have to take up your schoolmaster position once again in Carrbury, head home to Sabrina. Tell Da I’ll return by the end of the week.” “Very well.” His nephew hesitated, then met his gaze. “Thank you for all that you’ve done, not only in assisting me these past several months, but our entire lives. You are the rugged stone on which our family’s foundation is built. The mortar that holds us together. We all feel this way.

I wish more than anything for you to find love and happiness as I have. If anyone deserves it, it is you.” After the men went their separate ways, Garrett relaxed in the inn’s common room, sipping a tumbler of scotch. Riordan’s generous and heartfelt words still reverberated in his mind. It humbled him to know that his family thought well of him. Strange lot, the Wollstonecraft men. Once touched by tragedy, they did not give their hearts easily. Happiness? Love? Garrett decided early on to lock his heart and toss the key. It had only been engaged once. So long ago it was if it had happened in a dream.

Her name formed on his lips, begging to be spoken aloud, but it remained a quiet whisper. Abbie. Never again. Frowning briefly, he pushed the memories away, as he often did. He was better off alone. Chapter 1 Two days later Whitechapel, London A curse could be a damnable weight to carry, but Garrett reasoned he had shoulders broad enough to handle the burden. How does a curse come about? Did a medieval witch cast it on the ancient Wollstonecrafts for an imagined slight, or was the sixteenth century Earl of Carnstone born under a black moon, passing the curse down through the generations? Every man born through this particular bloodline of Wollstonecrafts suffered incredible tragedies. Women in the family, either born or wedded into it, did not live long. Didn’t matter how many times the man remarried. Why such darkness hung over his family remained a complete conundrum.

After all, they had dedicated their lives to progressive causes and the plight of the poor, especially his father and brother in parliament. It should count for something. Yet sitting here in Edwin Seward’s office in Whitechapel, Garrett wondered if the curse moved beyond romantic attachments to include other aspects of the Wollstonecraft men’s lives. There was no better example than his brother Julian’s oldest, Aidan. His nephew had been missing for close to four months, as if he’d fallen off the edge of the earth. Since he was only six years older than his paternal twin nephews, Aidan and Riordan, they all were more like brothers. They shared a close bond, as did all the men in the family, but none like the one he shared with the twins. Riordan was happily settled, and though Garrett had tried to make him see sense regarding the curse, he would have none of it. He was deeply in love. No talk of an ancient curse had deterred him from Sabrina.

Well, it was his decision. Garrett could only wish them the best. He turned his attention back to Aidan, the main reason he’d remained in London. The reason he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. For more than a year, Aidan had been wallowing in the seamy underbellies of London and Bath by sinking into even darker, more debauched depths. Despite his vices, he’d kept in touch. Returned home every month without fail. Well, until last September, that was. Shortly thereafter, the contact ended. Garrett had hired an ex-Bow Street Runner, Edwin Seward, and finally the investigation bore fruit.

Garrett decided to keep the information to himself until he had a chance to probe into the particulars. At that moment, Edwin strode into the room, a thick folder clutched in his beefy hand. The man was nearly as tall as Garrett’s own imposing six-foot-five frame. An aura of danger followed Seward, and the jagged scar running down the left side of his face added to the implied menace. “Edwin.” “Garrett.” He sat with a huff, slamming the folder in front of him. “Where would you like me to start?” “Where is Aidan?” Edwin opened the folder. “As of last night, he is living in a rookery in St. Giles, a doss-house on Petticoat Lane.

” “Jesus.” St. Giles was one of the worst slums in London. Even the coppers loathed to enter it because of its maze of hovels and alleyways. Overcrowding, squalor, and the resultant stench, along with a generous helping of disease, completed the bleak picture. “We’re friends, correct?” Edwin asked. They’d known each other for years, originally met in Scotland one summer. Both were half Scottish and visiting relatives, so they gravitated toward each other and kept up a correspondence through the years. When Garrett ventured to London, they would meet and share a pint. “Absolutely.

” “Why are you taking this burden on yourself? Why haven’t you told your brother, Julian? Your father, the earl? Or Aidan’s brother, Riordan? Wasn’t he here in London with you? If I’ve overstepped the bounds, tell me.” A fair question. “No, not overstepping. Guilt perhaps? Aidan’s decline was slow, over a period of years, and instead of reaching out and trying to discover why he behaved in such a manner, I became disgusted and ignored him. We all did. I turned away when he needed me most, and because of it, didn’t hear his cry for help under all the arrogance.” Garrett exhaled a shaky breath. “I also want to protect Julian and the rest from the worst of this.” “I just met your brother a couple of months ago, but I have the distinct feeling he will be livid when he finds out that you didn’t inform him of his son’s discovery right away,” Edwin said. “No doubt, but one drama at a time.

Aidan means the world to me, both the twins do. They are much like brothers instead of nephews, and when we were younger, they often followed me about like eager puppies.” He paused, as speaking of this caused a lump of emotion to lodge in his throat. “I love them. Aidan especially. Though always in one type of trouble or another, he possessed a goodnatured charm, which meant that I couldn’t stay annoyed at him for long. There is goodness in him. He’s worth rescuing. I aim to be the one to do it.” “Fair enough.

I’ll do all I can to assist you in your quest.” “I appreciate it, Edwin.” “To continue. As your brother suggested, we’ve been watching your family’s bank for close to two months. Last week, a man approached the building, hesitating, as if deciding whether to proceed inside. He fit the description, and resembled the small portrait that you gave us, so we instigated a surveillance. I thought it best not to contact Julian until we were sure of his identity.” Edwin flipped a page over. “The subject did not enter the bank, and my man followed him to the aforementioned dosshouse on Petticoat Lane. He’s not alone.

There are at least four or five others, with many more coming and going at all hours of the day and night.” After clearing his throat, Edwin continued. “I had my man blend in with the great unwashed, and he got close enough to observe that the place is used for deviant pursuits. Opium. Orgies. From what my man reported, financed by thievery and prostitution. There are two women in there with the men. Probably prostitutes.” Garrett rubbed the bridge of his nose. Aidan had hit rock bottom, sunk to the lowest depths.

Hearing this, he was glad that he’d decided to keep the discovery from Julian. “They’re living in total filth,” Edwin stated. “I’m not sure if you have ever been to St. Giles…” Garrett stood. “Let us head there with all due haste. Extract him immediately.” Edwin shook his head, motioning Garrett to take his seat. “One does not casually wander into St. Giles. This will take planning and a number of men, more than I employ.

Also, when we snatch him up, what do we do with him?” Garrett arched an eyebrow. “What is your meaning?” “Aidan is in no fit state to return home. Let me read you this: ‘Aidan Wollstonecraft is emaciated, wearing dirty, ragged clothes, hair long and unwashed. Appears glassy-eyed, stumbling when he walks. When he speaks, his words are slurred. The subject is suffering from acute addiction.’” Edwin looked up and caught Garrett’s worried gaze. “Your nephew will need medical attention, long-term care for his withdrawal. I have taken the liberty of contacting a private sanatorium. It is north of here, in Hertfordshire, outside the village of Standon.

It is run by a Welsh physician and the cost is expensive. But he has done miraculous work with those addicted to opium. It’s becoming a rising problem in all classes. The place is confidential and clean; I have inspected it myself.” “Aidan is in such poor condition, then?” Garrett whispered. “Aye. He’s extremely ill, physically and otherwise. I’m sorry it has taken us this long to track him, but apparently the group of hooligans that he’s running with move about often. We may have never found him. It’s only by chance we spotted him when he approached the bank.

” Edwin paused. “If he continues down the path he is on, Aidan will be dead in a matter of months. When the dragon gets its claws in you…well, it’s a sorry state indeed.” Shaking his head, Garrett said sadly, “I never would have believed Aidan to be weak of character and sink to such depths.” “Society sees opium and its derivatives as merely a bad habit. Dr. Bevan and his predecessor, Dr. Hughes, see it as an addiction of which certain people are more susceptible than others. Not by weak character, but by a brain disorder. His treatment is humane, not like at the asylums.

There Aidan could be diagnosed with moral insanity and never see the light of day again. You do not want your nephew to go to one of those places.” No. He didn’t. Garrett had heard the stories. People were locked up in no better than a prison cell. Mechanical restraints were used, as well as inhumane treatments that involved dousing with water hoses and hours of endless prayer. “What is your strategy?” “We head in at the break of dawn. There will be ten men all told. We seize your nephew, and the three of us will head straight to Standon.

We will need a private carriage. Fresh water. A bucket in case he starts to vomit before we arrive. The journey will take several hours, and he’ll begin to go through withdrawal, which includes nausea, vomiting, aches, cramps, body tremors. His bowels could let go.”

.

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