Scandalous Duke – Scarlett Scott

The voice was unmistakable, though the name, almost, was not. No one called her Johanna any longer. To everyone who thought they knew her, she was Rose. Mademoiselle Beaumont. The Rose of New York. Any of those would do. She had not been Johanna to anyone other than herself in years. She stiffened, a dull throb of foreboding blossoming to life in her gut at the familiar face and form before her. Unexpected and yet as recognizable as the back of her own hand, despite the intervening years. “What are you doing in my hotel room?” she demanded, her voice trembling, betraying her. She was confident in her talent as an actress, but some fear was far too real to be disguised. He looked much older now, his blond hair thinning. More like their father than she could have imagined. He smiled, as if this were a pleasant visit. As if he were a welcome guest.

“I have my ways.” Of course he did. Drummond McKenna was a powerful man, as Michael McKenna had been. Leader of the Emerald Club. Scion of great wealth and great misery. The mere sight of her brother was enough to remind her of the stinging lashes she had endured for her disobedience. “How did you know where to find me?” she asked. “The Rose of New York?” He sauntered toward her, and she realized he was holding a framed picture in his hands. “Your face is everywhere, Jojo. Handbills, the papers, hell, nearly every carte de visite in the city has you on it.

” “Do not call me Jojo,” she bit out, eying the picture he held once more. She recognized the frame, for it had cost her a small fortune. But the price she had paid to buy it was no comparison to the picture it held. That picture, the only one she possessed of Pearl, was priceless. “Why not?” He glanced down at the burled walnut frame he held. “It is your name, sister.” The hated pet name from her childhood reminded her of everything she had spent all the years since trying to forget. “I am Rose Beaumont.” Rose Beaumont hailed from Paris. She was fashionable.

Sought after. An enigma. Rose Beaumont was the woman Johanna wished she were. A chimera, it was true. Another role she played. “You will always be Johanna McKenna to me,” Drummond told her. “Just as you will always share my blood.” “Tainted blood,” she dismissed. “I have no wish to claim it. I have done everything in my power to take myself as far from the man who sired me as possible.

” Her mother was an innocent. Siobhan McKenna had died shortly after bringing Johanna into the world, leaving two children behind to face the tyrannical wrath of a man who had drowned his grief in whisky. “Hate Father as you must, but I am your brother, Jojo, and I need your help.” Drummond paused, then held up the picture. “She looks like you when you were a wee wisp, you know.” She closed her eyes for a moment, as a rush of profound grief hit her. “She did.” He inclined his head, studying her, expressing no hint of compassion. His face was, in fact, cold as stone. “She is dead.

” Three stark words. Unfathomable and yet true all at once. Unlike the lashes on her back from so long ago, however, Pearl’s death was a wound that would never heal. Johanna flinched. “Yes.” “This picture is precious to you, then,” Drummond said, still holding it in his hands. “It is the only picture I have of her,” she admitted, before she could think better of the confession. But her mind and heart were one, desperate for him to give it back to her. “Please, Drummond. Do not —” He dropped it onto the floor.

The crack of the glass was like a dagger piercing her heart. She cried out and rushed forward, dropping to her knees, uncaring about the glass, whether she cut her fingers. She was single-minded in her need to rescue that photograph, to keep it from further damage or harm. That one last memory of Pearl. The one that could never fade. Her brother’s booted foot pressed down on the frame, trapping it beneath his weight. More glass crunched beneath his sole. “No,” she cried out, the denial torn from the depths of her. “Remove your foot. This is the only image of her I have.

My sole remembrance.” “At last the mask slips,” he drawled from above her, his tone unconcerned. “You are not as immovable as you pretend. If only everyone could see the famed Rose of New York thus, on her knees, crying over some broken glass and an old photograph.” “I am not crying,” she denied. But her eyes were welling and desperation was setting in. She wanted his foot removed before he did further damage. She wanted Pearl’s picture back. “Take your boot off, Drummond.” He chuckled, but there was no levity in his tone.

“Yes, you are, sister. And no, I will not. Not until you give me something in return.” Everything inside her froze. “What do you want?” She would give him anything in that moment, in return for the photograph trapped beneath his merciless boot. She would accept lashes. Torture. Any punishment for the way she had fled the McKenna family. “Good of you to ask, sister dearest.” Though his tone was cheerful, she had no doubt the intent behind his words was decidedly the opposite.

“What is it?” she demanded, her patience snapping. How had she imagined she was free of this? She had feared, as her name had become well-known and as her likeness was spread so prolifically, that she would be recognized. But the years had gone on, and no one had ever come for her. The silence had lulled her into the foolish belief she was finally free. But she was a McKenna, was she not? She would never truly be free of the shackles of misery which had been hers since birth. “How do you think your adoring public would see you if they knew you were a liar?” he asked, giving the picture another grind beneath his boot. “Do you think they would be understanding of the manner in which you have deceived them, pretending to be a French émigrée? Changing your name. Changing everything about yourself. Why, it is almost as if you have been playing a role, Jojo.” Most actresses took stage names; it was commonplace.

Not all, however, assumed nationalities as she had. Most did not affect an accent. But she had been young at the time she had begun her career, so very young. And she had not contemplated the ramifications of her decisions. She tilted her head back to study her brother, aware her hands were in shards of broken glass, as were her knees. She did not care. “Are you threatening me, Drummond?” “Threatening is such a painful word,” he said slowly. “Hardly apt in this instance. I am your brother, delighted to have found you after so many unnecessary years spent apart. Naturally, I require your assistance in a few small matters.

If you cannot aid me, I will, regretfully, be compelled to share your real name and true heritage with the public who adores you.” Her patience was gone. Her hands were on his boot now, cut and bloodied from the broken glass she had found her way through. Blood smeared over the leather, but she did not care. Desperation clawed at her. She had to have Pearl’s photograph, just as she had to protect the persona she had created in Rose Beaumont. She had worked all her life, fought and fumbled, played hundreds of roles, memorized thousands of lines, studied great actors and actresses. She had done everything she could to find success. To make something of herself. To become Rose.

She could not risk having the truth revealed. Could not bear for the public to realize Rose Beaumont was a fiction, that she was not French at all but rather an Irish immigrant who had run away from home at the age of fifteen and found her way to a traveling company. If she did not have the stage, she had nothing left at all. No means of supporting herself, no hope for the future. Death would be a preferable option, for at least then she could join Pearl. But though she tried with all her might, her brother was taller and stronger than she was. Hands slippery with blood and made painful by glass splinters proved unsuccessful at removing his bootshod foot. “What do you want me to do?” she asked desperately, resigned to her fate. She could only run from the past for so long until it caught her. Chapter One London, 1883 FROM THE MOMENT he first saw Rose Beaumont grace the stage that evening, Felix had known why she was the most celebrated actress in New York City.

He also knew why Drummond McKenna, the Fenian mastermind behind the explosions on the London railway, would want her in his bed. And he knew he was going to do his damnedest to use the beauty to lure McKenna to the justice awaiting him. But for now, he would settle for champagne. He took a sip, watching his quarry from across Theo Saville’s sumptuous ballroom where the company of The Tempest and the city’s most elite patrons of the arts had gathered to fête the Rose of New York. Trust Theo to throw a party lavish enough for an emperor. The servants were aplenty, the food was French, the champagne likely cost a small fortune, and the company was elegantly dissolute. As a duke from a line that descended practically to the days of William the Conqueror, wealth and ostentation did not impress Felix. As a man who had lost the only woman he had ever loved, women did not ordinarily impress him either. Rose Beaumont, however, did. In the light of the gas lamps, she was a sight to behold.

Dressed in an evening gown of rich claret, her golden hair worked into an elaborate Grecian braid, there was no doubt she commanded the eye of every gentleman in the chamber. Rubies and gold glinted from her creamy throat, her lush bosom and cinched waist on full display. And though he observed her to hone his strategy, he could not deny he was as helplessly in awe of her as the rest of the sorry chaps gaping at her beauty. He had watched her perform, so mesmerized by her portrayal of Miranda, he had forgotten he was attending the theater to further his goal. For a brief beat, he forgot it anew as she tilted her head toward Theo and laughed at something droll he had no doubt said. Theo looked pleased, and well he should, for though he had brought Rose Beaumont to his stage as a favor to Felix, there had been so much fanfare surrounding the arrival of the famed Rose of New York, that his already much-lauded theater was enjoying an unprecedented amount of attention. But he was also favoring Mademoiselle Beaumont with his rascal’s grin, the one Felix had seen lead many a woman straight to his bed. Felix had not painstakingly crafted his plan just so Theo could ruin it with his insatiable desire to get beneath a lady’s skirts. No, indeed. Felix finished his champagne, deposited his empty glass upon a servant’s tray, and then closed the distance between himself and his prey.

As he reached them, he realized, much to his irritation, that Rose Beaumont was lovelier than she had been from afar. Her eyes were a startling shade of blue, so cool, they verged on gray. Her lips were a full, pink pout. Her nose was charmingly retroussé. Hers was an ideal beauty, juxtaposed with the lush potency of a female who knew her power over the opposite sex. Their gazes clashed, and he felt something deep inside him, an answering awareness he had not expected, like a jolt of sheer electricity to his senses. There was something visceral and potent in that exchange of glances. A current blazed down his spine, and his cock twitched to life. She smelled of rose petals. Rose had been the scent Hattie favored.

The realization and recognition made an unwanted stirring of memory wash over him. He banished the remembrance, for he could not bear to think of Hattie when he stood opposite a woman who had shared the bed of a monster like Drummond McKenna. “Winchelsea,” Theo greeted him warmly. “May I present to you Miss Rose Beaumont, lately of New York, the newest and loveliest addition to the Crown and Thorn?” Her stare was still upon him. He looked at her and tried to feel revolted. But the disgust he had summoned for her when she had been nothing more than a name on paper refused to return. Her beauty was blinding, and he told himself that was the reason for his sudden, unaccountable vulnerability. That and the scent of her. Not just rose, he discovered, but an undercurrent of citrus. Distinctly different from Hattie’s scent after all.

He offered a courtly bow. Though he no longer chased women, he recalled all too well how to woo, and he reminded himself now that this was a duty. One in a line of many he had spent in all his years as a devoted servant of Her Majesty. “Mademoiselle Beaumont,” he said when he straightened to his full height. “My most sincere compliments on your performance tonight. You were brilliant.” “Thank you,” she said, her gaze inscrutable as it flitted over his face. “You are too kind.” Her husky voice reached inside him, formed a knot of desire he did not want to feel. Why did she have to be so damn beautiful? He cast a meaningful glance toward Theo, who had been his friend for many years.

And who knew what was required of him in this instance. “If you will excuse me,” Theo said smoothly, “I must check in with my chef. The fellow is French and quite temperamental. Mademoiselle Beaumont, Winchelsea.” Theo departed with the sleek grace of a panther, leaving Felix alone with Mademoiselle Beaumont. His friend’s defection occurred so abruptly, Felix found himself unprepared. “That was badly done of him,” Mademoiselle Beaumont said in the same voice that had brought the audience to their knees earlier that evening. It bore the trace of a French accent, one which had been notably absent from her earlier performance. “I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle Beaumont?” he asked, perhaps in a sharper tone than he had intended. He was out of his depths, and he knew it.

He had procured mistresses before. He had been a statesman for all his life. He had been involved in complex investigations, harrowing danger, the aftermath of brutal violence. He had witnessed, firsthand, the wreckage of the rail carriages in the wake of the bombs, which had recently exploded. But he had never attempted to make a Fenian’s mistress his mistress. “Mr. Saville,” Mademoiselle Beaumont elaborated. “He was giving you the opportunity to speak with me, was he not?” “I cannot say I am capable of speaking for Mr. Saville’s motivations,” he evaded. The statement was a blatant prevarication, for Felix did know precisely what spurred his friend in every occasion: money and cunny with a love of the arts thrown in for good measure.

“Forgive me, but I have already forgotten your name,” she said. “Was it Wintersby?” “Winchelsea,” he gritted, though she did not fool him. He had seen the light of feminine interest in her gaze. She felt the attraction between them—base animal lust though it may be—as surely as he did. Some time may have passed since he had last engaged in the dance of procuring himself a bed partner, but it had not been that long, by God. And some things a man was not capable of erasing from his memory. “Of course.” She smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. “Winchelsea. I am not a naïve young girl.

I know what you want.” His heart beat faster, and a chill trilled down his spine. She could not know who he was or what his true intentions were. Surely not. “Oh? I pray you enlighten me, Mademoiselle Beaumont. What is it I want?” She stepped closer to him, her red silk swaying against his trousers. “You want me.” She did not elaborate. Nor did she need to. Her proclamation was the immediate source of both relief and anticipation.

Here was a game he could play. He lowered his head toward hers, not near enough to kiss but near enough to tempt himself to close the distance and seal their mouths. Her lips were so full. Her eyes so wide. He did not think the luminous sheen in them could be feigned, though her fluency as an actress was undeniable. How shameful that such a creature should belong to a soulless villain. “And if I do want you, Mademoiselle Beaumont?” he dared to ask, allowing his gaze to devour her face. Part of his task would be easy. His desire for her was inexplicable, yet real. “What would you say?” Those inviting lips curved higher.

Her smile was intoxicating. “I would say though you flatter me, you cannot have me.” Damnation. He ought to have known getting the Rose of New York to fall into his arms would not be an easy feat. But determination was a river that had run through him all his life, and it had yet to run dry. The evidence suggesting the gorgeous viper before him was privy to a great deal of invaluable information concerning her lover was far too strong to deny. “You speak with such conviction, my dear lady,” he told her smoothly, playing the part of lover as he knew he must. This mission was too delicate. Too important. “But I am a man who cannot resist a challenge.

” “Some challenges are better resisted,” she returned, and though she denied him, she did not make an effort to put any distance between them. Felix did not disagree. “Better for whom?” he wondered. Her smile faded. There was a world-weariness in her eyes he had not noted before, but he saw it now. “Better for you, of course.” What could have caused the sadness haunting her husky voice? The strange urge to discover it, to learn her secrets, hit him. Not because of the task ahead of him, but because there was something about her that affected him. He knew better than to allow it. Better than to think of her as a woman.

And yet, he could feel the warmth emanating from her. Though they were in the midst of a ballroom filled with others, it was as if the two of them were alone. Another surge of awareness licked through him, languorous and hot and laden with sensual promise. He had not been this attracted to a woman in as long as he could recall. Damn it. He had not expected to want her, not with everything he knew about her and her ties to McKenna. He had believed himself beyond the throes of lust. He was so inundated with his work for the Home Office and Verity, he had not bothered to acquire a new mistress after his last affair had ended. That was the reason for this unwanted desire coursing through him now, he was sure of it. “I shall be the judge of that, Mademoiselle Beaumont,” he said at last.

“Perhaps we could find somewhere more private to speak and better acquaint ourselves with each other.” He was at home in Theo’s house. And as a sybarite, Theo knew the importance of comfortable, private rooms in abundance. There was a red salon just down the hall Felix could put to good use. And put his plan into action. Because there was one reason he was pursuing Rose Beaumont, and it was not her fair face or form, nor was it the mysteries of her past, and it most certainly was not the hunger she had awakened within him. He needed to find out everything she knew about Drummond McKenna and use her to sink the bastard’s ship before he could do any more harm to innocents. JOHANNA OUGHT TO have denied the duke, and she recognized her mistake the moment he escorted her from the ballroom. Before that, in fact. When she had placed her hand in the crook of his arm.

Touching him had been unwise. Because he made her feel the same restless stirrings that had once caused her so much pain. But that had been years ago, and she was far too world-weary now. Johanna had been known as Rose Beaumont for so many years, the name had become a part of her. It was the role she played best of all. One she was constantly honing. She liked to think of Rose as her shield. A mantle she donned to protect her from everything and everyone she wanted to forget. The Duke of Winchelsea was shattering that role. Stripping her of the shield.

For a brief, mad moment, when he had suggested they retire to another chamber together, she had forgotten to be Rose. She had allowed herself to be Johanna. Her guard had dropped. He had kind eyes. A serious countenance. One had but to look upon him to see he shouldered great responsibility. But none of that mattered now, for he was dangerous. She had recognized the frank admiration in his gaze, the carnal hunger, the blatant sensuality. She had seen it all before, in the eyes and the countenances of hundreds of men. She had never, however, been tempted by it with such ease.

Nor had she been so thoroughly bound by secrets and lies. The documents and dynamite secreted inside a trunk in her hotel were a burning coal of guilt, searing her from the inside out. She knew what she must do with them, but the knowledge was heavy. The duke said nothing as he guided them into a low-lit chamber decorated entirely in shades of scarlet. The door closed behind them, drowning out the strains of the orchestra in the ballroom and the gay din of the revelers a few doors down. She recognized the recklessness of her acquiescence. She never should have agreed to speak to him alone. But the truth was, she was weary after her journey across the Atlantic, followed by days of rehearsals. Weary from worrying over her brother, fearing she could never truly escape him. The ballroom had been an overwhelming swirl of faces and the urge to escape, to find some quiet, had been preeminent.

“Here we are,” he said then, three simple words she felt in her core. Was it his clipped, patrician accent? The deep rumble of his baritone? His masculine scent of sandalwood and amber? She had been alone with many men, desired by them. Powerful and wealthy men had chased after her, and she had denied them all. Nobility no longer awed her as it once had. For some reason, being alone with the Duke of Winchelsea left her feeling shy. She released her hold on his arm and stepped away from him. Johanna forced herself to remember who she was, the sought-after Rose of New York. Her pictures were produced by the thousands. Every man who saw her wanted her. None of them could have her.

She faced him, stealing herself against the potent magnetism he exuded. “If you think to make me your lover, Your Grace, I must disabuse you of such fancy.” “You are jaded, Mademoiselle,” he observed mildly. “I have yet to make my intentions clear.” She inclined her head. “You need not have; they are transparent enough. I have been an actress for many years. This is not the first time I have been propositioned. Nor, I suspect, will it be the last. And yet, my answer will always remain the same.

” A small smile flirted with his sensual lips. He was seemingly unconcerned by her assertion. “Would you care for some brandy, Mademoiselle Beaumont?”

.

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