Shameless Duke – Scarlett Scott

AS FAR AS Lucien was concerned, Mr. H.E. Montgomery could go to the devil. Not only was the American interloper unwanted, but he was also late. Lucien despised tardiness. It was enough of an indignity the Home Office had foisted the Pinkerton agent upon him as a proposed —he shuddered—partner. But now, the fellow could not even be bothered to appear at the appointed time for their first meeting. Lucien removed his pocket watch from his waistcoat and glared at the ticking hands, which revealed Mr. H.E. Montgomery, celebrated Pinkerton and new fellow leader of the Special League, was precisely forty-seven seconds tardy. “Unacceptable,” he muttered to himself, his irritation mounting with each passing second. Lucien attempted to distract himself by once more turning his attention back to the compendium of Montgomery’s cases as a Pinkerton, a career which appeared to extend at least a decade into the past. The fellow had successfully routed murderers and thieves, and in recent years, had infiltrated a cutthroat band of New York City Fenians known as the Emerald Club.

All well and good. All perfectly fine. He had no doubt Mr. Montgomery was more than capable of performing his job in America. But England was a great deal different, and this was Lucien’s bloody territory. He had been leading investigations into the dangerous network of Fenians threatening England, at home and abroad, on his own for months now. He had done a damned good job of seeing a number of Fenians arrested, the threat they posed to the public effectively extinguished by his hand. Indeed, if it were not for The Incident, Home Office would never have made such a humiliating demand. Being forced to accept this Yankee agent was an anathema to him. Particularly since the man was now—Lucien checked his watch—one minute and seventeen seconds late.

A knock sounded on his study door at last, and the portal opened to reveal the expressionless countenance of his butler, Reynolds. “Has Montgomery arrived?” he asked, his irritation mounting. “You do have a visitor, Your Grace,” said Reynolds with a furrowing of his brow. “However, I am afraid it is not a Mr. Montgomery at all, but rather—” “Miss Montgomery,” drawled a distinctly feminine voice. An equally feminine figure, clad in a smart navy gown and a jaunty hat atop her head, rudely brushed past Reynolds and sailed into Lucien’s study. The creature who sauntered across the chamber and approached his desk was decidedly not who Lucien had been expecting. “Forgive me, Your Grace,” Reynolds said in a strangled tone. “I am afraid Miss Montgomery refused to wait until I ascertained if you were receiving callers.” “You need not speak of me as if I am absent from the room,” the woman admonished his butler, fixing the unfortunate domestic with a look designed to convey her supreme irritation.

“I am standing right here, and I do assure you both my ears and my wits are in perfect working order.” She turned back to Lucien, standing over his desk in a startlingly authoritative fashion. Though she was slim, she was tall, and she possessed a commanding air at odds with what one expected of a genteel lady. “Does everyone in England have a guard dog posted at the door?” she demanded of Lucien, without preamble. Then again, it was becoming increasingly apparent the woman before him, despite being fashionably garbed, was no genteel lady. Lucien spared a glance for poor Reynolds, who hovered at the threshold, for once appearing uncertain of the protocol. To the domestic’s credit, it was not a daily occurrence for the butler to be routed, then thoroughly browbeaten, by a brash American female. “That will be all, Reynolds.” Lucien waited for his butler to make his discreet exit before turning back to his unexpected visitor. “Please do—” She settled herself into one of the chairs opposite his desk without a hint of grace.

“Sit.” “Thank you.” She thrust her gloved hand forward. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last, sir. I have heard a great deal about your work.” He frowned, staring at her hand. He supposed she meant for him to shake it, so he did, against his better judgment. “Indeed, Miss Montgomery. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well, though I must admit your appearance here is unexpected. I presume you are Mr.

Montgomery’s sister?” She frowned back at him. “Who the hell is Mr. Montgomery?” She was still holding his hand, shaking it with a grip which was strong and altogether unladylike. He did not wear gloves, and though she did, the warmth of her skin burned into his. It seemed somehow intimate. Too intimate. He extricated himself from her grasp, tamping down the unwanted reaction. What manner of female was this, dressed as a lady, yet unpardonably rude? Shockingly pretty, in spite of her abrasive personality? And why had she asked him who Mr. Montgomery was? Or, to be precise, who the hell Mr. Montgomery was? He cleared his throat, feeling rather disconcerted, which was unlike himself, but this astonishing creature had him at sixes and sevens.

“Forgive me, Miss Montgomery, but I presumed, since I was to meet with Mr. Montgomery, and you share the fellow’s surname, surely the two of you must be familiars, if not relations.” Icy blue eyes, studded with long dark lashes, met his unflinchingly. “There is no Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Arden.” Mr. Arden? He was so flummoxed by the sheer effrontery of the woman, it took him an extra second to realize everything she had just said. “Of course there is a Mr. Montgomery,” he snapped.

“Madam, I do not know what game you are playing at, but I am not amused. I suggest you take your leave at once. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in riddles. Furthermore, I am the Duke of Arden, not Mr. Arden. My correct form of address is Your Grace.” She pursed her lips, and he noted—quite involuntarily—how full they were, how sensual. “I am aware of the proper form of address for a duke, Your Grace. I was merely making a point.” What the devil? A disconcerting sense of unease slid down his spine.

“A point,” he repeated. “Would you care to elaborate, madam?” She sighed. “I am beginning to discover your need for my aid, Your Grace. Very well, if I must explain, I chose the wrong form of address for you, just as you have done for me. As you can plainly see, I am Miss Montgomery, decidedly not a mister.” “You are H.E. Montgomery,” he said, the unease blossoming, radiating throughout his entire body. She smiled, and damnation if that smile did not hit him, first in the gut, then somewhere distinctively lower. “Miss Hazel Elizabeth Montgomery, Pinkerton agent, at your service.

” “But you are a woman,” he said stupidly. An evident observation, but he could not keep it from bursting forth from him. In all his correspondence with the Home Office, in every debriefing he had suffered in the wake of The Incident, he had been told to expect the famed H.E. Montgomery, arriving to act as his partner in the Special League, being diverted from assignment in New York City. He had never once been told to expect a female. Miss Montgomery made a great show of glancing down at her person, feigning surprise as she did so. “Why, I am a woman. How shocking, Your Grace! You do have women in England, I presume?” A maddening, ill-mannered woman, he added silently. He noted again the drawl giving her words their foreign lilt and wondered what part of her country she hailed from.

And then he reminded himself it did not matter, for there was no way he was going to accept this creature as his partner in the League, and after today, he would likely never set eyes upon her again. “Yes, Miss Montgomery,” he replied, careful to keep his tone as frigid as possible. “We do have women in England, and they are all far more refined than you.” A mocking smile curved her mouth, drawing his attention to the fullness of her lower lip, the perfectly defined Cupid’s bow of the upper. Damnation, this would not do. He could not continue to notice the woman’s mouth. It was an aberration, surely, for a creature this bold, vexing, and masculine in conduct to possess lips so supple and pink. Likely, it was the only softness she possessed. But then his gaze dipped to her bosom—also involuntarily—and he had to admit Miss Montgomery owned other distinctly soft areas beyond her mouth. And his trousers seemed suddenly tight.

A burst of self-loathing struck him square in the chest. The mocking smile blossomed, growing wider. “I cannot argue the point with you, Mr. Arden, as I am woefully lacking in knowledge concerning refined English women. Undoubtedly, it would not be considered refined of me to acknowledge I noticed your gaze dropping to my bosom.” He almost swallowed his tongue. His spine stiffened, and he pinned his most ducal, frigid stare upon her. “I do beg your pardon, Miss Montgomery.” “Beg my pardon all you like, Mr. Arden.

” She waved a hand in the air as if she were swatting a fly. Truly, the woman owned not a modicum of grace. “You are staring at me in a manner I find insulting. More insulting than the thinly veiled slurs you have already delivered verbally, in fact. I will thank you to look upon me in the same fashion as you would any man.” Mr. Arden. He did not even know where to begin. Surely the woman before him was a poor jest on the part of the Home Office. Perhaps an attempt to test his mettle.

“You may address me as Your Grace,” he informed her coldly. “If I am to treat you with respect, I expect it to be reciprocated.” “I will reciprocate when you begin,” she said with false sweetness. Her voice, deceptively pleasing and mellifluous, the unhurried drawl of her words, all settled over him in a way he could not like. The woman was irritating. Unnerving. Maddening. “Mr. Arden,” she added. Damn it all to hell.

“Madam, you are one more Mr. Arden away from being tossed out of my home.” She raised a brow. “Tossed? Truly? Who will do the tossing, Mr. Arden? Your guard dog? I cannot think him the sort to toss about ladies, despite the low regard his employer holds them in. Surely not you?” Irritation lanced him. “It is an expression, Miss Montgomery. Surely you have those in America?” She continued studying him in that bold, assessing manner of hers, and the strange urge to sit straighter in his chair struck him. He could not shake the feeling this woman was taking his measure. And finding him lacking.

“Of course we do.” She began plucking off her gloves then, one finger at a time, and he watched, mesmerized and horrified. “See here, sir. We have wasted enough precious time on circling each other with our daggers drawn. There is far more important work to be done, so let us be candid. If we are to be partners, you cannot think of me as a female.” Partners. He swallowed a bitter lump of resentment. “Madam, we will never be partners.” “We are already partners, sir.

” Her tone was cool. Stubborn. No, they damn well were not. Nor would they ever be, if he had any say in the matter. And he certainly intended to have one. A very long, very precise, very vehement say. “Prospective partners,” he said. “The Home Office will need to issue final approval, as will I.” The last was not true, for The Incident had significantly reduced his authority, but this creature need not know that. Inexplicably, his gaze settled upon her hands.

They were small, the nails neat. She wore a gold ring, studded with a small pearl, upon her left hand, but no other adornment. Her fingers were fine-boned, almost delicate, in stark contrast to her brash personality. He had not previously found this part of a woman’s body intriguing before, but he could not deny the subtle rush of warmth the sight of them provoked within him. “Have you found fault with my hands, Mr. Arden?” she asked in her airy drawl. Confound it. “Your Grace,” he corrected. “You have removed your gloves.” “I cannot turn pages whilst I am wearing gloves.

” She bent down to retrieve something from the floor, then re-emerged with a satchel he had somehow failed to notice upon her earlier entrance. “Perhaps it is because I am not refined.” The woman had a true gift for nettling him. He had never in his life met a female more irksome than this one. Lucien watched as she produced a thin gold chain, hidden at her neck by the high décolletage of her gown, by plucking it free from her bodice. A key hung from the end of it, which she thrust into a lock on her satchel. Astounding. The woman had secreted a key in her bloody bosom. What was next? A pistol beneath her hat? A dagger from her shoe? And why did the sight of that key, which he knew instinctively would be warm from the heat of her flesh, taunt him? Why did his own fingers itch to touch it? “Precisely what is it you are doing, madam?” he asked, forcing an edge of steel into his tone. She rummaged about in the satchel, before extracting a leather-bound journal.

She placed it atop his desk, then slid it toward him. “Producing some case notes I have prepared for you. While I do not officially begin in my capacity as your partner until tomorrow, you will have had ample time to review the results of my recent work in New York City. I have made some interesting discoveries concerning future plots here in London.” Her response, and the journal itself, took him by surprise. Despite her brazen nature, she appeared to take her work seriously. And if the notes he had read regarding her past cases were any indication, she was an excellent agent. He flipped the journal open to a random page. Her penmanship was tidy and concise, bereft of ornamentation. He snapped it closed.

“While I appreciate the offer, Miss Montgomery, I am afraid I do not believe our…partnership will be necessary.” The mere word “partnership” felt bitter and distasteful upon his tongue, far more because it was being used in conjunction with this conundrum of a female. She locked her satchel and dropped her key back into its hiding place—snug in her ample breasts—once more as he looked on in horrified silence. Slowly, methodically, she pulled her gloves back on. “Madam?” he prodded into the silence, pushing the journal back across his desk. “I believe you will want to take this with you on your return journey to America.” “You will wish to read it,” she said. “Do not be pigheaded, Mr. Arden. It ill becomes you.

” She had just delivered two more insults to him without batting her long dark lashes. He ground his teeth. What in the hell had the Home Office been thinking, saddling him with this…this… Damnation! He could not even think of a word in the English language fitting enough to be used to describe her. “I very much doubt you could have uncovered any evidence I have not already received from my own men in New York City.” He gave her a tight smile, refusing to descend to her level this time. It was true, after all. He possessed a vast network of agents scattered across America, Ireland, and England. He knew the Fenians were plotting once more. Thus far, most of their bombing campaigns—efforts to strong-arm England into giving Ireland Home Rule—had either failed abysmally in their ability to inflict damage, or had been stopped by Special League investigations. There was nothing, he was certain, this vulgar American Pinkerton agent could tell him which he did not already know.

“Of course, Mr. Arden.” Her expression became pinched. “Your men.” He did not like the implication in her tone. It was true he had been shocked to discover H.E. Montgomery was in fact Miss Hazel Elizabeth Montgomery, rather than the man he had supposed her to be. But he did not entirely object to her being female, though admittedly, he had been taken aback to discover H.E.

Montgomery was a woman. Rather, he objected to the notion of being forced to share his power with anyone, let alone her. Plainly put, he did not like her. He had not liked her when he had supposed her to be Mr. Montgomery, and neither did he like her as Miss Montgomery. The Special League was his now, and given enough time to make reparations for The Incident, Lucien was certain the Home Office’s faith in him as a leader would be restored. The Incident aside, his record was impeccable. He had imprisoned dozens of Fenians since taking on his position, ensuring the safety of the queen’s men, women, and children to the best of his ability. “I mean you no insult, madam,” he said, making his best effort at kindness, though Lord knew the creature before him deserved none. If she called him Mr.

Arden one more time, he would gather her over his shoulder and personally haul her from his home. “What I meant to say, is that I fear the Home Office made the wrong decision in bringing an American agent to London to aid our cause. You are best served in your homeland. Our concerns here are better answered by myself and the agents beneath me. I will be speaking to the Home Office later today, and I am confident they will agree with my concerns in the matter.” “The Home Office was very clear on the matter when I spoke with them prior to my arrival here,” she said, flashing him a smug smile. “I enjoyed a lovely discussion with the Duke of Winchelsea, Mr. Arden. It is the reason for my tardiness.” Her revelation sank in his gut like a leaden weight.

“Once again, I would remind you I am the Duke of Arden,” he gritted. “You may refer to me as Duke or Arden or Your Grace, Miss Montgomery.” She stood abruptly, smile still in place, clutching her satchel as if it were a weapon. “As I said, I will address you with respect when you treat me with the same. Now, if you will excuse me, I find I am plum tired from all my travels. I will leave my journal with you. If you would be so kind as to point me in the direction of my lodging?” Plum tired. The woman was a menace. But at least she was leaving at last. The weight in his gut lightened incrementally.

He stood. “I am afraid I do not know your hotel, madam. You may inquire with my butler, Reynolds. He ought to be able to assist you.” “Oh, I am not staying in a hotel,” she informed him brightly. “I am staying here. With you.” The hell she was. “That is out of the question, madam.” “There was a recent spate of thefts at the hotel where I was meant to stay.

” She tilted her head, considering him as if she found him pitiful. “The Home Office has deemed it best I stay here, as your guest, until further notice. We cannot afford for my documents to be stolen and find their way into the wrong hands, you understand, Mr. Arden. Now then, will you be showing me to my room, or would you prefer me to inquire with the guard dog?” He clenched his jaw so hard, it ached. Abomination, he decided grimly. That was the perfect word to describe Miss Hazel Montgomery.

.

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