Taking the Spinster – Samantha Holt

Guy glanced over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of the reporter barreling down the London road with all the subtlety of an express coach. She darted behind a wall and his lips twitched with a grin. If she were not such a pain in the rear, he’d find her amusing, but he couldn’t afford to have her witnessing the clandestine meeting he was due at, or worse still, linking him to The Kidnap Club. However, this was tantamount of persecution and it was becoming tiresome. He picked up the pace, taking long strides down the pavement, keeping his attention fixed ahead. The sun lingered behind the buildings, dipping their squared-off tops in amber frosting. Before long, the streets of the city would be swallowed by darkness, but he had a suspicion even that wouldn’t rid himself of her. He damn well needed to, though. He couldn’t very well have a clandestine meeting with a duchess in the park if this nosy London Chronicle reporter continued to follow him. Guy allowed himself a smirk. Reporter gave her too much credit. Miss Haversham, he had discovered, was the lady behind the gossip column for the Chronicle. He could count on one hand the amount of times he’d been featured in that very column but even once or twice was enough, especially when the gossip had been about him and Lady A. Amelia. Another woman who had done a fine job of being a pain in the rear.

No, he supposed it was more like a pain in the heart. He blew out a breath. The bloody woman still had some sort of hold over him. Whenever he recalled her name, it twisted in his heart, digging the knife of frustration deeper. He’d been so close…had thought just maybe, this was it—he’d finally found a woman who wanted him. All of him. But, alas, it was not to be. The pain had eased perhaps over the past few years but it still damn well hurt, and he didn’t need a woman like Miss Haversham lapping up all the details of his failed engagement, so eager to expose the heartbreak of the Earl of Henleigh to all of England. Whatever she wanted with him, he did not want to know. As far as he was concerned, gossip columns were the lowest form of journalism and he would give her no tinder for the godawful fire that was her job.

He stilled once more and feigned glancing up at one of the three-story buildings that blocked out the waning sun—a tall, dark silhouette with windows only lit on the second floor. A shadow moved about in one window, and he spied a gentleman clasping a glass and moving toward the fireplace. Golden light flickered and danced. Guy pulled his coat closer at the neck and gave a shiver. A warm fire and drop of brandy while seated in his favorite armchair would be wholly welcome at present. Far more appealing than scurrying through the streets of London like a damp rat to a secret meeting. It would have been nice to at least have his carriage, but the crest emblazoned on the side wouldn’t help with the whole clandestine nature of it. Well, he would have that brandy as soon as this was over, he vowed. And as soon as he’d rid himself of Miss Haversham. She currently peeked out from the side of an alleyway.

He exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose. The woman would not cease. He knew that already. She’d been demanding audiences with him for several months—all of which he’d declined. He had little idea what she wanted with him but given his association and leadership of The Kidnap Club, the less she poked around in his life, the better. Too many women relied on his life remaining a mystery for him to even consider having a conversation with her. The chances were, of course, she wanted comment on something silly. Like the fact Amelia had married recently. Why Miss Haversham found amusement in poking about his wounds, he could not say. He didn’t know her nor did he want to.

After the Amelia debacle, he had resigned himself to the fact that he and women did not mix, nor would they ever. His duties as an earl be damned, he would stay a bachelor forever and ensure his half-brother was legitimized. Russell might have a thing or two to say about that but there was not much else that could be done. The man would inherit the title and no doubt he and Rosie would have children before long and the line of succession would be safe. Guy took a few more steps. The streets were quiet, a few pedestrians moving at pace before night swallowed London. A carriage rolled by and a cart soon followed. He darted between the two vehicles, pausing briefly so that he was hidden behind. Then he looped swiftly around. Miss Haversham moved out of her hiding place and paused, glancing around with her hands to her hips.

“Where on earth—” she muttered to herself. “Looking for me?” Guy came up behind her. She whirled, her eyes wide, her pale hair warmed a little by the streetlight. “Bugger.” He’d be amused by her bad language if he didn’t loathe reporters like her so much. He kept his expression firm, allowing his jaw to harden. He’d intimidated many a man with such an expression. She lifted her pointed chin, fixed him with her pale blue gaze, and folded her arms. “Actually, yes, I am.” IF THE EARL wished her to be scared, he’d have to try harder.

She hadn’t survived a year in what was still a man’s job only to be cowed by intense eyes, a hard jawline, and furrowed brows. Her heart did pick up a little, though. Traitor. No doubt many a man and woman, perhaps even animal, had cowed at such a look. But not her. He might have about the strongest jaw Freya had ever seen, finished off with a dip in the middle of his chin, or the darkest, thickest brows, complete with permanent furrows between them that made her feel as though she were mightily disapproved of. He might be tall too, with wide shoulders. And of course, all his clothes fit him perfectly, made of the finest fabrics. But none of that mattered. Not his acceptable looks—because they were merely that—not his coat that would likely cost her a lifetime of earnings, not his dark scowl, not his rather thick lips.

She scowled to herself. Thick lips? Who cared if he had thick lips? Why was that even worthy of note? She shook her head and peered up at him from beneath the brim of her hat. He glared down at her, the shadows of his own hat making him appear more dark and intimidating than ever. It wouldn’t deter her, though. She had a story to chase down and she’d be damned if she would let him scare her away from it. This could be her chance to move away from those wretched, insipid gossip columns that she so loathed. Gosh, she could just imagine it. Writing a story about the missing noblewomen and finally getting the respect she craved for her writing. Finally being something in the man’s world that was newspapers. Oh yes, and finally earning enough money to actually keep her parents comfortable in their old age.

So, there it was. A dark look from a titled gentleman was not going to veer her off this path, no matter how much he made her heart race. “You really should cease following me about, Miss Haversham. It is hardly appropriate behavior.” She resisted the desire to roll her eyes. Appropriate behavior was for ladies of genteel breeding and not working women like her. For as long as she could remember, she had roamed the streets of London, finding vaguely respectable work where she could until she had finally persuaded the editor of the Chronicle to take her on. She had learned to look after herself and she hardly had the time for appropriate behavior. “Lord Huntingdon, all I need is a moment of your time.” He shook his head.

“I do not have a moment.” “You’ve refused all of my audiences.” “Well, yes. When one is an earl, one does tend to be quite busy.” “I just have a few questions—” He pivoted away. “You should return home, Miss Haversham. It’s growing dark.” She moved hastily in front of him, blocking his path. It was a little laughable to think that she, with her average stature and her average looks, average hair, average, well, everything apart from her mind, could hold the rich, entitled, slightly more than acceptable-looking man at bay, but she had never given up easily on anything and she would not start now. Goodness, it had taken months of thrusting her work at her editor and standing outside his office for him to finally look at her writing.

“Miss Haversham, is stalking my footsteps every day really the right way about this?” She pursed her lips at his condescending tone. “You have refused all of my requests for an audience, my lord, and I really only have a few questions—” “I have nothing to say about Miss Jenkins.” He frowned and rubbed his forehead. “I mean, Mrs. King.” Freya hesitated. “Mrs. King?” She let her lips round. He meant the woman with whom he was to be married. She recalled writing about the broken engagement a few years ago.

“Oh no, I do not care about your failed engagement.” Lord Huntingdon winced slightly, the quickest flash of pain. She cursed inwardly. Most marriages between the upper classes were arranged so she had assumed it had not bothered him when Miss Jenkins ended their agreement but perhaps he had really cared for her. Stranger things had happened after all. It was rather hard to imagine this stony-faced, glowering man with all his privilege and wealth being able to love anyone but himself, however. “That is to say, I have questions about another matter.” “Whatever it is, I have no comment on it. I do not care if Lady W is having an affair with a Sir S or if the patrons of Almacks are threatening to bar a certain devious rake from the hallowed dance floor.” He locked his gaze to hers.

“I, Miss Haversham, have no inclination for gossip.” She didn’t normally care if people derided her work. It was merely a means to an end after all. But for some reason it stung, like she’d rolled into a cluster of nettles and now her skin was heated and painful. It shouldn’t. Why should she care for the opinion of a man who had never worked a day in his life? Lifting her shoulders, Freya maintained eye contact with him. “I am not looking for gossip. I am looking for facts. On a particularly important matter.” “Oh yes,” he drawled.

“The disappearance of Lady Steele.” Something flickered in his gaze. It might have been a trick of the light streaming from the nearby building, but she didn’t think so. Her instincts were rarely wrong, especially when she came across a story, and right now, her instincts were aflame. He knew something. “You were one of the last people to be seen with her after all,” Freya probed. “Right before she vanished,” she added. “That was over four years ago now.” He shrugged. “She was a member of the ton.

We titled folk do tend to spend some time together, Miss Haversham, as you may have noticed.” “So she did not say anything to you? Did not infer that she was in trouble of any kind? Because you must admit, it is odd. There has been rather a rash of disappearances and kidnappings of wealthy women of late. In fact, there has been at least four that I have—” He held up a hand. “Miss Haversham, it seems you have quite the fevered imagination. As much as I would like to say that I keep company with many of the beautiful women of the ton, I do not. I am a busy man with little time for socializing and frivolities. I’m sorry if that does not feed your column but there you have it.” He waved a hand behind her, and she scowled and turned. A carriage rolled up and he jumped in, swiftly tapping the roof.

“Good evening, Miss Haversham,” he said as he slammed shut the door of the hack and leaned out of the window. “With haste,” he barked at the driver before she could quite fathom what had occurred. The carriage moved off, leaving her no time to react or grab the door. She dropped her hand and watched the vehicle vanish around the corner. What would she have done had she managed to snatch the door? Hang off the vehicle like a madwoman? Perhaps. Well, he might have escaped her tonight, but this would not be the last he saw of her. There was a story behind the quite handsome earl’s eyes, and nothing would dissuade her from finding out what it was.

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