The Taming of a Wicked Rogue – Samantha Holt

Delicate fingers curled around Leo’s forearm. He glanced down at the digits against the mohair of his jacket and paused, his right foot set on the step of the carriage. “You are not leaving me, are you?” He flashed a smile at Lady Somner and returned his foot to the pavement then turned to face her fully. She unwrapped her fingers but remained a mere foot or so away. He smelled her liberally applied, expensive perfume and ran his gaze briefly over the elegant column of her luxurious silk gown. A gown that clung carefully to each curve—curves he knew intimately albeit briefly. They’d been enjoyable curves indeed. One might even say exceptional. Lady Somner offered everything one might want from a widowed lover—discretion, enthusiasm, humor and good looks that had yet to fade, despite being fifteen years his senior. But while she might be keen to offer him a taste of all her exceptional qualities, even she could not persuade Leo to break his cardinal rule. No attachments. No second chances. “I’m off to live a solitary life in the countryside,” he quipped. “Goodness, but why? You do not even like the country.” Her lips formed a tempting pout, but he recalled his mother’s stern words.

He wasn’t going to tell Lady Somner his mother had demanded it amongst a careful show of tears and wracking coughs and that he, a fully grown man of six and twenty, had been completely hoodwinked and unable to deny her one demand. “Is this about that…scandal?” she whispered the last part. “I know you would never do such a thing.” “I am in need of country air and a little shooting,” he said vaguely. “Never fear, I shan’t be away long.” “I do hope not.” She bit down on her bottom lip and looked up at him through her lashes—a deliberately calculated move by his estimation. “I shall miss you terribly.” “And I you, Lady Somner.” He dipped his head and offered a quick kiss to her gloved knuckles.

“But, alas, a gentleman must do what a gentleman must do.” She frowned. “Shoot and breathe country air?” “Something like that.” He cracked another smile and the frown softened. “Do not forget me.” “Never, my lady.” He climbed into the carriage and offered her a quick wave then tapped the roof of the carriage. He settled back against the chair, ignoring Lady Somner’s blown kiss. She knew his rules. All of his lovers did.

Hell, all of London society did. Lord Leonard Moncrieff did not bed the same woman more than once. Even the beautiful Lady Somner could not force him to break that rule. He’d experienced attachment and felt the painful sting it had to offer. He had little desire to suffer that ever again. The vehicle rolled away from the townhouse and worked slowly through the busy streets. He stared mournfully at the shadowy interior of the carriage and blew out a breath. Lady Somner was not wrong. He didn’t like the country and scarcely visited the family seat. But, alas, he and scandal had become fast friends of late—tales of his endeavors often gracing the pages of newspapers.

And whilst most of them were mild narratives that could be weathered with ease, this latest one would not fade so swiftly. What was worse, was he had nothing to do with the whole sordid mess. If he was going to be accused of planting a child in the belly of the daughter of a duke, he could have at least enjoyed the pleasure. Lord, he might have his rules but even he was not so callous as to abandon an innocent to her fate. Unfortunately for him and his two brothers, her secret lover had been spotted a time or two and held a resemblance to the three of them. He folded his hands across his stomach, leaned back and stretched his legs out as far as they could go. He shook his head to himself. The lady in question would not admit to who her lover was, and the man had a similar build and hair color to the three of them. Admittedly neither he nor his brothers were innocent virgins, but the furor surrounding the whole situation was beginning to grow tiresome. Especially for their mother, who could be in delicate health and found the whole debacle wearying.

So wearying that even Leo could not deny her when she requested he leave Town until the lover had either been discovered or the gossips ceased wagging their tongues. Leo could deny a woman anything with a flash of a smile and send them on their way practically skipping, as though it had been their choice. However, he could deny his mother nothing. So here he was, on his way to deepest, darkest Cumbria where there would be little company but sheep and alewives to live a solitary life for goodness knows how long. At least, he supposed, it would be easy enough to avoid the fairer sex. He’d vowed to his mother he would forgo the company of all women and that would be easy enough in Langmere. The rural town by his brother’s entailed estate bred hardy women who were hardly known for their charming manners or skills in the boudoir. Most of them were over the age of fifty too. There had only been one woman of interest in Langmere and she was long gone. Though she had been but a girl when he’d known her.

He shook away thoughts of Rebecca and closed his eyes. He might as well embrace a dull, sleepy existence as a country gent for the next few months. Lord knew, nothing interesting ever happened in Langmere and he doubted that had changed in the past decade. ∞∞∞ REBECCA DUCKED BACK, tucking herself into the shadows between the building and the market stall. The striped canopy flapped in the brisk wind that blew in off the lake. Despite the bright sunshine, the early hour meant Langmere had yet to warm and a chill swept through her, forcing her to pull her pelisse tight about her. She peered around the splintered post of the stall and drew in a long breath. She couldn’t decide if the influx of visitors to Langmere would help or hinder her cause. At least she could get lost in the swarms of women who had opted to visit for the summer to escape the thick air of London and take in the beautiful countryside of the lakes. She did not blame the visitors for wanting to come here.

Growing up in such a place had been idyllic. At least until she’d realized it had all been false. However, more people also meant more chance of being recognized. It also meant the majority would know her sorry tale. All thanks to the blasted book on display in the stall. She hadn’t even read it, but her mother had and been mightily distressed by the publicizing of their woes. Rebecca picked up a copy. The book appeared harmless enough—a guide to the lakes. The small town of Langmere had been highly praised for the healing nature of its air and the welcoming townspeople. She was not certain she would feel such a welcome, not after what her father had done.

She leafed through the pages until she spotted his name. Her heart gave a little jolt. His execution had been a month ago or so and no one had tired of the story of this fraudster and how he had evaded capture rowing across the lakes. Or more precisely, temporarily evaded. He had been caught a week later and sentenced to be hanged. It had given the town such notoriety that she suspected it was not just the healing air that brought all the visitors. Putting the book back, she stepped out amongst a group of young women around her age, keeping the brim of her hat low over her face. How unfortunate it was that she had taken after her father with her red-tinged hair and looks. If she could but look like her mother. What misery it was to walk around with the features of a man who had lied and abandoned them.

How horrible it had to be for her mother to look upon her. Still, with any luck, she would not have to stay in Langmere long. All she had to do was find the place where her father hid his belongings before they left for Italy all those years ago. He had been in her life until she was six and ten and she knew his favorite places. Surely the diamond would be there somewhere? And once she found it, she could put things right and maybe make up for the wreckage he had left behind him. He was dead now, and from the newspaper reports, he had few apologies to make. If he would not put things right, then she must. Sunlight sparkled off the lake and the ladies paused to admire the mountains behind it, gushing over the majestic beauty of it all. Rebecca might have stopped to admire it too, but the blacksmith stepped out of the door of the forge and peered in her direction. Her heart gave a jolt.

Mr. Cooper had been the smithy for as long as she could recall. And if she remembered him, would he remember her? It had been nearly a decade since she had returned home, and she had certainly grown since then. He cast his gaze about, and she moved behind one of the taller ladies, but she could not help but watch him. Perhaps he would not recognize her, perhaps she could go about her business easily and be done with this place with haste. A lump bunched in her throat when the smithy stilled. She should look away. Run even. But a cold tremor travelled through her and made her limbs stiff. His brow furrowed then his eyes widened.

She twisted away sharply, taking hasty steps back along the road, and drew in a harsh breath. Had he recognized her? What a fool she was. Her father was about the most famous man in all of England at present. Goodness, even the newspapers in Italy had written of him. Her hunt for the diamond would not be an easy one it seemed, especially if he realized who he had seen. Her father had wrought so much damage upon the people of Langmere, she would never be welcome here again, and she would be lucky if they did not turn into a mob and exact some justice upon her. For certain, there were many who thought a hanging was not enough of a punishment for her father. Sometimes she felt the same. He did not have to deal with the damage he had left behind. She and her mother had survived his betrayal and benefited from nearly a decade of being far from him but there were others whose hurt was recent and devastating.

If she could but help them, then she must. Someone had to pay for her father’s sins, and it might as well be her. But first, she needed to find a better way of getting about the town unnoticed, and she needed to find somewhere to stay. She had an idea to be sure, but she was not certain she was brave enough to go back there. Not after all this time and certainly not after the way she had left. She suspected, however, she had little choice.

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