Her Reformed Rake (Wicked Husbands #3)

Her Reformed Rake (Wicked Husbands #3)

Scarlett Scott

For my wonderful readers, with endless gratitude for making my dream into a reality. None of this would be possible without you. Thank you for welcoming my words.

London, February 1881

he brash American chit had nothing to do with dynamite. Sebastian would wager his life upon it. He watched her from across the crush of the Beresford ball as she flirted with the Earl of Bolton. He was trained to take note of every detail, each subtle nuance of his quarry’s body language.

Studying her wasn’t an unpleasant task. She was beautiful. A blue silk ball gown clung to her petite frame, emphasizing the curve of her waist as it fell in soft waves around lush hips down to a box-pleat-trimmed train. Pink roses bedecked her low décolletage, drawing the eye to the voluptuous swells of her breasts. Her golden hair was braided and pinned at her crown, more roses peeking from its coils. Diamonds at her throat and ears caught the light, twinkling like a beacon for fortune hunters. She wore her father’s obscene wealth as if it were an advertisement for Pears soap.

Everything about her, from the way she carried herself, to the way she dressed, to her reputation, bespoke a woman who was fast. Trouble, yes. But not the variety of trouble that required his intervention.

She tapped Bolton’s arm with her fan and threw back her head in an unabashed show of amusement. Her chaperone—a New York aunt named Caroline—was absent from the elegant panorama of gleaming lords and ladies. Dear Aunt Caroline had a weakness for champagne and randy men, and provided with sufficient temptation, she disappeared with ease.

Sebastian wasn’t the only one who was aware of the aunt’s shortcomings, however. He’d been watching Miss Daisy Vanreid for weeks. Long enough to know that she didn’t have a care for her reputation, that she’d kissed Lords Wilford and Prestley but not yet Bolton, that she only smiled when she had an audience, and that she waited for her aunt to get soused before playing the devoted coquette.

As he watched, Miss Vanreid excused herself from Bolton, hips swaying with undeniable suggestion as she sauntered in the direction of the lady’s withdrawing room. Sebastian cut through the revelers, following her. Not because he needed to—tonight would be the last that he squandered on chasing a spoiled American jade—but because he knew the Earl of Bolton.

His damnable sense of honor wouldn’t allow him to stand idly by as the foolish chit was ravished by such a boor. Wilford and Prestley were young bucks, scarcely any town bronze. Manageable. Bolton was another matter. Miss Vanreid was either as empty-headed as she pretended or her need for the thrill of danger had dramatically increased. Either way, he would do his duty and by the cold light of morning, she’d no longer be his responsibility.

He exited the ballroom just in time to see a blue train disappearing around a corner down the hall. Damn it, where the hell was the minx going? The lady’s withdrawing room was in the opposite direction. His instincts told him to follow, so he did, straight into a small, private drawing room.

He stepped over the threshold and closed the door at his back, startled to find her alone rather than in Bolton’s embrace. She stood in the center of the chamber, tapping her closed fan on the palm of her hand, her full lips compressed into a tight line of disapproval. Her chin tipped up in defiance. He detected not a hint of surprise in her expression.

“Your Grace.” She curtseyed lower than necessary, giving him a perfect view of her ample bosom. When she rose with equal elegance, she pinned him with a forthright stare. “Perhaps you’d care to explain why you’ve been following me for the last month.”

Not empty-headed, then. A keen wit sparkled in her lively green gaze. He regarded her with a new sense of appreciation. She’d noticed him. No matter. He relied upon his visibility as a cover. He flaunted his wealth, his lovers. He played the role of seasoned rake. Meanwhile, he observed.

And everything he’d observed thus far suggested that the vixen before him needed to be put in her place. She was too bold. Too lovely. Too blatantly sexual. Everything about her was designed to make men lust. Lust they did. She’d set the ton on its ear. Rumor had it that her cunning Papa was about to marry her off to the elderly Lord Breckly. She appeared to be doing her best to thwart him.

He fixed her with a haughty look. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”

She gave a soft, throaty laugh that sent a streak of unwanted heat to his groin. “You mean to rely on your fine English manners now when you’ve been watching me all this time? How droll, but I already know who you are just as you must surely know who I am.”

His gaze traveled over her, inspecting her in a way that was meant to discomfit. Perhaps he’d underestimated her, for in the privacy of the chamber, she seemed wilier than he’d credited. “I watch everyone.”

Tap went her fan against her palm again, the only outward sign of her vexation aside from her frown. “As do I, Your Grace. You aren’t as subtle as you must suppose yourself. I must admit I found it rather odd that you’d want to spy upon my tête-à-tête with Viscount Wilford.”

Miss Vanreid was thoroughly brazen, daring to refer to her ruinous behavior as though nothing untoward had occurred. It struck him that she’d known he watched her and had deliberately exchanged kisses with Prestley and Wilford, perhaps even for his benefit.

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