Confessions of a scoundr.., p.1
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       Confessions of a Scoundrel, p.1

           Karen Hawkins
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Confessions of a Scoundrel


  Karen Hawkins

  Confessions of a Scoundrel

  Many thanks to Barb Hoeter,

  who designed my clever new website

  (www.karenhawkins.com)

  to help me launch the Talisman Ring Series.

  Thanks, Barb!

  And to my new and wonderful editor,

  Lyssa Keusch,

  for her endless patience and wonderful advice.

  Did ye hear the story of the St. John talisman ring? They say ’tis magic! Whichever of the brothers holds it in his possession will meet his one true love. At this moment, the ring ’tis hangin’ from a ribbon on the coat of Brandon St. John, the handsomest of all.

  The Pemberleys’ new maid, Anne, to her future mistress, Miss Liza Pritchard, while the two were addressing invitations for the wedding

  Contents

  Epigraph

  Chapter 1

  “He’s dead.”

  Chapter 2

  “Play at least one game. It will help keep your…

  Chapter 3

  The black and yellow phaeton rolled to a stop in…

  Chapter 4

  It had been many minutes since Verena had thought that…

  Chapter 5

  The rain came and went in the space of a…

  Chapter 6

  Verena stood before the mirror in the drawing room, and…

  Chapter 7

  Brand waited until the crowd that had gathered to greet…

  Chapter 8

  The carriage rumbled down the streets of London, the lights…

  Chapter 9

  Early the next morning—far earlier than he usually rose, Brand…

  Chapter 10

  Much later in the day, Verena returned from Lady Jessup’s.

  Chapter 11

  The rain came with a vengeance. It slashed, thrashed, poured…

  Chapter 12

  Verena recognized Brandon’s voice instantly. She also recognized the fury…

  Chapter 13

  Brandon looked down into Verena’s eyes. “Herberts is gone. That…

  Chapter 14

  That was just her luck…for the first time in four…

  Chapter 15

  Verena awoke the next morning to the feel of a…

  Chapter 16

  Verena struggled. “Let me up!”

  Chapter 17

  Brand went home where Poole, on discerning that his master’s…

  Chapter 18

  Verena dropped onto the settee in the sitting room, her…

  Chapter 19

  James fixed his gaze on Brandon with unwavering regard. “Before…

  Chapter 20

  Hours after Brandon left the Westforth residence, he found himself…

  Chapter 21

  Brandon raced up the steps of Westforth House. No light…

  Chapter 22

  Brandon slowly came awake the next morning, aware first of…

  Chapter 23

  Brand struggled to believe the scene before him. Wycham—the traitor.

  Chapter 24

  Verena opened the door to James’s room and peered in.

  Epilogue

  The wedding was the talk of the season, but Brandon…

  About the Author

  Other Romances by Karen Hawkins

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  Brandon St. John is a very sensual man. Whenever he looks at me, I get the most delicious shivers right down to my toes, just as if—Oh! Sorry. I forgot I was talking to you.

  Miss Liza Pritchard to her fiancé, Sir Royce Pemberly, on Bond Street, while shopping for a present for Sir Royce’s sister

  “He’s dead.”

  From the depths of a brandy-fumed slumber, Brandon St. John heard every word, recognizing his younger brother’s voice instantly.

  Damn it, what is Devon doing in my dreams? Devon was an annoyance when Brandon was awake. During sleep, he was a positive menace.

  “He cannot be dead,” someone else answered. “He’s too stubborn to die in such a neat fashion, stretched out in his own bed.”

  Brandon groaned at the new voice—it belonged to his half-brother, Anthony Elliot, the Earl of Greyley.

  Just to make Brandon’s dream a true nightmare, Marcus, his oldest brother, added in a deep voice, “Brandon is not dead; he was snoring when we came in.”

  “A pity we can’t set him afire,” Devon said cheerfully. “That would wake him.”

  Someone grabbed Brand’s foot, jerking him the rest of the way into wakefulness. “Go away,” he ordered, his voice muffled by his pillow.

  Devon shook him again. “Rise, Brand! You’ve work to do.”

  “I’ve sleep to sleep, first,” he muttered.

  But there was no swaying Devon. “Get up!” he demanded.

  Brandon started to lift his head, but the pounding behind his temples made him think better of it. “Poole!” he called in a rusty voice. Poole served as Brand’s valet, butler, and general manservant. “Where is that man? I need my pistol.”

  “Pistol?” Anthony’s voice deepened with amusement. “Are you going hunting?”

  “Yes,” Brand answered. “I’m going hunting for the damned rodents who’ve infested my chambers.”

  “Poole cannot fetch your weapon now,” Devon said, always eager to spread bad news. “We told him we were famished and he’s gone to find us some breakfast.”

  Bloody hell, what a horrid way to start the day. Brandon hated mornings. They were filled with annoyingly cheerful people who liked to aggravate other, more important individuals who needed extra sleep to make up for the fact that they had not slept the night before.

  “Perhaps we should call for a nice cool pitcher of water,” Anthony said, his deep lazy voice filtering through the air. “That should get this slugabed on his feet.”

  Brand pulled the pillow over his head. His throat felt like the bottom of a salt barrel—scratchy and dry. And that was just the beginning of his complaints; his head ached, his stomach roiled, and the inside of his mouth tasted like chalk.

  He had a vague memory of the night before. Of a beautiful woman with reddish gold hair and a card game where the stakes had gone from guineas to articles of clothing to other, far more stimulating wagers. Celeste was perfect for him in every way—beautiful, intelligent, talented in bed, and married to someone else. No man could ask for more. Except Brandon.

  Marcus’s dry voice came from the foot of the bed. “It appears our brother has had yet another difficult night.”

  Brandon would have shrugged if it hadn’t meant he’d have to move. Marcus was wrong—it hadn’t been a difficult night at all. And that was the problem. No matter how much Brandon enjoyed a dalliance, within two weeks he inevitably found himself looking for a new challenge.

  The sad truth was that every amusement of late had seemed flat. Brandon was living beneath a horrible pall—a feeling that somehow, some way, he was missing out on something important.

  What maudlin nonsense. Brandy apparently had the unfortunate side effect of making one mawkish. From now on, he’d stick to port. Brandon lifted his aching head and forced his lids to rise. Blinding light pierced his eyes. He groaned, and then groped blindly for the half-finished glass of brandy that rested beside his bed. He gulped it down, his throat stinging as he thunked the glass back on the stand.

  “Hair of the dog?” Anthony said with amusement.

  Brandon wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and turned to squint over his shoulder. “Just tell me what you want and then get the hell out of here.”

  “How rude,” Devon said. “I expected a greeting, at least.”

  “From Brandon?
Anthony appeared astonished. “Unless you wear skirts, have a full bosom and a husband, Brandon will not give you the time of day.”

  Brandon tried to decide whether to glare or just ignore Anthony. Truthfully, of all his brothers, Brand was closest to his half-brother. Anthony’s sleepy air was a hoax—he had more energy and determination than any man half his size. And he had a sharp wit that always made Brandon grin.

  Not now, of course. No one could smile at this time of the morning. Brand eyed his half-brother blearily. “I thought you were still on your honeymoon.”

  “Anna and I returned last night, just in time for the meeting.”

  Oh bloody hell, the meeting. Brandon rubbed his temples. “I’d forgotten.”

  “We noticed,” Marcus said, his blue gaze coolly reproachful. The oldest, he ruled the family fortune, his life and those of the younger members of the St. John family with an iron fist.

  As the next oldest in line, Brandon should have been deeply involved in the family financial endeavors. But even at an early age, Marcus’s unrelenting need to control everything and everyone around him—especially the family fortune—had set Brandon’s teeth on edge.

  Thus it was that at the genteel age of twenty-two, when most of his friends were drinking and whoring their way through London, Brandon had collected what money he could and purchased two ill-kempt estates outside of Shropeshire. That had been many years ago and the estates were now merged into one, a very productive and profitable venture providing Brandon with an astonishing income. It had been years since he’d drawn on his St. John accounts, a fact that had infuriated Marcus even more.

  Not that Brandon cared. He hadn’t done it for Marcus, but rather to prove something to himself. When his estate had first turned a profit, he’d been overjoyed. But now, with the work complete and his fortune even more secure, Brandon found that he was a little…bored, a feeling that had lingered and grown over the ensuing months and years. He sighed restlessly and glanced at Marcus.

  “If you must have a meeting, then have one.” Brandon rolled onto his back, the sheets tangling about his hips as he stuffed the pillow beneath his head. “We’re all here, so we might as well get it over with.”

  Devon’s humor faded. “We cannot meet in your bedchamber. It smells of a French whorehouse.”

  Anthony tilted his head to one side, his gaze narrowing. “I recognize that perfume. Is it—”

  “Get out,” Brand interrupted. He should have known they would make things difficult. He lifted himself on his elbow and pointed to the door. “Give me a few moments to dress and I’ll join you.”

  “You’d better,” Marcus said. “We’re through being nice.”

  “Nice? Is it nice to break into someone’s house and rudely awaken them?”

  “We didn’t break in; we knocked. Poole answered. He informed us you were asleep. We informed him that we really didn’t care. Then we came here.”

  From now on, Brand would see to it that his valet carried a weapon whenever he answered the door before noon.

  “We’ll give you five minutes to dress,” Marcus said.

  “Five minutes?”

  “That’s more than I’d have given you,” Anthony said. He glanced at the door. “Sorry to disappoint you, Bridgeton. I know you wished to see us set Brandon afire.”

  “Bridgeton?” Brand followed Anthony’s gaze to the doorway. There, lounging at his ease, was Brandon’s brother-in-law, Nicholas Montrose, the Earl of Bridgeton.

  Nick grinned on catching Brand’s bleary gaze. “Lovely morning, isn’t it?”

  “Go to hell,” Brand growled.

  It was insulting that his brothers had brought Bridgeton, whom they all detested, although “detest” was too strong a word. They’d all detested him before he’d married their sister, Sara, but only after he’d compromised her so badly he’d been forced to wed her. Now though, to everyone’s surprise, it seemed as if it was a love match.

  A rakehell of the worst sort, Bridgeton had proven to be a doting husband and devoted father. It was difficult to maintain a healthy hatred for a man who treated your sister as if she were made of glass, but Brandon did his best.

  He pushed himself into a sitting position and tossed the sheet aside.

  Devon shook his head. “For the love of God, put on some clothes.”

  Brand promptly stood. For good measure, he even stretched mightily though he had to keep one hand on the bedrail to remain upright. The whole world seemed to swirl before his eyes.

  “Come, everyone,” Marcus directed. “We’ll wait in the outer room while Brandon dresses.” Marcus strode out the door, Anthony and Nick following.

  Devon trailed behind, stopping when he reached the doorway. He tilted his head to one side, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “Was she worth the trouble?”

  “Who?” Brandon asked.

  “The delightful Celeste. She has been talking quite freely you know, hinting that the two of you might become more than friends.”

  “She errs. We have nothing more than a brief dalliance.”

  Devon shrugged, a curious look in his eyes. “Brand…why not? Everyone knows her husband has one foot in the grave—has for years. He’s at least twenty years older than Celeste and once he’s gone, she’ll inherit a fortune. If you play your cards right, you could—”

  “—get dressed before Marcus decides to drag me into a meeting with no clothes at all. Leave, Devon. Unless you want me lounging naked during the entire meeting.”

  Devon started as if to say something else, then apparently thought better of it. “Oh very well. I was just trying to help.” He disappeared out the door, leaving Brand alone.

  Brandon raked his hair from his face. Devon was a fool. Marriage was the furthest thing from Brand’s mind—from any sane man’s mind.

  The St. Johns were targets for every matchmaking mama in town. Over the years, Brandon had watched as woman after woman had set their cap for either him or one of his brothers. At first, it had been an amusement. But then, after a while, it became an annoyance. Now Brandon found it a deadly bore. He wanted nothing to do with a needy woman, one who saw him merely as an end to a means. When he married, it would be to a woman of substance and breeding, one with as many funds to her name as he had to his.

  That the two would come together as equals on all levels was, he’d decided, the only way such a union could work.

  Poole entered the room, a letter and a tall glass with a yellow mixture resting atop a tray.

  Brand eyed the glass sullenly. “I hate that stuff.”

  “Yes, sir.” Poole removed the glass from the tray and held it out.

  “I don’t want it.”

  “Yes, sir.” Poole continued to hold out the glass.

  “You’re incorrigible.”

  “Indeed, sir. It’s my duty.”

  Brand sighed, took the glass, and threw back the contents, fighting a shudder as the thick liquid slid down his throat. “God, what’s in that?” he gasped.

  Poole took the glass and replaced it on the tray. “Two raw eggs, a boiled kidn—”

  “Wait. I don’t want to know.” Brand closed his eyes and tried to breathe through his nose to still the nausea.

  Poole set the tray to one side and picked up the letter. “This came for you this morning, sir.” He turned away to open the wardrobe.

  Brandon opened the letter.

  St. John,

  I must see you. I’ll be arriving tomorrow evening. Send me word when you’re free. Please. This is very important.

  Yours,

  Wycham

  Roger Carrington, Viscount Wycham, was an old acquaintance of Brand’s. They’d known each other since Eton, and while they hadn’t been close friends since, they kept in touch. “I wonder what he wants.”

  “Sir?”

  “Nothing.” Brandon folded the letter and replaced it on the tray. “I hope my brothers didn’t trouble you when they came in this morning.”

  “Trouble me? Oh no,
sir. I was already awake when they arrived. However, I am sorry you were disturbed. I tried to stop them, but it was impossible.”

  “You cannot stop a St. John,” Brand said, his stomach settling. He took a long breath, and then said in a stronger voice, “My buff breeches and the blue coat.”

  He washed and dressed in less than ten minutes, a true feat considering the intricacy of his neckcloth. Poole’s magical concoction had wrought its usual miracle and Brandon was feeling better by the moment.

  He smoothed the sleeve of his new coat with a faint appreciation. He felt far more human now and quite capable of dealing with his brothers. “Poole, my new watch fob, if you please. And—no, wait.”

  Poole halted by the dresser. “Sir?”

  “Today’s meeting calls for something more…” Brand smiled. “Something that might irritate my brothers as much as they have irritated me.”

  Poole raised his brows.

  “The St. John talisman ring.”

  “The ring, sir? You told me to hide it and never admit where it was.”

  “Just get it. Find a pin and a ribbon, too.”

  Poole bowed, then opened a small silver cask in the far corner of the dresser. He dug among the watch fobs a moment then withdrew a small silver circlet. He handed it to Brandon, the morning light glinting off the etched runes that decorated the band.

  Brandon held it in his palm, the metal strangely warm. Mother had believed that whomever possessed the ring would find their true love. It had worked for Anthony, who had married his Anna less than six months after he’d received the ring. But for Brandon…he’d had the blasted thing for almost two months and it hadn’t done a damn thing.

  Not that he wanted it to “work.” God knew he was perfectly happy as he was, no matter what his brothers thought. No, what he really wanted to do was trick one of his brothers—perhaps Devon—into taking the ridiculous thing.

 

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