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Authors: Suzanne Enoch

Always a Scoundrel

BOOK: Always a Scoundrel
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Suzanne Enoch
Always a Scoundrel

The Notorious Gentlemen

To my fellow goddesses:
Karen Hawkins
Sabrina Jeffries
Claudia Dain
Julia London
Karen Rose
Nicole Jordan
Rachel Gibson
Who would have thought that
a group of bloggers could become
both friends and a support group?
Thanks, ladies.
And thanks to all the other goddess readers at
thegoddessblogs.com.
You make me laugh every morning.

Contents

Prologue
“I don’t want a well-ordered life.” Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns…

Chapter 1
Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns ducked into the foyer just ahead…

Chapter 2
“Rose, may we please go now?”

Chapter 3
Rosamund Davies took her time choosing a gown and putting…

Chapter 4
Bram rose early the next morning. It was early for…

Chapter 5
Had she made a mistake? Rosamund tied on her bonnet,…

Chapter 6
Dinner, once Rose had recovered her senses enough to return…

Chapter 7
“I’ve brought Cosgrove back with me, Rose,” James stated, strolling…

Chapter 8
If Bram’s friends found it odd that he had another…

Chapter 9
By the time Bramwell put his clothes back in order,…

Chapter 10
A luncheon with Cosgrove. Bram disliked the timing, but if…

Chapter 11
“Are you waiting for someone?” A warm hand curled around…

Chapter 12
Rose made it halfway from the stairs to the breakfast…

Chapter 13
Kingston Gore flipped the post boy a shilling and summoned…

Chapter 14
Bram had no idea how it happened, but when Rosamund…

Chapter 15
“You need a wedding gown,” Lady Abernathy said into the…

Chapter 16
Despite the fact that the Black Cat had emerged as…

Chapter 17
“What do you think?” Bram asked, biting back his impatience.

Chapter 18
“He approached you in the middle of St. James’s Park?” Sullivan…

Chapter 19
Bram went out riding at first light, taking pains to…

Chapter 20
By eight o’clock in the evening there was still no…

Chapter 21
In the ensuing broil of laughter and self-congratulations from the…

Epilogue
“How the devil did this happen?” Bram folded his arms…

February 1815
London

“I don’t want a well-ordered life.” Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns finished off his glass of whiskey and reached for the bottle and a refill. “I would die from boredom in a fortnight.”

“You only think that because you equate well-ordered with dull,” Sullivan Waring observed from across the table, dipping his voice below the cacophony of noise that filled Jezebel’s establishment after midnight. “For someone of your reputation, you’re amazingly naive.”

“You’re
naive,” Bramwell retorted, annoyance touching him. He was also a bit surprised the word hadn’t combusted in mid-air upon being applied to
him.
Naive. Ha
. “Can you imagine me married and sitting down to…what, do embroidery? Play whist with the darling empty-headed leg shackle? Drink tea and attempt a conversation?” He shuddered, not even having to pretend the horror likely reflected in his expression.

The third member of their party, Phineas Bromley, snorted. “Don’t blame the institution of marriage for the fact that you’d never wish to be wed to any of the women whose skirts you’ve lifted. You need to choose better for a bride, is all.”

Bram made a derisive sound. “I’m not talking about your ladies, so don’t bother with being offended. You’ve managed to find the only two decent women in England—and even so, I wouldn’t wish to trade places with either of you.”

“I find that somewhat comforting,” Sullivan noted, sipping his own drink.

“And so you should. It’s only so you’ll appreciate that I do possess some restraint, and that with the exception of your ladies, I choose not to exercise it.”

“You’ve not found a bride due to your own squeamishness, then.”

Bram eyed Phineas. “I would put it to equal parts horror and compassion, myself. I may be heartless, but I have no desire to inflict myself on a permanent basis upon some chit, innocent or otherwise. It’s not my duty to continue the family bloodline, and I can’t think of another reason to drag myself into a church before I’m put into a box.”

“So you intend to spend the remainder of your life whoring, drinking, wagering, and being as outrageous as you can manage?”

Bram shook himself. He made it a point to be serious as little as possible, and neither did he want to argue with two newly married men about the merits of being leg-shackled. “Please, Phin,” he said aloud. “I would never think so small. You know my ultimate goal is to lower the standards of morality enough that everything I do becomes acceptable.”

“That’s likely what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah,” Sullivan observed.

“One can only hope. And what are you two doing anyway, trying to preach the gospels of morality and domesticity to me? Besides it being a bloody waste of time, one of you is a former housebreaker, and the other a former highwayman. Hardly occupations any true gentleman would seek to emulate. It’s notorious of you. And selfish, to think you should be the only ones permitted to misbehave.”

His two closest friends shared a glance. He’d known them for years, since the three of them had ended up serving together in the First Royal Dragoons on the Peninsula. He’d known Sullivan for even longer—since Oxford. And he recognized the look. He was about to be counseled. Good God. If he’d had anything better to do this evening, he would have left—and taken the bottle with him. No sense walking away from fine liquor. But London during the little Season had few amusements to offer.

“Speaking of
our
particular escapades,” Phin, the more logical-minded of the two of them, began again, “in all seriousness, Bram, what the devil do you think you’re doing? This new game of yours is both reckless and pointless. And dangerous.”

“Recklessness is the point, Phin.” He pinned Sullivan
with a look before the horse breeder could enter the fray as well. “And you gave me the idea, Sully. I’ve just perfected it.”

“I don’t want credit for inspiring your new hobby, thank you very much,” Sullivan retorted. “I had reason for what I did.”

“Yes, the things you burgled were yours to begin with. I’m pleased you had a cause to fight for. I don’t.”

“Then don’t rob anyone.”

“I said I didn’t have a cause. I do have a reason.”

“Such as?”

“None of your damned business. You’re beginning to bore me.”

Sullivan sat forward. “I’m not ashamed of what I did. I would do it again, considering that it led me to Isabel. But there are consequences, Bram. I nearly hanged. I would have, if—”

“If I hadn’t pretended to be you and committed another robbery.” He sent a glance at Phin. “And I pretended to be you, as well, to save your ungrateful life. And your brother’s estate. So stop lecturing, and instead help me finish off this bottle. I know perfectly well what I’m doing. I don’t need your approval.”

“The question,” Phin put in, offering his glass for a refill, “is whether you will know when to stop. Self-restraint—”

“Is an excuse invented by those without the spleen to see something through. It’s dull as dirt,” Bram interrupted, his annoyance deepening. “And so are the two of you, now that you’re married. Old hens, clucking and complaining about the fun the rooster is having.” He took a long swallow.

“Bram, the—”

“Fun they
used
to have,” he broke in, “and now can only criticize because they’ve been castrated and Mrs. Waring and Mrs. Bromley won’t allow them to play any longer.” They certainly didn’t play with him as often as they’d used to. The three of them had once been notorious, and now two had sunk into amiable domesticity. Zooks, it was shocking. A disgrace, even.

With a deep breath, Phineas shrugged. “God knows I’m no saint, and I won’t lecture you on the hazards of lawbreaking. We’ve ridden into battle and mayhem together, and you know quite well what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Yes, I do. My aims are simply different than yours. You’re happy, and that’s fine for you. As for myself, I don’t wish to live a long and proper life.” Bram gestured for another bottle. “And I’ve listened to enough of this nonsense for one damned evening. For a cart full of them.”

“You say you know there will be consequences,” Sullivan said after a moment, his voice quieter. “I just hope you truly realize that.”

“Oh, I do.” Bram curved his mouth in a smile. “I look forward to them.”

May 1815

Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns ducked into the foyer just ahead of the house’s butler. Pressing back against the wall, the satchel of jewelry close against his chest, he listened as the servant walked within three feet of him to pass through the nearest door. The candles inside the room began going out one by one.

With a shallow breath, Bramwell moved to the front door, edged it open, and slipped silently outside. As soon as he closed the heavy oak door behind him, he trotted down the shallow front steps and out to the street.

That had gone smoothly—the Marquis of Braithewaite needed to hire servants with better hearing. He also needed better taste in friends if he wanted to escape
being targeted for any more robberies. Smiling darkly, he rounded the corner, strolled down the next street, and stopped beside the massive black coach waiting there in the deep shadows. “Back to Ackley House,” he said, stepping inside and taking a seat on the well-cushioned black leather. “But stop on Brewer Street. I’ll walk from there.”

“Very good, my lord.” With a cluck to the horses, Graham sent the coach rolling down the street.

That had been easy. No fuss, minuscule chance of discovery, and a well-sprung carriage waiting not too far away. The only thing lacking was a pounding heart and a rush of his pulse. He had never questioned why he craved that sense of excitement, or why he had to risk more each time to achieve it. But he did crave it. The choice of victims was satisfying and integral, but secondary. The items he took were a very distant third.

Without bothering to look at the contents in the satchel, Bram pulled open the hidden drawer beneath the opposite seat, tossed the bag inside, and closed it again. St. Michael’s Church in Knightsbridge would find a nice surprise in its alms box this Sunday, not that he would ever admit to the charity. He wasn’t any damned Robin Hood; it was only that he didn’t have need of the things. Low as he prided himself on sinking, it seemed somehow beneath him to covet the valuables owned by his peers. With the notable exception of their wives, of course.

Tomorrow Mayfair would be abuzz with the news—the Black Cat had struck once more, relieving another member of the aristocracy of a selection of very fine baubles and trinkets. He was far from the first burglar
to terrorize the London nobility, but he did consider that he brought the largest share of style to the profession. And unless something more…interesting came along, he had no intention of stopping his activities. Unlike certain other gentlemen of his acquaintance, he absolutely didn’t wish to bag a few items and then find true love, become a pious fool, and live trapped ever after.

“My lord?” Graham’s voice came from above, and the coach rumbled to a stop. “Brewer Street.”

His tiger hopped to the ground and flipped down the steps, and Bram descended to the street. “That’ll be all for the night. I’ll find my own way home.” He cracked a grin. “Or somewhere.”

His servants were accustomed to not knowing his whereabouts by night, and Graham nodded. “Aye, my lord.” The coach rolled back into the lane without him.

With a quick look around, Bram hopped the stone wall bordering the backside of Ackley House’s gardens, dusted off his black jacket and black trousers, and strolled past the small fish pond and up to the terrace. Twenty minutes away, and no one the wiser. Now for a stiff drink, or better yet, a stiff—

A hand wrapped around his sleeve. “There you are,” Lady Ackley murmured breathily. “I’d begun to think you’d found someone else.”

And there it was. A very nice way to combat the edginess running through him. “Someone else? Not this evening, Miranda. Now why don’t you show me the lovely fresco you mentioned earlier?”

Her fine brow furrowed, her exquisite blue eyes puzzled. “What fresco, Bram?”

“That was a ruse I utilized on the chance that someone might overhear us,” he said patiently, reflecting that if he’d wanted her for conversation, he would be sadly disappointed.

“Oh. No one’s about. I checked very closely. And Lord Ackley is in the library showing off the new atlas he acquired.”

“Very well, then. Where shall we go so we might commit the deadly sin of lust without being interrupted?”

This time she giggled. Apparently she understood that. “The gazebo, then. It has padded chairs and a chaise longue.”

“Excellent.”

 

Lady Rosamund Davies wondered for a moment whether her family would ever arrive at any event together and in a timely manner if she didn’t set strategic clocks forward or back depending on who would see them. Her mother, the Countess of Abernathy, would arrive before the orchestra, because she hated the idea of missing any gossip.

Her older sister, Beatrice, would think she was arriving exactly at the moment of being fashionably late, because of course Bea was perfection in human form—the reason she’d married at age eighteen, and to such an important and gracious man. In reality she would dawdle about changing her hair and her ear bobs until only the servants remained awake.

Thankfully Beatrice and her important and gracious husband Peter, Lord Fishton (good God, what a name), had decided to spend the London Season with the rest of the family at Davies House, because manag
ing to keep two separate households on schedule would simply be too much work. Rose sighed, gazing around at the crowded Ackley ballroom.

And then there was her father, the Earl of Abernathy, who insisted on arriving precisely at the moment specified on the invitation, which of course would never do. Despite the fact that thanks to her…management they always managed to arrive in a timely manner, if any of her family members ever bothered to compare timepieces, she would be in for it.

Straightening her shoulders, Rose stepped forward to grasp the arm of the youngest family member in attendance, the one most likely to become lost on the way to any given soiree and never arrive at all. He didn’t require a clock; he needed a caretaker, and for more than one reason. “Dance with me, James.”

Her younger brother shook his tawny head. “Can’t, Rose. Might miss him.”

With a sigh Rose tugged again. “Might miss whom?” she asked.

“I saw him earlier. He’s the only fellow ever to win all the wagers he made at White’s during a single Season, you know. Every wager, Rose.”

She wasn’t certain whether it would be more prudent to humor James Davies, Viscount Lester, or to attempt a distraction. “Who is this sterling statistician?”

“Ha. A statistician. That’s like calling…Captain Cook a fellow who did a bit of traveling. Or Shakespeare a fellow who wrote some plays. Or—”

“I said ‘sterling,’” she repeated, thinking, and not for the first time, that her parents needed to invest in a very strong padlock for her brother’s bedchamber door.

“Well, Lord Bram Johns ain’t a statistician. He’s a…a…god.”

“Oh, please,” Rose returned skeptically, mentally wincing at the name. Why her brother couldn’t have befriended a parson or a kindly old whist player, she had no idea.

“A demigod, then. At the least.” He sent her a glare, gray eyes narrowed. “And how is it that you’ve never heard of Lord Bram Johns? I talk about him all the time.”

“I didn’t say I’ve never heard of him. You wouldn’t tell me who you were looking for.” She tugged on his arm again. “And I still wish a dance. We’re at a very nice soiree, for heaven’s sake.”

“A soiree with a card room.”

Rose sighed. “Haven’t you considered that this demigod of yours might have left the Ackleys’ for more…underhanded pursuits by now?”

“By Jove, you may be right.” He pulled free of her grip. “Tell Father I’m off to Jezebel’s. If Johns ain’t there, I know who will be.”

She suppressed a responding shudder. “James, please stay. Keep me company.”

He flashed a smile over his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Rose. I won’t step in over my head.”

He would
begin
the evening at Jezebel’s in over his head—if he managed to gain entry. But chasing after him would only leave the eighteen-year-old more determined to prove his skill with cards or dice or kittens or whatever it was they would be wagering over tonight.

And she had certainly heard of Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns. From the reverence with which her brother had spoken of him over the past month, he
seemed more of a myth than a man. At the least she couldn’t recall ever setting eyes on him. If she ever did, she would be very much inclined to punch this Hercules of scandal in the nose for being such a successful blackguard that an idiotic young man with no Town bronze would want to emulate his awful behavior.

Desiccated old Lord Ogilvy creaked through the substantial crowd and stopped in front of her. “May I have this dance, Lady Rosamund?” he rasped.

Only if you promise not to expire in the middle of it
. “Of course, my lord,” she said aloud, forcing a smile. At least a dance would distract her from the volcanic destruction in which James, and by extension the rest of her family, seemed determined to be swept away. Setting clocks clearly wouldn’t suffice here, but she still hadn’t found the appropriate lure to keep her younger brother out of trouble. And she needed to discover it quickly.

Because as much as she dreaded whatever tales of loss her brother would share with her tomorrow, part of her almost hoped that he
would
run across Lord Bramwell Johns at Jezebel’s. At least there were still some unknowns to the equation that was Johns. The man James was more likely to run into meant definite trouble. She could only hope that even Jezebel’s Club had become too tame this evening for the Marquis of Cosgrove. For all their sakes.

 

Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns straightened his coat and strolled back into the ballroom. Lord and Lady Ackley’s soirees were always well attended, and tonight the crowd had nearly been reduced to adopting the
tactics of fish in a barrel—all having to swim in the same direction in order for them to make any headway at all.

As fish were wont to do, however, when they came upon a predator they broke apart and swam well around before re-forming their school. And so a pocket of space remained directly around Bram. The closest of the brightly colored fish sent him nervous glances, undoubtedly fearing his appetite. This particular shark, though, had just fed, and at the moment more than anything else he wanted a glass of Polish vodka.

He found a footman toting a tray of weak Madeira and sweet port, and placed his request. With a quick nod the fellow scampered away. The butler announced a quadrille, his voice barely audible through the cacophony, and several dozen fish split away from the school and re-formed on the dance floor.

His drink arrived, and he took a long, grateful swallow. Busy as his evening had been, what with a robbery and sex and it barely being midnight, restlessness continued to creep through his limbs. Bram sent a glance in the direction of the refreshment table, where Lord Braithewaite stood stuffing his jowls with biscuits and sugared orange peels.

The damned fat sloth had made the burglary too easy. That’s what it was. Putting the family’s finest gems in a Gibraltar-sized box of fine, carved mahogany, and then placing
that
squarely beneath the bed in the master bedchamber—the only thing easier to find and empty would have been a bag hanging out a window and embroidered with the words “expensive jewelry.” Bram wanted a challenge, and stealing from
Braithewaite would barely appease a boy in short pants.

Another figure joined the marquis at the sweets table, though he didn’t touch any of the refreshments. Bram’s jaw tightened.
That
was the man Braithewaite could thank for the removal of his valuables. The bloody Duke of Levonzy. Braithewaite needed to acquire better taste in both his desserts and his friends.

The two men continued to converse—round-cheeked sycophant and arrow-straight, sharp-angled tyrant. Two demons for the price of one.

Damn. Now he was being witty, and had no one with whom to share it. Taking a breath, he turned his back on the duke and went to find two of the four people in attendance tonight whose company he could tolerate.

A moment later he spied them, dancing. Married for just over six months, Phineas and Alyse Bromley looked only at each other as they twirled about the floor, both of them wearing the sickeningly sweet expression of happiness and true love. Well, no one was perfect, and Phin had simply succumbed to being more or less…human. Poor fellow.

“Your expression is distressingly dour,” a voice drawled from low by Bram’s side, “especially to be looking at two very happy people.”

Ah, the third person he could tolerate. Viscount Quence sat in his wheeled chair, his ever-present valet at the handles behind him. “William,” Bram said, offering his hand. “I don’t mind that your brother and his bride are happy; it’s only that they exude a sweetness that’s likely to rot my teeth.”

Quence chuckled. “I’ll take your rotted teeth over Phin returning to the army. She saved his life, I think.”

Bram thought it more likely that the life saving had been mutual, but he offered a half grin rather than saying that bit aloud. “And the lives of untold French soldiers.” He sent a glance behind the viscount. “Speaking of lives being saved, is your sister about?”

“Beth is safely on the dance floor with the latest fellow to be smitten with her. Now that she’s out, I think she may be over her infatuation with you.”

“Thank God for that. You know she terrifies me.”

“Mm hm. If you don’t wish to admit that you’re being honorable by sparing her from your dismal reputation, I won’t contradict you.”

“I freely admit to being admirable about my god-awful reputation. As you know, it’s been painstakingly earned by multiple misdeeds and unconscionable wagers and drinking, and I’m quite proud of it.”

The older man shook his head. “I’ll agree that you’re quite good at it.”

Despite Quence’s title and ownership of a very promising mineral hot springs property, the viscount sat alone. Bram swallowed his impatience and another mouthful of vodka and continued conversation with him until the country dance ended. He had worse things he could be doing, but certainly nothing better.

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