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Authors: Candace Camp

Scandalous

BOOK: Scandalous
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Praise for the novels of
New York Times
and
USA TODAY
bestselling author
CANDACE CAMP

“Camp's newest Matchmaker novel features her usual vivid characterization, touches of subtle humor and plenty of misunderstandings, guilt and passion. You won't want to miss this poignant and charming tale.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
The Courtship Dance

“Delightful…Camp is firmly at home here, enlivening the romantic quest between her engaging lovers with a set of believable and colorful secondaries.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Wedding Challenge

“A beautifully crafted, poignant love story.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
The Wedding Challenge

“Lively and energetic secondaries round out the formidable leads…assuring readers a surprise ending well worth waiting for.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Bridal Quest

“A clever mystery adds intrigue to this lively and gently humorous tale, which simmers with well-handled sexual tension.”

—
Library Journal
on
A Dangerous Man

“The talented Camp has deftly mixed romance and intrigue to create another highly enjoyable Regency romance.”

—
Booklist
on
An Independent Woman

“A smart, fun-filled romp.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Impetuous

CANDACE CAMP
Scandalous

Also available from
CANDACE CAMP
and HQN Books

The Courtship Dance

The Wedding Challenge

The Bridal Quest

The Marriage Wager

Promise Me Tomorrow

No Other Love

A Stolen Heart

A Dangerous Man

An Independent Woman

An Unexpected Pleasure

Secrets of the Heart

So Wild a Heart

The Hidden Heart

Swept Away

Winterset

Beyond Compare

Mesmerized

Impetuous

Indiscreet

Impulse

Suddenly

Scandalous
CHAPTER ONE

T
HERE WAS A NAKED MAN ON HER DOORSTEP.

Priscilla had been in the sitting room, curled up with a book, when she heard a thunderous pounding on the front door. She had jumped to her feet, a trifle alarmed, for it was rather late in the evening for any visitors. Moreover, the loud noise had rung with urgency. She had snatched up a candle from the table and hurried to the front door. When she swung it wide open, she had found this man standing there. He had on not one stitch of clothing, and his skin was covered with a thin sheen of sweat and decorated with a multitude of thin red scratches. He was breathing rapidly, his chest rising and falling as he took huge gulps of air.

She stared at him, for one of the few times in her life rendered speechless.

He was a huge man; he seemed to fill the tiny porch of Evermere Cottage, presenting a wide expanse of bare skin. Priscilla had never seen so much naked flesh in her life, all of it tanned, muscled and intensely masculine.

The man stared back at her. He looked dazed and exhausted as he swayed, muttering, “Help me.” Then he collapsed at her feet.

Priscilla let out a little shriek of horror and reached out to grab him, but he was far too heavy, and his damp,
bare skin simply slid across her palm as he crumpled to the floor of the tiny porch.

The door of her father's study opened, and Florian Hamilton stuck his head out. His graying hair was rumpled and sticking up in spikes from his habit of shoving his fingers through it whenever he was deep in thought. He frowned vaguely.

“Priscilla? What was that noise? Is there someone at the door?”

His familiar voice broke Priscilla's temporary paralysis. “It's all right, Papa,” she said, in a voice that wavered only slightly from her usual brisk tone. “I will take care of it.”

She turned back to the porch to survey her problem. The man now lay partly inside the house, on his side, most of his massive chest and arms on the floor at her feet, his long legs and the rest of his torso sprawled out on the stoop. It was obvious that she could not possibly move him herself.

Who was he? And whatever was he doing here—naked and unconscious? It occurred to her that it must be a jest; it seemed, in fact, just the sort of nonsense that Philip or Gid might think up. However, she could not imagine that even one of her mischievous brothers would send a nude man to his sister's door—and what man would be willing to run around stark naked? If nothing else, it was still early spring, and rather chilly. No, she concluded, it could not be a joke.

Her eyes went to the man's face. It was boldly chiseled, with a wide jaw and prominent cheekbones, a firm, full mouth and a long, straight nose. His was not a handsome face, exactly; it was too sharp and hard for perfect beauty, but there was power in it, even in slack
unconsciousness—and with his eyes closed, the thick fringe of lashes shadowing his cheek, there was even a hint of vulnerability that made her heart twist strangely in her chest. She bent forward, holding her candle lower to light his features.

He was clean-shaven, his skin smooth and tanned, darker than her own milk-white color and that of most of the people she was accustomed to seeing. There was a narrow red scratch across his jaw, and another on his forehead. His hair was a thick, rich brown, and, as she held the candle closer, a glint of red shone through, like polished mahogany. A strand of it had fallen across his cheek, and unconsciously she reached out and brushed it back. He groaned and rolled over onto his back.

Priscilla's eyes moved lower, over his wide, muscled chest, lightly strewn with dark hair, and onto the flat plain of his stomach, where the hair converged in a V and swept downward….

“I say!”

Priscilla started guiltily at the sound of her father's voice, right behind her. She turned and straightened, frowning. “Papa! You startled me.”

Florian paid no attention to her words. He was staring in astonishment at the man lying at their feet. “I say,” he repeated. “Who is this chap?”

“I have no more idea than you,” Priscilla replied. “I opened the door, and there he was.”

“But what's he doing on the floor?”

“He fainted.”

Florian's brows rose. “Doesn't look the sort to faint, does he? And what's he doing dressed like that?”

“Papa…”

“Oh. Sorry—of course you don't know that, either.”
Florian tilted his head, considering the man's unconscious form thoughtfully. “Looks like he's been through rather a rough time, doesn't it?”

Priscilla looked back at their visitor. “It would appear that he has run through bramble bushes,” she agreed. She leaned closer, noticing several dark marks that she had not noticed in the dim light of the porch. “And look, he's bruised.”

“You're right.” Florian adjusted the little glasses perched on his nose and leaned forward analytically to examine a bluish mark on the man's chest. “I'd say the fellow's been in some sort of fight, as well as running through the bushes.” He looked at his daughter, his eyes lit with his usual scientist's curiosity. “Mysterious, isn't it? How do you suppose he got in this shape? And what's he doing here?”

“Mmm…” Priscilla replied dryly. “Just like a book.”

“Yes, isn't it?” He stopped short, obviously struck by a thought. “You don't think Philip—No, surely not.”

Priscilla had to grin. Her brother's mischievous ways were well-known. “No, I don't think so.”

“Ohhhhh!” A gasp from the top of the stairs made both of them turn and look up. A tall, stick-thin woman stood at the top of the stairs, a vision in a long-sleeved, high-necked white cotton nightgown, a brown shawl wrapped around her thin shoulders and her hair a Medusa-like arrangement of strands tied in white cotton strips. The old-fashioned white mobcap she wore over her head at night was still tied beneath her chin, but the cap had slipped over and down to one side, dangling on a few of the strips of old bedsheets in which she tied her hair at night in a largely vain effort to put curls into it.
Her eyes were as wide as saucers, and she stared down at them wildly. “Is he—is he dead?” she hissed.

“No, Miss P., he's breathing, just out cold.”

The middle-aged woman sucked in her breath, her hand flying to her chest so dramatically that Priscilla wondered how she could have looked any more appalled if the man
had
been dead. Miss P. hurried down the stairs toward them, her multitude of ties fluttering wildly. Florian, who had never before seen Miss Pennybaker in her nighttime attire, could only stare at her, mouth agape, but Priscilla, long accustomed to her former governess, scarcely noticed.

Miss Pennybaker reached them, and for the first time got a good look at the man stretched out on the floor in front of them. “Oh, my!” she said, her face flushing a deep red. “Oh, my!” She closed her eyes and averted her face. “He's…he's…”

“Yes, I know,” Priscilla said flatly. “Now, don't have hysterics on us. The important thing is, what are we going to do with him?”

“But you mustn't…” Miss Pennybaker's eyes flew open, and she fixed Priscilla with a stern look. “It is not a sight for a maiden's eyes. You should come with me and let your father deal with it.”

“By himself?” Priscilla countered calmly. She saw no need to point out what they all knew: that her father rarely handled anything in their household. His considerable intellect was generally employed in scholarly pursuits; he was considered an expert in several fields and received correspondence from other scientists all over the world, asking his opinion. But the small matters of daily life rarely captured his interest, and if the running of the house had been left to him, it would probably
have fallen down around their ears by now. “This man is far too heavy for Papa to lift by himself.”

Miss Pennybaker, who had lived with them since Priscilla was four years old, knew Florian Hamilton as well as his daughter did. Indeed, nowadays it was usually she who made sure that Florian came out of his study or workshop at least twice a day to eat, and who could be counted on to locate his pipe or his spectacles whenever he lost them. She knew as well as Priscilla that their unexpected guest might still be lying on the floor when they came downstairs the next morning, while Florian sat in his study sketching a machine designed to lift and move him.

“Yes, of course. But it isn't decent for you—” She stopped, a smile of triumph spreading across her face, and whisked off her shawl. Holding the shawl at arm's length, she sidled closer to the prone man, squinting through almost closed eyes, and dropped the garment across his lap. “There,” she said with a decisive nod. “It still isn't decent, but that will have to do.”

Priscilla suppressed a grin. “Thank you. Now…Papa, why don't you grab one arm, and I'll get the other, and we'll pull him inside? Penny, could you get his feet?”

The other woman looked askance at the idea of touching any part of the man's body. “But, Priscilla, do you think we should bring him in?”

“He's already half-in. It's only a question of pulling him the rest of the way.”

“I mean…do you think it's safe?” She cast another brief, disapproving glance at the unconscious man. “He looks like a ruffian to me. He might murder us all in our beds tonight.”

“That's true,” Florian agreed. “We don't know what
sort of man he is, or anything about him at all—except that he's apparently been in a fight.”

“A fight!” Miss Pennybaker gasped.

“Yes. See how he's scratched and bruised.”

Miss Pennybaker ventured a closer look at their visitor. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “He's wet, too.”

“He was perspiring, I think. Although, judging from the state of his legs, he has probably splashed through a stream or two, as well,” Priscilla said.

All three of them turned to look at the man's feet and calves, liberally splashed with mud and quite wet, and at the dark hair plastered to his skin. Miss Pennybaker turned quickly away. Florian peered at his feet with interest.

“You know, you're right, Pris. Always said you had an eye for detail. Looks like the watermark comes just below his knee. Something shallow, then, maybe the Slough.” He bent down and plucked a wet leaf from the top of the man's foot. “Looks like he went through vinca, too. And grass.”

He thought for a moment. “My guess is, he came through the woods on the east.”

“But we still don't know who he is or what he's been doing,” Miss Pennybaker reminded them, her hands fluttering nervously in front of her, as they always did whenever she was bold enough to dispute one of her employers. “He doesn't look like a nice person.”

Priscilla looked down at the man's face. “Well, not nice, maybe…but not bad, either. Just…I don't know. Strong.” She raised her head. “That's not a bad thing.”

“But he's been fighting!”

“What if he were attacked?” Priscilla pointed out. “He would have every right to fight back. A man
wouldn't be running about attacking people when he didn't have on any clothes, would he?”

“Not unless he were mad,” Florian agreed.

Miss Pennybaker sucked in her breath sharply. “Oh, no! Do you think he's escaped from an asylum?”

Florian grinned. “More likely some insane Aylesworth cousin, kept locked up in the attic at the Court. Sounds like the sort of thing they would do, don't you think?”

Miss Pennybaker's eyes widened. “Do you really think so? You know, that's what happened to that sweet Henrietta Fairfield in
Derwood Abbey.
Lord Comfrey's mad uncle escaped from the tower room, and—”

“No,” Priscilla replied firmly, grimacing. “Papa is poking fun at those books. Now, be serious, Papa. I think it's far more likely that he would have lost his clothing if he had been robbed. But then he escaped through the woods, splashed through one or two of those shallow streams down in Ridley Bottoms, and came up here. He probably saw the lights of our house and was coming for help. If he were intent on doing evil, I don't think he would have come right up to the door and knocked. No, he would have been slinking around, trying to get in an open window.”

Miss Pennybaker cast a nervous look around them. “Perhaps we should lock the windows.”

“He was hammering at the door,” Florian admitted. “It even roused me in my study. Sounds more like someone seeking help than a robber.”

“But if there
was
someone after him,” Priscilla pointed out, “we had better get him inside, don't you think? Instead of standing here talking about it?”

“You're right.” Florian cast a look out into the dark night. “All right, ladies, let's get to it.”

Priscilla bent and grasped the man's left arm, high up, close to his shoulder. His skin was hot and slick with sweat, and when she touched him, it did odd things to her stomach. She had never touched a man's bare flesh before, unless one counted taking her younger brothers firmly by the hand—and touching this firm-muscled stranger was a far cry from that.

Her father grasped the man's other arm, and Miss Pennybaker, with an expression of distaste, went around and gingerly picked up his feet. They lifted, but could not manage to get his torso completely off the floor. They set him back down and winced as his head made an audible thud.

After that, Miss Pennybaker came around and held his head up while the other two yanked and pulled. Finally, when they had managed to work his entire torso into the room, Priscilla took his feet and lifted his legs, turning him enough to the side that they were able to close the door and bar it.

Panting, the three of them stood for a moment, looking down at the stranger. He slept on.

“What are we going to do with him now?” Florian asked.

Priscilla thought. “What about the cot in the little room off the kitchen? Where the scullery boy used to sleep.”

BOOK: Scandalous
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