Read an Excerpt
Never Trust a Scoundrel
Grace Banbury, out of breath, her heart pounding, slammed closed the front door of her brother's town house. She'd been knocking for many minutes in the darkness, hoping a servant would let her in. And when that hadn't happened, she'd tried the door, and as if God had answered her prayers, she found it unlocked. Now she locked it quickly behind her and put her back against it, dropping her portmanteau to the marble floor, struggling with the enormity of what she'd done.
She'd run from her village home without even the company of her maid, traveling by public coach for the first time in her life. In her reckless fury, she'd barely remembered to take the coins she'd been so frugally saving.
She told herself she was safe—for now. But what would Edward do when she told him that their mother had gambled away the ownership of both this town house and their little country manor? In humiliation, her mother had fled just last night, leaving no clue to her whereabouts, except a note promising to earn back enough money to recover what she'd lost.
Earn back money with more gambling, Grace thought furiously. As if that ever worked.
Nausea threatened again, but she forced it back down. The future was a yawning, frightening blackness that would swallow her if she let it. Better to think of one thing at a time.
How could their mother betray them? She was supposed to be a lady, the widow of a gentleman, but for most of Grace's life, she'd conducted herself as a woman who could not long be separated from the risks and excitement of cards.
And now astranger had dared her to risk everything.
Grace had a small dowry that her father had legally kept from her mother, with no access to it except through marriage. She had always wanted to marry for love, had hoped that she could succeed where her parents had not, but just last year she'd badly tarnished her own expectations. If necessary, she supposed she could seek security as a companion.
But what about her brother? He was a gentleman; these two small homes were his inheritance. How would he live now? Who would marry him?
The house was eerily silent, with an empty echo that felt wrong. No one had come to the door, and obviously Edward was out for the evening. She could only assume that not even a servant was at home. But how could that be?
There was a lamp burning on a solitary table in the entrance hall, and it cast flickering shadows on the bare walls. Now that Grace had gotten over her useless emotions, she realized something was wrong. Bare walls? She lifted the lamp and walked through the first door, only to find a dining table and chairs, an empty sideboard, and more bare walls. What had happened to all their possessions, the china, the paintings Papa had collected on his trips to Europe? She might think that the house had been ransacked, but it didn't have a feeling of violation. What it had was neglect, a light coating of dust on the large table, as if no one could be bothered to clean it.
Or as if no servants lived here anymore.
What had Edward done? Her feelings of worry, waiting with patience in the deep recesses of her mind, now surged back to tighten her throat.
No, panic would not help. In the morning, she would tell Edward everything their mother had done. He would explain why the town house was so bare. Together, they would come up with a plan. They'd only ever had each other, and now that bond was all they had.
But some part of her knew that Edward would have no good explanation for the condition of their home. For several years, she'd been seeing the signs of the gambling fever he'd caught from their mother, his restlessness, his need to be in London. She had tried to distract him, to lecture him, and finally to plead with him. He had always laughed off her concerns, swore that all gentlemen gambled, and that he was in command of himself. But the condition of the town house said otherwise.
She checked the kitchens and found no one, then moved to the small pantry that had been converted into a bedroom for the cook, whose gout prevented her from negotiating the stairs. But even that room was empty. She ran up the stairs to the third floor and found every servant's room just as deserted.
She'd never spent a single night of her life alone, though that wasn't nearly as frightening as the gaping uncertainty that was her future.
She walked back down a flight to the family bedrooms. To her relief, Edward had left hers alone. There was still her favorite painting of the sea at Brighton on the wall, and a little vase that her father had brought her from France.
When her stomach growled, she went down to the kitchen but only found biscuits and apples. After lighting a candle and leaving the lamp in the front hall for her brother, she carried the food back to her room and ate in silence, trying to ignore the tight heaviness in her stomach.
As she changed into her nightgown, she was glad that she'd worn clothing she could remove herself. She had wanted to bring her lady's maid, Ruby, but how would Grace be able to pay her wages? But oh, she missed her cheerful company. Ruby somehow managed to walk the line between servant and friend in a way that made Grace feel perfectly comfortable.
Of course, there was no water in the pitcher, and she was not about to pump from the well in the garden at this time of night. It was summer, so she could do without coal burning in the grate. But still, she wrapped her dressing gown about her and climbed into bed with her journal. A chill moved through her, making her shiver.Never Trust a Scoundrel. Copyright © by Gayle Callen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.