HER SECRET SCANDAL
As far as London’s high society knows, Lady Isabel Morrow is above reproach. But the truth is rarely so simple. Though the young widow’s passionate fling with dashing Bow Street Runner Callum Jenks ended amicably months ago, she now needs his expertise. It seems Isabel’s late husband, a respected art dealer, was peddling forgeries. If those misdeeds are revealed, the marriage prospects of his younger cousin— now Isabel’s ward—will be ruined.
For the second time, Isabel has upended Callum’s well-ordered world. He’s resolved to help her secretly replace the forgeries with the real masterpieces, as a . . . friend. A proper sort of friend doesn’t burn with desire, of course, or steal kisses on twilight errands. Or draw a willing lady into one passionate encounter after another. Isabel’s scheme is testing Callum’s heart as well as his loyalties. But with pleasure so intoxicating, the real crime would be to resist . . .
—Booklist, Starred Review on Fortune Favors the Wicked
About the Author
Theresa Romain is the bestselling author of historical romances, including the Matchmaker trilogy, the Holiday Pleasures series, the Royal Rewards series, and the Romance of the Turf trilogy. Praised as “one of the rising stars of Regency historical romance” (Booklist), she has received starred reviews from Booklist and was a 2016 RITA® finalist. A member of Romance Writers of America® and its Regency specialty chapter The Beau Monde, Theresa is hard at work on her next novel from her home in the Midwest. To keep up with all her book-release news, please visit her online at theresaromain.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter.
Read an Excerpt
Perhaps Isabel shouldn't have asked the butler to show Officer Jenks into the drawing room. That was, after all, the room in which the Bow Street Runner had first met Isabel eighteen months before, as her husband's gun-shot corpse lay upstairs.
The association was not ideal.
But where else could they meet? The morning room was dreary in late afternoon, and Isabel had never liked the oil painting of Bacchus and his maenads that hung on the wall. So smug, those naked nymphs, with wine pouring over them dark as blood. In all Isabel's months of widowhood, why had she never taken the irritating thing down?
Because this still felt like Andrew's house, and because the painting was one of his precious acquisitions; that was why. The late Andrew Morrow, art dealer and bon vivant, had possessed particular ideas about which paintings ought to be displayed, and where, and how.
The more Isabel had learned about those paintings since his death, the less she'd wanted anything to do with them.
Thus her summons of Officer Jenks.
The last of the Tuesday morning callers, who really trailed in throughout the afternoon, had departed a short while before. They'd left behind whispers of floral perfume, faint indentations on the seats of the upholstered fauteuils, and here and there a crumb on the carpet.
Isabel had not lost the habit of seeing a room through Andrew's critical eye; she wondered if she ever would. With a quick glance at the drawing-room door — still closed — she darted from her seat and picked up all the crumbs on the carpet. There, now it was a plush, perfect expanse of woven flowers again. Crossing to the window, she undid the latch and tossed the crumbs out. Let the remains of Lady Teasdale's cakes nourish a few blackbirds.
For a moment, she allowed the late spring breeze to tickle her cheeks, then regretfully latched the window again. She had just returned to her chair when Selby tapped at the door to the drawing room, then opened it to announce the arrival of the officer. As soon as Jenks entered the room, the butler departed, leaving Isabel alone with her visitor.
"Officer Jenks." Isabel rose to her feet.
"Lady Isabel Morrow." The Runner bowed.
They faced each other in silence, as though they'd never met before. As though Officer Callum Jenks hadn't investigated a death in this home, and as though he and Isabel hadn't later had an affair. Or ought one to call a single encounter an affair? Perhaps not. Especially if it happened at Vauxhall Gardens, where such wild intimacies were commonplace.
They were not so for Isabel — not before that time, and never since. But she'd had an excellent reason for wishing to escape on that day.
She tugged her thoughts back to the present. "I hope you did not have to wait long before Selby came to fetch you."
"You know I did not. I'm seven minutes after the requested time."
He was so disconcerting, all bluntness when a polite demurral would be more the thing. "That is true," Isabel replied. "Perhaps you ought to apologize to me."
"Would you enjoy that?" His dark eyes held humor that never quite traveled to his lips for a smile.
"Ladies always enjoy a bit of prostration. Would it make you feel worse to apologize? If not, you might as well."
He swept her a ridiculously deep bow. "My apologies, Lady Isabel. I was detained at a mock auction."
"A mock — what?"
"A common enough cheat, though they're usually held in the evening. Daylight's no friend to the cheap items put up for sale, bid up by shills at the expense of honest buyers."
"And what did you have to do?"
"Stuff the auctioneers into hackney coaches and send them before the magistrate." He spoke the words as blandly as another man might observe that water was, of course, wet.
"In that case, I must wonder at your arrival only seven minutes late. But please, never mind the time, Officer Jenks." She sank back into her seat. "Shall I ring for tea?"
Did one give tea to an officer of the law? Etiquette training never included such situations. Probably the proper etiquette was not to be involved with an officer of the law at all.
"Lady Isabel." He drew a chair from the opposite end of the room to sit directly facing her. "I'd like to know why you summoned me."
He looked large and rough in the delicate antique chair, with its white-painted wood and decorative carving. Like Isabel, he was neither tall nor short. But where Isabel dressed carefully in the latest fashions, Callum Jenks was everything frank and stark.
Today he wore a plain dark coat and waistcoat; buff breeches and boots nearly black; a cravat simply tied. A gentleman, or a tradesman? One could not tell. Beside him, Isabel felt thoroughly impractical. She wore a demure half-mourning gown of gray muslin spotted in black, with long sleeves and a small ruffle about the wrists. Her dark brown hair was dressed in a style straight from a lady's magazine. The overall effect was elegant and decorative, although not comfortable in the least.
She fought the urge to squirm on her seat. The fact was, the reason she had summoned him was far more uncomfortable even than her gown. She would have to introduce the subject carefully.
"I asked you here," she said, "because it is more private than calling on you at the Bow Street court. You see, I want to hire you for a case in a personal capacity."
He regarded her for a long moment. Then his gaze wandered upward, as if piercing through the ceiling to the chamber in which he'd begun his previous investigation.
"This particular case does not involve death in any way," Isabel added.
"That is generally to be preferred." When he looked at her again, she could not help but smile. Jenks had a way of holding his mouth when he finished speaking — as if he had more to say, but had halted himself on the brink of an injudicious statement. Once, only once, Isabel had got him to admit exactly what was on his mind.
"I had better show you the letters first," she decided, standing. Jenks rose to his feet at once, mannerly as any marquess.
There were not many places to hide something in the spring-sunny drawing room, which boasted high ceilings, tall windows, and a scatter of Andrew's beloved elegant furniture over a large antique carpet. A chair here, a small table there for games; a harp no one ever played and a pianoforte Isabel sometimes did.
To the pianoforte she crossed. From atop its lid, she removed a branched candelabra, a few artfully arranged novels, and a tidy pile of sheet music. Pushing the instrument's lid up, she retrieved a packet that had been gummed to the underside of the lid.
"Allow me, Lady Isabel." Silently, Jenks had come to stand beside her. He lifted the heavy lid from her hand, then lowered it carefully into place again. With great precision, he replaced the items atop it.
"You are observant," Isabel said. "If those are an inch from their original positions, I will eat every one of those tapers in the candelabra."
With a forefinger, he shoved the stack of novels over six inches, then darted his eyes sideways at Isabel.
"Obvious flummery," she said. "No candle-eating."
"Pity. I'd have liked to see such a trick." Facing her, he did that not-a-smile thing again with his lips. "Am I to see those papers?"
"Please. Yes." She handed them over, then stood beside him as he scrutinized the packet on all sides before working a fingertip under the wax seal. He smelled of starch and coal smoke, the scents of clean clothing and the London air.
She watched as he reviewed the papers in the packet. They were few and not long, yet he looked over them for minutes that seemed endless.
"What do you think of the letters?" she pressed. "I was tearing my hair out before I'd spent half as much time reading them."
He turned over a page, then held it up to the window-light and squinted at the paper. "You have hair enough left to pass in society. I wouldn't worry."
"But about the letters?"
"Those, you can worry about if you wish to." He returned the letter to the small stack, then shuffled through them. "So. Your husband, and then you, were repeatedly contacted by a man named Butler who required payment for services rendered."
"It was unexpected. I thought it was blackmail at first. Though for what" — her voice caught — "I couldn't say." How could Butler have known? How could anyone know what a couple did — or didn't do — behind the door of a bedchamber?
"Couldn't you?" His tone was flat.
"No. I couldn't say," she replied firmly, "and rightly so, because it was not blackmail at all. I believe the letters are exactly what they seem. This man worked for my husband, and with Morrow's sudden death, he wasn't paid for all his work."
"Why not simply pay him, then?"
"I did." As if Lady Isabel Morrow would ever fail to do what was expected. "The payment wasn't the problem. It was the work that concerned me."
"I gather from the letters' vague wording that the employment was of dubious legality."
"It was, and it wasn't. That is, there wasn't anything wrong with the work itself, but with what Morrow did with it."
Jenks stared at her, waiting out her silence. Though he was so inscrutable, she had the feeling he was displeased with her answer. His jawline was hard and stubborn; his hair and eyes battled to be the darker brown.
"If you wouldn't glare at me," Isabel said, "I could explain better."
One of his brows arched. "This is the only face I have. I apologize if you don't like it."
"I didn't say that." Lovely. Her cheeks were warm. "Look, let us sit down." As they resumed their seats, she went on. "You know that Andrew — Mr. Morrow — dealt in art. Collecting it on the Continent, selling it at high prices to aristocrats and the newly wealthy."
"Yes. I recall from my previous investigation."
The one involving Andrew's death, he meant. She took a deep breath, her stays tight about her ribs. "The problem is that Morrow didn't always give his clients the art they paid for. He gave them nearly identical art created by Butler."
Jenks understood at once. "So they were in the business of forgeries."
"Yes." Strange that Andrew's trespasses felt like Isabel's own, even a year and a half after he'd left her a widow. "I did not know it at the time. Remarkably naïve of me, I suppose."
"Not necessarily. Fraud isn't the sort of thing a man brags about to his wife."
Sometimes Jenks's terseness was comforting.
"So," he added, "the late Mr. Morrow cheated his clients. And this man Butler was party to it?" "I am certain of the first part. Not of Butler's role. But his letters raised questions, and I couldn't rest until I found the answers. Figuratively, that is." Although she hadn't rested well for quite some time. It was rather hard on one's conscience to realize how many lies one had lived with.
"These letters are months old," said Jenks. "Since you've arranged matters with Butler and found the answers you sought, you have no need of my assistance."
"But I do." She lifted her chin. "I am the one fully acquainted with the details of the case, so I am the best judge of what I need."
"I've never thought you couldn't judge what you needed, Lady Isabel." He held her gaze for a beat too long. Her lips parted; slowly, her whole body flooded with heat. She remembered a warm evening the previous May, a hidden grotto in Vauxhall Gardens. His hands on her breasts, his lips on her throat, and a driving, hot pleasure that left them both breathless.
His kisses had been delectable. Slow and sweet, hard and pushing. She could not quite believe now, in this sedate room, what they had done together.
She looked down at her hands, which were knotted in her lap. Tightly folded hands; proper widow hands.
The Lady Isabel Morrow the world knew was courteous. Calm. Gracious. She didn't take up more space than she absolutely had to. Only Jenks had seen her otherwise: in the fragile moments right after Andrew's death; then months later, in the blissful abandon of that night at Vauxhall.
She had missed being that honest. That unguarded. But it had been only an aberration in her carefully ordered life.
Before she could reply, a footman entered the drawing room with the tea things. Though Isabel had not rung for tea, Selby would never overlook a courtesy. On the heels of the servant trotted a beagle that wound busily around everything from tea table to chair legs before sniffing Jenks's boots.
"You have acquired a watchdog," Jenks observed as the tray was set down.
"This is Brinley," said Isabel, "and he is no kind of a watchdog. He barks at everything but likes everyone. So he is as likely to wake the house for an inhabitant as for an intruder, and as apt to fawn over an errand boy as he is over me."
Proving the truth of her words, Brinley tipped his head back and gave a squeaky, drawn-out halloo. He was a sturdy little beagle with a dark brown body and ever-wagging tail. His long chestnut ears were constantly pricked, giving him a curious air.
Jenks scratched at the dog's head, earning himself Brinley's lolling tongue and a tail that beat his boot as rhythmically as a drum.
Once the tea things were arranged, the servant bowed. Andrew had always liked the household to be formal, down to the employment of liveried footmen for every little task. "I apologize for the intrusion of the dog, my lady," said the man. "I'll take him out now."
"Thank you, Douglas," she said. "See him brought to Miss Wallace."
As the footman seized the beagle by his leather collar, Brinley regarded Isabel with mournful accusation. You're sending me away? Me, the finest watchdog in England?
"Silly pup." Isabel plucked up a biscuit from the tray of delicacies and tossed it toward the dog, who caught it from the air with a snap of his jaws. Then, submitting to being tugged from the drawing room, he let out another arooo by way of farewell.
Jenks followed them through the doorway with his eyes. When the door closed, he turned back to Isabel. "Nice little fellow."
"He is, yes. He was the runt from a litter of my brother's hunting dogs. Lord Martindale offered him to me rather than having him drowned."
"A fortunate little fellow too, then."
"Fortunate I," replied Isabel. "There were days after Morrow's death when Brinley was almost the only companion I had. So many people don't know what to say to a widow, and so they write vague letters full of platitudes and keep their distance." Even now, she had far fewer callers than before Andrew's death.
Perhaps the distance had been for the best, though. Isabel had been shocked to be widowed, but not truly sorry. One couldn't allow even a hint of such disloyalty to get about.
Which brought her back to the reason she'd sent for Jenks today. "Please forgive the interruption, Officer. You asked, I recall, why I summoned you if I had already found answers. You see ... I need your help with something that's not precisely legal. But it's right, all the same."
* * *
For too long after she spoke, Callum simply looked at her. At the shape of her mouth, the color of her eyes. He never forgot a face, and he remembered her eyes as brown. But today they had a mind to be hazel.
She lifted her brows, waiting for his reply. But there was only one sort he could give, no matter how beautiful she looked when she smiled.
"I am sorry to decline, my lady. My position as an Officer of the Police makes it impossible for me to take part in anything, as you put it, not precisely legal."
"Yes, I understand that. But this is one of those rare instances when legality and rightness aren't the same at all."
Rare indeed. Though not nonexistent. As soon as he finished this interview, he'd be off to Newgate because of another such case.
That decided it. "All right. Tell me everything."
"If I do, you have to either help me or forget any of this ever happened." She was a little too thin, with dark hair and the sort of paleness wealthy women cultivated with parasols. Far from appearing frail in her slenderness, though, she sat straight as a column of stone in her gray gown.
"I can't promise that," he said.
"Then I'll have to find someone else. I am sorry to have wasted your time — and pulled you away from the intrigue of a mock auction." She started to rise.
He held out a staying hand. "Lady Isabel, wait. Please. Are you in some trouble?"
"No. At least, I don't think so." She sat back again, then smoothed back her already-smooth hair. "I would like not to be. But really, this whole matter is for Lucy's sake."
"And who is Lucy?"
With her thumb, Lady Isabel twisted the wedding band she still wore. "Lucy is the Miss Wallace I mentioned. My husband's ward until his death; my ward now. Morrow had little family, so he left her to me, along with this house and all his belongings."
Excerpted from "Lady Rogue"
Copyright © 2018 Theresa St. Romain.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was impressed with the plotting, the character development, the writing style, and, oh, just everything. The author certainly has a lovely way with words. This book really elevates the romance genre. If you love romance, excellent writing, and great reading, you will love this book. Thank you, Ms. Romaine!
It's a real bummer when you find that your late art dealer husband has more than art fraud against his soul. It's another bummer when you realize his death might not have been an accident, but a suicide or a murder. His death could put a crimp into launching your ward in her upcoming season. So it comes as a relief to the widowed Lady Isabel Morrow that Callum Jenks, the Bow Street Runner who originally investigated her husband’s death, and for one night became her lover, is still interested in investigating both the death and the crimes committed by her husband. It’s even better when Isabel realized that Callum is still captivated by her. This is very different from other Regency Romances. First off, the romance is secondary to the various crimes taking center stage. Who doesn't like a good caper? Always amusing until the true venality of the crimes and some of the characters is revealed ever so slowly and ever so cunningly. Class differences were not something easily glossed over in Regency times. Romain written has several books where the main characters were far from being Dukes and Ladies. So refreshing! It’s the same with this one where the two lovers have serious class obstacles to face; obstacles that may not be overcome. The class difference aren’t a one-sided problem. Callum’s family aren’t that thrilled with Isabel either. Upsets the natural of things, as they have been taught. These are characters to care about, to forget that is all they are-characters in a charming Regency book. Their charm, their intelligence, their bone-deep honesty draw the reader so deeply into their world. Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I am really enjoying this series. The characters are so interesting and different. Not the usual kind of people you find in historical stories. Isabel has always been the kind of person that society expects her to be. Then, a year and a half after her husband's death, she finds out that he wasn't the person she thought he was. There was no love between them when he was alive, but it was a blow to find out that he had some very shady things going on. She decides to be the kind of person that she wants to be, not what society expects. When she decides to put things to right, she calls on Callum. Callum is the Officer of the Police that was summoned when her husband died. Callum wasn't happy that all the facts of the man's death was swept under the rug, he doesn't like loose ends. Callum would do anything for Isabel, including skirting the law. He is usually a by-the-book person, but for Isabel he will put that to the side. Will they be able to pull off their daring caper?
Lady Isabel Morrow, widowed 18 months previously, needs help. In Lady Rogue, she has discovered that her husband had been selling forged paintings to his list of exclusive clients. She has to do something to correct this immediately. Isabel has no care for herself, but her ward may be ruined by the revelations. Lucy Wallace, originally Isabel’s husband’s ward but now Isabel’s is someone Isabel cares for very deeply. It is bad enough Andrew Morrow committed suicide all those months ago, but now she finds out he’s a criminal? Should the forgeries become public knowledge, Lucy could be ruined. No one will want to marry a young girl who is associated with a criminal. The scandal of forgeries on top of the suicide would ruin her chances to make a successful marriage. Callum Jenks is the officer who investigated Andrew Morrow’s death. Summoned by Lady Isabel, he arrives to find that there is no case to investigate, she wants him for something quite different. It turns out Isabel wants Callum to help her steal the forgery sold to a Duke, and replace it with the original. Isabel feels that this is the moral thing to do. The Duke is using the forgery to pay off a debt, the forgery may be discovered. While replacing a forgery with the original isn’t your typical theft, neither is it quite legal. Callum declines at first but Isabel must do something to change his mind. Heat And Intrigue Galore In her shock after the suicide of her husband 18 months ago, Isabel had a brief one-night affair with Callum. When they meet again the spark is very much still there. In some ways, this was an impossible relationship. The attraction was undeniable but the difference in their stations was difficult, to say the least. I enjoyed the way the author managed the attraction and the difficulties of such a relationship, juggling both with success. I will definitely be happy to read more books by Theresa Romain. Reviewed for LnkToMi iRead in response to a complimentary copy of the book provided by the publisher in hopes of an honest review.
Isabel was not looking for scandal. It just found her twice. Callum did not plan to end risking his reputation and heart. It just happened. Can this tantalizing duo, give love a chance as they race to right a wrong? Lady Rogue is an intricate tale of love, lust and intrigue. What began as an affair quickly spirals into something beyond their control. Love.
I really enjoyed this book. I had read some of Ms.Romain's previous work and was a bit ho-hum about it, so I wasn't sure about this one. I'm so glad I took a chance on it! Lady Isabel and is a wonderful heroine, and Calum is a fine hero. They are both intelligent, caring people trying to do the right thing in a situation that has multiple shades of gray. Yes, a relationship between a lady and a Bow Street runner is unrealistic, but the book is well-written and I don't read romance for realism--I read it to escape into a different world. I very much enjoyed this book. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
London 1818. Lady Isabel Morrow is in need of help. Not just any help but the kind if not carefully handled might ruin her name and thus her ward's chances of a good marriage. Widowed and left a home, money and a ward, she discovers her late husband, a respected art dealer was selling forged paintings and keeping the originals. What to do? Calling on Bow Street Runner, Callum Jenks, she hoped he might help replace the forged paintings with the originals before they were found. What, a reserve burglary? Well yes and after she and Jenks had a brief fling when he was helping her investigate the death of her husband, he was the logical person to trust! Would a respected officer help her with her scheme? Could he stay away from the emotions Isabel pulled out of him when he was around her? Filled with surprises and unexpected turns, I could not wait to find out what happened. A well written story about two people from different classes that are brought together. Although part of a series, but this can be read as a standalone! Lori Dykes
I really enjoyed Isabel and Callum's story!! Stories where the H/H are of different classes tend to add another level to the story that isn't there when they are of the same class. I loved that Isabel and Callum worked together to right the wrongs of her husband. Not many men of that time period would have done that, but it probably can be contributed to the fact that he was of a lower class and the woman he knew did much more with their lives than those that spent their time in society. They were soon working together to figure out who had killed Isabel's husband. (view spoiler) I'm excited to see what Romain has in store for use with the next book in the series!