How the Scoundrel Seduces
The Duke’s Men
How the Scoundrel Seduces
Lady Zoe Keane’s father is pressing her to marry a cousin she’s never met. As Lord and Lady Olivier’s only child, spirited Zoe will one day inherit the title of countess and their Yorkshire estate, the land she adores—but she wants to marry for love. Then an unsolved family mystery shatters her world: is it possible Zoe’s birth mother was actually a Romany named Drina? Desperate to know her true lineage, Zoe hires the Duke’s Men to search for the woman who will determine her destiny.
Tristan Bonnaud is the man for the job, and not because the roguish investigator cares about a spoiled aristocrat and her inheritance “problem.” To protect himself from his villainous half-brother, Tristan needs to track down his Romany horse trader friend who has information about a decade-old scandal—and this young beauty’s far-fetched case is just the excuse he needs.
But if untangling the past isn’t risky enough, the sizzling attraction drawing the scoundrel to the lady is the most dangerously seductive surprise of all. . . .
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- 2014 Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award
- #14 on the New York Times
- #12 on Publishers Weekly
- #45 on USA Today
- #11 on Barnes and Noble Mass Market
“The setting is vivid, the lovers are well-drawn and colorful, and the mystery is intriguing, making this a winner for fans and new readers.”
“In the third installment of The Duke’s Men, investigator Tristan Bonnaud is given center stage with Jeffries— marvelous storytelling, clever plotting and steamy romance—destined to steal readers’ hearts. The fast-paced narrative is enhanced by multidimensional characters, sharp repartee and a double mystery. All of the elements of a memorable romance are here just waiting for readers to savor them.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4½ star Top Pick, K.I.S.S. Award
“From cover to cover, How the Scoundrel Seduces sizzles readers with a scorching temptation that only a true scoundrel with a truly generous heart can deliver.”
For half a second, all Lady Zoe Keane could do was gape at Mr. Tristan Bonnaud. Had the wretch really dared to speculate that Papa had been engaged in an affair with the gypsy woman who might have borne her?
She leapt from her chair. “That’s impossible. Papa would never have shamed Mama so. They were in love!”
Mr. Bonnaud cocked his head. “So were Dom’s parents, yet his father—our father—took my mother as a mistress fairly early in their marriage. He claimed to love her as well. That sort of thing happens in England more than you think.”
“Don’t drag our family into this, Tristan,” Mr. Dominick Manton, his half-brother, warned.
Paying him no mind, the dratted devil began to pace before her. “It would explain all the inconsistencies—why a Romany woman was alone on the road to York without her people. Why your father took you in so readily, even though your mother could still have borne him children. Drina might have been waiting for him when your family arrived at Windborough. Perhaps he was just hiding the truth from your mother when he said that he’d bought you from a gypsy woman.”
Zoe glowered at him. “And the fact that Drina was beaten, what of that? I suppose you’re going to blame my father for that, too.”
“Certainly not,” he said.
Her pulse steadied a little.
“But the Romany have a stricter morality than Englishmen realize. All rumors about them to the contrary, they don’t allow adultery or fornication. If Drina had shared a bed with your father, then her husband—or her own father—might have beaten her for it.”
“You claimed that gypsies don’t abuse their women,” she pointed out.
He shrugged. “They don’t generally, but it’s hard to know what a gypsy husband might do when faced with his wife’s adultery.” He paused in his pacing to shoot her a meaningful glance. “Or what an English husband might do to cover up his own.”
Heat rose in her cheeks. She’d had quite enough of this. “You are a vile, vile man. To cast aspersions on my family with nothing more than a few facts—”
“I’m merely trying to get at the truth.” His eyes glittered at her. “That is what you want, isn’t it?”
“Not from you.” Turning on her heel, she approached the desk. “Mr. Manton, I want you to promise that your brother won’t be involved in this investigation. He’s clearly biased against my family, for no reason that I can see, and I don’t want his bias to affect his judgment.”
Mr. Manton glanced from her to Mr. Bonnaud, then sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t promise you that, Lady Zoe.”
Mr. Bonnaud was the one to answer, in his typically self-satisfied manner. “Because I know more about the Romany people than Dom and Victor put together. I speak their language, I’m familiar with their customs, and I’ll have no trouble learning the whereabouts of all the major gypsy families.”
“He’s right,” Mr. Manton added. “Tristan spent far more time with them than I ever did. I was either at school or going about in society with our father. And Victor has had no dealings with them at all.”
The words had scarcely left Mr. Manton’s lips when a knocking sounded from downstairs.
He rose. “That’s probably the records I’ve been waiting for. So if you’ll excuse me . . .”
Surely he wasn’t going to rush out of here and leave this matter unresolved! “But . . . but I don’t want Mr. Bonnaud to be part of this!” she cried as Mr. Manton headed for the door.
Mr. Bonnaud gave a harsh laugh. “I think my brother has made it clear that you don’t have a choice.” When she whirled on him, he added with a smirk, “Not if you want Drina found. Assuming that she even exists.”
Heaven help her, this was not to be borne! “I could always tell the world that you’re a thief,” she hissed, unable to govern her temper one second longer. “You were the one seen running from Kinlaw Castle that day. And I am the one who can testify to that.”
That didn’t seem to faze him one jot. “Go ahead, my lady, tell the world.” Mr. Bonnaud marched up to her and lowered his voice to a threatening rasp. “Then I’ll tell the world that you might not really be heir to the Earl of Olivier after all.”
She gasped. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“Not unless he has to,” Mr. Manton broke in. When she gaped at him, his tone turned forbidding. “I promised you our discretion, but that was contingent upon yours. If you choose to take my brother on in a fight that could ruin him, then you’ll have to take me on as well. And I assure you I’ll defend us both by any means necessary.”
The warning gave her pause. She hadn’t meant for this to go so far. It was just that Mr. Bonnaud had the most abominable ability to shatter her control. Now, thanks to him, she would have to regain lost ground . . . and that meant choking down great gobs of her pride.
“I understand.” She forced a smile. “And I . . . apologize for my rash words. Manton’s Investigations is doing me a favor, after all. I didn’t mean to be ungracious.”
When Mr. Manton acknowledged her words with a tight nod, she went on hastily, “But I still think that Mr. Bonnaud—”
“You have no choice,” Mr. Manton cut in. “And for more reasons than merely my brother’s knowledge of the Romany. I’m in the middle of a case involving a marquess’s missing valet, and Victor is tied up in court. Tristan happens to be the only one free to pursue this matter just now.” He eyed her steadily. “Unless, of course, you wish to wait longer to have it taken care of.”
She let out a frustrated breath. “You know perfectly well I can’t afford to delay.”
“Then Tristan will be handling your case.” As the knocker sounded downstairs again, he added, “I really must tend to that. I’ll leave you and my brother to work out the details.”
Then he was gone, and she was alone with her nemesis.
How mortifying. She couldn’t even bear to look at him after she’d let her temper get the better of her so flagrantly.
When was she going to learn that just because she felt something didn’t mean she had to let it fly? As Mama always said, If you keep your true feelings private, you’ll never feel regret.
Regret was a bitter pill indeed.
After a moment, Mr. Bonnaud murmured, “Was that really so hard?”
“You have no idea,” she muttered.
When he remained silent, she ventured to look at him and was astonished to find his smirk gone and his eyes surveying her thoughtfully. “Pax,” he said. “I didn’t mean to provoke you so.”
She eyed him uncertainly. “Is that your idea of an apology?”
A ghost of a smile crossed his lips. “Take it however you like, princess.”
Princess? Knowing him, he probably meant that as an insult. “Last I checked, I was never heir to a royal title.”
His eyes gleamed. “A gypsy princess, then,” he amended in a slow, silky drawl that made her stomach flip over.
“We’re not even sure that I am a gypsy.”
“No. But by the time I’m done, we’ll know the truth one way or the other, I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
Leaning back against the desk, he stared hard at her. “I happen to be very good at what I do. I worked for La Sûreté Nationale in France for years, you know.”
“I didn’t know, actually.” But she did know about the French secret police, who had supposedly cut crime in Paris by nearly half. There’d been articles about them now that Mr. Peel was attempting to start a police force in London. “Details of your former life haven’t appeared in the newspapers.”
“Yes, well, there are many things that don’t appear in the papers. That doesn’t make them any less true.”
He had a point. And now her curiosity was roused. “What exactly did you do for La Sûreté Nationale?”
“I was an agent. So was Victor. We caught criminals by pretending to be criminals.”
“That certainly explains why you were so successful at playing the thief the day we first met,” she said testily. “You make a very convincing criminal.”
One eyebrow quirked up. “You really don’t like me much, do you?”
Torn between telling the truth and being circumspect, she settled for somewhere in the middle. “I don’t like having pistols pointed at me.” Her voice hardened. “Or mud slung on my father’s good name.”
“Ah.” He drummed his fingers against the desk, then said softly, “Still, you can’t ignore the possibility that you could be your father’s byblow.”
She winced. She had never met anyone like him—so blunt, so rude, so . . . honest. She’d find it refreshing if not for the fact that he was insulting Papa. “You’d really enjoy it if I proved to be so, wouldn’t you? It would make me the same as you.”
“Hardly.” Eyes of arctic blue pinned her in place. “Unlike you, I don’t get to choose between being the pampered heir to an estate or merely marrying the pampered heir to an estate. So no, we aren’t remotely the same.”
“In one respect we are.” She regarded him with a faint smile. “It seems you really don’t like me much either.”
He blinked. Then his lips twitched as if he fought a smile of his own. “Actually, I haven’t decided that yet.” He raked her with a slow, sensual glance that sent a thrill skittering through her. “I daresay I could like you a great deal . . . under the right circumstances.”
There was no mistaking his meaning. Or its effect on her. And she would die before she let him guess it. “Does that sort of blatantly lascivious glance generally sway women to jump into your bed?” she asked tartly.
“Often enough to make it worth the attempt.” He grinned. “Besides, it need only work occasionally. Even a man with my lusty appetites must sleep sometime.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, at least now I understand why you’re so convinced that Drina was my father’s mistress. You judge him by your own low standards.”
The insult didn’t seem to bother him. “Have you a better explanation for why Drina’s people left her to bear a child among strangers in the dead of winter?”
“No,” she admitted reluctantly. “But there is one hole in your lovely theory. When I asked around in Highthorpe, I was told of a local proscription against gypsies dating back for decades. So how could Papa have taken a gypsy mistress when there were never any gypsies around Windborough?”
“Can you really be sure of that, princess?”
“Stop calling me that.” She was certain he meant to mock her for being the pampered heir to an estate, something he clearly neither understood or approved. “And I’m telling you, I never so much as saw a gypsy growing up.”
He eyed her skeptically. “No tinkers, no itinerant musicians, no soothsayers of any kind?”
“Not in Highthorpe.” A long ago memory drifted into her mind. “I did meet a fortuneteller once, but that was in London. One of my good friends had a gypsy soothsayer at her birthday party when I was a girl. I remember because Papa got so angry when I told—”
Pain ripped through her. “Oh, Lord, I’d forgotten that. He went on and on about the foolishness of hiring gypsies to spout nonsense in the ears of young, respectable girls. At the time, I thought he was just being overly cautious as usual.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “But what if it was more than that?”
“You mean, what if she was your father’s mistress?”
“No, of course not,” she said dismissively. “What if Papa didn’t like gypsies because of buying me from one of them?”
His face clouded over. “I told you—the Romany don’t sell their children.”
“But it could happen.”
“It’s highly unlikely.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “It makes far more sense that the former mistress of your father would have shown up at this party because she wanted to find out if you were all right. Did the woman show any special interest in you? Ask you any probing questions?”
“Not really. She just read my palm along with all the other girls.”
“What did she say?”
“A great many things.” As the memory of it sank in, she walked over to the window to stare out at the waiting hackney. “She said I was born of secrets and sadness. That it would either destroy my future or lead me to greatness. And she said I would be the hand of vengeance one day. Whatever that means.”
“It could mean anything,” he said with surprising gentleness. “A good fortuneteller leaves the predictions vague or mysterious on purpose so that you can make what you wish of them. Most of what they tell people is rot, anyway.”
She dearly hoped so, considering something else the woman had said: A handsome gentleman with eyes like the sky and hair like a raven’s wing will come into your life.
Oh, Lord, she’d better never mention that to him. She could only imagine what he would make of it.