Liz Carlyle A Woman Scorned (Sonnet Books)

ISBN 13: 9780671038267

A Woman Scorned (Sonnet Books)

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9780671038267: A Woman Scorned (Sonnet Books)

From its opening scene to its breath-catching climax, Liz Carlyle's newest novel is a vividly etched portrait of passion and intrigue. When a woman consumed by sinister secrets opens the door to a strikingly handsome stranger, a powerful desire rushes in -- and a love she could not have imagined.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Jonet Rowland is surely that. But she is also lovely, rich, and -- it is rumored -- an unrepentant adulteress. When her philandering husband, the marquis of Mercer, is murdered in his own bed, it's whispered that Jonet is a femme fatale in more ways than one. Shunned by society, the daring widow steels herself to fight for what truly matters -- her children.
When his scheming uncle begs him to investigate the death of his brother, Lord Mercer, Captain Cole Amherst refuses. But it is soon apparent that treachery stalks two innocent boys, and Cole plunges into the viper's pit that is Jonet Rowland's life. Nothing could have prepared Cole for the lust Jonet inspires. But as danger swirls about them, he is tortured by doubt. Can an honorable soldier open his shuttered heart and let a wicked widow teach him how to truly love?

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About the Author:

During her frequent travels through England, Liz Carlyle always packs her pearls, her dancing slippers, and her whalebone corset, confident in the belief that eventually she will receive an invitation to a ball or a rout. Alas, none has been forthcoming. While waiting, however, she has managed to learn where all the damp, dark alleys and low public houses can be found.

Liz hopes she has brought just a little of the nineteenth century alive for the reader in her popular novels, which include the trilogy of One Little Sin, Two Little Lies, and Three Little Secrets, as well as The Devil You Know, A Deal With the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. Please visit her at LizCarlyle.com, especially if you're giving a ball.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

A brave Officer is tactically Deployed

London's spring weather was at its most seasonable, which merely meant it was both wet and chilly, when Captain Cole Amherst rolled up the collar on his heavy greatcoat and stepped out of his modest bachelor establishment in Red Lion Street. Mindful of having lived through worse, Amherst glanced up and down the busy lane, then stepped boldly down to join the rumbling wheels and spewing water as carts and carriages sped past. The air was thick with street smells; damp soot, warm horse manure, and the pervasive odor of too many people.

A few feet along, the footpath narrowed, and a man in a long drab coat pushed past Cole, his head bent to the rain, his hat sodden. Skillfully, Cole stepped over the ditch, which gurgled with filthy water, and was almost caught in the spray of a passing hackney coach. Jumping back onto the path, Cole briefly considered hailing the vehicle, then stubbornly reconsidered. Instead, he pulled his hat brim low, then set a brisk, westerly pace along the cobbled footpath, ignoring the blaze of pain in the newly knit bone of his left thigh.

The long walk to Mayfair, he resolved, would do him nothing but good. The rain did not let up, but it was less than two miles to Mount Street, and just a few short yards beyond lay the towering brick townhouse to which he had been so regally summoned. It often seemed to Amherst that he had been summoned just so -- without regard to his preference or schedule -- on a hundred other such occasions over the last twenty-odd years. But one thing had changed. He now came only out of familial duty, not faint-hearted dread.

"Good evening, Captain," said the young footman who greeted him at the door. "A fit night for neither man nor beast, is it, sir?"

"Evening, Findley." Cole grinned, tossed the young man his sodden hat, then slid out of his coat. "Speaking of beasts, kindly tell my uncle that I await his pleasure."

The desk inside Lord James Rowland's study was as wide as ever, its glossy surface stretching from his vast belly and rolling forward, seemingly into infinity. This effect was particularly disconcerting when one was a child and compelled to look at a great many things in life from a different angle.

Cole remembered it well, for he had spent a goodly portion of his youth staring across that desk while awaiting some moralizing lecture, or the assignment of some petty task his uncle wished to have done. It had been difficult to refuse James, when Cole knew that his uncle had been under no obligation to foster his wife's orphaned nephew, and had done so only to allay her tears.

But Cole was no longer a child, and had long ago put away his childish things, along with most of his hopes and his dreams. The ingenuous boy who had passed the first eleven years of his life in a quiet Cambridgeshire vicarage was no more. Even the callow youth his aunt and uncle had helped raise was long dead. And now, Cole could barely remember the gentleman and scholar that the youth had eventually become. There were few memories, Cole had found, which were worth clinging to.

Now, at the age of four-and-thirty, Cole was just a soldier. He liked the simplicity of it, liked being able to see clearly his path through life. There were no instructors, no vicars, no uncles to be pleased. Now, he served only the officers above him and took care of those few soldiers below whom fate had entrusted into his care. What few hard lessons the rigors of military training had failed to teach him, the cruelty of battle had inculcated. Cole felt as if his naïveté had been tempered in the fires of hell and had come out as something much stronger. Pragmatism, perhaps?

But the war was over. Now that he had returned to England, Cole opened his uncle's rather dictatorial messages only when it suited him to do so, presented himself in Mount Street if he had the time, and appeased the old man if it pleased him to. Although in truth his uncle was not an old man -- he merely chose to behave like one. What was he now? Perhaps five-and-fifty? It was hard to be certain, for like well-aged firewood, James Rowland had long ago been seasoned -- but by presupposed duty, supreme haughtiness, and moral superiority rather than wind and weather.

Abruptly, as if determined to throw off the insult of age, Lord James Rowland leapt from his desk and began to pace. He stopped briefly, just long enough to seize a paper from his desk and shove it into Cole's hands. "Damn it, Cole! Just look at that, if you please! How dare she? I ask you, how dare she?"

"Who, my lord?" murmured Cole, quickly scanning the advertisement. His eyes caught on a few words. Established household...Mayfair...seeks highly educated tutor...two young gentlemen, aged nine and seven...philosophy, Greek, mathematics...

Lord James drew up behind him and thrust a jabbing finger over Cole's shoulder. "My Scottish whore of a sister-in-law, that is who!" He tapped at the paper, very nearly ripping it from Cole's grasp. "That -- that murderess thinks to subvert my authority. She has returned from her flight to Scotland -- she and that insolent cicisbeo of hers -- and now has had the audacity to dismiss every good English servant in that house." The jabbing finger shot toward the north end of town.

"Uncle, I hardly think 'murderess' is a fair desc -- "

James cut him off, slamming his palm onto the desktop and sending a quill sailing, unnoticed, into the floor. "She has cast off good family retainers like an old coat -- turned them off with nothing, belike -- then fetched down two carriageloads of her own servants! Hauled them all the way from the Highlands like so many sheep, mind you! And fixed them in Brook Street as if she owns the bloody place! And now -- look here!"

Cole lifted his brows in mild curiosity. "What?"

James jabbed at the paper again. "She means to employ a tutor, and deny me my right to see that his young lordship is properly educated. Upon my word, Cole, I'll not have it! The titular head of this family must be suitably schooled. And it cannot be done without my advice and concurrence, for I am the trustee and guardian of both those children."

Cole swallowed back a wave of bile at his uncle's words. So it was a "proper education" that James sought for his wards. Did he, perhaps, wish to see the young lords ensconced as lowly Collegers, as Cole himself had been? Was that still James's preferred method of fulfilling his family duty? To cart sheltered boys off to the cold beds and sparse tables of Eton, where they might subsist on scholarship, and survive by their fists?

Cole trembled with anger at the prospect. But it was none of his business. He had survived it. And so would they. "I take it we are discussing Lady Mercer?" he dryly replied, bending over to retrieve his uncle's quill.

"Bloody well right we are," answered Lord James, his voice stern. "And that is why I have called you here, Cole. I require your assistance."

His assistance? Oh no. He would not back a bird in this mess of a cockfight. He wanted nothing to do with the Rowland family. The young Marquis of Mercer meant nothing to him. Cole was merely related to the family by marriage, a fact his cousin Edmund Rowland had always been quick to point out, since it was crucial that the dynasty keep their lessers in their proper places. Well, fine! Then why must he suffer through an account of the machinations of Lady Mercer?

Her husband's suspicious death had nothing to do with Captain Cole Amherst. Lord Mercer's lovely young widow might be Lucrezia Borgia for all he knew -- or cared. Certainly many people held her in about that much esteem. And while they had liked her late husband even less, in death there was always veneration, no matter how wicked or deceitful the deceased had been in life. Yes, Lady Mercer's life was probably a living hell, but Cole needed to know nothing further of it.

"I am afraid, my lord, that I can be of no help to you," Cole said coolly. "I do not know the lady, and one cannot presume to advise -- "

"Quite right!" interjected his uncle sharply. "I need no advice! I daresay I know my duty to the orphans of this family, sir. You, above all people, ought to know that perfectly well."

Duty. Orphan. Such ugly, dreary words, and yet they summed up the whole of his uncle's commitment to him. He could almost see young Lord Mercer and his brother being locked up in the Long Chamber of Eton now. Cole bit back a hasty retort. "With all due respect, uncle, these children are hardly orphans. Their mother yet lives, and shares guardianship with you, I believe?"

"Yes," Lord James hissed. "Though what Mercer meant by appointing us jointly defies all logic! That woman -- of all people!"

Inwardly, Cole had to laugh. He rather suspected that Lord Mercer had known better than to circumvent his wife's parental authority altogether. From what Cole had heard, her ladyship was capable of flying in the face of any authority or command. Indeed, the woman whom half the ton referred to as the Sorceress of Strathclyde was reputedly capable of anything. Had the provisions of her dead husband's will displeased her, she would simply have set her pack of slavering solicitors at James's throat.

But quite probably the lady would have lost, for despite her own Scottish title and her status as the dowager marchioness, the patriarch supremacy of English law died a hard, slow death. But from all that Cole had heard, Lady Mercer -- or Lady Kildermore as she would otherwise have been called -- had seemingly forgotten St. Peter's admonition about women being the weaker vessel and having a meek and quiet spirit.

At that recollection, grief stabbed Cole, piercing his armor to remind him of Rachel. How different the two women must have been. Unlike Lady Mercer, Cole's wife had been the embodiment of all the Bible's teachings. Was that not a part of why he had married her?

At the time, she had seemed the perfect wife for a religious scholar, for a man destined to enter the church, as his father before him had done. Yes, like Uncle James, Rachel had known her duty quite thoroughly. Perhaps it was that very devotion to duty, Rachel's own meek and quiet spirit, which had been the end of her. Or perhaps it had simply been Cole's callous disregard for her welfare.

Shifting uneasily in his mahogany armchair, Cole shook off the memories of his dead wife. It should have been harder to do. What he had done should have haunted him, but most of the memories were so deeply buried that he was not sure if it did. He forced his attention to return to his uncle, who was still pacing across the red and gold carpet, and ranting to the rafters.

Suddenly, Lord James wheeled on him, standing to one side of the desk, his feet set stubbornly apart. One fist now clutched the advertisement. "You remain on half-pay?" The question was blunt.

Cole inclined his head slightly. "At present," he acknowledged.

"And what then?"

"When my leg is fully healed, I will rotate to garrison duty." Cole shot his uncle a wry smile. "By autumn, I'll be posted to Afghanistan. Malta or the Indies if I am among the more fortunate."

Lord James resumed his pacing for a time. At last, he spoke again. "Good. Then we have a little time."

"I beg your pardon?"

But Lord James did not respond. Instead, he seemed to collapse into his desk chair, looking suddenly pale and drawn. He cleared his throat sonorously. "Look here, Cole -- it is like this. I simply cannot bend her to my will." He said it quietly, as if it shamed him to confess such a failing. "I have done my damnedest. Lady Mercer will not even receive me. Not unless I insist upon consulting her in regard to the children, and then her solicitors must be present. Can you imagine such audacity?"

Cole felt a grin tug at his mouth. "Shocking, my lord," he managed to reply.

As if pleased by his nephew's sympathy, James nodded, then continued. "She has spent the months since my brother's murder hiding out at Kildermore Castle, a cold, godforsaken place hanging off a cliff over the Firth of Clyde. I was powerless -- indeed, our legal system is apparently powerless -- to stop her. Curse her impudence! She poisons her own husband, and it would seem she has gotten away with it. Nothing can be proven. Not only is she an adulteress, she is a murderess, and now, she thinks to undermine my authority over her children!" James shook his head until his jaws flapped. "I tell you, Cole, I greatly resent it."

All you resent, thought Cole sardonically, is that the awe-inspiring family title is not now yours. But wisely, he held his tongue. Lord James reared back in his chair and rested his hands atop his paunch. "I simply must have someone inside that house, Cole," he muttered.

Briefly, Cole considered the point. He personally knew at least two hundred good soldiers who were without work since the war's end. Several had the makings of a good spy, but he was loath to pitch anyone into the viper's pit which passed for the Rowland family. "You require an investigator, do you not?" he mused. "To discover what happened to your brother?"

Quickly, his uncle shook his head. "No, no. Too late for that! What I require is someone to watch her. I will have my nephew, Cole. It is in young Lord Mercer's best interest, because his mother is unfit to raise him."

"Is she indeed?" asked Cole softly, his tone hinting at doubt.

James swore violently under his breath. "Why, she drives men mad with lust!" he insisted. "Indeed, that besotted, brazen Delacourt practically lives under her roof now! And one has only to look at that younger boy to plainly see that he is no child of my brother's, though I suppose one cannot prove it."

"What, precisely, do you want, Uncle James?" asked Cole very softly.

"I want her every move watched with utmost care. I want her every indiscretion, her every temper tantrum, and indeed, her every movement documented." James pounded his fist upon the desk for emphasis. "And I want those boys properly educated, until such time as I can get them out of that house, and into this one. Or at minimum, enrolled in a decent school."

Cole felt a moment of concern on behalf of Lady Mercer, for James's ruthless determination was apparent. And had his uncle's concern been less personally motivated, Cole might have agreed with his assessment. From what little Cole knew of her ladyship, it was quite possible that she was not fit to parent her sons. Even he, a man who had no interest in the beau monde, had heard the whispered rumors of her lovers and of her husband's apparent murder.

Indeed, the tale about Lord Mercer's death was rather more than a rumor, for poison had been mentioned at the inquest. And her ladyship's rather obvious affection for David Branthwaite, Lord Delacourt, was the talk of the ton. Their relationship had begun long before Mercer's death and had continued unabated. Fleetingly, Cole felt sorry for the children, then just as quickly squashed that notion, too. None of it was his concern. No one had felt sorry for him when he had been left in similar straits -- nor had he wished them to, he inwardly insisted.

Cole looked up at his uncle and spread open his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I see your predicament, my lord. I wish I could be of some service, but this is clearly no matter for a military man."

"You misunderstand me, Cole. What I want is a tutor."

"A tutor?" Cole lifted his brows inquiringly.

"Good God, Cole!" James laid his palms flat upon the...

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