The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
Book 5 in the The Regency Rogues Series
In Stefanie Sloane’s irresistible Regency romance series of spy games and seductive passion, a rogue discovers that his desire for the wrong woman is so very right.
A notorious scoundrel, the right Honorable Nicholas Bourne has spent years in the East Indies amassing a fortune through questionable means. Still, his loyalty to his older brother, Langdon, and his childhood friends remains true and trusted. But when Lady Sophia Southwell, the woman promised to Nicholas’s brother, seeks his help on a dangerous mission, he is troubled—and torn. Unable to dissuade her from her quest to find a killer, he vows to keep her safe. This makes his mission the hardest test of his wits, honor, and skill. For Sophia is the secret love of his life.
For years, Sophia has planned her daring act of revenge against her mother’s killer. She has painstakingly prepared herself by studying the criminal mind. Now she knows that the moment is right and that Nicholas is the man to help her. But she doesn’t count on the reckless temptation of his rugged sensuality or the captivating intensity in his deep eyes. When desire and emotion intoxicate her as they venture together into the darkest corners of London’s underbelly, Sophia must contend with a yearning even more powerful than the quest for vengeance: the call of love.
Please note that this novel was previously published.
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
Book 5 in the The Regency Rogues Series
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
May, 1813, Carrington House, London
“I loathe weddings.”
Lady Sophia Afton smiled wryly in response to Langdon Bourne’s drawling statement. “Do you think it wise to share such views with the woman you intend to marry? At a wedding, no less?”
“Tell me you feel otherwise,” the Earl of Stonecliffe petitioned with easy confidence.
Sophia arched one feathered brow and acquiesced. “I would be lying if I did.”
“And you, my dear Sophia, never lie,” Langdon softly answered. “One of your most remarkable traits, that.”
Sophia tipped her head in recognition of the compliment before turning to watch the newly wed Viscountess Carrington as she accepted a warm embrace from her husband, Dashiell Matthews, Viscount Carrington.
The newlyweds remained in each other’s arms slightly longer than was acceptable, Elena’s chaste yet lingering kiss upon Dash’s cheek at their eventual parting prompting onlookers to sigh with approval. A decidedly besotted grin had settled on the viscount’s face as he gazed at his bride.
“That may be. Still, I’ll not ruin Dash’s wedding day—nor will you. He is, after all, one of our dearest friends. Now, look as if you’re bowled over by sentiment. Or filled with happiness, at the very least.”
Langdon reached out and captured Sophia’s hand in his, giving her a conspiratorial wink. “In that case, all I need do is gaze upon your enchanting face.”
Sophia squeezed his hand and smiled brightly, attempting to infuse her response with the depth of emotion she should feel for her betrothed.
But as Langdon had just mentioned, lying would never be considered a special talent of hers.
At that moment, Lady Whitcomb and her daughter Mariah walked by the couple, nodding graciously in greeting though they looked reluctant to interrupt the intimate moment.
Sophia and Langdon returned the salutation in unison, his strong, square chin dropping at precisely the moment hers dipped, as if both were controlled by the same strings.
They were perfectly suited for each other, Sophia thought. Everyone within the swirl of society that surrounded them agreed upon this fact. Their parents had begun planning on the very day Sophia was born; the impending marriage written into the detailed schedule of Sophia’s life, sometime after perfecting the pianoforte and well before the birth of her first child.
But then her mother had been brutally murdered at the Afton country estate and neither the killer nor his motive was ever found. Many wondered why Sophia had not taken comfort in Langdon’s arms the moment she was old enough to marry. Even more whispered today, many years since a trip down the aisle had been expected.
Sophia wondered, too. She leaned into Langdon’s bulk, the feel of his arm against hers familiar and pleasing. Theirs was a perpetual state of suspension. Neither unwanted nor deeply desired, the interminable engagement was just there, much like Sophia’s love for Langdon. There was no need to question their regard for each other. They would marry, someday.
Perhaps they would not embrace with passion at their own wedding celebration. Nor, Sophia suspected, would Langdon wear an unguarded grin that betrayed his feelings for the entire world to see. But they would be happy and settled, married and the best of friends. What more could there be?
Unbidden, the swift image of Nicholas Bourne, second son of the late earl and brother to Langdon, flashed before her. He stared hard at her, his eyes so deep a brown that they seemed to hold the darkness of night when he was angered—a constant state of being for him whenever Sophia was present.
She frowned, eyes narrowing. Why was she allowing Nicholas to occupy her thoughts? She shook her head slightly, determinedly banishing the mental image of the man that both irritated and ignited her mind.
“Ah, there’s Carmichael,” Langdon announced in his steady tone, releasing Sophia’s hand. “I’ll go say hello—unless you would like to accompany me?”
Henry Prescott, Viscount Carmichael, was a dear family friend to both Sophia and Langdon. A high-ranking official within the Young Corinthians, a covert governmental spy organization, he’d been instrumental in the search for Lady Afton’s killer. Sophia shouldn’t have known about the spy syndicate that Langdon and Dash belonged to, but the ever charitable Carmichael took pity on the young girl who’d lost her mother and let her in on their secret, promising to do everything he could to capture the killer.
Sophia would always be indebted to Carmichael for all of his efforts. Still, she found it difficult to be near the man, the gnawing sorrow of her mother’s fate only magnified when she looked in his eyes.
“No, no,” Sophia replied politely. “Go on. I believe I shall indulge in a glass of champagne.”
Langdon nodded approvingly, then courteously waded into the fray of family and friends that stood between him and his superior.
Sophia daintily waved down a passing footman carrying a silver tray laden with champagne flutes. “Thank you,” she told the man, taking up a slim glass and smiling appreciatively.
A sturdy finger tapped a tattoo on her shoulder, followed by Dash’s familiar voice in her ear. “You look lovely, Sophia.”
She turned to face him, schooling her features into abject surprise. “Really? I should go searching about the rag bin more often.”
Her elegant pale green gown, made especially for the occasion, was banded at the hem and waist in a narrow strip of cream and darker green embroidery. The toes of her matching slippers peeped from beneath the hem. Emerald drop earrings echoed the larger, single-drop jewel of her necklace, and a dark green silk shawl was draped artfully over her arms.
“I am attempting to behave myself, Sophia,” Dash countered with mock ruefulness. “The old me would have likened your green dress to a hearty cucumber. Or perhaps a head of spring lettuce.”
“Vegetables? Ah, there is the Dash I know,” Sophia murmured with pleasure, brushing a stray thread from her dear friend’s dark blue coat.
Dash mirrored her efforts and reached out to pluck playfully at her shawl. “But I am a husband now. And will be a father one day. It is time for me to grow up. To embrace my future—that is what they say, isn’t it?”
There was a certain obligation to agree upon such sentiment at weddings. Talk of plans and fairytale endings were meant to roll off the tongue as one would welcome a stray ray of sunlight after an English winter—without thought or effort.
Why then did Sophia feel as if she balanced on the dizzying and wholly unwelcome brink of crying? She loved Dash as if his blood ran in her veins, and believed most fervently that he completely and without reservation deserved absolute happiness.
“Are you ready, then?” she asked, the words sticking like treacle in her throat. “To grow up?”
“More than ready, Sophia,” Dash replied, bending his knees until he was eye to eye with her. “Elena saved me. Let Langdon do the same for you—as he did at the frog pond.”
Sophia had been nine. Nicholas had enticed her down to the frog pond with the promise of seeing the largest frog to have ever graced all of Sussex. She could not refuse, such a creature was surely far too abominable to ignore.
The monstrous beast, not surprisingly, turned out to be wholly fictitious. Nicholas had only craved the opportunity to shove Sophia into the pond. Which he’d done the moment she’d knelt on the muddy banks.
And Langdon had jumped in after her, nearly killing the both of them with his enthusiastic, albeit unskilled, efforts. Nevertheless, she’d proclaimed him her hero.
“I am not drowning, Dash,” Sophia assured her friend, turning to take in Langdon as he conversed with Lord Carmichael across the room.
She did not lie. Drowning was surely a startling occurrence, full of fear and desperation. In contrast, Sophia’s life continued on in predictable fashion as she held tight to the belief that one day she would find her mother’s killer, then move on to secure her own happiness with Langdon.
“Treading water, then?” Dash suggested bleakly.
“Stop,” Sophia warned, tears pressing at the back of her eyes, “or you will make me cry, which I know for a fact you cannot abide. Besides, it is normally Nicholas’s responsibility to upset me.”
Her mind wandered toward the man for the second time that day. Sophia searched the crowd for him. “And do you know, I don’t believe I saw him at the church.”
Dash brought his glass to his lips and drained the last of the champagne before turning to set the empty flute on a nearby mahogany table. “Didn’t you?”
His evasive answer sent a warning prickling over Sophia’s skin. “No, I am sure of it.”
“That seems rather strange,” Dash answered, staring at Sophia with what seemed to be abject honesty.
Only he was lying. The pupils of his eyes were dramatically dilated, something Sophia knew happened when an individual was not telling the truth.
“Has he disappeared somewhere to drink again?” she pressed, unease settling between her shoulders. “There is no need to protect me, Dash. We might not be particularly close, but I am well aware of Nicholas’s lamentable habit.”
“Interrogating me at my own wedding?” Dash chided affably, looking over her head to the guests milling about. “Perhaps the Runners have trained you too well.”