Excerpt: Never Love a Scoundrel
Secrets & Scandals, Book 5
Once again, Lady Lydia Prewitt was on a fool’s errand. Aunt Margaret was rabid to learn all she could about Mr. Locke’s sudden appearance in Society, starting with the nature of his relationship to the young and recently widowed Lady Aldridge. And since Aunt Margaret had threatened to return Lydia to her father in remote Northumberland if she failed to discover the truth, Lydia had no choice but to obey her directives.
Mr. Locke was of interest because he was the bastard brother of the notorious—and very likely mad—Lord Lockwood, who was neither seen nor desired in Society. Gleaning information about him was important to Aunt Margaret, as she firmly believed that knowledge was power. Which meant Aunt Margaret had to be the most powerful woman in London.
However, powerful wasn’t the same as liked or admired, and Lydia had decided that she preferred the latter over the former. It was a sentiment Aunt Margaret didn’t share, which had caused them to be at extreme odds of late—hence Aunt Margaret’s threats to return Lydia to the middle of nowhere, also known as “home.” Not that it was difficult to be at odds with Aunt Margaret. She was a singularly domineering and demanding person.
Aldridge House loomed before Lydia. Larger than most townhouses, its façade spanned at least three of her aunt’s house. A wrought iron gate separated a path leading to the door from the sidewalk.
Lydia arrived at the gate at the same time as a tall, well-dressed gentleman. She lifted her eyes to his face and stifled a gasp. A long scar cut down his left cheek marring what would have been a handsome visage. He tipped his head to the side so that his right cheek was angled toward her.
“Are you going to Aldridge House?” he asked.
“Yes.” Lydia searched her memory for his identity. She prided herself on knowing everyone, but she was certain they’d never met. Then it hit her: the scar. She did gasp then. “Are you…Lord Lockwood?”
His gaze narrowed slightly.
Aunt Margaret had said that Locke and Lockwood were half-brothers. There was also a rumor that they shared certain physical characteristics, which only gave credence to her aunt’s declaration. Lydia studied Lockwood’s features, trying to discern a resemblance, but she’d only seen Mr. Locke across a crowded ballroom. She supposed they were nearly the same height. Maybe. And they both had very dark hair. But, brothers? She couldn’t say for sure.
The brim of his hat shaded his face from the weak afternoon sun finding its way through the mottled clouds, but she saw his right brow arch. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Lady Lydia Prewitt. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” And a boon. When Aunt Margaret heard of this, perhaps Lydia would earn a reprieve from having to hunt gossip. “Are you here to see Lady Aldridge?”
He opened the gate and held it for her. “I hope to, yes. Paying my respects.”
Lydia walked into the front courtyard and looked back at Lord Lockwood as if she could visually detect whether he was actually insane. He tipped his head up slightly, giving her a clear view of his features and she didn’t doubt for a moment that he was a scoundrel. It seemed to be written in the wide set of his mouth, the alluring coal-black lashes spiking from his eyes, and of course that terrible scar. What was a mad scoundrel who avoided Society doing visiting Lady Aldridge?
Although Lydia had lost her taste for gossip-mongering, she still couldn’t quash her genuine interest in people. Especially enigmatic people who never ventured into Society with whom she now found herself with. So she made small talk. “Awful business with Lord Aldridge. Such a tragedy.”
Apparently Lord Lockwood was not inclined to chatter. He waited for Lydia’s maid to enter the courtyard and then he shut the gate. Lydia sent her maid a look and a slight nod. The maid took a position along the low iron fencing.
Lydia tried again. “Are you a friend of Lady Aldridge’s?”
“I knew her husband.” He didn’t elaborate, and since his only interaction with Society gentlemen came from the scandalous parties he hosted, Lydia wondered if Lord Aldridge had been a guest. Several well-placed gentlemen were purported to attend Lockwood House’s entertainments, which she found more than a bit hypocritical since Lord Lockwood himself was generally disdained as an utter blackguard for having them in the first place.
At the door, Lord Lockwood rapped on the wood. A scant moment later, the butler appeared. “I’m sorry, her ladyship isn’t accepting visitors,” he said.
Lydia was nothing if not persistent. Undeterred, she flashed her best smile at the butler. “If you let her know Lady Lydia Prewitt is calling, I believe she’d like to see me. I bring tidings from my aunt.”
The butler looked at her as if she were an oddity. “Her ladyship isn’t feeling well today. Perhaps another day.”
Lord Lockwood pivoted so that he partially blocked Lydia. He handed the butler his card. “Would you inform her ladyship that I’m here? I’ll wait.” His tone was firm and brooked no disagreement. Lydia imagined he was used to issuing orders.
The butler gave a single nod and then closed the door.
Lord Lockwood might be a Society outsider, but he’d elicited more results than she. Apparently his name was still worth something, and because of that she was doubly glad she’d encountered him today. Aunt Margaret would be very annoyed if Lydia came home empty-handed, but now, thanks to Lockwood, she would not.
He turned to face her, still keeping the left side of his face slightly averted. “Do you visit Lady Aldridge often?”
“No.” Like him, she found herself giving a brief response. However, she couldn’t very well reveal that she was here rooting for information about why Lady Aldridge was attending church with his bastard brother. Better to deflect the conversation back to him. “Have you seen Lady Aldridge often since her husband passed?”
He sent her a look that made her wonder if he thought she was mad. “No.”
Attempting to smooth over any discomfort, she said, “Well, I suppose it’s not odd that neither of us have seen her. She’s kept to herself for the most part, hasn’t she? Until recently.” She watched him closely to see his reaction. Was he here because of his half-brother? What was their relationship?
“Mmm.” Again with the noncommittal utterance.
The door opened a small amount, and the butler’s round face appeared in the gap. “Lady Aldridge thanks you both for stopping by and hopes to receive you soon, but she’s simply too ill today.”
Lydia stepped to the side so that she wasn’t blocked by Lockwood. “Please convey my best to her ladyship.”
“And mine,” Lockwood put in.
The butler nodded before closing the door. Lydia glanced at Lockwood as she turned. “I do hope she’s not terribly ill.”
Lockwood pivoted, and they started back toward the gate. “Mmm.”
“That’s the third time you’ve done that,” Lydia said. “But I suppose your conversation skills might be a bit out of practice.”
She inwardly cringed and shot him a regretful look. She wasn’t typically sarcastic—out loud, at least—except with the select few with whom she felt comfortable. Did that mean she felt comfortable with Lord Lockwood of all people?
He slowed his pace and stared down at her. He didn’t appear angry, but with that scar and eyes the color of the Thames in winter—a dark, murky grey—he looked fierce. “Yes, they might just be,” he said softly, with what she thought could be a touch of humor.
Lydia relaxed, but only briefly. She shouldn’t leave yet. If she failed to gather even a sliver of gossip for Aunt Margaret, she might find herself on the next mail coach to Northumberland. Expulsion would make the five and a half years she’d spent entrenching herself in London Society all for naught. She’d likely wind up married to a sheep farmer who lived thirty miles from the nearest village. Rural sheep farmers were fine and good for someone who loved the country and isolation. But Lydia loved the bustle and noise—even the smell—of London.
Fortified with the need to cling to the life she’d built over the past five years, Lydia amassed her courage and ignored her shame, two things she’d mastered under Aunt Margaret’s tutelage, and made a nuisance of herself. “Forgive my boldness, but I’m afraid I can’t let this opportunity go without asking. Why are you here? You’re a recluse, and yet here you are calling on Lady Aldridge.”
He gave a little shrug. “Perhaps I’m just thoughtful. Is there something wrong with that?”
“Of course not, but you must agree it’s…odd.”
“No, I mustn’t agree.” He paused, his gaze assessing her shrewdly. “You’re going to tell everyone you’ve seen me here, aren’t you?”
If Aunt Margaret had anything to say about it—and she unfortunately did—Lydia would tell anyone who would listen and even those who wouldn’t. But maybe he didn’t want her to. If he asked her not to tell, she’d agree, even though it would likely earn her Aunt Margaret’s undying wrath if she ever found out. Hesitantly she asked, “Is your visit here a secret?”
“Not at all. Feel free to tell everyone you’ve met the mysterious and dastardly Lord Lockwood.” His eyes bored into hers with exacting precision. Then he arched a brow, as if he was daring her to do what he said.
She stared into his eyes, unable to look away. “Mysterious, yes, but dastardly? However can I draw such a conclusion after our brief encounter?” Because everything about him—from the notorious parties he hosted to the vicious scar delineating his face—said he was dastardly. And scandalous and dangerous and who knew what else.
They arrived at the gate. He opened it for her. “I’m sure you’ll find the right word—or words—to describe me,” he drawled, his voice carrying the barest hint of darkness.
Lydia stopped. Where had that word come from? Her gaze darted to his scar. She was oddly fascinated by it. His ruined face should be unsettling, and she imagined most people—especially young ladies—cringed from it. But she found herself wanting to touch it. The wound had to have hurt quite a lot. He tipped his face again, averting the left side from her inquisitive gaze. Questions burned her tongue, but for the first time in she couldn’t remember how long she didn’t release them.
She stepped from the courtyard, and from the corner of her eye saw her maid inch forward. Lord Lockwood held the gate open until she haltingly made her way through it. She kept her gaze carefully averted from his face as she went to stand several feet down the sidewalk.
Lord Lockwood latched the iron clasp of the gate and then turned to Lydia. Again, he kept his right side prominent, and she wondered if he even realized it or if it was simply habit. How long ago had he received the scar? Aunt Margaret would know. She knew everything. And she was going to be giddy when she heard Lydia had met the reclusive Lord Lockwood.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Lydia.” His deep voice resonated in her belly and that word sounded in her head again like a warning: delicious.
Her pulse ticked up. “I do hope we’ll meet again.”
He smiled then, and Lydia’s knees nearly melted. “You never know, but I shouldn’t think so.”
“Then I shall have to treasure this interlude always,” she said, meaning every word. He carried an indescribable air. It was equal parts mystery and danger, but there was something else. Something that made her quivery and silly. “Though, I’ll endeavor to ensure it isn’t the last time.”
He leaned slightly forward, his eyes gleaming. “I’ll look forward to your efforts.”
She inclined her head and slowly turned away from him. She was reluctant to leave, but what was she going to do, stand there and trade flirtatious banter with him all afternoon? That sounded heavenly, actually.
She passed her maid and after a few steps turned her head. Lockwood’s back was retreating down the street. She willed him to turn and look at her, but he didn’t. With an internal sigh, she turned back and continued on her solitary way.