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Scandal with a Sinful Scot

By:Karyn Gerrard

Prologue


Insolvent Debtor’s Court

Lincoln Inns Fields, London

Early January, 1845

Garrett Wollstonecraft, and his nephew, Riordan, sat in the gallery of Insolvent Debtor’s Court, awaiting the hearing of Riordan’s father-in-law, Baron Thomas Durning. Four imperious-looking judges in robes and white wigs sat before a long table high above everyone. Directly below, the barristers sat to their right, the debtors to their left. The room was crowded, the air stale, the lighting as inadequate as the heat on this frigid winter day. Due to the dimness, an aura of gloom hung over the proceedings.

Riordan’s bride, Sabrina, decided not to attend her father’s hearing, which was completely understandable since the loathsome man had tried to sell her on three different occasions, most recently to the equally loathsome Marquess of Sutherhorne. It was by sheer luck that the Wollstonecrafts managed to locate Sabrina before she’d been hidden away. Despite his despicable behavior, Garrett gave the baron a reluctant nod for not fleeing to France to escape his debts, as many peers before him had done. Durning had stood his ground, facing his fate head-on. Let justice be done.

“The blasted man deserves a worse fate than debtor’s prison,” Riordan whispered fiercely to Garrett. “We all agreed to keep the incident quiet to protect Sabrina, but he deserves to be sent to Newgate Prison to rot. Surely kidnapping and selling another human for profit would be adequate enough for a conviction.”

“For a common man, it would. It’s a miscarriage of justice when peers are protected above all others,” Garrett solemnly replied. “This was the only solution, especially since you wished for Sabrina to be protected from speculative gossip, which I wholeheartedly agree with.”

“Yet Sutherhorne walks free,” Riordan replied in a low voice. “A miscarriage of justice indeed.”

Garrett couldn’t agree more. “We will remain vigilant. I don’t trust the marquess. He is a soulless cretin who will seek revenge. Mark my words.” He no sooner spoke when the marquess strode into court, causing a buzz of excitement. A lumbering brute of a man followed directly behind him and took a seat next to him in the front row of the gallery.

The marquess turned and stared at them, his expression dark and chilly. Once they had rescued Sabrina from her father and Sutherhorne’s clutches, the marquess had threatened: This is far from over. I will never forget the humiliation. Judging by the way Sutherhorne glared at them menacingly, Garrett believed this was far from over. He was ready. It would be his distinct pleasure to break the thin, putrid old marquess like a brittle stick.

“Hear ye, hear ye! Court is in session.”

Sutherhorne turned his attention toward the judges. The baron tried to catch the marquess’s attention. Was he hoping for a last-minute intervention? A payment of the debt? But Sutherhorne patently ignored the desperate man. He had come to watch his downfall, not assist him. Garrett’s original assessment held true: the marquess was malevolence personified.

As the court proceeded, people from all walks of life were hauled before the judges, their sentences rendered in swift fashion. At last, the baron stood before the austere justices. “With the sale of Durning House and all its possessions, the sum is inadequate to meet all creditors,” a barrister intoned.

“How much of the debt is outstanding?” a judge asked.

“Twenty-six hundred and twenty-two pounds, my lord,” the barrister answered, reading from an officious paper. “And thirteen shillings and seven pence.”

“My lord. Here are thirteen shillings and seven pence. I will at least cover that much,” Sutherhorne sniffed, holding up a handful of coins. The court broke out in raucous laughter, and Durning flushed with embarrassment. So the marquess was not only here to observe the baron’s disgrace, but to humiliate him as well. Garrett couldn’t keep the contempt from his expression as he glared at Sutherhorne.

“Order!” One of the judges banged the gavel. “The bench acknowledges the Marquess of Sutherhorne. Even though you meant it as a jest, we will take the coin tendered.” The judge ordered the bailiff to gather up the offering. “Baron Durning, are you able to pay the outstanding amount?”

“No…my lord,” he muttered, looking down at his shoes.

“It is the judgment of this court that you be taken to Queen’s Prison in Southwark immediately, and remain there until such time you can meet your debt in full. Next case.”

“Debtor’s prison, as we surmised. Well, some justice at any rate. We should take our leave,” Garrett suggested.

They headed for the exit, but were blocked by the marquess placing his silver cane across the doorjamb. “Satisfied by the verdict?” he sniffed. “Had to see for yourself the man’s downfall?”

God, this man made Garrett’s blood boil. “As did you. And no, we are not satisfied. You are still free from the guilty verdict you so richly deserve,” he growled. “Remove your cane or I will…”

“What? Assault me once again? Here, in a room full of witnesses, including judges? Knowing of your animal urges it would not take much to provoke you to a response. Your temperamental Scottish blood will lead to your ruin.” Sutherhorne gave him a slimy smile of contempt.

Garrett’s fury bubbled to the surface, but he fought showing it outright. Be damned if he would allow this sorry excuse of a peer to goad him. “Remove the cane, or I will snap it in two, and do the same to you, as I promised. Remember?” Garrett’s voice was low, the tone deadly.

“Ah, a decided threat. Did you hear him, Delaney?” he said to his brute. Delaney, an indifferent expression on his face, replied with a brisk nod. They were attracting attention. Sutherhorne, at last, moved his cane. “We will meet again, and then we will see who snaps whom in two. Good day, gentlemen.”

Garrett pushed his way through the door, and Riordan followed until they stood outside on the cobbles. Hell, Sutherhorne could rile him. The family had made a true enemy of the marquess.

“You’re correct, Garrett. He’s a soulless cretin. I detected the hate in his eyes—and the desire for revenge.” Riordan blew out a cleansing breath. “Shall we head for Wollstonecraft Hall?”

“I have further business. Since you have to take up your schoolmaster position once again in Carrbury, head home to Sabrina. Tell Da I’ll return by the end of the week.”

“Very well.” His nephew hesitated, then met his gaze. “Thank you for all that you’ve done, not only in assisting me these past several months, but our entire lives. You are the rugged stone on which our family’s foundation is built. The mortar that holds us together. We all feel this way. I wish more than anything for you to find love and happiness as I have. If anyone deserves it, it is you.”

After the men went their separate ways, Garrett relaxed in the inn’s common room, sipping a tumbler of scotch. Riordan’s generous and heartfelt words still reverberated in his mind. It humbled him to know that his family thought well of him.

Strange lot, the Wollstonecraft men. Once touched by tragedy, they did not give their hearts easily. Happiness? Love? Garrett decided early on to lock his heart and toss the key. It had only been engaged once. So long ago it was if it had happened in a dream. Her name formed on his lips, begging to be spoken aloud, but it remained a quiet whisper. Abbie.

Never again. Frowning briefly, he pushed the memories away, as he often did.

He was better off alone.





Chapter 1


Two days later

Whitechapel, London

A curse could be a damnable weight to carry, but Garrett reasoned he had shoulders broad enough to handle the burden. How does a curse come about? Did a medieval witch cast it on the ancient Wollstonecrafts for an imagined slight, or was the sixteenth century Earl of Carnstone born under a black moon, passing the curse down through the generations?

Every man born through this particular bloodline of Wollstonecrafts suffered incredible tragedies. Women in the family, either born or wedded into it, did not live long. Didn’t matter how many times the man remarried.

Why such darkness hung over his family remained a complete conundrum. After all, they had dedicated their lives to progressive causes and the plight of the poor, especially his father and brother in parliament. It should count for something. Yet sitting here in Edwin Seward’s office in Whitechapel, Garrett wondered if the curse moved beyond romantic attachments to include other aspects of the Wollstonecraft men’s lives. There was no better example than his brother Julian’s oldest, Aidan.

His nephew had been missing for close to four months, as if he’d fallen off the edge of the earth. Since he was only six years older than his paternal twin nephews, Aidan and Riordan, they all were more like brothers. They shared a close bond, as did all the men in the family, but none like the one he shared with the twins.

Riordan was happily settled, and though Garrett had tried to make him see sense regarding the curse, he would have none of it. He was deeply in love. No talk of an ancient curse had deterred him from Sabrina. Well, it was his decision. Garrett could only wish them the best.

He turned his attention back to Aidan, the main reason he’d remained in London. The reason he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. For more than a year, Aidan had been wallowing in the seamy underbellies of London and Bath by sinking into even darker, more debauched depths. Despite his vices, he’d kept in touch. Returned home every month without fail. Well, until last September, that was. Shortly thereafter, the contact ended.

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