A Study in Scandal (Scandalous)

By: Caroline Linden

“Bloody bitch,” he snarled, dropping her.

Samantha fell hard, landing on her hip and forearm. Gasping from the pain, she scrambled backward, but he lumbered after her. “Ye cost me a guinea,” he growled as he grabbed her by the hair and half dragged her down the sloping alley. He gave her a hard slap on the side of her head, and her ears rang. “Good riddance to ye.”

And he pushed her, right into the river.

Chapter Three

George Churchill-Gray was having a splendid day. Not only was the light perfect for painting today, he’d finally found the right mix of pigments for his latest canvas. Sadly, his next discovery had been that he was almost all out of two of them. It was an inconvenience, but a minor one; the day was clear and bright, so he put on his hat and headed for the print shop around the corner that sold the best paints. His fingers already itched to start work. This was going to be his best work yet, he could feel it in his bones.

He only noticed the girl because she wore a bright red spencer. She made a very lovely image, walking along the pavement with a posy of daisies in one hand, tilting her head from side to side as if she were lost, or perhaps new to London and taking in the sights. Then he caught sight of her face, and realized it was the latter. She was marveling at everything around her, her eyes wide, her lips parted and curved in the most perfect air of enchantment. For a moment he admired the scene: the closely packed buildings cast into deep shadow, the bustling crowd flowing along the pavement like a human river, and then her, lovely and unhurried like a goddess stepped down to earth for the first time. It put him in mind of the work of Raphael or Titian, the way the light seemed to pick her out of the crowd and bathe her in a heavenly glow. He was almost distracted from his errand by the desire to watch her, to sketch her for a future work. Her face was Athena, he decided, youthful but serene, beautiful and noble.

As he stood admiring, the idyllic vision faltered. A man leaped in front of her, sweeping off his hat in a grand bow too elaborate to be innocent. The girl took a step backward, surprise evident in her figure. Unconsciously Gray’s feet began moving in her direction.

But then all seemed well. The pair conversed a moment. A stage lumbered through the busy street, briefly hiding them from his view, and when it had passed Gray saw that the girl was walking beside the man in the hat. Perhaps he knew her after all. She wasn’t protesting or struggling. He hesitated, torn between the urge to get back to his studio and the lingering curiosity about the goddess in the scarlet spencer. He wanted another glimpse of her face. Not that she was any of his concern, a perfect stranger walking down the street. He’d learned his lesson the hard way, impulsively asking strange women if he could sketch them. At best she would look fearful and run the other way. At worst he’d find himself apologizing to a magistrate again. Best be on to the print shop, he told himself.

At the corner he glanced back, unable to resist entirely. The crowd had thinned a little, and he had a good view. Another man had joined the first, flanking the young woman. She no longer looked content, though; she kept edging away from them, and as Gray watched, the bigger man slid his arm around her waist. She jerked, trying to pull free, and Gray turned to follow without a second thought.

He lengthened his stride, not taking his eyes off her. She was struggling, but the men weren’t letting her go, and they seemed to be almost carrying her between them. Gray cursed under his breath. What was the world coming to, when a woman could be picked up and carried off against her will in broad daylight, right in the middle of London?

As he got closer he sized up the men. The first was a handsome fellow, slim and short. He wouldn’t be much trouble. The other man was bigger, uglier, and probably much stronger. He was the one holding the girl while the first man talked rapidly to her, petting her hand the whole while. Any doubts Gray had about her willingness vanished when she slapped him.

Gray broke into a run. “Pardon me,” he called. “Are you in trouble, miss?”

She twisted to look back. Her eyes were green—and wide with fear. “Help,” she said, her voice wheezing.

The bigger man pulled her off her feet and walked away, leaving the shorter fellow to face him. “Let go of the young lady,” Gray commanded. His hands balled into fists.

The shorter fellow raised his hands calmingly. “She’s a runaway,” he said in a soothing voice. “A girl of good family, but with a wild nature. Her father hired us to find her and return her to him, safe and sound. Surely you don’t want to interfere with the reunion   of father and daughter? I certainly advise you against it, he’s not a man to be trifled with…”

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