A Study in Scandal (Scandalous)

By: Caroline Linden

He grimaced. “I was afraid of that! Drat and blast. I am Wilfred Humphries, private agent of inquiry.” He tipped his hat again. “I’ve been charged with finding Lady Lucinda Radcliff, who was stolen from her parents as an infant and, one fears, sold on the streets of London.”

Samantha gasped and twisted to look after the little girl, searching in vain for a glimpse of her ragged dress or flower basket. “Was that she?”

“Perhaps, perhaps.” He urged her to walk alongside him. “I’ve been trying to catch her for some time now, but she’s quick. And her parents—so worried, m’lady! As you can imagine, they’re frantic to have her found. I hoped you might be a regular customer of hers and know where I could locate her.”

“How do you know she’s the girl you seek?”

He laughed pleasantly. “I don’t! That’s why I need to catch the child, to get a good look at her. Would you help me? She might be more willing to approach a lady such as yourself.” Samantha hesitated, and he quickly added, “Think of her mother, the Countess of Ellsford, weeping brokenheartedly every night over her lost child.”

“Lady Ellsford?” Samantha edged away, almost bumping into another man, much larger, who had come up silently on her other side. A chill of unease stole across her skin. “I think you must be mistaken. Lady Ellsford is past seventy. Her children are all older than I am.” She was on the brink of suggesting he must be thinking of Lady Feinsworth, the matriarch of the only Radcliff family she knew, when the truth hit her. She raised her chin with a jerk and stopped walking. “I think you’re lying.”

Mr Humphries stepped close, and she realized he looked a bit like a rabbit, with a toothy grin and big dark eyes. Before she could recoil, he’d taken hold of her arm. “Perhaps it’s a different Lady Ellsford. Come, dear, don’t you want to catch the little street brat? Just in case.”

“Let me go!” She tried to wrest free, but he had her. The hulking man on her other side crowded closer, trapping her with a thick arm around her waist.

“Come along, don’t cause a fuss,” cooed Humphries. “We won’t hurt you…”

“You already are!” She struggled harder, but the big man squeezed her tighter. With a shock she felt his hand on her bottom. “Stop!”

“Not yet, just a bit further.” Humphries smiled. His accomplice was holding her so tightly she could hardly breathe, and her toes were barely touching the ground now. “You’re such a pretty girl, so lovely. Blond hair and green eyes, what a striking combination!”

“Nice tits, too,” grunted the giant, who was still groping her bottom. “At least five guineas for this one, I wager.”

“You’ll be well treated, like a princess.” Humphries pried her reticule out of her grip. “Just come with us quietly, or Billy will get rough. He’s not used to dealing with ladies like yourself, his manners leave something to be desired—”

She managed to slap him, her hand shaking. “Help!” Samantha wheezed, terror stealing her voice. But the crowds that had surrounded them just a few minutes ago had thinned out, and the few people passing now kept their heads down.

Someone called out behind them and she craned her neck to see another man striding after them. “Help,” she said again, a split second before wondering if he was part of the plot as well. The big man, Billy, cursed and yanked her up like a rag doll, quickening his pace while Humphries stopped and spoke to the newcomer.

Samantha’s thoughts blazed through her brain like streaks of lightning, sharp and jarring and gone in an instant. She was an idiot. She was being kidnapped. No one was going to help her. No one even knew where she was. She had to do something to save herself.

She tried to call out again and the man carrying her shook her so hard her teeth knocked together. He was almost running now, hauling her along with his arm like a rope around her waist, and still no one seemed to pay them any mind. There was a shout behind them, and her captor glanced over his shoulder before taking a sharp turn and racing into a narrow, gloomy alley. Visions of being stuffed into a carriage and driven away, locked up and hidden until no one would ever be able to find her, filled her head. Her chest was being crushed by the meaty arm around her. She kicked, but her soft leather boots made no impact on his shins. Desperately she turned her head and sank her teeth into his shoulder. He wore only a grubby white shirt, and let out a vile curse as she bit him. His grip loosened and she managed to seize a lock of his hair and pulled with all her might.

▶ Also By Caroline Linden

▶ Last Updated

▶ Hot Read

▶ Recommend

Top Books