The Minx Who Met Her Match
Book 4 in the >Brethren Series
In the next book in USA Today Bestseller Christi Caldwell’s The Brethren series, sparks fly between a spirited lady and the unyielding barrister she goes toe-to-toe with.
Duncan Everleigh, barrister, widower, father. Accused murderer. . . Found innocent in the death of his wife, Duncan’s reputation is ruined, his law practice is nearly destroyed, and his daughter hates him. He’s content living for his work. Until one day he meets…
Miss Josephine Pratt…Her life is in tatters. Her oldest brother has brought them to financial ruin. Her betrothed has broken their engagement. Looking to escape, Josephine loses herself in her real passion—her other brother’s law books. A chance meeting in the London streets soon finds her employed by the last man she should, the barrister who’ll be opposing her brother in court.
Soon, Duncan and Josephine, two people who have vowed to never love again, find the protective walls they’ve each built, crumbling. When past secrets threaten to destroy their future, they’ll have to decide if love is enough.
Almost seven years earlier
Please, don’t let me be too late.
Bounding up the four steps of his townhouse, Duncan Everleigh shoved open the front door and staggered into the narrow foyer, panting.
Not stopping to catch his breath, he raced onward, tripping over himself as he climbed the stairs.
The moment he reached the main landing, he looked down one end of the corridor and then the other. His gaze caught on a young maid.
“Where is she?” he rasped. The she in question? None other than his feckless, faithless wife.
The ashen-faced maid ducked into a room. She slammed the door, the sound of its reverberations her only answer to Duncan’s question.
Unheeding the mess his muddied boots left upon the gleaming mahogany floors, Duncan quickened his stride. With every step, rage spiraled inside him, a dizzying torrent of icy, black hatred that filled him. It consumed him, driving his frantic movements. His black boots trailed mud over the ivory carpeting. Carpeting she’d insisted upon. That he’d worked tirelessly to provide. Believing it would make a difference. Believing if he could be more, that if he could provide more, she’d, at last, be happy.
He gave another bellow.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Joy, appeared at the end of the hall, blocking the path forward and forcing Duncan to stop as he reached her. “Where?”
Unlike the four other servants in his employ now scurrying off to their hiding places, she bravely faced Duncan, her usual cheerful smile in place. “Hullo, Mr. Everleigh,” she greeted.
He seethed. “Where?”
Mrs. Joy’s false bravado dipped, and she stole a look about. “Mr. Everleigh, please.”
Please. He gnashed his teeth. The usually loyal servant spoke as though Duncan were in the wrong. As though he were the one with an empty soul. Then, mayhap he was. For in this instance, with his wife hiding in this damned townhouse on which he could barely afford the rent, Duncan was filled with a visceral hatred that soured his mouth and dug at his core. “I’ll not ask you again, Mrs. Joy.”
And mayhap she saw the madness surging through his being, for the ever-brave and jolly Mrs. Joy lowered her gaze and remained stubbornly silent.
Duncan dropped his eyebrows. Apparently, loyalty to the liege was forgotten in moments of madness. “I will find her myself,” he vowed in a steely whisper.
There were only eight rooms in the damned townhouse. And by God, he’d take down every bloody door with his bare hands if need be. Duncan started his forward path when, from over his shoulder, Mrs. Joy’s faint voice reached him.
He wheeled around.
“Mrs. Everleigh is in the guest chambers.”
“The guest chambers,” Duncan echoed dumbly.
Every time he visits, he makes love to me in these rooms.
Duncan’s heart thundered with a renewed beat of hatred. Pain and sadness had long ago died… as had his love for the shrew he called wife.
He registered Mrs. Joy’s pitying stare.
Heat rushed to his cheeks. By God, he’d been betrayed, deceived, and humiliated. He’d be damned if he would now be an object of pity by anyone because of the miserable viper he’d been foolish enough to take as his wife.
With a growl that ravaged his throat, Duncan took several jerky steps around his housekeeper. “See that my daughter does not leave the nursery,” he boomed.
“Please, Mr. Everleigh.” Mrs. Joy’s plea pealed off the walls, following him as he fled.
Ignoring her entreaty, Duncan lengthened his strides until he’d fallen into an all-out sprint. Breath coming hard and fast, he turned the corner and stopped before the hated door. He kicked at the old oak panel, and it splintered under the force of his blow. With every kick and give of the wood, Duncan’s fury eased until the door gave way altogether. In its demise came an eerie calm.
Sweat dripping from his brow, he forced his way through the gaping hole left by his efforts. His gaze did an automatic sweep of the room, instantly finding her.
His wife, Eugenia, sat at the vanity, pinching color into her flawless cream-white cheeks. “La, Duncan, you were always one for dramatics.” She spoke with the casual matter-of-factness of a devoted wife who remarked upon the weather to an equally devoted spouse.
Though, they two knew that in this farce of a marriage, there only was, and only had ever been, one loyal spouse.
Odd, he’d charged to this room fueled with words and demands, and now he stood, feeling like an outsider looking in on his life, while his wife affixed a pair of diamond earbobs to her delicate lobes. Those casual movements brought his attention to her heart-shaped face, and he searched for a hint of the innocent he’d believed her to be.
“You needn’t have destroyed a perfectly good door. One that was unlocked, no less.” She giggled and patted her artful coiffure.
With hair so dark it was the color of a moonless midnight and a clear blue gaze, there was an otherworldly beauty to this woman, and he’d been captivated by her the moment he’d first caught a glimpse of her across a ballroom. Seven years ago? It might as well have been a lifetime, for all that had come to pass.
Eugenia shoved to her feet with a whisper of satin skirts that fluttered at her ankles. She angled herself in the mirror, studying her trim visage. Her narrow waist gave no hint of the child she’d given birth to only eight weeks earlier. Eugenia caught his eye in the mirror and made a clucking sound. “Do have some pride. It isn’t becoming to lust after a woman who hates you so.”
Bitterness soured his mouth.
Fool. You bloody fool.
He’d not give in to her baiting, her attempts to be cruel and ugly to not only him, but also to their daughter.
“Oh, come,” she taunted. “It is written in your eyes. Pathetic, pathetic man.”
Mayhap at one time he would have been crippled by that derision. His love for the incomparable, Eugenia Aterwall had died a swift death early in their marriage. The first month, to be precise. Just as his lust for her had also died. It was hard to feel anything more than hatred for a soulless viper like the one before him.
“You aren’t leaving, Eugenia,” he said in a steely whisper.
They both looked at the remaining trunks not yet delivered to the waiting carriage.
Eugenia tightened her mouth, and that movement twisted her expression into something macabre and hideous. A match to the ugliness of her soul. “I’m leaving.” A taunting glimmer lit her eyes.
By God, she’s thrilling in this. Loathing unfurled anew inside him. “You have a child.” A tiny, cheerful, big-cheeked little girl. “You’d leave Charlemagne.” Those words were spoken as much for himself, a reminder of who Eugenia was and what she sought to do.
“Goodness, she has a nursemaid, Duncan.”
“She needs a damned mother,” he cried. Even if it was one who spent more time with her lover than with her own child.
Eugenia scoffed. “I’m not letting you keep me here just so you might give me more babes I don’t want.”
Duncan surged forward, startling a gasp from the woman he would be forever bound to. He took her lightly by the shoulders and implored her with his eyes to relent. “This isn’t about me.”
“Release me,” she hissed, yanking free, and Duncan let her go. “I am leaving. With him.”
There was only one him—Duncan’s older brother, Matthew. Since they’d been boys, they’d vied for Eugenia’s hand. Duncan had won her as his wife. Matthew, however, had wooed her away—only after he’d been titled Viscount Darlington.
And now Matthew would take Charlie’s mother away from her.
“I’ll not let you do this,” he whispered, stepping into her path as she made to go around him. “I’ll see you dead before I let you go.”
His wife chuckled and, presenting him with her back, returned to the vanity. “La, there you go with your silly theatrics, Duncan,” she mocked. “As if you’re putting on one of your shows for some magistrate.” She’d always abhorred the work he did, the same work that kept her comfortable. Eugenia retrieved her white satin gloves. “Either way, I am not asking your permission. I am simply doing as I please,” she said, tugging on each scrap.
How could she simply… leave? Yet, as she carefully withdrew the diamond and sapphire bracelets and other expensive baubles gifted to her by another man and placed them in a small valise, reality slammed into him. Making this moment real in ways it hadn’t been before.
“What of Charlie?” he asked quietly. “You can’t just leave her.” He made a final appeal. “She is but a babe.” Nearly four-years-old.
“You’re wrong.” Her response ushered in some relief. “I will simply leave her.” At that casual reply, gooseflesh dotted his skin. “You know I cannot stand her company. She’s an oddity, Duncan.”
Then she brushed past him.
Air swooshed noisily in his ears.
She’d just walk out on her daughter, leaving Charlie with a scandal and shame once the world learned of Eugenia’s treachery. The same rabid fury that had sent him charging here from his offices roared to life. Damn her. Damn her rotted heart to hell.
From somewhere within the townhouse, a high-pitched scream went up, curdling his blood and briefly superseding his fury and pain, only to be followed by an eerie silence.
Heart racing, Duncan rushed from the room.
He staggered to a stop at the top of the landing.
His stomach revolted.
At the base of the stairs, Eugenia lay in a tangle of limbs. Her eyes stared, unseeing, at the ceiling overhead. The obscene diamond pendant, a gift from Duncan’s own brother, lay against her twisted neck.
The earth dipped and swayed, and servants came rushing from whatever hiding places they’d kept until this moment. One of the maids dropped to a knee beside the figure sprawled awkwardly between the bottom step and the marble foyer, and then she looked up at her employer. “She is”—the girl dropped her voice to a horrified whisper—“dead.”
Appalled gazes swung up to Duncan.
His legs went weak under him, and he collapsed upon the top step. Whispers from below carried up to his ears as he dropped his head into his hands, and through the haze, but one word penetrated his shock and horror…