Courting Trouble by Kerrigan Byrne

Prologue





Chariton’s Dock, Southwark, London, 1880





As Honoria’s blood pooled onto the dock from the bullet wound, she felt oddly relieved.

She was ready to die.

Marriage to William Mosby, the Viscount Woodhaven, had first stripped her of any innocence she’d had left. Then of her joy. Her confidence. And finally, her decency.

To slake her unceasing misery—or perhaps in defiance of her tyrant of a husband—she’d taken a handful of lovers over the years. One of those lovers, George Hamby-Forsyth, the Earl of Sutherland, had offered to marry her younger sister Prudence when Honoria had ended their affair.

William had forbidden Nora to tell Prudence about her previous affair. He’d threatened to ruin her sister and to visit tortures upon her she hadn’t yet conceived of.

So she’d obeyed him.

She obeyed him!

How could she have been so stupid? So utterly selfish and blind? Her life was already a torment, and the ultimate torture was a marriage to the wrong man.

If Nora knew anything, it was that.

William had used her father’s shipping company to smuggle cocaine into the country. He had sought out her lovers and murdered them, framing Prudence for the deed.

Her sister might have hanged if not for the protection of her new husband, Chief Inspector Carlton Morley.

As Morley closed in on him, William had baited Prudence to use as a hostage to escape the city. But first, he’d stopped at her father’s Southwark warehouse to tear through stacks of crates, apparently searching for one full of money he’d had delivered.

Nora stood helpless as William held a gun to her precious younger sister’s head.

Morley perched above on the warehouse roof, aiming his rifle at William, his shot frustrated as the bastard used Pru as a human shield.

All this could have been avoided if she’d not been a selfish coward.

Honoria often read that people heard a rushing in their ears or felt their hearts pounding against their rib cages before they did something reckless or heroic.

But facing the consequences of her actions, of her husband’s treachery, tore her heart out of her chest. So, it didn’t beat faster. Her blood didn’t rush around.

She felt—numb. Detached. As if she no longer inhabited her body.

As if she’d died long ago.

And maybe she had.

Taking a breath, Honoria had stepped into the doorway and faced the man she hated most in this world. She’d taken in his thinning ashen hair, yellowed teeth, and expanding paunch, the consequence of a life devoted to vice and villainy. It was as if his viciousness and malevolence was beginning to seep from the insides and corrupt his physical body.

He’d taken the gun from her sister’s temple, and shot her, instead.

As she fell, she watched Morley avenge his wife, putting William down for good with one shot from his powerful rifle.

Somehow, Nora had made it outside…and was looking up at the sky when she heard Prudence scream her name. Then her dear sister’s face was hovering above her, dark eyes wild with fear.

With her last breaths, Nora tried to make things right. “I’m sorry. I should have told you…I…was afraid…”

“Shh. Shh. Shh,” Prudence soothed. “I didn’t know what he was. What he was doing to you. No wonder you strayed. I’m not angry about George. Please don’t blame yourself. Just—”

“I love you.” Nora forced the words through the burning pain. “We don’t say any of that, do we? We Goodes. But I do. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Pru sobbed, tears leaking from the tip of her nose. “I will for a long time, so don’t start saying that like you mean goodbye.”

“You are a wonderful sister. And I…I’m not…”

She began to fade then, unable to feel the warmth of the afternoon sun, even though it still alighted on her face.

And then she heard his name.

Titus Conleith.

It brought her back to life, if only for a moment. She clawed at Prudence, begging for him. Pleading. Knowing it was too late.

Yes, she deserved to die, and worse.

Because long ago, she’d broken a boy. A beautiful boy with a true heart and a pure soul.

That sin had been unforgivable.

And she’d spent the last decade paying the price.





The Coal Boy





London, November 1865





Titus Conleith had often fantasized about seeing Honoria Goode naked.

He’d been in an excruciating kind of love with her since he was a lad of ten. Now that he was undoubtedly a man at fourteen, his love had shifted.

Matured, he dared wager.

What he felt for her was a soft sort of reverence, a kind of awestruck incredulity at the sight of her each day. It was simply hard to believe a creature like her existed. That she moved about on this earth. In the house in which he lived.

That she was three years his senior at seventeen years of age was irrelevant, as was the fact that she stood three inches above him, more in her lace boots with the delicate heels. It mattered not that there existed no reality in which he could even approach her. That he could dare address her.

The idea of being with her in any capacity was so far beyond comprehension, it didn’t bear consideration. He was the household boy-of-all-work for her father, Clarence Goode, the Baron of Cresthaven. Lower, even, than the chambermaid. He swept chimneys and fetched things, mucked stables and cleaned up after dogs that ate better than he did.