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Knockout: Epilogue


South Audley Street, Mayfair

Trevescan House

The second Tuesday in April 1840

As it turned out, Imogen Loveless was wrong about her future. She did marry, and her brother found he had no choice but to approve of her husband. After all, on that night in January there was only one man in all of Britain—possibly in all the world—who could be trusted to keep Imogen safe from the chaos of the world.

And so it was that Charles, Earl Dorring, happily announced the marriage of his sister, Lady Imogen, to Mr. Thomas Peck, former pride of Whitehall, now thorn in the side of it. And on the first Saturday in April, the two were married at St. George’s, Hanover Square.

The ceremony was performed by the groom’s brother and followed with a lavish luncheon at Dorring House attended by a small group of the couple’s closest friends and family, including the Belles, Maggie O’Tiernen, Mithra Singh, the proprietors of O’Dwyer and Leafe’s Seamstress’s, and John Phillips, the newly appointed superintendent of Whitehall.

A vast exposé, inspired by dozens of dossiers delivered by late night messenger from an anonymous informant to Duncan West, owner and editor of the News, brought corruption at Scotland Yard to public light. The color of the files in which the evidence was delivered? Blue, of course.

Londoners of all ilk began questioning the aristocracy’s inappropriate use of the police for personal criminal gain, and the home secretary, commissioner of police, and superintendent of Whitehall were relieved of their positions on the same day they were named subjects—along with a marquess, two earls, and dozens of others—of both a criminal investigation and a far-reaching parliamentary inquiry, helmed by the Duke of Clayborn and other reformers . . . and Earl Dorring, who was beginning to sound like a reformer himself now that he was spending more time with his sister . . . and warming to her marriage.

On the Tuesday following the serious aristocratic ceremony and reception, Tommy and Imogen’s marriage was celebrated in a very different way, with a raucous, exclusive ball at Trevescan House, filled with wild laughter and loud conversation and dancing and rich wine and lush food and a bride and groom who, even then, months after they’d professed their love to each other in the dead of night in a Mayfair alleyway, only had eyes for each other.

They even danced together, much to the pride of his mother (who was happily toured around the room by half a dozen eligible young—and not so young—bachelors), and the satisfaction of her brother (who was happy to see that at least one of the myriad lessons for which he had paid had, in fact, stuck).

And when the happy couple paused at the refreshment table, Imogen feeding gougères and tartlets to Tommy, the Duchess of Trevescan appeared at their side. “I confess, I wasn’t certain about you, Peck, but now that I’ve witnessed your devotion to our Imogen . . . I find myself warming to you. Are you certain you are not interested in running a security detail?”

Since leaving Whitehall, Tommy had hung out a shingle in Holborn, committed to continuing his work as a detective beyond the purview of Scotland Yard.

Imogen believed his private investigation firm should have been called Peck Peeks, and while Tommy was more than willing to give his wife whatever she wished in all things, he’d drawn the line at that particular suggestion. Peck Investigations was already doing a brisk business outside the purview of the police.

He lifted his brows in Duchess’s direction. “What kind of security does a duchess need that requires an entire detail?”

“Come now, Tommy,” she said with a wink. “You can’t think the Hell’s Belles are stopping now . . . we’re just getting to the good bit.”

With that, the Duchess turned away, dancing into the crowd of revelers, leaving the newlyweds to do the same, lost in each other and their friends and the music until Tommy finally danced his bride out the doors to the ballroom and onto the great stone balcony beyond, twirling her into his embrace to kiss her, deep and lingering, in the darkness.

“I love it when you carry me about,” Imogen said, wrapping her arms around him as he lifted her to sit on the stone balustrade, bringing their faces nearly even. She ran her hands over his shoulders, down his arms. “It makes me feel like you’ve won me in a wager.”

He laughed, the sound doing deep, sinful things to her insides. “Carried you out of a gaming hell to lay claim to you?”

“Mmm,” she said. “Yes. That. Tell me more.”

Tommy leaned in, kissing her again, then sliding his lips down the side of her neck, his beard—returned, thank goodness—making her sigh with pleasure. “I would like very much to show you how well I lay claim to you, wife.”

“Wife,” she whispered, shivering at the word. At his touch. “Say it again.”

“My wife,” he rumbled, pressing a kiss to her jaw. “My heart.” Another kiss, at her breast.

“My love.” He caught her ankle, sliding his fingers over the smooth skin there, beneath the hem of her dress, in the same peacock blue she’d been wearing that afternoon when he’d discovered her in the dressmaker shop on Bond Street.

“You love me,” she said, breaking the kiss, her fingers trailing down his chest.

“More every day.”

She warmed with the words, even as his touch slid higher beneath her skirts, up her calf, leaving flame in its wake. “I feel like it is I who won you, you know,” she said. “I wanted you from the moment I saw you. In The Place.” She set a finger to his brow, smoothing the furrow there. “Entirely made of muscle and control.”

“No control at all.” He snatched her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. “Not from the moment I saw you, pure temptation, all fire and chaos.” Lacing his fingers through hers, he said, “I still remember how wild I felt that night, like if I wasn’t careful, I would lift you up, set you on the bar, and make love to you in front of the whole world.”

Imogen gasped at the words even as he pressed her palm to his chest, where she could feel his heart thundering. “I still feel it. Every minute I’m with you, love. Out of control.”

“I know.” She reached for his hand, pressing it to her breast, where her heart thundered in the same, wild rhythm. “I feel it, too.”

She leaned forward and met his kiss, a long, lush caress that consumed them both until the party and the gardens and the world fell away, and all they knew was the scent and taste and sound and the feel of each other.

Perfection.

He broke the kiss on a growl—a sound in which Imogen delighted, because it meant her steady, stern husband was coming undone. She smiled up at him and teased, “Why husband, you look like you’re about to explode.”

“Mmm,” he said, reaching for her. “Good thing I have an expert in the field at hand.”

She squealed as he pulled her from the balustrade and lifted her into his arms. “Tommy! We cannot! People will wonder what happened to us!”

“Nonsense,” he said. “I’m certain they’ll read all about how I ravished you in the Trevescan gardens at our wedding party in the next issue of the News.”

She wrapped her arms about his neck and pressed a kiss to his cheek before whispering in his ear, “I hope they forgo the illustration this time.”

He looked to her, and she caught her breath at the wicked intent in his eyes. “Then we’ll have to make sure its unprintable.”

And they did just that.

*  *  *

Hours after Tommy and Imogen disappeared into the gardens and then to their new home, Duchess stood at the edge of the ballroom, watching the remaining guests—none of whom showed any intention of leaving—and attempting to unravel her emotions. It should be said, this particular task was not something that Duchess generally enjoyed doing. Indeed, in the years since she’d become the Duchess of Trevescan, she’d attempted at all turns to avoid emotions. Especially the complicated ones.

That evening, however, the emotions were complicated.

Of course, there was happiness. She’d seen three of her closest friends married to men who loved them beyond reason.

But there was also concern. The more who joined their crew, the more likely they would be discovered. And she would do anything to keep her friends safe.

And then there was the other emotion. The one that never seemed to dissipate, even when she was in a ballroom full of triumphant delight.

Maggie O’Tiernen appeared at her shoulder, two glasses of champagne in hand. Accepting the drink, Duchess said, “I’m surprised to see you so far from Covent Garden, Maggie.”

“I never miss a wedding,” Maggie replied. “Especially when it’s a love match. Those are the most entertaining.”

The friends toasted and drank, looking out over the revelry for a long moment, Duchess considering what was to come. She took a deep breath. Exhaled.

“There’s a man here,” Maggie said.

Duchess turned. “There are many men here.”

“Not like this one.”

“Who is it?” Duchess’s brow furrowed.

“No one knows. He says he’ll only speak to you.”

She sighed. They never seemed to know when they were not welcome. “Where?”

“There.” Maggie tipped her chin toward the entry to the ballroom.

Duchess followed her friend’s gaze and froze. To describe the figure crossing the ballroom as a man felt like a grave error. Like describing a lion as a cat, or a hurricane as a rain shower. This was not a man. He was a force—tall and strong, and pure, unadulterated power.

And he was coming straight for her.

“Shit,” Duchess said softly.

“You know him?” Maggie asked.

Duchess shook her head. “No. But when a man looks like that, he cannot be good news.”

Tearing her gaze away, she looked up to the second level of the Trevescan ballroom, where an observation hallway ran the entire length of the room. There Rahul Singh, her man of affairs, stood watch as he always did when the ballroom was in use.

He shook his head. He did not recognize the newcomer, either.

Duchess knocked back the last of her champagne and turned her brightest smile on Maggie. “Well. Whoever he is, it is time to show him that one does not simply turn up to see the Duchess of Trevescan.”

Maggie laughed. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The intruder was still looking at her, approaching not around the perimeter of the dancers, but straight through them. Who did he think he was? This was a wedding reception. Had the man been raised by wolves?

She stepped onto the dance floor and headed for him, refusing to show curiosity, or uncertainty, or the way her heart thundered in her chest as they came closer together.

They stopped inches from each other, orchestra swelling and dancers swirling around them, simultaneously attempting to look and not look.

“Sir?” she asked, lifting her chin and giving him nothing but cool disdain.

“I am told you are the Duchess of Trevescan,” he said, the words low and smooth. Like the finest scotch whisky.

She raised a brow, ignoring the ice in his steely gaze. “I am.”

“Fascinating,” he replied. “As I am the Duke of Trevescan, one would think we would have met.”


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