Once a Scoundrel (Rogues Redeemed #3)

By: Mary Jo Putney



“IF THE LADY’S VIRGINITY IS WORTH FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS, I’LL BUY IT TO KEEP HER SAFE!”

“Can you afford that much?” Malek asked with interest.

Gabriel did a swift inventory of his savings and assets. “Yes, but you’d have to accept a draft on my London bank. Would you trust me for that?”

Malek considered, then nodded. “I would.”

Lady Aurora stared at Gabriel, startled. “Would you spend that much so you could have me? Or would you do so and then honorably refuse to touch me?”

He gazed at her, his brain paralyzed by erotic images of kissing her. Pulling away those gossamer veils so he could run his hands over warm, soft skin, sinking into her . . .

Five thousand pounds might buy passive acceptance, but would it buy passionate desire? Knowing that passive acceptance would never be enough with this woman, he said brusquely, “You’d be safe from me. I’m not in the habit of buying bedmates.” Feeling as if he could read the thoughts behind those misleadingly innocent blue eyes, he added, “And don’t think you could sell your damned virginity twice if I didn’t demand full value for my money!”

“I did wonder if that would work,” she admitted with a self-mocking smile. “But it would be very unsporting on my part.”








Prologue


Gabriel Hawkins Vance stood in front of the massive door and tried to control his shaking. He’d entered the Royal Navy at the age of twelve and had not been the youngest in his group of midshipmen. In the six years since, he’d faced cannonballs and lethal diseases, helped put down a mutiny, and, at age sixteen, commanded a captured French prize ship that had to be sailed to Portsmouth.

But nothing had terrified him as much as having to face the man on the other side of this door.

Accepting his fate, he took a deep breath and gave a brisk double rap before opening the door and entering his grandfather’s study. Admiral Vance was sitting at his desk with a frown, but he rose when he saw his grandson, his frown deepening.

Tall, white-haired, as inflexible as weathered oak, he wasted no time on pleasantries. “You are a disgrace to your name! Generations of Vances have served and died in the Royal Navy with no stain on our honor. Until you!”

Gabriel tried to control his flinch. “I’m sorry to have disappointed you, sir.”

“You were doing well. I was proud of you. And then you threw it all away.” The old man’s face twisted. “It would have been better if you’d died in battle!”

Gabriel thought of the bodies of his fellow sailors after they had been torn into bloody shreds by French cannonballs. That was usually a quick way to die and it would have satisfied the old admiral, but Gabriel couldn’t bring himself to wish that he was dead.

“I am sorry to have disobliged you,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “But you are aware of the circumstances that led to my dismissal.”

“Those circumstances, your youth, and your family name saved you from a court martial and being hanged,” his grandfather spat out. “Even though you deserved that.”

With a sudden, urgent need for honesty, Gabriel said, “I would do the same thing again in those circumstances.”

“You unrepentant scoundrel! Get out of my sight!” his grandfather snarled. “Don’t come back unless you have restored honor to your name!”

The words were ice in Gabriel’s veins. “As you wish, sir,” he said stiffly. He gave his grandfather a perfect salute, pivoted on his heel, and marched from the room, knowing he’d never see the old man again. Never . . .

He was heading blindly toward the front door when his grandmother intercepted him. “Oh, my darling boy!” She enveloped him in a warm embrace as if he were a child rather than half a head taller than she was. “It was bad?”

“He doesn’t ever want to see me again.” Gabriel hugged his grandmother, choking back a shameful urge to cry. “Not unless I’ve restored honor to my name, which means never, because to him, honor means only the Royal Navy. Now that I’ve been forced out, that can’t happen. Not ever.”

“Oh, Gabriel, my dear.” She released him, her face sad. “He is only so harsh because he cares so much for you.”