Published by Mills & Boon Historical on December 1st 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
From one snowy Christmas…to a sizzling-hot reunion!
A Matches Made in Scandal story.
Kirstin Blair has spent seven years trying to forget brooding Cameron Dunbar. Now self-made man Cameron needs her help to recover his missing niece, and Kirstin must face the truth—seeing him again sparks the same irresistible attraction that first brought them together!
She must decide: resist, or give in to temptation and risk Cameron discovering everything she’s fought so hard to protect…
Matches Made in Scandal miniseries
Book 1 — From Governess to Countess
Book 2 — From Courtesan to Convenient Wife
Book 3 — His Rags-to-Riches Contessa
Book 4 — A Scandalous Winter Wedding
Handing her portmanteau to the hackney cab driver, Kirstin gave the address of the hotel where Cameron Dunbar had taken up residence. It was by no means the grandest establishment in London but it was, she knew, formidably expensive, not least because it had a reputation for offering the utmost discretion, which suited certain well-heeled guests. She wondered how Cameron had come to know of it. The friend he had mentioned, Max, who had recommended The Procurer’s services, no doubt. She remembered Max. A difficult, but ultimately satisfying case, and the first one in which Marianne had been involved.
The cab rattled through the crowded streets, and Kirstin’s heart raced along with it. It was not too late to turn back, but she knew she would not. Her farewells had been said. ‘We’ll be fine,’ Marianne had told her with a reassuring smile, and Kirstin hadn’t doubted it, having come to trust her completely over the years in both business and personal terms. But it had been a painful parting all the same, astonishingly difficult to pin a smile to her face, to keep the tears from her eyes. ‘Go,’ Marianne said, shooing her out the door, ‘and don’t fret. Concentrate on completing this case, which sounds as if it will require all of even your considerable powers. It will be good for me to have the opportunity to be in charge, stand on my own two feet.’
Marianne, discrete as ever, had refrained from asking why Kirstin was taking on this case personally, something she had never done before, though it was Marianne who had, albeit inadvertently, put the idea into Kirstin’s head, when she had pointed out that she possessed exactly the attributes the client had specified. As The Procurer, Kirstin could have found another suitable female, she always did, but it would have taken time, and Cameron had none to spare. It therefore made perfect, logical sense for her to make the momentous decision to step into the breach, she told herself as the cab neared her destination. It was clear to her, from the sketchy information Cameron had provided, that the situation, though not necessarily a matter of life and death at present could, if unresolved, easily become one.
Though had it been any man other than Cameron Dunbar who came seeking her help, would she have acted in a similar fashion? No. Kirstin’s habit of being brutally honest with everyone, including herself, was ingrained. She would have moved heaven and earth to find a suitable female candidate, but she would not have dreamed of offering her own services. She was here to help Cameron Dunbar resolve his terrible predicament, but she was also here for her own reasons. It meant depriving another woman of the opportunity to make a fresh start for herself, but after their wholly unsatisfactory meeting the day before yesterday, Kirstin had been forced to acknowledge that she too needed a fresh start. Far from closing the door on the man, it had merely served to let him stride through. She had to know more about him, and she had a very legitimate reason for needing to do so. The time would come when she could no longer field questions with feigned ignorance, and it was not in her nature to lie. Six years ago, she had taken the decision to be true to herself, to live her life in her chosen way, independent of everyone, answerable to no one. In order to continue to do so, she must reassure herself that her decision was the correct one, which meant excising Cameron Dunbar from the equation.
And keeping him completely in the dark while she did so. Kirstin smiled grimly to herself. It was hardly a difficult task for one who made a living from extracting information while offering none in exchange. She must assume that Cameron would remember Kirstin Blair, but he would have no idea that she and The Procurer were one and the same. The Procurer’s own unbreakable rules that no questions could be asked, no personal history need be revealed, would protect her, and the notion that she would ever confide in him of her own free will – it was ludicrous. Kirstin, as Marianne had once said, could give lessons in discretion to clams.
Reassured, confident in her decision, as the cab came to a halt and the hotel porter rushed to open the door, she turned her mind to the coming reunion, telling herself that her nerves were everything to do with her determination to prevent the matter becoming one of life and death, and nothing at all to do with the man she was going to be working in close proximity with.
In accordance with the letter from The Procurer, which had arrived yesterday, Cameron had reserved a suite of rooms in the name of Mrs Collins. He had instructed the Head Porter to inform him when this lady, whom he was to claim as an old acquaintance, arrived, and to issue her with an invitation to take tea with him.
His own suite overlooked the front of the hotel. Unable to concentrate on the stack of business letters which had been forwarded from his Glasgow office, Cameron had spent the last two hours gazing out of the window, monitoring every arrival. He had no idea what to expect of Mrs Collins, though he had formed a picture in his head of a smart, middle-aged woman with faded hair, a high brow, intelligent eyes. The relic of a man of the church, perhaps, who had worked in London’s slums, or with London’s fallen women, and was therefore no stranger to the city’s seamy underbelly, but who had also solicited London’s society for alms. At ease with the full gamut of society, Mrs Collins would be tough but compassionate, not easily shocked. The type of woman who could be trusted with confidences, and who would not judge. Since her husband died, she would have been continuing with his good works saving lost souls, but she’d be finding her widowed state confining he reckoned, and since she’d always had a penchant for charades, which they played in the vicarage every Christmas, the need to assume various disguises would appeal to her. Cameron nodded with satisfaction. An unusual combination of skills no doubt about it, which made it all the more surprising that The Procurer had found someone to suit his requirements so quickly.
He leant his head against the glass of the tall window, impatient for her to arrive. The ancient female dressed in a sickly shade of green matching the parrot she carried in a cage, whom he had watched half an hour ago emerging from a post chaise, could not be her. Nor could this fashionable young lady arriving with her maid, one of those ridiculous little dogs that looked like a powder puff clutched in her arms. A hackney cab pulled up next, and a slim female figure emerged, dressed in a white gown with a red spencer. She had her back to him as she waited for her luggage to be removed, yet he had the impression of elegance, could see from the respect she commanded from the driver and from the porter rushing to meet her, the assurance with which she walked, that she was a woman of consequence. Intriguing, but clearly not his Mrs Collins.
Cameron turned his back on the window, inspecting his pocket watch, debating with himself on whether to order a pot of coffee. A rap on the door made him throw it open impatiently, thinking it was the arrival of yet more business papers.
‘I’ve been sent to tell you that your acquaintance has arrived,’ the messenger boy said. ‘She’s happy to hear that you are staying in the hotel, she says, and she would be delighted to join you for tea.’
‘Are you sure? When did she get here?’
But the boy shook his head. ‘Nobody tells me nuffin’, save me message. Head Porter says to expect her with the tea directly,’ he said. ‘If there’s nuffin’ else…’ He waited expectantly.
Cameron sighed and handed over a shilling. He must have missed Mrs Collins’s arrival, or perhaps there was a side entrance. A few minutes later there was another soft tap on the door. He opened the door only to be confronted with the elegant woman who had emerged from the hackney cab.
His jaw dropped, his stomach flipped, for he recognised her immediately. ‘Kirstin.’ He blinked, but she was still there, not a ghost from his past but a real woman, flesh and blood and even more beautiful than he remembered. ‘Kirstin,’ Cameron repeated, his shock apparent in his voice. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’
‘I wondered if you’d recognise me after all this time. May I come in?’
Her tone was cool. She was not at all surprised to see him. As she stepped past him into the room, and a servant appeared behind her with a tea tray, he realised that she must be the woman sent to him by The Procurer. Stunned, Cameron watched in silence as the tea tray was set down, reaching automatically into his pocket to tip the servant as Kirstin busied herself, warming the pot and setting out the cups. He tried to reconcile the dazzling vision before him with Mrs Collins, but the vicar’s wife of his imagination had already vanished, never to be seen again.
Still quite dazed, he sat down opposite her. She had opened the tea caddy, was taking a delicate sniff of the leaves, her finely arched brows rising in what seemed to be surprised approval. Her face, framed by her bonnet, was breath-taking in its flawlessness. Alabaster skin. Blue-black hair. Heavy-lidded eyes that were a smoky, blue-grey. A generous mouth with a full bottom lip, the colour of almost-ripe raspberries. Yet, he remembered, it was not the perfection of her face which had drawn him to her all those years ago, it had been the intelligence slumbering beneath those heavy lids, the ironic twist to her smile when their eyes met in that crowded carriage, and that air she still exuded, of aloofness, almost haughtiness, that was both intimidating and alluring. He had suspected fire lay beneath that cool exterior, and he hadn’t been disappointed.
A vision of that extraordinary night six years ago flooded into his mind. There had been other women since, though none of late, and never another night like that one. He had come to think of it as a half-remembered dream, a fantasy, the product of extreme circumstances that he would never experience again. He wasn’t at all sure what he thought of Kirstin walking so calmly back into his life, especially when he was in the midst of a crisis. Were they to pretend that they had no history? It had been such a fleeting moment in time, with no bearing on the six years after, save for the unsettling, incomparable memory. Cameron supposed that it ought to be possible to pretend it had not happened, but as he looked at her, appalled to discover the stirrings of desire that the memories invoked, he knew he was deluding himself.
‘Cream or lemon?’ Kirstin asked.
‘Lemon,’ he answered, though he habitually drank his tea black and well-stewed, a legacy of his early days on board ship. He held out his hand for the saucer, but instead she placed it on the table in front of him, drawing an invisible line between them and bringing him to his senses. Whether they acknowledged their history or not, it had no bearing on the reason she was here now. ‘Are you really the woman chosen for me by this infamous Procurer? Do you know what it is I need from you? What has she told you of me? The matter…’
‘…is one of life and death, you believe,’ Kirstin answered gravely. ‘To answer your questions in order. Yes, I am here at the behest of the Procurer. She has outlined your situation, though I will need to hear the details from you. I know nothing of your circumstances, save what you have told her.’
‘She has told me nothing at all of you. Is Collins your married name?’
‘My name is what it has always been, Kirstin Blair.’
‘You’re not married?’ Cameron asked. It was hardly relevant, yet when she shook her head, he was unaccountably pleased as well as surprised. Because it would be impossible for them to proceed if there was a husband in the background, or worse in the foreground, he told himself. ‘I’m not married either,’ he said.
She nodded casually at that. Because she already knew from The Procurer? Or because she had deduced as much from his appearance? Or because she was indifferent? This last option, Cameron discovered, was the least palatable. He began to be irked by her impassive exterior. ‘You do remember me, I take it?’ he demanded. ‘That night…’
The faintest tinge of colour stole over her cheeks. She did not flinch, but he saw the movement at her throat as she swallowed. ‘This is hardly the time to reminisce.’
Their gazes snagged. He could have sworn, in that moment, that she felt it, the almost physical pull of attraction, that strange empathy that they had both succumbed to that night. Then Kirstin broke the spell. ‘It was six years ago,’ she said pointedly.
‘I am perfectly aware of how many years have elapsed,’ Cameron snapped. He had never disclosed his reasons for having made that journey to anyone. He had been interested only in trying to forget all that he had left behind, during the trip south, and he had succeeded too, temporarily, losing himself and his pain in Kirstin. He’d thought the mental scar healed. It had been, until Louise Ferguson had written to him as a last resort, begging for his help in the name of the very ties she’d so vehemently denied before. Compassion for her plight diluted his mixture of anger and disappointment that she should turn to him only in extremis. He was long past imagining they could be anything to each other, but it forced him to acknowledge that he had, albeit unwittingly, been the root cause of her past unhappiness. There was a debt to be paid. Doing what she asked would salve his conscience and allow him to put the matter to bed once and for all. He wouldn’t get another opportunity, and he needed Kirstin to help him, so he couldn’t afford to allow their brief encounter to get in the way. It was the future which mattered.
Cameron swallowed his tea. It was cold, and far too floral for his taste. He made a mental note to stick to coffee, and set the cup down with a clatter. ‘I recall now, that your Procurer’s terms specify that there should be no questions asked, either you of me, or me of you. It’s a sensible rule and allows us to concentrate on the matter that brought us both here,’ he said, deliberately brusquely as he leaned back in his seat, crossing his ankles. ‘However, I am paying a small fortune for your assistance. I think that gives me the right to ask what it is about yourself that makes The Procurer so certain you will suit my extremely demanding, if not unique, set of requirements.’
~~Reviewed by Shell~~
I received this ARC from the author in return for a honest review, all thoughts are my own.
This was an absolutely fantastic book, and a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series, and for me I can highly recommend not only this book but all the others as well.
When I think back to the first book and all the other books, I was always curious about the Procurer, mainly why she started and what circumstances lead her to this profession, because as we know for a woman to have a career and earning her own money wasn’t the done thing.
So for me all the questions I had going round in my head were slowly being answered, and of course we finally have a name Kristin Blair is the Procurer. Obviously Kristin has secrets…but those secrets come to ahead when Cameron Dunbar gets in touch to find his niece.
To find out what happens you will just have to read the book. There is one thing I must say is thank you to Ms Kaye for writing such a great series and I’m so looking forward to finding out what Ms Kaye’s next book will be.