Sometimes poison is a girl's best friend.
Lady Calandra can't help it if the scandal sheets have dubbed her "the dangerous debutante." The Earl of Camden needed to be shot. And she certainly didn't poison her latest suitor for failing to make her an offer...although everyone seems convinced she did. She's never killed anyone, but someone is determined to make it look as though she has. Desperate to save her reputation, Lady Calandra needs a betrothal-now-and turns to one of the few friends she has left.
Arthur, Lord Alsbury is only too happy to oblige her. Arthur has loved the beautiful musical prodigy for years. To save Calandra, he must put himself at risk. In order to unmask a killer, Arthur must pretend to be Calandra's next intended victim.
If he fails her, the consequences are dire--either a slow death by scandal or a swift one at the hands of a murderer.
Lady Calandra leveled her pistol at the Earl of Camden's heart. Upon further consideration, she lowered it to aim at a more precious portion of his anatomy. She didn't intend to kill her betrothed, but if he made a move toward her she might very well maim him.
He deserved nothing less.
Camden raised his hands in surrender. "What a pea-goose you are, my darling. Do be reasonable."
That was the wrong thing to say. Her resolve steadied.
"Reasonable? You arrogant nodcock! I should shoot you for that alone."
"Now, Calandra." His voice dripped honey. "Sweetheart, lower the gun. It might actually be loaded, you know."
"Shall we find out?"
"Perhaps I was a bit rough."
"Rough?" Her hair had slipped over one eye. Her cheek ached from his fist. "How dare you? No one lays hands on me like that."
His brow lowered. "Don't provoke me further, Calandra. Sometimes a husband must correct a wife." He took a step closer.
"I'm not your wife and I never will be." Her heart threatened to burst from her chest.
The Earl of Camden had been her parents' choice, linking the families of two prominent earldoms. If the young Earl had a reputation as a rake, there was no disputing his charm. He had such pretty ways and such a fat purse that she was quite agreeable to the match--up until thirty minutes ago when a silly miff had turned violent.
The assault hadn't stopped until she'd wriggled free and reached the dueling pistol on the desk before he had.
She looked down. Her lace hem was torn where he had stepped on it during the struggle. "You ruined my dress. I've only worn it this once."
Camden took a step closer. "Now you're making a cake of yourself. This was nothing but a tiff, darling, a trifle. By tomorrow all this will be forgotten." He took another step.
"Not while I have the bruise on my cheek to remind me." And the taste of blood in her mouth where her teeth had cut her.
"I never meant to mark you." He lowered his hands slightly, but froze when she cocked the gun. "Now give my pistol back, sweetheart. That thing goes off at the merest shiver of a touch. I know you have your bristles up, but you surely can't mean to kill me."
Her hand began to shake and she lowered the gun, pointing at his shin. To be fair, she had been flirting with other men. Camden had no right to take her to task so harshly, but perhaps she did bear some fault.
Sensing victory, Camden moved swiftly toward her. "That's my girl. You know I didn't mean to hurt you, but you made me so angry. If you hadn't provoked me like that, I would never have--"
The pistol bucked in her hand. Its report reverberated in the drawing room. Shouts and trampling feet followed.
Lord Robert Willis, fifth Earl of Camden, writhed on the floor clutching his backside.
"My arse! She shot me in the arse!"
It was sadly true.
He had turned at the last moment and taken the projectile in his derriere.
Just as well.
Otherwise, she would have shot him in the stones.