The Lady in Red


By Kelly Bowen

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ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $0.99 $0.99 CAD

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“Wonderful! A charming, clever, and engaging storyteller not to be missed.” — Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
A lady with secrets, a man with a burning desire, a love that breaks all the rules

Lady Charlotte Beaumont has spent her whole life being ignored. By her parents, her brother, even the servants. So she was secretly able to develop her talent for painting well beyond the usual watercolors. Too bad no one will let her actually use it-women are rarely accepted into the Royal Academy. But when a connection at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies gets Charlotte her dream commission, she’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. Including disguising herself as “Charlie.”

Flynn Rutledge has something to prove. His lowly upbringing is not going to stop him from achieving his artistic dreams. This commission is the key to his future, and his partner, an unknown youth in oversized clothes who is barely old enough to shave, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But Charlie does inspire Flynn’s artistic passion-something he worried he might have lost forever. For all his street smarts, nothing can prepare Flynn for the shock of Charlie’s true identity. He doesn’t care that she’s a woman, but a lady of the ton is a different matter altogether . . .


Chapter 1

The forgery was flawless.

Or at least Charlotte hoped it was. It would need to be to fool the man currently examining the painting. From the canvas, a young girl clutched a fan and gazed back at her with an enigmatic look far beyond her years, offering no reassurances.

A bead of icy sweat slid down Charlotte's spine.

"Van Dyck did not paint many children," the man said, straightening slightly, his fingers drumming against the silver head of his ebony walking stick. He turned his unsettling pale blue eyes back in Charlotte's direction.

"He did not," Charlotte agreed smoothly, relieved her voice didn't shake.

"That fact would make this painting very valuable."

"It would."

"And where did you say you acquired it?"

"I didn't say." Charlotte was treading carefully. It had taken all her courage to request an audience with this man, known only by the name of King. A man whose origins were murky at best, though there were rumors that his control of the underworld stretched far beyond the limits of London. A man whose knowledge of fine art was eclipsed only by his reputation for being able to secure anything. For a price.

And Charlotte had come to bargain.

King tipped his head slightly, and had his gaze not been so remote, Charlotte would have believed the man had almost smiled. "What is it, exactly, that you wish to do with this painting?" he asked.

And there was the crux of this entire matter. "I was told that you were a purveyor of fine art," she said slowly. "The best in England. I wish to…sell it." Not entirely true, but a starting point.

"Ah." The man wandered to the far side of his desk, and Charlotte was once again struck by the stealthy grace in which he moved. He had red-gold hair and aristocratic, austere features, and if she were to paint the most infamous Tudor king, before age and excess had ravaged his appearance, this is how she imagined he would have looked. This man was almost too beautiful to possess the dark reputation that cloaked him.

King was examining a painting that dominated the wall behind his desk. "Judith Beheading Holofernes," he said, and Charlotte wasn't sure if he was talking to her or himself. "A woman driven to extreme measures." He gestured at the maiden, her wickedly curved blade buried deep in the neck of a man whose eyes bulged in terror. "Tell me, what do you see in her expression?" King asked.

Charlotte hesitated, looking for pitfalls to his question but unable to find any. "Determination," she finally answered. "Maybe a small measure of desperation."

"Indeed." He turned around again, and now his cool eyes were fixed firmly on hers. "Similar to what I see on your face. So I must ask what extreme measures have driven you to try and sell me a forgery."

Charlotte felt her stomach plummet to her toes and bile rise in her throat. She focused on keeping her breathing even. "How can you be so sure that it's a forgery?" she asked with every ounce of bravado she still clung to.

King's lips twisted, and his eyes became positively glacial. "I would advise you not to insult me further. Just answer my question."

"Perhaps I should go," Charlotte murmured, chilled to the bone. "Perhaps we're done here." She had risked everything coming to see this man. No one knew she was here. Only the bored hackney driver she had paid to bring her here, who had agreed to wait for twenty minutes and no longer. She was utterly on her own, and if she were to disappear, there would be no trail to follow. Which was probably just as well. At least they wouldn't carve fool on her headstone.

"I think not, Lady Charlotte," he said, moving with a lethal grace to block the door. "For I am not done with you at all."

Charlotte's heart stopped before it resumed again. "How do you know my name?" she whispered. She had not given it to King. Only identified herself as Miss Hawkins, using the surname of one of the kitchen maids. She didn't look like a refined lady—she was too tall to be elegant, too broad shouldered to be sophisticated. And she had twisted her plain brown hair into a forgettable plait. Left every trapping of wealth at home in favor of homespun wool and worn leather purchased in Petticoat Lane to cover her unremarkable figure.

"I asked you not to insult me further," King repeated coldly. Which told Charlotte nothing. But then, that was probably the idea. "The forgery," he said, leaning over his walking stick. "Tell me who painted it."

Charlotte swallowed hard. Should she lie? Tell the truth? Would it matter at this point, or would she simply become a footnote in history either way? A woman who had badly underestimated a very dangerous man and didn't survive to tell the tale. "Me," she finally said. He wouldn't believe her, but at least she wouldn't meet her demise as a liar.

"Good." King nodded like she had just passed some sort of test. "And the original? Where is it?"

Charlotte blinked, trying to find her voice. The sneering censure and mocking disbelief she'd expected at her declaration were absent. "Um…"

"The original," King repeated as though he were talking to a half-wit or a panicked filly. "It must be somewhere where you had access to it to execute a forgery of this quality. Where is it?"

"Jasper House," Charlotte blurted. "In Aysgarth. North of York." One of the many estates that her father, the Earl of Edgerton, owned. Her solitary prison every summer and every winter for as long as she could remember. And one that she would be returning to within a fortnight unless she did something drastic. Like this.

"I know where Aysgarth is, Lady Charlotte," King replied, sounding pleased. "Can you be more specific?"


"Where is the painting? In a drawing room? A ballroom? A gallery—"

"The attics."

King's expression flattened. "The attics," he repeated, his lip curling.

"It's been there for generations. No one in my family has ever believed that portraits of children are worthy of wall space. Or have any value at all, really."

"Except you."

"It's a Van Dyck, for pity's sake," Charlotte retorted, forgetting herself.

"It is indeed." King took two steps closer to her.

Charlotte steeled herself against the urge to take two steps back. If these were her last moments, she would live them no more a coward than she would a liar. King had been right. Extreme measures had brought her here, and determination and desperation would see this out, come what may.

"Tell me, Lady Charlotte, why not just bring me the original?"

Because here in London, she didn't have access to it. Because time had been of the essence and a lengthy journey up to Aysgarth and back would have taken too long. "This was in my possession," she said honestly. "The original was not."

This time, the beautiful man smiled, though it fell short of his eyes. "And what, exactly, is it that you need money for so desperately that it would be worth your attempt to defraud me?"

And now they had come full circle. Because this wasn't about money. It never had been. It was about her life and the way she was watching it crawl by from the confines of the empty, gilded cage she resided in.

She raised her chin a notch and met his gaze directly. "I don't want money."

Something shifted in his pale eyes. "Indeed? Well, you certainly have my attention, Lady Charlotte."

She wiped her damp palms on her plain skirts. "I want a job. St. Michael's. Coventry. The Renaissance-styled murals that have been commissioned for the church."

King regarded her coolly. "Hmm." He turned abruptly and wandered back behind his desk. "I've always felt a rather odd affinity toward that particular saint. A great warrior, vanquishing those who deserve it. Yet descending at the hour of death to offer each soul a chance to redeem itself." He stopped. "Redemption is highly underrated, don't you think, Lady Charlotte?"

She gazed back, feeling the perspiration trapped against her skin. "Yes."

"I am familiar with the project. I understand that there are two artists to be hired for the work. I also understand that the architect overseeing the project has already selected one."

"Yes. And I would like to be the other. My work is as good as or better than anything currently on display at the Royal Academy. But—"

"You are a woman," he finished for her.

"Yes." A woman and a lady. Slowly suffocating under the crushing limitations that both imposed.

He turned from her to study the painting, his elegant fingers drumming slowly on the head of his walking stick again. "I would agree with you, you know. That your work is better. This copy really is quite astounding," he said. "There are very, very few in the world who would notice the minute technical discrepancies between this and a true Van Dyck." He paused. "It must have taken you some time to paint."

"Yes." But time she had in spades. Months and months of exile to the countryside every year assured that. Yet each of those months was time that she was left alone with her pigments and oils, her turpentine and canvases. Months every year in which she continued to be ignored and was allowed to covertly perfect her craft and proficiency.

"Your application of asphaltum is masterful," King murmured. "So few forgers can get that last step right." His eyes drifted back from the painting toward her, and he fell silent.

Somewhere in the room, a clocked ticked into the quiet, small noises marking the passage of time as more of Charlotte's life slipped by her.

"I'll have the original," King said suddenly as if coming to a decision. "Because I do not sell forgeries."

Charlotte felt a tiny ember of hope ignite amid all the trepidation. "I can get it—"

"I don't need you to fetch it for me, Lady Charlotte. I employ professionals for such menial tasks." He smiled another empty smile. "You can keep your copy."

"Then you'll help me in exchange for the painting?"

"My assistance will cost you more than a single painting, Lady Charlotte." He set his walking stick against the side of the desk.

The tiny hairs on the back of her neck rose. She forced herself to remain still, even as she wondered just how far she would be willing to go. Just how much she would be willing to sacrifice for the opportunity to escape—

"You look pale, my lady." The bastard sounded like he was enjoying this.

Charlotte forced herself to hold his gaze. "A mere trick of the light, I assure you," she replied steadily.

King moved silently out from behind the desk to stop before Charlotte. He raised his hand, his fingers stopping a breath away from her face. Charlotte could feel every muscle in her body go rigid. Yet she didn't move. His fingertips descended, grazing the sharp edge of her cheekbone, a gesture that was terrifying for all its gentleness.

"I am not for sale," she said, her words sounding like they were coming from a great distance.

King's lips curled, as if he found her defiance amusing. "Everyone is for sale, my lady. For the right price." His hand dropped, and he turned away from her.

Charlotte remembered to breathe as King returned to the other side of his desk. He once again stopped, the fingers that had caressed her face now sliding over the top of a gilded box set on the edge of his desk. The ruby ring on his little finger glinted a macabre bloodred. "Consider my assistance a retainer for your future services, my lady. Your artistic services," he clarified silkily. "A painting of my choosing to be executed to my satisfaction. Skilled forgers are far more difficult to procure than skilled whores."

Charlotte felt suddenly weak, as though she had just emerged unscathed from a reckless, dangerous battle she hadn't been sure she would survive.

"Do you agree to the terms, Lady Charlotte?"

The hope that had been snuffed suddenly flared again. "Yes, of course. Whatever you need. I promise."

A red-gold brow rose slowly, as if measuring the sincerity of her response. "Be careful what you promise, my lady. Circumstances can change and make promises difficult to keep."

Charlotte swallowed hard. "Of course."

"I do not tolerate disloyalty. Nor do I suffer fools, or those who possess loose lips and wagging tongues. Such individuals are invariably silenced at the bottom of the Thames, and neither your gender nor your title will offer you protection."

"I understand." And she did. It should horrify her, this entire conversation and her willingness to embrace the shadows of a world where she understood little. And perhaps she was selling her soul to the very devil, but it was better than continuing on the way she had been for the past twenty-three years of her life. She needed to do this. Break herself out of her cage. There was no white knight thundering to her rescue, ready to sweep her away and make her dreams come true. That was on her. And no matter the cost, it would be worth it, ten times over.

"For your sake, I hope so." King pulled a desk drawer open and withdrew a sheet of paper. "You've heard of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies?" he asked without looking up.

"Yes," Charlotte replied. Everyone had heard of Haverhall. The most exclusive finishing school for young ladies in all of Britain. A place where only the most elite and most wealthy of families sent their daughters to prepare them for a life as a society wife. A school that had been deemed a waste of time and money for Charlotte by her parents, given her dismal prospects.

"Then you will be familiar with the school's headmistress? Baron Strathmore's sister, Miss Clara Hayward?"

"I've never met her." Charlotte had only heard all the rumors that everyone else had about the obscenely wealthy Hayward family. That Clara Hayward, a woman of stunning beauty and flawless deportment, had had any chance of a good marriage destroyed by her excessive and unconventional education. That her younger sister, Rose, a gifted artist, had similarly been compromised. Though Rose had been, for a brief time, improbably engaged to the son of a viscount until he was killed at Waterloo, and Rose all but disappeared from the public eye. The baron himself, Harland Hayward, had married, though his unorthodox insistence to continue working as a physician had angered his highborn wife until the day she had met her own scandalous demise.

Though what the Haywards or a ladies' finishing school could do for Charlotte was beyond her comprehension.

"Your unfamiliarity will be remedied shortly." King finished writing after a few minutes and set his quill aside. "The baron, or more likely, Miss Hayward, will call upon you." He folded the paper and reached for the wax. "I can't imagine it will take longer than a few days. They will have instructions for you then, and I suggest that you go along with whatever it is that will be presented to you."

Charlotte frowned. "I don't understand."

King sealed the letter and reached for his quill again. "The baron is not everything he seems. And he owes me a significant favor, though that bit of information will stay between us if this is to work. At no point in time should my name ever come up in conversation outside this room. You may consider that your first test of loyalty, understood?"

Charlotte nodded.

"Very good." With precise movements, King wrote Dr. Hayward across the front. He reached back and pulled on a tasseled rope hanging near the wall behind the desk. In moments, a man the size of a gorilla materialized, and King handed him the letter. "Have this delivered to the good doctor, please."

The gorilla nodded and vanished with disconcerting speed.

Charlotte frowned. "If the doctor—baron is to assist, won't he need to see my work? A portfolio? How will he know that—"

King folded his hands on the desk and fixed his pale, icy gaze on her once more. "One, the baron is only a single cog in this wheel that has now been set in motion. Second, my endorsement of you and your work will be sufficient. Unless, of course, you give me a reason to withdraw it."

Charlotte nodded, biting her lip.

"I hope you never give me that reason, Lady Charlotte. For I believe this arrangement has the potential to be mutually beneficial."

"I understand. You have my word," she replied, ignoring the small voice in her head that was demanding her to acknowledge the enormity of what she had just done. "And my thanks," she said instead. "For your assistance."

King sat back in his chair, his face expressionless. "Do not make me regret it."

Chapter 2

Lady Charlotte? Are you here?"

The question came from somewhere behind the towering rose trellises, the blooms, along with the warmth that had sustained them, now faded in the grip of fall. Charlotte shot to her feet, pulling her cloak tightly around her against the chill in the air. She'd come out to the deserted gardens in the watery sunshine because she couldn't stand to be trapped in the house any longer, pacing and waiting and pacing some more. Three days had passed since she'd returned from her clandestine visit to King and she'd been on tenterhooks ever since, waiting for a visit she wasn't sure would ever come from a woman she didn't know.

"I'm here," she replied, trying her best to arrange her features into normalcy.

The housekeeper rounded the garden path, her usually pinched face looking unusually befuddled, her arms wrapped around her middle against the cold. "You have a caller," the woman said, sounding perplexed. "She's been shown into the orange drawing room. Your aunt is already there."


  • "Wonderful! A charming, clever, and engaging storyteller not to be missed."—Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
  • "Where have you been all my life, Kelly Bowen? If Julia Quinn, Sarah MacLean, and Lisa Kleypas were to extract their writing DNA, mix it in a blender, and have a love child, Kelly Bowen would be it."—
  • "[T]he fun, intrigue, and romance crescendo in a whopping plot twist. Bowen's Regency romances are always delightful, and this is one of her best yet."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Between the Devil and the Duke
  • "Bowen delivers another winner with scandalous heroines and roguish heroes in her A Season for Scandal series. Combining intelligent and somewhat unconventional characters with a clever plot and a bit of suspense, Bowen captures readers' interest from the intriguing beginning to the expected HEA."—RT Book Reviews on Between the Devil and the Duke

On Sale
Dec 5, 2017
Page Count
48 pages
Forever Yours

Kelly Bowen

About the Author

RITA-award winning author Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba, Canada. She attended the University of Manitoba and earned a Master of Science degree in veterinary physiology and endocrinology. But it was Kelly’s infatuation with history and a weakness for a good love story that led her down the path of historical romance. When she is not writing, she seizes every opportunity to explore ruins and battlefields. Currently, Kelly lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two boys, all of whom are wonderfully patient with the writing process. Except, that is, when they need a goalie for street hockey.

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