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K.J. Jackson

Ruthless Scandal, Guardians of the Bones 5 (EBOOK)

Ruthless Scandal, Guardians of the Bones 5 (EBOOK)

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My newest Steamy Historical Regency Romance 

He's a ruthless guardian devoted to a life without personal entanglements. She’s a feisty Scottish heiress suffering vicious threats to her life. Forced together, the fiery attraction between them could be their undoing, or their true salvation.

One small abduction and her world falls apart.
Nemity Wheldon was abducted, yes, but she got away. Unharmed. It certainly doesn’t warrant hiring a guard looking to stifle her every move. Alas, her overbearing cousin demands it, delivering Callum to her door. He’s a guard. A big, burly, stubborn one. An unnervingly handsome man, yes, but the last thing she needs is him digging into her life. There are only two routes to take in this situation—annoy him or avoid him—whichever will make him quit the job.

A guardian to his bones.
Callum Lonstrick has never quit a mission, and he isn’t about to start with one headstrong spinster. He’s been a guardian for far too long—more than half of his life. And he isn’t about to let a feisty Scottish heiress best him. He’s there to protect her, and that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Never mind that he’s instantly attracted to the maddening hoyden that is determined to vex him at every turn—one never touches a client.

Forced together, a game of cat and mouse is afoot.
Nemity doesn’t want him to discover any of her secrets, while Callum is determined to unravel each and every one, for it is the only way to properly protect her. Yet with each secret he discovers, the danger only grows. Save her? That’s a given—he’s a guardian, after all. Save his heart? That may just be an insurmountable feat.


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Sneak peek...

Thomas followed her stare to the stranger. “Good you have arrived.”

The man’s eyes narrowing, the stranger hadn’t looked anywhere but at Nemity since she’d spotted him. His stare locked on her, his gaze didn’t even flicker to Thomas as he spoke to him.

He fully recognized her as the one that had almost gotten him thrown from his horse.

Or the one that had almost trampled her, depending on one’s vantage point.

The stranger stood, polite at her entrance, though his eyes still bored into her.

She’d seen eyes like his before.

Eyes determined to crawl inside her, trying to discover all her secrets in one glance, like she was a simple puzzle to solve. Solve and then own.

Nemity tore her gaze away from the giant.

One, because she couldn’t quite handle his stare. Two because she’d just realized how thoroughly Thomas had meant to humiliate her.

Punishment for her tardiness, he would tromp her out in front of a complete stranger in the wet and disheveled state she was in.

Her gaze sliced into Thomas. “You could have let me go to my room to change. Especially knowing you’d invited a visitor into my home.”

Thomas puffed out a breath that sounded exasperated to the hilt. “I thought it better that Callum know exactly what he is getting here.”

Her head snapped back, her eyes blinking furiously. “Getting here? What do you mean?”

She looked over her shoulder to Charley, who had stopped by the doorway. He stood, observing but not intervening, as was his way. No one was more fun than Charley when one wanted to have fun. But Charley was not one to insert himself into anything uncomfortable. And the very air around Thomas was uncomfortable.

Her look darted back to Thomas. Staring at the cold set of his jawline.

He couldn’t actually think…to marry her off…sell her like cattle…

She advanced on him. “What are you talking about, Thomas?”

“I am talking about what happened a week ago. And I can see from your actions today that you’ve taken no heed to the danger you are in.” His head shook, his lip curling into a snarl. “Leaving the manor house. Utter stupidity.”

Nemity winced.

She’d rather hoped Thomas had calmed from his initial reaction about the incident a week ago.

He didn’t need to worry about her. And he certainly didn’t need to bring a giant into her home because of it.

Thomas grabbed her upper arm and turned her toward the man. “Callum is a friend of Charley’s that has graciously agreed to stay by your side until we know where the threat came from.”

She didn’t look to the man, her focus still set on Thomas. “You are making too big of a deal of the whole incident. I was fine. I am fine.”

“You were only fine because Mr. Youngstrom happened to be out putting one of the horses through its paces. Those two men already had you a mile away from here. If Youngstrom hadn’t seen your hair hanging out of the back of that wagon, they would have gotten you. And who knows what they would have done to you.”

Dropping her arm, Thomas looked to Callum. “Mr. Youngstrom is the stablemaster here at Springfell Manor. He broke his arm getting Nemity out of that wagon and the men that took her got away. We were lucky they weren’t willing to fight him.”

Callum nodded. “Charley told me.” His look dropped to Nemity. “You were fortunate they didn’t escape with you.”

She shrugged. “Luck is usually on my side.”

Next to her, Thomas grunted. “Luck isn’t going to keep you safe—not until we know who exactly those men were and what they wanted with you.”

Her head shaking, she looked to the coffered ceiling. “How are you possibly going to find that out? I’m sure those men have long since left the area.”

“I have several people investigating that very thing, trying to find them,” Thomas said.

Of course he did. Thomas was nothing if not controlling to a fault. A big fault.

Thomas’s mouth pinched. “Though your description of those men gave us very little to go on.”

Her hands flew up at her sides. “I was in the gardens and they threw a bag over my head. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. I didn’t know I was about to be snatched and tossed like a bag of turnips into a wagon.”

“And that is exactly why Callum is here. He will be the new eyes in the back of your head.”

Her teeth gritting, she seethed out a long breath through her nostrils. “Except I don’t need eyes in the back of my head. I am fine. Mr. Youngstrom is here on the estate, and he has been very studious in knowing my whereabouts.”

“Mr. Youngstrom also has a broken arm.” Thomas pointed at Callum. “Callum does not. He’s the one that’s going to be here to protect you.”

She glared up at Thomas. “You think a man with brawn and no brain can protect me?”

“I have both, actually.” Callum’s deep voice suddenly sliced into the room, his look cutting into her. “I am also one of the men helping with the investigation and the more I know of you, the more I know where the threat is likely coming from.”

Her arms folded in front of her damp dress as she met his stare. “That means you intend to know me. A bit presumptuous, don’t you think?”

“Nemity.” A warning shot from Thomas.

Her looked whipped back to her cousin. “What? I think I have the right to ask who and what this man is that thinks to insert himself into my life. Plus, the incident happened a week ago, and now you think to sic your lapdog onto me?”

“I’ve had men patrolling the outer grounds for the last week.”

Her eyes snapped open wide at him. “You have? You could have told me.”

“It was better that they told me they lost track of you constantly, when you were supposed to be staying in the manor.” Thomas seethed out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. He did that a lot, pinched the bridge of his nose when he was around her.

His hand dropped away from his face. “Would you rather I bring you back to Ravenstone? That is the other option on the table.”

Her jaw clamped shut.

“Exactly. You don’t want to be at the castle. And I don’t want you there.”

Her head tilted to the side and she gave him a sickeningly sweet smile. “Coming from anyone else, that might sting.”

“Good that it is coming from me, then,” Thomas grunted out.

She paused, holding the snide smile as her mind whirled, searching for a new argument.

Her hand flung out, pointing at Callum.  “Except this won’t do at all—what of the propriety of it? I am an unmarried woman, here by myself, and you think to have an eligible bachelor living here with me?”

Thomas scoffed. “You and propriety parted ways long ago. Don’t cry foul on it now.”

“And what makes you think I am a bachelor?” Callum asked.

Her look swung to him, her words stuttering. “Well…I just imagined…are you not?”

The smallest smile quirked the edges of his lips. “I am.”

“Then why even bring it up?” Her hand flew up at her side. “It isn’t right, a rogue gentleman here at Springfell Manor.”

“I can stay at Springfell,” Charley offered.

All eyes swiveled to Charley leaning casually on the wall by the door.

She’d almost forgotten he was still in the room.

“Yes.” She glanced at Thomas and then looked back to Charley. “Yes, that is the perfect solution. Charley can stay and keep me safe. He is a cousin, and is far more appropriate than some random man.”

Thomas shook his head. “If your safety is my top concern, which it is, I would not entrust it to Charley. No offense, brother.”

Charley lifted his hand. “None taken. I merely meant I could stay at Springfell with Callum to help entertain Nemity while she is under lock and key. He protects her, I entertain her.” He looked to her. “What say you, Pip? The longest party we ever had?”

“Yes. Yes, please,” Nemity blurted out. Charley was the only one that was going to make this bearable.

Thomas looked to his brother, his head tilting down, his stare pinning him. Don’t get involved—a very clear message etched into his face. “Except I need you at Ravenstone, Charley.”

Charley pushed off from the wall, stepping farther into the room. “For what? You never need me for anything.”

“I do.” Thomas pointed to the door, his voice not to be argued with. “Let us discuss this outside.”

Charley shook his head. “Thomas—”

“Now, Charles.” Thomas started toward the door, and he glanced at Nemity. “Nemity, take a seat. This may take a while.”

Thomas left the room, assuming, as he always did, that the person he was ordering about was following him.

Charley rolled his eyes as he gave her a look. He knew just as well as she did how his older brother could be. He tromped out of the study after him, closing the door on his way.

Which left her…alone with the giant.

Still standing in the middle of the room, she glanced about, wondering how much time she could waste looking everywhere but at the man.

If she didn’t look at him, she didn’t have to acknowledge he was about to become her jailer.

“You could sit, Miss Wheldon.” His low voice had gone softer, almost like butter, when he wasn’t barking words out. “Thomas is no longer in the room to battle against.”

She didn’t look at him. “I am fine standing and waiting.”

“It might be better for your carpet if you sat.”

“What?” She looked down at the blue and tan Axminster carpet that stretched across the wooden floorboards. Splotches of deep red were scattered into the fibers.

“Dammit.” She swore in a low whisper as she picked up her right foot and twisted her heel upward.

The shard from the twig she’d stepped on in her mad dash back to the manor had embedded itself so deeply, blood had pooled around it and smeared across her heel.

She glanced across the carpet. Blood was hell to get out of a carpet like this. She knew that well enough.

Hobbling over to the two sofas on the ball of her right foot with every other step, she attempted to not let any more blood drip onto the carpet as she moved. She lunged the last long step to the sofa on the left, landing hard on the cushions.

As she righted herself, Callum took it upon himself to sit next to her and grab her ankle before she could bring her foot up onto her own thigh so she could pick at the splinters.

He pulled her foot onto his lap, setting her calf on his thigh.

Pushing her damp skirts down around her exposed leg, she tugged at his hold, trying to free her ankle. His meaty paw didn’t give her the slightest bit of freedom.

She forced a half smile. “Truly, you don’t have to help.”

“I also don’t have to sit by and watch you bleed all over the sofa as well.” He reached his free hand into an inner pocket of his dark coat and pulled out a handkerchief.

She nodded, staring at the neatly folded white linen cloth, an insignia she couldn’t identify sewn into the corner—not letters, but an emblem of some sort.

“The handkerchief is clean,” he muttered.

Her look lifted to his face. “I didn’t assume it was dirty.”

He grunted. “You have done nothing but assume you know everything about me in the fifteen minutes we’ve been in this room together.” He set the cloth to the bottom of her foot, wiping away at the blood.

“I did n—” She stopped herself.

She had assumed quite a bit about the man. When she actually knew nothing.

His hand moved to curl over the top of her foot and he lifted it higher for a better angle to see what he was doing.

She eyed him for a long moment.


What sort of man would grab the bare foot of a woman he’d just met and start cleaning it?

Maybe he wasn’t death on a giant horse. Maybe he wasn’t an idiot oaf.

He still was big, though. His hand easily covered most of her foot.

She cleared her throat. “My apologies. I did assume some things about you and I shouldn’t have. This was a surprise—the most unwelcome sort of one, with Thomas coming in and setting you upon me like I was a five-year-old child that needed a nursemaid. You suffered the brunt of my reaction to him and his supercilious, overbearing ways.”

Callum nodded without looking up at her, as his gaze was still set directly on the bottom of her foot. “I deduced as much fairly quickly, Miss Wheldon.”

She nodded, more to herself than to him, since he hadn’t glanced at her face since sitting down next to her.

Her forefinger resting on her thigh flicked out to him “Since you already have my bare foot in your hands, I imagine we need to catch up on pleasantries that should have previously been taken care of by my odious cousin, such as what is your family name?”

“Lonstrick. But everyone calls me Callum or Cal. I am not one for formality, Miss Wheldon.”

Yet he called her Miss Wheldon.

She frowned, staring at him dabbing away at the blood on her heel.

On that score, she could see why Charley liked him. Charley hated the formality of their world—he always had. And he loved moving through London with a friend the size of Callum at his side. It kept escaping the mayhem his debauchery caused —whether with wine, or women, or at the hazard tables—all the easier.

“And you are Charley’s friend?”

“I am.”

“For how long?”

His shoulders lifted slightly. “Seven, eight months or so. We have gotten on well.”

“I imagine. Charley likes to have muscle at his side.”

“He does enjoy himself.” Not taking her baited words, his voice was bland, like he was describing a tablecloth.

“That is putting it mildly.” She chuckled. “Charley likes to skirt to the edge of everything. It is why he is so well-loved. He’s never known any bounds and people love that about him.”

“You love him?” His voice didn’t change from the bored indifference it had been set to.

“I do.”

For how much she loved Charley, she saw him deeper than anyone else.

She was wild, while he was a step beyond—out of control, most of the time.

Probably because, as the second son, Charley knew this world of society would not be his to pass down to his heirs. He knew that within generations, his descendants would be the poor, distant relations that would need to be begrudgingly taken care of. He’d accepted his lot early on in life and most days, when he wasn’t drunk and reflective about it, he moved through life as if it were one grand ball—never enough wine, enough women, enough fun. He was going to squeeze every last drop out of this life while he could.

She couldn’t blame him.

Callum’s eyes flickered to her face, then back down to her foot as he lifted it higher to catch the light from the window across the room onto her heel.

“I noticed Lord Hedstrom is a bit stern with you.”

“He is.” Her arms wrapped around her middle as she glanced over her shoulder at the door, wondering when her cousins would reappear. “The sad part is that I used to like Thomas.”

That statement pulled his full attention away from her foot and onto her face. “You did? When?”

“Before he disappeared years ago. Did Charley tell you that of him? That he disappeared?”

Callum shook his head. “No. He didn’t mention it. Always just said his brother was an arse.”

She shook her head, blowing out a long sigh. “Thomas hasn’t always been like this. He used to have streaks of kindness in him. He’s ten years older than me, so he never paid me much mind growing up. But between him and Charley, he was always the levelheaded one. The calm one. Charley and I are peas in a pod—we both love to laugh and get ourselves into predicaments that we shouldn’t. Thomas was always there to make sure we didn’t fall on our heads and crack our necks when we were doing something stupid.”

Callum looked to the door, a vertical line between his brows deepening. “What happened to him?”

“He disappeared seven years ago. No one knew what happened to him, where he went. He just disappeared. Then a few months before his father died last year, he reappeared.” She shook her head. “But he came back to us mean. I don’t know what happened to him, but now he’s just…mean. At least to me.” Her shoulders lifted.

Callum looked to her. “He’s that way with Charley as well. I’ve seen it.”

“I suspected as much. Charley is as loyal as the day is long, so would never say anything. But I suspect Thomas has been treating him in much the same way. To my great disappointment, Charley now tries not to spend too much time in the North. So I only get to see him when I’m in London.”

He angled her heel to pick up more light and he set his face close to it, studying it. “I can see the slivers—no, it’s more of a chunk of a branch.”

He set the bloody handkerchief on his leg and moved to pluck it out.

She jerked forward, grabbing his arm. “Wait, I should probably do it.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Don’t think I can pull a sliver?”

Her lips pursed as she shrugged. “You don’t have the smallest hands.”

He ignored her and pinched his fingers together at her heel. A jab of pain and then relief—the chunk of the branch was dislodged. She hadn’t realized how painful it had become until he’d pointed out the dripping blood.

“There. The blood will flow for a bit, but I imagine it will scab soon.” He picked up the handkerchief and held it to her heel where blood had started to flow fast again.

He set her calf down onto his thigh, holding the cloth tight to her heel to stem the flow.

Nemity looked at him, her lips pulling to the side.

She was usually a good judge of character, except when it came to men. Handsome men. Even if the man sitting next to her was a giant, she had to admit he was handsome in a brutal, feral way. Dark hair with a shadow of dark stubble across a hard jawline. A strong nose with a bump in the middle that looked like it had been broken at one time. Eyes that were canny and colorless—except not truly colorless, more grey.

Her immediate judgement on him may have been all wrong. Upon further reflection, he wasn’t an oaf. Wasn’t an idiot. He had gentle hands, no matter their size. And didn’t appear to be Charley’s lapdog.

“Are you actually soft?” she asked.

His gaze locked onto her, the hard planes of his face tightening into indestructible iron lines. “The look in your eyes—don’t make that mistake. I’m as hard as they come.”

True, his ministrations on her heel had been so nonchalant, it was clear he’d dealt with blood a lot in his life. Had she mistaken that for softness?

She studied him for a long moment.

He knew blood, but he wasn’t death. Not like she’d first thought when she’d darted in front of him. Far from it.

He might even be kind.

Or he might be using his connection through Charley to get close to her.

He wouldn’t be the first.

She settled her back against the side arm of the sofa, her fingers picking at her damp skirt. “How is it that you met Charley? I’ve never heard him mention you.”

“We met in London in late January.”

She nodded. It made sense since she hadn’t seen Charley very often since early January, except at the opera or the park a few times. She’d been far too distracted this last year with things beyond the realm of parties and balls.

“We both served under Edward Paget in the army at different times. A happenstance meeting at Boodle’s.”

“And you enjoy his company?”

He half shook his head. “I do. Charley is…Charley.”

She chuckled. “A never-ending source of mayhem and fun.”

“He is that. And he likes my company well enough. And you are right about the muscle. I am good at getting him out of the scrapes he gets himself into.”

She smirked. “At the tables?”

He shrugged. “Among other places.”

“Your shrug was just dismissive enough for me to wonder what those other places are.”

“Other places not to be spoken out loud.”

Nemity laughed, leaning forward, grabbing his forearm with her eyes aglow. “You’ve gotten him out of a married woman’s bed, haven’t you? When the husband has shown up?”

His eyes went wide, his stare settling on her. “How in the hell do you know that?”

She laughed, leaning back against the side of the sofa. “Charley has told me of the many times he’s found himself in that predicament.”

Disbelief, and maybe a tiny bit of shock, wrinkled his brow. “Why in the world would he tell you about that?”

She grinned, folding her arms across her ribcage. “We don’t have a lot of secrets, Charley and I. If you’ve spent any time at all around him, you know he doesn’t have a filter on his thoughts.”

He lifted his forefinger to point at her, a quick grin playing at his lips. “That, I do know.”

“Plus, he doesn’t treat me like I’m breakable or a thorn in his side, which is how we’re both treated by Thomas. So I guess we combined forces long ago to survive my cousin.”

She flipped one hand outward, waving it between them. “But all that doesn’t answer the question.”

“What question?”

“Why in the world would you agree to do this? Play protector for someone you don’t know?”

His left brow rose as his eyes met hers. Grey eyes. Devoid of color, but in that simplicity, the color looked so alive. Almost a glinting silver that picked up the colors around it. Her blue dress. The shard of orangish light coming in through the window. The red of the blood on the handkerchief.

Not just grey eyes—silver eyes that reflected the world around him.

“Honestly?” he asked, his face serious.


“There are some gambling debts I have in London that Thomas will erase if I do this. He knows of my background in the army, knows I can get Charley out of scrapes, and this seems a pretty simple trade. I know well enough how to protect a lass such as yourself. All it will cost me is some of my time.”

“Except that—I repeat from earlier—I don’t need anyone to guard me.”

He nodded, his fingers wrapped around her ankle twitching. “You may think that. Thomas does not. And he’s the one that will clear my debts.”

“I could clear your debts.”

“Could you?” His head tilted to the side as he considered her. “Doesn’t Thomas have to approve such a measure? He does control the purse strings, does he not?”

“Don’t remind me.” She tried to jerk her foot out of his grasp. He just held it in place, staring at her.

She sighed, lifting her right arm to balance her elbow along the back of the sofa. Her fingers dug into her still damp hair. “Would it matter in the slightest if I said that I don’t want a guard?”

His lips pursed as he looked away from her for a long moment. His gaze returned to her face. “It would matter if I was the one making the decision in this case. I’m not. So I’m not the one to talk to.”

Her jaw jutting outward, she blew a big breath upward and the hair alongside her face moved, tickling her cheek. Thomas wasn’t to be swayed—she’d never accomplished it before. “I will just have to act as though you don’t exist, then.”

“I think we both already established I’m a hard one to miss.”

“I do think I can manage it.” She smiled sweetly at him and then yanked her foot back toward her.

This time, he let her escape his grasp.

She swung her leg to the floor, about to get up, but then paused, looking to him. “You may have just plucked the thorn from the lioness’s paw. But that doesn’t tame me. Far from it. I’m still going to fight this.”

“I never imagined it would.” He smiled. Smug bugger.

Yet in that moment, he looked classically handsome. A smile that managed to erase the brutality from the hard lines of his face.

Not that she noticed.

Not that she wanted to notice.

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