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K.J. Jackson

Shadows of Scandal, Guardians of the Bones 2 (EBOOK)

Shadows of Scandal, Guardians of the Bones 2 (EBOOK)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 320+ five star reviews 

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Buy directly from K.J., or you can find Shadows of Scandal on these retailers in ebook or paperback: Amazon ~ Apple ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Google.

Shadows of Scandal, Steamy Historical Regency Romance

She needs a champion willing to ruin her. He doesn’t need anyone. Scandal turns into seduction when a not-quite-perfect heiress tangles with a lost son of society.

An heiress with an imperfection.
Spawn of the devil. Willow has suffered the gossip her entire life. She has the requisite pot of gold, but not the perfection that is necessary for an admirable ton match. Which is fine—she resigned herself to spinsterhood long ago. But when a vicious threat rears against her family, she hatches a desperate plan. She needs to find a man to champion her—and then jilt her—no matter what she has to pay him. Her sister’s life depends upon it.

An unknowable rogue.
Being a guardian—a protector of innocents—is in Jack Thatcher’s blood. He’s the best in the business, even if he’s trying to leave the life behind. He’s making his fortune, has a life of his own choosing where he doesn’t need anyone, and no one really knows him. Paradise.

Jack is done with the business of being a guardian—until the day Miss Willow Constantine corners him in an alleyway, begging for his help. He decides to help her, if only to pay off an old debt. Woo and wreck her? That he can do. It isn’t as though they could possibly ever be together.

Two souls that will find perfection is what you make of it.
It isn’t long before Jack discovers Willow is hiding a barrage of secrets, some that threaten her life, and his protective instinct takes over. In order to save her, he’ll have to get close to her. Too close. Which may just turn the impossible into possible.

Don’t miss USA Today bestselling author K.J. Jackson’s next Guardians of the Bones story, a fake relationship Regency romance with high adventure, high seduction, and a happily-ever-after to swoon for.

The novels in the Guardians of the Bones series by K.J. Jackson are each stand-alone stories and can be read individually in any order. These historical romances are set in the Regency and Victorian eras, and do not shy away from scenes with steamy heat, occasional naughty language, and moments that might possibly make you squirm.


Or you can find Shadows of Scandal on these retailers in ebook or paperback: Amazon ~ Apple ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Google.


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{ Prologue }

His father’s hand, weathered beyond his years, lifted to Jack’s face.

Gentle. His fingers barely a whisper upon Jack’s cheek.

He was dying, after all, his lungs no longer pumping air. But his father had always been gentle with him. Strong. Wise. Proud. Honorable.

Everything Jack aspired to be.

A cough. A cough that extended, racking his father’s body as much as his weakened state would allow and his hand fell away from Jack’s face, landing on the side of the bed.

Jack waited patiently. He’d been waiting patiently for the cough to subside for months now, and it had only gotten worse. The blood marring the spittle thicker and thicker.

The hacking eased and his father opened his mouth, his voice gravelly. “We were always born for bigger things, boy, bigger than these streets. Bigger than what they’ll let us be.”

Jack pulled the blanket up over his father’s frail form. He’d been wasting away for a year now. A year that the gin had been eating away at his flesh, his innards, until he was gaunt and pale. His nose a constant red. Skin sagging against bones.

“I know, Papa. I know.”

His father raised his hand once more, the bones sticking so sharply out of his skin, Jack flinched when his palm dragged across Jack’s cheekbone. “Remember what I told you. Everything.”

“I know.” Jack stared down at his father, his voice grave. “Valor, honor, courage, those are the things we abide by. Always. It is what sets us apart, no matter our circumstances.”

“Always.” His father patted his cheek. “Good boy. Good boy. Your mother would be proud of you, boy.”

Jack nodded, momentarily stunned his father had just mentioned his mother. He never talked about her.


His father died in the next breath.

The next hours were a blur, people coming and going from their room above the alehouse where they’d lived for the last four years. Jack sat out back as it happened, just to the left of the alleyway door on an old cracked barrel he’d wedged up onto the brick wall two years ago so he’d have a place to sit outside rather than in their room by himself.

No one stopped to talk to him. No one stopped to offer condolences except old Mrs. Filbert. Jack always made sure to bring an extra bucket of water back from the well for her. It had always been a pain, the extra bucket of water. But Jack hated to see her shuffling along, her body stooped over with water sloshing out of her bucket when it was something he could easily do for her.

Who would fetch Mrs. Filbert’s water now? For he wouldn’t stay here. Couldn’t stay here.

Not that he knew where to go. But no matter what, there was one place he refused to go. He could figure it out. A place to sleep. Food to eat. He was eleven now. Old enough.

She appeared.

Crisp dark hair, smoothed into a shiny chignon with a green round hat on her head with one sharp feather sticking through the whole of it at an angle. Her matching green dress and pelisse neat with nary an adornment or frill marring the smooth fabric.

Jack wasn’t sure what was more interesting. Her face, for she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Or that feather—green and blue and skinny with a pointy end that looked like a spear and glimmered, almost like metal.

“You are Mr. Thatcher’s boy?”

He wiped his cheeks. He hadn’t been crying, or at least, he didn’t think he had been, but it was good to make sure. He stood up from his seat on the cracked barrel. “I am.”

She looked him up and down, her sharp blue eyes, like a falcon’s, trained on him. “You are taller than I thought sitting there.”

It was true, he’d been growing awkwardly, his legs out of control and a torso that didn’t grow at all. “Yes, ma’am. Who are you?”

“I am a friend of your father’s. A friend from long ago. Tell me, Jack—it is Jack, is it not?”

“It is, ma’am.”

“Tell me, Jack, what do you plan to do now?”

“I don’t know, ma’am. I have not decided.”

“You will not go to your cousin?”

He glanced up at her, his lip snarled. He wanted to punch her for even suggesting such a thing. Instead, he squelched the hatred he knew was seeping from his face. She looked to be a lady, after all. None of this was her fault. “No, ma’am. I will not go to my cousin.”

“I thought not. What then?”

“I am to figure that out, ma’am.”

She nodded once. Chin up. Chin down.

“I have a proposal for you, young Mr. Thatcher. You will come with me. I am in need of a boy about your size. Shorter would have been better, but you will do, if you want the work.”

“What do you want me to do, ma’am?”

“I will tell you about it if you come with me. Suffice it to say the work can be unsavory, but it has honor in it. Your father would approve of you doing it.”

“He would?”

“He would.”

“Yes, then. Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. You will come with me now and I will tell you about it.”

He looked over his shoulder up at the window to the room he and his father had shared. “I will need to gather my things, ma’am.”

“I will send someone for them.” She glanced down along the alleyway. “It is time to leave.”

She turned and started walking along the alley behind the tightly packed buildings. Silently, Jack fell into step beside her.

Halfway to the gleaming maroon carriage on the main street that they were walking toward, she spoke. “I have a question of you.”

“Yes, ma’am?”

She looked down at him, her blue eyes piercing. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

{ Chapter 1 }

May 1827

“I need a champion.”

Jack looked down at the harlot that had interrupted him as he made his way around the corner of the Drury Lane Theatre, set to make his entrance through a little used side door in the alley that led backstage. All the better to avoid faces he didn’t want to see as he made his way up to the boxes.

The woman in a long cloak had cornered him by creeping along the shadows behind him and then jumping ahead of him, planting her feet in front of his path.

For a second, he’d thought to just step around her, as he didn’t have time for this. He had to get to the Earl of Thornbury’s box before the man left for the night. But then the whore in front of him pushed back the hood covering her head and looked up at him.

Not a whore at all.

A princess. A princess of the ton if he were a betting man. Which he wasn’t. And he still didn’t have time for this.

Emerging from the simple dark cloak she wore, she was the sun rising. Big, innocent ice blue eyes pinned him, slicing him to his soul. Perfectly coifed blond hair with sparkling jewels buried along the strands. Full lips that teetered between determination and a pout. The finest cheekbones and jawline, cut from glass.

He never cared for glass. Glass broke too easily. Especially innocent glass.

From head to toe, a blasted princess that had no business in the alleyway outside the theater and the farthest thing from a whore propositioning him.

Step around.

He needed to step around the chit now before he got pulled into whatever debacle this woman thought to bring to him, for no self-respecting member of society would be bandying about dark alleys, looking for men like him.

Unless she was addled. That was a distinct possibility.

Under the light flickering from the lantern at the corner of the street, he met her gaze directly, setting a withering glare onto her. “Whatever you are looking for, sunbird, you’re looking in the wrong place.”

“I don’t think so.”

He scoffed a chuckle and took a decided step to his left to move around her. “You’re not going to find a champion in me.”

She jumped backward, her hand flying up from under her black satin cloak and landing on his chest to stop him. “Except I found the exact champion I need, Mr. Thatcher. I’m standing in front of him. I need you.”

He froze.

She knew his name. His real name. Not the name he was known as in these circles.

No matter. He gave himself a slight shake. Whatever her game was, he wasn’t about to play it.

His eyes narrowed into an icy chill as his fingers lifted to grab the back of her hand splayed across his chest. She wasn’t wearing gloves and the chill in her hand sizzled against the heat of his palm.

Silently, he removed her hand from his person, then dropped it, debating on whether he was going to have to pick her up to move her out of his way. He wasn’t above it.

He shuffled a step forward, setting his chest against her body and making her crane her neck to look up at him. “You are mistaken on all counts, miss. You are not looking at a champion, you are not looking at a man that can be whatever it is that you have convinced yourself you need.”

She didn’t cower, her glare setting into him, ready to get bloody in the current war between their eyes. “Mr. Thatcher, I happen to know that I am looking at a man that can be anything he sets his mind to be. That is the man I need.”

She said it again. Mr. Thatcher. It hadn’t been a fluke.

“How do you know that name?”

“My great-aunt.”

“Who is your great-aunt?”

“Miss Simone Bannerson.”

Bannerson? Shit. Related or not, why in the hell would Miss Bannerson ever tell this chit the first thing about him?

He pressed his chest into her body and she gasped a tiny breath, stepping backward. Willing to battle him with her eyes, but not her body. He lowered his voice into a rumble. “Who are you? Why would I even entertain speaking to you?”

“My name is Willow Constantine, and I am an heiress in desperate need of a champion—a hero. I am also willing to pay any amount for one.”

Jack shook his head, immediately realizing her predicament. The chit must have overheard his name somehow. There was no way Miss Bannerson would ever send this girl to him, even if they were related.

He needed to quit her, the sooner, the better, as her problems were not real problems. “An heiress doesn’t need a hero. An heiress just needs to accept that she’ll be married off to a duke or an earl and go along quietly to the life laid out before her.”

Her head snapped back and for the slightest moment, she looked stunned. But then her lips pursed, her fortitude curling back around her like a shield. She set a fierce stare on him, meant to melt skin off bone. “One would think that. But one would be wrong.”

His shoulders lifted. “I am not a champion, so you’ll only find disappointment by keeping me here any longer.”

Her hand flew out, landing on his chest. Again. “Please. Mr. Thatcher. My great-aunt told me you would be the one. That you are a guardian up to the task. She told me of the Guardians of the Bones.”

Miss Bannerson told her he was a guardian? Beyond the pale.

He expelled a growling exhale.

She didn’t move.

Not successful at growling her away from him, other tactics had to be employed. “What, exactly, is it that you think I can do for you, Miss Constantine?”

“I need a man to feign interest in me. Enough so that it is believable. And then I need him to compromise me thoroughly…well, not truly, but it has to appear so. Then he must jilt me. And it has to be believable. It really will not require much on your part, I swear it.”

“Why?” The word came out of his mouth before he could stop it. He didn’t care. Didn’t care why a princess of her ilk needed to scheme about to survive the machinations of the ton.

Damn curiosity. It always got the better of him.

“I need to be plausibly jilted so that my uncle and my aunt will accept the lessor of two evils.”

“Two evils?”

“My only options after ruin and a jilting will be spinsterhood or a hastily arranged marriage with a less-than-desirable suitor. That is what I need from you.”

“Are you hoping for the spinsterhood or the hasty marriage?”

Her blue eyes flickered to panic for one moment, but she blinked it away. “It does not matter. At that point, your job will be finished and you need not be concerned upon me.”

His arms crossed over his chest, his stare taking in her measure from the top curls of her perfectly coiffed hair down to the tips of her silk slippers peeking out from under her long cloak.

This woman needed no fake admirer. Even if not to his taste, she was bloody well gorgeous. An heiress. The perfect match for any number of bachelor peers.

Something wasn’t right about her request, but he couldn’t quite put his finger upon what exactly was wrong. Apparently, she just needed an admirer she could control.  

“Forgive me, Miss Constantine, but you don’t need the likes of me. There are plenty of guardians that are up to the task.”

She shook her head. “None that would talk to me. Mr. Samson refused to see me, even on the request of my great-aunt. I even went to the offices of the Guardians of the Bones and was refused there.”

“You just walked in?”

“Was I supposed to do something else? My aunt told me of you, of your organization, but she didn’t send me a map and a guidebook. I have traversed quite the difficulties in order to stand in front of you now.”

“I imagine you have.”

“Please, Mr. Thatcher—”

“So, you are telling me your great-aunt told you I’m a guardian, and thought to send you to me?” He shook his head. The guardians didn’t work like that. Miss Bannerson knew that full and well. Everything went through Mr. Samson. “Miss Bannerson knows exactly what we do and this”—he waved his hand in front of her—“is not it.”

“Except you are an ex-guardian, so it can be something you do.”

He inclined his head to her. That was true enough. He hadn’t been a true guardian since he’d taken over running the Alabaster gaming hell. “And you thought I would be up for the job, why? I am a busy man, Miss Constantine.”

“Because I will pay you whatever you want.”

The roar of clapping swelled out from the theatre and Jack glanced upward. He had to make it up to Thornbury’s box before the next act, or the man would be gone to his mistress’s home and Jack wouldn’t be able to surprise him. A request to pay in a debt was always better made in the wrong place and time. Thornbury needed to know he could be reached anywhere, at any time.

He looked down at the stubborn woman. “If you are entirely serious about this, come to the Alabaster tomorrow evening, not before eleven.”

Making her come to the Alabaster at night was the surest way to scare the chit off. She would never show. Not in that part of town. Not at a gaming hell.

And he could walk away, never to think on her again.

Her eyes opened wide in surprise and she gave him a quick nod. “I will do so.”

She pulled up the hood about her head, shielding her from the damp evening or to hide her face, he couldn’t discern. Probably both. Turning to her side, she squeezed past him, rushing out to the main street in front of the theatre.

Jack took two steps, then paused, debating about going inside. He spun on his heel and walked to the end of the alley just in time to see Miss Constantine step up into a carriage, the footman closing the door behind her. With the angle, he couldn’t make out the crest on the side of it. The curtains were drawn nearly closed, but through the slightest sliver of open glass at the edge of the window, he could see Miss Constantine collapse back against the cushions.

He squinted. Her hands came up to her face, and even at this distance, he could see them shaking, her breathing out of control.

The sight of her body in panic, trembling, sent a pang of something into his chest—pity, anger, frustration—he wasn’t sure.

She’d hid it well, but she was clearly frightened—to her core. Of him?

Had he become that much of a monster that he scared young chits witless?


All the better to never have to see Miss Constantine again.

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