Skip to product information
1 of 3

K.J. Jackson

Unmasking the Marquess, A Hold Your Breath Novel 2 (EBOOK)

Unmasking the Marquess, A Hold Your Breath Novel 2 (EBOOK)

Regular price $6.99 USD
Regular price Sale price $6.99 USD
Sale Sold out

Some people are born with backbone. Others have to fight for it.
List in-hand of suitable bachelors, Lady Reanna Halstead, the epitome of naivety, is thrust into London society with demands to gain a husband. To her utter amazement, she manages to capture the attentions of the Marquess of Southfork. Her love, dreams, and future are soon pinned on her marriage to this one man. One handsome, kind, fantastic man. One man, who has a very different idea of what this marriage will be.

He will be hated, before he is loved.
Killian Hayward, Marquess of Southfork, is only one step away from completing the revenge he has fought his entire life for. All he has to do is marry Lady Halstead. The one woman that is the key to his revenge. To his peace. The one woman that will threaten the very foundation of his entire existence.


Or you can find Unmasking the Marquess on these retailers in ebook or paperback: Amazon ~ Apple ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Google.


Ebooks are delivered instantly by a link in your confirmation email and also by email from Bookfunnel, our delivery partner.


You can read the ebooks on any ereader (Amazon, Kobo, Nook), your tablet, phone, computer, or in the free Bookfunnel app.



London, June 1820

“You cannot do this.”

Killian Hayward, Marquess of Southfork, had hoped for a reprieve from the Duchess of Dunway. But she hadn’t even bothered with the usual polite pitter-patter of conversation after walking in. No. She jumped right into her latest nagging session.

“You cannot do this,” the duchess muttered again as she paced on the blue, spiral-patterned Persian rug before him. Back and forth. She had been wearing down the carpet for the last five minutes, and her steps had only quickened.

Arms crossed, Killian leaned against the doorway of his study. If she wasn’t the wife of his best friend, and, he allowed, a beloved friend to him in her own right, he would have cut Aggie off days, nay, months ago.

As it was, he would have to wait her out. Only fourteen more hours to go.

His eyes went down to the thin line of brandy in the bottom of the short glass he held. Thank goodness he had swallowed several pours before his friends arrived.

She stopped in front of him, green eyes flickering between disappointment and desperate persuasion. “Killian, I am serious. You do not have much time left. You cannot do this to Miss Halstead.”

Taking a deep breath, Killian sidestepped her small frame and walked to the sideboard. “I do not see why your concern has reached such a monumental pitch, duchess.” He forced ease into his tone, even as his throat tightened. “You have had plenty of time to come to terms with the wedding.”

Aggie followed him across the room, a terrier on a rat, not letting him escape. “I have not come to terms with it and you know it. I had hoped I could convince you to alter your course by now. It is not right to do this to her. Reanna is an innocent and you are being a blazing idiot.”

“It is not Reanna I am concerned with, Aggie. You know that.” He picked up the decanter of brandy, his thick hand wrapping around the cut glass. He paused, pondering the streams of light fighting the angles of the glass. A design he had never cared for, except for the show of expense. It was good he could still recognize show from reality. He was beginning to wonder.


“I can,” he cut her off, “and will be moving forward with the plan as decided.”

Her hand went gentle onto his forearm as her voice softened. “But Killian, you are giving no thought at all to what this will do to Reanna.”

He halted his pour, the amber liquid kissing the lip of the decanter. He looked at her. “Do I need to?”

She pulled her hand back as her nose crinkled in disgust. “Do not be an ass. You are being the worst kind of cruel if you go through with this.” Her voice lost all softness and Killian could feel her anxiety explode, uncontrolled, into the room. “There is still time to call it off. I will tell Reanna myself, explain the situation to her. Please, Killian, you need to do what is right.”

“Aggie, the wedding is tomorrow. I will not call it off. Not after all the work that went into it. Not for what is at stake.”

“The work has nothing to do with it.” She went back to pacing. “You are being a stubborn ogre and you know it. You have long since achieved what you needed to out of this. He is done. Destroyed. The wedding need not happen. Reanna should not be brought into your revenge.”

She paused in her movement to stare at him, hands shaking. He could feel her struggling for words.

“Killian, you know I adore you, but how many names do I have to call you before you will listen to reason?”

He turned to her, contemplating the flush in her forehead and on her cheeks. “You have been lecturing me for too long, I agree to that. And since I have yet to yield to your wishes, you should have some clue as to what my actions will be between today and tomorrow. You continue to waste your breath on this subject.”

“I am not wasting my breath, and I will not give up on getting through that impossibly thick skull of yours. I know somewhere in you, there is a shred of decency that is listening to reason and agreeing with what I am saying—you just have to stop ignoring it.”

Killian’s attention went back to the mahogany sideboard to pour a second glass of brandy. Skirting the duchess, he walked across the room. “Devin, can you please call your wife off?”

He handed the glass to the Duke of Dunway, who sat easily on the crisp sofa, his large form swallowing the delicate vine pattern on the silk.

A hollow chuckle escaped the duke. “Do not even try it, friend. I am not getting into this one. I have been hearing about it from both of you for too long, to be stupid enough to stick my neck in the middle of your swinging axes. No thank you.” He raised his glass to both of them. “I will decline any involvement in this conversation. I am merely here to safely remove my wife from the room should you decided to throttle her.”

Killian sighed and turned back to face his pint-sized adversary. She was decked out prettily for this duel; a coral silk evening gown hugged her curves and complemented her softly coifed blond hair.

It rankled his pride, but Killian admitted to himself that he did want her to understand. He hated the growing disappointment he had seen in Aggie’s eyes over the past weeks. But he knew she would never fully understand what he had been through. She hadn’t seen first-hand, as Devin had, the destruction that had been his life. How he had to scrape from nothing to rebuild everything that had been lost.

He also realized understanding was even more difficult for Aggie now that she had grown to count Reanna as a close friend.

Damn that the only two people he actually cared about were in this room, and one of them was Aggie. The whole of his life would be a lot easier had Devin never met Aggie, never married. And damn that she had become just as important to him as Devin was. He opened his mouth one last time to try and sway her.

“I assure you, Aggie, there is not one shred of me that agrees with you on this subject. The wedding will complete all that I have worked to achieve, for all these years. All that both of you have helped me achieve.” His eyebrows rose pointedly. “Do I need to remind you that you were the one who discovered Reanna’s almost-engagement to Lord Hiplan? I will not stop now, not when I am so close.”

Aggie’s hand flew up. “Stop right there. Yes, I was the one that started the whole damn thing, but the second you began to court her and push Lord Hiplan out of the way, I knew it was a mistake. And since then I have never supported you in this particular venture. I do not think I have to remind you that I have been fighting you for months.”

“You do not.”

“This is not decent, this is not right, and this is certainly not honorable.”

Devin coughed.

“Too far, Aggie. Too far.” Killian couldn’t stop his jaw from openly clenching. “You dare to call honor into this? Have I ever been dishonorable to you, Devin, or even to anyone of consequence to us?”

He stared at her hard, the question hanging in the air, demanding she answer it.

Aggie bowed her head slightly, chagrined, and shook it.

He gave her a curt nod. “Thank you. Honor is exactly what has driven this. You knew that when you first agreed to help me.”

“And I agreed to help you because of what he did to your mother…God…” She closed her eyes, a visible shiver running through her. “I still cannot bear to think on it.”

She opened her eyes, pinning him, even as her voice was soft. “But this—when did you become such a cutthroat that you are willing to sacrifice an innocent?”

“She is not an innocent. Not with her father.”

“Killian, how many times do I have to tell you? She is not her father. She has no idea what her father is. What her father has done. So, yes, that makes her an innocent. An innocent you will be destroying if you go through with this marriage.”

“We all lose our innocence, Aggie.”

Sighing, Aggie sat down next to her husband, grabbed the glass of brandy from his hand, and took a swallow. Suspicious. Aggie did not drink brandy.

She scooted closer to Devin, tucking herself under his extended arm.

Killian’s eyebrow arched at her. “Are you exhausted or cowering?”

She didn’t look up at him. “Both.”

“You need to tell him, Aggs,” Devin said.

“Tell me what?”

She took another sip of the brandy, face contorting at the burn. “I called on her today.”

“You went to see her?”

Aggie nodded.

Hand wrapped around his glass, Killian’s knuckles turned white. “What the hell did you say to her, Aggie?”

She handed the brandy back to Devin and looked up at Killian, defiance in her chin. “She was talking, glowing, going on and on about how happy she is. But then she asked me what your favorite color was—it was about something her aunt said regarding her trousseau and the colors she chose for the materials. She did not know what your favorite color was. She was so worried. She wants to please you and had chosen blue, but only because you wear a lot of blue. She said she actually did not know what your favorite color was.”


“So that is the point. She does not know anything genuine about you. I have never seen someone so in love, and at the same time, so misguided in that emotion. It is heartbreaking to watch. Have you ever had a real conversation with her?”

“Enough that she fell in love with me.”

“Ass. If you had done so much as that—an actual conversation with her—in the past three months, you would know she is nothing like her father, never will be, and she deserves so much better than what you are going to do to her tomorrow. Maybe if you knew her in the slightest, you would actually be hearing what I am telling you.”

“I know who her father is. That is the only thing I need to know about her. Maybe you should have left it at that as well.”

“Stop. I like Reanna. I consider her a true friend. But I have never met such an innocent soul. She knows nothing of her father’s dealings. She knows very little about the world. You are going to crush her when she finds out, and she has no resiliency, no way to handle such cruelty. She loves you deeply and believes you return the sentiment.”

“What did you tell her, duchess?”

“Nothing. Nothing about your plan. But I did tell her to protect her heart.”

“You what?”

Aggie tucked further under Devin’s arm. “Her heart. I told her to protect it. I wanted to create a sliver of doubt in her, so that when she finds out what you are doing, it will not be such a shock. You went too far with her, Killian. She loves you.”

“What difference does that make?”

“You did not just make her want to marry you. You made her fall in love with you. That is the difference. That is why this is vicious. You could at least tell her the truth about her father. She deserves that.”

“You know exactly what will happen if she knows the truth.” Worry invaded his face. “You are not going to tell her, are you?”

“I have a good mind to, if my conscience is to remain clean.”


Her tone dropped, mirroring her shoulders as she interrupted him. “Do not worry. I will be silent. This is your decision. Even if I think you are an imbecile.”

“Again, the rudeness.”

“It is only because I have run out of things to say to make an impression on you.” She sighed, weary. “I hate everything about this. I just cannot believe you have this cruelty in you.”

Killian’s eyes shifted to Devin. If his friend was worth his salt, he would have clamped his wife’s mouth shut minutes ago. Instead, the duke’s lips remained solidly closed, one eyebrow raised at him. Devin was probably enjoying this haranguing his wife was delivering.

His attention went back to Aggie. “Why do you continue to insist this is cruelty? If anything, I am getting her away from her bastard of a father. And saving her from being whored out to some overweight, over-old, bumbling cad with a few coins to his name.”

Aggie’s voice shrunk to a whisper as she shook her head. “It is cruel because she loves you, Killian. And she believes you love her. There is nothing crueler than falsely believing you are loved. Falsely believing you are important to someone.”

Aggie’s words rang true, Killian couldn’t deny. He had given false impressions to the girl. In all that he had done to her father over the past years, it was the lying to Miss Halstead that his conscience hadn’t been able to shake clean.

But Aggie couldn’t know that.

Killian’s voice hardened. “She will get over it in no time. Once the marriage is consummated, she will be off the market for good, and the last chance her father had to gain coinage by selling her will be gone forever.” Killian swallowed the last of his brandy. “She will have an enviable life as a marchioness. A life of comfort. And I will have no demands on her time.”

“Killian, that is what you do not understand. It is not about the life she will get. She wants you. You. You could be penniless, and she would defy her father for you. You can tell her. She would choose you over her father in a second.”

“I am not about to take that chance. You put too much emphasis on love, Aggie. Yes, you and Devin found fortune in each other, but I do not think I need to remind you that loveless marriages are the norm, and you are the exception. You do no good arguing about love with me.”

She stood up, arms flying in the air. “But that is exactly why I argue. Why can you not have the same as us? Maybe that is why I am adamant. Why can I not hope for more for you as well?”

“Aggie, I have never cared for, nor wanted the love you speak of in my life. I do this, go through with the marriage, my revenge is done. I am at peace. We are done discussing it.”

Aggie went silent.

Killian’s shoulders relaxed for the first time since his friends arrived. Whether or not Aggie understood, he was doing what was necessary to destroy the man that had ruined his family. The bastard had run away from the death Killian had planned, so crushing him into insignificance would have to do.

Devin understood such a duty. But he couldn’t expect the same from Aggie. She was a woman, and there was too much forgiveness in her.

Aggie stepped in front of him. “It will be done, but at what expense?”

Killian’s grip tightened on the glass he was holding. “So, ultimately, are you saying you will not support me on this? Will you be at the wedding?”

Aggie turned from him and sat wearily on the couch next to her husband. Devin’s arm immediately went around her shoulders.

Killian’s gaze went to the duke. “Devin?”

Devin didn’t waste a moment. “You know where I stand on the matter. I will be there.”

Killian nodded, grateful for his friend’s unwavering support. “Aggie?”

She took a deep breath, hands clenched in her lap. “No, I do not support your decision on this matter.”

Killian turned away from the two of them, hand clenching the edge of the black marble mantel above the fireplace.

“Killian, no, do not get disgusted with me,” Aggie said. “I cannot support your decision, but I do support you. I will be there tomorrow.”

He turned back to them, approval, but not a smile on his face. “Thank you. Your presence means much to me, even if you do not agree with what I am about to do.”


Poised before the gold gilded mirror in her rooms, Reanna Halstead tugged at a tangled piece of long, near-black hair. The scent of the jasmine from her bath escaped as she pulled the tortoise shell comb through her wet locks.

The Marquess of Southfork loved her. And they were getting married tomorrow. How had that happened?

She never dreamed her short foray into London society would have gained her such a wonderful man. She was years older than the brightest lights of the ton, so when her father had finally allowed her aunt to present her to society, she had little hope of attracting attention from a man as young and vibrant as Lord Southfork.

She had seen so much beauty during this first trip to London, that she still had a hard time placing herself in it without self-comparisons to all the exquisiteness surrounding her.

Twisting on the stool, she forced herself to stare hard at her reflection. Her light blue eyes—too light for her hair color, she knew—searched the contours of her face. Why had he chosen her?

She wasn’t worldly. Wasn’t a wit. She guessed she looked enough like her mother and aunt, and they were both great beauties of their time. But she would never label herself thusly. Her cheekbones were a little too high. Bottom lip too swollen. Nose and chin passable. Her dark hair, glossy and strong, was her best asset. That, she had to admit.

Her eyes veered off.

She was uncomfortable with looking at herself for such a spell. Even if her aunt had drummed into her the importance of acknowledging exactly what looked back in the mirror, in order to harness it to the best effect.

Reanna pulled the comb through the last snarl, then forced her eyes to the mirror. She was determined to look her best tomorrow. She needed to. For Killian.

Just saying his name in her mind sent a tingle down her spine. He was a man. A true man. Killian was exciting to be around and people gravitated toward him. So how she had caught his eye, she did not know. There was always laughter where he was. And when her hand was in the crook of his arm, she was always surprised by his muscle. Even through her gloves and his crisp jackets, she could feel strength resonating from him.

Her breath caught at the thought of his body. What would it be like to really kiss Killian? Sure, they had stolen a few all-too-short pecks several times.

And when he told her that he loved her and asked her to marry him, their kiss had lasted a bit longer than a peck. But before Reanna had even realized it had begun, Killian had pulled away. He said he would not succumb to ungentlemanly behavior, no matter the depth of his feelings, at least not until they were properly wed.

A true gentleman.

Reanna pushed her hair atop her head, crooking her neck at all angles, imaging how it would look tomorrow. She needed to be perfect.

“You will look presentable, no need to worry on that.” Her Aunt Maureen entered the room, sans knocking, for it was her home.

She walked to stand behind Reanna, reeking of statuesque elegance. Her aunt gave a quick glance to Reanna’s reflection in the mirror, and then her eyes immediately wandered up to study her own aging face. She tucked a non-existent stray hair back into her perfectly coifed hair.

Aunt Maureen pulled Reanna’s hands from her dark locks. “You will crimp your hair if you keep playing with it. Miss Melby will have a devil of a time getting your thick hair in place as it is. Let us not add to her misery.”

Reanna’s posture stiffened as her hair fell back down past her shoulders. “Thank you for the compliment, Aunt Maureen. I do want to look most presentable for Lord Southfork tomorrow.”

“As you should. That will soon be your only duty, to look presentable for your husband.”

Aunt Maureen walked over to the dresser, straightening the few objects—tin of ribbons, mirror, brush, locket—into an even line. Her characteristic neatening stretched out, almost to the point of stalling, but then she turned back to Reanna. “Child, there is no easy way to say this, so I just will. Your father will not be attending the wedding tomorrow. I just received confirmation.”

A weight fell onto Reanna’s heart. “Are you sure, Aunt Maureen? Are you sure there is no way he can attend? It is just that…well, it is my wedding and I so hoped that he would be able to be there, even though—”

“Do not quiver about it, child. No, there is no question. No change of plans. He will not be attending the wedding. He is still in Suffolk, and after his ruin, he believes he should not be a presence. I agree.”

“But it is my wedding day.”

“Which is precisely what we do not want him to ruin.” Aunt Maureen’s crisp tone told Reanna there would be no swaying of the situation. “It is a wonder we are getting you married off at all, what with the scandal he caused on the way out of London. I was, frankly, surprised when I came back into town and found out his ruin was so complete.”

Reanna’s ears perked. Sure, she had noticed the removal of trinkets and artifacts and furniture and eventually, staff, from their estate in Suffolk. She knew the changes had to be money-related. But her father had downplayed it all, reminding her she didn’t have a mind for numbers, nor should she be questioning his choices. All she needed to know was that everything would be fine, he’d maintained.

“You are extremely lucky to have attracted a man such as Lord Southfork, who could overlook your father’s transgressions. Very few men would. Even that list of men your father provided as suitable was suspect. At this point, if your father were to appear, there is no telling what society’s—or your fiancé’s—reaction would be.”

Reanna’s nose wrinkled at the mention of the list. Her father had sent with her to London a list of possible suitors. Lord Hiplan had been the most interested, and, Reanna had to admit, the least offensive of the bunch. Even though he was near thirty years her senior, he at least had good manners and took a bath on occasion. She had resigned herself to a dutiful marriage only a day before Lord Southfork inquired about an introduction. Thank goodness she had never said yes to Lord Hiplan’s marriage proposal.

“Was my father’s ruin really as bad as that?” Hand wrapping around the gilded arm of the stool, Reanna scooted forward and turned to her aunt. This was the first time her aunt had even mentioned her father’s ruin, of which Reanna knew nothing. She had only heard snippets of whispered conversations in the corners of drawing rooms.

“Yes, it was. Is. As I have said, it is a wonder that you managed to snag the marquess. Far above what I would have expected you could accomplish. Your looks warred a penniless, ruined father, and apparently, you have honored the Vestilun line.” Her face turned soft for a split second as she mentioned her family’s long tradition of beauties.

“I owe you much, Aunt Maureen. This certainly would not have been possible without you.”

“That is true. But my sister’s child deserves better than what your father brought upon his family.” Maureen picked up a locket from the dresser and opened it. The haunting engraving of Reanna’s mother looked up at her. “It was the only proper way to honor your mother’s memory.”

She clicked the locket closed. “But your father is an imbecile. We should be grateful he will not be attending the wedding. It makes the production much easier. It is, after all, no secret that I despise the man.”

“Aunt Maureen, you must not say such things,” Reanna said, her hands fidgeting with the comb. “He is my father.”

“A father who never gave any true regard to your mother. Your defense of him is uncalled for with me. I will continue to loathe the man for my time on earth.”

“Why do you dislike him?”

“It is of no concern to you, especially on the eve before your wedding. Past is past, even if it always informs the present.” She set the locket onto the dresser, edging it into line with the other objects. “I do have one thing that I need to discuss with you before your wedding.”

Resigned she would get no real information from her aunt, Reanna turned the stool fully around to her. “Yes?”

“I have waited to do this until you were married, for I was not about to chance your father’s ethics on the matter. You know after the wedding I will be returning to Spain.”

“Yes. I will miss you.”

“I do not intend to return to London. So it is a good time, now that you will be outside of your father’s greedy grasp, to pass along this home and a tidy sum to you. The marquess is wealthy in his own right, so I have no concerns about him. But things can change. They did with your father. The money and the home are in a trust for you for sole and separate use, should you ever have need of it. There are monthly limits on it, of course, but it will keep you and any children in comfort should the need arise.”

Reanna’s mouth dropped open. Her aunt looked as near to nostalgia and emotion as she had ever seen her. “Aunt Maureen, this is too generous. There is no need.”

“No, child. Far from it. No woman should ever have to be at the mercy of fate and greed when it comes to food and shelter. Only you will have access to the money and home, and I sincerely hope you will never have need of either.”

“I will not. I trust Lord Southfork will take care of me.”

Her aunt smiled at her, wryness in her wrinkled eyes. “It will be yours to pass along to the next generation, then.” The smile disappeared. “Now continue to prepare for bed. I do not wish to present a haggard-looking Vestilun tomorrow.”

Bluntness aside, Reanna knew her aunt had her best interests at heart. “Thank you for all that you have given and done for me over the past six months, Aunt. This has been a wonderful dream for me.”

Aunt Maureen looked momentarily uncomfortable with the heartfelt words. “You are welcome.” She smoothed the already smooth mix of dark and grey hairs going into her chignon.

Reanna cringed at the discomfort her words seemed to cause her aunt. So she attempted to dispel emotion and changed the subject. “Are you prepared for travel to the continent following tomorrow?”

“Yes, a day or two more, and I will leave. It will do no good to dally here in London, now that my work is done. I will, of course, keep in contact.”

She turned to walk out the door, then paused at the entry. “You will go to sleep soon, I trust. I will not have a tired Vestilun at the altar.”

View full details