Tempting Scandal– Chapter Six

 
Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 2.1 / 2.2 3/ 4 / 5

Note: I have changed Laura’s name to Alice. I was getting confused having so many characters with names ending in A.

Chapter Six

 

Since being trapped in a tree and rescued by the duke, that is Nate, Sylvia had taken care to curb her hoyden impulses. She had walked to escape Lord Brandon’s attention. Did other ladies feel the need for seclusion and privacy—for even five minutes of their own thoughts and with utter silence—as she did during courtship? Probably not, she mused to herself. Very few people seemed to feel as she ever did.

It was easy to amend her ways once she made a task list. It was a simple order of dos and do nots. Do: compliment Lord Brandon. Do: listen to him ramble on about whatever pleased him. Do: smile encouragingly. Do: ask simple questions. Do: avoid his eyes. Do not: let her imagination wander. Do not: trample about the grounds unescorted. Do not: run into the duke. Do not: think about the duke.

Left unwritten was that if it had been any other gentleman, the incident yesterday might have been entirely charming. Had he almost kissed her? It certainly seemed like it. Being held in his arms was not unpleasant. He had smelled of soap and earth. His strong arms and broad shoulders were the stuff of which ladies dreamed. For once, she felt the flutters others spoke of when with gentlemen.

Around Nate, Sylvia’s mind felt slow and incapable of its usual quick-thinking. Her belly filled with butterflies and cotton choked her mouth. She probably appeared a bumbling idiot to him. However, despite some teasing, he did not reprimand her very much yesterday.

Sylvia lowered her book at the sound of the library door opening. She assumed it was an acceptable hobby for a refined lady to read. Of course, behind the book of poetry, was one of Clifford’s latest acquisitions on farming methods he allowed her to borrow. Over the edges of the tome, Sylvia saw Lady Alice Gordon enter.

“Miss Linwood?” the young lady called. “Are you in here?”

Sighing, Sylvia lowered her book all the way and emerged from her hiding location. “Here I am. May I help you, Lady Alice?” she dropped into a curtsy.

“Oh, please.” Lady Alice motioned for her to stop. “There is no need to be so formal.” She approached Sylvia. “In fact, I was hoping we could become excellent friends.”

Sylvia tried to smile, but she could not think of how she could ever be friends with a duke’s sister. Even if Lady Alice were not as arrogant as Sylvia had first assumed, she could never marry Owen. Even if the girl truly loved him, her brother would never allow it.

Lady Alice’s smile faltered at the lack of Sylvia’s response. “Would you mind if I kept you company?”

“Of course not,” Sylvia motioned to the chairs where they might sit. On the tables nearby there were several books casually arranged. She picked one up.

“Were you not reading something else when I entered?” Lady Alice made a selection and sat.

“It was only a book of sonnets. It is of no consequence to begin something else.”

Sylvia quickly opened her selection. With any luck, Lady Alice would become engrossed in whatever she chose, and any conversation would be minimal. Looking at the spine of her own, she hid her reaction. Pamela? Why did Clara have such trash? She flipped open the pages and settled into her chair, leaving Nate’s sister to follow suit.

“Oh, I love Pamela,” Lady Alice chirped happily.

Sylvia gave her a slight smile.

“Of course, I prefer the newer novels more. I think perhaps it is because they are written by women. It astounds me there are several who have published works.”

Gritting her teeth, Sylvia turned her eyes upon the woman Owen thought he loved. “And you object to that?”

“Not at all!” Lady Alice gushed. “I am impressed by their courage. Too often ladies are not allowed to follow their heart’s desire in this world of men. I had thought all women saw that.”

Sylvia assessed the young lady before her. Had Owen told Alice of Sylvia’s desires to be a steward? Nothing could be a more profound betrayal! “Some ladies have the freedom to anything they choose. With money and position, many things are possible.”

“Perhaps,” Alice murmured. “Or perhaps all the expectations of station and wealth,” her voice grew bolder and confident, “are merely false trappings. Is that not what your Lord Bountiful learns?” She pointed at the book in Sylvia’s hands.

“He is not my Lord Bountiful. I do not know that he learned any such lesson.”

“With all his money and prestige, he could not earn what he most wanted from Pamela.”

“Her submission!” Sylvia cried while flushing.

“Well…well, I can see why you would call it that. I already acknowledged I preferred other novels. However, I believe the author attempted to display that he wanted her love.”

Sylvia snorted. “Indeed not. All he wanted for the longest time was her to submit to his carnal pursuits. He wanted her as mistress and in the end, gained her as wife. A mistress might freely leave for other employment. A wife would be bound to him forever. I say he lost nothing by marrying Pamela.”

“That is quite shocking,” Alice leaned back in her chair. “However, I would say not all wives must be so submissive to their husbands. Surely it is not a chore for all of them—not if they marry for love.” She lowered her head and blushed. “Alas, such is not possible for everyone.”

“My lady, do you have something specific you wish to say to me? Is there a message you mean for my brother, perhaps?”

“Yes—no—let me begin again.”

Lady Alice sighed, and Sylvia smirked to see the duke’s sister befuddled.

“I would have a favor to ask of you; two of them, really.” Alice met Sylvia’s eyes with earnestness. “I have a very tender regard for Mr. Linwood. However, my brother does not know the gentleman as I would wish. He does not know your brother’s accomplishments or steady character. I know he does not appear it, but Nate is a very loving brother. He would wish me to make me happy. He thinks refusing to consider men of certain positions will protect me from unhappiness.”

Sylvia dipped her head so the other woman could not see her roll her eyes. Nate might be useful if a lady was stuck up a tree—although, he did not really catch her. However, he had ridiculous and antiquated ideas regarding marriage and, she would wager, the classes in general. Why, there were merchants wealthier than peers. Sylvia had read of manufacturers in the North amassing great wealth from selling finished products. Men like Nate cared only for their rents from tenants. When they felt their profit margins shrink, rather than pursuing their own enterprises, they raised the rents on their poor tenants. It became more important than ever for the tenant to use his resources to their best advantage and that is how Sylvia viewed assisting in farming knowledge and land management as a way to help those in need. What better way than to give them the experience and tools to help themselves?

“I did not hear your requests,” Sylvia said, at last.

“Oh, pardon me.” Alice laughed nervously. “The first is that I would like us to be friends. I prefer to think that is not as fearsome as the next possibility. However, I have observed you speak with Nate openly, and he did not seem to intimidate you.”

Furrowing her brow, Sylvia tried to catch the lady’s meaning. When had she watched her interact with Nate? Surely not yesterday.

“At the British Museum,” Alice supplied the answer before Sylvia could voice the question.

“Yes, I remember now. However, what is it that you are asking me to do regarding your brother?”

“Merely be yourself—let him see that the Linwood family is respectable and loving.”

Sylvia’s eyes narrowed. “Allow me to be frank, my lady—”

“Alice, please.”

Sighing, Sylvia relented. Did neither in the family know how a duke and his sister should behave? “Very well. Allow me to be frank, Alice. I am hardly the type that would appear to best advantage to a duke or convince anyone that a family is respectable.”

Alice frowned. “I have not seen you behave improperly. There surely are no rumors regarding such.”

“Only because I am so seldom in company. Believe me when I tell you that I could never convince your brother to accept Owen’s suit.”

“Could you not at least try?”

Sylvia gulped. Could she do that for Owen? Surely, she could try, but it seemed an impossible task.

“You only need to be yourself,” Alice assured her. “He does not appear so to others, but he is very reserved. He prefers to observe others for some time before feeling comfortable with them. I am only asking that you speak with him some. Let him see how Ow—how Mr. Linwood treats his sister for it might be how he will treat a wife. In short, please do not avoid his company.”

The woman could hardly mean that she wanted Sylvia to be her true self. She had only seen her for a moment or two at the British Museum, and since coming to the house party, Sylvia had attempted to be the perfect debutante and gain Lord Brandon’s suit. She was already play-acting to gain Brandon’s hand. She would merely add appealing to the duke’s brotherly sentiments to her list. Of course, that would require being near him and thinking about him and then…well, then her heart skipped odd beats, and her stomach churned. However, how could she attempt to secure her own happiness and not Owen’s?

“I will try,” Sylvia agreed. “That is all I can promise.”

“Thank you!” the younger lady enthused. “Owen will be so pleased!”

“Do you have an understanding with my brother?”

Alice shook her head. “The only agreement we have is that my brother needs to know both of you better. Owen will not approach Nate until he thinks he might be accepted. He will not ask me to marry him until he believes it probable Nate will agree to the union. He does not wish to make me choose. As I am not of age, it would put us in very miserable circumstances.”

“That is just like him,” Sylvia agreed. “I will attempt this under the condition you both realize its ultimate success has nothing to do with me. I do not want it on my conscience that Owen’s courtship failed.” Of course, no matter what she said, it would be on her conscience either way. Had her behavior thus far hindered Owen’s happiness?

“That is all I ask.”

They were prevented from further conversation by the opening of the library door.

“Alice, here you are,” Nate strolled over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Good morrow, Nate. I believe you know Miss Linwood,” Alice extended a hand in Sylvia’s direction.

Nate, who had seemed to have noticed only his sister, turned and bowed. “Indeed. Good morrow, Miss Linwood. How are you finding Clifford’s estate?”

“I like it very well,” Sylvia smiled. “Indeed, we have often been guests here.”

“Ah,” Nate said. “I find the trees particularly enjoyable.”

Amusement lit his eyes and Sylvia instantly knew he referenced their encounter yesterday. However, Alice looked at him as though he had three heads. “You enjoy…trees? Did you sleep well?”

“Not as well as I would have liked,” he answered. “What of you ladies?”

“No,” Alice and Sylvia answered in unison.

Sylvia had too much on her mind and she suspected so did Alice. Why did Nate not sleep well? What could possibly bother a duke?

“Miss Linwood and I were about to go on a walk, if you would like to join us,” Alice smiled.

Nate hesitated before replying. “Certainly. It would be my pleasure to escort you ladies about the grounds.”

The siblings stood, and Sylvia put aside her book. This was going to be a long and unbearable week.

aaa

Tempting Scandal– Chapter Five

Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 2.1 / 2.2 3 / 4

Chapter Five

 

Nate smiled as the wind rushed against him. He had brought his favorite riding horse with him to Clifford’s estate. He did not get to ride enough during the Season. Sedate walks on his mount in Hyde Park could satisfy neither horse nor master.

When the ladies had separated after dinner last night, the conversation turned toward the trouble facing the mills again. Brandon jibed at him more than usual. Apparently, the earl felt triumphant in his glory after having Sylvia Linwood hang on his arm all night. What could she possibly see in him?

He pushed the horse to gallop faster as he scolded himself. Nate should be attempting to court Lady Hannah—or perhaps find another lady who would suit his list. The fact that he called it a list and no longer referred to it as his needs or requirements was a testament to the reality of how much Miss Linwood got under his skin. He was halfway through dinner before he realized Lady Hannah sat next to him. However, he was aware of every false smile Sylvia offered Brandon.

The moment she had entered the drawing room last night, he felt her presence. Still having some control over himself, he avoided looking at her for a half an hour. During that time, he was all too aware of the direction of the other men’s eyes, the approving smiles they sent her, the hushed whispers around him all had her name on their lips. When, at last, he turned his eyes upon her, he noticed hardly anything out of the ordinary. She was beautiful, and she was confident. If he followed fashion better, he might know if it was the way her hair was styled or the cut of her gown that gained their notice. It certainly drew his attention, but there was some other quality about her which appealed to him.

Nate shook his head at the other men. How could you call a lady truly beautiful if it required a specific gown? She would not always appear that way, and then a man might discover who he really married. Woe to the man who only married for a comely shape or dazzling smile. He shook his head again, to dispel thoughts of Sylvia. The wind gusted and sent his hat flying under a tree. Reluctantly, he pulled his steed to a stop and dismounted. He bent, retrieved his hat* and dusted it off. Just before turning to walk back to his horse, something plopped on his head followed by a feminine voice uttered a curse.

“Blast.”

Nate looked up to see Sylvia Linwood in a tree, her stocking foot dangling above his head.

“Miss Linwood,” he drawled. “Without an escort again.”

“So are you,” she said before huffing and folding her arms over her chest.

“And might I ask why you are up a tree?” He bent to pick up her boot. “And without your shoes?”

“There was a cat.”

Nate scanned the tree and then the surrounding area. “I see no feline. I suppose your mother never told you that if all your friends dropped off a bridge you did not need to copy them? The same holds true that if cats are up a tree, you do not need to do likewise.”

“Yes, I know that,” she snapped. “I surely knew that already. Do not look so well-pleased as though you handed down some valuable information and educated the little simpleton.”

Nate laughed. What else could he do? When they first met, she had reminded him of an angry kitten, and now she was in quite the predicament due to one and hissing just as much as she had done that first day.

“Well,” he tossed his hat down and spread open his arms. “I will catch you.”

“Excuse me?”

“You cannot be too choosy about my method, madam. You are up a tree, and I have no intention of going up after you. Therefore, this is how I shall retrieve you.”

“Who says I need any assistance?”

“I assume if you did not you would have come down by now. And not have lost your boots…” He perused her body before returning his eyes to hers. “Or scraped your stockings.”

Sylvia looked down at her exposed legs, for her gown rested above her knees. Gasping, she attempted to arrange the fabric in a more ladylike position. She appeared indecisive until there was a crack of thunder, causing her to jolt. “Oh, Lud. Very well. I was out walking alone and saw a kitten. He appeared trapped and was loudly bemoaning his fate. I climbed up, and as I stretched forward to reach him, the branch bent lower, and he found his courage, leaping to safer ground.”

Nate grinned at her story. “Ah, but now it is too high for you?”

“If I were not so far from the house and it did not look like rain, I would have risked the sprained ankle. As it was, if I had injured myself, there would have been no assistance for some time.”

“Well, I am present now. So, jump if you wish. If you are hurt, I can carry you back to the house.” Sylvia’s brows rose at his words and Nate rushed to add, “On the horse, of course.” He waved his arm at the animal. “Of course, I could catch you instead, and then you could avoid any harm for certain.”

“I suppose I must,” she said with all the pleasure one expected from a criminal facing the gallows.

“On three,” he said and waited for her nod. “One, two, thr—”

Sylvia toppled over him and knocked him to the ground. Nate’s head rattled, but he had managed to soften her fall. “You jumped too early,” he muttered.

He could not make any more sense than that. He might have hit his head, but the greater impairment to his ability to think was the fact that Sylvia lay sprawled over him. Her hair had come out of its pins and fanned around her. She pushed herself to her elbows, and the pieces fell over her shoulder, creating a veil-like effect of strands as golden as the sun, despite the impending rain. She shifted, and a lock brushed against the skin of his face. His body responded in turn. This was far too intimate, far too erotic. If anyone saw them just now, they would assume a lover’s tryst, and she would be utterly compromised. That thought sobered him, bringing back his faculties as well as calming his desire.

“Could you get off of me?” His voice sounded harsher than he had intended but it was just as well.

“I would love to, your grace, but your arm is on my hair, and I am pinned.”

She thought she was pinned, did she? Indulging in a rare feeling of roguish desire, he grasped her hips, delighting in her astonished mew, and rolled them so he hovered over her, balancing on his elbows.

His head dropped near hers, and she gasped. Their bodies did not touch, yet he could feel the fast racing of her heart—or perhaps it was his matching time to her quickened breath. What on earth had come over him?

Nate pushed up, catching himself by balancing on his toes before lowering his feet to the ground. As fast as he had stood, he bent and offered his hand to her. Sylvia blinked rapidly but took it. In one single movement, he pulled her to her feet, then swept her up into his arms.

“Your grace!” she cried as she struggled to get down.

“Nate,” he said gruffly into her ear, pleased to feel her shiver. Nothing more could ever be, but he would enjoy holding her form against him for the moment it took to reach his horse.

“Nate?” she echoed in astonishment. “No, I cannot call a duke by his given name!”

“But he can carry you to his horse?”

“He does not need to carry me! I am perfectly capable of walking. If anyone saw—”

“Which is exactly why you should moderate your voice,” he whispered in her ear, another shudder coursed through her.

“Stop doing that!”

“What?” He inched his mouth closer to Sylvia’s ear even as her hair tickled his nose. “This?”

“Precisely,” she said in more of a pleased exhale than the irritated commands she usually gave him.

“As you wish,” he said, as his lips just barely grazed her skin.

“Oh,” she moaned.

Nate deposited her on the horse. Her breathy exhalation returned to irritation.

“Oh!”

“A pity,” Nate smirked. “I think I preferred you the other way.” He grabbed the reins to his horse. Indeed, he had quite enjoyed her in his arms. He had also discovered a way to quiet her mouth, he added to himself. Quite the enjoyable way to do so, really.

“Well, I did not,” Sylvia glared.

Nate shrugged.

“You are quite rude. Has anyone told you that, your grace?”

“It might astonish you,” he said as he led them down the trail, “that you are the first person rude enough to tell me.”

“I am not the rude one!” she screeched.

“Why the cat?” Nate asked, hoping his abruptness would disarm her reproofs.

“What?”

“Do you always save small animals? Or was it only the cat that appealed to you?”

Nate looked over his shoulder as he awaited her answer.

“I do not know” she shrugged. “No one would ever call me maternal. There is hardly a feminine bone in my body.”

“Was it wounded?”

“It was crying for help,” she acknowledged. “It was helpless, and I was present. I am not a great nurse and do not think I shall excel in motherhood. However, I greatly like to be of assistance to others.”

“And does serving others often find you stuck up a tree with no rescue?”

Sylvia sighed as the stables came into view. She muttered something that Nate thought was, “I have found my rescue.”

Did she mean Brandon? How could such a stupid oaf of a man rescue her from anything? He was not terribly rich. He was not talented or intelligent. If she were seeking a man with deep pockets or position in Society, she would do much better to ensnare him.

Just before reaching the stables, it began to rain. Nate nearly pushed the groom aside to help Sylvia dismount. She avoided meeting his eyes as the water from her golden locks ran onto his arm. Once settled on the ground, he was hesitant to release her. She was so small against him, not quite reaching his shoulder. She shivered in the cold rain, and it was easy to think that she needed his protection or even that she desired it.

“Thank you, your grace,” she said and raised her eyes, at last, to him.

Sorrow glittered in them. He raised a brow.

“Thank you, Nate,” she said, before pushing past and running into the house.

At a slower rate, Nate trudged back to the house. His valet restored him to order, and when he entered the drawing room before dinner, he was confident he looked as much the Duke of Russell as ever. However, internally, he was less convinced. Sylvia laughed and smiled at everything Brandon said, giving the image to all that she was well on her way to being in love with him. For some reason, that unsettled him more than it did the night before.

She deserved better than Brandon, he acknowledged. Sylvia deserved someone who could match her wit and reason. Only a man who considered her needs over his own should be the man rewarded with her hand. Brandon had never thought of anyone but himself. Even now, Nate could tell he saw Sylvia only as a prize to be won.

As he watched her through the evening, Nate wondered about the change in her demeanor. With him, she had always been frank and open. He had seen her in humiliating circumstances, and she always held her own, wearing confidence the way others might wear a new cravat. At the Cliffords, the outspoken miss he had the pleasure of verbally sparring with transformed into a demure, but seemingly vacant-headed debutante who must be told how to think and feel. He could not puzzle her out and chose to fixate on that rather than the tug on his heart that happened whenever she glanced his way.

aaa

Tempting Scandal– Chapter Four

Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 2.1 / 2.2 / 3

Chapter Four

 

Sylvia sighed as she watched the Duke of Russell and other gentlemen leave. Clara did not usually sequester the ladies away from the men when they wanted to talk about business or politics, but there was a greater diversity than usual at this house party. Sylvia’s close friend, Penelope, was occupied speaking to someone else, so she approached Lady Hannah.

“I am surprised to see you, Sylvia,” the lady said after the usual greetings.

“Surely I am not such a stranger to these gatherings.”

“Indeed, you are!” Lady Hannah cried. “Cecilia just said it has been years since she has seen you.”

“I have been busy with the estate,” Sylvia shrugged.

“With your brother’s estate.”

“Are you going to scold me for not being ladylike enough? I do not recall any of our lessons about proper decorum mentioning ladies who wrote novels.”

“Shh,” Hannah said after she stole a look around. “I do not go around announcing that you keep your brother’s books and make all the decisions.”

“Forgive me. I did not mean to expose your secret. Although,” she also looked around the room, “I believe most of the occupants know of your pursuit.”

“You never know who may be listening,” Hannah shrugged. “Or so all the other novels proclaim. If it is so prevalent in fiction, it must be true at some point in reality.”

Sylvia was uncertain she agreed. “As it happens,” she leaned closer as she changed the subject, “I need your assistance. I desire to wed but scare every suitor off. Teach me your ways of pretending to be the docile, empty-headed female.”

Hannah looked at her askance. “I would not act that way with a suitor. It would be awful form for a man to think he was getting a certain type of lady only to realize after the wedding that he did not.”

“That is the beauty of my plan,” Sylvia said. “I shall pick one too stupid to notice the difference.”

“Then why pretend at all?”

“Well, I would not expose it overnight,” Sylvia said. “I need a husband who is not looking for a love match or desires a certain standard of fashion from his wife. He could not be the sort that was always hosting the greatest fetes.”

“How am I to know if they are searching for love or convenience?”

Sylvia laughed. “I did not ask you, my dear. For that, I shall rely upon Clara. Although, if you did not know, the Duke of Gordon most assuredly is not looking for a love match.”

“I could not care less if he were!” Hannah sighed. “He is so stiff and formal. There is no animation about him. I think if he ever found himself in love, he would be so angry with himself he would probably leap from the nearest cliff.”

“Hannah,” Sylvia said seriously, “not everyone is as nonsensical as the heroes in your books. Somehow, I think he would learn to live with the disappointment.”

“I am sure you are correct,” Hannah pouted. “However, it is far more fun to indulge my imagination. Now, the trick to making everyone believe you are the perfect female is to never give your own opinion.”

“Oh, that might be impossible.”

“Bite your tongue if you have to. The added perk to this is that it will be too sore to eat much and then you will have a very fashionable appetite while looking slimmer.”

“Surely it is not worth that!” Sylvia loved eating! She believed in hearty meals to support her work with the tenants.

“How badly do you want this? You did not tell me what has turned your mind toward matrimony.”

“Owen,” Sylvia dropped her voice. “He means to marry, and I will be in the way.”

“He would not think that! He is the kindest of brothers.”

“I would feel in the way. I hate to be of no use. This is the better route.”

“You do not think he would marry a lady who would accept his sister?”

“Not if she is the one who he has selected.”

“He already fancies a lady! Who is she?”

“I shall divulge nothing. Those are his private affairs. Please believe me, living with her would be intolerable and my present reputation will likely hinder his suit.”

Hannah began to nod. “You need a transformation.”

“Precisely!”

“Meet me before dinner, and I shall have a list drawn up.” She glanced at her friend. “On second thought, I will come to you. The first priority will be your attire and hair. Followed by walking and way of talking.”

Hannah soon scurried off to attend to her list-making, leaving Sylvia alone with her thoughts once more. Eventually, she mingled with some of the other guests before retiring to her chamber to dress for dinner. Hannah met her outside.

“Where have you been?” She tapped her foot. “I have been waiting for you for nearly half an hour! How shall we get you ready in such a short time?”

“One hour is far more than I have ever spent on my toilette before—”

“Before you were hoping to ensnare a gentleman.” Hannah pushed Sylvia into her room and settled her into the chair at the dressing table. She unpinned Sylvia’s blonde hair. “Your hair is like your crowning beauty. You should display it to more advantage.”

“It is just hair,” Sylvia shrugged.

“Stay right here,” Hannah insisted. “I am calling in reinforcements.”

“You make it sound like a battle.”

“Oh, it is. It is!”

Hannah scurried off and pulled the cord. A servant promptly arrived, and they whispered for a moment before Hannah returned. She brushed through Sylvia’s tangles with gusto while humming a happy tune. Sylvia attempted to hold her head still as bidden. A knock sounded at the door just as Sylvia’s maid came through the servant’s entrance.

“Who could that be?” Sylvia asked nervously.

“I asked Penelope to assist as soon as she could.”

Letting out a sigh, Sylvia relaxed in the care of her friends. Under so many helpful hands her hair was soon managed and styled in a way which complimented her square looking face. The sharp angles of her cheekbones no longer seemed so severe. Her hair was gathered in loose curls at the crown of her head, giving height, then several long tendrils fell on either side of her cheeks ending at various lengths. Sylvia felt she had never looked so beautiful.

“Now, what are you wearing?” Penelope asked, then gasped when Sylvia pointed at a dress hanging up. “Oh, absolutely not. It is all wrong for you.”

Sylvia’s friends nodded at one another and then her maid who stepped forward with a blue petticoat with a thin white gown of delicate muslin and lace created an overlay. Next, a long white satin bodice in the tunic style with sleeves nearly off her shoulder completed the ensemble. Hannah produced a string of pearls to wear with her usual coral as well as new pearl eardrops.

“Should she add a bracelet?” Penelope asked.

“No, allow her arms to be free of ornament besides her gloves,” Hannah said. “They are one of her best features.”

Sylvia took in the completed look. The high waist dipped in and gave the illusion of more shape than she generally had. She felt nearly naked with so much of her chest and arms bared. The satin tunic laying over the thinner petticoats made them cling to her legs, drawing the outline of them when she moved. It was not indecent, of course. However, for the first time in her life, she looked alluring. At the same time, it was all her. She hated feeling constricted or overly decorated. There was no embroidery, belts, or long sleeves. She could move nearly as freely as she would in one of her brother’s old breeches and shirtsleeves which she favored when doing dirty work around the estate.

Blinking, she realised the real difference she saw in the mirror. She wore it all with confidence. She was not attempting to be someone else. She was not copying a model from a fashion magazine or the advice of a modiste wishing for a massive bill.

“You will dazzle them tonight!” Penelope exclaimed.

“I have amazed myself!” Sylvia laughed.

“Do you truly like it?” Hannah asked? “I had three maids working on that tunic for the last two hours!”

“How did you know my measurements? It fits perfectly!”

“Your maid, of course,” Hannah remarked with a nod to the servant.

Sylvia expressed her thanks to each of the ladies. “I have never felt so comfortable and entirely me since my come out!” She tilted her head in thought before a rueful grin emerged. “To think that all I had to do was decide to be someone I am not!”

“Oh, my dear,” Penelope soothed. “All the gentlemen will fall immediately in love with you. They will not care if you are not the shallow debutantes they have always courted.”

“I would say that I would wish to be loved for my mind, but I suppose that is the opposite of my intent as well.”

“Are you certain you wish to do this?” Penelope asked. “Hannah told me your plan. Surely Owen would make a place for you.”

Sylvia sighed. “I am sure.”

“But to marry someone you do not love—”

“I do not require anyone but myself to form my happiness. I will be able to care for our tenants, and that will be enough for me.”

“What about your promise?”

“Our promise,” Sylvia corrected her friend. “What did we know about the world? We were silly girls then. Clara probably hated our stupidity. I have seen the world since leaving school. My head is no longer full of dreams. Now, enough. My nerves cannot stand waiting any longer. Let us go downstairs.”

Penelope gave Sylvia a long look but said nothing else. The friends walked arm in arm to the drawing room. They were among the first to arrive, and Clara came directly to them. She greeted each with a gentle embrace and a kiss to the cheek.

“My dears, I apologize for not spending more time with you today. How was your journey, Sylvia? You look stunning!”

“Thank you,” Sylvia blushed. “Hannah and Penelope assisted me this afternoon. Our journey was as enjoyable as ever; which is to say not very.”

Clara laughed. “You always preferred walking or riding.

Sylvia dipped her head in acknowledgment. If she had been a man, then it would be acceptable for her to ride the distance from Ashwood to the Clifford estate.

“Penelope, do you mind if I steal Sylvia away for a few minutes?”

“Not at all,” the young lady answered. “I see Lord Blithfield is looking at me as to say he has found something to criticize about me so I should allow him to vent his spleen.” Penelope laughed. “My sister would wish me to keep him company. I am certain I will see you both later.”

Penelope left them, and Clara looped her arm through Sylvia’s as she led her to a more secluded area of the drawing room. “This is a new look for you. You look sensational, but how do you feel about it?”

Sylvia squared her shoulders. “I never knew I could look so lovely. I had brought the most fashionable gowns I owned and intended to dress well. Hannah and Penelope’s assistance suits me very well. I had hoped to impress this evening.”

“Indeed you have!” Clara’s eyes covertly scanned the room. “I will tell you that I saw several gentlemen take note of you when you entered.”

“Oh, I am sure they were only admiring Penelope.”

“Their eyes are on you now, and she has left your side.”

“Then it is your beauty which attracts them.”

“Sylvia, you flatter me, but you know it is not true. I am a dozen years older than you. My dear Stephen finds me beautiful, which is all I need, but I know no other young men look at me. Why would they? An old married lady and a mother?” She shook her head, tossing shiny curls to and fro.

Sylvia laughed to herself. Her friend had eyes only for her husband, and he for her, but many gentlemen did appreciate Clara’s gentle beauty. She just could not conceive of men hoping in vain she would be untrue to her husband.

“Now,” Clara whispered furtively as she tilted her head closer. “Tell me who you fancy, and we shall make a match. I have waited years for this!”

“Who says I am interested in finding a husband?”

“Your hair and gown say it as well as your presence at my house party. Come, you know what you are about. What do you require?”

Sylvia demurely covered her chuckle with a gloved hand. She usually preferred to laugh freely and openly, but it would not suit the persona she wanted to erect.

“See!” Clara hissed. “The usual Sylvia would not hide her laughter. Beware, my dear. Do not alter yourself to find a suitor.”

“I thought you had advice on who I could match with?” Sylvia said, impatient to avoid more advice on her tactics.

“If you are interested in continuing certain pursuits,” Clara said with a meaningful look and raised brows, “then I would suggest Lord Brandon. He is more interested in politics in Parliament and situating himself in a high cabinet position than in anything related to his estate. It is rumored he would like to be Prime Minister one day.”

Sylvia frowned. “I do not know that I would enjoy such a public life.”

“No one says a wife must be as interested in politics as her husband. It is perfectly acceptable for her to prefer a private and country life. It will be said you have a frail constitution and conversation will immediately turn to something more salacious.”

Sylvia considered her friend’s words. As a duchess, she would certainly know the London circle far better than Sylvia. “What is he like?”

“Stephen says he can have a hard edge to him. He is ambitious and wants to meet his goals. He has little patience for things which interfere. It reminded me of you and all your lists. As he is so driven, he often does not others around him. I have inquired in his household, though. He is a fair and just master who pays well. His servants respect him. I invited him entirely for you.”

Sylvia looked over Clara’s shoulder again at the gentleman in question and nearly jumped when she saw that he approached.

“Pardon me, Duchess, could you introduce me to your friend?”

Sylvia’s mouth dried and her heart hammered during the subsequent introduction. “I am pleased to meet with you,” she said with a graceful curtsy.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Lord Brandon said as he brought Sylvia’s knuckles to his lips.

Butterflies filled her stomach at his actions. His brown eyes met hers over her gloved hand, and blood rushed in her veins. For the next few minutes, the three fell into easy conversation about Essex and London. Clara slowly extracted herself from the discussion.

“I believe you recently accompanied the Duchess on a visit to the British Museum.”

“Indeed,” Sylvia smiled. “It is a favorite of mine, although I do not visit as often as I would like. It seems there are so many things to do in town and our visits are never for very long.”

“Do you prefer the country to town then? I believe I heard your estate is in ___?”

“It is, and I do prefer the country. I enjoy my visits to town but would not wish to spend the entire season there.”

“That would explain why I have not seen you before.”

Swallowing her pride, Sylvia smiled demurely. Were all men so fickle and shallow? She did not need to love or respect her husband, she reminded herself. “How about yourself? Do you prefer London or the country?”

“I do not know a man of action who does not prefer town. There is no shortage of activity to entertain. I am very active in Parliament—of course, you may not have heard since you are a lady. However, your brother has surely heard of me.”

“Would you tell me about it?” Lord Brandon frowned, and Sylvia hastened to add, “I would much prefer to hear it from you than my brother.”

Dinner was called just then. Brandon extended an arm. “I would be most pleased to educate you if you would be my dinner partner.”

“I would enjoy nothing more,” she said with fluttering lashes. If it were not so effortless to impress the man, Sylvia would take some enjoyment from her ability to enthrall him.

In the dining room, she listened as Brandon droned on and on about his seat in Parliament. He would soon be appointed to an important Cabinet position, he was sure. He took the responsibilities very seriously, he said. However, from all Sylvia heard him say, he only wished to be praised and have his name revered before men. He had no sincere opinions on any of the weighty subjects discussed in session—although she did not venture to ask more than twice given his apparent displeasure. He could just as easily be a Whig as he was a Tory. It only mattered to him as to who held the most power.

Fortunately for Sylvia, he asked next to nothing about her. All she had to do was smile and nod to please him. Something concerned her as the evening wore on. Surely any number of ladies would be willing to do the same as her for a title and money. What was it about her that captured his attention? Was it all a new gown? Perhaps he had not had a mind to marry until recently. She determined to inquire.

“I have often heard it said,” with a glance at her brother to disguise the intentions of her words, “that a gentleman might spend more time at his estate after he weds.”

“I suppose that depends on the man,” he answered, then followed her eyes. “Your brother is quite young. I would doubt he has any serious intention to marry. I have only just turned my mind to it, and I have several years on him.”

“You have mentioned preferring many activities while in town, but you have also said you are very devoted to your work in Parliament. Is this your first house party of the Season?”

“Indeed,” he nodded. “I have had many offers, of course, but could not justify the time. However, the Cliffords are close to town, and I can be reached in hours should an important vote be called.” He paused and looked intently at Sylvia. “Clifford assured me there was a very particular reason why I should attend. His wife seems to be something of a notorious matchmaker. I confess, I doubted the reports of her skill until I met you.”

Sylvia did not need to affect the blush which overspread her features. She reached for her wine to offer her something to do rather than reply.

Brandon leaned his head toward hers and said in a whisper. “Some might call me forward, but I have never sat back and waited when I saw something I wanted. I intend to court you during this party with the hope of speaking with your brother before we leave.”

Sylvia had been mid-sip during his words, and they shocked her they threw her into a coughing fit. She drew the attention of the entire table and in the end could only be thankful that she had not spewed her wine all over the place. When she finally recovered from the unladylike incident, Brandon smiled at her.

“Never fear, I will not hold that display against you, my dear. It is only natural, after all, to be in such surprise and awe that a man like me would approach you. Your modesty only makes you more attractive.”

Sylvia attempted to smile and remained silent as the meal finished. As the ladies separated from the gentlemen, she felt as though a pair of eyes followed her. Glancing around, she was unsurprised to see Lord Brandon’s leer. However, for a fleeting moment, her eyes connected with the Duke of Russell’s. Why should he be watching her?

Tempting Scandal– Chapter Three

Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2

Chapter Three

 

Nate sat in the drawing room at Stephen’s country estate and forced himself to focus on his book. He had been unsettled since learning that Clara had invited the Linwoods. He did not miss his sister’s pleased smile. She was in a fair way of losing her heart to the young master. It would never do. She must marry far higher than a mere mister to remove the stain in their family tree. Marriage for love was not a possibility for either one of them. He had thought she understood that, but he should have known her tender and naïve heart could not comprehend such coldness. He dreaded the conversation he would soon have to have with her.

Since the first night he awoke dreaming of Sylvia Linwood, it had occurred three more times. It made no sense to him, and he adamantly refused to be bewitched by a lady with such poor manners and grace. If only the young heiress whom Clara had selected for him and now sat to his right would appeal near as much.

“I love nothing so good as a novel,” Lady Hannah said.

“They are diverting,” Nate replied as he infused as much disapproval as possible into his tone.

“What? Do you not like them?”

Nate did not answer at first and attempted to make a great show of turning the page to his own volume. “When one seeks entertainment they are immensely useful.”

“I see,” Lady Hannah said. “What do you seek then, Duke?”

At the moment, he sought solitude and silence. He craved peace for he knew any minute, it would be entirely cut up with Sylvia under the same roof as him. No, he mentally chastised himself. He was in no danger of her. He could control himself better than his father had. He was not doomed to repeat his predecessor’s errors.

“One reads a historical account to gain knowledge, I presume,” he answered.

Lady Hannah sighed and returned to her book. He ought to try harder to woo her. She had blonde hair as he had said he desired, but it did not seem as radiant as he had seen on another lady. Her eyes were blue, but they lacked the various colors one found in the sea.

Nate mentally shook himself. It did not matter what she looked like. She came from an old, well-respected family. On her father’s side, they were a line of marquesses, and her mother descended from an earl. She was rumored to have twenty-thousand pounds. She and her twin sister were heiresses to a massive fortune and large estate. The title would go to her uncle or a male cousin. The Edgecumbes had been of no importance in Parliament, but that only ensured there were no known scandals and they managed to keep their heads during shifting political climates.

Lady Hannah herself was accomplished. She could embroider, draw, play pianoforte and harp, sing, speak French and Italian, dance, move gracefully. He had conversed with her at a few other occasions, and she was always perfectly polite. He thought he had seen a sign of wit once or twice and she seemed capable of directing conversation and putting people at ease.

She was the perfect candidate for his wife. If only he could abide to be near her for more than five minutes at a time. There were worse things, he reminded himself. At least she understood when he tired of talking and did not stubbornly continue to force him to speak. Nor did she encourage the others in the room to break his peace. Surely that would bode well for a marriage.

Soon, Nate heard the noise of a carriage on the gravel drive. He steadfastly resisted looking out the window. He did glance at the clock. Linwood was exactly at his promised time. Well, that was in favor of him.

Lady Hannah stirred beside him and went to the window, a few others followed. “Oh, it’s Sylvia!” Hannah cried.

Another young lady laughed. “Do you remember the time she climbed the great oak tree in the square at the school? Goodness! That was nearly ten years ago! I do not know that I have seen her in four or five years, at least.”

Miss Linwood was climbing trees while at school? He would have to ask Clara about it, but he was surprised the school allowed it. Certainly, it was forbidden by the time Laura attended.

Amongst the crowd at the window was his sister. Laura smiled with the rest of them, but there was something more in her eyes when she turned and looked toward the door as the others did. Nate thought it was affection. She cared far too much for the young baron. If his sister climbed trees at such an age, then what other inelegant, indecorous things was she up to? For that matter, did she cease them? If the sister could not behave properly, then the brother would never be an appropriate match for Laura.

The housekeeper arrived with the Linwoods in tow. Clara made introductions to those that that did not already know one another. Sylvia met with the approval of several young men, and Nate could see why. There was something different about her today than he had noticed at their first encounter. Although they had been traveling, her dress seemed more fashionable, her hair was arranged in a more becoming way. Rather than sharp looks, she greeted the others with pleasant smiles. A coral necklace played off the hue of her complexion. She looked five times prettier than he had recalled and she was difficult enough to forget at the time.

When they met, she seemed like an angry kitten, hissing and clawing unable to do any damage. Now, she sat amidst a group of young men and bestowed encouraging expressions indiscriminately. He was worth ten times as much of most of the men in this room and yet she would not look his way. After a quarter of an hour surrounded by swains and dandies, Sylvia excused herself to her chamber. It was nearly time to dress for dinner.

Beside him, Lady Hannah remarked, “I see history could not hold your attention, after all, sir.”

Nate nearly started at the voice. He had not noticed when she returned to her seat beside him. A sly glance to his left showed the lady smirked as she flipped a page. He recovered in time to hear Linwood offer to walk with Laura in the garden. He ought to have been paying more attention to them, or at least Lady Hannah, and worrying less about Sylvia. He was on the verge of inviting himself to accompany the couple when a Lord Blithfield approached him. Several men were withdrawing to the library to discuss political matters and the recent unrest in the factories in the North. As he had inherited many, he knew more than many the trials the manufacturers faced. Relieved for an excuse to leave Lady Hannah behind, even if he could not scare Linwood off from his sister, he happily accepted the offer.

In the library with the other gentlemen, Nate shoved all thoughts of courtship aside. His father had jilted an earl’s daughter and eloped with a manufacturing heiress. As such, Nate inherited a dozen mills, some of notable size.

“Lord Blithfield and the Duke of Russell are the only ones present who have any stake in the unrest, I believe,” Clifford said after he had poured a round of drinks.

“If they pass a movement through the house, then it will affect us all,” a voice came from the door.

Nate turned to see a gentleman he knew all too well enter. They were close in age, but Lord Brandon appeared more noble, elegant. More like what a peer should look like whereas Nate’s blood had been mixed with the hardy stock of the middling class. He towered over other men, and his shoulders were far broader. In his opinion, he looked like a clumsy oaf rather than a graceful courtier.

Nate knew the young earl well. He had been his constant tormentor at school, not the least because Brandon’s aunt was the lady Nate’s father jilted. The entire Brandon family hated the Russells. Nate had been taunted by many of his classmates because his mother came from trade, but Brandon was the ringleader, the strongest, and the most vicious. Nate glanced at Clifford who mouthed an apology.

“Of course, those of us from trade like Russell will feel it more keenly,” Brandon continued. “Although, they are conditioned and born to such lot. The cost of industry, I suppose.”

“Brandon,” Clifford nearly growled, “they are speaking of killing owners. That is far more serious than a poor return due to market changes. That is not so different than when tenants cannot pay their rents.”

Brandon sat and crossed his legs. “Those sorts of things never affect me.” He shrugged. “It is my right to obtain their rent. Even when evicted, the law upholds they must pay the debt. If they did not set aside the monies for it, then it is not my concern. Perhaps they could spend less time at the tavern and more time in the field.”

Nate clenched his fists and forced himself to breathe slowly. Was there no mercy or kindness in Brandon? Every winter tenants often had to choose between starvation and making rent. The war affected them all. Every other peer Nate knew had adjusted their rents. “Could not the same be said that we can moderate our spending and lifestyle and allow for a lower rent?”

Brandon threw his head back in laughter. “Moderate our lifestyle? Oh, Russell, if ever I could forget that you do not come from our ranks, talk like that would remind me. You always were too tender-hearted and preaching of moderation. I would have thought all my beatings might have taught you to leave such dreams behind.”

Brandon looked around the room, taunting the others to stand up to him. No one ever did. Still, Nate would not avert his eyes or humble himself before the bully.

“You will find, Brandon, that we left the schoolroom days long behind us,” Nate said. “You would insist on showing no humanity to the poor and hungry. Ask yourself how well that turned out for France. If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have matters of business to address.”

Nate bowed and exited the room. It was not the first time he had seen Brandon since Eton. He was surprised he had been invited to Clifford’s, but Nate assumed there were reasons for it.

Instead of returning to his chamber to look over his correspondence as he had said, he left for the stables. With each stamp of hoofbeats, he recalled the merciless punches and kicks of Brandon. He remembered the other boys circling around and calling him names, cheering his tormentor on.

He grew strong from it, however, and before he left the school, he was able to thrash Brandon. For a time, he thought that was all he had wanted in life. All he needed to feel free would be to attack his abuser, and he would find justice. It had brought him no lasting peace, however. As he left Eton for University and later the House of Lords and high society balls, the taunting never ended. His high rank gained him admittance, but his mother’s low birth status made rumors follow him wherever he went.

In a meeting like they just had, he was one of the few who owned mills. He had not invested in them as an adult. Nor had his father. No, he inherited them from his mother. His maternal grandfather had amassed quite a fortune from his mills in the North of England. He personally oversaw the running of each one. He purposefully opened them near each other so he could visit every week. Nate might be a Duke, but he was no more removed from trade than a shopkeeper’s daughter.

Calming, he forced himself to take deep breaths and slow the horse. He had not been alone in that schoolyard. He had made friends. Blithfield often came to his aid. Nor was he still at school. His rank afforded him far more protection than when he was merely the heir.

He had a plan, and he would see it come to fruition. The first step was to marry well and to someone politically important. Before too long, the world would know the Duke of Russell’s name as a politician, not from a long-ago scandal. He alone controlled his destiny, and his past would no longer define him.

Tempting Scandal–Chapter Two Part Two

This will be the last divided up post. From now on, I will be posting entire chapters. I can’t promise how often that will be but I am hoping once a week or more. 

Sylvia sighed as she rubbed her aching back. She slowly lowered herself into a chair and unpinned her hair, then propped her feet up on the desk before her. In her youth, this had been her father’s study. Now, by law, it was her brother’s. However, he hardly set foot in it. Every inch and artifact in it bore her stamp.

She had not replaced the furniture and so the worn pieces from generations past still honored the room. Instead, Sylvia eyed the walls. She had replaced some of the more ancient tomes with modern books on farming methods and breeding practices in Scotland. Through her brother’s name, she subscribed to all the latest publications from the northern geniuses.

Not that she had cast aside a book, even if ancient and mostly useless. No, they were now housed in the attic along with old baby cots and christening gowns.

Indeed, it was nearly time to need them again. Owen ought to marry soon. He should fill his house with a wife and babies. Aside from the fact that no lady on earth would be good enough for him—especially not the conceited sister of the most pompous duke to ever live, Sylvia knew her brother put off the task out of concern for her.

While she was out today visiting tenants and looking over fields, she came upon a solution for Owen’s troubles. For years, she had hoped to save enough so she might have a modest income to live upon in some small cottage. Before that, she dreamed of supporting herself as a steward.

However, no one could see past her sex. They refused to see the improvement in Linwood’s ledgers or attribute it to her. Many times, she would meet with a solicitor who Owen thought would be agreeable to recommending her to his clients. There were times Owen would tell her that the gentleman in question knew much of the current state of affairs resided upon the war. Then, she would meet with the said solicitor and rather than acknowledging Napoleon and the trade hardships, he would blame her for Linwood’s stunted growth.

There was a time, however, even before her ill-fated and lofty hopes of independence, that she had craved marriage with a loving partner. One who saw her as an equal but also recognized her unique femininity. Of course, her teachers and mother had been correct about her inability to inspire love and not being womanly enough for a man.

She had been a foolish sixteen-year-old when she announced to the heir of the local baronet that she was in love with him. Even more stupidly, she did it in earshot of his friends. It spread through her small community like wildfire. Now, although it was years ago, she was met with either sad smiles or sniggering laughter. No one would ever consider her for a wife.

 Clara invited Sylvia and Owen to a house party in Essex. There, she would find some gentleman in need of a wife. She did not have much dowry or beauty. As she was, she could not inspire love, so it seemed. Instead, she would pretend to be everything a gentleman would desire in a marriage. She would be insipid, biddable, and meek. He certainly could never know about her ambitions to be a steward.

Sylvia sighed. A tear threatened to escape but she refused to allow herself the luxury of crying. Her husband surely would have his own steward and never permit his wife to act as one. However, she might intervene with the tenants. She could put herself forward as the person to talk to rather than the employee. She did not know of a steward who did not feel overworked. She would have to be careful to never let it seem like the man in question was not doing his job, however. She would never want someone to be fired simply for her desires.

How would she manage it? What sort of man would not suspect her true intentions and actions? She would have to find a very dull man with little wit. All the better if he were rich and likely to give her a large stipend. As for the household, well she managed Linwood well enough with her divided attention. She simply needed a capable housekeeper.

And children? Sylvia was two minds about them. She hated the idea of the begetting. She had never met a man who stirred any passion or curiosity in her. Even her long-ago love had not inspired such feelings. How could she allow marital intimacies if she dreaded even a mere kiss? However, gentlemen would expect heirs. She supposed she could put him off most of the time—she had heard whispers of how to do it and very few ladies of their class were incessantly with child.

“Are you packed?” Owen said, bringing Sylvia’s mind to the present.

“Susie has seen to it, I am sure.” The truth was, she packed with more care than usual as she intended to pass herself off as some demure miss and needed to look the part. However, she did not wish to alert Owen to her scheme.

“I wish to leave precisely at noon.”

“Yes, I know. I am nearly finished in here.”

She had spoken with Richards, the butler, and Jefferson, one of the tenants, on how to handle any concerns while they were gone. Now, she was reviewing building plans to improve a few of the cottages before winter weather set in. Next, she would compile lists for the grocer and butcher. There were tasks to be done at certain times of year which allowed everything to flow best and they needed to be performed regardless of her brother’s impatience to travel and eagerness to attend house parties.

Her duties finished in perfect time and Sylvia made her way to the carriage before her brother. She always enjoyed causing him to fret and then proving him wrong. He seemed outraged each time, but truthfully she thought he enjoyed it.

A moment later, the carriage door opened and Owen’s mouth fell open in astonishment. “You have done it again!” He climbed in, taking the seat across from her.

“Just so,” she grinned.

“I must know your magic,” he said. “I can never end perfectly on time. I am either late or must plan to be early.”

Sylvia laughed as the coach lurched forward. “You are not early if you tell yourself to be ready at eleven and finish by twelve, instead. You are still late according to your own time.”

“Yes, but not according to anyone else’s!” Owen chuckled. “Today, I did manage it.” He pulled out his watch to show her. “What? This says it is one! Well, it is unlike you to be late!”

She withdrew her own watch and showed him the time, laughing at his puzzled expression. “I am afraid, dear brother, that I turned your watch forward an hour.”

Sylvia expected a good-natured scolding. Instead, her brother’s eyes took on a far away gaze.

“I suppose I need the gentle care of a loving woman.”

Oh, dear. He surely was not thinking of her. She had hardly a gentle bone in her body. No, he must be thinking of some lady he would like to bring home and give his name to. Lord help her if it was who she feared.

“Why were you so adamant we attend Clara’s party?” she asked Owen.

“Clara and Stephen are our good friends.” He did not meet her eyes and instead busied himself with looking at the passing scenery.

“Owen,” Sylvia said in the stern voice she had often used on him as a child. She was only two minutes older than him, and yet had always mothered him. “Is there a particular guest you wish to see?”

“Yes.” He drew out the word as though he did not wish to be untruthful and yet hesitated to explain more.

“And?”

“And, what? I know you. You have already concocted some story in your head. Go ahead and tell me what it is so I may discover if it is fact or fiction and know whether I am guilty as you imagine.”

Sylvia huffed and crossed her arms over her shoulders. “I do no such thing!”

“You do indeed! You are always too quick to come to conclusions.”

“I certainly am not.” In the back of her mind, Sylvia wondered if he were more insightful than she usually gave him credit for. “I am patiently waiting for your answer to my question. If I believed I knew it already I would not have asked.”

Owen frowned, seemingly stumped by his own argument. Sylvia internally rejoiced. This was yet another reason no man would marry her as her usual self. She enjoyed arguing too much.

“Very well,” Owen said, at last. “Lady Laura Gordon and her brother shall be present. I hope to present my suit to them at the close of the party.”

Sylvia gasped. She had not thought he was so determined. “That would be a very fast courtship!”

“Not at all,” Owen said as he crossed an ankle over his knee.“I met her at Stanton’s party last year. We have seen each other at four others beside meeting in Town frequently.”

“You have been very quiet about this!” Sylvia gaped at her brother. Had she been so engrossed in her own affairs that she had not noticed him falling in love?

“You refused to come to any of the events.” He shrugged.

“And do you think she encourages your affections?”

The faraway look returned. “I do. She is so kind and sweet. I wish you would take the trouble to know her better during this fortnight.”

“But—but—but she is the daughter of a duke! Her brother is the most arrogant man I have ever met!”

Owen rolled his eyes. “Allow me to point out that you do not know many men. Compared to someone as affable as Stephen, perhaps he does seem aloof. However, I have seen him very animated when speaking to his friends.”

“And how does he treat you?”

“With civility,” Owen said.

“Does he welcome you as a suitor to his sister?”

“I am aware of the obstacles to our union.” He sighed. “Laura assures me that her brother only needs to know me better.”

“Owen,” Sylvia said gently. “I know you are one of the best men to walk this earth and I applaud Lady Laura for seeing that in you as well. However, surely a duke wishes for more than strong character for his sister’s groom. You have no title and we are not rich. He must expect more for her.”

“The way you talk, it is no surprise you are still unwed!” Owen cried. “Is that all you care about? Do you think that a man’s worth is tied only to his circumstances in life?”

“No, of course not. Pray, forgive me. I did not mean to insult or offend.”

“You do not know the duke. He may feel as you do. You are proving your prejudice. Not everyone with a title is like Sir Anthony. We are not unworthy and I refuse to act as such.”

“You are correct,” Sylvia said in a whisper. Clearing her throat, she attempted to smile. “I will attempt to let go of my prejudices.”

“Good,” Owen nodded. “Lady Laura is essential to my happiness and her brother is essential to hers. It is important that we both please him.”

Sylvia’s smile faltered. She could never imagine the stuffy duke would approve of her. Now, regardless of her private ambitions, she had even more reason to conceal her hoyden ways.

Tempting Scandal- Chapter Two, Part One

tempting scandal sTrailing behind Blithfield and his young lady, Nate arrived with the others just as they began to move on to another room. He dreaded large gatherings like this. He agreed to come only as a favor to Laura. She had been spending more time with the Duchess of Clifford, and her grace had requested Laura’s presence. Or, at least, that’s what Laura had explained to him. Now, seeing her on Linton’s arm, he wondered if she were growing attached to the man. It could never be. Daughters of dukes did not marry mere misters. Furthermore, no matter what Nate’s father had done, dukes did not marry women in trade.

Clifford emerged at his side. “You missed it, but Clara announced our house party. You will come this year and bring Laura?”

“Laura? No, she is far too young!”

Clifford nodded in the direction of where Laura and Linwood stood and chatted. Linwood was apparently enamored with Nate’s sister and judging by her blush and frequent smiles she, at the very least, enjoyed the attention.

“She is not too young for a house party,” Clifford said.

“She is too young for one of your wife’s house parties. You know how she matchmakes!”

“It does not follow that she would do so for Laura. Do you forget that she used to be a teacher of girls our sister’s age? She never advocated marriage for any of them.”

The truth was, Nate did often forget that Clifford’s wife had been a teacher and was not born to the aristocracy. For that matter, Clifford had been the son of a man who had been a baronet and given an earldom long after Nate’s childhood. He earned his dukedom after assisting the Prince Regent. Of course, Nate promptly committed political suicide by then siding against Prinny on a critical Parliamentary debate. Not that Nate ever considered doing otherwise. His integrity had always been to the extreme. It was such actions that garnered Nate’s notice, and their friendship began.

It was not that Nate disliked people of lower ranks. Rising up to a dukedom was something of which to be proud, and Nate congratulated his friend. However, lowering the status of your family to follow your lust for the butcher’s daughter was another thing entirely.

“You do raise a valid point,” Nate admitted.

“It is you Clara would love to find a match for, and I agree with her thoughts.”

“Pardon?”

“You need to ensure your dukedom. A wife, heirs—that sort of thing.”

Nate frowned. If he could, he would leave everything to Laura. However, if he did not marry the title would go to ___. “You know I have the utmost respect for your wife and think of her almost as a sister.”

“Ah, so you will come.” Clifford grinned. “Well, tell her your requirements, and I am sure she can arrange a guest to suit.”

“This idea is ridiculous enough without my having to discuss it with Her Grace.”

“Well, if you tell me, I am just as likely to get all the details reversed. If you tell neither of us a thing, then Clara will invent her own requirements and heaven help you.”

Nate grunted his assent. For the remainder of the outing, he considered what he would like in a wife. She must come from an old and noble family with no hint of scandal. That alone would make it nearly impossible to find a lady. She must have some wealth—not that he needed it. Instead, it would assure they had no rumors of fortune hunting. Considering how he would prefer his future bride to look required more time.

A few days later, the Duke and Duchess of Clifford dined at his home. After the meal, while Laura performed on the pianoforte, Her Grace sat next to him and brought up the conversation.

“Tell me about your ideal lady,” the duchess commanded. After Nate gave his description, the woman laughed. “We can plan, sir, but the heart cannot be dictated by such things. At the very least, what sort of looks do you prefer?”

“Petite but unaware of the fact,” he answered without hesitation.

“How…interesting. Anything else?”

Although Nate felt ridiculous saying something so stupidly poetic, he believed if she truly wished to satisfy she would be up to the task. “Eyes as blue as the ocean and hair the sunshine.”

A slow smile spread across the duchess’ face. “Quite romantic. When you are courting be sure to write her a verse or two.”

“Naturally,” he said with a smirk.

“Is that all?”

Laura had finished her sonata. After their gentle applause, the duchess stood for her turn on the instrument. “Actually,” Nate said before she walked away, “her face should remind one of a heart.”

“I see. Well, I do believe I may find one or two ladies who may suit your requirements after all.”

She dipped into a curtsy then moved to the pianoforte. The night continued without anything worth noting. It was not until he awoke in a cold sweat in the middle of the night that he realized he had described Sylvia Linwood.

Tempting Scandal- Chapter One, Part Two

Last time we stopped right where Sylvia–most embarrassingly–met the Duke! What shall happen next?


 

tempting scandal sOwen pushed forward and offered Sylvia help up to her feet. The gentleman—Sylvia knew he must be a duke given her brother’s words—glared at the spectators and they turned to resume their business.

“Is she injured?” the duke asked Owen.

“I can speak for myself,” Sylvia raised her chin and refused to look away when the man’s eyes met hers.

“I am certain Sylvia is unharmed,” Owen answered and placed a hand atop Sylvia’s. “Are you?”

The duke raised a brow and Owen flushed.

“Not—not that I mean to say you could not withstand my sister’s—well…I do not know what to call the display—not that you were making a display—I see your coat is torn.”

Sylvia could stand in silence no longer. She cleared her throat. “Brother, I believe we are keeping His Grace. Pray, forgive me.” She curtseyed. “I should have watched where I was going. I reacted instinctively and meant no harm. Please, send my brother the bill for the replacement. You have his name?”

“Indeed, Miss Linwood.”

Why did he sound so amused? Sylvia bobbed her head when she wanted to roll her eyes. “Again, please accept my apologies.”

“Yes!” Owen exclaimed. “Sylvia would never accost a duke under normal circumstances, I assure you.”

The duke smirked. “Keep an eye on your sister, then, Linwood. Good day to you both.” He gave the merest bow and strode away.

Beside her, Owen let out a great exhale. “That was bloody awful.”

“You do not need to tell me that,” Sylvia huffed, wishing she could rub the ache out of her backside. “I have never seen you so befuddled!”

Owen winced. “We are late. I may have missed my opportunity to speak with her.” He wrapped Sylvia’s hand around his arm and drug her forward with his long-legged and quick pace.

“Speak with who and who was that? You seemed to know him and vice versa.” Sylvia used her free hand to slam down her bonnet that threatened to fly away as they nearly ran down the street.

“That was Nathaniel Gordon, the Duke of Russell, and I had hoped to spend a moment in his sister’s company today.”

“Owen!” Sylvia planted her feet firmly on the ground and nearly fell on her face when her brother did not stop with her and kept tugging her arm.

“What is the matter?”

“Did you accept Clara’s invitation to meet at the museum to court a girl? We were supposed to return to the estate today. You know how much—”

“Court her?” Owen laughed. “I could never dare to hope for a courtship with Lady Laura Gordon.” He pulled her forward. “I only wished to hear her speak, to look upon her face…”

Sylvia’s eyes widened. Her brother was mooning over a girl, the sister of a duke and an arrogant one at that. Oh, this could mean terrible things. He had never seemed in love before and would have little to offer such a lady. At least it seemed he understood he had no future with the lady.

They gave their tickets to the clerk at the entrance and then rushed through the first few rooms until they met with their group. Clara, now the Duchess of Clifford, had been Sylvia’s most hated teacher until she met and fell in love and married. At the time, the transformation had impressed upon Sylvia and her school friends to vow to marry only for love. All these years later, Sylvia scoffed at the idea of love matches. Not one in a million couples had the love the Cliffords shared, and she knew she could never be so lucky. Who would have her anyway? She had little fortune and only passable looks. Gentlemen desired a wife skilled in embroidery rather than collecting rents.

“Ah, there you are,” Clara, the duchess said before reaching for Sylvia’s hands and pecking her cheek. “I was ready to give you up,” she laughed. “I know Sylvia wanted to return home, and Owen forgets appointments as often as he remembers them, but Laura insisted we linger.”

Sylvia watched as Owen smiled adoringly upon the young lady next to Clara. The girl blushed flame red.

“I do not believe you have met Sylvia, dear,” Clara squeezed Lady Laura’s hand. “Allow me to introduce you.”

The necessary introductions performed, Clara continued to guide them through rooms. “I sent the others ahead, but we should reach them in a moment. Clifford chose not to join us. Gordon needed to visit a shop, and Clifford says he comes too often to the Museum. He is extraordinarily fond of it.”

Sylvia smiled at the way her friend and mentor spoke of her husband. Turning her attention to Lady Laura, she asked, “Do you come to the Museum often?”

“Not as much as I would like,” she answered. “His Grace is often too busy to accompany me. I am very grateful for the Duchess of Clifford’s attention.”

“Nonsense,” Clara called over her shoulder. “And I believe I asked you to call me Clara. Now, here are the others.”

They rounded a corner and met a handful of other friends of the Cliffords. Seeing a friend, Sylvia excused herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Owen replace her next to Lady Laura.