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Authors: Candice Hern

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A Proper Companion

A PROPER COMPANION
by Candice Hern

 

Copyright 2011 by Candice Hern

 

Smashwords Edition

 

 

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* * *

 

This is a work of fiction. With the exception of real
historical figures and events that may be mentioned, all names,
characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is
entirely coincidental.

 

 

For further information, email

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Prologue

 

London, June 1785

 

"Whose is it?" the Countess Pentwick asked for
probably the hundredth time. She paced her daughter's bedroom,
thoroughly disgusted with the girl. "Whose is it?"

Only this morning an indiscreet chambermaid had been
overheard by the countess to say that Lady Gwendolyn had been sick
every morning for the last week. Her mother was no fool. She would
know that Gwen was increasing.

Ignoring Gwen's silence, the countess continued
pacing. "How could you be so stupid? And so ungrateful. After all
the plans and money spent to give you a fine Season, you toss it
all in our faces by bringing disgrace and scandal upon your
family." Lady Pentwick turned to face her daughter, who sat in her
bed, staring out the window.

Gwen had not spoken a word since her mother had
charged into the room. What could she say?

"Gwendolyn, look at me when I speak to you!" the
countess roared. "It's that rogue Townsend's bastard, isn't it?
Isn't it?" she shrieked, shaking her daughter by the shoulders.

Gwen turned her head, batting back tears, and
refused to speak.

"So. It is Townsend's." The countess sighed as she
sank into a chair. "There is no doubt this will be difficult to
cover up, even with your father's influence. Good God, girl, the
man's a rogue! A gambler, a younger son with no prospects, and,
worst of all, a Catholic. Where was your good sense?" Lady Pentwick
dropped her head into her hands and did not speak for several
minutes.

When she lifted her head, Gwen recognized the look
of determination on her mother's face. Lady Pentwick stood and
clasped her hands at her waist.

"Well, my girl," the countess said, her lip curling
in a sneer, "since you are not fit to run your own life, I will
make sure that it is run for you. Your father will see to it that
you are married at once." At Gwen's look of hopefulness, she added,
"Not to Townsend, you ninny! You cannot imagine your father would
countenance a connection to a Catholic. Especially one whose father
fought for that pathetic Pretender. You know how your father feels
about traitors."

Gwen sank back against the pillows, gripping the
linens so tightly that she felt a seam ripping near the edge. My
God, she thought, what is going to happen to me? She was not long
in finding out.

"Viscount Tarbolton will do nicely, I think," the
countess said. "He has a fine old title despite his lack of
fortune. In fact, his lack of fortune is a mark in his favor. He
can be convinced by appropriately generous settlements from your
father to take on a soiled bride. And I'm sure he can be persuaded
to accept the babe as his own." The countess's mouth twisted in
disgust. "In the meantime you will remain locked in this room until
the wedding plans are made. You shall not stir from these four
walls until such time as your father has a license in hand and a
vicar in the chapel." The countess turned on her heel and marched
out of the room.

Lady Gwen jumped out of bed and began pacing the
room in much the same manner as her mother. What on earth was she
going to do? She would not marry Lord Tarbolton. Why, he was old
enough to be her father, was quite fat, and frequently sent showers
of spittle flying as he spoke. Gwen shivered in disgust as she
contemplated marriage to the man.

She must contact Walter. He loved her. He would not
allow her to marry some obnoxious old man and present him with
Walter's child. She quickly penned a note to Walter begging him to
come for her. She knew he would not fail. Often enough he had
talked about wanting to run away with her. Surely he would make
good his promises now that she needed him most.

Later, when her maid Molly brought a tray of bread
and water for dinner, she slipped her the note, asking her to
deliver it to Mr. Townsend, with orders not let to anyone see her
leave. It was urgent that the note be delivered tonight. Molly, an
empty- headed flibbertigibbet, was nevertheless very loyal to her
young mistress and happily agreed to play a part in such a romantic
escapade. She returned later that evening and slipped a note under
Gwen's door.

It was from Walter! He had agreed to her plan! He
would be waiting for her beneath her window at three A.M. If she
could contrive to climb out her window, he would take her away to
Gretna, and they would be married. Gwen hugged the note to her
breast and danced around the room. She then packed a few clothes in
a small bandbox. She threw in her jewel case as well. After all,
they would probably need the money. She spent the next few hours
fashioning a rope from the bed linens, which she attached to the
sturdy post of her bed.

At three o'clock she went to the window and saw
Walter below. He smiled and blew her a kiss. She threw her bandbox
down to him. Then she tossed her makeshift rope over the sill and
climbed out the window without a backward glance.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Bath, May 1812

 

"
Damn and blast!
" The dowager Countess
Bradleigh leaped from her chair, nearly upsetting the tea table,
crumpled the latest copy of the
Gazette
, and flung it
furiously across the room. "The idiot!" she said through clenched
teeth. "The insolent fool! What can have possessed him?" she
bellowed as she paced the morning room, nearly treading on the pug
Charlemagne. He whimpered and scurried to safety beneath the
sofa.

Emily Townsend eyed her elderly employer with
caution. The dowager had a notoriously sharp tongue and a biting
wit. At age seventy-eight, Lady Bradleigh still took a youthful
interest in all the activities of the
ton
and participated
in as many of those as she found to be interesting or
scintillating. A hint of scandal was known to put her in the most
cheerful of moods for weeks. She was seldom given to emotional
outbursts, however. In fact, in the year of Emily's employment with
the dowager, she could not recall ever having heard her curse.

"Which insolent fool has done what idiot thing, my
lady?" Emily asked as she coaxed the whimpering Charlemagne from
beneath the sofa. She picked up the pug, placed him on her lap, and
began to scratch his belly.

The dowager turned to Emily and stretched her thin
frame to its full height. "My odious grandson, Bradleigh," she
said, "has announced his betrothal." She paused, thrusting her chin
at an indignant angle. "To the daughter of that twit Lady
Windhurst!"

This was not exactly the sort of devastating news
Emily had expected. "But, my lady," she said, her brows lifting in
question, "surely you are pleased that Lord Bradleigh has finally
decided to marry?"

Emily was well aware that Lady Bradleigh was very
fond of her eldest grandson, despite his rackety reputation. Even
prior to her employment with the dowager countess, Emily had heard
shocking tales of the rakish Earl of Bradleigh. She had been at
first amazed and then amused to note that whenever the dowager was
presented with a new
on-dit
involving her grandson, she
usually laughed aloud, enjoying his rather scandalous notoriety.
Emily could also remember at least as many occasions, however, when
the dowager complained that her grandson should stop racketing
about and think of producing an heir. She was therefore somewhat
puzzled at the dowager's reaction to the news of his betrothal.

"I do not object to his marrying," the dowager
snapped, "but I cannot countenance his selection of a bride! The
Windhurst chit, of all people!" The dowager sank back into her
chair and expelled a gusty sigh.

Emily quietly rose and tucked Charlemagne into his
favorite chair, walked to the corner of the room, and retrieved the
Gazette
from behind the fire screen. She scanned the open
page until she found the opprobrious announcement, which she read
aloud. " 'Benjamin Lord Windhurst and Lady Windhurst announce the
betrothal of their only daughter, Miss Augusta Windhurst, to Robert
James Frederick Cameron, ninth Earl of Bradleigh.' So, my lady, you
find Miss Windhurst, or perhaps her family, objectionable?"

"My dear Emily," the dowager drawled, "you cannot
begin to imagine how objectionable. Lord Windhurst can, of course,
be disregarded as merely a spineless milquetoast, but Lady
Windhurst is a harridan unequaled in all the
ton
. The very
thought of her enlarging our family circle is enough to cause
palpitations. She is the former Margaret Pinkerton, whose father
was a captain in the army—the infantry, my dear—and whose mother
was the daughter of a cit." The dowager snorted in a most
unladylike manner. Emily bit her lower lip to stifle a giggle as
she watched the dowager's face screw up as if she had just smelled
something very unpleasant.

"Margaret was notorious in her day for her attempt
to crack the
beau monde
," the dowager continued. "My God,
what a toad-eater she was! And still is, from what I have heard.
How she managed to snare Windhurst, I've never known. More than
likely compromised him!"

Emily's hand flew to her mouth as she bit back a
hastily suppressed snort of laughter.

"Well," the dowager said with a resigned shrug of
her thin shoulders, "I understand the daughter is a beauty. And
Lady Windhurst has thrown all her weight behind obtaining a fine
title for the child. But how on earth can Bradleigh have succumbed
to her vile machinations? How dare he align the Camerons with that
odious family? Oh, the impudent scoundrel!"

The dowager was up and pacing again. "And of course
he's well and truly stuck with her now. A public announcement
already! How could he be such a fool?" Her voice rose, and her
pacing quickened. "Well, I can assure you that shrill-voiced,
vulgar, encroaching mushroom of a shrew shall never cross my
threshold! I shall
never
receive her. Or even acknowledge
this ill-considered connection. In fact, I shall tell Bradleigh to
his head that I intend to sever all contact with him if he proceeds
with a marriage to that common harpy's daughter."

Emily gasped. Her spine stiffened, and she looked
away. "You do not really mean that, my lady," she said in a soft,
chilly voice.

Emily was extremely sensitive to the idea of family
estrangement and knew firsthand the pain resulting from such
cruelty. Her own mother had suffered total estrangement from her
family as a result of her runaway marriage to Walter Townsend.
Emily had never understood the heartlessness that could cause
parents to abandon their own child. Her mother had never completely
overcome the pain of her estrangement, despite the fact that she
was very happy in her marriage to Townsend. That pain had turned to
anger in her daughter.

Lady Bradleigh flushed with embarrassment as she
must have realized the impact of her words. She reached over and
grabbed Emily's hand. "Of course I did not mean it, my dear. It was
only my anger and disappointment speaking. You must know that I
could never bear to lose contact with Robert. Or with any of my
grandchildren."

Emily turned back to face the dowager, smiled, and
squeezed her hand. She was really quite fond of the older
woman.

"Nevertheless," the dowager said, patting Emily's
hand, "I cannot help but regret the Windhurst connection. God's
teeth! I will probably be forced to actually sit down to dinner
with the woman. Oh, it is beyond enduring. You know, my dear, I
could accept almost
anyone
else as Robert's wife. Anyone.
Anyone at all." Lady Bradleigh rose and started to pace again, but
stopped at one of the windows overlooking the River Avon, the
turmoil of her thoughts written clearly on her face.

Emily bit back a smile as she considered that there
were probably hundreds or even thousands of women who would be even
more objectionable than Miss Windhurst—opera dancers, actresses,
prostitutes, tradesmen's daughters—but she kept her tongue between
her teeth.

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