Read The Lady's Disgrace Online

Authors: Callie Hutton

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Historical Romance, #Blind Baron, #Barbary pirates, #Scandalous, #callie hutton, #Regency, #ton, #entangled, #marriage mart

The Lady's Disgrace

BOOK: The Lady's Disgrace
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To save a lady’s reputation...

A lady is nothing without her reputation. Jilted and humiliated by her once-betrothed, Lady Abigail Lacey is the laughingstock of London. Worse still, the humiliation is now reflecting badly on her family. Now her brother, the Duke of Manchester, is desperate... until he finds a way to rescue his sister’s damaged reputation, and remove her from the glare of disapproving society.

He must marry her off.
Quickly.

When Rector Joseph Fox drops by the Lacey household, he certainly didn’t expect to leave as a man engaged to a long-time family friend! Yet while he never could have aspired to have her, Lady Abigail always ignited a forbidden longing in him. But Abigail has one condition—their marriage is to be void of passion or physical pleasures, once she becomes with child. Faced with a platonic marriage of convenience, Joseph is determined to embark on a sensuous adventure with only one goal: to seduce his new wife...

The Lady’s

Disgrace

a Marriage Mart Mayhem novel

Callie Hutton

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Callie Hutton. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Scandalous is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Erin Molta

Cover design by Heidi Stryker

ISBN 978-1-63375-064-7

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition September 2014

Table of Contents

To newlyweds Scott & Jessica, who when I wrote this were awaiting the birth of their twin boys.

Chapter One

May, 1815

London

Lady Abigail Lacey sighed and rolled over on her bed, staring at the canopy above her. She was tired of feeling bereft. Tired of feeling sorry for herself, tired of hating her erstwhile betrothed, Darius, Earl of Redgrave, and the woman he eloped with two weeks ago. But most of all she was tired of her self-imposed prison. How had her sister Marion endured it for two years while she’d been grieving her husband?

She was much too energetic a person to spend her days in ennui. In the past two weeks, she’d gone through all the stages of hurt, rage, and depression. The heartbreak would be with her for a long time to come, but now she just wanted to get on with her life. Except there was no life to get on with. Her sisters had stopped in to visit with her, keeping her current on the mockery her reputation had become.

Not that they did it to torture her, they loved her too much. But Abigail had insisted they tell her everything the
ton
was saying about her
disgrace
. She huffed.
Her
disgrace? She’d done nothing wrong, except pick a worthless bounder to become betrothed to.

Apparently the
ton
was rampant with jealousy over the Lacey girls. That one of them fell so low as to have a fiancé hie off with another woman, practically leaving her at the altar, was just too much. Ladies who had viewed the wealth, beauty, and success of the family with envy, now found it amusing to poke fun at one of them. It would be quite some time before this
on dit
was laid to rest.

Thinking of the cad at the center of this mess replaced her apathy with pain once again. She swiped at the lone tear that rolled down her cheek. Never would she have believed the man she had loved, indeed had waited for her whole life, would betray her in this fashion.

Well, one thing was certain. If she was able to get anyone worthwhile to offer for her in the future, she would grab the chance and never expect−or even want−love. No more waiting for the right man to come along and sweep her off her feet. She’d been swept off her feet, and dropped ignominiously on her arse.

Thank you, no.

Perhaps some shopkeeper or chimney sweep would be willing to take her off her brother’s hands—if he paid him enough. She rolled to her stomach and propped her head up with her hands, sighing once more at her returning self-pity. In any event, should anyone have her, she’d insist on a platonic marriage.

No, that wouldn’t work. If she couldn’t have love in her marriage, she would at least want a home of her own, and children. Unfortunately, offspring only came about if one allowed one’s husband to visit one’s bed. She’d have to think that one over more carefully. Except, with the shredded reputation she had right now, she doubted any worthwhile offers would be forthcoming, anyway. Back to the shopkeepers and chimney sweeps. Perhaps a Bow Street Runner or tavern keeper.

Restless, she rolled onto her back again. There was always next year. By then her scandal would have been replaced by something more exciting. Hopefully, that is. The
ton
had a long memory.


The Duke of Manchester slammed his palm down on the desk, causing his wife and mother to jump. “I will not have it! I refuse to allow another sister to lock herself away in her room. We put up with that nonsense for two years with Marion, and I will not permit the same situation with Abigail.”

“Drake dear, calm yourself. Please.” His wife, Penelope, rubbed gently on the infant’s back she held snug against her chest. “You’ll upset the baby.”

Drake blew out a huge breath of air and collapsed into his seat, running his fingers through his hair. “Sorry, my love. But it’s been two weeks.”

“Two weeks of pain and humiliation for your sister,” the Dowager Duchess of Manchester remarked.

“Damn that Redgrave. He had better not return to London from Gretna Green with his new
wife,
or I shall be forced to beat him to a pulp for what he did to Abigail.

“What are we to do? Her reputation is in tatters. She’ll never receive another suitable offer.” He turned, his jaw tightening. “She has become the laughingstock of the
ton
.”

“I’m sure it is not all that bad.” His mother’s pursed lips and strained countenance belied her words.

“Yes, Mother. It
is
that bad. Abigail has not had one decent caller since Redgrave absconded. If one more fortune hunter shows up on my doorstep I will personally grab him by the scruff of the neck and hurl him down the steps.” He shoved his chair back and began to pace, his insides in a knot at this latest problem with yet another sister under his guidance.

The relief at having at least one of them headed to the altar had been fleeting. Engaged one minute, abandoned the next.

“Apparently, the word being spread in the highest circles is that the only thing Abigail has to offer a man is her dowry. Damnation, the girl did nothing wrong! And now, Sybil and Sarah tell me they are beginning to notice a distinct drop in the amount of callers they have. Mary, too.”

“Well, there is only one thing to be done. And we all know what that is,” his mother said. “We must get Abigail married and out of London.”

“Madam, were you not fully engaged the last three seasons when
your daughter
turned down one offer after another? Do you not remember the numerous discussions over the dinner table where she waxed poetically about holding out for a love match? And where in heaven’s name am I to find this paragon—a man who doesn’t care about her predicament, isn’t only interested in her money, and will make her, if not happy, at least content?”

Drake sat slumped in his chair, and Penelope kissed him on top of his head. “Dear, you are getting yourself into a stew. It will all work out. You and I have a love match. Why shouldn’t your sisters hold out for the same thing?

“I am taking Robert upstairs. Then I will arrange for tea. Perhaps we can discuss this then, in a calmer manner.”

Drake’s gaze followed the gentle sway of his wife’s hips as she left the room, his lips twitching as she banged her knee on a table by the door.

“I do not understand why everyone keeps moving furniture about,” she mumbled as she hurried through the doorway, clutching her precious bundle tightly. He and his mother grinned at each other. Penelope’s clumsiness was legendary in the family.

“Is it so appalling that Abigail wanted for herself what you and Penelope have?” his mother asked softly.

“She just picked the wrong man. And when I get my hands on that . . .” Unable to express himself in words suitable for his mother’s ears, he clamped his mouth shut.

“It would do us well to begin a list of possible husbands for Abigail.”

“And what makes you think she will go along with this plan, given her attitude the past few years?”

“The situation has changed. Abigail is a smart woman. She knows her appeal has dropped significantly due to her circumstances.”

“Circumstances she had no control over.”

“Dwelling on that will do us—and her—no good. We must deal with the problem at hand.”

The Manchester House butler, Stevens, quietly entered the room, a small card in his hand. “Your Grace, a caller has arrived.”

Drake’s eyebrows rose as he read the card. “Of course, send him in.” He glanced up at his mother. “Joseph Fox. I haven’t seen him since before my wedding.”

“Didn’t you travel with him to Manchester Manor when Marion made her first trip from her room last year?”

Drake nodded. He had been accompanying his sister and his now-wife to the Manor when they had run into the rector at an Inn where they’d stopped for luncheon.

Marion had spent two years in her room mourning her husband. As a house guest for the Season, Penelope had befriended his sister, and with her encouragement Marion had taken steps to resume a normal life.

He frowned when he recalled how taken Joseph had been with Penelope during that visit to the Manor, and had, in fact, asked Drake’s permission to request her hand in marriage.

The memory of how angry he had been at Joseph’s request still made his muscles tighten. He should have realized then that he was already in love with Penelope. Although when Joseph had suggested such a thing to him, Drake had erupted in anger. Panic, most likely, since at the time he had had no use for love.

“Manchester. Good to see you.” Joseph entered the room in a swirl of energy and friendliness. He extended his hand. “I see married life agrees with you.”

“Indeed it does.”

Joseph turned and bowed before the dowager duchess, taking her raised hand. “A delight to see you again, Your Grace. You are looking well, as always.”

“Thank you, Joseph. You appear to be doing quite well yourself.”

Drake sat as he waved Joseph to a chair. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“I had some business in Town, and since I had a bit of free time, I thought to stop in and see how you are all faring.”

They turned as the door opened, and a footman carried in a tray laden with tea and small sandwiches.

“Will you stay for tea?” the dowager asked.

“Absolutely. I would love a cup, and how is your lovely wife?” Joseph asked Drake as he took a cup from the dowager’s hand. “I understand from my parents that you are the proud parents of a son?”

“Yes, indeed. Robert Cyril Lacey, Marquess of Stafford, made his presence known the third day of March this year. He and my wife are doing well.” He paused and glanced toward the doorway. “Ah, here is my duchess now.”

“Joseph!” In Penelope’s enthusiasm to hug the rector, she tripped on the claw foot of the dowager’s chair and crashed into Joseph’s chest.

“Oh, dear. Please excuse me.” She righted herself, smoothing her skirts and adjusting her spectacles, her face a bright red.

Accustomed to her lack of coordination, Joseph merely smiled and took hold of her hands. “You are looking quite lovely, Your Grace. And congratulations on the birth of the new heir.”

She patted her hair and took a seat next to her mother-in-law on the sofa. “Thank you. Unfortunately, you missed him. I have just now returned from settling him in the nursery.”

“Ah, yes. The family that deals with their own children. Most refreshing among the Quality.” Mirth danced in his eyes.

“What brings you to London?” Penelope asked.

Joseph placed his cup on the low table in front of him and leaned back in his chair, crossing a booted foot over his knee. “I have decided it is time our village children had a proper school. I realize most of the youngsters are needed at home to help, but I am hoping to establish a routine so they are able to come for at least a few hours each day.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, Joseph!” Penelope accepted the serviette Drake held out to her and wiped her bodice where her tea had dripped.

“Thank you. The only drawback, of course, is money to build a school. For now, I can certainly teach several of them in my home. However, a separate building that they know belongs to them would encourage parents’ acceptance of the project, and allow us to draw in more children.”

“I will be more than happy to make a donation.”

“Thank you so much.” Joseph nodded in Drake’s direction.

“I will have my man of business take care of it.”

“I have come to realize as I delve more into the project that a steady source of income will be needed to pay teachers−eventually−and supply books and necessary items for the students. I don’t want the parents to be burdened with the cost. I’m afraid if the choice between school fees and food for the table arose, like any sensible parent, food would come first.

“Although my maternal grandmother’s property provides a modest income to me, it will not be enough to keep the school afloat in the long run, without patrons.”


Joseph studied Penelope and Drake, and the glances they cast at each other, their love apparent to an observer. Some day he hoped to have a wife of his own. One who looked upon him as Penelope did her husband.

“How are all your sisters? Marion? Is she dealing better with her loss?”

“Marion has returned to a normal social life. Mary, Sybil and Sarah are still chasing away suitors.” Drake gave a half smile.

“And Abigail?”

The silence in the room was deafening. The two women glanced furtively at each other, then became enthralled with their teacups. Drake cleared his throat and seemed to search for words.

Alarmed, Joseph asked, “Is Abigail ill?”

“No. Not ill.”

“Then what it is, man? Has she been injured?” He grew more concerned as no one in the room seemed able to form answers to his questions. He’d always considered Abigail the brightest star of the Lacey girls. Although he’d found her an annoying child when they were all growing up back in Donridge Heath, he had spoken with her several times in the last few years whenever the family had returned to the country. She was a lovely woman, always pleasant, with a sunny disposition. Had it not been for the difference in their station, he would have asked permission to court her.

“Abigail has had a bit of a problem.”

Lips tightened, Joseph eased to the edge of his chair and nodded at Drake to continue.

“She became engaged to the Earl of Redgrave in March.”

Joseph brushed aside the niggling of disappointment. “That is good news.” When no one acknowledged his remark, he added, “Isn’t it?”

“Not quite. It seems two weeks ago Redgrave eloped to Gretna Green with Lady Priscilla, Lord Rumbold’s daughter.”

“Say he wouldn’t do something so despicable!”

“Afraid so. He apparently had been,” Drake stopped and glanced at his mother and wife, “involved in a relationship with the girl before he became betrothed to my sister, and Lady Priscilla turned up in a family way.”

All the blood left his face, leaving Joseph a bit lightheaded at this news. As much as he didn’t like to think of Abigail betrothed to another, this was a terrible thing to happen to the girl. She must be devastated. “How is Abigail handling this?”

“Not well, I’m afraid. When she received the note from Redgrave, she retired to her room and has remained there since. Reclusion seems to be a favorite method of my sisters in managing pain.”

BOOK: The Lady's Disgrace
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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