An Escapade and an Engagement

BOOK: An Escapade and an Engagement
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A SEASON OF SCANDAL

Richard, Lord Ledbury, has had his fair share of adventure on
warring battlefields, but even this seasoned soldier isn’t prepared for the
outrageous escapades going on in London’s ballrooms!

Lady Jayne Chilcott is under orders to find a husband, and
Lord Ledbury has caught her eye. But nothing is simple when courting under the
glittering spotlight of the
ton.

Richard has always risen to any challenge, but Lady Jayne
might just be the first to get the better of him....

Let the games begin!

“Lady Jayne, I have given my word I will not say anything about
tonight. And I would never go back on my word. But you must see that I cannot
just let the matter rest. You have said yourself you are not behaving as you
ought.”

She looked mutinous as she said, “And just what do you mean
to do about it?”

He only wished he knew. For now, the best thing would be to
make a strategic withdrawal so that he could regroup.

“I shall call upon you this afternoon, to take you for a
drive in Hyde Park. That is when I shall tell you what action I plan to take.”
Once he’d decided what it would be.

“I shall be ready,” she said, lifting her chin in a fashion
that told him she was preparing to fight him every inch of the way. “This is
it,” she said, waving her hand at the frontage of an imposing mansion.

Having shown him where she lived, she ducked down a passage
that led to the mews at the back. Then she turned around and stood quite still,
staring up at him for a minute, with her head on one side as though trying to
work him out.

“You have surprised me,” she said at last. “I would never
have imagined you could be so…decent.”

* * *

An Escapade and an
Engagement
Harlequin® Historical #1096—July 2012

Author Note

The Earl of Caxton has two granddaughters.

You may have read about Miss Aimée Peters in
Captain Corcoran’s Hoyden Bride.
Having grown up in
exile, Aimée was desperate to find security and put down roots. To that end, she
travelled to Yorkshire to become a governess—only to find that her employer was
not what she’d expected.…

In
An Escapade and an Engagement
you will meet her cousin, Lady Jayne Chilcott. People think she is her
grandfather’s pampered darling. But she feels suffocated by the propriety of her
lifestyle and longs for the kind of adventure she is sure Aimée must have had.
The product of a bitterly unhappy arranged marriage, Lady Jayne vows she will
only marry for love. But where is she ever going to find a man who will inspire
anything more than mild contempt when her grandfather guards her so zealously
that she never meets anyone new, let alone exciting?

That is until she clashes with the grim-faced Lord Ledbury,
an ex-soldier who has come to London to find a suitable woman to become his
bride. Lady Jayne has the right pedigree. But does he really want to get tangled
up with a girl who is never happier than when up to her neck in mischief?

Available from Harlequin®
Historical and
ANNIE BURROWS

One Candlelit Christmas
#919
    “The Rake’s Secret Son”
The Earl’s Untouched Bride
#933
*
The Viscount and the Virgin
#1012
A Countess by Christmas
#1021
Giftwrapped Governess
#1063
   “Governess to Christmas Bride”
An Escapade and an
Engagement
#1096
Captain Corcoran’s Hoyden Bride
#330

*Silk & Scandal

Also available from Historical
Undone!

Notorious Lord, Compromised Miss

Did you know that these novels are also available as
ebooks? Visit
www.Harlequin.com

To Carol Townend, author of the “Wessex
Weddings”—whose hospitality is legendary, and whose insightful and
experienced advice has been of enormous help to me in the completion of this
book.

Chapter One

L
ord Ledbury glared up at the ruched silk
canopy of the bed he’d inherited from his brother, wide awake now, when not an
hour since he’d felt so drained he was sure he could have slept for a week.

He hated this bed. He hated its soft feather mattress and the
mounds of bedding that felt as though they were suffocating him. He hated the
valet whom…no, that was going too far. He could not hate Jenkins for doing a job
to the best of his limited ability. It was just that he was not Fred.

He could have talked to Fred as he’d undressed and prepared to
go to bed. Probably managed to laugh off the more ludicrous aspects of the
evening’s sortie behind what felt like enemy lines—as they’d done time without
number during the preceding six years of active service. No matter what
deprivations they’d had to endure because of the damn fool orders some pompous
ass higher up the chain of command had issued.

But he’d been obliged to leave Fred behind when he’d taken up
residence in Lavenham House. And though he’d never experienced such luxury,
never had so many servants in his life since coming to live here, he’d never
felt so alone or so ill at ease. A spy must feel like this, he reflected
bitterly, kicking off his covers and turning onto his side to glare at the fire
glowing smugly in its ornate marble fireplace. Without benefit of his uniform to
vouch for his identity. Cut off from his regiment, his comrades. Entrusted with
orders that he alone could carry out.

Dammit, he was more likely to get some sleep outside on a park
bench wrapped up in his old army greatcoat than he was in here, suffocated by
all the trappings deemed necessary to coddle a lord. When he thought of all the
times he’d slept out of doors, with conditions so harsh he would wake in the
morning with his blanket frozen to the ground…

He sat bolt upright. At the end of this street there was a
small park, with benches dotted about in it. And in spite of Jenkins’
ill-concealed disgust, his army greatcoat still hung in the armoire….

He just had to get out of Mortimer’s house for a while, and
away from Mortimer’s servants, even if there was no escaping the obligations
Mortimer’s sudden and unexpected death had foisted upon him.

Muttering imprecations under his breath, he got out of bed and
pulled on a random selection of clothing by guesswork in the flickering shadows
cast by the fire, making sure only of his army greatcoat. He sighed as he
shrugged himself into it, feeling as though he was being taken into the arms of
a friend. As though there was a part of him that was still Major Cathcart, even
though everyone was suddenly calling him Lord Ledbury now.

He rubbed his hand briskly over the crown of his head to tidy
his bed-rumpled light brown hair in the way that had become second nature to him
on campaign as he left the bedroom, wishing it was as easy to smooth down his
ragged temper.

His mouth flattened into a grim line as he limped down the
stairs. He had not quite recovered from the interview with the Earl of Lavenham,
that was half the trouble. He’d been braced to hear something unpleasant.
Nothing less than a dire emergency would have induced his grandfather to summon
him to Courtlands. And what he’d learned about his younger brother during that
interview had certainly been a shock. But what still left him with a nasty taste
in his mouth had been the confirmation that if only Charlie had been the sort
who could have concealed his preference for men
he
might have returned to his regiment, been killed or maimed, and nobody would
have given a damn.

The night porter leaped to his feet as he saw his master
approach. He opened his mouth, as though about to say something, but one look
was all it took to have the man hand him his cane, open the door for him and
scuttle back to his chair without uttering whatever objection he had been about
to raise.

Lord Ledbury heaved a sigh of relief as he stepped outside.
He’d done all his grandfather had asked of him. Made all the sacrifices
demanded. He’d resigned his commission, moved out of his lodgings and into
Lavenham House. Bought the clothes, and begun to play the part, but…

He breathed in deeply as he made for the square. The night air
was redolent of…soot, actually. And damp. With a hint of something indefinably
green about it that could not be mistaken for anything other than the smell of
springtime in England. It took him less time than he would have thought before
he was pushing open the gate, considering the state of his leg. For which small
mercy he was truly thankful. He might be able to find a measure of peace if he
could only stretch out on one of the benches and look up at the night sky
through a tracery of leaves.

Thanks to Mortimer’s ignominious demise, he’d become a lord.
And, as the last hope of the Cathcarts, he was going to have to find a bride. A
bride worthy of becoming the next Countess of Lavenham. To that end, tonight
he’d attended his first ball since he’d become Lord Ledbury.

He gave an involuntary shudder as his mind flashed back to the
glittering ballroom, the eager faces of the matchmaking mamas who’d clustered
round him, the horrible feeling of being under siege…

And, goddammit—but wouldn’t you know it with the way his
evening had been going—when he finally reached the bench on which he’d set his
heart he found it already occupied.

By a strapping redcoat and a somewhat-reluctant female, to
judge by the way she was beating at his broad shoulders with her clenched fists
while he carried on kissing her.

He acted without thinking.

‘Take your hands off her!’ His voice, honed through years of
bellowing orders across parade grounds, made them both jump.

The soldier turned to scowl at Lord Ledbury over his
shoulder.

‘This is none of your business,’ he snarled.

‘I am making it my business,’ he retorted. ‘This sort of
behaviour is completely unacc—’

He broke off, stunned to silence when he caught sight of the
female who was still struggling to disentangle herself from the redcoat’s
determined grasp. It was Lady Jayne Chilcott. He’d seen her earlier, at the ball
he’d attended, and immediately asked his host who she was. For she was, without
a doubt, the prettiest creature he’d ever clapped eyes on.

Berry, the former schoolfriend whose sister’s come-out ball it
was, had pulled a face.

‘That,’ he’d said scathingly, ‘is Lady Jayne Chilcott—otherwise
known as Chilblain Jayne. Lucy is in raptures to have her attend tonight, since
she normally only goes to the most select gatherings. Her grandfather is the
Earl of Caxton. Pretty high in the instep himself—and you will only have to
observe her behaviour for half an hour to see why she’s earned the
soubriquet.’

He’d promptly changed his mind about asking for an
introduction, taken a seat and Berry’s advice. He’d watched her. It had not
taken quite half an hour to agree that she
did
look
as though she was regretting coming to a place that was frequented by people so
far beneath her in station.

At least that was what he had assumed then. But now, as he
studied the insignia that proclaimed the lowly rank of the soldier who’d been
kissing her so passionately, he revised his opinion. He had thought, from her
refusal to dance with any of the men who’d been falling over themselves to break
through her icy reserve, that she was as cold and proud as Berry had warned him
she was.

But she did not look proud now. She looked like a rather young
girl torn between fright and embarrassment at the compromising nature of the
situation he’d just interrupted.

It was in stark contrast to the anger blazing from her would-be
seducer’s eyes.

‘I repeat,’ said Lord Ledbury firmly, ‘take your hands off Lady
Jayne this instant.’

It was more than just his innate sense of chivalry that made
him so determined to rescue Lady Jayne. In spite of what Berry had said, and the
derisive way he’d said it, he hadn’t been able to prevent that initial interest
steadily growing into a sense of something resembling comradeship as the awful
evening had dragged on.

As she had doggedly rebuffed all overtures with chilling
finality, he’d found some comfort in knowing he wasn’t the only person there
battling under siege conditions. After a while he’d even begun to derive a
perverse sort of amusement from the way her courtiers grovelled at her feet on
one side of the dance floor, while he sat in state on the other, repelling all
invaders with equal determination. Though at least the men who flocked around
her had some excuse. He knew the matchmaking mamas who clamoured round
him
were interested only in his newly acquired wealth
and title.

‘The state of your face won’t matter,’ his grandfather had
predicted, running his eyes over the furrow on his forehad that a stray bullet
had ploughed across when he’d been only a lieutenant. ‘Not now that you are such
a catch. Wealthy in your own right and heir to an earldom. All you will have to
do is turn up and sit on the sidelines and they will come to you. You mark my
words.’

The mere thought of having to fend off flocks of avaricious
harpies had made entering that ballroom one of the hardest things he’d ever
done. Particularly with his grandfather’s words still ringing in his ears.
Knowing that none of them would have given him a second glance before Mortimer
had died and catapulted him into the peerage tied him up into knots inside. Yes,
he’d gone there to start looking for a wife. But did they have to make it so
obvious they all wanted his rank, his position?

And not him?

But Lady Jayne would have attracted as many suitors were she a
penniless nobody as she was so stunningly beautiful. He could not remember ever
having seen a more perfect face. She had a flawless complexion, a little rosebud
of a mouth and a profusion of golden ringlets that tumbled round her gently
rounded shoulders. He had not been able to discern what colour her eyes were,
but in a perfect world they would be cornflower-blue.

She’d shot him one cool, assessing look when he’d first come in
and sat down. Later, when they’d both been surrounded by a crowd of toadeaters,
their eyes had actually met, and for one instant he’d felt sure she was telling
him she hated the attention, the flattery, the insincerity of it all, just as
much as he did.

Not long after that, she’d risen to her feet and stalked from
the room.

Once she’d gone, and he’d been the only prize catch left in the
ballroom, he’d felt as though he had a target painted in the middle of his
chest. Whilst she, too, had been repulsing unwelcome advances, he’d felt—no
matter how erroneously—as if he had at least one ally in the place.

Once she’d gone, all the reasons why he didn’t want to be there
had become so overwhelming he had no longer been able to bear it. The heat of
that stuffy room had made his head feel muzzy. The tension that hadn’t left him
since he’d taken the decision to do his duty by his family had become too great
for a body so weakened by prolonged illness. He’d ached all over. He’d scarce
known how to keep a civil tongue in his head. He’d had to leave, to get out of
there and head home.

Only it hadn’t been his home he had gone back to. It was still
Mortimer’s house. Another jarring reminder that he wasn’t living his own life
any more.

It would do him good, he suddenly realized, to knock somebody
down. He had been spoiling for a fight ever since he’d walked away from his
grandfather, bristling with the determination to prove once and for all that he
was a better man than Mortimer and Charlie put together.

‘Get up,’ he snarled, advancing on the redcoat, who still had
his arms round Lady Jayne. Mortimer and Charlie were both beyond his reach, one
being dead and the other in Paris. And a man could not come to blows with his
own grandfather, no matter what the provocation.

But this redcoat was just about his own height. And though he
was younger, and probably fitter, the lad had not been tempered into fighting
steel in the heat of battle.

The man got to his feet. Slowly.

‘You are a disgrace to your uniform,’ he said, angered still
further by his slovenly posture when anyone under
his
command would have known to snap to full attention when he’d
used that particular tone of voice. ‘I would derive great personal satisfaction
in seeing you brought up on a charge for this night’s work. No officer should
force his attentions upon an unwilling female. If you were under my command you
would be lucky to escape with a flogging.’

But before he had a chance to add that he would give the man a
chance to settle the matter between them with their fists, Lady Jayne leaped to
her feet and interposed her own body between him and the soldier, crying out,
‘Oh, no! You could not be so cruel!’

‘Cruel?’ He was stunned by her reaction. ‘You think it is cruel
to rescue you from a situation that is plainly causing you distress?’

He steadfastly ignored the little voice that reminded him that
he had been spoiling for a fight for ages. That this redcoat was just in the way
when he happened to be in need of someone upon whom to vent his frustration.
That if he had come across a young officer in the throes of a passionate clinch
with a female as pretty as this one in Portugal he would have winked at the man,
wished him luck and been on his way.

Ah, but this was no sloe-eyed señorita, nor the willing wife of
a local grandee, he argued back. This was a young English lady, and she had not
appeared willing. On the contrary, she’d been struggling with the lout. She’d
looked frightened.

‘I admit, I was a little taken aback by Harry’s ardour,’ said
Lady Jayne. ‘For he has never really kissed me like that before. But mostly I
was afraid somebody might come by and discover us.’

BOOK: An Escapade and an Engagement
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