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Authors: Shannon Donnelly

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Lady Scandal

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LADY SCANDAL

Published by Shannon Donnelly at
Smashwords.com

Copyright 2010 Shannon Donnelly

Discover other works by Shannon Donnelly at
Smashwords.com

Romantic Times Top Pick -
4½ Stars
Romantic Times Bookclub Nominated "Best Regency" 2004

 

For Uncle Bert & Aunt Barb,

who taught me how to shoot a flintlock and
ride side saddle.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

She had not thought of him in ages,
so why had his memory returned tonight?
Alexandria frowned.
Had it
been Josephine's insistence on dredging up stories from when she
had been young and ridiculously romantic?
Or perhaps it had been
watching Diana flirt with the young—and utterly ineligible—Monsieur
Brenton?
Marsett had been just so ineligible—and just so
charming.

But she would not think of him
again tonight.
She had other worries to fret over.

Still, she stared out the carriage
window at the endless darkness that lay beyond the shallow, yellow
glow of the lantern, at the glisten of raindrops on glass.
And she
thought of another night such as this, in another carriage, in what
almost seemed another life.

Bad weather making old injuries ache.

He was an old injury.
Old and one she had
thought forgotten.
But tonight as the carriage rocked, she
remembered too well that strong, angular face, the unruly brown
hair, the smolder of dark brown eyes.
And the hot betrayal that had
glittered in those eyes the last time she had seen him.

She had almost given up everything for him.
Almost.
And the old anger flared, still rankling for his having
forced her into the worst moment of her life.
Why had he not been
able to understand?

And why did you not come back?
Why
did you never keep that promise?

But why would he?
He must hate her now.
She
knew that.

The regret trembled inside her again, not as
strong as it once had, but still there, along with the anxiety.
Had
she made the right choice?
What else could she have done?
She had
had Jules to consider.
Bitterness tugged at her, a weight in her
chest.
She fought it back, willing it away, determined that it
would drag no more futile tears.

But still she thought of him.

Where would he be tonight?
At a gaming
table?
In another woman's arms.
He had always loved excitement.
Did
he still?
Was his hair as dark and lush, or had those silky strands
thinned, or acquired touches of silver as now threaded her brown
curls?
Would he still have that broad chest and those muscles that
had rippled under her touch and that smooth skin, so warm
and....

"You are very quiet, Aunt."

Blinking and pulling in a breath, Alexandria
turned away from the darkness outside the carriage.
The lanterns
spilled a faint glow into the luxurious gloom of the coach,
outlining swaying curtains, the plush upholstery, and her niece's
delicate profile.

They ought to have been back in Paris by
now.
It was only a few hours from the duke's Chateau d'Esclimont.
But a horse had thrown a shoe, and then the rain had started,
turning the road into mud that dragged at the carriage wheels.

Alexandria forced a smile, but realized that
Diana would not see it—all she could see of her niece was the glint
of her golden curls and the white oval of her face.
Years of
practice at hiding her feelings, however, kept her voice utterly
calm.
"I am just longing for a hot cup of tea."

Such a lie.
What she longed for had nothing
to do with tea.
She scowled at her weakness.

Diana's gloved hand, almost ethereally pale
in white kid, reached out from the darkness of her traveling cloak
to grip Alexandria's.
"It cannot be much further.
Look, you can see
the lights of Paris already."

Alexandria's face relaxed.
How like her niece to be the one to try and reassure.
She leaned
across the leather-covered seat to glance out the window.
Lights
did glint though the gloom—the flambeaus of the great houses,
lanterns for the scandalous
Palais
Royal
and the
Comédie Française
; the entertainment
of Paris did not stop for weather nor for much else it seemed.
Not
even with war threatening again.

Alexandria squeezed her niece's hand and she
leaned back, the leather squeaking under her.
Their plans had been
to stay another month in Paris before returning to England, but the
duke's cautions had changed everything.

"You should leave France," Josephine's
husband had said, his English accented heavily and his tone grim.
Josephine had wrinkled her nose as she made a noise that could only
sound elegant coming from a Frenchwoman.
"Really, Guy—how rude to
tell my friends to go."

He had frowned at her, a sober, older
gentleman, his thin face and thinning hair making him look more
dour than usual.
"Less rude than if they should be here when the
battles start again.
And they will.
This peace cannot last—not with
England refusing to leave Malta.
Not with—"

He broke off, his mouth pulling down, as if
he had had to stop himself from saying something unwise, such as to
criticize the ambitious First Consul Bonaparte.

Josephine waved away his
words, her plump hand fluttering and her jewels flashing.
"War...war...you have been too long in the military,
mon trésor
.
Everyone
muttered the same in March when Bonaparte accused Lord Whitworth of
forcing us into breaking the peace.
But nothing happened, now did
it?"

"Whitworth has left France.
Word came today.
It cannot be good that the British Ambassador leaves so
sudden."

Josephine had frowned.
But a moment later
she laughed and demanded that he not ruin her house party by
troubling her English friends.

He already had.

Alexandria knew to give his warning added
weight.
The Duke of Laval had survived the bloody Revolution, saved
from his country's anti-aristocratic insanity by his military
titles and success.
With Bonaparte now ruling France, the duke no
longer needed to call himself citizen—Bonaparte had done away with
that and much else from the Revolution.
And gossip held that Laval
would soon be a Marshal of France.
If such a highly placed man
thought hostilities would come again, Alexandria knew enough to
listen.

Perhaps that was why the anxiety, the
troubling regrets had returned.
She might have made mistakes with
her own life, but she would not make them with her brother's only
daughter.

Now wistful disappointment tinged Diana's
voice as she asked, "Are you certain we cannot at least stay until
after Madam Avill's ball?
I am still due a gown from Celeste's for
it, and...and...."

"And there is a certain young man you hoped
to see again at Madam Avill's?" Alexandria asked, unable to resist
teasing.

"Oh, that is nothing serious.
You know that,
only—well, isn't Monsieur Brenton just the most ravishing gentleman
you have ever met?
And he does dance divinely, and I did promise
him one dance for Madam Avill's."

He was not the most ravishing gentleman
Alexandria had met—he seemed young, absurdly so.
However, she knew
the sound of youthful infatuation.
She also knew the importance of
allowing such sparks to burn out so that they left warm memories
and not bitter laments.

But she could not ignore Laval's
warnings.

Frowning, she tried to make the right
choice.
Would a few days matter?
That would allow a more organized
departure—and she could write to Frederick to let him know she
would be bringing Diana to London, not to his Surrey estate as they
had arranged.
But what if she judged wrong?
So many others had
already left France.

Well, she knew the lack of wisdom in making
any decision by moonlight.
"We can discuss it in the morning," she
allowed.

Diana's hand clutched hers.
"Oh, thank you,
Aunt Ali."

"I said discuss—and I mean only that."

"Of course, Aunt."

Diana sounded dutiful.
She also sounded
confident of the outcome.

Leaning back in the coach, Alexandria shook
her head.
She indulged the girl.
Too much, perhaps.
But she had
only ever had Jules—her independent, bookish son, now up at Oxford.
And girls, she had learned from Diana, were ever so much more
fun.

By the time they reached the cobbled streets
of Paris, Alexandria's longing for tea had become genuine.
So had
her hunger for a hot meal and a seat that did not sway.

They entered the city through the northern
gate, skirting the village of Montmartre and its steep hill.
The
narrow cobbled streets had hardly been changed, Alexandria thought,
by revolution or the centuries.
Bonaparte talked of building wide
new avenues, but parts of Paris echoed back to its ancient roots,
with its winding lanes, barely wide enough for a cart, let alone a
carriage.
A decade ago, the French queen and king had been bundled
into such carts and dragged by the mob to the guillotine.
Had they
been carried along this very road?

Alexandria shivered.
She hoped not.

But blood no longer ran in the gutters.
For
all his faults of ambition, Bonaparte had at least brought order to
France.
And he had made peace with England just over a year ago,
leaving the door open for so many English to come again to Paris.
It had been a delight to bring Diana, and such a relief to escape
her own monotonous life.

They had taken a small house for their
visit—with the jointure left to her, she could afford to indulge
her whims these days.
But even after two months in Paris, she
recognized few landmarks.
It was only when the coach stopped and
the door opened and she glanced out that she knew they had arrived
at 37 Rue Cambon.
They were home.

The footman helped her from the carriage,
and she glanced up at the house, a little surprised to see it dark
and the front door standing ajar.
Fenwick was not the sort to shirk
his duties.
So where was her butler?
Why were there not lamps lit
beside the steps?
Why did no one hurry from the house with
umbrellas and see to their luggage?

With a frown, Alexandria glanced around
her.

The rain had lightened to a
mist, slicking the streets and leaving the sky dark.
The buildings
seemed to huddle close, their stucco walls pale in the dim light
and their roofs disappearing into darkness.
Pulling the hood of her
traveling cloak over her bonnet—a silly little velvet one she had
bought just for the visit to
Chateau
d'Esclimont
—Alexandria hurried up the
steps.
Her traveling boots slapped against the puddles left by the
rain.
Pushing open the heavy door to the house, she stepped inside
and stopped.
Shock chilled her skin.

"What in heaven's—"

She broke off the words, the air tight in
her chest.
Irritation sharpened in her, and chilled into fear.

Flowers lay strewn across the floor as if
emptied from the vases that had once held them.
She glanced around
the hall looking for those vases and saw only unsettling disorder.
A chair lay on its side.
The wire from the picture rail told of a
painting taken away.

A soft voice at her side pulled her
attention from the disaster in the room.
"Oh, my!
What
happened?"

Alexandria turned.
She parted her lips to
reply—only what did she say to her niece?

And then the sound of a woman's soft sobbing
reached her, chilling her utterly.

 

#

 

He was lucky not to be dead.
Pain, sharp and
raw, burned in his side.
He cursed in guttural French, and in
English, the hard Anglo-Saxon sounds far more satisfying.
He kept
the curses to a low mutter, however, wary of giving himself away.
Three hours ago he had been in a warm bed with an equally warm
armful of woman.
A general's wife in need of consolation for a
husband who neglected his duties to her.
But he had said the wrong
thing.

Never call one woman by another woman's
name.

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