The Laird and the Wanton Widow

BOOK: The Laird and the Wanton Widow
2.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
The Laird and the Wanton Widow
Ann Lethbridge

When Kate Anderson heard her young cousin complain about the man she was expected to marry, Kate never imagined it would be Harry Le Clere, Lord Godridge! For one season in Edinburgh, Kate and Harry had shared their first taste of passion—and one mistake tore them apart.

Now, Kate is in a position to teach Harry how to woo her cousin…but Kate doesn’t realize that
she
is the only woman he ever wanted. And Harry is determined to have her again….

In
Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress
, my May 2010 novel, Garrick Le Clere, Marquess of Beauworth, expresses great fondness for his cousin and his heir, Harry Le Clere, Earl of Godridge. As Garrick notes, Harry now lives in the highlands of Scotland, but more than once in the past he has come to Garrick’s rescue. And so he does again.

Kate Anderson thinks Harry is also in need of rescue and sets about to see it done. Kate and Harry are a very special couple and
The Laird and the Wanton Widow
is their story. I do hope you enjoy it.

I love to hear from readers, and you can reach me through my website http://www.annlethbridge.com, where you will also find news about upcoming books.

Chapter One

Ladies’ companions didn’t dance at balls, yet Kate Anderson’s foot insisted on keeping time to the music of a Scottish reel. London ladies and gentlemen didn’t have an ounce of the passion or fire the dance required.

Exquisite in a jonquil gown, the blond Diana Buntin turned in her seat, her blue eyes alight with laughter. “The next time a gentleman asks you to dance, I will insist you say yes.” While her tone was gentle, Kate could see her employer meant every word.

“Sorry,” Kate said, and stilled her foot.

“Where is Denton with my lemonade?” Lizzie Mcrae, Diana’s equally blond and blue-eyed niece, raised up on her toes to see past the crowds gathered at the dance floor. At a quick glance she and Miss Buntin could have been sisters, even though they were related only by marriage. They both had the same fair English beauty and sweet dispositions. Unlike Kate, whose temperament was dictated by her red hair.

“Oh no,” Lizzie said. Her face fell from happiness to misery.

“What is it?” Diana asked. “Who do you see?”

Seated against the wall in the vast Bertwick ballroom, neither she nor Kate could see much beyond the elegantly dressed members of the ton in their immediate vicinity.

“It’s the ogre,” Lizzie said. “Why is he in Town? He’ll spoil everything.”

The ogre was what Lizzie called the elderly bachelor from the adjoining Scottish estate, the man her father wanted her to marry. A surge of anger rose in Kate’s chest to see the child so upset. She longed to give Lizzie’s father a piece of her mind for proposing such a match.

“Oh dear,” Diana said with a wince. “I have a feeling this is my fault.”

At that moment, the crowds parted to reveal an impressively large gentleman with a stern expression on his fair, sun-bronzed face heading in their direction.

Kate’s heart stopped as she took in the furrowed brow above hazel eyes, the set of the square, inflexible jaw, and the crisp waves of light brown hair.

Harry?

Was she seeing things? Her heart pattered the long-forgotten rhythm of a dimly remembered song. The room seemed to fade. All she saw was him, striding toward them with loose-limbed athletic grace.

She wanted to look away, but she sat frozen, turned to stone, her parched gaze drinking in the strong, rugged features that had always reminded her of her beloved Scotland.

The years had broadened his shoulders, strengthened his features, made him look sterner than when she’d known him in Edinburgh. But even though so many years had passed, he was still the handsomest man she’d ever seen.

And now he was here. Coming directly toward them, his gaze intently fixed on Lizzie.

Harry was Lizzie’s ogre? The bubble of joy in her chest burst, her heart felt leaden.

“Your father must have sent him,” Diana exclaimed. “It really is too bad.”

Kate could think of stronger words. She lowered her regard to her gloved hands resting on the dark gray fabric of her skirts. She stilled their tremble, breathed deep to calm the rapid beat of her heart.

Harry. She’d never expected to see him again. Never wanted to, when she realized what a stupid mistake she’d made. Never ever had she even enquired about him, guessing he must have married long ago.

Apparently not.

What would he think when he saw her again? That she was much changed, no doubt. And not for the better.

Good Lord, she was mad to think he’d remember her after all this time. For one season in Edinburgh, they’d lived in each other’s pockets. Less than a season—a month. Then he’d departed for a family celebration promising to return. A few days later, a mutual friend had relayed gossip from a letter she’d received that he’d fallen for a beautiful woman visiting his parents.

She’d been so hurt.

And angry.

So stupidly angry.

“Good evening, Miss Buntin,” he was saying in that deep voice laced with the burr of the Highlands. “Lizzie.” He bowed. “I trust I find you both well?”

Diana fluttered her fan. “Very well, my lord. This is a surprise.”

“Is it?” There was an edge to his voice. Impatience. “Lord Mcrae could not come himself, so he asked me to ascertain the truth of your letters and take whatever action I deemed needful.”

Lizzie gasped. “You wrote to my father, Aunt? What on earth did you say?”

Diana shot Lizzie a warning look. “Nothing to which your father could take exception, I am sure. Lord Godridge, may I introduce you to my companion, Mrs. Anderson?”

Kate held out a hand. “My lord.”

Silence greeted her. He was staring at her. With…shock. And what? Horror? “Mrs. Anderson.” His voice sounded strained as he took her hand.

“Do you two know each other?” Lizzie asked, glancing at them in turn.

Heat fired Kate’s cheeks. “We met many years ago.” She took a deep breath. “Before I was married. It is good to see you again, Lord Godridge.”

Harry was still staring at her as if he had seen a ghost. She understood the feeling. Her skin felt as if it had shrunk and her chest had been banded in iron.

“Did you have a pleasant journey, my lord?” Diana asked in a faint voice.

He seemed to recollect himself, straightening his shoulders and turning back to Lizzie’s aunt. “It rained.”

“Did you see Father before you left, Harry?” Lizzie asked. “Is he well?”

“He is worried,” Harry said. “About you. And his gout is bad.”

The weight of that statement sent Lizzie’s shoulders up to her ears. She smiled stiffly.

Good Lord, he was making a complete mess of this. Was he always so brusque with the girl? No wonder she called him an ogre. Though he certainly wasn’t the octogenarian the young woman had led Kate to expect.

Just at that moment, Lord Denton, a poetically brooding young man with a lock of brown hair flopping on his forehead, wandered up with the glass of lemonade. Kate was surprised he’d remembered the drink. The young poet often went off in a trance. He gave Lizzie a besotted smile along with the glass. “Did I tell you how beautiful you look this evening, Miss Mcrae? Can I compare thee to a summer rose?”

Lizzie giggled. Lizzie didn’t usually giggle at Denton’s nonsense. Indeed she’d been known to give him a sharp setdown if he put her to the blush. But tonight, in the presence of the man her father had chosen, she giggled.

“Shakespeare couldn’t have said it better,” Harry muttered drily.

Didn’t he see that Lizzie was testing him? If he’d just be a little more…well, adoring, he would surely sweep Lizzie off her feet. Denton couldn’t hope to compete with a real man like Harry.

“Do you have business in Town, Lord Godridge?” Diana asked, plying her fan with enough vigor to stir the air around Kate’s cheeks.

“Yes,” Harry said, his hard gaze focusing on Diana. “I’m here to drive Lizzie home. I will call upon you in the morning to make the necessary arrangements.”

“I won’t go,” Lizzie declared.

Oh Harry, Kate thought miserably. A heavy hand on the bridle would not work with this girl, not when she had been courted, flattered and adored by every eligible male in London. If Godridge wanted Lizzie, he was going about it all wrong.

“You cannot take our goddess,” Lord Denton proclaimed. “It will be like removing the sun from the sky.”

Lizzie bestowed him with a dimpling smile of approval.

The boy flushed bright red.

Harry’s left eyebrow shot up. The corners of his lips twitched. “Then London is about to experience a chilly summer.” He turned to Lizzie. “Would you care to dance with me, Lizzie?”

She tossed her head. “All my dances are promised, I’m afraid. And we are engaged all day tomorrow.”

Kate winced.

“The following morning will be fine,” Diana said in a strangled accent.

A muscle worked in his jaw. “Ten o’clock, then, two days hence.” He hesitated, glancing at Kate as if he would like to say more, then he bowed. “I wish you all a pleasant evening.”

Kate watched him stride away, a man whose commanding presence made others give way. In the eight years since she’d seen him, he’d become a confident man, sure of his place in the world. But he looked far from happy.

“Oh dear,” Diana said. “How very awkward.”

“I won’t go,” Lizzie said. “It’s not fair. The Season has barely begun.” She glowered at Harry’s departing broad shoulders. Her expression turned thoughtful. “You are an old friend of his, Mrs. Anderson. Can you not make him see reason? He never listens to me.”

That was clear. He was like a bull let loose in Mr. Wedgwood’s factory and he was about to be hurt by flying shards of china. One thing was certain—if he didn’t walk a little more gently with Elizabeth, the next thirty years or so were going to be hell for them both.

She’d seen it with her parents.

“The sets are forming,” Lord Denton said, holding out his arm. “This is my dance.”

Lizzie sent Kate a pleading look over her shoulder as Denton led her away.

A look hard to resist.

“I am going to murder my brother-in-law,” Diana said grimly. “I wrote to tell him of his daughter’s success, and what does he do? He calls her home.” She pursed her lips. “I must say Godridge is nothing like I expected from Lizzie’s description. I really should visit my brother-in-law one of the these days.” She turned to Kate, her eyes full of curiosity. “You never mentioned you were acquainted with Godridge.”

Acquainted. What an understatement. “He was Le Clere when I knew him. I failed to make the connection.” Because she never could bear to think about Harry and what she’d done.

“He’s a fine-looking man, if rather overbearing,” Diana mused, turning to look at Lizzie.

Kate’s fingers curled into fists.

Dash it, the man reeked of loneliness. He and Lizzie would make a wonderful couple. She should be helping him, not feeling jealous.

She rose to her feet. “Can you manage without me for a moment? I need the withdrawing room.”

Her attention fixed on Lizzie on the dance floor, Diana nodded absently.

Kate squeezed her way through the crowds to the door. No parting of the Red Sea for her. A casual glance and the lofty members of the ton knew exactly how much courtesy to extend. None. Poverty-stricken widow-companions were one step above servants. One very small step.

She drew in a breath and squeezed between an elderly gentleman and a potted plant. No need for bitterness, Kate, she upbraided herself. You made your own bed.

Out in the entrance hall, the noise of the ballroom faded to manageable levels. And there, staring at a portrait on the wall while awaiting his outer raiment, stood Harry. Square jawed, broad shouldered and narrow of hip, he looked gorgeous in his evening clothes. A perfect specimen of manhood.

The breath left her lungs in a rush.

What a fool she’d been to let her temper destroy her one chance for happiness. It would be dreadful if Lizzie did the same.

Why could she not see his true worth? Perhaps because he wasn’t making the effort to engage her affections.

“Lord Godridge,” she said, her voice echoing in the cavernous hall.

He swung around. A flare of something hot lit his eyes. Anger perhaps. Quickly extinguished, replaced by polite formality, she couldn’t be sure. She almost preferred the anger to cool dispassion.

She took a deep breath and marched to his side. “Might I have a word?”

He bowed. “Perhaps you want to introduce me to your husband?” The bitter edge in his voice sliced into her heart.

“My husband died two years ago. As well as being Miss Buntin’s friend, I am also her paid companion.”

A strange expression crossed his face. “A widow.” He swallowed. “My condolences.”

“Thank you.”

The silence between them filled up with unspoken questions. And tension. Her body thrummed with the knowledge of his nearness. Her palms tingled with the desired to touch the hard angle of his jaw.

This was not such a good idea, after all.

“Did you want something of me, Kate?”

The sound of her name on his lips pulled painfully at her heart.

She forced herself to speak coolly. “Is there somewhere we could talk in private?”

Suspicion, or something like it, darkened his gaze. “I’m sure it could be arranged.”

The nearest footman, his face as stolid as boiled oats, opened the door beside him. “The drawing room is unoccupied, sir.”

Harry held out his arm with exquisite politeness. She placed her hand on his sleeve. The lightest touch she could manage without being rude and still heat seared up her arm. Her insides trembled with nerves. The ache in her chest intensified. She wanted to run. She’d only ever run once, with disastrous results.

The footman closed the door behind them.

Then he smiled. The smile she had never forgotten. Open and boyish, with a hint of devilment. The sternness of the ballroom evaporated and it was if they were young again, in the first throes of infatuation, sneaking off for a few minutes alone.

“What can I do for you?”

The words seem to contain a great deal of meaning. Her stomach tightened. Her breathing became shallow and hard to control. So traitorous, when she knew he belonged to Lizzie.

Praying her face didn’t betray her inner turmoil, she smiled calmly. “Rather, let me ask what I can do for you, Lord Godridge?”

His eyes widened. A mischievous smile curved his lips. “Now there’s something a man doesn’t hear every day.”

Oh, Lord, did he think she was propositioning him? Heat rushed to her face. “It’s about Lizzie,” she hurried to say.

His face turned to stone. “Did Lizzie send you to try to cajole me into let her stay in London?”

She took a deep, calming breath. “No.” She swallowed. “I came with advice.”

His brow lowered. “Out with it, Kate. I never knew you to be short of words.”

That was in the old days. Before her marriage. Before she’d learned to be sensible. But somewhere inside her, the old fiery, outspoken Kate still resided. And she had to be kept firmly in her place. She gave him her best kindly widow smile. “You will not engage Lizzie’s affections by treating her like a child. You need to woo her like the young woman she is.”

An eyebrow shot up. “You think…” His mouth flattened. A mouth she’d kissed. A mouth that had smiled a lot in those long-ago days.

BOOK: The Laird and the Wanton Widow
2.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Sculpt-Paige_Michaels-Becca_Jameson by Becca Jameson and Paige Michaels
Glubbslyme by Wilson, Jacqueline
Booty Call *69 by Gray, Erick
Full Court Devotion by Cami Checketts
ASCENSION by S. W. Frank