Read The Most Wicked Of Sins Online

Authors: Kathryn Caskie

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency

The Most Wicked Of Sins

BOOK: The Most Wicked Of Sins
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For Dave,
my kilted hero.

Prologue

July 30, 1816
The Sinclair residence
No. 1 Grosvenor Square, London

The day had begun like any other.
p. Lady Ivy Sinclair rose at noon for breakfast, still weary from a late-night gala at Covent Garden. She spread the
Times
out upon the dining table and giggled with her sisters, Siusan and Priscilla, over the outrageous and much-exaggerated Society gossip in the weekly
on dit
column.

And when Poplin, one of only two servants in the household, set a sterling salver before her, Ivy sorted through the disappointingly few invitations and letters their family had received. She sipped weak, twice-strained tea, setting the more interesting of the invitations to her right as she munched on a wedge of toasted stale bread dabbed with a lick of comb honey.

Aye, as far as Ivy was concerned, the day had been entirely unremarkable. Perhaps even a bit mundane.

Until, that is, she broke the crimson wax wafer and released from its folds a letter from Scotland—one that would change her life forever. Of course, she didn’t know this for certain at the time, though the first sentence sent an unmistakable torrent of panic through her body.

“Of late, ye, Ivy, more so than any of my other children, have brought shame upon the Sinclair name.”

Oh God.
Her eyelids snapped high. Each word had very nearly been carved into the foolscap, and Ivy recognized the angry, heavily inked script as belonging to the Duke of Sinclair, her father.

Her vision blurred with a rush of tears, and her hands went cold as she raised the foolscap closer to her eyes.

“Will anything ever be enough for ye, or will ye continue to spend yer life peering hungrily over yer neighbor’s fence, coveting her life, her possessions, wishing her ill?”

She lifted the cup of tea to her lips to stifle the whimper rising in her throat, but her hand began trembling fiercely, forcing her to return the cup clattering to its dish.

“I willna accept yer spoiled behavior any longer. Reform at once. Raise yerself up as a true example of decorum and respectability. Become a lady deserving of yer Lord Tinsdale’s admiration and standards—worthy of his troth instead of merely his amusement. Earn the respect the Sinclair name deserves—or when I return to London next month, ye will be regret it.”

Ivy’s jaw fell open, and the whimper she had tried to contain suddenly slipped from her mouth. Even in his brevity, her father had made his expectations—and his harsh penalties for not meeting them—perfectly clear.

“Siusan.” Ivy jerked her head up to her elder sister. Though she tried to school her voice, to sound nonchalant, Ivy’s words sounded thick with alarm, and this frightened her.

Siusan’s elbows were propped upon the table, her chin resting wearily in her palms. “I already told you. No, to the Cockburn tea. Aye, to the Whitehall picnic.” Her eyelids looked heavy, and she forcibly blinked her pale blue eyes. Her sigh made clear her boredom as she blew away a wisp of dark hair that had become ensnared in her thick lashes.

“N-not that.” Ivy tucked a lock of copper hair behind her ear and swallowed, hoping the extra moment would allow her to rein in her nerves.
“This.”
She started to pass the letter to Siusan, but Priscilla, the youngest of the Sinclair siblings, playfully snatched it from her hand and began to read.

“It’s from Da!” Priscilla leaped to her feet the moment she made the realization. Her vivid blue eyes immediately began shifting wildly from left to right as she read the letter.

Siusan’s eyes widened with worry, and she slowly straightened her spine. She reached out and took Ivy’s hand and squeezed it. “What is it? The expression on your face is…well, positively ghastly.” She squinted slightly. “Why, those are tears in your eyes!”

Ivy sucked her lips into the seam of her mouth for several seconds before speaking. Blood seemed to drain from the rest of her body and into her restless legs. She came to her feet, unable to sit for a moment longer. “Tell me true, Siusan. Do you think it possible to convince Lord Tinsdale to offer for me—within a month?” She paced nervously back and forth behind Siusan’s chair.

“A month?
” Siusan sat up straight in her chair and swiveled to look at her. “I was under the impression you had grown bored with him.”

Ivy’s feet stilled, and she stared at Siusan, astounded by the comment. “Bored? You could not be farther from the mark. He has my full attention and rightly so. He is a good man, titled and respectable. Why, Da commented upon Tinsdale’s upstanding nature when he met the family at Sterling’s wedding.”

Siusan tilted her head and studied Ivy. “Hmm.”

“You haven’t answered me. Do you think it possible to secure an offer from him within a month?” Ivy asked, clutching at Siusan’s hand. “
Please.
Answer me.”

“All right,” Siusan replied, wrenching her hand away from Ivy. “Tinsdale may be somewhat smitten with you, I’ll concede that, but he’s hardly at the point of getting leg-shackled. A month, Ivy? Are you completely mad?”

Priscilla slowly lifted her gaze from the letter. “No, Su, she’s not.” She rushed to Siusan and thrust the letter at her. “One month. It’s all the time she has.” She pointed at the letter. “I daresay there is no misunderstanding Da’s meaning. Read it!”

Siusan lowered her gaze to the foolscap and quickly read down its length.

Ivy again resumed pacing the short distance behind Siusan’s chair. “I have one month to change my life, Su. If I fail, Da will surely keep the promise he made the night he forced us from our home for…this pauper’s existence in London.” Tears welled up anew in Ivy’s eyes, “And I’ll be disinherited…and cast from this very house to the workhouse.”

Siusan dropped the letter on the table as she rose, grabbing Ivy and hugging her tightly to her. “Dinna fash, Ivy. It willna come to that. I promise.”

Ivy took Siusan’s shoulders and leaned away from her. Through her tears, she peered at Siusan, then at Priscilla too. “How can you make such a promise?”

Her sisters exchanged meaningful glances, then Siusan took Ivy’s chin in her palm and tilted it upward, not allowing her to look away. “Because we will do whatever we must to prevent this, Ivy. Anything we must to see Tinsdale’s ring upon your finger,” Siusan said.

“Anything?” Ivy’s voice broke.

Priscilla nodded in agreement. “Aye, Ivy—
anything.
You have our promises.”

Chapter 1

Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.

Joseph Epstein

August 1816
Almack’s Assembly Rooms
London

Lady Ivy Sinclair’s moss-hued eyes were flecked with gold, and quite honestly closer to hazel in color, but she felt the green-eyed monster rising within her just the same.
p. Her gloved fingers nervously clenched around her fan’s ivory handle as she narrowed her gaze at the Irish beauty who had just entered the assembly room and was now entirely surrounded by a rush of adoring gentlemen. The same doting cluster of men that had been lavishing admiration on
her
only a week before.

Blast!
She’s not supposed to be here. Not tonight! She could ruin everything.

Fretfully, Ivy’s gaze tore through the ring of men encircling the ebony-haired miss before scanning the rest of the assembly room. She couldn’t risk it. She had to find him before he saw Miss Fiona Feeney.
Och, where is he?

And then she spied him emerging from the guests packed around a refreshment table. Her worry lifted away. There he was, her own Viscount Tinsdale…and he was headed back to her.

His thick golden eyebrows were drawn toward the bridge of his nose in a scowl. Struggling to balance the contents of two crystals of lemonade, he was attempting to squeeze his way between two hefty gentlemen who appeared to be in the midst of a heated discussion. She could see that Tinsdale’s lips were moving as well, but the men clearly didn’t notice him or realize his predicament.

Just then, a gourd-shaped woman with a feather-trimmed crimson turban backed straight into Tinsdale. He lurched forward a step. A flourish of liquid sprang up from one of the glasses and licked his face.

Ivy clapped her gloved hands to her mouth and concealed an amused grin as the viscount’s left eyelid fluttered. His full, pale lips puckered as he frantically shook his head to rid himself of the drops coursing down his cheeks. He turned briefly and appeared to pardon himself to no one in particular before gauging his path anew.

Ivy giggled softly. He was so very polite. And completely ridiculous…no…
adorable
in his efforts to remain, at all times, the consummate gentleman. Why, she could learn a great deal from Tinsdale if she only allowed herself. And she would.

She had no other choice. After all, she had only twenty-seven days before her father returned to London. Her mouth became dry from nerves just thinking about it. Ivy focused again on Tinsdale.

Now raising both glasses high over his head, Tinsdale was taking advantage of a momentary gap between the two men. He edged his narrow hips between them, lest, Ivy decided, he was bumped and splashed again.

Ivy raised her chin proudly. She flashed a glance at Miss Feeney, who was idly tugging at one of the lace sleeves of her gown, seeming to ignore the three gentlemen who appeared to be speaking to her at the same time. The edges of Ivy’s lips gave a little upward triumphant jerk.
Ha! Perhaps not every man is as enamored with you as you’d like to believe.

Aye, Ivy realized that this week she might no longer be the undisputed toast of the
ton,
but Society’s taste was as fickle as that of a miss just out for her first Season.

She was confident that the
ton
would soon become bored with Miss Fiona Feeney. They’d no longer find her quips quite so clever, or her delicate features so perfect. It was only a matter of time.

Ivy was being a goose, worrying about her own popularity at all. What did it matter?

Inevitably, London Society would return their favor to her. She broadened her smile and raised a single eyebrow. After all, she was always entertaining, witty, and pretty enough to draw male eyes—without eliciting even a modicum of jealousy from the women of London.

An abrupt shift in Lord Tinsdale’s direction snared Ivy’s attention.
Hmm.
Likely just lost sight of me. Nothing to fret over. His eyes are probably still stinging with lemonade.

But he was still moving in the wrong direction. An anxious ache started to build in her middle. She rose on her toes, ever so slightly.

It would not do for anyone to think she was even the least bit concerned that Tinsdale would not return to her.

Och, he canna see me, that’s all,
she told herself.
Nothing more.

Unlike the members of the Sinclair family, Tinsdale had not been blessed with commanding stature. But it hardly mattered. Everything else about him was absolutely perfect.

Aye, the viscount’s impeccable bloodline, coupled with his most sensible, frugal, and agreeable nature, met every single requirement her father demanded in a potential husband for Ivy. Her father informed her of this within moments of meeting Tinsdale and his family during his first visit to London not long ago.

He had made sure that Ivy understood that her course was quite clear. And it was. Marry Viscount Tinsdale, and, for certain, her father would see how responsible and respectable she had at last become—and he would forgive her. He would welcome her back into the Sinclair family, just as he had done with her brother Sterling only two months ago.

It was only a matter of time until she saw their betrothal announcement published in the
Morning Post.

Only, it had to be soon. She couldn’t live like a pauper scraping for tuppence while pretending she was a wealthy heiress for much longer. Neither she, nor her cast-out brothers and sisters, had the funds to carry on the ruse indefinitely. Time was fast running out.

No matter, though. Ivy was fairly certain that her increasingly pointed hints—that she would accept Tinsdale—had at last fallen on eager ears. She hadn’t been so coy this eve about her wish to marry him, and this time she was sure he finally understood her, for the size of his eyes doubled by time she had finished speaking.

Aye, soon, he would request an interview with her older brother to ask for her hand in marriage. Perhaps…as soon as
tonight.

Och, now where was he going?

Blast! I’m over here.
A frustrated squeal slipped through her lips. Dozens of pale-hued fans, flapping in the hot air like butterfly wings, gradually stilled as ladies in heavy silks and gentlemen in dark coats turned to look at her.

Ivy didn’t dare call out to Tinsdale, despite her worry, for she knew that would mark her as common. So she simply raised her chin higher so that her face might be visible to him over the heads of the other guests.

Her scheme seemed to work for he met her gaze …for a moment. She was sure of it. But Tinsdale seemed to be trying to pretend that he had not seen her.

BOOK: The Most Wicked Of Sins
11.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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