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Western Historicals

                  




A Most Unsuitable Match

· Harlequin Historicals
· October 2018
· ISBN 9781335522931

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Harlequin Historical®, and Harlequin® are registered trademarks of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All cover art for the publisher, including special "flashes" and back cover copy, is copyrighted by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All rights are reserved by the publisher.

 

Shunned by the ton
How would she find a husband?

Part of Sisters of Scandal: After her mother’s latest outrageous affair, innocent Prudence Lattimar has fled to Bath.

With her dubious background, she must marry a man of impeccable reputation. A clergyman with a title and a considerable income would be perfect.

She must steer clear of Lieutenant Johnnie Trethwell—his family is as notorious as hers, no matter how funny, charming and unfailingly honorable he is!

 


 

 

PROLOGUE

London, late March, 1833

“She’s done it again,” Gregory Lattimar, oldest son and heir of Lord Vraux said as he ushered his twin sisters, Temperance and Prudence, into the small salon of their Brook Street townhouse, where their aunt, Lady Stoneway, awaited them.

The vague foreboding she’d felt when her brother pulled Pru from happy contemplation of the latest fashions in Godfrey’s Lady’s Magazine intensified into outright alarm. “What’s happened, Gregory? Whatever it is, surely we won’t have to delay our Season yet again!”

That pronouncement was met with a groan from her aunt, who came over to give Prudence a hug. “I’m so sorry, my dear! I thought for sure we’d be able to launch you girls this spring!”

“So it’s no Season for us, eh?” Temperance asked, crossing her arms as she regarded her brother grimly. “What’s the latest event to besmirch our reputations?”

“Your brother heard about it over breakfast at the Club, and summoned me for a strategy session straightaway.”

“A strategy session about what?” Temperance cried, stamping her foot.

“Easy, Temper,” Gregory said, putting a hand on her arm. “I’m about to tell you.”

Though, as usual, she suppressed the emotions her more volatile twin was expressing, Pru could hardly refrain from stamping her own foot. “What happened, Gregory?”

“Farnham. Well, not being officially out, you won’t have met him, but he’s recently down from Oxford, and followed the usual convention of appearing enamored of our mother. He and another young admirer, Lord Hallsworthy, have been snarling at each other around her like two dogs over a choice bone. Apparently last night, with both of them well in their cups, Farnham claimed Hallsworthy had insulted Mama’s virtue, and challenged him to a duel. Which Hallsworthy accepted, the two of them dispensing with the usual protocol and going off at once to Hounslow Heath.”

“At night?” Temperance said incredulously. “Besides, I thought dueling was illegal—and out of fashion.”

“There was a full moon, and it is,” Gregory said. “I don’t know what got into them. The upshot was, before anyone realized what was going on, Farnham put a ball into Hallsworthy. The friends who caught up with them took Hallsworthy to a surgeon, but he isn’t doing well. Farnham has fled to the Continent, and by now, the news of the duel, and over whom it was fought, is all over London.”

“Well, I say ‘bravo, Mama!’ if she’s still bewitching young men at her age,” Temperance said defiantly.

“If she only would consider how much her actions reflect upon us!” Pru cried, beset by the familiar mix of admiration and resentment for her dazzling mother.

“To be fair, it’s not her fault, Pru,” Aunt Gussie said. “Paying court to London’s longest-reigning Beauty has been a rite of passage for young men coming down from university since the Season your Mama debuted. You know she does nothing to encourage them. Quite the opposite.”

“Which only intensifies their rivalry,” Gregory observed with a sigh.

“Mama has been trying to shield us, Pru,” Temperance added. “Though she’s certainly had offers, she hasn’t taken any new lovers these last five years.” At her aunt’s gasp, she snapped, “Oh, please, Aunt Gussie, there are no innocent maidens here. Not after what we’ve seen going on in this house.”

Though her sister didn’t blush, Pru felt her own cheeks heat at the reminder. They’d barely been out of leading strings when, even relegated to the nursery, they’d started noticing the parade of handsome men paying calls on their mother. They were hardly in their teens when they’d pieced together the whispers among the staff and come to understand exactly why.

“The Vraux Miscellany,” Society called them. Knowing that only Gregory was truly the son of her legal father, while her brother Christopher and she and Temperance were acknowledged to be the offspring of other men.

Keenly as she felt this latest scandal, which might well delay once again her chance to find the love and family she yearned for, fairness compelled her to agree with her sister. “I know Mama has been trying to live less…flamboyantly, just as she promised us. For all the good that’s done,” she added bleakly.

“It’s not her fault Society conveniently forgives a man the errors of his past—but never a woman,” Temperance retorted.

“I haven’t always agreed with her…wandering tendencies,” Augusta admitted, “but married to my brother, I could certainly sympathize. He’d already begun to show passion only for the beautiful objects he collected before I made my come-out. I remember one morning in the breakfast room, I tripped over his latest acquisition, some sort of ceremonial sword. He rushed over when I cried out—it gave me a nasty cut! And completely ignored me, all his concern for whether the sword had been damaged!”

“If only he hadn’t chosen Mama to add to his collections,” Temperance muttered.

“Well, that’s past lamenting,” Gregory said briskly. “We need to decide what we shall do now, which is why I asked Aunt Gussie to join us. Do you think the hubbub will die down soon enough for the girls to have their Season this year?”

Aunt Gussie shook her head. “I received two notes from acquaintances before I’d even arisen from bed this morning, wanting to know what was truth, what rumor. With the Season beginning in just two weeks, Hallsworthy so badly injured he may hover on the cusp between life and death for some time, and Farnworth having quit England, it’s likely to remain the on-dit for months.”

“We could just brazen it out,” Temperance said. “Really, Aunt Gussie, do you truly think we will ever escape being tainted by Mama’s reputation? Since we are her blond, blue-eyed images, we must naturally possess the same reckless, passionate character. As far as Society is concerned, we’re the ‘Scandal Sisters,’ and always will be.”

“I know it’s unfair, child,” Aunt Augusta said, patting Temperance’s arm. “I understand your bitterness, but there’s no need—yet—to give up on the goal of seeing both of you well-settled--eventually. It’s what your Mama desires, as much as I do! Not this Season, alas. But soon.”

“That’s what you’ve been saying for the last four years,” Pru said, trying to stave off her desolation over this new delay. “First, you ended up having to assist at your daughter’s lying-in the year we turned eighteen, then you were ill yourself the next year, then Aunt Sophia died, and last year, Christopher married Ellie. An absolute darling, whom I love dearly, but trying to overcome the infamy of your mother’s reputation right after your brother marries a notorious former courtesan is clearly impossible. If we have to wait much longer, we will be too old for any man to wish to marry us!”

“You should rather pity the girls who did debut and marry,” Temperance told her flippantly. “Stuck home now with a husband to please and a babe on the way.”

“Perhaps you would!” Prudence flung back, raw disappointment goading her out of her customary restraint. “But having a husband who cares for me and a normal household filled with our children is all I’ve ever wished for.”

Looking contrite, Temperance gave her a hug. “No female under Heaven is sweeter, lovelier or more deserving of a happy family. I’m sorry for speaking slightingly of your hopes. Forgive me?”

Feeling guilty—for she knew if she didn’t keep such a tight control over herself, her reactions might be just as explosive as her sister’s, Prudence said gruffly, “I’m no angel. I know you were teasing. Forgive me, for being so tetchy.”

“If squelching the rumors is impossible, what should we do, Aunt Gussie?” Gregory asked.

“I think it would be best if I took the girls out of London for a while.”

“Not to Entremer!” Temperance cried. “With nothing but empty moors and coal mines for miles, I’d expire of boredom in a month!”

“I should know, I was raised there,” Aunt Gussie said with a shudder. “No, I propose taking you somewhere much more pleasant. Granted, with the Season beginning, it will be thinner of company than I’d like, but my dear friend Helena lauds its excellent shopping and the lending libraries. There will be subscription dances and musicales, as well as the activities around the Pump Room—“

“You mean Bath?” Temperance interrupted, looking aghast. “Activities, yes--like assisting septuagenarians to sip the vile waters! That’s almost as bad as Northumberland!”

“The city may not be as fashionable as it once was, but anything would be better than rusticating in the country,” Gregory pointed out.

“It’s not as large a stage as London, to be sure. But for a lady more interested in a congenial partner than in snagging wealth and a title, it might do. At the very least, you girls would be able to mingle in society and perhaps meet some amiable gentlemen, without whispers of this affair following you everywhere. You’ll gain some town bronze, and if you find no one to your liking, there’s still next year in London.”

“Sounds like an excellent idea,” Gregory said. “And one that seems more likely to get my spinster sisters off my hands than inviting the censure of the ton this Season, as our intemperate Temper proposes.”

“But most of the ton hostesses know we were supposed to be presented this year,” Temperance argued. “I don’t want them to think I’m a coward—or that I’m ashamed of Mama! It’s not her bad behavior that precipitated this.”

“Do you want to make it worse for your mother?” Aunt Gussie asked sharply. “Then, by all means, confront Society and aggravate a scandal not of her making into such infamy that you can never be respectably settled!”

When Temperance looked away, her defiant words subsiding in a dull flush, she continued more gently, “Your Mama would be the first to urge you to be prudent.”

“Dear Aunt Gussie, always offering sound counsel to keep me from doing something rash,” Temperance said with a laugh, her anger disappearing as quickly as it had arisen. “Very well, I may not attempt to breach the hostile walls of the ton this Season. But neither do I intend to languish in Bath. I’ll stay in London—discretely showing my support for Mama. Since I have no intention of ever marrying, what difference does it make to me? In the interim, if I promise to send him any treasures I uncover, perhaps I can persuade Papa to release some of the blunt he’s put away for the dowry I won’t need, and let me go adventuring in Europe.”

“But you, darling sis,” she said, turning back to Prudence, “should go to Bath. And I hope with all my heart you will find there what you are seeking.”

“You are adamant about remaining in London?” Aunt Gussie asked Temperance.

“Much as I will miss Pru, yes, I am.”

“I’d prefer if you could get Temper out of my hair, too, until this fracas dies down,” Gregory said to Aunt Gussie, ignoring the face Temperance made at him. “But if you can at least take Prudence out of harm’s way, I’ll appreciate it. So the two of you will pack up and leave for Bath as soon as possible?”

“We will. And hope to find her that agreeable gentleman,” Lady Stoneway said, with a fond look at Pru.

The very possibility helping her crushed hopes revive, Prudence said, “That would be wonderful!”

“Be careful what you wish for, dear sis,” Temperance warned.

 


Copyright © 2018 Julia Justiss

 

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