"Sweet love scenes...make this a fun, entertaining read." RT Book Reviews on Beauty in Breeches
Castonbury Park: Scandalous Whispers: The Wicked Lord Montague\The Housemaid's Scandalous Secretby Carole Mortimer, Helen Dickson
The Wicked Lord MontagueLord Giles Montague has always lived his life just the way he wantsfighting on the battlefields and fighting off the ladies of London's ton. But the notorious Montague is now the heir to Castonbury Park, forcing his reluctant return to the family estate.Since growing up with the Montagues, Miss Lily Seagrove has known that/b>… See more details below
The Wicked Lord MontagueLord Giles Montague has always lived his life just the way he wantsfighting on the battlefields and fighting off the ladies of London's ton. But the notorious Montague is now the heir to Castonbury Park, forcing his reluctant return to the family estate.Since growing up with the Montagues, Miss Lily Seagrove has known that Giles is arrogant, rude and infuriatingly handsome. But she's of Gypsy heritage, and although Lily might be able to get under his battle-scarred skin, can she dare to dream of becoming lady of the manor?The Housemaid's Scandalous SecretReturning to Castonbury Park is just another job for Colonel Ross Montague. With his family in disarray, he promises to do his utmost to see decorum restored once more. Until he's sidetracked by the beguiling eyes of Castonbury's newest maidLisette.When neither can deny their blazing desire, all society's rules are discarded. In a house where gossip is rife, Lisette must try her best to keep her salacious liaison a secret or risk losing her job and her heart.
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Castonbury Park, Derbyshire, April 1816
'His Grace seems much better today, Lily, thank you for asking,' Mrs Stratton, the widowed housekeeper at Castonbury Park, assured Lily warmly as she led the way through to her private parlour situated at the back of the grand mansion house that had long been the seat of the Dukes of Rothermere. 'His Grace's valet informed me only this morning that the advent of a late spring appears to be having an advantageous effect upon the duke's spirits.' She glanced approvingly at the sun shining in through the window.
Lily wondered if it was the advent of spring which had succeeded in reviving the grief-stricken Duke of Rothermere, or the possible return of Lord Giles Montague. His homecoming was in response to the letter Lily's father said the duke had written to his son four days ago, in which he had demanded that Giles Montague return home and take up his duties as his heir. Sadly, Lord James Montague, previously the eldest son and heir of the Montague family, had died in Spain during the campaign against Napoleon. It had been a devastating blow to the long-widowed Duke of Rothermere, further exacerbated ten months ago by the death of Lord Edward, the duke's youngest son.
Being the daughter of the local vicar, and an adopted daughter at that, had put Lily in the unique position of making friends both above and below stairs at Castonbury Park, and she was friends with the two daughters of the household, Lady Phaedra and Lady Kate. But it was the late Lord Edward Montague who had been her dearest and most beloved friend. The two of them had been of an age where they had played together about the estate as children, and remained good friends as they had grown too old to play and had instead turned their attention to dancing together at the local assemblies.
Indeed, their friendship had been of such warmth and duration that Lily had been deeply shocked when Edward had succeeded in persuading his father into buying him a commission in the army a year ago, so that he might join his brother Giles in his regiment. She couldn't bear that Edward had died in that last bloody battle at Waterloo, his life coming to an abrupt end at the point of a French bayonet in only his nineteenth year.
Not Giles, the brother who was eight years older than Edward, and who had been the inspiration for Edward's desire to gain a commission in the army.
'Thank you, Agnes.' Mrs Stratton nodded approval as the maid brought in the tray of tea things.
Lily waited until she had departed before continuing the conversation. 'I have always thought this room to have a particularly lovely view of the gardens.'
'Why, thank you, Lily.' Mrs Stratton's already ample chest puffed out with pleasure as she poured their tea. 'His Grace has always been very generous in regard to the comfort of his servants.'
'I am sure his kindness is only commensurate with the care and devotion all of you have shown towards him and his family for so many years.' Lily sat forward slightly so that she might take her cup of tea from the older woman.
It was now four long days since Mr Seagrove, Lily's adoptive father, and vicar of the parish of Castonburyand a particular friend of His Gracehad returned from dining at Castonbury Park to confide in Lily concerning the letter the duke had written to his son Giles in London, where that haughty gentleman had chosen to reside since resigning his commission in the army nine months ago.
It was a confidence which Lily had listened to with horror as she recalled the last occasion on which she and Giles Montague had spoken!
Having lived in a state of turmoil these past four days at the mere thought of Giles Montague's return, Lily had been unable to contain her restless anxiety another moment longer. She decided to walk the mile to Castonbury Park in order to pay a visit to the kindly Mrs Stratton, in the hope that the duke's housekeeper may have further news concerning the heir's return.
Presenting Mrs Stratton with a jar of Mrs Jeffries's legendary gooseberry jam on her arrivaleveryone in the parish knew that the gooseberries in Mr Seagrove's garden were far superior to any other in the districthad gone a long way towards paving the way to an invitation from Mrs Stratton for Lily to join her in her parlour for afternoon tea.
Not that Mrs Stratton was one for gossip. Her loyalty to the Montague family was beyond reproach. Nevertheless, Lily hoped there would be some way in which she might steer the conversation in the direction in which she wished it would go. 'It must be somewhat lonely here for His Grace since most of the family travelled down to London for the Season?' she prompted lightly.
'Perhaps.' The housekeeper frowned a little.
Lily sipped her tea. 'Did none of them think to stay behind and keep His Grace company?'
'I believe Mrs Landes-Fraser had intended on doing so, but Lady Kate was called away on other business, and her aunt decided it prudent to accompany her.'
Lily smiled affectionately as she guessed that the eldest of the two Montague sisters, having pooh-poohed the idea of attending the London Season, was no doubt now off on another of her crusades to help the underprivileged and needy, and that her maternal aunt, Mrs Wilhelmina Landes-Fraser, had accompanied her in order to ensure she did not stray too far from the bounds of propriety.
Mrs Stratton offered Lily one of the meringues made by the duke's French chef. 'Besides which, I believe His Grace is more settled in his manner when he is not troubled by the rush and bustle of the younger members of the family hurrying here, there and everywhere.'
Lily bit back her frustration with this unhelpful reply as she carefully helped herself to one of the delicacies. 'Perhaps there will soon be news of Lord Giles returning.?'
'None that I am aware of.' The older woman looked puzzled. 'I must say that I do not completely understand his continued absence, given the circumstances.'
'No,' Lily prompted softly.
Indeed, she had never understood Edward's excess of affection for his brother Giles. He was a gentleman whom Lily had never found particular reason to like in the past, but for over a year now, she was ashamed to admit, she had detested him almost to the point of hatred!
Mrs Stratton gave a slightly exasperated shake of her grey head. 'And he was such an endearing scamp as a child too. I find it hard to believe' She broke off distractedly, not one to give, or condone, any criticism of a single member of the Montague family to whom she had long devoted her time and emotions, the more so since her own son did not visit as often as she might have wished.
Lily had discovered this past year that she was not so generous of nature in regard to Lord Giles Montague. Indeed, she found it hard even to begin to imagine him as anything other than the disdainful and arrogant gentleman who, the last time they had spoken together, had so wilfully and deliberately insulted both her and the possible lowly origins of her forebears. The mere thought of his ever being 'an endearing scamp,' even as a child, seemed positively ludicrous to her!
The eight years' difference in their ages had meant that Lord Giles had already been away at boarding school by the time Lily was old enough to be allowed to play further afield than the vicarage garden, and he had not always returned home in the holidays either, often choosing to spend those times staying at the home of a friend. The occasions when he had come home for the holidays he had scornfully declined to spend any of his time with children he considered should still be in the nursery, and upon reflection, Lily had come to believe that he had only suffered Edward's company because of the young boy's obvious hero-worship of his older brother.
A hero-worship Lily firmly believed to have succeeded in bringing about Edward's early demise.
The fact that Mrs Stratton had obviously received no instructions in regard to airing Lord Giles Montague's rooms for his imminent arrival did, however, seem to be a confirmation of his continued absence. It enabled Lily to relax for the first time in days as she devoured the delicious meringue with gusto. She had always been naturally slender, and besides, this news of Lord Gilesor lack of it!was surely reason enough for celebration on her part.
She did feel a slight pang of guilt on behalf of the Duke of Rothermere, but ultimately believed that he, and everyone else at Castonbury Park, and the surrounding village, were far better off without the oppressive presence of Lord Giles Montague and his conceited arrogance.
Lily felt happier than she had for days as she walked back to the vicarage. She had removed and was swinging her bonnet in her gloved hand, allowing the sun to warm her ebony curls as she strolled through the dappled glade, which she invariably used as a shortcut onto the road leading back to the village.
Spring was indeed here; the sun was shining, the wildflowers were in bloom, the birds were singing in the branches of trees unfurling their leaves after the long winter. Indeed, it was the sort of pleasant early evening when one was assured of God's existence and it felt good just to be alive and in His
'Well, well, well, if it is not Miss Seagrove once again trespassing on the Rothermere estate!'
The sun disappeared behind a cloud, the wildflowers lost their lustre and the birds ceased singing as they instead took flight from the treetops at the sound of a human voice. At the same time, the colour drained from Lily's cheeks and her heart began pounding loudly in her chest, her shoulders having stiffened defensively in instant recognition of that hatefully mocking voice. A voice which undoubtedly belonged to none other than the utterly despicable Lord Giles Montague!
'I do not remember you as being this accommodatingly silent during the last occasion on which we spoke together, Miss Seagrove. Can it be that "the cat has finally got your tongue"?'
Lily drew in one, two, three steadying breaths, as she prepared to turn and face her nemesis; all of her earlier feelings of well-being had flown away with the birds in the face of the shocking reality that Giles Montague was returned to Cas-tonbury Park, after all.
In the end it was the impatient snorting of that gentleman's horse which caused Lily to turn sharply, only to come face to face with the huge, glistening black and wild-eyed animal as it seemed to look down the long length of its nose at her with the same scornful disdain as its rider.
Lily took an involuntary step back before chancing a glance up at the owner of that horse, her breath catching in her throat as the late-afternoon sun shone behind the imposing and wide-shouldered figure of Lord Giles Montague, and succeeding in casting his face into shadow beneath the brim of his tall hat.
Not that Lily needed to see that arrogantly mocking face clearly to know what he looked like; each and every one of those dark and saturnine features was etched into her memory! Cold grey eyes beneath heavy brows, a long and aristocratic nose, hard and chiselled cheeks, the wide slash of his mouth invariably thinned with scorn or disdain, the strength of his jaw tilted at a haughty angle.
She moistened her lips before choosing to answer his initial challenge rather than the second. 'It is impossible to do anything other than walk in the grounds of Castonbury Park when one has been visiting at the house, my lord.'
'Indeed?' he drawled in a bored tone, holding his skittish mount in check without apparent effort. 'And whom, might one ask, can you have been "visiting" at Castonbury Park, when most of my family are away or in London at present?'
Lily's cheeks flushed at the derision in his tone. 'I came to deliver some of last year's jam to Mrs Stratton from our own cook,' she revealed reluctantly.
'Ah.' He nodded that arrogant head, a contemptuous smile curving his lips, no doubt at the knowledge that Lily had been visiting below stairs rather than above.
Now that she could see Lord Giles's face better Lily realised that there was, after all, something slightly different about him than the last time she had seen him. 'You appear to have a smudge of dirt upon your jaw, my lord,' she told him with a feeling of inner satisfaction at his appearing less than his usual pristine self.
He made no effort to raise a hand to remove the mark. 'I believe, if you were to look a little closer, you would find that it is a bruise, and not dirt,' he dismissed in a bored voice.
Lily's brows rose. 'You have taken a tumble from your horse?' It seemed an even more unlikely explanation than the dirt, as Edward had told her years ago that the duke had placed all of his sons up on a horse before they could even walk, and Lord Giles's years in the army would only have honed his already excellent horsemanship.
'Not that it is any of your business, but I chanced to walk into a fist several days ago,' he drawled in cool dismissal. 'Mr Seagrove is well, I trust?'
Lily would much rather have heard more about the 'fist' he had 'chanced to walk into' than discuss her adoptive father's health, which had never been anything but robust. 'My father is very well, thank you, my lord,' she assured huskily, still staring curiously at the bruise upon his jaw. 'How did you?'
'Please pass along my respects to him when next you see him.' Lord Giles nodded distantly.
Obviously the subject of that 'fist' was not for further discussion, which only increased Lily's curiosity as to who would have dared lay a fist upon the aristocratic jaw of Lord Giles Montague. Whoever he might have been, Lily knew a desire to shake the gentleman by that very same hand! 'Certainly, my lord.' Her tone was dry at the obvious omission of any of those respects being paid towards her; Giles Montague had not so much as raised his tall hat in her presence, let alone offered her polite words of greeting!
Because, as they were both only too well aware, there could be no politeness between the two of them after the frankness of their last conversation together. Not now. Or in the future. Lily disliked Giles Montague with a passion she could neither hide nor disguise, and he made no effort to hide the contempt with which he regarded her and her questionable forebears.
'You have come home to visit with your father, my lord?' She offered a challenge of her own.
Those grey eyes narrowed. 'So it would appear.'
Lily raised dark brows at his challenging tone. 'And I am sure His Grace will be gratified to know you at last feel able to spare him time, from what I am sure has been your busy life in London, these past months.'
Giles's expression remained unchanged at this less than subtle rebuke. A rebuke which told him all too clearly that Miss Lily Seagrove had heard something at least of his rakish behaviour in London these past nine months. 'If I had known you were counting the days of my absence perhaps I would have returned sooner.?'
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