The Lady Is Temptedby Cathy Maxwell
USA Today bestselling author Cathy Maxwell delivers another passionate romance wherein marriage is based on convenience not love, and only desire can get in the way.See more details below
USA Today bestselling author Cathy Maxwell delivers another passionate romance wherein marriage is based on convenience not love, and only desire can get in the way.
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The Lady Is Tempted
The Peak District
Deborah Percival should have been on her guard from the moment she had first received an invitation to Dame Alodia′s Spring Afternoon Soiree.
After all, although her sister was married to the dame′s favorite nephew, it had been years since she′d been included in their social circle. However, Deborah had been so pleased to be out of mourning and reinvolved in society, she′d forgotten how Dame Alodia adored using her soirees as an opportunity to arrange the world to her liking.
That is, she forgot until the dame singled her out.
"You′re mourning has passed, hasn′t it, Mrs. Percival?" The dame′s gravelly voice resounded in an unexpected lull in the conversation. She was a tall, rawboned woman with a ruddy complexion, gun metal gray hair, and a love of the color purple. Her pug, Milton, sat on her lap licking his nose.
The magpie chattering of gossip came to a halt. The twenty or so other women guests, the "acceptable" members of Peak District′s cloistered society, sat perched in ornate chairs set up in a circle in the center of the dame′s cavernous drawing room. They turned as one toward Deborah, their eyes bright with surprise...and interest.
Deborah shifted her cup and saucer from one hand to another. "Well, yes, Dame Alodia, I am three months out of mourning."
"Then isn′t it time you should be thinking about a new husband?" the formidable dowager said.
For a second, Deborah couldn′t breathe, let alone answer. Eleven years ago, shortly after her father′s untimely death and at exactly such a Spring Afternoon Soiree, Dame Alodia and the others had decided a too-young, too-naive Deborah should marry Mr. Richard Percival, a man almost thirty-three years her senior. He had been feuding with his adult children. He had asked for Deborah′s hand with the intention of starting a new family and putting their noses out of joint.
Like any sensible young woman, Deborah had shuddered at the thought of being wed to a man so much older, but the women of the Valley, these women, had insisted her duty was to marry in order to support her widowed stepmother and two half sisters.
Her duty. Deborah always did what was expected of her. Her overdeveloped sense of responsibility had been honed to a keen edge over the years, sharpened by the knowledge that, even all these years after her death, her mother was still considered an interloper. Some even considered her immoral. First, because she′d been French, and second, because she′d upset the village′s plans for their favored bachelor.
In turn, Deborah had learned early on she must walk the straight and narrow lest she be accused of her mother′s perceived sins.
Now, she glanced around the room. Every one of them waited, eager to hear her reply -- all, that is, save for her sister Rachel. Seated next to Deborah, she had acquired a sudden fascination in the curve of her teacup.
Since Mr. Percival′s death, Deborah had been forced to live with Rachel and her husband Henry. Her widow′s portion had been a pittance, which Henry found humiliating and a blow to the family pride. The fact Deborah worked harder than his wife and servants held no sway in the face of his resentment, and she couldn′t help wonder if Henry now played a part in his aunt Alodia′s questioning.
"Have you naught to say for yourself?" Dame Alodia demanded, with a haughty lift of her brows. She sniffed to the others. "I ask a question and don′t receive an answer. Do young women not use their ears anymore?"
Oh, Deborah had an answer: Ambushed by the Dowagers of Ilam. Again!
As her late husband would have said, double damn.
But she couldn′t speak in such a manner in front of the cream of Ilam society.
Instead, she cleared her throat self-consciously, and admitted, "I had not thought on the matter, ma′am."
"No thought on marriage?" Dame Alodia emphasized the last word to show her astonishment. "Every woman should be married."
Deborah could have pointed out that Dame Alodia was a widow and happy for it, but she bit her tongue. "It is still too soon--"
"Nonsense!" Dame Alodia interrupted. The purple ribbons and lace of her cap bobbed with her enthusiasm for her topic. "You′ve done your mourning. How old are you? Eight-and-twenty? Almost thirty? No longer in your prime breeding years and no children."
"No, no children," Mrs. Hemmings reiterated. She was Dame Alodia′s constant companion, a colorless, nondescript woman and a warning to Deborah of what might become of her. Life was not pleasant for a genteel woman forced to depend on the mercy of relatives.
"Actually, I′m seven-and-twenty," Deborah corrected, feeling hot color stain her cheeks. She did not like confrontation.
"Twenty-eight, seven-and-twenty, what difference?" Dame Alodia said with a dismissive wave. She picked Milton off her lap and unceremoniously handed him to Mrs. Hemmings. The dog growled at being moved from his comfortable position. "Take him out of the room for his walkie-walk, Hemmy," Dame Alodia ordered "while the rest of us talk sense into Mrs. Percival."′
"Yes, sense," Mrs. Hemmings echoed, and left the room.
As soon as the door shut, Dame Alodia came directly to the point. "Every woman needs a husband and children unless she is barren, and then she is not fit for a thing. Whatever your age, Mrs. Percival, you are not growing younger. Furthermore, those dark looks of yours are not in fashion. Blond hair and blue eyes, like your sisters have, is the style. Black hair and black eyes are too foreign-looking. Too Continental, and no one likes the Continent anymore. Not after the war."The Lady Is Tempted. Copyright © by Cathy Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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