Little Scandalby Patricia Cabot
When beautiful Kate Mayhew is hired as chaperone to Burke Traherne's headstrong daughter Isabel, the Marquis finds himself in an impossible predicament. Torn between the knowledge that she is exactly what Isabel needs but also, for him, the worst possible temptation, he finds himself in constant proximity with someone who threatens his independence. Known for his… See more details below
When beautiful Kate Mayhew is hired as chaperone to Burke Traherne's headstrong daughter Isabel, the Marquis finds himself in an impossible predicament. Torn between the knowledge that she is exactly what Isabel needs but also, for him, the worst possible temptation, he finds himself in constant proximity with someone who threatens his independence. Known for his steely self-control since the day he caught his wife with a lover, Burke has vowed never to risk marriage again.
In accepting his lordship's offer of employment, the feisty Kate faces two perils; her wild attraction to a man who has sworn off love, and a date with her own scandalous past...which she cannot keep secret forever.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.28(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.92(d)
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A Little Scandal
London April 1870
"I'm not going." She twisted in his grasp. "I told you before. Let go of me!"
He was tired of reasoning with her. Sometimes it seemed to him that all he'd been doing these past seventeen years was reason with her.
"You're going," he said, his deep voice nothing more than a menacing growl. So menacing, in fact, that the footman straightened up beside the chaise-and-four, and looked everywhere but in his master's direction.
"I won't," she cried. Again; she gave the wrist he held a jerk. She'd grown slippery as a cat lately, and it was all he could do to keep his hold on her slender, silk-clad arm. "I said let go of me."
He heaved a sigh. So this was how it was to go. Oh, well. He ought to have known. Everything had pointed to it. An hour earlier, when he'd been retying his cravat in the looking glassDuncan was an exemplary valet, it was true, but he was getting on in years, and had become quite intractable in his ways, so that subtle changes in men's fashion now only served to irritate him. He continued to tie the knot in his employer's cravat in the exact same manner that he had for over twenty years, thus forcing Burke to resort secretly to undoing his valet's work and retying it himselfMiss Pitt had burstinto his sitting room, quite unannounced, and in a state of considerable agitation.
"My lord," the old woman had cried. Quite literally cried. There were tears streaming down her corpulent cheeks. "She is impossible! Impossible, do you hear? No oneno onecould be expected to put up with that kind of abuse ... ."
Here the woman had pressed a shaking hand to her mouth and fled the room. Burke hadn't been completely certain, but it had seemed that Miss Pitt had just given her notice. With a sigh, he'd begun undoing his cravat. There was no sense in looking his best now. He would not, as he'd originally planned, be enjoying the company of the inimitable Sara Woodhart that evening. No, now he would be escorting Isabel, in the unfortunate Miss Pitt's stead, to Lady Peagrove's cotillion.
Damn it all to hell.
Now the minx was writhing in his grasp, actually attempting to bite himyes, bite himin order to loosen his hold. He sincerely hoped none of the neighbors were watching. It was getting to be damned embarrassing, these public displays of temper. It had been different only a few years ago, when she'd been youngerand smallerbut now ...
Well, now he found himself longing, more often than not, for a pipe and the comfort of the fire in his library.
Yes, even more than he longed for the company of the estimable Mrs. Woodhart.
Good Lord! How repulsive! Could it possibly be true? Was he getting old? Duncan had told him so, on more than one occasion. Not in so many words, of course. A good valet never implied that his master was in anything but his prime. But just the other morning, the fellow had had the nerve to lay out a flannel waistcoat, of all things. Flannel! As if Burke were approaching fifty-seven, and not a still relatively youthful thirty-seven. As if he were infirmed, and not the prime physical specimen he knew himself to bethat many of the most attractive women in London, including the discriminating Mrs. Woodhart, had assured him he was. Duncan had learned a sharp lesson that day, that was certain.
Just as Isabel would learn one now. He was not going tobe trifled with. Particularly not since it was for her own good, in the end.
"And I"he bent down, and with the ease of long practice, threw her bodily over his shoulder, as if she were a sack of wheat"said that you're going."
Isabel let out a shriek so shrill it seemed to pierce the thick yellow fog that had fallen like a curtain across Park Laneacross all of London, most likely, knowing his luck. It would be hours before they managed to wind their way through the traffic, backed up because of the fog, to the Peagroves' door. It was all he needed, really, this thick, smothering fog, on top of Isabel's hysterics. The only thing he needed more, perhaps, was a bullet in the brain. Or maybe a blade to the heart.
And a moment later, it appeared his second wish was about to be granted. Only instead of a blade, the interloper, who'd appeared from the fog as if from nowhere, was pointing the tip of an umbrella in the general direction of his heart.
Or where his heart would have been if, as Isabel was insisting at the top of her lungs, he happened to own one, which, according to her, he did not.
"I beg your pardon, madam," Burke said to the umbrella's ownerquite calmly, too, he flattered himself, for a man with a reputation of being so very hot-blooded. "But would you mind lowering that thing? It is impeding my progress toward that carriage waiting there."
"One more step," the umbrella's owner said, in a surprisingly hard voice, for a creature so ... well, puny, "and I shall seriously endanger your hopes of siring an heir."
Burke glanced at his footman. Was it his imagination, or was he being accosted on his very own doorstepand on Park Lane, of all places, the most exclusive street in all of Londonby a perfect stranger? Worse, a perfect stranger who happened to be a young woman ... exactly the sort of young woman whom Burke so assiduously avoided at social gatherings.
Well, and who could blame him? It always rather alarmed him when, in the middle of a conversation with one of these i were not, truth be told, generally very scintillatingconversationalists in the first placethe girl's heavily jeweled mamma swooped down suddenly from out of nowhere, and politely but firmly steered her little darling away from him.
Yet here there was no jeweled mamma. This young woman was quite alone. Quite absurdly alone, and on a night as gloomy as any he'd come across in a good long time. Where was her chaperone? Surely such a very young woman ought to have a chaperone, if only to keep her from threatening gentlemen with the business end of her umbrella, as appeared to be her habit.
What was he to do? If she'd been a man, Burke would merely have struck him down, stepped over the limp body, and been on his way. If necessary, he'd even have called the fellow out, and taken great pleasure, in his current mood, in putting a bullet through his head.
But she wasn't a man. She was even a bit on the smallish side for being a woman. He supposed he could have lifted her out of the way, and easily, too, but laying hands upon any woman, particularly one of the youthful variety, had a tendency to cause all sorts of trouble. What was he supposed to do?
Perry, whom Burke made the mistake of looking to for aid, wasn't the slightest help. He too was staring at the young woman, his already slightly protuberant eyes bulging to their very limitsnot, of course, at the sight of the umbrella tip waving in his master's direction, but at the sight of the young woman's very slim ankles, quite plainly observable beneath the hem of her skirt, which had hiked up a little in the front when she'd assumed her fencer's stance.
Stupid boy. Burke would see that he was sacked upon the morrow.
"Put her down," the young woman said. "At once."
"Now, see here," Burke found himself saying, in a tone that was far more reasonable than he felt. "Don't go jabbing that thing at me. I'll have you know that I happen to be"
"I don't give a whit who you happen to be," the young woman interrupted, and very smartly, indeed. "You will putthat girl down, and count yourself lucky I don't call for the constable. Though I'm not at all certain I shan't. I've never seen anything so disgraceful in all my life, a man of your advanced years taking advantage of a girl who can't be half your age."
"Taking advantage!" Burke nearly dropped his burden at that point, he was so surprised. "Of all the impertinent suggestions! Do you honestly think"
To his horror, Isabel, who had grown suspiciously silent since the approach of this umbrella-wielding termagant, lifted her cloaked head and said, in a plaintive voice quite unlike her usual self-assured tones, "Oh, please help me, miss. He's hurting me dreadfully!"
The umbrella tip pressed upon his lapel, the metal point pricking the flesh just above his heart. Now the young woman did not bother addressing Burke at all, but turned her head and said to his footman, "Don't just stand there, you ignorant boob. Run and fetch the magistrate."
Perry's jaw dropped. Burke watched irritably as his footman's face contorted as he struggled with himself, torn between his loyalty to his employer and his desire to obey the girl with the very commanding voice.
"B-but," the idiot boy stammered. "He'll sack me, miss, if I do"
"Sack you?" The girl's already ridiculously large grey eyes widened with outrage. "And you'd prefer a sacking, would you, as opposed to being jailed as an accomplice to abduction and intimidation?"
Perry wailed, "No, miss, but"
Here Isabel could restrain herself no longer. Burke could feel her quivering against his shoulder. Even the whalebone stays of her corset couldn't suppress the violent spasms of her belly as she burst out laughing.
Only, of course, to the girl with the sharp-ended umbrella, the laughter sounded like sobs. He saw the pale face, framed by a bonnet that had at one time probably been quite expensive, but was now several seasons out of fashion, tighten withanger, and then she drew back her arm, intent, he didn't doubt, on skewering him bodily with her umbrella.
That, he decided, was the last straw.
"Now, see here," he said, swinging Isabel from his shoulder and setting her, not very gently, upon her own two feet beside him. He kept a firm hold on her wrist, howeverhe was no foolto keep her from slipping off into the night, a recent trick of hers. "Although I haven't the slightest idea how it is that I come to be slandered so rudelyand at my own doorstep, no lessI ask that you allow me to assure you that this situation is, in every way, respectable. This young woman happens to be my daughter."
The umbrella did not waver. Not even an inch.
"A likely story," its owner said woodenly.
Burke looked around for something to throw. He truly felt as if he might suffer an apoplexy. Really, what had he ever done to deserve this? All he'd wantedall he'd ever wantedwas to get Isabel married off to a decent fellow who wouldn't beat her or squander the money Burke had settled on her, leaving him freeat lastto spend a pleasant evening alone with an agreeable woman like Sara Woodhart. Or a book. Yes, even a book by a nice, roaring fire. Was that so much to ask?
Apparently so, as long as there were umbrella-wielding madwomen roaming the streets of London.
Perry, perhaps for the first time in his stupid life, opened his mouth and actually said something helpful. And that was: "Um, miss? Shethe young ladyis his daughter."
Isabel, who'd been struggling to suppress a fit of the giggles since Burke had set her down, could do so no longer, and now let loose a peal of laughter that likely was heard all up and down the street.
"Oh," she cried gaily. "I am sorry! But it was so rich, your threatening Papa with your umbrella. I couldn't help myself."
The umbrella wavered. Just slightly, but noticeably.
"If he is your father"beneath a fringe of dark blond hair, slim eyebrows knit in bewilderment"then why, in heaven's name, were you shrieking so?"
"Oh, la!" Isabel rolled her eyes as if the answer were obvious."Because he insists upon me attending the Peagroves' cotillion."
To Burke's utter astonishment, the young womanthis perfect stranger, this lunaticaccepted that statement as if it were completely understandable. Burke watched, thunderstruck, as the umbrella lowered from his heart, until the tip struck the ground.
"Good Lord," the woman said. "You can't possibly go there."
Isabel reached out and tugged upon Burke's coat sleeve, rather more forcefully than playfully. "You see, Papa?" she said. "I told you so."
Burke was absolutely certain now that he was going to succumb to an apoplexy. He did not understand what was happening at all. Just seconds ago, the young woman in front of him had been threatening to go for the police. Now she was calmly discussing social engagements with his daughter, as if the two of them were sharing a gossip in a milliner's shop, and not standing in the middle of Park Lane at nine o'clock in the evening on the foggiest spring night he could remember.
"It's a crush," the young woman was assuring his daughter. "Lady Peagrove invites twice as many people as can possibly fit into her house. It's a nightmare just getting anywhere near the place. And no one who actually matters attends it. Hangers-on and country cousins, is all."
"I knew it." Isabel stamped a daintily slippered foot. It made no noise whatsoever on the soft pile of the carpet Perry had rolled out to keep her train from collecting mud as she climbed into the carriage. "I told him that. But he won't listen to me."
Burke, aware that he was being spoken about as if he were not even standing there, began to feel more annoyed than ever.
"He'll only listen to Miss Pitt," Isabel went on. "And Miss Pitt had some absurd notion that Peagroves' was the place to go."
"Who is Miss Pitt?" the stranger had the audacity to inquire.
And before Burke could say a word, Isabel was replying,"Oh, she was my chaperone. Until she gave notice an hour ago, anyway."
"Chaperone? Why in heaven's name must you be saddled with a chaperone?"
"If you must know," Burke replied acidly, "it's because her mother is dead. Now, if you'll excuse us, madam"
"La!" Isabel said. "That isn't it at all, Papa." To the stranger, she confided, "Mama is dead, but the truth is, he hires chaperones for me because he can't be bothered to take me anywhere. He wants to spend all his time with Mrs. Woodhart"
Burke's grip on Isabel's arm tightened. "Perry," he said. "The door, please."
The footman, who'd been listening to the conversation with more wide-eyed attention than he'd ever paid to any of Burke's instructions, jumped at being so suddenly addressed, and stammered, "M-my lord?"
Burke wondered if it would be considered brutish of him to deliver a swift kick to the back of Perry's trousers. He decided it would.
"The door," he growled. "To the carriage. Open it. Now."
The hapless footman hastened to obey his master's orders. Meanwhile, to Burke's utter fury, Isabel was still chattering away.
"Oh," she was saying, "I kept telling them Dame Ashforth's was the place, but would they listen to me? Not a bit. It wasn't any wonder I had to be rude to Miss Pitt. I mean, if no one will listen to you"
"Oh, is Dame Ashforth's ball tonight?" The young woman was leaning nonchalantly against her umbrella handle now, as if it were a croquet mallet, and they were all standing on a summer lawn, enjoying a friendly game. "Well, that's it, then. You simply can't miss Dame Ashforth's."
"Yes, but it's all a plot, you see, to keep me away from the man I love"
"Into the carriage," Burke interrupted stonily. He was proud of himself. He hadn't yet booted her into the vehicle, which had been his first impulse. He was learning to control his temper.Lord knew it had been sorely tempted, these past few weeks. But he was keeping it in check. If they could just escape this talkative young woman and her umbrella without any blood being shed, he would be well pleased.
"But Papa." Isabel looked up at him, round-eyed. "I thought you heard the lady. The Peagroves' cotillion is simply not"
"Get in the carriage!" Burke roared.
Isabel staggered back a step, but he was too quick for her. He caught her up and tossed herbut gently; even the shrew with the umbrella would have to admit he did it very gently, indeedinto the chaise-and-four. As soon as the last bit of her train had disappeared into the confines of the vehicle, he turned and said, to the very astonished young lady standing on the street, "Good evening."
And then he too disappeared into the carriage, barking at the driver to get a move on, which he did, right smartly.
Isabel, recovering herself, said, from the opposite seat, "Really, Papa. There was no call to be so rude!"
"Rude!" He let out a humorless laugh. "I like that! And I suppose it was out of sheer politeness that a total stranger pointed her umbrella at me and threatened to fetch the police, as if I were some sort of escaped convict."
"She wasn't a total stranger," Isabel said, as she arranged the yards of white satin that made up her skirt. "She's Miss Mayhew. I've seen her before, out and about."
"Good God." Burke stared at his daughter in astonishment. "That creature lives on Park Lane? I don't know any Mayhews. To whom does she belong?"
"To the Sledges. She's governess to all of those wretched little boys."
"Oh," Burke said, somewhat mollified. No wonder he hadn't recognized her. Well, that was one thing to be grateful for: the woman was only a servant, and wouldn't go prattling around the neighborhood about the fact that Burke Traherne, third Marquis of Wingate, had no control whatsoever over his headstrong daughter.
Or at least, if she did, no one who mattered was likely to listen.
Then he asked, with some indignation, "If you've seen her before, why the devil didn't she know you're my daughter? Why did she think I was about to despoil you?"
"She's only just started working there," Isabel said, tugging on her gloves. "Besides, when would she ever. have seen you before? Certainly not at church, considering how often you make it to bed before dawn of a Saturday night."
Burke glared at her in the light from the carriage oil lamp. It didn't seem to him that a man's daughter ought to speak to him in such a familiar manner. This is what came, he supposed, of having married so young. His father had warned him. And his father hadn't been wrong. Other menolder men, who, unlike him, had waited until they were past twenty before marryinghad daughters who didn't speak to them so flippantly. Or at least, Burke supposed they didn't. He didn't happen to have that many acquaintances, thanks to his somewhat checkered past, and the reputation that came along with it.
But he supposed that if he had had male friends, and they'd happened to have daughters, their daughters would be docile and dainty things, like the daughter he'd always imagined he'd have, instead of this unmanageable creature who'd emerged from the expensive ladies' seminary she'd attended up until a month and a half ago, and had been speaking to him so uncivilly across the dinner table ever since.
"Isabel," he said, as evenly as he could. "What did you do to Miss Pitt?"
Isabel studied the ceiling of the carriage very deliberately. "If the carriage pulls up in front of the Peagroves, I shall run away. I'm warning you right now."
"Isabel," he said again, with what he considered admirable patience. "Miss Pitt is the fifth chaperone I've hired for you in as many weeks. Would you like to tell me what you found so objectionable about her? She came very highly recommended. Lady Chittenhouse says"
"Lady Chittenhouse," Isabel said, her disgust evident."What does she know? None of her daughters ever needed chaperones. No man in his right mind would ever go near any of 'em. I've never seen such dreadful complexions in my life. You would think they'd never heard of soap. It's a wonder any of them married at all."
"Lady Chittenhouse," Burke said, ignoring her, "wrote a very glowing letter of recommendation for Miss Pitt"
"Did she? And did she happen to mention in her letter that Miss Pitt, besides being fantastically boring, with her endless prattle about her precious nieces and nephews, has a tendency to spit when she speaks, particularly when she is attempting to correct what she calls my wild ways? Did she happen to mention that?"
"If you found Miss Pitt so offensive," Burke said, as gently as he could, considering the fact that he longed to throttle her, "why didn't you come to me and ask me to hire someone else?"
"Because I knew you'd only find someone worse." Isabel peered out the window at the mist-shrouded street. "You know, if you'd only let me interview the candidates"
Burke couldn't help smiling at her elaborately casual tone. "And who would you consider a suitable chaperone, Isabel? Someone like that Miss Mayhew back there, I wouldn't doubt."
"What's wrong with Miss Mayhew?" Isabel demanded. "She's a spot less disagreeable to look at than that horrid old Miss Pitt."
"You don't need someone agreeable to look at," Burke growled. "You need someone stern, to keep you from running after that wretched Saunders fellow"
The minute the words were out of his mouth, he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Suddenly, a storm erupted on the seat opposite his.
"Geoffrey isn't wretched!" Isabel cried. "Which you would know, Papa, if you'd only take a moment to get to know him"
Burke rolled his eyes, and turned his own gaze toward the window. Unfortunately, they had already become stuck in traffic,and the carriage was now being besieged by flower and ribbon sellers, beggars and prostitutes ... the usual riffraff one encountered on the streets of London of an evening. The glass was up in the windows, so no one reached in, but Burke could see their hands plainly enough, empty palms lifted toward them, dirty, chafed from work and hardship. He could not restrain a sigh. This was not, by any means, how he'd envisioned spending his evening. He'd planned, by this time, to be in his box at the theater. Now he'd be lucky if he made it to the stage door before Sara slipped through it, into the usual throng that gathered there nightly, to pay homage to her unequaled talent ... .
Or so she liked to think. Burke knew good and well what they were there paying homage to, and Sara Woodhart's talent had very little to do with it.
"I don't need to get to know Mr. Saunders, Isabel," Burke said, with more equanimity than he was feeling at that moment. "You see, I'm fully acquainted with all the particulars concerning that gentleman, and I can only say that the day that jackanapes darkens our doorway is the day he tastes lead."
"Papa!" Isabel sucked in her breath on a sob. "If only you'd listen"
"I've been listening to you drivel on about Geoffrey Saunders for as long as I care to," Burke said. "You're not to mention his name in my presence again." There. That sounded very forthright and forbidding, the way fathers were supposed to sound. "And now we'll be going to the Peagroves', since I happen to know that Mr. Saunders has not been invited there."
Isabel let out another sob, this one much louder than the last, and said, in the tones of the tragically wounded, "You mean you'll be going to the Peagroves'! I'm going to Dame Ashforth's!"
And before Burke knew what she was about, Isabel had thrown herself upon the carriage door, flinging it open and hurling herself through it with a dramatic flair even the unparalleled Sara Woodhart might have envied.
Burke, finding himself suddenly alone in the chaise-and-four,sighed. God preserve him from young women in love. This was really not how he'd planned on spending his evening.
He tugged on his top hat and heaved himself out the still-open door, and into the teeming street after his child.
Copyright © 2000 by Patricia Cabot.
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