Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal

Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal

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by Jayne Fresina
     
 

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Picture perfect Lady Mercy is about to discover that some mistakes are worth repeating

Lady Mercy likes her life neat and tidy. But things start to get messy when her best friend abandons her fiancé at the altar, leaving it up to Mercy to help the couple. There's just one problem. The jilted man is Rafe Hartley— Mercy's former

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Overview

Picture perfect Lady Mercy is about to discover that some mistakes are worth repeating

Lady Mercy likes her life neat and tidy. But things start to get messy when her best friend abandons her fiancé at the altar, leaving it up to Mercy to help the couple. There's just one problem. The jilted man is Rafe Hartley— Mercy's former husband. Rafe has not forgiven Mercy for deserting him when they were seventeen. Their hasty marriage was declared void by law, but in his eyes she's still his wife. And Mercy "Silky Drawers" Danforthe still owes him a wedding night.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fresina returns to the 19th-century English village of Sydney Dovedale a dozen years after the events of The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne. Lady Mercy Danforthe and Rafe Hartley are all grown up now and totally over an infatuation that once led them to a three-hour marriage. “Lady Bossy-Breeches” dodges her easily managed, 40-year-old fiancé to attend Rafe’s marriage to her lady’s maid and friend, Molly. After Molly leaves Rafe at the altar, he blames the blameless Mercy. Naturally Mercy and Rafe return to old habits of bickering and thinking passionate thoughts, and it’s only a matter of time until the collapse of Mercy’s neurotic, Emma-like attempts to control everyone around her and maintain her well-ordered existence. Clever storytelling, strong wit, and eccentric villagers almost make the book, but arguments and lust simply don’t add up to love. (June)
From the Publisher
"[Jayne Fresina] story is fast-paced, her characters clearly written and funny! The woman writes the best dialogue I've seen in years." - KirkusReviews.com

"Fresina pens another sexy, fun tale-complete with her trademark wit, humor and delightful characters. 4 Stars" - RT Book Reviews

"Very light and fun, a total joy to read." - 3 Chicks After Dark

"Silly, endearing and fun..." - Long and Short Reviews

"Very light and fun, a total joy to read. " - 3 Chicks After Dark

"A witty bombshell of sexual tension..." - Doing Some Reading

"A whimsical read." - What I'm Reading

"A humorous, sexy historical romance. From the very first line, readers will be drawn into this story. " - Romance Junkies

"An amusing tale... " - Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

"Fresina has a knack for Regency England and her knowledge of the period is remarkable. " - Debbie's Book Bag

"Once the story starting picking up momentum, the characters really started to shine." - Smart Bitches Trashy Books

"This is a fun, light and entertaining read, with great dialogue and smart characters." - My Written Romance

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402266034
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Publication date:
06/04/2013
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
715,691
Product dimensions:
4.38(w) x 6.72(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

London, January 1835

"I have only one use for an overly proud cock." The old woman's black lace veil billowed with a gusty sigh. "Stewed in a pot with burgundy wine and butter. So you may put aside your pride and male vanity, Hartley. I've sent more strutting cockerels to the ax than I care to count."

In almost twenty-five years of life, Rafe Hartley had known several stubborn wenches and even met one or two who thought themselves fearless. Until they encountered him. But this one was a different matter. She could not be moved by either his charm or his temper-both of which he'd been told were considerable, reckless, and mostly the cause of his troubles.

This woman remained unaffected, impenetrable. His most fearsome scowl caused not the merest tremble of that lace veil; his deepest growl apparently fell upon closed ears. Inside that small frame, he concluded, she had nerves of steel.

"Lady Blunt, I could not take a farthing," he exclaimed. "I will not. I earn my own coin and do not look for charity."

Once again a drift of exhaled determination fluttered against the black lace veil. "This is not charity, young man." She spoke with a soft, steady voice. "This is repayment for the service you performed for my little dog, and for the company with which you have cheered a decrepit, old lady's spirits." A velvet purse dangled from a loop of ribbon around her finger. "Take it and put it to good use."

It saddened him that she expected to pay for his time. Her first few visits to his rooms had been mildly inconvenient and suffered by him out of respect for her advanced years, but he'd begun to anticipate them with a certain degree of pleasure. He never met her anywhere except here, in his lodgings, and she always wore her thick lace veil. It was almost, he mused, like a confessional. And so he unburdened his soul to a comfortable stranger and felt markedly better after each visit, his thoughts slowly untangling.

With a stiff rustle of black taffeta, Lady Blunt hitched forward in the chair, one hand curled around the silver head of her walking cane, the other still outstretched with its offering. Her breathing was labored, as if the effort of reaching, and even the weight of the purse, was too much for her. "I am a childless widow. How am I to spend my fortune before the Grim Reaper takes me? At my time of life, one can enjoy few vices."

"But surely, madam-"

"All I have are my beloved dog-which you saved from certain death under the wheels of the mail coach-and my man, Edward." She gestured with an impatient flick of her cane toward the tall, spare fellow lurking in the shadowy corner. "Edward, come here at once and tell this prideful whippersnapper to take my money before I am forced to lose my ladylike composure."

Sometimes, when she got that imperious tone in her voice, Rafe was reminded of another woman he once knew; but that thought passed quickly, no more than a dangerous spark that spat from the fire to be crushed and smothered beneath his boot.

In response to her command, the servant ambled forward with a slanting, bemused glance at his mistress. "You would not like the lady in a temper, sir," he muttered dourly. Rafe tried not to smile, never sure whether stern-faced Edward meant to be amusing or not.

"Think of it as an endowment," she added. "Or...a prize purse, if you will."

He looked down at his scarred knuckles. When the old lady came to his lodgings, he made an effort to hide his hands, but he knew she'd seen. She'd alluded to the boxing fights in which he participated for money, although how she'd found out about them he had no idea.

She sat before him in her black widow's weeds, a figure frail in appearance-deceptively so, as he now knew-her face almost completely obscured by that veil. He saw she wore spectacles, for when she moved her head, candlelight caught on the round glass lenses. Her face, or what he could see of it through the swirls of lace, was very white, in severe contrast to the black costume. Her slate-gray hair was piled atop her head in a style from the previous century, with a few be-ribboned tails straggling over one shoulder.

"And you should know, young sir, that I have purchased your fighting contract. You belong now to me."

Startled, he looked from her to Edward and back again. "Why would...what would a lady want with a boxer?"

Rafe fought for his landlord-a sly, greedy manipulator named Catchpole-to pay off a friend's rent debt. He couldn't imagine Catchpole ever giving up his contract to another. If it was true, Lady Blunt had paid a high price. Rafe eyed her warily. What did she want with him?

She must have seen his expression. Abruptly she laughed. "I don't want you to fight for me or perform any other...service. Since you belong to me now, you'll do as I say. Go home to the country and make peace with your father. Heal the rift. Facing your problems is the answer. Running away from them is not."

For a long moment he wrestled with his pride.

Home. For many years he'd considered himself a wayfarer, a boy never fully belonging anywhere. But there was one place he thought of as home-a little village where he'd lived for a while with his uncle and aunt. Sydney Dovedale, a pastoral haven in the Norfolk countryside, two days' travel from London. When he closed his eyes he saw the patchwork of plowed fields as he remembered them. He heard again the soft chorus of wood pigeons and could almost smell the fresh, sweet air-so different from that of London.

"I have my own earnings, madam. Enough to get me home."

"But you will take this purse for the journey," she croaked, "and pour me another glass of that wine, you ninny."

So he finally accepted the purse. "I swear I'll pay it back with interest."

"As you see fit," she said. "We can make some arrangement later, when you are settled."

But he had another problem of which Lady Blunt was unaware. Rafe had taken on the responsibility of caring for a small family-the wife and children of his debt-ridden friend, Pyke, who currently resided in the Fleet Prison. He couldn't leave Pyke's family alone and unprotected in London, but he told none of this to the old lady. Already he'd burdened her with his problems. Why burden her with those of the luckless Pyke too?

She now used the tip of her walking cane to straighten his hearth rug and artfully flip a stray coal back over the grate. Those spectacles must give her damn good aim, he mused.

"It's time you settled down, Hartley. Marry that poor girl you mentioned-Molly, is it not? You've kept her waiting long enough. A handsome, healthy specimen should not live alone. Your cockerel goes to waste, I'm sure, on tawdry women of lapsed virtue. Think of my money as a wedding gift. Go home, invest your earnings in a bank, and marry that girl, Molly. She'll put you to better use."

Cheerful at the thought of going home, he decided to tease her. "Unless you'd accept me instead, madam." He gave her a wink. "I know I'd do you the world of good."

She chuckled at his bawdy humor. Lifting her cane, she tapped it smartly on his knee. "Knave! If I were a hundred years younger, I might be tempted to take you in hand."

"I should like to have known you when you were young, Lady Blunt. I suspect you were quite something to know."

For a moment he thought he'd spoken amiss, overstepped a boundary. Her demeanor stiffened. Those small gloved fingers spread, flexed, and tightened around the head of her cane. "Alas...we were born too far apart." An unusually pensive pause followed, interrupted by another coal falling in the hob grate. Then she added sternly, "'Twas doubtless for the best, scoundrel."

Rafe bounced up to fetch the wine jug. It was only cheap wine, but she didn't seem to mind. She always said it was not the drink that mattered but the company with which one shared it.

Behind him he heard Edward intone somberly, "One must not get carried away. Remember, ma'am, you are expected elsewhere."

Thus, his guest reluctantly dismissed the idea of more wine. As she rose from her chair, Rafe attempted to help her but was quickly shouldered aside by her manservant, who shielded the old lady's body from Rafe as if one touch of his might make her shatter.

"I must take my leave of you, young man. I have an appointment with my mantuamaker."

Rafe bowed. "Good evening, your ladyship. And thank you."

She replied as she did at the end of every visit, "Behave yourself."

He rushed around them to open the door and watched as Edward carefully steered his slow-moving mistress out into the shabby hall. Usually there would be nothing more said, but today she hobbled around to face him again-moving so suddenly and unexpectedly that she swiped poor Edward on the leg with her cane. In a grand gesture, she held out her gloved hand.

It took a moment for Rafe to understand what she expected. Then he grasped her fragile fingers, bowed over them, and planted a quick peck to the soft leather.

She was an eccentric old dear-a fact proven not only by her desire to give money to a stranger and her penchant for ribald conversation, but by the hint of a frivolous, blood-red petticoat visible under the hem of her black gown.

***

"That went exceedingly well, did it not?" She stepped up into the hired fly, and Edward followed, dropping heavily onto the seat beside her.

"Yes, my lady. Although I think the hand-kiss went a little beyond." He rubbed his shin where she'd hit him with her cane.

"Really? It felt right in that moment. There was a spark... I fear I could not help myself, which is most unusual for me." Tugging her veil aside with impatient fingers, she reached up to scratch under her powdered wig and knocked it slightly askew. "I believe there are fleas in his lodgings, Edward."

"I should not be surprised." He passed her a large linen handkerchief and gingerly retrieved the cane from her lap. "I'll just relieve you of this, my lady, before any further damage-"

"The sooner he puts his stubborn pride aside and goes home to his father, the better." With a few wipes of the cloth, she removed the thick white paste from her cheeks. "He needs a good kick in the breeches."

"Like most young men these days."

She sighed, shaking her head. "I knew Rafe was not cut out for the law. He only ever wanted to work the land, but I suppose he put that aside and tried for his father's approval." Now the fool boy, having quit his studies and his post as a clerk in a barrister's office, stayed in London rather than face another bitter quarrel with his father. He'd turned to boxing, but under no circumstances could she let him continue fighting with his fists for a living. What if he scarred that fine face? Nor would she sit by and let him fall in with more unsavory company, develop worse habits, and form a taste for cheap wine. London was a treacherous pit for a generous-hearted but aimless young man with good looks and too much earthy charm for his own good. It was time he settled down.

But as they trotted along the darkened streets, her mood lifted, and she began to hum softly. At least she'd seen Rafe again, he was in good health and spirits, she had persuaded him to go home, and he still had not the slightest suspicion about her identity.

"I should like to have met you when you were young. I suspect you were quite something."

Little did he know he shared his wine and his hearth with a ghost from his past.

"Oh, and, my lady," said Edward, "I think scarlet ruffles might not have been the most appropriate of choices."

She glanced down at the hem of her petticoat, now clearly visible under the black taffeta as she swung her feet. "Well, of course I had to wear some color," she exclaimed. "For pity's sake, Edward Hobbs, you are my solicitor. Reserve your advice for matters of the law, not fashion."

He gave her one of his bleakly despairing looks, as if a crimson petticoat might indeed be a crime of some sort, and then adjusted the collar of his coat against the brisk chill that whipped through the open window.

"One can hardly expect you to understand, because you're a man. Naturally, you have no sense of style."

"I'm sure you are right, my lady, as always."

Smiling to herself, humming her jolly tune, she looked out on her side of the street and considered Mr. Rafael Hartley with more warmth than he deserved. Almost from the very first time they met, she knew it would be her duty to save that man. Not that he was ever grateful. The Brat he used to call her when he was considerably smaller than he was now.

Nevertheless, she'd vowed to straighten out his life, even if it killed her. Which it probably would.

And never knowing what she'd done for him, he would probably dance upon her grave.

Well, in her case, it would be the family vault, of course, but dancing upon a family vault would require the foresight to bring a ladder for climbing up, and Rafe never planned ahead. It would also demand a high level of balance and coordination-neither of which Rafe Hartley possessed when dancing. Curiously, he had both when swinging his fists in a boxing match, so she'd heard. But she knew, firsthand, that his dancing left much to be desired.

Far safer to think of him dancing on a grave.

"Which reminds me," she announced, "I ought to write out specific instructions for my burial. I have just the outfit in mind, and if I left such things to you and my brother, who knows what atrocity my corpse would be dressed in."

The solicitor turned his head to inspect her in some bemusement. "Fortunately, we have time enough to worry."

"Always plan ahead, Edward. Be prepared for any eventuality."

"In addition to the fact that you are two and twenty, your health is of the rude variety."

"But this fly could overturn and kill us both." She shook her head. "Our lives snuffed out as speedily as a candle flame."

"A cheering thought, my lady."

"And who will manage things when I am gone?"

He had no response to that, and she had not meant for there to be any. It was purely a rhetorical question. No one managed things so well as Lady Mercy Danforthe. Everyone knew it and, should they ever forget, she was quick to remind them.

"It looks like snow," she observed grimly. "I do hope, if the fly is overturned, we are killed outright. Otherwise we could be buried alive under a snowdrift and die slowly, in dreadful agony, frozen to our very bones."

"Might I observe, my lady, as I have before, that you possess a tendency to find one small thought and let it expand with many others until it no longer resembles any form of reality? Fact is too often replaced with fiction."

"And your point, Edward?"

"I rather fear that is just what you have done again," he observed tranquilly. "In fact, there are seldom snowdrifts in London, my lady."

"Even worse! The horse and driver will be unaccustomed to the circumstance should we encounter one."

Edward burrowed deeper into his collar, like a turtle. "If your brother ever finds out about this mission of yours and that you have acquired possession of a six-foot prizefighter, we shan't have to worry about a slow, painful death," he muttered. "I believe it will come swiftly for both of us."

"Six foot four and fourteen stone."

She did not have to see Edward's eyebrows to know they arched upward, like two caterpillars taking shelter under the brim of his hat. "I stand corrected, my lady. Again."

"Still," she added jauntily, returning to her previous thought, "at least if I am to die in the snow tonight, I shall be discovered in my splendid new petticoat." With that pleasing point to mitigate the tragedy of her inevitable demise, she settled back to enjoy the ride.

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