Tess Summerfield's life is changed forever when she's rescued from drowning by the mysterious Marc Glenville. Forced to shelter in a deserted cottage, she spends the night wrapped in his arms for warmth.
When they are discovered, the tongues of the ton start wagging, and Marc knows the only way to silence them is to marry Tess. But his duties as a spy soon tear Marc away from the marriage bed. When they're at last reunited, can they rekindle the flame born from the ashes of scandal?
The Scandalous Summerfields
Disgrace is their middle name!
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February 1815Lincolnshire, England
The winter wind rattled the windowpanes of Summer-field House as Tess Summerfield answered her older sister's summons.
Come to the morning room immediately, her note said.
More bad news, Tess feared. It seemed lately that the only time Lorene summoned her and their youngest sister, Genna, to that parlour was to hear bad news.
The wind's wail seemed appropriately foreboding.
The morning room on its best sunny days filled with light, but this day it seemed awash in grey. Lorene stood ominously by the fireplace. Genna sat sulkily in a nearby chair.
'What is it, Lorene?' Tess asked.
Lorene had been acting oddly lately, leaving the house on unexplained errands and remaining away for hours.
Their father's sudden death two months ago had seemed the worst of circumstances, but shortly afterwards they'd also discovered that he'd depleted their dowries before he died. Next, the distant cousin who was to inherit their father's title and property made it very clear he had no intention of providing for them. After all, everyone believed the scandalous Summerfield sisters were really not Sum-merfields at all. Rumour always had it that each had been sired by a different lover.
Before their mother ran off with one, that was.
This heir to their father's baronetcy also made it clear he wished to take possession of the entailed property as soon as possible and that meant the sisters must vacate the house, their home for all their lives.
What more could happen to them?
'Please sit,' Lorene said, her lovely face lined with stress.
Tess exchanged a glance with Genna and sat as instructed.
Lorene paced in front of them. 'I know we all have been worried over what would become of us'
Worry was too mild a term. Tess expected they would be split apart, forced to take positions as governesses or lady's companions, if they should be so lucky as to find such positions, given the family's reputation.
'II have come upon a solution.' Lorene sent them each a worried look.
If it was a solution, why did she appear so worried? 'What is it, Lorene?'
Lorene wrung her hands. 'II discovered a way to restore your dowries. A way to make you eligible again.'
It would take a sizeable dowry to erase the scandal that had dogged them their whole lives. If their mother's abandonment were not enough, there was also their father's scandal. Even before their mother left, he'd brought his bastard son home to rear. Of course, Tess and her sisters loved Edmund; he was their brother, after all, even if his presence generated more talk.
'What nonsense,' Genna grumbled. 'Nothing makes us eligible. Our mother had too many lovers. That is why we look nothing alike.'
That was not entirely true. They all had high foreheads and thin faces, even if Lorene was dark-haired with brown eyes, Genna was blue-eyed and blonde, and Tess was somewhere in between, with chestnut hair and hazel eyes.
Like their mother, Tess was told, although she did not remember precisely what her mother looked like.
A thought occurred to her. 'Lorene, do not say that you found our mother. Is she restoring our dowries?'
Tess had been only nine when their mother left.
Lorene looked surprised. 'Our mother? No. No. That is not it.'
'What is it, then?' Genna asked testily. Lorene stopped pacing and faced them both. 'I have married.'
'Married!' Tess rose from her chair. 'Married!' 'You cannot have married,' Genna protested. 'There were no bans.'
'It was by special licence.'
No. Impossible! Lorene would never have kept such a big secret from Tess. They shared every confidencealmost.
'Who?' she asked, trying not to feel hurt. Lorene's voice dropped to a whisper. 'Lord Tinmore.' 'Lord Tinmore?' Tess and Genna exclaimed in unison. 'The recluse?' Tess asked.
Since the deaths of his wife and son years before, Lord Tinmore had secluded himself on his nearby estate in Lincolnshire, not too distant from their village of Yardney. Tess could not think of a time Lorene could have met the man, let alone be courted by him. No one saw Lord Tin-more.
'He must be eighty years old!' cried Genna.
Lorene lifted her chin. 'He is only seventy-six.' 'Seventy-six. So much better.' Genna spoke with sarcasm.
Her adored older sister married to an ancient recluse? This was too much to bear. 'Why, Lorene? Why would you do such a thing?'
Lorene's eyes flashed. 'I did it for you, Tess. For both of you. Lord Tinmore promised to provide you with dowries and host you for a Season in London. He will even send Edmund the funds to purchase an advancement in the army and the means to support its expenses. He is a fine man.'
She married this man so they could have dowries? And Edmund, advancement?
'I never asked you for a dowry,' Genna said. 'And Edmund can earn advancement on his own.'
'You know he cannot, now that the war is over,' Lorene shot back. 'He does not have enough as it is. It costs him money to be an officer, you know.'
Genna shook her head. 'Did our dowries not provide Edmund enough?'
Their father had used the last of their dowry money to purchase the lieutenancy for Edmund.
Lorene leaped to Edmund's defence. 'Edmund has no knowledge of that fact, Genna, and you are never to tell him. He would be sick about it if he knew. Besides, Papa intended to recoup the funds for our dowries. He assured me his latest investment would yield all we would need.'
Of course, it would most likely go the way all his too-good-to-be-true investments went. If it paid off now, which was unlikely, the money would go to the estate's heir. Their father's will provided only for their now nonexistent dowries.
But Lorene would say nothing bad about their father. Or about anyone. She believed the best of everyone. Even their mother. Lorene would insist that abandoning her daughters had been the right thing for their mother, because she'd run off with a man she truly loved.
What of the love a mother should have for her children? Tess wondered.
Now Lorene was making the same mistake as their parentsengaging in a loveless marriage.
She glared at Lorene. 'You cannot possibly love Lord Tinmore.'
'No, I do not love him,' Lorene admitted. 'But that is beside the point.'
'Beside what point?' Tess shot back. 'Did you learn nothing from our parents? You will be miserable. You will make him miserable.'
'I will not.' Lorene straightened her spine. 'I promised I would devote my life to making him happy and I intend to keep my promise.'
'But what of you?' Tess asked.
Lorene averted her gaze. 'I could not think of what else to do. What would become of you and Genna if I did nothing?' Her question required no answer. They all knew what fate had been in store for them.
'Well, you did not have to fall on your sword for us,' Genna said.
'I thought about it a great deal,' Lorene went on, seemingly ignoring Genna's comment. 'It made sense. If I had done nothing, we all would have faced dismal lives. By marrying Lord Tinmore, you and Edmund have hope. With good dowries you can marry as you wish. You will not be desperate.'
What Lorene meant was that she, Genna and even Edmund could now marry for love. They could avoid the unhappiness of their parents and still have security. They had a chance for a happy life and all it had cost Lorene was her own chance for happiness. A chance for love.
God help her, Tess felt a tiny spark of hope. If she had a dowry, Mr Welton could court her.
She turned her face away. How awful of her! To be glad for Lorene's sacrifice.
She composed herself again. 'How did you accomplish it, Lorene? How did you even meet him?'
'I went to him. I asked him to marry me and he agreed.'
Without telling her sister, the person closest to her? 'Without a courtship?'
Lorene gave Tess an exasperated look. 'What need was there for a courtship? We settled matters in a few meetings and Lord Tinmore arranged for a special licence. When his man of business procured the licence for him, the vicar of his church married us in his parlour.'
'You could have invited us,' Genna chided.
Genna was hurt, as well, obviously.
Lorene swung around to her. 'You would have tried to stop me.'
'Yes. I would have done that.' Genna spoke firmly.
The wind gusted and the windowpanes banged. Would Tess have tried to stop Lorene? She did not know.
The clouds that cast a pall on them parted and light peeked through.
They were saved. Lorene had saved them.
By sacrificing herself.
A mere two weeks later Tess Summerfield lounged on the bed in one of the many bedchambers of Tinmore Hall. This room had been given to Genna who stood behind an easel, facing the window. Lorene again paced nervously back and forth, which seemed to be her new habit.
'It is a lovely house party, is it not?' Lorene asked, looking hopefully at each of them. 'Lovely!' Tess agreed eagerly.
So much had changed so very quickly. Two days after Lorene announced her marriage, they moved out of the only home they'd ever known, taking with them no more than a trunk of belongings each. Now Lord Tinmore had invited several guests in a hastily arranged house party to introduce his new bride to his closest society friends. In another month or so they would travel to London for a whirlwind of dress fittings and hat shopping in order to show them off to best advantage when the Season began. Lorene's marriage was still a shock, but Tess could not help but be excited about what lay ahead.
She was also deeply, deeply grateful to Loreneas well as feeling guilty.
Genna was not grateful, however. She remained as surly as the day Lorene had told them her secret.
'It is lovely, isn't it, Genna?' Tess, too, reeled from the loss of their home, but she was determined to show Lo-rene her support.
Genna threw her paintbrush into its jug of water and spun around. 'I hate the house party. I hate everything about it.'
'Genna!' Tess scolded.
Lorene made a placating gesture. 'It is all right. Let her speak her mind.'
Genna's face flushed. 'I cannot bear that you married that manthat old manfor money. His guests call you a fortune hunter and they are correct.'
'That is enough, Genna!' Tess cried. 'Especially because Lorene did it for us.'
'I did not ask for it.' Genna turned to Lorene. 'I would never have asked it of you. Ever.'
'No one asked me.' Lorene went to her and placed her hand on Genna's arm. 'Besides, the earl is a good man. Look what he has done for us already.'
He'd given them a new home at Tinmore Hall. He'd had them fitted for new dresses by the village seamstress. He was in the process of arranging dowries for her and for Genna and an allowance for Edmund whose regiment was somewhere on the Continent.
Tess sat up. 'It was a brave sacrifice. Don't you see that, Genna? We have a chance now. Lord Tinmore will provide us with respectable dowries. We're going to have a London Season where we can meet many eligible young men.'
Mr Welton would be in London. He'd said he would be there for the Season. Tess wanted so much to tell him of her changed circumstances.
Lorene squeezed Genna's arm. 'You will be able to have a choice of young men. You won't have to marry merely for a roof over your head and food in your mouth. You will be able to wait for a man you are able to truly esteem.'
'You can make a love match.' It was what Tess desired more than anything. That and to always be close to her sisters.
Lorene's tone turned earnest. 'I want you to have a love match, to have that sort of happiness.'
Tess was known as the practical sister. Sensible and resourceful. Would Lorene and Genna not be surprised to learn that she had a secret tendre for a man? To even think of him made her giddy with excitement.
Genna's face contorted as she faced Lorene. 'You married an ugly, smelly old man so that Tess, Edmund and I could marry for love. Bravo, Lorene. We're supposed to be happy knowing that because of us you must share his bed.'
Lorene blanched and her voice deepened. 'That part of it is not for you to speak of. Ever. That is my private affair and mine alone. Do you hear?'
'What about your life, Lorene? What about your choices? Your love match?' Genna's voice turned shrill.
Lorene put a hand to her forehead. 'I did make a choice. I chose to do this. For you. And Lord Tinmore has been good enough to provide you with this lovely room, with your paints and paper. He's ordered us each a new wardrobe and soon he will take us all to London for even more finery'
Genna broke in. 'And what must you do in return, Lo-rene?'
Lorene glared at her. She straightened and turned towards the door. 'I must go now. I must see that everything is in order for our guests. I expect you to behave properly in front of them, Genna.'
'I know how to behave properly,' Genna snapped, still recalcitrant. 'Did Papa not teach us to never behave like our mother?'
Lorene shot her one more scathingand, Tess thoughtpained look and left the room.
Tess leaped off the bed. 'Genna, how could you? That was terrible to say. About about sharing Lord Tinmore's bed.' And about their mother.
Genna folded her arms across her chest. 'Well, it is what we think about, is it not? What she must do for him? Because of us?'
Tess felt a pang of guilt.
She took it out on Genna, walking over to her and shaking her. 'We cannot speak of it! It hurts her. You saw that.'
Genna pulled away, but looked chagrined.
Tess went on. 'We must make the best of this, for her sake. She's done us an enormous service at great sacrifice. She has given us a gift beyond measure. We are free to choose who we want to marry.' She thought of Mr Welton. 'We must not make her feel bad for it.'
'Oh, very well.' Genna turned back to her watercolour. 'But what are we to say when we hear the guests speak of her marrying Lord Tinmore for his money? Are we to say, "Yes, that is it exactly. She married him for his money and his title. Just like our mother did our father"?'
That was another truth best left unspoken.
'We pretend we do not hear anything.' Tess spoke firmly. 'We act as if Lorene's marriage to Lord Tinmore is a love match and that we are delighted for them both.'
'Hmmph. A love match between a beautiful young woman and a very old, smelly man.' Genna stabbed at her painting. 'And what do we say when they accuse us of exploiting Lord Tinmore, as well?'
'Us?' Tess blinked. 'Has anyone said that?'
Genna shrugged. 'Not to my face. Yet. So tell me what I ought to say when they do.'
Tess had not considered that possibility, but it made sense. In a way, she, Genna and Edmund stood to gain more from Lord Tinmore's money than Lorene. His money would open possibilities for them, possibilities that filled Tess with joy.
Until guilt stabbed at her again. 'We simply act grateful for everything he does for us, because we are grateful, are we not?'
Genna made a false smile. 'Very grateful.'
Genna bore watching. She was entirely too impetuous and plain speaking for her own good.
Tess changed the subject. 'I do not think Lord Tinmore has anything planned for us until dinner.'
The guests, all closer to his age than to his bride's, were in need of rest after travelling to Lincolnshire the day before. Tess supposed they had accepted the first invitation to Tinmore Hall in thirty years because they wanted to see what sort of woman caused Lord Tinmore to finally open his doors.