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The Lady Who Broke the Rules
Anticipating her wedding vows and then breaking off the engagement has left Kate Montague's social status in tatters. She hides her shame behind a resolute facade, but one thing really grates: for a fallen woman, she knows shockingly little about passion.
Could Virgil Jackson be the man to teach her? He's a freed slave turned successful businessman, and his striking good looks and compelling strength prove too much for Kate to resist. She has already scandalized society, but succumbing to her craving for Virgil would damage her status beyond repair .
Lady of Shame
Lady Claire is notorious for the wild persona of her youth, but she must set it aside if she ever hopes to find a suitable match. Swapping rebellion for reserve, Claire returns to her imposing childhood home, Castonbury Park, seeking her family's help.
But when the dark gaze of head chef Monsieur Andre catches her eye, he seems as deliciously tempting as the food he prepares. Claire knows he's most unsuitable, even if the chemistry between them is magnetic. Risking her fragile reputation for Andre would be shamefulbut losing him could be even worse.
About the Author
Ann Lethbridge majored in history and business. She always loved the glamorous, if rather risky, Georgians and in particular the Regency era as drawn by Georgette Heyer. It was that love that prompted her to write her first Regency novel in 2000. She found she enjoyed it so much she just couldn’t stop! Ann gave up a career in university administration to focus on her first love, writing novels and lives in Canada with her family. Visit her website at: www.annlethbridge.com
Read an Excerpt
Maer Hall, Staffordshire, 1816
'Kate! So glad you could make it.' Sarah Wedgwood pushed her way through the crowd to greet her friend. 'I was afraid you were still in the Lake District.'
Lady Katherine Montague grimaced. 'No, I returned a couple of weeks ago, just in time for my cousin Araminta's wedding.'
'I heard that your other cousin, Ross, ran off with a ladies' maid,' Sarah said sotto voce, eyes agog as she led Kate to a quiet corner of the room. 'Surely that cannot be true?'
'We don't actually know what happened. When my Aunt Wilhelmina discovered that Ross's intentions towards the girl were honourable, she rather lost the rag with the poor soul and sent her packing. Ross was furioushe headed hotfoot after her, and frankly we have no idea where they are now. Wherever it is, I do most sincerely hope they are married, for it seemed to me that Ross was quite besotted, and of course,' Kate said with a mischievous smile, 'to discover that her meddling has had the exact opposite effect of what she intended will make my dear aunt furious. She can talk of nothing but nourishing vipers in her bosom, and my fatheractually, I'm not sure that Papa takes in anything much these days, since Edward and Jamie '
Kate broke off, the familiar lump in her throat preventing her from continuing. Though it had been more than a year since Ned died at Waterloo, longer since Jamie had disappeared, the loss of her brothers still felt unreal. Both were buried in the distant lands where they fell. She wondered sometimes if that was itwith nothing to mark their passing, she could believe that they were still abroad, fighting. At times, she could wholly understand her father's desire to live in the past. Though Jamie had always been too much the duke-in-waiting for her to do anything other than spar with him, she had loved Ned.
'Sorry,' she said to Sarah. 'Things at home have become rather horribly complicated. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that your invitation for tonight was most welcome, though my aunt was furious at my accepting it. But I could not deny myself such an opportunity. Where is your guest of honour, I do not see him here?'
'That is my fault, I fear,' Josiah Wedgwood, son of the famous potter and the owner of Maer Hall, interrupted. 'Mr Jackson was with me at the Etruria works, and I did not notice the time. He is changing for dinner, but he should not be long. How are you, Lady Katherine? It is very good to see you.' Josiah bent low over Kate's hand. 'Our Mr Jackson made his fortune in American stoneware, you know, and we plan to do some business together, but I will not bore you with the details, my dear. Tell me how the duke does?'
'Bearing up. He sends his regards,' Kate said, a bare-faced lie, for her ailing father was not even aware that she was here in Staffordshire, and would never have thought of sending his regards to a man he would consider to be a tradesman. 'Never mind Papa, tell me about Mr Jackson. I cannot tell you how excited I am about meeting him. What is he like?'
'See for yourself,' Sarah replied, nudging her arm in a most unladylike manner. 'Here he is now.'
As the double doors at the end of the Great Hall were closed by the Wedgwoods' head footman, a ripple of excitement fluttered through the assembled guests. All eyes turned towards the man making his way down the room. Whispers, like the ruffle of a spring breeze playing on new leaves, rose to a murmur of anticipation. Silks rustled as the ladies of the company vied surreptitiously to be the first to greet him. Gentlemen edged closer to their host with the same intention.
The focus of all this attention seemed oblivious. He was tall, which was the first thing which struck Kate. And he was exceedingly well-built too, with muscles straining at the cloth of his coat, though he carried himself with the grace of a predator. There was about him something fierce, an aura of power, of sheer masculine force which should have repelled her but which Kate recognised, with a frisson of awareness, was actually fatally attractive. In every sense, Mr Jackson was different from any man she had ever met.
As his host stepped forward to greet him, Virgil Jackson resisted the urge to pull his coat more closely around him. A huge fire blazed at the end of the long gallery, but the heat it emitted radiated out to a distance of a few feet only, before disappearing into the chilly air. The copious renovations which Josiah had explained to him in detail during the tour of the hall the day before had not extended to this great gallery, which was part of the original Jacobean building. Despite the tapestries and hangings, a permanent breeze seemed to flutter around the cavernous space. The English didn't seem to notice the cold, however. The ladies were all bare-shouldered, the rich silks and lace of their evening gowns low-cut, showing an expanse of bosom that in Boston would have been deemed shocking.
The starched collar of his shirt was chafing Virgil's neck. The gathering, which his host had described to him earlier as 'a few choice friends,' seemed to consist of at least thirty people dressed in their finest. He smiled and made his bow to a stream of faces it was not worth his while remembering, relieved that he'd had the sense to visit a London tailor upon arriving in England.
Though he had nothing to be ashamed of in the quality of his Boston-made clothes, there was no denying that they were behind the times compared to English fashions. The dark blue superfine tailcoat he wore tonight was fitted so tightly across his shoulders and chest that it was frankly a struggle to put on, but the tailor had assured him that this was how it should be. His knitted grey pantaloons seemed indecently tight, and a far stretch from the formal black silk breeches and stockings worn on such an occasion back home, but the valet he'd hiredmuch against his own inclinationshad assured him that in the country evening dress was reserved for balls. The man had been right. He had been damned finicky, fussing over the perfect placing of a pearl pin in the cravat Virgil had been forced to allow him to tie after his own third attempt ended in a crumpled heap with the others, but he'd been right, and though it irked him that it should be so, Virgil was grateful for this small mercy. In attire, at least, he was the same as every other male guest in the room.
Of course, in virtually every other sense he was quite different. Virgil suppressed a sigh. He was grateful for the effort that Josiah and his wife had made to welcome him into their home, but with business concluded, he would much rather have avoided this soiree and the collection of influential people Josiah had invited for the sole purpose of demonstrating their support for what they perceived to be a shared cause. So many variations of that famous abolitionist medallion created by Josiah's father were being brandished under his nosethe manacled slave cast in gold and silver worn as a bracelet, a necklace, a fob or a hair ornamentthat he could be in no doubt of their goodwill. But the people of Old England were as ignorant of one salient fact as those in New England. It was one thing to cut the chains of slavery, quite another to be free. No one in this room knew that better than he.
He was the only black person at the gathering. Since leaving London, Virgil felt as if he was the only black man in England. Being so distinctively different nibbled away at the edges of his hard-earned confidence. He felt as if he were constantly teetering on the precipice of some irrecoverable faux pas, for though his success made him accustomed to mix with the highest of Boston society, and the people in this room were rather politicians and businessmen than aristocrats, the rules seemed to be quite different. It was disconcerting, though he was damned if he'd allow anyone to see he found it so!
'Virgil, I would like you to meet our most esteemed neighbour and my sister Sarah's dear friend.'
'Surely not most esteemed, Josiah. That honour must go first to my father, and I have four older brothers whoI mean, two. I have just two older brothers now.'
The voice, slightly husky, lost its lightly ironic tone as the woman's smile faded. Josiah patted her bare shoulder. She flinched and tightened her jaw in response. 'Lady Katherine's youngest brother died fighting for his country at Waterloo,' Josiah said, oblivious of the fact that the sympathy he exuded was making his guest squirm, 'and her eldest brotherthe heir, you knowalso died fighting in Spain. It is quite tragic.'
'It is, however, of no interest to Mr Jackson, I am sure.'
Virgil, who had been about to offer his condolences, was rather taken aback by this brusque tone. Was she simply a very private person, or was she in some very English way slapping him down? Before he could make up his mind, a slim, gloved hand was held out towards him, confusing him even further, for ladies, whether old world or new, did not shake hands.
'I am Lady Katherine Montague. How do you do?'
His first impression of her was that she was rather severe. His next, that she had a clever face, with a wide brow, sharp cheekbones and a decided chin. Her eyes were her best feature. Neither blue nor grey, fringed with curling lashes, they seemed to tilt up at the corners like a cat's. Virgil took the proffered hand in his own, noting the way her gaze fell to the contrast of his dark skin on the white kid of her glove. 'My lady,' he said.
'Lady Katherine is the daughter of the Duke of Rother-mere,' Josiah Wedgwood said. 'Castonbury is the biggest estate in Derbyshire, and the Montagues are the oldest family in the county. You have heard of them, I'm sure. The duke ' He broke off in response to a summons from his wife. 'Ah, you will excuse me, I must go and seedinner, you know. Virgil, if you will escort Lady Katherine?'
A forbidding duke's daughter, who would cast her eagle aristocratic eye over his table manners. No doubt she expected him to eat with his fingers or, at the very least, use the wrong cutlery. As Josiah hurried over to join his wife, Virgil repressed another sigh. It was going to be a long night.
'Are you enjoying your visit to the Midlands, Mr Jackson?' Kate asked politely, wondering at the harassed look which flitted across his handsome face. 'Josiah was telling me that you are to go into business together.'
'Imported Wedgwood pottery will be subject to the new Protective Tariff which our government is introducing, putting it well beyond the means of your average American. We plan to introduce a new range, manufactured in my factories, which can fill a gap in the market for affordable luxury. Jo-siah's people are working on the design at the moment.'
Virgil Jackson's voice was a slow drawl, neither ironic nor lazy, certainly not languorous, but mesmerising. Though she was, like all the Montagues, above average height, Kate had to look up to meet his eyes. Almond-shaped and deep-set, they were an indefinable colour between tawny brown and gold. His hair was close-cropped, revealing a broad, intelligent brow. His lips were full, a sort of browny pink tone which she found herself wanting to touch. His skin was not really black, but closer to bronze? Chestnut? Coffee? None of those did it justice. Bitter chocolate, maybe?
Realising that she had been silent far too long, Kate rushed into speech. 'You will forgive me if I tell you that I find you far more interesting than tea sets,' she blurted out. 'I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at having the opportunity to meet you. I braved the wrath of my brother and my aunt to do so, you know, and my aunt is a most formidable woman.'
'To brave an aunt and a brother, your desire to meet me must have been strong indeed. I'm flattered, Lady Katherine.'
His teeth gleamed an impossible white. She supposed it must be the contrast with his skin. Despite his smile, his expression had a shuttered look, as if he had seen too much. Or perhaps it was simply that the habit of always being on his guard was so ingrained as to be impossible to overcome. Virgil Jackson was not a man who would trust easily. Or at all, Kate thought. She wondered what there was in his history to have made him so.
The fullness of his lips were a stark contrast to the hard planes of his face. She had not seen such sensual lips on a man before. The thought made her colour rise. She was not in the habit of having such thoughts. 'It is Kate, if you pleaseI hate Katherine. And as to being flatteredwhy, you must be perfectly well aware what an honour it is to meet you. Your achievements are little short of miraculous.'
All traces of his smile disappeared. 'For a black slave, you mean?'
Kate flinched. 'For any man, but perhaps especially for a black slave, though that is not how I would have put it.' She met his hard look with a measuring one. 'Every man and woman in this room is in awe of you.'
It was the truth, but he seemed quite unmoved by it. 'As they would be a performing bear, I suspect,' he replied.
Was he trying to intimidate her? On consideration, Kate thought the opposite. Unlikely as it seemed, given the kind of man he must be to have achieved so much, it appeared to her that he was actually trying not to be intimidated. 'We are all staring, I know, and it is very rude of us, but I doubt any of us has ever met an African before, let alone one with such an impressive story to tell. Our fascination is surely quite natural. Is it so very different in Boston?'
Virgil Jackson shrugged. 'Back home, it is not so much my colour as my success that makes people stare.'
'Unless the ladies of Boston are blind one and all, I doubt very much it is that alone,' Kate retorted. 'You must be perfectly well aware that you are an exceptionally good-looking man. Why, even my friend Sarah is sending you languishing looks, and believe me, Sarah is not a woman who is prone to languishing.'
What People are Saying About This
Kaye closes her brilliant Princes of the Desert trilogy, in which Regency Roses meet and fall in love with desert sheikhs. Book three is irresistible, with its fantastical kingdom, all-powerful prince and the allure of the forbidden. Sensual, ravishing and funny. A must for all lovers of sheikh romance."
-RT Book Reviews on The Governess and the Sheikh