A lady seeking scandal enlists the help of a man with nothing to lose in this daring Regency romance from the author of In the Barrister’s Bed.
Lady Isabel Cameron has little use for a husband. Her dream is to study art in Paris, but her father has engaged her to a waddling, bankrupt, domineering lord twice her age. When her childhood flame, Marcus Hawksley, reappears—handsome, single, and socially snubbed—Isabel devises the perfect escape. She will solicit Marcus’s assistance to destroy her reputation.
Thanks to his business as a stockbroker, Marcus has already felt the wrath of the ton, who deem his profession unacceptable. But he is no despoiler of innocent ladies—until by chance, Isabel’s improper advance leaves her the only witness against a lie that could truly ruin him. Faced with her father’s demands for marriage, Isabel and Marcus agree to a wedding of convenience—and six months’ tenure living as supposed husband and wife. But as the heat between them grows, what seemed a pretense becomes deliciously real . . .
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London, May 1814
"I've heard Lord Walling has depraved appetites in the bedroom."
Isabel Cameron's lips twitched at the words whispered into her ear by her close friend and fellow debutante, Charlotte Benning.
Isabel scanned the glittering ballroom, noting the magnificent chandeliers, the priceless artwork, and the crush of well-dressed people all vying amongst themselves for attention.
At Isabel's silence, Charlotte touched her arm. "What? Do not tell me that you of all people find such talk shocking?"
Isabel pushed a wayward dark curl off her shoulder and turned to Charlotte. "It's not the information that shocks me, but the thought of where you learned such private concerns regarding Lord Walling's bedroom antics. Have you been eavesdropping on your mother and her friends again?"
Charlotte chewed on her lower lip. "I cannot help myself. Those gossipers are an endless source of education."
Isabel glanced at Charlotte as her friend vigorously fanned her red cheeks. Charlotte was a petite, slender girl with a wealth of frizzy blond hair and round blue eyes.
Charlotte leaned close, covered her lips with her fan, and lowered her voice. "They even said Lord Walling pays a woman in Cheapside to indulge his fancy."
Isabel couldn't control her burst of laugher. "I pity the woman forced to endure his attentions, paid or not."
"Speaking of the man," Charlotte said. "Your soon-to-be betrothed waddles toward you as we speak."
Isabel's humor vanished, and she frowned. Lord Walling was indeed waddling. A portly man with fleshy jowls and a sagging stomach, he had strands of thinning hair, which he parted on the side and combed over a growing patch of shiny scalp. At fifty-three years of age, he was thirty-three years her senior.
"Can you imagine him intimate with a woman?" Charlotte asked.
Isabel's gut clenched tight.
Charlotte reached out and grasped her hand. "Dear Lord, what will you do if you cannot persuade your father against the match?"
Bloody hell! Isabel thought. What will I do?
"I've tried speaking with my father," Isabel whispered urgently. "He's unrelenting on the subject and insists that at my age I should be suitably settled. I've even attempted to dissuade Lord Walling of the notion that I would make a good wife, but to no avail. It's clear he is keenly interested in my family's reputation, title, and wealth. I'm afraid I have to take matters into my own hands."
"Oh dear," Charlotte said. "Not again, Isabel."
Lord Walling walked forward, directly toward her, nodding when she met his stare. His beady brown eyes reminded her of a ferret she had once seen at a country fair.
Walling bowed stiffly as he stood before Isabel and Charlotte. "Good evening, ladies. I trust you are enjoying Lady Holloway's ball."
"The evening is most entertaining, Lord Walling," Charlotte said.
He turned his attention to Isabel. "May I have the honor of the next dance, Lady Isabel?"
"I'm afraid I'm not feeling well tonight, Lord Walling, and would not be a suitable dance partner."
He looked at her in utter disbelief. "Oh? Your father told me that you had attended an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts just yesterday and that you were positively blooming."
"I found the art inspiring and must not have felt the effects of my illness until I arrived home."
"You shouldn't bother yourself with such artistic nonsense. A true lady, especially one of your age, should focus on domestic matters."
Charlotte took a quick sharp breath.
Isabel opened her mouth, then snapped it shut, stunned by his bluntness.
"My apologies, Lord Walling," Isabel said, finding her voice. "Perhaps another partner would be more willing."
"Should I tell your father to take you home, then?" he asked.
"No need to trouble yourself. My father is aware of my condition."
Lord Walling's lips thinned with irritation. "Nonsense. It is no trouble at all. I see the earl across the room, and we have much to discuss. I shall call upon you tomorrow then, Lady Isabel. I believe I have the earl's full approval on the matter," he said, a critical tone to his voice.
He bowed again and walked away.
"My goodness, Isabel. He's as persistent as a bloodhound during hunting season," Charlotte said.
"I fear he needs to marry for money. It's public knowledge that his country estate cannot sustain his spending habits. Even knowing this, my father is insisting upon the match."
At twenty, both Isabel and Charlotte were fourth-year debutantes on the marriage mart. One more season to go and they would be official spinsters of unmarriageable age. While Charlotte sought a love match, Isabel wanted nothing more than to escape the marital web and return to Paris to live with her eccentric aunt and study her only true love — painting watercolors.
"I must be more creative in my efforts to dissuade him."
"As your best friend, Isabel, I implore you, please exercise more discretion than the last time," Charlotte pled.
Isabel looked away, uncomfortable with her friend's beseeching gaze.
It was then that she saw him. Two gentlemen had just set foot in the ballroom; both stood tall and straight and were dark-haired. Both were meticulously dressed in breeches and form-fitting double-breasted jackets. But whereas one carried himself with a commanding air of self-importance associated with the nobility, the other was shrouded in an air of isolation and aloofness.
It was the second man who captured her attention, the only one she knew — Marcus Hawksley. A childhood memory brought a wry, twisted smile to her face.
His profile was rugged, somber, and vaguely familiar. He was far from delicately handsome and effeminate as many of the dandies of the ton. His face was granitelike and striking, and his strong features held a raw sensuality, a smoldering dangerousness, which captivated her attention, and which she suspected women would secretly find deliciously appealing.
Hawksley's face was bronzed and his eyes sinfully dark. His black curling hair was cut short and gleamed in the candlelight from the chandeliers above. He was tall and muscularly built. Even from across the room, Isabel could see the rich outline of his shoulders straining against the fabric of his jacket.
There was a restless energy about his movements as if he did not want to be in the ballroom with these people and wanted to depart as soon as his obligations of attendance were satisfied.
"Marcus Hawksley is here," Isabel blurted out. "I haven't seen him in years."
Charlotte shrugged. "That's because he hasn't been to a public event in years. He was quite the rogue in his youth. But then came the horrific scandal when he reformed and entered trade by becoming a stockbroker in the London Stock Exchange. Mother insists that trade is considered worse than the plague amongst the upper classes. Even his father, the Earl of Ardmore, and his older brother and heir, want nothing to do with him."
Isabel's lips puckered with disgust. It was just like the beau monde to overlook a gentleman's roguish behavior — his drinking, gambling, and womanizing — but consider it unforgivable when the same man reformed himself by becoming a successful businessman. Isabel had never paid much attention to the scandals, but Charlotte, whose mother was a close friend of Lady Jersey, one of the powerful patronesses of Almack's, was obsessed with gossip.
"Who is he with?" Isabel asked.
"Lord Ravenspear, the handsome earl whose wife, Victoria, is increasing with child."
"I wonder why Marcus is here tonight," Isabel said.
"Lady Holloway is his godmother. I suspect he has attended out of respect for her."
As if on cue, their hostess, Lady Holloway, approached the two gentlemen. Marcus bowed, and an easy smile played at the corners of his mouth. The smile was boyishly affectionate, softening his features, and it was clear he held Lady Holloway in high regard. He had the same look years ago when he had caught Isabel, an infatuated impetuous girl, filling his best riding boots with sand.
A sudden thought struck Isabel. "He caused a horrific scandal, you say? You are a genius, Charlotte!"
Charlotte's brows drew together. "Whatever do you mean?"
"I mean to gain my freedom."
Ignoring Charlotte's confused look, Isabel gathered her skirts and wove her way through the crowd.
The music from the orchestra grew louder as she walked, and couples whirled by in a colorful blur on the dance floor. Several older ladies glanced at her as she hurried past with a purpose — straight for Marcus Hawksley himself.
She came up to Marcus and Lord Ravenspear as Lady Holloway walked away to greet her other guests.
"Good evening, Mr. Hawksley. It has been quite some time since we have seen each other. Do you remember me?" Isabel asked.
Two pairs of eyes snapped to her face — Ravenspear's were deep blue; Marcus Hawksley's were dark and unfathomable.
One corner of Marcus's mouth twisted upward. "Lady Isabel Cameron. Of course I remember you. How many years has it been? Ten or more?"
Eight to be exact, she thought.
As an infatuated adolescent of twelve, she remembered him clearly. He had been a reckless rogue, a sworn bachelor at the age of twenty-two, and had been the object of her schoolgirl fantasies. Looking into his face now, there were no traces of the pleasure-seeking scoundrel.
Marcus Hawksley appeared severe and serious, and quite simply her savior if she played her cards right.
"It has been a while," she said.
"May I introduce Lord Ravenspear?" Marcus turned toward the earl.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Isabel," Ravenspear said.
Isabel raised her gaze to find Ravenspear watching her. His cobalt eyes sparkled with humor. Isabel could imagine what the earl was thinking — that a debutante approaching a bachelor without a chaperone or her father in a crowded ballroom was quite forward.
Good, Isabel thought. May all of the upper crust watch, especially Lord Walling.
"If you will excuse me, I see friends I'd like to speak with," Ravenspear said.
To Isabel's surprise, the earl gave a sly wink before departing.
She was left alone with Marcus. "Mr. Hawksley," she said, reaching out to touch his sleeve. "I'm afraid my request may sound forward, but I have not had a gentleman ask me to dance this evening. I cannot bear to be the talk of all the other debutantes here. Will you save me from such a fate?"
Marcus Hawksley's expression stilled and grew hard. His mercurial black eyes sharpened and blazed down into hers.
Her hand froze on his velvet jacket, and his muscles tensed under her fingertips. Heat emanated from his body, and he appeared as tightly coiled as a spring.
Suddenly, she was unsure of herself, of her outrageous behavior.
What if she had made a grave mistake? Had underestimated his reformation from rogue to serious businessman?
She took an abrupt step back, away from his tense, hard body, and made to turn on her heel. "Forgive me. I —"
He reached out and grasped her wrist.
"For old times' sake then," he murmured as he led her to the dance floor, leaving her no choice but to follow.
The orchestra had begun the waltz, and he swept her into his arms. It was the perfect dance for Isabel's intent. Known as the "forbidden" waltz because of the close contact of the dancers, she had a heightened awareness of their audience. As they started to dance, she wondered if he knew the steps since he hadn't been to any society functions in quite some time. But she needn't have worried for his tall frame moved with easy grace.
He looked down at her. "You realize that by dancing with me you may cause more gossip than by not dancing with any man the entire evening?"
She feigned innocence. "Whatever do you mean?"
"Don't pretend you don't know. There's a black mark on my name, Isabel."
A shiver of excitement ran down her spine. I'm counting on it, Marcus!
She was conscious of his hand touching hers, of his powerful body moving beside her, grazing her skirts. Her skin became increasingly warm, her breath short.
As they whirled across the floor, she glanced in the direction of her father and Lord Walling.
Her father appeared confused and agitated, and wiped at his brow with a handkerchief.
Walling looked furious, his fleshy face and neck mottled red.
Encouraged, she leaned lightly into Marcus, tilting her face toward his. "A black mark does not scare me, Mr. Hawksley. I'm old enough to know that society can be harsh, can be too judgmental, and rarely is correct when it comes to a person's true character."
He looked at her in astonishment, and then grinned. "Not only have you grown into a beautiful woman with your raven hair and clear blue eyes, but an astute one as well. A true surprise you have become, Lady Isabel."
She didn't know whether it was the attractive smile that had transformed his face or his flattering words, but her pulse leapt to life, and her feet seemed to drift along on a cloud over the dance floor.
The bold passage of his jet eyes over her face and the curve of her neck heightened her senses. She found herself extremely attuned to his strength, his overwhelming masculinity. He was unlike any other male she had ever known. Here was no fop, no dandy that the young debutantes swooned over. Here was a powerful man whose dangerous nature was disguised by a thin veneer of respectability.
Reason told her to flee, to abandon her impulsiveness, but instead a thrill tingled along her nerves.
Their eyes locked, and his dark brows slanted in a slight frown.
He senses it, too! she thought.
As the dance neared its end, she realized with bewilderment that she was no longer acting the awed female entirely for the benefit of her father and Lord Walling, but that she indeed felt an undeniable attraction to Marcus Hawksley.CHAPTER 2
"I'm furious!" stated Edward Cameron. "For the third time, I've arranged a perfectly good match for you and how do you reward me? You turn down Lord Walling only to dance with Marcus Hawksley instead. He's nothing more than the impoverished younger son of an earl, a mere stockbroker."
Isabel watched her father pace back and forth on the thick Aubusson carpet in his library. Edward Cameron, the fourth Earl of Malvern, was short and stocky with round spectacles and a brow perpetually creased with worry. Tufts of sparse gray hair stood on end as he ran his fingers over his scalp in agitation. His mouth was tight and grim, his eyes flashing in a familiar display of impatience.
Isabel stiffly sat in a leather chair, her fingers curling around the nail head armrest. Her father had ushered her into the library as soon as they had returned home from Lady Holloway's ball. She immediately knew it was going to be a lengthy night. Last time, he had taken her to the drawing room, and the lecture had been brief. He hadn't been concerned with possible interruptions by the servants. But to demand her presence in his library — well, that meant the lecture would be severe enough to warrant complete privacy. No servant would dare interrupt the earl here.
Straightening her spine, she took a deep breath. "I apologize for having upset you by dancing with Mr. Hawksley, Father. But I'm not sorry that Lord Walling no longer wants the engagement to proceed."
Edward stopped his pacing to stare at her. He reached up to rip his spectacles from his face, only to snag one of the wires behind his ear. It twisted and bowed as he tugged it free.
"Who said anything about Lord Walling not pursuing an engagement? It took considerable effort on my part, but I managed to assuage Walling's doubts regarding your poor discretion."
Isabel tossed her head. "Poor discretion! I do not wish to wed Lord Walling."
"He's positively ancient. He has no interest in my art. And ... and ... he" — she struggled for the words — "he has depraved appetites in the bedroom," she blurted out, not knowing how else to persuade her father.
"What?" Edward's jaw dropped.
Her face grew hot. "That's the latest gossip."
He blew out his cheeks like a blowfish before releasing a burst of air. "Of all the nonsense, please stop listening to your friend, Charlotte Benning."
His anger slightly abated, he took a seat in a chair next to hers and reached out to take her hand.
"My Isabel," he said. "I will not live forever, and I need to see you well settled before I die. Your mother, bless her soul, would have wanted you respectably married."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Perfect Scandal"
Copyright © 2010 Tina Sickler.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1814 London Lady Isabel Cameron wants to cross the Channel to study art in Paris. To achieve her goal once the Napoleonic wars end, she knows she must never marry. Her father believes a lady needs a husband so he plans to arrange a marriage for his daughter before she becomes comfortable on the shelf. Thus the earl plans to give her to a man over three decades older than her and even older than him. Desperate Isabel needs to find the right man quick. She meets scandalous Lord Marcus Hawksley, who is her age and a younger son of an earl; however, he is unacceptable by the Ton because he earns a living as a stockbroker. Isabel chooses Marcus as ideal for her; not to marry but to destroy her reputation so no one will wed her. Without a companion, she goes to see him to ask for his assistance, but when he is accused of stealing she is his alibi, but also his scandal. They agree to a short term marriage of convenience, but an inconvenient truth surfaces when they fall in love. A Perfect Scandal is a perfect Regency romance due to the lead characters, who bring refreshing new ideas to the entertaining story line. Whereas she wants to study art while embracing spinsterhood; he breaks a social taboo by working as a stockbroker. Readers will enjoy the relationship between these ducal offspring; as Tina Gabrielle proves that the whole formed by love is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Harriet Klausner
Love Tina Gabrielle. Love that her books are lendable on the Nook! I only buy books under $5 or that are lendable.
Tina Gabrielle pens another delightful historical romance in A Perfect Scandal. Lady Isabel Cameron has always dreamed of pursuing her painting in Paris. Her father is bound and determined to see her married, no matter who the man should be. His latest pick give Isabel the willies, so she decides to take matters into her own hands. Isabel think by creating a scandal she will be free to life her live. But the man she uses to help is her old childhood crush, Marcus Hawksley. Marcus Hawksley is the younger son of an Earl, he is snubbed by the ton since he works in trade as a stockbroker. He doesn't know what to do with an innocent like Lady Isabel. When her father demands marriage Marcus willing goes along. But Isabel has a deal of her own, she wants a six month marriage of convenience then they both can go on and pursue their own interests. Their marriage starts out as a friendship but their attraction plays havoc with their vow of convenience. Add to this is an menace that wants to harm Isabel and Marcus. Can they win the race to find the danger? Will their relationship get the chance it deserves? A Perfect Scandal is an emotional and sizzling story. You find yourself falling into Marcus and Isabel's world, wanting them to find the happiness they both so richly deserve. It was a special treat to revisit Blake and Victoria from Lady of Scandal.. I really enjoyed this story and can't wait to read more from this author.
Too much detail told in narrative, too early in the story, then retold in dialogue. The characters were annoying and the love scenes described with old, predictable phrases.
Marcus Hawksley, the long estranged second son of the Earl of Ardmore, a self-made success as a stockbroker on the London Exchange with high disregard for the beau monde, while grudgingly attending a ball finds himself brazenly approached and propositioned by Lady Isabel Cameron, oldest daughter of of Earl of Malvern. Isabel in her own right has a strong character and her own opinion of the rules of the ton. She is determined that they will not apply to her as she wants to fulfill her dream of moving to Paris and further her education in painting. Once harboring a child-hood crush on Marcus, his now scandalous standing may just turn out to be the answer to her prayers to dissuade the marriage set to be arranged by her father to old Lord Walling. Isabel's plan proves to be too good as she find herself once again facing marriage. Falsely accused of a theft not committed, Marcus Hawksley, a confirmed bachelor also finds himself tangled within Isabel's web. Threats will surface and Marcus will do anything to keep Isabel safe. Tina Gabrielle delivers a terrific story with strong characters set to prove the rules of the ton will not apply to them.
The begining was promising, but lack real romance. I lost most interest after their wedding. This was more of a mystery. If you like historcal romances try Elizabeth Rolls, ' His lady mistress' way better and same price point. In the end, this was not that good and i have read plenty of smile,laugh and tear jerkers at $5. Dont recomend!
While I found the author's knowledge of art history and stock brokerage firms to be interesting, her writing style was not. Her villains were better developed than her main characters and her sense of the macabre overrode the romance of the her main characters.