An Infamous Gentleman
Dangerously handsome, rakishly charming, William Tavener never planned to settle downyet with his estate in ruins, the impoverished lord's only hope is to wed an heiress. But to his dismay, the one lady who stirs his ardor and excites his mind is a penniless musician's daughter
A Scandalous Lady
With her dubious lineage and humble dowry, Allegra Antinori knows Society deems her no great prize. Still, she hopes marriage to an honorable gentleman will secure her futureparticularly if the groom is Rob Lynton, the family acquaintance she's always adored. So why does the entirely unsuitable Lord Tavener keep teasing her senses and bedeviling her heart?
A Perfect Match
Knowing they should part, can an incurable rogue and a forsaken lady resist the passion of a lifetime?
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Standing at the library window, staring numbly at the bare late-winter garden below, Allegra Antinori scarcely registered the footsteps approaching from behind her.
"So this is where you've been hiding."
Wincing at the breathy, little-girl voiceso at odds with the venomous tone in which the words had been utteredAllegra reluctantly turned to gaze into the hard blue eyes of Uncle Robert's wife.
Twitching her expensive, jet-trimmed black shawl into place, the young woman continued, "Poor Robert might have been too ill these last few months to prevent your lounging about, but it's more than time you made yourself useful. Cease your sniveling and go help Hobbs bring the trays of meat and cheese up to the dining room. The mourners will be arriving shortly."
After weeks spent at her uncle's bedside as he slowly slipped toward death, Allegra was too drained and forlorn to challenge, as she would have otherwise, the woman's petty tyranny. "Very well, Aunt Sapphira."
Those gentlemen-bewitching blue eyes shot her a look that would have frozen the Thames. "It's Lady Lynton to you now, wench. I may have been forced to humor Robert and take you in after your parents died last fall, but you'll stay on my terms now. Regardless of the airs you like to give yourself, you're not really a member of the family and I will not tolerate your pretending otherwise."
Devastated as she was by the loss in quick succession of the three people dearest to her, Allegra could not allow that claim to go uncontested. "Uncle Robert may not have been my uncle, but he was my mother's dearest cousinno matter how much you'd like to deny it," she said.
"Perhaps by birth, but everyone knows Lady Grace's whole family disowned her when she married your father. An itinerant musicianand a foreigner, no less! I suppose she learned some grasping Italian ways from her husband, for she certainly managed somehow to keep a hold over Robert. Letting her family run tame in his house whenever they came to London! But he can intervene for you no longer. If you wish to keep a roof over your head, you'll abandon those pretensions or I'll send you packing, see if I won't! Now, go about your work."
Smoldering fury momentarily overwhelming her grief, Allegra vowed she would be thrown out on the street tonight before she would curtsey to this female barely older than herself or call her "Lady Lynton."
"I should be happy to help provide for the guests Aunt Sapphira," she replied, holding her ground and staring directly into the eyes of the woman who had beguiled her uncle into marriage a mere six months after the death of his beloved first wife.
Apparently realizing she could push Allegra only so faror not wishing to lose a free extra servant when she expected a houseful of guestsSapphira looked away first.
"Make sure you do whatever else Hobbs needs," she said, turning to inspect herself in the library mirror.
"And I'd better not see your dark face in the parlor while the guests are here. Why Robert acknowledged any connection to a chit who looks more like a Gypsy than a proper English girl, I'll never understand."
With that parting shot, Sapphira smoothed her guinea-gold curls off the porcelain perfection of her brow and walked out.
Her meager strength drained by the confrontation, Allegra sank down on the sofa. She'd rest for a few moments and then go help Hobbs.
For the hundredth time she deplored the susceptibility of the male species to rosebud-pink lips, gentian-blue eyes and blond curls above a well-curved figure. She only hoped that in the year her uncle had been married to Sapphira, he'd never learned how selfish and ruthless was the heart under that outwardly perfect form.
Suddenly released by her uncle's death yesterday from the sickroom that had been her focus for weeks, Allegra had been drifting in a fog of lassitude and despair. Better to have something, anything, to fill the empty time now heavy on her hands, since she was still too weary and heartsick to decide what she should do next.
For a moment, the sense of being utterly alone in the world overwhelmed her. How she wished Uncle Robert's son Rob had made it home to see his father one more time before his death! To share with her the agony of his loss, as with elder-brother affection he had befriended her during her childhood visits.
But the cousin Rob she had alwaysand secretly stillidolized was Captain Robert Lynton now, gone these three years with Wellington's army. Having survived the slaughter of Waterloo, he was presently on staff duty in Paris.
Surely when the news of Uncle Robert's death reached him, Wellington would let him come home, she thought, her spirits brightening.
Not that it would make much difference to her future. Much as she loved her uncle, only the sudden death of her parents at a time when Papa's finances had been in unusually dire straits had forced her to London to beg his assistance. She'd never intended her sojourn at Lynton House to be more than temporary. But Uncle Robert had already been ailing when she arrived, putting plans to move elsewhere on hold while she tended himhis beautiful new wife, she recalled with a curl of her lip, having professed a horror of the sickroom. With a roof over her headhowever precariously, given the rancor in Sapphira's eyesand time to prepare, she would far rather find some other way to support herself than remain here on the new Lord Lynton's charity, and at Sapphira's mercy.
Not when she'd grown up in a family worthy of the name. Staring into the cold hearth, Allegra smiled. There might have been lean times, but so remarkable was her father's musical talent that another patron, or a commission for a new ballet, concerto or sonata, always turned up in time to avert disaster. For the virtuoso and the beautiful wife he called his muse and inspiration, being together was worth every trial. Raised in the circle of their love, Allegra had never given a thought to her status in the wider world.
She would need to give it a great deal of thought now. Sapphira had just made it perfectly clear that, having resented every kind word and every morsel of food her uncle had provided during Allegra's six months at Upper Brook Street, she intended to transform Allegra into an unpaid servant.
But deciding how to avoid that fate would have to wait until later. For now, Allegra thought as she hauled her weary body off the sofa, she would serve her uncle one last time by helping Hobbs and the staff prepare the meal for the mourners who were coming to honor the late Lord Lynton.
Hours later Allegra was carrying a load of empty platters down to the kitchen when Hobbs returned from escorting out the last of the guests. "I'll take those now, Miss Allegra," the butler said, hastening over to relieve her of her burden. "'Twas good of you to lend us a hand. Me and the staff be right sorry for your loss. Lord Lynton were a fine gentleman."
"He was indeed," Allegra said, touched and grateful for the deference the butler continued to show her, despite the fact that by now the staff must know their mistress was trying to relegate Allegra to a position among them.
"You been at the master's bedside near without pause these last weeks. Why don't you go up and rest?"
Truly, she was so tired she was swaying on her feet. "Thank you, Hobbs. I believe I shall."
As she started toward the main stairs, Mrs. Bessborough, the housekeeper, put a hand on her arm, her face creased in concern. "Excuse me, Miss, but " She exchanged a distressed look with the butler. "Oh, Miss, I'm powerful sorry, but her ladyship directed me to move your things out of the blue bedchamber."
Allegra stopped and exhaled a sigh. Despite the press of guests today, Sapphira certainly hadn't wasted any time enforcing Allegra's change of status.
"It's all right, Bessie." She patted the arm of the woman, who, like Hobbs, had known her since she'd first toddled into the Lynton kitchen clutching her mama's skirts some twenty years ago. "Would you show me to my new accommodations?"
"Yes, Miss. Follow me." Shaking her head and clucking her displeasure, the housekeeper preceded Allegra up the service stairs.
As Allegra expected, the housekeeper did not stop until they reached the attic rooms where the female servants slept. "She told me to put you in with the maids, but there's this nice storeroom under the eaves that held the late Lady Lynton's trucks. Sam helped me move them so we could get a bed in. I'm afraid 'tis a bit cramped, Miss, but you'll have privacy."
The woman's kindness brought tears to Allegra's eyes. "Are you sure, Bessie? I don't wish to get you into trouble with Aunt Sapphira."
The housekeeper sniffed. "Seeing as that one don't never set her dainty foot to any stairs but the ones to her bedchamber, she'll never know. And to think, the poor master's not yet cold in his grave! I never thought I'd live to see such a thing. What do you mean to do, Miss?"
Allegra walked over and sank gratefully onto the bed. "I'm not sure yet."
"You play the pianoforte and the violin just as beautifully as your pa ever did, God rest his soul. Might you be a musician like him?"
"Were I married to a musician, we might play together, but as a lone woman, I'm afraid 'twould be nearly impossible to establish such a career."
"Might you go on the stage? When you was a girl, you used to chatter on about all the theaters you'd visited."
During her father's occasional stints as a musician in theater orchestras, the family had struck up an acquaintance with a number of actors and theater managers. But while she could envision becoming a musician with enthusiasm, neither dancing nor acting held any appeal.
"No, I don't think I have the talent to become a Siddonsor," she added, chuckling, "the desire to display my legs in breeches roles, like Vestris."
"Well, I should hope not!" the housekeeper exclaimed, looking properly shocked. "The best thing woulda been to find a fine young gentleman to marry you, which we all was hoping the master would do. But then he fell sick " The housekeeper sighed, her voice trailing off.
Mrs. Bessborough might never have set foot in a Mayfair ballroom, but she knew very well that with Allegra's mother discredited by her runaway marriage, entering the aristocratic world into which her mother had been born, difficult enough a feat for Allegra with Lord Lynton's backing, would be impossible now in the face of Sapphira Lynton's opposition.
"I doubt Uncle Robert would have arranged a match, even had he lived." Nor, Allegra added silently, had she any desire to insinuate herself into the closed, self-important world that had rejected her mother simply for marrying the man she loved.
"I don't suppose you know some nice young gentleman musician?" the housekeeper continued hopefully.
Allegra's thoughts flew back to an incident eight months ago, just before her parents fell ill. Mama had called her aside to confide that a handsome young violinist in her father's orchestra had requested permission to pay his addressesand been refused. "You mustn't think Papa is not concerned with your feelings, rejecting Mr. Walker without even consulting you," Lady Grace had assured her. "More than most parents, we believe loving the partner you marry is of absolute importance! Had we any suspicion that your affections were engaged, Papa would have told Mr. Walker to proceed. But since we did not, with Napoleon now banished to St. Helena for good, Papa has other plans for you."