Scandal of the Season

Scandal of the Season

by Liana LeFey


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633757028
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 05/30/2017
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 1,320,135
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Liana LeFey delights in crafting incendiary tales that capture the heart and the imagination, taking the reader out of the now and into another world. Liana lives in Central Texas with her dashing husband/hero, their beautiful daughter, and one spoiled rotten feline overlord. She’s been devouring romances since she was fourteen and is now thrilled to be writing them for fellow enthusiasts.

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Scandal Of The Season

By Liana LeFey, Erin Molta

Entangled Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Liana LeFey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63375-703-5


1817 — Five Years Later

"Go and find out whether Sor — I mean Lord Wincanton — has arrived," Eleanor ordered her maid Fran for the third time in the space of an hour. She turned to her friend Caroline. "I keep forgetting he is the earl now."

Caroline frowned and patted a fiery red curl back into place. "Earl or not, why you should bother waiting for him is beyond comprehension."

"He's my cousin's closest friend and our neighbor, and he has just returned home after a long absence." Going to the mirror, Eleanor gave her tiny, puffed sleeves a final tweak. She had to admit the new gown was very becoming. The deep, square neckline was most flattering, and the long swath of celadon-striped muslin that fell from just beneath her breasts to the tips of her matching beaded slippers was simply divine. "It would be the height of ill manners to begin the festivities without one of our honored guests."

Her words had no effect other than to elicit another exasperated sigh. "Some friend," complained Caroline. "He's been away for five years." In the reflection, Eleanor watched as her friend pinched her cheeks to make them pink. "It seems to me his importance might have diminished after so long an interval. Besides, it's your birthday. Why should you have to share the celebration with anyone, much less a man who means nothing to you?"

Because the thought of sharing this evening with him made Eleanor want to burst with both joy and trepidation, but she chose not to correct Caroline's assumption. She glanced at the locked box by the window seat, which contained his letters to her. They had exchanged correspondence throughout his absence, and she'd never shared them with anyone but Charles and Rowena. Caroline was a good friend but she could be insensitive at times, and those letters were personal and precious.

"He's the one being discourteous," said her obstinate companion. "Holly Hall is but a short distance from here. I cannot think what has delayed him." She began to pace the room.

Eleanor smiled. "What's really bothering you is that Lord Penwaithe's son is downstairs."

As usual, Caroline didn't bother prevaricating. "He is indeed. At this very moment. And Elizabeth Ann, if I know her, has probably already sunk her claws into him!"

"Well, you needn't wait for me," Eleanor said, chuckling. "Why don't you go on down? I'll be along soon enough."

An indelicate snort answered the suggestion. "And have you run off? I should think not."

"I would never do such a thing to my cousin." Especially not tonight.

Another snort. "You would. You hate these things."

"I do hate being paraded about like a slightly overripe fruit in danger of spoiling," Eleanor confessed. "But tonight is not about my cousin trying to marry me off. This is simply the celebration of another year — and the return of a friend."

"I still don't know why they bother to celebrate his return," grumbled the other girl. "As I recall, he was never much fun. Always so proper. Never a smile or laugh. A sober sack if ever I've seen one."

"You disparage him, yet you knew him less than a month."

A raised auburn brow queried her accusation.

"It is only because you never understood him," Eleanor insisted. "He's reserved, as a gentleman ought to be — a quality one might consider a benefit, as opposed to a fault." She hadn't meant that last bit to come out with such sarcasm, but Caroline's taste in men ran rather unfortunately to the rakish. "I just feel you ought to look to men like him as a proper example."

"Proper indeed," said Caroline with open disdain as she touched perfume to her wrist. Her bright blue eyes narrowed. "Manners are all good and well, but I like a man who laughs every once in a while. Not to mention one who understands this modern age. Remember when Lorraine Montagu was ill and missed a Season? One Season, and she was completely hopeless the following year! Wincanton has been away for five years. It might as well have been fifty."

Eleanor bit her tongue. Sorin probably knew more about this "modern age" than many a London dandy. And while it was true he rarely laughed, it didn't mean he never did. The first time she'd had the occasion to witness it would live in her memory forever. Out of rebellion over being scolded by Rowena for ruining yet another dress, she'd defiantly climbed a tree down by the pond — and had gotten stuck. Naturally, Sorin had been the one to find her. He'd climbed up as far as possible and then had carefully talked her down to meet him. Just before they'd reached the lowest limb, however, she'd lost her grip and had fallen on him, knocking them both into the murky water below. The very cold murky water.

Instead of being wroth, however, he'd taken one look at her and had started laughing. She'd been covered from head to toe in muck, and he'd laughed until he was nearly blue. After getting over her own wounded pride, she'd laughed, too — for the first time since her parents' death. It would have been completely wonderful — had she not accidentally broken his nose a moment later while he was helping her up the slippery bank. But, even then, he hadn't yelled at her.

Caroline wasn't quite finished with her rant. "Waiting for his high-and mightiness to arrive is a complete waste of time. We should already be down there."

"Caroline, I will n —"

The door opened, cutting her off. "His lordship has arrived, my lady," said Fran.

"At last," muttered Caroline, sweeping away.

After stepping aside to let her pass, the servant leaned back in. "Shall I tell them you're coming down, my lady?"

"No, but thank you," Eleanor said quickly. Nothing, nothing was going to mar her entrance. Tonight was her twenty-first birthday, and by George, she would be a perfect lady for once. Or at least appear to be one.

"Come on!" said Caroline from the hallway.

Eleanor followed meekly, but stopped when they neared the stairs. "Will you just check first to make sure the way is clear?"

Caroline rolled her eyes, but did as asked. "It's safe enough — no one is looking. I'm going down." She did so without a backward glance.

Eleanor listened as the crowd below hushed. Damn. I ought to have gone first. She waited until the murmur of the guests returned. Stomach aflutter, she began her descent.

Hand grazes the rail rather than gripping it tightly. Head high. Shoulders back. Spine straight. Don't look at your feet. Six steps down, silence again fell. She forced herself the rest of the way down and paused on the last step to seek out the faces of her guardians.

"Dearest Eleanor, happy birthday," said Rowena, coming forward to kiss her cheek.

"How very generous of you to host this party in my honor," Eleanor said to her. "I cannot thank you enough for your many kindnesses over the years." To her surprise, her eyes began to sting. Rowena had indeed been kind. More than kind. Though they were near enough in age to be sisters, she'd been a mother in so many ways.

Charles beamed as he joined them. "The pleasure is all ours, Cousin Eleanor. Come, let us toast this special day with a glass of champagne."

As he turned to seek out a glass for her, another figure came forward, his face as familiar and dear to Eleanor as any on earth, though it had been more than five years since she'd last looked upon it. Sorin. Unlike the other men in this room, his skin was golden — from days spent on the deck of a ship. Faint lines fanned out from the corners of his hazel eyes, and hair that had once been darkest walnut was now tinged with lights from exposure to the sun and the faintest sprinkling of gray at the temples.

Eleanor sank into a deep curtsy. A perfect curtsy. "Lord Wincanton. How delighted I am to share in celebrating your return home." Flawless. Just the right tone. Cultured. Polite. No unseemly squeals or unladylike displays.

Not like last time.

What an awful day that had been. Though he'd later sought her out to make amends for his ungentle treatment of her, his words had cut her to the quick.

... I shall always count myself your friend, Ellie — Lady Eleanor, I should say from now on — and much as it pains me, I would be a poor friend indeed did I not speak plainly with you. You are a young lady now and must behave like one. You simply cannot go about hugging men, not even me, lest you risk your good name and that of your guardians. Certainly, I expected you to know better by now. As such, I shall at the first opportunity speak with Ashford regarding your edification on matters of propriety, for you certainly cannot enter London society otherwise ...

To have earned such censure from him, of all people, had been devastating, and the effects had lasted much longer than a mere day.

Before he could make good on his promise to speak with her cousin, however, Rowena had discovered herself again with child. Unable to make the journey to London, Rowena had arranged for her to stay with her elderly aunt. She'd then prevailed upon Sorin and his mother to help bring her out, as Charles had refused to leave her side. Thus, it had been Sorin rather than Charles who'd presented her at court, Sorin who'd squired her about to various events, and Sorin who'd kept strict watch over her every word and action, correcting her at every turn.

Much as she adored her friend, Eleanor had found the whole experience most awkward. He — apparently — had found it mortifying. Less than a month into the Season, he'd returned to Somerset without explanation, leaving her with two elderly matrons for company. Upon arriving home, she'd found him cool and distant. Then he'd left again "to see to his family's foreign investments." Following that absence, he'd received orders to command a vessel in His Majesty's Royal Navy. She'd expected his return after Napoleon's defeat, but it was another two years before he came home.

It had taken all her courage to write that first letter and send it enclosed with Charles's correspondence. Thankfully, he'd written back, and their friendship had resumed. Numerous letters had been exchanged between them since, with "the incident" never mentioned, but she knew he'd not forgotten — any more than she had. And now here he was, and still, it felt awkward.

Gracefully, she extended her hand — and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. She'd forgotten her blasted gloves. Damn that Caroline for being in such a rush! Behaving as though nothing was amiss, she waited, her innards all hollow and wobbly as he bowed, as his hot, dry fingers slid beneath her own. He released her almost immediately and folded his hands behind his back.

Heat flared in her face, but she held her head high. So not everything was perfect, but no one could possibly remember to follow every one of a thousand rules all of the time! "Tell me, Lord Wincanton, are you planning to remain in England or do you intend to return to the East?"

* * *

Sorin tried hard to ignore the ominous tingling as it spread from his fingers throughout the rest of his body. God have mercy ... Could this poised, elegant female possibly be Ellie?

The silence was becoming conspicuous. He cleared his throat to ease its tightness and spoke through suddenly parched lips. "It would of course please me greatly to never again leave England's shores, but none of us knows what the future holds. Fate has a way of interfering in the best laid plans." His plan to stay away until she was safely married had failed miserably.

"Indeed it does," she agreed. "But if it is truly your desire to remain, then I should hope Fate will allow it."

Though her cheeks were as red as pomegranates, her tone was light and airy. Anyone else might have thought they were two strangers meeting for the first time. In a way, they were. But for all that she had matured, she was still Ellie, and her flush told him she was remembering that conversation. A conversation he desperately wished he could erase.

"Lord Wincanton?"

Sorin realized he'd been staring. "My apologies. It is only that I cannot believe how much you've changed. It is as though a different person stands before me." He forced a smile. "Where is the mischief-making pixie who climbed trees and ran about with no bonnet until her nose freckled?"

The corners of her mouth curled slightly and her nose, utterly devoid of freckles, lifted a fraction. "Those were the antics of an impulsive youth. I am a lady now. In every respect."

Clearly she had not forgotten. "That pixie was my friend. I would not have changed her for the world, and I shall miss her if she is indeed truly gone."

His carefully cloaked apology had the desired effect, for her lips now formed a sweet, rueful smile reminiscent of days past. "She is still here. And she will always be your friend."

The pressure in Sorin's chest eased. "It gladdens me to hear it."

"Come now and share a toast with us," she said, blinking eyes that were suspiciously bright. "A toast to celebrate your return."

"Indeed," said Rowena, coming forth. "It has been far too long since you graced us with your company. You used to spend weeks at a time here with us. We have all missed you."

"Indeed we have," agreed Charles, handing him a flute of champagne. "Waterloo was necessary, I suppose, but for the life of me I'll never understand why you personally had to take care of all that bother in the East."

Against his will, Sorin's gaze fixed on Eleanor. "Neither assignment could be delegated to another and both were equally necessary," he said, distracted as he watched her accept a glass.

"Well, at least it's all over and done now," said Charles. "The hunting has been dismal without you along, you know. I hardly bothered with it last year. As such, the deer have just about overrun the place. My gardener has been having fits over the beasts. The pheasant have been unchecked as well. Droves of them at every turn. But we'll soon sort it out now that you're back."

"I shall be glad to help, of course," Sorin replied absently. Eleanor was wearing an interesting shade of green that complemented her eyes, and her deep-caramel hair was piled high in the Greek fashion currently so popular. It made her look cool and regal — like the woman she was, rather than the child he now struggled to remember.

Pushing aside such thoughts, he tried to concentrate as everyone raised glasses to first toast Eleanor's twenty-first birthday and then again to toast his return. Her cheeks remained pink with excitement as she sipped her champagne, and the smile she gave him over the rim of her glass made his heart constrict.

Of all the things Sorin had experienced, his visceral reaction to her innocent embrace five years ago had been one of the most alarming and unwelcome. He'd hoped the time away would cure him of the affliction, but it seemed to be stronger than ever. His hand still tingled where hers had touched it. It was obvious now that his perception of her had been irrevocably altered. Gone was the little girl he'd discovered crying in the garden after her parents' funeral the day he'd returned from his own tragedy in London. He'd never see her as that little girl again.

"Why not start tomorrow morning?" asked Charles, jolting him back to the present. "Since you'll be staying the night with us, we may as well make the most of it and bag a few birds, eh?"

Stay the night? Remaining under the same roof as Ellie overnight was the last thing he needed to do right now. "That is very kind, but I should never wish to impose upon your hospitality when I live so near and you have so many other guests."

"Nonsense." Charles waved away his excuse. "Rowena would have my head if I let you ride back now when your favorite room has been prepared for you."

There was no refusing him without raising questions, so Sorin nodded acceptance.

"Excellent!" said Charles. "We'll rise early and head south down by the lake where the little devils like to roost. In the meantime, I believe the music is about to begin. As we are celebrating both Ellie's birthday and your homecoming, why don't you two lead the first dance?"

"I would be honored." Heart racing, Sorin offered his arm to Eleanor and led her out onto the open floor, keenly aware of her feather-light touch on his sleeve.

"I remember my first dancing lessons were with you, here in this room," she said with a wistful smile as other couples began to form the line. "I was all but hopeless."

He remembered. She'd been eleven and determined to trample his toes to a pulp. He'd had the good sense to come prepared wearing his heavy boots. Those were such innocent, happy times. "Indeed you were," he agreed. "But you improved."


Excerpted from Scandal Of The Season by Liana LeFey, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2017 Liana LeFey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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