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A marriage of convenience flames into a treacherous, passionate liaison in bestselling author Amanda Scott’s spellbinding Regency tale
As the third and last unwed daughter of an earl, Lady Anne Davies doesn’t expect her marriage to be a love match. She is in need of a husband. Lord Michael St. Ledgers needs a woman to run his home and be a mother to his orphaned niece and nephew. It seems the ideal business arrangement. When Anne travels to Michael’s ancestral estate, the Priory, deep in the Derbyshire countryside, she starts to uncover his disturbing secrets. Michael’s brother perished under mysterious circumstances, and now someone at the Priory is stalking her. As Anne begins to fear for her life, she realizes that the greatest danger may come from the man she has come to trust—and love.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media Romance|
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The Bawdy Bride
By Amanda Scott
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Lynne Scott-Drennan
All rights reserved.
Thursday, April 17, 1800
I am to be married today. I stood in front of the glass this morning and introduced myself to my reflection as Lady Michael St. Ledgers but saw only Anne Davies, as always, looking too much like a child to be a bride. That one can still look so at the ancient age of twenty seems most peculiar, but since my hair is too fair and too fine to yield easily to fashion's dictates, and my body too waiflike to stir a man's desires (or so Beth tells me, and she should know), I can do nothing to alter the matter.
I thought, once I had met Lord Michael, I would feel differently about marriage, but I do not. He is large and, I suppose, very handsome, but his demeanor is stern and his manner unyielding. I have seen him smile only once, and that was at Beth, who was flirting as usual. Tony does not seem to mind such antics, so their marriage lopes along peacefully enough, and, of course, Catherine's marriage is amiable, for she adores her grand position. I do hope my marriage will be as untroubled as theirs seem to be, James, for I mean to be a good wife. I know my duty, of course, and thanks to Grandmama's precepts and my experience here at Rendlesham, I am well trained for the position; however, since I have grown weary of constantly seeking compromise, and since I doubt that marriage can require less of that increasingly tiresome occupation than the single state requires, I must admit to certain qualms ...
Lady Anne Davies paused, nibbling the end of her pen and absently stroking the small black cat curled in her lap as she tried to organize those qualms into words she could set to paper. Before she had done more than dip the nib into her inkwell again, however, the door to her bedchamber opened without ceremony and her maid, Maisie Bray, bustled in with Anne's wedding dress draped carefully over one plump rosy arm.
Looking critically at her mistress, she said, "Beg pardon, my lady, I'm sure, but this be no time to be scribbling in that journal of yours. His lordship—which is to say your papa, not Lord Michael—wants to see you in his bookroom as soon as you be dressed. It won't do to be agitating him, not today."
"I try never to agitate Papa, Maisie," Anne said calmly, "and if I do not write now, I don't know when I shall find the opportunity to write again." But she slipped the page obediently into the portfolio she kept for the purpose and, still holding the small cat, arose to put the portfolio into the carpetbag she would carry with her later in the carriage. Then she stepped to the window to take one last look out at her beloved gardens, just now beginning to show touches of springtime color.
The kitten purred, and Anne stroked it while she gazed at her garden and the sloping sweep of velvet green lawn beyond. Puffy white clouds drifted overhead, but the sun still shone invitingly on the white pebbled walks and tidy hedged borders. Behind her, Maisie said gently, "You'd best make haste, Miss Anne."
With a sigh, Anne put small black Juliette down on a favored pillow on the high, pale-blue-silk-draped bed, slipped out of her dressing gown, and stood in chemise and corset while Maisie flung the white muslin dress over her head. Maisie was careful not to disarrange Anne's hair, and once the gown was in place, while the maid fastened the golden ties at each shoulder, Anne gazed solemnly at her reflection in the dressing glass.
The gown was lovely, but she wished she might have had silver-embroidered borders instead of gold. She had suggested that, with her gray eyes and pale flaxen hair, silver would be more becoming to her but her mother had scorned such a notion.
"You are an earl's daughter, Anne, not a commoner," Lady Rendlesham had said tartly. "You are entitled to wear cloth of gold, just as your sister Catherine did; and indeed, had Lord Michael's family not still been in half-mourning for the late duke, I would have insisted that you display your rank properly. But for such a paltry affair as this wedding will be, gold-embroidered muslin will suffice." She sighed, adding, "Why, when Catherine was married, we had guests for three weeks beforehand, and though Beth's was not so grand as that, it was by no means an inferior occasion. 'Tis the greatest pity the duke had to die, for we might have enjoyed a truly splendid wedding."
Anne resisted the temptation to point out that had the sixth Duke of Upminster not died, the notion of marriage might not have occurred to his younger brother for some time yet to come. She said only, "There is still a Duke of Upminster, ma'am."
"A mere boy, and still in mourning at that. He will not even be present at your wedding, for goodness' sake. But others will, my girl, and you will not appear in silver trimming."
And so it was that the gown's sleeves and hemline were heavily bordered with gold. Its close-fitting, high-waisted, deep blue velvet bodice snugged her plump breasts, under which a gold, corded sash had been tied. A loose robe of gold-spotted white gauze, trimmed with a border and fringe of gold, lay waiting to be worn over the whole.
Wisps of Anne's fine hair had escaped the carefully arranged coiffure over which Maisie had labored earlier; so, commanding her to sit again, the maid tucked them into place before affixing a small blue velvet cap to Anne's head. When she had finished, Anne stood, slipped her feet into blue velvet slippers, and waited patiently while Maisie draped the gauze robe over her shoulders and pinned the matching gauze veil in place at the back of the blue velvet cap. Then she drew on her long white, delicately perfumed gloves, smiled her thanks, and turned to leave the room.
"One moment, my lady," Maisie said. "Bless me, if you haven't forgotten Lord Michael's necklace!"
The necklace, too, was gold, an exquisite chain with a pendant molded to resemble a rose and bearing a small diamond in its center. Anne liked it, and both Catherine and Beth had assured her it was a perfect wedding gift.
Having managed to fasten the necklace without disarranging her veil, Maisie moved to take one last look at the full effect, and Anne was surprised to see tears sparkling in her eyes.
"What is it, Maisie? Is something amiss?"
"No, Miss Anne, it just makes me sad to think you are all grown up and will be going away to a brand new home."
"Don't be a goose. You are going with me, after all. Indeed, were it not for that, I think I would be paralyzed with fear, for I scarcely know Lord Michael and have never met a single member of his family. That he expects me to play mother to his deceased brother's two children is especially unnerving, I think, for the poor things are bound to resent me fiercely."
"They will not," Maisie said stoutly. "For all that one's a duke before his time, they'll learn to love you like we all do."
"We will see," Anne said, smiling vaguely. "I must go now. Papa will be displeased if I tarry longer."
She left on the words, and hurried downstairs to the bookroom, grateful not to encounter any of her siblings on the way. Four of her five remaining brothers and sisters were present at Rendlesham for the wedding. Only James, the eldest and her favorite, and Stephen, the youngest, were absent, for Stephen was away at school, and James was long dead. He had died when she was nine, but she kept him alive in her memory by writing her journal as a series of letters to him. She had never told anyone about the journal, though Maisie knew she kept one, and no one else had ever read it. Even Maisie, much as she loved Anne, did not know how very much alive James remained to her.
She found the Earl of Rendlesham pacing the floor in his bookroom, his ruddy face creased in thought, his large hands clasped behind his back, causing his waistcoat to gap over his stomach where the buttons strained. A cheerful fire crackled on the hearth, and spring sunlight streamed through the tall, leaded windows to spill across the bright blue-and-green Axminster carpet, but his lordship looked more harried than cheerful.
"There you are," he said brusquely, straightening to glare at her. "What a time you have been! Parson will be ready to begin the ceremony in a few moments."
"I beg your pardon, Papa," Anne said. "Dressing always does take longer than one thinks it will."
"Yes, yes, I suppose it does. Perhaps you had better sit down," he added, gesturing distractedly at a chair.
"Will you think me very disobedient, sir, if I do not?" she asked, smiling at him. "Maisie will be put out if I wrinkle my skirt before the ceremony."
"Do as you please," he said. "The sooner this business is done, the better I shall like it. I've any number of other things I ought to be doing."
"Problems, Papa? Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Dash it all, I don't want your help, just your obedience. I don't want to hear any nonsense about this being a hasty affair, or about being afraid to go off alone with Lord Michael."
Anne looked at him in surprise. "But I have never said I would not obey you, Papa. Indeed, I know it is my duty to marry, particularly when such an excellent connection has been made available to me. I know how fortunate I am to make such a match, and if there is haste—though I have not complained of it—it is only because Lord Michael needs a mama for his niece and nephew."
Rendlesham shoved a hand through thick, graying hair that he disdained to cover with a wig now that the price of powder had become extortionate, and said ruefully, "I suppose you haven't complained, but having listened to your mother—and to your sisters when they married—until I was well nigh distracted, I assumed your complaints would echo theirs. I ought to have known they would not. You are a good girl, Anne. Indeed, I do not know what we shall do here without you to make peace when the others choose to quarrel. But, as I told your mama, it is quite rare luck to find such a good match for a third daughter."
"Does Mama agree that Lord Michael is a good match for me?"
"Of course she does! She is convinced that whatever rakish propensities he has not already left behind him in order to manage his nephew's affairs will be put right out of his head by marriage. Furthermore, not only is he the son of a duke, but the lad's got a respectable estate of his own. Not a large one, mind you, but it ought to bring in quite a snug little income now that he seems of a mind to manage it properly. You'll be comfortable, in any event, since you will be living for some years, at least, at Upminster Priory, which is a ducal seat, after all."
"I know I will be comfortable, Papa. Indeed, thanks to my godfather's generosity, and yours, my own portion is quite respectable enough for comfort."
He did not meet her gaze. "As to that," he said, turning toward the fire, "I know you assumed you would retain a certain amount of control over your dowry, as I arranged for your sisters to do when they were married; however, as you know, your godfather left all such arrangements to me, and there has been a slight alteration in the original plan, I'm afraid."
"Yes. Michael had some pressing problems ..." He glanced at her over his shoulder, adding with a grimace, "An expensive young man, I believe, before he was brought so rudely to his senses by his brother's untimely death. That need not concern you, of course, but I found it necessary to give in to certain demands he made with regard to the settlements."
"I do not suppose that you see at all," he said, turning back with a sigh, "but I thought it best to tell you myself. I hope the news don't distress you."
She was shaken, albeit not by the news that her husband-to-be had a rakish reputation, or that he was expensive. In her experience, many young men shared those qualities, and despite the fact that her great-aunt Martha had married a rake, and in direct consequence, had died of a dread disease, Anne did not anticipate such an eventuality for herself. But to know that she would have no say in how her money was spent was far more alarming, for she was well aware that to have even the smallest authority would give her an independence in her marriage that she would otherwise lack. She knew better than to express her feelings to the earl, however, or indeed to anyone in her family, for they were all too concerned with their own needs to consider hers. She reassured him, as it was her habit to do, and agreed at once when he said they ought to join the others in the family chapel.
The group awaiting them was a small one, since only immediate family members and close friends had been invited to witness the marriage of Lady Anne Davies to Lord Michael St. Ledgers. Anne smiled at one familiar face after another, hoping she looked more composed than she felt as she walked at her father's side up the narrow center aisle, preceded by her eldest sister, Catherine, who was to support her through the ceremony.
The younger of her two sisters, Beth, standing between her tall, handsome husband, Tony, and Lady Rendlesham in the front row, grinned impishly over her shoulder at Anne. Beside Tony stood Catherine's husband, Lord Crane, and next to him, two of Anne's three brothers. Harry, at twenty-three, was the eldest and had acquired some dignity, but Bernard shifted impatiently from foot to foot, wanting the ceremony to begin.
Ahead of her, standing between the one friend who had come with him to Rendlesham and the thin, elderly parson who would perform the ceremony, was her husband-to-be. Though she had exchanged only a handful of sentences with Lord Michael in the short time they had been acquainted, once the ceremony was over, she would be his wife, subject to his every command until death parted them. The thought sent a shiver up her spine, but whether it was a thrill of anticipation or one of terror, Anne herself did not know.
Dark-haired Lord Michael St. Ledgers, fashionably attired in buff knee breeches and a dark, well-fitting coat, towered over both his friend, Sir Jacob Thornton, and Parson Hale. His broad shoulders were squared, his carriage that of a military man—which indeed, he had been for a few years after leaving Oxford. He was nine-and-twenty, nine years older than Anne, and although his stern demeanor made him look older, she thought him handsome. As she approached, his gaze caught hers and held it.
She was aware that Sir Jacob also watched her. Indeed, he seemed to make a habit of watching her, and his manner was not what she was accustomed to in a gentleman, for his style was too familiar. A sandy-haired man of medium height and florid complexion, older than her bridegroom by some ten years or more, he had laughed when Lord Michael presented him, saying he thought it a great kindness in himself to have agreed to support him through the ordeal of his wedding, and was doing so only because he had pressing parliamentary business in Derby and Rendlesham took him no more than twenty miles out of his way. He had lost no time in informing everyone that he was a Member of Parliament, making it clear that he held an exalted opinion of his stature.
But even awareness of Sir Jacob's interest was not enough just then to divert her attention from Lord Michael, whose eyes were the darkest blue she had ever seen, making them look almost black until she got near him. They were set deep beneath his dark eyebrows, and the rest of his features were sharply chiseled. He looked for a moment as if he had been carved from stone, but suddenly, as if he sensed her increasing anxiety, she detected a barely perceptible softening in his appearance.
He did not smile, but his firm, well-shaped lips relaxed, and she felt her body relax in response. She had not expected him to woo her, for theirs was not a love match like her sister Beth's to Tony, or a union arranged after months of negotiation like Catherine's to Lord Crane. Catherine, after all, as the earl's eldest daughter, her portion immense, had been the catch of the Season the year she made her entrance to society. And Beth, albeit with a smaller portion like Anne's, had not only her own vivacious demeanor to assure her of a good match but the good luck to fall in love with a man of fortune who adored her.
Anne's marriage would not be like either of theirs. As the earl's third daughter—an unenviable position in any family—she could scarcely count herself an heiress, and she had formed no attachment to anyone during the two London Seasons granted her at her grandmother's insistence. Aware that she lacked a passionate nature (and generally grateful for the fact), Anne had not expected to fall in love. Moreover, Lord Michael had made it clear that he was marrying out of a strong sense of duty, and was no more in love with her than she was with him.
Excerpted from The Bawdy Bride by Amanda Scott. Copyright © 1995 Lynne Scott-Drennan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A different take on the regency romance but still a happily ever after
I’m in the process of reading all of Amanda Scott’s book. This was a good one. I never knew to the end who the villain wa
I enjoyed this book very much
Too much talking.