A Marquess for Christmas

 Book 5 in the >Scandalous Seasons Series

Lady Patrina Tidemore gave up on the ridiculous notion of true love after having her heart shattered and her trust destroyed by a black-hearted cad. Used as a pawn in a game of revenge against her brother, Patrina returns to London from a failed elopement with a tattered reputation and little hope for a respectable match. The only peace she finds is in her solitude on the cold winter days at Hyde Park. And even that is yanked from her by two little hellions who just happen to have a devastatingly handsome, but coldly aloof father, the Marquess of Beaufort. Something about the lord stirs the dreams she’d once carried for an honorable gentleman’s love.Weston Aldridge, the 4th Marquess of Beaufort was deceived and betrayed by his late wife. In her faithlessness, he’s come to view women as self-serving, indulgent creatures. Except, after a series of chance encounters with Patrina, he comes to appreciate how uniquely different she is than all women he’s ever known.

At the Christmastide season, a time of hope and new beginnings, Patrina and Weston, unexpectedly learn true love in one another. However, as Patrina’s scandalous past threatens their future and the happiness of his children, they are both left to determine if love is enough.


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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

London
Winter 1818

Lady Patrina Tidemore had always prided herself on being the most logical and reasonable of the four Tidemore sisters. She’d never had a grand flourish for the dramatics as did her sweet sisters, Poppy and Penelope. Nor was she the great beauty that Prudence had grown into. But what she always had been, was logical, and reasonable.

Or rather, she had been, until she’d met one gentleman who’d filled her ear with pretty compliments and gently teased her into forgetting she was the logical and reasonable of the four.

Patrina stared out across the frozen Serpentine as the smallest, almost infinitesimal of snowflakes drifted down and landed upon the layer of ice. She pushed back her red velvet bonnet and sighed.

Last spring, she’d imagined a very different Christmastide season than this one. She would have been wed, tucked away in a modest home, with the quiet companionship of the gentleman who loved her. Instead, she could readily admit with Christmas nearly upon them, this would be by far the most grim, lonely holiday season—even surrounded by the noise of one’s garrulous family.

Her lips twisted in an acrimonious smile. Alas, there was to be no modest home or quiet companionship. Rather, her Christmas would be spent just as she’d spent the past twenty, nearly twenty-one Christmases—with her proper mama and three loquacious sisters.

Oh, it had never been that she’d minded the frequent mayhem and excitement of the Tidemore home. Quite the opposite, really. It was just that she’d imagined she would be wedded, perhaps expecting a babe of her own soon.

She drew in a shuddery breath. When a young lady scandalized the ton as she’d done, dreams of weddings and families were nothing more than fanciful wishes.

“My lady, we should return soon,” her maid, Mary, called from over her shoulder.

Patrina looked back distractedly and managed a wan smile. “You may go back and wait in the carriage, Mary. I’ll be just a moment.”

Mary opened her mouth as if to protest, but must have seen the firm resolve in Patrina’s gaze, for she nodded once, and then started down the walking path, through the dusting of snow that blanketed the deadened grass, on toward the carriage.

Patrina returned her focus to the Serpentine. As she did in all her daily visits here, she wondered about the poor birds and fish that made this their home during the warmer months. Where did they go when the cold of life set in? On most days, she dreamed of joining them, because then she could be free of her sisters’ pitying expressions, or the pained regret worn in her mother and brother’s eyes, and the abject guilt in her sister-in-law, Juliet’s expression every time Patrina entered a room.

A hiss split the quiet of the winter snowscape. She stiffened and turned, just as something cold, hard, and very wet hit her temple. “Oomph!” Patrina touched her fingers to her head and brushed the flakes of snow from the edge of her bonnet.

A flurry of giggles met her ears and she glanced around. Two splashes of color in the stark white landscape darted from behind a boulder and over to a larger rock. A scamp, mayhap ten years of age, with mischievous green eyes popped up from their hiding place.

Her eyes widened as he drew his arm back and… “Oomph.” This snowball connected squarely with her nose. She dashed her hand over the cold moisture that dripped down her cheeks and into her mouth.

Furious giggles met her efforts.

Patrina narrowed her gaze upon that boulder and stomped toward the two scamps. The giggling ceased. Good, they should be frightened. Unfortunately for the two hellions, Patrina had a good deal of experience in handling mischievous children. She made her way to the end of the path and froze at the edge of the boulder.

“Hullo,” she said. Her tone drew on years’ worth of experience in Mother’s response to the four Tidemore sisters. “I said…” she gasped and dropped to her knees as a little girl with flaxen curls darted from behind the rock and launched a snowball at her.

The missile sailed ineffectually past Patrina’s shoulder. Of all the… “Has no one taught you manners?” she snapped. She rose to her feet and shook out her skirts. “You cannot simply go to a park and—” A snowball hit her shoulder.

Oh, this was quite enough!

Patrina bent down, scooped up the moist dusting of snow and made a compact ball, unheeding the frigidity of cool moisture seeping through her kidskin gloves. She waited. And unfortunately for them, she’d become rather adept at waiting.

Bothersome Boy didn’t disappoint. He jumped up. His eyes went wide as Patrina hurled her snowball. The force of the throw knocked his black cap from his head and covered his crop of golden locks in a film of white snow. “Hey!” he cried. “You can’t simply go around throwing things at children.”

Patrina replied by tossing another snowball. “I didn’t throw a thing.” This hit him square in the chest. “I threw a ball of snow.”

His eyes widened. He splayed a hand over his chest as though he’d been hit with the ball of a pistol. Bothersome Boy thrust a finger toward her. “I say, I say…ladies do not throw snowballs. They don’t. My mother didn’t. And she was a lady and—”

Well, when a young woman eloped with a gentleman of dishonorable intentions and Society discovered the truth, one tended to lose their status as lady, amongst respectable peers. Patrina threw another snowball at his shoulder.

He cried out and disappeared behind the enormous rock.

Good, little wretch should learn to not… The little girl, his sister? Miss Minx snuck out and hurled a rather impressive-sized ball at Patrina’s face.

Patrina cursed around a mouthful of snow and set to work making another snowball.

“I beg your pardon!” A deep, angry baritone split the quiet.

She paused mid-way through the production of her ball. She looked up. And swallowed hard.

A gentleman strode toward her. He doffed his hat, exposing the most luxuriant golden locks, unfashionably long, and blindingly bright. He had the look of an avenging angel. Even with the distance between them, she detected the flash of something volatile and charged in his emerald eyes. “You, there!”

Patrina rose unsteadily and glanced around for the fortunate ‘you there’ to have attracted the gentleman’s notice. She jumped when he stopped in front of her.

He glared down his aquiline nose at her. “What manner of lady goes about cursing at children?”

Her eyes flew wide. What was he on about? “I beg your pardon?”

The two little devils scampered out from behind the boulder. They hurried over to the handsome faced, now devil. She snorted. Angel, indeed!

“Do you have nothing to say?” he barked.

Miss Minx tugged at the gentleman’s cloak and looked up at him through wide, tear-filled blue eyes. “Sh-she h-hit us with s-snow, Papa.”

“Did she, Charlotte?” Thunderous fury underscored the menacing gentleman’s question.

Patrina directed her gaze to the white-clouded skies above. Their father. Of course, with his golden locks and like green eyes, the man bore a striking resemblance to the two little devils. “Of all the nonsense,” she muttered under her breath.

He narrowed his eyes on her. “What was that?” he said on a silken whisper. Odd that a tone could be cold and soft all at once. She supposed if she’d not braved the scandal with Albert Marshville and the subsequent public demise of her good name, then she would wager that emerald-eyed stare might make her uneasy. But she’d grown immune to disapproving stares. Any stares, really. The angry kinds. The mocking kinds. The disappointed kinds.

It would take a good deal more than this fiend to rankle her. She tossed her head back, damning the foot or so difference between his towering figure and her mere five feet three inches. “I gather these wretches are your children, sir?”

“My lord,” he said.

She blinked at him. What was he on about?

“I am the Marquess of Beaufort and these are my children.”

Oh, the insufferable, pompous lout. Did he think she’d be impressed or cowed by a title of marquess? “Well, then, my lord, your children are reprehensible mischief makers in need of lessons on proper deportment.” Her sisters and brother would surely have laughed at any of the Tidemore siblings instructing another family on matters of proper deportment.

Bothersome Boy rushed to his father’s side. “Did you hear what she s-said about us, P-papa?” he said in a wounded voice, tears in his eyes.

She snorted. No doubt the little fiend had spent the whole of his years on this earth perfecting those very tears.

The marquess glared at her and then rested a large, gloved hand upon the boy’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Daniel. Mustn’t let yourself be hurt by cruel people, remember that.”

Laughter bubbled past her lips. “Of all the nonsense.”

The marquess’ terse response came on the edge of a steely whisper. “What was that?”

Bothersome Boy, Daniel, it would seem, peeked from the side of his father’s leg, a gloating expression in his eyes. He stuck out his tongue.

She narrowed her gaze, and then shifted her attention back to the ineffectual father. “What I said, my lord, is ‘of all the nonsense’. You clearly have very little idea of what reprehensible children you have here.” She ticked off a list on her fingers. “Throwing snowballs. Taunting. Hitting a lady with snowballs. Lying,” she directed that pointed statement at the two children. They’d apparently been far too long without a proper scolding for they took that recrimination with unblinking calm.

“But then,” the marquess said softly, “a proper young lady shouldn’t be out alone in the park, unchaperoned, on a stormy day. Throwing snowballs at those…?” He quirked a golden eyebrow. “What did you call them? Rep—”

“Reprehensible children,” she supplied for him. “I called them reprehensible children,” she said, filled with a perverse pleasure at needling the arrogant lout. And yes, he had her there. Proper young ladies shouldn’t be out alone as she presently was. However, she’d not been a proper young lady in many months now.

“Are you finished?” he snapped.

She chewed her lower lip and then nodded. “Yes, I believe I am.”

He jerked his chin, and without a word turned on his heel. His two little hellions trotted after him.

She stitched her brows into a line. “No, that isn’t all,” she called out before she thought better of it. Her sharp voice carried through the winter still of the quiet air around them.

His long-legged strides drew to a slow halt, and he turned back around. His midnight black cloak whipped about his feet. The marquess folded his arms across his chest.

“You should have a speaking to with their mother,” she said, lest her confidence desert her. “Their mother should know the manner of children that—”

“We don’t have a mother,” the golden curled, little girl blurted.

We don’t have a mother. Patrina curled her toes into the soles of her serviceable black boots. A pang of hurt for the troublesome children tugged at her breast. They were motherless. Which of course explained their less than desirable behavior. After all, hadn’t the Tidemore sisters behaved much the same way after the death of their father long ago? “I am so sorry,” she said softly. “I…” feel like an unmitigated ass. “I didn’t mean…” to be a big bully. “Forgive me,” she finished lamely.

The Marquess of Beaufort stormed toward her. Fury snapped in the green, nearly jade irises of his eyes. She took a stumbling step backward, and then remembered herself. She might feel regret for the harsh words she’d spoken about their motherless state, but she would not be cowed by this fiend. He stopped a hairsbreadth away. The tips of his gleaming black Hessians brushed the tips of her boots. “My children do not need your pity, miss.”

By the fury etched in the harshly beautiful planes of his angular face, Patrina realized this wouldn’t be the time to point out she was in fact a ‘my lady’. Instead, she tipped her chin up a notch. “I was not pitying them. Or you.” No, she’d experienced too much of that undesirable sentiment to ever turn it on to another.

The marquess lowered his head, so close she could see the flecks of gold in his eyes, and snarled, “Good. Because we do not want such sentiments from one such as you.”

From one such as her? Humph! “Well, then,” she said, wishing she didn’t have on the silly red bonnet as it lessened the effect of flouncing one’s curls.

He spun on his heel and marched back toward his children.

Patrina stood staring after him, and hated herself for being a weak ninnyhammer at her relief over his departure.

In fact, the more she stood there studying his broad back, the angrier she became. At him. At Albert Marshville. At herself. But mostly, herself for allowing a gentleman to make her feel so singularly unimportant. How dare he come and interrupt the peace and solitude she’d managed to steal for herself? Before she knew what she intended, she started after him. The snow crunched noisily under her boots. Somewhere along the way, she’d ceased to care about the absolute dunderhead’s cool treatment and had shifted to the rage she’d carried over Albert Marshville’s deception. “You,” she called after him. “I said, you!”

The marquess drew to an elegant, deliberate halt, then turned to face her. He leaned down and murmured something to the boy. Bothersome Boy’s mouth tipped downward in a frown, and he glared at Patrina a moment, then with obvious reluctance grabbed the little girl’s hand and stood in wait for their father. “What?” he snapped when Patrina reached his side.

“I’m not a miss,” she blurted, and immediately heat flooded her cheeks. His eyebrows lowered. “You called me a miss,” she went on, when it became apparent the laconic marquess had little to say on the matter. “And I’m not a miss. I’m a lady.” Polite Society would disagree. She jerked her chin up a notch. “I am Lady Patrina Tidemore.”

He said nothing for a long while, and she scuffed the tip of her boot along the ground, wishing she’d perhaps spent just tad bit more time considering what she would say to the insufferable lout who’d doubled back to confront her. She waited for the flash of awareness, the dawning realization of the scandalous miss before him.

“Is that supposed to mean something, my lady?”

Patrina angled her head.

“You say your name as though I might have an idea of just who you are.”

And she realized—he didn’t have a dashed clue who she was. “You don’t know who I am?” she blurted. An involuntary smile tugged the corners of her lips.

He scoffed. “What is so remarkable about you, my lady, that you think I should know you, prior sight unseen?”

She expected she should be offended. Nay, outraged. The kind of outrage that had young ladies slapping rude gents across smug faces. Except… Patrina’s smile widened. This great, insufferable, overbearing, condescending gentleman had no idea who she, Lady Patrina Tidemore was. A giddy sensation trilled through her body, as the marquess suddenly became vastly preferable.

“Has something I said amused you, my lady?”

“Er…no…I…”

“And was there a reason you’ve called me back here? To perhaps condescend my children further and throw your snowballs?”

She pressed her lips into a tight line to keep from delivering a nasty set-down. His children were the ones who could certainly stand a lesson in proper behavior. “I called you back to apologize. I’m sorry for my callous statement regarding your children’s mother. It wasn’t my intention to be cruel. I’m sorry for your loss.”

And she was. He might be a pompous gent, but she’d not wish this sadness on anyone. Well…mayhap the dastard who’d ruined her good name. But she’d draw the proverbial line there.

The marquess eyed her overlong, and she resisted the urge to keep from shifting on her feet like a small child caught slipping ink into her governess’s tea. “Don’t be,” he said gruffly.

She wrinkled her brow. “Don’t be what?”

“Sorry, my lady. I certainly am not.” With a curt bow, he spun back on his heel and took his leave.

It took a moment for the marquess’ words to register, and by that point, he’d made his way back to his waiting children. Her breath caught at the absolute viciousness of such a statement, and as the winter flakes snowed down upon her, she wondered what had caused such a gentleman to become so heartlessly cold.

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