Always Proper Suddenly Scandalous

 Book 3 in the >Scandalous Seasons Series

Geoffrey Winters, Viscount Redbrooke was not always the hard, unrelenting lord driven by propriety. After a tragic mistake, he resolved to honor his responsibility to the Redbrooke line and live a life, free of scandal. Knowing his duty is to wed a proper, respectable English miss, he selects Lady Beatrice Dennington, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, the perfect woman for him. Until he meets Miss Abigail Stone…To distance herself from a personal scandal, Abigail Stone flees America to visit her uncle, the Duke of Somerset. She finds herself helplessly intrigued by the hard, too-proper Geoffrey. With his strict appreciation for decorum and order, he is nothing like the man she’s always dreamed of.Abigail is everything Geoffrey does not need. She upends his carefully ordered world at every encounter. As they begin to care for one another, Abigail carefully guards the secret that resulted in her journey to England.

Only, if Geoffrey learns the truth about Abigail, he must decide which he holds most dear–his place in Society or Abigail’s place in his heart.


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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

A gentleman should devote his energy and efforts to the fruitful management of his landholdings.
4th Viscount Redbrooke

London, England
1818

A young lord in possession of vast holdings and wealth had to be very particular in all matters. It served such a gentleman to have his life well-ordered, without scandal, and properly plotted out.

When he’d been a young man, Geoffrey Winters, Viscount Redbrooke’s’ now departed father, had advised Geoffrey of his familial obligations.

Geoffrey had failed abominably in his responsibilities.

Until he’d assumed the title of Viscount Redbrooke, four years past.

Seated at the mahogany desk in his office, Geoffrey stared blankly down at the ivory parchment in front of him. His mind drifted back to a dark night, muddied roads, a sky streaked with lightening. He’d not always been above reproach…

The words upon the page blurred together.

Geoffrey gave his head a hard shake, and pushed aside his distracted musings before they took him down the path of old hurts and still-strong guilt.

Just a week shy of his thirtieth year, Geoffrey was minutes shy of selecting a young lady to make the Viscountess Redbrooke.

He picked up his pen and dipped it into the crystal inkwell.

The young lady must be of exceptional breeding.

He again dipped the tip into the ink.

The lady must not have seen more than two Seasons.

After all, the most marriageable young ladies would be successfully identified by those gentlemen in the market for a wife within the first Season. Anything beyond two Seasons was not to be countenanced.

The lady must possess delicate sensibilities, a polite laugh, and not be given to great displays of emotion.

Yes, his ideal match would not be a woman given to flights of fancy or possessed of any naïve visions of love. There had been a time when he’d believed the nonsensical emotion of love was more powerful than responsibility.

His lip pulled back in a sneer. That mistake had been a costly one.

Geoffrey tossed his pen down and pulled open the top drawer of his desk. He rustled through several sheets of parchment, and then pulled out another familiar list. His gaze quickly surveyed the names upon the sheet of young ladies who might admirably fill the role of viscountess.

Lady Diana Shorington. An Incomparable of the Season, she would make him an excellent match. With her fair skin and golden hair, she well fit with Society’s standards of beauty. Given her status as the well-dowried daughter of the Marquess of Castlebury, Geoffrey expected she’d make a match relatively quickly that Season.

He drummed his fingertips along the top of his desk.

There was Miss Anna Adams, daughter to the Viscount Wethersfield, always very stoic and composed at Society events.

Or Lady Beatrice Dennington, the only daughter of the Duke of Somerset. She, too, possessed a delicate golden beauty.

Geoffrey’s gaze fixed on Lady Beatrice’s name, as he further contemplated her suitability. Demure, proper, and exceedingly polite, she would make an exceptional Viscountess Redbrooke.

All the prospective young ladies had one unremarkable trait in common—they were exceedingly dull…which was his first and foremost consideration of all the prospective ladies.

Geoffrey blew lightly on the fresh ink, drying the parchment.

He’d not be so foolish as to make the tragic mistake of being lured by a passionate, unconventional young lady. Not again. He’d sooner turn his fortune over to a stranger than turn his deadened heart over to a feckless creature.

Yes, Lady Beatrice would do very well as his viscountess.

He opened his top desk drawer and pulled out yet another, earlier compiled list that detailed essential components for wooing a respectable young lady.

Ices at Gunter’s.

A walk in Hyde Park.

Several waltzes.

A trip to the theatre.

“If we do not leave this instant, dear, we’ll be late.”

His head whipped up as his mother sailed into the room, a frown wreathing her plump, unwrinkled cheeks. She held her gloves in her hand.

Geoffrey neatly stacked the three lists and placed them back in his desk. “My apologies.” He closed the drawer with a firm click and, then rose.

Even if many members of the ton preferred arriving fashionably late to events, Geoffrey valued punctuality. The matrons of Almack’s had the right of it, barring those more than twenty minutes late from attendance. He mentally ticked punctuality onto his list of attributes for his future wife.

“Geoffrey,” his mother began as they started their walk toward the foyer and their waiting carriage outside. “You do know I’ve been patient. You are going to be one and thirty in three days.”

“Thirty.” He gave his head a rueful shake. Hardly endearing to have one’s own mother forget how many years he’d spent on this Earth.

She blinked. “Truly?”

He nodded. “Truly.”

Mother wrinkled her nose. “I was so very sure—”

“You’re wrong,” he interjected with a curt impatience.

“Regardless,” she began again, this time her tone less convincing. “It is time you take a wife.”

“I know.”

They walked down the long corridor; their quickened steps muffled by the long red carpet that lined the hall.

“You’ve not been to any events in nearly a fortnight. A fortnight.” She spoke as though Geoffrey hadn’t attended a single ton function all Season. “All the most marriageable misses have already received offers. Why, I heard from Lady Tisdale, who learned from one of her maid’s, that Miss Anna Adams is to receive an offer from the Marquess of Edgebury any day.”

Well, it was a good thing he’d not settled on Miss Anna Adams as his future viscountess. He silently inked her name permanently off his list. “I visit my clubs,” he groused under his breath.

Her eyes widened. “Your clubs? You will not find a marriageable lady at your clubs, Geoffrey,” she bemoaned. “It is time you fulfill your responsibilities as viscount.”

Geoffrey’s gut tightened as the familiar guilt licked at him, more painful than the biting sting of a lash. He knew well what his obligations were…to wed and propagate the Redbrooke line with male issues. His father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father had done a rather deplorable job of producing sufficient spares to the heir.

Mother let out a little huff. “Do you know what will happen if you fail to marry and produce an heir?”

“I’ve not an inkling what should happen if I fail to wed.”

She continued on, ignoring the sardonic twist to his words. “The line will pass to a distant Scottish relation,” she said, as though he hadn’t spoken. She wrinkled her nose as though nauseated by the mere prospect of a Scott inheriting the title.

Yes, in the event Geoffrey failed to produce an heir, his solicitor had informed Geoffrey that he’d traced the next in line to great-great grandfather’s second cousin, once removed.

Mother paused, forcing Geoffrey to stop and look back at her. “Scottish.” The one word came out as slowly as if she were speaking to a simpleton.

Geoffrey widened his eyes. “Egads, never tell me a Scot?”

His mother narrowed her gaze on him. “This is not a matter to be taken lightly, Geoffrey. Can you imagine a man with the name of…?” She wrinkled her brow. “McTavish assuming the title?”

“McMorris,” he corrected, automatically.

She continued marching forward with a beat to rival a drum; as she walked she slashed the air with her hand. “McTavish. McMorris. It is all the same. The gentleman possesses Scottish roots. You must wed. Immediately.”

“I concur.” He forced the words out past gritted teeth.

His mother froze in her steps, and looked to Geoffrey. Her blue eyes wide like saucers. “You concur?”

A muscle at the corner of his eye twitched. “I do.” He’d spent nearly five years trying to atone for his past sins, and yet, it would appear his mother still didn’t trust that he’d reformed. “I know well my responsibilities, Mother.” He resumed walking.

She hurried along, and fell into step beside him. “I never imagined…” Her words trailed off.

Geoffrey waited. All the while, knowing she dangled that unfinished sentence before him in a paltry attempt at intrigue.

She tapped him on the arm with one of the white gloves she carried. “You are supposed to ask me what I’d never imagined.” A frown marred her lips.

The steady tick-tock-tick-tock of the long-case clock at the center of the hallway filled the stretch of silence until his mother glowered up at him.

He sighed. “As you wish. What have you never imagined?”

“That you would acquiesce and find a suitable bride without my prodding. After all, most gentlemen are forced kicking and screaming to the proverbial altar. Your father and I despaired of you doing right by the Redbrooke line. Especially after that…that…Emma Marsh woman.”

Geoffrey’s gut clenched in pained remembrance of that great mistake she could never forgive. How could she forgive him, when he would never be able to forgive himself?

His mother seemed oblivious to the inner turmoil raging through Geoffrey. She tugged on her gloves as they reached the expansive marble foyer, and dusted them against one another. “I should have known better to question your intentions. Not when you’ve become so very committed, so very dedicated to the title of Viscount Redbrooke.”

Mother prattled on with her high-praise even as the butler, Ralston, hurried to open the door.

As Geoffrey and his mother exited the house and entered the carriage, he ruminated over his selection in Lady Beatrice. Modest, demure, and lovely with flaxen curls, she would make him a lovely wife. He had it upon good authority that the young lady would be in attendance at Lord and Lady Hughes’s ball this evening.

The groom closed the carriage door, and a few moments later, the conveyance rocked to motion. Geoffrey consulted his timepiece. Tonight would mark the perfect time to launch his courtship. If he were to maintain his very rigid timeline and wed, three Sundays past his thirtieth birthday, he couldn’t afford to tarry.

“Have you settled on a young lady?” His mother interrupted his ponderings. “Oh, surely with your rigid expectations and insistence on propriety, you must have.”

He frowned, not particularly caring for that unflattering description from the woman who’d given him life—even if it was a fair assessment of his character.

“Do tell?” his mother pressed.

It mattered not that she’d discover soon enough, his mother was as tenacious as a dog with a bone.

“I do not require any assistance on your part.”

Mother pressed a hand to her breast. “My goodness,” she said, with hurt flashing in her eyes. “Do you imagine I would be unable to assist you?”

“I don’t imagine I’ll need anyone’s help securing the young lady’s hand,” he said, dryly.

She leaned over and patted him on the knee. “Why, every gentleman requires the help of one’s mother, dear boy…” Her words cut off abruptly. A glimmer flicked to life in her eyes. “Ahh, so there is a particular young lady.”

Geoffrey bit back a curse. With his mother’s ability to ferret out secrets, she’d be better served working for the Home Office.

The carriage drew to a blessed stop.

Mother sat back in the red velvet squabs with a huff. “Very well,” she groused.

A servant rapped on the door.

“Just a moment, Geoffrey. Won’t you tell…?”

“No.”

Her lips turned down at the corners. “I shouldn’t have to gather it from gossips and newspapers.”

He jumped out of the carriage and made his way up the steps of the townhouse awash in the soft glow of candlelight. As his mother fell into step alongside him, she grumbled under her breath.

They sailed through the doors, into a wall of heat from the crush of bodies that filled Lord and Lady Hughes’s ballroom. From his place in the receiving line, he scanned the room in search of the woman he’d decided to make his wife.

As he sought her out, he contemplated his very deliberate courtship. If he were to secure a waltz and a quadrille this evening, and a waltz and some country reel at the next event they attended, it would send a very clear message that…

He froze.

That…

Geoffrey’s body went taut, and the breath left him. His stare fixed on a tall, lithe young woman, a veritable Spartan warrior princess amidst a room of lesser English ladies. With midnight black locks arranged in an artful design, and elegantly high-cheekbones, she possessed the kind of beauty that made a man do foolish things, like forget to breathe, or what was worse, caused a man to forget responsibility.

Remembrances of past transgressions teased his mind, but the woman, a stranger to him, was like a siren, silently calling, beckoning him. Two loose strands hung down her creamy white shoulders. Another toppled from the butterfly comb that held back those magnificent tresses, ending all such illusion that the flyaway locks were at all deliberate. He ached to capture one between his fingers and ascertain whether the strands were as silken as they appeared in the glow emitted by the chandelier’s gentle flame.

As if being mocked by the gods, Lady Beatrice Dennington’s brother, the Marquess of Westfield, walked up to the young woman, a glass of ratafia in his hands. He held it out to the unfamiliar young lady, and whispered something close to her ear. Even from across the ballroom, the husky quality of her full laugh reached Geoffrey’s ears. Nearby lords and ladies looked on, their lips pulled back in a sneer at her unladylike expression of mirth.

And god help him, for the first time in nearly five years, he wanted to send propriety to the devil with a bow and a parting wave, and forever hear that fulsome sound.

The lady must possess delicate sensibilities, a polite laugh, and not be given to great displays of emotion.

Westfield’s presence, combined with the words Geoffrey had dashed upon his list served as a taunting reminder of his intentions for Lady Beatrice.

“Geoffrey,” his mother murmured, giving him a sharp look. “Are you well?”

“Oh-uh, yes, very well.” Geoffrey stroked his palms along the front of his waistcoat and awaited their introduction.

“The Viscount Redbrooke and the Viscountess Redbrooke,” the servant called.

From his vantage point, Geoffrey sought the tall beauty who’d so captivated him. He frowned. Gone. She’d disappeared from her spot alongside the pillar like an apparition he’d only conjured in his great imaginings.

His chest tightened with inexplicable disappointment.

“I see Lady Tisdale,” his mother said, calling him back to the moment.

Geoffrey managed a faint nod as his mother took her leave, and he returned his search for the temptress. For four years, he’d managed to convince himself that he craved a placid, calm, poised young lady for a wife. Great beauties roused grand passions and wrought all manner of heartache. In the span of a heartbeat, the winsome creature in the crowd made mockery of his efforts at atonement.

Christ, what in hell is wrong with me?

The sole purpose of his being at Lord and Lady Hughes’s ball was to partner Lady Beatrice in two sets; a waltz and a quadrille, and indicate his interest in the young lady. It would not do to be observed standing like a foppish gent just out of university with his mouth agape over an altogether different young lady.

Except…his mind was filled with images of too red lips, and a tall, lean frame, and…he gave his head a shake. Standing here, lusting after some unknown lady would not help him accomplish his goal of marriage to Lady Beatrice.

In desperate need of a drink, Geoffrey took a step toward a liveried servant bearing a tray full of champagne when his black Hessian boot suddenly snagged the hem of a young lady’s skirt.

The tear of fabric ripping blended with the din of conversation around them.

The lady gasped, and pitched forward. Even as the glass of ratafia in her hand fell to the floor, her hip collided with the passing servant who teetered on his feet. The young man’s serving tray tilted precariously, and for an infinitesimal moment Geoffrey believed the servant had steadied his burden.

But the servant’s tray slipped from his fingers. Champagne flutes careened to the floor, and sprayed the bubbling liquid onto the gown of several matrons standing nearby, who cried out in shock and scurried off.

“Pardon me,” Geoffrey murmured to the servant, and then returned his attention to the woman he’d inadvertently sent reeling. A mere five or so inches smaller than his six foot frame, she stood taller than most of the ladies present. “Forgive me. Are you all…?”

She smiled up at him.

His question died upon his lips as he gazed down at the woman who’d unwittingly beckoned from across the ballroom mere moments ago. His eyes traveled the high planes of her cheekbones, the gray irises of her eyes, her full, red lips.

…and then her slipper met the moisture upon the marble floor. Like one of the skaters at the Frost Fair on the River Thames, she slid forward, into a nearby pillar. “Ouch.”

Geoffrey’s arm shot out and he sought to steady her.

“Thank you,” she said. She shook out her sea foam green skirts and unlike the horror that wreathed the faces of the surrounding ladies, wry amusement fairly glittered in her gray-blue eyes. “I am uninjured,” she assured him.

His eyes widened and with alacrity, he released her.

She cocked her head to the side. “Are you injured?”

Her flat accent did not possess the clipped proper tones of a proper English lady. He blinked. “Injured?”

“You appear unwell, sir.”

By God…

“You are an American,” he blurted.

A mischievous smile played about her lips. “I am.” She looked around and then back to him. “Never tell me you’re scandalized by me being an American?”

He was scandalized by the wicked direction his mind had wandered that involved an American woman. If his mother was outraged at the prospect of a Scott assuming the Redbrooke title, what would she say to an American lady having garnered Geoffrey’s attention?

“Ahh, you do smile,” the young woman said.

Geoffrey frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Alas, it is gone,” she said with a long, exaggerated sigh.

Geoffrey became aware of the appalled stares of Polite Society’s most respectable peers, trained upon him. From across the room, his mother, who stood alongside Lady Tisdale, glared with blatant disapproval. It was the much needed reminder of past failings and inner weaknesses that had wrought much agony upon his family. By standing here engaging this…this…stranger, in the midst of Lord and Lady Hughes’s ballroom, he opened himself up to public censure. His intentions were marriage to Lady Beatrice, and any hint of untoward interest in another would not be countenanced by the Duke of Somerset or his daughter.

Geoffrey folded his arms across his chest. This American upstart might have a face and body to rival Helen of Troy, but possessed the uncouth manners one would expect of an American. “Miss,” he said from the corner of his mouth. “We’ve not been properly introduced, therefore, any discourse between us is highly improper.”

Her lips twitched, with, he suspected, mirth. “I would say toppling over the host’s servant and spraying his guests with champagne and glass is also improper, but you’ve done that, sir.”

Geoffrey felt heat climb up his neck, and resisted the urge to tug at his suddenly tight cravat, shamed by the accuracy of her charge. He did not create scandals. Not anymore. He was proper. And poised. And…

She arched a brow.

Well, in this instance he’d created a small scandal. Still, he needn’t raise further eyebrows by talking to the vexing miss.

Even if he wanted to.

He needed to go. Immediately. Anywhere but within mere inches of the lady who smelled like lilacs and lavender and now champagne. “Again, forgive me for causing you distress.” He bowed deeply and beat a hasty retreat.

Geoffrey had made a fool of himself once over a young lady. He’d not be so foolish again.

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