Captivated by a Lady’s Charm

 Book 2 in the >Lords of Honor Series

In need of a wife…

Christian Villiers, the Marquess of St. Cyr, despises the role he’s been cast into as fortune hunter but requires the funds to keep his marquisate solvent. Yet, the sins of his past cloud his future, preventing him from seeing beyond his fateful actions at the Battle of Toulouse.  For he knows inevitably it will catch up with him, and everyone will remember his actions on the battlefield that cost so many so much—particularly his best friend.

In want of a husband…

Lady Prudence Tidemore’s life is plagued by familial scandals which makes her own marital prospects rather grim. Surely there is one gentleman of the ton who can look past her family and see just her and all she has to offer?

When Prudence runs into Christian on a London street, the charming, roguish gentleman immediately captures her attention. But then a chance meeting becomes a waltz, and now…

A Perfect Match…

All she must do is convince Christian to forget the cold requirements he has for his future marchioness. But the demons in his past prevent him from turning himself over to love. One thing is certain, Prudence wants the marquess and is determined to have him in her life, now and forever. It’s just a matter of convincing Christian he wants the same.

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Chapter 1

Lesson 1
It is sometimes necessary to slip away from one’s chaperone.

December 1820

Lady Prudence Tidemore had always dreamed of her first London Season.

Now she dreamed of ways to avoid that same blasted event. After all, she well knew the gossip and whispers that would come with her being one of the scandalous Tidemore siblings. Such was the fate of an unwed young lady when your brother married the governess and your sister’s failed elopement with one gentleman ended with a hasty union to another. No, there would be nothing exciting in attending a single event, as one of those de facto scandalous Tidemores.

As such, it was rather hard to look forward to one’s first Season. From where she stood at the back row of Madame Bisset’s, Prudence took in the sight of her mama and the modiste conversing. The thin, elegantly clad modiste held up scrap after scrap of white, ruffled fabric.

There was also nothing exciting about the blasted color white.

“Egads, there is nothing exciting about a white gown,” a familiar voice sounded from beside her.

Prudence shifted her attention away from her mother and looked to her younger sister, Penelope. “Indeed,” she muttered.

Except, by the eagerness of their mama’s too quickly nodding head, the French modiste, who was as much French as Prudence herself, may as well have presented her the Queen’s satin.

“Egads, did you see all that white fabric?”

Prudence and Penelope looked to their youngest sister, Poppy, who stood with her eyes widened in something akin to horror. “Indeed,” they muttered in unison.

They fell silent and stared on forlornly as another bolt of white fabric was brought out by one of the seamstresses and laid upon the counter.

More frantic nodding.

And another blasted white dress.

Frustration ran through Prudence, and her toes twitched with the urge to take flight from this dull world her mother and brother sought to thrust her into. All the excitement she’d dreamed of; the bright satin gowns and more, the hopes of love, and a charming gentleman who’d love her, had been dimmed with their talk of propriety and politeness and all things dull.

Poppy shuddered. “If this is what there is to look forward to, then I am not at all anticipating my London Season.”

Prudence and Penelope exchanged a look but otherwise remained wisely silent. With their sister, now fifteen, she’d still managed a blissful innocence of the severity to that great scandal that shook their family two and a half years earlier. “Well, I am not looking forward to it for altogether different reasons,” she said to herself. It had taken very little time for her to understand the ramifications of her sister’s failed elopement with one gentleman and then her hasty marriage to another a few months later.

In short, there were no kind words issued for the sisters of those scandalous ladies. Apparently, Society believed scandals passed through the bloodline. Or anyway, that is what their mama had said. Prudence wrinkled her nose. Surely there were some strong-minded peers who had opinions of their own?

Poppy scoffed. “But you always wanted a London Season.” And yet, she still did. Just not this unkind, whispered about affair her mother warned awaited her. Poppy turned to Penelope, the only practical one of the Tidemore girls. “Didn’t she? Tell her it will be grand.”

A bored yawn escaped Penelope. “It will be grand,” she replied automatically, wholly lacking any real conviction.

Poppy shoved an elbow into her sister’s side eliciting a grunt from Penelope. “Whatever was that for?”

“For being unconvincing. She needs you to be convincing.”

“I do not need—” Alas, Poppy didn’t seem to require any confirmation of what Prudence did in fact need, or not need, in this particular case, for her two younger sisters launched into a very public debate about the proper manner to feign excitement.

Of which Prudence did not require a lesson.

She glanced across the shop to where a proper, likely unscandalous, mama and her two white gown-wearing daughters stood. The trio gave their heads a shake and then with a pointed glance turned their shoulders. A knot formed in her belly. “And this is what I am not looking forward to,” she complained under her breath. The cut directs. The whispers. The gossip. The frowns. The—

“More white fabric,” Penelope chose that opportune moment to catch sight of their mother moving on to the next bolt of fabric.

Yes, that too. She was certainly not looking forward to any blasted white fabric with silly ruffles.

“This one at least has ruffles,” Poppy offered helpfully. That whole convincing business and all. With a cheerful grin, she skipped off and went to inspect the ruffled fabric now being examined by their mama.

Her other sister hovered at her side, giving her a gentle look. “Go on,” she urged, giving her a slight nudge. “I am having a splendid time.”

A twinkle lit Penelope’s keen, blue eyes. “You’re a dreadful liar.” She gentled that charge with a smile.

Prudence managed a half-grin and then gave another shove. “Go on. Perhaps you, as the ever logical one, can convince Mama that at least a faint pink would be permitted.”

An inelegant snort escaped Penelope. “Indeed we shall see.”

Though they both knew there was a greater hope of Mother hopping upon a hired hack and flying it through the sky. The rules had been clearly enumerated by their mama to each of them, while sitting in a neat row like geese upon the Tidemore pond.

No scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper. All the time.

Those words had become a mantra so familiar in their household that the Tidemore girls had taken to concluding their mother’s prayer with a firm “Amen”. Of which she was wholly unappreciative each time.

Alas, Mama’s expectations extended from the dramatic; do not run off to Gretna Greene with a gentleman who has plans of revenge against your brother, as had been the case with Patrina, to wear white, and only white, every day of the entire Season. Her mother was of the erroneous opinion that dull, purifying color would allow Prudence to blend and meld with the other innocent misses in the market for a husband. She snorted. There was a greater possibility of her marrying a marquess like her eldest sister than her or any of the Tidemore brood escaping gossip.

From across the shop, Poppy glanced back. She held up a bolt of ivory ruffled muslin, earning a sharp glance from the shopkeeper. The fabric slid from her sister’s fingers and back to the table.

The bell atop the shop door tinkled. Without even turning, her skin pricked with the arrival of more young debutantes and their proper mamas. Prudence slipped down the row and inched carefully along the table. As she made her way further and further from her mother and sisters and the blasted fabric, inching closer to that door, the desire to escape through it, jingling bell be damned, hit her like a life force.

How had she ever truly wanted a London Season?

“…they say her sister was enceinte when she wed the marquess…”

Prudence pursed her lips as the none-too-subtle whispers of that proper trio carried over to her.

The whispers will be furious. And loud…

At the time, Prudence hadn’t understood what her mother had meant in terms of loud whispers. Whyever would any woman or man want to whisper loudly. Unless they wished those words to be overheard. Now she knew. It was so those whispers were clearly heard.

Miserable harpies. Every last one of them.

“The next one is making her Come Out.”

As that trio of mean girls and their mama peered about, Prudence attempted to blend with the wall. Their gazes, instead, fell upon Poppy and Penelope now bickering about another swatch of white fabric.

Really, what was there to bicker over in terms of a material that was entirely the same in color and texture? She chose to focus instead on that inane conversation rather than the inevitability of making her Come Out with those loud whispers and more mean ladies and their equally harsh mamas.

A beleaguered sigh escaped her. This was to be her penance. She had been a rotten child. In fact, if her former governess now turned sister-in-law hadn’t instructed the word horrid out of her two years earlier, that would have been the perfect word choice. For she had been a horrid, miserable brat. It made a young woman wish she’d been a better person before a scandal and not because of it.

Prudence cast a glance out the window and stared longingly at the uncharacteristically quiet London streets. The thick white of the winter sky mocked her. Even the blasted sky is white. She peered past the fabrics lining the crystal pane to the occasional fleck of white. And this white she did not mind. For this white was…magical.

Her heart thundered hard in her chest. Snow. Snow portended great things. It had come to represent the talisman of hope and new beginnings. That uncommon, and all the more miraculous for it, snow had guided her eldest sister to love. Well, a snowball fight, if one wanted to be truly precise, had brought her sister Patrina together with her husband, Weston. But it was far more romantic to think on those flecks of white falling from the sky. Her feet twitched with a physical urge to take flight once again and she cast a glance past the trio of mean girls now being attended by one of Madame Bisset’s seamstresses.

Her sisters and mother continued to peruse the bolts of white fabric upon the table. As though feeling her gaze, Penelope glanced back. Their eyes locked and a silent understanding passed between them. She gave the faintest, imperceptible nod and then turned a question on their mother. With a frown, the Dowager Countess of Sinclair drummed her fingertips upon the fabric and then shoved it back. Her sister shot another quick look over her shoulder. She winked and then hastily returned her attention to their mama.

Before the mantra of “No scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper. All the time” could kill the somewhat scandalous act, Prudence pressed the handle and hurried outside. She held her breath as that damning jingle thundered in the quiet. Luckily, peering through the front window of the shop, she found her mother and sisters thoroughly embroiled in the pressing business of selecting a white gown.

Prudence backed away from the door and took several steps from the shop. With that slight, but meaningful distance between her and the un-French modiste’s establishment, she glanced about. A feeling of triumph ran through her. She puffed up her chest and continued skimming her gaze over the quiet London streets. So this was the sense of triumph Joan of Arc had known. Granted, her sneaking from her mother’s side was no honorable or impressive feat to some, but, in this instance, it felt very much like a grand victory.

A lone carriage rumbled down the cobbled roads and she drew in a deep, cleansing breath of the crisp, winter air. Tossing her arms back, she closed her eyes and tilted her head up to the sky to catch one of those small flakes. She faintly registered the opening of a door, and her eyes flew wide, just as a shopkeeper stepped out and hurled the contents of his basin.

Bloody h—

A strong hand wrapped about her arm and pulled her from harm just as the sopping, dirty water sprayed the pavement. “Have a care, love.” She swiveled her gaze up to the towering, broad figure owning that deep, mellifluous baritone.

Her heart skittered a beat. A dangerous, too fast beat. Goodness. The golden-haired gentleman with chiseled cheeks and an aquiline nose to rival a stone masterpiece really was the manner of man who robbed a lady of all those lessons on propriety ingrained into her from the nursery.

No scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper…

Humph, it seemed there was merit to Mama’s mantra after all. Consider her a proper Tidemore. Alas, if she were truly proper she’d know to turn on her heel. As it was, her feet remained fixed to the pavement.

“It wouldn’t do for you to soil such a lovely cloak, love.”

Her mind churned rapidly as she tried to put to right the stranger’s words. A lovely cloak. Prudence glanced about for said lovely cloak and then followed his gaze to the sapphire blue of her muslin garment. Her cloak. He referred to her cloak. Despite the unseasonably cold winter’s day, her body warmed. And he’d called her love. Which was all manner of improper and inappropriate and impolite and…Delicious. It was deliciously forbidden when a towering gentleman with too-long, golden-blond hair uttered that endearment in that same husky baritone.

No scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper…

By the concerned glint in the gentleman’s warm, brown eyes, he no doubt thought he’d stumbled upon a lackwit requiring his assistance. “Thank you,” she blurted. For to say something was certainly better than saying absolutely nothing. “For rescuing me from the bucket of water.” Granted, he’d not rescued her from the thunderous hooves of a magnificent steed, but if she’d had her skirts ruined while spiriting herself out of a shop, she might very well be dead by her mother’s hands.

The gentleman doffed his hat and with that splendid, black Oxonian in his long, white-gloved fingertips, swept a deep bow. “A pleasure, my lady. I was fortunate to be passing by.”

He grinned and her heart tripped another beat. Oh, dear. This was the manner of wicked smile that had cost Patrina her name, her reputation and, subsequently, all the Tidemore girls a hope of a happily-ever-after. This is why Patrina courted and found ruin. At last it made sense. The wild fluttering in her belly and hopelessly warm heart were certainly worth dancing with ruin for.

Then, as though fate sought to remind her of this momentary madness, a carriage rattled by, jerking her from her foolish and, worse, dangerous woolgathering over a nameless stranger. She stumbled back a step, away from him, and toward the shop. Oh, blast! Madame Bisset’s!

No scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper…

“I—I must leave,” she said quickly. She dropped a hasty curtsy, well aware that speaking to a stranger, unchaperoned in the streets certainly violated, at the very least, two requirements stressed by Mama in her daily urgings. She looked to the shop window and then at the gentleman once more. It would be impolite to exchange greetings and yet, he’d saved her. From a sopping bucket of water, but saved nonetheless.

The glorious, golden stranger with his chiseled cheeks and aquiline nose made the decision for her. “It would be wrong for me not to know the name of the woman whom I’ve saved from a shopkeeper’s dirtied water.”

Her heart skipped several more important, now gone, beats. It was as though their thoughts moved in harmony. Foolish girl. Foolish girl… “Lady Prudence Tidemore.” As soon as her introduction left her mouth, she bit the inside of her cheek.

Everyone knew a Tidemore girl. The whole lot of them were ruined by Patrina’s failed elopement and then hasty marriage.

Except, if this man knew who she was, he gave no outward indication. He merely inclined his head. “Lady Prudence,” he murmured, and warmth unfurled within her at his husky command of her name.

What was the mantra? What was the mantra? It had to do with being proper and gentlemen…but surely not about speaking to those gentlemen, upon a London street with her mother unaware of her momentary defection. Oh, blast! Her mother!

If it were discovered she’d snuck away, her mother would likely send her off to an abbey before Prudence could create a Patrina-esque scandal, the likes of which would place the remainder of the Tidemore girls’ reputations well past the hope of saving. Her time with the gentleman was at an end. There could be nothing more than this quick, stolen exchange. But she could not leave without knowing the identity of the man who’d broken the tedium she’d known since arriving in London. She wetted her lips.

He touched a hand to the lapel of his elegant, black cloak and answered her unspoken question. “Christian Villiers, Marquess of St. Cyr.”

Her heart slowed. A marquess? Just then, a lone snowflake landed on the tip of her nose. She touched her fingertips to that magical flake. “You are a marquess,” she breathed and then momentarily lifted her gaze up to the sky. “And it is snowing. And very nearly Christmas.” Her ruined sister had married a marquess at Christmas and now lived blissfully, in love and happy. Prudence’s mind raced with the possibilities presented by those magical flakes falling and this serendipitous meeting with a marquess at the holiday time.

The marquess furrowed his brow.

Prudence silently cursed. By her reaction, the gentleman would believe she was interested in his title. Which she assuredly was not. Not in the way he might believe, anyhow. “It does not matter that you are a marquess,” she hurried to assure him.

Except by the further wrinkling of his brow, she was only further confounding him. “Er…” He beat his hat against his leg.

Prudence cleared her throat. “That is not to say it does not matter, per se. I am sure it matters to some, and most, and,” she lifted up her gloved palms. “I merely meant it does not matter whether you are a marquess or not. To me.” Stop your rambling Prudence Gwendolyn Tidemore. She snapped her lips closed.

From beyond the marquess’ shoulder, a tall, lean gentleman stepped out of a nearby shop. His gaze collided with hers and then he looked between Prudence and Lord St. Cyr.

Oh bloody damn. She widened her eyes, as with this new figure’s presence she moved past a mere dance, and may as well have waltzed with ruin. Lord St. Cyr followed her stare to the gentleman who’d intruded on their stolen moment.

“I must go.” Prudence dropped another curtsy and raced back to Madame Bisset’s. All the while, her neck pricked with the awareness of his gaze on her. With her heart threatening to pound a hole right out of her chest, she stood at the door and looked through the long, crystal pane. Well, saints in heaven. However was she to manage to reenter the shop without that blasted bell alerting everyone to her disappearance?

At the precise moment, Poppy, God love her soul, caught her eye through the window. From where she stood in the shop, beside their mother and Madame Bisset, she gave a familiar wink, and then upended a table of fabric. Startled shrieks went up about the shop, and using the carefully orchestrated distraction, Prudence let loose a relieved sigh and hurriedly slipped inside.

Penelope rushed over to her side, with a stern set to her mouth. She may as well have been the avenging mama for all the displeasure stamped on the lines of her plump cheeks. “Whatever were you doing outside?” she hissed, casting a quick glance about.

“It is snowing,” she blurted and then looked outside.

At that exact moment, the Marquess of St. Cyr walked past the broad windowpane. That stranger, who’d startled her into movement, must be a friend, for the two gentlemen walked side by side. Though the nameless man cut an impressive figure as well, it was the marquess with his sharp features and powerfully square jaw with the faintest cleft who commanded her notice.

“What are you looking at?” Penelope demanded at her side on a quiet whisper.

Her alarmed question was echoed moments later by Poppy who rushed over. “What is she looking at?”

A silly smile played on her lips as she recalled his dashing rescue just moments ago. As though feeling her gaze, Lord St. Cyr froze. Their eyes caught through the window and he inclined his head.

“Why, she is not looking at something, she is looking at…at—”

Penelope slapped her hand over Poppy’s mouth, effectively ending that damning discovery on the fifteen-year-old Poppy’s lips. With a scowl, Penelope gripped Prudence by the forearm and yanked her away from the window. “Come along,” she snapped.

Despite herself, Prudence cast a glance back at the window and disappointment filled her at finding Lord St. Cyr had since moved beyond the shop. She sighed and allowed Penelope to tug her toward the front and away from what she likely perceived as danger.

It was not a marquess at Christmas whom she’d met in the street, but it was very nearly Christmas. And it was snowing.

As such, surely Mama could forgive the whole “no scandals. No elopements or rushed marriages. You are to be everything and all things proper…” mantra.

With a smile, Prudence rather found herself looking forward to the Season, after all.

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