Book 2 in the >Heart of a Scandal Series
Christi Caldwell’s brand-new Regency book, A Lady’s Guide to a Gentleman’s Heart is sure to fill your heart with cheer and warmth this winter season! Don’t miss out on the long-awaited second book in The Heart of a Scandal series!!
Honor demands he give her up-
Heath Whitworth, Marquess of Mulgrave and heir to a dukedom, is honorable to his handsome bones. When his mother insists he spend the holidays dancing attendance on Lady Emilia Aberdeen, he has no choice but to do the gentlemanly thing. For years, Heath has harbored feelings for the lady, but he knows exactly why his best friend jilted Emilia years ago, and that secret makes a happily ever after for Heath and Emilia an impossibility.
Love demands she follow her heart-
Heartbroken after the man she loved ended their betrothal, Lady Emilia Aberdeen, is quite content to live a spinster’s life penning an anonymous column that offers guidance to young ladies. Except, the more she is thrown into Lord Mulgrave’s company, the more she sees that the proper, always-aloof gentleman is also charming, clever, and inconveniently attractive. Emilia discovers maybe it is possible to love again but with secrets between them, Heath will face his greatest challenge yet: loving Emilia Aberdeen or letting her go.
No relationship can be built on a betrayal. That is, no relationship that is worth having.
A Lady’s Guide to a Gentleman’s Heart • Winter 1821 • Kent
Later that week…
Lord Heath Whitworth, the Marquess of Mulgrave, had been trapped.
Not even for the first, nor second, nor third time. And in each instance, he found himself trapped by the usual suspect: his mother, the Duchess of Sutton.
This time, however, she was here for business.
Nor was his observation a figurative thought surmised from the determined glint in her eyes. She was literally before him bearing an official-looking paper.
That look combined with that page could only portend doom.
As such, there was just one thing a gentleman could do under such circumstances—go on the offense.
Folding his arms at his chest, he stared across the opposite end of the billiards table at her. “No.”
His mother crossed her own arms in a matching pose. The paper in her fingers dangled at her forearm. “I’ve not said anything.”
Yet. “Nor did you need to,” he put in smoothly. “Whatever you’re asking, I trust the safest answer is ‘no.’”
“For shame, Heath.” She gave him a hurt look. “Can’t I simply pay a visit to my son?”
“In the billiards room? In the middle of your house party with a sea of guests off in one of your many parlors, no less?” Given all that, he’d have to be a damned fool to believe—even with that wounded expression she’d donned—that there was anything less than mercenary in her presence here.
Just like that, the façade ended. His mother sharpened her gaze. “Very well. You’d prefer me to be direct.”
He hitched his hip onto the corner of the billiards table and with his spare hand urged her to have out with it. After all, he’d long ceased to be surprised, shocked, or horrified by his mother’s directives. “I’m listening.”
“I would like you to show Lady Emilia a good time.”
He lost his balance and landed hard on his arse.
Frowning, his mother came to stand over him. “I thought I’d been clear,” she went on, relentless. “And please stand this instant, Heath. I feel rather silly having this discussion with you sprawled on the floor.”
Really, this was what she found silly? And not the whole ordering him to show a respectable lady a good time?
“Well?” his mother demanded after he’d taken to his feet.
“You,” he began slowly, “want me to…” No. No matter how many times he attempted, he couldn’t force out the words ordered by his mother about this particular woman—ever. He found the nearest chair.
“You are usually far more clever than this, dear boy,” his mother chided, her disapproving tone making abundantly clear the endearment was really an insult. “I asked you to show her a good time.”
And there it was again. He cringed, for the fourth time since she’d stolen his blessed solitude.
And by the way she’d planted herself in front of him—arms folded—she was prepared for battle.
Heath tamped down a groan and peered around her at the door, contemplating escape.
His mother slid sideways, ending all hope of that endeavor. She clapped her hands once. “Do attend me. I asked you at the beginning of the house party to—”
Blast and damn. He sat upright in his seat. “Show her a good time. Yes, yes. I’ve quite heard you.” But hearing that order from his mother numerous times was enough to turn a man’s stomach worse than rancid kippers washed down with a glass of vinegar. “If you are interested in someone seeing to that particular goal, you’d be wise to consult Sheldon.” His younger brother by two years had long ago earned a reputation as a rogue.
His mother flicked his ear, and he cursed. “Bloody hell, that—oww,” he grunted as she gave it another flick. “What in blazes was that for?”
“The first was because you know your brother is newly and happily married and quite reformed.”
“And the other?” he groused, rubbing at the wounded lobe.
“Because of the cursing. Now, you very well know Sheldon cannot be the one to”—he tensed—“make Emilia’s time here enjoyable.” He relaxed at that less vulgar substitute.
“She, I suspect, would be entirely more appreciative if I am not the one to make her time enjoyable.”
“I assure you I know who we’re talking about.” His mother had been quite clear in her requests of Heath since the damned winter party had commenced. “How could I not know who we’re speaking of?” he drawled.
His mother snorted. “Are you certain, Heath? Are you truly certain, because since I found your hiding spot fifteen minutes ago, you’ve not managed to mention her name even once?”
“I’d hardly call the billiards room a hiding spot. Now, if I sought to hide, I’d seek out the former cellars or—the conservatory.” While he spoke, he angled his head ever so slightly, waiting for his moment.
“I know what you are doing, young man. And I assure you… it is not going to work.”
At thirty-two years of age, Heath hadn’t been a “young man” in more than a decade. “Tell me, Mother,” he drawled, “just what is it that I’m trying to do?”
She shifted, and Heath came quickly to his feet. He gave the door another longing look before making a beeline for the drink cart. His mother might be two decades his senior and wearing a gown and silk slippers, but she’d proven she could outrace any of her children at any age when she wished it.
“Avoid her,” she said flatly. “You are trying to avoid her.”
Yes, well, she had him there.
“I made myself clear when I asked you—”
“—to pay Emilia some attention,” she continued over his interruption.
Heath poured himself a tall snifter of brandy, focusing all his attentions on the simple task. “I am most likely the last person she—”
“—would care to spend her days, let alone a single moment, with.” He set the bottle down and faced his mother once more. “In fact, in case it has escaped your notice, the lady hasn’t exchanged a word with me”—in years—“since she arrived.”
His mother furrowed her brow. “Are we speaking of the same woman? Because you’ve still not brought yourself to utter her name once since she arrived.”
This again. “Ohhhh, I know her.” At the duchess’ pointed look, he sighed. Touché. “Very well, I know Lady Emilia Aberdeen,” he amended. “Your goddaughter.” The girl he’d always been tongue-tied around when they were children. “The Duke and Duchess of Gayle’s daughter. And my best friend’s”—his mother was already across the room, a palm stretched out—“former betroff—” The duchess’ hand muffled the remainder of his response, summarily knocking more than half the contents of his drink over the rim of his glass, soaking his fingers and his jacket.
“Hush this instant, Heath,” she whispered, stealing a glance back at the door as if she feared the guests who’d already sought out the evening’s entertainments might somehow be lurking outside the billiards room. She gave him a long, pointed look. “Am I free to remove this now?”
“Wuffsthealternative?” he mumbled into her gloved hand. “Suffocatin-meh.” And by God, he’d bet his future title of duke that her fingers crept up a smidge to cover his nostrils.
“Now,” she went on as she removed her hand, freeing him to breathe once more. “You know we do not speak of him… at least around her.” His mother flushed. “Emilia. Now, going forward, you’ll refer to her by her name.”
“Very well.” Removing his kerchief, he snapped the immaculate fabric open and proceeded to mop up the excess moisture from his spilled drink. “As I was saying, given my friendship with her former betrothed, I hardly think I’m the person she’d care to keep company with”—ever—“for your house party.” Nor was his supposition speculative in nature. At any Society event they’d attended together, she’d barely looked at him, let alone uttered a single word. In fairness, neither had he gone out of his way to have any face-to-face meetings with her. After all, Heath, by nature of who he’d always been, preferred life… to be uncomplicated, absent of discomfort. Emilia Aberdeen, with her broken betrothal and his continued friendship with the almost-groom, would rest alongside the dictionary definition of discomfort.
“Then try.” His mother shoved something into his chest, and he grunted.
“What in blazes—”
She flicked his ear, earning another curse.
“It is a list,” she said. “To help you.”
To help him? Heath unfolded the scrap.
“Because you are not necessarily as charming as your brother.”
“Why, thank you, Mother,” he intoned dryly.
“Oh, hush. You’ve always said as much.”
“I’ve said I am the serious one,” he muttered, “which is altogether different.”
“Is it, Heath?” She arched a brow in the manner that had terrified him as a boy. “Is it?”
No, it really wasn’t. Regardless, wounded pride aside, there was some benefit to that low—if accurate—opinion of him.
“Very well,” he conceded. “I’m not the charming one, which is also why I’m the absolute last person who should be assigned this task.” And with that, he reached for his cue stick, marking an end to the nonsense she’d put to him.
His mother planted her hand on the velvet table, blocking his shot. “Emilia is certainly not a task.”
“Do I want to keep company with her or…” He squinted down at the numbered list on the edge of the table. He promptly choked. “Ask her what she’d like to spend her morn doing and then do it? The answer is decidedly no.” Grabbing up the page, he handed it over to his mother. Or attempted to. She ignored his efforts, making no move to take the sheet.
With that curt order, he sighed and resumed reading. A strangled laugh escaped him, amusement shaking his frame. “You expect me to”—he glanced at item two—“woo a lady over breakfast? What in the Lord’s name did you use to make this list?”
His mother bristled. “I’ll have you know this is not amusing.”
“Your Lady’s Guide,” he drawled.
“The Lady’s Guide to a Gentleman’s Heart is a most reliable source on how one should conduct oneself around a lady.”
“Oh, hush,” she chided, giving his arm a less-than-gentle tap that was more slap than anything. “Snobbishness hardly suits you.”
He winced and rubbed the aggrieved flesh. The Duchess of Sutton, master of control, had turned bloodthirsty. This was even more dire than he’d feared. “Does snobbishness suit any person?” he drawled, and this time, he was quick enough to step away to avoid another assault on his person.
“I’ll have you know this column you’d deride is all the rage.”
“Either way, I’ve no desire to take part in any of this. Therefore, your words are, in fact, an order.”
“You put that note in your pocket this instance, Heath.”
Even as he knew he was being a childlike boor, Heath set it on the sideboard.
His mother breathed through her nose, slowly, evenly, and that was how he knew he’d crossed a line. “Very well, Heath. Leaving the list out is the wiser course, because the moment I step foot outside this room, you’re going to memorize it, and thoroughly. Are we clear?” Not waiting for an answer, because the Duchess of Sutton would always know the definitive answer to that non-question question, she swept from the room and left him alone once more.
“We are clear,” he muttered anyway after she’d gone.
Sometimes, he wished he’d been the recalcitrant of the Whitworth children; that he’d been the rogue of a brother who the Duke and Duchess had grown so accustomed to hearing ‘no’ from. Because then mayhap he could have simply denied her orders and carried on with his own affairs. After his brother’s death, the sense of obligation, the need to be everything his parents needed him to be, had become so ingrained in his character, Heath didn’t know any other way.
If he had been less devoted to being a dutiful son, mayhap he’d have had the sense his younger brother had when he’d skipped out on the last house party that would have seen him playing partner to Lady Emilia.
Alas, duty always took precedence over all.
“Lady Emilia Aberdeen,” he muttered into the quiet. And because Heath always was and would always be the dutiful son, he picked up that damned scrap and read the remainder of the tasks assigned to him.
2. She arises early for the morning meal. (Six o’clock punctually.) Break your fast with her.
Splendid, she was the one woman in the whole of England who didn’t rise late. What was next?
3. Be a good conversationalist to her. Express an interest in whatever subject she speaks to you on. Ask questions. Ladies like to know people care about what they are talking about.
Be a good…? Heath glanced around the room, all but waiting for his mother to jump out and declare the list her grandest—albeit her only—jest. What in blazes was he supposed to speak with Emilia Aberdeen about? He, the least charming of the Whitworths, who’d rarely engaged in discourse with the lady, even when she’d been betrothed to his friend—and when she’d still possessed a sunny disposition. Shaking his head, he resumed reading.
4. Do try to make her laugh. She’s still hurting.
“You’re relying on the wrong son if you expect that,” he mumbled.
5. If she seems upset, it is your gentlemanly responsibility and duty to somehow cheer her up.
That was rather redundant, and if his mother was about he’d take great pleasure and pointing as much out to her.
6. Do **not**, under any circumstances, discuss her betrothal to that scoundrel you call friend.
By the bold, starred, and heavily-underlined emphasis, item six was of the greatest significance on the whole damned list. And if his mother had still been here, he’d have delighted in pointing out that items four through six were more warnings than activities on her Emilia Aberdeen To-Do List.
Heath skimmed the list one more time. All requirements laid out for him. With, of course, several warnings of what not to do.
All he need do was entertain Lady Emilia and then the lady and her parents would head off to their own estates—and Heath would be spared.
Jamming the hated list inside his jacket, he exchanged the scrap for a long swallow of the brandy in the glass that had not spilled over the rim.
Then, gathering up his cue stick, he returned to his much-welcomed game of billiards—in blessed, solitary peace.