Book 4 in the >Scandalous Seasons Series
Miss Juliet Marshville is spitting mad. With one guardian missing, and the other singularly uninterested in her fate, she is at the mercy of her wastrel brother who loses her beloved childhood home to a man known as Sin. Determined to reclaim control of Rosecliff Cottage and her own fate, Juliet arranges a meeting with the notorious rogue and demands the return of her property.Jonathan Tidemore, 5th Earl of Sinclair, known to the ton as Sin, is exceptionally lucky in life and at the gaming tables. He has just one problem. Well…four, really. His incorrigible sisters have driven off yet another governess. This time, however, his mother demands he find an appropriate replacement.
When Miss Juliet Marshville boldly demands the return of her precious cottage, he takes advantage of his sudden good fortune and puts an offer to her; turn his sisters into proper English ladies, and he’ll return Rosecliff Cottage to Juliet’s possession.
Jonathan comes to appreciate Juliet’s spirit, courage, and clever wit, and decides to claim the fiery beauty as his mistress. Juliet, however, will be mistress for no man. Nor could she ever love a man who callously stole her home in a game of cards. As Jonathan begins to see Juliet as more than a spirited beauty to warm his bed, he realizes she could be a lady he could love the rest of his life, if only he can convince the proud Juliet that he’s worthy of her hand and heart.
Jonathan Tidemore, the 5th Earl of Sinclair, slowed to a halt in the midst of the foyer. He tossed his cloak to the waiting butler and stared up the long, winding staircase to where his youngest sister sat with her legs dangling through the slats at the top.
“Trouble again, Poppet?” his whisper echoed off the marble floor and carried through the expansive space.
Poppy pointed another finger at her mouth. “I said, hush, Sin. Things are dire.” She slapped the back of her hand to her forehead in a flourishing manner.
Which could only mean…
He sighed. “You’ve driven off Mrs. Atleby, I gather?”
“Mrs. Battleby,” Poppy muttered under her breath. “She was horrid, Sin.”
“I’ve told you not to call me, Sin.”
Poppy wrinkled her nose. “Whyever not? It is vastly more interesting than Jonathan.”
He grinned and started up the stairs. “You have me there.”
Poppy drew her legs back when he reached the main level and sat with her legs crossed in front of her. He’d learned long ago to not bother himself with instructing his sisters Poppy, Prudence, or Penelope, in any matters of proper deportment.
Then, considered one of Society’s most insufferable rogues, there was very little he could contribute on topics pertaining to ladylike behaviors.
“What have you done now?”
His sister drew her knees to her chest and glared. “I’ve done nothing.” She smiled a mischievous smile that would either be the death of their mother or the next, poor governess surely needed for his three younger sisters.
Jonathan leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. He arched an eyebrow.
“Very well.” She let out a beleaguered sigh. “Mrs. Battleby was instructing us on the topic of watercolors. Watercolors,” she cried, and shook her head.
He slapped a hand to his chest. “Egad, never say watercolors?”
At her young years, Poppy still had not yet learned the subtlety of sarcasm, for she nodded. “Our sentiments exactly, Sin! We merely insisted on an altogether different subject matter.” She hopped to her feet. “After all, painting fruit and flowers is ever so boring.”
He narrowed his eyes. “And I gather it is the alternative subject matter to have sent Mrs. Battle…er, Atleby packing?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but their mother’s cry from down the hall cut into her response. “Please, Mrs. Atleby, I implore you!”
His sister’s eyes went wide as the old, stern-faced woman with crimped grey hair appeared down the long hall. Their mother trotted along behind her like one of the Queen’s terriers.
Which spoke a good deal to their mother’s desperation. Mother never did anything as plebian as trot.
Poppy cursed and took off down the hall in the opposite direction. With their hoydenish ways and tendency for trouble, his sisters would someday prove the end of him, and by the desperate gleam in Mother’s eyes, she’d be the first casualty of their bad behavior.
Jonathan slipped inside his office before old Battleby and Mother came upon him. After all, if Mother couldn’t manage to convince the old governess to continue working with her three difficult charges, well, then Jonathan was certainly without hope of convincing her.
The best he could say about his sisters is they could spit, curse, and deliver a solid facer with the best of them. The worst he could say was they were outrageously ill-behaved, and highly improper.
Mother’s cry from down the foyer penetrated the panel of his office door. Jonathan winced and crossed over to his sideboard. He picked up the nearest crystal decanter and sloshed several fingerfuls of whiskey into a tumbler.
He picked the drink up and took a sip, welcoming the wicked burn it blazed down his throat, bracing him for the impending storm.
Jonathan’s gaze slid over to the ormolu clock atop the fireplace mantle across the room. By his growing familiarity with how this all went, Mother would enter in a matter of minutes, shattering his solitude, and unleash a monologue to rival the greatest Greek tragedies of the woes of raising four incorrigible daughters and a roguish son who’d not do right by the Sinclair line and wed a proper English miss.
Jonathan took another sip.
The door opened, and Mother swept in. She threw her arms up. “This is an utter disaster, Jonathan. Whatever are we to do? They’re incorrigible. Utterly, hopelessly, helplessly incorrigible,” she cried.
“Mother.” He inclined his head in greeting. “To what do I owe the honor of this meeting?”
Her eyes snapped fire as she met his teasing stare. “This is not a matter to make light of. We’re now on the fifth governess. No, sixth now as Mrs. Battle…er, Atleby has gone and left us.”
Jonathan wandered over to his desk and propped his hip on the edge of the mahogany surface. “Has it been six?”
Not one given to a show for the dramatics as his three sisters and mother, he could readily admit six did seem a rather disconcerting number of governesses to go through.
“Mrs. Smith,” Mother said.
Mrs. Smith had been young and hadn’t had a single chance where his three sisters were concerned.
“Then, Mrs. Sampson,” she ticked off on her fingertips.
“Ah, yes, the whole incident with the frogs in the woman’s teacups.”
“In her bonnet, Jonathan. Her bonnet,” Mother said covering her face with her hands and shaking it back and forth. She dropped them back to her side and proceeded to go through the list. “After Mrs. Sampson, there was Mrs. Dundlebottom.”
Jonathan coughed into his hand to bury a laugh, knowing Mother wouldn’t be in a forgiving mood if he were to laugh outright in remembrance of Mrs. Dundlebottom. But really? Mrs. Dundlebottom? And she’d certainly had quite the sizeable, er…bottom. “Whatever happened to Mrs. Dundlebottom?”
“Does it rather matter now?”
No, he supposed it rather didn’t.
“Then there was Mrs. Jenkins.”
He frowned at the reminder of the sour, pinch-faced crony who’d dared to put her hands upon Penelope. She’d slapped his sister but once before he’d turned her out. “Mrs. Jenkins does not count toward the five,” he felt inclined to point out.
Mother folded her arms and tapped her foot in clear annoyance. “I’ll concede on that point, but what of Mrs. Sternwood?”
Had there been a Mrs. Sternwood? That one he didn’t remember. She mustn’t have lasted more than a fortnight. Rather disappointing for a governess with the name of Sternwood. His ears pricked up as he detected the faintest giggle.
Mother lowered her eyebrows. “Whatever is that noise?”
“What noise? Was there a noise? I didn’t hear a sound.” He glanced over Mother’s shoulder to Poppy who peeked her head into his office. She winked at him.
His lips twitched.
“Do you find this amusing, Jonathan? Because I assure you, it is not amusing in the least. I’ve run out of options where governesses are concerned. Why, I have the only girls in the whole of the kingdom without a suitable governess and it is all their fault—”
“Except for Mrs. Jenkins.”
“Yes, except for Mrs. Jenkins,” she concurred. “But that is neither here nor there, because now we’ve lost Mrs. Atleby.”
Jonathan raised his glass and took another swallow. “What do you propose then?”
“What do I propose? What do I propose?” His mother’s voice increased in volume and he winced at the high-pitched sound sharp enough to cut glass. Oh hell, first trotting then screeching, yes, this had only gone bad from worse for the Tidemore siblings. “What I propose Jonathan Marcus Harold Tidemore is that you do your duty and find a suitable countess…”
And she’d taken the conversation this direction. Again. It invariably found its way back to his bachelor state. Some days it would be, ‘I’m planning a dinner party, you need a countess.’ Other days it would be, ‘It is raining. You shouldn’t be out riding, lest you catch a chill and die before you carry on the Sinclair line.’
“I’d found a suitable countess,” he felt inclined to point out. It had hardly been his fault the young lady he’d set his marital sights upon had chosen to marry the more straight-laced, ever-frowning Geoffrey Winters, Viscount Redbrooke.
His mother snorted.
Trotting, screeching, and snorting. Oh, blast and bloody hell.
“I would hardly consider the American young lady you’d taken it into your fool head to court would ever be viewed as suitable countess material.”
Jonathan disagreed. Miss Stone, now, Viscountess Redbrooke, had been a delight. He’d imagined they would have gotten on famously. Considering his mother and four minxes of sisters, the young lady had no idea the certain calamity she’d managed to avoid when she’d selected Redbrooke. “I believe we’ve deviated just a bit,” a lot, “from the real matter of concern.”
Mother blinked. “Oh, well, yes,” she waved a hand. “There is the whole matter of the governesses, but of equal concern is your unwed state.”
And here he’d thought the disaster of his sisters’ governess-less state would have captured Mother’s sole focus for at least a fortnight, allowing him to carry on as he pleased. He sighed. He should have learned long ago that little could alter her matchmaking tendencies. Hell, since he’d inherited the earldom twelve years past, she’d made it a goal to play matchmaker for him.
Jonathan downed the remaining contents of his tumbler and grimaced. Vile brew. He detested the stuff. Since his friend Drake had returned from the Peninsula War several years back, he at least made a concerted effort to avoid all things French.
With the exception of lovely French mistresses, of course.
“Are you listening to me, Jonathan?” his mother’s question snapped into his silent musings.
“No, he wasn’t,” a voice sounded from the doorway.
He set his glass down with a thunk as the eldest of his sisters, Patrina, swept in. At nineteen, she was the only one of them to have officially made her Come Out and hadn’t yet to secure a match, which Jonathan understood. He couldn’t name a single blighter worthy of her…even if she was a bossy bit of baggage most times.
“Trina,” he went and poured himself another whiskey. He held it up in salute.
“I told you not to call me Trina. I’m nineteen, now,” his sister said with a flounce of her black curls.
He made his eyes go wide with seriousness. “A whole nineteen years? My sister has become a world-weary woman. Tell me, have you come to discuss the situation of Mrs. Battleby?”
“Atleby,” Patrina and Mother exclaimed in unison.
“And no, I’ve not come to discuss Mrs. Atleby, but rather you, Jonathan.”
He set his drink down. Suddenly, the title-grasping young ladies he went to great lengths to avoid seemed vastly preferable to the mutinous set to Patrina and Mother’s mouths, and the like glimmers of disapproval in their eyes. He drummed his fingers on the Chippendale sideboard. “Well, on with it, then,” he drawled.
Patrina blinked her large brown eyes, and the firm line of her lips faltered at his command. She tapped the tip of her slipper upon the wood floor the staccato rhythm muted by the floral Aubusson carpet. “Must you always do that?” she groused.
He grinned, and reached for his glass of whiskey upon the table. He raised it again in salute.
“And it is entirely too early for spirits,” his mother called, as she strode over in a flurry of silver silk skirts.
Jonathan looked to the clock and raised the glass to his lips. “It is very nearly noon.” He took a sip, welcoming the soothing warmth of the brew.
Patrina’s eyebrows dipped. “You’ve had entirely too many spirits lately, if the gossip columns are to be believed,” she scolded. “And I’ve found where you’re concerned they seem to be remarkably accurate.”
He inclined his head. “I’m wounded, Trina.” His sister’s faithlessness chafed. It was one thing for Society to view him as nothing more than the careless rogue whose name was splashed throughout the papers, and quite another when his own family held the same low opinion of him.
With the determined set to Patrina’s and Mother’s shoulders, he suspected he would have needed another two bottles to strengthen whatever resolve he’d need.
He took another sip.
Patrina sighed, and glided over to him. With the effortless ease of a London pickpocket, she plucked the glass from between his fingers, and passed it on to Mother, who proceeded to carry the half-drunk whiskey to the empty hearth.
A protest formed on his lips as she hurled the contents into the metal grate. Jonathan frowned. “You make a gentleman glad to have left his rooms at his clubs for your lovely company,” he muttered under his breath.
They fixed matching glares upon him. And then in a unison better suited to lieutenants in His Majesty’s infantry, they sank into the leather sofa opposite him.
As a wagering man, he considered the two women, and speculated as to which of them would be the first to reveal the reason for the missive requesting his presence on a matter of utmost urgency. Mother had the reserve of a mature dowager of far more years than Patrina’s mere nineteen years.
“You cannot go on like this,” Patrina began, making him wish he could have placed the wager in the book at White’s. He’d have made a fortune on his obvious prediction. She frowned. “Are you listening to me, Jonathan?”
Knowing it would infuriate his vexing sister, he grinned and reached for another glass. Her black glower stopped him. He’d be wise to choose his battles this day. “I’d wager all the servants hovering at the doorway heard you with great clarity.”
Mother’s frown deepened. “Our servants do not eavesdrop. Or gossip. They are entirely loyal…” She shook her head. “That is neither here nor there.” She jabbed a finger in his direction. “And that is why you’re here. It is time you set aside your…your…” A red blush stained her cheeks.
“Philandering?” Patrina supplied.
Mother fanned her cheeks. “Trina!” Then, “And yes. Your Philandering, Jonathan.”
“And your excess drinking,” His sister added unhelpfully.
“I do not indulge in excess drink,” he cut in. He shifted in his seat. What respectable gentleman didn’t enjoy the occasional drink, now and then? “I indulge in drink.” He strolled over to the leather winged-back chair opposite their sofa, and plopped himself into it. “Humph, and here I’d thought I was here about the whole governess business.”
“Well, that as well,” Mother said, with a touch of annoyance in her tone.
Patrina glanced pointedly at Jonathan. “There is the whole matter of his gaming, Mama. You mustn’t forget his gaming,” she spoke with the same passion of a county vicar blasting the villagers for their great sins.
Jonathan sat back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him, long-tired with his sister and Mother’s barrage. He feigned a yawn. “No, we mustn’t forget my gaming.”
“The gossip columns report on your frequent, and outrageous, wagers at the gaming tables,” Patrina went on as though he’d not spoken.
He hooked one ankle over the other. “Do they also report on my astounding success at hazard and faro?” Because he’d done remarkably well at the turn of the cards of late. There’d been that particularly fine hit with the Baronet Albert Marshville. The blasted fool hadn’t known when to turn on his heel and quit the game, and Jonathan had made out the better for it.
Patrina leaned forward in her seat. She flattened her lips into a disapproving line. “They also say—”
“I’d not taken you as one to pay attention to the gossip rags,” he said with a dry twist of humor to his words.
His mother held a hand up, staying Patrina’s response, and looked to Jonathan. “Do you find humor in this, Jonathan?” Faint disapproval underscored her quietly spoken question.
He climbed to his feet, no longer able to bury his annoyance under the veneer of affected disinterest. “I’ve done nothing to merit your disapproval,” he bit out. “My actions are no different than other respectable gentleman.” He didn’t indulge in any more spirits than his fellow peers. Unlike the young gentlemen recently out of university, he knew when to quit the gaming tables.
Mother and Patrina shared a look. His neck burned at the almost pitying glance they passed between them. He gritted his teeth. He needed no one’s pity.
“I know you were hurt,” Patrina intoned quietly.
Jonathan wandered over to the window that overlooked the London streets. He tugged back the curtain and stared down into the bustling thoroughfare at the passing lords and ladies. “I wasn’t hurt,” he said. Not any of which he’d admit to, anyway, not even to his well-intending family. The fact that Patrina, his young, unwed sister had sensed the level of his disappointment when Abigail had chosen Redbrooke’s suit over his own, chafed.
Mother folded her hands at her waist. “I don’t know the circumstances surrounding your courtship of the now Viscountess Redbrooke, but I do know it is time you take your responsibilities to the title far more seriously, Jonathan.”
“I’m well-aware of my responsibilities,” he assured them.
Patrina and Mother exchanged another glance.
From within the pane he detected his mother rise from her seat, amidst a flutter of silver skirts. “This isn’t solely about your responsibilities,” she said softly. “This is about your well-being. You’re not happy.”
A smile pulled at his lips. “And you believe a wife will make me happy?” A wife would place demands upon his comfortable life. It would require him to forsake the life of pleasure he’d come to know and enjoy. No, a wife would be nothing more than a hindrance.
Patrina rushed to defend Mother’s claims. “I’ve never known you to partake in gambling, and drinking, and…and…all manners of inappropriate behaviors. Not to this recent degree.”
Well, then his sister knew him far less than she actually believed. He returned his attention to the window. “These matters are not at all appropriate discussion for respectable ladies.”
Patrina snorted. “It most certainly is appropriate. You are my brother. I care very much about your happiness.”
“Will you think on what we’ve said?” Mother prodded.
He’d think about it for the remainder of his visit, until he stepped out into the street and returned to his clubs. “Certainly,” he assured them. He was in need of a mistress. He’d not set one up in a long while. Perhaps that would alleviate some of his boredom.
Mother studied him a long moment, as if searching for the veracity of his single-word pledge. “Now, there is the matter of the governess.”
He sighed, but then, he required a governess more than a mistress at the moment. “I’m certain you’ll find another.”
She always did.
Mother shook her head. “I’m not finding another.”
“You’re not?” Patrina and Jonathan said in unison.
He furrowed his brow. His youngest sisters were twelve, thirteen, and fifteen, and still all in need of a governess. Mother could not simply let them go on as…as…governess-less young ladies.
“You are, Jonathan.” she said, with great relish in that pronouncement.
He blinked as her words cut into his thoughts. “I am, what?” he blurted.
She smiled. “Why, you are finding the girls a suitable governess this time.”