A Marquis scarred by life, a lady in distress and a baby without a mother
Miss Prudence Scott has been most imprudent and now she’s facing ruin. Ross Vincent, privateer and reluctant Marquis of Cranford, is scarred by life in both body and soul. But there is one thing he knows he needs – a mother for his baby son.
It should have been a passionless marriage of mutual convenience but physical attraction flares and then, for Prue, a love she dare not admit for the hard, ruthless man she is married to.
When Ross, caught up in the battle of Waterloo, forgets his promise to keep out of danger for the sake of his family Prue has to make the hardest choice of her life between the child she has come to treasure as her own or the life of the husband who does not want her love.
Book 3 in The Liberated Ladies series
Ross Vincent leaned on the balustrade at the edge of the terrace and watched his son. Below on the small lawn Jon gurgled happily and waved his rattle at the nursemaid who sat beside him on the rug. They made a pretty picture in the Spring sunshine, the rosy-cheeked child and the equally rosy, plump girl with her clean white apron and her ready smile. She was the perfect nurse for a motherless babe. But not a mother.
Society would call it shocking that he should be thinking of remarrying barely six months after the death of his wife, but Jon was able to sit up now, had begun to babble. He recognised people, knew everyone in his happy little world. His latest words were Dada, Mama, Gugu – although those seemed to be applied indiscriminately to his father, his nurse and his toy dog.
Jon needed a mother before he realised he was without one, but how the devil was a man to find a wife when anyone he approached – if they were well-bred and respectable – would be shocked that he should do so whilst still in mourning? And how to judge character? He had hardly made such a good fist of it the first time around. Miss Honoria Gracewell, daughter of the Earl of Falhaven, had been pretty, accomplished, exceptionally well-connected and apparently delighted to wed a marquis, even one with his shocking background, his looks. Apparently.
But there might be hope if that eccentric duchess was right. Why on earth he had let his guard down so comprehensively at the Henderson’s soirée he could not imagine, unless the woman was a witch and could read minds. She had moved smoothly from murmured sympathies about his wife to warm enquiries about his son and within ten minutes had him on his third glass of champagne and spilling out his desperate need for a mother for Jon. Champagne of all things, he thought bitterly. And him able to drink a privateer crew under the table on rum any day of the week.
And then she had arrived on his doorstep yesterday afternoon, pretty as a picture in a Villager hat and pearls that made him blink, and announced that she had just the wife for him – provided, that is, he would accept the possibility of a second child who was not his. When he had not replied immediately she had informed him coolly that the possible pregnancy was no fault of the lady in question who was of impeccable morals and behaviour and who had been deceived and betrayed.
The Duchess of Aylsham was a force of nature, he decided, and there was no more shame in giving way to her than to a hurricane or the changing of the tides. Although after a night to think it over he was having his doubts about the wisdom of this and his imagination was producing one disastrous scenario after another. But it was too late now, he had given his word and the Duchess’s friend was due at any moment.
‘The young lady you were expecting, my lord.’ Finedon his new butler was a considerable improvement on the one he had inherited along with the title, Ross acknowledged. Hodges had never recovered from the shock of discovering that his master’s grandson was a privateer and would visibly flinch if Ross raised his voice above genteel conversational tones.
‘Show her out here, if you please.’ He straightened but did not turn fully to face the woman who was making her way across the terrace towards him. He had no desire to frighten her before she even had a chance to open her mouth. That would happen soon enough.
Not a beauty, was his first thought. But then neither was he. Ross thought her face pleasant and open, her expression more used to smiling than frowning. Blonde with blue-grey eyes, he saw as she came closer, apparently composed despite the length of the walk to his side. And a very fine figure, currently modestly covered in a modish gown. Or modish so far as he could tell – ladies’ fashions were one of his gaping areas of ignorance.
Slim, except for her bosom which he could now see was rising and falling with the agitation she was managing to keep from her face. Ross swallowed. Yes, that was definitely her finest feature. He got his imagination under control and waited.
‘My lord.’ Her curtsy was absolutely correct, her voice soft and pleasant and he managed to keep his gaze on her face and not the lavishly distracting curves lower down.
He did turn fully then, watched her eyes and saw them widen, heard the soft sound that escaped her. But she stood her ground.