Read A Winter Scandal Online

Authors: Candace Camp

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #General

A Winter Scandal

BOOK: A Winter Scandal
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With
A Winter Scandal, New York Times
bestselling author Candace Camp begins a sparkling new series sure to captivate readers who adored the unforgettable Bascombe sisters in her Willowmere novels. Read what critics have said about this breathtaking Regency trilogy!

An Affair Without End

“Camp concludes the Willowmere trilogy with this delightful romantic mystery. … Cunning intrigue. With clever and witty banter, sharp attention to detail, and utterly likable characters, Camp is at the top of her game.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Sprightly dialogue … [and] a simmering sensuality that adds just enough spice to this fast-paced, well-rendered love story.”


Romantic Times Book Reviews
(4½ stars)

A Gentleman Always Remembers

“An intensely passionate and sexually charged romance. … A well-crafted, delightful read.”


Romantic Times
(4 stars)

“A delightful romp set in the Regency period. Ms. Camp has a way with truly likeable characters who become like friends. The action pops … and the relationships are strong.”

—Romance Junkies

“Where the Bascombe sisters go, things are never dull. Candace Camp delivers another witty, heartwarming, and fast-paced novel.”

—A Romance Review

A Lady Never Tells

“This steamy romp … will entertain readers.”


Publishers Weekly

“Four unconventional American sisters and three aristocratic bachelor brothers set the stage for the first novel in Camp’s Willowmere trilogy. With a bit of mayhem, humor, misunderstandings, and enough sensuality to please any reader, this consummate storyteller writes a well-crafted and enchanting tale.”


Romantic Times
(4½ stars)

“Superbly written and well paced,
A Lady Never Tells
thoroughly entertains as it follows the escapades of the Bascombe “bouquet” of Marigold, Rose, Camellia, and Lily in the endeavor to make their way in upper crust London Society.”

—Romance Reviews Today


A Lady Never Tells
carries an allure that captures the reader’s attention. Ms. Camp brings a refreshing voice to the romance genre. The touch of elegance mingled with the downright honesty of the main characters takes your breath. … One of those rare finds you don’t want to put down.”


Winter Haven
(FL)
News Chief

A Lady Never Tells

“Filled with humor and charm … Camp keeps
A Lady Never Tells
from becoming a clichéd romp with her fine writing. … Fans of Quinn and Laurens will enjoy the first book in the Willowmere series.”

—A Romance Review (4 roses)

And for the delightful works of Candace Camp

“A storyteller who touches the heart of her readers time and again.”


Romantic Times

“When it comes to writing sexual tension, it doesn’t get better than this.”

—The Romance Reader

“A double helping of romance.”


Booklist

“Will leave you breathless with laughter.”


Affaire de Coeur

“A beautifully written charmer.”


Publishers Weekly

Also by Candace Camp

An Affair Without End
A Gentleman Always Remembers
A Lady Never Tells

Now available from Pocket Star

Pocket Star Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Candace Camp
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Pocket Star Books paperback edition November 2011
POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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.
Designed by Jacquelynne Hudson
Cover design by Lisa Litwack, photo by Michael Frost, hand lettering by Ron Zinn
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ISBN 978-1-4516-3950-6
ISBN 978-1-4516-3953-7 (ebook)

For Grady

Acknowledgments

No book makes it to the shelf without a lot of work by a lot of people. As always, I am grateful for the amazing job done by my editor, Abby Zidle, and the whole team at Pocket. You guys really outdid yourselves this time!

Also, thanks to my agent, Maria Carvainis, and her staff. I couldn’t do it without you.

And, as ever, many thanks to my husband, Pete. Sometimes I think the only thing harder than writing a book must be living with someone who is writing a book.

One

T
he Squire’s house was ablaze
with lights in the crisp December evening, and the boughs of evergreen branches festooned across the lintel added to the festive air. A groom hurried forward as the vicar’s pony trap pulled to a stop in front of the house, and Daniel handed him the reins before going around to help his sister out of the open-air vehicle. It had been a cold ride over to Cliffe Manor, and despite the lap robe across their legs and the hood Thea had drawn up around her head, she was chilled, her cheeks pink. As soon as Thea stepped into the warm house, of course, her spectacles fogged up, and she had to take them off and wipe them before replacing them on her nose.

“Vicar! And Althea! How delightful to see you,” Mrs. Cliffe, the Squire’s wife, greeted them effusively, squeezing Thea’s hands in both of hers. The Squire’s wife, like her husband, was built along generous lines, and her rather square form was encased in a gown of green velvet with a wide, low neckline that revealed an alarming amount of white bosom. A pearl necklace, elbow-length white gloves, and a green turban with a long, curling peacock feather completed her ensemble.

Next to her, the Squire was far more soberly dressed, but his hearty greeting equaled his wife’s. He shook Daniel’s hand vigorously and bowed to Thea with more enthusiasm than grace. “Well met, Vicar, well met. Miss Bainbridge. It’s a pleasure to see you. I am sure your dear sainted father would be proud of you both.”

Daniel responded with only a bow, so Thea hurried to add her thanks. “It is kind of you to say so, sir. I know it is very important to my brother to strive for the excellence that our father achieved for St. Margaret’s.”

What Thea actually knew was that it was a small source of irritation to Daniel to be always compared to their father, Latimer Bainbridge, who was a most learned as well as spiritual man. She and Daniel were aware that Latimer had felt some disappointment that not all his children had measured up to his expectations. Their sister, Veronica, had been exactly as a girl should be, pretty and pleasant in nature, and she had made a good marriage, so Latimer had not been bothered by her lack of interest in intellectual pursuits. But while Daniel and Thea both had a scholarly bent of mind, the truth was that Daniel was more interested in exploring Roman ruins than in examining the human soul, and Thea, unfortunately, was a female. Thea could not follow in their father’s footsteps, and while Daniel did take over the living at St. Margaret’s, he did not invest the same time and interest in it that Latimer would have liked.

“If I know you, Vicar, you have been hard at work on your Christmas sermon,” Mrs. Cliffe offered with a waggish smile. “I do so love to hear your thoughts on the Holy Word.”

Thea wondered how the Squire’s wife would view her brother’s sermons if she knew that they were mostly written by Thea herself. Of course, Thea was not about to tell her that, but she could not think of another comment to make to Mrs. Cliffe, so she merely smiled. She was finding it more difficult to concentrate tonight than usual.

“Here, here, have a cup of Christmas cheer,” Mrs. Cliffe went on, guiding Thea over to a narrow table, which held several cups of steaming broth. ’Twill warm you right up.”

A footman came up to take Thea’s cloak, and she picked up one of the small ceramic cups, gratefully curling her hands around the warm drink. While her hostess continued to chatter, Thea sipped at the spiced soup, to which a generous amount of negus had been added. The mulled Madeira in the negus was potent enough to make Thea’s eyes water, but the heat of it sliding down her throat and filling her insides was delightful. She hoped it would serve to unknot the tangle of nerves in her stomach, as well. It was foolish to be on such pins and needles, but she could not seem to bring her rebellious nerves into order.

“Don’t you look nice, my dear,” Mrs. Cliffe went on. “So neat and orderly. I always say to my girls, take notice of Althea Bainbridge, that is just how a lady ought to conduct herself. She doesn’t put on airs to make herself interesting or flirt with young men or spend her time fussing with her hair. She knows that there are more important things than looking pretty.”

“Indeed,” Thea murmured, with long practice turning aside the implied slight. She was well accustomed to being plain, after all, and could hardly fault others for realizing it.

“Of course my girls are still so young—all they think about is how they look. Sometimes I think there aren’t enough mirrors in the house.” The middle-aged woman let out a hearty laugh and looked down the great hall to where her daughters stood in a cluster, giggling and talking animatedly. There were four of them, all dressed in white, with enough ribbons and ruffles and frills to decorate a whole host of young ladies.

If the girls were being taught to emulate her, Thea thought, looking down at her own unadorned gray gown, they certainly seemed to have missed the mark. “Your daughters are all quite lovely tonight.”

“Thank you, my dear.” The Squire’s wife gave Thea a self-satisfied smile. “They are a pretty sight, aren’t they? They are absolutely humming with excitement about our ‘very special guest.’ No doubt you are above all that sort of silliness after all these years. But my little misses are like to faint from the anticipation. Even I, I vow, am awaiting Lord Morecombe’s arrival most eagerly. No doubt it is different for you, since you are related to the Earl of Fenstone, but I have never played hostess to one of the peerage before.”

“We are only distantly related,” Thea demurred. Her father had been the youngest son of the youngest son of an earl, making him a cousin to Lord Fenstone, which meant that while their bloodline was unquestionably good, her family had never had an adequate fortune to take part in the life of the
ton
—not, of course, that Latimer, or she herself, for that matter, would have wanted to be a part of that society. “There is every reason for you to be excited,” she told her hostess. “You scored a veritable
coup
in landing Lord Morecombe for your Christmas ball. I am sure everyone here is all agog to meet him.”

Lord Morecombe, a bachelor of some note, had a few weeks ago purchased the house known hereabouts as the Priory, which had belonged to the Earl of Fenstone. Lord Fenstone had rarely made a visit to the Priory in all the years he had owned it, but Lord Morecombe had arrived for a stay two weeks earlier, bringing with him a number of his friends. Since that time, his lordship, his friends, and the goings-on at the Priory had been the central theme of all gossip in the village of Chesley. No matter how high or low, how old or young, how distant or near, everyone seemed to have a story concerning the newcomers, and everyone was always eager to hear more about him.

“Well, I must confess—” Mrs. Cliffe leaned a little closer and lowered her voice a trifle. “I did wonder if I should have done so. I mean, inviting these young men to be around young, impressionable girls? One has heard such unsavory tales. … Still—” She brightened. “I thought, after all, he is friends with Lord Fenstone’s son. Indeed, the Earl’s son is one of the young men staying at the Priory with him. An excellent family, of course, and doubtless Lord Morecombe is from a good family, as well. And one must expect young gentlemen to sow a few wild oats, now, mustn’t one?” Her eyes twinkled merrily. “Of course, I should not be discussing such things with an unmarried girl like you. Though you’re not really a girl anymore, are you? But still …”

Thea clung a little grimly to her pleasant expression. She was well aware that she was considered completely “on the shelf.” It was little wonder, given that she had reached the ripe old age of twenty-seven without the slightest hint of a proposal from an eligible man … or, indeed, even from an ineligible one. Still, she had not yet become immune to such dismissals. She wondered when a woman
did
become accustomed to them. Her voice was a trifle brittle as she responded, “No, indeed, ma’am, you need not watch your tongue with me. I am well past the age of being an impressionable young girl.”

“You have always been such a sensible young lady.” Mrs. Cliffe beamed her approval at Thea. “Now, you should run along, dear; you have spent enough time talking with an old woman like me. Go join the younger set. Your friend Mrs. Howard is already here, though I’m not sure where she’s got to.” Mrs. Cliffe glanced around vaguely.

“Is she?” Thea brightened. “Indeed, I will go find her. Thank you.”

Thea strolled through the great hall, nodding and smiling and stopping now and then to talk to someone. Her progress was slow, for she had lived in the village of Chesley all her life and was well known by its residents. She found Damaris Howard near the rear of the large room, standing with Mrs. Dinmont and a woman she recognized as the wife of the Squire’s younger brother.

“Thea!” Damaris turned toward her, smiling.

Damaris’s thick, lustrous black hair was pulled up and pinned in intricate arrangements of curls. Her almond-shaped eyes were an unusual shade of blue-gray that seemed almost lavender, an effect heightened today by the deep purple of her stylish silk gown. Her creamy white skin was in sharp contrast to the vivid color of her hair and eyes. Jet earrings and a simple jet-and-ivory cameo around her slender neck were the only adornments she wore other than a spray of diamonds in her hair. She looked, as always, far too beautiful and sophisticated for a remote village such as Chesley.

She had lived here for less than a year, and no one knew where she had come from. She had a faint aura of mystery about her that was both intriguing and difficult to pinpoint. Her rich contralto voice held no hint of accent. Mrs. Howard was obviously genteel, but she never spoke of her family connections, and though she said she was widowed, no one knew anything about her deceased husband. She was clearly familiar with London and Bath, as well as several foreign cities, yet she never really spoke of any place as her home. And though no one knew much about her, she never seemed secretive, so that one was left with a vague sense that one knew Damaris without really knowing many details of her life.

For one brief moment, Thea felt a pang of envy for Damaris’s rich gown of royal purple and her artfully upswept hair. Both, she knew, were quite outside her reach. Thea could not have afforded such a glorious dress, and even if she could have, it would be foolish to waste so much money on a ball gown that would be worn only two or three times when she had a perfectly good one from last year. The vicar’s family, after all, was always in the public eye, and it would not do for the vicar’s sister to appear wasteful or vain.

And as for her hair—well, it was nonsense, Thea knew, to rail against the fate that had given Thea her wayward curls, which often managed to escape from mere hairpins and frizz wildly all over her head until she looked a fright. The best way to subdue her unruly mane was to braid it and wind the plaits tightly into a coil atop the crown of her head. The style did not enhance her looks, but at least it was practical.

Thea wore her spectacles for the same reason. When she was young, she had often abandoned her spectacles when she attended parties in an effort to show off her best feature, her large gray eyes. However, she had gotten over such vanity through the years. It was silly to sit through a dinner or go to a party and be unable to see clearly three feet from her face. And what good did it do, really, to pretend for a few hours that she did not look as she did?

As Damaris excused herself from the other two women and came over to Thea, smiling, Thea pushed aside her moment’s longing for beauty. It was one’s heart and soul that mattered, after all, as her father had always told her.

“Thea, I am so glad you have rescued me,” Damaris murmured as she slipped her arm through Thea’s and started to stroll away with her. “I vow I have been positively drowning in tales of Lord Morecombe.”

Thea chuckled. “I have no doubt. Were they talking of the carriage full of women of doubtful character who drove over from Cheltenham? Or the wagonload of brandy and ale coming by night in a very suspicious manner?”

“Smuggling in liquor to his cellars? I doubt that would raise many eyebrows around Chesley,” Damaris retorted. “Though the amount he brought in might. No, Mrs. Dinmont was regaling Mrs. Cliffe the younger with stories of shooting contests that involved picking out the candles of the chandelier. Mrs. Cliffe countered that the man has no maids in the house because no self-respecting female will work there. Of course, they both agreed that they are nevertheless waiting with bated breath to meet the legendary lord.”

“Mm. Everyone seems to be.” Thea refused to think about her own dancing nerves. “I am sure his fortune and the fact that he is a bachelor will overcome any objections anyone may have to his moral character.”

“I believe his face plays a role, as well. Everyone agrees he is as handsome as Lucifer before the fall.”

“Yes. I suppose.” Thea could feel heat rising in her face, and she looked down at her glove, rebuttoning the little round button through its loop.

“Have you ever seen him?” Damaris went on. “I have not.”

Thea shrugged as she turned her gaze out on the crowd. “His friend Lord Wofford is my second cousin, though I scarcely know Cousin Ian more than to say hello.”

Damaris looked at Thea thoughtfully, but if she found it odd that her friend had not really answered her question, she did not say so. “Well, I shall be interested to see him, I admit, but I am growing rather weary of hearing about our local lord. Let us turn to a more interesting topic. You will be pleased to know that I received a shipment of books this week. You shall have to come round and look at them.”

“Really? How delightful.”

“They included Cantos I and II of Lord Byron’s
Don Juan
.” When Thea did not respond, her friend glanced at her, surprised. “Thea?”

“What? Oh, I am sorry.” Thea blushed. “I am afraid my mind wandered.”

“Are you all right?”

“Oh, yes, of course. I am just a bit distracted tonight. I am sorry. I fear you said something that I was not attending to—something about the books you received?”

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