Lady Adventuress 02 - The Education of Lord Hartley

BOOK: Lady Adventuress 02 - The Education of Lord Hartley
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About
The Education of Lord Hartley
She will settle for nothing less than love…

Miss Margaret Dacre dreams of two things: creating the gowns she’s been dreaming up in her sketchbooks and winning the love of Lord Hartley. And neither of these will come true if her father has his way and she marries her dreadful cousin Kingsley Stanhope.

But Maggie is not one to give up without a fight: she decides that she’s long-overdue an adventure and nothing less than Paris will do.

As Maggie and her dearest friend Cecile begin to establish their new identities in the most romantic city in the world, she discovers that love isn’t so easily left behind – especially when you’re trying to ignore it.

But will Lord Hartley ever see her as more than his best friend’s little sister? Or would the handsome conductor Sir Lucian Blake make for a better match?

The Education of Lord Hartley

Lady Adventuress Book 2

by

Daphne du Bois

Kindle Edition

***
Copyright © 2014 Daphne du Bois

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work, in whole or in part, in any form.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations and products depicted herein are either a product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

Chapter 1

Lord Hartley’s deep blue eyes were utterly devastating.

Peering over her spectacles, Miss Margaret Dacre watched her brother’s handsome friend dive for the birdie and swing his battledore, besting her brother once again.

It was a warm spring day – perhaps too sunny for a lady to sit outside enjoying the warmth, but Maggie simply didn’t care. She just couldn’t bring herself to feel guilty over this obvious failing or exert any great concern over her complexion – not on so rare as day as this.

When Lord Hartley ran, his muscular body strained against his clothing, making it especially difficult for Maggie to pay attention to her book. Who could possibly care about
The Ballroom Etiquette for Young Ladies
, mercilessly compiled by some old battleaxe of an authoress called Lady Tierney, when there was such an incredible sight right under her nose?

Maggie doubted even Lady Tierney would have been able to turn her eyes away from Hart’s strong, masculine form.

Lord Hartley’s smile and laughter were infectious – had always been so, she thought wryly. Maggie had long since given up denying to herself that she was rather hopelessly in love with him. In the sun, on the front lawns of Chenefelt Park, he was particularly magnificent.

Hartley was the object of most of her daydreams, in fact, though she would rather have died than admit
that
to anyone in the world.

Just then, he happened to look up at her, as if he could feel her watching him. Maggie looked down quickly, but he’d caught her appraisal, she was sure.

“Magpie, I see you staring at me. Would you like to play with us?” Hartley teased.

“No, thank you,” she mumbled quietly, wishing he would stop looking at her. It was only a matter of time before her face would turn a most unbecoming shade of scarlet.

She hated that nickname. It was as if he were making fun of her plain looks or her intelligence – ‘magpie’ was hardly a compliment! She thought she might have lived with ‘chickadee’, but not ‘magpie’.

The trouble with having known one’s brother’s friends one’s whole life was that nicknames tended to follow as a result, and they were never particularly flattering ones.

“Are you sure? Dacre needs a bit of help,” Hartley laughed, lobbing the shuttlecock back to her brother. “He’s getting quite a basting this round!”

Frederick dove for the birdie, but missed once again. “You’re wasting your time, Hart. She hasn’t taken her head out of that book for days.”

Hart continued to look at Maggie’s solemn face, his own expression oddly intent. “She must have a very strict governess to keep her at her studies on such a beautiful day.”

Frederick scowled. “No. That’s just Maggie. Her governess has already moved on to another position – and thank deuce she has. I’ve never met her equal in rickety disapproval. Why, our Maggie’s been out of the schoolroom for over a year.”

Maggie shot her brother a dark look. Frederick knew perfectly well how much she loathed being talked about as if she were not present. She was already irritated that Hart had caught her staring at him and that he didn’t even seem to realize that she was no longer a schoolroom miss.

She was a grown woman now, about to enter her first Season and doing very her best to cultivate the proper decorum expected of her: though perhaps never quite succeeding.

And yet, Hart didn’t appear to notice any change at all.

Furthermore, Maggie thought angrily, she was certainly
not
reading the dreadful book because she wanted to.

Her Aunt Verity, Lady Compton, had been adamant that she finish it. It was meant to be a last effort to absorb some of the societal niceties Maggie was expected to possess before her launch into polite society.

Maggie’s aunt had always been very particular about social niceties – which seemed to stem from the fact that her own aunt, Lady Louisa Somerville, had in her day been a splendid and scandalous
grande amoureuse
. Maggie had only once set eyes on the impressive Lady Louisa, but she read enough society journals to know all about the lady’s grand friends and even grander past.

If even half the stories were true, there was not a fashionable personage in Paris she had not seduced! Maggie, who had been brought up at Chenefelt, could only imagine the sort of exotic life one led in Paris. It was all glamour, fun and scandal… And this couldn’t always be a bad thing. In fact, Aunt Verity’s dearest friend, the Duchess of Strathavon, was said to be the toast of society
precisely
because she raced her carriages and spoke her mind. Maggie didn’t think either the duchess or Lady Louisa had ever had to read a single page of Lady Tierney’s strictures, and she didn’t see why her aunt felt it so important that she memorise the whole tome.

Secretly, Maggie suspected that Lady Louisa and the duchess probably had a lot more fun testing the bounds of propriety with their escapades than Aunt Verity had ever had by being the model of ladylike decorum.

She’d never dare say that, of course.

She wondered what her own mama’s views would have been on such a tricky subject.

Maggie had been very young when her mother, Lady Chenefelt, succumbed to scarlet fever, leaving her only daughter without a close female role model, other than a series of sour, bookish governesses, and her aunt. Maggie did not remember much of that time – only a sense of fear and confusion at being sent away to London, and not being allowed to see her mother at all. Mama had looked like a ghost for some time before she entered a confinement in her rooms, and Maggie thought she could recall her being constantly cold, and resting for hours at a time, buried under a swathe of shawls.

With perfect clarity, she also recalled how she and Frederick had watched Chenefelt for as long as they could while the London-bound carriage had born them further and further away with every second.

But that was a long time ago, and now Maggie was almost as old as her own mother had been when she married. She was determined to honour her mother’s memory by making a success of her own debut.

After all, Maggie knew better than anyone that one’s whole life could change in a single turn of the seasons.

If only she could find some way to stop being quite so gauche.

Lady Compton, a graceful woman by nature, despaired of Maggie’s clumsiness. What was worse, she really did mean well. Maggie remembered all the times she had come to visit when Maggie and Frederick had been children and their father away at sea. She had been a true comfort when their mother had passed away.

This did not mean, however, that Maggie and her aunt saw eye to eye when it came to being a proper sort of lady. Especially where the dreaded decorum book was concerned.

It was probably for the best that Maggie hadn’t bothered to share her sentiment on the matter, which was that she certainly wouldn’t acquire any polish from reading the dusty, boring tome. If she were to learn, she had to live in that world for herself, to see it, real and elegant, before her eyes.

Reading about it made little difference. Frederick certainly seemed to treat her just the same as he had always done. It was just like him to embarrass her! Not only did Hart already think of her as an infatuated child, but he would now think her an aspiring bluestocking to boot.

And how ungentlemanly of him to comment on her ‘staring’, she seethed.

Thomas Brant, the Marquess of Hartley, more commonly known as Hart, had been a fixture in her family for as long as she could remember. His family seat neighboured theirs and he seemed to prefer spending time at her house rather than his own.

Maggie suspected he had liked the lack of supervision and the freedom the Dacre children had enjoyed whenever their father had been away.

Due to this distinct lack of supervision, Maggie had grown up playing games and getting into endless mischief with Hart and Frederick. Despite the fact that she was six years their junior, she could always be found trailing after them, a kind of sturdy shadow. She had never minded climbing trees, leaping into puddles or plodding through the mud. All things considered, the boys had taken her presence remarkably well, though she had occasionally been the subject of their pranks.

Maggie had been devastated when they had gone off to Eton and later Cambridge. She’d felt lonely, left behind and utterly forgotten – Frederick was an awful correspondent. His letters were brief and barely gave a glimpse of the things she’d wanted to know about life at university. It had seemed like an enchanted world compared to the daily dullness of Chenefelt.

She would always look forward to the holidays, when the boys would come back home to visit.

One summer, when she was fifteen and utterly infatuated with Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron, she found herself rendered quite breathless at the sight of Hart riding up to Chenefelt Park on a huge chestnut stallion. She had been reading in the window alcove of her favourite drawing room and happened to glance up just as the striking figure appeared on the long drive leading to the stables.

In her mind, Hartley had always been her brother’s coltish friend.

Only, that was no longer quite right, she’d realized as she peered through the window, taking in the handsome young man leaping off the horse.

And her infatuation only seemed to grow with the years as Hart matured into the man he now was. The Marquess of Hartley was broad of shoulder, tall and fair of disposition, and he made it quite difficult to keep from flushing whenever he looked at her.

Hartley, however, didn’t seemed to find Maggie any more interesting than when he had first gone away to Eton, to start the autumn term.

Instead, Frederick and Hart had combined forces to tease Maggie about her long skirts and curled hair, utterly failing to acknowledge the fact that she was no longer a child. Maggie quickly learned that the trouble with being a sturdy shadow was that people tended not to look at you too closely.

They certainly treated her like the clumsy child of years ago!

She supposed that in Hart’s eyes she would always be the little girl who was fond of hide-and-seek and catching frogs. It was a dreary thought.

“Oh, don’t fret, Maggie – we’ll be out of your hair in no time!” Frederick called to her across the lawn. “Next week, it’s off to London with us, isn’t it Hart? I daresay this will be a fortuitous Season.”

“You mean that you intend to call on Miss Heaney, I suppose,” Hart replied.

“Certainly. Have you ever seen a girl of equal loveliness and temperament?”

“It would have to be a fine temperament, if she is to bear your company!” laughed Hart.

“It would – since your friend Miss Cartwell would have none of me last autumn.”

Hartley shook his head. “Ah, but I warned you, did I not? I’ve known Miss Cartwell since childhood, and her only love has ever been her pianos and her harpsichords. You stood not the least chance against that, Frederick. You picked the most impossible girl in Brighton.”

“And what about your own luck with the celebrated Lady Alice Howard? I thought you meant to offer for her last year.”

“As did I,” Hart said quietly.

Maggie sat frozen, staring forcefully at the pages of her book and seeing none of it.

Her anger and irritation had quickly vanished and been replaced by dread. Who was Lady Alice Howard? And could she really be so lovely as all that?

The thought of Hart caught up in a flirtation with some unknown beauty left a physical pain in her chest.

She had pictured herself as the sole object of his adoration for so long that it had never occurred to her that another woman may come along and catch his attention before Maggie had even had a chance to win his notice.

Lady Alice was probably not only beautiful but also accomplished, wealthy, and stylish, with charming manners. An original to end all originals. The toast of fashionable London. A fairytale princess come to life.

A picture was forming in Maggie’s head, and it was the exact opposite of her plain clothes, plain hair, plain-speaking self. How silly it was to think that Hart would have ever noticed her.

Feeling mortified, she wished very much that she could just vanish out of sight.

The gentlemen seemed to have forgotten she was there at all as they continued to rib each other.

Maggie’s hands were shaking and she forced herself to breathe deeply.

She couldn’t bear to look upset or, much worse,
swoon
in front of Hart and her brother. That would have been the outside of enough. Maggie never swooned. She wished she hadn’t insisted on such tight stays that morning – another fruitless attempt to catch Hart’s attention. Swooning was utterly mortifying.

But perhaps that was precisely the problem.

No doubt Lady Alice did swoon, often and beautifully. She also probably dropped scented handkerchiefs and she’d never sloshed through the mud, pilfered apples or climbed trees.

Maggie lifted her lemonade glass, watching it tremble in her hand.

Just as she was about to take a sip of the cool drink in the hopes that it might restore her somewhat, the shuttlecock landed in her glass, splashing sweet lemonade into her face and hair.

BOOK: Lady Adventuress 02 - The Education of Lord Hartley
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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