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Authors: Elizabeth Bailey

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VIscount Besieged

BOOK: VIscount Besieged
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THE
VISCOUNT BESIEGED

Elizabeth
Bailey

©
Elizabeth Bailey 1995,
2013

 

All
rights reserved.

 

The moral
right of the author has been asserted.

 

No part
of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the
prior permission in writing of the author. Nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which
it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All
characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly
in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

 

First
published under the title ADORING ISADORA in Great Britain by Mills
& Boon Limited 1995

 

Re-edited
and published by Elizabeth Bailey 2013

www.elizabethbailey.co.uk

 

Published
by Elizabeth Bailey at Smashwords 2015

 

© Cover
art and design by David Evans Bailey 2013

www.davidevansbailey.com

 

The
Viscount Besieged

 

Isadora’s secret plan to save her family is frustrated by the
arrival of the Errant Heir, with plans of his own. As Isadora
prepares to thwart him, Lord Roborough’s friendliness and warmth
undermines her determination—until she discovers he is a hardened
gamester.

As
Roborough struggles to recover a wasted inheritance and counter
Isadora’s attempts at sabotage, he is both intrigued and infuriated
by her mercurial temperament. Bitterly hurt by her lack of trust,
he despairs of a happy outcome.

Will the
truth serve to effect a reconciliation? Or will Isadora’s
outrageous plot signal the end of all hope?

Chapter
One

 

Dissension raged
in the drawing-room at Pusay. Not that this was unusual, for the
activities of Miss Isadora Alvescot frequently drew down upon her
head the noisy complaints of the rest of the family. But in a house
of mourning, where the expectation was for quiet and solemnity,
Society might consider such argument inappropriate, unseemly
even.

This did not
occur to the combatants, who were indeed engaged in debating the
matter of appropriateness, but only concerning the performance of
theatricals in the present circumstances.


It
must be counted quite irregular, Dora, with your poor papa barely
cold in his grave,’ said the plaintiff with dismaying bluntness.
‘You would not wish your conduct to be thought
shocking.’


By
whom?’ demanded the defendant, suppressing the sting stirred by
the cruel choice of words, for Isadora would permit none to see her
wounds. ‘Except for ourselves and Harriet, who is to know anything
of my conduct? Besides, as you know very well, Cousin Matty, I do
not give a fig for anything anyone may say of me.’


Yes,
more’s the pity,’ responded Mrs Matilda Dotterell, the indigent
relative who had resided at Pusay with her two children since her
widowhood many years ago. ‘But you might give something for what is
said of your poor mama.’

Isadora eyed her
with dangerous calm. ‘I do not take your meaning.’

Her friend
Harriet intervened. ‘Now, Dora, don’t get upon your high ropes. All
Mrs Dotterell is saying—and I must say I agree with her—is that Mrs
Alvescot may well be blamed for not guiding you better.’

She had struck
the right note. Whatever Isadora’s failings, she was acutely
conscious of her mother’s ineffectual nature. It would be grossly
unjust for Mrs Alvescot to shoulder the responsibility for anything
she might choose to do. Why, Mama could no more prevent her from
doing as she wished than fly to the moon.

To her chagrin,
Cousin Matty then chose to broach the matter directly to the lady
of the house.


Ellen, I appeal to you,’ she said, crossing the room. ‘This
performance of Dora’s will not do at such a time.’

It was plain to
Isadora that until her cousin’s intervention, Mama had not given
the matter a thought. Why should she, accustomed as she was to the
impromptu plays got up by her daughter? Mama had never seen in them
anything either untoward or out of the way. Isadora noted that she
had taken her usual chair across from the bare expanse of carpet by
the central window that constituted the improvised stage where the
argument was in progress, settling her plump person in the indolent
manner habitual to her, a comfortable expectation of enjoyment in
her pretty, matronly features.

It was pitiful
to see this ready acceptance shattered as Cousin Matty descended
upon poor Mama before ever Isadora, and the small company she had
dragooned into performing with her, could begin upon the poignant
little piece she had fashioned out of the tragedy of Lady Jane
Grey.


If
Dora will not mind what I have to say upon the matter, then it is
in your part to correct your daughter, Ellen. Pray talk some sense
into her head.’

This command,
thrown at her seemingly out of the blue, evidently startled Mrs
Alvescot, for she blinked at Cousin Matty’s large person standing
over her.


Me,
Matty? But Dora will not listen to me
.
Besides, what has she
done?’


It
is not what I have done, Mama,’ Isadora put in, ‘but what I am
about to do.’

She came across
to perch on the arm of the chair next to her mother’s, careless of
any creasing to the high-waisted black satin mourning-gown she had
decided would suit very well for the purposes of her role. She had
swept her dark curls up into a Grecian topknot banded about with
black ribbons, satisfied that the costume lent her tall figure the
necessary elegance, although she was aware that her current martial
attitude was decidedly inapposite to Lady Jane.


Cousin Matty thinks we shall all be accused of impropriety if
we perform the play,’ she said scornfully. ‘It is quite absurd. As
if Papa would have minded.’


Now
that is very true,’ said Mrs Alvescot, throwing a pleading glance
at her cousin. ‘Indeed, Matty, I was just now conscious of a little
ache at my heart that dear Aubrey is not here to enjoy the piece.
He was so proud of Isadora’s talent, you know.’


Yes,
and even if he was not,’ put in Isadora triumphantly, ‘I know he
would have had not the least objection.’

She would not
believe it of Papa. After all, he had encouraged her to the last,
suggesting tomes from his library where she might find the
information she needed about Lady Jane. Why, even through the
months of dreadful pain and weakness, he would have her perform in
his bedchamber rather than not see her play at all. No, Papa would
the more likely have scolded her for restraint.


I am
quite sure he would not have objected,’ agreed Cousin Matty in the
tone of one willing to make concessions, and taking the chair to
the other side of her cousin, ‘but I fear that it is not Aubrey we
must consider just at this time.’

Isadora gazed at
her blankly. ‘What in the world can you mean, Cousin
Matty?’

Her friend,
following her across the room, took it upon herself to answer.
Harriet Witheridge was, Isadora considered, deceptively pretty.
Under instruction, she was clad in a half-robe of blue sarcenet
over a muslin gown in a similar pastel hue in deference partly, as
her friend knew, to the full black of mourning worn by all in this
house and, at Isadora’s request, to the role she had agreed to take
on. The sweetness of her looks hid an unexpected strength of
character, for she was inclined, to Isadora’s occasional annoyance,
to treat her very much as a younger sister in spite of the other’s
slight superiority in both height and years.


Now,
Dora, you know very well that Mrs Dotterell is only concerned with
how it must appear to people,’ she said severely. ‘I confess I had
not thought about it before myself.’


Fudge, why should you?’ demanded Isadora impatiently. ‘You
have known me forever, and I have been performing since I don’t
know when.’

No one could
argue with that. Isadora had been, from childhood up, an
indefatigable actress—off the stage as well as on it, as she
suspected some of her acquaintance held. So much so, indeed, that
she was not nearly as concerned about the way the family was now
circumstanced following Papa’s death as were the rest. If only the
family might be suitably taken care of, her secret plans could go
forward. If not…

Well, there the
matter rested. For until the wretchedly recalcitrant heir to the
Alvescot estates chose to show himself there was no saying what
might befall any of them. But to suggest that she might be censured
for performing a play was absurd. She looked back at the instigator
of this fetch.


Great heavens, Cousin Matty, I wonder at you! You have lived
with us for years and years, and you must be quite as certain as I
that Papa did not give a fig for the proprieties in his own
home.’


That’s very true, Matty,’ nodded Mrs Alvescot. ‘Dear
Aubrey—’


Yes,
Ellen,’ cut in her cousin smoothly, ‘but Aubrey—God rest his
soul—is no longer with us, and, much though it pains me to remind
you of it, we are all of us obliged to look to a different source
for our standards of conduct.’

Isadora had no
difficulty in interpreting this speech. ‘If, Cousin Matty, you are
referring to Lord Roborough—’


Oh
no,’ groaned one of the younger members of the group. ‘Not the
Errant Heir again.’

Fanny would
object, of course. At fourteen, she was thin with a sulky pout
about the mouth that bid fair to turn into the pinched look of
perpetual anxiety that characterised her mother, Cousin Matty.
Unsuitable though she was, Isadora had lured her into portraying
the young Princess Elizabeth in the play only to keep her from
complaint. Up to now her young cousin’s attention had been firmly
on settling on her head the elaborate crown she had devised of
silver filigree and coloured beads, and no doubt practising the
words of her important final line. Mention of Lord Roborough,
however, drew her back into the family circle.

Isadora could
not blame her for groaning. His lordship, although as yet unknown
to the inmates of the Pusay household, had become a thorn in their
collective flesh. Indeed, Isadora could scarcely endure to hear the
sound of his name.


Of
course I am referring to Lord Roborough,’ Cousin Matty returned,
ignoring her daughter’s interjection.


And
just why should he presume to censure my conduct?’ demanded Isadora
ominously, taking the comment entirely to herself as she knew had
been her cousin’s intent.


Well, it is his house now, after all.’


That
is
true, Dora,’ fluttered Mrs Alvescot, her plump features
crumpling into lines of worry.


And,’ pursued Cousin Matty doggedly, ‘he is the head of the
family.’


Oh
dear, so he is. Do you indeed think he may take exception to Dora’s
play?’


Take
exception?’ echoed Isadora with heat, jumping up from her perch.
‘He had better try!’


I
should be much astonished if he did not take exception to it,’
declared Cousin Matty. ‘These great men, you know, Dora, are
sticklers for punctilio.’


Are
they indeed? In that case, perhaps you will enlighten me as to why
we have not seen hide nor hair of the wretched man these many weeks
since poor Papa passed on. If he is so concerned with
punctilio
,
I would have supposed that, if he did not find
it convenient to visit us, he would have had the common courtesy at
the very least to have written to Mama instead of sending word by
Mr Thornbury.’

This was
undeniable. Even Cousin Matty had been extraordinarily put out—on
behalf of her cousin, she had said—by such a piece of rudeness. The
family lawyer had written to his lordship at Barton Stacey in
Hampshire expressly to inform him that, Mr Alvescot having died,
the estate had now fallen, by an obscure family connection, to his
lot. Receiving no response, Mr Thornbury, urged thereto by the
unsatisfactory state of affairs at Pusay, had again written
requesting the viscount’s pleasure, and received only a brief note
in reply, the contents of which had been dissected ad nauseam by
the Pusay residents while they waited in vain for the heir to
appear in person.

BOOK: VIscount Besieged
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