The Accidental Viscountess
Just a Touch of Scandal Book I
An old feud renewed. A new scandal threatens. An unexpected romance.
Dorothea Hindley came to London for one reason: to help launch her cousin into society. The task would be easier if Dorothea’s aunt hadn’t revived a long-standing feud which could make her family a laughingstock. Her best hope to prevent that comes from Martin Drayton, Viscount Abernathy, son of her aunt’s nemesis.
Martin can’t afford the distraction of his mother’s social maneuvering. With King George mad at Windsor Castle and Parliament wrangling over the Regency Bill, he is busy forwarding the Prince of Wales’ cause. Enlisting Dorothea to help to cool the flames of the feud seems not only sensible, but mutually beneficial.
Working together sets in motion an undeniable attraction—and a scandal neither they can ill-afford. Caught in a marriage of convenience, can the accidental viscountess and her unexpected husband get their families to stop feuding long enough to save both the monarchy and their love?
Easy enough for Martin to find Lady Wilmont’s party, as they’d taken up position in a prominent, almost showy spot. The Wilmont daughter was on the floor with a partner, leaving Lady Wilmont to converse with the other young lady in the party. She diligently made notes in the book she carried, occasionally offering her own comments.
Martin paused for a moment. It would be better if Lord Wilmont were present to exert some influence over his wife. But, as much as he might wish otherwise, he needed to deal with Lady Wilmont, for better or worse. A deep breath, then he made his approach.
“Dorothea, I fear I must retire for a moment. Stay here in case Alyssa returns.”
Moving quicker than expected, Lady Wilmont departed. Martin stopped, uncertain whether it was a cut. She’d seen his approach—he wagered those eyes missed little—but moved before he drew near enough she must acknowledge his presence. To her credit, Lady Wilmont executed the maneuver far more skillfully than his mother’s attempt.
“You appear puzzled, sir.”
Dorothea watched him with an amused expression. Here was an opportunity to speak to at least one of the Wilmont clan. “Have I been insulted or no?”
She chuckled. “If you must ask, there is your answer.”
Her expression was sympathetic, as if she understood his quandary. That sympathy caused him to push on to his purpose. “I wish to offer apologies for my sister’s behavior.”
“Which you are not responsible for.”
“Also to ask if there is anything I might do to ease this feud,” he finished, attempting to ignore her interruption.
“Is Lady Abernathy willing to let the feud drop?”
“No,” he admitted with some reluctance.
A regretful smile crossed full lips. “Then I see little hope my aunt will be willing to make any effort. You do realize this began before either of us were born.”
Her words did not sound encouraging, but he had to acknowledge the truth of them. “Something to do with their season. Ridiculous some triviality should provoke such acid response years later.”
A frown crossed her face, her eyes dropping as she plucked at the cover of her notebook. “This may seem ridiculous to you, but a season is one of the few times a woman has the chance at some control over her destiny. She can encourage or discourage gentlemen, try to exert influence over who will be her husband. If either Lady Wilmont or Lady Abernathy felt those chances interfered with by the other, they might well nurture such a grudge across the years.”
A perspective he’d not considered. Still, given his parents had enjoyed a happy marriage, might his mother be the one to sin against her rival?
“Ballrooms are battlefields, my lord.”
The humor was back in her voice, her gaze meeting his without the missish demureness most unmarried ladies affected. Her attention, though, wavered every so often, watching something else in the room. Most likely keeping an eye out for Lady Wilmont. Given her plainer dress, Martin wagered she was a poor relation who earned her keep by doing small tasks and being useful. Which meant she lived on the Wilmonts’ charity, needing their continued good will if she wished to retain her situation.
“My lord, I hope your sister does not feel too badly about her outburst. I fear Lady Wilmont did her best to provoke it.”
Sometimes poor relations proved surprising. “I did not suggest Lady Wilmont did anything wrong.”
“Because you are too much of a gentleman to do so. I was present, remember? I’m afraid both parties were at fault.” Dorothea leaned forward. “I briefly considered fainting to end the scene.”
Martin stifled a laugh. “Why did you not try this heroic measure?”
“Your sister spoke before I had fully steeled my resolve. I wish I had, though. My actions would be of less interest to certain parties than hers.”
She wrinkled her nose and Martin found himself again intrigued. This was no pale-faced companion content for what crumbs might fall. Dorothea had both wit and intelligence. It was surprising no gentlemen sought her company, even if only for the amusement of her conversation.
The music ended, sparking a general exodus from the dance floor. Which meant Miss Wilmont would be returning. Which meant Lady Wilmont would be forced to rejoin Dorothea to supervise her daughter’s next choice of partner.
Dorothea took a half-step toward him, closer than truly proper. “I urge you not to try my aunt tonight, sir,” she said, her voice quiet enough the words would not carry beyond them two. “She is vexed from the encounter with Lady Abernathy, among other things. An attempt to force conversation would not go well.”
A meaningful glance was cast to one side. Turning his head slightly, Martin found Lady Wilmont hovering. She looked away before he could meet her eyes, but not before he caught the unhappy expression on her face. “She’s not pleased we’re speaking.”
“Why I ask you to go. Please. There is much she will allow me, but I fear we are stretching her patience. We are not chaperoned, and this conversation has gone on longer than is proper.”
He accepted she spoke the truth. Any attempt to speak with Lady Wilmont would only fan the flames higher, as well as potentially offer consequences for Dorothea. “I will take my leave. I hope we meet again under better terms.
The moment he was safely out of range, Lady Wilmont returned to Dorothea as Miss Wilmont arrived with her partner. A quick glance, and Dorothea stepped back, making room for Miss Wilmont’s suitors.
He sought out more gentlemen whose vote might make a difference in Wednesday’s session. But he also found himself glancing back to where Dorothea stood. She continued to make notes, always on the fringe of conversation. Lady Wilmont did not appear angry, but one never knew what happened behind closed doors, nor was he likely to learn.
Across the room, Stockwood hung about Cecilia, perhaps seeking a shield from other ladies. Roger was beside her as well, leaning in to say something. Cecilia laughed in response, her face much more relaxed now. Despite the incident earlier, all seemed right with the world.
He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling it was going to be a long season indeed.