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Love With a Scandalous Lord
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A true lady shall comport herself in a dignified manner which will serve to draw little attention to herself.
Miss Westland's Blunders in
As the dark crimson coach sped along the narrow country lane, Lydia Westland gazed out the window and fought to maintain an air of casual indifference, to give the impression that traveling in a coach bearing a ducal crest was an everyday occurrence for her, to be taken in stride. When in fact, it was the most exciting adventure of her life.
With a contented sigh, she settled back against the plush interior padding. Traveling back home had never been this comfortable or elegant. She couldn't help but be impressed by the pomp and ceremony.
The coachman's beautiful crimson coat was adorned with silver braid. His white trousers fit snugly and stopped just below his knee, leaving his white stockings and black shoes clearly visible. Beneath his hat, he wore a white wig. As did the two footmen who stood on the back of the vehicle. She was amazed they didn't fall off.
As the coach passed beneath a massive archway supported by two stone columns, her heart picked up its tempo to beat in rhythm with the pounding hooves of the six gray horses that led the way. The well-built vehicle smoothly turned onto another road where magnificent towering elms lined both sides like a regiment of well-trained soldiers. Dappled sunlight broke through the abundant leaves overhead to create a breathtaking scene.
"I'd forgotten how large Harrington is," her step-father said quietly.
Lydia darted a glance his way. The lines in his beloved face had deepened since the new Marquess of Blackhurst had sent a cable to inform him of their father's failing health. She ached for her stepfather and all the sorrow he would endure in the following days.
Grayson Rhodes had been a constant in her life for almost as long as she could remember. She was seven when he'd arrived at her family's farm to help them harvest cotton shortly after the War Between the North and South had ended. His hair had been a little blonder then, his face considerably paler. Now it clearly revealed where the sun and wind had staked claim to it. More tan, more weathered.
The distinguished lilt of his voice had intrigued her and been a bit more pronounced then than it was now. His impeccable manners had fascinated her. They alone had remained steadfast through the years, while every other aspect of him had changed. His shoulders had broadened, his hands had roughened, and every time he looked at the woman sitting beside him, Lydia knew his love for her mother had grown stronger.
He was unlike anyone else she'd ever known. In spite of the unfortunate circumstances that had brought him to their door, he was incredibly worldly. She'd hung on his every word, badgered him with questions regarding his homeland, and prayed for the day when he might decide to return, taking his new family with him.
Remorse swamped her because her prayers had at last been answered, but not as she'd hoped. She hadn't wanted her stepfather to suffer simply so she could live in a fantasy world for a brief time. She felt guilty because she harbored any joy at all regarding this trip. But she'd wanted to travel to England ever since he'd first regaled her with stories of brave knights and damsels in need of rescue.
She'd often thought she needed rescuing from dull Fortune, Texas, where each day melted into the next with seasons separated only by planting and harvesting.
Unlike London where the Season had an entirely different connotation. It evoked images of gilded balls and beautiful gowns from Worth's. Etiquette. Elegant manners. Rituals. Traditions. Here courtship was much more intriguing and complicated than anything she'd experienced back home.
Her cousin Lauren, older by three years, had written lengthy letters to Lydia describing her exciting Seasons. She'd gone into great detail regarding the various men of distinction who had called on her. Dukes, marquesses, earls, barons. Men with titles other than mister. Lydia found it all incredibly romantic.
She knew she was being selfish, perhaps even unkind, to hope she might be allowed to experience a short Season while she was here. But she couldn't quite relinquish her hold on a dream that had wrapped itself around her at such a tender age: to move beyond the mundane and ordinary into the realm of the English aristocracy.
"How much longer, Papa?" Sabrina asked, gnawing on the tip of one of her braids.
Lydia's eight-year-old half-sister was the main reason she'd been given the opportunity to come on this trip. Her mother wanted someone available to watch over the younger children, so she could devote her full attention to her husband during this difficult time. And there had been little doubt that the Duke would want to see his true grandchildren.
"We should arrive at any moment now," Grayson said, his mouth curving into a loving smile for his youngest child.
Sitting beside Lydia, Colton shifted on the bench seat. At thirteen, he'd been fascinated with the ship they'd traveled on, but passing scenery held little interest for him. Her other brothers, Johnny and Micah Westland, with whom she shared a deceased father, had stayed in Fortune to oversee the crops and the cattle. Her stepfather had succeeded in making farming and ranching extremely profitable enterprises for his family. Of course, he took no credit for the achievement, and instead always pointed to the diligent efforts of each family member as being responsible.
Lydia was grateful Johnny hadn't accompanied them on this trip. He always teased her unmercifully about her aspiration to be perceived as a refined lady ...