After her four sisters married for love, Mercy Baxendale, in her first London Season, wants the same for herself. Her requirements are simple. The man she marries must be madly in love with her, and he must also be prepared to support her business venture.
When an incident lands Mercy and Grant Viscount Northcliffe in the scandal sheets, they are forced into a marriage of convenience. Although Northcliffe is the most handsome man she’s met, he does not fill her criterion for a husband. Not only does he appear to be a man with secrets, he has a very public mistress. Was it possible to overcome their differences and love one another?
Grant foresees no rush to marry and produce an heir. His grandfather, the Duke of Rotherham and Grant’s father are still above ground. And squiring a fiancée around London for the Season is difficult with the dangerous work he’s undertaken for the Crown.
While he has accepted that circumstances have thrust marriage upon him, he wishes his reluctant fiancée would be warmer. There’s a decidedly chilly expression in her beautiful blue eyes and he’s at a loss to know why.
I shall write more about the folk in Tunbridge Wells next year. If you’ve enjoyed the series, you might like to join my newsletter to learn more.
A short scene from the novel.
Laughter and bright chatter erupted through the open French doors from Lady Millburn’s ballroom. For a moment, Mercy and Lord Burleigh stood alone on the terrace. She gazed down into the garden decorated with flickering lanterns breathing in the scents of flowers and damp grass. The moist air of an unseasonably warm spring night settled over Mercy’s bare arms, the stone balustrade blessedly cool as she leaned against it.
“Lady Mercy, don’t be so cruel,” Lord Burleigh implored, in husky tones beside her. “It is every debutante’s rite of passage to be kissed on a terrace in the moonlight at her first ball.”
He stood too close. Mercy prodded his arm with her fan. “I have four married sisters, my lord, and have never heard of any such thing. I accepted your invitation to walk on the terrace because it was so dreadfully hot and stuffy inside.”Although his pleading look made him resemble an eager puppy, she suspected she was one of many he invited to the terrace. “Shall we return to the ballroom?”
Mercy had witnessed each of her four sisters fall in love and marry handsome, intelligent men, and she waited with impatience for her life to begin. Her first ball held the potential for romance, thrilling, swooning romance with a handsome suitor. So far, the men who’d partnered her had been most unsatisfactory. One gentleman had knobby knees, another talked in such an affected way she couldn’t follow his conversation.
As they crossed the terrace, she fought to revive her dwindling hopes, perhaps the next man to dance with her…
A wall of heat, blended with cloying perfume, perspiration, coffee and candle smoke greeted her as she slipped inside. The massive crystal chandelier overhead lit up the brilliantly dressed crowd, causing jewelry to flash and sparkle.
“Mercy, where have you been?” Mama watched Lord Burleigh wander off in search of a more promising victim.
“Lord Burleigh and I found the terrace much cooler.”
Mama fanned herself furiously. “It is dreadfully close tonight.” She frowned. “But please remain within these walls. There are too many rakes here tonight. I think Lady Millburn should have vetted her guests more closely.”
“Rakes, Mama?” Mercy gazed around, hoping the dull evening might improve. “Who are they? Can you point them out?”
“Lord Northcliffe for one.” Mama pointed with her chin at a tall, handsome man lounging against a stone pillar a short distance from where they sat.
Mercy stared, mesmerized by the errant lock of black hair on his forehead. Despite his easy grace, there was a sense of something mysterious about him that she found quite fascinating. So, that was a rake.
“Gossip is rife about Northcliffe’s latest exploits,” Mama said, employing her fan.
Northcliffe’s gaze settled on Mercy. She thought she detected amusement in his amber eyes. He could hardly have heard their conversation. Captivated, she found she couldn’t look away. Neither did he. She blinked, feeling lightheaded. “What exploits?”
“Nothing fit for your ears.” Mama shook her head. “I don’t believe I shall point out the others. We can depend upon them to find you, my dear. When they do, you mustn’t give them an inch, or before you know it, that will lead to other more intimate endeavors!”
Mercy turned back to the pillar, disappointed to find Lord Northcliffe had gone.