October 1, 2008
Scandalizing the Ton
A woman of innocence and notoriety…
Lady Wexin, once the ton’s foremost beauty, has been abandoned by her family and friends, and creditors hound her. Her husband’s scandalous death has left her impoverished and the gossip-mongering press is whipped into a frenzy of speculation when it becomes clear the widow is with child. Who is the father?
Only one man knows: Adrian Pomroy, Viscount Cavanley. He has cultivated the reputation of a rake, but in truth yearns for something useful to do. Delicate beauty Lydia Wexin could pose an intriguing—and stimulating—challenge….
Scandalizing the Ton
Scandalizing the Ton
…Once the finest ornament of the beau monde, a beauty so astounding and sublime a man would kill to possess her hand in marriage, the notorious Lady W– mourns her murderous husband in secret. How much knowledge did she possess of her husband’s villainous acts? —The New Observer, November 12, 1818
“Leave me this instant!”
A woman’s voice.
Adrian Pomroy, the new Viscount Cavanley, barely heard her as he rounded the corner onto John Street. Not even halfway down the block he saw the woman stride away from a man. The man hurried after her. They were mere silhouettes in the waning light of this November evening and they took no heed of him.
Adrian paused to make sense of this little drama. It was most likely a lover’s quarrel, and, if so, he’d backtrack to avoid landing in the middle of it.
“One moment.” The man kept his voice down, as if fearing to be overheard. “Please!” He seized her arm.
“Release me!” The woman struggled frantically to pull away.
Lover’s quarrel or not, Adrian could not allow a woman to be treated so roughly. He sprinted forward. “Unhand her! What is this?”
The man released the woman so quickly she tripped on her long hooded cloak. Adrian clasped her arm before she fell, holding her until she regained her balance. From the mews nearby a horse whinnied, but otherwise it was quiet.
The man backed away. “This is not as it appears, sir. I intend no harm to the lady.” He raised his hands as if to prove his words.
The lady? Adrian assumed he’d rescued some maid from a stableman’s unwanted advances, but, the woman’s cloak was made of fine cloth, and the man was dressed more like a tradesman than a stableman.
Adrian turned to the lady. “Did he harm you, ma’am?”
“No.” The hood of her cloak shrouded her face. “But I do not wish to speak with him.”
The man stepped forward again. “I merely asked the lady a few questions–”
“I will not answer them,” she cried from beneath her hood.
Adrian had the advantage of size on the man. He straightened his spine to make certain the man knew it. “If the lady does not wish to speak with you, that is the end of it.”
“Let me explain, sir.” The man stuck a hand in his pocket and pulled out a card. He handed it to Adrian. “I am Samuel Reed from The New Observer.”
The man nodded. “All England wishes to know Lady Wexin’s reaction to the events surrounding her villainous husband. I am merely requesting this information of her.”
Adrian regarded the cloaked figure with new interest. Adrian had just called upon his friend, the Marquess of Tannerton. Tanner had shoved the New Observer article about Lady Wexin under Adrian’s nose not more than half an hour ago.
His friend, Tanner, had recently returned from Scotland with a new wife and news about Lord Wexin that had consumed the newspapers ever since. Truth to tell, Tanner’s marriage had shocked Adrian more than the tale of murder, betrayal, and death that involved the Earl of Wexin.
Lady Wexin interrupted Adrian’s thoughts. “Do I take by this silence that you agree with this man, sir?” She stood with one hand braced against a garden wall. “Do perfect strangers have a right to know my private matters?”
Adrian still could not see her face, but he recalled the ton beauty very well. What gentleman would not? Adrian had never been formally presented to Lady Wexin, but they had occasionally attended the same society gatherings. Years ago Tanner and Adrian had briefly included Wexin among their set, but that had been before Wexin’s marriage.
“You owe this man nothing, my lady.” Adrian gave her a reassuring smile. “He will trouble you no further.”
According to Tanner, Lady Wexin was an innocent party in the perfidy that had so titillated the gossip-lovers. The newspapers had indulged the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for the scandal by speculating about Lady Wexin’s part in it. Wexin might be dead, but his wife was not.
Lady Wexin let go of the garden wall. “I shall be on my way, then.” She turned, her cloak swirling around her. She took one step, paused, then resumed walking.
Adrian frowned. She was limping.
Mr. Reed’s gaze followed her as well. He appeared to be considering whether to pursue her with more questions.
Adrian clapped him on the shoulder. “Best you leave, Mr. Reed.”
Mr. Reed’s eyes flashed. “This is not your property sir.”
Adrian smiled, but without friendliness. “Nonetheless, you do not wish to be in my bad graces.” He glanced at Lady Wexin, now fumbling with a key in the lock of a garden gate. “The lady looks as if she’s had enough to deal with this day. Leave, sir.”
Reed hesitated, but eventually his gaze slid back to Adrian.
“Leave, Mr. Reed.” Adrian repeated, quietly but firmly.
Reed bowed his head and nodded. He cast another look at Lady Wexin before strolling to the corner and disappearing from sight.
Adrian walked quickly over to where Lady Wexin still worked the lock. “Let me assist you.”
She waved him away. “I can manage.”
He gestured to her legs. “You are standing on one foot.”
She averted her face. “My–my ankle pains me a little. I believe I twisted it, but I assure you I can manage.” The lock turned and she opened the gate. When she stepped into the garden she nearly toppled to the ground.
Adrian hurried through the gate and wrapped an arm around her. “You cannot walk.”
The hood of her cloak fell away, fully revealing her face, only inches from his own.
Her skin was as smooth and flawless as the Roman sculpture of Clytie that had once captivated him in the British Museum. Unlike cold white stone, however, Lady Wexin’s cheeks were warm with color. Her lips, shaped like a perfect bow, were as pink as a dew-kissed rose. Adrian had often appreciated her beauty from across a ballroom, or from a box away at Covent Garden, but up this close, she robbed him of breath.
She edged out of his embrace, but continued to clutch his arm. “Of course it is.”
He smiled. “Forgive me. Yes, it must be.”
She looked over her shoulder. “I must close the gate. Before they see.”
“Before they see?” He followed her glance.
“More newspaper people. They loiter around the house looking for me.”
Ah, now it made sense why the lady entered her house through the garden gate. It did not explain why she had been out alone. Ladies did not venture out unless accompanied by a companion or a servant.
Adrian closed the gate with his free hand.
“I need to lock it.” She let go of him and tried to step away, again nearly falling.
Adrian reached for her again and helped her to the gate. “I’ll walk you to your door as well.”
“I am so sorry to trouble you.” She turned the key and left it in the lock.
Adrian kept his arm around her as they started for the house. When she put the slightest weight on her ankle, he felt her tense with pain.
“This will not do.” Adrian scooped her up into his arms.
“No, put me down,” she begged. “You must not carry me.”
“Nonsense. Of course I must.” Her face was even closer now and her scent, like spring lilacs, filled his nostrils. She draped her arms around his neck, and he inhaled deeply.
“See? I am too heavy,” she protested.
Too heavy? She felt as if she belonged in his arms.
He smiled at her. “Do not insult my strength, Lady Wexin. You will wound my male vanity.” He made the mistake of staring into her deep blue eyes, now glittering with unspent tears, and his heart wrenched for her. “You must be in great pain,” he murmured.
She held his gaze. “It hurts not at all now.”
He could not look away.
Somewhere on the street a door slammed and Lady Wexin blinked.
Adrian regained his senses and carried her the short distance to the rear door of the townhouse. Voices sounded nearby, riding on the evening breeze.
“The door will be unlocked.” She murmured, her hair brushing his cheek.
He opened the door and brought her inside. To the left he glimpsed the kitchen, though there were no sounds of a cook at work there. He carried her down the hallway to the stairway and brought her above stairs to the main hall of the house.
The hall was elegantly appointed with a gilded hall table upon which sat a pair of Chinese vases, devoid of flowers. Matching gilded chairs were upholstered in bright turquoise. The floor was a checkerboard of black and white marble, but no footman stood in attendance. In fact, the house was very quiet and a bit chilly.
“Shall I summon one of your servants?” he asked.
“They–they are all out at the moment, but you may put me down. I shall manage from here.”
He looked at her in surprise. “All out?” It was odd for a house to be completely empty of servants.
She averted her gaze. “They have the day off.” She squirmed in his arms. “You may put me down.”
He shook his head. “Your ankle needs tending.” He started up the marble staircase, smiling at her again to ease her discomfort. “By the way, I ought to present myself. I am–”
Adrian’s smile deepened, flattered that she’d noticed him.
He reached the second floor where he guessed the bedchambers would be. “Direct me to your room.”
“The second door,” she replied. “But, really, you mustn’t–”
It was his turn to interrupt. “Someone must.”
Her bed chamber was adorned with hand-painted wallpaper, bright exotic birds frolicking amidst colorful flowers. A dressing table with a large mirror held sparkling glass bottles, porcelain pots and a brush and comb with polished silver handles. Her bed was neatly made, its white coverlet gleaming and its many pillows plumped with what he guessed was the finest down. The room was chilly, though, as if someone allowed the fire in the fireplace to go out.
He set her down on the bed, very aware of her hands slipping away from his neck. “I’ll tend the fire.”
“Really, sir. You need not trouble yourself–” Her voice reached a high, nervous pitch.
“It is no trouble.”
He removed his hat, gloves, and topcoat and crossed the room to the small fireplace, its mantle of carved marble holding another empty vase. To his surprise, the fire had not died out at all. It was all set to be lit. He found the tinderbox and soon had a flame licking across the lumps of coal.
He returned to her. She had removed her cloak and clutched it in front of her. Adrian took it from her hands and draped it over a nearby chair. It contained something heavy in its pocket. Adrian felt a purse, heavy with coin.
He turned back to her and their eyes met, hers still shimmering with tears.
He touched her arm. “Are you certain you are not in pain? You look near to weeping.”
She averted her gaze. “I’m not in pain.”
He knelt in front of her. “Then let me have a look at that ankle. If it is broken, we will need to summon a surgeon.”
She drew up her leg. “A surgeon!”
“A surgeon would merely set the bone,” he said, puzzled at her alarm.
Her hand fluttered. “I was thinking of the cost.”
“The cost?” Concern of the cost was even more puzzling. Adrian gave her a reassuring smile. “Let us not fret over what is not yet a problem. Let me examine it first.”
She extended her leg again and Adrian untied her half boot. He slipped off the shoe, made of buttery soft white kid, and held her foot in his hand, enjoying too much its graceful shape.
He glanced up at her. “Am I hurting you?”
“No,” she rasped. “Not hurting.”
He grinned. “Tickling, then. I’ll be more careful.” He forced himself to his task, feeling her ankle, now swollen. His hand slipped up to her calf, but he quickly moved it down to her ankle again, gently moving her foot in all directions.
“Does that hurt?” he asked her.
“A little,” she whispered. “I–I should not be allowing you to do this.”
Indeed. He was enjoying it far too much, and desiring far more.
He cleared his throat. “I believe your ankle is sprained, not broken. I predict you will do nicely in a day or two.” He did not release it. “I should wrap it, though, to give you some support. Do you have bandages, or a strip of cloth?”
Her eyes were half closed. She blinked and pointed to a chest of drawers. “Look in the bottom drawer.”
He reluctantly let go of her leg and walked over to the chest. The bottom drawer contained neatly folded underclothing made of soft muslin and smooth silk as soft and smooth as her skin.
His thoughts, as if having a will of their own, turned carnal, and he imagined crossing the room and taking her in his arms, tasting her lips, peeling off her clothing, sliding his hands over her skin.
He gave himself an inward shake. He would not take advantage of this lady. Her peace was disturbed by reporters hounding her for a story, and her whole world had been turned head over ears with news of her husband’s crimes. And his death.
He frowned as he groped through her underclothing, finally coming up with a long thin piece of muslin.
He returned to her and knelt again. “I must remove your stocking.”
She extended her leg.
He slipped his hands up her calf, past her knee, until he found the top of her stocking and the ribbon that held it in place. He untied the ribbon and rolled the stocking down off her foot. Her skin was smooth and warm and pliant beneath his fingers.
He quickly took the strip of cloth and began to wind it around her ankle.
“Did you study surgery?” she asked, her voice cracking.
He looked up and grinned at her. “I fear it is horses I know, not surgery.”
She laughed, and the sound, like the joyful tinkling of a pianoforte, echoed in his mind.
He tried to force his attention back to the bandage, but she leaned forward and gave him a good glimpse of her décolletage. “Are you so gentle with horses?”
He glanced back to the bandage and continued wrapping, smoothing the fabric with his other hand.
“What is your name?” Her tone turned low and soft.
He glanced up. “I thought you said you knew me.”
“I do not know your given name,” she said.
“Adrian.” He tied off her bandage and reluctantly released her.
“Adrian.” She extended her hand. “I am Lydia.”
He grasped her hand. “Lydia.”
Lydia’s heart raced at the feel of his large masculine hand enveloping hers. His grip was strong, the sort of grip that assured he was a man who could handle any trial. She now knew better than to make judgments based on such trivialities as a touch, but she could not deny he had been gentle with her. And kind.
It seemed so long since she’d felt kindness from anyone but her servants.
And even longer since she’d felt a man’s touch, since her husband left for Scotland, in fact. It shocked her how affected she was by Adrian Pomroy’s hand on hers. He warmed her all over, making her body pine for what only should exist between a husband and wife.
She took a breath. She’d always loved that part of marriage, the physical part, the part that was supposed to lead to babies…but she could not think of that. It was too painful.
It was almost easier to think of her husband. The Earl of Wexin.
The newspapers wrote that her husband killed Lord Corland so Wexin could marry her. Lord Corland’s death had been her fault.
She gripped Adrian’s hand even more tightly, sick that Wexin’s hands had ever touched her, hands that cut a man’s throat.
She thought she’d loved Wexin. She’d trusted him with everything–the finances, the decisions, everything. But she had not known him at all. He’d betrayed her and left her with nothing but shame and guilt.
Her happiness had been an illusion, something that could not last, like the baby that had been growing inside her the day Wexin left.
The cramping had started the very next day after he’d left, more than a month ago now, and she’d lost that baby like the two others before.
She swallowed a sob. Now she had nothing.
She glanced up into Adrian’s eyes, warm amber, perpetually mirthful, as if his life had been nothing but one long lark.
He smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. “You are squeezing my hand.”
She released him. “I am sorry.”
He stood and took her hand in his again. “It was not a complaint. You look troubled.” He lifted her hand to his lips, warm soft lips. “You have been through a great deal, I suspect. I will act as your friend, if you will allow me.”
Her senses flared again and her breathing accelerated. “If you knew how I need a friend.”
He smelled wonderful. Like a man. And she felt his strength in his hands, in his steady gaze. She took a deep breath and reached up to touch his hair, thick and brown with a wayward cowlick at the crown that gave him a boyish appeal.
His eyes darkened and the grin disappeared, though his lips formed a natural smile even at rest.
This man pleased women, it was said. He was a rake whose name was always attached to some actress or opera dancer or widow. Well, she was a widow now and her whole body yearned to be touched, to be pleased, to be loved.
She spoke, but it was as if her voice belonged to someone else. “You can do something for me, Adrian. As a friend.”
He smiled again. “You have but to ask.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and with her heart thundering inside her chest, she brought her lips near to his oh-so-tempting ones. “Make love to me.”
She felt his intake of air and watched his lips move. “Are you certain of this?” he whispered.
End of Excerpt
Scandalizing the Ton
Book 6 in the The Mysterious Miss M Series Series
Behind the Book
Scandalizing the Ton
Were there really Regency Papparazzi?
Our present day fascination with celebrities has a long history. People have always been interested in the glamorous important people of their society. In Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip, Roger Wilkes cites evidence of interest in the peccadilloes of important people dating back to Biblical times and the time of Cicero. Until the availability of printed material and enough people with the ability to read, gossip was still enjoyed as an oral tradition. The medieval market place, for example, was a place travelers could bring news from distant locales.
In England early gossip mongers included Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, and even James Boswell. Gossip writing for newspapers and magazines was sometimes done by women, whose identities had to remain secret, but who, understandably, had access to the juicy secrets of society’s finest people.
In the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, gossip and scandal filled the newspapers of the day. The Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent from whom the Regency gets its name, provided plenty of fodder for the newspapers with his many affairs, his secret marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert, and his disastrous marriage to Princess Caroline. His brothers were equally as gossip-worthy. People were also fascinated by the lives of the courtesans of the day, Mary Robinson (“Perdita”), Harriet Wilson, and Grace Dalrymple Elliot. Then, as now, who was sleeping with whom was of endless interest.
Much of what was printed about society’s important people was embellished or completely fabricated. With the exception of what was printed about the Royals, who could have a journalist tossed into prison, there was little worry about lawsuits. The journalists made a pretense of protecting identities by referring to their subjects by initials. The Duchess of Devonshire became “the Duchess of D—,” Mrs. Fitzherbert became Mrs. F—tzh—t. Everyone knew who the initials represented.
The Morning Post was known for its society gossip, but there were others as well with names like the Tatler, thePublic Advertiser, and John Bull. The John Bull was edited by Theodore Hook, whose identity was a well-kept secret. Hook mixed freely with the people he wrote about, giving him the opportunity to learn their secrets and exploit them. Hook’s principal target was the Prince Regent’s scandalous wife, Caroline, and her Whig supporters, thus ensuring him royal favor.
The Georgian and Regency eras had their version of YouTube, too. Print shops did a brisk business selling caricatures of the beau monde. Caricaturists such as Gillray and Rowlandson, depicted scandalous acts in satirical splendor.
One can imagine that these people were known to the Regency public.
In Scandalizing the Ton I explored what it might have been like to be the victim of the Regency public’s craze for titillating gossip. Borrowing elements from both the present and past passion to be informed of celebrities’ secrets, I wondered how it would have felt to be Lydia Wexin, a woman who deserved none of the attention she received from the press, a woman who, in a moment of weakness and need, merely asked for the love of the one man who had been kind to her.
Wilkes, Roger. Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip. Atlantic Books, 2002
Manning, Jo. My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, Royal Courtesan. Simon & Schuster, 2005