The blasted man will not stop following her. Well, he isn’t following her . . . not exactly. They are just always thrown together, and he is everything she wants but cannot have. It is downright infuriating—especially when he kisses her.
Lady Grace Abernathy has been ravished and left pregnant (and thoroughly unsuitable for any honorable gentleman). This would not be such a gargantuan problem if Lord Alexander Hardwicke would simply stay away from her as she asked. But leave it to her meddling Aunt Dorothea—who means well, of course—to continually thrust the two into each other’s company. Against both their wishes. These distractions are almost more than a reasonable lady should be forced to bear, let alone one who is dealing with all the difficulties inherent with both an unwanted pregnancy and a dire lack of a husband.
Alex left London to visit his deceased father’s oldest friend, Lord Rotheby, and to get away from his mother and her matchmaking schemes, only to run into more of the same at every turn. Why can he not determine for himself the course his life will take before everyone pushes him to take a wife? But the more time he spends in the company of Lady Grace, the less he finds himself able to ignore his growing attraction—and his burgeoning need to protect her. Must he cause a scandal in order to protect her from one?
Lady Grace Abernathy’s cheek burned where the back of her father’s hand struck her, but she fought to conceal her emotions.
Crying could come later, but not before Father. He fed on weakness and fear. Tears would only add fuel to his fire. She refused to encourage him. “A whore, Father?” Grace focused on her nerves to refrain from stuttering. “What do you mean?”
How on earth had he learned what had happened? Could someone have hidden in the library and watched while the Earl of Barrow ravished her?
“You are a harlot! Barrow told the whole of White’s how you pushed yourself at him during Lord Everton’s ball. How he tried to convince you any sort of dalliance would be an enormously bad idea, but you refused to take no for an answer. Do you want to know who was in White’s that night, Grace? Do you?”
Her father, the Marquess of Chatham, rose to full temper. His bulbous head turned an unnatural shade of purple and appeared as though it might burst at any moment. Grace rather thought she might like to see it burst. His eyelids twitched over his wide eyes, and the thin bits of greyed hair covering his scalp flopped back and forth with each syllable.
“The Duke of Walsingham! Your betrothed, that’s who. A good half the ton was at White’s. As soon as Walsingham learned of the trollop you truly are, he came to my library and called off the betrothal. He ripped our agreement and tossed it in the fire. You are ruined, Grace. No one will condescend to have you now.”
He dropped into the chair behind his aged desk and held his head in his hands.
Grace’s jaw dropped when she learned of the extremity of Lord Barrow’s revenge for Father breaking off their agreement. And of course, her father and his drink-addled mind had fallen right into Barrow’s trap, and Grace took the brunt of it. Why should she have expected anything different?
“But Father, no, that is untrue.” He must understand. “I never dallied with Lord Barrow. He forced himself on me.”
His head rose and he stared upon her with apprehension. A pit of ire rose up in her over his dubious expression. Would the man never believe her, not even over this?
“I tried to stop him, but I was not strong enough.” Her words rushed forth. “He wanted a settling of the score with you, for not honoring the arrangement for our marriage.”
“Lies. Lies! You are a whore. You are no daughter of mine.” He spat the words at her. “After all I have done for you to secure an eligible match. You were to be a duchess. I would be aligned through your marriage to the Duke of Walsingham. But now what? All is lost.”
Of course, everything inevitably rested on status. Father had never concerned himself with her welfare, but only cared about the connections he had within society and the coin lining his coffers. How could he do better than marrying his daughter off to a duke? Grace wouldn’t doubt if there were some sort of monetary agreement involved as well—something which would be more favorable than whatever Lord Barrow had offered, since Father had blatantly ignored the agreement with the Barrow—therefore garnering the earl’s wrath—and leaving Grace to deal with the consequences.
Why could Father not, just once, love her? He slumped forward in his chair and wept. She waited, still as could be, to see what he would do next.
After several long moments, her father looked up again, unseeingly, at her. “There is still a possibility to resume the broken understanding with Barrow. I will work on that prospect again, or on making some other advantageous match if I cannot settle things to my liking.” He rose and paced his library. “Barrow absconded—er, I mean left—for the continent, and I know not when he will return. But that is of little consequence.”
“Father, you can’t really wish align yourself with a man who would ravish your daughter, can you? And why does the earl leave England so often?” The man’s frequent trips abroad, with no explanation, left her unsettled—even more now that she would be forced to marry him. Something seemed out of place, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
“I neither know nor care. His concerns are his own.”
Grace ought to have known her father would not enquire into such matters. He preferred to know the title, connections, and property of any of her possible suitors. Anything else held little concern. For that matter, their ages and temperaments caused him no concern at all. Grace would marry as her father ordered her to marry, and that was the end of that. Her preferences, and frankly her needs, carried little moment with him.
A throb built in her temples as she waited to learn what else he had to say. Her jaw twitched with a desperate need to scream at the man, but somehow she held her tongue.
“You claim he ravished you, but what reasonable chit would not make such a claim under the circumstances? Barrow says you offered yourself to him.” Several moments passed as Grace’s father considered these ideas, mulling them over much as he savored his liquor. “I have no reason to doubt the earl’s word. But in all honesty, it matters not who tells the truth and who lies. Your ruin is taking place before my eyes, Grace, and your ruin means my ruin!”
He stopped pacing and faced her. His eyes were cold, unfeeling. “By God, I will do everything in my power to see my reputation and status maintained. Go to your chamber. You will stay there unless I call for you.”
“For how long, Father?” She glared at him through a haze of red. Of course he would banish her to her chamber again. He always locked her away.
“Until I decide you should come out, that is how long!” He sat behind his desk again and poured whiskey into a glass.
Grace fled through the doors of his library, blinded by her rage. Was she truly so unlovable her own father would take the side of a jilted suitor over her?