RAVENSWOOD SERIES, BOOK 2
Philippa Ware, elder daughter of the Earl of Stratton, grew up eagerly anticipating a glittering debut and a brilliant marriage. Then her brother caught their father out in a clandestine affair and denounced him publicly. The whole family was disgraced and Philippa’s hopes grew dim, then were fully shattered when she overheard the dashing, handsome Marquess of Roath viciously insult her upon learning of her father’s identity. Only years later does Philippa find the courage to go to London at last to meet the ton. She is an instant success and enjoys a close friendship with the granddaughter of a duke. Only one man can spoil everything for her, but surely he will not be in London this year.
The Duke of Wilby is nearing death and has tasked his grandson and heir, Lucas Arden, Marquess of Roath, with marrying and producing a son while he still lives. Lucas, who usually shuns London, goes there early in the Season in the hope of finding an eligible bride before his grandparents arrive and find one for him. He is instantly attracted to his sister’s new friend, until that young lady asks a simple question: “Remember me?” And suddenly he does remember her, as well as the reason why the daughter of the Earl of Stratton is the one woman he can never marry—even if his heart tells him she is the only woman he wants.
Unfortunately for Philippa and Lucas, the autocratic duke and his duchess have other ideas and believe them to be perfect for each other. They will simply not take no for an answer. Telling Philippa the full truth is the hardest thing Lucas has ever faced, and the discovery of it will change them both before they discover the healing power of love.
Philippa was absurdly excited as the carriage conveyed her and her mother the short distance from Grosvenor Square to Berkeley Square. It was only a private tea to which they had been invited, but it was her first social event in London, and it was at the home of a duke. She was wearing her new sprigged muslin afternoon dress, the one her mother had rightly dubbed her favorite. It was fashionably high-waisted with a slightly scooped neckline and short, puffed sleeves over long, close-fitting sleeves that extended to her wrists. It felt light and summery. Her hair was knotted high on her head, with far more curls and fine ringlets than usual trailing over her neck and ears.
Her mother was looking her usual elegant, poised self in dark blue. She also looked happy. She seemed genuinely delighted to be in London with her two daughters, just the three of them together until Devlin came with Gwyneth.
“Do you think there will be many other guests?” Philippa asked. She was nervous as well as excited. She was certainly not behaving like a poised twenty-two year old.
“I am not privy to Kitty’s guest list,” her mother said, smiling at her and patting her knee. “But I doubt she would have sent a formal invitation card with her letter to me if all she had planned was a small gathering of close friends. I would expect anywhere from twenty to forty fellow guests. I do look forward to seeing her again. She was such a… Oh, what is the word I am searching for? Such a fun companion when we were both young brides and little more than girls. There was no starch in her even though she was the daughter of the Duke of Wilby.”
“Will he be there too today, do you think?” Philippa asked. “Is there a duchess?”
“There is certainly a duchess,” her mother said. “At least, I have not heard of anything having happened to her, though both she and the duke must be very elderly by now. Perhaps a little older even than Grandmama and Grandpapa Greenfield. I do not know if they are in town this year, though I doubt it.” The carriage rocked to a halt as she was speaking. “Here we are, Pippa, and soon all your questions will be answered. I am so looking forward to launching you upon society at last. Just enjoy yourself. It is all I ask. It is all I have ever wanted for any of my children—that they be happy.”
Twenty to forty people, her mother had predicted. There must be all of forty, probably more, in the large drawing room to which they were admitted a few minutes later after the Duke of Wilby’s butler had announced them. Philippa felt flutters in her stomach, inhaled slowly and deeply, and smiled as she let the breath out. Young and old and everything in between, she thought, and surely an equal number of men and women. One of the women, a lady about her mother’s age, with regal bearing and welcoming smile and twinkling eyes, detached herself from one group and hurried toward them, arms wide.
“Clarissa!” she cried. “Here you are and looking not a day older than when we first met. Well, perhaps one day older.”
“Kitty!” Philippa’s mother said as they hugged each other at some length, laughing as they did so. “What a delight it is to see you again.”
“And this must be Philippa,” Lady Catherine Emmett said, withdrawing from the hug, still smiling. “How perfectly beautiful you are, Phil— Oh, may I call you Pippa as I know your mama does?” She took Philippa’s hands in hers and squeezed them. “I am so sorry that the passing of your dear papa and then your grandmama delayed your appearance in society. It must have been very provoking for you even while you grieved. However, all that is behind you now and I can confidently predict without even having to use a crystal ball that you are about to take the ton by storm. Your poor mama will be sweeping an overflow of suitors from your doorstep within days.”
“Never, Kitty,” Philippa’s mother said. “I have servants to do that for me.”
And the two older women went off into peals of girlish laughter over the silly joke, drawing looks and smiles their way from other guests. Philippa chuckled with them, already feeling more relaxed. She could understand why her mother liked her friend so much.
“I would have been delighted if Lady Stephanie had come too,” Lady Catherine said. “But I can perfectly well understand why she declined the invitation. She would doubtless have found the party stuffy. But come, both of you.” She took Philippa by the hand. “Let me introduce you to a few people. You probably know most of my guests already, Clarissa, but I doubt Pippa knows anyone. She soon will, though. It will all be very bewildering at first, my dear, facing roomful after roomful of fashionable persons, but you will find after a short while that you see many of the same people wherever you go. Before long, faces will become familiar and then names. The tricky part, of course, will be putting the right name to each face.”
She laughed with delight over her own dire warning.
It was not going to be easy, Philippa agreed over the next fifteen minutes or so as she was introduced to what seemed like a very large number of people. She found herself in conversation with men and women who had known her father or who knew her mother or who just chose to be amiable to a stranger newly descended upon the ton. All she had to do in return was smile and answer questions and pose a few of her own. Her upbringing, after all, had prepared her to do that without either cowering or becoming tongue-tied.
Soon she began actually to enjoy herself.
Small tables had been arranged about the perimeter of the room and set for tea with crisp white linen cloths and what must be the very best china, crystal, and silver. Each table had a vase of flowers at its center. Very few people were seated awaiting their tea, however. Most were standing in groups or circulating about the room, conversing with friends and acquaintances, greeting the few people they did not know.
Philippa found herself after a while in conversation with Sir Gerald Emmett, Lady Catherine’s son. He must be about Devlin’s age, she guessed. He had polished manners and was very charming. He was good looking too. Philippa was aware of his mother giving a little nod of satisfaction as she moved away and left them alone together after introducing them.
“This is your first Season, Lady Philippa?” he asked her.
“It is,” she said. “Even though I am ancient.”
He drew his head back a few inches and looked her over critically from head to foot—but with a twinkle in his eye. “Ah,” he said. “Then I must ask you to peel off the mask of youth, if you please, and reveal yourself in all your ancientness. If there is such a word.”
She laughed. “Ancient was perhaps an exaggeration,” she said.
“I would call it an outright whopper of an untruth,” he told her. “My mother has told me about the family losses that kept you at home and in mourning for a couple of years or more. I am sorry about those but delighted that you are here now. Have you met my cousin? Jenny?”
“I have not,” she said, “though I have met a lot of other people.”
“Bewildering, is it not?” he said. “I remember my first visit to London. I once sent a groom to fetch my horse as I prepared to leave a garden party and discovered after he had brought it that he was not only a gentleman but also a viscount and my host. That gaffe will haunt me for the rest of my life, I daresay, for there are a number of persons who were witness to it and will see that I do not forget.”
“Oh no!” Philippa said and laughed again. “But I do believe you may be telling a bouncer of your own, sir.”
“Not a bit of it,” he assured her. “I have never uttered a lie in my life. Well, no more than a dozen times, anyway. Let me take you to Jenny.”
He was very attractive, Phiippa thought as she followed him across the room. And personable and good humored. And the grandson of a duke, and a baronet in his own right. She smiled with amusement as she realized she was already looking with speculation at the young men in the room.
He stopped in front of one of the few guests who were seated, and Philippa saw a young woman who must be close to her in age. She was thin and pale-complexioned, a fact that was somehow accentuated by the dark red of her hair. She was not pretty, but there was something distinguished about her narrow face with its high cheekbones, very straight nose, and slightly upward curving top lip. Her eyes were dark and large. She was smiling at the two people with whom she was conversing. They were all seated in armchairs by the fireplace.
“Jenny,” Sir Gerald said, bending over her. “I have brought Lady Philippa Ware to meet you. She is the daughter of the lady Mama was telling me about yesterday when I called here.”
“The dear friend and partner in crime of her youth? Lady Stratton?” Lady Jennifer spoke in a low, musical voice, holding out one thin hand toward Philippa and smiling up at her.
“Lady Jennifer Arden,” Sir Gerald said, completing the introduction. “My cousin and a granddaughter of the Duke of Wilby, Lady Philippa. You must not learn only names while you are in town, you need to understand, but also titles and relationships. And at the end of the Season there will be a test to decide if you qualify to return here next year.”
“Take no notice of him, Lady Philippa,” his cousin said as Philippa took her hand. “He is an incurable tease. Will you not be seated? And do call me Jenny.”
The two people who had been talking to her had moved away and Philippa took the chair vacated by one of them.
“Then you must call me Pippa,” she said.
“It must appear to you that I am sitting here holding court when I ought to be on my feet mingling with my aunt’s guests,” Jenny said. “I would do so with great pleasure if I could, but alas I cannot. I am crippled.”
“I am sorry,” Philippa said.
“You need not be,” Jenny told her. “I have been more or less crippled since I was five years old and have adjusted my life accordingly. I do not bore friends and acquaintances with details, but I do like to explain to those who do not know me so they will not think me lazy and horribly bad-mannered. This is your first visit to town? And your first Season? That is what Aunt Kitty says. What was your very first impression of London?”
“That it is not as magnificent as I had expected,” Philippa said. “The streets are not paved with gold. What a colossal disappointment that was. My second impression somewhat contradicted the first, however, for it turned out that Stratton House is not after all a house but a mansion, just as this is.”
“You have probably not seen a great deal of London yet,” Jenny said. “I especially love visiting the galleries and the grandest of the churches. But I enjoy the social life too—going to the theater and parties at which I can be in company with others. I enjoy it all for just a few weeks at a time, however. I am always glad to return to the country afterward. I am comfortable with my neighbors and friends there and my books. Enough about me, however. Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your family. You have brothers and sisters? Indeed, I know you have one younger sister here in town with you.”
“Stephanie,” Philippa said. “She is sixteen years old and caught in that frustrating middle land between childhood and womanhood. Though fortunately she is not jealous of me, or even envious, I believe. She is enjoying London but claims to be very glad she will not be expected to waste her time at parties. I have three older brothers and one younger. And I have one niece. Oh, and one sister-in-law since Christmas. Gwyneth. She and my brother Devlin will be coming to London soon.”
They continued talking about their families and homes after Sir Gerald had moved away with someone who had approached to shake his hand.
“You must not feel obliged to remain here with me indefinitely when I am sure you must wish to meet everyone else, Pippa,” Jenny said after a while. “I will not be left alone if you step away, you know. People are very kind, and since most of them know I cannot go to them, they come to me. I am truly delighted to have made your acquaintance, though, and hope quite sincerely that we will be friends.”
“I would like that very much,” Philippa said in all honesty. She had felt comfortable with Jenny from the first moment. She should probably take the hint, however, and move on to another group. It was what happened at parties, and there were many people yet to meet. Jenny should be left to receive more of her aunt’s guests.
Before she could get to her feet, however, Jenny spoke again. Her eyes were fixed upon the door, and her face had lit up with surprise and pleasure.
“Oh,” she said. “Luc has come.”
Philippa turned her head to see the person at whom her new friend was gazing. A tall man stood in the doorway, looking around the room. Her first impression was not only that he was immaculately and fashionably dressed but also that he was extraordinarily handsome and indeed physically perfect in every way. But in the very next moment she felt herself turn cold, as though all the blood had drained from her head. Jenny’s voice seemed to come from far away.
“My brother,” she was explaining. “We were not expecting him in town yet.” She raised one thin arm to attract his attention, and he looked toward them and smiled.
He had hair like his sister’s but a shade darker—thick, shining red hair that would have drawn admiring attention even without his perfect physique and handsome face.
He also happened to be the Marquess of Roath.
He strode toward them, his eyes moving between his sister and Philippa. And lingering admiringly on her. There was not a glimmer of recognition in his face.
“Luc,” Jenny cried as he bent over her and drew her into a close hug. “You are here.”
“Well, I am definitely not there,” he said, causing his sister to sputter with laughter. “I arrived an hour ago to discover there was a party in progress. Aunt Kitty’s doing, no doubt? How are you, Jenny? But before you answer, present me, if you please.”
She should have hurried away while she had the chance, Philippa thought as he straightened up and looked at her with open appreciation. Where, though? It was too late now anyway. But how could he not have recognized her?
“My brother Lucas, Marquess of Roath, Pippa,” Jenny said. “Lady Philippa Ware, Luc.”
Philippa waited for realization to dawn. But none did. He extended a hand for hers.
“This is a great pleasure, Lady Philippa,” he said.