A Proper Lady’s Scandal (Preview)



 The wind whipped into Ella Boyle’s face and the booming thunder—so far in the distance just minutes ago—was now upon her. She glanced over her shoulder as a bolt of lightning flashed and hit an almighty oak tree. Ella shook; her small hands trembled around the reins of Victory. Her beautiful black thoroughbred, Victory, was a large horse, too tall for a slip of a girl only twelve years of age and so diminutive in stature. But she loved him and refused to ride any other.

Look ahead, not back. Ahead is home and safety. Just look ahead. We will make it, I know it.

She and Victory galloped as fast as they could, but the clouds opened above, and rain poured down on them. Victory neighed but pressed on, while behind Ella, the mighty oak tree crashed to the ground with such force, the earth shook.

This was the reason why she was not allowed to ride out unchaperoned. It was a rule she found burdensome. It was also a rule she broke with frequency.

Alas, now that the storm was above her and the thunder and lightning engaged in a dangerous dance right over her head, she understood precisely why twelve-year-old girls ought to have a chaperone.

As the gates of Halcomb Manor came into view, she breathed a sigh of relief. Once she and Victory were safely home, she’d have to apologize to her parents and vow never to break the rules again. Well, at least not this rule.

Ella was hardly at the stable when the stable master, Mr. Earing, rushed her way.

“Miss Boyle, there you are! We have been looking for you.”

She swallowed as she dismounted Victory. “You have? I have not been gone very long.”

The man shook his head as he took the reins. “You know you are not supposed to ride out unaccompanied without telling your parents. They were terrified.”

Ella wondered why her parents should be terrified. They knew she was in the habit of riding out alone, even when she wasn’t supposed to. And they knew she always came back and took her punishment. The truth was they were vexed by her riding out alone but never terrified. It made no sense to her. Did something happen?

“Miss Boyle, have you not heard? There are bandits in the woods, robbing riders. Your parents do not want you riding out alone because it is not proper and there are dangers in the woods. They’ve both ridden out to look for you.”

“They have?” Her voice came out high-pitched, as she could not believe his words. Bandits. The mere thought shook her to her core. Ella bit her lip as she looked behind her at the clouds and the eerie forest. Suddenly, she did not feel brave. She felt like the child of twelve she was. And now her parents were out there, in the storm, in danger—because of her.

Ella’s parents did not return that night. As the storm passed, leaving in its wake a world drenched and muggy, Ella sat on her windowsill and looked out toward the forest. At dusk, a group of volunteers set out to search for her parents.

Her heart beat hard as she watched them leave. Ella was sure her parents had simply found shelter from the rain. Her father knew the woods so well and undoubtedly kept her mother safe. She thought of them huddled in a hunting cabin, safe from the weather and any danger. Yes, that had to be the reason they hadn’t return yet.


When the sun rose the following day, Ella still sat at the window. Her eyes ached from lack of sleep, and her heart pounded with the ever-growing terror at what might have befallen her parents.

Suddenly, in the distance, a cart snaked up the driveway toward the manor. Droplets ran down the glass pane from last night’s storm, obscuring her view, so Ella threw open the window. As the cart came closer, she recognized the driver.

It was Mr. Walsh, her father’s estate steward. He sat in the box seat, a grim expression on his face. Beside him was Mr. Henderson, her father’s valet. The two had left the previous evening with the other volunteers to look for her parents. Why were they back before the others—and with a cart?

Ella’s heart beat faster and faster as the worry became too much for her to contain. She jumped off the windowsill and was about to rush outside when she stopped in her tracks. There, in the distance, were the volunteers. They rode out of the forest, lacking the enthusiasm of the previous night.

Ella craned her neck to see where her parents were—she did not see them.

Again, her heartbeat accelerated as she imagined the worst. There was nothing Ella wanted more than to see her parents, so she could beg their forgiveness.

She rushed down the hall. The heavy red carpet swallowed the sound of her footsteps. At the bottom of the grand staircase, she leaped over the final steps and landed on the marble floor, stumbling on her hands and feet. She got up and dashed to the front door.

“Miss Boyle, stop!” Mrs. Farnsworth, the housekeeper, called out. She picked up the hem of her blue gown and ran her way, the keys on her chatelaine clanging together with each step.

“Mr. Walsh? Have you found them?” Ella called out. Her voice quivered as tears ran down her round cheeks.

Mr. Walsh yanked on the reins to stop the horses just as the valet called for Mrs. Farnsworth.

“Don’t let her see.”

“Don’t let me see what? Are they injured?”

Mrs. Farnsworth grasped for her, her fingertips brushing against Ella’s arm, but Ella slipped past. At the back of the cart, Ella stood and stared; her entire body shook as she took in the sight. There was a white sheet on the cart covering the whole back. Her lip quivered as she realized just what the sheet was covering.

“Miss Boyle, please don’t.” Mr. Walsh’s voice came from somewhere far away.

Visible underneath the sheet were two shapes. As Ella stepped closer, she stood on her tiptoes. She lifted the sheet a little bit when the solid and meaty arms of Mr. Walsh wrapped around her, and she found herself lifted off the ground. He spun her away so fast the sheet came out of her hand and flew backward.

There, lying on the cart on her side, facing away from Ella, was her mother. Ella would have known her anywhere. She still wore the primrose-colored gown she’d worn when Ella last saw her standing in the library the previous day. Her bright red hair cascaded down her back.

Mrs. Farnsworth led her back inside, an arm around Ella. When they reached the grand hall, Ella looked up at the woman’s kind, wrinkled face.

“They are dead. Are they not?”

The woman caressed Ella’s face as she nodded, tears in her eyes.

“They are, dear. The bandits got them.”

“The bandits,” Ella repeated as she glanced outside. If she’d know about the bandits, she would not have ridden out. Her willfulness caused this tragedy. Her recklessness had driven her parents out into the woods and into the arms of their assailants.

The bandits may have done the deed, but Ella knew the true reason for her parent’s deaths were her doing. And now, life as she knew it would never be the same again.

Chapter One

London, 1813

Eight years later….

Peter Haddington sat at the oak table in his mother’s breakfast room and slathered copious amounts of butter onto a hot roll while his mother glared at him from over the rim of her teacup. He glanced up, whipped a stray blond curl from his face, and dunked his roll into the hot chocolate. The hot liquid dripped off the roll as he bit into it. The sweetness of the hot chocolate, paired with the dough and salty butter, filled his mouth with a glorious combination of flavors.

“By Jove,” he said mid-chew, “Mable makes the best rolls in all of London. I shall have to pay her a visit in the kitchen to nab a few.” He chuckled, but his mother was not amused.

“Peter,” she placed the newspaper she’d been reading on the table. Her long, slender finger jabbed at a page in the paper. “You are mentioned again.”

“Is it the Morning Gazette? Mama, why do you waste seven pence on this scandal sheet when I can give you all that information for free?” He grinned, and a mischievous sparkle flashed in his sapphire-blue eyes. “I always know the best on dits.”

“Most of the time, they seem to be about you,” Margaret Haddington replied with a deep sigh. She picked up the paper again and cleared her throat. “Baron W has once again reaffirmed his position as London’s Number One Rake when he was seen sneaking out of Almack’s in the company of….

He raised a hand to stop her. “I know who I was with. Please, Mama. Put aside the paper.”

“You are a baron, Peter.”

“I am aware, Mother.”

“You must fix your life. You must marry again and have an heir. You are already nine-and-twenty years old. The way you act is swiftly going to ruin your reputation. Soon enough, no respectable lady will consider you.”

He turned away from her and matched her posture, arms crossed in front of him.

“If my reputation is so terrible, then why ought I try and change anyone’s mind? Let them think badly of me.”


“Mother, marriage is not what I desire. It may be expected of me, but I have no taste for it. Nobody will ever replace Isabella, not in my heart and not at my side, so please do not continue to push the idea.”

Peter wondered why his mother couldn’t understand that he didn’t wish to marry again. He had been married once, and to a woman he loved more than he ever thought himself capable of loving anyone. Isabella had been his love, his light, his entire world. Loving her remained the best and the worst thing he’d ever done. The best because she’d shown him what it was to love and be loved in return. The worst because the sight of her and their child’s lifeless bodies was forever burned into his memory. Losing her had almost destroyed him.

Some days, he thought it still might.

His mother’s eyes softened as she placed her hand on his. “Nobody seeks to replace Bella. However, you must secure our line.”

He pulled his hand away. The pain within him was private, and he did not share it. Not even with his mother. The harsh, unfeeling exterior he presented to the world was nothing but a wall he’d built to function, and it was not something he could explain to anyone.

“I do not care about securing the line. If the estate reverts to the crown upon my death, then so be it. Why should I care?” He grabbed what remained of his roll, shoved it into his mouth, and then drank down the rest of his chocolate. He placed the cup on the table with a bang and stalked toward the door.

“Where are you going, Peter? We were to go to the royal menagerie.”

“I have changed my mind, Mama. I am not in the mood. I am rather tired. Need I remind you that you have dragged me to every social affair known to man this entire season? I am utterly exhausted.”

“Very well. You do know I only take you to these social events because you must ensure your connections to the higher-ranking lords. That is the only way for our family to advance.”

“I must go, Mama.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

“If you must. But do not forget your cousin Beatrice’s ball tomorrow. It is the first ball she is hosting since becoming the Duchess of Closter, and she needs you.”

Peter quickly nodded, not wanting to admit he had forgotten all about the ball. Yet, his mother was right. His cousin, who was also one of his dearest friends, would need his support. She was already at sixes and sevens over the idea of hosting a ball.

As he stepped outside, he rolled his shoulders to release the tension before he climbed into his curricle. He meant to return to his townhome in Mayfair but suddenly had a change of heart.

The kind of tension he felt after the ever-repetitive conversation with his mother needed to be released—and he knew exactly where to do so.


“Come on, Walpole. Drink! Drink! Drink!” The shouts of the men surrounding him came from far away—at least Peter thought so. He lifted the jug of ale once more and chugged it down. As he placed it down on the table before him, he did so with such vigor the coins in the middle of the table bounced up while his brethren whooped and hollered.

“Told you, gentleman, contrary to what you might have heard, I am a man of my word. Now, another game?”

He raised and rapidly lowered his eyebrows. Alas, none of his fellow card players were interested in losing at another round of whist. He didn’t blame them; even after several glasses of port and two jugs of ale, he was a formidable card player and nearly impossible to beat.

Those were the few moments Peter was free of the grief that had a hold of him every other moment of his day. Only when racing, drinking, or visiting a courtesan was he able to escape the sorrow and the darkness. They had been his companions since Isabella’s death.

“Very well, I will take my winnings and see if anyone is willing to take up a game in the billiards room.” He scooped the assorted gold coins up and placed them into his pockets. The very moment he was on his feet, the entire world swayed around him, and he grabbed onto the table.

“Jove, are you alright there, Lord Walpole? A trifle foxed, are we?”

A man Peter was not familiar with stood behind him.

“Isn’t that why we come here to Brooks? To find ourselves a trifle indisposed and maybe a little wealthier?” He patted his pocket as the tall, dark-haired man chuckled.

“That is why I’ve come to see you. I overheard your desire for another challenge. What do you say to a race? I hear you are a keen racer, and my curricle is outside.”

“I say…” Peter was interrupted when his friend, Thomas Stanhope, Earl of Lambeth, cleared his throat.

“I dare say it is rather late, especially for a race, Lord Wilmore.”

He knew his friend meant well. Thomas was his dearest friend and had been his rock in those first devastating days after the funeral when Peter could not even leave his bed, let alone his chamber. Yet sometimes Thomas was a little overprotective of him.

“Lord Lambeth, I will be the judge on that matter.” Peter faced his friend, his voice even. “I do not think it too late.”

“You have had too much to drink, Peter.” His tone was low enough so that Lord Wilmore could not hear.

Matching his tone, Peter replied, “I know you speak out of concern, my friend, but I am not a lady in need of a chaperone. I thank you for your worry, but please, leave me be. Or perhaps place a wager, for I am certain I will win.”

He spun around to the man before him. William Lauderdale, Marquess of Wilmore, was a man who enjoyed wagers and was not opposed to high stakes.

“Very well, Lord Wilmore. Let us race.” He stuck out his hand, and the gentlemen shook on it. However, as Peter turned, he stumbled once more, his legs trembling beneath him.

“Are you in need of assistance, Walpole?” Lord Wilmore said as he grabbed onto his elbow.

“Certainly not,” Peter replied and pulled his Pomona-green waistcoat straight, so it lay against his broad frame. “On we go.” At the door, he turned. “My fellow lords, Lord Wilmore and I shall race our curricles along the street toward Green Park. If anyone cares to place a wager, do so now.” He bowed dramatically and again stumbled, causing laughter among the occupants of the card room.

He spotted several of the most notorious gamblers lined up, among them Lord Morrey, Lord Nordendale, Mr. Francis, and, to his surprise, even Thomas. Many of the gentlemen rushed to place bets—most of them against him. Thomas was not a gambler, so to see him putting a wager surprised Peter. However, he had no time to think about the matter as he stumbled outside and climbed atop his curricle.

He had a marquess to beat.


“Tell me you bet on me and not against me, Thomas! Surely you had faith in me!” Peter declared loudly as he strolled back into his gentleman’s club after his crushing victory.

Exhilaration rushed through Peter’s body. He knew he’d win, but as always, his excitement was marred by thoughts of Isabella. How much sweeter would the victory have been had she waited for him at the finishing line…

Thomas shrugged. “I bet against you because I saw how much port and cognac you consumed before the ale.”

“Well, let this be a lesson.” He turned to the assorted men, most of whom wore a glum expression on their faces. “And let it be a lesson to you all. Never bet against Peter Haddington. Even drunk as a wheelbarrow, I shall crush you all in a race.”

He raised his hand to order another glass of port while Thomas sat across from him, his countenance full of silent judgment and worry.

“Peter, one of these days, you will find your death racing as you do.”

Peter shrugged. The adrenaline still pumped through his veins. It always did when he raced his curricle. It didn’t matter if he had an opponent or not. He enjoyed the break-neck speed, the wind that whipped through his hair. He was alive when he raced. He was more reckless than he’d ever been; that was true. Having Isabella by his side had always made him more cautious. He’d never risked injuring himself out of fear of leaving her a widow. How ironic, he thought, that he should end up a widower instead. Without her, nothing mattered. Without her, there was no reason to be careful. Why should he fear death when there was nothing worth living for?

“Then death will find me doing what I enjoy.”

“Peter… If you die, what will become of your mother?”

“My mother is a formidable force. Do you know she was just appointed one of the Lady Patronesses at Almack’s?”

“I heard, but that will hardly take away the devastation of losing her only child.”

Peter groaned. There was no use explaining it. Parts of his grief were beyond sharing. Those who loved him would only worry more if they knew the true darkness that ran just beneath the surface. He preferred that they considered him foolhardy and reckless and deeply melancholy.

“Racing brings me joy. It fills the void inside of me.” This was the most he dared say to Thomas, and yet it was enough.

“Racing curricles and drinking will not replace your wife and child.”

“No, but they take away the guilt I feel for not being there for them when they passed.”

“You did not know she would have the child so early,” Thomas said quietly.

Peter looked out of the window where the soft light of the streetlamp entered the club. He remembered the day he’d returned from his business meeting, summoned by an urgent message. He remembered entering into his home and seeing his mother and Isabella’s mother, their faces masks of grief. It was the worst day of his life. His darling wife snatched from this world so soon and so suddenly.

“Thomas, I do not like to speak about that day. I live in the moment now because the past is full of pain, and the future is an enigma. It is best left in the past. Let me live.”

“That is what I want, Peter. For you to live. But you risk your life time and again. You think that I do not see the depth of your grief, but I do.”

“It does not matter.” The conversation was becoming far too heavy. His mask would slip if he remained here, and Thomas would see the torn, broken man inside. That, he did not want. Peter downed the glass in three gulps.

“I must go. Thanks to you, my excitement at my victory has evaporated. I shall have to find a way to fill the void in another way.”

“You are not going to….”

“St. Giles. It is a shame that my favorite courtesan resides in the rookery of St. Giles, but so be it,” said Peter as he hastened to retrieve his greatcoat. He had just reached the front door when someone called out after him.

“Lord Walpole! Are you not going to allow me to win back what I lost on your race?”

He spun around and spotted Lord Morrey, a viscount, and notorious gambler, standing at the other end of the room.

Peter shook his head. “Not this night, Morrey. Another night, perhaps.”

He bowed and waited for the butler to open the door, while behind him, the assorted lords grumbled over the fortune they’d lost.

Peter stepped out into the night; the cool evening breeze forced him to turn up the collar of his coat.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps sounded behind him. He stopped under a streetlight and frowned as the footsteps stopped. A feeling of doom spread in him as he prepared to fight whatever rogue had followed him.

Peter almost wished for a fight to the death. His days were nothing but empty hours filled with meaningless tasks. His nights didn’t bring relief but only provided him with time to dwell on his regrets. And his mornings did nothing but renew the pain of seeing Isabella’s side of their bed empty.

Death, Peter concluded, would be a relief.


Chapter Two

“Isn’t this tea delicious? My aunt bought the leaves from a gentleman who was recently in India.” Ella took another sip of the bitter drink as she shimmied her shoulders. How people could spoil such a marvelous drink with lumps of sugar, she never could understand.

Her good friend Lady Anna Mortimer looked into the teacup with a faraway smile. It was as if she was reading her future in the tea. She was a beautiful young woman with porcelain skin so smooth it made Ella envious just to look at her.

While Ella made sure to stay out of the sun to preserve the pale skin tone so popular with the ton, she never did manage to have as flawless an appearance as her friend. Bothersome freckles always somehow found their way to her nose and cheekbones. While Ella disliked them intensely, her aunt, Lady Fitzgerald, always told her they were charming and reminiscent of her mother when she was her age.

“Anna? Is something the matter?” Ella asked. Ella had noticed Anna’s strange mood the moment she walked into Ella’s aunt’s Mayfair townhome. At first, she thought her friend was miffed at her. Upon reaching the garden, where the servants arranged a pretty space to have tea underneath an oak tree, her friend appeared more her usual self. Now, as Ella chattered on, Anna once again did not seem quite present.

At last, her friend looked up, a sparkle in her green eyes. “Not at all, Ella. Quite the opposite.” Anna glanced around as she leaned forward, a grin on her thin lips.

“I saw Lord Rory yesterday. The viscount I met at the opera last month, remember?”

Ella smiled at her friend. “Have you? Are you courting? What wonderful news.” She clapped her hands together in delight. Anna had already had a couple seasons, and with one or two more, would be firmly on the shelf. Since she was the daughter of a viscount herself, this would be a suitable match. Alas, her friend shook her head.

“We are not courting. Not really. We are…keeping each other company.” She smiled so brightly her white teeth were exposed. “We met in St. James’ Park after dark; I snuck away. We met at the lake and talked for an hour. And then we kissed.”

Ella gasped. “Kissed?” she hissed the word through clenched teeth and twisted her body around to make sure none of her aunt’s servants were near enough to hear. “Anna, you mustn’t. If anyone saw you…You would be ruined, and for what? A kiss?”

Anna leaned back and shrugged. “A kiss, yes. A glorious kiss. I always dreamed of being kissed in such a manner. It was passionate and exciting. He pulled me toward him so tightly I could almost feel….”

“Stop!” Ella pleaded. She was utterly mortified. A young lady did not sneak away into the park with a man she was not courting. Even if they were courting, a chaperone should be present, and something as reckless as a kiss would certainly not be allowed.

“Faith, Ella. Must you be so prim and proper? Can’t you have at least a little sense of excitement?”

“I do not need that sort of excitement, Anna. And neither do you. You know if you are seen with him in a park….”

“Nobody saw us, Ella.”

“You could be ruined and cast out by your parents. You could end up in the poorhouse. Or be forced to take a position as a governess. Please, do not be so reckless again, for both our sakes.”

Ella could not believe her friend. She’d end up an ape leader with a ruined reputation, and she’d destroy Ella’s right along with her, as they were so close.

“Do not fret so, my friend. I will not be ruined. He loves me. Well, he said he was falling for me—that is almost as good. You will see how handsome and charming he is. He will be at the ball tonight.” She grinned as though she were already officially betrothed.

How, Ella wondered, could she not see right through this rake? Of course, he would tell her whatever she wanted to hear.

“You must be careful. Besides, I do not think being in love is a good reason to sneak away with a man, even if he is a lord.”

“What better reason could there be?” Anna chuckled as if she’d heard an excellent joke, but Ella’s countenance darkened.

“There is no good reason for such behavior. But since you asked, if one were to be with a gentleman, then it ought to be because he is a suitable match both in terms of social standing and in his ability to provide for you.”

Anna scoffed as she picked up a piece of licorice and waved it around in the air like a sword.

“You sound like my old governess. I think living with Lady Fitzgerald has made you into a bit of an old lady yourself. None of the young people think of such things anymore. One must love the person one marries.”

Ella shook her head with vigor. “Marriage ought to be a business transaction. He provides for you, and in turn, you ensure he has an heir for his estate. That is all.”

Her friend shook her head. “I shall never marry if I do not love the person.”

“And I shall never love. It is a foolish thing to love.”

She knew love brought nothing but sorrow. Years of guilt and grief over the loss of her parents taught Ella as much. She would never risk such pain again, but she knew Anna couldn’t understand this. Ella could only imagine what losing a husband would feel like; surely it was worse than losing one’s parents.

Ella was sure if she loved and lost again, she would never recover.


That evening, Ella entered the ballroom at Closter House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Closter, and marveled at the assembled crowd. All the important lords and ladies were present.

“Aunt Margaret, are you sure I am dressed properly for this ball? It seems everyone is ever so elegant.”

Her aunt placed a hand on the small of Ella’s back. Her kind eyes narrowed into a sea of wrinkles as she smiled at her niece.

“You look like a lady, Ella. Now, promise me you will enjoy yourself tonight. Dance, drink fine wine, and indulge in their delicious foods.”

“I will dance; I always do. I am in good hopes of meeting an eligible gentleman. Perhaps, given that the hostess is a duchess, I will be more fortunate and find someone serious and well-mannered. Not like the so-called gentlemen I encountered at Almack’s on Wednesday.”

Her aunt shook her head. “My dear Ella, it is not as terrible as you would make it out to be. A gentleman asked you to dance repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with that. Allow a little bit of space so that love might find you.”

“Aunt Margaret, you know it is improper to dance with the same man twice, let alone three times. Besides, you know I do not care to find love.”

Aunt Margaret said nothing further. A moment later, Anna arrived. She was dressed in a beautiful primrose-colored dress with a delicate satin lace that almost mirrored Ella’s light-pink gown.

“Ella, come.” Anna was enthused the moment she reached them. “Ah, I am sorry, Lady Fitzgerald. I did not mean to be rude.” She curtsied to Ella’s aunt, who waved a hand. “Don’t you worry, you two go and enjoy yourselves. Make sure Ella has a proper partner.” She winked at Anna, much to Ella’s annoyance.

Not even her aunt understood her desire to uphold proper etiquette. What was wrong with them? Rules were there for a reason. She knew all too well what could happen if they were willfully broken.

Anna took her by the hand and pulled her forward. They made their way through the throng of people toward the ballroom. The sound of the minuet drifted out of the ballroom, and within a moment, they were inside of the great room itself.

Ella saw the beautifully drawn chalk designs, meant to prevent slipping on the dance floor, almost intact. Couples swirled over the drawings and swayed to the sounds of the orchestra.

Each lady looked more beautiful than the next. Ella thought about her life and what it might have been like had her parents lived. Would she be more like these young ladies? Would she be as carefree and foolish as she’d been at age twelve?

“I am dancing the quadrille with Lord Rory, as well as the boulanger. We need to find you a partner.” Anna canvassed the room and snapped a finger. “Him. Lord Nordendale.”

Ella shook her head at once. “Never. He is near forty years old and has a reputation.” She lowered her voice. “He gambles.”

“Very well. How about him?” She nodded discreetly toward a younger gentleman standing at the end of the dance floor beside an older woman. He was tall, his blond hair grazing the top of his shoulders, and he was dressed in an elegant dark blue waistcoat paired with a black tailcoat with matching blue embroidery around the wrists. The golden cufflinks sparkled even from across the room. He was handsome—and strangely mysterious.

For a moment, he smiled at her and nodded his head. The polite thing would have been to nod back or curtsy, even, but Ella found she could only blush and look away.

“You like the look of him, I see.”

“I do not,” Ella protested. “Who is he, anyhow?”

“That is Peter Haddington, Baron Walpole.”

Ella’s blood ran cold. “Lord Walpole? Anna, I could never dance with him. He is in the scandal sheets every week. He’s a terrible rake.”

She’d read about him in the papers. As handsome as he was, she’d never be able to dance with him, not with his terrible reputation.

Her friend shrugged. “If you look too closely, you shall find something unpleasant about any man in attendance. Besides, the scandal sheets are just tittle-tattle.”

“I am paying mind to it because I care about my reputation, and I….”

“There he is,” Anna interrupted. “Lord Rory.” She stared at the handsome young man who stood not far from them and winked at her.

“Ella, why do you not canvass the room yourself and then let me know if any of the lords strike your fancy so we might arrange for a dance?”

Ella moaned at the proposition but realized it was preferable to the alternative—letting Anna choose.

She looked at the young man again and shook her head. To think her friend was considering an introduction to someone with a reputation as terrible as Lord Walpole’s. How someone as handsome and alluring as he could allow himself to attract such terrible company, she would never understand.

He was wealthy; she knew this from the scandal sheets. And his eyes…They were as bright as the stars on the darkest night. Dreamy, even. The way his hair fell casually into his face drew her attention to his strong jaw and full lips.

No, I must not think of him in such a way. I cannot even allow myself to speak to him.

“Anna, I cannot believe you would….”

Ella stopped mid-sentence. Anna was gone. And so was Lord Rory. In her place was a young man who attempted to get Ella’s attention, but Ella barely noticed him.

Ella’s heart sank at the realization because she knew her friend was reckless enough to attempt a private meeting with her paramour. With all of high society in attendance at this ball, she could be found out, and her entire life would fall apart.

No, Ella would not allow this to happen. Not to her best friend. She turned to the young man with a polite smile, even though every part of her wanted to rush away.

“I apologize, my lord, but I must hasten away to attend to an urgent matter.” She curtsied to the young man who smiled at her.

“Of course. Perhaps when you return, I might request a dance?”

“It would be my pleasure,” she said as she rose. After apologizing once more, she turned away and rushed across the ballroom and into the hall.

She had to find Anna and save her from herself. If she did not, her friend would be lost to her. And that Ella could not allow.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here