The Luring of a Lovely Lady

Scandalous Spinsters Book 8

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A new novella, coming next in the Scandalous Spinsters series! Wide-eyed innocent Miss Abigail Conley and the beautiful but jaded Lady Cassandra Laurent couldn't be more different, but a spur-of-the moment decision takes them on an unexpected journey across England. Will love be their destination?

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Publisher: Intrepid Reads
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Chapter 1

Lady Cassandra Laurent saw her brother marry Miss Georgiana Conley in a long, drawn-out ceremony. She watched the happy couple preside over their wedding breakfast from atop a dais erected on the lawn. The breakfast was held behind the ironworks, a little white building at the edge of the village.

Her eyes didn’t glaze over as the servants cleared the last plates and began doling out tea. She even managed to make idle conversation with Gavin, the bride’s blacksmith brother, and his pretty wife, the one with the wide, innocent eyes. But Cass’s mind was two hundred miles away.

In Paris.

With Marguerite.

Cass reached into her boot and withdrew the small flask she’d been sipping from all morning. Marguerite. The traitor. The coward.

Cass wanted to blame her brother, Stephan, for taking too long to restore her dowry. She’d needed that money in order to retire to France.

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She wanted to blame society and the hypocrisy that prevented two people who loved each other from marrying.

She did partly blame herself, for leaving. Three years was an eternity for anyone to wait.

But she blamed Marguerite. Marguerite hadn’t trusted her. Marguerite hadn’t believed in their love.

Marguerite had married a man.

Cass swallowed her last mouthful of whiskey and slipped the flask back into her boot. As soon as this feast ended, she’d ride hell-for-leather until her horse tired and she was forced to stop. Then she’d scream and rail at the unfairness of it all. But not now. Not here.

The minutes ticked by.

And when she’d finally calmed herself, what then?

Where did she go next? If not Paris, then where did she belong?

“I think, since we’ve already had our introduction, and we’re now family of a sorts, it’s not untoward for me to greet you, Lady Cassandra.”

Cass turned toward the uncertain voice. No one knew her, apart from her brother and his new wife.

Ah, yes. And little Abigail.

“Formalities are a waste of time,” Cass replied, in the clipped way she spoke when she didn’t want to be probed further. “Anyone ought to be able to speak to anyone else, so long as they have something meaningful to say.”

Miss Abigail blushed. She was a comely chit, with reddish brown hair and green eyes. Freckles dusted her nose. She didn’t have the soft curves Cass preferred, tending toward lankiness like her older sisters, but she was no twig. If she had a dowry, and a title, she’d be considered a catch.

Cass had spent all of her life making such observations. Mostly for her own interest. More recently, she’d been searching for an heiress for her brother to wed.

Look how that had turned out. Georgiana Conley hadn’t brought a dime into their coffers.

“Well, I…I don’t have much to say, apart from good morning,” Miss Abigail stammered. “I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in our village. I know it’s not what you’re used to, being so worldly and all that.”

Cass wished she hadn’t drained her flask so quickly. Miss Abigail was almost fifteen years her junior. They’d shared a carriage for three long days earlier in the year, when the girl had injured herself and needed a return escort from London.

The tediousness of this conversation hadn’t even begun.

She leaned to look up at Miss Abigail over her shoulder. Cass’s tricorn blocked the morning sun. It also shielded their conversation from prying eyes. “I’ve had worse lodging. How is your ankle? I trust it’s healed by now.”

The young woman brightened. “How kind of you to ask! It’s right as rain, thanks to your quick thinking. I’m ever so glad you were nearby. You saved my life.”

“It was just a sprain, Miss Abigail. You’d have survived.”

She shook her head. “I should have died from the shame of it, had you not been there to help me off the ground and make everything right again.”

Cass didn’t remember anything so dire. “Yes, well, it was no trouble.”

“And I’m doubly glad you insisted I return to Gloucester. Being home was just what I needed. I’ve thought of your kindness every day since.”

Cass narrowed her eyes. That was laying it on a bit thick. “Again, it was no trouble, Miss Conley. Think nothing of it.”

The young lady clasped her hands together. Her head tilted, causing her loose bonnet ribbons to brush across the tops of her breasts. “Oh, but I can’t forget! I still can’t believe you brought me home yourself. Your generosity is astounding, my lady. No one else could have done it the way you did.”

Cass paused. Then she raked her gaze up, from Miss Abigail’s décolletage and the navy blue lace adorning her neckline, to the slightly flushed pale skin at her collarbone, to her freckled face. Perhaps it was the whiskey playing tricks on her, but Miss Abigail seemed a little too grateful.

“Are you flattering me?” she asked the young lady, just to see what would happen.

Miss Abigail blushed again.

Furiously.

Interesting. Very interesting.

Cass draped her arm over the ladder back chair and turned slightly, to better face the young woman. “Flattery is always appreciated, Miss Abigail. But I only thought to save face. You were my brother’s guest. I could hardly allow you to expire in the middle of Madame Claremont’s Salon. And when I insisted you return home, it was to save coin. I saw no point in keeping you in London when it was clear you weren’t in a state for husband-hunting.”

Miss Abigail’s pretty face fell. “Oh.”

Cass didn’t smile often, as a rule. She seldom found anything to smile about. But she crooked her lips at Miss Abigail. Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “Now we have no secrets between us, Miss Abigail Conley. What were you saying about gratitude?”

COLLAPSE

The Luring of a Lovely Lady will complete The Innocents trilogy, a set of three lighter, shorter romances interwoven through the other, longer Scandalous Spinsters books. Lady Cassandra Laurent is first introduced in The Wooing of a Wayward Rogue, as Lord de Winter's dashing older sister hellbent on marrying him to a rich woman. Miss Abigail Conley is one of the many Conley sisters in need of making a good match. The Conley family is first introduced in The Trouble with being Wicked, when Lord Trestin's younger sister, Delilah, is whisked away by a local blacksmith right under his nose.