Home > Lady and the Rake (Lord Love a Lady #6)

Lady and the Rake (Lord Love a Lady #6)
Author: Annabelle Anders




A Scandalous Mission



Land’s End, England, October 1828


“Try this. The scent drives Hugh positively mad.” Penelope Chesterton, the Viscountess of Danbury, dabbed perfume on Margaret’s wrists. “Why, just last night, he and I—”

“I’ve no wish to hear the details of my brother’s and your...” Margaret Coates, the widowed Countess of Asherton, cringed at her sister-in-law’s words.

Penelope rolled her eyes heavenward and handed over the small bottle. “Dab some between your breasts as well.”

Heat rushed up Margaret’s neck. As a widow, she was, of course, no innocent girl. But even when Lawrence had enjoyed good health, well, suffice it to say, he’d always made love to her with the utmost of decorum.

Over four years had passed since Margaret had been kissed on the mouth, let alone shared a bed with a man. She and Lawrence had been lucky to have relations at all during the last year that he’d lived.

“I’m not at all certain this is the best way to go about this, Penelope,” Margaret admitted to her sister-in-law, who had no such reluctance executing extreme measures when the need arose.

Penelope scowled back at her reflection where they both stared into the looking glass. “Must I remind you that you could not even look at Hugh and my twins after they were born without bursting into tears? And that you departed just a few weeks after I arrived at Land’s End because you could not bear to watch me grow large with child? If you marry Mr. Kirkley, only to discover that he is unable to perform, then you will not only be disappointed in the bedchamber but you will have squandered away your last opportunity to experience motherhood.”

Penelope was right. An emptiness had existed inside of Margaret for years now—one that could only be filled by having a child of her own. And she was to have her thirtieth birthday this month. She’d ignore it altogether if she could. It marked her age, but it also marked loss.

Margaret hugged herself, one hand on each of her elbows.

Mr. George Kirkley had begun courting her in earnest in London before she had made the long journey to spend the winter with Hugh and Penelope at Land’s End.

And shortly after, Mr. Kirkley had readily accepted his invitation to the autumn house party hosted by her brother and his wife. Since arriving less than a week ago, he’d more than intensified his efforts. He had proposed to Margaret the day before.

Margaret had tentatively accepted on the condition that they refrain from making any announcement until the final night of the house party. Because she had a few concerns…

Namely, his lack of amorous behavior. Margaret did not expect him to be overly affectionate in public. Of course, she did not. But neither was she seeking a marriage in which her husband treated her… platonically.

Margaret had attempted to discuss the matter with Mr. Kirkley discreetly, of course. But he effectively evaded all such conversations. He’d complimented her on her looks, on her refinement and proper nature. He’d expressed his desire for her to manage his household and keep him company in the evenings.

On a few occasions, Margaret thought she’d spied passion in his eyes, but he’d not acted upon any such inclination. He was considerably older than her, nearly fifty, but had managed to keep himself fit and trim, He was able to wear the current fashions and was quite popular amongst the ton. Sporting thick black and silver hair, he was considered handsome by most women. Margaret found his easy smile and kind gray eyes attractive enough.

“It is a pertinent detail you absolutely must know,” Penelope said sternly. “He has not kissed you, beyond, as you say, a dry peck on your cheek, nor exhibited any ardor whatsoever. If he loves you, if he is attracted to you, he will not resist seduction. I can’t imagine any man—aside from a eunuch, perhaps, or a backgammon player—refusing a willing, warm, naked, woman he has proposed to crawling into his bed.”

Margaret raised a shaking hand to her chest. “And if he does? Resist my seduction, that is?” But that was not even her greatest concern. The plan Penelope had suggested was just so dishonest… It was underhanded and manipulative.

And tawdry.

Penelope shook her head. “If he does not rise to the occasion, you shall be lucky to have escaped such an alliance.”

“But what if he was to tell someone? I could bring scandal on you and Hugh. And the babies.”

“Trust me, if he doesn’t perform, it is not something he will wish to make public.”

True. Again, her sister-in-law had the right of it.

George had never married and had no known children. When Margaret expressed her doubts to Penelope, her sister-in-law, of course, had concurred. She’d then gone on to enflame Margaret’s worries with all manner of speculation.

Margaret touched some of the perfume into the décolletage of her nightshift and also behind one ear, and then pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Should I knock? Should I speak with him first?”

“Oh, Good Heavens, no.” Penelope began unraveling the braid Margaret had done up just a half-hour before and then dragged the brush through the thick ebony waves. “Your hair is positively gorgeous. It’s like the sea at night, when there is a full moon. Black, silky, and rippling.”

Margaret laughed nervously. “Lawrence loved it,” she remembered fondly.

“Do not, I repeat, absolutely do not mention dearest Lawrence while you are seducing Mr. Kirkley. Not many men would not struggle to perform under such circumstances and the result would ruin the entire purpose of your mission.”

Margaret had never even considered doing something as scandalous as what she intended to do tonight. She was not the sort of person who turned to subterfuge to accomplish her goals.

Until now, she supposed. She clutched her hands nervously as she imagined sneaking into Mr. Kirkley’s darkened chamber and climbing into bed beside him.

“I cannot do it.” What if he rejected her? What if he does not?

Her mother was likely turning in her grave to know that her daughter would even consider such an undertaking.

Penelope gripped Margaret by the shoulders and turned her around so that she faced her and not the mirror. “Are you willing to marry a man who cannot make you a mother? Even worse, one who cannot satisfy your baser needs?”

Margaret didn’t have to think hard to know the answer.

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