Mayfair, London, 1810
Lady Lilian Lynch took a deep breath, adjusting the bodice on her gown as she walked towards the drawing room. She heard the tinkle of the pianoforte keys and the low hum of laughter and conversation. It sounded like there were at least twenty people at this mid-week soiree, rather than the dozen that Lily knew it to be.
Lily paused at the doorway. She didn’t feel like socialising at all this evening. The guests at this soiree were all sophisticated, oh so fashionable friends of her older brother – she was barely acquainted with any of them. They were Hugh’s age or older, as well. She didn’t have any of her friends here to make her feel comfortable. But that was how Hugh had wanted it, so that was what was happening.
Her smile froze as she thought about her older brother. They had been so close once upon a time. When they had been growing up, they had been like two peas in a pod. But it was different now. So different, since the tragic accident that had changed everything, turning both their lives upside down.
Hugh had become like a stranger to her.
Lily’s heart flipped over in her chest. She didn’t want to acknowledge it, but it was the truth. Hugh was out most of the time, at his gentlemen’s club or at fashionable events and parties. When he was at home, all he did was lecture her, telling her to apply herself to her pianoforte or French lessons. Hugh had turned into a rather grumpy master, rather than the fun-loving and carefree older brother she had always known.
Her heart flipped again as she spotted him. Hugh was standing in the midst of a circle, surrounded by people, who were all gazing at him adoringly. He was telling a story, and his audience was hanging on his every word. It was a good opportunity to study her brother without him being aware of it, so Lily took advantage of it.
Hugh was above average in height, with a stocky build and light brown hair, which fell over one eye. He was constantly pushing it away. Lily supposed many would consider her brother a handsome, eligible gentleman. She supposed many of the ladies in this room would count themselves very lucky indeed if he paid them special attention. Hugh was the Viscount Pemberton now, after all. He had title, wealth, and charm. The whole world at his feet.
And she was just his annoying younger sister, who he must deal with, or else have a guilty conscience. Or so she supposed. It was hard to know what Hugh thought anymore. He had become an enigma. Her older brother was rather like the Sphinx: inscrutable. Unfathomable.
Suddenly, he spotted her.
“Lily,” he called, gesturing to her. “There you are. I was beginning to think you were never going to leave that room of yours. Come and join the fun.”
Lily’s tried to smile brightly. The circle widened, fanning out, to accommodate her. Everyone was staring at her. The ladies were eying her carefully from behind their fans, and the gentlemen rather appreciatively from behind their champagne glasses.
Lily squirmed. The attention of gentlemen was something she was having a hard time getting used to. They always stared at her since she had become a young lady, and it made her uncomfortable. She knew most young ladies desired it, wishing to catch a husband, but she had never sought male attention. Lily thought she would be happy if she never married, thank you very much. The thought of a man controlling her every move was quite odious.
But I already have a man controlling my every move, she thought sourly, staring at her brother. What difference would it make if it were a fiancé or husband?
“May I present my younger sister, the Lady Lilian,” said Hugh.
Lily curtsied. Her brother went around the circle, making the introductions. Lily couldn’t remember the names at all – they seemed to go in one ear and out the other. She just nodded and smiled, hoping that she could make her escape soon. These people were so fashionable that it was almost painful. The crème de la crème of the ton – titled, wealthy, and carefree, flitting about town, from soiree to assembly. The toast of London.
Lily found them frivolous, superficial, and very boring, but Hugh seemed to love them. Her brother had become quite the swinging bachelor around town: eligible, stylish, perpetually bored, always seeking some new event or function. Some might even call him a dandy. Or if they were being very ungenerous, a fop. He adored London and the city life and barely left it anymore.
Lily’s eyes filled with tears, thinking about their ancestral home in Wiltshire. She hadn’t set foot in Pemberton Lodge in over a year or more. Hugh never wanted to go there anymore, claiming that it was dull, provincial, and boring. They were continually in residence at their townhouse in Mayfair now. Lily missed Pemberton sorely and was always pestering Hugh to go there, but her brother just brushed her off. It was just another bone of contention between the siblings. One of many.
Her brother had reached the last of the circle, an older gentleman with dark hair winged with silver. He had a rather square, angular face and small, cold dark eyes that rivetted upon her.
“May I present His Grace, the Duke of Flemington,” said Hugh.
Lily sank into a curtsey, trying not to gawk at the gentleman. But inside, she was afire with curiosity.
The Duke of Flemington. I am certain I have heard about him, and none of it is good.
She cast her mind back. Something about scandal and death involving his late wife? Lily opened her fan, studying him covertly from behind it. She usually didn’t listen much to society gossip, but sometimes mud stuck. And looking at his man, she wasn’t surprised. He looked like a rake. Cold, bloodless, calculating. She instinctively disliked him; it took all her strength not to visibly recoil from him.
“Lady Lilian,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it. His lips were cold as well. Lily repressed a shudder. “I must say, your reputation precedes you, and it is not exaggerated. How lovely you are.”
“You are too kind, Your Grace,” she replied through gritted teeth.
“Not at all,” he said, tightening his grip on her hand. His eyes were boring into hers.
Lily tried to smile, but she felt like her lips were sticking to her teeth. This was becoming awkward. When was the man going to drop her hand?
“The duke is in London for the entire season, Lily,” said Hugh, nodding enthusiastically. “We must make sure that you get to the majority of the assemblies at Almack’s.”
Lily’s smile tightened. “Oh, I do not know about that, brother. I am sure that His Grace would never bother with a dance partner such as I.” She looked at the gentleman. “I am rather known for having two left feet, Your Grace. It does not appear to matter how many times I dance; it remains the same.”
“You are being too modest, sister,” said Hugh, frowning. “Far too modest. It does not become you at all. I think we really should push you to dance and socialise more, Lily. What do you say, Your Grace?”
The Duke of Flemington squeezed her hand. “I fully agree, Pemberton. I would very much like to stand up with your sister at Almack’s. Or any other assembly or ball.” He paused. “Perhaps tomorrow evening?”
Lily opened her mouth to refuse the invitation, but Hugh suddenly rushed in.
“I shall make sure that my sister is there, Your Grace,” he said quickly. “Wild horses couldn’t keep us away.”
Lily gaped at her brother. How dare he accept on her behalf, without even asking her privately if she wished to attend the assembly? Her jaw tensed. She shouldn’t be surprised. This was what Hugh was like now, after all.
Lily dropped her hand, breaking the contact. She didn’t care anymore if she appeared rude. She had a sudden instinct that Hugh was up to something, and it involved the detestable Duke of Flemington. She just knew it.
She seized her chance when the last of the guests left for the evening. Hugh tried to brush past her, saying he was tired, but Lily blocked his path. Her brother gaped at her.
“What the deuce are you doing, Lily?” he asked, frowning.
Lily took a deep breath. “I am calling your bluff, brother. Why are you so eager for me to go to Almack’s and dance with the Duke of Flemington?”
Hugh didn’t look pleased at all. “I should have known you would challenge me over it. It seems that is all you do nowadays, Lily. You delight in challenging and tormenting me. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me, being in this guardian role with you?”
Lily glared at him. He was trying to distract her, manipulate her to feel sympathy for him, but she was having none of it.
“You have not answered my question,” she said through gritted teeth. “Why did you keep pushing the duke onto me like that? It was most offensive. The man is at least fifteen years older than me, Hugh. And his reputation precedes him. He is one of the most notorious men in London.”
“Listening to gossip again, are we, sister?” he sneered. “You really must stop hanging around with flibbertigibbets, Lily. The Duke of Flemington is one of London’s most respected and noble gentlemen. He sits in the House of Lords and is very influential. Why, he has the ear of the Prince Regent himself, I will have you know!”
Lily just managed to stop herself stamping her foot in frustration. “I do not care if he has the ear of the entire royal family! The man is a rake, Hugh. Through and through. I do not wish to become better acquainted with him at all. Why are you pushing it?”
She had remembered as the evening had progressed. It was old news – at least five years old – but it had been shocking. Whispers that the Duke of Flemington had been cruel and heartless towards his late wife … and darker whispers that the unhappy duchess had taken her own life rather than live with him a day longer.
Nothing had been proven, of course. The Duke of Flemington was, as her brother pointed out, a very wealthy and influential man. The official cause of his wife’s death had been consumption but that hadn’t stopped the rumours. In fact, they had grown and persisted with the years, swirling around him like a maelstrom. Lily didn’t usually listen to society gossip, taking it with a grain of salt most of the time, but for some reason, she instinctively believed this gossip.
A dark shadow came over, just thinking about the duke. She just couldn’t put her finger on why she disliked him so much – and so instantly – but she wasn’t going to second guess herself. She listened to her instinct. It had rarely failed her as far as people were concerned.
Hugh’s eyes flashed with displeasure. “I will not be questioned by my younger sister. You are going to Almack’s tomorrow night, Lily, and you will dance with the duke. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” said Lily, glaring at him harder. “As clear as crystal. Good night, brother.”
She turned on her heel, marching out of the room without another word. She heard the hiss of his shocked breath. But what else could she do to express her displeasure? She felt so helpless now. She was at the mercy of her brother. Her whole life was at his mercy.
Her heart twisted. It hadn’t always been like this, of course. Not when their parents had been alive. But they were gone, now, and this was what she was left with. A life spent picking up the pieces, at the whim of her brother, who had turned into a tyrant, seemingly overnight. A tyrant who was more than willing to throw his weight around where she was concerned.
Tears pricked behind her eyes. How had it come to this? And how on earth could she change it?
Lily thought about her parents the next day as she scurried down the wide tree-lined street. This wasn’t unusual, of course. She thought of them all the time. It had only been two years since she had lost them – she had learnt to live without them, but it still hurt. Very much.
She sighed deeply, tears springing into her eyes. Memories flooded through her just walking along the street. Memories of walking this same path with Papa and Mama. Mama had always liked to bring her two little Pomeranian dogs, scolding them lovingly. Papa had always brought his fancy walking stick, twirling it constantly, as if he were a fire twirler at the circus or travelling carnival.
It seemed that the memories were everywhere, surrounding her. Even on this short walk to her best friend, Lady Josephine Stanley’s house. Jo lived just five doors down, and they often just landed on each other’s doorsteps. And Lily was sorely in need of her best friend’s calm presence and sage advice after her fight with Hugh over the odious Duke of Flemington the night before.
Lily heard the lilting notes of the pianoforte as soon as she entered the house. She smiled slowly. It was one of the Stanley ladies, but she wasn’t sure which one. They were a very musical family. Jo, her sister Anne and their mother all played beautifully. Lily listened for another moment. It was the first act of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. One of her favourites.
Lily felt like she was drifting on a cloud as she followed the butler to the parlour. Her heart lifted further. It was Jo playing, and she was by herself. She stopped, watching the look of pure concentration on her friend’s face as her fingers flew along the keyboard. Jo always looked transformed when she was playing. Lily saw the tip of her friend’s pale pink tongue at the corner of her mouth, an endearing habit that Jo had never shaken.
Suddenly, her friend saw her standing there. She stopped playing, and Lily frowned.
“No, do not stop for me,” she cried, waltzing into the room, standing at the head of the pianoforte. “It is so beautiful, Jo! It is like you are sweeping me away into an entirely other world.”
Jo laughed, standing up. “Enough practice for today, Lily. I would much rather have tea and cake with you. I can always go back to practice later.” She frowned, staring at Lily. “And I can tell you need tea. Again. Is it that brother of yours?”
Lily sighed deeply. “Oh, you do know me rather too well, do you not?” She raised pained eyebrows. “Yes, it is Hugh. Again. Of course.”
Jo didn’t say anything. She just took Lily’s arm, leading her to the green velvet chaise longue. Tea was ordered. The two young ladies sat back while they waited. Lily could feel Jo’s eyes upon her, full of concern.
Her heart softened. Dear Jo. She didn’t know what she would have done these past two years without her. Her best friend had always been there, listening to her, letting her cry, offering pearls of wisdom. She never said much, but Jo’s mere presence was enough to soothe Lily.
It wasn’t until the tea was poured and they both had cups in hand that Jo finally turned to her friend. “Lily, what is it?”
Lily sighed again, taking a sip of the hot, sweet tea. “Hugh has ordered me to attend Almack’s this evening,” she said slowly. “He said he is going to drag me there if I refuse.”
Jo frowned. “But that is not so terrible, is it, dearest? I fear I do not understand.”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears. “No, that is not so bad. But it is bad when the reason for his insistence is so I can stand up with the Duke of Flemington. That my dear brother basically promised that I would do so when the man asked me last evening.” She paused, shrugging helplessly. “I do not like that gentleman, Jo. I do not like him at all.”
Jo looked bewildered. “Hugh wants you to stand up with the Duke of Flemington? I had no idea he was anything more than casually acquainted with the man. He was at your house last evening?”
Lily nodded. “Yes. I was surprised as well.” She took a deep, ragged breath. “I couldn’t recall at first the scandal that surrounded him, only that it was something dreadful. But it was like my flesh crawled being next to him … like I intuited the darkness that surrounds him. Do you remember what was said about him?”
Jo bit her lip. “Oh, yes, I most certainly do,” she said breathlessly. “It is all centred around his late wife. The beautiful but tragic Clarissa.” She paused, frowning. “What have you heard about her?”
Lily blinked rapidly. “Only that there is dark talk that she took her own life. The official cause of death was consumption, but that hasn’t stopped people speculating that the late duchess wasn’t sick at all. That there were darker forces at work in her demise.”
Jo grimaced, putting down her teacup. “It is true. One of my mother’s friends was friends with the duchess’s mother, who confided everything to her, and who in turn passed it onto Mama.” She hesitated, lowering her voice. “Apparently, Clarissa never wanted to marry him. And as soon as she did, he started to cut her off from her family and friends, isolating her at their country manor. Clarissa’s mother, Lady Payne, grew concerned, insisting she see her daughter, but alas the duke denied her, claiming that Clarissa had no desire to see her.”
Lily’s eyes widened. She had never heard this detail before. “Go on.”
Jo sighed. “Lady Payne just showed up one day, saying she wanted to see her. The duke barred her entry. But as the carriage was leaving, Lady Payne saw a curtain twitch in an upstairs window. It was Clarissa, staring down.” Jo shuddered. “Lady Payne said she looked dreadful. She had lost weight and was a shadow of her former self. She looked haunted as if the very hounds of hell were on her tail.”
Lily felt her blood run cold. It was all so dramatic. Almost like listening to a ghost story, except that this was real. It had actually happened.
“Lady Payne never saw Clarissa alive again,” continued Jo, in a low, urgent voice. “Two months later, she received word that she was dead. The duke told her that she had contracted consumption and had declined quickly.” Jo shook her head. “Lady Payne doubted the story from the beginning – Clarissa had never had a bad chest. Ever. And then a maid came banging at her door, crying hysterically, saying that something bad had happened to the mistress. She told Lady Payne that her daughter had wandered into the lake on the grounds … they found her lifeless body the next day.”
Lily gasped. It was truly shocking. “But … if they had proof, how was their no official enquiry? Why was the official cause of her death consumption?”
Jo looked a bit frightened. “The maid refused to testify, saying the duke would do something terrible to her. She simply vanished one day. Lady Payne tried to talk to the other servants on the estate, but they wouldn’t say a thing. They were all terrified. Lady Payne simply had no proof. The duke is an influential man and clearly paid the doctor well to declare that his wife had been ill and died of that illness. It was all covered up, Lily.”
Lily pressed her lips together. “I knew it. I knew that he was suspect. Lady Payne swears that this is true? You are not exaggerating?”
Jo looked offended. “I never exaggerate, dearest. I know that gossip and scandal are the life blood of high society. I do not care for it much myself.” She shrugged. “I do not read scandal sheets or eavesdrop on salacious parlour conversations. I know this to be true because Lady Payne was a friend of my mother’s, as I said. She told Mama everything. The terrible injustice broke her heart, for there was simply nothing she could do to avenge her daughter because of the duke’s high status and connections. It is rumoured that the man has the ear of the Prince Regent, you know.”
“So I have heard,” said Lily dryly. “What I want to know is why Hugh is so enamoured with the man. Why he is so insistent that I befriend him.” She frowned. “He seemed quite … desperate that I do so. That I do not make waves, so to speak.”
Jo sighed. “I simply have no idea, dearest. I have never heard that Hugh is particularly friends with the duke, but how would I know? What are you going to do?”
Lily picked up her teacup, taking a long sip, thinking about her friend’s question. What was she going to do? Hugh was the master of the house now. He was her legal guardian. She was honour bound to do anything and everything he asked of her. It was unfair, but it was just the way things were since their parents were gone.
Her eyes filled with helpless tears. It was like Hugh had become her gaoler. Her funny, sweet brother had vanished entirely. Lily knew that he was just trying to do his best for her, but it was too much. She felt stifled, robbed of her youth. At least, robbed of the youth she should have had if her parents hadn’t died.
They were too young. Far too young. An utter tragedy.
Lily had thought it was a good thing when Hugh had applied for legal custody of her afterwards. She had wanted to stay living in their family homes and to be with her beloved brother. Somehow, she thought that perhaps it would lessen the grief – that things might go on as normal, in a strange kind of way. But the reality had been quite the opposite.
Hugh had become heavy-handed and strict with her. Jo told her he was just being overprotective. He had never been in a loco parentis role before, and the responsibility had overwhelmed him. Jo had said that it would get better with time, that Hugh would soften and become less strict with Lily, but it had never happened. In fact, it had only got worse.
And now, he was asking her to befriend a rake. A duke enshrouded in dark scandal. No, he wasn’t asking her. He was insisting, telling her that she had no choice in the matter, that he didn’t care what she thought or felt. He was telling her that her thoughts and feelings didn’t matter one iota.
“What can I do?” she asked, shrugging helplessly. “If I do not go this evening, Hugh will simply keep pressing me until I capitulate. I suppose it is just one evening. I can make it obvious to the duke that I do not like him, and that shall be the end of that.”
Jo nodded slowly. “Yes, that is a good plan, Lily. Neither the duke nor your brother will persist if you make it clear you have no interest in the gentleman. I am certain all shall be well, dearest.”
Lily forced a smile onto her face. “Yes. I am sure you are right, dearest Jo. All shall be well.”
She felt a shiver of unease. For some reason, she didn’t believe that at all. But for the life of her, she couldn’t work out why.
“A Lady’s Scandalous Secret” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After the tragic loss of her parents, Lilian Lynch’s life sinks in despair. As her once beloved brother turns into a despotic guardian who demands her union with an abhorrent Duke, she is desperate to avoid her cruel fate. When the dark rumours around the Duke’s past start haunting her down, she runs away to become a governess, hiding her identity. Yet, the last thing she expected was her new mysterious boss to tempt her in a tantalising way…
Will this fiery Lady allow her socially forbidden love to bloom?
Lord Archibald Mortimer is a charming man who must take care of his young, mischievous siblings. Determined that a proper educator could conform them, he hires Lilian in the role of the new governess. As the delectable stranger wins the children’s heart from the start, Archie’s doubts about her skills are slowly being replaced by feelings of admiration and hidden lust.
However, duty leaves no time for romance…
Lily and Archie’s flaming attraction for one another soon ignites in a torrid encounter. Torn between duty and secrets, and with Lily’s fiancé trying to destroy their last hope of true, enticing love… Will they manage to face their darkest fears? Or will their seductive affair be forever lost in the abyss of lies and guilt?
“A Lady’s Scandalous Secret” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
3 thoughts on “A Lady’s Scandalous Secret (Preview)”
Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat! I will be waiting for your comments here. Thank you 😊
Loved the preview and really feel sorry for lady Lillian.I am glad she has Jo as her friend.Am now curious how the lady escapes her brother and the duke, how she meets the lord Archibald etc
So glad you enjoyed the preview dear Manisha! Thank you so much for your support!