A Lady’s Scandalous Guardian (Preview)

Chapter One

There was no warning before the impact which rocked the carriage so violently it almost tumbled onto its side. Amrita screamed as she slid along the seat, crashing into Josephine. The wheels on the right side of the barouche came back into contact with the stone of the wharf with a bone-jarring impact.

“What on earth!” Josephine exclaimed, pushing her broad-brimmed hat out of her eyes so that she could look out of the window.

Amrita, petite, dark hair, and the characteristically delicate features of India, was picking herself up. She looked about with fright. Josephine took her by the hands, pale blue eyes meeting coal black.

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied shakily.

Josephine snatched the hat from her head, examining the bent rim with discontent. Outside it sounded as though a riot had begun. The hot Mumbai harbor was alive with the voices of angry men, lowing cattle, and whinnying horses. She pulled back the canopy, which protected them from the dust of the roads. A crowd had stopped the barouche in its tracks. In the midst of that crowd an Indian man was trying to move a cart pulled by two bullocks which had collided with a stack of wooden crates.

Another man, walking two horses by their bridles, was struggling to keep them under control as they panicked amid the commotion, rearing and kicking.

“This will not do at all,” Josephine said.

She jumped down from the barouche and strode into the melee. She wore white against the blazing Indian sun, her flaming red hair tumbling to her shoulders. Her driver, an employee of the East India Company shouted after her, but she ignored the man. Reaching the first of the terrified horses she approached slowly, whispering soothingly while reaching out with one hand, palm up. The animal quivered, ears twitching and nostrils flaring. But it remained still as she approached. She stroked its neck and nose, still whispering.

Its owner turned to look at her, opening his mouth angrily. Josephine shot him a hard look.

“We must get these horses calm or they will injure themselves and others. And that man can’t get his cart out of the way until your horses stop raising hell,” she said in Marathi.

The man closed his mouth, clearly not expecting an English gentlewoman to address him in Marathi. He broke off his argument with another man and began hauling and tugging on the bridle of the remaining horse, which seemed to further incense it. Josephine watched for a moment and then lost her patience.

“Stand back please, you are doing no good at all. Will someone take these reigns please?”

A young man emerged from the crowd wearing Western clothes and bobbed his head diffidently, taking the reins and slowly drawing the calmed horse away. It took Josephine a few minutes, but she finally got the second horse under control. The blockage removed, the cart driver was able to reverse his vehicle away from the crates he had driven into, and the crowd began to disperse. Josephine had climbed onto the barouche to direct the traffic, calling out in Marathi, and giving instructions which were obeyed with alacrity by all concerned.

It had been a kick from one of the panicked horses that had almost tipped the barouche onto its side. She examined the damage to the vehicle’s chassis critically.

“It should get us to our berth,” she told the driver.

Their objective was the Repulse, a towering vessel anchored at the far end of the harbor, where its waters were deepest. Passengers and cargo were being loaded and sailors were busy on deck, and in the rigging. As the driver was about to flick the reigns a voice rose from somewhere behind.

“Lady Townsend! My Lady Townsend!”

The strident English voice fought to rise above the babble. 

“Someone calling you?” Amrita said, following her mistresses eyes over the crowd.

“A Company functionary,” Josephine Townsend said, pointing, “Lord but it is too hot to be bothering with this absurd dress. I wish I was back in my sari.”

“It would not be proper. And would cause scandal in England. There, you are a Lady of noble birth.”

“And here?” Josephine said, wryly.

Amrita shrugged. “Whatever you wish to be.”

“An adventurer. An explorer. A writer. I am all of those things,” Josephine said wistfully. “In England they won’t allow me to be anything but a woman. They are so backward!”

Amrita laughed. “You are probably the only person in this country to think the British are backward. Everyone else that I see are striving to copy as much of the British as they can.

“The Marathi aren’t,” Josephine pointed out.

“My people are brave but foolish. They can’t hope to beat the British in battle. Not without their country being devastated.”

“Still, if the war had not broken out, your family would never have fled to Mumbai and we would never have met,” Josephine pointed out.

Amrita smiled, her face lighting up. “In truth I remember very little of Pune. Mumbai is my home.”

“And soon England will be. For both of us,” Josephine said with a grimace.

The company functionary had fought his way through the crowd while they talked. Now, he took off his hat and mopped a sweaty brow with a handkerchief. He wore a suit of white against the Indian sun and his face was bright red. A leather satchel was slung over his shoulder. In his hand he held out a large, bulging envelope.

“Lady Josephine Townsend, I presume?” he asked.

“Yes,” Josephine replied.

“This just arrived from England on the mail ship. I was told to make sure it got into your hands before you sailed,” the man said, slightly breathlessly.

Josephine reached down and accepted the package. His duty discharged, the man tipped his hat and made his way back along the dock. As the barouche resumed its progress along the harbor towards the Repulse, Josephine looked through the envelope in curiosity. It contained a letter, with a return address of a solicitor at Gray’s Inn, London. A second letter bore a return address of      Northwood Hall and was sealed with a coat of arms. Finally there were several pages which were prefaced by a note from the London solicitor. It explained that the pages were a copy of an amendment made to her father’s will during his last visit to England some years before. The note urged her close attention.

The barouche came to a halt and Josephine alighted with her maid and close friend, Amrita. A gangway led steeply up to the deck of the Repulse, but Josephine paused to supervise the unloading of their belongings before leading Amrita aboard the ship. As they stood on deck, having been greeted by its company captain, they looked over the bustling harbor below, and the great city beyond.

“Will we see it again?” Amrita asked in a small voice.

“We will,” Josephine assured her.

“When, do you think?” Amrita asked.

Josephine couldn’t answer. She currently had no home. With both parents now passed away, the home in which she had grown up now belonged to the East India Company once more. She could not remain there but in deference to her father’s long years of service to the company, they had paid for her to take sail for England where the estates of Pinner Park had become hers after the death of her father’s brother.

England was where her family had originated but India was the only home she had ever known.

I will come back. This will be home again.

She blinked back tears, angrily scrubbing them from her eyes. Amrita was shielding her face with a hand, cheeks wet. Josephine put an arm about her shoulders and hugged her tightly.

“As soon as we possibly can. But don’t worry, Amrita. I’m sure England won’t be so bad. Once we are settled and I have the measure of my new estate, we will certainly be coming back.”

Amrita nodded, seeming to be comforted by Josephine’s confidence. The truth was that Josephine was not entirely comforted herself. She put her worries aside, conscious that her duty was to project confidence and calm for her maid. Amrita relied upon her. She was an orphan, like Josephine, her father killed in the outbreak of war between the British and the Maratha. Her mother had recently passed away. Amrita’s two older brothers had joined the Maratha fighters and who knew where they were now. Amrita was alone in the world.

“Let us go below and acquaint ourselves with our cabin then come back on deck when we sail to say adieu to India,” Josephine said, keeping her tone light.

Amrita nodded, returning her smile and the two women made their way below.

Chapter Two

Water the color of steel. Sky the same color as the water.

God, what a dreary welcome to England. What a dreary place all in all.

Philip Marshall, Duke of      Northwood, stood swathed in an overcoat with a raised collar to protect him against the bitter easterly wind. London loomed behind him, the warehouses, and commercial properties of the docks. The air was thick with the smell of tar, mud, and rotting fish. On the river, anchored against the outrushing tide, was a massive East Indiaman, its sails furled. Boats were being rowed ashore by men in the uniform of the company, an officer standing in the gunwales of each boat.

“Oh, for goodness sake, hurry up. How does this take so long!” the young man at his elbow said, stamping his feet against the cold.

There was a chill in the air that smelled like snow. The ship in front of him reminded Philip of another life.

Calcutta. So hot the sweat would evaporate as soon as it popped out of the skin if it wasn’t so hideously damp. Like breathing through a wet cloth.

But it had also been enigmatic and exotic. The sights and smells, the gods, and the legends. The women. One in particular. Philip shook his head, looking away from the ship and trying to rid himself of the urge to be aboard and heading back to India.

“She’s been at sea for six months. A few hours to row ashore is the blink of an eye,” Philip said with a trace of irritation.

The young man had brown hair and a long face with high cheekbones and gray eyes. His nose was a hook and his mouth a downturned sneer. Philip wished he didn’t have to be in the company of the man. Wished he didn’t have to be here at all. But duty was duty. There was a debt he owed to Royce Townsend and now that debt was being called in.

Damn fool! I should have just refused. What do I care what this bloody family thinks of me!

“It’s just I have an… appointment, and I cannot miss it,” Arthur Devonshire said, turning away from the wharf, pacing back and forth for a moment as though unable to contain his own nervous energy.

“More important than meeting your future wife?” Philip asked, despite himself.

It is none of my business. I just hope the bloody women swoons at the first sight of this callow crow and they won’t need a chaperon for very long.

Arthur snorted, joining Philip once again. A coach stood behind them, belonging to the Townsend estate.

“A matter of sport, you understand. A game of cards… or dice. I am not fussy,”

“Indeed.” Philip said, not looking at him.

“I’m actually thinking that I might just say hello, show my face so to speak and then cry off. You would look after her wouldn’t you, old chap?”

Philip bristled at the suggestion that there was enough equality between them that he could be spoken to in such a familiar way. Arthur Devonshire was the son of Hugh, a close friend of      Henry Townsend, formerly Colonel Townsend of East India Company’s private army. That Colonel had saved the life of an inexperienced Captain who had gotten in over his head against a band of hardened Gorkhali fighters. Then proceeded to take the young hothead under his wing.

“Well?” Arthur prodded.

“Do as you like. I am here to escort the Lady to her estate at Pinner, yes?” Philip said, turning to look directly at Arthur.

The other man shrank back, head hunching into his shoulders.

“If you want to marry her then do so. The longer it bloody takes you the longer I am away from my own estate. And I do not like being away,”

With each word, Arthur seemed to hunch further into himself. “This was not my idea, you know,” he muttered.

“Your Grace!” Philip snapped, “a Duke is typically referred to as Your Grace.”

He did not care for the honorific one way or the other, but he wanted to lash out and the young gambler was the closest target.

“Your Grace. This was my father’s idea. For me to marry Lady Josephine. For you to be our chaperon while I am resident at Pinner. I would rather not be here either.”

Philip turned back to the river. The first of the boats, the one carrying passengers, was nearing the stone steps leading from the wharf to the water. Black water lapped against the slimy stone. Philip idly wondered which of the passengers was the unfortunate lady exchanging India for England and this prime example of the English gentry into the bargain. The officer at the head of the boat blocked his view of two women seated in the prows though. Further back he saw what looked like a group of priests and a couple of red-coated officers.

“Then I suggest we make this as painless as possible. Make a good impression on the lady and proceed to Pinner. Woo her, Marksdale, woo her.”

He had been informed that Arthur Devonshire, son of Viscount Harefield also bore the courtesy title Lord Marksdale, at least until his father passed on. He found it marginally easier to address the man via the impersonal touch of a title. Arthur sniffed and nodded but did not answer. Philip hoped fervently that he had succeeded in getting through.

The boat was being tied up and the officer jumping to the first dry step. He turned back to offer his hand to one of the ladies, helping her ashore. Philip found himself staring at a slender young woman with hair the color of sunset and eyes as blue as a Himalayan mountain lake. She wore a long coat of navy blue over a dress of white. As she ascended, she was looking around with a wide, keen eye. Philip was reminded of a hawk. He was suddenly acutely aware of the hammering of his heart in his chest. His breathing was coming quick and fast, making him feel breathless. Taking a breath he tried to regain some control over himself. She was the most beautiful woman he had seen since returning to England.

As beautiful as my Jasmine. Oh Lord, how could I think that? No woman has made he think that in three years!

Arthur whistled softly, watching the same woman.

“My, my, my. Please God tell me this is the Lady Josephine Townsend.”

Philip clenched his hands in the leather gloves he wore against the cold. He had never wanted to strike a man so badly. To throw the Lord Marksdale bodily into the Thames for sullying this goddess with such crass thoughts. He fought to restrain himself, perplexed by the strong emotions that warred within him.

What is happening to me? I am not some flighty poet weeping over a verse. I am a bloody soldier and a peer of the realm.

She had reached the wharf now and was looking at Marksdale who bowed and introduced himself. She offered her hand briefly and he bowed over it. Philip shifted as the woman directed her attention at him. Her eyes met his and did not look away.

“May I introduce our erstwhile chaperon, His Grace the Duke of      Northwood,” Marksdale was saying, swaggering, “Your Grace, may I introduce the Lady Josephine Townsend of Pinner Park.”

“My Lady,” Philip said formally, bowing his head briefly.

“Your Grace. I thank you for your kind letter of introduction,” Josephine replied.

Again she offered her hand. Philip took it lightly in his own, intending to barely touch it. But he could not help but tighten his fingers momentarily and felt her fingers do the same. There was a note of breathlessness in her voice. There were spots of color in her cheeks. Her eyes held his as though through mesmerism. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, as though she were trying to contain it. Philip found himself smiling in return and that deepened the color in her cheeks. Those eyes were not a single, uniform shade of blue but flecked with darker and lighter shades. The effect was dazzling.

“I am glad that you received it. I thought it important that you know in advance of the…rather unusual terms of your Uncle’s estate.” Philip said.

“Yes, as Lord Marksdale says, you are to be our chaperon.”

“And something of a…guide to you as you begin to get to know your new estate,” Philip pointed out, “Pinner was an old friend of mine. Your Uncle I mean.”

“Surely, I am Pinner now,” Josephine said, a slight smile tugging at her lips.

Philip realized that he was still holding her hand. She had not withdrawn it and he had not relinquished it. The moment the realization struck him it seemed to spark in her mind too. She blinked, cheeks coloring a deep red and lips quirking into a sensuous pout. Philip released her at the same moment that she withdrew her hand. Their eyes remained fixed, as though obsessed, with each other.

Philip grinned boyishly. It was a defense mechanism, a shield that disarmed whomever it was directed to and helped him hide his true emotions. With this woman though he found that he meant it.

“I suppose you are,” he replied, “welcome to England, Pinner. I understand that, like me long ago, you are coming home to a country you have never known.”

An eyebrow arched delicately, and she tilted her head to one side, full lips quirking once and then again.

“And where, pray tell, did you consider home?” Josephine asked.

“India, like you,” Philip replied.

“Which part?”

“Calcutta. Nepal, though I was unwelcome when last I was there. I have spent some time in the Maratha kingdom as well.”

“Maratha. You were East India?” Josephine asked.

A chill was falling across her voice now, like a morning frost. “Well then, you have something in common with my maid, Amrita. Her family fled Pune because of the war.”

Ah. Of course. Trust the Company to sour everything they touch.

“Shall we proceed to the coach?” Marksdale was saying.

Josephine bestowed a cold look on Philip as she allowed Marksdale to guide her to the coach. A young Indian woman followed in her wake.

“A Lady’s Scandalous Guardian” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the wake of a sudden, heart-wrenching loss, far from the freedom she knew in India, the fiery Josephine faces the prospect of an unwanted marriage in England. To claim her family’s opulent English estates, she must make an agonising choice: surrender to the authority of an unfamiliar guardian or forfeit her birthright forever. Yet, having no desire to be any man’s wife, she wants nothing more than to return to India… Until she sees the tempting Philip, and an irresistible chemistry sparks, leading to a forbidden affair.

Will Josephine secure her inheritance, or will she defy convention for a chance at true, passionate love?

Philip, a Duke shattered by the loss of his family, left India and sought solace in seclusion. Until fate thrust him into the role of Josephine’s guardian. His heart, once shielded by grief and vows of lovelessness, stirs to life in her alluring presence. As their desires smoulder and their bodies entwine in secret rendezvous beneath the moonlit Indian skies, Philip’s commitment to honour, battles against the overwhelming need to passionately kiss Josephine…

Will he be bound by duty, or will he risk his reputation for a lust too overwhelming to resist?

Josephine and Philip share a sizzling connection, bonded by their love for India and their discomfort with suffocating English customs. Yet, society’s stringent rules threaten to tear them apart, casting shadows of torment and separation over their scandalous affair. Will they find a way to be together and avoid scandal? Will their passion empower them to break free from these constricting constraints or will it engulf them in a consuming inferno of desire and despair?

“A Lady’s Scandalous Guardian” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

“A Lady’s Scandalous Guardian” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “A Lady’s Scandalous Guardian (Preview)”

  1. Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat and can’t wait to read the rest of this fiery romance! I will be waiting for your first impressions here. Thank you! 📚❤️‍🔥

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