An Unintended Engagement (Book Six)
An Unintended Engagement (Book Six)
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- Second Chance Romance
- Enemies to Lovers
- Friends to Lovers
- Victorian Grand Tour Series
- Book 6 of 6
- 280 pages
Lord Yelverton is no longer the eager young puppy who fell in love with every woman in London. He’s devoted himself to his work as an ambassador in Paris. When Lady Agatha arrives in Versailles with her friend, Mrs. Phillips, she hardly recognizes the man she once knew. He’s the complete opposite of everything she expected. Mature, thoughtful, serious, and as handsome as ever.
But her refusal to reconsider him is just as ironclad as the resentment Isabella Phillips feels for Mr. Rushworth, who spurned her years ago. Rushworth did not dare stand up to his father and marry the woman he loved, and Isabella has never forgiven him. Now she’s widowed with a young child, burdened with the care of an estate, and she has no inclination to forgive the man who deemed her unworthy so long ago.
Is there room in the cramped hunting lodge for a second chance at romance? With a meddling Duchess busy at matchmaking, a Duke determined to help his hapless undersecretaries, a toddling baby, an oversized Great Dane and her litter of pups, and a whole host of misunderstandings, it could be a very, very long two weeks.
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Lord Arthur Yelverton could only find
one place to hide from the arriving carriages. The dense copse of linden trees to the side of the hunting lodge was too far away, so he arranged himself directly behind the Duke of Woodford and his other friend, Mr. Geoffrey Rushworth. The two men created a formidable wall behind which he could conceal himself.
“What are you doing back there?” Rushworth’s accusation rang out
loudly across the green expanse of lawn.
“Quiet,” Yelverton hissed. He tugged on the bottom of his coat. Hunching over like this stretched the fabric too tight. His uncomfortably imprisoned shoulders threatened to finally break free at any moment.
“Stand straight,” Woodford grumbled. “You look ridiculous.”
“I came here to hunt, not to be hunted,” Yelverton retorted. “Octavia failed to mention that women would be invited to this house party.” He tugged at his collar. He needed a new suit. A new life. A renewal of everything.
Rushworth grinned over his shoulder. “Would you have come if she had?”
“That’s why we didn’t tell you.” The duke stepped aside and pulled Yelverton forward. “Face your fears, man.”
Yelverton wrestled out of Woodford’s grip. “I’d gladly wrestle lions in a gladiator’s den, but entertain women for two weeks?” He shook his head and glared at his friends. “You knew about this?”
“Who do you think arranged their travel?” Rushworth winked at him. “We’ve planned a special surprise for you, since you’ve been working so hard.”
Rushworth’s promise of a surprise heightened Yelverton’s sense of alarm. Those surprises were only enjoyable for Rushworth and never for him.
The duke straightened, and Yelverton resigned himself. He adopted the stiff, formal air he had learned to wear as an undersecretary to his friend, the current British ambassador to France.
“Stand down, old man. It’s a house party, not an assassination attempt,” Rushworth whispered behind the duke’s back.
“I see enough similarities,” Yelverton retorted. “Hidden plots, secret alliances, and everything is likely to explode in the end.”
Woodford motioned for them to be quiet.
Rushworth chuckled. “The women are guests, not combatants.”
“Same thing.” Yelverton tugged again at his coat. The sun was unbearably hot, and he wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He’d never gotten used to the heat in Paris, and he’d hoped for a respite here at the hamlet in Versailles. Not today.
The footmen scrambled forward to unlatch the carriage doors. A tiny foot protruded from the carriage followed by an enormous skirt, evidently supported by a crinoline hoop. The overly wide skirt shoved its way out of the doors, bouncing slightly, and finally, a petite woman emerged. She laughed loudly as she tripped and nearly fell on her way down the steps.
“Isabella?” Yelverton snorted. “That’s a treat for you, my friend, not me. I couldn’t care less—”
Another woman had appeared in the door of the carriage. A breath escaped Yelverton, and her name came out on a sigh. “Agatha.”
The duke and Rushworth snickered, and Agatha’s gaze flew to the waiting group of men. Could she hear them? Yelverton straightened even further and removed any trace of emotion from his face.
He hadn’t seen her in two years, and her beauty stole his breath away. She was thinner than when he’d last seen her, but her elegance and poise were still unsurpassed.
This wasn’t a treat. It was pure torture, even as her deep brown eyes rooted him to the spot. She regarded him slowly, up and down, then casually turned back to talk to someone over her shoulder.
“The enemy strikes her first blow,” he muttered to Rushworth.
His friend roared with laughter. “She’ll kill you with her indifference.”
Yelverton nodded his reluctant agreement. Agatha hadn’t even reacted to the sight of him. Even now, she hardly seemed to notice him, but he could not stop staring at her. His thoughts scattered like pebbles of sand washed out to sea. Waves of memories crashed on the shore of his mind. Dancing at balls. Talking in the moonlight. Carriage rides. A stolen kiss.
His reckless, ill-advised, doomed proposal.
The duke’s wife, Octavia, bounded down the carriage steps. “Yelvie! Rushworth! I’m back from Paris and look who I’ve brought.” She was small and petite, like Isabella, which only made Agatha’s statuesque height and dignity more obvious.
Octavia rushed over to her husband and embraced him. The other two
women seemed enthralled with the hamlet and its picturesque surroundings, gazing around at the orchard and mustard yellow stucco buildings.
They seemed less than thrilled with the men in front of them. Isabella and Agatha both looked everywhere but at them.
“You didn’t tell them we’d be here, did you?” Yelverton said beneath his breath.
Octavia beamed at him. “They’re here now, and we’ll all have to get along.”
He fixed an artificial smile on his face, as he had learned to do, even though this was the exact opposite of the relaxing house party she had promised him. Rushworth patted his shoulder. “Good man.”
Yelverton’s grin was nearly a grimace, but he kept it plastered on his face. “We will do whatever the duchess requires. You can always count on us, Octavia.”
“Anything, anytime,” Rushworth said.
She dimpled a smile at them, and Yelverton resolved to try to suffer through the next two weeks for her sake, as well as Woodford’s. They were all the family he had right now, really, and he’d do anything for them. Even this.
The other women approached them. Agatha’s smile was as counterfeit as his own, and Isabella’s expression could only be described as wary.
The duke welcomed his first guest. “Mrs. Isabella Phillips—”
“Bella,” Rushworth interrupted. He grinned at her. “You look as
lovely as ever.”
The petite woman pierced him with a glare. “Geoffrey.” She glanced back at the carriage. “Agatha, could you ensure Thomas makes his way to the nursery?”
Agatha inclined her head. “Certainly.”
Isabella turned her back on Rushworth and smiled at the others. “Woodford, Octavia, Yelverton. Please excuse me. I have a sudden headache.” She whirled around and marched toward the house.
Rushworth grimaced and shot Yelverton a look. “Another win for the enemy.”
“Delighted as always,” Woodford called after her retreating figure. He turned as a curly-haired boy jumped out of the carriage and into the arms of a waiting footman. Immediately squirming free, the young lad ran away as fast as his short legs could carry him. An exhausted woman called feebly after him, “Master Phillips, you come back here.”
Woodford gestured toward the boy, who collided with his legs. “The young heir must be in need of exercise after that long carriage ride.”
Thomas stared up at the duke, who towered over him. The young boy
scuffed some pebbles in the courtyard, and dust and dirt covered the duke’s boots. A smudge adorned the child’s left cheek, as well, and Woodford bent down to brush off the dirt. “Hello, young Mr. Phillips.”
The boy kicked the pebbles gleefully again, and the duke chuckled.
“There now, Thomas.” Agatha laid a gloved hand on his shoulder. “Would you like to meet your mama’s friends?”
“Hello, Mr. Rushworth.”
Agatha had greeted his friend first, and Yelverton knew why. She was simply responding to Rushworth’s incredulous stare. Calling him a friend of Isabella’s was more than generous. It would have been like calling Napoleon a friend of the king’s while they were at war.
It was ludicrous.
“It’s just Rushworth between old friends.” He smiled easily at her and winked, then tagged Thomas on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re it.” He ran slowly away. “Please don’t catch me, or the duke will lock me in his dungeon.”
Thomas’s eyes lit up. “Dungeon?”
“No!” Rushworth yelled, dancing just out of the young boy’s reach. “But I bet you can’t catch me anyway.”
Thomas blew a raspberry, then ran after Rushworth. “Can too!”
Woodford chuckled. “Lady Agatha. Welcome to our little farm here at the hamlet. Since everyone else seems to have vanished, I’ll ask my stalwart
undersecretary to show you around the estate, and Rushworth will take Thomas to the nursery.”
And with that, the duke pivoted on his heel and escorted his wife inside, leaving Lord Yelverton alone with the only woman who had ever broken his heart.