Read How to Handle a Scandal Online

Authors: Emily Greenwood

How to Handle a Scandal

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Also by Emily Greenwood

A Little Night Mischief

Gentlemen Prefer Mischief

Mischief by Moonlight

The Beautiful One

Copyright © 2016 by Emily Greenwood

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Anna Kmet

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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For Nora and Pete

One

Elizabeth Tarryton was seventeen the night she finally understood that some mistakes could never be undone.

The fateful day started in a manner that was, regrettably, becoming familiar that summer of her first season in London.

“Lizzie, why am I reading about you in the newspaper
agai
n
?” her uncle and guardian, Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, asked as they breakfasted at his London town house.

Lizzie bit her lower lip. It was a lip that had had at least three odes written to it that summer. Five had been written to her red-gold hair, which was in truth the sort that Renaissance painters had lived to capture, and ten had been written to her deep blue eyes, which would have done credit to an angel but for the sparks of mischief that often danced in them.

“Um…” Lizzie wasn’t certain which incident might have made it into the paper. There had been the midnight serenading under the window of handsome young Captain McKinley last week, though Lizzie hadn’t been the only person involved in that. And then there was the little incident at the Cullivers’ party two nights before…

“What the devil can you have been thinking to jump into a fountain in an evening gown?” Will said gruffly. “And with two men present!”

The party, then.

“Oh, Lizzie.” Anna Halifax, the other occupant of the breakfast table, looked pained. A year before, when Lizzie had become Will’s ward, Anna had become first Lizzie’s governess and then Will’s wife. Anna and Will were like the older siblings Lizzie had never had, but they could be ridiculously concerned with propriety, considering Will was only thirty-three and Anna a mere twenty-four.

But Lizzie loved them dearly, and she knew they meant well—and just as important, she knew they’d never send her away. Being sent away was the one thing that worried her, but they’d promised she’d always have a home with them, and she trusted them. She had to, since she had no one else.

Will put down the paper and fixed her with a penetrating gaze. He was tall and darkly handsome, with brown hair and deep blue eyes, and his serious air lent him the right amount of gravitas to be a very fine viscount. But when he looked at her with what she privately called his “shrewd” look, she always wanted to squirm.

“I assure you the gown is perfectly fine,” she said, stalling for time.

“The gown is irrelevant beyond the fact that it was likely made of something flimsy and thus entirely transparent when wet.”

“But it didn’t matter,” she hurried to explain. “When Cicely dared me, I agreed on the condition that she and the gentlemen tie scarves over their eyes and turn around. So all that happened was that they heard a splash. I wrapped right up in a blanket, and nobody saw anything.”

Will groaned, and Anna pressed her lips together. Anna was an unusually beautiful woman, with black hair and sherry-colored eyes, and she had once been the center of an enormous scandal herself. But that had been different, because the scandal hadn’t been her fault.

“Lizzie,” she said, “we
know
you are an extremely intelligent young lady. Your reading tastes are sophisticated, and you probably know more about the issues of the day than any other young woman in London, let alone many of the gentlemen.”

“I’m two-thirds of the way through the complete works of Shakespeare,” Lizzie pointed out, hoping to distract them. She’d discovered a love of reading when Anna was her governess, and could not believe she’d once scorned it.

“But that just proves my point,” Anna said. “You’re smart, which is why we have so much trouble understanding why you keep doing these senselessly scandalous things. They may seem harmless to you, but they’re chipping away at your reputation, and they could make it hard for you to marry well.”

Lizzie didn’t understand herself why she needed to keep doing scandalous things, but she couldn’t seem to stop. She knew she
should
stop. The sentence uttered by her stepmother two years before should in itself have been enough to make Lizzie stop, but it was almost as if, despite everything that had happened, those words compelled her to misbehave more.

“Oh,” Lizzie said, waving a hand dismissively, “reputation. Surely the dullest word in the English language.”

She thought she heard the sound of two sets of teeth grinding. They wanted her to look to the future, but Lizzie had never liked to think about the future.
Now
was what interested her.

The truth was, Lizzie
didn’t
want to get married. She needed excitement, and the idea of settling down with one man for eternity made her want to weep. To Lizzie, nothing was as addictive as the company of men—plural. She simply adored them, and she had since she was a little girl.

“My darling Lizzie, who could deny you anything?”
her beloved, widowed father would say with a fond smile whenever he looked up from writing his sermons to find Lizzie, at six or seven, scampering through his study in another new frock. He’d indulged her in whatever she wanted, perhaps partly to make up for the mother she’d never known. With a papa who was so wonderful, Lizzie had rarely minded not having a mother.

When the two of them moved to the island of Malta for his work, he’d said he was glad his little Lizzie could live somewhere free of the petty rules of English life, and he’d smiled as she’d run free over the island, charming the inhabitants as though it were her mission in life.

“She’s made friends with all the sailors in port and the shopkeepers,”
their housekeeper informed the Reverend Mr. Tarryton when Lizzie was thirteen.
“The men in town all call her the little angel. It ain’t genteel.”

“Nonsense,”
Papa had said, curling his arm affectionately around Lizzie’s shoulders.
“My Lizzie is special.”

“She’s a flirt,”
the housekeeper had pronounced, and she’d promptly been sacked.

“Never mind about her,”
Papa had said as they watched the woman march away from their house with her ugly black valise.
“She’s just jealous because you’re going to break hearts someday.”

Lizzie had looked up at him, hoping he could see the love shining from her eyes.
“I’d never break yours, Papa.”

“I hope not, poppet,”
he’d said cheerfully and kissed the top of her head.

And she hadn’t; he’d been the one to break hers.

The day her unconventional papa married a very proper woman was a dark day for fifteen-year-old Lizzie, who soon realized his loving gaze was no longer fixed on her.

Seeking to fill the hollow space where once her father’s love had been, she’d taken to spending more time with the handsome young naval officers who sailed into Malta’s port. They listened to her as her father once had, and she’d loved making them smile—until her outraged stepmother had sealed her doom.

“Your daughter,”
Lizzie’s stepmother, Marian, had said to Papa one night when Lizzie returned to find them waiting for her,
“is a-good-for-nothing trollop, and you should be ashamed of the way you’ve indulged her.”

The words had cut, but what had hurt far more was that her father had just stood there as his new wife told him his selfish daughter was going to cost him his position, and that she must be sent away to a proper English school where she could learn how to behave.

And he’d sent her away.

Lizzie had arrived in England bitterly unhappy, and more unhappiness followed when she received a letter informing her that her father and stepmother and new baby brother had died of a fever.

It was through this tragic turn of events that she’d become Will’s ward. His steadying influence had brought her a measure of happiness, while his position in society offered her entrée into a glittering world of parties and balls and…gentlemen. Everywhere in London there were handsome, charming gentlemen.

How she loved their mischievous smiles. The little notes they slipped furtively to her as she stood talking with friends. The thrilling things they said to her while dancing. The endless stream of flowers they sent to Halifax House with her name on them.

The only thing she didn’t like about gentlemen was when they grew serious and wanted to propose. It was quite delightful to be sought after and do things like jumping into fountains, and she didn’t want any of it to end, which it surely would as soon as she married.

“I know you want to enjoy your season without the pressure of needing to find a husband,” Will said. “And certainly there is no need to rush into an engagement, never mind that we will want to be certain of any man you choose because your dowry will make you the object of fortune hunters—”

“Exactly!” Lizzie interrupted with cheerful relief. “So it’s best to take my time.”

“But,” Will continued firmly, “you must have a care about your reputation.”

“I will,” she said easily, and smiled. “Trust me.”

“We do trust you, Lizzie,” he said seriously, making her feel so warm inside. And though the memory of her stepmother’s sharp voice tried to tear down that secure feeling, Lizzie refused to listen. Will and Anna loved her; what could go wrong?

“Tommy’s back in Town,” Anna said after a bit.

“Oh, lovely.” Tommy was Will’s younger brother, although he was not a blood relation to Lizzie since she was related to Will through his first wife, her aunt Ginger. Tommy Halifax was perhaps Lizzie’s favorite gentleman of all. He was four years older, handsome enough to turn the head of every young lady in London, and as fond of fun as she was. They had wonderful talks about all kinds of things.

She would almost have said he was her closest friend, except that he wasn’t quite like her other friends. None of her girlfriends gave her the giddy feelings that Tommy sometimes did. But she never gave those feelings any thought, because Tommy was nearly family. She could flirt and laugh with him to her heart’s content without worrying that he’d propose.

“Is he coming to the Cattertons’ ball tonight?” She hadn’t seen him for a week, since he’d been off on some errand for Will at Longmount, one of the family estates.

“I believe so.”

So they would dance and have fun, just as they always did.

* * *

Tommy watched Lizzie from just inside the doorway to the Cattertons’ ballroom, having just arrived.

She was dancing with his cousin Andrew, and Tommy’s eyes followed her in her pink satin gown, which made him smile. Pink was her favorite color, and she nearly always wore it. Her gown was embroidered with gold flowers that set off the rich gold tones in her reddish hair, and a pink ribbon circled her neck, the single diamond dangling from it drawing his eyes to the milky loveliness of her bosom. She was so beautiful that she made everything around her seem like nothing but a blur.

God, he’d missed her, and it had only been a week since he’d last seen her.

Ever since Lizzie had come to live with his brother the year before, Tommy had found himself increasingly fascinated by her. How he felt about her now went far beyond attraction, but he’d kept his attentions chaste, not only because he respected her, but because Will would have had his head if he’d known the kinds of thoughts Tommy was having about her.

Tommy had kissed his fair share of willing women. Since meeting Lizzie the year before and falling under her spell, however, other women had ceased to hold any interest for him, and he was still a virgin. He knew he wanted to be with Lizzie always.

But Lizzie was younger, and she’d had a hard time, having lost her family two years before. He knew that she’d been dreaming of her first season all during the last year, and she deserved her chance to be the belle of the ball, even if Tommy secretly wanted to keep her all to himself.

So he’d held back, and gone away when he couldn’t stand to watch the way other men’s eyes lit up when she was around.

But it was July now, and she’d been in Town since May. Having been presented at court, she was “out” and thus ready for any man who wished to win her. Though she might be in no hurry to find a husband, Tommy knew it was only a matter of time before some man snapped her up. Especially now, when nearly every fellow in London knew what a firecracker she was and would be wondering what she’d be like in bed.

Tommy ground his teeth. He’d heard about the fountain incident because one of the two men present was a friend of Andrew’s. Lizzie had a natural boldness—some might call it willfulness—and she was impetuous, qualities that were part of her charm. But this wasn’t the first such incident, and she was treading a thin line between being a little outrageous and becoming a true scandal.

Fortunately, he had the perfect solution to the little problem of Lizzie’s adorable outrageousness: he was going to marry her.

The idea still made him a bit light-headed, because he hadn’t thought to marry for years. He was not yet twenty-two, and if asked even the year before whether he might marry soon, he would have roared with laughter. But then he’d met Lizzie.

A twinge of conscience prodded him; he should probably have discussed his plans with Will first. But that was a conversation he didn’t want to have yet. And they were brothers—there was nothing but respect and affection between them, so Will had no reason to object to Tommy’s suitability.

The dance was over, and Andrew was leading Lizzie to where Will and Anna were talking. Before Lizzie could go off with anyone else, Tommy made his way to her, pleased that her face lit up when she saw him.

“There you are!” she said, coming close to give him a quick embrace. She smelled of that soft rose scent that was uniquely hers.

Andrew clapped Tommy on the back jovially, Anna embraced him, and Will asked after Longmount. After all the pleasantries had been gotten through, Tommy, his heart beginning to race, looked toward the open terrace doors, where few people seemed to have gone despite the warmth of the summer night. He held out an arm to Lizzie.

“Let’s go outside and cool off. You can tell me about everything I missed.”

She agreed and chattered happily as they walked, telling him about what had happened while he was away. When they stepped through the doors and onto the terrace, she looked up at the dark summer sky and sighed happily. Her capacity to be nearly always happy was one of the things he loved best about her.

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