Bestselling author Jane Feather brings to life the glamour, sophistication, and intrigue of Regency-era London in this captivating novel of unexpected passions and dangerous secrets.
Pooling their meager resources, Lady Cornelia Dagenham, her sister-in-law Aurelia, and their friend Liv Lacey arrive in London's Cavendish Square to spend a month at the home Liv has just inherited. But why anyone would show a fervent interest in purchasing the rundown property -- particularly the arrogant Viscount Bonham, who clearly could afford the finest of homes -- is a puzzle to Cornelia. His charms are undeniable, though -- and Cornelia finds her resistance to this mysterious stranger falling away...as a sparking passion clouds her view.
But their affair may place her and her friends in danger as Harry Bonham sweeps her into the sparkling whirl of high society. Leading a double life as a code breaker for the Crown, Harry is a man of many secrets. Is it Cornelia whom he truly desires, or something hidden in the house on Cavendish Square?
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March 19, 2007
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Excerpt from A Wicked Gentleman by Jane Feather
Absolutely out of the question." The emphatic statement was accompanied by an equally emphatic palm slapping onto the cherrywood table.
There was silence. The four elderly men sitting along one side of the table regarded the woman seated opposite them with expressions of serene confidence. Judgment had been pronounced by the patriarch, there was nothing more to be said.
Cornelia Dagenham looked down at the deeply polished surface of the table, thoughtfully examining her companions' bewhiskered reflections. They all radiated the pink-cheeked untroubled certainty of those who had never faced a moment's opposition or an instant of want in all their privileged years.
She raised her head and gazed steadily across the table at her father-in-law. "Out of the question, my lord?" Her voice held a note of faint incredulity. "I don't understand. A short sojourn in London is hardly an outlandish proposal."
It was the old earl's turn to look incredulous. "My dear Cornelia, of course it is. Never heard such an outlandish proposal." He glanced to either side, seeking confirmation from his peers.
"Quite right . . . quite right, Markby," murmured his immediate neighbor. "Lady Dagenham, you must see that it would be quite improper for you, a widow, to set up house in town."
Cornelia twisted her fingers together in her lap to keep them from drumming her impatience on the tabletop. "I was not suggesting setting up house, Lord Rugby, merely visiting London with a close friend and my sister-in-law for a few weeks. We would put up at Grillons Hotel, which you must admit is the height of respectability. We are all past the age of discretion, all perfectly capable of chaperoning ourselves without causing a raised eyebrow, even if we were interested in taking part in the season, which we are not. It will be educational for the children -- "
"Nonsense," the earl of Markby interrupted, slapping the table again. "Utter nonsense. You and your children belong here. Your place is to supervise the care of Stephen's son and heir, my heir indeed, until he's ready to go to Harrow. And that care is to take place at Dagenham Manor as his father would have wished."
Cornelia's lips tightened, and a tiny muscle in her cheek jumped, but she kept her voice quiet. "May I point out, my lord, that Stephen left the sole guardianship of our children to me. If I consider a trip to London to be in their best interests, then that is my decision, not the family's."
The earl's pink complexion darkened to a deep red, and a vein stood out on his temple. "Lady Dagenham, I will brook no opposition in this matter. As his trustees, we are responsible for Viscount Dagenham, my grandson, during his minority -- "
"You are mistaken, my lord," Cornelia interrupted with an upraised hand. She was very pale now, and her eyes, usually a warm and sunny blue, were bleached with a cold anger. "I and only I am responsible for my son during his minority. That was a decision my husband and I made together." She placed her hand in her lap, holding herself very still, her eyes never leaving the earl's.
He leaned forward, and his own gaze was narrowed as he stared at her. "That may be so, madam, but your trustees hold the purse strings. You can do nothing without funds, and I promise you, ma'am, those funds will not be released for such an irresponsible jaunt as this."
"Indeed, Cornelia, do but consider." A new voice joined the confrontation, but with a conciliatory edge to it. "You have no real experience of town. A single debutante season cannot give you the sophistication, the town polish you would need for such an excursion."
Gray eyes twinkled, a soft hand reached across the table to pat her arm. "Be sensible, my dear. Three inexperienced women, country mice all of you, would be eaten alive. You could not possibly manage to get about town . . ." A hand waved expressively.