An Affair so Right (Rebel Hearts series #4)
An Affair so Right (Rebel Hearts series #4)
Love is the worst complication!
Heartbroken and desperate, an unmarried lady temporarily enters the employ of a disastrously disorganized and distracting viscount in a bid to prove her father’s death more than an accident. But can maternal meddling and an act of vengeance reveal the potential in a lasting alliance between them.
- Naval Captain
- Woman in Peril
When a fire destroys her home, Theodora Dalton loses not only her every last possession, but her beloved father as well. Her nearest neighbor, Quinn Ford, graciously offers temporary lodgings to Theodora and her mother, but if she’s going to see them on their feet sooner than later, she’ll need employment. To that end, she convinces the viscount to employ her as his secretary. In her new position, she can manage Quinn’s disastrously unorganized affairs—while also attempting to prove her father’s death was more than mere accident. She has only to avoid the incredibly irresistible distraction that is the viscount himself.
Quinn, Viscount Maitland, has paternal troubles of a different sort. The Earl of Templeton has forever attempted to use Quinn for his own gain, but just when he believes his father can sink no lower, he deals Quinn the ultimate betrayal, sending him into a tailspin—and straight into the pleasurable arms of his new secretary. Theodora is efficient, smart and lovely…and the more his fondness for her grows, the more she seems determined to keep their affair strictly about business and mutual pleasure, with no hint of permanence. It will take some maternal meddling and an act of vengeance for Theodora to see the potential in a lasting merger…hopefully before it’s too late.
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
If there was anything in life surer to turn a man’s stomach, it was a blatant attempt at matchmaking over a mahogany dining table. Quinn Ford, formerly a captain in His Majesty’s navy but now more happily Viscount Maitland, would rather be run through in battle than be the focus of his father’s machinations to see him miserably wed to the mouse of a woman perched at his side.
“Have you visited Tattersalls yet?” he asked her to be polite.
Miss Genevieve Cushing uttered a negative squeak to his question and then buried her face in her water glass again.
He sighed in resignation. Miss Cushing was without the courage to answer anyone with confidence, or even to look his mother in the eye it seemed. He fell silent and turned his attention back to his plate.
Quinn had not resumed a public life in society to put up with missish nonsense. He admired forthright women. Prim and proper Miss Cushing, daughter of a wealthy London merchant, a connection most likely indebted to his father in some way, was most certainly not his type of female. She had none of the presence required to be a future Duchess of Rutherford when the title fell to him eventually. Not that he had ever wished ill on his beloved grandsire.
Which was not the case when it came to his own father—Lord Templeton—seated farther down the table from him.
Quinn glanced along to where his father sat holding court. Father was probably destined to live forever.
“You should have your brother take you one day,” he said to Miss Cushing.
“He’s very busy,” she whispered.
George Cushing was probably visiting brothels with his intemperate friends right now. He was young and reckless. But who was Quinn to judge another man’s priorities?
He was only concerned about people who affected his own life, and Miss Cushing would never be one of them.
Quinn’s future wife would need to be possessed of firm convictions to survive his future, because when Templeton became the Duke of Rutherford, there was no telling what evil would befall him and the gentler members of the family. The family had already suffered due to Templeton’s grasping nature.
He considered what other arrangements his father had made with Mr. Cushing besides attending this dinner. Nothing good for the Cushings, most likely. Quinn knew firsthand it was never wise to make any deal with Lord Templeton. People who did tended to be vastly unhappy with the result.
“Gentlemen, if you will excuse us, we will leave you to your simple pleasures,” Mama, the Countess Templeton, announced as she set her napkin aside and rose from her chair at the end of the meal.
Quinn was quick to reach his feet, as were the other gentlemen, who protested she was leaving them too soon. His mother was an exceptionally popular woman in London society, hardly meek and most certainly not missish, and still attractive at fifty years of age. Quinn adored her, and so did everyone else. Quinn’s mother was respected, whereas his father was feared.
Mother urged the women to go with her, giving way for the gentlemen to partake of port and cigars after dinner. She gave Quinn a brief but pointed look that spoke volumes from her husband’s shadow. Tread carefully it said.
Quinn inclined his head to her as she moved toward him at a stately pace. He’d grown accustomed to such unspoken warnings from his mother, and where he could, he heeded them all. Thwarting the Earl of Templeton’s manipulations had become their life’s work.
Her attention strayed to the young woman lingering by his chair, and her eyes narrowed with a hint of displeasure.
Mama had shared her guest list with him yesterday, and at that time, the Cushings had not been included for this remembrance dinner in honor of his late sister. They had not known his sister Mary. The Cushings were new additions; included, most likely, at Lord Templeton’s express demand.
Mama grasped Miss Cushing’s elbow and led her by subtle force toward the drawing room and away from Quinn. He hid a smile, grateful that when it came to matrimony, he and his mother were of the same mind regarding his future. She wished him to marry for love, so she thwarted her husband at every opportunity.
The other women trailed after Mama, chattering happily and laughing among themselves as they fled into the drawing room for tea and a good gossip.
With them gone, Quinn took a turn about the room to stretch his legs and then headed for the decanters of port set aside for the gentlemen to partake from. He poured himself a drink and downed the lot. Dinners with his father required liquid reinforcement be deployed at all times.
He poured another and slid the bottle back into the spot.
Quinn joined Lord Deacon, who was nursing a brandy glass already at the end of the room. “My apologies for missing your cousin’s ball last week,” Quinn murmured to him.
Deacon, an earl near his age, was widely regarded as an idiot. Deacon did not excel at manly pursuits except for drinking; he did not seek to distinguish himself in parliament, claiming there were wiser voices to be heard. What Deacon did exceedingly well was friendship. He knew—not assumed, while wringing his hands—that sometimes his friends needed to use him as a shield. That was why, when he was invited to dine by the Earl and Countess Templeton, he could always be counted on to attend if Quinn would be there too.
Deacon smiled, glancing around the room as he did to see who was near. “The usual business?”
“Is there anything else that prevents me seeing my friends but my father’s orders?”
“None so far, but I am sure that your future wife might have the ability to sway you one day.” Deacon’s eyes sparkled with mirth, glancing toward the distant drawing room, where Miss Cushing had vanished. “Did Templeton’s latest matrimonial prospect catch your fancy?”
“Hardly,” Quinn grumbled. Deacon knew the challenges Quinn faced thanks to his overly ambitious father. “I swear she squeaked.”
“Could be amusing in the right setting. At least you could find Miss Cushing in the dark, should you ever misplace her.” Deacon laughed suddenly. “Mary would have set down a plate of cheese for her, had you expressed the slightest interest in marrying the girl.”
“She would have, too.” Quinn raised his glass with a deep sigh. He missed his little sister, but never more so than today—on the anniversary of when she’d ended her life.
“To Puddleduck,” Deacon said, raising his glass, too. Deacon was one of the few friends who knew today’s significance to them. Suicides were rarely spoken of in polite circles.
Quinn’s sister had been seventeen when she’d drowned herself. Three and Twenty in a few weeks’ time. It still shocked him that she was gone. Quinn’s nose itched, and he forced a laugh out to fight his sadness. “She adored the name you gave her.”
“She was a good sport. But at least Puddleduck is better than the nickname you gave her,” Deacon scowled. “The Pestilence was hardly a respectful name to give any lady.”
Mary had been something of a pest as a child, and calling her the Pestilence had stuck until her last year. “She never minded the names.”
In hindsight, perhaps the nickname hadn’t been the best choice to give to his younger sister. No one had sensed her unhappiness or known her emotions were so fragile. Mary had died so young, for reasons that to this day baffled him. His second younger sister had appeared happy one day, full of plans for the future, her season, marriage, and babies, and yet had waded out into the sea at the family estate fully clothed and drowned—as she must have known she would.
Quinn surveyed the room, his thoughts stuck on that tragic day. The sun had been shining, and he’d had good news to share about his new command and had run out to the cliffs to tell her about it. Discovering Mary face down in the churning sea was a shock Quinn would never forget. He hadn’t been able to save her. She’d already been gone too long by the time he’d pulled her from the water.
“She gave as good as she got. What was her nickname for you again?”
“Bumblefoot, on account of my lack of prowess on the dance floor,” Deacon said glumly. “At least that was accurate. I still can’t dance well enough to please the ladies I like.”
Mary had been Deacon’s friend. Quinn had assumed they’d marry once Mary came of age, and she finally noticed Deacon had adored the ground she walked on. They had always been whispering to each other and laughing over the silliest things no one else had found remotely funny. Deacon had taken her death as hard as any member of the family.
All except for Father. Templeton hadn’t shed a tear.
Quinn regarded his parent as he spoke loudly and with great enthusiasm without any respect for the anniversary they had planned to mark today. Templeton had covered up the suicide swiftly and had told everyone to forget her.
Quinn couldn’t do that and had suffered for his disobedience.
Mother openly marked each anniversary just to spite her husband.
“Maitland?” Deacon regarded him solely, and the softly spoken word drew him back from the dark abyss of his grief and anger. It was always there, catching him off guard. He couldn’t accept that he’d never know why she’d died.
He forced his fists to uncurl. “Father and Mr. Cushing are as thick as thieves tonight, but I’d rather die without an heir than marry his daughter.”
“I’d like a smart wife who was happy to put up with a fool like me.” Deacon’s grin faded to apprehension. “Watch out. He’s got that look about him. Oh, damn and blast it. He’s coming our way,” Deacon complained
Quinn quickly turned his back on the room to peer out the window. Outside, Londoners were going about their business without a care in the world. And the world was finally at peace. Napoleon was locked up; the French army and navy thwarted by the might of the British forces. Life should be pleasant.
Except that it couldn’t be while his father pursued his own agenda to direct Quinn’s life.
“Ah, Lord Templeton,” Deacon bellowed with great enthusiasm. “Excellent dinner as usual. Your dear wife has outdone herself yet again. My sincere compliments to your cook and staff, too. I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever felt so full, except for Lord Sanderson’s dinner last week. But do you know I had to turn down a second helping of that fine pork chop that night because it left the faint aftertaste of lemon in my mouth? None of that at your table here, of course. Lady Templeton would never allow such culinary faux pas beneath your roof, would she?”
Quinn struggled not to grin. Deacon could natter on about dinners, and the food served to him, for hours on end. He bored everyone with his little speeches—always on purpose. It was a useful skill Quinn couldn’t hope to emulate but appreciated. Deacon could play the fool at will without breaking a sweat.
“A man can indeed have too much of a good thing,” Quinn agreed, bravely joining into the conversation because it would irritate the hell out of his father that he would side with Deacon.
“I require a word with my son, Lord Deacon,” Father said abruptly.
“Oh. Oh, yes of course. Certainly. Go right ahead,” Deacon offered.
Quinn turned slightly to acknowledge his father, but nearly laughed out loud as it became clear that Deacon wasn’t leaving them, and remained planted at Quinn’s side with his arms crossed over his wide chest.
Seeming unaware he wasn’t wanted.
“In private,” Lord Templeton growled, before jerking his head toward the hallway door. “Perhaps you could deliver your compliments to Lady Templeton in person.”
“Oh, of course.” Deacon smacked his forehead, eyes wide. “I’d best rejoin the ladies then.”
With one last happy smile to Father, Deacon rushed away like a hapless schoolboy.
Lord Templeton scowled. “You should end your friendship with that dullard.”
“He’s a good man,” Quinn replied, having suffered the demand many times before.
“Forever nattering on about pork chops and lemon as if I care about such things.”
Father couldn’t abide idle conversation. He was too impatient to care about anyone but himself.
“Mary liked him,” Quinn said with a sincere smile. Mention of Mary was one spectacular way to stop any topic of conversation in its tracks. It worked every time. “She was the one who asked me to include him in my circle of friends, and I promised I would watch out for him.”
Father tossed off his head, jaw clenching briefly. “What did you think of her?”
Ah, there it was—the real reason for Templeton’s rude interruption. “Of whom?”
“The Cushing chit. Her father owns a thousand acres at Colchester and has no heir apparent. She’ll inherit everything I hear.” Templeton gestured to the gentleman in question, eyes narrowed and assessing. “She would be a good match for you.”
For anyone but Quinn. “Doubtful.”
Father looked at him with the dead-eyed stare of a furious man. “It is time you gave up these foolish notions and made an advantageous match.”
“I’m not marrying a woman I don’t care deeply for.”
“That’s your mother’s new nonsense clouding your head.”
Quinn snorted out loud. “You and Mother married as strangers and never became the closest of couples. No wonder she highly recommends love matches over cold alliances like yours.”
Father’s hand finally twitched at his side as Quinn scored a hit. The topic of his parents’ union was a tricky one. His parents barely spent any time together these days and everyone knew it. Father had married Mother for her enormous dowry. He had kept a mistress since Quinn was at least ten years of age.
Templeton’s glory days were over though. His hair was more gray than black, and he’d developed a definite paunch these past few years. When angry, his face mottled an unhealthy red, as it did now.
“Do not speak ill of your mother,” Templeton warned.
“I would never disparage Mother.” His mother put up with so much and never complained except for lack of grandchildren to hold in her arms. However, his sister Sally was well on the way to fulfilling that request, thanks to her recent marriage.
Father grabbed his arm. “Impertinent whelp. How dare you.”
“I won’t allow you to choose my bride for me,” Quinn said in a mild tone. “I will make up my own mind about when I marry, too. You may scheme until your face is blue, but when I marry, believe me, it will not be for the good of my purse alone.”
The grip on his arm tightened to painful levels. “You will call on Miss Cushing tomorrow,” Templeton insisted.
Quinn had borne worse punishments and kept his face impassive. “I will not. I came to dinner tonight to remember Mary, with people who knew and loved her. I’ve no idea why you would disrespect Mother or Mary by forcing strangers upon us at such a time. We loved her more than you ever did.”
Father dug his fingers deeper, just as the other gentlemen stood and began to move noisily about the room. Quinn remained still, enduring the pain without flinching or pulling away. He’d been doing so for years. “Do not embarrass Mother, tonight of all nights,” Quinn warned.
Templeton released Quinn immediately.
Deacon returned, his face beaming an idiot smile. “Ah, Maitland. Are you free now to complete our conversation?”
“Indeed.” Deacon’s timing was impeccable. Despite his father’s plans, Quinn was determined to make his own way, to live his own life in peace now that the war was over. That was why he’d resigned his command so quickly after the war, before his father could hatch a new scheme designed to keep Quinn in his clutches.
He moved toward his friend without a backward glance for his father’s permission. He slapped Deacon on the shoulder and turned him toward the drawing room. “Now, tell me more about this problem you have?”
Deacon winced. “I’m afraid I’m going to need rather a lot of your help.”
“Finding a woman for me to marry, of course.”
“Oh.” Quinn stared at Deacon in astonishment. “I didn’t think you were serious about that.”
“Well, I am.” Deacon protested. “I’m tired of women who just want to sit on my lap a few times and then pretend they didn’t fancy me after all.”
Quinn choked on an oath. Now there was a picture he’d rather not have in his mind. “Ah, Deacon, now is really not the time for specifics of your intimate relations. When we’re done here, we could talk at my home if that suits?”
Deacon nodded quickly. “I knew I could depend on you.”
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