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Met By Chance: The Triple Countess, #3

Met By Chance: The Triple Countess, #3

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Met By Chance: The Triple Countess, #3

ratings:
1/5 (1 rating)
Length:
323 pages
3 hours
Released:
Mar 6, 2017
ISBN:
9781386646990
Format:
Book

Description

There’s more to this man than satin and lace.

After a serious riding accident, Perdita Garland is back in society. Unfortunately the first man who catches her interest, Charles Dalton, Marquis of Petherbridge, turns out to be a popinjay with a spoiled daughter in tow. And his equally spoiled sister is flirting with the same fortune-hunting suitor who almost cost Perdita her life. What’s a lady to do? Warn the marquis of the danger, of course.

Charles knows that English society finds his manners and dress astonishing, but they cover a man broken by a disastrous marriage to a faithless wife. Now a widowed father determined not to be fooled again, he is nevertheless charmed by Perdita and the steely strength of will under her fragile exterior. If only the lady would mind her own business.

But when his impulsive sister elopes and kidnaps his daughter, he finds himself wishing he had listened to the little busybody. And Perdita, feeling partly responsible for the disaster, boldly sets out to help him put things right.

Alone in a strange city with his lordship, plunged into danger, Perdita discovers there is more than meets the eye under the pampered skin of the marquis. There is strength, power…and passion beyond her wildest dreams.

Released:
Mar 6, 2017
ISBN:
9781386646990
Format:
Book

About the author

Award winning, top selling author Lynne Connolly writes historical romance, paranormal romance and contemporary romance. She lives in the UK with her family and her Mews, Jack. She also loves travelling, and often incorporates the places she visits into her books.


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Met By Chance - Lynne Connolly

Dream

There’s more to this man than satin and lace.

The Triple Countess, Book Three

After a serious riding accident, Perdita Garland is back in society. Unfortunately the first man who catches her interest, Charles Dalton, Marquis of Petherbridge, turns out to be a popinjay with a spoiled daughter in tow. And his equally spoiled sister is flirting with the same fortune-hunting suitor who almost cost Perdita her life. What’s a lady to do? Warn the marquis of the danger, of course.

Charles knows that English society finds his manners and dress astonishing, but they cover a man broken by a disastrous marriage to a faithless wife. Now a widowed father determined not to be fooled again, he is nevertheless charmed by Perdita and the steely strength of will under her fragile exterior. If only the lady would mind her own business.

But when his impulsive sister elopes and kidnaps his daughter, he finds himself wishing he had listened to the little busybody. And Perdita, feeling partly responsible for the disaster, boldly sets out to help him put things right.

Alone in a strange city with his lordship, plunged into danger, Perdita discovers there is more than meets the eye under the pampered skin of the marquis. There is strength, power...and passion beyond her wildest dreams.

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Met By Chance

Copyright © 2008 by Lynne Connolly

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Dedication

To the Duchess, who deserves another book. I raise my glass to you.

Chapter One

Are you perfectly sure you’re all right, Lady Perdita?

Perdita forced a smile, looking at the handsome man gazing down at her. Thank you, yes, sir. I’m hardly out of breath.

Lord Munshin’s smile carried a faintly patronising air. Then allow me to fetch you a glass of wine.

At least he hadn’t offered her lemonade. Perdita sighed, watching the retreating back of her escort. She was tiring of his constant care. She wasn’t made of glass.

The ballroom contained many of the people she knew, and few she didn’t. Society had changed little in the two years she’d been away. She was now recovered from the riding accident that broke both her legs and forced her to retreat from sympathetic responses and pitying looks. Shimmering silks and glittering jewels hid hearts empty of all but material concerns, and when they welcomed her back, most of the welcome was for her generous dowry.

Even then they wouldn’t have accepted her without her lineage. She was one of their own, forced to retire temporarily and now she was back. Society re-assimilated her like a stream flowing around a rock and then continued on its way.

Lord Munshin was kind, but after a season’s courting from him, Perdita knew he wanted a wife to dominate. Her accident gave her a vulnerability that appealed to him, but domination by a loving husband was the last thing she wanted.

A crisp voice broke into her thoughts. If you’re tiring of Lord Munshin’s careful concern you might like to look about you. I have someone in mind.

Perdita smiled ruefully at her mother. At first Munshin’s care was pleasant, but I’m finding it tedious now. I’m not an invalid any more, Mama, and I won’t be treated like one. His own mother isn’t allowed to move without her muff, fan, hat and a warm shawl. Perdita lifted her hand and let it drop softly back into the ivory silk of her gown before it could complete the gesture of exasperation others might see and correctly interpret. A lady should not make a fist in public. Who is this new man?

The Marquess of Petherbridge.

Perdita had heard of the marquess, but not met him. I thought he was settled abroad at his late wife’s home.

He’s back from France and his aunt tells me he intends to remain here. Lady Taversall had long experience of keeping a polite society face, but Perdita saw the gleam of interest in her mother’s eyes.

She recalled all the stories associated with the wealthy marquess. How much he had adored his wife, despite the disparity in their ages. How her death left him devastated. Perdita didn’t want to compete with such devotion. She’d rather Lord Munshin fuss over her. Aren’t you grasping at straws, Mama? He won’t want me. He still needs an heir and I’m too old for him.

How can you know that? He wants a mother for his little girl. He’s hunting for a bride, Perdita, and he doesn’t want a young debutante.

So at seven and twenty, I’m old enough to be another child’s mother, am I? Perdita knew her tone was dry. She felt dry. Dried up. She was even thin enough to be dried, and soon she would shrivel up altogether. Yes, being a stepmother would suit her mood, but the role still didn’t appeal to her.

Just meet him and talk to him. You know I won’t pressure you. Not directly, but her mother knew as well as she did that Perdita was nearing the end of her eligibility as a bride. At seven and twenty society would consider her firmly on the shelf, were it not for her generous dowry.

Perdita watched Lord Munshin cross the ballroom to her and felt no anticipatory spark, no pleasure at his return, only apprehension that he would continue to treat her like a china figurine. Her heart sank. With a perfunctory smile of thanks, she accepted the chilled wine he brought her.

He hovered over her like a mother hen over a chick. You are not too tired?

Not at all, sir. It’s barely eleven o’clock and I don’t expect to reach my bed much before dawn. She glanced up at him through her lashes.

He didn’t respond to the flirtatious gesture, but frowned at her in concern. His sturdy wholesomeness, which she’d once thought an asset, now struck her as a definite demerit. He wore sturdy clothes meant to last. His square face and plain wig all recalled his sturdy and essentially boring nature.

Where were all the good flirts these days? Perdita couldn’t recall a season that had held such lack of promise. Or perhaps she was jaded, and everyone was the same except for her. Maybe her absence from society gave her a distance from it, one that gave her a clearer picture.

A stir at the other end of the room made her look up. People moved aside, silks and brocades swirling in a kaleidoscope of movement.

Now that, came her mother’s low voice, is what I call an entrance.

Rarely had Perdita seen anything so fabulous. A rara avis, a man so beautiful it was only by the male attire she could be sure of his sex. And even then she wasn’t positive.

The newcomer wore a pale rose coat and breeches, with a delicate embroidered ivory waistcoat underneath. His natural hair, if he had any, was covered with an elaborate wig, the bulk of the confection drawn into a queue behind, with careful formal curls adorning his temples. Many men dressed well, but few with such panache and style. The clothes fitted him perfectly, delineating a tall figure with excellent legs and broad shoulders, but Perdita wasn’t sure what was natural and what was padding. At least his height was his own, the fashionable red high heels only adding a few inches to it.

Perdita gasped when she saw his face. He wore a full maquillage in the French style, rarely seen on a man in London’s ballrooms but usual in Versailles. Thick white ceruse covered his skin, and a delicate pink blush enhanced his cheekbones. One tiny patch close to the left corner of the rouged lips stood out against the matte starkness around it.

A French exquisite. Perdita stared, fascinated by the effect. Drawn to wonder what was underneath. Perhaps that was why he did it, or perhaps he was used to the style. Certainly he wore his extravagant attire with a natural air.

Bowing over his hostess’s hand and saying something that made her laugh, he seemed unaware of the sensation he caused. Or perhaps nervousness caused the high-pitched titter heard over the relative hush that had fallen at his entrance.

Chatter resumed and the ballroom slowly returned to normal. The four-piece orchestra struck up the opening bars of a country-dance, and people began to take their places for it.

Well my dear, came her mother’s voice. There he is.

Popinjay! Lord Munshin remarked, not bothering to conceal his contempt.

Perdita found her voice and made an effort to say something. "That is Lord Petherbridge?" She wasn’t yet sure what to think. A man who looked like that wasn’t her ideal of a perfect companion and lover. How could her mother imagine she would be attracted to such a man-milliner?

No one answered her. The man’s head turned fractionally, as if he heard her. Green eyes met her gaze in an unnervingly direct stare.

Everything stood still. Someone real lived under that unnatural mask; someone Perdita felt connected to.

She gave herself a mental shake. No, not this time. She would not allow him to carry her romantic soul away before she knew more. It was foolish. The man was a dandy, a popinjay, a macaroni. Nothing to attract her at all.

So why was she attracted?

The tide surged back when she broke the contact, people talking, laughing, dancing. Foolish! Munshin was right, the man was a popinjay. Nothing more.

Dismissing him from her thoughts, Perdita accepted the support of Lord Munshin’s arm, then circulated around the room to talk to her friends before going into supper. She knew better than to expect to dance again. His lordship took too great a care of her for that.

Perdita knew the helplessness of being an invalid, but her accident had been two years ago, and apart from the occasional inconvenience, she felt fully recovered. She had broken her legs. She had recovered. Munshin’s constant reminders irked her and were the main reason she would reject his lordship’s offer when he finally got around to making it. He’d care for her until he drove her screaming mad.

Intent on answering his lordship’s solicitous queries about her health without gritting her teeth, Perdita didn’t notice the approach of the marquess until she heard his voice, one unfamiliar to her, but mellifluous and musically pleasant. Since he was talking to Lady Fulham, leaning over her in a way that spoke of intimacy, Perdita had leisure to examine him before he turned his attention to her.

Close up he was as astounding as at a distance, a sophisticated bird of paradise. Nothing was out of place, not a stain or a crease on his expensively cut coat. His pink coat.

Perdita was surprised when she heard him speak in an immaculate English accent. She’d assumed he was completely French, since the marquess had spent all his adult life there. Foolish of her. He’d been brought up here, so of course his English would be good.

You want a pet monkey, Lady Fulham? If you are truly sincere I daresay I could rustle up a monkey or two to satisfy your curiosity. A pause. We might try Walpole. I hear he is fond of them.

A shocked silence, then laughter. Horace Walpole was small, wizened and eccentric, with a rapier-sharp wit, more monkey than man, or so Lady Mary Wortley Montagu said. Few chose to pit themselves against Walpole. It appeared that Petherbridge cared little for that.

Perdita made to pass the small group, tugging on Lord Munshin’s arm, but disconcertingly the man turned and confronted her. His gaze, the most alive thing about his face, captured hers, as he had when he came in. Dropping his lids, he swept her a low, elaborate bow. Perdita stood perfectly still, waiting for the introduction, foolishly flattered by such instant attention.

Lord Munshin made the introduction. Lady Perdita Garland, may I present the Marquess of Petherbridge. Petherbridge, this is Lady Perdita Garland, the eldest daughter of Lady Taversall and the late Earl of Blyth.

Perdita sank into a curtsey, and allowed him to take her hand to breathe a kiss just above the skin. It was the approved manner, but performed in such an intimate way it made the back of her hand tingle.

Her instant response to the sensual touch came as a surprise. The next surprise was the warmth of his smile, and the way he made it just for her. Walk with me, my lady? he suggested, retaining her hand to lay it on his arm.

The silk of his coat chilled her fingers. With an apologetic glance at Lord Munshin, who was unable to do anything to counter the marquess’s stratagem, Perdita allowed his lordship to lead her away. He moved surprisingly swiftly, but she didn’t feel hurried. She had plenty of time to nod to her acquaintances. Just not to linger and converse with them.

Charles was shaken by his first sight of Lady Perdita, and shaken by his instinctive response to the woman his aunt had chosen as a suitable candidate for his hand. She’d told him just before they entered the ballroom, angering him, making him feel controlled and used again. England was always like that.

His instinctive response to Lady Perdita increased his resolve not to slip into the disastrous trap of romantic love. This time he wanted to go into matrimony clearly and rationally.

But that accidental eye contact when he entered the ballroom tonight drove straight through all his defences, straight to the lonely man deep inside the carefully constructed society sophisticate. He needed to think, to consider, but he needed to get to know her more. Perhaps she would be the delicate flower she appeared, and totally unsuited to the role he was determined any wife of his would take. Mother to his daughter and elegant society hostess. Perhaps a political hostess, if he should decide to take his life that way. Nothing more.

Lady Perdita, it is a delight to meet you, he said, giving her his best urbane smile.

Indeed, sir. She looked up at him with a guarded expression, very unlike the open gaze they had first shared.

I take it your mama has been as busy as my aunt?

He shook her with his directness. Some of the guardedness fell, replaced by surprise. He liked it. It gave her a mischievous elfin look that appealed to his sensual side. Sir?

A possible match has been proposed for us, has it not?

I believe it has. Perdita put her chin up in a gesture that seemed vulnerable, despite her obvious spirit. However, I am past the age when matches are made for me. I’ll not enter into anything I may not wish for.

Admirable! He turned to nod graciously to a lady approaching them, but before she could interrupt their conversation, he led Perdita past her. I like plain speaking, though it is in short supply these days. Neither, madam, shall I enter a match not of my own making. However, to deny the chance to become acquainted might be short-sighted and prejudiced. I abhor prejudice.

She frowned up at him, perplexity in her eyes. Charles felt a pang of concern when he realised how well he could read her, this woman he’d only just met. He didn’t want to get too close, too soon, and make another disastrous matrimonial mistake. One was more than enough.

They reached the refreshment table. He picked up two glasses of wine and handed one to her. If I reject this proposal too quickly, my aunt will come up with another candidate, and another, and another. Will this be your fate?

It will, sir. My mother knows I’m about to reject one suitor. But the season will be over in a week or two; then I’m travelling north, to visit my great aunt. Aunt Grace lives in the Lake District, and doesn’t go into society at all these days. Her quickness to see his point pleased him. An intelligent woman.

Charles frowned, and his excellent memory came to his aid. Lady Grace Garland had until recently lived with another lady and never shown an interest in any man. She had created quite a stir when she effectively eloped with the lady who had remained her lifelong companion. His Aunt Maria still talked about it. That must be Lady Perdita’s aunt.

She spoke again. My mother is anxious to see me wed, but I have the independence to be able to look about me with some care.

Charles recognised the warning. She was not any man’s for the taking. What do you seek in a husband, if I may be permitted to ask? He put the glass to his lips and took a sip, then saw that Lady Perdita watched him, fascinated.

He knew why, he’d heard the gossip. Too Frenchified they said. His elaborate toilette disconcerted a lot of people on this side of the English Channel. He wasn’t yet ready to abandon his face paint. It was useful. It meant he could conceal his true thoughts, and he didn’t have to look at himself so often. It repelled amorous advances, advances he had learned to despise. All he saw in the mirror was an artificial mask. He preferred it that way.

I have no idea, sir. I used to think I knew, but it seems to strike without warning, and to the most unlikely people.

What does? He smiled, and lowered his glass. Oh. Love. The word hung between them. That may not happen more than once. He spoke as if she was far away, as if everyone was.

Indeed, sir. She didn’t ask him, and looking at her, he saw why. She understood. Lady Perdita Garland had seen love, or felt its power for herself, and she knew what it was like. So had he, God help him. Never again.

I don’t look for love in marriage, but I do insist on mutual respect. Her tone was brisk, as though she too dismissed the notion from her mind.

A laudable ambition. Mutual trust too, I would suggest. Trust above all things.

It would be useful.

So you need honesty from your husband, for trust cannot come without it. That, you may find, is harder to come by. He took another sip of the admittedly excellent wine.

I fear that is true. I will settle for respect. She smiled lightly and handed him her empty glass. He put hers with his on the table behind them and lifted his head at the sound of the band tuning up. They are about to strike up another dance, a minuet, I believe. Would you do me the honour, ma’am? He saw the doubt in her eyes, but chose to ignore it.

Perdita wondered if he’d seen her hesitation. She caught sight of Lord Munshin, frowning in displeasure. He’d take her away, if she gave him the right to do so. Well, she would not. Defiantly she placed her hand on the back of the one Lord Petherbridge held out to her. She would dance.

The minuet was a dance of courtship and flirtation, where a woman kept the same partner throughout, unlike most others. Perdita felt quite nervous, like a new girl, fresh into society. She had no idea why this man made her feel like this. The hard muscle under the silk of his coat reassured her that little padding was involved in the elaborate confection he wore, but that could not be the reason for her lightness of heart.

Dancing was the last skill she re-learned after her accident. It had been like learning to walk on new legs, limbs strange to her, that didn’t respond the way she expected them to. Occasionally they gave way without warning, which was why she still carried a cane, presently propped up next to the chair her mother occupied. Lady Taversall sent her a reassuring smile. Perdita felt less nervous.

Responding to the music, the man facing her dipped into an immaculate bow, and Perdita managed to rise from her curtsey without wavering. He took her hand to bend over it, revealing strength she hadn’t been aware of before. He was supporting her! He didn’t drop her hand when she took her second curtsey, and she actually felt him drawing her up. Keeping her attention riveted on his eyes, she performed the first Z shape. She read reassurance in his eyes.

The minuet took up a lot of space. It should strictly be performed alone, but Lady Munshin’s ballroom could accommodate more than one couple, so they were thankfully not alone. Lord Petherbridge turned her, holding her hand with a steadiness Perdita was thankful for.

He moved with economy and supreme grace. While Perdita knew all eyes must be on him, she tried to do her best, fully aware her own poise had diminished considerably since she learned to walk again. Glancing away when the dance required it, she saw Lord Munshin, glowering at the marquess. It was all she needed to steel her nerve.

Turning back to her partner with a smile, she took both his hands for the two-handed turn. Their touch appeared very light but strength radiated through him, his arms braced to take her weight, if she should falter.

She did not. She would not stumble if her life depended on it. Perdita decided to justify his lordship’s faith in her abilities, prove to herself and to anyone watching that she was not an invalid any more. She performed the turn with almost as much grace as she had been capable of a few years ago.

Pushing everything out of her mind except the steps and her partner, Perdita relaxed into the music. She could trust him to make sure she didn’t make a fool of herself, and so she could enjoy the dance as she used to, before her life went wrong. Before that stupid decision that nearly cost her the use of her legs, and her other stupid decision that nearly cost her brother Orlando his happiness. That she’d put matters right was the only reason she could still live with herself.

She responded to Petherbridge’s touch, and he smiled slightly when he saw her response. Any broader and his maquillage might crack, but Perdita had the unnerving thought that the mask was for him to hide behind, and not to beautify himself. His presence was so dominant and self-assured it was a strange thought, but it persisted, despite her reason telling her the idea was a foolish one.

Perdita lost track of time. Only the turns and delicacy of their performance mattered, only her response to his overtures. At one point she opened her fan and tried a few flourishes, flirtatiously peeping at him over the top, turning her head to one side and then, as though drawn, looking at him again.

She was almost sorry when the dance concluded. When he drew her up from the final curtsey his eyes were all she saw, those living things in that dead mask. Now that, he murmured, was dancing! Then he turned, and just as though nothing untoward had occurred, took her from the floor in the direction of the tables. Her gown swished in the sudden silence, but murmurs began again. He seemed prone to causing sudden silences.

The other guests stared, some gazes envious, some calculating. They would discuss the dance the next day, speculate about it. Perdita didn’t care. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been the centre of gossip, but this time the gossip wouldn’t be malicious.

He found them some more wine before he spoke. I enjoyed that more than any dance since I returned to this benighted country. It was like dancing with a fairy. He tilted his head to one side, his gaze fixed on her face. In fact, you have the ethereal look of a fairy. Can it be you’re a changeling?

Indeed not! she exclaimed but his flirting amused her. She didn’t find it at all threatening, despite the trap her parents and his aunt would have liked to set for them. If you had seen me last year, sir, I was far from a fairy! I take it you know of my accident? She hated the way people skirted around her fall, and preferred to get the topic discussed and out of the way as soon as possible.

My aunt mentioned it.

I spent six months not walking at all, and the next three learning how to walk again. As a result, my figure lost its—fairylike quality and approached the sturdier dimensions of a goblin.

I imagine you looked quite enchanting, he said, smiling, I imagine fairies come in all shapes, just as humans do.

A fat fairy? Perdita was delighted, all manner of delicious images springing up in her fertile mind. A plump, diminutive fairy godmother, weighing down the flowers she tried to perch on, laughing at the slides she created on the soft, downy petals.

Generous, he corrected. "Lady Perdita, may I take you

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