Angry screeches penetrated the windows of the carriage, impossibly high in pitch. “Someone needs to remind that woman of her place in the ton. Why, she acts as if she is the patroness of Almack’s.” Mary St. James, Dowager Duchess of Brentwood, stared wide-eyed at her son seated across from her in the carriage. “Really, Philip, it would please me if you would do something about the woman. Must she always be the center of attention? Even at someone else’s wedding? She’s carrying on like a harridan.” The duchess crossed her arms. Unfortunately, Philip St. James, the Sixth Duke of Brentwood, could hardly ignore the situation. If he didn’t put a stop to Miranda’s undignified behavior, his mother would start needling him about the affair he was carrying on with the bawdy widow. “Philip?” his mother said sharply. “Of course, Mother,” he hastened to say. “As soon as the carriage stops rolling, I will speak with Lady Montrose.” “Why is she out there yelling at that young woman? She is a pretty little thing.
Poor dear. Lady Montrose would frighten the daylights out of anyone.” His mother shook her head in pity. Their carriage sat in a long line of them in front of St. George’s Church in Hanover Square. The sound of Miranda’s yelling and the sour look on his mother’s face both told Philip he would know no rest if he did not intervene in a timely manner. Rather than continue in the procession, he rapped his cane against the roof of his carriage a few times to get his footman’s attention. When the man opened the door, Philip glanced back at his mother. “I will await you at the front of the church, Mother.” He sighed as he headed down the line of carriages toward the screeching woman in front of the church.
Miranda had always savored attention. Why did he persist in carrying on with a woman he couldn’t respect? A courtesan would be easier and probably less expensive than Lady Montrose, with all the jewels he lavished on her at her insistence. And yet, the lady made an enticing picture as he approached her from behind. Her nicely rounded bottom matched her voluptuous bosom. She was beautiful, and he had needs. In truth, it was easier to carry on with someone who hadn’t the slightest grip on his heart. His wife—now his ex-wife—had run off with another man, and he couldn’t abide the thought of courting another woman. “You have no right to be here, missy,” Miranda shrieked, “so take yourself away. You may have been a member of the ton at one time, but no more. I will have you removed if you step inside that church, Sara.
” Philip finally took his eyes off Miranda’s derriere as he stepped up next to her. “Is there a problem, Lady Montrose?” He intentionally used his deepest voice to make the displeasure known. Miranda jumped and stared up at him. “Your Grace, I beg your pardon. How may I help you?” She blushed a deep shade of red. “Why, thank you kindly for offering, Lady Montrose. You may remove yourself. If there is, indeed, a problem, I will take care of it.” He accompanied the words with a cold glare. “But, Your Grace, you do not understand.
This chit…” She gestured to the young woman who stood opposite her. His mother had been correct, the lady was indeed beautiful, but he fixed his attention on Miranda, making his glare icy. He needed to stop her verbal assault of the poor thing before his mother drew close enough to descend from her carriage. If the dowager duchess became personally involved in the incident, it would make it into every newspaper in London by morning. Miranda cut off whatever she’d planned on saying, dropped into a deep curtsy, and then promptly turned and fled. Thank the saints above, Philip thought to himself as his gaze returned to the young woman whom Miranda had insulted. He guessed her to be in her early twenties. She was tall and willowy, quite the opposite of Miranda’s buxom figure, yet full of curves in the right places. He was embarrassed to admit he couldn’t stop himself from taking a full-length perusal of her. Before he could open his mouth to speak, his friend Edward Davis, the Fourth Earl of Ardleigh, appeared at his side.
His presence was not unexpected. They had both gone to boarding school with the groom, and the wedding was considered something of an event for the ton. What was unexpected was that Ardleigh’s first words were for the beautiful lady. “It is you! Lady Downey, it has been much too long. My wife is most eager to see you.” Philip froze. Downey? Lady Downey? Could this be the wife of the man who’d run off with his exwife, Caroline? Blood pulsed through his brain, the pressure building until it started to affect his ability to think. His jaw clenched, and his fists tightened so his nails dug into the flesh of his palms. Ardleigh turned to him with a grin. “I say, Brentwood, I see you have finally met Lady Downey.
Such a lovely young woman despite, well, you surely know of what I speak. I couldn’t help but hear Lady Montrose yelling just now. I can’t imagine why she’d speak to Lady Downey in such a rude manner.” “We have not met, Ardleigh,” Philip said, his lips like ice. “I just came upon her as she was being treated rudely by Lady Montrose.” “Oh, I beg your pardon, Your Grace.” Ardleigh took a step back. “Let me introduce you to Lady Sara Downey.” He gave a lazy smile. “Lady Downey, this is the Honorable Philip St.
James, the Duke of Brentwood.” Philip’s hand brushed her gloved fingertips. He bowed briefly to her as she curtsied, their eyes steady on each other. No doubt she knew about him just as he knew about her. As Sara stood, she pulled her hand back and nodded. “Your Grace.” Philip tried to force his mind back into action. This little thing had been married to the man his exwife claimed to love. He assessed her carefully. Her hair was a rich chestnut sable with little curls framing her face.
She was dressed in a soft green gown that fit snugly in just the right places and made her emerald eyes glow. Her nose was pert, her lips full and pink. He imagined her long legs wrapped around him and had to mentally shake himself. It had been a long time since a woman had affected him so. He forced himself to think of the conniving, deceitful ways of the fairer sex…except surely this woman had been wronged just as he had? “Lady Downey, may I assist you in some way?” he asked. He thought for a moment, then added, “I would be happy to allow you the use of my carriage if it would help. My footman will see you to your destination while we’re in the church.” There, surely she’d seize upon his suggestion. She could not possibly wish to attend the wedding after receiving such ill treatment from Miranda. Instant quiet descended on the group as the crowd awaited her answer.
Lady Downey lifted her chin a notch. “Thank you, Your Grace, but I am perfectly capable of finding my own way.” It only occurred to him then that his words might have offended her. She might assume, wrongly, that he agreed with Miranda, that he thought she ought to leave. And yet, he found he rather liked the way she stared at him, her gaze uncompromising, her posture ramrod straight. Although words did not usually fail him, he struggled for them now. Ardleigh remained silent, too, watching their exchange with silent interest. He hadn’t said a word since making the introductions. But not everyone remained silent. A rude comment came from the crowd.
“She’s not your kind, Your Grace. Do not waste your time.” A fire lit in Lady Downey’s eyes, turning her into an avenging goddess. An image flickered to life in his head. This beautiful woman, nude, with a large ruby necklace wrapped around her throat, her luscious mouth smiling at him as she writhed in ecstasy beneath him. Bloody hell! Stop thinking with your favorite organ, Brentwood! Another snide utterance reached his ears. This time Philip reached out in a flash, grabbing the guilty party and tugging him forward. Tightening his hand around the man’s neck cloth, he spoke loud enough for the crowd to hear. “Apologize to the lady, young man.” He glared at the guilty party until the offender sputtered, “Your pardon, madam.
” He released him, and the man stumbled before running away. Philip’s eyes returned to hers. He couldn’t look away; he was mesmerized. “Thank you, Your Grace,” she said after a pause, her eyes holding his, “but that was not necessary. I am quite able to take care of myself.” He didn’t wish to break his gaze away, but a persistent tugging on his arm forced him to do so. His mother. Her carriage must have finally reached the front of the line. “Why, Philip, introduce me to your new friend.” The duchess smiled at Sara.
The duke reached for his mother’s hand. “Of course. May I introduce you to Lady Sara Downey? Lady Downey, my mother, Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Brentwood.” Sara again curtsied and said, “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Grace.” “Oh, child, don’t be silly. You do not need to curtsy to me. Why does your name sound so familiar? Sara Downey, hmmm. Do I know your mother, Lady Downey?” Philip sighed with exasperation. “No, Mother, you recognize her name because it was Lady Downey’s husband who seduced my ex-wife.” Sara’s eyes went huge at that comment, although he strongly suspected she’d already made the connection.
His name would be as familiar to her as hers was to him. His mother grabbed Sara’s hands and searched her eyes with sympathy. “Pardon me, Lady Downey, I did not mean to bring up such a painful subject. Why, you have been through quite a time of it, have you not? What a terrible thing to happen to one so young.” Sara glanced at the duchess. “If you will excuse me, please, I really must be going.” She curtsied and turned to flee. The crowd of people who had amassed to watch Miranda’s verbal attack on Lady Downey slowly began to disperse. “What a lovely girl, Philip, don’t you think?” His mother beamed a smile at him. “No, I don’t, Mother,” he lied.
“Her husband ran away with Caroline, and a great deal of our money. I don’t think there is anything lovely about her, with all due respect.” Philip leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Oh, Philip, you really must get over it, dear. You are a grown man. Find someone else. Just about anyone would be better for you than the one you married.” Having thoroughly chastised him, his mother patted his hand as if he were ten years old again and walked away. His mother had never set much stock on titles and the like. She persisted in calling him just “Philip” instead of “Your Grace” or “Duke.
” She did the same with all his siblings, claiming she had the right to call them whatever she pleased because she’d given birth to them. Most of the time, she used his given name, although she had been known in the past to call him some pet names that were best forgotten. “That was kind of you, Ardleigh, making sure the ton has something to talk about tomorrow,” the duke said quietly. “Did you really need to introduce us?” “Actually, Brentwood, I thought it might help you to see you’re not the only one your wife and Lord Downey hurt. Of course, the fact Lady Downey is one fine specimen of a woman. But you probably didn’t notice, did you? Caroline has ruined you in more ways than one.” Ardleigh’s gaze pierced his. Oh, he had noticed what a fine specimen of a woman she was. Zounds, he could not get her out of his mind, and that was what really worried him.