Scandal of the SeasonBy: Liana LeFey
Sorin Latham, her family’s closest neighbor—and her dearest friend—had returned at last.
Eleanor raced down the stairs, keeping tight hold of her skirts and a sharp eye out for Rowena. The last thing she wanted was another scolding about running in the house. The carriage must have made it down the drive by now. He should be getting out by the time she reached the front hall.
A grin split her face as she contemplated sliding down the banister, but good sense overruled the rash impulse. She’d be sixteen in two days. Sliding down banisters was out of the question now—at least whenever there was a chance one might be seen.
Will he have exciting news to share? Will he be happy to see me? Did he bring me a present from Paris, like he promised?
He’d been gone three whole months this time. It had seemed an eternity. Not for the first time, she wished Cousin Charles had a sister he could marry so they could truly become family. But, like her, Charles was an only child. At least Sorin’s bride would one day come to live with him here in Somerset.
Now all she had to do was find a way to remain here, herself. Eleanor gritted her teeth. If only Charles would see reason! But both he and Rowena were bent on the idea of her marrying. It was to be her debut Season, and no expense had been spared to see that she made a good impression. Daughter of a duke, she was expected to make a fine marriage. Her cousin had even gone so far as to show her a list of possible matches he deemed “acceptable”.
A grimace tugged at the corners of her mouth. I’ll never wed. Her family would be annoyed at first, but they’d get over it. They don’t really want me to leave Holbrook. Why, this very morning Charles had told her that, in his opinion, no man was good enough for her, but that he’d be pleased, as long as she was happy.
For some reason, he simply refused to accept that her idea of “happy” was for things to remain exactly as they were. I don’t need a husband. I already have a home.
The front door opened as she reached the bottom step, and joy surged at the sound of Sorin’s voice. Quick as a fox, she ducked beneath the stairs and waited. After the servant had welcomed him and taken his hat and coat, their guest was told Lord Cramley awaited him in the blue salon.
Eleanor emerged just as he rounded the corner. “Surprise!”
Stopping short, he greeted her with a broad smile that crinkled the corners of his hazel eyes. “Ellie!” His gaze travelled downward, doubtless noting the absence of her customary pinafore, and his brows rose. “Gracious, I think you’ve grown another inch.”
Too happy to take affront at his reference to her height, which had indeed increased during his absence, she dashed forward to embrace her friend. “I’ve missed you so! It’s been dreadfully lonely here without your visits.”
Her joy turned to bewilderment as he stiffened in her arms and then, bracing his hands against her shoulders, thrust her away. The ungentle manner of his rejection caught her off guard and she stumbled backward, only just managing to catch herself on the newel post and avoid an ungraceful fall.
When she looked up, a thunderous, disapproving frown was fixed upon his face, which was turning scarlet. A dull, throbbing pain erupted in her chest, and a queer, numbing sensation settled over her. Sudden tears stung her eyes as he backed away another step. She wanted to ask why he looked at her as one might a leper, but words would not form on her lips.
It was he who broke the silence. “Ellie, I’m—” He stopped and took a deep, unsteady breath. “Forgive me.” Without another word, he turned and strode away.
Shaking as if a palsy had taken her, Eleanor sank to the floor in a state of utter shock and confusion.
What did I do wrong?
1817—Five Years Later
“Go and find out whether Sor—I mean Lord Wincanton—has arrived,” Eleanor ordered her maid Fran for the third time in the space of an hour. She turned to her friend Caroline. “I keep forgetting he is the earl now.”
Caroline frowned and patted a fiery red curl back into place. “Earl or not, why you should bother waiting for him is beyond comprehension.”