What can one say about the shocking events at a certain important charity ball yesterday evening. The host is well known to our readers, not only for his loyal service to the Crown and his devoted care of his estates, but also for his scandalous behaviour with actresses, other men’s wives and, indeed, it is rumoured, many other females in every level society.

Much is forgiven a man who is wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people, and who holds, besides, one of the highest ranks outside of the Royal Family. Indeed, Royal blood runs in the veins of the man they call the Duke of Haveandhold.

Will this latest start be forgiven, we wonder? You will remember, dear reader, recent speculation in this newspaper about the identity of the man who was caught in the shrubbery with the mother of London’s latest reigning beauty. The lovely young wife of the Marquess of T. was born nine months the scandalous discovery and seven months after her mother’s hasty marriage to a man who had not been in London at the time. Until last night, no one knew who had taken the innocence of that young lady so many years ago. Taken her innocence and walked away, furthermore.

Last night, the mystery was solved. The Duke of H. informed the entire ballroom, including all the interested parties, that he was the marchioness’s father. Not, we grant you, in so many words, but his meaning was clear. As was his threat against any who spoke ill of the young lady.

Far be it from us to criticise any young lady for the sins of her father. We wish the marchioness well. That the duke will find forgiveness in public goes without saying. He is far too powerful to offend. We do wonder, however, what the Duchess of Haverford had to say about the matter in private.


The Sincerest Flattery

When Percival Lord Thornstead heads to the far north of England to meet the bride his father has arranged for him to marry, bad weather, the ague and a crooked valet disrupt his travel plans. Turned away at the door of the manor, he takes a job minding sheep to stay close.

Lady Aurelia Byrne sneaks away from the house dressed as a kitchen maid. She is angry at being told she must marry someone she has never met. She’d rather marry the shepherd she meets in the fields than the London fop her father has chosen for her.

Percy guesses who Lia is and is charmed. Lia discovers who Percy is and falls in love. If not for Lia’s overbearing mother all would be perfect.

Then Percy’s father intervenes to carry Lia off to London to make her debut with Percy’s sister. She is having the time of her life when her mother makes public accusations that call her reputation into question. A hasty marriage restores her to favor. Deep in the throes of love, the young couple are blissfully happy, and have fashionable London at their feet.

Until a former mistress of Percy’s comes seeking a boon that takes him away from Lia’s side, and old rumors about Lia’s mother are revived, causing Lia to be shunned by the highest sticklers. Their marriage will be tested to breaking point.

(This is a book in A Twist Upon a Regency Tale, and is inspired by The Goose Girl.)

Excerpt from The Sincerest Flattery

Lia felt her confidence slip two dances later when she and Percy stood out with his family for a dance, and the Duke of Haverford approached, escorting his wife with a raised hand under hers, as if they were about to approach the King or enter the dance.

“Lady Kirkland, Dellborough,” Haverford greeted them. The gentlemen all bowed and the ladies curtseyed. Gwen and Lia dropped into a full court curtsey in honor of the duchess. Even Aunt Enid’s curtsey was a little deeper than usual.

“This little puss must be yours, Dellborough,” said Haverford, putting his hand under Gwen’s chin and forcing her to look up at him. Lia, who was always conscious of her husband, saw him stiffen with outrage.

“Lady Guinevere Versey, my treasured eldest daughter.” The Duke of Dellborough’s voice was pure ice and Haverford withdrew his hand.

There was a glint of mischief in his eyes as he commented, “I do not know which is more likely to wound, on my oath, Dell. Your voice or your minx’s eyes. Both are cold enough to be lethal.” Then, in a change of mood, “You look like your mother, Lady Guinevere. She was a fine lady. Loyal and true, as well as beautiful. You can be proud to be her daughter.”

“I am, Your Grace,” Gwen said, with another beautiful curtsey.

Haverford turned his attention to Lia. “And whom have we here?”

Percy spoke up, addressing the Duchess of Haverford. “Your Grace, may I make known to you my wife, Lady Thornstead.”

Lia curtseyed again, and looked into kind hazel eyes.

“Lady Thornstead, I am pleased to meet you,” said the duchess. “I was a friend of your mother-in-law and have long taken an interest in her sons and daughters. From this day, I shall count you as one of them.”

The glint in her husband’s eyes sparked brighter. “The relationship is closer than you might think, my dear. Since you have seen fit to bring one reminder of my peccadillos under my roof, you can hardly object to me acknowledging another.”

At the flare of alarm in the lady’s eyes, and in her own father-in-law’s, Lia realized that the Duchess of Haverford had not been warned about the proposed announcement, but it was too late. The duke had already signaled the orchestra, and the room had fallen silent. They were close to the bottom of the stairs, and the duke leapt up three of them until he could be seen across the room.

“My friends, I have another announcement to make tonight. I am speaking particularly to those of you who have been tossing gossip around for weeks about one of this year’s debutantes—some would say this year’s most successful debutante, since she was the first married and to the undoubted catch of the season. Aurelia, come here.”

He held out his hand, and Lia saw no choice, but was glad when Percy clasped hands with her and came too.

“Ah! I get two for the price of one,” said the Duke of Haverford. “When my old friend Dellborough asked me to extend my influence and friendship to this charming lady, I wondered at the relationship myself, for a man of my age has many pleasant memories to look back over on a quiet evening.” He grinned at the audience, who were leaning forward in their eagerness to hear more.

“Some are unforgettable, however.” He kissed his hand towards the left, and Lia saw, to her horror, that her mother and Lord Harrowby stood there, a gap widening about them as the crowd drew away.

“So, it is my pleasure to announce that I freely acknowledge my special interest in this lovely young lady, daughter-in-law to the Duke of Dellborough and wife to Lord Thornstead here. The particulars are of no importance to anyone except those involved.” He stopped for the murmur that washed through the crowd as Mama’s face whitened and Lord Harrowby’s reddened.

Haverford changed mood again, the mischief disappearing and the arrogant autocrat rising to the surface. “That being the case, know this. Speak ill of this young lady or her husband, and face the wrath of two dukes, a marquess,” he pointed to Percy, and added in a confiding tone, “—who is a pup, but pups grow and so do their teeth—and an earl.” The last gesture was to Lord Harrowby.

“Not to mention the distaff side,” he added, nodding to Lady Harrowby, and then to Aunt Enid. He also held out a hand to Her Grace.

The duchess took the challenge, climbing the stairs and allowing the duke to bow mockingly over her fingers. “A wise man, or woman, would not discount the distaff side,” she said, her voice ringing clearly over the ballroom as her husband’s had before her. She then kissed Aurelia on the cheek, murmuring, “Welcome to the family.”

Dellborough and Aunt Enid joined them, adding their visual weight to the message. Defy the Haverfords and the Dellboroughs at your peril. As far as it went, that was a good thing, but the Duke of Haverford was a chancy ally. Lia could see he had used the opportunity to settle scores with the Harrowbys and his own wife. Probably with the Duke of Dellborough, too.