Scandal At Vauxhall
Author Layna Pimentel
Series Pleasure Garden Follies
Book # 1
Genre Historical, Regency
Heat Level 2
Content Notes Spicy, Regency, Historical
Publication Date 2/1/2016
Scandal At Vauxhall is book 1 in Layna Pimentel’s Pleasure Garden Follies series. Full of mystery, gambling, and a love story for the ages, this Regency romance is a wonderful addition to your historical romance library. Find out why scandal has never been sweeter, even when society dictates otherwise!
The love and happiness Isabel Salisbury expected in life when she accepted the proposal of the Marquess of Stoughton takes an unexpected turn, when he leaves on a mission for the war office. She is married off to the Duke of Brimley.
Nathaniel Thompson, the Marquess of Stoughton, is devastated to learn upon his return that Isabel has married the duke. When news of her husband’s death surfaces, Nathaniel sets out to make amends and will stop at nothing until she’s his marchioness.
But when London learns of a promiscuous tryst between them in the Daily, their credibility is at stake. They soon discover that nothing in life is simple, nor private, and all is fair in love and war.
Content Notes: Spicy, Regency, Historical
Chapter 1 ~ London, England, 1818
The opulence of Lord and Lady Sinclair’s ballroom borrowed many Italian influences, to the artwork, chandeliers, and even the fabrics selected. Young ladies lined up on the one side as randy gentlemen scouted their amusement for the evening. And yet again, Her Grace, Isabel Griffith, the Duchess of Brimley, attended another high society event sans her duke.
Henry Griffith, the fifth Duke of Brimley, had always been known as a notorious rake, from the countless affairs he’d had with married women and dalliances with some of London’s most sought after courtesans, to coveting another duke’s wife, even after their nuptials.
Some days Isabel wondered if her father even cared that he’d wedded her into what would become a lifeless, loveless, and solitary union. One that benefitted the family name only, but made everyone involved despondent.
If only her family had been patient enough for Nathaniel’s return. She could have married into status as her parents desired, and she’d be happily in love. Isabel often wondered whatever happened to the marquess.
On a night like tonight, however, she was thankful for the lack of her husband’s presence. These types of occasions always put him in a sour mood. He’d wind up playing whist and lose. Then, he’d drink himself into a stupor, drag her away from whatever conversation she was having, take her home and bed her roughly, only to fall asleep before giving her any pleasure in return.
Pfft. What is pleasure anyway? Yet, while she didn’t have much experience in the ways of lovemaking, it was highly unlikely most marriage beds were like hers. Especially during these moments, she wished she had the courage to run.
Is married life supposed to be like this? Leaving me feeling filthy, unworthy, and so lonely? She hadn’t the slightest clue about what she’d ever done wrong, but the pang of regret over not standing up to her husband made her frailer with each passing day.
Distracting her from such sad thoughts, Lady Balfour approached, fanning herself with expediency. “My dear, have you heard? The Marquess of Stoughton has just arrived. My word, he hasn’t aged one bit, and he’s looking quite fit.”
Nathaniel! He’s alive. Isabel’s heart pounded in her chest as her gaze settled on him.
She hadn’t seen him since he’d told her he was leaving on business for the war office. Her pulse kicked up furiously to the point that she felt light-headed and breathless. He was still a sight for sore eyes. His dark hair and piercing blue gaze stood out in the crowd. The sheer breadth of his shoulders framed his muscular size. She watched as he stopped and spoke with other gentlemen, his back now facing her and Lady Balfour.
My God! He really is here. Would he even recognize me? Hardly. He’s probably here to fetch his mistress for the evening. Why would he even pay me any mind? Besides, she was a duchess, very much married, and obliged to keep up appearances.
“My, would you look at the size of his thighs,” Lady Coxley announced as she approached the ladies, garnering a few giggles from prying ears.
Isabel smirked, knowing all too well in what direction this conversation was headed. “They are wonderfully built, but I’m sure some other lady has laid claim on the marquess.”
“You haven’t heard, have you, Isabel?”
“What haven’t I heard?” she asked. Her breath hitched and her pulse raced. What could I have missed?
“Come away with me to the terrace. I wish to speak to you in private. We can’t have half of London listening in.”
She followed Lady Coxley outdoors, leaving behind the sounds of merriment to be embraced by the shrouded darkness of night and silence.
“They say the marquess will not marry until he’s found her.”
“Until he’s found who?”
“The one who broke his heart. But in all honesty, everyone knows it’s you. With any luck, perchance some horrible fate will happen upon Henry.”
If I were only so lucky. “You shouldn’t talk like that! And for the record, the marquess and I were done long ago. Remember, he’s the one who left me.”
“Isabel, you cannot expect me to believe that you haven’t thought about that man—at least once or ever—during the course of this sham of a marriage of yours. The haute ton in its entirety knows where he is right now. And you’d be a fool to think Henry gives two ninnies about your welfare.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted them.
“Excuse me, ladies, but I was wondering if perchance I could steal Her Grace for a dance.”
Good grief. Did he hear any of our discussion? I cannot believe he’s actually here. Heat coursed through Isabel at the thought of holding him once again. She nodded and held out her gloved palm for him to take. “I’d be honored, My Lord.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Your Grace.”
Leaving behind Lady Coxley, she followed his lead inside for a waltz.
“It’s been too long, Isabel. I’ve missed you terribly,” he whispered as they took a turn about the dance floor. Nathaniel bowed and took her hand. His touch warmed her, and the gentle squeeze that followed reassured her that the flame they once had was still there.
She and Henry hadn’t danced since their wedding and even then, he quickly discarded her to dance with the Duchess of Downsbury. If she’d only known her dismissal that evening would be the first of many others. For the most part, her husband had two left feet, but Nathaniel whisked her away gracefully to the tune. She wished to kiss him again and remind herself of their time together. Good heavens, Isabel. You’re married. Enough of this foolishness!
Isabel felt him pulling her closer as his arm at the small of her back pushed her in. His head dipped down, and, naturally, she looked up at him, ignoring every stare and whisper as they moved together. She finally cringed and mustered the courage to ask him the one thing weighing heavily on her mind. “Why did you take so long? Why didn’t you come sooner? Nathaniel, there hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of you.”
As the music wound down and the dancers departed, Isabel locked her eyes on his and felt a tear escape. “You’ve been missed greatly, My Lord.”
His thumb swiped away the drop. “My dear, there hasn’t been a day, hour, or dream you haven’t occupied.”
Her chest tightened with his admission. Could he have really wanted me all this time?
Shouting from the foyer bled into the main ballroom as a squire and a number of other gentlemen made their way through. Recognizing one of the men as her footman, Isabel rushed toward him. “Stanley, what is wrong?”
“Your Grace! I’m so glad I found you. The duke…he was caught…something about a duel in Hyde Park.”
Slightly unsteady, she wavered on her feet, only to be caught by the marquess, who approached from behind. “I’m not sure what you mean, Stanley. What exactly was he caught doing?”
The footman lowered his voice to a whisper. “Your Grace, you know—the rumors of your husband’s affair with Her Grace, the Duchess of Downsbury. Well, apparently the duke found them in the duchess’s chambers when he entered to claim his husbandly rights.”
And there it was.
The world seemed to fade away upon hearing his words. However, she had always known of her husband’s infidelities, so she refused to swoon. “Thank you, Stanley. I wish to leave now. I’m sure all of London will know of this by morning, if they haven’t heard by now.” She turned to the marquess. “Thank you for the dance, My Lord. I bid you a good evening.”
With her head held high and her stomach in knots, Isabel departed the ball, fearing what the dawn would bring. Would she wait at home for her husband to stumble back after victory, or would she be delivered the news of his demise? Given the heartache Henry condemned her to, and the embarrassment he’d wreaked on his family name, perhaps she should attend.
Before the door to her carriage closed, she reached for the footman’s hand. “I’d like to stand witness to the duel.”
“But, Your Grace, no lady should view such wicked displays.”
“It couldn’t be any more humiliating than finding out your husband was caught by another. A fellow peer, no less.”
“I’ll see what I can do, Your Grace.”
Her attendance would mean going against all protocol and decorum, but she needed to see it, if for nothing more than closure.
* * * *
Nathaniel wondered what exactly had pulled Her Grace away in a hurry. As he walked around the ballroom, he listened to the whispers until he reached the games room. Lord Broxton waved him over to the whist table. Lords Avonlea and Rutledge cast an amused glance.
Both had gone to Oxford with him and hadn’t spoken to him since his return to London. It was interesting. After his trip from the continent earlier this month, all the ladies still sought him out, but not his friends.
“Come now, Lord Thompson, we still have room for one more, and the betting has just gotten more interesting.”
“How so, Rutledge?” he asked.
“Well, it all started with fifty guineas and you following Her Grace, the Duchess of Brimley, onto the terrace. Fifty guineas gets you in, and another says you’ll bed her before the year is out.”
Nathaniel raised his eyebrows. If he were a gambling man, he’d have played along. But tonight he wasn’t. Something about the way Isabel had been trying to maintain her composure told him that things were going awry one way or another.
“Rutledge, you may bet all you want on what I do in private, but I wager I’ll have my boot so far up your fob arse before the night is out.”
The table broke out into a fit of laughter. “Game on, Thompson. I’m almost certain you’ll lose the bet.”
The cards were dealt and all had played their hands when Lady Rutledge came up behind her husband. “My dear, the most intriguing news. His Grace, the Duke of Brimley, was called out by Downsbury. The duel is at daybreak. Apparently, he caught Brimley with his wife.”
So that was what had her rushing out of here. This didn’t bode well for Isabel. Downsbury was an expert marksman, and Brimley didn’t stand a chance. Isabel could very well be a widow before breakfast, and the thought had to have frightened her. The worst thing about the entire scenario was that he couldn’t offer any assistance until he knew of the outcome. Scandal already sat at her doorway, and it was only a matter of time before all of London heard.
Lord Broxton chuckled and didn’t appear the least bit fazed by the revelation. “I wouldn’t worry about it, my dear. Her Grace, the Duchess, should be happy her tyrannical husband does not stand a chance. And if the rumors are correct, I imagine Downsbury will still remain a cuckold and very much at the center of bets at White’s, as his duchess has been stringing around several lords.”
His wife gasped mockingly then giggled. “Oh my! She has certainly been a busy body, hasn’t she?”
“My dear, if there is nothing else of import, please let us gentlemen return to our game.”
“Certainly, My Lord.” She practically skipped away with the new information to gossip about.
Heartache swelled in Nathaniel’s chest. Lady Broxton’s announcement certainly explained much. Had he not been sent off via the war office’s command, and married poor Isabel as he had intended, he could have spared her this grief and embarrassment.
In fact, he found it quite shocking that society should take so much pleasure in observing and commenting on everyone’s lives as if they were a Greek tragedy or some ridiculous play at the theatre. Mocking and ridiculing, subtle but harsh, ruthless and relentless. The follies of those who took pleasure in another’s misery should be eternally punished.
Nevertheless, the more he pondered on the matter, the more he wanted to see Isabel and lift her spirits. Yet, he could not. She was above his station, and married, no less. It was bad enough his mother had many dinners planned and balls to attend.
The dowager had an agenda of marrying him and his sister off. However, no respectable peer would go near his dear, naïve, imprudent sister. Thus, the future of his family estate was now left entitled to him. To keep the other two women in his life content, in addition to this conundrum, would prove to be his greatest feat ever.
The game of whist lasted all of a half hour when Nathaniel excused himself from the gaming table, only to be met by his mother and sister on his way out.
“Where do you think you’re going, Nathaniel?”
“Nowhere of any import to you, Mama,” he whispered, removing her stiff hand from his wrist.
“Come, dear brother. I shall not be deprived of at least one dance.”
Nathaniel huffed, knowing what they were up to. “I think not. I have something I must do right now.”
“Pish posh, love. White’s is no place for a man in the marriage mart. Lord and Lady Sinclair’s ball is, and you’re leaving far too early!”
“I think not,” he repeated. And without giving either woman a second glance, he abandoned the ball to find out more about Brimley’s dealings with the Duchess of Downsbury.
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