The Unlikely Lady
Playful Brides Series, Book 3
FOR THE BACHELOR AND THE BLUESTOCKING…
Certain that no man wants a bluestocking for a wife, Miss Jane Lowndes is careful to wield her books and her spectacles as weapons against matrimony. Convincing her ambitious mama that she’s content to stay a spinster is easier said than done, however. It’s a good thing Jane is not above a bit of manufactured scandal if it will keep her from the altar, and the argumentative, contrary
Lord Garrett Upton…
ROMANCE IS NEVER BY THE BOOK
With the war over, Garrett is determined to enjoy his bachelor’s life while he can, even when it means attending a house party in celebration of a friend’s wedding—and suffering Jane’s notorious disdain. But when a masquerade ball leads to a mistaken kiss, he’s surprised to learn that Jane’s bookish exterior hides a truly passionate soul. When two such headstrong people are determined to remain unattached, can love lead to a happy ending?
Read an Excerpt
London, April 1816
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mrs. Cat, show yourself and let’s get this over with, shall we?” Jane Lowndes wiped the dark, wet hair from her eyes. It was raining. Hard. The downpour had begun nearly five minutes ago and she’d been standing outside the mews behind her father’s town house for nearly ten.
Oh, Jane could live with the rain herself. Who cared about hair or clothing being ruined? She could even stand the fact that her spectacles were foggy. But her book was getting wet and that was not acceptable. She’d tucked the leather-bound volume under her arm as best she could while she balanced a wooden bowl in her hands, but she truly needed to get the book inside and dry it by the fire.
Jane squinted into the gray mist. A soft meow signaled the arrival of the cat. The brown, mangy-looking animal must have heard her. The cat came running along the stone wall at the far side of the stables heading straight toward Jane. Apparently, even rain wasn’t enough to keep the feline from her free meal.
“There you are.” A soft smile touched Jane’s lips, despite her best efforts to stifle it. She didn’t want to smile at this cat. She didn’t want to be responsible for it at all, really, rain or shine. She’d noticed the thing a fortnight ago when she’d come to the mews after a mount to ride in the park, and then she’d had the misfortune to go and discover that the cat had kittens of all things. She’d seen one of the furry little things peeking from behind a bush in the alley, obviously awaiting her mother’s return. A lone cat was one thing, but kittens were another matter entirely. Add to that the mama cat’s scrawniness and obvious hunger, and Jane couldn’t stop herself from making a trip to the kitchens to request a bowl of scraps.
Two weeks later and she and Mrs. Cat had a standing appointment here every morning. Today was the first time it had begun raining while Jane waited. She’d have to remember to leave her book inside next time.
Jane stooped and set the bowl near the wall, remaining in a crouched position. The cat licked her lips and charged toward it, hungrily plunging her face into the meal and gobbling.
“My, you’re a greedy one.” Jane shook her head slightly. “Reminds me of the manner in which I used to eat when I was a child.” Jane laughed. “I suppose I must continue to feed you so you can keep those babies healthy, but you certainly don’t make it easy for me arriving late in the rain.”
She patted the cat’s head, ignoring her thoughts of fleas or worse. She’d promptly wipe her hands as soon as she returned to the comfort of the house.
“How are the kittens?” Jane asked, raindrops sliding down her nose.
The cat’s only answer was more hungry smacking.
“I imagine you’re quite busy,” Jane continued, readjusting her book under her arm. “I don’t envy you. Having to keep food on the, er, table for your children with nary a paw lifted from Mr. Cat, I presume.”
The cat continued to eat, steadfastly ignoring her provider.
Jane clucked her tongue. “I completely understand. Exactly why I intend to remain unattached and further the cause of women in Society, Mrs. Cat. Just like Mary Wollstonecraft.”
The cat paused and eyed her askance, her green eyes narrowed, as if she understood what Jane had said.
Jane hiked her eyebrows. “I know what you’re thinking. Mary Wollstonecraft was married. I know. Of course I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to be. I rather think I’ll accomplish much more for the cause if I’m not distracted by a man and his children.”
The cat looked up from her meal and blinked at her. Was that judgment in the cat’s eyes? Had this cat become acquainted with Jane’s mother? Jane swiped the rain from her spectacles.
“Speaking of marriage,” Jane continued, as the cat returned to concentrating on her breakfast. “My friend Cass is getting married and I am leaving today for the country to attend the wedding. I won’t be around for a bit.”
The cat swished her tail.
“Don’t blame me,” Jane went on. “I couldn’t talk her out of it. It seems Cass is madly in love with Julian and some people apparently are meant to be together forever. Lucy seems to think so, too, and Lucy, of course, is a duchess now as a result of falling in love.” The last three words were uttered with a fair bit of mockery.
“But don’t worry,” Jane said. “I’ve asked Anna, the cook’s assistant, to check on you while I’m gone. She’s promised to bring you all the best scraps and—”
“Miss Jane?” Anna’s voice came floating through the rain and fog.
Jane quickly stood and turned toward the sound. “Anna, is that you?”
Anna soon materialized around the side of the mews. She held a newspaper over her head to shield herself from the rain as she squinted through the fog. “Miss Jane?” She stopped when she saw Jane. “There you are. I thought I might find you out here. Your mother is looking for you. She and Eloise are turning up the house searching.”
Eloise was Jane’s lady’s maid. The poor woman was often taken to task if Jane’s mother couldn’t find her only child. “I’d better get back quickly then. Poor Eloise. Good-bye, Mrs. Cat. I’ll see you when I return. And I hope to see your kittens fat and healthy. Anna, here, will take good care of you. Won’t you, Anna?”
Anna’s smile spread across her plump cheeks. “Of course, Miss.”
The cat lifted its head and blinked.
Anna readjusted the paper atop her head. “Miss, I heard your mother tell Eloise it’s quite important that she and your father speak with you before you leave for the house party.”
Jane scrunched up her nose. Drat. An audience with her mother was never a good thing and if she was dragging Papa into it, it was serious. “I wonder what she wishes to discuss.”
Anna stooped down and patted the cat on the head. “I heard her say something about Mrs. Bunbury.”
Jane gulped. “Mrs. Bunbury?”
“Yes. She is your new chaperone, isn’t she, Miss?”
Jane blinked rapidly. “Yes. Yes, she is.” Jane, the book still cradled under her arm, broke into a decidedly unladylike sprint back toward the house, heedless of the water splashing onto her skirts from the many puddles in the courtyard.
Mrs. Bunbury was indeed her new chaperone. The chaperone who would be accompanying her to Cass’s wedding house party in Surrey. If her mother wanted to discuss Mrs. Bunbury, there might well be trouble.
For Mrs. Bunbury didn’t exist.