Caught up in a scandal of her father’s making, Jane is now an outcast in the society that once prized her refinement. When Lord Benjamin Marworth offers to help redeem her good name, she leaps at the chance.
Too bad his plan requires her very public demise.
To the ton, Benjamin is a dandy and a rake, but that’s merely a convenient disguise to spy for the Crown. Can he save both England and Jane by faking her death and reincarnating her as a French cousin who can ferret out the stolen war secrets he needs? Or will she discover Benjamin’s own dark secrets in the end?
It’s a proposition steeped in scandal if they’re caught — but love just might be worth the risk.
Sensuality Level: Sensual
“With plenty of historical details and a dash of wry humor, LeMense weaves a clever story of deception and intrigue without skimping on the heady emotions or chemistry between her characters. Their banter, wit, and achingly touching scenes between them toward the story’s end provide a perfect counterpoint to the adventure they undertake and will leave readers hoping for further adventures!” — RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
Julie lives in Pennsylvania in a grand old Gilded Age home, where history surrounds her and ghosts from the past sneak their way into her stories.
An excerpt from Once Upon a Scandal:
June 16, 1813
One young lady, going astray, will subject her relations to such discredit and distress as the united good conduct of all her brothers and sisters. —Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women
It was a miserable day by anyone’s measure, unseasonably cold, with rain just beginning to fall and thunder rolling across a darkening sky. As Jane burrowed deeper into her black, woolen cloak, a sigh escaping the tight line of her lips, she decided the weather was well-suited to the occasion. That was her father, after all, boxed up in a casket and being lowered into the ground. At least her veil hid the fact that she wasn’t crying.
Not that anyone was there to notice. Despite having passed only two days ago, Lord Reginald Fitzsimmons had been dead to the world these past nine months, an outcast in Society, a scandal. The wages of sin and all of that. When you maligned a war hero and tried to compromise the girl he loved in the process, you were not well-liked. And his passing had made him all the more shameful.
He’d died in a pool of his own blood outside London’s most hardened gaming hell, either murdered for his winnings or set upon for sport. The Bow Street Runners hadn’t even mounted an investigation. As if she’d needed a reminder he would not be missed.
Nor would she be, if some unfortunate accident happened to befall her. She was all but invisible now, just like her father, a pariah in the Society that had once prized her. Such a paragon she’d been, no less than the founding patron of The Ladies Auxiliary to Improve Manners and Morals. How amusing to remember a time when friends did not cross to the opposite side of a street as she neared.
She shook her head to clear it. She was not only being maudlin, but also unfair. Not all of them crossed the street. Nor was she entirely alone. Sir Aldus Rempley, Father’s only remaining friend, was here at the graveyard too, a small act of kindness, even if he was a good distance away. Beside another grave entirely, as a matter of fact. Far enough away that no one would see him offering his last respects to a rogue.
Just yesterday, he’d sent a note promising to call, along with a bank draft to settle the burial’s expenses. She should have refused it, of course, but she could no longer afford her pride. The reading of Father’s will had made that abundantly clear. He’d gambled away almost everything in the long, final months of his disgrace.
A cough sounded, recalling her attention to the two men waiting with shovels nearby, the grave diggers, clearly restless. Waiting for the minister to finish, so they too could finish, covering Father’s casket with the dirt piled beside it. Returning him to the earth, and ultimately to dust.
She wished the cleric would get on with it. What was the point of praying for absolution when there was none to be had? Besides, the rain was starting to come down in earnest now, pooling in the dirt, sending streams of muddy water into the pit where Father lay. She could feel it seeping into her cloak and through the leather of her serviceable boots. How she envied the enclosed carriage that had just stopped at the edge of the graveyard. The walk home would be interminable. Perhaps the loneliest she’d ever undertaken.
With a dull sense of detachment, she watched as a postilion jumped down, umbrella in hand, to open the carriage door. A man with a multi-tiered greatcoat stepped out, though she couldn’t make out his features at this distance. He took the umbrella and turned towards her, coming forward with long strides, moving like a shadow through the descending darkness.
Was he here for someone else? She looked behind her, but even Sir Aldus had departed now. Turning back, she lifted her veil, the better to see the stranger’s approach, and her breath caught. How quickly he had come upon her. Benjamin Alden, the Viscount Marworth. It made no sense he was here.
“I am sorry I did not arrive for the start, Miss Fitzsimmons,” he said, his voice hushed. “Please accept my sympathies for your loss.”
For a moment, she didn’t know what to say. He had come here, in the pouring rain, to pay his respects when they were only acquaintances. She ought to be touched—moved even—but instead, she was suspicious. Because Marworth was one of those other people, the kind who’d been born under a perfect alignment of the stars. Parties in Society weren’t counted a success until his arrival. When he wore a new style of waistcoat, men raced to their tailors for the same. And he was almost painfully handsome—blond, with the bluest of eyes and classically sculpted, symmetrical features. The man moved seamlessly through life, encased in a nimbus of perfection. Even the minister had stopped his droning, struck no doubt by the appearance of a seemingly celestial being.