That Kind Of Woman
by Paula Reed
Barnes & Noble
"Just tell me why! Why is it that you could break every rule for my brother, but you cannot bend a single one for me?"
Upon the death of his older brother, suddenly Andrew Carrington has everything he never asked for: the title of Earl of Danford, a once-sweet daughter turned rebel, a rakehell younger brother-and the temptation of his late brother's exquisite widow under his roof. It was scandalous enough when the late earl married the bastard daughter of a duke and his outrageous mistress, but if anyone were to learn the even more shocking secret Miranda Carrington holds, it would hurt everyone she loves, including handsome, take-charge Andrew-the Carrington brother she wishes she had met first…
Chapter 1-Summer 1811
"The poor, poor dowager countess," Lady Worthington said, though her small eyes gleamed with malice. She smoothed the skirt of a peach muslin gown that did not suit her advancing years and scanned the crowded drawing room. When her gaze fell on a heavy woman dressed in black and frowning deeply, Lady Worthington sighed dramatically. "I cannot imagine how she must feel, to see one of the Henley Harlots take her place as Countess of Danford."
"Mortifying, that's what it is," one of her friends replied. "She is brave to keep up such a front. Leave it to the Duke of Montheath to host such an extravagant reception for such a scandalous wedding!" She took a sip of champagne, swallowing slowly and savoring the fine wine so expensive in wartime.
"Well, Lord Danford is not her own child, and one has so little influence over stepchildren. Still, for him to have married so low. . ." Lady Worthington said.
Miranda Carrington, Countess of Danford, sipped champagne behind them, listening to the women criticize her ascension as the bride of George Carrington, Earl of Danford. Her face betrayed nothing; she had certainly overheard people discussing her before. Today's conversation was nearly complimentary in comparison.
"How long do you suppose it will take for her to cuckold Lord Danford?" another woman asked.
"She's a Cyprian, just like her mother," Lady Worthington snapped. "It is in her blood. The question is not how long, but whom. No one's husband or sons are safe."
"I have managed to resist both your son's and your husband's charms thus far, Lady Worthington," Miranda said. The group of women pivoted to face her. "Although both have offered me a king's ransom for my favors. I do not see my answer to either of them changing, simply because I have married."
The three women accompanying Lady Worthington had the grace to appear abashed at having been overheard, but Lady Worthington smiled serenely. She tilted her head and gave Miranda's pristine gown of ivory muslin and her perfectly coifed chestnut hair a scornful perusal. "You have no need of a wealthy provider now, do you, Miranda Henley?"
"Nor have I ever, and you may call me Lady Danford."
Lady Worthington pursed her lips, and her eyes slid to the corner, where Lord Montheath, Miranda's father, stood with a group of nobles. To a man, they vied for the powerful duke's attention. Miranda saw the cold calculation in the older woman's eyes. Doubtless she was weighing just how far she dared to push.
The desire to come out on top at this particular moment must have won, for she looked back at Miranda and said, "The by-blow of a duke is a by-blow all the same. The fact that he flaunts you and your tawdry mother hardly makes you Quality."
"You have me there. After all, no one could hope to supercede you, a bitch of the very best breeding." Miranda lifted her glass in mock salute.
The other women gasped, but Lady Worthington remained unfazed. "You even speak like a demimondaine."
Miranda took another sip of champagne. "You should know, surely having encountered such women in the hall outside your husband's chamber. Do have some champagne, Lady Worthington. It is my wedding day, and I would never have it said I was remiss in my duties at this little fête."
She nodded to Lady Worthington's three silent toadeaters, all titled matrons, and moved through the crowd gathered for her "little fête." As she wended her way through the opulent drawing room toward her groom, she accepted a half-dozen insincere congratulations on her marriage with all the grace and dignity of a swan among geese. It was, indeed, her wedding day, and she refused to allow anything to dampen her mood. People could think whatever they liked, but Miranda was genuinely fond of George. She had no doubt they would live together in calm contentment on his country estates, far from the London crowds they both hated.
That mutual scorn for Society was what had made Miranda's father so certain she and George would suit each other and the reason he had introduced them. True, George was considerably older than Miranda, but she had instantly liked his gentle and unassuming manner. That there seemed to be little passion between them didn't worry her. Until she had met George, passion had been the chief interest of most of the men she had met, to the exclusion of all else. It was refreshing to be with a man who spoke of literature and art with true depth and appreciation.
Alas, their planned retreat to the country would not happen for several more days. Since they had met and become engaged in London during the Season, both their families had insisted the nuptials be celebrated there, as well. Barbara Henley, Miranda's mother, had considered the match between her daughter and an earl a personal triumph. She was hardly going to allow the coup de grâce to be delivered privately. Also, George had wanted his family to attend, and all of them were in Town for the Season, with the exception of his brother Andrew, who was on the Continent, engaging Napoleon's forces.
At the moment, George was talking to Andrew's young daughter, Emma. They both looked splendid. George wore snug trousers and a dark jacket, his glorious head of graying brown hair framing a face that was aging well. Emma was a beautiful blond girl of twelve. Thrilled to have been allowed to attend the celebration breakfast after the morning wedding, she had chosen a sweet gown of palest pink. But Emma was not always as sweet as she looked. Above the din of the crowd, Miranda could hear a note of complaint in the girl's voice, and she crossed her arms, looking like she was preparing for a good, long pout.
George's stepmother, Letitia, Dowager Countess of Danford and Emma's guardian, hovered nearby with her lips tightly pursed. She looked ignominiously dignified in the black mourning gown that swathed her substantial form, despite the fact her husband had died years ago. If anyone was uncouth enough to ask her opinion, she explained that she certainly hadn't encouraged Danford's outrageous decision.
Miranda set her empty champagne glass onto the silver tray of a passing butler, only to have a full one pressed almost immediately into her empty hand.
"Have another, my lady," Henry Carrington said with an easy grin, and Miranda's face finally relaxed into a genuine smile.
"How many have you had, Henry?"
"Who's counting?" George's half-brother, Henry, was an extraordinarily handsome boy in a flawlessly cut jacket and skin-tight trousers, which gave him the appearance of someone rather older than his eighteen years. He lifted his glass to her. "George has wonderful taste-in wine and women."
Miranda tsked him lightly. "Your mother will have a fit if she sees you over here being so pleasant to me. She can wash her hands of Danford's folly for he isn't her own, but I rather imagine she would prefer I not corrupt her little boy."
Henry gave his head a little shake, tossing back the lock of light brown hair falling over his brow in careful carelessness. He had a paler version of George's thick hair, but where George's eyes were dark green, Henry's were hazel. His face was rounder, too; further evidence they shared only a father.
"She'd have me on leading strings if she could. I've dallied with women far more scandalous than you, sister dear."
"Well, it's good to know that someone besides George is willing to acknowledge me as family."
Henry tossed his head again. "Lud, you'd think everyone would be relieved that old George has finally taken a bride, and a diamond of the first water."
"Some might suggest he has been taken by a gem made of paste."
He gave her an appreciative grin. "Perhaps you'd bear closer scrutiny, then. Oh, my, Mama's glaring daggers. I believe I'll make myself scarce. Don't let her intimidate you, my lady. You'll be a perfect countess." With a little wave, he dashed off to join a group of old school chums.
Henry was far from the first man to suggest Miranda allow him a closer look at her, but he spoke without the jaded lasciviousness to which she was far too accustomed. Instead of feeling sullied, she easily brushed the comment off. Lord Henry was scarcely more than a child, a full four years younger than Miranda.
She set the full glass on another passing tray and resumed picking her way across the room when she saw George's face light with joy. She smiled in return, but her expression faded when she realized he was looking past her.
"Andy!" he called out. "Over here!"
Miranda stopped, and her eyes followed the path her new husband's had taken.
"George! Good God, I only just arrived, and the first thing I hear is I've missed your wedding. What's all this?"
Major Andrew Carrington crossed the room in long, easy strides, the crowd moving respectfully out of his way. The scarlet jacket and gray trousers of his army uniform clung smartly to broad shoulders and trim hips. His russet hair was neatly trimmed, but like George and Henry, one errant lock fell across his brow. A portrait of him, painted just before he had left for Portugal, hung in the Carrington's townhouse, but he looked older in person. His face was leaner, the skin around his eyes more deeply etched with lines. George was the elder by ten years, evidenced by the touch of frost in his hair, but he and Andrew looked closer in the face.
"Father!" Emma cried and launched herself into his arms. Major Carrington stiffened for a moment, then hugged her close.
"Don't you look like a perfect little lady?" he said, pushing her an arm's length away. "Did your governess help you dress?"
Emma scowled. "She was a perfect fright!"
Major Carrington straightened up, inspecting her as Miranda supposed he must inspect his troops when they had displeased him. He clasped his hands behind his back and raised his chin to look down upon her.
The dowager countess bustled over. "Honestly, Andrew, if you would hire a governess with an ounce of compassion . . ."
"Emma would eat her for breakfast! How long did this one last?"
Emma pouted. "You're spoiling the party, Father."
Miranda stood at the front edge of the crowd gathering around the new arrival and his family. She sighed as she watched the exchange. Everyone had been expecting some sort of scene. With any luck, this would be the worst of it. It would give the gossips something to talk about besides the fact that the dowager Lady Danford had worn mourning clothes.
"Randa, dear," George called to her. "Look who's home!"
She put on her brightest smile and stepped into the circle. "Yes, I see. Major Carrington, how fortuitous that you should have arrived this morning."
Major Carrington looked away from his daughter and straight at Miranda, and for a moment she forgot to breathe. He looked like a younger version of George in the purely physical sense, with striking green eyes and thick hair, but there was something entirely different about him. Something rock-solid and self-possessed in his demeanor, something worldly in his eyes. Where George was gentle and modest, Major Carrington radiated command and confidence.
For the first time that day, Miranda faltered. If Major Carrington decided to make a scene about his brother's marriage, the whole thing would be ruined. Her marriage, the one thing that might give her a shred of legitimacy, would become only another sham, like her father's intractable insistence that she and her mother act as his family, when he already had a real one. George could have cared less about the opinions of his stepmother and half-brother, but his full brother meant the world to him.
Major Carrington bowed. "Lady Danford. I do not believe we have met."
As Miranda stepped forward and held out her hand, George chimed in. "This is Miranda-Henley, until this morning."
Major Carrington's eyes widened momentarily, but he only bowed again over her hand. "The Duke of Montheath's daughter. I had heard you were quite lovely, but the rumors hardly did you justice. My brother may have waited well into his life to marry, but it seems it was worth the wait."
Miranda's smile widened, and she nodded to him. "You are too kind, Major Carrington." In the instant before he released her hand, she noticed his fingers were callused, entirely different from the soft, pampered hands of most nobles.
The Duke of Montheath's daughter. He had said the entire phrase without that nasty little pause that most insisted on. The Duke of Montheath's . . . daughter. The Duke of Montheath's bastard daughter. She sighed with relief, despite the half-whispers of the people around her as they passed along the disappointing news of Major Carrington's decidedly mild reaction.
"Just like her mother, you know," said one.
"If a man of Montheath's power and wealth can fall for Barbara Henley's wiles, why, it's no wonder that Danford and the major might be taken in by the daughter," proclaimed another.
"Major Carrington is only relieved that Danford has finally married. He would accept anyone, even a Henley," came the reply.
Major Carrington appeared oblivious to the discussion. He congratulated George and offered Miranda his best wishes before his daughter commanded his attention.
"How long shall you be home?" she asked, tugging at his coat. "Not long enough to hire another frightful nursemaid, I hope. I'm too old for one, you know."
"Ah, Emma, you make me feel so welcome when I come home," he replied.
"You can take me for a walk in the park and wear your uniform, and you should be most welcome. More welcome still if you'll promise not to hire another nursemaid."
"Governess, Emma, and you are precisely the right age for one of those."
Emma turned to Miranda. "Did you have a governess?"
Miranda nodded. "I did indeed. Let me see, we lived in Vienna most of my twelfth year, so Frau Werner would have been with us then. I seem to recall she was very strict, but occasionally fascinating."
Emma's eyes sparkled. "Oh, I should think that anyone could be fascinating on the Continent! But not in France. I shall never set foot in France."
"A shame," Miranda said. "Paris is lovely in the spring."
Emma turned back to her father. "Isn't she wonderful? She's been just everywhere, and when she was no older than me."
"'Than I,'" Major Carrington corrected. "Perhaps, when we've gotten the best of Napoleon, I shall take you across the Channel. For now, you must settle for an English governess and learn all you can about the places you wish to go."
Emma sighed and begged off to visit with her friends. Men pressed forward, seeking the very latest information on the war, and Major Carrington told them what he could in clipped tones.
George was beaming happily, and Miranda had to smile, too. Henry and Emma liked her, Major Carrington seemed to approve, or at least, he didn't openly disapprove. With time, Letitia, the dowager, might come around. Miranda would have a family all her very own. She and George would live on the family estate, and everyone would visit at Christmas. Emma would come, and Henry would one day bring a bride. Once the war was over, Andrew might remarry, as well. The house would be filled with little cousins playing and quarreling.
And her mother would come, too. She had settled this with George before she accepted his proposal. Montheath's mistress and daughter would never again spend Christmas alone while he went to his country estate to be with his wife and sons.
George slipped his arm hesitantly around Miranda's waist. "Have you eaten?"
"Not yet. There are so many people here."
He looked around and said softly, "None who wish to be. It was your father's influence that brought them, I suppose."
A painful truth, but it meant much to Miranda that George was so honest. She had had more than enough make-believe in her life. "And at my mother's insistence he use that influence. Shall we take our breakfast in the garden? Our absence will allow our guests to malign us more freely."
He smiled at her. "Have I told you how fortunate I am? Let me fetch the food. I'll be out in a moment."
Andrew watched his brother escort his bride from the drawing room and nodded distractedly at the man with whom he was conversing. In truth, he was hardly paying attention. Miranda Henley. He hadn't thought to ask the name of the new countess. When he had disembarked and been told George had wed only that morning, Andrew had dashed home to get the details. She was exquisite and gracious. She would do George proud.
Letitia drew him away from his acquaintance and huffed indignantly. "I have no idea what possessed Danford."
Andrew regarded his father's plump, soft-faced widow with a mix of irritation and fondness. "He and Montheath are old friends, Lettie. It is not so shocking."
"Not shocking? Season after Season has come and gone, and nothing could move George to come and seek a bride. That girl has been on the market for years. Even Montheath's power and wealth couldn't secure her a husband of the caliber her mother sought, and then he foists her off on poor George. What kind of a friend is that?"
"She's beautiful and, from what I have seen in these few minutes, refined and poised. He could have done far worse."
"She is the daughter of Montheath's mistress!"
Andrew searched the room and spied Montheath and Barbara Henley talking together in the corner. "Easy to see where the new Lady Danford gets her looks."
Barbara Henley had been Montheath's mistress for twenty-five years, but at forty-one years old, she looked more like Miranda's older sister than her mother. Her gown of ruby red set her apart from all the pale pastels surrounding her, and her chestnut hair was only just beginning to show signs of gray. Montheath, on the other hand, was approaching sixty and had hair of pure silver. Whatever he and Barbara did, it kept him in good shape, for he was as fit as any of the younger men in attendance.
"The entire thing is a disgrace!" Letitia snapped.
Andrew's gaze went from the scandalous couple to his child giggling with a group of girls her own age. Glad to change the subject, but wishing it were on to more pleasant things, he said, "Another governess, Lettie?"
Letitia's eyes followed his. "She is a very spirited child, Andrew."
"In need of a firm hand."
"I am doing the best I can. Poor darling. With no mother and you traipsing around France . . ."
"God forbid you should die, too."
He gave her a humorless grin. "I quite agree. But she has you, and George would take her in if necessary. Now that he has a wife it is all the better. If they weren't newlyweds I might ask them to take Emma off your hands."
"To be raised by her? What would Caroline have thought?"
But Caroline wasn't there. Sometimes it was hard to believe it had been four years since her death. "She would have wanted whatever was best for Emma."
Lettie's eyes misted, and Andrew felt the sting of a guilty conscience. "That didn't sound right. You've been a saint, Lettie. Emma and I would have been lost without you. But you said it yourself, she's a spirited girl, and you allow her far too much rein. You do the same with Henry. He needs discipline."
"If you had ever actually tried to be a father, you might have some notion how difficult children can be. Henry will be fine. He's young."
It was pointless to argue. Lettie simply didn't have the knack for command. He would remedy the situation himself if he did not have obligations to England that superceded the ones he had to his family. It didn't help that both Lettie and Emma seemed to think he had left them on his own initiative!
The crowd around him felt oppressive, and he knew if he lingered more people would begin to press in around him asking about the war. He lived, ate, slept, and breathed the damned war. The last thing he needed was to relive its horrors for the entertainment of the ton at parties. He moved swiftly toward the French doors that opened out into the garden, blatantly ignoring acquaintances who called out to him, and the gossip shifted from the scandal of the wedding to the oddness of so many of the men who returned from battle.
"It is as if they forget their manners!"
"It is all anyone talks about, but when the men who know all the latest come home, you cannot pry out a single detail."
Only the other men who had fought understood, and they remained silent, because it was impossible to explain.
Miranda sat on a stone bench in the garden, breathing in the sweet scent of roses and fertile earth. George did not tend to the small garden behind the townhouse, as he did the one at Danford, but he had hired the best gardener in London. He was taking a while to fetch breakfast, and she could only assume he had been waylaid by a guest. She straightened a little when Major Carrington came through the French doors instead.
"It is a lovely day," he said. "How odd that no one else is out here to enjoy it."
Miranda shrugged lightly. "I have stepped out here myself as a courtesy-to allow my guests the chance to speak more freely among themselves."
He paused halfway between the house and Miranda. "They don't work very hard to keep their spiteful remarks from you, do they?"
"They never have. I appreciate what you did in there."
"What did I do?"
She smiled. "You know very well. You met me and treated me no differently than you would one of the Season's most prized debutantes."
Andrew shook his head and closed the distance. "I treated you quite differently. Seldom can I stand any of the Season's most prized debutantes. You're very-forthright-aren't you?"
"We harlots' daughters lack polish."
He had to chuckle at the absurdity of the comment. As little time as he spent in London, even he had heard of Montheath's illegitimate daughter. Montheath had claimed her from the very beginning, turning his back on London and traveling abroad with his mistress and their child. Every year, just before Christmas, he returned to his wife and sons, but at the first opportunity, he would hasten back across the channel to Barbara Henley's bed. Raised on the Continent, Miranda was rumored to be fluent in several languages. Apparently she had also inherited her father's love of music, and while the ton might ridicule her birth, they were forced to begrudgingly admire her fine voice and talent for the piano and violin.
One eyebrow raised, he said, "All those rough edges from your youth abroad."
"It was not as genteel as you might imagine. I was raised by servants, but often sang and played music for royals, nobles, exiles, and courtesans. My parents had a rather eclectic group of friends and very unusual notions of how to raise a child."
Andrew paused a moment before saying, "Then I suppose the Continent has left a few rough edges on us both."
Miranda studied the faraway look in his eyes. He had the air of a man who had burdens of his own, who, like her, felt somehow not a part of the world occupied by the guests inside.
"I shouldn't want too much polish," she said. "One loses oneself when one can only reflect the images of others."
Andrew had to resist the impulse to sit next to her on the little bench. The desire left him feeling slightly uneasy with his own motives. "So, Montheath brought you home when you came of age and presented you to Society, bestowing upon you a dowry that would make the most avaricious man content for a long time."
Miranda stood up, tired of craning her neck to look at him. Her coming out had been a farce instigated at her mother's insistence. Barbara had hoped her worldly daughter would be the belle of every ball. Of course, both Barbara and Miranda were snubbed by every matron of any consequence. Fathers sat their sons down over glasses of port and explained that, while Montheath's bastard was beautiful and accomplished, she was not marriage material. Then those same fathers went into competition with those very sons, offering her various "lucrative and mutually beneficial arrangements."
"Montheath was very realistic from the beginning," she explained. "The dowry monies and house were mine, whether I married or not. He fully intended to make sure that I never took a lover out of financial necessity."
"Like your mother?"
"I do not discuss my parents' relationship with anyone."
He nodded. "Fair enough. Why marry at all, then?"
"For the very best of reasons. George and I want the same things from life. Money doesn't matter to either of us, although I am sensible enough to admit that is probably because we both have enough. We hate London Society and all the backbiting and posturing that comes with it. I love to make music, and he loves to listen to it. I want a house full of children, and he needs an heir."
Standing so close to her, Andrew could see that her skin was truly flawless. She didn't use a trace of cosmetics to create the becoming tint in her cheeks. Her eyes were the color of strongly brewed tea and fringed by thick lashes. The scent of roses that filled his nostrils came as much from her skin as from the flowers in the garden.
She hadn't mentioned love, but he could well imagine it must have been George's motive in this match. From all evidence, Miranda appeared an engagingly honest, intelligent, and breathtaking young woman. Although George had been a confirmed bachelor of forty-six, he must have been completely swept away.
Which was a tremendous relief, because he had begun to wonder whether George might not be immune to every woman alive.
"Do you care for him?" he asked.
Miranda didn't hesitate in her reply. "Very much. He is a very kind man, your brother. One of the kindest I have ever met, but I don't suppose I need to tell you."
Before Andrew could reply, George came through the doors with two servants in tow, one with a breakfast tray, the other with tea. A third and fourth followed quickly behind to set up two chairs and a small table, covering it with a white cloth.
"There should have been tables already set up out here," George said. "Lettie should be more exacting with the help." He turned to one of the butlers. "Bring out another chair and something for Major Carrington to eat."
"I shouldn't stay. I'm here on military business…"
"And it can wait while you celebrate with your brother. Sit. Eat." George held out a chair for Miranda and offered his brother his own. "Take my breakfast, too. I'll eat whatever Lettie's man brings out. How are you?"
Andrew had to admire George's selflessness. He looked genuinely concerned about Andrew, virtually ignoring his new wife, while Andrew himself seemed to be having the hardest time keeping his eyes off her. If it were his wedding day, and he had found such a beautiful bride, he would have been creating a thousand excuses to touch her, look at her.
Well, that was George. As the oldest, he had always looked after Andrew. Later, he had done the same for Henry, before their father died and Lettie moved to London with her son.
And George's innocent question, How are you?, had become such a difficult one. "Fine" was a bald-faced lie and a gross injustice to the men he had lost, but anything else was inappropriate on his brother's wedding day.
"Fine. Fine. Even better to come home to this. Congratulations again."
George rested his fingers lightly on Miranda's hand. She slid it out from under them to pick up her fork. "Look, George, another chair and plate."
As the servants settled George with his food, and Andrew explained that he was home to review and brief a new squadron that would ship out soon, Miranda stared at her plate and pushed her food around with her fork.
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