Heiress Lady Moira Kirkwood will do anything it takes to marry a laird to take her north - far, far away from London and her domineering mother. Unfortunately, a pair of gentlemen overhear her jest about Scotland and compromising a fellow if necessary. Before the sun has risen the next day, Moira’s name and a scandalous wager have found themselves inside the infamous betting book at White’s. One penniless gentleman after another begs Gideon Baxter, Viscount Ainsely, for his assistance in wooing Lady Moira. Unfortunately, Gideon would like to woo the charming lady himself. If only she cared more for him than for the location of his estate, he’d could be assured of where her true feelings lie.
ONE Mr. Fiske bets Lord Alston fifty pounds that Lord Lydell will allow encourage be compromised by Lady Moira Kirkwood and be hauled off to Scotland before the end of the Season. ~ April 19, 1813 ***
Lady Moira Kirkwood stretched her arms above her head, opened her eyes, and immediately sat up. “Goodness, what time is it?” Beatrice, her maid, popped her head out of the armoire. “It is close to noon, Lady Moira, but I am not surprised you slept so late, last night being your first ball and all.” If Moira hadn’t insisted Beatrice not wait up for her, the maid would have known she hadn’t been out until the wee morning hours. In fact, she’d barely made an appearance at the Heathfields’ ball before her mother determined it was time to leave. The only friend she had seen was her dear friend, Pippa, Lady Philippa Casemore, and that was from across the vast ballroom. They’d barely shared a quick wave before her mother had pulled Moira away. Once what her mother deemed the most important introductions out of the way, Moira had hoped to find Miss Patience Findley and join Pippa, who seemed to be having a grand time, but her mother insisted on leaving. “It adds mystery,” Mother had insisted. Mystery? “This is my first ball. May I at least stay long enough for one dance?” “No, you may not.” And that was it. An hour after they had walked through the door, they were walking back out. Upon arriving home, her mother sent her to bed for a good night’s rest so that she wouldn’t develop wrinkles or bags or circles under her eyes. Instead of doing as she was told, which Moira rarely did, she made a list of the few eligible gentlemen who had made her acquaintance that evening. Unfortunately, they were all English. There had to be at least one Scotsman in London, with an estate close to Edinburgh, preferably. The Highlands would never do because they were far too remote. One must have access to a good modiste, a lending library, and a haberdashery if one was to survive so far away from friends and family. Once the list of English gentlemen was completed, she lay in bed reading until she was forced to put the book away at about the same time she should have been returning from the ball. Oh, why had her mother made her leave? How could she be a mystery to anyone if they didn’t even know she existed? It was all quite ridiculous, and Moira was certain she’d missed a grand time. It was so unfair that her friends had been allowed to dance and flirt while Moira had been in her chambers reviewing lists and reading. Had her sleeping chamber not been on the second floor, Moira might have snuck out and returned to the ball. Her brother was there, with his wife, and he could have acted as her chaperon. Except, there was no tree in which to lend assistance and besides, last time she’d used a tree outside a window as an escape, she’d fallen and injured her ankle. With the Season just beginning, Moira had no desire to suffer such a circumstance again and then be forced to miss even more balls. With any luck, her mother would no longer insist on Moira missing any of the events she and her friends were looking forward to attending, or she might just have to devise a plan for sneaking out so she didn’t miss a thing. Moira rose from her bed, walked to her desk, and picked up the list she had penned the night before. There were only five names, all titled gentlemen, or heirs, and none of them sounded even remotely Scottish. “The light blue will look lovely on you.” Moira glanced at the walking dress Beatrice laid out on the bed. Walking dress. She was to meet Pippa at the entrance of Hyde Park today! Excitement rushed through her being as she glanced at the clock again. Only two hours and then she’d be free. Pippa had probably stayed for the entire ball and no doubt could make introductions to all of the people she’d met and hopefully, Pippa would share what Moira anticipated were titillating tales from the night before. Oh, why couldn’t she have an old, lax guardian instead of her mother? A scratch at the door drew Moira’s attention. “Come.” Mary, another maid, popped her head inside the chambers. “Lord and Lady Hearne to see you, Lady Moira.” “Tell them I will be right down.” Why were her brother and sister-in-law here? “Have tea and cakes delivered, please. Lots of cakes.” Moira’s stomach grumbled because she was starving. Normally, she would have had her morning meal before now, but she’d make due with Cook’s delicious cakes and biscuits. “Very good.” Mary bobbed a quick curtsey and closed the door. Moira rushed through her toilette, without allowing Beatrice to do much with her hair except brush and pin it back before rushing to meet her brother and sister-in-law. Nyle and Alvina had been at the Heathfields’. Perhaps they would have stories to tell. “Moira Kirkwood, ladies do not run down the stairs. They do not appear below stairs without their hair being arranged and their clothing properly attired.” She skidded to a halt, her slippers carrying her a few extra feet on the marble floor, the moment she heard her mother’s voice. Moira glanced down at her gown. It was precisely what she’d planned on wearing to meet Pippa so why wasn’t it presentable enough for her own family? Oh, she so hated changing clothing three, four, five times a day. It was a terrible waste of time when one could be reading, shopping or simply enjoying a glorious day, as she intended to do in a few short hours Moira turned to face the woman who was the bane of her existence. “Alvina and Nyle are here. I wished to see them, and they don’t care how I’m dressed.” Her mother raised an eyebrow and looked down from the landing. Oh, she hated the censure and sometimes Moira felt that she’d suffered under such judgement since birth and would forever be a disappointment. Maybe if the woman wasn’t constantly trying to change her, Moira wouldn’t be so irritated with her. “What of other callers?” her mother asked. “They will care.” Moira suppressed a sigh. “There are no other callers, Mother, nor do I expect there to be any.” “Of course there will be callers,” her mother insisted. “You made quite an impression last evening. I expect they will be arriving within the hour.” How did one make an impression when barely a few words were spoken, and her outing had lasted all of sixty minutes in a room full of at least one hundred people? Her mother was daft. “Go upstairs and change into a morning gown, and have Beatrice do something with that hair of yours. Then you may visit with your brother and that wife of his.” Moira resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but she turned to do as her mother bade. Thank goodness Beatrice had a talent for arranging hair, and in short order.
“Explain to me why you would allow, encourage or otherwise be compromised by Miss Moira Kirkwood?” Gideon Waite, Viscount Ainsely, asked his former school mate whom he happened to run into at White’s. “I haven’t the foggiest. I’ve never even met the chit.” Peter Radburn, Marquess Lydell, leaned back in his chair. “And can a lady even compromise a gentleman? Isn’t it usually the other way around?” “Of course they can,” Gideon chuckled. “It happens all the time. Except, we call it being trapped into marriage. She encourages a stolen kiss in the moonlight, her father appears, and bachelorhood comes to an end.” “I suppose so,” Lydell shrugged. Mr. Jordan Trent pulled out a chair and joined the men at their table, then signaled for the footman and ordered a brandy before he focused on Lydell. “About this bet…” “I know nothing about it,” Lydell threw his hands up in defense. Gideon laughed. Lydell was rather private and the more he tried to go unnoticed, the more Society gossiped about him. Of course, it didn’t help that less than a sennight ago all of London had learned Lydell was in need of an heiress. Jordan grinned. “I do.” Both Gideon and Lydell leaned forward. “Fiske and Alston overheard Lady Moira speaking to Lady Hearne before the dowager Lady Hearne took her from Heathfields’ ball last night.” “Go on,” Lydell prompted when Jordan paused to take a drink from the glass just set before him. Jordan glanced at Gideon. “I should have known those two would make an issue of the young woman’s words.” “Jordan,” Lydell warned, running out of patience. Gideon had seen these two in similar conversations over the last ten years. The more Lydell wanted to know something, the longer Jordan took in the telling. “You were there too?” Gideon asked. Jordan turned to him. “I was right behind Lady Moira. Her mother had just glared at me. I don’t understand why mothers don’t like me. Have I ever ruined an innocent, spoke cruelly to a young lady? It is very disconcerting to be treated as a pariah when I have done nothing wrong.” Nothing wrong. The man was the very definition of rake, but what he said was true. Mothers hated him, and young debutantes adored him. “What did she say?” Lydell ground out. Jordan returned his attention to the much frustrated Lydell. “Before this Season is out, I will find a gentleman to take me to Scotland, even if I have to compromise him to do so." “Good God,” Gideon stammered. “Why the devil would she make such a statement?” “I don’t know,” Jordan shrugged. “Is it her appearance? Does she think no gentleman will offer for her, so she’d best hie off to Gretna before he changes his mind?” Lydell prompted. “No, I don’t think so. In fact, she was rather pretty.” Lydell sighed with annoyance. “Why was my name put in the betting book then? If she didn’t name me, why was the bet made at all?” “Her dowry.” Jordan leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Twenty thousand pounds.” Gideon sat back and whistled. The amount of the chit’s dowry would have every destitute and non-destitute gentleman on her doorstep as soon as the news spread. “Where did you come by this information?” “Her brother, Hearne. And he was none too happy after reading the wager in the betting book a short time ago."