“Come on, Lavinia,” Cora urged as they stood outside the house. “It’s nothing to be worried about. Just go in there and start talking to people.”
“It’s not as easy as that, Cora,” Lavinia protested. She wiped her hands on her skirts. Why did they have to be so clammy now? “I can’t just walk in and start talking.”
“Of course you can! It’s not that difficult.” Cora sighed and shook her head. “Really, you need to get out of your shyness and find some courage. It’s not that difficult.”
Lavinia frowned at her cousin.
“You won’t be thinking the same thing when you enter Society properly,” she said. “I’m surprised that you’ve managed to get an invitation when you haven’t been properly introduced.”
“It’s only three months until I’m seventeen. Father decided that I should use this as an opportunity to enter Society now.” Cora shrugged. “It’s only a few months, nothing more.”
Lavinia hadn’t heard about that. But she had been rather distracted lately. It had only been just over a year since her mother had passed away after being sick for so long. She had just come out of the appropriate mourning period, and Lavinia felt like she wasn’t ready. Yes, she had missed coming out last year, but she couldn’t delay it any longer. Her father wanted her to enter Society properly.
The thought of doing that, especially without her mother by her side, left her full of panic. Even with her cousin by her side, she was still struggling. How could she go into a ball when she was feeling like this?
Lavinia wanted to go home.
“Look, it’s not going to be that bad. I promise.” Cora took Lavinia’s hand, giving her a gentle smile. “You’re going to meet some nice people, and you’re going to enjoy yourself. I know you will.”
“You’re very optimistic when you haven’t met any of these people yourself.”
“Well, someone must be, and I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now.” Cora bounced on the soles of her feet. “I’m surprised you’re not excited about it. You like to socialise when we’re spending time together.”
“That’s when we’re at home,” Lavinia reminded her. “I’m with people I’ve known for years, and I’m very comfortable with. There’s a big difference between this and that!”
“And you know you can do it. Just pretend you’ve known everyone for years.”
“Wouldn’t that be a little rude?”
Cora huffed and rolled her eyes.
“Look, we can’t stay out here all evening. The weather is lovely, but Uncle David said that he wanted you to come here and meet people. You have to enter Society at some point.”
Lavinia gritted her teeth. That was a point of contention between her and her father. He was devastated about losing his wife, but it was like he had bounced back from mourning her faster than Lavinia. Her brother and sister were still struggling, but they didn’t have to be introduced for their first Season so soon after. It would be awhile before Josiah was doing what Lavinia was meant to be doing.
She was beginning to wish she was four years old, then she wouldn’t have to cope with this.
“How about I make a deal with you?” Cora suggested, shaking her head as she looked towards the open terrace doors. “We’ve already been introduced, so we don’t have to stand around waiting for Father to make the introductions to everyone. We’ll go back in, dance, and make conversation for two hours.”
“I think that’s respectable enough without looking rude. At the end of two hours, I’ll come and find you, and if you want to leave, then we’ll go. But if you want to stay, we’ll extend it by another hour.”
Lavinia stared at her cousin.
“You would do that for me?”
“Of course I would. I love you, and I want to look after you, Lavinia.”
“I feel like a little girl with you saying that, cousin. Am I not supposed to look after you instead?”
“We’ll always look out for each other, won’t we?” Cora hugged her. “And you know I’ve got your back if something happens, don’t you?”
Lavinia knew that. There were only twenty months between her and Cora, but the cousins were close. Cora was the more outgoing of the pair, while Lavinia’s calm demeanour kept Cora from doing anything outrageous. They balanced each other pretty well. Lavinia couldn’t ask for a better friend and cousin.
Although, she would rather her young cousin say that they should sneak off on their own, foregoing any ladylike behaviour. She just wanted to get away.
Lavinia wanted to leave right now.
Taking a deep breath, she nodded.
“Alright. We’ll do it. I’m leaving after two hours, though. I don’t want to be around too many people for too long.” She swallowed. “I wish I didn’t feel as if I was going to burst into tears. I know I should keep that to myself.”
“I know. But your mother would be proud of you for doing this. And she knows that you can be strong.” Cora started to tug her towards the terrace doors. “Come on, let’s go in. We can find Uncle David if you’re not comfortable being on your own. But I want to dance, and we need to pick up our dance cards.”
“I…” Lavinia managed to gently pull her hand away. “I think I’m going to stay out here for a bit. People are coming out here, so I can interact with people in the garden if it happens.”
Cora frowned, but she didn’t protest.
“Alright. I suppose not being confined will help with your nerves as well.”
“Thank you, Cora.”
“But just make sure that you come in at some point. Please, Lavinia?”
Lavinia attempted a small smile.
“I’ll do my best,” she mumbled.
She wasn’t sure if she would be able to join her family inside. There were a lot of people present for this ball, and with it being warm outside, it was going to be warmer indoors. Lavinia didn’t want to be uncomfortable when she was trying not to shake with nerves.
Cora went into the ballroom and immediately disappeared from sight. It was like she had been swept up in the frivolities inside. Lavinia had a feeling that her father was having a good time as well. The Earl of Harthwaite was the most sociable person she had encountered. His wife, Lady Margaret, was quiet and more reserved. She liked her own company or gatherings of small groups.
Lavinia was pretty much the same. She liked to be around a smaller group of people. It was not as loud, and she could concentrate on those she knew. Having so many guests and getting pulled in different directions didn’t appeal to her. Of course, that was how they were meant to get on in the ton so anyone could find someone to marry, but Lavinia wished that she didn’t have to do it.
Her mother had told her the stories of being in the ton and how she had struggled with how harsh people were. You couldn’t relax and be how you wanted because everyone would jump down your throat and scold you for not behaving appropriately. Things might have changed twenty years later, but Lavinia kept remembering those stories. Lady Margaret hadn’t been impressed with her time in the ton, and Lavinia was sure it wouldn’t be any better for her.
You’re letting your anxiety get the better of you. Stop panicking, take a deep breath, and count to a hundred. You’ll feel better after that.
Sighing heavily, Lavinia walked across the terrace towards a stone bench at the far end, just out of sight of the doors. She sagged onto it, feeling the cold stone through her skirt. Why couldn’t she be confident like her father? Heloise and Josiah were just like him, both in looks and behaviour. Josiah was still a little boy, but when he grew up, he would be the talk of the ton. And Heloise wouldn’t be any different. They would have no problems at all.
If only Lavinia had that as well. It would make this a little easier to bear.
“Would you like some company?”
Lavinia looked up, and then further up at the gentleman standing over her. Her mouth fell open. The most beautiful-looking man she had ever seen was there, looking at her with a smile that made her heart miss a few beats. Tall and lean with broad shoulders, dressed in navy blue that seemed to be the perfect colour for him, topped with curly dark hair and a clean-shaven face.
He was probably the most handsome man Lavinia had ever seen, and she couldn’t stop herself from staring.
Then she realised what was going on. Wait, what was happening? Was this gentleman asking her if she wanted company?
“Are you alright?” His smile turned into a frown. “Is something wrong?”
God, she was sitting there looking at him like a fool. Biting back a groan, Lavinia managed a smile in return.
“Forgive me. I…are you sure?”
“Am I sure of what?”
“That you want to keep my company? You don’t know me.”
His smile returned, and Lavinia was sure she felt a little lightheaded. How had this happened to her?
“I would very much like to get to know you.” He gave her a low bow. “My name is Lord Laurence Gladstone, second son to the Duke of Rosenbury.”
He was the son of a duke? And he was talking to her? Lavinia licked her lips, wishing that she would stop being so mute.
“Lavinia Maynard,” she squeaked.
“Maynard. Any relation to Viscount Kerley?”
“He’s my brother. You know him?”
“I’ve met him a few times.” Lord Gladstone sat beside her, keeping an appropriate distance. “We haven’t had a chance to be acquainted, though, seeing as we have different friends. You’re the Earl of Harthwaite’s daughter, aren’t you?”
“That’s right.” Lavinia shifted a little, wishing that she wasn’t feeling so uncomfortable. Where was her confidence when she needed it? “This is our first outing since…well…since my mother died.”
Lord Gladstone looked sympathetic.
“I did hear about the countess’ death. Please accept my condolences.”
What could she say to that? She was currently sitting here with the most handsome man she had ever encountered, and she felt like her tongue was done up in a knot and it was swelling in her mouth. Why couldn’t she be like Cora and play it off?
“Forgive me if I’m not much of a conversationalist,” she mumbled, looking down at her hands. “I’m not good in social settings, and with it being so close to ending our mourning period…”
“I understand. It’s not for everyone.” Lord Gladstone shifted a little closer. “But I’m sure I can distract you a little bit this evening.”
“Why would you want to distract me?” Lavinia managed to look up and stare at him. “I mean, you could have your pick of women inside, I’m sure. Why would you want to sit out of the way with me? I don’t understand.”
For a moment, Lord Gladstone hesitated, his smile wavering a little. Lavinia saw him glance off to the side towards the house, but it was so quick that she barely caught it. Then the smile was back.
“Because I saw you, and I was captured by your beauty.” That rolled off the tongue so easily that Lavinia almost believed it. “I knew that I had to come and talk to you. If it means we are away from everyone else, so be it. More of a chance for me to get to know you properly.”
Lavinia knew she was innocent when it came to social gatherings of this magnitude, and she could admit that she was naïve. But she wasn’t stupid. She could sense something wasn’t right, especially when Lord Gladstone glanced away again. This time, she followed his gaze and caught sight of a young gentleman with reddish-brown hair watching them from just inside the terrace doors. He was openly watching them with a smirk on his face. Then he caught sight of Lavinia looking at him and turned away quickly, as if he hadn’t been looking.
What was going on?
“Can you answer me this question honestly, Lord Gladstone?” she asked, turning back to him.
“Of course, my lady.”
“Why did you approach me? And I don’t want that flowery answer, either,” Lavinia went on as Lord Gladstone opened his mouth. “Give me the real reason. I suspect that there’s something going on here, and I don’t like being lied to. If you’re a gentleman of any capacity, you would be able to tell me the truth.”
She was beginning to suspect that this was some sort of bet. What sort, Lavinia had no idea, but she was a part of it. She had heard of this before, and she hadn’t expected to be a part of it. Realisation that she had almost been taken in by this gentleman made her stomach tighten into a knot.
Lord Gladstone sighed.
“Alright. My friends and I have made a bet. Well, it’s more of a dare, really.”
“What sort of dare?”
Lord Gladstone was now beginning to look uncomfortable. He shifted in his seat.
“I think it’s best.”
“Don’t start backing out now, my lord.” Lavinia got to her feet and stood over him. “You decided to approach someone you didn’t know, and I see someone I presume is your friend sniggering at us. Either your friend is just a mean person or you’re up to something. I want to know so I can decide if I’m getting my time wasted.”
Lord Gladstone looked past her, and Lavinia turned to see his friend back in the doorway. He looked like he was laughing now as he watched them. Lavinia turned back to Lord Gladstone.
“What was the dare, Lord Gladstone?”
“I was.” Lord Gladstone stood up, sheepishly running his hands through his hair. “I was to charm the most unapproachable woman in attendance. In return, I wouldn’t need to buy any rounds of drinks at the club.”
He might as well have slapped Lavinia across the face. He actually thought she was the most unapproachable woman at the ball? She felt sick. How did she even think he was handsome with an attitude like that?
She found herself moving before she knew what was happening, and she slapped Lord Gladstone hard. The sound seemed to echo in her ears, and everything around them grew still. Lord Gladstone’s head had jerked to the side, his expression confused. Did he not expect her to hit him?
Taking a deep breath, Lavinia lowered her hand.
“Just be thankful that I am a lady,” she hissed. “If I wasn’t, you would be getting hit below the belt. I’m sure that would have a more desired effect than a simple slap.”
“No, don’t even—” Lavinia held up her hand, and Lord Gladstone actually flinched. “I’m still mourning my mother’s death, and you think it’s appropriate to charm me on a dare? If you think it’s amusing to humiliate women because you want free drinks, then you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m sure your parents would be delighted to know how badly their son was raised. Is this how second sons behave?”
Lord Gladstone didn’t respond. A red mark where Lavinia had hit him was coming up on his cheek. It was clear that he had been slapped, and Lavinia felt a flash of satisfaction. She pointed at him.
“I hope to God that you don’t ever inherit your father’s title. Because if you behave like this as the second son, I shudder to think how you’ll treat people if you become a duke. And tell your friend if he doesn’t want the same treatment, he should make himself scarce.”
“You would embarrass yourself by slapping everyone?” Lord Gladstone asked with a raise of his eyebrow.
“All I have to do is tell others why. You have made me so mad right now, my lord.” Lavinia could feel the tears building and she blinked them away rapidly. Squaring her shoulders, she drew herself up and turned away. “Go and find someone else to bother. I’m sure you’ll find another unapproachable woman to win the ‘bet’ with. But it won’t be me.”
She hurried away before he could respond, stepping off the terrace and into the garden. Lavinia didn’t look around as she walked towards a large pond, half-circled by trees. She ducked in among the low branches and moved out of sight. Then she collapsed against the trunk and sagged down onto the upturned roots, not caring that this was going to ruin her dress. She was shaking too much to pay attention to anything else.
Lavinia wanted to scream. Really scream at the unfairness of it all.
She buried her face in her hands, and then she began to sob.
“The Scarred Duke’s Awakening Match” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lavinia Maynard, a spirited and independent young lady, finds herself thrust into an unexpected predicament. Five years ago, her world shattered when she became the target of a heartless prank orchestrated by the otherwise charismatic Laurence Gladstone. Now, her family’s dire financial circumstances dictate that she must wed the very man who once humiliated her. Trapped in a web of familial obligations, Lavinia is torn between duty and her own desires.
Will she surrender to her role as a pawn, or will she summon the courage to forge her own path and claim the happiness she longs for?
Laurence Gladstone, the brooding Duke of Rosenbury, never envisioned inheriting his father’s title, burdened as he is by the scars of a tragic past. Shunning society and retreating into seclusion, he sees marriage to Lavinia as a mere means to an end. However, as their paths intertwine, Laurence discovers a glimmer of hope and possibility in Lavinia’s presence. With each passing moment, he yearns more and more for a life that transcends duty and isolation.
Can Lavinia’s spirited nature reawaken Laurence’s wounded heart, guiding him towards a future filled with love and redemption?
Together, Lavinia and Laurence embark on an unconventional journey, with their unique connection gradually overcoming the shadows of the past. Yet, as they strive to build a life together, a relentless doubt gnaws at Lavinia’s heart. Will she be able to let go of her painful history and accept Laurence for the man he has become? Or will an unforeseen twist of fate threaten to doom their blossoming love?
“The Scarred Duke’s Awakening Match” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.