The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, Book 1 in the Uncommon Courtships Series
Orginally published in print March 1998 (ISBN 0-8217-5872-1, Zebra Regency Romance)
Reissued September 2011 by Regency Reads
Revised and reissued August 2016 by Edwards and Williams
Follow the rules or be true to your heart?
The ever practical Anne Fairchild knows the rules of engagement in Regency England-the proper way a young lady should seek a husband. She's been groomed to make the best match possible so she can help the two elderly aunts who raised her stave off poverty. So why is it one moment in the presence of the dashing Chas Prestwick, and she's ready to throw propriety to the wind?
The black sheep of the family, Chas excels at shocking Society with his wild wagers and reckless carriage racing. But his bravado masks a bruised and lonely heart. Can the sweet-natured Anne convince him to take the greatest risk of all-on love?
Uncommon Courtships, Forever Loves
" . . . very likeable hero and heroine, humor, and one laugh-out-loud scene that stars one of the most outstanding examples of 'bad' writing since the Bad Hemmingway contest folded." -- The Romance Reader
"Ms. Scott's appealing characters, especially the insouciant hero, will win your heart." -- RT Book Reviews
The mother-of-pearl enameled clock on the mantel in the Cranfield library struck midnight with twelve rather dusty-sounding bings. Frowning, Chas Prestwick looked up from where he stood nearby, scanning the titles of the equally dusty books by firelight. Trust Liza to be late, even for an assignation she had wanted.
Confound the woman! What did she hope to gain by bringing it all up again? When he had told her he had no interest in marriage, the ensuing battle had broken every piece of statuary, pottery, and crystal the woman owned. She couldn't possibly want him back. Yet here she was, before two hundred of London's finest, trying to pretend that nothing had changed. Thank God he had been able to convince her to slip away unnoticed and join him in the library.
The door cracked open, and Elizabeth Scanton slipped into the room. He leaned against the mantel and watched her as she draped herself artfully along the sofa opposite him.
He doubted that stuffy old Freddie Cranfield, who had only invited him to this tedious little ball because of a long-standing friendship with Chas's brother Malcolm, had ever dreamed the mahogany-paneled, seldom-used library would play host to such an assignation. Looking at Liza now, with her titian hair pomaded ala Greque and her amber gown damped to cling to her shapely breasts and ample hips, Chas knew exactly what had attracted him in the first place. She must have seen and recognized the appreciation in his eyes, for her smile turned lazy, and she ran a pert tongue along her reddened lips.
"Please, Chas," she said, voice like a purr, "can't we simply forget that awful fight? We really were made for each other."
Chas shook his head. "I meant what I said, Liza. This is all just a game to you, and I'm tired of playing."
She raised a carefully etched eyebrow. "What, can this be the Chas Prestwick who holds the record for best time by carriage to every location within a day's drive of London? The Chas Prestwick who bet Lord Petersborough, his well-known shadow, that poor Leslie couldn't somersault from one end of Hyde Park to the other? The man who told Prinny to have the House of Lords pay him in rubies against his weight as that seemed to be the only thing about him that was increasing? Since when, sir, did you tire of games?"
Chas sighed. "Perhaps I'm maturing. I find those activities you just described a bit outrageous now." It dawned on him that perhaps that was the best tact to take with her. "I fear I've grown a bit stodgy. You'd best find yourself someone more outgoing."
"Humbug," she said, and he realized his hangdog look wasn't working. Liza knew him too well. She stretched a long leg across the white velvet. "You have years of fun left in you, and I have a reputation to maintain as a willing widow. Let me show you."
Best to simply end it now. "No, Liza," he said in his sternest voice. "We're through. You should have known better than to try to change my mind in a place like this."
She rose slowly from the sofa, dark eyes glinting in the firelight. "Because the Cranfields are one of the few families who still receive you? I could cause such a nasty scene, you know. Wouldn't it be a shame to see poor Chas Prestwick cast out of yet another home?" She smiled until her canines showed. Like the cat she was, Chas thought bitterly.
He let nothing of the anger and frustration he felt show on his face or in his movements. It would never do to let her see she was dangerously close to scoring. His reputation for wildness had scared off a good number of his brother's friends. Few mamas introduced him to their daughters anymore. More likely they quickly betrothed them to safer, if less-dashing, gentlemen should he show interest. While he continued to spend most of his nights with Leslie and the rest of the faster set, these balls and dinner parties were a welcome change, and one he didn't particularly want to forego. But Liza must never know that.
He waved a languid hand toward the house beyond the carved mahogany door. "Be my guest. The Cranfields mean next to nothing to me."
"Liar. All I have to do is open that door and scream. What little reputation you have would be in shreds."
Chas made a study of the toe of his evening shoe. "Wouldn't do much for your own reputation either, my dear, even if you prefer to be known as willing. By all means, scream away. It would be more amusing than some of the things you've done."
Liza stiffened. "You go too far, Mr. Prestwick." She moved to the door and flung it open. And stared.
Ready to be besieged, Chas raised his head in defiance. Yet instead of a gathering crowd, he saw Liza standing nearly nose to nose with a young lady who was unknown to him. She stood with wide eyes, her hand arrested in mid-air as if in the act of reaching for the door latch. She obviously realized that she had interrupted an intimate affair and was even now coloring in a blush.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," she murmured. "I was sent to find someone in the card room, and I seem to have found the library instead. Please excuse me." She started to back away.
Liza, never one to miss an opportunity, grabbed the young lady's arm. "Please, you mustn't go! You can't leave me alone, with him!" Tears appeared as if by magic in Liza's eyes. "He lured me here, alone, and now he'll have his way with me!"
Chas almost groaned aloud. The pathetic story would be unbelievable to anyone who knew Liza, but the wide-eyed innocent in the door would be sure to think it the truth.
The young lady looked from the tears that were shimmering on Liza's cheeks to his face and back again, as if judging the story. In that one look was more wisdom than her youth bespoke. Chas stood a little straighter.
"Why, dear lady, there's no need to cry," she said, quiet voice soothing. "You've only to walk out the door, and he will be powerless to stop you."
Now it was Liza's turn to glance at Chas. She bit her lip in chagrin, obviously hoping that the young lady would have been an easier mark.
"But my reputation," she tried again. "He's ruined me. No other man will ever look at me again. I'll die alone!" This time even Chas could almost believe the sobs wrung from her as Liza cast herself back on the sofa and buried her face in her arms.
The young woman stood for a moment as if in indecision. Then she crossed to the sofa and knelt beside the prostrate Liza. "Please don't cry. I'm sure the gentleman meant no harm. A lady of your sophistication is likely used to the gentlemen losing their heads."
Chas snorted, but the young lady gave him such a quelling look that he was forced to turn his eyes away for a moment, abashed.
Liza raised her head, sniffling. "It's a curse; you have no idea what I go through!"
The young lady patted her hand. "You bear it very bravely."
Liza sat up. "I try, but sometimes..."
"Yes, of course, sometimes the behavior of these gentlemen could try the patience of a saint. If I had your charms, I simply don't know what I'd do."
Now Liza patted the other woman's hand. "Thank God there's only a few of us so cursed." She cast a venomous glance at Chas. "You, sir, may be thankful that this dear girl has reminded me of my inner strength."
"You would have regained it yourself, sooner or later," the young lady demurred, rising.
"Of course I would," Liza replied. She rose also and sailed to the door, where she paused to look back at Chas. "Remember this night, Chas Prestwick. This is the last you'll see of Elizabeth Scanton." She stood for one more moment, as if she hoped to give him something to regret, then melted into the darkness of the corridor.
Chas waited until he was sure she was out of earshot, then gave a whoop of delight. He took the lady's hand and gave it a resounding kiss. "That, my dear, was pure genius. I've never seen Liza so well handled, and she never even saw it happening. Are you an angel or a sorceress?"
The lady gently pulled her hand from his grasp and turned toward the door. "Neither, sir. I merely offered help where I perceived it was needed. My family tells me I have a distressing tendency to see the best in everyone." She glanced back at him. "Apparently even you. There is no need to thank me for something I habitually do. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"Wait," Chas ordered. He was surprised to find that he was loathe to let her go. But then, he had been surprised since the moment he had first laid eyes on her in the doorway.
He looked at her more closely now. Not his usual style to be sure. This one had a quiet beauty. In fact, if it hadn't been for a pair of rather speaking large, thick-lashed, grey eyes, like a storm above his own Mendip Hills in Somerset, she would have been almost plain. Nice hair-thick, black, lustrous, although he would have preferred another arrangement rather than the bun at the back of her neck. Rather thinner than he usually liked as well. She almost looked as if she hadn't had a good mutton dinner in some time. And her clothes seemed a bit behind the style. Still, the way she had handled Liza, and was handling him for that matter, was nothing short of brilliant.
He tried again. "May I not know the name of my rescuer?"
The lady looked back at him, and he could see that she was blushing once more. "That would not be proper, sir. I think it would be best if we both pretended we'd never met." She continued toward the door.
Chas felt a prick of annoyance. The chit was dismissing him! Well, he was rather infamous for coming up with creative ways to solve difficulties. He moved to cut off her retreat and gave her his most dazzling smile, turning his head just enough that the firelight would reflect in his emerald eyes and show his blond hair to advantage. "I see, a very proper young lady. Don't talk to strange men in quiet libraries and all that. I could ask someone to introduce us."
The lady gave him one last look, her smile decidedly saucy, then darted around him to start down the corridor. "I doubt we know any of the same people." She evidently found the door she had been originally looking for and disappeared.
He had a feeling that smile would stay with him for a very long time. So how could he find a way to meet the lady again, under more congenial circumstances?
Want to know how Ann and Chas did in their marriage? They play a key role in The Incomparable Miss Compton, book 2 of the Uncommon Courtships series, when they act as matchmaker to commanding Parlimentarian Malcolm Breckonridge.
Chas's friend Leslie gets his own story in The Irredeemable Miss Renfield, book 3 of the Uncommon Courtships series.
And Leslie and his bride help a dear friend recall her true character, and her first love, in The Unwilling Miss Watkin, book 4 of the Uncommon Courtships series.