Never Love a Lord
November 7, 2022 (Edwards and Williams)
He refused to court her once. Can she trust his intentions this time?
Spunky Petunia Bateman may be a commoner, but she is far from common. Anyone who cannot appreciate that is not worth her time. Then her best friend's fiancé, the deposed crown prince of Batavaria, awards her a title, and the man she once loved decides she might be worth another look. Think again, sir!
Lord Ashforde had considered the lovely Miss Bateman for his bride three years ago. But his family history convinced Ash that cool heads and calm demeanors must prevail. There is nothing cool and calm about his feelings for Petunia, which have only grown since he rashly decided against her. But can he convince her, and himself, to give their love another try?
When the prince asks Petunia to persuade Ash to take up their cause to see their kingdom restored, the two are thrown together, and the enemies of Batavaria take note. Can love blossom amid skullduggery? Especially with an unlikely couple that might be made for each other?
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Reviews and Endorsements
"A wonderful conclusion to the quartet. I am sorry to see it end." Huntress Reviews
"I really enjoyed this story. The emotions that both of the characters struggled with as they spent time together felt very authentic." Britt Reads Fiction
"Never Love a Lord by Regina Scott is a great read. I’ve loved all of the stories in this series." Hott Book Reviews
"This is a fantastic conclusion to this series, and I look forward to the next, following the guards of Batavaria. I’m sure it will contain plenty of sweet stories, and hopefully revisit some of these wonderful characters, too. Whatever Scott is writing, I will eagerly look forward to reading!" Lynda’s Reviews
"A fun, clean Regency romance that will really pull you in." Melissa's Bookshelf
Wey Castle, Surrey, England, Late August 1825
Petunia Bateman might have been a commoner, but she was far from common.
Tuny took some pride in that fact as she followed her brother and sister-in-law through the crowds thronging the ornate reception room. How many other young ladies of her acquaintance were invited to a soiree at the palace being leased by the King of Batavaria and his sons outside London? Well, her dear friends Larissa and Callie were here, but they were betrothed to the crown prince and his brother, so they had a reason. So did their sister, Belle, who was also the daughter of a duke.
In fact, in a space filled with titled lords and ladies in fine clothes, Tuny, in her sunny yellow evening gown with the puffed sleeves, was probably the least notable.
But she did her best not to goggle.
It wasn’t as if His Majesty was in attendance. The king was being very careful to distance himself from the Batavarian question, as the papers called Prince Otto Leopold’s quest. The prince and his brother wanted King George to support their cause to see their ancestral lands restored. King George wanted little part of it.
Neither did the stunningly handsome fellow approaching on their left. Panic threatened, and Tuny tugged at her sister-in-law’s arm.
“Bit warm in here,” she said when Charlotte looked at her askance, grey eyes wide and russet brows up in question. “I think I’ll wander closer to the window.”
“I’ll come with you,” Charlotte offered with a smile. She had no trouble blending in with present company. In her white silk gown embroidered with lilies, hair arranged in braids around her head, she looked her usual calm, composed self.
She patted the burly arm of Tuny’s brother, and Matty promptly shouldered his way to where two tall windows overlooked the grounds. Her brother might once have been a pugilist, but she defied anyone looking at him now to see anything but a gentleman with his sable hair and elegantly tied cravat.
“Still avoiding Lord Ashforde, I see,” Charlotte murmured, strategically placing her back to the gilded wall and nodding to the passing company.
Tuny drew in a breath of the perfumed air. “And will until I have a husband standing next to me.”
“You might find it easier to attract a husband if you smile more often,” Charlotte shot back.
Tuny smiled, but she wouldn’t have been surprised if it looked more like a grimace.
She had had three Seasons, three Seasons! And she’d yet to attract a suitor she felt comfortable accepting. Larissa and Callie had been in nearly as dire straits before they’d met their true loves. That was likely why Belle had elicited a vow from her sisters and Tuny that they would all be married by harvest.
Tuny had lived her entire life in cities, so she had little knowledge of when farmers harvested their crops. But she had a feeling the time was drawing near. And not a suitor in sight.
“That Ashforde fellow seems determined,” Matty said with a tip of his chiseled chin toward the tall, ascetic gentleman who was once again strolling in their direction. “Should I speak with him, Tuny?”
“No!” The word came out forcefully, and the elderly matron promenading past stuck her nose in the air and plied her ostrich plume fan so quickly that Tuny felt the breeze.
“That is,” Tuny said, tempering her volume, “there’s no need for you to speak with him, Matty. He means nothing to me.”
Something inside her informed her that statement was a lie. She forced down the thought. She’d been avoiding admiring his perfectly combed raven hair, deep blue eyes, high carriage, and graceful step for nearly three years now. What was one more night?
“May I have your attention, please?”
The words rang out over all other sounds, and heads turned toward the dais at the top of the room. In an old-fashioned powdered wig and green velvet coat with gold buttons the size of saucers, Mr. Lawrence, Lord Chamberlain for the Batavarian Court, stood tall and proud. His sharp gaze alone demanded that the buzz of conversation cease. Quiet settled on the room.
“Thank you,” he said. “His Royal Highness, Prince Otto Leopold, has an announcement.”
“It can’t be his betrothal,” Tuny whispered to Charlotte. “They announced that ages ago.”
Charlotte patted her hand, gaze on the Lord Chamberlain.
Whose eyes were now trained on Tuny, as if he’d heard her murmur. She pasted on another smile.
Leo, as he was known to friends and family, rose from the throne and looked out on his guests. Resplendent in a scarlet tunic trimmed in gold, curly hair tamed into place, he was every inch the crown prince.
“On behalf of my father, King Frederick Augustus of Batavaria, I would like to thank you for your kind support these last few weeks we have been in your beautiful country,” he said, glancing around at his guests. “Your welcome, your offers of friendship, have touched our hearts. I would be remiss if I did not recognize those who have provided not only friendship, but material support. Their Graces, the Duke and Duchess of Wey, have been particularly helpful.”
Across the room, Larissa’s father inclined his head in acknowledgment, while her dark-haired mother beamed.
“We are also continually indebted to the keen mind and sage advice of Lord and Lady Belfort.”
Meredith and Julian—more like aunt and uncle to her, Larissa, Callie, and Belle—offered smiles of appreciation. They had been given their titles by Leo’s father, but they too wore them well.
“Sir Matthew Bateman and Lady Bateman have also given of their time most generously.”
Now all gazes turned their way, and Matty tipped up his chin, smile hovering. Tuny couldn’t help her grin.
“But tonight, I want to thank someone who went above and beyond to support our cause. She provided wise council to my brother and myself in matters of personal importance, and, when danger reared its head, she was among the first to step forward to help us combat it, at no small risk to her person and her reputation.”
Was he talking about Larissa? Tuny craned her neck to catch sight of her friend, but Larissa didn’t appear especially excited or honored. In fact, she was frowning as if she wasn’t sure of the identity of this paragon either.
“Miss Petunia Bateman, step forward.”
Tuny’s head jerked to face Leo. His look was solemn, and he held out his hand, palm up, as if expecting her to walk over and put her fingers in his. Around her, she could see gazes turning, as the glittering company recognized her presence, perhaps for the first time.
“Go on,” Charlotte whispered, giving her a nudge with her elbow.
Heart pounding in her ears, Tuny started forward. The crowd parted before her, leaving her a clear path to the dais. Every gaze was on her. She tried not to meet any of them. If she did, she might stumble to a halt. As it was, she barely managed to stop just short of taking Leo’s hand.
It dropped to his side. Mr. Lawrence scurried forward to offer him a gold coronet surmounted by pearls.
“For services to the royal family, the House of Archambault,” Leo intoned, taking the coronet and raising it over his head, “I hereby award you the status of a baroness of Batavaria and the title Lady Moselle.” He settled the coronet on Tuny’s hair. “You have all my gratitude, your ladyship.”
She must be dreaming. Her brother had been given the title of baronet when he’d saved the life of the then Prince Regent. Her oldest sister had earned the title of marchioness by marrying a widowed marquess to help him raise his baby daughter. She’d done nothing of such importance.
Yet the weight of the gold felt so real on her forehead. And was that… applause?
She turned, careful not to put her back to Leo. Thanks to Charlotte’s tutelage, she knew that wasn’t done, at least. All around the room, gloved hands clapped, and titled faces smiled.
“Huzzah!” Matty shouted.
From the back of the room, the Imperial Guards on duty shouted back, “Huzzah!” and clapped their fists to their black-clad chests in salute.
Tuny couldn’t even find a nod in response. Any moment, she was going to wake up and discover herself tucked into her childhood room in Matty’s house, just off Covent Garden. Girls whose fathers owned mills, much less worked in one as her father had, didn’t become baronesses in their own right.
Leo linked his arm with hers. That too felt real. She clung to him, afraid she might fall over from shock otherwise!
“Will you join me for a moment of private conversation about your duties, Lady Moselle?” he asked solicitously.
She must have nodded, for the coronet slipped on her hair as if even the gold and pearls knew that they didn’t really belong to her. She reached up a hand to right the coronet, nonetheless. Leo began strolling toward the tall doors that led out onto the gallery, nodding to this acquaintance and that friend. She felt the weight of their stares, heavier than the crown he’d put upon her head. Mr. Keller, a member of the Imperial Guards, held open one of the doors for her. Though she knew he was the shiest of the guards, his face broke into a grin as if he couldn’t be more proud of her.
This must be real. She was a baroness. She had a title. The door closed behind them with a determined thud she felt to her bones.
She rounded on Leo, pulling away from him. “You’ve gone mad. There’s no other explanation. Shall I call for a physician?”
Leo chuckled. Like that of his twin brother, Count Montalban, his curly blond hair just brushed the collar of his scarlet tunic. Larissa claimed his sharp blue eyes could look like diamonds. At the moment, Tuny believed her, for they were certainly sparkling.
“You earned that title,” he assured her, voice colored by a complicated combination of accents from his time abroad. “I will not forget how you ventured out that night to make sure we could track our enemies to the source.”
Earlier this month, she and the prince had attended a house party at Wey Castle, home of the Duke of Wey in Surrey. While there, enemies of Batavaria had attempted to stop the prince and his brother from cementing a place in King George’s regard. Everyone had pitched in to help stop the villains. Tuny’s part, to wait and watch with Matty, then shoot a flaming arrow into the sky to warn the others their enemy was on the move, had seemed small to her, but it had been exciting sneaking around in the dark, knowing she was part of making history.
“It was nothing,” she told him. “No more than a lark.”
Leo shook his head as if he disagreed. “Even before that, you gave me and Fritz sound advice.”
“I gave you a piece of my mind, more like,” Tuny reminded him. “And I ought to again. Me, a baroness? No one will believe that.”
Leo drew himself up. “I am the representative of the King of Batavaria in England. I have his authority to grant honors and favors. I know of no one more deserving.”
The door to the reception room opened, and Larissa and another of the Imperial Guards came out. Tuny recognized Mr. Huber, whom she had also met at the house party. He inclined his head in greeting, and the light from the chandelier made a halo on his straight, brunette hair.
“Tuny’s elevation is the talk of the room, just as you’d hoped,” Larissa said to Leo as she joined him, Mr. Huber staying at a discreet distance. Like Charlotte, Tuny’s friend appeared right at home. Larissa could easily be a baroness, even a princess, with her artfully curled blond hair, wise blue eyes, and elegant demeanor.
“Have you told her yet?” she asked Leo.
Something hitched inside Tuny. She should have known being elevated couldn’t be this easy.
“Told me what?” she asked, glancing from her friend to Leo.
“As a member of my court, you may be called upon from time to time to continue your support,” Leo said.
Oh, was that all? She already provided support to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by arranging benefits and mailing literature. “Anything for a friend,” Tuny said.
“You might not say that when you hear him out,” Larissa warned with another look to Leo.
Leo squared his shoulders as if about to march into battle. “You are aware that King George has appointed a group of respected lords to advise him on whether to support our cause?”
Tuny nodded. “Lord Wellmanton, the Foreign Secretary Lord Canning, and others. It was in The Times.”
“We are aware that Lord Wellmanton and Lord Canning are against the idea,” Leo told her. “Some of the others are more supportive. Still, we have been told that they remain fairly evenly divided. The final decision may well depend on the advice of one lord.”
“Lord Ashforde,” Larissa said, as if determined that Tuny understand.
Her stomach sank. “Lord Ashforde?”
Leo nodded. “Given that you are known and respected by his lordship, we were hoping you could convince him to see things our way.”
Once more panic approached, this time so swift and hard that Tuny took a step back.
“What you mean is that you want me to turn him up sweet!” she cried. “You really are mad!”
Lord Ashforde meandered about the reception hall, greeting acquaintances and pausing occasionally to chat. All the while he kept the doors through which Petunia Bateman had exited in view. Ever since returning from the house party given by the Duke of Wey, he had looked for opportunities to engage her in conversation. Perhaps, if he could manage a private word, he could apologize for the tension that now held them apart.
Especially because that tension was entirely his fault.
“Lady Moselle,” Mrs. Richmond moaned aloud as he passed the white-haired matron. “As if that family needed another reason to gloat.”
“Indeed,” Ash said, pausing beside the woman who herself was once-removed from a banking family. “Intelligent, devoted to one another, contributors to their community. They are to be envied.”
Mrs. Richmond drew herself up and stomped off, obviously looking for someone who would agree with her dismal assessment of the Bateman family’s progress into Society.
She wasn’t likely to find many, especially here. The prince and his brother were obviously admirers. And most of the Englishmen and women in the room would know the story of how Sir Matthew had earned his baronetcy.
Ash had been newly home from university when the Beast of Birmingham, a legendary pugilist, had saved the life of the Prince Regent and been made Sir Matthew Bateman. His marriage to Charlotte Worthington, sister to Viscount Worthington, had been reported in the gossip rags Ash’s father had left lying about. But the marriage of Sir Matthew’s oldest sister, Ivy, to the Marquess of Kendall had quickly eclipsed that news.
Since then, thanks to the auspices of Lord and Lady Belfort, the Batemans had become friends with the Duke and Duchess of Wey and were well known to the Earl and Countess of Carrolton. The family was fortunate indeed in its acquaintances.
And Petunia Bateman, now Lady Moselle, was no exception, even if she was exceptional.
That thought was not reflected in the cool smile he directed at the next group of people who sought conversation. For three years, he had been trying to convince himself, without success, that another lady on the ton must be Petunia’s equal. He could name her attractions. With her sleek dark-blond hair and wide, warm brown eyes, she had a pleasing face. She was nearly tall enough to look him in the eye, and she wasn’t afraid to do so. She had a comment for every occasion, a handy trait when having to converse with strangers ready to censor her for her family antecedents. She was unrelentingly loyal to those she called friends.
But the emotions she raised in him were nothing short of dangerous to his vision for the future. And so, he had told himself to look elsewhere for a bride. A decided shame that no other lady had yet to rise to her stature.
She hurried through the doors now, face white and steps unsteady. He was moving closer before he could stop himself.
“Miss Bateman, Lady Moselle, are you all right?” he asked, hand cupping her elbow.
She yanked back out of reach. “Fine. Perfect. Never better.” Her smile was a ghastly parody of its usual warmth. “Enjoying the evening, my lord?”
Until this moment, immensely. There was something right and good about her being given her due. He could only applaud the prince for his decision to recognize her.
“A fine soiree,” he assured her, careful to keep his voice level. “Allow me to offer you my congratulations on your elevation.”
“My demotion, more like,” she said with a glance back the way she had come.
Ash stiffened. “If His Royal Highness has in any way discomforted you, I would be happy to take him to task.”
Where had that come from? The urge was rising again, to gather her close with one arm and brandish a sword at her foes with the other. He wasn’t some barbarian! He was an English lord, one who prided himself on his composure, his logic.
She rallied. “No need to trouble the prince, my lord. I can take care of myself. Excuse me. I should find my family.”
She hurried away, head down and coronet slipping.
That had been the longest conversation they’d had since the evening three years ago, when he’d told her he would not be making an offer for her hand. It had been the worst decision of his life, one he’d paid for with sleepless nights and endless days. This Season, he’d told himself to look closer, reconsider his decision. Perhaps it might be possible to rebuild the friendship they had once had. Such a friendship might lead to marriage. It was all very logical.
But something wasn’t right with the new Lady Moselle. Even the night he had rejected her, she’d shown more spirit, more fire. The prince had said something to her that had caused her to pull even farther away from Ash.
He owed it to himself, and her, to discover the truth.
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