Book 6 A DARING COURTSHIP

Hi, Everyone!

A DARING COURTSHIP has finally arrived!, the next book in my library of sweet Regencies that I wrote many moons ago. Secretly betrothed to a Scotsman in order to repair her family’s fortunes, Madeline Piper must bring Sir Roger Mathieson into fashion or risk losing what she cherishes most: her place in her beloved Sussex society. A DARING COURTSHIP has been edited with light hands to preserve the original story.  Enjoy!

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 A DARING COURTSHIP centers around a Scotsman’s arrival in Sussex, in the completely made-up community of “Chilchester Valley”.  Sir Roger has arrived here to refurbish a castle he recently purchased.  Of course, he falls for the local beauty, Madeline Piper, who wants nothing to do with the Scotsman!

Here are the details including the entire first chapter of A DARING COURTSHIP!

Sir Roger is determined to win her heart…­­

A wealthy India nabob, Sir Roger returns to England intent on making Sussex his home. After purchasing a nearby castle with the intention of refurbishing it, he falls in love with Madeline Piper who finds his Scottish heritage repugnant.  When her family’s fortunes fail, Sir Roger offers relief in the form of his hand in marriage, but only if Madeline will break every rule and bring him into fashion in their local, insular society.  If she fails to do so, he will not marry her. But if she succeeds, how can he marry a woman who will always despise his Scottish roots?

But their betrothal goes against her every principle…

From the time that her mother died, Madeline has always obeyed society’s rules. She’s upheld them and applauded them.  Keeping wild Scotsmen out of her neighborhood seemed a sensible course of action, until her father lost the family fortune while gaming in Brighton. Accepting Sir Roger’s terms for their betrothal gives her the headache, but what else can she do when her three younger sisters depend on her to make a suitable marriage and save their family from ruin? But as Sir Roger’s secret courtship progresses, she finds her heart slipping to the man who wears the kilt.  Yet how can she ever love a Scotsman?

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Chapter One

 Sussex, England, 1818

“You were not so kind at our last meeting,” Sir Roger Mathieson said, one haughty brow lifted faintly.

Madeline Piper stared at Sir Roger, unable to credit he could be so ungentlemanly as to have reminded her of their last encounter but a month past. Presently, she stood on the walkway of Pelworthy Castle’s tall curtain wall, a gentle breeze tugging at her bonnet and toying with the golden curls surrounding her face. She should have been deeply content, for the castle had been a favorite haunt of hers since childhood and the views of Chilchester Valley below were unequalled. Her heart, however, beat erratically, her knees wobbled and her mouth had grown very dry. She had merely exchanged civilities thus far, but Sir Roger had not been so receptive as she had hoped. Indeed, she could see that he meant to be difficult.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]She drew in a deep, silent breath and attempted to calm the pounding of her heart. “I had not meant to be unkind,” she responded stiffly, “the last time we spoke.”

He barked his laughter. “You threw a clock at my head.”

Madeline compressed her lips, vowing to keep her temper at all costs. “If you will recall, I had been sorely provoked.”

“Because I offered for your hand in marriage? You consider that a provocation?”

She felt a blush climb her cheeks. “Well, yes, of course, that . . . and . . .” Oh, dear, this was not going at all as she had planned. The set of his chin was as mulish as ever, and if she did not have a care, she would fail in her quite specific, albeit odious, purpose in coming to the castle in the first place. “I wish we might forget our last exchange.”

“I might be willing to,” he responded with a suspicious light in his eye, “if you will give me the kiss I asked for but was summarily denied when last we met.”

Her ire spiraled up to the top of her skull and nearly exploded into the air. “How dare you.”

“Just as I thought,” he remarked, leaning negligently against one of the few portions of the castle that was not in a completely decayed state. He crossed his arms over his chest, undoubtedly for emphasis. “So what the devil do you want with me, Miss Piper? For I cannot credit that you have called merely to be polite. Though perhaps I have been mistaken in you. Do you mean by this visit to acknowledge me and to perhaps begin drawing me into Chilchester society?”

Madeline whirled away from him, not for the purpose of taking her leave, but to regain her balance. How easily he could set up her back. No man, certainly no gentleman, had ever done so before. At least her present anger had had the good effect of calming her nerves. Only, how was she to proceed? She did not know, for she had never been required to go a-begging before.

Sudden, unexpected tears stung her eyes. She blinked them back quickly, refusing to surrender to them. She would not become a watering-pot for any man, let alone the horrid Scotsman who had so brazenly invaded her pristine neighborhood. Why, he was even taking what had been a charming ruin of a castle and rebuilding it stone by stone. Horrid, horrid man.

Only this was not the day to be either scrupulous or hen hearted. She was the daughter of Lucretia Cowdray Piper of the Kent Cowdrays and Horace Piper of Fairlight Manor. Her mother had been deceased these many years and more, but her legacy of proper conduct had been firmly instilled into Madeline’s head. She knew her duty on every score and intended to do it now, even if in doing so she violated numerous other scruples. There were, however, certain pecuniary circumstances which made it possible to set aside the general precepts of the beau monde. Sudden financial need no matter the cause always overrode the most stringent of tonnish dictums such as the avoidance of an alliance outside of one’s station in society.

Madeline shuddered faintly. Wedding a Scotsman was so far removed from all that she had been taught was proper and decorous that she felt tinged with some unnamed malady at the mere thought of it. However would she endure such a terrible fate?

Endure it she must, however.  After straightening her spine, she turned back to Sir Roger, a little surprised to find a rather concerned expression on his handsome countenance. She could not imagine its source. Perhaps some errant thought or other about the cost of the refurbishment of Pelworthy Castle had tripped through his head. Whatever the case, she knew what she must do, and so she said, “I have reconsidered your kind and quite generous offer of a month past and, if you are still inclined, I would be happy to accept of your hand in marriage.” Her voice had not broken once during this speech, but her knees had returned to feeling watery and useless. She could not tell by his expression how he had received her declaration.

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Sir Roger met her gaze, every feeling bristling in resentment at her words. He was suspicious and angry, yet at the same time drawn to the beauty standing so proudly before him. She was of medium height and elegant in every manner and gesture. She had been groomed to secure a handle to her name if ever a lady had been thus directed. Her eyes were an unusual green, large, and thickly fringed with long lashes. Her brows were arched in a patrician manner further bespeaking her breeding. Her nose was straight, her lips a delightful shape which, when easing into a smile, had more than once set his senses reeling. He had early in his acquaintance with her concluded that when Madeline Piper smiled she was the fairest of creatures on God’s great earth.

He had had a tendre for her since first seeing her upon his arrival in the charming Sussex valley. The town of Chilchester and several surrounding villages were cradled in the downs, like many Sussex neighborhoods. Pelworthy Castle had been his object for many years, a ramshackle collection of stones erected on the hillside and waiting for a new master to restore its turreted charms to former glorious days. The very day that he had purchased the castle some five months earlier, he had been walking the perimeter of his newly acquired property only to return to the bailey and find a great beauty waiting there.  She was seated on an ancient horse-block, covered in dark green wool.  Her face was tilted skyward, her eyes closed as she bathed in the weak winter sunshine.

He had not known who she was at the time, nor had he even the smallest notion why she was there. He had seen only the secretive smile on her face and had been enchanted. Who was this beauty who had come to visit the owner of Pelworthy the first day of his arrival in Sussex? A goddess? A wool-draped fairy? A ghost?

He had watched her for a long moment, a cold blast of arctic wind battling past the crumbling curtain wall and buffeting her green bonnet. She did not even seem to notice, but kept her thoughts and her gaze upward into the heavens. Blond curls, having escaped the bonnet, danced over her cheek.

He had approached her at last and quoted a new poet, John Keats:

For, indeed, ’tis a sweet and peculiar pleasure

(And blissful is he who such happiness finds),

To possess but a span of the hour of leisure,

In elegant, pure, and aerial minds.

She had jumped at the sound of his voice. She had stared at him as though he had been the specter, not she. “Who are you?” she cried.

“I am master here,” he said, gesturing in a broad sweep of his hand to the broken walls banked in shaded places with mounds of February snow.

She rose to her feet. “Then it is true. Pelworthy is sold?”

“Aye,” he responded.

“You are the Scotsman, then?” she inquired, her chin lifting, her lovely smile long since vanished. In her green eyes, he saw past her present disgust and detected a glimmer of loss so profound that he was at once surprised and curious.

“I am,” he returned firmly, proudly. “I am also the Englishman who has purchased the castle. My mother was a native of Sussex. I must confess, however, that of the two heritages, my northern roots call to my soul more often, more powerfully.”

He watched her swallow—nervously, he suspected. She was a proud one, easily seen in the resolute set of her shoulders and spine.

“I must go,” she said. “I beg your pardon for having trespassed on your property. I hope you will forgive the intrusion, but I was used to come here since I was a child and wished to say good-bye.”

“You need not offer your farewells. I hope you will come as often as you desire. I am certain the castle will be missing you as well.”

At that, a glimmering of her former smile appeared at the edges of her mouth, but quickly disappeared behind her careful reserve. She dropped a curtsy. “Good day, sir.”

He bowed and let her pass without inquiring after her name. He felt certain she would be offended were he to attempt to do so. He also knew that such a beauty could not be unknown in the nearest village.

The months that followed had been a stormy sea which had battered him severely. He had begun repairs on the castle immediately, which had endeared him to stonecutters and masons, but not in the least to the haut ton of Chilchester society. The doors had been lodged firmly shut

against him from the beginning. No attempt on his part had prevailed to permit him the smallest entrée. Miss Piper, a prominent member of that society, had all but given him the cut direct.

He had not expected better, the prejudices of small, country neighborhoods being what they were, profound and deep-seated. Even the permanent resident in his house, Lord Anthony Stephens, the son of the Earl of Selsfield, had not pried open even one societal door for him. In the face of such opposition, however, he found himself oddly pleased, for he had come to stay, and one day Chilchester society would accept him, happily or not. He had known all too well the manner in which a group of narrow minds could set themselves steadfastly against even the most charming and intelligent of individuals.

His mother had been such a one, and her only crime had been that she had married a Scotsman.

To have, then, the lovely Miss Piper ask him, quite against her will, to marry her, was an interesting turn of events full of promise. His offer of a month ago he had laid at her feet because it pleased him to torment her in precisely that manner. Of course, he had begged permission from her father to pay his addresses to her and had often wondered just what reason Mr. Piper had to allow the proposal in the first place. This he doubted he would ever know, or at least thought he would not—until now. So, Madeline Piper desired a husband, and not just any husband. She desired him. But why?

“Are you in love with me?” he asked, his lips twitching.

She seemed to recoil. “Of course not. This would be a marriage of convenience. If you must know, certain unfortunate circumstances have arisen that have made it necessary for me to seek a husband.”

“I see, but why me?” he asked, pressing the point.

A faint blush arose on each creamy cheek. “I will not insult you by telling whiskers. Because of your wealth, of course.”

“I see. And when did it become necessary for Miss Piper to marry for such a reason as this? I had been given to understand your dowry is considerable.”

“The difficulty is not mine, but my father’s. A recent embarrassment, if you will.”

He believed he understood, yet found himself surprised. He had heard nothing untoward concerning Horace Piper, not a single jot of servants’ gossip that would have led him to believe he had suffered a severe reversal of fortune. Regardless, Mr. Piper’s daughter was standing before him speaking of quite the opposite. “You have several suitors who would be willing to do the job, Miss Piper, and who would undoubtedly have sufficient largess to redeem whatever vowels your father has promised. Again, I must ask, why did you choose me?”

At that, her demeanor grew rigid and haughty. “I should have known you would press me with ungenteel questions.”

“I will not be fobbed off by such a remark. I demand a clear answer of you. Why did you choose me, when a dozen others would do as well?” Was it possible she was in love with him? The flaming glare which she cast on him did not, however, support this notion.

“If you must know,” she said, if haltingly. “I, that is, you . . . how shall I explain myself? You are not from among the society here, and in wedding you I would not have to expose the true nature of my father’s situation.”

“Proud to the last.”

Her spine stiffened a little more. “Have it as you will. I am in need of a husband of some substance. I am proud, but not so proud that I have come to you. The choice is yours. Will you renew your addresses, or not?”

He was furious, but kept his temper tightly in check. Did she think to command him so easily or that she was so tempting a morsel that she thought he would grasp at the chance to husband her? Well, she had a lesson or two to learn, it would seem, about him and about offended Scotsmen in general.

“I might be persuaded,” he said at last. “I have conditions, however, which you might not like.” Her gaze became almost shrewd, an expression that intrigued him suddenly. He had been so little in her society that in truth he did not know a great deal about her except that he desired more than anything to take her in his arms and kiss her, something he intended to do today regardless of how strongly she might protest against the notion.

“Such as?” she inquired.

“I have lived in Sussex for nigh on six months, Miss Piper. I am generally extremely fond of society, but have had little here. I would expect to have many doors opened to me were I to court you.”

She seemed horrified. “You cannot possibly think—”

“Oh yes, indeed,” he countered. “I would expect you to bring me into fashion.”

“But it cannot be done. You do not know what you ask.”

“I believe I do know,” he responded.

She shook her head, her green eyes appearing wild. “Bring you into fashion? Good God.”

“If you are clever enough, it could be done.”

“I suppose I might manage an invitation or two were it to become known that we were betrothed.”

“No,” he drawled. “Not betrothed. You and I will have an understanding that must remain secret. No, you must bring me into fashion while I court you over, let us say, the next month. That would place the date, if I am not mistaken, near Lady Cottingford’s harvest ball, which I would expect you and me to attend.”

She blinked several times, and for a long moment he felt certain she might faint. “Lady Cottingford’s harvest ball? You are not serious. Surely you understand even I have never attended so prestigious a fete. The . . . the guests are comprised primarily of her London acquaintances, the Park Lane set—Wellington, Byron, and the like. Even the Regent has been known to attend.”

He shrugged. “It sounds quite hopeless, then.  So I suppose I will have to reject your offer, Miss Piper, for it will be the harvest ball or nothing.”

~ ~ ~

Madeline stared very hard at the man before her. He still leaned against the wall, and his arms were yet locked over his broad chest. Even leaning as he was, she still had to look up into his face. His light blue eyes flashed over her, his thoughts reflected in each purposeful glint. It seemed clear to her he was enjoying her discomfiture immensely.

“I believe you must have gone mad. Either that or you have no proper understanding of what you ask.”

“I have a proper understanding,” he responded coolly. “And I am not mad. If you want my fortune, this is my price—to be brought into your society and to attend the harvest ball with you—and your father, of course.”

“There are but a handful of Chilchester families who receive such an invitation. The Pipers never have, not in all these years.”

“But I know how intimately you are connected to all the families in the vicinity. From the first of my acquaintance with you, I understood that fact quite to perfection. Now, you must decide how desperately you want me—or, rather, my fortune. That, my dear, is the price.”

A smiled flickered over his lips, reaching to his eyes, which laughed merrily at her expense. Why shouldn’t he laugh at her? she thought gloomily. She had been brought low by events of the past few days, lower than she had ever imagined possible. She had reviewed all the gentlemen to whom she could have applied to relieve her father of his sudden financial embarrassments. Two of her suitors would have seen to the matter quite nicely, except how could she explain that she had never meant to choose a husband in the context of a marriage of convenience? Such a notion had always been of the most abhorrent to her.

Now her situation was quite different. Certainly she had her dowry, a quite respectable eight thousand pounds, but this paled in comparison to her papa’s debts. If he did not receive relief quite soon, involving a figure four times that amount, Fairlight Manor would be sold at auction to pay his outrageous gaming debts, acquired only recently in a fortnight’s jaunt to Brighton.

She still could not credit it was true. The Pipers were all but ruined. All her dreams were gone, vanished in a roll of the dice. How had this happened to her?

She gave herself a shake. These hopeless ruminations would not do in the least. Better to tend to the matter at hand. “So what you are saying is that I am to bring you into fashion, culminating in an invitation for both of us to attend the harvest ball, along with my father? Have I understood you correctly?”

“Precisely. But, come. Do not be so downcast, Miss Piper. Surely you are made of sterner stuff. I believe with a little effort you could achieve these desired objects. You must have a little more confidence in your abilities.”

At that, she ground her teeth. “I have sufficient confidence in many things, but there is an old proverb about a sow’s ear which troubles me greatly at present.”

He clucked his tongue. “My dear, if you wish to win my heart, or at least my pocketbook, you ought to refrain from insulting me.”

“Then I would beg you not to be so provoking.”

He nodded. “Very well. I shall make such an attempt for your sake.”

“Thank you for at least that much, Sir Roger.”

He smiled and appeared quite mischievous, an expression she found rather appealing. “There, you see,” he said, “we shall do famously. We have already had our first quarrel and survived it quite nicely.”

“Bring you into fashion,” she murmured, trying not to imagine just how difficult, how impossible, such a task would likely prove. “Very well, I shall try.”

He leaned forward slightly and in a low voice said, “If you succeed, Miss Piper, I believe you would find me an agreeable husband.”

Something in his expression, in the piercing quality suddenly present in his blue eyes, diverted her thoughts down a different path altogether. He would be her husband, and she his wife. She would be the mother of his children and all that such an arrangement entailed.

A new blush made its way up her cheeks, only this time she was not so much embarrassed as quite stunned by the thought that such a man, deeply sun bronzed from having

resided in India for over fifteen years, broad of shoulder and chest and in every sense a quite physically powerful man, would by her own permission be granted command of her. Her lips parted and she sucked in a shocked stream of air. How could she ever allow this?

She lifted both hands, a certain panic flooding her. “Forget that I have even broached the subject of matrimony with you, Sir Roger,” she said suddenly. She turned away from him abruptly, intending to leave. “I never should have come. What was I thinking? There must be another way. Something. Anything.”

As she moved away from him, she did not get far, for he caught her arm swiftly in a powerful clasp, at the same time rising to his full height. “Miss Piper, wait,” he said sharply. “I beg you will not run from me. I am no monster, as you seem to believe.”

You might as well be, she thought, checking the words before they spilled past her lips.

“Only tell me what has suddenly overset you,” he added.

She turned back to him. “How can I marry you?” she said. “When you are . . . you are a . . . a Scotsman? Every feeling must be offended. Do you not see as much?”

He still had strong hold of her arm. “That is not what you were thinking just now. I would wager my fortune it was not. Tell me the truth. Why did you suddenly take fright when before you were as bold as Hercules accomplishing one of his twelve labors?”

How could she tell him? “I . . . I did not think, I did not realize until just this moment, what marrying you would . . . would involve.”

A slow smile overspread his lips. “That is what I thought,” he said softly. “But you are mistaken in thinking you would dislike it.”

Before she knew what was happening, he released her arm, only to catch her up in a powerful embrace. She could not even breathe. She knew what he was about to do and a protest did rise to her lips, but before she could utter the words, his lips were upon hers. She had thought she would dislike it immensely, for he was brutish in so many ways, but there was nothing sinister about the soft feel of his lips on hers, a sensation which gave her pause.

Perhaps in this moment curiosity prevailed for she allowed the kiss to continue. Could she bear the touch of a man—for she could hardly call a Scotsman a gentleman—so decidedly beneath her notice?

At first, she appraised the gentle assault in a purely objective manner: arms like a vice; lips soft, even a little moist; a tender search over hers as though he was asking a question. What question? Could she tumble in love with a Scotsman, perhaps? Never, of course. Only why could she no longer frame her thoughts so clearly? Why was she coming to feel so oddly disconnected from herself?

He drew her to himself more closely still, but how was that possible, and why were her hands drifting over his shoulders—and what was this sigh that seemed to pass through her entire being like a welcome summer breeze?

Madeline had never been kissed before, not once in her six and twenty years. She had always supposed that adjusting to it would require a great deal of time and effort. However, she found the current experience so uniquely pleasurable that there drifted through her presently lethargic mind the thought that she could remain within the circle of Sir Roger’s arms forever.

When he drew back, the cloud of unexpected desire which had held her captive disappeared like a morning mist when the sun rises high in the sky. She blinked and saw that there was laughter in his eyes and a smirk on his lips.

“Oh, what a wretch you are,” she said indignantly.

“As I told you before, Miss Piper, you are mistaken in thinking you would dislike being my wife.”

“I think you a horrid beast,” she retorted, scowling at him. “And now, I must away. I must tell Papa that your intention is to court me with the understanding that should I succeed in bringing you into fashion as well as acquiring invitations to the harvest ball, that you would then be willing to marry me and to discharge the sum of his debts. Have I the right of it?’”

“Precisely.”

“Good day, then,” she returned crisply. With that, she whirled about purposefully on her heel and began a quick march toward the nearest turret so that she could make good her escape. She could not bear the thought that he might attempt to kiss her again, for there had been nothing so lowering in her entire exchange with Sir Roger than the fact that she had enjoyed his kisses quite against her will. Very lowering, indeed….

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]I hope you enjoyed reading the first chapter of A DARING COURTSHIP!!! Let my sweet Regency world become a new journey for you!

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Valerie King has published over fifty Regency novels and novellas, primarily with Kensington Publishing and in 2005 Romantic Times honored her with a Career Achievement award in Regency Romance.  Currently, she’s working on a Regency Historical, Sweet Regency novellas, and self-publishing her extensive backlist.  She also writes paranormal and contemporary romance as Caris Roane. Valerie lives in Phoenix with her two cats, Sebastien and Gizzy!

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