Rumors (Harlequin Historical)

By: Louise Allen

What does it matter if society spurns me?

Following a disastrous incident at a house party, Lady Isobel Jervis is exiled to the country to avoid further scandal. At the imposing Wimpole Hall, she meets architect Giles Harker. He is as eye-catching as the elegant house, but shockingly arrogant—and infuriatingly dismissive.

Despite himself, Giles is strangely drawn to the haughty Isobel, and stuns her with a secret kiss in the gardens. As the illegitimate son of an infamous scarlet woman, he knows love can be dangerous. Their growing attraction could come at the cost of both their reputations.

“I would give a year of my life

for one night in your arms.”

His voice was muffled against her skin as she lifted her hand to touch his hair.

Isobel gasped. It was all her fantasies about Giles, all her wicked longings, offered to her to take. All she needed was the courage to reach out.

Almost as soon as he said it, she felt him hear his own words. The enchanted bubble that surrounded them shattered like thin glass. Giles’s body tensed under her hands, then he released her and stepped back.

“I am sorry. I should never have spoken, never touched you.” His face was tight with a kind of pain that his physical injuries had not caused. “I did not mean— Isobel, forgive me. I would not hurt you for the world.”

He turned on his heel and walked away without looking back.

* * *

Chapter One

February 2nd, 1801—the Old North Road, Cambridgeshire

The chaise rattled and lurched. It was an almost welcome distraction from the stream of bright and cheerful chatter Isobel’s maid had kept up ever since they left London. ‘It isn’t exile really, now is it, my lady? Your mama said you were going to rusticate in the country for your health.’

‘Dorothy, I know you mean to raise my spirits, but exile is precisely the word for it.’ Lady Isobel Jervis regarded the plump young woman with scarce-concealed exasperation. ‘To call it rustication is to draw a polite veil over the truth. Gentlemen rusticate when they have to escape from London to avoid their creditors.

‘I have been banished, in disgrace, and that is exile. If this was a sensation novel the fact that it is completely undeserved and unjust would cast a romantic glow over the situation. But this is not a novel.’ She stared out through the drizzle at the gently undulating farmland rolling past the post-chaise window. In reality the injustice only increased her anger and misery.

She had taken refuge in the country once before, but that had been justified, essential and entirely her own doing. This, on the other hand, was none of those things.

‘That was the sign to Cambridge we’ve just passed,’ Dorothy observed brightly. She had been this infuriatingly jolly ever since the scandal broke. Isobel was convinced that she had not listened to a word she had said to her.

‘In that case we cannot be far from Wimpole Hall.’ Isobel removed her hands from under the fur-lined rug and took the carriage clock from its travelling case on the hook. ‘It is almost two o’clock. We left Berkeley Street at just before eight, spent an hour over luncheon and changing horses, so we have made good time.’

‘And the rain has eased,’ Dorothy said, bent on finding yet another reason for joy.

‘Indeed. We will arrive in daylight and in the dry.’ The chaise slowed, then swung in through imposing gateposts. From her seat on the left-hand side Isobel glimpsed the bulk of a large brick inn and a swinging sign. ‘The Hardwicke Arms—we are in the right place, at least.’

As they passed between the gateposts Isobel began to take more interest in the prospect from the window: it would be her home for the next two months.

The tree-dotted parkland rose gently on the left-hand side. She glimpsed a small stone building on the top of one low knoll, then, as the carriage swung round, the house came into view.

‘Lawks,’ Dorothy observed inelegantly.

‘It is the largest house in the shire,’ Isobel pointed out. ‘I thought it might be a small palace from what Mama said, but it looks curiously welcoming, don’t you think? Quite like home at Bythorn Hall.’ It was no simple mansion, to be sure, but the red brick looked warm, despite the chill of the sodden February air.

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