“For the next fortnight, you are to be madly in love with me…”
After a difficult youth, ambitious London reporter Colin Goddard finally has security in his sights. He just needs Lady Ada Ellis, sister to a scandal-plagued duke, to share her family’s secrets with his publication.
Once jilted, sharp-witted Ada now whiles away quiet days in the English countryside. Colin’s arrival at her village coincides with a visit from Ada’s onetime fiancé—and so when the charming reporter approaches her, Ada proposes a bargain. If Colin will fake a relationship with her for two weeks, she’ll tell him everything he wants to know.
She’s grumpy and blunt; he’s sunshine over secrets. They have different gifts and come from different worlds. But in their battle of wits and wills, they’ll both win—if they lose their hearts…
This stand-alone novella was previously published in The Duke’s Bridle Path.
Story elements: Fake relationship, work together, opposites attract, class difference
“A charming fake-relationship story…the dialogue sparkles with wit and intelligence, and the sexual tension between Ada and Colin crackles right from the start.”
—All About Romance
“I thoroughly enjoyed this story of two seemingly opposite people coming together.”
—Courtney Reads Romance
About the Book
- I’ve long been a fan of Grace Burrowes’s books, so I jumped at the chance to work with her on a novella duo: The Duke’s Bridle Path. The collection retired in April 2018, and a few months later I reissued my novella, Desperately Seeking Scandal. Grace’s novella, His Grace for the Win, is also available.
- Ways to Wed for Wealth is a fictional work I made up for this novella. The alliterative title seemed to go nicely with Colin’s Vir Virilem pen name.
- The 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson inspired many details about the Goddard family, from the brothers’ upbringing through their freelance writing career. Johnson is thought now to have had Tourette syndrome. I needed a name for the Goddard brother with Tourette’s, and so he became Samuel in honor of Mr. Johnson.
- Samuel gets his own HEA in the bonus story “Desperately Seeking Christmas,” which is included in A Novella Collection.
- When he read this novella, Mr. R pointed out that the infamous questions page in The Gentleman’s Periodical was a perfect example of Betteridge’s law of headlines. Like the more familiar Murphy’s law, this “law” is just for fun. Betteridge’s law of headlines states that for any question posed in a headline, the answer is no. So…did the Prince Regent marry a French woman in secret?
- For the visual inspiration behind characters, objects, and settings in Desperately Seeking Scandal, check out the book’s Pinterest board.
From Chapter 1
If a gentleman wishes to catch a lady of good fortune, he will need good fortune himself. There is no creature so suspicious as a wealthy woman, especially if she is not beautiful. Any male attention is regarded as suspect.
And rightly so.
Vir Virilem, Ways to Wed for Wealth
Rushworth Green, Berkshire
She was certain now. The man was following her.
Ada had suspected it when the fair-haired gentleman regarded the milliner’s shop window far longer than a man normally would. Now that he was waiting for her outside of the confectioner’s, pretending to hold a conversation with Ada’s groom, she was certain of his ulterior motives.
When one was the sister of a duke who had recently wed in scandal, alas, one constantly encountered people with ulterior motives. When she’d been the sister of an unwed duke, it had been the same. Four years ago, when she’d had a London Season and was known to have a substantial dowry—ditto, ditto.
Her brother Philippe’s recent marriage to Harriet Talbot, the daughter of the estate’s former horse master, had only reminded the ton that Lady Ada Ellis existed. That she had been jilted four years before. And that her thirty thousand pounds were yet unclaimed.
To avoid gossip, she now ducked into shops that she didn’t need to visit. She eyed each stranger warily. Unsettling though such preoccupations were, she almost welcomed the break. She’d already spent hours today poring over accounts. Numbers that had always added up before, this time refused to obey. She had to have them in perfect order before her brother returned from his honeymoon trip, so he’d keep her on as steward.
“Been shopping today, my lady?” said the confectioner.
“I…have.” She looked at her empty hands. She didn’t need a thing in the world, but there had to be some reason for her to come to Rushworth Green. “I’m looking on behalf of my brother and his wife. When they return from their honeymoon travels, Her Grace will want to change the house to suit her tastes.”
Until the words came out of her mouth, she hadn’t realized they might be true. But the notion made sense. Every Duchess of Lavelle for hundreds of years had added on to or altered Theale Hall, while every duke oversaw the land and the tenants.
And the dukes’ spinster sisters… what became of them?
Ada wrenched her mind away from that question. “Mr. Porter, do you recognize that man speaking to my groom?”
“To your horse, rather? He’s staying at the White Hare, my lady, with his younger brother. Gave his name as Goddard.”
“Goddard?” She didn’t recognize the name, though reporters at scandal rags adopted outlandish pseudonyms. There was no way to know a Jones from a Finkleworth.
She turned away from the shop window toward the counter. “Thank you, Mr. Porter. A dozen caramels, please.” She stripped off her gloves and tucked them away. If one had to be trapped in a shop by a man who was almost certainly a London reporter, that shop might as well be one that offered sweets.
Porter’s round, ruddy face settled into its familiar smile lines as he counted out the paper-wrapped candies. He had known Ada almost since her birth, and he had never discouraged her fondness for confections.
Once she paid, she took the folded paper sack from the confectioner, opening it at once. Butter! Sugar! The smell alone was heaven.
The mysterious man was still outside. Ha! He met her eye through the shop window as Ada peered at him. Then he had to look away and act innocent, holding forth about halters or the horse’s conformation or whatever it was. Her groom Fowler looked bored, good man.
Oh, never mind this. Ada could stay in the shop forever and eat caramel candy, or she could exit the shop and still eat caramel candy and also find out who this strange person was. Folding over the top of the sack again, she bade good-bye to Porter and marched out of the shop, candies in hand and skirts in a whirl of blue-striped muslin.
Walking up to her bay gelding, Equinox, she greeted Fowler as he held the horse’s bridle and that of his own mount.
“You have been making a friend,” she said to her groom.
Fowler, a thin and grizzled man of middle age, looked uncomfortable. “An acquaintance, my lady.”
“Indeed. And who might this acquaintance be?” She lifted her brows, looking down her nose at the stranger.
“Colin Goddard, my lady.” The man in question swept a bow. He was handsome, annoyingly so, with the sort of waving gilt hair that gentlemen disordered and arranged for maximum appeal.
“Colin Goddard, what business have you with my groom?”
“None at all. I was just admiring your horses.”
Fowler made an indescribable noise. Equinox snorted, bobbing his head. The gelding was an impatient fellow who didn’t like to be kept standing. The gray cob, Fitzhugh, looked up the high street with a mild and curious eye.
“I see,” said Ada. “And now that you’ve admired them, do you plan to make your way through the village and look into more shop windows? Or would you like to have a caramel candy”—she shook the paper bag—“and tell me for which periodical you write?”
“I certainly wouldn’t decline a candy.” The man dared grin, the sort of smile that said, I’m charming and I know it. “I hadn’t better do anything more, for the sake of my reputation.”
“Nonsense. It’s my brother’s reputation you have in mind.”
“Lady Ada, I—”
“There, see? If you were merely smitten by my horses, you wouldn’t know my name.”
“Curses. You are too sly for me.” He shrugged, taking a candy from the bag. In its little paper twist, it looked like a fat butterfly.
“Fowler, you have one too.” Ada held out the bag. When the gelding stretched his neck, she rubbed his velvety muzzle. “None for you, Equinox, though you shall have an apple once you’re back in your stall.” He was as fond of sweets as Ada, but she had seen his teeth stuck together with treacle once before, and she wouldn’t repeat that experience for anything.
Ada unwrapped a candy for herself, tossing the twist of paper back into the sack. Burnt sugar, smooth stickiness, rich butter coated her tongue. Porter was a wizard.
A light autumn breeze tickled her cheeks; dry leaves scudded by along the packed-dirt road. For a moment, Ada sucked at the sweet, considering. “All right. Mr. Goddard—is that truly your name?”
At his lazy nod, she added, “Very well, then. Mr. Goddard. Tell me why you’re here and what you hope to gain.”
“I’d not hoped to benefit from such frankness.”
She ignored the curious glances of the villagers passing by along the sleepy high street. “I’m twenty-four years old, wealthy, plain, and cynical. Frankness is my finest attribute.”
“I should never call you plain.”
“No. You never should. It would be rude.”
She was plain, though, and his candied words didn’t change that. Long face, dark brows. Light brown hair and the family’s gray eyes. Wide mouth, rangy figure, small feet. She seemed put together from pieces of entirely different women. It had been amusing, in her only London Season, to watch the portraitist try to turn her into a conventional beauty. In the end, he had slapped laurels on her head and draped her in a toga, declaring her far too rare to have a more usual sort of portrait.
“I’m a reporter, as you guessed,” he said. “But I’m not seeking a story about your brother.”
So. He was hungry for more pieces of her family, was he? Since scandal writers had made a meal of her eldest brother’s death, scraps of privacy were all that remained. She could spare no more.
“Fowler,” she said, “will you walk Equinox and Fitzhugh up the high street and back? They appear impatient.”
Fowler shot a pitying look at Goddard. “Yes, my lady.”
As soon as they had retreated a few steps, Ada rounded on Goddard. “So.” She made her voice heavy with disbelief. “You’re not interested in the Duke of Lavelle’s marriage.”
“Not at all.”
“Not even though it was to the daughter of our former horse master.” Harriet was a gentleman’s daughter, but that was not how her background had been reported in the press.
“A matter of complete indifference to me, I assure you.”
“You came all the way to Berkshire—”
“It’s not that far. Only a few hours in a mail coach.”
“—for what, then? To eat candies given you by a stranger?”
“Unwise of me,” Goddard granted. “I ought to have asked if you’d done something horrible to it.”
“I didn’t. So what’s the reason you’re following me about?”
He eyed her. His was the sort of assessing attention that a man might give a horse for sale, not the sort a man gave a woman he found attractive. “It might be for a story about you.”
The candy caught in her throat. Her stomach rolled. Could he know about Lord Wrotham’s visit to the area? She had only just got the letter two days ago. “I could thwart you, then, simply by leaving your presence.”
“I’d stay in the inn and haunt you every time you came into Rushworth Green.”
Ada tapped at her chin, considering. “That would be annoying. I suppose I could bribe you to leave.”
“What would keep me from returning for another payment?” He grinned. “Not that I would. I’m just mentioning it as a flaw in your plan.”
He reached for another caramel. She batted his hand away. “I could,” he drawled, “speak to the people in the village. Or the dukedom’s tenants.”
She looked at him coolly. The Lavelle-gray eyes were a formidable weapon when employed properly. “Is that a threat?”
“Only if you are threatened by having people talk about you.” He smiled disarmingly. “Look. Lady Ada. I don’t need your help with this, but it would be easier for us both—and more pleasant—if I had it.”
“And what is ‘this’?”
“The sort of story that will make my career. And it just might make you happy too.”
He looked so pleased with himself, but not in a way that raised her hackles. It was a sort of excited surprise, like the contents of his own mind were an unexpected delight.
By this time, the groom had returned with the two horses. Behind Goddard, Equinox investigated the man’s hat with curious nibbles.
Fowler coughed. “My lady, would you like me to get the constable?”
“No need,” Ada decided. “Mr. Goddard hasn’t done anything wrong. Yet.”
“I would never!” Goddard managed to look wounded. “I’m an honorable man.”
Tucking the little paper sack under one arm, Ada took out her gloves and pulled them back on. “Because following a woman around is exactly what a gentleman would do?”
“It is if he intends to write a story about that woman.”
“Also not what a gentleman would do.” She checked the fit of her gloves, not wanting to look at the reporter again quite yet.
Goddard traveled with a brother, Porter had mentioned. And Goddard said—though it could be a lie—that he didn’t care about her brother’s marriage. Certainly it was true that he didn’t adopt the sly nudge-wink manner that men often did when the subject of Lord Wrotham, that jilt, came up around Ada.
She might be able to make use of this visitor, just as he hoped to make use of her.
Her curiosity was piqued.
She turned away, letting Fowler hand her into the sidesaddle on Equinox’s back. She took up the reins in one hand, regarded the little sack of candies dubiously—then tossed them down to Colin Goddard.
“Don’t regard that as a posy or anything of the sort,” she informed him. “I am at home to callers tomorrow from two o’clock to three. You may call then and explain to me what you have in mind.”
“Thank you, my lady.” When he bowed again, he swept off his hat with all the swagger of a Royalist Cavalier.
Reporters. She rolled her eyes. “And if I don’t like it, I will call the constable.”
That brought him up short. “But I haven’t done—”
“Mr. Goddard. Do you really believe the family of a duke needs a reason to have someone removed from their presence?”
It was a good parting line. As Ada wheeled Equinox about and set him on the road back to the ducal seat, followed by Fowler on his cob, she wondered if Goddard was watching her ride off.
She decided she didn’t mind if he was. For the past four years, Lady Ada Ellis had been buffeted by one loss after another.
Now she just might have a chance to strike back.
* * *
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