SCANDALOUS AGAIN: Switching Places #1
In this story by New York Times historical bestseller Christina Dodd, two exquisite cousins must exchange identities in a scandalous deception.
Madeline de Lacy, the duchess of Magnus, prides herself on being one of the most sensible young women in England, which is why she can’t believe that, in a turn of the cards, her noble father has lost his entire estate — and her! — to a stranger.
On a mission to salvage her family fortune, she changes places with her cousin and companion, sending the meeker Eleanor to confront the man who had won Madeline’s hand. Now, Madeline is free to enter the home of a notorious gambler, and pretends to be meek, humble, and competent with an iron. Just when she thinks matters can’t get worse, she meets Gabriel Ansell, the earl of Campion…
Four years ago, Madeline was engaged to Gabriel, and worshipped his arrogant kisses. Now, being forced to marry a man she doesn’t know pales in comparison to the ordeal of facing Gabriel again, the man who betrayed her — Gabriel, the only man she ever loved.
It happens to all of us. We're thrown into circumstances where we have to pretend to be someone else. Like when you graduate from high school, go to college, and pretend you're a college student. Or you get married and pretend you're a wife. Or you have a baby and you pretend to be a mother. You ask for the instruction manual and everybody chuckles. You're in earnest.
So you face the days, one at a time. Sure, you fall on your face occasionally, but gradually, you discover your strengths. Maybe you're not like all the other college students or the other wives or the other mothers, but as time goes on you fail less and less. Finally, you find out that in the process of faking it, you've proved you're just as smart, just as good, just as witty, just as accomplished, as anyone in the world! It's a great feeling, and it's happened to me maybe ... twice. But that feeling is all the more significant for being rare.
Madeline de Lacy, duchess of Magnus, faces just such a situation when she changes places with her companion and cousin, Miss Eleanor de Lacy. Madeline has to pretend to be meek, humble and competent with an iron. She is, of course, none of those things. Just when she thinks matters couldn't get worse, she meets her former fiance, Gabriel Ansell, the earl of Campion - and matters get much, much worse.
"Now, Madeline, I realize you've only just arrived home from your tour abroad, and you deserve to spend some time here relaxing at home, but I'm afraid that's not possible."
Madeline de Lacy, the duchess of Magnus, bit into the first good English beef she'd had in almost four years, chewed, swallowed, and smiled beatifically across the sunny breakfast table at the bluff, red-cheeked, bulldog of an Englishman. "Why is that, Papa?"
"I wagered you in a game of piquet and I lost."
Incredulity, skepticism, and belief followed in swift order. Placing her knife and fork carefully beside her plate, she glanced at the dumb-founded footman, frozen in place as he bent to pour Magnus his morning coffee. "That will do, Heaton. Place the carafe on the sideboard. We'll call you if we need you." When Heaton had left, she gazed at her father, and repeated, for she wanted no misunderstanding in this matter, "You wagered me in a game of chance and lost."
He continued eating steadily, silverware clinking and flashing. "No use trying to soften the blow, I say. Not with you, m'dear. Sturdy girl. Sensible girl. Always said so. Glad of it."
Madeline took a fortifying breath. "Why would you put me in a game as ante?"
"Well, he suggested it."
"And you agreed because …?"
"I'd just lost our fortune and all our estates. You were the only thing left."
Amazing how rational he made it sound. "So in a run of bad luck, you wagered everything we have and your only child?" Her brows rose. After the death of her mother seventeen years ago, when Madeline was five, her life had changed from that of sheltered daughter to one of a girl dealing with the frequent disasters orchestrated by her beloved papa. By the time she was twelve, she knew how to direct a household, to plan a party, to deal with every kind of social disaster.
She was not prepared for this. Yet her heartbeat remained calm, her brow unwrinkled, her hands relaxed in her lap. She'd faced catastrophes of Olympian proportions before all, with the notable exception of one, the result of her father's careless disregard. Her composure would not be compromised now.
"At least if he won you, you'd be assured of having our estates under your control, or at least the control of your husband." Magnus chewed thoughtfully. "It's almost the same as offering the estates as your dowry."
"Except if the estates had been offered as a dowry, I would have the advantage of knowing my husband and agreeing to the match." It seemed a point her father should concede, although she had little hope of that.
"There is that, but really, what difference would it make if you know the chap? You were already engaged once. You loved him. And that proved an unmitigated disaster! What was his name? Brown-haired fellow with those damned disturbing eyes." Gazing up at the gilded, cherub-decorated ceiling, Magnus stroked his chin. "He was a hundred times more suitable than this Mr. Knight, but you jilted him. Rendered London speechless for at least" — he chuckled — "eight seconds. Until then, didn't know you could lose your temper. What was his name?"
A crack appeared in her tranquility; her hands curled into fists. "Gabriel Ansell, the earl of Campion."
"That's right. B'God, I'll never forget. Magnificent in your wrath! Reminded me of your mother on a rampage."
Madeline didn't want to hear this. She didn't like to be reminded of her rage, or her loss of control, or that night and what followed. Afterward, for the first time in her life, she'd tossed duty aside. She'd gone abroad to forget, and hadn't come back until she'd achieved forgetfulness. She never thought of Gabriel anymore. She scarcely remembered his name.
"Your mother was just like you. Always levelheaded except when she flew into the boughs, then the oceans quailed." Turning toward the closed door, Magnus shouted, "More kippers!"
Picking up the bell at her elbow, Madeline rang it. The butler answered. Heaton had undoubtedly raced to the kitchen to share the extraordinary news with the household. She addressed Uppington in a composed manner. "His grace would like more kippers." Anything to fill his mouth and stop him from talking about Gabriel. About Lord Campion.
Uppington bowed. In his rush to handle yet another of Magnus's "situations," he had buttoned his tailed jacket askew. "Aye, My Lady." He refilled their plates.
Madeline bent her attention to eating again. A less formidable woman would have had her appetite destroyed by Magnus, but if Madeline allowed her father to destroy her appetite every time he scrambled their fortunes, she would be a wraith. She saw no wisdom in that.
"Will there be anything else, My Lady?" Uppington asked.
"Not … yet." Although, she reflected, perhaps she should ask for a cricket bat or any blunt object with which to beat sense into her parent. Actually, it was far too late. She knew that … or she might have tried it. She was accounted to have a good swing.
"Don't know how I got along without you while you were gone, my dear." Magnus provided a brief pat on her arm. "What shall we do today? Good day for hunting. Or perhaps you'd like to ride into the village and visit your old governess, Mrs. Watting."
"Watling," Madeline corrected. "I'd like to hear more about this wager."
Puzzled, he asked, "What else is there to know?"
"Perhaps the name of my new … husband? Or am I to be a mistress?"
"Mistress?" Magnus harrumphed indignantly. "Good God, daughter, do you think me totally without prudence and sensibility? Of course you're not to be his mistress! Chap is to marry you, or nothing!"
"Such a relief." She marveled at her father's equanimity in the face of what was economic and social disaster. "Do I know him?"
"No. He's an American, or at least he hailed from the Colonies."
"I believe they've achieved their independence," Madeline said drily.
Magnus dismissed that fact with an airy wave. "It'll never last. The Americans will come crawling back to dear old Mother England. No, Knight's family originated here, and he arrived in London last year. Been making a name for himself in the clubs. Not popular, but I had to play him. Couldn't resist."
And that was the problem. Magnus couldn't resist any kind of gaming challenge. "His name is …?" she prompted.
"Ah. Mr. Remington Knight." Magnus frowned. "He has the devil's own luck with the cards." He said nothing more, as if that settled every curiosity she might have.
If one were unacquainted with Magnus, one might have thought him a monster of parental disinterest. Madeline knew better. He loved her as best his shallow personality could love, but he lacked both an attention span and a sense of responsibility. Fortuitously, Madeline had always been a strong-willed female of unusual prudence. "Is he old, young, a professional gambler, a merchant?"
"Well. Not worthy of a duke's daughter and a duchess in her own right, but damned hard to find anyone worthy of us, isn't there? Even your mother, God rest her soul, was only the daughter of a marquess."
"So he is a … gentleman? Or as much of a gentleman as any American can be?"
"Unexceptional. Dresses well, coats by Worth, cloisonné snuffbox, keeps a townhouse in Berkeley Square, popular with the ladies." Magnus dabbed a bit of yolk off his mustache. "Got that damnable accent, but men respect him."
Madeline correctly interpreted the last comment. "He can use his fists."
"Boxes. Punishing left. Good defense. Punched the hell out of Oldfield, and you know how he can fight."
"I've heard," Madeline said dryly. She finished her meal in silence, thinking hard all the while. She had no intention of marrying … anyone. Her one venture into romance had ended disastrously. If left up to her, an ancient title would die with Magnus. Glancing up, she saw Magnus watching her with a worried frown.
"See here, Mad, if you really object to marrying this fellow, you don't have to. I have a scheme —"
Well acquainted with her father's schemes, which usually involved gambling and ensuing disaster, Madeline exclaimed, "Heavens, no!" Realizing she had been less than tactful, and possibly had waved the red flag at her bull of a father, she added, "I have a plan, too. I'm going to go to London and explain to Mr. Knight it would be ridiculous for us to wed."