The Beguilement of Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh
An original Stephanie Laurens novel
Volume 3 in The Cavanaughs Series
Release Date: July 18, 2019
In E-book, print, and audio worldwide from MIRA Books
PRINT ISBN: 978-1-925559-34-7
E-BOOK ISBN: 978-1-925559-19-4
#1 New York Timesbestselling author Stephanie Laurens continues the bold tales of the Cavanaugh siblings as the sole Cavanaugh sister discovers that love truly does conquer all.
A lady with a passion for music and the maestro she challenges in pursuit of a worthy cause find themselves battling villains both past and present as they fight to secure life’s greatest rewards—love, marriage, and family.
Stacie—Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh—is adamant marriage is not for her. Haunted by her parents’ unhappy union, Stacie believes that, for her, marriage is an unacceptable risk. Wealthy and well-born, she needs for nothing, and with marriage off the table, to give her life purpose, she embarks on a plan to further the careers of emerging local musicians by introducing them to the ton via a series of musical evenings.
Yet despite her noble status, Stacie requires a musical lure to tempt the haut ton to her events, and in the elevated circles she inhabits, only one musician commands sufficient cachet—the reclusive and notoriously reluctant Marquess of Albury.
Frederick, Marquess of Albury, has fashioned a life for himself as a musical scholar, one he pursues largely out of sight of the ton. He might be renowned as a virtuoso on the pianoforte, yet he sees no reason to endure the smothering over-attentiveness of society. Then his mother inveigles him into meeting Stacie, and the challenge she lays before him is…tempting. On a number of fronts. Enough for him not to immediately refuse her.
A dance of subtle persuasion ensues, and step by step, Frederick finds himself convinced that Stacie’s plan has real merit and that it behooves him to support her. At least for one event.
Stacie’s first musical evening, featuring Frederick as the principal performer, is a massive success—until Fate takes a hand and lands them in a situation that forces them both to reassess.
Does Frederick want more than the sterile, academic life he’d thought was for him?
Can Stacie overcome her deepest fears and own to and reach for her girlhood dreams?
Impulsive, arrogant, and used to getting his own way, Frederick finds his answer easily enough, but his new direction puts him on a collision course with Stacie’s fears. Luckily, he thrives on challenges—which is just as well, because in addition to convincing Stacie that love can, indeed, conquer all, he and she must unravel the mystery of who is behind a spate of murderous attacks before the villain succeeds in eliminating all hope of a happy ending.
"This fast-moving historical romance features more than a few delicious twists that represent Laurens at her best, serving up her fine blend of romance and intrigue in such a way that her readers have learned to expect the unexpected.” Angela M., Copy Editor, Red Adept Editing
“In her lyrical new romance, New York Times Bestselling Author Stephanie Laurens masterfully weaves a taut tale of fiery passion, soaring love, and spellbinding intrigue set against the impeccable manners and mores of nineteenth-century England.” Rene R., Proofreader, Red Adept Editing
"Stacie and Frederick, both members of the nobility, have long opposed marriage for reasons of their own. The love story that eventually blossoms between them will please historical romance fans!" Kristina B., Proofreader, Red Adept Editing
March 5, 1844
Albury House, Upper Grosvenor Street, London
Lord Frederick Kingsley Montgomery Brampton, seventh Marquess of Albury, walked into his mother’s sitting room in his London house to discover his parent sitting in an armchair, sipping tea and showing no sign whatever of being close to imminent demise.
Not that Frederick had actually expected his mother to be at death’s door, yet every time he responded to one of her vague summonses, which invariably hinted at the onset of a grave decline, only to find her as robust as when he’d last seen her, relief ghosted through him; one day, he knew, the summons would be real.
Today, however, as his mother’s gaze fell on him, she brightened and smiled. “Ah, Frederick—you’ve come. Yes, I know—I’m a sad trial, but I assure you, I was feeling utterly wretched and faint yesterday, quite unable to lift my head. Yet this morning, I awoke, and the faintness had passed.”
“For which I must be thankful, Mama.” His mother was still a handsome woman with her silvery hair confined beneath a lace cap and her tall figure elegantly and fashionably gowned. Frederick bent and kissed her lined cheek, then nodded in greeting to the other occupant of the room, his mother’s longtime companion, Mrs. Emily Weston, who was seated on the chaise beside his mother’s favorite wing chair. “Good morning, Emily. I trust you’re enjoying your customary rosy health.”
That appeared to be the case; Emily’s eyes were bright, her peaches-and-cream complexion all but glowing. Ten years younger than his mother’s fifty-six years, Emily had been the marchioness’s trusted friend and confidante for the past decade and more.
Failing to hide an understanding smile, Emily inclined her head. “Indeed, Frederick, I’m very well.” Emily’s gaze returned to his mother, as if waiting for a shoe to fall.
On following Emily’s gaze, Frederick caught a glint of calculation in his mother’s eyes. That she’d called him up for some purpose from his preferred abode of the marquessate’s principal seat, Brampton Hall in Surrey, wasn’t a surprise. What that purpose was…
He sank into the wing chair on the other side of the hearth, fixed his mother with a weary look, and in a resigned tone, inquired, “What is it this time, Mama?”
His mother blinked her eyes wide. “Whatever do you mean, dear boy?” With barely a pause, she went on, “Tell me, how are things faringat Brampton?”
So, it’s to be like that, is it? Stifling a sigh, he replied with what patience he could muster; his mother would reveal her hand when she was ready and not before. As it happened, he would have returned to town in a week’s time to attend an event; responding to her summons hadn’t truly put him out.
His mother ran through her usual questions regarding the estate, the staff, and the tenants, then angled a look at Emily.
Emily duly caught his gaze. “Are you pursuing any particular musical text at the moment?”
Suppressing a frown, he answered; the question was guaranteed to distract him and pass the time—there were few weeks in the year when he wasn’t either studying or on the trail of some ancient musical text. The history of music—of ancient music in particular—had been his abiding interest since he’d left Eton. Yet Emily being prompted by his mother to ask such a question now, rather than, for instance, in the drawing room before dinner, suggested she was intent on keeping him in the sitting room—presumably because the reason for her summons was about to manifest.
Two minutes later, Fortingale, the butler, appeared and announced, “Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh has called, my lady.” With a bow to Frederick, Fortingale added, “My lord.”
A single glance at his mother’s face was enough to inform Frederick that Lady Eustacia was, indeed, the reason his mother had inveigled him into returning to the capital.
Her eyes lighting as if Lady Eustacia’s arrival was a delightful surprise, his mother declared, “How lovely! Do show her ladyship in, Fortingale.”
Fortingale bowed and withdrew.
Rising in anticipation of the lady’s entrance, Frederick shot his mother a narrow-eyed look. He’d thought she’d given up all attempts at matchmaking years ago. Apparently not, yet if she thought time had eroded his defenses, she was destined to suffer comprehensive disappointment.
Piqued over having been jockeyed into a meeting for which he had absolutely no desire, with his temper stirring, he turned toward the door as Fortingale opened it and ushered in…a vision.
Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh was, without a doubt, the most vibrantly attractive lady Frederick had ever laid eyes on.
With only the most cursory of curious glances his way, she glided forward and curtsied gracefully to his mother. “Lady Philippa. Thank you for receiving me.”
Beaming, his mother held out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to welcome you, my dear.”
Lady Eustacia straightened and clasped his mother’s hand.
With her free hand, his mother waved at him. “You must allow me to present my son, Albury.”
Eyes of a soft periwinkle blue lifted to Frederick’s face. Lady Eustacia’s gaze was open, direct, and surprisingly, devoid of guile.
She carried herself well, with her head held high on a long, slender neck. Her face was heart-shaped, her nose straight, her lips lush and full. Her features were finely drawn, the lines worthy of a master painter, and her pale, porcelain-fine skin with its milk-and-roses complexion was utterly without flaw. She was, at best, of medium height, and her figure was voluptuously curvaceous, yet it was neither her features nor her curves that rendered her so eye-catching. That effect—that jolting impact—was primarily due to her coloring, to the dramatic contrast between her pale complexion and her glossy locks the color of the richest mahogany, those large, soft blue eyes, heavily fringed by sweeping black lashes and set beneath delicately arched dark brows, and the crushed-strawberry delight of her seductively beckoning lips.
Frederick sensed his resistance wavering and promptly strengthened it; the lady might be stunning, but given his mother’s hand in arranging this meeting, Eustacia Cavanaugh had to bode ill for him. More, as his mind refocused on self-preservation, he realized who she was; he invested in syndicates run by Lord Randolph Cavanaugh, and unless Frederick missed his guess, Lady Eustacia had to be Rand’s younger sister.
That meant she was the daughter of a marquess and the half sister of Ryder Cavanaugh, the current Marquess of Raventhorne, and thus belonged to the same rank of the nobility as Frederick himself.
She inclined her head to him and curtsied, sinking to precisely the correct degree. “Lord Albury.”
“Lady Eustacia.” Ingrained good manners had him clasping and bowing over the hand she offered—long, delicate fingers sheathed in soft skin—only to feel a distinct spark of connection, a definite jerk on his sensual chain.
Everything male in him immediately fixated on her. As she straightened, he saw consciousness flash behind her eyes and a hint of color tinge her cheeks, but then her lashes lowered, and she drew back her hand, and he was forced to let her fingers slide from his.
Swiftly, he ran his gaze over her; she was fashionably attired in a walking dress of bright cherry red, which made the most of her dramatic coloring yet was distinctly severe in cut and style, almost repressively so. Although he paid scant attention to female fashions, he was fairly sure the current trend for walking dresses wasn’t quite so buttoned up.
“And yes, Frederick”—his mother’s voice drew his attention from whence it had wandered—“I confess that the suspicions you’re harboring are entirely correct.”
He was fairly certain that was the case; Lady Eustacia wore no ring, so was presumably unmarried, and therefore, given her station, let alone her connections, she numbered among the ladies he could not seduce.
His mother rolled on, “Lady Eustacia approached me regarding a matter involving you and music. I requested your return to town so she might put her notion to you directly.”
He stiffened as the words registered, and his resistance roared back to life. He could guess what was coming; had Eustacia been of lesser rank, he would simply have said “No” and walked from the room. But she was Rand’s sister—Ryder’s sister; he had to be polite.
Schooling his expression to one of cool implacability, he refocused on Eustacia Cavanaugh’s arresting face and arched an arrogant, distinctly chilly, intentionally intimidating interrogatory eyebrow.
To his surprise, she regarded him with a directness that would generally be considered overbold, and a frown lurked in the depths of her blue eyes.
Stacie had thought she’d prepared herself for this meeting—that she’d come with her arguments well-rehearsed and perfectly structured to overwhelm the defenses of a reclusive, resistant, recalcitrant, and thoroughly difficult-to-sway nobleman—only to have her concentration fractured by the utterly mundane touch of his fingers closing around hers.
Despite her years of experience within the ton, the resulting flare of sensation—the shock of it rippling over her senses—had been unprecedented and intensely unsettling.
She’d been warned he was handsome, but no one had mentioned how disturbingly attractive he was in the flesh. Sable-brown hair fell in fashionably cropped locks about his well-shaped head, framing a wide forehead, while his clean-shaven face bore the hallmarks of his ancestry—well-set, heavy-lidded eyes beneath strong eyebrows and fringed by thick, dark lashes, combined with chiseled cheekbones, a strong aquiline nose, and a square chin—although the firm yet sensual line of his lips didn’t quite match the rigid austerity of the planes of cheek and brow.
He was on the tallish side, with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and long, lean legs, and was impeccably attired in a black coat of the finest superfine worn over pristine ivory linen, a pale-gray-silk waistcoat, and well-fitted buckskin breeches. He had, apparently, just driven up from the country, yet not a speck of dust marred the glossy surface of his black boots.
All the above created a visual distraction, but it was the intensity in his gaze and the sense of a powerful personality behind his light-brown eyes that transfixed her senses; his very presence captured her attention in a way she’d never before encountered.
But she’d worked and schemed to get this meeting. She couldn’t afford to waste the opportunity, especially as, judging by the icy reserve that now cloaked him, she wouldn’t get a second chance.
“Lord Albury,” she began.
“Lady Eustacia,” he immediately responded, in an aloof and utterly bored tone that all but screamed she was wasting her time.
But she wasn’t a lady easily cowed; she seized the opening. “Please—call me Stacie.” She held his gaze and relaxed her lips into a charmingly inviting smile. “Everyone does.”
He didn’t blink. “I’ve rarely thought of myself as ‘everyone.’”
So he’s determined to be difficult.Her smile deepened; two could play that game. “Indeed, you are quite unique, my lord”—from the corner of her eye, she saw his mother battle to stifle a snort—“which is the primary reason I’ve sought this meeting, so that I may lay before you a proposition that I believe will appeal to your musical interests.”
He cast about for some sharp riposte, but what could he say? In the end, he arched a languid brow, inviting her to proceed.
“As you’re doubtless aware, for many years—decades, in fact—ton hostesses have made a point of hiring foreign musicians to perform at all their musical events throughout the Season.” That wasn’t what he’d expected her to speak of; she detected faint confusion surfacing behind his eyes. Holding his gaze, she continued, “Those musicians come from France, Italy, Spain—even Germany and Russia. Indeed, many of the current crop of musicians lauded on the Continent were, as they say, ‘discovered’ here. They arrived in England as mere hopefuls and, through becoming the protégés of powerful hostesses, built a following here and, eventually, returned to their own country with money, experience, and a reputation they wouldn’t otherwise have gained.”
He was frowning faintly. “I’m aware of how the world of music operates, Lady Eustacia.”
“Stacie,” she reminded him. “And I expect you are. But have you ever considered the consequent plight of our local English musicians?”
He blinked, and she went on, “Consider, if you will—our musicians do not travel to the Continent. Even if they made the journey, while there are similar musical events—salons, musicales—held in all European capitals, the performers for those are drawn from the ranks of local musicians who have returned after making their name in England. London—and Edinburgh, admittedly, but given the sheer number of events, London most especially—is the crucible in which musicians’ fortunes are forged.”
He nodded somewhat curtly, but he was listening now. When she’d appealed to his mother, her companion, and his sisters regarding her scheme, all had agreed the idea was brilliant, but that it was impossible to get Albury to do anything he did not wish to; apparently, he was one of those men who was highly resistant to being managed and, conversely, always insisted on getting his own way.
However, his cooperation was vital for the achievement of Stacie’s goal and her pursuit of the purpose in life she’d crafted as her own—an undertaking that suited her perfectly, given her longstanding appreciation of and devotion to classical music performances.
In light of that, she’d elected to view recruiting Albury as a challenge to her manipulative wiles, a legitimate use of the innate talent she’d inherited from her mother. At least in this, she could put that native skill to good use.
“As I’m sure you’ll agree,” she went on, “we English are not devoid of musical talent—your own ability gives that the lie.” She didn’t dare shift her gaze from his eyes; she was still feeling her way with him, trying to gauge his reactions via his irritatingly impassive countenance. “However, exceptional musical talent is not in any way linked to wealth or social rank. Consequently, while through a handful of long-ago performances in your mother’s and sisters’ drawing rooms, you attained fame”—his face abruptly hardened, and she held up a placating hand—“a fame I accept you did not seek and have little use for, but that, nonetheless, you easily gained, worthy English musicians from less-exalted social ranks find the hostesses’ doors are closed to them, and therefore, the ton’s eyes are shut to them. They have no opening—no stage on which they might prove themselves and so achieve the standing of soloist. No matter how wonderfully talented they are, the best our local musicians can hope for is a position in one of the theater orchestras or as one of a group of chamber musicians, playing hidden away in alcoves at the lesser balls.”
From the corner of her eye, she could see his mother and Mrs. Weston avidly following the exchange, but there was no point appealing to them for assistance. Her plan—her purpose—would live or die on her ability to convince Albury to throw in his lot with her.
After several seconds of holding her gaze—with absolutely no sign of softening in his face—his lashes flickered, and he tipped his head. “I’m aware the situation is as you describe.”
But what do you propose to do about it?hung in the air between them—precisely the invitation she’d angled for.
She tipped up her chin and met his unvoiced challenge. “It’s my ambition to advance the prospects of local English musicians by using my social standing to create opportunities to display their talents before the haut ton.”
Real interest—an arrested sort of interest—flared in his eyes; she’d broken through his walls—or at least found a chink in his armor.
“In short,” she went on, “I propose to host musical evenings, featuring as performers the best local musicians one of the premier music schools in London has to offer.”
When she paused, his eyes slowly narrowed, signaling that, in envisioning such an event, he perceived the obvious weakness in her plan.
Meeting his increasingly suspicious gaze, she gently smiled. “Of course, not even my name and the backing of my supporters would be enough to fill my rooms for a program featuring only unknown local performers.”
The penny dropped; he straightened, resistance and rejection flashing across his face.
Before he could say no, she ruthlessly pressed on, “And that, Lord Albury, is why I wished to lay my plan before you and, in the name of our best local musicians, appeal to you to support my endeavor by agreeing to perform as the essential drawcard for such events.”
Frederick wanted to say no. To simply refuse and…move on to discussing something else with the surprisingly engaging—attractively confounding—Lady Eustacia. Stacie.
Instead, he stared at her as the realization sank in that he honestly didn’t know how he wished to respond to her invitation.
He’d been annoyed by her conspiring with his mother to gain this meeting, but the irritation was fading. If she’d tried to contact him directly, he wouldn’t have agreed to see her; perhaps he should be thankful she hadn’t thought to approach him through Rand or Ryder. And she’d confounded him with her request—an appeal to his better self that was shockingly well-aimed.
Her argument regarding local musicians was logical, well-based, and struck a chord with him, yet he was equally drawn by her physical attributes and by her determination to place her argument before him and attempt to lure him into breaking his self-imposed rule of playing only for himself or for scholarly purposes.
Yet his suspicions remained; that she was unmarried, attractive, of his own social class, and had approached him through his mother signaled that this was a matchmaking attempt, albeit one of significantly greater subtlety than any previous tilt at him.
He was perfectly aware that he ranked very highly as an eligible parti—yet surely, so must she.
She wasn’t that young; from her assured behavior, he judged she was at least twenty-five years old. So why wasn’t she married?
If they’d been alone, he would have asked her—to confound her as much as to hear what she would say. Yet if she was avoiding marriage, then presumably she harbored no matrimonial intentions toward him; indeed, she’d given no sign of trying to lure him in that way, which suggested that her quest to help local musicians was her true purpose in confronting him.
He had no intention of agreeing to her request, yet he didn’t want to refuse her outright—not before learning more about her scheme. The prospect might prove to be as intriguing as she was, and Lord knew, he was bored.
Jaded and bored.
Even though he hadn’t been looking for diversion, Lady Eustacia—Stacie—had given him something novel to think about.
He held her gaze and coolly stated, “I acknowledge the validity of the points you’ve made. I’ll consider your proposal and inform you of my decision in due course.”
Would she argue and try to press him?
She didn’t shift her eyes from his; behind the blue of hers, he saw calculation—an assessing consideration she didn’t try to hide.
Then, to his considerable surprise, her lashes veiled her eyes, and she inclined her head. “Thank you, my lord.”
Stacie returned her gaze to his face. “The musicians of London and I will await your decision in the hope that you will see your way to lending your support in an arena and in a way only a nobleman of your particular talents can.”
With that parting shot, she forced herself to turn to his mother and, gracefully, take her leave. While uttering the customary phrases, she swiftly reviewed the short meeting. Unless she’d misread him, Albury’s response had been a test of sorts; exactly what he’d been angling to determine, she didn’t know, but she’d got the clear impression that he’d expected her to argue further—so she’d done the opposite.
With him, she was reduced to operating on instinct; she hadn’t been able to get any clear indication of his thoughts so had been forced to forsake logic and fall back on her innate abilities.
He might not have agreed to her proposal, but he hadn’t refused yet; at the very least, she would get another chance to persuade him to her cause.
A cause that, sadly, would go nowhere without his active involvement. His and only his; his agreement to perform was crucial to her success, to her achieving the goal she’d set herself. Consequently, in pursuit of his agreement, she was willing to play a long game. What she’d seen and learned of him in this meeting had confirmed that persuading him to perform at her musical evenings would require unwavering persistence and commitment to her goal. Luckily, she’d been born with the former, and the latter had grown to an unshakeable resolve.
At the last, she turned to him and offered her hand. “Lord Albury.”
He clasped her fingers, and his golden gaze trapped hers. For a second, he hesitated, then said, “If I’m to call you Stacie, then perhaps you should call me Frederick.”
Those were close to the last words she’d expected him to utter; they distracted her from suppressing her awareness of him—from steeling her senses against his physical impact—and her fingers quivered beneath his before she ruthlessly hauled her mind back to its task. Stilling her fingers, too wary to take her eyes from his, she inclined her head. “Frederick, then. Until next we meet.”
A slight lift to one eyebrow signaled that he’d heard her unstated challenge, then he inclined his head and released her hand.
With her heart unexpectedly thudding, she flashed the marchioness and her companion a grateful smile, then turned and walked to the door. A footman opened it, and sufficiently satisfied with her first tilt at Albury—Frederick—with her head high, she sailed through and found the butler waiting to see her out.
Frederickwatched the door close behind Stacie Cavanaugh and owned himself puzzled—by her behavior and by his.
Until next we meet. Obviously, he would be seeing her again—and most likely, without his mother in attendance.
Speaking of whom…
He turned his head and directed a pointed look at his parent. When all she did was blink at him, he arched his brows in patent longsuffering, then with a nod to her and Emily, made for the door.
To his no doubt abiding distraction, he was actually looking forward to crossing paths with Lady Eustacia—Stacie—again.
When the door closed behind Frederick, the marchioness turned and exchanged an intrigued look with Emily. “Well!” the marchioness declared. “That went a great deal better than I’d expected.”
Emily nodded. “He didn’t just say no.”
“Indeed.” The marchioness’s expression turned pensive. After several moments sunk in thought, she mused, “I did wonder, when Stacie appeared on the doorstep, as it were, if that might be a sign. If any lady has proved as resistant to the notion of marriage as Frederick, then surely it would be she.”
“One has to admit that they seem to share a great many interests, including avoiding the altar.”
The marchioness nodded. “I do believe, Emily dear, that Fate might have finally taken a hand and steered Stacie into Frederick’s path.”
“Or him into hers, as the case may be.”
“Regardless”—the marchioness sat up, determination infusing both her spine and her expression—“Stacie Cavanaugh is unquestionably the best prospect for a daughter-in-law yet to come our way. We must stand ready to do whatever we can to assist in securing such a desirable result.”
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