Alexander Denford, Baron Sedgwick, is a gentleman to be envied. He lives a rakish life of well-celebrated ease and contentment and has one person to thank for his perfectly ordered existence - his dearest wife, Emmaline. She never complains about his mistresses or his penchant for late nights out. His friends are envious, but they don't know the truth - Emmaline doesn't exist. But when he starts receiving bills from London for clothes, shoes, hats and a staggering amount of other female accoutrements, he realises something is decidedly amiss.
Posing as Emmaline isn't a stretch for the newly arrived Lady Sedgwick, she's been conning gentry for years. But as the popular baron's wife, she now has the one thing that has eluded her - entree into London's inner circles. Against Alexander's better judgment, Emmaline is impossibly fixed in his life. And suddenly Emmaline is challenging him to be the husband she deserves.
For his first month home at Sedgwick Abbey, Alex found himself left in blessed solitude.
Instead of being there to greet him, his grandmother had decided to remain at her sister-in-law's estate for an additional month, most likely unable to leave until they had caught up on every bit of family gossip. Therefore, his summer began with no pestering talk of heirs, no lengthy discussions of Emmaline's continued ill health, just a continuation of his perfectly ordered life that Jack had the audacity to call "boring."
But eventually his grandmother had decided she could no longer leave him to his lonely exile and had returned home like a whirlwind, her herd of pugs trotting in her wake.
Genevieve Denford, Lady Sedgwick, had been born in France, and the sixty-odd years she'd been in England hadn't diminished her Gallic presence in the least.
His grandfather, another reluctant-to-be-wed Denford, had taken a trip to Paris in his late sixties and had brought home (to the horror of his own heir apparent) a French wife.
Given his grandmother's joie de vivre, Alex doubted his grandfather had stood a chance.
A lesson to all unmarried English gentlemen, he'd decided years ago. Never venture across the Channel.
Grandmère had greeted him merrily when he'd come in to breakfast and hadn't stopped talking since. "And imagine Imogene's shock when I told her ..." she was saying from her end of the table, where she sat encircled by her dogs.
It had been quiet without Grandmère, he mused as she barely paused between bites to regale him with tales of his great-aunt's grandchildren -- and, horrors, a few greatgrandchildren. Heirs abounded in Aunt Imogene's world, and he knew the next few months would see no end of hinting and prodding that he and Emmaline should be doing the same as well -- producing the next Sedgwick baron.
He'd have to make a note to his solicitor to have his wife's next letter from Emmaline detail a litany of female complaints that would unhappily prevent such an event. The more, the better. He hoped that would keep Grandmère sufficiently diverted through grouse season.
The door to the dining room opened and Burgess, their butler, entered, staggering beneath a large silver tray. Behind him, a footman followed with an even bigger tray, just as laden with papers and notes.
"My lord, a pouch from Mr. Elliott's office arrived this morning along with the mail," Burgess said, setting his burden on the dining table before Alex. "To be specific, there were three pouches." His bushy brows rose. "Large ones."
Alex stared up at the monumental pile, his knife and fork held in midair. "What the devil is all that?"
Burgess, being ever the diligent butler, replied, "The regular newspapers and periodicals for her ladyship, but the remainder appear mostly to be bills, my lord."
"Bills?" Alex looked at the collection again. He'd instructed his London solicitor to take care of all his outstanding accounts. Besides, that pile looked like something Jack had run up, not him.
"Unlike Elliott to be so inefficient," Alex muttered, as he began to sort through the mess. "Ah, here is the answer. Seems Mr. Elliott's wife has inherited property in Scotland and they needed to inspect the place. His clerk is attending to all his business in his absence. I'll have to speak to him when he returns -- the fellow has obviously gotten my accounts mixed up with some wastrel client of his."
"What is it, my dear?" his grandmother asked from her end of the table, where she was dropping tidbits to her dear dogs.
He waved his hands over the pile of bills. "Just the London papers and such."