A Breath of Scandal by Elizabeth Essex - Fiction
Breath of Scandal from The Reckless Brides series
Forced by her family into an engagement with a man she can never abide, Antigone Preston knows only a scandal will save her from a loveless marriage. But knocking a man down to the ballroom floor with her fists brings dangerous consequences. She may have ruined her reputation, but now she's endangered her heart...
The son of an earl and a career navy man, Captain William Jellicoe has no interest in the frivolities of London—and even less in the institution of marriage. But there's something steering him toward Antigone. He has never met anyone as brazen and unconventional as...himself. But will he risk it all for a woman who still has the breath of scandal hot on her lips?
There was nothing—no warning, no obvious sign from the heavens that her life would be upended. No deluge. No tremors. No helpful plague of locusts falling from the sky.
Only the bright winter sun, shining down upon the quiet house as if it were a normal day. As if everything at Redhill Manor were still the same.
But it wasn’t. Though the comfortably familiar entryway looked as it always had, with its rich-hued ancient Turkey carpet covering the wide floorboards, and its landscape painting of the hunting scene hanging over the marble console table against the wall, there was Papa’s umbrella, exactly where he had last left it, sprawled open against the corner of the table, a balm and a jarring reminder that no matter if everything looked the same, everything had changed with Papa’s death.
Every routine had been interrupted, every comfort already curtailed. The fire in the drawing room grate had not even been laid, let alone lit to take the aching chill from their bones. But no matter the enormity of their grief, life had to go on. And Antigone would have to be the one to carry on—to light at least some fires, to bargain with the butcher, and to plant the kitchen garden.
“Go on up.” Antigone urged her older sister toward the stairs. “I’ll send Sally up to you with something warming.”
Antigone should have accepted the wisdom of bowing to the convention that funerals were no place for gently bred ladies, and insisted Cassie stay home with Mama, instead of exposing her so cruelly in her grief. But Cassie, in her characteristic generosity, had not wanted Antigone to be alone, and Antigone, in her characteristic tenacity, had been absolutely adamant that Papa not be alone on this, his final journey from this life.
Cassie kissed her cold cheek, and with a light squeeze to her hand, left for the temporary sanctuary of her room upstairs. For Antigone there could be no sanctuary yet. There was too much to be done.
“Antigone?” Mama’s thin voice came from behind the open door of the morning room at the back of the house.
Antigone crossed the creaking floorboards of the hallway, thinking to find her mother still awash in grief, her eyes and nose red, and her hair untidy beneath her cap. Ever since the moment when Antigone had found Papa dead in his book room, sitting quietly in his chair, as if he had just closed his eyes to ponder whatever mathematical problem had been besetting him, her mama had lost herself in worry and dire predictions of woe.
“What is to become of us? Where is the money to come from?” Mama had wept and wailed, and ordered the fires put out, as though they could no longer afford fuel. As though Papa had been so thoughtless as to leave them destitute and insolvent. As though his estate were to be be entailed away and leave them at any moment without a home.
In the absence of any real knowledge of the state of their finances, Antigone had tried to calm her mother as best she could, but with Mama in such alarm, it had fallen to Antigone to see that things were done—to order fires lit, to make arrangements with the vicar and purchase black ribbons for their clothes, to write to Papa’s mathematical colleagues and collaborators at Cambridge University and in the Analytical Society, as well as the Royal Society, and inform his solicitor in Chichester. To carry on.
But in the green-walled morning room, the morning sun streaming through the east-facing windows revealed her mother looking not wild-eyed and disheveled, but beautifully dressed in a charcoal wool gown, not a hair out of place...