A Wicked Kind of Husband - Mia Vincy

Chapter 1

The trouble began with brandy.

Or perhaps it was fairer to say—fairer to the brandy, at least, which ought not be blamed for all human failings—that the trouble was already there, and the brandy simply brought it to light.

Cassandra was not personally familiar with the effects of brandy, but as she stood in the doorway to the ballroom at midnight, watching Lucy sing and dance alone in the pool of light cast by a candelabra, it was clear to her that drink was involved.

First clue: Lucy did not dance with her usual grace. Rather, her waltz—if it could be called a waltz—was punctuated by hiccup-like hops and skips. It did not help that she wore one of their mother’s ornate gowns from the previous century. The gown’s skirts, blue with gold brocade, were three times as wide as Lucy and trailed on the floor, threatening to trip her up. Lacy sleeves flared out over her forearms and one of Mama’s old wigs wobbled on her head.

Second clue: Lucy was singing a bawdy song about a lass losing her virginity. That was not surprising in itself, but she sang it off-key, and only one thing made Lucy sing off-key.

Which brought Cassandra to the third and most obvious clue: The brandy bottle that Lucy clutched like a dance partner.

Cassandra sighed, causing the flame of her candle to flicker. If she were less tired, after having passed yet another evening staring futilely into the fire in Papa’s study, she might have found the sight comical, but there had been too many scenes like this one in the past year. Not that Lucy needed brandy to make a scene. But clearly, it helped.

“Cassandra!” Lucy cried, spotting her. “Am I not splendid?”

She whirled to a stop and flung out her arms. The remaining cognac sloshed in its bottle, and her wig toppled onto the floor, landing dangerously close to the candelabra.

Then, arms still extended, she began to spin.

Brandy, plus spinning, plus long skirts, plus naked flame. This was not going to end well.

“Splendid is one word that comes to mind,” Cassandra said, moving toward her. “I can think of a few others too.”

“I’m going to London!” Lucy announced, still spinning. “I’ll go to court and become the king’s mistress!”

“They say he’s mad, so you may well appeal to him.” Cassandra held out her free hand. “Why don’t you give me that bottle now?”

Lucy stopped spinning, stumbled, and took a defiant swig. “What do you think it’s like, being a mistress?”

“I hope neither of us ever finds out.”

“Ha! You don’t even know what it’s like to be a wife, Mrs. DeWitt, and you’ve been married two years!”

After another swig, Lucy lurched into a reel and bellowed out a new song, something about avoiding the pain of wedded life because “a Wench is better than a Wife.”

Oh dear.

Most of the time, Cassandra felt that she was managing.

She took care not to brood over the past or worry about the future. She remembered to be grateful for what she had, and buried her yearning for what she could never have. She kept the estate running profitably and the household running smoothly and faced every situation with a smile. She even kept her mother’s wretched goat out of the rosebushes. Most of the time.

Yes, most of the time, she managed.

This was not one of those times.

“Give me the brandy, Lucy.”

With a shriek, Lucy leaped away and the inevitable happened: Her skirts caught under her feet, the bottle flew out of her hand and smashed against the wall, and she crashed onto the hard floor. Brandy fumes filled the air and the flames quivered with anticipation.

Cassandra darted forward, hoping her sister wasn’t hurt, but Lucy’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. And at least the brandy was no longer a problem. Really, Cassandra was making excellent progress.

“Shall we go up to bed, now, oh splendid one?” she said.

Lucy looked up, her dark hair tumbling about her shoulders, her beautiful face slack from drink. “I want more branny! It was Papa’s branny, you know.”

“Yes, I know. But the brandy is upstairs,” Cassandra lied. “So let’s go up.”

Somehow, Cassandra managed to coax Lucy up the stairs without either of them breaking their neck or setting anything on fire. As they neared the top step, Cassandra cast a longing look down the dark hallway, to the haven of Lucy’s bedroom. Almost there.

“The branny is French. I wanna be French,” Lucy said. “The French have more fun!”

“No doubt.”

“England is boring. Sunne Park is boring. Cassandra is