The Young and the Ruined - Annabelle Anders Page 0,1

I do not.” She tilted her button nose toward the ceiling. “If Papa and I don’t like her, then you may have her.”

James ran a hand down his face. “Valentina, these ladies are not puppies that one decides to bring into their home. They deserve our utmost respect and best manners.”

He needed to marry quickly. A mother would instruct the little one on the proper decorum when disagreeing with someone, particularly an adult. A mother would know more naturally how to guide his daughter and model the proper behavior. Unfortunately, James didn’t have the heart to severely discipline his daughter. He was completely enchanted with her and had been since the first time he held her in his arms.

“Yes, yes, Papa,” she agreed absently while pulling him down the marble steps.

Harry followed behind. “You’re going to have trouble with that little miss.”

James just grunted but turned on a requisite dazzling smile when he caught the duchess pointing him out with a slight tilt of her fan to someone. When they arrived at the bottom of the steps, his aunt flicked her fan, a motion for him to attend her and the ladies gathered around her.

At the bottom of the steps, James turned in his aunt’s direction, but Valentina would have none of it. She let go of James’s hand, then did what any other little hoyden would have done under the circumstances.

She weaved her way through the crowd, skirting lady after lady. Unbelievably, Harry followed her. Finally, she skidded to a halt beside Tipton. Without waiting for the butler to finish his conversation with the two “redingote” ladies, she tugged on the tails of his black morning jacket.

James nodded an apology to the duchess then turned to intercept his daughter before she could do any more damage. If she kept displaying this type of behavior, James feared the eager ladies might decline any offers that might be forthcoming.

By the time James had made his way to the door where Harry, Valentina, and Tipton were standing, the lady in the red redingote had bent down and was saying something to his daughter. The ostrich feather in her bonnet had curled around her cheek hiding her profile. The woman’s stance exhibited a natural poise, and her voice was light and musical in nature. He couldn’t hear much of their conversation above the din of the noise, but Valentina’s twinkle of laughter erupted while she held the woman’s hand.

“Let me introduce you to my papa,” Valentina said confidently.

“Please pardon my daughter,” James said, then elegantly bowed. “She’s excited to meet you.”

By then, the younger woman, the one in the yellow redingote, turned her attention to Harry. With her perfect features, golden hair, and blue eyes, the young woman was the quintessential English rose. Harry’s ultimate weakness.

With a look of enchantment, Harry took the young woman’s hand and brought it to his lips. “You are the woman of my dreams.”

The young woman resembled a deer in the sight of a hunter. Her gaze whipped to the other woman who in turn finally faced James.

“You!” James practically hissed at the familiar visage. “What are you doing here?”

Chapter Two

Nellwyn Leighton, the widowed Marchioness of Whitton, closed her eyes and willed away the vision of James Richardson looming in front of her.

Of all the wretched, unlucky circumstances. Why, oh why, did her carriage have to break an axle outside the Duke and Duchess of Darnley’s country estate?

If that wasn’t bad enough, she had to find the duke’s heir here at the same time as she. Standing before her was the man who had hated her for over eight, long years. He had every right to despise her because of what she’d done.

She’d jilted him.

Nell, as her friends and family called her, sucked in her stomach and clenched her jaw. She would make the best of the current situation, then leave before an unpleasant scene erupted.

The darling child who held her hand looked up at her. “Do you know my papa?”

Nell delivered one of her sweetest smiles, one that hopefully would disarm the enemy before the first strike. But James performed the honor before she could say a peep.

“She does, sweetheart.” He glanced at his daughter, the love clearly showing in the twinkle in his eyes. He turned his attention to Nell. “My lady, welcome. I’m agog to discover you here.” Before she could muster a response, he continued, “May I introduce you to my daughter, Miss Valentina Richardson.”

Nell’s gaze naturally fell on the little one standing before