Miss Phoebe Westbrook wishes she was anywhere other than at Lord Livesey’s House Party. Family loyalty and duty forced her to accept the invitation. When she overhears Lord Livesey’s opinion of her, she knows he wishes her as far away from him as she does. Determined to make the most of his library whilst visiting, she soon finds herself being drawn into the lives of Lord Livesey and his children, whether she likes it or not…
Lord Livesey has lived a lie. His marriage was not the love match everyone presumed. His children are strangers to him. After the death of his wife, he hid from the world. Persuaded to host a house party in which he’s now trapped he scorns the women in attendance. After dismissing Phoebe cruelly, it seems that a future with her may be just the thing he's looking for…
An unconventional marriage proposal causes everything to be called into question. Misplaced values and hidden emotions will test any chance of a relationship they might have. Both will face hurdles they never anticipated but one thing's for sure - life won’t ever be the same again….
Lord Livesey’s Bluestocking is a Regency romance topped with a generous dose of humour, action, and tears. If you like simmering chemistry, troubled heroes, and feisty women, then you'll love Audrey Harrison's Regency tale.Buy Lord Livesey’s Bluestocking to travel to true love today!
Release date: May 15, 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 270
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Lord Livesey's Bluestocking: A Regency Romance
The large wooden door was flung open and slammed into the library shelving. The two occupants of the library both reacted to the sudden noise by physically jumping in their seats and looking towards the door in unified alarm.
Standing framed in the now open doorway in all his glorious fury, was Lord Livesey, Earl of Ansar, Viscount of Rothwell. His normally disinterested, slightly mocking expression had been replaced by one of exploding anger. His stance was akin to the brooding, dangerous posture of a gothic hero. His clothing only added to the overall effect of a dark and dangerous man as he always wore more dark colours than light.
“Livesey?” the elder matron asked, with a pointed look in the direction of the other occupant of the room. It would not do to have an eruption of anger in front of a guest.
“Bloody Jessica!” Livesey cursed his absent sibling between gritted teeth before managing to recall himself. “Miss Westbrook,” Livesey said turning to the guest. “I apologise for my entrance and my base language, but my sister would test the patience of a saint. And I’m not that good of a person to be able to put up with her torment with grace.”
Miss Phoebe Westbrook was the younger of the two women in the library. She closed her book and pushed her glasses towards the bridge of her nose, rising from her seat. She was a visitor to the home, one of the house party which was the event testing Lord Livesey so much. “Do not distress yourself, My Lord. This is your home, and you are entitled to behave in it as you will. I was seeking to escape the entertaining repartee of our fellow guests, but I can see you need some time without interruptions. If you will excuse me, I will leave you be.”
Lord Livesey’s scowl had not lessened at Phoebe’s slightly amused tone. In fact, he seemed to glare at her more ferociously. Phoebe seemed oblivious to the animosity aimed in her direction as she smiled goodbye to the older woman, who’d been sharing the tranquillity of the library. Livesey bowed stiffly to Phoebe’s curtsey and watched as she left the room. He didn’t bother to close the door on her retreating form. He was too engrossed in his own anger to give himself complete privacy. He turned to face the elder woman who was watching him with open amusement now that the shock of his arrival had eased.
“What has Jessica done now?” she asked. The woman was the elderly aunt of the raging Lord. She was more than an aunt to Livesey and Jessica. When their parents died, Aunt Dickson, having no children of her own, had been the one to offer guidance, support, and an outlet for their grief. She’d mourned her sister and her brother-in-law privately, offering strength and stability to the two grieving children.
She was an independent woman in her own right with a fortune left by her husband, which gave her the freedom to live her life as she pleased. At the same time, she was never long without being in the company of either her niece or nephew, offering advice, and sometimes in Livesey’s case, being the unwelcome voice of reason.
Fond of her nephew she most certainly was, but she wasn’t averse to enjoying the humour in any situation, especially this one. His entrance suggested his hospitality was already wearing thin, and they were only at the start of the two-week long soiree.
“Apart from this damned house party, you mean? I detest the whole situation!” Lord Livesey ground out.
“It’s no surprise you hate it, although Jessica is right: Those children of yours need a mother. You refuse to spend enough time in London to secure a match the season might offer, so Jessica has brought the party here. And you must agree with her in some respect, or you would not have consented to her using your own house to host the party.”
“It was a ludicrous idea from the start,” Livesey responded, refusing to acknowledge any agreement with his sister’s scheme. She’d browbeaten him into submission as far as he was concerned. He was struggling already with the situation, and they were only on the third day. He had no idea how he was going to survive without either offending everyone or killing a large number of the grouping. The way he was feeling at the moment, if he chose the latter, his beloved sister would be the first in line.
“If you used it for the opportunity it is, it could turn into the best of ideas. If it secures a mother for those girls of yours, all will end well.” Aunt Dickson refused to pander to Livesey’s unreasonableness.
“And which of the ladies present would you suggest is my best option for finding a new wife, Aunt? The six chosen by my sister are supposed to be perfect for being a life-partner to me, in Jessica’s opinion. I am certainly at a loss as to how I could bear to spend two weeks with any of them, let alone the remainder of my days,” Livesey responded with derision, although there was a touch of despair in his tone that only those who knew him would hear.
Serena Dickson, smiled at her nephew. He was nearing eight and twenty but was still as headstrong as he had been as a boy. He had married young to Angelina, a fiery Italian whom he had met on his grand tour. Theirs had been a passionate but short-lived marriage, which had shocked the family. Angelina had given birth to three children in quick succession and then in one particular fit of temper had smashed too many heirlooms to count and stormed out of the house. Her drowned body had been found later in the large lake on the estate, which was ridiculously close to the house for something so terrible to happen unseen. Unfortunately for Angelina, no one had followed her outside on that fateful day.
No one could say for sure if she had meant to drown herself or if it was just an escalation of the dramatics for which she was well known. Whatever the reason, something had gone wrong, and Livesey had not pursued his wife as he usually did. He normally spent time and energy bringing her out of her dark moods. Perhaps he had reached the end of his patience with her; perhaps she had with him. No one would ever truly know. He had not sought her, and an hour later, her body had been dragged from the lake by a member of staff.
The scandal, gossip, and guilt that had been caused by Angelina’s death had forced Livesey into hiding from the world for the next six years. Eventually, Lady Jessica Knowles, his younger sister, had decided that his children needed a mother whether he was ready to remarry or not.
Having daughters of eight, nine and ten, Livesey could not really argue that his girls didn’t need a female influence. He had been willing to accept Aunt Dickson and Jessica supporting them. Thus, he considered the idea of Jessica’s having a house party at his home with carefully selected women foolish in the extreme. He couldn’t acknowledge to anyone, least of all himself, why he’d agreed to it. That reason was because of a small nugget of hope, which refused to be stamped out. He’d felt adrift since before Angelina’s death, and in the dead of night on one of his many nights lying awake, he’d longed for someone who could change the way he felt. By the time dawn broke, he’d carefully packaged that longing away. He was a fool to even consider that a person could help soothe his soul and give him comfort. No. There wasn’t a person alive who could do that.
“Jessica has considered the merits of each of the six ladies present. She spent months assessing who would be best suited to you,” Aunt Dickson responded.
“I could have saved her the time and trouble. I could see within minutes of their arrival that none of them will do,” Livesey ground out.
“You are still a handsome fellow not yet in your dotage. I’m sure one of them could be persuaded,” came the slightly mocking response.
Livesey’s lips twitched despite his ill mood. Only those closest to him could ever make him smile, but it was never often enough for their liking. “Thank you for the compliment. I think.”
It was true. He was handsome: as dark as his wife had been with such dark eyes they were almost black when thunderous, which was more often than not. He didn’t smile very often; instead he had two deep grooves on his forehead which, even when he smiled, betrayed the position of the almost constant frown he wore. Sharp featured, he was striking and considered an attractive package. He wasn’t viewed as the best of catches because of his surly disposition. He was considerate of those in his care, but no one would describe him as openly loving. A handsome, rich man nonetheless could tempt many to deem him a worthwhile option by those who were looking for a husband, even if most in society would consider him an aloof and angry, cold fish.
“Jessica was able to find six young women who are all willing to consider you as a good catch. Any one of them would consider marrying you, so you cannot be completely repulsive,” came the no-nonsense response.
This time Livesey did laugh, but the sound held no humour. “Are you telling me I should be flattered by the dregs of society Jessica has invited?”
“That a little harsh, Livesey! They aren’t so bad.” Aunt Dickson defended the young guests. She had wondered at one or two of the choices that Jessica had made but had trusted in her niece’s judgement that they had something to recommend them, or Jessica wouldn’t have chosen them.
“Women beyond their prime. Here because no one else will marry them, and they think because I have children I will be willing to accept one of those who other men have rejected,” Livesey responded with derision. “Jessica must be as foolish as the rest of them if she thinks I’ll seriously consider any of her guests.”
“Miss Westbrook is pretty and intelligent to boot. She’s intelligent enough not to overindulge you. You could do worse than court her,” Aunt Dickson offered, having liked the young woman since being first introduced to her. She wasn’t the prettiest of the group but had a pleasing face that was animated with intelligence and humour.
“Have her owlish expression facing me over the breakfast table every morning and her dull-as-dishwater conversation every time she opened her mouth? I think not,” Livesey responded.
Aunt Dickson was not a cruel woman and felt pity for the expression of hurt that flickered across Phoebe’s face as the unfeeling words had unintentionally hit their mark. The young woman had entered the library unseen by Livesey through the still-open door. She’d paused on entering rather than interrupt, and as a result, had overheard the callous words.
Phoebe took a steadying breath. “My Lord, your sister has asked me to let you know she requires your presence in the drawing room. She preferred to send me instead of Miss Bateson who was keen to trace your whereabouts.” Phoebe’s voice came from behind where Livesey stood. If it sounded a little choked, she had done her best to disguise the impact his words had had on her.
Livesey whirled around at the voice, and instead of looking remorseful at her presence, he glared at Phoebe. “And you could not keep my location secret?” he demanded.
“I’m not in the habit of lying to a direct question, My Lord. When she asked if I had seen you, I acknowledged I had,” Phoebe responded, colouring a little when she realised her dull response was of the kind she had just been mocked for.
“And I suppose you wish to hear my apology for the words I uttered when you crept in?” he continued cruelly.
“Why? When you clearly would not mean any apology you gave, My Lord?” Phoebe asked with what seemed like genuine surprise at his question. “We are both here under duress, My Lord. I would argue I’m counting the days until I can make my escape as much, if not more than you.” She met his gaze, and although it was not an open challenge, Livesey could see she was not cowed by his presence.
“And yet you came?” he mocked, somehow unable to stop himself from taunting the young woman. It was poor behaviour on his part, but he had been discomfited by her presence, and he was lashing out in a way that did him no credit.
“As you have obligations, My Lord, so do I. You have your children to consider. In my case it is parents and an uncle. They will accept my return home with only a tinge of regret. I came here without a fuss because they wished me to. I can assure you, I have not attended because I wanted to attend. Thankfully, they don’t expect me to go as far as to try to sell my soul or to compromise myself to receive a proposal from you. I would hate to disappoint them if that were the case. Please excuse me, My Lord, Mrs Dickson. I have something to attend to.” Phoebe turned and left the room, this time closing the door firmly behind her.
The silence was maintained until Aunt Dickson broke it with a shake of the head as she stood. “That was poorly done, Livesey. The chit didn’t deserve a tongue-lashing from you. You’re lucky she is not creating all sorts of hysterics and demanding to be taken home. I expect better from you as a gentleman and the host.”
Livesey glowered at his aunt, not appreciating having his behaviour taken to task, even though he was fully aware she was correct. He’d behaved abominably, and he immediately became defensive. “She seemed unconcerned to me.”
“Pah! Don’t try to flummox me! We both know she was mortified at what she overheard, just as any of us would have been, including you! None of us likes to be cruelly criticised. Appreciate that she had the wherewithal to stand up to you. It’s about time someone did. You have been allowed to have your own sullen way for too long. You need to become an upstanding member of society again. It’s time to grow-up. Those children of yours are all that matter.”
“The same ones who are like beings from another place?” Livesey responded, finally allowing a touch of uncertainty to seep through his well-practiced uninterested demeanour.
It was true. He hadn’t been ready for fatherhood when it had happened when he was barely eighteen. He’d accepted the responsibility of his actions by marrying Angelina but had struggled with his increasing brood. He loved his children, but he felt at a loss around them. The enormity of having three beings completely reliant on him had rested heavily. Instead of being able to become accustomed to the new role over time, he’d had to focus his time on keeping Angelina on an even keel. Her mood swings were difficult and draining.
There’d been no time to begin to get to know his children; his whole focus had been on Angelina. She’d not been a natural mother either, visiting the nursery when she was in a good mood, which was all too rare. Once she’d died, Livesey had been racked with guilt over the circumstances of her death and the fact that he’d ultimately let his wife and children down. Such irrationality had made him withdraw from both family and society.
Now, if he ever ventured into the nursery, his children looked at him in alarm as if he were the strange, wicked ogre he very often felt he was.
“If you don’t know your children, it is because you haven’t made the effort to get to know them. You’ve hidden from the world and your own kin. Find a mother and become a real family. The girls are lacking attention and love.”
“That’s something I cannot give them,” Livesey responded dully.
“Just because Angelina is dead does not mean you can’t love another being. Humans, and especially men, are not made that way!” Aunt Dickson mocked. There was more she could say about Angelina and Livesey, but now wasn’t the time. She would speak when Livesey was ready to listen.
“Let’s find Jessica before she sends a search party for me,” Livesey said as he crossed the room and opened the door with a lot more care than he had when he entered the library.
The pair walked out, neither willing to continue their conversation once it could be overheard by visitors and staff.
As Livesey walked into the drawing room to be greeted by the smiling faces of the women seated there, he wondered if anyone truly knew him, including those to whom he considered himself closest. Not for the first time, he felt completely alone in the world and at odds with the rest of society and those around him. It was a feeling all too familiar and all too overwhelming.
* * *
Miss Phoebe Westbrook collapsed against the wood of her bed-chamber door as she closed it against the world. Tears threatened, and her throat constricted with the need to cry. She gritted her teeth. She would not be weak.
Mocking seemed to be easy for those who had not the same disadvantages as the unmarried spinsters in society. She was under no illusion that Livesey would choose her as his bride, but when someone was as handsome as he, there was no need to point out the flaws of those around him. It was a sign of cruelty on his part. She had the right to detest him for such unkind behaviour. Sighing, she cursed herself for not being able to hate him but finding him attractive. Who wouldn’t? He was gorgeous, she muttered angrily to herself.
At four and twenty, she had very often been reminded she was considered an oddity. It was only her connection with a maternal uncle, who was an extremely wealthy gentleman, that her family was accepted in the wider circles of society. Uncle Frederick Longton had sponsored Phoebe and her two younger sisters for their come outs. The younger ones hadn’t been forced to wait until Phoebe was wed, which was fortunate for them. Susan and Georgina had both secured marriages to gentlemen, but Phoebe had remained disappointingly unmarried.
Some had acknowledged she was pretty, if you liked large hazel eyes, full lips, and a rosy complexion. Matched with mid-brown hair, Phoebe had always said that it was as if her features had been created as a complete contrast against the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, porcelain complexions that were so fashionable. Even her sisters matched society’s preference, being paler, slimmer, more conforming to what was considered beautiful by the ton.
She had not wished to come to the house party, but once again Uncle Frederick had stepped in. Being a good friend of Lord Knowles, Lady Jessica’s husband, he had been informed of the plan that was being hatched. Always one to think of his niece, he had asked for an invite on her behalf, which as a mark of the friendship, had been readily offered.
Jessica did not think for one moment her brother would seriously consider the quiet, somewhat withdrawn Miss Westbrook. It was as if she purposely kept herself on the edge of society. Jessica had met Phoebe a time or two over the years and liked the young woman, even though she was dismissed by many as a plain, uninteresting bluestocking. Jessica considered Phoebe a genuine character, both funny and intelligent in an ocean of fickleness. As Jessica was confident one of the other ladies would turn Livesey’s head, it hadn’t grieved her to include Phoebe in the party.
So, Phoebe had come as invited but could not involve herself in the silly games her contemporaries entered into when trying to make themselves appear to best advantage. She had no idea how to flutter a fan coyly, tease a gentleman, or flirt with an acquaintance. She would much prefer to be doing something useful, which was considered unique at best and an oddity at worse.
Add to this the glasses she needed to wear in order to see clearly, and she really was an unattractive package. She was fully aware of that. There were enough tactless people in society to point out one’s flaws and more than enough perfect, beautiful people to push aside someone who did not quite fit the mould. Maybe if society were more inclined to accept those who were different, Phoebe wouldn’t have withdrawn to the edges of society quite as much as she had. In a world focused on outward appearance, wealth, and connections, the theory could never be tested.
Livesey had scored a hit, but Phoebe had some pride. She would take part in this foolish endeavour. Anyone could see Livesey wished himself miles away from the lot of them, which gave her a modicum of comfort. At least she was not the only one who felt out of place. She would not return home early because of his hurtful attack.
One thing was certain: Phoebe Westbrook was not going to allow herself to be bullied by a brute.
The drawing room felt oppressive even though it could fit more than double the number of people gathered. Livesey watched the grouping from his position at the mantelpiece with derision mixed with intolerance. He stood, absentmindedly fiddling with his cuffs, his annoyance being taken out on the inane cotton garment. He was actually unintentionally showing himself off to full advantage, being in front of the fire, the light reflecting off his black hair, gold waistcoat, and shining shoe buckles. His black frock coat was standing out in contrast to the white marble of the fireplace. He glowered at the room in general; the afternoon had been tedious, and it seemed the evening was going to be the same.
He always felt on the edge of society. Even now, when the party was technically for him, the men in attendance were in small groupings separate from himself. He had been gregarious when he was younger. It had been one of the characteristics to appeal to Angelina. Yet, as a result of their pairing, Livesey had withdrawn from everyone, and now it was so ingrained, he could not see a way out of his self-imposed isolation. It was laughable to feel alone in a room full of people, but he very often did. It was yet another reason he spurned society. Why place himself somewhere he didn’t feel he belonged?
The all too familiar feeling of emptiness swirled at the pit of his stomach. Sometimes he longed to feel something other than anger, disillusionment, and loneliness. He glared at his guests; he hated falseness, and this was what he was surrounded by whenever he was amongst his peers.
* * *
Jessica had insisted the party be as society dictated with even numbers of single men and women in addition to chaperones of varying kinds. She had chosen the single men carefully, not wishing the unmarried women to fall in love with anyone other than her brother. Some of the gentlemen were much older than the women gathered; Jessica hoped their age would work against them.
Her brother was certainly the most handsome man in the room. It was a great pity his glower kept many of her guests away from him. Jessica sighed. All she wanted was for her brother to be happy, as well as her nieces getting a mother, but if he did not become at least a little reconciled to marrying again, her hopes would fail.
“George, you could at least try to smile!” Jessica whispered as she moved herself to her brother’s side. She was the only person to use his given name. Even their aunt used his family name.
“What, like this?” Livesey responded gritting his teeth in a grimace.
Jessica used her fan to tap his arm. “Stop it! I do not want my reputation ruined because of you. I need to be able to show my face in society after this debacle. Not all of us want to hide as you do.”
“Perhaps you should’ve considered that before organising this farce?” Livesey asked with a raise of an eyebrow.
“Behave! That’s an order,” Jessica hissed, the smile fixed firmly on her face. She was like her brother, tall and dark in looks, but the siblings were nothing alike in character. Jessica was a well-liked member of society, accepted and welcomed wherever she went. She was four years younger than Livesey but seemed older sometimes. It was probably as a consequence of losing her parents early and not having the support of her brother when he’d become embroiled with Angelina. It was down to effort on Jessica’s part that the brother and sister had remained in close contact. She refused to let herself be alienated from a brother she adored, even though he was difficult to understand sometimes.
“I will try, but I’m not promising to marry anyone,” Livesey said. “Especially when the best Aunt could come up with was Miss Westbrook.” The comment had been made as a result of said young woman entering the room and skirting the edge of the party. She placed herself as far away from anyone else as was physically possible without it being overtly noticeable. She smiled in greeting to the person she was nearest to, but she made no effort to throw herself into the throng.
The movement had amused Livesey. He had noticed she had not looked his way, unlike most of the other women who were surreptitiously glancing at him from time to time. He wondered idly if she was sulking with him because of his earlier outburst. He hoped she was; at least that would mean there would be five women to deal with, not six.
“Did she really? That is interesting and a fortunate coincidence,” Jessica said with a gleam in her eye.
“Why?” Livesey responded, all his attention suddenly focused on his sister.
“She’ll be sitting next to you at supper. I thought it fair to rotate the ladies to give them all an equal chance to entertain and entice you.”
“Jessica!” Livesey growled. “Change it!”
“I will not! And you will be a gentleman, or I’ll have something to say about it! Bad manners are inexcusable, George. Whether you like it or not, these people are your guests, and you agreed to the party,” Jessica chided.
Livesey grimaced to himself. He might not like it, but his sister was correct: He had to be polite or at least try. Underneath the scowling and derision, he was not the brute he appeared. He had wronged Phoebe and shouldn’t have. But admitting he was wrong was never easy for someone as insular as Livesey.
* * *
Phoebe inwardly groaned when she realised where she would be spending the next few hours. She was not being mulish about the comments Livesey had made. After all, she couldn’t argue against them. If one is told one is defective, it’s only a short time before the cruel words are believed. The seating arrangement meant she would be on show to the rest of the party, and she’d rather have been able to blend in more than she would be able to. Her rank didn’t technically allow her to sit next to her host, but she guessed, to some extent, what Jessica was doing.
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