A Study in Scandal (Scandalous)

By: Caroline Linden

Samantha said nothing. She hadn’t married yet because it hadn’t pleased her father that she marry. And she had been in no hurry; when she married and left home, her mother would be left to face her father’s tyranny alone. Aside from the fact that she had no suitors who satisfied the earl, Samantha had known, deep in her heart, that she was her mother’s only remaining comfort.

If she married Lord Philip, her mother wouldn’t even have the consolation of knowing she was safe, never mind happy. And she had a terrible feeling her mother would be unable to influence her father this time. There wasn’t anything she could say, though, so she just nodded. There was a chance, after all—slim and wispy though it might be—that her mother would be able to sway her father into choosing someone kinder than Lord Philip.

All the courage that had propelled her to confess and insist that her father retract his charges against Sebastian fled. She knew she’d done the right thing, but now…for herself… She was terrified.

“Mama.” She met her mother’s stricken gaze. “Perhaps Lord Philip isn’t as bad as everyone whispers. Perhaps it’s all exaggeration, or lies, or…” She wet her lips. “Surely a gentleman would not beat his wife,” she said, more to persuade herself than because she believed it.

“No,” said her mother at once. “I trust not. I cannot believe Stratford would sit by and allow his daughter to be beaten.”

For all his faults, the Earl of Stratford had never struck his wife or daughters. Samantha tried not to think of all the times he had caned her brother. That was in the past now, as Benedict was taller and stronger than the earl and, most importantly, in London with his regiment of the King’s Household Guard.

London. If only she could enlist in a regiment, or flee to distant relatives. But a daughter belonged to her father, even when she was of age. If her father signed a marriage contract he would see that she fulfilled it, and then she would belong to her husband. Even if Lord Philip wasn’t as depraved as rumor held, Samantha had a feeling he would not be a kind or considerate husband.

“This is my fault,” said her mother suddenly. “I should have seen how precarious your position here has become. Forgive me, darling—” She broke off and pressed her fist to her mouth.

“No, Mama. Any fault is not yours but mine.” Samantha herself should have known. Benedict had bolted for London as soon as he was able. Elizabeth, three years Samantha’s elder, had thrown herself into finding a husband as soon as she made her debut. Only Samantha had stayed behind, content with her sketchbooks and her secrets.

She summoned a deep breath and said a little prayer for courage. “May I call on my friend Lucy Walgrave?”

The countess blinked. “Today?”

“Why not? Perhaps she will know something about Lord Philip to put my mind at ease.” Even as she said it, Samantha remembered that Lucy was very fond of salacious stories. If Lucy had anything to relate, it probably wouldn’t be good.

Never mind that, she told herself. It was more important to get out of the house and let her brain cool down so she could think what to do.

“Yes,” declared the countess, a bit of color rising in her cheeks. “Of course you should go. It will be good for you.”

Samantha waited until the earl left. In his absence, everyone at Stratford Court seemed to give a visible sigh of relief. The groom who brought the carriage around even gave her a slight smile as she climbed up, as if he knew she was clinging to sanity by a thin thread. For a moment Samantha wished intensely that her father would go far, far away, and never come back. Even the grooms pitied her, and they couldn’t know her fate yet.

Lucy lived on the other side of Richmond, all the way across the river. Impulsively Samantha told the driver to set her down in town. She had long since stopped taking a maid when she went to Lucy’s, and today she needed fresh air. “I shall walk from here. Fetch me from Miss Walgrave’s house in one hour,” she told the driver, who nodded and set the horses in motion. Samantha didn’t know where he went, but today she enjoyed a fantasy wherein he went to a tavern and enjoyed himself over a pint of ale. As hard as it was to be the Earl of Stratford’s child, it must be even harder to be his servant. She turned away and started down the street, trying not to think that this might be her last taste of freedom.

No. She mustn’t think that. She walked along, oblivious to everything around her. If only Benedict were here. Stratford had ordered him to stay away, but there was no one whose advice she trusted more than Ben’s…

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