Say You’ll Be My Lady
Book 2 in the Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair Series
Opposites attract in this irresistible Regency romance, where a proper gentleman who lives by the ton’s rules and a lady who lives to break them try to resist one another—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton series.
Lady Serena Wynter doesn’t mind flirting with a bit of scandal—she’s determined to ignore society’s strictures and live life on her own fiercely independent terms. These days, she chooses to pour her passions into charitable causes with the vibrant group of ladies in her Wednesday Afternoon Social Club. But there is one man who stirs Serena’s deepest emotions, one who’s irresistibly handsome, infuriatingly circumspect, and too honorable for his own good…
Charles Townshend, former boxer and consummate gentleman, worries Serena’s reckless nature will earn her the ton’s scorn…or put her in serious danger. Though Charles isn’t immune to the attraction between them, a shocking family secret prevents him from ever acting on his desires. But it seems Lady Serena doesn’t intend to let his penchant for propriety stand in the way of a mutually satisfying dalliance.
Say You’ll Be My Lady
Book 2 in the Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair Series
Say You’ll Be My Lady
“And that concludes this week’s business portion of the Wednesday Afternoon Social Club.” Lady Serena Wynter, one of the club’s founders and the de facto leader, smiled at the two dozen or so ladies who’d attended today’s gathering and gestured toward the far end of the room, where platters of finger sandwiches and desserts had been laid out on a long table. “So let’s do justice to these refreshments, ladies. I’ve been told Edwina’s cook has made a batch of her lemon-raspberry tartlets for us today.”
Those present needed no further urging. Edwina, Lady Beasley, hosted their meetings at her Upper Grosvenor Street residence, and the membership had come to look forward to the delicious treats her kitchen staff prepared for them each week. A line began forming at the rear of the room and the hum of conversation grew louder.
Serena made her way to where some of her closest friends were gathered around Charlotte, the Countess of Norwood. Besides Edwina, who sat in a chair adjacent to Charlotte’s, there was Grace, the Duchess of Rochester, her niece, Phoebe Talbot, and a close friend of Phoebe’s, Julia Keene.
“What a delightful surprise that you could join us today. I thought you weren’t returning to London until next week,” Serena said, giving Charlotte an affectionate kiss on the cheek.
“That was William’s plan, not mine.” Charlotte patted the rather considerable girth of her stomach. “Honestly, this baby has turned my husband into a veritable mother hen, and frankly, it’s driving me mad. I recovered from my cold over a week ago, so there was no reason to delay our return when I feel perfectly fine.” She laughed and framed her abdomen with her hands. “Well, as fine as one can when one’s belly is the size of a large melon. I move about with an ungainly waddle these days, but it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of carrying on as usual.”
“That goes without saying,” Serena agreed. “Nonetheless, I’d be happy to get some refreshments for you if you don’t feel like leaving that armchair.” Charlotte looked quite comfortable reclining against the well-padded chair cushions with her feet propped up on a matching ottoman.
“Please, don’t fuss over me. I get more than enough of that at home.” She gave them a wry smile as she awkwardly got to her feet.
They made their way over to the refreshments table and made their food and drink selections. Fortunately, their recently vacated seats hadn’t been claimed by anyone else yet. As Charlotte once again settled herself in an armchair she said, “I can’t wait to catch up with everyone. I see so many new faces here today. For heaven’s sake, I missed only the first few weeks of the Season, but I already feel behind.”
“You know Serena. She doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet,” Grace remarked. “I was surprised to show up at our first meeting in the new year and find over two dozen ladies in attendance.”
“It helped that Edwina and I stayed in London throughout the summer and fall when much of the haut ton depart for the countryside,” Serena said. “Even with that seasonal exodus, by Christmas there were over twenty of us meeting weekly. Word about us continues to spread, and now that the Season is in full swing…” With a sweep of her arm, Serena gestured about the room. “As you can see, we’re filling up Edwina’s drawing room.”
“The more, the merrier,” Edwina said. “If necessary, we can hold our meetings in the music room. That’s where my family used to host large gatherings when I was young.”
“This house belongs to your family?” Charlotte asked. “I assumed it had belonged to your late husband.”
“No. My husband’s younger brother lives in the home I shared with Beasley. We’re on good terms, and I have a standing invitation to stay there any time I wish. However, I don’t wish to be the importuning relation always underfoot. My parents no longer spend time in London, nor does my sister, Constance, who wouldn’t stay here in any case, as she and her husband have a large residence just off Berkeley Square. So it works out for me to live here.”
“It also works out quite well for us ladies of the Wednesday Afternoon Social Club,” Grace said. “So much so that I forbid you to ever quit the group, Edwina. Because seriously, where else would we be able to plot our schemes and misbehave?”
Serena smiled in acknowledgment of this truth. A widow like Edwina was the obvious choice to host their meetings because despite the innocuous-sounding name they’d chosen to give themselves, much of society—and this would include all but the most enlightened of husbands—would frown upon a group like theirs.
The Wednesday Afternoon Social Club embraced the notion that females needn’t be relegated to only the lesser roles in life, but were fully capable of being contributing members of society, even in a world structured to grant far more rights to men. Not to mention the ladies in the club discussed these contributions while wearing trousers (if that was their preference) or partaking those traditionally male libations such as brandy or whisky. To be sure, plenty of cups of tea were also consumed at the meetings—with a splash of strong spirits if the lady wished.
The point of the group wasn’t simply to copy the behavior of men, but rather to give ladies, for an afternoon anyway, a choice as to how they wished to comport themselves. Whether that took the form of what they wore or what they consumed or what they discussed, they had the freedom to choose.
The duchess continued, “Rochester is quite broad-minded and doesn’t seem to mind my penchant for wearing trousers in a discreet setting now and again”—she gestured to the pair of trousers she currently wore, which showed off her tall, slender figure to great advantage—“but I’m not sure even he would countenance similar behavior in a large group of ladies meeting in his home. Nor do I think he’d approve of ladies drinking strong spirits, should that be their inclination.”
“There are those of us so inclined, but still prohibited from it, Aunt Grace,” Phoebe Talbot remarked. She sat in a chintz-covered armchair with her legs draped over one of the chair’s arms, managing to look demure and shockingly unladylike at the same time. She fanned herself with a folded copy of the latest issue of the Advocate, a radical newspaper published by Edwina’s beau, Jason Latimer.
The duchess turned to her niece with a wry smile. “My darling Phoebe, you know that I’m risking your mother’s censure just by bringing you to these meetings. We both know, she’d consider them thoroughly unsuitable for a young lady. And while I disagree with that, I’m not going to introduce a seventeen-year-old to liquor. I promise you that next year, when you make your official come out, I’ll allow a cup of spiked punch. Until then, you’ll have to be satisfied with tea or lemonade and the ability to wear trousers, if you wish.”
“Trousers proved unexpectedly disappointing and, in my opinion, more bother than they’re worth considering one must change into them after arrival,” Phoebe said. “A wee nip of whisky would be a lovely consolation.”
“Next year, my darling, you may enjoy the rum punch.”
The girl gave an exaggerated sigh, but her smile was good-natured. “That’s the story of my life. Wait until you’re older. Wait until you’re married.” She twirled one slim hand in the air. “Wait until…insert some other reason.”
Serena gave Phoebe a sympathetic look. She recalled being Phoebe’s age, filled with anticipation as the future beckoned just around the corner, eager to move past the preparation for adulthood and start living her life as an adult. The choices she’d made then had shaped everything she’d done since.
“Speaking from the ripe old age of three and twenty,” Serena addressed the girl, “I can remember those days of what seemed to be endless waiting, but I promise the time will pass more swiftly than you realize, and I’m sure your aunt will agree that staying busy is the perfect antidote.”
“Exactly right,” the duchess agreed.
“I could use assistance maintaining the inventory ledgers for the leased properties,” Julia Keene spoke up. She’d joined the group in May of last year. A petite girl with black hair and dark eyes that hinted at a Welsh ancestry, she’d quickly become a member they could rely on. “I’ve only just started compiling the ledger for our third property and now with a fourth one…” She sent a questioning look in Phoebe’s direction.
“I don’t mind helping with that,” Phoebe replied. “As long as Aunt Grace has no objections.”
“None whatsoever,” her aunt replied.
“Ooh,” Charlotte said, grimacing and placing a hand on her abdomen. “Someone is making their presence felt. This one kicks so fiercely at times, I wonder if it thinks it can kick itself right out of my belly.”
“A feisty child,” Grace remarked. “So who does it take after. You or Norwood?”
“William says the baby must take after me, because, of course, my husband is the soul of amiability.” She rolled her eyes in amusement. “Or so he claims. I, however, remind him of the morning we met when he was anything but. At least, initially. Ouch,” she added, giving her stomach a look of mock sternness. “Boy or girl, this one is hard to ignore.”
A sudden pang of bittersweet longing came over Serena. Six years ago she’d put aside dreams of marriage and motherhood, and forged a different path for herself. One that was usually fulfilling and satisfying. She rarely felt any pangs of regret unless something came along to remind her of those old hopes and plans. But a young man’s death on the field of battle in Spain had put an end to the future she’d envisioned back then.
As she always did, she pushed away those memories. The past was the past, unchangeable, irreversible, and therefore, something she willed herself not to dwell upon. Her life hadn’t ended, which meant replacing old hopes with new ones. She’d found new purpose—one shared by the ladies in this room today.
Charitable work had long been a passion of hers, and it was the other important facet of the Wednesday Afternoon Social Club. What had begun as a few friends who’d been determined to make a positive difference in the world had grown into this vibrant group of ladies, united by a shared vision to take action when they saw a need.
Almost as if reading her thoughts, Edwina said, “Charlotte, I don’t believe you’ve heard the latest news about our war widows project, although Julia just alluded to it. We finally signed a lease for a fourth property.”
“That is wonderful,” Charlotte said. “And to think that less than a year ago we were readying that first location on Red Lion Square.”
“I’m excited about our newest endeavor to provide educational opportunities for children,” Grace said. “Although the vote was close between that and supplying warm clothing for those children who live on the streets of London.”
“I voted for the educational opportunities. I believe education will stay with them always, whereas warm clothing could be taken from them and sold for the profit of someone else,” Julia Keene said.
“Sadly, the exploitation of children in that way, and in so many others, is not uncommon,” Serena said. “We can’t right everything that’s wrong in the world, but we can make an effort to improve what we can.”
“Which project did you vote for, Serena?” Charlotte asked.
“The option which came in third,” Serena replied. A distant third, somewhat to her disappointment.
Charlotte nodded sympathetically. “Housing unwed pregnant girls would also have been a worthy endeavor. Perhaps it can go on the ballot next year.”
“Perhaps,” Serena said. Though she was already considering what she could do on her own.
Charlotte turned to Edwina. “You must give my compliments to your cook, Edwina. These sandwiches are heavenly, and normally I don’t even like liver paste sandwiches.”
“One of the vagaries of pregnancy,” Grace said. “I craved pickled eggs when I was expecting my first baby, but couldn’t stand the sight of them during the next two, and then craved them again with our last child.”
“It’s odd, isn’t it?” Charlotte said. “I’ve come to like things I usually don’t, and yet I can’t abide some things I normally like. And it’s not even just food. I had to tell my maid to quit spritzing my clothing with rose water. The smell simply doesn’t appeal to me anymore.”
“Your preferences may return to normal once the baby is born,” Grace said.
Charlotte shrugged, then turned too Serena. “Speaking of preferences, how is Mr. Townshend these days?”
Serena laughed. “I’m not sure how preferences and Mr. Townshend are related, but he’s fine I suppose.”
Charlotte exchanged a look with Edwina and Grace. The three of them had made no secret they favored a match between Serena and that gentleman. And if she were presently interested in finding a match, Serena supposed she could do a good deal worse than Charles Townshend. She considered him a friend—even if they’d had their fair share of disagreements in the past.
“Oh, no. You’ve had an argument, haven’t you?” Charlotte looked dismayed.
“A small one,” Serena admitted. “He was being his usual overprotective self.”
“Well, after that incident in Seven Dials, I can’t say I blame him,” Edwina said.
Charlotte’s eyes widened. “Wait? What incident?”
Seven Dials was notorious as a crushingly poor, crime-ridden area of London. Going there hadn’t been one of Serena’s wiser decisions, although at the time it had seemed urgent. She’d been trying to rescue a young pickpocket from the clutches of someone named Mother Duggan, who ran a ring of child thieves. Mattie and Serena’s paths had crossed when the girl had tried to steal Serena’s reticule one day when she was putting up flyers with information about the jobs and housing they offered to war widows.
In the end, Serena had succeeded in rescuing the girl, but it had been dicey for a while, and the footman accompanying her had suffered two black eyes when some of those sympathetic to Mother Duggan’s “rights” concerning Mattie had expressed their displeasure. Serena herself had sustained some bruises before they could make their way back to the coach.
“It’s a long story,” Serena said, not wishing to rehash that day. “Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson about going to Seven Dials.”
“I should hope so,” Edwina said. She turned to Charlotte to give her a brief recap, concluding with,. “Serena and a footman suffered relatively minor injuries, but the point is, it could have been much worse.”
Charlotte frowned. “When did this happen?”
“Last autumn,” Serena said.
Charlotte shook her head. “Mr. Townshend must have been beside himself when he heard about it.”
“He expressed his displeasure most emphatically,” Serena said dryly.
“Well, you are going to have to make up with him because I wish to have a dinner party so that we can all catch up, and I intend to put him on the guest list.”
And no doubt, she would make sure Charles was seated next to Serena during dinner. Her friends weren’t particularly subtle when it came to their efforts to throw the two of them together.
“I will do what I can,” Serena said. “As soon as he gets back from Bath. He’s been there the past two weeks. His employer, Sir Roland, suffered a severe bout of rheumatism and wished to take the waters. Charles insisted on accompanying him over the old gentleman’s objections.”
It was actually this trip that had led to their argument. Charles had called on her to let her know he’d be out of London for a while, and to extract a promise that she wouldn’t go to any dangerous neighborhoods while he was gone. A promise she could have easily made ,since the incident in Seven Dials had cured her of heedless risk taking. Yet, despite her reformed attitude toward her safety (and, by extension, those of her servants), she’d taken exception to his demand, and one thing had led to another and they’d had a spat.
She regretted the argument, especially since she knew it was mostly her fault. She’d been cranky that day, and she’d taken it out on Charles. The truth was she’d started missing him soon after his departure. He annoyed her, but he also amused her, and lately, she’d begun to feel an undeniable pull of attraction. Even during their last disagreement, it had been there underneath her sharp words. No doubt her friends would be ecstatic to hear this, but she had no intention of admitting it and have them redouble their matchmaking efforts.
“When is he expected back?” Charlotte asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard from him.” She gave them a sheepish smile. “I told him not to bother writing me while he was gone, which was unfair of me, I admit, since he does have my best interests in mind.”
Charlotte gave a sad little shake of her head. “Well, when you hear he’s back, let me know, and I will issue you all invitations to dinner.”
“I expect he’ll turn up soon,” Serena said. “He’s so frightfully conscientious. I can’t see Charles neglecting his parliamentary duties for any longer than necessary.”
She didn’t add that the real question in her mind was had she treated him so shabbily that he’d wish to neglect their friendship instead.
end of excerpt
Say You’ll Be My Lady
Pembrooke fills this emotional tale with sparkling dialogue and well-drawn characters working to balance reason and desire.
Readers who are anxiously awaiting the next season of Bridgerton will enjoy this one, and those who enjoyed the first in the series will not want to miss it.
Pembrooke's writing has a charming flavor to it that is reminiscent of authors such as Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes.