Love Lessons for a Lady
Daughters of Desire (Scandalous Ladies) Series, #3
Yielding to their hearts’ desires would be oh-so-sweet…and oh-so-dangerous…
Chastity Noble finally has the security she’s always craved. She may have been born on the wrong side of the blanket, but now that she’s been promoted to assistant headmistress at the girls’ seminary, that no longer matters. To maintain her position, she’ll conduct herself with the utmost propriety—and squash any romantic notions she might’ve had. But then a handsome dance master and music instructor is hired, and she begins to question everything…
He’s an aristocrat…
Aston Terramier has made his way in the world on wit, scruples, and talent alone. As the grandson of a viscount, he could’ve chosen to live in the lap of luxury, but his freedom always meant more to him than wealth ever could. He’s perfectly happy to defy his tyrannical grandfather’s dictates—especially the ones about marriage. So, he shouldn’t be musing about the beautiful Chastity. But he is…
Is true love even possible for a resigned spinster and a blueblood descended from nobility? Not without considerable risk—to their professional lives and their hearts. But when all is said and done, is the risk worth the reward?
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“What a lovely sweet read this book is.” ★★★★★ ~ Elodie Nicoli
“I love how Ms. Cameron manages to infuse warmth into her characters, both human and four-legged, as well as come up with an enchanting and engaging romance that keeps my interest.” ★★★★★ ~ Diana A
“This was a sweet romance with some feels, angst, and is easily read in a few hours.” ★★★★★ ~ K. Hudecek
“Loved these characters and, as always, enjoyed Ms Cameron’s story and writing style.” ★★★★★ ~ lcdolphin
“The language, the humor, the storyline and the imagery are captivating and charming.” ★★★★★ ~ Daisy
“I loved this couple & the story was entertaining from the beginning until the end.” ★★★★★ ~ Lana Birky
“Collette never fails to bring a smile and a patter to my heart! With her ingenious character names and animals.. no make that adorable companions that are a delightful part of her stories, I can only say, she is and has been one of my favorite authors!” ★★★★★ ~ Lori Dykes
“This is a great love story with just enough mystery to keep you guessing and reading to the end. This story will make you laugh, cry and cheer by the end.” ★★★★★ ~ Nanna
“This is a thoroughly entertaining, easy read you can finish in a few hours. What a great way to escape for an afternoon!” ★★★★★ ~ Terrie
“This book put a smile on my face.” ★★★★★ ~ Rosemary M
“This is such charming story with a very sweet romance, and a wonderful hero and heroine.” ★★★★★ ~ Catherine Burhans
Chapter One Excerpt
It’s far past time you took your birthright and social position seriously, Aston. I’ve had enough of my grandson galivanting about the country like a lowborn gypsy. You humiliate and degrade yourself and our family’s noble name with your obstinate, uncouth behavior. Your latest escapade is beyond the pale. I demand you cease teaching dance and music lessons at that finishing school and call upon me at Sutton House within the week. I have an important matter to put to you. Defy me in this, Aston, and I promise you the consequences will be dire and far-reaching. ~ Milton Terramier, Viscount Woolbury, in another threatening letter to his grandson, Aston Terramier
London, England, Upper Clapton Street
Mrs. Longsdon’s Lodging House
10 August 1818 – morning
A nascent sneer skewed Aston Terramier’s mouth upward on one side. Taking a bite of perfectly browned toast smeared with pear preserves, he skimmed the slashing penmanship again.
Galivanting…humiliate…degrade…escapade…beyond the pale…
Dire and far-reaching.
Dear Grandpapa is truly frothing.
It might be worth answering his summons just to see the inflexible curmudgeon turn lobster-faced. Sputtering and steaming like a forgotten kettle on a hot stove, the old codger would point his knobby finger at Aston as he had since Aston’s parents died when he was three.
In his booming voice, his grandsire would call down the Almighty’s wrath—God wisely ignored the insufferable, blasphemous tosspot—and grandfather would launch into a well-rehearsed and impossibly lengthy monologue of Aston’s faults and shortcomings. All of which he’d heard so many times, he could recite them by rote in his sleep should he desire to.
He did not.
Nor would Aston respond to the viscount’s letter. He’d ignore this directive just as he had the dozens of others delivered over the past eight years. Some missives had been curt two-sentence invectives and others pages and pages of acrid diatribe. Each had been burned to cinders and eventually tossed in the rubbish bin.
It wasn’t that Aston couldn’t forgive.
He could and had chosen to forgive for his benefit, not to absolve his grandfather. Unforgiveness led to bitterness, and Aston was determined not to permit his grandfather any influence over his life. Nevertheless, forgiving and forgetting were two vastly different things. Furthermore, once again subjecting himself to his tyrannical grandfather’s demands and expectations was unthinkable.
Toast in hand and his head cocked, Aston paused momentarily in chewing the savory morsel. His gaze fell on his humble yet comfortable accommodations. He could afford better now, but these lodgings had become his home, such as they were.
Mismatched end tables flanked a saggy sofa of an undeterminable shade of reddish-brown beneath the paned window. A dented pewter lamp by which Aston read in the evenings dominated one end table along with three neatly stacked books. As he became quickly bored, he never read one book at a time. A haphazard pile of news sheets, music, and journals topped the other end table.
An oval braided rag rug, faded by time and usage, was centered before the sofa. An overstuffed armchair, even saggier than the sofa and covered with the same peculiar shade of upholstery, sat kitty-corner to the couch and the fire grate.
The only other furnishings in the room were an overflowing bookshelf, a violin in its case, and the scarred table and rickety chair where Aston currently sat. Another chair situated across the table held more books and music sheets.
Situated on the other side of the sagging open door on the far side of the sitting room lay his stark bedchamber containing only a narrow, lumpy bed, a lopsided bureau with a cracked beveled mirror by which to shave, a washstand, and a wardrobe. Two small four-paned windows allowed the morning sun in to warm the drafty room.
He shrugged. The simplicity suited him.
Had it really been eight years since he’d stormed from his grandfather’s opulent mansion with nothing more than the clothes on his back, vowing never to return?
Aye, it had—since Aston’s twentieth birthday.
He’d kept that oath, uttered by a rash, wounded, and enraged young man. Even after all of this time, a surge of molten fury tunneled through his veins at the unwanted memory. By God, he’d never agree to an arranged marriage—to a woman his grandfather picked to boot.
Aston deliberately turned his mind from that fateful day. Dredging up unpleasant recollections served no useful purpose. Not, in point of fact, that he looked forward to today’s activities with much more enthusiasm.
It was Monday, which meant he was expected at Balderbrook’s Institution for Genteel Ladies to teach dance lessons from ten until noon. He did the same on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, he gave violin lessons in the morning and pianoforte lessons in the afternoon at the academy, which required him to stay for luncheon.
He’d become convinced over the weeks that his taking the midday meal at Balderbrook’s Institution for Genteel Ladies was not entirely due to convenience as Mrs. Crenshaw, the headmistress, had initially alluded.
Nevertheless, the position paid remarkably well—far above the usual wages for dance and music lessons, in truth. Aston had even acquired several more pupils for private lessons as a result. What was more, he’d signed a contract for an entire year, renewable at his discretion. He’d have been a fool to turn down such a lucrative and secure offer, and Aston was no fool.
However, the finishing school’s students—many of the instructors too—gawped at him as if he were a sweetmeat or a pastry they longed to gobble up. He, therefore, kept his demeanor coolly professional, although his wicked sense of humor threatened to burst forth on numerous occasions.
Infatuations were an expected and common hazard of males in his position. Regardless, experience had taught Aston that impressionable young women easily became enamored of male instructors. Even married matrons had been known to develop a tendre.
Toward that end, Aston generally selected one of the mousiest instructors to model the dance steps with him, and then he stood to the side and critiqued the students as they paired off and practiced the steps. Truth be told, there was one teacher at Balderbrook’s Institution for Genteel Ladies, Miss Chasity Noble, he’d very much like to sweep into his arms and whirl around the dance floor. Unfortunately, she moved with natural feminine grace and was far from dowdy or mousy and, therefore, off-limits.
Willowy with creamy blond hair and dark indigo eyes like the ocean’s deepest depths, she barely glanced in his direction these past two months. Miss Noble was all starch and no-nonsense. The quintessence of poise and propriety. When she raised an imperial winged eyebrow at a mischievous or overly enthusiastic student, the girl’s remorse was instant and genuine.
In Aston’s opinion, the perfectly proper Miss Noble could use a lesson or two or ten in having fun and enjoying life. She was far too austere for one so young. But then again, most teachers’ employment depended on their severity and self-control.
Shoving the last piece of toast into his mouth, Aston rose from the table that also served as his desk. As he wiped the crumbs from his lips with one hand, he crumpled the letter from his grandfather in the other. A cocky grin tipping his lips upward, he tossed the wad over his shoulder toward the fireplace.
“Huzzah!” he whooped when his mark hit home.
Greedy orange, crimson, and blue flames licked the foolscap before devouring the paper with a series of crackles and snaps in mere seconds. No remorse or regret flooded Aston—only relief.
A cold, wet snout nuzzled Aston’s hand, and Roi snuffled into his palm.
He brought his gaze around to his ratty, mongrel dog, whose favorite sleeping spot was the equally ratty armchair. Aston had rescued the pup from the streets two years ago. He’d given the skinny, filthy mutt a regal name—Roi was French for King—simply because it amused him to do so.
He and Roi had become the best of friends and were rarely apart. Roi even accompanied him to his lessons, though the dog snoozed in the dated buggy Aston drove. He and Roi were two lonely wretches making their way in a world that didn’t favor outcasts.
Though Aston had been born into the lap of luxury and never wanted for anything—except love, that is—he’d eschewed those comforts for freedom and independence.
Not to mention self-respect and dignity.
He thought he rather understood those unruly, uncouth Americans in that regard. They’d chosen hardship, privation, and adversity rather than succumb to the dictates of what they considered an oppressive ruler.
Never mind that that viewpoint wasn’t shared by their British counterparts.
Ideals and experiences skewed one’s perspective. Didn’t opponents on the battlefield both appeal to the same Almighty God for favor and victory?
“Here you go.” Aston offered Roi a piece of toast. “We must be on our way shortly, my friend.”
Roi cocked his shaggy ebony head, and though he licked his chops, he didn’t accept the offering. His coal-black-eyed gaze darted to the table.
Once. Twice. Thrice
Chuckling, Aston forked the remaining small beef steak onto the plate. He added an egg and the disdained piece of buttered toast.
“That was to have been my luncheon, rascal.”
He’d have to settle for an apple and another piece of toast. Perhaps, Mrs. Crenshaw would ask him to share the midday meal after dance lessons at Balderbrook’s Institution for Genteel Ladies again. She’d done so multiple times this past month, and he’d gratefully accepted. For a finishing school, the menu was surprisingly sumptuous and diverse.
Except…last week, Mrs. Crenshaw had placed her hand upon his knee under the table and given a decidedly unvirtuous squeeze. Her matronly eyes possessed a hungry, besotted glint for all of her stern and decorous demeanor.
Aston hadn’t quite worked out how to discourage her without causing offense. Was Mrs. Crenshaw the sort who became spiteful and vindictive if her overtures were rebuffed?
Weren’t all women?
No, upon reflection, forgoing luncheon today at Balderbrook’s Institution for Genteel Ladies was a far wiser choice. He’d simply save his appetite for dinner and work out a way to avoid dining at the private seminary henceforth. Except for Thursdays, of course when he was there all day and was expected to eat with the staff. Unless he claimed Roi needed a walk during luncheon and brought his lunch with him as he did the other two days a week.
It was something to seriously consider.
Thank goodness Aston’s landlady, Mrs. Longsdon, was an excellent cook and a generous hostess. As a woman of some girth herself, who possessed a healthy appetite, she provided plentiful meals for her lodgers. If it hadn’t been for her taking him in eight years ago and waiving his rents until he earned the monies to pay her, Aston might’ve starved or ended up on the streets.
Her three sons had died in the Napoleonic Wars, and she needed someone to mother. Aston’s parents had drowned in a boating accident when he was three. And yet, he’d resolutely refused to return to his tyrannical grandfather’s home after their ugly argument.
Uncle Conley and Aston’s cousin Werner, who also lived with Grandfather, were little more than whimpering poltroons. Uncle was usually deep in his cups by late afternoon, and Werner was a sycophant and simpering weakling. If Grandfather’s ire was directed toward Aston, then Werner was safe from his wrath. Even if the corny-faced milksop was the rotter who generally caused the mischief Aston was blamed for.
Werner and Uncle Conley had been no more able to stand up to the viscount’s autocratic expectations and demands than the letter Aston had just thrown into the fire was capable of remaining uncharred. The viscountcy was doomed with those two next in line to inherit.
After placing the plate of food onto the floor, which Roi tore into with admirable gusto, Aston shrugged into his pecan-brown coat before wrapping his midday meal in a serviette. He tucked the simple fare in the outer pocket of his worn leather satchel. He’d placed today’s sheet music for dancing in the larger compartment earlier this morning.
He planned on introducing the students to the waltz today and cringed inwardly upon considering their immature reactions. Alas, no reputable dance instructor eschewed the waltz these days, even if it weren’t exactly de rigueur in the poshest homes yet.
Roi finished his meal and proceeded to groom himself in a most indecorous fashion.
“Must you behave so unseemly?” Aston raised a mocking eyebrow. “And after dining too?”
Roi snuffled an answer as he continued his morning ablutions.
Aston gathered the dirty dishes and cutlery and placed them on a tray. As was his usual routine, he’d set them outside his door when he left for the day, and they’d be gone when he returned. Mrs. Longsdon preferred that he eat in the dining room with the rest of her boarders, but as a frightened pup, Roi had barked and whined to such an extent that she’d relented and permitted Aston to take his meals in his rooms.
It had become a habit now. Aston paid extra each month for having the dog and for her cleaning his rooms too. She needed the coin, and Aston needed Roi.
After slipping his satchel’s strap over one shoulder, Aston placed his top hat on his head. With a snap of his fingers to Roi, he lifted the tray and left his chamber.
Eight years, he mused as he tramped down the corridor, his bag bumping his hip.
Roi’s nails clicked a soft staccato on the worn but clean wood floor as he followed at Aston’s heels. Extraordinarily intelligent, the dog had trained himself to pace Aston. House training had taken but a week, and the dog could open the door and fetch the news sheets too.
No longer destitute but certainly far from the lofty heights he’d once known, Aston considered his future as he descended the squeaky stairs. He’d become quite sought after in upper circles and had a tidy amount saved in the bank. He suspected much of his elite clientele resulted from his being the grandson of a lord and not Aston’s teaching abilities.
Not that he wasn’t a dashed good dance master and music teacher because he was. The chasm between Aston and his grandfather was no secret among the ton, however. Society liked nothing better than a bit of scintillating controversy as long as an outright scandal wasn’t the cause.
The truth of it was, Aston had grown rather bored giving lessons. Restlessness and discontent had leeched into his simple, orderly life. He wanted something else. Something more. Something undefinable he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Miss Chasity Noble’s delicate features flashed across his mind, and a slow smile arced Aston’s mouth upward. Why yes. A flirtation with the prim beauty might be just the sort of pleasant distraction he needed.
As long as Mrs. Crenshaw didn’t grow wise to his intent.