The Mistake a Sisters of Scandal novel
Childhood love never disappears…
Infamous courtesan Julia Forsythe is the former mistress of a ruthless marquess. She’s also expecting his child. But while she longs to flee from his cold clutches, the welfare of her unborn babe prevents it. Now she must find a way to remain a “mistress” in name, if not in deed. And her plans are only complicated by a growing affection for the estate’s head gardener…
Fifteen years ago, Adam Radcliff once shared a close friendship with Julia. Now they stand worlds apart in both lives and statuses, sharing only the memory of that old friendship. But even as Julia slips out of the marquess’s lascivious clutches, she finds herself seeking the pleasure of Adam’s company. Now Adam is falling more deeply for Julia, even knowing that wanting another man’s mistress will only bring ruin upon them both…
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Sixteen-year-old Adam Radcliff suddenly understood why they called these establishments “hells.” The closed-in space was ripe with sweat and alcohol. It was overheated from the writhing mass of the drunken gamblers, and light and shadow warred with one another, playing across tables and faces. There were no windows to the outside world in the gaming house. No reality but this sweaty, loud, discordant one, where fortunes rose or plummeted with one flick of a card.
Adam felt suffocated. He felt sick.
He’d learned a girl who matched Julia’s description had been seen here more than once. He’d been searching the city for her, desperately, even though the brief note she’d left him the day after her father’s death had told him not to look for her.
Did she really think he’d sit and twiddle his thumbs while she roamed the streets, enduring God knew what horror?
Did she really think he’d let the girl who’d become his best friend leave her home and all those who cared for her without a word to him?
The loss of her was a bitter ache he felt every moment of every day. He knew she was scared, but whatever the future held, they could face it. Together. He imagined finding her. Taking her home. She hadn’t smiled much since her father’s health had taken a turn for the worse. But Adam would make her smile again.
He’d think of more Irish folk tales to tell her. She liked the magic in the stories and he liked watching her face when he recited them—it took them both away from the cluttered, polluted streets of the stew where they lived. And he knew dozens of the old tales—there would always be more to tell.
He moved toward a busy hazard table.
It was Julia. The dark, thick hair piled on her head, the familiar, utterly feminine profile left no doubt. He drank in that first sight of her, weak with relief.
But then she turned to a young man seated next to her. The man wrapped his arm around her waist and drew her close to him, tucking her against his body as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
Adam’s reaction was visceral. He wanted to kill the bastard with his bare hands. His emotions clattered and raged between anger and sharp despair. He stepped forward. The man whispered in Julia’s ear, and she smiled.
Adam nearly stumbled. It wasn’t the same broad smile he remembered from before, but it contained a faint glimmer of that brightness. He turned to the first person he could find, grabbing the older man’s elbow.
“Who is he? The one in the gold waistcoat?” Adam gestured to the hazard table, to the expensively dressed gentleman who was holding Julia, who had made her smile. Adam was too distraught, and his accent came out thick.
The nob Adam grabbed brushed his hand off, taking in the sad, ragged state of his coat with a sneer. The man spoke condescendingly to Adam, who was, after all, just a poor half-Irish boy.
“That’s Lord Stanley. A baron.”
He moved away as he spoke, but his words—the way he’d said them, as though Adam could barely even hope to polish a baron’s shoes—reverberated harshly in Adam’s skull.
The worst part was, the man wasn’t wrong.
Adam stared as Julia tilted her head down. And let Lord Stanley kiss her.
It was a gentle, lingering kiss. A kiss one might give a new lover—a little tentative, but affectionate. Seeing it was like watching one’s childhood home go up in flames, burning and burning until everything inside was hollowed out. Adam’s heart felt like cold, heavy lead in his chest.
How could he ask Julia to go home with him now? How could he ask her to leave a baron—a wealthy lord who could give her so many things—and come with Adam, who had nothing to offer her.
Nothing except his love.
But love wouldn’t feed them. Love wouldn’t clothe them. Love wouldn’t keep her safe.
Still, he wanted to steal her away like a thief in the night. He wanted to be poor and desperate and with her. His hands itched to touch her, to pull her out the door and far, far away from this place. From that man.
Would she go with him? Or would she choose Lord Stanley? He suspected the answer, and he felt too fragile to find out for sure, to have that certain knowledge forever in his mind. Did he even have a right to ask her to make that choice?
He watched numbly as Lord Stanley stood.
This was the moment. He could confront her. He could fight for her. Or he could let her go and hope she found what she felt she needed so badly she’d run away from everything she’d known to get it.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. He moved back, into the corner, into shadow. In the end, he didn’t want Julia to see him. Didn’t want her to know he’d witnessed that kiss.
Didn’t want her pity.
He was going to lose her. No, he’d already lost her. And God, it hurt. The pain made him dizzy, and he had to press his hands against the wall behind him to remain steady. As Julia walked past, his breath choked in a sob. He wanted to curl into himself and weep, because the girl he loved was almost close enough to touch, but farther from him than she’d ever been.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
As Julia Forsythe heard the door downstairs open and shut, she lifted a glass in one trembling hand. She took a deep, calming breath, and inadvertently breathed in the pungent scent of the purgative.
She stiffened her spine.
She could do this. She would do this.
Her biggest fear wasn’t actually taking the noxious concoction—her friend had assured her it was perfectly safe, though it might smell awful. Her biggest fear was that it wouldn’t work, and she would have to submit to her lover’s callous touch again before she was ready. And that if she did submit, she would do something extremely foolish in her desperation—like strike him as hard as she could.
Henry Eldridge, the Marquess of Riverton.
Her biggest mistake.
The third stair creaked as it always did.
Her hand shook as she raised the glass higher. “You are stronger than this,” she muttered angrily to herself. She forced her fingers to tighten, forced the rim of the glass to her lips, and consumed the liquid in one wretched gulp.
“Julia?” Riverton’s familiar voice called.
She stumbled out from the dressing room and into the bedchamber, her hands pressed to her abdomen. She didn’t have to fake this. Her stomach positively churned and her head spun.
“I think I’m ill,” she said weakly.
She sat on the corner of the bed, and Riverton looked down at her, as immaculate as he always was, from his blond hair to his gleaming black shoes. He was beautiful in the way a Roman sculpture or glittering snow on a sunny winter’s day was beautiful—coldly and ruthlessly perfect. “It’s convincing, I’ll give you that.”
“Convincing!” she croaked. It felt as if her stomach was trying to escape her body.
“I’ll light a few more candles,” he said, sounding vaguely amused. “Mayhap by the time I’m done, you’ll have recovered.”
Highly unlikely, she thought.
She watched him wander around the room with a spill, lighting so many beeswax candles the entire bedchamber pulsed and glowed. To Julia, it seemed wasteful. But then, Riverton had never known what it was like to view candles as a precious commodity that had to be conserved. Julia and her father had always used rushlights to illuminate the dark of their cramped rented rooms. The lights smelled, but they were much cheaper than candles.
Riverton finished and set the spill on the marble mantelpiece. He moved toward her. “There. Do you feel any better?”
If anything, the room had started spinning more rapidly. She shook her head, her lips pressed tight.
“Julia,” he said, drawing out her name. “You are acting childish. It’s not as though we haven’t shared a bed before.”
“I’m ill,” she repeated.
He folded his arms across his chest and looked down at her implacably. “What of the contract? Should I tear it up because you won’t fulfill your side of it? I thought you wanted the best for our child.”
Fury swept through her. Riverton only saw her pregnancy in terms of how it could benefit him. He didn’t give a fig about the child.
“I do want the best for my child.” She glared at him. She wanted to do more than glare. She wanted to rail at him, yell at him, scream at him for doing this to her until her throat was raw. All she wanted was the best for her child. She’d been terrified by her unexpected pregnancy, terrified to think there was a tiny life harbored inside of her, and that she alone in the all world was responsible for it.
In truth, terror at that knowledge still twisted her heart in knots every day. But she wouldn’t allow herself to succumb to it. That tiny, precious life was dependent on her. And she’d lived through fear before.
She had to be good for her child. She had to be better than she was.
“Then have you forgotten our terms?” Riverton asked.
Oh, she remembered the terms of the contract too well. Everything his wealth and position could provide, but only if she stayed…available to him.
Riverton, the miserable cad, had no qualms about using their unborn child to control her. And he would keep using it until he’d bled her dry. He wanted to lock her in a gilded cage and make use of her body until he said he was done with her. And perhaps he would never be done with her. Perhaps he would keep her caged forever, just to prove he could.
Her wishes didn’t matter at all. Not to him. They never had.
“I haven’t forgotten our terms,” she said. As she spoke, the purgative truly kicked in. She wrapped her arms around herself and hunched forward.
Riverton stepped closer.
Then her stomach heaved mightily, and she cast up her accounts all over the lush carpet, barely missing his perfect shoes.
Content Copyright Lily Maxton