Loving Lydia is a sweet, inspirationally touched romance, set during the Regency era. When Lady Lydia, a moral, naive young woman enters society, she is confounded by Lord Alex, a known reprobate rumored to have a dark side. Yet he captures her heart. When Lydia is sucked into his dark world, can he save her and their love?
London England, March 1816
It is that time again. In just a few short weeks, the Season will be upon us and I must put my quill to work once more. Unfortunately, I do not expect this Season to be any different from the past, but one is always hopeful. Already society is returning from their country homes, Parliament will soon be in session, and marriage minded young misses are plotting. I have but one word of warning to the new arrivals in the city. Unless you are unique and totally creative, you will not seize the heart of a Wake. Each, especially the heir, is immune to even the loveliest lady. It will save you much time, heartache and effort if you set your cap on someone more amenable.
* * *
Alexander Wake turned, ducked and took a punch to his left side. A grunt escaped through his clenched teeth. He struggled to keep his balance as he jostled the screaming, frightened woman. If he could trust Betsy to remain safe, he would set her down, freeing him to fight for himself. He knew as soon as she was out of his arms, one of the other gentlemen would grab her up in a heartbeat.
Betsy was his, and he would get her out of here, even if he died trying. Moreover, the way the evening was progressing, that was a distinct possibility.
Turning, he searched to determine how far he was from escape when a pint of ale flew by his head, crashed, and splintered the wood behind him. Betsy shrieked again, and clung to his back for dear life.
He searched for the door.
A bottle shattered against the bar. He lifted an arm to protect his face from flying shards of glass. Betsy whimpered and dug her nails into his flesh. Thank goodness he was wearing a shirt or his back would be as bloodied as his face before the night was through.
Only three men stood between him and the door. Half a dozen came at him from all other directions, ready to take their turn at beating him to a pulp. As long as he held Betsy, he could not fight back. He whisked her off his back, plopped her feet on the ground and looked her straight in the eye.
“Stay at my back,” he insisted. “Do not let go of my shirt no matter what happens.”
Betsy, a young woman of no more than seventeen, nodded her blond head vigorously as he turned his back. Her arms flung around his waist, clinging to him like a second skin.
Alex yanked her arms from around him. “Hold on to the shirt, not me. I need to be able to move,” he hissed over his shoulder.
Stumbling to the side, Alex hit a table when something struck him at the side of his neck. Turning and hoping Betsy followed, he swung with his right, connecting with the nose of the man closest to him. The assailant’s head fell back, and his nose gushed red. That should put him out of action.
Alex swung left, then right, ducking when necessary as he and Betsy backed toward the door. The three behind them, so far gone into their cups Betsy could have whipped them, seemed disinterested in what was occurring. They remained slumped in their chairs, nursing pints of ale.
When the cool damp of the night invaded the back of his linen shirt, Alex knew they had finally made it to the door. His favorite gray jacket was somewhere on the other side of the room where he had removed it during a game of chance. Alex expected never to see it again.
As soon as they were on the sidewalk he turned, scooped Betsy up in to his arms, and sprinted for the north corner. At least the hackney waited as instructed. That was the only thing to have gone right this evening.
He grabbed the handle, flung the door open, and tossed Betsy onto one of the cushioned seats. As he entered and closed the door behind him, he yelled for the driver to get moving. A glance at the window showed that only two followed him and were fast losing ground as the hackney drew further away.
* * *
The following morning
Lady Lydia Demains sighed. She raised her head and looked around the vacant church. It was an impressive sight, much grander than her uncle’s simple parish church in Thrapston. Cherub carvings adorned high ceilings. Stained glass windows loomed far above the floor, and a rainbow of color poured along the aisle when the sun shone at just the right angle.
Her uncle’s church was a simple stone building with wooden pews and a few plain glass windows. Still, she had felt closer to God in that simple parish church than she had ever felt anywhere else.
Oh, if only she could find the answers here as easily as she did at home. Then again, she had never encountered any real difficulties before. She usually sought the silence of the church for prayer, leaving every time with a calm, peaceful feeling. Such would not be the case today. Nothing could alter the fact that her mother would not be by her side as she faced this first milestone of adulthood. Entering society.
“Miss?” A voice from the side intruded on her thoughts.
Lydia glanced up, startled, having thought she was quite alone. “Yes?”
A man of the cloth now stood in the aisle at the end of her pew. He seemed very young. Most of the vicars she had ever spent time with in conversation had at least some gray or white hair, as well as a few wrinkles.
“I am Vicar Wake,” he introduced himself with a kind smile. “May I be of assistance?”
Maybe in London they closed the church after the services. “I’m sorry. Would you like me to leave?”
“Not at all. The building remains open for the day. I thought perhaps you wished someone to speak with.”
Lydia glanced around, looking for other parishioners. “I am, um, ah, surely there are others who have more important problems than mine,” she answered, not sure she was ready to voice her insignificant dilemmas. “Thank you, though.”
“As you can see,” he gestured to the empty sanctuary, “none are lining up for my wisdom at the moment.”
Lydia’s face began to warm. “My concerns are truly trivial. So much so I am embarrassed to voice them.”
He drew himself up with authority. “Do you wish to speak with a more experienced priest?”
Lydia didn’t understand why he would ask such a question. “Pardon?”
Lydia’s mouth fell open as she realized the young vicar thought she was dismissing him because of his age. “I’m sure you have.” Goodness, she hadn’t meant to insult but truly, she hadn’t realized how silly her problems were until she thought of speaking them aloud, and to a minister no less.
Lydia stretched her neck to prevent it from stiffening. Perhaps his counsel could be beneficial at this juncture in her life. “Would you care to sit down?”
Vicar Wake settled himself into the pew in front of her. Turning, he bent one leg on the seat and rested his arm along the back. “Then you wish to discuss what disturbs you?” he asked almost anxiously.
Lydia bit her lip to keep from chuckling at the very likeable vicar. Even her own uncle had never made her feel this comfortable. “I was speaking in truth when I said that my own problems are minor.”
“Nothing is insignificant if it causes distress.”
Lydia settled back in her seat. “Very well, but I must warn you that you will be quite bored when I am finished.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“First, you need to understand that this is my first time in London.”
“That, I had already determined,” Vicar Wake acknowledged with an encouraging smile.
My humble, country background could never be camouflaged.
“What is on your mind Miss, ah?”
“Lydia, Lydia Demains.”
“Tell me your troubles, Miss Demains.”
Lydia searched his eyes. Soothing warmth shone in his dark green pools, and soon, she spilled her tale.
“Uncle Joseph, whom I have lived with for the past nine years, is the vicar in Thrapston. My parents thought it best that I be raised in the country, away from society, until I was old enough to marry.”
“I think I am beginning to understand.”
“I have now been with my other aunt and uncle for only a week and find I am more confused than I have been in my entire life.”
Sympathy softened the Vicar’s eyes. “An entirely new set of rules.”
“So much of what I have been taught doesn’t exist in London. My aunt gossips about people I have yet to meet, then tells me one should not speak of such matters and then continues to speak of them.”
The vicar chuckled. “Unfortunately, it is the way of society. They are not entertained if they don’t have something to offer about someone else.”
“I mean no disrespect to my aunt, truly. I just am not sure how I should handle such matters.”
“It is likely you won’t be able to change old habits. Instead, just nod politely but don’t participate. It is the best advice I can offer. As you will be introduced shortly, you will likely hear a number of tidbits at every event.” Vicar Wake’s smile broadened and a dimple creased the side of his mouth. “Even the newspapers cannot help themselves. Take Quidnunc for example. My older brother, Alex, is quite a favorite topic of the writer.”
Lydia was stunned to learn that the notorious, wicked Lord Alex was related to this kind gentleman. Apparently London wasn’t much different than home after all. In a small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business. She had hoped London would offer better entertainments.
“Are there other issues you struggle with, Miss Demains?”
She couldn’t look him in the eye and glanced at her hands. “I am reluctant to speak of it to a gentleman.”
“It is because of my vocation that you can speak freely,” he reminded her.
If she were talking to her Uncle Joseph, she wouldn’t be uncomfortable. So why should she not speak of it to this nice vicar? “It is the clothing,” she continued quietly. “My aunt has taken me to the modiste at least three times this week alone. Not only is the amount of clothing completely unnecessary but indecent as well.”
“How so?” Vicar Wake asked as he leaned forward and placed his chin in his hand in contemplation.
“She has insisted on bows everywhere. I can’t imagine anything more abundantly adorned than these gowns. Not to mention what they reveal. Never have I exposed so much skin in my life.” Comfortable to have finally broached the subject, the weight lifted, Lydia spoke earnestly. Leaning close, she whispered. “The gowns are cut very low. It is quite possible harlots are covering more than I.”
“Have you spoken of this to your aunt?”
“I tried, but she only reminds me of my provincial background and insists since I am to be presented I should display my assets.” Lydia paused and glanced around the church to make sure they were still alone before leaning closer to whisper in outrage, “Tell me, do gentlemen truly pick a wife because of her ‘assets’? If that is true, then I am not sure I want that gentleman for a husband.”
The vicar cleared his throat and adjusted his collar with his index finger. “For some gentlemen, unfortunately, yes. For others, it is simply the first attraction before they begin to know the young lady.”
“Well, I understand attraction and first appearances. What I don’t understand is why a lady can’t simply rely on tasteful, modest dress and hair.”
“I’ll come back to this particular problem.” The vicar cleared his throat again. “Is there anything else troubling you?”
Lydia sighed, as if a tremendous weight still burdened her. “Just the rules and lack of freedom.”
“How so?” Vicar Wake asked curiously.
“I forget to take a maid when I go out. Even this morning I forgot to bring her.”
“A country village does allow a young woman more freedom,” he agreed. “My sister complains of the lack of freedom as well.”
Relief flowed through her. Someone understood.
“She wasn’t raised in a village but she did have the run of our family estate. Being the youngest after five boys, she didn’t learn much ladylike behavior. Once she left the house, Helen quickly forgot what my mother managed to teach her.”
Lydia found herself smiling at the obvious affection the vicar held for his sister. “Did she adjust to London well?” Lydia asked hopefully.
“Not yet.” Vicar Wake grinned. “She has only been here a week as well.”
“Oh dear. I was hoping for advice from her experience.”
“Helen would probably suggest you both return to the country and leave London to the fools.”
Lydia couldn’t agree more.
“I wish I could offer suggestions on how to deal with your aunt and her instructions, but that is beyond me.”
“Do not concern yourself,” Lydia said with a smile. “I feel better just having voiced them.”
“I do know of someone who could be of assistance, however.”
Lydia became hopeful once again. “One of your superiors?”
“Goodness, no,” Vicar Wake laughed. “I was going to suggest my mother.”
Lydia sat back. “Thank you, but no. I am sure she has more important matters to deal with.”
“She would be delighted to meet you and offer advice. You wouldn’t be the first either. Being a duchess, mothers are constantly seeking her advice on how best to present their daughters,” he offered.
Lydia shook her head. “All the more reason she should not be disturbed. My aunt is continually reminding me of how busy her life is with preparing me for my entrance into society, afternoon visits, planning my coming out ball, deciding on invitations. . . .” Pausing, Lydia realized she was rambling. “Well, the list is quite endless.”
“Was your father a titled man?” he asked with curiosity.
“Yes, though I doubt you would have met him. My uncle, his younger brother, is now Earl Ryeling.”
* * *
Alex arrived before the services concluded with the purpose of speaking with Colin. He waited impatiently down the dark hallway off the vestibule, wishing the minister wasn’t so long-winded. Had he been in a comfortable position, he would have fallen asleep. Not only was the sermon boring, he was exhausted. Just hours ago he had put Betsy to bed and as soon as he talked to Colin, then he too would find sleep.
He watched from the shadows as society filed out of the church and hoped no one saw him. Alexander Wake and Sunday Worship were not words anyone would ever use in the same sentence and he wanted to keep it that way.
When Colin failed to show after the sanctuary emptied, Alex risked exposure to find his brother. There he was, sitting in a pew, beaming like a puppy at a female parishioner. Alex could not see her face, but her brown hair was neatly styled on the top of her head and an odd row of bows trimmed the back of her dress.
He had intended to continue waiting for Colin, then he heard his name mentioned. He turned and strode to the end of the hall, his patience coming to an end. Was no place in this city safe from marriage minded misses?
Alex paced and waited. How long could their conversation take? Surely, they would finish soon.
He walked quietly to the doors leading to the sanctuary to listen.
“Alex, what a surprise to see you here,” his brother announced as he led the brown-headed bow girl toward the exit.
He groaned to himself. “I only wanted a moment of your time,” he acknowledged.
Colin stopped before him. “Alex, may I introduce Lady Lydia Demains. She is new to London.”
Alex looked down at the young woman expecting to see a sweet coy smile on her lips. Instead, she studied him and more importantly focused on his chin. Oh, yes, a bruise must be quite evident if the concern marring her brow was any indication.
“Lady Lydia, may I present my older brother, Lord Alexander Wake.”
Her eyes grew wide at the mention of his name and she straightened before she dipped into a curtsey. “Lord Wake, it is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
Alex narrowed his eyes and looked at his brother. Colin smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“The pleasure is mine,” Alex murmured.
The young woman rose again and looked up at him with large brown eyes. A small smile pulled at her lips. Alex buried his groan, turned, and marched away.
She has loved romance novels for more years than she cares to actually count and when stories began forming in her own mind, she finally gave in and put her fingers to the keyboard and has not stopped writing since.
During the day she works as a paralegal and when she is not writing, she teaches Sunday School and sits on the Family Ministry Committee at her church. She can also be found at one of the community theaters doing make-up, or on a very rare occasion, costuming.
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