Home > The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel #1)

The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel #1)
Author: Sarah MacLean

Chapter 1

SOPHIE’S SOCIETY SPLASH

London

June 1833

If only the Countess of Liverpool hadn’t been such an admirer of aquatic creatures, perhaps things would have turned out differently.

Perhaps no one would have witnessed the events of the thirteenth of June, the final, legendary garden party of the 1833 season. Perhaps London would have happily packed itself into myriad coaches that would have spread like beetles across the British countryside into summer idyll.

Perhaps.

But one year earlier, the Countess of Liverpool had received a gift of a half-dozen pretty orange-and-white fish that were said to be direct descendants of those beloved of the Shogun of Japan. Sophie thought the tale wholly unbelievable—Japan being notoriously insulated from the rest of the world—but Lady Liverpool was exceedingly proud of her pets, caring for the things with near-fanatical passion. Six had turned into two dozen, and the overlarge bowl in which the creatures were delivered had been traded for a container that could only be described as pondlike.

The fish had sparked the countess’s imagination however, and the Liverpool Summer Soiree was oddly China-themed, despite the Countess of Liverpool knowing even less about China than she did of Japan. Indeed, when Lady Liverpool had greeted them in an elaborate white and orange diaphanous silk clearly intended to evoke her prized fish, she’d explained the disconnect. “No one knows a thing about Japan, you see. It’s terribly private, which makes for no fun when it comes to a theme. And China is so very close . . . it’s practically the same.”

When Sophie had told the Countess that it was, in fact, not the same at all, the Countess had tittered with laughter and waved one arm replete with silk fins. “Don’t fret, Lady Sophie, China has fish as well, I’m sure.”

Sophie had cut her mother a look at the ignorant words, but received no acknowledgement. For weeks, she’d insisted that China and Japan were not one in the same but no one had been inclined to listen—her mother far too grateful for the invitation to such an elaborate affair. The Talbot sisters, after all, were exceptional at being elaborate.

They, along with the rest of the aristocracy, had turned out in an array of reds and golds, brocades each more intricate than the last, and topped with outrageous hats that had no doubt kept the milliners of London working night and day since the invitations had arrived.

Sophie, however, had resisted her mother’s insistence that she participate in the farce and, to her family’s dismay, arrived in ordinary pale yellow.

And so it was that on that lovely day in the middle of June, Lady Liverpool took pity on poor, uninteresting Sophie—the Talbot daughter who was neither the prettiest, nor the most diverting, nor the one who played the best pianoforte—and suggested that the young fish-out-of-water might like to visit with fish in their proper environment.

Sophie happily accepted the offer, grateful to exit the party of tittering aristocrats and their combined gaze—one that carefully avoided her and her family. There was, after all, never a stare so blatant as the one that carefully evaded its object. This was particularly true when the objects in question were so impossible to ignore.

The stares had followed the young ladies Talbot since they’d had their comings out—five in four years—each less welcome in Society than the last, the invitations growing fewer and fewer as the years progressed.

Sophie had always rather wished that her mother would give up on the dream of making her daughters Society darlings, but that would never happen. As a consequence, Sophie was here, alternately hiding in the topiary of the Liverpool estate and pretending not to hear the insults so regularly whispered about her sisters that they were barely whispered anymore.

So it was with no small amount of relief that Sophie followed her hostess’s directions into the legendary Liverpool greenhouse, enormous and glass-enclosed, filled with a stunning array of flora and promising no gossip.

She searched for the fishpond, weaving her way between potted lemon trees and impressive ferns, until she heard the sound—a cry of sorts, rhythmic and unsettling, as though some poor creature was being tortured among the rhododendrons.

As she was not without conscience, and the creature in question clearly required assistance, Sophie investigated. Unfortunately, when she found the source of the noise, it became very clear that the woman did not require assistance.

She was already receiving assistance.

From Sophie’s brother-in-law.

It bears noting that the woman was not Sophie’s sister.

Which was why, upon recovering from her initial shock, Sophie felt perfectly within her rights to interrupt. “Your Grace,” she said, not at all quietly, the words filled with her contempt for this moment, this man, and this world that had given him so much power.

The pair stilled. A pretty blond head popped out from behind his arm, topped with a towering red silk pagoda, gold tassels hanging from its multitude of corners, swinging at her ears. Large blue eyes blinked.

The Duke of Haven did not deign to look at Sophie. “Leave us.”

There was nothing in the world Sophie hated more than the aristocracy.

“Sophie? Mother is looking for you . . . She’s waylaid Captain Culberth on the croquet field, poor man, and she’s swatting him with that enormous fan she insisted on bringing. You should rescue the poor man.”

Sophie closed her eyes at the words, willing them away. Willing their speaker away with them. She whirled around to stop her sister’s advance. “No, Sera—”

“Oh.” Seraphina, Duchess of Haven, née Talbot, came up short as she turned the corner into the copse of potted plants, taking in the scene, her hands flying to her ever-so-slightly-protruding stomach, where the future Duke of Haven grew. “Oh.” Sophie saw shock flash in her sister’s eyes as she took in the scene, followed quickly by sadness, and then cool calm. “Oh,” the Duchess of Haven repeated.

 

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