The Baron's Rose
C H A P T E R 1
Rose Allen stepped from the carriage, caressing the pearls at
her neck as she looked up at the illuminated yellow stone
façade of Lord Trenton’s London town home. Lanterns lit the
walkway and staircase. She pulled her wrap up around her shoulders
and tightened it slightly, the chill of spring air only part of the
reason she was cold. Rose closed her eyes. I can do this. I deserve to
be here. Her stomach lurched and her cheek twitched. She pushed
the feeling of inadequacy down.
The squeak of the carriage behind her brought Rose’s attention
back and she watched as her brother-in-law handed out her sister.
Violet looked up into her husband’s face and Rose gritted her teeth
to stop from growling. Watching the two moon over each other
was enough to turn Rose’s stomach.
Violet wrapped her hand around her husband’s arm and the
two of them preceded Rose up the staircase and into the entryway.
Rose glared at her sister’s back. It should have been me on his arm,
The butler approached them, and His Grace presented his
card. The butler bowed low. “Ah, Your Grace. Welcome to
Hawthorne House.” He took their wraps, handing them off to a
footman standing nearby. “Please, follow Henry. He will lead you
to the ballroom.”
The duke smiled. “Has my aunt, Lady Mayfield arrived yet?”
The butler gave a slight shake of his head. “No, Your Grace.”
The duke’s smile faltered slightly, and Rose stood a little taller,
a smirk curling her lips. He was new to society. The ton would not
be kind to him if he were so transparent.
The group trailed after the butler, stopping just outside the
ballroom. He motioned them inside.
The duke looked into the ballroom. “I should like to wait a few
moments for my aunt to arrive before we enter.”
Henry bowed, leaving them to stand in the corridor. The duke
took a deep breath and straightened his waistcoat, even as he
squared his shoulders.
Rose grinned at his obvious discomfort.
“Well, my love.” He spoke quietly to Violet.
Rose bristled at the term of endearment.
“We are not going to get this first encounter over with if we
stand here in the corridor.” His Adam’s apple bobbed a few times
before he gave his head a firm nod.
“Can we not wait for your aunt? She was to introduce us.”
Rose raised a brow. Must Violet always be such a milquetoast?
A duchess needed backbone—something which Violet often
“She is not here. What are we to do? Stand about looking like a
bunch of nodcocks?” Frustration laced the duke’s words.
Violet looked up at her husband with worried eyes. “What if
they don’t like me, Tad? What if I am a complete failure?”
Rose shook her head. The duke had not been raised in
England, which meant this was his first entrance into the London
social scene. Rose should be the one guiding him through it. After
all, she had experienced it before, unlike Violet. Her sister and the
duke were like one blind man leading another. Neither of them
knew what they were about.
A large part of Rose hoped Violet’s fears were realized—that
she would be a failure. Perhaps then the duke would understand
what a mistake he had made. He should have chosen Rose. Rose
had prepared herself for this role. She had done everything she
could think of to become a duchess. Rose’s cheek twitched. It had
been for naught. Violet had convinced the duke that she was the
one he loved, not Rose.
The duke put his free hand on top of the hand Violet had
wrapped around the crook of his arm. From the way his muscles
flexed, Rose guessed he was giving Violet a reassuring squeeze. “It’s
not possible. No one could ever find you lacking.” He smiled at her
and Rose’s hands clenched at her side.
“Well, prattling on out here in the hall is achieving nothing.
Can we not continue on inside?” Rose asked, before letting out a
deep sigh, her eyes narrowing slightly.
Violet flinched at the harshness of Rose’s voice, but Rose
brushed her sister’s response aside. It was just another example of
The duke led his wife into the ballroom; Rose walked several
steps behind. She looked up at the large chandelier, sparkling with
thousands of crystals, hundreds of candle flames reflecting off the
She swallowed hard. This was everything she remembered
from her first and only Season. Ladies and gentlemen dotted the
room, all dressed in the finest fabrics. Rose sucked in a deep
breath. This time it will be different. This time she would come
away with an offer—she had to. This was her last chance. At one
and twenty, her time was running out.
“It’s enchanting,” Violet murmured over her shoulder. “Do you
not think so, Tad?”
Rose moved forward a few steps, bringing her even with Violet
and the duke.
He looked down on his wife and smiled. “If you are happy, my
love, then I am happy.”
Rose grunted and took several steps to the side, distancing
herself from their irritating felicity.
“Stop gawking like a couple of ninnies’ and let’s present you to
our hosts,” Lady Mayfield said, bustling toward them, her niece
Miss Standish, fallowing behind.
“Really, nephew,” the older woman whispered when she
neared. “Do you wish everyone to think you were raised a common
shopkeeper? Did we not review this just yesterday?”
The duke breathed in deeply, his shoulders raising and falling.
He ran his hand along the back of his neck and narrowed his gaze
at his aunt. “Perhaps if you had been on time, I should not have
had to wait about, looking like a commoner.”
Lady Mayfield guffawed. “I arrived on time. You arrived early.”
She shook her head, her jowls swinging back and forth.
“What is their name again?” The duke whispered as he
straightened to his full height, his face setting in a stony look of
Lady Mayfield let out an exasperated sigh. “Lord and Lady
Violet, like her husband, straightened her back, and lifted her
chin regally as they neared the start of the receiving line.
Lord Trenton smiled and nodded to everyone he greeted. His
wife, however, was a complete contrast. Few of the guests received
even the slightest upturn of her lips. Most only earned a frown, or
in a few cases, an outright scowl.
As she neared their host, Rose took a deep, calming breath.
This was where it started. This ball would help define her Season
and she was not going to ruin it. She pasted a brilliant smile on her
lips and gave her cheeks a discreet pinch.
Lady Mayfield approached Lord Trenton. “My Lord, may I
introduce my nephew, His Grace, the Duke of Shearsby.”
“Ah, Your Grace. I have been most anxious to make your
acquaintance.” Lord Trenton quite literally bounced with excitement,
as he simultaneously bowed and shook the duke’s hand. He
then turned his eyes onto Violet.
Lady Mayfield followed his gaze. “And his new wife, Her
Grace, the Duchess of Shearsby.” Lady Mayfield nodded in Rose’s
direction. “Miss Rose Allen and my niece, Miss Jessica Standish.”
Lord Trenton smiled widely at them and Rose felt her breath
slowly drain from her lungs. She clasped her trembling hands
tightly in front of her. Dare she hope that society wouldn’t shun
her after all?
Lady Trenton turned narrowed eyes on them. “You brought
the sister? I don’t recall including her in the invitation.”
Rose’s smile dropped into a sort of grimace, her hope evaporating
and her earlier fears pressing down heavily on her
Lady Mayfield harrumphed. “An oversight on your part, I am
A fuzzy ringing filled Rose’s ears as she watched the two ladies
stare at each other, both leaning in, daring the other to step back
and lose the nonverbal argument. The music sounded far away,
drowned out by four words, repeating over and over in Rose’s
You brought the sister.
Rose’s cheeks flamed and a burning sensation filled her eyes.
Finally, after several long moments of awkward silence, Lady
Trenton leaned back on her heels, giving the win to Lady
Mayfield. In any other moment, Rose would have shared in the
win, but tonight she could not.
“You are holding up the line, Lady Mayfield.” Lady Trenton
flicked her wrists, motioning them away from her. “Please, find
someone else you can impose upon.”
Lady Mayfield lifted her nose, glaring down at their hostess.
“Lady Trenton. Still a bit high in the instep, I see.” She turned on
her heel and moved toward the throng of people already occupying
Rose allowed herself to be pulled along by Miss Standish, who
at some point had put her hand at Rose’s elbow.
“Pay her no mind, Miss Allen. My aunt Mayfield says Lady
Trenton thinks herself the tops of the trees, but it is only a charade
because her husband has wandering eyes.” Miss Standish smiled
kindly, which only served to intensify the burning in Rose’s eyes.
The girl was young and knew nothing of society. If she pitied
Rose, things must be dire, indeed.
The little group found chairs opposite the terrace doors. Rose
looked longingly at those doors. If she could go out to the terrace,
perhaps she could disappear into the night and be done with it all.
Living as a spinster or even a governess could not be so bad as this.
“Violet, may I claim you for the next set?” The duke smiled
down at his wife. Violet looked over at Rose with the same pitying
gaze Miss Standish wore. The duke also glanced over. It was more
than Rose could take.
“I am in need of air. Please, excuse me.” Rose pushed herself to
standing, wanting to run until she reached the doors or beyond.
Miss Standish stood also. “Would you like some company,
“No!” Several people turned at Rose’s shout. She lowered her
voice, trying not to give the guests around them anything more to
gossip about. “No, thank you. I will return shortly.”
Miss Standish’s brow furrowed, but she sat back down in her
chair. Violet placed a hand on Rose’s arm, her expression asking if
Rose wanted her to come. Rose shook it off. Violet was the last
person Rose wished to have join her on the terrace. In point of
fact, she was the last person Rose wanted to return home with at
the end of this dreadful evening. She wanted, no, needed to be
alone with her thoughts, if only for a moment.
Rose skirted the room as quickly as was proper. Barely halfway
to her destination, she passed behind a group of ladies, most of
whom she knew from her last Season.
“I should wonder at her thinking she would be welcome among
polite society after being thrown over so completely.” Miss
Partridge leaned forward slightly, obviously desiring all the ladies
to hear her disparaging words.
Rose slowed her steps, unable to keep herself from listening.
Of whom were they speaking? She looked around the ballroom,
looking for someone whose Season seemed as dire as her own.
“And by her own sister, no less. I should not show my face in
society, let alone Town, again.” Miss Pulley sat back, her arms
folded daintily in her lap.
“Well I should think it served Miss Allen right.”
Rose sucked in a breath, freezing in her tracks.
“She thought herself so far above us, dismissing us so rudely
upon our last meeting.” The anger in Miss Carlyle’s voice was
unmistakable. “Oh, look. Mr. Fairchild is walking this way. I have
noticed him watching me for some time.”
Miss Pulley scoffed. “I believe you are mistaken. It is I he has
been staring at.”
Not wanting to be caught listening to their conversation, Rose
rushed the rest of the way to the terrace doors. As she exited the
crowded ballroom, the cool evening air crashed against her over-
heated body. She moved to the farthest edge of the cobblestone
veranda, finding a slightly darkened corner to retreat into. She
placed her elbows on the rock wall separating it from the garden
beyond, and dropped her head into her hands, scrubbing at her
brow with her fingers.
Her Season was ended before it had even begun. In her mind,
she had known the possibility of it being a success had been scarce,
but to watch the reality of it crash down before her eyes was worse
than she had imagined. She looked around for a moment and
contemplated fleeing the ball entirely. But she knew such an
action would only give the gossips more to find lacking in her
She should not have come. But now that she had, she would be
expected to smile and submit to the smug looks and overtly cruel
comments which the ton would undoubtedly bestow upon her.
Rose pressed her lips together, pushing her shoulders back. She
could do this. She could show everyone she did not care for their
opinion. All she need do was get through this evening. Then, if she
so desired, she could withdraw from society.
Rose inhaled through her nose, letting the air push through her
lips on the way out. She moved back toward the nearest set of open
doors. Pausing, she closed her eyes and took one last calming
breath, before she stepped back inside the ballroom.
“Oh, there you are Miss Allen. I have come to fetch you.” Lady
Mayfield grabbed her by the arm and propelled her toward a group
of gentlemen gathered by another set of doors. Rose recognized
Lord Timothy, Mr. Penderton and Lord Kent, but the other
gentlemen were unknown to her.
Lady Mayfield thrust her in front of a tall gentleman. He was
not wholly unappealing, but he was also not what Rose would
consider handsome. “Lord Munsford. I should like to introduce
you to Miss Rose Allen.” She gave Rose a little shove forward.
“Miss Allen, Lord Munsford.”
Lord Munsford and his broad shoulders bowed. “I am pleased
to make your acquaintance. May I have the next set, Miss Allen?”
Lord Kent and several of the men next to him laughed behind
their gloved hands. Rose glanced between them and Lord
Munsford, who stood directly in front of her. Was he asking her as
a joke for his friends to laugh over later?
She narrowed her eyes at him. His lips did not quiver, his
shoulders did not shake. Either he was very good at role playing or
he was sincere in his offer. Rose could not tell which. If she should
refuse him, she would most certainly be done dancing for the
evening. But if she were merely the object of teasing, could she
bear it for the entirety of the set?
Rose nodded her head. Whether she was the joke or not, she
could not afford to reject any gentleman. Even one whose hair
stuck out in every which direction.
Lady Mayfield patted Rose on the arm. “It appears my use is
done here. I shall return to my seat with the other matrons.” Lady
Mayfield shuffled away, leaving Rose to stare after her. Was this
the lady’s way of being kind? Or was she merely setting Rose up
for more embarrassment, as a way of getting even for what Rose
had done to Violet and the duke?
“This way, Miss Allen.” Lord Munsford led her to the dance
floor, her mind still trying to figure out if this arrangement was for
her good or her detriment.