The Devil's SubmissionBy: Nicola Davidson
To my CP, Sherilee Gray, for being amazing. To Jackie Ashenden, for the best pizza parties ever.
And to my faithful readers around the globe – your support and encouragement is very much appreciated.
North Lincolnshire, England, June 1814
“You must return to London, Eliza. It will be the ton wedding of the year!”
Lady Eliza Deveraux glanced again at the crisp gold-embossed invitation her mother, Countess Brimley, kept shoving under her nose. That Sin and his bride-to-be Grace had included her on the guest list warmed her heart no end. But under no circumstances would she be going. Not when attendance would put her in the vicinity of her estranged husband, Lord Grayson Deveraux, Sin’s closest friend and second co-owner of the shockingly infamous pleasure club Fallen.
“No, Mother. I’ll send them a gift and my deepest regrets; however, London and I do not get along.”
“But the Prince Regent is a guest! And the Duke and Duchess of Waverly…oh, anyone who is anyone received an invitation. And if you go, Brimley and I can go with you.”
“I said no. And that is the end of the discussion.”
Lady Brimley glared at her. “You selfish, selfish, girl. Denying your father and me an opportunity like this because of your own gross failures. When I saw the betrothal announcement in the newspaper, I knew they would invite you. I waited and waited for you to share the news. But you chose to break my heart instead. What did I do to deserve the worst daughter in England?”
Gritting her teeth so hard they would soon grind to powder, Eliza fought to remain calm. To keep her tears unshed. To sip her tea rather than dump it on her mother’s perfectly coiffed head. The dozens of scathing letters about her broken marriage had been sufficiently infuriating, but clearly her replies hadn’t been detailed or apologetic enough to keep her mother safely far away at Brimley Park. This morning the damned crested carriage had pulled up in a clatter of gravel and dust; the gray-faced fatigue of the Brimley servants suggesting the usual leisurely two-day journey had been completed much faster. Not to mention her mother hadn’t even waited until she’d stepped inside to discuss the wedding invitation, as if all were well between them. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but Grayson and I have been living apart for six months, and it is far better like this. Civil, even.”
“Oh, you headstrong fool,” spat Lady Brimley. “Do you have any idea of the further damage you did me when you ran away from your own husband?”
“I didn’t run away—”
“Close enough for the gossips. As if it wasn’t bad enough you set your heart on a scoundrel and married him because you thought you were in love. Sweet-talked your papa into countenancing a small, intimate wedding away from the ton. I might have borne that in time. Lord Grayson’s enormous wealth, and his social connections do somewhat fade the stain of his filthy trade and scandalous reputation. But!”
Eliza stared longingly out the window. The balcony wasn’t so high; surely the shrubbery would break her fall. At least then she wouldn’t have to listen to a lecture heard a thousand times already. “But he decided I should not reside under the same roof as him.”
“Yes! Yes, he did! And now I am destroyed. Finished. Ended. An object of pity and scorn!”
“Oh dear.” She sighed, wishing she could select the delectable-looking glazed jam tart from the tea tray. But provoking her mother’s second favorite lecture—Eliza’s Troublesome Weight—would not be a smart decision.
“You wretched girl! Have you no sorrow for my humiliation? The reputation of the Brimley Finishing Academy is ruined. We were renowned for our successes. As the sign stated, ‘well-bred young ladies taught to be Delightful, Decorous, and Demure in preparation for excellent marriages.’ But what ton mother will send her offspring to a school when the patroness’s own daughter was such a terrible wife her husband couldn’t stomach her so soon after the wedding?”
Eliza winced as a familiar pain clawed her heart.
Even now it was impossible to pinpoint what she’d done to make Grayson hate her so. From the moment she’d met the most handsome spectacle-wearing and ledger-loving lord in England, she’d been smitten. Twenty-eight years old, six feet tall, with a lean, muscled build, strong jaw, short-cropped ebony hair, and emerald green eyes to drown in. Oh, there had been the odd warning: that his nickname Devil was not only a play on his surname, but also an accurate description of an ice-cold bastard with the blackest of hearts. That he’d been disowned by his parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Reyburn, for something so awful it was spoken of by no one.