The Unlikely Lady

By: Valerie Bowman

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This particular book would not be what it is without a handful of wonderful people who generously gave their time to read it and give me their opinions. I would like to thank …

Mary Behre for her always insightful and honest feedback on my characters and their motivations and for saying, “Nope. That’s not gonna work,” when she needs to.

Ashlyn Macnamara for her knowledge of the time period and humoring me and my rompish, outlandish plots. I don’t call you the “Regency Google” for nothin’.

KC Klein for reminding me to give my characters a little hell now and again.

Virginia Boylan for her absolutely spot-on read and editing critique that have made my writing stronger.

Holly Ingraham, whose unwavering support and excellent editorial direction continue to make every book I write even better.





CHAPTER ONE

London, April 1816

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mrs. Cat, show yourself and let’s get this over with, shall we?” Jane Lowndes wiped the dark, wet hair from her eyes. It was raining. Hard. The downpour had begun nearly five minutes ago and she’d been standing outside the mews behind her father’s town house for nearly ten.

Jane could live with the rain herself. Who cared about hair or clothing being ruined? She could even stand the fact that her spectacles were foggy. But her book was getting wet and that was not acceptable. She’d tucked the leather-bound volume under her arm as best she could while she balanced a wooden bowl in her hands, but she truly needed to get the book inside and dry it by the fire.

Jane squinted into the gray mist. A soft meow signaled the arrival of the cat. The brown, mangy-looking animal must have heard her. The cat came running along the stone wall at the far side of the stables, heading straight toward Jane. Apparently, even rain wasn’t enough to keep the feline from her free meal.

“There you are.” A soft smile touched Jane’s lips, despite her best efforts to stifle it. She didn’t want to smile at this cat. She didn’t want to be responsible for it at all, really, rain or shine. She’d noticed the thing a fortnight ago when she’d come to the mews after a mount to ride in the park, and then she’d had the misfortune to go and discover that the cat had kittens of all things. She’d seen one of the furry little things peeking from behind a bush in the alley, obviously awaiting her mother’s return. A lone cat was one thing, but kittens were another matter entirely. Add to that the mama cat’s scrawniness and obvious hunger, and Jane couldn’t stop herself from making a trip to the kitchens to request a bowl of scraps.

Two weeks later and she and Mrs. Cat had a standing appointment here every morning. Today was the first time it had begun raining while Jane waited. She’d have to remember to leave her book inside next time.

Jane stooped and set the bowl near the wall, remaining in a crouched position. The cat licked her lips and charged toward it, hungrily plunging her face into the meal and gobbling.

“My, you’re a greedy one.” Jane shook her head slightly. “Reminds me of the manner in which I used to eat when I was a child.” She laughed. “I suppose I must continue to feed you so you can keep those babies healthy, but you certainly don’t make it easy for me by arriving late in the rain.”

She patted the cat’s head, ignoring her thoughts of fleas or worse. She’d promptly wipe her hands as soon as she returned to the comfort of the house.

“How are the kittens?” Jane asked, raindrops sliding down her nose.

The cat’s only answer was more hungry smacking.

“I imagine you’re quite busy,” Jane continued, readjusting her book under her arm. “I don’t envy you. Having to keep food on the, er, table for your children with nary a paw lifted from Mr. Cat, I presume.”

The cat continued to eat, steadfastly ignoring her provider.

Jane clucked her tongue. “I completely understand. Exactly why I intend to remain unattached and further the cause of women in Society, Mrs. Cat. Just like Mary Wollstonecraft.”

The cat paused and eyed her askance, her green eyes narrowed, as if she understood what Jane had said.

Jane hiked her eyebrows. “I know what you’re thinking. Mary Wollstonecraft was married. I know. Of course I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to be. I rather think I’ll accomplish much more for the cause if I’m not distracted by a man and his children.”

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