Lady of Shame (Castonbury Park)

'You're in danger of dishonoring the family name for good!'

Lady Claire must put pride above prattle if she is to shake off the not-so-respectable reputation of her youth. Swapping rebellion for reserve, she returns to her imposing childhood home, Castonbury Park, seeking her family's help. Penniless Claire needs a sensible husband…and fast!

But when the dark gaze of head chef Monsieur André catches her unwanted eye, he's as deliciously tempting as the food he prepares. Claire knows he's most unsuitable…even if the chemistry between them is magnetic. Risking her reputation for André would be shameful—but losing him could be even worse!

An excerpt from Lady of Shame:

Chapter One

When Claire was a child, the house at Castonbury Park had seemed as cold as the stones in its walls. Today, as she paused halfway down the combed gravel drive, the stairs sweeping around each side of the columned portico welcomed her like open arms. The facade, with its swagged decorations and artistically placed statues, gleamed pale yellow in the weak January sunlight and promised sanctuary within its solemn splendour.
 
Home. 
 
It looked so solid. So impregnable. So safe. Shivering against the north wind gusting down from the Peaks, Claire allowed herself to believe she had made the right choice. If not, she didn’t know what she would do. Where she would go next. 
 
At her side, gripping her hand, her daughter Jane stared at the house. Seven years old and already her grey eyes were wise and world weary. “This is where you grew up? It is huge.”
 
“Yes,” Claire said, resuming the long trudge to the front door. “This is where I lived when I was your age. Do not wander off, while you are here, it is a large place and it is easy to get lost.” 
 
“No, mama.”
 
Gravel crunched under their feet and the clean sharp smell of incipient snow filled Claire’s nostrils. She trod firmly. Confidently. Or at least, she hoped her inner fears did not show. 
 
It would have been so much better if they could have driven up to the door in a post chaise. More appropriate to her station. But they had no coin for such luxuries and as Claire had learned these past eight years, what could not be cured must be endured. Instead, they had taken the stage from London to Buxton and then accepted a ride in a farmer’s cart to Castonbury village. They had walked the rest of the way. To her surprise, the gatekeeper had let them pass on foot without question.
 
Were they always so lax about visitors? Did they let just anyone pass? She glanced over her shoulder. No one following. Nor would there be. Ernie Pratt knew only the assumed name George had invented after his brush with the law. She hoped.
 

Footsteps rustled behind them. Her heart leapt to her throat. She spun around, pushing Jane behind her.
 
No one. There was no one there. Just leaves blowing across the park, tumbling across the gravel.
 
“What is it?” Jane said.
 
“Nothing,” Claire said, relief filling her. “Nothing at all.”
 
Yet still she picked up her pace. Hurrying towards the front door and safety.
 
A quick swallow did nothing to ease the dryness in her throat as she looked up at stone Corinthian columns towering three stories above. A declaration of the Duke of Rothermere’s wealth and status. And his power.
 
Once she had resented that power, now it felt like a lifeline.
 
They passed beneath the arches hiding the ground floor rustic stonework and marched up to the black painted front door gleaming with brass fittings. The everyday door. Only for very special events did visitors climb the stairs to the grand entrance above.
 
The lion’s head door-knocker glared at her in disapproval. Her heart thundered. No. She was not fearful. Definitely not. Just filled with the anticipation of seeing her brother after so many years. She lifted the ring in the great jaws and let the knocker fall with a bang that echoed in the entrance hall beyond. 
 
No going back now. She was committed. For Jane’s sake. She smiled down at her daughter who pressed tight up against her hip.
 
The door opened. A young footman in red and gold livery looked down his nose at them. “’Tis at the wrong door, you are. Don’t you people know nothing? Servants’ entrance is round the back of the west pavilion.” He pointed to the left. “That there large block at the end.”
 
He slammed the door in their faces.
 
Shocked speechless, she recoiled. Her heart gave a horrid little dip. The footman thought her a servant. She glanced down at herself and Jane. They were respectably, if shabbily, dressed, her widow’s weeds had seen better days, and her skirts were dusty, wrinkled from their travels.
 
The doubts about their welcome attacked her anew. The seed of hope nurtured in her chest all the way from London shrivelled, sapping the strength that had sustained her once she had made up her mind to bury her pride and ask for help.
 
Should she knock again and risk a more violent rejection? What if none of the family were home? No one to endorse her claim?
 
“Why did he close the door?” Jane asked her voice weary.
 
Why indeed. Might Crispin have left word she wasn’t to be admitted? She shivered. “I think he thought we were someone else.” 
 
Jane tugged at her skirt. “What shall we do?”
 
She forced a confident smile. “Why, we will go around the back just as the nice man suggested.” Perhaps there she would find a servant she knew. She retraced her steps back to the drive.
 
“He wasn’t nice,” Jane grumbled as they trudged along the walkway leading to the servants’ wing. “The farmer with the cart was nice. Why couldn’t we stay with him?”
 
“Because he isn’t family.”
 
Jane looked up at the house, her face full of doubt. “I want to go home.”
 
“This is our home.” Claire hoped the anxiety fluttering in her stomach wasn’t apparent in her voice. She quickened her pace heading away from the block for family and guests, feeling very much like a stranger who didn’t belong.

Another set of arches hid the kitchens and cellars and quarters for the staff and a plain brown door. She squared her shoulders and rapped hard. This time she would not be turned away.

It opened. A waft of warmth hit her face and a delicious scent of cooking. She swayed as it washed over her and she heard Jane sniff with appreciation.
 
A tall man in his mid-thirties wearing a chef’s white toque and a pristine white apron gazed at them down an aristocratic nose. At some point that haughty nose had been broken and badly set, resulting in a bump that only slightly ruined the elegant male beauty of hard angles and planes. Not English, she thought, taking in the olive cast to his complexion and jet hair.
 
Onyx eyes fringed with black lashes too thick and long for a man swiftly roved her person. They took in her undecorated bonnet, her black bombazine skirts and her scuffed half boots. She had the feeling he could see all the way to her plain worn shift with that piercing dark glance. 
 
Sympathy softened his harsh features. “Step inside, Madame.” His voice was deep and obviously foreign.
 
Giddy with relief, she almost fell over the threshold.
 
“Careful, Madame.” A muscular arm, hard beneath the fabric of his coat, caught her up.
 
A thrill rippled through her body. A recognition of his male physical strength. Shocked she pulled away.
 
He released her and stepped back as if he too had felt something at the contact. He gestured her forwards into what must be the scullery with its dingy whitewashed walls and a large sink. 
 
“Sit,” he said. “At the table.” He pulled back a bench.
 
Claire sank down, glad of the respite, while she gathered her wits. Jane hopped up beside her.
 
“Mademoiselle Nancy,” he called out. “Vite, allez.”
 
A young woman in a mob cap ran in from the larger room beyond. The kitchen proper, no doubt.
 
“Bring soup and bread,” he ordered.
 
The girl ducked her head and disappeared.
 
“No, really,” Claire managed, gathering her scattered wits. “I need to—”
 

“It is fine, Madame. No need to be anxious,” he said. “You are hungry, non?” he said smiling at Jane.
 
“Starving,” the child replied with the honesty of youth.
 
“You don’t understand,” Claire said. “I need to speak to Mrs Stratton.” She held her breath, hoping beyond hope that the housekeeper, she’d known as a girl was still employed here.
 
“She has no work. I am sorry, Madame, all I am permitted is to offer you soup and send you on your way.”
 
Permitted? On whose orders? Heat rushed through her. So much heat, after coming in from outside. Her head spun. She tugged at the button of her coat, tried to undo the scarf around her neck. It tangled with her anxious fingers.
 
“Are you ill?” He crouched down and with strong competent hands worked at the knot. She could not help but stare at the handsome face so close to hers, so serious as he focussed on the task at hand. Such a face might have modelled for an artist’s rendition of a roman god of war. His fingers brushed the underside of her chin. Liquid fire ran through her veins. He glanced up, his eyes showing shock and awareness. His lips parted in a breathless sigh.
 
For one long moment it was as if nothing else existed in the world but the two of them.
 
Her skin tingled. Her body lit up from within.

Castonbury Park: Ladies of Disrepute

More About Castonbury Park: Ladies of Disrepute...

Lady of Shame

Lady Claire is notorious for the wild persona of her youth, but she must set it aside if she ever hopes to find a suitable match. Swapping rebellion for reserve, Claire returns to her imposing childhood home, Castonbury Park, seeking her family's help.

But when the dark gaze of head chef Monsieur Andre catches her eye, he seems as deliciously tempting as the food he prepares. Claire knows he's most unsuitable, even if the chemistry between them is magnetic. Risking her fragile reputation for Andre would be shameful—but losing him could be even worse.


The Lady Who Broke the Rules

Anticipating her wedding vows and then breaking off the engagement has left Kate Montague's social status in tatters. She hides her shame behind a resolute facade, but one thing really grates: for a fallen woman, she knows shockingly little about passion.

Could Virgil Jackson be the man to teach her? He's a freed slave turned successful businessman, and his striking good looks and compelling strength prove too much for Kate to resist. She has already scandalized society, but succumbing to her craving for Virgil would damage her status beyond repair…. 

 

"The liberated heroines and intriguing, unconventional heroes will delight modern-day readers looking for an out-of-the-box Regency. The sensitive love stories, colorful backdrop and large cast of characters only add to the enjoyment." Romantic Times on Ladies of Disrepute


Castonbury Park takes its inspiration (though absolutely nothing else) from the hit television series Downton Abbey. Each book is designed to be read as stand alone, though the characters, the house and servants are all part of one world, and linking the whole series is a mystery which gradually unfolds book by book to its resolution in the last story.

The series is:

1 - Flirting with Ruin (novella-length prequel) - Marguerite Kaye
2 - The Wicked Lord Montague - Carole Mortimer
3 - The Housemaid's Scandalous Secret - Helen Dickson
4 - The Lady Who Broke the Rules - Marguerite Kaye
5 - Lady of Shame - Ann Lethbridge
6 - The Illegitimate Montague - Sarah Mallory
7 - Unbefitting a Lady - Bronwyn Scott
8 - Redemption of a Fallen Woman - Joanna Fulford
9 - A Stranger at Castonbury - Amanda McCabe


Castonbury Park Series: Boxed Set (Limited Availability)

Lady of Shame (Castonbury Park) by Ann Lethbridge

'You're in danger of dishonoring the family name for good!'

Lady Claire must put pride above prattle if she is to shake off the not-so-respectable reputation of her youth. Swapping rebellion for reserve, she returns to her imposing childhood home, Castonbury Park, seeking her family's help. Penniless Claire needs a sensible husband…and fast!

But when the dark gaze of head chef Monsieur André catches her unwanted eye, he's as deliciously tempting as the food he prepares. Claire knows he's most unsuitable…even if the chemistry between them is magnetic. Risking her reputation for André would be shameful—but losing him could be even worse!

Plus 7 more stories!

The Montague Family Background...

The Montague family are one of the highest and most influential in England, but the Napoleonic Wars have left them in disarray.

First Jamie, the eldest son and heir, disappeared in Spain under mysterious circumstances and is now presumed dead. 

Next Edward, the youngest son, was tragically killed at Waterloo. Stunned by the loss of his favourites, the Duke of Rothermere became an ailing recluse leaving the the next in line, second son Giles, to take over the running of the extensive estates and struggle to release the family from the ruinous debt caused by his father’s unwise investments. 

And as if that’s not enough, as the series opens, a mysterious young woman turns up at Castonbury Park claiming to be Jamie’s widow, bringing with her her young son who, if his heritage can be proved, will displace Giles as the heir apparent to the dukedom and throw into turmoil all his careful plans for financial stability.

Montague Family Tree