Two Vows and a Viscount - Eloisa James

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Two Vows and a Viscount

Book 2 in the Seduction Series

Ella works as an unpaid housekeeper to her usurping uncle…until she meets her cousin’s fiancé, Lord Peregrine. A charming, witty version of Cinderella from bestselling author Eloisa James.

Miss Ella St. Trevelyon lives in the attic of her former home, her only companions a pet squirrel and a three-legged cat. Then one night she accompanies her cousin Fulvia to the theatre, where she meets a man of princelike wealth, with forceful features and insolent manners.

Unfortunately, Lord Peregrine is engaged to marry Fulvia.

Fiennes Peregrine is not a man who would ever chase after a woman waving a shoe. But he is a man used to getting what he wants.

And he wants Ella.

*This book first appeared on the serialized Amazon Vella platform as The Seduction/Ella. The book has been lightly edited, but the story remains the same.


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Two Vows and a Viscount

Book 2 in the Seduction Series

Two Vows and a Viscount

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Chapter One

Townhouse belonging to Viscount St. Trevelyon
Chelsea,The Garden
March 30, 1815

At 3 pm, Miss Fenella Grey—known to her late parents as Ella—put down the storeroom inventory, donned an afternoon frock, and walked down the lawn to join her aunt and cousin for tea. The Viscountess St. Trevelyon always asked her to join them, clinging to the idea that Ella was a cherished member of the family.

As opposed to an over-worked housekeeper, who happened to be a relation.

The back lawn of the St. Trevelyon townhouse stretched to the Thames River. This afternoon was unseasonably sunny, and the lacy struts of the riverside pagoda shone white against beds of daffodils bending in a light wind. Years ago, Ella’s father—the current viscount’s brother—had built the pagoda for the delight of his wife and daughter.

To Ella, the memory felt like a storybook she had read but not experienced. Did her mother teach her to embroider there, laughingly complimenting her uneven stitches, or was that a dream? Did her father put her on his shoulder so that she could see into a robin’s nest, or was that an invention spurred by loneliness?

The viscountess and Ella’s cousin Fulvia were already seated, looking like an illustration for La Belle Assemblée. At thirty-two, her aunt’s hair matched her daughter’s pale gold, and she looked young enough to be Fulvia’s elder sister. The family butler, Jarvis, was bending over them, offering a platter of scones. Ella smiled at him. “Did Cook manage to find currants, Jarvis?”

Jarvis bowed. “At the eleventh hour, my lady. The scones are still hot.” Like his mistress, Jarvis ignored Ella’s lowly position—except during those hours when a housekeeper and butler necessarily work in tandem.

At breakfast, for example, the viscount had announced that he would join the family for tea. Since his lordship’s scones must have currants, and since his tantrums dominated not a nursery, but an entire household, Ella and Jarvis had hurriedly dispatched a footman to purchase the desired fruit.

“Ella, darling, do sit down,” the viscountess said. “Oh, no, I mustn’t eat a thing, Jarvis. My waistline is swelling in a most unbecoming fashion.”

“You had very little breakfast, my lady,” the butler murmured.

“Ella, I’ve seen that gown one hundred times at least,” Fulvia said, wrinkling her nose. “There’s no reason for you to wear rags. Mother, you must insist that my cousin accompany us to a modiste.”

“I scarcely go anywhere,” Ella pointed out, accepting a currant-studded scone and a piece of cake to boot. She was ravenous due to being up since five in the morning.

“But you shall accompany us to the balls celebrating Fulvia’s debut,” her aunt said with a warm smile. “Your uncle remarked at dinner last night that your absence might cause people to question your virtue. More importantly, you, too, need to find a husband. So, you must order new gowns for the evening and yes, for morning calls. Fulvia is right, dear, you cannot receive gentlemen callers in that faded calico.”

As Jarvis handed her a teacup, Ella met his eyes with the perfect understanding between them that the viscountess was a darling, but hopelessly impractical. How could Ella, who was given neither an allowance nor a salary, afford one evening gown, let alone a wardrobe?

“His lordship is coming!” the viscountess exclaimed, putting down her teacup.

Sure enough, Viscount St. Trevelyon was striding down the lawn, frowning as he adjusted the frothing lace at his wrists. An imaginative person might think that a chilly wind accompanied him; Ella fancied that the grass withered beneath his feet.

Certainly, her aunt looked frost-bitten on a regular basis.

“Ella, mend your bearing!” the viscountess hissed. “And Fulvia, a more ladylike expression, if you please.”

Fulvia obediently put on a simpering smile. Ella crossed her legs at the ankle and folded her hands. Her uncle preferred that ladies be entangled in their own limbs and unable to run screaming from the room.

Ella considered her uncle akin to a wolf: carnivorous and prone to howling. Everyone in the household had learned to read the apex predator’s moods. As his lordship was manifestly unimaginative, he dressed in black when angry, and in colors when merely piqued. Today the viscount was wearing a bronze-colored velvet coat lined with striped, green silk. His neckcloth was olive and tied in the Mathematical.

So: a good mood, scowl notwithstanding.

When the viscount reached them, his wife and daughter sprang to their feet and dropped into deep curtsies, heads bowed. Ella stood up but didn’t bother to bow her head; her curtsy barely escaped being disrespectful.

As a penniless relation literally relegated to the attic, she had to take her pleasures where she could find them.

“Viscountess,” Lord St. Trevelyon said, bowing his head. “Daughter.” A pause as he eyed Ella.

“Good afternoon, Uncle,” Ella trilled, smiling with the full awareness that he knew her low opinion of his character.

Her aunt seated herself, flipping open a fan that she could hide behind. “Good afternoon, Lord St. Trevelyon. How are you this fine afternoon?”

The viscount ignored her question, preoccupied by nudging the woolen pad tied to his right calf into position. Ella had noticed that her uncle had begun stuffing his stockings to enhance his thin legs, but the pads had an unfortunate habit of migrating to the front.

She amused herself by imagining her teacup flying through the air, a tide of brown liquid splattering her uncle’s immaculate neck cloth and his chin as well. That would be the round chin that resembled nothing so much as a speckled egg, no matter how often he shaved.

Drat! That was Unkind Thought #3 for the day. Ella was trying to limit herself to four unkind thoughts, being on a mission to ensure that she didn’t turn into an embittered spinster.

Old maid she would certainly be, since no matter how her aunt talked of marriage, her only prospects were serving as an unpaid housekeeper or becoming a governess. Still, she refused to curdle like sour milk. Her parents would have expected more from her.

Actually, her mother and father would have expected her to debut with Fulvia as her companion. But that was life. After her parents perished six years ago, she and her cousin had promptly switched places in the world.

With a wave of his slender hand, the viscount sent Jarvis back to the house. “I bring glad tidings.”

Ella caught back a laugh. Her uncle was no angel. That did not count as Unkind Thought #4 of the day, because it was an evident truth.

He cast her a dark look, apparently catching the amusement in her eyes.

“How wonderful,” her aunt chirped. “May I pour you a cup of tea, my lord? It is a custom blend of Pekoe and Imperial.”

“I scarcely think that a custom blended tea is required when the viscountess is not entertaining guests.”

His wife flinched and started nervously stirring her tea.

Au contraire,” Ella exclaimed. “Ladies drink in order to control their appetites, Uncle. You, of all people, understand the importance of a slender figure.” She beamed at his scowl. Her uncle was fanatical on the subject of women’s figures and regularly put his wife on slimming diets.

Luckily, Ella and Jarvis conspired to supply buttered toast so that her aunt didn’t faint from privation.

“Greed may be curbed in other ways,” the viscount said bitingly. “No sugar, for instance.”

The viscountess guiltily put down her spoon.

Fulvia sighed. “The subject is distasteful. I, for one, would like to hear the good news. I trust yours has to do with my debut? We are perilously close to the St. Trevelyon ball, with scarcely a new garment on hand.”

The viscount surveyed his daughter from head to foot. Fulvia smirked back at him with complete confidence, tossing her curls behind her shoulder. Ella had to admit that her cousin was a match for her bullying father. His most withering comments flowed past her like water through a sieve: she simply did not hear them.

“Thank God, you inherited your mother’s beauty,” his lordship pronounced, with acid emphasis. “That gown, Daughter, is unrefined.” The bodice of Fulvia’s gown was trimmed in inexpensive white satin ruffles that took on a yellow tint in the sunshine.

“True, it lacks a diamond bracelet,” his daughter replied, demonstrating her nimble ability to ignore censure. “La Belle Assemblée said last month that a string of pearls or diamonds should accent a lady’s upper arm.”

The viscount’s eyes slid, snakelike, to his wife. “I consider it your failure that our daughter looks as overdone as a butcher’s wife on Sunday.”

Ella hastily intervened. “My aunt did suggest that the gown was over-trimmed.”

“Her opinion is irrelevant!” Fulvia retorted. “I understand fashion better than either of you. You must admit, Mother, that your ideas are hopelessly out of date. Your sleeves are too long, and the fullness of your skirt emphasizes your belly, to call a spade a spade.”

“Fulvia,” Ella said, “‘belly’ is not a word that a young lady should utter. Nor should she be impertinent to her mother.”

“I apologize, Mother,” Fulvia said with a shrug.

Her uncle’s eyes narrowed as he followed this exchange. “How interesting. I see.”

“Just what do you see?” Fulvia demanded. “I ought to be about London ordering clothing, Father. Have you forgotten the ball?”

“I see that it’s a good thing I have arranged your marriage,” her father answered.

Fulvia squeaked and clapped her hands. “Marvelous! To who, Father?”

“To whom,” Ella amended.

“Lord Peregrine.”

“The man who used to be betrothed to Lady Regina, the sister of the Duke of Lennox?” Fulvia asked. She was an assiduous reader of the gossip columns.

“Don’t worry about competition. You’re as beautiful as she,” her father said, “and certainly more chaste, since I kept you in the country, and she spent last year racketing about Town.”

“Lady Regina is the daughter of a duke,” the viscountess said, blinking rapidly. “One must hope she doesn’t take Fulvia in dislike.”

Ella’s aunt actively feared social events, a situation driven, to Ella’s mind, by the viscount’s constant disparagement.

“You need to keep the man on a leash,” the viscount said to Fulvia, ignoring his wife again. “The betrothal papers will be signed the morning following your debut ball, after he’s met you. Not that a contract guarantees the marriage. By all accounts, he’d already signed papers when he dropped Lady Regina.”

“Lord Peregrine doesn’t wish to meet Fulvia until the ball?” the viscountess asked, her brow knitting.

“He’s too busy counting his mountains of sovereigns,” her husband replied with a snort. “More to the point, better he meets her infrequently so he can’t squeak out of the engagement.” He turned to Ella. “It’s up to you to make certain this goes off.”

Ella blinked at him. She was used to responsibility, but ensuring that Fulvia married a man who had discarded a duke’s daughter—a lady whose gowns were surely made by a French modiste rather than the village seamstress?

“Lady St. Trevelyon,” the viscount said waspishly to his wife, “I must ask you to attempt to look less hangdog. Your drooping shoulders put one forcibly in mind of a lame donkey.”

Her ladyship instantly straightened. Ella reached over and gave her aunt’s hand a squeeze.

“I shall make up my own mind about whether to marry Lord Peregrine,” Fulvia mused. “It is a lady’s prerogative to reject a gentleman, after all.”

“You will marry the man I chose,” the viscount thundered. He resembled a bull pawing the ground, but his daughter didn’t even glance at him.

Instead, she tapped her chin with a finger. “I shall decide only after the first few weeks of the Season. I must ascertain how well Lord Peregrine dances. Given he is of lesser status, merely a baron, it might determine our future status in society.”

“A pile of gold trumps a title!” the viscount exclaimed. Then, turning to Ella. “Shake some sense into her before you take her to a modiste and make sure you watch for quality. No cheap satin trim. I told Peregrine that my daughter was exquisite, elegant, and eloquent.”

Even Fulvia was startled by the last. “But Father, you said last week that my head was as empty as a skull.”

“No one expects a woman to be intelligent. Peregrine knows as well as I do that he was asking for the impossible. He does have the right to expect his future wife to be tastefully gowned. Let simplicity and elegance be your guide, Ella.”

“How am I to pay for Fulvia’s gowns?” Ella inquired.

Her uncle glared, but she raised an eyebrow, noting the red veins in his eyes and the start of a jowl. “Dear me,” she said sweetly. “You seem quite tired, Uncle. Perhaps you should have fewer rounds of wassail tonight.”

Beside her, her aunt gave a faint sigh. Ella immediately regretted her comment. The viscount took out his temper on his wife. Hours of irascible male shouting not infrequently echoed from his lady’s bedchamber.

“You shall inform them that I will settle the bill when I choose to do so,” he snapped.

“Surely it would be better to know how much you would like us to spend,” Lady St. Trevelyon said nervously. “Ella will need a wardrobe as well.”

“As will my aunt,” Ella pointed out. “I shall require several hundred guineas, not to mention funds for Fulvia’s debut ball.”

“Every modiste in London will consider it an honor to outfit the only daughter of Viscount St. Trevelyon,” her uncle said, with complete confidence. That was typical: St. Trevelyon squandered whatever money entered the household, while expecting everyone from the baker to the tailor to ignore unpaid bills due to the honor of serving a nobleman.

“They will not consider it an honor,” Ella said flatly. “Any more than does the butcher. As a result of which, dinner will include fish tonight, without a meat course.”

“My daughter is marrying Lord Peregrine, one of the richest men in the country,” his lordship countered. “Given your parsimonious housekeeping, I shall dine at my club tonight.”

Ella managed not to roll her eyes. Apparently, her uncle hoped that Peregrine would pay off his wife’s wardrobe as part of the marriage settlement. “Modistes will expect Fulvia’s father, not her fiancé, to pay her bills. You yourself said that Lord Peregrine is notorious for breaking a betrothal.”

Her uncle shrugged. “Your father left this estate in appalling disorder, and you’ve only made it worse. I rue the day I allowed you to take over the accounts.”

As if he had been doing her a favor when he fired the housekeeper and told Ella—at the age of fourteen—that she had to earn her keep? Outrage swelled in Ella’s chest.

The viscountess’s eyebrows knit. “What on earth do you mean, Lord St. Trevelyon?” Her fan was visibly trembling.

“The baker is unpaid,” Ella said bluntly. “As is the wainwright, the brewer, my uncle’s tailor, and his perfumer.” She met the viscount’s eyes squarely. “I cannot acquire garments befitting your daughter’s betrothal to one of the richest men in London without funds.”

Her aunt drew in a startled breath, and even Fulvia gaped at her father.

His lordship showed no sign of shame. “Blame my feckless brother, who didn’t leave provision for his own offspring, let alone the estate. Close your mouth, Fulvia! You look like an oyster-wife bawling her wares.”

“No money for the debut,” the viscountess gasped. She had dropped her fan and was wringing her hands. “But, Lord Trevelyon, that costly portrait of myself and Fulvia—”

“You don’t think I paid the man, do you? Sir Thomas Lawrence had the honor of presenting a portrait of the two most beautiful women in England at the Royal Academy. That portrait led to the betrothal with Lord Peregrine, by the way. He’d seen it.”

“We didn’t need a new carriage…” his wife said in a weak voice.

He rearranged his cuffs. “As viscount, I must maintain my station.”

“You must outfit your daughter if you wish this wedding to go through,” Ella stated.

“No, I mustn’t,” he retorted, dark humor in his voice. “You must, Niece. You manage the finances for this household. Either you outfit your cousin and your aunt, and I suppose yourself, or Fulvia doesn’t marry. Ever. You three can go back to the country and molder there, for all I care.”

Fulvia began to wail, but he raised his voice.

“God knows, the marriage will be off if Lord Peregrine catches sight of those grotesque ruffles.”

end of excerpt

Two Vows and a Viscount

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Dec 19, 2023

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