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Three Weeks With Lady X

By:Eloisa James

Three Weeks With Lady X
Eloisa James

       Acknowledgments

My books are like small children; they take a whole village to get them  to a literate state. I want to offer my deep gratitude to my village: my  editor, Carrie Feron; my agent, Kim Witherspoon; my writing partner,  Linda Francis Lee; my Website designers, Wax Creative; and my personal  team: Kim Castillo, Franzeca Drouin, and Anne Connell. In addition,  people in many departments of HarperCollins, from art to marketing to  PR, have done a wonderful job of getting this book into readers' hands:  my heartfelt thanks go to each of you. And finally, my niece, Nora Bly,  was extremely helpful in shaping India's best qualities.





Chapter One



June 14, 1799

Number 22, Charles Street

London residence of the Dibbleshires

Lady Xenobia, I adore you!"

Lord Dibbleshire's brow was beaded with sweat and his hands were  trembling. "In vain have I struggled, but I can no longer contain my  ardent feelings; I must reveal to you, no, enlighten you about the  depths of my emotion!"

India managed not to step back, but it took an effort. She tried to  summon up a perfect smile, kind but not encouraging. Though she wasn't  positive that smile even existed.

Whatever she came up with would be better than an utterly inappropriate  shriek of Bloody hell, not again! Daughters of marquesses-even deceased  and arguably mad marquesses-did not shriek. More's the pity.

The smile didn't seem to work, so she trotted out her standard answer: "You do me too much honor, Lord Dibbleshire, but-"

"I know," he responded, rather unexpectedly. Then he frowned. "I mean,  no! No honor is too great for you. I have fought against my better  judgment and while I realize that there are those who consider your  reputation to be sullied by your profession, I know the truth. The truth  shall prevail!"

Well, that was something. But before India could comment on the truth  (or lack thereof), he toppled onto his knees. "I will marry you, Lady  Xenobia India St. Clair," he bellowed, widening his eyes to indicate his  own shock at this declaration. "I, Baron Dibbleshire, will marry you."

"Please do get up," she said, resisting the urge to groan.

"I know that you will refuse me, owing to your inestimable modesty. But I  have made up my mind, Lady Xenobia. The protection of my title-and, of  course, yours as well-will overcome the ill effects of your unfortunate  occupation. A plight to which you were driven, a point I shall make  early and often. The ton will accept us . . . they will accept you, once  you have the benefit of becoming Baroness Dibbleshire."

Aggravation marched up her spine like a troop of perfectly dressed  soldiers. True, her reputation was tarnished by the fact that she  refused to stay home practicing her needlework. But as she was the  daughter of a marquess, technically a Dibbleshire would be lucky to  dance with her. Not that she cared about such things. Still, her  godmother accompanied her everywhere-even now Lady Adelaide Swift was  likely within earshot-and if nothing else, Adelaide's chaperonage had  ensured that India remain as pure as the driven snow despite her  unfortunate occupation.

Who would have guessed that taking on the task of ordering people's lives would have tarnished her lily-white wings?

At that moment, the door to the sitting room opened and her suitor's  mother appeared. India's head began to pound. She never should have  agreed to Lady Dibbleshire's plea that India refurbish her drawing room,  no matter how interesting a challenge it was to strip the room of its  Egyptian furnishings.

"Howard, what in heaven's name are you doing?" the lady demanded, making  the whole situation even more farcical than it already was.

Dibbleshire sprang to his feet with surprising ease, inasmuch as his  center of gravity was quite low slung and hung over his breeches. "I  have just informed Lady Xenobia that I love her, and she has agreed to  become my wife!"

India's eyes were met-thankfully-by a gleam of sympathy in Lady Dibbleshire's. "His lordship has misunderstood," India told her.

"Alas, I have no doubt of that. Child," Howard's mother said, "every  time I think that you have demonstrated the depths of your similarity to  your father, you astonish me yet again."

Dibbleshire scowled and looked, spaniel-like, back to India. "I will not  allow you to refuse me. I haven't slept for two nights, unable to think  of anything but you. I have made up my mind to rescue you from your  life of drudgery!"

He reached out his hand, and India nimbly stepped back. "Lord Dibbleshire-"

"You move from house to house, ceaselessly working." His pale blue eyes gazed at her with devotion.                       
       
           



       

"Dear Lord, Howard," Lady Dibbleshire exclaimed, "if our estate is ever  lost, I am happy to think that you will be able to support us by making a  living on the stage. However, it is my duty as a mother to point out  that you are being rather vulgar."

Apparently, his lordship had confused vulgarity with honor; he gave his mother a ferocious glare.

"Lady Xenobia is our dear and valued guest," her ladyship continued,  "who has been kind enough to aid me with restoration of the drawing  room, as well as persuading the inestimable Mrs. Flushing to be our  cook. For which"-she turned to India-"I shall be eternally grateful."

India had the knack of moving excellent servants into households where  they would be appreciated and well paid. Mrs. Flushing had been  languishing in the employ of a dyspeptic general, and was far happier  cooking for Dibbleshire and his mother.

"And Howard," Lady Dibbleshire continued, "clearly you too are enjoying Mrs. Flushing's menus, given your expanding middle."

He scowled again and pulled at his waistcoat.

India opened her mouth to say something soothing, but at that moment her  godmother bustled into the room, accompanied by a stream of words.  "Darlings," Lady Adelaide cried, "that lovely Mr. Sheraton has sent a  delectable small mahogany table. Jane, you will adore it, simply adore  it!" She and Lady Dibbleshire had been school friends; indeed, nearly  all of India's clients were her godmother's near and dear acquaintances.

"How splendid," Lady Dibbleshire said. "Where will you place it, Lady Xenobia?"

India had become famous for designing rooms in which furniture was  scattered in unstudied, asymmetrical seating arrangements. "I shall have  to see it to be sure, but in the grouping under the south window, I  think."

"Perfect!" Adelaide exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Your drawing room will be the talk of London, Jane, mark my words."

"We shall come take a look," Lady Dibbleshire replied, "just as soon as  I've persuaded my feckless son that your goddaughter has far better  things to do than marry one such as he."

"Oh my dear, you mustn't be harsh to sweet Howard." Adelaide moved over  to Dibbleshire and took his hand. "I'm certain that India would be  ecstatic to marry you, if only the circumstances were different."

"I would never burden your name with the social opprobrium resulting  from the path my life has taken," India told him, following up with a  smile and a gaze that indicated clear-eyed courage and self-sacrifice.  "Besides, I saw Miss Winifred Landel watching you last night, though you  were tactful enough to overlook her obvious infatuation. Who am I to  stand in the way of such an advantageous match?"

Lord Dibbleshire blinked at India and said, uncertainly, "Because I love you?"

"You merely think you love me," she assured him, "due to your charitable  heart. I assure you that you need not worry about my plight. As a  matter of fact, I have made up my mind to withdraw from my profession."

"You have?" This from Lady Dibbleshire, whose mouth actually fell open.  "You do realize that at this very moment ladies all over England are  imploring their husbands to obtain your services?"

But India and her godmother worked like a well-oiled machine when it  came to dissuading men from proclaiming their love. "You should ask Miss  Landel to marry you," Adelaide said, patting Lord Dibbleshire's hand  vigorously. "India is already considering three or four proposals,  including those from the Earl of Fitzroy and Mr. Nugent-the one who's  from Colleton, not the other one, from Bettleshangler. He will be a  viscount someday."

At this news, his shoulders slumped again. But Adelaide glanced at  India, a twinkle in her eyes, before turning back. "Besides, I am not  convinced that you two suit each other, Howard, dear. My darling  goddaughter does have a bit of a temper. And of course you're aware that  Fitzroy and Nugent are somewhat older than you. As is India. She is  twenty-six, and you are still a young man."

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