Courting Chaos

Courting Chaos

Dunaway’s Daughters, Book 2

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What happens when London’s longest-reigning rake decides to make mischief?

 

Born of scandal and raised in squalor, Miss Harry O’Connell turned her back on her feckless, frivolous father and carved out a life for herself in the working-class neighborhood of Wellclose Square. She’s a creature of habit, a stickler for schedules, a keeper of secrets, and a woman adamantly opposed to wasting so much a single minute – let alone a spare shilling – on useless endeavors, sentimental nonsense or impossible expectations.

 

Opposites attract…

With three men standing between Phineas Griffith and the nearest title, he was perfectly content to float through life on a wave of mistakes, mishaps, coincidences and luck. Two unfortunate accidents and an apoplectic fit later, the new Viscount Knighton finds himself saddled with a decimated estate, a mountain of debt and two sisters in need of launching into Society in tandem. There’s really nothing for it but to woo and wed an heiress post haste.

 

Orbits align…

An unwelcome visit from the Earl of Dunaway sets in motion a convoluted chain of events that put Harry on a collision course with the handsome fortune-hunter. And wreak havoc with her meticulously managed, precisely timed and exactingly organized life.

 

Worlds collide…

Phineas cannot afford the luxury of falling in love with a prickly, pragmatic and penniless woman. Harry hasn’t the time or inclination to dally with a charming rake when all her considerable talents are aimed at laying waste to all the Earl of Dunaway holds dear.

 

And chaos ensues.

Some forces are greater than gravity and some risks worth taking. Can these two star crossed lovers find the wherewithal to risk it all for a happily-ever-after that defies all odds?

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Excerpt from Courting Chaos

When they’d reached the walkway outside, Teddy stopped and turned to Miss O’Connell with a smile. “Well done, my dear. If I’d gone in alone, Josie would have squeezed three times the sum from me, on principle alone.”

“Hell hath no fury and all that,” she agreed, tilting her head to study Teddy and in the process tipping her precariously perched frilly pink bonnet rakishly over one eye. “You might consider apologizing to the woman, seeing as you’re to be business partners for the foreseeable future.”

“I was rather hoping you might handle Josie, as you’ve a knack for that sort of thing.”

“Managing your cast-off mistresses, you mean?”

“It was only the one time,” Teddy protested with a sheepish grin. “Two if you count Mrs. Mortimer, who was never technically my mistress.”

“And now it’s to be three,” Miss O’Connell replied. “Well, at least Josie is unlikely to weep all over me as the other two did.”

“Josie’s more likely to lob objects at my head than weep over my cavalier treatment of her,” Teddy agreed. “And likely would have done just that today had you not been at my side.”

“I’ll act as intermediary, but it’ll cost you.”

“I never doubted it for a moment.”

“So long as we understand one another.”

Teddy nodded. “I’d best be on my way to pay a call on Dicky Jones in regard to ribbons. Knighton, can I drop you in Mayfair?”

“I’ll find my own way, thank you.” Phin fully intended to find his way into Miss Harry O’Connell’s bed. Perhaps not today, but certainly he could begin to lay the groundwork for that eventuality.

“Are you certain?” Teddy asked with a frown, his gaze darting to Miss O’Connell and back again. “It’s no trouble to drop you in Mayfair on my way to Blackfriars.”

“Your textile mill is in Blackfriars, is it?”

“It’s hardly my textile mill. Rather, it belongs to Mr. King.”

“And you’d best go on if you hope to get there before Dicky leaves for the day.” Miss O’Connell tucked her hand into the crook of Phin’s elbow. “His lordship will see me home.”

She smelled of flowers today, roses perhaps, with the same faint hint of lemon.

“I’ll be off then.” Teddy bowed to Miss O’Connell, gave Phin a sharp nod accompanied by a sharper look, turned and walked off toward his quarters above Luther and Son Publishing. Though why the man chose to reside in Wellclose Square now that he could afford a house and a full complement of servants anywhere in London was something of a mystery.

“Come along then,” she ordered, steering them in the opposite direction of the departing man. “We’ll need to hurry as I’ve one more stop to make, and I should hate to be late for my dinner engagement before the theatre this evening.”

“How is it nearly every conversation I’ve entered into in recent days works its way around to include Mr. King?” Phin asked as they strolled down the busy thoroughfare arm in arm. “I’d never even heard of the man before Wednesday.”

“Perhaps you simply do not remember having heard his name.”

“Ah, it’s the relevance effect at work,” he agreed with a nod. “I’ve likely heard the man’s name dozens of times and never remembered it as he was of no significance to me.”

“Perhaps even hundreds of times,” she agreed. “But as Mr. King hasn’t a daughter in possession of a large dowry and female attributes better suited to a bovine, you simply ignored all mention of the man.”

“Female attributes better suited to a bovine?” Surely the woman was not referring to breasts. Defying all arguments to the contrary, his gaze fell to her bodice and the small but distinct bosom beneath the too-bright pink fabric.

“Specifically those belonging to a dairy cow in need of milking.”

She was most definitely referring to breasts, and without the least bit of subtlety.

“Have I in any way indicated a preference in regard to the size of…er…” Phin wasn’t customarily concerned with propriety, nor had he made a habit of following Society’s convoluted rules relating to polite discourse, but even he adhered to a strict policy never to say the word breasts in the presence of a woman before he’d become intimately acquainted with her female attributes. “Bovine…er…teats?”

“I think you mean udders,” she corrected.

“There’s a difference?”

“Clearly you’ve spent little or no time on your country estate, else you would have enough rudimentary knowledge of animal husbandry to know the difference between udders and teats.”

“It seems to me one goes hand in hand with the other,” Phin said because…well, she’d started them down this path, lured him into this ludicrous, licentious discussion of female attributes thinly veiled in barnyard euphemisms.

“How positively droll you are,” she replied, staring straight ahead even as her lips twitched.

“A teat for each udder and an udder for each teat, I mean.” Phin knew he should cease speaking, knew it full well, but he continued to bumble through a conversation that never should have begun in the first place. “Not an udder and a teat in each hand.”

 “I took your meaning without further clarification. Though surely even you know udders are mammary glands while teats are…” Miss O’Connell turned her head and peeked up at Phin from beneath the cockeyed brim of her bonnet, green eyes glittering, all but daring him to complete the sentence.

He would not say it, absolutely would not. “Nipples.”                                                                                                  

Bloody hell.

“I was going to say teats are something else entirely,” she said, lips curling into a decided smirk. “In point of fact, an udder is a single organ consisting of pairs of mammary glands, most typically two pairs, and each mammary gland has a single teat. Thus, unless one has four hands or is in the habit of milking in tandem with a friend, two teats go wanting at any given time.”

 “Two teats go wanting,” Phin muttered, mostly beneath his breath.

“Unless milked in tandem with a friend,” she repeated in the unlikely event he’d missed it the first time. “Or perhaps two dairy maids milking in tandem. I don’t know as I’ve ever seen dairy maids working in pairs. Have you, my lord?”

“I…uh…” Phin made a valiant attempt to gather his scattered wits. Taking a quick peek down, he breathed a sigh of relief, only faintly resembling a groan, upon discovering that his coat did in fact hide the growing bulge in his trousers.

“My lord?” Was there laughter in her voice? Phin couldn’t be certain, what with the blood roaring in his ears on the way to parts far south of his brain. 

“I don’t suppose you would consider calling me Phin?” he finally asked with what he hoped was a boyish smile rather than a lecherous leer. “Or Phineas, or even Knighton? While I’ll call you…”

 “Well, I certainly cannot call you Knighton as it too closely resembles Knightley, and you are no Mr. Knightley.”

“Who is Mr. Knightley?” First King, then Marchant and, if he’d correctly interpreted the frown, Teddy Luther. Now he had a Mr. Knightley to contend with as well?

“Mr. Knightley is Miss Woodhouse’s friend and later her husband.”

“I can’t say as I know either the gentleman or the lady.” Phin would be hard-pressed to remember who was Prime Minister in his current state.

“They are characters in Jane Austin’s Emma.”

“Ah, here I thought it was the relevance effect all over again.”

“Will you leave off throwing that bit of nonsense in my face at every turn?” she demanded with a huff that might have been exasperation or amusement. “You know perfectly well there is no such thing.”

Phin stopped and, as she was tightly tethered to his side, Miss O’Connell halted as well. “Are you saying you made up the entire thing?”

“From thin air,” she admitted without the slightest hesitation. “Did you not know I was having one over on your friend?”

“I hadn’t a clue.”

“How on earth would I know the first thing about the inner workings of the human mind?”

“You seem to know quite a lot about a great many things,” Phin replied before another thought took hold, one he knew ought to go unvoiced even as he spoke. “Do cows really have four teats?”

“Four is the normal number. Though, sometimes they’ve superfluous teats.”

He only just barely refrained from asking the obvious question. “And that business with the odds of a boxing match, five to one being perfect and doubling twice over in proportion to differentials, or what have you? Did you pluck that bit out of the clear blue as well?”

“Not at all,” she replied, tugging on his arm to get them moving once more. “I’ve made a study of the odds in relation to ale consumption. And while I may be off by a pint or two, mostly due to variables having to do with the crowd on any given Thursday, the potency of one particular batch of ale over another and the duration of the current champ’s reign, my calculations have proven true far more often than not.”

Phin couldn’t begin to ask all the questions swimming around in his head, not the least of which was how teats could ever be superfluous. Then there was the question of how she’d come to study the odds of anything, much less boxing matches in relation to ale consumption. And of course the ever present question as to why she’d called out the invitation to Mr. King to ogle her breasts when the man had been nowhere nearby and she was nothing more to him than a piddling name on a list pages long.

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