Authors: Jess Michaels
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance
A Marquis for Mary
The Notorious Flynns Book 5
Copyright © Jesse Petersen, 2015
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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PO Box 814, Cortaro, AZ 85652-0814
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For Michael, who deals with all the dragons. And for all the readers who have loved The Notorious Flynns. This may be their last book in the series, but you WILL see them again.
Once upon a time, Mary Quinn had loved a ball. She had chosen her gowns with a thrill in her heart. She’d swept in and smiled as her name was announced. She had bounced on the tips of her toes as she watched the bustle around her, eager to take part in the romance she thought existed in the wide, wonderful world.
But it had been nearly four years since her first ball, four long and unfruitful Seasons looking for a husband, and the shine had entirely worn off the endeavor. Now she stood to the side of the dance floor, trying desperately not to let her mouth turn down in a deep frown.
It wasn’t that what she was seeing around her was so very awful. In fact, her observations made her incredibly happy. Her eyes first fell on her beloved older sister Gemma, who had married two years before. Gemma’s eyes were lit up as she looked up into the equally loving gaze of her husband Crispin.
As they twirled away, a new couple came into view, Crispin’s brother Rafe and his wife Serafina, the model of a devoted couple if there ever was one.
Once more the crowd shifted and now Crispin and Rafe’s sister Annabelle and her husband Marcus came into view. Marcus looked at his wife like he could kiss her right then and there, despite the shock such a thing would cause.
One final time, the crowd moved and Mary’s good friend Georgina spun by in the arms of her recent fiancé, Paul Abbot, who worked for Marcus.
Each of the couples, all her family and friends, were completely happy and utterly in love. Mary had once wanted the same. Two years ago, when she had been taken from the very unhappy home of her father and into Crispin and Gemma’s house, she had dared to again believe that love might happen for her, too. But now they were in the middle of her fourth Season and…still there was no love on the horizon. No suitor at all, loving or not, had made himself clear.
Which under normal circumstances would be embarrassing, but in her case, struck terror in her heart. Her father had begun to make noises about Mary returning to his home, to his control. He wanted her married and he had proven not once but twice with Gemma that he would sell his daughters to the highest bidder. It was doubtful Mary would be happy in his choices.
“I am running out of time,” she whispered to herself as she willed tears of fear and frustration not to fall. People would talk if she began weeping in the middle of the gathering, and that was the last thing she needed.
She turned away from the dance floor in an effort to control her suddenly bubbling emotions and moved across the ballroom toward a table that held refreshments. But before she could reach it, the servant beside the door made the announcement of another arrival in their midst.
“Sir Oswald Quinn,” he called out in a very proper tone.
Mary suppressed a curse as she watched her father enter the room. Part of the agreement Crispin had struck in order to keep her in his home was that invitations to these Upper Ten Thousand events would be extended to her father. As a grasping social climber, Sir Oswald never missed a one.
But she couldn’t face him right now when she felt so very raw. She couldn’t listen to him mutter about her failure to land a husband or his plans for her if she didn’t come out of this Season wed. So she turned away, slipping into the protective veil of the crowd.
She forced a smile to people she knew as she maneuvered through the crush toward the doors which led to the terrace. She would be safe outside, for her father rarely left a ballroom once he entered it, lest he missed an opportunity to lick the boots of someone important.
She turned the handle of the terrace door and stepped outside into the cool night air. As she shut it behind her, she leaned against the barrier briefly and sucked in a few gulping breaths.
cry,” she admonished herself softly before she gave her body a little shake and stepped forward to the low wall of the terrace.
She stared down at the garden below. The duke who owned this property had one of the most beautiful gardens in London and its flowers were in full bloom so that the scent of them wafted up on the cool night air.
Somewhere in the trees a nightingale began its song, calling for a mate to join it. Mary frowned, for she had no such easy lure to tempt a companion. Above her, the flutter of wings swooping toward the sound told her the bird had gotten its wish.
She looked down on the garden again with a sigh. “How I wish I were a bird, so I could fly away,” she said, not bothering to whisper the words since she was alone on the terrace.
Or at least she’d thought she was. As soon as the words left her lips, there was a rustling sound behind her. She spun around to watch the dark outline of a man rise from a table that had been hidden in the shadow of the house. She couldn’t make out his features, but his voice was very deep and rough as he said, “Miss, if you intend to jump, I hope you’ll reconsider. I don’t want to have to stop you.”
Edward could see that the young woman standing frighteningly close to the terrace wall was startled by his sudden appearance, and he supposed that was his own fault. He’d watched her depart the house, realized she didn’t see him there in the dark, and had fully intended to simply allow her to believe she was alone. He didn’t want to be disturbed, no matter how fetching she was. And she was damned fetching, indeed.
But he had other things to consider at present beyond her slender frame, her oval face with its high cheekbones, her full lips.
“You scared me nearly to death!” she gasped as she threw a hand to her chest, drawing his attention, of course, to her small but rather perfect breasts.
He moved toward her into the light so she could see he wasn’t quite an ogre, at least not in appearance. “As you did me, miss.”
He frowned as images from the past came rushing back over him. He made a concerted effort to shove them aside.
Her lips pinched as she looked over her shoulder at the terrace wall edge. “I had no intention of jumping, sir, I assure you.”
“Good,” he drawled, unable to take his eyes off of her now that the moonlight made it easier for him to see the details of her face. Her eyes were a fetching green-gray, pale in comparison to her dark hair.
“Who are you?” she asked, tilting her head as if she were examining him just as closely as he was her.
He cleared his throat. It really had been a long time since he was out in Society if he couldn’t keep basic courtesy at the forefront of his mind.
“Er, I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I am the Marquis of Woodley.”
“Miss Mary Quinn, my lord,” she said, holding out a gloved hand. He hesitated, but then took it, shaking gently. Even through the barriers of cloth separating them, her hands were warm, and touching her sent a strange shock of awareness through him. “Do you often sit in the dark spying on potential jumpers? Is it a vocation or a hobby?”
To his surprise, he felt a smile turn up his lips. It was a very odd sensation, for he hadn’t performed the expression in what seemed like years. She was a cheeky little thing as well as pretty, and he found he liked the combination.
“I only perform this duty on the third Saturday of each month,” he retorted, surprised he could find such a teasing response.
She laughed, the sound as fine as the nightingale’s song had been. “You must check your calendar, my lord. Tonight is not the third Saturday of the month.”
He shook his head. “Damn. I will have to find something else to do, then.”
He wished he could take the words back the moment he said them. They were flirtatious, and he wasn’t certain that was a particularly good idea. Oh, he needed to find a lady to court, it was why he was back out in Society after so many years hiding away, but he hadn’t intended to embark upon that course of action by dallying with a stranger on a terrace.
But Mary didn’t seem to sense his discomfort, for she only laughed again, her face bright and open in the moonlight. With a frown, he paced away to the wall behind her and looked down into the gardens as she had been doing. From these dizzying heights, being a bird and flying away as she had said didn’t seem like the worst idea.
She stopped laughing as he moved away, and cleared her throat with discomfort. “So, do you mind me asking what your
reason for being out here is?”
He turned to face her with a shrug. “Have you been in there?” he asked, motioning to the ballroom behind the glass terrace doors, even though he knew that was exactly where she had come from.
is why I’m out here.”
He expected her to further question him or try to coax him back into the throng like most young women would do. Instead, she let out a heavy sigh. “I cannot blame you, then.”
He arched a brow in surprise. “A pretty girl like you, want to avoid a ball? You must thrive in there.” She let out a bark of laughter that was anything but joyous, and his frown deepened. “So you aren’t enjoying yourself?”
She shook her head. “It is difficult to enjoy oneself when all of one’s friends are recently and deliriously happily married. And if that wasn’t enough, don’t forget that one’s father is likely considering selling one to some hundred-year-old earl so that he can cash in on a titled man’s fortune and influence.”
Edward drew back at her unexpected honesty and the pain which accompanied it. “Miss Quinn—”
She blushed from the roots of her hair to the neckline of her gown. “I’m sorry, that was far too direct. I should not dump my troubles onto a poor stranger who was only coming out here to escape silly girls just like me.”
She moved as if to return to the ballroom and he caught her hand, holding her in place. She pivoted back to stare up at him, her full lips parted slightly in surprise.
“Not at all,” he said, his voice rough with desire he was surprised and dismayed to feel as he stared down at her.
“I-I should go back inside,” she stammered, but did not remove her hand from his grasp. “I will be missed.”
“Of course you will. Would you mind if I escort you back in? Perhaps claim the next open dance on your card?”
She hesitated for a fraction of a moment as her gaze slowly moved over his face. Then she nodded. “It seems the very next one is open, my lord. I would very much like to share it with you.”
There was an odd sensation in Edward’s chest as he glided Mary’s hand into the crook of his arm and led her to the ballroom. He had felt that feeling before. He’d promised himself it would never be repeated. So as they moved onto the dance floor, seemingly all eyes in the party on them, he steeled his throbbing heart and forced himself to be all propriety as the music began.
She smiled up at him after a few turns of the dance had passed, challenging his resolve almost immediately. “You know, I have just realized I have not seen you at one of these events before, my lord.”