Miss Marianne's Disgrace

BOOK: Miss Marianne's Disgrace
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Rejected by the ton

Trapped in the shadow of her mother's notoriety, Miss Marianne Domville feels excluded from London society. Her sole comfort is composing at her pianoforte—until author Sir Warren Stevens brings a forbidden thrill of excitement into her solitary existence...

Through his writing, former navy surgeon Warren escapes the memories of cruel days at sea. So when he finds Miss Domville's music and strength an inspiration, he's certain the benefits of a partnership with this disgraced beauty will outweigh the risks of scandal...if she'll agree to his proposal!

“If you agree to come here and play the piano for me I can create another story.”

He smiled with all the charisma he employed to woo patrons in London, hoping she wouldn't dismiss the idea outright.

She laced her arms beneath her breasts and stepped back, the cynical schoolmarm returning. “And what instrument do you hope I'll play afterward? I'm not Madame de Badeau, a woman to be hired as a mistress.”

He didn't blame her for being cautious. Once he'd achieved fame, the number of people he could trust had shrunk significantly.

“I don't want a mistress but a muse.”

It was difficult to look at her and not think of twining his hands in her golden hair, tasting her pink lips as they parted beneath his and freeing those glorious breasts from their prim confines. He'd better not concentrate on them if he wanted to win her cooperation and keep himself free from distraction and bankruptcy.

“I need you.”

Author Note

Miss Marianne's Disgrace
is about overcoming the past to build a better future. Marianne, who made her first appearance in
Rescued from Ruin
, is a talented piano player, and I wanted to explore how music allows her to cope with a difficult life. To help me craft her scenes I dipped into my childhood experience with piano lessons. I never mastered the instrument, but all the hours I spent at my parents' antique Bösendorfer finally came in handy.

My inspiration for Sir Warren came from reading about Sir Walter Scott, the famous novelist, and from medical history.

Scott teetered on the verge of losing everything he'd earned when he became entangled in a publishing scheme and sank into crippling debt. He was determined to pay it off through his writing, and achieved his goal mere months before he died. Unlike Scott, Sir Warren's near bankruptcy is the result of another's scheming, but his desire to pay back investors on his own is similar to Sir Walter Scott's. I modeled Priorton on Scott's beloved Abbotsford.

Sir Warren's background as a navy surgeon was inspired by my research for a historic battlefield medicine class that I teach. Life as a navy surgeon in the time before anesthesia was bloody and nerve-racking, and it seemed like a good way to torture an artistic soul.

Through their burgeoning love, Marianne and Warren help each other overcome their pasts and build a future together. I hope you enjoy
Miss Marianne's Disgrace

Georgie Lee

Miss Marianne's Disgrace

A lifelong history buff,
hasn't given up hope that she will one day inherit a title and a
manor house. Until then, she fulfills her dreams of lords, ladies and a Season
in London through her stories. When not writing, she can be found reading
nonfiction history or watching any film with a costume and an accent. Please
to learn more
about Georgie and her books.

Books by Georgie Lee

Harlequin Historical

Scandal and Disgrace

Rescued from Ruin
Miss Marianne's Disgrace

The Business of Marriage

A Debt Paid in Marriage
A Too Convenient

Stand-Alone Novels

Engagement of Convenience
The Courtesan's Book of
The Captain's Frozen Dream

Visit the Author Profile page at

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!
to Join Harlequin My Rewards

To all the writers who struggle through challenges to achieve their goals.

Chapter One

England, September 1820

he crack of shattering porcelain cut through the quiet. Miss Marianne Domville whirled around to see Lady Ellington, Dowager Countess of Merrell, on the floor amid shards of a large
bowl. Moments ago the bowl had been resting on the edge of a table while Lady Ellington had walked about the room, admiring the Italian landscapes adorning the panelling.

‘Lady Ellington!' Marianne rushed to her companion. ‘Are you all right?'

Mrs Stevens, their new friend, knelt on the Dowager's other side. Together, they helped Lady Ellington to sit up. Next to her lay a large sliver of the broken bowl, the razor-sharp edge rimmed with red from where it had sliced Lady Ellington's upper arm.

‘I—I don't know,' Lady Ellington stammered. She clasped the wound as blood seeped through her fingers and ran down over the elbow to stain the top of her satin gloves. ‘I tripped on something and somehow knocked the bowl to the floor when I fell.'

‘Let me see.' Marianne tried to look at the injury, but Lady Ellington twisted away.

‘You needn't fuss so much,' she chided in a shaky voice. ‘It's just a scratch, nothing more.'

‘Then allow us to examine it.' Mrs Stevens reached over and gently peeled Lady Ellington's fingers away from the wound. Her lips tightened as she studied the wide and bleeding cut.

‘This needs immediate attention.' She pressed her handkerchief over it.

Lady Ellington winced and a fine perspiration spread out beneath the line of her light-blonde hair streaked with grey.

‘Will she be all right?' Marianne asked as the embroidery on the linen blurred with red. One of her schoolmates at the Protestant School in France had cut herself this deeply. It had become inflamed and she'd gone from a lively child to resting in the churchyard in the space of two weeks. For all Marianne's misfortunes, none would equal losing Lady Ellington.

‘Of course,' Mrs Stevens reassured in a motherly tone. ‘But the wound must be closed. Fetch my son. He used to be a naval surgeon. He'll see to it.'

‘But he wasn't at dinner.'

‘He came in after we withdrew and is probably with the men. Go quickly. I'll stay with Lady Ellington.'

Marianne rose on shaky legs and walked in a fog of worry out of the study. She turned down one hall, then paused. The heavy sauce from the fish course twisted in her stomach. This wasn't the way. As she doubled back, the sweep of her footsteps on the carpet dulled the panicked thud of her pulse in her ears. She hadn't paid much attention when she'd followed the ladies to the study after leaving the sitting room. She'd been too busy fuming over Miss Cartwright's snide comments to concentrate on what turns they'd made to reach the distant room.

‘Where's a footman when you need one?' They'd been as thick as fleas along the wall at dinner and in the sitting room afterwards. Now there wasn't even a lowly maid scraping out ashes in any of the empty rooms flanking the hall. Lady Ellington might bleed to death before Marianne found her way back to the other guests.

No, she'll be fine. All I need to do is find Mr Stevens.

She turned a corner and the door to the wide front sitting room came into view. She exhaled with relief and rushed towards it, careful not to run. She didn't want to fly into a fit of worry, not with Lady Ellington relying on her to keep a level head. Hopefully, the men hadn't lingered in the dining room.

No such luck.

The women looked up from around the card table as Marianne stepped into the doorway. Their faces were no warmer or more welcoming then when she'd left them fifteen minutes ago.

‘Can we help you, Miss Domville?' Lady Cartwright drawled, as if it hurt her to be polite.

‘Lady Ellington has injured herself and is in need of help. I must find Mr Stevens.'

‘Sir Warren,'
Miss Cartwright corrected, her lips pulling back over one crooked front tooth as she laid a card on the pile in the centre, ‘is in the dining room with the men.'

‘I'll call a footman to summon him. After all, it can't be too serious,' Lady Cartwright sneered under her breath to Lady Astley and Lady Preston who sat with her at the card table.

‘No, thank you, I'll fetch him myself.' Marianne made for the dining room, not about to lose time waiting for these hard women to decide whether it was more important to put Marianne in her place or to help Lady Ellington.

She didn't remember the hallway being so long when Lady Ellington had walked beside her, chatting gaily with Mrs Stevens about the new Italian landscape paintings they were about to view. Marianne quickened her pace, stumbling a little over a wrinkle in a rug before righting herself.

The deep laugh of men muffled by the double oak doors punctuated the growing whispers of the ladies congregating in the sitting-room doorway behind Marianne. They gasped in shock, practically sucking the air from the hallway as Marianne pushed open the doors and stepped inside.

They weren't the only ones who were stunned. The footman jumped in front of her so fast, he almost lost his wig.

‘Miss, you shouldn't be here.' He shifted back and forth to block her view, as if she'd walked in on the men dancing naked in front of the buffet.

‘Move aside, I must see Sir Warren.' She slipped around the ridiculous footman and headed for the table.

The men were too lost in a weedy fog of tobacco and fine port to notice her. All the candles but those at the far end of the long table of Lady Cartwright's ridiculously long dining room had been extinguished, deepening the smoky shadows outside the circle of light.

‘I tell you, Warren, it's an investment you can't miss.' Mr Hirst thumped the table in front of him. His words were thicker and more slurred than when he'd rattled on to her at dinner about his intention to import a new type of tobacco from North Carolina. He'd pleaded with her to speak to Lord Falconbridge about investing in his venture, addressing her breasts more than her during the discussion.
The noxious little man.
His lust was all she'd come to expect from most gentlemen. Carnal pleasure was the only thing the men who'd streamed through Madame de Badeau's entrance hall had ever wanted from her and they'd despised her for not giving it to them.

The men on either side of Mr Hirst nodded in agreement, except for Lord Cartwright who slumped forward on the high polished table, snoring beside an empty wine glass.

‘You could make a fortune,' Mr Hirst insisted.

‘Rupert, I've already made a fortune with my novels,' the man who must be Sir Warren replied. He sat with his back to Marianne, a glass of port held at a languid angle to his body.

‘Sir Warren,' Marianne called out, interrupting his leisure.

Chairs scraped and men coughed and sputtered as they hurried to stand. Even Lord Cartwright was hauled to his feet by Lord Astley. Lord Cartwright's bleary eyes fixed on her.

‘What in heaven's name are you doing in here?' he sputtered, wavering and nearly falling back into his seat before Lord Astley steadied him.

‘I need Sir Warren. It's urgent.'

‘I'm Sir Warren.' The man with his back to her set his drink on the table and turned.

She braced herself, ready to receive from him another chastising look like the others had flung at her, but it wasn't there. Instead, his deep-green eyes were wide with the same surprise filling her and it dissolved all of Marianne's sense of urgency. He was tall, with a broad chest she could lay her head on, if she was inclined to embrace people, which she wasn't. His long, sturdy arms ended in wide hands with slender fingers tinged a slight black at the tips. He was taller than the other gentlemen with long legs and narrow hips. The softness of the country hadn't set in about his flat stomach beneath his waistcoat or along the line of his jaw shadowed by the first hint of light stubble. He wore his blond hair a touch longer than the other men with a few strands falling forward over his forehead. There seemed something more professional man than gentleman in his bearing. Although his clothes were fine, they weren't as tidy or well pressed as the other gentlemen's and his cravat was tied, but the knot was loose.

Unlike his companions, he didn't appraise her large breasts, which she did her best to hide beneath the chemisette and high bodice. Instead he waited patiently for her to explain herself, like Mr Nichols, the old vicar at the Protestant School in France used to do whenever he'd caught her being naughty. Where had this man been at dinner? With him by her side instead of old Lord Preston, she might have actually enjoyed the overcooked lamb.

The rest of the men weren't so kind, brushing her with their silent disapproval and more lurid thoughts.

‘How can I be of assistance?' Sir Warren prodded, snapping her out of her surprise.

‘You must come at once. Lady Ellington has cut herself badly and needs your help.' She reached out, ready to pull him along to the study before she dropped her hand. To touch a man, even innocently, was to encourage him and she needed his assistance, not his ardour.

His smile faded like the last flame licking at a coal in a fireplace. He slid a glance to Mr Hirst. It was a wary, troubled look like the ones Mr and Mrs Smith used to exchange during Marianne's first month at their house when they'd been forced to tell her Madame de Badeau still hadn't written.

Hollow disappointment crept into her already knotted stomach. Sir Warren wasn't going to help her. Like every other reputable gentleman, he'd swiftly but politely decline any involvement with her before rushing across the room to avoid the taint of her and her reputation.

How petty.

She opened her mouth to shout him down for not having the decency to rouse himself from propriety long enough to help an ailing woman, but he spoke first.

‘I'll see to her at once.' Sir Warren motioned to the door. ‘Please, lead the way.'

She clamped her mouth shut, near dizzy with relief as she hurried back across the dining room, keenly aware of his steady steps behind her.

‘You there, lead us to the study.' She snapped her fingers at the footman, afraid she wouldn't remember the way and waste more time heading down pointless hallways.

The footman jumped at the command, walking briskly in front of them as Marianne and Sir Warren followed him out of the dining room.

‘What happened?' Sir Warren asked in a voice as rich as the low A note held down on the pianoforte.

Marianne twisted her hands in front of her, noting the hard faces of the women watching them from the sitting-room doorway. ‘She cut herself on a broken porcelain bowl.'

Sir Warren jerked to a halt in the hallway as if he were about to change his mind.

‘Your mother said you could help,' Marianne encouraged, afraid to lose him now and in front of the sneering women.

‘Yes, of course.' He lost his hesitation and they resumed their steady pace.

They approached the ladies clustered behind Lady Cartwright and her imperious scowl. Their whispers ceased as Marianne and Sir Warren passed, and Marianne could practically hear the scandal wicking through the countryside. She could stop and explain, but there was no point in wasting the breath or time. Some might understand and forgive her. The rest wouldn't be so charitable even if she were summoning help for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

‘It's just the type of inappropriate behaviour I'd expect from someone related to Madame de Badeau,' Lady Cartwright's barely concealed voice carried down the hall behind them.

‘She should be ashamed of herself,' Lady Astley whispered.

Marianne winced, expecting their censure to make Sir Warren change his mind about assisting her. To her astonishment, he turned and strode back to their hostess.

‘Lady Cartwright, would you be so kind as to fetch a sewing kit, a roll of linen, a few towels and vinegar and see them delivered to the study. Lady Ellington has been seriously injured and I need the items.'

Lady Cartwright's long face dropped as the crow finally grasped the urgency of the situation. ‘Of course, I'll have the housekeeper see to it at once.'

She grabbed the skirt of her dress and fluttered off in the opposite direction, leaving her daughter and the rest of the ladies to huddle and whisper.

Sir Warren returned to Marianne. ‘Shall we?'

‘Yes, of course.' Marianne started off again, amazed at his command of Lady Cartwright and the alacrity with which he'd defended her. She wished she possessed the power to wipe the nasty sneers from the women's faces. After four years, most of the country families still believed she was as bad as the late Madame de Badeau. They couldn't see past all of the dead woman's scandals to realise Marianne, despite having the woman's blood in her veins, wasn't a brazen tart like her.

‘Does Lady Ellington have a strong constitution?' Sir Warren asked as they turned the corner.

‘The strongest.'

‘You're sure? It'll matter a great deal to her recovery if the wound is deep.'

‘I'm quite sure. I reside with her. She's my friend.' And almost the only person who'd accepted her once the scandal with Madame de Badeau had spread. Her support, and the influence of her nephew and his wife, the Marquess and Marchioness of Falconbridge, stood between Marianne and complete isolation from society.

As they continued on to the study, Sir Warren's presence played on her like a fine piano sonata. She'd never been so conscious of a man before, at least not one who wasn't ogling her from across a room. He didn't glance at her once as they crossed the hallway and he hadn't been inappropriate in his regard, not even when she'd first faced him in the dining room. She wondered at the strange awareness of him and if it meant the penchant for ruin did linger inside her, waiting for the right man to bring it out. After all, Madame de Badeau had been in control of herself for many years, until the thought of losing Lord Falconbridge had pushed her to near madness. If it did exist in Marianne, she'd stand strong against it, as she had all Madame de Badeau's wickedness, and make sure it never ruled her.

BOOK: Miss Marianne's Disgrace
13.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Vaccination by Phillip Tomasso
Danza de espejos by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson
Josiah West 1: Kaleidoscope by C. T. Christensen
The Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes
The Fire Baby by Jim Kelly
Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My Place by Sally Morgan