An Excerpt from The Stolen BrideFirst published in hardcover in 1990, reissued in June 2010
The guests are gathering for the country wedding, including two close friends of the groom's -- Sir Marius Fletcher, a robust sportsman, and Mr. Piers Verderan, the "Dark Angel", a known rake who's killed men in duels. Beth Hawley was governess to the hostess, Lady Wraybourne, and Jane Wraybourne has begged her to come and help with the complications.
Now, at her first dinner, Beth has been placed between Sir Marius and the Dark Angel, and already entangled.
Beth turned to glare at him. “No such thing, Sir Marius, and I do not see why you cannot attempt to be polite to me.”
“But I can’t be bothered to be polite any more than Verderan can be bothered to be virtuous.”
Mr. Verderan emitted an audible sigh. “It is clear you haven’t been here for the past fortnight, Fletcher. I have been applying myself to virtue most assiduously. I swear the
last really wicked thing I did was before I came north.”
To her horror, Beth only just stopped herself asking what that had been. She began to think she was unsuited to this kind of company. She took another fortifying drink of claret then, as a slight dizziness washed over her, began to wonder if that was a wise thing to do.
“Don’t pay attention to Ver, Mrs. Hawley,” called Lord Randal. “He’s no more wicked than Marius is rude.”
Beth was skeptical. She was willing to admit that Sir Marius’s manners were within the range of tolerable. That was not the impression she had of Verderan’s morals.
When she glanced at the rake his deep blue eyes flashed with humor. “You are quite correct, Mrs. Hawley. Randal is trying to whitewash me. Since he has taken to the paths of sanctity, he don’t much care to be acquainted with anyone as wicked as I. I, however, am moved as the prayer book bids us, to acknowledge and confess my manifold sins and
“Please don’t,” said Beth firmly and he laughed.
Those blue eyes were fringed with outrageous lashes, and warm with endearing humor . . . Good heavens, thought Beth with alarm, this was surely exactly the sort of man she
had been taught all her life to fl ee from and yet she was fascinated.
She found herself consumed with curiosity to know precisely what he did that was so wicked. He didn’t look like a bully, and he appeared too healthy to be totally given over
to debauchery. She had once met an opium eater and the poor man appeared merely pathetic. Was it just women?
But many men had mistresses and were not shunned. . . .
She was not aware she had been staring until he said, a little sharply, humor gone, “Do I perhaps have a smut on the end of my nose, Mrs. Hawley?”
Beth knew she had turned fiery red. It dawned on her that she was a little inebriated. It was the only way to account for her behavior. She just hoped she could survive the meal without everyone becoming aware of her disgrace.
“I do beg your pardon, Mr. Verderan. My mind was wandering.”
“I generally find that when a person is looking at something or someone, the individual’s wandering mind is traveling that road, Mrs. Hawley.”
She couldn’t tell if he was seriously annoyed or not, but now he truly made her nervous. There was something about him, beneath the superficially correct manners . . . Then she recognized it. This man was dangerous.
She didn’t think she had ever met such a dangerous man before. He acknowledged no rules. If it suited him he was capable of anything. Regardless of what he did, it was that unpredictability and people’s knowledge of it, which gave him his reputation.
He immediately illustrated her revelation. She had been staring again and he took her chin and turned her head sharply away, not particularly gently. Silence spread around the table and Beth wanted to crawl under the tablecloth. His action had been intolerably rude but so had hers. And all because of drink.
“I do beg your pardon, Mr. Verderan,” she said quickly. “I know how distressing it is to be stared at.”
People looked away and conversation resumed.
“Behave yourself, Verderan,” said Sir Marius quietly and it wasn’t a joke.
“I always do what I damned well please, Fletcher,” said Verderan without heat. “Short of shooting me, there’s no way to stop me.”
“That can be arranged,” said the baronet.
Beth dared to raise her eyes from her plate and saw a light flicker in the younger man’s eyes like a flame. “That couldn’t possibly be a challenge, could it, my dear man? I’ve been suffering from the most terrible ennui.”
Beth’s rare temper flared and burned free in alcoholic liberation. “No, it could not!” she said fierce and low before Sir Marius could respond. “I don’t care how wicked you are, you stupid boy. If you ever dare to embroil me in any kind of imbroglio, I will shoot you myself!”
She had spoken louder than she intended. Silence fell again but Beth didn’t care. She meant it. Verderan’s lips twitched, then he laughed out loud. He picked up his glass and turned to the end of the table where Jane sat watching in horror. “My dear Lady Wraybourne, my congratulations. I thought you’d brought the lady here to act as Sophie’s chaperone, but I see now she’s supposed to keep me in order. I concede. My behavior will be pattern-card perfect from now on.”
When the ladies finally retired to the Crimson Chamber, Sophie came straight over to Beth. “Well, Mrs. Hawley, aren’t you the dark horse! Fancy bearding Verderan.”
“Lady Sophie, please don’t tease me,” said Beth. “I don’t know what came over me.” But she did, and she could still feel the effects of the claret. A certain lightness in the head
and a numbness around her mouth. She prayed earnestly that it wasn’t obvious.
“Aren’t you the slightest bit attracted to him?” asked Sophie, curiously. “He’s wonderfully handsome, and there’s something about a truly wicked man . . .”
Beth looked at the young woman with concern. Surely she couldn’t be casting eyes at Lord Randal’s close friend. “He’s a trifle young for me,” she said, adding pointedly, “and I am not a foolish believer in the power of a good woman to reform a rake.”
“Well, I’ve managed to reform Randal,” said Sophie so morosely that Beth was hard put not to chuckle.
Beth decided it would be wise to bend the rules of propriety a little. “I think you’ll find in two weeks, Lady Sophie, that he’s not reformed beyond redemption.”
Sophie colored but looked pathetically grateful for this crumb. “Do you think . . .? But then it will all be settled won’t it? There’ll be no going back.”
Beth considered the troubled girl. There was no sense to any of this. “Lady Sophie, I know this can be a nervewracking time for anyone. If you truly have doubts, however,
do not commit yourself yet. I thought he was your choice, but Lord Randal will not be the easiest husband . . .”
“Of course I want Randal,” said Sophie, flushing with color. “But he . . .” She made a gallant attempt to smile. “As you suppose. It is all just bridal nerves. What do you think
of our mysterious guest, then? Perhaps she’s a skillful thief, come to murder us all in our beds.”
Beth let the girl turn the conversation but something was wrong here. She remembered the happy lovers who had danced at Jane’s wedding. Their love and closeness had been a tangible thing, spreading warmth to all around. Now they seemed more like squabbling siblings. She suspected she had not been invited to a sinecure after all.
When Jane came to sit beside her she said as much.
“It is worrying,” said Jane. “Sophie adores Randal and I’d swear he feels the same way and yet they are so awkward together.. . . But then,” she said with a teasing look at her
friend, “they are not the only ones who have me in a puzzle. You’re the first person I’ve heard say a cross word to Verderan.”
Beth blushed. “And I should not have done so,” she said firmly. “I’ll ask you not to put me between the two most notorious men at table again, young lady.”
The Stolen Bride will be on sale in North America in June 2010. If it is not readily available where you live, it can be purchased on line from The Book Depository, which ships free around the world. Click here to visit. As this web page is put on line they don't have the cover there.
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