2014 RONE Winner Best Historical Post Medieval Romance
A reluctant heiress resigned to her fate … Mary Elizabeth Edwardes has one of the largest fortunes in England, but has no desire to leave her quiet country existence… and even less to acquire a husband she cannot choose for herself.
A dissolute nobleman bent on retribution … Trapped in a duplicitous existence since scandal destroyed his fortune and family name, Lord Hadley Blanchard has spent the better part of a decade posing as a disaffected exile while spying and seducing in the service of the English Crown.
A dangerous game of seduction, and intrigue … When summoned from abroad by a former lover, Lord Hadley perceives an opportunity for vengeance at last. By employing the full measure of his seductive charm, he woos the ward of the man who destroyed his life, little knowing that winning Mary’s fortune will mean risking his own treacherous heart
Blanchard House, Hanover Square – 1727
As the solo harpsichord began a Corelli air, Mary watched mesmerized. In flawless synchrony with the music, and bodies posed in perfect symmetry, the couple performed the intricate figures of the dance with fluid grace—ebbing and flowing in an elegant wave, moving in absolute harmony with one another. Rising and falling in gentle rhythm, arms gracefully rounded, reaching, touching, and turning, they seemingly floated across the floor.
It was lovely beyond description.
Monsieur Gaspar had rightly described the stately minuet as the perfection of dancing and Mary was entranced. But lost in her admiration of the dancers, she forgot she was supposed to be studying their intricate steps and patterns, until the couple executed the final two hand turn and then faced her with the final elegant dips to honor their audience of one.
The dancing master raised Lady Blanchard’s hand to his lips. “Vous êtes toujours incomparable, Madame la Comtesse.”
Lady Blanchard answered the compliment as if it were her due, with an elegant inclination of her head and only the merest hint of a smile.
“It is true, my lady,” Mary gushed. “I’ve never beheld anything so lovely.”
Lady Blanchard turned to Mary and smiled archly. “Dancing is the premier mark of gentility in any woman, my dear Mary, and the minuet is foremost amongst the dances. Thus, you must master it—along with the sarabande, gigue, bourée, and gavotte, before you may attend any of the balls.”
Mary’s stomach dropped. “All of them? But I have no experience of this kind of dancing.”
Lady Blanchard regarded her with raised brows. “Do you mean to say you’ve never danced?”
“Only country dancing, my lady. Never like this. I fear it is well beyond my ability.”
The countess waved her hand. “Nonsense, child. You have the benefit of a master’s tutelage and must simply apply yourself.” She glanced to the clock with a frown. “I am expecting someone. I leave you now in Monsieur Gaspar’s capable hands.”
In dismay, Mary watched the countess depart.
“Mademoiselle?” The dancing master flourished a bow and then offered his arm and an indulgent smile on painted lips. Yet an hour later found him tearing at his periwig. “Non! Non! Et non!” cried the Frenchman. “You must rise on the toe and sweep the foot. Thusly.” He demonstrated with exaggerated patience. “And the arms, they are too stiff!”
“Like this?” Mary rounded her arms and began the steps again.
“Par blue! Elle se deplacer comme une vache! You move like the cow and the figure, it is all wrong! It is zed.”
“Zed?” Mary repeated blankly.
“Oui, zed!” he insisted.
“I don’t comprehend you, monsieur,” Mary cried in growing frustration. “I’ve told you already I have no French.”
Throwing up his hands in Gallic fashion he shouted, “Zed! Zed!” as if bellowing would bring enlightenment. “Etres vous simple? It is the last letter of the English alphabet! Comprenez? Zed! S’il vous plait dancez la figure maintenant.”
“I’m sorry, Monsieur Gaspar. Would you please show me once more?” Mary asked, flustered beyond despair and on the verge of tears.
“Perhaps, monsieur,” a deep-timbered, cultured, and slightly accented voice arrested the dancing master’s impending tantrum, “the difficulty lies not so much in the student’s lack of aptitude, but in the instructor’s method of tuition.”
Mary turned to face her would-be rescuer, a vision that stole her breath. Tall and elegant, he was dressed in hues of richly embroidered satin, bedecked with yards of frothy lace, and jewels that would be the envy of any woman, yet paradoxically, there was nothing effeminate about him. He advanced into the room with a languid gait to halt before them, flicking over the Frenchman with inscrutably dark eyes and an expression of frigid hauteur.
It was his eyes that first entranced her, deep-set and piercing indigo-blue beneath straight, dark, brows, that seemed starkly incongruous compared to the fashionable white powdered wig. To Mary, his face was a fascinating study of contrasts, at once strong, proud, and distinctly aristocratic. Yet, the imposing vision he presented was somehow softened by a generous mouth and the most fascinating dimple in his chin. Mary was next riveted to that dimple, and then lastly to the softening curve of his mouth when the stranger inclined his head to her alone, as if the dancing master were completely beneath his notice.
It was an intentional snub that made the Frenchman tremble with indignation. “I will have you know, monsieur, that I am le maitre-de-dance to the very Princesses Royales!”
“I should never make such a confession, were I you,” the stranger drawled.
The frenetic little Frenchman puffed his chest. “You think it an idle boast?”
The gentleman chuckled, a low, warm, rumbling sound. “No indeed, monsieur, for I have seen how execrably they dance!”