Top Pick - I Loved It
Midnight Marriage carries on the Roxton series tradition with still another wonderful tale set in the 1700’s where life is anything but simple. In this engaging story you will once again be reminded why Lucinda Brant’s books are such a treasure.
—SWurman for Night Owl Reviews
Magnificent! It's been a while since I read something that actually had a surprising plot line. This truly had me in constant suspense. The writing is very well done and the historical accuracy is impressive. Even the "good" characters demonstrate a shocking level of class-snobbery, which is perfect! They should. It is the the mid 18th century, after all. I do not exaggerate when I say that this is on par with Dangerous Liaisons, though there is no sex (only alluded to). Wonderful book!
AmazonIf I could get in a time machine and travel back to the 18th century for a visit, I undoubtedly would, but given that that's an impossibility, the next best thing is pick up a Georgian historical by Lucinda Brant and settle in for a trip back in time just the same. This was the first book I have read by Ms. Brant, and I was thoroughly enchanted from the moment that our heroine, Deb, is drugged, dragged from her bed, and married in the middle of the night to an equally reluctant teenager so as to ensure the continuation of his noble line. Years later, the story resumes with both Deb and her bridegroom Julian, who turns out to be the heir apparent to the duchy of Roxton -- unbeknownst to Deb, who thinks her shadowy memories of a midnight marriage were nothing more than a childhood dream. And so follows a delightful, enchanting tale of love lost and found in this wonderful tale that I can honestly say, has turned out to be one of my favorite stories in this genre (and I've been reading this genre for a very, very long time). The characters are well-developed, convincingly aristocratic yet all too human, and altogether sympathetic. The dialogue is witty, the plot is fast-paced, the writing elegant, confident, and engaging. I can't wait to read the other two books in this trilogy: NOBLE SATYR and AUTUMN DUCHESS. Thank you, Ms. Brant, for allowing me to travel back to the Georgian age -- and to have so much fun during my visit. I'll be back soon!
AmazonImpressive! Sequels aren't generally as powerful as the first book, but Lucinda Brant proves the exception. The intrigue and plot turns were good- things are rarely what they seem. I like how the story begins with an inexplicable event and then unravels to explain it and the consequences of it. It was nice to meet up with favorite characters from the first book and oh so bittersweet to see them as the older generation. -; But that is life. Good Read!
I have been a fan of Georgette Heyer since 1970, and if my guess is correct, so has the author. Having suffered through reading many aspiring writers in this genre I can say with enthusiasm that this writer reaches in the right direction. The attention to detail is remarkable without being obtrusive, and that the details are correct is a delight. I ask myself about the size and depth of the writers library, and I sincerely hope to meet her at one of the many conventions I attend. I will most definitely be reading her other titles, and I truly hope she maintains this level... And kudos to editors who don't fiddle unnecesarily!
Amazon"Well if you like "Noble Satyr" you are going to love Midnight Marriage. I seriously have devoured Lucinda as an author... her writing captivates you from the beginning and you won't be able to put this down.—Melhaf
Another Wonderful Book by Lucinda Brant! Bravo Lucinda! There was nothing disappointing about this book except that I wanted it to last forever and hated it to be over! The author has a true gift. Her characters are extremely well developed and her descriptions allow you to feel like you're right there with them.
Loved it! Well written, intricate and riveting - well worth my purchase! Made me go looking for more books from this author, which I also bought. I'm now a fan!
—Annick & Matt
SmashwordsIf you are a historical romance fan, you've got to read Lucinda Brant's books. This sequel to Noble Satyr is a great read.
This stand-alone sequel to Noble Satyr kept me up half the night I wanted so badly to find out what happened next. It is that little bit different from the usual fare dished up as historical romances that it rises above the rest. Can't put my finger on it, perhaps the writing style, the setting, well drawn characters? There is lots of emotional roller coasting and because I enjoyed Noble Satyr so much I felt I had a vested interest in this story about Roxton and Antonia's son Julian. A very satisfying and pleasurable read!
Midnight Marriage is an awesome story! From the very beginning readers know that Julian has misled Deborah, and from the beginning you're just waiting for the fallout. Lucinda Brant writes her characters with such depth and feeling… A spellbinding, outstanding story.
—Jaymi for Fallen Angels Reviews
Ms. Brant once again has done an excellent job with a story and brings life to her characters, the mark of a true writer. A must read for lovers of romance. I am honored to review this novel and applaud a fellow author.
—Louise Riveiro-Mitchell for The Romance Studio
Midnight Marriage is a terrific story. It’s fast-paced and the writing is simply wonderful. Deborah is a strong-willed heroine, and Julian, who is just as strong-willed, is a unique hero... Several intriguing secondary characters add some interesting twists. This story is full of surprises. I highly recommend it.
—Renee for Sizzling Romances
The secondary characters are very important to the story and should and will be honored with their own stories in the future. Julian and Deborah are perfect for each other. Even though they were brought together in very strenuous circumstances, they soon learn to make the best of their situation and learn to love and trust each other, but they have to weather many obstacles along the way. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Brant’s work, she is definitely an author to be on the lookout for.
—Debbie for A Romance Review
An engaging, often humorous tale filled with an array of intriguing characters. Deb is a likable woman; compassionate, loving and very independent, and I found her humor and personality delightful. Julian [is] the perfect hero; sexy, mysterious and multilayered. I predict he'll be a favorite among readers. For a charming and delightful tale, I recommend Midnight marriage and look forward to reading future stories from Ms. Brant.
Lucinda Brant has written an intriguing story, with a magic mix of love, hate, distrust, betrayal and never a dull moment... The hero is fascinating, with twists and turns in his character, while the heroine is very strong willed and certainly knows her own mind. Between them and the machinations woven throughout the plot, it is definitely a book not to be missed.
—Pam for Love Romances
The author has written a book with a wonderful hero and a delightful heroine perfectly supported by some outstanding secondary characters. If you enjoy a rousing historical romance, this one will fit the bill.
—Susan for Love Romances
What a delightful find! I could not put this one down. The characters come brilliantly to life and the historical detail is so subtle yet obviously well researched, that the reader totally falls into the romantic Georgian period of England (1700's). The plot held my attention with the intricate family history Brant wove throughout the love story. I can't wait for the rest of the series because I now have a very vested interest in the entire family. Don't miss this one! It's definitely a gem!
—Vickie House for Romance Reader at Heart
Midnight Marriage is a sweetly romantic read, embraces the best parts of the genre, and has cunningly coy characterizations. And about the hero and heroine: Julian is a surprisingly complex character and not at all your average rake. Youthful intemperance aside, he's a wonderfully sexy, dryly witty, tenderly protective hero, and a perfect match for Deb's unconventionality, free-spiritedness and stubborn streak.
Midnight marriage has a light tone and is a quick read with two extremely likable main characters. Watching Deb and Julian fall in love and develop their marriage was very enjoyable. The action is nonstop, but the main couple was always front and center. This is romantic suspense with the emphasis on the romance... Brant's skill at story telling had me quickly turning the pages, wanting to see what would happen next.
—Linda Hurst for The Best Reviews
For Your Amusement: My Life—Blog
Once again I am in awe of Lucinda's originality to go outside of the norm and use historical moments to create an elaborate story... I also adore this story due to it being loosely based on the real life marriage of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond and his wife Lady Sarah Cadogan in 1720. Sigh, I love history!
Gloucestershire, England 1760
Deborah woke from a deep sleep to the
sounds of a hasty late night arrival in the cobbled courtyard below her
bedchamber window. Commands were barked out at drowsy-eyed stable boys and
carriage wheels spun and slid to an abrupt halt. At first the girl thought it
all part of her dream but the clip clop of horses hooves on uneven stone did
not seem possible in the cool of a forest clearing. Otto was making beautiful
music with his viola while she swung higher and higher on the rope swing, her
silk petticoats billowing out between her long stockinged legs. She was sure if
she swung higher her toes would touch the clouds. They both laughed and sang
and it was such a lovely sunny day. Then the sun went behind a cloud and Otto
disappeared and she fell off the swing at its highest point. Someone was
shaking her awake. Fervent whispering opened her eyes and she blinked into the
light of one taper held up by her nurse.
Before she had time to fully wake, nurse
pulled back the warm coverlet and threw a dressing gown over Deborah’s thin
shoulders. Then with shaking hands the woman pushed a tumbler into her hand and
guided the cup to her lips, telling her to drink up. Deb did as she was told.
She grimaced. The medicine was the same foul-tasting brew she had been given
just before bedtime. It had put her into a deep, deep sleep. So why was she
being got out of bed if she was meant to fall asleep again?
Nurse evaded the question. She straightened
the girl’s lace edged night cap, brought forward over one shoulder the single
long thick plait of dark red hair, needlessly straightening the white bow; all
the while muttering for Miss Deb to be a good girl and do as she was told and
her prayers would be answered.
Drowsy and barefoot, Deborah was abandoned
by her nurse at the door to Sir Gerald’s book room. The passageway was dark and
cold and the book room was no better. At the furthest end of this masculine
sanctuary blazed a fire in the grate but it did not beckon her with the
prospect of warmth and comfort. She went forward when ordered by her brother
Sir Gerald, a glance at the two strangers taking refreshment after a hard ride.
They had divested themselves of their great coats but the tall gentleman with
the white hair and strong aquiline nose still wore his sword, the ornate hilt
visible under the skirts of his rich black velvet frockcoat with silver
Deborah could not help staring at this
imperious ancient stranger, whose close-shaven cheeks were etched with the
lines of time; his hair and eyebrows as white as the soft lace ruffles which
fell over his thin white hands. She had never seen an emerald as large as the
one in the gold ring he wore on his left hand. She imagined he must be a
hundred years old.
When he turned bright dark eyes upon her
and beckoned her closer with the crook of one long finger she hesitated,
swaying slightly. A sharp word from her brother moved her feet and through a
mental fog that threatened to overwhelm her she remembered her manners at last
and lowered her gaze to the floor. When she came to stand before this imperious
ancient stranger she shivered, not from fear because she did not know what or
whom to fear, but from the cold night breeze coming in through the open window.
She made a wobbly curtsy and placidly waited to be spoken to first, gaze
obediently remaining on the Turkey rug.
The stranger’s voice was surprisingly deep and strong for one so old.
“What is your age, child?”
“I had my twelfth birthday six days ago, sir.”
He frowned and over his shoulder said
something in French to the little gray-haired man who stood at his elbow. He
was answered in kind and the ancient stranger nodded and addressed Sir Gerald
in his own tongue.
“She is far too young.”
“But—your Grace, she is of age!” Sir Gerald
assured him with an eager nervous smile. “The bishop raised no objection.
Twelve is the age of consent for a female.”
“That is true, Monseigneur,” agreed the little man. “But it is for your
Grace to decide… I do not know of an alternative.”
“Surely your Grace has not changed his
mind?” whined Sir Gerald. “Bishop Ramsay was not pleased to be summonsed here,
your Grace, and if the ceremony is not to go ahead…”
“Your sister is not fifteen as you led me
to believe, Cavendish,” enunciated the ancient stranger in an arctic voice.
Sir Gerald gave a snort that ended in a
nervous laugh. “Your Grace! Twelve or fifteen: three years hardly matters.”
Deborah glanced up in time to witness the
look of disgust that crossed the lined face of the ancient gentleman and she
wondered what he found to fault in her. She knew she was only passably pretty.
Sir Gerald despaired of her plain, brown looks, but she was not disfigured and
her features were unremarkable. She was considered tall for her age but she was
not so awkwardly big boned that this stranger had the right to pull a face at
her in her own home. And why did her brother wear such a silly smile on his
round fleshy face and stare expectantly at the arrogant ancient man as if his
whole dependence rested on his will? He was acting as one of his own lackeys
did before him. She had never seen her brother bow and scrape to anyone. It was
Deborah felt the black eyes regarding her
from under heavy lids and she forced herself to look the ancient gentleman in
the face without blinking. But she could not stop herself blushing when his
gaze dropped to her bare feet and travelled slowly up the length of her
nightgown to the brush tip of her single thick plait of dark red hair which touched
her thigh, then on up over the swell of her budding breasts to rest on the
lopsided bow tied under her chin that kept her nightcap in place. He then
looked into her brown eyes again and she met his gaze openly through eyes that
felt filled with oil and thus did not see clearly because the medicine she had
drunk was beginning to take effect. A small crooked smile played on the ancient
gentleman’s thin lips and Deborah wished she had the courage to tell him his
manners were lacking in one so old. His question to her brother bleached her
“Has she commenced menstruating?”
Sir Gerald was dumbstruck. “Your—your Grace?”
“You heard the question well enough,
Cavendish,” prompted the grey haired companion of the ancient one.
But even though Sir Gerald’s mouth worked he could not speak.
Deborah, feeling as if her head was full of
cotton wool, sluggishly answered for him. “Two—two months ago.”
All three men turned and looked down at her
then, as if finally acknowledging her mental as well as physical existence. Sir
Gerald frowned but the ancient stranger and his friend smiled, the ancient one
politely inclining his white head to her in thanks for her response. He seemed
about to address her directly when a commotion in the passageway distracted
them all. The gray-haired companion disappeared into the shadows and out of the
room. He was gone for several minutes and in the interval no one spoke. Sir
Gerald brooded; once or twice looking at his sister with mute disapproval while
the ancient stranger calmly waited by the open window and fastidiously took
snuff from a gold and enamel snuffbox.
Into the book room came a gentleman dressed
in a cleric’s robes, but these were no ordinary robes; they were edged in
ermine and were of velvet and gold thread. He carried an ornately decorated
Bible and wore a magnificent, old-fashioned, powdered wig with three curls
above each fleshy ear. Deborah knew this to be Bishop Ramsay. He had arrived at
the house earlier that day and set the servants on their ears with his
imperious demands. Nurse said Cook was at her wit’s end. The bishop took one
look at Deborah in her nightclothes and put up his bushy brows. He ignored his
host in favor of the ancient stranger over whose outstretched hand he bowed
deeply. Deborah thought it odd that a bishop should bend to this old gentleman;
he must be someone very illustrious indeed. Just then the little gray-haired
man came out of the shadows looking worried.
“They’ve dragged him out of the carriage, your Grace,” he announced then hesitated.
“And… Martin?” asked the ancient gentleman
with uncanny perceptibility.
“He’s downed another bottle, your Grace,” Martin apologized.
“Then he will endure the ceremony better than the rest of us,” came the flat reply.
“The marriage is to go ahead as planned?” Sir Gerald asked eagerly.
The ancient stranger did not look at him. “I have no choice.”
He said this in such a weary tone that even
Deborah, for all her youth and inexperience, heard the deep note of sadness in
the mellow voice. She wondered what troubled him. The fact that these men were
talking about a marriage ceremony barely registered with her. After all, no one
had spoken to her of marriage. And everyone knew that when a girl was of
marriageable age she had to leave the schoolroom and be launched in society
during the Season and attend plenty of balls and routs and meet many eligible
gentlemen, one of whom she would fall in love with and hopefully he would be
the one who asked her brother for her hand in the usual manner. Marriages did
not happen in the dead of night, between strangers. And they certainly did not
happen in nightgowns after taking a measured dose of laudanum. There were
formalities and mysterious things called settlements and a proper order to such
a momentous step in a girl’s life.
But Deborah was wrong and knew she was
terribly wrong when her brother led her to the bishop, who called her a little
sparrow of a bride and pinched her chin in a fatherly way, saying what a great
honor had been bestowed upon her and her family for she had been chosen to be
the wife of the Duke of Roxton’s heir.
Her first thought was that she was asleep.
It was the medicine Nurse had woken her to take had changed her beautiful dream
with Otto in the forest to this nightmare in which she appeared to be the
central character of a Shakespearean tragedy. Perhaps if she tried hard enough
to think about waking it would happen and Nurse would be there with a glass of
milk and soothing words. She closed her eyes, swaying and dry in the mouth. But
she did not wake up from the nightmare. She was so bewildered she could not
speak nor could she move. Panic welled up within her. She wished with all her
heart that Otto would come home and save her. She wanted to cry. There were hot
tears behind her eyelids but for some reason she was incapable of crying. So
why was she sobbing? She soon realized it was not her. The quiet sobbing came
from the doorway and distracted her enough that she momentarily forgot that she
was in a nightmare.
A tall, well-built youth with a mop of
tight black curls was being supported at each elbow by two burly servants in
livery. He was not so drunk that he could not walk and so he told his captors
in a growl of angry words. But the more he struggled to be free of them,
kicking out his stockinged legs and balling his fists, the harder the grip on
his elbows and he soon gave up the fight and returned to weeping into his
An awkward silence followed as the boy was
brought to stand beside Deborah. A languid movement of dismissal from the
ancient gentleman and the burly servants retreated into the shadows.
Deborah stole a blinking glance at the
weeping boy but he had turned away from her to face the ancient gentleman and
addressed him in French, his voice breaking into sobs between sentences. He
spoke faster than she could ever hope to understand but he used the words
mon père: Father, over and over. Deb
could not believe that this white haired old man could possibly be this boy’s
father. Surely he meant grand-père?
And as she continued to stare at father and son, the boy suddenly broke into
English. His words were so full of hatred that Deborah’s face was not the only
one to brighten with intense embarrassment.
your fault! Your fault,” the boy
screamed at the ancient gentleman, his fists clenching and unclenching with
rage. “Why should I be banished for your sins? Does my presence make you
uncomfortable, Monseigneur, now that
I know the sordid truth? You can’t bear the truth about yourself, there’s the
irony!” he added bitterly. “Poor Maman. To think she’s had to live with
your-your disgusting secrets all these years—”
“Alston, that will do,” cut in the gray-haired
companion. “You’re drunk. In the morning you will regret—”
The boy tore his tearful gaze from his
father to stare at the man at his side. “Regret?
Regret knowing the truth about him?
Never!” he spat out, lip trembling uncontrollably. “You’ve known all along,
haven’t you, Martin? Why didn’t you tell me?
I’m his heir. I have a right to know.
A-a right.” He began to sob again and
dashed a silken sleeve across his wet face. “Mon Dieu, I’m cursed. Cursed.”
“It’s all in your head, my son,” the ancient gentleman said quietly.
This made the youth give a bark of
hysterical laughter that broke in the middle. “In my head? Then it’s a lie? A
lie that His Grace the most noble Duke of Roxton, my father, has
littered the land with ill-gotten bastards—”
The slap across his face knocked the boy
off his feet and left the Duke nursing a smarting hand. Deborah watched him
turn his back and walk into the shadows while at her feet the boy picked
himself up to his silken knees, a hand to his stinging cheek. The gray-haired
gentleman known as Martin put an arm about the boy’s shaking shoulders and with
a glance at Deborah said in a soothing voice,
“If you ever want to see your mother again,
marry this girl. Then you and I can be on our way to France.”
The youth gripped Martin’s arm
convulsively, his tear-stained face close to his. “If I do as he wants may I
see Maman before we sail? May I, Martin? Please.
I must see her before we go. I must.”
Martin shook his head sadly. “The early
birth of your baby brother has left her very weak, my boy. She needs time to
recover; the rest is up to God.”
The youth broke into fresh sobs. “He’ll
never let me see her again! I know it, Martin. Never.”
Deborah’s brown eyes widened and she held
her breath, awaiting the gray-haired gentleman’s response. When he looked over
the youth’s bowed head of black curls and smiled at her kindly she felt a great
relief. Though why she should feel anything but panic and dread at the prospect
that lay before her she could not explain. Perhaps it was because she did not
believe any of this was real. It was a laudanum-induced dream and soon she
would wake up. If only she could shake her head free of cotton wool.
“After the ceremony, I am taking my godson
to France and then on to Rome and Greece,” Martin told her in a confiding tone,
adding for good measure, as if living up to the promise of his smile, “We will
be away for many years. Do you understand, ma cherie?”
Deborah nodded. There was something oddly
reassuring in Martin’s smile, as if he would protect her from this strange sad
boy and the consequences of this hasty midnight marriage. France was over the
water. And Greece and Rome were so far away that it took months and months of
travelling to reach such exotic countries; Otto had told her so. Suddenly she
felt safe. Soon she knew she would wake up. All she had to do was lie still and
wait for Nurse to wake her with the breakfast tray. This boy was going away for
many years. She would never see him again after tonight. The sooner the bishop
performed the ceremony the sooner she would wake up and forget this bad dream
Martin’s words of reassurance had an effect
on the boy too for he pulled out of the man’s embrace and dashed the curls from
his eyes. The bishop quickly came to stand before these two children with his
bible open and proceedings began in a rush; as if there was no assurance the
boy’s capitulation would last long enough for the exchange of vows, or that the
girl who swayed on her feet and had a gaze that seemed incapable of blinking
would be able to stand upright for very much longer. The bishop’s fears seemed
justified when all of a sudden the boy began to chuckle under his breath,
disconcerting the bishop enough for him to pause on two occasions, and Deborah
to blink uncomprehendingly up at the boy to see what he found so amusing.
Finally the boy had to share his amusement with his ancient parent who stood
behind him like a sentry made of marble.
Is this plain, awkward bird witted
creature the best you could find to marry your heir?” he threw over his
shoulder in arrogant bitterness. “Surely my lineage begs better?”
“Her pedigree is as good as yours, my son.”
The youth sniggered. “What an illustrious
union to be sure! Something of which you all must be very proud. Pshaw,”
and snatched up Deborah’s hand
when requested by the bishop. Obediently he repeated the words that would make
them husband and wife. Deborah too had repeated the words after the bishop but
she had said them without comprehending and had no idea what this boy’s
Christian names were, despite there being a string of them, because she could
not take her eyes off his face. Her nightmare had unexpectedly turned into a
wondrous dream. Her youthful husband was the handsomest boy she had ever seen
in paints or real life; but it was his eyes that held her mesmerized. They were
green, but not just any green, a deep emerald green. The same color as the
large square cut emerald on the thin white hand of the ancient stranger Deborah
was convinced had to be a hundred years old.
Bath, England 1769
Julian Hesham thought he had died and gone
to Heaven. But angels did not punctuate their harp playing with damns
and blasts. He supposed the music in Heaven to be a gentle plucking of
the strings, the melody more largo
than allegro. He was not musically
inclined but the cacophony that assaulted his ears was a frenzied piece of
playing, irritating to the nerves. If he was to slowly bleed to death, much
better to do so in the peace and quiet of a spring morning, with only the attendant
sounds of an awakening forest. He wished the musician a hundred miles away.
That the fiddler might prove his salvation did not cross his mind. It did not
occur to him to call out for help. But for the jarring musical cords of the
apostrophizing fiddler he may very well have slipped into an unbroken sleep.
He was slumped under a birch tree. To the
casual observer he had the appearance of a gentleman sleeping-off an evening of
heavy drinking. Long, muscular legs were sprawled out before him, neckcloth and
silk embroidered waistcoat were disorderly, boots muddy, strong, square chin
rested on his chest, and a lock of thick black hair, having escaped its ribbon,
fell forward into his eyes. His right arm was limp in the leaf-litter beside
which was his discarded rapier. His left hand he had shoved inside his flowered
waistcoat to hold a folded handkerchief to a place just under his ribs where a
thrust from his opponent’s foil had entered deep into the muscle.
Suddenly the music stopped. The wood was
again at peace. Julian sighed his relief. In the silence there was the
unmistakable click of a pistol being cocked, and this brought his chin up.
Standing only a few feet away at the edge of the clearing was a youth in a blue
velvet riding frock, not holding a pistol but a viola. Julian guessed he was
about nine years of age; the same age as his much younger brother.
When the boy-musician jammed the viola
under his chin and set bow to strings again, Julian shook his head and brought
the recital to a halt before it began. He was not about to be a willing
audience to more screeching, however curious to know the musician’s next move.
“I’m certain you’re very good on the night,
but couldn’t you rehearse elsewhere?” he asked conversationally. When the
boy-musician spun about on a heel, almost dropping his bow, he added, “At your
feet.” And smiled weakly when the boy took an involuntary step backward. “Do me
the favor of fetching my frockcoat. It’s behind you… There’s a flask… In the
right hand pocket…”
The boy-musician took the viola away from
under his chin. “What do you want with a flask? You look as if you’ve drunk
“What deplorable manners you have,” Julian
complained, adding when the boy-musician continued to hesitate, “I mean you no
harm. And even if I was a footpad I’m too knocked about to attempt to do you a
This speech was an effort and Julian’s
breathing became labored. The boy-musician watched a spasm of pain cross the
handsome features and wondered what he should do. The man’s face was too pale,
the strong mouth too blue and the breathing now short and quick. It was then
that the boy-musician saw the dark spreading stain seeping out from under the
“Good God! He’s injured!” came the cry and
in such an altered voice to that of the boy-musician that Julian, through
supreme effort of will, looked up. A pair of damp brown eyes regarded him with
concern and a cool feminine hand touched his forehead.
Julian grinned and promptly fainted.
“Damned fool!” muttered the young woman,
laying aside her pistol and hurriedly unscrewing the lid of a monogrammed
silver flask handed to her by the boy-musician. She glanced up at her nephew.
“Jack. Take Bannock and fetch Dr. Medlow. Tell him a man’s been injured. Don’t
mention it’s a sword wound.”
The boy-musician hesitated. “Will you be all right left alone with him, Aunt Deb?”
She smiled reassuringly. “Yes, I’ll be
fine, Jack. I have my pistol, remember?” And watched her nephew scurry off
before turning her attention once more to the injured duelist. Gently, she
tilted back his head and slowly dribbled the contents of the silver flask
between his cold and parched lips. “It won’t be my fault if you die,” she
admonished him as one does a naughty child. “But it would serve you to rights
for being foolish enough to fight a duel!”
“No. It won’t be your fault,” Julian
murmured at last. “Thank you. Another sip, if you please.” He let his head fall
back into the circle of her embrace and looked up into a flushed face framed by
an over-abundance of dark red hair. “Does he always play his fiddle punctuated
with oaths? It adds color but it would offend Herr Bach.”
“It’s not a fiddle, it’s a viola. And not Bach but Herr Telemann. And the
oaths were mine, not Jack’s. I’m out of practice. He’s not.”
“Mine,” Deb admitted truthfully and promptly changed the subject. “What did
you think of the composition we were rehearsing?”
“I didn’t like it at all.”
She laughed good-naturedly, showing lovely pearly-white teeth.
“Perhaps in another setting, after a few
more days of practice, and…” Julian paused, distracted by the faint feminine
scent at her white throat. “That’s very pleasant,” he announced with surprise.
“As a rule females wear far too much scent. Is it lavender or something else?
“You’re a lunatic. How can you talk
pleasantries while you’re bleeding all over me?” She gently sat him upright
against the tree trunk and brushed down her petticoats as she got to her feet.
“Don’t laugh; it will only make your suffering worse. If I don’t do something
to staunch the bleeding you’ll die, and I’ve enough to worry me without a
corpse adding to my difficulties.”
“My dear girl, don’t put yourself to any
trouble. I’m sure I’ll last until the saw-bones arrives.”
Deb wasn’t listening. She was thinking. The
last thing she wanted was for this gentleman to die on her. Besides, she would
be in enough trouble explaining away to her stiff-necked brother what she and Jack
were doing in the Avon forest, alone, and with their violas. Sir Gerald loathed
their music making nearly as much as he loathed Jack’s very existence. What
could she use to make bandages? She groaned. She supposed she’d have to
sacrifice her shirt (it was one of Otto’s anyway). To cover her nakedness she’d
borrow the gentleman’s frockcoat. “I’ll have to use his cravat, too,” she said
aloud as she unbuttoned the mannish shirt at her throat and promptly pulled it
up over her head. She scooped up the gentleman’s discarded frockcoat and
disappeared behind a tree.
“H-how old did you say you were?” Julian
asked conversationally, an appreciative audience to her undressing and
disappointed that he was only permitted a view of her lovely narrow back and
straight shoulders in the thin cotton chemise.
“I didn’t. You may detest my viola
playing,” she called out, “but I am considered good in a crisis.”
“What are you doing back there? Please don’t go to any trouble…”
“I assure you, I won’t do more than is
necessary to keep you alive until Dr. Medlow arrives.”
Deb stepped out from behind the tree, the
frockcoat hanging loose about her shoulders and arms and buttoned to her chin,
the narrow lapels pulled up about her slender throat and tickling her small
ears. She knelt beside Julian and went to work ripping up her shirt to make
“I’m going to have to remove your waistcoat and shirt,” she said, addressing
the torn strips of fabric. “I’ll be as gentle as I’m able.”
“I’m sure you shall,” came the murmured reply.
He submitted with good grace to having his
silk cravat pulled this way and that; the diamond pin extracted with care and
put aside, but it took great presence of mind for him to sit up, straighten his
leg and remove the hand that was pressed to the wound. At the latter he fainted
with the pain but made a swift recovery, gaze riveted to the girl’s face: On
the expressive brown eyes, the straight indifferent nose and the full bottom
lip that quivered ever so slightly. Several curls had escaped from their pins
and fell across her flushed cheek. Julian could not decide on their color; were
they a dark strawberry blonde or were they more an autumnal red? He was certain
he had never seen such rich red hair before, or such shine. He would have
remembered such a particular color. The question consumed all his thoughts as
he was stripped out of a richly embroidered waistcoat to reveal a shirt wet and
heavy with his own blood.
Removing the shirt presented a problem for
Deb. She knew her patient did not have the strength to raise his arms above his
shoulders to slip the shirt over his head, so it would have to be torn from his
back. Yet that was no easy thing. The cloth about the wound was wet with blood
and had adhered to the slit in the man’s muscular chest like glued paper to a
wall. But Deb did not dwell on the pain she was about to inflict. It only had to
be endured for the briefest of moments.
Decided, she took hold of the opened shirt
front and ripped it left and right off the broad shoulders. It took three tugs
to rent the fine fabric; the third tore the cloth from neck to waist, exposing
a wide expanse of chest matted with hair the same raven-black color as that
which covered the gentleman’s head. For an instant her eyes registered
surprise. The silk cravat, the richness of the exquisite fabric of waistcoat
and frockcoat, the patrician features, all had concealed the measure of the
man’s muscle. It gave her hope for a full recovery. Such a well-exercised
physique would stand him in good stead; but only if the wound could be
staunched, and at once.
Julian suffered these ministrations with
great fortitude; surprised the girl possessed such strong constitutional
powers. It seemed that the sight of blood did not bother her in the slightest.
She merely wrinkled her nose, not in response to any feelings of squeamishness,
but in an enquiring, interested sort of way. He was about to make a quip about
the dual sensibilities of being female and a musician but the quip died on his
pale lips and was replaced with a guttural oath from deep within his throat,
for suddenly his whole being convulsed with an unbearable pain.
Deb had carefully peeled away the sodden
shirt from the wound, exposing a deep gash under the rib cage in the
gentleman’s right side. Examining it, she said in a detached voice,
“I don’t think he meant to kill you, or
your opponent has no notion of anatomy. The slice is deep but if he’d wanted to
kill you he’d have pinked you on the left…”
Then, without warning, she pressed a wad of
folded cloth over the wound, and so firmly that to Julian it was as if her
whole fist had been thrust through the slit to mingle with his entrails and
meet up with his spine. Disorientated with pain, he fought to remain conscious.
His limp hand was placed over the dressing and he was told in a strident voice
to keep it there with a firm pressure until the makeshift bandage was securely
about his chest to hold the padding in place.
It was no easy task to bind up the wound.
Deb managed to slip the bandage once around her patient’s taut stomach, but
having achieved this much the gentleman’s eyelids fluttered and he promptly
fainted. Quickly, she scrambled up, roughly pulled aside the layers of her
petticoats to free her long stockinged legs and straddled the man’s inert
thighs in time to catch the full weight of his upper body against her shoulder
as he pitched forward. She was almost knocked off her knees but managed to put
her shoulder into his upper chest and at such an angle that it permitted her
arms to remain free. This enabled her to pass the bandage freely across the
width of his wide bare back. She did this several times, each time pulling the
binding tighter so that the wound was sealed and the padding secure under the
Certain that her shoulder was bruised and
her back about to buckle under the man’s weight, she quickly groped about the
tangled tree roots for the diamond-headed stickpin she had set aside. With the
pin secured through the top layers of her makeshift bandage, she used her
remaining strength to set her patient upright and gently leaned him back
against the birch tree. But he did not look at all comfortable and so without a
thought to modesty she stripped off his frockcoat, folded the embroidered silk
garment up into a bundle and successfully placed this soft pillow behind his
strong neck, thus avoiding his raven head banging back against the tree trunk
with a great thud.
Exhausted and feeling the need to catch her
breath, Deb just sat there in her thin cotton chemise: straddled atop her
patient’s muscular thighs, petticoats bunched up over her knees and exposing
her long stockinged legs to the world. She felt bruised, battered and on the
verge of tears.
“How dare you do this to me!” she demanded
of the unconscious gentleman and picked up the flask, uncertain whether to
force the rest of its contents down his throat or dash the liquid in his face.
“You’re probably a notorious criminal and well served to be left to bleed to
death! My misfortune to stumble across you.” She leaned forward and poured a
drop of brandy between the parted lips. “I’m a fool,” she murmured, scanning
his angular face. “I don’t think you can be a criminal. Your eyes are too
honest… and you are far too swooningly handsome to be—Oh! You ungrateful brute!
Unhand me!” she yelped, for Julian had her hard by the wrist and the flask fell
into the grass. “That hurts!”
Julian looked into the flushed face close
up to his and blinked. “Promise me you won’t run off.”
Deb gave a twisted smile. “Afraid I mean to leave you to the footpads?” she
goaded, plying at the strong fingers about her wrist.
“No. I want… I want to talk to you.”
“Save your strength for the physician. Oh, do let me go! You’ll bruise my flesh.”
He released her and she sat up.
“I haven’t the strength to make you stay.
But I’m apt to decline into a blue melancholy without you.” He swallowed and
closed his eyes and spent a few moments regaining his breath. “That would wound
my pride far greater than any wound to my body.”
Deb was suddenly curious. “Who did this to you?”
“Men of little consequence.” He sighed his
annoyance. “They weren’t particularly good swordsmen. Uncle Lucian will be
disgusted with me.”
“Premier swordsman in France and England in
his day. He thinks I lack grace in my movements. He’s right.”
“You should have shot ’em!” Deb said savagely.
Julian smiled. “Uncle Lucian? I know he thinks me a sad trial on my parents
and never has a good word to say on my behalf but—”
“Silly! Not Uncle Lucian, the cowardly curs
who did this to you. Why didn’t you use pistols? Much quicker result and you
need not break a sweat.”
“Precisely. Uncle Lucian deplores the
methods of chivalry employed by the modern youth.”
“But you’re not exactly—Sorry!”
“I’m hardly in my dotage, dear girl,”
Julian drawled. “And to a man in his sixties, five and twenty is barely of an
age to be out of leading strings.”
“Oh! Well, that’s not old at all,” Deb
agreed. “Actually, I thought you older—Oh dear! I have the most wretched tongue
and am forever saying the first thing that comes to mind.”
“Don’t let it bother you,” he said dryly,
gaze flickering across her bare shoulders and slim arms. “I expect you thought
me older because I’m graying at the temples?”
Deb met his gaze. “How—how many swordsmen were there?”
“Three? That’s unfair and dishonorable.”
“Yes. Tell me your name.”
“Name?” she repeated with downcast eyes, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“My name is unimportant.”
“I’m sorry you had to ruin your shirt,” he
apologized after a short silence. When she looked away, out to the forest,
unable to meet the steady gaze of his clear green eyes he said gently, “Won’t
you tell me why you and—Jack? Yes, Jack, are fiddling in the forest at this
hour? Wouldn’t the schoolroom be a more appropriate place?”
“My name is
Julian,” he continued. “I can’t thank you
if I don’t know your name.”
“I told you. It’s not important. I’d have done the same for-for—Oh! Anyone.”
“I see. Is it necessary for you to carry a pistol?”
Deb threw him a sullen look. “You’re very busy.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
“If you are, I’d like to offer my assistance.”
“Is that so?” she said with a twisted
smile. “When do you think you will be in a position to offer your services? A
month; two months from now?”
“I’m not about to beg,” he replied mildly.
“I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful,” she
apologized; face a mask of hard indifference. “It’s just that you can’t help.
So, please, forget you ever saw us or that I have a pistol. If Gerry ever found
out… I’ll go and meet up with Dr. Medlow; show him the way through the forest.”
“Must you carry a pistol?” he persisted in the same gentle tone.
Deb regarded him steadily then made up her
mind that there could be little harm in confiding just a little bit about
herself, especially to such a willing ear. Besides, it might just take his mind
off the pain in his side. “My brother Gerry—Gerald—doesn’t
know about the pistol. It belonged to Otto who gave it to me just before he
died and said that I must keep it on me always when I am out alone. Otto was my
other brother and my best friend and Jack’s father. He was a splendid musician
and Jack has his talent. If Jack is to go to Paris to be tutored under Evelyn
Ffolkes, then he must practice. But as Gerry has forbidden us to play our
violas, Jack and I come out here to be alone, and so the servants won’t report
back to him. So you see, that’s why I carry a pistol.”
“Gerry has no ear for music?”
Deb’s brown eyes lit up. “Gerry is tone deaf.”
“Hence he has no appreciation of Jack’s talent.”
Julian’s breathing became labored again and
he half-closed his eyes. Deb thought he was about to faint again until he
smiled and said in a contrived tone of disinterest, “I dare say Gerry has the
same lack of appreciation for beauty. If you were my sister I’d take better
care of you. I certainly wouldn’t allow you out of the schoolroom, dressed in a
man’s shirt and without a corset.”
“You obviously have no idea what it’s like
to be spied upon!” she said indignantly. “I can’t be expected to sneak out of
the house with Jack if I must first wake my maid to lace me into a corset.
Brigitte would have the whole house up within five minutes of my departure.”
“Well then, that certainly excuses you.”
“And you are a bad judge of age. I will be one and twenty very soon.”
“Accept my apologies. You look much
younger. Perhaps because you aren’t wearing your corset…?”
Deb gaped at him. “Because I’m not wearing
my corset?” she repeated incredulously. “Your manners are appalling. If you
weren’t wounded I’d—I’d—”
asked expectantly, shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
A crimson flush washed over her breasts and
up her throat but Deb bravely looked him in the eyes to tell him what she
thought of his insolence when she noticed a spot of fresh blood on the bandage
and that he was trembling.
“You’re shivering!” she announced, all embarrassment forgotten.
“Yes. I’m cold and can’t move my legs. No matter, the physician will be here shortly.”
Only then did she realize that as well as
being practically naked from the waist up she was still straddled atop the
injured duelist’s thighs and had been comfortably seated on his lap for quite
some time. Hiding her embarrassment behind anger, she admonished him as she
scrambled off his long legs and brushed down the layers of her crushed
“You should’ve said something instead of letting me sit there rattling on at you!”
“And cut short our tête-à-tête? Now that would’ve been bad mannered.”
“You must be a lunatic!”
“Yes, I must be,” Julian answered with a private smile and closed his eyes.