Authors: Michelle Styles
“A waltz?” Diana swallowed hard. “I have no idea how to waltz.”
“I suspected that. It is why I am here.” He held out his arms. “I plan to educate you on the finer points of the waltz.”
“You must be joking. It is a highly improper suggestion. I won't waltz.”
“But you agreed, Miss Diana. You agreed to dance with me at the ball.” His voice was smooth, but there was a steely determination. “Unless you want me to choose another forfeit? A forfeit more suited to a wager between a man and a woman? You were the one who lost the wager. It is up to me to name the terms.”
“You wouldn't dare.”
A Question of Impropriety
Historical #298âDecember 2010
One of my favorite museums in the northeast of England is the Beamish Open Air Museum, where they have several very early locomotives. It is possible to ride behind a replica of the Steam Elephant through a re-created Georgian landscape. As I did my research, I was surprised to discover how early the engines were developed, and that hundreds of miles of railway existed before George Stephenson developed the first public railway in 1823. As with many things, the Napoleonic War, with its restrictions on manpower and grain, provided the spur to develop the steam engine, and the first traveling steam engines date from around 1813.
Please be sure to look out for Simon Clare's story, coming next month, because the only way I could get him to be silent in his sister's tale was to promise him one of his own. As ever, I love getting reader feedbackâeither via post to Harlequin Mills & Boon, my website, www.michellestyles.co.uk, or my blog, www.michellestyles.blogspot.com.
Read Simon's story in
IMPOVERISHED MISS, CONVENIENT WIFE
coming next month
The Gladiator's Honor
The Roman's Virgin Mistress
A Christmas Wedding Wager
Taken by the Viking
Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife
The Viking's Captive Princess
Sold and Seduced
A Noble Captive
A Question of Impropriety
The Viking's Captive Princess
“Basing her love story on an ancient Viking legend, Styles spins the tale of a Viking warrior and a princess. She maintains the myth while adding sexual tension, nonstop action and spice.”
RT Book Reviews
Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife
“A family in conflict, an ambitious hero bent on vengeance and a bold woman hiding a secret quest for salvation combine for a heady, tension-filled, passionate sequel to
Taken by the Viking.
RT Book Reviews
Taken by the Viking
“Styles' descriptive writing and jump-off-the-pages characters shine in this awesome story.”
RT Book Reviews
Born and raised near San Francisco,
currently lives a few miles south of Hadrian's Wall with her husband, three children, two dogs, cats, assorted ducks, hens and beehives. An avid reader, she became hooked on historical romance when she discovered Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and Victoria Holt one rainy lunchtime at school. And for her, a historical romance still represents the perfect way to escape.
Although Michelle loves reading about history, she also enjoys a more hands-on approach to her research. She has experimented with a variety of old recipes and cookery methods (some more successfully than others), climbed down Roman sewers and fallen off horses in Iceland, all in the name of discovering more about how people went about their daily lives. When she is not writing, reading or doing research, Michelle tends her rather overgrown garden or does needlework, in particular counted cross-stitch.
Michelle maintains a website (www.michellestyles.co.uk) and a blog (www.michellestyles.blogspot.com) and would be delighted to hear from you.
For Lydia Mason, whose unerring eye for plot problems, challenging questions and enthusiasm for my stories continually inspires
September 1813âthe Tyne Valley, Northumberland
iana Clare fought the overwhelming temptation to swear violent, inappropriate oaths, oaths of the type that no one would even consider a spinster such as she would know.
One tiny scream of frustration and the merest hint of a word passed her lips. Jester, the piebald mare, turned its head and gave her a disgusted look. Diana shifted uneasily in her seat on the gig. Jester was correct. She had given in to her anger, and had broken one of her cardinal rulesâa lady never allows passionate emotion to overcome her sensibilities.
She drew a breath, counted to ten and concentrated hard on a serene outlook. But the gig remained held fast in thick oozing mud and the tug of pain behind Diana's eyes threatened to explode into a full-blown headache. Adding insult to injury, Jester began to munch another clump of sweet meadow grass, daintily choosing the last few remaining daisies. Diana tucked a stray lock of midnight-black hair behind her ear and peered over the side of the gig. It
was her fault that it had become stuck. No one else's. She accepted that, but accepting, and wishing to admit it to the general populace, were two entirely separate matters.
Diana knew she ought not to have been reading and driving at the same time, but she had needed something to erase the full horror of visiting Lady Bolt's At Home as the congregated gaggle of gossips had blithely torn another woman's reputation to shreds.
That the third and final volume of
Pride and Prejudice
had been waiting for her at the circulating library she took as providence, a way to restore her temper. Normally she scorned novels as frivolous and refused to open them, but Mrs Sarsfield had insisted she read the first page, and Diana had discovered that she'd had to read on and on. She had not bought the book, but done things the proper wayâwaiting her turn for each volume. And finally it was here, on the seat beside her in the gig. As she often joked to her brother Simon, Jester knew every step of the way home.
And what possible harm could come to her in the country?
Slack reins and the temptations of late-summer meadow grass had proved too great for the mare and Jester had pulled the gig into the mud pool just as Diana reached another scene between Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy.
Diana straightened her straw bonnet and measured the distance from the gig to solid ground.
She could do thisâeasily, with dignity and in a ladylike manner. One long leap. She pushed off from the gig and hoped.
Her half-kid boot caught in the oozing mud, several feet short of dry land. Diana gave a small cry as her bonnet tilted first one way and then the other before sliding off into the
mud, taking her cap with it. Gingerly, Diana picked the bonnet up by one ribbon and stuffed the cap inside. Mud dripped from it, splattering her dress.
âBeauty in distress,' a low voice drawled behind her, cultivated, with more than a hint of arrogance. A masculine voice. A stranger's voice.
Her throat constricted and every particle of her froze. Her situation had suddenly become a thousand times worse.
âDistress fails to describe my predicament.' Diana refused to turn. Spoken to in the correct manner, the stranger would depart. Nothing unto wards would happen to her as long as she behaved like a lady. She had to believe that, otherwise what had been the point of the last few years? âMy gig has become stuck, and I am solving a problem with calmness and fortitude. There is a difference.'
Diana concentrated on finding the next halfway decent place for her foot, rather than glancing over her shoulder at the owner of the voice. If she ignored him, there was a chance that he would depart and every thing would be fine. Her ordeal would end. It was her actions that mattered. Her balance altered slightly and she was forced to make a windmill motion with her arms in order to stay upright.
âAs I saidâdefinite distress.'
âNothing of the sort. I am finding my way out. It is simply proving trickier than I first imagined.' Diana put her foot down hard and heard a squelch as brown liquid spewed up. Her feet slipped. An involuntary shriek emerged from her throat. She flailed her arms about, trying desperately to regain her balance, before the mud sucked her down and destroyed all her dignity and decorum.
Her fingers encountered a solid object and she grabbed on with all her might. She rebalanced and looked, hoping for a branch. But instead her hands clung to the sleeve
of a white travelling cloak. It was a choice between two evilsâthe indignity of falling into the thick black mud and the impropriety of clinging to an unknown man's arm. Impropriety won.
âIt would be a shame to stain your dress, I believe.'
Without waiting for a reply, the man's hands moved to her waist, and lifted her up. Her breast and thigh grazed his broad chest. Her senses reeled, then righted. She refused to give way to panic. She kept her body rigidly still and willed him to release her, but the arms stayed strong about her.
âYou may let me go.' Her voice re sounded, high and shrill, in her ears as she glanced up into deep grey eyes. A strange sensation stirred, deep within her, curling around her insides with insidious slowness. She swallowed hard and beat it back. âPlease.'
âAfter I have had my reward.'
âReward?' Her tongue seemed to be three times thicker than normal. The day was rapidly becoming a nightmare. Surely this man, this gentleman, had to understand that she was a proper lady? She was not going to be punished. Again. âWhy do you insist upon a reward?'
âFor rescuing you. Surely my gallant action warrants the merest trifle.'
He lowered his lips and his mouth skimmed hersâa brief touch, but one that sent a blaze of fire coursing through out her body. Panic engulfed her. She turned her head and beat her fists against his chest.
âPut me down this instant!'
âIf that is what you truly desire.'
Diana gulped and struggled to hang on to some sense of dignity. It was the only thing that could save her. A truly worthy and refined woman was never in danger. Ever. âIt is.'
âNever let it be said that I do not accommodate a pretty wench's wishes.'
Her rescuer withdrew his arms and she was unceremoniously deposited on a green knoll. Her skirt flew up and revealed her legs up to her calves. Diana hurriedly pushed it back down and hoped that the man had been gentlemanly enough not to look. Silently she promised never to read novels again, never to utter oaths, if only she would be delivered from this nightmare. It was all her fault. She had broken her rules of ladylike behaviour and this was what happened to women who behaved in appropriately.
Diana forced her breath in and out of her lungs and regained some small measure of control. She could not show that she was discomforted. Exhibiting emotion only made situations like this one worse.
âI did not mean quite so quickly.'
âBut I did as you requested. Beauty, thy name is perverse.'
âYou have rescued me. Now you may depart.'
His black boots remained still. She glanced up at her rescuer, praying that he was a stranger, someone she might never encounter again. Broad shoulders filled out the finely cut white coat with fifteen capes and two rows of pockets. Tapered down to buck skins and the pair of black Hessian boots. He sported a white neck cloth with black spots, immaculately tied. Diana's gloom deepened. It was the sort only worn by a member of the Four Hand Club, the premiere carriage-driving club in the country.
She studied his dark features again and recognised the distinctive scar that ran from his forehead to his cheek.
Her insides twisted. That little place inside her that she normally kept locked and barred cracked opened. The man was Brett Farnham. Had to be. Diana pressed her hands
into her eyes. She slammed the door of that place shut and willed the terror to go.
âIs something troubling you, Beauty?' The warmth in his voice lapped at her senses. âForgive me if I have offended, I merely sought to assist you.'
âNothing, nothing at all.' Diana forced her face to relax and her lips to smile. Politeness must be her shield. A lady was always polite. âWhy should anything trouble me? Today has been without blemish or stain.'
âAside from becoming stuck in a pool of mud.' A smile crossed his features.
âAside from that.'
Diana resisted the temptation to bury her face in her hands. She had allowed herself to be carried and kissed by one of the most renowned rakes in the country, a man who had founded the notorious Jehu driving club at Cambridge University and who had set the fashion for speaking cant, tying neck cloths, a close confidant of both Brummell and Byron. Her late fiancÃ© had revered him, and ultimately that reverence had been responsible for his destruction.
After all the years she had spent here, trying to forget that London had ever happened. Then Brett Farnham appeared and every thing came crashing back as if it were yesterday. But whatever happened, she had to remember that it was
actions that decided her fate. If she held fast to her rules, she would be safe. If she had learnt one thing in London, it was that. âPlease, I beg youâgo and forget about my predicament.'
He continued to stand there, looking down at her from a great height. âI am no fool. You disliked being rescued.'
âNormally a gentleman waits to be asked.'
âA gentleman acts when he sees a lady in distress. He attempts to prevent greater harm.' His gaze roamed over her body. And Diana was fervently glad that she was wearing
her dark brown gown with its high neck. âIt would have been a shame if your dress had become mud-splattered.'
Diana forced her eyes from his face. She struggled to breathe as her throat constricted again. It was nothing more than polite words, the sort that rolled off his tongue a dozen times a day. She was a fool to worry. This encounter would not happen again. London remained in her past. All was safe here. Her place in society was secure as long as she maintained her poise.
âThank you,' she said quietly. Polite. Calm. She had to banish any hint of emotion and behave as if they had encountered each other at a tea party or some other social function. It was the only way.
âRemain here and I will free your gig.' A dimple showed in his cheek. âYou may thank me properlyâ¦later.'
âYou do not need to do that. I am perfectly capable of freeing my horse.' She struggled to stand and started forwards, but he blocked her way, preventing her from reaching the gig. She cleared her throat, and tried to ignore the sudden trembling in her stomach. âIf you would kindly move, I have no wish to be in your debt.'
He lifted one eyebrow. âAh, so you intend on ruining your boots after all the trouble I went to. And yourâ¦uhâ¦pretty dress. I wouldn't let a Beauty do that.'
âI am quite capable of getting myself out of the difficulty.' Diana crossed her arms, ignoring his flirtatious tone. A Beauty, indeed. She was no pretty farmer's daughter or green girl ripe for the plucking. No doubt in another moment, he would give his dishonourable intention speech and steal another kiss. This time, longer, deeper. The thought of the consequences made her blood run cold, even as a tiny piece of warmth curled around her. She regarded her hands. This was all her fault. She should have been
paying attention to the road. This is what happened when she forgot her rules of ladylike behaviour.
âIt looked different to me. It appeared as if you were heading for deep water and sinking fast.' He put his hand on his heart and made an exaggeratedly contrite face, no doubt expecting her to smile. âConsider my reputation as a gentleman. How could I allow a Beauty such as yourself to meet with such a fate?'
âI am hardly a fainting violet who does not know how to handle the ribbons. I can free the gigâ¦in time.'
He cleared his throat and looked pointedly at the vehicle with its wheels half-sub merged in the mud. The position made it perfectly clear that she had driven straight at the puddle. She hated to think how long it would take to clear it. Or the difficulties she would have with Jester, who appeared intent on devouring every last speck of meadow-sweet grass.
âI like to have my roads free from hazard. It could have been worse. I intend to rattle down this road today at high speed. If a carriage had encountered the unexpected obstacle, there would have been an accident. A bad accident.'
âIt is a public road.' Diana lifted her chin a notch. His road indeed. Arrogant. Concerned with only his pleasure and comfort. Her heart rate slowed. She was back in control. Brett Farnham and all his kind were in her past. She was immune from such men now. She knew what danger they represented. But they also under stood the code. Ladies were to be respected.
âI have never driven into a mud puddle, intentionally or un intentionally.'
âYou think I intended on driving in?'
âAs I am not privy to your thoughts, I remain unable to discern them. Mind-reading is, alas, not one of my talents. Dealing with horses is.' But within a moment, Brett
Farnham had moved around the gig and with a few whispered words coaxed Jester back towards the road.
The pool gave up its hold on the gig with a great sucking sound. Diana reluctantly admitted that he had done it far more efficiently than she could have. And except for the splashes of mud on his gleaming black Hessian boots, Brett remained spotless.
âI must thank you for that. Very neatly done.'
âYou climb back in and then we will depart.' He gestured towards the gig. âI will drive.'
âGo? Where?' Her throat closed around the word and she was suddenly aware how deserted the road was, how far she was from any cottage. Alone with this man. Vulnerable. âI refuse to go anywhere with you.'
âI am taking you home. You drove into a mud pool. Anything could happen.'
âMy competence as a driver has never been questioned before.'
He pursed his lips and his face assumed a sceptical expression. âWe have a difference of opinion on competence, I fear. Your horse is a placid and serene animal. Easily managed.'