The scars she keeps hidden
The mysterious pianiste is the Masquerade Club’s newest attraction, captivating guests with her haunting music. What is the true identity of the lady concealed beneath the mask?
Only Xavier Campion, the club’s new proprietor, recognizes Phillipa Westleigh, the scarred lady with whom he once shared a dance. Concerned for her safety, Xavier escorts her home each night. But when their moonlit strolls are uncovered, the only protection Xavier can offer is marriage!
The Masquerade Club Series (Book 2)
London, Spring 1814
“Mr. Xavier Campion,” Lady Devine’s butler’s baritone voice intoned.
“Adonis is here!” gasped one of the young ladies standing near Phillipa Westleigh. The others shared furtive smiles.
Phillipa knew precisely who her friends would see when their gazes slipped towards the doorway. A young man tall and perfectly formed, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and muscled limbs. His hair would be as dark as the ebony keys on a pianoforte and longer than fashionable, but an excellent frame for his lean face, strong brow, sensitive mouth.
The young ladies had been tittering about him the whole evening. Would he come to the ball? Could they contrive an introduction? He’d been the main topic of conversation since they’d discovered him at the opera the night before. “He is an Adonis!” one proclaimed and the name stuck.
Phillipa had not attended the opera that night, heard before all of them that he’d come to Town. She, too, glanced to the doorway.
Clad in the formal red coat of the East Essex infantry, Xavier Campion looked as magnificent as a man could look in regimentals.
He scanned the room, his brilliant blue eyes searching until reaching Phillipa. His lips widened into a smile and he inclined his head before pivoting to greet Lord and Lady Devine.
“He smiled at us!” cried one of Phillipa’s friends.
No. He’d smiled at her.
Phillipa’s cheeks flushed.
Did he remember her? They’d been childhood friends in Brighton during the summers, especially the summer when she fell and suffered her injury.
Phillipa’s hand flew to her cheek, to where the jagged scar marred her face. Not even the clever feather her mother insisted be attached to her headpiece could hide the disfigurement.
Of course he remembered her. How many scar-faced girls could be known to handsome Xavier Campion?
She swung away, while the others giggled and whispered to each other. She heard their voices, but could not repeat a word any of them spoke. All she could think was how how it might be if her appearance were different, if her right cheek were not branded with a jagged red scar. How she wished her complexion was as unflawed as her friends’. Then she could merely have a pretty ribbon threaded through her hair instead of the silly headpiece with its so obvious feather. She wished just once Xavier Campion could look upon her and think her as beautiful as he was handsome.
Her companions suddenly went silent and a masculine voice spoke. “Phillipa?”
Xavier stood before her.
“I thought that was you.” He’d noticed her scar, he meant. “How are you? It has been years since I’ve seen you.”
The other young ladies stared in stunned disbelief.
“Hello, Xavier,” she managed, keeping her eyes downcast. “But you have been at war. You have been away.” She dared glance up to his face.
His smile made her heart twist. “It is good to be back in England.”
One of her friends cleared her throat.
Phillipa’s hand fluttered to her cheek. “Oh.” She looked from Xavier to the pretty girls around her. It was suddenly clear why he had approached her. “Let me present you.”
When the introductions were complete the other young ladies surrounded him, asking him clever questions about the war, where he’d been and what battles he’d fought.
Phillipa stepped back. She’d served her purpose. Her introductions made it possible for him to ask any of them to dance. She imagined their minds turning, calculating. He was only the younger son of an earl, but his looks more than made up for a lack of title. And he was reputed to have a good income.
Her friends were solidly on the marriage mart. They’d all been bred to hope for the perfect betrothal by the end of their first Season. Phillipa’s hopes had quickly become more modest and certainly did not include snaring the most handsome and exciting young man in the room. Not even ordinary eligible gentlemen paid her the least attention. Why should Xavier Campion?
In Brighton, when she’d been a young, foolish child, he’d been his companion. Although a few years older, he played children’s games with her. He filled buckets at the water’s edge with her in Brighton and built castles out of the pebbles on the beach. They’d chased each other through the garden of the Pavilion and pressed their faces against its windows, peeking at the grandeur inside. Sometimes when they were at play, she’d stop and stare awe-struck at his beauty. Many a night she’d fall asleep dreaming that someday, when she was grown, Xavier would ride in like a prince on horseback and whisk her away to a romantic castle.
Well, she was grown now and the reality was that no man wanted a woman with a scar on her face. Eighteen years old was past time to put away such childhood fancies.
“Phillipa?” His voice again.
Xavier extended his hand to her. “May I have the honor of this dance?”
She nodded, unable to speak, unable to believe her ears.
Her friends moaned in disappointment.
Xavier clasped her hand and led her to the dance floor as the orchestra began the first strains of a tune Phillipa easily identified, as she’d identified every tune played at the balls she’d attended.
How fitting. Xavier was a nonesuch, a man without equal. There were none such as he.
The dance began.
Somehow, as if part of the music, her legs and feet performed the figures. In fact, her step felt as light as air; her heart, joy-filled.
He smiled at her. He looked at her. Straight in her face. In her eyes.
“How have you spent your time since last we played on the beach?” he asked when the dance brought them together.
They parted and she had to wait until the dance joined them again to answer. “I went away to school,” she told him.
School had been a mostly pleasant experience. So many of the girls had been kind and friendly, and a few had become dear friends. Others, however, had delighted in cruelty. The wounding words they’d spoken still felt etched in her memory.
He grinned. “And you grew up.”
“That I could not prevent.” Blast! Could she not contrive something intelligent to say?
He laughed. “I noticed.”
The dance parted them again, but his gaze did not leave her. The music connected them, the gaiety of the flute, the singing of the violin, the deep passion of the bass. She would not forget a note of it. In fact, she would wager she could play the tune on the pianoforte without a page of music in front of her.
The music was happiness, the happiness of having her childhood friend back.
She fondly recalled the boy he’d been and gladdened at the man he’d become. When his hand touched hers the music seemed to swell and that long ago girlish fantasy sounded a strong refrain.
But eventually the musicians played the final note and Phillipa blinked as if waking from a lovely dream.
He escorted her back to where she had first been standing.
“May I get you a glass of wine?” he asked.
It was time for him to part from her, but she was thirsty from the dance. “I would like some, but only if it is not too much trouble for you.”
His blue eyes sparkled as if amused. “Your wish is my pleasure.”
Her insides skittered wildly as she watched him walk away. He returned quickly and, handed her a glass.“Thank you,” she murmured.
Showing no inclination to leave her side, he asked polite questions about the health of her parents and about the activities of her brothers, Ned and Hugh. He told her of encountering Hugh in Spain. She told him Hugh was also back from the war.
While they conversed, a part of her stood aside as if observing—and judging. Her responses displayed none of the wit and charm at which her friends so easily excelled, but he did not seem to mind.
She had no idea how long they chatted. It might have been ten minutes; it might have been half an hour, but it ended when his mother approached them.
“How do you do, Phillipa?” Lady Campion asked.
“I am well, ma’am.” Phillipa exchanged pleasantries with her, but Lady Campion seemed impatient.
She turned to her son. “I have need of you, Xavier. There is someone who wishes a word with you.”
He tossed Phillipa an apologetic look. “I fear I must leave you.”
And he was gone.
No sooner had he walked away than her friend Felicia rushed up to her. “Oh, Phillipa! How thrilling! He danced with you.”
Phillipa could only smile. The pleasure of being with him lingered like a song played over and over in her head. She feared speaking would hasten its loss.
“I want to hear about every minute of it!” Felicia cried.
But Felicia’s betrothed came to collect her for the next set and she left with not even a glance back at her friend.
Another of Phillipa’s former schoolmates approached her, one of the young ladies to whom she introduced Xavier. “It was kind of Mr. Campion to dance with you, was it not?”
“It was indeed,” agreed Phillipa, still in perfect charity with the world, even though this girl had never precisely been a friend.
Her schoolmate leaned closer. “Your mother and Lady Campion arranged it. Was that not clever of them? Now perhaps other gentlemen will dance with you, as well.”
“My mother?” Phillipa gripped the stem of the glass.
“That is what I heard.” The girl smirked. “The two ladies were discussing it while you danced with him.”
Phillipa felt the crash of cymbals and the air was knocked out of her just like the day in Brighton when she fell.
Prevailing on family connections to manage a dance invitation was precisely the sort of thing her mother would do.
Dance with her, Xavier dear, she could almost hear her mother say. If you dance with her the others will wish to dance with her, too.
“Mr. Campion is an old friend,” she managed to reply to the schoolmate.
“I wish I had that kind of friend.” The girl curtsied and walked away.
Phillipa held her ground and forced herself to casually finish sipping her glass of wine. When she’d drained the glass of its contents she strolled to a table against the wall and placed the empty glass on it.
Then she went in search of her mother, and found her momentarily alone.
It was difficult to maintain composure. “Mama, I have the headache. I am going home.”
“Phillipa! No.” Her mother looked aghast. “Not when the ball is going so well for you.”
Because of her mother’s contrivance.
“I cannot stay.” Phillipa swallowed, trying desperately not to cry.
“Do not do this to yourself,” her mother scolded, through clenched teeth. “Stay. This is a good opportunity for you.”
“I am leaving.” Phillipa turned away and threaded her way quickly through the crush of people.
Her mother caught up with her in the hall and seized her arm. “Phillipa! You cannot go unescorted and your father and I are not about to leave when the evening is just beginning.”
“Our town house is three doors away. I daresay I may walk it alone.” Phillipa freed herself from her mother’s grasp. She collected her wrap from the footman attending the hall and was soon out in the cool evening air where no one could see.
Tears burst from her eyes.
How humiliating. To be made into Xavier Campion’s charity case. He’d danced with her purely out of pity. She was foolish in the extreme for thinking it could be anything else.
Phillipa set her trembling chin in resolve. She’d have no more of balls. No more of hopes to attract a suitor. She’d had enough. The truth of her situation was clear even if her mother refused to see it.
No gentleman would court a scar-faced lady.
Certainly not an Adonis.
Certainly not Xavier Campion.
4 Stars! Diane Gaston has outdone herself with A Marriage of Notoriety. Refreshing plot, amazing characters and surprises that will shock and horrify. It all adds up to a best seller for Diane Gaston with A Marriage of Notoriety.— Debby, Cataromance
5 Klovers! What sets Gaston’s books apart from others is the absolutely intelligent dialogs and exquisite prose as well as the characters she creates with intense depth of feelings. Watching Phillipa and Xavier fall in love especially with Xavier working so hard to build up Phillipa’s self-esteem was quite poignant and heartbreakingly real. Bottom line: I have never been disappointed by anything Ms. Gaston has written and A Marriage of Notoriety is one more example of why Ms. Gaston is an auto-buy author for me.— Marilyn Rondeau, CK's Kwips & Kritiques
4 Stars! Book two in Gaston’s Masquerade Club series is a twist on the Beauty and the Beast tale. It’s also about loving one’s self and having the courage to reach out and claim the man of your dreams. Readers are in for a treat with this sensual Regency and its engaging characters, realistic settings and accurate research.— Maria Ferrer, RTBook Reviews
A Marriage of Notoriety is very deliberately a Beauty and the Beast story. The timeless theme of Beauty and the Beast often appears in romance novels, as well as in Disney movies, Phantom of the Opera, King Kong, and more. Do we ever tire of this theme? I’ve written it before in my Undone story, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh (my homage to Phantom of the Opera), and I daresay I will write it again.
Part of the appeal of the Beauty and the Beast theme is its message—Genuine beauty is what one is on the inside, not how one appears on the outside. How many of us look in the mirror and see every flaw? How often do we look at photos in magazines or celebrities on the red carpet and feel like garden gnomes in comparison? But we all want to be loved for who we are, not how we appear.
We usually think that our “ugliness” puts us at the biggest disadvantage; that the “Beast” in the story is the one whose appearance blocks others from seeing the beauty underneath. What fascinates me, though, is how beauty itself gets in the way of others seeing the true person inside. Though it is true that beautiful people more often get the best jobs, the best romantic partners, beauty can be as big a curse as the witch put on the Beast.
When people react so strongly to a beautiful woman’s appearance, they fail to consider the underlying character of the person, the real person, in other words. Beautiful people tend to be seen as more likable or more capable, generally more desirable than the average person. On the other hand, a beautiful woman is often assumed to lack intelligence (hence all the dumb blonde jokes). A beautiful woman tends to be seen as a dangerous rival by other women, who are convinced she is after their men. Men, on the other hand, might withdraw from a beautiful woman, feeling she is unattainable, or, worse, men might try to snare the beautiful woman as a trophy, never looking beyond her face and figure. If all the attention and compliments a woman has ever received in her life are about her appearance, she herself might learn to believe that is all she has to offer the world.
In A Marriage of Notoriety, I gave the Beauty and the Beast story a twist. It is the hero, Xavier Campion, who is the “beauty.” He is incredibly handsome, the sort of man whose presence makes it hard for a woman to breathe. Though most of what is written about the psychology of beauty is about women, I imagined that a handsome man would have similar difficulties. I figured that Xavier would experience the same prejudice and resentment from members of his own sex, and that women would likewise either withdraw from him or covet him as a trophy. As a boy and a man Xavier’s strength and masculinity were assumed to be lacking. As an army officer, he had to prove his courage and fighting skill before his men would take accept his leadership. Women’s eyes turned in his direction whenever he entered a room. Women had thrown themselves at him ever since he’d reached puberty. He, like a beautiful woman, grew up thinking that his looks were more important to other people than anything else about him.
Twisting the Beauty and the Beast theme even farther, it is my heroine, the scarred Phillipa Westleigh, the “beast” of the story, who must learn to look past Xavier’s handsome exterior to the real man inside. Only then can Xavier and Phillipa earn their happily-ever-after.