Tess Summerfield's life is changed forever when she's rescued from drowning by the mysterious Marc Glenville. Forced to shelter in a deserted cottage, she spends the night wrapped in his arms for warmth.
When they are discovered, the tongues of the ton start wagging, and Marc knows the only way to silence them is to marry Tess. But his duties as a spy soon tear Marc away from the marriage bed. When they're at last reunited, can they rekindle the flame born from the ashes of scandal?
The Scandalous Summerfields Series (Book 1)
Lightning flashed again and Marc Glenville thought he’d seen someone in the road. He peered harder until through the curtain of rain a figure took form. It was a woman on foot, not yet hearing his horse coming up from behind.
“Halloo, there!” he called out. “Halloo!”
The woman, shrouded in a dark cloak, turned and waved her hands for him to stop.
As if any gentleman could pass by.
He rode up to her and dismounted. “Madam, where are you bound? May I offer some assistance?”
She looked up at him. She was a young woman, pretty enough, though her face was stiff with anxiety and exhaustion. “I want to go to Tinmore Hall.” It seemed an effort for her to speak.
“Point the way,” he responded. “I’ll carry you on my horse.”
She shook her head. “No use. Floods. Floods everywhere. Cannot get there. Cannot get to the village.” Her voice shook from the cold.
He extended a hand. “Come. I’ll lift you onto my horse.” Her cloak was as wet as if it had been pulled from a laundry bath. Her hat had lost any shape at all. Worse, her lips were blue. “We’ll find a place to get you dry.”
She nodded but there was no expression in her pale eyes.
She handed him a sodden parcel which he stuffed in one of his saddle bags. He lifted her onto Apollo and mounted behind her. “Are you comfortable? Do you feel secure?”
She nodded again and shivered from the cold.
He encircled her in his arms, but that offered little relief from the cold. He took the reins. Poor Apollo, even more burdened now, started forwards again.
“I am not from here.” He spoke loudly to be heard through the rain’s din. “How far to the next village?”
She turned her head. “Lost. Yardney–cannot find it.”
Yardney must be a nearby village. “We’ll find it.” He’d been telling himself he’d find a village this last hour or more.
She shivered again. “Cold,” she said. “So cold.”
He’d better find her shelter quickly and get her warm. People died of cold.
She leaned against him and her muscles relaxed.
He rode on and found a crossroads with a sign pointing to Kirton.
“See?” he shouted, pointing to the sign. “Kirton.”
She did not answer him.
A little further on the road was filled with water. He turned around and backtracked until he came to the crossroads again, taking the other route. Someone was farming the lands here. There must be houses about.
If only he could see them through the rain.
The road led to a narrower, rougher road, until it became little more than a path. He followed it as it wound back and forth. Hoping he was not wasting more precious time, he peered ahead looking for anything with a roof and walls.
A little cottage appeared in front of them. No candles shone in the windows, though. No smoke rose from the chimney. With luck it would be dry.
“Look!” he called to his companion, but she did not answer.
Apollo gained a spurt of energy, cantering to the promise of shelter. As they came closer, a small stable also came into view and he guided Apollo to its door. He dismounted carefully, holding onto her. She slipped off, into his arms. Lifting her over his shoulder, he unlatched the stable door. Apollo walked in immediately.
Marc lay the woman down on a dry patch of floor. “Cold,” she murmured, curling into a ball.
At least she was alive.
He turned back to his horse, patting him on the neck. “She comes first, old fellow. I’ll tend to you as soon as I can.”
He left the stable and hurried up to the door of the cabin. He pounded on it but there was no answer and the door was locked. He peered in a window, but the inside was dark. Reaching in a pocket inside his greatcoat, he pulled out a set of skeleton keys–what self-respecting spy would be without skeleton keys? He tried several before one clicked and the latch turned.
The light from outside did little to illuminate the interior of the cabin, but Marc immediately spied a fireplace and a cot with folded blankets atop it. It was enough.
He hurried back to the stable.
Apollo whinnied at his return. “You’ll have to wait a bit longer, old fellow.”
He lifted the woman again, her sodden garments making her an even heavier burden. She groaned as he put her over his shoulder and hurried back through the rain to the cabin door.
His first task was to get her wet clothes off. He placed her on the floor where it would not matter if her clothes left a puddle. After tossing off his great coat, he worked as quickly as he could, cutting the laces of her dress and her corset and stripping her down to her bare skin.
She tried to cover herself, but not out of modesty. “Cold,” she whimpered.
She was a beauty. Full, high breasts, narrow waist, and long, shapely legs. He swallowed at the sight, but allowed himself only a glance before grabbing a blanket and wrapping it around her. He carried her to the cot and wrapped the second blanket around her.
By this time his eyes were accustomed to the darkness of the room. He saw a stack of wood and kindling and a scuttle of coal. On top of the fireplace were tapers and a flint. He hurried to make a fire. When it burned well enough, he flung his great coat around him again and ran back out in the rain to tend to Apollo.
The stable was well-stocked with dry cloths and brushes. He dried off the poor horse as best he could, covering him with a blanket. There was hay, which Apollo ate eagerly, and a pump from which Marc drew fresh water to quench Apollo’s thirst.
“There you are, old fellow.” He stroked Apollo’s neck. “That is all I can do for you. Soon the rain must stop and, with luck, we will be on our way before night falls. For now, eat and rest and I will check on you later.”
Marc ran back through the unrelenting rain to the cabin. He checked on his new charge. Her cheeks had some color, thank God, and her skin seemed a bit warmer to the touch. Her features had relaxed and she slept.
He blew out a relieved breath and, for the first time, realized he, too, was wet and cold and weary. He stripped down to his shirt and breeches and pulled a chair as near to the fire as he could. He really ought to hang up their wet clothes to dry, but the warmth of the fire was too enticing. Instead he stared at the woman.
She was lovely, but who was she?
Hers was a strong face, with full lips and an elegant nose. Her brows arched appealingly and her lashes were thick. He could not tell from her clothing what her station in life might be. What sort of woman would be walking in the rain? She mentioned Tinmore Hall. Lord Tinmore’s estate? Perhaps she was in service there.
If he could look at her hands, he might learn more. Were they rough from work? They were tucked beneath the blanket. Her hair was pulled back in a simple knot such as any woman might wear on a walk to the village. It would never dry that way.
He reached over and pulled the pins from her dark hair and unwound it from its knot. He spread it over the pillow as best he could. He leaned back.
Good God, now she looked like some classical goddess. Aphrodite, perhaps. Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure.
When she woke, would she wish for pleasure? His blood raced.
It did more to warm him than the fire.
4 Stars! Gaston has a new tempestuous series, The Scandalous Summerfields, which focuses on three sisters and a brother who are the talk of the ton for all the wrong reasons. This first book is about a romantic and a cynic forced into a marriage of convenience. It’s an old plot, but in the hands of a master like Gaston, pure delight!
— Maria Ferrer RTBook Reviews
Featured on USAToday’s Happy Ever After Blog
I am often putting my characters in real places, places I’ve never been. After all, how could I have been anywhere in the Regency era? So the challenge is to imagine what a place must have been like two hundred years ago, but to still be true to the reality of the place as it exists today.
In Bound By Duty, Tess and Marc take a walk through Brussels. They start out at the Rue de la Blanchisserie, where the Duchess of Richmond held the famous ball before the Battle of Waterloo. The house that the Duke and Duchess of Richmond leased in Brussels had once belonged to a prosperous coach maker. The ball actually took place in what was once the coach maker’s showroom.
After visiting the Duke of Richmond’s house, Marc wants to take Tess to a special place in Brussels. On their way, they pass the Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule, a Roman Catholic Church that had a chapel standing in that spot as early as the 9th century. The present structure took three hundred years to build, begun in the 1200s and completed in the 1500s.
Marc and Tess walk on past the Grand Place, called the most memorable landmark in Brussels. In the 15th century, the local merchants and tradesmen rose in importance compared to the nobility and the Grand Place was built up by merchants and guilds, becoming a symbol of their power. The buildings were destroyed by French forces in 1695, but rebuilt again by the guilds only to be sacked again in the late 18th century by revolutionaries who destroyed statues of nobility and Christian symbols. When Marc and Tess walked through the Grand Place in 1815, they must have seen neglected and damaged buildings.
The site Marc wants Tess to see is one I’ll bet any visitor to Brussels has seen. He brought her to a fountain, the Manneken Pis. The Manneken Pis is a statue of a little boy relieving himself. The statue has been in place since the 1600s, but has been stolen many times, so that the present one is a copy.
Legends go back to the 1100s of why the statue exists. That legend said that a two year old lord was carried out of the city in a basket for his safety, because the city was under attack. He was hung in a tree and he urinated on the attacking troops who were defeated. Another tells of a 14th century boy who urinates on a burning fuse, thus saving the city. There are other less dramatic legends about lost children being found urinating.
In modern days the Manneken Pis is often dressed in one of his 900 costumes. When my heroine Tess sees the Manneken Pis she is surprised and amused and it is a tender moment between her and Marc.
Someday, I hope to walk the route Marc and Tess took and see the Brussels sites for myself.
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