A resolute man
Jameson Flynn is a man with a mission. Nothing will knock him off course. Until one summer's evening in Vauxhall Gardens, when a woman's song reminds him of the world he left behind.
A determined innocent
Rose O'Keefe's beautiful voice and graceful, earthy sensuality have made her a sensation among the pleasure-seekers of the night. In such dissolute company, how long can it be before her virtue is compromised?
A rose among thorns
The man who can make or break Flynn's career desires Rose as his mistress. Soon Flynn will have to choose what matters to him most—success or love....
The Mysterious Miss M Series (Book 4)
London, July 1817
Vauxhall Gardens was not a place Jameson Flynn would have chosen to spend his night hours, but his employer, the Marquess of Tannerton, required his presence.
To Flynn, Vauxhall was all facade. Mere wooden structures painted to look like Greek temples or Chinese pavilions. Revelers equally as false, wearing masks to disguise whether they be titled, rich, respectable, or rogue, pickpocket, lady of ill repute.
“Have some more ham.” Tannerton handed him the plate of paper-thin ham slices, a Vauxhall delicacy of dubious worth.
Rich as Croesus, Tanner–as he liked to be called–ate with as much enthusiasm as if he were dining at Carlton House instead of a supper box at Vauxhall. Flynn declined the Vauxhall delicacy but sipped his arrack, a heady mixture of rum and Benjamin flower that redeemed Vauxhall only a little in his eyes. It was not unusual for Tanner to seek Flynn out for companionship, but Flynn had no illusions. He was Tanner’s secretary, not his friend.
To look at them, you might not guess which one was the marquess. Flynn prided himself on his appearance. His dark brown hair was always neatly in place. His black coat and trousers, well-tailored. Tanner, a few years older and lighter in coloring, took less care, often giving the impression he’d just dismounted from his horse.
Flynn placed his tankard on the table. “You brought me here for a purpose, sir. When am I to discover what it is?”
Tanner grinned and reached inside his coat, pulling out a piece of paper. He handed it to Flynn. “Regard this, if you will.”
It was a Vauxhall program, stating that, on this July night, a concert of vocal and instrumental music would be performed featuring a Miss Rose O’Keefe, Vauxhall Garden’s newest flower.
Flynn ought to have guessed. A woman.
Ever since returning from Brussels, Tanner had gone back to his more characteristic pursuits of pleasure in whatever form he could find it. Or, Flynn might say, from whatever woman. And there were plenty of women willing to please him. Tanner had the reputation of being good to his mistresses, showering them with gifts, houses, and ultimately a nice little annuity when his interest inevitably waned. As a result, Tanner usually had his pick of actresses, opera dancers, and songstresses.
“I am still at a loss. I surmise you have an interest in this Miss O’Keefe, but what do you require of me?” Flynn usually became involved in the monetary negotiations with Tanner’s chère amies or when it came time to deliver thecongé, Tanner having an aversion to hysterics.
Tanner’s eyes lit with animation. “You must assist me in winning the young lady.”
Flynn nearly choked on his arrack. “I? Since when do you require my assistance on that end?”
Tanner leaned forward. “I tell you, Flynn. This one is exceptional. No one heard of her before this summer. One night she just appeared in the orchestra box and sang. Rumor has it she sang again at the Cyprian’s Masquerade, but that is not certain. In any event, this lady is not easily won.”
Flynn shot him a skeptical expression.
Tanner went on, “Pomeroy and I came to hear her the other evening. You’ve never heard the like, Flynn, let me tell you. There was nothing to be done but try to meet her.” He scowled and took a long sip of his drink. “Turns out she has a papa guarding her interests. I could not even manage to give the man my card. There were too many ramshackle fellows crowding him.”
Flynn could just imagine the toplofty marquess trying to push his way through the sorts that flocked around the female Vauxhall performers. “What is it you wish of me?”
Tanner leaned forward eagerly. “My idea is this. You discover a way to get to this father and how to negotiate on my behalf.” He nodded, as if agreeing with himself. “You have the gift of diplomacy, which you know I do not.”
Flynn suspected all the negotiating required was to have said, “How much do you want?” and the lady would have fallen, but he kept that opinion to himself. He would act as broker; he’d performed such tasks for Tanner before, but always after Tanner made the initial conquest. The way Flynn looked at it, he was negotiating a contract, not so different from other contracts he negotiated for Tanner. Flynn negotiated the terms, the limits, the termination clause.
The orchestra, playing some distance from their supper box, its strains wafting louder and softer on the breeze, suddenly stopped. Tanner pulled out his timepiece. “I believe it is about time for her to perform. Make haste.”
Flynn dutifully followed Tanner’s long-legged stride to the Grove in the center of the gardens where the two-storied gazebo held the orchestra high above the crowd. Tanner pushed his way to the front for the best view. He was filled with excitement, like a small boy about to witness a balloon ascent.
The music began, a tune familiar to Flynn, and, amidst cheers and applause, Miss O’Keefe took her place in front of the orchestra. She began to sing:
When, like the dawning day
Love sends his early ray …
Her crystalline voice filled the warm summer air, silencing the revelers. Flynn lifted his gaze to her and all the glittering lamps strung on the gazebo and throughout the surrounding trees blurred. Only she filled his vision, dressed in a gown of deep red that fluttered in the light breeze.
Her hair, dark as the midnight sky, dramatically contrasted with skin as pale as clouds billowing over mountaintops. Her lips, now open in song, were as pink as a summer garden’s rose.
This was Rose O’Keefe, Vauxhall’s newest singing sensation? She seemed more like some dream incarnate. Flynn watched as she extended her arms toward the audience, as if to embrace them all. Hers was a graceful sensuality, but earthy and deeply arousing.
…Were she no longer true
What would her lover do …
Flynn swallowed against a sudden tightness in his throat. The Irish tune–Eileen Aroon–sung with the tiniest lilt, created a wave of emotion such as he’d not felt in years. He squeezed shut his stinging eyes and could almost see his mother at the old pianoforte, his father by her side, his brothers and sisters gathered around. He could almost hear his father’s baritone booming loud and his sister Kathleen’s sweet soprano blending in harmony. He could almost smell the rich earth, the fresh air, the green of home.
He’d not crossed the Irish Sea in the ten years since he’d sailed for Oxford, filled with ambition, but this singing temptress not only aroused his masculine senses, but also gave him an aching yearning for just one evening of song, laughter, and family.
“Is she not all I said she would be?” Tanner nudged him on the shoulder, grinning like a besotted fool.
Flynn glanced back to her. “She is exceptional.”
…Never to love again…Eileen Aroon…
Tanner also gaped at Rose O’Keefe, unmindful that his frank admiration showed so plainly on his face. Flynn hoped his own reaction appeared more circumspect, even though the heat of frank desire burned more hotly with each note she sang.
She seemed to represent all Flynn had left behind. Country. Family. Joy. Pleasure. It made him wish he’d answered his mother’s monthly letters more than three times a year, wish he could wrap his arms around her and his father, roughhouse with his brothers, tease his sisters. He missed the laughter, the gaiety. How long had it been since he’d laughed out loud? Embraced a woman? Sung Eileen Aroon?
Flynn’s ambition had driven him away from his past. He’d been the marquess’s secretary for six years, but the position was a mere stepping-stone. Flynn aimed to rise higher, in government, perhaps, or–his grandest aspiration–to serve royalty. Tanner supported his goals, taking Flynn with him to the Congress of Vienna and to Brussels, where powerful men learned Flynn’s name and recognized his talent. The marquess assured him the time would soon come for a position suitable to Flynn’s ambitions.
Which was why Flynn was gob-smacked at his reaction to Rose O’Keefe. She propelled him back, not forward, and her clear, poignant voice left him very aware of his manhood. Carnal desire and thoughts of home made an odd mixture indeed, and a thoroughly unwanted one. Still, at the moment, he seemed helpless to do anything but let her voice and vision carry him away.
Later he would plant his feet firmly back on the ground. He must, because this woman who had temporarily aroused his senses and unearthed a buried yearning for home was also the woman he must procure for his employer.
Rose glanced down at the crowd watching her, so silent, so appreciative! Her audience had grown larger with each performance, and she had even been mentioned favorably in The Morning Chronicle. She loved hearing her voice rise above the orchestra, resounding through the summer night air. The magic of Vauxhall seemed to charm her as well, as if singing an Irish air in this fanciful place were merely some lovely, lovely dream.
Mr. Hook himself watched from the side of the balcony, smiling in approval. Rose tossed the elderly musical director a smile of her own before turning her attention back to her audience. She was so glad Miss Hart–Mrs. Sloane, she meant–had seen her perform before leaving for Italy on her wedding trip. Rose’s brief time living with Miss Hart had taught her many lessons, but the one she treasured most was to be proud of who she was. And Rose was very proud this day. Proud enough to feel all her dreams were possible. She believed that someday she would be the celebrated singer all London raved about. She would sing at Covent Garden, at Drury Lane or–dare she hope?–King’s Theatre.
Rose scanned her audience again. Most of the faces lifted toward her in admiration were masculine ones. Since she’d been ten years old, men had been staring at her. At least now she knew how to hold her head up and be unafraid of their frank regard. She’d learned how to talk to gentlemen, how to encourage their interest–or, more importantly, how to discourage it.
Rose’s eye was drawn to two gentlemen in the audience below her. They stood close to the balcony, so that the lamps illuminated them. One was very tall, at least as tall as Mr. Sloane, but it was not he who drew her attention as much as the one who stood so still gazing up at her. This young man’s rapt expression made her heart skip a beat.
She sang the last bar. “…Truth is a fixed star. Eileen Aroon…”
Applause thundered skyward as the music faded. Rose stole a peek at the young gentleman who had captured her interest. He continued to stand, statue-still, his eyes still upon her. She felt her cheeks go warm.
She bowed and threw a kiss, eyes slanting toward her quiet admirer, before beginning her next song. As she continued through her performance, her gaze roved over all her admirers, but her eyes always returned to him.
Soon the orchestra began her final tune of the evening, The Warning.
“List to me, ye gentle fair; Cupid oft in ambush lies …” Rose began softly, animating her facial expressions and her gestures. “Of the urchin have a care, Lest he take you by surprise…”
She let her voice grow louder and had to force herself not to direct the song at the mysterious gentleman, who still had not moved. She could not distinguish his features or see what color were his eyes, but she fancied them locked upon her, as she wished to lock hers upon him.
Flynn tried to shake off his reaction to Rose O’Keefe, tried to tell himself she was merely another of Tanner’s many interests, but he could not make himself look away from her. Had his grandfather been standing next to him and not in his grave these last twenty years, he’d have said, “Tis the fairies t’blame.”
Perhaps not fairies, but certainly a fancy of Flynn’s own making. It seemed to Flynn that Rose O’Keefe was singing directly to him.
An illusion, certainly. There could be nothing of a personal nature between him and this woman he had not yet met. All he experienced while listening to her was illusion, as fanciful as believing in fairies. His role was clear. He must approach Miss O’Keefe’s father and convince the man to allow him to plead Tanner’s suit directly to the daughter. Perhaps he would also be required to deliver gifts, or escort her to Tanner’s choice of meeting place. He’d performed such errands in the past without a thought.
It was unfortunate that this rationality fled in the music of her voice, the allure of her person. She sang of Cupid, and Flynn understood why the ancients gave the little fellow an arrow. He felt pierced with exquisite pain, emotions scraping him raw.
With one more refrain, her song ended, and, as she curtsied deeply to the applause that erupted all around him, he roused himself from this ridiculous reverie.
“Bravo!” shouted Tanner, nearly shattering Flynn’s eardrum. “Bravo!”
A moment later she had vanished as if she’d only been a dream. Tanner clapped until the principle performer on the program, Charles Dignum, began singing Would You Gain the Tender Creature.
Flynn stared at Tanner, feeling suddenly as if Tanner were Cromwell come to seize his lands and take his woman, an even more ridiculous fancy. Flynn’s mother was English, though she’d spent most of her life in Ireland. He had as much English blood in his veins as Irish. What’s more, Flynn embraced his Englishness. England was where his life was bound. England was where his ambitions lay.
He shook his head, trying to rid himself of this madness. Rose O’Keefe had been a mere fleeting reminder of home, nothing more.
He pressed his fingers against his temple. He would soon recover his sanity and return to serving Tanner with dispassionate efficiency.
But as Tanner grabbed his arm and led him back to the supper box, the sweet voice of Rose O’Keefe lingered in Flynn’s ear, an echoing reverie:
List to me, ye gentle fair; Cupid oft in ambush lies…
Diane Gaston’s unconventional male and female heroes give Innocence and Impropriety, her latest elegantly written Regency historical, a refreshingly different twist.— John Charles, Chicago Tribune
Don’t let that title fool you. don’t let the fact that it’s a harlequin romance fool you. diane gaston is one of the better authors out there. all of her historicals have just the right blend of humor, sensual tension, emotional pathos, and chemistry between the lead couple to make for an engrossing read. also check out The Wagering Widow and A Reputable Rake. MARCH 2007.— Avines, Amazon.com Listmania
A fine example of Regency romance, author, Diane Gaston has once again enthralled readers with very likable characters and a beautiful love story combined…. Innocence and Impropriety is a book I am easily able to recommend, and look forward to Tannerton’s story in future.— Lettetia Elsasser, Historical Romance Writers, A Romance Designs Community
Innocence and Impropriety is a beautifully written regency that will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen on the next page. Diane Gaston proves again why she is a RITA award-winning author. Within the pages of this enthralling romance is a commanding plot woven with rich details of the era and a vigorous passion that explodes between two mesmerizing characters.— Billie Jo, Romance Junkies
A truly solid gold regency read!— Audrey Lawrence, Fresh Fiction
For an engaging romance with moments of suspense and danger, I highly recommend Innocence and Impropriety.— Jane Bowers, Romance Reviews Today
…you don’t want to put the book down…. Using anger, passionate love, and tension, Diane Gaston pens a memorable tale….— Debby Guyette, Cataromance
…a feel for the manners and customs of the time… well-researched, emotional love stories. Diane Gaston has certainly won my devotion…. Yes, Ms. Gaston has the knack for Regency romance…— MaryGrace Meloche, Historical Romance Writers, A Romance Designs Community
If you are weary of aristocratic heroes and heroines in Regency historical romances, then Diane Gaston’s Innocence and Impropriety is just the book for you. Well-written and entertaining,Innocence and Impropriety is also provocative… highly recommended!— Debora Hosey, Romance Readers Connection
Rose, the heroine of Innocence and Impropriety, is a Vauxhall singer who aspires to sing opera at the King’s Theatre, a dream her mother was unable to fulfill in her own youth. The hero, Flynn, makes Rose’s wish come true.
The King’s Theatre of 1817, when Innocence and Impropriety is set, was located in Haymarket in London and possessed the exclusive right to hold performances of Italian Opera. The first theatre on the site was built in 1705. It burned down in 1789 and was rebuilt in 1791–the theatre of the story.
The theatre had five tiers of boxes for which the beau monde purchased subscriptions for the season.
Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its London premiere at King’s Theatre in 1816, and was performed at the theatre in 1817 when the story is set.
Invoking the name of his employer, the Marquis of Tannerton, and providing generous payment out of Tannerton’s funds, Flynn arranges with Mr. Ayrton, director of the season, to have Rose tutored in the opera by Miss Hughes-Gatti, who sang Elvira in Don Giovanni, and Signor Angrisani, who played Don Giovanni.
Mr. Ayrton really was the musical director who brought Don Giovanni to the London stage and Signor Angrisani and Miss Hughes-Gatti did perform the opera.
When Victoria ascended the throne, The King’s Theatre became Her Majesty’s Theatre. By 1847 it no longer carried the title Italian Opera House, and it became the London theatre to showcase romantic ballet. In 1867 the theatre burned down and another was built but later demolished in 1892 and replaced by the present building.
Today Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket is home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, premiering at the theatre in 1986 and remaining there ever since.
When I am able, I love to pepper my books with real historical characters such as these. To me, it brings the history alive and makes the story more real. And setting my stories in real places like King’s theatre and Vauxhall Gardens helps to transport me to the era I love the most–The Regency.
• First appeared on Harlequin Historical Blog March 5, 2007.