Justine and the Noble Viscount (Diane's novella)
• Summer, 1818 •
“This is a hellish errand.” Gerald Brenner muttered to himself as the hackney coach he’d been forced to engage rumbled away. He stood alone before the Palladian villa gleaming in the afternoon sun. He could almost laugh at the irony of its name.
Brenner’s vision had been fixed on the house’s white facade for the past half-hour. His first glimpse had come from the other side of the Thames.
Surrounded by verdant land where sheep grazed, it made a beautiful vista, but its land was cultivated, not for crops, but for pleasure. There was no industry of any kind, merely beautiful gardens lush with flowers and shrubbery, paths for walking, perhaps even a summerhouse to provide a shady resting place.
Or so Brenner imagined. He’d never set foot on this property and wished his connection with it had not brought him here this day.
He hesitated at the arched doorway, glancing up at windows rising four storeys. From one of those windows came the sound of loud voices and laughter.
The voices must belong to the progeny of the Duke and Duchess of Manning. Of course, the Duchess had only been the Duchess for about four months, having married the Duke after the proper grieving period was over for his first wife. She’d been the Duke’s lover for the last twenty years, however.
Their illegitimate children were known to the world as the Fitzmanning Miscellany. Brenner now knew their given names. Leo Fitzmanning, the oldest at age nineteen. Miss Annalise Fitzmanning, aged eighteen. And Miss Charlotte, the youngest at sixteen.
“A spirited group of young people,” others had described them. Undisciplined, Brenner’s father always declared.
Brenner took a quick breath and sounded the door’s knocker, pounding hard to be heard over the revelry from above.
A footman in pale blue livery opened the door. Brenner crossed the threshold and immediately caught the scent of flowers.
The footman gestured towards a carved mahogany staircase. “The party is above stairs, sir.”
Brenner’s brows rose. “Party?”
“The house party.” The footman’s forehead wrinkled. “You have not come for the house party?”
Brenner handed the man his card. “I have business with the Duke’s children.”
“Which one of them?” the footman asked.
“All of them,” Brenner said sharply. He was unaccustomed to being questioned by a footman.
The footman walked away, leaving Brenner standing in the foyer like a tradesman still holding his hat and gloves.
Brenner frowned. His card had clearly read Viscount Brenner. Why had he not been shown to a room where he might wait in comfort?
Perhaps the servants in this household were not up to London standards. This was, after all, the house in which the Duke and his lover had settled after leaving their respective spouses. Even if such scandal had not entirely damaged the duke’s popularity among the ton, servants were often more particular for whom they worked.
He glanced at the vase of flowers on a narrow table against the wall and had a flash of memory. He was a child again walking through a garden. A woman’s voice said, “And these are roses. And these are jasmine...”
Pink roses, white jasmine, purple lavender. He could recognize the flowers even now.
He quickly turned away and crossed the foyer to peek through a doorway that opened to a formal hall. The room was large and square with windows looking out on the Thames. An arched door that was a mirror to the street entrance lay open to the summer breezes. One hundred years ago guests would have arrived in river barges and would have entered through that door.
The hall looked as if it had been transported from ancient Greece, with its four Ionic columns, sculpted friezes, and patterned marble floor. Interspersed among statuary that appeared as if it had, indeed, been gathered from the ancient world, were gilded chairs and marble-top tables upon which more vases of flowers made a colorful and fragrant display.
From an upper floor came the muffled sound of a pianoforte and voices raised in song. The house party in full cry, no doubt.
Brenner’s brows knitted. Who was chaperoning these young people?
At that moment a young man burst into the hall waving a paper and shouting, “A love poem! I found a love poem!”
Two yapping pug dogs, one a mere puppy, nipped at the fellow’s heels. A girl pursued him, her dark hair coming unpinned as she ran.
“Give it back,” she cried. “Give it back.”
Brenner jumped aside as they shot past him, into the foyer and up the staircase, the girl still shrieking, the young man laughing, the dogs yapping. Were they Fitzmannings or guests? Brenner did not know.
He swung around.
A grey-haired man seemed to have materialised behind him. Thin as a whippet and dressed in plain black, the man was obviously the butler. He looked completely unruffled by the rowdy escapade he must have just witnessed.
He gave Brenner a quizzical look. “You wished to see the Duke’s children?”
Brenner returned a curt nod. “I have news of the Duke and Duchess.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Indeed?” He quickly bowed. “Come this way, m’lord.” He led Brenner through the hall to a small parlour whose windows faced the river. “Please be seated, m’lord.” He bowed again and left.
Brenner had no wish to sit. He paced the perimeter of the room decorated in the chinoiserie style made fashionable by the Prince Regent.
The Duke’s décor was of no consequence, however, given Brenner’s errand. Making him the messenger must be a joke at his expense, a cruelty to him and to the Duke’s children. He would carry it out nonetheless. The duty had been thrust upon him, and Brenner was not a man to shirk duty.
He’d dispose of this business as quickly as possible and return to his life as it had been before the Duke’s solicitor summoned him early that morning.
Brenner’s curiosity got the better of him. He leaned forward to examine a small blue and white vase that held pink roses, white jasmine and purple lavender. The piece looked authentically Chinese and very old.
Brenner straightened at the sound of a young woman’s soft voice. A stunningly beautiful woman walked toward him, tall and graceful.
His breath caught in his throat.
Her eyes were a riveting light gray-blue; her hair, a glorious chestnut. She appeared to be in the full bloom of womanhood.
Too old to be one of the Fitzmanning Miscellany.
Her full pink lips glistened as if she’d just moistened them. “You have news for us, Gerald?”
“I am called Brenner.” He hated his given name. He never allowed anyone to use it. How did she even know it? “Forgive me, but I do not know who you are.”
She lowered her gaze and a tinge of color stained her cheeks. “Of course you do not.” She lifted her gaze again and met his. “I am Justine Savard.”
Her name meant nothing. “I still do not know who you are.”
A wan smile flashed across her face. “I am the Duke’s daughter, the eldest of his children here.” Brenner must have continued to look perplexed, because she waved her hand in impatience. “I have a different mother. She was a French émigré. I have lived here most of my life.” She touched his arm. “But, please, you have come with news.”
Her fingers seemed to shoot sensation through his body. “My news is for the Fitzmannings.”
She nodded and her hand slipped away.
The Duke’s solicitor had not told Brenner of Justine Savard. Even his father, who seemed to make it his business to know everything about this household, had never mentioned her.
Again those lovely eyes touched his. “I fear I know why you have come. She told me, you see.”
“Told you?” he breathed.
“The others do not know,” she added. “But she told me what she would ask you to do.” Her gaze seemed to sear into him. “And why.”
“She?” He knew what her answer would be, but, even so, he could not help asking.
“The Duchess,” she responded. “Your mother.”
:: back to top ::
End of Excerpt. Like it?
Order the North
When Harlequin offered this anthology to Amanda McCabe, Deb Marlowe, and me their only request was that it be a Regency. Other than that, we had carte blanche to write it any way we wished—three individual stories completely separate, three stories with some element in common, like the same theme or setting, or three stories that were connected and that shared the same characters.
Deb, Amanda and I met in Williamsburg, Virginia, to decide what we wanted to do. After touring Colonial Williamsburg (and becoming immersed in history) we settled down to make our plan. There was no disagreement. We all wanted to connect the stories. When we conceived our “family,” a set of illegitimate children of a duke, our characters and story ideas came rather quickly.
The background to the anthology was this. A duke ran off with his lover, a lady married to an earl, who later divorced her. The duke and his lady were deliriously happy together in Welbourne Manor and, as time went on, raised a set of happy children there, now grown. When the duke’s wife eventually dies and the duke and his lover are able to be married, everything changes.
The social worker in me made a family diagram to keep track of the Fitzmanning family relationships. I used to diagram families like this when taking a client’s social history. Often today’s families are equally as complicated as the Fitzmannings.
The anthology begins with my story, Justine and the Noble Viscount. Gerald Brenner, the legitimate son of the duke’s lady lover, is on the doorstep, charged with bringing life-altering news to his half-siblings whom he has never met and has resented his whole life. What he does not know is that he will meet Justine, the duke’s daughter by a French émigré, and he cannot help but be captivated by her.
One problem I had with a romance between Justine and Brenner was The Prohibited Degrees of Marriage. I knew that during the Regency rules of consanguinity and affinity affected who could marry who in ways that we would consider ludicrous today. Consanguinity, a relationship by blood, a kinship, made some sense, but affinity, relationships by marriage, not blood, also could be an impediment to marriage. Was the ultimate happy ending between my hero, Brenner, and Justine, the duke’s illegitimate daughter by another woman, going to be possible?
According to the Common Book of Prayer, 1813, a man may not marry his grandmother, grandfather’s wife, wife’s grandmother, Father's sister, mother’s sister, father’s brother’s wife, mother’s brother’s wife, mother’s brother’s wife, wife’s father’s sister, wife’s mother’s sister, mother, step-mother, wife’s mother, daughter, wife’s daughter, son’s wife, sister, wife’s sister, brother’s wife, son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter, son’s son’s wife, wife’s son’s daughter, wife’s daughter’s daughter, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, brother’s son’s wife, sister’s son’s wife, wife’s brother’s daughter, wife’s sister’s daughter.
A woman may not marry her grandfather, grandmother’s husband, husbands’ grandfather, father’s brother, mother’s brother, father’s sister’s husband, mother’s sister’s husband, husband’s father’s brother, husbands’ mother’s brother, father, step-father, husband’s father, son, husband’s son, daughter’s husband, brother, husband’s brother, sister’s husband, son’s son, daughter’s son, son’s daughter’s husband, daughter’s daughter’s husband, husband’s son’s son, husband’s daughter’s son, brother’s son, sister’s son, brother’s daughter’s husband, sister’s daughter’s husband, husband’s brother’s son, husband’s sister’s son.
Luckily, as bestselling historical romance author, Jo Beverley, points out here, a prohibition against a man marrying his mother’s husband’s daughter is not mentioned. I could give Brenner and Justine their happy ending after all.
:: back to top ::
:: 4 Stars! “...a sprightly, engaging anthology....Gaston proves that 'family is the country of the heart' in Justine and the Noble Viscount.” — Kathe Robin, Romantic Times BOOKreviews (read the whole
:: 4.5 Stars! “The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor is a wonderful collection of stories showcasing the uniqueness of the characters featured in each story. At the same time we are treated to the talents of three wonderful authors. It is amazing at how seamlessly they united the three stories. The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor is an anthology designed to delight and satisfy the readers of not only Diane Gaston, Deb Marlowe and Amanda McCabe, but romance lovers everywhere.” — Debby Guyette, Cataromance (read the whole
:: “...cohesive, well-written and to the point. I never felt like there was an integral part missing...The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor is a lovely book, pick it up. You won't be disappointed.” — Christine Shoup, Rakehell (read the whole
:: Rating: 4 “The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor is a thoroughly enjoyable Regency-set historical romance anthology. Each story is delightful and charming and well-written with more than enough characterization, romance and sensuality to please the discerning reader.” — Debora Hosey, The Romance Readers Connection (read the whole
:: Rating: 4 “As always, Ms. Gaston’s writing is layered with subtle nuances ranging from characters personalities and traits to their deepest fears and emotions. She has the ability to send me to another time and place with her characters, settings and descriptions.” — Connie Payne, Once Upon a Romance (read the whole
:: “What a touching story is Justine and the Noble Viscount! It begins on a note sad enough to put a small lump in one's throat that doesn't completely go away until late in the tale. However, at the same time, it keeps eliciting smiles as we get to know and care about all the characters... I was right! The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor is a totally engaging read. The three talented Regency authors work together splendidly. Their major accomplishment is in the consistently excellent characterization of all those connected to Welbourne Manor...”” — Jane Bowers, Romance Reviews Today (read the whole
:: “Diamonds truly are a girl’s best friend, especially when said diamonds are specially made for her wedding day! In The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor, we have stories about three sisters who are as different as night and day, and the legacies bequeathed to them by their mother in the form of three one-of-a-kind diamond necklaces, to be worn on their wedding days.” — Kelley A. Hartsell, CK2s Kwips and Kritiques (read the whole
:: back to top ::