London, September, 1812
Madeleine positioned herself on the couch, adjusting the fine white muslin
of her gown and placing her gloved hands demurely in her lap. The light
from the branch of candles, arranged to cast a soft glow upon her skin,
enhanced the image she was bid to make. Her throat tightened, and her skin
crawled from the last man’s attentions.
This wicked life. How she detested it.
She checked the blue-feathered mask, artfully fashioned to disguise
her identity without obscuring her youthful complexion
or the untouched pink of her full lips. The "Mysterious Miss M" could
be any girl in the first blush of womanhood. It was Farley’s
contrivance that she appear so, and the men who frequented his
elite London gaming hell bet deep to win the fantasy of seducing
her. Escape might be out of the question, but at least the mask hid
her face and her shame.
Unable to remain still, Madeleine stepped over
to the bed, discreetly tucked into the corner and covered in
lace-trimmed white and lavender linens like some virginal shrine.
She perched on the edge of it and swung her legs back and forth, wondering
how much time was left before the next gentleman had his turn.
Not long, she surmised. She had taken more care in the necessary toilette,
thoroughly washing away the memory of that odious creature who
had not departed too soon for her taste.
Male laughter, deep and raucous, sounded in the next room. Stupid
creatures, seated around tables as deep in their cards
as in their cups, just waiting for Lord Farley to make away with
their fortunes. The girls who ran the tables, tonight dressed
as she was, like ingenues at Almack’s, were meant to tantalize,
but, for a select few, the Mysterious Miss M was the real prize.
would not allow his prize to flee. She had learned that lesson
swiftly enough. No matter. There was no where for her to go.
Voices sounded outside the room, and she blinked away the memory of
how Farley had doomed her to her fate, or, more precisely, how
she had doomed herself.
The next man, thankfully the last, would appear soon, and she
best be ready. She checked her hair, fingering the dark
curls fashioned in the latest style to frame her face, a pale
pink silk ribbon threaded through them.
Something thudded against the door. Madeleine hopped off the bed and hurried
to her place on the couch. In staggered a tall figure, silhouetted against the
brighter light of the gaming room. He stood a moment with his hand to his brow.
A soldier. He wore the red coat of a British uniform, festooned with
blue facings and looped gold lace, unbuttoned to reveal the white linen
of his shirt. If only she were a soldier. She would battle her way
out of this place. She would be in the cavalry and gallop away at breakneck
speed. How lovely that would be.
The soldier, not more than five years older than she, swayed
as he swung shut the door. Lord Farley’s generous supply of brandy,
Madeleine sighed. He might be foxed, but at least he was not fat.
With any luck, his mouth would not be foul. She hated a putrid smelling
mouth. With all his lean muscle, he looked as a soldier should, strong
"Good God!" he exclaimed, almost tripping mid-stride as he caught
sight of her.
"I am afraid I am not He, my lord," she retorted. The candles
illuminated a handsome face, grinning with such good humor she
could scarcely keep from grinning back.
"Yes, of course not." His green eyes twinkled. "And
fortuitous for me that you are not, Miss . . ?"
"Miss M." A charmer. She had met charmers before. The charm wore
thin after they took what they wished from her.
"The ‘Mysterious Miss M’, I recall now." He flopped down
on the couch next to her. "I beg your forgiveness. You quite startled
me. I had not expected you to actually look like a young lady."
"I am a young lady," she said, playing her part.
"Indeed," he agreed, masculine approval shining in his sea
green eyes and a dimple creasing his left cheek. "I swear you
are the vision of one. England does offer the finest ladies. I find
I must apologize for this humble uniform."
He presented her with
his boot-covered foot and winked at her while she tugged on it.
Though properly polished, her fingers felt the leather’s scratches
and scrapes. From the battlefield? she wondered. When his foot
finally gave up boot, he nearly fell off the couch. She rolled
He laughed. "Have I impressed you with my finesse, Miss M?"
my lord. I cannot recall when I have been so entertained."
He chuckled softly and swung around, bringing his face close
to hers, his expression more full of mischief than lust. "And
I thought you were here to entertain me."
She felt a smile tickling
the corner of her mouth. He placed his finger on her lip and
traced the edge. His eyes filled with a wistful expression that surprised
her. A heat she was not quite prepared to feel made her wish
to fan herself. As she wiped the disturbing touch from her mouth
with her tongue, he took a swift intake of breath and gazed into
her eyes so intensely she lowered her eyes.
He was like the fantasy she conjured up in her loneliest hours. A
knight on a huge white stallion, who faced the evil lord in the joust,
winning her away. Or the pirate who fought the blackguard and sailed
her away in a ship with a dozen sails. He was the soldier, riding in
with sabre flashing, to rid her of Farley and keep her safe forever.
Such nonsense. He was none of these, for all the splendor of his uniform,
dark, curling hair and sun-darkened skin. He certainly looked
the part, though, with his eyes wondrously expressive and a face lean,
as if honed by battle.
Once Farley had been a fantasy, when she’d dreamed he was taking
her to a marriage bed instead of the one in this room.
shrugged off his coat, and his loose linen shirt revealed a peek
of black chest hair. Madeleine’s eyes fixed on
the wiry patch and her fingers itched to discover how it would
As if it would feel any different than the other lust-filled
men who forced themselves so hard against her that she pushed
on their chests to give room for breath. She placed a hand on
her breast. What fancy had captured her to give way to such thoughts?
He grinned impishly
at her again, the dimple deepening in his cheek. "You
are a vision, Miss M. Like England herself, beautiful to behold.
Nothing mysterious about it. In fact, I shall call you
"Do not be so foolish, sir. The fabric of my dress is Indian. The design
is French and the style Roman. My mask is Venetian. My pearls
are Oriental. I think my shoes are from Spain. There is nothing of England
finger traced the edge of the demure bodice of her dress where the
fullness of her breasts was only hinted. He hooked his finger under
the material and pulled it away from her skin, allowing a soft touch
of what was underneath.
"I suspect," he murmured, stroking
her skin and gazing into her eyes, "underneath
you are pure England."
"Not pure, my lord," she whispered as his fingers did lovely
things to her soft skin. "Not pure at all."
He slowly leaned
closer so that she could feel his breath on her lips. With a
gentleness she did not know existed, he placed his lips on hers and
lingered there, moving so softly, she was only half-aware of him urging
her mouth open and tickling the moist inside with his tongue.
She moaned and positioned herself closer to him. Her arms twined
around his neck and her fingers played in the curls on his head.
He tasted of brandy, but she decided she might like brandy the next
time she was compelled to drink it.
He urged her down on the couch, covering his body with hers. The hard
bulge of his arousal pressed against her. To her surprise, it pleased
Only once before had a man’s arousal not filled her with
revulsion. That day in the country when her father’s houseguest,
the Lord Farley her older sisters prosed on about, met her out riding
and showed her what happens between a man and a reckless, unchaperoned
fifteen-year-old girl. She had thought it a splendid joke to be the
first of her sisters kissed by a man, but, all too easily that kiss
led to delights of which she had not imagined.
The soldier’s muscles were firm beneath his grey wool trousers.
His mouth played lightly on her cheek, and Madeleine’s long suppressed
desire tugged at her again. She must not allow herself the weakness.
She must control her sensibilities.
His kisses trailed down the
sensitive skin of her neck, and she said her rehearsed lines, "Shall
we go to the bed, my lord?"
Immediately he rose, grinning his dimpled grin. "Whatever you
command, my lady."
He gallantly extended his hand to assist her
up. His grasp was firm and warm, even through her lavender kid
glove. As she led him to the bed, he kept hold of her hand, the
gesture unexpectedly setting off a storm of yearning inside her.
to get her feelings under control, Madeleine continued her duties,
turning back the covers on the bed and facing the soldier. She
slowly pulled off her gloves, one finger at a time. Her fingers free,
she unlaced his shirt, caressing his warm bare skin as she pushed it
off his shoulders. When she unfastened his trousers, the bulge therein
attested to the success of her endeavors. She tried not to watch
his green eyes darken with passion.
A guttural sound emerged from his throat. Madeleine collected herself
and proceeded with the task she was bid to perform. This was the moment
for him to pounce on her. She must temper his lusting, so that her
dress not become ripped from his impatience.
Even completely free of
his clothes, he did not pounce. Instead, he simply gazed at her.
All the unwanted cravings of her body rushed back as she gazed at him
in return. Usually, she avoided a view of the men who bared themselves
before her. When Farley first seduced her, she had been too shy
to look, but her gaze freely drank in this soldier’s body. He was
more beautiful than the drawings of Greek statues in her father’s
books. Her eyes widened with surprise at the pleasure of seeing him.
"Good god, Miss England," he exclaimed. He moved toward
her. With gentle hands on her shoulders, he turned her around
and fumbled with the laces of her dress, his progress painfully slow.
He chuckled. "I am woefully out of practice."
With a resolute purse of her lips, Madeleine spun back to face him
and made quick work of the laces. The dress fell to the floor. She
tackled the corset next. When she let her shift drop from her body,
his gaze was as rapt as hers had been, and her resolve to simply perform
her task fled.
His eyes met hers. "I feel home at last."
He ran his hand
over her breasts, his fingers barely skimming the soft flesh.
Her breasts ached. How could they ache? He’d
barely touched them.
"Wh . . . where have you been?" She would distract herself.
These feelings were too disturbing. "In the Peninsula?"
at Maguilla." His manner turned solemn and his sparkling eyes
Maguilla. So exotic a name, like a magic kingdom far away. But what
had happened there to cause his change in mood?
Sadness lingered in
his eyes, but he smiled. "I have been too
long at battle and not long enough at home to have seen what
I most have missed."
"I do not understand you, my lord." She chewed on her lip. "What
have you most missed?"
His gaze traveled up and down the length
of her. "England," he
said in a reverent voice. "Every hill, curve, and thicket. All
lush beauty and honest comfort."
Madeleine felt herself blush.
She stilled the impulse to cover her most female parts. "Well," she
said. "Shall we proceed,
Quickly she climbed on the bed, her mouth set in a determined line.
He followed her, more slowly than she would have guessed. That he was
not so eager to slake his desire unsettled her, but not so much as
her own yearning. When he climbed in the bed and positioned himself
over her, she nearly burst with excitement. It felt too much like what
had brought her to ruin, but she wanted this soldier. Wanted him very
She stiffened and panic raced through her.
He halted immediately, searching her face. "What is wrong?"
heart pounded. "Nothing. Nothing is wrong."
He cocked his head skeptically. "You are frightened. I do not
understand. What frightened you? Did I hurt you?" He shifted to
lie beside her.
She avoided the puzzled look in his eye. "No,
you did not hurt me, my lord. I am not frightened. You may proceed."
His hand grasped her chin and brought her face closer. "I’ll
not proceed, as you say, until you explain."
She could not explain
what she did not understand. Even when Farley had seduced her
and her body responded so wantonly, she had not felt like this. So
. . . so excited and breathless.
Was this what
young women felt when they loved the man they bedded? Was this
a feeling she could never have or deserve?
A tear trickled down her cheek. As it appeared from beneath her
mask, he wiped it away with his finger. "There now," he
murmured, stroking her cheek. "No
need to cry."
"It is of no consequence," she said, stifling
a sob, furious at her tears. Farley would be even angrier, if
he knew. Weeping was not in the carefully fashioned script. "Please
tell Lord Farley about this."
"Now, now." He sat up and settled her in front of him, wrapping
his arms around her. "Why would I ever do that? Come. Tell Devlin
what troubles you."
"Devlin?" His arms felt like a warm
blanket around her. She wished she could remain cosseted within them
and never, ever leave.
:: back to top ::
End of Excerpt. Like it?
Order the North
American Edition or the UK edition
When I first wrote The Mysterious Miss M, several
publishers were unwilling to take a chance on it, because Maddy
starts off the book as a prostitute. In the Regency time period
her situation would not have been unusual, although it may seem odd to
us now that a young woman would have no other way to survive.
The virginity of a young society woman in
the early 1800’s was highly prized
and carefully protected, but once lost, all her value was lost as well. Reputation
meant everything for the young Regency lady. On the other hand, young gentlemen
were expected to be sexual, and married gentlemen often kept mistresses on the
side. The double-standard was in full force during Regency times.
Regency society also did not much differentiate between a willing
young girl, or a seduced one, or even a rape victim.
All were "ruined." A
young woman might even be forced into marrying the man
who raped her, as the only means to preserve her reputation.
Can you think what a nightmare for the woman that would have
Mysterious Miss M
get their story in The Diamond
Recall in Pride and Prejudice how devastated Elizabeth was to learn
that Lydia had run off with Wickham, and was likely co-habiting
with him in London. She perceived the scandal to affect not only Lydia,
but all of the Bennett girls. Had not Mr. Darcy come to the rescue (by
forcing Wickham to marry Lydia--which made everything "okay"), Elizabeth
marriage aspirations would have been completely dashed -- even
marriage to the likes of a Mr. Collins!
I wondered what it would be like for a young girl from a neglectful society
family to be seduced and ruined by a wastrel. What would she think about
herself? Society would have dictated that she feel shamed and disgraced.
What choices would she have had?
Regency society would have limited her ability to have a respectable job, even
if she possessed any job skills. Servants and other workers were held to the
highest standards of morality. A lowly chambermaid might be fair game for the
gentleman in the household, but if she were discovered to have had sex with him,
consensual or otherwise, she would have been tossed out without a reference,
especially if she became pregnant.
Maddy would have believed there would be no way for her to take care
of herself and her child. She would have believed she deserved her fate.
She would have believed her only choice was to accommodate to the situation
into which Farley forced her.
All she could hope for was a Knight in Shining
Armor to come rescue her.
And that is exactly what Devlin Steele
:: back to top ::
:: “This is a Regency with the gutsiness
of a Dickens novel... it's real and passionate.
Gaston's strong, memorable debut provides new insights into the era
and characters that touch your heart and draw you emotionally
into her powerful story.” — Kathe Robin, Romantic
Times BOOKclub (read the whole
:: “Today I give my second perfect
score. Diane Gaston has written a masterpiece. It has every element
needed in a true romance book - love, sensuality, and merit.”
— Mary Grace Meloche, Historical
Romance Writers, A Romance Designs Community (read the whole
:: “Wow, what a
very pleasant surprise to discover a new author in her debut
novel to deliver such an unusual gritty regency packing such
an emotional punch... it’s a real emotional roller coaster ride
with fascinating characterizations... This is one of those books
that once you start you simply cannot put down – absolutely
mesmerizing! If this new author continues to deliver such substance
in this vein, I predict a very shining future.” — Marilyn, Historical
Romance Writers, a Romance Designs Community (read the whole
:: “If Diane Gaston/Perkins upcoming
releases continue to be just as rewarding and mesmerizing, poignant
and strong as her first one than I won’t want to miss any of them.” —
Kris Alice, A
Romance Review (read the whole
:: “I’m very glad Diane Gaston
was finally able to publish this book and that Harlequin has
made it available to U.S. readers.” — Jeanne
About Romance (read the whole
:: back to top ::