Authors: Melynda Beth Andrews
Miss GRANTHAM’S ONE TRUE SIN
Melynda Beth Andrews
A PEDESTAL LANTERN BOOK
PUBLISHED BY PEDESTAL BOOKS
Copyright 2002, 2011 by Melynda Beth Andrews, All Rights Reserved
Pedestal Books and the author ask that you neither participate in nor encourage piracy of this copyrighted work. Please don’t scan or distribute it other than for short excerpts for the purpose of critical review. Thank you.
This is a work of fiction. Everything and everyone in it are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and, apart from historical personages, any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is coincidental.
For anyone who
has ever read to a child,
especially my own mama,
who read aloud so often that
she had our storybooks memorized.
Thank you, Mama.
There’s a fair chance you’ll love the book you’re holding.
Miss Grantham’s One True Sin
, by Melynda Beth Andrews, was originally print-published by Kensington Publishing under the author’s former name, Melynda Beth Skinner. Romantic Times Book Club awarded
Miss Grantham’s One True Sin
four stars and pronounced it “a story to read by the fire on a cold winter’s day, featuring a quirky, kind-hearted cast of characters.”
Melynda Beth Andrews’s work has been hailed by critics as “delightful,” “a rare treat,” and “wickedly entertaining.”
If you enjoy this story, you’ll be glad to know it’s part of a connected series, the Regency Matchmaker Series:
The Blue Devil
Miss Grantham’s One True Sin
Lord Logic and the Wedding Wish
The Blackguard’s Bride
The four stories all feature Ophelia Robertson, a flamboyant old London matchmaker, who knows everyone’s business better than they do. And a certain piece of fabric passes from story to story, undergoing a surprising transformation each time.
You can visit with the author on the web at www.MelyndaAndrews.com.
name was True Sin.
At least that’s what the ladies of the
called him behind their fans. They whispered he was sent by Satan to tempt the feminine wary—a great many of whom, by all accounts, hadn't been nearly wary enough. No one seemed to know exactly how many ladies had fallen prey to his charm. Various numbers were bandied about, all of them jaw-droppingly large.
While Miss Marianna Helena Grantham was never one to pair credibility with such gossip, when it came to Truesdale Sinclair, gossip was all she had to rely on, for she'd never set eyes on the man. Still, she was resolved to remain impartial. She would form her own opinion. Logic mandated that she would either find him agreeable or she would not. Logic reasoned that the rumors were false, that no one man could have had so many ...
But, just in case, Marianna would be on her guard. She had no intention of becoming one of the Viscount's conquests. She approached his great country house with the caution of a gazelle creeping into a lion's den.
When the oaken doors of his library were thrown open for her, she marched resolutely forward and stood before his desk, where he sat concentrating over a book of accounts. Marianna wasn't even certain the Viscount Trowbridge realized she was there, for he did not look up. She took the resulting opportunity to scan the room, which was filled with polished wood, rich leather, sumptuous fabrics, and what had to be over a thousand fine volumes. Her gaze landed on touches of silver and gilt, ivory and crystal. If this well-appointed room were any indication of the quality of the rest of the Viscount's estate, Marianna's parents would be well satisfied.
If Trowbridge accepted her offer.
And if he did not?
Then she would have to return to London to await the arrival of her parents. Marianna did not wish to contemplate their reaction were they to discover what she'd done, what she'd been doing for the entire year she'd been in London without them, the lies she'd told in the letters she'd written them.
She was supposed to have been having a London Season. She was supposed to be a
, and she was supposed to have an understanding with a titled young gentleman even now.
But if she were a
then surely she was a blue
, for no such understanding existed. She hadn't had the first offer. In truth, in the entire year she had lived in London, she hadn't had so much as an offer to dance.
She turned her attention to the large, wide-shouldered man sitting behind the desk. At nine-and-twenty, the Viscount Trowbridge wasn't exactly young. Thank goodness she'd been so vague in her letters to her parents! She wondered if he looked his age, but she could see little more than the top of his head. Marianna frowned a little. He wore his dark, wavy hair unfashionably long and, from this angle at least, looked more like a pirate than a gentleman. His coat lay carelessly tossed over a chair by the fire, and there was no cravat in sight. Before she could stop them, her eyes darted to where his cravat should have been. His white linen shirt was loosely tied and slightly open at the neck. Marianna blinked at the shock of dark, crisp-looking hair peeking over the top. Ordinarily, the improper sight would have elicited her staunch disapproval, but not now. No cravat and no man to attend to the Viscount's coat or to cut his hair—these indicated Trowbridge could not afford a proper valet. She'd been led to believe the Viscount was in some grave financial difficulty. She'd counted on it, in fact. Thus, his dishevelment served only to reassure her.
She dragged her eyes away from his exposed triangle of hairy chest, pulled her shoulders back, and waited for his acknowledgment, but the Viscount only continued with his work, his fingers tracing a column of figures in his ledger. Marianna's eyes focused on his hands. He wore no signet ring or gloves. Though clean, his large hands were sun-browned and rough-looking. She frowned again. Just what sort of man was the Viscount Trowbridge? Ophelia Robertson had led her to expect a gentleman—albeit a gentleman in strained financial circumstances. But those hands ...
She coughed softly.
"Yes? Yes, what is it?" he said in a harried tone. He still did not look up. "I have much to do. State your business and be done with it"
Marianna swallowed her fear—along with a good deal of pride—and pulled from her reticule a tightly corked brown glass bottle containing a small fortune in loose gems. It was all she had.
"I am prepared to trade half of the contents of this bottle for a fortnight of your time and a lie."
She set the bottle on top of his ledger, right under his nose. Trowbridge didn't move, and Marianna held her breath, wondering what he'd do. She was desperate. Truth to tell, she would trade all of the bottle's contents if she had to, but promising only half left her room to bargain, and the most reasonable course of action was to let him see right away her upper limit.
Trowbridge finally looked up from his ledger, and Marianna just managed to stop herself from gaping at him.
Saints and sinners!
At least one of the rumors about him was disconcertingly accurate. Truesdale Sinclair was so handsome, it felt like some sort of sin just looking at him. Except for the tiny scar neatly dividing his right eyebrow, he was shockingly perfect Shockingly handsome.
Not that the slight imperfection did anything to mitigate his attractiveness. On the contrary, the feather scar gave the eyes something to rest on and the mind a mystery to ponder.
How had he acquired that scar? His countenance was one to inspire all sorts of wild imaginings. A violent encounter with a wolf or a bear, perhaps. Or, as the Viscount looked more like a pirate than a gentleman, perhaps he'd earned the scar in a sword fight. Most anything was imaginable—except for Trowbridge ever coming away the loser. Even with him sitting down, it was easy to see he was quite tall and strongly built. Unwilling to look directly into his eyes, Marianna clung to his tiny scar, clung like a desperate, shipwrecked woman to some piece of floating debris.
He was dangerous. Dangerously masculine. And he hadn't even so much as shaken her hand—yet. Marianna's heart beat a little faster in spite of her resolve to remain unaffected, for if Trowbridge accepted her offer, he would be doing more than shaking her hand.
He would have to kiss her. She would insist upon it.
He reached for the bottle and gave it a little shake, then examined the raised lettering on the front.
Mrs. Beeton's Miracle Pills
," he read. "
For the bust
." His flawed eyebrow rose into the disarray of dark curls that was his hair. "I am sorry, Miss, but I find I have no need of miracles today, and
—" He allowed his gaze to slide downward over her ample charms. "You have had rather your share, I should think."
Marianna felt herself blush, the heat spreading from the neckline of her brown serge traveling costume to her burning cheeks, and Trowbridge laughed.
Just then, a high-pitched, clearly feminine giggle emanated from the space under his desk, and Marianna's jaw, over which she'd thought she had control, finally did drop open.
The bounder had a woman under there!
"Sir," Marianna said, narrowing her eyes to outraged slits, "I can see that you are indeed
Snatching her bottle up, she spun away and fled back through the cavernous hall to the front door, muttering. "I was announced. He knew I was about to enter, and still the bounder has a woman
under his desk!
" She'd conceded there might be some truth to the rumors about Truesdale Sinclair, but this! This was outside of enough. "He is a rake! No, he is worse. He is ... he is . . ." Marianna couldn't think of an adequate descriptor.
She had just reached the front door, when a large, warm hand clamped over her arm.
"Leaving so soon?" True Sin drawled
"Unhand me at once!"
"Not until you empty the bag about your business here. You said something about a lie."
"It no longer signifies. Good day!" She tugged at his arm, but she might just as well have been pulling against a pillar of marble, for all the good it did her. The man wasn't just big; he was enormous. She wasn't going anywhere. Marianna pulled herself up to her full height. She was tall, but the top of her head didn't even reach his chin.
"You, Sir, are no gentleman. You are
than the rumors say."
He clicked the heels of his scuffed boots smartly together and gave a little bow. "I am pleased to know I do not disappoint. Now," he said, loosening his grip and offering her his arm in a show of fake gentility, "shall we return to the library and continue our most interesting discussion?"
Marianna was not fooled. She knew she had no choice in the matter. He would know the purpose of her visit one way or another. She glared pointedly at his arm and gripped her bottle tighter.
He grinned and let his arm drop. "I see you are an intelligent woman, Miss Grantham. I anticipate that whatever you have to tell me will be frightfully interesting, indeed. Shall we adjourn to the library?" he repeated.
"I would prefer another locale," she said tightly. "A parlor.
. Not the library."
"As you wish. This way."
THE ANGRY VOICES kept the little blonde cowering under the big mahogany desk at first, but then curiosity drove Eleanor to forget her fears. She crept to the great library doors and peeked around, just in time to see the blonde-haired lady disappear into the room with the blue sofa, the one Eleanor loved to jump up and down on when no one was around to catch her—which wasn't often enough for Eleanor's liking. She frowned, wondering if Uncle Sin were taking the Friday-faced lady there to jolly her up by showing
how to jump on the sofa. It certainly cheered Eleanor when
was cross. She darted through the front hall and scampered outside.
There was a sturdy bush beneath the parlor window just right for a five-year-old to stand in. She peeked into the tall window, but the view was disappointing. No jumping. The grown-ups weren't doing anything but talking.
Grown-ups were like that, she supposed. Hopping down, Eleanor went in search of her sisters. They were older than Eleanor, but they were almost never boring. Especially not when Eleanor stirred them up a bit. She patted the salamander in her pocket and licked her lips in anticipation of mischief.
TRUE MOTIONED TO a chair. Miss Grantham sat primly on the edge of it, her back ramrod straight.
Intelligent and proper
, he thought, making a mental list of the woman's attributes as he discovered them—a habit he had cultivated that often helped give him the upper hand. The trick was to discern his opponent's qualities before True revealed his own. He looked at her expectantly, but she made no move to tell him why she had come.
, he added to his list.
Life had taught him to be an excellent judge of character, and he sensed this woman would prefer plain speaking to the indirect. ”You ran like a rabbit just now. Why?” True asked, deliberately blunt.
She only stared stubbornly up at him.
He'd seen that same look on too many other faces to misinterpret it now. It meant the same thing it always did: distaste and disapproval. In her mind, he'd already been tried and found guilty. He wondered briefly of what he'd been convicted this time. Not that it mattered. Not that it ever truly mattered. He reviewed the last moments in his mind before coming to the only conclusion possible, as ridiculous as it was.
"You believe I have a lady stuffed under my desk," he said.
She scowled, set her chin a notch higher, and then arched one finely sculpted blonde brow. "No, my lord, I do not fancy she is a
, he added, "A skillful riposte, Miss Grantham," he said, "but I am afraid you've gone wide of the mark." He sat opposite her. "You see, the young lady you heard under my desk—"
"So you admit it!"
"She is my niece, and she is—"
" Miss Grantham's skin went even paler than before, a feat he'd not have thought possible. "Saints and sinners!" she exclaimed and glared at him, leaving little doubt to which of the categories she thought True belonged.
He gave a bark of laughter before he could stop himself. The silly chit thought he'd just confessed to consorting with his own niece! She was determined to think the worst of him. He perversely decided not to help unknot the coil Miss Grantham had fashioned of her rash assumptions. In fact, he rather thought the lady deserved a little more rope.
"Aye," True continued slyly, "and a sweet little wisp of a thing she is. She was wiggling on my lap just before you arrived. Eleanor is her name."
Miss Grantham jumped to her feet and held up her palm. "I do not wish to know her name, my lord! I am leaving now, and if you attempt to detain me again, I shall scream." She marched haughtily toward the door.
True smiled at her back, thoroughly enjoying the sport now. "Likely no one would pay you any mind if you did scream. Eleanor screams quite often."
The pronouncement had the desired affect. Miss Grantham made for the door in a mad rush.
," True said loudly, "
most five-year-olds do!
Miss Grantham skidded to a rather undignified halt in the wide doorway and turned slowly around. She blinked her long, golden lashes once, twice, and then trained a piercing stare on him.
"Your niece is five?" she asked.
"Yes. Well, one of them is. I have three, you know." He was smiling openly now.
A ghost of a smile crossed her own lips. "No. I did not know."
True pasted on an expression of shock. "You don't say?" His sarcasm earned him a roll of her eyes, and he laughed. "They are my late brother's children—now my wards. Little Eleanor is quite terribly shy of strangers. She darted under my desk as soon as you were announced."
If he had expected her to offer him a cascade of apology, he'd have been disappointed, for she did not look in the least contrite. Instead, she moved slowly, thoughtfully, back toward the sofa and sat, frowning once more.
True crossed his arms over his chest. "Miss Grantham, you must dislike children very much."
She looked offended. "Dislike children? Rubbish! I am a schoolmistress, Sir."
True patted his thigh. Perhaps he wasn't such a good judge of character after all. She carried herself more like a duke's daughter than a bluestocking.
She tapped her jaw thoughtfully. "Three girls, you say?"
"Yes," he confirmed.
"Five, nine, and ten."
"I do not know if my parents will approve," she said.