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Authors: Sara Bennett - Greentree Sisters 02 - Rules of Passion

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Victorian, #AcM

Rules of Passion

BOOK: Rules of Passion
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S
ARA
B
ENNETT
R
ULES OF
P
ASSION

Contents

Prologue

Marietta Greentree opened swollen eyelids and peered miserably across the…

Chapter 1

The gas-filled balloon bobbed sluggishly in the breeze, as if…

Chapter 2

The sounds and sights within Vivianna’s bedchamber were almost more…

Chapter 3

Max, Lord Roseby, would probably have agreed with her. Or…

Chapter 4

“Max? You want me to use Max? Oh no, you…

Chapter 5

When Marietta and Aphrodite reached the vestibule, Max’s coach had…

Chapter 6

Max drifted in and out of consciousness, rather like a…

Chapter 7

“I’m glad you and his lordship enjoyed my poor efforts,…

Chapter 8

The following morning, Marietta was busy writing a letter to…

Chapter 9

Max was watching her, new shadows under his eyes, and…

Chapter 10

The following morning the streets of London were busy, as…

Chapter 11

Marietta handed the footman another parcel as she left the…

Chapter 12

The room was beautiful.

Chapter 13

There was a long silence. For a time all Marietta…

Chapter 14

Marietta was pale but determined as she prepared to leave…

Chapter 15

Desire for Max caught her in its tight grasp, and…

Chapter 16

Francesca had insisted that since she was in London she…

Chapter 17

The room was shaded, as if its occupant could not…

Chapter 18

Marietta reached up to make sure that her gold mask…

Epilogue

Blackwood wasn’t as grim as Max had threatened, although it…

Somewhere in the North of England
1841

M
arietta Greentree opened swollen eyelids and peered miserably across the small, cluttered room. Her bag lay on the floor, clothing spilling from it. Among the froth of undergarments was the fine silk nightgown she had thought to wear on her wedding night. Her gaze slid away, found the light that trickled through a narrow window. There were sounds drifting up from the stableyard. Grooms, servants, employees who worked and lived at the inn—the voices of those going about their daily routine. Everything normal.

Except for Marietta, whose life could never be the same again.

Gerard Jones, the man she had believed she loved, the man she had trusted, the man who had persuaded her to run off with him to Gretna Green, was
gone. He had left her here, in an impoverished inn on the road to the Scottish border.

Her mother, Lady Greentree, had warned her, her sister Francesca had warned her, but she hadn’t listened. His unsuitability in their eyes had only made him the more appealing to her—in her youth and romantic idealism, she had been certain that she knew best. They just didn’t understand, she told herself. This was love as she had always dreamed it to be! So when Lady Greentree refused to allow the banns to be called, Marietta thought her heart was broken and made the desperate decision to agree to run away with him. He loved her, and she loved him—surely that was all that mattered? She told herself that when her family realized how happy they were together, they would see their mistake and all would be forgiven.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Marietta groaned and covered her face with the pillow.

Gerard hadn’t loved her at all. He had wanted her body, or perhaps not even that. Perhaps he was the sort of character who found his enjoyment in destroying a young girl’s heart and reputation. He was the sort of cad who had been secretly laughing at her all the time as he lured her into his trap. And she was too silly to know it.

And yet…was being warm and loving and trusting so silly? Marietta had been in love with love for as long as she could remember, and Gerard had seemed a natural progression. She had fallen in love with him, or had she? Was she simply in love with the idea of being in love with him? She had imagined herself Isolde to his Tristan, Genevieve to his Lancelot.

Her heart was numb. She squirmed with the knowledge that she had been putty in his hands—naïve putty, but putty all the same. Gerard had come to her room last night, pleading to be allowed to make her his in truth—that was what he had said, “mine in truth,” just like a melodrama. Indeed, as he kissed her and wrapped his arms about her, she had felt as if the entire moment was slightly unreal. Delightful, yes, but dreamlike.

Briefly she had heard a serious voice, a little like her mother’s, telling her that what Gerard was saying sounded suspiciously like flummery. But then he was kissing her and saying he loved her and only her, and…Her mind skipped forward, finding the scene all too humiliating. In her favor, she had protested a little—a very little—but she was young and inexperienced and Gerard was neither. In fact he had not been the gentle and caring lover she had imagined he would be—she had felt nothing in his arms beyond the creeping onset of doubt and dismay. She had simply wanted it to be over.

With burning cheeks she remembered how Gerard had risen from the bed, afterwards. Anxiously, she had said something about their wedding, about how she hoped her mother would forgive her—already deep in her heart the golden image of the make-believe Gerard was beginning to tarnish.

He had laughed at her. “Wedding?” he said. He began to taunt her, informing her in a smug voice that he had never intended to
marry
her. He had heard that she was the natural daughter of Aphrodite, a famous London courtesan, and he had wanted to sample her firsthand. And really, dear me, he’d had better.

At first she had been too shocked to take it in. She
tried to smile. He must be joking her, she told herself, he must be playing a cruel prank. But he kept on, and slowly, surely, the horrible truth had sunk into her brain.

Suddenly Marietta felt as if she was looking back upon herself from a distance, as if at a complete stranger whose pitiable actions were seriously flawed. When Gerard had closed the door behind him, abandoning her to her fate, he had taken more from her than her reputation. He had stolen something innocent and sweet and trusting, and Marietta doubted it would ever return. She did not want it to return. She swore that she would never place herself in such a vulnerable position again.

With a wince, aching in mind and heart and body, Marietta sat up. She gazed bleakly about her. It was done. They had spent the night together in the same inn. In the same
room
.

That was bad, very bad.

And yet…Marietta sat up straighter, something of her old spark returning. She was a long way from Greentree Manor—this inn was well beyond the sphere of her family or those they knew. Had anyone seen her arrive with Gerard? She did not think so. Perhaps she could escape Gerard’s cruel trap after all, at least that would be a small victory over him.

Melancholy lifted as new hope surged through her. The situation could be salvaged. No one but she and Gerard knew the truth, and he was long gone. She doubted he would show his face again—he was too cowardly for that. Perhaps, just perhaps, if she could make her way home incognito, no one would be the wiser. She would beg the forgiveness of her family, allow Mr. Jardine, her mother’s secretary and
family friend, to make up some clever story to account for her short absence. No one need ever know that Lady Greentree’s second daughter had fallen into the clutches of Gerard Jones…

The chamber door opened and a tall dark shadow stood there. The face was starkly familiar, and the mean little eyes were gleeful. With sinking heart Marietta recognized Lady Greentree’s former estate manager, Rawlings. Her mother had sacked him years ago, and he had always resented her for it. What shocking bad luck had brought him to this place at this moment?

“Miss Marietta Greentree!” he crowed. “I thought it was you last night when I saw you climbing the stairs, and then this morning when I heard one of the maids say a young lady had been left high and dry…Aye, I see you’re surprised to see me. I warned her ladyship many years ago that she was bringing trouble on herself when she took you and your sisters into her home. I was right.”

His smug self-satisfaction was plain to see—he hadn’t even knocked in his eagerness to discredit her. But Marietta knew all depended upon winning him to her side, and she swallowed what pride she had left.

“You won’t…won’t tell anyone?” she managed, despising herself for the pleading note in her voice.

“’Course not,” he said, “wouldn’t dream of it.”

She knew at once he had no intention of keeping quiet. She should have saved her breath. In a day everyone in the district would know her misfortune, in a week everyone in the county, in a month it would even have trickled down to London.

Marietta Greentree was well and truly ruined.

Vauxhall Gardens, London
1845

T
he gas-filled balloon bobbed sluggishly in the breeze, as if seeking to escape its tethers, reaching toward the distant blue sky. The wicker basket, fastened to the balloon by an iron band and cords, appeared smaller than she remembered, while the crowd gathering to watch the ascent appeared larger.

Marietta wasn’t afraid.

No, not at all. She was exhilarated!

She had been planning this outing all week, ever since she had come to Vauxhall Gardens with Mr. Jardine, and for the first time seen a balloon ascent over London. Her breath had caught in sheer wonder and she had begged Mr. Jardine to allow her to pay her money and become a passenger. But he had refused even to contemplate it.

“What would your mother, Lady Greentree, say if
I allowed you to do something so dangerous?”

“She would understand that fear has no place in our new world of science and discovery.”

“That’s all very well, Miss Marietta, but it doesn’t alter my decision. You’re a single young lady and it would not be proper—”

“Psht!”
It was a sound she had heard Aphrodite make—Aphrodite the famous courtesan and her real mother. “What does that matter? My reputation is already in tatters, you know that as well as I. If it wasn’t ruined long ago by being one of Aphrodite’s daughters, then it was certainly ruined by Gerard Jones.”

“Your sister Vivianna doesn’t believe that for a moment—”

“Then she is deluding herself, Mr. Jardine. Vivianna believes she can make everyone better, but she can’t repair me. I am ruined and there is no chance I will ever make a good marriage. I have resigned myself to it. Going up in a gas balloon can make no possible difference to that plain fact.”

“Whether or not that is so, I won’t let you put your life in danger in one of those…those contraptions, Miss Marietta!”

However Marietta was not the sort of girl to be easily thwarted when she had made up her mind about something. At home in Yorkshire, at Greentree Manor, she and her sisters had been allowed a great deal of freedom—to her own cost, unfortunately—and although Marietta knew that things were different in London, she could not see the point of being fettered. Especially when it could make no possible difference to her prospects of finding a suitor, which were already nil.

Vivianna was lucky, she had Oliver, and she had love, but Marietta had destroyed her chances of emulating her sister when she had tried to run off with Gerard Jones. She had wept long and hard when they brought her back to Greentree Manor, not so much for Gerard, whom by then she had realized was a lying rogue, but for her own lack of foresight. Time had resigned her to her fate as the “scandalous Greentree sister”—no matter how interested a man was in her, he soon faded away when he learned of her past. She may wish it was otherwise, that love conquered all, but she was no longer such an innocent as she had been. Love did not conquer all, in fact love was more often than not the crux of the problem.

However all was not lost. She may never live a cozy life as Lord Somebody’s wife, but she still had a life to live. Why shouldn’t she experience everything it had to offer, and without the fear of exposing her vulnerable heart once more? Marietta had a plan, and she hoped, very soon, to put it into practice.

At the Vauxhall Gardens, she had waited until Mr. Jardine became interested in one of the displays, and then given him the slip, claiming she had dropped her glove and must return for it. “I’ll only be a moment,” she’d promised. “You go on and I’ll catch you up.” She’d hurried back to the balloon to have a word with the ticket seller. A ticket tucked safely into her drawstring bag, Marietta had returned to her companion.

Now she recalled what the ticket seller had said. “It’s at your own risk, miss. As long as you realize that.”

“I do,” she had replied firmly.

“Then be here same time next week, and if the
weather permits, you can go up with Mr. Keith.”

“Mr. Keith?”

“The aeronaught, miss. Don’t you listen to them what says Mr. Green’s the best aeronaught in England—I’d leifer go up with Mr. Keith any day!” The lad had said it with a smile.

People, Marietta found, usually did smile at her. Perhaps it had something to do with her petite stature, or her bouncing blond curls, or her open face and big blue eyes. Outwardly she was transparently honest in the joy she gained from life, and people gravitated towards her because of it.

Until they discovered she was ruined, she reminded herself bitterly—then they were quick to avoid her.

“Such people aren’t worth knowing,” her sister Francesca had said in an attempt to make her feel better. “Your true friends will never desert you.”

Francesca was younger than Marietta by only a year, but in appearance and character they were very different: Francesca tall and dark; Marietta small and fair. Francesca was intense and serious, whereas Marietta was, outwardly at least, all light and laughter. But they were close despite all that, and she wished that Francesca had agreed to leave her moors behind and come to London. Her sister had a way of comforting her—of making the truth seem not so bad.

The balloon awaited her, and this time she wasn’t about to be left behind on the ground, oh no. This time she’d be up there, in the sky, looking down.

Marietta hurried forward, and the crowd parted for her. The aeronaught, a man of about forty with graying dark hair and lush side-whiskers, was making
some last-moment adjustments. He looked up, distracted by the crowd’s murmur, and the lad who had sold her the ticket leaned closer and murmured something in his ear. The aeronaught’s face underwent a transformation and suddenly he was all smiles.

“Ah, Miss Greentree! How do you do? I’m Ian Keith. We’re almost ready to take off. Please, come aboard.” He had a slight cockney accent, as though he had risen in the world.

Appropriate, Marietta thought, seeing he was an aeronaught. She smiled back, eager to be aboard, and it was only as she reached to take his gloved hand that she realized there was another passenger already in the wicker basket. He had been partially hidden in the shadow thrown by the balloon towering above them, but now she looked up and saw him clearly. A man. A stranger. And not a friendly-looking one.

Marietta allowed herself to observe him frankly, not for a moment considering it might be more polite to lower her gaze. The Greentree sisters had been brought up to believe a woman should say what she believed and act accordingly, that she should face life head on and never shy away from it. Her experience with Gerard may have dented her confidence, but it was far from destroyed.

Unsmiling, he returned her gaze.

The stranger was certainly very handsome, with hair of a deep mahogany brown and eyes of a similar color. He was dressed in a dark green jacket and buff trousers, and although there was the appearance of a gentleman about him it seemed slightly shabby, as if his valet had forgotten to give him a good polish. A neglected stranger, Marietta thought. A brooding and solitary man with secrets, who was
not inclined to laugh and enjoy himself as she fully intended to do.

Marietta found herself wishing he wasn’t going up in the balloon with her. His presence threatened to spoil her enjoyment on this, her first adventure since she had made the journey to London from Yorkshire. At least she wouldn’t have to make polite conversation with him—he looked as dismayed to see her as she was to see him—and polite conversation meant exchanging the broader details of one’s life, and inevitably that led to who she was, and whose daughter she was, and then suddenly the person she was speaking to would find something urgent to do.

The man raised his eyebrows, and Marietta realized she was still staring at him. His mouth quirked, and she discovered that he could smile after all. “Perhaps you’d better get into the basket,” he said, in a deep, aristocratic voice that didn’t go at all with his shabby look. “If you don’t want to be left behind.”

There were some steps set against the woven wicker to enable passengers to climb inside. Marietta negotiated them with difficulty. She was hardly in the forefront of fashion—indeed, she was at least two years behind and she hadn’t had time yet to visit the London shops—but she had dressed in what she thought was a suitable outfit for a balloon ride. Now the blue wool dress and its modest two petticoats seemed cumbersome. The fashion was changing, skirts were becoming more rigid and hems longer. Marietta preferred the less fussy styles, too many flounces made her curvaceous shape appear even more curvaceous. But today even her Amazone bodice, plain and tightly buttoned to the neck and
wrists, felt awkward, while the long ends of her scarf mantella were threatening to strangle her, and her velvet bonnet had been tipped to the side by her exertions.

As she climbed over the edge of the basket, she was just congratulating herself on her nimbleness when the toe of her elastic-sided boot caught. She stumbled and would have landed flat on her face if the stranger had not reached out and caught her.

Her breath whooshed out as she fell against him, his hard, masculine body a bulwark against hers. For a moment she could not think—her mind went completely blank.
Shock,
whispered a voice in her head.
You aren’t used to being this close to a man.
But it was more than that. Her senses were overloaded with information: the clean male scent of him, the dark shadow on his jaw above her, the heat of his palm on her back. Marietta found herself a little shaky just from being there, which was ridiculous enough in an untouched spinster, but for a ruined woman…!

The thought sent her instantly to the furthermost corner of the basket.

“Thank you,” she said, an afterthought.

Politely, he bowed his head; his eyes never left hers, and there was no smile in them. Nothing to tell her that what she had just felt had been experienced by him, too. Indeed the look he gave her made Marietta think he was also wishing her miles away.

“Perfect,” she muttered under her breath. “I am about to ascend in a balloon with a man in a mood.”

Mr. Keith had finished his preparations. He climbed into the basket with them, swinging his legs over the side with practiced ease. The basket was big enough for five, but it seemed only Marietta and her
companion were to be passengers today. “Are you ready?” the aeronaught asked, but it was obvious he did not expect a negative answer. Marietta sat down and clung to the side and nodded vigorously.

“Get on with it, Ian,” the stranger said in a deep, impatient voice. He sat down and crossed his long legs.

“Dear me, Max.” Mr. Keith shook his head as if he found the other man beyond his comprehension, and then he called out to his helpers. The balloon was cast off without fuss, ballast was thrown out, and they began to rise, quite quickly, into the London sky.

“Oh!” Marietta gasped.

The ground was rapidly slipping away from her. The crowd—their faces lifted—was growing smaller and smaller. There was a strange silence, almost like a dream, as they rose higher. Below her lay Vauxhall Gardens, and then the Thames, and beyond that the bustle of London, with its pall of smoke, stretching away as far as she could see. The Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s dome were visible, looking awfully small, and the green squares and parks stood out among the lines of streets and the boxes that were houses.

“You haven’t been introduced.” Mr. Keith spoke above the soft underlying roar of the city below them.

Reluctantly Marietta lifted her eyes from the Thames as the breeze tugged the balloon along.

Mr. Keith smiled at her as if he understood her sense of dislocation. “Miss Greentree, this is my friend, Max. Max, this is Miss Greentree.”

“How do you do,” Max said in a disinterested voice. He gave her a brief glance that was more indif
ferent than unfriendly, before turning once more to gaze down over the city spread beneath them.

Marietta shrugged off his behavior, and returned to her own perusal of the Thames, a glittering silver snake broken up by bands of bridges, with ships at anchor and steamboats like wind-up toys. Soon they were moving towards Richmond, sailing over fields and hills, leaving behind the smoke of London and its pointed spires.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Miss Greentree?”

Marietta beamed at Mr. Keith. “It is even more wonderful than I imagined, sir.”

“Not anxious about heights then?”

“Oh no, not at all!”

He grinned at her, the lines about his eyes deepening. “I am glad. My friend here didn’t want to come. I insisted—when I knew you were the only one making the ascent today I thought he would be company for us. Now I wish I’d told him to stay home. He’s like a rain cloud in the corner there, threatening to spoil our fun.”

Marietta giggled, and then bit her lip when Max shot her a hard look from narrowed dark eyes.

“Perhaps I am not in the mood to enjoy myself,” he said in a low voice. “Perhaps circumstances won’t allow me to.”

Marietta gave him one of her unflinching stares. “But can’t you forget your troubles for now?” she demanded, not pretending she didn’t understand him. “Look down there. How can you not feel amazed by such a sight? How can your own concerns not seem insignificant, Mr…. eh…?”

“Max,” he said shortly. “And I am amazed. I’m just not in the mood to show it.”

Marietta laughed at him because he was so absurd.

She noticed a gleam in his dark eyes. He
did
look like a rain cloud, just as Mr. Keith had said. Or maybe he was more like a thunder cloud—a rather dangerous one. Perhaps it was not such a good idea to tease him, and yet Marietta suddenly and unexpectedly yearned to turn that frown into a smile.

“Haven’t you heard of Max?” Mr. Keith said, lowering his voice. “He’s the scandal of the moment. He has been turned out of his boyhood home by his cousin. Perhaps now you can sympathize a little with his unhappy mood, Miss Greentree, even if you can’t condone it.”

“Turned out of his home? No, I have not heard of him. I am only lately arrived in London. How could his cousin do that, Mr. Keith?”

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