A Scarred Marquess’s Secret (Preview)


Grab my new series, "Regency Hearts Entwined", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

Chapter One

The carriage lurched over the cobblestones before coming to a stop inside a spacious courtyard. Lady Genevieve remarked, “Now I know how the beans feel when shaken inside a rattle.”

Alexander, her younger brother, laughed at the idea. It was an odd sound because his voice was changing. It broke in the middle of a guffaw becoming a high-pitched giggle.

Her mother, The Countess of Dalrymple, sighed. “How can you possibly have enough energy for such fancies, Genevieve? Don’t encourage her, Alexander.”

“I envy her irrepressible spirit,” The Earl of Dalrymple commented, knowing that his wife did not really want an answer to the question. “Don’t you remember the fanciful ideas we entertained when I would visit your family?”

“Vaguely,” Lady Dalrymple admitted. “But I am far too tired to indulge in such things tonight.”

“But what better time?” Genevieve inquired of them both, refusing to dwell on the circumstances that had brought them to Montclair Manor. “There is nothing to be gained from moping about, and everything to be obtained by looking at it as a grand adventure.”

“Enough,” the earl reproved her gently. “Your mother is tired. Do not worry her with your fancies. Instead, write them down in your journal. Perhaps they will form the foundation for a wise, learned book someday.”

Alexander snickered at this idea. He clearly had no high opinion of his sister having wise thoughts. 

Genevieve subsided, contenting herself with pulling the curtains on the carriage window aside, trying to see something of the buildings in the courtyard. Sadly, it was nearly pitch dark outside so she could barely make out the outlines of most of them.

In two of the structures, however, the windows were brilliantly lit. The driver brought the carriage to a halt, and a bobbing light approached. Steps crunching on gravel came from the direction of the light. Genevieve could hear the footman hopping down off the back. Another light joined the first, followed by the sounds of the steps being let down.

Then there came a tapping at the carriage door, and it opened to reveal a tall, cadaverous man wearing a dark suit. It made him seem to almost disappear into the night. He carried a hurricane lantern in one hand and stretched up the other to help any passenger alight. 

The Earl of Dalrymple unfolded himself out of the carriage first, availing himself only lightly of the butler’s proffered hand as support. He then turned and reached up to assist the countess. 

Lady Dalrymple gathered her skirts with one hand and placed the other on the arm of the fellow in the dark suit, while the earl steadied her, by holding her elbow. Gingerly, she eased her way down the steps and stood to one side, clinging to her husband.

With her parents out of the way, Genevieve hopped out of the carriage, landing lightly on the balls of her feet. The cobblestones were rough under the thin soles of her slippers, but she was glad to be able to stand up and look around her. Alexander hopped down with equal alacrity, clearly just as glad to be out of the confines of the carriage. 

Now that Genevieve was outside the conveyance and not blinded by the lantern, she realized that the gentleman who had met them was dressed as a butler. This duty would normally be carried out by a footman, so she wondered what calamity had befallen the household to cause such a change in meeting the carriage. The explanation was not long in forthcoming.

“I wanted to welcome you personally,” the butler said. “I am Elmont Parsons. You might call me Parsons, most people do. The Montclair Dower House has only a minimal staff, something you might want to rectify if you plan to entertain.”

“Thank you for telling us,” the earl replied. “For tonight, all we require is perhaps a light supper and a place to sleep. We have some household staff who will follow us tomorrow. Most were left behind to finish packing up and closing our London house.”

And get it ready to lease, Genevieve thought silently. But she would not shame her father by saying so. There would not be much for their servants to pack, which was a good thing, for the only ones left were her maid, her mother’s maid, her father’s valet, and their aging housekeeper. Their only footman had accompanied them to manage practical matters during their journey.

Parsons held the lantern low by his side so they could see the cobbles and not trip themselves up as they followed him. In a few minutes, he opened a heavy door for them and stood aside as they entered. Meanwhile, their footman stayed with the horses to ensure they were well-settled for the night. 

Once they were inside, Genevieve looked about. The front hall was immaculate. The pattern in the marble on the floor was clearly visible. The wainscotting was waxed to a gleam and smelled of cedar. There was, however, no sign of their host.

“I had supposed that the marquess would greet us,” the earl said.

“The Marquess of Ravenwood, usually addressed as Lord Montclair, is extremely reclusive,” Parsons said. “However, he sends his regards and has obtained a cook to prepare a supper for you. I hope you all enjoy chicken soup?”

They gave a ragged chorus of assents and followed Parsons into a small dining room where an array of covered dishes was laid out. “I’m afraid there is no serving staff,” he apologized. “But I think that all the necessary utensils are provided.” 

Genevieve felt her tummy rumble as Parsons took the cover off a tureen of soup placed over a spirit lamp. The aroma of cooked chicken arose from it. Removal of another cover revealed a crusty loaf of bread, already cut into slices. 

Smaller dishes contained butter, cream, three kinds of jelly, and various green herbs that could be sprinkled into the broth. A colorful tea cozy had kept a large pot of tea warm for them. 

It was a welcome sight to the weary travelers, for it had been some days since they had dined well. They could have eaten better, but the earl refused to have the staff face a shortage of resources, or fail to pay them their quarterly wages. He hoped that by leasing the townhouse, he would bring enough to not only pay their debts, but to reinvest and support them even if in reduced circumstances.

The butler withdrew to allow them to freely enjoy the repast. Genevieve began ladling out bowls of soup, and Alexander handed out slices of bread. Lord Dalrymple solicitously coaxed his wife to “eat just a little, Harriet. I know your stomach is upset from the carriage, but you must keep your strength up.”

Genevieve quietly poured tea for her mother, adding a fortifying amount of cream and sugar to it. When her mother consented to sip the tea and took a spoonful of soup, Genevieve felt she could turn her attention to her own supper. 

She sprinkled shreds of green onion over the steaming broth, and spooned some into her mouth. Parched from hours of travel, her mouth responded gratefully to the savory liquid. It was all she could do to keep from making an “Mmmm!” noise of appreciation. 

With the uncanny sense of timing native to good butlers, Parsons reappeared just as they were all finishing up. “Will there be anything else?” he asked. “Brandy perhaps?”

“Not tonight,” Lord Dalrymple replied. “If you have rooms prepared for us, I think we will all be glad to retire.”

“Of course,” Parsons replied. “Right this way.”

The rooms for the family were on the second floor. Like the entry and the dining room, they were scrupulously clean. The wallpaper above the wainscotting was an unassuming shade of burgundy, all of the vapors from the dye long since evaporated. The entire house had a faint aroma of cedar oil, peppermint, and beeswax. 

Since their maids had been left behind, Genevieve stopped by her parents’ suite of rooms and helped her mother get into her nightdress. She then went to her own room to get ready for bed. She was glad she had insisted on simple clothing for traveling, so none of her apparel required a second pair of hands to remove. 

One wall of her room was made of mortared stone and was warm to the touch. Genevieve surmised that it was the outer wall of a chimney, where a fire was likely to have been kept going so as to be ready for cooking breakfast. There was no hearth, but the warm wall made the room quite cozy.

Comfortable in her nightdress and a loose robe, Genevieve got out her lap desk, placed a pillow on the floor, and sat cross-legged with her back against the stone wall. Her mother would have scolded her for her unladylike position, but she could place her lap desk across her knees and her ink pot on the floor beside her. 

Her necessities neatly arranged, Genevieve got out the leather-bound book her father had given to her on the occasion of her last birthday. She opened it, dipped her pen in the ink, and began to write.

The pen had not been trimmed recently, so it sputtered a little. But she did not want to take time for that chore tonight. 

Instead, she wrote her impressions of the house, her room, and the details of the journey. She was tired, and the journey had been uneventful, so her entry was short. 

Feeling more settled in her mind with the writing completed, she wiped her pen on a felt blotter, corked the bottle of ink carefully, and put all of her tools away. There was no sign of a desk or table, so she set her desk in a corner opposite the stone wall and climbed into bed.

There was no bed warmer, not even a hot brick, so she shivered for a few minutes until the sheets warmed. The mattress was soft and well-filled, the comforter over the sheet and under the coverlid was fluffy. Soon fatigue, and the soft bed, lulled her into the best sleep she had enjoyed in several days. 


Chapter Two

Genevieve awoke the following morning to the sound of a young cockerels squeaky crowing. He sounded so funny, she had to smile. Sounds just like Alexander,” she said aloud, throwing back the covers. 

Even though it was August, the room was chilly. Genevieve dressed quickly in a comfortable linsey-woolsey dress over a soft cotton shift. She pulled on stockings and an old pair of scuffed shoes, and set out to explore.

The dining room table and sideboard were not yet laid for breakfast, but when she ventured into the kitchen she found the remains of the sliced bread from the night before, a round of cheese, and a pan of fresh milk cooling in the adjoining stillroom. From these things, she made a satisfying meal, then stepped out into the early morning. 

Mist curled up off the meadow, and her skirts were quickly wet and heavy with dew. Genevieve did not mind. She felt so much freer here than she had in London. She would not be obliged to dress to receive visitors or go calling. Nor would she need a nap to prepare for an evening of dancing, gossiping, and consuming insipid, poorly prepared food at whatever party might be scheduled. 

Better yet, she would not have to pretend to care about the gentleman she had been contracted to marry before their fortunes disappeared. Arthur Finch, the Viscount Campbell, had not been a bad man, but she had not been in love with him nor he with her. With no dowry, she was of little value to him. The dissolution of their engagement was mutual, and she had no regrets on that score. Indeed, she was glad to be free of the pretense. 

As she trudged up the steeply sloping hill, her feet slid on the wet grass. She could feel the damp soaking into her slippers, but she was determined to reach the top where she would be able to look out over the low, rolling hills. Looking up, she saw a tall, slightly hunched figure in the distance. Two great hounds bounded around it, bouncing like playful puppies. Was it Ravenwood? Yes, she was sure of it.

“Nate!” she called out, using the childish name she had used when they had lived nearby. 

He glanced over his shoulder, then turned from her, and began striding away.

“Nate!” she called again, trying to increase her pace as she climbed the small hill. Her feet slipped from under her, and she fell face-first into the damp sod. 

The fall knocked the wind out of her lungs, and she had only strength enough to roll over onto her back as she fought to draw in air. She could hear the dogs galloping toward her, baying as if they were the very hounds of Hades. She had just managed a breath when one of them stood over her, drool falling from a mouth filled with sharp, menacing fangs.

Genevieve raised a hand to protect her face and throat from the ravening beast. It opened its jaws wider and a great, red tongue lolled out and licked across her hand. The dog then nuzzled her hand and arm aside — so strong — and began washing the muck from her face.

“Here now, Belshazzar,” a human voice said. “The lady does not want a bath out here on the open moor.” Then, when the dog had been pulled away, the voice went on, “Are you hurt? Should I send for someone?”

“I am all right,” Genevieve replied. “I just smacked down hard enough for it to knock the wind out of me. I’ll be fine in a moment.”

A large hand, rough with scars, reached down. “Let me give you a hand up, at least. Belshazzar! Meshack! Sit!”

Genevieve reached up and took the proffered hand. In spite of the rough appearance, the skin was soft, and the muscle seemed strong and well developed. A clean ruffle with a narrow edge of lace fell over the knuckles and brushed against her fingers. 

She liked the way the hand felt. It was solid with a reassuring warmth. He helped her stand, then held her elbow to steady her while she checked the damage to her clothing and her person. 

“Where were you going in such a hurry?” he asked. “These hills can are steep, and can sometimes have unexpected fissures and potholes. People can sometimes fall into them. You could be seriously hurt if you were to fall into an old barrow or happened upon a boggy spot…”

“I was trying to catch up to you.” Genevieve felt slightly forlorn when the hand left her elbow. There had been something unusually bracing about it, as if the owner would protect her against all ills. That was a foolish fancy, she knew, but when they had shared imaginary adventures before he went away to school, he had always been the hero.

He frowned. Now that she was closer, Genevieve could see where scars pulled the face on one side, and pale flesh that would probably never take a tan again. He had been a handsome youth. It saddened her to see one side of his face so disfigured. “Is there something wrong?” he asked.

Genevieve realized she had been staring. “No, no, quite the contrary,” she hastened to reassure him. “I have the most beautiful view from my window. The room was deliciously warm, the bed soft and comfortable.” Heat rose in her cheeks as she realized how a reference to a bed might be misconstrued. 

“I’m glad to hear it,” he remarked heartily, as if this was amazing news. He then stood there, the silence between them becoming awkward.

“I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate staying here,” she added impulsively. “We are close enough to look in on our manor from time to time. We are leasing it out, you know,” she added ingenuously. 

“I know,” he said, his lips twitching with wry humor. “I helped find your tenants. I am glad to know you like your room and that you are all settling in well. I understand the rest of your household will arrive today?”

“Yes,” Genevieve replied. “I look forward to my books arriving. Do you still read for pleasure?”

“I do.” Nathaniel Ravenwood’s face broke into a smile, making him look much more like the youth she remembered. “Are you still reading those foolish romances?”

“Every chance I get!” She smiled back at him. “I find more truth in them than in those long, prosy sermons father likes, or the housekeeping books my mother reads.”

Silence threatened again. Genevieve cast about for a suitable topic to keep him talking. “What lovely hounds. How old are they?”

The topic clearly pleased Nathaniel. “About eight months. They are intended as stag hounds, but right now they only know basic commands such as sit. You’ve already been introduced to Belshazzar. Meshack is his older brother by about three minutes.”

 The oversized pups wiggled with pleasure at hearing their names. The attention was too much for Belshazzar who got up and bounded around them, making front paw bow-downs, and sharp puppy yips. This got Meshack going, as well, and for a moment Genevieve feared they would knock her over in their enthusiasm.

She held out her hands to them and called soothingly, “Here, Belshazzar, here, Meshack. Come talk to me.”

The two hounds wiggled over to her, tails going so fast their hindquarters moved from side to side. They both sat, eager for pettings. Their tongues lolled out, and as she scratched an ear on each, they leaned into her hands. 

“Such delightful boys,” she said. “Do they have other littermates?”

“Sisters,” Nathaniel replied. “It was a sad day when I had to separate them, but the girls are too young for pups just yet, and even when they are ready, I’ll not want them to breed with their brothers.” Now, it was Nathaniel’s turn to blush. He seemed to have realized this was not a usual topic to discuss with a young lady. 

“It is sad when families have to be divided,” Genevieve agreed, unperturbed. “But furred and feathered creatures have no understanding of such things, so we must make those decisions for them. Is there a chance I might meet their sisters some time?”

“Some time,” Nathaniel said vaguely. “I walk them separately from their brothers, of course.”

“Of course,” Genevieve echoed his ending words. As she did so, she smoothed the hound’s silky ears. They were quite large. Sitting in front of her, their heads were nearly as tall as her shoulder. Their coats were a glossy gray, with patches of white and black. They had whiskery, square muzzles, and round intelligent eyes. Their tongues lolled out of their mouths, toning down the effect of all those bright, shiny teeth. She had never before seen such lovely, well-behaved beasts.

“I need to head back now. Will you be all right to go down alone?” His gray eyes, which she remembered as dancing with mischief, regarded her somberly from under heavy brows. Had he always had such long, dark eyelashes? She did not remember, even though they had spent many pleasant afternoons re-enacting tales of Robin Hood, or some other folk hero. 

“Quite all right,” she replied, reluctantly giving one last pat to each dog. “But you should come to tea so we can all thank you properly.”

He turned way abruptly. “I’m much too busy for that,” he said. Then he strode away over the hill brow, leaving her gaping after him. 

Slowly, Genevieve picked her way back down the hill. The dew was already drying off, and the day promised to be quite warm. 

It seemed so sad, what had happened to Nathaniel Ravenwood, now the Marquess of Montclair. She remembered him as a solemn lad, nearly ten years her senior, who indulged a younger neighbor by taking part in games of pretend. 

He was taller now, his face somber, and there were those scars. But she found his response to her to be much the same as when she was alternatively Maid Marion, Friar Tuck, or Will Scarlet to his Robin Hood. How she longed for those simpler times when she had no concern about money beyond how many pieces of candy she could purchase with her weekly allowance. 

“We’ve both come on harder times,” she said aloud. “When we are young, we longed to grow up. But when it happens, we wish to go backward into being carefree, without responsibility.”

She sighed and went in to see what needed to be done about breakfast.

“A Scarred Marquess’s Secret” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Amidst the ruins of her family’s fortune, Genevieve Dalrymple confronts the harsh truth that a strategic marriage may be their only salvation. Yet, in the glittering world of potential suitors, it is Nathaniel, the elusive Duke Montclair, a figure from her childhood, who ignites a spark within her. Drawn to him despite the haunting whispers of tragedy, Genevieve reaches out for his help, unknowingly setting in motion a dance of mystery and romance that defies societal norms.

Can Genevieve unravel his melancholy and lift the shadows that cloak his soul?

Nathaniel Ravenwood, a brooding presence on his country estates, bears the weight of rumors linking him to a devastating family fire. When Genevieve seeks refuge for her kin, Nathaniel offers more than just solace. As they reunite, the embers of friendship reignite, but Nathaniel’s haunted past threatens their budding romance.

Can the transformative power of love pierce through the darkness that enshrouds his tormented soul?

Trapped in a maze of secrets, Genevieve must choose between the mysterious Lord Montclair and the charming Lord Leavenworth, while Nathaniel fights his inner demons. In this collision of love and pragmatism, both Genevieve and Nathaniel navigate a precarious balance between the desires of their heart and the dictates of society. Will their decision unveil concealed truths that put an end to their hopes, or will it lead to a love that challenges the boundaries of their rigid world?

“A Scarred Marquess’s Secret” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Regency Hearts Entwined", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

One thought on “A Scarred Marquess’s Secret (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *