Ever ready to do the right thing, The Emperors of London act bravely—and when it comes to matters of the heart, impetuously…
Despite her cover as the daughter of the land steward for Lord Malton, Marcus Aurelius, spirited Viola Gates is tied by birth to the treacherous Jacobite legacy. Not that this keeps her from falling for the dashing Lord from afar. Despite his staid demeanor, Marcus is devastatingly handsome—and hopelessly beyond her reach. Then Viola’s father is mortally wounded and her secret identity revealed, sending her straight into danger’s path—and Marcus’s arms…
For years, he’d only known her as a wild child, the tempting—and forbidden—daughter of his trusted steward. But when Viola’s life is threatened, Marcus must act as duty—and his barely contained passion—dictates. Ferrying the bold beauty on an eventful journey to safer quarters, he offers her the protection of his name. Their tempestuous union might succeed in vanquishing their enemies, but will the chivalrous lord and his unsuitable wife surrender to the power of love?
“Lynne Connolly writes Georgian romances with a deft touch. Her characters amuse, entertain and reach into your heart.”
“Plots, deviousness and passion galore…a truly enjoyable read.”
—Fresh Fiction on Temptation Has Green Eyes
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Dilemma in Yellow Silk
An Emperors of London Novel
By Lynne Connolly
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Lynne Connolly
All rights reserved.
A cloud of dust puffed out of the window of one of the state apartments at Haxby Hall. It was about time someone shook out the rugs.
Standing at her drawing-room window, Viola Gates had a good vantage point of the great building, the pride of the neighborhood. By her reckoning, the cleaning team had reached the double salon.
She turned around to face the other occupant of the room.
"What are they doing, girl?" her father asked.
"Bottoming," she said succinctly. "Nobody bottoms like Mrs. Lancaster." She cast a backward glance at the hall. "I should go and help, since it's your fault the marquess is coming."
Her father chuckled. "They didn't expect him for another month. More fool they. And do you know why he is coming?"
She turned her attention to his heavily bandaged foot, wondering why he was stating the obvious. "To see you, Papa. You're an old retainer."
He snorted. "I'm a bit more than that, my girl. I'm related."
"In a way." He was a cousin of a cousin of a cousin. Her father had used the nebulous connection many years ago, and the previous marquess had given him the position of land steward here. Well, not land steward immediately, but he'd gained the position, and he wasn't about to give it up any time soon.
Situations like his often ran in families, but since she was the only child, they weren't about to give her the job. "Do you think they'll use your broken ankle as an excuse to force you into retirement?"
Her father shook his head. "Not a chance." He fidgeted, wincing when his foot shifted on the padded footstool. Mrs. Lancaster had brought it from the house for his use while he recovered. She'd always been a bit sweet on Viola's papa, but he wasn't buying her careful solicitude. Not yet, at any rate. She wouldn't surrender her position at Haxby yet. If she married him, she would probably have to retire, and she was queen of the hall, except when the marchioness was in residence.
"His lordship is sick and tired of London. Any excuse will serve to get him back. He's probably made out I'm at death's door. That's the actual reason he's coming."
The Gates household had heard the marquess was coming yesterday. From what she knew of the current incumbent of the Strenshall title, that information meant he'd arrive soon.
Her father was right. The family had lingered in London this year. His lordship was probably aching to get back to the country. Viola should really go to the hall to help.
The drawing room she currently stood in was beautifully neat and tidy, its comfortable furnishings inviting guests to take their ease. They did not want for visitors, especially since her father's recent fall. Nobody expected George Gates, who was perfectly at ease on a horse, to fall, much less suffer a tumble bad enough to cause his horse distress. However, he had, and now both participants were recovering in their respective residences. The land would hardly go to rack and ruin in the two months it would take her father to fully recover.
The great hall drew her. Mrs. Lancaster would need all the help she could get. Her father was comfortably ensconced in his favorite armchair with the newspapers that had been brought to the hall fresh off the mail. After tomorrow, the staff would keep them at the hall for the use of his lordship. Her father would only receive them in the afternoon.
Apart from that small hitch, estate managers at Haxby tended to live well. They even had the use of this house for the duration of her father's tenure, though he owned a perfectly good one in nearby Scarborough. Too far to travel when his impatient lordship required his presence.
George Gates hated fuss and bother. The fewer people who disturbed him, the better he liked it. And while he was off his feet, he said, he could concentrate on going through the books. He had the overview of not just Haxby Hall, but all his lordship's properties. That made for a lot of paperwork.
"Perhaps you should open one of those books, Papa," Viola said.
He scowled at the stack of account books on the side table awaiting his attention, as they had for the last week. "Perhaps. Account books have never held much appeal for me, but the sooner I start, the sooner I'm done. Your dear mother always proved of signal help there."
"She was more dutiful than I am, I fear," Viola confessed. "But if you wish it, I'll take half." She heaved a heartfelt sigh, letting her shoulders rise and fall.
Her father chuckled. "You could never abide adding up, but be warned; I'll make use of you later." He made a scooting motion with his hand. "Go, girl. Make the housekeeper happy."
Laughing, Viola hurried from the room, making her way to the front door before her father could change his mind.
Had she been in the city, she'd have had to don gloves, shawl, cloak, bonnet, fan, all the accoutrements of required outdoor wear, even on this glorious summer day. Instead, she crammed on her old straw hat to protect her complexion from the sun, shoved her feet into her sturdy leather shoes, and set off. Her small hooped petticoat kept the fabric of her gown away from her body. When she ran, holding on to the hoop to keep her skirts from swinging, a comfortable breeze gusted around her legs.
The hall was less than half a mile away, a distance she accomplished in very little time, around ten minutes by her reckoning. The side door to the hall was never locked, except when the marchioness took it into her head to have every door and window secured. Viola went in and grinned at the footman standing inside.
Tranmere was in full uniform, the blue-and-silver livery blinding in the sun.
"That must be hot," she commented.
"Don't want his lordship to catch me out," Tranmere said, his deep voice booming across the spacious hall.
"You could always take the coat off and then put it back on when you hear he's arrived. He won't come in this way."
Tranmere grimaced. "I can't. Mrs. Lancaster's orders. She wanted to inspect us all, although it's not her place."
"Don't let her hear you say that."
He grinned, the expression revealing the severe lack of teeth on his lower jaw. In his chequered past, Tranmere had engaged in prize fighting and had, so he claimed, won a trophy and a purse for each tooth. "She's all right, as long as you do what she says."
While they spoke, Viola was unbuckling her heavy outdoor shoes and putting on the light slippers she used inside the hall. Haxby had too many treasures to risk damaging the floors or the rugs. Mrs. Lancaster would have her hide if she caught Viola indoors with outdoor shoes on.
With a cheeky wave to the footman, who had taken her advice and slipped off the heavy coat, she ran up the wrought-iron staircase. It was built on a cantilevered spiral, one of the wonders of the house, based on the Tulip Stairs at Greenwich. Not that Viola had seen the Tulip Stairs, but she'd accompanied Mrs. Lancaster on so many guided tours she knew the words by heart. Almost without thinking about them.
Along the corridor, she opened a jib door and scampered up the servants' staircase. The only stair she was forbidden to use was the grand staircase in the main hall. She rarely went that way, and in any case, she had no desire to use it. If anyone asked, she'd touch an imaginary forelock and tell them it was too good for a servant girl like her. But in reality, the estate manager was more than a servant.
If Viola had insisted on her consequence, she'd have found herself very lonely indeed. She preferred to let everyone forget she was a daughter of a cousin of a cousin. There might even be another cousin in the way there.
Upstairs she opened the door at the top and entered the great state rooms. These were the absolute pinnacle of the house's grandeur and wealth. Public openings centered here, and when the family were in residence, they would hold balls and gatherings here. Viola had attended a few, but always standing at the back, not drawing attention to herself.
In the first room, she paused. The covers were off here, the glass, furniture, and china buffed to a fine dustless sheen. From the Meissen figures on the elaborately carved marble fireplace to the glittering crystal drops on the chandelier, the room looked pristinely perfect.
The rooms were set in a line — enfilade people called it — and when all the doors were open, a person could see right to the end. At the moment, the staff were opening the doors as they moved to the next room in the sequence.
The second chamber was the huge double room, so called because it could be split into two spacious rooms by using the panels embedded into the walls on each side. The current marquess preferred to keep it open. He only used it for large gatherings and when he wanted to impress people. A couple of maids were dusting, holding each ornament carefully while plying the feather dusters. Both greeted Viola with smiles, and she nodded back before moving on. The cleaning army had finished with the music room, too, so she passed on.
Mrs. Lancaster and most of her cohorts carried out their duties in the library. The family only kept precious books here, the ones they rarely read. Between each bookcase was a marquetry wooden panel depicting a literary figure. Mrs. Lancaster was applying a liberal amount of honey and lavender polish to Chaucer's nose. "Ah," she said, looking over the tops of her spectacles at Viola. "I wondered when you'd get here." Since she was standing at the top of a stepladder, she could look down at Viola. The rest of her staff, half a dozen maids, all sweeping, buffing and dusting. "Could you go into the music room and check the instruments? The tuner came last week, but nobody else can try them."
Viola had undergone torturous music lessons because one of the marquess's daughters, Lady Claudia, had hated learning, and Viola had to help her. Claudia still avoided musical instruments when possible, although her twin, Lady Livia, could hammer out a piece if forced to it.
Viola had hated the lessons, but once she could pick out a tune, she changed her mind. Not that she would ever make a professional musician, but she was at the level of a decent amateur. None of the maids could play.
Delighted she was spared the dirtier work, she went into the music room.
The instruments here were precious. A gold-encrusted harp stood in the center of the Aubusson carpet. She padded over to it and tested the strings. They sounded all right to her, but she didn't play the harp. Such a lovely instrument, with nobody to play it.
The room also contained an old set of virginals dating back to the time of James the First. Viola knew better than to touch that. It was a relic, not a real instrument. The king had presented it to one of his gentlemen as a token of his thanks for some favor long forgotten. A case contained wind instruments, but they would be fine. A mandolin stood in one corner.
Viola turned to the harpsichord. The inner lid bore a painting of a woman dressed as the Muse of music, Euterpe. Viola lifted it carefully and put the prop under it. The strings gleamed, daring her to touch them.
Sitting on the broad padded bench-like seat, she ran her hands over the white-and-black keys. They trilled. She did some scales, up and down, the automatic movement of her hands lulling her into a state where she could link with the keys. Each note sank into her. She absorbed them and made them hers. She could have stopped there. It sounded fine.
The piece of sheet music propped on the stand was a two-hander. She could always play one part of it, but mischief led her into doing something else. The locals had a wonderful collection of music, some of it scurrilous, some quaint. She started with a few quaint ones, and when she sang the verses, a few voices rose in song from the next room.
How far could she take them? An urge took her to hear the ditties in this beautiful treasure-chest of a state room.
Viola began with a few more local songs, the innocent kind about lovers losing their ladies, ladies losing their soldier lovers and running away with the gypsies. Moving closer to her goal, she played a tune about a poacher and his boy.
The song described poaching from a more innocent age, when peasants snared creatures for the pot instead of gangs of organized ruffians stealing animals by the dozen. It bled innocence. Except in the last verses, when the song revealed the uncomfortable punishment demanded in those days — the stocks, where a man could die if the crowd took a dislike to him.
She grew a little bawdier in her choice. Not all the way, or Mrs. Lancaster would call a halt to her playing, but the maids would work well for a little entertainment. Mrs. Lancaster would not have been the superb housekeeper she was if she had not understood that.
They sang. She joined in, singing of maids lying in the fields, tossing up their skirts for their swains and paying for their sins, or simply marrying. The keys, cool to the touch, warmed, the ivory taking on the heat from her fingers as she progressed.
She'd played with the notion of finding someone who could help her assuage the need she occasionally felt, but then dismissed the notion as foolish. At her age, she would probably never marry. The prospect didn't worry her as it might another. In fact, she had agreed with her father that she was probably better remaining a spinster. She would inherit a comfortable income and a house, the one her father owned in Scarborough, so she would not want. But sometimes, when she allowed herself to think about it, her body heated and the memory of kisses seared her.
Several people next door joined in, so she continued on to a local song she'd found in a gossip paper recently. At first she played just the tune, a folk tune from another part of the country. Many people hereabouts considered Yorkshire the only part of the country that mattered. Although loyal to the county where she lived, Viola was aware of what was going on elsewhere. She had to be. Her father and she shared more knowledge than most, and they had to maintain a certain level of vigilance.
This tune spoke of the King, and the other king — the one in Rome — and the confusion between the two together with the futility of choosing one side or the other. The cheerful jig-like tune belied the underlying cynicism in the words.
This one took some concentration, for she had only just learned it. She failed to notice the silence that had fallen until too late.
* * *
Marcus loved coming home. He always regarded Haxby as his home, not the London mansion his family occupied during the season. This time he'd come with his father alone, a fast journey to see Gates and arrange affairs for the estate manager's period of infirmity.
The gatekeepers barely got the huge iron gates open in time, but the coachman was stopping for no one and he swept through. Any faster and he'd be taking the corner on two wheels.
The impetus pressed Marcus against the side of the coach. "You need to tell Harrison not to travel so fast," he said to his father.
"Ah, but his thoughts of seeing his sweetheart engross him," the marquess said, smiling. "He left her behind to take us to London. We'll find someone else to take us back."
Marcus groaned. "Do I have to return? It's the end of the season. Surely there is no need to have me there."
"Your sister is marrying, and your mother is on the verge of betrothing two of your sisters. What do you think?"
The curse of being the eldest of a large family. They expected Marcus to wish them well and substitute for his father, if necessary, when he'd prefer to stay here. He'd had enough of London and its intrigues. With the season nearly over, he'd hoped to remain at home, one of the main reasons for accompanying his father.
"Could they not marry from home?"
"If they marry at all." He cleared his throat. "Besides, I have something particular to discuss with Gates. It seemed an opportune moment to do so."
Another sweep of the drive and the house came into view. As always, Marcus feasted his eyes on the place. The central structure boasted a tower in the middle capped by a lantern dome. It was not the largest of the great houses in the county, but to his mind it was the most beautiful. The central block rose a story above the side wings, the huge pilasters fronting the façade creating a grand display.
When his father died — may that be many years hence — Marcus would inherit this and all the responsibilities that went with it. The notion of becoming the marquess had always shocked him, an emotion he kept to himself, as not worthy of the heir to the marquisate. Hundreds of people would depend on him for their livelihood.
Excerpted from Dilemma in Yellow Silk by Lynne Connolly. Copyright © 2015 Lynne Connolly. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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