In this twist on the Pygmalion story, a duke makes a wager that he can bed the uncouth Lady Gloriana. But the bet takes on a life of its own...
The year is 1725. Lady Gloriana Baniard is a beautiful fish out of water. Brought up on the mean streets of London, she is a brash, blunt, obscene force of nature. But thanks to a brief marriage to a disgraced aristocrat, she is forced to live with his noble family and endure the humiliating process of learning to be a lady. Rebelling, she runs away to Yorkshire, where she intends to be a blacksmith, a skill at which she excels. She knows she’ll need a manservant to front for her. When John Thorne appears, she hires him, stirred as much by his irresistible attraction as by his strength.
John Haviland, Duke of Thorneleigh, is an arrogant, indolent gambler and womanizer. Having seen Gloriana just once, he yearns to make her his own. When he learns she has run away from her family, he makes a wild bet with his wastrel companionshe will find the lady and bed her. Disguised as a humble servant, he becomes her assistant, learning the blacksmith trade. The clash of wills between these two proud people creates more sparks than a blacksmith’s anvil, as Gloriana learns to be a lady, Thorne learns humilityand desire deepens to love.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Award-winning author Sylvia Halliday’s first historical novel, written as Ena Halliday, was chosen by Pocket Books to launch their Tapestry line. She subsequently wrote for Popular Library/Warner and Harlequin Historicals under the pen name of Louisa Rawlings, the name of her maternal great-grandmother. She has written for Kensington/Zebra under the pseudonym of Sylvia Halliday. She has published 14 historical romances. Her FOREVER WILD earned 5 stars from RT Book Reviews and Affaire de Coeur , and was a RITA finalist for the Romance Writers of America. Her latest offerings, published by Diversion Books, are MARIELLE (The French Maiden Series, #1), LYSETTE (The French Maiden Series, #2), DELPHINE (The French Maiden Series, #3), DREAMS SO FLEETING, GOLD AS THE MORNING SUN, THE RING, and SUMMER DARKNESS, WINTER LIGHT. FOREVER WILD, STOLEN SPRING, and PROMISE OF SUMMER, written by her as Louisa Rawlings, are available from Samhain Publishing. Visit her blog, Life Lessons From An Old Bitch, at www.sylviahalliday.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook @SylviaHalliday.
Read an Excerpt
London — 1725
"Gads! This pantomime is tedious. And it's stifling in here." John Havilland, Duke of Thorneleigh, scowled at the players on the stage. He brushed impatiently at the sleeve of his brocaded coat and turned to his companion. "Let's go get a drink, Felix. Someplace common and vulgar, so I can take off this damn periwig."
Lord Felix DeWitt inhaled a pinch of snuff, sneezed delicately, and shook his head. "There's no pleasing you these days, friend Thorne. What's happened to you?"
Thorne shrugged, unwilling to probe the festering sore inside of him that was growing more difficult to ignore. "God knows. I find life boring, that's all. The same old pleasures, the artificial women, the carousing that produces nothing but a headache the next morning. Even my gambling gives me no joy. I always win."
DeWitt's laughter held the edge of envy. "Yes, damn you. You've got a bloody fortune, even without your winnings, while I just scrape by."
"Faugh! You're comfortably fixed. You're just tight-fisted. I pity the woman who marries you, forced to come begging for every petticoat and ribbon."
Just then, the actor on the stage turned his back, bent over, lifted the skirts of his coat and pretended to pass wind. The audience roared.
Thorne felt his stomach lurch with disgust. How had he come to this — a rakehell existence, a life without meaning or direction? Shallow friends, empty days and nights, a mad pursuit of pleasure that left him increasingly dissatisfied. But what else was there for a man of his station and social class? He couldn't very well disgrace the family honor by going off to be a ditch-digger! Besides, he'd never worked a day in his privileged life; he wouldn't even know how to begin. "Damn it, let's go," he muttered.
DeWitt grinned and tapped the side of his nose. "I have the perfect cure for your boredom. A gambling spectacle so exciting that even you will be stirred. And perhaps my bad luck with you will change tonight, and I'll clean out your purse, damn my liver!" He gave a tug to Thorne's coat. "Follow me."
He led Thorne out of the main theatre at Lincoln's Inn Field and into a long corridor studded with closed doors, behind which Thorne could hear the sounds of shouts and raucous laughter. He sighed tiredly. "Not cock fighting again, Felix. Or a round of cards. And the thought of whores dancing naked on a table doesn't stir me one whit tonight."
DeWitt uttered a braying laugh. "Oh, ye of little faith. There's something here that I've never told you about. You won't be disappointed." He led a reluctant Thorne down a staircase and through a rabbit-warren of passages beneath the theatre. Coming to a small door, he opened it with a flourish.
To his surprise, Thorne found himself in a gallery overlooking a round stage below. The gallery seats were already crowded with spectators, idle gentlemen like himself, placing bets on some unknown outcome. Several of the men turned to greet Thorne as a companion in riotous living. He suddenly felt disgusted to be of their number.
As he and DeWitt found chairs, two women appeared on the stage below. They were short and squat and ugly. One of them, clearly the favorite of the crowd, raised her arm in salute to the gallery, and was showered with applause and a handful of copper coins.
The two women were nearly naked, dressed only in small, tight bodices that accented their bosoms, and short linen petticoats that scarcely hid their thighs. Bunches of ribbons decorated their heads, waists and right arms; one woman sported red ribbons, the other blue.
When the cheering had died down, they bowed to the spectators, then launched into boastful tirades, extolling their own courage and vigor. One woman, a blond whose thick brogue identified her as Irish, announced that she should have been a man, so great was her prowess. The other, the favorite, interrupted her to declare that she herself beat her husband regularly to keep up her strength. The spectators roared with laughter and she pranced around the stage, reveling in their approval.
"Christ's blood," muttered Thorne. "If we're to be treated to another performance, with bickering women no less, I'd rather watch the pantomime. At least the actors are silent."
DeWitt held up an admonishing finger. "Only wait a moment."
Several servants appeared on the stage, bearing short swords, some three inches wide and three feet in length, which they handed to the women.
"My God!" exclaimed Thorne. "Do they mean to fight with those weapons? And are they as sharp as they look?"
DeWitt laughed. "Fight? Of course. They don't call those creatures 'gladiators' for nothing! And only the last six inches of the blades are honed. As sharp as a razor." He pointed to the Irish woman. "Keep your eye on Dirty Meg, there. She's not favored to win, but I've seen her last two bouts. She has heart and spirit enough to endure."
Thorne eyed the other woman. Her greasy black hair was piled into a knot on top of her head. She seemed small next to her robust Irish opponent, but there was a fiery agility in the way she danced around the stage, brandishing her sword. "I'd put my money on that one."
"Cheapside Grace? Fair enough. Five hundred pounds?"
"I knew I could persuade you. I've never known you to pass up a wager."
At a signal from a man bearing a large staff, the two women faced each other, grasping their swords in both hands, and began to circle warily. Their faces were twisted into fierce scowls. To DeWitt's delight, Dirty Meg suddenly lunged and struck the first blow with the flat of her heavy blade, catching Grace on the side of her ribs. Grace staggered back, gasping for breath. Seeing the advantage, Meg pummeled her with a series of savage blows, which drove the other woman to her knees. Grace's bare arms and legs were covered with reddening welts.
Thorne turned his head aside. He thought he had seen all the depravity that London had to offer, but the sight before him sickened him. "I'm leaving, Felix," he growled.
Oblivious to Thorne's mood, Felix cackled. "Afraid to lose your wager, and so soon? I didn't think you'd turn tail and run as soon as a bet was going against you." He indicated the two women. "Don't leave. Your champion seems to have rallied."
Never one to dodge a bet, or even appear to, Thorne reluctantly turned his gaze back to the gladiators. Grace had struggled to her feet and was now beating back Meg, attacking the Irishwoman with vigor. They fought for interminable minutes, bashing one another with flat-bladed strokes, until the sweat poured from their bodies and their flesh was livid.
With a sudden shout of triumph, Grace leaped forward and slashed at Meg with the point of her sword. Blood gushed from a great cut on Meg's forehead and she gasped and grimaced in pain. At once, the man with the staff separated the two women. The spectators cheered or hissed, according to their preferences.
DeWitt swore in disappointment and tossed a sack of jangling coins into Thorne's lap.
While several handlers appeared with needle and thread to stitch up Meg's gaping wound, and handed her a small bottle of gin to fortify her, Grace enjoyed her triumph. She scooped up the shillings and half-crowns that rained down on the stage and blew a kiss to a particularly noisy admirer.
DeWitt's face had turned red with anger. He leaped to his feet and shook his fist at Dirty Meg. "Stupid Irish slut!" he screamed. "You can't fight worth a damn!"
Dirty Meg jerked her head upward to the gallery, catching Thorne's gaze. Her eyes — beneath her bloodied forehead — were large and luminous, and filled with all the pain and naked anguish of her hard life.
"Sweet Jesus," muttered Thorne, ashamed to be a witness to her degradation. He clenched DeWitt's purse in his fist, tossed it to the stage at Meg's feet and dashed for the door.
"Don't go!" cried DeWitt. "They'll fight again, as soon as Meg is patched up. We'll make another wager."
But Thorne was already out the door, racing through the twisting corridors until he had found the sanctuary of the open street. He leaned against the wall of the theater, his heart pounding, and gulped in great breaths of clean night air. He needed time to think, time to wonder what would become of his soul if he didn't stop his mad descent into Hell.
"Egads! Why did you vanish like that?" DeWitt suddenly appeared beside him.
"I want to get out of London now," he growled. "Spend some time in the country."
DeWitt reached up under his periwig and scratched his head. "But Lady Penelope's assembly ball ... the races next week ..."
"Now!" exclaimed Thorne hoarsely, aware of the note of desperation in his own voice.
"Well," grumbled DeWitt, "Lord Gilbert has invited us to Shrewsbury. I suppose it could be arranged."
"I'll go with you, or without you," said Thorne. "But I must get away."
Or go mad, he thought.
* * *
"I've won again. That's four hundred quid you owe me, Felix." Thorne tossed down his cards and yawned in boredom. "Gads. There's no joy in besting you anymore. You play like a fool."
DeWitt took a deep draught of his wine and grimaced. "This tastes like pig slop. Do they know nothing of storing a keg properly outside of London?" He scowled once more at his cards, then brushed his carefully-manicured hand across the rustic table, sweeping the entire deck to the floor. "Damme, but I hate to lose to you."
"Then don't play with me."
"How else are we to pass the weary time until we get to Shrewsbury? Besides, I can beat every other buck in London but you, Thorne. Strike me, but I think Dame Fortune smiled upon you the very day you were born. Cards, dice, horses. Is there a game where you don't triumph? A wager you don't win?"
Thorne twisted his finely-carved lips into a cynical smirk. He was already beginning to regret that he'd invited DeWitt on this country escape. How could he hope to be free of his current life if he brought a part of it with him? "Lucky at gaming, unlucky at love," he said. "Isn't that what they say?"
Dewitt snorted. "You? The reigning rake of London? How many hearts have you broken this past year?"
Thorne felt oddly flattered by his friend's words, yet sickened at the same time. What kind of a society measured a man by his romantic conquests?
"How many?" Thorne repeated in a drawl, feigning a satisfaction that he didn't feel. "Let me see." He shook his hands to toss back the delicate ruffles of his cuffs and began to tick off the numbers on his fingers. "There was Lady Barbara in March, I remember. Then Cecily. Then Elizabeth — she of the large breasts. And those two agreeable viscountesses, bored with their husbands. I can't recall their names. That's five." He paused in his count. "Do you want them all? Even the wenches?"
DeWitt shook his head. "No, damn you. Only the gentlewomen you led on, until they were panting for your kisses."
Thorne smoothed the crown of his black hair and gave his friend what he hoped was a smug grin. "A great many of them wanted more than kisses. And I was happy to oblige."
"And then, having ensnared them, you threw them away without remorse. Jilted them while they were still falling at your feet."
Thorne shrugged. Faceless, useless women. "I'm not about to wait for a woman's inevitable duplicity," he growled. "I prefer to strike first. And remorse doesn't enter into it. I pleasure them. They pleasure me. I have nothing with which to reproach myself." He ground his teeth together. "But I'll not be made a fool of by a woman. Ever."
He suppressed a sigh. Poets through the ages had written of true love. Were they all pretending? Or was there a woman out there for him — a creature full of love and trust? Someone who would want him for himself alone, not for his money or title. Someone who wasn't easily seduced by the careless charm he had perfected. A woman who didn't have betrayal knitted into the very fiber of her being.
DeWitt snickered. "Pride goeth before a fall."
"What the devil do you mean by that?"
"Have you forgotten that Lady Penelope refuses to stay jilted?"
Thorne stirred uncomfortably in his chair. Lady Penelope Crawford was a current thorn in his side. "Balderdash!" he said with an air of bravado. "I haven't truly jilted her yet."
"Is that why we're here?" With a mocking wave of his arm, DeWitt indicated the simple bedchamber of the country inn. "By the horn of Satan, I think that's why you fled London like a frightened rabbit. Because of the wager she offered."
Thorne took a moment to thank the gods that DeWitt hadn't guessed his real reason for leaving London. He forced his next words from his mouth in an indignant sputter. "What the devil would you have me do? It was an absurd bet!"
DeWitt roared with laughter. "Damme if I've seen you so rattled in a long time. As for absurd wagers, I've seen you gamble a fortune on the number of beetles to emerge from a pile of dung. You'd bet on a man's capacity for honest labor — if you believed in it."
"But to wager a marriage proposal on the toss of the dice! The lady may be beautiful, but she's mad to think she can trap me."
"And so you ran away here. To a backwater like Shropshire." DeWitt took another sip of his wine and made a face. "And forced me to accompany you and endure these primitive conditions."
Thorne bristled, feeling the challenge to his pride, to his common sense. What the devil was he doing here? "Damn it, I didn't run away! I thought it would be pleasant to visit Lord Gilbert in Shrewsbury. The countryside is charming in May."
DeWitt gave a braying laugh. "Make your excuses to someone who believes them. Lord Gilbert is a bore — as we both know. We shall spend a tedious fortnight. And the gardens of Kensington outshine every unkempt field of wildflowers."
"Well," Thorne said sourly, "we'll be back in London soon enough."
"And then what? What do you intend to do about your lady?"
Thorne sighed and closed his eyes. This trip had been a mistake. He couldn't run from himself. A man was what he was. It was far too late for him to change. He opened his eyes and shrugged in resignation. "Perhaps I'll marry her after all. What does it matter? I'm twenty-eight, not getting any younger. I ought to have an heir."
He raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Love doesn't exist." And if it does, he thought bitterly, it only brings a man grief.
DeWitt stood up, stretched, and scratched his groin. His handsome face — puffy from too much self-indulgence — twisted into a leer. "But the act of love is another matter. And I'm becoming horn-mad in this country isolation. Three days without a doxy! Fortunately, the chamber wench made calf-eyes at me when she brought up our supper. I think I persuaded her — for a price." He indicated the door. "I regret to throw you out, my friend, but ..." he cupped his groin in a suggestive manner, "... nature calls."
Thorne rose in his turn. "I leave you to your pleasures." He ambled to the door, moved down the dimly-lit passageway, and opened the door to his own bedchamber.
The innkeeper's wife turned in alarm as he entered the room. "Oh, Your Grace!" She gave a little curtsy.
"What the devil are you doing here, woman?"
Two bright spots of crimson appeared on her rounded cheeks. "I ... I were just turnin' down your sheets, Your Grace." She nervously twisted her fleshy fingers together, staring down at the buckles of his shoes.
Thorne noted that she was young and comely, in the manner of a buxom country milkmaid who has dined too often on her own cream and cheeses. An ample bosom and wide, accommodating hips. Time was, his body would have responded to such a lusty wench. But tonight, he couldn't shake off the restlessness. "You may go," he muttered.
Her glance slid to the bed, golden in the glow of a single candle, then returned to contemplate his footwear. "But sir ... Your Grace ... 'tis a sweet, pleasant night. And you so alone, and all." She raised her head and looked boldly into his eyes, a sly smile curving her lips. "My husband be a fine man, you understand. But there ain't been many fine gentlemen stoppin' at the inn. Leastwise, none as well-favored as Your Grace. You're a hell-fired prince o' the night, or I miss my guess. With them steely gray eyes, what looks right through a body."
She was beginning to disgust him. "And your husband?" he asked coldly.
She had clearly not noticed the icy tone in his voice. She grinned and gave him a suggestive wink, her hands going to the bodice of her gown. "Sleepin' like a babe. He'll not disturb us. What do you want me to do?"
Did country women cuckold their husbands as easily as city ladies did? "Do?" he repeated, his mouth curling in scorn around the word. "I want you to get your bloody carcass out of here and take to your husband's bed. And think long and hard on the loyalty a woman owes her man!"
"B-but, Your Grace," she blubbered. "I only meant to ..."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Lady Gloriana"
Copyright © 2015 Sylvia Halliday.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Gloriana grew up on the mean streets of London, she married a disgraced aristocrat and had a son. When her husband dies she goes to live with her sister-in-law and her family, and they are trying to teach her how to become a proper lady, which isn’t going very well. She decides runaway and start a new life as a blacksmith but she will need a manservant to help cover for her. Enters John Haviland a Duke who knows who Gloriana is and has made a wager with his friends to bed her, will he make good on that wager? This was an ok historical for me, the story flows well and the chemistry between the characters is good. I enjoyed it.