With his life and reputation already in tatters, Max is most willing to help the exquisite young minx practice her chosen craft—though he is surprised at the depth of his desire . . . and by her most unprofessional tenderness. But Marietta's plans are threatened by the dangerous mysteries swirling around this disarmingly sensual gentleman . . . and by a heart that urges her to break the courtesan's cardinal rule: never fall in love.
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Rules of Passion
Chatper OneVauxhall Gardens, London
The 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 makeAphrodite 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 shecan'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 freedomto her own cost, unfortunatelyand 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."
"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 dowithherpetite 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 shewasruined,shereminded 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 herof 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.Rules of Passion. Copyright © by Sara Bennett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.