Midnight Marriage: A Georgian Historical Romance
One of the 20 Most Romantic Books Ever, According to BookBub Members
Inspired by real events, a secretly arranged marriage establishes a dynasty.
Julian returns from exile to claim a bride he doesn’t know. But Deb is content with her independent life. Julian’s challenge is to have her accept him on his merit. The future of the Roxton dukedom depends upon it.
Set in the opulent world of the Georgian aristocracy, Lucinda Brant delivers another lavish 18th century experience in her trademark style—heart-wrenching drama with a happily ever after.
- B.R.A.G. Medallion
- Readers’ Favorite Audiobook Silver Medal Winner
- Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Finalist
You will once again be reminded why Lucinda Brant’s books are such a treasure. —SWurman, Night Owl Reviews 5 STAR TOP PICK
The energy starts on page one and never lets up. Twists and turns, dramatic revelations, and some enjoyable chaos make this a book that keeps the reader turning pages. Highly recommended! — Fiona Ingram, Readers’ Favorite 5 STAR MEDAL WINNER
Lucinda Brant fully immerses the reader in the world of Georgian England, keeping you turning pages, or listening late into the night as the case may be. For those historical romance fans who have been gobsmacked by Nicholas Boulton (as a narrator), I am thrilled to report that Alex Wyndham is every bit as good. His narrative voice is deep and lovely. I unreservedly recommend that you listen to Midnight Marriage.—Lady Wesley, Romantic Historical Reviews audiobook review
Release date: March 5, 2011
Print pages: 326
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Midnight Marriage: A Georgian Historical Romance
BATH, ENGLAND, 1769
Julian Hesham thought he had died and gone to Heaven. But angels did not punctuate their harp playing with damns and blasts. He supposed the music in Heaven to be a gentle plucking of the strings, the melody more largo than allegro. He was not musically inclined, but the cacophony that assaulted his ears was a frenzied piece of playing, irritating to the nerves. If he was to slowly bleed to death, much better to do so in the peace and quiet of a spring morning, with only the attendant sounds of an awakening forest. He wished the musician a hundred miles away. That the fiddler might prove his salvation did not cross his mind.
He was slumped under a birch tree. To the casual observer he had the appearance of a gentleman sleeping off an evening of heavy drinking. Long muscular legs were sprawled out before him. His neckcloth and silk embroidered waistcoat were disorderly. His boots were muddy. His strong square chin rested on his chest. A lock of thick black hair, having escaped its ribbon, fell forward into his eyes. His right arm was limp in the leaf litter, beside which was his discarded rapier. His left hand, which he had shoved inside his flowered waistcoat, pressed a folded handkerchief to a place just under his ribs where a thrust from his opponent’s foil had entered deep into the muscle.
Suddenly the music stopped. The wood was again at peace.
Julian sighed his relief.
In the silence there was the unmistakable click of a pistol being cocked, and this brought his chin up. Standing only a few feet away, at the edge of the clearing, was a youth in a blue velvet riding frock, not holding a pistol but a viola. Julian guessed he was about eight years of age—the same age as his much younger brother.
When the boy-musician wedged the viola under his chin and set bow to strings again, Julian shook his head and brought the recital to a halt before it began. He was not about to be a willing audience to more screeching, however curious to know the musician’s next move.
“I’m certain you’re very good on the night, but couldn’t you rehearse elsewhere?” he asked conversationally. When the boy-musician spun about on a heel, almost dropping his bow, he added, “At your feet.” And smiled weakly when the boy took an involuntary step backward. “Do me the favor of fetching my frock coat. It’s behind you… There’s a flask… In the right-hand pocket…”
The boy-musician removed the viola from under his chin.
“What do you want with a flask? You look as if you’re drunk already.”
“What deplorable manners you have,” Julian complained, adding when the boy-musician continued to hesitate, “I mean you no harm. Even if I were a footpad I’m too knocked about to attempt to do you a mischief.”
This speech was an effort and Julian’s breathing became labored.
The boy-musician watched a spasm of pain cross the handsome features and wondered what he should do. The man’s face was too pale, the strong mouth too blue, and the breathing now short and quick. It was then that the boy-musician saw the dark spreading stain seeping out from under the soiled waistcoat.
“Good God! He’s injured!”
The exclamation did not belong to the boy-musician, forcing Julian, through supreme effort of will, to look up. A pair of damp brown eyes regarded him with concern and a cool feminine hand touched his forehead.
Julian grinned and promptly fainted.
“Damned fool!” muttered the young woman, laying aside her pistol and hurriedly unscrewing the lid of a monogrammed silver flask handed to her by the boy-musician. She glanced up at her nephew. “Jack. Take Bannock and fetch Dr. Medlow. Tell him a man’s been injured. Don’t mention it’s a sword wound.”
The boy-musician hesitated.
“Will you be all right left alone with him, Aunt Deb?”
She smiled reassuringly.
“Yes, I’ll be fine, Jack. I have my pistol, remember?”
She watched her nephew scurry off before turning her attention once more to the injured duelist. Gently, she tilted his head and slowly dribbled the contents of the silver flask between his cold, parched lips.
“It won’t be my fault if you die,” she admonished him as one does a naughty child. “But it would serve you to rights for being foolish enough to fight a duel!”
“No. It won’t be your fault,” Julian murmured at last. “Thank you. Another sip, if you please.” He let his head fall back into the circle of her embrace and looked up into a flushed face framed by an overabundance of dark red hair. “Does he always play his fiddle punctuated with oaths? It adds color but it would offend Herr Bach.”
“It’s not a fiddle, it’s a viola. And not Bach but Herr Telemann. The oaths were mine, not Jack’s.”
“Mine,” Deb admitted truthfully, and promptly changed the subject. “What did you think of the composition we were rehearsing?”
“I didn’t like it at all.”
She laughed good-naturedly, showing lovely pearly-white teeth.
“Perhaps in another setting, after a few more days of practice, and…” Julian paused, distracted by the faint feminine scent at her white throat. “That’s very pleasant,” he announced with surprise. “As a rule females wear far too much scent. Is it lavender or something else? Rosewater, perhaps?”
“You’re a lunatic. How can you talk pleasantries while you’re bleeding all over me?” She gently sat him upright against the tree trunk, then brushed down her petticoats as she got to her feet. “Don’t laugh. It will only make your suffering worse. If I don’t do something to staunch the bleeding you’ll die, and I’ve enough to worry me without a corpse adding to my difficulties.”
“My dear girl, don’t put yourself to any trouble. I’m sure I’ll last until the physician arrives.”
Deb wasn’t listening. She was thinking. The last thing she wanted was for this gentleman to die on her. Besides, she would be in enough trouble explaining away to her stiff-necked brother what she and Jack were doing in the Avon forest, alone and with their violas. Sir Gerald loathed their music-making nearly as much as he loathed Jack’s very existence. What could she use to make bandages? She groaned. She supposed she’d have to sacrifice her shirt (it was one of Otto’s and quite worn thin anyway). To cover her nakedness she’d borrow the gentleman’s frock coat.
“I’ll have to use his cravat, too,” she muttered aloud as she unbuttoned the mannish shirt at her throat and promptly pulled it up over her head. She scooped up the gentleman’s discarded frock coat and disappeared behind a tree.
“H-how old did you say you were?” Julian asked conversationally, an appreciative audience to her undressing, disappointed he was only permitted a view of her narrow back in the thin cotton chemise.
“I didn’t. You may detest my viola playing,” she called out, “but I am considered good in a crisis.”
“What are you doing back there? Please don’t go to any trouble…”
“I assure you, I won’t do more than is necessary to keep you alive until Dr. Medlow arrives.”
Deb stepped out from behind the tree, the frock coat hanging loose about her shoulders and arms and buttoned to her chin, the narrow lapels up about her slender throat, tickling her small ears. She knelt beside Julian and went to work ripping up her shirt to make bandages.
“I’m going to have to remove your waistcoat and shirt,” she said, addressing the torn strips of fabric. “I’ll be as gentle as I’m able.”
“I’m sure you shall,” came the murmured reply.
He submitted with good grace to having his silk cravat pulled this way and that, the diamond pin extracted with care and put aside, but it took great presence of mind for him to sit up, straighten his leg and remove the hand that was pressed to the wound. At the latter he fainted with the pain but made a swift recovery, gaze riveted to the girl’s face: On the expressive brown eyes, the straight indifferent nose and the full bottom lip that quivered ever so slightly. Several curls had escaped from their pins and fell across her flushed cheek. Julian could not decide on their color—were they a dark strawberry-blonde or a more autumnal red? He was certain he had never seen such rich red hair before, or such shine. He would have remembered such a particular color. The question consumed all his thoughts as he was stripped out of a richly-embroidered waistcoat to reveal a shirt wet and heavy with his own blood.
Removing the shirt presented a problem for Deb. She knew her patient did not have the strength to raise his arms above his shoulders to slip the shirt over his head, so it would have to be torn from his back. Yet that was no easy thing. The cloth about the wound was wet with blood and had adhered to the slit in the man’s muscular chest like glued paper to a wall. But Deb did not dwell on the pain she was about to inflict. It only had to be endured for the briefest of moments.
Decided, she took hold of the opened shirt front and ripped it left and right off the broad shoulders. It took three tugs to rend the fine fabric. The third tore the cloth to his waist, exposing a wide expanse of chest matted with hair the same raven-black color as that which covered the gentleman’s head. For an instant her eyes registered surprise. The silk cravat, the richness of the exquisite fabric of waistcoat and frock coat, the patrician features, all had concealed the measure of the man’s muscle. It gave her hope for a full recovery. Such a well-exercised physique would stand him in good stead, but only if the bleeding could be staunched, and at once.
Julian suffered these ministrations with great fortitude, surprised the girl possessed such strong constitutional powers. The sight of blood obviously did not bother her. She merely wrinkled her nose, not in response to any squeamishness, but in an inquiring, interested sort of way. He was about to make a quip about the dual sensibilities of being female and a musician but the quip died on his pale lips. It was replaced with a guttural oath from deep within his throat, for suddenly his whole being convulsed with an unbearable pain.
Deb had carefully peeled away the sodden shirt from the wound, exposing a deep gash under the rib cage in the gentleman’s right side. Examining it, she said in a detached voice,
“I don’t think he meant to kill you, or your opponent has no notion of anatomy. The slice is deep, but if he’d wanted to kill you he’d have pinked you on the left…”
Then, without warning, she pressed a wad of folded cloth over the wound, and so firmly that to Julian it was as if her whole fist had been thrust through the wound to mingle with his entrails and meet up with his spine. Disorientated with pain, he fought to remain conscious. His limp hand was placed over the dressing. He was told in a strident voice to keep it there with a firm pressure until the makeshift bandage was securely about his chest to hold the padding in place.
It was no easy task to bind up the wound. Deb managed to slip the bandage once around her patient’s taut stomach, but having achieved this much, the gentleman’s eyelids fluttered and he promptly fainted. Quickly she scrambled up, roughly pulled aside the layers of her petticoats to free her long stockinged legs, and straddled the man’s inert thighs in time to catch the full weight of his upper body against her shoulder as he pitched forward. She was almost knocked off her knees but managed to put her shoulder into his upper chest, and at such an angle that it permitted her arms to remain free. This enabled her to pass the bandage freely across the width of his wide bare back. She did this several times, each time pulling the binding tighter so that the wound was sealed and the padding secure under the wrappings.
Certain her shoulder was bruised and her back about to buckle under the man’s weight, she quickly groped about the tangled tree roots for the diamond-headed stickpin she had set aside. With the pin secured through the top layers of her makeshift bandage, she used her remaining strength to set her patient upright. She gently leaned him up against the birch tree. But he did not look at all comfortable, so without a thought to modesty she stripped off his frock coat, folded the embroidered silk garment up into a bundle and successfully placed this soft pillow behind his strong neck, thus avoiding his raven head banging back against the tree trunk with a thud.
Exhausted and in need of catching her breath, Deb just sat there in her thin cotton chemise—straddled atop her patient’s muscular thighs, petticoats bunched up over her knees and exposing her long stockinged legs to the world. She felt bruised, battered and on the verge of tears.
“How dare you do this to me!” she demanded of the unconscious gentleman. She picked up the flask, uncertain whether to force the rest of its contents down his throat or dash the liquid in his face. “You’re probably a notorious criminal and well served to be left to bleed to death! My misfortune to stumble across you.” She leaned forward and poured a drop of brandy between the parted lips. “I’m a fool,” she murmured, scanning his angular face. “I don’t think you can be a criminal. Your eyes are too honest… You are far too swooningly handsome to be—Oh! You ungrateful brute! Unhand me!” she yelped, for Julian had her hard by the wrist and the flask fell into the grass. “That hurts!”
Julian looked into the flushed face close up to his and blinked.
“Promise me you won’t run off.”
Deb gave a twisted smile.
“Afraid I mean to leave you to the footpads?” she goaded, plying at the strong fingers about her wrist.
“No. I want—I want to talk to you.”
“Save your strength for the physician. Oh, do let me go! You’ll bruise my flesh.”
He released her and she sat up.
“I haven’t the strength to make you stay. But I’m apt to decline into a blue melancholy without you.” He swallowed and closed his eyes, and spent a few moments regaining his breath. “That would wound my pride far greater than any wound to my body.”
Deb was suddenly curious. “Who did this to you?”
“Men of little consequence.” He sighed his annoyance. “They weren’t particularly good swordsmen. Uncle Lucian will be disgusted with me.”
“Premier swordsman in France and England in his day. He thinks I lack grace in my movements. He’s right.”
“You should have shot ’em!” Deb said savagely.
Julian smiled. “Uncle Lucian? I know he thinks me a sad trial on my parents and never has a good word to say on my behalf, but—”
“Silly! Not Uncle Lucian, the cowardly curs who did this to you. Why didn’t you use pistols? Much quicker result and you need not break a sweat.”
“Precisely. Uncle Lucian deplores the methods of chivalry employed by the modern youth.”
“But you’re not exactly—Sorry!”
“I’m hardly in my dotage, dear girl,” Julian drawled. “And to a man in his sixties, four-and-twenty is barely of an age to be out of leading strings.”
“Oh! Well, that’s not old at all,” Deb agreed. “Actually, I thought you older—Oh dear! I have the most wretched tongue. I am forever saying the first thing that comes to mind.”
“Don’t let it bother you,” he said dryly, gaze flickering across her bare shoulders and slim arms. “I expect you thought me older because I’m graying at the temples?”
Deb met his gaze. “How—how many swordsmen were there?”
“Three? That’s unfair and dishonorable.”
“Yes. Tell me your name.”
“Name?” she repeated with eyes downcast, suddenly self-conscious. “My name is unimportant.”
“I’m sorry you had to ruin your shirt,” he apologized after a short silence. When she looked away, out to the forest, unable to meet his steady gaze, he said gently, “Won’t you tell me why you and—Jack? Yes, Jack—are fiddling in the forest at this hour? Wouldn’t the schoolroom be a more appropriate place?”
“My name is Julian,” he continued. “I can’t thank you if I don’t know your name.”
“I told you. It’s not important. I’d have done the same for-for—Oh! Anyone.”
“I see. Is it necessary for you to carry a pistol?”
Deb threw him a sullen look. “You’re very busy.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
“If you are, I’d like to offer my assistance.”
“Is that so?” she said with another twisted smile. “When do you think you will be in a position to offer your services? A month—two months from now?”
“I’m not about to beg,” he replied mildly.
“I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful,” she apologized, face a mask of hard indifference. “It’s just that you can’t help. So, please forget you ever saw us or that I have a pistol. If Gerry ever found out… I’ll go and meet up with Dr. Medlow—show him the way through the forest.”
“Must you carry a pistol?” he persisted in the same gentle tone.
Deb regarded him steadily then made up her mind that there could be little harm in confiding just a little bit about herself, especially to such a willing ear. Besides, it might just take his mind off the pain in his side.
“My brother Gerry—Gerald—doesn’t know about the pistol. It belonged to Otto, who gave it to me just before he died, and said that I must keep it on me always when I am out alone. Otto was my other brother and my best friend, and Jack’s father. He was a splendid musician and Jack has his talent. If Jack is to go to Paris to be tutored under Evelyn Ffolkes, then he must practice. But as Gerry has forbidden us to play our violas, Jack and I come out here to be alone, and so the servants won’t report back to him. So you see, that’s why I carry a pistol.”
“Gerry has no ear for music?”
Deb’s brown eyes lit up. “Gerry is tone deaf.”
“Hence he has no appreciation of Jack’s talent.”
Julian’s breathing became labored again and he closed his eyes. Deb thought he was about to faint again until he smiled and said in a contrived tone of disinterest,
“I dare say Gerry has the same lack of appreciation for beauty. If you were my sister I’d take better care of you. I certainly wouldn’t allow you out of the schoolroom, dressed in a man’s shirt and without your stays.”
“You obviously have no idea what it’s like to be spied upon!” she said indignantly. “I can’t be expected to sneak out of the house with Jack if I must first wake my maid to lace me into my stays. Brigitte would have the whole house up within five minutes of my departure.”
“Well then, that certainly excuses you.”
“And you are a bad judge of age. I will be one-and-twenty very soon.”
“Accept my apologies. You look much younger. Perhaps because you aren’t wearing your stays…?”
Deb gaped at him. “Because I’m not wearing my stays?” she repeated incredulously. “Your manners are appalling. If you weren’t wounded I’d—I’d—”
“Yes?” he asked expectantly, shoulders shaking with silent laughter. “You would…?”
A crimson flush washed over her breasts and up her throat. She bravely looked him in the eyes, about to tell him what she thought of his insolence, when she noticed a spot of fresh blood on the bandage, and that he was trembling.
“You’re shivering!” she announced, all embarrassment forgotten.
“Yes. I’m cold and can’t move my legs. No matter, the physician will be here shortly.”
Only then did she realize that as well as being practically naked from the waist up, she was still straddled atop the injured duelist’s thighs, and had been comfortably settled on his lap for quite some time. Hiding her embarrassment behind anger, she admonished him as she scrambled off his long legs and brushed down the layers of her crushed petticoats.
“You should’ve said something instead of letting me sit there rattling on at you!”
“And cut short our tête-à-tête? Now that would’ve been bad-mannered.”
“You must be a lunatic!”
“Yes, I must be,” Julian answered with a private smile and closed his eyes.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...