A witty, charming and sparkling romance set in Regency England.
The year is 1800, and Valentine Welburn, an heiress with a mind of her own, arrives from India to stay with her sardonic godfather, Lord Mountjoy, and enjoy her first London season.
Two men come into her life: the rich and amused Lord Marbeck and dashing Sir Richard Brindle, who is keen to rekindle the amorous feelings they shared in Calcutta.
As she is launched into the glittering, dangerous world of London high society, where love and betrayal are never far apart and gossip, intrigue and scandal are the order of the day, Valentine finds just how dangerous love can be.
Will she be ruined–or can she find the love of her heart?
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A Mountjoy Story
Valentine stood on the deck of the Salamander, ignoring the to and fro of the sailors as they docked the vessel. So this was England, the land of her birth, the land of her ancestors, the country that she had left as a small child and was now returning to at the advanced age of twenty.
She had been prepared for the climate; in India, everyone from England constantly spoke of the inclement weather as if they came from some benighted land, but England had remained a fairy-tale place in Valentine’s mind, full of magic and possibility. The reality was somewhat different, with dull grey skies and a steady drizzle. Far removed from the heavy monsoon rain she was used to, it seeped into the very seams of her clothes. Her hair, too long after the voyage from India, was frizzing and curling from the dampness, and by the time Mrs. Heron hurried on deck to bring Valentine to the cabin below, remonstrating with her for standing on deck in the wet so that she was soaked through.
Mrs. Heron said, “It will be a shocking thing if you mark your return to England by going down with a chill or some kind of fever. You have to learn to take care of yourself; you are not used to the cold and wet.”
It had been a long voyage and not a comfortable one for Valentine, who had discovered herself to be a poor sailor. To be confined at close quarters with a small group of other voyagers didn’t suit her at all, and she had found herself often exasperated beyond expression by her fellow passengers.
But that was all over. Here she was—the gangplank was being drawn up to the vessel, and at any moment now, her bandbox in her hand, she would walk down from the ship and stand on English soil.
There had been a little disagreement between Valentine and the Herons, the kind friends of her father’s who had escorted her from faraway India. She knew how long it would take them to get their home in Dorset, and she didn’t want to put them to the additional trouble of having to escort her to her destination in London. It was ridiculous to suppose that she would not be perfectly safe on her own; this was London, not some village in an upcountry region where bandits might leap out to attack or garrotte unwary travellers.
She knew that argument would never win the day. This was a case for cunning. She would pretend that her hosts, Lord and Lady Mountjoy, had sent a manservant to meet her. Meanwhile, she must quickly make arrangements for the boxes and trunks that would be unloaded shortly from the hold of the vessel to be sent on to Mountjoy House.
Valentine knew just how to appear truthful and straightforward, especially when she was least so. She took matters into her own hands and bounced the Herons into a decision by embracing Mrs. Heron warmly, shaking Colonel Heron’s hands, and wishing them a good journey down to their house in Dorset. She left them arguing with an official about their luggage, and before they noticed her swift departure, she was out of sight.
She gave the necessary directions for the delivery of her boxes, although the port authorities seemed rather bewildered to deal with a single young woman, and they were inclined to ask whether her father or brother were not there to handle this.
Flushed with triumph at her eventual success, Valentine emerged from the custom sheds still unsteady on legs, which were accustomed to the motion of the sea, and looked about for a means of transport into the centre of London. There was a hackney cab; it didn’t look very agreeable, but it would do. She had given her direction to the jarvie and was just preparing to climb in when a tall man appeared at her side.
He lifted his hat and said, “Do I have the honour of addressing Miss Welburn?”
She paused and looked directly at him; he had a dark countenance with a severe aspect, although she thought she could detect a glint of humour in his rather piercing grey eyes. “I am Miss Welburn, but I do not believe I know you.”
“I’m a friend of Colonel Heron’s. I’m here at the docks to bid farewell to a friend of mine, and Colonel Heron told me that you had made the voyage under his care. He thought you’d been met by a servant of Lord Mountjoy’s, who would escort you to Mountjoy House, but I happened to notice there was no such manservant with you.”
“You are right, and I congratulate you on your powers of observation. However, it is none of your business whether I have an escort or no.”
He bowed courteously. “True, but I would blame myself if, as a gentleman, I left a young lady to undertake the journey across London unattended.”
“You are being absurd. You have nothing to do with me, and I do not know why you suppose that this driver, who looks to me to be a perfectly respectable individual, will not do exactly what I ask him to do—and will pay him to do—which is to take me safely across London to Lord Mountjoy’s house.”
“Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Marbeck. I am well acquainted with Lord Mountjoy, and he would be angry with me were he to discover that I had failed to assist a young lady, his guest, in these circumstances. No, I will not prevent you from climbing into the hackney cab; indeed, I recommend that you do, for you will permit me to tell you that you have a very bedraggled appearance in all this rain. You look half-drowned.”
Valentine’s indignation was turning to anger. Who was this authoritative man who not only calmly planned to take over her arrangements, but was so ill mannered as to comment on her appearance?
“I beg you will not take the trouble. I do not need your assistance, I do not ask for it, and I do not believe that Lord Mountjoy cares in the least bit just as long as I arrive safely on his doorstep, as I surely will.”
Inside, the cab smelt fusty and stuffy. The dampness from outside seemed to have penetrated the interior of the carriage, and she wrinkled her nose at the noisome atmosphere, wondering what sort of person had been the previous occupant of the seat. She didn’t care to take this thought any further, and instead peered out of the tiny window smeared with grime and rain.
Good gracious—that officious gentleman, Mr. Marbeck, had mounted what she had to admit was a rather splendid horse and seemed to be preparing to ride alongside the hackney cab. Valentine thumped back into the seat, still indignant, annoyed, and longing to give this persistent man a setdown, until her sense of humour got the better of her and she began to laugh.