Book 3 in the Scandalous Women
of the Ton series
Lady Merryn Fenner is on a mission to ruin the Duke of Farne. A beautiful bluestocking with a penchant for justice, Merryn has waited twelve years to satisfy her revenge against Garrick Farne. Her family name had been tarnished at his hands, her life destroyed.
For twelve years Garrick, Duke of Farne has kept the secret of what really happened on the night that he killed his best friend, Stephen Fenner, in a duel. Now Stephen’s sister is intent on discovering the truth and putting at risk all those secrets Garrick has protected.
When a disaster traps Merryn and Garrick together, white-hot desire stirs between the two sworn enemies. Merryn's reputation is utterly compromised and she is forced to do the one thing she cannot bear; accept the scandalous marriage proposal of the man she has vowed to ruin.
Beware of scandalous women...
Available Now in Two Sections:
Prologue (below) and Chapter Five.
But it was too late. People had spotted the scarlet domino and her companion. The captain broke off his apologies and explanations to shout an order. Soldiers were running everywhere, guests diving for cover. Merryn’s partner bundled her through the door into the refreshment room. One of the soldiers was taking aim at the fleeing couple. Merryn grabbed her companion’s arm and pointed, and he nodded swiftly and stumbled heavily against the marksman just as the man was about to take the shot. It flew wide, smashing a bust of Gregory Cummings himself on a marble side table.
“Frightfully sorry, old chap.” Merryn’s partner was all apologies, blocking the soldier’s path. Merryn smothered a smile, her gloved hand pressed to her lips.
The fleeing couple disappeared through another door and Merryn’s companion pulled her back out of the melee, his hand in hers, until the soldiers had all piled after the fugitives.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Is that really Ethan Ryder?” Merryn said, staring. She had heard of Ryder, renegade and Irish adventurer. Everyone had heard of Ethan Ryder. “I thought he was no more than a legend,” she said.
“Oh, Ethan is real enough,” her companion said dryly. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Merryn asked, as he drew her after him across the refreshment room. The place was in the most dreadful mess, silver dishes rolling to clatter against the wall, food splattered all over the priceless carpets. Somewhere, a housemaid was wailing.
“The stables,” her companion said. He checked the clock on the mantel. “I give him five minutes.”
The house was in uproar. There were soldiers everywhere, mingling with the fleeing guests who cluttered the hall and staircase. There was the sound of a shot from the floor above, then another. Someone screamed. Merryn saw a flicker of expression cross her companion’s face. “God damn it, Ethan,” he muttered, “be careful.”
Merryn could see Countess Kodaly across the hall, taking advantage of the mayhem to slip some very fine silver snuffboxes under her copious domino. She gave an exclamation and her companion followed her gaze and gave her a rueful smile.
“Well,” he said, “you knew she was not want she seemed.” He paused. “I should leave you here to go safely home. This is dangerous work. Would that I could take you safely home.” But he did not move, as though he were waiting for her to decide whether to stay or whether to go.
It was so odd, Merryn thought, to be standing in the centre of all that noise and madness and yet feel as though nothing mattered but him; her hand clasped in his, his intent dark gaze fixed on her face.
“I’m coming with you,” she whispered, and he flashed her a smile that was pure wickedness and made her heart sing. She felt lighter than a feather, full of excitement and energy. She felt alive as she had never felt before.
Then they were running again, through the noise and the chaos, dodging between the soldiers and the last of Gregory Cumming’s scandalised guests, down the servants’ stair to the kitchens and out into the mews stables where the night air set Merryn shivering. A soldier came running from one of the stalls, his rifle pointing directly at Merryn, and even as she drew breath for a scream her companion spun around and felled the man with one cool, scientific blow. It was so fast and so fierce she could do nothing but blink.
“Goodness,” she said blankly, staring down at the soldier’s prone body.
There was no time for more. Another soldier came dashing towards them and was despatched with similar efficiency, then a third. Her companion sighed resignedly as he dusted down his sleeves and looked around for the next opponent. But the last soldier had seen the fate of his friends and had turned tail and fled.
“Sensible,” Merryn said.
A closed carriage swept into the mews, the coachman jumping down onto the cobbles beside them.
“We’re ready, my lord.”
Merryn’s companion nodded. “Thank you, Squires.”
My lord. Well, Merryn thought, she might have guessed that.
There was a crash from the kitchen behind them. In the faint lamplight Merryn saw the man smile. “Right on time,” he said. He turned back to the doorway and then he was ushering a couple out towards the carriage. The man was very tall and dark and he had a rapier in his hand. The woman was the one Merryn had seen in the scarlet domino. She looked directly at Merryn and gave a little start of surprise. Merryn drew back into the shadows. She had no wish to be recognised.
It was Lottie Cummings, Gregory’s disgraced, divorced wife and former best friend to Merryn’s sister Joanna. Merryn could see Lottie clearly for she was unmasked now, her eyes glittering with the same excitement that Merryn felt coursing through her blood, her long brown hair streaming out beneath her domino. The dark man put an arm about her waist and lifted her bodily into the carriage. Lucky Lottie, Merryn thought involuntarily.
“Give me your papers,” she heard her companion say. He held out his hand. “I’ll sort this out for you.”
The dark man shook his hand. “Thank you.”
The door slammed, Squires jumped up on to the box and the coach sped away leaving the night still trembling with the force of their passing. Merryn stepped out into the moonlight.
“That,” she said, “was masterly. I see you have some considerable experience in helping malefactors escape justice.”
Her companion ripped off his mask at last and stood before her. The moonlight skipped across the planes and hollows of his face, the high cheekbones and the strong line of the jaw. The darkness turned his tawny hair black and the moon speckled it with silver shards. He was smiling, his dark eyes enigmatic.
“Justice is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. He sketched a bow. “Thank you for your help. I am Northesk. Tell me your name.”
It was as though the night stood still.
The Marquis of Northesk is back.
Merryn took a step away from him. She almost stumbled and he put out a hand to steady her but she evaded him. Her heart was hammering and there was a sickness rising in her throat. The wind tickled shivers down her neck. In her mind’s eyes she could see her reflection in the pier glass of the ballroom, dancing in this man’s arms, swept up by the passion and excitement of the night, a heartbeat away from surrendering to some mysterious seductive force that overrode all her rationality and commonsense. She remembered his touch, the strength in him as he had held her, the scent of his skin.
Her brother’s murderer…
“I must go.” She was not even sure how she forced the words out past the weight in her chest.
She saw his eyes narrow in puzzlement. He took an instinctive step towards her. “Wait…”
She ran. And she did not look back.
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He could see that she had absolutely no desire to speak with him. The stiffness with which she held herself and her furtive glances towards the nearest exit told him she wanted nothing more than to flee. That was understandable. And this was not, perhaps, the best place to force a confrontation, in the august surroundings of the King’s library, with the King’s librarian and his assistants watching avidly from behind a stack of books. But that was too bad. He could not risk her running out on him again.
Her scent, that elusive fragrance of bluebells, wrapped about him and made his body clench with longing. Even without Hammond’s information Garrick thought that he would have known at once that she was the woman he had found in his bedroom, the woman who had slept in his bed, an intimacy that had haunted his thoughts ever since. He could picture Merryn between his sheets all too easily, her slight, lissom body lying where his had lain, her hair spread across his pillow, and her bare skin against the cool linen. He felt as though she had somehow imprinted herself on him and he could not break free.
She was looking at him with impatience and disdain, as though he was some importunate suitor or writer of particularly bad sonnets.
“I wanted to apologise,” he said easily, “in case I was the cause of your distraction this morning.”
He saw her bite her lip and knew that she was caught between the desire to give him a set down for his presumption and the equally strong desire to cut him dead and run away. The latter urge won out.
“I am sorry,” she said, “that it is quite impossible for me to talk to a gentleman to whom I have not been formally introduced. Excuse me.”
She made to pass him but Garrick put a hand on her arm. He lowered his voice and spoke softly in her ear. “Some might say that our informal introduction – in my bedroom two nights ago – would suffice as a basis for our acquaintance.”
He saw that she was a little shocked at his direct approach. No doubt she had not expected him to be quite so blunt. Gentlemen, generally, did not speak so frankly to a lady. Her body stiffened, her blue gaze narrowed. Her perfect bow of a mouth pursed in a way that made Garrick want to kiss her. The urge hit him hard, squarely in the stomach. He felt as though the breath had been knocked from his lungs, felt a hot pull of desire that went straight to his head and also lower down as well.
Something of his feelings must have shown in his face for he saw the blue of Merryn’s eyes heat and intensify for a moment as though responding to his need. Her lips parted on a tiny, startled gasp. He took a step forward, narrowing the distance between them to nothing. But already she was retreating, slipping away, the shimmer of desire in her eyes banished by cold disdain.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, “but I think you mistake me for quite another lady.” There was the slightest emphasis on the word “lady.” “I am not the sort of woman to be found in any man’s bedchamber. That would be most inappropriate.”
She turned towards the door again and Garrick leaned one hand against the jamb to bar her way. “You ran away last time,” he said. “You are not going to do so now.”
Her blue eyes flashed ice. “I do not take direction from you, your grace.”
“So you do at least know who I am,” Garrick said gently. “I thought you were claiming that we had never met?”
She looked irritated to have been caught out. “I heard Sir Frederick mention your name, that is all.”
She flicked him a look of polite scorn. “I am sure that your grace’s self-confidence will survive the blow.”
End of Excerpt. Like It? Order It!
• Mistress By Midnight has been nominated by TRR reviewers for Best in Historical Romance for 2010 at The Romance Reviews. Click over to The Romance Reviews website to cast your vote!
“The wonderful combination of star-crossed lovers, hidden secrets, life-threatening danger and delightful touches of humour make it an unforgettable read”
— Rakes & Rascals • Read the full review
“There was some wonderful tension between the characters, especially Merryn struggling with her feelings was wonderful and real and I really, really enjoyed this book”
— Between the pages • Read the full review
An almost perfect historical romance
“I'm a big fan of Nicola Cornick's writing and once again she didn't disappoint. This book is very amusing, with lively dialogues and interesting characters.”
— Enlessly bookish • Read the full review
The sparks ignite right from the start
“I love the witty banter between the two main characters, I found myself laughing out loud!”
— Forever Book Lover • Read the full review
“the sensuality and chemistry between the Merryn and Garrick was absolutely wonderful!”
— The Romanceaholic • Read the full review
“Another wonderful historical romance from Ms Cornick. Mistress By Midnight is a fabulous read.”
— Book Chick City • Read the full review
“A beguiling, compelling and immensely absorbing romance. Written with characteristic flair, awe-inspiring attention to detail and wicked sense of fun, Mistress by Midnight is a stellar Regency!”
— SingleTitles • Read the full review
“Fast-paced and oh-so-sexy, Mistress By Midnight is destined to become a romance classic.”
— iReadRomance • Read the full review
“A wonderful historical romance. This is a must read series!”
— My Book Addiction and More • Read the full review
“Ms. Cornick has a triumph on her hands!”
— Fresh Fiction • Read the full review
“Nicola Cornick's writing is strong, thoughtful and unabashedly straightforward with characters that are both memorable and sympathetic. If you have the chance, pick up a copy of MISTRESS BY MIDNIGHT especially if you've never read a novel by Nicola Cornick before. I promise, you will want to read more.”
— The Romance Reviews • Read the full review
“Mistress by Midnight reminded me of the good, old historical romance novels that just left you with a warm, fuzzy feeling when you turned to the last page knowing that love truly healed the characters.”
— Joyfully Reviewed • Read the full review
“I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this story and found myself reluctant to put it down even for a few minutes. I cannot wait to see what Nicola Cornick offers her readers next. I am sure that it will be as much of a joy to read as this one was.”
— Historical Romance Writers • Read the full review
“(The) writing is seamless, suspenseful and always well paced. In Mistress by Midnight the author pulls you in immediately. (She) tantalises her readers taste buds with humour, tragedy, and ultimately a hard won HEA. A winner on all fronts.”
— Long and Short of It Reviews • Read the full review
“Nicola Cornick is a wonderful writer. I was so involved in the story that I was completely unaware of the world around me. I have read many good authors in my time, but few engross me in their story the way that this author does. I have to give this book my highest rating. I was completely taken aback at what this author has produced. This book is due out Nov 30. Get in line ladies!”
— Sugarbeatsbooks • Read the full review
“A fast-paced historical full of secrets, past hurt and romance. I loved these characters! Mistress by Midnight is a great conclusion to this trilogy.”
— The Season • Read the full review
“Splendid and awe-inspiring. Historical Romance at its very best is written by Nicola Cornick.”
— Mary Gramlich, the Reading Reviewer
“'(An) emotionally charged romance and a powerful love story.'”
— Romantic Times
I had wanted to write Lady Merryn Fenner’s story for a while. Merryn had featured in her sister Joanna’s book, Whisper of Scandal, when it appeared that she was a shy bluestocking who lived secluded from the world. But I knew that Merryn had a secret life – it was just a question of what form this took. Two ideas informed Merryn’s character. One was the fact that her brother had died in a duel when she had been young and she had never really come to terms with the tragedy. On that basis it seemed likely that she have a burning desire to work for justice and truth. The second was that Merryn was an intelligent woman in a society that preferred women to be pretty rather than clever, so her academic pursuits would be very important to her.
Into this mix I threw the London Beer Flood of 1814, an event that occurred when the vats on top of the brewery in Tottenham Court Road exploded, flooding the nearby streets with a tidal wave of beer and claiming seven lives. Merryn, caught up in her quest for justice for her brother, is trapped in the flood along with Garrick Farne, the man she blames for her brother’s death. How they both survive and what happens to their relationship is at the heart of Mistress By Midnight.