Great & Unfortunate Desires
Victorian England c. 1870
Operating as a British spy, Tristan St.James, the new Marquis of Wrenworth, barely escapes Afghanistan with his life in the spring of 1869. He plans to seek vengeance against the traitor who exposed him and for the agent he’s forced to kill. Returning to England, as a lord, he must marry. Haunted by guilt from the horrors of war, he avoids love at all costs, but finds himself drawn to the only woman who is disinterested in him.
Lady Evelyn Hurstine has waited over two years for the return of her love, a man who left for war in the East. But during that time, she suffered a brutal assault, resulting in a child and fear of any man touching her except for the man she once knew. The pursuit by the marquis scares her but her excuses against his proposal dwindle.
Their marriage strengthens into love until she discovers her husband isn’t the safety she believed but the one who killed the man she once loved. Caught in a world of intrigue and mayhem, Tristan must prove his love to her before the traitor destroys them both.
Great & Unfortunate Desires -
Tristan was suffocating. The theater was packed with patrons, all milling about. Their voices grew in volume to an alarming level in his ears. The lobby, where they all stood during intermission, amplified the sound. The faint smell of gas from the light fixtures above, mixed with the aroma of strong perfume, wool and human bodies tried to pull him back to the battlegrounds in the East. He struggled to find the way out of his downward pull to madness, to the insanity that ate at the corners of his mind. But it was growing difficult and the lady next to him barely helped.
The little chatterbox continued on about her excursion to Essex, as if the county was a foreign land. He inhaled deeply. To this London-raised chit, it was. Oh, how he’d love to show her a foreign land….like Afghanistan…
The male voice interrupted Tristan’s momentary mental tirade. He glanced up to see one of the few men he knew who stood almost a head’s height taller than he. William Holmes, the Earl of Statwicks, beamed, shoving a glass of brandy into Tristan’s hand.
“Most welcomed, Will,” he said, taking a sip of the potent drink. The warmth of the liquor took the edge off.
Statwicks was a large man, built like a Viking as they used to tease him at Eton. At six feet, the dark-haired mongrel had matured into a grinning fool, appearing like an oversized court jester with an infectious smile and extremely broad shoulders and bulky upper arms that intimidated most people.
The chuckle from Statwicks resounded loudly. “You looked like you needed one.”
Tristan snorted, lowering his head as he stole a glance at his companion. Lady Sarah was still engaged in her discussion with another woman.
“I have come to the conclusion” Tristan’s voice lowered, “that I don’t like people.”
Statwicks laughed. He leaned toward Tristan and slapped his shoulder. “Good God, man,” he said into Tristan’s ear. “Do you think any of us do? Dress up and be good little boys and smile for the ladies. Ugh! Egads, do you have any idea how badly I tried to injure myself to avoid all this mess?”
Tristan chuckled, the weight of his troubles abating somewhat. “It’s just…”
“Fuss and feathers, laddie, fuss and feathers. And, from appearances, one you must tolerate to find an eligible lady. Finally looking to be shackled like the rest? Own up to society and all that drivel?”
“Orders,” Tristan snarled, baring his teeth in a crooked grin.
“Ah, yes, tradition, title, family. I know the subject perfectly well,” Statwicks sighed with a dramatic air. A comical display, considering the man’s stature. “Yes, nuptials myself in a month’s time,” the Earl half-heartedly muttered, pulling at his collar like it was too tight. He scanned the lobby. “There, there is my sweetheart. Lady Lynda Miltshire.”
Tristan glanced in the same direction. Next to Lady Sarah stood a tall dark-haired beauty with porcelain skin. The ladies laughed and he watched her full-sized breasts bob at the edge of her décolletage, making the lace fiche at the edge strain to keep the twin globes bound.
He turned to his friend, with a questioning gaze. Statwicks nodded.
“Yes, the most luxurious set I’ve yet to, ahem, see,” he whispered.
Tristan laughed. Only his friend would make sure to find a buxom bride.
The ladies saw them looking their way, and both walked up to the men, smiling and happy to be there.
Lady Sarah was a pretty thing, Tristan decided. A petite blonde with a lovely hourglass figure, though how could she not have one, wearing a corset? This was their second outing. The ride in Hyde Park, during the appointed hour for the entire ton to see, was enjoyable enough for him to ask her to accompany him to the theater. Her bronze silk dress with its black lace trim draped her body splendidly. Even the bustle wasn’t overly done–he couldn’t stand the huge bulge in the back some wore. No, she was like candy, sweet, with a pretty little laugh and sparkling eyes. Yet, despite her many attributes, she still lacked something. Was it enough to discourage him even though she was the best of those available? New to “polite” society, not thwarted by its priorities nor haunted by rumors about him or his family. And the Bow Street Runners found nothing about her or her family that prevented her from being a good match for him.
Gad, how he hated England! Always God, Her Majesty, St. Michael and St. George! Bile rose in his throat, but he forced it back down with the last swallow of brandy.
“Lord Wrenworth, are you all right?” she asked, looping her arm in the crook of his, concern flitting across her brow.
“I am fine, just a touch of nerves, wondering how I convinced such a pretty lady like yourself to accompany me here,” he soothed, raising her hand to kiss the back of it. She blushed.
He made the huge mistake of glancing over her shoulder. At the far side of the lobby, standing next to some fop was a real beauty. Miss Hurstine, the Baron’s daughter. Dressed in a sapphire blue silk dress trimmed in white, she captured his attention. The bald-headed fool next to her said something and she laughed. Jealousy raced through him. He should be here with her, not this uninspiring lady the ice queen insisted he meet. His shoulders tightened. The lilt of her voice traveled across the large room and struck a chord deep inside him. When she raised her head and faced the crowd, their eyes locked ever so briefly, leaving him thoroughly smitten.
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