A Noble Masquerade
Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.
When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.
"Debut author Hunter pens a fantastic Regency romance. The characters are endearing and their motivations are not always what they might seem on the surface. The romance portrayed is top notch and will cause readers to sigh with delight in the end."
~ RT Book Reviews Top Pick
"A well-developed full-length novel debut, A Noble Masquerade, first in the Hawthorne House series, is layered with subtle flirtation and charm. . . . If you're looking for an engaging Regency romance to sweep you away for a few hours, this is the book for you!"
~ USA Today's Happily Ever After Blog
"Another literary debut--this time a rip-roaring Regency romance jam-packed with incident and adventure. . . . This is a lively and entertaining romp through Regency London--and is great fun."
~ Jane Austen's Regency World
Read an Excerpt
Hertfordshire, England, 1800
It is never a happy day when an eight-year-old girl’s cheesecake lands in the dirt, and she certainly doesn’t take kindly to the laughing little boy who put it there.
Fat tears welled up in Lady Miranda Hawthorne’s eyes as she stared at the cake now resting forlornly on the ground. Her little hands curled into angry fists at her sides.
“You’re a cad, Henry Lampton!” Miranda scooped the cake from the ground and hurled it at the laughing boy, her cheeks wet with tears. There was something satisfying about seeing the creamy dessert smear across his shirt and the smile fall from his face.
Miranda didn’t have long to relish her revenge because her mother appeared to lead her away from the party. Mother didn’t say a word until the door closed behind them, shutting them into her study.
“Miranda, a lady never expresses her disappointment in public.” Mother’s admonition was gentle but firm, as it always was.
Even though she knew her mother meant well, Miranda shuddered every time she heard the words, “Miranda, a lady never…” Occasionally it was “Miranda, a lady always…” but even then it was something like “Miranda, a lady always pays attention to her guests, even when she finds them boring.”
Miranda knew better than to speak as he mother lectured. Every time she tried to defend herself, it only made the torture last longer. So she waited until her mother dismissed her.
Instead of returning to the party, however, she ran to her room and threw herself on the bed, punching the pillow at the unfairness of it all.
A white piece of paper on the table by the bed caught her attention. The latest letter from her brother was sure to be more interesting than making a mental list of all the things Mother's lady rules kept her from doing.
When Griffith had left for school two years ago, Mother decided writing to him would be an excellent way for Miranda to practice her penmanship. The first letters had been little more than her name and a sentence about her favorite doll, but over time she and her brother had grown quite close.
Their correspondence had the added benefit of giving Miranda a place to work out her frustrations with her mother.
With anticipation she broke the seal, anxious to hear about her eldest brother's latest exploits.
My dearest sister,
I hope this letter finds you well. Your last letter was long enough to make me very thankful to be a duke. Paying to post that much paper would be costly. Perhaps next time you are bored in church you won't try to kick down the walls of the pew.
Miranda frowned. What else was she supposed to do? The sermon had been supremely boring that day, and Mother had warned her the week before that a lady never sleeps in church. Making Miranda sit still in a chair for an extra hour that afternoon was excessive punishment.
Marsh managed to help us avoid a group of older boys intent on making us do their chores. I continue to be grateful that God provided another young man of high rank here. He's a bit rough around the edges, despite inheriting his ducal title as a child. Almost as bad at being a gentleman as you are at being a lady.
Sticking her tongue out at a piece of paper was the definition of useless, but it made Miranda feel better anyway. No doubt Griffith was doing his best to refine the rough edges of his friend. Their beloved father had taught Griffith well before dying tragically three years ago.
I know it is difficult, but do work harder to control yourself. Mother was beside herself with worry when she found you rolling on the floor laughing over a book you were reading.
The memory brought a curve to Miranda's lips. It had been a very funny book.
One day, Miranda, you'll thank Mother for training you young. It would be helpful if you would try to apply her teachings.
Did he think she didn't try--that she enjoyed being set in the blue velvet chair beside her mother's desk and lectured about ladylike behavior?
Miranda bounced off her bed and crossed to the writing desk under the window. Snatching a quill and paper, she considered how to phrase today's cake incident in a way that Griffith would understand.
She tried to behance. She really did. But how did one contain emotions when they felt happy or sad or scared? Didn't those feelings have to go somewhere?
It was like those stories Griffith was always telling about his friend. Marshington understoof that sometimes one had to go around the rules in order to make things happen. Like the time he left the window open do the fifth-year boys' papers would blow everywhere. Cleaning up the mess had made the older boys miss practice that day, and Marshington and Griffith had finally gotten to play cricket without getting balls thrown at their heads.
Marshington would have done more than throw the dirty cake at Henry. He’d have found a way to make the boy get her a new slice. Maybe even an entire new cake.
He’d have saved her instead of lecturing her. Just like he’d saved Griffith from being tortured right out of school his first month there.
An idea took form in her head.
Did she dare?
She dipped the quill in the ink but didn’t press it to the paper. It floated for long moments, until a drop of ink dislodged itself to splatter on the pristine surface. With a deep breath, she placed the nib on the paper and wrote.
It was shocking, even scandalous, which made it exciting. Freeing. A small act of rebellion away from the eyes of her well-meaning mother, away from the censuring of her perfect elder brother. She’d never send it, of course. A lady never posted letters to an unrelated male. But the very writing of his name made her feel dangerous.
As she scribbled the story of the cake incident, with little care for proper wording and no thought to correct penmanship, something unexpected happened. She felt calm. And she began to see that maybe—maybe—her mother had a point.
Throwing cake at Henry hadn’t done her any good.
But maybe writing to her brother’s best friend would.
Lady Miranda Hawthorne would support her sister tonight, even if it killed her. Judging by the pain already numbing her face, that was a distinct possibility. She massaged her cheeks, hoping to make the forced smile look and feel a little less wooden than the bedroom door in front of her.
With a sharp twist of the brass knob, she wrenched the door open and strode into the corridor. Her stride was firm. Her posture perfect. Nothing would make her abandon the endless lessons in ladylike etiquette from her mother.
Then she walked into a wall.
Oh, very well, it wasn’t a wall precisely. Walls didn’t appear in the middle of passageways, covered in wool.
“I do apologize, my lady.”
Nor did they speak.
Miranda looked up at the obstruction that was in actuality a solidly built man. She retreated a step, putting as much distance as she could between her and the man without retreating into her bedchamber. Up and up her gaze traveled.
The last dredges of sunlight filtered through a large window at the end of the corridor, sending dim squares of gold marching across the floor and up to the man’s broad chest.
He wasn’t family. All of her relations had blond hair, including those so far distant they wouldn’t even claim the connection if her brother wasn’t a duke. The dimly lit passageway prevented her from making out an exact color, but the “barricade” before her had very dark hair pulled back into a short queue at his neck.
With a deep breath, she reminded herself where she stood in life. She was a lady of quality. The daughter, and sister, of a duke. Somewhere inside her must lie the aristocratic arrogance she’d seen so many of her friends embody. If this intruder had nefarious purposes, talking was her only defense. Those long arms could haul her to a stop before she went more than two steps.
He’d yet to make a move, though. He simply stood in the corridor while she inspected him.
“Pardon me.” Miranda almost clapped with glee at the clipped, snobby tone that indicated she wasn’t begging anyone’s pardon. “Who are you?”
She tried to look into his eyes, but his direct gaze made her nervous and shook her focus. Taking deep breaths, filling her nose with the curious scent combination of soap and a hint of evergreen, didn’t help either. Instead she concentrated on his chin. Within the shadows of the passageway, he wouldn’t be able to tell where she focused her gaze. Hopefully.
He held out a black evening coat. “I am taking His Grace his coat for the evening. I had to press it again.”
Miranda’s eyes narrowed. “You had to press it again? Shouldn’t Mr. Herbert be pressing the duke’s clothing? I’ll ask you again. Who are you?”
An extended excerpt is available at the end of A Lady of Esteem.