Falling for a Flaming Lady (Preview)

Chapter One

South Oxford, 1815

Easy, Marianne. Easy. You know where father’s squeaky boards are. Avoid them.

With her skirts in hand, Marianne Tattershall, the lone daughter of Duke and Duchess Sherborne, took her way, step-by-step into the large solarium her father had converted into a showroom and library for his collections.

The room was a large, high-ceilinged chamber that had been made by combing three adjacent rooms into one. The room was dim as the windows were still covered with thick drapes, the standing lamps were not lit, nor were the three marble fireplaces. Marianne did not need either to guide her as her memory of the room was enough.

In the flickering dimness, she bypassed the stands topped with glass cages that held the precious artefacts, an Egyptian Pharaoh, and the silken fan of a Chinese Empress. She passed the taxidermic body of an ocelot and a feathered arrow and wooden bow from the native peoples in America.

By memory, she moved from the section of the room where the objects stood on display to the library section. Packed shelves of books lined the walls, and leather furniture was in clusters. Some at the window and others in a circle at the back, around an unlit hearth.

Though her father, Charles’s focus was business, he counted himself as an academic and had a fondness for collecting artefacts and educational books. Lately, her father had gotten a rare zoological book written by Aristotle. It was about an octopus and was translated by a Frenchman from Greek to English.

She knew where the book should be, as her father had a habit of putting his newest acquisitions on a mahogany reading stand. Getting to the section, Marianne grinned in triumph. Swiping the book from its stand, she went to a seat near a window and sat.

Tucking a strand of her brown hair away from her eyes, Marianne took care to crack the hardback cover and gaze at the anatomical drawing of an octopus. She gasped.

Orpolupous,” Marianne said proudly.

As she tenderly turned the pages, she grew engrossed and was hardly aware that she was not alone in the library. The gaze that flickered over to her caused gooseflesh to prickle over her skin. It was brushed off as a breeze from the window behind her.

Marianne, women of our class, do not have the ardent endeavour of reading in a library for the reason of reading. We read guides on homemaking, not astronomy.

“Mrs Shuffelbottom’s Guide to Homemaking is what you should memorize,” Marianne mocked her mother Priscilla’s words under her breath. “Not how to use the North Star to guide you home. What use is learning how to place wine glasses when my life can be in danger?”

While muttering to herself, Marianne tried not to dwell on her mother’s proclamation that the summer would end before she would be married off. Despite knowing several of the lords in London, none of them drew her fancy. Not even Marquess Westlake, the man reported to be the handsomest lord in London, with his fair hair and ethereal grey eyes.

Marianne had met him once and found him vain, like most of the Lords in the ton. Her mother’s argument was that at one-and-twenty years, Marianne should have had a suitor three years ago and that it was high time for her to marry. She did not agree, but her opinion was not highly accounted for with her parents. Thank goodness her mother and father were busy having tea with a few friends for an hour or two so she could sneak away.

Soon, her time immersed in books would be cut short. Her parents would be throwing her into balls, luncheons, and all sorts of get-togethers to parade her around like a show animal.

I wonder if I can take this book to my room and read it all tonight? I doubt father would come looking for it after they come home.

The sunlight dimmed, and she decided to keep the book. She whispered, “What do you say? Want to stay with me tonight?”

She stood when a husky, male voice from the other half of the room had her tripping over her feet. “You do know that you should not do that, my lady.”

Fright raced up her throat, and Marianne spun as a man emerged from the shadows. He was tall, but even with the distance and dimness between them, the piercing green of his eyes was stunning–and familiar.

Those eyes pinned her with a hawkish stare that penetrated her and ran over her with a dry, detached gaze. Marianne’s breath caught in her chest at the rugged handsomeness of the man approaching her. She felt as if her stomach dropped to her toes, then ricocheted back. She had the feeling she should be able to place this handsome lord, but Marianne couldn’t think straight.

His dark hair appeared windswept but was well-trimmed. His mouth was a tight, determined line, and he radiated certainty and purpose. When he stood before her, his moss-green eyes were even more brilliant up close as they studied her face with what seemed like honest interest.

She found the feeling odd while titillating. He was taller than she, which was another point that pleased her as she was a bit overly tall for a lady. Marianne stood almost six inches over most of the ladies in the ton.

“I am—”

“Lady Marianne Tattershall, I know,” he said for her.

Hugging the book closer to her chest, Marianne asked, “And how do you know that? As a matter of fact, who are you?”

“I am Graham Mullens,” he said. “Your father and mine were…old friends.”

His poignant pause did not slip over Marianne’s head. “Old friends as in they are in good standing with each other, or were they old acquaintances that haven’t spoken in a while?”

“The latter,” Mr Mullens replied. “They used to have the same academic interests.”

Notching her chin up, Marianne asked, “And why are you here?”

“Your father gained a rare book of botany that I have wanted to see it for a long while,” Mr Mullens said. “I teach English language and philosophy at Oxford University, but botany is my hobby.”

“You teach?” Marianne exclaimed. “How can that be? Aren’t the professors at least three times older than you?”

“And how old do you think I am?” Mr Mullens asked. “I am not a professor, yet.”

Before Marianne could reply, she took a good, sweeping look at him. Mr Mullens was impeccably dressed in dark breeches, a white shirt with a rustic burgundy waistcoat, but sans jacket. Shockingly he wore no cravat, and his knee-high boots suggested he’d been out riding.

Nerves leapt inside Marianne’s body, and she smoothed her dark yellow day dress uneasily. Mr Mullens’s eyes followed the gesture, and she knew he missed nothing.

“Twenty-five?”

“No.”

“Twenty-nine?”

“No.”

“Forty?”

“Do I look forty?”

She huffed and nearly stomped her foot at the amused twitch of his lips. “Stop making fun of me!”

“I am not,” he said. “But if you must know, I am three-and-thirty.”

Marianne shook her head, “I feel it astonishing that you teach. Back at Missis Dartmouth’s finishing school, half of the ladies there were grey-headed and screeched like banshees.”

“No discretion, my lady?” Mr Mullens asked, his dark brow lifted to his hairline.

“Is it needed? None of them are here,” Marianne waved. “But I remember you now. Not much, but I do. You were much older than me, but even then, you didn’t look down on me as a nuisance.”

“Did you think you were such?” Mr Mullens asked, his brows knitting tight. “All I remember was you in pigtails, scurrying away somewhere with a book twice your weight.”

She went vivid red. “No need to mention my pigtails, Mr Mullens.”

“And you should not be squirreling away books from your father’s study,” he said.

Marianne narrowed her eyes. “I beg your pardon? This is my house, and I can do whatever I please.”

“I happen to know that your father paid over five hundred sovereigns for that book,” Mr Mullens said. “If you wrinkle or stain a page, it will be irreparable.”

“Five hundred— good heavens no!” Marianne gasped. The book was worth its weight in gold—literally.

She hurried to put the book back on the pedestal and even brushed her hands over her dress as if she had accidentally touched a holy object. Stepping away from him, Marianne eyed Mr Mullens with scepticism and wariness.

“Will you tell my father about this?”

“Should I need to?”

“I would rather you not,” Marianne said.

He stared at her for a long, unsettling moment. “Fine. I won’t.”

“You promise to keep this between us?” Marianne pressed because she did not need word getting back to her parents. Lately, her mother had started scolding her about her reading, and Marianne knew that her sneaking into the library would surely get her into trouble.

“I’ve given my word,” he said. “Do you not trust me?”

“I do not know you enough to trust you,” Marianne said earnestly. “There are very few people that have earned that privilege from me.”

“Well,” Mr Mullens said. “I will be here a lot more in the next few days. Perhaps you’ll start.”

Taking a moment to mull over his words, she replied. “We shall see. Good day, Mr Mullens.”

“You too, my lady,” he bowed his head.

With her heart still pounding, Marianne left for her room, trying not to think of the intensity in his eyes nor the unsettling heat that settled into the base of her stomach at the deep sound of her name on his tongue.

***

Lady Marianne Tattershall was an interesting woman. One moment she looked the quiet, shy wallflower bookworm that he knew she was, but the next, her eyes flashed with fire like a termagant. Retreating to his shadowed seat, Graham fished out the book he had determined would help him and took it with him as he went downstairs.

It was time for him to rejoin the duke at his luncheon and tell him that he would be using the book with his research. It was a bit jarring to see Lady Marianne, all grown up since the last time he had seen her, she was a child, still having baby-fat cheeks and thick pigtails.

Now, the tall, willowy, feisty woman he had just seen had little to do with the child he had known. Marianne had always been pretty, although growing up, she’d been awkward and coltish—her arms and legs not always in coordination when walking or running or mounting that pony of hers.

Skinned knees and elbows had seemed a constant with her, although she had hidden them well under her dresses and wrist-length sleeves so her governess and parents would not notice.

But now, the puckish child had been replaced by a vibrantly attractive young lady. Marianne’s dark, lustrous locks cascaded over her shoulder, framing her soft oval face and the graceful curve of her neck.

Her wide, long-lashed eyes tilted exotically up at the corners, glittered warmly over a charmingly turned-up nose, high cheekbones, full lips, and a quaint little chin. The boyish child he had known now wore a frock that displayed her delicate bosom and nipped-in waist where the skirts flared off. Marianne had grown into a beauty, one that housed a bright, fiery spirit.

After knocking on the tearoom’s door and gaining permission to enter, Graham walked in to see only the duke there nursing a cup. The duke, a tall, sturdy man with thinning, greying hair, looked up, his sharp dark eyes snapping up at him.

“Ah, Mullens,” he nodded to the book in his hands. “I see you’ve found what you are looking for.”

“I have,” Graham replied. “And it will be helpful for me in the next few days. I apologize for missing the rest of the tea party.”

“Don’t mind that,” the duke said. “Use the book as long as you need.”

Nodding, Graham accepted the gift. “Your Grace, I have not been back in the country for so long. May I ask, how is your family?”

The duke beamed. “My wife is still as lovely as ever, and my daughter, Marianne, is soon to be married off. She’s of age now, you know. Not the little child you once knew.”

“Married,” Graham barely held in his surprise. “My, that is a surprise.”

“My little girl needs a strong hand in her life, or I fear she’ll become a little hoyden,” the duke grumbled. “All this riding and exploring. Not to mention her obsession with reading anything and everything. I believe she will want to remain a bluestocking for life and a spinster one at that. So, we have decided to have her marry.”

“Does she want to marry?” Graham asked warily.

“Doesn’t matter,” the duke waved. “If she wants it or not, she will marry. And we might have found the perfect candidate as well.”

Chapter Two

Entering his modest two-story home, Graham was mired in thought. What Duke Sherborne had told him about marrying Marianne off to some lord upset him. It felt reprehensible to him that they would marry the poor girl, who could not be much more than twenty years, if his maths were correct, off, if she did not want it.

That is if Marianne was against it.

But as Marianne had correctly pointed out, they did not know each other well enough, so he could not conclude anything until he knew more. He had one of his two servants draw him a bath while the other reheated his evening meal.

Being a junior tutor at Oxford did not give him the means to employ more, but even if he could, Graham did not want more. He lived a simple life, despite being under pressure from his father, a wealthy earl, to step up to the position his birthright afforded him.

His father, Ludlow Mullens, the Earl of Islington, was always on the lookout for Graham to run back to him. His father was hoping Graham would leave this whimsical pursuit of being an educator, tap into his fortune and go back to being a Lord of the Realm.

But Graham despised the very thought of the peerage. His father had shown him how disgustingly proud he was to be a part of a class that spat on others. Never would he find himself back in that lot and go through life in a haze of blithe blindness. He could not fathom how it was to only float on richness when he could do something to enrich other lives.

He took a bath quickly, had his meal and dressed like his friend and fellow colleague Ewan Notley was about to visit. Ewan, a fellow junior teacher, was a prodigy in mathematics and physics, also came from the peerage. Ewan, however, had the freedom to do all he wanted because his three older brothers took care of all his father’s estates and left him with few responsibilities.

In more comfortable clothes, Graham went to his study to wait. There, he set out a bottle of brandy and two glasses before he poured out one for himself.

Presumably, he and Ewan were going to discuss things about the school and outline some lesson plans, but since Ewan had ears in the ton, Graham was going to ask him if he had heard anything about Lady Tattershall.

“Mr Notley has arrived, my lord,” the footman knocked on the door.

Graham nearly huffed out a sigh, no matter how much he wanted to be addressed as Mr, his servants, all hired by his father, continued to address him with the honorific. “Thank you, Johnson.”

Ewan came in, his grey suit immaculate and spotless, but he had no qualms in tugging his jacket off and folding it over a chair while Graham greeted him.

“Been a long day,” Ewan bushed his hair from his grey eyes. “It seems as if I had to repeat the basic rules of calculus a hundred and ten times to these new boys.”

“Boys?” Graham said with a laugh as he poured out the drink. “The men who attend are at least nineteen. Full-grown men.”

“They act a quarter of their age,” Ewan scowled. “Now, are we going to do these lesson plans, or might I chuck my ledger into your fireplace? It seems that only divine intervention is going to get through to these students.”

“Let’s get back to that later. I want to ask you if you have heard any rumours about Lady Tattershall’s pending marriage?”

“The duke’s daughter is on the marriage mart?” Ewan said in surprise. “I am shocked.”

“So, you did not know,” Graham grumbled.

“No,” Ewan said. “I have not been at any ball or get-together to hear anything like that. But now that I know, I’ll be sure to look into it. Is there any particular reason why you need to know this?”

Setting his glass down, Graham said, “My father and the duke used to be close. As a young man, I was over there frequently as His Grace’s collection began to grow. His book collection drew me, and not only me but his daughter too. Back then, she was a young child, with a smart mouth and an urge to devour books even more than I had.”

“I remember you saying something to that order,” Ewan mentioned. “So why this sudden concern?”

“I was just over at the duke’s house earlier, and she came into the room,” Graham admitted. “She’s all grown up, Ewan, and frankly, stunning.”

Ewan’s glass clucked on the table. “Beg your pardon? Do you just compliment a woman?”

“I have,” Graham said. “What of it?”

In answer, Ewan stood and went to the window, parted the drapes, and peered outside.

“What on earth are you doing?” Graham asked.

Coming back, Ewan shook his head, “I was just checking to see if the sky had turned green, or, you know, if the apocalypse was upon us.”

“Oh, shut it, you nodcock,” Graham huffed. “Is me praising a woman that strange of a thing?”

“Exceedingly,” Ewan said. “But now that I know you are, in fact, a red-blooded man, I will look into it.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It seems to me that you are interested in the lady.” Ewan shrugged.

“Not like that,” Graham said. “I’m not going to throw my hat in the ring. It’s just that her father alluded to her being married off, whether she liked it or not. I personally think it barbaric to sell anyone off if they don’t want to marry. I was hoping that you knew who her suitor is and if she is happy with the engagement. That’s all.”

“Hmm,” Ewan said. “Why hadn’t you asked the lady herself?”

“We didn’t have time, and that was before I knew she was off to be married.”

“Ask her yourself the next time you are over there. I’m sure she’ll be happy to tell you,” Ewan said. “But I will still look around.”

“Just promise me that you won’t go making up things in your head about this,” Graham said. “I’m just concerned for the lady.”

Then, Ewan asked the one question Graham could not answer. “And if she is being forced to marry, what will you do then?”

Sighing, Graham said, “I’ll cross that bridge if I get to it.”

***

A week later, on a bright Saturday afternoon, Graham found himself in the woods behind the duke’s house with the borrowed book on botany in his hands. Crouched with the book open, he began to compare the specimen drawn in the book with the plant he was examining.

Some would have said that more studying after a week of teaching was irrational, but Graham found it more soothing than if he were lounging at home. He matched the leaves of the budding red and orange berries of the bush before him with the drawing and description of the plant in the book in his hands.

He had found the Culpeper arum maculatum, or Cuckoo-pint, a horribly poisonous plant like Nightshade. As he made to stand, the trot of a horse on the trail a few feet away from him made him look up to see Lady Tattershall riding astride on a gorgeous bay horse.

She reigned the horse in and stopped dead in the middle of the track, only to stare and blink owlishly at him. “Mr Mullens?”

He stood and brushed his hands over his trousers. “Happy to see you again, my lady.”

Marianne easily swung herself from the saddle and landed on the ground, clad in boots as well. “May I ask, why are you here?”

Graham lifted the book. “I am examining some plants that I suspected would be in your father’s backyard.”

He had not expected to see the lady in such men’s attire, but then, she had always been tied to horses as a child. With her hair tied up and away, she did not look odd in a drab white oversized men’s shirt, grey breeches hugging her slender thighs, and boots.

They stared at each other awkwardly before Marianne said, “I’ll leave you to your studies.”

“No, stay,” Graham said while sensing that she had come this far into the woods for only one purpose, to have some time to herself. “I’ll go.”

Marianne startled. “No, no, stay.”

Unsure of what to do, Graham leaned against the tree behind him while Marianne looped the horses’ reins in her hand. “Erm…do you know that there is a river just beyond here?”

“I’ve heard the flow of it, yes,” Graham said. “Is watering your horse why you would come so deep into the forest?”

She produced a book from one of her saddlebags. “And to read.”

“Of course,” Graham said.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” she said. “Will you hold my book for me?”

He reached out and took the book while she led the horse down a side path, ducked under the treeline and soon disappeared. When she was gone, Graham examined the book and realized it was a worn copy of Taming of the Shrew.

He saw the finger marks pressed into the leather and the faded, almost thin shade of the paper. He realized that it was a well-read, well-loved book, and it was probably what Marianne wanted to use and lose herself in a world of make-belief and ignore the present.

When Marianne came back with a folded blanket in her hand, he gave her the book. “Here you go.”

“Thank you,” Marianne said. “What were you studying?”

He opened the book to the drawing of the plant then gestured to a shrub at his feet. “I was examining this plant. It’s highly poisonous.”

After peering at it, Marianne asked, “And why are you doing such a thing?”

Graham almost told her about his intention to write a treatise like an updated version of Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal to get him into another expertise of study. He almost explained the satchel with a hand shovel and a cloth to wrap a plant he would dig up, but instead, he shrugged, “Morbid curiosity, I suppose.”

She looked everywhere but to him before saying, “Thank you for not saying anything to my father. A small part of me was unsure that you would hold up to your word, but thankfully, I was proven wrong.”

Nodding, Graham said, “You should know that when I give my word, it is my bond.”

“Just as you should know when I have proven someone to be trustworthy, I hold them to that,” Marianne added. “If you continue to show me that you are dependable, you will have my trust.”

Graham knew what she was not telling him. “Which means that I have not gained your trust yet.”

“Correct,” she said, just as the horse came wandering back to the trail. Grasping the reins, she departed. “Have a good day, Mr Mullens.”

“You too, my lady,” he replied as he reached for the satchel with the hand spade and cloth, the trained his focus on digging up two of the plants.

***

Walking away with the weight of Mr Mullen’s eyes resting on the square of her back and not turning to face him was one of the hardest things Marianne had ever done. She made it back to the estate trimmed lands and handed her horse off to the stable hand.

She slipped inside the house by one of the servant’s entrances and made it to her room without discovery by any servant or her parents who were not keen on her wearing men’s clothing.

“Good afternoon, my lady,” Harriet Warren, Marianne’s lady’s maid, curtsied. “I have a bath ready for you.”

That was their agreement to have a bath ready every time she came back from riding so her parents would not smell horses or dirt on her.

“Thank you, Harriet,” Marianne tried to smile, but her motion fell flat, and her friend saw it.

“Is something worrying you, my lady?” Harriet asked.

While tugging her boots off, Marianne stopped and stared at her muddy heel. “I— yes, something is worrying me, but I do not think this is the time to do it. You have chores to finish, and I may have to speak with my parents. When you’re done, we’ll talk under the bench by the oak tree.”

“Yes, my lady.” Harriet curtsied.

With her hair pinned up, Marianne sunk into the heated, jasmine-scented water and closed her eyes. Instantly, Mr Mullens’s piercing green eyes sprung up behind her closed lids.

His piercing gaze was one that sent shivers over her skin, and even though it was a memory, the image still sent gooseflesh flushing her skin. Never had she felt self-conscious around the lords of the realm before, but now, with two run-ins with the university teacher, she could barely stop herself from running her hands over her body to check if there were holes in her dress or something in her teeth.

Mr Mullens was tugging her in two ways. She knew he came from the ton and had heard stories about his father, how superficial and prideful he was to be a part of the ton, and how he used people for his own gain without care for their happiness or fortune.

In this case, blood might be thicker than water.

But the proof that he had held up to his word not to tell her father about their interaction was telling her that he was a trustworthy man. However, a lifetime of distrust, dissatisfaction and ennui with the ton was at war with the notion to trust him.

She was listless during the day, expecting a summons from her parents to meet with them and for them to discuss the upcoming balls and such, but surprisingly, they never called her. When three o’clock came around, Marianne left for the large, spreading oak tree in one of the numerous backyard gardens.

Marianne spotted Harriet there, just about to sit on the bench, and sighed in relief. She met her friend’s eyes over a line of hedges and waved to her before slipping under the tree’s waving boughs.

“Well, mother and father have not summoned me, so I have time,” Marianne said. “I’ve run into Mr Mullens twice now, and I do not know what to make of him.”

“Why?” Harriet asked.

“He is a professor at Oxford, but I remember father speaking about his father who is an Earl,” Marianne clarified before her tone became suspicious. “His father was known to be a snob, and I cannot help but think he is the same.”

Her tone had Harriet shaking her head. “I understand what you mean, my lady, but I doubt he’s snobbish. I…” she scuffed her toe on the pebbled walk. “I was, I guess, spying on him the other day, and I tripped. He did not hesitate to help me up and even asked me if I was hurt. And I don’t think he did it because it was the decent thing to do, he looked genuine in helping me.”

“And—” Marianne’s gaze drifted to the house behind her and to the floor where her father’s collection room was, then lingered there. “—when we met in my father’s office, he promised not to tell him we met there, and he has not.”

“Mayhap, you shouldn’t,” Harriet said.

“Then again, he is still his father’s child. Who knows what the truth is about him?”

“Would you care to find out?”

Rolling her eyes, Marianne said, “I would rather not.”

Secretly though, her heart rested on him. Was it worth getting to know the man? Probably not, but the question circled her mind, why was he being nice to her and keeping her secrets?


“Falling for a Flaming Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The fiery Marianne Tattershall, the daughter of a powerful Duke, has always been forced to tame her wild, intellectual nature and act as a proper lady. Yet, soon, an unexpected encounter with an alluring tutor and old family friend at her manor’s library will change her world once and for all. This charming man will slowly stimulate Marianne’s flaming thoughts and captivate her heart. However, her only hope of finding true passion will fade away when her parent’s desperate need to settle her down would lead them to engage her to London’s worst rakish Lord. Will she find the courage to go after her genuine romance with the man her heart is craving for?

Graham Mullens, son of an Earl and a present tutor at Oxford University, has gladly stepped away from high society’s hypocritical world and necessities. After discarding his title and vowing to never marry, he has dedicated his life to his educational career. Little did he know that soon he was going to break all his rules by meeting the most mesmerizing woman he had ever laid eyes on. The day he visits his old friend’s family library, he runs into the enticing Marianne. Even though he knows he should stay away, he is unable to resist his burning emotions for her… As Marianne’s pending engagement might tear her away from him, will he dare to defy everything for a chance of passionate love?

While Marianne and Graham keep falling into each other, their untamed feelings grow and they surrender to a lustful journey, with external threats casting their shadow upon it. The most hideous fraud has been played behind their backs, with Marianne’s future husband larking to steal their happiness away. Lost in a cunning game of deception will they manage to expose the truth and fight for their unconditional affection? Or will everything that has made their unconquered hearts fall for each other, be taken away from them forever?

“Falling for a Flaming Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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