Miss molly robbins designs a seduction

Advertising Download Read Online

Copyright © 2014 by Jayne Fresina

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Alan Ayers

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168



Front Cover


Title Page




























































About the Author


Back Cover


To Johanna


April 1835


She was a selfish, unfeeling, unfaithful young woman, and she wouldn’t be at all surprised if she met her demise in some horrid, bloody end. Certain folk familiar with her story would say she had received entirely what she deserved.

At the rate these carriage wheels spun, they wouldn’t have long to wait for the satisfaction, either.

“Moll Robbins?”they would exclaim.“Isn’t she the one who jilted that poor, honest lad at the altar and ran off to gamble her life on a rake’s offer?”Her fate would become a cautionary tale for young women all over the country.

Molly felt sick. Oh, what was she thinking to disappoint everyone like this? Rafe Hartley would never forgive her for calling off the wedding at the last minute. He was a most affable young fellow until he thought he’d been wronged, and then he could hold a grudge the way a farmyard mutt guarded a bone. Now she’d left him in the care of her best friend, Lady Mercy Danforthe, while she, a woman who had spent most of her life in service to others, suddenly decided to do something new. Something unexpected.

Alone in a jostling carriage, hurtling along at runaway speed—a fitting adjective, she mused—Molly would have two entire days to consider what she’d done, and where, exactly, she was likely to end up.

Carted off to the devil in a wheelbarrow, her mother would have said.

Chaos was an unfamiliar element in the life of Molly Robbins, lady’s maid. She’d always expected that her epitaph, when she finally went tranquilly to her maker, would read simply, “She caused very little harm.” That, indeed, was her plan for the first twenty years or so of her life, but there remained the lingering problem of an imagination that sometimes led her mind off on a meandering path. As a child, she’d been known to go missing for hours, often to be found much later lying on her back in the meadow, counting all the colors she could find in the clouds above.

“For pity’s sake, dozy child,” her ma would say, impatient and cross. “Clouds are white, and that’s all there is to it.”

But Molly saw more than white. Not wanting to dismay her mother, she learned to keep that to herself.

Today, outside the carriage window, the clouds were mottled with gray, yellow, pink, and mauve. Occasionally they were heavy with a storm brewing and hung low over the spring-blossoming trees, but if rain fell, she did not hear it. Perhaps the carriage was going too fast, outpacing the raindrops. She slid about, bouncing every so often like a rubber ball, not having enough heft to keep contact with the seat.

And with every bone-shaking jolt, she heard the question again, running through her mind.

Margaret“Molly” Robbins, what have you done?

As one of eleven children born to poor but hardworking parents and a mother who never suffered fools gladly, she’d discovered, early in life, that drawing less attention to oneself was often the best course of action. With her mother’s stout and sensible opinions to guide her in those early years, Molly formed the belief that mayhem happened to other people when they daydreamed, drank too much Madeira, or loosened their stays. It was their own fault for not having any self-control. Inhibitions and bosoms, as she witnessed during her time in London as a lady’s maid, seldom did credit to their owners when allowed to wander freely. As an adult, strictly holding her own occasional yearning for mischief in check, she maintained moderate enjoyment in the rare glass of fortifying wine, kept prudent guard over her body parts, and never imagined finding herself suddenly at the center of pandemonium.

Until now.

In a slightly dazed state, tossed from left to right as that recklessly driven carriage raced along narrow, uneven country lanes, Molly glanced down at herself and slowly realized she still wore her wedding gown. Such a sad garment it seemed. Impractical, purely decorative, a needless extravagance so her mother would say, if she were there to see it. Perhaps it was a good thing she was not, thought Molly. Fashion was not something her poor mother had known anything about, and Molly became aware of it herself only when befriended by Lady Mercy Danforthe, who taught her that wealthy people of Society, unlike the villagers of Sydney Dovedale, did not dress themselves merely to stay warm and give the appearance of decency.

Thank goodness Lady Mercy had the foresight to pack her off with a trunk of clothes when she left the village in shameful haste. But then Lady Mercy was always sensible, always practical. In a state of emergency, she was the very best sort of no-nonsense person to have around.

It was a dozen years since Lady Mercy plucked “thin and plain” Molly Robbins up out of that little country village and whisked her off to London as her maid and companion. That was when Molly discovered how her speedy skill with a needle could be combined with her previously curbed creativity. And when those ideas were finally given rein to leap and stretch their legs inside her, the ambition for more in her life—for change—became a voice that refused to be stifled.

“Moll, my girl,” her ma used to say, “you’ve got the neatest, fastest sewing fingers the Good Lord ever gave out.”

But her prudent mother never meant for Molly to use those fingers for anything other than practical garments. Nan Robbins would not comprehend the extent of her daughter’s secret, thrusting ambition to design elegant clothes for ladies of theton, any more than she understood that clouds could be anything beyond white. But Nan Robbins had died in poverty, having devoted her life to eleven children, many of whom drove her to distraction and probably contributed to the illness that put her in her grave at the age of six and thirty. Molly did not want that for herself. She felt wicked and ungrateful and an unloving daughter to think that way, but it didn’t stop her from wanting something different.

“You’re a rotten, selfish girl, Robbins,” Molly chided, staring at herself in the carriage window.

Despite tears, the face looking back at her was shockingly defiant.

“Don’t you care?” she demanded breathlessly. “Are you, after all, such a heartless wench that you let Rafe and many good people down, just to run off and chase a foolish dream? What has got into you?”

Two brown eyes stared back at her, unflinching but wet. The tight lips gave no reply. Perhaps it was not “what” had got into her, but “who.”

Who else but Carver Danforthe, the Earl of Everscham, scoundrel of the first order? A seducer, reckless and unbound by any form of self-control.

“I can set you up in that little dressmaking business, Robbins. All you need do is ask,”he’d said to her only a few days ago, before she had left London for her wedding in Sydney Dovedale.

Thus the devil threw down that temptation before her like a gauntlet.

How had he known of the ambition she nursed in her heart? She didn’t think he ever really paid attention to anyone’s desires but his own.

The carriage wheels bumped over a hard rut, and Molly grabbed the leather strap above the door to prevent herself from being tossed out through the carriage window. Clearly the driver had forgotten he had a passenger.

Suddenly she thought of the very first time she rode in a grand carriage like this one, the very first time she left the village of Sydney Dovedale. Back then, at thirteen years of age, she’d had doubts about her decision too, just as she did now. But twelve years ago on that journey, she had Lady Mercy Danforthe chattering away beside her on the plush velvet seat, and the little madam would not have been at all pleased if her new lady’s maid suddenly expressed a desire to go home again. The copper-headed, bossy girl was a few years younger than Molly but much older in some ways and always in the right. At least, in her own mind.

“I’m very advanced for my age,” had been the diminutive lady’s first proud words to Molly, followed by, “You’re very thin and plain. You should eat more cake, curl your hair, and never wear brown. People with brown eyes, like yours, should wear bright blues and greens. And don’t stoop. You look almost ashamed of yourself just for standing there. At least you have good teeth and elegant hands. You’re not completely a lost cause.”

Molly had never met anyone quite so self-assured, colorful, and unstoppable. She could not help but admire the bold little girl and wish some of that brazen confidence was her own.

She smiled as the memory came back to her of that first strange journey to London. How young she had been, and how brave she had tried to look. The opinionated young Lady Mercy was not her only companion on that ride to London twelve years ago, for they shared the carriage with Mercy’s brother.

Having put aside his usual entertainments to chase his sister into the country and bring her home again, Carver Danforthe, the Earl of Everscham, had not been in the best of moods. Sprawled in his seat, head back as far as it would go, he’d closed his stormy gray eyes and snored rudely, one foot propped up on the seat between the other two passengers. He had long legs, as young Molly had already observed, and no wonder he liked to stretch out on a journey of some distance, but he might at least have apologized for setting his heel down on part of her coat. Even if her coat was shabby and much mended, it did not deserve to be marked by his muddy boot. And even if he was a peer of the realm and terrifyingly beautiful, like a drawing she saw once of a sleek black panther stalking its prey, that gave him no license, in her opinion, for inconsiderate, surly behavior.

The carriage tilted sharply as they rounded a curve at speed, and Molly was momentarily bounced out of her daydream. She glanced at the opposite seat where there was no Carver Danforthe today, but a hatbox and her shattered, wilted bridal bouquet of orange blossoms. For some reason she had not wanted to leave that behind, although it was a silly thing to bring with her and, in her agitation, she’d plucked most of the petals off it.

She turned her head to look out again at the scenery as it flew by in a sun-dappled, colorful print.

Twelve years ago, rattling along this same road, but under a star-peppered, ink-blot sky, she’d worn a tiny posy of pressed flowers pinned to the collar of her coat. Rafe Hartley had given it to her when they said their good-byes. She knew the boy was probably prompted into it by his aunt, but even so, it pleased her that he bothered. On her journey, she had brushed the posy with her fingertips, hoping to release some good luck into the air and boost her spirits.

Molly closed her eyes and sank into the memory again.

She pictured the Earl of Everscham as he was that night, all those years ago, seated across the carriage, letting out a loud snort, gusty enough to disturb a slightly curled lock of ebony hair fallen to his brow. At first glance his eyelids appeared shut, but there was a thin slit of silver between his black lashes, and Molly had suspected he slyly watched her with those scornful eyes. Rafe’s aunt, Sophie, had whispered that eyes like those belonged on a circus wild cat—the sort that broke free of their trainer and terrorized the audience until it was recaptured, causing a lurid, illustrated tale in the newspaper the next day. Molly had never seen a wild cat or a circus, but was nevertheless obliged to agree, for she could tell, from the very beginning, that there was a bit of the bloodthirsty and untamable about Carver Danforthe. He wore only an outer shell of civilization the way his footmen—riding on the outside of the carriage—wore their livery. Good thing she was a country girl, grew up around beasts, and wasn’t afraid of him.

With a quick tug, she’d tried to move her coat from beneath his muddied heel, but his foot was too heavy. If anything, it seemed as if he pressed his boot down even harder to keep her coat trapped.

Oh, why had she agreed to become Lady Mercy’s maid and travel all the way to London in the company of that arrogant, uncivil young man?

For the wage, of course. That was the simple, practical answer. Then came the clothes, the fashion she had just begun to discover with the help of Lady Mercy’s enthusiasm. Molly had never seen such luxurious garments as that girl wore, even when she went to bed. She was fascinated by the rich fabrics, the vibrant new dyes and printed patterns. In Sydney Dovedale, folk dressed according to their work and wore their best only on Sundays. But even their “best” was plain.

Molly opened her eyes and looked down at her wedding gown, the finest dress she’d ever owned. She ran her fingers over the soft silk where it rippled onto the seat by her thigh, and she pictured Carver Danforthe’s boot heel resting there, as it once did, the heel marking the shabby old coat she wore at the time.

Whenever he moved his foot, it almost touched her leg, but if she spoke and asked him to move it, Molly knew the earl would continue feigning sleep. He did not think her worthy of his attention. She’d heard him warn his sister before they set off, “Don’t think I’ll have anything to do with this. The country wench is your pet. You can feed her and walk her and make sure she’s trained to go outside. This isyourproject. When she chews up your laces and ribbons, don’t come crying to me.”

Molly had made several attempts to slide her coat free of the earl’s foot, but in vain. She could have sworn she caught his lips turning up, an extra gleam shining under his lowered lashes. Quickly she had unpinned Rafe’s posy from her collar. The earl had a small hole worn in the toe of his boot. It surprised her when she saw it, for the Danforthes were one of the richest families in England, and he could surely afford a new pair of boots for every day of the week if he wanted them.

She took the pin from her little posy, stuck it through that hole, and jabbed him in the toe.

With a yelp, he sat bolt upright and slammed his foot to the floor of the carriage. He had glared at her with all the wrath of the devil. “You just poked me with a pin.”

Young Molly had stared back, unblinking.

“Don’t be silly, Carver,” Lady Mercy exclaimed with a yawn. “How tiresome you are.”

Other books
the sword of destiny by andrzej sapkowski
hillerman, tony - [leaphorn & chee 13] by the first eagle (v1) [html]
blue asylum by kathy hepinstall
the demon's parchment by jeri westerson
el círculo de jericó by césar mallorquí
the stolen voice by pat mcintosh
edge of midnight by leslie tentler
bi-curious george by andrew simonian