Book 8 in the Mischief in Mayfair series
She’s learned to ask for nothing…
Miss Hecate Brompton is on the shelf and relieved to finally be there with her personal wealth in tact. She faces enough challenges keeping her rackety family from scandal and ruin without the added bother of marriage. When Phillip Vincent approaches her with a request to become his de facto finishing governess, she’s both appalled by and sympathetic to his plan. She was once the awkward outsider, and knows exactly how treacherous the waters of the Beau Monde can be for the unsuspecting.
To win her love, he will sacrifice everything.
Phillip is mere gentry at heart, and the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair leave him frankly bored. For the sake of his family he must nonetheless learn to do the pretty. Miss Hecate Brompton, is anything but glittering. She’s quiet, proper, plain, and–to Phillip–utterly fascinating. He sees what society does not: Behind Hecate’s demure facade lurks a fierce heart and a brilliant mind.
Hecate’s family has no quarrel with Phillip stealing her heart, but her fortune and her hand in marriage are quite another matter. Can the squire and spinster find a happily ever after when all of polite society intends to deny them exactly that?
Enjoy An Excerpt
“I am a curiosity,” Lord Phillip Vincent said, pacing from the hearth to the French doors and on past the great harp. “I have no wish to become a laughingstock.”
“Has somebody derided you to your face, my lord?” In Miss Hecate Brompton’s opinion, only a fool would make fun of Lord Phillip. He stood better than six feet in his riding boots and moved with the brisk vitality of a wild creature in roaring good health. His hair needed a trim, and his clothing, while well made, was clearly borrowed.
And yet, those rough edges made him all the more imposing. In a fair fight against Mayfair’s dandies and Corinthians, she’d put her money on Lord Phillip—not that Mayfair fights were ever fair.
“You lot don’t insult a man openly,” his lordship replied, straightening an unlit taper in a wall sconce. “Much more diverting to whisper about him behind your fans and chortle over his mis-steps in the clubs.”
“Perhaps we seek to spare that man embarrassment?” You lot. He made polite society sound like a secret club for naughty children. Not far off the mark.
“Nothing so considerate as that.” He prowled to the pianoforte and took a seat on the bench, which creaked under his weight. “You seek to embarrass him to the maximum extent possible, humiliation by a thousand cuts, and all of them delivered by unseen hands when his back is turned. I travel a woods rife with snares, and I am the most ignorant of prey.”
The analogy was all too apt. Hecate had taken her own turn as the most ignorant of prey, which is why she didn’t change the topic to the weather, pour his lordship a cup of tea, and send pointed glances at the clock on the mantel.
“Leaning any new terrain takes time, my lord. You’re a marquess’s heir, and the fools will twit you on that basis alone.”
He glanced around the music room. “I cannot help that my brother holds a title. I can do much to foil the fools though, provided I have proper guidance.”
Had Hecate been in the forest, she might have experienced the same uneasy sensation when twig snapped in the dense thicket behind her.
“I can recommend some etiquette manuals.”
He was back on his feet, retracing the same path he’d just trod. “I’ve read them. They are for cit’s daughters who’ve bagged a baronet’s nephew and now must entertain an MP’s sister. I’m to be introduced at court, God help me, and my brother… Tavistock was to the Great Nonsense born. He doesn’t even grasp how much he knows about proper deportment. The whole business goes beyond good manners—which we have even out in Berkshire—to mysteries too numerous to count.”
“I can solve one mystery for you,” Hecate said. “A gentleman does not pace.”
He stopped, heaved those great shoulders in an audible sigh, and returned to his piano bench. “There, you see? Another snare closed round my ankle. I’ve probably paced the length of three ballrooms, four guest parlors, and two conservatories in the last week alone. Why doesn’t a gentleman pace?”
“Would you like some tea?”
“Please. Cream and sugar, but this is Mayfair, so you probably have only milk. Don’t bother if that’s the case.”
“You put cream in your tea out in Berkshire?” Who knew the shires were home to decadence?
“I can’t speak for all of Berkshire. At Lark’s Nest, we have plenty enough cream for our butter and cheese, so yes, I can have cream for my tea, porridge, and bread pudding, if I prefer, and I do. I also ensure some of my heifers freshen in autumn. Thus we have ample supplies in the dairy year ’round.”
He looked at his hands. Broad, capable, callused… a white scar crossed the knuckles of the left hand. No signet rings, no lace draped over his wrists. Not the hands of a gentleman.
“I just committed another six breaches of decorum, didn’t I?” Lord Phillip said. “Now I want to pace again, but a gentleman doesn’t, and you’ve still not told me why.”
“A gentleman also doesn’t make his hostess hike across the music room to deliver his tea. Come sit over here and I will explain about pacing and fidgeting.”
“I don’t fidget.” He crossed the room and settled beside Hecate on the sofa, which dipped the cushions and nearly had her pitching into his side. “But sometimes I want to pace all the way back to Berkshire.”
“One lump or two.”
“In that thimble? One will do.”
She obliged and passed him the cup and saucer. “A gentleman does not pace or fidget because it betrays a lack of self-control. A lady is to behave at all times with similar composure. She never touches her face or hair in public either, lest she convey anything other than serene calm.”
The tea disappeared in a single swallow. “Whyever not? If she’s frightened by a mouse, will her serene composure impress the little fellow into scurrying off posthaste? If she’s set upon by footpads will serene composure keep her reticule from their grubby mitts? If a curl comes loose, is she to ignore it bouncing in her eyes?”
Hecate had made similar argument to her finishing governesses, though Lord Phillip’s baritone rumble made the same logic more convincing.
“The lady with an errant curl is to withdraw to the nearest retiring room to repair her coiffure. Next time, wait until I’ve served myself before you enjoy your tea, and try to savor it. Sip rather than gulp.”
He glowered at his empty cup. “I knew that. We have tea trays in Berkshire. But I’m so blasted unsettled I forget that. What else?”
Hecate admired his fortitude. If he was intent on withstanding polite society’s slings and arrows, he’ d need it.
“A gentleman never sits close enough to a lady to risk inadvertently touching her person, unless the relationship is one of friendly familiarity.”
Lord Phillip wrinkled his nose—a good, lordly beak—gave Hecate an inscrutable look, and moved a foot away on the sofa. “Don’t stop there, we’re just getting started, I’m sure.”
Hecate sipped her tea and pointedly did not glance at muscular calves lovingly encased in gleaming leather. “A gentleman removes his spurs before entering a dwelling.”
“I vaguely recall that one too. No sense in it, though, when the mud is on his boots rather than his spurs. But then, I rarely wear spurs at home. A horse should go when you tell him to without needing a jab in the ribs to remind him. These are for show, and a ridiculous show it is.”
Hecate grasped only too well the sense of bafflement that Mayfair society could cause in those new to its peculiarities. Lord Phillip was right to trouble himself to learn this new terrain and find all the hidden snares.
She wanted to spare him those mocking smiles and smirking silences before they escalated to pranks, wagers, and worse. And yet, he was not her debutante to launch.
“Wearing a fancy uniform into battle is thought by some to be ridiculous,” Hecate said. “On campaign, that fancy uniform will get dusty, dirty, bloody, and torn.”
Phillip passed her his empty cup and saucer. “But that uniform tells all and sundry to which regiment the fellow belongs. It proclaims him to be a soldier, a hero, rather than a bandit, though he’s engaged in many of the same activities bandits are prone to. You are saying I need to learn to wear the uniform, and I agree. Will you teach me?”
Hecate refilled his cup with a steady hand, though the blunt request took her aback. Nobody asked Hecate Brompton for anything any more, unless it was to dance the opening quadrille with a spotty, bumbling nephew. She had worked for years to make it so.
“Why me? Why not ask Tavistock to appoint you a finishing governess? I’m sure among his army of step-relations and acquaintances, he knows somebody who could bring your Town education along in due time.”
Lord Phillip wanted to pace again. She could feel the restlessness in him, even from a foot away. Instead he accepted his refilled cup, took one sip, and set his drink aside.
“Anybody Tavistock chose would jolly me along, overlook three quarters of my bungling, and pronounce me fit for Almack’s. I’m not stupid, Miss Brompton, but I’m ignorant. I’m the slow top younger brother kept out of society’s view by decree of the late marquess. He’d dead—thank the Deity—my brother acknowledges me, and now everybody is entitled to have a gawk at the bumpkin spare. For the sake of my brother and for the sake of my own pride, I need to make a good showing.”
Family loyalty was a trap Hecate understood only too well, and pride was both her besetting sin and her saving virtue. “Did you pay me a compliment when you implied that I’d call out your bungling?”
Another sip of his tea. No slurping, no gulping. “A drill sergeant bellows at his recruits because he wants them to survive battle, not because he’s an overbearing, foul-mouthed brute by nature. Bellow at me, Miss Brompton. Whip me into shape. Please, help me survive the battles I’ll face in Mayfair’s ballrooms.”
Lord Phillip wasn’t begging, but rather, asking for help. He was also issuing Hecate a challenge. She hadn’t had a challenge in ages—other than how to manage her family—and the Little Season was still some weeks off. There was time to make a silk purse out of…
Wrong analogy. Lord Phillip was intelligent, shrewd, physically impressive, and willing to apply himself to his studies.
With the right tailoring…
But no. Hecate had enough on her plate dealing with her rackety family. “I am not well liked,” she said. “If you are looking for somebody to show you the basics of charm and flirtation, I am the wrong resource.”
“You are respected. You are formidable. A woman who does not suffer fools, and who hasn’t succumbed to the blandishments of the fortune hunters. You are my first and last choice of finishing governess.”
How she would have rejoiced to hear herself described thus ten years ago—respected, formidable—and the words were still some comfort, though the finishing governess part…
Nobody had warned her that not suffering fools left a woman with little company in polite society.
“A lady doesn’t raise her voice or use profanity.” Hecate said. “My drill sergeant qualifications are sadly lacking.”
Lord Phillip saluted with his tea cup. “A gentleman is doubtless such crushingly dull company that he ensures she never gets the opportunity. I have excellent hearing, however, so we can hope you won’t have to raise your voice to me in truth. Putting the manners on me should be nigh boring for one of your accomplishments.”
His eyes were dancing, though his expression remained otherwise solemn, and Hecate realized what about this man had drawn her notice.
Lord Phillip seldom looked anybody in the eye. His gaze was invariably on his surroundings, on his hands, his boots, the nearest painting, but not on the people in his ambit. The same tendency might have come across as furtive or shifty from another man. Lord Phillip was neither—far from it—and she was sure in her bones that he wasn’t arrogant either.
But quite possibly, he was shy.
He’d be torn to pieces and tossed to the tattlers.
Until Tavistock and his new marchioness were blessed with sons, Lord Phillip was the heir presumptive to a marquessate. He was a landed gentleman in his own right, young, attractive… The matchmakers would make a meal of him if the gossips left enough to snack on.
“Mayfair will undoubtedly bore you witless,” Hecate said, “if it hasn’t already. I don’t suppose you’re wealthy?”
Phillip took up a visual inspection of the great harp. “Is that question rude?”
“Very. Also pertinent.”
“I’m happy to pay you.”
“I will not accept coin for spending time with an agreeable social connection.”
Phillip again swung his gaze in her direction. “You should be compensated. Your time is precious, and though I’m a quick study, but I have much to learn, and agreeable comes close to falsehood, miss.”
He was sure of his strengths, and honest about his weaknesses. That lack of prevarication left Hecate at a loss for how to respond. Lord Phillip was also the first person to inform her that her time was precious.
She should say no. She should politely decline. She should recommend him to some agency that specialized in deportment instructors, though none immediately came to mind.
“Very well,” Phillip rose and bowed. “I’ll wish you a pleasant rest of your day. I can see myself to the door. My thanks for hearing me out.”
He’d said please. He’d been respectful. He was facing a pack of wolves and had sense enough to know it.
“Coin of the realm is of no interest to a lady, but if I’m to take on your education, I need an idea of your means.”
Lord Phillip sent a longing glace at the French doors. “I’m not in your league, but I’m well fixed. I own Lark’s Nest thanks to Tavistock’s generosity, and the estate prospers. I’ve invested a bit here and there, and I’m patient. I patented a plough design a few years back, and some wool shears for use in the left hand. My tastes are modest, my needs few.”
Hecate considered that recitation. “Ten thousand a year?”
“And a bit more, most years.”
What had Tavistock been thinking, to leave his brother tethered in Town like a goat set out to tempt the matchmakers? Tavistock hadn’t bee thinking. He’d been dreaming of wedded bliss with his Amaryllis.
“You’ll need funds,” Hecate said. “Funds for a wardrobe, cattle, a curricle or phaeton. We have time for that, but if you want to make a good showing this autumn, we’ll need to get started.”
“You’ll take on my education, then? Break me to harness?”
Still not the right analogy. “You are on probation, my lord. Try my patience too far, exceed my tolerance in any way, and I will toss you to the penny press.”
“I am duly warned.”
“Then do stopping looming over me. I have more questions, I have it on good authority that my time is precious.”
“So it is.” He resumed his place on the sofa and poured himself a third cup of tea.
Order your copy of Miss Dashing!
End of Excerpt
Miss Dashing is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
September 5, 2023
Miss Dashing is Book 8 in the Mischief in Mayfair series. The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: Miss Delectable •
- Book 2: Miss Delightful •
- Book 3: Miss Dignified •
- Book 4: Miss Desirable •
- Book 5: Miss Dauntless •
- Book 6: Miss Devoted •
- Book 7: Miss Determined •
- Book 8: Miss Dashing •
- Book 9: Miss Dramatic •