Miss Dramatic

Book 9 in the Mischief in Mayfair series

Don’t be so dramatic!
Gavin DeWitt has given up a career on the stage to take his place among the respectable gentry of Crosspatch Corners. His older sister has married quite well, and now it’s Gavin’s job to ensure he and his younger siblings make an excellent impression on polite society too. He’s handsome, witty, charming–and quietly dying inside from lack of purpose–but nonetheless playing the role of country gentleman desperately well.

Will it be kisses… or curtains?
Enter Mrs. Rose Roberts, a widow from Gavin’s theatrical past. She broke his heart when last they parted, but oddly enough, he broke her heart too. Can they piece together what really happened and forge a future together, despite the forces of mischief and mayhem plotting more fiercely than ever to keep them apart?

Grace is thrilled to bring to readers her first Contemporary Romances, lovingly set in Scotland,

Miss Dramatic:

Grace Burrowes Publishing

Series: Mischief in Mayfair

ISBN: 9781956975918

Autumn 2023

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Grace's Genres: Historical

Chapter One

“Are you two out of your happily married minds?” Gavin DeWitt did not shout, nor did he pitch the nearest porcelain shepherdess to the hearthstones or lapse into profanity. The acting profession taught a man to control himself before all audiences, as did life in Crosspatch Corners. “The only curse worse than a house party is a hen party, and you propose to gather up every clucking biddy ever to roost at a Mayfair ridotto.”

“Remind me again,” Lord Phillip Vincent drawled. “What exactly is a ridotto?”

His brother, Trevor, Marquess of Tavistock, lounged with an elbow on the library mantel. “The usual dancing and flirtation. Better food at a ball, better gaming at a ridotto.”

“Ah.” Phillip had taken to studying the niceties of polite society as Gavin might have applied himself to a Shakespeare soliloquy. “Interesting.”

Gavin considered pitching the shepherdess at the marquess, his brother-by-marriage. “A learned fool is more a fool than an ignorant fool. If you know polite society so well, Tavistock, then you know this gathering will only end in disaster.”

Tavistock merely smiled in that urbane, annoying way of his. “In finding you a wife, you mean?”

Lord Phillip rose from the desk. “Stow it, Tavistock. Gloating is bad form even here in the shires. Just because you and I are the happiest of men, delighting in the affections of our darling wives, doesn’t mean you should tease DeWitt about his lamentable bachelorhood.”

Neither Moliere nor the Bard offered a riposte worthy of that bit of inanity. “I like my bachelorhood very well, thank you, and intend to enjoy it for some time.”

Tavistock and Lord Phillip exchanged a look possible only between men who were both in the early throes of wedded bliss. Tavistock was fair, Lord Phillip dark-haired, but the pair of them were tall and rangy, and they shared a certain resemblance in their features.

And in their patient pitying of Gavin’s bachelor state.

“I was like you once,” Tavistock said, as if once had been ages and ages ago, not a mere handful of weeks. “Determined to avoid parson’s mousetrap, but I had a reason: My father’s example would have put any man off marriage. Phillip was concerned about his past overshadowing his future, which we can also lay at our late father’s feet. What’s your excuse?”

“Why do I need an excuse to enjoy my freedom? Phillip, you professed the self-same contentment until very recently.”

Phillip’s smile was sweet, and that hurt worse than Tavistock’s smug condescension. “Then I met my Hecate, and mere contentment would no longer do, though I understand your hesitation. Women like Hecate and Amaryllis are rare.”

Phillip had been raised right in Crosspatch Corners, far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife—and its licentiousness. He was in some regards the most innocent of men, though in his understated, soft-spoken way, also quite shrewd.

“You could not possibly understand why the prospect of a lot of spinsters and meddlers congregating beneath my very nose gives me the collywobbles.” Opening night on Drury Lane wouldn’t have been half so intimidating. “These are the ladies who make up numbers, who pop up on short notice when more fashionable guests decline an invitation at the last minute. They aren’t half so harmless as you might think. You have no idea…”

Phillip and Tavistock were looking at him as if he’d lapsed into Old English.

“You’ve been off racketing about the shires for two years,” Tavistock said. “Doing your Shakespeare impersonation. How could you predict the sort of women Hecate and Amaryllis will favor with an invitation?”

The former Miss Hecate Brompton was not well known to Gavin, but he was better acquainted with his sister Amaryllis than with any other person living upon the earth. He could predict exactly what sort of ladies she’d invite to Berkshire for a few weeks of summer socializing.

Dragons in disguise, basilisks in bonnets, wyverns in white gloves.

“While I was on the stage,” Gavin said, “my troupe was occasionally called up on to grace social gatherings.”

Phillip squinted at him. “You were hired to entertain in private homes. Juggle for your supper?”

If only the expected entertainments had been limited to juggling. “We enacted selected scenes, delivered famous speeches, and assisted with the amateur theatricals. We were also expected to serve as supporting cast.”

“Flirt with the dowagers?” Tavistock pushed away from the mantel. “So you rounded out the dance sets when you weren’t mooning about the court of Denmark or preparing to storm Agincourt.  What of it?”

Both men regarded Gavin with genuine puzzlement. If he told them the rest of it, that puzzlement might well turn to disgust or amusement. The situation wanted some thought, some rehearsal. He’d find a way to explain, a way to say what needed to be said without making himself look like the ignorant Yahoo he’d been.

“For the good of all concerned,” he said, “the only role I will be playing for next few years is the country squire conscientiously minding his acres right here in Crosspatch Corners. Perhaps after Caroline and Diana are launched, I will see fit to add a wife to the cast at Twidboro Hall.”

“Wife is not a part to be acted,” Phillip said, “any more than husband is a role to be put on and taken off. One fears for your understanding, DeWitt.”

Better that than fearing for a man’s good name.

“You won’t run off?” Tavistock said. “Hecate and Amaryllis have quite warmed to the idea of a mostly-ladies gathering, and if you were to absent yourself, they would be puzzled.”

Amaryllis would be hurt, possibly furious. “I won’t run off.” Appending the word again was unnecessary. For the two years Gavin been racketing about the provincial stages, his family hadn’t known where to find him, through no direct fault of his.

The indirect fault had been and remained entirely his.

“Splendid.” Phillip clapped him on the back. “You will enjoy yourself, and we might even let you do some of that to-be-or-not-to-be business. The guests we’re expecting are a bookish lot, and they will doubtless appreciate some rousing speeches from a tall, dark, and handsome Hamlet.”

“Not Hamlet,” Gavin said, and handsome was doing it a bit brown. “The poor fellow went mad, committed suicide by duel, and left his kingdom ripe for plucking by a foreign invader. I don’t suppose you have a copy of the guest list?”

Another shared glance that spoke volumes. “Got him!” from Tavistock, and “I told you he’d come around,” from Phillip.

Tavistock opened the desk’s middle drawer and brandished a piece of foolscap. “Might not be complete, but these are the ladies who have accepted.”

Gavin read down the list, recognizing a few names, and allowing himself a gathering sense of relief. Formidable women, but none with a reason to wish him ill. No drunkards or hopeless gamblers, no prattling…

Oh, spite. Oh, hell. His dearest memory, his deepest regret lurked near the bottom of list, gracing the space between Lady Iris Wolverhampton and Miss Zinnia Peasegood.

“You see some familiar names, I trust?” Lord Phillip sounded pleased with himself. “I know you and Mrs. Roberts are cordially acquainted.”

“She was at the Nunnsuch house party, wasn’t she?” Tavistock asked, overdoing the casual tone by half. “A widow, as I recollect.”

“Mrs. Roberts was at Nunnsuch,” Gavin replied, passing back the list. “An agreeable, sensible lady.”

“And easy on the eyes,” Phillip added. “Surely you noticed that part?”

How could Gavin have failed to notice that a woman who’d been luminous eighteen months ago despite her grief had bloomed in the wake of mourning? Hair between auburn and Titian that loved both sunlight and candlelight, a smile to intrigue even a saint—Gavin was not a saint—and silences that could bless or condemn. Then there were her hands, her eyes, the way she caressed the rim of her wine glass when her thoughts wandered…

“Quite pretty,” Gavin said. “Also well read, and much enamored of her late spouse, if I’m to believe the Earl of Nunn. I can see why Amaryllis would enjoy her company. Unless you two have any more ambushes to spring upon me, I’m off to see Old Man Deever about a new pair of riding boots.”

The bedrock of any successful role was in the details. Which hat would a rake wear to see his mistress? Which would he wear to take supper at his sister’s house? The audience noticed those details, even if they didn’t realize they noticed.

The mention of riding boots was a such a detail—Gavin was notably fond of his colt, Roland—and apparently convincing.

“My regards to the Deevers,” Tavistock said. “Amaryllis and I will expect you and the rest of the family for supper tomorrow evening.”

Gavin assayed his best, harmless smile. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He knew not to rush his exit and denied himself a moment to tarry in the wings. He cared not one fresh horse dropping how Phillip and Tavistock parsed the conversation.

He knew only that this hen party could foretell his doom, but that he’d risk even his good name if he could once again escort Mrs. Rose Roberts in to dinner.

End of Excerpt

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Connected Books

Miss Dramatic is Book 9 in the Mischief in Mayfair series. The full series reading order is as follows:

  • Miss Dignified Cover
  • Miss Devoted by Grace Burrowes
  • Miss Determined by Grace Burrowes
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