It's not the first book in the Sydney Dovedale series, but it can be a good introduction to all the characters that you will meet in the other books. And Lady Mercy happens to be one of my favourite characters. She's bossy, abrasive and likes to take control of everything in her life -- and everybody else's. She cannot pass a shelf without straightening everything on it, fancies herself a matchmaker and she has a very great deal of self-confidence, which leads her to think she can do anything for anybody and set the world to rights.
But underneath all that she has a good heart and worries deeply about the folk who mean so much to her - her brother, her best friend...and the young man to whom she was once, in a rare moment of madness, married for three entire hours.
Rafael (Rafe) Hartley.
She might think of Rafe Hartley as one of the very few mistakes in her life, and he might think of her as "bossy-drawers" and the girl who once betrayed him, but that doesn't mean she can't still help the stubborn fellow find happiness, does it?
Lady Mercy's has remained unmarried since that disastrous attempt, but it doesn't stop her from thinking she knows all about men.
Some of Lady Mercy's best quotes:
“One can hardly expect you to understand, because you’re a man. Naturally, you have no sense of style.”
“You need tolerate your husband’s intimate company only once a month for precisely three and one-half minutes. It is hardly The Harlot’s Progress.”
"Sometimes, after all, a woman’s touch is best. Especially when the touch is that of a flat palm wielded with speed and force against a saucy cheek.”
* * * *
(Excerpt from LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL)
“I’m afraid there will be a scandal.” Since several days had passed with no one making mention of her dawn exit from Rafe’s farmhouse, she’d happily and somewhat foolishly concluded it was forgotten. Or else people believed the story of her falling ill.He shrugged easily, expression unchanged, eyes on the road ahead.
“Do you not care?” she demanded as she wondered if the fool even heard what she said.
“What worries you most? That she’ll spread the story of you spending the night with me, or that she’ll get the color of your dress wrong?”
“I did not spend the night with you. Kindly refrain from describing the incident as such.”
“Yes, you did,” he replied smoothly. “You were in my house, weren’t you? With me? All night. Don’t expect me to lie for you. That would be perjury, and I’m an honest soul.”
She gripped the edge of her seat as the lane evened out again and Rafe’s horses picked up speed. The verges whipped by, and her head began to spin.
“Worst comes to the worst,” he shouted above the clip of hooves and rumble of wheels, “you’ll just have to marry me, won’t you? Again.”
This was impossible, she thought irritably. Typical Rafe. Thank goodness for men like Viscount Grey. She knew where she was with him. There were no surprises, no puzzles. Life with him would be smooth, predictable, neat, and tidy.
They bumped over a hard rut, and Mercy almost slid out of her seat. His cart was far less comfortable and safe than any vehicle she’d ever ridden in before. “Slow down, knave!”
He slowed the horses to a walk, much to her relief and a measure of surprise. But before too long they had halted completely.
He dropped the reins, shifted closer on the wooden seat, and clasped her face between his large, warm palms. “First, I’ll take my fee for giving you a ride.”
Mercy grabbed his thick wrists and tried to pull his hands away, but he was too strong and determined. His lips found hers, forced them apart. She weakened. It horrified her to find this softened center beneath her cultivated barriers, but there it was. He knew it was there and teased it out of her, remorseless, ruthless. His tongue swept hers, curled around it, drank her startled moan. Thank God no one was in the lane at that moment, she thought. It might not matter to him if she was painted a scarlet hussy, but it did to her. As soon as his lips set hers free, she demanded that he remove his hands from her person.
“Are you intent on scandal?”
“If there’s to be rumor in any case, may as well make it worth our while.”
“Rafe Hartley, that is the wickedest thing you’ve ever said.” It was also not far removed from what she’d thought the morning after their escapade, when seated at her mirror and still suffering the fluttering ache of want.
“So you just used me when you had a fancy for a bit o’ rumpy-pumpy that night, my lady.” His voice was getting louder.
“I must ask you to stop compromising me at every opportunity. I am not here to be your plaything.” Mercy climbed down from the cart. “I can walk the rest of the way. Thank you, Mr. Hartley. Good day.” Lifting her petticoats out of the mud, she marched onward, heading for the farmhouse gates. It was suddenly very difficult to catch her breath, but she would not stop and look back at him. She could not.
By the time she reached the gate, his horses were following her.
She lifted the rusty latch, and the gate squealed open. Finally she felt composed enough to face him again. “Was I not clear enough?”
His expression was faintly amused. “Clear as crystal.”
“Then I would thank you not to trail after me.”
“I come to visit my aunt and uncle, ma’am, not to trail after you.”
“Oh.” She swallowed. “Very well.” She could hardly stop him from paying a visit to his family, could she? “As long as you don’t get any more of your silly ideas,” she added as she held the gate open to let him through.
He rode by at a brisk clip and laughed down at her. “Best make haste and find me a bride, woman, or I might take matters into my own hands, eh? Get her for myself. Might decide to take the wife I want by any means, whatever she has to say about it.” He leapt down from his cart.
“I was thinking that very thing. Should have had them for my first wife,” he said.
“Be still my heart. That medieval view of romance certainly aligns with your thick-headed male chest-thumping.”
“Romance? I’ve no time for that.”
He scratched his head. “I need a woman to feed me, clothe me—”
“Why don’t you appeal for a housekeeper?”
“—and provide comfort on long, cold winter nights.”
“I would advise a woolen nightshift and a bed warmer.”
He grinned. “A bed warmer. Just what I had in mind.”
Rolling her eyes, she skirted him quickly to walk on into the house. “Do excuse me. I must get away from your irritating presence. I have surely put up with it long enough today.” And she felt the danger of it all too deeply. His mischievous company had certain addictive qualities.
Suddenly he caught her fingers. “Let’s call a truce.”
“If you don’t plan to be here long, let’s not be at war the whole time."
Wary, she studied his countenance, and for once she could not immediately read his intentions. “I’ve played enough games of chess with my brother to know that men give up only when they know they can’t win. Calling a draw is one way to save face.”
“But who’d want to save this one?” He laughed easily, pretending he didn’t know how handsome he was. “I promise not to try kissing you again. I’ll be sensible from now on. Friends?”
Mercy looked at his hand and thought of it on her waist earlier, gently guiding her up into his cart, rescuing her from Mrs. Flick.
“Very well then,” she muttered. “A truce.” No doubt she’d discover, soon enough, what he was up to.
“Now we are friends, we needn’t die alone and miserable,” he chirped. “I’ll visit you and make you laugh. We’ll have tea and scones together.”
Amused by the picture, she chuckled softly. “If we have teeth left with which to eat scones.”
He considered it, head on one side. “I’ll make you some wooden ones.”
“Lovely. And I’ll knit you some hair, because I daresay you will have lost all yours.”
“Splendid. See, we can be friends.” He gave her his arm, and after a brief hesitation, she took it.
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copyright Jayne Fresina 2016