Olivia Parker
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Tristan's Book News

The following prologue is from Tristan's Book. If you've read any of my first three books, you might remember the insolent rake who had some growing up to do. Well, he's matured, but I still think he's a bit cheeky at times. I have no release date, sadly, but I'm holding on to hope!

Prologue
 
 
 
Devine Mansion 1805
 
 

“Who the devil are you?”

At the sound of Tristan Devine’s voice, the freckled pixie attempting to climb inside his armoire gave a small jolt, and then cast him a glance from over her shoulder. “Now that is a positively stupid question.”

Having froze midstride at the threshold of his bedchamber, Tristan could only blink, one hand stilled upon the doorknob, the other holding a small bundle. “Pardon?”

“You know precisely who I am and precisely where I’ve come from.”

“I do?”

“Certainly.” She turned to face him fully, clearly annoyed, and blew at a ribbon of sable hair that had fallen into her eyes.

“I’ve gone mad,” he murmured to himself. “At thirteen, I’ve gone bloody mad. And I haven’t even had the chance to gamble away my inheritance yet.”

She dismissed his comment with a roll of her eyes. “I am Miss Marianne Louisa Fairfax,” she curtsied, “and twice a week I come to take music lessons with your sister.”

His eyes squinted as he took in the sight of her. She looked rather like an exotic little bird he once saw in a book. Short and rather rounded, she was dressed in layers of light blue feathers . . . no, ruffles. And a great heap of them, too. Indeed, they travelled all the way up, encircling her neck right to her dimpled chin where her small head seemed to sprout forth in a desperate bid for freedom.

As he studied her, the girl’s little nosed twitched, her brown eyes narrowing with suspicion.

A sudden picture came to Tristan’s mind—an image of this same freckled face catching his eye as he walked past the music room downstairs, her chin lifting, her eyes crossing, her tongue sticking out at him.

Recognition dawned. She was . . . That Fairfax Girl--the name uttered disdainfully by his aunt and quite often.

Tristan had never spoken to That Fairfax Girl. Indeed, he wasn’t permitted to acknowledge her. Aunt Eugenia had made a point of making sure he was preoccupied each and every time That Fairfax Girl came to play. His aunt had said that it “rankled” her “mightily” that a “family in trade” should share lessons with a duke’s daughter. Adversely, it didn’t seem to bother Tristan’s mother, who rarely came to come to Town, but whose wishes and edicts concerning her children echoed powerfully from the ducal seat in Yorkshire.

But it didn’t matter that his aunt forbade him from going anywhere near That Fairfax Girl. He had never displayed a proclivity for obeying his aunt. Tristan did, however, relish his sense of hearing. And lurking about the music room door while his sister and this girl grated their violin bows across their defenseless violins wasn’t something he longed to do. But what the devil was she doing in his bedchamber, climbing inside his armoire, albeit unsuccessfully?

The scent of warm chocolate wafted between them, drawing her gaze downward to the fragrant bundle he held possessively to his side. He shifted his weight, fighting the absurd reaction of hiding it behind his back. Oh, but how he dearly, dearly loved chocolate. And not getting caught. Having pilfered a weeklong forbidden dessert, he needed to make haste. After all, he was going to University in the fall.

This meant that he was practically a grown-up boy.

And that meant that he’d most likely receive grown-up punishment.

However, That Fairfax Girl, or rather, Miss Marianne Louisa Fairfax, didn’t seem obliged to leave anytime soon. In fact, she apparently had dismissed his presence altogether as she was now busily scooting his writing chair across the room.

Positioning it in front of the armoire, she climbed atop the chair. “Come on then, aren’t you going to help me?” Her small voice seemed to get lost as she peered inside the deep armoire. “Still . . . it’s awfully dark in here, deeper than I thought, too. Perhaps I’ll hide elsewhere. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.” As she crouched to jump off the chair, footfalls echoed from down the hall.

She froze at the sound, her gaze swinging to his.

“Marianne!” a woman’s hard voice cut through the hall. “Marianne is that you? I saw you run up the stairs. Come here this instant.”

“‘Tis mama,” she whispered. “She’s angry again and I must hide.”

He cocked a brow. “Or what?”

“Pinches.”

“Pinches?”

She wrung her clasped hands, her eyes darting around the room.

Not quite understanding, but recognizing her fear, Tristan rounded his bed and dashed to his armoire. “Get in. I’ll help you.”

She sent him a wary glance, hesitating. “But . . . ”

He wrapped one arm around her waist, hoisting her to the deep shelf inside.

“Wait, please,” she said, one bent leg in, one leg dangling out, her voluminous light blue ruffled petticoats filling his vision. “I-I’ve changed my mind.”

“What? There isn’t time.” With his free hand he gave her frilled bottom a push to keep her from backing out.

Closing the doors firmly, Tristan shook his head. Satisfied that the girl was concealed—and not trying to come back out-- he tossed himself upon his bed. And waited. And listened.

Doors opened and shut from down the hall, growing increasingly near. There came a rumble, perhaps a locked door? And then Mrs. Fairfax’s stern voice called out for her daughter once again.

“Come out, little poppet,” she crooned. “Mummy’s not displeased any longer.”

Tristan didn’t believe that statement any more than he’d believe a snarling dog was in want of a rub. Apparently Marianne didn’t believe it either for her mother’s words failed to coax her from her hiding spot.

And then a thought occurred to him. He hadn’t a lock on his door—an inevitable consequence for having been caught sneaking back into his room after an evening of playing cards with some other boys in the summer house. His aunt, Tristan scoffed, boasted that she’d caught him the first and only time he’d done it—the truth was he’d done it at least a dozen times before then.

He sighed. The absent lock was a valid worry. Undoubtedly someone was going to barge inside his room soon. If he didn’t relax or appear to be at ease, he’d look guilty, and that might make them search his room. Perhaps he ought to stretch out upon his bed—as if he were going to be taking a nap. He could even feign gruffness as if their ruckus had woken him. He might not be the heir to the dukedom, but surely he could be just as grumpy as his elder brother.

He ran his hand through his hair, mussing it up and giving it what he hoped was a slept-in look. Then he carefully set about stuffing his stolen dessert under his pillow. That done, he lie down upon the bed as he waited for the inevitable.

The hall had grown eerily quiet. Tristan listened, his ears straining to detect even the slightest creak of a floorboard. But the only sound he heard was a new one--the rising lurch of sobs coming from inside his armoire. He jumped up and scooted off his bed. “Shhh.” He threw a nervous glance at his bedchamber door. “Stop crying.”

“I c-can’t,” came Marianne’s muffled reply.

“You must or she’ll hear you.” Where had her bravery gone? It seemed to have evaporated at the sound of her mother’s voice.

“I can’t.”

“Why ever not?”

“Because it’s dark in here,” she rushed out on a stream of depleting air, making her words lack volume but raise in pitch.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Tristan exhaled forcefully, his dark bangs momentarily suspended. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark.”

“Well, all right,” she whispered.

Tristan shifted his weight, feeling impatient. “Are you? Afraid of the dark, that is?”

There came a loud wet sniffle. “You told me not to tell you,” she said from behind what Tristan was sure had to be his favorite shirt. “And I am only seven,” she defended. “ I can be afraid of the dark if I want to be.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Who wants to be afraid of the dark?” His lips screwed up disbelievingly. “Besides it is just my wardrobe.”

The armoire doors rattled. “I want to come out.”

“You mustn’t.” She sighed, loud and defeated . . . and then burst into a new round of sobs.

He pressed his lips to the seam of the armoire doors. “Listen. You must be quiet or your mother will find you.” An idea sprung to mind. “Feel around in the back, Marianne. I found a stone by the river yesterday. It has sparkles in it and it’s shaped like a diamond. I’ll let you have it if you just . . . be . . . quiet.”

“I don’t like rocks,” came her muffled reply.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does too matter,” she said rather churlishly. “Perhaps big lumps of stone interest you, but not me. I stubbed my toe on a rock once and it hurt for a week. I don’t think it’ll ever be the same again . . .”

Tristan toyed with the fanciful notion of yanking her out and tossing her out in the hall.

“ . . . and have you ever gotten a sharp pebble in your shoe? I think not for then you wouldn’t like them so much.”

“Do you think,” he interrupted, “that there could be anything, anything a’ tall that could take your mind off of the dark?”

Three beats of blessed silence and then, “Well . . . I should think there might be one thing . . .”

Oh please do not ask for a kiss, thought Tristan. The little girl down the lane was always pestering him for a kiss. In fact, all the girls of his acquaintance always end up asking him for a kiss sooner or later. He should start charging a fee. He sighed. This girl was very young, but it was inevitable, really.

Her continued silence assured him that she was probably too shy to come right out and ask. “All right, then. I’ll make this easier for you. But just a quick one.” He took a deep breath and cracked open the doors, pursing his lips and closing his eyes.

“I think . . .”

“Go on,” he coaxed.

“I think I should like that chocolate pudding you were carrying upstairs.”

Tristan blinked open his eyes. “What?”

“Yes, that ought to work.”

Heat blasted his face. Had she really been afraid of the dark? Or had he just been swindled out of his stolen sweet by a couple of tears? Whichever, he wasn’t going to take the time to decide presently.

Burrowing a hand underneath his pillow, he slid out the small wrapped dessert, and walked back over to the closet, holding it in his hands like a sacrificial offering.

Solemnly, he stood before the open doors, but before he could summon the fortitude to hand it over, two slim arms reached out from a nest of now horribly wrinkled shirts and snatched it from him.

“Thank you,” she said quickly. “Now shut the doors, if you please.”

Tristan could only stand there and blink for several seconds before dumbly closing the doors.

“Master Tristan?” Someone called from the hall.

Reacting without hesitation, he swiftly launched himself onto his bed.

“Master Tristan?”

He heard the floor creak a second before Mrs. Hilde, his old nurse, opened the door.

Slowly sitting up, Tristan squinted and used his best I-just-woke-up-voice. “What is it, Hilde?”

With one hand on the doorknob, the other on her generous hip, his stout, rosy-cheeked nurse studied him for several moments, and then turned her searching gaze about the room. “Not ‘ere,” she eventually muttered from one side of her mouth—quite like she was speaking to someone standing in the hall behind her. “Just like I told ye, ma’am.”

“H-Hilde?” My, but he was good at pretending that he had just awakened.

“Don’t ye worry yer ‘ead,” she said, backing out. “I was only keeping me eye on ye.”

He smiled, knowing already what effect it had on people. Most people, that is.

Clearly unmoved by his practiced grin, she frowned. “Good day, Master Tristan.” Shaking her head, Hilde left, closing the door softly behind her.

A minute passed before the armoire doors cracked open slowly. “Is she gone?” Marianne whispered around a mouthful of pudding.

“Yes.”He slid off his bed to stand before the closet.

“Oh, good,” she said, jumping down from the shelf. Crumbs dotted her cheeks. “I saved you a piece.” She opened her fist, revealing a small, round, mashed together bit of moist cake.

Tristan took a tentative backward step. “Er, you can finish it.”

She shrugged, popping the last bit into her mouth with chocolate stained fingertips. Finished, she wiped her hands on the front of her light blue frock, and then looked up at him. “Oh, that was good. I almost never get to have dessert.”

“Almost never?”

She nodded solemnly then asked, “Why’d you steal the pudding?”

He froze for a moment, surprised by her directness, but quickly recovered. Tossing a lock of hair from eyes with a shake of his head, he waggled his brows, his smile one of cheeky innocence. “Well, how do you know I even stole it?”

“Your sister told me that you got in trouble. You haven’t been allowed to have dessert all week.”

“Oh.” His smile fell. Really, he shouldn’t be surprised. Rosie tended to natter on occasionally. “Did she tell you what I did?”

Shrugging, Marianne shook her head. “I suppose it was horrid. Rosalind said I wasn’t to speak with you—ever—on account of you being such a wicked boy.”

He scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. “My own sister disparages my character.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you did? I promise I will still like you, no matter.”

“You’ll still like . . ?” He shook his head as if to shake her words and the meaning behind them from his skull. “It was nothing really. I just put beetles in my aunt’s porridge.”

“You did?” she asked, wide-eyed and clearly awed.

“I did.” He smiled, his chest puffing up proudly at the sound of wonder in her voice. “They weren’t live beetles. That would be cruel. So I made sure to put in dead ones.”

Marianne clamped a hand over her mouth and giggled into it.

“Well, she didn’t think it was funny.”

Her hand dropped away. “What did she do?” she asked, excitement lighting up her eyes.

“Well . . .” he began, then stopped, deciding to pantomime his aunt’s reaction instead, from the way she peered down into her bowl, to the way she pinched her lips together in disgust.

Laughing loudly, Marianne leaned her back up against the side of his bed. When her giggles finally subsided, she straightened. Breathless with hair falling about her face, her expression suddenly turned serious. “Was your aunt very angry?”

He shrugged. “She can be rather horrid. But not as horrid as your mother, I suppose. She does seem to favor doling out punishment—usually of the no-dessert or early-to-bed sort.”

Marianne smiled up at him and began fidgeting with the pink sash tied around her waist. Tristan didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt uncomfortable. “You do have the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Everyone in my family has brown eyes. I think brown eyes are plain. Like a tree trunk or mud.”

“Or chocolate,” he added, and was strangely delighted to see that his comment brightened her face like he’d never seen before.

She positively beamed up at him. Tucking her hands behind her back, she twisted at the waist to and fro, making her skirts swish with her movements. “I’ve never been friends with a boy before.”

“I’ve never been friends with a girl. Except maybe my sister, but that doesn’t really count, does--?”

Tristan’s bedchamber door flew open with angry force. With astonishing speed, Marianne ducked down, thinking to use the bed, he supposed, to hide from whomever it was entering the room. At the same time Tristan’s gaze flew to the doorway.

“Tristan, my dear,” Aunt Eugenia said without entering the room. “I have just come up from the kitchens . . .”

Had his aunt spied Marianne before she ducked down? “ . . . where Cook informed me of a peculiar mystery. Perhaps you can solve it?” She cleared her throat. “We are exactly one pudding short. You wouldn’t happen to know why that is so, would you?”

Having had a few years of experience with his aunt, Tristan knew it was better to admit his guilt now as the forthcoming punishment would be less severe. It was foolhardy, he must admit, to have believed he would have gotten away with it in the first place. Just as foolish, he supposed, as believing that shielding Marianne from her mother, even for a little while, might not make matters worse. “Well?” His aunt tapped her foot impatiently. “Have you added thieving to your list of misdeeds?”

He opened his mouth to answer, but before he could get a syllable formed, Marianne shot up from her hiding spot. “It was me. I ate it.”

Tristan gulped down a lurch of surprise. He hadn’t expected Marianne to defend him. No one ever defended him—quite possibly because if he was being accused of something it was because he was guilty, indeed.

Aunt Eugenia stared at Marianne without blinking. “I see,” she replied several moments later, her eyes narrowing on the girl. “Prove it.”

Tristan looked down at Marianne, her brows knitting together in thought. And then, as an idea apparently sprouted, she held up her soiled skirts and smiled pointedly at his aunt. If the chocolate stains on her dress weren’t proof enough, surely the bits of cake stuck to her small teeth would condemn her.

Giving a sound of exaggerated disgust, his aunt turned her head. “Ghastly child.”

Too which, oddly enough, Marianne thought was vastly funny and burst into giggles. “I like her,” she whispered to Tristan.

“You may be the only one,” he whispered back.

“I heard that,” Aunt Eugenia bit out, raising a brow meant to warn him.

Opening the door wider, his aunt swept her hand toward the hall, indicating that Marianne leave the room without actually ordering her to do so. “Come now,” his aunt intoned gravely, “you must be off. Someone is looking for you.”

Marianne nodded, all evidence of her smiles evaporating in an instant.

Reaching out, he touched her hand. “I can go with you,” he shrugged, “if you want.”

Aunt Eugenia shook her head slowly, lips thinned. “No, you cannot.”

Tristan moved to take a step, but his aunt’s warning gaze rooted him to the floor.

Quietly and without looking back, Marianne walked out of his room, his aunt pulling the door shut behind them.

Standing in his empty room listening to their footsteps fade, Tristan wondered what awaited Marianne below stairs. What was this “pinching” spoke of? And whatever had made her mother angry in the first place? He let out a frustrated sigh. And suddenly he knew, just knew, that he would remember this day for the rest of his life.

It was the day he discovered there were things in life sweeter than a warm pudding stolen from a windowsill. And she came in the form of Miss Marianne Lousia Fairfax.

Copyright © 2014 Tracy Ann Parker