Lord Graham Findlay, the shamelessly virile Viscount Northridge, has a disgraceful secret, one he’ll do anything to hide. Holding his passions at bay, Gray has sworn off the fairer sex. But when temptation comes in the form of an intriguing woman he cannot easily avoid, Gray’s integrity—and his most depraved desires—are put to the ultimate test.
Self-assured and carefree Princess Svetlanka Volkonsky never dreamed she would one day become a lady’s maid to avoid a dangerous traitor. But danger also comes in many guises, especially in the sinful and devastatingly attractive lord of the manor who introduces her to a world of singular pleasure.
When Lana’s past emerges to threaten the life and the false identity she’s built in England, she and Gray find themselves falling into a tangled web of lies and intrigue...and the last place either of them expected to fall...in love.
My Darling, My Disaster follows a dual timeline with the first book in the Lords of Essex series, My Rogue, My Ruin.
Each book in the Lords of Essex series is STANDALONE
*My Rogue, My Ruin
*My Darling, My Disaster
*My Hellion, My Heart
*My Scot, My Surrender
About the Author
Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the award-winning author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.
Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com
Read an Excerpt
My Darling, My Disaster
Lords of Essex
By Amalie Howard, Angie Morgan, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Amalie Howard and Angie Frazier
All rights reserved.
Lord Graham Findlay, Viscount Northridge and heir to the title and holdings of the Earl of Dinsmore, rode over Ferndale's western field like the hounds of hell were after him. His chestnut's deep burgundy crest and withers shimmered with every powerful stride, Gray's own blood burning beneath his skin. The exercise wasn't just for his favorite mount, Pharaoh, but for Gray as well. Early-morning rides, while the sky was still rising with color, were the only things that kept Gray from unraveling during the rest of the day.
He spent his nights alone and, without fail, woke each morning with a keen ache deep in his loins. It always hurt worse when he was in London, where his evenings were devoted to dinners with friends, cards at White's, or a more hazardous bit of gambling at one of the gaming hells he'd once frequented far too often. The temptations London held came to him in the most enticing forms — revealing dresses, coy smiles, a hiked skirt to display the shapely turn of an ankle, and at some establishments, much, much more than an ankle.
Gray allowed himself to look, but he didn't touch, and for that reason alone he preferred Essex to London, by far.
Here at Ferndale, the ache he woke with every morning, the one he'd come to trust in and yet still despise, wasn't as great. With his evenings spent sedately among his parents and sister, Gray could more easily ignore the fact that he had not taken a woman to his bed in nearly three years. It was a decision he had made for himself, and one he would abide by.
One he would stake his honor upon.
For one reason: Sofia.
The ride with Pharaoh that morning had done more than alleviate the sensation of loneliness. It had strengthened his fortitude to stand by his vow — a private vow, born of a mistake Gray promised himself on a daily basis he would never repeat.
He reined in Pharaoh and turned him to face the ridge of oak and ash trees. The sunrise was a honeyed hue this morning, with large streaks of clouds and blue sky cutting through the gold. Gray took a deep breath and finally allowed his mind to rush forward, into the day that lay ahead of him.
His younger sister, Briannon, would be expecting him in the attics above the servants' quarters shortly after breakfast. It was where they secretly stored their fencing gear, and being situated so high within the manor, the clashing of their foils would not be heard by their oblivious mother several stories below. Lady Dinsmore absolutely forbade her only daughter to participate in anything so active as fencing, the threat of one of Brynn's breathing attacks always there, hovering in the background.
Gray himself did not enjoy indulging his sister's adventurous streak, however he had long ago realized she could not be kept high on a shelf, wrapped in cotton linen. As stubborn as a mule and far too clever by half, she was going to get herself into trouble one way or another. Gray only thought it wise that he be there with her in case her health took a turn for the worse.
This skewed sense of duty was what had led him to teach Brynn how to ride, how to fence, and even how to shoot, heaven help him. The thought made him remember why he was at Ferndale to begin with. The visit had not been planned, but when he had learned that his father's coach had been set upon by the Masked Marauder — the notorious highwayman terrorizing the ton from London to Essex — en route to the Worthington Abbey ball, and that Brynn had been accosted by the blackguard, Gray had left Bishop House in London at once.
He had expected to find his family in a state of distress. Instead, he'd arrived the morning before to find only one of them still in a lather: Mother, of course. Brynn had been perfectly well, if a little distracted. His father had been grumbling about the loss of a pair of fine cufflinks but had otherwise appeared unaffected. Gray's hasty departure from London hadn't seemed all that necessary after all, though he never regretted an excursion to Ferndale, and not just to flee the seemingly endless supply of fine women willing to help him crumble his vows of celibacy. Gray looked forward to every visit to Ferndale, and most especially to the neighboring village of Breckenham.
He guided Pharaoh back through the field at a steady trot, unable to suppress the grin stealing over his lips. After an hour or two with Brynn in the attics, he would wash up and make some excuse for missing tea with mother. The Coopers would not be expecting him, of course. He hadn't had the time to send ahead a letter before rushing out of London. He would deliver a note today, announcing himself and requesting a visit, perhaps tomorrow. Gray didn't trust any of Ferndale's servants not to gossip, so he would deliver the note himself.
Discretion was paramount. This he had promised the Coopers and himself.
Gray was still smiling when he dismounted Pharaoh at the estate's stable doors and walked the chestnut in. Hatcher, one of the stable boys, set down a pitchfork and rushed forward for the reins. Gray gave his mount one last affectionate rub against his chin and began for the kitchens. It wasn't a proper entrance for the future master of the house, but it was the most appealing, especially when Cook had breakfast preparations well underway and Gray's stomach was rumbling with hunger.
The kitchens were a vast network of subterranean rooms underneath the first floor of the manor, and it was a place he admitted to knowing next to nothing about. This was not his territory, to be sure, however his nose had been guiding him to Mrs. Braxton's great hearth and stove for as long as memory served. It didn't fail him now. When he slinked into the main kitchen, two scullery maids glanced up from a long table where they were peeling hard-boiled eggs.
He lifted a finger to his lips, and the girls stifled their giggles, their eyes darting toward the cook, who stood with her back to the rest of the room. Mrs. Braxton was a short, lean woman, all bones and sinew — everything most cooks in noble houses were not. The only roundness to Mrs. Braxton was her face, which was the shape of a plump tomato, and usually the color of one as well.
As Gray tiptoed up behind her and reached a hand toward the tray she was busy piling with sausages, he felt like a boy again.
"I know you're there, Master Gray, and so help me I'll rap your knuckles with me fork if you don't — oh!"
Mrs. Braxton jumped nearly a foot into the air as Gray swatted her backside, distracting her long enough to pluck two sausages from the tray. The scullery maids burst out with their giggles as Mrs. Braxton swung her fork at him like a sword. He bounded away, holding up his prizes, one in each hand.
"Oh, you scoundrel!" she cried, her cheeks coloring a deeper crimson. She couldn't contain her own grin though. "If that's the way you're treating the young women in London, you'll be a bachelor forever!"
"Or married in a fortnight," he said, winking at her.
Gray laughed and darted out of the kitchen as a new potato came sailing toward his head. Their butler's wife had extraordinarily good aim, and a welt on his forehead was not something he desired, especially if he was going to pay the Coopers a visit tomorrow.
His smile dulled somewhat as Mrs. Frommer came around the corner in the hallway and met him with her usual, dour expression. The strict housekeeper could scatter the rest of the staff under her watch with one glance, and the effect was much the same with him. She bobbed her head, continuing into the kitchen, and Gray made good on his escape.
He was nearly to the top of the servant stairs to the first floor when the door at the landing opened. Brynn's new lady's maid, Lana Volchek, rushed down the first few steps, only glancing up when she had reached the step above Gray's. When she saw him, she didn't widen her eyes the way the two scullery maids had. She didn't gasp or falter at the unexpected sight of a lord in the servant stairwell.
She glared at him, one imperious, dark brow vaulted high. The laughter froze on his cheeks as she regarded him with a disapproving stare far beyond the reaches of her position.
"I know what you are doing," Lana said, her voice low.
Gray looked at the sausages in his hands, one of which was already half eaten. Unfortunately, he had not finished chewing just yet. Hurriedly, he swallowed and licked his lips, concerned one of his ravenous bites may have left behind a drop of grease on his mouth.
"Stealing sausages?" he said.
She rolled her eyes, each bright green iris glittering in the light cast by the stairwell's single wall sconce. "You and Lady Briannon are going to the attics," she said. "Again."
Gray pulled back, this time with indignation. "Did you ... Miss Volchek, did you just roll your eyes at me?" he asked, coming up to the same step on which she stood.
She held her chin high and did not blink at his clear censure. Brynn adored her new lady's maid, though Gray could not for the world see why. Yes, she had come highly recommended by the Countess of Langlevit, and her Russian heritage and accent gave an exotic flavor to an otherwise very English staff. But she spoke far too freely, something Brynn rashly allowed. Encouraged, even. Her previous lady's maid, a woman named Nina, had been quiet as a mouse and much more ... manageable. She'd also been plain of face and, on the whole, unattractive.
Unlike this girl.
Her eyes. They were what distracted him every time she had the audacity to meet his gaze and challenge him so boldly. As she was doing now. They were a rare shade of green, a color that reminded Gray of the stained glass panels in the family chapel, when the sun would catch the emerald shards at just the right angle and set them aglow. The tendrils of hair that escaped the white cap she wore while on duty was as dark as the thick cocoa his mother sipped every morning, and her skin as pale as the alabaster busts decorating the second-floor gallery. The top of Lana's white bonnet barely reached Gray's shoulder, but she held herself with a confidence that made her appear taller.
No, this maid was not lacking in physical charms.
Gray realized he was staring down at her, his gaze drawn to the gentle flare of her hips. His earlier discomfort, the one he'd woken to that morning, struck again. Frustrated, his grip around one sausage tightened.
He scowled. "You make it sound as if Brynn and I are going to be plotting a murder up in the attics," he said, refusing to meet Lana's gaze again for fear she would see the raging desires in his.
"You shouldn't jest. You know how she struggles with her breathing. If she works herself up too much, she could —"
"That is enough, Miss Volchek," he cut in, exasperated and suddenly desperate to be away from her. Gray couldn't remember the last time a servant had spoken to him in such a manner. Having dear old Mrs. Braxton throw potatoes at his head was one thing, but enduring the chastising of this maid, who had somehow worked her way so quickly and firmly into Brynn's heart, was something else entirely.
"I know my sister, thank you, and I have things well in hand. There is no need for you to concern yourself." He then thought of something else. "And I do not know how things were done in Moscow, but here, it is wise to address members of the peerage as is suitable to their ranking."
Lana sealed her lips, cutting off whatever she had been about to say, though her eyes flashed with barely contained displeasure. Her sheer impudence astounded him. As if he had insulted her by reminding them of their positions in this household, and in society in general.
"Of course, my lord Northridge," she murmured, placing unmistakable stress on the proper address that bordered on sarcasm as she bobbed a short curtsy. Gray was far too eager to be parted from her company — and the warming scent of honeyed wildflowers that she had carried into the stairwell — to reprimand her for it.
"Good day, then," he said, and took the last four steps to the servants' door in two bounds. Once he came into the back hall of the first floor, near the dining room and his mother's morning room, he gathered a breath and held it in his lungs.
He'd sounded like a complete brute reminding her of her place, but hell, the chit had deserved it. He only wished he hadn't been coming up from the kitchens at the time — a place he hadn't belonged, either.
The sausages in his hands had grown cold, and damn it if he didn't look like a fool holding them the way he was. Gray walked toward the front hall, and once there, shoved them through the bars of the cage holding his mother's beloved parakeets. She kept the pair in the hallway, believing their bright green and yellow coloring were the perfect foils to the sky blue wallpaper.
"At least you'll enjoy them," he muttered, as their little beaks began to peck happily.
Gray started for the staircase up to his rooms to change out of his riding kit. What did his sister's maid think, that he would push Brynn to the point of breathlessness while fencing? He was not so mindless or careless to risk his sister's health. He still worried over the state of her lungs, even though it had been quite some time since she'd seriously taken ill. Those dark memories from when Brynn had been much younger, the many visits from doctors, and the many days and nights when the whole house would pause, listening to her wheezing and coughing, wondering if she might very well gasp her last breath, had not yet faded from Gray's memory.
Lana had been with their family for several months, and must have already learned that Brynn would not be subdued, not even by her own fluctuating health. He bristled again at Lana's familiarity with him in the stairwell, and he was not proud of how easily his mind had turned to admiring her physical attributes.
Gray swore, aloud this time, as he entered his chamber and kicked the door shut behind him. Damn. He'd been virtuous far too long if he was now lowering himself to eyeing the help. Maddening, belligerent, and far too appealing help.
Sighing, he stripped. A cold bath, it seemed, was in order.CHAPTER 2
Lana stroked the soft lilac silk of the evening dress Lady Briannon had discarded the night before, feeling the delicate fabric slip through her fingers. The wave of nostalgia was swift and brutal. She missed wearing such finery and dancing until the blushing hours of the morning. She had owned dozens of dresses like this one, but she had been forced to leave them all at Volkonsky Palace.
It had been nearly eight months since that fateful night when she and Irina had fled for their lives. Eight months living in constant fear that her uncle would track them down and force them to return. But as the days passed and there continued to be no sign of the count or his man, Zakorov, Lana breathed more easily. There was no reason that her uncle would search for them in London, and less reason still that he would suspect the disguise she had undertaken.
She was a lady's maid, a position that was far beneath her true station as Lord Northridge had so clearly pointed out a day past. She smiled to herself thinking of how the arrogant young lord would react if he only knew her secret. That she was one of the exalted peerage he'd spoken about, and that she, in fact, outranked him. She'd give anything to see his face turn the color of the elegantly tailored plum waistcoat he'd been wearing.
But, of course, Lana kept her mouth shut. Nothing was worth the risk of exposure, not even such satisfaction. Lord and Lady Dinsmore had been more than welcoming, and she and Lady Briannon had liked each other from the start. So much so, in fact, that Lady Briannon had forgiven Lana's dreadful blunders during the first few weeks of her service. Blunders that would have gotten any other maid dismissed entirely — like placing a pair of hot curling tongs on one of Brynn's gowns and burning a hole straight through the linen. As a princess, Lana had known what duties ladies' maids were expected to perform, given that she'd had three of her own, but how to perform them properly had been an education. An oftentimes embarrassing one, at that.
Though Lord Langlevit had balked at her plan at first — lowering herself into service was an unconscionable idea for someone of her rank — he had grudgingly agreed that the position was preferable, since ladies' maids in wealthy households tended to have more freedom than most of the staff. So the earl and his mother, the countess, who had not blinked an eye at her son's middle-of-the-night return home with two heavily cloaked princesses, had provided Lana with a spotless letter of recommendation.
She had been transformed into Lana Volchek — the genteel daughter of a respected modiste in Moscow who had come to England under hardships, and with a goal to be in service to a fine family. Irina, however, given her age, had traveled on to Lord Langlevit's little used estate far north in Cumbria and was staying with the countess as her ward.
Excerpted from My Darling, My Disaster by Amalie Howard, Angie Morgan, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2017 Amalie Howard and Angie Frazier. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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