Regency romantic fiction from Evernight Publishing. Best to grab it there (you can get all e-formats separately or in a bundle); also available at All Romance eBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookStrand, iTunes, Smashwords, and other fine etailers. It’s in print at Amazon and Createspace; audiobook available at Amazon and Audible (iTunes too!)
Reviewers say: “Combine Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels with Jane Austen, add a touch of Dickens and a modern sex scene, then you’ll have the flavor of Nicky Penttila’s Note of Scandal.”—Sheila, via Goodreads
“With a well-drawn cast of characters who aptly represent and execute the story’s plots and subplots, Penttila draws readers into the music halls, publishing offices, half-empty estates and festering hospital wards where machinations of all sorts are afoot and interwoven creating a story that makes readers want to cheer, revolt, weep and hope.” —The Season for Romance blog
“The writing is superb, the storytelling captivating, the scene-setting excellent, and the story fun and lively.” —Lake Tahoe News
“The best part was seeing two wounded and lonely people come to trust and rely on each other, then experience the wonders of love!” —InD’tale Magazine
“I loved Nicky Penttila’s writing. She seamlessly weaves her extensive historical research into this story. The story is filled with great characters. Her knowledge of the Regency period, music and the press is impressive.” —Romantic Historical Lovers Reviews (Top Pick)
What’s the harm in a little white lie?
Especially when it could carry so much good: a new life for a wounded soldier, catharsis after long years of war—and an opportunity for lady composer Olivia Delancey to finally hear her music played in public.
Newspaper publisher Will Marsh refuses to compound the sins of his father’s generation by taking money to print propaganda. But with the end of the wars in France and America, he needs something new to drive Londoners to grab his paper first. Why not publish the score of the “Tune That Took Waterloo,” by a wounded vet, no less?
As Olivia struggles to keep her secrets from this unsuitably alluring publisher, and Will fights to find the truth without losing his hold on this bright-eyed angel who has descended into his life, both discover another sort of truth.
Being the talk of London can be bad—or very, very good.
5-star Review by Romantic Historical Lovers | Goodreads page | a list of the major sources I used. | Posts on women composers in the regency, newspapers in the regency, and Napoleon in England |
We call our fighting men heroes, and how do we show our gratitude? They may sit at any corner they wish, holding their bloody shakos upside down, pleading for alms. —The London Beacon, July 1815
The problem wasn’t getting into the wards for injured soldiers, notwithstanding the fearsome head nurse at the entry. The problem was getting out unscathed.
Olivia Delancey could feel the dozen pairs of eyes locking onto her and her fidgety friend Merry as they crossed the threshold into the vaulted space of Ward Four. Olivia’s gaze skittered over the forms stirring under dun sheets in cots that lined both long-windowed walls, glancing away from the limbs set at angles of pain in the afternoon shadow, seeking out the second-last man on the right.
A whispered breeze tracked their progress, breaths inhaled and held, then painfully released as the two ladies in city-bred finery passed on by. She held her own breath, as if that would keep the ill smells from making sense.
But worse than the attention were the many pairs of eyes belonging to men so broken they could show no interest at all. Including the one they sought. Lank-haired and listless, Martin Purdy sat propped up, facing away from them, perhaps dozing.
Olivia stopped at the foot of his cot. His left leg and arm thrust from the worn sheet, angry rusted skin puckered and flaking away to expose furious red beneath. She prayed the opiate, laudanum, was enough to deaden his pain.
She shouldn’t have brought Merry here, despite her wheedling. The white lie was easy enough. Olivia had only to pretend to be Martin’s fiancée and the nurses opened the doors to her, but this dark truth was far too hard to take. But as the girl slipped past to sink to her knees and take up Martin’s good right hand, Merry’s face shone, as if she viewed some glorious mirage rather than the wreckage Waterloo had left behind.
Martin’s lazy dark lashes opened wide, the black of his eyes widening as if to drink her in. “Merry, I told you not to come,” he said. His voice carried no trace of the pure tenor that once had soared past the rafters of this very hall.
“If you meant me to stay away, you wouldn’t have written you were here.” Merry leaned into him, resting her head on his heart, her auburn curls reaching up to his chin.
Carefully, he lifted his bruise-darkened hand, touching her hair as if it were gossamer. With a small sigh and wobbly smile, he suddenly became the man Olivia remembered. The man Merry loved.
Olivia sighed in synchrony, closing her eyes on her tears. Oh, to have someone to love, someone to break the rules for, just to steal a moment together. She had been arranging these meetings for Martin and Merry for years before he shipped out four months ago, and it never grew old.
But without her sight to distract her, the throb of pain coursing through the room was impossible to ignore. Eyes snapping open, she searched for some distraction. The man in the cot beside Martin’s must be thirsty, if his rasping breath was any indication. She bustled toward the washstand between the beds and reached for the water pitcher.
“Drink, or should I use the sponge?” She forced herself to look at him to see the answer. Sponge, his lips said, no air behind the word. She turned back.
He could have been her brother.
As she squeezed a slow line of moisture into his mouth, his blue-veined eyelids closed, shutting away the silent scream in his eyes.
“Angel,” the soldier rasped, letting loose her hand. Olivia swallowed down her burning shame. It was a pitifully small service, and more to help her own weakness than his. She grimaced a smile and then turned to the high windows a moment to look for her own bit of mercy. Was it really only four years ago that this room had been a grand music hall, and she a wide-eyed debutante nearly faint with excitement at catching her first glimpse of Master Hayden himself?
“It’s a fine bed-down here,” Martin said to Merry, drawing Olivia back to the present. Merry’s lips, nearly puckered from the tight clenching of her jaw, turned down in disbelief.
“Aye, lass. Better than mucky camp bivouac.”
That was the truth of war. Not the grand chords and cymbals of the military parades, not the shining buttons of the lieutenants who wanted one last dance before shipping out. Olivia had told some of them no, thinking it too great a sacrifice to her pride to dance with a mere Mister. She welcomed the sharp edge of regret. She deserved it.
What had she done to aid her country, when these men had given their bodies? A mere few hours of stitchery, and poorly done at that. Merry had finished her stockings and gloves for her in exchange for Olivia’s correcting her Latin homework.
But she had done one other thing.
“Martin, did you receive my letter?”
“The music? Aye, my lady. Yours was to be the last tune I mustered up.”
“Nonsense. You’ll be well enough soon. But what did you think?”
A weak smile played across his chapped lips. “You haven’t changed. I tinkered it a little, and the grubs right liked it. Took us into Quatre Bras right nicely.”
Merry laughed, a high, thin warble quickly swallowed up in the thick air. “You all marched to Livvie’s tune? How often she has wished for that.”
“Fought to it. ’Twas the last lovely sound a fair lot of our boys heard on this earth.”
Was it good to be the last thing a young man remembered on this earth?
“Not worth a frown, Miss Olivia.” Martin drew the words out. “An inspiration. Even old Nosey asked me about it when I was piled up back of the battlefield.”
“He said a word and got me this fine accommodation. Better than the hull hospitals out on the river.”
Merry snorted. “Fine accommodation? This room reeks of d—.” She stopped short, covering her nose and mouth with her hand. Then she did the same to Martin. “You won’t heal here. We need to get you out.”
He tilted his head, sliding out from under the gentle mask of her hand. “How do you know ’tisn’t me who smells? Better to be hidden among many, here.”
“Nonsense.” Merry thrust her dimpled chin out as if she were an oversized child. “There must be a way. Livvie will come up with one. Right, Livvie?”
Another two sets of eyes turned toward her. Merry’s gaze held hope and expectation, Martin’s, doubt under exhaustion.
Olivia felt the familiar angry rumble in her blood. Why must people expect so much from her? Why did they refuse to see her for what she was: a chipped piece of fancy plate, only good for petty schemes and pretty tunes that couldn’t be played in public?
But she was a very good schemer, and Martin and Merry deserved her best effort. Hadn’t Martin groomed her as a composer? And Merry was more a beloved sister than a friend, standing beside her when the ladies of her consequence would not. For who would ever wish to stand next to the most beautiful girl of the season?
Merry and Martin loved so deeply, lived so fully, they deserved every chance at happiness. Olivia was not meant for love, of course. Her fate had been settled for years. But if she could help them, perhaps a tiny spark of that love might reflect back to her.
She nodded, decision made. “Of course.”
The lovers turned back to each other. A shaft of irritation snaked through Olivia’s gut. They thought nothing of how it might cost her to help them. Why should they? The first law of love was selfishness.
Pressing on her belly, she pushed the unwanted feeling away. The smells had somehow lessened. She stood and scanned the room slowly, memorizing its sounds and shadows.
England’s wounded overfilled its infirmaries and overflowed the hospital ships in the harbors. She should be able to assist a bare one of them. It should be simple, really.
If only she knew how.