Passion and Propriety – Full Summary
There is absolutely nothing improper about the Vicar of Forkton's spinster daughter nursing the badly wounded Viscount Masen back to health. Isabella is far too sensible to develop feelings for a man of Lord Masen's wealth and position . . . a man who is determined to break the curse that has plagued his family for generations by letting his bloodline die out.
Bullied into making what can only be described as a miraculous recovery, Edward, Viscount Masen, cannot decide if his beautiful nurse is an angel or a devilish imp. She torments him with foul-tasting concoctions and by showing him a taste of what might have been, if he were not cursed by the sins of his forefathers.
It has been a long time since I have published any stories on Fan Fiction Net. At first, it was because I was too busy editing and publishing my P2P story, A Forbidden Love as two books, Innocence and Protection. Then I was busy writing, editing and publishing two original stories, Passion and Propriety and Duty and Desire. During this time, I became ill with a neurological disorder, so for the last few years, I have been busy just surviving. With the closure of The Writer's Coffee Shop, the rights to my stories have been returned to me. Since I still read and review on Fan Fiction Net every day (it is my happy place) I decided to do a reverse Pull to Publish so that my fellow Fan Fiction Net readers can enjoy my stories for free. To everyone who purchased copies of my published books back in 2013 and 2014, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness and support.
I would like to acknowledge the following people for their assistance in the creation of the original version of Passion and Propriety. My editing team from TWCS, Hayley German Fisher (Lead Editor), Allison Hoover (Copy Editor), and Andrea McKay (Proofreader). Thanks also to my Fabulous Five, April Brown, Sammi Collington, Sherry Gomes, Nan Kubicek, and Kathie Spitz. We all know I wouldn't be here without you, neither still writing nor quite possibly on the planet!
To my wonderful daughter, whose creative talent casts mine in the shade. Your encouragement, suggestions, eye rolls, and laughter made this story both a learning experience and a joy to write. Sorry for the shocks!
The long-absent Viscount Masen had sworn to never again set foot inside the Forkton village church. There were only so many hellfire and damnation sermons one could endure in a lifetime, and Edward Masen had reached his quota by the age of ten. The other location he had vowed to shun at all costs was his destination on this journey—Masen Manor. A stone monstrosity of gargoyle-infested parapets and looming towers, it presided over the village, from its place on a distant hill, like a sentinel of doom. In no great hurry to darken its dreary doors, Edward turned his back on his childhood home and faced the other structure that featured prominently in his nightmares.
Drawn near to the red brick chapel by the sound of a woman's contralto rising above the strains of a pipe organ, Edward furrowed his brow. He distinctly recalled paying a small fortune for the sanctuary's refurbishment some years prior, not to mention a hefty annual maintenance bill, but the building looked in dire need of repair. Perplexed, but with more pressing concerns weighing on his mind, Edward contemplated breaking his pledge to nevermore darken the church's door. After keeping his distance for almost a decade, he no longer feared the oppressive sermons that had haunted his childhood. It helped that the reverend who had tormented him was long dead. More enticing was the knowledge that the current vicar was one of the few members of the local gentry who had treated him with kindness when he was a boy.
Fond but almost forgotten memories surfaced of the vicar, a mere curate at the time, granting Edward the privilege of playing with the eldest of his three daughters. Curious about the solemn boy from the manor that dominated all their lives, the dark-haired girl with the warm, brown eyes had welcomed him as a bemused participant in her games. She was his senior by several years, and a bossy sort. He had been willing to forgive the unflattering trait as, unlike every other girl of his station, she had not spurned him in a cruelly deliberate manner.
The position and wealth he had been set to inherit counted for little against rumours that an intimate association with him, namely marriage, would result in a deadly price. The vicar's generosity was no doubt aided by the awareness that his daughter's much lower position in society protected her from the future viscount's potential interest. Nevertheless, Edward had appreciated the rare sense of acceptance.
A hint of smile twitched his lips as he recalled the family's gift of friendship, cementing his decision to enter the previously foreboding sanctuary. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do. After he had visited his unlamented father's grave in the cemetery beside the church—the reason for the interruption in his journey—all that would be left for him to do was drag his wretched self up the hill to his family home and then . . . die.
The wound to his left arm would undoubtedly prove fatal. The army surgeon had been adamant amputation was his only hope of survival, but Edward had refused. Death on the battlefield would have been a welcome conclusion to his military career, but the piecemeal destruction of his person was more than he could bear. He already wore a savage scar down the right side of his face from an encounter with a Frenchman's sword. The musket-shot wound he had received to his leg some six months prior had never fully healed, not that it was given much opportunity. It was a minor miracle he had made it this far, but upon realising his demise was imminent, Edward had felt compelled to return to Masen Manor. His death would put an end to the curse that had plagued his family for generations, and it seemed fitting for that to occur at the place where the horror had begun.
Moving with surprising stealth for such a large man, one both feverish and encumbered with a limp, he made his way to the deserted rearmost pew of the chapel. Wary of drawing attention, he stifled his groans as he lowered himself onto the wooden bench. Once he had caught his breath, Edward was pleased to discover he had an uninterrupted view of the woman with the lovely voice. She was seated at the old pipe organ, and even from this angle, her appearance was as captivating as her singing. The curls visible from beneath her bonnet appeared chocolate brown or possibly auburn. It was difficult to tell in the dim light of the church, as few sconces had been lit. Her profile showed a regal nose complemented by a stubborn-looking chin. A spark of recognition had him wondering if she might be the childhood playmate he had just been thinking of. Eloise? Isolde?
If he was correct in his assumption, she was remarkably trim for a woman of seven or eight and twenty years, since she would likely have borne a passel of children by now. Although she was dressed soberly, fitting for a vicar's daughter, he imagined, Edward thought her most appealing. Not that he would have pursued her even if she was unwed and he wasn't in the process of departing this mortal coil. Long used to suppressing any sensation of attraction he might feel for a member of the fairer sex, he focused, instead, on what had caught his attention in the first place—her skilled playing and lovely voice.
Ignoring the words of the hymns, their messages of redemption and eternal reward irrelevant to one of his dubious spiritual standing, he allowed his mind to drift with the music. It was all he could manage, as his fever was spiking again making coherent thought a challenge. Despite his physical discomfort, the soothing notes granted Edward the first measure of peace he had known since the battle for Arapiles on the Portuguese Peninsula.
Despite the fact he had spent them at the forefront of a brutal war, army life had suited him. His years of service were both purposeful and rewarding, seeing him rise to the rank of captain on merit rather than patronage. His long-term plan had been to remain part of an institution where his character and accomplishments counted more than the misfortune of his heritage, irregular as that was for one of his station. A military career was normally the purview of a second or thirdson. Those who inherited lofty titles and vast estates did not put themselves at such risk, engaged as they were in the running of said estates and the begetting of heirs to carry on their bloodlines. As far as Edward was concerned, the blood that flowed through his veins would have been better shed upon the battlefield.
The final hymn came to an end on a discordant note. He opened his eyes to see the organist staring at him, a frown marring her otherwise lovely brow. Edward glowered in return, an instinctual response, and the woman turned back to face the organ, a hint of colour appearing on her cheeks. He wouldn't describe her as beautiful, her features too strong and that chin far too determined, but there was something about her that he found pleasing to the eye. Since she would likely be the lastlady he ever looked upon, he decided to allow himself the indulgence of staring, even if she wisely chose to shun his less than appealing visage.
Edward raised his hand to trace the scar that adorned his cheek, encountering a full beard and strands of unkempt hair. The corner of his mouth twitched. No wonder the poor woman had looked askance at him, as he must appear more beast than man.
The vicar, now middle-aged and with a receding hairline, took his place behind the pulpit, and Edward refocused his attention. Allowing the reverend's oratory to flow over him, words that spoke of a God of love and the promise of a joy-filled future, his eyes fluttered closed. While he doubted his looming encounter with the Almighty would be a pleasant affair, he couldn't help holding on to the faint hope that death might bring some relief from his suffering.
As the vicar drew the sermon to a close, Edward gripped the end of the pew and used it to pull himself to his feet. Breathing heavily, he took one last look at the vicar's eldest daughter—yes, he was sure it was her—sitting stiff-backed beside the organ. He hoped life had treated her well, that she was happy, and her husband was a decent fellow. There wasn't a blessed thing he could do about it either way, but he liked the idea that she had been rewarded for showing a lonely boy unexpected kindness and for giving a dying man the pleasure of listening to her lovely voice.
I have decided to stick with the chapters from the published version when posting, but where they are quite short, I will publish two at a time. Next up, we'll hear from Isabella, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on my Regency Edward.