Miss Gail Alton was not having a good day. Or a good year. First, she’s strong-armed into attending the Season as a foil to her beautiful sister Evangeline. Then, while riding her mare in the park, she gets toppled by a stuffy, self-important, too-handsome-by-half “gentleman” who has the audacity to blame her for their fall into the chilly lake! Little does Gail know that the very same man will soon be found in a compromising position with her sister...
Forced into asking for Evangeline’s hand in marriage, Maximillian, Viscount Fontaine, can’t take his mind off the irksome girl who threw him from his horse and who can match wits with him at every turn. He’s determined to follow through with his best intentions, yet he can’t deny that Gail makes him want to cast propriety aside—and whisk away the sister of his soon-to-be bride…
March 4, 2008 • Berkley Trade
ISBN-10: 042521964X • ISBN-13: 978-0425219645
» Mr. Henry Ellis is introduced as a family friend of the Altons, and as the chief librarian of the British Museum. Mr. Henry Ellis was a real person, an antiquarian, a fellow of the Royal Society and yes, the chief librarian of the British Museum from 1827-1856. He was knighted in 1833. When I originally wrote Compromised, I did not know the date of his knighting, and called him “Sir Henry Ellis” throughout. It was corrected in the editing phase.
» Henry Ellis also has been credited with coining the phrase “to make a mountain out of a mole-hill.” Romilla recalls that Mr. Ellis has said this exact phrase to her, on page 219 of the Mass Market edition of Compromised.
» I had never heard of the name “Romilla” before writing Compromised. As the character is a stepmother – and something of a wicked one, initially, in the eyes of my heroine – I wanted a name that subconsciously made one think of a dragon or a lizard, similar to Godzilla.
» Evangeline’s original name was Evelyn (named after my niece). However, it was rightly pointed out that during the Regency era, Evelyn was a male name. Hence it was changed to Evangeline.
» Learn more about how Kate’s books are connected via this handy guide.
“Kate Noble’s writing is smart and sparkling. This is a wonderfully entertaining, delightfully effervescent romance.”
- Amanda Quick, New York Times bestselling author
- Booklist (starred review) (posted March, 2008)
“Kate Noble is a brilliant, fresh voice in historical romance. Her characters are fun and unexpected. She brings history to life with laughter.”
- Fresh Fiction (posted Feb, 2008)
“Kate Noble's books are delightful and remind me of Julia Quinn's. Compromised is quite the accomplishment given that it is her debut novel.”
- The Book Smugglers (posted May, 2009)
“Noble's dazzling debut is witty, filled with the atmosphere of the era and brimming with unforgettable characters and a refreshing plot.”
- Romantic Times (posted March, 2008)
“Just what in the hell did you think you were doing?”
Well, apparently he wasn't dead. Neither was she for that matter, but Gail was definitely bruised. When she had taken the black beauty’s bridle and swung him about, his rider had been thrown into her, and he took her down in his path. To be fair, he had done his best to soften the blow, embracing her in his arms and twisting about so he cushioned her fall. They had landed in a tangled mass of arms and legs about three feet out into the lake, shallow enough so they wouldn't drown, but enough water to soften the landing. Slightly. If she stood the lake would be about as high as her mid-calf.
But they weren't standing.
After a few heart-stopping moments below the surface, the man pulled his head out of the water and propped himself up on one elbow. The other arm was wrapped firmly around Gail's waist, and she lying most unladylike across his lap.
Gail had never been this close to a man before, at least not one that wasn’t her father. She could feel the hard muscles of his legs against her hip, feel the ripples of his solid chest and stomach through their wet, clinging clothes. Needless to say, she was speechless.
He must have (rightly) assumed he had startled her into shock, for his next words were far gentler in tone.
“Miss, er, are you all right? Is anything broken?”
She snapped her back to her senses. Goodness, they were entwined! This would never do.
“Release me, if you please.”
She wiggled a bit, trying to escape his grasp. Unfortunately, such movement only pressed her against him in new ways, and seemed to make him acutely uncomfortable. His scowl returned in full force, but his hands didn’t move from her posterior.
“Remove your hand from my backside and release me now! Are you deaf?”
Promptly, he removed the offending hand.
“If I weren’t before, I may well be so now.” He shook his head, shedding rivulets of water before they ran into his eyes and ears. “Now remove yourself from my lap, you hellion, unless you want me to take what you are so carelessly offering.”
“Oh!” was the angry reply, as she scrambled to get away from this loathsome person.
The gentleman gained his feet, the water pouring off his shoulders and down his back, forcing his clothes to cling all the tighter to his muscular frame. Oh my, he is tall, Gail thought, watching as he stripped off his soaked riding coat, wringing it out of heavy excess water. She did her best not to notice, but her eyes kept returning to the nearly transparent white shirt plastered to the grooves and plains of an impressively male torso. Why, if she looked hard enough, she could see short dark hairs beneath the shirt…
“Are you going to get up, you daft girl?” he said, slinging the sodden coat over his shoulder. Gail shook her head clear and struggled to push herself up, but the green velvet habit had become so heavy, it was if it had absorbed the entire lake.
“The skirt. The habit, it’s too heavy when wet.”
The man (for she refused to think of those that had to be prodded into helping a lady as a gentleman) rolled his eyes and took her hand, ruthlessly hauling her to her feet. This had the unfortunate side effect of throwing Gail against the object of so much of her attention, namely his chest.
Pressed against the hard, warm body, Gail felt him steady her with his strong embrace. She looked up and met his eyes – green, deep emerald green, and for a moment she was his willing captive. Then she saw those eyes go wide with… something, and he abruptly shoved her away, as if she were on fire.
Well really! Like she could possibly be on fire with her clothes wet and clinging. Luckily she didn’t fall again. Not waiting for the lady to precede him, not offering her any further assistance, the madman turned and stomped toward shore, grumbling something inaudible, and likely impolite.
That does it, Gail thought, so affronted by his unaccountably abrupt behavior toward her person.
“What in the bloody blue blazes did you think you were doing on that field?” she exclaimed, following him up to dry land.
He turned, aggravation shining in his fiery green eyes.
“What did I think I was doing? What in the ‘bloody blue blazes’ as you so quaintly put it, were you doing on that field? What on earth possessed to you to reach for my horse?”
Gail sputtered, fury steeling her body for the fight.
“What on earth possessed you to charge at me like that? Are you mad?!”
“I assure you Miss, any madness that had taken hold of me occurred after you threw me from my horse and into that damn muddy lake!”
“I know what I saw, you were running straight for me.”
“Good God, but your arrogance wears on my last hung-over nerve,” he vented, rubbing his eyes. “It's my horse that’s mad, not I.” He pointed to the field, where his horse stood docilely under a tree, nickering softly to QueenBee. Gail watched his jaw drop as the black beast that had not a moment ago charged across the field, nip playfully at the mare’s ear, who neighed coyly in return.
“Your horse seems quite gentle, which is more than I can say for his rider,” she said, sardonically.
“Don’t try me missy, I’m not as nice as I look,” Max said, his brows coming together in his most intimidating scowl. He loomed over her, something he did very well. She was a tall female, but he still had a good number of inches on her. His expression’s one of intimidation, she thought snidely, demanding wordlessly that she apologize, submit, have sense enough to be a good, missish thing who cowed to his superiority.
But looking up into his face, rivulets of water dripping off of his nose, his eyebrows two black wings of fury, Gail did the only thing she could. She laughed.
A peal of sparkling, beautiful laughter escaped her smile, taking all the wind out of his stance. For a moment, he could only blink.
“Listen, you… you…” he sputtered.
“You what? You’ve already used ‘hellion,’ ‘daft girl,’ and ‘missy.’ I can think of several, more interesting degradations, but then again, I’m not the one trying so hard to be intimidating.”
“How about you maddening, foolish, moronic little chit?”
“Much better!” she applauded.
He took a deep breath. A very deep breath. “You grab the reins of an obviously frenzied horse, and pull so violently that you throw both of us from our mounts. I could have been hurt or killed, my horse could have been hurt or killed.”
“And what about poor little me?”
“You should be breathing a sigh of relief that I have not taken it upon myself to do what injuries you miraculously escaped in our flight into the freezing water! Now, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Gail took a moment just to stare at this man, righteous indignation radiating from his frame.
“Well? What do you have to say?”
Really, she thought, he should close his mouth when astonished. Else he looks like a fish.
“You’re welcome?” repeated incredulously, once his jaw had regained function.
“Yes. You’re welcome.”
“Oh thank goodness, Miss! I was afraid you’d done yourself a harm. You are unhurt, aren’t you Miss?”
Amazing to fathom, but only a few minutes had passed since the madman and his horse had charged across the field. Jimmy had finally caught up to them, was just now dismounting and tying his mount to the tree by the other horses.
“Yes, Jimmy, I’m fine,” she told the groom. “Just a bit damp is all.”
Jimmy sighed in relief. “When I finally broke through the trees I couldn’a see you for a moment. Then I saw these two lovebirds by the lake and the two o’ you in it. Thank goodness you’re unharmed miss, your father would have my head if you’d so much as sprained a finger.”
“Her father should shackle her indoors until she learns some manners,” the man said, but then something Jimmy said seemed to catch his attention. “Er, did you say lovebirds?” he inquired.
“Yes Sir. Your fella and her QueenBee. Anyone could see it from a mile away. They got an affection for each other.”
He turned to Gail, a triumphant smirk on his face. “I told you my horse was a bit mad. Now, if Jupiter is in love with your, ‘QueenBee’ is it? - It means she’s the mare he mooned over at his stable yard. It also means that you purchased her quite recently. You’ve had that horse barely a week, am I right?”
“Actually, this was the first morning she had her, sir,” Jimmy said, blithely unaware of his faux pas, giving his attention to QueenBee to make sure she had come out of the scuffle unharmed. Finding nary a hair out of place, the experienced groom moved on to the other mount.
His green eyes glittered. “Your first day, eh? How bloody stupid do you have to be to try such a dangerous move as to grab my horse’s bridle when your own mount is untried?” He ruthlessly advanced on his quarry, each step forcing her backwards, into the water. “She could have thrown you without a care. Don’t you know anything about horses?”
“Hang on a minute,” said Jimmy, holding Jupiter’s bridle, concern awash on his face. “This here bit is broken. Poor thing, musta hurt like hell.”
Gail’s own smile grew as the man’s faltered. “You see, the bit of your horse’s bridle broke in half. It probably hurt so severely, that every time you pulled up on the reins it only urged him into a deeper rage. I saw this and swung him around to a halt. Don’t you know anything about horses?”
Gail was just shallow enough to take deep pleasure in seeing him and his argument deflate. His eyebrows came down into a scowl again. Obviously he was unable to even countenance that she could be in the right, and so clung to his anger like, well, like his wet clothes were clinging to him.
“Wait a moment,” he said, regarding her speculatively, “how can you see inside a horse’s mouth?”
As Gail squeaked out vowel sounds, unable to come up with a reply, the man howled in triumph.
“You little liar! You had no idea what possessed my horse, did you? And yet you did something utterly foolish to stop him!”
“Well, I stopped him, didn’t I? More than you managed to do.” Indignant, Gail stood toe to toe with him.
His face softened as he reached out and tugged gently on a lock of her hair that had tumbled out of its coil. “You could have gotten us both killed.”
Time stopped for a moment as she locked eyes with his. Then as his fingers wound around the errant lock of hair, Gail realized something was missing.
“Oh! My hat!” she exclaimed.
Gail turned back to the lake, scanning the shoreline for some glimpse of her brown leather hat. She finally found it settled amongst some reeds about ten feet away. Lifting up her weighted skirts, Gail marched over and picked it up. When she turned back, it was to find the madman regarding her peculiarly. His gaze raked up and down her body, and he looked to be enjoying the view. His regard rested the longest on her lower extremities, and Gail blushed furiously, realizing that when she picked up her skirts, her ankles had been exposed to his appreciative gaze.
Embarrassed beyond reckoning, she dropped her skirts, and kept her eyes on the old, dearly loved hat in her hands, trying to poke it back into shape.
His attention followed hers.
"That’s your hat?" he sputtered, incredulous.
Gail looked up. "Well, yes," she blinked.
“Is it, er, ruined?” he ventured.
Gail shook the hat up and down, ridding it of loose water and spraying everyone within a five-foot radius. Luckily, only the madman was within that radius. She then pushed her hair out of her eyes, and placed the hat upon her head. She folded back the top brim, and raised her gaze to defiantly meet his.
Soon that sniggering turned into a full on attack of laughter.
Gail had the audacity to ask, “What’s so funny?”
“You Miss,” was the reply, “are utterly ridiculous.”
Her cheeks flamed red, and she recoiled as if struck.
“Well, sir, at least I’m not the one walking my horse home!” she said, with a huff. Straightening her back to the continual laughter, she marched to where Jimmy was holding QueenBee's reins. As gracefully as possible (a decided difficulty in a soaking wet habit), she mounted, turned, and said--
“Good day, sir. I can't say it’s been a pleasure.”
And with that, she turned QueenBee about, and nudged her into a gallop across the field, toward the path that lead to the park's gates.
Max was still laughing as he watched the retreating form of the impertinent girl, her back as straight as an arrow, her head never turning to look back. Jupiter, watched too, but far more unhappily. Not wanting QueenBee to go, he tried to follow but found himself tethered to a tree.
“So much for true love.” Max remarked, in between remaining chuckles.
“I tied him up with spare bit a’ rope I had.” Jimmy said, mounting his own horse. “You can use it to make a nice loose lead and walk the poor fella home. He’ll probably need a few days mending time and a new bridle.”
“Thank you, er…”
“Thank you, Jimmy," Max said, and the groom tipped his hat to him, and sprinted off after his mistress.
It was only then that Max realized two things. First, that while he had had the manners to find out the groom's name, he and the girl had never exchanged theirs. More the better to never see each other again, he supposed. Still, she was an interesting creature – fire for eyes, and what a ridiculous hat! It was like something a farmer would wear, only worse.
No stop gap between her brain and her mouth, Max mused, rubbing the tension from the back of his neck. She was also either very brave, or very fool hardy to pull that stunt on the horses. Likely both. And he certainly couldn’t fault her ankles, or the way wet clothing stuck to her… A smile played around Max’s mouth until he realized the second thing: the stable where he boarded Jupiter was nearly two miles away.
“Bloody hell.” Max groaned. It was going to be a long, cold walk.