By Emily Kopf
Word Count: 1738
Summary: A fan-fiction based on A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter.
Author’s Note: This is a fanfiction based on the novel A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter. It is a historical, Christian romance set in the early 1800s. In a complicated and humorous plot, the two main characters, Lady Miranda and Duke Ryland, fall in love and marry. At the beginning, Ryland is a spy for England investigating some of the servants in the estate Miranda shares with her brother-guardian Griffith and their sister. Both have secrets, but they feel the attraction for each other from the beginning. In this fanfiction, I am changing the date of their engagement to earlier in the novel. The circumstances are the same: Ryland is kidnapped, Miranda helps rescue him, the two of them run and hide in a barn overnight, and Miranda’s brother confronts Ryland about the impropriety of the situation. In the novel, Ryland turns down Griffith’s demand to marry Miranda immediately, instead choosing to wait and do it in his own time, after many more funny, dangerous, and romantic situations. I am rewriting that scene because I spent my time reading the book imagining all the ways Ryland could have revealed himself and proposed. This is one of them. I hope you like it! And I hope you will check out the book yourself, because it is really awesome.
“You are going to marry her, aren’t you?” Duke Griffith Hawthorne speared his friend Ryland with a glare.
Ryland was another Duke, but he had been working undercover as a spy for the British government for several years now. Presently, he was posing as Marlow, Griffith’s new valet, while investigating suspicious servants in the household. The night before, Ryland had been kidnapped by said servants and Lady Miranda, Griffith’s sister, had come to his rescue. Ryland and Miranda spent the night hiding in a barn before taking the long walk back to the manor the next morning. The “her” in question was Miranda, whose reputation was ruined by spending a night alone with a man.
“Of course I am,” replied Ryland. “In a couple of months when I retake my position as the Duke of Marshington.”
“No,” thundered Griffith. “Miranda’s reputation has been ruined. You must marry her now!”
“A servant can’t marry a lady.”
“You are not a servant.”
“No, Griffith. But I appear to be. Would you rather have her spend her days alone as a spinster or wed to a poor servant?”
“A spinster. But you are neither poor nor a servant. Do the right thing and marry her before time scars her reputation worse than it already is. I will not allow you to mistreat my sister in this way.”
Ryland was not to be bullied. “Imagine how everyone will talk. And then to reveal that the servant who scandalously married into nobility is actually the Duke? People will ask questions that I am not prepared to answer.”
“Why are you being so stubborn about this? Don’t you love her?” A vein in Griffith’s face throbbed in anger.
Ryland paused. “I do. And I want to do right by her. I will make you a deal. I will reveal my identity to Miranda and ask her to marry me. Then I will leave here to track down those fiends, and we will keep the engagement secret until I finish my assignment and return to society as a Duke.”
Griffith glared threateningly at Ryland. “You had better do so. Now go.”
“Yes, your Grace,” Ryland bowed out snarkily in the custom of the valet he was posing as.
Griffith’s ire rose and he threw a punch which Ryland evaded just before walking out of the room.
Miranda had returned to her room, washed, and changed quickly from the dress she muddied by tracking across the countryside in the rain and mud. It had been a horrifying ordeal, but her mind kept straying back to Ryland Marlow, Griffith’s valet, who had kept her safe and shared a little more about himself. Such as that he had not always been a servant. Miranda wondered what his life had been like before he had come here.
She also wondered what her friend Lady Amelia would think of him. Amelia had come to visit Miranda the night before, while Miranda and Ryland had been missing. Now, returned and dressed properly, Miranda hurried to greet her and talk of the previous day’s events. Although, she knew she would have to put up with her family’s questioning before she could speak with Amelia alone. After all, her mother would never approve of Miranda’s attraction to Ryland because, “A Lady never becomes friends with the servants.”
Three doors before the sitting room in which her family was sure to be waiting for her, she heard someone call out from behind her.
“Ryland?”—cough—“I mean, Marlow?”
“May I have a word with you?”
Miranda could hear her mother’s voice, A Lady never—
“Of course, Marlow. What is it?”
Ryland opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of it. Opening the door to the dining room and beckoning her over, he said, “Please allow me to talk with you in private.”
It was not proper to be alone with him in this way. Miranda knew that as well as she knew her own hands. When she hesitated, he said, “Please Miranda. Griffith asked me to speak with you, and it is something that must be shared privately.”
Before she could second guess herself, Miranda entered the dining room, Ryland closing the door behind them.
“Please have a seat,” he said.
“I would prefer to stand.”
One of his lips quirked up. “Do as you wish, my lady.” He paused. “I must speak with you about something.”
Miranda grew concerned about his hesitancy. “Is everything all right? Griffith is not sending you away, is he?”
“No, Miranda. It’s me. I am not a servant.”
Miranda’s brows drew together in confusion.
“That is,” Ryland corrected, “I mean I am a servant, but that is not who I really am.” Ryland paused again.
The next part would be the most difficult to say. He was the Duke of Marshington … the man Miranda had secretly been writing letters to for many years. It started, as far as he could tell, as a sort of diary for her to release all of the pressure her mother put on her to be the perfect lady. None of them were ever meant to be sent to him. But then Ryland had found and read one of those private letters while working in her household. He had pretended to send the letters to, well, himself, but she did not know that. Then he responded as though he were a perfect stranger, and the two of them had been secretly corresponding ever since. That deception, which even Griffith did not know about, would be the hardest obstacle for Miranda to overcome. And so the most difficult to reveal to her.
Ryland took a deep breath. “Lady Miranda, I would like to formally introduce myself. I am not Ryland Marlow, because I am an undercover agent of Great Britain. I am actually the Duke of Marshington.”
Miranda froze, the confusion clear in her face. Ryland would give her a moment to compose herself before—
Wham! One of Miranda’s fists connected with Ryland’s nose. A second came flying at his face, but this time Ryland’s instincts kicked in and he caught it before it hit him.
This was not the way Ryland had expected Miranda to react. Tears, anger, even a dead faint. But not a punch to the face. Ryland had not thought her capable of physical violence. Still, there was no doubt that she believed him. It was the repercussions that were the problem.
“You lied to me! All that time pretending you were—”
Ryland slapped his hand across her mouth. “Quiet, please. There might still be traitors among your servants, and they cannot know who I am. They will kill me. I only told you because…”
Miranda’s ire quieted somewhat at the potential danger to him, and Ryland removed his hand. They were quiet for a moment, listening to someone walk past the door. Ryland could see Miranda’s mind processing all he had told her.
“Ryland, why did you tell me who you were?”
“Because I—because a lady spending the night with a gentleman ruins her reputation. I cannot allow that to happen to you. Miranda, will you marry me?”
Miranda drew in a sharp intake of breath. Many things seemed to race through her mind, and then, “You would marry me because my brother is forcing you to? Because of my ruined reputation? You said he asked you to speak to me.”
Her eyes accused. Because her brother asked him? Because, and he barely dared to hope, she wanted to marry him for love rather than reputation? It was totally improbable that she would want to marry him after everything. But there was that one moment earlier that day when they were traveling back to the estate that made him wonder.
“Yes, Miranda, he asked me to speak with you.” He held up a hand at her immediate protest. “But I chose to ask. I could have told him no, because it is improper for you to marry a servant. I must still pretend to be servant until my mission is complete.” Drawing a breath, he continued. “Miranda … I want to marry you. I was going to find you when my mission is complete and I return to society as the Duke. I love you. Will you marry me?”
Miranda’s face had frozen into a mask again, and Ryland’s hopes fell. It was too much. He knew it was. The letters and the secrecy would turn her away. He should never have bared his heart and his secrets to her.
Then Miranda, ever the emotional lady, flung herself into Ryland’s arms. “I love you, too! I wanted to marry you even when you were a servant.”
Ryland’s smile grew. There were a lot of uncertainties in their future: How he would finish his mission, how they would keep things secret and break it to her family, and others. But they loved each other and were going to marry. That was enough for any man. Ryland pulled Miranda back a little and kissed her.