London is agog at the outrageous debut of Miss Lia Kincaid at the Pan Theatre last night. The young lady in question—and we use the term lady with a degree of skepticism—is the daughter of Marianne Lester, one of England’s premier dramatic actresses.
Mrs. Lester is, as our astute readers know, the wife of the well-regarded theatrical manager, Stephen Lester. But the good Mrs. Lester was not always so respectably situated, and was once a popular member of the demi-monde. Her famous lovers included, among others, the Duke of York. The aforementioned Miss Lia is, in fact, the result of a scandalous—if brief—liaison between His Highness and the beauteous Marianne.
Subsequently, the unfortunate child was whisked away to the wilds of Yorkshire by her grandmother, herself once a noted courtesan. They faded into obscurity until this week, when Miss Lia (who we can attest is as comely as her mamma once was) left her rural seclusion and launched her career with a performance not soon to be forgotten.
Your humble correspondent can only assume that the third generation of Notorious Kincaids is about to take London by storm…
The real spectacle began when the first battle scene commenced to loud whistles and cheers. Players garbed as soldiers in short tunics and breeches launched into a mock battle, enthusiastically whacking at each other with painted wooden swords.
“This is much more fun than Drury Lane,” Gillian said, almost doubling over with laughter. “Even if it’s completely absurd.”
“With emphasis on the absurd,” Charles said.
Jack, however, felt as if a very large sword had just whacked him on the back of the head, because unless his eyesight had rapidly begun to fail him, one soldier looked very familiar.
“Goodness,” Gillian said. “I think that soldier standing by the proscenium is a female.”
Jack squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, hoping they were deceiving him. That hope was dashed when he cracked his eyelids open again.
“I’m afraid so,” he said, barely able to choke out the words.
Both Gillian and Charles looked at him. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Charles looked back at the stage. “Good God, is that Miss Kincaid?”
“It most certainly is,” Jack ground out.
Gillian leaned forward to get a better look. “That’s Lia? Well, I must say she looks very dashing in that outfit. Don’t you think so, Charles?”
“That’s one way of putting it,” he replied in a faint voice.
Jack stared until he thought his eyes would pop out of his head. Lia’s costume was scandalously revealing. The form-fitting tunic revealed the lovely swell of her bosom, before nipping in to showcase her trim waist. It barely reached midthigh, which meant her shapely legs, clad in breeches that unfortunately fit her snuggly, were on full display.
The only saving grace was that she was not front and center on the stage. Because it was a crowded scene with frenetic activity, her identity as a woman might go unnoticed. Jack clutched at that faint hope as if it were a rope tossed to a drowning man.
“You didn’t tell me she was playing a breeches role,” Charles said, his consternation clear. It wasn’t uncommon for certain actresses to don breeches and play a male part, but those roles were notorious for attracting all sorts of salacious attention from male audience members.
“Because I didn’t know,” Jack said. “That blasted girl doesn’t tell me anything anymore.”
Gillian shot him an irritated look. “I shouldn’t wonder, if you speak to her in that tone of voice.”
Charles shook his head. “Under the circumstances, Jack’s dismay is quite understandable, my love. This sort of thing won’t help Miss Kincaid’s reputation at all.”
She shrugged. “I don’t see why. I wear breeches myself on occasion.”
Her husband stared at her in disbelief. “Only in the country when riding, and very discreetly. You certainly don’t go parading around in front of half of London.”
Lia had retreated and was now partially concealed by the proscenium. Jack couldn’t understand why she was in the scene at all because she didn’t seem to be doing much of anything.
“This theater is not half of London,” Gillian pointed out. “Besides, she’s entirely covered, so I don’t see what you and Jack are fussing about.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” Charles said in a long-suffering tone.
He alluded to his wife’s unconventional upbringing in Sicily and her sometimes equally unconventional behavior. But unlike Lia, Gillian’s powerful relatives could and did protect her from both malicious gossip and ill-intentioned men.
Lia’s family didn’t even care to try.
“I’m not sure anyone’s yet noticed that this particular soldier is a woman,” Charles said, craning forward to peruse the audience. “With a little luck—ah, she’s disappeared backstage.”
“Thank God,” Jack muttered. He and his friend exchanged a relieved glance. “I think we dodged a pistol ball on that one.”
“Look! There she is again,” Gillian said. “Now what is she doing?”
Appalled, Jack saw that Lia had quickly reappeared, accompanied by one of the other soldiers. They carried a large piece of fabric to the front of the stage and unrolled it.
“That’s called a scroll,” Charles said. “It details the narrative that can’t be explained by the recitations or songs.” He sounded like someone was strangling him.
Jack understood exactly how he felt. Everyone in the pit was now discovering that one of the soldiers was indeed a woman, and a very comely one at that. They were reacting as he’d expected, with a rising tide of loud, ribald comments, a few of which he could make out over the din.
“That’s odd,” Gillian said. “Why don’t they just act it out or present it in a speech, like a Greek chorus?”
“This is how theaters like the Pan get around the legal restrictions on spoken drama,” Charles said.
“You two are missing the point,” Jack growled. “Lia is now front and center in a breeches role, and every damn rake in this blasted theater has taken note of it.”
Three Weeks With a Princess
Lia Kincaid, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York, comes from a long line of notorious women. Raised by her grandmother, formerly mistress to the late Marquess of Lendale, she has little hope of a respectable marriage. But the new marquess, her childhood friend, Jack Easton, would make a very desirable protector…if he weren’t too honorable to take her to bed.
It’s bad enough being saddled with a title he never desired. Now Jack must resist the beautiful woman he desires far too much. Duty calls, and he is duty-bound to choose a wealthy bride. But then Lia makes another outrageous suggestion: asking Jack to devise some tests to find her the perfect paramour. Tests that involve flirting, kissing, and other pleasurable pursuits. Tests that, in a matter of weeks, could transform friendship into the ton’s greatest scandal, igniting a passion even duty can’t deny…
Meet Vanessa Kelly
Vanessa Kelly is a bestselling, award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion. My Fair Princess, book 1 in Vanessa’s current Improper Princesses Series, was named a Goodreads Romance of the Month and is a USA Today Bestseller.
Links to Three Weeks With a Princess