Christmas Romance Month with “Lady Joy and the Earl”

Today, I celebrate one of my favorite Christmas tales,”Lady Joy and the Earl.” It does not have the typical hero and heroine found in historical romances, for James Highcliffe, Earl of Hough, and Lady Jocelyn (Powell) Lathrop are middle aged. James and Jocelyn have known each other all their lives, for his family estate and hers march along together on one side. She was the pesky younger sister when James and her brother Emerson roamed the countryside as youths. However, by the time James was nineteen and Jocelyn, or “Joy” as her family calls her, was sixteen, they were in love. Unfortunately, when his father learned of the situation, Robert Highcliffe informed James he was betrothed to Lady Louisa Connick from the time of her birth. Joycelyn’s father then bargains her away to Lord Harrison Lathrop to pay his gaming debts. Lathrop, a viscount, wanted her substantial dowry and the connection to Lord Powell’s marquessate, but he never cared for her as a person. 

When the story opens, James’s wife, Louisa, has been dead for some eighteen months, and Lathrop for a decade. Both James and Jocelyn have grown children and a boat load of misery to bring to the table. The question is whether their being forced to join their families together at his estate and the spirit of Christmas can finally place them where they always belonged: AS HUSBAND AND WIFE.

The story is set near Aberford, Yorkshire, in December 1815, some six months after the Battle of Waterloo. I chose Aberford because it was about halfway between London and Edinburgh on the Great North Road, and it was situated close to the town of Leeds. In the story, the hero, James Highcliffe, is attempting to demonstrate to Lady Jocelyn how they share many memories. He asks her to assist him in giving his family a real Christmas celebration, for his household has been in mourning for several years. They consider the “wassail bob,” “vessel maids,” and “Cristes Maesse.” 

The service, known as “Christ’s Mass,” eventually became a description for celebrations of Jesus’ birth throughout the world. The word Christmas has its origin from the old English term Cristes Maesse, meaning “Christ’s Mass.” (Celebrating Holidays)

Traditional Customs and Ceremonies tells us, “The demise of this custom shows how easily common traditions can be lost. So popular was the custom that it had a place in the 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica:

“What is popularly known as wassailing was the custom of trimming with ribbons and sprigs of rosemary a bowl which was carried round the streets by young girls singing carols at Christmas and the New Year. This ancient custom still survives here and there, especially in Yorkshire, where the bowl is known as `the vessel cup,’ and is made of holly and evergreens, inside which are placed one or two dolls trimmed with ribbons. The cup is borne on a stick by children who go from house to house singing Christmas carols.”

“In the 1800s up to around 1920s, local children around the midlands and northern England, County Durham, Lancashire, and particularly Yorkshire, would enact a curious custom like a mix between carol singing and May Dolls. The custom had many names, often localised Wesley Bob, a Wassail Bob, a Vessel Cup, a Pretty Box or a Milly Box. When the custom was done varied. Visitation days recorded in accounts in Yorkshire emphasize this variation, for example, in Thorpe Hesley it began at Christmas Eve and went on for two to three days. Whereas, Hoyland Common practiced it only on Christmas day morning. In West Melton and Hemingfield, it was Boxing Day, and in Rawmarsh, it was New Year’s Day. Generally though the tradition would begin at Advent or more often St. Thomas’s Day, although in some areas it was November, suggesting there is nothing new in the early celebration of Christmas!

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“How the custom was organized differed from place to place. Sometimes it was a private form of begging and at others organized by the church. The basic approach was as follows: two girls would be the ‘vessel maids’ and they carried a box, decorated with evergreens and often fruit and spices, covered in a white cloth. At the people’s homes, the girls would sing a carol and solicit the homeowner for some money, usually a penny, to reveal what was under the sheet. This was a scene of the Holy Family.

Clement Miles in his Christmas in Ritual and Tradition notes that:

“At Gilmorton, Leicestershire, a friend of the present writer remembers that the children used to carry round what they called a “Christmas Vase,” an open box without lid in which lay three dolls side by side, with oranges and sprigs of evergreen. Some people regarded these as images of the Virgin the Christ Child and Joseph.”

MDP eBook Cover

“Lady Joy and the Earl: A Regency Christmas Novella”

They have loved each other since childhood, but life has not been kind to either of them. James Highcliffe’s arranged marriage had been everything but loving, and Lady Joy’s late husband believed a woman’s spirit was meant to be broken. Therefore, convincing Lady Jocelyn Lathrop to abandon her freedom and consider marriage to him after twenty plus years apart may be more than the Earl of Hough can manage. Only the spirit of Christmas can bring these two together when secrets mean to keep them apart.

The story is available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. 

Kindle   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HNMR9LY

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This is how the use of these traditions play out in the story: 

He had spotted her in the upper gardens on his return to Hough House, and at that moment, James was thankful young Lathrop had insisted on examining the new mill James and Lord Powell had built together across the river separating their lands. Mr. Locke, James’s steward, had agreed to provide the Lathrop brothers a tour after the young lord began asking questions on the operation.

Dismounting, James left Sultan to munch the grass along the hedgerow and entered the garden off the nature trail to cross to where she studied one of the fountains.

“Good day, Joy,” he called as he came near.

“Oh, Lord Hough.” She jumped as if he had frightened her.

“Woolgathering, my dear?” he said with a smile.

“Simply considering something Lady Hough and your aunt mentioned earlier.”

“And what might that be?” An odd shot of desire crawled up James’s spine. Every time he looked upon Jocelyn, a primal demand overcame his good sense, and it was all he could do not to catch her up in his embrace and kiss her senseless.

“They spoke of your wife’s illness and of her slow death,” she confessed.

James frowned. “They should not have bothered you with the particulars of Louisa’s decline.”

As was typical for Jocelyn, she ignored his warning tones. Instead, she said, “I was astonished to learn of Lady Louisa’s propensity to—”

“To what?” he demanded.

Jocelyn hesitated, her gaze landing hard upon his countenance. “I have spoken from form. Your relationship with the late Lady Hough is none of my concern.”

James swallowed the retort rushing to his lips. If he expected to learn what occurred in her marriage, he must be more forthright in discussing his. He made himself respond in even tones. “I have nothing to hide. Louisa and I never fit. Despite what some may tell you, at least, in the beginning, I came to like her; she is the mother of my children, and for that fact, I owe her my kind regard. That being said, my wife and I held little in common. We were of the nature of distant cousins, each holding on to a relationship forced upon us and attempting to make the best of what we had been handed. I said earlier ‘in the beginning’ when I spoke of my caring for my countess. As time passed, we drifted further apart. Our attempts to make the best of our situation vanished. We differed on every point. If Meredith fell in the mud and soiled her dress, I would find my daughter’s actions amusing, praising her for her strong imagination and willingness to fight the dragon as fiercely as did her brother, whereas Louisa would look on the incident and my reaction with abhorrence.”

“Lathrop would have also found Lady Meredith’s actions repugnant,” she disclosed. “Poor Michael knew his father’s strap more than one time for returning home with muddy boots.”

James attempted to disguise his interest in Lathrop’s high-handedness. “Then Michael favors you in more than just his features,” he said cautiously, watching for Jocelyn’s reaction. “I recall your crossing muddy fields, chasing after Emerson or simply enjoying the day, your skirt tail three inches deep in mud.”

She laughed lightly. “My poor maid. Always scrubbing my petticoats. And, yes, Michael favors my temperament.” She looked past his shoulder as if expecting to see someone behind him. “Where are my sons?”

“I pointed out the new mill your brother and I had built at the mouth of the river. Mr. Locke rode out with us this morning, and he agreed to provide Andrew and Michael a tour of the facility. I believe young Lathrop hopes to borrow some of his uncle’s ideas for the Kent estate.”

She sighed heavily. “I am pleased Andrew seeks both your and Emerson’s advice, but I wish he would occasionally place his responsibilities for his title aside and simply enjoy a few days of family. Both of my sons, but Andrew, in particular, have difficulty separating Harrison’s exacting ways from those of the rest of the world.”

James wished to know more, but he had learned not to push Jocelyn for answers. She related more details each time they spoke, and he must practice patience. Instead, he used the opportunity to put forward his plan to bring her family and his together. “Then perhaps we can join forces to indulge our families, for I have promised Sebastian and Meredith a proper Christmastide celebration. Louisa’s long illness and eventual demise kept my household dark for four years. My children requested we celebrate in the manner of their youth, and I mean to see it done. Sebastian has recently met his majority, and Meredith is already asking for a Season. Soon they will claim their own families. I would have them carry happy memories of Hough House with them when they are elsewhere, not the ones of their mother wishing her life away. Please say you will seriously consider being a part of my plan. Surely you wish the same for Andrew and Michael.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “What did you have in mind?”

“The typical things: holly and mistletoe and a yule log, plus Yorkshire pudding and a turkey, as well as the annual hunt. All the things we had growing up here.” He spread his arms wide. “Anything we care to imagine. Tell me, Joy, what are some of your favorite memories of Christmastide at Powell Manor?”

She sighed dreamily. “Spiced cider and charades and visiting neighbors and children singing carols and a proper Yorkshire Christmas pie and the Wassail bob and ‘Cristes Maesse.’ Oh, I am certain some of these are no longer practiced; after all, I have been gone away for two decades, but you understand, do you not?”

James laughed conspiratorially. “I doubt if the new vicar would approve of vessel maids calling upon households and asking each party to pay a penny to view her unwrapping one of the cloth-covered figures of the nativity. Although I do understand the tradition is still accepted over near Haworth, the good people of Leeds and the surrounding area long ago abandoned the practice, despite the good fortune it is said to bring to the households which participate.”

“But you hold no objections to the others?” she insisted.

James’s expression softened when he looked upon her. “My dearest Jocelyn, if you wished for Lathrop and Michael to view the Wassail bob, I would hire a whole troop of vessel maids to entertain them.” He wagged his eyebrows at her. “Nothing is too lavish for such honored guests.”

Her frown lines deepened. “Do not be foolish, James. What kind of mother parades vessel maids before her sons?”

“None that I know personally,” he teased. “Although, I did hear of a most outrageous mother when I was still at university. The chaps spoke of her often. Some opera dancer who married a baron. DeLong, I believe the name was.”

“You are outrageous, my lord.” She laughed prettily. It was a sound James had longed to hear since they had become reacquainted. Her laughter was a sound that reminded him of all the things he missed about her.

“Then you promise to aid me in my quest?” he implored.

“You truly wish my assistance?” she inquired.

“Naturally, my mother will volunteer, but, I fear, even with Aunt Mary’s assistance, Lady Hough cannot handle all the preparations. She contracted consumption some four years removed. Although she thankfully recovered, my mother still tires easily.”

“Why do we not each create a list of favorites and then compare them? Certainly, the young people will also have favorites. We should not ignore their suggestions.”

James caught her hand and placed it on his arm. “It is chilly, and I believe my mother will have ordered tea by now. Let us go in and consult with Lady Hough. She will be thrilled with your involvement. And, of course, your mother will arrive later today. We will make a jolly group, will we not?”

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Christmas Romance Month with “Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary”

My newest JAFF book, Pemberley’s Christmas Governess, released onNovember 29, it is currently on sale for $0.99. Grab yours before the price goes up! The past couple of months have been hectic for me, and I have been planning ahead — doing my blogs in advance, etc., (actually writing this one on September), but mostly I have been cleaning out closets, shelves, etc., for I am closing on a new house sometime during the last two weeks of December. I am moving into a single story ranch style home after spending the last 18 years in this two-story home and the previous 22 in a bi-level. NO MORE STAIRS to climb!!! The idea delights me greatly, as I recently turned 74 years young, but my knees think I am 74 years old. So, if you follow me on social media, and I disappear for days at a time, I am either packing or writing. I have a Regency book entitled “An Escape to Love” arriving in January 2022 and a Regency historical fiction entitled “Obsession” coming out in March 2022 (which is not exactly a romance, but I will explain more on that later), and I am some 18 chapters into a new JAFF title, tentatively called “Mr. Darcy’s Inadvertent Bride.” It, too, will release in 2022, in all probability in June.

But, for now, you likely, are just wondering something about Pemberley’s Christmas Governess, which is my 28th JAFF title. Can you believe it? [You can find all my Austen-inspired titles HERE.) In this tale, Mr. Bennet has died while Elizabeth has been away visiting with Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet’s prediction of their all “being driven into the hedgerows” has come true faster than any of them could have considered. Mrs. Bennet blames Elizabeth for refusing Collins’s offer of marriage. Bingley has not taken Netherfield, so there is not Jane and Bingley. Elizabeth, therefore, has never met Fitzwilliam Darcy. To ease her family’s obligations, Elizabeth has taken a position as a governess, one she has held for 5 years, meaning she is nearly 25 and Darcy is approximately 33 years of age when they first meet.

Darcy has succumbed to the family’s wishes and married Anne de Bourgh, but Anne has died during child birth. He has mourned properly for his wife, a wife he had never truly loved, and he has decided as a means to moving back into society, he will host a house party for Christmastide. Lady Matlock is serving as his hostess. I should warn you Georgiana is not so sickening sweet in this tale as she was in Pride and Prejudice. After all, she is five years older, anxious to reach her majority and claim a husband. She has had to observe the mourning period for Mrs Anne Darcy and is glad to claim the society circumstances have previously kept from her. Miss Bingley is also getting a “little long in the tooth” and is more desperate than ever finally to claim Darcy to husband.

In the tale, Colonel Fitzwilliam has escorted Elizabeth to Pemberley in hopes either his mother or Darcy will provide her a good reference after she was accused of something terrible by one of his officers, which the colonel knew to be false. Obviously, when the colonel sends word he is bringing a young lady with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and Lady Matlock will approve, well . . . you can guess all the assumptions being made to twist the tale. Meanwhile, Elizabeth thinks she must prove herself “worthy,” and she assists in the nursery with Louisa Hurst’s two sons and Darcy’s daughter, Cassandra.

Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Holiday Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Two hearts. One kiss.

Following his wife’s death in childbirth, Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will he attend, but the colonel is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and the colonel’s mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, upon first sight, Darcy falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife.

Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accuses Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.

So, here is a “taste” of Pemberley’s Christmas Governess to whet your appetite for more of the tale. In this scene from Chapter Six, Darcy cannot seem to keep away from Elizabeth, even though he thinks she is promised to Fitzwilliam.

Finding no one about, Darcy had asked after his cousin only to learn Fitzwilliam was in the school room with Miss Bennet.

Darcy knew he frowned, but he could not quite quash the idea his cousin and the lady might be enjoying some privacy, while settling things between them. His heart sighed in continued disappointment, but he managed to say, “I will not interrupt them, for now. Where might I find the countess?”

Mr. Nathan also frowned, but, obviously, for a different reason. “I beg your pardon, sir. From what I understand, most of your houseguests are in the nursery. That is, all except Mr. and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley.”

Darcy heard his butler’s unspoken criticism: All except those who should be there. “And what is so fascinating about Pemberley’s nursery?” Darcy asked with a lift of his eyebrows.

“I believe Miss Bennet, sir, convinced Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Stewart to reenact several of the battles to which they personally stood witness. Initially, Miss Darcy and the other young ladies accompanied the colonel, but I have learned from Mrs. Reynolds that Mr. Bingley and the other two gentlemen soon followed, as did Lady Matlock.”

Darcy’s lips twitched in amusement. Apparently, Mr. Nathan did not know whether to approve of this turn of events or not. “As I possess a legitimate excuse to call upon the nursery, I believe I will follow the others.”

“As is reasonable,” Mr. Nathan said as he bowed.

Darcy smiled. “If the party is interrupting Cassandra’s nap, I will be sending them down for tea. You might warn Cook.”

“Immediately, sir.”

With anticipation, Darcy quickly climbed the steps to the nursery. He paused briefly at the door to survey the room. The colonel and Captain Stewart were describing the evening of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels. As if they had rehearsed it, the young gentlemen in the room claimed the hand of one of the ladies, including Mrs. Anderson, and began to waltz their partners about in small circles, for the room was too cramped to move about freely. Even Hursts’ sons danced around with Megs.

It was only then he realized the gentlemen ignored Miss Bennet’s presence in the room. The lady was framed by the window, and she was dancing, only Miss Bennet was dancing with his young daughter. Without considering his actions, Darcy slipped into the room and was standing before her when she turned around. A large smile, likely intended for his daughter or the exercise graced her lips, but he did not hesitate: Darcy placed both the woman and his child in a loose embrace and turned them in a slow circle. “Good afternoon, pumpkin,” he said as he bent his head to kiss the top of his daughter’s head, but his eyes never left Miss Bennet’s shocked gaze.

“Mr. Darcy,” she began in apology, attempting to step from his arms, but he tightened his hold just enough to dissuade her. As the rest of the room hummed the music, Darcy said softly, “I am dancing with my daughter and the most—”

However, at that moment, Colonel Fitzwilliam called out. “That is the moment when Wellington received the message of Bonaparte’s advance. We departed the ball, many of us still wearing our evening shoes and trousers. Partners were left upon the dance floor, some women receiving a brief kiss in parting.” Although Darcy had yet to move, he knew from the sound of giggles behind him, many women in the room received a chaste kiss on their foreheads or their hands.

Such was not what Darcy wished to kiss: Miss Bennet’s lips were so tempting, for the briefest of seconds, the rest of those within the room disappeared.

Then a laughing Mrs. Anderson appeared at his side to reach for Darcy’s daughter. “It’ll be impossible to convince Miss Cassandra to sleep now she has waltzed with her father. Even so, permit me to take her, Miss Bennet.”

Darcy reluctantly released his hold on Miss Bennet and his daughter. He scooped the child from Miss Bennet’s hold and lifted Cassandra into the air, teasing another giggle from his daughter’s lips before he deposited her into Mrs. Anderson’s waiting arms.

He knew Miss Bennet took several steps backward, retreating to the window, just as he turned to the rest of the room.

“Darcy!” his cousin called. “When did you join us?”

“Only a few moments ago,” he said with a well-placed smile. “I came to inform each of you I ordered tea to be delivered to the blue sitting room. However, I did not wish to disturb your tale or the effects of the duchess’s ball on everyone.” He glanced to Cassandra. “I stole a moment to dance with my daughter and enjoy her smile.”

Bingley said, “I thought Miss Bennet entertained Miss Cassandra.”

With difficulty, Darcy kept the scowl from his features, along with the desire to slap his friend across the back of Bingley’s head. He could not understand why none of the gentlemen in the room would think to partner Miss Bennet. If Mrs. Anderson and Megs deserved partners, why did not a gentleman’s daughter—a woman with impeccable manners and a delightful personality. Moreover, if Miss Bennet was Fitzwilliam’s betrothed, why was his cousin dancing with Georgiana? Obviously, the reason the colonel had agreed to this venture was to please Miss Bennet. “She did,” Darcy said with more calm than he felt. “I imposed on the lady to hold Cassandra while Miss Bennet and I took a few turns together. Cassandra did not appear to want to leave the good lady’s care, even to dance with her father.”

Georgiana lifted her chin in a gesture Darcy had never viewed her using previously and one of which he did not approve. It was very reminiscent of a gesture Miss Bingley often employed when criticizing others. “The tea will become cold; therefore, we should go below. I, for one, have had enough of the war for one day. Countess, might you lead?”

Darcy noted the countess’s dismay. “Will you join us, Darcy?”

“I will follow in a few minutes. I wish to spend a bit of time with Cassandra before she falls asleep,” he said in encouragement.

The group nodded their acceptance and departed two-by-two, leaving only the boys, Megs, Mrs. Anderson, Cassandra, and Miss Bennet behind.

Darcy waited until the sound of their voices died away before he turned to Miss Bennet. “Will you not join us, ma’am?”

“I think not,” she said softly. “I believe I will rest for a bit, that is, if Mrs. Anderson and Megs can oversee the nursery.”

“You are not employed by Pemberley,” he reminded her. “You are a guest.”

“I prefer to be of use to the household,” she argued.

“It is not necessary,” he corrected, “but I shan’t chastise you.”

With a quick nod of farewell, the lady made her exit. Darcy again reached for his daughter. “Were you having a good time with Miss Bennet?” he asked as he settled his child in his arms. Cassandra patted his cheeks in that adorable way of all small children.

“Miss Bennet has a way with both Miss Cassandra and Mr. Hurst’s sons,” Mrs. Anderson declared. “It be a shame she be in her situation, for she’d make some man a good wife and a mother for his children.”

Darcy agreed, but he would not be that man, and that particular idea displeased him more than he would ever admit to another. He stifled a groan of despair when he realized that when Colonel Fitzwilliam married Miss Bennet, they would often be in company together. He did not know whether he could tolerate the situation or not. Of course, if Fitzwilliam married, his cousin would likely move into the estate that would be his inheritance, which was located in Oxfordshire. Perhaps distance would provide Darcy time to control his jealousy.

After playing with Cassandra for a quarter hour, Darcy turned his steps toward where his guests were congregated, but as he crossed the passageway leading past Miss Bennet’s quarters, he stopped to consider what must be a strong case of insanity. Had the gentlemen ignored the lady because of her dowdy attire? Had they not noticed her splendid personality because it was hidden behind the “dull curtain” she presented for all to look upon? What would be the result if she made an appearance in something more appropriate? Without taking a full account of the consequences, he paused outside her door and knocked.

Within seconds, the lady opened the door. “Mr. Darcy? Is something amiss, sir?”

For the briefest of moments, he thought to push past her and spend time alone with her in her room, but, instead, he assured, “Nothing unusual. It simply occurred to me that perhaps you might feel from place when we gather.” He paused in awkwardness. Without a doubt, he should have thought over his actions before knocking. “I assure you, ma’am, I do not wish to sound condescending, but I thought you might have use of a few of my late wife’s gowns. You are shorter than was Anne,” he rushed to say, “and . . .” He glanced to her figure and willed the blush away. “If you are handy with a needle, I am certain you could find a use for several of the dresses.”

“I could not think to impose—” she began her protest.

“The gowns will be presented to a rag man when he calls upon the estate after the new year begins,” he declared. “Surely you could find a better use for any number of them. The late Mrs. Darcy was quite modest; therefore, the newer ones should serve you well. You would have new things for your new life.” The idea of her wearing something he had provided her pleased him. Even if she was to marry Fitzwilliam, she would think of him when she wore the gowns. It was the best he could do for now.

“I do not know what to say, Mr. Darcy. You have already been more than kind to me,” she declared.

“Nonsense,” he insisted. “I will ask Mrs. Reynolds to choose several among Anne’s gowns and assist you with your fittings.”

The woman reached out to catch his hand. Wrapping her two smaller ones around his, she said with tears misting her eyes, “When the colonel suggested I join him at Pemberley, I did not believe anyone would be as open in his welcome as you have proven to be. Your generosity has renewed my soul.” She brought the back of his hand to her lips to plant a gentle kiss on it. Heat raced up Darcy’s arm, and his breath caught in his chest. Yet, before he could react, she stepped back. “No one would ever believe my good fortune in taking Colonel Fitzwilliam’s acquaintance. Bless you, sir.” With that, the lady closed the door to her quarters, leaving Darcy in the empty passageway and wanting more.

Purchase Links:

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/Pemberleys-Christmas-Governess-Prejudice-Holiday-ebook/dp/B09KHK7FTG/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=pemberley%27s+christmas+governess&qid=1635602893&s=digital-text&sr=1-3

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KNCX1RF?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

Book Bub https://www.bookbub.com/books/pemberley-s-christmas-governess-a-pride-and-prejudice-holiday-vagary-by-regina-jeffers

The book can also be read on Kindle Unlimited.

Posted in book excerpts, book release, Christmas, excerpt, Georgian England, Georgian Era, heroines, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, reading habits, Regency era, Regency romance, romance, Vagary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas Romance Month with “Mr. Darcy’s Present: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary”

逗人喜爱的葡萄酒圣诞节新-礼物嘲笑-62236984.jpg Mr. Darcy’s Present grew out of a trip down memory lane. I was attempting to go through photographs found in a box among my late mother’s belongings. I was adding the ones of people I recognized to a photo album, and among the pictures were several which chronicled two different occasions in my childhood. The first group were of the Christmas I remember most clearly of all those from my childhood. Among the few gifts my mother presented me was a book that contained these wonderful illustrations of some of my favorite stories to read. The cover was gold embossed, and I thought it the most perfect gift in the world. The other box held a locket made of what we called “pink gold.” According to my mother, the locket belonged to my grandmother, a woman I never knew because she passed from cancer when my mother was but seventeen. Inside the locket, there was a picture of me and one of my grandmother. 

Now some of you might think this sounds a bit too sentimental to have really happened. Yet, if you knew my family — one side of staunch German blood and the other of high-strung Scottish and Irish roots — you would know how much family and traditions mean to me. We spent many evenings sitting around with the “old folks” and enjoyed tales of days gone by. I am 74 now. I lived in a time when families still sat about the supper table and talked and young ones at the table listened to their elders. 

The other set of pictures came from the Easter that I received three Easter baskets. My parents separated when I was young, and in a day when women did not go off to work, it was difficult for my mother to scrap enough money together for an Easter basket, but that particular year, I received three: the modest one my mother purchased for me, a bit larger one from my grandfather, and a super-sized one from our neighbors, who had no children of their own. The thing was my mother put all three in hiding until the big day, but my mother’s cousin who was not so well educated dropped the cards on each, and when she put them back, the cards got mixed up, having me thanking the wrong people for each basket, until my mother became wise to what had occurred. 

From these memories, an idea hatched for Mr. Darcy’s Present. What if, in his misery and wishing he had the right to call upon Elizabeth Bennet again, Darcy purchased a gift for her he never meant to share with her? What if a run-in with a coal cart has him laid up for several weeks, and he employs Bingley to add a message to a calling card for each present? What if Anne de Bourgh receives Georgiana’s present; his sister Georgiana, the one meant for Elizabeth; Darcy’s long time “friend” and confidant, the one meant for his cousin, Anne; and Elizabeth, the one meant for his “friend”? How much chaos can ensue? What if Darcy’s gift of a simple book of poetry and a ruby stick pin are the perfect gifts to win Elizabeth’s heart?

MDP eBook Cover (1).jpgMr. Darcy’s Present: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary 

[Fiction; Romance; Regency; Austenesque; vagary; Christmas; holiday]

The Greatest Present He Would Ever Receive is the Gift of Her Love

What if Mr. Darcy purchased a gift for Elizabeth Bennet to acknowledge the festive days even though he knows he will never present it to her? What if the gift is posted to the lady by his servants and without his knowledge? What if the enclosed card was meant for another and is more suggestive than a gentleman should share with an unmarried lady? Join Darcy and Elizabeth for a holiday romp, loaded with delightful twists and turns no one expects, but one in which our favorite couple take a very different path in thwarting George Wickham and Lydia Bennets elopement. Can a simple book of poetry be Darcys means to win Elizabeths love? When we care more for another than ourselves, the seeds of love have an opportunity to blossom. 

Words of Praise for Mr. Darcys Present

Jeffers takes a familiar story and reinvigorates it with humor, warmth, and wisdom. – Roses and Lilacs Reviews

Amazon  https://www.amazon.com/Mr-Darcys-Present-Prejudice-Holiday/dp/1537422022/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1473685089&sr=8-5&keywords=mr.+darcy%27s+present

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TRTU eBook Cover Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Mr. Darcy’s Present... ENJOY! 

Chapter One

It is not her,he murmured in self-chastisement.

Nearly a month had passed since he last looked upon her countenance, and although Elizabeth Bennet had adamantly refused the offer of his hand, every time he turned his head to scan the crowds scampering along the walkways lining Bond Street, Darcy expected to encounter her. It was as if he thought his constant desire for her would manifest itself in her actual appearance. You remain as foolish as ever.

With a sigh of resignation he did what was required. Christmastide would arrive within the week, and he held obligations. There were the traditional giftsto be arranged for his staff at Pemberley and at Darcy House, as well as for his tenants, and there were the more elaborate presentations expected by his dear family. He despised the necessity of purchasing the expected. Darcy preferred to surprise those for whom he cared with tokens of his affection throughout the year, rather than to break with the religious tone of Christmas Day, but society seized every opportunity to claim another reward to assuage its pride.

You have the list, Sheffield?he asked his valet. Because Darcys secretary had taken ill, Sheffield volunteered to retrieve the items for Darcys family and the senior servants.

Yes, Mr. Darcy.

Although I consider this business all of a piece, have the selections delivered to Darcy House. Make certain the merchants know some items will be returned as inappropriate for the recipient. He had previously viewed all the items on his list, but Darcy had yet to make a decision.

I understand, sir.

Darcy gripped his cane tighter. Since his last encounter with Miss Elizabeth, he often felt off kilter, as if he expected his familiar world to tilt. I will call upon Mr. Hess regarding the adjustments to Miss Darcys dowry and see you again at Darcy House later.

I shant be long, sir,the valet assured him.

Speed is not compulsory,he instructed. I wish you to conduct business in my name.Glancing toward the bookstore across the busy street, he said in distraction, Add a book of poetry to the list. Cowper, Scott, Coleridge, Prior, or something in that range and mayhap a simple pin a lady could wear upon a bonnet or to secure a shawl in place. Nothing ostentatious. Just a jewel to mark a gentlemans regard.

He knew Sheffield studied him carefully, but Darcy could not abandon his maudlin. He would never present Elizabeth Bennet with the fairing, but he would place the items away in the drawer with the multiple letters he had written to her, but never posted. Anything else, sir?his servant asked in a tone that sounded of concern.

Darcy shook his head in the negative. That will be all, Sheffield.Still deep in his regrets, he turned to bump into a young buck up to London on holiday. Darcy opened his mouth to extend his apologies, but the young man took instant offense at having his cravat knocked askew. The dandy shoved hard against Darcys chest, sending him windmilling backwards into the busy street. He noted how Sheffield shoved past the youth to reach for Darcy, but it was too late. A coal cart pulled by a donkey plowed into his side, knocking him to the ground. A loud groan of wood against wood announced the drivers load shifted, and the coal covered him completely.

* * *

Darcy could hear the rumble of voices nearby, but he refused to release the dream, for it was one of his favorites. He had claimed Elizabeth Bennets hand at the Netherfield Ball. Obviously, he would have preferred a waltz where he might hold her close, but it was strangely satisfying to grasp her gloved hand in his, even for a few brief seconds when they came together. Surely the lady must understand their connection was singular. Surely she experienced the same zing of a knot inside her chest that wished to be set free. Which wished to know him as much as he wished to know her. Which wished to bind them together. Never had Darcy known a woman who made his heart feel lighter.

It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room or the number of couples.

He smiled as he circled her. Whatever you wish me to say will be said.

A familiar playful taunt claimed her tone. No female had ever flirted with him by matching wits. Darcy enjoyed the twist of her lips as she said, Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps, by and by, I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones, but now we may be silent.

They bantered in a like manner until they claimed the opposing corners in the form. It was then he made a serious misstep, one worse than claiming her toes. Do you and your sisters very often walk to Meryton?he asked to keep the conversation easy between them. He was so consumed by the joy of studying Miss Elizabeths beauty he did not realize Mr. Wickhams lies would foul the air surrounding them.

When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.

Despite his best efforts, a deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, and during a long pause he searched for words to warn her from his former friend. At length, he responded in a constrained tone, Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may insure his making friends. Whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain.

The lady replied with emphasis, He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life.

Matters between them were worsened by the appearance of Sir William Lucas, who made it clear that the neighborhood expected Bingley to propose to Miss Bennet. Sir Williams statement had Darcy rethinking his fascination with Miss Elizabeth. How could he permit Mrs. Bennets connection to trade to tarnish his familys name? And a gentleman does not play with a ladys reputation with misplaced flirtations, he reminded himself.

Her words penetrated his half-hearted responses. I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, you hardly ever forgavethat your resentment, once created, was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created?

I am,he replied in a firm voice.

And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice.

I hope not.

It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion to be secure of judging properly at first.

Her words had him second-guessing his opinion of only a few moments earlier.

May I ask to what these questions tend?His tone knew suspicion.

Merely to the illustration of your character.

His character? His roots were impeccable! His was a noble lineage!

I am attempting to make it out.

Disguising his piqued interest, he asked, And what is your success.

She shook her head as if she held her doubts. I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as to puzzle me exceedingly.

For a brief second Darcy wondered if he proposed, would she realize his finer qualities? I can readily believe,he replied gravely, that reports may vary greatly with respect to me, and I could wish, Miss Elizabeth, that you were not to sketch my character at this moment.He was once again from countenance with her. As there is reason to fear the performance would reflect no credit on either.

But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.

Did she wish to know him better? A marriage would bring them together on every level. A tolerably powerful need for her remained even when his head declared the emotion insensible. I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,he said through husky tones.

Darcy? Darcy? Can you hear me?It was Georgiana and she sounded frightened. Please, William. Open your eyes.

He did not wish to leave Elizabeths image behind. There was still much he wished to say to her. It was imperative he convince her to accept his hand, but he held a duty to Georgiana. And so he lifted his heavy lids to welcome the worried features of his sister.

Oh, William.Her sob of relief had her bottom lip trembling. I feared we had lost you. I could not bear it.

He wished to take her in his arms to comfort her, but try as he might, Darcy could not lift his arms.

Bingley nudged Georgiana from her place. You gave us quite a scare, Old Chap,his friend said with a reassuring smile. Do not worry if you cannot yet move about. Doctor Nott and Mr. Harvon could not agree upon your treatment, but it was decided they would tie your arms to the bed frame. Broke you right wrist and suffered a blow to your head, as well as multiple cuts and bruises. Neither Harvon nor Nott wished you to bolt up unexpectedly and do more injury to yourself.

Darcy made himself form the word Water.His mouth was excessively dry.

Miss Darcy, fetch your brother some water,Bingley ordered. His friend remained sitting with one hip on the edge of the bed. At length, Georgiana handed Bingley the glass. Darcy could feel her worried eyes upon him, and so he made the effort to appear alert.I shant attempt to brace you. Let us use this spoon.Bingley held up the utensil before spooning the water into Darcys mouth. A coal cart toppled over on you,Bingley explained as he tended to Darcy. You will be quite stiff for a few days, but Harvon says your wrist is the worst of it. Once the laudanum wears away, Harvon will untie your arms. Miss Darcy says the opiate provides you nightmares, and no one wished you thrashing about in the bed.

Darcy thought of his dream of Elizabeth. It was far from perfect, but certainly not a nightmare. Thank you,he said as he refused another spoonful of the water. Sheffield?

Your man is fine. He took Lord Joyners son to task for the youths lack of forethought. His lordship was less than pleased with Sheffields tongue lashing of his son until he realized young Mr. Joyner had struck Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.Bingley winked at him. Lord Joyner prays you will not withdraw your investment in the canal in which he holds the primary interest.

Darcy pronounced through stiff lips, Would be foolish.

My sentiments exactly,Bingley said as he sat the glass of water and the spoon aside. When you are well enough to consider the situation, the magistrate awaits your decision as to addressing a complaint against the his lordships heir. But there is no need for you to place your mind to it at this time. Just rest. It will do young Joyner good to wait a few more days until he learns whether he faces charges of assault. I heard he has known great anguish at considering a charge of murder if you died. The wait will make him appreciate the privileges his fathers barony provides him. As to Sheffield, he tended you for the last two days. I sent him to his bed for some much required rest.

Two days?Darcy asked weakly.

The reason for your sisters distress,Bingley replied. Miss Darcy and I have fended off all those more curious than sincere. You have nothing of which to worry. The Matlocks and I will tend to Miss Darcy. For now, just rest.

Darcy attempted to nod his gratitude, but the movement sent a wincing pain shooting through his head. He squeezed his eyes shut to quell the piercing ache between his eyes. I am in your debt,he murmured through gritted teeth.

None of that,Bingley insisted. No soul can claim a truer friend.

Bingleys words had Darcy wondering if he had betrayed his friends trust by permitting Miss Bingley to separate Bingley from Miss Bennet. Was I protecting myself rather than my friend? he wondered. If Bingley claimed Miss Bennet, I will lose a friend, for I cannot bear to be in Miss Elizabeths presence and view her choose another. With that doubt planted firmly in his mind, he drifted to sleep only to return to the Netherfield ball and the disaster which marked his rejection.

Even though throughout the evening, he had held reservations regarding his own sanity in considering marriage to Elizabeth, as the ball at Netherfield wound down, his unconscious mind again sought her. Surprisingly, he discovered her hiding behind a pillar upon the terrace. Although she was not in the first tier of fashion, Elizabeths exuberance for life had him considering her more than just a handsome face. He looked upon her and could see his future in her eyes. And so, despite the world whispering in his ear for him to be rational, he asked, Would you walk with me, Miss Elizabeth?

Her spirits appeared inclined to refuse, but she nodded her agreement and placed her hand upon his proffered arm. He directed their steps first on a circular tour of the terrace and then down the steps to the garden. As foolish as it would be to speak the words aloud, his fate was marked. He held no plans to propose on this evening, but he knew he would do so. As they walked, Darcy attempted to organize the words he wished her to know. It is a beautiful evening, especially for November,he said in distraction. If we were in Derbyshire, we would be thinking of snow.

I understand the southern shires are more temperate,she responded.

At length, he brought her to a halt under a rose arbor that no longer held its blooms. They stood in silence for several minutes before he mustered the nerve to speak his heart. In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

Elizabeth, obviously, had not expected him to speak so soon of his regard for her. After all, they had known each other only some six weeks. But he thought she must understand how often he showed her his preferences above all others in their company. She stared and colored, but remained silent. Such was sufficient encouragement for him. Foolishly, he spoke his avowals of all he felt for her. Even as the scene replayed through his laudanum-induced mind, Darcy knew a certain pride in how well he spoke. It was only when he detailed the qualms he held regarding her connections that things turned sour. In hindsight, he should have omitted his sense of her inferiority, of its being a degradation, and of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination from his recital. If he had known his words would incite her waspish tongue, he would have held his.

He might have taken her unawares, but her response destroyed him.  In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode is to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot. I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and, I hope, will be of short duration. The feelings which you tell me have prevented the acknowledgement of your regard can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.

He knew he paled with anger for he felt the blood rush from his heart, and the disturbance of his mind had to be obvious to her, and unfortunately, he could not disguise the tight line of his features as he sought control. He struggled for the appearance of composure. He refused to open his mouth until he believed he could speak without the alarm ringing in his head. And this is all the reply which I am to have the honor of expecting? I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.

I might as well inquire,replied she, why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings been decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favorable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept a man who would act against the happiness of a most beloved sister?

His color changed, but the emotion was short lived. He reined in his anger, but before he could respond, she continued, I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. You speak of the faults and follies of my family as if they are the unwashed. You deny a childhood friend a means to better himself, but the worst of your sins is how you plot with Miss Bingley to divide her brother from Miss Bennet. After our dance, I overheard you speaking to the lady. Miss Bingley spoke of Sir Williams assumption of a marriage between Jane and Mr. Bingley.

I did not encourage Miss Bingleys aspirations,he said in defense.

Yet you made no move to curtail her derogatory comments,she accused. In fact, you agreed with Miss Bingley, even going so far as to suggest she discover a means to keep her brother in London when he departs upon business this week. You have joined forces with Miss Bingley to expose your friend and Jane to the censure of the world for caprice and instability and to the derision for disappointed hopes, involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.

He wished to deny all of her accusations, but how could he? He had listened to Miss Bingleys litany of offenses against the Bennets, and although he never considered either Elizabeth or Miss Bennet inferior, Darcy held his doubts regarding the others in her family, the same doubts he had expressed earlier in his proposal. Moreover, as a guest in Bingleys household and as a gentleman, he could not dissuade Miss Bingley, for the lady served as Netherfields hostess.

Can you deny you have done this?she demanded.

With assumed tranquility, he replied, I have no wish of denying I offered my opinion to Miss Bingley, may she rejoice in her success. Toward Bingley I have been kinder than toward myself.He presented her a curt bow. I would offer you escort to the house, but I do not wish to hear another refusal from you lips.He looked upon her with dashed hopes. I perfectly comprehend your feelings and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time. Please accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.

That was the last time he had seen her. Bingley departed for London on the Monday morning following the ball. He and Miss Bingley had followed two days later, and there was not a second that had passed in the three weeks since that Darcy had not regretted his actions on that night, but not because of his profession of love, but because the outcome had not been what he wished.

* * *

It was another two days before his physician permitted him from his bed. His wrist hummed with pain, but Darcy willed it away rather than permit Nott to continue dispensing more laudanum. He would accept the opiate only when he could no longer tolerate the pain and, even then, only in small doses. There had been a variety of nightmares with the dose Nott prescribed—some were full of the fires of Hell, but none of them touched his soul as did reliving Elizabeth Bennets refusal of his hand.

Do you require anything more, Mr. Darcy?Sheffield said as he placed a lap rug over Darcys knees. Mayhap some tea. Cook has baked a fresh batch of cakes.

Darcy attempted to disguise the frown claiming his forehead, but Sheffield took note, and so he offered, Nothing against Cooks preparations, but I am not in the mood for celebrating the festive days.

Sheffield claimed the poker and stirred the fire. It has been difficult for you and Miss Darcy since your fathers passing,his long-time servant remarked. Some would object to advice from one in service, but Darcy did not. His valet had been with him since Darcy was ten years of age. It was Sheffield who had talked Darcy through the birth of Georgiana and the eventual loss of Lady Anne Darcy. Sheffield was the one who spoke of rejoicing in Miss Darcys birth rather than the misery involved in the leave-taking of their mother. And it was his valet who delivered the devastating news of Mr. George Darcys passing in his sleep. I know Mrs. Reynolds would prefer your return to Pemberley for the Twelfth Night celebrations.

Darcy held up his casted wrist. Traveling does not appear in my future—certainly not for the number of days and hours required to reach Pemberley.

Sheffield glanced over his shoulder as he added more coal to the fire. Considering a one-armed groom taught you how to use the ribbons, I doubt your wrist could keep you from a curricle or from Pemberley, if such was your desire, sir.

Darcy paused to formulate his response. I just do not understand why some people put so much stock into a Christmas wish. It is dashed foolishness.

Sheffield stood to wipe his fingers on a handkerchief. I recall a fresh-faced lad who set up late into the night, waiting for the appearance of the Christmas star to make his wish.

Darcy recalled those days, as well. He had wished for a large family, one to fill Pemberley with laughter. He had been an only child at the time, and he felt robbed of the joy of family his school chums experienced. Little did he know, he would lose his mother, and his father would lose the woman he cherished. Often he wondered if his wish had been something less personal if God would have granted it and his family would have known happiness. And what good did it do that boy?Darcy argued. When Lady Anne Darcy passed, life—pure life—disappeared from Pemberley.He would never admit to anyone he held dreams of Miss Elizabeth restoring those childhood dreams of his estate. He often imagined her sitting upon the floor of the nursery with their children surrounding her. Just larks in the brain.

Sheffields expression said the valet did not believe Darcys protestations. Then I suppose you do not care to view the items the shops sent over for your inspection.

You managed the list, after all?he asked in surprise.

I did not wish to disappoint,Sheffield admitted. Moreover, I assumed you would wish me to execute your charge no matter the unusual situation. It was my duty to see your wishes completed. The items are in the library, but I could have them moved in here, sir.

Darcy sighed in acknowledgment. The days before the celebration grow short, so it is best I meet my obligations. Even though I care not for the festivities, others will think me a poor nephew or brother or cousin if I do not recognize those who claim me as part of their lives.

Posted in Austen Authors, book excerpts, book release, Christmas, eBooks, excerpt, Georgian England, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, reading habits, real life tales, Regency era, Regency romance, tradtions, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Christmas Romance Month with “Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary, Told Through the Eyes of All Who Knew It”

December must mark a Christmas romance. ®Hallmark does it. Therefore, this month I plan to highlight the many Christmas tales I have written over the years. “Christmas at Pemberley” was the first. It is a sweet tale, but it really spoke to me (and to several of my Austen fans), who had experienced difficulties with childbirth. In my tale, Elizabeth has had two miscarriages, and she is quite depressed. Darcy has planned a great celebration at Pemberley, bringing in her family, in hopes his wife can return to her “free spirited” self. He takes her on a business journey with him, so everyone will be at Pemberley when they return, but a snow storm delays their journey. They seek shelter at an inn, where they end up sharing their quarters with a couple who deliver their first child. It is both a bittersweet moment for Elizabeth, but also one filled with hope for her own future. Enjoy the excerpt below, and keep the Christmas spirit in your life all year round. All books featured this month on A Christmas Romance are available for only $0.99 on Kindle. Those on Nook and Kobo will be at a like price. 

Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary, Told Through the Eyes of All Who Knew It

from Regina Jeffers

Classics; Regency romance; inspirational romance; sequel; Jane Austen Fan Fiction

To bring a renewed sense joy to his wife’s countenance, Fitzwilliam Darcy secretly invites the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend the Christmastide festive days at Pemberley. But as he and Elizabeth journey to their estate to join the gathered families, a snowstorm blankets the English countryside. The Darcys find themselves stranded at a small out-of-the-way inn with another couple preparing for the immediate delivery of their first child, while Pemberley is inundated with friends and relations seeking shelter from the storm.

Without her brother’s strong presence, Georgiana Darcy desperately attempts to manage the chaos surrounding the arrival of six invited guests and eleven unscheduled visitors. But bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley find a soul mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy know happiness?

Written in Regency style and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, Christmas at Pemberley places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in an exciting yuletide story that speaks to the love, the family spirit, and the generosity that remain as the heart of Christmas.

Christmas at Pemberley: A Holiday Sequel to Pride and Prejudice Booksellers’ Best Award Finalist, Inspirational Romance; New England Book Festival, 2nd Place, General Fiction

Excerpt 

“A small gift from Nan,” Elizabeth said as she handed the hastily made child’s dressing gown to Mary. The woman had dutifully completed the delivery, and with Mrs. Washington’s help, Elizabeth had assisted Mary to fresh clothing. Now, the new mother rested once again in the bed. She held the sleeping child in the bend of her arm.

“I shall thank the girl properly,” Mrs. Joseph mumbled.

Elizabeth patted the lady’s hand. “Why do you not rest?”

“You require rest also,” Mrs. Joseph sleepily protested.

“First, I believe I shall go downstairs and have a proper supper with Mr. Darcy. I require time to rest my back.” She stretched out her arms. “I shall send Mr. Joseph to sit with you.”

“Let Matthew be. No one needs to watch me sleep.” Mary’s eyelids closed slowly, but then sprung open again. “That is unless you require private time with Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth smiled easily. “I never tire of the man’s company. Even after two years.”

“Then by all means send Mr. Joseph up. A woman of your infinite powers should have her every wish.” She caught Elizabeth’s hand in a tight grip.

Elizabeth’s finger gently touched the sleeping child’s hair. “My wish is to have what you have, Mary,” she whispered.

“You will, Elizabeth.” Mrs. Joseph assured. “You shall know your own happiness . . . you and Mr. Darcy.” She paused and took a deep breath. “My child’s birth . . . I was never afraid because God placed the incomparable Elizabeth Darcy in my life. My prayers . . . those I recited before Matthew and I left Stoke-on-Trent—they were for God to send an angel to protect my child, and on the third day of travel, I walked into this out of the way inn; and there you were. My own angel.”

Elizabeth snorted. “I have been called many things, but angelic was never one of them.”

“That is where the world erred, Elizabeth. They see those defenses you show to anyone who barely knows you. They do not see your magnificent heart—your indomitable spirit—the purity of your soul.”

Elizabeth laughed self-consciously. “Do not bestow me with too many exemplary qualities. If so, I must find something good of which to say of Miss Bingley.”

Mary’s eyebrow rose in curiosity. “Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “The younger sister of Jane’s husband. She did poor Jane a disservice, and the lady had once upon a time set her sights on Mr. Darcy.”

“Angels can feel jealousy, Elizabeth.” Mary squeezed Elizabeth’s hand.

“So, there are shades of angelic behavior?” Elizabeth’s voice rose in amusement.

Mary laughed also. “Absolutely. God’s love is the purist, but mankind can possess levels of the benevolent spirit.”

“Then, in your opinion, I hold God’s attention.” Elizabeth puzzled over that concept.

“We all hold God’s attention, but I believe He has chosen you among his favorites.”

Before she could stifle her words, Elizabeth defensively said, “Then how could God allow my children to die before I knew them? Before I could tell them of my love?” Tears trickled from her eyes.

Mrs. Joseph swallowed hard. “That is the question which most frightens you. Is it not, Elizabeth? You wonder how if you serve God, how He could not honor you with a child of your own. How the rest of the world can know such happiness? How no one, except Mr. Darcy, understands the depth of your fear?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth murmured.

“I have no answer that would satisfy your heart: God gives us what we require when we require it. Matthew holds different ideas on such matters, but I believe when the Bible says God created man in his own image such means God has his own foibles. He is a bit selfish. God wished to surround himself with the laughter of children—the most magical sound in the world. Therefore, sometimes He does the selfish thing and calls the child home early. It is the only explanation which makes any sense.”

Elizabeth brushed away her tears. “I shall endeavor to accept your explanation, Mary. It makes as much sense as any other.”

“You cannot argue with a woman named Mary so close to the celebration of our Lord’s birth,” Mrs. Joseph teasingly reasoned.

Elizabeth smiled easily. “No, I suppose, I cannot.”

Buy Links:

Kindle  https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Pemberley-Prejudice-Holiday-Through-ebook/dp/B07L9G7YTV/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1544626483&sr=8-7&keywords=christmas+at+Pemberley

Nook  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-at-pemberley-regina-jeffers/1101005215?ean=2940161697221

Kobo  https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/christmas-at-pemberley-2

Author Biography:

Regina Jeffers, an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era romances, has worn many hats over her lifetime: daughter, student, military brat, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, tax preparer, journalist, choreographer, Broadway dancer, theatre director, history buff, grant writer, media literacy consultant, and author. Living outside of Charlotte, NC, Jeffers writes novels that take the ordinary and adds a bit of mayhem, while mastering tension in her own life with a bit of gardening and the exuberance of her “grand joys.”

Social Media Links:

Every Woman Dreams: https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com

Website: http://www.rjeffers.com

Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Regina-Jeffers-Author-Page-141407102548455/?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/reginajeffers

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Regina-Jeffers/e/B008G0UI0I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479079637&sr=8-1

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/jeffers0306/

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/profile/regina-jeffers

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darcy4ever/

You Tube Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzgjdUigkkU

The tale The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery is the sequel to Christmas at Pemberley. 

Posted in Austen Authors, book excerpts, books, British history, Christmas, excerpt, family, George Wickham, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, mystery, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, reading habits, Regency era, Regency romance, romance, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It is HERE!!! Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary Goes Live Today!!!

Today, my 28th Jane Austen-inspired tale goes live. I hope you have your copy waiting for you in your inbox. I pray you will enjoy this tale. It is a bit different from my usual fare, where I stay close to canon. Even so, I did not stray too far from Austen’s beloved tale.

Here are a few of the differences:

The tale begins five years after Austen’s tale. Elizabeth is nearly 25 years of age and Darcy is 33.

Elizabeth has become a governess after her father’s sudden death. Her mother blames Elizabeth for their penury for Elizabeth has refused Mr. Collins’s offer of his hand. Elizabeth, Jane, and Mary were sent to live with the Gardiners. Elizabeth immediately took a position as a governess to relieve the Gardiners of the financial burden. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty are in Meryton with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. Bingley never came to Netherfield, so Elizabeth did not meet Darcy, but she has met Mr. Wickham.

Exhausted by the need to find a suitable wife, Darcy has fallen to family pressure and married Anne de Bourgh. He thought if he could remove his cousin from Lady Catherine’s care Anne might blossom. She does not. She dies in childbirth, leaving behind their infant daughter Cassandra Anne. After a proper period of mourning, Darcy is resigned to returning to the marriage mart. At the beginning of the book, he has agreed to host a Christmas party as a means to a return to Society. Lady Matlock will serve as his hostess.

Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Holiday Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Two hearts. One kiss. 

Following his wife’s death in childbirth, Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will he attend, but the colonel is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and the colonel’s mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, upon first sight, Darcy falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife. 

Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accuses Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.

Purchase the eBook HERE

Enjoy this short excerpt: Also check out the one on today’s Austen Authors Post. Follow me on my blog tour for more excerpts – some insights into the story – and the giveaways.

Mid-December 1818 – Gloucestershire

“I said to unhand me, sir,” Elizabeth Bennet ordered, as she shoved young Mr. Newland’s hands from her person. Ever since the man had returned home, he had dogged her every step. She had been serving as the governess for his two younger sisters for six months now, but this was the first time the lieutenant had been home since her arrival at his parents’ home. 

“I just be luckin’ for a bit of fun,” Mr. Newland slurred as he attempted to kiss her ear, but all she received was a wet lash of his tongue across her cheek. He reeked of alcohol. 

Elizabeth wished she had been more careful when she left her room a few minutes earlier, but she had briefly forgotten how the lieutenant seemed always to be around where she least expected it. She had thought him below stairs with his friends, both of whom had been excessively respectful to her. She shoved hard against his chest sending him tumbling backward to land soundly upon his backside. “If it is fun you require,” she hissed, “join your friends in the billiard room!” Elizabeth side-stepped the man as he reached for her. 

Lieutenant Newland attempted to turn over so he might stand, but he was too inebriated to put his hands flat for balance and to rotate his hips. “I don’t be requirin’ that kind of fun,” he grumbled. 

Elizabeth edged closer to the steps. She hoped to escape before Lady Newland discovered her with a torn sleeve and the woman’s rascal son doing a poor version of standing on his own. “You must find your ‘fun’ elsewhere, sir. I am not that type of woman.” 

She had been a governess for nearly five years—five years since her dearest “Papa” had died suddenly from a heart attack—five years since her mother, Kitty, and Lydia had moved in with Aunt Phillips in Meryton, and Jane and Mary had moved in with Uncle Gardiner. Elizabeth, too, had been sent to London with Jane and Mary, but it had been so crowded at her uncle’s town house, she immediately took a position as the governess to Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Sample’s daughters, Livia and Sylvia. She had remained with the Samples, who were a wealthy middle-class gentry family and friends of her Uncle Gardiner, for a little over two years before the Samples brought the girls out into society and married them off. 

In Elizabeth’s estimation, Livia, at age fifteen, was too young for marriage, but the girl appeared happy with her choice of a husband. Sylvia, at seventeen, had been more reluctant to wed, but the girl had followed her parents’ wishes. Few women had the freedom to choose their husbands, even in the lower classes, and certainly not in the gentry. 

Elizabeth had spent another two years with another wealthy, but untitled, family, preparing their daughter for an elite school for young women on the Continent. In mid-May, she had answered an advert with an agency to join the Newland household. Although she had often thought Lady Newland was too pretentious, Elizabeth had enjoyed the enthusiasm of her young charges: She had considered them to be very much of the nature of her sisters Mary and Lydia. Pamela wished desperately to please her parents, but to no avail, while Julia was as boisterous and as adventurous as had been Lydia. 

Elizabeth desperately missed her family, but, essentially, she knew their current situation was her fault. Such was the reason she had sacrificed herself by going out on her own—removing the responsibility for her care from her family’s hands—one less mouth to feed and to clothe. 

Jarred from her musings by Lieutenant Newland’s lunge for her legs, Elizabeth squealed and scampered down the steps before the man could catch her. However, the lieutenant’s momentum sent him tumbling down the stairs with a yelp of surprise—heels over head—to land spread-eagle on the floor, except one of his legs had been turned at an odd angle. A loud moan of pain escaped to echo through the hall. 

The sound of running feet filled the open hallway. Immediately, Elizabeth dropped to her knees to examine the lieutenant’s leg. “Permit me a look at your leg, sir,” she told the man as she swatted away his hands, still attempting to grope her. “Lay back!” she instructed. 

Immediately one of the lieutenant’s fellow officers was beside her. “Lay back, Lieutenant,” he ordered in a strong voice of authority. “Permit the lady to examine your leg.” The colonel looked to her, and Elizabeth mouthed, “Bad break.” 

After that, the colonel took charge. “Mr. Scott, send someone for a surgeon.” The butler rushed away. “You two, find some sturdy blankets and a board—a door, perhaps, so we might move Lieutenant Newland to his room.” 

“Yes, sir,” the footmen scrambled to do the colonel’s bidding. 

Before Elizabeth could extricate herself from the scene, she looked up to view Lady Newland’s worried countenance. It was all Elizabeth could do not to groan aloud. There was no hope that her ladyship would take Elizabeth’s side in the matter. “Nigel! Nigel, darling!” Lady Newland screeched as she knelt beside her son. “What has happened?” She shoved Elizabeth from the way. 

Colonel Fitzwilliam explained, “I have sent for a surgeon and a means to move Newland to his room.” 

Lady Newland nodded her understanding as she caught her son’s hand to offer comfort. Unfortunately, for Elizabeth, the lieutenant rolled his eyes up to meet hers. “I’m thorry, Miss Bennet.” 

Lady Newland cast a gimlet eye on Elizabeth. “Sorry for what, Miss Bennet?” she aked in accusing tones. 

Even though she knew such would cost her the position she held in the household, Elizabeth refused to tell a lie. “For the lieutenant’s attempt to take liberties where they were not welcomed, your ladyship.” 

Lady Newland stood to confront Elizabeth. “Evidently, you thought one day to take my place as viscountess.” 

The colonel stood also. “I believe you are mistaken, ma’am. Both Captain Stewart and I have warned the lieutenant that it is inappropriate for a gentleman to take favors with the hired help. Your son’s ‘infatuation’ has been quite evident to all who chose not to turn a blind eye to his thoughts of privilege.” 

Lady Newland pulled herself up royally. “I shall not listen to anyone defame Nigel’s character. I realize you are my son’s commanding officer, but I am the mistress of this house, and I say who is and is not welcome under my roof. I would appreciate it if you removed yourself from my home by tomorrow.” 

Captain Stewart joined them then. “Your ladyship, surely you realize the colonel is the son of the Earl of Matlock,” he cautioned. 

For the briefest of seconds, Lady Newland’s resolve faltered, but she looked again upon Elizabeth’s torn sleeve and stiffened in outrage. “You may stay, Colonel, if you wish to condemn the real culprit in this matter.” 

The colonel’s features hardened. “Although it provides me no pleasure to say so, for the British Army holds a standard for its officers, even those of a junior rank, but I have named the culprit, ma’am.” He bowed stiffly. “I thank you for your prior hospitality. I, for one, will depart in the morning after I learn something of your son’s prospects for recovery so I might properly report the surgeon’s prognosis to my superiors. Captain Stewart may choose to stay or depart on his own.” With that, he extended an arm to Elizabeth. “Permit me to escort you to your quarters, Miss Bennet.” 

Though in the eyes of Lady Newland, Elizabeth’s doing so was likely another mark against her character, she gladly accepted the gentleman’s arm, for she did not think her legs would support her without his assistance. She was without a position and had no place to go.

“Are you well, ma’am,” the colonel whispered. 

“There is no way Lady Newland will provide me a letter of character. The chances of my securing another position without a recommendation are next to impossible. I shall be fortunate if her ladyship agrees to pay me the wages due to me.” 

The colonel responded in tones of obvious disapproval. “I will speak to Lord Newland regarding your wages.” 

Elizabeth attempted to keep the tears from her eyes. Until now, no one had cared that she was alone in the world. “You are very kind, sir.” 

“Not kind enough,” he corrected. “Otherwise, I would have kept a tighter rein on Lieutenant Newland’s actions.” 

“You are the lieutenant’s commanding officer in military situations. You cannot also expect to be his conscience within the halls of his home,” she argued. “Even if you had squashed his desires on this journey, you could not guarantee the lieutenant would not return alone some time in the near future. The encounter was inevitable.” 

“Your calmness amazes me, Miss Bennet,” he declared. 

“I am far from calm, sir,” she said when they paused before the door to her quarters. “My insides are of the nature of a duck’s legs under water. On the surface the duck appears serene, but his legs are beating out a tattoo.” 

The colonel chuckled. “Tell me you have a place that will take you in, at least until you can claim another position.” 

Elizabeth wished she could provide the gentleman the reassurances he required, but, at present, she had no idea where to turn. “Perhaps my aunt and uncle in Cheapside—”

“Once you have considered your choices,” he said softly, “I would consider it an honor to assist you to your destination, if you will permit it.” 

Oddly, Elizabeth did not consider the man or his offer a threat to her person, as she had felt from the beginning with all Lieutenant Newland offered. “I thank you kindly, but I am not your responsibility, Colonel.” 

“My mother would argue otherwise. If she discovered I had abandoned you, there would be the Devil to pay for my lack of compassion. Do not tell her ladyship this, Miss Bennet, but I would rather return to the Continent and face the French a second time than to incur my mother’s wrath,” he said with an easy smile. 

Elizabeth, too, smiled largely. “Your secret is safe with me, sir. Now, go to the lieutenant. I am certain he is in great pain, and a voice of reason must prevail in his care.” 

Now, for the giveaway. I have two eBook copies of Pemberley’s Christmas Governess to present to two lucky winners who comment below. The giveaway will end Friday, December 3 at midnight, EST. I will contact winners by email.

Posted in Austen Authors, blog hop, book excerpts, Christmas, eBooks, excerpt, Georgian England, Georgian Era, giveaway, heroines, historical fiction, holidays, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, reading habits, Regency era, Regency romance, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Regency Romance Series Month: His American Heartsong: A Companion Book to the Realm Series

ATOVsmall.jpeg At the request of my readers, I created Lawrence Lowery’s story. In my Realm series, you first met Sir Carter’s older brother Lawrence in A Touch of Velvet when the future baron came to Linton Park at the request of Viscount Averette to question James Kerrington regarding the disappearance of Velvet Aldridge. Law played a key role in diverting Averette’s attentions long enough for the Realm members to save Velvet and the child Sonalí Fowler.

ATOGraceCrop2.jpg In A Touch of Grace, Lowery makes another brief appearance. He comes to London in search of the woman he loves. At Arabella Tilney’s Come Out ball, Law makes a spectacle of himself by proposing marriage in the middle of the dance floor. That possibility set many of you wondering how the proposal came about.

ATOL.jpg  Lawrence and Arabella make another appearance in A Touch of Love, Sir Carter and Lucinda’s story. In that one, they are married, but again, how did they reach that point? There is a magnificent scene where Arabella is held captive and  Lawrence and Sir Carter race to save her. You will love its execution. So, His American Heartsong is Arabella and Lawrence’s story. The hoydenish American is Lord Hellsman’s “Heartsong.” I hope you enjoy the tale.

When I wrote this story, I had this fabulous scene created where Arabella was sprayed by a skunk. Then it hit me! There are no skunks in England, at least not during the Regency period. You see, Arabella is a bit of a klutz; however, she is also brave and resourceful and exactly what Lawrence requires in his life, for Lawrence Lowery has been the model son, held in place by his father’s iron will. 

As a special point of interest, one will see a reference to Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice in this story line. The mentioning of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is not purely to reel in members of the JAFF community to this story. For those of you new to my works, I also have written Austenesque sequels and adaptations for several traditional publishers. Occasionally, my stories crisscross. Adam Lawrence, for example, who is the subject of the tale, His Irish Eve, shows up in both my Regency romances and my Austen-inspired pieces. I love mixing the characters because it provides my readers points of reference to the time period and the social norms. 

All the 9 books of The REALM series are on sale in November for only $0.99 each. Grab the eBooks while you can. Find all my Regency titles HERE.

HAHS.jpg His American Heartsong: A Companion Novel of the Realm Series

The Deepest Love is Always Unexpected.

LAWRENCE LOWERY, Lord Hellsman, has served as the dutiful son since childhood, but when his father Baron Blakehell arranges a marriage with the insipid Annalee Dryburgh, Lowery must choose between his responsibilities to his future title and the one woman who makes sense in his life.

Although her mother was once a lady in waiting to the Queen, by Societys standards, MISS ARABELLA TILNEY is completely wrong to be the future baroness: Bella is an American hoyden, a woman more comfortable in a stable than in a drawing room, and who demands that Lowery do the impossible: Be the man he always dreamed of being.

Kindle   http://www.amazon.com/His-American-Heartsong-Companion-Novel-ebook/dp/B00Y7DDB9I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1441298305&sr=8-1&keywords=his+american+heartsong

Amazon    http://www.amazon.com/American-Heartsong-Realm-Regina-Jeffers/dp/1512239046/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1441298305&sr=8-1

Kindle Unlimited  https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/hz/subscribe/ku?passThroughAsin=B00Y7DDB9I&_encoding=UTF8&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

Chapter One

“I think…if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” – Leo Tolstoy

“What do you mean, you left them above Derwerth?” Lawrence Lowery demanded. “Please tell me you possess more sense than to leave three women alone on the mountain!”

“But two of them be Americans, your lordship.” The coachman nervously worked his hat’s rim through his fingers.

Lowery, who stiffened at the groundless denunciation, turned to his father. “Did you hear his imbecilic excuse? It is acceptable to treat these women with no respect because two are Americans! What the bloody hell does that mean?” Law loomed over the hired driver.

Discovering a lack of sense among those gathered at the family estate, Law angrily turned toward the stable hand awaiting his orders. “I require my horse and another for a coach immediately, Sack. I want ten men saddled and ready to ride within a quarter hour,” he barked out orders.

“Yes, your lordship.” The head groomsman hustled to do his bidding.

Lowery spoke privately to the baron. “I must go.”

“You might send Beauchamp and the men,” his father counseled. “There is no requirement for you to face the danger yourself, Lawrence.”

Lowery touched the baron’s arm gently. Although his father was still quite spry for a man of his age, Law realized the time for his succession drew nearer. “You understand I must, Father. I would not count myself a gentleman if I left three women in danger.”

Law knew what it meant to be lost in the hills surrounding the estate. At age ten, he had thought himself quite grown when he set off on a dare toward the summit of the nearness mountain. He did not make it more than a mile into the wilderness before becoming disoriented. It took his father some six hours to find him, and Law could still recall the fear bubbling in his throat. He could not imagine being both a woman and an outsider and being lost in England’s famous Peak District.

“I understand.” Blakehell turned toward the manor house. “You will take care, Lawrence. Remember you are my heir.”

Law had heard those words his whole life.

“You always have Carter.” Law could not control his constant need to deflect his father’s demands on him.

“I love my youngest child,” the baron began, “but Carter is not the right person for this title.” Which only meant Carter defied their father on more than one front, something Law rarely did. “Moreover, Carter has his property now; he does not require this one.”

“Yes, Father.” Law understood that the baron meant well, but Lawrence could not spend his life locked in the house, afraid to risk the title. Such was the reason the Baroness Blakehell delivered forth Lawrence’s younger brother Carter, along with the three sisters, who separated the two brothers. An heir and a spare, as the old adage went.

* * *

“How long must we wait for that foolish man to return?” Abigail Tilney complained for the fifth time in an hour.

Arabella’s sister despised any form of discomfort. It was for her wellbeing they had taken the small coach when traveling on horseback would have been more appropriate. Abigail did not ride well, and she refused anything, which did not come naturally to her; therefore, holding her perfection in tact.

“I imagine at least a couple of hours,” Annalee Dryburgh, their cousin assured Abigail. “Walking the horse after it threw a shoe must slow Mr. Moss’s progress.”

Abigail pulled her cloak tighter about her. “I hope it is soon. The air is much cooler in the uplands.”

“Lord, Abby, one would think a woman from Virginia’s mountainous region would appreciate the land’s beauty. I certainly prefer it to the coast lines.” Arabella Tilney stood, feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips, admiring the craggy landscape.

“It is a bog!” Abby asserted.

Bella sighed deeply. No sense in arguing with her sister. Bella had learned that lesson long ago. “But the purpose of this journey is to explore the sights. The plateau above from this angle is spectacular. Come look!”

Abby turned her body to rest her head on the coach’s soft cushions. “The only view of which I wish to partake is the one from my room at the inn,” she grumbled. “Wake me when Mr. Moss returns.”

Bella sat good-naturedly on an uprooted tree trunk. Her party had left Hayfield to visit the Kinder Plateau, but did not reach their destination. The horse had thrown a shoe, and now there was nothing to do but to wait and look out on the land’s beauty. If they had traveled by horseback, as Arabella preferred, then they could double up and still make it back safely to the inn. Unfortunately, they foolishly took an open carriage to pacify Abigail, and now she, her sister, and her cousin were without options. Bella wished she had persisted when Mr. Moss suggested they all walk the horse out, but again, their party had deferred to Abby’s insensibility. Now, Bella prayed for Mr. Moss’s early return. She would not wish to hear her younger sister’s tirade if the man did not come before nightfall. Abigail would not be happy, and Bella knew when Abby was not happy, her sister made everyone within earshot miserable.

* * *

“Storm comin’ in, your lordship!” Mr. Beauchamp pointed to the encroaching cloud bank. “We should call off the search until it passes. Too dangerous out in the open.”

“Lead the men to the Cliff Hole cottage and wait it out. I will take the extra horse into Brook Pass. If I discover nothing, I will follow you.”

The wind increased, and debris swirled about them. “Are you certain, my lord? I could go.”

Law knew the baron would claim Beauchamp’s head if Law placed himself in real danger, but Law felt the need to see the situation to a satisfying end. He shook his head in the negative. “I must go, Beauchamp. I know it sounds unreasonable; yet, I cannot abandon the search so soon.”

“Seek shelter, sir, if it the conditions become worse.”

“I have it.” Lawrence took the horse’s leading rope. “See to the men.”

Law rode in the direction of  where the path split, taking the trail rising to the plateau. He thought the women quite foolish to attempt such a trek in a carriage, but he understood the female mind as well as any man. He possessed three sisters, and Law could easily imagine one of the Lowery sisters doing the same.

The wind whipped his coat tails, and Law removed his hat so as not to lose it. He scanned the pathway, knowing it unlikely the women strayed from the worn road. Memories of his own fears had kept him at the task: Law felt the urgency of finding the ladies. He knew the rain line spread across the valley below. He and the women would require immediate shelter; therefore, he nudged the horse forward, picking up the pace, as much as the terrain would allow.

* * *

“Abby, we must find shelter,” Bella tugged on her sister’s hand. “A storm is coming!”

“I am going nowhere,” the girl asserted. “I am not afraid of lightning.”

Bella looked to where the storm clouds rolled over a nearby ridge. Thunder and lightning preceded nature’s drenching. “Well, I am! Please, Abby!”

Bella managed to coax her sister to a standing position just as the man approached on a coal black stallion. Despite the insensibility of the idea, Bella thought he resembled a dark angel riding toward them. The stranger whipped the horse’s reins, barreling down on them, but Bella experienced no fear, at least, not from the rider. As dark and as foreboding as the stranger appeared, she felt her heart lurch in recognition.

Sliding from the horse’s back, he offered them no British civilities. There was no time: Large droplets accompanied him, and they quickly soaked the open carriage seat. “This way!” he yelled over the tumult, catching Bella’s hand and taking off on a run. By design, her sister and cousin followed.

* * *

Without forethought, Law tugged the girl’s hand again, but she stumbled, unable to match his long strides. Feeling her go down, Law instinctively, grabbed the woman about the waist, lifting her petite form like a sack of flour. In the other hand, he kept a death grip on the horses’ reins. When he found the familiar cave, Law half shoved the woman he carried into the narrow opening, turning awkwardly to pull the other two along the trail.

The rain pelted them with a staccato of droplets, and Law felt the dampness soak his greatcoat, but before he entered the rock face’s slit, he tied the horses to a Spanish oak’s lowest branches. At length, Law squeezed his large form through the opening before shaking the water from his hair and coat.

In the shadowed light, he could barely make out the forms of the three women. They hugged one another tightly, cloaks wrapped around one another–unopened wings of a gigantic eagle.

“Is anyone injured?” he asked between thunderclaps.

From somewhere within the monstrous depths of cooing females, a melodic voice rang clearly, “No, Sir. We are grateful for your finding us.”

The eagle’s wings opened and closed and became three. He sighed deeply and brushed at his coat sleeves again. Being hunched over in the low-ceilinged crevice reminded Law of his manners at last.

“I am Lord Hellsman.” He timed his introduction between God’s fireworks. “I apologize for my rude entrance on the trail.”

“That is quite acceptable under the circumstances, your lordship.” The woman straightened her clothing. “Without you, we could be miserable, suffering the storm’s worst. I am Miss Dryburgh. My father isLord Dryburgh.”

“Part of Lord Graham’s family? From Staffordshire?” Law prided himself on knowing the British aristocracy’s countryseats.

“Yes, Sir.” The woman remained the group’s spokesperson. “And these are my cousins from America, Miss Tilney. And her sister Miss Abigail.”

Again, Law could not make out the ladies’ faces in the darkness. He could discern only their sizes–both small in stature–one downright petite. He could still feel the pressure of the smallest one along his side where he had carried her with him to the cave. Surprisingly, Law found he missed that brief feeling of warmth.

“We are pleased for the acquaintance, your lordship,” the sweet voice came from the shadows.

Another lightning flash made the smaller one jump and clutch at her cousin’s arm.

“My sister does not like storms,” the taller one explained.

“Forgive me, ladies. I must practice discourtesy again. I can barely make you out in the cave’s recess, and I remain a bit disoriented. I discerned that Miss Dryburgh is the tallest in height among the three of you, but between the Misses Tilney, I claim confusion.”

The melodious voice continued. “I am Abigail Tilney.”

Law turned his attention to the petite one, the one who trembled from the storm, and the one he had carried. “Then that must make you, Miss Tilney,” he half teased.

A squeaky “Yes, Sir” brought a smile to his lips.

“How did you know the cave was here, your lordship?” Miss Dryburgh asked.

Law mocked himself. “When I was ten, I ridiculously proved my manliness by hiding in this cave until my father rescued me from my wild imagination. If I am riding in the area, I revisit this spot. It keeps me humble.”

The squeak became a screech with a powerful flash of nature’s worst. “How…how long will the storm last?” a breathy Miss Tilney pleaded.

Lawrence glanced toward the downpour. “The rain usually lasts several hours.”

“Hours?” The woman’s voice betrayed her fear.

“Do not worry, Miss Tilney. The fireworks will end soon, even if the rain remains.”

“It will be dark before long,” Miss Dryburgh noted. “I mean darker than it is now.”

Law stared at the sheets of rain streaming along the opening. A waterfall rushing down the cliff face and splashing outside their refuge.

“When it eases a bit, I will gather some wood so we may have a fire.”

“You mean for us to spend the night in this cave, Lord Hellsman!” The sweetness had disappeared from Miss Abigail’s voice. “That is not possible!”

“Miss Abigail, if there were no storm, we might maneuver the limited path down the mountain with some degree of safety. However, between the rain and the fog, which will blanket the woodlands with darkness, there is no prospect of us driving your carriage off this peak tonight. Nor would I consider walking out at this point or even riding the two horses I brought with me. The road is narrow, and one false step could send us plummeting into emptiness. Moreover, who knows what creatures the woods hold?”

“Are you attempting to frighten us, your lordship?” Miss Tilney had found her voice. His exaggerations caused her to momentarily forget the storm.

“Absolutely, not, Miss Tilney. Simply speaking the truth. I will not assume the responsibility of bringing danger to our door after rescuing you. No one is injured or requiring medical care; it would be foolhardy to risk our lives.” Thinking on the conversation, Law could not help but to chuckle.

“What is so amusing, Lord Hellsman?” The petite one took a confrontational stance.

Law wiped the grin from his lips, but something shifted in his chest. “I suppose, Miss Tilney, I find it a bit bizarre to have this discussion hunched over from my surroundings and attempting to impress the three ladies of my most recent acquaintance with my ability to protect them through the night. It is somewhat surreal.”

“It is from the ordinary,” Miss Dryburgh took the sting from her cousin’s tone. “We Brits are practical that way, are we not, your lordship?”

Although the faces were still in shadows, he could recognize the timbre of their voices. “Absolutely, Miss Dryburgh.”

“Well, I shall not sleep a wink. What if the walls collapse in on us? What if there are bugs or even snakes!” Miss Abigail declared.

“Then by all means, Abby, be unreasonable,” Miss Dryburgh asserted. “If you were reasonable, we would have ridden out of here hours ago. So, if you do not wish to accept his lordship’s protection, then walk down the mountain at your own risk.”

“It is not necessary to snipe,” the girl retorted in an obvious pout.

Surprisingly, Miss Tilney took her cousin’s side. “Yes, Annalee does. You pay no attention unless we snipe, Abby!”

Law felt as if he had stepped into an alternate world, one where men finally heard how women really spoke to each other. Mayhap the cave held some sort of magical power: He had believed so as a child, for it had protected him from the dragons and monsters outside the opening. 

Miss Dryburgh motioned Law to sit, and he was thankful for the lady’s kindness. “When you wander out for the firewood, your lordship, there is a basket under the coach’s seat. The bread is likely ruined, but the other items should still be edible.”

“More British practicality, Miss Dryburgh?” he responded in bemusement.

“Someone must make decisions for our American counterparts. We Brits possess the impeccable manners,” the woman taunted.

“So, we do, Miss Dryburgh.” Law began to silently count to ten, wondering how long it would be before one of the Tilney sisters reacted to their cousin’s assertion. He reached two.

“Annalee, we are not barbarians! We have culture also. America does not exist only as in the eleventh century with stampeding hordes!”

Miss Dryburgh laughed aloud. “I am well aware Lady Althea raised you, Cousin. There is no need to convince me of your affability.” The lady straightened her cloak. “And…by the way, Bella…you have forgotten the storm.”

Arabella Tilney held her fists on her hips but the length of a breath before she joined her cousin in laughter. Hers was a laugh Law thought the most perfect one he ever heard. It held the timbre of soft tinkling bells.

Turning in Law’s direction, Miss Tilney asked, “How might we be of assistance, your lordship?”

“I would not have you exposed to the elements, Miss Tilney. My coat is heavier and my gloves thicker.” Lawrence peered through the opening. “The rain is not relenting, but it shall soon be dark. I must go while I may still make out shapes. I will bring the supplies to the opening and hand them to you? If my idea is acceptable?”

Miss Dryburgh shared conspiratorially. “You discovered Arabella’s weakness, Lord Hellsman. My cousin lives to be of use to others.”

“There are worse vices, Miss Dryburgh.”

Law pulled up his coat’s collar. Then he squeezed through the opening and ran toward the carriage. He retrieved the basket from under the bench. There were two lap blankets stuffed behind the box; he quickly placed them under his coat and ran once again toward the cave.

“Here!” he called as he shoved the items into Miss Tilney’s waiting hands.

Immediately, he turned to where he tethered the horses. At least, under the trees’ thick canopy, the rain did not fall relentlessly. The thick foliage blocked the light, as well as the moisture. Law efficiently removed the saddle and blanket from Triton’s back and carried them to the cave. He dropped it in the opening, saying he would move it when he returned, but Law noticed as he reversed directions that Miss Tilney tugged the leather in from the rain.

After that, Law located as much dry wood from the nearby copse as he could muster. He found several broken limbs and some branches he could use for kindling. It took four trips to stock enough wood for them to maintain a fire during the night. Law knew his men would not come until the morning, and it would be his responsibility to protect the women until then. He found it exhilarating in many ways to fend for his needs. Occasionally, Law enjoyed being from the drawing room and in nature. He often made overnight hunting or fishing trips with some of the local gentry. As the future baron, Law felt the responsibility of maintaining a sense of society. Yet, having been raised essentially alone, always in training to replace his father, he appreciated the communion of a group of men enjoying sport.

“That should serve us,” he announced as he bent over to reenter the cave.

He placed the wood to one side of the opening. Forgetting about the low ceiling, Law banged his head when he instinctively straightened. In embarrassment, he laughed at his error. “Surprisingly, this cave’s roof descended since I was age ten.”

“It is perfectly tall enough for me, your lordship,” Miss Tilney taunted as she spread one of the two blankets he retrieved from the carriage onto the earthen floor.

Law studied the lady closely as the diminutive form moved freely about the dead end crevice in which they hadsought shelter. Miss Arabella Tilney was as busy as the mouse of which she reminded him. First the squeak and now darting everywhere. He shook his head in amusement.

Meanwhile, he turned his attention to removing his drenched greatcoat before claiming a seat close to the cave’s opening. “I will start a fire. We should place it near the opening. That will serve for circulation, keeping the heat in and the smoke out. Moreover, I think it important to deter any animal, which might also seek shelter from the elements.”

Abigail half whined as she sat bundled up against the back wall of the enclosure. “Is there no way we might leave here tonight?”

“In truth, Miss Abigail, I pray my men do not attempt to rescue us this evening. I want none of them to perish. The danger is eminent, and although we may be a bit uncomfortable, we shall not perish. However, the fire at the cave’s opening will serve as a signal if they do search against my orders.”

Law noticed how Miss Tilney and Miss Dryburgh busied themselves with preparing what food they had available, as well as a space the ladies might share overnight, while Miss Abigail offered no assistance. His scowl announced Law’s disapproval of those who would not assist themselves.

He used a small spade he kept attached to the saddle to dig a shallow pit; then, Law stacked the wood he had found, lacing the kindling between the logs. He removed the flint and a small tin tinderbox he stored in a bag he had brought just in case they met trouble. He struck the steel striker and the flint module against each other to create the sparks to light the tinder, which was the remnants of a linen rag scorched for this very purpose. The sparks ignited the tinder, and Law used the spunks to spread the fire to kindling wood he had discovered in the copse. Soon he had a small fire burning steadily. The heat radiated throughout the tiny enclosure, removing the damp chill and driving away the encroaching darkness. “That is better,” Law declared as he turned toward the women.

“Come join us, your lordship,” Miss Dryburgh gestured to the spread.

Law moved forward on hands and knees. “Thank you, Miss Dryburgh.”

“One end of the bread remained untouched. It appears you reached it in time, Lord Hellsman,” Miss Tilney revealed.

Lawrence reached for an apple, permitting the women to eat before he chose any of the scarce offerings the ladies had placed before him. He took a small bite to make the fruit last longer.

The fire’s muted light provided him a better awareness of the three women.

Abigail Tilney appeared the youngest, likely seventeen or eighteen years of age. She had a head of golden locks that reflected the dancing flames’ brilliance, as well as a long, slender neck. Miss Abigail was likely very lithe in stature based on his peek of her thin arms when the girl reached for the bread. She had yet to remove her cloak so he had no true idea of her figure.

Annalee Dryburgh’s full figure showed well in the gown she had chosen for the day trip. Her corseted-cinched waist made the woman appear small compared to her ample bust line and hips. Not plump, but judged against the excessively thin Miss Abigail, Miss Dryburgh would be termed well fed by the people filling the village outside his father’s estate. Her chestnut hair framed a heart shaped face.

Then his eyes rested on the elder of the Tilney sisters: Arabella. She possessed nondescript–dull, brown hair, which was very wavy, and small breasts. Extremely petite. And always moving. Foot tapping. Fingers drumming. Amorphous. Yet, for some reason, Law’s eyes remained on her.

“Might we know more of your family, your lordship?” Miss Dryburgh asked as she wrapped some bread about hard cheese.

Law’s gaze scanned all three women, but for a reason to which he could give no voice, his eyes lingered on the elder of the two Americans. “My home seat is Blake’s Run in Derbyshire, and I am the eldest son of Baron Blakehell, Niall Lowery. There are three sisters–Louisa, who is married to Ernest Hutton, Lord MacLauren; Marie, who recently married Viscount Sheffield; and, lastly, Delia, the Viscountess Duff. From them, I possess one nephew and two nieces. The youngest of the family is my brother Carter, upon whom the Prince Regent quite recently bestowed a baronetcy for Carter’s service during the war.”

“Two seats within one family? Quite unusual, my lord.”

“It is Miss Dryburgh, but my father is more than pleased to have both his sons holding a title. Sir Carter is renovating Huntingborne Abbey in Kent, under my father’s guidance. Actually, I believe my brother’s situation provides the baron new life; the baron thrives when he has the opportunity to instruct others in the way of the land.” Lawrence grinned knowingly. “The baron is a great one on duty and responsibility.”

“Pardon my curiosity,” Miss Tilney said with a frown marking her brow. “If your father is a baron, should you not be The Honourable Mr. Lowery rather than a lord?”

Law had answered the question many times in his life. “My father holds two baronies. One English law recognizes as his principal seat. He also holds a Scottish barony that is not recognized in the same manner, meaning it holds no seat in the House of Lords. Blakehell prefers that his son and heir possesses a distinction that other sons of barons do not hold. I have been presented as Hellsman since my birth. It is purely a courtesy title, but we Brits are notorious for changing our names to whatever we wish. As long as I leave my Christian name of Lawrence untouched, there are no laws to prevent my father from calling me by an ancient title.” He attempted to disguise the feeling of humiliation he had experienced when someone at school had first questioned his use of a courtesy title, which was customarily granted to the sons of dukes and marquesses and earls, but not to barons. It was the first time that he truly understood his father’s obsession to be be more than he was. Self-consciously, he took a small sip of the wine, which Miss Tilney had poured for him. “And what of you, ladies?” he asked to change the subject.

“We are touring some of the English countryside before we travel to London for the Season,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “This will be my second Season. Regrettably, we did not stay the entire Season last year because Grandmamma took ill. My cousins are being presented by our Aunt Sarah, the Marchioness of Fayarrd.”

“And you, Miss Tilney? What of you? Are you anxious for a London Season?” His tone took on a teasing tone.

* * *

Arabella studied the man who had literally carried her into their shelter. She thought it amusing in some ways. If his lordship had manhandled either Abby or Annalee as he had her, her relatives would have claimed a case of the vapors. But Bella knew hard work’s value and was accustomed to being around men. Even so, Lord Hellsman held a mystique, which made her a bit uncomfortable. Gentle and aristocratic, the gentleman exemplified the English aristocracy; yet, raw masculinity exuded from him. He made decisions based on reason and followed them through, and Bella found those qualities very appealing.

“Our mother, sir, was at one time a member of the court, but she left to the Americas with our father some two and twenty years prior. However, she always dreamed of sending her daughters to London to enjoy what she determined was real society.”

* * *

Finding himself wanting to speak only to her, he did something that he rarely did: Law offered her a tease. “You spoke of culture earlier, Miss Tilney. Is there no society in America?” She smiled at him, and Law felt something like desire shoot through him.

“The Appalachian Mountains possess their particular culture, but it is not society as you know it, Lord Hellsman.”

“The Appalachians?” he questioned, rolling the word around in his mouth. “I am not familiar with the area.”

“You are in error, your lordship,” Miss Tilney corrected. “They are the same mountain range the English celebrate in Scotland and Wales.”

Lawrence enjoyed being challenged. Miss Tilney’s audacity was quite beguiling.

“That is just your theory, Bella,” Miss Abigail asserted. “To think the mountains at home might be under the ocean and part of this land demonstrates your blue stocking education.” To draw Law’s attention to her, the girl lightly touched his arm. “I am certain his lordship does not wish to discuss geography with a mere female.”

Law casually shifted his weight to permit the lady’s hand to fall away. He was accustomed to young girls vying for his attention. Although his future was a simple barony, it was a very wealthy one, and society mamas and their daughters had made him their target long ago. “Far be it from me to correct you, Miss Abigail,” he said in dismissal, “but I find any mental challenge invigorating. Lamentably, any woman who chooses to be successful during the Season must temper her words. Many men prefer their potential wives to simply be an excellent household manager.”

“See, Bella, even his lordship agrees with me,” Miss Abigail preened. “You cannot be Papa’s hoyden if you expect to attract a husband.”

Miss Tilney shrugged her shoulders. “Who says I wish a husband? I would be content to return home and to take care of Papa’s house.”

“Of course, you wish a husband,” her sister corrected. “Mama would be horrified to have you return to America unmarried.”

“Papa insists I meet my obligations this Season,”

Miss Dryburgh also did not guard her words. “I possess two younger sisters who have yet to know a Come Out.”

The parallel world remained: Even his sisters never spoke so liberally before him. Mayhap the openness of the Americans led them all into an instant intimacy. The Tilneys exemplified the American spirit and the American primitiveness, especially Miss Tilney, but Lawrence thought he would not trade this moment in this cave for all the drawing rooms in England. It was freedom.

“Did you travel from Staffordshire?” He asked to temper the conversation while keeping it going.

“We came to Matlock with my parents,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “They traveled to Lincolnshire to share time with my paternal grandparents. My family thought the Misses Tilney might enjoy the Peak District after leaving western Virginia. We departed Hayfield this morning.”

And so, the conversation continued over the next ninety minutes. Law told them of the area, history of his estate, and a bit upon some of the other families in the area. Miss Dryburgh related like information regarding Staffordshire, and the Tilneys spoke of their lives, describing the land and the people. Ironically, Miss Abigail spoke of rolling hills and Southern manners and a genteel lifestyle at her mother’s feet, while Miss Tilney spoke of rugged mountains, poor tenants, and the use of slaves on the adjoining properties. A more diverse description of their home could not be had. It was as if the sisters had described two different lands. Yet, as he thought on it, little difference existed with what he knew of England. Poor tenants and rich landowners subsisted side by side on English estates.

Outside, the rain continued, and Law added more wood to the fire. He could not imagine women of the ton adapting so quickly to their surroundings. Although he suspected Miss Abigail would easily matriculate into the ways of the beau monde, her cousin’s and her sister’s censure managed to quail the girl’s constant complaining.

“I will sleep near the fire to assure it does not go out overnight,” Law announced as the time on his pocket watch indicated sleep might be possible. His clothes remained damp, and a chill ran up and down his spine. If alone, he would remove his boots and his waistcoat, but a gentleman would never think of doing so before a lady. Moreover, if he removed his boots, Law was not certain he could wrestle them on in the morning. The leather would likely shrink.

He permitted the women the blankets to use along with their cloaks, and they made a “group” bed near the enclosure’s back wall. Law used his saddle as a pillow and his damp greatcoat for a blanket. Miserable as he had ever remembered being, he forced himself to settle on the floor of the rock face.

“Your lordship,” a half sleepy voice he recognized as Arabella Tilney’s called out, “do you have a gun for protection?”

Law smiled at her practicality. “Aye, Miss Tilney. Several.”

“That is exceedingly fine, Lord Hellsman,” she said huskily. “So do I.”

Law did not answer. He just widened his smile as he closed his eyes to welcome sleep.

* * *

He did not know how long he had slept. Ten minutes or ten hours? But definitely not long enough. A sharp sound had come from behind him and to the left, and Law forced his eyes open to permit the fire’s light in. A squeak told him immediately who and a sharp crack of thunder told him what, as he scrambled to his knees to reach her. This new storm, was, obviously, more violent than the previous one.

Arabella Tilney huddled, like a broken animal, against the cave’s sidewall, shivering and proving incoherent. A quick glance behind told him neither Miss Dryburgh nor Miss Abigail had heard their traveling companion, and for a moment, Lawrence wondered if he should wake them. But Miss Tilney cringed and covered her head with her arms in a protective stance, and Law could do nothing less than to take her into his embrace. He draped an arm about her small form. On his knees before her, he gently surrounded her with his heat, hiding the woman’s face in his chest and pulling Miss Tilney to him. “Easy, Sweetling,” he whispered close to her ear. “I have you.” Another thunderclap and an accompanying lightning bolt sent her clawing at his shirt and whimpering. Again, he attempted to comfort her. “Come, Mouse.” Law rocked the lady in place, stroking her back and caressing her arms. “I will permit nothing to harm you.”

The woman clutched at him, attempting to, literally, crawl under his skin, seeking his body as her shield, Miss Tilney plastered herself to him. “Do not leave me,” she begged.

“Never,” he murmured, and he had meant it. Madness had claimed his reason. He held the woman in an intimate embrace, and if either of her relatives awoke and observed them, Law would be honor bound to offer for the lady; however, he could not release Miss Tilney. More than Arabella Tilney’s obvious distress, Law enjoyed the feel of her along his body: her heat mingling with his. It had been a long time since he had desired a woman the way he desired this one. The blood rushed to his groin. She fit. Fit as if she were made for him alone.

“Come, Mouse.” Law nuzzled behind her ear as he stood them up. “Come with me.” Bent over, he led the woman to his makeshift bed. “I will hold you until the storm passes.”

Miss Tilney came willingly, never doubting Law’s honorable treatment of her. She permitted him to ease her down beside him on the rock face and then to spoon her body with his. Beyond the opening, the storm raged on. Consequently, Arabella Tilney scooted her backside into him. Her back pasted to his chest. Her hips to his groin. If she noticed the hardened bulge, Miss Tilney lodged no objections. Instead, she wriggled closer, massaging his body with hers.

Law inched nearer to her, accepting the exquisite line of Miss Tilney’s form. He dropped an arm across her, holding the lady to him and stroking her hair from her cheek. When she wormed nearer, he permitted himself the pleasure of grinding his erection into her buttocks’ crevice. Alas, it did nothing to relieve his “itch” to possess the woman; the movement only stoked the flame, but he could not deny himself the pleasure of her body stoking his passion. Beyond normal reason, he wanted her more than any woman he had ever known.

Catching his shoulder and draping his body over hers, Miss Tilney rested her head on his outstretched arm. “Thank you,” she whispered as she closed her eyes.

“Any time, Mouse,” Law breathed as he lowered his head to hers. He found his breathing turning shallow. He had not lain with a woman for some time, but his instant attraction to this prosaic female made no sense. Arabella Tilney was definitely not his type. In fact, her cousin better fulfilled his usual attraction. Law preferred a woman whose breasts more than filled his palms and whose long legs wrapped easily about his body. Although he favored a local widow, Mrs. Winslow, when he required an evening of distraction, unlike other men of his rank, Law kept no mistress. Mayhap that was the source of his reaction to this woman: He needed to call on the widow. Need and release.

Yet, as the innocent Arabella Tilney finally went still and returned to sleep in his embrace, Law felt a complete peace sweep over him. Yes, his erection still screamed for completion, and, yes, his eyes examined her body in minute detail, but his heartbeat became steady, as if it knew the lady as its own. The thought of such lunacy caused Law to shiver from the unknown.

As if Miss Tilney understood, the woman caught the hand with which he pressed her to him and brought it to her lips. She kissed his fingertips before sighing deeply; yet, never once, did she open her eyes.

Law’s erection jerked again, and he leaned forward to kiss her temple lightly. “You are a corundum, Sweetling.”

Law knew himself deranged simply to lie beside the woman, as if taunting the others to catch them together, but he did not move away. His heart sang a song of familiarity. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of Miss Tilney. Sweet lavender covered him as he closed his eyes to welcome sleep.

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Regency Romance Series Month: A Touch of Emerald: The Conclusion of the Realm Series

All the 9 books of The REALM series are on sale in November for only $0.99 each. Grab the eBooks while you can. Find all my Regency titles HERE.

Although I disliked the idea of saying farewell to the characters from my Realm series [They had lived in my head for some four years.], writing the conclusion, A Touch of Emeraldwas a satisfying experience. In truth, I waited a bit after the book 7, A Touch of Honor came out before tackling this one. “Honor” had proven to be a difficult book to write—loaded with angst—and I required some time to rethink the ending of the series. 

First, you should know something of my process in writing. I, for example, keep a “History of…” file for each book. In this “History,” I list the the main characters of the book, including any descriptive phrases I used for easy reference later; a timeline, using a calendar from the specific year in which the book was written to check days of the week, etc.; a list of all characters, from those mentioned only once or twice to the pivotal characters that drive the story (again adding description if necessary), and a bulleted chapter-by-chapter of the main action of each. Obviously, for the Realm series, this “History of…” is quite lengthy. That being said, it was important to revisit this document to see what still needed to be resolved in this book. 

I also thought it important to portray a dose of real-life in the series: Not all marriages end in Happily Ever After. Book 8 is set nearly 15 years into the future from the action of Book 1, A Touch of Scandal. Life happens, and sometimes people do not recover from the “bumpy road” Fate sends them on. So it is with one of our dear couples. 

The hero of Book 8 is the boy we first met in A Touch of Scandal. Daniel Kerrington is the son of James Kerrington by Kerrington’s first wife, Elizabeth. He and his father speed quite a few years apart, and the boy does not really know much of his father until Kerrington marries Eleanor Fowler. We have seen glimpses of him as a boy and a young man, but, in this tale, we see him as a hero who will stand against all to protect the woman he loves.

That woman is Sonalí Fowler. Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, is her father. Her mother was from India, which means Sonalí is only “tolerated” by many in Society because her father is a duke. Although I never thought of her as anything but a character I developed throughout the series, Sonalí is for all essential purposes a  “person of color,” and being such proves difficult for her and for Daniel, the man who loves her. This is especially true when family object to their marriage.

Naturally, before the marriage can occur, a bit of drama must sneak into the tale. Shaheed Mir has come to retrieve the missing emerald himself, and Mir is ten times more cruel than Murhad Jamoot has proven to be. Be ready to see the worst of mankind.

The Realm is a specialized force serving the English Home Office during the Napoleonic Wars. The men of the Realm  are far from being without their flaws, but you love them even more for their fallibilities. You will also admire the strong-willed women who earn their hearts. The Realm returned to England to claim their titles and a bit of happiness, but a long-time enemy, Shaheed Mir, swears one of them stole a fist-size emerald, and the Baloch warlord means to have it back. The series is made of up…


A Touch of Scandal: Book 1 of the Realm Series (aka The Scandal of Lady Eleanor) [James Kerrington, Viscount Worthing, and Lady Eleanor Fowler’s story]ATOV eBook Cover

A Touch of Velvet: Book 2 of the Realm Series [Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, and Miss Velvet Aldridge’s story]

A Touch of Cashémere: Book 3 of the Realm Series [Marcus Wellston, the Earl of Berwick, and Miss Cashémere Aldridge’s story]ATOGraceCrop2

A Touch of Grace: Book 4 of the Realm Series [Gabriel Crowden, the Marquis of Godown, and Miss Grace Nelson’s story]

ATOMCrop3A Touch of Mercy: Book 5 of the Realm Series [Aidan Kimbolt, Viscount Lexford, and Miss Mercy Nelson’s story]ATOL4

A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the Realm Series [Sir Carter Lowery and Mrs. Lucinda Rightnour Warren’s story]

ATOHCrop2A Touch of Honor: Book 7 of the Realm Series [Baron John Swenton and Miss Lucinda Neville’s story]HAHS

His American Heartsong: A Companion Novel to the Realm Series [Lawrence Lowery, Lord Hellsman, and Miss Arabella Tilney’s story]

ATOE eBook Cover - Green TextA Touch of Emerald: The Conclusion to the Realm Series 
(Fiction/Historical; Historical Romance/Mystery/Adventure; Regency)

Four crazy Balochs. A Gypsy band. An Indian maiden. A cave with a maze of passages. A hero, not yet tested. And a missing emerald.

For nearly two decades, the Realm thwarted the efforts of all Shaheed Mir sent their way, but now the Baloch warlord is in England, and the tribal leader means to reclaim the fist-sized emerald he believes one of the Realm stole during their rescue of a girl upon whom Mir turned his men. Mir means to take his revenge on the Realm and the Indian girl’s child, Lady Sonalí Fowler.

Daniel Kerrington, Viscount Worthing, has loved Lady Sonalí since they were but children. Yet, when his father, the Earl of Linworth, objects to Sonalí’s bloodlines, Worthing thinks never to claim her. However, when danger arrives in the form of the Realm’s old enemy, Kerrington ignores all caution for the woman he loves.

Amazon   http://www.amazon.com/Touch-Emerald-Conclusion-Realm/dp/1516812069/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1441298408&sr=8-2&keywords=A+Touch+of+Emerald

Kindle    http://www.amazon.com/Touch-Emerald-Conclusion-Realm-ebook/dp/B014B6KG02/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1441298424&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Touch+of+Emerald

Kindle Unlimited  https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/hz/subscribe/ku?passThroughAsin=B014B6KG02&_encoding=UTF8&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

Book Bub https://www.bookbub.com/books/a-touch-of-emerald-the-conclusion-of-the-realm-series-by-regina-jeffers

Excerpt

Chapter One

London, May 1829

From beside the potted palm, Daniel Kerrington, Viscount Worthing, watched with his customary awareness as the girl’s suitors flocked to her side. Even from this distance, he could view how her face lit with delight from all the attentions she received as the Duke of Thornhill’s daughter.

“I understand Thornhill offered an outrageous dowry for the chit,” Daniel’s school acquaintance Olin Jansing murmured. “Makes a man wonder if the girl’s possesses some sort of malady the duke wishes her future husband to overlook.”

Lady Sonalí made her Come Out earlier in the Season, but Daniel avoided her until now because the Linworth household mourned for his grandfather, the previous earl.

“You mean beyond her dark complexion,” Charles Rivers, the future Baron Rivers, said in bemusement.

Daniel always found Rivers’ company less than appealing, but Jansing rarely went about Society without Charles Rivers at his side.

“I understand her mother was from India,” Rivers whispered sotto voce.
Daniel scowled his disapproval.

“There are many types of beauty, Rivers,” he said in a harsh chastisement. “The color of the lady’s skin does not make it less appealing to a man’s touch.”

He directed his next remarks to Jansing.

“I assure you the size of the girl’s dowry has more to do with the duke and duchess’s consequence than Lady Sonalí’s.”

“Sounds as if you know something we do not,” Rivers taunted.

Daniel offered the man a quelling glare. “As my mother is the duke’s sister, Thornhill remains my family.”

Daniel’s response was not the full truth. In fact, he was eight before he spent more than a few days with his father, who deserted Daniel when the then Viscount Worthing lost his first wife in childbirth. Although his father spent the last fifteen years attempting to erase his absence in Daniel’s life, Daniel was sore to admit his father’s initial rejection still stung. Things bettered when James Kerrington married Lady Eleanor Fowler, a woman who did not once criticize a boy starving for his father’s affections. Even though she bore the current Earl of Linworth other children, the Countess of Linworth treated Daniel as her son. His stepmother’s kindness had proven a balm to Daniel’s bruised soul.

Irritated with the company, he offered an abbreviated bow. “If you will excuse me, my parents arrived, and I should make my addresses known to Thornhill and his duchess.”

Daniel left the pair standing gapped mouth as he crossed the dance floor to intercept his father. He held little patience for most young men his age. His stepmother often said that Daniel was of her nature: an old soul in a young person’s body. Whenever Ella made such statements, Daniel’s father inevitably frowned.

On balance, the Earl of Linworth was but a couple years short of his fiftieth birthday, while Eleanor Kerrington was but four and thirty. In truth, Daniel thought his time upon the Continent as part of his father’s staff as an ambassador to first Spain and later to Germany provided Daniel a different perspective. He learned more of the world than many of his former university chums.

“There you are, darling,” his mother said as she encircled his arm with her gloved fingers. “I thought you would be on the dance floor.”

She was taller than many of the women of the ton, and Daniel celebrated the day he realized he was taller than she. Now, he stood four inches her superior.

“I was simply waiting for the beautiful Countess of Linworth before I made my official appearance,” he teased, bending to kiss the cheek his stepmother offered. Daniel appreciated how Ella always accepted his gestures of affection. “You will save me a dance, Ma’am?” he asked before winking at her.

His mother’s gaze narrowed. “Are you not previously engaged? I would think a future earl would be in high demand among the mamas seeking a fine match.”

Daniel grinned mischievously. “The very reason I prefer my mother’s skirt tails.”

His father’s lips held a staid smile. “Have you claimed a dance from Lady Sonalí tonight? The duke will expect you to make your bow.”

Although Daniel attempted to disguise the hitch in his breathing and the quickening of his pulse, he was certain Ella noted his apprehension. “I am not accustomed to vying for a young girl’s favor,” Daniel said baldly.

“Nonsense,” his father declared. “Sonalí is not just any girl. Thornhill is Ella’s brother and the duchess her cousin, and that is discounting the years the duke and I served together during the war.”

Ella interrupted her husband’s lecture. “Daniel knows his duty, Linworth. More than likely, neither Thornhill nor the duchess took note of Daniel’s absence from Sonalí’s suitors. Look at them, glorying in the deference sent their way. Just because we know their most personal secrets does not mean others of the aristocracy see them as anything less than a duke and duchess.” Eleanor patted his father’s arm to quell any of the earl’s objections. “Come along, Daniel. We will clear the way to the duke’s side.”

“Thank you,” he whispered as they crossed to where the duke and duchess stood upon the first step of a raised dais.

“Your father means well,” she said softly. “But so many years in public service has Linworth always questioning propriety.”

“I remember when Linworth ignored propriety at every turn,” Daniel said in harsh tones.

His mother smiled grimly. “So do I. With our history, your father’s attempts to censure often surprise me. I suspect Linworth is struggling in accepting his role as the earl. I believe, despite your grandfather’s declining health, Linworth always thought his father would live forever. Martin Kerrington’s passing speaks to your father’s mortality. Linworth is built for protection, and he will not accept aging gracefully.”

“I will consider your estimation,” Daniel dutifully said.

They took their place before her brother, and Daniel braced Ella in a curtsy of respect. “Duke. Duchess,” Daniel murmured as he bowed low. “Lady Sonalí.”

He refused to look at the girl for fear he could not withdraw his eyes afterwards. Daniel held no name for when his obsession with Sonalí Fowler began. He suspected it was upon that day long ago when his “Uncle Marcus,” the Earl of Berwick, another of the men who served with his father and Thornhill, taught Daniel and the girl to fish.

Berwick’s attentions upon that particular day were upon Cashémere Aldridge, the duchess’s sister and Sonalí’s aunt, and so the earl placed Sonalí’s hand into Daniel’s with instructions for Daniel to protect her. He considered Berwick’s words a solemn promise.

“Lord Worthing.” Daniel could hear the soft familiarity in her tone, and despite his best efforts, his eyes sought hers. In his opinion, Lady Sonalí was the most beautiful woman he ever beheld. Hair the color of midnight. Silky strains in which a man could lose his reason. A straight edged nose. Almond shaped chocolate eyes. Dark brows. Square chin. High cheek bones. Long black lashes resting upon her cheeks in a delightfully tempting manner. Delicately bronzed skin, which made Daniel’s fingers itch to touch her.

“Good to see you, boy,” the duke declared aristocratically. “Every day, you have more of the look of your father.”

Daniel knew those words an exaggeration. One of the reasons his father could not look upon the child he abandoned was because Daniel held his birth mother’s features. “It would be an honor to be cut from the same cloth as my father, sir.” Daniel chose his words with care.

“If you mean to claim Sonalí’s hand for a dance, I fear you are too late,” the duchess noted.

In many ways Daniel’s heart fought against the disappointment; in others, he rejoiced at not being in the girl’s presence without the barrier of their parents. He did not trust the power Lady Sonalí possessed over him.

“There is the supper waltz,” Lady Sonalí suggested. “That is, if Papa holds no objections.”

Daniel thought he detected a bit of hope in her tone, but he would not place bets on Lady Sonalí’s returning his regard. More likely, the girl did not wish to dance with her father a second time.

Daniel looked on as the duke’s eyebrow rose in characteristic assessment. “I suppose I could relinquish my daughter’s hand to another.”

“I would prefer your company, Thornhill, to that of Lord Sokoloft,” the duchess admitted.

“It is not as if Daniel is a stranger, Brantley,” Ella encouraged.

“I would not wish to deny the duke the honor of escorting his daughter through the supper waltz,” Daniel responded with appropriate politeness. “It is Lady Sonalí’s first Season and very much my fault in being tardy with paying my addresses.” Daniel did not know whether he wished to win or to lose this particular battle.

“Standing upon propriety is not necessary among relations,” Lady Sonalí reasoned. “I would be pleased for Lord Worthing’s company; we have long since spent time in conversation. And it is not as if the duke shuns his duty: Papa will escort me through the opening set.”

A silence fell among their party as they awaited Thornhill’s decision.

“I suspect you should claim my daughter’s hand, Worthing, while I remain amenable,” Thornhill pronounced in the duke’s customary pomp.

Too polite to protest, Daniel felt an internal shrug of destiny’s hand. How would it be to hold her in his arms throughout the set? “Thank you for the honor, Lady Sonalí.”

Daniel kept his eyes upon a spot just past her ear so as not to become lost in the pools of chocolate known as Lady Sonalí’s eyes.

“I imagine our Sonalí would prefer to spend her time with the young people, Thornhill,” Daniel’s father observed.

“I am but one and forty,” the duke declared righteously.

Daniel’s mother soothed the egos of her husband and her brother, a task Daniel witnessed Lady Eleanor do on more than one occasion.

“Both you and Linworth are young for men of your station, Brantley; even so, time marches on without our permission. In truth, it pleases me no longer to claim the status of a debutant in English Society. I find aging is quite delightful. I never tolerated the strictures of Society well.”

Linworth nudged Ella closer to his side. “That is because you and the duchess played foul with time. You two are more beautiful now than when the duke and I claimed your hands.”

Daniel would agree with his father regarding Eleanor, but he was not so certain time was kind to the Duchess of Thornhill. Lady Sonalí’s stepmother held the look of one who experimented with the ointments and compounds available to extend the softness of her skin. In Daniel’s opinion, the creams and salves did not enhance the duchess’s beauty; rather they made the woman appear pale and ghostlike, which was exceptional considering the Duchess of Thornhill was of darker tones and hair than was Lady Eleanor, who was a golden blonde.

Before the banter could begin again, Daniel made his excuses and exited toward the card room. He did not intend to play, but it was a good excuse not to tarry in Lady Sonalí Fowler’s presence. When the music began, he would ask several of the other ladies to dance in order to disguise the fact he only attended the Thornhill’s ball because it would be expected of him.

“If I pay my attentions only to one woman, it will set the gossips’ tongues wagging,” he reasoned privately.

Daniel paused outside the card room to glance to the dance floor filling with couples for the opening set. Quite of their own will, his eyes drifted to where Lady Sonalí stood up with Thornhill. Daniel’s breath came harder as he made himself look away.

“Dancing with a few ladies who cling to the wall and potted palms,” Daniel warned his foolish heart, “will provide the ladies recognition and me a means to pass the hours until I hold Lady Sonalí in my embrace.”

* * *

Daniel danced once with Miss Wilburn and once with Miss Blackstone, but other than those sets, he simply waited for the moment he would claim Lady Sonalí’s hand. The girl had yet to sit through a set, and Daniel watched her joy with each step and each compliment presented by the girl’s dance partners. Despite experiencing a bit of jealousy, he could not wipe the smile from his lips. Lady Sonalí was magnificent.

Once upon the plains in Spain, he saw a black butterfly, and the color of its wings had him thinking upon the inky shade of Lady Sonalí’s hair. He watched the butterfly as it flitted from flower to flower, and a peace claimed his heart. Daniel knew the same contentment now as his eyes traced her steps.

“You should be dancing, Worthing.” Daniel turned his head to observe the wry smile upon Sir Carter Lowery’s lips.

By routine, Daniel bowed. “I prefer to watch.”

The baronet nestled closer to Daniel’s shoulder where they might speak privately. “The duchess must be pleased. Her second ball of the Season is as great a crush as was Sonalí’s Come Out.”

Daniel’s eyes returned to the dance floor. “I lost the feeling in my toes,” he said as a distraction. “I did not move as quickly as I should when Lady Bond cleared the way for her three daughters.”

“The woman should simply accept a rich Cit. It is not so unfashionable to align one’s family with a wealthy man of trade as it once was. Her daughters are not likely to claim an aristocratic match.”

Daniel nodded his agreement. “Especially now that there are three out at the same time. The first has yet to know a proposal,” he remarked.

“You have the right of it.” The baronet’s gaze followed Daniel’s. “Lady Lowery and I mean to escort Sonalí and Simon to see Jerrold’s Black-Eyed Susan on Friday. Perhaps you would care to join us. We mean to see the play one more time before we retreat to Kent. I am certain Lady Sonalí would enjoy your company.”

Daniel fought the panic rising to his throat. Was he too obvious in his regard for the girl? “I doubt either the lady or Mr. Warren would approve of my interference in their plans.”

The baronet lowered his voice.

“Sonalí and Simon are merely friends. My wife’s ward is two years junior to the duke’s daughter and not a candidate for the girl’s hand. Simon must first finish his schooling and then an apprenticeship before he thinks of marrying.”

Daniel heard the slight squeak in his protest. “Do you think I hold an interest in Thornhill’s daughter?” He attempted to appear incredulous when in truth, Daniel felt nothing but humiliation at being found out.

Sir Carter drawled in sardonic appreciation. “You could do worse. Your family and hers would rejoice in the connection.” 

Daniel gazed at the baronet in baffled wonder. “Is this Linworth’s idea?”

Lowery had the grace to shake off Daniel’s question. “As it happens, I doubt Linworth placed your interest, but I am recognized for my keen eye. Yet, if you tell me I erred, I will keep my observations to myself.”

Daniel fought to maintain a calm countenance. “You are mistaken, Sir.”

The baronet studied Daniel speculatively, but at length, Sir Carter shrugged off his conjectures. “Very well. That being said, I pray you will join us for the play. It is a fine farce.”

“I will consider it, sir.” Daniel appreciated Lowery’s candor. “Now, if you will excuse me, I mean to claim Miss Poplin’s hand for the next set.”

* * *

At length, it was time for Daniel to escort Sonalí onto the dance floor.

“Lady Sonalí.” Daniel bowed to her and the group of young bucks attempting to entertain her with their witty banter. “I believe the next set is mine.”

“Certainly, my lord.” Sonalí placed her gloved fingers in his outstretched palm. “Please pardon me.” She nodded her exit to the others as Daniel wrapped her hand about his elbow.

“Thank you for agreeing to replace Papa for the supper dance,” she whispered.

Despite Daniel’s best efforts, a hint of amusement colored his tone. “You had no desire to dine with your father?”

Sonalí laughed lightly, a tinkling sound, which warmed Daniel’s heart. “Fah. I dine with the duke and duchess every evening.”

“And I was a convenient alternative?” Daniel prayed Sonalí would deny her manipulations.

Lady Sonalí’s chin rose in defiance, and her eyes met his. A flash of fire crossed her features. “I did not realize you would feel put upon. There was a time we were friends.”

Daniel said with a sad smile. “What date do you name for our friendship coming to an end?”

Daniel turned Sonalí so she nestled comfortably into his embrace. His fingers rested upon the small of her back, and he itched to permit his palm to slide over her hip and to nudge Sonalí closer. The music began, and they stepped into the pattern.

Although Daniel looked over Sonalí’s shoulder to study the other couples, he knew the exact moment when Sonalí’s regard settled upon his countenance. It was deuced annoying to feel her in every pore of his body.

“Explain to me why you quit writing to me,” Sonalí accused. “From the time you first traveled to the Continent with Linworth and Aunt Ella, we corresponded. Then suddenly, some two years past you no longer found me worthy of your recognition.”

Daniel earnestly analyzed her upturned face. “I did write.”

It was true. Despite the fact they held no understanding, he did write to Sonalí. Her father and his stepmother were brother and sister, and so no one ever questioned why an unmarried couple corresponded. Daniel wrote her long, detailed letters in which he described his days as his father’s assistant, adding particular gems of political intrigue of which he thought Sonalí would enjoy; yet, Daniel never posted them for in 1827, he returned to England with the hope of securing a promise from her, only to discover Sonalí keeping company with two naval officers. He later discovered the two men were the brother and a cousin of Lady Arlene Walker, one of Sonalí’s schoolgirl chums. When Daniel was once more in diplomatic service, he did all he could to forget her. 

“The posts from Germany are exceedingly undependable.” He spun Sonalí around a corner of the dance floor, adding a dipping counterclockwise turn, which he hoped would drive away her questions. Daniel always regretted his cowardice in the matter, but his heart could not bear her rejection. “Better to keep a private counsel than to know Sonalí’s rebuke,” he told his heart.

“I suppose what you say is possible.” Sonalí was silent for several minutes, and Daniel simply enjoyed the heat of her body along his front. She tipped her head to the side and studied him with care. “Then you still think fondly of me? I could not abide it, Worthing, if we were not of a like mind.”

“I doubt I could ever turn from you,” Daniel admitted. “We are as we always were, my lady.” He certainly wished for more, but Daniel knew he could not settle for less. Some day, they would both marry others, but Sonalí would always hold his regard.

* * *

Daniel chose seats where Sonalí might chat with several of her stepmother’s guests. If Daniel had his preferences, they would dine upon the terrace where a cool night breeze would require Sonalí to snuggle into his side for warmth. Unfortunately, they attempted conversation in a too stuffy and too loud dining hall.

Sonalí conversed with Miss Gandy. Daniel, far enough from the girl to ignore the chit’s insipid remarks, instead entertained himself by watching the rise and fall of Sonalí’s breasts. Lady Sonalí filled out nicely since Daniel last spent any significant time with her. He realized he should know regret at seizing the opportunity to fantasize upon what delights rested beneath Sonalí’s very fashionable gown, but his body and his mind held two different senses of honor.

The faint scent of an exotic fragrance filled his nostrils as his eyes feasted at the swell of her breasts above the silver lace trimming her gown. Her skin appeared soft to the touch. Smooth as if bronzed. Firm and luminous. Daniel found himself swallowing hard and fisting his hands to keep from reaching for her. He shrugged internally. His obsession was quite hopeless.

“You spent many years upon the Continent?” Miss Gandy asked with a flirtatious dip of her lashes.

Daniel thought how poor the girl’s efforts were for Miss Gandy was but a far off dot of light in the night sky while Sonalí was the sun, which warmed Daniel’s heart.

“Yes. Some six years as part of my father’s ambassadorial staff; however, I am pleased to return to England.”

“Lady Sonalí says you knew each other for years,” the girl pressed.

Daniel shot a glance to Sonalí, who was smiling mischievously. “I believe my lady was but five when I first took her acquaintance. Thornhill and my father are associates, and my mother is Lady Sonalí’s aunt.” Daniel winked at Sonalí and was rewarded by a flush of her sun-kissed skin. “When we were young, I taught Lady Sonalí to cast a line to fish and assisted her in gathering wild flowers to make a wreath for her head. At the time, my lady was quite into stories of princesses.”

“One of my most treasured memories,” she taunted, but Daniel heard the sincerity in her tone. “And as for you, my lord…” Sonalí pointed a finger at him in mock defiance. “You should know, my Lord Worthing, that I possess tales of your childhood, which you might find equally embarrassing.”

Daniel leaned back in his chair. “Do your worst, my lady. I fear you not.” He enjoyed this playful Sonalí more than he did the social debutant.

Sonalí’s smile lit up her features. “I warned you, my lord.”

Daniel wished with all his heart he were “her” lord. “What of your interest in the healing arts?” Sonalí accused.

“I hold an interest in many subjects, and I possess no shame in wishing to discover a potion to extend my grandfather’s life,” Daniel observed dryly. “My mother once held a similar hope to save her mother. Thankfully, Linworth and the countess always encouraged my varied studies. Those upon the Continent are not so strict regarding class lines as are the English.”

“I surrender. You speak with uncompromised intelligence and graciousness.” Sonalí bowed her head in a mocking taunt.

“I shall never be as accomplished as my Aunt Ella. I know you value the countess’s opinions above all others, and I fall short of knowing your respect.”

Daniel frowned deeply. “Perhaps not above all others, but I am fortunate to possess an intelligent mother and a father who permits his wife her due.”

Before Lady Sonalí could respond, a loud commotion drew their attention. An inebriated Charles Rivers swayed in place.

“I will speak to my father of the bloody debts! Now remove your hand from my person,” Rivers growled in a voice that brought the noisy supper hall to a silent tableau.

The man who caught Rivers’ arm glanced about the room to judge the scene the future baron created. Viscount Gilbert, a man twice Rivers’ age, brought himself up tall. “You have until week’s end,” Gilbert warned. “Then I will call upon your father.”

Gilbert released Rivers’ arm after giving it a hard shake. Daniel studied the scene with piqued interest as Gilbert turned to make his exit, but as the viscount came close to where Daniel and Sonalí sat at the table’s end, Rivers caught his empty glass in his fist and hurled it at the back of Gilbert’s head.

Daniel’s reflexes responded as he jumped up to deflect the glass with an outstretched hand.

“Demme you, Worthing!” Rivers declared as the glass flipped over, turning in the air above Gilbert’s head to crash against the wall.

The supper hall erupted in chaos as several of Thornhill’s servants subdued Rivers, while others rushed to Gilbert’s aid. Daniel turned immediately to Sonalí, who remained behind him throughout the short encounter, to discover her surprisingly pale for a woman of a darker complexion.

“Are you unwell?” Daniel asked anxiously as he knelt before her.

Tears filled Sonalí’s eyes as she opened her palm to display a cut across her upper wrist, just above her short gloves. Blood seeped from the wound.

“Bloody hell,” Daniel groaned as he caught the serviette from Sonalí’s lap to wrap it tightly about her arm. “Come with me,” he demanded as he assisted her to her feet.

With all the commotion, no one seemed to notice Daniel ushered Sonalí through the servants’ entrance. As the door closed behind him, he scooped Sonalí into his arms.

“I have you,” he said as soothingly as he could muster with his heart racing.

She held the cloth to her arm, and Sonalí leaned her head against his shoulder.

As Daniel was as familiar with Briar House as the Fowler family, he rushed along the narrow corridor before exiting at the hall’s end. Using his shoulder to open the door to the duke’s study, Daniel carried Sonalí to the leather covered chaise before placing her gently upon the loose pillows.

Kneeling beside her, Daniel caught Sonalí’s arm. The serviette displayed the wound’s continued bleeding.

“Permit me to examine the cut for glass.”

It bothered Daniel that Sonalí had yet to speak to him, but he had no time for questions.

“I am grieved,” Daniel said as he dabbed at the cut to wipe away the blood, “that my heroics brought this upon you.”

He could not look upon her. Sonalí’s tears would rip the soul from Daniel’s body.

His hands trembled as his finger traced the cut searching for shards of glass.

“We must clean the wound and stanch the flow of blood,” he assessed.

Daniel looked about the room for water. Finding an ewer, he filled a large tumbler with water and turned to look upon her. Sonalí kept her eyes averted from the wound, but they met his in open assessment.

“Please say you will forgive me,” Daniel pleaded; yet, before Sonalí could answer, he returned to her side.

He soaked his handkerchief in the water and gently dabbed at the cut, which was much deeper than Daniel first thought.

“Does Thornhill keep more handkerchiefs in his desk?”

“Top drawer on the right,” Sonalí whispered.

Daniel scrambled to find the duke’s monogrammed cloths. “I should summon a physician.” He rushed to Sonalí’s side to wrap the large square about her wrist. “Forgive me. I must tie this tight.” Daniel’s fingers were never so stiff, and he silently cursed his ineptitude.

“Daniel.” He lifted his eyes to meet hers. “Yes?” It was most inconvenient to feel his groin tighten, but that was the effect Sonalí’s closeness had on him.

“You were wonderfully masterful.” The fingers of Sonalí’s free hand brushed an errant curl from Daniel’s forehead, and his breath caught in Daniel’s chest.

Forcibly clearing his throat, he spoke in irony. “I brought tears to your eyes. I would not term such foolhardiness as masterful.”

“You prevented Lord Gilbert from knowing harm,” Sonalí argued.

“I would prefer the viscount injured than you,” Daniel admitted.

Her fingers brushed his cheek, and it was all Daniel could do to keep from catching her hand to plant a kiss upon her palm. “You were my knight.” Sonalí’s gaze ran over him in what appeared to be a possessive manner. If only, Daniel thought.

His mind whirled with possibilities. What would Sonalí do if he claimed her lips in a declaration of his devotion? Uncertainty flickered over her features. Did Sonalí anticipate his intentions? Her lips parted in expectation, and Daniel felt himself leaning closer. He was within inches of heaven when a heavy tread outside the study had Daniel scrambling to his feet.

“My lord?” Thornhill’s most trusted footman eyed where Sonalí rested upon the chaise.

“Ah, Murray,” Daniel said with more enthusiasm than he felt. “I am pleased you came. Lady Sonalí knew an injury during the supper hall’s melee. Would you fetch Thornhill and Lady Linworth? Lady Sonalí’s maid should also be summoned, as well as the duke’s personal physician.”

The footman’s eyebrow rose in curiosity, but he nodded his agreement before rushing off to do Daniel’s bidding.

“Permit me to apply more pressure. I believe the blood slowed.” Daniel returned to tending her wound.

Sonalí sat forward. “Murray has abominable timing.”

Sonalí’s breath warmed Daniel’s ear, but he did not turn his head. “It is for the best,” he said grudgingly.

“I suppose.” A bit of what sounded of disappointment laced Sonalí’s tone.

“Daniel?” his mother’s voice called from the hall. He shot a quick glance to Sonalí to make certain no tell tale signs of passion remained upon her countenance.

“In here!” Daniel knew Eleanor Kerrington would see to Sonalí’s wound, but he was sore to release Sonalí’s hand.

Within seconds Daniel’s mother knelt by his side. “Tell me what occurred.”

“The glass Rivers hurled at Gilbert broke against the wall behind Lady Sonalí. Somehow a fragment cut Sonalí’s arm,” Daniel explained.

His mother unwrapped the cloth to examine the wound. “Did you wash it?”

“Only with water.”

Ella lightly touched Daniel’s arm. “Ring for a servant to bring us warm water and some soap.” She smiled in appreciation at him. “You acted with foresight. I am proud of you.”

“I was no longer frightened once Daniel took control,” Sonalí noted.

His mother’s smile widened. Daniel had no doubt the countess knew of Daniel’s infatuation. Thankfully, Eleanor never questioned him on his behavior. “My son engenders protection. Daniel is very much his father in that respect.”

In truth, Daniel thought Ella modeled the behavior he practiced, but he did not argue with his stepmother. Instead, he rose to do as Ella bid. Daniel just reached for the cord when he heard Ella gasp. Spinning on his heels, his eyes followed his mother’s steady gaze. The patio door to Thornhill’s study stood ajar. A man with skin as darker than Sonalí’s stood in the shadows of the open door, and the countess pulled Sonalí to her feet and shoved the girl behind her. When Daniel meant to place himself between the women and the intruder, a flick of his mother’s wrist kept Daniel in place.

“What do you mean coming here on such a night?” Ella demanded frostily.

A wry smile graced the man’s lips. “It has been too long, my lady. I believe the last time we met we tussled over Lord Lexford’s body.” The stranger glanced about the room as if assessing the situation. “In case you wondered,” he continued in a mocking tone, “I have a scar marking where you shot me.”

Daniel knew immediately the man was the infamous Murhad Jamot, a man who once hunted each of the Realm members.

Ella’s chin rose in defiance. “You did not answer my question.”

The Baloch warrior shrugged away her challenge. “Let us call this a bit of goodwill upon the entrance into Society of Ashmita’s daughter.” The intruder’s gaze traveled over Sonalí’s body, and Daniel instinctively took several steps in the man’s direction before a slight shake of his mother’s head again stilled his supposed assault.

“The girl has the look of her mother,” Jamot announced.

“You knew my mother?” Sonalí pleaded.

Daniel understood. Despite his deep regard for Eleanor Kerrington, he wished often to speak of his real mother. Daniel rarely encountered any of Elizabeth Morris’s family, and he felt deprived of a part of his history because of it. He would not be whole until he knew more of his Morris ancestry.

“Aye, Child,” the man said wistfully. “Long before you were born.”

Ella edged Sonalí further behind her. “This is not a social call,” his stepmother declared. “State your business and be gone from this house.”

Dark eyebrows drew together in exasperation. “Tell Thornhill, Lowery, and Linworth I am no longer the threat. Mir has come in person for the emerald, and the peace of the past decade will be no more.”

“Shaheed Mir?” Ella paled, but no answer from the man was forthcoming.
As quickly as he appeared, the Baloch vanished into London’s darkness. 

ATOE eBook Cover - Green Text

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Regency Romance Series Month: A Touch of Honor: Book 7 in the REALM Series

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All the 9 books of The REALM series are on sale in November for only $0.99 each. Grab the eBooks while you can. Find all my Regency titles HERE.

What can I say about this book? I never planned it, but it has become one of my favorites in the Realm series. Originally, I planned four books.. The other three gentlemen of the Realm would possibly have their own novellas. However, as I added more depth to those minor characters, soon I had a full-fledge series.

The hero of A Touch of Honor is Lord Swenton (John Swenton), a baron living in Yorkshire. He joined the Realm after his father’s passing, under circumstances which become clearer as the novel progresses. He is the strong, quiet type who rarely smiles, so if one engenders the turning up of his lips, one has received a great gift. His mother deserted him and the previous baron. The former Lady Swenton lives on the Continent, where she is well known for her flamboyant ways and her love of art and artists. Swenton managed to reconnect with her when he became part of the Realm, but he never speaks of this woman he visits often as being his mother. Many think she could be his lover.

The book opens with Swenton planning to bring his mother’s body home to the family estate. He uses the opportunity to visit with Miss Satiné Aldridge, who he has assisted in the past. Swenton was among those who recovered the Misses Satiné and Cashémere Aldridge from a collapsed glass cone in book 3 of the series. Satiné had been kidnapped by a spurned courter of Cashémere. As the women are identical twins, the man did not realize he had taken the wrong girl. When he learns of his mistake, he attempts to rape Satiné as revenge on Cashémere. Satiné’s reputation is ruined, and so her uncle, Baron Ashton, escorts her to the Continent. He travels with her and sees Satiné settled in Italy before returning to England. We learn from Ashton how Satiné considers herself a “fallen” woman, so she acts as such. 

During the recovery mission, Swenton takes a liking to the girl. In reality, he is fooling himself, for all his former comrades have chosen to marry and find happiness, and he thinks it will be easy to give his heart to the the emotionally wounded Satiné, for he himself has known great sorrow in his life. He assumes she will accept his overtures and all will be well. [For those of you who have followed the series, you will recall I originally planned for Satiné to marry Aidan Kimbolt, Viscount Lexford, back in book 4. However, I found I did not much care for her character and did not feel she deserved one of my heroes.] 

In Italy, Swenton calls upon Satiné’s residence, where he encounters Miss Isolde Neville. This is the woman his solicitor has hired as Miss Satiné’s companion. John has made it his business to know something of Satiné’s life and to keep a connection to the woman he admires. Although they do not know each other personally, Miss Neville regularly corresponds with him regarding Satiné’s household. He thinks of offering Miss Aldridge his hand, but Satiné’s does not immediately receive him upon his arrival. She claims to be ill, but, in truth, she is recovering from a pregnancy. She fell in love with a prince, who wooed her, seduced her, and left her. John agrees to assist her. He says he will claim the child as his, but he arrived too late for the child to be his legitimate heir. They will marry, and he will provide for Satiné and the child. 

Satiné reluctantly agrees, but she is not satisfied with what appears to be her only choice in life. Her sisters have married a duke and an earl. Being a baroness would place her below them. Being a princess would establish her superiority. Secretly, she contacts the prince with news of the boy’s birth while setting sail with John for England. She arranges a “fake” wedding before they leave, and she postpones the consummation of their vows, over and over again.  Obsessed with her beauty and her figure, Satiné starves herself to remain thin. She consumes more laudanum than she should to ease the pain of her starvation. 

Meanwhile, John’s true attraction to Miss Neville grows. Isolde Neville is the only daughter of an Irish baron, who is part of the men attempting to bring the Elgin Marbles to England, Her father’s ship went down in a storm, and Isolde is on the Continent in hopes of finding leads to his survival of the disaster. She has taken the position as Miss Aldridge’s companion for enough money to continue her search.

Like John, Isolde proves true and loyal and honorable—a woman with scruples. She teaches John how to care for and how to tend the ailing Satiné. They become quite a force together until she learns of her father’s presence in a hospital in an English port. Only the need to see her father well can force this pair apart. [Just as a side note, I adored John and Isolde so much that they make a return visit in book 2 of my Twins’ Trilogy, The Earl Claims His Comfort, as Comfort Neville, the heroine of the tale, is Isolde’s cousin.]

Although his feelings for Isolde grow stronger each day, John is above all things, a man of honor. Even after learning something of Satiné’s treachery, he remains by Miss Aldridge’s side, for the world thinks them married. When the prince arrives on John’s doorstep to claim his child, the charade John has played begins to crumble. There are more twists and turns in this story than any of the others, and you will not be disappointed. 

And do not forget the Realm’s enemies. Murhad Jamoot is determined to find the emerald he believes one of the Realm has stolen. He has been thwarted at each turn, but as Swenton is the only member of the group left, Jamoot’s attempts become more desperate and more devious. 

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ATOH eBook Cover Concept.jpgA Touch of Honor: Book 7 of the Realm Series

For two years, BARON JOHN SWENTON has thought of little else other than making Satiné Aldridge his wife; so when he discovers her reputation in tatters, Swenton acts honorably: He puts forward a marriage of convenience that will save her from ruination and provide him the one woman he believes will bring joy to his life. However, the moment he utters his proposal, Swentons instincts scream he has made a mistake: Unfortunately, a man of honor makes the best of even the most terrible of situations.

MISS SATINE ALDRIDGE has fallen for a man she can never possess and has accepted a man she finds only mildly tolerable. What will she do to extricate herself from Baron Swentons life and claim the elusive Prince Henrí? Obviously, more than anyone would ever expect.

MISS ISOLDE NEVILLE has been hired to serve as Satiné Aldridges companion, but her loyalty rests purely with the ladys husband. With regret, she watches the baron struggle against the impossible situation in which Miss Aldridge has placed him, while her heart desires to claim the man as her own. Yet, Isolde is as honorable as the baron. She means to see him happy, even if that requires her to aid him in his quest to earn Miss Satiné’s affections.

The first fully original series from Austen pastiche author Jeffers is a knockout. Publishers Weekly

Sacrifice and honor, betrayal and redemption, all make for an exceptionally satisfying romance. A Touch of Honor is a mesmerizing story of extraordinary love realized against impossible odds. Collette Cameron, Award-Winning Author

Enjoy an Excerpt from Chapter 16…

The sound of a ruckus below interrupted her thoughts. Isolde rushed from her rooms to encounter the man over whom she had spent too many hours in daydreams. Lord Swenton carried his wife toward the lady’s quarters. Lady Swenton’s limp form announced the baroness had discovered a new supply of laudanum.

“My Goodness!” she rasped and then raced ahead of the baron to open the connecting doors. She jerked the counterpane free of the bed to permit him to deposit Lady Swenton upon the mattress. “What happened?” Isolde asked as she undressed her mistress.

“Did you know?” the baron asked in accusatory tones. He stood beside his wife’s bed, his hands fisting and unfisting, arms akimbo.

Isolde’s fingers released the clasp of the baroness’s necklace and turned her mistress to her stomach so she could unlace Lady Swenton’s gown. Out of breath, she asked testily, “Did I know what?”

Lord Swenton’s voice had turned cold. “When you convinced me to escort my mother’s remains to York, did you know Lady Swenton meant to remain in London to meet her lover? Or was it your purpose for me to encounter Prince Henrí tonight? You did say this evening would be a monumental event.”

Isolde’s fingers froze in their task. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” Her hands wildly brushed away his allegations. “I have been nothing but loyal to you. Other than Lord Morse, I am ignorant of a potential lover, and I have never heard of Prince Henrí.”

“What of a heated spat between your mistress and Lady Fiona?” he accused.

“Nothing!” Isolde said defiantly. “When I came to Miss Aldridge’s service, the baroness was some four months with child. She withdrew from her social engagements shortly after my taking the position. I never held the pleasure of an acquaintance with the former baroness.” With a huff of exasperation, Isolde returned to Lady Swenton’s unconscious state. “If you will pardon me, I must attend to your wife.” Despite her best efforts, a soft sob escaped. He had never spoken to her harshly.

Within a heartbeat, the baron had circled the bed and had caught her to him. He drove Isolde backward until her spine was pressed against the interior door and his hard body plastered her front. “Forgive me,” he whispered roughly against her temple. “I never meant to harm you. Please Isolde, I have acted a fool.”

Some dark, inexplicable passion rushed through her, and Isolde instinctively pressed her center to his manhood. The white fire of need ripped the breath from her chest, and she buried her face into the crook of his neck. “We should not…”

“Should not what?” His voice sounded as breathy as did hers. “Should not claim one moment of happiness?”

Isolde could not dismiss how aware she was of this man’s masculinity. “One moment would never be enough.” She could taste the salt upon his skin, and Isolde ran her tongue along the crease of his neck. A groan of desire rewarded her efforts.

A rush of silence followed before Lord Swenton placed his hands against the wall on either side of her head and lifted his body from hers. Immediately, she experienced the bleakness of his withdrawal. “Some way,” he rasped as he gently cuffed her cheek. “I mean to finish this. For now, please assist me with Lady Swenton. I cannot fathom what the future holds, but please know somehow my soul will find its way to you.”

After they had undressed Satiné, they tucked his baroness into her bed to sleep away the effects of the medicinal. Then by silent consent, he escorted Miss Neville into his sitting room to discuss what had happened earlier.

“Evidently, my wife has discovered someone within my household to keep her confidences,” he disclosed when he had seated Miss Neville across from him and had poured a small sherry for her and for him a well-deserved brandy.

No doubt Sally,” she asserted. “The girl has ambitions, but has not yet learned subtlety.”

Deep in thought, John nodded his agreement. “I will return the girl to Thornhill tomorrow. The duke has sent Mrs. Tailor and the boy ahead to Marwood Manor. I will see Sally returned to him.”

Miss Neville sat straighter. “Might you inform me of what occurred this evening?”

John closed his eyes to the shame racing to his heart. He dealt better with chaos when he could keep busy; this “rush” to wait endlessly vexed him greatly. “Lady Swenton could barely speak or move. If not for Lady Worthing’s assistance, the prince and much of the ton would have learned of Satiné’s dependency on laudanum. The only saving grace was my wife will likely not recall the appearance of Prince Henrí.”

“Is this prince Rupert’s father?” she asked quietly.

“In appearance, it would seem so. The boy has the countenance of the Prince of Rintoul. However, Prince Henrí claimed no previous knowledge of Rupert until he received an anonymous note announcing the child’s birth. He accused Lady Swenton of keeping secrets.” John recalled the familiar way the prince had spoken to Satiné, and fury rushed to his mind again.

“What does the prince mean to do?”

John attempted to place the tumult of his soul aside. “I have convinced Prince Henrí to call upon my household in a week. I did not think it wise for him to be seen entering Swenton Hall, but the prince made it clear he means to claim Rupert.”

“What will you do?” she whispered into the familiar silence that rested between them. John required these moments or he would run mad into the streets. The lady held no idea how important she had become to his sanity.

“What will I do?” he repeated. Every emotion within John rushed into the dark void of helplessness. “The question is what will my baroness do when her former lover and the father of her child makes an appearance on my threshold?”

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Regency Romance Series Month: A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the REALM Series

All the 9 books of The REALM series are on sale in November for only $0.99 each. Grab the eBooks while you can. Find all my Regency titles HERE.

Originally, I thought the Realm series would be three, mayhap four novels. I thought the books would cover the adventures of James Kerrington (book 1), Brantley Fowler (book 2), Marcus Wellston (book 3), and Gabriel Crowden (book 4). For the other three men of the REALM, I thought I would write novellas. All that changed as the series grew. Soon each of the gentlemen had his own story. 

In A Touch of Love, we meet Sir Carter Lowery, who is the second son of Baron Blakehell. Sir Carter is the youngest of the seven members of the Realm, but he is being groomed eventually to take over their particular unit of the Home Office. Sir Carter receives a baronetcy in book 1 when Sir Louis Levering emotionally attacks the Prince Regent and loses his position in Society. Carter’s back story shows a young man always attempting to prove himself worthy to his father, who favors the older brother, Lawrence Lowery. Lawrence and Carter are close, but his father Baron Blakehell offers Carter no encouragement. Fresh off the Waterloo battlefield, such was the reason Carter joined the Realm and why he is so driven. 

As a side note, Lawrence Lowery appears twice in this series. Early on in Book 3, he assisted his brother’s friends by escorting Viscount Averette, from the picture, providing time for the Realm to rescue Velvet Aldridge from a crazy Balock assassin. In this book six, he plays a supporting character to Sir Carter’s efforts to thwart a group of smugglers. Lawrence Lowery has his own book, His American Heartsong, which serves as a companion to the series. 

We first meet Lucinda Warren, the heroine of book 6, in book 2 of the series. Lucinda’s late husband, Matthew Warren, served with Brantley Fowler for a time, and Bran and Matthew had been school chums. When Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, encounters Lucinda at a museum showing, it thinks it would be wise to choose someone other than Miss Velvet Aldridge upon whom to spread his attentions. Lucinda is only a passing fancy for the duke, and nothing of importance happens between them, but something of note passes between her and Sir Carter at Lady Eleanor Fowler’s Come Out ball. It is something quite profound, but it takes the duke bringing the two back together to set Carter and Lucinda’s steps on the same path. 

Lucinda’s situation greatly deteriorates after her brief encounter with Fowler. She lives on her widow’s pension, but one day she returns home to find an abandoned child upon her doorstep. The boy is Jewish, and he has a note pinned to his clothes saying he is her late husband’s child, and Matthew Warren had been married to a Jewess on the Continent before he married Lucinda. The woman was not dead when Warren pronounced his vows to Lucinda. Moreover, Warren is a Jew himself — a Jew who had been raised up as a Protestant. If Lucinda was never married to Warren, she has no means of support, and so she calls upon Fowler for assistance. As Sir Carter is the one with the most knowledge and connections in the Realm, Fowler recruits his friend to assist Lucinda. Little do they know Matthew’s deception lies deeper than a bit of bigamy. Warren’s double life puts both Lucinda and Sir Carter in danger.

ATOL3.jpg A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the Realm Series

The REALM has returned to England to claim the titles they left behind. Each man holds to the fleeting dream of finally knowing love and home, but first he must face his old enemy Shaheed Mir, a Baloch warlord, who believes one of the group has stolen a fist-sized emerald. Mir will have the emeralds return or will exact his bloody revenge.. Aristotle Pennington has groomed

SIR CARTER LOWERY as his successor as the Realms leader, and Sir Carter has thought of little else for years. He has handcrafted his life, filled it with duties and responsibilities, and eventually, he will choose a marriage of convenience to bolster his career; yet, Lucinda Warren is a temptation he cannot resist. Every time he touches her, he recognizes his mistake because his desire for her is not easily quenched. To complicate matters, it was Mrs. Warrens father, Colonel Roderick Rightnour, whom Sir Carter replaced at the Battle of Waterloo, an action which had named Sir Carter a national hero and her father a failure as a military strategist.

LUCINDA WARRENs late husband has left her to tend to a child belonging to another woman and has drowned her in multiple scandals. Her only hope to discover the boys true parentage and to remove her name from the lips of the tons censors is Sir Carter Lowery, a man who causes her body to course with awareness, as if he had etched his name upon her soul. Cruel twists of Fate have thrown them together three times, and Lucinda prays to hold off her cry for completion long enough to deny her heart and to release Sir Carter to his future: A future to which she will never belong.

The first fully original series from Austen pastiche author Jeffers is a knockout.Publishers Weekly

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Enjoy this Excerpt from Chapter 2:

Lucinda wiped at the moisture accumulating on the inside of the thin windowpane. For nearly two months, she explored every resource at her disposal in determining what she might do to survive her nightmare.

“My efforts would prove more profitable if I could explain why I wished to know more of Mr. Warren’s service in Spain,” she grumbled under her breath. She wore several layers to keep warm. Coal cost more than Lucinda could afford, and she and the boy wore much of their respective wardrobes to ward off the chill and the dampness. Turning to the child, she announced, “The rain stopped. We should see to our errands and a bit of air while we might.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” The boy obediently retrieved his jacket. The garment was already too small for the lad. She wondered how she was to provide for the child. Lucinda knew she could always turn Simon over to the authorities, but the thought of the sensitive, frail boy in one of the orphanages fortified her resolve to find a means to save him. She considered swallowing her pride and begging her uncle for assistance, but Lucinda doubted the Earl of Charleton would take kindly to her asking for funds to raise a Jewish child belonging to her late husband. No, Lucinda would delay the rumor of ruin awaiting her on the earl’s steps for as long as she could.

Thirty minutes saw her approaching the small park she and the boy frequented when the weather permitted. Mrs. Peterman presented Simon with a small ball, and the boy enjoyed working it up and down a low hill with intricate footwork that Simon must have learned in his former home. Lucinda brushed off a bench with a handkerchief.

“You must stay where I may see you,” Lucinda cautioned. She always worried on how other children might treat the child. “I shall rest here while you enjoy yourself.”

Simon smiled largely. The boy’s spontaneity surprised her. He was usually so serious-faced. The gesture made him more childlike.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Lucinda watched him go. The well-worn ball twirling through the brown grass. There were days she cursed the boy’s appearance in her life, but she never cursed the child. It was no fault on Simon’s part for what had occurred. “Likely someone would discover Captain Warren’s perfidy before long,” she murmured. Lucinda took to thinking and speaking of her late husband as either “Mr.” or “Captain” Warren. It was her means to distance herself from everything for which Matthew Warren stood.

“Mrs. Warren?” Lucinda looked up to observe a freckled-faced young man standing before her. Hat in hand, he bowed awkwardly to her.

A familiar face. Lucinda laughed easily.

“Lieutenant Worsley? My goodness. To think we meet again after all these years.” She patted the bench beside her. “If you have a few moments, please join me.” After Matthew’s death and that of her father, Lucinda quickly came to the conclusion she had no true friends, only a string of acquaintances, who waltzed in and out of her life. The man standing before her was one such acquaintance.

“I would be honored, Ma’am.” With a blush of color on his cheeks, the young lieutenant sat stiffly on the other end of the bench. “I could not believe my eyes when I crossed the street and spotted you upon this very bench,” he said on a nervous exhalation.

The man was several years older than she, but his actions said otherwise. The former lieutenant was quite discomfited.

“How long have you been in London?” she asked in politeness.

“We only arrived this week.” Worsley nervously ran his finger along the line of his cravat.

Lucinda felt sorry for him. She did not know Lieutenant Worsley well, but she always noted how he stumbled over his words when he was in the presence of a woman. She assumed him quite naïve, but that was years prior. Should not the war have given the man more confidence?

“We?” she inquired. “With your family or your wife or betrothed perhaps?”

She could not erase the teasing tone from her words. Since coming to London, Lucinda knew very little company, and it was good to speak to an acquaintance with the easy of joined memories.

Worsley fingered his hat.

“Oh, no, Ma’am. I am not the one betrothed, but my sister made a fine match with Sir Robert O’Dell. Mother insisted we come up from Surrey to commission a trousseau for the nuptials. Mama seems to think I should take in some of the entertainments. She believes I require a wife to ease my way into Society.” Lucinda doubted a wife would cure the man’s bashfulness.  He swallowed deeply. “Is Captain Warren in London also? I would enjoy an evening with someone who speaks of all I we shared upon the Continent. It is sometimes difficult for others to accept honesty in my responses.”

Lucinda knew immediate regret. Perhaps, more than shyness plagued the man. Those who served suffered, even if they survived the devastation.

“I fear Captain Warren met his Maker a year before Waterloo. I am alone in the City. I only recently left behind my mourning weeds for Mr. Warren and for the colonel.” In hindsight, because of her late husband’s betrayal, she wished she never mourned Matthew’s passing.

“Your father also?” Worsley said in incredulity.

“Yes, at Waterloo.” Lucinda would not tell him how foolishly she responded when the French approached. Sometimes, she wondered if her father would have survived if she did not act so uncharacteristically.

They sat in companionable silence for several minutes before the lieutenant said, “You must pardon my familiarity, Ma’am, but I do not understand how you could be permitted to live without the guidance of a man.”

Lucinda knew many males would not approve of her actions.

“As you have said, Lieutenant Worsley, those who were not on the Continent cannot understand the conditions under which we lived. Even the women who followed the drum hold a different perspective of what is important in life. I fear an afternoon tea with companions speaking of frills and lace holds no attraction for me.”

“Are you one of those bluestockings?” Worsley snarled with displeasure. The man must learn to curb his tongue if he meant to find a wife. Where had the lieutenant’s timidity gone? Had it all been an act? Or was it she who erred? Her experience with men came from the confines of war. She had no means of knowing when to speak her mind and when to temper her words.

She said calmly, “I always was a reader, but I am far from advocating universal suffrage. Moreover, I must insist my life is my own concern.” Lucinda reached for her gloves.

The lieutenant stood quickly.

“Please forgive me, Ma’am. I spoke from turn.”

Lucinda noted the remorse upon the man’s countenance. “I am not annoyed with you, Lieutenant,” she said dutifully, although she was embarrassed to admit how she came to this moment.

Worsley’s Adam’s apple worked hard.

“I truly meant no disrespect, Mrs. Warren. England changed much in the decade I was away. I am often at sixes and sevens it seems.”

“As are we all,” she said compliantly.

He shuffled his feet in place.

“Would it be?” Tentativeness returned. “Would it be acceptable for me to call upon you while I am in London?”

Lucinda stood also.

“Your offer is greatly appreciated, Lieutenant, but we should each find a means to return to English society. It would be wrong of us to seek comfort in each other.” Her words sounded foolish, but Mr. Worsley nodded his agreement.

“You speak with reason, Mrs. Warren. The captain would be proud to call you his wife,” he declared.

Lucinda kept the scorn from her expression, but not totally from her tone.

“I am certain Captain Warren rewarded his wife with his devotion,” she said enigmatically. She spoke the truth: Mr. Warren devoted himself to his wife; the only exception was she was not that woman. She extended her hand to the lieutenant. “I wish you well, Mr. Worsley. Find your happiness and seize it tightly to you.”

A look of confusion crossed the man’s countenance He accepted her hand and bent to kiss her glove.

“I pray I know the happiness you did with Captain Warren, Ma’am.”

Lucinda withdrew her fingers from the man’s grasp. As a squire’s son, Mr. Worsley would do well among the genteel sect.

“I pray you know happiness beyond what you observed in my stead.”

* * *

Carter frowned as he read the missive. Much had happened since he saw his parents board The Northern Star. First, he led an operation, which confiscated a large supply of opium entering England: then he set about dismantling the vessel to search for clues to the whereabouts of Murhad Jamot, a known enemy of the Realm. Gabriel Crowden reported seeing Jamot aboard The Sea Spray when the Realm staged its take over, and although Carter initially declared his disbelief in the marquis’s account, he knew the Marquis of Godown would never say as such if it were not true.

Thinking on the marquis’s report brought Carter a moment of regret, and he prayed he did not permanently damage his relationship with Lord Godown. His actions were a great mistake. It all started when Carter fished Lady Godown from the water. The woman and the marquis’s elderly aunts had been taken prisoners; however, the marquise escaped. Godown’s wife attempted an impossible swim for shore in the icy waters off England’s coast. Thinking the lady was a cabin boy, Carter captured her and brought Lady Godown into his small boat. Realizing who she was, Carter turned the ship toward shore and where her husband awaited. Even so, as Carter carried Lady Godown to Crowden’s waiting arms, an unusual loneliness invaded Carter’s heart.

He lifted the marquise into his arms before light-footing his way from the small boat to the lower planking.

“You do that very well, Sir Carter,” Lady Godown murmured from where her head rested below his chin. “I imagine you are an excellent dancer.”

The woman’s words brought a smile to Carter’s lips. It felt a lifetime since he experienced the teasing tone of a handsome woman. He admitted, if only to himself, to enjoying the warmth of Lady Godown’s breath against the base of his neck. At the time, Carter wondered how it would feel to carry his own wife into his bedroom and to know the happiness the other of his unit had discovered. Without thinking, he kissed the soft fuzz at the crown of Lady Godown’s head.

“I will not fail you,” he whispered hoarsely as he climbed the irregular steps leading to the main docks. “In truth, I will prove myself an excellent partner. Promise you will save me a dance at the first ball of the Season.” A gnawing longing caught in his chest. Carter looked up from where his lips grazed Lady Godown’s hair to view Crowden’s approach.

Carter gave his head a mighty shake to drive the memory away.

“Almost as great an error as that fiasco at Waterloo,” he chastised. The missive he held in his hand would only add to the chaos of late. It was from his assistant at the Home Office: Rumors of “Shepherd’s” leaving his post sooner than expected spread quickly among Lord Sidmouth’s staff. Carter frowned. Unlike many of those not of the “inner circle,” he was well aware of Shepherd’s, whose real name was Aristotle Pennington, interest in the Marquis of Godown’s Aunt Bel: Rosabel Murdoch, the Dowager Duchess of Granville. Carter even held hopes that those in power might consider him for Pennington’s replacement. He wondered how Pennington’s leaving would affect the Realm. If Carter did not earn the post, he was not certain he wished to follow another’s orders.

“How would someone else know as much as Shepherd?” he murmured. “Shepherd possesses knowledge beyond the field. He defined the Realm’s role in the world.”

Carter stared out the window at the harbor. He had remained in Liverpool since before Twelfth Night, and he was exhausted by the tedium. It was odd: he was the youngest of their band, but it was he who assumed the duties of King and country. The remainder of his group sought relief in home and family, while he looked to his occupation to fill the long hours.

“Somehow, Kerrington, Fowler, and Wellston proved more successful than I,” he told the empty room. “I thought I had the right of it…”

The sound of the explosion sent Carter diving for protection. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. Splinters of wood flew past as he covered the back of his head with his hands. He landed face down on the dirt floor of the warehouse, which the Realm had procured as his headquarters while in Liverpool. A whish of hot air brushed his scalp.

“Sir Carter!” Symington Henderson called as he rushed into the room. Carter did not move, mentally checking each of his limbs for injury. The young man knelt beside him. “Sir Carter?” Henderson said anxiously. “Are you injured, Sir?”

Carter slowly lowered his hands and pushed upward to sit on his knees. His ears still rang from the impact, and the smell of heated smoke brought back images he worked hard to quelch. He retrieved his handkerchief to wipe his face and hands. Over his shoulder, a gaping hole loomed in the side of the building, which looked out upon the busy dock.

“I appear to be in one piece.” Carter’s voice trembled, and his breath came in short bursts. A crowd had gathered on the other side of the opening to peer into the small office.

Henderson supported Carter to his feet. He swatted away the dust on Carter’s shoulders.

“I sent agents to investigate,” Henderson assured.

Carter nodded his gratitude.

“Have them ask if anyone saw a stranger in the area.” His voice held more authority than he expected.

“I will see to everything, Sir.” Henderson began to gather the papers strewn about the room. “Perhaps you should call in at the Golden Apple and refresh your things,” Henderson suggested cautiously.

Carter raised an eyebrow in dissatisfaction.

“I do not require a nurse,” he said adamantly, but a small voice in his head said, But my mother’s presence would be soothing. Why is it, he thought, we wish our mother’s comfort when the world sends us its worst? He heard more than one soldier, while lying wounded upon the battlefield, calling out for his mother.

Henderson halted his efforts.

“But, Sir. You must feel the ticking clock,” he declared. “On balance, this is your third encounter with death in a little more than six weeks. You cannot think to remain invincible forever.”

* * *

Lucinda permitted the boy to choose two new books at the makeshift lending library. It was an expense she tolerated. Although but five years of age, Simon devoured books, and they had come to a routine of sorts: she read several chapters of a compelling adventure to the child at night, and the next day, the boy would reread the pages, sounding out the words he did not recognize immediately. Young Simon often carried the book to her and asked Lucinda to pronounce a difficult word. As foolish as it sounded, she believed the child memorized the passages.

She glanced down at the boy. He was an odd one–so mature and yet so innocent. Simon never questioned why someone deposited him upon her doorstep. He never complained about the pallet she made for him before the fire nor of the less than palpable meals she managed to place before him. Lucinda supposed the child’s good nature was the reason she tolerated Simon’s obsession with books. Books and the carved wooden horse, which was among the child’s belongings when she discovered him alone in the world.

Early on, Lucinda attempted to question the boy on what he could recall of his previous life, but whoever sent Simon to her schooled the child well. Lucinda would not even consider the possibility Simon held no memories of what came before: the child was too intelligent.

Lucinda set her key to the lock of the double rooms she let in the Peterman’s household, but the door stood ajar. Instantly, she was on alert. Lucinda knew, without a doubt, she had locked the door. She handed the two books she meant to return to the lending library to Simon to hold while she pulled the door closed and gave the lock a solid shake before releasing it.

“Stay here,” she whispered sternly to the boy, who went all wide-eyed. “If you hear anything unusual, run for assistance. Do you understand me?”

Simon nodded several times.

Lucinda swallowed hard and stood slowly. She caught the latch in her trembling hand and edged the door open. Through the narrow crack, she could see her few belongings strewn about the room. Her heart clutched in her chest. She wished she possessed some sort of weapon.

Glancing back to where the boy clung to the wall opposite, she mouthed, “Be prepared. I mean to check what is inside.” Simon appeared less frightened.

Slowly, she turned to face the slender slit. With the palm of her hand, she shoved hard against the flat surface, and the door swung wide to bang against the inside wall. Both she and the child jumped with the sound. Catching at her heart with her hand, Lucinda stepped into the dimly lit space.

Whoever had entered her rooms pulled the drapes closed to block the view from the buildings across the way. Lucinda edged forward, circling the room, her back to the wall. Carefully, she sidestepped over the blocks scattered upon the floor. Without turning her head from the room, she caught the heavy drape and carried it backward to permit the late afternoon sun to invade the space before tying it off with the ribbon she found discarded upon the floor.

She looked up to observe Simon clinging to the doorframe. Motioning the boy to remain in his place, Lucinda executed a more serious search. Even though she thought it foolish to do so, Lucinda knelt to peer beneath the bed. Next, she searched the wardrobe and behind the standing screen; finally, she moved through the small dressing room, which ran the width of her one large room.

Finding nothing unusual, other than the disarray, Lucinda released the pent up breath she did not realize she held.

“Simon, would you ask Mrs. Peterman to come to our rooms. We should speak to the constable.”

The boy’s voice wavered, but he agreed. When Simon disappeared into the house’s passageway, Lucinda scrambled to her secret hiding place. She quickly worked the board free under the small side table to retrieve her bag of coins. Peeking inside, she knew relief to find the coins still in the cloth bag.

The sound of approaching footsteps set her in motion. She would count the coins later, when the boy went to sleep. Shoving the bag into the small opening, she slid the board into place just as Simon burst through the open door, followed closely by Mrs. Peterman.

“Oh, my Girl,” the matron wailed as she clutched a handkerchief to her lips. “I never…” The landlady braced her stance by clasping the back of a chair.

Although still shaken, Lucinda’s ever practical self said, “I think it best we contact the authorities.”

Mrs. Peterman frowned dramatically.

“I am certain this is an anomaly; there is no reason to involve the constable.”

“Someone invaded my room,” Lucinda said in amazement. “A person climbed two flights of stairs, worked my lock free, and then shuffled through my belongings.” Lucinda’s voice rose quickly as her pulse throbbed in the veins of her neck.

The landlady glanced about the room to the disarray.

“Are you certain you locked the door?”

Lucinda swallowed her retort. Despite the disaster of the moment, the rooms were reasonably price.

“Ask the boy.” She kept her countenance expressionless. “He held my package while I secured the door.” Lucinda caught her personal wear from a pile on the floor and shoved the items into a now empty drawer. “Someone targeted my room,” she insisted.

Mrs. Peterman waved away Lucinda’s protest.

“I imagine whoever it was simply tried all the doors until he found one he could manipulate. I cannot say I am surprised. I warned Mr. Peterman we should lock the main door to the house at all times. There are so many men without occupations roaming the streets these days.”

Lucinda’s shoulders slanted defiantly.

“Then you mean to do nothing?”

The landlady pulled herself up to her full height.

“I mean to send Mr. Peterman to repair the door. Unless you lost a fortune, Mrs. Warren,” the woman said threateningly, “calling on the authorities would waste their valuable time and show poorly on my household. I shall not have word upon the street that I do not keep a secure establishment.”

Lucinda bit the inside of her jaw to keep from speaking out against the injustice. Instead she said, “If you will ask Mr. Peterman to a look about the place, I shall be satisfied.”

Mrs. Peterman smiled falsely.

“Naturally, my girl.” The landlady gestured to the clutter. “After you set the rooms aright, you and young Simon should join me for tea. I always enjoy your conversation.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Lucinda said respectfully. She thought she discovered a place where she and the boy could live out their middling lives. For all she knew, the culprits could easily be the Petermans, rather than an outsider. Lucinda reminded her foolish self never to trust anyone. She trusted her parents to arrange a comfortable marriage for her, and she trusted Matthew Warren to act the role of husband. She would learn her lessons well: No one would know her loyalty ever again.

* * *

The nightmare had returned, only this time with a twist. As always, the blood was everywhere, and the acrid smell filled Carter’s lungs. Screams of pain echoed in his ears, but the smoke parted, and the boy was there. His cheeks covered with mud, the youth cringed behind the fallen horse. The French had charged their position, and Carter knew real fear. He was not supposed to be at Waterloo; he had sold his commission to join the Realm some fifteen months prior, but when Wellesley personally asked for Carter’s assistance, Carter readily agreed.

“You men, form a line along the ridge!” he shouted above the noise of the cannons.

Although Carter no longer wore a military uniform, the voice of authority remained. British soldiers scrambled to do his bidding. Men limped and crawled to a defensive position with the hill at their backs. Whoever was these men’s commanding officer had made a strategic error: They were too exposed.

“Come with me,” he commanded as he reached for the lad, who did not move with the others.

The youth’s cinnamon-colored eyes were the most compelling ones Carter ever saw. “My father?” the boy’s voice squeaked.

Carter looked about him: Nothing but bodies and destruction everywhere. Why would any father permit his son to view the slaughter that was war? The French advanced with a flourish, and time was of an essence.

“Your father would expect you to live,” he said defiantly. Catching the lad by the arm, he dragged the youth along behind him. When they reached the line, Carter shoved the boy behind a tree. “Stay hidden!” he ordered. “I will come for you when this is over.” Without looking back, Carter strode away to oversee the rag-tag group of soldiers.

They were outnumbered five to one, but as the French broke into a run, Carter rallied the men.

“No hoity-toity Frenchie is to cross the line. Do you hear me? No Frenchies beyond this point. They are soft. They possess half the heart of an Englishman. Now do your duty. For King George and Country and for your loved ones in England! Do it now, or you will see your children speaking French!”

As the squares formed, Carter glanced to where he left the boy. A bit of the youth’s shirt showed behind the tree, and Carter wondered if either of them would survive the day.

“It was the last you saw of the boy,” Carter whispered in bitter regret. He had taken a bullet in the leg and was removed from the field at the battle’s end. What with the blood loss and the fever, he was weeks in recovery. When learning of Carter’s injury, Shepherd whisked Carter away to a safe house, where he had spent countless days and nights reliving each harrowing moment of the battle. By the time he walked away from the secret facility, Carter held no idea where to search for the youth.

Somehow, the unit of which he assumed command lost only five good Englishmen during the melee, while the French suffered over a hundred before sounding a retreat. Theirs was but a single skirmish in a chaotic campaign, but Wellesley proclaimed Carter a hero.

“Never felt the hero,” Carter grumbled as he swung his legs over the bed’s edge. “I failed the boy.”

Posted in book excerpts, books, British history, eBooks, excerpt, Georgian England, historical fiction, Living in the Regency, military, Realm series, Regency romance, romance, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Regency Romance Series Month: A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the REALM Series

Regency Romance Series Month: A Touch of Mercy, Book 5 of the REALM Series

 

ATOMCrop copy

Original Cover of A Touch of Mercy

All the 9 books of The REALM series are on sale in November for only $0.99 each. Grab the eBooks while you can. Find all my Regency titles HERE.

This was the book in which my friend Kim said, “You should have warned me about what was happening. I was in tears for hours afterwards.” 

The heroine of the book is Miss Mercy Nelson. She is the younger sister of Grace Nelson from book 4 (A Touch of Grace). Mercy has run away from her brother’s home because he brings several low-lifes in and permits them free reign of the household. Mercy and the maids hide together each evening to keep themselves safe from the drunken crew. She thinks to follow Grace, who has placed herself out in the world as governess, to London, but when she and her brother receive word Grace has died, Mercy has no choice, but to set out on her own. On the road, she meets Henry “Lucifer” Hill, the man of all work, to Aiden Kimbolt, Viscount Lexford, and Hill takes her to live at Lexford’s estate, even passing her off as Lexford’s half sister from an affair the viscount’s father had some years back. 

I originally thought to have Aiden Kimbolt marry Satiné Aldridge, the sister of Velvet Aldridge in book 2 (A Touch of Velvet) and twin to Cashémere Aldridge in book 3 (A Touch of Cashémere), but there was a problem. You see, by book 5, I could no longer tolerate Satiné’s ways. I know! I wrote her that way, but, after much consideration,  I thought Aiden deserved a better woman than Satiné. In book 3, he attempts to rescue Satiné from a kidnapper, but he is knocked unconscious and is slow to wake after a concussion. He has some memory loss, making Hill’s deception easier to swallow for the reader. The problem is Aiden becomes attracted to Mercy, but if she is his half-sister, as Mr. Hill has explained, then no romantic relationship can exist between them. 

As part of his back story, Kimbolt has returned from his duty to the Realm on the Continent because he is the new heir presumptive after his elder brother’s death. His father has sent for him to return home and to marry his brother’s widow, which would be a questionable marriage, for although the British accepted a marriage between first cousins, a marriage between a man and his brother’s widow could be voided. Poor Aiden does as his father asked, but it is with a heavy heart, for his brother’s widow was the one woman Aiden had thought to marry. He and Susan had been long time sweethearts. Their marriage is short-lived because new wife commits suicide. He assumes the role of viscount and the guardianship of his nephew (who is the eldest son of the eldest son), who could replace him as the viscount, but for one little “glitch” I toss into the mix. That you must learn on your own.

In this book, we find the Realm’s old enemy still at large. Murhad Jamoot breaks into Lexford’s home and sets fire to the house. Moreover, Jamoot is in cahoots with the man to whom Mercy’s brother means to marry her off. The man is a widower with a large family, for he has been married multiple times. He requires a young wife to take care of his house and his children. 

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A Touch of Mercy: Book 5 of the Realm Series

Members of the Realm have retuned to England to claim the titles they left behind. Each holds to the fleeting dream of finally knowing love, but first he must face his old enemy Shaheed Mir, a Baloch warlord, who believes one of the group has stolen a fist-sized emerald. Mir will have the emeralds return or will exact his bloody revenge.

A devastating injury has robbed AIDAN KIMBOLT, VISCOUNT LEXFORD, of part of his memory, but surely not of the reality that lovely Mercy Nelson is his fathers by-blow. Aidan is intrigued by his sistersvivacity and how easily she ushers life into Lexington Arms, a house plagued by Deaths secretssecrets of his wifes ghost, of his brothers untimely passing, and of his parentsmarriage: Secrets Aidan must banish completely to know happiness.

Fate has delivered MERCY NELSON to Lord Lexfords door, where she quickly discovers appearances are deceiving. Not only does Mercy practice a bit of her own duplicity, so do all within Lexington Arms. Yet, dangerous intrigue cannot squash the burgeoning passion consuming her and Viscount Lexford, as the boundaries of their relationship are sorely tested. How can they find true love if they must begin a life peppered with lies?

Kindle   https://www.amazon.com/Touch-Mercy-Book-Realm-ebook/dp/B00CRS8780/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 2 when Mr. Hill finds Mercy upon the road.

From an interested distance, Lucifer had observed the viscount’s pursuit of one female after another, but none could absolve Lord Lexford from his guilt. Hill had served the viscount since their time together on the Continent, and he suspected he knew more of Aidan Kimbolt than had the viscount’s late father.

Lord Lexford had saved Henry Hill from a torturous end. Hill and a dozen other British soldiers had found themselves prisoners behind enemy lines. He always thought he could have escaped upon his own, but Lucifer could not have left his fellow Englishmen behind. When the day of their deaths arrived, he had made his peace with God and with his decision to stay. But much to his relief, Lord Lexford had come charging into the camp, followed by James Kerrington and Marcus Wellston. Three Englishmen who could fight like twenty good men, and despite his complete exhaustion, Lucifer had taken up the cause. Within minutes, the four of them had stood triumphant. It was a proud moment: One to be savored by a man, who had not known the glow inside his gut from such exquisite glory before that time.

The incident had given Lucifer a ‘hunger’ to be a better person. To return to his letters and to learn from these heroes. At the time, he had pledged his allegiance to Viscount Lexford, just the Honorable Mr. Kimbolt, at the time. He had given his word he would serve Lord Lexford for a period of ten years. He had done so out of gratitude, but his were not all altruistic reasons. Lucifer had wanted to associate with men of the caliber of those who had proved to be his rescuers. To hitch his stars with such greatness. That choice had been made some seven years prior, and although he knew his lordship would release him from his vow, as easily as had the British government, Lucifer refused to break his promise. However, the thought of the happiness he could know if he could make Hannah his wife certainly tempted him to beg for his independence.

“Cannot leave His Lordship’s service until I see the man well settled. Especially now that his missus’s memory haunts him,” Lucifer reasoned aloud. “The problem lies in the means by which his lordship seeks a replacement for the former viscountess. In his misplaced guilt, the viscount looks only upon women, who favor the late Lady Lexford. In Hill’s opinion, his lordship required a miss who is Lady Lexford’s opposite. Lord Lexford should not wallow in his memories. He should place Lady Lexford firmly in the past. The lady was never a true wife to the man.

Hill flicked the reins across the horses’ backs. The rain had greatly delayed his return to Lexington Arms, and irritation hunched his shoulders in the manner, which only Hannah’s soft touch could cure. “It will be a long time before I will see my sweet gel again,” he warned his wayward heart. As they had done for the last few hours, his musings might have continued along the same lines, but a bizarre sight caught Hill’s attention. “What in Heavens’ name?” he exclaimed as he pulled up on the reins.

Sitting on a stile was a gargoyle-like figure. Some four feet in height, whatever it was, it did not move. Having experienced more than one ambush during his years with Lord Lexford and the Realm, Hill proceeded slowly. He reached for his gun before crawling down carefully from the bench seat. Cautiously, he edged closer to the figure for a better look.

“Easy, Boy,” he cooed as his hand caressed the horse’s rump. Stepping heavily into the thick mud, he steadied his stance by tugging on the harness.

Finally, he stood before the gray-clad apparition. Despite the icy rain now dripping from his hat and down his back, Hill smiled. “Are you not an intriguing sight?” he said with fascination. “I thought you were a witch or a medieval bear come to life.”

“Neither,” the girl said through chattering teeth.

“I can see you are a wood sprite instead,” he said with a chuckle.

The girl pulled her wet cloak closer. “I require no pretty words from the likes of you,” she boldly declared. She stepped from the stile to stand in a mud-filled puddle. Lucifer noted the wear of her boots. They had many miles on them. “If you will excuse me…” She picked up a small bag and took several steps in the opposite direction of his.

“Where are you traveling, gel?” Hill called to her retreating form.

“It is none of your concerns, sir,” she said smartly.

Lucifer enjoyed her sass. “I thought perhaps you might require a ride.” He waited until the count of three to determine if she would accept. The viscount was always telling him not to rush a woman’s decision. The fairer sex prefers to weigh all their options before deciding what is best. We men are the impulsive ones, Lord Lexford had said on more than one occasion.

She paused, but did not turn around. “What is your destination?”

Hill remained where she had left him. “I mean to finish my journey to Lexington Arms in Cheshire. I am to prepare the manor for the master’s return.”

~~~

Mercy caught her breath. She knew of Lexington Arms. It was the seat of Viscount Lexford. Upon Grace’s return to Foresthill Hall, Mercy and her sister had spent a delightful afternoon discussing Grace’s brief encounter with the viscount, his associates, and even the Prince Regent. Afterwards, Mercy had searched Debrett’s for each of the men Grace had mentioned.

“The Prince Regent actually came to the table and spoke to everyone?” Mercy’s mouth had stood agape in amazement. At first, she could not believe her sister’s tale.

Grace chuckled in that self-deprecating manner her sister wielded to defend off the least bit of praise. “Obviously, our monarch held no interest in me,” Grace had asserted. 

“There were several very beautiful women at the table and more nobility than should be permitted in one place. Ignoring the Dowager Duchess of Norfield, who is a beauty even in her advanced years, and Viscountess Averette, Prince George’s eye fell heavy on Miss Aldridge. The lady resembles her younger sister, Miss Cashémere, who outshone many of higher titles. They are both very dark of color and strikingly elegant. And there was Lady Eleanor Kerrington, who had won the praise of the Queen during Lady Eleanor’s Presentation. She and Lord Worthing have only recently married. Lady Worthing is the Duke of Thornhill’s sister. She is tall and majestic. I can assure you I faded into the tapestry; yet, it was a moment only few can claim.”

Mercy had sat spellbound. Living at Foresthill, she had held no hopes of having the acquaintance of any of the nobility. “And what of the men?” she had asked in curious delight. “Were they exceedingly handsome?”

Her sister’s eyes had glazed over in quiet contemplation. Finally, Grace continued, “The men in our party, other than Viscount Averette, who has grown a good-sized paunch since last you saw him, included several from the aristocracy, who served together during the war and beyond.” Her sister had taken great satisfaction in ticking off the names upon her fingers. “Lord Worthing, who is the heir to the Linworth title, led the group when they served abroad. He is magnificently tall and lean. He possesses the most mesmerizing steel gray eyes I have ever encountered and a strong jaw, which speaks of his ancestral lines. The Duke of Thornhill is shorter than Lord Worthing, but he is equally muscular in build. He has light brown hair, which he wears a bit too long to be fashionable and dark brown eyes. It is my understanding from my time with the Averettes that the Duke has recently married his cousin Miss Aldridge. The bachelors included Sir Carter Lowery, a newly minted baronet and a very affable young man; Lord Yardley, an earl from Northumberland, who is stoical and serious minded, but who I suspect holds very deep emotions; the Marquis of Godown, who is sinfully handsome, and Viscount Lexford from Cheshire, who is sandy blond of head and boyishly handsome.”

Mercy smiled knowingly. If she traveled to Lexington Arms with this stranger, she would have the acquaintance of the viscount, and, perhaps, several of his associates. It could be a means to honor her sister’s memory. Grace had been a governess, but she had dined with the Prince. Could not Mercy assume a position under the viscount’s roof and come to know those of the peerage? She turned slowly to best judge the man who offered her an adventure.

~~~

Lucifer had remained perfectly still so as not to frighten the girl. To allow the truth of his words to take root. “His lordship and I served together during the war. Now, I am his man of all means.” The girl nodded her understanding. Hill’s instincts told him she was a runaway. She was miserably cold, but she refused to acknowledge her desolation. Lucifer could not resist admiring the woman’s defiance. It spoke well of her character. “If you require employment, I imagine there is a place on his lordship’s staff. That

is if you are willing to put in a fair day’s work. I am not offering you charity.”

He noted the pleased smile, which graced the girl’s lips. Her hood had slipped from her head, and with the icy crystals mixing with the red gold of her hair, the woman reminded him of a snow princess he had once seen in a painting in a Viennese art museum.

“Why would you offer a complete stranger a position in your master’s household?” Her cultured tongue told Lucifer the girl was no country miss. The woman before him was a genteel lady. That particular fact only solidified Hill’s resolve to escort her to Cheshire. He would not leave any woman to suffer as he suspected this one had. He would do the correct thing, the only thing.

“Years prior, the viscount saved me from Death’s claws. He is a good man, and he would expect me to extend his benevolence to you.” He smiled easily. “If you pardon my saying so, Miss, you appear to have come upon hard times.”

“Be there children at his lordship’s home?” she asked tentatively. “My sister was a governess. I had thought to find a similar position.”

Lucifer gave a slight shake of his head. He thought of the child Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes had whisked away from a distraught Lord Lexford. Lucifer had always thought if his lordship had poured his love onto the babe that the viscount would have found peace by now. He took a half step in the girl’s direction.

“I fear not, but we can find you some other form of employment. At least, come with me to Cheshire. Spend several days with us. Recover your strength. Fortify your will to travel on.” The girl swayed in place, but Lucifer did not reach for her. She might think he meant her harm.

“I worked at an inn recently,” she protested weakly.

“For how long?” he coaxed.

Her eyes closed as if she was silently counting. “Five days.” She paused awkwardly. “The Pawleys fed me and gave me a warm place to sleep.”

He wondered if he might have to resort to kidnapping the girl. She possessed no skills to survive a winter on the road, and Lucifer meant to see her well. “Five days of charity proves the Pawleys worth knowing, but five days after how many weeks?”

The girl snarled her nose in remembrance. “Perhaps six.”

Lucifer edged closer in anticipation of seizing the girl. “Would you not wish for more days of warmth and nourishment? I can promise you Mrs. Osborne makes the finest lemon tarts in all England.”

The girl looked over her shoulder to the road behind her. “But Cheshire is the way I came. I cannot retrace my steps.”

Lucifer dug into his pocket to retrieve his purse. Fishing several coins from the leather pouch, he extended them toward the girl. “Come to work at Lexington Arms. Stay, at least, through Twelfth Night, and if you do not care for the place, use these coins to purchase your passage to London or wherever else you wish to go.”

“Why?” she asked skeptically. “Why do you insist on offering your assistance?” She looked off across the empty fields. “The last people I trusted stole all my money, as well as my mother’s locket. I have nothing of value remaining.”

“I want nothing from you, gel. I have me a beautiful angel, who claims to love the likes of me. And I have a comfortable home and a generous employer. For a man who has not always walked on Heaven’s path, I hold many blessings. I think it is time I become the Good Samaritan.” He extended his hand to her. “Come, Girl,” he encouraged. “You require what I offer.”

Although the rain had lessened, moisture dripped across her cheeks from her eyes’ corners. “Are you certain the viscount will not object?”

Lucifer breathed easier: He would win this battle. With an ironic chuckle, he said, “His lordship will likely not realize you were not always part of his staff.” Thoughts of the injury, which had robbed Lord Lexford of his memory, were never far from Hill’s mind.

He meant to see the viscount well again.

He caught her elbow and directed the girl toward the flat bed wagon he drove. Lucifer knew better than to give her time to change her mind. The girl had required a bit of encouragement and a good dose of coercion.

“It might be best if you sit in the back,” he suggested. “You can place the blankets about you. It won’t be much drier, but perhaps a bit warmer. I will set your bag under the seat.” He pressed the coins into her gloved hand as he lifted the girl to the wagon. “Sit back,” he ordered as he gathered the damp blankets he had stashed in a wooden crate beneath the bench and tucked them about her. “We still have a piece to go so stay as dry as possible.”

The girl nodded her gratitude. “May I…may I know the name of my benefactor?” She openly shivered from the cold.

“Name is Mr. Hill. Henry Hill, but most people call me Lucifer.”

She smiled at him, a smile that uncurled from her heart, and Hill thought she might be one of the prettiest girls of his acquaintance. The smile changed her face completely.

“Lucifer? As in the Devil?”

“My mother once remarked that I be devilishly large for my age,” he said with a shrug. “The description stuck. I have been Lucifer ever since.”

Through lips trembling from the cold, she said, “I am Mer…I am Mary,” she stammered. Lucifer heard untruths in her tone. “Mary…Mary Purefoy.”

Obviously, she wanted no one to know her true identity, a fact which confirmed Lucifer’s assumption of her being a runaway.

“You should rest, Miss. We will be in Cheshire soon. When we reach Lexington Arms, we will test your skills in making a proper bed for yourself.” Leaving her to snuggle deeper into the blankets, Lucifer climbed onto the bench seat. With a cluck of his tongue and a flick of his wrist, he set the team in motion.

Purposely, he did turn his head again to look at her. He suspected the girl would watch him warily until she recognized he meant her no harm. Instead, Lucifer concentrated on maneuvering the wagon along the rough road, as well as the problem of what to do with the girl he had just rescued.

After some twenty minutes of pure silence, he secreted a glance in the girl’s direction. Finding her curled in a tight ball and fast asleep, he chuckled. The girl’s countenance spoke of her exhaustion. He knew what it meant to be hungry. Knew also of the hopelessness of those who traversed English roads in the wake of what some were calling the “year without summer.” As an innocent, less scrupulous travelers had robbed the girl of her few belongings, but she had not high tailed it back to where she had come. The girl had spirit. Her actions spoke of both her desperation and her determination. Those qualities had increased Hill’s respect for his passenger.

Yet, he worried for her safety. Despite her earlier encounter with disaster, Miss Purefoy had accepted his tale after only minor encouragement. Her bravado aside, the girl had not learned her lesson; and his leaving her to her own devices would have been a mistake. She had trusted him not to defile her. Although not born to the role, Lucifer considered himself a gentleman, but most traveling English roads these days would not come close to that description. Before she reached London, some man would have the girl’s virginity by seduction or by force. Even now, she slept soundly in a steady rain in a rocking wagon. If not for his honor, he could claim the girl before she could put up a fight.

“The aristocracy,” he murmured in amusement. “The so-called ruling class.”

Until he had met the members of the Realm, Hill had always disparaged the ignorance he had found among those of rank, but he quickly discovered Lord Lexford’s acquaintances were the exceptions to the rule. He turned his head to study the girl more closely. She was nothing like the women his lordship usually chose; yet, even on such a short acquaintance, Lucifer had hatched a plan of sorts. “

Lord Lexford has always preferred his women dark of hair and soft of nature. Exactly like Miss Satiné and Lady Susan,” he thought aloud. “However, I think Lord Lexford requires a snow princess. A fiery blonde wood sprite instead of a dark fairy. One full of innocence and a bit of sauciness.” Lucifer smiled with the possibilities. “If Lord Lexford could discover happiness, then I would have no worries for my honor, and mayhap the viscount would hold no objections to my claiming my own contentment.”

Lucifer reached under the seat to retrieve the girl’s small bag. “Let me view what you think to be important in your life, Miss Purefoy.”

He glanced again to where the girl’s head rested on a half-full seed sack. Removing his glove to lift the bag’s latch, Lucifer dug his right hand into the contents. His fingers traced their way through layers of silk and wool. Finally, he touched upon a stack of papers, and he closed his fist about the pages. Using his coat to shield the paper from the peppering rain, Lucifer lifted them high enough to where he might read them without removing his eyes from the road.

“Letters,” he said under his breath. “With the directions to Mercy Nelson of Foresthill Hall in Lancashire.”

Before the girl could discover his deviousness, Lucifer returned the pages to her bag and replaced the satchel under the seat.

“Mercy Nelson,” he whispered, rolling the name about his tongue. “Mercy. A much better name for a genteel lady than Mary Purefoy.” He chuckled with his next thoughts. “And exactly what his lordship requires,” Hill said with assurance. “A touch of mercy.”

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