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) and Gabriel Crowden (book 4). For the other four men of the Realm, I thought I would write novellas. All that changed as the series grew. Soon each of the gentlemen had their own stories.
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 the Aldridge sisters’ uncle, 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 they were school chums. When Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, encounters Lucinda at a museum showing, it thinks it would be wise to choose another 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 that sets 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 that he is her late husband’s child, and that 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 that 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 that Matthew’s deception lies deeper than a bit of bigamy. Warren’s double life puts both Lucinda and Sir Carter in danger.
A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the Realm Series
[historical fiction; Regency romance; adventure; romantic suspense; mystery]
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 emerald’s return or will exact his bloody revenge.. Aristotle Pennington has groomed
SIR CARTER LOWERY as his successor as the Realm’s 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. Warren’s 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 WARREN’s 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 boy’s true parentage and to remove her name from the lips of the ton’s 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
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 aboard 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.”
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