When I first began to write the Realm series, I envisioned only four books, with the possibility of one or two novellas. However, the “best laid plans” turned into an eight-book series: one for each of the seven members of the Realm, a covert operation during the Napoleonic Wars, plus, the eighth book, which brings all the elements together in a heart-wrenching conclusion. [You may read my post on A Touch of Scandal HERE or visit my website http://www.rjeffers.com for excerpts from all my books.]
A Touch of Velvet was originally slated to be book one of the series. But all writers can attest to those “nasty” minor characters which demand to be featured immediately. Therefore, I set A Touch of Velvet aside to write A Touch of Scandal. It was fine, because Eleanor Fowler of book one is the sister and cousin of the main characters in book two: Brantley Fowler and Velvet Aldridge. There is some overlap of the story line of book two with book one. I did this on purpose, for we authors never know when a reader will join a series. As a reader, I do this all the time. Recently, I read book 2 of Kate Baldwin’s “My Notorious Aunt” trilogy before I read the other two books. For one of my favorite series, Mary Balogh’s “Slightly” series, I read Rannulf’s story Slightly Wicked and then had to go back to Aidan’s story of Slightly Married. Moreover, the main event in Eleanor’s life also affects the life of her brother Brantley. It cannot be entirely ignored in book two.
Brantley’s name comes from a young man I met at an Enterprise Rental Car outlet in Monroe, North Carolina. He told me his name was Brantley Fowler (note: the Fowlers have many roads and buildings named for them in this area). I immediately thought the name perfect for a character in a Regency-based book, so I wrote it down in my notebook and told him some day I would make him “famous.” The name “Velvet” came from a former student, one of the most beautiful girls I ever encountered. The “Velvet” in the book does not possess the same character personality as the real the “Velvet,” but it was the former student’s image I had in my head when I wrote the character’s description.
Brantley is my Don Quixote type character. He is the one who regularly “rescues the damsel in distress.” His father is the Duke of Thornhill, an infamous rake. He found his father with one of the household maids while his mother was dying. This action drives Brantley from his home and thwarts his willingness to claim his inheritance. Like the other members of the Realm, Brantley joins the unit to “fight to demons.”
Velvet Aldridge is the oldest of the three Aldridge sisters, who are farmed out to different relatives when their parents are killed in suspicious carriage accident. Velvet has lived with the Fowlers since she was five years of age. She is Bran and Eleanor’s second cousin. Velvet has loved Brantley since she was twelve, but her hopes of marrying him are set aside when she learns he has married while away on the King’s business and has a young daughter.
A Touch of Velvet: Book 2 of the Realm Series
After years away from England, members of the Realm return home to claim the titles and the lives they once abandoned. Each man holds on to the fleeting dream of finally knowing love. For now, all any of them can hope is the resolution of their previous difficulties before Shaheed Mir, their old enemy, finds them and exacts his revenge. Mir seeks a mysterious emerald, and he believes one of the Realm has it.
No one finds his soul mate when she is twelve and he seventeen, but Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, always thought he had found his. The memory of Velvet Aldridge’s face was the only thing that kept him alive all those years he remained estranged from his family. Now, he has returned to Kent to claim his title and the woman he loves, but first he must obliterate the memory of his infamous father, while staving off numerous attacks from Mir’s associates.
Miss Velvet Aldridge always believed in “happily ever after.” Yet, when Brantley Fowler returns home, he has a daughter and his wife’s memory to accompany him. He promised her eight years prior that he would return to make her his wife, but Thornhill, as her guardian, only offers her a Season and a dowry. How can she make him love her? Make him her “knight in shining armor”? Regency England has never been hotter or more dangerous.
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Excerpt from A Touch of Velvet:
End of Chapter Two:
Bran’s coach rolled to halt before the grandeur that was Thorn Hall. The familiarity was nearly as discomforting as was the differences in the place. Although to the eye of a stranger, everything announced the manor as that of a man of the nobility, but a swift glance over the structure told Bran that the place required some discreet repairs before the public would learn of the Hall’s decline.
He turned his head to observe his sister rushing down the entrance steps. Even from a distance Bran noted the hope crossing her features. She knew she had won, and for once Bran was glad to present her the victory. Shepherd was correct; this was his responsibility, and he had neglected it too long.
Reaching the main steps, Eleanor paused about halfway down and waited for a footman to let down the coach’s steps. Brantley unfolded his large frame from the carriage’s constraints and stepped upon Thornhill land for the first time in eight years. He turned to follow Eleanor’s gaze toward the second carriage, where his footman assisted Sonalí and Mrs. Carruthers to the ground.
The scene was everything that was family, and Bran realized how much he had missed the idea of being part of his sister’s life.
As quickly as the child’s feet touched the ground, Sonalí’s head turned to where Eleanor stood. Immediately, she was at a run, arms spread, and Eleanor scampered to greet her.
“Aunt Ella,” Sonalí laughed, “we came to find you.”
Lifting the child to her, Eleanor spun her in complete abandon. It was the perfect scene of domesticity in Bran’s opinion. His daughter required a woman’s touch, and he could think of none finer that his sister. All would work to his benefit, Bran told his worried heart.
“I never was so happy to see anyone,” Eleanor assured with a laugh Bran had long missed.
He joined the two of them at the bottom of the main steps. “You do not play fair, Ella,” he teased as he lifted her hand to his lips.
“That would be your fault, Bran. You taught me everything I know.” Their eyes met and held–a new understanding flashing between them. “Thank you,” she mouthed as she took his proffered arm.
“Welcome home, Your Grace,” Mr. Jordan executed a proper bow. “The staff will be elated.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jordan.” He handed his hat and cane to the man. “I apologize for no notice of my return. Hopefully, I will not strain your resources.”
Mr. Jordan blustered, “I assure you, Your Grace, any inconvenience is secondary to the joy of seeing you with Lady Eleanor.”
“Needless to say, I require the nursery opened, as well as the school room. This is my daughter Miss Sonalí and her caretaker Mrs. Carruthers.”
Accustomed to commanding his own staff, Bran did not falter, and it pleased him to hear the authority in his voice, even if it thought it a bit strained.
“Instantly, sir.” Jordan snapped his fingers and two maids rushed away to do Bran’s bidding. “I will have your luggage placed in the Master’s room.”
“No!” Bran’s emphatic denial rang through the hall; yet, he forced a smile to his lips and calmed his tone. “If I might, I wish to establish myself in the other wing.”
“Most assuredly, sir. Please join Lady Eleanor in the drawing room. I will send in refreshments while we prepare your rooms.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jordan.” The man bowed, whispering urgent orders to various staff members before making his exit.
“Are there cakes, Aunt Ella?” Sonalí still rested against her shoulder.
Eleanor shot a quick glance to a man, who stood red-faced and confused, and Bran followed her gaze. Horace Leighton, he thought. Bran understood the man’s look of bewilderment: All Leighton’s plans of inheriting the dukedom had suddenly vanished.
“I believe we must send for fresh cakes, darling,” Ella cooed to Sonalí in the way all women speak to children. “But know that Cook will be happy to have a child in the house. Your papa often sneaked off to the kitchen for Cook’s chocolate tarts.” Eleanor placed his daughter before her and extended her hand. “Come along. Permit me to show you your papa’s new home, Sonalí.”
At the drawing room door, Bran purposely turned to his flustering cousin. “Cousin Horton,” he called. “Forgive me. With all the excitement of seeing Eleanor and being at Thorn Hall, I did not notice you there. Are you staying with us, Horton?”
Bran knew exactly why Horton Leighton was in residence. Even if it were not obvious from what Ella had told him and what Shepherd had shared, Bran would know. In Cornwall a week ago, he sat staring at the likenesses of his mother and of the woman he once thought to be his destiny, and Bran’s carefully constructed world had changed. The miniatures were the perfect remedy for his complacency: He had made the impetuous decision to return to his past. At that moment, he sent out inquiries on the true status of what would now be his title and finished with his questioning of Shepherd.
“Well, come in, Leighton,” he ordered. “It has been a decade since I last saw you. Tell me how goes everything in Hampshire?” He ushered the man into the room ahead of him.
Away from the staff’s ears, Bran closed the door behind them. Mrs. Carruthers instinctively removed Sonalí to the far corner of the room to entertain the child while the cousins spoke in private.
“Please, everyone, have a seat.” Eleanor gestured to a cluster of chairs.
Finally seated in close proximity to one another, Leighton turned immediately on Eleanor. “You knew,” he hissed.
“Of course,” Bran broke in before Eleanor could respond. “Ella and I have corresponded over the years.” It was a lie, but one which would aid Bran’s transition.
“Brantley and I thought it best others did not know,” Ella added.
Bran leaned back into the chair, attempting to appear nonchalant. “I argued with my father, not my sister.”
“But not ten minutes ago,” Leighton sent accusations in Eleanor’s direction, “you asked if I held word of your brother. You let me go on and on, knowing Thornhill would come to claim his title today!” Leighton’s words rose in volume.
“I thank you, Sir,” Bran snapped, “to keep your voice down. I will not subject my sister or my child to fits of anger.” Bran glanced quickly at his daughter. “Mrs. Carruthers,” he spoke gently to the woman, “the formal gardens are through those doors. Why do you not escort Sonalí on a brief walk? It would do you both well after the long journey.”
“Yes, Mr. Fowler…I mean, Your Grace.”
When the pair was safely from earshot, Bran spoke again to his cousin. “Eleanor did not know of my arrival. She has attempted on several occasions to convince me to return to Thorn Hall, but unlike others, I possess no need of the fortune or the title. I was not inclined to subject myself to this world again, but I cannot deny my child a birthright. It was her mother’s dying wish.”
Eleanor eyes met Bran’s suspiciously. No doubt she recalled him as a master of bending the truth to fit his own agenda and logic. Although he spoke half-truths, his sister agreed to what Bran said. Despite his aversion to Thorn Hall’s memories, Bran had returned home because Ella needed him, and she was obviously quite pleased.
Looking more than a bit irritated and still muttering, Leighton pushed to his feet. “If you will excuse me, I believe I will retire to my room. Needless to say, I possess correspondence to which to attend.” He offered a thick-waisted bow as Bran rose to his own feet. “Welcome home, Your Grace,” Horton mumbled.
“Thank you, Cousin.” Bran walked the man to the door. Closing it behind Leighton, he turned to his sister. “Well, Ella, did I surprise you?”
Within two heartbeats, she was in his arms, sobbing in trembling bursts of tears. “Thank God,” she repeated. “I thought all lost.”
“Shush, Ella.” Bran stroked the back of her head and kissed her cheek. “I am sorry, infinitely sorry, I left you to deal with this alone,” he whispered. “We will do what is right for you.”
She clung to him for several heart-wrenching minutes. Bran knew real regret from not returning sooner. He never considered how the dukedom could have injured his sister. At length, she stepped from his embrace. Lifting her chin in elegant grace reminiscent of his mother, Eleanor swiped the tears away with her palms. With a couple of unladylike sniffs, she recovered her composure just as the tea service arrived. “I shall find Mrs. Carruthers and Sonalí.” She looked away so the maid would not observe her tear-streaked face. “I am famished, as I suspect Sonalí will be. Surely, they did not go far.”
Bran permitted his sister her emotions without his censure. “I may not possess the fortitude to wait.”
Ella gestured to the service. “Please, it is your house now, Bran; you must not wait on anyone.”
He corrected, “It is our house, Ella.”
Eleanor gave him a quick curtsy. “Thank you for returning home, Bran. You answered my prayers in a most spectacular manner.” Then she slipped through the open door.
Bran caught up one of the plates and placed several small sandwiches and cakes upon it. He strolled around the room, observing objects he had fought so hard to forget. The draperies were new and two of the chairs, but everything else were much as he remembered it. Stately and stylish and speaking very much of his mother, Bran always liked this particular room. When he entered Thorn Hall a few moments earlier, he chose it as the first room he would enter as the new Duke of Thornhill. He needed to step into a memory before facing his future. Deep in thought of the past, he lifted one of the sandwiches to his mouth as he turned, and simultaneously Velvet Aldridge swept into the room and back into his life.