Sasha Cottman: The Duke’s Daughter

From the Regency Kitchen

Lemon Cheesecake

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This lemon cheesecake recipe dates all the way back to Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, published in 1747.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons
  • 12 eggs (12 egg yolks and 6 egg whites will be used in the custard part of the recipe)
  • 225 g brown caster sugar (I used raw caster sugar instead).
  • 6 tablespoons of cream (save a little for serving with the lemon cheese cake)
  • 225g butter
  • Shortcrust pastry sheets (or, you can make it, see below).

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/374F.
  2. Grate the lemon zest. Put the zest and the juice of 1 lemon into a mixing bowl. Add the caster sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. Beat the egg yolks and add them to the mix.
  3. Beat the egg whites until they are frothy. This must have been a hard task in the 18th century when it would have to have been done by hand! Fortunately I could reach for my trusty electric beater. Add the frothy egg whites to the rest of the cheesecake mix.
  4. Combine the butter and cream and over a low heat, until the butter is melted. Add the butter and cream to the rest of the cake mix and beat it for a minute.
  5. Pour combined mixtures into a medium sized saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This takes about 8 minutes on my stovetop.
  6. Place the pastry sheet over a flan pan (or pie dish), making sure the pastry covers the sides of the pan (there is quite a lot of custard mix).
  7. Take the mix off the heat and pour over the pastry base. You may have some left, so feel free to pour this into a bowl and eat it before anyone else notices.
  8. Bake the lemon cheese cake for 30 mins or until the filling has set. In my oven it takes about 35 minutes. Cool and serve with cream.

Shortcrust pastry (if you want to make from scratch) 

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 225 g chilled butter
  • 1 1/3 cups of plain flour

Method

  1. Process flour and butter in a food processor. Add the egg yolk and 2 tsps. of cold water.
  2. Once mix is worked through, take it out of the bowl and knead it on a board. Roll into a ball and let rest in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll out flat when preparing to use it in the pie.

The Duke's Daughter - hi res cover copy

About The Duke’s Daughter

When handsome army officer Avery Fox unexpectedly inherits a fortune, he instantly becomes one of the season’s most eligible bachelors. More accustomed to the battlefield, he has no patience with the naive debutantes who fill the ballrooms of London.

Honest and impetuous Lady Lucy Radley is a breath of fresh air, guiding him through the season and helping him to avoid any traps. So when Avery is left with little option but to marry Lucy, he can’t help but feel he’s been manipulated. Nor can he shake the feeling that a duke’s daughter should be out of his reach.

From the wildly beautiful Scottish Highlands to the elegant soirees of Paris, Avery and Lucy go on a journey that is full of surprises for them both.  But will their feelings for each other be strong enough to overcome the circumstances of their marriage and survive the ghosts of Avery’s past?

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The Duke of Strathmore Series:

Letter from a Rake

An Unsuitable Match

The Duke’s Daughter

Excerpt

Chapter One

By every measure of her own behaviour, Lady Lucy Radley knew this was the worst.

‘You reckless fool,’ she muttered under her breath as she headed back inside and into the grand ballroom.

The room was a crush of London’s social elite. Every few steps she had to stop and make small talk with friends or acquaintances. A comment here and there about someone’s gown or promising a social call made for slow going.

Finally she spied her cousin, Eve. She fixed a smile to her face as Eve approached.

‘Where have you been, Lucy? I’ve been searching everywhere for you.’

‘I was just outside admiring the flowers on the terrace.’

Eve frowned, but the lie held.

Another night, another ball in one of London’s high-society homes. In one respect Lucy would be happy when the London social season ended in a few weeks; then she would be free to travel to her family home in Scotland and go tramping across the valleys and mountain paths, the chill wind ruffling her hair.

She puffed out her cheeks. With the impending close of the season came an overwhelming sense of failure. Her two older brothers, David and Alex, had taken wives. Perfect, love-filled unions with delightful girls, each of whom Lucy was happy to now call sister.

Her newest sister-in-law, Earl Langham’s daughter Clarice, was already in a delicate condition, and Lucy suspected it was only a matter of time before her brother Alex and his wife Millie shared some good news.

For herself, this season had been an unmitigated disaster on the husband-hunting front. The pickings were slim at best. Having refused both an earl and a viscount the previous season, she suspected other suitable gentlemen now viewed her as too fussy. No gentleman worth his boots wanted a difficult wife. Only the usual group of fortune-hunters, intent on getting their hands on her substantial dowry, were lining up at this stage of the season to ask her to dance. Maintaining her pride as the daughter of a duke, she refused them all.

Somewhere in the collective gentry of England there must be a man worthy of her love. She just had to find him.

What a mess.

‘You are keeping something from me,’ Eve said, poking a finger gently into Lucy’s arm.

Lucy shook her head. ‘It’s nothing. I suspect I am suffering from a touch of ennui. These balls all begin to look the same after a while. All the same people, sharing the same gossip.’

‘Oh dear, and I thought I was having a bad day,’ Eve replied.

‘Sorry, I was being selfish. You are the one who needs a friend to cheer her up,’ Lucy replied. She kissed her cousin gently on the cheek.

Eve’s brother William had left London earlier that day to return to his home in Paris, and she knew her cousin was taking his departure hard.

‘Yes, well, I knew I could sit at home and cry, or I could put on a happy face and try to find something to smile about,’ Eve replied.

Eve’s father had tried without success to convince his son to return permanently to England. With the war now over and Napoleon toppled from power, everyone expected William Saunders to come home immediately, but it had taken two years for him to make the journey back to London.

‘Perhaps once he gets back to France and starts to miss us all again, he shall have a change of heart,’ Lucy said.

‘One can only hope. Now, let’s go and find a nice quiet spot and you can tell me what you were really doing out in the garden. Charles Ashton came in the door not a minute before you, and he had a face like thunder. As I happened to see the two of you head out into the garden at the same time a little while ago, I doubt Charles’ foul temper was because he found the flowers not to his liking,’ Eve replied.

It was late when Lucy and her parents finally returned home to Strathmore House. The Duke and Duchess of Strathmore’s family home was one of the largest houses in the elegant West End of London. It was close to the peaceful greenery of Hyde Park, and Lucy couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

As they came through the grand entrance to Strathmore House she was greeted by the sight of her eldest brother David seated on a low couch outside their father’s study. He was clad in a heavy black greatcoat and his hat was in his hand.

‘Hello, David; bit late for a visit this evening. I hope nothing is wrong,’ said Lord Strathmore.

‘Clarice?’ asked Lady Caroline.

‘She’s fine, sleeping soundly at home,’ he replied.

Lucy sensed the pride and love for his wife in her brother’s voice. He had found his true soulmate in Lord Langham’s daughter.

David stood and came over. When he reached them, he greeted his mother and sister with a kiss. His dark hair was a stark contrast to both Lady Caroline’s and Lucy’s fair complexions.

He turned to his father. ‘Lord Langham’s missing heir has been found, and the news is grave. My father-in-law asked that I come and inform you before it becomes public knowledge. A rather horrid business, by all accounts.’

‘I see. Ladies, would you please excuse us? This demands my immediate attention,’ Lord Strathmore said.

As Lucy and Lady Caroline headed up the grand staircase, he and David retired to his study. As soon as the door was closed behind them, David shared the news.

‘The remains of Thaxter Fox were retrieved from the River Fleet a few hours ago. His brother Avery, whom you met at my wedding ball a few weeks ago, has formally identified the body. Lord Langham is currently making funeral arrangements,’ David said.

His father shook his head. It was not an unexpected outcome of the search for the missing Thaxter Fox.

He wandered over to a small table and poured two glasses of whisky. He handed one to David.

‘Well, that makes for a new and interesting development. I don’t expect Avery Fox had ever entertained the notion before today that he would one day be Earl Langham,’ Lord Strathmore replied, before downing his drink.

‘Perhaps, but he had to know the likelihood of finding his brother in one piece was slim at best. From our enquiries, it was obvious Thaxter had a great many enemies,’ David replied.

‘Including you,’ said the duke.

David looked down at his gold wedding ring. It still bore the newlywed gleam, which made him smile.

‘He and I had come to a certain understanding. If he stayed away from Langham House and Clarice, I would not flay the skin off his back. No, someone else decided to make Thaxter pay for his evil ways.’

The Langham and Radley families held little affection for the recently deceased heir to the Langham title. After Thaxter had made an attempt to seize Clarice’s dowry through a forced marriage, both families had severed all ties. Thaxter had disappeared not long after.

David would do everything in his power to protect Clarice. With a baby on the way, he was fully prepared to stare down the rest of the town if it meant keeping his wife safe. As the illegitimate, but acknowledged, son of the duke, David had overcome many of society’s prejudices in order to successfully woo and wed Lord Langham’s only daughter.

‘Unkind as it sounds, I doubt many at Langham House will be mourning the demise of the eldest Mr Fox,’ his father replied.

‘No.’

About the Author

sasha cottman author pic copyBorn in England, but raised in Australia, Sasha has a love for both countries. Having her heart in two places has created a love for travel, which at last count was to over 55 countries. A travel guide is always on her pile of new books to read.

Her first published novel, Letter from a Rake, was a finalist for the 2014 Romantic Book of the Year. 

Sasha lives with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who demands a starring role in the next book. She has found new hiding spots for her secret chocolate stash. On the weekends Sasha loves walking on the beach while trying to deal with her bad knee and current Fitbit obsession.

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Susana’s 2015 English Adventure: Introducing Squidgeworth

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Squidgeworth

Tomorrow afternoon, Susana will be on her way across the pond to London for her 2015 English adventure. This time, however, she won’t be traveling alone. Her dear friend Squidgeworth, who turned chartreuse with envy when his cousin Squidge got to travel there with Ki Pha earlier this year, will be accompanying her on the trip and posing for photos along the way. Squidgeworth and his cousin appear identical—as indeed does every member of the Squidge family—but the Squidgeworths are the aristocratic blue-bloods of the family. He was quite indignant that his commoner cousin got to visit the land of their ancestors before he did. He got over his fit of pique when Susana explained that she was going later this year because she wanted to visit when Buckingham Palace was open to the public. Squidge, after all, didn’t get to go there.

So… where else are Squidgeworth and Susana going this year?

Sussex

A dear friend invited them to stay a few days in Eastbourne, where they will be visiting Firle Place and/or the Glynde Estate, Chartwell, visiting the quaint village of Alfriston, and Quebec House. They will also be taking in a play called Flare Path.

London

From there, they will travel to London, where they will be residing in a rented flat near London Bridge. There are always plenty of things to see in or near London, and some of the places on this year’s list include:

  • Buckingham Palace (of course)
  • Osterley Park
  • Kenwood
  • Ham House
  • The White Hart, St. Albans
  • Marble Hill
  • The Foundling Museum
  • The Victoria & Albert Museum: specifically, the Vauxhall exhibit, with the Handel statue and supper-box paintings.

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Day Trips from London

  • Petworth, West Sussex
  • Waddesdon Manor
  • Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
  • Burghley House, Lincolnshire
  • Bateman’s House, East Sussex
  • The Bell Inn, Stilton
  • Lyme Park, Cheshire
  • Greenway, Devon
  • Charlecote, Warwickshire
  • Arundel Castle, West Sussex

Overnight Stays

Bath and Devizes

The Bear Hotel

The Bear Hotel

In Devizes, Susana and Squidgeworth will be staying at the historic Bear Inn, which featured in Susana’s Coaching Days & Coaching Ways blog series. Then they will spend two days in Bath, visiting some of the sights that figure in Susana’s story, The Third MacPherson Sister, from the Sweet Summer Kisses box set.

York

Following that, S & S will be heading north for two nights in York, where they will be paying visits to Harewood, Castle Howard, and Haworth, as well as enjoying the lovely city itself.

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England’s Stately Homes By Train

Neither Susana nor Squidgeworth is interested in driving in England, so Cheryl Bolen’s book, English Stately Homes By Train, has been very helpful in planning the trip. Susana used the print version for planning and will take the digital version on her iPad for the trip.

Follow S & S on their wanderings

Squidgeworth will be appearing regularly on Susana’s Facebook Page, and photos will be downloaded to Pinterest as well. Highlights of the week will appear on Mondays on this blog. Please keep in touch so they don’t get too homesick!

À bientôt

Susana & Squidgeworth

Shannon Donnelly: Lady Chance

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Researching the Palais Royal

One of the fun things about writing—for me, at least—is the research. I love to dig into history; in particular, I love to look for just the right setting to help a scene come alive. Lady Chance, the follow-up book to Lady Scandal, comes out this August; it’s set in Paris of 1814, and since gambling and cards are in the book, that meant I could use the Palais Royal.

The palace was originally designed by Jacques Lemercier and construction started 1628 for the infamous Cardinal Richelieu. It was originally known as the Palais Cardinal, but became a royal palace after the cardinal bequeathed the building to Louis XIII.

Louis handed the palace to the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, and then Henrietta Maria and her daughter Henrietta Anne Stuart, who had escaped from the English civil war, took up residence. Henrietta Anne later married Phillipe de France, duc d’Orléans, and the palace became known as the House of Orléans. The duchesse was the one who created the ornamental garden of the palace.

Louis XIV was succeeded by his great-grandson, and the duc d’Orléans became regent of young Louis XV. The Palais Royal was then opened so the public could view the Orléans art collection, and that began the palace’s more public life.

Louis Philippe II held the royal palace from 1780 until his death. He renovated the building, and the garden was now surrounded by a mall of shops, cafes, salons, refreshment stands and bookstores.

At that time, the Palais Royal became a meeting ground for revolutionaries. Its owner, Philippe d’Orléans sided with the revolutionaries. He changed his name to Philippe Égalité and his house became the Palais de l’Égalité. He opened the gardens to the public and enclosed them with colonnades lined with shops.

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On the ground floor shops sold “perfume, musical instruments, toys, eyeglasses, candy, gloves, and dozens of other goods. Artists painted portraits, and small stands offered waffles.” The demi-monde could also parade their wares—themselves—and often had rooms on the upper floors for their customers’ convenience.

By 1807, the Palais Royal boasted “twenty-four jewelers, twenty shops of luxury furniture, fifteen restaurants, twenty-nine cafes and seventeen billiards parlors.”

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While the more elegant restaurants were open on the arcade level to those with the money to afford good food and wine, the basement of the Palais Royal offered cafés with cheap drinks, food and entertainment for the masses, such as at the Café des Aveugles.

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Upon the death of the duc, the palace’s ownership reverted to the state, and for a time it was known as Palais du Tribunat. After the Bourbon restoration to power in 1814, the duc d’Orléans took back his title and the Palais Royal took back its name, but kept its reputation for a fashionable meeting place. And that is when Lady Chance is set.

In 1814, Paris was under occupation by the allied forces that had defeated Napoleon. Russian cuirassiers, Prussian lancers, Hungarian hussars, Cossacks, and French soldiers all rubbed shoulders—and were not always in harmony with each other. But it was said of the Palais Royal that “You can see everything, hear everything, know everyone who wants to be found.”

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Véry Frères in the Palais Royal was accounted the most expensive restaurant in Paris, and one could dine with “brilliantly lit salons, granite tables, gilt bronze candelabra and mirror-lined walls.” Trois Frères Provençaux was famous for poulet à la Marengo—Chicken Marengo, said to be the dish served Napoleon’s victory at Marengo. In Paris Between Empires, Philip Mansel talks of dining at Le Caveau, or at the royalist Café de Foy. While Café des Mille Colonnes on the first floor of arcade provided its patrons, “Mirrored salons, hung with ‘magnificent chandeliers’ and supported by Corinthian columns of green marble.” The building was also home to the fashionable resturant Le Grand Véfour.

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On the second floor, elegant card rooms offered deep gaming—these are the salons featured in Lady Chance.

About Lady Chance

Can an English lady find love and common ground with a French soldier?

In Paris of 1814, as Bourbon king again takes the throne, and the Black Cabinet—a shadowy group of agents employed by the British—is sent to unmask dangerous men and stop assassinations. When Diana, Lady Chauncey—known as Lady Chance—is recruited by her cousin to use her skill at cards to help him delve into these plots, she meets up with a man she thought dead. Diana finds herself swept into adventure and intrigue, and once again into the arms of the French officer she tangled with ten years ago. But she is no longer an impulsive girl, and he may not be the man she once thought was honorable and good.

After the recent defeat of his country, Giles Taliaris wants nothing more than a return to his family’s vineyards in Burgundy. But his younger brother seems involved in dangerous plots to return France to a republic. To get his family through these troubles, Giles can only tread warily. When he again meets meet the English girl he once knew and thought lost to him, he finds himself torn between duty and desire. Can he find his way through this tangle—and if he does, how can he convince his Diana to give up everything for him?

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Excerpt

Diana blinked twice and let her stare travel the room once more. “I rather thought the gaming rooms of the Palais Royal would be more…”

“Degenerate? Depraved? Decayed?” Jules asked.

“Grand, actually. Oh, the colonnade outside is charming, but this…” She fluttered a kid glove at their surroundings—at the draped windows, the high vaulted room with its plaster ceiling, the discreet décor with respectable landscapes hung over a tasteful, floral wallpaper. Chandeliers glittered overhead. Around them, dozens of uniformed gentlemen lounged or indulged in intense card play or watched the gaming with elegant women on their arms.

Lady Chance 01_sm copyShe had seen Russian Cossacks in the streets, distinct with their heavy boots, loose black trousers and red jackets. Inside this room, above the closed shops of the Palais Royal, officers from the Army of Silesia leaned against the walls, their uniforms as precise as their actions. Sullen French officers lurked at the edges of the room, unhappy with the foreign soldiers who had so recently beaten them. Accents and languages tumbled around her—a hint of Dutch, a dash of French, guttural Germanic phrases. Perfumes and a hint of smoky tallow from the candles scented the air. Diana gave Jules a sideways glance. “This almost looks more like the engravings I’ve seen of London clubs.”

Or like affairs of the London season, she thought. She’d had only two seasons and had not wanted a third. The play in London had always been dull or had been filled with women whose eyes glittered too brightly and gentlemen who bet too rashly. Here in the Palais Royal, just as with any notable event in London, music drifted through the rooms. A quartet was playing, she thought. Skilled enough to take on Mozart’s music and do the lively tune some justice.

Turning to her, Jules leaned closer. “The Bourbons may be back on the throne, but the Parisians look to good English coin to return prosperity. Hence this emulation of London with the rather French addition of the demi-monde in attendance. However, do not mistake matters. There are those who would have their emperor back.”

Stepping behind her, he helped her off with her cloak. He left that and his hat and cane with the porter. He wore his customary black coat, along with formal evening breeches, a white shirt, and a pale yellow waistcoat. He looked stark and properly British. She had worn gold to compliment his dress. A clinging silk that almost left her feeling a girl again with ruffles at her ankles and a daringly low Parisian neckline. They stepped into the club and Jules found them glasses of champagne. She walked the room beside him, watching him nod to acquaintances.

She had been to the Palais Royal during the day to visit the shops on the ground floor. Perfume could be had, along with toys, candy, gloves, waffles from stands, or portraits from struggling artists. But at night, the shops closed and the Palais Royal transformed itself. Véry Frères, the most expensive restaurant in Paris she had heard, offered brilliantly lit salons, granite tables, gilt-bronze candelabra and mirror-lined walls, as well as fabulous meals. In the basements of the Palais Royal, one could find establishments offering drink, food or entertainment such as at the Café des Aveugles, renowned for its orchestra of blind musicians.

They were blind for a reason for the galleries were where ladies of all shapes and colors and sizes offered themselves for sale.

This establishment—above the streets and the closed shops and below the rented rooms of those girls looking for customers—seemed designed to cater to patrons with money. There would be few enough Frenchmen who fit that description just now, Diana knew.

She had glimpsed the poverty on the journey to Paris.

The crossing to France had been long, taking fourteen hours to Boulogne with a fitful, unfriendly wind. The carriage ride to Paris had been even longer. And quite sad. This was not the country she knew from ten years ago. Old men, women, and thin boys populated the villages, for the young men had all gone to war. She had glimpsed far too many skinny cows and poorly worked fields. They had been cheered in some towns—the English liberators who had helped free France from an oppressive empire. In other towns, the French watched them pass with suspicion in their eyes. Not everyone welcomed back the rightful French king. And the destruction on the outskirts of Paris marked where battle had raged less than a fortnight ago. No wonder so many of these Frenchmen appeared so gloomy with defeat a sore and recent memory.

All that seemed put aside, however, in the pleasure houses of the Palais Royal. After a sip of champagne with bubbles that tickled her nose, Diana asked, “Just why am I being paraded?”

“A small introduction only. Making you a familiar face that will be welcomed when you deem to grace one of the tables.”

She eyed the women with their painted faces who clung to the officers’ arms. Very few sons of France seemed to be able to compete with the dashing foreigners. She glanced at Jules and kept her voice dry. “I can see the last of my respectability vanishing on the horizon.”

“Cousin, this is Paris. You may rub elbows with these delightful creatures who hire out their most intimate charms and still be free to dance with dukes and true ladies the next evening. The French understand these things.”

“It is good someone does. Now that I am decked out in the finest Paris has to offer, and have your grandmama’s emeralds hanging about my neck—I do hope your mother did not object to such a loan—what exactly is it that I am here to do?”

They had spent the journey to Paris discussing recent events, political situations, and the gossip of who was who in Paris. All of it a prelude to this—or so she guessed. To own the truth, she had simply wanted to enjoy going somewhere. Anywhere. Now she glanced around the room, a flutter in her stomach. What was she doing here? She wasn’t up to this sort of intrigue.

She forced a smile and lifted an eyebrow at Jules.

He gave her a small, approving nod. “You are doing all you must. You look a likely widow in need of amusement. Soon you shall find a spot at a select table. Win a bit. Lose more. After the drink has flowed and the hour grows late, I shall make a few introductions. Those gentlemen will lose heavily to you, I expect.”

She gave a small shrug. She had learned young how easy it was to lose at any game. Growing up, her older cousins—Jules included—had pounded home that lesson. They had never let her succeed at anything unless she deserved the win. And of her marriage—well, the less said there, the better, she thought. She twirled her fan. “Am I to keep their funds? Press them for something other than coins to clear their debts of honor to me?”

Jules’ smile did not falter, but Diana thought something hard appeared in his eyes. “Cousin, in cards, one never reveals one’s hand until all play is done. Let us say for now it is good to have certain pockets empty. It takes money to make mischief.”

She huffed out a breath. “Why do simple answers always sound only part of the truth? And chess is your game. You always plan at least seven moves ahead. So what are you not yet telling me?”

He patted her hand. “Enough for now, other than that I count on your shocking, unpredictable whims to keep us all on our toes.”

Diana shook her head and drained her champagne. “In chess, in Paris, or merely as a gamester?”

“You said it yourself—you must be an adventuress.”

Pulling in a breath, she pushed back her shoulders. “Yes, I did say so. Well, adventuring we go. Where do I begin? And I hope all this…this whatever is for a good cause.”

“Good may depend upon one’s views. Our view is to safeguard England’s interests. If certain rumors are true, a good man’s life may be at stake. However, Paris is rife just now with stories of everything from a dozen pretenders to the throne—the lost Bourbon prince returned from God knows where—to schemes that might bring back that dangerous fellow we were just discussing.”

“Ah, poor Louis-Charles, the dauphin.” She shook her head. “I would rather meet him than the former emperor.” A chill touched her back. She had met Bonaparte once. Seen him briefly, really. Before he had crowned himself emperor, and long before his recent surrender. At the time of her encounter he’d had another man’s wife on his arm, stolen from one of his generals. She still thought that a petty thing to do. She had also thought him short, fascinating in a way, and not much of a gentleman. He had once brought order to the French Revolution, but he had gone on to set Europe ablaze. And his command of a decade ago to arrest all the English in France had sent her running from Paris. That still rankled. She had been having such fun at the time. And if that had not happened, then she would not…

Ah, but this trip—and Jules—would give her better memories. She would focus on that.

It certainly took little effort to do as Jules bade her. He guided her to a table where gallant young gentlemen played—two French officers, an English gentleman in evening wear, and a Hungarian Hussar in a dashing uniform with excessive braid who at once offered her his seat. She played as Jules had asked, winning a little, losing a bit more. Jules had offered to stand the nonsense so she had no worries about emptying her purse. She found the play a touch tame. The Palais Royal was not living up to its reputation for vice. Given the circumstances, she only sipped at her wine and watched the cards fall with mild interest.

Jules soon introduced a fellow to her—a young Frenchman whose fair windswept hair and high shirt points spoke of his dandy ambitions. He joined the table, and Diana took up the cards. Jules gave her a nod and a direct stare, and she knew he wanted her to stop being careless.

She had barely dealt out the cards when a name came to her that she had never expected to hear again. A card tumbled from suddenly numb hands. Forcing a smile, Diana begged pardon. She finished the deal with stiff fingers and swept the room with a glance. It could not be, she thought, her heart beating too quick and her breath short and fast. He had died on a battlefield years ago. Someone must have only mentioned his name, that was all. But she had to look anyway. She had to be certain.

She scanned the faces nearest the entrance, seeking anything familiar—a profile, a glimpse of a captain’s uniform, a face that she could still recall from so long ago. And there—across the room in the foyer—he stood, far too solid to be a ghost.

About the Author

Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”

In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes the historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire.

She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and offers editing and writing workshops. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at shannondonnelly.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter.

Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I

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The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

A Statue for the Greatest Composer of English Music (1738)

The life-sized sculpture of George Frideric Handel by Louis François Roubiliac (1702-62) was

the most important of Tyers’s early series of artistic commissions for the gardens. This work epitomised the explosive moment of the English Rococo style, not for any inclusion of outwardly Rococo motifs, but for the new spirit of playfulness and informality that it embodied, and it came to personify Vauxhall Gardens.

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There is now near finished a Statue of the justly celebrated Mr. Handel, exquisitely done by the ingenious Mr. Raubillac, of St. Martin’s-Lane, Statuary, out of one entire Block of white Marble, which is to be placed in a grand Nich, erected on Purpose in the great Grove at Vaux-hall Gardens.

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Note the Handel statue in its “Grand Nich” (original placement) at right

The “Grand Nich” or “Grand Alcove” was demolished after a decade to make room for more supper-boxes, and the statue was left free-standing until 1762, when it was arranged under a Doric portico similar in size to the “Grand Nich.” In 1786, following the Vauxhall Jubilee celebrations, it was removed to the back of the Orchestra. Before it was removed from the gardens in 1818, it held court in the New Supper Room built in 1791, and then, in 1813, “to its own small circular domed temple behind the Orchestra.”

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Handel statue can be seen today at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, along with a group of the original supper-box paintings and Roubiliac’s terracotta model for the portrait bust of Jonathan Tyers.

In spite of many years’ exposure to the elements, to vandalism, accidental damage, relocations and restorations, the surface of the sculpture still bears the sculptor’s marks and finished, evidence of his high degree of skill and craftsmanship, equally of his mastery and love of the material.

“A mass audience for contemporary art”

Francis Hayman by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Francis Hayman by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1760’s

Artwork was an important element in Jonathan Tyers’ vision of capturing his visitors’ emotions and induce them “to enjoy themselves, to refresh their spirits and to spend their money.” In order to do this, Tyers formed an alliance with his friend William Hogarth’s nearby academy to produce the work he needed, which included buildings, paintings, sculptures, furnitures, tableware, glass, interiors, and lighting. This arrangement benefitted both parties, providing Tyers with the high-quality artisans he needed at a reasonable cost, and an opportunity for Hogarth’s students’ work to be displayed to the public in a way not seen before. The person chosen to manage the project was the theatrical scene-painter, Francis Hayman (1708-76).

Francis Hayman and studio, The Milkmaids' Garland, oil on canvas, c. 1740 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Francis Hayman and studio, The Milkmaids’ Garland, oil on canvas, c. 1740 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The Supper-Box Paintings

To add color and enhance the visitor’s mood, the back upper wall of each supper-box in the 1730’s and 40’s was decorated by an eight foot by five painting, designed by Francis Hayman and H.F. Gravelot and painted by the students at St. Martin’s Lane Academy. These paintings

represent people from all sectors of society, from villagers, peasant children and milkmaids to aristocratic and fashionable ladies and gentlemen. Painted on a large scale, some of the figures are nearly life-sized and close enough to the picture plane for the viewer to discern their expressions and interrelationships.

Francis Hayman and stuido, Country Dancers round the Maypole, oil on canvas, late 1730's (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Francis Hayman and stuido, Country Dancers round the Maypole, oil on canvas, late 1730’s (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The pictures depicted scenes of theatre, daily life and rustic amusements. A Toupee letter (see post here) of 28 June 1739 states that, when the paintings were revealed,

the eye is relieved by the agreeable surprise of some of the most favoured fancies of our poets in the most remarkable scenes of our comedies, some of the celebrated dancers, &c. in their most remarkable attitudes, several of the childish diversions, and other whims that are well enough liked by most people at a time they are disposed to smile, and every thing of a light kind, and tending to unbend the thoughts, has an effect desired before it is felt.

Francis Hayman and studio, The Play of See-saw, oil on canvas, 1740-43 (Tate, London)

Francis Hayman and studio, The Play of See-saw, oil on canvas, 1740-43 (Tate, London)

The Display of the Paintings

In the 1730’s the supper-boxes were open on all sides during daylight hours, to allow visitors to enjoy the views over the neighbouring countryside. However, as dusk fell, Tyers had created two extraordinary surprises for his guests. The first was the almost magical instantaneous illumination of the gardens with oil lamps. This wonder was swiftly followed by a second spectacular special effect, namely:

a master piece of machinery, by which all the English ladys and delicate gentlemen are in a moment screend from the damps of the night air. […] When the clock strikes nine, there is heard a third sound of the whistle, and immediately there rises, as out of the earth, a vast number of rollers, which unfolding themselves as they rise, cover all the boxes in three of their sides, and fasten themselves in the extremitys of each box. All these coverings are painted with elegant designs, in lively colours, so that each box is enclosed by three large pictures, and at the same time that they completely protect the company from the injurys of the air, present a numerous collection of grand and pleasing paintings.

By 1741, all the paintings were fixed in position on the back or side wall of the boxes… Tyers had introduced further improvements and the supper-boxes had been adapted to make them more weatherproof, more robust and more firmly divided from each other.

Francis Hayman and studio, Bird-catching, by a Decoy with a Whistle and Net, oil on canvas, c. 1740 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Francis Hayman and studio, Bird-catching, by a Decoy with a Whistle and Net, oil on canvas, c. 1740 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

In spite of all the damage inflicted on these paintings by their exposure to the weather, the proximity of food, wine, candles, and oil lamps—not to mention the early days of being rolled up and down on a nightly basis—many of these paintings remained at Vauxhall for a hundred years.

Next week: The Paintings in the Pillared Saloon

Jude Knight: A Baron for Becky

BfB cover final small copy

Aldridge Interviews His Creator

by Jude Knight

In the rush to launch A Baron for Becky, this past month I’ve given the study no more than a flick with a duster and a lick and a promise from the vacuum. Every surface is covered with papers and books. The Marquis of Aldridge looks out of place, prowling the limited space between the clutter, the two computer stations, the stack of printers, and the bookshelves.

I can’t mistake him, though. This invention of my overactive mind is actually here, in the 21st century, in my work room, tipping his head to read the book spines, and picking up the pair of copper seals on the window ledge.

Aldridge

Anthony Grenville, Marquis of Aldridge

He is such a peacock, with his highly embroidered waistcoat, the jewelled pin placed just so in a cravat knot of his own devising, the pantaloons and coat fitting so tightly to to every muscled inch of him that my mouth goes dry. I have been happily married for forty-three and a half years, but I am neither blind nor dead, and anyone can admire the conformation of a fine thoroughbred.

What is he doing here? One of my friends had a similar visit when she offended a character by not knowing how to pronounce his name, and I must admit to providing Aldridge with plenty of reason to be annoyed with me.

“Good morning, Aldridge.”

He quirks one corner of his mouth, the signature half-grin I’ve seen so many times in my imagination. “So this is where you make us all,” he says.

“Here, on the way to and from the office, sitting up in bed, out in the lounge,” I tell him. I write all my first drafts on the iPad, which goes everywhere with me. And even when I’m not writing I’m often thinking about little bits of dialogue or ways to solve plot issues, or details of character background.

He nods as if I’ve said all that aloud. “We never leave you alone, do we?” His warm voice is sympathetic.

“Take a seat, Aldridge,” I suggest, but he shakes his head.

“There is only the one chair, ma’am,” he points out. True. I work at a standing desk and the room is small, so the only chair is the one my husband uses at his workstation. And Aldridge, whose manners are impeccable, would never sit while I remain standing.

“Fetch a chair from the next room,” I tell him, and he brings in a dining room chair, which he turns back on to the seat I’ve now taken and straddles, resting his elbows on the curved wooden top rail.

I return to his question. “You never do,” I agree. “You, in particular, Aldridge. This latest book was not on my publication schedule, but you insisted.” I have around 40 plots roughly sketched covering 20 years in the fictional world that Aldridge inhabits, and A Baron for Becky was not one of them.

He dismisses my complaint with a casual wave. “You are pleased with this book,” he reminds me. “And it is not my book, anyway. It is very much Becky’s book.”

This is true, but it was Aldridge who bothered me until I began writing. And his presence in the book is not inconsiderable.

“Is there something I can do for you, Aldridge?” I asked.

He widens his eyes, cocks his head to one side, and straightens his lips to look sincere. “I thought it would be nice to visit.” His guileless look wouldn’t fool me even if I had not made him. I raised six children. I know when someone is trying to feed me a line.

“You have some questions?” I ask.

I see the calculation in his eyes as he considers, and the moment when he decides to come clean; the relaxation of tiny muscles around the eyes and mouth, the sudden warmth in the gold flecks that lighten the brown of his eyes.

“How long do I have to wait?”

I know what he is asking, but I’m not sure what I can safely answer. It wouldn’t do to give him information he could use to avoid the stories to come. I had better find out what he already knows. “What year are you in, Aldridge?”

“1810, ma’am. The wedding was last week.”

Edward Archer by Andrew Plimer, 1815 copy

Anthony Grenville, Marquis of Aldridge

Ah. It will be a while then. In 1810, Aldridge’s happy ending was still four years in the future.

“I’m sorry, Aldridge. You will have to be patient. But trust me. I do believe in happy endings, you know.”

He stands abruptly, tipping the chair then catching it with a casual hand before pacing again—two paces to the paper store, two paces back to the bookshelf. With his back to me, he combs the fingers of one hand through his hair, a dearly familiar gesture that ripples the muscles of his shoulder in interesting ways.

When he turns again, his face is calm, set in its usual amused lines though the twinkle is missing from his eyes.

“I have no choice but to trust you, ma’am.” Then, suddenly wistful, “You will see us happy, will you not? As you did Rede and Anne, and their friends Candle and Min? A real marriage, with friendship and mutual respect as well as passion?” His brows draw together, and his voice is stern. “You are not always so kind to your characters, ma’am.”

I remember what happened to John, and am silent. Aldridge is right, but so am I. To be fair to my readers means being unfair to my characters, and happy endings for some may involve unhappy endings for others.

Aldridge will have his happy ending. I cannot promise him that, since his future must remain a mystery to him, but I know it. He has some trials to come, poor bedevilled rake that he is, but he will have his happy ending.

Perhaps he sees the truth in my eyes, because he leans over and kisses my cheek. “I know you will do your best,” he says. “I will talk to you soon.”

He fades from view, as if someone slid a transparency control, leaving nothing behind but the lingering scent of bergamot and wintergreen.

I have no doubt I’ll be hearing from him again; perhaps not in person, but certainly at 1.30am when I wake with his voice in my ears, telling me more of his personal story. Yes. Aldridge will certainly have his happy ending. In time.

A random commenter will receive a digital copy of A Baron for Becky.

About A Baron for Becky

Becky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde—the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man.

Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?

The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.

When Aldridge surprises them both with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.

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Excerpt

The maid must have added a fresh log to the fire just before they arrived. The top was still uncharred, but flames licked up from the bed of hot embers. A twig that jutted from one side suddenly flared, turned black, and shrivelled. The bottom of the log began to glow red.

The duchess spoke again, startling Becky out of her flame-induced trance.

“What do you want for your daughter, Mrs Darling?”

“A better life,” Becky said, suddenly fierce. “A chance to be respectable. A life that does not depend on the whims of a man.”

“The first two may be achievable,” the duchess said, dryly. “The third is unlikely in the extreme. And you expect my son to help you to this goal, I take it.”

Becky was suddenly tired of polite circling. “I was saving so that I could leave this life; start again in another place under another name. But my last protector cheated me and stole from me.

“I do what I must, Your Grace. Should I have killed myself when I was disgraced? I had no skills anyone wanted to buy. I could play the piano, a little; sew, but others were faster and better; paint, but indifferently; parse a Latin sentence, but not well. Should I have starved in the gutter where they threw me?

“Well, I wasn’t given that choice. Those who took me from the gutter knew precisely what I had that others would pay for. As soon as I could, I began selling it for myself, and I Will. Not. Be. Ashamed.”

Her vehemence did not ruffle the duchess’s calm. “We all do what we must, my dear. I am not judging you. Men have the power in this world, and we women of the gentry are raised to depend on them for our survival. But you must know that Aldridge cannot offer marriage to a woman with your history.”

About the Author

Jude Knight copyJude Knight writes strong determined heroines, heroes who can appreciate a clever capable woman, villains you’ll love to loathe, and all with a leavening of humour.

Jude Knight is the pen name of Judy Knighton. After a career in commercial writing, editing, and publishing, Jude is returning to her first love, fiction. Her novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair, was released in December 2014, and is in the top ten on several Amazon bestseller lists in the US and UK. Her first novel Farewell to Kindness, was released on 1 April, and is first in a series: The Golden Redepennings.

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Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

The success of Vauxhall naturally spawned imitators, but Vauxhall “outstripped all of them, not only in visitor numbers and longevity, but in the national and international renown achieved by the gardens, its use by writers as a setting in plays and novels, and the fact that its name became synonymous with the pleasure garden throughout Britain and all over the world.”

Ranelagh and Marylebone, however, did give Vauxhall’s founder a run for his money. S. Toupée, a correspondent from Scots Magazine (see last week’s post), writes:

It may not be amiss to tell you, the spirit of imitation increases amongst us every day. Vaux-hall has produced tickets and accommodations of the same nature, at Marybone, on this side of the Thames, and at Caper’s gardens, on t’other.”

Marylebone Gardens

John Donowell, A View of the Orchestra with the Band of Music, the Grand Walk &c. in Marybone Gardens, watercolor, 1755.

John Donowell, A View of the Orchestra with the Band of Music, the Grand Walk &c. in Marybone Gardens, watercolor, 1755.

Prior to its purchase by Daniel Gough, landlord of the neighboring Rose Tavern in 1737, Marylebone Gardens was “little more than a bowling green and gaming house.” In his attempt to imitate Vauxhall, “Gough built an outdoor Orchestra there… and installed an organ by Richard Bridge. In the winter of 1739-40 he added a Great Room for balls and suppers, facing the Orchestra.”

High quality music was the main attraction at Marylebone, and fireworks were added here decades before Vauxhall.

However, Marylebone did not even try to compete with Vauxhall in the visual arts, or in the order maintained in the gardens, and this proved to be its downfall; it was less selective of its visitors, and less proscriptive in the activities enjoyed by them, allowing the garden to become a haven for card-sharps and gamblers… Marylebone Gardens eventually closed, unmourned and leaving little trace, in 1778.

Ranelagh Gardens

T. Bowles after J. Maurer. Raleigh House and Gardens with the Rotunda, engraving, 1745.

T. Bowles after J. Maurer. Ranelagh House and Gardens with the Rotunda, engraving, 1745.

Opened in April 1742 by a syndicate of businessmen who saw the problems Vauxhall was having with inclement weather, Ranelagh featured a huge rotunda, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Giovanni Antonio Canal, il Canaletto. The Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh, oil on canvas, c.1751.

Giovanni Antonio Canal, il Canaletto. The Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh, oil on canvas, c.1751.

Large numbers of people could saunter, take refreshments and listen to music without any of the natural inconveniences of an English summer. The building itself, especially the great domed space inside, became an architectural wonder in its own right, attracting crowds just to see, even during construction. With its grand central orchestra stand rising to the roof, its two levels of supper-boxes around the walls, its elaborate plaster decorations and chandeliers, this mostly timber Rotunda, 185 feet in diameter, was a remarkable space… During its first year at least, the Rotunda was the subject of much talk among fashionable society; Catherine Talbot wrote to Elizabeth Carter just two months after it had opened, saying that London’s neighborhood

is enriched since you was here, with a building which I am told exceeds in taste and magnificence every one in Europe: to untravelled eyes like mine ’tis to be sure an amazing fine thing, and quite worth your coming to see it next year, by which time they may possibly have found all that it wants to make it complete; some use for it answerable to the fineness and stateliness of the structure, for to be sure it is quite vexatious at present to see all the pomp and splendour of a Roman amphitheatre, devoted to no better use than a twelvepenny entertainment of cold ham and chicken.

Ranelagh did give Vauxhall a run for its money, however, even “beating Vauxhall at its own game” for a time. However,

once it lost its novelty it also lost much of its appeal. It was always the least disreputable of the pleasure gardens, being free of strong liquor and of gambling. This attracted the older generation and the more conservative sector of the public, as did the half-crown admission cost (to include tea and coffee), which excluded a large section of the London population. It was this very respectability, and the limited opportunities for change, that eventually drove away the fashionable set of the next generation and led to Ranelagh’s final downfall.

Like Marylebone, and indeed like Vauxhall itself, Ranelagh started to run into real difficulties around 1780, when, because of riots in London and perceived threats of invasion from across the Channel, the public enjoyment of frivolous pleasures had become socially less acceptable. Its proprietors battled on for another twenty years, but finally gave up 1803, unable to adapt to the demands of a new and more demanding public.

Vauxhall Reigns Supreme

…the al fresco character of Vauxhall, and its intimations of physical and moral danger, were essential features of its popular appeal. The Rotunda undeniably kept Ranelagh’s visitors’ feet dry, and eliminated any element of risk, but once everybody had seen and been seen by everybody else, the circular promenade became profoundly dull and repetitive. The walks at Vauxhall, although all straight and at right angles to one another, were at least all different, and allowed visitors to choose which way they walked, and to escape the bright lights, while still hearing the music.

None of Vauxhall’s rivals encompassed such a strong moral ideology as Vauxhall, and few invested anything like the same amounts as Tyers in the design or in the artworks that decorated and themed their gardens. It is certainly due in part to these factors that Vauxhall succeeded above its competitors.

Alicia Quigley: The Contraband Courtship

ContrabandCourtship2Final-FJM_High_Res_1800x2700 copy

I’m happy to be back at Susana’s Parlour! I always enjoy my visits!

My latest book, The Contraband Courtship, came out in July. This is the second book in The Arlingbys series and it deals with Malcolm Arlingby, the Earl of Wroxton, the brother of Rowena Arlingby whose romance with the Earl of Brayleigh was the subject of the first book of the series, A Collectors Item. In that story, Rowena helped solve a murder case a dozen years old, which had resulted in the unjust exile of Malcolm to the Continent when he was falsely accused. In The Contraband Courtship, the Earl of Wroxton has returned to his estates for the first time in all those years to find that smugglers are using his property with impunity to move casks from the coast inland. However, that’s not all he finds.

He meets his headstrong neighbor, Helena Keighley, who is most definitely not impressed with “the Wicked Earl,” as he’s been dubbed. Neither is Malcolm all that fond of Helena. They make the perfect pair, though. Despite Malcolm’s name having been cleared, there are still those in the ton who look upon him as scandalous. Helena, unbeknownst to Malcolm at first, is no less welcome in polite society, having been the subject of a scandal during her Season.

I’ve written before on the topic of smuggling in the Regency, an issue that plays a huge role in The Contraband Courtship. This time, I’d like to talk about the courtship, not the contraband. Though if Helena hadn’t been part of a scandal years earlier, this courtship would be considered contraband (OK, we’d have to tweak the definition a bit as the word refers to goods, not relationships).

Courtship in the Regency

was a very serious undertaking that came with a fair number of rules. It was, for the woman, a matter of planning for the rest of her life. She wasn’t allowed to take an overt part in the process (baffling, no?) in order to protect her reputation and, in fact, had very little control in the matter other than the ability to refuse an unwanted suitor.

The man looking for a wife bore the responsibility of winning over a prospective bride. While technically powerless, that prospective bride did have some behind-the-scenes ability to influence the outcome. The fine art of flirting or subtler tactics such as seeking introductions while not appearing overly eager are a couple examples. Women had to be very careful, though; if they were seen as taking too much control, they ran the risk of being labeled hoydens.

Of course, the whole process was further complicated by those rules I mentioned. The couple could:

  • Never be alone in a room
  • Never travel in a carriage without a chaperone
  • Never speak privately (though dances were one way of bypassing that one)
  • Not correspond with or give presents to one another
  • Not have any intimate touch, including handshakes (again, dancing helped)
  • Not call each other by their Christian names
  • Not dance more than two dances on a given evening (rumors of an engagement were sure to follow if they did)

Indeed, the allowed form of greeting and leave taking was a curtsy or a slight bow of the head.

How does this impact Malcolm and Helena? In many respects, it gave them a lot more freedom. Plus, they were out in the country and not in ever-watchful London. Though, the social graces were minded in the country, too, there were fewer eyes trained on them. As a man in this situation, Malcolm has more freedom than Helena anyway; however, that’s only increased due to the location and his already somewhat tarnished reputation.

Helena, on the other hand, is in a unique position.

Her scandalous reputation also frees her from many of the usual social strictures of courtship. In her case, the freedom extended to not even considering the issue. After her disgrace, she retired to her family’s estate which she ultimately managed for her minor brother. Marriage was, in her mind, simply no longer an option.

Helena is much luckier than many Fallen Women, as they were known. It was not uncommon in the era for disgraced women to become prostitutes or courtesans. The difference between the two was often the level of companionship and the price. Courtesans offered more than just sex; a man could find companionship and, depending on the courtesan, intellectual entertainment.

Given Helena’s character, I cannot imagine either option would have appealed to her. Fortunately for her, she had an understanding family and the opportunity to return home to tend the estate. I find her to be a woman of great courage in the face of unfortunate circumstances. Such courage, strength of will and intellect make her the perfect woman for Malcolm, the Wicked Earl.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the courtship customs of the era. As always, it’s been a joy for me to share them with you!

About The Counterfeit Courtship

Malcolm Arlingby, Rowena’s headstrong brother from A Collector’s Item, settles into his new life as the Earl of Wroxton. Content to while away his time in the decadence he missed during his exile from England, Malcolm hasn’t been paying attention to the duties that come with the title. A letter from the mistress of a neighboring estate warns of smugglers using Malcolm’s lands for their dastardly deeds and he must finally put aside his entertainments to handle the business of being an Earl.

Helena, the one who sent the letter, is not the sour spinster Malcolm was expecting, however. She is a beautiful, vibrant and equally headstrong woman who is more than ready to take Malcolm to task for ignoring his duties. As the pair becomes embroiled in solving the problem of the smugglers, a strong attraction develops. The smugglers aren’t going without a fight, though.

Will a chance encounter with his new neighbor bring Malcolm all the things he never knew he wanted? Or, will the smugglers destroy it all? Find out in “The Contraband Courtship.”

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Excerpt

THE CONTRABAND COURTSHIP

CHAPTER 1

Malcolm Arlingby, Earl of Wroxton, awoke as the first rays of sun peeked around the edges of the burgundy velvet curtains that hung over the windows of his bedroom. He laid comfortably for a moment, appreciating the fineness of the linens that covered the bed, the luxury of the over-stuffed goose feather pillows, and the enormous size of the carved mahogany bed in which he rested. It was a far cry, he thought, from his life not six months before.

So much had changed, and yet so much had not. He still awoke early, no matter how late he stayed out, and he slept lightly, always with a sense of his surroundings. But this morning was much as the past mornings had been; he was safely ensconced in a luxurious bedroom, servants at his beck and call, the Wroxton fortune at his disposal, no longer having to live by his wits or earn his keep at the gambling table.

He rolled over and lazily eyed the woman who lay next to him. She slept soundly, her dusky hair strewn across the white pillows, one arm thrown over her head, the lace-edged sheet pushed down so one rounded breast peeped above it, its nipple a dusky pink. Malcolm reached out, touching it gently with one finger. Instantly it puckered and elongated, and, with a knowing smile, he lowered his lips, eagerly suckling the pointed tip.

“Mmmm.” The woman stirred, and, without opening her eyes, raised one hand to cradle his head. “What time is it?”

“Early, I think,” responded Malcolm. “Do you wish to go back to sleep?”

“I’m here for you any time, Malcolm,” she answered. Slowly she raised her eyelids to reveal a pair of liquid brown eyes flecked with gold. “Day or night.”

“Well, it’s barely day, but if you have time for me now…” Malcolm pushed the sheet down to cup her other breast in his hand as he moved to straddle her.

“Always,” she answered, her hands moving caressingly over his muscular chest, to follow the arrow of blond hair downward under the soft linen sheets. Malcolm groaned as her clever fingers found their target, and speared his fingers through her hair, as he pressed his mouth to hers, kissing her deeply. When he raised his head, she smiled and repeated, “Any time.” Then with a salacious smile she added “Any way

Much later Malcolm turned away from Estella and rolled onto his back, reaching out for a cigarette. “I can’t imagine what ails your husband, to neglect you so, Estella. You’re beautiful, more than willing, but not demanding, and amusing to converse with. Yet he is almost never at your side.”

“Richard is always pleasant company, when he is about,” she replied. “But he married only to provide an heir for the estates. It’s his duty, and he did it, but not with enthusiasm.”

“So, not much in the petticoat line, it seems,” Malcolm remarked. “Do you suppose he is a man milliner?”

“Oh, I have no notion,” Estella answered. “I am very fond of him you know, and he’s very helpful when it comes to all manner of things; he knows where the best tea is to be had, and the latest modiste, and is always completely correct when it comes to advising one on looking one’s best. But he has his own friends and amusements and really, I am not inclined to trouble him, if he does not trouble me. As long as I bring no cuckoos into the nest, he will not be unhappy.”

She rolled over onto him, propping herself on his chest with her forearms. “But why are we wasting our time discussing my husband? I promise you, he is not spending a moment worrying about me.”

Some hours later Malcolm strode down St. James Street, impeccably clad in dark blue coat of fine wool broadcloth. His cravat was tied in the mathematical knot, and his biscuit-hued pantaloons were tucked into betasseled Hessian boots with a mirror-like polish. He had left Estella sipping chocolate in his bed, well-sated. He knew she was clever enough to be gone by the time he returned; she knew better than to be demanding, and, in return, he indulged all her whims. Never, he thought, had he been more contented.

He strode up the stairs to White’s with a jaunty step. As he entered, a few heads turned, and he greeted their looks with a grin. Taking up a paper, he seated himself in a high-backed leather chair.

“Who’s the dashing fellow who just walked in?” asked one elderly gentleman of the man next to him.

Horace Worth gave him a surprised look. “Haven’t you heard? Oh, I’d forgot you’d been on the Continent these past months. Holmwood. That is the Earl of Wroxton.”

The gentleman turned in surprise. “Wroxton? I thought Felix Arlingby was the current earl.”

Mr. Worth shook his head. “No, that fellow is Malcolm Arlingby, the old earl’s son, returned to take up his birthright. “

The other man gaped. “Not the murderer?”

“No, not the murderer, or so it seems,” said Mr. Worth. “It appears that we were all mistaken. Malcolm Arlingby’s name has been cleared, and he has succeeded to his father’s estate.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. He was gone for twelve years or more, was he not?”

“At least. And now he’s back and has been cutting quite a swathe through Society,” said Mr. Worth with a shrug. “The ladies, of course, cannot resist his looks or his reputation as a bit of a rake, and as for the men—outside of some jealousy among them, there’s nothing not to like. He’s a fine horseman, a pleasant companion, pays his debts of honor, and is generous with his funds.”

As they gazed at Malcolm, an elegant dark haired gentleman entered the room and paused for a moment, obviously searching for someone. His sharp green eyes eventually lit on Malcolm, and he strolled across the room, dropping into the chair across from him. The elderly gentleman drew in his breath.

“Isn’t that Brayleigh?” he asked. “Malcolm Arlingby and the Earl of Brayleigh always loathed each other. I wonder they are sitting across from each other.”

Mr. Worth laughed. You have been gone far too long,” he said. “Brayleigh is married to Wroxton’s sister. They are—well, I will not say they are the best of friends, but they tolerate each other. I understand Lady Brayleigh will brook nothing else.”

“Well, I’ll be,” said his friend, staring openly at the two men. “Brayleigh and Wroxton are being civil to one another? I would never have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes!”

Brayleigh looked around and sighed. “You might as well put down your newspaper, Arlingby, I know you’re aware I’m here,” he said.

Malcolm lowered the offending broadsheet a few inches and peered at Brayleigh over the top of it. “Am I to have no peace?” he asked peevishly.

“None at all,” said Brayleigh with equanimity. “I wonder you can tolerate the attention. Horace has obviously just told the entire story to Rupert Holmwood. He is gaping at us as though we are here solely for his entertainment.”

Malcolm shook his head. “It is always thus. Just when I think everyone knows of it, some damned idiot turns up who must be enlightened.” He folded the paper and tossed it on the table next to him. “I don’t imagine you’re here for the pleasure of my company, Brayleigh. What does my sister want?”

A small smile appeared on Brayleigh’s face. “How well you understand me,” he murmured. “Rowena indeed asked me to find you and bid you wait upon her this afternoon. I gather she has some matters she wishes to discuss with you.”

“Lord help me,” said Malcolm. “What is it now?”

“I apprehend it has something to do with the Wroxton estates,” replied Brayleigh. “That, and your friendship with the lovely Estella Lacey.”

Malcolm groaned. “She has heard of that, has she?”

Brayleigh raised an eyebrow. “All of London has heard of that. Surely you were not under the misapprehension that the pair of you have been discreet?”

“We have no reason to be discreet, so I can’t see why anyone should care,” complained Malcolm. “Her husband has no interest in her now that she has given him a son, and it is not as though I have a wife to worry about.”

“And yet, everyone does care, because you are the notorious Malcolm Arlingby,” said Brayleigh. “Really, I would think that at this point you would be beyond being surprised.”

Malcolm shrugged. “It can’t be helped,” he said. He gave Brayleigh a rueful grin. “And a bit of gossip doesn’t matter to me. After all, if I survived the last twelve years, I can survive this.”

“Then you will not mind returning with me to Brayleigh House and explaining it all to Rowena,” said the earl calmly.

“I’d rather go to Almack’s and dance with chits just out of the school room all night, and you know it,” said Malcolm cheerfully. “But I suppose I had better get it out of the way. Rowena is nothing if not persistent.”

“A wise choice.” The earl stood. “The sooner you get this over with, the sooner you can return to the charming Estella.”

Malcolm rose reluctantly. “If Rowena doesn’t have other plans for me,” he said gloomily.

Brayleigh laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “I have no doubt that your sister only has your best interests at heart,” he said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” replied Malcolm.

The two men strolled out of the room, leaving Mr. Holmwood gaping after them.

One half hour later Malcolm and the earl entered the library at Brayleigh House, where a woman sat in an overstuffed leather chair, reading a book. She looked up when the two of them entered, and rose to her feet, her dress of figured muslin fluttering around her. Her wide violet eyes sparkled as she ran a few steps and threw herself into Brayleigh’s arms.

“Alaric, you found him,” she said. “How kind of you to help me.”

Brayleigh dropped a kiss on her cheek and slipped one arm around her waist. “It was not difficult, but I’m always happy when I can please you, my dear,” he answered.

“Lord, you two are tiresome,” protested Malcolm, throwing himself into an armchair. His stretched his long legs out in front of him and glared at them. “I think I liked it better when you were quarrelling all the time. At least that was entertaining.”

Brayleigh shook his head and released his wife. “I’m sorry you no longer find us amusing, Wroxton,” he said. “I, on the other hand, find this existence entirely pleasurable.”

He looked at his wife with a satisfied smiled, and she flushed slightly and reached out and took his hand.

“No, don’t start pawing at each other again, I can’t abide it,” said Malcolm. “What did you want to see me about, Rowena?”

With an amused glance at her husband, Rowena sank into the chair across from him, while Brayleigh leaned on the corner of the desk, his arms folded.

“Oh ho, it must be something very serious,” said Malcolm. “I count on you, Brayleigh, to give me your support.”

“Oh, I don’t meddle in Arlingby affairs,” said the earl calmly. “You will have to contend with Rowena in this matter.”

Malcolm groaned. “All right, what is it then?”

Rowena made an exasperated sound. “Malcolm, I know that you missed England and the pleasures of London dreadfully while you were on the Continent,” she said briskly. “But you have been the Earl of Wroxton for eight months now, and you still have not visited the estate.”

“I stay in close contact with the bailiff,” said Malcolm peevishly. “And both Father and Felix took good care of Wroxton. There is no reason for me to interfere in its running. Indeed, I doubt I’d be thanked for poking my nose into it.”

“But surely you wish to visit Wroxton and see how things go on,” said Rowena. “And you did tell me you wished to rebuild the stables.”

“What are you going on about? I have my horses here in London, where I can use them, and I’ve sent several to Wroxton as breeding stock. I don’t know why you’re suddenly so concerned about this,” Malcolm asked. “I think I deserve to enjoy myself a bit after everything that happened.”

“Of course you do, dear,” Rowena assured him. “It is just that—well, that it has been some time, and I wonder if perhaps you need to—well, think of the future a bit more.”

“Is this about Estella?” asked Malcolm suspiciously.

“Well, it is not only about Mrs. Lacey,” said Rowena, looking a bit embarrassed. “But, certainly, I have my concerns about her. She is married, Malcolm, and unlikely to be free to wed you any time soon.”

“Wed me?” Malcolm gave a hoot of laughter. “I should say not!”

“You see?” said Rowena. “I know that you wish to enjoy yourself, and I would never say you did not deserve to, but surely you are aware of the duty you owe your family.”

“Rowena, I have years ahead of me to sire a pack of children, if that’s what I decide needs to be done,” said Malcolm. “But for now, I have no interest in leg shackling myself to one woman. I’ve spent twelve years on the Continent living by my wits, and damn, I want to enjoy myself now. One of Estella’s principal charms—outside of the most obvious ones—is that she cannot importune me to marry her!”

“You are being very vexing,” said Rowena. “It is not that I wish to deny you your pleasures, Malcolm—”

“I should say not! And, sister dear, should you even know about Estella?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rowena crossly. “All the world knows about the two of you. I’m hardly an innocent. The gossips are only too happy to inform me that half the ladies in London have either succumbed to you since your return or to Alaric prior to our marriage.”

“Only half? Well, you might have taken Brayleigh out of circulation, Rowena, but you can’t force me into such a staid existence.” Malcolm gave his sister a shrewd glance. “There’s more here than you’re telling me. You might as well come out with it.”

Rowena exchanged a glance with Alaric. “Well, if you must know, I have received a letter from Helena Keighley.”

“Who?” asked Malcolm.

“Helena Keighley. The daughter of Sir Douglas.” At Malcolm’s blank look, Rowena sighed. “Really, Malcolm, this is why you must go to Wroxton. Sir Douglas Keighley’s estate marches with Wroxton to the west. You must have met him, and Helena, dozens of times when you were a child.”

“Oh yes, Keighley, I remember the name,” said Malcolm. “Sir Douglas, you say? As I recall, Father said he was a bruising rider to hounds.”

“Yes, Malcolm, I’m sure he was,” said Rowena impatiently. “But this has nothing to do with fox hunting. “

“A pity, I might almost be tempted to leave London for that,” said Malcolm. “What does this Miss Keighley want?”

“I received a letter from Helena a few days ago,” she said, producing a folded piece of paper and waving it at Malcolm. “She would have written to you, but had no idea where to find you, and we are acquainted. She is a year or two older than I am, but we did spend some time together as children, and of course I have met her at assemblies and house parties. Surely you remember her.”

“I can’t be bothered to remember your childhood friends, Rowena,” said Malcolm. “I had other things to attend to. What does this mysterious letter say?” asked Malcolm.

Rowena unfolded the letter and perused it quickly. “Here it is,” she said. “It seems that French brandy is being smuggled in through Kent, and the lack of interest of the Earl of Wroxton in his estate has been taken as a sign that his lands are free to be used for this purpose. While Felix Arlingby was not a strong-minded gentleman, he cared enough to prevent such nonsense, but now landings occur almost nightly. I have no doubt that some of the servants have been bribed to allow this. The whole affair is unsettling; I have no desire to see Keighley lands overrun by ruffians because Wroxton is poorly managed. It is imperative that your brother cease his wastrel ways and take up the responsibilities that come with his birthright. He was ever an irresponsible young man, but surely the circumstances of the past years must have brought him some wisdom, no matter how slight. Please inform him that he is needed immediately at Wroxton.”

“What a termagant!” said Malcolm. “She doesn’t even know me, and she’s calling me a wastrel!”

“You might not remember Helena, but I have no doubt she remembers you,” said Rowena. “You were wont to tease her unmercifully when we were young.”

“Did I?” asked Malcolm. “Well, she no doubt deserved it; she sounds to be remarkably pert. And why isn’t Sir Douglas attending to this? It seems deuced odd to me that Miss Keighley should be meddling.”

“Sir Douglas is elderly and—and not quite right in the head,” said Rowena. “And her brother is only seventeen. Helena has been managing the estate quite successfully for some years.”

“She’s unmarried, I suppose?” asked Malcolm. When Rowena nodded, he shook his head. “I can see her now; a prim and proper spinster, glaring at me from behind spectacles.”

“That is not fair,” protested Rowena. “Helena is really quite lovely.”

“Then why is she unmarried?” retorted Malcolm.

Rowena looked nonplussed. “Really, Malcolm, Miss Keighley’s personal life is not what I wanted to talk to you about. Surely you can see that you must go to Wroxton and take care of this.”

“I don’t see why the bailiff can’t handle it,” said Malcolm. He groaned when Rowena glared at him. “Oh, very well, I will go to Wroxton. You are right; I should have gone months ago. I am the new earl, and it’s time I took charge.”

At Rowena’s look of amazement, he laughed. “I’m not such a wastrel as you and Miss Keighley think, little sister,” he said. “I know I should have visited long ago, but I didn’t want to force cousin Felix to leave hastily, and then, after he moved out—well, then other things happened, and I didn’t care to leave London. But it shouldn’t take long to tidy this up, and I can do the pretty in the county; talk to the gentry, visit the tenants, and be back in no time.”

Rowena blinked. “Thank you, Malcolm.”

He laughed. “You thought it would be much harder to convince me, didn’t you? But some time away from London won’t go amiss—Lady Hartsmoor seems determined that I shall marry that whey-faced daughter of hers, and if I make myself scarce, perhaps some other fool will catch her eye.”

“I’m just pleased you are going, and, to be truthful, I wouldn’t want you marrying Lady Maria; she seems dreadfully dull. I will write to Helena and tell her that you will be visiting Wroxton soon.” She paused. “You won’t take Mrs. Lacey with you, will you? I’m not sure the countryside is ready for her.”

“I doubt she’d go,” said Malcolm cheerfully. “She’s very fond of me, but fonder of her modiste, I’d say. And when I return she’ll be that much happier to see me.”

He stood and dropped a kiss on Rowena’s cheek. “I will try to not disgrace the Arlingby name,” he said teasingly. “But this Miss Keighley sounds terrifying. I only hope I can stand up to her!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rowena fondly. “I’m sure you will take care of things quickly, and Helena will be a great help to you. She is very sensible and intelligent.”

Malcolm grinned. “So, not my sort of woman at all,” he laughed. “I’ll leave in a few days, and be back before you know it.” He shook Alaric’s hand and, with a wink at Rowena, sauntered out of the room.

Rowena shook her head as the door closed behind him. Alaric walked over to her and took her in his arms.

“Why did you not tell him about Helena Keighley?” he asked.

Rowena wrinkled her nose. “He was gone when the scandal broke, and does not know of it. There is no reason to spread gossip, particularly when I have no idea what truly happened. Helena never speaks of it, and I know better than most about being compromised! I see no reason to cause her further distress.”

“He is expecting a dried up spinster,” said Alaric. “I’d say Miss Keighley will be a bit of a surprise.”

Rowena laughed. “Indeed, she will. I suppose it is too much to hope that Malcolm will understand how extraordinary she is.”

“Your brother? He can’t see past the end of his nose,” said Alaric. At Rowena’s cross look, he chuckled. “And now, my dear, I am weary of the subject of the Earl of Wroxton. Perhaps we can find a more congenial way to amuse ourselves.”

With that, he lowered his lips to Rowena’s, and she very soon put Malcolm out of her mind.

CHAPTER 2

Malcolm left Brayleigh House in a thoughtful mood. He knew that Rowena was right, and that he should have traveled to his estates long ago. But he had always found an excellent excuse not to visit; at first he had not wanted to rush the removal of his cousin, who had been named the earl in his absence, and then there had been innumerable amusements to attend and the threads of old friendships to pick up. And Estella, of course. She had blown into his life and into his bed in a matter of days, a situation that he did not regret.

In his more reflective moments, he realized too that he had avoided visiting Wroxton because it made him think of his father and the days before his exile on the continent. He had respected his father, but as a youth had thought him too staid and serious. To a youthful Malcolm it had seemed as though his father’s interest in his estates and his books had kept him from enjoying life to its fullest. Visiting the Wroxton lands as the new earl would mean that it was time for him to take up the responsibilities and duties of his father.

Malcolm ran a hand through his fair hair and frowned. It had to be faced, he supposed. It was not as though he would have to stay long, though. He would nip down to Kent, make sure the local authorities were on the job, spend a week or so placating the neighbors, and see that Miss Keighley was no longer upset. It was a good thing she was a spinster, he thought. He knew the ladies found his dashing ways attractive, and he had little doubt that he would be able to charm her.

His soon arrived home and he entered the hallway with a frown on his face. He started slightly when he saw Estella in the center of the room, looking charming in a lavender-hued muslin morning dress with VanDyked trim. She gazed into the mirror, holding a deep poke bonnet, as though she had just been preparing to nestle it over the abundance of dark brown ringlets that surrounded her piquant face.

She blinked her large hazel eyes at him in the mirror and turned, smiling. “What are you doing back here so quickly?” she asked. “I was just leaving.”

Malcolm paused a moment to admire her fine figure, and then took her hand. “It’s just as well,” he said. “I need to talk to you.”

“What did you need to say to me, Malcolm?” she purred, moving closer to him.

“It’s not that, Estella,” said Malcolm hastily. At the look on her face, he shook his head. “Not that I’d mind at all, but I do want to talk to you for a moment.”

“Talk?” said Estella. “You rarely want to do that.”

“It’s just that I need to go down to Wroxton for a week or so,” he said.

“Whatever for?” asked Estella. “Surely your bailiff can handle matters for you. The countryside at this time of year would be dismal.”

“No doubt,” said Malcolm. “But I’ve avoided it as long as I can, and now there is a matter of smugglers. The neighbors think they’re using my property and want me to put a stop to it.”

“You?” Estella laughed. “You’d be more likely to encourage them, no doubt. I’ve never known you to question where your brandy comes from.”

Malcolm grinned reluctantly. “It’s not that I particularly care about the smugglers. But they’re upsetting the tenants and the neighboring gentry. My sister tells me it is high time I take up my duties as earl.”

Estella pouted charmingly. “Your sister again,” she said. “Why does she feel she needs to meddle in your life?”

“My sister is the reason I’m the Earl of Wroxton, and not dead, or still in exile,” observed Malcolm. “Besides, in this case, she is right.”

“Are you sure she’s not simply trying to get you away from me?” asked Estella.

“Well, I don’t suppose it bothers her that we’ll be apart,” observed Malcolm. “But I don’t think that’s her main concern.”

Estella glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “I could go with you,” she ventured.

Malcolm laughed. “Didn’t you just say the country is dismal at this time of year? I would enjoy your company, but it won’t do to shock the gentry on my first visit home in twelve years. It’s not that I won’t miss you, Estella, but you wouldn’t be happy at Wroxton.”

“So you will simply leave me here alone? I shall grow bored,” she warned.

“Don’t try to make me feel sorry for you; I doubt you’ll miss me for a second,” said Malcolm cheerfully.

“And if I find another man to amuse me?” asked Estella.

“That’s your business, darling,” said Malcolm cheerfully. “I never asked you to be true to me.”

Estella made an exasperated noise. “You might at least pretend you care for me,” she said.

Malcolm chuckled. “If you thought I cared for you, you’d take advantage of me, my dear,” he said. “But I’ll admit that I will miss you, especially at night.”

Estella smiled winningly. “I will miss you, too,” she murmured.

“Then I’ll look forward to my return,” said Malcolm cheerfully. “I’ll wrap up this little problem and take care of Miss Keighley as quick as can be and come back to town before you have time to notice I’ve gone.”

“Miss Keighley?” asked Estella.

“Aye,” said Malcolm. “She’s the daughter of the neighboring estate. It seems she wrote to my sister to complain of the smugglers. I take it she’s a bit of a dragon and will need some soothing.”

“Miss Helena Keighley?” asked Estella.

“Dash it, stop saying her name over and over,” said Malcolm. “Yes, Miss Helena Keighley.”

“Oh,” said Estella, stretching the word out to several syllables.

“Oh, what?” asked Malcolm crossly.

“I think I am acquainted with your Miss Keighley,” said Estella.

“She’s not my Miss Keighley,” responded Malcolm. “She sounds remarkably as though she’s nobody’s Miss Keighley.”

“Well, then I believe I know Miss Helena Keighley,” said Estella. “We are much of an age, and she came out the same year I did.”

“Well, she’s unmarried, so I gather she didn’t make a splash,” said Malcolm.

“Oh, she made a splash,” said Estella, looking a bit smug.

“Damn it, Estella, if you want to tell me something, tell me,” said Malcolm peevishly.

Estella shrugged. “Miss Keighley was quite lovely, if you care for lanky redheads.”

“I prefer petite brunettes, myself,” said Malcolm promptly.

“I suppose I should be glad of that,” Estella said coyly. “As I said, she was quite lovely in her own way, but she didn’t attract many suitors.”

“And why was that?” asked Malcolm.

Estella shrugged. “She seemed to think rather highly of herself,” she ventured. “She was forever expressing her opinion. The gentlemen were rather taken aback.”

Malcolm grinned. “I imagine they were. Rowena has that effect on men, though Brayleigh doesn’t seem to care.”

“Well, I thought her quite tiresome,” said Estella. “I suppose someone may eventually have made her an offer, as her father is wealthy, but then something happened.” She paused dramatically.

“I suppose it must have, as she is unmarried,” said Malcolm unhurriedly.

Estella glowered at him for a moment. “If you are minded to be unpleasant, I won’t go on.”

Malcolm shrugged. “Then don’t,” he said. “I’ve no interest in old scandals.”

“Oh, you are impossible,” laughed Estella. “But I will tell you anyway. “

“I thought you might,” said Malcolm.

“One night, at a rout at Montagu House, she was discovered in a compromising situation with Lord Denby,” said Estella, lowering her voice in a conspiratorial manner. “They were quite alone in a curtained anteroom, and he was holding her in his arms!”

Malcolm wrinkled his nose. “I can’t like Denby,” he observed. “He always seemed to be a bit underbred.”

“That is not the point,” said Estella. “Miss Keighley apparently found him attractive enough! But then something even more shocking happened!”

“Well, I’m not all that shocked by your first revelation,” observed Malcolm. “I know from experience that things aren’t always what they appear.”

“You cannot possibly be defending her,” objected Estella.

“I don’t know the woman, why would I defend her?” said Malcolm. “She’s making my life deuced uncomfortable just now. I only said that things aren’t always what they appear to be.”

“You can be so tiresome at times,” said Estella. She paused, and then leapt back into her story. “As I said, the story became more complicated. Lord Denby proposed, of course, as he was honor bound. And Miss Keighley turned him down!”

“Did she so?” asked Malcolm. “Smart girl. As I said, Denby always makes me a bit uncomfortable.”

“Well, she was kissing him, so I have no idea why she turned him down. She was ruined, of course! No man would have her, as she clearly had no care at all of her virtue!”

Malcolm laughed at that. “Since when do you have such a care of yours, Estella?”

Estella drew herself up. “I am married, and there is no breath of doubt with regard to my son’s parentage,” she replied, offended.

“But you haven’t seen your husband in months,” said Malcolm. “And it’s no secret whose bed you are in each night.”

“Richard doesn’t care. And I am married,” Estella repeated.

“Ah, I see,” said Malcolm. “That makes all the difference.”

“It does indeed,” said Estella. “We all know how these things work. If you mean to say Miss Keighley is much like me, I think I will be very hurt.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s not like you at all,” said Malcolm.

Estella looked at him closely, wondering whether to be offended. She finally smiled charmingly. “You are such a wretch, Malcolm,” she offered. “I am convinced you are trying to provoke me.”

Malcolm smiled lazily. “Now, why would I want to do that? I am happiest when you are pleased with me, to be sure.”

“If you wish me to be pleased with you, you will no longer compare me to Miss Keighley,” replied Estella.

“If you will forgive me, I am tired of the subject,” said Malcolm. “Surely there is something more interesting we can do than discuss a spinster I do not remember who is doing her best to make my life uncomfortable.”

Estella glanced at him from under her lashes. “I was about to leave,” she said. “But if you wish, I could stay for a bit.”

“A capital idea,” said Malcolm.

CHAPTER 3

One week later Malcolm rode up to Keighley Hall on a well-made dark bay hack. He eyed the timber-framed manor house closely; while it was several centuries old, it was well-kept, and the paths and grounds surrounding it were manicured and verdant. Clearly, whoever was attending to the land had a fine attention to detail.

A footman emerged from the house to take the reins of his horse, and he dismounted gracefully, with a word of thanks.

“Is Sir Douglas at home?” he asked.

“Sir Douglas does not see visitors,” said the manservant. “If it’s about anything to do with the estate, you’d be wanting Miss Keighley.”

Malcolm sighed. He had hoped he might be able to avoid the redoubtable Miss Keighley. But he could recognize when he was defeated.

“Is Miss Keighley available, then?” he asked.

“She’s not in the house,” ventured the man. “She’d be down at the stables. I don’t know how long it will be before she returns.”

“Well, I have business with her that can’t wait,” said Malcolm. “I’ll find her for myself.”

“Miss Keighley might prefer that you wait in the house,” said the footman doubtfully. “I could show you in and fetch her for you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Malcolm. “I know her from when we were children. I doubt she will care.”

Under the lackey’s doubtful gaze, Malcolm stalked off in the direction of the stables. As he walked, he looked around him, absently admiring the tidiness of the grounds. It compared favorably to Wroxton, and he felt a pang of guilt about the neglect his ancestral lands had suffered over the past months. Miss Keighley clearly knew well how to run an estate. He was too accustomed to Rowena’s unconventional behavior to consider that odd, but he nonetheless felt a reluctance to meet her. He had a constitutional dislike of being ordered about, and he feared that Miss Keighley was very much the sort of woman who would feel he needed guidance.

Miss Helena Keighley pushed a lock of auburn hair out of her eyes and sighed, as she felt at the loose bun she had gathered her hair in before coming out to check the horses that morning. Reassured that it was not going to come down completely, she rubbed her hands over the canvas apron that covered her faded blue-grey linsey-woolsey dress, and the equally worn dark blue spencer she wore over it. She looked at the groom and the horse he was holding in the barn aisle.

“Is he lame, Macklin?” she asked.

“Yes, came out of his stall this morning limping, miss,” he replied.

“Poor boy,” Helena crooned to the horse as she reached down to lift his hoof. She felt it carefully, finding a sensitive spot. “You can feel the heat in it. ‘Tis almost certainly an abscess,” she said. “Soak it in Epsom salts, and put a drawing poultice on it. Perhaps we can bring it to the surface, so it will drain.”

“Aye miss, I thought the same. I expect we’ll have a bit of time with him for the next few weeks though. The wet weather in the spring always seems to bring it out in him.”

Helena smiled her agreement, and patted the horse’s neck in sympathy, then blew gently at his soft nose. The smile brought a glow to her face, and lit up her large brown eyes. Framed with thick black lashes despite her auburn hair, and surmounted by finely shaped brows, they typically surveyed the world with a bit of cynicism, but were softened now by her affection for the horse. She had a straight nose, high cheekbones and plush-lipped mouth above a very firm chin. With her fine complexion and delicate color, she presented a rather startling contrast to the decidedly shabby garments she wore. Helena raised her face from the horse, removed her apron and looked at the groom.

“Thank you, Macklin,” she said. “I suppose I will go back to the house now.”

The groom nodded and walked away, leading the limping horse slowly. Helena stood for moment, enjoying the pleasant scent of the hay in the stalls and savoring the time alone. While she was truly devoted to tending the estate that belonged to her father and would pass from him to her brother, at times it seemed as though she never had a moment for herself. If tomorrow were fine, perhaps she would shirk some of her duties and take a book down to the cliffs for a few hours.

Her reverie was interrupted by the sounds of boot heels ringing on the floor of the stables, and a cheerful whistle. She looked up to see a tall, slender gentleman sauntering towards her, dressed very elegantly in a riding coat of a green so dark it was reminiscent of a pine forest at night, buff colored breeches, and white topped riding boots, clearly made to measure and polished to a mirror shine. His pale hair was modishly cut à la Brutus, and his angelic blue eyes were wide set in a face that, while not classically handsome, held a great deal of charm. She drew in her breath slightly. Many years had passed, but she certainly recognized Malcolm Arlingby, despite the tiny lines that now creased the outer edges of his eyelids. It seemed her letter to Rowena had done its work.

She looked down at herself, momentarily dismayed by the shabbiness of the grey dress she was wearing, but then dismissed the thought. If Malcolm had not already heard of her scandalous past, someone was bound to enlighten him soon. It made very little difference what she might look like. She stepped forward into the sunlight that slanted across the stable.

Malcolm stopped, the whistle arrested on his lips. His eyes trailed over Helena’s slender figure and widened.

“I was expecting a groom, or perhaps a stable boy,” he said cheerfully. “But I think you’ll do, my girl.”

Helena’s eyes widened at his impertinent words, and she opened her mouth to give him a sharp set down, but Malcolm continued.

“Where’s your mistress? I have business with her, and was told she was to be found in the stables.”

Helena froze. Clearly, he not only did not recognize her, and had mistaken her for a servant. She glared at him disdainfully.

“You’re a haughty one, ain’t you?” said Malcolm, a laugh in his voice. “Is Lady Helena not about then?”

Aware that her genteel speech would give her away, Helena said nothing.

Malcolm shrugged. “Women,” he said. “Never where you want them to be. But you, on the other hand—well, if I’d remembered the serving girls were so lovely in Kent, I’d have been back before this.”

Before Helena could react, Malcolm had an arm firmly about her shoulders and had pulled her close to his lean body. Helena was startled to realize that, despite her own height, her head just barely overtopped his shoulder. Before she could contemplate that fact any further, however, Malcolm lowered his head to hers and kissed her firmly on the lips. She made an outraged sound.

“Hush,” said Malcolm cheerfully. “It’s not as though you haven’t been kissed before, my girl.”

Helena raised her hands to his chest to push him away, but somehow found herself only pressing her palms against his broad shoulders, as she breathed in the hint of sandalwood and cinnamon scent that must have lingered from his morning ablutions, spiked with the warmth and scent of his skin. It was remarkably appealing, and she breathed in deeply, feeling her lips soften against his. The earl clearly felt her relax, for his hands slid down to her waist, pressing her chest against his. He slanted his head a little and she felt his lips pressing hers open. She felt her bosom swell and tighten, and her lips opened involuntarily and when Malcolm’s tongue touched hers, a bolt of sensation shot downward, and she felt an instant urge to press her hips forward against his. Suddenly, reality intruded on her, and she pushed firmly against Malcolm’s chest, wresting her lips from his. He moved back a half step, and then dropped his head to briefly kiss the side of her neck before straightening.

Malcolm gazed down at her steadily, a hint of perturbation in his eyes. “That was—remarkable,” he said softly. “Some local lad is a lucky fellow, to be sure.”

Helena stepped back, fighting the urge to press her hand to her lips. She had made a grave mistake it seemed, in not informing Malcolm who she was. But that was, nonetheless, no excuse for his behavior. It seemed that his years abroad had not taught him discretion. But, she realized ruefully, hers had been equally lacking. Something about Wroxton’s scent, feel, and presence seemed to call to her on an elemental level.

Malcolm pulled himself together and, fishing in his pocket, produced a guinea, which he pressed into her hand. “I thank you, my dear,” he said. “I did not mean to impose upon you, but your loveliness could not be resisted. I meant to see your mistress, but somehow I cannot regret her absence. Do you know where I might find her?”

Helena paused a moment, and then tilted her chin at him proudly. “I don’t know,” she said, producing her finest Kentish accent. It was imperfect, but the earl did not appear to notice. “But her abigail told me she means to go to the assembly at Folkestone tonight.”

Malcolm groaned. “I can’t abide country dances. So provincial and the refreshments are terrible. Do you think Miss Keighley has returned to the house?”

Helena shook her head firmly. “No, she’s not in the house,” she assured him.

About the Author

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Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.

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