Keep Calm and Read This: Caroline’s Censure by Zoe Burton

Keep Calm and Read This: Caroline’s Censure by Zoe Burton

It’s my pleasure to welcome Zoe Burton to the blog this week. She’s a devout Janeite who brings us a generous sneak peek into book three of her sweet Jane Austen Fan Fiction series, Darcy Marriage. The title alone will make me purchase this book!

One newly married couple plus one troublemaking best friend’s sister equals a challenge to face.

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy have already dealt with plenty of people who object to their marriage. Now they are faced with one more.

Caroline Bingley, Darcy’s best friend’s sister, has always wanted Darcy for herself. Now that he is married and can no longer be hers, she resents the new Mrs. Darcy and will stop at nothing to cause discord between the newly-wedded couple. When she hires someone to make it appear that Darcy is unfaithful, will Elizabeth believe his claims of innocence, or will she turn away from him and live a life of mistrust and heartbreak?

Caroline’s Censure is the third book in Zoe Burton’s Darcy Marriage Series. If you like catty villains, devoted heroes, and sweet romance, you’ll love this Pride and Prejudice novella variation.

Chapter 1

Elizabeth Darcy’s wide eyes sought out her husband’s as they rose to greet the newest visitor to Netherfield Park. The Darcys were newly-married, and had spent the previous few weeks visiting the estate, which was being leased by Fitzwilliam Darcy’s friend, Charles Bingley. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, had just sauntered in, unexpectedly and with derogatory comments to her brother about the house.

Darcy returned his wife’s look with a roll of his eyes. While Elizabeth had never met Bingley’s sister, Darcy had been avoiding her since almost the moment they became acquainted. Her current unpleasantly dramatic entrance, typical behavior on her part, was the reason. That, and the fact that she quite obviously set her cap at him the first time she met him. He wondered why she was here now, given what he knew about her current circumstances. Darcy reached for Elizabeth’s hand, laying it on his arm and squeezing it. If it were not the height of rudeness, he would seat them both; they ought to be comfortable while they enjoyed what was certain to be a spectacular performance from Caroline Bingley.

“Caroline, what are you doing here? Why are you not in Yorkshire?”

“Can a sister not visit her brother? I read your letter describing Netherfield and knew I must see the place for myself.”

“With no warning? How do you know I have a room for you?” Bingley shook his head. “Seriously, Caroline, if this were your home and someone did that, you would be angry. In any event, we will have to discuss it later. Come, greet the Darcys.” He gestured to the group of chairs and couches clustered in the center of the room.

Caroline’s sharp eyes had not missed that her brother’s guests were his friend and his friend’s sister. The other two were unknown to her, but based on her mode of dress, one was probably Georgiana Darcy’s companion. The other, Caroline could not begin to speculate on, but she could not like the way the ugly little thing stood so close to Darcy. Surely that is not his new wife? Why, there is not a fine feature in her face! I will put a stop to that immediately.

“I see them standing there! Mr. Darcy,” Caroline cooed, approaching him with a gleam in her eye as her hands reached out to clasp his unoccupied arm. “It is so good to see you again.”

Disengaging his arm from Caroline’s clutches, Darcy returned her greeting. He turned toward Elizabeth, intending to introduce her to Bingley’s sister, when Caroline interrupted.

“And Miss Darcy! My, how you have grown since last I saw you! I am delighted you are here! We shall have a merry time together!”

Georgiana Darcy blushed at Caroline’s rudeness, and her fawning. She was not confident enough to say what she liked…that she doubted they would have a good time and she was eager to see Caroline’s face when Elizabeth was introduced…so she simply smiled and nodded. With luck, she will turn her embarrassing attention elsewhere. When it became obvious that Caroline was going to continue speaking instead of asking for introductions to the ladies in the room that she did not know, Georgiana gathered her courage and, blushing, blurted out, “May I introduce you to Mrs. Annesley? She is my companion; she came to me a few months ago.”

Not one to miss the opportunity to ingratiate herself with someone of higher standing, even if it meant acknowledging that person’s servant, Caroline fixed a smile on her face and greeted her newest acquaintance before turning her attention back to Darcy.

“Mr. Darcy,” she began as she settled herself into the nearest sofa. “Come, sit here; tell me how you have been.”

Darcy’s mien, always serious, took on a harsher cast as his anger grew at Caroline’s slight of his wife. He opened his mouth to speak but shut it again when his friend spoke to Caroline.

“I am amazed at your rudeness, Sister. You sit as though there is no one else in the room to whom you need an introduction.” Bingley stepped from his position in the center of the room to stand on the other side of Elizabeth from Darcy. His position was as symbolic as it was practical. He had been out from under his sister’s thumb for months and had found the time apart rather freeing. He had come to realize how often and thoroughly she had run his affairs while they lived in the same house; he did not wish to return to such a situation. He needed her to see that he was his own man, one who knew right from wrong and would act according to his own wishes. “Darcy attempted, when you spoke to him before, to introduce you to Mrs. Darcy. You will stand and allow him to do so.”

Her sour look indicated to all Miss Bingley’s feelings about her brother’s edict, yet rise she did. Silently, she allowed the object of her former—and, if one were honest—current desires to introduce his wife. His wife! Caroline seethed inside, even as she curtseyed and greeted Mrs. Darcy with a weak smile and lukewarm words.

Caroline Bingley was Charles’ youngest sister and the baby of the family. Indulged by her parents, she was unused to being denied what she wanted, and what she wanted, from the first time she laid eyes on him, was Fitzwilliam Darcy. The wealthy and handsome Darcy was everything Caroline ever desired in a husband and was her way to raise her family above their tradesman roots.

Caroline’s father had worked hard to make certain his children had the funds set aside that would allow them to rise above their status and into the world of the landed gentry. It was her mother, however, who impressed upon a young Caroline the importance of moving up in society. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley had passed several years ago, but Caroline could still hear her mother’s voice in her ear, drilling into her the expectations of her parents. Caroline had taken those admonitions to heart and, after Mrs. Bingley passed, vowed to marry as high as possible.

It was not that Caroline had ever loved Darcy. She did not believe in love. Love was for unambitious fools who were satisfied with remaining where they were instead of advancing. She was not a fool. What Caroline had loved was Darcy’s status, and his income. She had found him rather dull as a person; he was always serious and stern and hated the social whirl that she thrived on. She had not been worried about these differences, since she could have worked on him after they were married and changed his feelings about society, thus ensuring she would not have been denied the thing she loved the most.

Caroline had been within reach of her goal, she thought, until this past spring, when she was involved in a public altercation with the daughter of a viscount at one of the premier social events of the season. Now, she was back in the south of England, after spending months in Yorkshire with her sister, brother-in-law, and aunt. She had arrived at her brother’s estate a few minutes ago. She was not impressed. Her brother’s voice as he gestured for her to sit was full of irritation.

“What do you mean by calling Netherfield a hovel? This is a beautiful estate!”

“It sits out in the middle of nowhere, Charles. There is nothing here. Have you seen that crossroads they call a town nearby? I daresay there is nothing fashionable to be found, much less purchased.”

“Well, Sister, it is a ‘country estate.’ Surely you did not expect a large population.” Bingley did his best to rein in his anger at Caroline’s presumption. “Why are you not in Yorkshire with our aunt? And, what about your suitor?”

“My suitor,” Caroline sniffed. “I do not know what Mr. Meade is doing. I could do far better than the likes of him.” Her eyes strayed to Darcy, then to the woman sitting beside him, narrowing to slits as she surveyed the well-dressed nobody. Choking back a sudden flood of tears and knowing she needed time alone to think about things, she suddenly stood. “I should like to refresh myself. I shall see you at dinner. You do serve dinner at the usual hour?”

“I do, but Caroline, I do not want to hear that you have berated my staff if your rooms are not ready for your use. You came here uninvited and unannounced, and made more work for an already very busy household. It is not your place to disrupt things. I should tell you that I have asked Mrs. Darcy to be my hostess and to run my house while she is here. If you remain at Netherfield after the Darcys leave, you are free to take over, but until then, it is my wish for her to continue as she has.”

Caroline kept her face as blank as possible at this news, but inside, she was seething. It was an insult for her brother to choose to allow that woman to remain in control of his house when he had a female relative to take over. Not wishing to cause a scene by speaking her mind in front of everyone, Caroline contented herself with a small smile and a curtsey before walking away.

Chapter 2

Caroline paced her bedroom, back and forth from door to nightstand, over and over again. Never one to suffer fits of nerves, she felt today as though she might come apart at the seams. Her mind was full to overflowing with thoughts and feelings.

Caroline had never been so humiliated as she had been in the spring, when she lost her wits and had a physical altercation with Miss Lavinia Pittman. The contretemps began with some verbal sparring, but deteriorated rapidly, culminating in violence. Caroline shuddered at the thought. The memory was still distressing to her. She maintained, however, that she was not the one who started it, and that she was, and remained, the injured party. The fact was, Caroline had been the first to put her hands to use in the argument. Not that anyone who witnessed it could pinpoint it. The ladies were pulled apart soon enough, and both left the ball. Caroline had removed herself from London soon after, claiming she had become a laughingstock.

She did not know what came over her; the viscount’s daughter had been arrogant, but Caroline knew well how to defend herself from that sort of thing. It was not even that Miss Pittman described Darcy in such glowing and intimate terms. Caroline was used to other ladies speaking of him in such a fashion. What had sent Caroline over the edge of reason was the other woman’s comment that Caroline was too far beneath Darcy to ever receive his notice, or that of any of his friends. To Caroline, those words were akin to waving a red flag before a bull. Before she knew what she was about, she had a handful of Miss Pittman’s hair and a bloody nose. She took herself off to Yorkshire to spend time with her aunt.

My aunt. Caroline sighed. Aunt Augusta had insisted that, since Caroline had made a cake of herself over a gentleman who had not wanted her, it was time she married someone who did. She made the point that if her niece had shamed herself and her family, she would not be able to make a good match in London, anyway. Caroline had finally admitted, reluctantly, that her aunt was probably correct. She definitely did not wish to return to London anytime soon, anyway, and she could not live with relatives forever. So, Aunt Augusta took her around to every local dinner and ball she could wrangle an invitation to, introducing her to all the single gentlemen and wealthy tradesmen she could find. Then, she insisted that Caroline entertain them when they came to call. Though she whined and complained, her aunt would not give way, and Caroline entertained. In the end, the only gentleman she did not drive away was Mr. Meade.

Mr. Albert Meade was an estate owner, and almost as rich as Darcy. He was older than Darcy, but could not be considered an old man by any stretch of the imagination. He was, Caroline had to admit, a perfectly acceptable match. Except, he was not part of the ton. He did not go to London for the season, ever. He was old money, there was no denying. His property had been in the family for centuries, possibly longer than Pemberley had belonged to the Darcys. But, Mr. Meade chose not to participate in London society, the one thing Caroline craved above all others.

Mr. Meade had proposed recently. Feeling that she had no other real options, as she was not welcome to stay with her sister and brother-in-law, the Hursts, and was not invited to rejoin her brother’s household, Caroline accepted.

Two days later, she ran. Leaving the house in the middle of the night, she walked the mile to the nearest post stop, hauling herself up into the coach without assistance and settling in between an elderly woman carrying a chicken and the hard wall of the conveyance. After three days of nonstop travel, she finally found herself at her brother’s leased home in Hertfordshire in a guest room at the farthest corner of the house.

With nothing to do for half a week but sleep and think, Caroline spent much time in contemplation. She had not left a note behind. She had not thought to. Her entire focus had been on leaving.

Caroline could not say for certain why she left her aunt and her betrothed in such a rush. All she knew was that she felt inside as though she needed to go in order to release the tight feeling in her lungs and calm the pounding of her heart. An animal need to get away had clawed in her and only now could she breathe fully again. She spent much of her time holding back tears, willing herself to remain calm and in control. However, seeing who was here and how Charles intended to treat her, she half-wondered why she bothered.

Mrs. Darcy. Caroline could not get those words out of her head; had not since she first saw the piece in the newssheet. The weeks-old paper her aunt received had contained a notice of Darcy’s marriage, but Caroline had insisted it must have been printed in error. Though she had initially denied it to herself, Caroline had known immediately upon entering Netherfield’s drawing room which unknown woman was she—never before had she seen Darcy so solicitous of any female other than his sister. It was clear to anyone who had an eye for fashion that, while her clothing was made of superior fabrics and excellent in quality, it was rather plain. No self-respecting lady of high society would be caught dead wearing a gown that lacking in embellishments. Her poor taste combined with an astonishing lack of beauty both marked her as below Mr. Darcy’s notice, or so Caroline thought, and beneath Caroline herself. She knew Mrs. Darcy to be a Hertfordshire native from the newspaper report of the marriage. Therefore, Caroline had no compunction in thinking of her in a derogatory fashion, referring to her mentally as that country chit.

Though Caroline railed to herself about the marriage and the unfairness of life, she knew there was nothing to be done. Darcy was lost to her. Her deep disappointment and the resulting tears of anger and despair were not going to help her get him back. As her aunt had stated, upon hearing Caroline’s loud denials of the marriage, once married, only death could separate a couple. Her aunt had warned her to forget Darcy and move on.

Caroline could not do that. While she knew that the couple was married forever, Caroline was determined to make them as miserable as she was, and to cause Darcy to regret his choice. She would quietly observe, she decided, and find things to use to that end. When a small voice in Caroline’s head asked her why she would do such a thing to someone she had only just met, Caroline pushed it away. She did not have to have a reason; she wanted what she wanted, and that was that. She had not been denied anything as a child, and had not denied herself as an adult. I do it because I can.

~~~***~~~

Caroline descended the staircase again just before dinner was announced. Exactly as she had planned, she was quiet much of the time and observant always. When she spoke, it was to inquire of Mrs. Darcy as to her origins, education, accomplishments, and connections. Mental notes were made as to the lady’s comportment and habits. Though Elizabeth appeared on the surface to be perfectly acceptable, Caroline found plenty of ammunition to use to demean her. However, she would not start this night. There was no point in making her brother angry right away. She would continue to gather information and begin her attacks in a day or two.

For the rest of the party, a quiet Caroline was a relief. Though she was tolerated because she was Bingley’s sister, and most of his guests humored her in her desire to be the center of attention, the meal was far more enjoyable when she did not speak.

~~~***~~~

The following afternoon afforded Caroline the chance to meet Elizabeth’s father, and two of her sisters. It was immediately apparent that Charles was smitten with the eldest of the Bennets, Jane. It was equally obvious that the family was not as high as they should be for Darcy to have aligned himself with them. Cynically, Caroline wondered just how Elizabeth Darcy got her husband to propose. She attempted to draw the younger of the sisters, Mary, into conversation, in order to worm out of her information about the circumstances of the Bennet family. Unfortunately for Caroline, Miss Mary found her manner to be arrogant and her questions impertinent and intrusive, and soon stopped replying altogether.

Once the Bennets had made their farewells, Caroline, uncaring that she had an audience, began to interrogate her brother about Jane. Charles, though, was not having any of it, and before she knew it, had whisked her out of the drawing room and down the hall to his study.

Allowing his sister to enter first, then locking the door behind him, Charles did not wait for her to sit before he began to speak. “Caroline, I do not know why you have come to Netherfield, but I must warn you now that my business is my own and I am not required to share it with you. You cannot come to someone’s home, uninvited, and expect the running of the place and all its secrets to be handed to you.”

Bingley strode to his desk, picking up a letter that had come in the morning mail. “I received this from Aunt Augusta. She says that you accepted an offer of marriage, and then disappeared in the night without so much as a note telling her where you had gone. Why? Thankfully for you, my aunt was able to concoct a story to explain your disappearance, or your reputation would be ruined. Again I ask, why? Why would you risk so much to come to a place you obviously do not like?”

“If I have no right to know your business, then you have no right to know mine,” Caroline sniffed, raising her nose in the air and looking past her brother’s head.

“There is where you are wrong, Sister dear. I hold your purse strings. I can supplement your funds, and I can restrict them. And, your betrothed must come to me for permission to marry you, and to gain my approval for your marriage settlement. I have every right to know what is happening with you.”

Caroline paled, not appreciating the reminder of who controlled her money. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, pressing her lips together and flattening them into a thin line. She shrugged, turning her head away from her brother.

“What? You have nothing to say?”

Silence.

“I will ask you directly, then. Why are you here and not in Yorkshire with Mr. Meade?”

More silence.

“Sister, if you do not tell me, I will withhold your funds until the day of your marriage. As a matter of fact, I will withhold all moneys, and you will marry without wedding clothes.”

Turning a scorching glare on Charles, Caroline finally gave in, confessing, “I do not know why I am here. I saw the announcement of Mr. Darcy’s marriage in the papers the day Mr. Meade proposed. He had come to visit in the morning, and asked me to marry him; and then in the afternoon, I read the notice. All I could think about was that I had banished myself to the hinterlands and lost my chance at the wealthiest gentleman I know.”

“Darcy would never have married you. I have told you this, many times. Never, under any circumstances. Even had he been disposed to think you a good marriage partner, your altercation with Miss Pittman would have put the notion out of his head.”

Caroline felt a sudden onset of tears, but forcibly kept them at bay. Swallowing hard, she replied, “I know! There is no need to remind me. He is married and as good as dead to me, or at least, to my prospects.”

“I am glad to hear you say this. I need not fear, then, that you intend to try to separate them?”

“Once married, always married; is that not what Aunt Augusta says?”

“She does,” Bingley confirmed. “I am happy you have heard her.” Bingley’s stance softened, and his voice gentled. “I wish for you to be happy, Caroline. I am proud of you for giving Darcy up. Now you need to get back to your life, and that means going back to your aunt’s and preparing for your wedding.”

Caroline nodded. Though she acquiesced to him, she seethed inside. I may not be able to separate Darcy from his legally married wife, but I can make sure they are not happy.

Pick up your copy of Caroline’s Censure right now!

 

 

Books one and two of the Darcy Marriage series are also available by clicking the graphics below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoe Burton first fell in love with Jane Austen’s books in 2010, after seeing the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice on television. While making her purchases of Miss Austen’s novels, she discovered Jane Austen Fan Fiction; soon after that she found websites full of JAFF. Her life has never been the same. She began writing her own stories when she ran out of new ones to read.

Zoe lives in a 107-year-old house in the snow-belt of Ohio with her two Boxers. She is a former Special Education Teacher, and has a passion for romance in general, Pride and Prejudice in particular, and NASCAR.

Zoe is a PAN member of the Romance Writers of America, the Northeast Ohio chapter of the RWA, and the Beau Monde chapter of the RWA. She also belongs to the Jane Austen Society of North America, and JASNA’s Ohio North Coast chapter.

Join Zoe’s mailing list here and connect socially with Zoe by clicking the graphics below!

 

 

 

 

And remember to always #ReadaRegency!

 

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Keep Calm and Read This: The Reunion by Sara Portman

Keep Calm and Read This: The Reunion by Sara Portman

Sara Portman joins me this week to showcase her award-winning, debut novel. It was chosen a Top Pick by RT Book Reviews. They said, “Portman’s debut is smart, sharp and insightful, ushering readers into a detailed historical setting, and right into the middle of an emotional and utterly rewarding romance. Her heroine’s unwavering strength and refreshing self-confidence make her a perfect match for her wounded but headstrong hero…a must-read.”

An inconvenient engagement turns a marriage of convenience into so much more in this sparkling new series from award-winning author Sara Portman . . .

Lady Emmaline Shaw’s reputation was irreparably damaged when her fiancé, John Brantwood, disappeared immediately after their engagement four years ago. Since then, she’s grown from a shy, uncertain girl to a woman who knows her own mind. And what she knows is that London society holds nothing for her.

Rumor has it that John ran off to war and died in battle. Now, as the new Duke of Worley, his shocking resurrection throws the ton into a tizzy and makes him one of England’s most sought after bachelors—except that he’s already engaged.

John needs a wife capable of smoothing his beloved sister’s introduction into society. But though Emma happily grants him his freedom, her fiery beauty and resilient spirit hold him captive. In fact, John has no intention of letting her go. Her fate is now in his hands, but will her heart be safe there?

“Although…” John shifted closer and gently brushed his hand down her forearm. “It seems a shame not to marry when we’ve only just discovered what a compatible pair we will be.”

Emma looked up, her amber eyes bright with alarm. “The vicar is across the hall.”

He smiled wickedly. “I believe I may want to add a condition.”

He watched her flush deepen as possible conditions tumbled through her mind.

“But you already have a condition.” Her words were hasty and flustered. “You…you want me to help Charlotte.”

He shrugged. “Another condition, then.” He pressed even closer, using up the remaining inches between them.

When she lifted her amber eyes to his, he took her gaze and held it locked with his own, transmitting all the intensity he’d felt since she’d entered his home, and watched her flush from top to bottom. She’d been feeling the same attraction as he throughout their conversation, and, with his stare, he challenged her to admit it.

Her eyes widened, apprehension growing, until she did admit it. She didn’t say it, but for a brief, nearly imperceptible moment her gaze dipped to his mouth, betraying her thoughts.

He broke the moment with a triumphant smile.

“I’d like you to ask me.”

Her shoulders fell with an exasperated exhale of air. She glared. “You want me to ask you to marry me?”

He nodded. “Sweetly. With a kiss.”

“But the vicar is across the hall.”

“You’ve already said that.”

“It bears repeating.”

He laughed at the reprimand in her tone. She needed kissing—an excessive amount—and he rather looked forward to providing it.

“That is my condition.” He made the declaration firmly, but he softened it with a coaxing smile. “Come now, Emma. A chaste kiss shared by an affianced couple won’t scandalize the Betancourts or anyone else.” In truth, if the vicar understood what John would really like to do with his daughter’s dear friend, he should have charged across the hall with a pair of dueling pistols.

Emma swallowed. “Oh, very well.” She exhaled and clasped her hands in front of her before looking up at him. “Will you marry me, please?” She darted quickly forward to place a brief kiss in the air near the general location of his cheek.

He shook his head slowly back and forth as she looked defiantly up at him. “That was, frankly, weak in every respect. Surely you’re braver than that.”

Her eyes narrowed. “My Lord Duke,” she began with venom, “would you do me the very great honor of allowing me to become your wife?”

He waited but she failed to follow her words with action. He leaned in. “Now the kiss, dear.”

 

 

 

Additional Books in the Brides of Beadwell Series:

 

THE OFFER
available October 24, 2017

 

THE CHASE,
available November 21, 2017

 

Sara Portman is an award-winning author of historical romance. Her debut novel, THE REUNION, was named the 2015 winner in the Historical Category of the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest.

A daughter of the Midwest, Sara was born in Illinois, grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Ohio. In addition to her writing endeavors, Sara is a wife and mother in a large, blended family.

When not reading or dreaming up romantic fiction, Sara works in corporate finance by day and holds a B.B.A. in Accounting from the University of Toledo. As part of her academic experience, Sara spent a semester in London, UK through a study abroad program at Richmond College. Her anglophile tendencies continue today.

Connect with Sara!

 

 

 

 

And remember to always #ReadaRegency!

 

Keep Calm and Read This: Only a Hero Will Do by Alanna Lucas

Keep Calm and Read This: Only a Hero Will Do by Alanna Lucas

This week’s guest is historical romance author Alanna Lucas, who deliciously brings the past to life one romantic adventure at a time. She’s sharing a tantalizing peek into her new release, Only a Hero Will Do. She also has a giveaway opportunity for her fans!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defender of the realm…and his wary heart…

Captain Grant Alexander is an enigma in London society. Dashing and handsome, he coldly eschews marriage. But the ton knows nothing of his role in the Legion: to bring Typhon, the traitor who seeks to destroy the British monarchy, to justice.

When Grant is thrown together with fellow Legion member Elizabeth Atwell, he’s instantly beguiled yet exasperated by this beautiful viscount’s daughter. She has little interest in combing the marriage mart for a well-bred, well-heeled husband, but is adept at code-breaking and handling a bow and arrow. She also refuses to do as she is told, insisting she accompany Grant on his mission.

As Typhon continues to evade capture and dark forces are at work, Grant realizes he must act, not only to protect the realm but Elizabeth too…not to mention his heart, which is in danger of thawing every time she comes close…

Chapter One

London 1811

Elizabeth strolled into the stuffy, overly perfumed, and crowded ballroom. Some of the finest families of the ton were in attendance this evening. She pretended she had not a care in the world, but all the while took note of those around her.

Within the mass of well-dressed lords and ladies, Lord Fynes caught her eye, offering a slight nod toward the less crowded terrace. This was the signal she’d been waiting for all night.

Promenading the perimeter of the dance floor and heading toward the terrace, Elizabeth feigned interest in the quadrille, but continued to glance sideways at the portly Lord Baxter, the man she was to keep an eye on this evening.

Elizabeth had been given the tasks of attending social functions where Lord Baxter was present and taking note of whom he interacted with, and any other odd behavior. If it weren’t for Lord Fynes’ cryptic note about a stolen missive needing to be deciphered posthaste, and Lord Baxter’s sudden decision to attend Lady Caper’s ball this evening, she’d still be at home pretending to be ill. But these new developments took precedence over avoiding social obligations.

Elizabeth’s mother, however, was thrilled with the last minute alteration to the evening’s plans, promising Elizabeth would have a splendid time and declaring that, by the end of this season, her daughter was sure to have an offer of marriage. There was only one problem with her mother’s theory; Elizabeth had no interest in marriage. Truth be told, she had never been a starry-eyed debutante setting her cap at handsome men. Not that she wasn’t interested in the opposite sex. She just did not want to give up the life she’d worked so hard to build. She wanted to serve her country and help bring down Typhon, the Legion’s mysterious and deadly enemy.

Despite the Legion’s efforts to apprehend Typhon over the past several years, he’d continually managed to evade capture. After the last informant had turned up dead, all traces of Typhon and his miscreants had vanished, until last month when the Legion had received word from the Earl of Hartland stating he had uncovered information regarding influential members of the ton who were sympathetic to Typhon’s anti-British cause. Lord Baxter’s name was at the top of the list.

Lord Fynes’ exuberant voice rose above the chatter, breaking into Elizabeth’s reflections. “Miss Atwell, what an unexpected surprise it is to find you here this evening. I do hope your family is well. Is Lord Atwell in attendance?”
She flicked her fan open. “My father is not in attendance, but is well, thank you, Lord Fynes.” Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Lord Baxter heading their way. The continual mopping of his brow, combined with his anxious expression and jittery movements, added to Elizabeth’s suspicions. She didn’t know if Lord Baxter suspected anything, but there was no time to contemplate the possibility. Lowering her voice, she spoke between waves of her fan. “What news?”

“Standard assignment to be delivered by Cap…” Lord Fynes halted his sentence before pasting a wide smile on his face, and in a boisterous voice exclaimed, “Lord Baxter! I was hoping we’d meet again this evening and continue our engaging discussion about the benefits of sea air on one’s constitution.”

Lord Baxter’s face paled as little beads of sweat outlined the corners of his brow. “Oh yes, of course, sea air… one’s constitution… perhaps later.” He gulped the words down with force. Pulling out a white cloth from the edge of his coat, he wiped his brow with much force. “Quite warm this evening,” was all the man could mutter before waddling away. It was difficult to believe the always-discomposed Lord Baxter could be involved in anything nefarious. Elizabeth suspected the man’s immense wealth had attracted Typhon’s attention.

Masking her thoughts, Elizabeth resumed the role of guest at Lady Caper’s ball. “I had best be returning to my chaperone. It was a pleasure to see you this evening, Lord Fynes.”

“Give your father my regards.” Bowing slightly, Lord Fynes uttered under his breath, “Captain Alexander…tonight.” Without further adieu, he took his leave, disappearing imperceptibly into the festive crowd.

Although she’d been deciphering messages for Lord Fynes since she was an adolescent, Elizabeth had only recently joined the ranks of the Legion, a secret organization created to destroy anything or anyone that might compromise the security of the realm. Thankfully her father had not objected, and her mother had no knowledge of her surreptitious activities.

The daughter of a viscount simply did not risk life and limb. No, the daughter of a viscount was expected to marry well, provide heirs, and know the latest on dits. The daughter of a viscount was expected to behave herself, do what she was told, and not be in possession of a weapon of any sort. Elizabeth had absolutely no interest in being that daughter.

She forced her best smile and prepared to wait. Patience was not her strong suit. Scanning the room, she looked for the man she’d heard so much about but had yet to meet. She’d been following his impressive military career for several years and was anxious to make his acquaintance.

When Typhon had struck again a few weeks ago, Elizabeth was not surprised to learn Captain Alexander had been appointed to discover the identity of the man who had been slowly undermining British authority and weakening general confidence. Typhon’s ultimate goal was to destroy the crown. His ever-expanding organization knew no boundaries, and it was the Legion’s responsibility to bring him to justice. Elizabeth had no doubt Captain Alexander would be the man to accomplish such a feat, and she wanted nothing more than to be part of that team.

Anxious energy coursed through her limbs. If she stood still much longer, she might scream. Across the room, she spotted her chaperone, Lady Carteron—her recently married and dearest friend, Amelia— and decided to join her.
Elizabeth thought it quite ridiculous that, at the age of six and twenty, she still needed a chaperone. She did not quite understand how her younger friend provided any additional protection because of her recent change in marital status. Her mother and father, however, did not share her sentiment.

Girlish giggles followed by excited hushed whispers drifted over from a group of young ladies. The room quieted as all heads turned toward the entrance and the mysterious newcomer. It seemed as if every lady in attendance had noticed his arrival and were prepared to throw herself in his path.

He had the stature of a military man, proud and confident but not arrogant, and stood at least a head above most of the men in attendance. There was an air of danger and mystery about him that Elizabeth found intriguing. Could this be Captain Alexander?

Elizabeth strolled over to Amelia, but kept her eyes settled on the handsome gentleman in a dark blue coat. “Who is the impressively tall man?”

His gaze swept through the ballroom, resting on Elizabeth. Rapid flutters pattered against her chest as her eyes locked with the mysterious newcomer, catching her off guard. She quickly turned her gaze as if looking for someone.
Amelia leaned in and whispered, “That is Captain Alexander. He’s recently returned from Glanmire House.”
Oh dear. Elizabeth had heard he was handsome, but he was a veritable Adonis!

“And standing next to him is Sir Simon,” Amelia added.

Oh, so that is Sir Simon. Elizabeth had heard the numerous tales about his bravery, and his reputation with the ladies. She tried to suppress a giggle. Sir Simon’s renown was second only to the Earl of Hartland’s. She had no interest or time for rakes and scoundrels.

“They’ve been the best of friends since childhood.”

Amelia always seemed to know everything about everyone. Calling her a gossip would have been a gross understatement. Except for the one not-so-minor flaw, Amelia would have made an excellent agent. However, she was instead a loyal friend who, without a doubt, would never betray Elizabeth’s trust. Even still, Elizabeth had always acted with extreme caution regarding her other life. Few knew the truth of her association with the Legion, and she meant to keep it that way.

She happened another glance at Captain Alexander, who was now engaged in conversation with Lord Capers. His stoic features gave nothing away. She suspected that beneath the rigid and all too handsome façade was intelligence and compassion. There was just something about his aura that told her he was a good man. A good man and an excellent spy.

“What do you know of Captain Alexander?” Elizabeth questioned without thought, wanting to know more than just of his military career. Not that she had any interest in the Captain beyond the professional, but she’d often found a person’s past influenced their present course.

Take herself, for example. Elizabeth had always been told she would never be able to fire a pistol, or hit a target with an arrow, or have a place in a man’s world. But the moment her late grandfather had revealed his secret, she’d instantly known the path her life would take. She was going to prove every naysayer wrong.

Amelia took in a deep breath and began to rattle off the facts. “He was a sickly child, often bedridden. Both his parents died when he was still fairly young and has no other living relatives. He has served in the military, but no one knows much about his service apart from his strong sense of honor and duty. He has traveled extensively and speaks multiple languages. Rumor has it that his late grandfather had amassed quite a fortune in trade and acquired Brookhurst, a lovely property near the Peak District. He’s not married.” Elizabeth eyed her friend, about to ask if that was all the information Amelia had on Captain Alexander when she added, “Oh, and he’s thirty years old and has managed to keep all romantic entanglements out of the gossips’ ears. Other than that, his life is shrouded in mystery.”

“Yes, shrouded in mystery.” Somehow Elizabeth was able to hold in the laughter. Apart from extremely personal details, Amelia had covered all the basics.

How would she approach him without raising suspicion? Did Captain Alexander know who she was? Perhaps he already applied to the master of ceremonies for an introduction.

She was contemplating her next course of action when Mr. Cokinbred, one of many fortune hunters in attendance, sauntered to where her and Amelia were standing.

“Lady Carteron,” Mr. Cokinbred said in a polite, if not slightly condescending tone, before turning his attention to Elizabeth. “Miss Atwell, it is a pleasure to see you this evening.” His smile widened revealing a set of ill-maintained teeth. “May I have the pleasure of the next dance?”

Propriety dictated she accept, but conformity was not a common word in Elizabeth’s vocabulary. “I thank you for the offer, but I am rather tired at present.”

Mr. Cokinbred’s face turned to an unflattering shade of red. Under his breath he muttered, “Good evening,” before storming away, clearly displeased with Elizabeth’s refusal.

Amelia leaned in and, with a teasing whisper, said, “Your mother will be none too pleased when she hears of your refusal to dance.”

Ignoring Amelia’s comment, Elizabeth shifted her attention back to the dance floor. The orchestra was in place and guests were lining up for the next set. Sir Simon had already secured his dance partner. She noticed Captain Alexander standing alone off to one side, surveying his surroundings. Despite the lack of gentlemen in attendance, he had yet to ask a lady to dance. Perhaps he was not as much of a gentleman as she’d first thought him to be.

A group of colorful young debutantes paraded in front of Elizabeth, obstructing her view of Captain Alexander. How was she to catch his eye if she couldn’t even see him? By the time the young ladies flitted past, he was nowhere to be seen.

She flicked open her fan for the second time in a span of fifteen minutes and began fanning herself fervently. It was becoming quite the undesirable habit.

“Are you alright, Elizabeth dear?”

Elizabeth clutched her chest with her other hand and let out a long sigh. “It is rather warm this evening. I fear I may be taking ill.”

Amelia raised a single delicate brow, her eyes narrowing with a dubious look. They’d been friends a long time and Amelia instantly knew when Elizabeth was up to something. “I find it rather pleasant this evening,” she teased.
Keeping with her charade for those who might overhear, Elizabeth continued to fan herself. “I believe I just need a moment’s reprieve. Do you happen to know the way to the ladies’ retiring room?”

“Down the hall.” Amelia pointed before adding in a hushed tone, “The same direction in which Captain Alexander disappeared a short time ago.”

Elizabeth snapped her fan closed. “I don’t know why I even bother.”

“Because I am your dearest friend and want to help.” Although Amelia did not know the specifics of Elizabeth’s involvement, she had always suspected it had something to do with the government. On numerous occasions she had tried to weasel it out of Elizabeth, all in good fun of course, but Elizabeth had never conceded. Amelia had promised on pain of torture and death never to reveal what she suspected. And she had never given Elizabeth cause to doubt that promise.

Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you. I won’t be long.”

Edging along the perimeter of the crowd, Elizabeth trudged toward the ladies’ retiring room under the charade of illness. When she reached the hall, she resumed her normal pace.

Elegantly dressed ladies paraded up and down, ready to resume their husband- hunting antics, their giggles echoing off the gilded mirrors and fluted columns.

Even before she saw him, she felt his larger than life presence. Captain Alexander.

She strolled around a column, pretending to admire a rather grotesque orange, green, and gold floral vase. Captain Alexander was leaning against the wall, partially hidden from view by another column and a decorative pedestal. Her earlier assessment of him did not do him justice. He was like a Greek god, but more handsome and far less arrogant.
“Have you noticed that Mr. Devlin’s bays are mismatched?” His soft deep voice sent a tingle all the way down to her toes, catching her off guard for a moment.

What was wrong with her? Despite the many attempts by the ton’s most handsome rakes and scoundrels, she’d never been this distracted by anyone before.

Breathing in deeply to steady her nerves, she swallowed the hard lump in her throat. Neither attempt was of any use. Ignoring the intense fluttering in her heart, she replied in code, “Yes, I believe he acquired them in Dublin.”
Captain Alexander surveyed both directions before nodding toward a partially opened door. Elizabeth glanced behind to ensure no one was watching and then followed him into the dark drawing room.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to her surroundings. Slowly, a couple of sofas flanking a large table came into focus.

Captain Alexander came up besides her, turned and faced the door. The aroma of fresh soap and leather encircled Elizabeth, infiltrating her senses. They were common enough scents, but on him were intoxicating and far too intriguing.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Atwell.” His words were a mere whisper. “And quite an honor that you side-stepped Mr. Cokinbred and left your chaperone to meet with me.” The teasing tone in his voice made her insides tingle. For the first time in her life she understood why her sisters all swooned at the sight of a handsome man.
“I do not care for the rules of the ton, especially when they are far inferior to protecting and safeguarding our country. I believe you share this sentiment, Captain Alexander?”

A slight laugh escaped his lips. “Yes, I would assume Lady Carteron informed you of who I was and told you my entire life story?”

“Only the highlights.” Elizabeth confessed with a nervous giggle. Focus on the task at hand. “I understand you have something for me?”

Captain Alexander took her gloved hand and slipped a folded piece of paper into her palm, then closed her fingers over the small missive. The motion seemed intimate, inappropriate, and all too enticing. A strange inner excitement coursed through her veins.

“Guard this well. Lord Fynes will be calling on your father first thing in the morning.”

Captain Alexander did not wait for her response, but disappeared further into the darkness of the drawing room. A cool breeze and another hint of fresh soap and leather drifted through the space, followed by the soft click of a door closing.

Elizabeth took the folded letter and smoothed it across her chest, tucking it into her dress and nestling it on the outer curve of her breast. The intense beating of her heart was a steady staccato against her hand. She sighed deeply, letting her head fall back against the wall.

“Elizabeth,” a soft voice questioned from the hall.

At least she wouldn’t have to pretend to be flustered. Captain Alexander had aided her sufficiently with that unwanted response.

She edged off the wall, smoothed her hand across her chest, ensuring the missive was securely hidden, and then strolled toward the doorway. “In here, Amelia.”

Before Elizabeth reached the door Amelia pushed it open, allowing candlelight from the hall to filter into the drawing room, casting eerie distorted shadows across the walls. “What are you doing in here?” She glanced about as if expecting to find someone.

“I just needed a quiet moment.” After her brief encounter with Captain Alexander, that was the truth.

“You are missing all the dancing. I promised Lady Atwell I would not let you be a wallflower this evening. You already turned away Mr. Cokinbred. If you don’t make an effort, your mother will not ask me to chaperone again, and then where will you be?”

Elizabeth had never been a wallflower in her entire life. Her decision not to be social had nothing to do with shyness, but an intense unwillingness to abide by the ton’s rules. But Amelia was right. She had to make an effort, or else risk having her mother at her side at each and every future event of the season until she was married off. A fierce shudder replaced the delightful tingling she’d felt only a moment ago.

She sucked in her breath and forced her best I’m-enjoying-the-evening smile. She might look the part of a viscount’s daughter, but inside beat the heart of a spy.

Grant was relieved to be back in the quiet of his room. He found social functions more draining than marching in the rain through ankle-deep mud. Sighing deeply, he enjoyed the silence that afforded him time alone with his thoughts. The evening had not turned out as expected.

When he’d informed Lord Fynes about the missive he’d recovered and whom he believed had written it, he’d expected his superior to handle it himself. But when Grant received orders that he was to deliver the coded missive to Miss Atwell, he’d expected an old spinster who dabbled in amateur mysteries. However, instead of an elderly woman on the cusp of death, a lady who could bring any man in a room to his knees had greeted him. Not just greeted him, but enticed him in a way no other female had before.

Sinking into the warm comfort of the leather chair, Grant’s thoughts strayed to Miss Atwell. She had turned down a dance and left her chaperone’s side, all to accept a missive? Her large brown eyes held an intelligence far beyond her youthful years, and then there was her luxurious brown hair that glistened beneath the candlelight, not to mention her voice…her voice was pure heaven. She was the type of woman dreams were made of— entirely perfect, but far out of Grant’s reach. Miss Atwell was the daughter of a viscount, lest he forget that not so minor detail.

How was it even possible the daughter of a viscount was the Legion’s top decoder? And why hadn’t he known about her previously?

From Lord Fynes he had learned she was able to decipher codes faster than any man, and also had a knack for puzzles. It was a talent that made her highly valuable to the organization in this game where time was of the essence.

When he’d pressed Lord Fynes for further details about Miss Atwell’s background and qualifications, he’d been warned that the information was classified. Although Grant understood the need for discretion, he detested all the secrecy. It made it difficult for him to do his job and protect his team when he didn’t have all the facts.

He swirled the brandy in his glass, watching the liquid slowly ripple to a gentle stop. Lifting the glass to his lips, he inhaled the fragrant aroma before taking a long, slow sip. The fiery liquid burned as it traveled down his throat and settled into his gut. Why would a lady born to privilege want to do such work?

Grant suspected he could drink all night and still not be rid of the image of the beautiful and intelligent Miss Atwell. He was far too intrigued by her, and not just in the physical sense.

 

 

 

Alanna is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card in celebration of her new release. Click the gift card below to enter!

 

 

 

Alanna Lucas grew up in Southern California, but always dreamed of distant lands and bygone eras. From an early age she took interest in art, history, and travel, and enjoys incorporating those diversions into her writing.

Alanna makes her home in California where she spends her time writing historical romances, dreaming of her next travel destination, and spending time with family.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

 

 

And always remember to #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: One Night With a Duke

Keep Calm and Read This: One Night With a Duke

It’s my pleasure to welcome Regency Romance author Sandra Masters this week. We’re going to take a look at the fifth book in The Duke series, and not only are we treated to an interview with himself, the Duke of Ravensmere, Sandra wants to give away a book to one lucky visitor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting: Regency England 1817, the industrial revolution, and returning soldiers with no employment set the scene for political turmoil.

His Grace, Raven, Tenth Duke of Ravensmere, reclusive, politically powerful, denies love after the tragic deaths of his duchess and baby son. Bound by a deathbed promise made ten years prior, he has vowed never to allow love to enter his heart again.

He meets Lady Samantha Winston, a young widow, who permits him to seek refuge in her carriage in a time of need, and what started out as a kiss in the name of safety, became pleasurable and not safe at all. In spite of every caution, his interest escalates into unexpected but welcomed desire.

Author: What is your main fear, Your Grace?

His Grace: Being a mature and politically savvy peer, I feared to fall in love again passionately as I did with my late wife. The loss of her and our son paralyzed my every thought. To assuage the remorse, I delved more into all political events and devoted my efforts to my constituency and the tenants on my estate. England won the war against France but bankrupted the country. My goal was to propel my country back into the forefront of the financial world. My loveless life continued. And then by accident, I met Samantha Winston.

Author: Can you tell me about the incident?

His Grace: You were the one who concocted the scene, but I’ll relive the events for our readers. After a meeting with the Prince Regent at his Carleton Townhouse, I chose to walk to the Townsend Ball a few blocks away. However, I encountered anarchists intent on doing me bodily harm simply because I was an aristocrat. The night darkened, and I cat-walked against walls, turned into an alley, and somehow avoided direct contact. Seven to one are not great odds for success. I saw a waiting carriage on the street with lit lanterns and raced to the door, pulled it open, expecting it to be empty. Instead, a lady sat on a seat, alarmed at my intrusion. The mob was now around us. The coachman bellowed for them to leave, but one lout climbed to peer through the window. Before I could speak to her, I went to her side and took her to me. All the thug could see was two presumed lovers in an ardent embrace and kissing. It must have amused him because he jumped down and chuckled moved the group down the street.

Author: Lady Winston allowed you, a stranger, to kiss her?

His Grace: There was little time to speak, only to act. The lady kicked me in the shins, clouted me with her reticule until I uttered a sentence.

Author: Rather curious, Your Grace. What was the sentence?

His Grace: Damnation, Madam. I asked her assistance since I was in dire straits…that I would explain and then I kissed her. It was when I said, “Please,” that she consented.

Author: Odd, that a duke of the realm would resort to such a word.

His Grace: In dangerous times, a man would resort to any unusual actions. Now stop your falderal and let me continue.

Author: One kiss or two?

His Grace: One long and pleasurable kiss. I remember thinking that a kiss in the name of safety was not safe at all. In the lantern light, I memorized her young face, but it was her verdant eyes that begged further inspection, not to mention her copper colored hair.

Author: And then what happened?

His Grace: I apologized for my rash actions, made my explanation, and introduced myself. Other women would have fallen apart. Instead, she said, “It seems peculiar, Your Grace, to have introductions after our scandalous kisses. Perhaps it should have been the other way around?” Most of all, her sense of humor appealed to me. Her pleasant demeanor impressed and she chatted informally with me as if we were old friends. I offered to stay and wait for her relatives to explain my presence, but she asked for propriety’s sake that I leave.

Author: Did you?

His Grace: Yes, after all, it was her request. I thanked her for her assistance. And that’s when she leaned forward and said, “Au revoir.” She whispered, “Until we meet again,” and touched my arm.

Author: Did you meet soon after?

His Grace: You certainly know the entire story, but I avoided two dangers. One was the anarchists attempt to harm me. The second was the danger of a beautiful, high-spirited woman intent on flirtation or seduction. The latter intrigued me no end and represented a risk I would face with infinite pleasure. I determined that at another time, another place, I would find her again and demonstrate all the other things my lips and manly parts would do.

Author: Your Grace, I’m shocked that you would speak so.

His Grace: I beg to differ with you, Mistress Masters. I can’t believe I did and said many of the things you wrote. You took great liberties with my persona in our book. You brought me out of the darkness of my personal life and gave me the desire to live and love again. There were those who never would believe me capable of such passionate utterings. They used to speak of me, under their breaths, as cold as ice with an even colder heart. The truth of the matter was that my heart needed resuscitation and my lady did an adequate job. Admittedly, you took a circuitous route, caused me great angst, pain, and suffering, but then I might not have appreciated Lady Samantha’s firebrand wit and courage. So I forgive you.

Author: For our readers’ sake, I’d like to say that you did reunite in Chapter Two. However, Lady Samantha Winston appeared to push all your ‘hot’ buttons much to your chagrin.

His Grace: Yes, she did. I got the distinct impression you enjoyed every moment of my distress. We did meet at the ball later that evening, and I knew that my life would change forever because I saw the spitfire side of the lady and wanted to tame her indomitable spirit. I’ve always loved a challenge. Now, I suggest you go on to the next book because I want to savor the publication of our story. Feel free to join my lady and me in the library for a libation. I remember that you favor gin over brandy.

Author: Raven, you’re such a rogue. If I were to drink with you, I might have to write you in another book. You were one of the first dukes I created, but you gave me such a hard time because you were complicated in every way imaginable. Most of all, I liked your charming arrogance. I have created you out of the figment of my imagination. I hope I brought you justice. So, goodbye for now…oops, perhaps I should have said, “Au revoir. Until we meet again.”

“I do hope that none of the rakish kind will offer for my basket. Men do feel widows are fair game. I’m not sure how I would handle such rakes. I have insufficient experience, but I suppose I will have to learn.”

“My dear Samantha, do you expect me to believe that in these past three years, you haven’t encountered disreputable men?” He laughed, “I do believe you will have a sufficient amount of reputable young men who will bid on you and your picnic basket. After all, it’s for a good cause, isn’t it? But I do hope you will keep your conversation light, or you will suffer the young man to have indigestion or apoplexy.”

Impishly, she said, “I deserved that. I like your sense of humor. It’s also good to hear you laugh. We do battle well.” Perhaps he could be a man of consequence?

“Indeed, but I warn you, I have not started my retaliation. When one acquires an enemy, I don ‘t believe in keeping him or her closer; however, I might make an exception for you.”

“Oh, No, I’m not your enemy, Your Grace. Please don’t consider me as one.”

“Perhaps if you try hard, you can change my mind,” a small grin curled his lips.

“What would I have to do?” her large eyes implored.

“I leave that to your resourcefulness…and mine…under a starlit night with nothing but our naked imaginations.”

“Sweet heaven,” she muttered, cheeks crimson.

Grab  your copy of One Night with a Duke here:

 

 

Fall in love with Romance all over again
with author Sandra Masters

From a humble beginning in Newark, New Jersey, a short stay at a convent in Morristown, N.J. at the age of fourteen, Sandra Masters retired from a fantastic career for a play broadcasting company in Carlsbad, California, and settled in the rural foothills of the Sierras of Yosemite National Park with her husband, Ron, and two dogs, Silky and Sophie. She traded in the Board Rooms for the Ballrooms of the Regency Era and never looked back.

She wrote her first book at the age of thirteen and since then she’s always traveled with pen and notebook for her writing experiences. It’s been the journey of ten thousand miles with a few steps left to go. She deemed it a pleasure to leave the corporate world behind decades later.

Nothing she expected, but everything she desired. Her business card lists her occupation as

Living The Dream.

You can find and connect with Sandra all over cyberspace:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One digital copy of One Night With a Duke will be emailed to one winner picked randomly by raffle by the author. Enter your details in the comments for a chance to win!

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

 

Keep Calm and Read This: No Rest for the Wicked by Cora Lee

Keep Calm and Read This: No Rest for the Wicked by Cora Lee

This week I get to welcome author Cora Lee. She adores her new dog, the Marvel Universe, and all things Regency. I think she may be the sister I never knew I had! Today she shares some of her research for her new novella (which is free!), No Rest for the Wicked, the kickoff to the new series, The Heart of a Hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dublin’s Hell

When I started developing No Rest for the Wicked, I knew I wanted it to be set somewhere other than London. For the record, I adore London…but so many books are set there, and I wanted something different for this one. My hero had decided that he was the type of guy that protects vulnerable people, so I wanted a seedy, crime-ridden area where lots of vulnerable people needed to be protected. That meant a big city. Some random googling turned up a section of Dublin, Ireland called The Liberties that was known for its high population of poor folks and high rate of crime.

Then I hit the jackpot.

Within The Liberties was a neighborhood called Hell, and in the late 18th century it was everything you’d expect it to be: brothels and crime and taverns with cheap liquor. There was even a Hellfire Club at one point—a gathering place for rich gentlemen to do (sometimes illegal, often crazy) things they didn’t want other people to know about. The neighborhood was named for a little wooden statue of a devil that adorned a gate on a lane leading up to…wait for it…

…Christ Church Cathedral. That’s right, Dublin’s Hell included a Church of Ireland cathedral. And the neighborhood was next door to the old Four Courts building, which was where justice was dispensed. How’s that for irony?

The story gets even stranger, though. The crypt of the cathedral was actually used as a market, with vendors arriving on the appointed days to set up their stalls and sell their wares. At another point in time, that same crypt housed taverns and pubs. After a hard day of work, locals could go have a tankard of ale in the crypt of the cathedral (and yes, this was while it was still a functioning place of worship).

All this in the same church whose choir sang the world premiere of Handel’s Messiah.

That sealed the deal for me. It didn’t matter that the infamy—and the population—of Dublin’s Hell was waning by the turn of the 19th century, and that Wicked was going to be set a little later on. It was just what I was looking for, and I couldn’t resist a place that had been named for a devil living on the grounds of a cathedral. My hero then became the Demon of Dublin’s Hell (Demon rather than Devil because the devil was already there, on the gate), terrorizing those who preyed upon the defenseless and trying his best to clean up his little corner of the city.

In No Rest for the Wicked, my Demon—otherwise known as Michael Devlin—receives a visit from his estranged wife on behalf of Sir Arthur Wellesley (known later as the Duke of Wellington). Sir Arthur is recruiting domestic intelligence gatherers before he goes off to the Iberian Peninsula to fight Napoleon, and he wants the Demon to be a part of his team. That meant that a chunk of the story would take place somewhere other than Hell, so I didn’t get to use to use the setting as much as I’d at first hoped. But I had so much fun learning about Dublin and Hell that I’m considering writing a sequel so I can us them again 🙂

Oh, and that wooden devil on the gate? Rumor has it that someone took him home and carved him up into snuff boxes.

A solicitor by day, Michael Devlin spends his nights protecting the people of The Liberties…until his estranged wife turns up with a summons from Sir Arthur Wellesley. A spy for Sir Arthur, Joanna Pearson Devlin has been tasked with escorting Michael to Cork to join Wellesley’s intelligence gathering ring. Can Michael and Joanna learn to trust each other again and help Sir Arthur fight Napoleon?

No Rest for the Wicked kicks off The Heart of a Hero series, and is available for FREE at Amazon and on Instafreebie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A graduate of the University of Michigan with a major in history, Cora is the 2014 winner of the Royal Ascot contest for best unpublished Regency romance. She went on a twelve year expedition through the blackboard jungle as a high school math teacher before publishing Save the Last Dance for Me, the first book in the Maitland Maidens series. When she’s not walking Rotten Row at the fashionable hour or attending the entertainments of the Season, you might find her participating in Historical Novel Society events, wading through her towering TBR pile, or eagerly awaiting the next Marvel movie release.

Catch up with Cora on the web!

 

 

 

And check out her research boards on Pinterest:

 

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: The Demon Duke by Margaret Locke

Keep Calm and Read This: The Demon Duke by Margaret Locke

This week I extend a warm welcome to romance author Margaret Locke, who’s celebrating the release of The Demon Duke. This is the first in her new series – a series with the best title ever – Put Up Your Dukes. Read on to find out more, and for a chance to win an autographed copy of her new book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man tormented by a painful secret meets the bookish miss who just might save him from himself…

Behind every good man is a great secret.

Banished to Yorkshire as a boy for faults his father failed to beat out of him, Damon Blackbourne has no use for English society and had vowed never to return to his family’s estate at Thorne Hill, much less London. However, when his father and brother die in a freak carriage accident, it falls on Damon to take up the mantle of the Malford dukedom, and to introduce his sisters to London Society-his worst nightmare come to life.

He never planned on Lady Grace Mattersley. The beautiful debutante stirs him body and soul with her deep chocolate eyes and hesitant smiles. Until she stumbles across his dark secret.

Bookish Grace much prefers solitude and reading to social just-about-anything. Her family may be pressuring her to take on the London Season to find herself a husband, but she has other ideas. Such as writing a novel of her own. But she has no idea how to deal with the Duke of Malford.

Will she betray him to the world? Or will she be his saving Grace?

Chapter 1

 

Blackwood Abbey, Yorkshire, England
Late October, 1813

Please come home. Your father and brother are dead. Carriage accident. You are Duke now. We need you. Come quickly, Damon.
– Mama

Damon Blackbourne, youngest son of Silas Blackbourne, Duke of Malford, stared at the note without seeing it. He didn’t need to; he’d read it a hundred times already. He balled up the paper and threw it to the floor.

“Home?” he snarled out loud, although the room, as usual, was empty. “Home, Mama?”

He had no home. None other than Blackwood Abbey, at least—the cavernous abode to which he’d been banished seventeen years ago. Seventeen years. More than half of his lifetime—nearly two-thirds, seeing as he was now twenty-seven.

He paced the room, a library brimming with books, a place he’d long claimed as his own. Not that he’d had competition, given his only company was a few servants.

And Hobbes. Thank God for Hobbes.

A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, its warmth soothing him. It had turned unseasonably cold for October, a cold that now seeped into his bones, freezing his soul from the inside out.

He stopped in front of the flames, their flickering captivating him. What should he do? He hadn’t been to Thorne Hill, hadn’t seen his family since that awful day; the day he’d turned ten and his father turned him out.

“No son of mine shall exhibit such evil behaviors,” Silas had roared. “You are possessed by the devil. I cast you out. Do not show your face to me again. You are not my son.”

Not even the sound of his mother’s weeping had turned Damon around as he’d climbed alone into the carriage, numbness enveloping him. It was a welcomed state, the lack of feeling. It had dulled the pain of his back, which bore witness to the intense lashings his father had laid upon him, a desperate attempt to exorcise the demons Damon knew only too well.

His sisters had been mere babes in arms. They hadn’t even been present. But Damon would never forget the look on his beloved older brother’s face. It was the look of a boy torn—no, a man, perhaps, considering his brother at fourteen no longer had had the body of a child. Moisture had filled Adam’s eyes as their father had raged, but he’d raised no voice in Damon’s defense, made no attempt to stop the man. Adam had always been too dutiful for that.

Damon sighed. Should he go? Did he owe his mother—or anyone—that?

He’d never gone south, even though he’d come of age years ago. What would have been the point? And what would he have faced? More ridicule? Possibly Bedlam? His father never would have countenanced his return. Damon had been dead to Silas, dead to everyone, as far as he knew.

Except Adam and his mother, Felicity. She penned letters as often as she could, Adam less often, though both without his father’s knowledge. Silas certainly had never written. But Mama told the mundane details of life at Thorne Hill, of how his brother had fared with the estate’s management, how his sisters loathed practicing the pianoforte and hated their dance tutor.

He’d never had such things. A tutor came for a while—at whose bidding, he didn’t know—but Mr. Jensen had long since left, disturbed not only by Damon’s defiant manner but also by his rages.

For Damon had long struggled with his temper. It sometimes superseded even his odd body movements and frequently got him into trouble, which was one of the reasons he avoided company.

“Not like being exiled to Hell would assuage anyone’s anger,” he muttered as he reached for the glass of brandy he’d set on the side table.

Then it sank in. He was now the Duke of Malford. Unless his father had disinherited him. Was that possible? If so, his uncle, Fillmore Blackbourne, would be Duke.

And yet, his mother had written to him. Why?

Even if he were the legal heir, why would she want him back? Did she not fear he would be worse than before? Though he’d written her once, years ago, of how he’d mastered his demons, the physical ones, at least, in hopes of being called home. Had that been enough to convince her he could manage in polite society?

But he’d wanted the summons then. Not now.

He walked over to the window, staring out at the craggy moors glistening with snow. He knew in his heart what he had to do. For his mama, who’d done the best she could, he supposed, in circumstances beyond her control. For his sisters, whom he only remembered as tiny tykes who loved to pull his black hair. And for himself. To prove once and for all he was no devil. None beyond his own making, at least.

“Hobbes,” he bellowed.

A short man with thinning brown hair entered the room. Stiff-backed and with his nose in the air, he was the quintessential butler, who served also as Damon’s valet. Though his main role over the years had become that of friend. Despite the difference in age and status, they’d bonded, two lonely people bumbling about in this monstrous abbey, each with no family to call his own.

Still, the man loved to put on airs, to remind Damon both of his status as a ducal family’s servant—and Damon’s status as Lord. “Yes, my lord?”

“For Pete’s sake, Hobbes. It’s Damon. Damon.” Or rather now, Your Grace.

“I know.” The grin that cracked Hobbes’s cheeks softened his expression. “It merely amuses me to bait you.”
Damon smirked. “Ready the horses and coach.”

Hobbes’s eyebrows reached skyward. Damon nearly laughed out loud, which would have been quite the rarity, at the comical expression on the butler-come-valet’s face.

“We’re going to Thorne Hill.”

At that, Hobbes’s jaw literally dropped. He looked out at the snow-blanketed expanse of the abbey’s grounds. “In this weather?”

“Why not? If I’m going back home, it’s only fitting that Hell has frozen over.”

Grab your copy of The Demon Duke today!

 

 

 

Want to win an autographed paperback of The Demon Duke?

Just drop Margaret a line at AuthorMargaretLocke@gmail.com (please mention Renee Reynold’s blog so I know how you found me!) and you’re entered to win. Contest closes June 29th, 2017; winner announced on my Facebook page and contacted via email by July 1st, 2017.

 

As a teen, Margaret pledged to write romances when she was older. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grownup things, not penning stories. Thank goodness turning forty cured her of that silly notion.

Now happily ensconced again in the clutches of her first crush (romance novels!), Margaret is never happier than when sharing her passion for a grand Happy Ever After. Because love matters.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and three fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact she’s not an outdoors person.

Connect with Margaret at her website, Facebook, Goodreads, GooglePlus, Instagram, Twitter, and Amazon, and sign up for her Newsletter.

She’s also been known to pin a thing or three over on Pinterest!

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: The novels of historical romance author Erin Satie

Keep Calm and Read This: The novels of historical romance author Erin Satie

My guest this week is historical romance author Erin Satie. She’s deep in the throes of research on her next book and stops by to share some fascinating tidbits.

I thought I’d tell you a little about the research I’m doing for my next book, the first in a new series called Sweetness and Light. My hero, Orson Loel, is a baron but he’s lost access to the family coffers so he’s making ends meet by growing orchids.

This sounds a little more unlikely than it was. A mania for orchids swept through Britain during the mid-nineteenth century, when my book is set—sometimes called orchid mania and others, more picturesquely, orchidelirium. There are a few reasons for the sudden popularity of extraordinary tropical flowers so totally unsuited to the English climate. The sprawling British Empire allowed collectors to travel far and wide, in search of wondrous new specimens. Inventions like the Wardian case—effectively a luggage-sized greenhouse—made it easier to transport the plants home to England, once they’d been gathered. While in England itself, taxes on windows were abolished while technology improved, allowing for the construction of modern greenhouses, structures of glass and wrought iron.

All of this meant that nurseries were practical, profitable concerns. Common species of orchids could sell for as little as 30 pence and tracts were published in magazines explaining that orchids could be grown on limited means. But all the while, the rich competed to own the rarest blooms. Orchids were regularly sold at auction, sometimes for dizzying prices. A single flowering orchid of the species at the center of my novel, the Odontoglossum crispum Cooksoniae, sold for 650 guineas during the late Victorian era—a sum equivalent, in today’s money, to more than $450,000.

I find orchids interesting because the history of the British Empire is compressed into them. There’s the story of Britain’s rise, of course, the one I’ve just told: exploration, invention and prosperity combined in a single finicky flower.

Charles Darwin wrote a monograph on orchids—in fact, an orchid was named after him.

But there’s a dark side, too. Because rare orchids were so prized, orchid collectors could be very secretive about where they found a certain specimen. They often made up stories to exaggerate the dangers they faced while out searching for orchids—stories about primitive natives, pagan idols, and jungles crawling with disease. These stories were not benign; Empire has a dark side, even when the subject is flowers.

The orchid collectors were enhancing their reputations—and their bottom lines—by painting foreigners as villains. English hothouses became, like English museums, a resume of world conquest.

Perhaps most shocking of all, in order to corner the market on a particular species of orchid, collectors often made an effort to seize every single flower from a given area—leaving nothing behind for anyone who came after. There’s a particularly shocking story of a collector named Albert Millican, who hunted the Odontoglossum crispum in the northern Andes. Each time he visited the area he collected every flower he could find and each time he was surprised to discover, upon his return, that there were fewer and fewer to be had.

The Odontoglossum crispum grows fairly high up on the trunks of trees and in order to obtain it, Millican simply ordered his employees to cut down the trees. He cheerfully describes felling thousands—yes, thousands—of trees in a mature rain forest in order to collect the orchids he sought.

And most of the orchids wouldn’t have survived the return trip to England.

I hope this little excursion into the wild world of orchid mania has been of interest to you! My book, Bed of Flowers, won’t be out for some time. In the meanwhile, you might want to check out the series I recently completed, No Better Angels. It’s set in the early Victorian period and readers call it ‘darkly elegant’; the first in the series, The Secret Heart, is free everywhere.

I also wrote a novella for a collection that just came out called Sight Unseen. It’s a really exciting project featuring myself, Emma Barry, Meredith Duran, J.A. Rock and Sherry Thomas. Our names are on the cover, but nowhere inside—readers have to guess who wrote which story. We’re writing outside our usual genres, but I think fans of historical romance will really enjoy this guessing game. All will be revealed come September.

Note: Much of the information above comes from Orchid: A Cultural History by Jim Endersby. It’s the best of the research books I’ve read on the subject and I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erin Satie is the author of the dark and elegant No Better Angels series, historical romances set in the early Victorian period. She’s currently hard at work on her upcoming series, Sweetness & Light, which should be just as elegant but not quite so dark.

Erin is a California native who’s lived on the coasts and in the heartland, in tiny city apartments and on a working farm. She studied art history in both college and graduate school—research is always her favorite part of starting a new book.

Her favorite part of finishing a book, whether reading or writing, is the happily ever after.

Find Erin at her Website, Facebook, or Twitter.