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: A Raging Madness by Jude Knight

It’s my pleasure to welcome author Jude Knight this week. Her new release, A Raging Madness, features a broken hero and heroine, suspense and mystery, and hope for a future built upon a foundation of fraud. Delicious!

A Raging Madness. An interview with my lovers.

Ella and Alex sit nervously in the rector’s parlour. He has some questions, he says. They mustn’t worry. The questions are not intended to be intrusive, but rather to help them understand one another, so that they can work through the different approaches that they, like every other couple, bring to a relationship.

(Where an early nineteenth century rector found a set of twenty-first century marriage preparation questions, I could not say. In an envelope on his mantel-piece, perhaps?)

But here he is, armed with a pot of strong tea and some hearty slices of pound cake.

Rector: What are your priorities and expectations in a relationship?

Ella: My priorities have changed since I have been with Alex. At one time, my top priority was to protect myself from further harm, and to do that, I kept my emotions tightly buttoned up. Perhaps if any of my children had lived, it might have been different. Yes. I would have needed to protect them, I imagine. Now, I want what Alex wants. I know I can trust him to put me first, and so I am safe to put him first. My priorities have changed because my expectations have changed.

Alex: I must agree with Ella. My earlier experiences meant I disbelieved in love, at least for me. I wanted to give and receive pleasure, and beyond that I wanted to do and receive no harm. Now I want a great deal more. I am seizing happiness, which I never expected. Joy, even. Ella and I are partners and friends, as well as lovers.

(Ella gives Alex a shove, and whispers, “Alex, you can’t say ‘lovers’ to the Rector!” The rector just smiles and continues.)

Rector: What’s your biggest fear in a relationship?

Alex (taking Ella’s hand and smiling): I have no fears for the relationship. It’s not that I think we’ll always agree. I’m sure we’ll have misunderstandings and arguments. But we will talk them through. I’ve never had that with a lover before.

Eleanor Melville

Ella: I am not afraid that we shall cease loving one another. (She leans into Alex’s shoulder, hiding her face as she admits,) I am afraid of losing him. Life is very uncertain, and he will do dangerous things like clambering around on the stable roof to check the shingles.

Rector: You have both had past relationships. Do you blame yourself when a relationship fails?

Ella: I blamed myself for years. If only I had been more conformable, better born, prettier, more responsive to… (She trails off, blushing).

Alex (kissing the hand he holds): None of that is true, Ella. Melville would have been a bully and an arsewipe no matter what you had done.

Ella: I realise that now. He was the problem; not me. And you must know the same is true of you, my love. The Bad Baroness was to blame for that horrible incident, not you.

Alex: I am, at the very least, to blame for my poor taste, Ella. Not just with the baroness, but with others. They coloured my view of women, and therefore the way I treated you. I am so sorry, my dear heart. I will spend my life making it up to you.

(They kiss, while the rector smiles benevolently.)

Rector: Lady Melville, why did your relationship end? Who ended it?

Ella: In a legal sense, it ended when Gervase died. How else can a marriage end? But in another sense it never began. He did not want me as wife from the first, and I certainly would not have married him given a choice.

Rector: If you could have, would you have fixed it and got back together? Would he?

Ella (hesitating): I feel I should say yes, and perhaps if my children had lived… But he would have been, at best, an indifferent father. It sounds dreadful to say I was better off without him even before I met Alex. At least until Gervase’s brother and his wife tried to destroy me. And now? Now I know what a real marriage can be. How can I wish myself back in the nightmare that was my first marriage?

Rector: Lord Renshaw, why did your relationship end? Who ended it?

Alex Redepenning

Alex (blushing): This is a little embarrassing. I was infatuated with a woman, Reverend. I would have done anything for her. But I suffered a complete revulsion of feeling when I discovered that she had seduced me at the behest of her husband, who enjoyed watching her with her lovers! I found out at a most inconvenient and intimate moment, and I left the house immediately, pausing only to resume my clothing.

Rector: If you could have, would you have fixed it and got back together? Would she?

Alex: She would have. Indeed, she made the attempt. But I have never considered sexual intimacy to be a spectator sport, and objected to being made a performer against my knowledge or wishes. I found—I still find—the idea repulsive.

Rector: What’s the most important thing in your life?

Ella: Alex. And family. I have one now, thanks to him.

Alex: Yes, family. And Ella is the most important person in my family.

Rector: Where do you see yourself in five years? In twenty years?

Ella (exchanging a melting glance with her beloved): Beside my Alex. If God sees fit to bless us, in five years he will have his heir and perhaps another child or two. Our stables will be established, and our horses winning notice. In twenty years, I see us at the height of our fame as horse breeders, but beginning to think about handing the enterprise to the younger generation. They will be young for it then, of course, but we can begin to prepare them. And, of course, we might have a daughter of an age to be presented. We will need to rely on Alex’s sister for that. I have never made a come out and would not know how to go on! But I am sure Susan will be glad to help.

Alex (his eyebrows climbing into his hairline in his alarm): Good heavens. She is not even born, perhaps not conceived yet, and you would have me put her on the marriage mart? Have mercy, dear Ella. Rector, I share Ella’s vision, and her and I growing old together, with our family and our tenants around us. If we are given children, I will be grateful and will treasure them. If not, then I am already rich, for I have the woman of my dreams to share my life with.

Their marriage is a fiction. Their enemies are all too real.

 

Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he has married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return.

Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. Perhaps she will learn to bear him.

In their masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they expected. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.

Kerridge was alone when she brought Ella’s evening dose of laudanum. Presumably Constance believed that Ella was still under the influence of the measure forced down her throat this morning, and would swallow Kerridge’s without offering a struggle.

Constance was nearly right.

Even though Ella had managed to dribble at least part of what she secreted in her cheeks onto the pillow without Constance noticing, she was still amazed. Another dose would take her under, but Kerridge resented being forced to a task so beneath her dignity as a dresser, and would do no more than make sure the liquid arrived in Ella’s mouth. She would not insist on waiting until Ella swallowed, would not pinch her nose and hold her jaw shut.

Being too meek would be suspicious. Ella turned her head away from the spoon, her teeth clenched shut, but yelped at Kerridge’s sharp pinch and the dresser immediately forced the spoon into Ella’s mouth.

Glaring sullenly, she stopped struggling, and the dresser withdrew the spoon, stretching her thin lips into a smug smile.

“There, Lady Melville. This would go more easily for you if you would just do as you are told,” she said.

 

Jude Knight’s Book Page

 

Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.

She writes historical novels, novellas, and short stories, mostly set in the early 19th Century. She 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.

Please visit Jude by clicking the links below.

 

 

 

Smashwords
Goodreads
Amazon Author Page

 

And always remember to #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: True As Fate by Laurie Alice Eakes

Keep Calm and Read This: True As Fate by Laurie Alice Eakes

I’m so pleased to welcome romance author Laurie Alice Eakes this week. She let me ask her all manner of impertinent questions, and I get to share her new release, True as Fate . . .

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I have spent anywhere from days, to years researching a book. Yes, I said years. My American-set midwife series—three historicals and one contemporary—was just an insane amount of research from reading original documents published in the seventeenth century and imported through Interlibrary Loan from Great Britain, to talking to midwives practicing in the field today. I wanted to write the series, but just had to read one more diary or something until I was ready. Once I was ready, the books just flowed from my fingertips.

I did a great deal of research for My Enemy, My Heart and True as Fate also, for the entire Ashford series. Probably enough to add up to years. I needed to know about ships and went sailing on a tall ship, about prisoners of war in England, about noncombatant prisoners like women captured, and the everyday Regency stuff, which I will never know enough of.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I torture myself over names. Sometimes I write entire scenes of the book and end up changing the names. I try to make them appropriate to the time period, and yet appropriate to the character as well. Oddly, though, with True as Fate, I always knew the names of the main characters. The only ones that changed were those of two secondary characters.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I’ve pondered this question for quite a while and think the most difficult scene was about three-fourths of the way through when they both have reason to believe the other is acting in bad faith. They are literally locked in a room together, desperately hurt in an emotional way, desperately angry, and desperately in love. I wanted to get this all across without going over the top or letting the tension drop too soon. Just remembering writing that scene makes my breathing quicken with remembered tension of my own.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I went to grad school for writing popular fiction. That taught me how to discipline my writing, how to analyze it for ridiculousness and stupidity—as much as anyone can do for their own work—and be disciplined about my process. I could come up with ideas, but struggled to turn them into actual novels. We had to write a thesis novel. When I started, I had a vague idea and a setting and little else. No wonder my first line of True as Fate, the thesis novel was:

Seventeen miles of barren moorland lay between Ross Trenerry and freedom.

I thought I would never get through it, but True as Fate is published next week.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between them?

I am hoping to build a world around my current series, The Ashford Chronicles. Once upon a time, I wrote the prequel to the first book in the series, My Enemy, My Heart. That prequel is Georgian, though, and no one wanted Georgian, not set during the American Revolution, despite the story primarily taking place in England. So I started on the Regency era books. I have two published; True as Fate releases June 6, and the third comes out this autumn. I want to continue the series and would love to incorporate these characters as secondaries in other series. I’m quite attached to all of them.

Tell us something about your new release that is NOT in the blurb.

My hero, Ross Trenerry, is an angry and bitter man. He isn’t unkind because of it: he’s just hard and distrustful. His life has been pretty rough, from his family disowning him, to going to a British prison—not fun—then a worse prison, then his own country turning on him despite what he did for it during the war. He is out for blood, or at least revenge, not knowing that Chloe, our heroine, is one of the people who has done him the most harm.

Yes, I love to torture my characters.

Lady Chloe Ashford detests going to balls, loathes social pretense, and finds the very idea of hunting for a husband obscene. But she has an even more scandalous secret: she once helped an American—the enemy—escape from Dartmoor Prison. Now, nearly three years later, Ross Trenerry is back—and in trouble again. So is her traitorous heart. He doesn’t know she’s the one responsible for sending him to a second prison, and she has no intention of telling him.

A former privateer, Ross has finally run out of his legendary luck. Only one woman lies between him and freedom. He desperately needs Chloe’s help to prove he hasn’t committed treason, but he’s distracted by the passion that flares between them.

They set out on a cross-country adventure together to prove Ross’s innocence, but peril soon dogs their heels. As they race to reach their appointed rendezvous on time, they must fight their growing attraction and focus on discovering who is behind this deadly plot. Will they finally admit their love and put the pieces together before it’s too late?

 

 

 

About Laurie Alice Eakes

“Eakes has a charming way of making her novels come to life without being over the top,” writes Romantic Times of  bestselling, award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes. As a child, Eakes began to tell herself stories. Since then, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print. Accolades for Eakes’s books including winning the National Readers Choice Award and Rita finalist status.

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, by clicking the links below.

 

 

 

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This: A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman

Keep Calm and Read This: A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman

Today I’m rubbing my hands together with glee as Kate Bateman stops by to share some fascinating historical details about counterfeiting in the Regency era! She’s also sharing a sneak peak of her upcoming release — coincidentally featuring forgery . . .

Historical research; Real-life counterfeiting in the Regency Era

Many of the events in my regency-era novels are based on real-life historical facts. For example, Sabine, the heroine of A Counterfeit Heart, is a Napoleonic French counterfeiter, and I unearthed some amazing real-life stories of wartime forgery during my research into the subject.

Just as in A Counterfeit Heart, Napoleon really did employ a team of forgers to print fake currency to ruin his enemies. (Letters written by him survive to prove the existence of a counterfeiting operation set up on his orders.) He used fake currency to pay his own soldiers in Russia, and sent large quantities of fake Austrian banknotes into the country to try to destabilize the Austrian economy. As I also mention in the book, Napoleon’s counterfeiting of Austrian currency put him in an awkward position a few years later when he married his second wife, the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise. He was forced to issue a public ban on printing counterfeit money against her country, but of course, by then it was rather too late!

The use of counterfeit money has been a strategy in warfare for centuries. The idea is to flood the enemy’s economy with fake money, thus devaluing the real money and causing an economic collapse, rendering the enemy unable to fund their side of the war.

During the American Revolutionary War, for example, the Continental Congress decided to create a new Continental currency to fund the fighting. Among the people enlisted to print this new currency was Paul Revere. To counter this, Great Britain enlisted teams of counterfeiters to travel throughout the American Colonies, placing their counterfeits into circulation in the hopes that it would cause an economic disaster. These counterfeiters were known as “shovers,” presumably for their ability to “shove” the fake money into everyday use. David Farnsworth and his partner John Blair were among the best-known of these counterfeiters, having been caught with over $10,000 in fake Continental dollars in their possession. They were eventually hanged for being foreign agents and loyalists.

Counterfeiting was a problem in Georgian England, too. The Bank of England – the “head of all circulation” – took counterfeiting very seriously and employed a team of lawyers at great expense to ensure prosecutions. The statistics are dramatic: the period 1783-1797 saw only four prosecutions for forgery, but 1797-1821 saw over 2000 prosecutions and over 300 executions. The Bank spent thousands of pounds to secure these executions, and in some years, such as 1819, this amounted to more than was lost through forgery. Almost one third of all executions at this time were for forgery, but the vast majority of these were concentrated in the post-Napoleonic war period, when economic depression and the demobilization of thousands of troops and sailors produced ever greater incentives for the forger. In 1818, when almost 30,000 fake banknotes were in circulation, public sympathy for the hapless plebeian forger led to numerous acquittals.

Doubts were regularly expressed about the competence of the Bank of England in recognizing a fake from the real banknote, and the topic features in many of the satirical cartoons of the time. (Richard and Sabine, the hero and heroine in A Counterfeit Heart, make use of the printing press and premises of such an engraver in the story.)

In 1814 an anonymous caricature called A Peep into the Rag Shop in Threadneedle Street highlighted the theme. The print (below) shows a poor forger pleading with Bank of England directors who are examining a bank note. As the speech bubbles make clear, behind their callous bluster is dire ineptitude:

“Upon my soul I have my doubts but at all events—we had better declare it bad.”
“Take him out Thomas !!! he has a d——d hanging look.”
“Away with the Vagabond! Do you think we sit here for nothing!”

A Peep into the Rag Shop in Threadneedle Street, anonymous, 1814.

And this cartoon, by the well-known satirical illustrator George Cruickshank, also shows forged notes, and hints at the fact that paper currency was often considered untrustworthy in comparison to solid gold coins.

Johnny Bull and his Forged Notes!! or Rags and Ruin in the Paper Currency by George Cruikshank, published by J. Sidebotham, January 1819. (British Museum Satires 13197. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum.)

In France, too, forgery was a very serious offence. Note what it says on the very top line of this French Assignat: ‘the law punishes the counterfeiter with death’. (La loi punit de mort le contrefacteur)


Here are some examples of both real and forged early 19th century banknotes:

A real 1818 Bank of England bank note, one pound.

A forged GB banknote of 1812.

A real British Banknote from 1811: one pound note with printed serials and date, signed in ink by the cashier.

And just to prove that ‘plus ça change,’ almost a hundred years after Napoleon’s attempts, another leader, Adolf Hitler, tried something very similar during the second World War, forcing prisoners to fake thousands of British banknotes in a plan called Operation Bernhart. The initial plan was to drop the notes by plane over Britain to bring about a collapse of the British economy. It was directed by, and named after, SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from other camps, to forge British currency.

So as you can see, history is full of extraordinary examples of counterfeiting, and for A Counterfeit Heart I employed the age-old authorial tactic of wondering ‘what if . . ?’ What if Napoleon were defeated before he could put his plans to flood Britain with counterfeits into action? What if one of his forgers was a feisty young woman named Sabine de la Tour? What would she do with a fortune in fake money? A Counterfeit Heart is my answer.

A Counterfeit Heart by K.C. Bateman ~ Medium Heat Level ~ Historical Regency Romance

A feisty counterfeiter and a cocky British agent clash in this sultry Secrets and Spies novel by K. C. Bateman, whose witty, intelligent, and sexy historical romances have become her signature.

As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France—or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy—and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

Chapter 1

Bois de Vincennes, Paris, March 1816

It didn’t take long to burn a fortune.

“Don’t throw it on like that! Fan the paper out. You need to let the air get to it.”

Sabine de la Tour sent her best friend Anton Carnaud an exasperated glance and tossed another bundle of banknotes onto the fire. It smoldered then caught with a bright flare, curling and charring to nothing in an instant. “That’s all the francs. Pass me some rubles.”

Another fat wad joined the conflagration. Little spurts of green and blue jumped up as the flames consumed the ink. The intensity of the fire heated her cheeks so she stepped back and tilted her head to watch the glowing embers float up into the night sky. It was a fitting end, really. Almost like a funeral pyre, the most damning evidence of Philippe Lacorte, notorious French counterfeiter, going up in smoke. Sabine quelled the faintest twinge of regret and glanced over at Anton. “It feels strange, don’t you think? Doing the right thing for once.”

He shook his head. “It feels wrong.” He poked a pile of Austrian gulden into the fire with a stick. “Who in their right mind burns money? It’s like taking a penknife to a Rembrandt.”

Sabine nudged his shoulder, well used to his grumbling. “You know I’m right. If we spend it, we’ll be no better than Napoleon. This is our chance to turn over a new leaf.”

Anton added another sheaf of banknotes to the blaze with a pained expression. “I happen to like being a criminal,” he grumbled. “Besides, we made all this money. Seems only fair we should get to spend it. No one would know. Your fakes are so good nobody can tell the difference. What’s a few million francs in the grand scheme of things?”

“We’d know,” Sabine frowned at him. “‘Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.’”

Anton rolled his eyes. “Don’t start quoting dead Greeks at me.”

“That’s a dead Englishman,” she smiled wryly. “Geoffrey Chaucer.”

Anton sniffed, unimpressed by anything that came from the opposite—and therefore wrong—side of the channel. He sprinkled a handful of assignats onto the flames. “You appreciate the irony of trying to be an honest forger, don’t you?”

It was Sabine’s turn to roll her eyes.

Anton shot her a teasing, pitying glance. “It’s because you’re half-Anglais. Everyone knows the English are mad. The French half of you knows what fun we could have. Think of it, chérie—ballgowns, diamonds, banquets!” His eyes took on a dreamy, faraway glow. “Women, wine, song!” He gave a magnificent Gallic shrug. “Mais, non. You listen to the English half. The half that is boring and dull and—”

“—law-abiding?” Sabine suggested tartly. “Sensible? The half that wants to keep my neck firmly attached to my shoulders instead of in a basket in front of the guillotine?”

She bit her lip as a wave of guilt assailed her. Anton was only in danger of losing his head because of her. For years he’d protected her identity by acting as Philippe Lacorte’s public representative. He’d dealt with all the unsavory characters who’d wanted her forger’s skills while she’d remained blissfully anonymous. Even the man who’d overseen the Emperor’s own counterfeiting operation, General Jean Malet, hadn’t known the real name of the elusive forger he’d employed. He’d never seen Sabine as anything more than an attractive assistant at the print shop in Rue Pélican.

Now, with Napoleon exiled on St Helena and Savary, head of the Secret Police, also banished, General Malet was the only one who knew about the existence of the fake fortune the Emperor had amassed to fill his coffers.

The fortune Sabine had just liberated.

Anton frowned into the flames. The pink glow highlighted his chiseled features and Sabine studied him dispassionately. She knew him too well to harbor any romantic feelings about him, but there was no doubt he had a very handsome profile. Unfortunately, it was a profile that General Malet could recognize all too easily.

As if reading her mind he said, “Speaking of guillotines, Malet would gladly see me in a tumbril. He’s out for blood. And I’m his prime suspect.”

“Which is why we’re getting you out of here,” Sabine said briskly. “The boat to England leaves at dawn. We have enough money to get us as far as London.”

Anton gave a frustrated huff and pointed at the fire. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a pile of money right—”

She shot him a warning scowl. “No. We are not using the fakes. Its high time we started doing things legally. This English lord’s been trying to engage Lacorte’s services for months. One job for him and we’ll be able to pay for your passage to Boston. You’ll be safe from Malet forever.”

“It could be a trap,” Anton murmured darkly. “This Lovell says he wants to employ Lacorte, but we’ve been on opposite sides of the war for the past ten years. The English can’t be trusted.”

Sabine let out a faint, frustrated sigh. It was a risk, to deliver herself into the arms of the enemy, to seek out the one man she’d spent months avoiding. Her heart beat in her throat at the thought of him. Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell. She’d only seen him once, weeks ago, but the memory was seared upon her brain.

He, of anyone, had come closest to unmasking her. He’d followed Lacorte’s trail right to her doorstep, like a bloodhound after a fox. She’d barely had time to hide behind the back-room door and press her eye to a gap in the wood before the bell above the entrance had tinkled and he’d entered the print shop.

It had been dark outside; the flickering street lamps had cast long shadows along Rue Pélican. Sabine had squinted, trying to make out his features, but all she could see was that he was tall; he ducked to enter the low doorway. She raised her eyebrows. So this was the relentless Lord Lovell.

Not for the first time she cursed her short-sightedness. Too many hours of close-work meant that anything over ten feet was frustratingly blurry. He moved closer, further into the shop—and into knee-weakening, stomach-flipping focus.

Sabine caught her breath. All the information she’d gleaned about her foe from Anton’s vague, typically male attempts at description had in no way prepared her for the heart-stopping, visceral reality.

Technically, Anton had been correct. Richard Hampden was over six feet tall with mid-brown hair. But those basic facts failed to convey the sheer magnetic presence of his lean, broad-shouldered frame. There was no spare fat around his lean hips, no unhealthy pallor to his skin. He moved like water, with a liquid grace that suggested quietly restrained power, an animal at the very peak of fitness.

Anton had guessed his age as between twenty-eight and thirty-five. Certainly, Hampden was no young puppy; his face held the hard lines and sharp angles of experience rather than the rounded look of boyhood.

Sabine studied the elegant severity of his dark blue coat, the pale knee breeches outlining long, muscular legs. There was nothing remarkable in the clothes themselves to make him stand out in a crowd, and yet there was something about him that commanded attention. That drew the eye, and held it.

Her life often hinged on the ability to correctly identify dangerous men. Every sense she possessed told her that the man talking with Anton was very dangerous indeed.

Sabine pressed her forehead to the rough planks and swore softly. The Englishman turned, almost as if he sensed her lurking behind the door, and everything inside her stilled. Something—an instant of awareness, almost of recognition—shot through her as she saw his face in full. Of all the things she’d been prepared for, she hadn’t envisaged this: Viscount Lovell was magnificent.

And then he’d turned his attention back to Anton, and she’d let out a shaky breath of relief.

She’d dreamed of him ever since. Disturbing, jumbled dreams in which she was always running, he pursuing. She’d wake the very instant she was caught, her heart pounding in a curious mix of panic and knotted desire.

Sabine shook her head at her own foolishness. It was just her luck to conceive an instant attraction to the least suitable man in Europe. The thought of facing him again made her shiver with equal parts anticipation and dread, but he was the obvious answer to her current dilemma. He had money; she needed funds. Voilà tout.

At least now she was prepared. One of the basic tenets of warfare was ‘know thine enemy,’ after all. Sabine drew her cloak more securely around her shoulders and watched Anton feed the rest of the money to the flames. The embers fluttered upwards like a cloud of glowing butterflies.

When this was all over she would be like a phoenix. Philippe Lacorte would disappear and Sabine de la Tour would emerge from the ashes to reclaim the identity she’d abandoned eight years ago. She would live a normal life. But not yet. There was still too much to do.

Sabine brushed off her skirts and picked up the bag she’d packed for traveling. There was something rather pathetic in the fact that her whole life fit into one single valise, but she squared her shoulders and glanced over at Anton. “Come on, let’s go. Before someone sees the smoke and decides to investigate.”

They couldn’t go home, to the print shop on Rue Pélican. Malet had already ripped the place apart looking for ‘his’ money. Her stomach had given a sickening lurch as she’d taken in the carnage. Books pulled from the shelves, paintings ripped from the walls, canvases torn. Old maps shredded, drawers pulled out and upended. Their home, her sanctuary for the past eight years, had been utterly ransacked.

But there had been triumph amid the loss. Malet had found neither Anton nor the money. And if Sabine had anything to do with it, he never would.

Anton hefted the two bags of English banknotes that had been spared the flames as Sabine turned her back on Paris. For the first time in eight long years she was free. It was time to track down Lord Lovell.

 

 

 

Kate Bateman (writing as K. C. Bateman) wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong with a historical set in the Italian Renaissance. Now writing for Random House Loveswept, her latest ‘Secrets & Spies’ Regency-era series features her trademark feisty, intelligent heroines, wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to alternately strangle and kiss—all mixed up in the intrigue and turmoil of the Napoleonic wars.

When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and a husband who has flatly refused to read any of her books ‘unless she hits the NY Times Bestseller list.’ It is—naturally—her fervent desire to force the semi-illiterate, number-loving cynic to do so. He still owes her that dollar.

Kate loves to hear from readers. Contact her via her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Amazon Author Page.

And don’t forget to always #ReadaRegency!

Keep Calm and Read This! ~The Matchmaking Game by Donna Hatch~

Keep Calm and Read This! ~The Matchmaking Game by Donna Hatch~

I’m honored to have best-selling author Donna Hatch visit today. She has a new novella debuting April 18th, but we get a sneak peek here … and it’s available for preorder!


Title: The Matchmaking Game
Heat level: Sweet (clean)
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: Novella ~ 126 pages

 
 
Rowena’s childhood friend, Evan, has returned home from war a handsome, but mysterious stranger. In an effort to bring happiness to her father, not to mention uncover the Evan she remembers from their youth, Rowena seeks to unite their parents. Who better to match a lonely widow and widower together than their adoring children? Her matchmaking game could help their parents find happiness and draw out her childhood friend buried beneath Evan’s new reserve … or it could break more than one heart.

With a gesture at a basket tied to the saddle, she said, “I had Cook pack plenty of those seedcakes Nurse Murray likes so well, as well as lemon tarts for you.” She made a face. “I’ll be sure to grab one before you devour them all and leave me with nothing but crumbs.”

He laughed softly. “Would I do that?”

Her impish grin filled him with sunshine. “It was your habit.”

With a flippant shrug, he teased, “It was for your own good. I didn’t want you to get too fat.”

She made a gesture to her waistline. “Do I look like I need someone to monitor my eating habits?”

He made a perusal of her, letting his gaze travel from her face downward, slowly, but forgot he was supposed to be teasing her. Instead, he took a really good look. Fourteen-year-old Rowena had been as curvy as a blade of grass. Twenty-three-year old Rowena, with her figure accentuated by her fitted riding habit—so much more flattering than the normal, high-waisted gowns of the day’s fashions—had the graceful, generous curves of a Greek statue of Aphrodite. A new tightness formed inside his chest.

Rowena looked at him as if she’d never seen him before. Surprise, and something almost smug, deepened the gray of her eyes. She put a hand on a hip. “Like what you see, Captain?”

He tugged at a suddenly strangling cravat and cleared his throat. “Forgive me. You’ve changed.”

“How kind of you to notice,” she said dryly. “Give your major a leg up?”

With a smile at her reference to the honorary rank he’d given her, Evan dismounted. He laced his fingers together so she could mount her horse. A pert smile came his way before she placed her left foot in his cupped hands. She put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself as he boosted her up. Her soft body brushed his arm and chest. Her scent, something soft and feminine he could not name, tingled his senses. Mere inches away, her smooth cheek and moist lips taunted him. His chest squeezed, and his knees wobbled. Awareness of her, of the desirable woman she had become, rendered him immobile. She glanced at him, one brow raised, and a half smile curving those luscious lips. A burning energy formed in the middle of his stomach and shot outward like sunbursts.

She parted those lips and spoke. “Am I too heavy for a big, strong man like you?”

“Er, no. Of course not.” He cleared his throat again and boosted her up with a bit too much force.

Despite his aggressive boost, she placed her right leg over the leg rest of the sidesaddle and found her balance. She settled the long, heavy skirts of her riding habit around her, while he helped position her left foot in the stirrup.

With the reins in one hand and her riding crop in the other, she eyed him with an expectant lift to her brows. “Shall we?”

He shook his head, stopped staring, and mounted Otoño. It must be all Winnie’s talk about courting Rowena that had him so rattled. He couldn’t entertain such an idea. He’d made a vow to Joseph and all but promised himself to Cynthia. Besides, as an additional benefit, Cynthia’s dowry could restore the family fortune without having to sell off some of its most precious assets and break up generations of holdings. His path was already paved. Honor and duty dictated his next move.

Click Here to Pre-order on Amazon today!

Donna Hatch, author of the best-selling “Rogue Hearts Series,” is a hopeless romantic and adventurer at heart, the force that drove her to write and publish seventeen historical romance titles, to date. She is a multi-award winner, a sought-after workshop presenter, and juggles multiple volunteer positions as well as her six children. Also a music lover, she sings and plays the harp, and she loves to ballroom dance. Donna and her family recently transplanted from her native Arizona to the Pacific Northwest where she and her husband of over twenty years are living proof that there really is a happily ever after.

Click HERE to receive the first novel in her Rogue Hearts series for free.

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And don’t forget to always #ReadARegency!