This calendar year has been a busy one for me, with seven releases. I will be glad for the holidays to have some time to “regroup.” This month, alone, I will releasing two Regency stories.
On October 31, THE HEARTLESS EARL arrives. It is a Regency romantic suspense and will be book 1 of a trilogy. The book will be released by Black Opal Books, and it is part of the Common Elements Romance Project.
The Common Elements Romance Project includes a variety of authors and genres, as well as settings, each including the same FIVE elements hidden within their novels. Those elements (in no particular order) are…
a Lightning Storm
a Set of Lost Keys
a Haunted House (or the Rumor of Its Being Haunted)
a Stack of Thick Books
a Character Called “Max”
STERLING BAXTER, the Earl of Merritt, has married the woman his father has chosen for him, but the marriage has been everything but comfortable. Sterling’s wife, Lady Claire, came to the marriage bed with a wanton’s experience. She dutifully provides Merritt his heir, but within a fortnight, she deserts father and son for a baron, Lord Lyall Sutherland. In the eyes of the ton, Lady Claire has cuckolded Merritt.
EBBA MAYER, longs for love and adventure. Unfortunately, she’s likely to find neither. As a squire’s daughter, Ebba holds no sway in Society; but she’s a true diamond of the first water. Yet, when she meets Merritt’s grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Merritt creates a “story” for the girl, claiming if Ebba is presented to the ton as a war widow with a small dowry, the girl will find a suitable match.
LORD LYALL SUTHERLAND remains a thorn in Merritt’s side, but when the baron makes Mrs. Mayer a pawn in his crazy game of control, Merritt offers the woman his protection. However, the earl has never faced a man who holds little strength of title, but who wields great power; and he finds himself always a step behind the enigmatic baron. When someone frames Merritt for Lady Claire’s sudden disappearance, Merritt must quickly learn the baron’s secrets or face a death sentence.
Excerpt: (Sterling and his wife appear at the same social function.)
Sterling stood at the portal leading to the card room. He had watched closely as Mr. Reed had claimed Mrs. Mayer’s hand for the opening set, and how Brayton had obviously claimed more of her time. Sterling would have enjoyed escorting the lady through, at least, one of the evening’s sets. He could not remember the last time he had danced—likely before he had courted Claire.
Yet, he had remained in the shadows, naming himself the coward. He had purposely remained in the country these past two years, only returning to Town when Parliament required his influence or his vote on key issues. Often he had wondered on the sanity of permitting Claire free rein, but his only alternative would be a very public divorce. “Perhaps after Gram passes,” he had told himself on more than one occasion. “Then, only I would know the controversy.”
However, since accepting Mrs. Mayer into his household, Sterling had considered a different life from the one he had constructed after Claire’s desertion. “I deserve a wife and other children,” he had said to his father’s portrait in the gallery only yesterday afternoon. When in residence at Baxter Hall, he had often held “discussions” with his late father’s image. “I am not saying Mrs. Mayer would make the perfect mate.” He recognized his father’s likely disapproval of the widow. “Yet, I would enjoy a relationship with the woman I have married, and I want Jamie to know the attentions of a generous heart.”
Now, as he continued to watch, Mrs. Mayer good-naturedly laughed her way through a raucous country-dance with Mr. Reed before summoning a stately attitude to match the gentleman during the minuet. Sterling had marveled at her ability to adapt to any situation. As he watched her from his place beside a large palm, a smile crept across his face. She brought life to those about her.
“Do not sulk in the shadows,” his grandmother ordered.
“Who says I am sulking?”
“If you allow that woman to ruin this evening for Ebba and for yourself,” she charged, “I shall disinherit you.”
Sterling laughed softly. “I do not require your money, Gram. I am a rich man.”
“Even a rich man requires more in life than his fortune and his own company. I grow weary of seeing you alone, Sterling James.”
Her use of his full name Sterling James Baxter told him she meant her words. “Would you have me take a mistress, your ladyship?”
She stepped before him. “I would have you free yourself from that common tart. You are a good man, Sterling. Seize the opportunity—no matter what the cost.”
He kept his eyes on the dance floor, ashamed to meet the eyes of the woman who had raised him. “A divorce is an unprecedented move. It would drown the family name in scandal.”
“Do you think at my age a bit of scandal would ruffle my feathers?” The countess took a step closer to him. “You are what matters, Sterling. You were always what was important in my life.”
However, before he could respond, his face reddened with anger. “What does he want?” he hissed.
The countess turned to see Sutherland bowing before Ebba. “Stop him,” she ordered. “Claire is behind this.”
* * *
Brayton had returned her to where Lady Merritt’s wrap still rested on the back of a chair. “I am certain her ladyship has simply stepped away to speak to an old friend,” Ebba assured him. “I shall be well, sir. Truly I shall.”
“If you insist, Mrs. Mayer.” He bowed politely. “I await our waltz, ma’am.”
“As do I, Lord Brayton.”
For a few brief moments, Ebba remained alone. As she watched the couples move to the floor for the next set, she glanced about the room. It was to be a waltz.
“Looking for me,” a deep voice said from behind her.
Ebba turned slowly, dreading this exchange. “Lord Sutherland.” She managed a smile. “You have again taken me by surprise, sir.”
Before she could stop him, the baron took possession of her hand. “You must have known, dear lady, I would seek you out. The first three gentlemen you encountered on this journey to London were Brayton, Reed, and I. My colleagues have claimed their dances, and now it is my turn. That is unless you have promised this set to another.” He seductively brought Ebba’s gloved fingers to his lips.
“Pardon me, Sutherland.” The earl’s eyes locked on the man who reportedly was bedding his lordship’s wife. “But Mrs. Mayer has promised this set to me.” Assessing the competition, the men eyed each other.
“I was unaware of your prior claim, Merritt. After all, no one has seen you dance in years.”
Lord Merritt’s glare intensified. “Mrs. Mayer is under my protection,” he warned. “Naturally, I would claim her first London waltz.” He offered the baron a half bow. “Shall we?” he asked, extending his hand to her.
She gently placed her hand in his open palm, but when the earl’s fingers closed around hers, Ebba discovered the same heat she had felt when he had held her in the darkened inn hallway. “Thank you, my lord,” she whispered as she moved closer to him.
“I meant what I said to the baron, Mrs. Mayer. You are under my care. Unfortunately, in the past, I have tolerated Sutherland’s maneuverings, but I will not permit him to involve an innocent in his manipulations.” He spoke close to her ear, not permitting others to hear.
Ebba shot a quick glance about the dance floor. “When I met Lord Sutherland at the inn, I found him the perfect image of how the poor view the British aristocracy.”
His lordship smiled with her frankness.
“Then when I saw the gentleman recently at the lending library,” she continued, but the earl interrupted.
“I was unaware of your meeting Sutherland while out on your own,” he hissed.
Ebba flinched. “I informed the countess of the encounter.”
Although a frown remained upon his features, Lord Merritt nodded his understanding. With a steadying breath that marked his bringing his fury under control, he placed his left hand on Ebba’s waist and took her left in his right. Together, they stepped into the opening movement of the waltz. For a few brief moments they said nothing; Ebba concentrated on the complicated knot of his cravat, and Lord Merritt watched the other dancers over her shoulder. This waltz was nothing like the dances she knew growing up and attending local assemblies. This one abandoned its connections to a simple country dance executed to waltz time. This dance was an intimate coupling that had Ebba fighting a blush rushing to her cheeks.
At length, she murmured, “I apologize, my lord. I should have informed you of the unexpected meeting.”
He spoke to her hair. “I am not angry with you, my dear.” He guided her about the corner and between two other couples. “I despise the fact my personal life has made you uncomfortable.”
Ebba bit her bottom lip in indecision. Finally, she responded, “My allegiance is to you and the countess. I shall happily explain my interactions with Lord Sutherland, and when you are ready to do so, you shall divulge what you care to share of your marital arrangement. Until that time, it is none of my affair.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Mayer.”
Conscious others watched them, Ebba smiled brightly. “Then may I relax and enjoy my first waltz?”
Lord Merritt’s expression was one of awe. “Your first waltz? You, most assuredly, mean your first waltz in a London ballroom, not your first waltz ever.”
“My first waltz,” she repeated mischievously.
“This pleases me, Mrs. Mayer.” She responded when his fingertips edged her closer. “I hope it is as delicious as your evening with the Hamptons,” he teased.
Ebba laughed lightly. “The dance is quite decadent, my lord, but I am most pleased to share it with you.”
GIVEAWAY #1: I HAVE TWO eBOOKS OF “THE HEARTLESS EARL” AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY WILL END AT MIDNIGHT EDST ON OCTOBER 21, 2019. THE WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON OCTOBER 27, BUT THE PRIZES WILL NOT BE AWARDED UNTIL THE RELEASE OF THE BOOK.
The second release is a novella entitled “Last Woman Standing,” which is part of the A REGENCY CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL ANTHOLOGY. My fellow Austen Author Summer Hanford is also a part of the anthology. The six stories feature smart and sassy heroines in “clean” Regency stories and are being released by Dreamstone Publishing in Australia. We anticipate the release date to be October 25.
JACKSON SHAW, the Marquess of Rivens, never considered the “gypsy blessing” presented to his family during the time of Henry VIII truly a blessing. He viewed it more as a curse. According to the “blessing,” in his thirtieth year, at the Christmas ball hosted by his family, he was to choose a wife among the women attending. The catch was he possessed no choice in the matter. His wife was to be the one who proved herself to be his perfect match, according to the gypsy’s provisions: a woman who would bring prosperity to his land by her love of nature and her generous heart. In his opinion, none of the women vying for his hand appeared to care for anything but themselves.
EVELYN HAWTHORNE comes to River’s End to serve as the companion to the Marchioness of Rivens, his lordship’s grandmother. However, Lady Rivens has more than companionship in mind when she employs the girl, whose late father was a renown horticulturalist. The marchioness means to gather Gerald Hawthorne’s rare specimens to prevent those with less scrupulous ideas from purchasing Hawthorne’s conservatory, and, thereby, stealing away what little choice her grandson has in naming a wife, for all the potential brides must present the Rivenses with a rare flower to demonstrate the lady’s love of nature. Little does the marchioness know Hawthorne’s daughter might not only know something of nature, but be the person to fulfill the gypsy’s blessing.
Excerpt from Chapter Three of “Last Woman Standing”
When alone last evening, Evelyn had uttered multiple words of self-chastisement regarding her complicity in relegating certain members of the marchioness’s guest list to the least desirable rooms in the manor house, but, at the time, with Lady Rivens’s encouragement, her actions had appeared so reasonable. Like her ladyship, Evelyn had declared her intentions honest, but, privately, she questioned whether the idea of a woman winning the attentions of the marquess simply by making an appearance at a ball with some sort of “exotic” plant in hand went against all things in which she believed. Her parents had been deeply devoted to each other. It was beyond Evelyn’s comprehension how those of the aristocracy had turned marriage into a business contract, with affection playing no part in the joining.
Only last week, when her ladyship explained knowing very little of Lord Justice Rivens until the night of the Christmas ball, Evelyn had asked innocently, “Were you not embarrassed from all the attention given to those vying for the marquess’s hand?”
Her ladyship had simply shrugged. “I was brought up with the knowledge I would marry into the aristocracy. My father was an earl, and I was the eldest daughter. A viscountess or a countess or a marchioness, or even a duchess. Those were the acceptable positions I was expected to claim. It was the same with Justice. He was groomed to choose an appropriate bride from among the members of the ton. We were fortunate, though, for our personalities blended well, and we grew to know true affection.”
“But not love,” she had mouthed the words when her ladyship had turned away. Hearing Lady Rivens’s explanation, Evelyn had told herself she was glad not to have been born into the aristocracy. She was a gentleman’s daughter, but, without a title, and prior to her father’s passing, she had held no restrictions upon her choices. A man with a title. A clergyman. A barrister. A man of trade. She supposed she would have been permitted more latitude in choosing a husband if her father had not known such a great loss with his wife’s passing, and Evelyn had not remained at his side, even when she came of age to marry. She had feared what would happen to him if she had abandoned him, for Gerald Hawthorne had had no one but her to love him. “Then he abandoned me,” she said softly to no one in particular.
“Who abandoned you?” a familiar voice asked.
Evelyn dipped a quick curtsey. “Good afternoon, my lord. Do you require my service?”
The gentleman stepped further into the conservatory. He nodded toward the small stove she had lit earlier. “It is quite chilly outside.”
“Yes, my lord.” She paused awkwardly when she glanced up at him, realizing once again how devastatingly handsome the marquess was. “I beg your pardon, my lord.” She repeated her question, “Did you seek me out for the marchioness?”
He shook off the idea. “My grandmother and I have finished our meeting with Mrs. Astor and Mr. Watkins regarding the arrangements for the house party. Her ladyship has taken to her bed for a short rest before supper.” He stroked the back of the leaf of a lemon tree. “I understand I am in your debt. Lady Rivens says it was your suggestion that I might choose to join the other single gentlemen in the dower house during the length of the party.”
Evelyn heaved a rueful sigh. “After Lady Rivens explained the number of ladies who would expect you to pay attendance—.”
He spoke in disapproving tones. “You mean those who wish to discover me in an empty room so they can claim being compromised?”
“There is that also,” she reluctantly admitted.
“Why is it you never scream the word ‘compromise’ when you and I are alone together, as we are now?”
Evelyn’s heart hitched higher with his question. “You are my employer, sir. Naturally, we might encounter each other when others are not about.”
“You and I do more than encounter each other in the practice of your duties,” he argued as he moved closer. “You must realize I seek you out repeatedly because I enjoy your company.”
Although the idea pleased her, Evelyn spoke in firm tones, as she moved one plant into a larger pot. “I, too, cherish our conversations, my lord, but I fully comprehend that once you take a wife, those conversations cannot continue. I am well aware of my place in your household, a position for which I am very grateful.” When she turned, Lord Rivens was closer than she had expected.
He caressed her cheek with his palm. “Then you do not fear me. You do not think I hold nefarious and, likely, self-serving, reasons for spending time with you?”
“No,” she replied quickly. Evelyn knew the marquess to be more than handsome, intelligent, spontaneous, and a bit prideful. She also knew, despite her original accusations regarding his character, he was a gentleman. A gentleman accustomed to having his own way, but a gentleman, nonetheless.
“Excellent. I do not debauch young maidens, especially those in my employ,” he said softly. “Even those who possess the softest skin I have ever touched.” He leaned slowly toward her. Evelyn knew she should put a stop to his manipulations, but she was excessively curious as to whether a second kiss might match the one he had given her previously. Unfortunately, the moment was not to be, as Mrs. Duckworth strolled through the still open door, followed by her brood of goslings. “Honk!”
His lordship jumped back before spinning around to face the intruder, but Evelyn nudged him aside before the marquess could reach the goose. “Mrs. Duckworth!” she exclaimed, kneeling down to greet the honking goslings.
“Dare I ask why you named a goose Mrs. Duckworth?” he demanded in questionable amusement.
“Mrs. Gooseworth sounded odd, and she does not seem to mind, do you, love?” She lowered her voice in a conspiratorial tone, “Moreover, as it is customary to c-o-o-k a g-o-o-s-e for Christmas, I thought it better to name her Mrs. Duckworth.”
He chuckled and said, “‘How ill white hairs become a fool and jester.’”
“Henry IV, Part Two,” she repeated automatically, “and you sound like your grandmother.” She stroked the goose’s neck and back. “Are you looking for your meal?”
“You feed the geese?”
She turned to note a slight shake of his head in what appeared to be disbelief. “Naturally. In Northamptonshire, I always fed Papa’s animals. That way he could keep them out of his precious plants. Is that not correct, Puddles?” She scooped up one of the goslings and held it to her chest.
The marquess barked a laugh. “Puddles?”
“You would understand if you had viewed this gosling when I first met him, or her,” she said with a grin. “Evidently, my darling Puddles ate something he should not. He squirted more water than food each time he took a step, leaving little puddles behind, rather than the customary nugget.”
“You are adorable, Miss Hawthorne,” his lordship said with a smile matching hers. “Do you intend to fatten Mrs. Duckworth up yourself?” He knelt beside her and claimed another of the goslings who were honking and pecking at the floor where she had earlier crumbled a stale piece of bread into tiny pieces to tempt them.
“If so, I shan’t enjoy Christmas supper,” she declared readily. “And I swear I give them only food from my own plate or what Cook must throw away. Please say you do not mind my acting so foolishly. I promise the geese will not be a nuisance.”
He smiled upon her. “I fear, my dear, such is a promise you do not have the ability to keep, for, surely, someone will complain about the noise or Puddle’s puddles, but I hold no objection to your indulging the animals upon the manor if it makes you happy.”
Evelyn could not recall a time since before her mother’s passing that someone had done something to make her happy. It was all she could do not to throw her arms around his lordship’s neck and kiss him in gratitude.
Don’t worry. Mrs. Duckworth and her brood play a role in the conclusion of the story. You’ll enjoy their antics.
GIVEAWAY #2: I HAVE TWO eBOOKS OF “A REGENCY CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL” AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY WILL END AT MIDNIGHT EDST ON OCTOBER 12, 2019. THE WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON OCTOBER 20, BUT THE PRIZES WILL NOT BE AWARDED UNTIL THE RELEASE OF THE BOOK.