London, 1816. A handsome baron. A faux betrothal. And Horatia's plan to join the London literary set takes a dangerous turn. Now that the war with France has ended, Baron Guy Fortescue arrives in England to claim his inheritance, abandoned over thirty years ago when his father fled to France after killing a man in a duel. When Guy is set upon by footpads in London, a stranger, Lord Strathairn, rescues and befriends him. But while travelling to his country estate, Guy is again attacked. He escapes only to knock himself out on a tree branch.
Aspiring poet Horatia Cavendish has taken to riding her father's stallion, "The General", around the countryside of Digswell dressed as a groom. She has become bored of her country life and longs to escape to London to pursue her desire to become part of the London literary set. When she discovers Guy lying unconscious on the road, the two are forced to take shelter for the night in a hunting lodge. After Guy discovers her ruse, a friendship develops between them. Guy suspects his relative, Eustace Fennimore is behind the attacks on his life. He has been ensconced in Rosecroft Hall during the family's exile and will become the heir should Guy die. Horatia refuses to believe her godfather, Eustace, is responsible. But when Guy proposes a faux betrothal to give him more time to discover the truth, she agrees. Secure in the knowledge that his daughter will finally wed, Horatia's father allows her to visit her blue-stocking aunt in London. But Horatia's time spent in London proves to be anything but a literary feast, for a dangerous foe plots Guy's demise. She is determined to keep alive her handsome fiance, who has proven more than willing to play the part of her lover even as he resists her attempts to save him.
The stables were empty and satisfactorily gloomy. The General whinnied a greeting. Simon had gone off to the village apothecary to fetch her father’s medicine. That was the only excuse she could think of, but as he would soon be in need of it, the order caused no comment.
She patted The General’s nose and fed him an apple. By the time the last of it had disappeared, she heard the clip of a horse’s hooves on the gravel drive. She peeped out of the barn door and saw the baron, tall in the saddle, riding towards the house.
Horatia stepped out and beckoned him.
He caught sight of her and rode towards the stables then dismounted and led the horse inside.
“Sorry, my lord,” Horatia said, adopting Simon’s gruff voice. “We have no footman here. No under-groom neither. I’ll stable your horse.”
“Simon, good fellow,” he said warmly. “I came to thank you again. I am indebted to you.”
“No need for that, my lord,” she said. “Everything’s right and tight here as it happens.” She turned her back to lead his horse into one of the stalls. Seizing a brush, she bent and swept it over the horse’s flanks.
He came to rest an arm on the stall door. “I am relieved. If you had lost your job, I was going to ask you to work for me.”
She straightened to brush the horse’s back, confident of the poor light. “Mighty good of you, my lord. But not at all necessary.”
“Eh bien, merci encore.”
He turned towards the door.
Relieved it had gone so well, Horatia stepped out from behind the horse. She looked up to see if he had gone and found him watching her with his arms folded.
The elation left her, and she took a deep, shaky breath.
“Did you really think you could go on fooling me?” A note of outrage lay beneath the humorous tone in his voice. “How many people around here have red hair like yours?”
“My hair’s not red,” she said, incensed. “It’s chestnut.”
“I wondered how far you would carry this ruse, Miss Cavendish.”
She backed into an empty stall as he strode towards her.
He followed her inside. Reaching over, he whipped off her hat, and her hair came loose and tumbled around her face. “So, what do you have to say in your defense?”
“Nothing, my lord.” Horatia lifted her chin, her heart pounding loud in her ears. She chewed her lip. She would have to brazen this out.
Annoyed blue eyes stared into hers. “I do not like to be toyed with. I thought there was something wrong with me.”
“Watching you bend over in those breeches. Zut! From the first I felt a strong attraction to you. And then, when I saw you dressed as a woman, I understood.”
“You knew it was me at the dance?” She scowled. “And you deliberately teased me?”
“Don’t you think you deserved it?” He seized her shoulders and gave them a shake.
“You tricked me. Why?”
She swallowed. “No trickery, my lord. I was dressed this way when I found you, if you recall. I needed to keep up the pretense.”
He shrugged. “But why do you dress like that?”
She couldn’t explain her restlessness to him and tossed her head. “I prefer to ride astride.”
He raised a brow. “You like a strong beast moving beneath you?”
She bristled at the insult. “I like to ride alone.”
He made it sound as if she gained some sort of indecent enjoyment from the exercise. Her face heated. To ride astride was unfeminine, she knew, but that fact had never bothered her before.
“But to do so places you in peril.”
Horatia drew herself up. “I can handle myself as well as a man.”
“You believe that, do you?”
His gaze flicked over her. What was he thinking? She quivered under his scrutiny.
“We spent the night in the same bed,” he said finally.
The indecency of it made her want to block her ears. “I remember quite well, my lord,” she murmured. “Nothing happened between us.”
“Stop calling me my lord,” he barked. “While I was half-conscious, I told you all my secrets, confound it!”
So, that was what worried him. Horatia’s agitated breath eased a little. “You have nothing to fear from me, my… Guy. You can trust me to keep close counsel.”
“I spoke to you as one man to another, zut!” He shook his head. “Now you’ve got me cursing!”
“I’ve heard far worse from your lips,” she said with a wry smile.
“You deserved to,” he said coolly.
He appeared to rein in his temper and leaned against a post to shred a piece of straw.
“Really, your confessions were a mere trifle,” Horatia fibbed. She began to enjoy her new sense of power. “You French are so excitable. You place great importance on something of little consequence.”
“You think that, do you?”
His voice sounded dangerously honeyed as he shoved away from the post and stalked towards her.
Horatia stifled a nervous giggle when she realized she’d gone too far. She watched him change from a preparedness to listen to the unleashed power of an angry male.
She backed away until the wall of the stall jutted against her spine. “I believe we should go to the house,” she said in a shaky voice. “Father will be wondering where I am.”
He towered over her. “Oui, and how he will enjoy your mode of dress.” He offered her his arm. “Allow me to escort you.”
Now he thought he had the upper hand, curse him.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
New Release: A Baron in Her Bed
I write sensual historical romance where heroes meet their match in feisty heroines. Add a dash of adventure, a murder or two, a mystery or intrigue. What better time to set them than the Georgian, Regency and the late Victorian period on the brink of the 20th Century. The Regency was a time of both opulence and abject poverty. Of economic and social change: the Napoleonic wars, the power struggle for the Americas, and the Industrial revolution when people began to desert the country for the cities. Celebrity Lord Byron wrote dark romantic poetry, and Beau Brummell defined and shaped fashion into a period of simplistic elegance. Men abandoned brocades and lace for linen trousers, overcoats with breeches and boots, and women abandoned corsets for high wasted, thin gauzy dresses. A spend-thrift aesthete known for his scandalous affairs, George IV, the Prince of Wales was made Regent in 1811 after his father was declared too mad to rein. Prinny presided over the elegant society of the ton, the so called Upper Ten Thousand, who defined themselves by an incredibly formal etiquette code which set them apart from the rising middle class.