A Regency Romance
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Hazel Statham Author of Romantic Historical Fiction
Severely injured at the battle of Salamanca, Edward Thurston, the new Earl of Sinclair, returns home to his beloved Fly Hall. Determined not to present his prospective bride with the wreck he believes himself to have become, he has decided to end his betrothal, unaware that Lady Jennifer, for vastly differing reasons, has reached the self-same decision.
Throughout the campaigns, it was seen that he relied greatly on a miniature he carried, and it is to this he clings upon his return. Will he eventually find happiness with the girl in the portrait or will he remain firm in his resolve not to wed? Reason dictates one course, his heart another.
Here is an excerpt:
Nevertheless, once the Earl of Hawley’s party arrived in the ballroom, it was not long before Lady Jennifer became the center of a small group of admirers, each eager to attract her attention. However, it was to the young Lord Melville that she finally granted the first dance and he eagerly led her onto the floor as the strains of the orchestra heralded a cotillion. Lord Melville proved an engaging partner, his bantering conversation keeping her amused throughout the movements and when, at its end, he offered to find her refreshment, she had no hesitation whatsoever in accepting.
So engrossed was she in watching the progress of those engaged in the current set of country dances that she failed to notice her escort’s return. However, she was visibly startled when, taking his seat beside her, he bent close to whisper in her ear and it took a moment before she could take in what he was saying.
“My dear Lady Jennifer,” whispered Lord Melville, drawing his seat closer still. “I hope you will not find it indelicate of me, but I must make you aware that Sinclair is here. Indeed, he draws quite a crowd. So many are there who are eager to welcome his return that he is positively surrounded with well-wishers.”
For a moment she turned startled eyes to his face but soon recovered, not wishing to seem in any way perturbed. She smiled, attempting at the ordinary. “His return is of no consequence to me. I assure you, I find his comings and goings no matter for comment. Indeed, if I should never set eyes on the man ever again, I will not feel his loss.”
Much heartened by this response Lord Melville proceeded to attempt to divert his companion with the latest morsels of gossip, oblivious of the emotions his words evoked in her breast.
As the evening advanced and the earl had still not seen fit to seek her out, Jennifer’s mood became one of forced indifference and she entered into the spirit of the evening with much enthusiasm. However, in a quiet moment, when she had removed herself to a seat by an open casement, eager to feel its cooling breeze, she became aware that she was the object of scrutiny.
Turning in her chair, she saw the earl, elegant in evening attire, standing but a few feet away, conversing with one of his cronies. If not for the loss of his arm and the pale scar that now creased his left cheek, Jennifer would not have believed him returned from war. He retained his noble grace and bearing, appearing oblivious of the interest he evoked and she could easily believe that he would once more become the darling of the London hostesses.
Excusing himself from his companion, she saw that he intended to advance toward her, and she immediately rose to leave.
“What, you would desert me, Lady Jennifer?” he said, smiling as he came to stand before her. “Am I not to be allowed at least one word with you?”
“I am totally out of patience with you, my lord, and have no desire whatsoever to talk to you,” she snapped, resuming her seat and refusing to meet his gaze.
At her attempt to rebuff him, he stood squarely before her. “Come, Jenny; it must not be seen that we argue and feed the scandalmongers. At least, amongst company, it must seem that we can be civil to each other. Think of the attention we would draw if we appear antagonistic.” As she gave no answer, he drew up a chair to sit beside her. Concern showing on his handsome countenance, he laid his hand over hers as it rested in her lap.
“Would you have it said that there is a bitterness between us?” he asked quietly, attempting to read her face. “Is there a bitterness between us?”
Still she made no reply and he pressed the hand that he held. “I see that I have wounded you, but believe me when I say that it is for the best. You would not wish me to husband. Come, did we not agree to at least be friends? I wish not to alienate you.”
Jennifer still gave no immediate reply, but then, raising her eyes to his face, smiled and said, “Yes, I do believe we may suit as friends. Though what society will make of us I know not.”
“Do you care what the tabbies say?”
She gave a small trill of amusement. “Not in the least, sir.”
“Good,” he said, rising from his seat. “Perhaps now that our friendship is confirmed, you might consider using my given name for, as you may have noticed, I have every intention of using yours.” He bowed formally and held out his hand. “Would you do me the honor of standing up with me for this waltz? I do believe we may attempt it in all propriety.”
“But how, Edward,” she asked, for a fleeting moment allowing her eyes to glance at his left shoulder.”
“Pay no mind to that, my dear. I do believe with a little ingenuity we will manage quite creditably. You need only rest your hand on my shoulder and all will work out perfectly.”
She appeared taken aback by the suggestion. “I could not, sir. It would look almost as if we embraced, and as we are no longer betrothed, it would appear quite shocking. Even if we were, it would cause comments.”
He grinned at the idea, his eyes dancing with devilment. “I’d not thought of it. Yes, I can quite see that we would cause a stir, but I do believe that we really must. Let the tabbies say what they like, I must have you dance with me.”
She smiled, an answering sparkle in her eyes. “Then, sir, dance with you I will. I care not for the scandalmongers. I’m quite sure your impeccable reputation will more than render us immune to their malicious gossip.”
“Is my reputation impeccable?” he asked with some surprise.
“Most certainly! Especially as you are one of the gallant few who are returned victorious from war.”
“What utter nonsense,” he scorned, laughing. “I assure you there’s nothing gallant about war.”
Taking her hand in a firm clasp, he led her determinedly onto the dance floor and, as they began the movements, they became aware that several pairs of curious eyes followed their progress around the room. At first, his movements felt awkward, but soon he relaxed and followed the familiar rhythm of the dance, his right arm snugly encircling Jennifer’s slender waist. It felt so right, and soon they were oblivious of the interest they evoked, only aware of their enjoyment of the moment and each other’s company.
Reaching scarce above Sinclair’s shoulder, Jennifer stole a glance up at her partner’s countenance to find him watching her intently, an unfathomable look in his storm-gray eyes. When she would have queried that look, he swept her into a series of intricate moves, from which they emerged breathless and laughing.
Once the dance ended, Sinclair still retained his hold on her hand as they returned to the seat by the window. He smiled, handing her to her chair as he scanned the onlookers for signs of disapproval. “We appear to have escaped censure for the moment, but now I will leave you before I render our reputations beyond repair.”