Excerpt

I’ve just cut a swathe through the few pages of With This Kiss that I’ve managed to write. By huge swathe, I do mean I completely rewrote the first scene. It remains familiar, but I think it has been improved upon tenfold. Now, since it is Wednesday, and I do not really have a blog for you – just those niggling feelings of guilt for not posting…

Enjoy!

3 March, 1811

Sarah Grace Patterson tucked her long legs underneath her skirts, settling into the deep leather seat of her father’s favored leather chair. She turned the page of her newest purchase slowly, savoring the build-up of spine-tingling terror, and putting off the romantic save which would end The Right Hand of Darkness. M. Rakoczy was a new author, but the thick gothick romance had yet to disappoint.

A fire burned in the grate behind her, the flames licking at logs and kindling. Sarah, as she was known to family, allowed the warmth to envelope her rather than pile on more blankets to ward off the winter chill. She turned to the next page and reached for her tea cup. She grimaced when a sip of tea told her it had long since passed over tepid, coming to a full stop at stone cold.

Rather than put the book down to top off her cup, however, she set the cup back down. It would be ignored for another half hour anyway, she rationalized.

“Did you hear about Elyza Joy?”

The words, spoken in Livvie Stenson’s breathy voice, broke into her concentration. Sarah looked up, blinking away the words of her novel. Confused as to when her cousin had arrived, she asked just that.

“Oh, I’ve been in here for ages,” Livvie said. She flung herself into the chair opposite Sarah with a loud sigh. “I’ve been waiting for you to acknowledge me, but you’ve been stuck in that silly book the entire time. ‘Tis a dreadful bore, all this reading you do.”

Unable to politely ignore the unspoken message, Sarah reluctantly closed the leather bound tome, and set it to the side. Lord Diego would be there when she returned, after all.

“I must admit, Livvie dearest, that I am surprised you sought me out,” she said. Or that you could even find the library, she thought. Remorse immediately swept through her. Olivia Stenson was her best friend, even if not the most intellectual person.

Livvie turned to stare out the uncurtained window that looked over the snow-blanketed terrace to the south of their Berkeley Square manor, but Sarah could see that her gaze remained unfocused.

  She suppressed a sigh. Each week, their families met at Marylebone Old Church for service. After service, everyone returned to Preston House. Tea and gossip could be found in the morning room, cigars and port in Lord Preston’s office. The relaxing day of familial joviality would be completed with an informal dinner. For Sarah, the library brought solitude, escape from the trivial discussions her female relatives so favored.

Livvie spoke in that childish voice she had perfected at the command of her mother, once again breaking into Sarah’s thoughts. “Our mothers are talking the marriage mart again,” she said, “and I overheard the most delicious gossip regarding Elyza Joy.”

A maid brought in a fresh tea cart in response to a tug upon the bell pull. Both girls held their tongues until she had gently shut the library doors behind her.

Sarah poured new tea for herself, but Livvie declined with a brief shake of her golden curls. Instead, Livvie shoved away from her seated position to pace the length of worn carpet set before the fireplace. Her movements were agitated, restless even. The air was thick with… a sadness almost palatable, Sarah decided. She regretted her annoyance at the intrusion, and stood to offer comfort.

“We are hardly friends with Elyza Joy,” she said. “What news could have upset you so?”

Livvie rebuked the embrace. Anger shone in her eyes. “Have you – have you ever thought your world so shattered it could never be put right?”

“Here, drink this.” Sarah thrust a cup of steaming tea into Livvie’s hands. She was not sure how to answer the question. Melodrama was Livvie’s secret weapon, not hers.

Livvie swallowed the tea quickly. “I – I know I sound silly, but this news has sent my mind swirling in new directions. It has been very thought provoking.”

“And we know how little you like that,” teased Sarah.

“Most women do, Sarah. It is only you ape-leaders who wish to indulge in serious thoughts.”

Sarah ignored the barb. Livvie had not meant it as an insult. She never did. “Tell me what has you so upset that you would seek my counsel, Livvie.”

“Elyza Joy seems to have gotten herself into trouble,” said Livvie. “And the dreadful creature has placed the blame at Banleighton’s feet.”

Silence stretched between them. There had been rumors about an alliance between the Preston family and the Banleighton clan for several years, but Sarah never took it seriously. Her parents would force her into nothing. And yet, learning that the man she might have sought happiness with had seduced a rather shy debutante gave her pause.

‘Perhaps it is a love match, and they anticipated the vows,” she finally said to break the silence.

Livvie dismissed the idea with the wave of a hand. “Love? Bah.”

“It is not unheard of.”

“You are such a provincial girl with your odd notions of true love and happily ever afters, are you not? Especially for one raised in London.”

“What else is there if not love, Livvie? How can I believe in anything but?” Sarah picked up her new book, caressing the soft leather cover. Lord Diego, he believed in love – even if he had trouble expressing it.

“Power. Wealth. Those are what matters in marriage, Sarah. Not love,” replied Livvie. “Like your shy little Elyza Joy, I shall marry where I am told. I will do anything to keep my position in society.”

“How sad that is Livvie,” Sarah said. A thought crossed her mind. “Do not tell me you have feelings for Banleighton. Had you hopes of catching him? I would not have minded, you know.”

Again, she was dismissed with the wave of a hand and a scolding glare. “Of course you would have minded,” said Livvie. “His grace is not only wealthy and powerful, but extremely good looking.”

“So you do hold him in regard?”

Ignoring the question, Livvie said, “Perhaps she just wanted to avoid another pointless season. Last year was what, her fourth?” She shuddered delicately at the thought.

“If the season is as bad as all that, why have one? Especially if you are so bent upon marrying where told?”

Livvie offered no reply, so Sarah allowed the silence to grow between them before picking her novel up from the low table next to her chair. She still did not know why Livvie was so bothered by this news, but she accepted her cousin would reveal all in her own time.

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