Monday, 7 January 2008

A Shameful Secret

The picture is the cover of the last book of the trilogy just published by Harlequin Mills & Boon. A new Regency coming from them in paperback in Feb 2008!

This is an excerpt from my new Regency coming soon from Amira Press. Enjoy!

Hester has disgraced her family and can never be forgiven.

'Good morning, ma'am,' he said politely. 'Forgive me for disturbing you, but I believe I have missed my way. I wonder if you could direct me to Holdenby Hall please?'
For a moment Hester's heart caught with fright, for the words were the very same as those uttered fatally more than eight years earlier, the words that had led to a broken heart and her terrible shame. She breathed deeply, taking a moment to recover her composure before looking up at the face of the man who had spoken. Thank God it was not he! Had it been she could not have answered for her actions, for she had often thought she might like to strike that other one. Indeed, in her grief- maddened dreams she had longed to wreak bloody revenge on the man who had ruined her life, though when she was awake and thinking sensibly, she knew that she would never do such a thing. She was in actual fact, a well-brought up and conscientious lady, and her lapse from grace had been unfortunate rather than deliberate.
'Are you all right?' the man was looking at her in concern now, his blue eyes narrowing as he saw how pale she was. She was a lady of medium height, hardly above a man's shoulder, slender and attractive in a quiet, unremarkable way, despite her plain gown and severe hairstyle. And yet he thought that given a little colour in her cheeks she might have been pretty. 'Did I startle you?'
'A little,' Hester confessed, forcing herself to put away her foolish memories. 'I believe you have taken the wrong fork, sir. You must return to the crossroads and take the road to the right. I believe there is a milestone with the inscription, Holdenby Village two miles, but it may have become overgrown again.'
'Ah, yes, that would explain it. Josh told me there was a milestone but I did not see it as I rode. Thank you very kindly, ma'am, and forgive me if I came upon you too suddenly.'
There was sincerity in his deep voice and his smile was like a gentle caress. Despite the warnings in her head, Hester found herself responding to his charm.
'Are you staying with Lady Holdenby?' she asked. 'She told me last week that she expected her brother Josh for a visit and that he might bring friends to stay at the Hall.'
'We were in France together,' the man replied. 'Served under Wellington, on his staff. Captain Paul Crawford at your service, ma'am.'
'Hester Weston,' she replied, her heart beating quickly, too quickly. He was charming and good looking, she supposed, in a rather stern, forbidding way. Blue eyes, strong features and dark hair combined to make him a man who would always be noticed - and this was all wrong! She knew what such chance encounters led to and she was disobeying her father's last orders to her as he lay dying. She was to stay at home with her mother for the rest of her life and never think of shaming her family again. 'Excuse me, Captain Crawford, I must hurry. I am expected at home.'
'Of course, forgive me,' he said and swept his hat from his dark head once more before turning his horse to ride off the way he had come.
Hester could not resist a last glance at him as she turned homeward. He was not the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen, but he had good bone structure, a soft, sensuous mouth and a deep, pleasant voice. Despite her father's unkindness, her mother's reproaches, and the knowledge that she could never expect to marry, Hester had occasionally thought of it. In the ridiculous dreams she sometimes experienced, the kind and generous man she longed for rode up on his horse and carried her off to a life of domestic bliss. It was foolish of her to hanker after something that could never be hers; she would never know the joy of holding her child in her arms, or the happiness of being loved by a man who loved her in return.
At the age of just seventeen, Hester had been ruthlessly pursued and seduced by a rogue, who having won her heart and her confidence, ravished her and left her to face the consequences alone. When the evidence of her disgrace became too prominent to disguise, her father had subjected her to a cruel punishment. She was forbidden all the pleasures she had until then enjoyed, and was banished to stay with a distant aunt until the child was born. The child being stillborn, Hester had been allowed to return to her home, the scandal hushed up and kept from all but certain members of her family. However, it was made perfectly plain to her by Harold Weston that she was a wicked girl who had brought shame on her family and would never be given a chance to do so again.
At first rebellious, Hester had come to accept that she had indeed brought shame on her family, and that she must bear her punishment as best she might. It had been very hard for a girl of spirit to accept, but over the years the light inside her had dimmed and at five and twenty she was not the foolish romantic who had given her heart so easily.
Richard Mortimer, grandson of Earl Mortimer, was a ruthless rake and Cousin Charlotte had told her that she was not the only innocent girl he had ruined. Indeed, he had been banished to the West Indies after one particularly bad scandal, and there for all Hester knew he remained, though she had heard that his elder brother had been killed at Waterloo fighting the French.
Hester hoped that her seducer would never return to this part of East Anglia, and indeed it was unlikely. He had found the area dull and had stayed at his family home near Burnham Market reluctantly, having been rusticated because his grandfather refused to pay his gambling debts. In his boredom Richard had sought a diversion, and Hester's sweet naiveté had aroused his interest. Had her mother been less indolent or more interested in her daughter's welfare, Mrs Weston might have warned her child to beware of rakes like Mortimer. However, he had set himself to charm both the mother and the daughter, and Araminta had ignored the signs.
Hester sighed as she smothered the memories. It was ridiculous to let herself hope for something that could never be. Her mother needed her at home now that her father was dead. He had died without forgiving his daughter, and that had hurt Hester deeply. She knew that she had been foolish, but she had never meant to be wicked and she had longed for her father's forgiveness, but it had not been granted her.
As she ran the last few steps towards her home, she saw that a mountain of luggage was in the hall still waiting to be carried upstairs. That must mean Cousin Charlotte had arrived. Hester smiled and for a moment her face lit up and the air of repression left her. She was no longer the pretty child she had once been for care had driven that sweet innocence from her face, and she often looked sad or dull, but when she smiled she had a gentle beauty that would appeal to the more discerning.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. A Shameful Secret/Anne Ireland/Amira Press

Coming soon in ebook and in print.

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