I promised another excerpt from BEGUILING THE BARON. It came out yesterday, and if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read it for FREE!
But while you’re making up your mind, here’s the next chapter in the book one reviewer called, “Gripping, suspenseful and exciting with characters that come off the pages and pulled me into this tale of desperation, longing, sadness and strong emotions.”
Thank you for that, Lori on Goodreads!
BEGUILING THE BARON
Henry Pelham gripped the battlements on the top of his folly tower and fought against the nausea that assailed him. His knuckles whitened as he stared down, out-facing his demons as he had done every day for the past three years, unable to forget the sound of the falling body striking the rocks below.
The wind tossed his long hair about his shoulders, and he gritted his teeth against the pelting rain, using the sting of it to stiffen his resolve, his own misery restitution for what his wife, the late Lady Mary Ansford, had suffered at his hands.
Lifting his head and scanning the grounds of his medieval home, Foxleaze Abbey, Hal knew again the bitter defeat of her loss, the guilt of being left with a motherless child, and the shame of being held responsible for a tragedy whose repercussions had changed the course of his life forever.
“My heart is dead,” he told the pitiless spirit that haunted his every thought. “I live only to create a fitting memorial to you, Mary, and to make sure Polly is strong enough to withstand the censures of Society.”
This dictum, repeated each day as part of his penance, calmed him with its familiarity. Hal turned away, duty done, and stepped down into the body of the folly tower, out of the storm.
The nausea was so intense, he could almost imagine the tower swayed in the wind, and he had to clutch at the rail as he made his way down the spiral staircase to the uppermost chamber, where a sputtering horn lantern did little to dispel the gloom.
“Foul weather for spring,” he muttered to the restless spirit that dwelt there. “I’d not have them come while the roads are so rough. The month of May will be soon enough if they are to come at all.”
Mary’s shade gave him no answer, but he knew, deep in the worthy corner of what remained of his heart, he’d accept the Wyndhams into his home. He neither needed nor wanted the company of these distant relations, but Polly needed them, and if he did the right thing by Polly, perhaps, finally, the memory of his dead wife would stop tormenting him.
Somewhere beneath all the self-loathing, the black melancholy of his soul, he’d been surprised to discover a nugget of kindness lurking. Kindness had once motivated his political career, had been the guiding star of his universe, even though Mary had mocked him for it and told him it made him soft. His political adversaries would have called him anything but, though he doubted any of his stubborn determination to champion the oppressed remained.
Even so, there had been enough generosity in his heart to extend a helping hand to his destitute cousins. They’d suffered grief of their own and needed the charity he was able to give.
One of his few remaining friends, William Cranborne, Duke of Finchingfield, had used his skill with words to broker a deal between the two parties. Knowing Mrs. Sarah Wyndham to be a proud woman, the duke had promised to make sure she knew Hal wasn’t offering a handout, but employment. In exchange for this employment, they’d have a sizeable allowance, food, clothing, and a decent—if ancient—roof above their heads.
The widowed Mrs. Wyndham had been persuaded to accept on the understanding both she and her unmarried daughter, Galatea, would educate Polly and make her fit for Society. Hal wanted Polly brought up in the strictest of regimes, for he planned to send her away to board at Miss Gates’ Academy for Young Ladies in Selbury, in the far south of the county.
Polly would need to be tough, both inside and out, to cope with the stigma of having such notorious parents, the—allegedly—adulterous Lady Mary Ansford and her—allegedly—murderous husband.
How quick Society had been to condemn.
Hal picked up the most recent letter from Finchingfield and took it across to the lantern to re-examine its contents, but he was still distracted by bitterness. It seemed a man could lead a blameless, even laudable life, win the acclaim of his peers, and be the most admired nobleman in the West of England, but be deemed the very devil the moment something disastrous occurred in his personal life. Where was the sympathy, the understanding? Society had been so determined to blame him after Mary’s death, he hadn’t even bothered to refute the rumors. He’d simply told Society it could go hang and taken himself and Polly out of it.
He returned his attention to the letter. So, it was all arranged. The Wyndhams would be coming toward the end of May. The duke, along with Hal’s steward Lynch, and his housekeeper, Mrs. Dunne, had attended to the details. Rather than allow his new family to spend any longer in that soul-destroying poorhouse than they needed to, Hal had provided money to set them up with accommodation in one of the better parts of Selbury, where they could hold their heads up high, rub shoulders with the ton if they cared to, and be comfortable in every way.
When the Wyndhams eventually arrived at Foxleaze, they must be in full health and looks and be the picture of respectability. What little pride Hal had left demanded it—and he also firmly believed Polly would be more likely to take notice of a pair of smart, upright-looking females.
But were they smart? Were they upright? He’d debated this question a long time and ultimately asked Finchingfield to not only inquire into their history but also appeal to his wife Lucy, for some idea of the character of the two ladies.
This letter contained the answers to both his questions. Sarah Wyndham was reported as being unremarkable in any way, apart from too proud to accept charity. Her daughter, Galatea, had been a friend of Lucy’s for many years, since they’d attended Miss Gates’ Academy together as girls.
This, in Hal’s book, was an excellent reference, as it was the selfsame school where he meant to send his daughter. Miss Gates had a reputation for ruling her pupils with a rod of iron, the perfect way of giving Polly the backbone she was going to need when she became part of the world beyond the walls of Foxleaze Abbey.
Exactly what the Wyndhams would do with their time when Polly was sent off to school, he wasn’t certain. But so long as it didn’t impinge on him, and his activities, he didn’t really care.
His eyes wandered once again to the final sentence in Finchingfield’s letter. It was the only thing about the entire arrangement that perturbed him and made him wonder if he wasn’t about to make the worst mistake of his life.
Miss Galatea Wyndham, or Tia for short, is well-educated, openhearted, graceful, joyful and, so my wife tells me, beautiful both inside and out. Polly will love her. You will both love her.
He chewed on his lip, folded the letter away, and stared unblinkingly at the gray walls of his self-imposed prison.
The last thing he wanted was to love anybody.