Much of my promotion for BEGUILING THE BARON includes mention of a kitten. He doesn’t enter the story until later, but features in my favourite scene of the book. Well, there are others, but they are either too hot for the blog, or would give away too much of the story…
Anyway, here’s the final bit of “free peek” into the reclusive Baron Ansford’s somewhat Gothic world…
On a damp, unseasonably cold afternoon in late May, Tia and her mama arrived at Foxleaze Abbey. Despite the forbidding aspect created by the gloomy weather, Tia was delighted by the modern honey-colored facade of the building and professed herself fascinated by the medley of uneven roof lines and turrets behind it, proclaiming its more ancient past.
So long as no ghostly nuns—or late baronesses—lurked in the crypts or corridors, she could be exceedingly happy in such a place. Compared to the poorhouse, it was heaven—there was so much space, so much architectural beauty, and such splendidly landscaped grounds.
If only Polly Pelham proved to be an amenable child, and her father not nearly so peculiar—or dangerous—as rumor suggested, Tia decided she could grow to love the place in no time.
A smartly dressed lady bobbed a curtsy as she and Mama entered the building. “Good day to you. I am Mrs. Dunne, Lord Ansford’s housekeeper. Please follow me.”
In no time at all, their luggage had been brought inside and taken upstairs. “May I offer you refreshment or a brief tour of the house?” Mrs. Dunne inquired.
Tia shot a hopeful look at her mama. “Oh, I should much prefer to see the house, for it seems the kind of place one might get lost in, so best start finding our way around immediately. Assuming you’re fit to wait a short while longer for your tea, Mama?”
Hugely improved in both health and mind since their escape from the poorhouse, Mama nodded her agreement. “Is your master away at present?”
Was that a flash of awareness staining the housekeeper’s cheeks? About what was she embarrassed?
“No, madam, he is not away.”
“Has he not been told of our arrival?” Surely, he must have noticed their carriage.
“I regret his Lordship does not wish to be disturbed at present.”
Tia exchanged a glance with Mama. How unutterably rude of him not to be here to welcome his guests. Not so much peculiar as ill-mannered. This did not bode well.
“Oh, how disappointing.” She laughed lightly. “I hope he’s not avoiding us deliberately.”
The housekeeper said quickly, “No, indeed, miss. But his Lordship is always occupied. He does most of his work at home and goes out no more than he needs to. But that’s not to say you may not make social calls of your own. There are riding horses available and both winter and summer carriages at your disposal, as well as a curricle if either of you ladies cares to drive.”
Tia brightened. No, she didn’t know how to drive a carriage, having been brought up in the busy port of Southampton where the roads were too clogged to be safe. But she’d love to learn. There must be many splendid sights hereabouts, and what a wonderful sense of freedom it must give to be able to drive oneself. She would take Polly out with her.
Would Lord Ansford have the patience to teach her to drive? Or even the inclination to do so? Lucy had tried to enlighten Tia as to Lord Ansford’s character, but it seemed the more she heard about him, the less she knew.
That matter could be put aside for now. First, she must learn to find her way around the house. She could hardly expect her new pupil to respect her if she were constantly getting lost.
Despite the modern facade, much of the original abbey remained. There were some obvious Tudor period renovations, including the addition of wooden paneling and vast brick fireplaces. These had presumably been added after the Dissolution by the new lay owners, to make the place more like a home and less like an institution.
Tia shuddered. After the poorhouse, she never wanted to set foot inside an institution again.
As she followed her mama and the housekeeper through the maze of passageways, she discovered her new home was a real hotchpotch of different styles and intentions, testament to the wealth and taste—or lack thereof—of many generations of Pelhams.
As they ascended a sweeping staircase, a dark oak affair of the previous century, she paused in front of a multifaceted window of yellowed glass. This ancient insertion shone a sickly light onto the half landing and the menacing suit of armor set there as adornment. Through the glass Tia could make out the wavy shapes of trees and, realizing how high up she was, she impulsively opened the window to see what manner of view it afforded.
“Oh!” The sight that met her eyes was the very last thing she’d expected to see.
A half-naked man striding past the house.
She stood and stared, transfixed by his grace as he walked barefoot across the lawn, his dark gold hair hanging in damp tendrils down his back, only partially concealing the well-defined musculature of his torso. His sole item of clothing was a pair of soaked black breeches, clinging revealingly to his muscular thighs. He was wringing something out in his hands as he walked. His shirt, perhaps?
Well, who’d have imagined Lord Ansford employed a hermit? Tia knew some members of the aristocracy kept them, for the amusement of their friends. Oh, to have the money to waste on such foolishness. The hapless creatures were expected to live in caves or grottoes, often constructed in the previous century when the building of fanciful follies on country estates was highly popular.
Something hung about the hermit’s neck and swung as he walked, but he was already too far away for her to identify it. A crucifix, perhaps? The man continued on in the direction of a stand of tall trees and melted from view when a sudden squall of rain cut across Tia’s vision.
As she struggled to close the ancient catch of the window, she refused to be shocked by what she’d seen. Fascinating, though. Might the man be not only a hermit but a flagellant as well? But no—she’d seen no marks on his pale flesh. Maybe there was such a thing as a partial flagellant, someone who exposed themselves to the rain and the cold as a penance but didn’t go so far as beating themselves with sticks. Perhaps the black garment he’d been holding was his horsehair shirt.
She hoped not. Concealing such a splendid body beneath a hair shirt would be like putting a frock coat on a Praxiteles—all that masculine magnificence hidden away . . .
As Tia hurried to catch up with her mama and the housekeeper, she wondered what young Polly thought about this hermit. Surely the sight of him was enough to terrify a child, and the idea of him lurking in some rocky cave within the grounds might deter her from venturing out alone.
She’d talk to Lord Ansford about it—when he finally made an appearance. Half-naked men wandering around the place did not create a comfortable environment for a gently bred young girl.
Nor—as the heat suffusing her own cheeks testified—did it create a comfortable environment for a woman of one-and-twenty.
Thank you all those of you who have supported my books thus far!
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.
Only open until 20th April!
First you will need a copy of the egg matching sheet.
Then match the egg to the author by 1) drawing a line between them, or 2) writing the author’s name next to their egg, or 3) writing the number of the egg next to the author’s name.
When you have all 30 matches, either e-mail a picture of the form (2 pictures since there are 2 pages) or send an e-mail with a list of authors and their matching egg numbers.
E-mail to Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com by 11:59 PM on 4/20/19 to be entered into the $150 gift card giveaway! Grand prize winner will be announced by noon on Easter (4/21/19).
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If you want to find the eggs in order, the next author to visit after me is the lovely Tara Kingston!
Below is a list of ALL the authors participating, and the locations where you can find their eggs.
Annabelle Anders https://www.facebook.com/HappyWritingGirl/
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Maddison Michaels https://www.facebook.com/MaddisonMichaelsAuthor/
Nadine Millard https://partners.bookbub.com/authors/82544/edi
Meara Platt https://facebook.com/AuthorMearaPlatt/
Jennifer Trethewey https://www.facebook.com/jennifertretheweyromance/
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- Elizabeth Watson https://www.facebook.com/Author.E.Elizabeth.Watson/
Beguiling the Baron is a little different from what Elizabeth Keysian usually writes, but it was just as amazing as her other books! It has only been the last few months that I’ve grown to appreciate gothic romances, so I was thrilled to find out a favoured author of mine wrote one. I completely devoured it!
The story was beautifully written, unpredictable and had me on the edge of my seat. I could feel the excitement and suspense deep in my stomach. I couldn’t get enough! The characters were brilliant. The hero and heroine were both very strong, fascinating and REAL. I love how Elizabeth Keysian writes characters a person can connect with. The characters are incredibly likeable through their struggles, flaws, and all. The chemistry between the hero and heroine was believable and seductive.
I’ll be adding this to my pile of books to reread. It was a complete page turner, and one I really WANT to read again. A resounding 5 stars. Candace Nagy, Goodreads
Just a quick reminder about my multiple giveaways- if you sign up to my newsletter before April 17th, and you live outside the U.K., you could win an ecopy of all five Elizabeth Keysian authentic Regency romances. Subscribers in the U.K. can win a real book bundle, including some fun additions and a signed copy of A POTION FOR PASSION. Here’s the sign up link.
I thought visitors might be interested in a sneak preview of the first few chapters of my somewhat Gothic Historical Romance, BEGUILING THE BARON, due out April 17th with Soul Mate Publishing.
So here you go. I shall put the rest up over the next week. If you can’t wait (LOL), you can pre-order the book on Amazon.
Selbury Poorhouse, Wiltshire, England
Maundy Thursday, 1822
The room was silent but for the breaths of childish concentration as Miss Galatea Wyndham’s pupils bent over their mending. It was a struggle to see in the poor light admitted by the small, high window, and Tia feared the sorry creatures would all have headaches by the end of the morning.
What the poorhouse child needed was sunlight, exercise, fresh air—
“Letter for you, Wyndham.” The beadle’s harsh voice broke the stillness as he thrust open the iron door and pushed the folded piece of paper at her. A letter? Her young pupils were forgotten as Tia turned it over in trembling fingers and saw the seal of the Duke of Finchingfield on the back.
It had been broken, of course. The governor of the poorhouse had a great suspicion of letters. They made the inmates feel important, singling them out from the rest of the throng and giving them ideas above their station.
There was another reason, even less justifiable: that Tia and her mama were gentlewomen, far more likely to receive money by post than anyone else. The beadle and governor didn’t approve of inmates being sent money either.
It was usually confiscated.
As she unfolded the missive, Tia prayed her friend Lucy Cranborne, now Duchess of Finchingfield, wouldn’t have been foolish enough to enclose any banknotes or drafts. Besides, even if she sent enough for the Wyndhams to buy themselves out of the poorhouse, where would they go? The sinking of Papa’s one remaining ship, with him on board, had left his family with so many bills, they were equally as likely to find themselves in debtors’ prison, once their creditors caught up with them.
At least for now, their creditors knew there was no point in hounding them while they were in the poorhouse.
My dearest Tia, Lucy had written, I will send you no coin, for fear of it getting lost.
Tia let out a sigh of relief. Clever Lucy knew better than to trust the authorities. Or, indeed, the post.
I know better than to offer you and your mama charity directly.
True enough. Mrs. Sarah Wyndham, though failing in health since her beloved husband’s death, was too proud to accept handouts. She clung to the hope that a wealthy, distant relative to whom she had written would, at any moment, descend upon Selbury Poorhouse and whisk herself and Tia away to a palatial establishment in the country.
Tia wrinkled her nose. The odor of overcooked cabbage had invaded the sewing room—or cell, as she preferred to call it. A watery stew was being prepared to accompany the paupers’ lunchtime dole of bread, and she heard the children’s stomachs rumbling in anticipation.
Oh, for the smell of freshly cooked, butter-basted chicken, the comforting scent of a raised pie, the mouth-watering perfume of biscuits flavored with rosewater . . .
She shook away the memories. It was too distressing to ponder what she used to have. She needed to think about the present.
I have discovered a distant relative of yours, the letter went on, and have appealed to him to assist you. I can see no reason he should not. He is a widower, though yet young, keeps very much to himself, and has a vast former religious estate in dire need of a woman’s touch. You and your mama would be the perfect companions for him and for his daughter, Miss Mary (Polly) Pelham, who, by my reckoning is aged about nine. I know how you love children.
Tia laid the letter in her lap, her eyes too blurred with tears to continue reading. It had come at last. They were to be freed from this institution, more like a prison than a home. Though she could do much good here, particularly amongst the largely illiterate children, it would be infinitely preferable not to be an inmate herself. She scarcely dared hope, after so many miserable, cold, dark and comfortless months, that escape was truly at hand.
Dashing the tears from her eyes, she checked the children were still absorbed in their tunic-mending and the darning of stockings. It wasn’t unknown for frustration to get the better of them from time to time and if she was not watching, a little girl might pull off another’s cap for a joke and be stabbed with a needle in reprisal.
All seemed calm, so Tia returned to the letter that fluttered in her unsteady hands. A nine-year-old girl for company. The same age her sister Phoebe had been when the putrid sore throat had cut short her life.
If all of this were to come to fruition, if Polly Pelham’s father were to take them, Tia vowed she’d love Polly like a sister, or even a daughter. At one-and-twenty, she was more than old enough to have begun a family of her own.
But who exactly was Polly Pelham’s father? She’d heard the surname somewhere before, but could not recollect where, or when. She scanned the letter, and her eyes snagged on a name.
Her blood ran cold. Henry Pelham, eighth Baron Ansford.
The man some believed to have murdered his wife.
I’m delighted to announce this fantastic giveaway to celebrate the imminent arrival of the latest Elizabeth Keysian historical romance, BEGUILING THE BARON. Think Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but hotter 😜!
UK residents get a shot at the physical prize, which includes an autographed copy of the breathtaking romantic adventure A POTION FOR PASSION. The Rest of The World gets the chance to win a complete set of Elizabeth Keysian e-books.
This draw is open to newsletter subscribers only, so if you haven’t signed up yet, then click here NOW!
I’ll be doing the draw shortly after publication date, which is the 17th of April. So get that in your diary, folks 😘
And yes, that is a pair of My Neighbour Totoro socks. Just because.
Educational but entertaining as well, I hope. At least, that was my intention…find out about the value and importance of lace historically HERE, and my struggles to get to grips with the stuff!
The address is below. Come as you are. I certainly will be, as I’m currently bedridden!http://bit.ly/2Ecf4Hp