Introductions were a huge part of Regency etiquette, so I’d like to introduce you properly to my latest release, Heart of Desire, a Regency romance that’s sort of like Taming of the Shrew meets Pride and Prejudice. 🙂
To introduce you, I’m offering a free read of Chapter 1, an electronic “chapter book” if you will. I hope you enjoy my spirited couple from Heart of Desire.
Follow your heart to find your desire
Miss Katherine Locke is irked to start her third Season dancing with the disagreeable Lord Haversham, her brother’s friend and her own arch enemy. After three years out, however, she’s finally interested in the dashing Lord Finley—only to find out her cousin has set her cap for him too. To make the man jealous, Kate feigns interest in Lord Haversham, only to be shocked to find the handsome lord apparently falling for her. With time running out, should she accept his suit and risk falling in love despite herself?
Marcus, Lord Haversham, is in a tight pinch. His estates are failing and, worse, he’s just lost three thousand pounds to his best friend, Lord Ainsley. Ainsley’s solution: have Marcus marry his shrewish sister, and he’ll cancel his gambling debt plus give him ten thousand more pounds for her dowry. With nowhere to turn, Marcus agrees, praying he can keep word of the wager from Miss Locke long enough to charm her into marrying him. But can he avoid falling in love himself?
London, May 5, 1820
Packed to the gills, Lady Hamilton’s ballroom glittered with candlelight, fine silks and satins, and every type of precious jewel known to the world. The music had a lively air, the first dance being a waltz, and Miss Katherine Locke would’ve thought herself fortunate to be out again in Society after a long, cold, dull winter in Somerset save that her partner, Lord Haversham, was the rudest man in London. Well, his lordship was about to discover that Kate Locke was not one to suffer fools lightly.
“So you refuse to allow your sister to waltz, yet you are quite willing to stand up with me and dance this, according to you, most scandalous of dances.” Kate smiled into the odious wretch’s face. “My lord, I should say that smacks of hypocrisy.”
“Indeed.” Lord Haversham turned them skillfully at the end of the floor. “I would say it showed a want of character in your brother for allowing you to dance it with me. The waltz should be danced by married couples and no one else.” He pulled her close against him, so their bodies almost touched.
She gasped at her proximity to the rogue. How dare he make a spectacle of them on this crowded dance floor?
“You see?” he whispered, peering into her face, his gaze intent upon her mouth.
All she could see were his dark eyes, as the crisp scent of his sandalwood cologne filled her nose.
“Ainsley should be horsewhipped for allowing it.”
“I’ll see to it he horsewhips you if you don’t let me go.” Kate gave a hopping step and smashed her foot down on top of his.
Lord Haversham lurched forward, actually falling onto her.
For the briefest moment, they stood pressed together in a warm embrace that made Kate tingle all over. Then outrage swept through her, and she pushed him away. “How dare you,” she seethed, trying to pull away from him.
“That was your fault, and you know it. And if you make a scene that results in me having to marry you, I swear I will lock you in the tower at my grandfather’s castle and throw away the key.” Lord Haversham righted himself and smiled at her with clenched teeth.
“Of all the students at Oxford, my brother had to befriend you?”
“He had you for a sister—his luck was due for a change.”
“Well, I wish mine would change, Haversham. If I have to endure you for five more minutes, I will fall down in a dead faint just to get away from you.” Kate wanted to scream in frustration at her brother’s best friend, but the man was right. Any scandalous behavior could end with her compromised and married to Haversham before the month was out. The Season had just begun. She refused to let it end in a single night with the man who’d been the bane of her life for years.
“Luck must be on your side tonight, as the dance has, mercifully, come to an end.” He dropped her hand as though it burned him and offered his arm. “Shall I see you to your brother?”
“Lord, yes.” She barely touched his proffered arm. The less contact with him the better. “Nathan must see that I completed the dance with you.” She avoided his eyes. “Ah, there he is, talking to our cousin, Lady Celinda.”
“Do you think she will be slighted if I don’t ask her for the next dance? I am weary of having my toes stepped on, although she may have better dancing form than my last partner.” Lord Haversham didn’t break a smile, but his walnut brown eyes twinkled with merriment.
“I think she’ll be delighted to escape having a conversation with you about your antiquated views on the social graces.” Beyond caring who heard her, Kate allowed her voice to rise above the hubbub of conversation. “And if your poor sister isn’t allowed to waltz before she is married, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
They stopped in front of her brother and cousin, the one trying to contain his laughter, the other glancing about the room with an alarmed expression on her face. Kate could only thank goodness they were not at Almack’s. She might very well lose her voucher. Lord Haversham always knew exactly what to say to goad her into inappropriate behavior.
“There, Nathan. My forfeit is completed.” Kate jerked her hand from the crook of her escort’s arm. “Come, Celinda, let us retire to the refreshment room. I’m absolutely parched and must have some lemonade. Sadly, when a gentleman has no idea how to lead his partner, the dancing is much more exhausting.” She sent an arch glare at Lord Haversham as she snared Celinda’s arm. She simply couldn’t escape the wretched man quickly enough.
“Please allow me to fetch you some refreshment, Miss Locke. I would not want you to suffer one bit more than necessary.” Haversham’s sickeningly sweet tone set Kate’s teeth on edge.
“Oh, God forbid I put you to work, Lord Haversham.” Kate smiled and returned his saccharine attitude. “It would be the on-dit of the night.”
According to a conversation she’d overheard between her brother and Celinda’s father, the Haversham fortunes were failing and Marcus, Lord Haversham hadn’t lifted a finger to help with his family’s estates. Apparently not even the severe downward spiral of the family finances after his father’s death had prompted him to busy himself with the management of the properties.
Lord Haversham’s cheeks paled then flushed with bright spots of color. He clenched his jaw then bowed. “It’s no trouble at all, Miss Locke. Delighted to assist you.” He turned to Celinda. “Would you like something to drink as well, Lady Celinda?”
Her cousin cast her a disapproving look and shook her head. “No refreshment, I thank you, Lord Haversham. I would, however, enjoy some exercise. May I accompany you to the refreshment room?”
“But, Celinda—” Kate tried to protest, but her brother’s warning hand on her arm made her bite her tongue.
“I would be delighted with your company, Lady Celinda.” Lord Haversham smiled broadly, offered his arm, and they strode away without a backward glance.
“You are without a doubt the rudest woman in Christendom.” Face like a thundercloud, her brother snatched her to him, his voice low and menacing. “Haversham is my friend, and I will not allow you to taunt him with accusations of things beyond his control. You will be civil to him or you will stay home.” Nathan’s slate-gray eyes reminded her of a rain-soaked pavement.
“Then tell him not to come near me.” Kate pulled her arm from his grasp and smoothed her skirts.
“You danced with him. Social engagement demands you respect your partner.”
“I only danced with him because of that stupid wager, and you know it.” Her brother could be absolutely maddening. “If Calabree had been a nose faster, you’d be dancing with Miss Carmichael instead.”
“I, however, backed the winning horse, dear sister. If you want to wager, you must learn to lose with good grace.” Nathan’s mouth twitched, his irrepressible good humor reasserting itself.
“Humph.” She really should’ve known better than to wager with her brother. His ability to assume a completely expressionless face when playing cards or placing bets had become extremely annoying. “No one could lose with good grace if they had to put up with Lord Haversham for even five minutes during a waltz. It is quite impossible to fathom. Even you, dear brother, would not take it well.”
“How fortunate then that I shall never be required to stand up with Haversham.” Nathan laughed, and Kate clenched her hands. Just because her brother fancied himself a great wit did not make it true.
“Well, mark my words, I will never undertake a wager with you or anyone else again if the forfeit involves Lord Haversham.” Just saying the name was like biting into an unripe persimmon. It turned her mouth inside out.
Nathan watched her, rubbing his fingers over his watch fob. “You are in your third Season, Kate. You could do worse than Haversham, you know.”
“Worse than…” She stared at her brother, expecting devil’s horns to sprout from his dark curly head. “How could anyone be worse than Marcus, Earl of Haversham?”
“You sound as though the man’s a scoundrel or a cad. He’s a good man, Kate, though he has have fallen on hard times at the present. His father’s death affected him very deeply.” Nathan stared at her, frowning.
“I am sorry for his loss, but that doesn’t excuse—”
“He hadn’t expected to take on the mantle of responsibility for some years to come.” Her brother jumped to his friend’s defense. “By the time he got himself in hand, the estates had begun a downward slide. His uncle’s helping him take the reins of the family investments, so that should be all right. But Haversham himself is a good man. He’d make a good husband.”
Kate’s jaw dropped. “Do you seriously want me to marry him?” She grimaced and swallowed convulsively. “My mouth doesn’t even want to say the words.” That lemonade would’ve been welcome right about now. “I wouldn’t marry him if he were…were… There is no instance where I would consent to marry him.”
Her brother peered at her, amusement teasing a smile to his lips once more. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
“Think what you will, as long as you get that notion out of your head.” Kate sniffed. “What gives you the idea Haversham has any interest in me anyway?” Dear God, had he actually spoken to Nathan about her? Offered for her in some fit of devilment? “He hasn’t said anything about me, has he?” The idea made cold chills break out on her arms, despite the warmth of the room.
Nate bit back a laugh and steered her to an unoccupied corner. “No fear of that. He’d likely be as horrified as you at the notion. I seem to be the only one who thinks it a good match.”
“Thank goodness.” Relief swept through her. “You should be sent to Bedlam, dear brother, for entertaining such an idea.” Kate fluffed the ruffles of her bodice, brushing briskly where the clod had pulled her to his hard chest and crushed the delicate green fabric. Lord, but he’d been searing hot pressed against her. She shook off the phantom sensation. “You must allow me to advise you when you come to take a wife, Nathan. I assure you, I’ll return the favor in kind.”
“Peace, Kate.” He smiled and nodded toward the dance floor. “Enjoy this evening. Enjoy the rest of the Season. Find a gentleman you can love and respect then name the day for your wedding.” His face changed, the pleasant lines hardening, swiftly as quicksilver, into a fierce scowl. “But mark me well. Your time is almost up. You’ve squandered two Seasons, snubbing gentleman after gentleman until few dare approach you.”
Kate opened her mouth to protest. She’d simply not found a man who didn’t seem to fear her. Whenever she spoke her mind about any topic, they’d all politely turned tail and run from the room, figuratively speaking. The only one who actually seemed to relish her wit and strong opinions was Lord Haversham. Goodness, was that why Nathan thought they’d suit? Because they liked to argue with one another?
“As a result, you have only three months to find a husband. There is no such thing as a fourth Season.” His tone was once more serious. “Unless you’d like me to choose one for you?”
Kate squared her shoulders and raised her chin. “As long as he’s not Haversham, I probably wouldn’t object.” She flashed a challenging look at him. Two could play this game. “I spy Celinda coming toward us,” Kate said then grunted. “Ugh, she’s still in the company of the odious Haversham.”
“Katherine.” Nathan narrowed his eyes and his fingers twitched.
She smiled smugly at him. “I will go rescue her. You can take your friend off to the card room and try not to win the rest of his meager funds.”
“Kate!” Nathan muttered at her through clenched teeth.
Ignoring him, she hurried toward her cousin, who was actually laughing with Haversham.
“Oh, Kate. Lord Haversham has such a wicked sense of humor. Have you not found him amusing?” Celinda’s eyes sparkled, flitting from her escort, who now looked as dour as a sermon, to Kate. Did her cousin expect her to fawn over Haversham because he made a jest?
“Yes, well, Lord Haversham has an air of wickedness about him, I will grant you that.” Kate forced a smile at the earl.
“Your lemonade, Miss Locke.” Haversham offered her a tall glass, filled to the brim with the pale yellow beverage. “Have a care not to spill it.”
“You are too kind, my lord, to have brought…so much.” Gingerly, she accepted the brimful glass. “My cup runneth over, it seems.”
“Drink some before you spill it on you, cousin,” Celinda whispered, trying to steady the glass. “I tried to tell him not to fill the glass so full, but he insisted you were very thirsty. Be careful.”
Kate frowned, concentrating on not ruining her favorite gown. Curse Haversham. He’d done this on purpose, either to spoil her gown or simply vex her. If the latter was his intent, he was succeeding famously. Her scowl turned into a lopsided smile when she heard her brother approach behind her. “Thank you, my lord. I’m sure I’ll not be thirsty now.” She stared pointedly at several drips sliding gracefully down the glass. “Perhaps nevermore.”
“Did you drain the last pitcher, Haversham?” Nathan eyed the full glass askance.
“I couldn’t countenance the possibility that Miss Locke might remain unsatisfied by a less than full glass.” Haversham bowed, his face now as impassive as Nathan’s had been. “I do hope this will keep her occupied and sated.”
Her brother let out a strangled, choking sound.
Kate sent Haversham a scornful look and finally managed a sip that lowered the beverage to a less dangerous level. At least she no longer feared for her gown.
“Who are you engaged with for the next dance, Kate?” Celinda stared pointedly at the dance card that dangled from her wrist.
Her cousin was a lovely person but had moments when she relapsed into a total goose. “I’m sitting the next set out, Celinda. My feet are sore.”
“But you’ve only danced the one waltz.” Celinda’s brow puckered comically.
“Some partners are more wearing than others, Lady Celinda.” Haversham chuckled and turned his attention to Nathan. “Come, let me recoup my finances with you, Ainsley. I’m feeling lucky tonight.” His gaze flitted over her face, a momentary contact that startled Kate with its intensity.
“Yes, let us begin the slaughter.” Her brother laughed and started for the doorway that led to the rest of Lady Hamilton’s first floor. Almost at the entryway, he turned back to her. “Play nicely, Kate. If you feel you must make mischief with someone, at least have the courtesy to tell me. Don’t make me learn it from Lady Drayle’s footman, as I did last time.” He delivered that parting shot and turned, immediately in conversation with Haversham. They wound their way out of sight, and Kate sighed heavily.
“Lord, I don’t know which man has made me angrier tonight.” Kate tapped her fan against her hand several times then unfurled it and fanned herself. Serve Nathan right if Haversham took every penny in his accounts. Of course then she would have no dowry and end up a spinster. Though even that status had its charms tonight.
“You do seem ready to fly to pieces, Kate, and the evening is just begun.” Celinda’s tinkly little laugh grated rather than soothed at the moment.
“Well, you didn’t help matters either, cuz.” Kate rounded on her cousin, whose big blue eyes widened innocently.
“Me? What did I do? I thought I’d give you time to engage yourself with another partner while I took Lord Haversham out of your path.” The petite blonde sniffed. “Is it my fault you’d rather complain about the man than replace him with a more pleasing partner?”
“How do you know I was complaining about Haversham?”
“Were you?” Celinda arched a delicate eyebrow.
“Well, yes.” Kate lowered her voice. She didn’t intend to be tomorrow morning’s prime on-dit if she could help it. “But you couldn’t know that.”
“Tsk tsk.” Celinda shook a finger at her. “You had that same pained expression on your face when we returned as when we left. How many times have I warned you to school your face if you want to veil your thoughts, my dear?” She plucked the still-full glass from Kate’s hand and set it on a nearby table.
“You always said that when we were growing up.” Kate rubbed her finger across her lips. Did she truly give away her feelings so easily?
“Yes, whenever we got into trouble, you were the last person we wanted to try to cover it up.” Celinda shook her head, lost in memory. “Now it’s even more imperative that you watch what you do and say—and how you look.”
“Oh, please.” Kate grasped her head then quickly turned a smile on the Dowager Countess of Wendley. Once the older woman, one of the ton’s biggest gossips, had passed by, she returned to her cousin. “I’ve had this same lecture from Nathan twice tonight. Behave myself and get a husband. His two edicts for me this Season.”
“You have to admit, Kate, that your opportunities for marriage are shrinking.” Celinda peered around the dance floor. “There are simply no new gentlemen of any consequence or conversation out this year.”
“Then who, pray tell, is that?” Kate had been shifting from foot to foot, trying to get used to standing for long periods again, when the most handsome man she’d ever seen walked calmly though the doorway, more graceful in his movements than a cat on a fence rail.
His dark good looks caught her attention first. Wide shoulders that tapered to slim hips and strong legs supporting his tall frame kept her staring. He was dressed impeccably in elegant black evening clothes, and a snowy white cravat fastened with a modest gold-and-diamond pin made the man so devilishly handsome that she couldn’t quite catch her breath.
A couple danced by, passing in front of him, and when they moved on, he had vanished.
© Jenna Jaxon 2016
Heart of Desire, Book 2 in the Handful of Hearts, series is available at Amazon.
Next week I’ll introduce you to Heart of Delight, Book 3 in the Handful of Hearts series, available for pre-order at Amazon.