Today I am delighted to be joined by author Janice Preston whose newest book, Saved By Scandal’s Heir, is due out on the 1st of April. Janice has very kindly written a post for us as well as sharing with us an excerpt from her new book.
Harriet, Lady Brierley, is a respectable widow, determined to keep the secrets of her broken heart deeply buried. But when Benedict Poole—the very man who deserted her—returns, Harriet’s safe world threatens to unravel.
Believing Harriet left him for a wealthy lord, Benedict must fight to uncover the true consequence and tragedy of their affair years before. But with his family’s name now synonymous with scandal, can he hope to win back the trust of the woman he has always loved?
Bio – Janice Preston grew up in Wembley, North London, with a love of reading, writing stories and animals. In the past she has worked as a farmer, a police call-handler and a university administrator. She now lives in the West Midlands with her husband and two cats and has a part-time job with a weight management counsellor (vainly trying to control her own weight despite her love of chocolate!)
Sarah, thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog to talk about my latest release: Saved by Scandal’s Heir. This is my fourth Regency romance for Mills & Boon, and it features one of my favourite characters as heroine: Harriet, Lady Brierley, who first appeared in my second Regency From Wallflower to Countess (recently shortlisted for the RoNA Rose award).
One theme I explore in my books is the lives of women and the predicaments they can find themselves in. My first heroine was a destitute widow with two small children; my second entered an unwanted arranged marriage to escape a lecherous stepfather; my third (although a wealthy peeress in her own right—rare but not impossible, contrary to what many people believe!) faced her own dilemmas when she fell in love with a man seemingly below her station in life and definitely not her equal in wealth.
Marriage was the only secure option for most women. Marriage for love was becoming more common during the Regency but, in the majority of cases, marriage was still about wealth, particularly amongst the gentry and the aristocracy. Even with a generous dowry, however, a woman could not depend upon finding a husband—there were so many young men injured and killed in the Napoleonic Wars that finding a husband was never certain, hence Mrs Bennett’s obsession with settling her five girls! The lack of respectable ways of earning a living for young women of all classes made life for the spinster an often sorry existence. Old maids were frequently figures of ridicule, ending up as the ubiquitous poor relation, or earning a thankless living as a put-upon companion or governess
But even when a woman did marry, her life could also be horrific. On marriage, a woman passed from her father’s control to that of her husband and any property she owned became his. A wife ceased to exist as a legal entity—she could not own property, or have a separate source of income other than through the marriage settlement—and even her children ‘belonged’ to her husband. A husband could beat his wife or ill-treat her with impunity, unless his behaviour threatened her life (difficult to prove). There was no divorce law, although it was possible to obtain an annulment or separation through the Ecclesiastical courts. This was rarely done, as it was prohibitively expensive and virtually never instigated by wives who, of course, had no money of their own. One of the purposes of a marriage settlement (usually negotiated between the fathers of the bride and the groom) was to provide some security and income for the widow should the husband die.
(Harriet has travelled to Kent where she meets, for the first time in 11 years, her former childhood sweetheart, Benedict Poole. In this excerpt, they have just eaten dinner together.)
‘Goodnight.’ With a swish of skirts she passed him by and headed for the door.
Benedict moved quickly. ‘Allow me,’ he said, reaching the door before her.
He grasped the handle but then hesitated. Slowly, his hand slipped from the handle and he turned to face Harriet, his back against the door.
Harriet had halted a few feet away.
‘Please let me pass.’
Her voice was low. She searched his face, her gaze uncertain.
But what could he say that would not risk unleashing all that anger and bitterness that scoured his insides? The past had happened. No amount of wishful thinking could change it and no good could come of stirring up all those raw emotions.
He spoke from the heart, but he spoke only of the present. ‘You are a very beautiful woman, Harriet.’
His voice had grown husky; blood surged to his groin; he took a pace towards her and breathed deep of her scent. She was close. So close. He reached out and fingered that errant curl and revelled in the whispered sigh that escaped those full pink lips. He narrowed still further the gap between them, relishing the flush that suffused her skin. Molten-hot currents burned deep within him, making his skin tighten and his breath grow short.
He opened his fingers and released her curl, lowering his hand to his side.
He would not detain her. Her escape was clear, if she wanted it. She had only to step away—walk around him to the door. She did not. Her eyelids fluttered and lowered as her lips parted. He tilted his head, feathered his lips at the side of her neck, savouring her quiet moan, satisfied by the leap of her pulse as he laved that sensitive spot.
‘No,’ she whispered. ‘Please… I…’
‘Tell me to stop, and I will,’ he murmured as he licked at her lobe.
He blew gently across the moistened skin and she shuddered, swaying, her full breasts and pebbled nipples pressing into his chest for one brief, glorious moment before she jerked away.
Benedict, grown hard with desire, reined in his urge to grab her and kiss her anyway. He forced himself to remain still.
‘I do not need to give you a reason.’
Head high, she met his gaze. He recognised the flash of vulnerability in her eyes…and something else. Fear? Of him?
‘What are you afraid of?’
With his attention fully upon her, he sensed the shift under her skin as she drew her defences in place. ‘I am not afraid.’
He wanted to doubt her. He wanted to believe her lips were saying ‘No’ when she meant ‘Yes’. But he could not. She—for whatever reason—really did mean ‘No’.
He moved aside and watched as she left the room. His feet moved of their own volition, following her out of the door into the hall, to watch as she climbed the stairs.
Who is she? Who has she become?
He had no wish to revisit the past, but he could not help but be intrigued by the present-day Harriet. Her outer shell was well-crafted: sophisticated, ladylike, at ease. And yet she had revealed some of her true spirit in that snowstorm, after he dismissed the post-chaise. Benedict suspected her calm exterior concealed hidden turbulence, much as the smooth surface of the ocean might conceal treacherous currents.
He wandered back into the drawing room to stand and stare into the fire, his mind whirling. He wanted to dig deeper, to find out more about her. Curiosity. It was dangerous, but that was no reason to retreat. She would be here for a few days yet—time enough to find out more. Perhaps testing those suspected undercurrents was risky but he had never yet backed down from a challenge. And he wasn’t about to start now.