So, I did some sort of mistake and switched my posts and I was supposed to have a blitz the start of September and the review at the end of the month, but oh well, I am sharing the chapter now, though here's my review of Racing With The Wind, to check it out.
Author: Regan Walker
The intrepid daughter of an earl leaves Regency London for the Parisian court of Louis XVIII, where she finds adventure, mystery, and above all, love.
Hugh Redgrave, marquess of Ormond, was warned. Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no ordinary man could clip her wings. She was a bluestocking hellion, an ill-advised match by every account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay on the continent, where he’d become legend by stealing war secrets from Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady Mary riding her stallion were a thorn in his mind. He was the son of a duke and in the service of the Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he had won her hand.
It was unheard of for a Regency debutante to postpone her first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far more interested in politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or frippery. Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would race beside her.
Racing with the Wind
Copyright 2012 Regan Walker
Standing at the edge of the ballroom, Lady Mary Campbell smiled to herself, thinking it was a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff. Stepping forward would bring a drop into the unknown. It was a step she had no desire to take.
But, then, she had no choice. She’d postponed her dreaded debut as long as possible, and at nineteen she was well past the age most ingénues greeted their first season. Dressed in ivory satin she was, but she could hardly wait for the day she could wear red. And though she would have preferred her long hair down and flowing free, tonight it was drawn up into a pile of curls.
Gazing into the immense room with its crystal chandeliers, hundreds of candles, and men and women in elegant finery, Mary let out a deep sigh. It was all very glorious, of course, but it wasn’t the Tuileries Palace where she had waltzed last December. It wasn’t the world she loved, the world in which she thrived, the world of books and ideas. It wasn’t the countryside, where she could ride her horse and forget everything. It wasn’t even her uncle’s world of statesmen. Those men, she was certain, would not give a thought to the gowns or balls for young women entering London society, and she wished she could follow their example. No, Mary was not at all at home in this place where young men mingled with their future wives—wives they would dominate and keep from truly seeing or enjoying the world.
That was one reason she was not anxious to wed, and she had several. But at the request of her mother, the dowager countess of Argyll, she had come to this ball and would dance with the young men. And when her sweet mother insisted her only daughter go to court and curtsey before George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent, Mary had bowed to the gracious request and sweetly obeyed.
Her best friend, Elizabeth St. Clair, bubbled on at her side about the grand decorations and the pretty gowns, but Mary’s mind was on the Times article she’d read at breakfast describing Napoleon’s exile on the island of St. Helena. There was a small note at the bottom of the article saying recent information suggested Napoleon’s defeat in Russia was, in part, due to the legendary Nighthawk. She longed to meet the mysterious man, that stealer of secrets, if indeed he existed. But if he did, she was certain he would not be wasting his time at some tedious London ball. The world did not revolve around a dance, not even the waltz.
Elizabeth tugged on her glove. “I say, Mary, do you agree?”
Mary realized she had missed what her friend was saying and tried to recall the original question. She wanted to show support for Elizabeth, whose blue eyes were wide with wonder at the beautiful gowns and the handsome young men; her older sisters had already taken their place in London society, and Mary knew Lizzy was anxious to join them.
“Well, it is rather as I expected, Lizzy. It’s like being offered up to the highest bidder, is it not? ’Tis strange so many go so willingly to the auction block.”
Elizabeth’s side-glance stopped Mary’s reflection. “Oh, do try and enjoy yourself, Mary. It’s not so bad. Besides, you’re gathering many admiring looks!”
“I think you are imagining that. Recall the conversation of the Baroness Johnson in the retiring room we overheard. She could barely wait to tell her friends that the Campbell hoyden who reads philosophy and rides horses like a man is here.”
“Actually, you were most gracious to her, Mary; more the lady than she. I rather think she’s just a jealous old biddy. Besides, I wasn’t talking about the women. It is the men who cannot take their eyes off you.”
Mary’s cheeks warmed. Her friend was exaggerating again out of kindness and loyalty. Her mother, too, remarked in a caring way about her appearance, and her uncle complimented her gowns, but Mary knew their words were merely encouragement to wear the female frippery she disdained. Her heart seized with a pang of regret as she wondered if her father would have thought her pretty. He had not lived to see her blossom into womanhood.
“Lizzy, I am not seeing what you are, but since you asked, I will do my best to be happy. After all, you are here, and I do love to dance.”
As if summoned, two young men approached and asked for the first quadrille. Mary
resolved to be nice.
So it begins, she thought to herself.
One young man offered an arm. Green eyes met blue. His kind face was framed by light brown hair, and he smiled, leading her smoothly out into the room. They were soon gliding across the polished wood floor. To her surprise, Mary’s spirits lifted.
As the dance took a turn, Mary’s gaze drifted over her partner’s shoulder, drawn unbidden to two men standing in front of a pillar. She did not recognize them, but the dark stare of the taller man pierced her gown, corset and chemise and touched her very skin. Feeling exposed in a way she never had, she shivered, and she was glad when her partner whirled her away.
And yet, she continued to surreptitiously watch the man, drawn to his overwhelming presence. He wore black, his white shirt and cravat the only contrast to the dark brown hair that fell in waves to his nape. He exuded a kind of power unlike any other male in the room. There was nothing the dandy about him.
Taking a long draw on his brandy and gazing around him, Hugh Redgrave, Marquess of Ormond and only son of the Duke of Albany, drew a breath and held it as his eyes came to rest on a girl gliding across the dance floor like a swan over a lake. The tall young woman with hair the color of spun gold and fine features set in an oval face was striking, but it was more than her beauty that drew him; she moved with a grace beyond her years and had a fire in her eyes that set her apart from the other debutantes.
He had found the evening tiring until now. The ball served only to remind him he was nearing the age of thirty, and as his father’s heir, the pressure to select a wife from among the young ladies presented increased with each passing year. Comforting himself with an occasional mistress to warm his bed was serving his needs just fine; he was in no hurry to take a wife. When he did, it simply would be an arrangement among peers. Far better to see marriage as a matter of business, as so many others did. That would have one advantage: He could never lose someone he loved.
Yet, he wanted to delay the inevitable for a while longer. He had a good excuse. His work had kept him away from England, and if he were fortunate, it still might. Perhaps the Prince Regent had a new assignment for him.
As was his usual practice, Hugh had made this appearance in the ballroom before retiring for a game of cards. Leaning over to his friend, the second son of the Earl of Lindsey, he chuckled. “I feel a bit like a fox watching baby chicks. Do you think we make their mothers nervous?”
“They do watch us with skeptical eyes,” Griffen Lambeth replied. “No doubt they are worried any minute we will pounce.”
Hugh nodded. “Indeed. And how little we’ve done to deserve the reputations we have.”
“I’m not sure I agree with that, since you have cultivated yours as a cover for your other…activities, have you not? And by cultivation I’m not just speaking of your latest indulgence, Lady Hearnshaw. Before her there was the countess of—”
“I confess I have done. It seemed necessary at the time. Just like my sneaking back to England every year or so to put in an appearance at a ball and leave the impression I was still in London, ready to pounce at any moment. All is part of the show.”
His reputation as a rake, a man of the world who would seduce any woman who took his fancy, would unsettle the mamas, he knew, but better the mamas think them rakes than know them as spies. Not that he intended to dance with anyone. No matter there were some real beauties at the ball tonight; his previous encounters had taught him young noblewomen were silly and too talkative, prattling on about town gossip and matters of the home. Insipid. A night with one would precipitate a quick marriage. No, it was best to stay with women who posed no threat to his bachelor status. Older, more experienced women, women who willingly offered their bodies while not asking for his heart.
Still, he was curious about the blonde girl. There was something special about her. “Who’s that dancing with Arthur Bywood?”
Griffen’s eyes scanned the couples. “Ah. I wondered if you’d noticed her. That would be Lady Mary Campbell, daughter of William Campbell, the late Earl of Argyll. You remember, the one killed in that horrible riding accident.”
Hugh’s mind seized at the memory of another riding accident, one that had forever changed his life. But that was not what Griffen referenced. “She couldn’t have been very old at the time.”
“No, she was quite young. An only child. I understand it was heart-rending. Now some young cousin or other will inherit the title.”
Hugh’s eyes followed the girl as she moved gracefully away from and back to her partner. She was laughing at something her partner was saying, her head thrown back in unusual abandon. It was a sensual display, and to his surprise his body responded; his trousers were suddenly too tight.
“All the ton has been anticipating her,” Griffen offered. “This is her first season.”
Hugh was puzzled. “Anticipating her? Why is that?”
“Surely you have heard, my friend. The fiercely independent—and some say rebellious—Mary Campbell? While our young fops here will dote on the girl, I expect the young men’s fathers hope she does not choose them. She has a reputation.”
“What kind of a reputation?”
“Well, a diamond of the first water she may be, but still a diamond in the rough. Too intelligent for a young woman, and both headstrong and outspoken with a tongue that cuts like a blade.”
“A bluestocking hellion?”
“Just so. Of course, it all can be explained, her having been raised without a father. The dowager countess, her mother, is a gentle woman, and she was clearly not up to the challenge. Lady Mary will be…difficult to manage.”
“Have you really never met her, not even when you were younger?”
“No.” Even as Hugh said the word, he wondered why that was. The Campbell estate lay only a short ride from his family’s country home. Then again, he’d been on the Continent for several years. “Have you?”
Griffen chuckled. “Oh, aye, and it was most disconcerting. A rare bit of baggage, that one.”
Hugh turned to his friend, suddenly curious. “Don’t be obscure. Tell me.”
“Well, she stared at me with such a bold look I’ll not soon forget… There’s no fear in those piercing green eyes, I can assure you. It’s a bit off-putting in a female that young. Nor is she shy with her opinions.”
Hugh’s gaze returned to the young woman. He sensed again that she was different, but perhaps it was simply as Griffen suggested and she would be difficult to manage. While he loved a challenge, he did not need a difficult and marriageable young woman. Not now. Not ever.
As he and Griffen turned toward the card room, Hugh silently pitied the man who ended up with her.
As a child, Regan loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls. But by the time she got to college, more serious pursuits were encouraged. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law. Regan says, “I became a lawyer because I thought it would be better to be a hammer than a nail.” Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the "Crown" on its subjects. Hence, her first romance novels involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool. Regan says her stories will always involve adventure as well as love.