Saturday Sampler: A Touch of Honor by Regina Jeffers
November 21, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from A Touch of Honor, a Regency romance by Regina Jeffers.
As one reviewer said: Sacrifice and honor, betrayal and redemption, all make for an exceptionally satisfying romance. A Touch of Honor is a mesmerizing story of extraordinary love realized against impossible odds. – Collette Cameron, Award-Winning Author
For two years, BARON JOHN SWENTON has thought of little else other than making Satiné Aldridge his wife; so when he discovers her reputation in tatters, Swenton acts honorably: He puts forward a marriage of convenience that will save her from ruination and provide him the one woman he believes will bring joy to his life.
However, the moment he utters his proposal, Swenton’s instincts scream he has made a mistake: Unfortunately, a man of honor makes the best of even the most terrible of situations. SATINE ALDRIDGE has fallen for a man she can never possess and has accepted a man she finds only mildly tolerable. What will she do to extricate herself from Baron Swenton’s life and claim the elusive Prince Henrí?
Obviously, more than anyone would ever expect. ISOLDE NEVILLE has been hired to serve as Satiné Aldridge’s companion, but her loyalty rests purely with the lady’s husband. With regret, she watches the baron struggle against the impossible situation in which Miss Aldridge has placed him, while her heart desires to claim the man as her own. Yet, Isolde is as honorable as the baron. She means to see him happy, even if that requires her to aid him in his quest to earn Miss Satiné’s affections.
(In this scene, John has reluctantly escorted his wife to a ball where he has encountered his baroness’s former “lover,” Prince Henrí of Rintoul. Deeplydrowsy from the excessive laudanum she has consumed, Satiné is unaware of Henrí’s appearance in London. John has removed Satiné to his Town home, but his quick anger finds a target, Miss Isolde Neville, his wife’s companion and a woman he desires.)
She had repaired the tat where the material had torn in one of the gowns presented to her by Lady Lowery. It was a beautiful royal blue confection, and Isolde had been anxious to wear it. Her cousins would think she had taken on airs, but she would enjoy their jealousy. It was like no gown she had ever thought to wear for she was essentially of a very practical nature. In truth, she would prefer to wear it for Lord Swenton’s eyes only, but those dreams would never know fruition. Tomorrow, the baron meant to remove his household to York, and soon after, Isolde would depart for Ireland. She would never return to England, and most certainly would never see London again. She would accept the intentions of one of her countrymen, marry, and bear the man a half dozen children. Yet, she would always remember her time with Lord Swenton. “Your days are numbered,” she warned her foolish heart. “No dancing a jig in celebration of your marriage. No wearing a gown, which would set His Lordship’s heart a reeling.” A wistful sigh escaped before Isolde could swallow it. “Best to wear the drab cloths of a lady’s companion,” she chastised her whims. “It is my armor against temptation.”
The sound of a ruckus below interrupted her thoughts. She rushed from her rooms to encounter the man over whom she had spent too many hours in daydreams. Lord Swenton carried his wife towards the lady’s quarters. Lady Swenton’s limp form announced the baroness had discovered a new supply of laudanum.
“My Goodness!” she rasped and then raced ahead of the baron to open the connecting doors. She jerked the counterpane free of the bed to permit him to deposit Lady Swenton upon the mattress. “What happened?” Isolde asked as she undressed her mistress.
“Did you know?” the baron asked in accusatory tones. He stood beside his wife’s bed, his hands fisting and unfisting, arms akimbo.
Isolde’s fingers released the clasp of the baroness’s necklace and turned her mistress to her stomach so she could unlace Lady Swenton’s gown. Out of breath, she asked testily, “Did I know what?”
Lord Swenton’s voice had turned cold. “When you convinced me to escort my mother’s remains to York, did you know Lady Swenton meant to remain in London to meet her lover? Or was it your purpose for me to encounter Prince Henrí tonight? You did say this evening would be a monumental event.”
Isolde’s fingers froze in their task. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” Her hands wildly brushed away his allegations. “I have been nothing but loyal to you. Other than Lord Morse, I am ignorant of a potential lover, and I have never heard of Prince Henrí.”
“What of a heated spat between your mistress and Lady Fiona?” he accused.
“Nothing!” Isolde said defiantly. “When I came to Miss Aldridge’s service, the baroness was some four months with child. She withdrew from her social engagements shortly after my taking the position. I never held the pleasure of an acquaintance with the former baroness.” With a huff of exasperation, Isolde returned to Lady Swenton’s unconscious state. “If you will pardon me, I must attend to your wife.” Despite her best efforts, a soft sob escaped. He had never spoken to her harshly.
Within a heartbeat, the baron had circled the bed and had caught her to him. He drove Isolde backward until her spine was pressed against the interior door and his hard body plastered her front. “Forgive me,” he whispered roughly against her temple. “I never meant to harm you. Please, Isolde, I have acted a fool.”
Some dark, inexplicable passion rushed through her, and Isolde instinctively pressed her center to his manhood. The white-flare of need ripped the breath from her chest, and she buried her face into the crook of his neck. “We should not…”
“Should not what?” His voice sounded as breathy as did hers. “Should not claim one moment of happiness?”
Isolde could not dismiss how aware she was of this man’s masculinity. “One moment would never be enough.” She could taste the salt upon his skin, and Isolde ran her tongue along the crease of his neck. A groan of desire rewarded her efforts.
A rush of silence followed before Lord Swenton placed his hands against the wall on either side of her head and lifted his body from hers. Immediately, she experienced the bleakness of his withdrawal. “Some way,” he rasped as he gently cuffed her cheek. “I mean to finish this. For now, please assist me with Lady Swenton. I cannot fathom what the future holds, but please know somehow my soul will find its way to you.”
* * *
After they had undressed Satiné, they had tucked his baroness into her bed to sleep away the effects of the medicinal. Then by silent consent, he had escorted Miss Neville into his sitting room to discuss what had happened earlier. “Evidently, my wife has discovered someone within my household to keep her confidences,” he disclosed when he had seated Miss Neville across from him and had poured her a small sherry and him a well-deserved brandy.
“No doubt Sally,” she asserted. “The girl has ambitions, but has not yet learned subtlety.”
Deep in thought, John nodded his agreement. “I will return the girl to Thornhill tomorrow. The duke has sent Mrs. Tailor and the boy ahead to Marwood Manor. I will see Sally returned to him.”
Miss Neville sat straighter. “Might you inform me of what occurred this evening?”
John closed his eyes to the shame racing to his heart. He dealt better with chaos when he could keep busy; this “rush” to wait endlessly vexed him greatly. “Lady Swenton could barely speak or move. If not for Lady Worthing’s assistance, the prince and much of the ton would have learned of Satiné’s dependency on laudanum. The only saving grace was my wife will likely not recall the appearance of Prince Henrí.”
“Is this prince Rupert’s father?” she asked quietly.
“In appearance, it would seem so. The boy has the countenance of the Prince of Rintoul. However, Prince Henrí claimed no previous knowledge of Rupert. He accused Lady Swenton of keeping secrets.” John recalled the familiar way the prince had spoken to Satiné, and fury rushed to his mind again.
“What does the prince mean to do?”
John attempted to place the tumult of his soul aside. “I have convinced Prince Henrí to call upon my household in a week. I did not think it wise for him to be seen entering Swenton Hall, but the prince made it clear he means to claim Rupert.”
“What will you do?” she whispered into the familiar silence that rested between them. John required these moments or he would run mad into the streets. The lady held no idea how important she had become to his sanity.
“What will I do?” he repeated. Every emotion within John rushed into the dark void of helplessness. “The question is what will my baroness do when her former lover and the father of her child makes an appearance on my threshold?”