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Sunday, May 6, 2012

A new Regency novella

First draft of my blurb:
1810, northern England

For Lady Claire Hanscombe, her father's sudden fortune from a risky investment in a South American silver mine means that marrying childhood love Evan Michaelson, a commoner, is now out of the question. Lord Christian Hanscombe, Earl of Landsdown, married off her twin sister, Sara, to a prince of a minor country and he plans to place Claire and her younger sister, Julia, in line for thrones as well.

Evan Michaelson had known since his early teens that he would marry Claire; his wealthy solicitor father had planned the match quite carefully, lining up the poor noble with his family's fortune to gain a title for his son. When the elder Michaelson suggested that Lord Hanscombe consider a longshot investment in the Spanish colonies, he never imagined he would seal his own family's doom and end the dream of marrying into nobility.

Fearing her pending marriage to a prince from a strange land, Claire seeks refuge in a magical waterfall on the Hanscombe estate that draws women to it for special, sensual properties, qualities that no proper lady should know of, much less harness. Evan, unable to sleep as he fitfully worries about losing his love, encounters her there, finding her in a most compromising position – and mutual frustration yields to mutual desire. As Claire prepares to be betrothed to a prince far away, Evan schemes to find a way out of the impossible mess that keeps them apart.

Time is not on their side, but perhaps – just perhaps – Evan can convince Claire to throw all convention aside and take control of their destiny by making an irrevocable decision that would shock the ton if known. One enormous risk taken by Claire's father has nearly ruined their love; if Evan's own risk pays off, though, it means a lifetime together...

And a sample:

Lady Claire Hanscombe had just turned twenty and was very, very tired of ever so many things. Tired of being proper. Tired of listening to her father suggest ideal matches for her. Tired of the endless whispers behind delicate fans at soirees. But most of all, she was tired from all the balls she was now forced to attend; what had once been a mad, enjoyable blur of fresh silks and men in formal attire, new refreshments and a mix of accents and pleasant conversation had quickly become a chore, a duty to suffer through as so many eligible men, most of them rakish, greedy cads, fought for her hand in a dance or, as they both knew, her dowry and her maidenhead.

As one of the daughters of the Earl of Landsdown she was already a catch. That her father had also become rich three years ago from a highly speculative investment in the Spanish colonies made her and her other unattached sister, Julia, THE young women to marry this season. Her father had taken an enormous risk with a highly-speculative investment in a silver mine the year before, in 1809. By the skin of his teeth, the shipment of precious metal had made it out of South America before revolution rippled through the land, causing problems for investors. Without father's silver windfall, a financial risk Mama had given him great tongue lashings over but that now she claimed to have supported, she and Julia, a year younger, would have just been middling in the marriage field.

Instead, she was at the top of the future brides of the ton.

And she hated every minute of it.

It was bright morning, that moment when the roosters pronounced their manlihood, the birds stretched their beaks wide with a tweeting yawn, and when Claire was most able to escape to her new activity. She craved a long walk on the family estate, needed desperately to forget all about Evan Michaelson, the solicitor's son she had been told, since she was fifteen, she would likely wed. He was quite pleasing to the eye, with thick, dark hair and paradoxically bright, keen blue eyes. "Black Irish" Papa had sniffed, but Mama had hushed him.

He was considerably healthier and far more distinguished in body than any other known suitor, standing a head above every other man, including Papa. Once, last summer, she had seen him shirtless as he boxed an old friend from Eton at a summer gathering at his parents' estate. The party had wound down to the evening, more whiskey than lemonade in the men's (and, if truth be told, women's) bodies and brains, driving out all common sense. Someone had suggested a boxing match, and a crowd formed.

Claire had caught a ringside seat, then been pushed back two or three layers behind the bodies, the rough shoves an affront, though more an ego bruise than anything else. Evan had stripped off his shirt and she had inhaled sharply. This was a chest like a Greek God's, like the marble statues she had seen in Sir Percival Tetley's private art collection. Her eyes had soaked in everything she saw, amazed by Evan's tan skin, the small scars that dotted him everywhere but seemed to have largely spared his face when the pox had stuck him as a child; Mama always said that having the pox as a child nearly killed the parents, but if the child survived at least the scars were less. Evan's face was taut with muscle and focus, though an easy, casual friendliness stretched across his face when he smiled, and his hair fell across his forehead in a handsome manner.

During the boxing match she had measured him with her eyes, not caring about his competency in the fight but instead reveling in the opportunity to watch a man's body in action. When he twisted, muscles stretched from his waist into his ribs. As he jutted a sharp blow his shoulders ripped with power and release. He huffed with exertion, the deep breaths expanding his rib cage and abdomen, the little clusters of small, tight mounds of muscle like little mice under the skin. When he stretched his arms up he looked like a viper from Sir Percival's nature collection of curiosities, and then her eyes trailed down to the increasingly furry trail of hair that seemed to continue under his waistband, without suspenders his pants hung quite low, revealing underclothes that were wrinkled with wear and then a bulge that had --

But she would not marry him. No matter how pleasing his body was, nor how polite he was, nor what a good dancer he was, she would not, could not, marry him.

Her sister, Sara, had told her once that Evan was a rake. A true cad who slept with women and who drank himself into a stupor. "He had two women at once, I have been told!" Sara had exclaimed, her blonde hair fringing a flushed face, those expressive green eyes both horrified and fascinated. Claire and Sara were twins, and Sara had whispered more to her that day, telling her everything she had heard about Evan's proclivities. And if Sara meant to dissuade Claire, she had quite the opposite effect.

That had been last year, before Sara had been married off to a prince in a small country in Europe. She would, long live the king, become Queen one day.

And so, you see, Claire could not marry Evan, for Papa had determined that if he could marry one daughter off to a royal prince, then he could, of course, marry off her identical twin to another. “It's a shame about Celia,” he could be found muttering, for the eldest of his daughters had been married off before he was rich. “I had no choice but to give her to the elder Duke of Leyden.”

“She hates him, Papa,” Claire sighed. Her freshness normally would have elicited a frown from her father, but he merely sighed. Everyone knew Celia detested her husband, who was four and thirty years her senior.

“He has a sound income, and makes a good match for her.” But he gives her no heirs, thought Claire. For her sister had told her the bedroom ways the Duke preferred, acts that produce no children but do, indeed, cause pain for the wife.

Claire had no desire to be a Queen, not in England and not far away. For that matter, when she thought of Celia's life now, she was not quite certain she wished to be married at all!

What she desired today, though, what had plagued her all night, and what motivated her to get up so early was something Sara had whispered to her, in an entirely different conversation, but one no less salacious. As she slipped on her yellow cotton frock and left the buttons she could not reach undone, then added a warm, blue pelisse, she paused.

Should she go? Would it be too cold? What if someone saw her? She caught her worried face in the hand mirror on her side table. That face! She wore it too often, the look of indecision and of restraint, of wanting something desperately but stopping oneself for no good reason other than propriety.

Propriety be damned. She quietly, silently slipped out of the house, the rooster boasting of his manhood the backdrop for her secret journey.