Letters from a Sinful Colonel (Preview)

Prologue

Brombale Park, London

Home of the Earl of Brombale

1812

With a slight heave, seventeen-year-old Lucas Conner lifted the last of his family trunks into the wagon. The wood under his broad hands was so fragile that if he dared press too hard, the thing would splinter under his palms.

Looking at his mother, Elisa, seated on the bench with her head turned away, the thin strands of her hair peeking out from under her bonnet, he gritted his teeth. He did not have to see her face to know that she was pale and deep lines of worry were embedded around her mouth.

She was fretting for a good reason. Her husband, his father, Harold, the Earl’s steward, had just lost his job. Lucas did not know why, but he hadn’t had a chance to ask. His father had only come to their modest home that morning during breakfast and told them about his dismissal.

Crack! The cup in his mother’s hand had slipped and shattered on the floor as she swooned. His father had leapt in to catch and steady her while he had order Lucas to start packing.

An hour later, their possessions were packed on the wagon, and he lifted a booted foot, ready to board it, but then—Matilda. His feet felt frozen on the patch of land he stood on. He could not leave without telling the sweet Matilda, the Earl’s only daughter, goodbye.

His hesitation must have been apparent to his mother as she turned. “Lucas, what are you waiting for?”

“I—” he thought quickly. “I think I may have left something in the cottage, Mother. let me go check quickly?”

Her lips thinned before she waved him off. “Well, hurry up.”

The sky was overcast, the sun hidden by dark, bloated clouds, and a chilling breeze gusted over the land. Still, there was an undeniable beauty to it. With a nod, he ran off thinking where he would find the girl—the cherry garden. It was a tiny square of land with a fishpond and a small gazebo created as an imitation of a Greek temple. Matilda loved it there, and she could always be found there with a book or a drawing pad.

He hoped his expectations were right as he did not have much time to search other places. He strode across the lawn and into the gardens until he spotted the little gazebo, surrounded by rose shrubbery and cherry trees. There, thankfully, he spotted Matilda, her bright blond hair like a beacon.

Lucas took the three flat steps in one bound and was grateful for a rare chance to be alone inside the little building. The small artificial pond flanked it on one side and surrounding it were carefully planted rose bushes.

“Matilda,” he said, going to her side and crouching at her side. Her wide blue eyes seemed a bit out of place in her slender face. “I have to go now.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I’m going to miss you.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to disappear from your life altogether,” Lucas said. “I’ve been your friend all this time, and nothing is going to change.”

She shook her head. “I won’t see you again. I know it.’

“No, you will,” he said. “I promise you. Do you believe me?”

“Father said…” she swallowed. “He said that he doesn’t want me to see you. How will you come back and see me when he doesn’t want your father anywhere here?”

He smiled. “One day, I will be on my own, Matilda, and your father won’t be able to tell me no when I want to see you.”

“A-Are you sure?” Her eyes searched his and while her voice wavered.

“Yes,” Lucas said, “Come here.

He shifted on his haunches and opened his arms for her. She came and looped her thin arms around his neck while he hugged her tightly. He pressed a kiss against her forehead while she snuggled in his arms.

Her body was soft and delicate to his touch, and he feared he might hold her too tightly and crush her. She was young, only twelve, but he saw a spirit, a kind, gracious, loving spirit that drew him, and he knew that by the time he came back, she would be a woman. He longed to see her then.

When they had met, he had cared for her like a sister, but as they had grown, his emotions toward her had changed to something else. He pulled away to tickle her side a little, and his heart clutched as a sweet, soft giggle floated on the air.

“I am your friend forever, Tillie,” he said lovingly.

“Forever?”

“Forever,” he promised her as he stood and left the pavilion.

He was unsure what life had in front of him, as his father losing his job was a hefty blow. He did know that they had little money and a bleak future, and he prayed as they went off that they would not sink into poverty and deprivation.

It might take him a while to fulfil his promise, and if that were it, if he took years to see Matilda again, she would be a young lady of rank and fortune. Even then, he hoped that she would not have forgotten his pledge to come back.

The first time he had met her, three years ago, on the day of his father’s appointment to the staff of the earldom, Lucas had heard her giggling first. Curiously, he had followed the sound and found her playing in the garden, her hair unbound, with her feet bare, and a dog chasing her.

The puppy, a golden-brown and white Shetland sheepdog, had romped with her until she had tumbled exhausted and giggling onto the thick grass.

He had gone to interrupt her. “Might I join you?”

She gasped, unaware that she had been watched. She had scrambled to her feet, brushing grass and dirt from her pale blue dress that was undeniably stained.

“W-who’re you?”

“Lucas, Lucas Conners,” he bowed. “My father just got hired here by your father, his lordship.”

“You’re going to live here?”

“For as long as possible, yes,” he replied.

“Mama says I should not talk to strangers,” she said while she peered at him. Her blue eyes were wide and innocent, making him smile.

“I’m not going to be a stranger for long,” he offered his hand. “May I pet your puppy? I love dogs.”

Those words seemed to have broken through what hesitation she had, and his smile was wide. “Yes, you can.”

“What’s your name?” he asked while petting the dog’s pretty, shaggy coat and smiling at the warm pants of the dog on his hands.

“Matilda.”

“Shall I be your friend, Matilda?” Lucas said, willingly forgoing the title he knew he should use.

“Yes!” she said in childish exuberance.

“And your puppy’s friend too?” he’d asked.

She giggled. “Pepper loves you already.”

From that day, they were stuck together. His family grew in wealth, but they certainly were not rich. He brought her candy from the village sweetshops and carved animals he had whittled on when he was not helping in the stables or on the grounds.

Matilda had given him books, a crown of daisy rings, and one Christmas, a pair of boots. He did not know how she had guessed his size but had worn those shoes to the bottoms falling out. Now, it pained him to leave her behind, but he had to go.

He heaved himself into the back of the wagon. “I was mistaken, Mother. Sorry.”

But he had left something behind, and he hoped that she would stay there until he came back and proved his promise.

Chapter One

Nine Years Later

1821

Matilda knew her outdated and threadbare dress was out of place in the posh streets of Mayfair, so she kept her head down, praying that she would not draw attention to herself as she rushed to get to the seamstress shop where she worked.

Never had she heard of an Earl’s daughter working as a seamstress, but sadly, it was her life now. Her father’s fall from grace had been like nothing London had ever seen. It seemed to have happened overnight. One day they had it all, and the next, they were scrambling for a loaf of bread.

They kept up appearances all right, with her mother still having the Aubusson rugs, gilded mirrors, and crystal glassware. However, if one looked closely, one would find the rugs were worn-out, the gilt on the mirrors now faded, and the glassware only used when guests came. Instead, they drank for pewter cups and used second-hand tealeaves.

She got to the alley with a breath of relief and slipped into the doorway. Inside the dingy shop, packed wall to wall with bales of cloth and spools of thread, she gingerly took off her bonnet, handling the thin ribbon with care, and grimaced at the dirt coating her petticoats.

After resting her things on a shelf, she sat on a stool and reached for a piece of cloth that would make the bust of a gown. She had not finished the embroidery last night and had to get it done that day. After threading a needle, she went to work, glad that the room had decent light and she would not have to squint.

Now, at one-and-twenty, she knew that she could not continue this way. Though her family and life were London’s laughingstock, she still had the opportunity to marry. She knew she had to do it as it was the only way to pluck her family out of the sinkhole they were in.

“Miss Mulaney!”

Matilda jumped into her seat at the snapping voice of her employer, but she recovered quickly. “Yes, Mrs Rotchford?”

The lady, a thin, shrewish woman with a horse-face and long neck, sneered from above her. “Hurry up with that embroidery, the Season is upon us, and our patrons need those dresses.”

“Yes, Mrs Rotchford,” Miranda said as she ducked her head and focused on the pattern before her.

The seamstress reached for a book of patterns and then, with a hum, went to a table where some cloth lay ready to be formed into a ballgown. “I keep wondering why you are so slow in your work. Have you any balls to attend, Miss Mulaney?”

Matilda did not have to look up to see the scornful sneer on the lady’s face, she heard it in her words. It was a cruel taunt, and both knew it. She might be a lady of the ton, but she was poorer than a church mouse.

Well, not if Lord Malpark will have any say in it.

Smartly, she bit her tongue and kept working only to hear the woman’s huff. She could not dare utter anything about the Baron who had been pursuing her for almost a year because no one knew, and she wanted to keep it that way. Hopefully, by the middle of the Season, she would have an engagement ring on her finger.

“That’s what I thought, so keep working.”

The truth was, there were a few balls in store for her, but she would not make the woman any the wiser to that. Despite her concentration on her work, the seamstress’ word had her thoughts straying.

If only things had turned out differently. If only father had not lost his money. If only Mother had not used my inheritance to keep up our appearances, I would not be here.

Her heart had soured long ago, and now, she only felt empty, hopeless, and desperate. She had worked herself to exhaustion in the past seven months, and now it was the le bon ton’s Season. She had one shot at marrying before she would be a spinster and marked unmarriageable.

The only reason she could even attend the ball was because of the kind patronage of Catherine Watts, Lady Bergstrom, a rich widow. The latter had taken pity on her many years ago. She was one of the few who had stood by Matilda after her family after the scandal, and despite the naysayers, continued to help.

Regardless of the disgrace of Matilda’s life, Catherine, or Cat as she preferred to be called, was more than happy to use her social standing to give her a chance to take her rightful place in the ton. She had given Matilda dresses, some jewellery, and other effects she would need to look the part of an Earl’s daughter.

The day passed with her finishing the bust and a chemise embroidered with flowers and twined vines. Matilda collected her payment of two shillings and sixpence then left in the darkening dusk.

As she got to the corner of the road to cross over, she lingered near a group of ladies, clad in the newest French fashion, with parasols in hand and pearl-studded reticules.

She hoped they would not notice her with her head down, and from the spirited chatter amongst them, they had not given her a second glance.

“It seems our Season will be more interesting than we thought,” a Lady in pastel pink said. “A decorated colonel from the Napoleonic Wars is coming home.”

“To find a wife?” asked another lady in a voluminous jade frock.

“I would think yes, amongst other things,” the first replied. “But I would think after nine years in wars, he would crave some peace.”

A clearing came from the constant surge of carriages, and the women walked off with Matilda soon behind them. As she headed home to the mansion near Grosvenor Square, nearly a mile’s walk, her head lifted from her study of the ground.

Her home, Brombale Park, looked good on the outside, but she knew that looks were utterly deceiving. The four-story Stuart-styled mansion always had an intimidating feel to it with its pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttress, but it was all for show. Though many modern additions had been added to the one hundred and eighty-eight room manor. Only eight of those rooms were in use. The rest were closed off because they had no one to tend to them.

Impeccably traditional designed gardens surrounded the building, and those lands merged into extensive parklands that looked well-tended. Matilda knew that the care did not come from the house’s servants but peasants who paid to use the lands as farmland for crops. The sum they got from the tenants paid for their food.

She entered the house and instantly felt oppressed. The yawning entrance hall still had its decorations and furniture, but she knew that a few steps past it, all of that would change.

The first floors held a large drawing room, three small parlours, a stylish library, a palatial music room, a study, and an impressive ballroom that opened out to a well-designed flower garden. Again, out of those eight, only one was in use, her mother’s parlour.

She took the sweeping stairs up to the room and there, knocked quietly, then entered. To anyone else, her mother, Helen Mulaney, Lady Brombale, would appear perfectly normal in a lovely evening dress and sipping tea. Her mother was the picture of elegance, with her spotless dress, her hair swept up in a chignon, and the bone-china tableware on her tea table.

Matilda, however, saw the faded dress, too-fragile china, the missing gems on her mother’s hair comb, and smelt weak tea. “Good evening, Mother. How were things in my absence?”

Helen set the cup down, and Matilda saw the weak ombre colour of the tea. The leaves, bought second-hand, had to have been stewed at least twice again for it to be that weak, but it was all they could afford.

“The first ball of the Season is tomorrow night,” she said. “You should rest. I believe Lady Bergstrom will be here to help you later. Go to your room and rest. Tomorrow will be dearly crucial for you. Arthur is still away at Manchester, so that we won’t see him for a while.”

“Yes, Mother,” Matilda said tiredly while turning and went out the door. Her father was hardly a significant presence in her life at all, so she did not see much difference with him gone or if he were there at home.

She passed another room that held only a chair and coats of dust on the walls and window. As she passed another room, she glanced in to see piles of old carpet rolled up and stacked. They used pieces of them as kindling when they ran out of wood.

Half the rooms in her home were empty because they had been forced to sell the furniture for money as the years went along. It was a sad state, and she knew it would only worsen if she did not marry well. If she did not, the house would be the last to go, and it pained her.

The memories she had in this house were half of her life, and she could not allow it to be taken from her for the sake of money. Admittedly, her father’s task was to keep the roof over their heads, but if he kept being so unlucky with their finances, the entire burden would be on her.

Arriving at her room, she gazed drearily at the bareness of her quarters. Once, there had been a mirrored dressing table, an Ashwood wardrobe, a magnificent four-poster bed, and trunks.

Now, she only had a mattress on a pallet, a thin blanket on top, and a single trunk filled with old gowns and dresses. On top of her bed was a plate with a hunk of bread and cheese. Before she went to eat, she opened the trunk, took out her money jar, and deposited her pay inside.

Then, after washing her hands in a bucket in the washroom annexed to her room, she went back and took up the tray with her meagre dinner. Under it, though, was a letter, and her heart leapt into her throat at the sight.

She sat the food aside and opened the letter instead. For the size of the letter, the note on it was short and disappointing.

Dear Matilda,

I know it’s been years that we have not seen each other, but I am doing well, and I hope you are too. I still intend to see you soon, so do not give up hope on seeing me. 

Always yours,

Lucas Conners.

She smiled wanly. Every year Lucas sent her a letter like this one, short and bittersweet. She remembered him, a tall, lanky youth with wild brown hair and warm golden-brown eyes. He had been her lone friend in the house years ago before her father had dismissed Lucas’ father, his steward, and the family had left the estate.

Standing, she deposited the letter into the trunk with the last eight he had sent to her and the many she had written out in reply but had never sent because she had no address. Then, she went back to her meal.

Her gaze slipped to the window where the dusk had turned to night, and she felt her stomach begin to tie itself into knots. Tomorrow night would be the definitive hour of her life. If anything went wrong, what was left of her life would shatter along with it.

Chapter Two

He could have taken a coach from the military shipyard from the Royal Dockyards at Chatham, but Lucas preferred to ride. It was a bit bizarre because he was a colonel of the Army, for him not to use all his privileges, but he would not showboat his way into London as other officers did.

Lucas could not elaborate on how much he had missed his home. From the day he had enlisted into His Majesty’s service at seventeen-years-old, and being shipped off to France to fight Napoleon, he had not seen England in almost ten years.

Now, at six-and-twenty, he liberally breathed in the fresh country air, and the thin sunshine was breaking through the greyish clouds. It was fall, so he expected rain, but over the years of being on the ground and judging the weather to use to his advantage, Lucas was sure that there was time for him to get home before the rains came.

Matilda. I must see you as soon as I get home.

He could only imagine what his family would do when he walked through those doors. His mother might cry, his father would hold her, and his brother, Benjamin, who had been away in Leeds for most of his life, working with their now-deceased uncle, would be happy and proud to see him.

Lucas felt it the other way around, though. He was so proud of his brother for helping his father get a business off the ground in such a short amount of time in the worst years of their lives. He had to thank him for that.

Quickly checking his timepiece, Lucas realised he had been riding for almost three hours and knew he was nearing London. The Arabian warhorse was an excellent mount, but he wanted it to rest and water soon.

He came onto Westminster Bridge and quickly crossed over and headed to St. James. His father had bought a house in Piccadilly, and he would soon be home. The city had both changed and looked the same to him. There were the same buildings, but they looked updated, the same lanes, but were now more filled with modern carriages and phaetons. There was less garbage strewn around and more gas lamps along the way.

Cantering to Piccadilly, he checked the houses and came to one that his brother had described in one of his letters. His father’s home was a townhouse with a stone façade and climbed three stories above the lower ground floor. Great mullioned windows commanded the front face, and three wide, with flat steps leading to the door.

He swung his leg from the saddle, dismounted easily, went to the dappled grey Thoroughbred horse’s head, and rubbed its ears. “You did well, Perseus.”

Before he could turn, the doorway opened, and Benjamin leapt over the stairs to grab him in a warm, firm embrace. “You’re finally here, half-pint.”

“That I am.” Lucas smiled as they parted, and he clapped his hands on his brother’s shoulders.

Though he was five years older, they stood at the same height, and Lucas grinned. “I am not the child you left behind. I’m as tall as you, and I have nine years in the military to my name.”

“I am still older than you.” Benjamin grinned. “Come on, let’s get you inside. Mother and father are waiting to see you.”

Spotting a footman over Ben’s shoulder, Lucas called him over. He gave instructions on caring for his horse, mainly the feed and water. When the horse has led away, he followed Ben inside.

The house was very grand and tastefully furnished. Instead of marble walls inside, there was a layer of warm mahogany wood and art on the walls. A simple chandelier hung from above, and runner rugs were under his feet.

“We’re waiting for you in the drawing room,” Ben clapped his back while Lucas plucked off his gloves and flexed his fingers.

They mounted the stairs to the second floor and as soon as he opened the door, his mother came from the window and hugged him tightly. He could see tears starting to bead in Elisa’s eyes but saw they were tears of happiness and relief.

“You are home, Lucas,” she said in a trembling tone. “Thank God.”

“Thank God, indeed,” his father, Harold, came closer. Clad in buff trousers and a blue waistcoat, Lucas was happy to see his father a bit rounder in the middle than when he had left. “Welcome home, Son. I am so proud of you.”

“Thank you, Father,” Lucas said as he removed his coat. “‘Tis a joy to be home.”

“I can only imagine,” his father smiled, making the silver in his sideburns lift. He handed Lucas a glass of tart lemonade and bade him sit. “Not to rehash bad memories, but we did fret every time we read about troops dying.”

Cradling the glass, Lucas tried not to let memories of bombings, rapid cannon fire, and men dropping like flies as the war waged on flitter before his eyes. It was sad that he had memories of close friends dying on blood-soaked cots forever embedded in his mind, but his family did not need to know that.

“Yes, I was one of the lucky ones,” Lucas said before he sipped the drink. “Very, very lucky.”

A sombre silence fell over them, but then he shook his head. “I am glad to see that the business is still going strong, Father.”

“It helped that I knew what to do. Your brother had the connections, and your name as a war hero finished off the rest,” Harold said plainly. “Because of that, you have as much stake in our fortune as we three do.”

“I appreciate that,” Lucas laughed. “It not necessary as I do have my military pension to keep me, but I appreciate it. I already have a home set up for me in Mayfair. Not as elegant as this but enough for me.”

“You mentioned a pension?” Benjamin asked, his eyes narrowing in hopeful-suspicion. “Do you mean you’ve retired? You’re never going back?”

Before Lucas replied, he looked to his parents, who were both holding the same fearful expression. He knew they worried that he was only on holiday and would run back to the armed forces as soon as his time away was up.

From the way his mother’s eyes darted around his face, he could tell that she was fitfully praying that he would stay. His father looked more understanding, knowing that it was highly reasonable that a man of his station would go back to a profitable profession. The problem was, he had fought tooth and nail to get out of that job.

“Yes,” he said, putting them to ease. “Never again. War is…it takes its toll on you. I fought for peace, and we have it. Someone else is going to take up the post I left.”

“Thank heavens,” Elisa whispered.

His father clapped a hand on his shoulder while his brown eyes glowed with pride. “You’ve done a good deed, Son. It’s time for you to enjoy the peace you’ve fought for.”

If only my nightmares would understand that.

Offering them a smile, Lucas said, “Now, Ben, would you show me around the house? Let me see what I’ve unknowingly worked for?”

Ben shot him a look as if he was trying to decide if Lucas meant the words as he had said or if they were a pretence for something else. Still, he agreed. “Certainly, follow me. Mother, have a tea service sent up, please? I haven’t had anything yet this morning.”

“Of course, dear,” Elisa replied.

As they went off, Benjamin took Lucas from the top tier to the ground floor, showing him a graciously sized, elegant drawing room, a simple but stylishly decorated library next to a masculine, leather-and-wood themed study and a dining room ornamented with a large table and crystal chandelier that opened onto a small garden.

There was no ballroom, but Lucas had not expected that. His father had not risen to the ranks of being accepted by the peerage, and Lucas did not expect that his merchant father would want to do so.

Bracing his back on a wall of the dining room, Benjamin leaned back. Crossing his arms, he lowered his voice, “Did you ask me to show you the house because of the house, or was it something else?”

Shaking his head, Lucas said, “Sometimes I hate that you know me so well, even after nearly ten years. But, could you take me to Matilda? I owe her a visit and a long explanation.”

His brother’s face went mottled red with anger, and his lips thinned. “Leave them…her…alone, Lucas. Why would you want to entangle yourself with a family who disgraced us? Who cast us out like garbage? Why do that to yourself?”

“I told you,” Lucas repeated. “I made her a promise to come see her.”

Ben rubbed his face, then peered at Lucas with a knowing glint. “It does not matter what I say, does it? You’re still going to find her.”

“Right,” Lucas shrugged. “I was only telling you for formality’s sake. I know where she lives, and I am going there anyway.”

Shaking his head, Ben said, “I have to warn you, things are not the same….”

What does he mean by that?

“…Is that why you became a colonel?” Benjamin asked. “To fulfil a promise?”

“No,” Lucas said, knowing that Ben’s suspicion was partly true. The true reason he had risen to that rank was entirely different, but Lucas was not ready to tell him yet.

“I know Uncle William paid for your commission, but only an act of valour could have made you rise from the foot regiment to colonel.”

“Ten years is a long time,” Lucas replied, his voice dropping from nostalgia. “A very long time.”

“Which is why you should be focusing on using your connections and money to set yourself up in business and find a wife, one of quality, honour, means, and a respectable reputation.”

Lucas frowned. “What are you not telling me?”

Ben shook his head. “When you find Lady Mulaney, you’ll know.”

Moving from his place, Lucan said, “I must go and see if my sublet house is in order.”

“Come back quickly,” Ben replied. “We have guests for supper, and you must meet them, the Hawthornes. They are father’s business partners.”

Again, Lucas felt that there was more to what Ben said, but he decided to wait and see. “Let us share tea with Mother and Father, and then I’ll go.”

“Of course,” Ben agreed.

As they left for the parlour their parents were in, Lucas began to worry. What was wrong with Matilda? What did everyone else know but him?


“Letters from a Sinful Colonel” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The ravishing Lady Matilda Mulaney’s life collapsed in the blink of an eye. Now, she knows that she is her family’s last chance to regain their social status, by marrying a Lord she would never love. Yet, her memories and the sinful letters from her old beloved friend, who disappeared along with her hopes years ago, is the only thing that makes her heart spark with joy.

As the winds of fortune change and the tempting man from Matilda’s past appears, will she find the strength to tame her desire for the sake of duty?

Lucas Conners’s war success made him from a steward’s son, the newest, very desirable Colonel of the English Army. Lucas decided to return home just for one reason, to finally conquer his childhood crash, Matilda. As their flaming reconnection sets fire in their souls, Lucas’s fears of destroying Matilda’s future will soon shadow his burning passion for her.

If only, he could stop himself from getting tangled in a risky game of seduction…

As fate brings them back together, Matilda and Lucas find themselves sinking deeper into an intimate affair that challenges their past selves. However, as their tantalising romance grows, Matilda’s marriage and a wicked Lady’s scheme over Lucas, will force them to face the grim reality. Will their lustful affection stand a chance of turning into sizzling happiness, or will it go down in flames of despair?

“Letters from a Sinful Colonel” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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