Romancing a Forbidden Lady (Preview)

London, England 1814

“Nicholas, do not be such a bore,” Liza declared as she walked into the ball, leading the way for her group. Dorothea, her closest friend, was at her side, with their arms linked and their hands tightly clasped. “I once heard it said that a ball is the finest event one can have in the evening. Where else will one find such lively company and fine music?”

“Did you read that in one of your books?” Nicholas’ monotonous tone called from behind her. Liza bit her lip to stop herself from laughing and looked to Dorothea with raised eyebrows. Dorothea could read her expression perfectly, for she lifted her pastel blue, gloved hand to her lips and covered her mouth to prevent a giggle from escaping her.

“What if I did?” Liza called, looking over her shoulder as her brother approached, escorting both their aunt and Dorothea’s aunt on his arms. “Not all the books can be wrong, Nicholas.”

“As I have attended far more of these events than you have, let me set your thoughts straight. The conversation will be addled by sparkling wine, and the music may be fine, but the dancing is crowded with barely any space allotted for the couples.”

“You have just described a very humorous evening indeed,” Liza said with delight as she looked at her friend. “Has he not, Dorothea? What could be more perfect than a chance to laugh?”

“Your optimism never fails to amaze me, Liza,” her brother remarked.

“Just as your pessimism never fails to be persistent,” Liza whispered so only Dorothea could hear her.

“He is not wholly bad, Liza,” Dorothea whispered back, blushing as she glanced back at Nicholas.

Liza smiled, recognizing that look of old. Liza was perhaps the only one in the world who could see the way that Dorothea looked at Nicholas, but it was an agreement between them not to discuss it very often. Dorothea by now had grown accustomed to the idea that Nicholas would never look at her as she did him.

“Try living with him, my friend,” Liza said with a sigh. “You might find he is not so dazzling then.”

“Shh!” Dorothea urged, tapping Liza’s hand in reprimand.

“Nicholas, I hope you have not brought poor Liza here just to cause trouble tonight.” Meredith’s voice silenced their bickering.

Liza turned round to see her aunt placing a rather stern glare in her nephew’s direction.

“I am merely trying to protect her, aunt,” Nicholas said slowly, brushing a hand through the brown hair on his temple in clear frustration.

“Nicholas, I do not need to be hidden away in a birdcage.” Liza’s words urged her brother to look up at her, sharing a look that she had seen him often give before from those green eyes.

“I am not hiding you.”

“You would if you could,” Liza muttered and turned away to look at the ball. “What do you think of it, Dorothea?”

“I think it elegant indeed,” Dorothea mused.

Liza heartily nodded in agreement as her eyes surveyed the room. The Countess of Moray’s balls she’d heard were often the talk of the Season and judging by this event to begin this year’s Season, it was to match its reputation from previous years. The room was full of people, so many chattering loudly rather like tittering budgies that Liza giggled as she watched them. The illusion of budgies was made all the more apparent by the number of ladies that had placed feathers in their hair to copy the latest fashion of the day.

Between the ladies, gentlemen wandered. Some with wayward eyes that drifted down ladies’ gowns, and others with bright red cheeks and nearly empty glasses in their hands.

“I see what Nicholas means about the wine,” Liza whispered in Dorothea’s ear. “There is a wonder if there will be any left by the time that we reach the punch bowl.”

“Ha! Oh, I hope there is, I could enjoy a drink.”

Together, they circled the edge of the ballroom with their aunts and Nicholas following on behind them, having a conversation of their own.

“Liza, look. What a spectacle it is!” Dorothea pointed across the room, gesturing to the dance floor where the couples were gathered.

“They are certainly energetic in their dancing,” Liza giggled, watching as each portly man struggled to keep up with their lither and younger dance partners. “The musicians, Dorothea. Are they not a wonder?” Her eyes rested on the violinists who performed their music with such vigour that their eyes sometimes closed, lost in their melodies.

“They are,” Dorothea agreed.

“It puts me in mind of a tale I read recently, where lovers met in the middle of the dance floor, dancing with others. By the end of the night, they only danced together.” Liza attempted to keep the wistful tone out of her voice, but her attempt failed.

“Good lord, Liza.” Nicholas appeared at their side, shaking his head.

“What is it now?” Liza asked, looping her arm further through Dorothea’s as she was aware of her friend bowing her head, evidently trying to hide her blush from Nicholas. She longed to urge her friend to look up and not to be cowed by her affection for Nicholas. All Dorothea needed was more confidence. “Have you abandoned our aunts?”

“They are the ones who have abandoned me. I think they grew tired of my conversation.” He gestured to a crowd nearby where the aunts had wandered off to, searching the people for familiar faces.

“Little wonder,” Liza murmured in a tease.

“I am not so bad, Liza.” Nicholas crossed his arms over his body.

“I am playing with you only, Nicholas.” She brushed away his words with a shake of her head. “Now, what did I say to upset you?”

“You are talking of your heroes and heroines again from your great stories, are you not?” Nicholas looked to the ceiling, as if pleading with the heavens themselves for help. “Miss Young, help me to persuade my sister.”

Liza felt Dorothea flinch in her arm as she lifted her chin, clearly startled that Nicholas had addressed her at all.

“Of what?” she asked in a small voice.

“That the world is not as it is in her fair books. It is harsher than that, and as miserable as it is to say it, crueller too. I wish you to be wise to the world, Liza. Not foolhardy.”

“I am no fool,” Liza said pointedly.

“I know you are not.” Nicholas nodded. “A more active mind and a wiser person I have yet to meet, but your knowledge is perhaps limited to your books. That is all I am saying. Would you not agree, Miss Young?”

Liza looked to Dorothea, waiting for her to answer. She blushed all the more under Nicholas’ stare before lifting her chin higher.

“I am afraid I like your sister’s view of the world. It certainly paints a prettier picture.”

At Dorothea’s words, Nicholas laughed. “Two optimists together, how intriguing.”

Dorothea smiled, clearly pleased she had managed to make the man she was so fond of laugh in such a way.

“Nicholas.” Liza stepped forward, deciding it was time to stop her brother’s interference for one evening. “Please promise me you will not ruin tonight.”

“Ruin it?” He sounded offended at the idea. “I have no intention of doing so.”

“I believe the last ball we went to you stopped three men from dancing with me,” Liza said archly, lifting her eyebrows, to which Nicholas shrugged.

“They were no good, Liza. If you are to dance, pick a good man to dance with.” He began to turn away, signalling the conversation was at an end. “My advice extends to you, Miss Young. I would hate to see any man not worthy dancing with you.” With these words he bowed to the two of them and hurried off.

“Well, have you ever known my brother to be so outspoken? I swear he grows worse by the day. My Aunt Meredith has threatened to muzzle him like a dog—do you think it will work?” Liza asked with a smile. When her jest received no laughter, she shifted her focus to Dorothea to see her friend was staring after the retreating figure of Nicholas through the crowd. The red curls escaping her updo were turned in his direction and the light blue eyes followed him. “Dorothea?” Liza asked, giggling when her friend snapped her gaze back toward her.

“I was not staring.”

“I did not even say you were but thank you for confirming my suspicion.” At Liza’s words, Dorothea lifted her free hand and covered her face, clearly trying to hide the blush that was almost turning as red as her hair.

“You have no need to be embarrassed with me,” Liza brushed off her worries. “Come, let us find that drink. If I am to put up with my brother’s overprotectiveness and you have to stare longingly across the room at him, we must have something to steady our nerves.” Dorothea laughed as she followed Liza across the room.

They circled a group of ladies gossiping together, Liza smiling at the way their heads were bent together, like pigeons nipping at each other’s necks. The fact they were gossiping was recognizable from the way they lifted their fans in front of their lips, stopping any man in that room from lip reading their words.

As they reached the table bearing the drinks on the other side of the room, Liza selected two silver punch cups and poured out the spiced red wine in turn, passing Dorothea her cup first.

“It is beautiful, is it not?” Dorothea asked, admiring the room around them. “I do not think I have seen so many ladies gathered together, certainly not so many gentlemen.”

“Many gentlemen indeed.” Liza’s gaze flitted between the gentlemen as they stepped away from the punch table and toward the edge of the dance floor. “I have a feeling you and I will be fortunate with gentlemen this evening.”

“You do?” Dorothea asked, looking up from her punch glass in clear excitement.

“Oh yes, I have decided I am ready to fall in love, Dorothea.” Liza declared happily, pulling a laugh from her friend.

“Can one just decide that? I thought these things were supposed to happen.”

“Indeed, they do, but I am tired of just reading of lovers’ tales. Pray, do not tell my brother I said such a thing,” she whispered the latter part to Dorothea who shook her head, showing she would keep her secret. “I want to experience that love, not just read about it. I wish to be like the greatest heroines! Like Guinevere, Juliet, or Isolde.”

“You do realize none of them had a happy ending?”

“Yes, but they were certainly happy in the throes of their passion, were they not?” Liza asked with a laugh. “Do not look at me like I am a fool.”

“That is not what I am doing.” Dorothea lifted one red eyebrow in suspicion. “I just wonder if you truly know what the agony of a love that cannot ever be is like, Liza. Trust me. It is a pain of a different kind.”

Liza felt guilty, seeing the pain on her friend’s face. Dorothea seemed to make a point of staring down into her punch cup and not looking across the room to find the face of the man that caused her such pain.

“I am sorry, Dorothea, that is not what I meant.” She placed a gentle hand to Dorothea’s arm, bringing a smile to her friend’s lips. “I merely mean that I am ready for love. Be it beautiful and happy, or even if it awakens me to the pain that Nicholas talks so much of. I am ready for it. I only wish it would announce itself to me.”

“I will say one last word on this matter. Be wary of what you wish so much for,” Dorothea said and took another sip of her punch. “Liza, watch out!”

“Oomph!” Liza tottered on her feet as someone collided with her side. She lifted the punch glass to her side, with liquid sloshing over the edge and narrowly missing her gown.

“My apologies, my lady. I did not see you there,” a deep voice called to her.

Liza looked round, rubbing the sore spot on her ribs where she had been bumped to see a tall man on the dance floor. He had come so far to the edge with his partner and lost his footing, colliding straight with Liza.

“It is no matter,” she said hurriedly, just as her eyes settled on his face.

His hair was brown, like her own, yet much darker, almost black. The line of stubble passed along his chin, accenting a square jaw and high cheekbones. Set strong in his face were eyes the colour of almonds staring back at her.

He is staring.

Liza barely had the thought when he seemed to realize it himself. He blinked a couple of times and shook his head.

“Forgive me,” he murmured, just as his dance partner reached for him.

“My lord, we are missing the dance,” she called.

“Yes, of course.” The gentleman hurriedly bowed to Liza, holding her gaze for as long as possible before he returned to the floor with his partner.

“Liza,” Dorothea muttered and elbowed Liza’s other side.

“Ow, I have injured one rib, I do not need another one bruised,” Liza said in jest, earning a wave of her friend’s hand.

“Did you see the way he stared at you?”

“I did,” Liza murmured and chewed her lip as she watched the gentleman return to his dance.

He politely exchanged words with his dance partner in the cotillion, yet he also kept looking at Liza, repeatedly glancing toward her over the other dancers’ heads, even when he had made his way down the other end of the dance floor.

“Are you sure you are ready for love, Liza?”

“I’m sorry?” Liza said distractedly, having to stop herself from returning the mystery gentleman’s gaze and look back at her friend.

“I have known gentlemen flirt with you before, and your response has been, well…” Dorothea paused and screwed up her nose, as if in deep thought to hunt out the right word. “Unenthusiastic.”

“That is because boys have flirted, Dorothea. No true gentleman.”

The music ended, and as Liza lifted her gaze back to the floor, trying to hunt out the mysterious gentleman, she found he was much closer than she had anticipated. He had escorted his dance partner off the floor and was advancing toward Liza. The closer he got, the busier she found herself admiring those eyes. He was certainly a striking figure, not classically handsome, but still handsome and the eyes in particular were distracting. They had an intensity to them she had not seen before.

When he reached her side and bowed another time, urging Liza to curtsy, she could see there was a small white scar on his chin, as if it was a mark from long ago.

“I realize I did not have the chance to apologize to you properly just now.” As he spoke, he bowed to Dorothea as well. The politeness and respect he showed made Liza smile a little more. He could have easily wandered off and forgotten the incident, but he hadn’t. “Allow me to do so now.”

“There is no need, I assure you, sir.” Liza gestured down at her punch glass. “A little punch was spilled, but that is no great harm.”

“I am afraid I was trying my best to avoid another collision.” He stepped closer toward the two of them and whispered, “It seems Sir Witherington’s legs got away from him in that dance.” He gestured toward another gentleman leaving the floor with particularly lanky legs. “I was doing my best to avoid them when I collided with you.”

Liza laughed at the image before glancing back to the gentleman before her. “No harm done, but I thank you for the apology. It seems dancing talents may be missing from the floor this evening.”

“I certainly lack such talents,” the gentleman said, mocking himself with a hand to his breast. “Perhaps I need a finer dance partner to show me how it is done. Perhaps…you could demonstrate for me.”

He is flirting! Liza could have laughed at the realization, but she was not going to be outdone. Had she not read of flirtation? Could she not imitate it herself?

“You have not yet seen me dance, Sir. I could be as shocking a dancer as a toad on that floor,” she said with wit, lifting her chin higher. The gentleman laughed heartily, his eyes never leaving hers.

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“It would be true.”

“Perhaps we should put your statement to the test?” he murmured softly.

“I wouldn’t want to take you away from your other dance partner.” Liza gestured toward the previous lady, but she was already on the dance floor again.

“It seems she has forgotten me already,” the gentleman said with a put-upon sigh, as if it were a great loss.

“Hard to imagine that is possible, sir.” Liza heard the flirtation in her words and was very aware of Dorothea busying herself with sipping her punch. She rather expected Dorothea was stopping her temptation to giggle with drinking.

“Perhaps we should put that to the test too,” the gentleman declared. “We could share a dance, I could see your talents, and you can tell me afterwards if I am memorable. I certainly hope I am.”

Liza smiled. She could feel the temptation to accept.

Is this not what I wanted? This spark? This excitement?

It was like something out of one of her books. She was about to accept with her lips parted, ready for the words to escape her when someone talked over her.

“Liza? Who is this?” Nicholas’ voice made her stomach drop.

He has come to stop me dancing again.

 

Chapter Two

Of all the people.

Henry’s eyes lifted from the pretty woman before him, realizing with horror who was advancing his way.

“Liza?” the gentleman said, then stopped at the woman’s side, looking to Henry, when his eyes widened. “You can step back this moment.”

“Lord Crauford, it is intriguing to see you again.” Henry hurried to bow. He knew well enough the Earl of Crauford hated him, but he was not going to misbehave for it. He would be polite, even if the earl’s sharp gaze felt as lethal as a pistol in a duel.

“Intriguing?” the earl scoffed derisively. “I could think of many words to describe seeing you again, but none of them are good for polite conversation.”

“Then perhaps they are better left unsaid,” Henry said as he stood straight once more, returning his eyes to the lady. He was finding it hard to look away from her for very long, though why he could not quite put his finger on. Her light brown hair was practically the colour of darkened honey, with a few wayward strands that had fallen temptingly out of her updo. Her features were pretty and elfin like, with cinnamon-coloured eyes that stared back at him with equal intensity. It was the lips in particular he was finding it hard to look away from, full for such a petite face, lips that he could imagine kissing.

“My lord, you will move away from my sister at once.” Lord Crauford stepped forward, practically putting himself in front of the young woman, leaving her to exchange a stunned look with the lady beside her.

“Your sister?” Henry felt his heart sink.

Of all the brothers she could have! It had to be him.

“Yes, my sister.” Lord Crauford nodded deeply.

“Miss Elizabeth Crauford?” Henry still couldn’t believe it. The last he had heard of the earl’s younger sister, he believed her to be a young girl, not a fine woman with such confidence in her words and tempting talents at flirtation. “Forgive me, I did not know she was your sister.” Henry meant the words solemnly, but it seemed to make little difference to the earl.

“You are still not stepping away.” Lord Crauford moved forward again, this time planting himself completely in front of the lady. Henry smirked a little, startled by the earl’s attempt to intimidate him. Nicholas was nowhere near as tall as Henry, and his effort at a threat was a rather humorous one. “I am not laughing.” Lord Crauford had clearly spotted Henry’s smile.

“For goodness’ sake, Nicholas,” Lady Crauford cried from behind him. She tugged on her brother’s shoulder, revealing her face to Henry once more. Those plump lips were parted in amazement as she laughed at her brother. “You would think you were standing between me and the attack of a wolf. Calm yourself. We are simply standing at a ball having a conversation, I saw no reason to suspect harm.”

“That is because you do not know what man you are talking with. I assure you; he is a wolf.”

“It is not so easy to get wolves in tailcoats like this,” Henry said in jest, thrilled when he saw Lady Crauford laugh softly at his words. Her brother was evidently not so pleased, snapping his gaze back toward Henry.

“This conversation is done,” the earl said with finality.

“Since when do you get to dictate who I talk to, Nicholas?” Lady Crauford asked. The earl spun round, taking a step back as his sister urged him to.

“That is not what I was doing.”

“Yes, it was, even if you cannot see it is what you are doing.” Lady Crauford shook her head and appealed to her friend at her side for help. “Is it in my imagination?”

“I think he is trying to protect you,” the lady whispered softly.

“Then at least tell me from what wolf you are trying to protect me.” Lady Crauford looked back to her brother with expectation, but when the earl said nothing, merely tongue-tied, she turned to Henry. “I see we amuse you.”

“It is rather humorous from where I am standing,” Henry said with a laugh.

“You are insufferable,” the earl snapped.

“Brother, that is enough,” Lady Crauford warned. “As my brother refuses to introduce you, would you do me the courtesy of introducing yourself?”

“Of course, Lady Crauford.” Henry bowed another time. “My name is Lord Henry, Earl of Lightholder.”

Her lips parted and those cinnamon-coloured eyes widened. At once, she shifted from the jesting nymph that was happy to smile and flirt with him, to a statue, with not a flicker of amusement in those lips.

“I see my reputation precedes me.” Henry tried to keep his tone light. He didn’t want such strangers before him to know the truth, that the idea actually cut deep.

“It does,” Lady Crauford said, her voice taking on a new, darkened tone.

Gone goes any chance I had of flirtation and happiness for one evening now.

“You see, Lord Lightholder, my sister wants no more to do with a rogue and a rake than any other lady here tonight. Before you turn your gaze on Miss Young instead, I beg you to leave our side, now.” Lord Crauford waved a dismissive hand at Henry.

“I do not need dismissing like a dog,” Henry muttered darkly. Any lightness he had felt melted away from his body. It was as if his bones were made of metal rods, urging him to stand tall and motionless.

“Do you not?” Lord Crauford smiled for the first time.

You do not know me at all, my lord. Yet Henry kept the thought to himself. It was not the time for this conversation, and he certainly didn’t wish to upset Lady Crauford and Miss Young more than he had already done so.

“Very well, I will part from your company, quite gladly, Lord Crauford.” Henry offered a smile to the earl with his words, making the man bristle and stand taller. Before he left, Henry turned to the ladies one last time, bowing again. “I apologize once more for the collision.”

“You have already done so,” Lady Crauford said, not quite meeting his gaze now.

“It is a shame we didn’t have a minute longer; we might have enjoyed that dance.” Henry couldn’t resist the words as he stood straight and backed off. Lady Crauford snapped her gaze to him this time, just as her brother began to fluster and flap in his outrage, the words barely escaping him in his anger. Henry offered Lady Crauford a wink, finding he could not resist.

In another life, perhaps Lady Crauford, I could have had that dance.

Her cheeks pinkened at his wink, appearing almost as outraged as her brother at his audacity.

Turning his back on the group at last, Henry walked across the room. The initial humour he’d had at Lord Crauford’s outrage faded and it was replaced with anger that was growing in every step. It hardly seemed fair to be so accosted by Lord Crauford at a public event as this.

“I know that glare.” A familiar voice came from nearby.

Henry looked round, finding Jeremy Slyfeel had arrived at the ball. He stood in the doorway, passing his top hat to a manservant before stepping further into the ballroom and reaching to shake Henry’s hand.

“Something has happened to upset you, my friend. I can see it in your face,” Jeremy said, pointing at Henry’s expression.

“Let us leave it at that; it does not bear going into.”

“No?” Jeremy murmured, tilting his head to the side. “No duel, I trust? No young lady’s honour you have been accused of ruining?”

“Ruining?” Henry turned away, feeling Jeremy hurry along behind him. “Thank you for that kindness. You are no better man than I.”

“I do not pretend to be,” Jeremy laughed heartily. They walked around the edge of the ballroom to where another refreshment table was set up. This one bore glasses of sparkling wine, laid out in beautiful patterns, with each wide-bottomed glass glistening in the candlelight. “Let me guess: you need one of these.”

“I do.” Henry took the glass Jeremy proffered to him and downed half of it quickly.

“Good lord, you needed it more than I thought. What has happened?” Jeremy asked, flicking his head toward Henry and tossing the fair hair that had laid across his forehead back a little.

“Nothing,” Henry said quickly, shaking his head. He certainly didn’t want to discuss the particulars of who he had just met—it would not bode well. “Let us just say my reputation has preceded me tonight in a most unpleasant way.”

“What do you care for it?” Jeremy asked, laughing and shaking his head in clear bemusement. “I know you, Henry, I know you well.” He took Henry’s shoulder and steered him around to face the ballroom. “You usually say you wish ladies to know your reputation, that way any lady that flirts with you knows exactly what she is doing.”

“It is the best way,” Henry muttered, knowing it to be truth. “It is respectful of her position and gives her no hope.”

“So, what is so wrong about someone hearing of your reputation tonight?”

“I do not know. I cannot explain it.” Henry tried to concentrate on the dancers that were flitting past him, but he struggled to settle. Instead, he found his gaze lifting and searching across the room, looking for one lady in particular. He found her in deep conversation with her brother, shaking her head most heartily.

It would appear she hates me, without knowing me.

“I know what you need,” Jeremy said, leaning to talk quietly in Henry’s ear. “You need distraction. Pick a lady to keep you company tonight, Henry. That is all you need.”

“I have not spent a night in such a way for a long time. You know that.” Henry busied himself with sipping his wine again. It was certainly true there was a time when every ball he went to he would be finding some lady to charm, but those days seemed long past.

“Why ever not?”

“It just…” Henry struggled to put it into words. He downed what was left in his glass and turned back to the drinks table, eagerly finding himself another full glass. “Let us say it does not hold the same thrill it once did.”

“Well, in which case I am rather glad I am not yet like you. Does this come with age, do you think?”

“I am hardly a great age yet!” Henry laughed. “I believe I am younger than you.”

“Yes, I just hope your maturity is not contagious.”

“Be careful, it might be.” Henry reached a hand toward his friend and guffawed when Jeremy pretended to shudder and jump away.

“It has been a while now since you have attended such an event as this,” Jeremy said after a minute as they both turned their focus back to the ball, watching it all as if it were a performance on a theatre stage, distanced from them.

“I know,” Henry agreed with a nod. “I’m beginning to remember why,” he murmured to himself as he searched for Lady Crauford across the room once more, but to no avail.

“Come, all you need is a little distraction. I have a few young ladies I would like to introduce you to.”

“Must you?” Henry groaned and dug his feet into the floorboards beneath him, refusing to move.

“Do I have to drag you?” Jeremy asked, latching a hand onto Henry’s arm and trying to pull him forward.

“I wish I weighed twice as much as I do so you could not move me at all.”

“Well, you do not.”

“Please, God, please!” Henry said with humour, tilting his chin to the heavens.

“Your prayers have not been answered.”

“Sadly,” Henry murmured as he was jolted forward off his feet. They crossed the room, with him following closely behind Jeremy in the direction of groups gathered together in conversation.

As Jeremy introduced him to a myriad of ladies, Henry felt his enthusiasm for the event fading even more. He had only agreed to come because Jeremy had pleaded with him, and now the one lady in the room he had actually been interested in talking to was forbidden from doing so. When the attention of the ladies shifted to Jeremy, Henry was only too glad to use the time to search the room once more.

With ease, he found Lady Crauford. She was talking to her friend, both of them speaking with such enthusiasm that Henry longed to be a part of the conversation. His eyes flitted to Lady Crauford’s lips and the accompanying jolt in his stomach startled him.

It has been some time since I felt such a thing.

“Good evening, ladies,” Jeremy bowed to the ladies and took hold of Henry’s arm, jerking him away from the crowd once more.

“Your grip reminds me of my mother’s. She had a way of gripping someone, like her fingers were made of iron,” Henry said with laughter, yet Jeremy was clearly not amused. He released Henry as they reached the side of the room.

“Henry, I am seriously beginning to worry about you. I bring you to ladies who are not only beautiful but enchanting company, and you can scarcely put three words together to talk to them. Are you quite well?” Jeremy asked quietly.

Henry looked away from his friend and ran a hand across his brow, suddenly feeling quite heated. “Perhaps I do not get the enjoyment out of charming as many ladies as I once did.”

“What does that mean?” Jeremy murmured in wonder.

“Jeremy, you must have noticed I avoid events like this these days.” Henry motioned to the room with his wine glass in emphasis. “I do not enjoy them as I used to.”

“Why not?” Jeremy asked with clear impatience.

“It’s hard to put into words.” Henry shrugged and looked across the room once more. Rather than search for Lady Crauford as he did before, his gaze landed on a particular friend of his.

Lord Buckingham was at the side of the room with his new bride on his arm. The two appeared only interested in talking to each other rather than anyone else there. In particular, Henry grew distracted not just looking at Lord Buckingham’s smile, but the way his bride clung to his hand. The way their fingers curled around one another’s, even with her wearing gloves, it was clear there was something different between them, something that Henry had never been so fortunate enough to experience.

“What are you staring at?” Jeremy asked, angling his head over Henry’s shoulder, rather like an observer at the races, craning his neck to see his horse.

“Devotion,” Henry muttered quietly.

“I beg your pardon?” Jeremy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as Henry slowly tore his gaze away from Lord Buckingham and his wife.

“Have you seen Lord Buckingham recently?” Henry asked, pointing at their mutual friend.

“Yes,” Jeremy nodded. “They have recently returned from their time in the country after he wed his beautiful new wife.”

“Just so, now Jeremy, you wish to know what I am looking at? Fine, I will tell you.” Henry made a point of placing down his wine glass on a nearby table and taking his friend’s arm, steering him to face Lord and Lady Buckingham across the room. “What do you see there?”

“I see Lord and Lady Buckingham.”

“I am not looking for a description, I am looking for an insight.”

“You should have specified.”

“Jeremy.” Henry tapped his friend around the arm.

“Careful, I’ll lose my drink.”

“Good, in your sobriety, maybe you will see what you cannot see in your cups.” Henry pointed across the room again. “Tell me this, have you ever seen Lord Buckingham as happy as this before?”

Jeremy barely glanced at Lord Buckingham before turning back to Henry.

“You looked at them so briefly that I barely blinked before it was done!” Henry laughed heartily. “Maybe you just cannot see what I can see.”

“Then tell me what it is you do see,” Jeremy said, laughing too. “You evidently see something else when you look at Lord Buckingham. What is it?”

“How happy he is. He was the same at his wedding, was he not?” Henry asked as he turned and picked up his wine glass again.

“Yes, but…wait.” Jeremy held up a palm, clearly halting Henry before he could say anymore. “Are you telling me you wish to wed? I do not believe it.”

“That is not exactly what I am saying.”

“It very much is.”

“Well, I am pleased to hear you are listening at least, not staring at some pretty woman.” Henry shook his head at his friend before lifting his gaze to Lord Buckingham once more. “Call me mad if you wish to, my friend, maybe I just consider the idea that marriage is not as awful as I once thought it could be.”

“You are a rake, Henry, through and through. Your reputation proves it, and you have never sought more than a few nights with each of your ladies.”

“Maybe it was all practice,” Henry said with a laugh, so suddenly that Jeremy choked on his wine. He coughed and spluttered, urging Henry to lift a hand and clap him on the back. “You’re supposed to drink it, not breathe it in.”

“Did you just say that all your ladies were practice? For what? One woman?”

“Is that really so awful an idea?” Henry asked with a shrug. “If I could be as happy as Lord Buckingham is now with one woman, I see no great evil in the idea.”

“Yes, Henry, but who? Who is this one woman?”

“That, I do not know yet.”


“Romancing a Forbidden Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Liza Crauford longs for one thing only; to find the true, passionate love she reads in her novels. Yet, the Season’s ton hardly offers up any promising partner, and with her overprotective brother sabotaging any prospect beau, Liza’s fantasy starts fading away. That is until a fateful ball, where she meets the rakish Lord Lightholder. Instantly tempted by him, she realises that the only man who ever tantalised her burning desire, is the same man who stole her brother’s betrothed away…

Torn between love and devotion, she wishes she had never tasted the fruit of forbidden passion.

The wicked Lord Henry Lightholder has decided to leave his old roguish life behind and finally find a suitable match. Determined to find a lady who can truly intrigue him, he meets the seductive Liza. However, being a traitor in her eyes, Henry has to choose if he will condemn himself to a loveless life or fight to prove her wrong and gain, not only her trust, but also her burning kiss.

What will he choose?

Liza and Henry’s lives soon collide under the shadow of a guilty past. Unable to tame their growing passion, they soon surrender to their lust. Yet, as their stolen moments in dark corners risk to expose their secret, another truth is revealed, that changes their lives forever… Will their sizzling love be damned by her brother’s revengeful interference? Or will they manage to create an enchanting and flaming future together?

“Romancing a Forbidden Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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3 thoughts on “Romancing a Forbidden Lady (Preview)”

  1. Do we all not long for true passionate love? Let us see how Lady Lisa finds her t.p.l.
    Throw wicked Lord Henry in the mix.
    I am sure it will be great fun finding out.

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