Authors: Karen Harbaugh
Copyright © Karen Eriksen Harbaugh, all rights reserved, 1997, 2014,
@ REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA. Printed
and published in the United States of America
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.
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In every genre, there are certain themes--even clichés--that readers very much love and expect to see in their books, so much so that if they do not appear, readers will complain that it's not a "real" book of that genre. This is very much so in the subgenre of romance known as the "Regency romance," which is usually set in the early 1800s in England's high society. The Regency romance is generally patterned after Georgette Heyer's romance novels set during that time, though she herself varied those stories in tone (both light-hearted and serious) and by mixing other genre elements (mysteries) in them.
Being a great fan of Heyer
's works, and wanting to follow in her footsteps, I thought I would write both serious and silly Regency romances, and throw in a few other genre elements in there, too. As a result, by the time I had written and published Cupid's Mistake, I had written two normal Regencies and two not-at-all-normal Regencies . . . and I was hearing that those last two were not "real" Regencies because of their paranormal/fantasy elements and that they were too serious. There was even some question as to whether I could write a "real" Regency romance. I found that the definition of a Regency romance was even narrower than Heyer herself had written.
was a gauntlet thrown in my direction. "Ha!" I thought to myself. "Ha! So you want the same-old, same-old. FINE. I'll find every single cliché I've ever read in a Regency romance and stuff them all in the next book I write. That'll show them!"
And I did. Except that my muse can
't help herself and decided to throw in yet another fantasy element. My editor loved it. So did the readers.
Seems like I can
't win for losing. Or, lose for winning.
As a result
, here is my comedy of manners that contains a bluestocking spinster, cynical nobleman, meddling sister, and matchmaking mama, all of whom are involved in one misunderstanding or other. Oh, and yes, there's a Greek god in there, too.
March 4, 1810
Paul Templeton, Marquess of Blytheland, stared at the fire before him but did not see it. He sat, his fists clenched on his knees, and saw only the face of his wife as she was when he first met her. He remembered her as she was long before this night, not as she was now, lying in her room next to his, giving birth to the child of another man.
A loud groan came from the other room, and he raised his head briefly, listening. But it was only a groan and not her voice calling out for him. He turned his head away from the connecting door, despising himself for listening, for even being here, waiting. His love for Chloe had not quite died yet—he could tell by the persistent ache in his chest as he listened to her laboring to bring forth the child. He had given up too much of himself when he married her and even now it was hard to pull away, hard to admit that all the love he had invested in her had brought such bitter returns.
He looked into the grate again, and saw in the flickering red flames the color of her hair and the bright laughter she had always brought when she entered a room. He had fallen in love with her for that, and for her superior intellect; stupid women had always bored him. Chloe had excited his mind with her radical ideas and wide-ranging thoughts, and the wildness of her passion had excited him in the marriage bed.
He had been mad for her, though his friends had told him he was mad for marrying her. He should have listened. He should have heeded Lord Eldon, his best friend, when the man had shaken his head and said Chloe Fenwick was not a woman to marry but to bed. Blytheland had almost called Eldon out for that. Was she not a well-chaperoned and therefore innocent young lady, after all?
A high scream sounded from the other room, and then there was silence. The marquess tightened his fists, closed his eyes, straining to hear more. There was no other sound. Even now he wished to go to her, but he would not. He would wait for the news to come to him. He was tired of being a lapdog, running when called. He had been a fool, and he would be so no longer.
He had felt quite vindicated on their wedding night three years ago, for she had indeed been a virgin. She
'd not repulsed his advances either after that, not until last year. He had not known what had changed . . . she had continued to hold her salons, writing her papers and discussing her ideas with her guests. Chloe had been well occupied, he had thought. He should have known better, once she had started to espouse the ideas from that Wollstonecraft woman's books. He'd seen too many people copy the style of life of the philosophers and teachers they'd admired, but he had thought Chloe more clear-minded than that. But she was as unoriginal as the others . . . Wollstonecraft had taken lovers, and Chloe had adopted that philosophy as well.
He could not, in the end, reason it away. He had enjoyed philosophical discussions himself, had enjoyed the talks he had had with Chloe. But when she had cheerfully come home one day, telling him she had taken a lover, he had felt as if he had received a blow to the gut. She could not even understand why he had grown so angry—did he not understand the principle of it?
He had not, and could not, though there was a space of time where he had actually tried. And yet . . . and yet, here he was, waiting for another man's child to be born, despising himself for a fool.
There was still no sound from the next room. A distant clock tolled the hour—it was two in the morning. He almost rose to go to the next room, but forced himself to sit where he was. At last a knock sounded on the door to his chamber, and he stood up at last and opened it.
It was Dr. Jenkins. The man's gray hair was tousled, his eyes tired and sad. He glanced at Lord Blytheland then looked away, clearing his throat.
My lord . . . It is not good—"
Her ladyship did not—she is—" The doctor straightened himself and looked Blytheland in the eyes. "She is dead, my lord."
Blytheland closed his eyes briefly and swallowed down the hot rage and sorrow that filled his throat.
"The child?" he asked after a moment.
I see." Blytheland turned and gazed into the fire again and tried not to see the image of his dead wife in the flames.
My lord, what do you wish me to do?"
What you usually do in these cases, I suppose. If you need anything, you may speak with my solicitors and tell them you have my approval." He glanced over his shoulder at Dr. Jenkins. "You may go." He heard the doctor step away from him.
He could not help himself and turned swiftly, impulsively holding out his hand.
"Stop! I would like to know. . ." The doctor looked at him in inquiry. "Did she— did she ask for me at all? Say my name?"
A look of profound pity entered the doctor
's eyes, and the marquess hated himself for being so weak as to ask. "No, my lord," the doctor said. "No, I am afraid she did not."
I see," Blytheland said again, and turned away.
I am sorry . . . she was a lovely lady."
There was only silence,
and then he heard the doctor's footsteps go away from him and the door close, and for a few minutes he did not move. The long sigh that came from him echoed in the room, and he rose at last. He wandered around his room and randomly picked up different items in it, looking at them and putting them down again. An odd blankness was in him, an aimlessness—he did not know what to do. Moving about seemed better somehow than simply sitting.
He came around at last to the trunk at the foot of his bed, and hesitated. Slowly he kneeled and opened it and took a leather violin case from it. He ran his hands over it slowly, feeling the smoothness of the leather. His hands hesitated for a moment, then he unlatched the case and brought out the instrument.
It was a beautiful thing, still polished and shining; he had not touched it in years. His music was another thing he had given up when he married Chloe. She had, for all her intelligence and education, not liked music much—he knew now it was because she did not have an ear for it. Anything in which she was not accomplished, she generally despised, but it was not something he realized until much, much later. But her reason for being against his playing had seemed so sensible—gentlemen did not take playing instruments with much seriousness; that was a thing for hired musicians only. Other people had thought the same thing—it had been his father's opinion, too. It was one more thing he had given up, a thing he had once thought had been an inseparable part of himself.
Could he still play it? He took the violin from its case, settled it against his chest, and drew the bow across the strings. A long wail came from the instrument—it needed tuning, of course.
His hands shook, and the violin dropped into the trunk. Not even this. He had given Chloe everything he could think of to keep her with him, had given up his music, too. Now it was all gone from him—he had no wife, no child, no music—and he had lost himself, somehow. Blytheland sank to his knees against his bed and pushed his palms against his eyes, pushing back the weeping he knew would come if he let it.
He took in a long, shuddering breath and rose to his feet. When he put out his hand to close the lid of the trunk, however, he hesitated. He still had the violin, and he remembered all the music he had ever played—it had been his special talent. Could a talent disappear if one did not practice it? He was not sure.
Blytheland brought out the violin again and carefully placed it back in its case. He would find out if he could still play, and if he got his music back, he would never let it go. He would never lose that part of him again, not to anyone.
The latches clicked in place, and the violin was protected once again inside its leather case. Blytheland pressed his lips together tightly. He would do as he wished from now on, and surround himself with people with whom he wished to associate, and do things that he pleased. Did he not still have his estates, his title, his fortune, things most men would envy? Was he not still young—only four-and-twenty years old—? Chloe was gone now, and she had been unfaithful to him. All his giving had been for nothing.
It would not happen again. He would make sure of it.
A sudden shuffling, flutter
ing noise made him look up. He shrugged. It was no doubt the doctor in the next room attending to . . . his duties. A rising nausea filled Blytheland's throat and he closed his eyes tightly. He could not stay here, not tonight. He would go out—there were gaming hells enough where he could occupy his mind with either wagers or drink.
The marquess gazed around his room once again. It seemed dark and empty and cold. Quickly he stood and pulled on the coat he had discarded earlier. He strode to the door of his chamber and for one moment his steps faltered as the grief and anger threatened to surface again.
He shut the door firmly behind him.
* * * *
There was no noise now except the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece .
. . and then a flutter, as if a bird had settled itself into the room. A slight glow moved from one comer of the marquess's chamber, and slowly, cautiously, the glow took shape: a face, shoulders, hands, torso, legs, and feet. And then, with another flutter, wings.
The boy who materialized gazed at the closed door with a slightly guilty look on his face. He had made a terrible mistake. He was usually very accurate with his arrows and his darts, and his timing had always been impeccable, but this time he had erred badly. He had meant to shoot Lord Blytheland when he was looking at another young lady, but the marquess had suddenly shifted his gaze at the last moment and had looked at Chloe Fenwick instead, falling desperately in love with her. The boy had hoped that it would work out anyway—often it did; for being loved to distraction was often irresistible to men and women alike and softened their hearts to love in return. But Chloe Fenwick had not been like that—she had been all mind and little heart.
The boy took in a breath and let it out again in a resolute burst of air. Well, there was nothing for it but for him to remedy the mistake. Now that the woman had died, the marquess was free once more to follow his heart. The boy suddenly felt uncertain. Lord Blytheland's face had looked as if he had decided to encase his heart in a steel cage, rather than let it free to love again. The boy hoped it was not too late. He frowned. He had never made a mistake before, except perhaps once; it was nonsense to think he might not remedy this situation. In all the millennia of his existence, his arrows had always shot with purpose and extreme accuracy, moving his victims—that is, targets—to love, to revulsion, or indifference, depending on whether they needed a lesson in love or humility. He was Eros, the God of Love, and took whatever shape he needed to accomplish his goals—successfully. There was no reason to think he would make another mistake again.
The frown turned into a considering expression, and Eros reached over his shoulder to the quiver between the wings on his back and pulled out an arrow. He ran his thumb against the edge of the arrowhead in a contemplative manner. A slow, mischievous smile grew on his lips and a silent laugh shook his shoulders. The young lady he had first intended for Lord Blytheland would be in town the next year or two for her first Season. She was a little different now than she was when she and Lord Blytheland had passed in a crowd at a country fair, but not much; the two would still suit very well. Neither one remembered the other. He could start fresh: it would be as if the whole incident with Chloe had never happened, he was sure.
The boy turned to look out the window of the room, down at the tall figure walking purposefully down the street beneath the light of the full moon. Eros sighed, then slowly his form faded to a faint glow again. The windows of the room opened, and a breeze stirred the bed curtains. Then the windows closed, as if an invisible hand had moved them, and the room was silent and still once more.