Today or First Sight Saturday, author Jude Knight shares a first meeting excerpt from her historical romance A Baron for Becky. Jude’s fun fact is this: the night my husband and I fell in love, we chose Peter as the name of our first son. It was 1969. We married in 1971, and our second child (born in 1975) was a son, and we did name him Peter.
That’s a wonderfully romantic tidbit, and my oldest son’s name is also Peter, though we didn’t pick the name until he was a bun in the oven!
Setup of the scene: Becky Winstanley, mistress to the Marquess of Aldridge, is expecting her protector, who has promised to escort her and her daughter Sarah to Astley’s Amphitheatre as a treat for Sarah’s birthday.
That was Aldridge now; an unmarked carriage with nothing to distinguish it from a thousand others turning unobtrusively into the mews. Aldridge was as careful with her daughter’s reputation as she was herself, and would not let the scandal sheets pick up on the connection between Rose’s house and the one where Miss Sarah Winstanley lived.
He was early. She crossed to the sideboard where she kept his favourite brandy, and was pouring him a glass by the time she heard his steps in the hall. Two sets of steps? Who did Aldridge have with him?
The other man was as tall as Aldridge, but dark to his fair. He must once have been stunningly handsome, and one side of his face was still carved by a master; subtle curves and strong planes combining in a harmonious whole that spoke of strength and, in the almost invisible network of lines at the corners of his eyes, suffering.
On the other side, dozens of scars pitted and ridged the skin, as if it had been torn and chewed by an animal; an animal with jaws of flame by the tell-tale burn puckers. Thankfully, whatever it was had spared his eye, which, she suddenly realised, was glaring at her.
“Well,” he demanded, and she was shaken anew by his voice, rich and mellow. She had been staring. How rude. But for some reason, she didn’t apologise as she should, but instead blurted, “I was just feeling glad that what injured you spared your eye.”
He looked startled, and suddenly a lot friendlier. “Thank you. I am glad too.”
That voice! He could charm bird from the trees with it. Becky wondered if he sang.
“An unusual approach to an introduction,” Aldridge observed. Becky collected herself and smiled at her protector. “No one is more important than the man who keeps you,” a mentor had once told her. “When he is present, you notice no one else except as it reflects well on him.”
And Becky had never before had her attention so focused on a guest that she had been unaware of presenting her cheek to Aldridge for his kiss, giving him the expected squeal in return for his squeeze, and returning the kiss.
“An introduction would be polite, Aldridge,” she said.
“My dear, you have heard me speak of my friend, Baron Overton.”
Yes. She had guessed it must be he from the description in the gossip magazine that was even now on the desk in her little sitting room. ‘Baron O., who, despite his gruesome scars, seems set to bag the full haul of heads, or should we say tails, he and the M.M. need to win their bet. She looked at him without favour. Another heartless aristocrat tomcatting his way through life without thought of the suffering he left behind him.
But why was he here? She turned to Aldridge in alarm.
“Overton is coming to Astley’s with us,” Aldridge said. He expected her to make a fuss. She knew that mulish expression in his eye. He felt he was in the wrong, he wasn’t going to back down, and he’d feel better if they could fight over it.
Instead, she turned to Overton. “Lord Overton, I am going to assume that Lord Aldridge would not have brought you here if you were not sober, trustworthy, and aware that my daughter’s future depends on no one making the connection between her mother and Lord Aldridge’s mistress. Since my lord clearly trusts you, I will too.” And, her tone said, I will find a way to destroy you if Aldridge is wrong.
The woman might be a whore, but she had the carriage of a queen, and when she lectured him, her eyes flashing, all he could do was mutter, “Yes, ma’am.”
He’d heard Aldridge’s mistress was beautiful, but beautiful didn’t come close. What on earth was the man doing with other women when he had this one in his keeping?
Satisfied with his answer, she was pouring him a brandy, having already handed one to Aldridge. Aldridge was teasing her about the present he had in the carriage for the little girl. He’d dragged Hugh to the shop to pick it up; a doll as beautiful as a princess and a wardrobe to match. Inspired, Hugh had ordered two: one with dark hair for Sophrania, and one with fair hair for Emmaline. They would be ready in a week, the woman assured him. Good enough. His one month of freedom would be nearly up in a week, with just enough time to ride home.
Aldridge, though, was assuring the woman he had a sack full of kittens, or a pair of puppies, or a pet bear. She just laughed at him, telling him that the care and feeding of such a menagerie would be to his cost, and not hers.
Hugh couldn’t reconcile her speech, her grace, her manners, with her being a member of the demi monde. She was unlike any whore he’d ever known. And what was her name, anyway? He hadn’t really been listening; had half thought Aldridge was playing one of his japes. A mistress who couldn’t be called by her mistress name, which was Rose or Pansy or something like that, but had to be called some other name, and treated like a lady in front of her daughter. Surely it must be a joke?
But apparently it was true.
“What am I meant to call you,” he asked, and could have bitten his tongue. He was never this graceless.
“Mrs Winstanley,” Aldridge said, looking over his shoulder, “and if you’re not going to behave, Overton, you can leave right now.”
“Mrs Winstanley,” Hugh said.
And Aldridge nodded, satisfied, and turned back to the woman. “Do you not think Sarah would like a pony,” he asked, clearly wanting to continue his game.
From behind his back, Hugh glared at the uppity female, and she, with no idea of her place, glared back.
END OF EXCERPT
Well, no one likes an uppity mistress or a rude guest, and I have no idea how this will play out. Who is first going to fall in love? For the answer to that intriguing question, you’ll find the pre-order links below, and also several ways to keep in touch with Jude Knight.
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Preorder links for A Baron for Becky: release date 5 August 2015
Thank you Jude, and all our readers, for visiting today.