As part of the blog tour, I have an excerpt of Miranda Neville’s Lady Windermere’s Lover. Enjoy!
Damian, Earl of Windermere, rues the day he drunkenly gambled away his family’s estate and was forced into marriage to reclaim it. Now, after hiding out from his new bride for a year, Damian is finally called home, only to discover that his modest bride has become an alluring beauty—and rumor has it that she’s taken a lover. Damian vows to keep his wife from straying again, but to do so he must seduce her—and protect his heart from falling for the wife he never knew he wanted.
Cynthia never aspired to be the subject of scandal. But with her husband off gallivanting across Persia, what was a lady to do? Flirting shamelessly with his former best friend seemed like the perfect revenge . . . except no matter how little Damian deserves her loyalty, Cynthia can’t bring herself to be unfaithful. But now that the scoundrel has returned home, Cynthia isn’t about to forgive his absence so easily—even if his presence stirs something in her she’d long thought dead and buried. He might win her heart . . . if he can earn her forgiveness!
Through the incompetent machinations of Puck, the four lovers were in a tangle and Titania was in love with an ass. Cynthia shifted in her seat and let her attention wander to the crowd in the pit.
“Not enjoying the play?” Denford asked.
“How did you know?”
“I notice everything about you, Cynthia.”
“I had never seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream acted,” she said quickly, “only read it. It’s very different on the stage.”
Despite making great strides in worldliness, she couldn’t help being a little shocked at the skimpy costumes, suggestive posturing, and outright kissing that was featured in the production. Lysander and Hermia had kissed on the lips early in the play and Titania was doing the same to Bottom now, positively devouring him beneath his ass’s head. Cynthia kept telling herself that it was only clever acting and they weren’t really behaving with such wantonness in public.
She stole a sideways glance and encountered Julian’s intense blue gaze. She lowered her eyes to his mouth and recalled the only time that she had been kissed like that, lasciviously, mouth-on-mouth, like the players on the stage.
The momentous occasion had been in a dark corner of her garden on a chill autumn night a few weeks earlier. It should have been her husband—such intimate caresses were the right of spouses—but Windermere had never kissed her thus. This man, the Duke of Denford, had introduced her to the delight. She felt guilty for kissing another man and resented that the man she’d married had not seen to the business himself. Her classmates at the Birmingham Academy for Young Ladies—ignorant girls like herself—had talked about love and marriage and kissing. The three went together, all with the same man.
“In what way do you find the play different?”
“The actors have revealed new aspects of the characters. I had not previously perceived that Lysander and Demetrius are in competition with each other. First they must both love Hermia and then, when one turns to Helena the other must follow.”
“You don’t give much credit to the intervention of the fairies.”
“I believe magic merely reinforces their own inclinations, which is that of former best friends turned rivals.”
“My dear Cynthia,” Julian said with a deep laugh. “You have grown into a woman of subtlety.”
“I hope so,” she said, not without pride. “I came to the capital a naïve provincial. I had no idea how to convey my thoughts except in the most straightforward manner. Since I quickly learned that simplicity is not appreciated in London, I could not convey them at all.”
“You know you may always speak frankly to me because I am incapable of taking offense. You can tell me what you really mean about the rivals in this play.” Julian was far too clever. And while he wasn’t always straightforward, he was never afraid to be frank. “Is that what you think?” he continued. “That I want you only because you are married to my former friend?”
“The notion has crossed my mind.”
“If you believe that your only value to me is as Damian’s bride, then you don’t know your own worth and he is a bigger fool than I thought for leaving you alone so long, and letting you think you mean nothing to him.”
I know I mean nothing to him. She was too proud to say it aloud. Instead she soothed her vanity by defending her neglectful spouse. “He was called abroad and did his duty, for which I respect him.” Her hand convulsed on the gilt handle of her lorgnette.
“And of course he fulfills his duty to you by frequent letters, attentive to your needs.”
To that there was no answer.
Long fingers enveloped her clenched fist. “If you will let me,” he whispered, “you will find me neglectful in nothing.”
He chose his words well. Neglected was precisely how she had felt for so long, long before she met Windermere. Her husband had merely raised hopes that finally she would have someone to call her own, and dashed them. She ignored a shiver of yearning, withdrew from Julian’s touch, and raised the glasses to her nose. Her throat was tight. “Not now.”
“Why not now? Admit that you are tempted. Why else did you come out with me tonight?”
As his wicked voice stroked her like a sable brush, she determinedly surveyed the faces and figures in the boxes opposite. There were a few she knew, but very few. Despite her rank, she was not of the ton. The niece of a Birmingham merchant, abandoned by her brand-new husband, had no entrée to the more rarefied households of Mayfair. If her only recourse had been to the faintly disreputable company of Caro Townsend and her set, including Julian Fortescue, it was Windermere’s fault. Through the lorgnette she saw the Countess of Ashfield, a pillar of London society with the eyesight of an eagle, glaring back at her. Another box was filled with drunken bucks; luckily they were on the bottom tier or the occupants of the pit below would be in dire danger of being hit by flying glasses and vomit. The next box was also a trifle crowded: The owner had decided to cram his wife and six young ladies into the narrow space. By contrast, the very elegant lady next door had but a single gentleman in attendance.
She inhaled so hard her chest hurt. She would recognize that gentleman from a mile’s distance, with or without the benefit of magnifying lenses.
She didn’t know him as well as she knew the man at her side, but on the other hand, unlike Julian, he had shared her bed. He was her lawfully wedded husband. Back in London after more than a year’s absence, he had not sought the company of his wife. Instead he was tête-à-tête in a box at Drury Lane with another woman.
Every muscle rigid, she lowered the lorgnette to her lap with exaggerated care.
“What is it?” Julian asked.
“Who is the lady in red in the box closest to the pit door?”
“Lady Belinda Radcliffe, wife of the undersecretary for foreign affairs. Windermere has known her for a long time, through her husband.” She heard pity in his voice and felt his hand on her shoulder, like comfort, not seduction.
“Did you know Windermere was back in London?”
“I heard a rumor. But when you agreed to come out with me tonight I thought I must be wrong.”
Cynthia blinked hard and didn’t trust herself to speak through thickening tears. Instead she tilted her head to press her cheek against Julian’s hand. Across the theater she saw Windermere’s gaze linger on them for a few seconds, then he turned back to the beautiful Lady Belinda.
If she were honest with herself, she had hoped he would see her, or at least hear a report that she hadn’t been waiting at home like a meek Quaker for her spouse’s return. When imagining his reaction to seeing her transformed into a fashionable lady—and escorted by a duke, this particular duke—she hadn’t expected indifference. Expectations confounded again, she thought wryly through her distress.
“I heard that rumor too,” she managed finally. “But I didn’t know Windermere was already in town. I assumed he had been delayed.”
If Denford expressed sympathy now, she would leave. She would ask the theater servants to find her a hackney and go home alone. Her sense of humiliation was too great to be borne in sight of another. Gradually her heightened breathing abated. “So he is merely escorting the wife of a senior colleague, then. Very polite of him.”
“I’m sure that’s the reason,” Julian said. She’d almost recovered her equilibrium when he delivered the final blow. “It is common knowledge that Windermere’s affair with Lady Belinda was over years ago.”
Common knowledge to all except the stupid lowborn wife he’d married for her uncle’s money. Foolishly, she couldn’t keep her eyes off them. She saw her husband take the satin hand of his former mistress and raise it to his lips. Not so former would be her guess. The letter from the Foreign Office had told her he’d reach London two days ago. Perhaps he had. But those two days—and nights—had not been spent at Windermere House.
Julian’s supple fingers massaged the tense muscles of her neck, out of sight of the casual observer. The sensation of flesh on flesh sent tingles of sensation down her back and up between her legs.
Damian, Earl of Windermere, might have come home this night and satisfied the desire that pooled in her most private place, but he preferred a former mistress in red satin. And when, after all, had he ever satisfied her desires?
She wanted satisfaction. Even more, she craved intimacy and human connection.
“I don’t want to see the rest of the play, Julian. Take me home.”
Miranda Neville grew up in England. During her misspent youth she devoured the works of Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy, and any other historical novels she could lay hands on. As a result she attended the University of Oxford to study history, ignoring all hints that economics might be a more practical subject. She spent several years writing catalogs of rare books and original letters and manuscripts for Sotheby’s auction house in London and New York. Much of her time in this job was spent reading the personal correspondence of the famous. This confirmed her suspicion that the most interesting thing about history is people.
Since moving to Vermont, she has worked in Special Collections at Dartmouth College and as an editor and journalist on Behind the Times, a small, idiosyncratic (and now defunct) monthly newspaper. She is the owner and editor of a weekly advertiser in the Upper Valley, a job that leaves her enough time to write fiction.
Her first book, Never Resist Temptation, was published by Avon in 2009. The first two books in the Burgundy Club series will be published in 2010.
She lives with her daughter, Becca, a college student and confirmed drama queen, and two cats who are never on the right side of any door.