I'm pleased that this book is finally released. Thank you if you pre-ordered and I hope that you are enjoying it. If you haven't tried it then here is the first scene for you to read.
There will be the fourth book in this series, An Accommodating Husband, available in August. This will be Lady Giselle's story. Then there will just be a story for Lord Peregrine and the duke himself. These will be published in 2018.
I'm still not convinced that putting a title on preorder is the best idea as the hundred or so sales have already been counted before release day. If you are going to do any sort of pre publication promotional work, ads and so on, then you have to have the book on Amazon in order to have the correct ASIN to make the link. Also, if you are going to do a Thunderclap campaign – which I'm going to for my next book – the same rule applies.
February 1813, Silchester Court.
'Forgive me, your grace, this letter has arrived by express.' The butler bowed deeply and held out the silver salver.
'Thank you, Peebles.' Beau scanned the contents of the letter and was so startled by the contents he sent his coffee cup flying from the table.
Already this year was turning out to be an unmitigated disaster. First Peregrine, the oldest by five minutes of the twins, had bought himself a set of colours and was at this very moment undergoing some rudimentary training before being shipped out to the Peninsular to fight for King and Country. Why in God's name Perry had felt the need to become a soldier he'd no idea. Perhaps it was because Bennett had had a successful career in the military until he resigned his commission when their father had died.
Aubrey had taken his brother's departure badly and was mooching around the house unable to settle on anything. The twins had done everything together and Beau supposed he must be grateful that both hadn't taken the King's shilling.
Giselle had slipped on the ice and broken her leg two months ago. She still insisted she was unable to walk and was therefore marooned upstairs in her rooms. Perhaps this letter was not such bad news after all.
He looked at it again and smiled. He tucked it into his waistcoat pocket and went in search of his brother. Aubrey spent a lot of the day with Giselle in her apartment. She was missing Madeline, indeed they all were, since her older sister had married Lord Carshalton last year. The fact that Giselle also had to postpone her Season until next year had added to her low spirits.
Beau took the stairs two at a time and walked straight into his sister's sitting room. His siblings were staring morosely into the fire, not even engaged in desultory conversation.
'I have just received a letter from a relative of our mother's.' This announcement caught their attention as no one in the family had known they had any other relatives.
'Who is it? Are they coming to visit?' Giselle said, a welcome spark of interest in her eyes.
He flicked back his coat-tails and settled beside her on the chaise longue. 'Do you remember Mama telling us that her sister married a younger son of the Earl of Guildford?'
She shook her head but Aubrey nodded. 'I think you must have been too young, Giselle, but I do recall hearing that story. Didn't they go to India and perish in some uprising or other?'
'That's what Mama was led to believe. However, it seems there was a child, a girl, who eventually found her way to these shores and has been living quietly somewhere in Somerset. Elizabeth Freemantle, our cousin's name, is now seventeen years of age and it seems that I am responsible for her. She wishes to be presented.'
'Beau, please don't leave me here alone. I couldn't bear it. It's bad enough not being able to go to London myself…'
He reached across and patted her sound knee. 'Don't fret, little one, I've no intention of going myself. I rather thought that Aubrey could do it in my stead. The house in Grosvenor Square is already prepared and fully staffed as we expected to be up there for your come out.'
His brother looked dubious. 'Let me get this straight, brother, you want me to do the pretty with my cousin? Escort her to dozens of routs, soirées and balls? That doesn't sound too shabby.'
'You can't possibly do it, Aubrey, at three and twenty, you're far too young. The poor girl would be better off waiting until next year when Beau can take charge and escort us both.'
This was exactly the response he'd been hoping for from his sister. Like all the males in this family his brother couldn't resist a challenge.
'If Perry is old enough to fight then I am certainly old enough to act as sponsor to our unknown cousin. Can I see the letter for myself, Beau? I think you are keeping something back from us.' Beau handed it to him. His brother read the missive out loud:
Dear Duke of Silchester,
You do not know me and no doubt will be wondering why a stranger has the effrontery to send a letter by express. I am writing on behalf of your cousin, Miss Elizabeth Freemantle, the orphaned child of your aunt, Lady Elizabeth Freemantle. I only recently discovered that she is your cousin and that you are her legal guardian. If I had realised this earlier I would have sent her to you immediately.
It is possible, of course, that you were unaware of the existence of your cousin. When her parents died in India you might well have assumed that their baby, Elizabeth, perished also. I was able to save the child and have been taking care of her since then. I was entrusted with not only the baby but her fortune.
My husband, Captain Cassidy, was an officer in the East India Company and we were also stationed in India. He too was killed by the insurgents. I fled with Elizabeth, and my own daughter Mary, and made my way to Somerset, where we have resided ever since.
Miss Freemantle is a considerable heiress and will be in much demand on the marriage mart. I heard on good authority that her youngest cousin, Lady Giselle, is to make her come out this Season and obviously, Miss Freemantle will be presented with her.
My own daughter, Mrs Mary Williams, will accompany Miss Freemantle as her companion. She was widowed three years ago when her husband was killed.
Miss Freemantle is now seventeen years of age, well-educated and spirited. She will do better in the charge of a gentleman like yourself. She is travelling with my daughter and man of business, and will be at Silchester Court by the end of the week. Mr Gregson will hand to you the necessary papers and legal documents.
I am in uncertain health and being responsible for Miss Freemantle is something I can no longer do.
His brother shook his head. 'This girl is going to be foisted off on us without a by-your-leave? Reading between the lines, Beau, I think Mrs Cassidy is glad to get shot of her. For the word 'spirited' I think we could substitute 'wild'.'
Giselle was having none of this. 'How can you say that about our cousin? I'm absolutely thrilled she's joining the family. Does that mean you will send Aubrey and Cousin Elizabeth away in April?'
'If you would make more of an effort to get about, sweetheart, then maybe we could all go as originally planned? However, if you don't get on your feet by the end of March, Aubrey shall go with Elizabeth and her companion, and you must remain on your own with me.'
For a moment he thought he'd gone too far, that she would dissolve into tears at his harsh words. Instead she pursed her lips and nodded. 'I have allowed my sadness at losing my sister and two brothers to keep me languishing up here. From now on I shall come down to dinner and begin to exercise my leg as the doctor told me to.'
Mission accomplished Beau left them in animated discussion about the possible character and appearance of this new member of the family. He had a nasty suspicion Aubrey was correct – the young lady in question was going to be a handful. His lips curved. He was thirteen years her senior and had no doubt whatsoever he would curb whatever tendencies she might have to misbehave.
'Help me get up, Aubrey, I'm going to begin practising walking immediately. It's quite possible I've lost the use of my legs having malingered here for so long.'
'Up you come, sister, but you mustn't overdo it.' He kept his arm around her waist and gently assisted her to her feet. She only managed half a dozen steps before complaining that her leg hurt too much to continue.
'Of course it does, you goose, but I insist that you walk the length of this room and back before you give up. Beau means it, he will send us without you. Surely you cannot wish to miss the excitement of your first Season?'
She pulled a face but did as he asked. By the time they reached the windows she was walking more freely. 'It is painful, but I feel so much better being upright and not being carried around like an unwanted parcel.'
He returned her to her position on the daybed and stepped back. For the first time since Perry had left he began to feel more cheerful. 'I'm going down to talk to Beau, I'll be back to escort you to dinner this afternoon.' He reached the door and then turned back. 'No doubt Elizabeth will require a new wardrobe – why don't you send a letter to your modiste? I'm sure you won't want to be eclipsed by a girl two years younger than you.'
This was exactly the motivation his sister needed. 'Thank you for reminding me, I shall write immediately. She must send me the latest fashion plates and samples of material so we have something to choose from.'
He raised a hand in casual salute and headed downstairs. As he arrived in the vast entrance hall the door opened and Bennett stepped in looking remarkably pleased with himself.
Aubrey jumped the remaining stairs in one go and ran across to embrace his brother. 'Is Grace not with you? We have such exciting news to impart. Both she and Madeline will be quite astounded.'
'I don't believe anything you can tell me will eclipse the news I have to give you. Grace is with child and in September you will become an uncle for the first time.'
'You must come with me and tell Beau, he will be as delighted as I am.'
Bennett and Beau could be twins, like he and Perry, so similar in appearance were they. The news that they had a cousin called Elizabeth was discussed at length.
'I'm going up to tell Giselle my good news. Grace is with Madeline – I shouldn't be surprised if there will be not one, but two new arrivals this year.'
'Make that three, Bennett, Elizabeth is also a new member of the family – albeit a fully-grown one.'
Aubrey remained with his older brother. 'I know none of us are sticklers for protocol, but will this companion, Mrs Williams, be sufficient to silence the tabbies? Should we not find an older woman to act as chaperone to the girls?'
His brother looked at him as if he was speaking in tongues. 'One middle-aged woman in the household is more than sufficient without fetching in another. God's teeth! It is perfectly proper for us to reside under the same roof as our cousin.'
'I suppose so. She's also your ward which would give her double protection. I've probably spent more time in Town during the Season than anyone else. Don't forget that Perry and I have experienced two Seasons already.'
'Quite true – I tend to avoid London during the months of April to June for that very reason. The more I think about it, little brother, the more convinced I am that you should oversee this project. I will, of course, be there for Giselle and Elizabeth's come-out ball – but will remain here as much as possible.'
'Let's hope our cousin will not prove to be a confirmed flirt. I'm going to have my work cut out keeping the rakehells and fortune hunters away if she is as pretty as either of our sisters, especially as she has a massive fortune.'
'I have every faith in you, Aubrey. Don't forget you will have the assistance of this Mrs Williams. The fact that she is prepared to remain at the side of her adopted sister must mean the girl cannot be that bad.'
Fenella J Miller