A Passionate Endeavor

 

ISBN 10:0451212703
ISBN 13: 978-0451212702

 

Returning from the war with a wounded leg, Lord Huntingtonisn’t expecting to find a young nurse on his father’s estate. Not only does Charlotte Kittridge possess a most delicate touch, but something about her intelligent mind and fiery heart makes Nicholas want to take her in his arms and never let go. Unfortunately, he took a secret vow long ago to never marry.

At seven and twenty and without a dowry, Charlotte Kittridge is considered an old maid. The petite daughter of the most talented physician in all of Europe and an aristocratic French mother lost during the French revolution, she can’t stop nursing the hope that the man who makes her heart flush with desire will someday return her dangerously passionate love.

Charlotte and Huntington must wager all and come to terms with their secrets and desires in their quest for love and happiness.

 THE MUSE UNLEASHED . . .

 

Having a French mother and a father of English descent, I’ve always been intrigued by the clash of the two cultures. In this story, the hero is a classic English nobleman and war hero tortured by a secret. And the heroine is the product of an English father and French mother. Due to the unusual plot, I had a hard time convincing the editor to let me write this story. However, this book received more awards and praise than anyone anticipated.

Lord Huntington is a family name shared by many of my relatives including my father, my son and a first cousin. The heroine’s name, Charlotte, is one of my mother’s many middle names. Mr. Llewellyn’s name came from my first dog, Roxie, a Llewellyn English Setter.

I pay homage to almost every Regency lover’s favorite author, Jane Austen, by amusing epigrams for each chapter.

One of my favorite characters I’ve ever created is introduced in this story: Alexandre Barclay, Viscount Gaston. I’ve had more reader requests for Alex’s story than any other character. He is a rakish mix of all my French and American male cousins! His brother is the hero of my third book, Lord Will & Her Grace.

Several works of art provided initial ideas for the book. A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard is a character sketch of the heroine. Even the yellow dress inspired a scene. And the famous lifelike eyes found in the sculpture by Frenchman Houdin are mentioned in another scene. The hero, Lord Huntington, was given a command of the famed 95th Rifles, a unit noted for its brave sharpshooters and handsome dark green regimentals as seen in 1815: The Armies at Waterloo by Ugo Pericoli. And an unusual painting by Gainsboro of a series of fresh water ponds for a brewery was the inspiration for a subplot.

AWARDS / REVIEWS . . .

                             

 RITA® Award 
~ Romance Writers of America(The “Oscar” of the Romance writing industry)

 

 Best Regency of the Year
~ Romantic Times BOOKclub magazine Reviewer’s Choice Award

 

Write Touch Readers’ Award winner

 

National Readers Choice Award finalist

Booksellers’ Best Award finalist

 

“Tender and intelligent, A Passionate Endeavor solidifies Sophia Nash’s reputation as rising Regency talent.”  ~ Mary Jo Putney, NY Times bestselling author

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EXCERPT. . . 

 

“Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family,
can say what the difficulties of any individual
of that family may be.” - Emma

 

Wiltshire, England – April 1814

 

“Sir, wake up!” The young boy shook the broad shoulders of the gaunt man beside him on the landau’s perch. The vehicle swayed as the gentleman regained his faculties.

 

“Blast it all, I am awake –- now, at least.” Rain sluiced down the back of Lord Huntington’s hat between his greatcoat and neck cloth, drenching the last bit of dryness on his person. “We’ll be at Wyndhurst before dawn, barring any further disaster,” he said, trying to calm the boy by making light of the matter.

 

“Yes, sir. Shall I keep readin’ the sign posts to you, then?”

 

“That’s the most important part of your job, Charley. And poke this infernal leg of mine from time to time. That’ll keep my wits about me.” He wondered if his mind was going off kilter, as the droplets falling on his face seemed to sizzle and turn to steam amid the blanket of darkness. A fresh wave of pain seized his leg and he shivered uncontrollably.

 

“Perhaps you will let me take the ribbons, sir,” said the boy.

 

Nicholas looked down at the all too serious eyes of Charley Picket whose innocence was lost too early. “Nay, son. These post horses have mouths of lead. It’s just a few more miles . . .” A rush of wind sent a heavy downpour from the leaves of the tree branches arching overhead as a nocturnal creature scurried across the road. One horse whinnied its displeasure at the mysteries of the night.

 

If not for himself, he must try to focus on the road for his small companion. Time seemed suspended as the horses splashed mud in every direction. Finally, the almost forgotten form of the stone gatekeeper’s house loomed ahead. Dim candlelight flickered in a distant window – the only sign of welcome he would encounter.

 

The darkness started to close in on his mind once more as the unbearable cold turned hotter than Hades. A throbbing seared his leg and hip as the sweet calm of unconsciousness flooded his being. He tried to hold onto the young voice calling to him, but he could not. The warm world of darkness was too inviting.

 

***

A feminine voice was like a pinprick of light in the dark abyss. Nicholas shivered as he grasped the slippery world of the

conscious – floating above what looked like the acrid smoke of the battlefield. He slipped away from the haunting halls of his mind and focused on the calming voice amid the babble of hushed murmurs.

 

“Lord Huntington? Sir, you must awake,” a feminine voice insisted. Coolness bathed his face. He opened his eyes and encountered two blurry, small faces staring at him.

 

“Lord Nick, I’m ‘ere. Don’t you worry, sir.” Charley brushed past hands trying to move him away. “There be not a sawbones in sight, ‘ere. Won’t leave your side, like promised.”

 

A man with a nightcap askew moved into sight. “My lord, the doctor has been sent for, despite this pip’s impudence. But

Miss Kittridge is the good doctor’s daughter. Perhaps she can ease some of your suffering until her father arrives,” said a

man whose bearing suggested a butler’s command of the household.

 

“Stevens, is that you, man?” Nicholas peered around his bedchamber of old.

 

“Yes, my lord.” The elderly retainer responded with a slight smile.

 

“It is good to see you,” Nicholas said, trying to keep the wobbling in his voice at bay. “No need for the doctor. Charley Picket will provide all the doctoring I need,” he said, nodding toward his young charge.

 

Charley puffed out his chest with pride. “I tolds you. They daren’t listen, sir.” The thin boy reached for Nicholas’s hand.

“I won’t leave, sir, without a fight.”

 

Nicholas coughed, his throat parched. Immediately, a cool hand slipped under his neck and raised his head to meet a glass of water. As he gulped the liquid, he looked at the huge gray eyes in a diminutive girl’s face, the visage of the person who supported him. Her mouth was very odd-shaped; small, full-lipped but with a slightly puffier top lip. Almost a doll’s mouth. She looked away when he continued to stare at her. They were employing very young maids at the abbey.

 

“My lord, Charley is your stalwart champion, I know, however, you are very ill,” she paused. “Might I, at the very least, unwrap your leg to see if we can lessen your pain?”

 

He tried to fathom why a young maid would ask such a thing.

 

She became defensive. “I am my father’s assistant.”

 

“And who might your father be?”

 

Stevens interrupted before the girl could speak. “This is the Miss Kittridge I spoke of. She is a nurse and the daughter of his grace’s doctor, recently arrived from London. She was watching over your father tonight when you arrived.”

 

“Well, you may return to your post, Miss Kittridge,” Nicholas said, as the pounding in his head returned with a vengeance. “And tell your father I have no need of his tinctures and leeches. Charley will do just fine.”

 

A cool, damp cloth replaced the hot one on his forehead. The gray eyes again met his again. He was sure she would insist. Doctors and others of learned professions never failed to press ministrations on their victims.

 

She said not a word. Gentle concern etched the corners of her eyes. Eyes, like Charley’s, that had seen too much of the world at too young an age. She turned to glance toward his lower legs encased in muddy boots. Her gaze then moved to

Charley who instantly sprang toward the end of the bed.

 

“I’s going to leave off your boots, sir.” Charley grasped the tight top of the boot and heel then pulled.

Excruciating threads of light flooded Nicholas’s brain, and he tried to cling to reality.

 

“Sorry, Lord Nick.”

 

“It’s all right, Charley,” he bit out as he closed his eyes against the pain.

 

Gentle touches relieved the pressure on his injury. He opened his eyes to find Charley and the girl removing the long,

blood-encrusted pieces of cloth from his thigh. Blood had turned parts of his dark green 95th Rifleman’s uniform a muddy brown.

 

“I told you to leave me be,” he said.

 

The two young people continued to unwind the cloth. Miss Kittridge refused to meet his gaze. “Yes, my lord.”

 

“I am not in the habit of being disobeyed.”

 

“I am sorry to displease.”

 

“Beggin’ your pardon Lord Nick, Mr. Stevens said we could ’ave new bandages if that’s to your way of thinkin’,” said Charley.

 

Nicholas kept his eyes trained on the small, untrustworthy frame of Miss Kittridge but aimed his question to the lad. “Is it bleeding?”

 

Charley peered at the thigh wound then wrinkled his upturned nose. “Nay. But it don’t look so good, sir.”

 

“Leave it be, then. We’ll bind it later,” he said, reaching for the water glass again.

 

Miss Kittridge handed it to him. “Is a ball lodged in it, my lord?”

 

“No.” He was sure her girlish curiosity would force another query.

 

Her damnably calm dark eyes peered at him. She was not a pretty girl. Her homespun brown wool gown was the same dull color as her hair pulled back into a severe knot. Not a childish curl in sight. He was annoyed with himself for not being able to find pity or at least kindness in his heart for this young creature forced into night duty.

 

“Then my father still lives, I take it?” he asked. “I feared I would not make it in time.”

Stevens stepped forward. “You arrived much earlier than expected. His grace has taken a turn for the better since Dr. Kittridge’s ministrations this past fortnight, my lord.”

 

“I see you have been taken in by the good doctor’s luck, Stevens.” He glanced at Miss Kittridge sure that jab would let loose a torrent of familial defense.

 

But Miss Kittridge merely glanced toward the pile of dirty bandages. A slight flush on her cheeks appeared as she began gathering the dirty clothes.

 

“You are to be commended on your fortitude and patient character Miss Kittridge.” Stevens gave Nicholas a dark look – a look not seen since his prank-filled youth. “The master here knows not of your father’s excellent work.”

 

“You needn’t show concern, Mr. Stevens. From what I have heard of the butchers on the battlefields, I am quite sure I

would have formed an ill opinion of surgeons, as well, had I been wounded.”

 

And now he had nothing to feel but heartily ashamed of his antagonism toward this kind, yet plain young nurse.

 

“However, Lord Huntington, most learned gentlemen know there are exceptions to every rule,” she said.

 

“Perhaps I am not a ‘learned gentleman’.”

 

“As you are in great pain, I shall not argue the point. I would, however, ask your forbearance and courage in a short meeting with my father. Surely a man of your great heroism could endure that much?” she asked, finally displaying some emotion which allowed Nicholas to lessen his guilt.

 

“I shan’t allow you to bully me Miss Kittridge.”

 

Nicholas noticed Charley tugging on Miss Kittridge’s gown. She turned her ear to his dirty, cupped hand. A smile creased the corners of her mouth before she hid it with her hand.

 

“And what may I ask is being said? Certainly nothing kind. Whispers never portend comfort.”

 

“I mayn’t tell,” she responded.

 

Charley’s red face loomed large. “I told ’er you weren’t usually so pig-headed. I think you should give ’er a chance. I mean, Lord Nick, it’s not like she’s carryin’ a saw on ’er.”

 

“I’m surrounded by a turncoat, a believer, and a perceived performer of miracles. How can I refuse?” he asked, dryly. “I must insist, however, that you do not apply any potion, or leech, or knife to my person.” He hated to appear the coward.

 

 “Agreed.” She moved forward to examine the wound. “May I ask how you sustained this injury?”

 

“I was thrown from my horse during battle and fell on an exposed rock, breaking my leg.”

 

“And a surgeon on the field set it?”

 

“No,” he said as a fresh wave of pain radiated from the flesh wound. He looked toward Charley and blinked rapidly to regain control.

 

“You depended on Charley to set it?” she asked with a horror struck expression on her face.

 

“It was that or the surgeon’s method. And as my batman had been killed in the same skirmish, I chose Charley. He is an admirable fife player.” He turned to see Charley grinning. “And he agreed to accompany me home as a batman-in-training.”

 

“And proud I am of it, too,” said the impish boy.

 

Nicholas was annoyed he had submitted to the will of the nocturnal group but had little time for thought as Miss

 

Kittridge pushed him back and tucked under the ripped edges of his breeches. He closed his eyes to prepare for the pain.

 

She was so gentle. And her hands were so little. Nicholas concentrated on . . . on anything except what she was doing.

 

“How long ago did this happen?”

 

“About a month ago. It was magnificent timing.” He paused to concentrate on his words instead of the pain. “A day after

the battle, a letter from my sister found me, informing me of the advanced ill health of my father. I secured leave – easily enough with this injury – and set off with Charley’s help. It was only a matter of traversing parts of France on a poor version of a wagon, and swimming the channel, don’t you know,” he said with a wry smile.

 

Charley giggled.

 

The girl was immune to his attempts at humor, unfortunately. She pressed her thumbs into the upper muscle of his leg. Lost in a morass of pain, he tensed involuntarily.

 

“Try to relax, if you can. If you can’t, it’s all right,” she said.

 

She ran her hands along the length of his thigh, feeling first the top and underside. She changed positions and moved her hands upward and around to encircle his thigh. He felt an uncomfortable tightening and groaned.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said.

 

Nicholas opened his eyes and watched her slim hands move perilously close to, well, blast, to his unmentionable parts. If not for the unbearable pain and chills, he was sure he would have embarrassed himself if this lasted much longer. He had abstained from women of the willing persuasion for many months.

 

Miss Kittridge was so close that he could smell the clean, feminine essence of her. He felt paralyzed by the entire scene before him. He was in a truly laughable situation – with pleasure and pain vying for control. Her hands stopped, and she glanced at him. He could feel her breath on his face. He pushed her away. “Enough with the examination, Doctor.”

Left to right:

1. A Young Girl Readingby Jean-Honore Fragonar

2. illustration from 1815: The Armies of Waterloo by Ugo Pericolo

3. Houdin sculpture

4. Brewery by Gainsbourough

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