RITA award-winning BESTSELLER . . .
Lord Will & Her Grace
ISBN 10: 0451214730
ISBN 13: 978-0451214737
Lord Will’s appetite for love affairs has landed him in hot water again. Fleeing from a furious family intent on securing the notorious rake for their daughter, the Marquis of Granville’s younger son finds refuge in quiet Burnham-by-the-Sea. Assuming the guise of a harmless dandy, William is as far away from London scandal as he can get, or so he believes—until he crosses paths with an audacious outcast . . .
Miss Sophie Somerset’s gauche behavior at the season’s balls makes her quite the topic of the London gossip columns—and crushes her attempts to marry. Without a proper aristocrat for a groom, Sophie’s future inheritance—a title and a fortune—is forfeit. Lord Will’s lessons in flirtation may help her succeed in courting the ton, but little does this future duchess know she trifles with the devil in disguise.
Please note: This Signet Regency is available in many ebook formats.
AWARDS / REVIEWS . . .
“Top Ten Romance of the Year”
~ An annual list compiled by The American Library Association /Booklist magazine. These are the top ten books chosen from over 2,300 romance titles each year by libraria
2006 Beacon Award Winner
2006 Write Touch Readers’ Award winner
***Showcased and starred review*** “With a zesty sense of humor, saucy wit, and sizzling sensual chemistry, Nash puts her own distinctive stamp on a classic Regency plot, and the results are simply dazzling.” ~ Booklist
“With Lord Will & Her Grace Sophia Nash comes into her own . . .with this one she strikes gold.”
~ Rakehell reviews
THE MUSE UNLEASHED . . .
Yes, all the fictional Regency era ancestors of the characters from the Emmy Award-winning television series, Will & Grace, can be found on the pages of my third book. Originally the book was entitled “Alexander the Rake” and the hero was Alex Barclay, the half-French, all-rake Viscount Gaston from A Passionate Endeavor. However when Alex’s outrageous valet, and the heroine’s audacious maid began to take over the book, I had to reconsider the story. And suddenly,Lord Will & Her Grace was born. The hero became Alex’s younger brother although Viscount Gaston does indeed make several key appearances in the novel. A painting by Gainsboro of the artist’s ill-favored nephew was how I pictured Lord Will. The essence of Sophie, “Her Grace,” is captured in the portrait of Lady Astor.
This book was a lot of fun to write. It was the novel that taught me how much I enjoyed injecting humor into my work. My favorite moment came when my editor read the first draft and suggested Jack (the valet) as my next hero. I almost fell off my chair. But then, I changed a few lines of the first draft and voilà, Jack is another hero-in-waiting, the ultimate closet rogue!
The heroine’s last name, Somerset, is the name of my first horse. The Villa Belza is, in reality, a villa in Biarritz, France that I’ve loved since childhood. It sits perched above the sea a short distance from my maternal grandparents’ estate. Also, lots of family names ~ Philippa, Agnes, and Crosby ~ are sprinkled throughout.
EXCERPT . . .
Ah, violets on soft flesh. Heavenly. A dizzying sensation long familiar yet always irresistible swept through William Barclay, younger son of the sixth Marquis of Granville. The lady nestling in beside him sighed softly and the bedclothes rustled and settled into place.
Oh, he was glad Miss Wyn — or was it Winter — had come to him after all. Abigails and governesses were his evening dessert of choice. They were not as vulgar as the rest of the serving class and not as jaded as the widows.
William breathed in more of her heady scent and stroked the back of her neck, twining downy tendrils in his fingers as he nipped her earlobe.
She giggled and lay still.
William smiled in the heavy darkness. He adored the innocent ones — or rather the ones who chose to play the virgin. It was amazing the little jewels of femininity one could find in the wilds of Yorkshire, far from the practiced coquettes of France, his mother’s homeland.
He grasped her hand and kissed it before placing it around his back. “Ah, ma petite chérie, I’m so glad you changed your mind,” he whispered into her ear. “I shall have to make sure you don’t regret it.”
He unbuttoned her night rail’s front line of closures with expert dexterity and kissed her, coaxing her to soften her locked lips.
She moaned and opened beneath him like a tight rosebud unfurling in summer’s heat.
He trailed kisses down her neck to the large swell of her bosom. She was better endowed than he remembered. No matter. He liked them all, small or large. Well, maybe he did prefer petite packages of femininity. But, an occasional foray into more padded fortresses could be quite satisfying too.
Long minutes passed and her breaths quickened.
A slow course of desire flowed in his veins. In the foggy sensual haze, a distant clock chimed four times.
She plucked at his back now, in mock nervousness, he was sure. “Ma chérie, have no fear. I won’t rush you. I must have time to enjoy this glorious feast.” He moved her hand to his derriere to feel her touch on his nakedness.
Another giggle escaped her lips.
Again he smiled and wished a candle burned so he could look into the abigail’s lovely violet eyes that complemented her violet scent. William deftly rearranged her nightclothes for better access. He tasted her breasts, paying each of them their rightful share of attention, teasing them to tightened perfection as his hands worked their magic on her generous lower curves. Her corsets had hidden well her ample charms.
She tensed then relaxed while he massaged her hips and dared to trace the warm skin of her abdomen.
Settling one leg between hers, he kissed her soft lips many more minutes until she seemed to almost purr. She was all pliant softness and smoldering desire.
She was ripe.
He sighed as he knew what would come next, surprise and delight mixed with a tinge of fear at his size usually. He moved her hand to the front of his body and urged her to touch him.
“Mon petit chou, it’s all right, I promise I shan’t hurt you.”
Another shaky giggle.
Ah, thank God she wasn’t naive. He didn’t deflower innocents, only imaginary virgins. He contemplated prolonging the pleasurable first course of this seduction or gorging on the main feast itself. She was very good, playing the shy maiden to the letter.
The sound of a knock on his door filtered through his mind. Then the noise of many quick steps in the hallway followed. In a thrice he bounded out of the warm bed and belted his velvet dressing gown as the door to his chamber banged open with a force that exercised the hinges to the utmost.
A portly gentleman with his nightcap askew stormed into the room, a gaggle of people with candlesticks held high illuminated his passage. “What are you about, Lord Will?”
A female shriek came from behind the enraged gentleman.
“Hush, Margaret. We’ll have no more witnesses to this atrocious display.” The older man grabbed a candlestick from a servant, strode to the bed, and flung back the covers.
The unwed, young daughter of the house lay in all her glory before the visitors. Of course. Her freckled, horselike face complemented her large girth and flanks. It would have been laughable if it had not been so tedious. At least she had rearranged her nightclothes before her exposure.
“How dare you, my lord?” Lord Tolworth’s jowls waggled back and forth like a hound on a scent. “I’ll have you horsewhipped after the marriage ceremony.”
“Marriage ceremony?” William replied, quietly examining his fingernails.
“You are beneath contempt, you half-French swine. I’ll not like having Gallic blood in my grandchildren’s veins, but I’ll see you married to my Penelope even if I have to lock you in the larder for the night. You Frenchies have no notion of honor.”
William looked at the large girl in his bed. He shook his head. His overindulgence in Lord Tolworth’s excellent brandy last night had cost him. How could he have mistaken this rotund girl of six and ten for her pretty abigail?
“And what have you to say, Lady Penelope?” William asked.
A nicker escaped her mouth as she brushed her chestnut-colored forelock out of her eyes. “Oh, my lord, I dare not countermand Papa.”
William stubbed a desire to throttle her. “Ah, I see.” Caught as effectively as a fox in a well-guarded henhouse.
“You’ve ruined her, you feckless, hot-blooded, good for nothing slubber de Gullion.”
“On my honor, Lord Tolworth, your daughter is as pure today as the day she was born, that is — as long as she hasn’t made a habit of frequenting the bed chambers of other male guests.”
A loutish hobbledehoy of no more than eight and ten lumbered past Lord Tolworth. He swiped at William’s jaw, but missed and almost lost his balance. “You’ll meet me at dawn on the north field to avenge my dear cousin, if you have any honor whatsoever,” said the young man whose heavy frame would challenge his uncle’s in several years.
“Actually, I don’t fancy dueling gentlemen who have yet to grow whiskers,” replied William.
Lord Tolworth stepped in front of his heir. “You’ll eat grass before breakfast, if you cannot find an excuse to avoid my challenge.”
The father looked barely more of a test than the thickheaded nephew but at least he was well past his majority. “Oh, all right, then, if you think it really necessary. Pistols or swords, my dear sir?” William asked with a slight smile.
“Not before the wedding,” cried his corpulent wife. “You promised!”
“Pistols, then — after the wedding,” replied the husband, halfheartedly.
Lady Tolworth swooned into her spouse’s arms. The housekeeper refused to dash away for the much needed smelling salts lest she miss any of the vastly entertaining goings-on. She patted her mistress’s hands ineffectually.
William successfully stifled a laugh when he noted one of Lady Tolworth’s eyes half-open and spying on him. He scratched his chin and glanced at the belligerent father. “It will be hard to comply if I am locked in your larder, my good sir. May I offer you my word of honor, as a gentleman of course, that there is no need to keep me chilled, as a good bottle of wine, before a wedding and an affaire of honor? A watch at my door will suffice, I assure you. Unless of course your intention is to keep me like a well-preserved, Spanish ham for a month while the banns are read.”
“We’ll not be needing the banns, my lord,” Penelope said. “’Tis but a half day’s trip to Gretna Green and father will take us — just like he did when it was Ginny’s turn.”
William looked down to rearrange the folds of his dark blue velvet dressing gown. “You are a veritable font of information, my dear.” It was fortuitous he had clothed himself in time; otherwise he would have felt a bit more guilty facing the premeditated inquisition. But then, he had always been lucky, if this situation could be described as such. He looked down at the bulging, watery eyes of the silly girl in his bed and wondered to whom he owed eternal thanks for the warning knock on his door.
Perhaps, once again, his faithful yet particular man, Jack Farquhar, had proved his weight in gold. Yes, it was to be hoped the fanciful valet could next perform miracles.
* * *
It was infernally hot in the ballroom despite the coolness of the early spring outside. A mesmerizing display of many-hued ball gowns swirled around Miss Sophie Somerset as she waltzed, making her even more dizzy than her constricting corset and the forceful embrace of her partner, Lord Coddington. She glanced about and was happy to see some of the Count and Countess of Hardwick’s footmen opening the French windows and doors leading outside of the glittering ballroom. If she were not so practical she would faint from the sheer heat of it all.
Her partner’s penetrating blue eyes and very pale blond, wavy hair fascinated her. He matched her height, unlike most of the other gentlemen whose noses tended to rest in her décolleté. He was decidedly the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen — a true prize among men, or at least as much of a prize as a titled gentleman with pockets-to-let could be.
But then, all the men who jotted their names on her dance card were well known to the moneylenders in town. It was the reason they asked. For what other reason would they seek an introduction to an almost on the shelf, blowsy spinster, albeit rich or very nearly rich, indeed? Sophie found it amusing how they managed to look at her with too keen an interest and yet disgust all at the same time.
Lord Coddington steered them toward the floor-to-ceiling French windows. The room seemed to tilt and become foggy as he waltzed beyond the nodding palm fronds in the planters near the closest window. Outside, they danced along the narrow balcony.
“You are one of the most attractive ladies of my acquaintance, Miss Somerset.”
Before she could offer thanks, his head tilted toward hers. He was about to kiss her! How delightful. She closed her eyes and leaned into him to claim her first kiss. Her first real kiss — from a man to a woman — not like the ones from her papa. Suddenly, the whirling sensation ceased. She encircled her arms about his neck to more fully enjoy the sensation.
Sophie relaxed into his embrace as he tightened his hold around her waist.
At first she was aware only of her breathing, of his breathing, then the sounds of the night insects humming became clearer when the music ceased. A loud buzzing grew, overtaking all other sounds. He broke away from her.
“Miss Somerset, I fear we are causing something of a sensation,” Lord Coddington whispered. “I would not blemish your fine reputation for the world. I’m sorry we cannot continue — what you so delightfully initiated. May I presume the honor of calling on you tomorrow?” His tone hinted of distaste and his smile was tight.
What? He thought she had begun the kissing?
Sophie turned in horror to find what seemed to be the entire gathering in the ballroom staring at her. What on earth was she doing next to another set of French windows? She was sure Lord Coddington had waltzed them to a deserted corner.
She looked up to find him edging away from her into the ballroom with a smug expression.
A few giggles erupted from the ballroom and she noticed the cupped hands and the rounded eyes of many females gossiping and tittering in front of her.
She heard whispers of female venom, “ill-bred hoyden heiress — another exhibition of fast behavior . . .” and, “ . . . gel’s reputation is beyond tatters now, poor dear.” Ah, revulsion she could swallow, but a true show of pity, she could not.
She was suddenly cold, colder than the frostiest winter day in Wales. She turned and tried to flee, down the steps into the garden, into the fog. Oh, she was so cold . . . and her feet wouldn’t move.
* * *
Sophie woke with a start. She was freezing. All of the silk-satin bedcovers had slid off the bed and the pitch darkness proved that the fire had burned out in the hearth. She shivered and struggled to haul the covers from the floor without placing her toes on the massive bedchamber’s icy cold floor. What a horrid nightmare. It had been so real. Her teeth chattered as she gathered the bedclothes tightly around her body. And then she stilled.
It had been so real, just like the ball tonight. She closed her eyes. Just exactly like tonight. Only she had not been able to escape from the hard, calculating stares of the crowd. Oh no, she had had to pull herself up, walk into the ballroom, where she had been unable to perceive her cousin Mari or her ancient aunt. She had stood there like a complete dolt, gawking at the many faces. She was sure everyone had been able to see her heart pounding below her inelegant bosom. It had been altogether the most embarrassing moment in her nine and twenty years.
Her only consolation was to be found in the considerable form of her aunt who suffered from very little rational conversation after consuming a vast quantity of ratafia. On this occasion, instead of chastising her niece yet again, she had chosen to sleep off her overindulgence during the whole of the miserable carriage ride back to the townhouse. Mari had been unable or unwilling to make light of the event. That had been left up to Sophie.
“So do you think it was worse tonight or did last Tuesday’s disaster equal it, Mari?” Sophie rearranged the plumage of her dozing aunt’s headgear that kept poking her in the face.
“Hard to say, dearest.” Mari grimaced as the carriage wheel negotiated a spot of uneven cobblestones.
“So kissing in public is worse than having someone spill lemonade on me, thereby — let’s see, how did that vile Lord Busby describe it? Ah, yes — ‘allowing my voluptuous charms to peek through my amusing gown?’” Sophie, exasperated, removed the offending hat from her Aunt Rutledge’s head as the grande dame began snoring in earnest on her shoulder.
Mari sighed and rested her forehead in her hand.
“Well, I hardly think I should have been blamed when Lord Busby was the one trying to put his hand down the front of my bodice. It’s not like I wasn’t trying to fend him off.”
“Dearest, we’ve been through this before.”
“I know, I know. If his wife and her circle of friends hadn’t come upon us, naught would’ve been said.” Sophie looked out the small carriage window. “Ah, Mari, come on then. You promised to cheer me up.”
“Hmmm,” her sweet cousin intoned, tapping her fan on Sophie’s arm. “Well it won’t help at all to remind you that you shouldn’t have been kissing tonight at all, public or privatelike if you ask me. Especially after the old goat pawed you last week.”
“Oh, but Mari, Lord Coddington was so very beautiful, don’t you think? And I did so want to be kissed, at least once in my life. It was ever so interesting——until he showed his true colors that is.”
“I just wish you had waited for the kisses until after you were married to a right and proper Londoner,” Mari said. “Your nob of an uncle would turn in his grave with these goings-on and it just makes it all the harder to carry out the terms of your inheritance.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sophie said, pulling up her bodice and losing the war to curb her unfashionable, full curves.
“They’ve seen my ‘charms’ and know all about the possibility of a windfall. What more can they want?”
“Cheer up, dearest,” Mari said, patting Sophie’s hand. “There’s always tomorrow. And there are all those shops we have yet to see. And after all, we’ve only been here a month. I’m certain you’ll succeed in finding a husband.”
The clock struck four, bringing Sophie back from her reverie of the evening’s events. She closed her eyes and shook her head, dropping onto the downy pillows of her bed, which provided precious little comfort on the dawn of what promised to be another miserable day in London. Why, oh, why had she ever agreed to leave her beloved little village in Wales?
Sophie was struck anew with the same thought a mere ten hours later as she sat waiting for the blond perfection of Lord
Coddington to mount the stairs to the morning room after being announced. Sophie shifted uncomfortably on the settee.
She and her new intimidating French lady’s maid, Mademoiselle Karine, had taken great care in Sophie’s toilette and dress today. The new corset, which managed to suppress her bosom even more than the last torturous device, as well as the tight bodice of the white morning gown, constricted her lungs in a way that made it difficult to breathe. But Aunt
Rutledge had insisted she wear it. Karine had looked her over from head to toe, then she had shaken her head with displeasure and muttered her opinion in French so no one could understand.
Oh, how much better and easier it was in Wales where she could wear anything she wanted as long as it was modest and serviceable. Her father had even let her wear pantaloons on the days she had been allowed to go fishing or hunting with him.
The handles on the double doors moved and a liveried footman entered and bowed with Lord Coddington on his coattails. “His lordship, miss.”
Sophie rose from her perch and became lightheaded. She curtsied and nodded. “My lord.”
“Miss Somerset, delighted.” Lord Coddington looked anything but.
“You find me alone, sir. My aunt and Miss Owens are out, paying calls.”
“So the butler informed me. But as I had something particular to say, perhaps this is for the best.”
Sophie felt as if she were playing a part in a bad comedy at the Drury Lane Theatre as she reseated herself on the edge of the settee. Her aunt had insisted Sophie stay behind to hear the gentleman’s proposal.
Lord Coddington, playing his role to the hilt, began pacing as he gripped the edges of his tall beaver hat. “Miss Somerset, from the moment I first saw you I knew our lives were destined to become intertwined.”
Sophie had the horrible urge to giggle. Her tight undergarments helped curb her initial instinct. She sighed. He was a very handsome man.
His dark blue coat accentuated his broad shoulders and just the correct amount of white froth tied in a dazzling knot appeared below his chin. His boots showed not a speck of dirt despite the rain earlier this morning.
She looked down at the tiny gravy stain on her gown from a hastily eaten meal and placed her hand over the mark.
What was he saying now?
“I have been given the blessing of your aunt and my family to pay my addresses to you. But I am sure this is no surprise. And I feel I must offer for your hand in marriage to atone for the newest blemish on your name. Would you do me the honor then, Miss Somerset, of consenting to become my wife?”
It was clear from his proud posture, his patronizing tone and his gaze, which rested on a point just above her shoulder, that he had no feelings for her at all. She could be a codfish for all he cared as long as she brought her possible windfall to the union.
Oh yes, Miss Codfish married to Lord Coddington. A perfect match. She giggled.
“Miss Somerset? Do you find this interview amusing then? Is this your answer to my declaration?”
“No, my lord. I’m sorry if I have caused offense. I am honored by the condescension you have shown me.” Sophie stopped speaking. For the life of her she did not know how to continue.
She was in London to contract an arranged marriage with a suitable nobleman of the Upper Ten Thousand. This codfish, er, gentleman was eminently qualified. But his dazzling blue eyes and light hair left her feeling unnerved.
Could she spend the rest of her life looking at his icy expression every day and worse, perform the most intimate act with him? Surely there would be other suitable offers. But could she risk rejecting the addresses of her aunt’s favorite? A gentleman who would satisfy, without question, every condition stated in the will of her late uncle, the fourth Duke of Cornwallis. The union would also fulfill the requirements of the unusual patent of nobility that allowed the duchy to be passed down to a female.
“Well, what is your answer?” Lord Coddington tapped his cane once loudly on the wide planked wooden floor.
Sophie took a deep breath but was forced to stop midway into the effort by the unyielding undergarment. She panicked and became extremely dizzy. She prayed she wasn’t going to faint, but the edges of darkness were already radiating around the edges of her vision. Oh, she was about to embarrass herself and her family yet again.
Left to right:
2. The Villa Belza in Biarritz
3. Lady Astor