Yesterday I debuted my first haiku ever in dedication to ROMANCING THE COUNTESS. And, as a result, I learned that I should stick to writing books. =) Today, I’d like to give you an exclusive excerpt to show that ROMANCING THE COUNTESS truly is much better in prose format.
The official blurb:
Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he'd married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend's widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets...Exclusive Excerpt:
Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband's affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there's only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other's arms....
Sebastian blinked as a footman swung the entrance door wide and beckoned him inside. Giving his card, he said, “I believe Mrs. George is expecting me.”
The footman bowed. “Of course, my lord. If you would follow me, please.”
Instead of leading him to one of the more formal receiving rooms as he’d expected, the servant continued up the staircase to the second floor, toward the bedchambers. As they reached the landing, Sebastian could hear Leah’s voice, strong and clear, so different from Angela’s soft, dulcet speech.
“That one to charity. No, not the striped one—the footmen can look over it first. And the hat—yes, the one with the red band. My God, how many hats does one man need?”
The footman halted before what appeared to be the master’s bedchamber. “The Earl of Wriothesly, madam.”
There was a noticeable silence, and Sebastian wondered whether she’d forgotten about the message she’d sent. Then: “Oh, yes. Please come in, my lord. It will be only a moment.”
Pausing at the threshold, Sebastian peered inside. While the room might indeed have once been assigned the role of bedchamber, it now resembled little more than a storage closet. Waistcoats, jackets, top hats, trousers—every article of a gentleman’s wardrobe was separated into haphazard piles, with some thrown onto the bed, others embraced by the chairs in front of the hearth, and even more scattered on the floor. As he watched, a short line of footmen and maids exited the dressing room, each carrying another stack of clothing. These were dumped at the foot at the bed, which seemed to be the only space unoccupied in the room.
Mrs. George came at the end, her arms wrapped around a tower of bandboxes, her head peeking around the side as she walked. After tumbling them into the center of the new pile, she turned around, dusted her hands together, then curtsied. “My lord.”
He should never have told her to remove the veil. Her eyes were too bright—dear God, sparkling even—her cheeks flushed, her lips creased in an upward curve which appeared inclined toward permanence.
Sebastian would have preferred tears. Torrents of them, in fact.
“You’re not wearing a widow’s cap,” he said.
She grimaced. “Yes, of course you would say something.” Gesturing toward the servants sorting behind her, she said, “I’ve decided it’s unnecessary. My clothes declare me to be in mourning, and the widow’s cap was only making me feel like a mare with blinders on. Besides, I’m in my own home, with no one to see me except the servants. And, well, you.” She paused, her lips tilting upward again in that annoying little manner. “I hope I haven’t offended you.”
Of course, she wasn’t sincere. Nothing about her appearance or tone could convince him that his opinion mattered in the least.
She was so damned happy, a novelty in his misery-shadowed world of the past three months. His servants, his brother, the other lords at Parliament—everyone tiptoed around him, careful not to speak too loudly or laugh in his presence. Only Henry dared to smile at him, his childish innocence leaving him oblivious to the despair which had settled over the house and all of its occupants.
But Leah George wasn’t a child who didn’t know any better. And even if she’d known of the affair months ago—even if she despised Ian for it—she should at least have the decency to be miserable, too. If not for his death, then for the knowledge that she’d been betrayed. For the sudden change in the life that she knew. For not being able to wear anything other than black, for the balls and soirees and musicales it was now inappropriate for her to attend. God, for anything, as long as she didn’t smile like that.
Sebastian responded with an emphatic frown, dismissing her as he glanced over her shoulder. “I see you’re cleaning.”
None of his maids had been sent into Angela’s rooms; he had yet to venture into her bedchamber himself. The temptation to sit there with her fragrance surrounding him, pretending as if she would soon walk through the door, as if none of it had ever happened, was too much. It was nearly as strong as the temptation to destroy everything and set fire to her memory.
Clearly Leah, however, showed no struggle in moving on.
She followed his gaze, shrugging. “Preparations for my return to Linley Park. For the servants and then for charity—much better than indulging the moths and rats, I thought. But come,” she said, moving toward a door at the side, “I know you must be impatient to learn why I asked you here.”
Silently Sebastian followed Leah through the adjoining door into another bedchamber—her bedchamber, by all appearances. Except for the large canopied bed swathed in dark blue drapes in the middle of the room, the decorations were decidedly feminine. Not the rose and cream femininity Angela had favored, but a delicate palette of light blue and yellow. Comforting instead of sensuous, the textures and furniture more practical than luxurious, and yet Sebastian couldn’t help but feel awkward as he entered. This was an intimacy he didn’t welcome, a view into her private life he didn’t care to see.
His gaze fell to Leah, who had already bent over a stack of odds and ends farther in the room. No servants traipsed back and forth here; only the voices emanating through the open door kept them from complete isolation.
With a glance over his shoulder, Sebastian moved closer until he could be assured only she would hear his voice. “We had an agreement, damn you.”
Her head shot up, her hands pausing in their reach toward the pile. Her gaze narrowed, she looked him up and down—a bloody measuring of his worth, it seemed—then returned to her search. “I recall. I’ve told no one the truth.”
“No? Perhaps you believe your servants are both blind and deaf, then. That they don’t realize how unnaturally happy you are a mere three months after your husband’s death. I don’t give a damn what you wear or say or how you act when you’re alone, but at least show some degree of decorum in front of others. If not—”
“Thank you, my lord.” She cut him off without looking up. “I believe I understand your meaning.”
“If not, people will begin to wonder why you aren’t mourning your husband, then try to discover a reason. It wouldn’t take long for anyone to suspect the truth, given the circumstances of their deaths—”
Sebastian snapped his mouth shut as she turned around, hating the fact that everything about her reminded him of Angela—not in similarities, but in contrasts. Her voice, her decorating style, and now, with only a foot between them, her scent. Rather than the warm, sultry combination of lavender and vanilla, he breathed in the artless aroma of soap: earthy, subtle, its only fragrance a slight hint of seawater.
He edged away, to the opposite side of the pile on the floor. Unclenching his jaw, he snapped, “Only to those who behave in such an obstinate and reckless manner.”
He should have felt contrite; he’d never spoken to a woman without the greatest deference. He’d certainly never cursed at one as he’d done earlier. But no guilt seeped into his conscience. Standing before Ian’s widow, this woman who served only to remind him of his loss, there was nothing but anger and frustration and an irrational desperation to flee.
Then she laughed, and there was also a great deal of annoyance.
“You think me obstinate?” she asked.
He hesitated, for her smile had grown wide at his response. Above all else, he didn’t want to do anything to make her any goddamned happier. Yet he refused to retract the words. Slowly, warily, he nodded.
The sun could have lost some of its brilliance, for all the pleasure radiating from her face.
Sebastian scowled. “You are quite contrary.”
“Oh, come, Lord Wriothesly,” she said as she knelt once more to the floor. “Wouldn’t you agree that ‘obstinate and reckless’ is much better than being obedient and wretched?”
“Recklessness can make one wretched as well.”
She glanced at him from beneath her lashes. With Angela, the gesture would have been seductive. Leah George, however, appeared only mischievous and sly.
Sebastian cursed. “As I said before, I don’t care what you do privately, but with others I expect you to act per society’s rules, lest the truth become known.”
“And I’ve already promised not to reveal your secret.” She chose an item from the stack of odds and ends, a small leather-bound book. “I am curious, however, what you think would constitute doing something reckless in private. Embroidering upside down? Reading the Bible in the bath?”
“Are you curious, or simply looking for ideas?”
As a writer, one of the things I like to do most is explore the vulnerability of my characters, as I think it makes them seem more human and much more interesting. In this excerpt, I show Sebastian’s vulnerability as he compares Leah—and his newfound awareness of her as an individual—to Angela, his unfaithful deceased wife. What characteristics or explorations do you most enjoy reading about in a romance novel? For example, there is strength, humor, bravery, etc.
One random commenter will be chosen to win a copy of my newest book, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS (open internationally)! Also, find out how to win the ROMANCING THE COUNTESS Book Tour Grand Prize of 50+ romance novels by visiting www.ashleymarch.com!