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Archive for the ‘Upstairs v Downstairs tales – Downton Abbey style’ Category

Sensual and Heartbreaking (1)

Set in Brighton…

The sounds and scents of the Crimean War are strangling Harry Marlow, shutting him off and silently smothering his soul. But he is a soldier and that is his life, and he can see nothing else besides that. So why should he care when a woman watches him? His life is not one to share with a woman, other than for a few moments in his bed.

When a woman is already drowning so deeply in sin she is without any fear of judgement – what can it matter if she chooses to begin a new affair? It is like escape to choose her own man and Captain Marlow is the perfect candidate for a dalliance. All she has to do is obtain an introduction…

* * * 

Ah, well. I sort of don’t know what to say. I have lived with the Marlow family for ten years, since writing the first draft of The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, so they have a very fixed place in my imagination and my heart. It is really emotional to say goodbye to them in this last book in the Marlow Intrigues series. Perhaps I will not be able to let them go entirely and they may pop up as extras in other stories. But it is time for me to turn time back and return to writing in the Regency period in a new series.

I shan’t say anything about my next series, but keep an eye out for it and one of the easiest ways to do so is to follow my author page on Amazon just search Jane Lark go onto the author page and click on follow. But to belt and braces it, why not follow me on Facebook and ask for emails when posts go up.

When you read this story, if you have been following the series and have a good memory of the first two books you’ll spot all the parallels in this story to both the Lost Love of a Soldier and The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, there was a deliberate resonance in many scenes and I also went back to using inspirations described by Harriett Wilson, a real Regency courtesan. You’ll find all of Harriett’s true stories on my blog. She was the inspiration for the whole of the Marlow Intrigues series, really. It would never have come to my mind if I had not read Harriett’s memoirs.

Harriette was known as quite tom boyish so she was also the inspiration for Charlie’s name.

So, thank you, Harriett Wilson! And thank you to all the readers who have followed the series, posted reviews and share the stories, to spread the word. I am very grateful for your support ❤

Excerpt

Chapter One

Gareth’s touch on Harry’s arm drew Harry’s attention away from his dog. ‘Is that not the woman we saw here yesterday?’

Harry looked across his shoulder and smiled. ‘I believe so.’

It was a blustery day and in the grey sky above seagulls called out as they played on the breeze, flying into it and then letting it sweep them back. The women’s skirts were blowing about their legs as they held onto the brims of their bonnets.

The dog barked because the stick had been lifted and not thrown yet. Harry looked at the waves and hurled the piece of driftwood he’d picked up to play their game. Ash turned and ran after it, all enthusiasm, inspired by the energy in the weather. A few minutes later the dog returned, with the stick in her mouth and her tail wagging violently Harry patted the Dalmatian’s head and took the stick from her mouth then hurled it into the sea again. The pebbles on the shore stirred with the movement of both the dog and the waves as Ash raced into the foaming water.

‘She is smiling broadly and my bet would be she is smiling at you.’

Harry glanced over his shoulder once more. The woman was speaking to her female companion, who from her appearance he would guess to be a maid. He looked at his friend. ‘Or you.’

‘No. Definitely you.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘I have neither the looks nor the reputation that make women whisper.’

Harry laughed as Ash returned. ‘You have a scarlet coat with epaulettes, the uniform works wonders, Captain Morris,’ he mocked his friend, then took the stick from the dog’s mouth and threw it into the shallow part of the waves again. Ash followed it.

‘The woman could not be more obvious. She has not taken her eyes off you.’

‘Then perhaps it is some young miss who has heard of my reputation and sees a monster to point at.’

‘She is not looking at you in disdain.’

Harry smiled at his friend’s amusement. He did not care why the woman was looking at him. Let her look. Ash came back and Harry threw the stick a few more times as Gareth continually glanced back and recounted how the woman continued to watch while she walked back and forth, beside her maid, along the path at the head of the beach.

When he’d had enough of being observed, like a spider in a jar, Harry looked at Gareth and suggested it was time to return to their barracks in Preston. He had to get back anyway. He was on duty later.

Harry walked off the pebbly beach as Gareth sent one last smile in the unknown woman’s direction.

They walked to the inn, where they’d left their horses side by side.

Ash kept close to Harry’s horse as they rode back, nipping at the horse’s hind legs on occasion if she had a chance.

Harry dismounted. The brick paved yard in the centre of the barracks was a huge square and the stalls about it held several hundred horses. He led Obsidian into one of the giant stable blocks, to her stall. He took off her saddle before brushing the horse down, while Ash retired to the corner of the stable and watched.

When Harry walked out of the stall the dog followed.

Ash slept under the desk by Harry’s feet as Harry served his hours of duty through the night and in the morning when Harry tumbled on to the bed in his quarters, Ash climbed up and lay beside him. Harry fell asleep as he stroked the dog’s ear.

A deafening explosion rang in his ears and it resonated through his chest. Then there were screams of retaliation and the thunder created by a cavalry charge. Harry awoke and sat up. His nose and mouth burned with the smell and the acrid taste of gunpowder and his mind was plagued with the sight of wounded men, blood and death. It was a relief to be awake.

He stroked Ash’s neck and the dog licked his cheek. ‘You, scallywag, Ash.’ He rubbed her stomach as she rolled onto her back.

Ash had come from a litter his sister Mary’s husband had bred for his son to choose from. Harry had been offered one of George’s spares. The offer had been the gift of more than a dog, though. Harry had been in need of something to make him smile and his sister had spotted his need and given him Ash. He’d accepted the gift for the kindness it was and chosen the runt of the litter, although Ash’s playful character had grown beyond the weak puppy he’d carried away tucked inside his coat.

The dog sat up and licked his face again. ‘Good day to you too, you silly animal, Ash.’

Ash’s name had come from Harry’s niece, Iris; Ash for the sake of the black dots on her white coat.

Having Ash to amuse and pet had helped still his mind. It had quietened the sudden, violent visions during the day. The impacts of fighting a farcical war without enough equipment, ammunition or food and medicine were cut deep into his mind and the scars opened up whenever he was idle. His nightmares were of the tents full of wounded men as often as they were of the battles. He’d seen more men lost to infection and fever than cannon fire or bullets.

He’d joined the army as an eager young man, keen to discover the thrills of the life of a soldier and leave the stifling safety of his family home behind. For years he’d lived carelessly, supported by them, with a casual disregard for anything but his own pleasure. He’d been a flippant young man, breaking all his righteous father’s rules, even when he’d first become a soldier. But that was not the man who had returned from the war. War had tainted him and his family had seen it. But good God, he did not even recognise the man he’d once been now. That innocent, foolish man was a stranger to him as much as this man had been a stranger to the family he had rebelled against for no other reason than to express his individuality.

‘Come along, let us go for a run.’ Harry shoved the dog off the bed, then climbed out of it himself. He washed and shaved, then picked up his dark-blue trousers and pulled them on. Next he put on his shirt, tucked it in and drew his braces up over his shoulders before putting on his black neckcloth. Lastly he slid his arms into his scarlet military coat. That last garment was the thing which defined him as a lancer, a cavalry man.

His fingers ran over the epaulette, which announced him as a captain, then brushed down the sleeve, knocking off any lint. He swept off the dust from his other sleeve and then secured the brass buttons in their regimental button holes, following an upward pattern. The routine of dressing each morning and returning himself to the man who was ready and prepared to fight, had become a ritual. He clothed his soul and his thoughts, hiding them to ensure they were never exposed.

He sighed out a breath. ‘Ash,’ he called the dog to his heel. They left his room together and walked to the stable to prepare Obsidian. The horse and the regiment were a family that understood him and they were his home now. The Crimea had set him apart from his family. The knowledge, the wounds in his head, were things he could never share with them, or his old friends. But everyone lived with such memories here.

Yet the dog had been a good thought of his sister’s. Ash was in his military family too. War may have set him apart, but his family still sought to reach out to the stranger they had found amongst them on his return. As his family could not look after him from a distance. Ash’s role was to watch him and lift his spirits when they were low.

Fifteen minutes later he was riding at a trot, with Ash beside the horse, as they travelled the two miles towards Brighton’s beach.

He could have ridden in another direction, but the sea always seemed to pull him towards it.

The taste of salt filled the air. He breathed it in and kept breathing slowly. It cleansed his senses of the haunting stale smells of the gunpowder and blood and the foul odours of death. He could see the sea in the distance through the avenue of houses.

He left Obsidian at the inn he regularly used for that purpose, then walked on with Ash, and a stick for Ash, ignoring the bustle of passing carriages and people in the busy street. Yes, the dog was a very good addition. Without Ash he would not have come to the beach each day. His visits to the beach had become his moments to escape—they would have felt like running away without Ash to entertain. With Ash these moments had become the sanctuary he ran to.

‘Fetch!’ he yelled as he walked out on to the pebbles and hurled the stick. Ash barked with loud excitement and her eyes followed the stick’s flight through the air.

Harry watched it too, isolating his thoughts and himself, shutting out his awareness of the bathing carts and those managing their occupants and the others walking on the beach, letting his thoughts slip out of the past and the echoes of the nightmare he’d dreamed.

He’d been invited to play cards with a retired colonel tonight. Colonel Hillier. He presumed because those playing believed he would bring money into the game, with a Duke for a brother. The truth was that he had already spent, or rather gambled away, most of the arrears of his allowance that had been given to him by his brother on his return to England. Equally, most of his pay that had built up during his months abroad had been lost at the tables.

But not all the money had been lost since his return; there had been many nights during the regiment’s progression towards the battlefields in the Crimea in which bets had been made and promissory notes written. Gambling on the outcome of a hand of cards had been the closest thing to freedom there.

The notes had all been called in and paid on his return and now he was poor until he received the next payment of his allowance from his ducal brother, or his next wage.

Laughter rang out behind him, in a woman’s tone, from the walkway along the head of the beach. The familiar sound pierced through the dustsheet he’d thrown across the world to separate himself from it.

He looked back.

The woman, who kept watching him, was there again. For the fifth day. With the same maid. He looked away, out to sea. He was not interested in any young misses. His life was not a life for an English wife…

OUT NOW 

The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8

The last book in the Marlow Intrigues series out in May and available to preorder

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback

 

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Frances Bankes

Frances Bankes

Your hosts are Henry and Frances Bankes, a happily married couple, who have lived for six years in the muddle of renovations, waiting for the moment they might entertain in their newly established great dining and entertaining room.

Henry Bankes

Henry Bankes

They have pictured this night for years, and once decorations in the hall were finally complete, what better time to show off their new home than to invite the local gentry, and particular friends, to a ball, or ‘Fete’ as Frances calls it. Of course Christmas is the perfect time of year for such a celebration.

So you have your invitation to Kingston Hall, at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Come in.

Carriage Drive

Carriage Drive

Your carriage draws up outside the newly positioned Ionic Porch.

You probably have to wait a little in a queue of carriages, while each carriage carefully unloads its passengers.

Keeping warm inside your own, your feet are on hot bricks and a blanket is over you lap.

Are you feeling excited, and wondering what the Bankes home will be like, and what entertainments to expect? Will any decent man ask you to dance? Will there be enough men for every woman to have a turn on the floor?

The night is very cold and Frances has invited one hundred and forty guests. This is no small affair and all the guests have been told to arrive exactly at eight.

You appreciate the comfort of the Bankes’s new basement level porch as you came in from the cold.

The previous entrance opened directly onto the old ballroom, and each guest used to bring in a rush of cold air.

But tonight you are coming into a cosy square porch, where the servants are not in livery, you here someone say they have been and hired or borrowed from all over the county, so no one need wait for anything.

They take your outdoor clothing.

The stairsThen you are encouraged towards the shallow pale stone steps on the left.

As you climb them, you face windows, which in the daytime would have given you a vista of the ornate garden and an avenue of Yew trees, but at night reflect back the light of the numerous candles Frances has invested in to keep everything bright.

The Hall leading to Ballroom

When you reach the head of the staircase you see into the ballroom and hear a guest walking within cry, “It is like the Palace of Alladin.”

Instead of going into the ballroom though you are directed to turn left, where Frances and her husband Henry wait to receive you in the newly ‘fitted up in yellow’ library.

They are wearing proud excited smiles, and Frances appears stunning. You have heard she is a renowned beauty and her The Libraryhusband is quite obviously still besotted, while his wife explains how she has planned everything and hired only the most attentive servants, and the best musicians from Salisbury.

Having curtsied to them both, and moved on to the drawing-room, before progressing, you stop at the refreshment table, and choose from tea, white or read wine, a glass of negus (hot sweetened wine and water) to warm you up from the cold night.

There is also orgeat on offer, a cool drink made from barley or almonds, flavoured with orange water, and of course, lemonade ‘everything that people call for on these occasions.’ Perhaps later when you’ve danced you will appreciate the cooler drinks.

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

Despite none of the servants being in livery, the ten maids behind the tea-table are all in pink. Someone jokes beside you, that Frances has declared it only a fortunate coincidence.

BedchamberWhen you ask if there is anywhere you might freshen up, you’re directed to Frances’s bedchamber where the door has been propped open and the room lit.

The added thoughtfulness of powder puffs, powder and lavender water are left on Frances’s dresser for you to use.

Frances has thought of everything, you’re very impressed, and wonder is this is the behaviour you might expect in London, had you ever been to such a grand affair in town. It is not normal in the country.

On entering the ballroom you are stunned by the bright light spreading from the ‘noble lustre in the middle’, the giant chandelier dominating the beautifully painted ceiling.

The Ballroom (3)

All the money Frances has invested in candles has made the room very bright and the flickering light is reflected by the gilded decorations. It does really feel like Alladin’s Palace as you take in the pink curtains.

The Ballroom (4)

There are so many servants available you need call for nothing more than once and yet they do not disturb the guests as they restock the constant supply of cakes, and tea and hot negus, all refreshed from pots boiling in Mr Bankes own dressing room.

Bedchamber  2

The Ballroom (5)

Frances jokes it is all established so she might not risk any damage to her new carpets by having nothing of that sort handed about.

The musicians start to play as the room begins to truly fill with all Frances’s and Henry’s guests, Parliamentary friends, and the élite of Dorset. You feel very honoured to attend…

The Bankes are one of those wonderful families who kept all their letters. So I can tell you exactly how it felt to be at this ball, thanks to Frances’s gushing letters to her mother-in-law. Come and dance next week, when the entertainment begins…

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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