Today I’m featuring Michele McGrath and her Regency boxset, Regency Belles & Beaux, as part of a short blog tour she is on.
I’ve asked Michele to tell us a little about the collection:
This box set contains my three Regency novels: Lady Alice’s Dilemma, Lord Philip’s Christmas, Miss Ridgeway’s Privateer.
The first two books are linked by their characters and by some of the events. The third is a stand-alone novel, based to a small extent on fact.
Lady Alice’s Dilemma:
In the middle of her first London season, Lady Alice Sutherland is shocked to encounter her renegade brother, Philip, at Lady Roche’s ball. Masquerading under another name and heavily disguised, why has Philip suddenly returned? If his true identity is discovered, Philip could hang for attempted murder. Alice finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue and violence as she helps her brother to fulfil his rescue mission. Standing in the shadows is her cousin, Edward, newly returned from the Peninsular War. Will Edward help or hinder her? Why should Alice care so much for his opinion?
Lord Philip’s Christmas:
Lord Philip Sutherland is unaware that, due to his father’s death, he has inherited the Earldom of Kirkmore. Philip’s youngest sister, Lady Alice, with her husband, Edward, and her companion, Grace Talbot, travel to Paris to find Philip and, if possible, to bring him home. All three are caught up in the turmoil which follows the Emperor Napoleon’s return from Elba. Accused of espionage, Philip escapes from France into Belgium where troops are gathering and where the battle of Waterloo is about to begin.
Miss Ridgeway’s Privateer:
Left destitute by her father’s death in the battle of Talavera, Lucy Ridgeway is sent to live with her grandmother in Ireland. Instead of her planned debut in London, her grandmother offers to present her at the Viceroy’s court in Dublin. These plans are interrupted when Lucy’s ship is captured by French privateers. One of her captors is the Irishman, Patrick O’Rourke, the ship’s surgeon, whom she has met before in unusual circumstances. Attraction is instant and mutual but … how can a well brought up girl fall in love with a pirate?
Here’s an excerpt from Lady Alice’s Dilemma:
Chapter 1 – June 1814
As the sweet sounds of the quadrille faded away, Lady Alice Sutherland walked off the dance floor, fanning herself vigorously. The weather was unseasonably hot for early spring, almost too hot for dancing, if such a thing was actually possible.
“Will you dance with me again, later on?” her partner asked.
“I’m sorry but my card is full,” she replied, without regret. Mr. Hardwick was an adequate dancer, but she was glad protocol forbade her from dancing with him again this evening. He was becoming far too particular in his attentions to her, despite her discouragement. He did not seem to be able to understand something as subtle as a hint.
“Then may I take you in to supper?” Mr. Hardwick persisted.
“Unfortunately no, I am already engaged with a family party,” she said, hoping that either her aunt or her cousin would come to her rescue. Otherwise she would have to hide from him until the meal was over.
“Then allow me to call on you tomorrow.”
“I would be pleased to see you.” Politeness dictated her reply, although, for an instant, she wished she might have responded differently. Mr. Hardwick possessed a monotonous voice and an interest in things that held no interest at all for her. A few minutes spent in his company made her long to scream with boredom. Alice was searching for a way to escape from him now when she was spared the trouble.
“Oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you.” Miss Kitty Maitland came bouncing over to them.
“The dance has only just finished this moment. You are acquainted with Mr. Hardwick, aren’t you, Kitty?”
“Of course, how do you do, Mr. Hardwick? I’m delighted to meet you again.” Kitty gave him her hand. “Excuse me, but I really must steal Lady Alice away from you, it’s urgent.”
Perforce Mr. Hardwick bowed and stepped back. He looked rather shocked at Kitty’s bold manner and not very pleased. Kitty only smiled at him, linked arms with Alice and pulled her away.
“Whatever is so important? You were quite rude to Mr. Hardwick just then,” Alice asked.
“He will forgive me.” Kitty’s smile was an urchin’s grin. “Gentlemen always do.” Alice readily believed it. Kitty was both lovely and blessed with a handsome fortune. Usually surrounded by admirers, it was rare for her to be alone and seeking the company of another female, even one of her bosom bows, as her cousin had become in the very short time they had been acquainted.
“I thought you looked as if you wanted to be rescued. Am I right?”
“Quite right, but no need to shock the poor man.”
“It will do him good. He needs to be shocked now and then. He’s far too prosy and concerned about his own dignity for someone his age. He’s an old man before his time. That’s why he prefers you to me, of course. You’re far more stately and dignified.”
“Am I? Alice enquired mildly. “I didn’t know it.” She was laughing inside and wondering what her audacious cousin would say to her next.
“To strangers and slight acquaintances, you are; with me, never.”
“No one could be dignified with you.”
“Forget Mr. Hardwick. If he had accompanied us, he would have been very much in the way, I assure you.”
“Where are we going?”
“Out into the garden. You will allow that I cannot go there unaccompanied. Think of what all the old tabbies would say about me if I did. After all, the moon is full, Lady Roche’s gardens are in shadow. Who knows what mischief I might get up to on my own?”
Alice laughed. “You rogue. You’ve dragged me away from the ball for some mad scheme of your own. You’ve never lacked for an escort before. Why do you need me all of a sudden?”
“I sent all my usual escorts away. Like Mr Hardwick, they would have been very much in the way. I can share my mischief with you; you know all my secrets.”
“Do I? Not quite all of them, I wager.”
Kitty giggled. “Perhaps not, but most of them anyway. This one you certainly do.”
“The gallant Captain Roper, by any chance?” Alice asked slyly, naming Kitty’s latest flirt. Her affections for him had lasted rather longer than those she had for the callow boys who usually surrounded her.
“How odd that you should say so. You know me far too well. I must cast myself on your mercy and beg you not to carry tales of me to Mama.”
“As if I would.”
“Then I will tell you that I saw Captain Roper go out onto the terrace a little while ago.”
“Kitty! You really can’t be suggesting that we run after him like a pair of hoydens?”
“How can you say such a terrible thing?” Kitty exclaimed, with a grin. “The night is so hot. Is it any wonder I prefer to walk in the gardens with my cousin, rather than dance in a stuffy ballroom?”
“Where we encounter the Captain, of course?”
“Quite by chance. A coincidence, no more. How could it be anything else?”
“You rogue!” Alice laughed. “Dragging me into one of your nefarious schemes!”
“What are cousins for? But you will be a dear and come with me, won’t you?” Kitty asked in her most wheedling tone.
“Don’t I always?” Alice said, abandoning her protests with a sigh. Being with Kitty was such fun. The only daughter and youngest child of the elderly Earl and Countess of Kirkmore, Alice had led a formal and lonely life, before she came to London. Older than the other debutantes in her year, Alice was delighted when her parents decided she was to make her come out at last. Her father’s younger sister, Lady Mary Maitland, Kitty’s mother, had written expressly to invite her.
Kitty is to be presented this season, now she has turned seventeen. If you let Alice come to me, they can make their debut together, which will be more comfortable for both of them. Alice must be nearly twenty by now. Time for her to be wed if she is not to dwindle into an old maid and become a burden to the family. Send her to me, dear brother, if you please, and I will do what I can to find her a suitable husband.
Alice had discovered Lady Mary was a kind and sensible woman, who enjoyed the frivolities of polite society without making them the reason for her existence. She was very different from Lord Kirkmore. Alice found it difficult at times to believe they were brother and sister. They were eldest and youngest of a large family, with many years between them, which she thought might explain the differences in their characters. Alice was astonished that her father had agreed to send her to his sister. Usually he ignored her, and his other children completely, living in a world of his own, surrounded by his books.
Lady Mary’s scheme had certainly proved a success. No longer under her mother’s watchful eye, Alice blossomed in the freer atmosphere of her aunt’s house. Kitty took an instant liking to her little-known cousin. Alice felt lucky to be welcomed into her circle of friends, a group intent on having as much fun as the season offered. They were totally unlike the rather prim and proper acquaintances Alice had made at home.
“There he is now.”
“Don’t point!” Alice pushed Kitty’s finger down, hoping it had not been seen. Alice often felt a tiny bit shocked at the freedom of her cousin’s behaviour, at odds with all she had ever been taught, but Kitty only giggled.
Two young men were sauntering towards them. The object of Kitty’s affections, seen in the flickering light of the torches that lined the paths, was the taller of the two. He wore the uniform of His Majesty’s Navy and his fair hair glinted gold. Alice had been told that he had commanded a sloop in the late wars and had now taken up a post at the Admiralty building in Whitehall. His actual task was a mystery. Whenever he was asked, he always changed the subject, which naturally made everyone agog with curiosity. Kitty had been teasing him to tell her, but he had resisted temptation so far. Alice imagined he was amused by the rumours circulating about his occupation.
“Who is his companion, do you know?” Alice murmured.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. Pretend to be nonchalant, they’re heading this way.”
As the two men came closer, Alice suddenly felt herself go rigid and she stumbled.
“What happened?” Kitty caught her arm and steadied her.
“Nothing. A stone turned under my shoe, that’s all,” Alice dissembled, staring hard at the stranger, imperfectly seen in the uncertain light. Less tall than his companion, he walked with a lithe swinging step that was familiar to her, very familiar. Memory stirred within her and she repressed a pang. Even after four years she still missed her favourite brother. It couldn’t be, of course, yet it looked so like him. How she wished it was him who was coming towards her, but even Philip would not do something so foolish as to return to England, surely? Her heart began to thump so wildly, she was sure everyone in the garden would hear it. The two young men halted and bowed to them.
“Lady Alice, Miss Maitland, what a delightful surprise,” Captain Roper said. “May I present to you my friend, the Baron de Vezey, who has just arrived in this country from France? Louis, these are my friends, Lady Alice Sutherland and Miss Maitland.”
“Enchanté, Mesdemoiselles.” The stranger bowed. For a second, Alice wondered. His voice sounded so French. Then he raised his eyes to hers and all doubts vanished. She recognised that look, none better. Doubt was replaced with fear for him and for herself, lest she inadvertently make a slip and betray him. In an instant her pleasant evening had changed. She fought hard to stop herself shaking. How foolhardy he was to walk into a situation like this! She forced herself to say as indifferently as possible,
“Monsieur le Baron.”
The Baron took Alice’s hand. Alice felt her fingers trembling and he gave them a little pinch, even as he kissed them. The slight pain brought her to her senses as he had no doubt intended.
“What a charming evening for a stroll in the gardens,” Captain Roper said, when the introductions had finished. “May we have the pleasure of escorting you?”
“If you please,” Kitty replied for them both, smiling up at him, and taking his arm.
“The pathway is not wide enough for four, Roper. You go ahead with Miss Maitland. Lady Alice and I will follow behind you,” the Baron said. He stood still with Alice beside him as they watched the two figures draw away from them.
“Philip?” Alice asked in a small voice.
“Wait a moment. Let them walk on a bit further.” His voice had changed from the strong French accent he had used during the introductions, to the voice she had known all her life. She forced back the tears that suddenly flooded into her eyes. She longed to fling her arms around him, but she could not do so here. Other people were strolling on the terrace and along the garden paths. She did not dare. Reminding herself that she must act as if he was the merest acquaintance, she took his arm and said softly,
“What are you doing here, Philip? I almost fainted when I recognised you.”
“I didn’t think you would be in London or I would have attempted to see you before, rather than meet you without any warning. Are Papa and Mama here with you?”
“No. Mama is not strong enough to present me at court, so I am staying with Aunt Maitland for the season.”
“Thank heavens for that.”
“No doubt Papa will come here post haste if he hears that you are in England again.”
“You won’t tell him?”
“I always kept your secrets when we were little, didn’t I? I haven’t changed.”
“Remember how you used to open a window for me when I came home late?” Philip grinned. “Provided, of course, I bribed you with bonbons or ribbons.”
Alice was suddenly transported back to one dark night when she struggled to unlatch a kitchen window to admit her soaking and dishevelled brother. They had both escaped censure that time, but they were no longer children and the consequences now were far greater than a beating if Philip was found in England.
“You took a great risk, coming into society again. Many people could recognise you and know who you really are. It is as well Kitty has never seen you before. I would not rely on her discretion if she had.”
“I make you my compliments, my dear. Your own discretion is admirable.”
“It was sorely tried this evening. But why did you come here, masquerading under a false name?”
“Strangely enough, I am not masquerading under a false name. True, I am not using Philip Sutherland any more, but Louis is also one of my names, as you will remember. The title of Baron de Vezey was granted to me by the Emperor Napoleon.”
Aghast, Alice took a step away from him and pulled her hand from his arm. Only a scant few months ago, Britain had been at war with the French Empire. For an Englishman to serve the tyrant in any capacity was high treason.
“You fought for that monster against your own country?”
“Easy, little sister. No, I did not. I fought no one, except with words. Take my arm again. There are people on the next path who are looking at us.”
“Why did Boney give you a title then?” Alice asked as they continued their walk.
“The Emperor employed many people, not only soldiers. When I had to leave home, I went to France, to Mama’s family. They had come back from exile and settled on their land again. They did not know about my troubles. Mama had not written to them, no doubt thinking them still in Germany. So they welcomed me and did not ask awkward questions. They used to praise Napoleon because he allowed them to return and for some of the changes he has made in the country. Cousin Victor was working in Paris. It was through him that I met Caulaincourt, the Duc de Vicenze, one of the Emperor’s diplomats and chief aides. He’s an honourable man who found himself in a difficult position. It was useful for the Duke to have another person who spoke fluent English on his staff, so he appointed me as one of his ADCs. It was a perfect place for me to be. I enjoyed the work and I had some success, which resulted in the gift of my title. Caulaincourt wanted to make peace with England long ago. I tried to help him as best I could. Although he was unsuccessful, I am proud to have known him.”
“Why didn’t you stay safely in France, then, if you were doing so well?”
“I could have stayed, but I can’t serve the Bourbons. They’re fools and buffoons. They want to turn the clock back to 1789. I won’t be party to dismantling all the Empire has achieved in the years since then.”
“There are other countries you could have gone to rather than here…”
“Hush, Roper and Kitty are coming back. I need to talk with you and tell you my story because there is something I want you to do for me. I’ll call at Aunt’s house tomorrow.”
“No. That must be one of the most dangerous places for you in all of London. What if she recognises you?”
“She hasn’t seen me since I was a scrubby schoolboy of nine years old.”
“Servants have long memories, don’t forget. Several of them would have accompanied her when she visited us at Kirkmore.”
“You worry too much, little sister. I’ve faced far worse dangers in the last four years than a mere morning visit to a respectable house, even this one. Trust me.”
About Michele McGrath: The award winning author was born on the beautiful Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea. She has lived in California, Liverpool, France and Lancashire before returning home. Living in Paris and Grenoble taught her to make a mean ratatouille and she learned the hula in Hawaii. Michele is a qualified swimming teacher and manager, writing self-help books on these subjects. Although she writes in many genres, her real loves are historical romance and fantasy. She has won numerous writing competitions, had second places and been short-listed many times.