Today I’d like to share the blurb and an excerpt from Cerise DeLand’s story Interlude with a Baron. The Incomparables box set is currently available for pre-order (more information here) and releases on June 18, 2015.
Interlude with a Baron, by Cerise DeLand
After Waterloo, Drayton Worth watched the woman he loved suffer because of his failures.
Riddled with guilt he strives to improve Emma Bedlow’s dreadful existence, while cursing his never-ending desire for her. When he finally has the chance to convince her to share his life, she refuses. No man will control her ever again. She desires only an interlude with the charming baron. But Dray is determined to have much more.
Excerpt (Copyright 2015 Cerise DeLand, all rights reserved)
“You’re here at last.” Dexter Elgin hailed him with a wave of his hand above the crowd. His former colleague in Wellington’s army in Spain wore his artillery uniform, though neither of them still served in ranks. “Spotted you by that mop of hair, Ginger.”
Dray winced at the boyish reference to his red curls. “I’m glad to offer you speed and accuracy. Where’s Wellington?”
“In a meeting with the Dutch. You have news of your quarry?”
“Some.” Dray needed more absolute proof that Montroy was betraying them to the French. “I won’t ask for an audience until I learn more. I would say though that he’s here.”
Dex raised his dark brown brows. “What gall.”
“Indeed.” To spy on the British General Staff at their leisure was dastardly. But then, what else should they expect from a man who had turned coats so many times?
“I should not be shocked.”
“No,” Dray agreed. Dex knew of his mission. He’d been in the meeting with Wellington when the commander had ordered Dray to find proof of Montroy’s treachery or end the chase once and for all. “Where else would he prosper this evening?”
“Precisely. In the meantime, let’s get you a drink. You might even take up a set with a lady on the floor.”
Dray followed his friend through the crowd. He did love to dance. “Not tonight, I’m afraid.”
“What better way to get a full view of those present?”
Dray smirked. “You have a point. But I’ll have that drink first.”
The room was so crowded that working his way through the masses was a challenge. Worse, he covered his mouth as he coughed at the nauseating mix of tobacco and sweat, brandy and bad cologne.
“Lord Lansdowne! Oh, we are honored, sir.” The companion to the elderly countess of Penn appeared at his side, looping her arm through his. In her cups as usual, Janet Berwyn tried to train her eyes in his and failed. “My Lady Penn has anticipated your arrival. So has the Duchess.”
By this she meant the hostess of this ball, the illustrious Duchess of Richmond. But Dray knew this woman’s real purpose was to waylay him and lure him to a corner if she could. She’d tried that before. Often.
Dray gave her a polite smile, the better to get away from her and on to his purpose. “Good evening, Lady Berwyn. You look lovely and so far from home, too.”
“Thank you, good sir. Always a gentleman.” She tightened her fingers around his forearm.
Damn, she was a grasping creature. But then her actions were his fault. She had once been in his bed and wished never to leave it, but to tie him to her with vows and rings and her fortune in the bargain. Truth be told, he liked her enthusiasm in bed, but sadly, nowhere else. He patted her hand, then extricated her fingers from him. “I have business here, my lady. I must see the Duke.”
She sighed, intemperate when she wanted attention from him. “Do you promise to attend me after you’ve done your duty?”
“I cannot promise, but I will try.” She deserved that from him. After all, she had taught him much about the needs and joys of a woman in the throes of passion.
“Very well,” she said with a pretty pout. “Go if you must.”
“Come, my lady,” Dex coaxed her. “You know the value of our worth!”
Long an old joke among his friends in the Royal Artillery, Dray’s last name lent power to his reputation as a man who had been decorated often for his bravery on the field and off. That he was effective in military maneuvers and business, he would have liked to have attributed to his doggedness and his analytical skills. He measured his own worth by his profits in chemicals and spices and by the good health and rising prosperity of the tenants on his estates.
His value in the Royal Artillery, however, was measured by his commanding officer, the newly minted Duke of Wellington. And that man would ask him tonight if he had caught the traitor in their midst. And if not, when would he?
“We have the little Corsican to defeat, Colonel.” Wellington had said to him two days ago, his impatience with the chase doubled. “Get on with it before our good Englishmen turn the dust of Belgium blood red.”
Now Dray had to prove his worth quickly—or return home with his comrades in arms, defeated by the French and despised ever more.
Dex handed him a glass of red wine and he took it, parched from riding north for the past two hours and attempting to stay well out of sight of Montroy.
“How many are here?” he asked Dex. “It is a crush.”
“The Dutch general staff. Twenty or so. The Prussians, too. Another thirty.”
“The orchestra sounds good.” Too bad tonight he was not in the mood to avail himself of the music. Dancing seemed too light-hearted for the dreariness of the task at hand. The irony, too. How many men had the duty to prove a man a traitor—and ruin the man’s innocent wife in the process?
“Supper will be served soon. I hear there’s beef and fowl.”
“I’m ready.” Dray’s stomach rumbled. When had he eaten last? Breakfast was nothing but weak tea and an old army biscuit. “Where does the Duchess get her purveyors? Hell, we are scrambling to supply our troops. Many men are killing the local farmers’ cows and pigs.”
“They are objecting, too. Two dozen farmers came up from the south of the city today to complain to the old man about how the English and Scots requisition their animals.”
Dray sighed. “The price of ousting Napoleon from their land is their animals to our service. Someday we’ll supply an army with their own food, but for now living off the land is our only means. Better yet, we’ll decide to fight no more wars.”
Dex nodded. “May we see that day soon.”
Dray smiled at Dexter but froze at the vision in the far corner.
Dray’s stomach turned, angry at what he saw. Anxious, he grew dismayed that the one woman he had ever cared for would be here in the midst of preparations for the biggest battle Europe had yet seen in thirty years. “Women. Does it not seem obscene that we have so many women here nights before we plan a slaughter?”
“I agree,” Dex said, downing another swig of his wine. “But you know we may need them to nurse the wounded. Others argue it improves morale.”
“Does it? I doubt it.” The dark-haired beauty he was focused on did not appear to be enjoying herself. In fact, she looked dismayed. Her unusual aquamarine eyes, so large, so expressive scanned the room and came to land on the empty wine glass in her hands. Her gown, a lustrous white column, swept down her slight form. She was a sad angel amid this sea of brightly colored magpies chattering to men in brassy regalia. Em, dear woman, why the hell are you a hundred miles from London? You should be by a fireside where it’s warm and safe.
He stifled his urge to go to her. He had business. And she was too much a distraction. A young woman Emma’s age joined her and both smiled. Enjoying herself, she talked with her friend and leaned back to chuckle. He rejoiced with her. She’d known little laughter in her life. An only child, she’d grown up with a doting mother until the woman died when Emma was twelve. Her father had been a tyrant of the first order. Dray had the villainous evidence of that the day that man had refused Dray’s suit and ensured in a most heinous way that she marry a man with greater title and supposedly huge wealth.
“I say, Dray, it’s not good for you to wish for what you cannot have.” Dex frowned, well aware of the sad history between Dray and Miss Emma Bedlow.
Dray drained his glass and set it on a nearby tray. “Wellington. Lead me to him.”
Dray focused on his mission. Better to forget her, his step-brother Victor Cameron urged him often. “Lose yourself in other females. You’ll find one you can adore. I promise you.” The paradox there was that Victor himself had never fallen in love with any woman, though one couldn’t predict that from the vast numbers who had graced the Marquess Cameron’s bed.
Dray felt a tug at his sleeve. As he turned, he heard Dex warn him not to stop and talk.
But there stood Emma before him. Her wide-set eyes pleading, her mouth so sensual that young bucks in London clubs had bet on how well she kissed. None of them knew. But Dray did—and she had responded to him like a woman in love.
Dex sighed. “I leave you alone.”
Emma drank him in with limpid eyes. “Good evening, Lord Lansdowne. Or should I address you as Colonel?”
He’d not seen her since last August in Paris after her marriage. Then she appeared at a court reception with her new bridegroom for the new Bourbon king. She was still the ebony-haired siren whose ripe red lips and rare blue eyes made every man stop dead in his tracks with lust. But she’d taken one look at Dray and become subdued, teary-eyed, a gorgeous creature laid low by her father’s shameful sale of her virtue and good name.
“Madame le Comtesse.” Dray bowed as much for etiquette as to hide his surprise and delight that she’d taken the risk to address him. He rose and dare not kiss her hand. To hold it was more than temptation to crush her close and run away with her. “You are ravishing this evening.”
“Am I?” she asked barely above a whisper.
“I do not feel lovely.”
“You shine above all others in the room, my dear lady.”
Her plush lips turned downward. “I live for your praise.”
Christ, if only I could give it to you every day. “You should have it often from your husband.”
“I’ll savor what I gain from you.”
Complimented, anguished, Dray dropped her hand.
She put it to her bosom. Her eyes danced over every detail of his face. “How are you?”
“Well.” Broken. Lonely. “Busy.”
“I came tonight hoping to see you.”
His breath died in his chest. Jesus. “Em, you must not say such things.”
“I must.” She took a step toward him and the distance between them was much too close to be proper.
A purple blotch above the line of her bodice distracted him. What was that?
She leaned closer. “Dray, listen to me. I have to tell you that I wish you to live. To live well. To please take care the next few days. If anything were to happen to you, I would—”
“Please, Madame.” He stepped backward. Propriety might foster some sanity. His mind awhirl with her sentiments, he focused on the bruise at the top of her breast. He would kill the man who’d done that. Rip him apart in tiny pieces for it.
“Dray, please.” She put her gloved hand atop his and squeezed. “You must live well and laugh and love. Do it, Dray. Do it for me.”
“Em, do not say this.”
“Why are you talking with this man?” A tall grey-haired man stepped to Emma’s side and wrenched her hand from Dray’s.
Dray’s gaze bored into the crystal blue glass of his adversary’s eyes. “Take your hand from her wrist.”
The man snorted. “As if you have the right to tell me how to treat my wife.”
Dray seethed. “A gentleman always has a right to protect a lady from brutality.”
“She is mine, Lansdowne. I do with her as I wish.”
Dray checked Em’s expression. She glared at her husband and Dray rejoiced. She had gained courage in the past months since her father had let this creature abduct her and ravish her, then force her to speak vows before a minister. “She is to be treasured.”
“I treasure her, don’t I, ma petite?” The man said with a flare of his large nostrils.
She wrenched her hand from her spouse’s grasp. “I’m going to our lodgings.”
Dray said farewell to her with his heart in his eyes.
Fortunately, her husband did not make a scene and recapture her. He shot his cuffs instead. “Do that.”
Two tears dribbled past her lashes to her flushed cheeks. Catching up her skirts, Emma swallowed hard.
“She should not be here,” Dray told her husband and she shook her head at Dray in warning.
“She is my loyal wife. Are you not, ma chérie? She does as I say. And I want her here. She will be a good nurse, won’t you?” The man gave Dray a salacious wink. “Wouldn’t you like her tending your wounds, hmm? Bathing your…brow? Your aching—”
“Enough!” she spat at her husband.
The man cursed in French and caught her upper arm. “Come, come. Show us your finest manners, wife.”
“You show us none,” she replied.
“You’re a little—”
Dray seized the Comte de Rambouillet by the neck of his dusty Royal Foot Guard uniform. Raise him another iota and Dray would have him on his tiptoes. “Shall I dismember you here or in the street?”
With one hand, the man caught up Emma.
Grabbing the man’s other lapel, Dray shook him. “Unhand her.”
The man peered up at him. Since Dray had more than four inches in height and two stone in weight on him, the bastard demurred. He released her.
With a small cry, Emma hastened away.
Dray peered down at her husband, the animal whom he would gladly murder with his bare hands. “Cease your abuse of her, Montroy.”
“I may do as I wish with my wife. No man would stop me.”
“I will.” From hurting her or our cause here, I vow I will stop you.
“Ah, Monsieur le Baron, but then I would counter you because your pitiful heart is broken. Touch a hair on my head and I will put it abroad that you do it to gain her in your bed. That it was you who absconded with her and it was I who saved her reputation and saved her from ruin.”
“As if I would care what you say of me.”
“Certainement. You have no regard for the ton. You are a petit bourgeoisie who makes his living by trade.”
“Better than to make it by cheating at cards.” And by treachery.
“I have taken what was available from men of little intelligence.”
“To steal what is not yours and call it acceptable because it was possible is to live a lie.”
“I have no fears.”
Dray thought of the firing squad that awaited Montroy when Dray finally proved the man had betrayed not only his native country but also his adopted one. “Isn’t that a bit short-sighted on your part?”
Henri Montroy, the eleventh Comte de Ramboulliet, great-grandson of the Sun King, scoffed. “Never.”
Dex appeared at Dray’s side. “Wellington asks for you. He’s received a message of troop movements.”
Montroy shot Dex a look of alarm. “I must see the Duke myself.”
Dray stared the man down. “He asks for me. But do remember, Montroy, that never is like most absolutes, it does not exist.”
Dray would ask Montroy how much he feared again one day soon when the skinny bastard stood before a gallows or a firing squad.
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