HQN Books (NA)
Book 1 in the Brides of Fortune Series
Laura, Dowager Duchess of Cole, has sworn never to marry again. But the arrival of Dexter Anstruther, the man with whom she once shared one forbidden night of passion, throws her plans and her heart into turmoil. Laura knows that the secret she is keeping from Dexter would destroy any chance of a future together. But can she keep her secrets and keep Dexter at arm's length when he is so determined to rekindle their passion?
Excerpted from Chapter Three
He heard a knock and a step in the doorway and turned to find Laura there, her arms full of clothes. She was staring at his naked torso and a deep pink colour stained her cheeks. There was confusion and shock in her eyes. The clothes slipped from her hands and she made a grab for them even whilst her gaze was still riveted on him.
“I’ve brought… Um… Did you…”
Dexter was surprised that she was acting like a startled virgin when she was an experienced woman, a widow with a child. Surely there was no need for any pretence between them after all that had happened? And surely she did not possess an ounce of modesty? In bed with him four years previously she had been open and generous, warm and wanton. Her sweet, seductive shamelessness had been one of the reasons that he had fallen so disastrously in love with her. It had seemed so honest and unguarded at the time.
But she had put him right quickly enough on that score. She had no use for him and his devotion, so she had said. And when she had had him in her bed once it seemed that she had no further use for him in that respect either.
“It would be best for you to leave now,” she had said in the morning, with a cool, aristocratic disdain that had made him feel utterly insignificant. “I would not wish the servants to find you here…”
Yet now it seemed that she had forgotten her indifference to him, since she was staring like a woman who had never seen a half-naked man before and looking flustered and more than a little intrigued. Her glance stirred something sensual in Dexter, reviving the fire he had only just managed to damp down.
Somewhere at the back of his mind a voice was cautioning him that to take this any further would be dangerous and irresponsible. He ignored it. He wanted to know if what he had experienced before with Laura had been no more than vivid imagining. He needed to know. Once he had exorcised the power she had over him, once he had proved that there was nothing special about Laura at all, he would be free of the past and this curious hold she seemed to have over him. And this time he could control his feelings. This was not like the time four years before when he had been an inexperienced youth. He was at no risk of falling in love with Laura Cole all over again.
Very deliberately he bent down and eased off his boots. When he straightened up Laura was still staring. With calculated intent he started to unfasten his trousers.
“Did you want me to take these off as well?” His voice had a rough edge to it.
Laura’s eyes met his and there was a confused and heated expression in them that made the lust slam through him, tightening its grip on him even as he cautioned himself not to lose control.
“Stop! No!” Laura seemed to wake from a trance. She thrust the pile of clothes down on the table and glared at him. “What are you doing?”
“I am removing my wet clothes,” Dexter said. He allowed his gaze to drift over her appraisingly. “You should do the same, your grace. You look,” his voice dropped, “most dishevelled.”
He saw Laura swallow hard. Her hazel eyes darkened further and the unconscious desire in them sent another jolt of lust through him. The warmth of the room, the intimacy of the small space, the heady scent of lavender and his semi-nakedness were a powerful blend. Dexter took a step towards her.
He had not intended this when first they had met. He had certainly not meant to provoke Laura or tease her or make love to her. Such a course of action was completely irrational. But she was standing there with her hair tumbled about her shoulders and the damned gown still clinging to every curve and he wanted her. He wanted her with all the raw longing he had known four years before. And he wanted to prove that he could master that longing and take one kiss and that it would mean absolutely nothing.
He took another step towards Laura. She took a step back so that she was trapped between his body and the warming room door. She was clutching the pile of garments to her breast now like armour.
“You were swift enough to help me out of my clothes the last time we met,” Dexter said, “and you know that your concessions to propriety are only for outward show.”
End of Excerpt. Like It? Order It!
“(A) riotous regency romance with its tantalizing twists, intelligent plot, and delightful banter. An intriguing and spirited romance that you won't want to miss!”
— Fresh Fiction. Read the whole review.
"Captures reader’s hearts and minds from the very first page. I can’t wait for the next books in this delightful series."
— Historical Romance Writers
4 ½ Stars!
"A well-written, entertaining scorcher of a Regency set historical romance... be sure to crank up the AC while reading this engaging page-turner! The sexual tension between Dexter and Laura is palpable and superbly written."
— The Romance Readers Connection. Read the whole review.
"Confessions of a Duchess is... edged with a cunning witticism, sharp intrigue, and the eroticism of an uber-passionate dream. Nicola Cornick gives stellar 'pen' with the first instalment of her Brides of Fortune series."
— Chris, Romance Junkies. Read the whole review.
"An emotionally charged story that tells how a love lost and then found can heal a wounded heart."
— Romantic Times BOOKReviews.
"A moving and amusing novel and an intriguing start to a new series, The Confessions of a Duchess has a well-crafted plot with many threads and lots of interesting characters. You'll be doing yourself a big favor if you get and read the character rich The Confessions of a Duchess."
— Romance Reviews Today
"(A) wonderfully original, sinfully amusing and sexy Regency historical by the always entertaining Cornick."
"The Confessions of a Duchess is an intelligent Regency romance starring a strong secondary cast and two likable lead protagonists. The story line is fast-paced and amusing."
— Genre Go Round Reviews
— SingleTitles.com. Read the whole review.
"This series shows real promise. A very lovely read."
— Rakehell. Read the whole review.
"This book is a wonderful trip through romance and a little mystery. Great read and I look forward to the next one in this series."
— Mary J. Gramlich, The Reading Reviewer. Read the whole review.
The spark for the whole Brides of Fortune trilogy idea came from an article I read in a national newspaper. A businessman had bought the title of Lord of the Manor of a village in Kent. Once installed, he discovered that there were various ancient rights and privileges associated with the title. He decided to revive these and put forward the idea, amongst other things, that people should pay to walk their dogs on the village green and to park in front of the village shop. Not surprisingly there was an outcry from the villagers, who objected to this high-handed behaviour on the part of their new “lord”!
This gave me the idea for the “Dames’ Tax” whereby all unmarried women in the village of Fortune’s Folly are obliged to give half of their wealth to the lord of the manor if they do not marry within six months of him coming into the title. Whilst I freely admit that the Dames’ Tax was pure invention on my part, I did research various other real taxes existing at the time. These included the tax on dogs, which was in force until 1882, the tax on male servants, abolished 1852, and the tax on racehorses, which only ceased in 1874. These were all taxes paid on a national basis.
Most local taxes, known as “scots” were abolished in England after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, so in order for Sir Montague Fortune’s revival of local taxes to have any historical authenticity I had to find a way in which his village might be exempt. One way that presented itself was for Fortune’s Folly to have been a church enclave where the abolition did not apply. Thus the series starts with Sir Montague discovering to his glee that the abbey church in Fortune’s Folly had exemption from the 1660 abolition.
Many of the medieval taxes were paid to the church and naturally many others were weighted heavily in favour of the lord. However the Fortune’s Folly villagers, to get their own back for Sir Montague’s greed, in turn revive those taxes that give them the advantage: Pontage, by which they charge a fee to cross the bridge in the village, pannage, the right to let their pigs roam in the lord’s woods, and foldage, sending their sheep to manure Sir Montague’s beautiful rose gardens! Laura Cole, the heroine of The Confessions of a Duchess, leads the fight back!
It fascinated me that some of the ancient laws and taxes are still legal in the UK today. Mostly these are laws such as wood penny, which is still applicable where I live: for the payment of a nominal penny a year to the local landowner we have the right to take his wood for our fire. Other laws and taxes serve as great inspiration for story ideas but I would not want to see them revived…