Thursday, September 30, 2010
Excerpt From Her Timeless Obsession By Tina Ordone
Excerpt From Her Timeless Obsession
"Are you quite all right, Honoria? You look frightfully pale."
Honoria turned toward the voice, which was male and ever so whiny.
"I am not feeling quite the thing, Bart. Of a sudden, I have an excruciating headache."
"Well, for goodness sakes, that is good fortune. You may have just provided us with a capital excuse to avoid this soiree. I can't imagine why we were invited, given that I have made no secret for my dislike of our host."
The crested, well-sprung carriage creaked along London's streets. The steady clip-clopping of the horse's hooves on the cobblestones pounded through Honoria's head. The megrim had come upon her so suddenly and so profoundly it caused her to develop concern. These things usually increased in intensity gradually, not slammed in like bulls breaking china.
"I will do no such thing. We have been invited for the evening, and I will attend for the evening. You are welcome to see me to the door and leave, but I am staying."
"You are an impossible baggage," he grumbled.
"I love you, too."
The rest of the drive was mercifully short and quiet, but for the incessant clopping of hooves. Honoria was not prone to illness and this ache in her head annoyed her at best, given this could prove to be a very important evening.
The carriage stopped before a three-story townhouse with dark red brick and bowed windows facing Bruton Street. The red door and large brass knocker were very much like those at Danby Terrace.
Honoria's heart beat rapidly, which made her head throb all the more. Tonight was to be a most auspicious occasion, as she could well meet her future. A liveried footman, replete with white wig, opened the carriage door and aided in her alighting. The house was brightly lit, as would be expected for such a grand gathering.
"Are you all right? I can make our excuses straight away, before the carriage pulls off."
"You must stop, Bart. You've seen me safely to the door and you may leave if you so choose, but I am staying."
Before he could protest further, they were greeted by a distinguished gentleman, presumably the butler. With an ever so proper bow, he ushered them into the immense entrance hall and on to a large drawing room. The sound of harp music wafted over the assemblage and chatter from all corners hummed around them. Finely dressed gentlemen and ladies milled about, as they smiled and complimented one another.
A lovely woman in her late forties, possibly early fifties, approached with a welcoming smile upon her face. Her hair was brown, flecked heavily with silver and her blue eyes shone with genuine friendliness. Honoria was set at ease in an instant.
"Welcome, my dear. Please, my lord, I am sure you know most everyone. I must take your sister with me."
With no further words, Honoria was being propelled across the room. They passed the pianoforte and the lovely porcelain statuettes of Greek goddesses which seemed to adorn every flat surface in the room. The lovely long mullioned windows were dressed with elaborate claret-colored draperies, held open by large gold ropes. It was breathtaking in its beauty. Danby Terrace had been a bachelor establishment for so long, she'd forgotten the importance of a woman's touch.
Her hostess motioned for a gentleman to come forward, which he did with the aid of a black cane, his limp being rather profound. He was quite handsome and Honoria was sure her heart skipped a beat.
"Dear, our guest of honor has arrived. Miss Honoria Danby, I wish to present my son, Jeremy Saintaubin, Marquess of Galmore."
Before her stood the singularly most stunning man she had ever laid eyes upon. Her tongue seemed to swell in her mouth, making articulation not only difficult but near impossible. While he steadied himself with his cane and offered her his other hand. She placed her hand into his gloved palm, she immediately felt his warmth radiate up her arm. She felt her face flush, which by the slight chuckle he emitted, he very well noticed.
"It is an honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Danby. My mother has told me much about you, to the exclusion of nearly every other sensible thing that could be said. I find, however, that her description of your beauty was vastly lacking." He bowed deeply, releasing her hand as propriety dictated.
Honoria curtsied, causing the marquess to chuckle almost inaudibly. "Well, done, Miss Danby."
"Thank you, my lord." She could think of nothing more to say and with that, her head commenced pounding as though someone were playing drums behind her eyes.
"Would you care to stroll around the room, Miss Danby? I could introduce you to those assembled."
"That would be very nice, my lord, though I do recognize several people already."
Galmore offered his arm and escorted her from group to group. He acquainted her with everyone who'd so graciously accepted his mother's invitation, so as to make it less obvious that the others were simply window dressing for his mother's grand marriage plan. Clever woman, the Most Honorable Dowager Marchioness of Galmore, Jeremy thought. Her matchmaking knew no bounds.
Above all else, Honoria was thrilled to meet her boon friend, Cornelia Nevison. They had been friends for an age and chattered like two birds when together. Honoria made the appropriate introductions, but noticed that Cornelia didn't seem anxious to forfeit the company of Thomas Lawrence even for a few moments.
"She seems quite lovely," the marquess said, which caused Honoria a flash of confusing jealousy.
"Yes, she is and she is quite smitten with Mr. Lawrence."
Galmore laughed and Honoria prayed he hadn't suspected her motive behind the discourteous remark.
"It appears my mother has planned dancing at our little gathering. Might I engage you for the waltzes as well as the supper dance?"
"Why, my lord, we will have tongues wagging."
"I am your host and you are the guest of honor. It seems perfectly acceptable to me."
Honoria smiled broadly. She was so at ease by his side, she felt as though she'd somehow met him before.
Honoria scanned the room, smiled at acquaintances, observed the interactions of those in attendance. "Your sister seems most affable, my lord."
"Yes, Martine is wonderful. She is quite the society maven. I am afraid that the same cannot be said about your brother. Pardon me, but does the man ever smile?"
"I am afraid he is rather churlish by nature."
"I remember him being under my command in the Light Infantry. He seemed to have an instant dislike for everyone around him."
"That would be Bartholomew Danby." They both laughed quietly. She enjoyed the shared jest. The sound of his deep laughter warmed her through.
The marquess seemed to harbor no wish to share his company with anyone else. They danced a waltz, though she sensed it was difficult for him. She admired him for making the effort, and she worked very studiously not to step on his foot. Dancing had never come easy to her, more for lack of attention to the dance master than natural ineptitude.
The grand march to the dining room was led by the Marquess of Galmore and Honoria, followed by the dowager marchioness and Bartholomew, Viscount Greenley, then the rest of the invited guests. Small place cards indicated where each person was to sit and to her delight she was seated to the right of her host with his mother on his left. Honoria was thrilled, but sensed that she had somehow been in this exact scene before. She couldn't understand, but sense it she did.
"May I say, Miss Danby, that your dress is most lovely," Galmore said with a whisper.
Whispering her reply, she said, "Thank you, my lord. It is one of my favorites." She'd chosen her green sprigged muslin for the occasion, knowing how it complimented her flaxen hair and green eyes.
Galmore talked of his country estate, which interested her immensely. Her happiest times had always been at her family's estate in Kent.
"So your tenants raise sheep, my lord?"
"Among other things, yes and quite successfully. I was quite pleased with last year's wool yield and this year promises even greater strides."
Jeremy changed the subject entirely when he asked, "Miss Danby, what do you enjoy reading?"
Honoria sensed this was a test. "I read in three languages, my lord, but especially enjoy Greek. I have read all of the tragedies in their original form." She felt quite pleased with herself.
"Are we a bit of a bluestocking?" he whispered.
She nodded, embarrassed now at her braggadocio. Bluestockings were not particularly revered amongst those on the marriage mart. However, she was in the soup now, so she forged ahead. "I do enjoy reading, yes. I've no patience for embroidery or singing. God did not grant me a pleasant singing voice, and I have steadfastly refused to inflict it upon captive ears."
Galmore burst forth with a belt of laughter, which drew the attention to himself and the lady to his left. She felt her face flush once again.
"I find you delightful, Miss Danby, and your voice is --" He was stopped in mid-sentence, when, from two seats away, Lord Greenley cleared his throat rather loudly. His obvious displeasure at the tone of Galmore's conversation was evinced by the white straight line in the place of his mouth. His usual pinched mien was aided by a deeply furrowed brow and a chin that quivered furiously.
"Is there a problem, Greenley?"
It was Bart's turn to flush, though Honoria noticed that his anger had already reddened his ears and nose, with his cheeks just slightly less so.
Honoria gave her brother an evil look, one that was obviously well understood, for he coughed and feigned choking. His stare didn't leave Galmore, and Honoria suspected that she would hear no end to his unreasonable tirade once they were alone.
* * * * *
Galmore watched with amusement as Greenley fumed. The man had never taken to his subordinate position and had an instant dislike for Galmore's authoritative manner. The two had gotten into several skirmishes in Italy, just before the fateful Battle of Maida, where the British soundly defeated the French within a quarter hour. However, within that short period of time, a French ball tore through Galmore's thigh, destroying muscle and sinew in its path.
Injured but still able to give orders, Galmore ordered Greenley to take some of the men and forge ahead, bayonets drawn and join the rest of the infantry. Greenley's hesitation, or as Galmore had termed at the time, cowardice, had caused several lives to be lost needlessly. Reports were files and punishment was discussed but in the end it was recommended that Greenley resign his commission and return to his former indolent life, which by all that could be observed, he was living with aplomb.
Though they attended the same social gatherings, the enmity between the two was palpable. It was in fact, a source of entertainment for Galmore, because he simply enjoyed needling the portentous arse. It was such an effortless amusement.
"Greenley, I simply asked your sister about herself," Galmore stated in his best imitation of hauteur. "She is indeed a delightful creature."
Greenley sputtered, his doubled chin bounced for apparent want of a rejoinder, but none was forthcoming. He chose a simply nod and began to study the fine Wedgewood china.
Galmore wondered how Lady Greenley could have birthed as wondrous a daughter as Honoria and a pompous popinjay such as her son.
"Gentlemen, we will dispense with our usual secluded port and cigarillos and join the ladies for more dancing." He stood and all followed suit.
Galmore offered his arm to Honoria and escorted her to the ballroom. "If you don't mind, my lord, might we continue our conversation?"
"I would indeed enjoy that. Would you care to see the portrait gallery?"
"Indeed I would." As they walked toward the long room where the unsmiling visages of his ancestors hung, she asked questions about his forebears. She learned that his family dated back to the Conqueror, a prestigious claim for any noble family.
After they viewed several antiquated, disapproving personages, an inexplicable cold frisson slithered down her spine.
"And of course, by now you must recognize the personage in this one."
Before her was a handsome black-haired soldier replete with scarlet uniform, Hessian boots and an enigmatic smile. Her hands perspired and she was sure she felt a bead of moisture slide down her back. Her breath was short and there were strange sensations in her breasts and lower.
"Are you quite well?" He asked.
"Ye-e-s," she stammered, not understand completely her reaction to his portrait.
"Have you not seen a soldier before, Miss Danby?"
She stammered as she stared up at the portrait, "It is just that I have a distinct feeling I have seen this portrait before."
"Really?" He asked with a velvety tone that slid provocatively over her skin.
"I can't explain it, but there is something quite familiar about this." She ran her thumb over the brass plaque at the base of the gilded frame. It read, 'Jeremy Saintaubin, 1803.' "You look quite distinguished, my lord."
"Why, I thank you, Miss Danby. Mama insisted I have this portrait done in uniform. It was before I inherited, when I thought I had many years to live my life before I was saddled with the responsibilities of the title." His voice took on a tone of sadness, as though he reflected upon the past. "Little did I know . . . ."
Honoria looked at him. "Little did you know what?"
He looked pensive and somewhat uncomfortable with the tenor of the conversation. After long moments of silence, during which she expected he would not answer, he did just that. "Little did I know that my life would change so dramatically with the meeting of such a lovely lady."
Honoria's cheeks flushed at the compliment, while she sensed he meant something far different. "Thank you, my lord."
His demeanor had changed; he seemed sad somehow. "We really should join the others, Miss Danby. They will wonder where we've gotten to."
Honoria felt a loss, for she seemed sure an important moment had passed before she knew how to retrieve it.
I want to thank author Tina Ordone who allowed me to re-post her excerpt of her new book Her Timeless Obsession which is now available for purchase over at Noble Romance Publishing.