A Lady Igniting Wicked Passions (Preview)

Chapter One

Arabella stormed through the wood, wailing like a banshee. Her mount, Achilles, was a grey gelding with a light, athletic frame, and a love of running born in the blood. Arabella was similarly light, with a petite figure and a delicate, heart-shaped face, framed by auburn curls. Eyes as bright as sapphires were wide as she urged the young horse to greater speed, holding herself low to his neck to avoid tree branches that intruded onto the path. She was smiling as she rose, heart racing, trilling at the excitement of the headlong dash along an unknown path. As the madly racing pair rounded a bend in the woodland path, a fox chose that moment to burst from the undergrowth to streak across the path. 

Achilles shied away, rearing up from the unfamiliar shape and veering from the hard-packed earth of the woodland trail. Arabella had time for a startled gasp before throwing herself full length to Achilles’ long, stretching neck. Whisper-thin branches lashed her and leaves caught in her hair. The horse dodged and wove around trees and roots, across unexpected gullies and through all but the thickest bushes. All the while, Arabella held tight and urged him to stop. Sunlight exploded around them as the trees were abruptly gone and they were running across an open expanse of grassland. In the distance was a tall, square building topped with a forest of chimneys and surrounded by a colourful patchwork of ornamental gardens. Perhaps it was the sudden glare of June sunshine from a cloudless sky, after the sylvan shade of the woods. Or perhaps it was the sudden proximity of a man and woman riding along the wood’s perimeter, but Achilles dug in his hooves and lurched to a stop, ears twitching and nostrils flaring.

Arabella slid from the saddle without relinquishing her hold on Achilles neck. She had begun to scream when his panicked flight had taken him through the thick of the trees. As her feet came to rest amid the soft grass, her screams had become hysterical laughter. Achilles turned his head and sniffed at her as she pressed her face against his grey, speckled skin. She rubbed his nose and then stepped away. Her knees shook and she sat down abruptly.

“I say! Are you alright?” 

Arabella looked up at the gentleman speaking; he was young, roughly her age, just into her second decade. His face was creased with concern as was that of the young lady with him. She had ridden her mount side saddle, while Arabella had straddled Achilles. She’d tailored her skirts herself, to make them capable of splitting to accommodate the horse’s body. She also wore breeches beneath her skirts, which were hidden by her cream-coloured dress. The gentleman swiftly dismounted from his horse, the lady with him following at a more leisurely pace. He took off his hat revealing his tightly curled, fair hair. 

“What the Devil were you playing at Arabella?” he demanded, his pale blue eyes glaring from his round, boyish face.

“Charlie, I was putting my father’s new horse through his paces, and he got away from me. Dratted fox spooked him. Help me up.”

Arabella held up her hands to her oldest friend and he hauled her to her feet. As she brushed leaves and grass from her skirts, the young lady cleared her throat.

“My Lord?” she asked.

Charles Cavendish, Viscount of Harlton, eldest son of the Earl of Wimpole, looked over his shoulder at his companion.

“Of course! Do forgive me! Arabella, this is Lady Elizabeth Gracely of Buckland Manor. Lady Elizabeth, my very good friend Lady Arabella Harrington of Eversden Abbey.”

Lady Elizabeth had dark hair, done in the latest fashion, and wore a dress of dark blue and white. Arabella’s own dress of dark green was practical, made to be hard wearing, though made well. Elizabeth was clad in silk. Arabella gave the young lady a grin and stuck out her hand. Lady Elizabeth regarded the hand for a moment, before smiling politely and tentatively grasping Arabella’s fingertips for the duration of the handshake. Arabella’s smile widened.

“Were you riding astride this animal?” Elizabeth asked.

“Of course not,” Arabella said, smoothing her skirts to conceal the line of buttons that could be undone to allow the skirts to be split.

“I thought you were, before you fell.”

“Hardly likely. How could a woman in skirts ride in such a way?” Harlton said, looking significantly as Arabella.

She returned her best innocent expression. “Quite so. I do wish I could ride Achilles the way my father does. But the fashions we ladies are subjected to prevent that.”

“Subjected to? I have never heard it put so,” Lady Elizabeth said.

“Whatever are you doing all the way out here at Wimpole?” Harlton said, looking Achilles over admiringly.

“I simply got carried away. I wanted to try him on new ground. My father’s estates are so well known to me that it simply isn’t possible to get excited any longer,” Arabella said. “Isn’t he a magnificent brute?”

“He certainly is,” Harlton said.

“How far away are your father’s lands?” Lady Elizabeth asked, examining her finely stitched, silver-worked gloves.

“Oh, about five miles or so,” Arabella said.

“You must join us for luncheon before making the return journey,” Harlton said with enthusiasm. “Mama and Papa would not forgive me if they knew you had been here and not come into the house.”

“I thought you were showing me the Park, Lord Harlton?” Lady Elizabeth said. “My father was keen for me to learn all about Wimpole Hall.”

Arabella raised an eyebrow at Harlton who coloured slightly and grimaced, though not where Lady Elizabeth could see. Then he turned to her with a smile that had charmed many who had been given the gift of its bright rays.

“Of course, Lady Elizabeth. But my old friend Arabella is looking decidedly pale. Mama and Papa do look upon her as a surrogate daughter and would take it amiss if I abandoned her. The Park isn’t going anywhere. Come. Arabella will you ride?”

“I will. I think Achilles has given himself enough of a fright,” Arabella said. “He should be quite biddable for a while.”

Arabella felt quite sorry for Lady Elizabeth as the three of them rode through the open grassland that formed Wimpole Park. She had clearly been matched to Charlie Cavendish, probably by her parents and his. But Arabella had known Charles since they were small children, had even once believed that she was in love with him. But she had learned that he would never be able to say the same. Not to her or any other woman. Still, he was her oldest friend and one of the few people who accepted her eccentricities without question. As they rode, she and Harlton chatted, though she avoided the one piece of news that had prompted her wild dash through the country with Achilles. The one piece of news that burned darkly within her though she fought hard to smile through the flames. She could ride Achilles to the very edges of the world but would not be able to escape it for long.

After reaching Wimpole Hall, a stable hand took charge of Achilles and she followed Harlton and Lady Elizabeth into the house where they were greeted by a tall man with fiery hair turning grey and an imperial nose. The Earl of Wimpole’s blue eyes were darker and more vivid than his son’s, and his manner more imperious.

“Lady Arabella, welcome back. I believe it has been thirteen months since you last visited Wimpole.”

Harlton had led the two women through a set of open French doors and into a drawing room. Lord Wimpole had risen from a table at which he had been reading. A bookcase that reached almost to the ceiling dominated the far wall and books lay on the table and mantle. A fire cackled merrily in an ornate stone mantlepiece, above which hung a painting, dark with antiquity. The portrait of a man. bearing a striking resemblance to the current Master of Wimpole, who brooded down upon the room.

“I defer to your excellent memory, Lord Wimpole,” Arabella replied, lowering herself into a modest curtsy.

“And may I congratulate you on your excellent good news. I am sure I am not the first,” He replied, his voice deep and sonorous.

Harlton turned to look at Arabella with a raised eyebrow.

“Congratulations?” He asked.

Arabella forced a smile but she wanted to scowl. Lord Wimpole looked confused for a moment, eyes darting from his son to the daughter of his old friend, Lord Eversden.

“Lady Arabella is to be married. I received an invitation by messenger this morning. There is one addressed to you, Charles, in your room.”

Harlton opened his arms as though to embrace Arabella. His father harrumphed, eyes narrowing and steel-grey brows drawing down. Harlton stopped in mid-movement, caught Arabella’s eye, and winked where only they could see.

“I can’t believe you have prattled on about a horse with this news in your pocket,” he said.

“Neither can I, Lord Harlton. It quite slipped my mind. I cannot imagine how.”

“Charles, why are our guests standing when we have such well-appointed chairs?” Lord Wimpole interrupted. “Ladies, please.”

He indicated a plumply upholstered chaise before the fire, and shot a glare to his son.

“Have tea sent for, Charles. It is an hour yet before luncheon.”

Arabella smiled her thanks and took a seat, Lady Elizabeth gracefully seating herself at the far end of the chaise.

“Of course, Papa. But first, Ara…I mean, of course, Lady Arabella. Who is your fiancé? Do I know him?”

Arabella maintained a fixed smile that she hoped the eagle-eyed Lord Wimpole would not see through. Little escaped the man. Her own father was easily distracted when needed. Simply turning the conversation to horses worked most of the time. Wimpole was another matter and his oceanic blue eyes were fixed on her now.

“You may, Lord Harlton. It is the Marquess of Edgeworth.”

Harlton was equally adept at hiding his true feelings as Arabella was. His smile deepened and he nodded. But Arabella knew him well enough to recognize the twitch of his right eyebrow, the slight tremor at the corner of his mouth.

“Well, I do indeed, I believe. An excellent fellow. I will see to the tea.”

Harlton excused himself and hurried from the room. Arabella smiled for all she was worth though her heart was breaking. For herself and her closest friend.

Chapter Two

Aaron moved his head at the last moment. The razor-sharp rapier pierced the air inches from his right ear. His own blade whipped up to knock aside that of his assailant. Dancing across the uneven, weed infested paving of the courtyard, Aaron countered the attack with darting, dashing lunges of his own. His ash blond hair was dark with sweat, and it rolled from his angular cheeks to the corner of his tightly drawn mouth. A muscle in his chiselled jaw pulsed. It was the only visible sign of the strain he felt. The rest of his lean, athletic body moved with supple grace, like a dancer.

His opponent was bald, with black eyebrows above coal-like eyes. A scar dragged the corner of one eye down, ending just below his jawline. While Aaron was handsome, even with the sweat of exertion soaking him, the man he attacked was plain-faced and ugly, made devilish by the gruesome scar. His leather boot caught on the upraised corner of a stone slab and stumbled. Aaron roared a victory cry and lunged. But the man simply dropped backward, lifting one foot to punch at Aaron’s chest even as he threw his blade aside and seized the front of Aaron’s shirt in both hands. One moment he was being pulled close, his lunging sword knocked aside. The next Aaron found himself sailing through the air. He turned before hitting the paving stones, rolling on his shoulder, and scrambling to his feet.

The gleaming point of his opponent’s sword met him, hovering an inch from his left eye.

“A twitch. That is all that it would take,” the man said. “Do you yield?”

Aaron was breathing hard. He grinned, eyes never leaving those of Lord Graham Loudon, Marquess of Blakehill.

“I can see your devious mind working, nephew. Searching for a way out where there is clearly none. You are beaten. Surrender.”

Blakehill grinned, the smile giving him the appearance of a brigand. Aaron barked a sudden laugh.

“I yield, Uncle. You win. But I almost had you, admit it.”

The sword was sheathed and a broad hand reached down for Aaron’s. Blakehill hauled his nephew, the Duke of Ashenwood, to his feet.

“You did. Had you not lost your head and begun celebrating your victory before it had actually happened, you would have had me,” Blakehill said.

He produced a handkerchief and mopped at his bald head. Aaron rubbed sweat from his face with the sleeve of his shirt.

And either victory or else a grave,” Aaron quoted with a mischievous smile.

You were a man, take you for all in all. I shall not see your like again. Nor ever when you fight like that,” Blakehill replied, putting a heavy arm about Aaron’s shoulder with the camaraderie of old comrades.

“Then I am eternally grateful that the war is behind us, and my recklessness shall not tempt fate any longer,” Aaron replied. “I shall take a thousand recreational deaths at the point of your sword, safe in the knowledge that the French no longer care to shoot at me, or any Englishman. Come. It is a hot day and these ancient stones reflect the sun something terrible. I have Porter beer in a cool drawing room with slabs of ham and cheese.”

He scooped up his own blade, which had fallen from his hand when he’d been sent hurtling over his uncle’s head, at the finale of their regular duel. Blakehill followed, moving with the same dangerous grace as the younger man. It was the grace of men accustomed to wearing a blade on their hip and wielding it with lethal skill, though both were more accustomed to the heft of a cavalry sabre than a rapier. Around them rose the black stones of Ashenwood Castle. The courtyard in which they had carried out their deadly exercise was crumbling, the oldest part of a glowering, antique home. Beyond its ramshackle eastern wall was an expanse of long-waving grass, trees, and then a sudden, precipitous fall, down to the lower levels of that part of Hertfordshire. Fingers of smoke rose lazily from the chimneys of the nearby town of Holywell, curling upward until they surpassed the heights of Willbury Hill, with its ancient stone circle and less ancient castle turned stately home.

Stepping through a narrow door set into a stone arch, Aaron led the way along a stone passageway, hung with dusty and moldering tapestries.

“I cannot believe the neglect you show to some of your father’s collection,” Blakehill said in the tone of one going over old ground.

“I cannot believe you and my father place so much importance on such objects. They are dreary like most of this old pile. I care not to invest finite financial resources into the restoration of bits of cloth,” Aaron said.

Crabbed age and youth cannot live together, it would seem,” Blakehill said, ruefully.

I would rather entreat thy company to see the wonders of the world abroad, than living dully sluggardized at home,” Aaron riposted without hesitation. “And were I to invest all my time and money into restoring this house I could never afford to go more than ten paces from it, lest I wear out my boot leather without the coin to replace them.”

They passed through another door, climbing some steps with depressions worn in the middle of the stone, then through another door. Beyond was a corridor of wood panels, with windows looking out over a courtyard in which a tall, birch tree grew. Around it flower beds had run wild and were filled with enthusiastic shrubs reaching for the giant that rose in their midst. Assorted rooftops and chimneys rose beyond the quadrangle in an apparently random assortment. It gave the impression of being parts of different buildings, thrown into the air and joined together however they landed.

 Aaron navigated the passages, hallways, and rooms with the ease of one raised in the maze, so comfortable with it that he didn’t even see it as a maze any longer. Blakehill, who had spent his own, earlier childhood, in these halls, walked with equal ease after his late brother’s only son. Presently, they reached a room with a vaulted stone ceiling and tall windows of stained glass. Red and green light spilled across mismatched furniture, and bookcases filled to bursting. A wooden platform stood at one end of the room, reached by steps to one side and with curtains mounted on a rail in front of it. To all intents and purposes, a stage. Choosing a winged armchair with a faded, brocade upholstery, Aaron clapped his hands imperiously.

A slender man with close-cropped dark hair had been standing at attention beside a table bearing a large, silver jug and two glass tankards. He poured a measure of dark, almost ruby red liquid from the jug into each tankard and then carried them to the two gentlemen on a silver tray.

“Thank you, Mitchell. That will be all. We’ll help ourselves from this point. Summon us when luncheon is ready,” Blakehill said, dragging a chair from beside a table to sit opposite his nephew.

Aaron arched an eyebrow as he took a deep draught of the beer he had been given.

“Ordering my servants around for me, Uncle?”

“Victor’s privilege, Ashenwood,” Blakehill said, with a dismissive wave. “I think we should discuss the business that brings me here. You have stalled for long enough, young man.”

He took his own long swallow of his own, then belched loudly before sitting back. Aaron stared pensively into his own glass then glanced to the table from which his uncle had taken a chair. Unlike the Shakespearean texts, Jacobean poetry and assorted plays that were strewn over the rest of the library, that table was covered in ledgers and books of account. Blakehill followed his eyes, looking over the thick books containing columns of numbers and lists of assets. He nodded slowly.

“Your work for the past week.”

“The past month, Uncle. I have worked at little else to find a solution to our problems.”

“Problems caused by me. I am…”

“If you say you are sorry one more time… Just once!” Aaron said, sitting forward and holding up a finger in emphasis. “How tedious is a guilty conscience.”

Blakehill frowned. “The Scottish Play?”

Aaron shook his head. “Webster.”

“I was never fond of him. Too bloody.”

“Besides which, I refuse to accept that your actions alone have brought us to this situation. I chose to invest with you. You chose where that investment should go and we both lost when the gamble did not pay off. I did not divulge to you the precarious state my father left me in financially.”

“You should have. I would never have asked for the loan if I knew,” Blakehill said.

“We are going over old ground, Uncle,” Aaron protested. “But I have found the solution. I believe. I just wanted to pretend, for a little while, that I had not. That none of my problems existed. Forgive me, Uncle.”

Blakehill grunted, draining the remains of his porter, and rising to stomp across the room for another. Aaron drained his own glass and put it down on a table beside his chair, hard enough to crack it. He glowered, waiting for his uncle to return to his chair.

“Let’s hear it. How do we avoid bankrupting one of England’s oldest families.”

Aaron sighed. “I have recently concluded negotiations to marry. The match comes with a handsome dowry as well as profitable estates. It should clear our debts and leave us a profit into the bargain.”

He spoke with the air of a man describing his planned route to the gallows. Blakehill sat forward, a grin breaking across his marred face.

“Well, well, well! Nephew! You put quite the fear into me there! Marriage? I did not think it a solution you would ever consider. Well, who is it?”

Aaron scowled. “The daughter of some country squire by the name of Harrington. Helena is her name. Daughter of the Earl of Eversden.” 

“A Lady Igniting Wicked Passions” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Arabella Harrington, the second daughter of the Earl of Ashendown, has always dreamt of being swept up in a passionate romance, just like the ones she has read in Shakespeare. However, her father’s arranged marriage to an arrogant lord threatens her dreams. To make things worse, an irresistible attraction ignites between Arabella and her sister’s betrothed…

Will she succumb to the flames of desire, or will she be wise enough to bury it deep in the ground?

Aaron Blackwood, the Duke of Ashenwood, is heir to a ruined castle and a dwindling fortune. When he finds himself in debt to a dangerous man, he agrees to marry the beguiling Helena Harrington in exchange for her father’s promised dowry. However, a twist of fate leads him to grow lustful feelings for the wrong sister. He knows he is playing dangerously close with fire, but his passion is too overwhelming to resist…

Will he risk his life and reputation for this sizzling fervour?

Enveloped in an irresistible allure, Arabella and Aaron find themselves entangled in a web of forbidden desires whenever their paths cross. Torn between honour and scandal, can they risk social ruin and embark on a sinful love affair? In a world of yearning hearts and whispered secrets, will they seize their chance at love, or will their tantalising love story echo the tragic fate of Romeo and Juliet?

“A Lady Igniting Wicked Passions” is a historical romance novel of approximately 70,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “A Lady Igniting Wicked Passions (Preview)”

  1. Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat and can’t wait to read the rest of this fiery romance! I will be waiting for your first impressions here. Thank you! 📚❤️‍🔥

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