Lady Joy and the Earl by Award-Winning @reginajeffers #ChristmasinJulyFete #giveaway #Regency #histo
Title: Lady Joy and the Earl
Author: Regina Jeffers
Genre: Regency Romance Novella
They have loved each other since childhood, but life has not been kind to either of them. James Highcliffe’s arranged marriage had been everything but loving, and Lady Joy’s late husband believed a woman’s spirit was meant to be broken. Therefore, convincing Lady Jocelyn Lathrop to abandon her hard-earned freedom and consider marriage to him after twenty plus years apart may be more than the Earl of Hough can manage. Only the spirit of Christmas can bring these two together when secrets mean to keep them apart.
Award-Winning Finalist in the Fiction: Novella category of the 2019 International Book Awards
Even before she turned around, Jocelyn knew Lord Hough had entered the ballroom. A hush fell over those in attendance, followed by a swell of whispers. Slowly, she pivoted to take in the magnificence of the man. James Highcliffe stood beneath the archway, his still muscular frame filling the opening. A tall figure dressed in black. Except for the blue hue of his waistcoat, he reminded her of a character from a Minerva Press romance. He was not as lean as she remembered, but there was nothing amiss with the manner in which his evening clothes set off his figure.
Irritably, she realized she had held her breath until his gaze found hers. A slight smile lifted his lips. Their gaze held for several elongated ticks of the clock. Jocelyn could not look away. She knew she should turn and pretend not to notice his presence; yet, like a ninny, she studied his approach, enjoying the ease with which he moved. He was the one by whom she judged all other males—unfortunately, he was the one who had broken her young heart.
Jocelyn purposely turned to remind her niece Constance not to appear too eager to greet Lord Hough. “It would be unseemly,” she whispered her caution.
“But it was kind of his lordship to agree to escort us, Aunt.”
“It was,” Joy reluctantly agreed. When she learned her brother had made arrangements with Lord Hough without consulting her, she was most upset at the prospect of encountering the earl again. She had been in Kent with Lathrop when James Highcliffe spoke his vows to another, and she was glad for it. Such was the reason she had agreed to an earlier date for her nuptials than the one James had named. Jocelyn knew she was not strong enough to witness his marrying another. “I forget you see Lord Hough often at home.”
“More so since the death of his wife,” Constance explained. “But often enough, at church and such. How long has it been since you encountered Lord Hough?”
“Twenty-two years, four months, and eighteen days,” his lordship responded before Jocelyn could claim her wits about her.
Constance’s mouth stood agape in astonishment. “How can you be so certain, my lord?”
Lord Hough winked at Constance before presenting Jocelyn’s niece a proper bow, a reminder to Constance to respond accordingly. “I recall clearly, Lady Constance, for that was the day Lady Jocelyn married Lord Lathrop, and the viscount spirited away Aberford’s sunshine.”
Jocelyn willed the embarrassment from her cheeks. “Lord Hough bams you, Constance. His lordship possesses a great sense of humor.” The fact the numbers he quoted were accurate to the day of her exchanging her vows with Harrison Lathrop not only surprised her, but irritated her. Lord Hough had walked away from their blossoming romance when he was nineteen and she several months on the other side of sixteen. Two years later, she became Lady Lathrop. Four months later, James married Lady Louisa Connick, a woman he had never courted. For more than two decades, except for one brief encounter after her father’s death, they had never stood in the same room together, certainly never side-by-side.
Before Jocelyn could continue, Lord Sheldon appeared at Constance’s side. “Lady Constance, I believe this is our dance. The set is forming.”
“May I be excused, Aunt?”
“Certainly.” Jocelyn deliberately nodded to Lord Sheldon. “I shall be waiting here for my niece’s return.”
Attempting to ignore the very masculine man standing beside her, Jocelyn watched Constance as her niece and Sheldon took their places in the set.
“Would you care to dance, Joy?” Hough asked softly.
Despite her best efforts, Jocelyn’s heart hitched higher just hearing her family’s pet name for her on Lord Hough’s lips.
In a frustrated warning to control her emotions, her eyebrows drew together in a fierce frown. “A chaperone does not dance,” she chastised.
When she turned to him, his cinnamon-colored eyes presented her a long, slow look. Staring into those eyes, Jocelyn recognized the familiar merriment she had known years prior. “Do you not recall the steps, my lady?” he teased.
“When was the last time you danced, James Highcliffe?” she challenged.
“Your sixteenth birthday,” he said without hesitation.
The idea shocked her. “Surely you and Lady Hough shared a dance upon occasion.”
His brow climbed a fraction. “I am not accustomed to exaggerating when speaking of momentous events. I assure you, Louisa and I never danced. My late wife despised the exercise, but I recall your being quite fond of twirling about a dance floor, as well as your being excessively light on your feet and on mine.”
Jocelyn blushed and covered the emotion with a flick of her fan. “Not any longer,” she said tersely. “Girlish fantasies. A woman who has borne two sons can no longer be termed light on her feet.”
Lord Hough leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “Do not fish for compliments, Joy, for you must surely own a looking glass. But if you do not, simply know, in my eyes, you remain the most beautiful woman of my acquaintance.”
“Your lordship—” She meant to caution him against such forwardness, but her eyes landed upon his lips, and all thoughts of anything but whether his kiss would be as exciting as the last one they had shared filled her head.
“No reprimands,” he said in what appeared to be bemusement, “or I will be compelled to kiss you into silence.”
Joy struggled against the shiver of desire skittering up her spine. There was a time the man standing before her was her world. She would not make that mistake again. Lathrop had taught her all the lessons she required about disappointment.
“No kissing, my lord,” she hissed through tight lips. “No cuddling. No dancing. No flirting. I am Constance’s chaperone, and, until my brother’s return, you are our escort. If you are interested in female companionship, I am certain there are many in this ballroom willing to oblige you, whether you desire a mistress or a wife.”
His voice, when responding, was both low and demanding. “We will kiss, Lady Lathrop.” His words were quiet and deliberately stressed. “And cuddle and flirt and dance. And when I choose a wife, it will be you. I will have no mistress—only you, Joy, as the chatelaine of my manor and of my life.”
Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HNMR9LY (or read for free on Kindle Unlimited)
Along with “Letters from Home” and “One Minute Past Christmas,” “Lady Joy and the Earl” appears in the print collection entitled Beautified by Love:
What I love most about the holiday season:
As Roald Dahl said: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” I still believe in the magic and the joy of Christmas. Christmas makes us all young again.
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Regina Jeffers, an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era romances, has worn many hats over her lifetime: daughter, student, military brat, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, tax preparer, journalist, choreographer, Broadway dancer, theatre director, history buff, grant writer, media literacy consultant, and author. Living outside of Charlotte, NC, Jeffers writes novels that take the ordinary and adds a bit of mayhem, while mastering tension in her own life with a bit of gardening and the exuberance of her “grand joys.”
Social Media Links:
Every Woman Dreams: https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com
Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net