Title: Lady Joy and the Earl: A Regency Romance Novel
Author: Regina Jeffers
Genre: Regency Romance; Historical Fiction
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 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.
Jocelyn willed her ire away. She would not permit Mrs. Silva to know the woman had pricked one of Jocelyn’s nerves. “Perhaps you should ask Lord Hough that exact question.”
Mrs. Silva blushed. “I could not. To speak such is not the mark of a lady.”
Jocelyn stiffened, but she attempted not to give Mrs. Silva the notice of satisfaction the woman sought. “You wish to know if Lord Hough and I practice an affair?”
Before the woman could respond, Andrew appeared at Mrs. Silva’s side. “I believe this is yours, ma’am.” He carefully presented Mrs. Silva the drink he held. Not recognizing the ill feelings passing between her and Mrs. Silva, he extended his hand to Jocelyn. “Come. Lord Hough and Michael are holding seats for us closer to the front.”
“Michael is here? Where?” she asked, glad her youngest son had arrived safely, although a day later than expected.
“Arrived a bit ago. He thought it a jolly idea to surprise you, even though I have warned him a hundred times you do not like surprises. Moreover, as I have written to him about our cousin, we both wished to support Constance. Although Michael has declared her brave to stand before the ton, she has been so nervous this week. I promised her I would come to listen to her and to applaud quite loudly, despite any mistakes she might make.”
Jocelyn slipped her arm through his and knew instant satisfaction that she had raised two young men with good morals. “No thoughts of mistakes,” she cautioned.
Andrew chuckled. “Constance is a sturdy girl. In that manner, she reminds me of you. I have no doubt she will do quite well this evening.”
Swallowing a sigh of relief, Jocelyn did not glance back as she walked away, but she knew Mrs. Silva glared at her back. The earl and Jocelyn’s family had effectively removed Lord Hough from the woman’s clutches.
When they reached the place where Hough and Michael waited, Jocelyn warmly embraced her younger son before accepting the crystal glass of madeira wine from Lord Hough. “I believe Mrs. Silva knows disappointment,” she said softly. “The lady anticipated your return, my lord.” Behind her, she could hear Andrew and Michael good-naturedly teasing Constance. It pleased Jocelyn to know her sons had family, at last.
“Were you jealous, my lady?” Lord Hough whispered.
His lordship’s intimacy brought a flush of embarrassment to her cheeks, as well as lightness to her heart. A familiar shiver surged through her, one she only felt when in the presence of James Highcliffe. “You know I am not.”
“Why not?” he teased. The breath of his soft laugh brushed her cheek. “I am considered quite a catch. An earl. Rich. Moreover, I am told I have aged well.”
“You have,” Jocelyn readily admitted. Her breath became unsteady as she met his gaze.
“And?” he prompted.
“And any woman would be fortunate to claim your interest,” she said with a reluctant shrug.
“Any woman but you,” he pressed.
“I cannot,” she murmured. She closed her eyes to the temptation battling against her resolve.
He inched closer, his dark eyes narrowing. “Why? Do you not remember how wonderful it was when we were together?”
“We were too impetuous to know—” she began, but stopped the words she could never say to another.
“Know what?” he insisted.
Her chin lifted in defiance. “That marriage has nothing to do with love or affection,” Jocelyn declared. “Can you say you affected Lady Hough?” She had no idea why she ventured into such private matters. Whether James loved his wife or not was truly none of her concern, but Jocelyn had always wondered if he cared for the woman he married. She had always wanted him to know happiness, even if she were miserable.
He paused as if choosing his words carefully, and Jocelyn wondered if he constructed a lie to aid in his seduction of her. At length, he spoke. “Louisa was not the most affectionate woman,” he admitted. He shot a quick glance to her sons. “Obviously, you tolerated Lord Lathrop’s attentions as often as Louisa did mine.”
Jocelyn bit back a curse of annoyance. “This is not a competition, my lord.”
“I did not think it was, my lady,” he argued. “I simply wished to make the point we both chose to place our duty elsewhere.”
A sharp silence fell between them.
Jocelyn swallowed back the tears rushing to her eyes. “That is where you err, my lord. My father and Lord Lathrop came to an agreement regarding my life. I had no choice in the matter. Did you know I was worth nearly six thousand pounds? What the former Lord Powell owed my husband. My virginity saved my father from shame and made me the property—” She nearly spat the words in a torrent of anger. “Of a man who brooked no forgiveness for those who disappointed him. And, as you may suspect, I often disappointed him.”
Too upset to continue their discussion, Jocelyn slipped in between her sons to join their conversation; yet, she could not shake the sensation Lord Hough studied her with fresh eyes. She had spent the last ten years attempting to be in control of her world: building her defenses by learning all she could of the viscountcy, while remaining invisible to those outside the estate, and with one look—one promise she had always desired—Lord Hough had destroyed her fortifications. What was she to do? All she wished for at this moment was to be alone in her room where she might have a good cry and consider what was to come next. She had made a mistake in agreeing to return to her childhood home for the Festive Days. Everyone thought she did not return because of the grudge she held against her father, but the real reason was a man who had haunted her dreams for more than a quarter of a century.
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Lady Joy and the Earl is a classic story of love found, lost, and regained, focusing on a man and a woman and the transforming power of love.
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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.”
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