Title: The Earl of Excess
Author: Anna St. Claire
Genre: Historical Romance
A British officer’s life is saved when a young woman and her dog risk their lives and rescue him from beneath dead bodies, while trying to escape the New Orleans battlefield before shooting begins. Welcome to book 1 in the new Rakes of Mayhem series from bestselling author Anna St. Claire! Colonel Matthew Romney, a favored son with the British military, is gravely wounded during the Battle of New Orleans. With most available British forces dead and his weak pleas for help muffled beneath the dead soldier he lies below, the British report him missing in the aftermath. Bethany Phillips and her dog visit the Villeré Plantation’s gardens searching for herbs and food and unexpectedly become caught in the crossfire of grapeshot and cannon fire and forced to take cover until the battle ends. When the smoke clears, Bethany follows the sound of a man’s moans and pulls him from beneath a pile of dead soldiers being readied for a mass grave. Bethany saves Matthew’s life but in doing so, threatens her heart and her own life. Against all odds, sparks fly between Matthew and Bethany. A hired investigator for his father finds Matthew and encourages him to journey home. Matthew and Bethany leave the safety of her home and travel a dangerous path through the wilderness of America and across a ravaged, war-torn ocean to reach his family. Can their romance survive the dangers and uncertainty that follow them?
New Orleans, Louisiana
January 8, 1815
The surge of American fire had been like none they had ever seen before—almost surgical in precision. The plan had been to annihilate Jackson’s men in a net of crossfire, but with Rennie’s demise and their other setbacks, that strategy had failed. The rampart ahead of them emitted what looked to be the devil’s flames moving toward them.
“Bayonets, ready,” Matthew commanded the surrounding men, pushing down the cold fissure traveling up his spine. Everything feels wrong. He felt for his saber for assurance, but its presence made little difference.
Within sight of the line, Pakenham gave the order to attack, answered immediately by cannon fire and a volley of shots that cleared almost all the men in the lines ahead. Chaos ensued as stunned men continued to push forward, only to be blown into the air, body parts flying. The potent smell of sulfur, excrement, and bile assaulted them. Men tried to retreat, cut down in red waves by grapeshot and musket balls.
The oppressive sounds of terror roared in his ears—explosions, cries, laughter, virtually every noise he could imagine overwhelmed the senses. In his peripheral vision, Matthew thought he saw Pakenham go down. Before he could check, a wave of red ignited the ridge ahead of him. A moment later he felt a sharp pain hit his lower abdomen. Stunned, he fell from his horse. His mare screamed, struggling to detach herself from him. “Run, girl,” he whispered. He wanted to run himself but could no longer move. His mother’s face floated in front of him. Stay strong, son. Come home to us. He wanted to go home. It was his last thought before blackness swallowed him.
The battle sounds gradually faded into voices. The realization he had lived stirred him to consciousness. He could feel the sun warm his face but could not open his eyes. Was he blind? He willed his eyes to open but saw nothing. Everything hurt, especially his head and his gut. Men spoke around him. How long had he been here?
“We need to find the officers. Look for General Pakenham. He was said to have fallen near here,” a husky voice said. “I would not want to explain to Wellington that we left an officer’s body behind.”
“Over here,” a second man shouted. “I think this is ’im. They must have pulled ’im away from the middle of the battlefield. Did ye know Pakenham was Wellington’s brother-in-law?”
“I did not know, and I do not care. Hurry,” the one with the husky voice commanded. “I can feel them watching us, giving us time to gather our dead. Stack them in piles once we peel the uniforms. It’s impossible to know how long we have.”
Matthew could barely breathe. He was underneath something heavy. It smelled awful. The metallic scent of blood assaulted him. The dead had not been here long enough to rot, had they?
Am I dead? Matthew tried to move an arm. Nothing moved. Nothing worked. The men were there to retrieve the living and bury the dead. He could hear grunting and thuds, unsure either sound meant help for him. It mattered not. He could not save himself. This was surely the end. Warm tears formed and rolled from the corners of his eyes.
Matt, are you crazy? They could have seen you. You take the wildest chances. Evan Clarendon’s excited voice sounded in his head. You locked the door, and they cannot get back into the residences.
He must have been dreaming or hallucinating. Evan Clarendon was across the Atlantic, not in this mosquito-ridden hellhole.
A scene from years past rose in his mind. He and his friends had spied a group of older bullies known to torment the younger boys. On this particular night the older bullies were swimming in a nearby pond and had removed their clothing. His friend Evan had taken the added measure of locking the doors to the halls, so the unclothed victims would have to wake people up to be allowed back inside. It had been a perfect crime. Rather than knock, the group of naked boys had tried to scale the residence halls to get into the windows and were caught. The headmaster had not been amused. The older bullies had stepped into trouble for the prank, and Matt and his friends had laughed for a week.
A lump formed in his throat. I will never see my friends or family again. “Please do not let me perish here, Lord,” he heard himself murmur.
Matthew, open your eyes. You are wasting valuable time. You must do something. Save yourself, Lucas’s voice prodded him. Lucas Pemberton would know what to do. His friend was resourceful and rarely panicked.
Have a care, Matt! You pledged a blood oath to always be part of our foursome, I will not lose you. Come home to us. You simply cannot give up. I will not accept it. Wakeup! Evan Clarendon’s voice chided him—goading him to move, just like he did that day in the woods when they had taken a blood oath. Evan had used a small pocketknife to prick their hands. The four of them had rubbed the blood together and swore to be there for each other. God, he missed his friends. He tried to groan but even to his own ears, it was barely audible. I have to try harder.
Right! Come on, Matt. There is more we need to do together. Stay focused. You will get through this. We are waiting for you, Christopher Anglesey’s voice pleaded in his ear. You can do this, Matt.
If he ever made it out of this hell, he would tell everyone he held dear how much they meant to him.
Muffled footsteps and a soft whimper to the left of him pulled him from the vision. Please, God, let someone be here.
“Help,” he moaned, but his voice sounded more like a whisper. Would his plea bring help or danger? Matthew decided he had to try. I am so thirsty.
He heard panting. Surely, he would not perish by being eaten by a wild animal.
An alligator does not pant. Calm yourself.
“Dandie, the groan came from this direction.” It was a woman’s voice.
A woman? What would a woman be doing on this godforsaken battlefield?
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
Do you like history? This book provides a wealth of information with an interesting storyline that you don’t realize how much you learned about the war until the story ends.
It takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana, and gives a fair account of the Battle of New Orleans, a significant battle in the War of 1812. In contrast, most Regency-era books take place on the European continent. I would wager that most people reading this book are much like myself and will come away having gained a significant understanding of what that battle was truly like and the feel of New Orleans, which was completely unlike the feel of England. I researched endlessly and fell into multiple cozy rabbit holes, enjoying every tidbit of knowledge I gleaned. And I put a great deal of that research into this book. I wanted readers to know what New Orleans, Louisiana was like in the US in 1815, as well as what the army that fought the British were like. There have been endless stories about what the British military was like, but the ragtag group of misfits that fought the British and won during the Battle of New Orleans were extremely interesting, not to mention surprising. For example, the British had its world-class navy, while the US depended on privateers and engaged pirates for its naval prowess, and the pirates figured significantly in this battle’s victory.
I studied US History in the eighth grade and then, again, in the eleventh grade. In the tenth grade, I studied World History. I mention this because all three of those classes should have covered the War of 1812, from some perspective. However, aside from saying we (the US) won, giving a little bit of history about the burning of Washington, DC, and the French-Canadian connections to the war, I recall very little being taught. Much of what I learned through research proved the war was largely skirted in our history books when it was a war we should have known more about. I found it all fascinating and wanted to bring the readers into the environment that existed for the soldiers at the time.
I learned a wealth of information, so let me share a few tidbits: Communication (and the lack of it) was key to this war. An ocean existed between us, and it took a long time to relay important information. Interestingly, both sides taut themselves as having won that war. But the US could have easily lost the War of 1812. In 1815, the British were poised to win, even after the bitter defeat of New Orleans, and even while they had the Napoleonic wars going on in Europe at the same time as this one. They had successfully cut off much of our country from the rest of the world and were ready to attack Florida and Alabama when word reached them that the war was over and to come home. Congress was struggling to pay its army and getting help was drastically impeded with the British embargo. From what I understand, the US might not have done as well in fending them off Florida and Alabama as they did in New Orleans. And sadly, for those men that died in the Battle of New Orleans, a treaty had already been signed months earlier, ending the war. It was the delay in communication that drove the battle. Over 3000 British soldiers died or went missing in that battle. The Americans lost a few hundred. It was a decisive victory for the US at a time when our country needed it.
This was a fun story to write, and I hope, one that entertains and leaves a lasting impression when the story ends.
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USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Anna St. Claire is a big believer that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. She sprinkles her stories with laughter, romance, mystery and lots of possibilities, adhering to the belief that goodness, love, dark chocolate and popcorn will win the day. Anna is both an avid reader and author of American and British historical romance. She and her husband live in Charlotte, North Carolina with their two dogs and often, their two beautiful granddaughters, who live nearby. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, and Mimi—all life roles that Anna St. Claire relishes and feels blessed to still enjoy. And she loves her pets – dogs and cats alike, and often inserts them into her books as secondary characters. Anna relocated from New York to the Carolinas as a child. Her mother, a retired English and History teacher, always encouraged Anna’s interest in writing, after discovering short stories she would write in her spare time. As a child, she loved mysteries and checked out every Encyclopedia Brown story that came into the school library. Before too long, her fascination with history and reading led her to her first historical romance—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, now a treasured, but weathered book from being read multiple times. The day she discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss,’ books, Shanna and Ashes In The Wind, Anna became hooked. She read every historical romance that came her way and dreams of writing her own historical romances took seed. Today, her focus is primarily the Regency and Civil War eras, although Anna enjoys almost any period in American and British history.
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