Monday, 30 November 2009

A Damnable Rogue

A Damnable Rogue was the book that won me the Romantic Novelists Association Romance prize in 2004. It is now in the shops as a double issue with another author. I have fond memories of the day I won. I was also short listed for An Improper companion, but A Damnable Rogue was the first time I entered and I was lucky.

Enjoy the excerpt. The new book can be found at number three on my page at amzon. Just put in Anne Herries and you can't miss it. I'm with a good author too.
Now read on!

'I cannot tell you how sorry I was…' Sir William Heathstone looked at the young woman standing so silently before him. In truth she was not so very young, being less than two months from her twenty-seventh birthday and therefore unlikely to marry. In the light of events this past year, she had but a bleak future before her. 'As you know, Emma, your father was my lifelong friend…'
His tone and sympathetic expression made Emma's eyes smart with tears. The shocking manner of her father's tragic death had stunned her, and her mother's near collapse on hearing the dreadful news had given her no chance to grieve. For the past eleven months she had devoted herself to the care of her mother and the estate, which left little time for thinking about her own life.
Nor was there time for tears now. The future must be decided before Sir William and Lady Heathstone left for their long winter holiday in the warmer climes of Italy.
'It is because of that friendship and your kindness that I have dared to ask so much,' Emma Sommerton replied with quiet dignity. 'If Mama is forced to spend the winter alone at the house I think she may sink into a decline and die.' Her clear eyes were deeply expressive, carrying as they did a look of appeal, which touched the older man's heart.
'If it had not been for that damnable rogue!' he exclaimed with a flash of temper. 'He led Sir John into a trap, my dear…taunted him the way he does all his victims from what I've been told.'
'I have heard that the marquis of Lytham is scrupulous in matters of play,' Emma said, managing to control the rage she felt inside against the man who had ruined all their lives. 'Papa's lawyers assure me that he was warned not to put up his whole estate to the marquis that night, but ignored all advice. And the marquis has been considerate in the matter of claiming his rights, you know. His lawyers assured us that we must continue here as if nothing had happened and that he would not trouble us until our year of mourning had passed. He has been as good as his word, for we have heard nothing from him. We were told we might apply to the lawyers if we needed anything, but of course we have not. Mama has her own small income and we have managed on that.'
'Oh, I am not saying there was any question of anything underhand,' Sir William said frowning. 'Just that Lytham managed to get underneath your father's skin, driving him to do something that I am convinced he would not otherwise…'
'Please, sir,' Emma said, blinking hard against the sting of tears. 'It does no good to speak of these things. Papa was foolish to gamble, but he chose to do so that night with…' She choked back a sob. 'Disastrous consequences.'
'I never realised Edmund was so desperate,' Sir William said looking distressed. 'He must have known I would have helped him.'
'I dare say he was too proud to ask,' Emma replied. 'Besides, it seems there was nothing of any consequence left.' She lifted her head proudly. She was not pretty by the standards of the day, her thick hair dark brown and drawn back in a sleek style that made her look older than her years, but her eyes were extremely fine, a wide clear grey, and her mouth was attractive, especially when she smiled. 'Which brings me to my request. Will Lady Heathstone take Mama with her to Italy? I know it is a great deal to ask…'
'Stuff and nonsense!' Sir William said stoutly. 'It was our intention to ask you both to come and live with us when Lytham takes over the estate. Your mama and Lady Heathstone have always dealt well together, and we shall all put our heads together in the matter of your future, my dear.'
'I thank you for your kindness,' Emma said and smiled. It was a smile of rare sweetness and made Sir William catch his breath for a moment. Had his own sons not already been married he would have welcomed Emma as a daughter-in-law, for she would surely make some worthy gentleman a good wife. He knew of one or two widowers who were comfortable enough as regards money, and he might see what could be done to help the gel towards a suitable match. 'But all I ask is that Mama shall be taken out of herself this winter. As for myself…' She drew a deep breath. 'I have found myself a position as a companion.'
'A companion? No!' Sir William was outraged. 'You a companion – that is impossible, my dear. Most unsuitable, Emma. I am sure your mama would never allow it.'
'I am afraid poor Mama has no choice but to allow it,' Emma replied. 'As you know, Papa quarrelled with his family some years ago, and Mama has none living. There is no one to whom we could apply for help other than you, Sir William – and although I am grateful for your offer of a home, I believe it would not be right. I am young and perfectly capable of earning my living, and as long as I know that Mama is well…'
'I must beg you to reconsider.'
Emma shook her head as she saw the anxious look he gave her. 'I assure you I shall be quite content, sir – which I should not be if I were a burden on you and dear Lady Heathstone. Not that you would consider me such, I know that, but…'
'It would not sit comfortably with your pride?' Sir William was thoughtful. Emma Sommerton was a woman of independent spirit, and perhaps it was as well for her to be allowed a little freedom for once in her life. She had not taken in her season for some reason, and after that her mother's delicate health had kept Emma tied to her apron strings. Perhaps it would be a good thing for Lady Sommerton to learn to do without her daughter, and it might give Emma a chance to live her own life. Who knew what might happen then? Emma was not pretty, but there was something attractive about her. It might be that she would catch the attention of some worthy gentleman, a man in his later years perhaps who would appreciate her qualities. 'Then I shall not interfere with your plans, my dear – but you will give me your promise that if you are ever in need of help you will come to me?'
'Who else would I turn to?' Emma said and took the hand he offered her. 'You have always been as a kind uncle to me, sir – and Lady Heathstone is a good friend to Mama. I shall be able to leave her with a quiet mind now.'
'Then you must do as you wish, Emma. When do you take up your position?'
'At the beginning of next month,' Emma replied. 'I shall then be almost at the end of my mourning and can go into company without fear of giving offence. The position is with a lady who has recently come from Ireland. Her name is Mrs Bridget Flynn and she is a widow.'
When Emma had spoken of becoming a companion, Sir William had imagined it would be to a lady of quality, and to discover that she was planning to work for an Irish woman of no particular family shocked him.
'But you cannot!' he exclaimed. 'She sounds…common…'
'I know her to be extremely wealthy,' Emma said, a little amused by his expression. 'Her husband was a distant cousin of the Earl of Lindisfarne, and a favourite with the earl apparently. She herself comes from a good family, though gentry not aristocracy, and the earl is sponsoring her in society.'
'Lindisfarne? I have heard the name though I know nothing of the man. This all sounds a little dubious,' Sir William was still doubtful, his heavy brows lowered as he looked at her for some minutes. He was a worthy man of broad stature and kind, though perhaps not the most imaginative of fellows. 'Are you perfectly sure this is what you want to do, Emma?'
'Yes, perfectly,' Emma replied, crossing her fingers behind her back. She had not told her generous friend the whole story and hoped he would not learn of the true nature of Mrs Flynn's relationship with the earl. 'I – I knew Bridget a little when I was younger. We attended Mrs Ratcliffe's school together. Bridget's parents were in India, her father was a colonel in the British army, and she was left at the school for a year before she went out to join them. I think that was where she met her husband, who was a major before he was killed.'
'And she returned to Ireland after her husband was killed.' Sir William nodded. One of his own sons had served with Wellsey in India some years previously, and a widow of a British major naturally assumed more respectability in his eyes. 'She is to spend some time in London? And she will be sponsored by Lindisfarne?'
'Yes.' Emma crossed her fingers once more. 'Bridget is a year younger than I am, sir. I believe the earl hopes that she will find happiness again.'
'Yes, she is young to be a widow,' Sir William agreed. He was not sure why he felt that Emma was not telling him the whole truth, for he could not see why she should lie to him. However, at the age of six and twenty she was at liberty to do whatsoever she pleased with her own life, and since he was not her legal guardian, he could not gainsay her. 'Then I shall not question you further, for you have made up your mind on this. Yet I ask you to remember your promise to come to me if you are ever in trouble.'
'You have been kindness itself, sir.'
'Then I shall take my leave of you,' he replied and held out his hand. She gave him hers and he pressed it warmly. 'We shall call for your mother on Monday next – and you leave a few days later for London. Will you be comfortable here alone for that time, Emma?'
'I shall not be alone,' Emma replied. 'I have received instructions from the marquis's lawyers that all the servants are to be retained, and that I am to await his coming at the beginning of next month.' A flash of temper showed in her eyes. 'When he will presumably wish to be shown whatever treasures the house contains. I am afraid he will be sadly disappointed. Papa had sold off most of the silver and pictures before he threw away the estate.'
'So you will have Mrs Monty with you, that will be a comfort to you, Emma.'
'And Nanny – at least until I leave here,' Emma said. 'Poor Nanny has talked of retiring to live with her brother for years, and at long last she may do so. I shall be sad to see her leave, but pleased that she will not have the trouble of looking after us in future.'
Sir William thought privately that in recent years it was Emma who had cared devotedly for Nanny as well as her mother, rather than the other way around.
'Well, I must wish you happiness, my dear. And now I must go.'
Emma went to the door with him, pausing as he climbed into his carriage and was driven away, then sighed as she turned back to the house. That was her first hurdle over, now for Mama…
Her expression was determined as she went upstairs to her mother's boudoir, for she knew that Lady Sommerton would resist being sent off to Italy with her kind friends. She had been insisting on staying to meet the marquis, and was prepared to throw herself on his mercy in the hope of retaining her own home. Emma, however, was not. Nor was she willing to allow her mama to debase herself to that…that monster!
What had Sir William called him? Ah yes – a damnable rogue! Indeed, he must have been a rogue to provoke Sir Edmund to gamble away his entire estate. Not that there had been so very much to gamble, Emma admitted privately, for she better than most knew that her dearest Papa had been worried to death about various debts. He had she knew been contemplating the sale of yet another stretch of land by the river, and it would have gone on that way until they had nothing left.
Why must men throw their fortunes away at the gaming tables? It was a mystery to Emma, and although she did not entirely blame her father's gambling for their troubles, for there had also been unwise investments, she believed it was a curse.
She put her distressing thoughts away, smiling as she went into her mother's room to find her lying on a daybed, a kerchief soaked in lavender pressed to her forehead.
'Are you feeling any better, dearest?'
'A little.' Lady Sommerton raised her head. 'I am sorry to be such a trouble to you.'
'You could never be that, Mama,' Emma said and meant it sincerely. Her decision to give up all thought of marriage to look after her mother had not been entirely the fault of a disappointment in love. She had been happy at home with her parents, despite their faults, of which she was perfectly aware, and she had long ago made up her mind that she would never make a marriage of convenience. 'I have some wonderful news for you, dearest. Sir William was just here. He and Lady Heathstone have begged for the favour of your company on their travels this year.'
'No…no, I could not possibly leave,' Lady Sommerton replied. 'I must be here to greet the Marquis of Lytham when he arrives. Besides, there is Tom. Supposing he should come home?'
'That is unlikely, Mama,' Emma said. 'If Tom had wanted to come home he might have done so at anytime these past months. He must surely have heard of Papa's accident.'
'My poor boy is dead,' Lady Sommerton declared dramatically, pressing a hand to her breast. 'I know that he would have come to me if he could.'
Emma wondered if that might be the case. Her brother had disappeared three years earlier after a terrible row with his father and they had not heard from him since. Like his father before him, he had a temper when roused. It was quite possible that he had done something foolish, which had resulted in his death.
'I am sure that is not the case,' she told her mother despite her own fears. 'Please do not distress yourself, dearest. It may be that Tom has gone abroad to take service in the army. You know he always wanted to be an officer.'
'If his father had only bought him his commission,' Lady Sommerton said with a sigh as a tear rolled down one cheek. 'But he would not and now I have neither son nor husband – and that wretched man will take my home away from me unless I am here to throw myself on his mercy. He will want to see everything. I must be here to greet him, Emma.'
'Not at all, Mama,' Emma replied serenely. 'I shall do all that is necessary myself.'
'That would not be proper, Emma.'
'I shall keep Mrs Monty with me,' Emma said. 'And I also have dear Nanny. It will be perfectly proper. Besides, I am hardly a green girl in the first flush of youth, am I?'
Lady Sommerton looked at her doubtfully. 'No, and of course I have perfect trust in your good sense, Emma…but I still think I should be here with you. We must take the greatest care not to alienate him, my dear. He might decide to let us stay here if I ask him.'
'Supposing he refuses your request, Mama – would you not find that embarrassing? Besides, there is the rest of the winter to consider. You know that I am pledged to Mrs Flynn and you will be here alone.'
'But I cannot live with Sir William and Lady Heathstone for the rest of my life…' Lady Sommerton choked back a sob. 'If only your Papa had not quarrelled with Tom.'
'There is nothing Tom could have done to prevent this,' Emma said. She too had often wished that Sir Edmund had not disowned his only son after their violent quarrel, for it was only after their breach that his gambling had become much worse. 'It is useless to upset yourself,
'But why has Tom not been in touch with us if he is alive?'
'I do not know but he must have his reasons,' Emma said as she had a thousand times before. 'Do not fret so, dearest.'
'I do not know what is to become of us when Lytham turns us out,' Lady Sommerton said and dabbed at her eyes.
'Sir William and Lady Heathstone have offered you a home for as long as you need it, Mama,' Emma said, trying not to see the tears in her mother's eyes. 'It really is the best thing for you. Even if Lytham were to allow you to stay here you could not manage on your income. This house is far too expensive to run. But if you accept Sir William's offer, you can afford to buy your own clothes and make your hosts the occasional little gift. Otherwise, you will have to manage with what I can give you, which will be very little.'
'Oh, no, I do not wish to be a burden to you,' Lady Sommerton said instantly. 'You have already given up too much for my sake.'
'I have given up nothing, Mama,' Emma said and smiled oddly. 'You know very well that I did not take in the drawing rooms of London.'
'I have never understood that,' Lady Sommerton said. 'I remember thinking that one or two of your suitors would definitely come up to scratch.'
Emma reflected that they might well have done so given the slightest encouragement, but in the throes of first love for a man who was not the man she'd imagined him, she had positively discouraged the more worthy gentlemen who might have offered for her. Her father had suffered some reverses at the card table that season, which had meant that she had never again had a chance of another season, something she did not particularly repine.
'Are you sure this is what you want?' Lady Sommerton looked at her daughter. 'I am aware that Mrs Flynn was a friend when you were at school, but what will she be like as an employer? Have you thought of that, Emma? People often change when they go up in the world, and if she is to be sponsored by her husband's relative…'
'Oh, I think I shall be quite happy with Mrs Flynn,' Emma replied. 'She is very eager for me to go to her, and though she means to pay me a wage, she says I am to think of myself as her guest.'
'Then I suppose I must let you go to her.' Lady Sommerton pressed her lavender-scented kerchief to her head. 'There is nothing else for it, Emma.'
'No, Mama…'
Had things been different, Tom might have managed to save something from the ruin of their estate, but as it was there was no hope – either of saving the estate or of his returning.
There was nothing else for either of them to do. Sir Edmund's folly followed by his tragic death had left them little choice but to accept the generosity of their friends.

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