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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Lord Blackwood's Valentine Ball by Arabella Sheraton ♥ FREE EBOOK ♥ (Regency Romance)

In this romantic traditional Regency novella, Patience Cherwell is resigned to a life of spinsterhood. Therefore, when her young friend, the lovely Lorna Hartley, comes to stay for a London season, she decides the eligible, charming Lord Blackwood is the perfect match for Lorna. Granted, Lord Blackwood, at forty, is much older than the vivacious 20-year-old Lorna, but Patience is determined to help her young friend make a good match.

So why isn’t she happy when his lordship and Lorna seem to like each other’s company? The problem is that Patience is already madly in love with his lordship! An unexpected invitation arrives for Lorna and Patience to attend Lord Blackwood’s Valentine Ball. This is the perfect moment for him to propose to Lorna. Mysteriously, a corsage arrives from an anonymous admirer. Who is it for? And what will be the outcome for the wearer at Lord Blackwood’s Valentine Ball? Patience and Lord Blackwood’s enchanting story continues in The Lady’s Revenge.

Lord Blackwood’s Valentine Ball
by Arabella Sheraton
Copyright © Arabella Sheraton, 2012

She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pin’d in thought,
And, with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.
Viola, from Twelfth Night (Act II, Scene IV) by William Shakespeare

“Lord Blackwood is giving a Valentine Ball? And you are invited?” Mrs. Henrietta Paisley widened her bulbous blue eyes at Patience. “How marvellous! What a romantic and thrilling idea. Let me see that.”
She snatched the gilt-edged invitation from Patience and squinted at it. “Oh, I can’t read this. Wait, where are my spectacles? Although I never confess to needing them, so you’re not to tell anyone.” She rummaged in her capacious reticule for her spectacles and then peered at the invitation card. An excited expression spread across her plump, florid face as she studied the embossed crest, the bold handwriting, and the elaborate signature.
“Well, I’m sure his secretary wrote this out, but this is his lordship’s own signature. Lord Blackwood.” She gave a sigh of pleasure. “Look at these flourishes and loops. So…so regal! Just what one would expect from a member of the nobility.”
Patience gave an inward sigh. Henrietta meant well. She had been Mama’s oldest and dearest friend. They had attended Miss Pringle’s Seminary for Young Ladies during their youth and had maintained a close friendship until Mama’s death a year ago. The childless, widowed, and socially well-connected Henrietta Paisley considered herself in charge of Patience’s life upon her friend’s death, in loco parentis as it were. Sometimes her efforts were interfering, despite her good intentions. Henrietta Paisley was also a self-proclaimed matchmaker, having successfully united no less than fifteen couples in the last two years. Pairing up young ladies with eligible men had become an entertaining diversion for her and she was good at it. Her success lay in her shrewd assessment of the suitability of potential suitors. Several anxious mamas had already engaged Henrietta in intense discussion on the possibility of Viscount So-and-So or Sir Such-and-Such or even Lord What’s-His-Name proposing to their hopeful debutante daughters.
Henrietta laid down the invitation. Her expression indicated how resolutely she was bent on a romantic mission. Like it or not, Patience was Henrietta’s next target for Cupid’s arrows. Her face glowed with an emotion larger than excitement. Elation was perhaps the best description. Or maybetriumph was even better.
“Patience Susan Cherwell, this is your golden opportunity, and if you don’t succeed, I swear I’ll—” She cast about for an aptly dramatic promise “—I’ll eat my best bonnet right here in this parlour!”
Patience shook her head. “I fail to grasp your meaning, Henrietta. My golden opportunity for what?”
Henrietta gave an explosive squawk of frustration and disbelief. “Why, you silly girl! To secure Lord Blackwood for yourself! What else do you think I mean?”
“But I thought—”
With ruthless disregard for Patience’s opinion, Henrietta interrupted her by launching into an unexpected panegyric. “He is the perfect man for you!” In a gesture familiar to Patience, Henrietta clasped her lace-mittened hands together somewhere in the region of where she imagined the heart pounded in the human breast and sighed.
“In fact, he would be the perfect man for any woman with a grain of romance in her soul. Oh, he is a man who can stir a woman’s emotions and cause such flutterings in the female bosom.” She frowned at Patience. “I say this without intending the slightest slur on the memory of my beloved Cedric, God rest his soul, who was the most wonderful husband any woman could ever wish for.”
Patience had no doubt this was true. Mr. Cedric Paisley, a thin, quietly spoken man, had been obedient to his wife’s every wish and whim. Patience had never heard him express an opinion that ran contrary to his wife’s decided views on life. Henrietta got her way in all things, including shopping. She was addicted to elaborate hats and bonnets, and she thought nothing of indulging in this reckless passion, uncaring of the expense. Mr. Paisley had paid the milliner’s bills without a murmur. Perhaps it was with relief that one day he just fell asleep in his study after a hearty Sunday lunch and never woke up. Although Henrietta always spoke of him in complimentary terms, she did not appear to miss him and in widowhood applied herself to the task of matching couples with even more zeal than she applied to shopping.
Henrietta’s eyes sparkled as she continued. “Those dark, brooding looks, soulful eyes, and a certain air of…” She waved one hand impatiently in the air, searching for the word. “I have it—tristesse. As if he cherishes some deep-rooted sorrow from years back.” She leaned forward and whispered in a confiding tone, “They say he loved and lost the most beautiful woman not so long ago. They were almost engaged, but he never got the chance to propose. I forget her name now.”
She frowned, and then screwed up her face while thinking. “Now, what was her name? It’s on the tip of my tongue! I remember one odd thing though—there was no body, and the family had a private memorial service. It was all quite secretive. Her name was…Letitia…let me think… Oh, I have it!” She snapped her fingers in triumph. “Miss Letitia DeVere! The family resides in Cornwall, in one of those crumbling old mausoleums. They had money once upon a time but fell on hard times, people said. However, I might be muddling them up with another family down that way. Anyway, no matter.”
“What happened? Why was there no body? Was she lost at sea?” asked Patience, swept up by Henrietta’s lyrical description despite her qualms at listening to gossip. Since Henrietta was always brim-full of the latest, most fascinating on-dits, any resistance often proved futile.
Already bored with the topic of Lord Blackwood’s former love, Henrietta made a dismissive gesture. “Oh, I don’t know. She died while visiting Europe. I seem to remember someone mentioning Italy. An accident, I think, while exploring places of cultural interest. The exact details escape me.” Henrietta adopted a hectoring tone. “That’s what happens in foreign locations if you’re not careful.”
She pointed at Patience. “Lucky for you, my girl. Now you have to get in there before anyone else does. I’ve heard how the ladies trip over their hems to catch his eye at these fine balls and banquets the nobility frequent. They set their caps at him without shame or scruple.” She eyed Patience sternly. “Now’s your chance at this Valentine Ball. It’ll be the most romantic opportunity to get his attention.”
Patience raised her voice to break into Henrietta’s stream of chatter, which was no easy feat. Garrulous to a fault, even Henrietta referred to herself as a “regular rattle” and used thirty words where an ordinary person would use ten. “I thought of trying to throw Lorna and Lord Blackwood together.”
“Lorna?” Henrietta screeched as she spoke the name. “Not Lorna Hartley, that red-headed romp of a gal who’s staying with you? The one from York?”
Henrietta looked almost affronted at the possibility of Lorna and Lord Blackwood as a couple, even though Lorna came from a prominent and wealthy family. The eldest of Sir Walter Hartley’s three pretty daughters, Lorna’s charm and personality won over just about every person she met. Everyone agreed she was a most enchanting and eligible young woman. But for some reason, Henrietta did not share this favourable opinion of her.
Henrietta scowled as she waited for Patience to reply.
“Yes,” Patience said with a touch of defiance. “Why not? Lorna is invited as you can see on the invitation. This is the perfect opportunity. She’s very beautiful and he’s a fine catch. They will suit each other very well.”
Henrietta exhaled in a loud, exasperated puff. “Patience Cherwell, how many times have I said to you that, now your dear mama and papa have passed on, it’s time for you to look around for a husband?” She wagged one finger at Patience. “Before it’s too late! I said to your mother years ago that she and your father should have made a bigger effort to see you safely married. But no, they kept you tied to their apron strings because it suited them.”
“You know Mama was ill, and especially after Papa’s death, she needed me—”
“Yes, yes, I know all that,” said Henrietta testily. The flowers on her bonnet bobbed as she nodded. “But that’s no excuse for obstructing all the occasions you might have made a good match. Mark my words, Patience. I loved your mama like a sister, but many’s the time I told her she was doing you no favours by fastening you to her side. Family bonds are invisible but are as binding and heavy as iron chains.”
Her glance lit upon the last iced cake on the tea tray, and she took it up with relish, biting into the pastry so hard that a few crumbs fell into her lap. Brushing the offending specks away, she said, “However, they did their parental duty by you. You’re lucky they left you so well off, my dear, as well as the house coming to you.” She glanced about the tastefully furnished room. “And very nice and snug it is, too, although I keep telling you to hire a butler as well. It’s not right having the parlour maid answer the door when you can afford at least a footman. What do people think?”
“I manage very well with Doris,” said Patience in defence of her household arrangements, but Henrietta ignored her and forged on.
“You’re not poor, my dear. Thank goodness, you don’t have to settle for any old suitor to make ends meet. You can pick and choose now. It’s a dreadful thing when a woman is left penniless and is forced to marry someone she dislikes just to secure her future. You don’t need to rely on any man to pay your bills for you.”
She finished her cake and took a last gulp of tea. “Now then, why on earth are you saddled with finding that silly gal a husband? Let her mother do her duty. Aren’t there any young men left in York for her to marry? Not that she’ll catch a fine fellow here with that carrot-coloured hair and her freckles.”
“It’s not carrot. It’s Titian, after the Italian painter who often painted women with red hair,” Patience said weakly.
Henrietta gave Patience another disapproving look, accompanied by an equally severe sniff. “And as for Italian painters…well, you know I don’t hold with foreign, artistic sorts of people. Especially the way they like to paint women without their clothes.” She widened her eyes. “Stark naked but for a flower or a ribbon, which can hardly cover their modesty. One wonders about the morals of such creatures prepared to shame themselves in the public’s eyes.”
It was a mystery how Henrietta, while maintaining a censorious attitude towards famous nude works of art, knew so much about them. Patience said quickly, “Oh, but Titian was a very famous Italian painter. He’s long dead now, but he was considered a very important and highly influential artist. Many of his paintings hang in famous museums in Europe.”
Henrietta pursed her lips a little. Then she put her head on one side as if considering the lingering and possibly harmful influence of a deceased foreigner who might have painted naked women. “Well, if he’s dead and famous enough to be in lots of museums, then I suppose he can’t do much harm, now, can he? But why is Miss Hartley here anyway?”
Relieved to return to the less contentious subject of Lorna, Patience said, “Her parents thought she needed to broaden her horizons a little and meet more people before deciding upon the man she prefers. She did meet a young man she likes in York, although she has not told me any details so I can only surmise he did not steal her heart. However, her mama is not keen on her settling down too quickly. After all, Lorna is very popular, despite her freckles. Viscount Fallbury even composed an ode to the freckles on her nose.”
Henrietta raised her eyebrows. “Really? An ode, eh? Well, I never. What young men get up to these days is unbelievable. When I was a young gal, they did more manly things like riding, hunting, and fencing, with the occasional duel. I don’t know what the younger generation is coming to, I really don’t. These young coxcombs scribble a few lines praising a lady’s fan or the dimple in her cheek and then think they’re the next Lord Byron. And as for him—” She drew in a deep breath.
Since Henrietta looked very much as if she were about to launch into another stern lecture on morality, given Lord Byron’s less than impeccable romantic history, Patience jumped into the conversational gap.
“It’s called Ode to My Lady’s Freckles. Viscount Fallbury has published a book of poems, and his ode to Lorna is amongst them. The book has received much acclaim.”
Henrietta gave a disparaging sniff. “Humph. Sounds like a whole lot of nonsense, all these odes and sonnets and whatnot. She should get rid of those freckles with lemon juice and rosewater like I used to do.”
End of this sample Kindle book.

Arabella Sheraton grew up on a diet of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and many other writers of that period. From Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer, Arabella has found both enjoyment and inspiration in sparkling, witty Regency novels. She also loves history and generally finds the past more fascinating than the future. Arabella wrote her first Regency romance to entertain her aged mom who loved the genre. Arabella is honoured to share the adventures of her heroes and heroines with readers.



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