You may have seen in our newsletter that this cover of Dance for a Diamond has been nominated for the 2007 cover awards, the winner to be chosen later this year by the members of www.covercafe.com. This is a particular favourite of mine as the girl is perfect for my heroine, who describes herself as "a poor little dab of a girl, nothing to win the heart of a man of fortune or fashion!”The following extract is from Dance for a Diamond and describes Antonia Venn's first meeting with Sir Laurence Oakford. Sir Laurence has just asked her if she has any talents:
She smiled suddenly, a full, radiant smile that lit up her face.
'Yes, I dance! My dream is to set up my own dancing school, then I need be dependent upon no man.' She looked at him. 'You think it is a foolish idea?'
'Not at all.' he said politely. 'But what about marriage?'
'What of it?'
'I thought it was every young woman’s ambition. I have a sister who seems to think of nothing else.'
She pushed away her plate.
'For me it is out of the question. You said yourself, sir, that I am ruined.'
She cut off a piece of cheese and nibbled at it, watching him. The glow of the candles softened the harsh contours of his face but did not disguise the lines of strain about the eyes. She noticed for the first time the thin scar along his jaw. A rapier, perhaps, or sword….
His cold tone did not disconcert her.
'I wonder how you came by the scar on your face. The Peninsula, perhaps? You are a solder?'
He ran a finger along the mark.
'Yes. A French sword. But its owner was not so fortunate. I killed him.'
She shuddered slightly.
'I am sure it was necessary.'
'Unfortunately, war makes such things necessary.'
'But the war is over. Bonaparte is safe confined on Elba and that is all behind you now.'
'Aye. Though with this damned leg wound I could not fight an I would!'
'You are alive sir. You must be thankful for that.'
'Ha! I wish to God they had left me to die at Burgos.'
She laid down her knife, shaking her head at him.
'Shame on you, sir. How dare you say so? You think yourself ill-used because you have been wounded, and that not even sufficient injury to call you ‘cripple’! Yet there are many widows in this country who would be glad to see their men with such slight disfigurement - aye, and many orphans, too, who will no longer see their Papa!' she stopped, aware that he was scowling. She said stiffly, 'I beg your pardon sir – I speak out of turn.'
'Since I arrived back in England no one has dared speak thus to me.'
'Perhaps they do not wish to add to your pain.'
'Instead they have allowed me to wallow in self pity. Yet you, a stranger -' he threw back his head, listening to the voices from the passage, a man’s deep voice was followed by a shriek of laughter. Abruptly he stood up and limped across to the bell-pull. Its summons was answered almost immediately by a liveried servant. 'Order my carriage.'
She looked up. 'You are going?'
'Yes – and so too are you. Get dressed, and fetch your things. We are leaving here.' His brows snapped together as he observed the look in her eyes. 'Good God, I have no designs on you! I will give you your fare and set you on the night mail to Bath – how will that suit you?'
'You would do that, for me? But – but why? When I – I have failed so miserably to – to ...'
He smiled grimly. 'Because
you have failed so miserably! Now quickly, we must make haste if you are to catch the mail.'
Ten minutes later Sir Laurence walked through the hall with the young lady on his arm. She was wearing a sober brown pelisse and a plain, high-poke bonnet covered her soft brown curls, while in one hand she clutched a small cloth bag. Madame opened her eyes very wide at the sight of the couple and looked a question at the gentleman, who shook his head at her.
'I regret, madam, that I feel you will never succeed with this young person. She has no looks, no figure and nothing to fix the attention of any man.' He drew out a small leather purse, which he handed to the astonished woman. 'She also has friends who could make life very difficult for you. I think you would be advised to forget that she was ever here.'
He swept the young woman out of the house and into the waiting carriage before the startled dame could find her voice.
'Oh dear. Will she be very angry, do you think?'
'Not when she has counted the guineas in that purse. Do you care?'
'Not for Madame, but – is it true?' she asked in a small voice.
'That I am so – unattractive.'
He laughed and there was genuine amusement in his voice as he answered her.
'Of course not – you are well enough, but it would not do to tell Madame so.' He took the yellow rosebud from his coat and held it out to her. 'With a little polish and a more becoming dress you would be quite taking. Satisfied?'
She nodded, smiling faintly and leaned back with a sigh of contentment against the luxurious padded seat. The carriage bowled through the dark streets, past shadowy buildings with the occasional lighted window until the pace slowed and they swung into the yard of a busy coaching inn. The gentleman leaned our of the window and directed a series of questions to one of the ostlers, who tugged at his forelock and offered the information that yonder was the Bath Mail and it would be setting off within the hour. Bidding his companion remain in the carriage, Sir Laurence climbed out and went across to speak to the driver. A few minutes later he returned, holding out his hand for her to alight.
'I have purchased your ticket to Bath.' He pressed more coins into her hand as he led her across to the mail-coach. 'This should be enough to hire you a gig or some such thing to get you to your relatives, with a little extra for refreshment on the journey. You should be safe at home with them by tomorrow night.'
'Thank you, sir.' She dropped the coins into her reticule. 'If you will give me your direction I will ensure you are repaid –'
His finger pressed against her lips.
'I want no thanks for this – tomorrow I fear I shall have the very devil of a headache and will doubtless remember nothing, so you had best forget it, too.'
Her hands clasped his and she stared up at him, as if trying to memorise every feature.
'I shall never forget you – I had prayed that some sort of angel would rescue me.'
He bent his head to kiss her, holding her to him. She did not resist and for a brief moment he considered putting her back into his carriage and taking her with him. He might make her his mistress: after all it would be better than the situation in which he had found her. As the thoughts ran through his head he met the glance turned so trustingly upon him and he pushed her away.
'Get thee gone, child, before my good intentions desert me. Wait! Here, take this,' he drew the solitaire from his little finger and held it out to her.
'Oh – but – no sir – I could not!'
'Yes –' he placed it in her palm and wrapped her fingers about it. 'It was purchased for a most unworthy recipient, if you were to throw it in the river it would still be put to better use than the one I had intended.'
She put her hand up to stroke his cheek, running her finger along the fine scar on his jaw.
'She has hurt you very much, I think, sir.'
'Aye. I’ve learned a hard lesson, and I won't make the same error again. Now go, child. Take your seat.'
He bundled her almost roughly into the mail-coach and from the small window she watched as he limped across the lighted yard towards his waiting carriage, the evening cloak flapping about his shoulders like the wings of some dark angel.