'The Duke's Proposal' will always be a significant title for me. My very first book, 'The Unconventional Miss Walters', published in 2005 is special in the same way. 'The Duke's Proposal' is the first new title for over two years. I was beginning to think I would never get back into that wonderful feeling a writer has when they are in the middle of the book. I have spent the past 18 months putting up my long backlist on Amazon – this requires a lot of rewriting and editing but the characters and story are already there.
I needed to write the next part of my WW2 book Barbara's War as I had several enquiries from readers as to when it was going to be published . I'd originally said it would be out October 2013. I thought it would be easier for me to start with a Regency as I've written so many of them. 'The Duke's Proposal' is the result and I'm thrilled with it.
Writing this was exactly what I needed to get my head back into creating – I'm now a quarter of the way into the second part of Barbara's War. I love it when I can spend every waking moment living the lives of my characters. I had begun to think I had lost this ability, but now I know I haven't.
Here is an extract from the first chapter – Lydia Richmond is thrilled because a cavalry Regiment has just moved into the area. She intends to enjoy the company of the officers and considers that there's no need for a season in Town:
Less than twenty minutes later Lydia was on her way home delighted to have found an exact match for the forget-me-nots sewn to her ball gown. She nodded and smiled at several acquaintances that didn’t stop to pass the time of day. Fortunately the gaggle of girls and moved elsewhere, no doubt to discuss at length the arrival of the regiment.
Usually she chatted to Jenny when they were out together, but today she wished to mull over something that had been said to her earlier. When she had denied speaking to the duke, she had told a falsehood. His grace visited at least once a week, usually to impart some local news to her mother or offer advice on her investments. Although she was usually present, she rarely spoke directly to him herself.
He was nearer her mother’s age than hers, and although scrupulously polite and unfailingly charming, she found him unnerving and difficult to converse with. He was – he was a formidable man. He stood more than two yards high and his shoulders were extremely broad. He wore his dark hair short, an uncompromising style which suited his demeanour. He treated her more as a child than a woman grown and she was grateful for this. Being teased and talked down to meant she was not expected to join in the conversation and thus show her ignorance of adult matters.
Her lips curved as she recalled the last time they had met. He had ridden over on his latest acquisition, a magnificent bay stallion, and had invited her to give an opinion on the animal. She had been about to go inside after a brisk walk around the lake. Her face had been hot, her hem mired and her boots muddy – hardly an appealing sight. She had mumbled something complimentary and scuttled in like a frightened rabbit. His laughter had followed her and she didn’t blame him one jot for finding her a figure of fun.
On her return she ran upstairs to remove her gloves and bonnet and replace her walking boots with indoor slippers before hurrying down to the drawing room to share the exciting news. She burst in only to find her mother was not alone.
The duke stood and greeted her affectionately. “Miss Richmond, what a delightful surprise. I understood from her ladyship that you had gone to the village.” His expression was bland but she could see amusement dancing in his eyes.
“I am back now, your grace…” She faltered and her cheeks suffused with colour. Why was it she always sounded like a pea goose when speaking to him?
“Indeed you are, my dear, and looking quite delightful too.” He raised an eyebrow and glanced at a sofa reminding her etiquette demanded he remain on his feet until she was seated. Drat the man!
Ignoring his comment she dropped beside her mother intending to tell her the good news. “Mama, you will never guess what I was told in the village.”
“Lydia, my love, your news must wait. We have far more pressing matters to discuss.”
What could possibly be more important than the arrival of the cavalry regiment? She bit back her pert reply and tried to look interested. “Yes, Mama, what is it you wish to tell me that also involves our guest?”
She risked a glance in his direction and wished she hadn’t. He was not impressed by her comment.
“The duke’s sister, Lady Margaret Dunwoody, has offered to bring you out. Is that not kind of her? With your dear papa so recently deceased I cannot face the hustle and bustle of Town at the moment, so without this help you would not get your season at all.”
“Thank you, sir, I do appreciate Lady Margaret offering to sponsor me in March. However, I have no wish to leave my mother to gad about in London. Having attended several informal parties this summer, I believe that I can be considered out already.”
Who was the more astonished by her statement was hard to tell. Her mother was rendered speechless and the duke’s eyes widened in shock. He recovered first.
“Stuff and nonsense! Lady Richmond will manage perfectly well in your absence as well you know. All young ladies want to have a season in Town. You are no different—”
Lydia was on her feet incensed by his assumption that he knew her motives. “I beg your pardon, your grace, but I disagree. You have no right to dictate my movements for you are not a member of my family.” She glared at him and he glared right back. “Lord Richmond is arriving next week to take up his responsibilities as head of the household and my legal guardian. It is to him that I shall defer and not to—”
A choking sound coming from the sofa gave her pause. Her mother was about to explode. Lydia had never seen her parent so angry. Not waiting for the tirade to descend on her head she headed rapidly for the open door. Her heart was hammering against her ribs. She could scarcely breathe. What could have possessed her to speak so intemperately?
Mama would have her return if she could find her. Therefore she would not go to her apartment but hide in the maze until the coast was clear. She hurtled through the house and out through the garden-room and on to the terrace that ran around the south side of the building.
I hope you enjoyed this extract enough to want to read the rest.
Fenella J Miller