Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Lily’s new book, a steamy Regency novella featuring a compromising situation that leads to a fake engagement and a second chance at love for the Duke of Warbury and his childhood sweetheart, Philippa.
A sea of voices and music washed over him as Dominic and Lord Avedon entered the house. Silver needles of pain stabbed Dominic’s leg with every step as he limped through the grand entrance hall.
He paused in the ballroom’s doorway, bracing himself against the din of conversation and music. He scanned the room, looking for familiar faces among the swirl of gauzy ballgowns and glittering jewels.
He hadn’t attended a ball in years. The gaiety and frivolity of the ton went against his grain.
Avedon clapped his hand on Dominic’s shoulder. “Steady on, old man. You’ll get used to it.”
It was the same thing Dominic had told Avedon before his friend’s first naval engagement.
Dominic nodded. Taking a fortifying breath, he limped forward.
The ball’s Master of Ceremonies spotted him. “His Grace, the Duke of Warbury! And the Most Honorable Geoffrey, Marquess of Avedon.”
Everyone turned to stare at them. A wave of bows and curtsies rippled through the crowd.
He gave the assembled company a curt nod of acknowledgement and forced a smile, hoping it reached his eyes.
Dominic finally caught sight of his mother. Tonight, the duchess wore a magnificent silk half-mourning gown with a ruffled hem.
Murmurs of “It’s the new Duke!” and “Warbury has finally come!” followed him as he moved stiffly toward her.
His walking-stick, more than mere accessory, beat out a steady rhythm on the ballroom’s waxed parquet floor.
“Dominic!” Mother swept forward in a cloud of expensive rose scent and black-dyed ostrich plumes. “You’re late, my darling! I feare that you were going to leave me in the lurch!”
He gave her a stiff bow. “My most sincere apologies, Mother. The roads were dreadful as always and the axle broke on the carriage. We had to stop at an inn for several hours while it was fixed.”
“Well, you are here now, and that’s all that matters, I suppose.” Mouth pursed in disapproval, she surveyed his clothing.
Dominic said nothing. He’d put his time at the inn to good use, changing into his new suit and allowing the local barber to shave him and dress his hair. He knew his clothes were perfectly appropriate for the occasion, if not quite the height of male fashion.
Not for him the frilled shirts and other fripperies of a London dandy. He was a navy man and a country gentleman, by God!
“Mother, have you met my good friend, the Marquess of Avedon?” he asked. “Avedon, may I present the Duchess of Warbury?
Then Dominic glimpsed a familiar face surrounded by chestnut curls in the crowd of guests.
Philippa. Here. In my house. His heart stumbled, then thudded into a gallop.
She looked even lovelier than she had ten years ago. After everything that had happened since then, he had not expected Mother to invite their former neighbor.
Back then, as the daughter of a penniless country vicar, Philippa had worn simple gowns, many of them hand-me-downs from her mother.
Tonight, she looked like a dream in a blue robe over a white silk slip trimmed with lace at neckline and hem. Tall white ostrich feathers fastened to a wide blue bandeau set over her hair waved gently like pennants.
Her gaze locked with his from across the room. Time seemed to stop as a flurry of emotions crossed her face—shock, warmth, longing… and anger.
Heat flooded Dominic’s face .And suddenly, he was sixteen again, racked with love, desire, guilt, and shame. Memories surged in a painful tide. Their first meeting in the vicarage garden. Her hand soft in his as they walked by the river. The sweetness of his first kiss… and the agony of their abrupt parting.
Then her expression shuttered. She dipped into a brief curtsy before vanishing into the crowd.
Avedon’s voice seemed to come from far away. “Is that your Miss Bowerchalke, Warbury?”
“Yes, and she’s quite the heiress now, or hadn’t you heard?” Mother answered for him.
“Well, if Warbury doesn’t want her, I’ll be happy to call upon her!” Avedon said cheerfully.
Dominic growled low in his throat. He wanted to glare at his friend, but he couldn’t tear his gaze from the ostrich plumes which was all he could see of Philippa, now standing behind a pair of much taller gentlemen.
He hadn’t seen her since the fateful morning he’d informed Father that he wished to marry her. Philippa might’ve been of respectable birth, a vicar’s daughter and the grand-niece of the Baroness Starkley, but she had no dowry to speak of.
And that had been unacceptable, even for a duke’s second son.
When he finally returned to Wiltshire last autumn, Dominic had hoped to call upon Philippa and offer his apologies. But Mrs. Bowerchalke, Philippa, and Philippa’s younger sisters Lucy, Georgiana, and Amanda had all been away in Yorkshire, tending to Baroness Starkley in what proved to be her final illness.
In gratitude, the baroness had willed a considerable percentage of her fortune to her nephew, the Reverend Bowerchalke, with each of his daughters also receiving a generous portion.
Immediately following the baroness’s January funeral, Mrs. Bowerchalke and her four daughters had traveled straight from Yorkshire down to London, so that Mrs. Bowerchalke could launch her two oldest daughters into Society.
“So, you still care for her?” Mother broke into his thoughts. She could still read him like a book. “Well, she’s quite eligible now, Dominic. And you need a bride, and quickly. The family line rests on you now.”
He turned to stare at her in disbelief. Mother was encouraging him to court Philippa ? After all his parents had done to prevent the match ten years ago?
“I doubt she’d have me,” Dominic said hoarsely. “After I promised her the world, and then went to sea.” He shook his head. “She’ll never forgive me, and I don’t blame her one bit.”
“Well, you need an heir,” Mother told him now in her usual forthright manner. “If not Philippa, then another eligible miss. Be sensible, my son, and don’t squander the opportunities this Season brings you.”
Dominic’s gaze swept around the crowd of unmarried young ladies staring hopefully at him, along with their chaperones. His gut twisted at the thought of courting and marrying any of them.
And in that moment, he knew. No matter the cost, he had to win Philippa back. Even if she gave him the cut direct for the hurt he’d inflicted as a callow youth.
“I’ll do my best,” he said.
He would do better than that, he vowed silently. He would seize this second chance granted him by Fortune, and win Philippa back.