Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.
In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.
Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.
Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows.
Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.
Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.
The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.
In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.
He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.
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Today, we’re delighted to welcome author Stella Riley back to Romantic Historical Reviews to tell us a little about her new historical romance set in Georgian England.
Years ago, when I first wrote The Mésalliance, the publisher insisted on severe cuts so that it would fit into their standard 192 pages – and, painful as this was, I did it. However, I always thought that the book deserved better and so, when I started to prepare the e-version, I spent a great deal of time restoring it to what it should have been; and because I recognised the possibility that I might want to add another book to the series, Rockliffe’s evening at the Comédie Française in Paris contains the loose thread that would help me to do so.
The result is The Player.
He had many incarnations. There were half a dozen he used on a regular basis, all of them ingrained and as easy to slip into as a well-worn boot. Then there were the roles he could create at will when the occasion demanded it and even, sometimes, when it didn’t. And finally there was the one he had been born with; the one that, due to a sudden tragic turn of events, he would shortly be forced to resume … if only he could remember who that had been.
So … I wanted to feature Rockcliffe again and I had a hero possessed of unusual talents and a damaged and damaging back-story. Only then a third character stepped out of a painting, refused to step back again – and demanded to be the book-cover.
‘Come tread a measure with Claude Duvall.’ His voice was a silky-soft invitation. ‘Dance with me.’
What girl could refuse just one moment of moonlit magic in a life otherwise composed of ‘Doing What Is Expected’ and ‘Making The Best Of Things’? Caroline couldn’t.
Making her debut at the advanced age of twenty-two meant that she no longer had any romantic illusions about being swept off her feet by a dashingly handsome fellow – noble or otherwise. She knew that the only reason any titled gentleman would marry a girl who came from a background of cotton mills and trade was the money she brought with her. In essence, Caroline didn’t mind this. Or not much, anyway.
Inevitably, The Player contains some old friends as well as introducing new ones. Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, makes his bow – as does Sarre’s friend, Bertrand and his business-partner, Aristide Delacroix. Meet Caroline’s annoying and frequently embarrassing Mama and her paid chaperone, Lily Brassington. And then there’s Marcus, Lord Sheringham … whose role in the ensuing drama is pivotal.
Lord Sarre feared that return would lead him to exhume what exile had allowed him to leave buried. He wasn’t going back because he wanted to. He was going because his presence had become an unavoidable duty.
He doubted if anyone would welcome him.
At some point during the writing, I expect to fall in love with my heroes and Sarre was no exception – though, because he finds playing a role easier than being himself, it took a little longer than usual and came about in a way I’d neither planned nor anticipated. But there’s nothing like a surprise present, is there?
The dreams were back.
Dreams that remembered what his waking self only wanted to forget.
And all because of a letter.
It was the night before his twenty-second birthday and three days before the wedding. At first, he wasn’t sure what woke him. Then he realised that the door to his chamber stood open and, outlined against the darkness outside it, was a still figure in trailing white. For an instant, with sleep still fogging his brain, he thought it was a ghost but, even as shock propelled him upright, he recognised Evie’s husky, faintly unsteady laugh and saw her beckon him, then vanish like the apparition he’d briefly thought her.
The dream telescoped time as she led him through the semi-derelict north wing and out on to the roof. Then everything swung sharply back into focus.
She climbed on the low parapet, her body in its thin draperies haloed by the rising sun and the rippling rose-gold hair gleaming about her shoulders. Instinctively, he reached out to pull her back but she held him off saying, ‘No. If you wanted to catch me, you should have run faster.’
Her eyes were too bright and her voice too brittle. He’d seen her over-excited and highly-strung before – but never like this. She frightened him as much in the dream as she’d often done in reality.
He tried to speak but nothing came out.
And then, with a sudden dazzling smile, she said, ‘I’m not going to marry you.’
The words hit him like a punch in the stomach.
‘I’m not going to marry you. Don’t you want to know why?’
He didn’t. He wanted her to stop. He wanted her to laugh and say she was joking. He wanted the alarm bells ringing inside his head to fall silent.
He said, ‘I imagine you’ve brought me out here to tell me.’
‘Yes.’ The expression in the lovely eyes changed into something he didn’t recognise and she took her time about replying. Then she said baldly, ‘I’m pregnant.’
The sense of it was too far off to grasp.
‘You can’t be. We’ve never …’ He fought the hard knot that was forming in his chest. ‘Evie, if this is some game –‘
‘It’s no game.’ She took a graceful dance-step along the broad, flat ledge and pivoted to face him. ‘And it isn’t about you. I’m telling you that I have a lover and that I’m pregnant by him. I could have kept it to myself and married you anyway. Would you have preferred that?’
‘I don’t … I’d have preferred there was nothing to tell.’ His brain still couldn’t accept that this was really happening. ‘Who is it?’
‘I can’t. Who is he?’
‘Someone you know. Someone so very unlike you, he could be your opposite.’ Her voice grew rhythmically hypnotic, as if she either had no idea of the torment she was inflicting or simply didn’t care. ‘One so dark, the other so fair. One heir to a high-ranking title, the other already possessed of a lesser one. Need I go on – or can you guess yet?’
He could but he didn’t want to. Bile rose sickeningly in his throat and he said chokingly, ‘Say his name.’
‘I don’t need to, do I? You know.’
‘I shall know when I hear you say it.’
And so, with a smile and a shrug, she tossed him the name that ought to have been inconceivable but somehow wasn’t.
Sometimes, when he was really lucky, this was where the dream let go of him and he woke drenched in sweat, his breath coming in retching gasps. Mostly, these days, it held him in its grip until the bitter end.
TO WIN AN eCOPY OF THE PLAYER, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER, BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR 7 DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Much as I love the seventeenth century, I felt the need for a short break from it after finishing The King’s Falcon – which, as many readers will know, was my first new title in a very long time. I’m returning to it now as I begin work on the fourth book in the series but, for the last few months, The Player has provided a very enjoyable holiday.
When not writing, I enjoy travel, the theatre, dancing and reading.
My husband and I are about to celebrate our first anniversary of living in the ancient Cinque Port of Sandwich in Kent.
Those readers who know that I lived in Banbury whilst writing A Splendid Defiance and Yorkshire during the creation of Garland of Straw won’t be particularly surprised to find that Lord Sarre, alias The Player, has a house on Sandwich Bay. He invites you to visit him there.
For all the latest information or merely to drop in for a chat, join me at https://stellariley.wordpress.com