Half-Moon Street, London, 27th August, 1813
My dear Celeste,
I trust your esteemed mama improves in health so that you may soon be free to return to Town, for you are missing the Event of the year. You must know that even we married ladies are all aflutter since the arrival of a certain French gentleman in our midst. Monsieur de Montailhac is the brother-in-law of Sir Richard Hartford, and the son of a French marquis and his wife – a Turkish princess, no less. These details I have from Cecilia Hartford, who is only too ready to boast of her handsome guest.
Indeed, Celeste, I have now been present at two events where the gentleman also figured. I feel such pangs of jealousy against Cecilia, who can feast her eyes on this marvel of masculine beauty every day. He casts even Lord Byron into the shade. His hair is raven black, like his eyes. Oh, such fascinating almond eyes, with a constant roguish twinkle. And his smile makes one forget who and where one is! To the advantages of a trim figure, he adds impeccable style and a delicious French accent that charms us all.
Of course, that odious cousin of Cecilia’s, Mrs Bingham, swoops on the poor man, pushing her poor plain little Lydia at him. [The only man who ever notices Lydia is Jack Barrowman and Mrs B considers him a rustic. She would do well to accept the match for her daughter. It is already Lydia’s third season, is it not?]
And by chance, a little later that day I was in Charters Square in Soho to make a purchase at the showroom of the fine silversmith there, when I espied Monsieur de Montailhac [his name is Arnaut, is it not delightful?] coming out of that very shop, in company with a pretty young lady. They stood and spoke for a time, while I pretended to inspect the goods in the display window. Then he kissed her hand and the smile they exchanged was so intimate, I felt ashamed to be spying on them.
It seems Mrs B is doomed to yet another disappointment over her daughter. But if you wish to see our handsome Frenchman, you should in truth come back soon.
Yr affectionate friend,
About the Book
Arnaut de Montailhac’s reputation as a charming rake is well established. Secretly, he longs for a role where he could shine on merit. Perhaps the political events of the summer of 1813 will give him that opportunity. But when his first official task is to seduce a beautiful young spy, Arnaut suspects he is considered to be nothing more than a charming fribble. However, events quickly turn nasty and he sets off on a quest, determined to prove his true worth. Louise Fauriel, hardworking member of a family of Huguenot silversmiths, is the complete opposite of Arnaut. Linked by the need to smuggle letters from the Bourbon king in exile at Hartwell House to Arnaut’s father, the unlikely pair travel between France and England, with Napoleon’s vengeful agents never more than one step behind. In the desperate race to succeed in this mission, even a rake has no time for love.
Excerpt: A rake in peril from the ladies
Behind his fixed smile, Arnaut was fuming. He and Richard had taken refuge in the drawing room to settle their plans for the afternoon when Cecilia swept in with a group of ladies. It was evident she was determined to show off her French visitor. Everywhere he looked, he saw ladies nodding and smiling at him. He felt like one of the horses he had seen exhibited at Tattersalls the other day. Servants appeared with tea and cakes. Arnaut was horrified. How could he escape? Yet in less than thirty minutes it would be three o’clock, time for his meeting with Pierre D’Escury in Soho.
He found himself sandwiched between a formidable matron and her shockingly plain daughter. Not for the first time, he regretted his ability to attract ladies. The girl was gazing at him with a sort of dazed intensity, as if he was a rare item in a museum. Arnaut cast an urgent look at Richard, seated in the window alcove beside an elderly lady wearing a monstrous bonnet. Richard met his eye and gave a faint, apologetic smile. No help from him, then.
Now Cecilia came to stand in front of them. ‘How delightful to see you such good friends already with our guest, Cousin Chastity,’ she trilled. ‘I am sure Monsieur de Montailhac is telling you all about the latest Paris fashions.’
In spite of his growing frustration, Arnaut had to swallow a laugh. Nobody could help the name their parents gave them but ‘Chastity’ did not sit well on this large and opulently endowed lady. She turned towards him and beamed. ‘He is making acquaintance with my dear Lydia here. So charming.’
Lydia nodded and wriggled without taking her eyes from his face. Did the girl have any conversation, he wondered, or was she simply her mother’s puppet? He was hemmed in by these three females. He would have felt less threatened among a hostile crowd at a prize fight. Thankfully, someone else addressed Cecilia and she was obliged to move away.
The clock on the mantelpiece struck the hour. Arnaut gave a silent groan. Think, dammit! he told himself. You have to escape without giving offence. He gave an exaggerated start and stood up, pretending to check the time.
‘More tea, Monsieur de Montailhac?’ Cecilia hastened back, blocking his way. This began to seem like a conspiracy. But he was going to escape. He smiled his most charming smile and handed her his cup, still untouched.
‘Thank you, no. I regret, but I am obliged to take my leave,’ he insisted over her shocked protests. ‘In such charming company I had almost forgotten that I’m engaged to spend this afternoon with an elderly friend of my father’s. He is housebound and so you appreciate I cannot disappoint him.’ It was not so far from the truth. He turned and bowed in the grand style his father had taught him. ‘Ladies, I am desolated but I cannot stay.’
He was aware of the sudden silence and the heads turning to follow him. Straight backed, he marched out of the room, letting out a deep breath once the door had closed behind him.
You can buy the book here https://tinyurl.com/yaf6frr3
The Rake and His Honour, Arnaut’s story, is the second book in the Montailhac Family series. The first brother’s story is told in Scandalous Lady. https://tinyurl.com/y978tol5
There are notes and pictures – and more information about the slightly exotic Montailhac family – at www.bethelliott.webs.com