Déjà You (continued)
Finally, C.H. Armstrong brings us Mr. Midnight, where tragedy reunites two star-crossed lovers, but misunderstandings soon rip them apart. Now, six years later, the stars are realigning with the help of the smooth voice of a late night radio DJ.
Some of the stories are sweet, some sad, some steamy, but all carry the same theme. Déjà You is a collection of stories for those who believe in love, but most of all, second chances.
Excerpt from The Pearl
1760, somewhere in Essex, England
The setting sun painted the facade of the lovely Palladian mansion pink, but the overgrown boxwood hedges and the weeds on the lawn pointed to a general neglect of the estate. It was an odd contrast to the owner’s ostentatious London wardrobe and flashy horse flesh. Marcus Landover supposed it was to be expected of a young man less than a year in possession of his fortune. He had it on good authority the fool had already blown through his cash reserves and had to retreat to his estate to escape his creditors. That begged the question why Marcus had let himself be goaded into accepting an invitation to the Baron Tillister’s card party. Especially since he knew the man intended for him to part with a good portion of his money.
Marcus, at nine and twenty, was almost a decade older than the young baron’s crowd and had little interest in their excesses but he was fond of his great-aunt, Millicent, and Aunt Milly worried about Baron Tillister’s stepsister. The girl, a Miss Sophia Chelmsford, had not been heard of since her mother’s funeral seven months prior. Although her mother had been estranged from the family, she had been a Landover by birth and Aunt Milly wanted Miss Chelmsford to know she was not alone in the world. The two letters she had written had gone unanswered, and it concerned the old lady.
Of course Marcus had no expectation of meeting the girl at a high stakes card party, but he could persuade one of the servants to take a note to her. Sophia was eighteen and had not yet been formally introduced to society. Her stepbrother was her legal guardian, so a message was the best he could do for now. Well, that and losing a little money to the youngsters to ease Aunt Milly’s mind.
There were three coaches ahead of him in the driveway so it was safe to assume Tillister had invited all of his cronies and planned to make an occasion of it. Marcus felt almost sorry no one had deemed it necessary to warn the young Baron that Marcus’s fortune had been won at the card table. He was far from the easy mark the young man assumed. But Tillister’s friends either didn’t know or didn’t tell him.
The coach stopped outside the brightly lit front portal and Marcus allowed his man, Richard, to help him down, maintaining the illusion that he was incapable of doing anything for himself. “Get everyone put up and rest, but keep everything ready. I plan to depart around three in the morning.”
The trusted retainer bowed low and murmured so only Marcus could hear. “I figured. Them youngsters don’t look like they could keep up.”
Marcus smiled. “Quite. We will be traveling to the Marchioness from here.”
Richard bowed again and Marcus ascended the shallow steps to leave his hat and cape with the aging butler. The man handed both to a footman and then led Marcus past an elegantly curved staircase and into a beautifully proportioned drawing room. The house was rather lovely despite the shabby exterior and there was plenty of fashionable furniture, but the fabrics were beginning to fade.
“You are not staying the night, Sir?” the aging butler inquired as he held the door for Marcus.
“Not if I can help it.” Marcus sighed.
The old retainer just nodded. He obviously was used to young men spending the night. He turned to the young baron holding court by the fireplace and announced the new arrival. “His Lordship, Marcus Landover, My Lord.”
Marcus stepped forward to greet his host whilst the butler bowed himself out of the room. Baron Frederick Tillister beamed with all the enthusiasm of a man whose grandest scheme had just fallen into place and rushed towards him.
“Landover, come in! I hope your journey was not too arduous.” He shook Marcus’s hand vigorously and led him to the group of young men by the fire. “You know Welsh, Adrian, Micklesby and Bingly from town of course. The brooding chap over there is my neighbor, Len Wilder, and the three over here who can’t stop arguing about horses are the brothers Fairly.”
Marcus nodded to all the gentlemen he was acquainted with and turned back to Tillister whose grin was full of pride and expectation.
“Let me pour you a drink. I picked up a rather decent brandy at Berry’s last week.”
Marcus was intimately familiar with the establishment on St. James's street. Any wine from there came with a hefty price tag. The baron was apparently going all out to impress him. “By all means, Tillister. Just the thing to wash the dust of the road from my throat.” He took the snifter Tillister handed him and noted how quickly the young man consumed his drink. At this rate he would be impaired by the time dinner was served. He either drank because he was nervous or because he was overconfident. Marcus was undecided as to which one was the cause. “You must be expecting more guests, we are uneven numbers for whist right now.”
“We will be thirty for dinner, and my sister will join us shortly. She is my hostess tonight.”
Marcus tried to hide his surprise, but his brow must have shot up in question.
“My stepsister.” The baron clarified. “My stepmother’s daughter, Miss Sophia Chelmsford. My friends generally like seeing her preside over the dinner table.”
Marcus was taken aback for a moment. A young married woman appearing as hostess for a dinner mostly attended by men was rare enough; a young miss not out in society would ruin her chances for a decent marriage. Surely Tillister wouldn’t allow that.
“Ah, I do seem to remember the late baroness had a daughter.” Out of the corner of his eye, Marcus noted the brooding young man start for Tillister with a murderous look on his face, but two of the horse-mad brothers held him back. Something involving Miss Chelmsford was going on and Marcus promised himself to get to the bottom of it. Aunt Milly may be right to worry about the girl.