Portrait of Dreams

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9780671020705: Portrait of Dreams

In a dazzling debut that whisks readers to misty nineteenth-century England -- and into the depths of a woman's heart -- Victoria Malvey spins a tale of passion, intrigue, longing, and trust...and of the unwavering power of true love's design.

On the night of his wedding to the fiery, auburn-haired Andrea, Lord Nicholas Leigh is called into service by his king. When he is taken captive and imprisoned on his mission, Andrea is left to fend for herself as mistress of Leighaven, their prized English estate. Courageously rising to the task, she struggles to restore the family fortune.

When Nicholas returns from prison, his wife is no longer the free-spirited, uncomplicated girl he remembered, but a bold, self-reliant woman who cannot hide her hard-won independence. While this new Andrea brings Nicholas' pent-up passions to explosive heights, their hearts are set on a collision course, locked in a furious battle for control and power. The lord and his lady must now begin an emotional journey in search of true intimacy, even as a treacherous plot threatens to destroy Nicholas -- and part husband and wife forever....

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About the Author:

Victoria Malvey lives in Clinton, New Jersey, with her husband and two young sons. Portrait of Dreams is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Chelmsford, England -- April 1810

Her rump was beginning to ache.

Andrea shifted once more in her chair, trying to get comfortable, but after two hours of sitting and politely conversing, she was, in truth, getting rather sore. Her area of discomfort was rather apropos for the current topic of conversation. Her smile was strained, as she replied to Lord Whiting's inquiry. "While I do believe it is important to fertilize your crops, I'm not sure I agree that the manure from Arabian horses is more potent than that of other breeds."

Lord Whiting shook his head sharply. "I beg to differ, my lady. I have found considerable by simply --"

"Don't be a, ninny, Whiting," Lord Valcourt tossed out, his handsome face displaying his scorn.

"Lord knows, horses are Whiting's passion," added another young dandy who had been introduced to her just that evening.

"Nothing else seems to incite his interest, by God," snickered Lord Hawthorne, nudging Lord Valcourt's arm.

"Now see here..." sputtered Lord Whiting.

"Your pardon, gentlemen, but I was wondering if I might borrow my daughter-in-law for a spot."

Lady Miriam's polite interruption was welcome indeed. Though difficult, Andrea managed to keep from wincing as she eased her stiff body into a standing position. She ignored the outstretched hands of assistance being proffered by the four young bloods surrounding her. "Excuse me, gentlemen," Andrea murmured, moving gracefully to Miriam's side.

"Perhaps you will honor me with your presence as my dining companion in the near future. I have great interest in concluding our discussion."

Lord Whiting's inquiry made Andrea's smile wilt, but she still managed to reply, "I look forward to it."

"And I'd appreciate your insight into a problem I've been having with this lovely filly I recently purchased at Tatersalls." Lord Valcourt's earnest request couldn't be denied.

"At your convenience." Bowing her head slightly, Andrea guided Lady Miriam away from the gaggle of men, before anyone else had the opportunity to detain her.

The crisp evening air was a welcome respite from the stuffiness of the drawing room where her mother-in-law was hosting their party. The candlelight glistened through the window glass onto the garden terrace as Andrea looked back into the room. "Are you quite certain that we must hold these monthly weekend parties?"

"Positive," Lady Miriam asserted. "All of these people have sought your assistance with their thoroughbreds. It is exceedingly important to thank them for their patronage, for without their support of your expertise, Leighaven would have gone to creditors years ago."

Andrea gazed into the room, watching as her mother, smiling and happy, conversed with their guests. "At least my mother is in her glory," Andrea remarked, relaxing for the first time that evening.

"She does love our parties," acknowledged Lady Miriam. She brushed back a few loose tendrils of graystreaked brown hair. "Almost as much as you dislike them."

Andrea laughed in agreement. "You know me far too well, Miriam."

"You have hardly kept your distaste of these affairs a secret," a deep voice returned.

A guilty look on her face, Andrea spun to face her brother-in-law, Thomas. "Perhaps not, but you're hardly one to talk. After all, you've sought refuge in the garden once or twice yourself."

Thomas's laughter was a soft chuckle as he moved toward her. "True enough," he conceded, leaning down to press a warm kiss upon her brow. "You look lovely this evening, Andrea."

She lifted a length of gauzy skirt. "My mother assured me that this was the height of fashion.

His brown eyes, so like Miriam's, sparkled down at her. "Something which Lady Anne keeps well in mind."

"Are you implying, my lord, that I do not?"

The teasing question brought a quick grin to Thomas's handsome face. "Of course not," he responded lightly. "I am positive that you are well aware of what is fashionable...for those wretched horses of yours, that is."

Lady Miriam tapped her fan on her son's arm. "Mind your tongue, Thomas. Remember that those 'wretched' animals have rebuilt our family fortune."

His mother's gentle chiding brought a dull flush to Thomas's cheeks. "Fortune that needed to be replaced since I lost the original one," he said, bitterness coloring his words.

Something inside Andrea softened at Thomas's pain. She lay her hand against his forearm. "We all have unique gifts, Thomas, and no one ever faulted you for doing your best."

"Indeed not," agreed Lady Miriam. "I was merely trying to point out that --"

"Good heavens, what a gloomy lot you three are!"

Her mother's exclamation caught Andrea's attention. "Good evening, Mother," she murmured politely.

Lady Anne smoothed a hand across her forehead. With auburn hair lightly dashed with gray, and bright green eyes, there was no mistaking that she and Andrea were mother and daughter. "I've near worn myself to exhaustion trying to provide proper comfort for our guests, while the three of you hide out here on the terrace."

Andrea shifted uncomfortably. She was an adult and yet her mother still possessed the power to make her feel like a guilty child. "You're quite right, Mother." Andrea, glanced at both Miriam and Thomas, who seemed to be suffering from the same reaction. "Shall we all return?"

Lady Miriam nodded. "So sorry, Anne. I merely needed a breath of air."

"Understandable, but one must always remember one's duties." Lady Anne patted her powdered cheek before flashing a smile at Andrea. "Lord Hartnell has arrived, Andrea, and he is seeking your company."

Andrea forced herself to keep her pleasant expression firmly in place at this news, knowing that her immediate future would be filled with more discussions on manure and the like. The string quartet played in the corner of the room filling the air with muted notes, as the foursome entered the room.

"Look, Miriam, Lady Dabney has arrived." Lady Anne discreetly peered about the room. "We simply must greet her together."

"Certainly, Anne," Miriam replied.

Andrea watched the two women move across the room.

"Your mother's ability to spot a title in this crush inspires nothing less than awe."

She slanted an amused look at Thomas, who stood behind her. "One must never be remiss in her duties," Andrea said, mimicking her mother's tones.

Thomas shivered. "Lord, you frighten me when you speak like that." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Promise me you'll never become a social paragon like our dear Lady Anne."

Andrea's laugh drew the attention of the people around them. Flushing, she lowered her voice, leaning back into Thomas. "As if that would ever happen." She glanced up at him. "I fear I run a greater risk of turning into a bluestocking."

"And what of being unfaithful, Andrea? Do you run the risk of that as well, or has it already come to pass?"

Every muscle, in her body froze. That voice. Slowly, she turned her head, her every breath snaring within her breast at the sight before her.

Nicholas.

After seven long years. He'd returned to her, to them. Emotions cascaded through her: joy, shock, wariness. In a daze, she took a step forward, ready to hold him, to reassure herself that he was real.

His words stopped her.

"It would appear that you and my brother have become, shall we say, close friends in my absence."

The statement halted her steps and made the weight of Thomas's hand burn into her shoulder. She could imagine how it appeared with her leaning back into Thomas and his hand resting familiarly upon her. Still, Nicholas hadn't even given her a chance to explain before he tossed out an accusation, stopping her welcome.

Lifting her chin, Andrea took another step away from Thomas, breaking contact with him, to stand at equal distance between the two brothers. "Welcome home, Nicholas," She was aware of the curious, avid gazes of their guests fixed upon the scene playing itself out. Slowly, she leaned forward, pressing a cool kiss upon her husband's cheek. "I am so very happy to have you home again."

He lifted his shoulders in a shrug, the elegant cut of his jacket stretching across them perfectly. "I am so very happy to be here."

His sardonic tone made her flinch, but she ignored it, instead turning toward the man standing next to her husband. He was the agent they'd hired to arrange for Nicholas's release. "Mr. Grant," she said warmly, reaching out to clasp the shorter man's hands between her own. "At last, you were successful."

Mr. Grant bobbed his gray head. "It took quite a bit of money and negotiating, but we finally agreed upon a price, those French thieves and I. I meant to send a note, telling you of our arrival, but we came on directly and I never had the opportunity or time to do so."

"What is important is that you found your way back to Leighaven." Andrea felt Nicholas's gaze upon her. "I thank you for my husband's freedom and I will see you compensated handsomely."

The smile she'd given to Mr Grant remained on her face as she faced Nicholas once more.

"Seven years, Andrea." Nicholas's harsh whisper grated upon her ears. "Seven years."

Those two simple words held a wealth of pain, bringing tears to Andrea's eyes.

Nicholas shook his head. "Why?"

Before she could answer, Lady Miriam's cry broke the tension.

"Nicholas!"

The small woman launched herself across the room, straight into her son's arms. Andrea's heart ached to see him so eagerly enfold Miriam while he gave her, his wife, nothing but cold indifference. With his eyes closed, she was free to gaze at him, hungry for the sight of his once beloved form. How many years had she cried herself to sleep, fearing the thought of his fate? Regardless of their parting, she had loved him, completely.

His once black hair had gray strokes at the temples, his body was leaner and harder than she remembered, and the expression in his startling golden eyes harsher than she'd ever imagined possible. He seemed a different man from the one she'd married.

A man who was her husband and a stranger all in one.

A man who sparked to life a sensual awareness that she'd thought long dead.

A man who was so cold.

Andrea took a step back as people began to surge forward, clapping Nicholas on the back, giving him happy greetings. Another step backward brought her up against a hard form. Spinning about, Andrea looked up at the solemn face of Thomas.

"Don't worry, Andrea. I'll explain everything to him. He'll come around as soon as he understands."

And would that take away the pain radiating her heart, the heart Nicholas had once managed to break so soon after he'd claimed it for his own? Did Thomas not see that she'd longed for nothing more than to be taken into Nicholas's arms, held close to him?

The tears she'd tried so desperately to contain spilled forth, staining her cheeks. Andrea wiped them away as she skirted around Thomas, heading for the darkness of the cool garden.

"Andrea."

Nicholas's voice made her pause, but she didn't turn around, unwilling to show him how much he'd distressed her. "I need to speak with you," he added.

"If I might interject, Lord Leigh --" interrupted Lord Whiting.

"Who are you?" Nicholas ground out, glancing around the crowded room. "What the hell are all of you doing in my home?"

"I can explain, Nicholas," Miriam began, only to be cut off by her son.

"Andrea, where are you going?" he asked again a as she continued for the side door.

The tears fell faster as she increased her steps.

"Andrea!"

She ignored him, slipping outside. On the terrace, she heard Nicholas's frustrated voice ring out. "Will someone please explain to me what the devil is going on here?"

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Malvey

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