The Very Comely Countess (Sonnet Books)

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9780743417938: The Very Comely Countess (Sonnet Books)
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When the Duchess of Harborough offers Harriet Treene a chance to model for one of her alluring paintings, Harriet accepts. Beautiful, witty, and bold, Harriet is a lowborn orange-seller in St. James Park. Can this diamond-in-the-rough be polished enough to find a place in the genteel ton -- and in the heart of London's most enigmatic rake?

Devilishly irresistible William Manderville, Earl of Bonnington, refuses to take a wife because the covert risks he takes for the sake of his country put him in constant danger. A painting by his friend the duchess -- of a woman who looks like the goddess Venus -- could change his mind, however. As the duchess plays matchmaker between the enamored earl and the mysterious beauty, William finds himself caught up in a maelstrom of powerful emotions and desires he has never felt before. But can he finally take the risk of loving a woman when his love of danger and excitement will put her in harm's way?

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About the Author:

Like most writers, I was a reader first, but I've also enjoyed writing and story-telling since I was a child. After working many years in public relations (which was a great background for fiction), I decided to stop talking about that book I was always going to write and actually do it. In 1990, when I was on maternity leave, I wrote my first book, Steal the Stars (now out of print.)

This was not as felicitous as it sounds. I was as fried as every other new mother, but at least while I was staying up all night, I was also writing. I didn't know how my book was going to end, I wandered around through the viewpoints of every single character, and my opening was so full of setting and backstory that I'm surprised any editor could stay awake to read it. Fortunately, one did, and with her help and understanding, I trimmed my manuscript by a third, tightened the plot, and pruned the extra characters, and duh-duh, on Valentine's Day, 1992 my first book was published and my writing career born.

Born, yes, but not totally prospering. I dutifully went back to my day job, writing at night, for another four years before I was earning enough to be able to write full time. I sold my first Fairbourne Family book, The Captain's Bride, to Pocket Books in 1996, and I've been happily writing for them ever since. My twentieth book, Star Bright, will be published by Sonnet Books in November, 2000, and I still can't believe I've come so far in eight years!

One of the things that has set my books apart from most of the other historical romances today has been the setting: colonial America. I'm not sure why this isn't a more popular setting among writers -- it's certainly one brimming with romantic possibilities! -- but it's a time and place I already knew something about, and an era that I especially enjoy. I went to college in Rhode Island, a place where the colonial past is still very much a part of modern life, and I'm sure that influenced me, too. I was especially fascinated by how fluid society was in New England at the time, with fabulous family fortunes made (and lost) in record time. It's a time of bold, daring, larger-than-life men and women, and that makes it a wonderful source for a writer.

With Starlight and Star Bright, I'm venturing back across the ocean to Georgian England, seeing the old country" through my colonial characters' eyes. This has been a new challenge for me, and a great deal of fun as well. This is, after all, the time and place that virtually invented the rake and the rogue! Visiting the London of Hogarth and Tom Jones, dancing at the pleasure gardens on the Thames and being presented at King George's court, wearing powder and paint and silk gowns and finding love with the most dashing of swashbuckling heroes -- what better vicarious fun could an author -- and, I hope, readers! -- possibly wish for?

And I do love research, and finding the exact little-known fact to bring a scene or event to life is one of the real joys of writing for me. As much as possible, I depend on original sources -- books written at the time, diaries, log-books, journals -- rather than later historical interpretations.

One of the advantages of writing books all set more or less in the same time and place means that, by now, I have a pretty good sense of the details of everyday colonial life. For example, I don't have to stop writing to look up what kind of underwear the heroine should have under her gown; I already know she's got a shift, stays, maybe a quilted petticoat or two, but nary a pair of knickers or bloomers no matter how cold the winter!

I also volunteer at a local living history museum, an eighteenth-century working farm and farmhouse. Dressed in period clothing, hauling water from a well and cooking over an open hearth has helped with the sorts of things books don't convey. Yes, the water in the wash-bowl does freeze in your bedchamber in January, and there's nothing like hefting an oak bucket full of water to build up those colonial biceps.

As you can doubtless tell, I love to write, and each morning I wake grateful for having such a wonderful way to spend my day (and night), and such wonderful readers to share my story-telling adventures with me and my characters. History and happy endings -- it doesn't get any better than this!

Please visit my website, www.mirandajarrett.com, or write me:

email: MJarrett21@aol.com

snail: PO Box 1102, Paoli, PA 19301-0792

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
London
May, 1799

The Duke of Harborough's carriage lurched to a rumbling start, or at least as much of a start as any vehicle could make for itself so close to Whitehall in the middle of the day. The iron-bound wheels scraped over the cobblestones and the springs sawed back and forth with a queasy rhythm as the driver tried to make his way through the carts and chaises and wagons, porters and sailors and apprentices and idlers that always crowded the streets near the Thames. The sun was too bright and the river too rank, and, with a groan, William, the present Earl of Bonnington, sank back against the leather squabs and pulled his hat lower over his eyes, trying to keep out every last ray of the infernal sunshine that was making his head ache even more.

"Will you tell me now what ails you, Will?" asked Edward, the seventh Duke of Harborough, Earl of Heythrop, Baron Tyne, and a gentleman who, unlike William, never shied from the midday sun. "Aside from your usual depravities, that is."

"I would not dream of keeping anything a secret from you, you insufferably cheerful bastard," said William, without raising his hat from his eyes. "What ails me is simple, and not in the least depraved. I am in great need of a new woman."

Edward chuckled, more amused than a true friend had any right to be. "Having finally wearied of Emily, you are in the market for her replacement?"

"I did not 'weary' of Emily," said William. Emily had been his last mistress, a luscious little dancer he'd set up in keeping for nearly two years, until her avarice had finally counterbalanced her uninhibited imagination and abilities, and with a parting gift of rubies, William sent her on to an older marquis. "One was wearied by Emily, but never of her. It is Jenny I must replace."

"Ah." Instantly Edward sobered. "Jenny."

"Yes, Jenny." William pushed his hat back from his face; there'd be no hiding in any discussion of Jenny Colton. "Have you any notion of how close she came to getting us both captured?"

Uneasily Edward nodded. Jenny had been his idea, and now she'd be his fault as well. "I'd some idea of the problems, aye. Your report made it clear enough that the arrangements had not gone, ah, exactly as planned."

"'Exactly,' hell," said William with disgust. He hadn't wanted to mention this in the Admiralty Office, not knowing who might be listening even there, but here now in Edward's carriage he had no such qualms. "She decided she was far too intelligent to follow orders, and began plotting and playing games she'd no notion how to finish. Thanks to her, we weren't alone on that beach, and we left at least three French soldiers dead on the sand to prove it. If the fog hadn't been thick when we cleared the harbor, then the coasters would have swept us up for certain."

There wasn't much cheerfulness to be found in Edward's face now. "Where is Jenny at present?"

"Back in the theater at Brighton," said William, "where I fervently hope she remains for the rest of her mortal days, or at least for mine. I've no great desire to be shot dead on a foreign beach, or to explore French republicanism through the wonders of the guillotine on account of some third-rate actress."

He could make light of it now, but the Fancy had barely slipped beneath the French guns to the open sea. It had been close, damned close. No wonder his head ached just from remembering.

Edward frowned, restlessly tapping his fingers on his knee. When he'd given up active duty to assume his title, he'd also given up wearing his gold-laced captain's uniform except for dress, but the years he'd spent in the Navy still showed as much in the formal, straight-backed way he carried himself as it did in his sun-browned, weatherbeaten face. He didn't look like any of his fellow peers in the House of Lords, and his experience was beyond theirs, too, having served with honor at the Battle of the Nile with Admiral Lord Nelson.

"I am sorry, William," said his friend now. "I thought you'd find Jenny amusing. I thought she'd be to your, ah, taste."

William allowed himself a small, exasperated grumble. It was bad enough that the scandal sheets breathlessly painted him as a sinfully charming rakehell, a carefree despoiler of maidens and defiler of wives. It simply wasn't true. Not entirely, anyway. He was very fond of women, and women in turn were very fond of him, and he'd never seen the wickedness in obliging their fondness, or letting them oblige his. But to have Edward believing these exaggerations and treating him as if he were no better than a stallion in perpetual rut -- well, enough was enough.

"I am not insatiable, Edward," he said testily. "And I do not regard these runs across the Channel as pleasure jaunts filled with drinking and whoring. I know that is precisely what we wish the French to believe, but if I begin to believe it, too, then I'm as good as dead. Hell, if you chose Jenny only to warm my -- "

"She came highly recommended," said Edward defensively. "For her reticence, that is. Not her other, ah, talents."

"Oh, no, of course not," said William with a certain resignation as he settled back against the cushions, arms folded over his chest. "Spoken like the old married man you are. You're so blessed content with your new little wife that you can't bear to think of us wicked old bachelors behaving decently at all."

"My contentment has nothing to do with this." Irritably Edward tugged at one white linen cuff. "You know damned well I'd never willingly put you at risk, not after you've already done so much for the Admiralty and the country as well."

"I know, Ned. But do recall that you're the great hero, not I." William sighed. No one who knew them both would ever make such a mistake, which was exactly why he had been so successful with his missions. Who would believe anything so patriotic, so selfless, of the Earl of Bonnington? "I am simply tired and cross, and I want nothing more than a drink to settle my temper. But I do believe I shall choose the next hussy myself."

"I wouldn't wish it otherwise," said Edward, grumbling but still clearly relieved that William wasn't going to raise more of a row about Jenny than he had. Not that William would. He and Edward had known one another since they were boys running wild together through the Sussex countryside, nearly twenty-five years ago now. While their lives since then had taken very different turns, that bond would always be there between them, and was certainly not worth straining for the sake of a self-centered chit like Jenny Colton.

"And no more actresses, Ned," warned William. "They're too damned caught up in preening over their own beauty to be trusted. You cannot imagine the strain of being penned up in the Fancy's cabin with Jenny Colton for a fortnight of dirty weather."

Edward nodded. "But a woman won't be much use to you as a distraction if she's not beautiful."

"A different kind of beauty, then. More subtle. More like a true lady." William sighed again, rubbing the back of his neck. He'd shaved and washed and changed his clothes before he'd called upon Edward, but he still felt gritty and edgy from lack of sleep. "A lady who'll understand that there are perhaps times when she would do well to be quiet and listen."

Edward snorted. "The woman will be posing as your mistress, Will, not your wife. Though to hear you, perhaps that's what you're finally searching for, eh? A lovely demise to your overrated bachelorhood?"

"Oh, hardly." William grimaced. Ever since Edward had fallen in love and married last year, he'd become the most earnest of matchmakers. It wasn't that William had any real argument against marrying -- his own parents had been happy enough models for him -- but he simply couldn't see any reason for it, either, not just yet. Eventually, when the time was right to sire

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9780739419717: The Very comely Countess

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ISBN 10:  0739419714 ISBN 13:  9780739419717
Publisher: Sonnett 2001/01, 2001
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