A Lady’s Tantalising Game (Preview)

Chapter One

Shropshire, England, 1815

Jasper Burnet walked quickly into the blacksmith’s shop, at the rear of the tall, red brick building, in the small village of Collstock. There was a familiar hiss and steam rising in the air around him. Jasper smiled. This was the sound and smell of his childhood and beyond; he would know it anywhere.

A wizened man with fiery red hair woven with silver strands was bent over the anvil, sharpening a sword. His father’s face was tight with concentration. Jasper hung back, knowing better than to break his focus. His father had taught him never to speak until he had completed the task at hand. He had only done it once, as a small child, and rued the day. He had been soundly berated.

He cast an eye over the shop as his father worked, spying his good friend, Timothy Slade, hard at work in the opposite corner making some horseshoes. Timothy was apprenticed to his father and had shown diligence and skill. But he wasn’t allowed to forge the swords and weapons yet; he had to make do with horseshoes and the like. Timothy was still learning his trade from the master.

One day all of this will be mine, he thought slowly. I hardly know if I feel pleased or burdened by the knowledge.

“Jasper,” said his father, straightening at last, placing the gleaming sword upon a workbench. “There you are. Are you ready for your assignment?”

Jasper smiled eagerly. “I am more than ready, Pa,” he replied. “I have already saddled the horse. I can leave for Highbury Manor whenever all the swords are ready.”

His father nodded. “The last one is finally done.” He grimaced slightly. “His Grace wanted quite a lot this time. A whole consignment of swords. I have been working around the clock, but it shall be worth it. The Duke of Coventry always pays inordinately well.” He paused, his eyes narrowing. “I am trusting you with this task, Jasper. It might seem like a simple job to deliver the weapons, but there is more to it than that. You shall have to deliver them to His Grace personally, so you must watch your tongue and be extremely deferential.”

Jasper nodded, just managing to stop himself from rolling his eyes. His father always primly lectured him about being appropriately servile towards the nobility. Josiah Burnet was a man who deeply believed in the order of the classes. Not that Jasper didn’t, exactly – he just didn’t believe that the nobility were all superior people just by the accident of their birth. He had seen quite a few over the years who seemed just as dull-witted as any common man could be.

But, of course, it wasn’t just about the fact that Alexander Finch, the Duke of Highbury, was so high born. It was about the fact he was an extremely well-paying and loyal customer of Burnet’s Blacksmiths. His father had been making swords for His Grace for many years now and the old man always returned for more. Along with everyone in Shropshire, he knew that Josiah Burnet was the best maker of swords in the county. In Jasper’s opinion, his father was probably the best in the whole country. But then, he was biased.

Jasper took a deep breath. “Of course, Pa. I shall not give His Grace any cause for complaint.”

Josiah Burnet slowly smiled. “Good. It is worth it, as I said. And His Grace is a good man, Jasper, as well as a loyal customer. He is sure to greet you warmly and to want to speak with you at length. He always does whenever I have delivered swords to Highbury Manor over the years.”

He started to gather up the swords, handing them to his son. Jasper admired the excellent workmanship as he took them. There was an even amount of short court swords for the art of fencing, known as foils, and the heavy cavalry swords, known as sabres. He ran an expert eye over them. He knew his weapons well – he had been practising the art of fencing since he was a small boy. He enjoyed using the swords more than making them – a fact he kept well hidden from his father.

If only I could become an adventurer or a soldier of fortune, he thought wistfully for the thousandth time. Journey around the country, or even abroad. Sail the seven seas, free and unfettered.

“I hope the ride is good, my son,” said Josiah, rubbing his neck. “I must get back to work now.” He hesitated. “There is no rush. You may take the day at leisure after you have delivered the swords. Timothy and I shall do well enough without you for the day.”

Jasper couldn’t suppress a grin of delight. The whole day, to wander the countryside, without having to return to work in the hot blacksmith’s shop. He could imagine he really was an adventurer, about to embark on a grand quest. Just for a little while.

“Thank you, Pa,” he said quickly, wondering again if his father suspected he wasn’t an enthusiastic blacksmith. That the work bored and frustrated him. Why else would his overworked father insist he takes the day at leisure on a task that would probably only take the morning?

But if his father did suspect that his only son and heir to his business wasn’t as keen on being a blacksmith as he was, he wasn’t saying. He never had. And Jasper couldn’t tell him. What was the point, anyway, when his destiny was so tightly sewn up? He had been born to be a blacksmith. He couldn’t change his fate in life.

He bid farewell to his father and Timothy, who was still hard at work in the opposite corner. His friend waved distractedly, his mind on the task at hand. And then, swords in hand, he mounted the horse and was away at last.

                                                                           ***

The day was bright and sunny, not even a single cloud in the sky, as he slowly headed down the one main street of his home village. Shopkeepers called out to him as they swept their front doorsteps, smiling widely. Jasper had known them all his life; they were mostly good people, with only a few exceptions. 

His eyes swept over the shops. The cobblers, the bakers, and butcher’s shops were all located on the right-hand side of the street. On the left, there was a small bookstore, a haberdashery, and a dressmaker. Collstock was small – many people chose to go to Shrewsbury, the largest town in Shropshire, to shop. But he and his father rarely did. All that they needed was here.

Suddenly, he saw a young woman stopped on the street, waving to him enthusiastically. She had nut brown hair beneath her white bonnet and a wooden basket perched on her arm. It was Susannah Allen. He had known her his entire life. The Allens lived next door to the Burnets. Mrs. Allen, Susannah’s mother, had provided a feminine influence in their household ever since his own mother had died when he was only ten.

“Jasper!” called Susannah, her eyes bright. “Where are you off to today?”

Jasper pulled the horse to the side of the street but did not dismount. He smiled down at her. “I am headed to Highbury Manor,” he said, gesturing to the pile of swords strapped onto the back of the mare’s rump. “A special delivery for His Grace.”

Susannah nodded. “Will you be back in time for Bible class in the church hall this afternoon?”

Jasper hesitated. Susannah had been trying to rope him into the weekly Bible readings for weeks now. It really wasn’t his thing at all. Sitting for two hours pondering and discussing passages from the Bible bored him to tears. But Susannah meant well, he guessed. 

“I am afraid not,” he said slowly. “Pa wants me to do a few other errands along the way and afterwards as well.” He gazed at her steadily, trying not to blink, to betray his lie.

Her face fell. “Oh…well, that is a shame.” She bit her lip. “But I shall see you this evening, at least, when I bring the dinner as always.”

“Of course, Susannah,” he smiled, feeling inordinately relieved she hadn’t challenged him about attending the class. “I look forward to it. Monday is shepherd’s pie, and you know I would not miss that for the world. Your mother makes the best in the county.”

Susannah looked pleased. “Well, until then, Jasper. Have a good day.”

He tipped his hat at her, leading the horse on. He felt her gaze follow him as he hit the edge of the village, heading towards the path that led to the woodlands. It was practically burning into his back.

Susannah likes you, said a small voice in his head. She likes you very much indeed. In that special way.

Firmly, he ignored the voice. He didn’t want to hear it.

As he cantered along the dirt road, noting the fields of bluebells, he thought of Susannah Allen. She had been making lovesick eyes at him and blushing furiously when she talked to him for over a year now. It was making him just a bit uncomfortable.

He sighed heavily. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Susannah; he liked her very much indeed. And she was pretty, in a fresh-faced way, with a trim figure. She was only a year younger than himself. He knew that a lot of men of four and twenty would be more than happy to take her as a wife and settle down into a life of domestic contentment.

But the mere thought of it filled him with the strangest terror imaginable.

He sighed again. He just didn’t want to settle down and have a family at all. If he married Susannah, or any of the village girls, it would be admitting that his dreams of a different life were lost forever. He would never escape Collstock and go adventuring – he would be the village blacksmith for the term of his natural life.

It was like looking at a gaol sentence.

He gritted his teeth, spurring the horse to go faster, almost to a gallop, revelling in the sensation of the wind in his hair. If only the open road were his life. Riding from place to place, experiencing different places and people. There was a whole world out there that he simply knew nothing about. The desire to experience it burnt so intensely he could barely stand it.

It wasn’t that he was ashamed of his humble life. He was very proud of his father and all he had achieved. Pa was the best blacksmith in the county; he had an unrivalled reputation. People travelled for miles out of their way to seek his services. They weren’t poor, not by a long stretch. Collstock was a lovely village with fine people – a very stable place to have been born and raised. 

But it was all so unbearably dull.

In despair, he pushed the treacherous thoughts out of his mind, riding faster through the woods. The horse’s hooves thundered on the dirt ground. It felt strangely cathartic; he had always loved riding. He loved anything physical, where he was moving. It was as if the movement entered his bloodstream, transforming him. The only times he felt truly alive.

He was sweating by the time he slowed the horse down, staring into the distance. There was Highbury Manor, just beyond the hill. No one would ever be able to miss it. It was the grandest house in the district – practically a palace, sprawling over a hundred acres or more. The home of the Duke of Coventry and his family.

A place so far removed from his own modest upbringing it was like comparing day to night.

He gazed at it for a moment longer before leading the horse onwards. He had an errand to complete. And the sooner it was done, the sooner he could leave and take advantage of the rest of this unexpected day off. 

 

Chapter Two

Lady Isabella Finch restlessly flipped her golden hair over her shoulder, facing her father across the breakfast table. The Duke of Coventry looked unruffled, as always, sipping his specially blended tea from his favourite China set. 

“Can we go riding today, at least?” challenged Isabella, her nostrils flaring. “I do not know if I can endure a day indoors. And the weather is so fine.”

The Duke sighed. “I have already told you, Isabella, that I am expecting the blacksmith from Collstock this morning. He is delivering an assortment of swords I have ordered. And I shall be on other business this afternoon.” He paused, gazing at her in a mock stern fashion. “Miss Ellis will be along for your pianoforte lesson, and your Aunt Jemima will be visiting as well. You shall be well occupied for the day.”

Isabella rolled her eyes. Listening to the aged Miss Ellis ramble on about her time on the concert stage when she was a young woman was so unbearably dull. And her Aunt Jemima wasn’t much better. All she ever wanted to do was press flowers into books and embroider. The day stretched before her. Hours and hours of pure boredom.

“Can I come and look at your new swords?” she asked quickly. “I would love to see them…”

“And so you shall, in good time,” said the Duke, frowning slightly. “But I would prefer it if you were not present when the blacksmith arrives. Do not think I have forgotten what you did when the antique dealer from Burnley delivered those antique swords that time. I have never lived that one down. People still remind me about it, from time to time.”

Isabella sighed dramatically. “It was all in good fun, Papa. You know that it was.”

Her father’s mouth twitched. “Be that as it may, Isabella, it was still a shocking thing for a well brought up lady to do,” he said. “Marching into the room, picking up one of the swords, pinning him to the wall, and challenging the poor man to a duel! He almost keeled over from apoplexy.”

Isabella couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. She could still see poor Mr. Dunn, ashen-faced, with beads of sweat on his forehead, staring at her in horror. She had placed the sword expertly underneath his chin, pressing against the soft flesh of his neck. His hands had reared up, trying to fend her off. He had looked like an insect pinned to a page.

Her father stared at her for a moment before he joined in. The next second, they were both roaring with laughter. Tea sputtered out of the Duke’s nose. He grabbed his napkin, dabbing it ruefully.

“I have never seen a man leave Highbury Manor so fast,” gasped Isabella, still wheezing. “It was as if the hounds of hell were on his tail.”

The Duke dabbed at his eyes with the napkin. “The unfortunate Mr. Dunn was never the same man again, I think. You would have given him nightmares forevermore.” He paused, sobering a little. “It was a very humorous incident. But something like that cannot happen again, Isabella. You already have a reputation as a wild child. We cannot worsen it further, and I simply do not trust you to behave.”

“Spoilsport,” sulked Isabella, poking her tongue out at him. “You know that Mr. Dunn was never in the slightest danger. No one can handle a sword as I can.”

“Nevertheless, you must not attend this visit,” said her father, wagging his finger at her. “You must stay well away, Isabella. Do you promise me?”

Isabella sighed dramatically. “I promise…if you promise to show me the swords this evening, before dinner.”

“It is a deal,” said the Duke, standing up abruptly, throwing the napkin on the table. “And now, I must get ready to receive him. He should be here within the hour.” He looked at his daughter. “Perhaps you should go and speak to Nathaniel before Miss Ellis arrives for your lesson. He didn’t eat much this morning and scurried out of the dining room within five minutes.” 

“It is only because his latest book just arrived, Papa,” said Isabella in a dry voice. “You know what he is like. He will be curled up in his armchair, avidly devouring it.”

The Duke frowned. “That boy always has his head in a book,” he muttered. “It is not good for him. His eyesight will be ruined entirely by the time he is a young man.” His frown deepened for a moment before his face cleared. “You should still look in on him, Isabella. Make sure he is alright. Promise?”

“Of course, Papa,” said Isabella. It was no hardship to spend time with her younger brother. She loved him dearly, even if he was an insatiable bookworm.

The Duke looked pleased, sweeping out of the room. Isabella stared after him thoughtfully.

He had made her promise not to interrupt his visit with the blacksmith. And she wouldn’t. But after she had checked in on Nathaniel, she might spy on them if she had a chance. Papa would be none the wiser. And she had to do something to break the infernal boredom of the day ahead, didn’t she?

                                                                            ***

Nathaniel was in exactly the position she knew he would be when she entered his chambers. The twelve-year-old was curled up in the large, upholstered armchair in the corner of the room, engrossed in his latest book. 

Isabella tilted her head sideways, reading the title. Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott. She had never heard of it. But then, she wasn’t an avid reader in the least. She didn’t like sitting around at all. 

Her eyes softened as she studied him. He had grown a foot taller in the past six months, his limbs lengthening. His blonde hair had darkened a shade, too, and his voice was breaking. He sometimes spoke with the high cadence of a child and sometimes the low tone of a man. He was highly self-conscious about it, and she knew better than to tease him.

She walked into the room, collapsing onto a chair opposite him. He acknowledged her presence with the raising of one eyebrow, but he didn’t lift his eyes away from his book.

“What is that you are reading?” she asked.

Sighing, he put the book down, gazing at her irritably. “It is Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott. Surely even you can read the title, Isabella.”

“Oh, you are the clever one, are you not?” she shot back. “Yes, I can just about manage to read the title, thank you very much. What I meant is, what is it about?”

“It is about an Englishman having adventures in Jacobite Scotland,” he said, his eyes gleaming. “It is really rather good already, and I have barely started it.”

“Sounds fascinating,” lied Isabella. She thought it sounded tedious in the extreme. Who wanted to read about someone going through adventures rather than having them yourself?

She decided to change the subject. “The new swords that Papa ordered are arriving this morning,” she said, smiling at him. “It is rather exciting.”

Nathaniel sighed. “Swords and weapons are all that Papa cares about,” he said sourly. “Why must we always go and look at his collection? I cannot abide it.”

“Papa has one of the best sword collections in the country,” said Isabella fervently. “And these new ones will be a great addition to it. The blacksmith from Collstock has an impressive reputation. Are you not curious to see them, even a little bit?”

“No,” declared the boy stoutly. “You already know that sister. But if you wish to gaze at them, then please do so. It means that I may read my book in peace.”

Isabella gazed at him sorrowfully. Nathaniel was her beloved little brother, but he was so reserved. He spent far too much time indoors alone. She could barely persuade him to take a ride with her or even a walk around the grounds. 

Tears filled her eyes. He hadn’t always been like that. Once, he had been a gregarious little boy, running and laughing. But when their mother had died when he was barely four years old, he had changed. Isabella almost couldn’t bear thinking about how he had howled for her, night after night. She would creep into his room to comfort him, and he would end up falling asleep in her arms.

Books had become his solace and his only joy. He would lose himself within them for hours at a time, barely remembering to eat. Isabella knew that their father worried about him. She did too. But it seemed that nothing could get the boy out of his self-imposed shell.

The family obsession had always been swords. Papa’s collection was amazing, and even Mama, when she had been alive, enjoyed going on expeditions with him to collect more. But it wasn’t just about the collecting of them. Papa loved fencing and was very good at it. She had been sparring with him since she was a girl and loved it more than anything in this world, as well.

But Nathaniel was different. He had no love of swords and had never expressed an interest in fencing at all. Isabella knew that Papa didn’t quite understand his son as much as he loved him. There was a gulf between them that seemingly could not be bridged.

Isabella gazed out the window. It was a beautiful day out there. And Nathaniel was holed up in his room, as always. It was a crying shame.

Suddenly, she lurched forward, grabbing the book out of his hand, dangling it before him.

“Give it back, Isabella,” he snapped, his eyes flashing. “I mean it.”

“If you want it, come and get it,” she cried, flying out of the room.

She heard him behind her in hot pursuit. He wanted that book. She flew down the staircase, past a startled maid carrying a pile of linen and through the servant’s quarters. It was like a rabbit warren down here; narrow corridors leading off to small, boxed rooms. Nathaniel was just behind her, breathing down her neck.

She burst through the kitchen, causing Cook to drop her wooden spoon into a cauldron of soup. Then, she was out the back door and into the gardens, flying like the wind.

“You are beastly,” cried the boy behind her.

Abruptly, she stopped. He collided into her. They both fell on the lawn, laughing breathlessly. Isabella leaned over, tickling him under the arms. He squirmed with pleasure, his dark eyes gleaming, his cheeks ruddy with the flight. 

Slowly, they sat up, recovering their breath. “Now, was that not fun?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “You know that it was.”

He scowled at her for a moment before breaking out into a wide grin. “I suppose so,” he said reluctantly. “But you must give my book back, Isabella.”

“I will,” she promised. “But first, we must go for a quick walk. Do you agree?”

He nodded slowly. “Agreed.”

They got up, dusting themselves off, walking side by side through the gardens. Isabella linked her arm through his, leaning close. Nathaniel was so very dear to her. Even though he was ten years younger than her and vastly different in temperament and interests, it was as if they were two peas in a pod.

They kept walking, reaching the west side of the grounds, where the stables were. They were just in time to see a man dismount from a horse before taking a pile of swords off the back of the beast.

Isabella’s eyes widened. This must be the blacksmith. But he was far younger than she had imagined. Probably only two or so years older than herself. He was tall and wiry, with longish curling brown hair. He didn’t notice them gazing at him as he headed towards the house.

“Come on,” said Isabella to her brother, not taking her eyes off the man. “Let us return to the house. I shall let you have your book. A promise is a promise, after all.”



“A Lady’s Tantalising Game” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Isabella Finch, daughter of the Duke of Coventry, has grown tired of her dreary life indoors. Being the fiery woman she is, she cannot abide by all the petty rules and regulations enforced upon ladies of her class. One fateful day, when the son of a talented local blacksmith is delivering swords to her father, she feels tempted by his seductive beauty and decides to play a tantalising game… Will a simple man offer her the most arousing romance of all or will he destroy her reputation and her family’s name forever?

During his visit, Jasper Burnet, son of the local blacksmith, instantly bonds with the Duke of Coventry over their shared love of fencing. When the Duke offers him a position at Highbury, he accepts right away. What he could never imagine was the enthralling chapter that was about to begin between him and the Duke’s scandalous daughter. He knows he is playing with fire with the feisty Isabella and yet, he can’t resist his burning desire… Will he withstand the pressure of a high born Lady’s wicked plans or will this untamed affair break his heart forever?

Isabella and Jasper are worlds apart. Nonetheless, a powerful attraction beyond what either of them have ever experienced, is slowly uniting them… How can they ever hope to be together, especially when Isabella is being courted by a proper gentleman? There is no place in this world for a daring Lady and a restless blacksmith’s son, and yet, they are willing to risk it all. Will they withstand the pressure mounting against them or will their lustful passion dissolve before they surrender to one another?

“A Lady’s Tantalising Game” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

9 thoughts on “A Lady’s Tantalising Game (Preview)”

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support, dear Mia. I truly appreciate it!

      So glad you enjoyed the story! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming!

      Thank you again and have a lovely day!

  1. An interesting start with the possibility of challenges for these characters. Look forward to reading more about them.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support, dear Jeanette. I truly appreciate it!

      So glad you enjoyed the story! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming!

      Thank you again and have a lovely day!

  2. I always look forward to your next book. Can’t wait. Thank you for the hours I spend with your stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *