Reigniting A Lady’s Passion (Preview)

Chapter One

“Where do you think you’re going, Maria?”

Maria slowed and turned to see her mother in the doorway to the morning room, watching her with a frown. Sighing, Maria bowed her head. She had hoped to leave the house before she was caught.

“I’m just going for a walk, Mother.”

The Countess of Kimbolton frowned in disapproval.

“I see. And I take it that the walk you took this morning wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for fresh air?”

“I’m taking George for his walk, that’s all. Samson is still working, so he can’t do it. I wanted to do something.”

“That’s for the staff to do, not you.”

Maria huffed.

“George is my dog, Mother. Didn’t you say I was supposed to look after him when we first got him?”

Lady Kimbolton pursed her lips.

“Who’s going with you, then? Because you know you can’t go out on your own.”

Maria gritted her teeth. She hated it when her mother kept picking apart what she was doing. It was like the Countess didn’t trust her. She took a deep breath to fight back the urge to make a snide remark.

“Jane is coming with me. I won’t be alone.”

“But you’re going to walk over to her home on your own?”

“Mother, what could go wrong between our house and hers?”

The Countess grunted.

“A lot could go wrong. You should take one of the servants, then I know you’re going to be safe.”

Maria sighed and whistled sharply. There was the sound of scrambling feet, and a black dog came bounding across the foyer. Maria made a gesture with her hand, and the dog trotted to her side, circled her skirts once, and then sat, looking up at her, panting. Maria looked up at her mother with a defiant stare.

“There, I’m not alone. Can I go, Mother, or are you going to keep asking me questions? Jane’s going to be waiting for me.”

Lady Kimbolton sighed and turned away with a shake of her head. Maria was sure she heard her mother say something about marriage, but she bit her lip and headed towards the door, signalling to George to follow her. The dog fell into step beside her as they left the house. Maria adjusted her shawl as she started to pick up the pace. It was such a nice day with a slight breeze that she didn’t feel the need for a bonnet. No one was going to see her walking without head attire. The shawl wasn’t needed, either, but Maria often used it as a sort of lead whenever George needed it.

She had ruined many shawls like that, and even her easygoing father was getting annoyed at that. Shawls were expensive. Maria didn’t really care. It was her clothing she was ruining, not theirs.

As she and George approached the gates that led to the main path towards town, Maria found her thoughts drifting back to Lady Kimbolton. Her mother had been getting more and more sullen recently. She had a good idea why, if her muttering earlier was anything to go by. It was pretty much the only thing the Countess wanted to discuss whenever there was a lull in the conversation.

If Maria was married by now, then she wouldn’t be behaving in such a carefree, wayward manner.

But that was not going to happen. Maria was not looking for a marriage, and she had no intention of becoming a wife to anyone. It didn’t matter how good the offers were. She wasn’t going to accept any of them. Her mother might think Maria needed a husband to keep her in line, but Maria didn’t. She was not going to subject herself to something that was not only advantageous to everyone but herself, nor was she going to live her life being tied to someone she didn’t love and would make her miserable.

Her mother didn’t seem to understand that. Her father did, which was a relief. If the Earl of Kimbolton was eager for his only child to marry, he would have done it a long time ago. But after the only engagement Maria had been forced into had ended in disaster, and Maria loudly proclaimed her decision, he seemed to fall in line with her choices. That did cause her parents to quarrel, but the Earl was not someone who was easy to sway.

Maria was glad Lord Kimbolton was on her side. Then again, he would do anything for his only child.

Besides, she was still young. Three-and-twenty wasn’t old, no matter what society thought. If she did even contemplate marriage, she had plenty of time to think about it. Women were having children well into their thirties once they were married. Why couldn’t she start having children at that age? It wasn’t like the ability to have children disappeared unless she married so young.

Maria snorted. Who thought it was a good idea for women to marry at eighteen, if absolutely possible? Men were not pushed as much, and they didn’t have the same scrutiny. They had a lot more freedom, which Maria found really unfair. Men were the ones who got women into trouble, so why were the ladies always targeted. Maria didn’t like it.

That was another reason right there not to get married. She was not going to be blamed for something a man did.

George started up a trot and went on ahead, sniffing at everything around him. Maria smiled as her dog barked and danced around her before trotting ahead of her. At least she had George. You couldn’t get anyone more loyal than her dog.

It didn’t take long for Maria to get to Jane’s house. She went around the side of the house. Having been friends with Jane since they were barely walking, she was a frequent visitor to the Ashbrook house. There was no need for such propriety.

Another thing her mother despaired at. Her daughter just wouldn’t behave properly.

She would. Just not when there was no one watching.

Jane was in the garden, sitting on a rug with her dark head bent over her book. She looked up and smiled behind her spectacles as Maria approached.

“Maria! I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I just had to get out of the house.” Maria gestured at George, who was now getting excited and jumping all over Jane. “I had nothing to do, and George needed a walk.”

“I can tell he needs wearing out.” Jane laughed. She petted him, squealing as George licked her. “George! Your breath stinks!”

“George! Heel!”

George stopped immediately and went to Maria, sitting at her feet while staring up at her. Jane brought out her handkerchief and wiped her face.

“I still can’t believe you managed to train him so well. Your father said he was going to be a lot of work.”

“George is a good boy. He just gets excited.” Maria stroked George’s head. “And he is very fond of you, as you can tell.”

“I’m flattered, but I don’t particularly want to smell of dog slobber.” Jane laughed. She gave Maria a mischievous look. “You were getting fed up with your mother again, weren’t you?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“You always go on a second walk to get away from her.”

Maria sighed.

“She always manages to find a way to bring the conversation back around to what she wants to talk about, which is my lack of a husband. It gets boring after a while.”

“You could always find a husband to stop her.”

“That’s not a good enough reason, Jane.”

“It was worth a try.” Jane closed her book and put it aside. Then she stood up. “I take it you want someone to come with you.”

“Would you mind? You haven’t got anything else to do today?”

“Of course, I don’t mind. Anything for my old friend.” Jane waved a hand towards the house. “Father’s gone to London, and Mother is visiting her sisters in St Ives. I’ve got the house to myself.”

“I thought you got on with your aunts.”

“Not when I’m the subject of conversation.” Jane made a face. “It’s not just you who is being discussed regarding a lack of marriage proposals.”

Maria could imagine. Jane was a really pretty woman, even with her spectacles, but no man seemed to approach her. It was strange. If she were a man, she would happily marry Jane. She had all the qualities any gentleman would want in a wife.

They just couldn’t get past the unfortunate scar on Jane’s face. That was very difficult to hide when it was on her cheek. Even after putting some powder on her face, it was still there. No amount of powder or adjusting her hair could hide it, so Jane had given up and just left it on display. She was at the point where she didn’t care what people thought anymore.

She had far more confidence than Maria. She didn’t think she could suffer a traumatic episode where she was physically scarred and be able to show her face in public again.

“You didn’t ask for what happened to occur. That’s not your fault.”

“You’d think it was with the way my aunts talk,” Jane grunted. “I’ve already scolded Aunt Letitia for the way she went about discussing it in front of me. Not very respectful.”

“Your Aunt Letitia has never been respectful about anyone.”

“That’s true enough.” Jane turned towards the house. “I’ll just get my shawl and bonnet, and then we can go. Do you want a spare hat, or are you all right bare-headed?”

“You know the answer to that.”

Jane laughed and headed inside. George gave a little yip and started after her, but Maria held out a hand.

“Stay.”

George went back to sitting, never taking his eyes off her. Maria stroked his head. He was a really good dog.

#

Maria loved going for walks in the countryside. The county of Cambridgeshire was mostly very flat, but it was very beautiful. There could be nothing for miles, and then suddenly, a town or village would jump up out of nowhere. She enjoyed wandering around, walking through the forests or going down to the river. Sometimes, she managed to get the carriage to go into St Neots or Huntingdon. If she was lucky, her father would take her to Cambridge, but that was a rarity nowadays.

No matter. She was content to be closer to home. It was familiar territory. It wouldn’t do anything wrong.

George bounded ahead and started sniffing around a tree before being distracted by a butterfly. Jane laughed as he tried to jump up and snare it with a snap of his teeth.

“I don’t know how he has so much boundless energy. It’s like he never stops.”

“He’s a Rhodesian Ridgeback, Jane. They’re dogs that never really slow down.”

“Is he like that when he’s asleep?”

Maria sighed.

“I’m afraid so. There are nights when I can’t sleep because he goes from his bed by the fire onto my bed and then wriggles around. I think he chases rabbits in his dreams.”

“Oh, dear. I’m glad I don’t have a dog.”

“You can always borrow George for a few days if you like.”

“God, no! I love him, but I don’t think I could cope with him on my own.” Jane shuddered. “Besides, he would be pining for you. That dog is devoted to you.”

Maria smiled. She had worked hard with George over the last two years. He had been a puppy when her father brought him home, and he had been rather rambunctious. It had taken several weeks to get him to listen, and quite a few more months before George did the commands Maria asked of him on the first try. There had been days when she wondered why she even wanted a dog, but then George would sit at her side, his head in her lap, looking up at her with those big eyes, and she knew she wouldn’t change him.

Training a dog, in her mind, was far easier than training a man. At least she had one man devoted to her.

Hugh had been devoted to you.

Which I wish he hadn’t. It would make me feel less sadness about his death.

“I’m surprised your mother even allowed you to have a dog,” Jane commented as they climbed over a turnstile. “I know how much she hates animals.”

“I asked for a dog for my twenty-first birthday, and you know Father can’t deny me anything.” Maria shrugged. “Mother still doesn’t care for him, but she will tolerate him.”

“Is that why George often sits at her feet?”

Maria laughed.

“I think he does that because he senses that Mother doesn’t like him. He’s trying to win her over. All he does is get paw prints on her dress.”

Jane giggled.

“He’s like a big child, really, isn’t he?”

“You could say that. Who needs children when you’ve got a dog?”

Jane shook her head, adjusting her bonnet.

“Honestly, I’m surprised you don’t dress him up and pretend he’s a baby.”

“How do you know I haven’t tried that?”

They giggled as they headed down to the river. It wasn’t very big, more of a stream than a river, but it was a pleasant walk. The trees shielded them from most of the sun, leaving a cool breeze to ripple through the leaves. It was very calming and serene.

Maria did love living here. It was one of her favourite places.

There was a duck with a few ducklings on the water, the little ducklings following their mother in one long line. Jane paused on the bank, watching the sight. Maria touched her arm.

“Jane. Are you all right?”

“What? Oh!” Jane adjusted her shawl and managed a smile. “I’m fine. I was just…well, off in my own thoughts.”

“I see.”

Maria didn’t push. She didn’t need to; Jane was easy to read. She was thinking about children. Her friend loved them and had always wanted to become a mother. It was her dream. But then a carriage accident left her badly scarred, and the prospects had died away. No one wanted a woman who wasn’t physically beautiful.

Maria found that unfair. Jane deserved someone who didn’t care about her appearance but about who she was as a person. It just wasn’t easy to get that across when her looks were what people saw first. She squeezed Jane’s arm.

“They look happy, don’t they?”

Jane didn’t answer. She simply nodded. Then George charged straight past them and jumped into the water. Maria squealed as her skirts were splashed and she and Jane jumped back. Jane burst out laughing as she took off her bonnet and shook off the water.

“God, he knows how to make an appearance, doesn’t he?”

“He certainly does.” Maria went to the edge of the bank. “Get back here, George! Heel!”

But George was not listening. He had seen the ducks and was now heading towards them. The mother quacked, and she and the ducklings scattered, moving out of reach as George paddled over. Maria groaned.

“George. Out of the water!”

“Having trouble, ladies?”

Maria spun around, only to realise she was a little too close to the edge of the bank. Her foot slipped, and she could feel herself toppling backwards. Then she was grabbed and pulled forward, landing against a very hard chest. She looked up, and her mouth went dry when she saw dark eyes inches from hers. His head was uncovered, leaving his dark curls ruffling in the breeze. He had a somewhat square face with a strong-looking jaw, firm cheekbones, and a straight nose.

And a mouth that was curving in a slight smile. Maria tried not to stare at his mouth.

“I would advise against going into the water in your current attire, Lady Maria,” he said, his voice a warm rumble that sent a shiver down her spine. “You don’t want to catch a cold, do you?”

“I…how do you know my name?”

There was a chuckle close by, and Maria managed to drag her eyes away from his to see another gentleman, this one with ash-blond hair and greenish-brown eyes that twinkled at her. He had a lovely smile.

Where had these two come from?

“I take it you’re in need of some help?” The fair-hair gentleman gestured towards the sound of splashing. “He looks like he’s having a good time, but I doubt the wildlife would say the same.”

“Oh.” Maria had almost forgotten about George. She cleared her throat and eased herself out of the dark-haired gentleman’s arms, stepping carefully around him and onto firmer ground. “He’s normally good with orders, but he goes a little mad when he sees other animals.”

The man’s mouth twitched.

“I’m sure.”

He put his fingers into his mouth and whistled loudly. Maria flinched, but then she heard George barking and turned to see him paddling back to the bank. He clambered up, dripping wet, and shook himself hard, spraying water everywhere. Jane squealed and backed away with her hands up.

“Not again!”

“I’m sure you’ll dry off, my lady.” The fair-haired gentleman laughed. He petted George’s head. “He’s a gorgeous animal. What breed is he?”

“A Rhodesian Ridgeback,” Maria said. She used her shawl to wipe down her arms. “I don’t think there are many of them in England.”

“You never know.” He gestured at his friend. “I’ve been trying to get Fitz to see that having a dog isn’t so bad, but he’s still holding out.”

Philip? Maria stared at the dark-haired man, who was running his hands through his hair as he shook the droplets out. It had been such a shock to see him that she hadn’t recognised him at first.

Three years on, and he was different. But yet, he looked exactly the same.

“Philip?”

It couldn’t be Philip Fitzharding, could it? Not Hugh’s cousin with the carefree attitude and the easygoing smile? He didn’t look so carefree now. There was something…intense about him. Maria couldn’t put her finger on it.

But then he gave her a smile, and Maria knew it was him. No man had a smile quite like his.

“Nice to see you remember me now, Lady Maria. It’s been a while.”

“Three years.” Maria bit her lip. “Forgive me for not recognising you immediately. It’s not every day I get rescued from falling into the stream.”

His eyes glinted, which caused her heart to miss a beat. My, but she didn’t remember a reaction like that happening before.

“Considering how shallow this water is, I don’t see you struggling. But it’s preferable than walking home in wet attire.”

Why did that sound more seductive than it was meant to be? Wait, why was she thinking about it being seductive at all? What was wrong with her?

Jane gave a polite cough, and then Maria remembered her friend. Feeling her face growing warm, Maria swallowed and managed to look away from Philip’s keen gaze.

“This is my friend, Lady Jane Ashbrook. Lord Philip Fitzharding, cousin to…Hugh.”

“Oh. I see.” Jane’s eyes widened for a brief moment. Then she dropped to a curtsy. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

“And you, Lady Jane. And it’s actually Lord Newmarket.” Philip spread his hands. “Hugh didn’t have any brothers, so I inherited his title.”

Of course, he would be the Earl now. That would explain why he looked so much more…imposing. Maria licked her lips and noticed Philip’s eyes go straight to her mouth.

“It suits you,” she mumbled.

Philip’s mouth twitched. Did he know that he was making her feel off-balance? Then he waved at his friend, who was crouched by George stroking his head.

“This is my friend, Lord Charles Pembroke.”

Jane’s eyes widened.

“The Duke of Oxford’s son?”

“The very same.” Pembroke got to his feet and gave her a bow. “At your service, my lady.”

Jane was now blushing a very rosy red. Maria had never seen her blush like that before. Then again, she hadn’t seen anyone look at Jane and not flinch at the sight of her scar. Pembroke was looking at her as if he hadn’t noticed it.

“Were you two on a walk?” Philip asked, bringing back Maria’s attention. “Would you like some company? Just so you do not fall in the water again.”

Maria’s heart fluttered. She swallowed, trying not to sound like a fool. She was getting a chance to be in the company of a former acquaintance who was making her feel warm inside. She would be a fool to pass it up.

She smiled.

“I’m sure the company would be very nice. If you don’t mind escorting us back home? I think George has had enough of a walk for now.”

Philip’s eyes glinted.

“We would be delighted to accompany you.”

Chapter Two

 

Philip couldn’t stop himself from looking at Maria intently as they went back to her estate, George trotting along beside her. He was a very obedient pet when he wasn’t excited.

Just like Maria was more beautiful than he remembered. When he had celebrated with his cousin over his engagement to the Earl of Kimbolton’s daughter, Philip had approved. Hugh was a very lucky man to have Maria on his arm. Slender with golden hair and blue eyes that seemed to show everything, even if she said nothing.

She looked even lovelier, walking with a confident stride and her head held high. Even standing straight, she barely came up to his chin, which should have left her with a fragile countenance. But there was a gleam in her eyes that belied her frailty. This was a confident woman, someone who didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Whoever married her after Hugh’s untimely death would be going to heaven with a smile on his face. Philip certainly would if he were married to her.

Don’t even think of that. She was to be Hugh’s bride, and she’s not someone you can seduce. Hands off.

Philip swallowed and looked back at Charles. His friend seemed to have fallen behind a little, looking to be in an intense conversation with Lady Jane. Maria’s friend was still looking a little flushed, but she was an equal participant. Whatever they were discussing seemed to excite both of them.

Philip hadn’t ever seen his friend behave like that with a woman so quickly. He was certainly enjoying his holiday.

“They’re getting along well, aren’t they?”

“Hmm?”

Maria gestured at their friends.

“Lord Pembroke and Jane. I haven’t seen her this excited to talk to someone in quite a while.”

Philip chuckled.

“I’m sure Charles will be flattered about it. But women do turn up to get his attention. They admire him, and they want to be seen.”

“He is one of the most eligible bachelors in the country.” Maria arched an eyebrow. “As are you, I’m sure. I presume you’re still the unmarried cousin who had no interest in entering into matrimony.”

“That is me, I’m afraid.” Philip gestured at himself. “Marriage is not for me. I’m happy with what I’ve got.”

“At least you don’t have family members pestering you to find a spouse before you get too old for anyone to find you of any interest.”

Philip stared.

“Did you…did you just say…?”

“That I’m still unmarried? Yes.” Maria sighed. “After Hugh died, I just couldn’t bring myself to see anyone else romantically. Courtship was the last thing on my mind.”

That was something Philip hadn’t expected. When Hugh had died after his ship wrecked off the coast of the Isle of Wight, leaving Maria without a groom a week before the wedding, he had thought she would move on and marry elsewhere. A beautiful woman like her wouldn’t stay unmarried for long.

You keep calling her beautiful. Stop doing that.

“You’ve seriously not looked at anyone else?”

“No, I haven’t.” Maria bit her lip and looked uncomfortable. “Forgive me, that all came out. It’s hardly appropriate conversation when we’ve just met again.”

“You’ve met me, haven’t you? You know I’m the King of inappropriate conversations.” Philip gave her a smile and winked. “Don’t worry, Maria. I won’t tell anyone.”

Maria’s cheeks flushed. She really did look very pretty when she did that. Philip remembered the first time he saw her. Their respective families had come together to celebrate the engagement, and Philip had travelled from Hampshire to see his cousin. Finally, Hugh was supposed to be getting married after remaining a bachelor for many years.

And he had chosen well with Maria. Philip had got the chance to talk to her, and she had been a little nervous. A young lady of twenty who was a bit like a frightened rabbit. But once they started talking, she had relaxed, and the two of them had spent a good amount of time discussing pretty much anything. Once she was out of her shell, Maria was like a bright star.

He could see why Hugh had chosen her. Philip had approved.

Now his cousin was gone, and Maria, much to his shock, was still without a husband. Did she love him that much she wouldn’t take anyone else?

And why did that leave a knot in his stomach?

“Are you here on holiday, then?” Maria asked. “Newmarket is a bit far away to have a walk.”

“I’ve bought a house in Perry. Just a small place away from everyone else.” Philip gestured at his friend. “Charles was in need of getting away from London, and I just wanted some quiet, so we decided to come out here together.”

“What was he getting away from?”

“Let’s just say it involves moments that would make your ears burn.” Philip grinned. “I’ll spare you the details and let you use your imagination.”

Maria’s eyes widened.

“You, sir, are just as scandalous as you were before!”

“You didn’t mind back then.”

“And I shouldn’t have entertained it.” Maria shook her head. “I was young and naive back then. And your wild stories were exciting. I’m surprised we didn’t get into trouble.”

“For talking? I doubt it.”

“You don’t know my mother. She would disapprove of me wearing the wrong colour dress at the wrong time of day.”

Philip had no doubt about it. From what Hugh had told him, the Countess of Kimbolton was a very prim, very strict woman. She would disapprove of pretty much anything. Philip wondered what she thought about her daughter refusing to have any type of courtship.

He looked back again at Charles and Lady Jane. Maria’s friend was gesturing with her hands and getting a bit more animated, which seemed to have Charles staring at her with his mouth open.

“Your friend likes to throw herself into a conversation, doesn’t she?”

“Jane is just happy that someone is paying her attention and not staring at her scar.” Maria sighed. “She’s very self-conscious about it.”

“What happened to her exactly?”

“She and her brother were in a carriage accident when they were coming back from Bedford three years ago. Her brother had to have his leg amputated when he developed gangrene. And Jane….” Maria gestured at her face. “She got a large piece of glass embedded in her face. She was lucky not to lose an eye.”

“Very lucky indeed.” Philip had noticed the scar, but he had not said a word. “I take it it’s one of those things that will hinder getting a prospective marriage for herself.”

“So far, yes. Which is painful for Jane.”

“She desperately wants to have a husband?”

Maria frowned.

“More like she wants a family. She’s the most maternal person I’ve ever met, but no one is prepared to marry a Viscount’s daughter when she has something ruining her beauty.”

“She is beautiful.”

Maria arched an eyebrow.

“You really think so?”

“Maria, I’m hardly a paragon of virtue.” Philip gestured at himself. “I’ve got a lot of bad qualities that would make any woman shy away. From what I can see, Lady Jane’s good qualities are shining through. The scar pales in comparison to what she possesses.”

He meant it. Jane Ashbrook was a lovely-looking woman, even with the scar. And Charles was clearly quite taken with her. His friend had barely looked away from her since they started walking.

His friend didn’t put much into physical appearances if whatever was underneath didn’t appeal to him. Philip was the same.

Except when it came to Lady Maria. No, I’m not going there.

“I must say, Philip,” Maria commented, watching as George bounded down the path ahead of them, “I remember you surprising me all those years ago. And you still have that ability to do it.”

“I like to keep people on their toes.” Philip shrugged. “It’s a speciality of mine.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Philip noticed the way Maria was looking at him. It was subtle, but he saw her eyes flicking over him. Warmth pooled in his gut, and he had to concentrate hard to push it away. Maria was innocent, certainly nothing like the woman he had taken to bed. Someone he shouldn’t even be thinking about in such a manner.

But he couldn’t help it. Just like he couldn’t help finding her attractive at Hugh’s engagement party. His cousin wouldn’t be impressed if Philip had seduced his future bride.

Maybe stopping when he saw Maria by the stream was not such a good idea, after all. His thoughts were starting to wander where they shouldn’t.

#

Maria sat by the window and watched as Philip, Charles, and her father, the Earl of Kimbolton, sat across the room with a glass of port each. They were talking away like they had known each other for years. Kimbolton certainly looked like he was enjoying himself.

But that was an ability Philip had. No matter what situation he was in, he was able to turn it around and uplift everyone’s spirits. People looked like they were happier when he was around. Whatever he said to them seemed to gain their avid attention.

It was not something everyone possessed. Maria certainly didn’t. If only she was able to hold a conversation out of nowhere. She could make small talk with acquaintances, but she preferred them to lead everything. She wasn’t the type to just walk up and start talking.

Not that her mother would approve. In her mind, the ladies were always the ones being approached.

Beside her, Jane giggled and gave Maria a nudge.

“You should see the look on your mother’s face. She looks like she’s swallowed a lemon.”

Maria’s eyes landed on the Countess. She was sitting near the door, pretending to be more interested in her embroidery, but Maria saw her scowling at the three gentlemen.

“She just doesn’t like not being the centre of attention,” Maria murmured, taking a sip of her tea. “For someone who says women should be in the background, she really doesn’t like it when people aren’t focusing on her.”

“That’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it? She’s always telling you that you need to allow people to come to you. I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to insert herself into the conversation yet.”

“Do you think she can get a chance to do it? I haven’t heard gentleman talk so much before.”

Jane giggled.

“You do have a point. At least your father is enjoying himself.”

“That’s something. It’s been a while since he’s had someone with some…animation.” Maria smiled at her friend. “You seemed to be the same way earlier. I saw you and Lord Pembroke talking like you were old friends.”

“I….” Jane’s cheeks went bright red. “I don’t know what happened, but he was just so easy to talk to. Really refreshing as well. And he didn’t mind when I got over-excited.”

“Plus, he didn’t seem to be bothered about your scar, did he?”

“No. That really surprised me. I never saw him look at me…well, like the other gentlemen do. Nothing at all to say he was repulsed.” Jane shrugged. “I suppose that’s why I was so…vibrant when I talked to him. He made me feel better that I could focus on the conversation and not on my appearance.”

“That’s good.” Maria nudged her. “I think, if I’m not mistaken, he’s taken quite a shine to you.”

“What? Lord Pembroke?” Jane snorted. “I highly doubt it.”

“Why not? Is it too much of a reach to think a duke’s son would find you attractive?”

“Yes, it is. He might be a decent person, but I’m not going to be someone he’s interested in getting married to.” Jane swallowed. “Or anything else. Anyway, who said anything about marriage? I’ve only just met him!”

“You never know. Stranger things have happened.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better, Maria.”

Maria could see that Jane was getting a little embarrassed when she started touching her scar. Her friend always did that when she was upset or embarrassed. She wondered if Jane knew she was doing it.

“Anyway, if we’re going to talk about people interacting as if they had known each other for years, what about you and Lord Newmarket.” Jane nodded toward Philip, who was laughing at something Kimbolton had said. “I noticed you two barely took your eyes off each other.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“That’s what I saw.” Jane tilted her head. “I presume you knew him before today. You spoke with such familiarity.”

Maria looked up just as Philip glanced her way. Their gazes locked for a moment, Philip’s expression flickering a little. Then he raised his glass at her before turning back to her father. Maria was sure her heart was forgetting how to work properly. Why did he have to look at her like that?

“Maria?”

“Hmm?”

Jane frowned.

“You drifted off there for a moment. Are you all right?”

“Oh.” Maria tore her eyes away from Philip. “Forgive me, what was the question?”

“There wasn’t one. I just commented that you seemed rather familiar with the Earl.”

“Right. Yes.” Maria put her teacup down. She needed to keep her focus. “He’s Hugh’s cousin. A close one, by blood, but they didn’t often get to interact as they ran in different circles. He came to the party to celebrate our engagement.”

Jane had not been able to attend. She had gotten into her accident only a month before, and while she was mostly healed, she was very self-conscious about her appearance. It had taken a long time to get her to leave the house, and that was only because Jane was concerned about Maria after Hugh’s death.

She would have been impressed with Philip back then, much as Maria had been.

“Ah, I see.” Jane waggled her eyebrows. “You and he got on along very well.”

“What are you implying by that?”

“Nothing. Just that you conversed with a very handsome gentleman.”

Maria gasped.

“You’re making it sound like I would have been tempted away from Hugh. I’m not like that!”

“I know you’re not. But looking at Newmarket, I can see why you would have been tempted.”

Maria shook her head.

“Honestly, Jane, you’re incorrigible.”

“I like to shock you, my dear friend. You should know that by now.”

“And I keep forgetting.”

Jane giggled. She sipped her tea.

“So, I take it he made an impression on you. You two looked like you were doing a lot of catching up.”

“You could say that.” Maria smiled. “Lord Newmarket is very easy to talk to.”

She had figured that out very quickly when they first met. Philip had approached her and greeted her warmly, using that smile of his that could make any woman swoon. Somehow, they had talked for a long time. Maria did try to circulate among the guests—she was one of the guests of honour, after all—but she kept coming back to Philip. She didn’t know why, but she had been drawn to him.

Considering the rest of Hugh’s family were rather strait-laced and difficult to talk to without feeling like they were scrutinising her, it was like a breath of fresh air to speak so candidly to one of his relatives.

And it looked like Philip hadn’t changed much in terms of his easygoing nature, his warm smile, and the way the words practically purred when they came out of his mouth. But there was also something different. He seemed a little more serious, somehow. More mature. Looking at him now, it was hard to describe him as easygoing and lighthearted as he had been before, but Maria could feel it bubbling away under the surface.

It probably had something to do with him inheriting Hugh’s title. Maria hadn’t realised he would be next in line for the Earldom. Being a nobleman meant he’d had to mature just a bit.

Maria wasn’t complaining. It was a good look on him.

“Well, Lord Kimbolton,” Philip said suddenly, the rumble of his voice making Maria jump, “I think Lord Pembroke and I must take our leave.”

“Must you?” Kimbolton looked at the clock and groaned. “I didn’t realise so much time had passed. It’s been a while since I’ve had such engaging conversation.”

Maria caught her mother shooting her husband a dark scowl and bit back a smile. Philip grinned and stood up.

“I’m flattered that you enjoyed our company, my lord, but we must depart. Pembroke and I have an engagement tonight that we need to keep.”

Kimbolton sighed. He put his glass aside and stood up, holding out a hand to Philip.

“Then you must go. And I must thank you for visiting us. It’s been an honour.”

“You really know how to make a gentleman feel wanted, my lord.” Philip chuckled as they shook hands. Then he turned, and his eyes landed on Maria. “Would Lady Maria be so good as to walk me out?”

Maria blinked. She was sure she had her mouth open. Then Jane cleared her throat and nudged her, which jerked her back down to earth. Clearing her throat, she smiled and got to her feet.

“Of course. Follow me, my lord.”

“With pleasure.”

Maria led the way into the foyer, Philip and Charles just behind her. She was aware of Philip’s eyes on the back of her head, and she felt a shiver through her body. It had been like this when they had spoken three years ago. Every time he looked at her, she felt a tingling in her belly. And warmth. A lot of it.

Three years hadn’t abated whatever this was. Maria didn’t know what to think about that.

“I’m glad you could make my father happy.” She said as the footman helped Philip into his coat. “He’s not been very well lately, so your presence has really cheered him up.”

“I’m glad we could do something.” Philip glanced at Charles, who was now being helped into his outdoor garments. “I should be thanking you for allowing us to take tea with your family. I felt like we were imposing.”

“From the way you were with Father, I think that was the farthest thought from your mind.”

“Maybe. Or maybe not.” Philip paused. Was he looking nervous? “It was…nice to see you again, Lady Maria. Very nice.”

Nice? Maria wouldn’t have called it that, but she wasn’t about to say that. She licked her lips. Why was her mouth so very dry around him?

“It was nice to see you, too, Lord Newmarket. I’m glad we crossed paths again.”

“So am I.”

They stared at each other. Maria could feel something prickling at her skin. There was something going on here, but she wasn’t sure what. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t let her go.

Never taking his eyes off her, Philip reached for her hand and lifted it to his mouth. He kissed her knuckles, and Maria had to fight back the gasp. Men had kissed her hand before, but none had made her tremble like Philip did. Especially when he was looking at her with such an intent expression.

“Good day, Lady Maria.” Philip’s eyes glittered as he slowly released her hand. “And don’t go falling into the water again. I won’t be around to catch you.”

“I…I’ll bear that in mind, my lord.”

Maria lowered her gaze to a point on his chest. That just made the pounding in her belly increase.

What was wrong with her? This had never happened before. Maria had never reacted like this to a gentleman’s presence.

She wasn’t sure if she liked it or not.


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

After the tantalising Maria Howard lost her intended husband, she declared she would never marry again. Trying to take charge of her own life, she is staying away from all the eligible men trying to approach her. However, a chance encounter with her former betrothed’s cousin, awakens forbidden desires. If she could only fight the undeniable attraction to a man who was never meant for her…

A lady who had no interest in ever wedding until she met him…

Ever since the Earl Philip Harding has returned home, the only thing that’s on his mind is the scandalous Maria. From the moment he laid eyes on her, three years ago, Philip felt a sizzling connection. Desperately trying to find a wicked way to get closer to her, he buys a house next to Maria’s. However, wanting and having are two different things…

Will he manage to win his seductive neighbour’s heart?

Maria and Philip know they are playing dangerously close with fire… Yet, with their flame burning hotter than ever, will these two lovers dare to join forces in order to face old enemies that threaten their affair? After all is said and done, will their love withstand the evil schemes plotted against them, or will they abandon one another once and for all?

“Reigniting A Lady’s Passion” 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!

7 thoughts on “Reigniting A Lady’s Passion (Preview)”

  1. This book is sure to be a real page turner!
    Lord Phillip and Lady Maria are very colorful
    characters.
    I am going to enjoy this book.
    I suggest everyone read it!
    Boo

  2. This book is sure to be a pager turner.
    Lord Phillip and Lady Maria are very colorful
    characters.
    I am going to enjoy this book.
    I suggest everyone read it.
    Boo

  3. Dear Emily
    The title of the book fits in well as the flames of passion still burn for his Maria and shes feeling the same for Philip..although fors not know it yet ..great start to an exciting new venture fof them and look forward to read more about their story….
    Cant wait to get my arc copy..

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

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

      Thank you again and have a lovely day!

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