When Isabella, the Countess of Huntleigh, returns to England after fifteen years roaming the globe with her husband, an elderly diplomat, she finds herself in a locale more perilous than any in her travels—the Court of King George IV. As the newly elevated Earl and Countess settle into an unfamiliar life in London, this shy, not-so-young lady faces wicked agendas, society's censure, and the realities of a woman soon to be alone in England.
Unaccustomed to the ways of the beau monde, she is disarmed and deceived by a dissolute duke and a noble French émigré with a silver tongue. Hindered by the meddling of her dying husband, not to mention the King himself, Bella must decide whether to choose one of her fascinating new suitors or the quiet country life she has searched the world to find.
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Excerpt from Chapter One, Royal Regard
Smiling more gently, Charlotte patted the pink mark the fan had made on Bella’s forearm, reminding her cousin yet again, “Even after fifteen years, they are the same people they were when you left, and you are now a baroness with a goodly fortune and a husband distinguished in the diplomatic service. You may find you are made a countess before long. Alexander says four-to-one at White’s.” Charlotte’s sharp eyes flashed, and she spoke from the side of her mouth. “Prepare to pretend you are civilized. You’ve been spotted.”
Reflected in the silvery glass behind Charlotte, Bella’s eyes widened in alarm, and beneath her unfashionably sun-warmed skin, her face paled. Pivoting, she insinuated herself behind Charlotte’s right arm and ducked her head behind the princess sleeve of Charlotte’s much lovelier gown.
Charlotte stepped away, leaving her no place to hide. “Lady Lannedae and Lady Yarley are coming this way, and I shall have to present you to the hostesses before long, or we will be summoned. It is miraculous I could secure vouchers without an interview.”
“Only so Lady Jersey can be first to tell tales,” Bella grumbled in a higher-pitched voice than she had meant, as she smoothed down the awful dress. Charlotte poked her fan at Bella’s hand. “Stop it. You have to face the gossips sometime.”
Charlotte and Bella both curtsied to the much older ladies, and Charlotte made the introductions: “Lady Yarley, Lady Lannadae, might I present my cousin, Lady Holsworthy?”
Both ladies sniffed, as though they hadn’t come over specifically to speak to her. Lady Yarley’s mouth puckered like she was sucking soured food from her teeth, and Lady Lannadae’s eyes snapped as viciously as a hungry crocodile. They stood straighter than Bella’s hair, elbows tucked into their sides, hands grasped tightly across their old-fashioned waistlines, identical but for color—one lady in mauve with grey trim and the other grey trimmed in mauve—both restraining themselves to the last vestiges of pretended courtesy.
Bella knew the role she had to play, no matter how unpleasant it might be. Her husband had always depended on her gracious behavior and deference toward anyone with whom he might do business, most especially men’s wives. It was very nearly second nature, even in London, so she pasted on a simpering smile.
“Ladies, I am so pleased to meet you. It has been far too long since I have spoken to civilized people in the English tongue. Lady Lannadae, I must say the lace on your gown is lovelier than any I have seen, even in Brussels. I hope you might tell me where you found it.”
Without so much as a how-do-you-do, Lady Yarley ripped into her subject as a wild dog into a cornered coney. “I’ve heard you and Lord Holsworthy have been in the most disreputable places—the Dark Continent, the Spanish New World—”
Lady Lannadae broke in, “The penal colonies!”
Eyeing her cohort coldly, Lady Yarley continued, “I cannot imagine any well-bred young lady surviving such a voyage.”
Both of the women’s eyes narrowed to exactly the same slits.
Bella’s mouth twisted into a patently false depiction of continued civility. “The blizzards of Siberia, the monsoons of the Orient, the tropics of South America…” As the ladies leaned in, intolerance dripping from their rabid fangs, Bella abruptly decided to provide them fresh meat.
In a clear, uplifted voice, infused with the ice of a Russian winter, she continued: “Some places, one can hardly stand to wear any clothing at all. I have seen more natives au naturel than you might imagine exist on the planet.”
Lady Lannadae sucked in a breath, nearly swooning.
Charlotte’s voice took on a shrill tone as she laughed too loudly, “My cousin is such a goose. Of course, she is joking.” Jabbing the fan into Bella’s side, she whispered, “Au naturel… My heavens, Bella.”
Lady Yarley spoke to fill her companion’s shocked silence. “No lady of my acquaintance would stand for such immodesty.”
“Given the choice of standing for it or being cut up and made into British-subject soup,” Bella returned, “I learned to cope with the indiscretions of people who know no better. I like to think I was a civilizing influence.”
Suddenly feeling her age and experience, Bella determined to hide neither.
“Of course, we haven’t been without the trappings of civilization entirely. We’ve just spent the last half-year as guests of King Louis in Paris, though lavish apartments in the Tuileries Palace were not our standard fare. Most often it was riding astride on camels and bathing in river water under tents. When we had tents, of course. And the food! Rancid meat, offal, reptiles, insects; the retching alone might have killed me. And obviously, only by the grace of God have I made it back without being raped to death by hordes of barbarians.”
Judging by the matching pinched looks of horror on their faces, if Lady Lannadae and Lady Yarley hadn’t leaned against each other, they both might have fainted dead away on the Aubusson carpet. Charlotte fumbled in her reticule, presumably for smelling salts.
“It has been so lovely to meet you, ladies,” Bella said crisply. “You must feel free to call. I will be receiving Monday and Thursday afternoons.” Turning away from them, Bella once more sought her husband through the crowds in which she would soon be a social pariah. In that moment, she didn’t give a whit, but was canny enough to know she would later.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoy a good regency romance, and so glad that I decided to read Royal Regard. This is my first exposure to Mariana Gabrielle’s work, but I’m hooked. Her characters are well rounded and realistically crafted, and I found myself fully invested in them from the get go. What I especially enjoy about this genre, is that falling in love with someone that you’re actually married to wasn’t at all the norm. In fact, it seems that while women would swoon at the thought of a “love match”, many of the male characters I’ve come across would see the open display of affection as a weakness. The standard for marriages seemed to be that they were more a strategic tool to further a family’s connections, than anything to do with depth of emotion between a couple. Sure, you might come to like the person you were with, but women had few rights and a multitude of pitfalls in the ever-changing social scene that they could find themselves a victim of. In my mind, a female was little more than a uterine cultivation device (sounds better than “baby maker”). This was why I loved Bella’s innate strength so much.
She’d had such a difficult upbringing. The only female in a household of rough, sometimes abusive and scheming males, she wasn’t at all confident in ton society. Having basically been brokered away into a marriage to a merchant twice her age, she’d spent the last fifteen years touring the world with him as his wife and diplomatic support staff. You’d think she would be bitter, unsure, and easily victimized; nothing could be further from the truth. Bella had balls (sorry for the visual) that rivaled any of the males she’d encountered along the way. I was fascinated by her ability to cut down any man who behaved indecently, while being so utterly unsure of herself as a female. What a complete dichotomy. Her journey to finding herself certainly had its ups and downs. That’s okay though; I’ve always thought that anything worth having should be worked for. She was smart when it wasn’t fashionable, and I had to give her a lot of credit for remaining true to herself, in spite of the staggering amount of external pressure to conform.
Nick (Duke of Wellbridge) was the quintessential rake. He gambled, dallied with married women, and made a career out of walking the fine line of acceptability. I’m sure if he hadn’t enjoyed such a close relationship with the King of England (I cracked up every time someone used the King’s nickname, Prinny), he’d have been a social outcast. What I loved best about him is that Nick saw in Bella, what so many (except her husband) overlooked; she was a unique and resplendent creature who’s allure would last long after her peers’ beauty had faded. Make no mistake; he thought she was beautiful, but more than that, her wit, intelligence, and innocence drew him like a moth to the flame. I liked that Nick was smart enough though to play the part of the rake, while living his life on his own terms. He wasn’t a bad guy; he simply had no interest in having his days mapped out for him in regard to a wife and family. He’d seen how unhappy his mother and father had been, and was in no rush to enter into that arena. I thought he had many redeeming qualities – it was just a matter of paying attention to what he didn’t say or do to uncover them.
As with many romances, the hero and heroine are the only ones not aware that they’re already in love. Sometimes watching them come to the realization can be tedious, but no so with Regard. I loved watching them deny it at every turn – it almost reminded me of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, when he sings about being “accustomed to her face”. These two were a perfect foil for one another on so many levels; and I think that was the essential ingredient to their loving relationship. Let’s not forget though, that Bella was already married. Her husband, Myron, might have not had the romantic relationship that set his wife’s heart aflutter, but he was no less in love with her. He knows that his success is in a large part due to her support and insight, and has no issue with stating it. He loves her sarcastic wit and I in turn loved Myron.
Mariana Gabrielle wrote an exciting plot that was filled with more twists than a corkscrew, and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout most of the book. There were many moments where I was surprised by a turn of events, so much so, that I know I could easily read the story through again and come away with additional insight. Even if you aren’t usually attracted to the Regency romance genre, I think you’d find Royal Regard a thoroughly enjoyable read. This book is already on my TBRA (To Be Read Again) list.
Bella Humphrey has escaped the horrors of her past and is now comfortably married to Myron Clewes, Baron Holsworthy. Although an older man, she esteems him greatly and with the exception of the absence of children her life is relatively good. That is, until she meets not one but two Dukes that she is irresistibly drawn to.
Myron is no fool and wishes to see her happy, so to secure this he proposes a very unusual contract with Nick Northrope, Duke of Wellbridge. Lord Adolphe Fouret, Monsieur le Duc de Malbourne is a dark and sinister man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and Bella is once again unwillingly a pawn in the game of men.
The Duke of Wellbridge is witty, charming and seductive. It is easy to despise him and desire him at the same time while Bella and her cousin Charlotte are two characters that carry a great deal of the story and are immensely entertaining.
It begins with a lighter tone yet once the morose side of Malbourne and his deceitful plots come to light the story changes to a much darker one. The reader takes a captivating step into the regency era but at times with far too much emphasis to details and can occasionally want to step back out. Containing decadent flirting and wicked charm it is quite easy to regard and enjoy this book!
Reviewed by Francine Howarth
It is 1820, effectively the end of the Regency Era, for it is the very year the Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent has become George IV. Although the king himself has cameo appearances within this novel, the story is essentially that of Lady Holsworthy, her husband, and a man of some reputation. Thus the Duke of Wellbridge, whom evades entrapment of marriage by indulging inner desires with the spouses of friends and acquaintances, merely one evening at Almack’s he finds himself unaccountably attracted to Bella. Blinded by inner thoughts of conquest and plunder he sets out to acquire an introduction not knowing the peril of his venture.
Introductions are all very well, and pursuit of pleasure bears no guarantee such is there for all who dare. And when a husband comes-a-calling at a rogue’s residence, there is always the possibility one might well be called out for discreet pistols at dawn. But Baron Holsworthy has quite an unusual proposition to put before the Duke, and suddenly the amorous rogue knows he is not alone in his pursuit of Bella. Thus the foundations of Bella’s existence are about to shift. For where fondness has thus sufficed within a loveless marriage, longing and untold desire soon lead to cravings, and her cravings lead to a dangerous encounter. And so, without spoiling the plot, I shall stop here, for sinister twists in the mode of a good Gothic novel occur within this well-written and researched tome.
Royal Regard Prequel Novellas
’Tis Her Season (available in Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem: A Bluestocking Belles Collection)
Charlotte Amberly returns a Christmas gift from her intended—the ring—then hares off to London to take husband-hunting into her own hands. Will she let herself be caught? (Included in Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem)
Shipmate (FREE E-BOOK!)
For shy Bella Smithson, landing a husband seems laughable, so when Myron Clewes offers to buy her from her unfeeling family, she is obligated to accept his suit—and a list of demands she might never be able to meet.
A Rose Renamed (coming Spring 2016)
Major John Smythe returns from Waterloo a broken man, determined to stay one step ahead of his former life, but when he meets Rose Allen, the sins of his past must be confronted, for without her, he has no hope for a future.
Excerpt from Chapter One, 'Tis Her Season
The snow falling outside the frosted drawing room window blanketed Charlotte Amberly’s mood as surely as it did the garden on which she gazed. Usually, she loved the yuletide season, but she could hardly keep her mind on wassail and holly berries, knowing who would be staying at least through Twelfth Night, assuredly planning to meet her under the kissing bough.
The Marquess of Firthley, Charlotte’s new betrothed, was expected in a few days for an indefinite stay, and if Charlotte’s mother had her way, he wouldn’t leave until they were married. When a viscount’s daughter snared a marquess, it behooved her to leg-shackle him before he could run.
“Lord Firthley’s note said he was bringing his grandson.” Minerva Amberly, Lady Effingale, calmly stitched the outline of a Christmas rose on an altar cloth intended as a gift for the vicar’s wife.
“Yes, Mother. You’ve told me twenty times. I must be kind to the poor, motherless child, so the marquess will believe me a good grandmother for his heir.”
“Quite right, and you needn’t take that tone.”
“I will be a grandmother before I am eighteen,” she grumbled.
“Better than a spinster before you are twenty.”
“I’ve not even met him!” she argued, going so far as to stomp her foot.
Lady Effingale would brook no such nonsense from a recalcitrant daughter. “Then it is fortunate he wants you sight unseen.”
Between the flare of her mother’s nostrils and the arch of her left eyebrow, Charlotte’s rebellion fizzled—briefly.
“He wants Papa’s voting bloc, not me,” Charlotte protested under her breath, but before her mother could castigate her again, she moaned, “I was to make my curtsey next month! How can you just ignore an invitation from the queen?”
“One of your husband’s relations will present you at Court as his marchioness. He has the king’s ear, you know.”
Dropping onto the window seat, hiding her grimace behind the curtain, Charlotte muttered, “Yes, Mother. You’ve said.”
Lady Effingale set down her needlework to sort through her basket of silks, finally finding a length of dark green. “You should be grateful to be the wife of a man of considerable fortune and influence.”
Excerpt from Chapter One, Shipmate
“There is Lady Lisbourne.” Beneath the raucous dance music, Minerva, Lady Effingale, had to speak in almost a full voice to emulate a whisper, making her niece wince beneath the certain onslaught. “I plan to introduce you, but best wait until she is alone; her eldest son’s wife has a vicious tongue, and will not hesitate to call out your many faults.”
Miss Isabella Smithson nodded, bottom lip caught between her teeth, fingers twisted in her skirt. Aunt Minerva’s hard eyes, set deep in her forbidding face, roamed from Bella’s hair, which must look a rat’s nest by now, after an hour in a warm ballroom, to her hem, which had been splashed by a carriage in the street.
“Her fourth son is pockmarked, but not entirely without means, and if he won’t have you, we might be able to place you with her as a companion. I’m told she is getting a bit dotty. And that gentleman there, in the blue waistcoat, is a widower.”
Charlotte, the Marchioness of Firthley, leaned in, “He is a good-for-nothing, Mother, with six untamable children and an estate mortgaged to the hilt. You’ll not tie my cousin to a man like that if I have anything to say about it.” She patted Bella’s arm, “And I do.” Charlotte gently steered the subject to the relative cheapness of the decorations in the Bath assembly rooms, as opposed to London, a topic likely to occupy Lady Effingale for at least ten minutes.
For as long as Aunt Minerva was disparaging the environs, she could be relied upon not to criticize Bella. As soon as she reached the end of her complaints about the garish wallpaper, tasteless sculptures, and abundance of gold-trimmed mirrors, though, Aunt Minerva summed up with, “To think, I am reduced to socializing in Bath, of all places. If Isabella had even the least bit of style or substance, we would be in London, not a second-rate backwater. If only any gentleman in London would look twice at you.”
Thankfully, for once, Aunt Minerva didn’t rake over Bella’s experience of London. The very thought made her throat close. If only she could close her ears against Lady Effingale’s opinions of Bella’s plain-as-pudding face, body-like-a-tree-stump, stick-straight hair, drab-as-dirt disposition, designed-for-the-dustbin clothes, and havey-cavey father who provided a next-to-nothing dowry, then lost it in a gaming hell.
Every time Aunt Minerva said, “my brother” in that tone, Bella felt she was calling the Devil out of Hell. No matter how often Charlotte’s father, the Viscount Effingale, told Bella she was under his protection, it wasn’t entirely true. Her father could remove her from the Effingale’s manor house any time he chose. If Sir Jasper Smithson discovered any small advantage to having a plain, shy daughter who would never attract a man, the baronet would yank her back to Evercreech faster than a horse could throw a shoe, no matter who was paying the expenses for her husband hunt.
It wasn’t as though Bella had asked to be brought out. In fact, she had begged to be left alone. She couldn’t imagine a more horrid prospect than being forced to converse with unknown gentlemen on unknown topics amidst crowds of unknown aristocrats, with the end goal being taken to wife by the first, probably only, man to make an offer. The very thought of being alone with a new husband she had barely met made her stomach twist and mouth go dry.
When Aunt Minerva came out with, “…not remotely Incomparable, unless one had no other girl to compare with,” Bella stood so quickly, she might have upset the chair, had her uncle not reached a hand out to steady her.
Aunt Minerva had already introduced Bella to every vaguely acceptable man in the room, excepting, of course, any who could find more attractive wives, and Bella would now be happy to excuse herself, with a headache beginning to pound behind her eyes.
“If you will… er… retiring room. No, Charlotte, I will be perfectly fine alone.”
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’Tis Her Season, a Royal Regard prequel novella
Charlotte Amberly would rather eat a lump of coal for Christmas dinner than marry the Marquess of Firthley, so when her parents cancel her London Season in favor of a rush to the altar, the feisty debutante takes husband-hunting into her own hands.
Alexander Marloughe, reluctant heir to a marquessate, would rather not spend his holiday dashing through the snow after a flibbertigibbet just out of the schoolroom, but no woman before Charlotte has ever led him such a merry chase.
Shipmate: a Royal Regard prequel novella
The heavy hands and sharp tongues of Bella Smithson’s family have left her almost too timid to converse with a gentleman, much less conduct a husband hunt. Unfortunately, her overbearing aunt and managing cousin are determined to help her escape her black-hearted father and brothers.
Thanks to the Prince of Wales, retiring shipping magnate Myron Clewes has an ever-growing fortune, a fresh-minted peerage, a brand-new flagship, and an impossible set of requirements for a bride. Not least, she must be willing to leave England and everything she knows, possibly for good, in less than two months’ time.
Bella’s Happy-Ever-After in Royal Regard had its origins in a Happier-Than-She-Expected with her first husband, Baron Holsworthy, who gave her the confidence to steady her sea legs, take her life by the helm, and command her own voice, empowering a shy, young girl and unlikely adventurer to grow into one of King George IV’s trusted advisors.