You can find details of the book and read the opening chapter where my hero, Justin, Lord Randall, meets the independent Mary Endacott on Mills & Boon's website but the scene below is set just before the opening in the published book, when Randall arrives at the house of his delightful sister Harriett.
So, if you would like to know a little more about Randall and his family and the infamous Randall's Rogues then read on ...
Sussex, England, May 1815
Somervil House was a monstrosity. Justin Latymor, 6th Earl Randall, drew rein at the top of the rise and gazed with distaste at the castellated building with its turrets, towers and ogee arches. In a moment of rare black humour he eyed the building with the professional eye of an artilleryman and imagined Flint and Bartlett lining up their nine-pounders on this ridge and reducing the Gothic confection to rubble. It would not take them long.
His jaw tightened. Heaven forbid that his heavy guns should ever be fired in anger on English soil. His two experienced majors and their divisions were already heading towards Brussels, where he would be joining them to make a stand against Bonaparte and prevent just such an occurrence.
But first he was breaking his journey at Somervil. The house was a folly, not at all suitable for a man of the cloth and if it had been in his gift he would have razed it to the ground and built a neat villa in the restrained and orderly style of Palladio. But his sister Harriett and her husband, the rural dean, seemed perfectly happy with their lot, so it was not for him to criticise.
'Come up, Pompey.' He kicked the rangy grey on, urging him into a canter, eager now to finish his journey.
As he approached the house the studded oak doors set beneath their Gothic arch were thrown open and Harriett appeared, pulling her shawl a little tighter about her, for although it was now May there was a chill wind blowing.
'Randall, my dear. I have been looking out for you this past hour. Did you get dreadfully wet in that horrid rainstorm?'
He jumped down and submitted to his sister's embrace while a stable lad took the reins and led Pompey off to the stables.
'Not at all, we stopped at Mayfield and waited until it had passed.' He looked over his shoulder. 'My carriages should be here shortly, I left them and rode 'cross country to get here the sooner.'
'As I can tell,' laughed Hattie, looking him up and down. 'You are muddied to the thigh! Come along in. You shall have my wrap to sit upon until your man arrives with your baggage.'
'I can sit in my room – '
'Nonsense,' she said, drawing him towards the house. 'I cannot wait another moment to hear all your news. How long can you stay?'
'Only until Friday. My yacht is waiting at Folkestone and I plan to sail on the midnight tide.'
'But gives us barely a week together!'
'I'm afraid it must be so. My troop is already on its way. I have arranged to meet up with them near Brussels.'
'Then we must make the most of the time we have with you. Have you come from Chalfont Magna? How is Mama and the family?'
'Our mother is much the same, running the Abbey like clockwork. The younger boys are still at school, I did not see them.'
'And what of Gussie and Sarah? It is so long since I heard from my sisters.'
'Sarah and Augusta are somewhere Europe,' he said shortly.
'Indeed? How exciting.'
'It is extremely tiresome, with Bonaparte on the loose again. Gussie was on fire to follow the ton to Paris and of course, Blanchards indulged her, as he always does. Mama sent Sarah with them, hoping she would be thrown in the way of eligible young men and induced to accept one of them.'
'Ah yes, of course. Poor Mama must be growing desperate to marry her off.'
She led him into the drawing room, removing her shawl and throwing it over one of the chairs before gesturing to him to sit down.
'I do not see why she should be desperate,' opined the earl, relaxing into the chair and crossing one mud-splashed leg over the other. 'Sarah is only two-and-twenty.'
'My dear brother that is practically on the shelf! Oh, it is different for her twin,' she added quickly, before he could reply. 'Gideon is a man and free to do very much as he pleases. How is he enjoying his new cavalry regiment, by the by?'
'I have no idea, he does not correspond with me.' Randall broke off as the butler came in.
'Ah,' said Hattie, looking up. 'Here is Lewis with our wine. Did you tell Mr Graveney that Lord Randall has arrived?'
'I did, madam.' The butler waited until the glasses of wine had been accepted then gave a solemn bow. 'The master is in the middle of his letter to the bishop and says he will join you as soon as he has finished.'
Hattie gave Randall a knowing look, her eyes twinkling. 'That means we need not look to see him before dinnertime! The bishop is concerned about reports that Graveney is consorting with undesirables. Atheists and Unitarians,' she added, when Randall's brows went up.
'And is he?'
'But of course.' She opened her eyes very wide. 'What is the point in always preaching to the converted? All sorts of interesting people attend the little parties we and our friends hold, intellectuals, artists, poets – '
She laughed. 'Some of them, yes, but that is not why we invite them.' The twinkle in her eyes deepened. 'Do not look so disapproving, brother dear, they are invited because of their intelligence, not their rank.'
'No doubt you open your doors to tradesmen, too.'
'If they have something interesting to say, yes. But you shall see for yourself, for we are going to the Bentincks tonight after dinner.'
'The devil we are!'
'It was arranged weeks ago and since you did not deign to let me know you were coming until yesterday it was too late to cry off. I sent them a note to say we would be bringing a guest.' She gave a little trill of laughter when Randall grimaced at the idea. 'They will be quite delighted to have a real live peer of the realm in their midst. And a soldier, to boot.'
'Do not tell me, they would abolish the monarchy if they could and are against all forms of violence.' Randall scowled. 'I can always stay here and go to bed, I suppose.'
'You will do nothing so impolite,' retorted his sister. 'I want to show you off. I would like our friends to know that even earls and soldiers can be intelligent.'
'I shall take that as a compliment,' he said drily.
'Yes, do. Oh do say you will come, Justin, to please me. We need not stay long but Theo does so enjoy their debates and he approaches these evenings with all the zeal of a missionary. It will be most entertaining.'
Randall took leave to doubt this, but since Hattie was set upon his attending he acquiesced, albeit grudgingly. His reward was a beaming smile.
'It may not be the very highest society, but I promise it will not be boring,' she told him, her eyes twinkling. 'And of all our family, I trust you not to be shocked by the company we keep!'
As soon as his baggage arrived Randall went off to his bedchamber to bathe and change. His man Robbins laid out his coat and fresh linen on the bed while discreet house servants ran to and fro in the adjoining dressing room filling a hip bath with hot water. Fires burned cheerfully in both rooms and drove off any lingering chill. He might not like the style of the house but he had to admit that it was very comfortable. His mother had been outraged when Harriett had returned from school with her head full of independent ideas and declaring that she wished to make her own way in the world and would never marry. It was a relief therefore when, three years ago, she had fallen head over heels in love with Theophilus Graveney. He had a comfortable independence and Lady Randall was too pleased to see her daughter respectably married to protest at her new son-in-law's rather unconventional views. They had lived happily in Sussex ever since, aware but unconcerned that most of Harriett's family disapproved of the match.
For his part, Randall had no objection to Graveney. The man was forty, a decade older than Randall and they had very little in common, but Graveney made no effort to ingratiate himself with the family and was not afraid to speak his mind. Randall respected that, and was content that the fellow could support Harriett and make her happy.
Dinner was excellent and Randall's only regret was that he and his brother-in-law could not linger over the brandy. It seemed that they had hardly finished the first glass when they received a message that Mrs Graveney had sent for the carriage.
'Thank you, Lewis, tell her we will join her directly.' Graveney pushed himself to his feet. 'We have been summoned,' he said with gentle humour. 'Come along, my lord. It is time for you to, er, do the pretty.'
'Must I?' murmured Randall, following his host to the door.
'But of course, my boy.' He added, as they crossed the hall, 'She is very proud of you, you know.'
'Yes. She likes the fact that you followed your grandfather into the artillery and that you were chosen to set up your own troop.'
Randall laughed at that.
'Thieves and villains, most of them!'
'I know. Randall's Rogues.' Graveney chuckled. 'Men it is impossible to place elsewhere. If you had not taken them most would have been hanged by now. You have turned them into a crack unit. From the despatches I read in the newspapers they acquitted themselves well in the Peninsula.'
'They are all good artillerymen.'
'They have a good Colonel.'
'I demand only two things, unquestioning obedience and loyalty,' he said as he climbed into the coach and sat down beside his sister. 'They give me that, and I look after them.'
* * *
© Sarah Mallory
If you have read this far I hope you have enjoyed this snippet! Do leave a comment to let me know what you think. And below are the covers of the next two books in the trilogy:
The Brides of Waterloo Trilogy - published by Harlequin Historical
Book 1 - A Lady for Lord Randall, Sarah Mallory, pub May 2015
Book 2 - A Mistress for Major Bartlett, Annie Burrows, pub June 2015
Book 3 - A Rose for Major Flint, Louise Allen,pub July 2015