Each week I’m riveted by the compelling plot twists and complex characterization of the popular television series Downton Abbey. After years of living in the UK I’ll admit to being a die-hard convert to these ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ dramas, which inspired Her Gilded Prison, the first book in my Viscount Partington series.
Below is a snippet.
Her Gilded Prison
Lovely Lady Sybil yearns for a love she’s never received from her husband of 20 years, however it’s not the admiration of charming Stephen Cranbourne that has her considering adultery.
It’s the fear that her husband’s inability to sire an heir will see the estate go to mutton-headed Cousin Edgar, leaving Lady Sybil’s daughters vulnerable and potentially homeless when their father, the viscount dies.
Stephen’s stipulation that Lady Sybil must enjoy what she has now deemed a duty elevates the relationship to one of deep, abiding love.
But complications arise when Lady Sybil’s daughter, fiery, exquisite Araminta, sets her cap at Stephen, and when an unwelcome contender for the viscountancy emerges.
Extract from Her Gilded Prison
“Ooh, careful!” The gasps of both young ladies was balm to his youthful ego.
“Come, my pretty. Come, Lady Zena.” Carefully, he extended his hand toward the bird.
After some contemplation, the little bird decided to make him work for his reward. When she hopped onto the sill of the farthest casement windows, Stephen had no choice but to follow.
This involved a heroic full-body thrust followed by a hasty snatch at the stone ledge.
With heart hammering and very conscious of his audience below, Stephen hauled himself across the wall, securing one foot on the buttress. Victory was in sight. Lady Zena hadn’t moved position for some minutes and soon he’d pop her onto his shoulder and descend to the rapturous cries of the young ladies. It would be a just recompense for what, he realized looking down, was a rather risky ascent after all.
Eyeballing the canary, he whistled softly. She hopped daintily toward him then hopped backward. Clearly she was enjoying the game.
Stephen growled, hoping this dance of seduction was not going to become prolonged.
It was only the merest flash of something in his peripheral vision that made him turn his head slightly to the right. There was certainly no intent to peep through the misted windows. Yet the shock of seeing a shapely pair of thighs connected to a round, ripe naked bottom as its owner bent down to pick up one stocking was completely unexpected. He didn’t pause to consider that due to the high risk of discovery he should hasten away. He was riveted to the spot, wondering what else the lovely creature had to offer in the way of fleshly delights.
Tingling with excitement, Stephen squinted. He could see a bathtub to the rear of the room and realized she’d just risen from it, for steam swirled in eddies that partially obscured her until she discarded the linen she’d been using to dry herself.
The young ladies below called to him but he was rooted to the spot, desperate to see what more this as-yet-unintroduced female had in the way of sensuous charms.
He couldn’t make out her face, but her light hair rippled to below her waist and her pale limbs, the color of whipped cream, were well turned. He tried to gauge her age for she walked with calm, fluid movements, like one who has grown used to her body without realizing how lovely it is.
Anticipation gripped him as she made her way languidly from her bathtub towards the bed. It was a large, intricately carved tester covered in a sumptuous white counterpane, edged with ermine, and as she lowered herself onto it her lustrous tresses swirled about her waist.
And then with the most enormous shock he realized that this was the quiet, modest woman who’d welcomed him here. He’d barely noticed her in the carriage with her hair covered by a blue silk bonnet and her manner almost deferring to her eldest daughter, who certainly wanted to put herself forward.
This was Lady Partington.
Torn between the desire to scramble away as fast as he could and to strain his eyes to see what other secrets she’d been hiding, prurient interest won out. She was exquisite.
And she certainly seemed not about to raise her eyes to the window.
She flicked aside the curtain of her hair as she reached for a stocking, raising her leg to put it on so that Stephen was treated to the most intimate view a newly arrived heir no doubt had ever received of his benefactor’s wife, the lady of the manor.
He ignored the cries and shouts from his admiring audience below as he enjoyed the visual extravaganza before him.
Lady Partington eased the stocking onto her ankle then, in a seemingly unrelated act Stephen could not at first explain, she hooked her ankle over her knee and placed her head on her thigh. Then she raised her head...
And looked him squarely in the eye.
At first he did not move. He registered the flare of shock in her expression, quickly followed by confusion. She stood up quickly, her hair frothing about her waist, one hand moving to cover the fluff at the juncture of her legs, the other to conceal her full, heavy breasts. From this distance he could see the sheen of moisture from her bath and the faint marks left by pregnancy on her soft and rounded body.
He’d been with women who’d given birth to children but never one who’d shied away from him with such outraged horror.
As was only to be expected. Lady Partington preserved such delicacies for her husband and Stephen was guilty of gross voyeurism. He ought to be ashamed of himself yet he was curiously aroused in a way he’d not expected. Against her vibrant eldest daughter she’d been a soft little pouter pigeon, clucking her welcome. Now she’d stepped into a different league altogether.
Lady Zena chose this moment to hop onto his shoulder and Stephen deemed it timely to beat a rapid retreat. With his heartbeat roaring in his ears, he descended in record time, leaping the last six feet and going over on his ankle, surrounded by the young ladies—Hetty who gripped his arm and Araminta whose regal self-possession was nevertheless disturbed by the violence of his fall.
“Did you hurt yourself, Cousin Stephen?” she cried.
He was about to dismiss their concerns when he checked himself, adding slyly, “I might have twisted my ankle. Perhaps if we retired indoors you’d be so good as to administer a soothing poultice.”
Araminta read his meaning at once, offering him her shoulder to lean on, which he made good use of, and the close proximity. She was worldly enough to know he’d hardly make a fuss over a minor injury and she would be flattered that he’d use the opportunity to gain access.
Yet while her perfume teased his senses and her ministering touch was gratifying he could not get out of his mind the lush, ripe nakedness of Lady Partington’s unexpectedly desirable body.
GIVEAWAY: Thank you so much for having me here today. I’ve really enjoyed it and I’d love to offer a giveaway to one lucky commenter of my English Civil War novella The Cavalier in which a Puritan woman is being besieged – in more ways than one – by the Cavalier lover she was forced to relinquish eight years before.
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