Thursday, September 13, 2012

Racing With The Wind by Regan Walker

Racing With the Wind

The intrepid daughter of an earl leaves Regency London for the Parisian
court of Louis XVIII, where she finds adventure, mystery, and above all,

THE NIGHTHAWK Hugh Redgrave, marquess of Ormond, was
warned. Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no
ordinary man could clip her wings. She was a bluestocking hellion, an illadvised
match by every account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay
on the continent, where he’d become legend by stealing war secrets from
Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady Mary riding her stallion were a
thorn in his mind. He was the son of a duke and in the service of the
Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he had won her hand.

THE SWAN It was unheard of for a Regency debutante to postpone her
first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far more interested in
politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or frippery.
Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to
return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black
stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would
race beside her.

Author Regan Walker's Bio:

As a child, Regan loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls. But by the time she got to college, more serious pursuits were encouraged. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law. Regan says, “I became a lawyer because I thought it would be better to be a hammer than a nail.” Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the "Crown" on its subjects. Hence, her first romance novels involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool. Regan says her stories will always involve adventure as well as love.

Regan lives in San Diego with her Golden Retriever, Link, who she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Rafflecopter a Rafflecopter giveaway
Buy now links
 · All Romance
 · Amazon
· Apple iBooks
· Barnes & Noble
· Smashwords

Regan Walker Online: website: blog: Website Blog Facebook Twitter


Racing with the Wind
Copyright 2012 Regan Walker

     When one does not love too much, one does not love enough.

                                                                                                                         —Blaise Pascal

The outskirts of Paris, 1811
A tall figure stood among the trees, another shadow in the gloomy night. Swirling mist covered the ground around him like a soft gray carpet. A chateau loomed ahead, a dim monument in the light of a pale half moon that revealed only shades of gray.
He waited for a drifting cloud to obscure the moon’s faint glow before daring to steal across the wide expanse of lawn. His boots made no sound as he crossed the stone terrace and became one with the wall of the elegant mansion. There he paused and listened. All was quiet save the rustle of the leaves stirred by the gentle breeze.

   Looking up, he peered though the mask that covered his face and fixed his eyes on his goal, a window high above. Barely disturbing the mist, he reached for a thick vine and climbed.

           His dark hair was loose at his nape and he was clad all in black, moving like a wraith. The clouds continued to drift in the night sky, uncovering the half moon. A glimmer of silver reflected from his chest where he wore a brace of pistol daggers; the weapons were unique and of a French design, and he had used them before to great effect. A smile came to his lips as he considered the legend that had spread about him—a larger than life figure who successfully stole secrets from places believed safe from intrusion. They called him L’Engoulevent, the Nighthawk. He came only at night, swooping down and disappearing before anyone roused. An occasional glimpse by a servant or a guard had provided only partial descriptions. Some said he flew with a cape. Others said he wasn’t human at all but rather a dark and ghostly apparition. But the Nighthawk was very real. Tonight his target was the home of a French general believed to be the author of Napoleon’s plans to invade Russia.

          Perched above the ground, clinging to the vine, he reached for the edge of the leaded window. The latch gave way with a quiet click. He slipped through the opening and dropped into a low crouch on the thick rug. Surveying the bedroom before him, he could see the sleeping form of a young woman in a white poster bed, her dark hair spread upon the pillow. She did not stir as he moved past her and toward his destination.

           At the end of the hall he located the study reported to hide the secret documents he sought. Cautiously he entered the spacious room lined with traditional dark wood cabinets and tall book-filled shelves, and stealthily moved to the carved wood desk facing a marble fireplace. Reaching into his shirt he pulled out a small black velvet case. Inside were the delicate tools that had opened the most secure locks in France.

           Working with only the pale light from the windows behind him, he opened the locked drawers and captured his prize. Placing the correspondence and map inside his shirt, he surveyed the room. He knew there would be more.

          His gaze came to rest on an old painting of a French military officer in dress uniform hanging over the fireplace. The officer’s white breeches reflected the room’s meager light, but he cared not for the painting, only for the secrets it might guard. Silently he crossed the room and lifted the gilded frame. The cast-iron safe set behind it made him smile as if encountering an old friend.

          He set the painting on the floor to once again work his magic with the lock. Again he was successful. Ignoring the velvet jewelry cases and money, he reached instead for the letters and papers. Not bothering to decipher the words in the dim light, he added these documents to those in his shirt, closed the safe, and returned the painting to its original position. His mission complete, he crept down the hall to the bedroom where he had first entered the house.

           The young woman stirred in her sleep, restless in her dreams. He should have departed without disturbing her, but something made him pause. Perhaps it was her beauty. Her face, with its delicate features and well-shaped lips, was turned slightly to the side. Upon closer inspection, she looked to be about eighteen.

           He bent to hover for a moment, breathing in the fragrance of lavender. Her lips were warm as he bestowed his kiss. He knew he was keeping alive the legend, and there was no benefit to a legend when one’s purpose was to remain unknown. Yet, he could not resist. There were few enough pleasures in the life of duty that he’d chosen for himself.

          Her pale eyes opened slowly, heavy with sleep. Placing his finger on her lips to quiet any words, he whispered to her in the perfect speech of the French aristocracy, “I leave you my kiss and a wish for a good life, beautiful mademoiselle.”

          She gasped as she took in his masked appearance, but then a faint smile came to her lips. “The Nighthawk,” she whispered, and reached for him, entwining her fingers in the hair at his nape.

          Without saying a word, he gently pulled her hands from his neck and moved to the window and back into the night. He had accomplished his mission. The Nighthawk might be a thief, but he was not a despoiler of innocents.

          More’s the pity.

Chapter 1
London, 1816
Standing at the edge of the ballroom, Lady Mary Campbell smiled to herself, thinking it was a
bit like standing on the edge of a cliff. Stepping forward would bring a drop into the unknown. It
was a step she had no desire to take.
But, then, she had no choice. She’d postponed her dreaded debut as long as possible, and at
nineteen she was well past the age most ingénues greeted their first season. Dressed in ivory
satin she was, but she could hardly wait for the day she could wear red. And though she would
have preferred her long hair down and flowing free, tonight it was drawn up into a pile of curls.
Gazing into the immense room with its crystal chandeliers, hundreds of candles, and men
and women in elegant finery, Mary let out a deep sigh. It was all very glorious, of course, but it
wasn’t the Tuileries Palace where she had waltzed last December. It wasn’t the world she loved,
the world in which she thrived, the world of books and ideas. It wasn’t the countryside, where
she could ride her horse and forget everything. It wasn’t even her uncle’s world of statesmen.
Those men, she was certain, would not give a thought to the gowns or balls for young women
entering London society, and she wished she could follow their example. No, Mary was not at all
at home in this place where young men mingled with their future wives—wives they would
dominate and keep from truly seeing or enjoying the world.
That was one reason she was not anxious to wed, and she had several. But at the request of
her mother, the dowager countess of Argyll, she had come to this ball and would dance with the
young men. And when her sweet mother insisted her only daughter go to court and curtsey
before George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent, Mary had bowed to the gracious request and
sweetly obeyed.
Her best friend, Elizabeth St. Clair, bubbled on at her side about the grand decorations and
the pretty gowns, but Mary’s mind was on the Times article she’d read at breakfast describing
Napoleon’s exile on the island of St. Helena. There was a small note at the bottom of the article
saying recent information suggested Napoleon’s defeat in Russia was, in part, due to the
legendary Nighthawk. She longed to meet the mysterious man, that stealer of secrets, if indeed
he existed. But if he did, she was certain he would not be wasting his time at some tedious
London ball. The world did not revolve around a dance, not even the waltz.
Elizabeth tugged on her glove. “I say, Mary, do you agree?”
Mary realized she had missed what her friend was saying and tried to recall the original
question. She wanted to show support for Elizabeth, whose blue eyes were wide with wonder at
the beautiful gowns and the handsome young men; her older sisters had already taken their place
in London society, and Mary knew Lizzy was anxious to join them.
“Well, it is rather as I expected, Lizzy. It’s like being offered up to the highest bidder, is it
not? ’Tis strange so many go so willingly to the auction block.”
Elizabeth’s side-glance stopped Mary’s reflection. “Oh, do try and enjoy yourself, Mary. It’s
not so bad. Besides, you’re gathering many admiring looks!”
“I think you are imagining that. Recall the conversation of the Baroness Johnson in the
retiring room we overheard. She could barely wait to tell her friends that the Campbell hoyden
who reads philosophy and rides horses like a man is here.”
“Actually, you were most gracious to her, Mary; more the lady than she. I rather think she’s
just a jealous old biddy. Besides, I wasn’t talking about the women. It is the men who cannot
take their eyes off you.”
Mary’s cheeks warmed. Her friend was exaggerating again out of kindness and loyalty. Her
mother, too, remarked in a caring way about her appearance, and her uncle complimented her
gowns, but Mary knew their words were merely encouragement to wear the female frippery she
disdained. Her heart seized with a pang of regret as she wondered if her father would have
thought her pretty. He had not lived to see her blossom into womanhood.
“Lizzy, I am not seeing what you are, but since you asked, I will do my best to be happy.
After all, you are here, and I do love to dance.”
As if summoned, two young men approached and asked for the first quadrille. Mary
resolved to be nice.
So it begins, she thought to herself.
One young man offered an arm. Green eyes met blue. His kind face was framed by light
brown hair, and he smiled, leading her smoothly out into the room. They were soon gliding
across the polished wood floor. To her surprise, Mary’s spirits lifted.
As the dance took a turn, Mary’s gaze drifted over her partner’s shoulder, drawn unbidden to
two men standing in front of a pillar. She did not recognize them, but the dark stare of the taller
man pierced her gown, corset and chemise and touched her very skin. Feeling exposed in a way
she never had, she shivered, and she was glad when her partner whirled her away.
And yet, she continued to surreptitiously watch the man, drawn to his overwhelming
presence. He wore black, his white shirt and cravat the only contrast to the dark brown hair that
fell in waves to his nape. He exuded a kind of power unlike any other male in the room. There
was nothing the dandy about him.
* * *
Taking a long draw on his brandy and gazing around him, Hugh Redgrave, Marquess of
Ormond and only son of the Duke of Albany, drew a breath and held it as his eyes came to rest
on a girl gliding across the dance floor like a swan over a lake. The tall young woman with hair
the color of spun gold and fine features set in an oval face was striking, but it was more than her
beauty that drew him; she moved with a grace beyond her years and had a fire in her eyes that set
her apart from the other debutantes.
He had found the evening tiring until now. The ball served only to remind him he was
nearing the age of thirty, and as his father’s heir, the pressure to select a wife from among the
young ladies presented increased with each passing year. Comforting himself with an occasional
mistress to warm his bed was serving his needs just fine; he was in no hurry to take a wife. When
he did, it simply would be an arrangement among peers. Far better to see marriage as a matter of
business, as so many others did. That would have one advantage: He could never lose someone
he loved.
Yet, he wanted to delay the inevitable for a while longer. He had a good excuse. His work
had kept him away from England, and if he were fortunate, it still might. Perhaps the Prince
Regent had a new assignment for him.
As was his usual practice, Hugh had made this appearance in the ballroom before retiring for
a game of cards. Leaning over to his friend, the second son of the Earl of Lindsey, he chuckled.
“I feel a bit like a fox watching baby chicks. Do you think we make their mothers nervous?”
“They do watch us with skeptical eyes,” Griffen Lambeth replied. “No doubt they are
worried any minute we will pounce.”
Hugh nodded. “Indeed. And how little we’ve done to deserve the reputations we have.”
“I’m not sure I agree with that, since you have cultivated yours as a cover for your
other…activities, have you not? And by cultivation I’m not just speaking of your latest
indulgence, Lady Hearnshaw. Before her there was the countess of—”
“I confess I have done. It seemed necessary at the time. Just like my sneaking back to
England every year or so to put in an appearance at a ball and leave the impression I was still in
London, ready to pounce at any moment. All is part of the show.”
His reputation as a rake, a man of the world who would seduce any woman who took his
fancy, would unsettle the mamas, he knew, but better the mamas think them rakes than know
them as spies. Not that he intended to dance with anyone. No matter there were some real
beauties at the ball tonight; his previous encounters had taught him young noblewomen were
silly and too talkative, prattling on about town gossip and matters of the home. Insipid. A night
with one would precipitate a quick marriage. No, it was best to stay with women who posed no
threat to his bachelor status. Older, more experienced women, women who willingly offered
their bodies while not asking for his heart.
Still, he was curious about the blonde girl. There was something special about her. “Who’s
that dancing with Arthur Bywood?”
Griffen’s eyes scanned the couples. “Ah. I wondered if you’d noticed her. That would be
Lady Mary Campbell, daughter of William Campbell, the late Earl of Argyll. You remember, the
one killed in that horrible riding accident.”
Hugh’s mind seized at the memory of another riding accident, one that had forever changed
his life. But that was not what Griffen referenced. “She couldn’t have been very old at the time.”
“No, she was quite young. An only child. I understand it was heart-rending. Now some
young cousin or other will inherit the title.”
Hugh’s eyes followed the girl as she moved gracefully away from and back to her partner.
She was laughing at something her partner was saying, her head thrown back in unusual
abandon. It was a sensual display, and to his surprise his body responded; his trousers were
suddenly too tight.
“All the ton has been anticipating her,” Griffen offered. “This is her first season.”
Hugh was puzzled. “Anticipating her? Why is that?”
“Surely you have heard, my friend. The fiercely independent—and some say rebellious—
Mary Campbell? While our young fops here will dote on the girl, I expect the young men’s
fathers hope she does not choose them. She has a reputation.”
“What kind of a reputation?”
“Well, a diamond of the first water she may be, but still a diamond in the rough. Too
intelligent for a young woman, and both headstrong and outspoken with a tongue that cuts like a
“A bluestocking hellion?”
“Just so. Of course, it all can be explained, her having been raised without a father. The
dowager countess, her mother, is a gentle woman, and she was clearly not up to the challenge.
Lady Mary will be…difficult to manage.”
“Have you really never met her, not even when you were younger?”
“No.” Even as Hugh said the word, he wondered why that was. The Campbell estate lay
only a short ride from his family’s country home. Then again, he’d been on the Continent for
several years. “Have you?”
Griffen chuckled. “Oh, aye, and it was most disconcerting. A rare bit of baggage, that one.”
Hugh turned to his friend, suddenly curious. “Don’t be obscure. Tell me.”
“Well, she stared at me with such a bold look I’ll not soon forget… There’s no fear in those
piercing green eyes, I can assure you. It’s a bit off-putting in a female that young. Nor is she shy
with her opinions.”
Hugh’s gaze returned to the young woman. He sensed again that she was different, but
perhaps it was simply as Griffen suggested and she would be difficult to manage. While he loved
a challenge, he did not need a difficult and marriageable young woman. Not now. Not ever.