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The Incorrigible Lady Catherine

Book #1 of “The Three Disgraces”

Lady Catherine Harcourt, daughter of a duke, tries to escape her cold, repressive family by eloping with a rake. She is exiled to her aunts’ cottage in the Lake District, where she meets Philip Woodmere, a gentleman farmer as kind as he is ruggedly attractive. She is drawn to Philip’s strength and warms to his lively family, but a secret from her past threatens their chance for happiness.

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Excerpt

He was on the threshold when he heard music coming from the drawing room.

It sounded like a simple enough tune, then he gradually became aware of deeper undercurrents. Gently it murmured to him, comforting, soothing and yet somehow wistful. He stepped softly into the hall, the better to hear, and stood listening as the sweet melody gave way to a livelier, more forceful one, only to return and gently fade away.

There was a pause. He took a few steps toward the drawing room, but stopped as he heard Miss Arndale begin to play again. This time it was a darker music, rippling and cascading, the end of each phrase accented with forceful staccato notes. Full of passion. He’d never heard anything like it before.

He peered through the threshold of the drawing room as she began another movement, slow and reflective, with an understated pathos. She looked so very lovely, her eyes half-closed, her slim body swaying ever so subtly in time with the music. He didn’t dare interrupt. He didn’t even want to breathe as he watched her silently from the shadows beyond the doorway.

The slow melody ended, and she launched into an exuberantly lively tune which sounded like the finale. Philip listened in wonder as she transitioned from a bold, intricate passage to a contrasting theme as tender as a love song. He saw the flush of concentration on her face as she returned to the earlier bold theme, her look of exultation as she drove out the final notes, rising, mounting to a glorious ending chord.

She sat back and sighed, looking more relaxed than he’d ever seen her. Then she looked up, and saw him there. With infinite regret, he saw her straighten and look up at him with mingled shock and defiance.

“How long have you been there?” she asked, in a tight voice.

“A while,” he replied. “I am sorry. I would have made you aware of my presence, but I did not wish to interrupt.”

She got up, folding her arms in front of her, looking even more guarded than usual. He had to know why.

“What was that you were playing?” he asked.

“The sonata in E flat, by Ludwig van Beethoven.”

“I’ve never heard anything like it. It was marvelous. Why have you not played it before?”

She looked skeptical. In the same controlled voice, she replied, “Many consider Beethoven’s music inappropriate for ladies to play.”

“They are fools.”

She lowered her hands back to her sides, and it seemed she relaxed just a little.

He smiled. “So is this your dark secret, Miss Arndale? That you’ve a fondness for such music?”

Looking away, she replied, “It is but one of my besetting vices.”

Her tone was light, but he could clearly hear the bitterness behind it. He wondered what, or who, had made her feel she had to hide this amazing gift of hers.

“If making such music is a vice, may you never reform.”

She looked back at him then, and he saw surprise and a hint of yearning in her expression.

Swiftly, he crossed the room and took her hands in his, rejoicing when she did not protest. He looked down at them and marveled at their elegant suppleness.

“So strong. So very beautiful,” he murmured.

Impulsively, he lifted her hands to his lips. He gently kissed them, exploring the delicate, slender contours of her fingers, savoring the peach-like softness of her skin.

He heard her let out a slight gasp. He looked up, and saw his own desire mirrored in her blue eyes, dark as midnight. He released her hands, slowly gathered her into his arms and pulled her close. She tensed slightly, and he prayed she was not about to retreat behind her prim facade again.

“Please trust me,” he said.

“I do trust you,” she said, leaning her forehead into his chest. “But I do not trust myself.”

He bent his head down and kissed the top of her head, all he could reach. Her silky hair brushed his lips as she raised her head back up to look at him, and he felt as if he might burst with longing for her. Why did she look so torn?

“Trust this,” he whispered, and kissed her lips briefly.

She stood perfectly still, but he could hear and feel her quickening breath. She tilted her face up toward him, lips slightly parted. He pulled her closer, thrilling when she raised her arms up around him to return his embrace. He kissed her again, this time deepening the kiss, taking time to taste and savor the joy of it.

Then she gave out a soft moan. Quite suddenly, she stiffened again and pulled away. His whole being ached with disappointment at the loss. Why had she withdrawn from him?

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Reviews

“Regency readers will no doubt enjoy this sweetly tender tale which gives further good evidence of Elena Greene’s blossoming talent.” — RT Book Reviews

“The story gives fresh new twists to traditional Regency plotlines and introduces a well-drawn cast of characters, three of whom cry out for their own tales to be told—the notorious Lord Verwood and Catherine’s two school friends. …Elena Greene is a talented writer to watch for when looking for a pleasurable, meaty Regency romance.”— Jane Bowers, in Romance Reviews Today

“The book is fast-paced, with plenty of action and dialogue. … I would recommend The Incorrigible Lady Catherine for Regency fans who like a plot with some action and a hero who’s one of the good guys.” — Blythe Barnhill, All About Romance

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Story Background

I’ll never forget canoeing on Ullswater, in England’s celebrated Lake District and the place that inspired Wordsworth’s famous poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. As is typical in the British Isles, within the space of half an hour I enjoyed sunshine, a brief shower, a rainbow and finally a soft drizzle. But most memorable were the views of the long, winding lake and the surrounding mountains, bluish-purple in the shadows and glowing with rusts and golds and greens in the ever-changing light.

Ullswater in the Lake District
Ullswater, photo by Adrio Communications Ltd/Shutterstock
Air Force, near Ullswater
Aira Force, photo by Tamara Kulikova/Shutterstock

Earlier that day I’d climbed Gowbarrow Fell, a wonderful viewpoint, and come back down through a ravine to view “Aira Force” (“Force” is another word for waterfall in the Lake District).

To me, the beauty of the Lake District felt very healing, so I wanted to write about a heroine who could appreciate and benefit from such a place. So my troubled heroine, Catherine, came into being, along with Philip, a hero who embodies the rugged, healing power of the landscape.

Philip’s home is near Ullswater, but the characters in the story also attend an assembly in Keswick, on the north end of Derwentwater.

Derwentwater in the Lake District
Derwentwater, photo by Steve Heap/Shutterstock

Below is a picture of Castlerigg Stone Circle, which gave me the idea for the stone circle on the hero’s lands. Although it is smaller than Stonehenge, I think Castlerigg is the most beautiful stone circle in England — and I have seen many! (My car should have had a sign on it that said “I break for old rocks.”)

Castlerigg Stone Circle
Castlerigg Stone Circle, photo by Capture Light/Shutterstock

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Portrait by Oakdale Images

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