Any day I can welcome my friend Jude Knight to my First Kiss Friday blog is a good day. She certainly has a way of pulling at your heartstrings. Read on to find out what she has in store for you!
This first kiss appears in Paradise Lost, the little collection of vignettes that Jude Knight is currently writing, and that she’ll give away to newsletter subscribers when she publishes the story of James’s son next month, on 15 April. Paradise Lost is a companion piece to Paradise Regained, which is about James. To Wed a Proper Lady is the story of his son, and novel one of six in The Children of the Mountain King.
Eleanor traced the words in the water that puddled on the stone rim of the fountain. “Lady James Winderfield.” Her lips curved in a tremulous smile. The man she loved was asking her father for her hand, and would soon come to ask her.
“I have made an appointment to meet your father tomorrow,” he had whispered in her ear last night as they promenaded down the centre of the double line of dances. Then, as they passed one another, a few moments later, “You know what I want to ask him, my darling.”
She circled the girl at the head of the ladies’ line, barely aware of the other people in the room, conscious only of James and the words that set her heart thumping. Only years of practice kept her moving gracefully back around to meet James again, her arm stretched high, her hand ready for his brief clasp and her ears for another burst of whispered words.
“This is what you want?”
Looking up, she nodded, and the anxiety cleared from his eyes as they met hers. How could he be unsure of her? She had no further opportunity to reassure him. They had to part and dance down the outside of their respective lines, and the music drew to a close before they could speak again.
Her mother was waiting, and hurried her away. The Earl of Farnmouth, her father, had decided it was time to leave.
He was with her father now, shut in the earl’s study. Soon, surely, the earl would send him out into the garden. The answer would be yes, of course. As the daughter of an earl, she knew her worth, but James was third son of a duke; a duke, furthermore who was a friend of her father.
Eleanor cast a glance at the house and frowned slightly. Lord Farnmouth would say yes. Of course, he would. Only last week, he had interrupted her dinner with her mother to announce that he expected a very eligible offer for Eleanor’s hand. “I am pleased with your daughter, countess,” he had told her mother. “Betrothed after only two months after her debut. You are to be congratulated, madam.”
He had not spoken to Eleanor, but he seldom did. Nor had he given a name, but who could it be but James? James was her most ardent suitor. Indeed, since the rapscallion son of the Duke of Winshire had made her the object of his devotion, the rest of her court had fallen away. They had been callow boys, in any case, standing up with her because of childhood friendship or because she had become fashionable.
James was a man, not a boy — twenty-four years to her seventeen. He was unbelievably handsome, charming, clever, funny, and dearer to her than anyone she had ever known, even her older sister. And he had chosen her! She clapped her hands and spun in a circle, unable to contain her delight.
Soon he would come. She composed herself on the stone bench opposite the path by which he would enter the garden. How would he propose? On one knee? Sitting beside her? The thought had her up on her feet again, too excited to stay still, peering down the path.
“Eleanor!” It was a hiss just a hairsbreadth above a whisper.
She spun around. James had come from the other direction. Well, no matter. She hurried towards him, her hands outstretched. What was the matter? The tragic expression on his face frightened her. “James? What is the matter?”
He clasped her hands and pulled her after him into the shadows of the yew walk, where he wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her hair. “Eleanor, I love you. I love you more than life itself. You believe me, do you not?”
Eleanor pulled away, but only enough to peer into his eyes. “James? What did my father say?”
“James, you are frightening me. Did he say we must wait?”
“Eleanor, he says that he has given your hand to the Duke of Haverford,” James blurted.
Eleanor’s breath stopped and she could hear her blood surging in her ears as her heart pounded. Her sight grew dark at the edges, and the enormous yew hedges swayed towards her as if to batter her into the ground. By force of will, she fought off her faintness. “But… but he is old,” she stammered, “and a wicked libertine, and cold as ice.” She stamped her foot. “I don’t want him, James. I love you. I love you, James.”
“Shush, my love,” James begged. “We must be quiet. Farnmouth told me I could not see you again, but I had to, Eleanor. I’ll find a way. I promise. You love me and I love you. I will ask my father to help. He is friends with yours. Surely Winshire can persuade the earl.”
“Yes!” Eleanor’s heart gave another enormous thump, this time with relief. “We will be together?” she asked.
“We will marry,” James promised. He bent his head and his lips touched hers. It was a gentle, reverent salute, but Eleanor pressed closer and the kiss changed, James’s lips still soft, but questing, moving, devouring. His tongue pressed the seam of her mouth and swept inside when she gasped. Again, the darkness hovered, but this time it was a welcoming warmth, a giving and taking of sensation, a merging of selves so that Eleanor no longer knew who sighed and who moaned, or how long they stayed intertwined.
The whistling of a gardener brought them back to themselves. “I must go,” James told her. “Stay strong, my love. We are meant to be together, and I will find a way.”
“We are meant to be together,” she agreed.
The Duchess of Haverford put the rose back into her memory box. It was from a small bouquet he had sent her. She had worn it for that last dance. Now it was fragile, dried and faded, adorned with yet another tear to join all the others she had wept on it in the past ten years. Once, she had loved and been loved. That, at least, would never change.
For more about Paradise Regained, see https://judeknightauthor.com/books/paradise-regained/
For more about The Children of the Mountain King series, see https://judeknightauthor.com/the-children-of-the-mountain-king/
For more about To Wed a Proper Lady, including preorder, see https://judeknightauthor.com/books/to-wed-a-proper-lady/
For your copy of Paradise Lost, subscribe to Jude’s newsletter: https://judeknightauthor.com/newsletter/
About Jude Knight:
Have you ever wanted something so much you were afraid to even try? That was Jude ten years ago.
For as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to be a novelist. She even started dozens of stories, over the years.
But life kept getting in the way. A seriously ill child who required years of therapy; a rising mortgage that led to a full-time job; six children, her own chronic illness… the writing took a back seat.
As the years passed, the fear grew. If she didn’t put her stories out there in the market, she wouldn’t risk making a fool of herself. She could keep the dream alive if she never put it to the test.
Then her mother died. That great lady had waited her whole life to read a novel of Jude’s, and now it would never happen.
So Jude faced her fear and changed it–told everyone she knew she was writing a novel. Now she’d make a fool of herself for certain if she didn’t finish.
Her first book came out to excellent reviews in December 2014, and the rest is history. Many books, lots of positive reviews, and a few awards later, she plans to keep publishing until she runs out of years.