To her legions of adoring suitors, it comes as quite a shock when Lady Sophie York rejects an offer of marriage from the dashing, rakish Patrick Foakes in favor of amiable but dull Bradden Chatwin. He may be an earl, but it is Patrick’s stolen kisses that sear her lips.
When Patrick, in disguise, scales a ladder to retrieve his friend’s fiancée, he never expects the elopement to be his own. Neither does Sophie, Braddon, or the rest of the tattling ton. One hasty wedding later, the passionate innocent and the sophisticated rogue play out their own intricate dance as Sophie masters what it takes to keep a man where he belongs. And Patrick learns the ultimate lesson in love.
A tea expert named Lois wrote with a fascinating note about the history of tea. Midnight Pleasures mentions Patrick’s "man in Ceylon" in reference to black tea. However, tea was first planted in Ceylon as an experiment in 1841, as a result of the Opium Wars. England was looking for places outside China to cultivate tea, and they chose Ceylon and Assam in India. Even as late as 1867 there was very little tea grown in Ceylon, only 1000 acres. At the time of Midnight Pleasures all the tea consumed in England came from China and was mostly green tea.
Warning! In describing relations between characters, I may wreck a book for you by making it clear who someone marries, or the outcome of a book. Please do not read about The Inside Take if you're wary of knowing who is paired with whom!
There's a story behind Sophie's mother, Eloise, as well. When I wrote a first draft of this book, Eloise was a very small character, and the friction between her and her husband was merely an amusing aside. But my editor at that time had lost her mother as a young girl, and she kept asking me for more about Eloise, and more about Eloise... Before I knew it, Eloise had become a very interesting character in her own right, and her marriage a major subplot. I have received many letters from readers about Eloise; I owe thanks for each to the wonderful Jackie Cantor, Executive Vice President at Bantam/Dell.
Reyanna wrote to point out that in Chapter Eight Patrick strikes a match. Argh. No matches were around to be "struck" until the late 1820s.
“A definite ‘must read.'”
~ The Belles & Beaux of Romance
“Ms. James delivers a sensual, exciting, fresh romance that is pure reading pleasure.”
~ Romantic Times BOOKClub (4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick)
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From Chapter Thirteen
Eloise York felt a warm glow of satisfaction in the pit of her stomach as she looked discreetly over the mass of gentlefolk occupying St. George’s chapel at three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. She had rummaged up every single relation she and George had on their side of the family and had, in essence, done the same with Patrick Foakes’s family, given that his entire family consisted of one brother (Alex), an uncle, and an aunt. However few in number, they were all prominently in view. Patrick’s uncle would conduct the ceremony and his aunt, Henrietta Collumber, had been given a place of honor next to the bride’s mother.
“Stop peering, Eloise,” Henrietta was saying, with the freedom of a rather crotchety woman on the far side of seventy. “They’re all here, no need to worry. Thinking it’s the love match of the century, no doubt!” She positively cackled.
Eloise looked at Henrietta with a pang of extreme dislike. Could she risk giving the old harridan a sharp set down? No. Instead Eloise turned her head back toward the altar. She had been very pleased to learn that the Earl of Slaslow was standing up for Patrick. That should put a sock in the gossips’ chatter! He looked a bit peevish, the Chatwin boy, but then he was the peevish sort anyway. In fact, the more she’d thought about it, the more it seemed clear that Sophie would be better off with Patrick Foakes.
Patrick looked imperturbable, standing in front of the church with his twin brother. Unlike Braddon, who was nervously shifting from foot to foot and yanking at his vest, the two Foakes brothers stood like rocks.
Just then the brief hush and hum that always precedes the entrance of a bride fell on the chapel. Sophie appeared at the recessed columns at the side of the chapel, her hand resting lightly on her father’s sleeve.
Eloise had convinced her to wear white, and as Sophie walked quietly into the chapel, her gown gleaming palely in the late afternoon light, she looked innocent, fragile, other-worldly. No one would think that she was a young woman who drew scandalous attention like a magnet to the true north. Even the most vicious imagination must hesitate to speculate why this marriage happened with such speed. Sophie’s hair spilled down her back in a glowing flood, adorned only by creamy rose buds, tucked among the amber curls. She was the snow princess from a Russian folk tale, the guileless fairy queen from an Irish love story.
Her dress was made of pearly ivory satin, caught up under the bodice, and laid over with a shimmering overdress that extended into a train in the back. The sleeves were short, the bodice modest, and Sophie was wearing high satin gloves. When Madame Carême produced the gown Sophie had wailed that she would look a veritable dowager.
In truth, it was probably the most conservative dress Eloise had seen Sophie wear since her daughter’s debut. But Madame Carême’s seamstresses had sewed frantically to add one touch that turned the dress from conventional to enchanting. Madame added golden Brussels lace to the bodice, to the line of the overskirt as it fell from Sophie’s bosom, to the border of the shorter gown and to the longer flow of the train in back. The lace caressed Sophie’s creamy skin; it emphasized the curve of her breasts and the slim length of her legs.
And, oh Lord, but Madame Carême did know how to make a woman look enthralling. The gold lace echoed Sophie’s hair, making her look like an enchanting ivory and gold icon. A blasphemous icon, of course. No man in the chapel looked at her with reverence; the pure wanton lust rising in their loins fought against so pallid an emotion as reverence. Against ivory silk and ivory skin, the blood beat in Sophie’s cheeks in a way that spoke of life, pagan life, life in the meadow not the church, life in the bed not the tomb.
Patrick’s breath caught in his throat as Sophie moved toward him without meeting his eyes. She raised her eyes only after she and George reached the altar.
Then, for a brief instant, Sophie’s eyes met Patrick’s and she colored, looking confusedly down at the roses in her hand. A smile trembled on Patrick’s lips but the intent languorous heat rising from his body stifled any impulse to laugh.
At least he knew why he was getting married. He had never experienced, nor would ever experience again, a desire as profound as that he consistently felt for Sophie York. Unbidden by the priest he reached out and drew her small hand into his.
Bishop Foakes cast his nephew an admonishing look from under bushy eyebrows. He’d agreed to lead this service out of respect for Patrick’s dead father, his own brother. Lord knows the boys had caused Sheffie grief. But Sheffie’ve been happy to be here today, Richard judged. Get ’em both married and they’ll calm down, that had always been his advice. Not that Sheffie had paid any attention, packing the twins off to the continent and the far east rather than sewing them up in a couple of solid marriage contracts. He was lucky that the boys returned safe and sound. Although his brother hadn’t managed to see either of them before he died, now that Richard came to think of it.
Well, time to get on with the ceremony. Richard surreptitiously adjusted his high bishop’s hat. It had a tendency to ride backwards and look like a ship listing in a storm.
“Dearly beloved,” Richard intoned, “we are gathered here together in the sight of God....”
Sophie began to tremble like a leaf as the bishop’s deep voice jerked her out of a dreamlike state. Her hand was engulfed in Patrick’s large one, which made her feel a longing wave of desire for him. And that feeling made her want to run from the chapel. Her life seemed to stretch ahead of her, gray and fruitless, marked by anguish and embarrassment as her husband dallied with other women.
As Richard wound through the familiar words of the marriage service he noted that the groom was still holding the bride’s hand. Ah well. It would probably be taken as a romantic gesture by those in the chapel, and Lord knows they needed to emphasize romance in order to get through this particular wedding without scandal.
The bishop turned his attention to his nephew. My goodness, Patrick has sarcastic-seeming eyebrows, floating half up his forehead as they do, Richard thought to himself. It makes the boy seem satirical even as he stands in a holy place.
Finally he turned to Sophie with the command, “Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together....” But Sophie’s head was thronged with images of her mother crying. Suddenly all the lies her father had asked her to tell about his whereabouts reverberated in her mind, ugly specters of a marriage in shreds and tatters, run -- and ruined -- by falsehoods. She looked up at Patrick, her eyes asking an agonized, unspoken question.
Patrick’s hand tightened, almost as if he knew what she was thinking. And his eyes smiled at her: those lovely black, black eyes with small crinkles at the corners from the sun. Sophie straightened her backbone and said, clearly, “I will.”
Well, at least Patrick seemed to be marrying into a good family, Richard thought. He, for one, approved of Sophie’s white face and her trembling fingers as she swore on the prayer book. Brides should be meek and small. Yes, small and meek, that was the best sort of bride. Richard clapped the prayer book shut, suddenly realizing that he’d droned his way through the whole service.
“I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together,” he said, deftly adjusting his hat.
Sophie’s lips moved, but no noise came out.
Richard frowned. Could it be that the blushing, trembling bride muttered “merde”? No, surely not. She looked a wee, refined creature, not capable of swearing in any language. Richard smiled at the pair before him in a jovial, let’s get through with this and onto the party sort of way. “You may kiss the bride,” he told Patrick.
Patrick turned Sophie to face him. He felt very pleased with himself. The whole transaction felt right. He had had the same feeling when he purchased a Baltimore clipper from that new American company. Sure enough, the ship had weathered a hurricane off the shore of Trinidad and was on her fifth voyage now.
Sophie looked up at him, her blue eyes so dark as to look almost black. For a moment Patrick was startled by the enormous reserve he glimpsed them. He drew her up against his body and lowered his head. Sophie rested passively against his chest, her lips cool and unresponsive.
Oh hell, Patrick thought to himself. He needed to coax a romantic kiss from Sophie’s lips, in order to emphasize the idea that true love dictated their brief engagement. He slid his large hands up her back and drew her sharply against him, his lips demanding. Then, suddenly, Sophie’s lips softened and she melted against him, her breath a caress that set his blood on fire. Patrick’s head swum and his body turned to flame as a surge of heat rushed up the back of his neck.
As they drew apart, husband and wife looked at each other for a moment. Patrick was shocked, his breath coming fast, his body urgently aware of every facet of Sophie’s body. Sophie was only aware of the wanton way she had pressed against Patrick. Had anyone been able to see her knees buckle?
There was a little rustle in the chapel. Members of the ton were used to couples who turned briskly and trotted down the aisle together to the sound of trumpets, couples who wasted little time looking at each other.
“Oh my, I could almost think that it was a love match,” Lady Penelope Luster said to her best friend. “Just look at the way he’s looking at her! It’s enough to make me swoon, I do declare.”
“Oh don’t be such a widgeon, Penelope,” her companion replied, in a whistling half-shriek. “That’s the same look he was giving her when I found them together at my ball a month or so ago, and let me tell you, that look has nothing to do with love! You wouldn’t know, since you were never married.”
Penelope shot her friend a look of near-hatred. What did Sarah Prestlefield know of “looks”? She was a stout dowager of fifty-some and Penelope would eat her hat if Lord Prestlefield had ever looked at Sarah the way in which Patrick Foakes just looked at his new wife. “I don’t care what you say, Sarah,” Penelope stated. “They appear the most romantic couple in the world to me.”
Sarah Prestlefield turned up her nose in a gesture of patent disbelief.
“I’ll tell you something, Sarah. Only a slow-top would think that any woman in her right mind would chose Slaslow over Patrick Foakes,” Penelope persisted.
Sarah cast her another long-suffering look. “You’re a fool, Penelope,” she said shortly. “Slaslow is an earl. No woman in her right mind would turn him down for a younger brother, no matter how rich Foakes is.”
The newly married couple were nearing their aisle in the chapel and the way in which Patrick Foakes had folded his wife’s arm into his, making her walk very close to him down the aisle, only strengthened Penelope’s belief in the love match.
Besides, the Earl of Slaslow was walking down the aisle directly after his former betrothed, and Braddon’s mild resemblance to a bulldog made her shudder. To Penelope’s mind, Patrick’s sooty eyes had distinct precedence over Braddon’s plump amiability. Wealth and titles had nothing to do with this...this air of sensuality that breathed from Patrick Foakes.
Penelope twisted about to watch the newlyweds leave. The great doors to the chapel stood open and the Foakes were standing at the top of the marble steps with their back to the chapel. A ray of lazy sunshine caught them there, turned Sophie into a slim golden flame and Patrick into a dusky winter god next to her summer glow. As Penelope watched, Patrick bent over to kiss his bride again.
“You can say what you like,” Penelope Luster said fiercely to her closest friend. “But I shall always maintain that this is a love match! And I don’t intend to entertain anyone else’s opinions on the subject.”
End of Excerpt
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