Posted by Nyx
Hazel Statham lives in England and has been writing on and off since she was fifteen. Initially she was influenced by Austen, the Brontës, and Sabatini but when she turned seventeen, Georgette Heyer opened up the romance and elegance of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She immediately knew she had found her eras and wanted nothing more than to re-create them in her work.
Her latest book is the Regency romance novel, The Portrait, released by Avalon Books in August 2010.
Hazel lives with her husband, Terry, and a beautiful Labrador named Mollie. Apart from writing, her other ruling passion is animals, and until recently she acted as treasurer for an organization that raised money for animal charities.
About the Portrait
Severely injured at the battle of Salamanca, Edward Thurston, the new Earl of Sinclair, returns home to his beloved Fly Hall. Determined not to present his prospective bride with the wreck he believes himself to have become, he decides to end his betrothal, unaware that Lady Jennifer, for vastly differing reasons, has reached the selfsame decision.
Throughout the campaigns, Edward was often seen relying greatly on a miniature he carried, and it is to this token he clings upon his return. Will he eventually find happiness with the girl in the portrait, or will he remain firm in his resolve not to wed? Reason dictates one course, his heart another.
Read an Excerpt!
Entering the hallway at Fly, Jennifer asked her cousin Eleanor, who acted as chaperone, to await her there. Despite the impropriety, she wished for no witness to the interview with her betrothed, desiring whatever words were spoken to remain private. It took much persuading, but eventually Eleanor, much against her better judgment, succumbed to her young relative’s pleadings and allowed herself to be cozily seated by the large fireplace, glad of its welcoming warmth after the chills of the carriage.
Hearing the sounds of arrival, the earl rose from his chair in the morning room and prepared to meet his intended. Something in the region of his chest clenched at the thought of the impending interview, but he schooled his countenance to greet her with an equanimity he was far from feeling.
Almost immediately, the door opened and Brough announced Lady Jennifer. Full of resolve, her skirts swishing with the crispness of her step, she came quickly into the light-filled, blue and gold salon. As the door closed quietly behind her, she came to an abrupt halt.
Finding it difficult to advance further into the room, she visibly blanched at the extend of Sinclair’s injuries, her expressive eyes wide at sight of his altered appearance. Nothing could have prepared her for the emotions the mere sight of him evoked, and whatever words she would have uttered, died unsaid.
Ignoring his wildly leaping emotions at seeing her once more, Edward drank in the delicacy of her features and form and, gathering his cloak of resolve about him, quickly closed the gap between them. Taking her cold fingers in his warm clasp, he raised them dutifully to his lips, feeling them tremble in his hold. His eyes never left her face, and he realized that there was no guile about her as he watched the mix of emotions that chased across her pale countenance. In that instant, he knew that he had made the right decision to end the betrothal.
“My lord, I…..” she began, but her voice failed and he saw the tears well up into her beautiful eyes.
“Will you not be seated, Lady Jennifer?” he said, leading her to a chair by the hearth. “Brough will bring refreshments and after a cup of tea I am sure you will feel more the thing.” Releasing her hand he stood before her as she sank into the chair. He found it necessary to concentrate, to keep his voice neutral, so that she would not be aware of his inner turmoil. Grateful that he was at least allowed to retain his pride, he was relieved that he showed no signs of the physical weakness that had laid him so low.
“I realize my appearance must come as quite a shock to you,” he said with an incongruous smile.
She half rose but he held up his hand to forestall her and she once more sank back against the cushions. All former irritation forgotten, she was unable to put into words what she was feeling at that precise moment and was relieved when a light tapping on the door heralded an interruption.
Brough came into the room with a tray full of a light repast which was placed on a low table set at their side, whilst a butler brought in a tea tray and set it on a small table beside Jennifer.
Busying herself with the pouring of the tea, she set up a flow of inconsequential conversation in the hope of presenting a diversion. She never allowed her eyes to wander from her task, dreading the moment when she would be forced to acknowledge the situation. However, as she handed the cup to Sinclair, the words died on her lips as she became aware of his intense scrutiny.
Seeing her unease, Edward straightened himself in his chair, saying in a subdued tone, “Lady Jennifer, I think it only fair that I bring about a swift end to your disquiet. I see what affect my injuries have on you, and believe me when I say that I quite understand. I am not so insensitive as to not realize just how devastating it would be if you were forced to ally yourself to such an individual as I have become. I would not wish it on you.”
She would have given an answer but he slowly shook his head. “There is no need to attempt to put the matter delicately. I am quite sure you realize, as do I, that to continue with the engagement would be disastrous. Therefore, I will not prevaricate on the issue. I release you from your promise. The wedding will not take place.”
“It is not your wish that we should marry?” she asked paling still further.
“It is not. I will send a retraction to the Gazette immediately. It will be seen that I have been too long away and who should blame us if our sentiments have undergone a change during that time. Indeed, it will be seen that I am the cause of the rift, so you need not fear censure.”
“Are my feelings on the matter not to be considered then, sir?” she demanded.
“I don’t think you know what your feelings are at this precise moment,” he replied, noting the indignant tilt of her chin and the militant look in her eye. “If you would but be guided by me, I’m sure you will see the right of it, and will be relieved to be rid of me.”
“I am beginning to think that I shall,” she said, coming abruptly to her feet and nearly upsetting the tea tray in the process. “I’m excessively grateful to you for pointing it out to me. You have saved me the need to deliberate further on the matter.”
He too came to his feet and bridged the distance between them to take her hand in his.
“You may not think it now, but you will come to be grateful to me for making the decision,” he said earnestly. “Let not your sentiments at this moment in time cloud your judgment. You see me as a case for pity, and it’s not what I would wish. I will not allow you to take me when such emotions rule.”
“You are quite right, sir,” she snapped, withdrawing her hand from his warm clasp. “I would not wish that you should think I take you out of sympathy, therefore I see the sense of it.” She did not understand why his words piqued her so. Had it not been her own intent to end the betrothal?
An unfathomable look came in his eyes. “I hope we may still meet as friends?”
“As friends? I see no reason why we should not,” she replied coolly, deciding her reaction was that of resentment because it had been he who had uttered the words that ended the betrothal and not she.
Relieved, he smiled. “Then we are in agreement?”
“Most certainly. You have taken a burden from my mind. I too had wondered at the sense of continuing with the engagement and had reached the same decision as have you. Now we are both free to continue with our lives unhindered!”
“Have you felt the betrothal a hindrance?” he asked with some concern.
She colored with confusion. “Yes…no…I don’t know what I have felt. We had become as strangers and you were so far away….” Her voice faltered and she refused to meet his gaze.
“Then the decision to end it is the right one and you may recommence your life without its burden. Now that the matter is settled, we can be easy in each other’s company. Won’t you be seated and take some tea with me? Talk to me for a while. I am in dire need of civilized conversation.
When the time came for Jennifer to leave Fly, Edward escorted his former betrothed and her companion to their chaise. Watching from the shallow steps that led to the gravel drive, he raised his hand in farewell as the equipage disappeared down the long driveway, waiting until it disappeared from view before turning back to the hall.
Repairing immediately to his apartment, he went straight to the dresser and pulled wide the drawer. Without taking it from its resting-place, he opened up the handkerchief and looked once more at the delicate face in the portrait.
“The deed is done, my love. The deed is done,” he said quietly, and once more folding the cloth, he gently closed the drawer.
Here’s what reviewers are saying about The Portrait!
“Hazel Statham depicts a wonderful tale of friendship and love with this heartwarming tale. The Portrait is a lovely romance with unexpected occurrences and fun characters who will charm their way into your hearts.”
–Chrissy Dionne, Romance Junkies
“A delightful story, THE PORTRAIT is a wonderful tale of love lost and found¦ They are both likable characters, and readers will be cheering them on. Beautifully written, wonderful dialogue, and a charming tale, THE PORTRAIT is sure to delight the most discerning Regency reader.”
–Marilyn Heyman, Romance Reviews Today
“The Portrait is a truly sweet love story. It follows the misadventures of two characters who are so much in love they cannot see it for themselves. This is such a wonderful tale of how love can conquer all and sneak up on you when you least expect it. This is the kind of story that has you pulled right in from the first page and keeps you guessing on how it will end. The Portrait is such a magical tale that will have you wanting to read it again and again.”
–LeAnn, Coffee Time Romance and More
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Posted by Nyx
We all knew it was going to be special night as soon as they entered. The man, holding fast to the end of the rope tied around the donkey’s neck, spoke softly to the innkeeper. His eyes held grave concern for the young woman astride the donkey. Her belly was swollen with the babe she carried in her womb.
The innkeeper told him that he had no room, but his turned down mouth indicated he didn’t wish to turn them away. He offered them a place in our stable. Not much of a place for a woman about to give birth, but their clothes were thick with dust from their journey and the donkey hung his head as if he could not carry the woman another step. The man with the long brown beard thanked him and shook the innkeeper’s hand.
With great difficulty, the woman climbed off the donkey’s back into the arms of the man. He held her until he was sure her feet were steady on the ground. They whispered to each other. My ears perked up but the words were spoken so softly I could not hear them.
The man marched over to a stall and began to rearrange the straw. His hands were large, with swollen knuckles. He hummed as he pushed the straw this way and that.
When he finished, the man stood and inspected his work. The corners of his mouth curled into a smile. He nodded before turning back to the woman and helped her sit in the mound of fresh straw.
The woman fell into an exhausted sleep. Soon she was awakened by the stirrings of the child wishing to makes its way into the world. I had felt such stirrings myself, many times. Now that time was past for me, but I wished to comfort this mother to be in some way. She was so young, so beautiful; and though her whimpers and moans told me her pain was great, there were moments when the man looked deeply into her eyes and she smiled. Careful to keep my voice soft, I mooed. The sheep’s bleating followed and then came the braying of the donkey. One by one the residents of the stable made gentle sounds to help ease the woman’s pain.
She labored long and hard, but sometime during the night the babe burst forth and the man cupped his naked, crying child as if he held the most precious gift the world had ever known.
The woman wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes and laid him in our manger. If the boy baby felt uncomfortable in the wooden box lined with hay, he did not cry of it. From the moment of his birth, a new sense of peace filled the stable from floor to rafters.
Not long afterwards, they came; the shepherds who guard their flocks at night. In the distance, I heard a pack of wolves howling, and I shuddered when I thought of those poor sheep left unattended by their caregivers.
There was one young boy among them. He turned when the wolves howled and his eyes grew wide with fear. He seemed confused as he scanned the older men’s faces for some reaction to the howls. He soon became captivated by the man, the woman, and their newborn son. Perhaps he felt a kinship to the father who guarded his new family in a way similar to how he guarded his sheep.
One of the older men told the woman of a bright light and the angel’s announcement of the “Savior’s” birth. She said nothing, but her smile was one of pure joy—a joy shared by the shepherds who sang their praises as they left and walked back to their sheep. I wondered what they would find when they returned.
As the woman held her baby close, the child drifted off to sleep. Her eyes fluttered and she stifled a yawn. The man kissed the top of her head, then strolled over to the stable door and pulled it closed. By the time he returned to her side, sleep had overtaken her. He scooped cold water from the pail into his hands and splashed it upon his face. He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and gazed at the sleeping mother and child. I doubted he would sleep this night.
The sheep and the donkey shifted in their stalls before exhaling deeply and lowering their heads. I suddenly felt tired too. The tiny snores of the child were like a lullaby and I knew sleep would soon claim me.
This was no ordinary child. He was special. The parents knew it. The shepherds were told of it. And as I drifted off I was certain that this “Savior” would leave his mark on the world.
Little Shepherd by Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a retelling of the Christmas story from a young shepherd’s point of view. The cow and sheep, along with the donkey, eagerly awaited the shepherds’ arrival on that miraculous night; and they witnessed their joy over the birth of the Savior.
If anyone leaves a comment here between now and the end of Cheryl’s tour on 12/17, they will be entered in to a drawing to win a gift basket filled with fun Christmas stuff. There is also a separate giveaway for those who purchase a copy of the book and provide Cheryl with proof of purchase. Details for both giveaways can be found at http://littleshepherdchildrensbook.blogspot.com/2010/09/giveaways-announced-for-little-shepherd.html
Posted in Character Interview
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