A GEORGIAN HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Roxton Family Saga Prequel: Renard and Antonia’s Happily Ever After
1740s France and England—the age of hedonism and enlightenment.
Renard, Duke of Roxton, head of an ancient noble family, is wealthy beyond measure. Arrogant, and self assured, this noble satyr is renowned throughout Europe as the consummate lover of other men’s wives, but Roxton’s heart remains his own.
Beautiful, optimistic, and headstrong, Antonia Moran is determined to flee the Court of Versailles and escape the lascivious attentions of the predatory Comte de Salvan.
Antonia orchestrates her escape with the unwitting assistance of the Duke of Roxton, a man she has been warned against as too dangerous for her to know. Roxton is an unlikely savior—arrogant, promiscuous, and sinister. Antonia’s unquestioning belief in him may just be his salvation, and her undoing.
Winner of the $10,000 Woman’s Day/Random House Romantic Fiction Prize, Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Medalist, B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree, and a shortlisted finalist for Romance Writers of Australia Romantic Novel of the Year. A classic Beauty and the Beast tale, this award-winning historical is a homage to Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades.
Audiobook performed by Alex Wyndham
Character-driven romantic adventure
Non explicit (mild sensuality)
Story length 122,000 words
More books in the highly acclaimed Roxton Family Saga
Featured Reviews & Accolades
It is the golden age of French aristocratic life, the glittering court of Louis XV. Beneath the posturing and hedonism lies a seething hotbed of intrigue, deceit, and treachery. Characters live and breathe the atmosphere of the time—they are captivating, from the primary players, right down to smaller but no less important characters. Ultimately, this is an enchanting and powerful love story between two people who have all the odds stacked against them. I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding of this passionate romance, with added action and adventure, derring-do, and some narrow escapes! For readers who like detail there’s a wealth of carefully chosen gems to enhance the picture. This is a wonderful read for romance and historical fiction fans. Well-crafted plot, historical accuracy, and believable characters. I loved it.
Fiona Ingram Readers’ Favorite
Lucinda Brant weaves an intelligent and intricately layered tale of scandal, intrigue and enduring love. This is so much more than a love story—it’s a story of culture, political events and the plight of those who must live in the tempest. The romance between Roxton and Antonia was so well-written. The pairing of the dissolute Roxton with the much younger, innocent Antonia could have been the recipe for disaster but Ms Brant pulls it off brilliantly. Antonia may be young and virginal but, having lived in the licentious court of Louis XV, she is certainly not naïve in the ways of the world and has no illusions about Roxton. Bored with the world of excess around him, it is easy to see why Roxton would be enchanted by Antonia’s intelligence, openness, and spirited nature. Noble Satyr will certainly remain on my shelf as a keeper.
Joint Review by Carol Cork and Eileen Dandashi Booktalk with Eileen
THE FRANCE OF LOUIS XV
THE COMTE DE SALVAN tottered in his red heels up the Grand Escalier of the palace of Versailles to the first floor, and crossed to the Hercules drawing room, bowing and waving his handkerchief to all who acknowledged him. The opulence of this large ornate marbled room was a comfort to him and he breathed easier. He stopped to take snuff with two cronies who lounged by a Sarrancolin marble column, and searched for his son amongst the crowd of powdered and beribboned nobles moving into theAppartement. Unsuccessful, he dismissed the moody boy from his thoughts, hoping to catch sight of the one beautiful face amongst a hundred he desired to make his own. Alas, she had yet to appear.
He was one of the last to enter the Appartement. It was crowded and he could hear the orchestra but had no chance of seeing its members from the back of the room. He spied the Duc de Richelieu, newly returned from exile in Languedoc, and close by his side, languidly fanning herself, was Madame de La Tournelle. She was resplendent in petticoats of blue damask, embroidered with large sprays of flowers, and showed a pretty wrist covered with milky strands of pearls. For a long time he did not notice the Duke of Roxton standing by his side.
“You will not find what you are looking for,” drawled the Duke of Roxton, quizzing glass fixed on Madame de La Tournelle. “That which you desire is not here.”
Salvan spun about and stared up at the impassive aquiline profile.
“Continue to gawp and I will go elsewhere,” murmured the Duke. “Mademoiselle Claude has been beckoning with her fan this past half hour. Sitting next to that frost-piece is preferable to being scrutinized by you, dearest cousin.”
Salvan snapped open a fan of painted chicken skin and fluttered it like a woman, searching gaze returning to the sea of silk and lace.
“To be abandoned for that hag would be an insult I could not endure, mon cousin. You merely startled me.”
“I repeat, your search is fruitless.”
“Ah! You see me scanning faces. I always do so. It is nothing,” Salvan said lightly. “Did you think me looking for someone in particular? No! Who—Who did you think I was looking for?”
“My dear Salvan,” drawled the Duke, “your son, your most obedient son.”
“D’Ambert? Yes-yes of course my son!” Salvan said with relief. He turned back to the performance in time for the final round of polite applause. When the King had taken his leave Salvan drew his arm through that of his cousin. They walked a little way off to a corner of the room that was less crowded to better observe the audience disperse. “That ghastly noise is at an end, thank God. Were you as bored as I? Don’t answer. I know it! Where have you been, mon cousin? I have missed you in the corridors of the palace this past week. Do not tell me you are fatigued with us and stay in Paris? Or are you weary with what is on offer?”
They bowed to a passing beauty, her hair dressed in an eye-catching creation of plumes and pearls and her lips painted a delicious red.
“She tries to catch your attention, Roxton. Now there is one who could cure your ennui.”
“Madame is not worth the effort.”
“Parbleu! How fortunate are those who can afford to choose.”
Roxton took snuff and flicked a speck of the fine mixture from a wide velvet cuff. He shrugged. “It is obvious M’sieur le Comte has not had the—er—privilege of madame without her skillful paint and uplifting bodice. You are welcome to her if that is to your taste.”
“No. Not I!”
“No. Your tastes lean toward the—er—uninitiated, do they not, my dear cousin?”
There was the slightest pause before the Comte let out a forced brittle laugh. He tapped the Duke’s velvet sleeve with the silver sticks of his fan. “That is as well or our paths would cross, and that would not amuse me at all!”
“You may rest easy, my dear,” said the Duke smoothly, quizzing glass allowed to dangle on its silk riband. “I have never yet had the urge to play nursery maid.”
Salvan flushed in spite of himself. He changed the topic immediately.
“You saw Richelieu? He has been back at court this past week. They say he and the Tournelle plan to oust the dull sister as soon as it can be contrived. De Mailly is ignorant of the whole! She will see herself banished before she knows what she is about and—”
“My dear, this is old news,” interrupted the Duke. “But perhaps it is new to you? You need to spend less time lurking in corridors and a good deal more between the sheets.”
“As you do?” Salvan snapped before he could help himself.
Roxton swept him a magnificent bow. “As I do,” he confirmed.
“Ha! A novel approach. Do not tell me you expend any energy in conversation.”
“I was not about to tell you anything of the sort, my dear,” came the insolent reply. The Duke’s black eyes watched a storm cross his cousin’s ravaged face, and he laughed softly and changed the subject to his sister. “Madame sends her regards,” he said politely. “She asks when next you intend to visit Paris. She longs to hear the latest gossip of court which I cannot bring myself to repeat. I said I would petition you on her behalf and beg you go to her. I beg and have done my duty. I leave it in your hands.”
The mention of the Duke’s lovely sister instantly transformed the Comte de Salvan, as Roxton knew it would. He clapped his hands in delight.
“Estée has asked to see me? You do not jest?” he said expectantly, and fell in beside the Duke as he walked out of the Appartement, crossed the Hercules Room and went down the staircase. “Is she in good health? Does she pine away in that dreary hôtel of yours? You are most cruel to her, Roxton! Such beauty deserves to be admired, to be fawned over and cherished. She has not been to court now in seven years or more. She the widow of Jean-Claude de Montbrail, the most decorated of Louis’ generals. If he had not been cut down in his prime, Estée would now be at court.”
“Yes, I forbid her the court. That is my right.”
“Even in the face of Louis’ displeasure?” whispered the Comte de Salvan, taking a quick, nervous look over his padded shoulder. “I cannot forget your private audience,” he continued with a shudder. “Me, I fainted. I expected a lettre de cachet at the very least. I praise God it did not happen so. You are still barely tolerated by Sa Majesté. He never forgives or forgets such slights, mon cousin. He might relent a little if you were to allow your sister to return to court—”
“I have not the least interest in Louis’ opinion of me.”
“M’sieur le Duc! Please!” Salvan gasped in a broken voice. “Not so loud. I beg you!”
The Duke paused in the vestibule that led out into the Marble courtyard to permit a lackey to assist him into his many-capped roquelaure.
“I repeat. What your king thinks of me or my actions is of supreme indifference. You forget I am of mixed blood. Only half is French, and that my mother’s. My allegiance is to a German-born king who sits on the English throne. Regrettable as that circumstance may be to many, it serves a purpose. And as I am a peer of that realm, and not this, I need not hold my actions accountable to your liege lord and master. If my presence at this court unnerves you, my dear cousin, I am happy for you to disassociate yourself with my family.” He bowed politely. “Versailles is no place for those of noble character, such as my sister.”
The Comte de Salvan tottered outside after him, a servant with a flambeau quick to follow on his heels. “And what of the rest of us?”
“Those of us of noble birth and no character amuse ourselves as best we can. I bid you a good night.”
Halfway across the courtyard, two figures moving in shadow caught Salvan’s eye and he drew in a quick breath. Instantly, he tried to divert the Duke with some inconsequential tale about a notorious female and her present lover, all the while conscious of the raised voices traveling across the expanse of open air from the dark recesses of the Royal courtyard. But the Duke of Roxton was not diverted. He listened to his cousin’s chatter as he slipped on a pair of black kid gloves then abruptly changed direction and sauntered toward the voices. His cousin made a protesting sound in the back of his throat and followed as best he could in red high heels.
A slim youth, richly clad in puce satin under a heavy coat thrown carelessly about his shoulders, and a girl, her gown concealed under a shabby wool cloak too large for her small frame and allowed to trail in the mud, were huddled under a red brick archway. In the light cast by a flickering flambeau, they were in heated discussion, the youth with an arm outstretched to the opposite wall to block the girl’s exit.
The Duke did not go so near as to disturb them, yet he showed enough interest to put up his quizzing glass. He was soon joined by the Comte de Salvan, who had hobbled across the pebbles in his high heels. The Comte was chilled to the bone for having left his cloak indoors, and was mentally heaping curses upon his father’s memory for having permitted his name to be forever allied with a family of heretical Englishmen whom he blamed for all his past and present misfortunes.
“Permit me to explain,” Salvan rasped, catching his breath.
“Explain?” purred the Duke. “There is no need. Your so-devoted son is of an age to defend his own actions.”
~ ~ ~
THE VICOMTE D’AMBERT despaired of making Antonia see reason. He gave an impatient grunt and looked away into the black night.
“I tell you it is impossible!” he declared. “What do you not understand? The moment you leave the palace I cannot protect you. You have managed to avoid him until now. I say we wait for word from Saint-Germain. When we know how your grandfather fares, something will be contrived. I promise you.”
“It is you who do not understand, Étienne!”
“My grandfather is dying,” Antonia announced flatly. “He has gone to Saint-Germain to die, not to hunt or debauch, but to die. He is old and infirm and his time it has come. So be it. You think me unfeeling to speak the truth? Well, it is best I understand how it is and not allow silly expectations to fill my head. And do not tell me otherwise! Do not say I must hope, because I know you only say so because I am a female and think to shield me from the truth. Such gallantry is wasted on me, Étienne.” When he kept his silence and refused to look at her, she tried to rally him. “Do not sulk. You know what I say is the tr—”
“—the truth?” he repeated angrily. “Yes, it is the truth. I wish it were not so!”
“If you would convey me to Paris, then me I could make my own way to London. Your father will not find me in Paris, it is too big a city, and I have the money Grandfather gave me—”
“—to what?” The Vicomte threw up a hand in a gesture of hopelessness. “It is madness, Antonia. You, a pretty girl alone in Paris with not even a maid as chaperone? God grant me patience! You would not survive a day.”
“So you think? I am not afraid of a big city. Father and I lived in many strange cities and we enjoyed ourselves hugely.”
D’Ambert laughed. “Only an ignorant child would give me such an answer.”
“You are eighteen years old, does that not make you a child?” retorted Antonia.
He ignored the truth of this. “Have you been to Paris?”
“What does that signify?”
“Have you ever taken a diligence on your own?”
“No. But I am not so spiritless as to shy away from using public conveyances.”
“And once you took the diligence to Calais and by some miracle boarded a packet for Dover, what then? Assuming none of these journeys put you in the slightest danger—another miracle—what then? You have never visited England. I doubt you can speak the barbaric English tongue.”
“Wrong! I can,” Antonia announced proudly. The Vicomte’s sneer made her blush. “It is a very long time since I used the English tongue with Maman, but—but—I can read Grandfather’s English newssheets. And it is not as if I do not understand what is being said. That is the least little problem.”
“That is very true, for no sooner set down in a Parisian street than one of a thousand scoundrels would abduct you. Before nightfall you would be clapped up in a brothel and your favors sold to the highest bidder by a fat bawd. Is that what you want?”
“No worse a fate than will befall me should I remain here.”
The Vicomte’s mouth dropped open at this statement, but there was nothing he could say in answer to it. He knew very well his father’s scheme and it sickened him. He blamed the Earl of Strathsay for all his present troubles. The old man should have left Antonia in Rome with a strict governess until his return. A convent better befitted girls of her breeding, where they were safe from lechers such as his father. But what convent school would take her when she stubbornly refused, in the face of her grandfather’s wrath, to embrace the one true faith?
He wished his hands would stop shaking. He felt hot and damp in his coat despite a bitter cold wind whistling through the archway. His manservant held a taper closer to cast light on his pockets whilst he rummaged for a snuffbox. Two pinches of the mixture and in a short while the shaking would cease and he would feel calmer, better able to think what to do next. But what could he do? What was he to do? Never mind Antonia was beautiful and young; there were many such girls at court. Why couldn’t his father find another diversion to occupy his time? But the Vicomte knew the answer. Antonia’s great beauty was equalled by a strong will and a naïve exuberance for life. And she was a virgin—a rare commodity in a place like Versailles. Strong attractions indeed for such a jaded roué as his father. And his was not the only jaundiced eye that had been cast in Antonia’s direction, thought d’Ambert with a growing depression.
Antonia touched his arm. “So you will take me to Paris?”
“You know why I cannot. My father has threatened a lettre de cachet.”
“That I will not believe. He is your father, not your jailer. Why should he do such a thing? You are his only son. It is unbelievable.”
“Would I lie to you?” he demanded.
Antonia looked at him frankly, clear green eyes searching his damp face, and shook her head. “No. You would not lie to me, Étienne. He is quite abominable to threaten such a thing. Would it mean the Bastille?”
“Or any other fortress so named in the warrant. The stinking subterranean dungeons of Castle Bicêtre, if it suited his purpose. There everything is complete darkness. A living death! And at the King’s pleasure. I could not endure it.”
“He would never send you there,” Antonia said with confidence, though the thought of such places of torture made her inwardly shudder.
“Salvan will stop at nothing until he has what he wants,” said the Vicomte discouragingly. “He wants you and he says I must marry you. Mayhap—”
Antonia blinked. “But I do not want to marry you at all.”
“You could do worse than marry into my family!” Étienne flared up.
Antonia chuckled. “Oh, do not look so offended. When you pull that face you remind me of the Archbishop of Paris.”
He blushed and smiled. “I am sorry. It is just—If it were not for my father’s schemes, perhaps you would consider?”
“No,” she stated. “I do not love you, Étienne. I am sorry. When I marry it will be for love. My father and mother married for love and I will not settle for less.”
The Vicomte bowed mockingly.
“M’sieur d’Ambert thanks mademoiselle for her frankness. Mademoiselle has a most novel approach to marriage. Perhaps it is my person which offends? I am not tall enough? Too young? Do you prefer brown eyes to blue? Or does mademoiselle look higher? My name and lineage are impeccable, but I will only inherit the title of comte. Perhaps it is a tabouret you crave? Yes! It is a duke you want! Eh?”
“Now you are being childish,” said Antonia without heat. “It is when you are like this I dislike you.” She went to walk off but he blocked her exit. “Let me pass, Étienne. It is late and Maria she will scold me if I do not return before she goes to mass.”
“Childish, am I?” he demanded and caught at her arm under the cloak. “You, who go at the beck and call of a whore—”
“Maria is no such thing!”
“No? She is your grandfather’s mistress?”
“She loves him, Étienne.”
“You are a child. A whore is a whore. Maria Casparti is a whore! A Venetian whore.”
“Let me go! You are hurting me!”
“Perhaps little Antonia has a particular nobleman in mind?” taunted the Vicomte with a sneering smile, twisting her arm. “Is that why she so easily dismisses me? Let me think who might take your fancy…”
“You do not even care for me,” said Antonia in exasperation. “Only three weeks ago you were ears-over-toes in love with Pauline Alexandre de Rohan. She is a very beautiful and accomplished girl, and I know if you had pursued her, your father could not have objected to such a match. She cared for you too—”
“Perhaps mademoiselle prefers men to boys? Is it my age you cavil at?” goaded the Vicomte. “Someone of my English cousin’s vintage and reputation intrigues you, does he not? Once you asked many questions about him and I know you sneak off to watch him fence cork-tipped in the Princes’ courtyard. I have had you followed. My English cousin is very good with his sword. He has one of the best wrists in France. He has also slept in every woman’s bed in this palace!”
“What of that? So have three-quarters of the gentlemen at court!”
“I am not of that number,” stated the Vicomte haughtily.
Antonia smiled up at him. “Foolish Étienne. That is what I most admired in you from the first. Now please let me go. I am certain you have bruised my wrist.”
He gave an embarrassed laugh and squeezed her wrist before releasing her.
“My temper it is very bad,” he said with a shrug. “Do not anger me and I will not hurt you, foolish Antonia. If you have a bruise I am sorry for it. Mayhap tomorrow we will hear from Saint-Germain. Unlike you, I do not despair of good news—What is it?”
Antonia had heard the echo of high heels across the deserted courtyard and had seen the Vicomte’s manservant give a start. She scooped up the cloak which had fallen from her shoulders at d’Ambert’s rough treatment and hastily threw it over her gown, not caring that the mud and grime of the cobbles splashed her petticoats.
“Listen, Étienne,” she whispered. “If we are caught—”
“Too late,” he answered, and stepped into the pale orange light.
THE VICOMTE WATCHED the glow of a flambeau brighten as it crossed the courtyard, and three figures emerged out of the darkness. His whole being stiffened and he pulled Antonia behind him as he greeted the intruders with a stiff bow. He dared not look at his father who stood at the Duke of Roxton’s shoulder.
“Good evening, M’sieur le Duc,” he said politely.
Before the salutation could be returned the Comte de Salvan jumped at his son. “What are you doing here?” he demanded in a falsetto whisper. “Did I not warn you? Do not meddle in my affairs! You will ruin everything! Everything.”
“M’sieur, let me explain—”
“Taisez-vous!” snarled the Comte, and instantly transformed himself into the gay courtier for Antonia’s benefit. “Mademoiselle Moran, allow me to apologize for my unthinking son’s behavior. To bring you out-of-doors on such a cold night is unforgivable. He is a clod! An inconsiderate dolt! I would be thrown into a thousand agonies if I thought a worthless piece of my flesh had caused you the slightest inconvenience.”
He took a step closer but Antonia recoiled, causing his son to stand taller. This incensed the little man, but his painted face remained fixed in a coaxing smile. “Come now, you must not be frightened of Salvan. He thinks of little else but your well-being and how best to serve you.” He glared at his son’s unblinking countenance. “What has my son said to make you have a dread of poor Salvan?”
“Pardon, M’sieur le Comte, but what I discuss with M’sieur d’Ambert is not your concern.”
Salvan’s smile tightened. “Pardon, mademoiselle, but when my son takes it into his head to conduct clandestine meetings with unattended and very pretty females, it is very much my concern.” He bowed with formality.
Antonia was a little unnerved that the Duke of Roxton continued to stare at her in a leisurely fashion through his quizzing glass, but she did not allow this to stop her answering the Comte. “Pardon, M’sieur le Comte, I had not realized M’sieur le Comte’s life was of such a boredom he needs spy on his son.”
Far from taking offense, the Comte de Salvan threw his hands together with delight. “Is she not refreshing, Roxton? What spirit! And in one so young! Mademoiselle is divine. Do you not agree, mon cousin? What next will she say?”
The Duke ignored his cousin’s exuberance and let fall his eyeglass. The girl’s haughty upward tilt of her chin and the insolent sparkle in her green eyes annoyed him.
“You lack manners,” he said to Antonia and turned away into the darkness. “Walk me to my carriage, Salvan,” he ordered. “The boy can escort the girl back to the nursery.”
Salvan’s face fell and his shoulders slumped. “But, mon cousin…”
“Excuse me, M’sieur le Duc,” retorted Antonia, “but as you refuse to own our connection, you have no right to comment on my manners.”
“Antonia, no,” whispered the Vicomte and felt his knees buckle with nervousness when the Duke of Roxton, who had not gone more than two strides, turned and came back to stand before Antonia. The Vicomte tugged at the girl’s sleeve to get her behind him but she would not go. She stood bravely beside him, the tinge of color in her cold, pale cheeks the only sign of her nervousness. “M’sieur le Duc, I beg you to forgive Mademoiselle, she—”
“Be quiet, d’Ambert!” the Comte de Salvan hissed. “If anyone is to beg on Mademoiselle’s behalf it is I, you dolt!”
Father and son were ignored.
“Unlike my good cousin, I do not find Mademoiselle amusing,” the Duke enunciated icily, suppressed anger reflected in black eyes that stared down at the girl unblinkingly. “You mistake insolence for wit. A few more years in the schoolroom may correct the defect.”
Antonia pretended to demure and lowered her lashes with a sigh of resignation.
“Sadly, I may not be given the opportunity for such correction, M’sieur le Duc,” she answered despondently, a fleeting glance at the Comte de Salvan, “that is—unless M’sieur le Duc he will own me as his kinswoman…”
The Duke caught the significance in her glance but he was not fooled by her veneer of humility. He saw the dimple in her left cheek and he knew what she was trying to do. It annoyed him more than it should have. He would not have his hand forced, not by anyone, certainly not by an impertinent chit whose disordered hair and ill-fitting clothes were more befitting a street urchin than the granddaughter of a much decorated General Earl. He gritted his teeth.
“You are not my responsibility.”
“Of course she is not,” the Comte de Salvan proclaimed with a forced laugh of light-heartedness, his scented handkerchief up to his thin nostrils, yet a wary eye on the Duke’s implacable features. “Mademoiselle has a grandfather who has only her best interests at heart. Enfin. That said, let me see you to your carriage, mon cousin, before we all catch our deaths out in this night air.”
“My grandfather’s interests do not accord with my father’s last will and testament,” Antonia stated to the Duke, ignoring the Comte. “My father he sent M’sieur le Duc a copy of his will from Florence, before his final illness.”
If Frederick Moran had sent him a copy of his will, it was news to the Duke, and surprise registered in his black eyes. Yet the girl continued to regard him with her clear green eyes, eyes that were accusatory; as if he had read and deliberately ignored her father’s last wishes and should account for his actions to her. Insolent creature. He would not give her the satisfaction of a response, and with a nod at the Vicomte d’Ambert, he turned on a heel, beckoning the Comte to fall in beside him.
With a small, knowing smile, Antonia watched the Duke stride off into the darkness, deaf to the Vicomte’s monologue about how her ill-mannered behavior would get them both into trouble. The Duke might be angry with her, indeed the look on his face suggested he had washed his hands of her once and for all time. Yet, Antonia was satisfied that this late-night encounter, unlike the half dozen letters she had written him about her predicament, had finally pricked at his conscience.
Confident she would soon be leaving Versailles, there was no time to lose. She must ensure her portmanteaux were packed and ready for the flight from this palace and the Comte de Salvan’s menacing orbit. She would force the Duke of Roxton’s hand at the Galerie des Glaces masquerade in two days’ time. She smiled at her own cleverness. Gathering the overlarge cloak about her small frame, she ran off across the Marble courtyard towards the palace buildings, calling out to the Vicomte that she was a very good runner and would beat him to Maria Casparti’s apartment.