I blame my background for the way my brain works. I was brought up on a diet of historic buildings and literature that had stood the test of time. Is it any wonder that when I picked up my pen I automatically wrote historical romance? Still, it paid off and I reeled off five novels set in the colourful Regency era that were accepted for publication. After that I needed to spread my wings and try something different. How about a modern historical, I asked myself? You know what I mean. The aristocracy is still very much alive and kicking in England but quite often feeling the pinch.
That gave me the idea for A Class Apart, a contemporary novel featuring Lady Octavia Radleigh and her antithesis, Jake Bentley, boy made good from the East End of London. Octavia doesn’t realise that her ancestral home, Radleigh Manor, is in danger of being sold to cover her grandfather’s debts but Jake does and he’s determined to purchase it to show the world at large that he’s ‘made it’. Octavia is equally determined that the house will remain within the family’s control and hatches a mad scheme to turn it into an upmarket hotel, catering to rich Americans. All she has to do now is convince Jake to finance her venture!
Sparks fly as opposites attract and forces beyond their control seek to scupper Octavia's efforts.
Here’s how Jake reactis when he first meets Octavia:
Experience had taught Jake the value of patience, and he was content to bide his time. Besides, if it meant he could spend a little longer sitting in this neglected, but nevertheless magnificent, drawing room, who was he to complain? He savored the atmosphere of decayed elegance, and, in deference to his host’s feelings, concealed his anxiety to get down to the negotiations that would finally make it his.
A sound of screeching tires caused both men to stand and look out of the window in time to observe a Harley Davidson with a garish paint job skid to a halt, sending gravel showering everywhere. A long, shapely leg, leading to a slender leather-clad rear, swung over the saddle.
“Good God!” Jake said, surprise taking precedence over good manners.
“Ah, at last.” The marquis turned away from the window, an amused smile playing about his lips. “You’re about to endure the dubious pleasure of meeting my granddaughter, Mr. Bentley,” he said. “I do hope you have a strong constitution.”
Jake strolled into the far corner of the room, somewhat taken aback by the change in the marquis’s expression, which had gone from formally polite to indulgently affectionate. He wondered when the prodigal granddaughter had returned to the fold. And more to the point, why? He wondered a bit about that cute backside and those endless legs, too.
Octavia burst into the room like a tornado. She pulled off her full-face helmet and shook out a shiny curtain of brunette hair. Watching her from the depths of the room, Jake metaphorically whistled his appreciation. She was something else.
“Sorry, Gramps, there was an accident on the bridge, and I couldn’t even get past it on the bike. Still at least Bentley-the-Beast isn’t here yet. He must be stuck, too.”
Lord Radleigh failed to suppress a smile. “Octavia,” he said, “this is Mr. Bentley. Mr. Bentley, this is my very bad-mannered granddaughter, Octavia.”
Seemingly not the slightest bit put out by her faux pas, she turned to face him. She had obviously been about to say something, but, assessing him with her eyes, all that passed her lips was a strangled gasp. Jake waited her out in silence.
“Mr. Bentley, I didn’t see you lurking there.”
Her voice, when she finally found it, was accusatory, making it sound as though her rudeness had been his fault. She offered her hand but no apology. As Jake made contact with it he felt a sharp jolt of awareness rock his entire body. She felt it, too. He could tell that much from her stunned expression and guessed she wasn’t any happier about it than he was. He released her hand and strove to regain control of the situation.
“Glad to meet you. Sorry about the traffic. It must have been beastly for you.”
“Touché,” she said, but her expression didn’t contain an ounce of penitence.
Jake eyed her dispassionately. Obviously the fact that she’d been deliberately impolite to someone of such social inconsequence didn’t even register on her radar. His expression hardened. If she thought to drive the price of Radleigh up by trying her upper-class antics with him, she had a lot to learn about business. The day when an arrogant socialite could get the better of him had yet to dawn.
More coffee was poured, and at last the matter of Radleigh was raised.
She outlined her plans to Jake in a cut-glass accent laced with an unmistakable thread of condescension. Her attitude irritated him, and he was in no mood to listen to her impractical, half-cocked scheme to belatedly save her home. She must have known about her grandfather’s financial problems, and if she really cared about Radleigh, she should have done something about it long before now.
Jake humored her by hearing her out, his mind only half on what she was saying. Even so, he admitted to an element of surprise. He found it hard to believe she’d managed to come up with this scheme, accompanied by graphics, floor plans, and basic estimates in a little more than the week she said it had taken her. Grudgingly he afforded her some respect for her ingenuity.
He should turn the proposal down flat, of course. It would be madness to do anything else. She intimated she had other backers interested, but Jake wasn’t buying that. And he’d been able to ascertain from the brief look he’d taken at her figures that she was grossly underestimating the costs involved. Her plan was quite simply a non-starter. He’d turn her down and purchase Radleigh outright. It would be heartless to raise her grandfather’s hopes by doing anything else.
So why was he still hesitating? Perhaps because of the glimmer of hope he could see in the marquis’s eye. Or there again, perhaps it was because the man so clearly adored this wild, opinionated, selfish hoyden. She had instilled life into him since Jake’s last visit, that was for sure. The man looked ten years younger. The scheme was bound to fail anyway, and he’d get Radleigh in the end with a clear conscience. He was still working all the hours God sent and wouldn’t be able to spend much time here for the next year or two, anyway. But still? Was he losing his mind even considering such a risky scheme?
And in case you’re wondering, that confounded dog of mine is named Jake Bentley after the hero in this book on the basis that they’re both good looking mongrels with independent spirits and naughty streaks!
A Class Apart will be available from SirenBookStrand or Amazon.com from September 20th. Go to my website at http://www.wendysoliman.com for a sneak preview of the first chapter. This book is a particular favourite of mine and I hope you enjoy it.