Her Timeless Obsession
Here is an excerpt from my newest historical romance.
During a lifetime spent at Danby Terrace, Honoria Danby, Honey
to those who knew her best, had excitedly explored the secret
passageways and hiding places that made living in the red-bricked
townhouse worthwhile. As mistress of the old pile, she intended to restore
some of the old charm the place must have once held.
With an autumnal storm blowing sheets of rain against the windows,
Honey answered the call of her curiosity, as she had often done on such
days during her childhood. She’d spent hours alone amid the relics of years
gone by. The high-ceilinged attic beckoned her to poke around amongst
paintings by the dozens, statues, and fine china. She had, over the years,
restored furniture used by Danby ancestors and filled the rooms downstairs
“Come on, Maizie,” she said to her less than thrilled maid. “Let’s explore
that corner with all the trunks.”
“Yes’m. I’ll get the kerosene lamp.”
Honey changed into a work dress and met Maizie at the foot of the stairs.
“I’ve been dying to explore those trunks. What about you?”
“I don’t like the dust. Now, you know that.”
“I know, but think of the treasures we might find.”
Maizie grumbled as she lit the lamp, and the dark attic took on light.
With the dim recesses lit, Honey strode past covered furniture, rusted
rifles, a patinaed garden bench, and an entire dining room set.
“Look here. How have I missed these in all our explorations?” Honey
pulled back the sheets that covered paintings of animals, expressionless
people, and admirably executed still lifes, “We’ll take some of these down to
hang in the dining room.”
While Maizie stacked the paintings by the stairs, Honey delved deeper
into the corner. Against the rough-hewn beams rested an age-stained oilclothwrapped
mystery that had somehow escaped her frequent explorations.
On creaking floorboards, she advanced on the corner, distracted for
several moments by copies of old magazines and a marble bust of a bald,
bearded man that looked like her grandfather.
She hung the lamp on a nail in the beam. “Maizie, come help me
As they lifted the heavy cloth, dust motes clouded the airless attic as she
and a sneezing Maizie unveiled a life-size portrait, well-preserved in a dull
Honoria slid her finger over the textured deep scarlet of the subject’s
uniform, over the braided cords at his shoulders, and then higher. She
shone the light on his handsome angular face—square jaw with a hint
of a shadow. Unsmiling, he stared straight ahead, as though through the
painter. “Oh, my, who do we have here?”
She lowered the lamp to the dusty brass plaque at the lower edge of the
frame. With a moistened thumb, she cleaned the filthy piece of metal.
Captain Jeremy Saintaubin, Marquess of Galmore, 1803.
Honey stared at the ribbons on the captain’s scarlet coat and imagined
his pride as he received them. The hem of his eternally creased black
trousers disappeared into his highly polished Wellington boots. His
stylish curly black hair, perfectly coifed, did nothing to soften his stiff,
Honey’s heart skipped a beat when she studied his face. A man’s eyes
had always enthralled her, especially those that held a hint of mystery. “He’s
handsome, isn’t he, Maizie?”
Her maid held her apron to her face. “Yes’m.” She sneezed again.
Though the captain’s eyes bored through to her soul, Honey tore her
gaze from the visage of the handsome Lord Galmore to root amongst the
old trunks that lined a darkened wall and peek beneath dust-laden cloths at
the discarded remnants of another century.
A swath of blue drew her attention to a blue-and-cream striped
Hepplewhite sofa and matching chairs. “Even at a hundred years old, these
are in good repair.”
Maizie batted away the dust and mumbled a reply.
“We’ll take these downstairs. We can clean them up, can’t we?”
Maizie coughed. “I suppose we can.”
“You should keep your face covered so the dust doesn’t affect you like that.”
With Maizie’s help, Honey tugged the furniture out of the way and
settled before the first of many trunks that lined the darkest wall. After
leveraging one rusted clasp open, she giggled with glee. “Oh look, Maizie.
Honey sat on the plain wood floor and pulled dresses and bonnets from
the trunk—silks, satins, cambric, and muslins in styles that had long since
lost favor. “They are remarkably unspoiled.”
Maizie sneezed several times, but she managed a weak, “That’s nice.”
“We need to get you out of this attic. Will you go get Frederick and Paul,
and they can take these trunks and that huge portrait downstairs? I want
to see it in a better light”
While Honey dug even deeper in one of the trunks, Frederick and Paul
appeared. “I’d like to have these trunks, this beautiful portrait, and the blue
Hepplewhite furniture taken downstairs. You can put them in the corridor
until I decide what else to do with them.”
Honey supervised the removals, prodding as much as she dared, eager
to see everything in the stark light of day and electrical lighting.
“What do we do with the portrait, ma’am?” Frederick asked.
Honey ran her fingers through a thick coating of dust. “After Maizie
dusts it, bring it and this trunk into my bedchamber. The furniture goes to
my drawing room.”
Honey paced her chamber floor, her impatience on a short tether. She’d
grown used to her aloneness, save for the presence of the servants, preferring
it to the silly chatter of women her age. She loved her books, music, and her
historical research. She often spent hours in the library, reading accounts of
battles and the lives of everyday people in different eras.
When, four years before, her parents had succumbed to influenza within
weeks of each other, she inherited a considerable sum, including the Danby
family home on Upper Brook Street in Mayfair. She adored the old pile, and
with her desire to restore it to another time, she suspected she’d landed in
the wrong century.
The old carved friezes and mammoth staircases set her imagination to
reeling. Her mother had filled the built-in curio cabinets with more treasures
than Honey could catalog. During another attic expedition, she found, and
had restored to their former glory, a collection of porcelain statuettes. She
displayed them in the parlor, on tables.
In an old trunk, she found a well-preserved white and luster gold
porcelain tea set, which held an honored place in a built-in cabinet in the
parlor. Often, in her quieter moments, she conjured parties given in the
rambling drawing room, dinners in the dining room she’d forsaken years
before, and her ancestors serving tea to London’s finest in the parlor.
At last, the two footmen brought the overlarge portrait to her.
Two more servants groaned beneath the weight of the old fusty
trunk. “Put the portrait against this wall.” She pointed to a space beside
Again alone, she studied the likeness. The gallant soldier’s gaze followed
her every step as she paced before the painting that showed signs of drying,
with hair-thin cracks throughout. Several areas had blackened, as well. She
rubbed a finger through layers of dirt she dared not clean away, lest she
damage the portrait further.
Saintaubin stood at considerable height, judging from his proximity to
the desk beside him. Honey leaned in closer to view the bicorne hat with a
jaunty green plume that lay just out of Saintaubin’s reach. Expressionless,
he stared straight ahead, his left hand tucked into his uniform pocket.
She knelt before the trunk and lifted the lid on stiff un-oiled hinges. The
strong odor of mildew slapped her in the face when she settled the lid fully
open. An array of straw bonnets sat on top, each with plumes and ribbons, all
in need of replacement or chucking. She put the unprotected headwear on
the floor beside her and dug deeper amongst a number of parcels wrapped
in brown paper and bound with string.
Beneath layers of paper and heavy fabric of the largest package lay a
yellowed but magnificent ocean-blue silk gown, exquisitely embroidered
with vining green leaves and small cornflowers just above the scalloped
hem. She fingered the surprisingly pristine ivory Belgian lace at the square
She imagined its owner wearing it to a fashionable ball, swishing about
the dance floor in the arms of a handsome soldier, perhaps. No doubt they’d
A trove of treasures made up the other bundles—gloves, matching
slippers, and a silk and ivory fan decorated with hundreds of seed pearls.
She fell in love with a gorgeous bandeau, much wider than the current
fashion. The two attached ivory ostrich feathers fell over her crown and
jauntily bobbed just over her brow.
With alacrity, she shed her high-neck pink silk dress with leg-o’-mutton
sleeves and bust bodice. “How different the styles.” She tossed her dress on
Over her corset, she dropped the blue gown and modeled before the
cheval mirror. The garment fit as though made for her. In a matter of
minutes, she’d transformed herself from one century to another. Anxious
to complete the look, she donned the gloves and finally the blue kid slippers
To her amazement, beneath the rest, she discovered a perfectly preserved
pearl-beaded reticule. Tucked inside was a neatly folded monogrammed
lace handkerchief with the initials J.S. embroidered in one corner.
“This belonged to him.” She brought it to her cheek. Perhaps Jeremy
Saintaubin carried it in his pocket and gave it to his ladylove, perhaps her
grandmother or great grandmother.
She put her record of the Bridal Veil Waltz on her gramophone and
turned the large horn toward the middle of the room. With a glance
toward the portrait, she placed her hand on the invisible shoulder of
Jeremy Saintaubin and her other in the warmth of his gloved hand.
Together, they twirled across her f loor, her room transformed into the
finest ballroom in all of London, with brightly lit crystal chandeliers,
large mirrors along the walls, an orchestra of violins seated discreetly
out of the way.
The music waned, but Honey held fast to her partner, until the needle
scratched and broke the spell. She bowed before the portrait. “Thank you,
sir, for the wonderful dance. You are so very light on your feet.”
Beneath the wrapped parcels of clothing, she found a bundle of letters
written in a neat cursive hand and addressed to Jeremy Saintaubin. Her
hands shook with excitement as she settled herself on a chaise longue, still
wearing the beautiful blue gown. She untied the faded blue ribbon and
opened the first letter, dated May 5, 1810.
Marquess of Galmore
Galmore Hall, Kent
My dearest love,
Though it has been but a few days, I cannot begin to express
how I miss you. At every turn, I expect you to walk into the room,
and when you don’t, I’m sadder than ever before, though your
absence is a tangle of my own making.
I do pray for your swift return. I look forward to our
conversations, and as always, I savor thoughts of your lips on my
own. As promised, when you return, I will have more to share with
you. I quiver with want of your arms around me.
Forgive me, my love, for my melancholy. I miss you so and
long to hear the rumble of carriage wheels in front of our home, the
wheels that carry you back to me.
All my love.
You can find Her Timeless Obsession at:
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