A Regrettable Reputation is the first of the Light Division romances, a series of historical romances which follow some of the men of Wellington’s army into peace time. Its hero, Nicholas, first appeared in the Peninsular War Saga in book five, An Untrustworthy Army.
It is 1816, war is over, Napoleon in exile and Regency England is at peace.
Mr Nicholas Witham, land agent at the Yorkshire estate of Lord Ashberry has found a haven of quiet, far from the bloodshed of war and the horror of Waterloo. With poachers and lost sheep his most pressing concerns, Nicholas is not seeking anything more exciting than the occasional trip to York and a game of cards with friends.
The tranquillity of Ashberry is about to be disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne, a young woman of doubtful reputation, sent away from London by her guardian to avoid the consequences of a disastrous and very public love affair with a disreputable officer which has broken her heart.
An officer of the army, past or present, is the last man Camilla wishes to spend time with. But she discovers that a lost reputation can bring unexpected freedom and possibly a second chance at happiness.
With the shadow of war firmly behind him, Nicholas is ready to move on, but poverty and rising prices bring rumblings of discontent and rumours of Luddite activity in the industrial towns, and as violence erupts, the land agent of Ashberry finds himself swept up in a new conflict where the enemy is hard to identify. Faced with a stark choice between love and duty, Nicholas is beginning to realise that he may not have left the regiment behind at all…
What the reviews say about A Regrettable Reputation
“What distinguishes a good romantic novel from appalling pap is the detail of the characterisation and the quality of the writing. In this case, both are excellent and my pleasure in the book was enhanced by a grasp of the history of the period that most Regency Romance doesn’t even aspire to.”
“A Regrettable Reputation is no simpering love story set in an historical time frame but a well written historical romantic novel by an author who has obviously done her research.”
“Fabulous characters and some history mixed in. This is the first book that I’ve read from the author and I look forward to many more enjoyable reads. I wish there was a sequel. I’m sad to leave this book.”
“I love both the main characters. It was exciting and romantic plus full of history. I look forward to reading another book by this author.”
Background and Settings for A Regrettable Reputation
A Regrettable Reputation is set in Yorkshire in 1816, a county in the grip of industrialisation and suffering from poverty after the end of the long years of the Napoleonic wars. In an excellent review, fellow author Tom Williams remarked that the book had a very strong sense of time and not a particularly strong sense of place. I suspect he is right, although the sense of place is very strong for me, since I spent a lot of time in North Yorkshire when I was younger, but I agree that the descriptions of the hills, valleys and a big country estate could have applied to many English counties.
The sense of time was very important, since the book follows one of my secondary characters from the Peninsular War Saga into peacetime and the very real experience of an England in the throes of huge changes. In many ways, Nicholas is adrift in the new world, just looking for a place to rest and to heal.
Given all this, I didn’t make a special research trip to take photographs for this book. At some point I am hoping to go back and do a better job of showing the locations for this story. I am also hoping to change the cover. I very much like the one created for me by cover designer Sheri McGathy, but I do prefer my more recent covers and I am hoping to redesign all my earlier covers eventually. This is a view I took last year, looking out over the countryside in the area where I have placed my fictional industrial town of Thorndale.
As Nicholas and Camilla’s relationship develops, one of their favourite rides is out to a local ruined abbey. For the sake of the book, I moved Jervaulx Abbey to a new location. I love Jervaulx, which remains in private hands and always feels more like a sanctuary than a museum to me.
At the end of the book, Nicholas and Simon travel to York. I adore York and there are so many fabulous views of the place it’s hard to choose, but for me, Clifford’s Tower and the Minster remain the two buildings that represent York for me.
When writing A Regrettable Reputation, I set myself a challenge to create a slightly different kind of hero and heroine. After the huge personalities of Paul and Anne van Daan, I wanted to see if I could write somebody quieter. Camilla is my most gentle heroine and Nicholas is, in many ways, a very ordinary man although his military service has caused him to do some extraordinary things. One of my reviewers describes him as dashing, but that’s not how I see Nicholas Witham. For me, he is a nice young man, not particularly unusual, a good example of a lot of the middle-class or minor gentry whose younger sons joined the army. It was a real joy to find him a nice girl with a good little estate behind her and to give him his happy ending.
An Excerpt from A Regrettable Reputation
In this excerpt from the book, Nicholas and Camilla are riding together for the first time, just beginning to get to know each other.
Nicholas and Camilla rode out of the yard and he took the track up towards Hangman’s Hill. They skirted the brook in silence until reaching the bridge and clattered across it. Nicholas ran a professional eye over the planks and made a mental note to get two of them replaced before the weather changed.
“How are you finding her?” he asked.
“She’s amazing. So responsive.” Camilla patted the smooth black neck. “Is she Lord Ashberry’s?”
“She was bought for his lady, but she never comes here. We’ll be breeding from her – she had a foal last year and he’s one of our most promising youngsters. If you’re interested I’ll show you the stud books for our horses.” Nicholas laughed. “But tell me if I’m boring you to death. You might prefer peace and quiet to an ex-officer with a runaway mouth yammering at you day and night. I won’t be offended, I promise you.”
Camilla shot him a sidelong glance. “At least you’re courteous,” she said.
“Are you having trouble with Mrs Hogan?” Nicholas asked. “Because if you are…”
“No. She speaks when spoken to. Beyond that, I don’t look for anything.”
“She’s a grumpy old bitch and she doesn’t like having to bestir herself for a guest,” Nicholas said grimly. “Sorry about my language, Miss Dorne, I forget I’m not in the mess sometimes. Although it’s still true.”
“Especially when the guest is the whore of Babylon,” Miss Dorne said lightly.
“Yes, well we’ve not had so many of those up to now, so you’re a novelty,” Nicholas agreed amiably and she looked startled and then laughed properly, the first time he had seen her do so. Nicholas regarded her with approval. “Thank you. I’ve been waiting to see what you’d look like laughing.”
“I haven’t really laughed in a long time,” Camilla admitted. “It feels good. You’re a magician, Mr Witham.”
“I think sunlight, fresh air and a good horse are the magic, ma’am. And possibly some food.”
Camilla shook her head. “On that subject I suspect you are a bully. But thank you. Is he your own horse? What’s his name?”
“Sanchez. Named in honour of one of the Spanish guerrilla leaders, Don Julian Sanchez.”
“Is he Spanish?”
“Yes, I bought him in Madrid back in 1812. A considerable extravagance on my pay but I fell in love with him. He’s Spanish trained, strong enough for the longest march but he’s quick as well.”
“He seems good tempered.”
“He is. Better than that bad-tempered brute Lord Wellington used to ride. You’d see the grooms backing up when he dismounted at the end of a long day.”
Camilla laughed. “How funny. We heard so much about the Duke in London and his horse is very famous but I’ve never heard him described as a bad tempered brute before.”
“I am giving you the polite version in honour of your sensibilities as a lady. You should have heard what my commanding officer used to call him, it would shock you. Have you ever met the Duke?”
“No. I remember seeing him, of course, during the festivities at the end of the war. He was very much admired. I was only just out. I was very young for it but my stepfather wanted to bring out Maria, his elder daughter and I suspect that it was cheaper to present us both at the same time. I enjoyed the celebrations and the parades.”
“Probably a lot more than Hookey did.”
Camilla looked up at him. “Were you there?”
“I was. Nicely turned out and marching up and down like a toy soldier; they managed to provide the men with new uniforms which would have been more helpful during winter in the Pyrenees, but better late than never. Most of them got spoiled the following year at Waterloo.”
Camilla glanced at his face and decided to change the subject. She could not imagine Nicholas Witham ever being anything other than polite and pleasant but there was a shuttered expression on his face which told her that he did not wish to talk about Waterloo. She could not imagine the horror of a battle, of seeing men cut down around you and then feeling shot tearing into you but she thought, with sudden insight, that the man beside her had been through considerably more than she had.
“You must think my concerns so silly,” she said, speaking the thought.
He turned surprised brown eyes onto her. “No, I don’t,” he said. “I have two sisters, probably not far off your age. I know how hard this must be for you, Miss Dorne, and you’ve been landed here with a complete stranger. Who also used to wear a red coat. You must want to run for cover.”
“London is full of red coats,” Camilla said, trying to keep her voice light.
“One less now, I hope.”
“Yes. He acquired a commission in the regular army and has gone to Ireland I believe,” Camilla said. She could hear the betraying crack in her voice but there was nothing she could do about it. Nicholas Witham uttered a soft oath.
“What is wrong with me, letting you talk about this! Miss Dorne – would you mind if I asked a very impertinent question? How old are you?”
“I am nineteen. How old…”
“I’m twenty eight.”
He saw her thinking, struggling with herself but her curiosity got the better of her. “How long were you in the army?”
“I joined when I was eighteen, an ensign in the 120th and started off in Cape Town then transferred to the 115th for promotion and was sent to Spain to join the light division. I was offered promotion to Captain on merit in the 110th eight months later. Served through the rest of the war and was badly wounded at Waterloo. I sold out and found this position which suits me very well.”
Camilla Dorne studied him. “I imagine it does,” she said. “Forgive me but you aren’t like any other officer I’ve met.”
“It’s a shame I couldn’t introduce you to my fellow officers, Miss Dorne, I’m in no way unusual.”
“I suspect that you are. Mr Witham, I went into the parlour just now and you have had the piano moved. There is also a pile of music.”
“Yes, I found it in the drawing room. I thought you’d be more comfortable there. The tuner will be here tomorrow I hope.” Nicholas smiled. “Tell me when you’re ready for an audience. I’ve no talent but I love listening to music.”
“I will,” she said with a little laugh. “Mr Witham, you’re being so kind to me. I am not sure that my stepfather would approve.”
“I don’t work for your stepfather. From what I know of him, I don’t know that I would choose to.”
“You don’t work for me either. Please don’t feel that you have to give up your time for me. I was sent here as a punishment.”
“You were sent here to get you out of the way because they didn’t know what else to do with you, I suspect,” Nicholas said. “It’s not a penance to ride with you or talk to you, Miss Dorne. While you’re here you’re Lord Ashberry’s guest and part of my job. But also…”
“It’s quiet out here and I love it. Occasionally I get invited to a party by one of the neighbours and I dine with Sir Julian Carew sometimes. But I’ve missed my friends more than I realised. It’s nice to have somebody to talk to.” He smiled wryly. “I realise it was not what either your stepfather or Lord Ashberry had in mind that you should socialise with the land agent and I’ve no intention of being encroaching. If I get that wrong you must let me know and I’ll leave you alone. But if you’ll ride with me from time to time it would be a good thing for both of us, I think.”
Nicholas looked at her face and saw her flush. Suddenly, for the first time, he realised that she had the potential to be a very pretty girl. She looked up from those lovely blue eyes and he was shocked to see a sparkle of tears. “Mr Witham, if you could bear it, I think it would be the best medicine I could have. You said you have sisters?”
Nicholas laughed aloud. “Two,” he said. “Twenty and twenty two, neither married yet.”
“I thought you must. They are very fortunate, I wish I had had a brother like you.”
Nicholas was unexpectedly moved. He met her eyes and smiled. “So do I, Miss Dorne. Because he would have picked up a pistol and blown that bastard’s head off for him. And there goes my language again. Apologies. Shall we gallop?”