Sunday, March 2, 2014

Drug addiction during the Regency era - The Maid of Milan

By Beverley Eikli

'Dynasty' - version of a Regency
Romance with its love triangle
and drug addiction
The glamour and glitter of the Regency era concealed an underbelly of vice and misery when you take a holistic view of society. These contrasts fascinate me, and although often my hero and heroine live in comfortable if not lavish circumstances, I like to contrast this with the extremes of life at that time.

In The Maid of Milan, my latest Regency Romantic Intrigue, my heroine has what no self respecting woman in those days could reveal: a 'past'. Her controlling mother has therefore found measures to ensure her beautiful daughter's wayward ways are forever subdued, and Adelaide lives in a haze of unhappiness and laudanum addiction.

When the story opens, she's just discovered that her feelings for her husband of three years have gone from resignation to acceptance, to gratitude and now to full-blown love. The problem is that her life is one big lie. As if that's not bad enough, who should whirl into her life but the charismatic poet who stole her heart and effectively 'ruined' her. He's now a celebrity due to his sensational book The Maid of Milan...

And high society is as desperate to discover the identity of his 'muse' as Adelaide is to protect her husband's bourgeoning political career and her new-found love with him.

Here's an excerpt:

Chapter One

It was not the name by which she knew him. Since inheriting
the title, he’d won celebrity as a poet and become the
darling of the gossip columnists. Adelaide’s mother couldn’t
keep those snippets of the real world from her, though she

James. Fifth Viscount Dewhurst. Adelaide closed her
eyes against the afternoon sun and tried to block her last
memory of him: desperate, pleading. Not the James she
knew – the irrepressible charmer who knew no woman
could resist him, least of all Adelaide.

Tristan must have misinterpreted her shocked silence for
memory failure, for he squeezed her hand and repeated,
‘Lord Dewhurst. I’m talking about my old friend, James.’

Very gently he added, ‘He and his wife were very good to
you, if you remember.’

If you remember…

Her husband’s reference to her previous life was almost
more painful than the reference to James, though panic
quickly succeeded shock at his next remark.

‘James is coming to visit us? Here?’ She gripped Tristan’s
arm tighter and concentrated on the path. One foot in front
of the other, head down so she didn’t stumble on the stones
that bordered the hydrangeas from the neat gravel walkway.

Tristan continued to talk in the measured, comforting
tone he used when her equilibrium was unsettled. In the past
he’d sought her reassurances that she was comfortable with
his plans; that there was nothing he’d neglected to facilitate
her comfort. Always Tristan put Adelaide’s feelings first.

Not today.

Tristan was too excited at the prospect of seeing his
boyhood friend to recognise her horror, assuming Adelaide
would be delighted to play hostess since she’d foolishly
voiced the desire just last week to entertain more often.

She remained silent as she walked at his side,
contemplating her own strategy if this visit was a fait
accompli. She just needed to know when, so she could

‘At the end of the week!’ She repeated Tristan’s calmly
delivered answer to her question in the tone Black Jack,
the South American parrot she’d owned in Vienna, used to
mimic the death throes of a man at the end of the gallows.

A good thing her husband considered Adelaide an invalid,
that he’d misconstrue the flare in her eyes, the gasp as she
pressed against the pain in her side – her heart?

‘Adelaide, you are discomposed. Perhaps I should not
have invited James without consulting you, but I thought
since…’ Concern clouded his kind blue eyes as he trailed

‘He was very good to me.’ She whispered the old litany.
It’s what Tristan liked to believe.

‘He was. Shall we go back to the house?’ He stooped to
cup her face in his hands, as tender with her as if she were
another of his rare hothouse blooms. As if she might wilt at
the suggestion of anything beyond the ordinary, the mindnumbingly

And yet today she more than wilted as she stumbled on
the smooth, carefully raked gravel path. Her heart was in
danger of tearing in half. James. Here, at Deer Park …?

She pushed away the fear, straightening of her own
accord. Adelaide could be a good deal stronger than Tristan
believed her. Than her mother painted her.

‘So silly of me,’ she murmured, smiling as she tucked her
hand once more into the crook of her husband’s arm, firming
her step, indicating with a nod that they continue their usual
morning walk. Minutely managed and predictable. Around
the path that bordered the maze, over the little bridge and
across the lawn, skirting the deer park beyond the iron
gated border to the dower house where her mother would
be waiting. Keeping up the pretence of recovery in response
to his troubled gaze, she added, ‘Really, I’m perfectly fine.’

How many times had she made similar reassurances?
Of course, she hadn’t been fine when Tristan had made her
mistress of Deer Park three years before; a marriage offer
she’d only accepted because she believed she’d be dead of
grief within the twelvemonth. And if not dead, then at least
free of her mother. Neither had happened.

‘So James has left Milan.’ She forced herself to say his
name. It came out as a faint thread of sound.
James. He needed to stay far across sea and land if she
were to have any peace in this life.

‘James’s father died three months ago so of course he must
return from the Continent and take up his responsibilities
at Dingley Hall.’ Tristan stopped and put his hands on her
shoulders to study her more closely. ‘Darling, you’re very
pale. Perhaps we should call Dr Stanhope—’

‘No!’ She truncated the hysteria in her response, adding
with commendable calm, ‘Please, let us carry on.’

Tristan was clearly not convinced by her assurances, but
he returned to his commentary as they walked sedately
through Deer Park’s beautiful gardens. ‘James’s standing
has changed with his father’s death, and now that his book
has become a sensation so have his fortunes. He’ll be able
to put to rights all that his father almost destroyed through
his love of gaming.’ He gave a half laugh. ‘I’m told my old
friend is nearly as famous as those fellows up in the Lakes. I
daresay I should read The Maid of Milan before he arrives.
Perhaps you’d enjoy it, Addy.’

The Maid of Milan. Dear God! An image of herself and
James, naked limbs entwined upon a vast expanse of white
linen tablecloth in the Villa Cosi after the guests had gone,
seared her brain.

No, she was getting beyond herself. James had continued
living in Milan with Hortense, the wife he despised. Of
course there’d have been other women after Adelaide had
been dragged, screaming, from James’s arms. Adelaide could
not be James’s Maid of Milan. Not after the terrible finale to
their affair. In three years Adelaide had heard nothing from
him. Nothing, except that one terrible, terrible letter …


Beverley Eikli is the author of eight historical romances.

She has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, a safari lodge manager in the Okavango, and an airborne geophysical survey operator on contracts around the world.
Beverley wrote her first romance at seventeen, but drowning her heroine on the last page was symptomatic of the problems she grappled with during her 23-year journey towards publication. She did however stumble upon lasting romance, herself, when the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a camp fire in Botswana, whisked her off into a world of adventure, encompassing 12 countries in twenty years, that’s lasted to the present day.
Recently she received her third nomination from Australian Romance Readers for Favourite Historical Romance with her suspenseful Napoleonic espionage Romance The Reluctant Bride.
Beverley teaches in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University, Melbourne..
She writes under the name Beverley Oakley for more sensual stories.

You can buy The Maid of Milan at Amazon US | Amazon UK | iTunes |  Barnes & Noble

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