Excerpt & Giveaway: Midnight Masquerade by Halley Larkin


Midnight Masquerade by Halley Larkin

Publication Date: January 10, 2022

Series: The Brightley Sisters, Book 1
Genre: Historical Romance


A duke with a past. A lady with no future. One magical night could change everything.

Lady Charmaine Brightley will soon lose her place in the world. Her father is ill and when he passes, a distant male cousin will inherit his title and the family estate. In the meantime, London society flocks to Charmaine’s lavish parties. Whimsical games of chance are the highlight of any evening at Cortwood Manor, games designed to raise money for the so-called “deserving” poor.

Behind the scenes, Charmaine fancies herself a modern-day Robin Hood. Proceeds from her parties support women shunned by the same ladies and gentleman drawn to Cortwood. If the ton ever discovered the true nature of Charmaine’s philanthropy, the revelation would ruin her family. Not that Charmaine cares what anyone thinks. Ever since her devastating first season, she has given up on love. With a promise to her dying mother to always look after her younger sisters, circumstances dictate a respectable attachment to a gentleman of means. What more would she want, really? As far as Charmaine is concerned, passion is a ridiculous dream, meant only for the young and foolish.

Until a dashing stranger appears at her midsummer masquerade, that is. And Charmaine soon wonders if romance might still be in her cards.

After an ill-fated duel, Duke Konstantin Rostov abandoned Russia for England. Kosta doesn’t miss the glamorous life he once enjoyed, or so he tries to tell himself. He is now a fugitive, marked for death by the powerful tsar and hiding in London. For a man accustomed to privilege and power, nothing is worse than indentured servitude to a cruel stepfather, Lord Trenholm.

Determined to restore both his reputation and that of the family he shamed, Kosta sneaks away to Lady Charmaine’s masquerade. He intends to meet Lord Cortham, his stepfather’s former business partner, who knows Trenholm’s darkest secrets. At Cortwood, Kosta finds the lord of the manor is unwell and can’t receive guests. But Kosta’s spirits soon lift when he dances with the alluring Charmaine Brightley.

For years, Kosta restricted his amorous affairs to women who were discreet, worldly, and married. These private flings safeguarded the ladies, as well as his own damaged ego. Despite the thrilling connection between them, Kosta understands he has no place in Charmaine’s life. Lord Cortham’s eldest daughter is destined to marry a gentleman of her station. In another life, Duke Konstantin would have been a perfect match. In his current state, Kosta could never aspire so high. When his stepfather sends him back to Cortwood, however, Kosta can’t resist the opportunity to see Charmaine one more time. Even if it means spying on her during a mysterious trip to London. Even if he must continue to hide his identity.

Reunited, Kosta and Charmaine find their mutual desire catches fire. But Lord Trenholm has his own reasons for pushing them together. Duke Konstantin has become part of his stepfather’s dangerous agenda. And Trenholm’s plans for his family’s future could destroy Charmaine Brightley, the woman who has finally captured Kosta’s heart.

Available on Amazon



Excerpt

Lady Charmaine Brightley stood on a mezzanine overlooking the polished dance floor. Garlands of purple delphinium and sweet peas bound with gold ribbon decked the walls, while fresh pansies adorned the chairs pushed to the sides of the room. Blown-glass dragonflies suspended from crystal chandeliers, catching the light. With the windows open, a cool breeze drifted inside, carrying with it the sweet scent of wild roses and thistle.

This was her favorite part of the evening, when she took a moment to savor what she’d created. The promise of excitement, something daring, drew society north to Hampstead and across the wild heath to Cortwood Manor. Fancy dress balls were the stuff of fantasy, and masquerades carried just the right touch of scandal. The ballroom below looked like a scene from a fairy play at the Pantheon.

With a nod of appreciation to the four-piece ensemble she’d engaged—the required piano and violin, as well as a splurge for the cornet and violoncello—Charmaine drummed her fingers along the iron railing in time to the tempo of the opening march. Soon enough, she would make her way downstairs to tempt the guests with talk of her pride and joy: the elaborate games of chance to begin just after midnight. Did they wish to try their luck at faro or vingt-un? For a minimum wager of a mere five pounds? If a gentleman was not one for the card table, perhaps he would take part in a contest to learn who best handled darts. Did the lady play whist? If not, might she purchase a ticket for the raffle instead? All for a righteous cause, of course. The higher the stakes, the greater the final donation to an unspecified benevolent agency in London.

Otherwise, what was the point of all this, really?

Charmaine’s sisters, Rosalind and Arabella, paced the ballroom, greeting new arrivals and ensuring each had a program with a schedule of both the dances and gaming options for the evening. A handful of couples mingled along the edges of the dance floor, while a few others promenaded to the opening march. Like Charmaine, most guests had donned half-masks that fit over their noses, though a few gents sported Venetian bautas to hide their faces entirely, the cheeky rascals.

Among the kaleidoscope of costumes, Charmaine spotted a harlequin in a red and silver diamond-patterned frock, and a pirate donning a tricorn hat and eye patch. A woman with black silk bat wings fastened to her gown nearly knocked over a gilt bronze candelabra. Charmaine reached back to touch the diaphanous fairy wings she’d hooked to her own forest-green taffeta gown. She had spent weeks sewing her costume: Titania, Queen of the Fairies. The subtle stitching nestled in the organza fabric made the wings appear iridescent in the right light. She resolved to treat them with great care tonight.

Not that she intended to dance. A queen didn’t dance. Rather, she remained perched on high to evaluate her subjects. When she mingled among them, she tread lightly.

 

Author Halley Larkin


My forthcoming series features three free-spirited sisters preparing to leave an estate they love, but cannot inherit. Along the way, their fates are entangled with those of a disgraced duke, a missing heir, and a brash young earl: gentlemen with passion in their hearts and complicated pasts. The first in the series, MIDNIGHT MASQUERADE, is now available for pre-order. The novella prequel MAID TAKES MARQUESS is coming soon.

As a reader, I enjoy witty novels full of sexual tension, dark secrets, and suspenseful twists. My favorite authors include Courtney Milan, Philippa Gregory, Alyssa Cole, Gillian Flynn, George R.R. Martin, and Lisa See. When I'm not reading or writing, you might find me planning a costume for the next San Diego Comic-Con or looking up a recipe from a Victorian cookbook. I live in California with a spoiled tabby cat named Jonesy.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 10
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Excerpt at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, January 11
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Wednesday, January 12
Review at Booking with Janelle

Thursday, January 13
Review at Novels Alive

Friday, January 14
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink
Review at A Girl Reads Bookss

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Midnight Masquerade by Halley Larkin!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on January 14th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Midnight Masquerade



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