Author of fantasy, romantasy and romance novels
Regency Romance "Twice in her Lifetime"
Having lost her soulmate to death, will Sophia get a second chance at true love?
Twice in her Lifetime
A Regency Romance
Copyright © 2017 by Isa Day
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
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Copyright © of this edition 2017 by Pongu Text & Design Ltd.
Cover design by Dimitar Stanchev
Images by Everett-Art/Shutterstock.com and Iisima/Shutterstock.com
ISBN: 978-3-906868-02-8 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-3-906868-01-1 (print)
London, Spring 1815
My heartfelt congratulations to you! It is a great honor that the University of Cambridge has offered you a position as lecturer at your young age and after only two years at university. And yes, I fully approve of your decision to seize this opportunity.
You may wonder why, since I have a reputation of adhering strictly to society’s rules. Allowing a Russian prince to teach at Cambridge—albeit under a false name and identity—is outrageous. But never mind propriety, Sasha. I was unable to change the horrors of your upbringing. However, I can now give you time to live your dreams. Promise me to enjoy each hour to the fullest. We both know that your destiny cannot be ignored forever.
As for your inquiry about my health, I am well as always, although no longer as young as I would prefer to be. Looking at the inventions and developments of our age, I would not mind living for another sixty-odd years. It is my firm conviction that we will soon have heard the last of Napoleon and that an era of outstanding and peaceful development will follow.
Just a few days ago, I was invited to the opening festivities of The Noble, London’s first luxury hotel. I wish you could have been there. As one critic put it: Honorius Noble, the architect and proprietor, looked into the soul of beauty and brought it to life. And truly, the hotel is most pleasing to the eye with its eggnog walls, snowy columns, gorgeous white stucco, and highlights of crystal and gold.
Imagine a large hall of impressive height crowned by a magnificent domed skylight of colored glass. From the front entrance, your way leads you down a wide aisle formed by two rows of evenly spaced columns which divide the available space into three parts. The wings left and right are about half as wide as the central aisle and each is lit by a large window next to the front door. They contain seating areas for women and men, respectively. From the coffee tables and plump armchairs, hidden by lovingly tended plants, guests can spy on whomever they please.
As you walk along the aisle, this will be you because each of your steps causes a tiny sound. The floor beneath your feet is made of white-veined orange marble, polished to glowing perfection. As you pass the merrily splashing central fountain, guarded by an antique faun, your gaze is drawn to the snow-white staircase sweeping to the left and hugging a reception desk of darkest precious wood.
After a tour of the premises led by Honorius Noble himself, I found Thornside Mansion awfully inadequate and stuffy and even considered, if only for a moment, to become a permanent resident.
I only fear that this fine gentleman has paid too high a price for his vision. His eyes show the haunted expression of those who have been stretched to the limit of their endurance. I certainly hope that I am wrong, for he is planning a second, similarly outstanding hotel and has the loveliest wife more than forty years his junior who adores him and to whom he is deeply devoted in return.
But enough of me and my musings! My dear Russian grandson, I again urge you to enjoy your Cambridge time to the fullest and am looking forward to hearing of your academic achievements.
Your loving grandmother,
Emily, Duchess of Thornside
On a bright, slightly nippy day in the early autumn of 1825 and after more than a decade in the hotel business, Sophia Noble finally meets the most obnoxious guest—a specimen that comes to all hotelkeepers at least once in their career. His name is Sasha.
Some guests were just not worth the trouble, Sophia raged inwardly, glaring down at the unconscious man lying on the floor. Having one’s day ruined was not an uncommon occurrence for a hotelkeeper who made her living by housing a crowd of overbearing aristocrats and arrogant nouveau riches, but this particular…gentleman’s…performance was beyond anything she had ever experienced.
But then again she should have expected something like this, considering her deceptively quiet start into the day. After a restful night’s sleep, she had risen from her bed in her private apartment refreshed and glad that the previous day’s headache brought about by that odious Mrs. Cancker—aptly nicknamed “Mrs. Nag” by her staff—was gone. The pale green dress she selected from her wardrobe, the one that perfectly matched her eyes, still fit despite her recent overindulgence in candies and chocolates, and her long locks of unruly auburn hair allowed themselves to be arranged in a tidy and respectable style.
She descended the sweeping staircase into The Noble’s extravagant entrance hall at peace with the world. As always at this time of day, it was deserted because the merchants had departed early, and the lazy aristocrats and artists were still in bed.
Chocolat, her daytime concierge, smiled a greeting from his desk, flashing perfect white teeth offset by café-au-lait skin. Sophia returned the smile and automatically checked his appearance for flaws. As always, the young man was dressed impeccably in The Noble’s black uniform, completed by a pristinely white cotton shirt, a white silk cravat and a golden name-tag on his left lapel.
In the dining room, its door visible to the left, her maître d’ Maurice Hentsch was singing like he did when he was in excellent spirits and all but the permanent residents had left. His pleasant voice filled the lobby with happiness. Keeping him company and enjoying the world’s great delicacies would be Mr. Appleby, an elderly widower, while Mrs. Craig, The Noble’s resident artist, probably stared dreamily into the street from her usual table near the window, endlessly turning her teacup in her hands.
“Good morning, madam,” Chocolat greeted her when she joined him behind the reception desk, which stood at a gentle angle to the rest of the lobby.
“Good morning, Chocolat. Who are today’s arrivals?”
He opened his book, a large leather-bound volume embossed with ornate golden letters spelling The Noble. Page after page was covered with his easily readable, yet beautiful handwriting. The current page was bookmarked with a strip of vellum bearing The Noble’s emblem.
“First there is the Honorable Miss Hadfield with one maid,” Chocolat began the report. “In our ongoing correspondence, we were able to bring to her attention that a room in the men’s wing would not satisfy her expectations. She now prefers one of the pink rooms. I have put her in 423.”
The most removed room in the female wing of the hotel. Sophia kept her face carefully blank.
“Then Mr. Austin is scheduled to arrive today. I have ordered that his bed be turned so that its foot points towards the door.”
As if he expected to die in his sleep and wanted to be ready for his funeral, Sophia completed the sentence in her head.
“Then we have an American family arriving, the Chapmans. A couple and their two daughters aged five and seven, with three servants. They have requested a suite on the lower floors. I have put them in the Amber Suite in the family wing.”
Sophia nodded her approval. The Chapmans were staying for the first time. Therefore, they were given one of the simpler suites until their ilk was known.
Above her, the creaking of stays and the swishing of fabric became audible. After a glance at the reception’s clock, Sophia almost groaned. It was 10:33 a.m. Like a schooner under full sail, Mrs. Nag swept down the stairs, closely followed by her sullen son.
“Good morning, Mrs. Cancker. Mr. Cancker,” Sophia greeted them with a smile, while Chocolat respectfully inclined his head.
They walked by with barely a nod. Sophia gritted her teeth beneath her smile and imagined her porters tossing them headfirst out into the street after a heavy rain. Only thus was she able to deal with the thoroughly unpleasant pair day after day. Her late husband Honorius would hardly have approved, but then again, Sophia did not have his angelic patience.
Through the glazed entrance doors, they watched the Canckers board their rented carriage. Chocolat’s attention returned to the reservations book. “Our most important arrival today is a prince.”
Or so he claims to be, Sophia thought cynically. Of all guests, she liked Americans best. They were sometimes a bit loud and had rather rough manners, but they were also honest and usually paid their fees instantly and without making a fuss. Aristocrats, on the other hand, whined and stalled about payments long overdue, and the higher the title, the worse.
“His name is Prince Aleksey Mikhailovich Oldenburg-Romanov. He is traveling in the company of the Honorable Morgan Stevens and the Honorable Gordon Hunt. I have put the company in the Ivory Suite in the men’s wing. They claim to be accompanied by no servants.”
“Their credit?” Sophia used the hotel’s shorthand for credit standing.
“Excellent. They were referred to us by the Dowager Duchess of Thornside. Evidently, His Highness is her grandson.”
A commotion at the front entrance attracted Sophia’s attention. James, their head porter, seemed to be arguing with a tall blond man in rumpled but expensive clothes. As she watched, the man threw back his head and lifted his left hand in a grand gesture, knocking off James’s uniform cap.
Strangely enough, James opened the door for him before diving for his cap.
“Who is he?” Sophia asked.
“I have no idea, but James did not ring the porters’ bell.”
That could only mean trouble. Guests without luggage were always suspect. In addition, he wore no hat.
He was also the most stunning man Sophia had ever seen, and she instinctively held her breath while she watched his progress through the lobby with morbid fascination. He had one of those hard, narrow faces with high cheekbones that looked as if carved from stone. Out of it flashed a seemingly huge pair of eyes, rimmed with dark lashes and accentuated by arched brows. By contrast, his hair was almost white-blond, wavy and gleaming like finest silk.
He was also way beyond drunk and weaved his way from one side of the lobby to the other, almost hugging a column there, nearly falling into a potted plant there, and narrowly missing the dainty central fountain. His right hand held a half-empty bottle of expensive champagne.
In front of the reception he stopped and stared at them dumbly. His eyes were cobalt-blue, Sophia noticed, and resembled bottomless pits. Despite his obvious inebriation, she got the feeling that an entirely sober man was looking out of a plastered body.
“’lo, my fair lady. I did not realize that this is the kind of establishment that offers its broads right at the entrance,” he said with a distinct slur in his voice.
Chocolat at Sophia’s side tensed.
Sophia gave the man a stare of long practice. It typically froze wayward guests or staff members right in their tracks.
“Good day, sir,” she said with a deceptively friendly smile. “My name is Sophia Noble. I am the owner of this hotel. What can we do for you?”
Her words stopped him for a moment, and he stood, gently swaying. “I have come to stay at your hotel,” he finally declared with an exaggerated stance. Beneath his drunken babble lay an accent clipped and English to the core.
“Do you have a reservation?”
The usual answer would be negative, and then he would be politely informed that, unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked at the moment, but that they would arrange for a hackney for him and good riddance!
He frowned. “I must have.”
The luck she had! Sophia looked down at the reservations book and put her hand beneath the list of the expected arrivals. “And your name is, sir?”
Her crisp, businesslike manner no longer held his attention. He looked around the lobby. His wandering gaze went to the skylight, to the fountain, and to the large classical paintings on the walls framed by elegant stucco and gold.
When his eyes came back to her, they had a glassy sheen.
“You the remainder of the evening’s entertainment?” he slurred and stumbled against the reception. The wrist buttons of his expensive coat scratched across the precious wood with a noise that set Sophia’s teeth on edge.
Chocolat at her side clenched his fists. She touched him furtively, asking him to stay calm.
The self-declared guest wilting over their desk meanwhile looked her over in an insulting fashion. “Naw, you’re too fat for a successful courtesan. But who cares? Here’s to you!”
With surprising speed, he brought up the champagne bottle in the parody of a toast, almost braining Sophia in the process.
She avoided the blow by sheer reflex and saw Chocolat lunge for the man, but his defensive move proved unnecessary. The momentum of the man’s sweep brought him upright and caused him to stagger away from the desk while he stared at them with uncomprehending eyes. For a moment, he seemed to catch himself and stood uncertainly, then gave a disgusting belch. His eyes rolled back, and he crashed onto his back. The champagne bottle broke in an explosion of shards.
All at once, the lobby was full of people. The Noble’s three daytime porters shot out of their room beneath the stairs. James flung open the entrance doors and came running. Hentsch hurried over from the dining room, closely followed by hobbling Mr. Appleby, and Mrs. Craig, who held a spoon as if she were intent on stabbing somebody with it.
“What eez ’appening?” Hentsch asked, his French accent more pronounced than usual.
“He almost hit Sophia with a bottle!” Chocolat exclaimed, too shaken to remember that he had to call Sophia by her family name in front of guests.
Mr. Appleby brandished his cane. Under normal circumstances, he was the sweetest of men. Right now, he was almost spitting with rage and seemed ready to put a stake through the prostrate fellow’s heart. “I say we throw him out into the street.”
“No, call the guards and have them carry him off to Newgate!” stated Mrs. Craig.
Their unanimous support calmed Sophia in her fury, but she could not help a certain feeling of apprehension when she noticed the signet ring on the man’s left hand. “Does anybody know who he is?” she asked.
Heads were shaken. The man on the floor began to snore.
“Sasha!” they suddenly heard an anxious exclamation. A nondescript young man rushed up to them. On his arm, he carried a small girl. In their wake followed a barely grown Adonis who had “good-for-nothing” written all over him.
Only now, Sophia noticed the elegant carriage that had drawn up in front of The Noble. Its coachman was holding open the entrance door, gawking at the scene.
“God damn it, Sasha, what have you done this time!” the man with the child raged. His worried glance swept over the spectators, and it was clear that he was entirely aware of the perplexed, slightly hostile mood. Eventually, his eyes focused on Sophia behind the reception, and she saw him make the logical deductions.
“Please accept our apologies. My name is Morgan Stevens. This is Gordon Hunt, and this is my daughter Désirée, called Siri. Please allow me to introduce you to His Imperial Highness, Prince Aleksey Mikhailovich Oldenburg-Romanov.” With a long-suffering sweep of his arm, he indicated the man he had called Sasha. “Get him to his feet, Hunt, will you?”
The young Adonis reached down and unceremoniously stood Sasha on his feet with what had to be an often-practiced move. Unless Sophia was mistaken, some private parts of the prince’s anatomy were going to hurt pretty soon.
“I understand you have a suite for us,” Stevens continued. As pressure went, it was applied politely, but she knew that her chance to turn the strange group away had vanished.
“Indeed.” Sophia produced The Noble’s reservations form, printed on costly cream-white paper and already filled in by Chocolat. “Would you please check that we entered your group’s information correctly and sign here in confirmation, Mr. Stevens. Unless you have other instructions, our porters will meanwhile take care of your luggage.”
“Thank you.” Stevens gave Sophia a genuine, slightly harassed smile and turned to James, whose function he must have recognized. “Regarding our luggage, I would only ask you to bring in the white coffer first and put it into my room.”
Because this request sounded somewhat presumptuous given the status of his companion, he explained. “It contains Désirée’s bed. We had a rough passage, and she needs to sleep.” He gently stroked the child’s silken hair. She made a sound like a kitten.
“Of course, sir.” James collected his porters with a glance, and they went outside where they busied themselves with unloading the carriage.
Stevens signed the reservations form in neat clerk-like writing. Sophia noticed that his hand was shaking slightly. She also realized a potential problem. “We gave you the Ivory Suite in the men’s wing because we did not know that you are traveling with a child. Does Miss Désirée have a governess?”
Stevens seemed to understand at once. “No, I take care of her. I gather that the divisions are fixed?”
“Yes. For the well-being of all our guests, we have to be strict. Visitors of the opposite sex may be welcomed in private reception rooms, usually available at short notice, in the presence of a chaperone. Unchaperoned meetings may take place in the lobby. Monsieur Chocolat, our concierge, will now take you to your suite.”
Sophia watched as the group made their way up the sweeping staircase, the prince’s expensive boots dragging on the pristine white marble steps. Beneath her professional demeanor she was seething with anger. The less she saw of these guests, the better.
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Twice in her Lifetime – A Regency Romance
by Isa Day
Released September 2017
availabe as ebook and printed edition
ISBN ebook: 978-3-906868-02-8
ISBN print edition: 978-3-906868-01-1