About the book
“I know I’m not supposed to be with you, but I can’t stay away. I can’t let you go…”
Lady Alice is forbidden from conversing with Duke Harold. As her family’s mortal enemy, she must stay away from him at all times. No exceptions. But when she finds herself alone with him, she never knew his kiss could feel so good…
As their secret and forbidden meetings continue, Alice’s family will do everything to keep her away from him. But Duke Harold is willing to fight for her. Even if it means risking his own life…
“Alice, I have never heard such nonsense. Your debut will take place as arranged. How could you want to delay? Most girls your age cannot wait to debut!”
Simon paced the room, hands clasped tightly behind his back and, as usual, giving no chance for anyone else to get a word in. Lazy sunlight slanted into the drawing room through tall windows. It was golden and cast a comforting warmth against the skin that it touched. Alice gazed out through the window at the grounds of Lindley Manor, enjoying the way the afternoon light transformed the surroundings.
“Well?” Simon demanded.
Alice looked around. “Had you finished talking, dear brother? I do apologize but I am never sure when you are about to…”
“I mean to say. The opportunity to be the…the belle of the ball. In front of the Ton. Why, every Hathway lady has debuted on her eighteenth birthday. I just do not understand this desire to delay.”
Alice sighed, pushing back straight black hair from her ice-blue eyes. Simon shared those characteristics, as did their sister Ruth, who sat by the fire, sipping tea, and resting a hand on her stomach, swollen with child.
“May I please speak, Simon?” Alice said in an imploring voice that was disconnected from her fierce eyes.
“Of course. I am not stopping you from speaking,” Simon said.
As Alice opened her mouth though, he was off again.
“Mother would be turning in her grave. So would grandmother. Do you actually want to be married?”
Alice ground her teeth, folded her arms, and sat back on the chaise, glowering at her older brother. She had known this was how the news would go.
And I thought I was actually being so practical. Simon tries to hide it from me but I know there are some money worries. The cost of a debut needn’t be a burden. Why can’t we just postpone?
There was another reason, of course, one she could not admit to, nor Simon nor her elder sister, Ruth. The tradition in the Hathway family was that the women of the family were debuted at eighteen and married before they were eighteen years and six months. But, Alice did not want to marry. At least not that soon. There was so much of the world to see, so many adventures to experience. Why rush into things? But to say that to Simon would be akin to slapping his face.
“I am just trying to be sensible. A debut is an expensive business, is it not?” Alice said in a tone of perfect reason.
Simon narrowed his eyes, spinning on his heel. “What of it?”
“Well, are there not more important things for the family to be spending its money on than…”
“Than seeing you safely wed to a good match?” Ruth said. “No, dear Alice, there is not.”
“The Hathway women have always debuted early and married. It is why such excellent matches have been made over the generations,” Simon said. “Your debut will take place as planned. That is an end to the discussion.”
There was a finality in Simon’s voice that Alice recognized. When that steel crept in, the discussion truly was over. It was a trait he had learned from their father. Richard Hathway had been an amiable man and a loving father. But, there was no question that his word was law in Lindley and when it came time to make this clear, a stern look and a steely tone was how it was communicated.
Alice bit back a further response when confronted with that same look in the eyes of her brother.
It will do me no good. He has made up his mind. If Ruth agreed or was even neutral, I could, perhaps, talk Simon around. But they present a united front and I cannot break through it alone.
She knew which battles to fight and which to avoid. Alice smiled sweetly, looking up at Simon demurely and nodding.
“You’re right of course, Simon.”
Simon nodded, the stern look melting away to leave only the same genial expression that Alice was so fond of seeing in their father.
“Excellent. I’m glad we’ve finally resolved that. Ruth and I were discussing renting a house in town for this purpose. There is a townhouse available near Regent’s Park that would serve the purpose admirably. Just the right degree of grandeur without being ostentatious. We are one of England’s noble families after all, albeit not at the apex of that society.”
“I know the house. You would love it, Alice. Louis XIV chandeliers and oak panels on the walls. The gardens are simply lovely too. A fine setting for your introduction to the ton.”
“Oh, I had assumed my coming out would be here at Lindley. I had no idea you were planning to hold it in London,” Alice said.
She felt a thrill of excitement at the idea. There was so much to see and explore in London, a city that her father had made his second home but to which he had not allowed his children to visit. That had made it a place of mystery for young Alice.
“Yes, I think it will send a positive message to society about the status of our family,” Simon said, turning to the window. “In order to secure you the best match, we must present our best face to the world.”
“Oh, I agree completely,” Ruth said.
Alice frowned, looking from brother to sister. “Yes, of course we will put our…best face to the world. But…is there something we are trying to hide?”
“Of course not, Alice dear,” Ruth said as she buried her face in her tea cup.
“You do talk some nonsense,” Simon said without turning away from the window.
Well, they could not have made that more obvious if they tried. What on earth are they keeping from me? And when will they realize that I am no longer a child?
“Oh, I can’t think what put that thought in my head. I can’t think what we could possibly have that we would want to keep secret,” Alice said, innocently.
That was the literal truth. There was no scandal in the Hathway family history, though there had been much grief in the last ten years. Alice remembered a period in which it seemed the house was in a permanent state of mourning. But there was nothing in that to be ashamed of. Alice told herself that she was reading too much into Simon’s words.
Too much reading of the historical romances of Scott. I seek adventure and mystery in everyday life. It is rarely present. True life is far more mundane.
“Well, whatever it was, best put it out of your mind,” Simon said gruffly.
“Perhaps while we are in London we can visit the British Museum?” Alice asked.
“Not for me, I’m afraid. This little one does not care for extended periods spent walking,” Ruth said, stroking the bump which was her first child, “but I’m sure Simon will take you.”
“I’m sure I am capable of taking myself,” Alice said.
“Newly debuted? I would not have you walking the streets of the capital alone,” Simon replied.
“As you like.” Alice stood. “Well, that is all agreed and all are happy, yes? I think I will go take a stroll while the sun is shining.”
She left the room, smiling. Her debut would go ahead, which made her apprehensive. The tradition in the Hathway family was to find husbands for young debutantes. The women of the Hathway family did not remain unmarried. She had hoped that she would have her freedom for a while longer yet. There was so much that she wanted to experience and she feared that being shackled to a husband would deny her those opportunities forever.
At least she would see London. That would be something. But there was so much more to the world. What about Edinburgh? The highlands of Scotland? The great ports of Liverpool and Bristol with their myriad of faces and languages from across the globe. Rome, Paris, Cairo, or even…India. She walked through the house towards the Long Gallery, a corridor that ran the width of the house, and hung with the art accumulated by Alice’s mother over the years. Tall windows cast golden light over the artwork and Alice stopped, as she always did, in front of the landscapes.
The world lay before her in those oils. Years of standing here had not yet filled her eyes enough that she didn’t want to come back the next day for more.
There must be a way. I will not settle down as Ruth has done, give up my ambitions, and become nothing more than a vehicle for the next generation. I will see these places. I will see the world.
Turf flew as powerful hooves dug at the earth. Harold Clauder stood in his stirrups, crouched low over his mount’s neck. The horse was black and its flying mane was echoed by the shoulder-length hair of its rider, which was flung behind him like a banner. Redwood Castle loomed before him, atop the hilltop from which it had dominated the surrounding countryside for almost six hundred years. Before, the castle was a green sward of tall grass, spotted with copses of trees and divided by a sweeping, silver stream.
Harold steered his horse along a wide path of beaten earth. The nose of the horse that chased him was almost level with his knee. He risked a glance back over his shoulder. Max had ruddy skin and blond hair, with blue eyes now wide with the thrill of the race. He grinned as he saw Harold looking back.
“I almost have you this time and I have the inside track!” he roared, pointing at the bend in the path ahead of them.
Harold looked back, gritting his teeth. Max was right, he had maneuvered himself into a position where he would have the shortest route around the coming bend and would take the lead. But, Harold knew the paths of his own park. There was a chance for him to win this race, to put himself so far ahead that Max would never catch up. The need to win gripped him as Max’s white mount drew level with his own.
Ahead, the path bent to follow the path of the silver stream. At the apex of the bend, it widened and the ground fell away, the stream running through a gully at the bottom. As Max began to turn his horse, Harold spurred on for the stream, eyes widening as he approached the drop at breakneck speed. Max saw his intention and cried out in alarm. The beaten earth of the track vanished as Harold left the path and the horse bounded through the long grass beyond.
What am I doing? I could break the poor animal’s legs and my own neck!
Harold leaned back in the saddle and pulled on the reins. Such was the speed of his charge that the horse was practically sitting on the ground before it skidded to a halt, hooves gouging deep furrows in the thick, black earth. Finally, Harold pressed with one knee and pulled the reins with the opposite hand. The horse turned, ears twitching and nostrils wide. It harrumphed its displeasure at the sudden stop, even as its massive heart began to slow. Harold took a deep breath and patted the animal’s neck.
“My friend, what on earth were you doing?” Max demanded, having brought his own horse to a stop.
“A moment of madness, I fear,” Harold replied, lifting his chin, disguising the consternation he was feeling at his own brief recklessness. “I had the bit between my teeth and thought to take a shortcut to secure the win. Foolish.”
“I’ll say. I wouldn’t have chanced that jump. A man could kill himself. You English. Not as crazy as those Americans but still,” Max said, his Austrian accent thick.
Harold smiled thinly. He regarded his companion from the full height of his Roman nose, fixing him with a cold, blue-eyed stare.
“My Teutonic friend. I do not care for slang expressions. Nor do I care to be compared to an American. Let us say this race would have ended with a victory for Austria though.”
“We will say nothing of it, Harold, old boy. It is forfeit. I will beat you fair and square another day.”
“Shall we walk the horses the rest of the way, old man?” Harold suggested.
He reached to his saddle strap where a top hat had been tied. Deftly undoing the leather cord securing the hat, he dusted the brim with his sleeve and then placed it on his head. Max merely wiped sweat from his forehead with his hand, then wiped his hand on the leg of his trousers. He barked a laugh.
“Yes, quite enough excitement for one day, eh? That was quite the surprise. My heart is still in my throat. You are the last man I would have expected to do something so daring.”
“My friend, I am an Englishman. We have not risen to pre-eminence in this world by behaving…daringly. But rather by bringing order and laws to places where there were previously none. I would suggest that the problems the Americans now have in their country come from the lack of such order. You will find no frontiersmen here but, equally, no chaotic frontier.”
“True. The English have the reputation for being solid and conservative. As do many of my countrymen. We are not Italian, after all,” Max chuckled.
“The very idea!” Harold replied.
They rode at a gentle trot now with ash and birch trees providing shade against the midday sun. The air was thick and moist, carrying the scent of leaf and earth and the sound of tinkling water flowing by. The castle came and went from view as the path wandered through the park, following the stream. As it did, different views were revealed, each discrete from the other and hidden by trees and undergrowth.
“As you are in a daring mood, my staid English friend, perhaps you would give more thought to my suggestion?”
Max’s eyes twinkled with the merriment of a devil. Harold frowned, focusing on the path ahead and tugging the brim of his hat lower.
“A ball? Such things have always struck me as frivolous and that fact has not changed.”
The trees fell away, exposing the riders to bright sunlight. Max, who had not secured his hat and subsequently lost it during the race, raised an arm to shade his eyes. Before them was a waving sea of green grass, spotted with deer. Over it all was the spreading white stone of Redwood Castle.
“A very impressive home. And of great antiquity, I understand,” Max said.
“Built on the remains of a medieval castle, itself built on the remains of a Norman motte and bailey,” Harold said, no little pride in his voice.
“So, who will you leave it to?” Max asked, looking at Harold.
“Ah, that is the question, isn’t it? An heir for the Dukedom.”
“Exactly, my friend. For me? I will find a wife at some point to take care of me. I’m almost ready to settle down. Perhaps a few more voyages. But, I am not a Duke. Just an old soldier.”
“Whereas I have the duty of Redwood on my shoulders. Yes, my father never tired of making that point.”
And how I hated it every time he did. But both he and Max make a good point. It must be faced. There comes a time when a man must face his responsibilities.
“What exactly is the problem? Most men would leap at the opportunity to court some lovely young lady,” Max said.
“The problem is I cannot see how anyone who would attend such an event would attract me in any way. Dancing. Music. Conversation with people with whom I have nothing in common, nor wish to have. I find the idea tiresome and hold nothing but contempt for anyone who does not.”
“But it is the most effective way of finding a wife. All those eligible women gathered together in one place. All with the same objective in mind. The Major Harold Clauder I knew at Waterloo would find that compelling reasoning,” Max said.
Harold scowled, realizing that he had been argued into a corner. There was no escaping Max’s logic. As much as he had always despised social functions, and balls, in particular, there was no doubt that it was the most efficient way to fulfilling his duty to the Dukedom of Redwood. Finally, he nodded.
“You are right.,” he sighed. “Very well, I will attend.”
“Should we invite Lord and Lady Lichfield?” Ruth asked.
“Certainly,” Simon replied.
He sat behind the mahogany desk that, in his father’s time, had been a sea of paper. Ledgers and books of accounts had dominated the space. Now, a neat pile of accounts occupied one corner. Simon tried to ignore the empty expanse of leather-topped wood and the lack of activity it signified.
Not my fault so no reason for me to feel guilty.
Behind him, tall windows were framed by climbing roses. Beyond were the South Gardens, becoming overgrown now that the gardening staff had been reduced. Ruth called it a cottage garden, quite the fashion. To Simon, it was another symbol of failing fortunes. Ruth sat opposite, adding names to a list. Her husband, Gordon, was touring the Lindley estate, lending his expertise on turf to find any corner of land that could yield more income.
Three days had passed since Alice had been talked out of delaying her debut. Those three days had been a frenetic bustle of activity, eating into the mammoth task of preparing for the social function.
“What about the Greenford’s?” Ruth asked.
“What?” Simon realized that his mind had wandered, wondering if Gordon would return with information on a patch of land capable of producing a few pounds more per year than it currently was.
Or evidence of coal beneath the Old Tor, or good soil in the East Farthing. Something!
“Simon, dear. We have convinced our feral little sister of the value of having her debut. Now we must make the occasion happen. And that takes work. The right people must attend for it to be a success.”
Simon sat back, rubbing at his forehead. The characteristically black hair of the Hathway family fell over his fingers until he swept it back. Clear blue eyes fixed on his sister who stared back challengingly.
“I am aware, Ruth. There is much to occupy my mind, that’s all.”
“I am also aware Simon. I am occupied by the same problem, together with the additional problem of keeping it secret from Alice.”
“Not quite the same. Your future is secure. Gordon Warmsley of Mattingley Hall is a wealthy man. Simon Hathway of Lindley Manor is not.”
Ruth sighed. “And my husband’s wealth is yours. I have told you. It is mine and therefore it is yours.”
Simon pushed back his chair, its legs scraping against the wooden flooring.
“I will not go cap in hand to your husband for charity, Ruth.”
“Well, then. Let the house fall down and the gardens become a jungle. Or perhaps let it wear you down until you fall into the same trap that caught hold of poor Teddy,” Ruth snapped.
Simon knew that her harsh tone was not intended to wound. Not deliberately. She had a quick temper, as did he. Alice was the only one of the three Hathway siblings not possessed of a mercurial nature. She had always been a good-natured, sweet smiling angel. The apple of everyone’s eye from infancy.
Four siblings! There are four of us! May God strike me down if I forget Edward again. The true Viscount of Lindley.
Ruth’s cheeks were flushed and her breathing came in gasps. Simon bit back on a quick response that had leaped to his tongue. He raised placating hands.
“Ruthie, please take a glass of water. Think of the child.”
She slapped her hand against the table. “Do not tell me to calm down, Simon. I will not allow your pride to doom this house.”
He sat, sinking back into the chair whose leather upholstery was cracked and supple. It had accommodated three generations of Hathway Viscounts. He stroked the elaborately carved armrests, remembering the hours his father had spent in this chair.
Hours spent marshaling ships from all over the world. Shipments carrying our crest and bringing back wealth. Now all gone. All at the stroke of an evil man.
“Let us return to the matter at hand. Our priority is Alice’s debut.”
Ruth looked at him for a long moment as though she would say more. Then she returned to the list in her hand.
“Lady Vickers and her husband.”
“That is the German, is it not? The soldier?” Simon asked.
“Lord Vickers is Austrian. An adviser to Horseguards and a personal friend to the Regent. The royal family are of German origin after all. Quite proper,” Ruth assured him.
“Very well. Though I am told the fellow is a tad boorish.”
“But well connected,” Ruth pointed out.
“The Duke of Redwood,” Ruth read out.
Simon glared at her. “Over my dead body.”
Ruth threw down the paper with an exasperated noise in her throat. “He is a Duke. He is a friend of Lord Vickers whom we have just mentioned. The Clauder’s trace their ancestry to the Conquest for goodness sake. You simply cannot have a social engagement in the capital without at least inviting him.”
“No!” Simon roared, once again getting to his feet, hands planted on the desk. “I will not have a Clauder present. How could you even suggest it, after what that family has been responsible for?”
“Because they have always been a staple of London society. If you do not invite them, then you invite questions. Some will speculate that our family is not to be taken seriously. Some will speculate that we are out of favor with the very elite of our society. And what chance will that give Alice for finding a prosperous match? Do you wish her to marry some…some country squire?”
Ruth’s anger was ice compared to the fire that burned in Simon. His hands tightened into fists on the top of the desk. Ruth glared back, refusing to be intimidated. They had clashed many times during childhood and the victory in those confrontations could be divided up equally between them. Both were proud and confident, convinced of their own rightness in any situation. Both were strong-willed and unwilling to be the one to back down.
Simon turned away, stalking to the window, then to the fireplace, made restless by his anger.
“I cannot believe you would even suggest it.”
“I suggest it because these are the rules that we must adhere to in order to take our place within the society of this country. If you do not like it then perhaps you should consider leaving it. Except, wherever Englishmen settle, I think you will find they take their social rules and conventions with them,” Ruth said.
“I…I cannot,” Simon faltered.
“You must,” Ruth persisted.
I know I must but I cannot bring myself to agree. It feels wrong. That family has caused so much harm to ours. And for no reason. Other than greed and jealousy.
“He probably will not attend. The current Duke is known for shunning social functions. My friend, Mrs. Dalliard, tells me that he has not attended a debut since he inherited. And that was five years ago. We must invite him and he will likely decline. Nothing will be read into this by the Ton because he has declined literally everyone. So, there is no harm in inviting him and no pride lost,” Ruth said, making her tone softer.
I must. And, as usual, Ruth sees to the heart of things. When my mind is clouded by anger, she is a ray of sunlight into the storm clouds.
“Very well,” Simon said quietly. “Issue an invitation to him. And pray that he does not decide to end his self-imposed social exile with our occasion.”
“He will not,” Ruth said with confidence.
Simon turned back to her, a smile stealing across his bleak expression.
“I suppose it should come as no surprise to me to discover who is in charge of your household.”
“It certainly should not. Do you think that Papa was in charge of ours?”
“I got that impression, yes.”
“Nonsense, dear Simon. Papa was allowed to run the family business but it was Mama who ruled the house,” Ruth said with a smile. “I carry on that tradition. Hathway women are and always will be formidable opponents.”
Simon laughed, feeling the anger flow out of him.
You always knew how to do that, dear sister. When you won the battle, victory was always followed by magnanimity and laughter. While I became obnoxious in my need to laud victory over you.
“So, we will make the token invitation to the Duke of Redwood and forget about him. He will not attend,” Simon said, resuming his seat.
“Exactly. He is a repulsive reptile who will not dare to show his face anyway,” Ruth replied.
“Yes. A shameful blackguard without morals.”
“But, with the crimes that we know he is responsible for against our family, even a shameless man would hesitate.”
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