About the book
Between lovers, betrayal is always the worst sin.
After her sister's tragic memory loss, Lady Diana Dunkeld must endure the slew of suitors that her father pushes on her. But the youngest daughter of the Earl of Lutterhall rejects every single one of them.
With terrible rumors surrounding his family since his mother’s death, Elijah Saunders, the Viscount of Cambolton knows that finding a wife is going to be a hard task. Until the day he meets Lady Diana.
Social equals and yet worlds apart, they court their own ruin in each other. But they soon realize that their yearning for each other is not their only problem…
As new evidence of the death of Elijah's parents comes to light, they find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy. When death knocks on their door, they can make only one wish…if only Diana's sister could remember her accident.
The Duke of Domnall was frowning at Diana angrily. He was very handsome, with ice blue eyes and hair the color of sand. To his credit, however, he had not lost his temper. He had just asked Diana to marry him.
“I’m confused, My Lady,” he said slowly. “Your father gave me his permission. And, our interactions have led me to believe that we are well-suited for each other.” He was standing close to her, closer than she felt comfortable with.
“But you failed to get my permission,” she replied. She was shorter than he was, and didn’t like that she had to look up, so she looked away, at the green flocked silk wallpaper.
“I cannot marry you, Your Grace, because I am not in love with you.” The moment she said it, she could sense the finality of it all, like the lid on a coffin slamming shut. She glanced back at him.
The Duke nodded, slowly. His eyes were on the wall behind her. Then, he raised his chin proudly. “Then I shall take my leave. I wish you all the best, My Lady.”
“And I wish you the same, Your Grace.”
Diana remained where she was, watching as he left and closing the door to the parlor after him. She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She could hear voices, in the distance. Likely, the Duke telling her father what had just transpired.
Now, I must wait for the inevitable.
She sat down on the blue velvet settee. She listened to the soft ticking sound of the clock over the mantel. She heard the sound of her father’s boots in the hallway.
She steeled herself, her eyes on the curtains as they blew gently in a warm breeze from the window. Outside, she could see the green fields of her father’s estate at Lutterhall. Finally, the door opened and he entered, shutting the door firmly after him. Diana steeled herself for what was about to happen. Barnabas Dunkeld, the Earl of Lutterhall, stared at her, as though he didn’t recognize her.
“You’ve turned down the Duke of Domnall?” he demanded. Her father was a gentleman of average height, though he was also a gentleman of a larger than usual temper. He adjusted his glasses, through which his brown eyes glared at her. He had dark circles underneath his eyes, which seemed darker than usual.
“I don’t love him.” Diana and her father had already had this same conversation, four times prior.
“Love doesn’t exist,” her father said, running his fingers through his brown hair. “You don’t have the luxury to pretend that romance exists and you can wait for it. After what happened to Eleonora, I want you married, as soon as possible. It’s for your own good.”
“You don’t know what happened to Eleonora,” she pointed out. “No one will ever know.”
Six months prior, her older sister had been in an accident. No one knew why she had been out that night—none of the family had known that she was even gone. Now, with Eleonora’s partial memory loss from her injuries, even she couldn’t say.
“The Duke of Domnall is perfect for you,” he went on. “He has a good title, and wealth.”
“I’ve turned him down, so I imagine he won’t be back.” She looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. The Duke was an honorable gentleman, and he would not offend her by presuming that her mind could be changed by continued pursuit.
“He won’t.” Her father was scowling, staring out of the window, watching the Duke of Domnall climb into his barouche-landau. “I will find you another.”
Diana sighed. “I will not marry unless I am in love,” she repeated, then stood up.
“Where are you going?”
“I am going to retire to my room. I am weary.” Diana’s heart was heavy. She left the room without another word.
Alone, in the hallway, she exhaled as she began the short journey to her bed chamber. She wanted to cry. She couldn’t imagine marrying a gentleman who she merely esteemed. Her father wouldn’t listen to her.
Why does everything always have to be a battle?
Her father had always imposed restrictions on Diana, and her sister. Their mother had died in childbirth when they were very young. With no one to challenge his strict parenting style, their father had been a bit of a tyrant. They had lived a very sheltered life. Until, for some reason, Eleonora had snuck out.
Their father suspected that she had gone into the woods that evening to meet up with a secret beau. That was why he was so determined for Diana to marry. He wanted to prevent her from making a similar choice. Diana was sure that Eleonora would never hide such a thing from her.
I don’t know that for sure, though.
She knocked softly on the door to her sister’s room. Diana was dressed in a yellow silk gown, her feet in tiny dancing slippers, made of stiff silk. They were new, and pinched her toes a little. Her auburn hair was piled on top of her head, with ringlets framing her cheeks. Around her neck, she wore two strands of freshwater pearls. She was holding her gloves, ready to put them on before leaving the house.
“Come in,” Eleonora called out.
Diana opened the door, to find her sister seated on an armchair by the window. She was wrapped in a gray shawl. Her hair had been closely cropped to her face. In the months since her accident, it had thinned.
Eleonora was still the fine lady that she had always been, though her energy these days was not what it had been. She was pale, with dark circles pressed underneath her eyes. She turned to see Diana, a grin passing over her face.
“Diana,” she said. “You look lovely.” She frowned. “Is there a ball this evening?”
“Yes, my love,” Diana said. “I promised you that I’d show you my gown before I head over to Forstall Hall.” She did a bit of a twirl, so that her skirts swished luxuriously about her hips. She did a full turn, so that her sister could do a full inspection.
Eleonora beamed, the smallest hint of a glint in her eyes. “You look perfect.” She glanced over at Sarah, who was preparing a bath for her. “Doesn’t she look a dream, Sarah?”
“That shade of yellow suits you very well, My Lady,” Sarah agreed. “Auburn hair and lemon certainly go together.”
“Thank you, Sarah.” Diana turned toward her sister. “I wish you could come,” she said. Her sister had once been the belle of every ball. Her hair had been thick and full, and she was tall and willowy. She had caught the eyes of all the gentlemen. Had she wanted, she could have been married to any one that she chose.
Eleonora held out her hand, which Diana took. “Someday, I will be well enough again, I hope.” A cloud passed over her face. “Although, it won’t be the same anymore, will it?”
“Why do you say that?” Diana tilted her head to the side, studying her sister. Hope filled her—that perhaps, Eleonora was getting her memories of the night of the accident back. As far as they could all tell, there was a large gap in her memory, of that night, as well as the months leading up to it.
Eleonora’s eyes were far away. She shook her head. “I don’t remember, Diana.” She covered her face with a shaking hand. “I wish I could, though.” Her voice was quavering, as though she were about to cry.
Diana felt awful for having reminded her of the accident. “Is there anything that I may get you?”
“No. Sarah is here.” A tear slipped down Eleonora’s cheek. She had turned back toward the window.
Diana nodded. She leaned in, kissing her older sister on the forehead.
“You’ll tell me all about it, tomorrow?” Eleonora asked hopefully.
“Of course I will. I’ll come and find you after I have breakfast.”
Eleonora patted her on the hand. Diana knew that her sister might forget. Her memories were scattered. It was hard to say what she would remember, and what she would not. Diana smiled at Sarah, who curtsied. Then Diana turned to leave.
As she reached the door, she looked back. Her sister’s gaze was faraway. Diana’s heart broke. There were no assurances that Eleonora would ever get better. There was the chance that her sister’s health was declining, and the thought frightened her.
They had lost their mother in childbirth, as well as their baby sister, who had not lived long after her birth. Diana couldn’t imagine losing Eleonora, as well. Although, they had come very close to it. She had been insensible for a few days after the accident. She had survived, though. That gave Diana hope.
Elijah Saunders, the newly-minted Viscount of Cambolton, was in his study. He was going through his father’s documents. His father had passed suddenly, leaving Elijah the title and the entailed estate, which included property and money. He also inherited the family businesses, which he was currently trying to expand.
Elijah had been settling his father’s modest but profitable estate, going through the papers in the hopes of finding anything else that might assist him. On top of that, he was trying to find some sort of a clue to his father’s untimely demise.
Nicholas Saunders, the late Viscount, had been found in a cottage in the middle of the woods, near Cambolton House. While local authorities had done a thorough investigation, they hadn’t been able to discern who would want him dead, or why.
At the bottom of the pile, Elijah found a letter. The paper was yellowed with age. The direction was to his father, written in a feminine, slanting script. His curiosity piqued, he picked it up. As he unfolded it, a small sprig of lavender fell out. When he picked it up off of the desk, it began to crumble.
He looked at the post script, gasping when he saw that it was from his mother. She had died when he was young—no more than four. He barely remembered her. He perused the contents. It was nothing more than a brief letter, relating what she had done while visiting her parents in the countryside.
My dearest Nicholas,
I cannot tell you how much I miss you. However, the visit to my father’s estate has done me some good. It seems that a change of scenery was, in fact, what I needed to lift my spirits.
Little Elijah has been enjoying his time with his grandparents. He runs about, playing with my father’s Irish wolfhound. Everyone here dotes on him.
I’m so sorry that I’ve been so unhappy of late. I cannot explain why, not even to myself. It seems that melancholy has been plaguing me, ever since the ball at Albany. I shall return home with Elijah at the end of the week. Hopefully, by then, my time away will have worked its cure.
I look forward to seeing you, my love.
He considered it, glancing at the date. It had been written less than a month before her death. There were rumors that his father had murdered his mother—a rumor which had nearly broken him. Elijah had known his father very well—he would have never harmed his beloved wife. He was harmless, always unfailingly kind. His wife’s death had nearly killed him, as well.
If Elijah listened to his hunch, something had happened at the ball at Albany estate to upset his mother. But what? Or who? She had been found at the bottom of the stairs. Her death had been ruled an accident by local authorities.
He wondered if, perhaps, her death had been more than an accident. Not his father’s doing, but someone else’s. It was certainly something to consider, especially given his father’s own suspicious death. Perhaps the villain had returned, eighteen years later.
There was a knock at the door, and his butler entered.
“My Lord,” Hanby said. He was carrying a silver tray, a letter set on top. Hanby had silver hair, which was combed back from his face. He had a high forehead, and pale blue eyes. Hanby had been working for Elijah’s father for as long as Elijah could remember.
“Thank you, Hanby,” he said, picking it up. The seal was that of the Marquess of Forstall. He broke it, unfolding the paper to find that it was an invitation to a ball. Ever since his arrival in the English countryside, he had been turning down invitations, due to his mourning period. However, the six-months had ended, just the day before.
I suppose I’ll go. After all, I need to start thinking of finding the next Viscountess of Cambolton.
Elijah wanted to marry. Without any other family left, he was utterly alone in the world, aside from the servants he barely knew, since he’d been at school for the greater part of the past two decades. Until six months prior, he’d been pursuing his studies on the Continent. He knew he should be more concerned about finding a wife. What was nagging him were the circumstances of his parents’ deaths. They were both too suspicious to be ignored. What if Elijah himself was the next target? The thought made his blood run cold.
I suppose I’ll have to make the acquaintance of Lord Albany.
He was curious to find out what had happened at that ball, so long ago, to upset his mother, and whether it, too, had something to do with his father’s death.
The ballroom at Forstall Hall was filled. It was decorated with bunches of summer blooms—pale pink and yellow roses, lilies, and violets. There were tall, white long-lasting candles, which flickered, lighting up the room. The crystal chandelier in the center of the ceiling blazed with light. The tile floor shone, and there was a fleur-de-lis set into the middle.
Several Medieval tapestries were on the walls, covering the stone. They depicted lush forests, filled with satyrs, unicorns, and dancing maidens. Though they were old, they were in wonderful condition. It added to the certainly medieval feel of Forstall Hall.
The dancing had not yet begun, but the ballroom was crowded, with people talking in groups from one wall to the other. It was warm inside. Elijah tugged at his cravat, feeling suffocated. He hadn’t been among company since his father’s funeral six months prior. He was more than a little out of practice.
He had not often mixed with society here in the countryside. For the most part, his father had met with him for the holidays at their townhouse in London. Elijah had never questioned it, for he loved London. Now, though, he found that he knew few people in the neighborhood of his ancestral home.
He glanced around, looking for the doors to the terrace. The glass French doors were opened, to allow a breeze in. He began to make his way through the crowd. When he exited, he found that even the terrace was occupied. There were gentlemen smoking their pipes, and ladies fanning themselves while leaning on the stone balustrade.
He walked down the stairs and then out into the gardens. The path was lined with brightly burning torches. Overhead, the moon was round and full, casting silvery light over the box hedges and fully blown roses of Lady Forstall’s garden. He could hear talking. He supposed that others were out there, wishing to have a moment alone. He kept moving, making his way deeper in to the gardens.
Elijah kept his stride at a leisurely pace. The summer heat had broken, and it was cooling off. The sounds of frogs, calling out to one another, grew louder the farther he got from the house. He breathed in the cool night air, feeling refreshed with every breath that he took.
When he turned the corner, he found himself face to face with a lady, dressed in lemon-colored silk. Her auburn hair was fixed in ringlets, framing her heart-shaped face. In the moonlight, long shadows were cast over her face. She gasped when she realized that he was there, her hand going to her breastbone.
She was short and voluptuous, with dark eyes, which were wide in surprise.
“My apologies,” he said, bowing to her. He looked around for her chaperone, to find that she was alone.
“It’s all right,” she murmured, curtsying. He felt his heart do a bit of a flip. When she smiled at him, he realized that she was the most beautiful lady he’d ever seen.
“Are you well, My Lady?” he asked, wondering why she was out there by herself. She was so mesmerizing, and he watched as she tilted her head to the side, seeming to consider how she wanted to answer the question.
“I’m well,” she murmured. “If—if you’ll excuse me, My Lord.” She turned to go. Elijah felt the overwhelming urge to stop her.
Diana had gone into the gardens in an effort to avoid the gentlemen asking her to dance. She had already danced five sets in a row. In her new dancing slippers, her feet were crying out for a rest. She couldn’t do another.
She knew that she was blushing. In the moonlight, no doubt, it was hidden. As Diana was walking, she could hear him behind her. She whirled around, to find him following her.
“I’m sorry, My Lady,” he said. She felt something inside of her melt. The gentleman was tall and muscular, with high cheekbones and a well-formed jaw. He was looking at her with kind concern. Her heart was doing a pitter-patter—one that she had never thought possible.
“I was escaping the ball,” she said, if only to explain her presence there.
“I was also escaping,” he replied. Their eyes met, and they both laughed.
“It’s quite lovely out here. I’d no idea that Forstall Hall boasted such fine gardens.”
“They do,” she agreed. “Though the gardens at Albany Manor certainly rival them.” She hadn’t seen him before. She wondered who he could be.
She glanced around. They were alone. However, she knew that if anyone came upon them like this, her reputation would be ruined. Her father would never forgive her. She was only lucky that he had decided not to attend.
“We shouldn’t be caught here like this,” she pointed out.
The smile fell from his face. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Quite right. My apologies,” he told her.
“I would like for us to be properly introduced,” she said, feeling daring. “Who do you know here?”
“Lord and Lady Forstall?” he suggested. “Unfortunately, I know very few people here. I haven’t been much in the area.”
She smiled. It sounded, to her, that he had a county seat in the vicinity. “Excellent. I will go and find one of them, and then you come and find us.”
“Promise me?” Diana wanted nothing more than to get to know this dashing gentleman better. With the way that her heart beat faster when he was near, she knew that she had to.
“I swear to you, My Lady.” He bowed gallantly.
“Good. I’ll go in first, and then you follow, My Lord,” she ordered.
He nodded, smiling. She turned away from him, her heart beating soundly in her chest. She had never felt this way about anyone before. She wondered if it was merely the intrigue of the situation.
Not only was he handsome, he interested her. She knew instinctively that he was not like other gentlemen. She wondered what and who he was. She would learn, soon enough.
She stood in the doorway, looking for Lady Forstall. When she saw her, she made her way over, planning in her mind to begin a conversation that would last long enough for the mysterious gentleman to find them.
Elijah was blissfully happy, for the first time since his father’s death. He had never been so interested in someone before. He didn’t even know her name. He waited until she disappeared from sight, and then he began to walk slowly back to the house.
Once inside, he spotted her talking to Lady Forstall, over by the refreshments table. He made his way over.
“Lady Forstall,” he said. “You’ve outdone yourself with those flower arrangements.” They were, indeed, a profusion of bright colors.
“Lord Cambolton,” she replied, beaming. “Are you enjoying the evening?”
“I am,” he said. “I just toured your gardens, and find them stunning.”
“Have you met Lady Diana Dunkeld?” she asked. He turned his gaze toward her. In the brighter light, he could see the pale cream of her skin, and the way that her brown eyes shone. He could now see the spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and how pink and luscious her lips were.
“I have not had the pleasure.”
“Lady Diana, this is Elijah, the Viscount of Cambolton.”
She curtsied to him, while he bowed to her.
“It is a pleasure,” she murmured. Her name suited her. She was as lovely as a huntress, as mysterious as a moon goddess. It was only right that the first time he had beheld her, she was awash in silvery moonlight.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied. They both smiled, the weight of their shared secret meeting stretching between them deliciously.
“Well, if you would both excuse me,” Lady Forstall said, her eyes travelling over the fast-emptying table once laden with desserts. “I must go and check on the serving staff. We need to have more refreshments sent out forthwith!”
They watched as she walked off, a bustle of silver silk skirts and brunette ringlets. Then, they turned to each other and grinned.
“Excellent showing,” she whispered, conspiratorially. “I believe no one’s any wiser.”
“Agreed,” he replied. “May I get you a drink, My Lady?”
“Yes, please, My Lord.” She slipped her small hand into the crook of his elbow. His heart rose, and he felt proud to have such a handsome lady beside him, as a co-conspirator.
As Diana spoke with Lord Cambolton, she had a warm feeling pooling in the pit of her stomach. She was certainly finding him to be an interesting partner for discussion.
In the well-lit ballroom, his face was lit up. His green eyes sparkled. His skin had a bit of an olive tone to it, and his hair was tawny.
“Why have we never met before?” she said. “After all, the Cambolton estate is only a few miles from Lutterhall.”
“Well, I have been out of the country, pursuing my education,” he explained. “My father would meet me in London during holidays. I’ve only very recently begun to wonder why. After all, Cambolton Manor is a comfortable house, with good neighbors.”
“I see,” she mused. “I did know your father, in passing. He mentioned that you were away at school.” She recalled that his father had died suddenly. Apparently, it had been unsavory, and her father hadn’t told her much.
“I was at a boarding school in the North,” he said.
“Really?” She perked up.
“It was up by the Scotland border.”
“How adventurous. I find myself a tad bit jealous. I’ve never left the country before. The farthest I’ve been is to London, for the Season.”
“Not much happens up North, mostly it’s quiet.”
“I imagine that our country balls bore you,” she murmured. “After all of the excitement that the Scots can provide.”
“Not at all,” he assured her. “I’m having the best time, here, talking with you.”
She grinned at him. He was very agreeable, indeed. “As am I,” she said. She wondered how long he would be agreeable. Gentlemen were very well-practiced at saying the right things, and making the correct gestures, but without feeling.
“I do think that the other gentlemen are getting jealous that I’m monopolizing your attention,” he murmured, taking a sip of his drink.
She laughed as she followed his gaze around the room. They were being watched, all of them, gentlemen. Several of them had offered her marriage proposals. The Duke of Domnall was openly staring, the line of his mouth curving downward.
“That’s all right. I daresay they’ve all grown tired of me.” She didn’t explain. She liked Lord Cambolton, and wanted him to think her wonderful.
“No one could ever grow tired of you, My Lady,” he said. She smiled at him. He certainly said all of the right things. But there was something about him that was different. She couldn’t figure out what it was, but she was determined to learn it.
Elijah and Lady Diana continued speaking all night. He was enjoying himself—a feat which once seemed impossible. Maybe, by some sort of Divine Providence, she was the very lady he had been looking for.
I wouldn’t mind being married to her, but I need to know her better to be certain.
Now, the other guests were beginning to trickle out. Most of the gentlemen and ladies looked wilted, from the heat of the ballroom, and their exertions when dancing.
“I suppose I should get going,” she said.
“It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.”
“And you, as well.” Her smile was brilliant, and there were roses blooming in her cheeks.
“I suppose you’re going to the luncheon tomorrow at Lady Strutherton’s?” she asked.
“I’ve been invited,” he replied. He planned to attend all of the invitations that he’d been given—he needed to become introduced to Lord and Lady Albany, in the hopes that they would be able to tell him about the ball that they’d held.
“Then you must come,” she told him. “I will expect to see you there.”
He smiled. “I will be pleased to oblige you.”
“It was lovely meeting you, My Lady.”
“Goodnight, My Lord. I’ll see you soon.”
“Indeed, you will.”
Lady Diana smiled at him, and then made her way to the front door, where their host and hostess were saying their goodbyes. It was as though he had known her in a different life. He felt he found the other half of himself—one that he hadn’t known was missing.
He followed after, thanking Lord and Lady Forstall, and then leaving through the front door in time to see Lady Diana climbing into a sleek black carriage, with a coat of arms emblazoned on the side.
Her carriage moved off, the horses’ hooves clopping on the hard-packed ground, and he watched as it turned down the drive. This had been a very good evening.
She was the one that he’d been hoping to meet. She was vivacious and witty. He felt, for the first time in ages, that there was new life within him.
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