Another Earl to Love (Preview)



All would be well. It had to. Cecilia paced back and forth along the hall outside her marital chamber. The floorboards creaked beneath her feet. She placed one hand on her chest.

Yes, Cecilia thought to herself, her husband, Jonathan Barnard, the Earl of Pembroke, was a young man, and while he’d been sick, she knew he’d recover. Before the onset of his illness, he’d been a vigorous man, full of life. Surely, fate would not be so cruel as to take him away now, just when they’d settled into their life as husband and wife.

She clutched the little pendant that hung from a silver chain around her neck and closed her eyes. The pendant – a gift from her late father – always meant a lot to her. It was one of the few items he ever gave her. Given her status as a sideslip, the product of the Baron’s affair with Cecilia’s mother meant she was never fully acknowledged.

She smiled to herself, as she remembered the day he’d given her the pendant. It was her birthday. She’d just turned eighteen. Other ladies her age would have had a coming out ball by then, but she had no such celebration due to her status.

Instead, her father visited her at her mother’s home and presented her with the pendant that showed St. Christopher. It was meant to protect her – and it had.

How strange, she thought, that her father passed away just months after giving her the piece of jewelry. She couldn’t help but wonder if he’d chosen that birthday to give her the pendant because he knew his death was imminent, and he’d wanted her to have something to remember him by.

Cecilia sighed deeply and dropped her gloved hand to her side and paced once more. The soft silk material of her rose-colored gown swept across the beautiful, marbled floor while her half-boots created a clanging sound that echoed in the vast space.

“Cecilia,” her mother-in-law’s voice drifted down the hall, and she looked up. Lucille Barnard, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, rushed toward her, past the rich tapestries imported from Spain and the beautiful artwork her husband, the late Earl, collected from around the world.

She clutched Cecilia’s hand, her blue eyes glistening with tears. “How is he? What does the physician say?”

“He has been inside the chamber for more than an hour, but he hasn’t emerged. Jonathan was ever so pale when I was sent away. His breathing was so ragged it pained me. Oh, Lady Pembroke, what if….”

Her mother-in-law squeezed her hands and shook her head. The large turban on her head swayed back and forth under the weight of its heavy adornments.

“Do not even consider it. Jonathan will recover soon. He knows his duty to the Earldom and his father. We do not yet have an heir; this alone will inspire him to hold on and to fight. Believe me. He would never allow Barnard Hall to fall back into the hands of the crown.”

Cecilia swallowed and swiped a strand of her black hair out of her pale face. She considered her mother-in-law’s words. They were kind and yet admonishing. Her failure to produce an heir in the first year of their marriage was a contention point between the Dowager Countess and her son and daughter-in-law.

Cecilia looked past her and out of the window. Barnard Hall was a beautiful home. A former monastery, it became the property of the Earls of Barnard after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. For almost three hundred years, the Earls of Barnard had resided here. She knew this history well, for her mother-in-law enjoyed little more than to talk about it to anyone who might listen.

If only the woman knew the real reason why she and Jonathan did not have a child yet, Cecilia thought. Then, perhaps she might understand better. But she and the older woman had never been close. Lady Pembroke hadn’t approved of Cecilia from the start, and Cecilia knew it well. She was, after all, only the illegitimate daughter of a dead baron without a proper dowry or even the appropriate status.

Before she had a chance to consider the past any longer, the heavy oak door opened behind them, and the physician, Mr. Charles, exited, a grave expression on his face.

“Mr. Charles,” the Dowager Countess exclaimed. “How is my son?”

The man sighed as he held on to his black leather bag with one hand while the other was curled into a fist. He looked from one woman to the other; his shoulders slumped forward.

Then, he addressed Cecilia.

“My Lady, I am afraid his lordship succumbed to consumption. There was nothing I could do but make him comfortable.”

Cecilia’s jaw grew slack, and her mouth dropped open. She wanted to scream, but the sound caught in her throat, and all she could produce was a small whimper. On the other hand, her mother-in-law wailed, and immediately, the physician produced a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket.

“No, it cannot be true. I spoke to him just yesterday, and he appeared to recover.”

“It was an end-of-life rally,” Cecilia suddenly said, surprised at the sound of her voice. She had a keen interest in books and devoured several per week. While she preferred novels, she often found herself captivated by medical books, as well as historical ones.

“Indeed, Lady Pembroke. Often when a terminally ill patient nears the end, they recover their strength to converse with those they care for, to give them hope and a last set of happy recollections before they pass.”

He looked down at the ground and shook his head. “I’ve seen too many healthy young gentlemen and ladies pass away from consumption. The end is always rapid. But let me assure you, it is also a blessing. The disease is terrible, and the patients suffer.”

Her heart broke at the thought of Jonathan suffering. While theirs wasn’t the romantic love affair she’d always dreamt of as a child, he’d been a good husband and companion.

Oh, Jonathan. Before you, I was nothing. If you hadn’t found me… What will become of me now?

She recalled the day they met. How regal he’d looked upon his black steed as he’d ridden into the village and stopped outside of her mother’s milliner’s shop. She could still see him dismounting and walking in large strides into the shop, his top hat in one hand and his cane in another. She recalled his puzzled expression when he realized he’d interrupted an argument between Cecilia and her mother over the lack of a suitable dowry.

Oh, how mortified she’d been to have a peer of the realm overhear her lamenting the fact that she was an illegitimate daughter of a lowly, now deceased baron with nothing but a pretty face. And yet, it seemed this only intrigued him – just as so many peculiar things intrigued Jonathan.

“Cecilia? Mother?” Sophie’s voice sounded out. Jonathan’s sister dashed down the hall from her chamber, her powder-blue gown with its fine lace overdress shimmered as the sunlight hit it through the tall French windows. Her pale face showed her panic. The moment Sophie saw the expression on their faces, she stopped and bent forward at the waist; a howl filled the air.

Mr. Charles excused himself and departed, leaving the three women alone.

It was quite strange, Cecilia supposed, how her mother-in-law and Jonathan’s sister could so easily express their grief even though they were usually so very proper. They never laughed out loud in public, never left the house without gloves and a proper head-covering, and never committed any social mishaps – unlike Cecilia. And yet, here they were, allowing their grief to consume them while she was frozen.

As if on their own volition, her feet moved toward the heavy door, and she pushed it open.

“Cecilia, no,” Sophie called out, but she ignored her.

She wanted to see him. Jonathan Barnard, the gentleman who’d taken her out of her mother’s shop and moved her into this grand, centuries-old home. The lord who’d taken a woman without prospects and made her a Countess in her own right. The man who’d saved her from spinsterhood and poverty. She needed to see him, if for no other reason than to thank him for all he’d done for her in the short time they were blessed to be in each other’s lives.

However, when she stepped up to the four-poster bed, she could say nothing. She stood; a hand wrapped around a bedpost as her lips quivered.

It struck her that he looked as if he were sleeping. His blond hair hung into his sweaty face, and someone had folded his hands on his chest, but otherwise, he appeared peaceful.

“Oh, Jonathan,” she muttered. “How can you leave me like this? You promised you’d protect me; you’d be here for me. And now you are gone. How am I to carry on without you and without this life we planned together?”

As she addressed her husband of only one year for the last time, a wave of emotion overcame her with such violence she found herself flung forward onto her knees. The sudden onset of grief and devastation and the realization that her life as she’d known it was once again overweight down upon her as she sobbed.

“Oh, Jonathan,” she moaned when suddenly hands wrapped around her slender arms and pulled her upright.

“Come now, Cecilia, come. We must call for the undertaker,” her mother-in-law said in a soothing voice she very rarely ever used.

Slowly, Cecilia allowed herself to be led out of her marital chamber, where her husband remained. As they walked through the arched doorway, she glanced over her shoulder. This was it. Their last goodbye.


Archibald Barnard sat in the drawing room of his London mansion and stared into the dancing flames of the fireplace. The snapping and crackling of the fire soothed him after his tediously long day. He was about to close his eyes when his valet, Thomas, entered.

“Excuse me, sir. I do not mean to disturb you,” he apologized as Archibald turned his head.

“Never. I was in a contemplative mood.”

It was true, he thought to himself. He had a habit of getting lost in his thoughts. It was a flaw in his character, according to his mother, who’d bemoaned his habit of spending hours inside of either a book or in his head since his boyhood days. She never quite understood her younger son the way she did her older one, Jonathan. No, Archibald mused; he certainly was not the apple of his mother’s eyes.

“You have much on your mind. Exams will start very soon, am I correct?”

“That you are, Thomas. I may engage you in assisting me. I require someone to test my Latin vocabulary.”

His valet drew his eyebrows together. “But I do not know Latin.”

He winked at his valet. Thomas had assisted him since before he moved to London; in fact, Thomas was his valet since he was a young boy. Therefore, he often regarded him more as a friend than an employee.

“I know it, Thomas. You simply have to ask. Read me the English word, and I shall spell out the Latin. I must improve. Otherwise, I shall be flung out of the Royal College of Physicians directly. A circumstance that would delight my mother, of course.”

“I should think not. Surely Lady Pembroke wishes to see you succeed.”

Archibald sighed deeply. “She’d rather see me succeed in the Navy. She never wanted me to become a physician. But I’ve never had an appetite for the sea. No, medicine is my passion, and one day, if I put my mind to it, I shall become Professor of Clinical Medicine at the college myself.”

“Of course, sir. You can and you will.”

Archibald sighed as he thought of the future. He’d worked hard these past few years at becoming a physician.

It was fortunate that his father supported him, as his mother never would. A Navy Captain was preferable to a physician; he knew this well, for she never tired of repeating this opinion to him whenever he dared venture home.

“You said a messenger came by? Was there a letter?” Archibald asked.

Thomas nodded and handed him an envelope. At home, at Barnard Hall, letters were delivered by Mr. Ponds, the family’s butler. He’d carried the letter into the room on a silver tray and presented it with a bow – a circumstance Archibald always felt excessive.

He preferred a more tranquil household and thus did not keep a butler when in residence.

He picked up the letter and groaned the moment he recognized his brother’s seal.

“Drats, here we are. Shall I make you a wager, Thomas? I wager you one full week pay that this letter is from Jonathan, telling me he intends to come to London and needs the use of the house for one of his sordid celebrations.”

He rolled his blue eyes into the back of his head and blew a blond curl out of his eyes.

“I would much rather not wager my wages away, sir. Although I am quite sure you are correct.”

“We shall soon find out.”

Archibald whistled and broke the seal. Right away, he noted that the letter was from his mother, not his brother, and as he took in the words, his blood ran cold.

“My dearest Archie,

I am writing to you with the most dreadful of news. Your brother Jonathan has left this earth this morning. He has suffered terribly for two weeks with consumption. The physician did all he could to return him to health and I was quite certain he would. He was young, and strong, as you know. I had every confidence he’d return to us just as vigorous as ever even when he was on the verge of death.

Alas, I was wrong. He passed this morning. The undertaker has been summoned and we shall hold a funeral. I trust you will be here for it. Of course, I expect you to return to Barnard Hall as quickly as you can, for you know you must.

I cannot summon the strength to write more. I shall leave you with this terrible news and pray for your swift return home.


Dead. His brother, Jonathan, was dead. Archibald could not believe the words he’d just read. No, this had to be a mistake, he was sure of it. Like his mother said, Jonathan was a healthy young man. He rode, he hunted, he was active – he could not be dead.

“Thomas, a brandy. Quickly,” he called as he placed the letter aside. His heart thumped and his breathing quickened.

Jonathan – for all the fights we had, I loved you. How can you be gone?

His valet rushed away and returned with the glass and Archibald drank it down almost in one swallow. The liquid burned his throat, but he didn’t care.

“I shall need another,” he said quietly. His hand shook as he glanced at the letter again. The news appeared quite impossible to fathom.

“Sir? Have you received bad tidings?”

He nodded slowly; his eyes fixed at the fireplace. “The worst. My brother is dead.”

Thomas gasped and took a step back.

“Heaven forfend. What has happened?”

Archibald’s nostrils flared at this question, and he scoffed. “Consumption. He suffered from consumption for months, and I was not informed. I am a physician myself, or as good as. One might think my mother would call on me. But no. I cannot believe Jonathan did not send for me.”

“I am ever so sorry, Sir. I mean, my Lord.”

Archibald frowned at this sudden, new form of address.

“My Lord?” He asked and looked up at his valet.

“Yes, my Lord. You are next in line. Your brother has passed away without an heir, thus, you are now….”

“By Jove, I am the Earl of Pembroke.” He got up and stalked to the fire, where he crumpled the letter and tossed it into the flames. “Me? An Earl. How can this be? Jonathan was born to be Earl. He was made for it. While he and I were as different as two young can be…”

Words failed him as he thought of his brother. He thought back to the day their father died, how broken he’d felt and how strong Jonathan had been. He’d guided him through the loss of their father with a strong, caring hand and together, they made it through the dark time. And now, the darkness was upon him again, but this time he had to face it alone. All alone. And with the added burden of following in his brother’s footsteps as Earl.

How was he supposed to take up his brother’s mantle? He wasn’t made to be Earl; he didn’t have the strength it required. One had to be fair, and one had to be strict when the times called for it – Jonathan had those traits, Archibald did not.

In this, they’d been of one mind. Jonathan was a born aristocrat who excelled at being the center of attention at balls, and the opera. He was well spoken and drew attention at the House of Lords. Archibald on the other hand, was gifted at medicine. He’d soaked up knowledge on how to set bones, treat illness, and he especially enjoyed discovering new ways to treat illnesses.

He wanted to help others through healing what ailed them, while Jonathan wanted to change the world -and better it – through his station.

“Shall I pack your belongings so you can return to Barnard Hall?” Thomas asked quietly, interrupting his thoughts.

Archibald looked over his shoulder. He considered the matter. There was nothing he could do at Barnard Hall. The steward, Higgins, would take control for now, and the entire household would be in mourning. Even if he left now, he’d not have anything much to do and the truth was, the thought of burying his brother mortified him so much, he could not even imagine it. The idea of seeing him dead, and watching his coffin lowered into the grave – no. He could not do it.

Besides, his studies for the year were to conclude at the end of May, three months from now. Surely, his return could wait until then. Yes, Archibald concluded.

He spun around and stared at the valet.

“Thomas, prepare my ink and quilt. I shall respond to my mother, as for packing anything – no. We shall not. Barnard Hall functioned well enough without me all these years. It certainly can sustain itself for three months.”

And with that, he marched out of his drawing room and into his study. He would do as he pleased. After all – wasn’t that what second’s sons were meant to do? Make their luck in life?

Archibald Barnard certainly intended to continue as he always had – Earl or not.


Chapter One

Three months later… 

Cecilia sat at the breakfast table, and her eyes took in the delicacies before her. Hot cross buns, marmalades, honey, butter, assorted pies, and even pastries filled the table, as they did every morning. Such riches still baffled her, even though she ought to be accustomed to them by now.

And yet, she couldn’t help but remember her younger days. She thought of the often sparse breakfast table at her own home, where her mother would cook eggs and bake bread purchased from the meager funds her father provided. How she longed to have her father join them at these meals, how she wished they were a true family, together and united. Yet, she recalled not a single time her parents ate a meal together.

She sighed deeply when her mother-in-law’s voice drifted to her ear.

“Cecilia, dear?”

She looked up and, for the first time, noticed that her mother-in-law was no longer clad in full-mourning attire. Instead, she’d switched to half-mourning. She wore a navy-colored gown with capped sleeves, showing her pale, slender arms. Her hands, wrinkled with age, were hidden in a pair of dark blue silk gloves, and on her head, she wore a blue and purple bandeau. It was too early for her to switch to half-mourning, as Jonathan’s mother, she was to remain in mourning for six full months.

Cecilia still wore her mourning attire. She knew she was expected to continue to wear black for another three months before changing to half-mourning for a further six. She didn’t mind. She found comfort in the process of donning her simple black taffeta gowns. Each had long sleeves and a bugle trim and matching gloves, shoes, and a black silk shawl. In her reticule, she carried a black fan and handkerchief to complete her attire.

“I am sorry, Lady Pembroke, I did not hear what you said. I was lost in thought.”

“I could tell,” the lady said as she pursed her lips and scrutinized her daughter-in-law. “I said Archie will arrive any day this week. I’ve had a letter and…”

“Did you say Archie will come at last? I cannot believe it has been three months since Jonathan passed, and he’s yet to show his face. Such impertinence,” Sophie complained as she entered the breakfast room in a deep purple dress. As a sibling, her mourning period lasted only three months, and she’d resumed wearing her regular gowns and adornments the moment she was able.

“Indeed, he is,” her mother confirmed, “And I agree, it was impertinent of him. I shall speak to him about his behavior when he arrives, but I did not wish to upset him by way of a letter before he gets here. Lest he refuses to come at all.”

“Surely, that would not be possible, Lady Pembroke. As heir, he must assume the title, must he not?” Cecilia asked.

She would never admit it out loud, but she still had trouble making sense of the many rules that governed the upper class. She found her role as Countess difficult to grasp, even when Jonathan was alive to guide her, but she had no help whatsoever and felt forever uneasy with him gone.

“Of course, he does; he has no choice. He is simply stubborn, as he’s always been. He must assume his title and become the new Earl of Pembroke. He will need to marry soon and produce an heir since we lack one now. I was blessed with a spare, at least.” She sighed and took a sip of her tea while Cecilia’s eyes grew wide.

The heir and the spare, she thought, were terrible ways to think of one’s children. She wondered, would Archie, the former spare, be a terrible brute when he arrived? Would he cast her out? After all, he’d refused to attend the funeral, and he hadn’t come to her and Jonathan’s wedding, either. What if he didn’t want her in his home?

She bit her bottom lip and looked from her mother-in-law to Sophie and back again. She couldn’t ask them. At least not directly.

She stirred her spoon around her hot drinking chocolate while Sophie sighed across from her.

“He will be ever so miffed that he had to stop his tedious studies. He wrote to me, saying this is upsetting his entire life because he never wanted the title. He blames Jonathan for dying without an heir.”

She stared at Cecilia, who only blinked.

“He shall have to find his way into the role. He’ll see how blessed he is to be able to leave that dreadful scholarly life he’s led behind him.”

Cecilia looked up then, seeing an opportunity to inquire about the gentleman who had the power to change everything. “I thought he enjoyed his life.”

“He made a mistake in choosing to study medicine, but he is too proud to admit it. That’s Archie. His father spoiled him, I’m afraid. My beloved husband was a good, kind gentleman, but when it came to our second son, he was much too tender-hearted.”

A flash of nostalgia and sadness appeared on the lady’s face, as it happened each time she spoke of her late husband. Cecilia never met the late Earl, but by all accounts, he was a wonderful person with a good, kind heart.

She could only hope his younger son inherited some of it and would allow her to stay.

“I plan to host a ball very soon to make sure he finds a suitable match,” Lady Pembroke announced.

Cecilia looked up in surprise. “A ball? But the household remains in mourning.”

She knew well that it was customary for the mother of a recently deceased gentleman to remain in mourning for six months at least. To see her mother-in-law already in half-mourning had thus taken her by surprise.

Just what was her mother-in-law thinking, she wondered. She had to know that Cecilia could not attend a ball, a wife was to mourn for a year, not three months. It would cause gossip, and she would find herself in the scandal sheets, that was certain.

“My dear Cecilia. I know you were not brought up to know such things, but the mourning period for widows is mostly to make sure that there is no child on the way. You see, if you were to marry again soon, and you found yourself with child, there might be confusion as to who the father is. But since Jonathan was sick for several months and the two of you unable to… Well.” She shrugged and picked up her teacup. Her piercing blue eyes burned into Cecilia’s skin from over the rim of her cup.

“Surely, nobody would think badly of us to hold a ball in honor of my late brother and in celebration of the new Earl of Pembroke,” Sophie said.

“Indeed,” the Dowager Countess said. “As for you, Cecilia, nobody will think it odd if you come and join us for a little while. You live here, after all. At least for now.”

Cecilia dropped the bun she’d just lifted to her mouth at this. For now? Surely, she didn’t want her to leave right away. Didn’t she have the right to a share of Jonathan’s estate? Or home or at least lands? Or did her mother-in-law suspect her son, Archibald the brute, would send her away, so soon after becoming a widow? She posed this question carefully to her, not wishing to offend.

“Was there no income set aside for my keep?” she asked. “Am I not allowed to stay here, as Jonathan’s widow? Is this not my home, as well?”

The older woman tilted her head to one side.

“Cecilia, my dear, you are entitled to a dower income, of course. However, you must understand that finding a new husband is the best thing for you. You’re still so young, surely you do not wish to spend the rest of your life a widow. I know you may find it strange to hear it from me, but you must trust me, moving on is going to help you heal. Besides, imagine how uncomfortable you would be once Archie takes a wife. It will be preferable to find a husband and start anew.”

“As for your title,” Sophie added. “You are not the owner of the title Dowager Countess of Pembroke. When Mother dies – if you are still unmarried then – that is when you can use the title Dowager. Until then, the honor of being called Dowager goes to her as she is your senior. You are a Dowager because your husband is dead, but while Mother lives, you do not go by that title. There can be two Dowagers. But only one can be addressed as such, these are the ways our society is, complicated for someone of low birth, I know…”

Cecilia swallowed as her lips parted. She felt rather foolish as she listened to her husband’s family explain the rules of the high society. She thought back to the days in her father’s company and realized he’d never taught her about the upper class because he didn’t expect her to marry into it. What would he say if he saw her now? Cecilia, the secret daughter that was born out of wedlock, the widow of an Earl?

“What will my title be, exactly?”

Her mother-in-law sighed deeply and shook her head. “My dear, after a year of marriage, you ought to know this. Once you re-enter society, you will be known as Cecilia, the Countess of Pembroke. I know it is confusing, however, it will not be a problem at all for you shall have a new husband very soon and a new title. Perhaps an even grander one.”

She licked her lips. The way her tongue darted out of her mouth reminded Cecilia of a serpent. “Who knows, you might even improve your station once more.”

“Cecilia, you look ever so sullen. I know you miss Jonathan, as do we all but Mother is right. You are still young, especially for a widow. You need not worry about what Archie thinks or does. He will be rather busy with his own concerns anyhow when he arrives. He’ll hardly even notice you,” Sophie said as if it was meant to console her.

“Indeed. And I am afraid I will not have much time to tend to you either, dear. I will have to focus all my energy on Archie to make sure he follows his father and brother’s path. Not an easy feat for someone who is so very contrary by nature.”

She shook her head and picked up the Morning Gazette, indicating the conversation was over. However, just as Cecilia dabbed the corners of her lips and pushed the chair back to excuse herself, her mother-in-law spoke up again.

“Why, see? Right here is an eligible gentleman in need of a wife. The Duke of Hereford. His betrothal to Lady Helena was just broken. It says right here in the scandal sheet.” She blinked at Cecilia. “Dear. There is nothing better to mend a broken heart than to fill it with love for another. And quickly.”

Cecilia gave a slight nod and rose.

“I thank you for your wise counsel, Lady Pembroke. If you will excuse me, I’d like to take some air and read my novel in the garden.”

Thus, she departed, leaving the two ladies who were meant to be her family behind.


“I do not understand why she is so eager to see me married again,” she said a few hours later as she sat in the garden. The branches of her favorite ash tree provided much-needed shade against the blistering hot sun. It was August now, and the summer sun warmed her skin so much she feared she might soon take a tan, despite the shade.

“I think her Ladyship only wishes to be helpful. You have been sullen since Lord Pembroke passed away. Of course, that is only natural as he was your husband.”

Her lady’s maid, Maggie, sat beside her and waved a fan in her direction to cool her.

“It is not necessary; I can fan myself, Maggie,” she said in her gentlest tone. She did not like to offend the servants who only wanted to help, but at the same time, she found it difficult to be treated with such reverence.

“If I may say so, you have never truly taken to the role of Countess,” Maggie replied, a small smile played around her thin lips. She’d known Maggie for more than ten years. Before she became Jonathan’s wife, she and Maggie had been friends and worked alongside each other in her mother’s shop. After the wedding, she’d taken Maggie on as a lady’s maid – she needed an ally in this household full of aristocrats.

Not a day went by that she didn’t say a grateful prayer for her friend’s company.

“I do not know, but I know her ideas are rather strange. Holding a ball where I might meet a match while I am in mourning is unheard of. She really does want me gone as soon as possible.”

“It might not be the worst thing to start over elsewhere. Perhaps you can find a kind man, one you might learn to love? I know it is unusual, the way the Countess goes about the business, but perhaps it will be for the best.”

“Perhaps. Have you found out anything about Archibald? I believe in all the time I’ve known Jonathan, he’s uttered but three sentences about his brother, and none of them good.”

Her friend grimaced. “I have asked the other servants, but it seems nobody knows him well. He departed years ago, first to travel the world, and then he joined the Royal College of Physicians in London. It seems he only sees the family when they go to London.”

This did not soothe Cecilia. She’d hoped for positive news, something to take away her perception that this mysterious brother was not the brute she expected.

Alas, Maggie’s words did not provide the desired comfort; the opposite was true. She gave a deep sigh and picked up her book again. Reading, she found, was the only way she could soothe her troubled mind. And today, it was more troubled than ever.

As Maggie picked up her own book and silence fell between them, Cecilia glanced up at the sky. In the distance, the fluffy white clouds made way for dark ones. She sighed but shook her head. She had time; yes, she would continue with her reading, for often, these rainclouds passed them by.

It was ironic, she surmised, that she should find herself lifted out of a commoner’s life and into the life of a well-respected lady of the ton, only to find herself standing with nothing a year later. Life, she concluded, was not fair. But there was no use in complaining, for there was nothing she could do but throw herself at the mercy of this unknown gentleman who’d soon come to take her husband’s place.


Chapter Two

Archibald stepped out of the carriage just as thunder boomed above him and he looked up at the sky. Droplets of rain fell on his skin, and he sighed.

What a welcome home, he thought to himself. These past few months had been difficult for him, the death of his brother had left its mark on his heart. It was strange, the two never conversed much throughout the year and only saw one another when Jonathan needed the London townhouse.

As such, his death should not have changed much. Yet, it somehow changed everything. Waking up in the morning with the knowledge that he could not call on his older brother or write to him whenever the fancy struck him shook him.

Not being able to speak to him was entirely different than choosing not to do so. Even now, three months later, he could not quite comprehend that he now lived in a world where his brother no longer existed.

Now, as he stood before his childhood home, he craned his neck to take it in. It was a beautiful home that once upon a time housed a monastery. The large, arched windows gave a view of the entire estate. He remembered standing at them with Jonathan and Sophie as they watched their father ride out into the distance as soon as the sun came up. Now, this was to be his home again.

“My Lord,” Thomas said beside him, drawing him from his thoughts. “Shall I announce our arrival? We have made good time and I am sure we are not yet expected.”

Archie took a deep breath. “I suppose we ought. I can’t deny it, Thomas. The thought of entering into this home and knowing my brother will not rush forth to greet me makes me feel quite ill.”

The valet smiled at him, a sadness in his kind eyes. “I understand. Perhaps this feeling will ease with time.”

He shrugged, “Perhaps. One can only hope. But wait, I have forgotten my book.”

He turned and stepped back into the carriage as the rain intensified outside. He frowned and canvassed the interior for his novel when he spotted it on the floor. With a sigh, he bent forward and lifted it, the rain drummed against the roof of the carriage.

“Goodness, Thomas,” he called out. “I’d forgotten how quickly a drizzle turns into a downpour here. Fetch me an umbrella, would you? The butler is sure to have one. You can announce us at the same time.”

“Of course, my Lord.” Thomas rushed to the front door as Archibald sought refuge in the carriage. Ordinarily, he would have dashed across the driveway, and risked getting soaked, but since this was to be the first time he laid eyes on his mother in quite some time, he didn’t think presenting himself in such a state was proper. She was sure to still hold a grudge because he’d missed the funeral – quite on purpose of course.

He took a breath and waited for the arrival of the umbrella when suddenly, from the small garden to the right of the front door, a loud scream sounded out. He frowned and craned his neck to see better.

“By Jove,” he muttered. There, in the distance, was a lady laying on the ground, her dark dress stood out against the vivid green grass. He leaned forward to see better and found with horror that she was hunched over, clutching her leg.

Without thinking, Archibald jumped out of the safety of his carriage and ran through the rain toward the garden.

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  • A touching and emotional start to this story. The characters and storyline had me turning pages waiting to see what happens next. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  • Liked the story so far. Both Archibald and Cecilia are grieving but no one really knows how badly.
    Can hardly wait to read the rest

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