About the book

Desire doesn’t take no for an answer…

After the death of her parents, Lady Juliet Andrews has been living in abject poverty. And while her only way out is to marry above her station, true love is what she desires. Until she is caught in a compromising situation.

When Leonard Whitfield, the Marquess of Cunningham, is caught alone with Lady Juliet while being betrothed to another, the scandal rocks London. However, the fire she ignites inside him makes the prospect of salvaging her honor all the more intoxicating.

After a terrible accident costs Leonard his memory, Juliet is determined to help him remember the passion they shared. However, a single letter plants the seeds of doubt in his mind and threatens their very own lives: a sinister letter that promises death written in Juliet’s own hand...

Chapter One


Juliet sighed as she leaned one elbow on the sill of the window in her drawing room. It was a beautiful day heralding the beginning of spring and golden light bathed her garden as butterflies drifted sweetly by, but she was feeling unsettled and unsatisfied.

It was the start of the Season, and all across London ladies her age were busy with plans, invitations, and newly tailored dresses and costumes. And yet, here Juliet sat, out in the country and on her own.

She wasn’t a silly lady, but she did like to daydream about the balls, the tea parties, the operas and shows that other girls aged twenty would be filling their social calendars with. What young lady wouldn’t think with envy of those rows of material in dressmakers’ shops, waiting to be designed and fitted perfectly to her frame and sure to draw the eye of eligible men?

Juliet closed her eyes and saw herself wreathed in silk, green so that it could bring out her hazel eyes, descending a grand staircase toward a waiting elbow attached to a handsome man who could make her laugh as he escorted her into a lavishly decorated ballroom. She sighed.

The truth was that there would be no balls for her this Season, and maybe not the next either. She and Felix, her brother, had been lucky to have been left with Havordshire Cottage and he the title after their parents had died. Otherwise, there was no bottom to where they could have ended up.

She knew they were lucky. Their home, while small and tucked away miles from the hustle and bustle of London, was charming. There was land for her to tend to a garden, and the few small family heirlooms they hadn’t had to sell off to pay taxes lined the walls.

The two siblings did what they had to in order to scrape by. Felix Andrews, the Baronet of Havordshire was wonderful at managing the meager money they had, and her garden got them through the lean months with a supplement of fresh fruits and vegetables. They got by. But still...

If only Lady Burnham wasn’t away. She always takes care of me. Why does she have to be traveling at the start of the Season?

Lady Burnham was Juliet’s late mother’s best friend. A highly respected lady, she could have helped her gain entry to many of the Season’s events. Juliet also missed Lady Burnham for her company, she was always able to share a story about her mother that she had never heard before.

The lady had never had children of her own, and her husband had died years before, so she was alone in the eyes of the ton. However, she also was beloved across the ton for her endearing kindness and selflessness; her ability to solve any problem with a kind word and a smile.

Juliet was interrupted from her thoughts by a flounce of fabric settling beside her.

“Just what are you doing on this fine day, mooning out the window?” Her best friend, Miss Sarah Marlow, sister to the Baron of Hookley, was at her side, a mischievous glint in her eye.

“Hardly mooning,” Juliet scoffed. “I’m enjoying the view.”

“If you were truly enjoying the view, you would have noticed me pass by, wouldn’t you? You were miles away, Jules,” Sarah said, smoothing out the fabric of her gloves.

“It’s the start of the Season, you know. I suppose I just wish we were in London right now, talking about the gentlemen we would be meeting at this evening’s ball.” She prepared herself for Sarah to tease her, but was surprised by her answer.

“I’m feeling the same way, actually.” Sarah confided. “It’s hard to be stuck out here in the country when we should be dancing our feet off in London.”

“You’re right.” Juliet said with a sigh.

“Unfortunately, that is why we will likely end up married to someone not of our choosing. No gentlemen can fall in love with us here in your drawing room. My parents will find me someone with a grander title, but he’ll be monstrously old. And Felix is likely to match you with the same.”

Juliet giggled. “Never!”

Sarah nodded solemnly. “We’ll hope for an Earl. Maybe even a Marquess or a Duke, but of course if we reach that high, they are sure to be very, very old.”

“Stop it!”

“Anytime we speak with our husbands, we will have to remember to try and see them as if they were young and strong, but in our heads, we’ll be thinking, old crumplebottom, whenever they speak to us.”

Juliet and Sarah dissolved into laughter, arms wrapped around each other tightly.

“Really, though, Sarah,” Juliet said when they had finally regained their composure. “What kind of man would you like to marry?”

“So we are pretending that we have a choice, then?” Sarah asked archly. “Fine, fine. I suppose, and I haven’t thought about it much,” she added in a way that immediately rang untrue, “but I don’t much care for the title, or the estate, or the money. I want to marry for love. Someone kind and honorable, with dark curls and bright green eyes…” she trailed off, noticing Juliet’s look. “Not that I’ve given it much thought at all,” she added quickly.

“Clearly not,” Juliet said with a smile.

“What about you then? Tell me about your dream man.” Sarah leaned back and crossed her arms.

“Well, not that I’ve thought about it,” she couldn’t resist saying. “But a man who could make me laugh, who stood up for what was right, and who was unafraid of the truth. Those are the qualities that I would hope for my husband to have. Someone my father would have liked.” she said sadly. “And like you, I don’t care one whit for title or land. Felix and I have very little and we’re happy enough.”

“But I wouldn’t mind a little more money.” Sarah added for Juliet, and the two laughed.

“Why not?” she agreed.

Footsteps crossed the hall and Felix entered the drawing room. “What has you two ladies in such high spirits today? I could hear you chirping like birds from the stable.” He inclined his head in greeting to their guest. “Miss Marlow.”

“Sir Felix,” Sarah responded, her eyes bright. “We were only discussing very serious, lady-like matters a gentleman like you could not hope to understand.”

Felix laughed and ruffled a hand through his dark brown curls, sending a small cloud of stable dust flying. “My apologies, I’m not fit for company at the moment,” he said with a flush that made his green eyes brighter. “And aren’t you two going to be late for the Baron’s birthday party?”

The two ladies looked at the clock on the mantle and jumped up.

“You’re right! We have to get going. Are you walking with us?”

“Lord Stanton is picking me up in his new carriage. I would invite you two to join us, but he is a ghastly driver and I can’t risk your lives.” Felix said with a smile.

Juliet and Sarah stood and smoothed their skirts. “We’ll just be going, then. See you there, Felix.”

“Be careful, there will be people arriving from the city so watch out for carriages. And be sure and take Clarissa with you.”

Juliet and Felix could only afford to employ two household staff members, a cook and a lady’s maid, Clarissa. The cost of a lady’s maid was more than what they could really afford, but it was one of the expenses that was necessary if Juliet were ever to be able to marry well.

The two were holding onto respectability by a thread, with a small title and small piece of land, which made it even more important that they did what they could to represent a proper image to the ton. Clarissa was a properly trained lady’s maid of such high experience and recommendation that she always seemed to be looking down her nose at the informal, low-titled siblings, who had only ended up with them due to a sorry twist of fate on her end.

Juliet did not know the full story, only that she had had some issue arise with her former employer and had ended up needing a position quickly. Felix had snapped her up at once, seeing it as an opportunity to help his sister work toward a fruitful marriage.

Sarah wrinkled her nose as they walked to the front door. “Clarissa makes me feel like I’m breaking the rules of polite society every time I laugh.”

“She’s not so bad.” Juliet defended, although she had noticed the faces Clarissa tended to make when Sarah made jokes. No doubt in Clarissa’s eyes, it was frowned upon for ladies to joke. Juliet herself had been politely reprimanded many times by Clarissa on a diverse variety of subjects.

Clarissa was waiting at the door with Sarah’s lady maid, the much-friendlier Elizabeth. Clarissa’s shining hair was tucked perfectly away, not one strand out of place.

“You had better hurry and change, Miss,” Clarissa said. “We shall be late if we do not leave soon.”

Juliet bit back a laugh. “I’m ready to go now, thank you, Clarissa.”

Clarissa’s eyes widened just a fraction as she looked Juliet up and down, but said nothing. When she turned to open the door, Sarah shot Juliet a look, causing a little snort to force itself out.

“Pardon me,” Juliet said, raising a hand to cover her mouth, when Clarissa turned to look at the noise. “A small cough.”

Clarissa looked skeptical, but said nothing. The four stepped out into the warm sunshine to begin the walk to Camden Manor.

***

Leonard Whitfield, Marquess of Cunningham, cursed as he navigated his horse through the countryside.

Why didn’t I ask Charles for directions to this blasted party before leaving London?

He blamed Charles for not only getting him lost in the middle of dusty nowhere, but also for the fact that he was even going to this party to begin with. Philip Winston, the Baron of Camden, was their friend from school, but had really been more of Charles’ friend than Leonard’s.

Why couldn’t Charles have waited for me to leave the city?

Leonard had been finishing up one last piece of estate and had only left about an hour after Charles.

“Blasted heat,” he muttered, pulling at his cravat. It was not a hot day, but he had been riding down roads without shade for too long. He was hot, tired, and dusty, and there was no end in sight.

 Why didn’t I just take my carriage?

He could have been relaxing while the coachman figured out where to go. But it had been a beautiful day and he had been too busy as of late, leaving him little time for fresh air or exercise. Philip’s home was just a few miles outside of London, it had seemed like the perfect opportunity to ride.

He pulled the reins, slowing his horse to a walk. He leaned forward and patted her neck. “Easy girl,” he soothed. He knew Beauty was tired and hot as well. Maybe it was time to give up on the whole thing and head back home. The thought of finding his way all the way back his townhome in London where he had been spending most of his time recently and waiting that long to have a drink of water, made him grimace.

But it seemed there was no other choice. He had just began to turn Beauty around when he heard the tinkle of laughter from somewhere up ahead. Beauty must have heard it too, as she stopped with her ears pricked forward.

“Could we have stumbled upon salvation?” Leonard mused aloud. He tapped his heels and Beauty obliged, trotting toward the sound they had heard.

 

Chapter Two


He squinted against the sun and saw something up ahead. When he had traveled a few paces more, the shapes began to distinguish themselves. Four ladies, by the look of it. He heard the laugh again, and he couldn’t help but smile a little in response. Ladies of the ton were rarely found laughing like that, certainly not loudly enough to be heard before they could even be seen.

As he got closer, he saw that laughter came from a petite lady, her porcelain skin bright in the midday sun, evenly shaded beneath her bonnet and parasol. He couldn’t help but notice the sweet curves of her shape as he rode up.

“Excuse me, ladies,” he called as he approached. The four stopped and turned toward him as he pulled Beauty to a halt. There were two ladies, dressed for an event, with their maids in step behind.

Even if he hadn’t already been drawn by her laugh, he would have been speechless at the sight of the lady in front of him. Her face was a rose brought to life, the colors of her cheeks the exact shade of those in his garden, her lips the perfect shape of a rosebud. Her eyes, however, were something else entirely. An eye-catching  hazel, the amber brown was lit with soft touches of emerald green.

For the first time in years, the urge to paint struck him so forcefully that his fingers flexed on their own, feeling the shape of the brush between his fingers as he attempted to recreate that once-in-a-lifetime color with his palette.

“How can we help you?” prompted the lady beside the lady with hazel eyes, after a moment of silence had passed.

Leonard shook his head. “Apologies, the heat,” he gestured vaguely at the weather, but still unable to take his eyes off of the lady in front of him. Her face was made for the canvas.

She’s the most beautiful lady I have ever seen.

Hazel Eyes ducked her head, her already pink cheeks deepening in color.

He dismounted from Beauty and stepped closer. “Could you possibly give me directions to Camden Manor? I seem to have lost my way,” he said ruefully.

“You’re quite close,” the lady responded. “In fact, all you have to do now is continue straight ahead. You will come to a large oak tree at a fork before long, bear left and you will run straight into Lord Camden’s Manor.”

Leonard smiled. “I am blessed to have come across you. I had almost given up hope. I don’t get out of London often, I’m afraid.”

“We are happy to be of service,” the same lady replied.

“I am very grateful,” Leonard said, but made no move to leave. What was it about this lady that bewitched him? He took another step toward her.  He wanted to introduce himself, to learn her name, but he knew that it was quite a few notches below proper to be conversing with two ladies in the middle of the road. He put a foot in Beauty’s stirrup and hoisted himself into the saddle.

“I thank you for your assistance, ladies,” he said to the two and their maids, before turning to look at the beautiful stranger in the eye. “I hope to see you again.”

He clicked and Beauty began to walk down the road, waiting until he was far enough ahead of the group that they would not be bathed in dust before urging her into a trot.

As soon as the gentleman had made it a few paces down the road, Sarah rounded on her. “What was all that, then?” she demanded.

Juliet shook her head. “I don’t know, I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

“I understand that! But it seemed like he was ready to get to know you!”

“You’re being silly,” Juliet deflected.

“I am absolutely not being silly! He couldn’t take his eyes off of you.”

“He was awfully handsome, wasn’t he?” Juliet said with a blush.

Sarah pressed the back of her gloved hand to her eyes. “So striking! That black hair!”

“Did you see how blue his eyes were as well?”

“Why, isn’t this the man of your dreams come trotting by?”

“Such a beautiful mare as well. I’ve never seen such a beautiful honey color on a horse.” she marveled.

 I can’t wait to get to the party.


Chapter Three


Camden Manor was impressive, set far back among the trees of the countryside, with a long driveway edged by a perfectly manicured lawn. As the ladies followed the driveway to the empty front door, the signs of merriment drifted across the lawn. Carriages and single horses lined the top of the driveway, making it clear that this would be a well-attended event.

Juliet, who just this morning had hoped that would be the case, felt her heart sink some at the sight. She couldn’t help but worry she wouldn’t be able to find the blue-eyed gentleman among the crowd.

“We will find him, don’t you worry!” Sarah linked her arm with Juliet’s. “Let’s freshen up and get the dust of the road off and then we will look together. Maybe he has an equally handsome brother!” she added brightly as they ascended the steps into the house.

The ladies freshened up quickly, Clarissa tutting at the state of Juliet’s hair and insisting it be redone, and then they were able to join the crowd.

Beautifully dressed Londoners milled through the manor’s grand ballroom. At the far corner, a quartet played an upbeat tune Juliet had never heard before. She looked longingly at the brightly colored afternoon dresses, some with trains that swished gently through the crowd behind, catching the attention of others around.

She pulled at the neckline of her one afternoon dress, trimmed richly and cut low to hide the threadbare neckline. Clarissa may have her nose permanently up in the air, but she was a genius when it came to making old dresses look new…or at least not so very old.

“Why, there’s your gentleman right there! Talking to John!” Sarah said excitedly, pointing out her brother, John Marlow, across the room. “Let’s go, he’ll introduce us properly,” she began to drag Juliet in that direction. “I do hope he doesn’t let on that he met us in the street, John will tell Mother and she will never let me live it down.”

“Should we really be going over there? It’s awfully forward to just barge in—” Juliet began.

“Juliet, don’t be silly, he’s talking to my brother!” As they got closer to the two gentlemen, Sarah waved. “Brother, your favorite Sister has arrived!”

John and the gentleman turned, and Juliet thought she saw him smile at the sight of her approaching. She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and smiled shyly.

“Ah, my dear Sister is here at last.” John said. “Miss Juliet, I hope you are well?”

“Very well, Sir John, thank you. Always nice to see you,” Juliet replied.

“Lord Cunningham, this is my younger sister, Miss Sarah Marlow, and her friend, Miss Juliet Andrews. Don’t worry if you get the two mixed up, they are together so often sometimes I find myself wondering which is which!” John said with a hearty laugh. He turned back to the ladies. “Sister, Miss Andrews, this is a new friend of mine, Leonard Whitfield, Marquess of Cunningham. He’s an old school chum of Lord Camden.”

The Marquess took Juliet’s hand and bowed low over it. “I don’t believe I could ever make that mistake,” he said, for her ears alone.

“Delighted,” he said to Sarah, taking her hand as well. 

“If you would excuse me, Marlow, I would like to see if the lady would care to dance,” he said, reaching a hand out to Juliet.

“I would,” she said simply. Ignoring Sarah goggling at her, Juliet allowed the tall Lord Cunningham to lead her out to the dance floor, where the orchestra was playing a classic quadrille. He placed a hand at the middle of her back, taking hers with the other and they began to follow the age-old steps.

“I was hoping to see you again,” he said, his eyes staring deeply into hers as they stepped and turned on the floor.

“Oh?”

“Tell me more about you,” he said, his voice low and captivating. The heat of his hand at her back made a blush bloom on her cheeks.

“What is there to tell?”

“How about your family?”

“Our parents died seven years ago. A carriage accident. My brother has been wonderful, I’m lucky to have him.” This was her rote response to questions about her family. Simple and matter-of-fact, it could be counted on to keep the conversation from turning too awkward.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” his voice was gentle as he steered her expertly around the dance floor. “I lost my Mother when I was young as well. The world is very cold without a mother.”

She raised her eyes to his, surprised. In her experience, people usually reacted to her background in one of two ways. First, they stuttered awkwardly and fumbled an apology that never sounded authentic because how could they be sorry when they weren’t to blame?

Second, and this was her least favorite, they peppered her with questions, seeking all the gory details. How had they died exactly? Did they both die at the same time? Was the coachman at fault or was it a problem with the horse? Who had broken the news? To these people, she did her best to issue an apology and excuse herself as quickly as possible.

Never had someone so succinctly stated how it truly felt.

He’s right. The world is awfully cold without a mother.

“Thank you,” she said, her tone heartfelt. “You’re right about that.”

The song ended, leaving the two standing close together on the dance floor, still touching but no longer dancing, eyes drinking the other in.

“Cunningham!” said a voice from behind Juliet, making her jump. He dropped her hand and reached out to clap the gentleman who had approached on the shoulder.

“Lord Durby, there you are. I was beginning to think you had stranded me here,” he said with a laugh.

“Never. Lord Camden and I were just headed to his study for a cigar. Care to come along?”

“Right behind you,” he said, as the gentleman walked toward the double doors. He turned to Juliet. “I would like to spend more time with you after, if you agree.”

“I would like that,” she said.

“Very well. I’ll find you,” he said, lips quirking up in a smile, and he disappeared into the crowd.

Juliet raised the back of her hand to her cheek, feeling a little dizzy. In his arms, she had felt so safe. His blue eyes arrested her, and now that he was gone, she felt a longing for him to be back at her side. She wasn’t left alone to ponder this for long.

“That was some dancing,” Sarah said, appearing in front of her.

“Sarah, he’s so wonderful,” Juliet said dreamily. “He said he’s going to come back to find me after he meets with his friends for a while.”

“Come on then,” Sarah said, tugging her hand. “We can’t have you waiting exactly in the spot he left you watching for him, he’ll run in the opposite direction. Let’s go have fun, so he can see for himself how wonderful you are.”

***

He had spent more time in Philip’s study than he’d meant to. The cigars were excellent, and the room had been crowded with old school friends he hadn’t seen in years. Charles had them all roaring with laughter talking about the schoolboy pranks they had played, and Philip had passed around glasses of quality scotch. All in all, it had been a wonderful ball so far.

Still, he was eager to get back to the ballroom and spend more time with Miss Andrews. He wanted to dance with her once more, just to be near her. She had seemed to fit him perfectly, the top of her head just barely reaching his collarbone, She had felt light on her feet and soft in his arms.

“What’s your hurry?” Charles called out after him as he walked quickly down the hall, following the sounds of music and people talking. Leonard heard him, but didn’t bother to answer in his haste to return to the ball.

He scanned the crowd, searching for those rosy cheeks. She was so small, he was worried he would never be able to find her. Sighing in frustration, he cut through the crowds. It had gotten more crowded, and more people were dancing. Servants were passing out trays of small snacks. He grabbed one by the shoulder as he passed.

“Excuse me, have you seen Miss Juliet Andrews?”

The man sniffed. “I am sorry, but I do not know the name of everyone here.” He tried to continue on his way, but Leonard tightened his grip.

“Small lady, brown hair, incredible hazel eyes. They’re soft brown with green and she was wearing…” he trailed off at the look on the man’s face of utter bewilderment, “never mind, carry on then,” he muttered.

He spent a few more minutes searching the crowd, but came up empty. He was worried she had already left.

What am I doing?

 He had already begun speaking with the Earl of Thistleton about a match between himself and the gentleman’s daughter, Lady Catherine. He had known Lady Catherine nearly all of his life. She was a good lady. Sweet and thoughtful, she would make a good wife, especially for a man in his position. A Marquess needed a wife whose name commanded respect and who was at ease moving around in the rule-laden circles of the ton. It was a good match, one his father had quickly approved of.

Leonard was fairly young for a Marquess, and to be running the affairs of a vast estate. The Whitfield family had a large winery, a shipping company, landed properties and estates. He was a very busy man, with very little time to play and meet potential matches.

Catherine was the safe bet. He enjoyed her company and was sure that she would do his family proud at his side as his wife. They were not yet officially engaged, but her father had agreed to the marriage, so it would not be long before they made it official.

As he wandered through the ballroom, he found that he was having trouble picturing his future wife’s face. He had known her for all of his life, her face should be nearly as familiar to him as that of his sister’s, but when he tried to picture her, all he could see were a pair of bright, curious hazel eyes.

He decided the heat and stuffiness of the room was to blame and cut through the people toward the balcony doors, opened to catch the breeze. He needed some fresh air, that was all. The lady had clearly already left, and it was improbable that they would meet again. The sister of a baronet was unlikely to appear at the same parties as a marquess very often. He would take a few moments on the balcony to collect himself and then head toward home. He had an early start the next morning, managing the inventory records for the vineyard.

He pushed open the double doors and slipped outside, closing them quietly behind him, doing his best not to attract any notice. The last thing he needed was a pushy mother of a single daughter, hoping to catch him alone and force her daughter on him.

He walked to the railing and took a deep breath of the cool evening air. Already his head was feeling clearer.

“Lord Cunningham,” a soft voice said in the darkness, startling him.

 “Miss Andrews,” he said. “What are you doing out here?”

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  • Looking forward to reading the rest of this intriguing story. Hope Juliet and Lord Cunningham eventually get together.

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