An excerpt from the third in the Hanover Square trilogy.
From Anne Herries and Mills & Boon.
The cover is the second in the series currently on sale at amazon.
After Susannah left them to settle in, Amelia walked to the window and looked out. Her view was of the lake and park, and, as she watched for a moment, she saw three horsemen canter to a halt and dismount. They had obviously been out riding together for pleasure and were in high good humour. Her breath caught in her throat as she heard laughter and caught sight of one familiar face. So Gerard was to be one of the guests this Christmas!
Amelia realised that she had been hoping for it, her heart beginning to thump with excitement. Oh, how foolish she was! Just because Gerard was here did not mean that he would speak of marriage. Why should he indeed? Had he wished to he had had ample opportunity to do so before this…
She turned away to glance in the mirror. She was still attractive but she was no longer a young girl. It was quite ridiculous to fancy herself in love; the time for such things had passed her by. The most she could hope for now would be a marriage of convenience, as Emily had suggested on the way to Pendleton. If perhaps Gerard were looking for a mother for his daughter he might consider Amelia a suitable choice…
Amelia shook her head, dismissing her thoughts as a flight of fancy. There were a dozen young and beautiful girls Gerard might think of taking as his wife. Why should he look at a woman of her age? She had just turned eight and twenty. Besides, he was probably still grieving for the wife he had lost. Why had he married only a few months after their parting? Her brother Michael had behaved disgracefully to Gerard, of course, but why had he not told Amelia? She would have run away with him had he asked her then.
If he had ever loved her, his love had faded and died. He had seemed interested in Amelia the summer before last but the moment had passed. He had gone to France and when he returned he had still not spoken. There was no reason to suppose he would now.
She must not spend her time dreaming of something that would never happen!
Her thoughts turned to her companion. She knew that this time of year was often sad for Emily, because of her secret sorrow. None of their friends knew of Emily’s secret, but she had told Amelia the truth when they first met. In doing so she had risked losing the chance of a good position for many would have turned her away. Amelia had admired her honesty. She had done everything she could to make Emily forget the past, but nothing could take away the ache Emily carried inside.
Amelia was thoughtful as she prepared to go downstairs. She was almost sure that Mr Toby Sinclair would be a guest at Pendleton that Christmas. He had paid Emily some attention earlier in the year but nothing had come of it. If he were to offer for her…but nothing was certain. Amelia would not put the idea into her companion’s mind but if it happened she would be delighted.
If it did not perhaps there was something she might be able to do to help the girl she had come to love almost as a sister.
Amelia was glad that she had seen Gerard from her window; the knowledge that he was here at Pendleton made it possible for her to meet him without that element of surprise she might otherwise have felt. She was able to greet him in the drawing room later that evening with perfect serenity.
‘How nice to see you here, sir,’ she said, offering her hand and giving no sign that her heart was beating rather too fast. ‘People are arriving all the time. I think Susannah will have a great many guests this Christmas.’
‘Yes, I imagine she will,’ Gerard agreed. He held her hand briefly. ‘How are you, Miss Royston? I trust you have no further trouble since I last saw you?’
‘None at all, sir – except for a raid by some foxes on our hen houses. But I know you did not mean that,’ Amelia laughed softly. ‘You are referring to the abduction attempt made the summer before last when we were all here together I imagine?’
‘Yes, I was. I am glad nothing more has happened to disturb your peace.’ He looked at her thoughtfully. ‘I am glad that you are here this Christmas. I was hoping that I might have a private conversation with you concerning my daughter? I would rather like your advice.’
‘I should be delighted to help you if I am able.’ As he smiled, Amelia’s heart stopped for one moment, and then raced on madly. ‘Of course, my experience with children is limited to my orphans and the children of friends – but I am fond of them.’
‘It is your feeling as a woman of compassion that I need,’ Gerard assured her. One of the other guests was headed towards them; from her manner and gestures she was clearly intent on speaking with Amelia. ‘This is not the time, however – perhaps tomorrow we might take a walk in the gardens?’
‘Yes, certainly,’ Amelia agreed. Her smile and quiet manner continued undisturbed. Gerard had asked for help with his daughter and she was quite willing to give it if she could, even if she could not help wishing that his request to walk with her had stemmed from a very different desire. Seeing him, being close to him, had aroused feelings that were not appropriate for a woman who was unlikely to marry. She closed her mind to the tantalising visions of herself in his arms…his bed. That way lay disaster and heartbreak! She must remember her dignity at all times. As a young woman she had not hesitated to confess her love, but things were different now. ‘I am available to you at any time, my lord.’
‘Do you not think we could be Gerard and Amelia?’ he asked. ‘We are friends of some long standing I think?’
‘Yes, indeed we are,’ Amelia agreed. For a moment the look in his eyes was so intent that she could not breathe. He should not look at her so if he wanted nothing more than friendship.
Their conversation was ended as they were drawn into the company. Susannah’s guests were of all ages and included some young people, who had been allowed to come down to dinner because it was nearly Christmas. The eclectic mix of young and old, Harry’s relatives and friends of the couple, made for a lively evening. The younger members were sent to bed after their meal, but the older guests continued in their merry way until long past midnight.
It was not until the moment that she had decided to retire that Gerard approached Amelia once more.
‘Shall we say ten o’clock for our walk?’ he asked. ‘If that is not too early for you?’
‘I am always an early riser.’
‘You must wrap up well for I think it may be a cold morning.’
‘I enjoy walking in any kind of weather, except a downpour,’ Amelia assured him.
Their arrangements made, Amelia went upstairs to the apartment she shared with Emily. She saw that Emily was looking thoughtful and asked her if she had enjoyed the evening.
‘You did not find the young company too much, dearest?’
‘It was a delightful evening,’ Emily assured her. ‘Mr Sinclair and I joined in a guessing game with some of the young people at the dinner table. I do not know when I have had such fun…’ A wistful expression came to her eyes. ‘I was an only child and I doubt I shall have…’ She blinked hard, as if to stop herself crying. ‘I am certain Mr Sinclair means to make me an offer, Amelia. What shall I do?’
‘I believe you should tell him the truth. He will keep your confidence for Toby Sinclair is a true gentleman. If he still wishes for the marriage he will make it clear to you.’
‘And if he does not?’ Emily lifted her head as if to seek guidance and then nodded as she answered her own question. ‘I must bear it. You are quite right, Amelia. I cannot be less than truthful, though it may make things awkward for the rest of our stay here.’
‘Perhaps if you could prevent him speaking for a few days, and then tell him just before we leave. If he needs time to consider his feelings, he would have his chance before following us to Coleridge.’
‘You are so wise and sensible,’ Emily said and looked relieved. ‘I shall do my best to avoid being alone with him until the day before we leave.’
‘Try not to brood on the outcome.’ Amelia kissed her cheek. ‘I believe it may all turn out better than you imagine, dearest.’
Having done her best to reassure her friend, Amelia went to her own room. She dismissed her maid as soon as the girl had undone the little hooks at the back of her gown, preferring to be alone with her thoughts. It was easier to settle Emily’s doubts than her own, for she had no doubt that Toby Sinclair was deeply in love. It was more difficult to understand Gerard Ravenshead’s feelings.
Sometimes his look seemed to indicate that he felt a strong emotion for her, but at others his expression was brooding and remote. They were friends but was that all? Amelia was afraid that her chance of a happy marriage had long since passed. Gerard had once felt love for her, but these days it seemed that he thought of her as a mature lady in whom he might confide his worries concerning his daughter. He could have no idea of the passionate and improper thoughts his nearness aroused in her. She must be careful to conceal her feelings for otherwise there might be some embarrassment.
‘No! No Lisette…I beg you…do not do it…forgive me…’ Gerard Ravenshead’s arm twitched, his head moving from side to side as he sat in the deep wing chair in the library at Pendleton. He was dreaming… a dream he had had too many times before. ‘No, I say! Stop…the blood…the blood…’ He screamed out and woke to find himself in a room where the fire had gone cold and the candles burned out.
Unable to sleep, he had dressed and come down to read for a while and fallen into a fitful sleep. He hoped that his nightmare had woken no one. Having gone for some months without one, he had hoped they were finished but something had brought it all back to him.
Gerard rose from the chair and walked over to the window, gazing out as the light strengthened. It was dawn and another night had gone.
The library was an impressive, long room with glass-fronted bookcases on three walls, a magnificent desk, occasional tables and comfortable chairs - and three sets of French windows to let in maximum light. Gerard was an avid reader and, when at home in his house in Hanover Square, often sat late into the night reading rather than retiring to his bedchamber, where he found it impossible to sleep. Indeed, he could hardly remember a night when he had slept through until morning.
Gerard was a handsome man, tall, broad in the shoulder with strong legs that looked particularly well in the riding breeches he most often wore. His coats had never needed excessive padding at the shoulder. His hair was very dark but not black, his eyes grey and sometimes flinty. His expression was often brooding, stern; perhaps because his thoughts caused him regret. At this moment he wore a pair of buff coloured breeches and topboots and his fine linen shirt was opened to the waist. A glass of wine was to hand but he had scarcely touched it. Gerard had long ago discovered that there was no forgetfulness in a wine bottle.
Before falling into a restless sleep, he had spent the night wrestling with his problem. His daughter was in need of feminine company, and not just that of nursemaids or a governess. He too was in need of a female companion: a woman with whom he could share his hopes and dreams, a woman he could admire and respect. In short he needed a wife. Having made one mistake with the young French girl he had married out of pity, he did not wish to make another. Easy enough to find a mistress or even a young woman willing to become Countess Ravenshead, but there was only one woman Gerard wanted as his wife – the woman he had been denied when he was a young man and head over heels in love.
He touched the scar at his right temple, the only blemish on a strong and handsome face, his eyes darkening at the memory it aroused. Amelia’s brother had instructed his servants to beat him when he dared to ask for her hand as a young man; he had not been wealthy enough to please the proud Sir Michael Royston! However, it was not fear of Sir Michael’s displeasure that made Gerard hesitate to ask Amelia Royston if she would be his wife now. Guilt weighed heavily on his conscience, because he had not told anyone the whole truth concerning his wife’s death. It was the reason for his nightmares.
‘Damn you, Lisette. Let me be…’ His eyes were dark with memories as he relieved the dream. ‘So much blood…so much blood…’
She had been ill for a long time after the birth of her child, but it was not that illness that had caused her death. Lisette had died by her own hand.
He found her with her wrists cut in a bath of warm water. She was still alive when he dragged her from the bath but barely breathing. He had tried frantically to save her, sending his servant for the doctor, but his efforts were in vain and she was dead when the doctor arrived. Lisette had been buried and Gerard mourned the loss of a young life.
He had not loved her but she haunted his dreams, because he blamed himself for her death. He had married her out of pity, because she was young, alone and with child, abandoned by her lover in a country that was not her own. He knew that the father of her child was an English officer but Lisette had never named him. His own dreams turned to dust, Gerard had done what he believed was the right thing – a good thing, but he had been unable to love her and when Lisette finally understood that she had taken her own life.
‘I am so sorry…so very sorry…’
Gerard had never been able to confess the truth to another living soul. He carried it inside, where it continued to fester. If he allowed his guilt to haunt him it would ruin his life. Gerard had no idea whether or not Amelia would marry him if he asked her. What would she think if she knew the truth concerning his wife’s death?
He had been on the point of asking her to be his wife once, but an urgent message had sent him hurrying to his daughter’s side in France. Little Lisa was a demanding child and she did not like her Papa to leave her for long periods. Realising she needed more than her nurses, Gerard had brought her to England and placed her in the charge of an English nanny, but neither Lisa nor her papa was truly content.
Gerard had reached the conclusion that he would never know true happiness unless he asked Amelia Royston to be his wife. He could not marry her without confessing his secret, which was one of the reasons why he had hesitated so long, for he feared that she would turn from him in disgust. He had wanted to die on the battlefield the first time he lost her; to let himself hope and then lose her a second time would destroy him
This was ridiculous! He was a man of six and thirty and should be able to face up to the truth without fear of rejection. It might be better if he forgot about marriage altogether. He had broken Lisette’s heart, causing her to commit suicide. Perhaps he would do better to remain unwed.