Authors: Lauren Royal
Tags: #Signet, #ISBN-13: 9780451206886
ALSO BY LAUREN ROYAL
In Praise of Younger Men
A SIGNET BOOK
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitious-ly, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establish-ments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A SIGNET Book / published by arrangement with the author All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2002 by Lori Royal-Gordo.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.
Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
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The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
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A SIGNET BOOK®
SIGNET Books first published an imprint of Dutton HAL, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
SIGNET and the "S" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.
Electronic edition: March 2003
For Ken Royal
Mom calls you the perfect son,
but I think you’re the perfect brother.
Thanks for always being there for me!
I wish to thank:
The world’s best critique partner, Terri Castoro, for sticking with me through the twisted journey of publishing; my agent, Elaine Koster, and my editor, Au-drey LaFehr, for all their support and continuing to believe in me; Jennifer Jahner, assistant editor, for cheerfully answering my endless questions; Jack and the kids, for smiling when I sold another trilogy even though it meant they’d hardly see me for a year and a half; fellow writers Cherie Claire and Glynnis Camp-bell, for always being just an e-mail away when I need help retaining my sanity; my son Brent, for creating and maintaining my award-winning Web site; Al Stewart, for writing ‘‘House of Clocks,’’ a song that sounded so eerily like Ford Chase that it inspired me to rewrite the beginning of his story to make it start on St. Swithin’s Day (check out Mr. Stewart’s album
Down in the Cellar
if you’d like to hear it); Geoff Pavitt, facilities manager at Gresham College, for finding an incredible amount of information for me, including stuff I didn’t even know I needed until he sent it; librarian Claire Andrews, at the Heritage Park Library in Irvine, California, for getting my books into Orange County’s library system and for all her hard work finding obscure 300-year-old books and arranging interlibrary loans for me; Peter Do and Martha Altieri, for the Latin translation; my dad, Herb Royal, for
the Latin translation, for taking Devonie on that weekly four-hour round-trip for Highland dance lessons whenever my deadlines draw near, and also for giving me the videotape that inspired the premise for
(yeah, I should have mentioned that in
’s acknowledgments—but better late than never, right?); my mom, Joan Royal, for never-ending sympathy and support; my official First Readers: Karen Nesbitt, Taire Martyn, Alison Bellach, and Jane Armstrong (and thanks, Jane, for naming Harry); Ken and Dawn Royal, for finding the time to read and comment on my manuscripts even with small babies in the house; my ever-faithful publicity team—Rita Adair-Robison, Debbie Alexander, Dick Alexander, Robin Ashcroft, Joyce Basch, Alison Bellach, Diana Brandmeyer, Carol Carter, Terri Castoro, Vicki Crum, Elaine Ecuyer, Dale Gordon, Darren Holmquist, Taire Martyn, Cindy Meyer, Sandy Mills, Amanda Murphy, Karen Nesbitt, DeeDee Perkins, Jack Poole, Caroline Quick, Joan Royal, Ken Royal, Stacey Royal, Wendi Royal, Diena Simmons, and Julie Walker—for their dedication to promoting my books . . . and, as always, all my readers, especially the ones who have taken the time to write and let me know how you feel about my stories.
Thank you, one and all.
July 15, 1673
St. Swithin’s Day. Well, it was fitting.
The Viscount of Lakefield stared out his carriage window at the miserable, wet landscape. According to St. Swithin’s legend, if it rained on the fifteenth of July, it would continue for forty days and nights. Normally not a man given to superstition, Ford Chase found that plausible this day.
This was shaping up to be the worst day of his life.
The carriage rattled over the drawbridge and into the modest courtyard of Greystone, his older brother’s small castle. Cold raindrops pelted Ford’s head when he shoved open the door and leapt to the circular drive. Gravel crunching under his boots, he made his way down a short, covered passageway and banged the knocker on the unassuming oak door.
Benchley cracked it open, then slipped outside and shut it behind him. ‘‘My lord, what brings you here today?’’
‘‘I wish to speak with my brother.’’ Ford frowned down at the small, wiry valet. What was he doing answering the door? ‘‘Will you be letting me in?’’
‘‘I think not.’’ Benchley lifted his beak of a nose.
‘‘I will fetch Lord Greystone.’’ And with that, he disappeared back into the ancient castle.
Shivering, Ford stood frozen in momentary disbelief before deciding this treatment fit in with the rest of his day. Rain dripped from his long brown hair to sprinkle on the stones at his feet. Wondering why he should need permission to enter his own brother’s home, he moved his hand to the latch.
The door opened again, and Colin stepped out. He looked haggard, his face a pasty gray, his green eyes and black hair dull.
‘‘Colin? What the devil’s going on?’’
‘‘Illness. Measles, we think. Thank God you’re here.’’
Ford pulled his surcoat tighter around himself.
‘‘Amy is ill, along with little Hugh and the baby. And half of the servants. One of them died yesterday,’’ he added grimly.
‘‘Died?’’ Ford’s gut twisted as he thought of Amy—
Colin’s beautiful raven-haired wife—and their bright four-year-old son, Hugh, and the baby, Aidan . . . all dead.
‘‘ ’Tis not so bad as all that,’’ Colin rushed to assure him, obviously reading the concern on his face. ‘‘The poor maid was eighty if she were a day, and the disease went straight to her lungs. I’m not expecting my family to perish.’’
‘‘At least you’ll not be getting it. If you’ll remember, all four of us had it while in exile on the Continent.’’
‘‘I could hardly forget.’’ Appearing as though he could barely hold himself up, Colin leaned against the doorpost. ‘‘But what does that have to do with now?’’
‘‘At one of my Royal Society lectures, I learned one cannot fall ill with the same disease twice,’’ Ford explained.
‘‘I’ve had measles more than once.’’
‘‘Not true measles, the one with the high fever. Spotted skin is a symptom of many different conditions.’’
‘‘Trust you to know something like that.’’ Although Colin looked relieved, his smile was bleak. ‘‘Still, the fever is savage, and Jewel has yet to suffer measles.
True measles, as you put it. Will you take her from here, before she succumbs as well? ’Twould relieve my mind, and Amy’s, I’m sure. The worry is doing her recovery no good.’’
Alarm bells went off in Ford’s head. Take his niece? Where? What would he do with a young girl?
‘‘Well . . . I only stopped by to let you know I’ve left London and will be at Lakefield for the foreseeable future—’’
‘‘—working on my new watch design. I . . . I just wanted to be alone for a while. Lady Tabitha has eloped.’’
‘‘I was at my wit’s end what to do, with the rest of the family off in Scotland. I was about to settle Jewel in the village. But this will be much better—’’
,’’ Ford repeated, wondering why his brother hadn’t reacted to this incredible news.
After all, Tabitha had just upset his entire life plan.
‘‘She eloped?’’ Colin blinked, then shook his head.
‘‘Come now, Ford. What did you expect? After six years of suffering your attentions whenever you deigned to show up in London, and sharing your bed, I assume—’’
She had. So what of it? No one at King Charles II’s court was virtuous. Colin hadn’t been a monk before meeting his wife, and neither had their oldest brother, Jason. The three Chase brothers were all titled and intimates of the King, which naturally meant they’d always been popular with the ladies at Court—and none of them had hesitated to take advantage in their day.
‘‘—a lady,’’ Colin continued, ‘‘would expect a proposal.’’
her we’d marry someday. In two or three years.’’ Tabitha had seemed the ideal woman for him—stunningly beautiful, always ready to attend a ball or an evening at Court. They matched well in bed, and when they weren’t together she busied herself with whatever women liked to do, leaving him plenty of time for his work. ‘‘For God’s sake, she’s just twenty-one, and I’m only twenty-eight. Jason married at thirty-two, and no one was on his back.’’
‘‘I married at twenty-eight.’’
were in a hurry to have children.’’
‘‘While I’m sure
would as soon do without them altogether.’’ Colin rubbed his eyes. ‘‘You really have no idea why Tabitha gave up on you, do you? I hate to tell you this, little brother, but ’tis time you grew up and realized there’s more to life than science and seduction. As the baby of the family, maybe Jason and I coddled you too much.’’
From beyond the passageway, the patter of rain filled their sudden silence. Colin was obviously weary, so Ford thought it best not to argue. Doubtless Colin had spent sleepless nights watching over his wife and sons—exactly why Ford wasn’t ready for a family of his own.
‘‘You look tired,’’ he said. ‘‘You’d best get some rest.’’
His brother heaved a sigh. ‘‘I’d rest easier if I knew you had Jewel. You’ll take her, won’t you?’’
What the devil would he do with a girl who was not yet six? He loved her, of course. She shared his blood.
But that didn’t mean he had a clue how to care for her. Bouncing her on his knee or playing a card game with her was one thing. A few minutes of fun before returning her to her parents. But to be responsible for a child . . .
He shoved a hand through his wet hair. ‘‘For how long?’’
‘‘A week or two. Three, maybe. Until the illness has run its course.’’ Colin twisted the signet ring on his finger, narrowing his gaze. ‘‘Why are you hesitating? I need you.’’
‘‘I’m not hesitating,’’ Ford protested. ‘‘I just—’’
His brother’s eyes opened wide. ‘‘Did you think I’d expect you to care for her on your own? God forbid.’’
His lips quirked as though he might laugh, but he coughed instead. On purpose, Ford was sure. ‘‘I’ll send Lydia along with her.’’
Despite his annoyance at being read so easily—not to mention distrusted—the tension left Ford’s shoulders. With Lydia, Jewel’s very competent nurse, there, he wouldn’t have to care for the girl, wouldn’t have to struggle to interpret her mystifying female language and needs. He could just poke his head into her room and say hello every once in a while.
‘‘You’ll not have to do a thing,’’ Colin added, his tight expression easing into a wry half-smile. ‘‘You might try talking with your niece, though. ’Tis time you learned to communicate with the lesser species. You know, those of us of insufficient age or intelligence to grasp the deepest secrets of the universe.’’
was your problem with Tabitha.’’
Ford gritted his teeth. He’d never fooled himself into thinking he understood the opposite sex. His science was what drove him. But he’d had no problems with Tabitha, and he was finished with this discussion.
‘‘Of course I’ll take Jewel,’’ he said, consciously relaxing his jaw. ‘‘Bring her out—I’ll be waiting in my carriage.’’
‘‘Listen to this.’’ Sitting with her two sisters while their mother worked nearby, Violet Ashcroft cleared her throat. ‘‘ ‘To say that a blind custom of obedience should be a surer obligation than duty taught and understood . . . is to affirm that a blind man may tread surer by a guide than a seeing man by a light.’ ’’
‘‘What is that supposed to mean?’’ Lily asked. The youngest sister, Lily busily stitched her tapestry in the grayish light from the large picture window. She probably had little real desire to know what the quote meant. But Lily was unfailingly kind, and Violet would never turn away from anyone willing to listen.
She hitched herself forward on the green brocade chair. ‘‘Well, now—’’
‘‘Why do you care?’’ Rose interrupted. Looking up from the vase of flowers she was arranging, she tossed her gleaming ringlets. The middle sister, Rose cared little for anything that didn’t have to do with dancing, clothes, or men. ‘‘ ’Tis naught but a lot of gibberish, if you ask me.’’