Summary: “In 1910 Edwardian England, a British-born young heiress raised in the palace of Monaco comes to Yorkshire, where mystery and tragedy threaten her very existence”— Provided by publisher.
Photos provided by author Roseanna M. White's Pinterest.
Whitby Park in my story, but really Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire –author Roseanna M. White
|Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, 1907 - Justin's car|
Uncertain of her destiny, Elizabeth Brook Eden leaves her home at Prince Albert's at the Palais Princier, in Monaco, to travel by train to assume her title of Baroness of Berkeley, daughter of Ambrose Eden, the Earl of Whitby.
|Distant view of the prince's palace in Monaco|
Rivalry awaits her as doubts surface, as well as chivalry between well-meaning admirers, or so it seems. One neighboring gentry (I refrain from calling him a gentleman, directly) is fine with being set aside, and puts his intentions on her ancestral-spurned cousin, assured that Brook is taking her place in line for inheritance.
My very favorite is Brook's father ~ he is so kind and believing, wise and perceptive. He has been separated from Brook since the ill-timed death of his wife. Their appearance is so much of a likeness that he is certain of her identity beyond filling a gap in his life.
|Sudeley Castle - my archetype for Justin's Gloucestershire home, Ralin Castle|
There is plenty of adventure in this story of who-do-you-trust? Because their lives are thrust together, it is not easy for newcomer Brook to decipher well-hidden intent in friendship; for information, foe, or trusted ally? Those closest to her bear watching, but that would be several as they have an open house with coming and goings. Her character is so real and transparent as she follows truth and alliances are genuine with her. I liked her adventuresome spirit and willingness to accept others until proven differently over time. Being placed in a new situation, her upbringing shows the care and affections given her in her primary years that cemented her trust. Her stability leaned toward Justin as someone who knew her and watched out for her. She has walked into something that has been a mystery before her, as relations strive to retain what they feel is theirs. Safety is sought in prayer. As you become acquainted with the characters entwined, you will have to decide for yourself whom you will trust for the outcome.
Sweeping Romance and Mystery in the Edwardian Era
Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. When her friend Justin uncovers the fact that she is possibly a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.
The mystery of her mother's death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook's life is threatened do they draw close--but will their loyalty come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother?
As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that their friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?
And then for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of the very rare treasure in her possession--and those who can save her still aren't sure who to trust.
Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she's homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of nine novels, ranging from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. Roseanna lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at her website.
***Thank you to Roseanna M. White and Bethany House Publishers for sending me a copy of The Lost Heiress for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Enjoy this excerpt of Roseanna M. White's The Lost Heiress ~ Chapters 1-3
MONTE CARLO, MONACO
LATE AUGUST 1910
Temptation sat before her, compelling as the sea. Gleaming silver, green leather, the nearly silent rumble of engine . . .
Brook trailed a gloved hand along the door, cast one glance over her shoulder, and let herself in. She couldn’t stop the grin as she gripped the wheel of the Rolls-Royce. And why should she? Only a fool would leave such a car running right outside her door and not expect her to do something about it.
“Don’t even think it.”
His voice brought laughter to her lips, and she looked up to find her dearest friend at the opposite door—her first sight of him in five months. The warm Riviera wind had tousled his hair, making her wonder where his hat had gone today. “Teach me to drive it, Justin.”
He glared at her with an intensity to match the Mediterranean sun. All manner of men flooded Monaco in pursuit of its casino, and none could glower like the British. Well, perhaps the Russians, but theirs were more scowls than proper glowers. Though, if he expected her to be cowed by the look, he had taken leave of his senses.
He leveled an accusatory finger at her nose. “I’m happy to take you for a drive in my new car, mon amie, but I will be behind the wheel.”
“Come, Justin.” She said his name as it was meant to be said. In French. Soft J and long U, emphasis on the second syllable, the N silent—as she knew no one in his native country did. “Your gift will soon be back in England. We mustn’t waste a moment of its time in Monaco. Get in and teach me.”
“A moment of its time?” But he laughed and slid into the left side of the car, shaking his head. The sun caught his hair and burnished it gold, caught the angles of his face and made it all the stronger. “The prince will have my head for this.”
Brook grinned at him. Once upon a time, she had dreamed that they would fall in love and live happily ever after—before she realized a future duke could never be more than friends with a nobody without a past. Before she came to understand Prince Albert wasn’t really her grandfather. “He will be jealous, you mean. He must always have a chauffeur behind the wheel.” Brook gripped the wheel tighter, until she could feel the thrum of the 40/50 engine in every cell. “Perhaps I will borrow one of the chauffeur’s jackets and surprise him one day—after you’ve taught me.”
Justin pressed a hand to his brow, dark blond hair falling over his fingers. “Heaven help me. I’ll be executed. My poor grandfather will expire from the shock of it, the dukedom will go extinct, and it will be all your fault. All because you grin at me and I can’t say no.”
She grinned all the brighter now. “I don’t intend to race in Grand-père’s road rally—I only want to learn the basics.” She made herself comfortable on the seat, positioning her feet on the pedals on either side of the steering column. She had read books and articles about the advances of the automobile, but the pages hadn’t come close to conveying the power that came coursing through the floorboard. It was almost as heady a feeling as having a spirited horse under her. Almost.
Justin slid closer, casting her a sideways look she couldn’t read—making fear knot in her chest. She’d been waiting months for him to return, had begun to worry he never would, that his family would succeed in keeping him forever in the Cotswolds of England, and he would forget his promises to investigate the seal on the old, yellowed envelope she had pressed to his palm five months ago.
She cleared her throat. “Did you learn anything? In England, I mean?”
Justin adjusted the position of her hands on the wheel. “Of course I did. Literature and mathematics—”
“—philosophy and science.” He ducked his head as if to make sure her feet were where they ought to be. Or to avoid her gaze. “I came across the papers of a German not long ago. Fellow by the name of Albert Einstein, a physics professor. Have you read him? He has interesting theories—”
“Lord Harlow.” She narrowed her eyes at him, but he still didn’t look up.
“—about Newtonian physics and something called special relativity, which I know you’d find interesting.” He straightened, focus still on her feet. “There are pedals for clutch, brake, and accelerator. Throttle is on the steering column. You must press upon brake and clutch to begin.”
“I know.” She pushed them without taking her eyes off his strong profile. “And you know well what I mean.”
He finally swung his face her way again, jaw set. “We can either talk about that or you can learn to drive. Choose one, for I don’t intend to open such a conversation with you behind the wheel of my very new, very expensive automobile.”
“Bad as all that, is it?” She prayed again she could live with the answers she’d asked him to find. For eight years now she had known only who she wasn’t—not the illegitimate daughter of opera star Collette Sabatini and Prince Louis Grimaldi, heir to the throne of Monaco. Not the petite-fille of the reigning Prince Albert, as his wife, Princess Alice, had shouted for all the palace to hear before she left him. So if not a daughter or granddaughter to the only family she knew . . . then who?
“Release the hand brake, first of all. There by the wheel, on your right.”
Drawing in a long breath, she gripped the wooden handle and moved it as she had seen their drivers do, then checked for carriages or cars in the street. Seeing none, she mimicked the pedal work she had observed, moving her foot from the brake and aiming it at the accelerator.
“Quoi?” She jammed her foot back on the brake.
Justin ran a hand over his face. “Attends! Please—wait for my instruction.”
Another grin tickled her lips and pushed away the phantoms of the unknown. “When have I ever awaited instruction? But did I not let my first arrow fly with admirable accuracy? Am I not a better shot with a pistol than you? Can I not out-fence any young lord?”
At last a breath of laughter relaxed his shoulders. Then he caught her gaze and held it, his eyes as deep as the ocean. “You think I don’t know the thoughts rampaging through your mind? But I assure you, you’ve nothing to worry about. The news I bring is good.” He gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze. “But it will change everything. You shouldn’t try to digest it when behind the wheel of a car.”
She nodded and pushed the questions aside. For now. “Now I check the street again and transfer my foot from brake to accelerator while easing o! the clutch.”
“A statement rather than a question, I see.” His fingers left hers as he turned around to look at the street. “All clear. Angle the wheel hard to the left and gently—gently—press that foot to the accelerator.”
She obeyed, reveling in the increased thrum of the engine. Easing the car forward, a laugh slipped from her lips. She straightened the wheel and headed for the opera house. She could get the hang of this, given a bit more practice. Perhaps she could even convince Grand-père to let her drive one of theirs.
Assuming she remained in Monaco. Risking a glance toward Justin, she barely kept from taking one hand o! the wheel to play with the two pearls dangling from the gold filigree of her necklace. “You did verify I’m English, then?”
He shot a look at the fingers she had nearly lifted. As if he knew exactly what habit she’d nearly indulged. “We already knew that.”
She sighed and let off the accelerator when they came upon a slow-moving barouche. “We knew Maman said so, but she was hardly in her right mind those last weeks.” And for so many years, Brook had hoped and prayed that that had been the lie, as Grand-père so often assured her.
“It was right enough. You are indeed English. Which, assuming you’ve looked in a mirror now and again, oughtn’t to surprise you.”
Right on cue, the wind cast a tendril of her pale hair before her eyes. She certainly had nothing in common with the rest of the Grimaldis. How many times had she wished for their rich dark hair and fathomless brown eyes? The skin that the sun could kiss yet not burn? A delicate snort was all the response she could manage.
Justin loosed a sigh nearly lost under the purr of the engine. “The story she told seems to be true—she was in York with the opera at the time but did not have a child of her own.”
Had Brook been anywhere else, she would have let her eyes slide closed so that she could summon the image of beautiful Maman, try to conjure the sound of her sterling soprano. But the memory had faded over the years, until now it was little more than a crystal echo.
“So Prince Louis was right to keep me always at a distance—I am not his daughter.” At least she wasn’t another cause for scandal in the Grimaldi line. But it also meant Maman was not her mother. And Grand-père . . . He hadn’t wanted her to ask these questions. She was, he had said, the only member of his family who acted like family, and what would he have if she left?
But she had to. She couldn’t live her life as a pretender. The people were already shouting against him, how much worse would it be if he continued to support her when she had no real claim to him, other than a bone-deep love?
The barouche they followed turned down a side road, and Brook pressed on the accelerator. “What am I, then? A farmer’s daughter? An abandoned waif?”
His chuckle helped ease the band around her chest. “Mais non. It is as we imagined—you are a nymph from the fairy world.”
“A naiad you mean, ruling over a—”
“—a brook. How could I have forgotten?” He captured the curl that obscured her vision and gave it a playful tug. “One of my favorites of our recent stories—‘Brook of the Brook.’ And where is my fairy princess taking us?”
She smiled, but even the thought of the stories they created and picnics atop the ramparts overlooking Port Fontvieille couldn’t erase the questions. “The theater. I have a ballet lesson. I keep threatening to join the Ballet Russes—Sergei says I am as talented as his Russian dancers.”
“An imp more than a naiad, surely.” He tugged again on her curl and tucked it behind her ear. “I can only imagine how mad that drives the prince.”
“It hardly matters what I do.” She slowed as her turn approached and prepared to wrestle the wheel around. Her heart thudded, but she drew in a deep breath. If she slipped, Justin would catch the wheel, would keep them from harm.
“You will not take the stage.” Justin sounded far harsher than Grand-père had. Perhaps her tone had been too blasé.
Still, she could hardly resist teasing him—and fishing for more information. “Excuse me, your lordship, but why not? My mother was on the stage.”
“Collette would have been the first to tell you not to follow her example. And she was not your mother.”
“Quite right—I am an orphan, an unknown. Lizette Brook— a nobody.”
“You most certainly are not.”
“Who am I, then?” She glanced his way, brows arched.
“Eyes on the road!”
Hopefully he saw only that she turned her face square to the windscreen and not that she rolled those eyes in the process. “Was I right about the envelope? The seal?”
Maman had left her with boxes upon boxes of correspondence, faded letters from faded loves. But one box of them had been different—they were in English. The tone was different too—not at all what amorous patrons had usually sent to Collette. And more, as she’d searched through the letters in the flat she’d shared with Maman before moving to the palace after her death, Brook had seen a variation of her own name on the ones on the top of the stack. Give Little Liz a kiss from her papa. But it had been signed only with Yours Forever, and the one envelope with the seal upon it had no address.
Yet again she had to resist the urge to touch her necklace. The necklace Maman had confessed with her last breath had belonged to Brook’s true mother. The woman killed in the carriage accident from which Collette had rescued Brook. The my love those English letters were written to?
“The seal was helpful. Brook.” He sighed again and rested a hand on her shoulder. “It led me to your mother. I saw a portrait of her, and it might as well have been you in a bustle. We found her. We found you.”
Her fingers curled around the wheel so tightly she feared she’d leave an impression in the wood. “Who, then? Who am I?”
“We’re nearly to the theater—pull over here. Foot off the gas, press the brake and then the clutch. Turn, turn.” His fingers covered hers as he helped her guide the Rolls-Royce into an open spot nearer the casino than the theater. The moment the car halted, he reached over her to engage the hand brake and then switched off the magneto. The absence of the engine’s noise barely made a difference with all the chatter from the street.
But Brook didn’t look at the gaily clad aristocrats making their way into the Casino Monte Carlo—she looked at the muscle gone tense in his jaw. “Justin.” Her voice came out in a whisper so soft she couldn’t be sure he heard her. “Tell me.”
He leaned against the green leather of the seat, elbow atop it, and rested his hand on her shoulder again. “You are a baroness.”
“A . . . what?” She knew the title—one couldn’t be the friend of a duke’s grandson without getting lessons in the British peerage. Which was why she knew she shouldn’t have such a title unless by marriage. “How could I be a baroness?”
The wind tried to toss that curl into her face again, but he caught it and tucked it away once more. “From your mother, who was a baroness in her own right. Passed from her mother, and her mother before her. You are Elizabeth Brook Eden, Baroness of Berkeley—one of only a handful of peeresses whose title is by right and not courtesy. And the heiress to a large estate.”
Little Liz. Maman had kept her name, just made it more French—Lizette Brook. Choosing to go by her middle name after Collette’s death had been one of Brook’s many small rebellions. Her eyes slid shut, her fingers found the warm pearls dangling from her necklace. Her mother’s necklace. Her mother. “What was her name?”
“Elizabeth as well, born with the surname Brook, which is where your middle name came from. Countess of Whitby.”
“Countess?” Her eyes flew open again. “My father was an earl?”
Justin’s free hand found hers, and he linked their fingers together. “Is an earl, Brooklet.”
Had she been standing, she would have had to sit. “My father . . .”
“Is very eager to meet you.” He squeezed her hand and ran his thumb over hers. “It’s time to come home, Lady Berkeley.”
Brook drew in a long breath seasoned with fruit from the markets, the spice of Italian cooking, and the salty tang of the Mediterranean Sea.
All her life, all her memory, this had been home. All the world she’d needed. “I . . . I must absorb all this.”
“Of course you must.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles as he had done ever since they played knight and damsel as children, back when she had dreamed it was real. But his eyes remained locked on hers now. “I know you have been praying about this as much as I have been. This is the answer to those prayers, mon amie. This is where the Lord wants you. And I will be with you every step of the way.”
No doubt he was right. And no doubt when her thoughts stopped crashing like waves in a tempest, the peace of the Lord would descend. But right this moment . . . “I must go. Au revoir, Justin.” She leaned over, kissed him on either cheek, and let herself out of the car.
A warm breeze gusted up the street. Brook touched her hat to make sure it was secure, then let her fingers fall to her necklace. A baroness, daughter of an earl. Of all the scenarios she had entertained, that had never been one of them.
Justin was probably the only man in all of Monaco who dreaded crossing the threshold of the famed Casino Monte Carlo. He’d done so enough that the opulence had no eﬀect. The reliefs didn’t turn his head, the paintings didn’t draw his eye, and the crystal chandeliers were nothing but light for his feet.
He could be thankful they had made their home here in Monte Carlo, because of Brook. But still he wished his father would ﬁnd a different life.
Perhaps if he lost more, he would. But no, Father had made a fortune at the tables over the years. It was hard to convince a successful gambler to turn over a new leaf when he could turn up a new card instead.
Justin paused at the doorway of the baccarat room. Yes, there he was. A debonair smile upon his face, an impeccable suit on his lean ﬁgure, a pretty girl beside him.
Drawing in a long breath, Justin closed his eyes for a moment. Prayed, for the millionth time that day alone, for the strength to have the needed conversation. Again. Prayed that this time Father would hear him.
When he opened his eyes, he saw his father toss back the contents of his snifter—cognac, no doubt—and stand. He wobbled a bit as he straightened his jacket, but he was smiling. Blast. It may have been easier to convince him to return to England had he been fresh from a loss rather than a win.
Father’s smile grew when he spotted Justin, and he shook oﬀ the woman who had tried to tuck her hand into his arm. “There you are, Justin. Have you been out enjoying your birthday gift? Your Brook saw it the other week when it arrived and assured me it would suit you.”
How could he help but grin? Not just at the thought of his new Rolls-Royce, but at the man who had given it. Father had his faults—and twice the charm to oﬀset them. “It is a magnificent car. Thank you.”
“Good, good.” When near enough, his father clapped a hand to Justin’s shoulder and steered him toward one of the washrooms. “I considered one designed by that Bugatti chap but knew you would appreciate the English touch.”
“Indeed.” And it was as good an opening as any. “Speaking of things English—”
“Save your breath, my son. I’m not going back.”
A footman bowed as he opened the washroom door for them. “Good evening, Lord William.”
While Father moved to the mirror, Justin sighed and sat on a plush chair. “Your refusal to come home doesn’t change facts. Uncle Edward has been dead for twelve years—you are not Lord William anymore. You are the Marquess of Abingdon, the heir, and will be the next Duke of Staﬀord.”
“And facts don’t change reality.” Father undid his tie and started the knot afresh. “I have no interest in the duchy. When the old man kicks oﬀ, the title may come to me by law, but you’ll manage the estate perfectly well without my help.”
Justin passed a hand over his hair—what had he done with his hat? He must have left it at the palace when he called on Prince Albert earlier. “He wants to see you. He isn’t well, Father—it’s time to make your peace.”
Father’s reﬂected eyes met his in the mirror. One more tug on the tie and it was in a perfect bow. He turned, faced Justin. “There is no peace to be made.”
“But if you only—”
“Don’t ask it.” Father sighed, and his face softened. “It’s for the best. You will make the better duke, be the better overseer of the estate. If I tried to put my hand to it, I would foul it up.”
Justin stood again. “Nonsense. If you hadn’t an innate sense of how to manage things, you wouldn’t do so well here.” Though he had to admit he was glad he took after his uncle Edward—and not so glad his cousin, Cayton, his father’s sister’s son, seemed to take after Father.
Chuckling, the marquess headed toward the casino ﬂoor once again, then shifted tack and made for the front doors. “Knowing when to fold a hand and when to bet is a far cry from dealing with tenants and whatnot. As you ought to know, being excellent at the latter but an absolute dunce at cards.”
One corner of Justin’s mouth tugged up, even as he fought down the desire to claim he could be good, if he tried. An experiment he had sworn to himself he would never perform. “Call it lack of interest.”
Though his smile remained bright, a shadow ﬂitted through Father’s eyes. “I suppose I ought to be glad I scared you onto the straight and narrow. But there are worse lives than the one I have chosen. You ought to toss responsibility to the wind and indulge yourself for once. Set up your singer’s daughter as your mistress and—”
“Oh, for—I will not make a mistress of Brook. Or anyone else.” And why must they have this conversation? In public, no less?
Another footman opened the main doors and handed Father’s hat to him—obviously the employees knew the man’s comings and goings far better than Justin did. With a shake of his head, he stepped out into the warmth of the evening. The sun was setting behind the mountains to the west, dusting the city with gold.
Mischief had entered Father’s eyes again. “Why must you always be so pious? I’ve seen how you’ve begun looking at her, and it’s no wonder—she’s grown into a beautiful young thing. But you can’t wed her—one so set on doing right by his ducal grandfather would never disgrace the family name by marrying a performer’s daughter.”
Justin tried clenching his jaw to keep from rising to Father’s bait. But he couldn’t stop himself. “She is more than that. Though—”
“Well, she is no princess. She looks no more like Prince Louis than she did her mother.”
He followed when Father turned to the right. “Collette wasn’t her mother. Brook is English. A baroness, as it happens.”
That brought Father’s feet to a halt and his brows up. “Really. Well then, I suppose you can wed her. Do it here, will you, before you leave again? I don’t fancy having to travel through the dratted English rain for your wedding.”
There was no reasoning with him. Why did he try? Justin shook his head as they started forward again. “Who said anything about marrying her?”
“Well, you can’t make a mistress of her—she’s a baroness.”
A snort of laughter slipped out. “Where are you going? Shall we have a meal together?”
“Not tonight, I’m afraid, though I wish you had made it home for your birthday—I had a regular gala planned out.” Father tipped his hat to a couple strolling toward the casino. “Five and twenty now. Your grandfather must be hounding you to marry soon and be about the business of heirs, chanting nonsense about duty.”
“Mm.” Regardless of his denial a moment ago, only one face ever came to mind when he considered a wife—but she never looked at him as anything but an old friend. Besides, Brook would have many changes to work through in the near future. “But he knows I have my hands full with learning the estates. And I will have to see Brook settled with the Earl of Whitby besides.”
“Here we are.” Father halted before a gleaming roadster and rested his hand on the bonnet—apparently he had bought a car by “that Bugatti chap” after all. “The Earl of Whitby, you say?”
Justin couldn’t help but take a moment to admire the artistry of the lines. “Indeed. Do you know him?”
“I used to.” Father’s voice went musing. “I heard he got rather eccentric after the death of his wife and the disappearance of his . . . Wait. Your Brook is his missing daughter? How the devil did she end up with Collette Sabatini, and here of all places?”
“Collette was in Yorkshire at the time. She came upon the carriage accident. Though why she brought her here is a mystery.” Justin frowned when Father got into the car. “Surely you don’t mean to drive when you’ve been drinking. A car isn’t a horse—it can’t ﬁnd its own way when you keel over in a stupor.”
Yet he tossed his hat to the seat and put on goggles and a cap. “You are my son, Justin, not my nursemaid. I am ﬁne—and going to France to keep a dinner engagement. Your bed ought to be made up in the ﬂat, and Fitzroy knows not to expect me.”
“I will be home by luncheon tomorrow.” He ﬂashed a smile, all gleaming white teeth and charming irresponsibility. “Go and ﬁnd yourself some trouble—it’ll do you a world of good.”
Once more Justin had to shake his head. “One of these days we’re going to ﬁnish a conversation without you riding oﬀ on some new lark.”
“Anything’s possible, I suppose.” The engine sprang to life with a roar and a rattle, and Father gave him a jaunty wave before backing out into the street without even looking behind him.
Justin pressed a hand to his temple. He ought to go fetch his hat . . . after he walked oﬀ his hope and frustration.
~*~Grand-père found her on the ramparts. Brook’s muscles were still warm and ﬂuid from her ballet lesson, making her feel that if she stretched high enough, she could touch the clouds scuttling over the sky, or reach out and skim her hands through the warm waters. She grinned at him, but the prince’s returning smile was small and tight. In his hands he clutched a worn leather book.
Her chest went tight, her relaxation vanished. Her ﬁngers pressed into the warm white stone. “You’ve spoken to Justin.”
“Before he found you.” Grand-père didn’t stop until he had pulled her tight to his chest and wrapped his arms around her. He smelled of security—ink and paper and a whiff of cologne. “I asked you to let it drop, ma fifille. To be content here, with me.”
She squeezed her eyes shut against the familiar worsted wool of his favorite jacket. “Grand-père . . . if it were only us, I would. You know that. I love you more than anyone else in the world. But with the people rioting—”
“That had nothing to do with you. They want a constitution—that’s all.”
It wasn’t all. They all knew it wasn’t all. She held him tighter. “Prince Louis was right all along. I’m not his. Charlotte clearly is—she is where your hope lies. Adopt her to keep the Grimaldi line going. Get to know her. Love her.”
Brook had never even met Charlotte—the illegitimate daughter with another performer, the daughter Prince Louis actually claimed as his own. But for a few years after the girl’s birth— before Collette’s deathbed confession—Brook had believed the child was her half sister.
“You should never have taken me in after Maman—”
“Hush.” He pressed his lips to the top of her head. “You are my petite-fille. Whatever your blood, that will not change. And I wish you would stay.”
“Je sais. I know you will go, you are too headstrong to listen to your old grandfather when you have made up your mind.” He pulled away, revealing a sad, proud smile. Touching a ﬁnger under her chin with one hand, he held up the book in his other. “You should have this, then. I promised Collette I would destroy it so you would never ﬁnd it, but I couldn’t. I think I always knew you would not be happy here forever—not when there were questions out there in need of answers. It is her journal.”
Brook’s brows knit. “Whose? Maman’s or . . . or my real mother’s?”
“Collette’s.” Though he pressed the journal to her hands, he held it still, held it shut. “Whatever answers it has, she thought they would hurt you. There must be a reason for that. Don’t open this until you’re ready to know what that reason is.”
Mutely, she nodded. Her ﬁngers registered the worn leather, tried to feel what secrets might lie within. Part of her wanted to open it immediately, heedless of the warning, and learn what truth she could. But then she glanced up into Grand-père’s troubled dark eyes and lowered the book to her side. She couldn’t hurt him like that. It would be tantamount to shouting that all he’d given her, all he’d given up for her, meant nothing. “I will wait, Grand-père.”
Relief softened his eyes, and he nodded. “Come inside, ma fifille. Dress for dinner and then play for me. Let me hear you sing again before you leave me.”
Tucking her arm into the crook of his elbow, Brook let him lead her from the ramparts. Secrets could wait.
~*~An hour turned to two. Justin let the warm breeze soothe him, let the mixed scents of sweet and spice remind him of a childhood spent racing through these very streets. He had found trouble aplenty, adventure and happiness too. And Brook. He had found Brook on one of those unsupervised sprees. She had been but a sprite of a girl then, only ﬁve to his twelve, but the mischief in her eyes had intrigued him.
Thate said it was strange that he had found such a steadfast friend in a girl seven years his junior. But it had never seemed so. At ﬁrst she had simply amused him, and he had fancied her a sister to replace the one he’d barely known. Then it had been entertaining to teach her all the sport he shouldn’t have. And now . . . now they had thirteen years of shared history.
The guards let him pass with no more than a nod, and the footman merely pointed him toward the prince’s private library. Once he reached the room, the sweet voice spilling out in an Italian aria brought him to a halt.
Odd how much like Collette she sounded, though they shared no blood. Her maman had trained her well. He leaned into the doorway and saw Brook at the piano, accompanying herself as she sang, while Prince Albert lounged in his favorite chair. Her ﬂaxen curls were twisted into some sort of chignon, an embellished band setting it oﬀ. As always, she wore the gold and pearl necklace Collette had said was her mother’s. Its twin strands of links and pearls met at the ﬁligree in the center, from which two dangling pearls drew attention downward.
Justin forced a swallow. She had grown into a young lady too beautiful for his peace of mind. The notion of courting her had begun to niggle in the last few months. But he knew well she didn’t look at him like he had begun to look at her. He would have to convince her. Win her. After she settled with her father at Whitby Park, after she had come to terms with being Baroness of Berkeley. After he was better grounded in his duties in Gloucestershire . . . then he would try to make her see that they could have so much more than friendship.
When she ﬁnished the song with a ﬂourish, Justin joined his applause to the prince’s. She stood with one of those heart- stopping smiles of hers aimed his way. “Justin!”
As always, the greeting made him smile. Only his closest family ever used his given name in England, and they never attempted the proper French pronunciation. “Bon soir, mon amie. Your Highness.”
The prince smiled, but Justin scarcely had time to note it, given that Brook came his way with her hands extended. He took them in his and leaned down to exchange the customary cheek kissing. And grinned at the thought of how her English family might react to the French ritual. “You look lovely tonight, Brook.”
An understatement, but it nevertheless brought a pretty blush to her ivory cheeks. “Merci. It is the new dress.” She released his hands and did a pirouette worthy of the stage. “From Paris. Grand-père had it commissioned.”
“I told her she would be the envy of all the ladies in England.” Prince Albert stood with an indulgent smile. Justin didn’t miss the sorrow around its edges.
“Indeed.” Yet it wasn’t the gown that would set her apart—it was her spirit. No other lady he’d met in England laughed with such abandon, moved with such grace, put such passion into her every pursuit.
He prayed that spirit, and the faith beneath it, would be enough to sustain her through the transition ahead.
As if the same thought had possessed her, her smile dimmed, as did the diamond gleam in her emerald eyes. “You’ll join us for dinner, oui?”
“I would be delighted.” For now, he led her to the settee and took the cushion beside her. “Has it sunk in yet?”
Her ﬁngers toyed with the dual pearls dangling from her necklace. If there were a surer sign of her perplexity . . . “What if I am not this baroness? What if they turn me away?”
The prince huffed. “That is simple. Then you will come home.” He came to them and sat on the settee, resting a hand on Brook’s shoulders. He had fought for her, fought to move her into the palace after Collette’s death, though the rest of the family thought it a mistake. Because by then Brook had already been his fifille—his little girl. Prince Albert would always be her grandfather.
Although even if she were not the baroness, Justin had no intentions of bringing her back to Monaco. He would convince her to stay, somehow or another. The thought of not seeing her for years wasn’t to be borne. “We are not mistaken, Brooklet. Had I not been sure about this, I never would have said anything.”
“There is no reason to doubt, and every reason to believe this is who you are.” He held out his hand until she put hers in it, then covered her slender ﬁngers with his. “You have a father eager to love you. An aunt to usher you into society. Cousins near you in age waiting to become your friends. The Lord has prepared your place. There is no need to fear.”
He could see the trust returning to her eyes, the sparkle that brought light to the ﬂecks of amber around her pupils, to the rings of sapphire around the emerald.
His chest went tight. What would it be like to gaze into her eyes every day? To hear her laugh, her voice, to share stories whenever they pleased? To have the right to draw her into his arms and see if her lips were as soft as they looked?
Maybe he wouldn’t wait to declare himself. Maybe he could win her heart now and deliver her to Whitby as his ﬁancée—and use the wedding to lure Father home.
Hurried footsteps intruded, startling enough to warrant the frown on the prince’s face. When a footman charged into the room, the look of horror he wore brought Justin to his feet, Brook along with him. If some crisis of state were about to be announced—and with the revolt of a few months ago still fresh in their memories, he wouldn’t discount it—he would take his leave so the prince could attend to business.
But the servant looked to him. “Excusez-moi, Lord Harlow. Forgive me for bringing such news, my lord, but . . . your father. There has been an accident on the mountain road.”
His ﬁngers went lax within Brook’s tightened grip. Clouds gathered before his eyes. “What kind of accident?”
WHITBY PARK, NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND
Deirdre O’Malley held the fresh sheets to her chest and sent an amused look toward the housekeeper. How much longer could his lordship’s sister keep pacing the halls like a caged beast? Lady Ramsey had intercepted Deirdre nearly half an hour past to keep her from carrying out Lord Whitby’s command to ready the Blue Room, but she had yet to decide which one ought to be prepared in its stead.
Though Mrs. Doyle pressed her lips tight to suppress a smile, she sent Deirdre a wide-eyed, cautionary look. “The Rose Room, my lady? Is that one far enough from Lady Regan and Lady Melissa?”
The marchioness sighed and pressed a hand to her brow. “It is too far. If we put the girl in there, my brother will know exactly what we’re about. I don’t want her near my daughters, but we can’t put her at the opposite end of the wing.”
“It would show her plain as day what we think of her,” Deirdre murmured into the sheets, though she knew she ought to keep the thought to herself.
But her ladyship smiled and let her jet-clad wrist fall to her side again. “Ah, but my brother is convinced this one is real.”
“As he hoped the last three times.” Mrs. Doyle started back toward the end of the hall nearer the stairs. “We all know how those ended.”
That they did—in each pretender being kicked to the drive. And with the earl becoming more a recluse than ever.
“What about the Green Room?” Mrs. Doyle opened a door halfway down the hall.
Lady Ramsey peered in. “It is awfully grand.”
The way the housekeeper’s spine snapped even straighter than usual would have been more amusing had Deirdre not caught a glimpse of the clock on the chamber’s mantel. Her half-day oﬀ duty would begin in another ﬁfteen minutes, but she could hardly leave in the middle of a task without getting a scolding. Though, if she didn’t make it into the village by two . . .
“My lady, of course it is grand—they all are. This is Whitby Park, after all.”
“So I am aware.” Her ladyship chuckled and touched a hand brieﬂy to Mrs. Doyle’s arm. “Very well, then—the Green Room it is. I will let my brother know I have changed his arrangements.”
Much as she liked Lady Ramsey, Deirdre breathed more easily once the lady had gone back down the stairs. She followed Mrs. Doyle into the bedchamber and set the sheets down. When she turned, the older woman was pulling oﬀ the coverlet. “Oh, you needn’t trouble yourself, ma’am!”
Mrs. Doyle didn’t so much as pause. “Nonsense, Deirdre. Beatrix is putting the drawing room to rights, and making the bed yourself would take too long. With the earl’s nieces here, you must be back from the village in time for the dress-ing gong.”
“Then I thank you.” She unfolded the ﬁrst of the sheets and handed one side to the housekeeper. “He swore after the last one that he wouldn’t entertain any more pretenders.”
A long sigh accompanied her superior’s brisk movements. “This one comes on the recommendation of Lord Harlow, a future duke. It is hard not to make an exception, given that.” She tucked a corner with precision Deirdre had learned from her years ago. “Wish as we may that his lordship wouldn’t have to go through this again, it is already set. The girl is coming. All we can do now is pray she leaves the earl’s heart intact when she is dismissed.”
“Aye.” They worked in silence for a moment, but Deirdre met the woman’s eye again when they shook out the top sheet. “I have always wondered why his lordship didn’t just remarry and hope for a son.”
A wistful smile settled on Mrs. Doyle’s lips. “You would understand had you seen him with Lady Whitby. He’ll mourn her for the rest of his life.”
“I suppose it’s never easy, losing one’s spouse.”
Mrs. Doyle ﬂuﬀed a pillow and put it in place. “How is your mother faring these days?”
“Getting on.” As best as to be expected, anyway. Mum couldn’t move past Da any more than the earl could his long-gone countess. She helped pull the coverlet back up, smooth it out, position the decorative pillows. “There we are.”
“And oﬀ you go. Remember—back by the dressing gong.”
Not wasting time on anything more than a curtsy and a smile, Deirdre hurried out and up the back stairs, untying her apron as she went. The sparse room she shared with Beatrix was silent and empty, so Deirdre laid the white apron carefully upon her bed and took up her coat, hat, and handbag. Inside the last she’d already tucked the letters she needed to post— one for Uncle Seamus in India and another for Mum and her siblings, including the pound notes.
Half past one already. Heavens, but she had better hurry. Praying she didn’t meet with Mrs. Doyle or Mr. Graham, the butler, to be scolded for her too-quick step, she ﬂew belowstairs and headed for the back door.
“Deirdre, wait! I’ll walk with you to the village.”
She oughtn’t to have to stifle a groan, not over Hiram. And any other day she would welcome the company of the second footman. Just not today.
Still, she paused a step away from escape. Noise from the kitchen ﬁlled her ears, and its scents reminded her that she would miss tea—and she hadn’t put aside any of her pay for frivolities like a biscuit from the baker in town, not this month. It would all head to Kilkeel. Little Molly would need a new coat for the coming winter, Mum had said.
Hiram tugged a hat onto his head as he joined her. “Shall we, then?”
“Aye.” Though as soon as they were out in the cool air, she reached up to straighten his hat for him. “Much better.”
He laughed and skewed it again. “Stop your fussing, Dee. I’m not expected to look as polished as the silver when on my own time in the village.”
“Mr. Graham would disagree.” A grin tugged at her lips.
“I don’t see him about, do you?” He checked over each shoulder to be sure, though, as they headed around the drive. “Safe and free. Have you any big plans this afternoon?”
Her ﬁngers tightened around the frayed strap of her handbag. “Letters to post, a bit of this and that by way of errands. You?”
“As it happens, my cousin is on his way through the area, and we’re grabbing a bite at the pub.”
Praise be to heaven—he’d be paying no mind to her, then. “Oh, won’t that be a treat for you.”
“Aye.” Hiram shot her a grin that faded to a comfortable silence. He took up a whistle as the long drive went round a bend.
His ditty proved lighter than the sunshine ﬂitting in and out of the clouds, warmer than the autumn air. She fussed with her jacket’s buttons and tried not to sigh. How did he do it? Stay so bright and cheerful all the time, as if his parents were still alive, as if his brothers hadn’t all been scattered, as if he hadn’t been passed over for ﬁrst footman when Mr. Graham’s nephew arrived?
As if life were fair?
But she couldn’t recall ever seeing Hiram frown for more than a minute, and they had both been working at Whitby Park for nigh onto seven years now. Made her wonder if there weren’t a screw loose somewhere in that pleasant-looking head of his.
His whistle came to a halt. “Hold up a moment, Dee. I’ve a lace untied here.”
She let her feet carry her a step farther while he bent down, let her eyes sweep across the moors that had never felt quite like home. Maybe one of these days she’d be able to return to Ireland. Settle down with a farmer or merchant who wouldn’t mind that her best years had been spent in a lord’s house in England, see that Mum passed her later years without working her ﬁngers to the very bone.
Assuming she could ever get ahead of the debt Da had taken on when the crops failed back in 1902. It wouldn’t happen on a maid’s salary, for sure and certain, though the extra she made as head housemaid certainly helped.
The panic in Hiram’s tone snapped her back to the present. Hooves thundered—and she had wandered into the cross- roads. She hadn’t any time to realize where the horses were coming from before she was yanked backward. Her feet tangled with Hiram’s, and they both tumbled into the ditch. Pain shot through her bottom as she landed.
At the loud whinny directly before her, she looked up to see that the two horses had reined in and one of the riders had dismounted.
Hiram muttered something unintelligible and helped her to her feet as the rider strode their way. A mere glance showed her why her friend had been so quick to pull her up—Deirdre dropped into a wobbly curtsy. “Lord Cayton, my apologies.”
The young earl frowned and halted a few steps away. “We are the ones who must apologize for such a careless race. Are you injured?”
“I am well, my lord.” Deirdre smoothed her grey skirt and directed her gaze to the ground. No doubt Lord Cayton wouldn’t recognize her from the times he’d come to Whitby Park, but it would take no great logic to realize from where they’d come. And his lordship may decide later it was their fault rather than his.
“And you, man?”
Hiram cleared his throat. “No worse for the wear, my lord.”
“Leave them to their outing, Cayton, and let’s be on our way.”
The second voice brought Deirdre’s gaze up, but only for a moment. A moment was sufficient to reveal the chiseled features and ebon hair that matched the smooth baritone.
“Coming, Pratt. You’re both certain you are well?”
Deirdre nodded along with Hiram as Lord Cayton remounted his horse. They held their place until the riders had continued past and then stepped back onto the road toward Eden Dale.
Hiram let out a whisper of breath and brushed something from Deirdre’s shoulder. “Are you hurt, DeeDee?”
“Nothing that hasn’t passed already.” She grinned to let him know she meant it. “And you?”
“Fine.” But he sent a rare frown after the gentlemen before he shook himself and smiled again. “We have an adventure to tell now. And some folks claim village life is too quiet.”
She had little choice but to laugh.
The rest of the walk into town was uneventful, and they parted ways at the pub. Deirdre ﬁrst posted her letters and then paused outside for a fortifying breath. A look around proved no one paid her any undue mind, so she headed for the church.
Silence embraced her inside the sanctuary, and light slanted in with all the colors of the stained glass. It ought to have brought peace, reverence, but instead her pulse picked up as she slid into the next-to-last pew. Only then did she check her watch—two minutes to spare.
No footsteps sounded, but she felt it when he came in, and she held her breath until he slipped into the pew behind her. Held it until, as always, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her jaw. “You nearly frightened me to death back there in the lane.”
Her eyes slid shut. “Nothing frightens you, Lord Pratt.” Least of all the thought of her being harmed.
“You think me such an ogre?”
“I think you . . . too far above me to be disturbed by my stumbling.” She slid away a few inches and turned to see his proﬁle. The ﬁrst time he had approached her, she had been struck dumb by his beauty. But it was the beauty of a dark angel—that she had learned quickly enough.
His chuckle made no pretense of mirth. Much like the ﬁngers he trailed down her neck never pretended they wouldn’t as soon strangle as caress. “Tell me, my lovely Deirdre—how is it you know Lord Cayton?”
Though she wanted to swallow, she didn’t dare. Those ﬁngers would note it and mark it against her. “He . . . he came to Whitby Park with his cousin last month. Lord Harlow. About the girl.”
“And that is the only time you’ve seen him? He hasn’t come another time to call on Whitby’s nieces?” He lifted a brow, his black gaze promising to know if she lied.
“He came to dine once since. But he seemed more taken with Lady Melissa than Lady Regan.”
“Good. Good.” Lord Pratt rested his arm on the back of the pew. “And Lady Regan—of whom has she been speaking lately?”
Not him, though she wished she didn’t have to admit that. “Her preference isn’t clear, my lord. Though her sister teases her most about Lord Worthing.”
“Hmm.” No one else she had ever met could pack so much displeasure into a hum. “You, of course, put in a word wherever you can.”
“And Whitby—I heard he succeeded in breaking the entail on the estate.”
That, at least, should appease him. “Aye. With no possible heir through paternal lineage, they granted it. The estate will go wherever he wills it, and the title will go extinct when he passes on.”
She wasn’t sure why so distant a maternal cousin as Pratt had any thought his lordship might name him heir—but then, he knew it was unlikely. That was why he was so determined to court Lady Regan.
Lord Pratt leaned in until their noses all but touched. “And where will he will the estate?”
“I . . . Mr. Graham thinks it certain Lady Regan will inherit, but Lord Whitby never speaks of such things in my presence.”
“Of course not.” His smile did nothing to soften the steel in his eyes. “But he speaks of it to someone, and someone else overhears. Then that someone no doubt bandies it about in the kitchen later. I ask only that you keep your ears open, my sweet.”
Her nod was slight, lest it put her face any closer to his. “I do.”
“I know you do. After all, you realize my funds are not unlimited. I cannot keep supporting your family forever, not without—”
“I know.” She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Unless, of course, you are willing to—”
“Please. I understand.”
He laughed. “Very well, my lovely, cling to your so-called respectability a bit longer.” The crinkling of paper drew her eyes open again, and she saw a banknote dangling before her.
Eyes wide, she looked past the note and to him. “Why is it more than we agreed?”
“Incentive.” He reached over the pew back and slid it into the handbag she’d set at her side.
There was nothing she could do but say thank-you. Even though she knew the devil never made a gift without demanding something in return.
Roseanna M. White, The Lost Heiress Bethany House Publishers, © 2015.