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Gabrielle Denning, the sheltered ward of Lady Nevon, grew up in an almost magical place, an estate where society's outcasts were treasured and the ruling spirit was love. It almost made her forget the terrifying night when an unexplained fire killed her parents, leaving her with only a music box to remember them by. But her idyllic world is about to change, as the bastard son of Lady Nevon's brother maneuvers his carriage up the manor's drive. Outcast by his titled father, Bryce Lyndley has nonetheless flourished, becoming a renowned barrister ruled entirely by his principles. The meeting to which he has been summoned at Nevon Manor, however, could transform his life -- and warm his heart. Amid unfolding secrets, his life and Gaby's will touch, awakening emotions as profound as the richest symphony. But if happiness is to be theirs, Bryce and Gaby must uncover mystery from long ago, reawakened by the haunting notes of Gaby's music box...or lose all they cherish to treachery, heartbreak, and a murderer's nefarious plan.
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Andrea Kane’s groundbreaking romantic thriller, Run for Your Life, became an instant New York Times bestseller, which she followed with No Way Out, Scent of Danger, I’ll Be Watching You, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, and Dark Room. With a worldwide following and novels published in sixteen countries, she is also the author of fourteen historical romances. Kane lives in New Jersey with her family, where she is learning to sharpen her firearms and investigative skills like a more seasoned FBI special agent. Between target practices, she is researching and writing the sequel to Twisted. www.andreakane.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Why in God's name had she requested this meeting?
For the hundredth time, Bryce Lyndley asked himself that question, pondering the motive behind what was about to occur even as he steered his phaeton through the iron gates of Lady Nevon's elegant country estate. Tension knotted inside him, having escalated with each passing segment of his twenty-five-mile journey from London to Hertford.
He had yet to find an answer that suited him.
Damn. This chapter of his life had been closed decades ago, and he had no intention of allowing it to be reopened -- especially not by the death of the very scoundrel who'd authored its pages.
Still, it was Lady Nevon who'd sent for him, Bryce reminded himself. And, even though his sole contact with her all these years had been through letters, the idea of refusing her fervent summons was unthinkable. He owed her a huge debt of gratitude -- one that no number of visits could repay.
No number of visits? he thought wryly. In truth, this was the first time she'd ever requested his presence at her home. Until now she hadn't dared see him, much less invite him to Nevon Manor.
Oh, he knew precisely why. He knew, he understood, and he accepted.
He was also aware that, as of a week ago, the reason prompting her restraint was gone, having died along with the man who'd created it -- the very man who'd been the insurmountable obstacle thwarting Lady Nevon's wishes, barring Bryce from his past.
Fine. So now Lady Nevon could send for him.
The question remained: why would she want to?
She, better than anyone, knew the past could not be undone. Like the cruelty and lies that defined it, the past and all its ills had long since been cast in stone. An eternity had elapsed, lives had been formed, and nothing and no one could alter those hard realities.
So what had prompted her to request this meeting? And why had her tone sounded so urgent?
"My brother is dead," her note had read. "Come to Nevon Manor at once. I've asked nothing of you in the past. Please don't refuse me now."
Bryce's jaw worked as he contemplated the information conveyed by her words. The fact that the Duke of Whitshire was dead meant as little to him as the blood they'd shared. The latter was no more than a cruel accident of fate, the former the inevitable culmination of life. After all, every man, saint and sinner alike, had to die. Even a soul as black as Whitshire's would therefore be reclaimed-doubtless to be sent straight to hell.
Abruptly Bryce's legal mind inserted itself, posing a new possibility. Death necessitated the disbursement of an estate, an intricate procedure, given the late duke's renowned wealth and assets. And while Whitshire had doubtless bequeathed his title and estate to his heir apparent -- in this case, his legitimate son, Thane -- that said nothing of any further provisos his will might have contained. Had that son of a bitch specified something to adversely affect Lady Nevon?
Was that the reason behind her unexpected summons? Did she require Bryce's help?
Doubtful. From all reports, Hermione Nevon's relationship with her brother had been a smooth one...so long as she complied with his wishes. Which, presumably, she did -- with the exception of one pivotal undiscovered deception. Further, if there was anything amiss in Whitshire's will, Bryce would be the last person Lady Nevon would contact to dispute it, given his lack of objectivity.
Unless it was Bryce she meant to protect.
That prospect struck like a blow. Was it possible that, through his death, the duke had found a way to inflict some new plague on Bryce's life, one Lady Nevon intended to warn him of?
Impossible. Whitshire had believed Bryce dead. Lady Nevon herself had seen to that more than thirty years ago, convincing her brother that the bane of his existence had been cast into the streets, where he'd starved and perished.
Which eliminated Whitshire's will as a possible cause for today's summons.
Leaving the same nagging questions in its wake.
Easing his horses round the drive, Bryce abandoned his speculations. The manor loomed just ahead. Whatever Lady Nevon wanted, he'd learn about it soon enough. And whatever her request was, he'd find a way to oblige her -- without dredging up the ugliness of the past.
He'd hardly made his decision when a small white streak shot across the drive, directly into the path of Bryce's oncoming phaeton. The streak-which revealed itself to be a swift but thoroughly terrified rabbit -- froze for a moment, staring fearfully about before completing its mad dash to the opposite side of the Ave, where it disappeared into the woods.
Bryce's horses went wild.
Whinnying their distress, they came to a screeching halt, rearing up and tossing their heads in protest.
"Easy!" Bryce commanded, tightening his grip on the reins and fighting to bring the horses under control as the carriage pulled precariously to the left.
After a brief struggle, the skittish mounts complied, and the carriage eased to a stop, teetering at the very edge of the drive. "Damn," Bryce muttered. Peering to his right, he scanned the woods, the fluttering leaves on the trees the only sign that they'd been recently disturbed.
"Sir! Pardon me -- sir!"
Bryce's head snapped about at the approaching sound of the feminine voice breathlessly accosting him from the same direction as had the white streak. "Yes?" He blinked as a delicate young woman sprinted toward the carriage, a cascade of chestnut hair billowing out around her smudged, fineboned face, her eyes -- a brilliant cornflower blue -- filled with worry.
"Did you see a white rabbit go by?" she panted, looking furtively about.
Despite the lingering effects of the past moments' tension, Bryce felt his lips twitch.
"Pardon me," the girl repeated, gazing at Bryce as if trying to assess his ability to hear. "Did you see a white rabbit go by? I spied him heading in this direction. I only pray your vehicle didn't strike him." With that, she forced herself to peer into the drive, her shoulders sagging with relief when she saw it was devoid of an injured animal. "Thank goodness. Still, I'm sure the commotion startled him. Lord knows where he went. I must find him before he gets hurt. He's too inquisitive for his own good. Oh, why did I doze off? I know Crumpet delights in racing off the first chance he gets. Are you sure you didn't see him -- a rather bewildered-looking white rabbit who rushes about as if he's in a frightful hurry?"
That did it.
Bryce's shoulders began shaking with laughter. "I'm not certain," he managed. "Was this rabbit wearing a waistcoat? Contemplating a pocket watch, perhaps?"
At first the young woman's brows drew together, distress precluding comprehension. Then realization struck and her eyes began to twinkle. "No. Actually, he was quite bare."
"Ah. In that case, I can put your fears to rest. The scamp who, mere seconds ago, tore across the drive, terrorizing my horses and nearly catapulting my carriage from the road, was definitely white and assuredly bare. My guess is he's the rabbit you're searching for. If so, he's quite intact." Bryce pointed. "He darted into those woods, right beyond that elm." Another grin. "Will you be going in after him?"
One dimple appeared in each smudged cheek. "I think not. As long as he's in the woods, he's safe. So I'll let him have his fun. He'll be scolded later."
"With a scolding to look forward to, I doubt he'll return."
"Oh, he'll return -- when the desire to eat overcomes the fear of reprimand." The girl tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Or when he consults his fictitious pocket watch and learns that it's mealtime," she added, laughter lacing her tone. Tilting back her head, she regarded Bryce with undisguised interest. "You must be Bryce Lyndley. Aunt Hermione's been expecting you."
Aunt Hermione? Now, that was an unknown scrap of information.
"Indeed I am," he said aloud. "I'm also at an obvious disadvantage. You know my name, but I haven't a clue as to yours. Unless, of course, it's Alice."
She flashed him another smile. "No. It's Gaby -- Gaby Denning. Nevon Manor is my home." She backed away as she spoke. "Let's avoid making this an official introduction. Aunt Hermione would be most upset if she were to learn I'd met you when I was in such a disheveled state. She's very proud of you, you know. You and your accomplishments. She wants all of us to look and act our best when we're introduced to you. So I'd best hurry inside and make myself presentable. I'll see you...meet you" -- she corrected herself -- "shortly."
With that she darted toward the manor.
Bryce stared after her, amused by the encounter, intrigued by what he'd learned.
So Lady Nevon had a niece. Odd, he'd never known of her existence until now. Then again, he hadn't exactly been apprised of family matters. Evidently that was about to change, if all Lady Nevon's niece had just said was true. If what she'd blurted out was any indication of what lay ahead, he was about to meet an unknown number of people, all of whom had been advised to make a favorable impression on him.
There was only one way to find out.
Taking up the reins, Bryce urged the horses toward the manor.
"Good day, Mr. Lyndley. Lady Nevon is expecting you." A tall, stately butler opened the door, giving Bryce a lightning-quick head-to-toe perusal that, had Bryce been a tad less observant, would have escaped him. "Welcome to Nevon Manor," he continued with a practiced bow. Straightening, he held his chin high, his dark hair and pencil-thin mustache impeccably groomed, just barely tinged with gray. "My name is Chaunce. Anything you require, please let me know and I'll see that you get it."
"Thank you, Chaunce," Bryce responded, intrigued once again by the enthusiasm of his welcome, though still baffled by its cause. From the corner of his eye he spied a line of footmen, all darting about in a sudden flurry of motion, some carrying trays, others polishing the wood, all of them casting curious glances in his direction. Dryly, he wondered if they intended to line up and throw rose petals at his feet as he strolled the balls. "I truly require nothing, other than knowing where Lady Nevon is, that is."
"She's in the library, sir. I'll take you there myself, then see to your refreshment." The butler cleared his throat purposefully. "Correct me if I'm wrong, sir. As I understand it, you prefer coffee to tea. You take it black, no cream or sugar. As for what accompanies it, you fancy cinnamon cakes -- with raspberry jelly, of course -- rather than scones." A pause. "Any errors, sir?"
"Not a one." Bryce inclined his head, a fascinated gleam lighting his eyes. "Tell me, is there anything about me you don't know, Chaunce?"
"I try to be thorough, sir. Lady Nevon prefers it that way. Now, if you'll follow me." The butler gestured grandly, then turned and, hands clasped behind his back, headed down the polished hallway.
Bryce followed, feeling suddenly and uncustomarily off-balance. It took a great deal to unnerve him, which was why he was so bloody good at his profession. Yet now, preparing to face the woman who'd spared his life and ensured his future, he felt oddly uneasy, plagued by an awareness that old demons were on the verge of being confronted.
First a bantering session with a girl straight from the pages of a novel, now this.
For a man who was ruled by fact, rooted in thought rather than emotion, this day was turning out to be most unsettling.
"Yes?" a delicate voice responded to Chaunce's knock.
"Forgive me, madam," the butler began, opening the library door a crack, "but Mr. Lyndley is here."
"Thank God," Bryce heard her murmur to herself. Then: "Please, Chaunce, show him in."
Chaunce threw the door wide and gestured for Bryce to enter.
Slowly Bryce complied, wondering if the memory he'd carried with him all these years -- of a tiny lady with aristocratic features and a knot of upswept honey blond hair -- would match the woman he about to see for the first time in twenty-three years.
"Bryce." The elderly matron who approached him, hands outstretched, was a replica of his memory, save the color of her hair -- now snow white -- and the previously absent lines of age set into her cheeks and brow. "Oh, Bryce." Tears shone in her pale blue eyes as she drank him in feature by feature, nodding her approval and clasping his hands in hers. "You look wonderful. Tall. Handsome. Even I couldn't anticipate..." She broke off. "Forgive me."
"It's good to see you too, my lady," Bryce returned, his voice raw as childhood memories slammed from past to present at a breakneck pace. "You're looking well -- precisely as I remembered you, in fact." He kissed her hand.
"Hardly. But bless you for saying that." Her lips curved, and she released his hands with great reluctance. "Please, sit. Chaunce will fetch our refreshment. Then we'll talk."
Nodding, Bryce waited for her to be seated, then lowered himself into a library chair. "I came as soon as I got your message."
"Yes. I hoped you would." She fell silent as Chaunce reentered and placed a tray on the side table.
"Shall I pour, my lady?" the butler inquired.
"No, thank you, Chaunce. I'll pour."
"Very good. Will there be anything else?"
"Not at this time. I'll summon you shortly."
"Of course, my lady." Chaunce bowed. "Enjoy your visit."
Lady Nevon waited until the door had closed behind him. Then she turned her attention back to Bryce. "I have so very much to say to you. I always have, though I never could. But now, with Richard dead..."
"Please accept my sympathy on your loss."
Her brows rose. "Why would you offer something you can't possibly feel?"
"I beg to differ with you. I do indeed feel sympathy. Granted, it's for you, not the duke. But my personal opinion of him detracts nothing from the fact that he was your brother. The sympathy I'm offering is therefore quite genuine, I assure you."
A small smile curved Lady Nevon's lips. "You haven't changed, Bryce. You're still as straightforward and honest as ever. And as skilled at driving home your point. 'Tis no wonder no other barrister in England can compare with you. I thank you for your kind wishes. As for my feelings, they're mixed. You, better than anyone, know how very different my brother and I were. I loved him -- but I very seldom liked him. To be frank, a part of me feels naught but relief at his death." She inclined her head. "Do I sound like a monster?"
"No, Lady Nevon. You sound human."
In reply, she took up the coffeepot, poured two steaming cups. "Lady Nevon. How very formal. Tell me, Bryce, after all these years, do you think you might call me Hermione?"
"If it would please you."
"It would." She handed him a cup, along with the tray of cinnamon cakes. "I trust these are still your favorites?"
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