The acclaimed author of The Devil You Know pens a shimmering novel about a Scottish noblewoman on the run from her past and a powerful English lord brought to his knees by desire.
Aubrey Montford claims to be a widowed housekeeper. Desperate to keep her new post -- and her secrets -- she transforms desolate Castle Cardow into a profitable estate. Yet soon after her employer, Lord Walrafen, returns from long years of absence, Aubrey is suspected of murder. Sparks and tempers ignite whenever she and the smoldering earl meet, but he may be her only hope.
Walrafen returns reluctantly to the childhood home he loathes. Cardow is said to be haunted -- by more than the earl's sad memories -- but it was no ghost that murdered his uncle. Is the castle's beautiful chatelaine a murderess? At the very least, she's a liar -- he has proof. Yet the truth of his soul is that he's drawn to her with a kind of fierce passion he's never known....
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During her frequent travels through England, Liz Carlyle always packs her pearls, her dancing slippers, and her whalebone corset, confident in the belief that eventually she will receive an invitation to a ball or a rout. Alas, none has been forthcoming. While waiting, however, she has managed to learn where all the damp, dark alleys and low public houses can be found.
Liz hopes she has brought just a little of the nineteenth century alive for the reader in her popular novels, which include the trilogy of One Little Sin, Two Little Lies, and Three Little Secrets, as well as The Devil You Know, A Deal With the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. Please visit her at www.lizcarlyle.com, especially if you're giving a ball.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: In Which Lord de Vendenheim Is Not Amused
It was a lovely afternoon in Mayfair. The windows of shops and homes alike had been flung open to take in the autumn breeze, and up and down Hill Street, housemaids were seizing the chance to sweep down their front steps while the sun was still warm. Coachmen doffed their hats more readily when they went clopping past, and along the pavement a half-dozen footmen lingered, taking in the fresh air and waiting for something -- or nothing -- to do.
The Earl of Walrafen's library was perfectly situated to enjoy such a day, positioned as it was on a second-floor corner. All four of his sashes were up, and behind him he could hear pigeons warbling as they preened and picked at their feathers. But unlike the housemaids, Walrafen was not content -- he rarely was -- and so he tossed the letter he was reading onto his desk and scowled across the room at his clerk.
"Ogilvy!" he bellowed. "The pigeons! The pigeons! Get them off the bloody windowsills!"
Ogilvy's face went blank, but to his credit, he leapt from his writing table and charged, a yardstick in hand. "Shoo, shoo!" he cried amidst the thumping and fluttering of wings. "Off, you wee devils!"
That done, he bowed stiffly and returned to his copying. Walrafen cleared his throat and felt a bit foolish. Perhaps young Ogilvy was not yet a full-fledged man of affairs, but it really was not the lad's job to chase pigeons, was it? Walrafen opened his mouth to apologize, but in that instant the breeze shifted to a gale and blew open the file on his desk. Two years of correspondence went whirling through the room, a tiny tornado of foolscap.
Walrafen cursed aloud. "Is it not enough, Ogilvy, that that woman must plague me weekly with her harangues?" he grumbled as they gathered up the papers. "Now it seems Mrs. Montford's file is possessed by the devil, too."
And it did indeed seem to be so, for the air was perfectly still now. Ogilvy tapped the file's edge lightly on Walrafen's desk. "No harm done, sir." He handed the file back to Walrafen. "It's all here."
The earl smiled wryly. "That's what I'm afraid of."
The lad grinned and went back to his work. Walrafen opened the file and began the topmost letter again.
As explained in my last four letters, it is now imperative a decision be made regarding the west tower. Having heard nothing from you, I took it upon myself to send to Bristol for an architect. Messrs. Simpson & Verney report there is a deep fissure in the exposed wall, and the foundation is badly shifted. Please, sir, must we tear it down or shore it up? I assure you I do not care, and wish only that a decision be made before the whole of it collapses on one of the gardeners, as good ones are hard to come by.
your obedient s'vant,
Good Lord, was this really her fifth letter about that moldy old tower? He would have thought she'd had the bloody thing fixed by now. Walrafen had no wish to think about it further. Already, she'd hired architects. Yes, in Mrs. Montford's capable hands Cardow, and everything in it, could be forgotten, just as he wished. He could safely do nothing. It was an almost astonishing luxury.
He went on to the next sheet of foolscap. Ha! Another of her favorite scolds. Uncle Elias. The poor chap probably never saw a minute's peace.
Your uncle continues most unwell, suffering now from a bilious liver, I collect. He will not let Crenshaw in, and last week hurled an empty bottle at his head whilst the doctor was climbing back into his carriage. His vision going the way of his liver, the bottle missed. Still, I implore you to turn your attention to him in an effort to persuade him to compliance....
"Madam," murmured Walrafen to the paper, "if your incessant nagging does not persuade him, then I have not a chance in hell."
"Beg pardon, my lord?" Ogilvy looked up from his work.
Walrafen lifted the letter, pinching it between two fingers as if it were a soiled handkerchief.
"Ah!" said the lad knowingly. "The housekeeper."
Yes, the housekeeper. A well-known thorn in his side. Walrafen gave a rueful smile, filed away the letter, then on a strange impulse, pulled another from the pile. March, two years ago! This one was an early favorite.
Your uncle has fired me again. Please tell me if I am to stay or to go. If I am to go, please be advised I am owed £1.8.6 which I advanced the chemist last week when your uncle spitefully swallowed the key to the cash box. (We had exchanged ill words about his wish to purchase some untaxed brandy in the village.) If I am to stay, pray write him forthwith, and tell him that the cash box key must be retrieved, and that the duty of uncovering it, so to speak, rests with him....
Poor Uncle Elias! He could see him bent over the chamber pot now, his penknife in hand, and Mrs. Montford behind him, probably clutching a riding crop. Walrafen snorted with laughter, ignored Ogilvy's curious glance, and seized another. Oh, yes! This one was from the early spring, when she'd been turning out the house top-to-bottom. A little part of him wondered what the old place looked like nowadays.
Are you aware that there are six dead toads in the bottom drawer of the bombé commode which sits in your old dressing room? Betsy tells me you gave strict orders upon your departure for Eton that nothing within be touched. But since that was in 1809 and this is 1829, I thought it best to clarify. May I add, regrettably, that said toads are but dust and bones now?
My sympathy at your loss,
P.S. Your uncle has fired me again. Please tell me if I am to stay or to go.
Walrafen tossed the last letter aside and pinched the bridge of his nose hard between his thumb and forefinger. He wanted to laugh. Damn it, he wanted to cry, too. Go, go! he thought. Go, and good riddance, Mrs. Montford!
But he didn't really want her to go, did he? No, dash it, he didn't. The paper seemed suddenly too bright for his eyes. He could feel a headache coming on. The woman always had a way of getting under his skin. She angered him. She amused him. She was insolent. Yet sometimes deploringly incisive.
That was the very trouble, was it not? In his more honest moods he could admit it: the woman made him feel guilty, and had done so with appalling regularity for almost three years. Her letters had grown more strident, more demanding, and more perceptive with each passing month. He dreaded opening them, but he read them over and over. Usually he never bothered to answer them, which only resulted in more letters. He should have fired her at the first sign of insolence.
But her letters did make him laugh sometimes, and he'd had little enough of that in his life. And they brought to mind most vividly his childhood home. The pleasant parts of it, anyway. It was very odd, but sometimes it almost felt as if Mrs. Montford were trying to -- well, to lure him there. Sometimes there was something in her letters beyond the cynicism and chiding. Something that spoke to him in a quiet, secret voice.
He took another, from just this past May, its corners already dog-eared, and read a familiar passage.
The upland gorse this year is a most remarkable shade of green, my lord. I do wish you could see it. The China roses show great promise, and Jenks tells me he is of a mind to build a pergola near the walled garden....
Why did she write to him of such things? And why did he read them over and over? Walrafen wondered, not for the first time, if his housekeeper were pretty. He was not sure of her age, but her letters told him she was young. Young and full of vitality. Uncle Elias had always preferred to employ the prettier servants on their backs instead of their feet. He wondered if the randy old goat had got this one into his bed.
Well, of course he had. Otherwise, he'd have run her off long ago. No servant would put up with Uncle Elias for the paltry amount of money he paid Mrs. Montford. No one could be that desperate. Could they?
The question made him feel...well, he did not know how it made him feel. Certainly, he didn't wish any Englishman -- or woman -- trapped by class or by poverty in a position which they found intolerable. The pounding in his head was worsening. Oh, God, she was a pox upon him, his carping Mrs. Montford! Really, what did he care whether the west tower lived or died? He almost didn't care whether the gardeners lived or died.
Oh, that was not so. He had not spent the whole of his career fighting for the rights of the workingman only to recklessly risk one of his own. But if he simply did nothing, Mrs. Montford would take care of it. Oh, she would be angry with him. An ice storm of haughty letters would rain down upon his head, followed by a hailstorm of bills and receipts. But all would be set to rights at Cardow. And for his lassitude, Walrafen would have all that correspondence to read as penance. Or diversion. He wasn't sure which. The thought made Walrafen wonder again why such a clever woman would let Uncle Elias grunt and heave on top of her.
A piercing pain stabbed into his temple. "Ogilvy!" he said sharply. "Draw the draperies and ring for coffee."
Ogilvy looked at him suspiciously. "Yes, my lord." But before Ogilvy could rise, the door flew open.
"Lord de Vendenheim," announced his butler. And then Walrafen's friend Max stepped into the room.
"Per amor di Dio!" muttered Max, stripping off his driving gloves as he strode into the room. "You aren't dressed!"
Lean, dark, and stoop-shouldered, Max always sounded irritable. And arrogant. The fact that Walrafen outranked him had never much troubled Max, not even when he'd been a lowly police inspector working the river in Wapping, while Walrafen had been one of the m...
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