Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own.
As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…
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‘You are very quiet, my love,’ he remarked as they strolled down the South Walk. ‘Does this place perturb you? Vauxhall is hardly the Crystal Palace, I grant.’
She looked vaguely around as though she hardly registered her surroundings. ‘I am well, Lucas, thank you.’ Her voice had lost its rich music.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, it is really nothing.’
‘Which means that you are bothered by something. Tell me,’ he urged.
She hesitated for some minutes before saying diffidently, ‘I thought that I recognised someone as I approached the gates. But I must have been mistaken.’
‘A woman. She looked like a visitor who once came to tea with my mother-in-law. But I must be mistaken,’ she repeated.
‘I think you must. I cannot imagine a friend of the elder Mrs Renville frequenting Vauxhall!’
He was cajoling her, quite sure that her nervous state had precipitated these qualms. ‘But just in case, we will hide ourselves completely,’ and he steered her towards one of the small paths that led away from the main promenade towards what he knew was the Dark Walk. Here the lamps were absent and the company very thin. It was not long before he found a small wooden shelter half way up the Walk where they could be entirely alone amid thick darkness.
‘I have news,’ he said, trying to not to betray his excitement. ‘The plans I have been pursuing are now almost certain. I hope to be designing the Carlyon chapel as an architect in my own right.’
She looked at him blankly. Her mind still seemed far away and he had to reiterate, ‘I will be leaving de Vere’s.’
This startled her into words. ‘But without a salary, how will you manage? How will you afford your lodgings?’
‘Once I am working for the earl, I will be able to afford far superior lodgings. So superior they will be good enough to accommodate you.’
‘I will be able to visit you there?’
He clasped her hands tightly between his. ‘You will be able to live with me there.’
‘You are suggesting that I leave my home?’
He could not understand her reluctance but said patiently, ‘We cannot continue to meet like this, Alessia. You must know that. We must have a place to call our own.’
‘But I cannot leave Edward. I am his wife.’
Why did she cling so tenaciously to a life that she despised? ‘Are you not more my wife than his?’ he asked urgently.
‘But in the eyes of the church…’ Her voice trailed off, disappearing into the night mist.
‘What matters most—our eyes or those of a distant church?’ He was almost fierce in his denunciation.
‘Ours,’ she agreed unhappily.
‘But you cannot have thought—my daughters—’
‘The proceeds of the Carlyon commission will allow me to rent a substantial house. We will have them to live with us.’
‘Edward would never agree.’
‘But surely he would not separate them from their mother.’
‘They are his children and he will wish to keep them. The law is on his side.’
‘I accept that, but if he knows what it means to you to have them?’
‘Can you not understand? They are his children, I am his wife. We belong to him. If I should dare to leave, he will do everything in his power to hurt me.’
The eagerness slowly drained from Lucas and he slumped back against the shelter’s rough wooden wall. She turned to him in anguish, desperately gripping his shoulders. ‘I cannot relinquish my daughters, Lucas. You cannot ask it of me.’
When he responded, his voice held the note of defeat. ‘What you are saying is that you will never come to me.’
A long and painful silence descended between them while Alessia slowly twisted into mangled leather the gloves she held. At length, in a voice hardly above a whisper, she said, ‘I did not say that.’
The words appeared wrenched from her, but they galvanised Lucas. He leant forward again, all his eagerness returned. ‘Then say you will come. Say that you love me enough to do this.’
‘Sometimes,’ she said slowly, ‘I think you do not know just how much I love you.’
‘Then come to me, my darling.’
‘As soon as the Great Exhibition has opened, I will be free to work for Lord Carlyon. I will make all the necessary plans.’
‘And my children?’
‘Once we are settled in our new home, I will request an interview with your husband. I will tell him your need for your daughters and say that everything will be done discreetly. You are not a part of his social world, so who is to know that you no longer live at Wisteria Lodge?’
She shook her head and a look of near despair flooded her lovely face.
‘Alessia!’ he said urgently. ‘It cannot truly matter to Edward Renville whether you live with him or not. It is only his business that he cares for. And as for the children, he will see them whenever he wishes.’
Her continued silence moved him to desperation. ‘If you love me, you will come.’
‘I do, I do,’ she said sobbing into his shoulder.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORI became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.
I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.
I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!
The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.
Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.
Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.