Elena Bellwood’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother dies and leaves her penniless. She is forced to move from her beloved home in New York City to live with an aunt in Connecticut—an aunt she never knew existed. During her journey north, she meets Benjamin Garrick, a blunt-spoken gentleman with a strange hobby. Against her will, Elena finds herself attracted to his manly demeanor, and she is both pleased and flustered to learn he is a close friend of her aunt and lives in the same village.
In her new life with Aunt Rosalie, Elena begins to question her past. Why had she never been told of her aunt? What is the significance of the odd items she found in her mother’s bedroom? Who is the stranger in town that seems always to be staring at her? To answer these questions, Elena must explore past secrets that tear apart her world.
The duke took her hand and kissed it.
“Thank you for coming, Your Grace.” She seated herself and the duke did likewise. Willa entered, and Elena ordered tea.
“I owe you an apology,” the duke began, “for not attending your mother’s funeral. I was out of the city for a few days on business, and the weather forced me to stay in Queens for an extra day.”
“Pray do not distress yourself. No one can stop snow when it decides to fall. You are here now, and I am deeply grateful for it.”
Willa came in with tea, and Elena served it. The duke sipped the hot liquid and devoured two of the sweet buns Willa placed on the table. He said nothing while he ate, rather surprising Elena with his silence.
Perhaps, she reasoned, he is gathering his courage for the presentation of his proposals. She attempted to wait patiently.
Finally, he spoke. “Miss Bellwood, what are your future plans?”
A thrill ran through her. “I…am not certain.”
“Have you no family to go to? You are not contemplating remaining in New York alone, I trust.”
“No. I have an aunt in Connecticut. I suppose I must go to her, unless…”
The duke started to speak but halted his words. He sighed and took her hand.
“I am fond of you, Elena, and because I care for you, I cannot be satisfied with being less than honest. To you I will speak the truth.”
“My dear duke, what do you mean?”
“I believe—correct me if I am mistaken—my attentions to you may perhaps have given rise to expectations…”
Elena instantly decided to be as frank as he. She took a deep breath and attempted to speak calmly. “Yes, perhaps they did, on my mother’s part, if not quite certainly my own.”
“If you recall, I was going to wait upon you on the day of your mother’s death.”
“My purpose in calling was to request a private interview with you…”
“A private interview?”
“Yes. I feared that there had been some talk about us, and I wanted you to know, to forewarn you before the news broke.”
“Forewarn me? Your Grace, what do you mean?”
He smoothed his trousers. “Elena, a few days before your mother died, I engaged myself to Miss Julia Howarth—”
“Engaged yourself! Do you mean…?”
“Engaged to be married, yes.”
“Dear God! You were dancing with me—flirting with me—while engaged to another woman! That is despicable!”
He shrugged. “When you are in my arms, Elena, I find it impossible to think of anyone but you. I am not quite in love with you, but very near.”
She stared at him in horror and disbelief. “You are half in love with me, but then you—but why not…?”
He answered her unarticulated question. “My dear, you have no dowry, whereas Miss Howarth will bring the equivalent of thirty thousand English pounds. I am thirty-six years old, not a foolish young blade who would marry out of unalloyed devotion to the object of his desires. My inquiries as to your inheritance were met with the shocking information of your mother’s indebtedness. And now…rumor has it that you are destitute.”
“Good God!” Elena cried, unable to control her tongue. “You, with your wealth, would spurn me because my mother left no money?”
“Calm yourself, my dear, I pray you. The reason I am wealthy—and my family is wealthy—is because we never take any material step without a consideration of the financial aspects of it. I find you extremely charming and attractive, and I was willing to make you my choice even if your mother’s estate had been moderate. But no man in my condition of life would be so foolish as to take a bride who brings nothing to the marriage—not wealth nor noble blood nor future property. I would be a laughingstock.”
Elena leaned back in her chair, barely able to breathe from the shock of his revelations. She felt giddy and faint. She opened her mouth to speak but was unable to find breath to form words. The duke poured sherry and attempted to hold the glass to her lips, but she pushed his hand away with such force that the sweet wine spilled on the settee and splashed her silk gown.
“Elena, I beseech you, calm yourself. I am here to offer you a different type of proposal, and you may very well find this one equally to your liking.”
She raised her eyes to his face and stared at him. A cold chill ran down her back, and she shivered.
“Surely you are aware that most men in my position in life marry for wealth or family considerations, often to women for whom they have little desire. In such cases, it is customary for a gentleman to…to…”
“To keep a mistress?” Elena gasped, able to speak at last.
He shrugged. “To put it plainly, yes.”
ENTER TO WIN BRAMBLES AND THORNS! THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jocelyn’s fascination with life in the 1800s began when she was a teenager and started reading historical novels. She was influenced by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Winston Graham’s Poldark series. Jocelyn resides in the historic town of Mystic, Connecticut.