When handsome army officer Avery Fox unexpectedly inherits a fortune, he instantly becomes one of the season’s most eligible bachelors. More accustomed to the battlefield, he has no patience with the naive debutantes who fill the ballrooms of London.
Honest and impetuous Lady Lucy Radley is a breath of fresh air, guiding him through the season and helping him to avoid any traps. So when Avery is left with little option but to marry Lucy, he can’t help but feel he’s been manipulated. Nor can he shake the feeling that a duke’s daughter should be out of his reach.
From the wildly beautiful Scottish Highlands to the elegant soirees of Paris, Avery and Lucy go on a journey that is full of surprises for them both. But will their feelings for each other be strong enough to overcome the circumstances of their marriage and survive the ghosts of Avery’s past?
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By every measure of her own behaviour, Lady Lucy Radley knew this was the worst.
‘You reckless fool,’ she muttered under her breath as she headed back inside and into the grand ballroom.
The room was a crush of London’s social elite. Every few steps she had to stop and make small talk with friends or acquaintances. A comment here and there about someone’s gown or promising a social call made for slow going.
Finally she spied her cousin, Eve. She fixed a smile to her face as Eve approached.
‘Where have you been, Lucy? I’ve been searching everywhere for you.’
‘I was just outside admiring the flowers on the terrace.’
Eve frowned, but the lie held.
Another night, another ball in one of London’s high-society homes. In one respect Lucy would be happy when the London social season ended in a few weeks; then she would be free to travel to her family home in Scotland and go tramping across the valleys and mountain paths, the chill wind ruffling her hair.
She puffed out her cheeks. With the impending close of the season came an overwhelming sense of failure. Her two older brothers, David and Alex, had taken wives. Perfect, love-filled unions with delightful girls, each of whom
Lucy was happy to now call sister.
Her newest sister-in-law, Earl Langham’s daughter Clarice, was already in a delicate condition, and Lucy suspected it was only a matter of time before her brother Alex and his wife Millie shared some good news.
For herself, this season had been an unmitigated disaster on the husband-hunting front. The pickings were slim at best. Having refused both an earl and a viscount the previous season, she suspected other suitable gentlemen now viewed her as too fussy. No gentleman worth his boots wanted a difficult wife. Only the usual group of fortune-hunters, intent on getting their hands on her substantial dowry, were lining up at this stage of the season to ask her to dance. Maintaining her pride as the daughter of a duke, she refused them all.
Somewhere in the collective gentry of England there must be a man worthy of her love. She just had to find him.
What a mess.
‘You are keeping something from me,’ Eve said, poking a finger gently into Lucy’s arm.
Lucy shook her head. ‘It’s nothing. I suspect I am suffering from a touch of ennui. These balls all begin to look the same after a while. All the same people, sharing the same gossip.’
‘Oh dear, and I thought I was having a bad day,’ Eve replied.
‘Sorry, I was being selfish. You are the one who needs a friend to cheer her up,’ Lucy replied. She kissed her cousin gently on the cheek.
Eve’s brother William had left London earlier that day to return to his home in Paris, and she knew her cousin was taking his departure hard.
‘Yes, well, I knew I could sit at home and cry, or I could put on a happy face and try to find something to smile about,’ Eve replied.
Eve’s father had tried without success to convince his son to return permanently to England. With the war now over and Napoleon toppled from power, everyone expected William Saunders to come home immediately, but it had taken two years for him to make the journey back to London.
‘Perhaps once he gets back to France and starts to miss us all again, he shall have a change of heart,’ Lucy said.
‘One can only hope. Now, let’s go and find a nice quiet spot and you can tell me what you were really doing out in the garden. Charles Ashton came in the door not a minute before you, and he had a face like thunder. As I happened to see the two of you head out into the garden at the same time a little while ago, I doubt Charles’ foul temper was because he found the flowers not to his liking,’ Eve replied.
It was late when Lucy and her parents finally returned home to Strathmore House. The Duke and Duchess of Strathmore’s family home was one of the largest houses in the elegant West End of London. It was close to the peaceful greenery of Hyde Park, and Lucy couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
As they came through the grand entrance to Strathmore House she was greeted by the sight of her eldest brother David seated on a low couch outside their father’s study. He was clad in a heavy black greatcoat and his hat was in his hand.
‘Hello, David; bit late for a visit this evening. I hope nothing is wrong,’ said Lord Strathmore.
‘Clarice?’ asked Lady Caroline.
‘She’s fine, sleeping soundly at home,’ he replied.
Lucy sensed the pride and love for his wife in her brother’s voice. He had found his true soulmate in Lord Langham’s daughter.
David stood and came over. When he reached them, he greeted his mother and sister with a kiss. His dark hair was a stark contrast to both Lady Caroline’s and Lucy’s fair complexions.
He turned to his father. ‘Lord Langham’s missing heir has been found, and the news is grave. My father-in-law asked that I come and inform you before it becomes public knowledge. A rather horrid business, by all accounts.’
‘I see. Ladies, would you please excuse us? This demands my immediate attention,’ Lord Strathmore said.
As Lucy and Lady Caroline headed up the grand staircase, he and David retired to his study. As soon as the door was closed behind them, David shared the news.
‘The remains of Thaxter Fox were retrieved from the River Fleet a few hours ago. His brother Avery, whom you met at my wedding ball a few weeks ago, has formally identified the body. Lord Langham is currently making funeral arrangements,’ David said.
His father shook his head. It was not an unexpected outcome of the search for the missing Thaxter Fox.
He wandered over to a small table and poured two glasses of whisky. He handed one to David.
‘Well, that makes for a new and interesting development. I don’t expect Avery Fox had ever entertained the notion before today that he would one day be Earl Langham,’ Lord Strathmore replied, before downing his drink.
‘Perhaps, but he had to know the likelihood of finding his brother in one piece was slim at best. From our enquiries, it was obvious Thaxter had a great many enemies,’ David replied.
‘Including you,’ said the duke.
David looked down at his gold wedding ring. It still bore the newlywed gleam, which made him smile.
‘He and I had come to a certain understanding. If he stayed away from Langham House and Clarice, I would not flay the skin off his back. No, someone else decided to make Thaxter pay for his evil ways.’
The Langham and Radley families held little affection for the recently deceased heir to the Langham title. After Thaxter had made an attempt to seize Clarice’s dowry through a forced marriage, both families had severed all ties.
Thaxter had disappeared not long after.
David would do everything in his power to protect Clarice. With a baby on the way, he was fully prepared to stare down the rest of the town if it meant keeping his wife safe. As the illegitimate, but acknowledged, son of the duke,
David had overcome many of society’s prejudices in order to successfully woo and wed Lord Langham’s only daughter.
‘Unkind as it sounds, I doubt many at Langham House will be mourning the demise of the eldest Mr Fox,’ his father replied.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in England, but raised in Australia, Sasha has a love for both countries. Having her heart in two places has created a love for travel, which at last count was to over 55 countries. A travel guide is always on her pile of new books to read.
Her first published novel, Letter from a Rake was a finalist for the 2014 Romantic Book of the Year.
Sasha lives with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who demands a starring role in the next book. She has found new hiding spots for her secret chocolate stash. On the weekends Sasha loves walking on the beach while trying to deal with her bad knee and current Fitbit obsession.