In this captivating new series set in Georgian England, a disgraced woman hides from her marriage-for better or worse…
Sarah Pevensey had hoped her arranged marriage to St. John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax, could become something more. But almost before it began, it ended in a scandal that shocked London society. Accused of being a jewel thief, Sarah fled to a small fishing village to rebuild her life.
The last time St. John saw his new wife, she was nestled in the lap of a soldier, disheveled, and no longer in possession of his family’s heirloom sapphire necklace. Now, three years later, he has located Sarah and is determined she pay for her crimes. But the woman he finds is far from what he expected. Humble and hardworking, Sarah has nothing to hide from her husband-or so it appears. Yet as he attempts to woo her to uncover her secrets, St. John soon realizes that if he’s not careful, she’ll steal his heart…
Mayfair, June 1793
Sarah Pevensey Sutliffe had never before noticed how much light was cast by candles thrust into a darkened room.
It seemed two wax tapers were more than sufficient to illuminate her total humiliation.
As the library filled with light and people, Sarah leapt to her feet and immediately made two more regrettable discoveries.
First, the glass of wine she had drunk—or had it been two glasses?—made the floor pitch rather alarmingly, and second, her gown felt oddly loose about the bodice. Clutching the ivory silk to her breast with one hand, she waved the other behind her back, searching for something against which she might steady herself.
But Captain Brice, on whose knees she had been so precariously perched just moments before, was no longer within arm’s reach. He had stood in the presence of ladies.
The Marchioness of Estley. The Honorable Miss Eliza Harrington. Mama.
Ladies—among whom she was no longer to be classed, if the expressions on the faces now confronting her were any indication.
Five sets of eyes took in the disorder of her gown and the darkness of the library and drew the inevitable conclusion. Only Mama looked away, her face turned into Papa’s shoulder. Beside Sarah’s parents stood her father-in-law, the Marquess of Estley, a thundercloud darkening his brow. Lady Estley’s wide eyes darted to and from the fan she was fiddling with, as if she had witnessed some horrific accident and was trying to make herself look away. Next to the marchioness, Miss Harrington clutched the brass candelabra in a steady hand; the flickering candlelight danced across her deep red curls, flame against fire.
Sarah’s startled gaze fell last on the impassive face of St. John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax. Her husband of just two weeks. His pale blue eyes betrayed not even a glimmer of surprise.
It had only just occurred to her to wonder what could have brought them all there at once when Captain Brice spoke. “Lady Fairfax felt a bit faint. I was merely offering her some assistance,” he drawled in a tone that quite clearly said he expected no one to believe such a preposterous tale.
Horrified that she had allowed Captain Brice to set the tone of her defense, Sarah closed her eyes. But rather than settling her nerves, she was instantly assaulted by the memory of the scene that had sent her scurrying for safety.
The leaf-screened alcove outside the ballroom. Eliza Harrington’s long, pale fingers spread possessively over her husband’s chest. Plump red lips curled in a wicked smile against his ear. Whispered words Sarah longed to unhear.
“Your father may have made you marry her, Fairfax. But he cannot make you do more.”
“No. She will never have my heart.” Her husband’s hand coming up to clasp Eliza’s where it lay. “And you know why.”
A throaty, suggestive laugh. “I do.”
Captain Brice had found Sarah fumbling blindly with the stubborn knob on the library door, although it had proved to be unlocked. The wine he had offered had been cool and crisp, a balm to her hot, angry tears. His whispered consolations had been more welcome still. “Who would dare to distress the bride at her nuptial ball?” he had murmured, drawing her against the breadth of a shoulder made somehow broader by his regimentals.
Sarah jerked herself back to the present and met her husband’s eyes. She suffered no illusions that his indiscretions would excuse her own. As their eyes locked in mutual distrust, her field of vision narrowed and everyone else fell away. For a moment, it was just the two of them. She stretched out her hand, grasping for words of explanation. “My lord, I—.” But the wine seemed to have hobbled her normally quick tongue.
“Lady Fairfax.” So cold, so formal. Had she ever heard his voice sound otherwise?
“This is not what it seems, my lord,” she insisted. “I swear I am innocent.”
St. John cut his gaze away.
Forgetting the state of her gown, Sarah took a step toward him. Her slipper caught the hem and jerked the neckline even lower.
“Innocent?” Lord Estley’s eyes—ice blue, like his son’s, and capable of freezing the object of their gaze with a single glance—darted over her rumpled skirts and gaping bodice. “Not precisely the word I would have chosen.”
Sarah felt a traitorous blush stain her cheeks.
Just then, Miss Harrington whispered something in the Marchioness of Estley’s ear. That lady’s eyes grew wider still, and she gave a soft, shrill sort of scream. “My sapphires!”
Sarah swept her hand across her throat, expecting to brush against the heavy, old-fashioned collar of gems her father-in-law had placed on her neck earlier that evening, proof to the dazzling assemblage of titles to which he had been about to introduce her that this merchant’s daughter was now one of their own. “Presented to my ancestor by Queen Elizabeth herself,” Lord Estley had said proudly, drawing her attention to a portrait of a man in doublet and hose, posed with one foot on a globe and a cache of blue gems spilling from his hand. “Only a Sutliffe lady wears these jewels.”
Sarah’s icy fingertips encountered nothing but an expanse of gooseflesh.
“Those sapphires have been in my family for eight generations. Where are they?”
Try as she might, she could not remember when she had felt the gems last.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A love affair with historical romances led Susanna Craig to a degree (okay, three degrees) in literature and a career as an English professor. When she’s not teaching or writing academic essays about Jane Austen and her contemporaries, she enjoys putting her fascination with words and knowledge of the period to better use: writing Regency-era romances she hopes readers will find both smart and sexy. She makes her home among the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, along with her historian husband, their unstoppable little girl, and a genuinely grumpy cat. Visit her at www.susannacraig.com.