Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 120 pages
Heat Level: 4
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $5.99
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 120 pages
Heat Level: 4
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $5.99
Baroness Gillian Chauncey thought she’d seen everything during her years of devotion to England. But as war escalates and political bonds are severed, a devastating betrayal forces Gillian to make a life or death decision to save the man she loves.
Lord Simon Danbury’s loyalty to the crown has never been questioned — until now. As death’s darkening veil cascades over London, a hostile mole inside Nelson’s Tea tries to assassinate him. Surrounded by the greatest spies in England, only one thing stands to defeat him — losing the one woman who has made life worth living.
Everything Simon and Gillian have done has led to this moment… Will it be too late?
But Chief, midst her heroes, wherever she goes,
She hears her HORATIO’s proud name;
FAME’s numberless voices in concert arose,
Nor sufficed his great deeds to proclaim—
They sounded, “the Hero her enemies still braves;
“BRITANNIA alone reigns the Queen of the Waves.”
~Song, Anon, Horatio’s Death, The Morning Chronicle November 22, 1805
Chelsea, October 23, 1805
Fog obscured tombstones in St. Luke’s cemetery as it crept over the autumn landscape, ushering in an isolating despair. No gloom proved as weighty as the darkening abyss Lord Simon Danbury’s mind plunged into as his wife’s coffin was lowered into the unforgiving earth. With Edwina’s death, a frigid, unsettling storm brewed within him. Whispered accusations proclaimed him to be as much at fault in her demise as the laudanum that had numbed his deceased wife’s mind, paralyzing her limbs. In the end, the woman he was burying no longer resembled the woman he had married. His long-suffering wife had become an emaciated shell cracked by the harbingers of time.
Guilt weighted Simon’s chest like an anvil anchoring him to the cold, hard ground. Mr. Crofton, the vicar officiating over Edwina’s burial, said a final prayer and made the sign of the cross over her grave. Simon stood stiffly in the brisk wind, a frosty mist forming before him with each breath. What would their lives, his and Edwina’s, have been like if he’d chosen to follow his heart instead of tradition? Instead of bowing to his father’s demands? Would Edwina be happily married with children gathered around her?
An unsettling disquiet washed over him. He had chosen. Right or wrong, his decisions had set them on a path of no return. Now he was left to confront demons accusing him of betrayal.
Traitors to kith and kin warranted no pardon any more than men who betrayed each other in the name of the king. Resigning himself to a life of regret, he accepted the sympathetic smiles and gestures from well-wishers as one by one they stepped forward. He shook each extended hand with synchronized skill, listening half-heartedly to the barely audible condolences drifting to his ears. Many understood Edwina’s life had been extinguished long before it had been given a chance to bloom. Few knew the reasons why. Would it matter? He blamed himself for her downfall. In his relentless quest for an heir, she’d been broken in body and spirit, leaving her infirm. He blamed her for a plunge into addiction that ultimately led to her death.
Leaves crunched under his feet, the sound bringing to mind the vase he’d shattered against the wall after Edwina had expended her last breath. To bloody hell with what could have been, he thought, absorbing the gloomy day. Choices in life were neither black nor white, but existed on multiple planes. He would have to live with what he’d done to her.
His heart heavy, Simon allowed the gray mist descending on the cemetery to cloud his mind. The air seemed suffocatingly thick, as if it squeezed his life’s blood right out of his veins. Logical, pragmatic, he understood actions brought consequences, not the other way around. Edwina had chosen her chains — addiction. He’d chosen his — Nelson’s Tea —Baroness Gillian Chauncey. His devotion had always belonged to England, to just causes, to the men who served Admiral Nelson to their last breath. His poor wife had suffered cruelly for it, but she would have tolerated that suffering. No, he blamed himself for Edwina’s downfall, because his heart belonged to another woman.
Screeching ropes jarred him back to the present.
Edwina’s coffin skidded on the lines. Prayers were murmured, each one creating a fissure in his icy façade. Inch by agonizing inch, Edwina’s wooden sarcophagus slid down to eternal rest at the bottom of a six-foot deep rectangular hole. Simon struggled to maintain decorum as clumps of dirt landed on her coffin.
I did this to her.
He stared unseeing at the blackening wooden crypt, a tumult of guilt threatening to undo him.
His brother Byron, the Duke of Throckmorton, laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s time.”
Simon nodded, reached down for a handful of soil, weighed the sediment in his hand, then tossed it over the only visual image he had left of his wife. Edwina had finally won her freedom. For too many reasons to count, she’d never truly belonged to him. She was all too intimately and effortlessly embraced by earth now.
A frigid breeze caressed his hair where it grazed the top of his cravat, hinting that winter was nigh. With it a possibility of snow sure to blanket the newly upturned ground until spring’s thaw produced Edwina’s earthly reward; a lush green carpet decorating her grave. Guilt pricked him. He didn’t deserve a reward. He’d never loved Edwina, not really. There had always been Gillian.
The bitter truth hit him across the face harder than a gale in the Channel.
Simon blinked. Fully aware now, he gazed around the disconsolate scene as if waking from a dream. Byron stood beside Constance, who leaned on her husband, Percival Avery, the Duke of Blendingham. A few servants, including butlers Goodayle and Archer from Simon’s two estates, were present. Lord Melville and several neighbors convened on the opposite side of Edwina’s grave, nodded, and then slowly moved toward their waiting carriages.
The turnout for Edwina’s service had gone better than Simon had hoped. In the midst of that discovery, Gillian’s profound absence couldn’t have rifled through his bones any more than an assassin’s deadly shot.
Bloody hell. Can’t I give my wife at least one day in my thoughts without thinking about Gillian or Nelson’s Tea?
“You must be pleased, my lord.” Crofton interrupted his state of distress.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Pleasure was an emotion he felt least of all — most days — especially today. Simon repositioned his cane, flexed his fingers around the dragon’s head on the silver handle, and looked down on the rotund reverend with a desire to throttle the man.
“Pleased?” he asked, barely controlling his anger.
“With the service,” the man quickly offered as if realizing his blunder. “That is to say, the number of people in attendance.”
“Lady Danbury deserved better.”
Crofton didn’t appear to take offense, though he did straighten his spine. “You’ll find no better final resting place than St. Luke’s, my lord. Sir Thomas More, Lady Jane Cheyne, and Sir Hans Sloane are interred here. I assure you, as I’m sure you already know. This is holy ground.”
Peace. At. Last. Those three words affected Simon more than he wanted to admit. But they cut him in two as deftly as any French blade. Sickly Edwina had lingered for nigh on eight years. During that time, he’d served in the navy, fallen in love with someone else, and given Admiral Nelson and England a solemn vow to fight for freedom until his last breath. In the navy, Nelson had a reputation as ‘connoisseur of the dollies.’ Since Naples, he cavorted openly with Lady Hamilton, giving Lady Nelson no consideration. Whereas Simon had withdrawn, followed etiquette, made sure no hint of impropriety could ever be launched against the baroness or his wife. But his actions had not done Edwina any good in the long run. A woman knew in her heart when her husband didn’t love her. No. He’d failed just as miserably at marriage as Nelson had. In life, he’d never been capable of giving Edwina peace. Laudanum and saffron tonics had done that for him. In death, however, he could do one last honorable thing for her. He could give his wife a final end befitting a queen.
He turned to regard Crofton. “I could have easily interred my wife on my family’s estate.”
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Simon tilted his head and lifted his gaze to the bell tower when bells chimed in melodic sequence. “This is paradise,” he said, remembering the smile of contentment on Edwina’s face the moment she died. “This is where she belongs. With ladies and lords, grounds untouched by time, a place of majesty. All well deserved. I’m content, Crofton. Here my wife’s soul shall find the peace she never quite grasped in life.”
Byron cleared his throat. “Crofton, any further correspondence can be sent to Throckmorton. I shall see to whatever my brother needs at this time.”
“Yes, your grace.” The vicar bowed stiffly and moved away, waddling back to the rectory, fingers tented, head lowered humbly before him.
“That was unnecessary.” Simon didn’t want to be coddled like a child. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my affairs.”
Byron snorted. “Never mind what’s necessary. I’m your brother. In faith, consider yourself lucky. You’ve got a body to bury.”
The ill-timed comment elicited several gasps nearby.
Lucky? Simon flexed his fists then relaxed. Byron was right. How cruel the reversal of roles between brothers. How heartless the hands of fate.
His brother’s wife, Lady Olivia, had been captured and murdered by pirates, her body never recovered. Byron had loved Olivia as he’d seen no other man do, besides Percy who doted on his niece Constance as if she was a weak-willed female — which she most assuredly was not.
Byron cleared his throat. “We should go.”
Constance placed her hand on Simon’s elbow, gazing up at him with all the compassion her big heart allowed. “Cooper and the staff have prepared Throckmorton for us, Uncle. Come. My aunt is finally at peace. Let us seek warmth by the fire before you catch cold.” She straightened his hat and smiled sadly.
Simon squeezed her hand and allowed himself to be led to the carriage. Nevertheless, with each step his burdens increased rather than lightened. The sky darkened overhead as the haunting church carillon continued. He paused to listen.
Once before this, he’d heard the bells chime just as sorrowfully, but for a more poignant occasion — the day Lucien Corbet had married Gillian. Then as now, no one knew the turmoil raging through his veins.
How odd life was from one moment to the next. One man could be celebrating a lifetime’s success, while another fell into heartrending despair. Was this how Gillian had felt when he’d told her he was married? When Gillian had lost Lucien?
Four years had passed since Simon had sanctioned Gillian’s involvement in his operations under Admiral Nelson’s authority. From the moment they had reunited after Lucien’s death and he’d revealed the truth of Edwina’s condition, she’d promised to wait for him, no matter how long it took for him to be free of his marriage vows. The delay had come with a heavy price. And yet Gillian wasn’t there to ease his burdens. Where was she? Where was his love now, when his heart ached for her the most?
The church bells subsided, leaving only an echoing hum to filter through the frigid air.
Constance placed a trembling hand on Simon’s arm, jolting him from his inner speculations. “Uncle, you really must get into the carriage. Our friends and neighbors are waiting.”
He nodded slowly. How long had he been standing there listening to the carillon? With agonizing slowness, he tore his gaze from the steeple and looked into Constance’s worried eyes.
He smiled, albeit sadly. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Katherine Bone has been passionate about all things historical since she was an Army brat traveling all over the world. Initially, she dreamed of being an artist, but when she met and fell in love with Prince Charming, her own dashing Lieutenant vowing duty, honor, and country, she found herself saying, “I do.” Whisked away to Army bases, castles, battlegrounds, and cathedrals, where tales of swashbuckling adventure filled the lonely gaps when the Army called Charming away, Katherine’s imagination took flight. No longer nomadic, she calls the south home and spends most of her time daydreaming about Charming and heroes of yesteryear.
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