“Goodger writes romances that touch readers’ hearts and bring a smile to their day.” —RT Book Reviews The Brides of St. Ives In the charming seaside town of St. Ives, a buried secret could bring an unlikely pair together for a lifetime . . . Clara Anderson’s mother has one mission: to marry off her daughter to a titled gentleman. Unfortunately, though the Andersons have come up in the world, Clara is still the granddaughter of a pig farmer, which means no self-respecting aristocrat will marry her. That’s just fine with Clara, who’s grown to disdain the upper classes. So when she meets an attractive man even more common than she is, she decides it’s time to forge her own path . . . . . . Except that handsome, rugged Nathaniel Emory, Baron Alford, is no more a commoner than Clara is a blue-blood. He’s appeared on the scene for one reason only: to save his family’s estate from ruin by finding the exceedingly valuable blue diamond his grandfather buried in the Anderson’s garden fifty years ago. To do that, he must pretend to be a gardener. He didn’t count on the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen getting in his way. But Clara has made no secret of her dislike for aristocrats. Which means that once she uncovers his ruse, he’s certain she’ll never see him again . . . Praise for the novels of Jane Goodger “Fun, delightfully romantic—and sexy.” —Sally MacKenzie on The Spinster Bride “A touching, compassionate, passion-filled romance.” — RT Book Reviews on A Christmas Waltz
Release date: August 14, 2018
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 204
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Diamond in the Rough
Nathaniel Emory, soon to be Baron Alford and possessor of a moldering estate long stripped of anything of value, including the family’s honor, looked through the window of his hired hack to Lion’s Gate, his legacy and burden. A cold, driving snow stung his face as he gazed up at the home, at broken windows, rotted wood, stone covered in moss, and shutters hanging askew.
The hack’s driver, huddled against the cold, blew on his gloved hands before calling down, “Are you certain this is the place?”
Nathaniel pushed open the door, allowing a gust of the frigid air into the hack, and turned his head against the icy wind. “I am,” he called, then dug into his coat pocket to pull out the coin to pay the man. The driver took the coin, then looked back at the dark house, which appeared completely abandoned and inhospitable.
“Good day, then.” He lifted the reins, then stopped. “You want me to come back tomorrow for you?”
It was a real possibility that his grandfather was already dead, and he would be stranded here without food or heat. Then again, the old man might linger for days. It was a six-mile trek back to the village, but he could hardly ask the man to travel back and forth—and Nathaniel couldn’t spare the coin to pay the driver for his time. “No, thank you.” Nathaniel pulled up his collar, picked up his carpet bag, and stepped forward toward the front entry. Behind him, the hack drove away, and he wondered if he should have told the driver to wait. If his grandfather was dead, he wouldn’t want to spend the night here, and he didn’t relish the thought of walking six miles in this cold. It was too late now, though, so he forged ahead and ascended the shallow steps to the heavy door, wondering if he should even bother knocking.
It had taken him four days to reach Lion’s Gate after he’d received a note from his grandfather’s valet, clearly written by a hand that shook with age. Or desperation. Mr. Barber was nearly as ancient as his grandfather, a man who had loyally stayed with him, caring for him without complaint. Or pay.
Nathaniel gripped the cold doorknob, twisted and pushed, feeling the wood give a bit. Leaning against the door, he put all his weight against it, and the door screeched open before stopping abruptly. Looking down, Nathaniel could see that the door had become uneven so that the bottom scraped against the stone floor; he had just enough space to squeeze through. After shoving the door closed, he looked around, shocked by what he saw. The last time he’d been to Lion’s Gate, he’d been just twenty years old, newly out of university. Even then, he’d been taken aback by how rundown the place had become. Now, five years later, the old place was a victim of neglect and disuse.
A thin fog streamed from his mouth when he let out a long breath; it was nearly as cold inside as it was outside. Dust, thick and covering every surface, gave everything a ghostly appearance, and floating strands of cobwebs danced from the chandelier that once lit the opulent foyer. Now, with the windows coated with grime, only a muted light filtered through, and Nathaniel suspected that even on a sunny day, the room would be gloomy and dull. A noise coming from the second floor caught his attention, and he made his way toward the grand staircase, leaves crunching beneath his feet. There at the top of the landing sat a black cat, its green eyes staring down at him unblinkingly, and Nathaniel had to suppress a shiver.
“Hello, cat,” he said softly. The cat immediately ran down the stairs, its tail high, and before it had even reached Nathaniel, he could hear its purring. If the cat portended doom, it was a friendly messenger, he thought, as he watched it wind around his legs, rubbing his shins in an exuberant greeting. He bent down to pet the creature, and it lifted up its forepaws to butt against his hand. The cat was well fed and obviously friendly, which heartened Nathaniel despite the ruin surrounding him.
Calling out a hello to whomever might be home, he started up the stairs, his new friend skirting by him to lead the way. At the top of the stairs, though it was even darker than down below, he sensed a small bit of warmth and continued toward his grandfather’s suite of rooms. A slice of light showed beneath his grandfather’s door, and Nathaniel let out a sigh of relief. The old man was still alive.
Nathaniel pressed his ear against the door, but it was ominously quiet on the other side. At his feet, the cat looked up at him expectantly. “Shall we go in, then?” he asked. As if in answer, the feline head-butted his shin affectionately.
Pushing open the door, he stepped into the room and blinked. If it was neglected and cold on one side of the door, the other side was the complete opposite. He was struck by a blast of heat and the sight of a neat, well-tended, well-lit sitting room with a cheery fire in the hearth. Sitting in a large, wing-backed chair was Mr. Barber, impeccably dressed and sound asleep, his mouth open slightly, his hands folded on his stomach. Before Nathaniel could stop it, the cat leapt up and onto Mr. Barber’s lap. The old man started, then, his eyes still closed, lifted a hand to pet the creature, which immediately started kneading his chest.
“Not so rough,” Mr. Barber said, his voice raspy from age.
Nathaniel stood there a moment, wondering how he should make his presence known, not wanting to startle the old gent. There was nothing to do but quietly let Mr. Barber become aware he was not alone.
“Mr. Barber,” he said softly. Nothing. Nathaniel recalled that the last time he’d seen Mr. Barber in his grandfather’s now-sold London townhouse, the man had been quite deaf. With a sigh, Nathaniel said much louder, “Mr. Barber.”
Mr. Barber’s eyes snapped open and he sat up so quickly, the cat sprang off him, no doubt leaving behind claw marks on the poor man’s chest. “Mr. Emory, my apologies,” he said, face alight as he hurriedly stood.
“No need, Mr. Barber. You were not aware when I was arriving.” He looked toward his grandfather’s door. “How is he?”
His face fell. “Not good, I’m afraid. I am so sorry, sir. He is asleep most of the time. He would not allow me to write to you until his death was imminent. His lordship never did care for sentiment, but he was adamant you see him before he passed.”
Nathaniel looked to the floor, fighting the emotions that flooded him. His grandfather was the only person on this earth whom he loved, whom he had ever loved. Despite the fact his grandfather had been in a wheelchair since before he was born, the two had had a great deal of fun together when Nathaniel was a lad. They would spend long hours together working on automatons and other inventions, anything to keep Nathaniel occupied and away from his wastrel father. Whenever his father would come home drunk and wild-eyed, his grandfather would have Mr. Barber push him into their workroom, where they would remain until Nathaniel’s father’s shouts turned into snores.
All his life, Nathaniel was aware there were secrets surrounding his family, and now with his grandfather dying, and his father already gone, this would be his last chance to have the answers.
“I’ll go in, shall I? Will he know I am here?”
Mr. Barber shook his head, his eyes filled with sorrow. “That I cannot say. When he is lucid, it is as if he were a much younger man. But those times are getting more and more scarce, I’m afraid.”
His grandfather’s room was dark, but neat and clean, and a fire warmed the large area. At first, Nathaniel didn’t see his grandfather in the large poster bed, and it wasn’t until he was standing by its side that he finally saw the pale, still form of his grandfather. Given his infirmity, Jonathan Emory, Baron Alford, had never been a robust man, but Nathaniel didn’t recall his being quite so diminutive.
“Hello, Granddad,” he said, and searched his face for any reaction. It was hardly like looking at the man he’d known forever. The man lying on the bed was gaunt, nearly skeletal, his mouth open, his lips dried and cracked, his eyes sunken. If not for the shallow but steady rise and fall of his chest, Nathaniel would have believed him already dead.
He took his grandfather’s hand, smiling, because it still looked like part of him, the hand that had created all those lovely little machines. The hand that had lain on his shoulder, strong and comforting, as he silently gave his grandson courage.
“I came as soon as I received Mr. Barber’s message.”
His grandfather’s eyes fluttered open, and for a moment Nathaniel’s heart dropped, for his gaze seemed unfocused, as if his soul had already gone. Then, the old man turned his head and he was back, blue eyes faded just a bit, but sharp with intelligence and, most importantly, life.
“Still breathing,” he said, then let out a rusty chuckle, making Nathaniel smile. “Help me sit up, will you?”
Nathaniel put his hands beneath his grandfather’s arms, trying not to wince when he felt how thin the old man was beneath his palms. He easily lifted him up, then fluffed his pillows behind him until his grandfather swore at him.
Letting out a laugh, Nathaniel sat back down, then leaned on the bed with his elbows on the mattress and his hands fisted beneath his chin. “I’m sorry I haven’t visited,” Nathaniel said. Guilt and desolation swirled around his gut, making him nearly nauseous.
His grandfather moved his fingers slightly, flicking away his comment the way someone would flick away a fly. “Regret is a cancer on one’s soul; I have enough regret for the two of us.” For a terrifying moment, it appeared as if his grandfather were about to weep.
Nathaniel sat up, not prepared to hear his grandfather’s confession, for that’s what seemed to be coming. He wanted to savor his memories of his grandfather and didn’t want them tainted by whatever it was the old man needed to get off his chest. “Everyone has regrets, Granddad.”
The old man chuckled in response. “You need to hear my story, Nathaniel. I’m dying and I’ll be damned if I go to the grave with this secret.”
“Secrets that are no longer secrets can sometimes alter us in ways not foreseen.”
“That is what I am hoping for, my boy.”
Nathaniel studied his grandfather for a long moment and couldn’t help thinking that he seemed rather hale and hearty at the moment for a man who’d seemed on the brink of death not moments before. “All right, then. Tell me your story.”
His grandfather relaxed into his pillow and closed his eyes, and for a moment, Nathaniel thought the old man had dozed off. Until he spoke.
“I was twenty-five years old, just your age, when it all began. My friend, Zachariah Belmont, and I considered ourselves adventurers. We were a bit in our cups one evening when he suggested an adventure to Brazil. We’d just attended a lecture about the flora and fauna there, and it seemed like a paradise to us, something that would pull us away from the monotony of being wealthy aristocrats.” His grandfather, eyes still closed, let out a bitter laugh. “So we went. I won’t bore you with the details of our trip. It was long, tedious, and more than once I questioned my intellect for agreeing to such a journey.
“But once we were there, by God, it was all we’d thought it would be. Nothing had prepared us for the lushness of…everything. It seemed as if the very air were alive. Coming from England, we found it a paradise of riches. Women”—he smiled, and Nathaniel smiled with him—“exotic plants and animals. Insects, by God, they seemed gigantic compared to what we were used to. It was a grand time for us both, a true adventure.”
His grandfather was silent for a time, and Nathaniel thought perhaps he had, indeed, fallen asleep. “We can finish later,” Nathaniel said quietly.
The old man’s eyes snapped open. “Am I boring you?”
“No, sir,” Nathaniel said, chuckling. “Please go on.”
“We met a man in Mariana who told us about the diamonds, that you could pick them off the ground, some larger than a bird’s egg. Of course, we wanted to have a go at finding them. I thought it would be a nice souvenir, something to bring back home, a gift for my wife. I had always been fascinated with geology. Did you know geology was my specialty at Cambridge?”
Nathaniel shook his head, then realizing his grandfather had closed his eyes again, said aloud, “No.”
“Zachariah wanted to find diamonds for an entirely different reason. He was, to put it politely, scarce of funds. He was a third son with no property and little interest in the military or clergy, and he’d used the last of his money to fund our great adventure. Looking back, I can now see his desperation. But then, I was blind to his ambition. On a lark, we went to the area where the diamonds were being found, and we did find them, though not in any great quantity. I was happy to have something to give Elizabeth, who was none too pleased about my journey. I wanted to leave, but Zachariah…something changed in him. A fever, fueled by his desperation, I suppose. It came to a head one evening when I told him I was leaving, with or without him. I wanted to go home, and he wanted to stay. I agreed to one more week. One more, and then we would return to Mariana and board the next ship to England.
“We were to leave the next day when we found it.”
“Found what?” Nathaniel prompted, slightly amused that the old chap had paused for dramatic effect.
“The blue diamond. Five hundred sixty-four carats of nature’s might. It was stunning.”
Nathaniel let out a low whistle. “And worth a king’s ransom, I’d say.”
“Yes. And Zachariah wanted to cut it up into smaller diamonds, thinking we would be able to get more money for them. To me, though, to break up such a miracle would have been an abomination. Do you have any idea how rare a diamond that size is, never mind something as precious and beautiful as a blue diamond? It belonged in the hands of a master cutter, and then in a museum or on display at Buckingham. That’s what I wanted. We fought bitterly, nearly came to blows.”
“Who actually found the diamond?”
His grandfather narrowed his eyes, a spark of irritation showing. “I tripped on it, Zachariah picked it up. So you see, we were at odds. In the end, I did what I thought was right.”
“You took it.”
“I did. When I got back to England, I kept it with me at all times. I felt guilty for doing what I’d done, but I was as stubborn as Zachariah was desperate. I planned to give him half of whatever I was able to sell the diamond for, and he knew it. But he wanted it all. One day, my entire flat was ransacked, violently, and I knew he was behind it. I thought Zachariah would be more reasonable once he was back in England, but instead he became more and more unhinged. He actually confronted me on Piccadilly, demanding that I give him the diamond. I always assured him that I would compensate him fairly for his share, but that did nothing to reassure him. He’d decided that all proceeds should go to him. He’d picked the diamond up, he’d suggested the trip in the first place. That’s when I decided to hide it, far from those I loved.”
His grandfather closed his eyes again, taking a few shallow breaths. When he opened them, Nathaniel let out a small sound of surprise. His grandfather’s eyes were filled with tears. The old man swallowed, then shook his head. “He did this to me,” he said, motioning to his legs. “He sent thugs to beat the location of the diamond out of me. Broke my back, but I didn’t say a word. Unless screaming is a word.”
“When they were done, Zachariah came out from his hiding place. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, that cold, blank, dead look. ‘Kill him,’ he said.” His grandfather lifted the hair away from his forehead with a hand that shook. “You see that?” he asked, pointing to a long, deep scar on his scalp, one that Nathaniel remembered asking about when he’d been young. “One of the bastards shot me in the head and left me for dead.” He smiled, giving Nathaniel a glimpse of what his grandfather had been like as a younger man. “I didn’t die,” he said, letting out a laugh that ended with a weak cough.
“The diamond, did you ever retrieve it?”
His grandfather shook his head. “I couldn’t. It was months before I could even sit up in my bed. It’s still there, buried.”
“Where?” Nathaniel could feel excitement growing.
Clara Anderson, chin propped on one fist, gazed out the window of her room, a smile on her face. It was a gloriously sunny morning, unusually warm for late September, and she and Harriet, her younger sister, had planned to spend the day at Porthminster Beach. Mother had finally agreed to allow Clara and Harriet to go out on their own, without the benefit of a chaperone, and Clara could hardly stop the excited smile on her face.
Clara couldn’t really blame her mother for being a bit overprotective of her reputation; after all, looks and money would mean far less if her reputation wasn’t pristine. Mother had grand goals for her eldest daughter and no local man could even be considered as part of those plans.
When she was sixteen, Mother had sent her off to finishing school, determined that she should, if not be a lady, then at least act like one. There, she’d learned such brain-tasking matters as How to Write a Proper Letter of Thanks, and How to Speak to a Gentleman without Exposing One’s Intelligence. Because the Andersons lacked the social standing to gain entry into the more exclusive academies, both Clara and Harriet had gone to Mrs. Ellison’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Clara loathed every minute she’d spent there, but knowing how important it was to her mother that she marry well, Clara did her best to comport herself as a lady should. She learned to smile and nod at whatever great scheme her mother came up with because arguing upset Hedra and never worked at any rate.
Today was one of those glorious days in which her mother had nothing planned for Clara, which meant she could do as she pleased. And on this day, it was a trip to the beach with Harriet.
Below her, their new gardener was beginning the Herculean task of putting the garden to rights. The Andersons had been living in the home for years now, and while the interior had been completely redone and modernized, the outside was sadly lacking any sophistication.
Harriet, bonnet in hand, erupted into her room without knocking, as she usually did, with an exuberance she rarely showed. No doubt she’d learned Mother planned to allow them to go to the beach without her. Harriet might be two years younger, but she was far more serious and more mature than Clara could ever hope to be. Clara had disliked finishing school, but she’d gone along, learned her lessons, smiled through the monotony of comportment lessons. Harriet had wilted and become even more serious.
“What are you looking at?” Harriet asked, rushing to her side and looking out. She frowned when she realized it was nothing of interest.
“Just at this beautiful day,” Clara said. “Our gardener has begun work. I wonder what he’ll do? I fear we’ve started far too late in the season, with winter nearly upon us. I don’t know what Mother was thinking.”
Harriet peered out the window. “Look at all those holes,” Harriet said.
“Mother wants roses.” Clara wrinkled her nose. “I do love roses, but I fancy gardens that have a variety of horticulture.” She squinted down at him. From her vantage point, she could only see his broad back and the top of his cap. As she watched, he stopped digging and rested his chin atop a hand still clutching the top of the shovel. After a moment, he started up again with sure, strong movements, then bent to pick up what looked like a rock, which he flung into a growing pile of similar rocks. Perhaps he planned to build a wall?
“Let’s go down and see what he’s planning to put in our garden,” Harriet said, shoving her bonnet onto her head.
Clara agreed, even though she had little interest at all in the garden or in plants, for that matter, other than the ones that produced food. She secretly thought it a waste of resources to hire a gardener. But Mrs. Pittsfield, her mother’s dearest friend and Purveyor of Proper, as Clara secretly called the woman, had said every great home must have a garden. Mother had immediately put out an advertisement and within a week, she’d hired the gardener who was even now digging holes in preparation for planting things one could not eat.
They’d lived in their house fourteen years, since Clara was ten years old. She would never forget entering its halls and speaking in the hushed tones reserved for church on Sundays. It had seemed to Clara the largest, most opulent dwelling in all of England. Ceilings soared above her head, great chandeliers sparkled in the sun, the marble floor beneath her feet shone from vigorous polishing. For Clara and Harriet, who had not only shared a room but also a narrow bed crammed beneath the rafters, the idea they would not only have their own rooms, but rooms that one could dance and run about in without smashing into furniture every two feet, was a wonder.
It hadn’t taken more than a month, though, before Clara began to long for their old cottage, for that homey smell of her mother’s fine cooking and her father’s pipe. Mother no longer cooked, and even if she had, the kitchen was so far from their rooms they couldn’t smell it at any rate. And Hedra had forbidden any sort of smoking in the house.
“What’s your favorite flower, Clara?” Harriet asked as they pushed through the back door.
“Bluebells,” Clara said, just to be contrary even though the common flowers were her favorites.
Harriet laughed. “Wouldn’t it be fun to ask the gardener to plant rows and rows of them? Mother would be so cross.”
Clara shook her head, the wide brim of her hat flopping about. She never could understand why Harriet liked to make their mother cross. She found life was so much easier when Hedra was pleased and happy, which might explain why their mother was constantly frowning at Harriet.
As they approached their new gardener, he stopped what he was doing and straightened.
“Good morning, sir,” Clara called, and gave the man her friendliest smile. He stared at them, his eyes shadowed beneath the brim of his cap, before jerking his head in greeting. He thrust a hoe into the earth then stamped on its rim, shoving it deeper into the ground, dismissing them.
Clara frowned. In her experience, few people didn’t smile back when she smiled at them. Gamely, she said, “We’re very pleased to have our garden. What sorts of plants do you intend to use?” Another of her trademark smiles followed. One of the lessons she’d learned was that people loved to talk about whatever interested them. Ask an equestrian about horse breeds, and the conversation would be off and running, so she reasoned a gardener might like to . . .
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