"Goodger writes romances that touch readers' hearts and bring a smile to their day." -- RT Book Reviews The Lost Heiresses Seek, and love will find... All Marcus Granton wants is to be left alone to lick his wounds after the humiliating scandal of his wife's death in another man's bed. Secluded in his moldering seaside estate on the cliffs of the Black Sea, he suddenly finds himself host to Lady Lilian Martin, one small child, and an annoying cache of servants all bent on ruining his solitude. Seems the lady got herself into a bit of a pickle and is accused of murder, of all things. Now she must rely on him for protection-and to keep his thoughts and hands away from her delectable body. Lilian has no intention of spending any more time with the insufferable Lord Marcus Granton than she has to. But at every turn, circumstances force her into his company, and by the time she truly makes her escape, it's far too late for her...and her heart. 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: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 400
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Not entirely naked. Had that been the case, she might have fainted dead away and been discovered, no doubt from the thump that would have sounded when she hit the marble floor.
She was eighteen and hiding from His Grace, the Duke of Weston, who for some odd reason had set his sights on her the very first day of the Barrington summer party, the first such event Lilian and her mother and sister had ever attended. Lilian had come out just that spring, and her debut had been underwhelming to say the least. They hadn’t any money, nor real connections, so the number of events they had attended had been woefully limited. Still, her mother had saved and scraped for years in order for her to have her season, so Lilian had tried her best to attract, if not a titled man, then at least a rich one. As the daughter of an earl, her mother had expected that Lilian would receive far more interest than she had. But the truth of it was, the Martins had been out of society for so long, no one knew who they were. Those who did were not particularly impressed by her pedigree, given it came with no money and little influence. The new earl, a second cousin who had inherited the title following the death of Lilian’s father ten years prior, was a religious fanatic who most would rather not be associated with. Worse still, Lilian, with her riot of multicolored hair that went from nearly blonde to red to brown, and gowns that were less than the height of fashion, wasn’t at all considered au courant. It also hadn’t escaped Lilian that, with her willowy figure, she looked quite a bit younger than her years. More than one person had wondered why she was coming out at all, thinking she was nearer to fifteen than eighteen years old.
Lilian was aware of all this even before the season started, but her awareness had only grown as the weeks and months went on. This house party that marked the end of the season was to have been her last hurrah before the three headed back to Cornwall and their crumbling manor house and their quiet, dull lives. What a miracle, then, that the Duke of Weston had chosen that very same party to come out of his prolonged exile from society and immediately and quite aggressively set his cap on Lilian. Her mother, of course, was thrilled. Lilian, far less so. It wasn’t that the duke was old (which he was) or that he was not at all handsome (he was quite plump), but rather the way he looked at her. It made her skin crawl.
But she would marry him if it came to that. She would have to, for her mother, Anne, was dying and Anne’s greatest wish was to see her daughters settled before she passed. That hopeful look in her mother’s eyes tore at Lilian’s heart as nothing else could. Her mother was desperate for her to marry, for her younger sister, Theresa, to be safe and cared for. The thought of the two girls being under the direct care of the current earl was just too much for Anne to bear, and she’d wept more than once at the mere thought of it.
If only her mother could live a few years longer, the girls would be financially set. Their grandmother had settled quite a large sum of money aside for her only grandchildren, but it would only be available to them after they turned twenty-five, and that was seven long years away. Lilian would have happily lived in Cornwall in their little manor house if only her mother would live just a bit longer. But she would not. As much as Lilian tried to deny the truth, it was difficult to ignore that Anne was withering away before her very eyes and it wouldn’t be long before she was bedridden.
Which was why Lilian would say yes if the Duke of Weston proposed and also why, when she saw him talking to another gentleman in the hall, she quickly ducked into the nearest room and hid. Not very adult of her, but there it was. And there she was when two strapping young men entered the room, unbeknownst to Lilian, bragging about which one could do more push-ups.
Lilian had hidden herself behind the curtains of a bow window and was quite obscured by bushes from anyone who might pass by outside and by the heavy velvet curtain from anyone inside. What she hadn’t realized was how very warm she would be in her little hothouse of a hiding place. She quickly became drowsy, and fell asleep, only to be awakened by the low tones of two men, one of whom was counting.
“Fifty-four, fifty-five. No, fifty-four, you didn’t go all the way down, Marc.”
“The hell I didn’t,” said another man.
“Fine. Fifty-five. Give up?”
“Never,” the other man growled.
Lilian sat up as quietly as she could, painfully aware that the sun, which had been beating down on her mercilessly, had now reached the other side of the house entirely while she’d slept.
“Fifty-five, fifty-six. Your arms are beginning to shake, old man.”
Lilian sat forward just enough so that she could look through the thin space between the curtains—and there he was in all his masculine glory, naked from the waist up, muscles bunched from the exertion, back glistening from sweat, chiseled jaw set with determination. She hadn’t known men had so many muscles. His arms alone were a wonder, thick ropes of pure power, pistoning up and down in a way that made her feel decidedly odd. She suddenly found it difficult to breathe. His hair was dark and curling, slightly damp along his nape and forehead. His long body was prone before her, so she couldn’t get a good look at his face, could only study his profile, his straight, masculine nose, his well-defined jaw, his strong chin.
He was the most beautiful man Lilian had ever seen in her life.
“Fifty-nine. Give up now, Marc, you’ll never do it.”
“Marc” shot a look at the other man, then lowered himself once again. The other young man was hunkered down beside Marc, his shirt open, his chest glistening slightly, and Lilian supposed he had already had his turn. He was a fine-looking man, but her eyes kept straying to the man on the parquet floor, lowering himself down, and then up, his muscles straining with the movement. For a fleeting moment, she wished he were completely unclothed, but she quickly pushed that horribly improper thought away.
“Sixty. Sixty-one. Damn it, Marc, do you have to best me in everything? Sixty-two. All right, you’ve won, you can stop now.” Marc did one more for good measure, then pushed himself to his feet as if he could have done dozens more push-ups without a problem. The man called Marc laughed, and took up his shirt, wiping himself with it before putting it on.
“I fear Mr. Courtland is going to be quite unhappy with me when he sees my shirt,” Marc said, looking down at the rather limp garment. He pulled on his braces with an easy gesture, and Lilian watched, fascinated. She had almost no experience with men, and here she was, watching one dress himself. Lilian couldn’t recall seeing him during the season; she felt she would have noticed him if she had. The sun was behind him so she still was unable to get a good look at his face, and she had a moment of pure panic that she might see him again and not recognize him.
It suddenly became very important that she did.
“Lilian.” She turned to find her sister waving at her from the wide door that led to the gardens outside. Though she was fifteen, Theresa looked like a tiny fairy princess in her white gown and golden ringlets and could have easily passed for a far younger girl. She had the boundless energy of a puppy, and whenever she entered a room, she drew the attention of anyone who was about. Back home, the servants indulged her shamelessly, and her mother could never say no to her. Theresa was slim (a wonder, given how many sweets she accumulated from the adults she met), and purely adorable—most of the time. The fact that Theresa could not participate in most of the season’s events had been torture for her poor sister, who was used to getting everything she wished, be it strawberry tarts for dessert or a new ribbon for her hair.
Even though Lilian walked toward her sister, Theresa gave her a look of pure impatience. “Lilian, hurry.”
There was to be a croquet match, and the two had planned to watch it together with their mother. Sighing, Lilian went to her fifteen-year-old sibling, whose enthusiasm over attending this two-week house party knew no ends. Poor Theresa had watched Lilian prepare for the few social gatherings she’d been invited to with unabashed jealousy, and Lilian had thought more than once that her younger sister, had she been old enough, would have been much more suited to a season than she herself was. Theresa adored everything that went into having a successful season, including the fashion and the flirting. Her sister didn’t realize she was flirting, of course, but she had a natural way of charming everyone around her that would bode well for her when it was time for her to come out. In contrast, Lilian saw her season as a task that she must complete in order to make certain they would not be forced into abject poverty—at least until the sisters could obtain their inheritance at age twenty-five.
“Where were you? The match has already started,” Theresa said, grabbing up her sister’s hand and tugging.
“The match will last for at least an hour, Theresa. I’m certain we didn’t miss much.”
“Mother was nearly frantic because I couldn’t find you and is now abed. Not from being frantic,” Theresa added when she saw Lilian’s look of concern.
Lilian grinned. “I was in the library. Hiding from His Grace.” Lilian made a face and Theresa giggled. Lilian and Theresa had giggled in bed more than once in the past few days talking about the duke, whom Theresa had yet to meet. The croquet match was the first event that children were allowed to attend with the adults. “And while I was hiding, I fell asleep. Can you guess how I was awakened?”
Theresa shook her head, her eyes wide. “Not the duke!”
“No. By the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen in my life. At least I imagine he must be beautiful.” She leaned to her sister’s ear and whispered. “He hadn’t a shirt on.”
Theresa let out a satisfying gasp of shock. “Did he see you? Who was it?”
“That’s just the thing. I haven’t any idea other than his name is Marc. I didn’t get a good look at his face, but he must be attending the croquet match, don’t you think? He was . . . perfect.”
“Are you in love?” Theresa’s eyes danced. Nothing captivated her interest more than talk of young men and marriage.
Lilian laughed, but her heart gave a small, ridiculous wrench. “Of course not. There’s no such thing as love at first sight.”
“Let’s see if you can spot him,” Theresa said, with unsuppressed excitement. “And then he’ll see you and fall instantly in love, too.”
The two sisters walked with exaggerated sedateness toward the small crowd watching the croquet match, and every once in a while Theresa would say something to the effect of, “Is that the one? In back, with the blond hair.”
Lilian couldn’t stop her stomach from being a jumble of nerves. She scanned the crowd, trying not to look as if she were actually looking for someone. Her eyes lit on the duke and quickly skirted over him lest he make eye contact with her. And then she saw him and clutched her sister’s hand.
“I see him.” He stood with the other man who had been in the library, and it appeared the two were having a serious and heated conversation. Lilian furrowed her brow, for it was unlikely such scowls from the two could possibly be due to the croquet match, which had not even begun yet despite Theresa’s concerns that they’d missed the beginning. He was just as magnificent fully clothed as he was half naked. He wore the summer uniform of the well-dressed male, light fawn trousers, a single-breasted frock coat of blue, and a cream-colored vest. His hair beneath his straw boater appeared tamed from his earlier exertion, and he was still too far away to clearly see his face. Though what Lilian could see was pleasing: square jaw, straight nose, even features. She longed to make her way to the other side of the croquet field so she might get a better look, but was terrified that he would somehow know what she was about.
“The tall gentleman in the boater. Blue coat. He’s next to a man wearing an awful plaid coat.”
Theresa clutched at her arm. “I see him.” She squinted. “He doesn’t seem all that special to me.”
Lilian almost reminded Theresa that she hadn’t seen his glistening and muscular torso, but thought better of it; Theresa was far too young to know such details.
“Shall I find out what I can? Mary Watworth is standing right by him. She might know.”
Lilian pressed her lips together. “Yes, do. But be discreet, please.”
Theresa gave her a look that said, Of course I will be, and headed in the direction of her man of interest. From the corner of her eye, Lilian could sense the duke looking at her and she did her best to ignore him. Her mother, of course, would have been exceedingly angry with her for not encouraging the duke’s affections. But Lilian simply could not bring herself to do it, though she knew eventually she would have to.
“Married? He’s married?”
Marcus Dunford, Lord Granton, the man she’d decided to marry, was already married. Lilian sat on a bench between her mother and sister, who had just gleefully imparted this information. Their mother had joined the sisters shortly after the croquet match ended, and they were now sitting on a bench beneath an arbor.
Theresa also discovered Lord Granton’s sister had once been engaged to Weston, the very same duke pursuing Lilian. This Rose was, in fact, the very reason the duke had been out of society for so long. Theresa didn’t know the details, but apparently something quite awful had happened between the two, and now, even though Weston and Granton’s family were neighbors, they did all they could to avoid one another. Lord Granton, Theresa announced with no small amount of glee, had already left the party. Lilian was not amazed at the sheer amount of information Theresa was able to ferret out; she had a knack for it.
“Or perhaps he found out you’re in love with him and he was trying to escape,” Theresa said, and then, because she found herself so amusing, she clutched at her stomach in a vain attempt to stop laughing. At that moment, Lilian fervently wished Theresa had not been allowed to join her mother and her at the house party. She realized too late that while Theresa could be great fun, she was also rather adept at exposing one’s weaknesses and capitalizing on them. And it was obvious that she would delight in torturing Lilian about her minor crush on Lord Granton.
“Why don’t you go back to the nursery and play with your friends,” Lilian said.
Theresa scowled. “You know I’m far too old for the nursery.”
“I don’t know, you may be nearly sixteen but you look ten.”
Theresa stuck out her tongue and pouted, indeed looking like a young child. Lilian made a face at her little sister and was about to say something more when their mother interrupted her.
“Lilian, don’t be mean to your little sister. I remember quite well what it was like to have an older sister who got to go to all the balls whilst I had to stay home. It seemed like forever before I had my own come out. Please do try to be more understanding. And what’s this about a Lord Granton?”
“She’s in love with him,” Theresa sang.
“Lilian is not in love with Lord Granton,” her mother said firmly.
“Yes, she is. She was staring at him all day. Like this.” And Theresa promptly made her face go slack and her eyes go dreamy before she burst out into laughter. Her mother pressed her lips together, but Lilian could tell she was trying not to laugh. Encouraged, Theresa stood up and batted her eyes at the imaginary Lord Granton. “Oh, sirrah, I do love your curls and your broad shoulders.”
“Stop it, Theresa. Mother, make her stop. I only wondered about the gentleman, and I had no idea he was married.”
“Theresa, that will be enough,” her mother said, then jerked her head so that Theresa would sit on the bench. “His Grace is coming,” she whispered, then gave Lilian a frantic look, as if she could somehow tame her hair in two seconds. Indeed, the Duke of Weston was strolling toward them, a smile on his face as if finding them was a delightful surprise.
“Ah, three beautiful ladies,” Weston said, bowing before them, and Theresa giggled, quickly stifling herself when Lilian gave her a small nudge.
“And who is this?” Weston asked, taking up Theresa’s hand and bending over it. Theresa blushed, and Lilian smiled, thinking His Grace kind for making such a fuss over Theresa. Not too many gentlemen would have done more than acknowledge such a young girl.
“This is Lady Theresa Martin, my younger daughter.”
“A pleasure, Lady Theresa. I do hope you will save a dance for me this evening.”
Anne started. “Your Grace, Theresa has not yet come out. She is but fifteen, sir.”
“Balderdash,” he said without rancor. “This is a house party. Rules are far more relaxed than in town.”
Theresa perked up, like a puppy being offered a prize bit of prime rib. “Oh, Mother, could I? I would be the happiest girl in the world. And no one would mind. I don’t have to stay for the entire ball, and if His Grace says it’s fine, surely no one else will care.”
Anne furrowed her brow. “I don’t know, Theresa. You are really far too young to attend such an affair.”
“I insist,” His Grace said. “Have no worries. I will talk to Lady Barrington and make certain she understands that Lady Theresa is attending the ball at my request.” His Grace smiled then, and Lilian felt a small fissure of unease, though she couldn’t say why.
That night at the ball, Lilian couldn’t help but look for Lord Granton, but it seemed as if Theresa was correct. The gentleman was nowhere to be seen so must have departed. She told herself she was being silly to search for a man who was married, but she simply couldn’t help herself. It wasn’t as if she would have pursued him, but she did wish she had gotten a good look at his face. If she were to run into him somewhere, she would not recognize him, which was probably for the best. No doubt if they happened to meet, she would not have been able to rid herself of the image of his glistening back and well-formed . . . everything. Just the thought made her cheeks heat.
Theresa, wearing her best gown, stood beside Lilian trying her best to, well, not be Theresa. But the poor girl was so filled with excitement, she could hardly stand still. Nor be quiet. Every woman or man who passed elicited some sort of comment from her, and no matter how many times Lilian or her mother shushed her, she simply could not contain herself.
“You are not to dance,” Anne admonished her younger daughter.
“What about His Grace? He specifically asked that I save him a dance,” Theresa said, just one small note away from a high-pitched wail.
“You may dance with His Grace, as it appears he may one day be your brother-in-law, but no one else.”
“Mother, I hardly think any man here will ask a twelve-year-old to dance,” Lilian said, just to get her sister riled up.
“I’m nearly sixteen, and you’re jealous that His Grace asked me to dance and not you.”
“He was simply being kind to my baby sister,” Lilian said, with emphasis on the word “baby.”
Lilian swore she could see steam coming from Theresa’s ears, so she relented. “You don’t look twelve at all. I was only teasing. And that dress is very becoming on you, Terri, truly.”
Mollified, Theresa looked down at her white dress, trimmed with a bit of lace and light blue satin ribbons. “Are you certain? This is such a little-girl dress.”
“You look lovely,” said her mother, whose voice sounded slightly strained. “Lilian, a word if you please.”
Lilian could tell from the forced smile on her mother’s face and the fine sheen of sweat on her forehead that she was not feeling well. She was always trying to hide her illness from Theresa, though Lilian was painfully aware that her mother would not be with them long. It was she, after all, who had spoken with her mother’s physician.
“I don’t believe I’ll be able to stay for the entire ball,” Anne said. “I want you to look after Theresa and make certain she doesn’t get into any trouble.”
“Yes, Mama. Don’t worry.” She searched her mother’s face to determine just how ill she was feeling. Most times, her mother could struggle through, but it was clear she was feeling particularly ill.
“Thank goodness His Grace is here to watch over the two of you.”
Lilian gave her mother a small smile before the older woman turned to leave, the weight of what was unsaid not lost on her.
“Where is Mother going?” Theresa asked when Lilian returned alone.
“She’s feeling a bit under the weather,” Lilian said with forced brightness. “I think perhaps she had too much sun today. It was dreadfully warm.”
Theresa nodded, accepting the explanation without a word, and turned back to the throngs of the wealthy and powerful before her. The orchestra had begun playing nearly an hour earlier, and Theresa basked in the experience of being part of such an evening. “It’s so exciting, is it not?”
“I suppose.” Lilian looked around the room and didn’t see a single familiar face—or at least no one she could comfortably walk up to and converse with. At that moment, she longed for their home in Cornwall with its lichen-covered stone walls and riot of roses that seemed to climb over every surface. She felt as if she didn’t belong here, with these finely dressed people, no matter that her father had been an earl and her mother a countess. Her memories of their grand home were few, and so she didn’t miss the lavish lifestyle she might have experienced had her father lived. While the Martins had not wanted for life’s necessities, and indeed lived better than most in their tiny village, they had not participated in society and watched nearly every penny spent. They had a handful of servants and new dresses when they outgrew the old, but they’d never experienced anything as lavish as the house party they now attended. She ought to feel as excited as Theresa, but the truth was, Lilian missed her friends and their sedate and simple life. “To be honest, Terri, I’m looking forward to returning home. I haven’t had a good strawberry tart since we left.”
“I’d rather have a single ball than a dozen strawberry tarts,” Theresa said feelingly. “You’re such an odd bird.”
Lilian secretly agreed. She’d participated in the season only to please her mother. She had tried to be charming and demure on the rare occasions when a gentleman had shown interest. But it appeared she lacked the social skills to garner more than a single dance or perhaps a cup of punch. It wasn’t until the Duke of Weston that any gentleman had come round more than once. Lilian couldn’t help but wish almost any other gentleman had shown her interest. As her mother had pointed out, beggars could not be choosers, and Lilian very much fell into the categ. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...