Where Love Begins
Kindle UnlimitedFree with a subscription to Kindle Unlimited
“Spectacular historical romance!”– The Romance Reviews
Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist- Best Historical Romance - 2008
Return to the glittering world of Julianne MacLean’s popular American Heiress Trilogy with this romantic, emotionally powerful spin-off series—Can This Be Love
Lord Martin Langdon has been deeply wounded by love in the past, so he takes pride in his scandalous reputation where the art of seduction is a most rewarding—and emotionally painless—pastime. When he sets sail for the Isle of Wight to race his champion yacht during Cowes Week, he learns of a particularly beautiful woman who is “impossible to flirt with,” and grows determined to prove that not even the prim and proper Evelyn Wheaton can resist his charms.
Evelyn knows all about the reckless rogue’s shocking reputation and she wants nothing to do with him. She may be looking for a husband, but Lord Martin is certainly not a candidate. The smoldering looks he sends her way, however, are a different matter entirely. She suspects there is great passion to be had if she could throw caution to the wind and surrender to his charms . . . but dare she risk her heart? And will Martin, who hides a most tormented past, be able to surrender to true love at last?
NOTE: This novel was originally published under the title SURRENDER TO A SCOUNDREL in 2007.
Release date: September 3, 2020
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 348
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Where Love Begins
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. —MARK TWAIN (1835-1910)
For the first time in Evelyn Foster’s very proper and correct sixteen years of life, she was about to do something horrendously, unspeakably naughty. And contrary to what one might think—that she was young and impulsive, and therefore experiencing a thrill from the wickedness—she was not the slightest bit thrilled. In fact, she would even go so far as to say she was vexed, irritated, and most decidedly angry, for she would never have entertained such a notion herself—that it might be “amusing” for her and her best friend Penelope to sneak into the boys’ dormitory at Eton while everyone was at supper.
Perhaps the most distressing part of it all was that they were sneaking in because of him. Lord Martin Langdon, the Duke of Wentworth’s younger brother, the mischievous boy who was always getting into trouble for various wild antics—like engineering a teetering bucket of water over his precept’s door, or sending a raft down the Thames fashioned with exploding fireworks, directly below Windsor Castle when the Queen herself was in residence.
On top of all that, Lord Martin was, at seventeen, already known to be a self-proclaimed womanizer. He was an objectionable, disreputable young man, and Evelyn knew it in the clearest realms of her intellect.
So why was she having any part of this? she asked herself for the hundredth time, shaking her head as she crossed a moonlit field with Penelope.
She was there because her beautiful blond friend fancied herself in love with the rascal and could not be talked out of it. And Evelyn could hardly sit home wondering what would transpire—because, though she hated to admit it, she had her own strange and confusing fascination with him.
“Hurry up, Evelyn,” Penelope whispered, as they scuttled through the dark side streets toward the campus, dressed in boys’ clothing they had borrowed from Penelope’s younger brother. “We don’t have much time, and I don’t want to get caught on the way out.”
And I must be mad, Evelyn thought, feeling the chilly night air on her cheeks as she quickened her pace to keep up.
At that moment, Penelope began to jog, and they hurried across the street, keeping their heads down beneath the brims of their tweed caps. At long last, they reached the iron gate outside the chapel, and Penelope pushed it open. Evelyn winced at the piercing screech of the hinges. “Doesn’t anyone own an oil can?”
“Don’t worry yourself,” Penelope said. “Follow me.”
They crossed the tiny cemetery but stopped suddenly when a beagle barked at them from the other side of the fence.
Evelyn jumped with fright. “Goodness, what next?”
Penelope grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the back of the chapel. “Ignore him. We’re almost there. I know a place where we can squeeze through the fence and get into the courtyard.”
Evelyn was breathing hard now, not enjoying this at all. “I think we should turn around. We’re going to get caught. And if my father finds out...”
Penelope didn’t stop to discuss it. She merely spoke over her shoulder. “I’ve come all this way. I’m not turning back now. I want to see where he sleeps.”
Evelyn halted on the gravel path. “Where he sleeps? Penny! I thought you were just going to slip the note under his door.”
“Yes, unless I can get it open with one of my hairpins.”
Unable to believe what she was hearing, Evelyn huffed in frustration. “You have gone positively mad.”
Penelope stopped and turned, and though Evelyn couldn’t see her friend’s expression in the moonlight, she could hear the bright, beaming smile in her voice. “Yes, I have gone mad. Mad with love.”
Evelyn felt a jolt of irritation.
Or was it jealousy?
No. Not that. She could not let herself entertain such foolishness. She shook her head and stepped forward to make one more plea. “You know the stories about him, Penelope. He’s not worth it. He will break your heart. If only you would listen to reason.”
Penelope reached the back corner of the cemetery near the chapel wall and wrapped her hands around the bars. “That’s your problem, Evelyn. You’re always logical, when sometimes you just have to trust your heart. Break the rules and defy reason if you must.”
Evelyn continued to stand on the path, watching Penelope squeeze through the fence. Defy reason? For what purpose? To have her heart crushed into pieces and trod upon like her mother’s had been for as long as she could remember?
Penelope grunted as she continued. “And I don’t understand why you can’t see that he’s wonderful, especially after what he did for you. You should think of him as your hero, Evelyn. He saved your life! How can you think badly of him?”
Evelyn recalled that day on the lake six years ago, when she had fallen through the ice, and he had pulled her to safety.
“We were children,” she said with a shiver. “Of course I will always be grateful for what he did. He was my hero that day, but I cannot overlook the fact that he is no longer that boy. He has grown into a scoundrel, and everyone knows it. I do not see him with starry eyes like you do.”
What would be the point? She was an awkward, unattractive girl with spectacles who was too brainy for her own good and possessed an unconventional passion for science and physics. She was skinny as a stick, with dull brown hair and a nose that was simply too long. Never in a thousand years could she attract the attention of a boy like Martin, and the few times she had encountered him in town whenever she and her mother were visiting Penelope’s family, he didn’t even seem to know who she was or remember that he had once saved her life—even after Penelope introduced them and told him her name. He’d been too distracted by his flirtations with Penelope. Playful, blond, pretty, bouncy Penelope.
Evelyn doubted he even remembered that harrowing day on the lake. He had never mentioned it or revealed the smallest hint of recognition.
Penelope sounded irritable all of a sudden. “He is not a scoundrel, and I wish you would stop saying that, because I love him.” She turned, preparing to climb down into the courtyard. “Look, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. You can wait here. I will be faster on my own anyway.”
Evelyn paused a moment, considering it. She could wait there, couldn’t she? She could avoid watching her beautiful friend wallow in the romance of her first love affair, sighing and boasting about how much her handsome prince loved her in return and how happy they were.
Blast it, why did Penelope have to choose him to chase after? Couldn’t she have picked someone else? Why Lord Martin?
Evelyn watched her friend climb down the wall and disappear from view, then heard her shoes hit the ground on the courtyard below.
“Are you coming or not?” Penelope whispered heatedly.
Evelyn felt the knot in her belly tighten and knew she could not possibly stay behind. She had to go because Martin was in a strange way hers, even if she knew she could never have him.
“All right, I’m coming,” she said grudgingly, marching to the fence.
A few minutes later, Evelyn and Penelope were standing on the grass outside Martin’s dormitory, under Penelope’s cousin’s open window on the ground floor.
“Hoist me up,” she said, raising a booted foot.
Evelyn huffed with frustration and bent forward to form a stirrup with her hands, a maneuver they were adept at, as they had been climbing the same rocky outcropping behind Penelope’s house for years as a shortcut to town.
An instant later, Penelope was climbing into Gregory’s room, then turning and offering her hands out the window. “There’s no one here. Take hold.”
Evelyn locked wrists with Penelope and climbed the wall. It was another maneuver they knew well, and it was unimaginably easier without corsets. Though climbing through the window itself held some challenges.
As soon as she was safely inside, Evelyn, who was an only child, wiped her hands on her breeches and glanced around. The room was very plain, with dark blue bed linens and a single framed picture on the wall. “I have never seen a boy’s room before.”
Penelope, who had four brothers, merely shrugged. “Let’s go. Lord Martin’s room is only three doors down, but we need to hurry. I doubt we’ll have much more than fifteen minutes before a few of them start coming back.”
“Do you have the note?” Evelyn asked, focusing on the practicalities in order to distract herself from the sheer panic she was feeling, having snuck into a boy’s dormitory. Not to mention that it was Martin’s.
Penelope tapped her jacket pocket. “Right here.”
Evelyn had read the note earlier. It was full of flowery, romantic outpourings of love. With Martin’s reputation with the girls, he would probably read it and head for the Highlands. Evelyn had tried to warn Penelope about that, but she just wouldn’t listen. She wouldn’t listen to anything Evelyn said.
They opened the door a crack and peered into the quiet corridor. Ascertaining there was no one about, they tiptoed down the hall to Martin’s door.
“This is it,” Penelope whispered, her eyes bright. “This is where he lays his beautiful head each night. What do you think he dreams about? Me? Could I dare to hope? He did tell me I was the prettiest girl in Windsor. Remember?”
Evelyn stared speechless at Penelope, wondering if this could possibly get any worse. “All right, we’re here. Slip the note under the door, and let’s go before we get caught.”
Penelope nodded and reached into her pocket but paused before she bent to slip it under. Her eyes shifted to the doorknob.
No, Penelope, don’t...
But Evelyn didn’t say those words because she knew it would make no difference. Penelope was desperate for Martin in every way, and she was not going to leave without attempting to see his bed, and heaven help them, sniff his pillow.
“I just want one little glimpse,” Penelope whispered, wrapping her hand around the knob.
“Please, make it quick.” Evelyn glanced over her shoulder to ensure no one was coming, then struggled with her confusing mix of emotions—the anger toward Penelope for dragging her into this and the strange exhilaration flooding her veins for what they were about to see. Lord Martin’s bed. She supposed she should admit it to herself. She wanted to see it, quite shamefully in fact. So she prepared herself to follow her friend inside.
Penelope lifted a finger to say “shh,” then slowly turned the knob. Thankfully, the door didn’t creak, and they were very quiet as they tiptoed into the dark room. But when the light from the corridor spilled across the floor, there was a sudden movement to the left. The bed linens flipped over, the mattress squeaked and bounced, and Evelyn and Penelope found themselves gaping with open mouths at a young man’s naked chest—Martin’s chest!—as he sat upright and squinted into the light.
“Bloody hell,” he said, holding up a hand to shade his eyes.
Neither Evelyn nor Penelope could speak. Nor could Evelyn tear her eyes away from that bare, muscled chest and his tousled black hair as he ran a hand through it in exasperation. She was stunned, paralyzed by the shocking display of skin before her eyes.
He was so handsome, she couldn’t breathe.
Her mental prowess returned however, when someone else’s head popped up from under the covers—a young woman’s head. Her frizzy red hair was matted and tangled, and she was clutching the covers up to her neck.
Evelyn could see her naked arms and shoulders and knew enough about sin and wickedness to understand what monkey business they’d been up to. She felt suddenly nauseous.
“Blimey, don’t you know how to knock?” the girl in the bed shouted, then she reached behind her head and biffed a pillow, knocking over a half-empty bottle of rum, which smashed on the floor. The pillow hit Penelope square in the face, knocking her cap off. “Get out, ya’ bloomin’ idiots!”
Penelope’s wavy hair came loose from the pins and fell down upon her shoulders.
Martin sat up straighter. “You’re girls.”
He looked carefully at Penelope. “I know you. What’s your name again?”
She let out a sob and fled from the room. Evelyn quickly followed, shutting the door behind her. She did not allow herself time to think about what she had just witnessed.
Another door opened around the corner, down the hall, and fast footsteps approached. She bolted in the other direction, following Penelope into her cousin’s room. Penelope was already scrambling out the window, sobbing uncontrollably.
Evelyn darted to the window. “Be quiet, Penny! Someone heard us! We have to get out of here!”
She tossed herself out and hit the ground beside Penelope, then took off in a sprint, grabbing her friend’s arm to drag her faster across the dark field, but Penelope was crying so hard, she could barely keep up.
“Don’t think!” Evelyn said, without looking back. “Just run as fast as you can!”
They scrambled down a drainage ditch at the edge of the field, then back up the other side to reach the shelter of some buildings. Evelyn looked back at the dormitory and saw lights illuminating the windows. There seemed to be frantic activity in the building.
No doubt, Martin had been caught with the girl in his bed and probably wouldn’t be flirting with Penelope anytime in the near future. Not after this. He would be furious with her, to say the least.
A few minutes later, they were free of the campus lights and making their way home to Penelope’s house, walking quickly along the river.
Stopping to catch her breath, Evelyn checked over her shoulder and was panting when she spoke. “I think we’re safe now. Let’s just hope Lord Martin doesn’t tell anyone it was us.”
Penelope stopped and sank to her knees on the grass. “Oh, Evelyn! Did you see her? How could he?”
Evelyn swallowed hard over her own shock and disbelief, and the strange, intense twinge of possessiveness she was feeling. Who was that girl and what precisely had she been doing to him under the covers? Evelyn didn’t want to know. It made her sick just to think about it. Sick!
She knelt beside her friend. “I’m so sorry, Penny.”
Penelope continued to weep inconsolably, while Evelyn fought to bury her own distress and pat the dirt down hard on top of it. She would not let herself give in to the idea that she was hurt by any of this. What just happened was no surprise. She knew what kind of boy he was and she had warned Penelope about it beforehand. Martin was wild and dangerous. He was not worthy of anyone’s adulation.
She laid a comforting hand on Penelope’s shoulder.
“You tried to tell me,” Penelope sobbed, “but I wouldn’t listen. I just wouldn’t hear it, but you were right all along. He is a scoundrel. A despicable, vile, loathsome cad! I hate him!”
She broke into another fit of sobs.
“You’ll be all right,” Evelyn said gently. “You’ll get over this.”
“Will I? How? I loved him, Evelyn! Loved him! He was the only man in the world for me, and now I’ll be brokenhearted for the rest of my life! Oh, I don’t want to live! I should drown myself in the river tonight! Then maybe he’ll regret what he did to me.”
“You’re not going to drown yourself,” Evelyn said firmly. “He’s not worth it.”
Penelope hiccuped. “You’ve said that before, but you don’t understand, Evelyn. You don’t know what it feels like to be madly in love! You’re far too sensible. You have no idea what I am going through!”
Evelyn gazed intently into her friend’s weepy eyes, saw the unabashed despair in them, and wanted to shout back at her with fury and inform her that yes, she did understand. More than Penelope could ever know.
But she did not shout those words because she knew that Penelope was right on one level. Evelyn was indeed sensible. Too sensible to ignore her firm prudence and allow herself to surrender completely to her emotions. And thank God for that. After tonight, she would work even harder to be prudent, because she could never again put herself in the path of such peril. She did not want to end up like Penelope, weeping her heart out over a rake like Martin who didn’t deserve her tears.
“No one could possibly know how devastated I am,” Penelope sobbed. “He doesn’t love me! Oh, why didn’t he love me? What’s wrong with me?”
Evelyn shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re a beautiful girl, and someone else is going to sweep you off your feet again before you know it.”
“No, I will never love again. I’ll enter a convent.”
Evelyn sighed and stood up, helping Penelope to her feet. “Come on, let’s get you home. You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.”
“I will never feel better. My life is over.”
But Evelyn knew her friend. She would get over this, and she would fall in love again, too, probably with the very next young man who flattered her. That was Penelope. She was openly passionate, she enjoyed attention, and the young men certainly enjoyed giving it to her.
Thankfully, Penelope found the strength to stand and walk, and Evelyn put an arm around her to lead her home.
During the week that followed, Evelyn and Penelope waited anxiously for a shrill whistle to blow in their direction or for some official representative of the school to demand an appointment with their parents. But no such whistle blew, nor did they hear a word about a bedroom scandal at Eton. Though they supposed such scandalous happenings were quietly swept under the school carpets, especially when they involved the younger brother of a duke.
Hence, they spent the week doing nothing out of the ordinary, wandering in and out of local shops with their mothers, who had been friends since childhood. They sipped tea and ate scones in Penelope’s garden, reading and going for leisurely walks along the riverbank before dinner.
Thankfully Penelope’s tears flowed less dramatically as the week pressed on, and by the end of it, she was regarding Lord Martin Langdon as the most despicable boy in Windsor, claiming she had no idea how any girl could consider him handsome, for his hair was always in disarray, and he was a rake of the highest order, destined for failure in every regard, not to mention that he had a most unattractive smile.
Evelyn knew very well that his smile was by far his best feature, nothing short of disarming to any female within a ten-yard radius, but naturally she did not argue the point with Penelope. She instead agreed wholeheartedly and assured her that she was quite right on every front. It seemed as if the whole scandalous affair had indeed blown over.
At the end of the week, however, when it came time for Evelyn and her mother to go home, she discovered with some alarm that the storm had not passed at all—for there she was, standing on the platform at the train station, barely five feet from Lord Martin Langdon himself.
Ten days had passed since she had seen him in his bed, bare-chested and cursing at her, having just sat up beside a naked girl. Evelyn bit down on her lower lip and swallowed with difficulty.
“The train is late as usual,” her mother said, checking her timepiece and taking a step forward to peer down the tracks. “Perhaps we should have had your father send the coach.”
Evelyn could not reply. She was too unnerved by the presence of Lord Martin not far from where she stood. Did he even know she was one of the intruders that night? Good heavens, was he staring at her? Or was she imagining it because she was completely obsessed with being caught?
She continued to stand on the platform, looking straight ahead while her heart hammered noisily in her chest, until she couldn’t take the stress of it any longer. She had to know if he was looking at her, so she discreetly turned her eyes in his direction.
To her utter horror, he was staring at her, squinting irritably with pure venom in his eyes.
Evelyn sucked in a quick breath and looked the other way. Heaven help her, he did know.
“This is becoming ridiculous,” her mother said, checking her timepiece again. “Stay here with the bags, dear. I’m going to ask the guard how much longer it will be.”
Before Evelyn could voice a protest, her mother headed back into the station, leaving her completely alone on the platform.
Well, not completely alone. She was standing next to Lord Martin.
Evelyn wet her lips. Her heart raced madly as she struggled to act casual. Could he see her chest heaving?
Then he did the unthinkable. He spoke.
“Well, well, well,” he slowly said, rocking back on his heels. “If it isn’t Miss Evelyn Foster.”
She felt her eyebrows fly up in shock. She hadn’t thought he’d known her name—because he never seemed to remember it—and he had certainly never addressed her before or acknowledged an acquaintance, much less given her the slightest notion that he even knew she existed.
“Do you have any idea what havoc you caused?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder toward the station door, watching for her mother.
Evelyn fought to hide her unease and somehow managed to return his dry but heated gaze. “Havoc I caused? It is my fault, is it, that you had a woman in your bed? Pardon me, but I beg to differ.”
She could hardly believe she was engaging in such an improper conversation. And with Lord Martin, no less.
His blue eyes—with their impossibly long, black lashes—narrowed. “It’s your fault I was caught, Miss Foster.”
All at once, the anxiety she was feeling turned to anger, because she hadn’t even wanted to be sneaking into his dormitory in the first place, and everything else was his fault for being such a habitual flirt and leading Penelope Steeves to believe he was in love with her!
Evelyn couldn’t contain herself. With all her many frustrations boiling up to the surface, she faced Lord Martin and narrowed her eyes from under her thick spectacles. “I do beg your pardon, sir, but when a gentleman like you behaves inappropriately—leading an impressionable young lady to believe there is some genuine affection between you—that gentleman must accept the consequences of his actions.”
Martin gazed at her for a long, heated moment, then appeared almost amused, but not quite, for there was a perceptible bitterness about him when he scoffed.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Foster, but your friend has a head on her shoulders that is in working order, does she not? You and she both should have known it was unwise to sneak into a male dormitory, where women are strictly prohibited.”
Evelyn glared at him. “And what of the woman in your bed, sir? Where was her head?”
His mouth curled up in a patronizing grin. “I don’t think you’d want to know.”
Evelyn sucked in a breath. She didn’t know what he was implying exactly, but she was quite sure it was beyond scandalous.
But heaven forbid he should think her frazzled by the remark, so she raised her chin, squared her shoulders, and pretended she was unruffled. Though she had no idea what to say.
Martin clenched his jaw and faced forward again, evidently also at a loss for words.
They stood in silence for a few seconds, while Evelyn wallowed in her anger, for what right did he have to blame her for his indiscretion? He’d had a woman and a bottle of rum in his room during supper hour!
Evelyn checked over her shoulder to see if her mother would soon be returning, but she was still inside the station, chatting leisurely with a woman in a large hat.
As the seconds ticked by, the tension on the platform seemed to grow heavier than lead. She felt it throbbing all around her, and soon found herself breaking the silence again and asking a question rather hesitantly. “What havoc was there, exactly, after you were caught?”
She shouldn’t have asked it, but she wanted to know if he had revealed her and Penelope’s involvement. Because heaven forbid her father should get wind of it. She was enough of a nuisance to him as it was.
Lord Martin looked at her and spoke with scorn. “I had to explain myself to the headmaster, who was unimpressed with me, to say the least, but that is nothing new. Today I am officially suspended from school and will be forced to go and stay with my aunt in Exeter, and every day she will remind me that I am doomed to a life of complete and utter failure.” He squinted contemptuously down the tracks. “I will be counting the days until the school will take me back. If they take me back.”
“You’re not going home?” Evelyn asked. “To your brother? The duke?”
Lord Martin gave her a snide look and shook his head. “My brother prefers to let other people put me on the straight and narrow.”
Evelyn felt a stab of pity for him suddenly, for he appeared without support of any kind, and she had heard some rumors about his home, Wentworth Castle, being a rather dark and dismal place. But then she reminded herself that he had brought all this on himself. He made his own decisions to misbehave.
“Maybe you need to put yourself there,” she told him flatly.
Lord Martin grimaced, as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “You are very self-righteous, aren’t you, Miss Foster?”
“And you, sir, are very rude.” She had never been so outspoken in her life.
He looked in the other direction, shaking his head dismissively, as if Evelyn were a complete dunderhead who knew nothing about the ways of the world.
She squeezed her reticule. It always hurt to feel completely unappealing to young men, to say nothing of how it felt when the young man in question was Lord Martin. There were moments when she remembered how grateful she had been to him six years ago when he pulled her out of the freezing water and onto the ice. He had been only eleven years old, and she had thought him the greatest hero in the world. But now...
He was hardly a hero today. He was bitter and rebellious and didn’t seem to care about anything but his own selfish and irresponsible pleasures. He had sunk very low, and it was, in a word, heartbreaking, to see the hero of her childhood dreams waste the courage and gallantry she had seen in him that day on the lake.
He turned to her for one final word. “Don’t worry, Miss Foster, I didn’t expose you or your friend. I told the headmaster I had no idea who you were, and he seemed to believe me. He thinks he’s looking for a couple of boys.”
Evelyn squeezed her reticule in her hands again and felt rather sheepish all of a sudden. “Well, I suppose I should thank you for that, at least.”
He spoke with a cool reserve. “No need.”
Just then, Evelyn heard her mother’s heels clicking across the platform. “We shouldn’t have to wait much longer,” she said, then pointed down the tracks. “Oh look, here it comes now.”
Evelyn leaned forward to see the steam train approaching from a distance. Martin did not look her way again. He bent and picked up his bag, then strolled in the other direction.
A short time later, they were boarding the first-class carriages, of which there were two, thankfully. Evelyn was not surprised when Martin chose the one behind hers.
As soon as they were seated, her mother leaned close and said, “Wasn’t that Lord Martin Langdon, the Duke of Wentworth’s younger brother?”
Evelyn gazed out the window and tried to sound blasé. “Was it? I didn’t notice.”
“You didn’t notice, Evelyn?” her mother replied. “Surely you recognized him. He saved your life once, darling.”
Evelyn suspected her mother could see straight through her mask of indifference, but she retained it, nonetheless. “Well, if it was him, he didn’t recognize me. It was a long time ago. I doubt he even remembers it.”
“Honestly, Evelyn. How could anyone forget pulling a little girl out of a frozen lake?”
Evelyn shrugged. “Well, maybe he does remember it. He just doesn’t know it was me.”
And something about that made her feel strangely lonesome.
Meanwhile, in the first-class carriage directly behind Evelyn’s, Martin was closing his eyes and tipping his head back on the upholstered seat, wondering if that fall through the ice years ago was the reason Miss Foster had ice water in her veins.
Honestly, she was the most uptight, frosty, prudish girl he had ever met, always acting as if she didn’t know him, when she must remember that he had saved her life. How could she forget? Bloody hell, he hated the way she always looked down her nose at him, if she even bothered to meet his gaze at all. It didn’t matter what he said or did, she never said hello to him or gave him the slightest smile.
Not that it mattered, he told himself. Miss Foster could go strolling on a dozen more frozen lakes with thin ice if she was so inclined. He certainly wouldn’t try to stop her, because thanks to her and her foolish friend—what was her name? Penelope something?—he was going to have to spend the rest of the month bored out of his skull in Exeter, with an aunt who would constantly remind him that he was doomed to a life of failure.
Ten years later
With the bright, summer sunshine at his back and a fresh wind in his face, Lord Martin Langdon stood at the helm on the sloping deck of his champion racing yacht, Orpheus. He glanced up at the grand sweep of the mainsail and felt the incomparable exhilaration of the wheel tugging in his hands. A salty spray flew upward from the windward rails, and Orpheus’s bow plunged forward with a thunderous roar into the waves.
“Ready to tack!” he called out to his crew, feeling grateful for this welcome sense of purpose at the helm and the rare satisfaction that came from knowing he was in absolute control. He felt confident, at ease, and his blood was racing with anticipation for the coming week.
The crew moved into position, and he turned the wheel hard over to leeward and ducked as the boom swung across. “Coming about! Release the jib!”
He kept the wheel hard over until they were sailing on the edge of the wind again, then glanced up to check the trim of the sails on the new tack. He settled in on a close-hauled course, smiling at the speed of the maneuver.
“Well done!” he shouted with a smile. “The trophy will be ours again by the end of the week.” The men cheered. “Oh, but wait,” he added with a warning tone. “Do not be too pleased with yourselves just yet, gentlemen. Our greatest challenge is still ahead of us—and that is to navigate safely through the unfathomable sea of champagne corks that will be before us by nightfall.”
His crew—four of the best yachtsmen in England—laughed and shoved each other around.
Though he himself did not share in their laughter, Martin relished the sound of theirs, then closed his eyes for a moment, basking in all the tremendous power of the Orpheus’s streamlined hull and the overwhelming might of the canvas straining aloft. She was superior to all the other English racing yachts in form and workmanship, and she had set the fashion for the new decade. And because of her, Martin, who had contributed to the genius behind her design, had become the famed racing champion of Britain for two years running.
This week, he would make it three. He was determined.
“There’s the Britannia!” his first mate shouted, as they sliced through the choppy waters, heading for Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
Martin had come early to study the winds and currents and commit everything to memory. Apparently, the Prince of Wales had come early as well, most likely to show off his impressive new cutter, which he had commissioned just this year.
“She’s a beauty,” he replied.
Martin’s first mate and closest friend, Lord Spencer Fleming, stepped past the windward shrouds and came to stand at Martin’s side. He pointed toward the royal mansion on the hill.
“How much shall we wager Her Majesty is sitting on the terrace of Osborne House this very minute with a telescope and a frown, watching all the attractive young ladies stepping on and off her son’s yacht?”
Martin glanced up at the house. “I’ll wager you wish you had a telescope to watch them, too.”
“Must you rub salt in the wound?” Spence asked.
“What in the blazes do you mean?”
“I mean that as soon as you set foot on the Squadron landing stage, every young lady in Cowes will be flocking to your side, and I might as well be a codfish.”
Martin chuckled, hoping that would indeed be the case, because he had been feeling on edge lately and desired the particular distractions that only a week in Cowes could provide. The kinds of distractions that made him laugh and smile and forget certain less agreeable aspects of his life.
“And I’ll be greeting them with open arms,” he assured his first mate, feeling more than certain that a few pretty ladies would cure everything. For the duration of the week anyway, which was all he could ask for.
He turned his head slightly to feel a shift in the wind, noted the closing distance to the Squadron, and knew it was time to decrease speed. Anticipation coursed through him for all the pleasures and amusements about to come his way at last, and for the great sense of accomplishment he would feel when he crossed the finish line on race day. God knew he sorely needed it.
“Let’s drop the jib,” he said.
“Right then.” Spence relayed the message to the crew, and Martin kept the boat steady while the men lowered the sail.
He held their course, sailing toward Cowes, where the waters were calmer and dotted with a colorful fleet of yachts, all here not only for the race, but for the garden parties and balls and champagne, and the delicious gossip exchanged on the exclusive back lawn of the Royal Yacht Squadron. For Cowes Week was, without question, one of the most fashionable social occasions of the year, and he was more than ready to settle in and have a devil of a good time.
Moments before the Orpheus changed tacks near the Britannia, Evelyn Wheaton—the wealthiest widow in England after inheriting her father’s millions—stood on the public parade just below the Royal Yacht Squadron, gazing across the Solent and enjoying the salty fragrance of the sea. Her skirts whipped noisily in the brisk wind, and she had to hold on to her hat to keep it from flying off.
Beside her stood Henry Kipper, Lord Radley, a baron who had been a social mentor to her father—God rest his soul. Lord Radley was one of the oldest members of the exclusive yacht club and took great pleasure in that fact. Today, he wore a white sailor’s hat, white flannel trousers, the traditional blue jacket of the yachting fraternity, and he carried a shiny black walking stick.
“I believe that might be the Orpheus on her way in,” he said, raising an out-of-fashion quizzing glass to his eyes and squinting into the distance.
Evelyn gazed across the water and spotted the champion sloop skimming toward the royal Britannia at an alarming speed.
Of course, she was not surprised. She knew the identity of the skipper. Who didn’t? He was the country’s most celebrated sportsman. He was charming in public, a hero to the children, and he set the standard for excellence among sailors and shipwrights all over the world. On top of that, the more voracious gossips in London enjoyed delicious tittle-tattle about him behind closed doors: that the only thing their champion racer liked better than a fast boat was a fast woman.
Evelyn knew that better than anyone, didn’t she? She had seen it firsthand ten years ago. She had witnessed the evidence in the flesh, and knew that he was not always the smiling charmer he pretended to be.
All at once, a flock of butterflies invaded her belly. She hadn’t seen Lord Martin in a very long time, and it was unsettling, to say the least, to think that she might actually speak to him during Cowes Week.
Would he remember her? Probably not, thank goodness. She didn’t want him to. She wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very awkward, and she would feel so foolish for harboring that strange infatuation all those years ago. She did not even want to remember their acquaintance, if one could call it that.
Still, she hadn’t felt butterflies like these in years, and the sensation was most unnerving. She wished they would stop.
“Does he not worry he might cause a mishap?” she asked with concern as the Orpheus heeled over at an impossible angle. “There are hundreds of boats in his path.”
Lord Radley lowered his quizzing glass and smirked. “I don’t suppose that young man worries about much of anything. That’s his third racing yacht after all.”
Two young children in white sailor suits and hats went dashing by, their mother following quickly behind, pushing a baby in a pram. Evelyn gazed longingly at the pram for a few seconds, then forced herself to return her attention to the exploits on the water.
“What happened to the first two?” she asked, locating the Orpheus. Her heart skipped a beat as the keelboat changed direction again, narrowly missing another yacht.
Oh, he had not changed. Not one bit.
Lord Radley raised his quizzing glass again. “Wrecked them both, I daresay. Ran the first one aground after a month and the next a year later. Quite a shame, really. They were magnificent boats, though perhaps a little too slow for his tastes. But at least he seems to have learned something. He exercises more caution now that he’s got a champion yacht.”
Evelyn pursed her lips and shook her head. Caution, indeed.
“Some say he’s been spoiled by his wealthy brother,” Lord Radley said. “The duke replaced both yachts without blinking, almost immediately after Lord Martin wrecked them.”
By the looks of things, he’ll have to replace this one before long, too, Evelyn thought.
“Shall we walk up to the lawn?” Lord Radley suggested, offering his arm. “We shall indulge ourselves in the puff pastries and ask which ladies are having tea on Bertie’s yacht today and then we shall speculate about their manners and morals like a couple of carrion crows.”
Evelyn laughed, thankful that the butterflies in her belly had finally stopped fluttering. “Lord Radley, you are positively wicked,” she said, knowing, of course, that he was jesting.
“And perhaps we shall see if my nephew has arrived yet,” he added. “I shall be most pleased to introduce you.”
It was the second time that afternoon her escort had mentioned his nephew George, who had just inherited his title as Earl Breckinridge. He was here to sail his yacht in the race as well, and from what she’d heard, the earl had a spotless reputation and was known to be a gracious and courteous gentleman—quite the opposite of Lord Martin Langdon.
Evelyn suspected Lord Radley would be pleased to see a match between her and his nephew. He did, after all, consider himself her unofficial guardian, and had acted as such ever since her father passed away a year ago, six years after Evelyn lost her mother. Lord Radley wished to see her safely and happily married with children, because she was now completely alone in the world.
She had indeed been very lonely since her mother’s passing. She’d even been lonely during her brief marriage to the vicar. Especially then, she supposed, for she had married him only to remove herself from her father’s home, so as not to burden him with her undesirable presence any longer. She still remembered the day he told her the vicar had asked for her hand in marriage...
“You had better accept,” he said in his cool, stern voice, without even bothering to lift his gaze from the papers on his desk, “because you won’t get another offer. Not with your looks. Now get out of here. I’m busy.”
Of course, when it came to Lord Radley and his nephew, the proposed alliance had little to do with her looks. There was the more important matter of her inheritance, which made her an attractive prize for any man, and she was not blind to the fact that Lord Radley would derive great pleasure from seeing it settled upon his nephew. She was not offended by this, mind you. Quite to the contrary, she was thankful for it, for at twenty-six, she was not as young as the other ladies who were in Cowes seeking husbands. And she was completely aware of the fact that she had never been pretty.
She realized with rather perverse amusement that no one could ever accuse her of not being a realist. How could she be anything but? She had always gotten the cold, hard truth from her father, who would have preferred she’d never been born.
Filling her lungs with the fresh, salty sea air, she decided to dispense with those memories and anything that resembled a complaint. She was thrilled to be here for this exciting week at Cowes. Absolutely thrilled. She wanted to marry again because she desired the life she never knew—one filled with children and the laughter they would bring into a home of her own. She had been in mourning for the past two years, starting with her husband’s death and followed immediately thereafter by her father’s, and before that, she had already been living without laughter in her life, simply keeping quiet. It was well past time for a change.
In that regard, she was glad she had her wealth to attract a husband. At least she had something, and she would not be reluctant to use it to find a husband she could love and respect.
Thus she linked her arm through Lord Radley’s and accompanied him up the drive to the back lawn of the yacht club, where there was sure to be much laughter and conversation, and perhaps even a potential fiancé among the crowd.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...