Published: August 1998
Amidst whispers of treachery and murder, the Stanhope heir vanishes without a trace…
After Lionel De Vere’s mysterious disappearance, Garrick De Vere becomes heir to an estate shrouded in scandal. Blackmailed by his powerful father into returning to England after a decade-long exile, Garrick finds himself forced into confronting the past and defending his innocence against those who wished to see him banished forever.
She dared to love the man all of London hated…
Lady Olivia Grey and her daughter both possess the shattering “gift” of sight, and it is this vision which drives Olivia from a loveless marriage directly into the heart of a bitter rivalry between two brothers, placing both herself and her daughter in jeopardy-as lies, secrets and ancient passions threaten to destroy everyone involved.
They were strangers and outcasts, thrown together by a past that would not die. Together they fought to expose a legacy of deceit and claim the love that defied their entire world.
“Powerful storytelling with unforgettable characters”
“Another stunning achievement from a writer of depth, emotion and remarkable talent.”
“A thoroughly entertaining and bewitching read”
–Old Book Barn Gazette
ASHBURNHAM, WEST SUSSEX, 1760
She stood outside in the shadows cast by the moon-embraced clouds, reluctant to go into the house. It was a pleasantly cool June night. A whisper-soft breeze caressed her bare arms and caused tendrils of silvery blond hair to escape the many braids coiled around her head and tickle her neck and cheeks. The gentle sounds of a harpsichord drifted outside from the terrace doors, left ajar, so that guests could wander the sweeping lawns with its rioting gardens. The house itself had been built just ten years ago by the current earl and was a solid stone structure with imposing Ionic columns, numerous balconies, and temple pediments front and back. Stone stairs led from the terrace where she stood to the unfashionably abundant gardens and the deer park. The melodious strains of the harpsichord suddenly, abruptly, shifted as the musician made a jarring error, and there was a moment of absolute silence.
In that moment, Olivia felt so much. Sensations she did not wish to feel. Fear, anguish, and desperation.
She closed her eyes as the musician played again, perfectly now, but without the flamboyance of one truly born to perform. All that day, awaiting the arrival of their guests, she had felt dread. As if, with the arrival of her husband and guests, some terrible event would come. Now her temples throbbed. Thus far, nothing had gone awry; there had been no disaster. Surely this time she was wrong, and her dread had been the result of her husband’s return, nothing more.
How Olivia hated her cursed gift.
How she wished she had been born normal, like everyone else.
She knew she had to rejoin Arlen’s guests. Her pulse pounding, she debated several excuses that would allow her to go upstairs, and not merely to retire. Were the candles still burning in Hannah’s room? Just the day before yesterday, that foolish Irish maid had let them burn out and then had tried to argue with Olivia about the merits of leaving the child’s room lit at night. Had Hannah’s governess, Miss Childs, not been visiting her parents, the fiasco would not have occurred. Surely the candles remained lit tonight. Surely by now Hannah was soundly asleep and dreaming of happy things, like spotted ponies and sugar plums and the puppet show they had attended at the county fair last week.
Surely her eight-year-old daughter was not feeling what Olivia was feeling. Would she not have said something? Olivia immediately shut off that thought, pulling herself together, glad Arlen would return to London in a few days, glad that she and her daughter would once more be left to their own devices in the country–with their own secrets still safely held. Clad in a beautiful pastel floral and striped silk dress, her small waist accentuated by the huge bell skirt, one supported by wide panniers, diamonds and pearls glinting from her ears and throat, reluctantly given by her husband years ago, Olivia moved swiftly across the flagstone terrace, past a stone water fountain, and into the paneled-and-gilded salon where her husband’s guests were gathered.
The harpsichordist continued to play, her small back to Olivia, her narrow shoulders set rigidly, telling Olivia that she hated playing for the assembly. As Olivia glided into the room, her sister-in-law, renowned as one of England’s great beauties, lifted a slashing black eyebrow at her. Elizabeth’s small, perfect nose was tilted just slightly in the air. Her look was clear. She knew Olivia was not at ease in this company–or any company–and she was filled with disdain.
When Elizabeth Wentworth was at Ashburnham, Olivia’s duties as hostess were usurped. Olivia did not care about that, just the manner in which it was done.
As Elizabeth’s cool blue eyes locked with Olivia’s pale gray ones, Olivia wondered, as she had repeatedly for the past nine years, what had she done to make Arlen’s sister dislike her so? Olivia had once attempted to be friendly, but now she avoided her like the plague, a task easily enough done, because Elizabeth hated the country as much as Olivia hated town.
The harpsichordist, Susan Layton, had finished the song. Olivia sat down next to her husband, taking a small, gold-caned chair. The company broke into a round of applause. Susan faced them, a pale, blond girl of no more than seventeen, a smile pasted on her face. Olivia applauded loudly. “Bravo,” she called, so the shy young lady could hear. Silently she thought, How courageous you are.
Susan sent her a grateful glance, rising, giving the company a small curtsy. Her cheeks were red.
“Doesn’t she play well?” Sir John Layton, a bejowled man with a huge frame that even his velvet coat could not contain, beamed at his daughter. His powdered wig was askew, his puffy cheeks flushed. He was a brewer, knighted a dozen years ago for some service to the Crown. He had made such a fortune that he could have bought the earldom of Ashburn several times over–or so Arlen had said.
Olivia liked him very much, in spite of his antecedents and the fact that his periwig was always slipping. He had quite the proverbial heart of gold. Arlen, she knew, merely pretended to be his friend. She had yet to glean what purpose Layton served the man she had married.
“Extremely well,” Elizabeth said smoothly with a look of boredom that belied her words.
Susan’s mother, Lady Layton, was a tiny, attractive, birdlike woman, and she smiled her thanks quite nervously–she had yet to say a thing since arriving at the estate. Henry Wentworth, the marquis of Houghton, sat beside her. He was half as tall as Sir John and twice as wide, and was soundly asleep. His stocking-clad ankles were hugely swollen with gout. His feet overwhelmed his buckled shoes. Elizabeth snapped her japanned fan loudly, and the marquis awoke with a start. “Do you not wish to hear me play, my lord?” she said as she stood up.
Arlen suddenly gripped Olivia’s wrist. “Where have you been?” he whispered, his dark eyes boring, his face close to hers.
He was hurting her, but Olivia did not try to pull her hand away. “I needed air.”
He kept his voice low as the company around them continued to discuss Susan Layton’s abilities as a harpsichordist and Elizabeth took her turn, sitting gracefully, and with supreme confidence, in front of the instrument.
“You always need air when I am entertaining,” he said, his eyes flashing. “I protest,” madam, for I am only in the country two months a year!”
Olivia forced herself to smile at her husband. Two months, she supposed silently, was far better than three. “My headaches are far worse than ever, my lord,” she said demurely.
The earl of Ashburn eyed her. He was a slender, darkhaired fellow with features as perfect as his sister’s, who had just taken up the current fashion of wearing his own hair, rolled, powdered and tied back, sans peruke. Olivia knew that the ladies in London oohed and aahed over her husband. She also knew that he kept an actress from Vauxhall as his mistress. She had even heard that his mistress was with child. Not that she, Olivia, cared. She wished he would never come to the country. She prayed his mistress would give him a son. She dreamed of being left alone in the country, just her and Hannah and their wonderful staff.
Arlen Grey, the earl of Ashburn, stared coldly. “And what dreams do you now have? What delusions? What nightmares?”
Olivia swallowed. “None, my lord,” she lied. “That–malady–is past.”
He eyed her with utter disgust, and perhaps with real loathing. It had not always been that way. Olivia had been married at the age of sixteen, and looking back upon the memory, one that was not happy, she could hardly believe she had ever been so naive, innocent, or trusting. How quickly all that had changed. And any fond feelings Arlen might have had for her had vanished the moment he had realized just how different she was–before their daughter was born. Now Olivia knew that he knew she’d lied.
Finally Arlen adjusted his lace cuffs, which frothed out from under his turquoise coat sleeves. His sapphire signet ring caught the light from the crystal chandeliers overhead. “I ask very little of you, madam,” he said. “See to it that your dreams remain just that.”
Olivia nodded, clasping her hands tightly together, wanting to escape upstairs now more than ever, yet knowing she could not. Was Hannah all right? And what would Arlen do if he knew about her current “dream”? For he referred to her oddly accurate intuition and premonitions as dreams. Olivia found herself watching Susan, who spoke quietly with her mother. She was obviously unhappy. Miserably so.
The desperation, the fear, was coming from her. Olivia was certain of it. She had been certain of it from the moment they had been introduced earlier that day. How she wished to help her. But what could be so terribly wrong?
Susan suddenly looked up at Olivia, as if feeling her eyes upon her. Olivia gave her an encouraging smile. She knew she must befriend the young girl in order to prevent a catastrophe. She did not know how she knew it. But she did. It was always that way. The unwanted knowledge—truths that were never complete.
Arlen broke into her thoughts. “Elizabeth is about to play,” he said, and he settled back in his seat. “My sister is one of the finest musicians I know, and her voice is unsurpassable,” he said proudly to everyone present.
“Hear, hear,” the marquis agreed. “My wife is, in general, quite unsurpassable.”
Elizabeth accepted this praise as her due, not even a spot of pink upon her alabaster cheeks as she gracefully inclined her head.
“Yes, we have heard all about Lady Houghton’s talents,” Sir John said expansively. “Please, my lady, do play for us.” His pretty words were spoiled by a sudden belch.
Olivia smiled at him.
And Elizabeth smiled benignly at the crowd, then began to play. In fact, she was more than adept at the harpsichord. Note after note rippled sweetly across the room. “Ah, yes, lovely,” Sir John said with a sigh. But the way he was regarding Elizabeth, Olivia was quite certain he referred not to the music, but to the musician herself. The marquis, she noted, was drifting off once again.
Then Olivia heard it. The child’s scream. She jumped out of her delicate Hepplewhite chair.
Elizabeth’s back was to her and she continued to play. But the entire company stared at Olivia as if she had lost her mind. And Olivia realized that she had been the only one to hear Hannah scream–that the scream was only in her mind.
She knew that the candles had burned out.
Fury–and the need to rush to her daughter–engulfed her.
“Is something amiss, Lady Ashburn?” Sir John asked with concern, also rising to his feet.
“Nothing is amiss,” Arlen said unpleasantly, standing. He gripped Olivia’s wrist. “Sit down.” His tone was filled with warning.
Olivia did not obey. “Arlen. My lord. I must go upstairs.”