About the book
When the late Duke of Leinster suddenly dies, Rebecca Andrews finds herself trapped in the most terrible marriage of convenience with the most unsuitable partner she could have ever hoped for - her unpleasant and egocentric childhood friend and now the new Duke, Charles Godwin.
Not only does she see him as a friend but she is also madly in love with his brother Andrew who, torn between duty and the strongest feelings of love for his dazzling friend Rebecca, watches his life quickly fall apart.
But when an unexpected tragedy hits Godwin Hall and all intentions are being questioned, the manor’s inhabitants will have to face a vicious murderer on the loose and a secret that drives them all into darker realms.
The letter slipped from Lady RebeccaWinterson’s hands and fluttered to the carpeted floor. “My dear Caroline, it simply cannot be so. The Duke has always been in such splendid health.”
The two ladies took turns reading aloud the morning letters, and in time, they could predict their contents. However, among today’s post was a note with Rebecca’s name scrawled on the front. Neither had been prepared for the heavy impact the words written in this note would have on them.
Miss Caroline Swanson’s large, dark eyes were fixed upon her friend with an expression of intense sorrow and commiseration. “It is so, dear Rebecca.” Caroline’s fingers made no break in their brisk work of her embroidery. Rebecca, however, was too shocked to notice.
“Poor Andrew,” Rebeccasaid softly to herself, staring into the fire that continued to crackle brightly in the grate in contradiction to the dark news. “Poor Charles.” She leaned forward, her heavy rope of auburn hair fell over her shoulders, framing her milky-white face and highlighting the sparkle of her green eyes illuminated by the fire.
The death of Ernest Godwin, the Duke of Leinster, had indeed come as a terrible shock to all in the county.
Over the next few days, Rebecca and Caroline watched as dresses were pressed, and trunks packed for the upcoming London season. To them, it seemed unthinkable that the kindly old Duke would not take his place seated in the corner of every ball, banging his walking stick on the floor in time to the music and demanding that the young people ‘keep their heels warm’ and continue with the dancing.
The Duke had been taken ill in a sudden attack, and his previously robust constitution had crumbled over the course of only a day or two. Charles, the elder son and heir to the dukedom, had been away in London on business for his father, leaving the younger Andrew to sit by his father’s bedside and witness his passing into the next world.
Rebecca noticed the note from Andrew had clearly been written in the throes of intense grief, so much so that his familiar handwriting was hardly recognizable.
Caroline kept her voice neutral. “So, Charles will inherit.” She was watching Rebecca carefully for any reaction at her observation, but all her friend did was brush a tear from her eye and respond with an absent-minded “Indeed.” She had picked up the letter and scanned it again, her tears falling onto it as if offering some comfort to its author.
Rebecca had never thought of the Godwin boys — at four-and-twentyand six-and-twenty,they were no longer boys — as the inheritors of one of the greatest titles in the country. To her, they were merely her lifelong playmates, her honorary brothers, and closest childhood friends. Though they had spent less time together in recent years, those feelings remained unchanged.
She thought about how much they must be suffering from the loss of their beloved father and closed her eyes in sorrow.
“Yes,” she said abruptly, now that she fully comprehended the enormity of Caroline’s words.k “Yes, Charles will inherit.” She opened her eyes and looked at Caroline in incredulity.
“It scarcely seems possible. I always think of Charles as never having quite stopped being a boy, somehow. There is still something of the nursery in him, do you not think? The way that he expects to always have his own way about everything. Although I suppose that such is the privilege afforded to elder sons.”
Caroline did not react to this observation but merely remarked, “It scarcely matters what you or I think. He is now one of the most powerful men in all the country. Not to mention,” she added as an afterthought, “among the most eligible.”
“Yes.” Now that the shock of the Duke’s death sank in and she was able to think more clearly, the truth of Caroline’s observation struck Rebecca at its fullest. “Isn’t that a remarkable thought? I find the idea of Charles as a husband — to anyone -— impossible to consider. He will always be a child in my mind.”
She smiled at the memory of the many hours they’d spent together as children - all three of them. “Dear Charles. I amsure he will make a splendid Duke - though I will need some time to get used to the thought!”
It was true that Rebecca had not had reason to think of the Godwin boys — the Godwin brothers, she must learn to call them — as grown men, capable of assuming something as vast as a dukedom. However, she had not seen Andrew for the best part of a year, since the last London season, and Charles for longer still.
The liberty that allowed young men of their age to range about the country as they pleased was not afforded to women like her — not the least because her father was not the kind of man to let his daughter out of his sight for longer than he absolutely had to.
A daughter that does not obey her father,he would comment in his gruff, heavy voice, is not a daughter worth having.
It was this same sense of propriety that had led him to remind her several years ago that young men and women who were not betrothed had no business writing to one another, and at the time, his daughter had reluctantly agreed.
As far as Rebecca was concerned, there was no question of any impropriety between her and Andrew Godwin. He had always been her chief correspondent;it seemed to her as natural to write to him as it would have been to write to her brother — had she had one. However,she had always known that it was wise to carefully navigate her father’s iron fist.
Not that she and Andrew had stopped writing to each other, of course. They had merely got better at disguising their handwriting. There was nothing underhanded as far as either of them were concerned — why should they break the intimacy of a lifetime just because it might be misinterpreted by the rest of society? The relationship was innocent, and they both knew that they had nothing to be ashamed of.
Nonetheless, Andrew usually made some effort to disguise his hand on the envelope.
She read the letter again, noting the wild scrawl of his usually elegant hand as the jumbled sentences and tone of abject grief.
“Andrew is simply devastated,” she said aloud, but softly.
“He always was his father’s favorite,” Caroline added.
Caroline and Rebecca have been friends since they were fifteen years old. Both knew the Godwin boys well although Caroline did not share the same intimacy that the other three had enjoyed as childhood playmates. She never gave away any sense that this exclusion distressed her, but nonetheless, Rebecca had often wondered what her friend made of the Godwin boys.
“Andrew has always been the steadier of the two,” she agreed. She did not wish to imply anything unkind about Charles, but she knew that with Caroline she could always speak openly. “It is certainly a trait that their father holds — held, I mean — in very high esteem.”
Caroline wanted to say something but judiciously held back. Instead, she merely said, “Well, your father is sure to want you to write to the family and send your condolences.”
Caroline Swanson had the kind of face that often looked like it was holding something back. She had all the ingredients for beauty — an ivory complexion, fine dark eyes, masses of thick black hair — yet those qualities had never assembled themselves into a whole that was genuinely pleasing.
Perhaps it was the way that she always caught in her breath and shut her mouth sharply as if she was keeping back a secret, but she had never drawn anywhere near the level of attention that her friend seemed to command wherever she went.
As for Rebecca, the fact that the only daughter of the Earl of Sheffield had reached the age of twenty without having married seemed a miracle.
On the surface, she was everything that a young man could have wanted in a wife — beauty, but also was exceptionally clever and well-educated.Perhaps, indeed, she wasmore educated than a certain kind of man might want his wife to be. She was also kind and vivacious and navigated high society with native ease.
And of course, as the only daughter, she was set to inherit a handsome fortune.
The gossips of high society held two possible theories as to why such a charming and accomplished woman had not yet married.
The first was that there was something somehow off-putting about her obvious independence of spirit. It manifested in everything about her in the way she walked and talked, the way that she met every man in the eye and was not afraid to show if she was not enjoying a gentleman’s attentions.
The other theory was that she had already been spoken for whether she knew it or not.
“Well, brother,” Charles Godwin marched through the entrance hall of the family manor and met his brother with a consolatory embrace. “It seems that the future of the Dukedom rests on my shoulders now. I can only hope that I may do our father justice.”
Andrew Godwin returned his brother’s greeting in kind, but he felt like his whole body was made of wood. Since his father had drawn his last breath, he had barely slept, by turns pacing the hallways and lawns of the manor and throwing himself into armchairs to stare moodily into the fire.
He had written a letter to Lady Rebecca Winterson because he knew he had to tell her everything he thought and felt about the death of his father, and the terrible impact of his father’s final words. Then he had realized that such a letter could never possibly be sent.It was too intimate, too open to misinterpretation, too ‘unseemly’.
He had thrown it on the fire, and instead, scrawled a brief, grief-stricken note, telling her that his father was dead but giving no more information.It was more than he would normally have expressed, his nature being given to holding back and his natural disposition being to obey social convention.
But at the death of his father, these inclinations were being shaken up.
“Welcome home, Charles,” he said, “or perhaps I should get used to calling you Duke.”
His brother made an impatient gesture brushing off the weighty implications of the title. “Do notbe absurd, brother.”
Yet Andrew knew his brother too well to take him at face value and immediately saw that despite his protestations, he had enjoyed the formal salutation. He made a note to himself to never used it unless the occasion demanded it.
“So,” Charles began, leadingthem to their father’s library. He sat gdown in the leather armchair behind the great oak desk withan ease of entitlement that Andrew found a little disturbing, giventheir father had not yet been buried. “There is much to attend to.”
“Very much indeed,” Andrew agreed. He knew exactly what his brother was talking about, yet the very thought of it made his chest fill with such a shaking sense of anger that he could not bear to acknowledge it directly.
“First off…” Charles picked up his father’s pen from the inkwell, and he drew a sheet of ivory-colored writing paper towards him. “I will need to write to her to inform her of our father’s death.”
Neither of them needed to clarify who ‘her’ was.
“I’ve already done it,” Andrew said. The words had come out before he could stop them, but he could not say that he did not enjoy the look of fury slowly spreading over his brother’s features.
“You have already written to her?” Charles kept his voice calm, but Andrew could tell from his thunderous face that his actions had enraged his brother. Perhaps that was why he had done it, after all. “What right do you have, sir?”
“Forgive me, brother.” Andrew did his best to keep his voice neutral. “I was quite overcome by grief. You will understand that wishing to confide in a childhood friend — one whom I consider being a sister in all but blood — after receiving such a terrible shock is the most natural thing in all the world.”
Charles nodded. Despite his lingering childishness and sense of elder-brother entitlement, he had got better at controlling his temper in recent years. The red in his face was there, but not as much as it would have been.
“Of course,” he said. His voice started to shake in irritation, but he managed to keep it calm. “I have not yet said to you how sorry I am that you had to endure such a terrible ordeal alone. I should have been here.”
“But you werenot,” Andrew said coolly. The judgment in his voice was obvious, but Charles chose to ignore it. “How was your hunting trip, by the way?”
Charles reddened again, this time with shame.
“Completely overshadowed by the tragic passing of our dear father, of course,” he said brusquely. “The time for such boyish diversions is over. I realize that now. I must assume my duties as a man.” He picked up the pen again, and blotted it, poising it over the notepaper to consider his first sentence. “And a married man, at that.”
“There is no rush,” Andrew said, perhaps a little too quickly. “The wedding cannot take place until the mourning period is complete, after all.”
“True,” Charles agreed. Though his speech seemed to be conceding the point to his brother, his hard gaze told a different story. “Yet I think that it is time that Rebecca started to accustom herself to the idea, do younotthink? As soon as possible?”
Andrew drew in a breath. He did not trust himself to speak, so he merely nodded.
“Although,” Charles continued his voice a little too jovial for a man who had lost his father only a day previously. “Perhaps she will notneed very long at all to get used to the prospect of our marriage. Perhaps I ought to hold off a little. Once she finds out about the plans that our parents have arranged, sheis bound to become impatient for our union, wouldn’t you agree?”
He set the pen back down again. “There’s no need to unnecessarily prolong the period of waiting. I have no wish to make my future wife suffer.”
Andrew abruptly turned his back on his brother and walked over to the library fireplace. He removed his jacket and stood in his shirtsleeves. He leaned on the mantelpiece with an intense look that would attribute to grief at the loss of his father if anyone had asked.
“I am very happy for you, brother,” he said nonchalantly. He had no wish to show his real feeling. That would be letting Charles win, and as the younger brother, he had a lifetime of experience making sure that was never the case. “I am sure that you and Rebecca will be very happy.”
“Lady Rebecca,” his brother reminded him, a slightly taunting note entering his voice. “After all, we’re young men and women now, Andrew. What would people think if they heard you talking in such a familiar fashion about my fiancée?”
Andrew could stand the taunts no longer. It was clear to him that Charles was enjoying every minute of this victory, and that the pleasure of it was far overshadowing the sorrow of their father’s death. He excused himself in the chilliest possible language and left the room.
He looked up to see the black-clad figure of his grandmother making her slow progress down the hall, leaning on her jet-topped walking stick.
“Grandmamma Horatia.” He hurried to kiss her on the cheek. “Should you be up and walking, madam? Would you let me escort you back to your apartment?”
“I’ll have no such nonsense,” the old lady said briskly, her eyes twinkling. “I am perfectly well, and it does these sorrowful bones good to be put to exercise. If you take me back to my apartment, I shall have no other pastime than to ruminate over the death of my dear son-in-law.”
Though he had been present for the death of his father, he still scarcely believed what had happened, and the growing hollowness in his chest was a reminder of this loss.
“Why not we go for a walk about the grounds, my dear grandson?” She peered up at him scrutinizing his face. “I suspect that you have something that you wish to discuss with me. Am I correct in this assessment, child?”
He smiled at her ruefully. “You are always correct in your perceptions, Grandmamma,” he said. “Your instinct is second to none.”
She smiled. “You flatter me, my dear boy. It is only that I have been around for such a long time, and I have seen every different permutation of the trials and tribulations that young people experience.” She reached up and patted his cheek. “And from such a position I believe I am qualified to inform you that it will all come to right in the end.”
He nodded, not really believing her, and fell silent until they had left the Hall and were walking slowly across the wide front lawn, she was leaning heavily on his supportive arm.
Once they had put a little distance between themselves and the house, she said abruptly, “This is about your brother’s engagement, isn’t it?”
Andrew paused his stop causing them both to stumble a little. Once his grandmother had been restored to proper balance, the cascade of deflections began.
“Not in the least,” he said hurriedly. “Why should I not be delighted at the news of my brother’s betrothal to Lady Rebecca Winterson? I do not believe there is a finer young woman in all of England, and I should be a poor brother indeed if I did not celebrate my brother’s marriage to such an excellent creature.”
“Except for the small matter that you are in love with her yourself,” Grandmama Horatia intoned gently, her bright blue eyes standing out sharply in the surroundings of her black feathered bonnet. “That seems as though it would be a good reason.”
“In love?” Andrew tripped over his words in his hurriedness to deflect the accusation. He hardly knew why he took the trouble to deny it. Grandmamma Horatia’s intuition had always been second to none, and she seemed to know him far better than he knew himself. “With Rebecca?”
Grandmama Horatia smiled, patting him lightly on the arm.
“What was the first thing that you did on the sad occasion of your father’s death? You wrote to the young lady, seeking out her comfort. That is the action of a young man in love, my dear Andrew. It’s all right,” she interrupted, seeing that Andrew was about to open his mouth and contradict her. “You do not need to deny anything, my dear. Not to me.”
Andrew let out the breath that he had been holding and took the kindly, wrinkled hand that his grandmother was offering to him.
He knew there was no sense in lying to his grandmother and denying what he felt, but there was no liberation to be found in admitting his true feelings. He could hardly even say what his true feelings were since he had spent such a long time denying them.
“Not at all, Grandmamma,” he replied, his lips tight and his voice distant. “I do not deny anything.”
His grandmother did not seem to take his denial to heart and squeezed his hand.
“I know that at present you do not know what to do,” she said, her kindness shining through each syllable. “But love has a wonderful habit of finding a way. I believe that it will all come right in the end for you and that sweet girl.”
They walked back to the Hall in silence just in time to see a footman departing with a letter in his hand. Though Andrew could not bring himself to ask, he was certain that the letter would be addressed to Rebecca’s father.
His grandmother might well say that everything would come right in the end, but at that moment, he was struggling to believe it.
Rebecca was not used to questioning anything her father said — she knew him well enough to know it was rarely a wise decision. But as the impact of his words sank in, she could not help exclaiming in shock. “Surely you cannot be in earnest, Father?”
The Earl of Sheffield started the conversation with an indulgent expression on his face, but that was quickly fading away into a look of stormy obstinacy. He did not understand how Nature had given him such a strong-willed daughter.
“I am perfectly serious, daughter,” he said sharply, rising to his feet from behind his desk. “I do you the kindness of assuming that this unseemly reaction is merely a consequence of your surprise, and it will quickly give way to gratitude and an eagerness to do your duty by your own father.”
“Indeed, I am surprised,” Rebecca replied. She drew in a breath taking the chance to gather her thoughts. “Though not so much surprised as shocked. How could you have made such an arrangement without my knowledge or consent, Father? Surely you know me well enough to know that such an action would never be agreeable to me?”
“You empty-headed young thing!” the Earl thundered, slamming one hand onto his oak desk. “With a fortune such as yours, with the family name and all our reputation tied to you, do you really think that I would leave a question as significant as that of your marriage to the mercy of your whims?”
“I thought that as your daughter, your foremost wish would be to ensure my happiness,” Rebecca responded. She meant the words to be angry and accusative, but somehow they came out as hurt instead.
“Since you are all my family in this world, and I the same to you, I believed that your fatherly feeling would lead you to at least consult me on the matter that would dictate my future happiness.”
But she scarcely believed the words she spoke. Her father had always been strict to the point of controlling, always eager to see his daughter behave in accordance with his dictatorial commands. It was not that he valued her happiness below the security of her place in society but he believed the two to be one and the same.
She raised her gaze to meet her father’s. He was red with rage and breathing in great gasps.
“I am sorry, Father,” she said softly, remembering herself. Though she was still horrified at the news that he had just told her, she knew that there was no sense in turning it into a conflict. That would only make him dig his heels in deeper.
“You are correct to say that I am very much surprised and that I forgot myself at the moment. It is just…” she reached up to tug at her auburn hair, a familiar gesture of frustration that she knew was unladylike, but scarcely cared in this moment. “Why Charles?”
“The Duke of Leinster,” he corrected her slowly, his correction providing the answer to her question. Because Charles was the first-born.
Rebecca bit her tongue. It seemed to her that since she had just been told that her childhood friend was to become her husband, she ought at least to be able to refer to him by his Christian name. But her father was a devotee of social order and the proper way of doing things, and she knew that at this moment to flout convention in any way would only make him angrier and less likely to listen to what she had to say.
“Why him?” When it had been established that Rebecca had fallen silent, he responded again, “Why not him? He is one of the finest-titled and most respectable gentlemen in the whole country. He is of fine breeding and excellent family. It is a fine match, Rebecca. Besides…”
Here his tone lowered into tenderness. “I really thought that this would make you happy. Have you and he not always been friends? It is not as if I have promised you to an old man with a fine title but nothing in common with you. He is a gentleman, and a good man, and what’s more, my daughter, he has always been your friend.” His voice turned wounded now. “I truly thought that you would be happy at this news.”
“How could I be happy at the news that my future is not in my own hands?” Rebecca replied. Her voice was quiet, but the spirit of her words broke through nonetheless, and her father stood up abruptly and started pacing about the room, his face reddening further still with rage. “Did you not love my mother, Father? Do you not want me to know the same happiness?”
Her father was silent, stalking back and forth in front of the fire in a rage that she had never seen in him before — but then, she had never stood up to him like this before. When he spoke again, his voice sounded choked with emotion.
“I loved your mother very dearly,” he replied haltingly. “That is why I wish to see you well established and cared for before I die. In honor of her memory. She was always so delighted by your friendship with the Godwin boys. She and the Duchess of Leinster always talked about how they hoped that our two families would be united. It is for her that I am doing this.”
Rebecca was sure that her father really believed that he was doing the right thing. And she had to admit that, by anyone’s standards other than her own, it was the right thing to do.
She could see, moreover, that there was no sense in trying to convince him, certainly when he was already so angry. She realized the best thing she could do was to calm down and consider how best she might influence the situation.
After all, there would be a mourning period for the Duke of Leinster of at least six months, and she knew Charles well enough to be sure that he would not risk the perceived impropriety of proceeding with the wedding before then.
She could scarcely think straight at this moment and excused herself with a curtsy and a murmured excuse to her father that she needed some time to ‘contemplate her future marriage,’ before hurrying out of the library and down the hall to the sitting room that she and Caroline shared.
“Engaged to the Duke of Leinster?” Caroline’s fair complexion had gone deathly white, but her voice remained as composed as ever. Rebecca wished that she had half her friend’s poise as she nodded and sank down into one of the velvet chairs.
“I…” Caroline trailed off. Rebecca had rarely known her friend to be lost for words and felt reassured by the fact that her father’s plans were clearly as unexpected to Caroline as they had been to herself. But Caroline’s following comment took her by surprise.
“I probably ought to have suspected such a thing,” Caroline said at last.
“Suspected such a thing?” Rebecca echoed in surprise. “Do you really believe that, dear Caroline? Is it not usually supposed that a woman has some entitlement to choose which man she will marry?”
“Hardly,” Caroline replied pragmatically. “She may choose which man she refuses and which man she accepts, of course, but really one’s marriage is always subject to the permission of one’s father, is it not? The degree of your father’s control is perhaps a little unusual, but do not all fathers ultimately decide who their daughter may or may not marry?”
Rebecca nodded, seeing sense in her friend’s words and not wanting to respond too hastily. What Caroline was saying made good sense, of course, but she had to keep in mind that Caroline herself had been orphaned at fifteen, which was why Rebecca’s father had taken her in as a ward and companion to Rebecca, since the two girls were the same age.
Caroline had no father to demand that she marry this gentleman or that one, and at that moment Rebecca felt envious of her friend’s liberated position, though she was far too tactful to say so.
However, she did not need to say anything, as it seemed Caroline was able to read her thoughts and discern what she was feeling.
“The only reason that no one contrives to arrange a marriage for me is that nobody cares what happens to me,” Caroline said, and Rebecca was surprised by the level of the bitterness in her voice.
“You are a lady of status and means, and half the gentlemen of good society are in love with you, and would have proposed to you if you had ever let any of them get close enough. Who would not wish to marry Lady Rebecca Winterson? It is hardly surprising that the Duke is the man your father has chosen as the most deserving.”
Rebecca knew what she was saying was true. But she found herself reiterating the same question to Caroline that she had put to her father, this time in tones of misery, notanger.
“But… why Charles?”
“I do not believe that you are really asking ‘why the Duke?’” Caroline said softly. “I fancy that the question that you really wish to put to me is, ‘Why not Andrew?’”
Rebecca had no good answer to this observation, so she simply blushed. Her friend knew that the best course of action was to admit the truth in what Caroline said.
“It is not that I necessarily wish to marry Andrew,” she said in a low voice. “I would not go so far as to say that I wished to marry anyone. All I want, Caroline, is to possess my freedom. I would like the freedom to consider for myself whether I wish to marry Charles or Andrew, or anyone at all, for that matter. That is the freedom that has been taken away from me, and that is what I am suffering the loss of.”
She felt that she had deflected the interrogationquite well, because the truth was that she herself had been wondering how differently she might be feeling right now if she had been told that she was promised to Andrew instead of Charles.
She suspected that the indignity of being ‘promised’ to anyone would be no less, but that the misery of having her future laid out for her might have alleviated itself quicker.
Caroline’s dark eyes were fixed on her friend as she nodded carefully. She had always been a very intent listener.
“I wish that it were otherwise,” she said, her tone restrained and her face impassive. “I too wish that there were some other way.”
She paused, rising from her seat on the sofa to absent-mindedly tweak at a bowl of roses that sat on the pianoforte.
“You know that the Duke is in love with you, do you not?” she asked. The abruptness of her statement wrong-footed Rebecca somewhat, along with its bluntness. But there was no point in pretending that there was no truth in it.
“Yes, I know,” she said. “Charles has never been reticent in expressing his feelings.”
“Why do you not count yourself as fortunate then? It sounds like your parents have planned that things would be this way for a long time indeed. Do you not think it’s a stroke of luck that he should have grown up to be in love with you?”
“But I am not in love with him,” Rebecca responded, her voice flat and lifeless. “When someone is in love with you, and you are not in love with them, the weight of their feelings is a burden, not a pleasure. I cannot count myself happy in this case. If Charles were not in love with me then perhaps there would be some possibility of the whole thing being called off, but since he is, I feel even more trapped.”
She lowered her eyes to stare miserably at the carpet. “I suppose you think me ungrateful, Caroline.”
“Not at all,” replied her friend carefully. “I can understand the misery of feeling that your fate is sealed well enough. The course of my life has been determined by the circumstances of my birth rather than the enforcement of my marriage, but I expect that the feeling is not unlike.”
Rebecca held out her hand to Caroline, feeling glad that she could rely on their friendship even in times like this when she felt there was nothing else in the world within her control.
“For what it is worth,” Caroline said, putting her hand out to Rebecca in a gesture of solidarity. “I also wish that it had been Andrew who was chosen as your husband.”
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