Young lovers, torn apart, are each dreaming of a second chance at love.
Mrs Evanna Percival-Smyth, a widow of independent means, has agreed to chaperone Lady Cairstine McColl during the young lady’s stay at Corbridge. An act of kindness it may be, or perhaps an undertaking prompted by curiosity—for Cairstine is the daughter of the man she once hoped to marry.
Hot on the trail of a would-be blackmailer, the Duke of Glenard arrives in the town of Corbridge to prevent his beloved daughter from paying the price of the fiend’s ransom demand. What he does not expect when he gets there is to find her in the company of his first love—the woman who threw him over in order to marry someone else.
His love for Evanna still burns bright at the centre of his soul. Many years ago he believed she loved him too. In the aftermath of a tragic fire, he will discover the truth.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of quasi-non-consensual sex, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and misogyny.
General Release Date: 21st February 2023
By the light of a flaming flambeau held aloft by Sydney, page and general dogsbody to the Armstrong household, Mrs Evanna Percival-Smyth walked home. The moon was on the wane and that, added to the heavy cloud obscuring the stars in the night sky, made his illuminating assistance to guide her footsteps a necessity. A trip, with its likely consequence of a twisted ankle, was high on the cards otherwise.
Her house was cloaked in near darkness when she arrived. No servant would be up waiting. She was not meant to be there, but rather at Denny House, where she’d accepted an appointment to chaperone the Lady Cairstine McColl during her visit to Corbridge.
Circumstances had led to this unexpected return.
Of course, if she chose, she could wake the household and have people ready to do her bidding immediately—or almost immediately. It would mean they would have to dress and hurry, probably bleary-eyed or yawning, from their various rooms, and Evanna was more considerate than to ask for that. She valued her staff. Why should her unforeseen homecoming disturb their slumber? In her mind they got little enough respite as it was.
Plus, she had a lot to think about and didn’t want anyone to see her agitation. Sydney, bless him, did not count. His intelligence was not of the highest, but he was always willing to please.
At her front door, she opened her reticule and passed her young escort a silver sixpence. His eyes widened.
“Cor, Mrs P. Thank you.”
She patted his shoulder and smiled, even though, with her knees all a tremble after seeing Cairstine’s father, Nathan, for the first time in over twenty years, it was the last thing she felt like doing. She wanted to run and hide. Be alone.
Think things over.
Sydney stared at her, a slight frown creasing the space between his eyebrows. “You all right, Mrs P? You looked a bit strange just then.”
Bless him. “You’re a good lad, Sydney. I’m fine, just tired I suspect. Run along now. I imagine there will be plenty for you to do tomorrow. Is your bed ready?”
He nodded. “Course it is. I’s been mekking it tidy every morning like what you told me to.”
“Good boy. Take the flambeau to guide you but be sure to extinguish it in the water bucket when you get home.”
He nodded and dashed off.
Evanna watched him disappear and reached into her reticule, which along with a quantity of small change also contained her door key. She let herself in and sighed in satisfaction at the familiar scent of her own home—lavender and beeswax. Her housemaid had obviously not skimped on either the elbow grease or the furniture polish while she’d been away. An oil lamp, its wick turned down low, lit the interior and saved her fumbling about in the dark. It took but a second to pluck it from a small consul table and make her way up the stairs to her boudoir. By the lamp’s absence her servants would know she had returned.
Her thoughts were all over the place as she considered the events of the evening just gone. A large sherry to calm her agitation was in order, she decided. Once it was poured, Evanna settled back into her chair and thought back to when it had all started. Her first and only visit to Edinburgh…
* * * *
The excitement began when she overheard her father’s dour tones followed by her mother’s firm but snappish retort from the other side of a not-quite-closed door.
“It would cost a small fortune. I’m nae made o’ money for you to fritter away on female foibles and frolicking, woman.”
“It’s got nothing to do with frolicking or frittering, Angus Kerr,” her mama retorted with a hard edge to her voice that Evanna had never heard her employ when addressing Papa before. Forceful. That was it. Intrigued, she continued to listen.
“Evanna is the prettiest of our girls as well as the eldest. Just give me five hundred pounds to take her to Edinburgh…”
Evanna held her breath, hardly daring to hope.
“And I’ll practically guarantee she’ll catch herself a well-to-do husband. Then she can sponsor each of her younger sisters when they are of marriageable age. That’s four for the price of one. Consider it an investment. After all, it’s not much more than you spent on that gelding last month.”
Her father fired back, “At least the gelding crossed the finishing line first and brought home the prize fund.”
“An aberration no doubt.” Her mother sounded less than impressed. “Let’s face it, it’s about time one of your stable achieved a positive result. Your racehorses cost more than all of we females do put together. The gelding’s winnings should meet the majority of the expenses I’ll incur in Edinburgh.”
“But…but…five hundred pounds,” her father said glumly. “Would fifty nae do?”
“It would not, now wheesht or I’ll be demanding a thousand. You think on my words, Angus. You fathered them and you have a responsibility to see your daughters respectably established.”
The rustling of stiffened petticoats warned Evanna it was time to move. She picked up her skirts and hurried away.
* * * *
Nathaniel, Duke of Glenard sank gratefully into the padded comfort of a fireside chair and accepted the balloon glass of brandy offered to him by his daughter, Cairstine. The concern in her eyes mirrored the tone of her voice as he took his first sip. “You look quite knocked up, Papa. Drink this and we’ll talk in the morning. There’s no rush now the letter has been destroyed.”
Knocked up, knocked sideways and thoroughly knocked off kilter. Nathan could only manage a nod. One image filled his mind to the exclusion of all else. There was no room for more.
Evanna… My love…
Cairstine smiled softly and walked to the door. If she was disappointed at his lack of response in not enquiring as to her own part in the affair of the treasonable letter that had brought them all hotfoot to Corbridge, she didn’t show it. He would make it up to her in the morning. Ask all manner of questions about her adventures over the last few weeks. Tell of his own and express his happiness at her marrying the very man he would have chosen for her if she had not already done so herself—Duncan, the Earl of Callander. But for tonight he needed some time alone with his thoughts.
Being with family and friends.
Writing and having the freedom to do so now child four of four has passed her driving test and is off to uni later this year.
Any excuse to throw a party.
Any excuse to open a bottle of fizz.
Shoes in vast quantities – the higher the heel the better.
To write many more books.
To own a pair of Louboutin’s.
To never go near an iron or a hoover again.
You can find Cassie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter: @cassieo_author
After 30 plus years in Scotland, Raven now lives near the east Yorkshire coast, with her long-suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner, when she gets immersed in her writing, keeping her coffee pot warm and making sure the wine is chilled.
With a new home to decorate and a garden to plan, she’s never short of things to do, but writing is always at the top of her list.
Her other hobbies include walking along the coast and spotting the wildlife, reading, researching, cros stitch and trying not to drop stitches as she endeavours to knit.
Being left-handed, and knitting right-handed, that’s not always easy.
She loves hearing from her readers, either via her website, by email or social media.