Heart of Fire (Heart Trilogy #2)

Heart of Fire (Heart Trilogy #2)

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by Kat Martin
     
 

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As a viscount's daughter, vivacious Coralee Whitmore is perfectly placed to write about London's elite in the outspoken ladies' gazette, Heart to Heart. But beneath her fashionable exterior beats the heart of a serious journalist.

So when her sister's death is dismissed as suicide, Corrie vows to uncover the truth, suspecting the notorious Earl of Tremaine was

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Overview

As a viscount's daughter, vivacious Coralee Whitmore is perfectly placed to write about London's elite in the outspoken ladies' gazette, Heart to Heart. But beneath her fashionable exterior beats the heart of a serious journalist.

So when her sister's death is dismissed as suicide, Corrie vows to uncover the truth, suspecting the notorious Earl of Tremaine was Laurel's lover and the father of her illegitimate child. Corrie infiltrates Castle Tremaine posing as a wide-eyed country relation whose charming figure— and reduced circumstances—make her irresistible to the confirmed scoundrel. But Corrie finds the earl is not all he seems…nor is she immune to his charms, however much she despises his caddish ways.

Far from a society column, Corrie's life soon reads more like one of Mr. Dickens's serials. But the danger of her ruse is hardly fictional: someone is bent on ensuring Corrie's questions go unanswered—and unasked.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Martin's newest, the second in her Heart Trilogy (after Heart of Honor), writer and aristocrat Coralee Whitmore is in mourning for her late sister, Laurel, believed to be a suicide. Brave, impetuous Coralee, however, suspects foul play, and so she starts an investigation of Grayson Forsythe, Earl of Tremaine, the man she suspects was her sister's lover. Disguised as Forsythe's impoverished cousin, Coralee gains admittance to his world and discovers that things are not what they seem-especially her own feelings for the roguish earl. A night of passion and a dollop of danger kick the smart, sexy protagonists into high gear, though they play off each other superbly from the start. Martin's Victorian is blessed with a strong plot and a rich supporting cast of family and friends, making this fun, full romance a surefire crowd pleaser. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781410407634
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
06/18/2008
Series:
Heart Trilogy, #2
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Pages:
578
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

London, England January, 1844

An icy drizzle hung over the churchyard. The gravestones stood dark and unreadable in the shadows of the high rock walls of St. Michael's Church.

Gowned in layers of heavy black crepe, her face hidden beneath the veil of a wide-brimmed black bonnet, Coralee Whitmore stood next to her father and mother, the Viscount and Viscountess of Selkirk, listening to the drone of the bishop's words but not really hearing them.

In the casket beside a mound of damp earth, her sister's body lay cold and pale, retrieved only days ago from the chilly waters of the Avon River, the victim of a suicide, the authorities claimed. Laurel, they said, had jumped into the river to hide her shame.

"You're shivering." A stiff wind ruffled the viscount's copper hair, the same fiery shade as Coralee's. He was a man of average height and build whose imposing presence made him seem much larger. "The bishop has finished. It is time we went home."

Corrie stared at the casket, then down at the long-stemmed white rose she carried in a black-gloved hand. Tears blurred her vision as she moved forward, her legs stiff and numb beneath her heavy black skirt, the veil on her hat fluttering in the cold February breeze. She laid the rose on top of the rosewood casket.

"I don't believe it," she whispered to the sister she would never see again. "Not for a single moment." Corrie swallowed against the painful, choking knot in her throat.

"Farewell, sweet sister. I shall miss you ever so much." Turning, she walked toward her parents, the father both sisters shared and the mother who was Corrie's alone.

Laurel's mother had died in childbirth. The viscount had remarried, and Corrie had been born soon after. The girls were half sisters, raised together, always close, at least until the past few years. Then Corrie's job as society editor for Heart to Heart, a London ladies' gazette, had begun to absorb more and more of her time.

Laurel, who had always preferred the quiet life of the country, had moved in with her aunt Agnes at Selkirk Hall, the family estate in Wiltshire. The girls kept in touch through letters, but in the last year even those had grown sparse.

If only I could turn back time, Corrie thought, the lump in her throat swelling, becoming even more painful. If only I could have been there when you needed me.

But she had been too busy with her own life, too busy attending the balls and soirées she wrote about in her column. She'd been too self-absorbed to realize Laurel was in trouble.

And now her sister was dead.

*
• *

"Are you all right, Coralee?"

Standing in the Blue Salon of the Whitmores' Grosvenor Square mansion, Corrie turned at the sound of her best friend's voice. Krista Hart Draugr walked toward her across the drawing room, where the pale blue damask curtains had been draped with black crepe, as had the brocade sofa and Hepplewhite chairs.

Corrie reached beneath her heavy black veil to brush a tear from her cheek. "I'll be all right. But I miss her already and I feel so…responsible."

Most of the mourners, few in number because of the circumstances of Laurel's death, were in the Cinnamon Room, a lavish salon done in gold and umber, with huge, sienna marble fireplaces at each end. An extravagant buffet had been set out for the guests, but Corrie had no heart for food.

"It wasn't your fault, Coralee. You had no idea your sister was in trouble." Krista was blond, fair and tall; taller, in fact, than most men, except for her husband, Leif, a blond giant of a man who towered over his wife and actually made her look small.

One of the handsomest men Corrie had ever seen, he stood across the drawing room in conversation with his brother, Thor, who was dark instead of fair, nearly equal in size and, in a fiercer way, even more handsome.

"I should have grown suspicious when her letters dwindled to nearly nothing," Corrie said. "I should have known something was wrong."

"She was twenty-three, Coralee. That is two years older than you, and she was very independent. And she wrote you from Norfolk, as I recall."

Last summer, Laurel had traveled to East Dereham in Norfolk to live with her other aunt, Gladys. Along with Allison, a cousin about Corrie's age, they were the only relatives on her mother's side that Laurel had. Laurel had never gotten along with Corrie's mother, but her aunts, both spinsters, loved her like a daughter, and Laurel had loved them.

"She wrote to me from Norfolk, yes, but only on rare occasions. We had just resumed a serious correspondence last month, after her return to Selkirk Hall."

According to the Wiltshire County constable, when Laurel was in residence at Selkirk, she had gotten herself with child. Agnes had kept Laurel's secret until her pregnancy began to show, then sent her north to live with Gladys until the baby was born.

Corrie looked up at Krista, who stood a good six inches taller than she, a buxom young woman with lovely blue eyes, while Corrie was small-boned, with eyes a vivid shade of green. Krista was a mother now, but she still ran the gazette, a magazine for ladies that was well known for its views on social reform.

"The police believe she committed suicide," Corrie said.

"They say she took the child she had carried in her womb for nine long months and jumped into the river because she couldn't bear the shame. I don't believe it. Not for a moment. My sister would never harm anyone, much less her own baby."

Krista's gaze held a trace of pity. "I know you loved her, Corrie, but even if you are right, there is nothing you can do."

Corrie ignored the feeling those words stirred. "Perhaps not."

But she wasn't completely convinced.

She had been thinking about the circumstances of her sister's death since news of the tragedy had arrived—her sister drowned, remnants of an infant's blue knit sweater clutched in her hand.

Corrie had been devastated. She loved her older sister. She couldn't imagine a world without her in it.

Dreadful things were being said about Laurel but Corrie refused to believe them. Laurel's death could not possibly have been suicide.

In time, surely the truth would be unearthed.

London

Three Months Later

The offices of Heart to Heart weekly ladies' magazine were located in a narrow brick building just off Piccadilly. Corrie had begun working at the gazette shortly after Margaret Chapman Hart had died and her daughter, Krista, had taken over the business, running the company along with her father, Professor Sir Paxton Hart. Last year, Krista had married Leif Draugr, now the owner of a successful shipping enterprise, and nine months later had borne him a son, but Krista still worked most days at Heart to Heart, her pride and passion.

As Corrie entered the office in search of her friend, she spotted Bessie Briggs, the typesetter, working to get the big Stanhope press, the soul of the gazette, ready for the next edition. Bessie looked up and smiled but kept on working, paying no attention to the dismal black mourning clothes Corrie had worn for the past three months and would wear for three months more.

Corrie tapped on the open door to Krista's ground floor office.

Her friend looked up and smiled. "Since you rarely knock, I assume this must be important. Come in, Coralee."

Her stiff black skirts rustled noisily as Corrie moved to close the door behind her. "I have something I need to discuss, and since you are my very best friend…"

Krista eyed her with speculation. "What is it?" Corrie sat down and smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle from the front of her skirt. "I've tried to put Laurel's death behind me, but the fact is, I simply cannot. I have to find out the truth, Krista. I've never believed Laurel killed herself and her month-old child, and I am going to prove it."

Krista's features softened. "I know losing your sister has been hard on you. I know that in some way you feel responsible. But Laurel is gone and there is nothing you can do to bring her back."

"I realize that. But I failed her once when she needed me, and I will not do so again. My sister did not kill herself, which means someone else must have done it, and I intend to discover who it was."

One of Krista's blond eyebrows arched. "And how, exactly, do you plan to do that?"

"I shall start by doing some investigating right here in London. I am good at that, am I not? It is part of my job to unearth both facts and tidbits of gossip for my column."

"Yes, but that is hardly the same."

"I think it is exactly the same. I intend to go over every letter my sister wrote before she died and look for clues." Corrie glanced up, a fierce light coming into her eyes.

"Then I shall leave for the country. I'm going to find out who fathered Laurel's child, and then I will know where to start looking for the answers to how and why she died."

Learning the name of the father was an important piece of the puzzle, the man her sister must have loved. Not even Aunt Agnes knew who he was. According to her, Laurel had adamantly refused to divulge his identity.

"You don't need to worry about the gazette," Corrie continued before Krista could speak. "I already have a temporary replacement in mind. Assuming you approve, I shall ask Lindsey Graham to fill in for me while I am away." Lindsey was a school chum, a former classmate at Briarhill Academy, where Krista and Corrie had met.

"Lindsay is currently penning textbook articles," Corrie said, "and extremely bored, I think. Her father is a baron and very well connected so she is able to move freely about in society. I believe she will handle my job very well."

"I imagine she could, but—"

"Actually, I considered hiring Lindsey while you and Leif were gone off to his dreadful island." Corrie smiled.

"Running this place without you was a nearly impossible task. I have never been so happy in my life to see anyone return."

Leif and Krista's story was a well-guarded tale. That the big man and his brother had come from an uncharted island far north of Scotland where people still lived as Vikings was, at best, totally incredible and better left unsaid.

All that mattered was that Leif had found Krista and she had found him, and they loved each other desperately. Corrie wondered if the right man would ever come along for her.

Which returned her thoughts to her sister. In Laurel's early letters from Selkirk, she had mentioned meeting a man. She had described his many virtues and said how much she enjoyed his company. Corrie intended to review the letters, see if there might be a description, something that might help her find out his name. Who had stolen Laurel's heart, taken her virtue, then abandoned her?

Corrie wondered if the man who had fathered Laurel's child would have gone so far as to murder them.

"You can't be serious, Coralee. Tell me you do not intend to dredge up this painful affair all over again." Agnes Hatfield sat on the rose velvet settee in a small salon near the back of the Whitmores'town mansion, a room done in white and rose, an elegant, feminine salon that overlooked the garden. Three days ago, the black crepe strung round the room had been removed after three long months of mourning.

"I realize it will take some doing, Aunt Agnes, but I have given the matter considerable thought and I have no choice but to act."

Aunt Agnes, which Corrie had always called her though they were not actually blood-related, was a lady in her sixties, plump and silver-haired, and until the death of her beloved niece, always smiling. Seated next to her, Laurel's cousin, Allison Hatfield, a thin young woman with a razor-straight nose and pointed chin, very dark hair and hazel eyes, listened to Corrie with obvious trepidation. Allison's parents had died of cholera, leaving her in the care of her aging aunt.

At the viscount's invitation, both of the women had elected to remain in the city rather than return to Selkirk Hall and the awful memories the place still held for them.

"So you intend to begin some sort of investigation?" Aunt Agnes asked.

"Yes."

Allison made no comment. She was a shy, unobtrusive young woman rarely inclined to disagree with anything anyone said. Which was perhaps the reason she had agreed to leave East Dereham and accompany Laurel on her return to Selkirk Hall, pretending to be the baby's mother.

Or perhaps it was because Allison was tired of scraping by on her aging aunt Gladys's generosity, and Laurel had promised her a goodly sum and a better future in exchange for her help with the child.

"I do not believe for an instant the authorities' version of what occurred," Corrie said, "and after months of consideration, I have decided to act. I plan to take whatever steps are necessary to discover the truth of what happened to my sister. Aunt Agnes, you and Gladys helped Laurel. Now you must help me find out what happened to her and her baby."

Allison pulled a lace-trimmed handkerchief from her reticule and dabbed at her eyes. She had been as fond of Laurel and her month-old infant, Joshua Michael, as Agnes, who also dug out an embroidered square of cotton and blew her powdered nose.

The older woman took a fortifying breath. "I will help in any way I can…though perhaps my helping your sister is what, in the end, got her killed."

Corrie's eyes widened. "So you do not believe it was suicide, either! And if she did not take her own life, someone must have killed her. Laurel and the child were victims of foul play. It is the only explanation."

From her place on the rose velvet settee, Allison's soft voice whispered across the room. "There is a chance…I cannot say for certain…but it is possible that Laurel may have been meeting someone the night she disappeared. She wouldn't tell me where she was going, but she was excited. I didn't realize she had taken the baby until later, when I went into the nursery and saw his cradle was empty."

Corrie felt a rush of sadness that brought the sting of tears. She purposely leaned into the stiff bone stays of her corset, and the tiny jolt of discomfort set her back on course. "Please…we must try to stay focused."

Meet the Author

Kat Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty historical and contemporary romance novels. To date she has over 13 million copies of her books in print in seventeen countries, including Sweden, France, Russia, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Poland, and Greece. Kat and her husband, author Larry Jay Martin, live on their ranch outside Missoula, Montana, and spend winters at their beach house in California. Kat invites you to visit her website at www.KatMartin.com.

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