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She was home.
Glancing out the carriage window, Anastasia drank in the sprawling countryside and the lovingly familiar roads of Kent, the winding path of oak trees and lush, colorful gardens that led to Medford Manor.
More than ten years had passed since she'd last been here. And yet she remembered that final day as if it were yesterday—a foggy, drizzly March morning when she and her parents had left England.
It had been the worst day of her life.
No, actually it had been a culmination of worst days, beginning a fortnight earlier when her beloved grandfather had died. Then had come the funeral—where she'd wept and wept—and the reading of the will, a formality that did nothing to ease her hollow sense of loss. She and Breanna had huddled together in the back of Mr. Fenshaw's office, alternately crying and comforting each other as the solicitor summarized the provisions their grandfather had made—something about dividing his assets in half and passing ownership of Colby and Sons to their fathers, to be shared equally.
Those are only things, Anastasia had wanted to scream. None of them can bring Grandfather back.
But she'd bitten her lip, swallowed her grief, and said nothing.
The next day, the unthinkable had happened.
Her father had taken her aside, explained that he, Mama, and she were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They were sailing for the States, opening an American branch of Colby and Sons in the thriving city of Philadelphia, starting a whole new life in a whole new country.
Anastasia had understood—far more than he'd realized.
With Grandfather's passing, the Colby family had ceased to exist. The final vestiges of it had died along with him, been dispensed along with his possessions. Uncle George and her father no longer had a reason to strive for the mutual tolerance they'd exerted during their father's lifetime. In fact, they wanted nothing more than to put an ocean between them.
Well, to her father that might have meant new beginnings and the thrill of expansion.
To Anastasia, it had meant something entirely different: that she'd never see Breanna again.
Which was why, on that foggy spring morning, she'd felt as if she were living a nightmare. She was bidding a final farewell to everything she held dear: Grandfather, England, Medford Manor—and Breanna.
She and her cousin had exchanged a tearful good-bye on the steps of Medford Manor—a brief one, given that Uncle George refused to take Breanna to see them off. Not only didn't he share her anguish, he was also far too busy moving into his new home. He was, after all, the new Viscount Medford, a title he'd craved for years and which passed to him by right since he was older than his twin by twelve minutes.
Thus, Breanna and Anastasia had parted, hugging each other fiercely, exchanging their good-bye's amid promises to write every week.
They'd kept their word.
Throughout the years, weekly letters had sailed back and forth from England to the States, as the girls kept each other apprised of their lives. How different those lives had become—Breanna being groomed for the role of a proper English lady and Anastasia enjoying the slightly less sophisticated but more independent role afforded by life in Philadelphia. She'd never quite felt she belonged; she wasn't an American, for England was still, would always be, her home. Yet she wasn't a traditional English noblewoman either. And while she never stopped yearning for her country, she had to admit she felt a tremendous admiration for the American ideals and those who held them.
She'd also seen a thousand opportunities for expansion in the States; a great untapped world of natural resources to cultivate and trade. She'd asked her father dozens of questions, learned as much as she could about Colby and Sons: what an import and export company did, the kinds of goods her father traded, the contacts he made, even the lengths he went to to ensure neutral trade continued during the years America and Britain were at war.
Abruptly, eighteen months after the war ended, Anastasia's foundation was snatched away. Her mother died of a fever, leaving her father grief-stricken and in shock. He never recovered. Eight months later, he passed away in his sleep, leaving Anastasia utterly, excruciatingly, alone.
Henry Colby's American solicitor, Mr. Carter, had sent for Anastasia, explaining that her father's will was held in England, given that Henry had assumed his daughter would choose to return there upon his death. However, if such was not the case, Mr. Fenshaw could forward the will to Philadelphia, where Mr. Carter would read it.
Anastasia had smiled softly, realizing how well her father had understood where her heart was. She'd thanked Mr. Carter, arranged to have him continue to oversee her father's local assets and to act as the American agent to Colby and Sons—a role he'd been groomed for—then packed her bags and booked passage on the next packet ship to Liverpool.
Breanna's letter had arrived in Philadelphia that very day, begging Anastasia to come home, to come straight to Medford Manor and move in with them. Even Father agrees this is the best thing for you, she'd added with a touch of ironic amusement.
Gratefully, Anastasia had decided to do just that. The last thing she wanted was to be totally alone. And being with Breanna again would bring great joy at a dismal time.
The ship had docked three days ago, at which time Uncle George's carriage had been ready and waiting. She'd spied the family crest instantly, and had nearly wept with happiness at the familiar sight.
She hadn't minded the length of the drive from Liverpool to Kent. She'd used the time to savor the winding country roads, the quaint villages and towns the carriage rolled through. She'd reacquainted herself with her country, reveled in the sheer joy of being back after more than a decade away.
And now, at long last, Medford Manor loomed ahead, a beacon of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Anastasia leaned out the carriage window, watching the manor draw closer, the gardens flowing around her like a cluster of dear friends, welcoming her home.
The front door burst open as the carriage rounded the drive, and a young woman rushed down the steps.
Anastasia didn't need to ask who it was.
It was like peering into a looking-glass, seeing a mirror image of herself gazing back at her. Even now, at almost twenty-one years old, they still looked like twins.
"Stacie!" Breanna waved frantically, and Anastasia nearly knocked over the footman in her haste to alight.
"Breanna!" She flung her arms around her cousin, alternately laughing and crying, more overwhelmed by this moment than even she'd realized.
The two girls, now women, drew back, stared at each other in joy and wonder.
"After all this time, I can't believe I'm seeing you." Anastasia grinned. "Seeing me," she corrected, taking in Breanna's delicate features and vibrant coloring.
"It is amazing," Breanna agreed, returning her cousin's scrutiny with rapt fascination. "I always wondered if we'd still look alike after all this time. Well, now I know." Her eyes sparkled. "I have a twin." She gripped Anastasia's hands. "I can't believe you're finally here."
"Nor can I. I feel as if an eternity's passed since I left. And yet, in some ways, it's like I never left at all. Never and forever all rolled into one." As she spoke, Anastasia gazed up at the manor, a knot of emotion tightening her throat. Here, after all these years, was the estate on which she and Breanna had frolicked as children. Only now their childhood was over, and she was entering Medford Manor with the maturity and self-sufficiency of an adult.
It was a sobering thought.
"Forever and never ... yes, I feel the same way," Breanna agreed. "But more the former than the latter. Without your letters, I don't know what I would have done. I can't tell you how I missed you." She paused, watched the play of emotions on her cousin's face. "Stacie," she added softly. "I'm so sorry about your parents."
"I know you are." Anastasia blinked away her tears. "Now let's go inside. We have a decade to catch up on."
As if on cue, Wells stepped outside—an older, grayer Wells, perhaps, but Wells nonetheless, his sharp features softening as he gazed at Anastasia.
"Miss Stacie ... forgive me, Lady Anastasia—welcome."
Anastasia abandoned the formalities and hurried up the steps to hug the elderly butler. "Thank you, Wells," she whispered, a tremor catching in her voice. "And I'm still Stacie. Everything else might have changed, but that's the same."
He chuckled, looking a bit misty-eyed. "I'm glad to hear that." He shook his head in wonder. "There's one other thing that hasn't changed. You and Miss Breanna still look too much alike to distinguish one of you from the other. It's startling. I remember your father saying he couldn't tell ..." Wells's mouth snapped shut.
"It's all right," Anastasia told him gently. "Mentioning Papa doesn't make it hurt any more than it already does. Besides—" Her chin came up a notch as she sought the internal strength she'd come to count upon. "He's with Mama now. Which is precisely what he wanted."
"And you're with us." Breanna ascended the stairs, squeezed Anastasia's shoulders, and led her inside the house. "Let's get you settled. You must be exhausted. Mrs. Charles has made sure your room is all ready. We gave you the one right next to mine—so we can talk all night, just like we used to."
Anastasia stepped into the house, feeling a surge of warmth encompass her. It was like greeting a long-lost friend, or being enfolded in safe, loving arms. Medford Manor was precisely as she remembered it, its tasteful Oriental carpet running the full length of what had seemed to a child's eyes to be an endless hallway filled with paintings and flanked on either side by two elegant, winding staircases.
All that was missing was Grandfather.
Again, grief coiled in her stomach.
"It's just the same as it was then," Breanna told Anastasia, touching her arm gently. "Just as Grandfather would have wanted it."
"Yes. It is." Anastasia drank in every tiny beloved detail, a twinge of surprise accompanying the realization of just how true Breanna's statement was. "Actually, I thought Uncle George would have made a few changes, given that this is his home now and that he and Grandfather didn't exactly have similar taste. Or similar views, for that matter."
"The same honest Stacie," Breanna noted with fond amusement and perhaps a touch of awe. "You're right. They didn't. I suspect Father scarcely notices what the house looks like. Decorating doesn't interest him—business does."
"Breanna, you didn't tell me your cousin had arrived." George Colby interrupted their conversation, emerging from the sitting room and making his way slowly toward them. "Anastasia—welcome to Medford Manor."
Anastasia tensed a bit at the well-remembered patronizing tone, and her gaze darted over to study the man who was her father's twin.
She'd been almost afraid to see him again; afraid he'd remind her so much of her father that her loss would become impossible to bear. But that wasn't the case. Uncle George hadn't aged well. He was far grayer than her father had been, his face more lined, his shoulders stooped. And his eyes, though the same striking jade green hue as that of all the Colbys, were lackluster, devoid of the intelligent spark that had lit her father's eyes or the laughter and insight that had glistened in her grandfather's.
The years had not been kind to her uncle. Then again, kindness was not a trait he valued—nor one he deserved.
"Thank you, Uncle George," she greeted him cautiously. "It's good to see you. And I'm very grateful to you for inviting me to stay here."
He nodded, surveying her with a cool, assessing look. "I wouldn't have it any other way. After all, you shouldn't be alone—not at a time like this, and certainly not in a strange country. Not when you have family right here in England to help ease your loss." He cleared his throat. "I trust your journey was uneventful?"
"It was tiring, but fine." She realized he was making an attempt at polite conversation. Still, she couldn't help feeling as if he were delivering a rehearsed speech, and she were responding in kind.
"Stacie's exhausted, Father." Breanna spoke in that same measured, respectful tone she'd used as a child. "I'd like to show her to her room, perhaps let her rest awhile."
"Yes, of course." The viscount gestured toward the second level. "Go ahead. Wells will see that your bags are brought up. Luncheon will be served promptly at two."
"Thank you," Anastasia murmured, already heading toward the stairs. She was tired, yes, but she was also eager to see her new room, to spend time with Breanna.
To find a place for herself again.
Waiting for Breanna to catch up, Anastasia ascended the steps, rounding the second-floor landing and following her cousin down the corridor to the fourth room on the right.
"I hope you like it," Breanna said, waving her into her new chambers. "Gold and green used to be your favorite colors. I hope they still are."
"They are," Anastasia assured her, smiling at the sight of the drapes and bedcovers, both a deep green brocade, and the floral needlepoint hanging over the canopied bed—a path of goldenrods amid a tree-lined grove. "Oh, Breanna, it's lovely."
"I wanted to do more. I also wanted to meet you at the ship. But there's only so much Father will allow ..." Breanna's voice trailed off, and she shut the door behind them. "Anyway, feel free to decorate any way you choose," she continued. "From this moment on, it's your room."
Anastasia dropped onto the edge of the bed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as she assessed the chambers. "My room. At Medford Manor. It's hard to believe." She studied her cousin with compassionate awareness. "Don't give another thought to not having met me at the ship. I know Uncle George too well to have contemplated the notion. Oh, he's being very solicitous. Still—" Her voice dropped to a mock baritone. "—'Breanna, you didn't tell me your cousin had arrived' and 'luncheon will be served promptly at two.'" She rolled her eyes. "Something tells me he hasn't changed a bit."
"No, he hasn't." Breanna's lips curved slightly. "Then again, neither have you. You're still as forthright as ever. Only your accent has changed."
"Um-hum. You no longer speak proper English. Now you sound like ... like ..." "Like I've lived ten years in America?" Anastasia teased.
"Well ... yes." Breanna's eyes sparkled with curiosity. "Tell me about Philadelphia. Your letters made it sound so different from here."
"Not entirely different. But less restrictive." Anastasia leaned back on her elbows. "Protocol isn't valued as highly as it is in England. Chaperons aren't mandatory, there isn't as wide a chasm between servants and those who employ them. America is less set in its ways than England is. Which makes sense, given that it's a new country."
Breanna lowered herself to a chair. "It sounds a lot like you-unorthodox, set on forging its own path. Will you miss living there?"
"Some aspects of it, yes. Others, no. It's true I fit in, but I never really belonged. We were always glaringly English. It was especially obvious during the war. If Papa hadn't had such a good rapport with the American farmers and manufacturers, we probably would have had to leave, to go to Canada or come home. But they trusted him. He had integrity—and connections in nearly every neutral country. I guess that when it comes right down to it, profits are profits. And Colby and Sons ensured a healthy revenue for all, war or no war. Father was his usual inventive self, devising creative routes to deliver goods without violating either England or America's war policies." She broke off, shot her cousin a questioning look. "Why are you staring at me like that?"
"How do you know so much about your father's business?" Breanna demanded.
"It's not just Father's business. It's our entire family's business, yours and mine included." Seeing Breanna's incredulous expression, Anastasia felt her lips twitch. "Now that I consider it, I suppose my interest in Colby and Sons must seem rather extreme to you. A proper Englishwoman involved in matters of business and money-making? Shocking."
Excerpted from The Colby's Coin Series by Andrea Kane. Copyright © 1999 Andrea Kane. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 5, 2014
Love love love kane's novels! Her contemperary works are really romantic and suspenceful,but i have tosay, i really miss her historicals!
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Posted July 7, 2014
Not much since I just took a four hour nap lol. Basicly Velvet freaked out and sent him away, and he had his moment that he also had when he left Grassclan. And that would work, because I really don't like the fact that he has so many lives. It doesn't rely fit him so unless he ends up leader I don't want them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.