The Gold Coinby Andrea Kane
Anastasia Colby, raised in America and the granddaughter of an English viscount, returns home to claim her family legacy. But all is not as it should be at Medford Manor. Someone’s treachery threatens everything/b>
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Can Anastasia trust the seductive stranger who holds her future in his hands? And how much will she risk for a love more precious than gold?
Anastasia Colby, raised in America and the granddaughter of an English viscount, returns home to claim her family legacy. But all is not as it should be at Medford Manor. Someone’s treachery threatens everything Anastasia cherishes most. With nowhere to turn, Anastasia seeks out the only man she can trust, Damen Lockewood, marquess of Sheldrake. When the seductive nobleman—who controls her inheritance and regards business above all else—makes Anastasia an offer she can’t refuse, unexpected passion ignites. As Anastasia plunges deeper into a growing web of violence and deceit, she realizes how far she’ll go to protect a precious blood bond—and a priceless passion.
Read an Excerpt
They made the pact when they were six.
They hadn't planned on making it. But drastic circumstances required drastic actions. And drastic circumstances were precisely what they found themselves in on that fateful night.
Fearfully, the two little girls hesitated at the doorway.
Crackling tension permeated the dining room. They peeked inside, freezing in their tracks as angry voices assailed them. They scooted backward, pressing themselves flat against the wall so as not to be spied.
"What the hell is wrong with discussing profits?" Lord George Colby barked, his sharp words hurled at his brother. "The fact that our business is making a fortune should please you as much as it does me."
"Tonight is not about profits, George," Lord Henry reminded him in a voice that was taut with repressed ire. "It's about family."
"Family? As in brotherly devotion?" A mocking laugh. "Don't insult me, Henry. The business is the only meaningful thing you and I share."
"You're right. More and more right every day. And I'm getting damned tired of trying to change that."
"Well, so much for sentiment," George noted scornfully. "And so much for this whole sham of a reunion."
"It wasn't meant to be a reunion." Clearly, Henry was striving for control. "It's Father's sixtieth birthday celebration. Or had you forgotten?"
"I've forgotten nothing. Nothing. Have you?"
The pointed barb sank in, blanketing the room in silence.
"They're fighting loud," Anastasia hissed, inching farther away from the doorway, and shoving one unruly auburn tress off her face. "Especially Uncle George. We're in trouble. Bigtrouble."
"I know." Her cousin Breanna gazed down at herself, her delicate features screwed up in distress as she surveyed her soiled party frock -- which was identical to Anastasia's, only much filthier. "Father sounds really mad. And if he sees I got all dirty...and ruined the dress Grandfather gave me..." She began rubbing furiously at the mud and grass stains, pausing only to wipe streaks of dirt from her forearms.
Anastasia watched, chewing her lip, knowing this whole disaster was her fault. She'd been the one who insisted they sneak out of Medford Manor to play while the grown-ups talked. Now she wished she'd never suggested it. In fact, she wished it had been she, rather than Breanna, who had fallen into the puddle outside. Her father would have forgiven her. He was gentle and kind -- well, at least when it came to her. When it came to almost everyone, in fact. Except for one person: his brother. He and Uncle George, though twins, were practically enemies.
Maybe that was because they were so different -- except for their looks, which were identical, right down to their vivid coloring: jade green eyes and thick cinnamon hair, both of which she and Breanna had inherited. But in every other way their fathers were like day and night. Her own father had a quick mind and an easy nature. He embraced life, creative business ventures, and his family, while Uncle George was stiff in manner, rigid in expectations, and downright intimidating when crossed.
Especially when the one who crossed him was his daughter
"Stacie!" Breanna's frantic hiss yanked Anastasia out of her reverie. "What should I do?"
Anastasia was used to being the one whose ideas got them both in and out of trouble. But this time the trouble they'd be facing was bad. And the person who'd be paying the price would be Breanna. Well, that was something Anastasia couldn't -- wouldn't -- allow.
Her mind began racing, seeking ways to keep Uncle George from seeing Breanna -- or at least from seeing her frock.
Absently, Anastasia studied her own party dress, noting that other than a fine layer of dirt along the hem, it was respectably clean.
Now that spawned an idea.
"I know! We can change dresses." Even as she spoke, she spied Wells, the Medford butler, striding down the endless corridor, heading in their direction. Any second he would spot them -- if he hadn't done so already. It was too late for scrambling in and out of their dresses.
"No," she amended dejectedly. "We don't have time. It would've worked, too, 'cause our dresses look exactly the same -- " Abruptly she broke off, her eyes lighting up as she contemplated another, far better and more intriguing possibility. "So do we."
Breanna's brows drew together. "So do we...what?"
"Look exactly the same. Everyone says so. Our fathers are twins. Our mothers are sisters -- or at least they were until yours went to heaven. No one can ever tell us apart. Even Mama and Papa get confused sometimes. So why don't you be me and I'll be you?"
"You mean switch places?" Breanna's fear was supplanted by interest. "Can we do that?"
"Why not?" Swiftly, Anastasia combed her fingers through her tangled masses of coppery hair, trying -- with customary six-year-old awkwardness -- to arrange them in some semblance of order. "We'll fool everyone and save you from Uncle George."
"But then you'll get in trouble."
"Not like you would. Papa might be annoyed, but Uncle George would be..."
"I know." Breanna's gaze darted toward Wells, who was now almost upon them. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." Anastasia grinned, becoming more and more intrigued by the notion. "It'll be fun. Let's try it, just this once."
An impish smile curved Breanna's lips. "A whole hour or two to speak out like you do. I can hardly wait."
"Don't wait," Anastasia hissed. "Start now." So saying, she lowered her chin a notch, clasping the folds of her gown between nervous fingers in a gesture that was typically Breanna. "Hello, Wells," she greeted the butler.
"Where have you two been? I've looked everywhere for you." Wells's eyes, behind heavy spectacles, flickered from Anastasia to Breanna -- who had thrown back her shoulders and assumed Anastasia's more brazen stance.
"All of us, most particularly your grandfather, have been worried sick....Oh, no." Seeing the condition of Breanna's gown, Wells's long, angular features tensed.
"It's not as bad as it looks, Wells," Breanna assured him with one of Anastasia's confident smiles. "It was only a little trip and a littler fall."
A rueful nod. "You're right, Miss Stacie," he agreed. "It could have been worse. It could be Miss Breanna who'd taken the spill. I shudder to think what the outcome of that would have been. Now then..." He waved them toward the dining room, frowning as he became aware of the heavy silence emanating from within. "Hurry. Tell them you're all right. It will certainly brighten your grandfather's birthday."
With an uneasy glance in that direction, he scooted off, retracing his steps to the entranceway.
The girls' eyes met, and they grinned.
"We fooled him," Breanna murmured in wonder. "No one fools Wells."
"No one but us," Anastasia said with great satisfaction. She nudged her cousin forward. "Let's go." An impish twinkle. "After you, Stacie."
Breanna giggled. Then, head held high, she preceded Anastasia into the dining room -- despite the soiled gown -- just as her cousin would have.
Once inside, they waited, assessing the scene before them.
The elegant mahogany table was formally set, its crystal and silver gleaming beneath the glow of the room's ornate chandelier. At the head of the table sat their beloved grandfather, his elderly face strained as he looked from one son to the other. At the sideboard, George bristled, splashing some brandy into a glass and glaring across the room at his brother, who was shaking his head resignedly. Henry nodded as he listened to the soothing words his wife, Anne, was murmuring in his ear.
Grandfather was the first to become aware of his granddaughters' presence, and he beckoned them forward, his pursed lips curving into a smile of welcome. "At last, my two beautiful..." His words drifted off as he rioted Breanna's stained and wrinkled gown. "What on earth happened?"
"We took a walk, Grandfather," Breanna replied, playing the part of Anastasia to perfection. "We were bored. So we went exploring. We climbed trees. We tried to catch fireflies. It was my idea -- and my own fault that I fell. I forgot all about the time, and I was rushing too fast on my way back. I didn't see the mud puddle."
The Viscount Medford's lips twitched. "I see," he replied evenly.
Anastasia walked sedately to her grandfather's side. "We apologize, Grandfather," she said, intentionally using Breanna's sweet tone and respectful gaze. "Stacie and I were having fun. But it is your birthday. And we should never have left the manor."
"Nonsense, my dear." He leaned over and caressed his granddaughter's cheek. His insightful green gaze swept over her, his eyes surrounded by the tiny lines that heralded sixty years of life. Then he shifted to assess her cousin's more rumpled state. "You're welcome to explore to your hearts' content. The only reason for our concern was that it's becoming quite dark and neither of you knows your way around Medford's vast grounds. But now that you're here, no apology is necessary." He cleared his throat. "Anastasia, are you hurt?" he asked Breanna.
"No, Grandfather." Breanna shot him one of Anastasia's bold, infectious grins. "I'm not hurt. But my gown is."
"So I noticed." The viscount looked more and more as if he were biting back laughter. "How did you fall?"
"I slipped and landed in a puddle. As I said, I was in too much of a hurry."
"Aren't you always?" George muttered, abandoning the sideboard and marching over to the table. Purposefully, he ignored the girl he assumed to be his niece, instead gesturing for his daughter -- or at the least the girl he thought to be his daughter -- to take the chair beside him. "Sit, Breanna. You've already delayed our meal long enough." A biting pause. "Perhaps your cousin should change her clothes before she dines?" he inquired, inclining his head to give his brother a pointed look.
"Papa? Mama?" Breanna glanced at her uncle Henry and aunt Anne. "Would you prefer I change?"
Anastasia's father shook his head. "I don't think that will be necessary."
"Darling," Anne inserted, her brows drawn in concern, "are you sure you aren't hurt?"
"Positive," Breanna assured her with that offhanded shrug Anastasia always gave. "Just clumsy. I really am sorry."
"Never mind," the viscount interrupted, gesturing for the girls to be seated. "Dirty or not, you're a welcome addition to the table." He tossed a disapproving scowl in George's direction. "A breath of fresh air, given the disagreeable nature of the conversation."
"It wasn't a conversation," George replied tersely. "It was an argument."
"When isn't it?" his father countered, shoving a shock of hair -- once auburn, now white -- off his forehead. "Let's change the subject while we enjoy the fine meal Mrs. Rhodes has prepared."
Despite his urging, the meal, however delicious, passed in stony silence, the only sound that of the clinking glassware and china.
After an hour, which seemed more like an eternity, the viscount placed his napkin on the table and folded his hands before him. "I invited you all here tonight to celebrate. Not only my birthday, but what it represents: our family and its legacy."
"Colby and Sons," George clarified, his green eyes lighting up.
"I wasn't referring to the business," his father replied, sadness making his shoulders droop, his already fined face growing even older, more weary. "At least not in the economic sense. I was referring to us and the unity of our family -- not only now, but in years to come."
"All of which is integrally tied to our company and its profits." George sat up straight, his jaw clenched in annoyance. "The problem is, I'm the only one honest enough to admit that's what business -- and this family -- are all about: money and status."
Viscount Medford sighed. "I'm not denying the pride I feel for Colby and Sons. We've all worked hard to make it thrive. But that doesn't mean I've forgotten what's important. I only wish you hadn't either. I'd hoped..." His glance flickered across the table, first to Anastasia, then to Breanna. "Never mind." Abruptly, he pushed back his chair. "Let's take our brandy in the library."
Anne rose gracefully. "I'll get the girls ready for bed."
"We won't be staying," George said, cutting her off, his jaw clenching even tighter as he faced his brother's wife. "So you needn't bother."
She winced at the harshness of his tone and the bitterness that glittered in his eyes. But she answered him quietly, and without averting her gaze. "It's late, George. Surely your trip can wait until morning."
"It could. I choose for it not to."
Anastasia and Breanna exchanged glances. They both hated this part most of all -- the icy antagonism Breanna's father displayed when forced to address his brother's wife.
The antagonism and its guaranteed outcome.
They'd be split up again soon. And Lord knew when they'd see each other next.
Quickly, Breanna rose. "Breanna and I will wait in the blue salon, Uncle George," she said, still playing the part of her cousin. "We'll stay there until you're ready to leave."
George was too caught up in his thoughts to spare her more than a cursory nod.
It was all the girls needed.
Without giving him an instant to change his mind, they scampered out of the room. Pausing only to heave sighs of relief, they bolted down the hall and dashed into the blue salon.
"We were wonderful!" Anastasia squealed, plopping onto the sofa. "Even I wasn't sure who was who after a while.
Breanna laughed softly. "Nor I," she agreed, squirming onto the cushion alongside her cousin.
"Let's make a pact," Anastasia piped up suddenly.
"Whenever we're together and one of us gets in trouble -- the land of trouble that would go away if people believed I was you or you were me -- let's switch places like we did tonight. Okay?"
After a brief instant of consideration, Breanna arched a brow. "Good for me, but what about you? When could you ever be in enough trouble to need to be me?"
"You never know."
"I suppose not." Breanna sounded decidedly unconvinced.
"So? Is it a pact?" Anastasia pressed, bouncing up and down on the sofa.
Apparently her enthusiasm was contagious, because abruptly Breanna grinned. "It's a pact."
With proper formality they shook hands.
A knock interrupted their private moment together.
"Girls?" Their grandfather entered the salon, dosing the door behind him. "May I speak with you both for a moment?"
"Of course, Grandfather." Anastasia eased over and patted the space between her and Breanna, a curious glint in her eye. "Come sit with Brea -- with Stacie and me," she hastily rectified.
"Thank you -- Anastasia." With a whisper of a smile, the viscount lowered himself between the girls, chuckling as he saw surprise, then disappointment, flash across Anastasia's face.
"You knew?" she demanded.
"Of course, my headstrong Stacie. I knew," he clarified, leaning over and patting each of their hands. "But no one else did. Especially not your father," he assured Breanna. "A brilliant tactic on both your parts. I do, however, suggest you swap frocks right after our chat, in case your visit is cut short. I'll do my best to keep peace in the library, but I'm not sure how long your fathers will stay in the same room together."
"Good idea," Anastasia agreed at once.
"Not good," Breanna amended with utter resignation. "Just wise."
Both girls fell silent.
A shadow crossed the viscount's face, and he gazed sadly from Anastasia to Breanna and back. "You're both extraordinarily special. I only wish your fathers could share the bond you do. But I'm afraid that's impossible."
"Why do they fight, Grandfather?" Breanna asked. "And why does Papa dislike Aunt Anne so much?"
The viscount sighed, feeling far older than his sixty years. What could he say? How could he tell them the truth when they were far too young to understand?
But what he could do was to ensure their futures. Their futures and that of the Colby family.
"Tell me, girls," he asked, "which would you value more, gold or silver?"
Anastasia shrugged. "That depends on which of us you ask. I love gold -- it's the color of the sun when it rises and the stars when they glow in the sky. Breanna loves silver -- it's the color of the trim on her favorite porcelain horse, and the color of the necklace and earrings her mama left her."
"It's also the color of the pond here at nighttime," Breanna pointed out. "When the moon hits it, it looks all silvery and magical."
Their grandfather's smile was gentle. "I'm glad you feel so much at home at Medford Manor," he said, moved by the irony that neither of his granddaughters had equated value with actual monetary worth. "You do know that gold is worth more than silver, like a sovereign is worth more than a crown?"
Breanna frowned. "Of course. Father says things like that all the time. But that's not what you asked."
"No," the viscount agreed in an odd tone. "It's not, is it?" With that, he dug into his pocket, extracted two shiny objects, one silver, one gold. "Do you see what I have here?"
Both girls leaned closer, studying the objects. "They're coins," Anastasia announced.
"Indeed they are. Identical coins, other than the fact that one is silver, the other gold." He held them closer. "They're also very special. Can you see what's engraved on them?"
"That's Medford Manor!" Anastasia exclaimed, pointing. "On both coins."
"Um-hum. And on the back of each coin is the Colby family crest." The viscount caressed each veneer lovingly, then slipped the gold coin into Anastasia's hand, the silver one into Breanna's. "They remind me of you two: very much alike and yet so very different, each unique and rare, both worth far more than any bank's holdings." He squeezed their little fingers, closing them around their respective coins. "I want you both to promise me something."
"Of course." Breanna's eyes were wide.
"Each of you hold on to your coin. They're special gifts, from me to you. Keep them safe, somewhere you'll always be able to find them. Don't tell anyone else about the coins, or about your hiding places. We'll make the whole thing our secret. All right?"
Solemnly, the girls nodded.
The viscount gazed intently from one girl to the other. "The day may come when you're asked to give up your coins, for what might seem to be a very good reason, even one that's offered by someone you trust. Don't do it. Don't ever, under any circumstances, give the coins to anyone else, not even to your fathers." His mouth thinned into a grim line. "They wouldn't understand the coins' significance, anyway. But you will -- perhaps not now, not entirely, for you're too young. Someday, however, you will. These coins represent each of you, and your commitment to our family. Wherever your lives take you, let them remind you of this moment and bring you back together again, to renew our family name and sustain it, knowing that you yourselves are the riches that bequeath it its value. Do that for me -- and for each other."
Somehow both girls understood the importance, if not the full meaning, of what they were being asked. Together, they murmured, "We will, Grandfather."
"Good." With that, he rose, kissing the tops of each of their heads. "I'll leave you now, so you can exchange clothes. Remember what I said: you're extraordinarily special. I don't doubt you'll accomplish all your fathers didn't and more." He straightened, regarding them for a long, thoughtful moment. "I only wish I could make your paths home easier," he murmured half to himself.
Crossing the room, he stepped into the hall, shutting the door behind him to ensure the girls' privacy and protect them from discovery. Then he veered toward the entranceway, determined to complete one crucial task before returning to the library to assume his role as peacemaker.
"Wells," he summoned, beckoning to his butler.
The viscount withdrew a sealed envelope from his coat pocket. "Have this delivered to my solicitor at once. It's imperative that he receive it -- and that I receive written confirmation of that fact."
"I'll see to it immediately, my lord," Wells replied.
Nodding, the viscount handed over the envelope, fully aware of how drastic an action he was taking, how explosive the results might be.
He only prayed the rewards would outweigh the consequences.
Copyright © 1999 by Andrea Kane
Meet the Author
Andrea Kane is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels, including fourteen historical titles and twelve contemporary novels. Her books have been published in sixteen countries and translated into more than twenty languages. Kane published My Heart’s Desire, her first historical novel and the first book in the Barrett family series, in 1991. Others quickly followed, including Samantha, the second book in that series, Echoes in the Mist and Whispers in the Wind (the Kingsley in Love series), as well as her acclaimed Black Diamond, Thornton-Bromleigh Family, and Colby Coin series. Kane’s 2000 romantic thriller Run for Your Life became an instant New York Times bestseller. Her other suspense novels include No Way Out, Twisted,and The Girl Who Disappeared Twice,a New York Times bestseller that introduced Forensic Instincts, an eclectic team of maverick investigators. The Line Between Here and Gone (2012) continues the Forensic Instincts story. Kane lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter.
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