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31 December 1816
Snow drifted softly onto Julian DeChambelle's shoulders, so unlike the crushing weight of his newly acquired responsibilities. He stared at the cavernous hole of the open mausoleum while the rector's voice rolled over snow-blanketed graves and echoed off distant monuments.
Chilly summer had given way to frigid autumn and even more bitter winter—a winter of despair and deprivation, of desperation as the poor harvest brought scarcity and strife. Julian shoved his freezing hands into his greatcoat's pockets, his fingers fisting around the anonymous note that suggested the "accident" which overturned his father's carriage had been something more than accidental.
His gaze shuffled around the shivering throng gathered to pay their last respects. Did the author of the note even now slouch among the mourners where a few local gentry huddled in woolen cloaks and brushed shoulders with yeoman farmers? The late Earl of Chambelston had been universally loved by the common folk.
Or not, as the letter—delivered only this morning—testified.
Indeed, even his eldest sister Elizabeth had scorned the opportunity for one last chance at reconciliation.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust " The clergyman's familiar words carried Julian back to countless burials at sea, all those services on all those ships during his two decades of war. Death had struck with unnerving unpredictability—taking young powder monkeys and experienced sailors equally and respecting neither the lowliest seamen nor the great Admiral Nelson himself.
"Our Father, who art in heaven " The rector led the people in a cold, wavery recitation of the Lord's Prayer.
Julian's youngest sister Caroline followed as best she could, her reedy voice lagging a word or two behind the others. She was twenty years old, but with a mind forever childlike. Another burden bore down on him as he glanced at the top of her head. Caro was his responsibility now, for the rest of her life.
Of the six DeChambelle siblings, only three—Felicity, Caro, him—mourned here today. His brother Kit lived in America now and wouldn't even learn of these events for weeks. Elizabeth preferred her resentment to her relatives. And Gregory
The rector snapped the prayer book shut, the clap of pages echoing as loudly as a cannon salute.
His father had been proud of Captain DeChambelle the officer, but what about Julian the man? The new earl? Anxiety once again closed around his mind with paralyzing fingers.
Baron Trethewey, his sister Felicity's husband, paused before Julian, hand outstretched. "He was a good man, Cham-belston."
Julian blinked as he mechanically shook his brother-in-law's hand, only now realizing that with his father's death he'd inherited not only the properties and responsibilities but his father's very name. The title fit him with all the discomfort of his civilian wardrobe. "Yes, he will be much missed."
"If there's anything you need, anything I can do to assist, send for me."
Felicity wrapped a black-clad arm around him in an embrace of sympathy and shared sorrow. "Have faith, Julian."
"I " The frigid wind stung his eyes, causing Felicity's features to waver. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Julian knew everything about commanding a frigate and nothing about overseeing an estate. His older—and now deceased—brother Gregory had been raised for this position, had been trained for the responsibilities of managing the Chambelston holdings. He would have known what to do to ease their people's suffering, what steps Parliament needed to take to becalm the brewing unrest as the poor and hungry petitioned—sometimes violently—for the government to intervene in the intensifying crisis.
"I know you'll make the right decisions when the time comes."
"Thank you." With an equanimity achieved by years of practice concealing his emotions from the men under his command, Julian squared his shoulders and fixed a resolute expression on his countenance for Felicity's benefit.
A few other intrepid mourners paused to offer their respects. Julian accepted their condolences with murmurs of thanks, then sent them on their way to escape the bitter conditions.
Maman touched his sleeve. Flakes of white glazed the top of her black bonnet. "We must get Caro home before she takes ill."
Julian glanced at his sister's pinched face, her nose reddened from cold and sorrow, her eyes reflecting the confusion of one swept up in events she didn't understand. "Come.
There is nothing more for us here." He grasped his mother's elbow and escorted the women to a carriage with its Cham-belston coat of arms on the door. The waiting horses stomped their feet in the packed snow, their harnesses jingling as they shook their heads.
Maman climbed in first, then Julian assisted Caro while Maman held her hand. His little sister tottered once, and Julian tightened his grip while she regained her equilibrium. Steps had always been—would always be—difficult for his sister. Like most other things in life.
Julian kicked the snow off his boots and hoisted his weary frame up behind them. As he dropped onto the plush upholstery, the paper in his pocket crunched, demanding answers. Demanding action. Demanding he travel to the one house in England where he was least welcome.
Maman tucked a woolen blanket around Caro. "A pity Felicity could not stay, no?"
"Indeed. It would have been nice for you to have some feminine companionship during my absence."
"You are not staying in Somerset with Caro and me?"
"I must go to Northamptonshire." Rowan Abbey, to be precise.
Maman's lips tightened, her only betrayal of how keenly she felt her eldest daughter's antagonism. "You do not need to defend me, Julian. I made my mistakes and offered my apologies. There is nothing more I can do. I have made my peace. Elizabeth knows she is welcome whenever she wants to put aside her grudge."
"Actually I'm not going to see Elizabeth. I'm going to meet with her husband." The undersecretary to the Home Secretary, the man whose job it was to ameliorate the people's suffering during this winter of famine before hardship and hunger drove them to outright rebellion. Perhaps he was aware of the relationship between Julian's father and the petitioners.
"We have business." Business involving an anonymous letter and a mysterious death.
The bare branches of a nearby rosebush shivered forlornly as the bitter wind whipped across the dormant garden and through the threadbare elbows of Leah Vance's coat. The gust whisked up snow from yesterday's storm and chafed her face with the sharp crystals. She leaned toward her warmly dressed charge, allowing herself to feel a bit of envy for Lady Teresa Sotherton's heavy cloak.
"Mother says I am to go to London in the spring—if the situation calms." Enthusiasm beamed in Teresa's eyes of sparkling blue-violet. A few of her inky curls escaped her hat and framed her smile.
"If the situation calms." A state of affairs Leah was doing her best to prevent. Turmoil would extend her earnings from both employers.
"Helen says the city is filled with handsome men."
"Which you hope to meet."
"Of course. As many as possible." Teresa threaded her arm through Leah's elbow and pulled her along a freshly shoveled path.
"How distressing to learn your enthusiasm doesn't stem from the city's many prospects for improving your mind such as museums and libraries."
"My dear Miss Vance, what could I possibly have left to learn after all these years in your tutelage?"
"Comportment, patience and French conjugations."
"My poor teacher, consigned to an indifferent pupil like me. Perhaps you should come along to keep my conduct above reproach."
"Truly, you do not wish for my company. I would force your focus to pursuits such as literary societies and philosophy studies."
"No, I would see you introduced to so many gentlemen so as to not allow you time."
"At my age? A ridiculous cake I would make of myself."
"An older gentleman, then. Older and scholarly and a bit mysterious."
Like Leah's father, a gentle and intellectual man who'd failed to adequately provide for his daughters. Or like the one upon whom she'd once pinned hopes until adversity had driven him away. The wind shifted, carrying with it the acrid scent of the coal smoke that belched from Rowan Abbey's many chimneys. In her thin coat Leah shivered, longing for the fires that added a modicum of warmth to the drafty manor. "I would be content with meeting warmth come spring." Her future stretched before her as endless as the snowy landscape and as bleak as the leaden winter sky, a lifetime of caring for others' children but never her own.
Eight years she'd been here. When she'd arrived, Teresa had been a girl of ten and Leah scarcely twenty. What would she do when Lord and Lady Sotherton carted their daughter to the metropolis and its many eligible men? No doubt Lady Sotherton would write Leah a satisfactory reference that would procure her a position elsewhere. But where would she find one near her unfortunate, mind-damaged sister with the unique situation that allowed her to earn the extra funds she needed for Phoebe's care? Asylums were expensive. Good ones—where the staff didn't abuse or exploit the inmates—especially so.
The jingle of harnesses rang through the cold stillness as a pair of matching chestnuts pulled a carriage along the snowy drive.
"I didn't know your parents were expecting a visitor." Leah had made a practice of knowing her employers' business.
Alas, the cold and frequent snowfalls had kept many a traveler at bay this winter.
"Probably another boring politician come to confer with Papa. I don't know why they can't wait until after Twelfth Night."
The carriage rounded a curve, revealing the emblem on the door. A nobleman, then. "Perhaps one of your fine gentlemen couldn't wait until spring but thought to sweep you away before his rivals had chance to make their intentions known."
"A lovely thought." As the conveyance drew to a halt before the Restorationera house, Teresa's lips straightened and her eyes grew thoughtful. "But this is no overly eager suitor. That is the Chambelston crest."
Leah stumbled. "Your grandfather?"
"Yes." Teresa paused while Leah regained her balance.
In all Leah's years of service, Lady Sotherton's father had never called here. Nor had the lady ever ventured south to see him. Rumors about the long estrangement had titillated the servants for years. Rumors that increased in intensity and frequency only last month after Chambelston purportedly visited Sotherton's London town house. Rumors that Leah, as a proper governess, had once tried to avoid. At least until the day she'd realized that sharing the gossip about her employers could provide a better income than the meager salary allotted to a governess.
The coachman opened the door, shielding the Chambelston crest from their curious stare. Then a man descended the step. His dark hat covered his hair and hid his face, but not even the navy blue greatcoat could conceal the broad shoulders unbowed by years. As he strode to the house, his movements conveyed surprising determination and vigor for a man of Chambelston's advanced age. "Are you certain that is the Chambelston crest? Perhaps you are mistaken."
"No, I saw it on correspondence that arrived for Father once. Let's go inside. Perhaps we will get a glimpse of him."
"You mother will disapprove."
"Surely you do not intend to tell her, do you? Why, Miss Vance, consider this a secret quest of discovery, like searching for the heretofore lost tomb of an ancient Pharaoh."
"I doubt your grandfather would appreciate being compared to a long-dead mummy."
Teresa's laugh chimed again, and Leah's heart lurched with love and pride. The shy, lonely girl had blossomed to a beautiful young lady on the cusp of womanhood. Would Leah develop the same relationship with her next students, or was this one—this relationship, this child—special? As Teresa steered them around the corner to a back door, a gust of winter blew one last shot of cold at them. The chill sliced through Leah's coat, and her heart. What would become of the sensitive Teresa in London? Leah feared the undemonstrative Lady Sotherton marked her daughter's romanticism and goodness as weaknesses. Would Teresa retain her gentle character or would disappointment and disillusionment harden into cynicism and make her into someone more like her mother? Like.Leah?
Once inside they paused to remove their heavy, snow-festooned boots. Leah wiggled stiff, aching toes as she unbuttoned her coat.
"Come." Teresa tapped her arm. "I want to see him."
"But we must retrieve our shoes and—"
"No one will notice us." Her charge focused wide blue eyes on her. "Please, Miss Vance. In all my life I've never so much as seen my own grandfather. He may leave at any moment. Surely it wouldn't be wrong to sneak a quick look."
Against her better judgment Leah followed Teresa until they paused in the doorway of a salon that allowed them an unimpeded view of the entrance hall.
And of the visitor—the visitor who was most obviously not the older nobleman of their expectations.
This man's presence overwhelmed the grand entrance that long-ago Sothertons had designed to impress—and intimidate—guests. Even larger in life than he'd appeared from a distance, their caller held his hat in gloved hands, revealing a full head of tawny hair. The chandelier's glow gilded those strands with a gold that rivaled the patterns on the elegant wallpapers. Matching brows arched over cynical eyes of brilliant blue. And yet, despite the intensity smoldering therein, lines serrated their corners—lines of hard weariness that marked him as a few years past a young man's idealism.
Lines that cut even deeper with the sardonic twist of his mouth. "I thought we might at least see you at Father's bedside. He lingered long enough for you to see him one last time. But not long enough to outlive your rancor, it seems." Barbs edged the visitor's deceptively soft baritone.
Lady Sotherton's eyes glittered with all the wintry chill of the January cold. "So his sins finally caught up with him."
"Or someone else's."
"I fail to see why that should concern me."
Tension tightened along the square jaw and in the sharp, chiseled angles of the man's cheeks. "My dear sister, surely even your hard heart feels a twinge of sorrow at the passing of a man who'd provided so generously during your first years of life."
"His faults were more memorable than his generosity."
"Fortunately, so was his willingness to forgive."
"If you've come to judge me because I refuse to feign feelings I don't possess, you've misjudged my scruples."
"Actually I'm not here to see you at all, Lizzie." Scorn darkened his eyes and broadened his derisive grin. "I came to meet with Sotherton. Your husband."
Awareness prickled along Leah's spine, like the ache that radiated from her warming fingers. Was it important the new Earl of Chambelston—for such he must be—should call on Lord Sotherton at a time like this?
Lady Sotherton's jaw dropped, her gaping mouth reminiscent of a dead codfish. And with the same degree of comment.
Beside Leah, Teresa stifled a giggle with her palm. But not well enough. Lady Sotherton's head jerked toward them, her hard eyes farther narrowing with even greater displeasure as she peered at the salon doorway.
"Teresa? Are you eavesdropping?"
Teresa swallowed and stepped into the entrance hall. "Good afternoon, Mama. I only now returned from my walk. I heard voices and waited so as not to interrupt."
Leah hesitated, wanting to flee but refusing to leave her charge alone to face the coming reprimand. Her prospects for receiving a good referral from Lady Sotherton dimmed as she slipped into the entrance hall and paused beside Teresa.
Lady Sotherton folded her arms across her chest, her perpetually present frown amplifying the wrinkles around her mouth. "Now that you have indeed interrupted, you may continue to the schoolroom. No doubt you have studies to complete."
"Yes, Mama." Teresa scurried to the stairs, mortification coloring her face a deeper red than the cold.
Leah offered her employer a hasty curtsey and hurried after her student.
"And Miss Vance." Lady Sotherton's frosty tones cut short Leah's retreat.
She froze, then turned—slowly, deliberately—gripping the remains of her composure as tightly as her fingers wrapped around the bannister. "My lady?"
"How do you expect my daughter to comport herself with proper conduct when you participate in her wayward behavior?"
"My apologies, my lady." Despite Leah's best attempts to control her response, the blistering words of public censure—in front of her charge, the servants and a stranger—scorched her cheeks. A stranger whose brilliant blue gaze softened for the first time with an expression akin to sympathy. Her embarrassment melded with rebellious anger, and her spine stiffened at the added indignity of a stranger's pity.
Posted February 5, 2013
The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase
It’s the end of1816 in Somerset, England where we meet the new Earl of Chambelston, Julian DeChambelle. He had been in the navy since age thirteen and understood the sea and ships, he didn’t plan on losing his older brother and father and gaining the title. Along with having lands and tenants to care for he also has his mother and his very special sister, Carolyn. More troubling was that he finds out his father’s death may not have been an accident at all, but murder.
Leah Vance has been Lady Teresa’s governess for eight years now. That time would soon be coming to an end as her charge was now eighteen. Leah has a responsibility on her shoulders that takes more money than she earns but thanks to her cousin Alec, she has found a way to make a bit of money on the side. All was well until the estranged brother to her employer comes to Rowan Abbey.
This story contains intrigue, suspense, danger and romance. Suspicions abounded from one person to the next, each having reasons for malicious acts. The author keeps the reader guessing as to who is guilty. It’s also a book that restores lost faith and trust. There are characters who have special needs that the world looks down upon but the book brings out that they too are real people who deserve love and kindness. A really good paced read that brings out the emotions as well. The first book is Redeeming the Rogue, about Julian’s brother, Kit. The books are stand alone but if you enjoy series, you may want to read that one first.
**Received through NetGalley for review
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Posted February 1, 2013
A Delightful Story
The new earl of Chambelston—Julian DeCambelle, or Lord Chambelston is not yet used to his newly acquired position. His father recently died due to being wounded in an accident. Now he got an anonymous letter that states that it was no accident after all. To search for answers Julian travels to the estate of his sister to speak with her husband, Lord Sotherton.
When he is retiring he finds his niece’s governess—Miss Leah Vance searching his room with the letter in her hands. Julian demands an answer what she is looking for and why.
Leah has been Miss Teresa’s governess for eight years. The position doesn’t bring in enough money to also support Leah’s mentally ill sister. She is hired to spy for an anonymous person who wants to know what is happening in the Sotherton household for political reasons. With this money she is able to pay for her sister’s care in the asylum.
Leah is shocked to be caught with the letter in her hands. What explanation can she give Julian without bringing her cousin and sister in danger?
After Julian has figured out what Leah was doing he decides she can be of help in his search to the truth about his father’s death. He offers to hire her if she agrees to give information, which he shall provide, to her contact man. Leah doesn’t have much choice and agrees with his proposal. But can Julian ever trust her now she’s working for both parties?
When people are attacked, dying, and disappearing—Julian and Leah must work together and learn to trust each other. But above all they must learn to trust God.
While reading how a lovely romance develops we are also trying to solve a murder case, and trying to prevent a political murder.
This is the first book I have read by C.J. Chase and certainly not the last. This story has all the ingredients I like to see in a novel—history, suspense, romance, and a believable storyline. C.J. mixes all the ingredients into a delightful story.
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Posted May 18, 2014
Posted April 5, 2013
The Reluctant Earl is a dramatic story. It is set in 1816 England where most of Europe and North America was suffering from poor harvest and was called the year without a summer. (I did not know how bad it got from the Indonesia's Mount Tambora volcanic explosion.)
Julian DeChambelle is now a Earl with the death of his Father and his older brother the year before. He received a note at the funeral saying his father's death might have been murder. He decides to go visit his estranged older sister's husband Lord Sotherton who might know more about the unrest. Lord Sotherton is the undersecretary to the Home Secretary.
Leah is a governess in Lady Sotherton house. She has worked for them for years and her job will end soon. Leah supports herself and her younger sister who is in a asylum. She also gets paid by the rebels who want the government to help the starving people. She passes information she gains from her employers visitors and letters.
As Leah is searching the new Earl's room she reads the letter about his father might have been murdered the Earl comes in and catches her in the act. The Earl figures out that she is spying and wants to use her to find out about the rebels. If the Earl turns her in she will be hanged as a traitor and what will happen to her sister than?
This is a clean read, lots of drama, action, politics, murder, rebels, spies, history and romance all thrown in together with a little bit of Faith thrown into the mix. It is a exciting novel and I look forward to reading more books from C.J. Chase in the future.
I was given this ebook to read and asked to give a honest review of it by Netgalley.
Published February 5th 2013 by Love Inspired Harlequin 288 pages ISBN:0373829531
Posted March 8, 2013
Set in 1817, in England, this new release by C.J. Chase is on my Best of 2013 list already and the year has barely started!
Julian DeChambelle, the new Lord Chambelston, recently lost his father, who may have been murdered for political reasons. There's lots of suspense and intrigue in this novel. His sister has frozen out most of the family but now Julian seeks answers and comes to spend time with her and her family, including her husband Lord Sotherton.
Meanwhile, our heroine, Leah Vance, has her own trials and tribulations. As governess she can't afford to pay for her mentally ill sister's care in the asylum. She's been spying on the Sotherton household for extra money.
I love the bibliotherapy elements in this book, too. A returning character from C.J.'s last book is DeChambrelle's younger sister with Down Syndrome, who Leah takes under her wing. And Leah's own sister, who suffered a head injury, receives the only available care at the time, which is pitiful.
C.J. writes a tight plot and excellent characterization. I love her hopeful and strong voice. I can hardly wait for her next book and I am tempted to reread this book again, it was so well-written!
Posted February 28, 2013
I liked this book for the most part. It was an interesting plot.
What I liked: I enjoyed the plot. The characters where likeable as well. Leah is in a hard spot. Her sister is mentally handicapped and in order to keep her in an asylum that will take good care of her she needs money and working as a governess does not pay enough so she take a spy job on the side. Julian has just taken over being an Earl and is finding it challenging in his new role. When he finds Leah in his room looking through his things he sees a chance to maybe find out who killed his father. I was excited to see how the book would unfold. I thought the topic of mental health in the time period and how people saw it back then was interesting to read about . Reading about the asylum and how people where treated was interesting and sad.
What I did not like: The story was good but not great. I expected a little more spark between the two characters and it just never seemed that strong. There was also some suspense in this book but the climax was okay but not quite as exciting as I expected.
Over all this book was okay and I enjoyed reading it. Its just not a book that stood out to me in any special way. The plot was a fresh idea and the subject of mental health in the time period was interesting to read about. The romance in the book was a little weak but still enjoyable. If you like historical romance then you might like this book.
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