A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune

by Susanna Kearsley

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A New York Times Bestseller!

"I've loved every one of Susanna's books! She has bedrock research and a butterfly's delicate touch with characters—sure recipe for historical fiction that sucks you in and won't let go!"— DIANA GABALDON, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Outlander

Beloved New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley delivers a riveting novel that deftly intertwines the tales of two women, divided by centuries and forever changed by a clash of love and fate.

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher.

Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing—for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary's gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew—about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.

Don't miss the next enchanting novel from Susanna Kearsley, Bellewether, coming August 2018!

Other bestselling books by Susanna Kearsley:
The Winter Sea
The Rose Garden
The Firebird

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492602033
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 35,693
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and RITA award winner, Susanna Kearsley is known for her meticulous research and exotic settings from Russia to Italy to Cornwall, which not only entertain her readers but give her a great reason to travel. Her lush writing has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. She hit the bestseller lists in the U.S. with The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden, both RITA finalists and winners of RT Reviewers' Choice Awards. Other honors include finaling for the UK's Romantic Novel of the Year Award, National Readers' Choice Awards, and the prestigious Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize. Her popular and critically-acclaimed books are available in translation in more than 20 countries and as audio books. She lives in Canada, near the shores of Lake Ontario.

Read an Excerpt

A Desperate Fortune

By Susanna Kearsley

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Susanna Kearsley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-0203-3


My cousin didn't try to catch the bride's bouquet. She knew me well enough to know I wouldn't try to catch it, either.

"Come keep me company," she said, and drew me firmly to one side of all the colorful commotion. "I need to sit."

My father's wild Aunt Lucy, nearly lost in layered flounces of bronze taffeta, tried once to herd us back as we went past. "Oh, girls, you mustn't run away. Go on, get in there. Have a go." Smiling at my cousin, she said, "Third time lucky, Jacqueline, so they say. And Sara, dear," she added in a cheering tone, to me, "there's always hope."

I might have pointed out there wasn't, really. Catching things had never been my strong suit, and it always seemed ridiculous to go through all that effort just to field a bunch of flowers that, while pretty, only showed which of the women at the wedding was the most determined to be married next, not which one would be.

Jacqui didn't give me time to point out anything. She simply answered, "Yes, Aunt Lucy, thanks for that, but Sara isn't feeling well."

And then she steered me off again.

I looked at her. "I'm feeling fine."

"I had to give her some excuse, or she'd have never let us be. You know the way she is. And I could hardly say I wasn't feeling well — she'd only think that I was pregnant."

I had to admit that was true. Jacqui's love life — including her two short-lived marriages, one to a singer flamboyant enough to ensure their divorce had been given a place in the tabloids — was frequently a source of gossip at these family gatherings. She fueled that gossip on her own sometimes when she got bored, and had been known to start a rumor in one corner of the room to see how long it took to travel to another, but this evening she did not seem bored.

I asked, because I couldn't see the man she'd come with, "Where did you leave Humphrey?"

"Over there. He found the punch bowl, I'm afraid, before I had a chance to warn him. Drank three glasses of it."

Uncle Gordon spiked the punch at every family wedding. No one knew with what, but even those of us who'd only ever heard about the hangovers knew better than to drink the stuff. "Poor Humphrey."

Jacqui sighed. "Poor me, more like. I doubt he'll make it into work on Monday, and we've got a sales meeting. That's what I get," she said, "for bringing my assistant to a Thomas family wedding."

I agreed she should have known better. I hadn't brought a date myself, but then I didn't have a Humphrey, clever and good-looking, sitting handily outside my office door. And no one here expected me to bring somebody, anyway.

"Let's find a table," Jacqui said.

We found one tucked quietly off in a corner, half-hidden by one of the faux-marble columns that held up the wedding hall's high ceiling, painted ethereal blue with winged cherubs. The whole setting was a bit over-the-top, but it suited our young cousin Daphne, whose wedding this was. Daphne lived and breathed drama, which made her quite fun in small doses but very exhausting in larger ones.

"All a bit much?" Jacqui asked me. At first I assumed she was thinking, as I was, about the wedding, but then she asked, "How are you coping?" and I understood.

She had always been something of my guardian angel, since I'd been put into her arms as a baby when she had been ten. She was, if one worked out the family tree, more properly my father's cousin, daughter of his youngest uncle, but that made her still my own first cousin once removed, and I had claimed her and was keeping her.

It had been Jacqui who'd first noticed something was a little different in the way I saw the world, and through my childhood and my teens she'd been close by to show me what to do, like an interpreter to guide me through the labyrinth; to pick me up and dust me off if I stepped off the path and took a tumble. And the first year I had spent at university, that awful year when things had started coming all unglued for me, it had been Jacqui who had taken me to lunch with a new author, whose first book she had been editing.

"He's a psychologist," she'd introduced him. "Brilliant book, just fascinating. All about these children who have — how do you pronounce it, Colin?"

"Asperger's." He'd said it with a hard g, as in hamburgers.

At Jacqui's prompting, he had talked all through our lunch about the syndrome that at that time was believed to lie midway along the sliding scale between the "normal" world and full-on autism, making those who had it all too miserably aware that they were different without understanding why, unable to read and interpret all the complex social cues most other people took for granted — tones of voice, and body language, and the strange figures of speech that made a person say that he had been "knocked sideways" when he hadn't moved at all.

And I had known.

It had, if I was honest, been a great relief to finally put a name to what the issue was. I'd gone for consultations later with that same psychologist, and with my cousin waiting just outside his office door, we'd done the proper tests. He had explained it very clearly, using terms I could relate to.

"You're a programmer, aren't you?" he'd asked me. "You work with computers. Well, if you think of your own mind as a computer, which it is, then your basic architecture is different from most of the other computers around you. You're wired differently, you connect differently, and you run different software on a different operating system. You're like the lone Mac," he'd concluded, "in an office of PCs. They're all running Windows, and you're running OS X."

That had helped. I'd been able to picture that one Mac computer alone on its desk with its own software, processing everything in its own way while all of the other computers, the PCs, shared their incompatible system.

But Jacqui hadn't liked that image. "You don't want to be alone, off in your own corner," she had told me in decided tones. And having helped me put a name to what the problem was, she'd tackled it the way she tackled everything: head on. She'd bought me books and studied on her own, and with a single-minded focus Henry Higgins might have envied, she had tutored me in how to hide the signs, to pass for normal.

"You just have to pretend," she'd said, choosing another analogy, "that you're an alien, come here to learn about earthlings. Our language, our customs, our idioms, all of that. Study and learn them, the way you would any strange culture. But you don't want to look like an alien, and that means learning to mimic. I'll show you."

She'd shown me. Most days, I still felt like an alien, if I was honest. But Jacqui had done her job so well these past several years that my own parents, even when faced with the facts, still refused to believe I was anything more than a little bit quirky. And in a family like mine, I thought — bringing my mind firmly back to the present as new bursts of clapping amid shrieks of laughter announced that somebody had caught the bouquet — being quirky was hardly unusual.

"How are you coping?" asked Jacqui again, and I shrugged.

"I'm all right. I could have done without the DJ."

"Yes, well, so could we all. It was too loud for me," she admitted, "so I can only imagine what it must have been like for you."

My senses were ... sensitive. Easily jangled and jarred. The wiring of my mind made sounds that other people could ignore strike at me with the full force of a whining dentist's drill. Strong lighting sometimes gave me headaches, certain fabrics rubbed as painfully as sandpaper against my skin, and when all that was added to a room packed full of people, interacting in a way I had to work to understand, then staying calm became a test of my endurance.

Jacqui smiled and took a piece of paper from her handbag. "Here," she said, and slid the paper over to me. "This might help."

Shaking my head, I assured her, "I'm not at that stage yet."

"What stage?"

"The Sudoku stage." Then, because she was still watching me with that expression I'd known from my childhood, I added more firmly, "I'm fine."

I admittedly found it a little endearing that she'd always fed my addiction to numbers, in full understanding that, when I felt overwhelmed, nothing could calm me like complex equations or, lately, Sudoku — the neat, tidy patterns of numbers in squares, like a warm, fuzzy blanket that wrapped round my mind and was instantly soothing.

It hadn't surprised me that Jacqui had noticed when I'd made the switch to Sudoku. There wasn't much Jacqui missed noticing. And for the past several months she had seemed to have one of the puzzles conveniently tucked in her handbag whenever I'd needed one. But ...

"You can stop looking after me," I told her. "Honestly. I'm a big girl now."

"I know that." Her tone told me nothing, but I'd learned that whenever her mouth tightened down at the corners like that, she was being defensive. "And anyway, that's not a puzzle, exactly."

I looked at the page. She was right. These were numbers, but not in an order I recognized — just numbers printed in pairs and threes, with dots between them: 562.

I was already starting to look for the patterns when I asked, "What's this?"

"It's a code. Codes were one of your things, weren't they?"

"When I was ten, sure." I'd been in Year Six then. Our studies had taken us through World War II and the work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park, and I'd been so obsessed with cryptanalysis that, for the whole remainder of that winter, I had written all my school notes in a cipher of my own devising, much to the frustration of my teachers and my parents. "But that was almost twenty years ago."

"Well, I'll lay odds you've not forgotten. That code," she said, with a nod towards the paper I was holding, "is an old one, from the early eighteenth century."

It wasn't actually a code, I could have told her, but a cipher. More specifically, it seemed to be a substitution cipher, in which numbers had been used in place of letters of the alphabet. But I only asked, "And why do you have it?"

"I got it from one of my authors. You've never met Alistair Scott, have you?"


"The historian, Alistair Scott. He's quite famous. He used to be on television all the time."

I took her word for it. I didn't have a television. "And?" I smoothed the paper with my fingers as I focused on the numbers. There weren't many that were higher than 500, so I guessed those might be placeholders, to mark the ends of words.

"He's working on a new book," she went on, "and there's a source he needs to use, but it's in code. He wants someone to break it for him. So I thought of you."

"I'm hardly a professional."

"You need the work."

I paused, and faintly smiled. "I wondered how long it would take before you brought that up. Who told you?"

"Need you ask?"

My mother, then. I looked more closely at the numbers, noting the most common ones were in the 60s. Probably the e's, I thought. The letter used most frequently in English, after all, was e. It also was the letter we used most for ending words. If I was right about the placeholders, then two words in this cipher ended in 60-somethings, so again, they were most likely e's. I took a pencil from my handbag. "So she's told you all the details, has she?"

"Only that you handed in your notice," Jacqui said. "You can't keep doing that."

"They wouldn't let me work alone."

"Most people in IT do work in teams."

"I don't." And if the 60-somethings were all e's, that meant it was the 6 alone that mattered, and the final digit didn't count. Testing this, I tried removing all the final digits right across the board, from all the numbers, and put e's where all the sixes were, and spaces for the placeholders. I ended up with:

10.e.18.18.e.17.space.8.12.18.e.17.1.e.16.18.e.4. space.

There, I thought. Much less unwieldy. Right then. Twenty-six letters in the alphabet. Except if I were dealing with a simple substitution cipher, in which a was 1, and b was 2, and so on, then e would be written as 5 and not 6. I flipped e and f round, and got gibberish: Jerreq hlreqaepred fqblae ulsbfe.

Jacqui told me, "It would mean a trip to Paris. You like Paris."

"In December?"

"Well, you wouldn't have to go till after Christmas."

"Even worse."

She held her silence for a moment, then she said, "You're right. You'd do much better staying here and moving back in with your parents. That would be a lot more fun."

I wasn't always good at detecting sarcasm, but in this instance just the words alone were all I needed to be certain she was teasing. Glancing up, I tried to straighten out my smile. "Ha-ha."

"No, really. And your mother could invite young men to lunch on Sundays. You could have a lovely time."

"I won't need to move home," I said. "I've got three months left on my lease. I'll find another job."

"This one would let you work alone. Besides, he pays obscenely well, you know, does Alistair."

I shook my head. "I couldn't take his money." I flipped a few more letters, moving closer to an understanding of the patterns used by whoever had made this cipher. "This," I said, "is really pretty basic, not so difficult. I've nearly got it. When I've finished here, I'll let you have the key, and you can pass it on to him, and he can do all the deciphering himself, for nothing."

"Yes, well, there's one problem with your logic," Jacqui told me.

"What's that?"

"The code you've got there," she informed me, "is not the one Alistair needs to have broken."

My pencil paused, but only briefly, because I was too far along to just stop. "Then why do I have it?"

"It's sort of a test. I told Alistair you were a wizard with codes and things, and he said if you cracked this one in under a week, he would not only hire you, he'd buy you a bottle of whisky."

I wasn't sure what letter had been flipped with r. The first word, with its double r, was likely my best clue. It might be meant to be a double l, perhaps, or double t. Since t was the most common English consonant, I went with that. Jetteq, read the first word now, unhelpfully. "He knows what this says, then?"

She nodded. "It's out of an old book, or something."

I had only two bits of the cipher left to unravel.

"Tell Alistair Scott," I said, "that if he's buying me whisky, my preference is sixteen-year-old Lagavulin." I jotted the translation down and rotated the paper to slide it back over the table towards her.

I knew that I'd done it correctly when I saw her smile. That was how Jacqui always smiled when I did something to make her proud. "See? I was sure you could do it."

"I'm not a real code breaker."

"Sara." She held up the paper. "You solved this in seventeen minutes. You're good at it."

Probably not good enough, said my inner perfectionist.

Jacqui, who'd known me so long and so well that she likely could hear that voice, too, said, "Come with me tomorrow, I'll take you to meet him."

"To Paris? Be serious."

"Alistair Scott's not in Paris."

"But you said —"

"He only lives over the river, in Ham. It's the job that's in Paris."

She asked me again to come meet him, and of course I told her yes, because I knew she wouldn't let it go until I gave the answer that she wanted. But my gaze stayed on the paper in her hand while we were talking, and I wondered who had written it, and whom they'd meant to warn with those four words. Not me, I knew ... and yet the final two words resonated, curiously:

Letter intercepted. France unsafe.


Excerpted from A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley. Copyright © 2015 Susanna Kearsley. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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.

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A Desperate Fortune 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
SweetMarie-83 More than 1 year ago
Susanna Kearsley earned a spot on my auto-read list after I read The Winter Sea and The Firebird. I fell in love with the stories, the characters, the settings, and Kearsley’s ability to move seamlessly between the present and the past and weave a story that’s full of romance, intrigue, and excitement. Her latest release, A Desperate Fortune, is no different. This book started out quite slow. For about the first hundred pages or so it was hard to get interested or invested in either of the dual story lines. But I had faith in Ms Kearsley and was sure A Desperate Fortune would end up wowing me as her other books did. If it had been any other author, I would have set the book aside after that first night of reading, but by the next night when I picked it up again, the story picked up too, and I found it easy to get lost in the pages. I liked Sara a lot, and found it fascinating how her mind worked. The portrayal of her life and struggles with Asperger’s was done really well. Her relationship with her cousin Jacqui, who was basically her champion, was also quite interesting. Jacqui understood how Sara’s mind worked and what her triggers were, and she wanted Sara to live as ‘normal’ a life as possible. She thought she knew what was best for Sara, and sometimes her idea of helping kept Sara sheltered and stifled, but it was obvious that it came from a place of love. You don’t see many close cousin relationships in books, and I enjoyed the dynamics between the two. I also really enjoyed the relationships Sara developed while she was working in France - Denise, Noah, and Claudine were all great characters and they each had something to teach Sara about life, love, and companionship. Then there was Luc. One of my favourite thing about all of Susanna Kearsley’s books is the romantic element. She sure knows how to write swoonworthy men! I loved how patient and understanding Luc was, and how he quietly made a place for himself in Sara’s life without pushing her. As with Ms Kearsley’s other books, it was the historic aspect of the story that grabbed my attention (and heartstrings) the most. Mary wanted more excitement in her life and she got it when she was asked to pose as the sister of someone King James had a special interest in. I loved how the story unravelled slowly, with the reader kept wondering about things as much as Mary was. Mary and her companions made a motley crew, and each of them had secrets to keep, partly for their own protection, partly for Mary’s, and sometimes just because that was their nature. The romance in the historic parts of The Winter Sea and The Firebird were amazing, so I was sure it would be no different in A Desperate Fortune, and I was right. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but once I realized what was happening, I fell in love right alongside Mary. I longed for more scenes with them together, and hoped everything would fall into place for them. As much as I loved Luc, it was Mary's love interest who really stole my heart. And just like with Sara and Luc, Mary's love interest quietly made a place for himself in her life. Their romance was slow and sweet and beautiful, and I could have continued reading about it forever. Susanna Kearsley has written another incredible book. A Desperate Fortune is compelling, intriguing, romantic, and unique. There are so many little details in her stories that make you smile, touch your heart, and ultimately make her tales unforgettable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. I appreciate the research that Ms Kearsley does to be historically accurate. Interesting how she used characters with aspergers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! I've read all of Joanna Kearsley's previous novels and this one tops them all. It was tough to put down. Honestly, preferred the "past" storyline to the "present". All in all, a great read.
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
I have some pretty mixed feelings about this book. I liked it well enough but I didn't fall in love with it as I had expected to do. This is a story that is told in two timelines and I found that I really enjoyed one timeline much more than the other which usually makes it a little harder to completely enjoy a novel. I am glad that I decided to finally pick this one up and did enjoy the overall experience. As I mentioned, this book is told in two timelines. The first timeline is focused on Sara. Sara was a really interesting character that I found myself liking her right away. Sara has Asperger's Syndrome which does have an impact on how she thinks and sees the world. I enjoyed watching her work to break the code for Mary's diary as she was hired to do. I think that my favorite part of her timeline was the interactions with all the other characters. I loved watching her develop a relationship with Luc, Noah, and Denise. The second timeline follows Mary Dundas in the 1730s. Mary has been living with an aunt and really wants her father and brother to want her around so she is excited when her brother comes to get her. Her brother really needs Mary to help out with a mission to protect the Jacobite cause. Before she knows it, Mary is entangled in an exciting adventure that is quite dangerous. I never felt the same connection to Mary that I did with Sara. Even though there was more action in her timeline, I found that everything seemed to move rather slowly. I believe that this was my first time listening to Katherine Kellgren's narration and I have to admit that it did take me some time to get used to her voice. She did a good job with the rather large cast of characters and added a lot of emotion to the story. By the end of the book she did win me over and I had no problem listening for hours at a time. I think that a lot of readers will like this one a bit more than I did. This was a book that told two very interesting stories. Unfortunately, I preferred one of those stories much more than the other and anytime the book changed to a new timeline, I thought that it lost some momentum. I do look forward to reading more from Susanna Kearsley in the future. I received a digital review copy of this book from Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley and purchased a copy of the audiobook.
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This was a little different from Suzanna Kearsley's usual pattern, but was a great book nonetheless .
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KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
I just finished the novel A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley. Sara Thomas is between jobs (she just quit another one). She is a computer programmer who prefers to work alone (and programmers rarely work alone). Sara has Asperger’s syndrome which she has learned to handle over the years. Her cousin, Jacqui (who is very protective of Sara) has a great job opportunity for Sara where she will able to work by herself. Alistair Scott is an historical writer who needs the diary of Mary Dundas translated. It is written in a cipher. Alistair needs someone to figure out the cipher and then translate the diary. Sara is good with puzzles and ciphers (she was also able to pass Alistair’s test). Sara agrees to take the job (she is looking forward to the challenge). Sara will be staying in France with the owner of the diary while she works on it. Mary Dundas is a Scotswoman (who comes from a family of Jacobite’s) who has been raised in France with relatives. Her older brother, Nicolas has finally requested that she come live with him. It turns out that Nicolas actually wants Mary to help hide a Jacobite on the run. Mary will pose as his sister to help keep him in hiding (and from getting captured). Mary is in for the journey of a lifetime. A Desperate Fortune goes back and forth between Sara and Mary. We get to see how Sara works to solve the cipher, translate the diary, and enjoys life in France. Mary is in for a journey she never thought she would experience, but she also worries what will happen to her at the end of this adventure. I enjoyed reading A Desperate Fortune. It is a well written novel. I enjoyed the setting of France, the characters, the interesting information on ciphers (I also enjoy puzzles) and the Jacobite’s. There is some romance (it seems to be prevalent in all books), but, thankfully, it is not the dominant part of the story. The story does get a little tedious (slow going) at times from the history in the novel (it can be hard to keep it all straight and I love history). We also get information on Asperger’s syndrome, how it affects an individual, and the mechanisms they can use to cope. I give A Desperate Fortune 4 out of 5 stars (which means I liked it). I will be reading more works from Susanna Kearsley. I received a complimentary copy of A Desperate Fortune from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A most wonderful and enthrawling book. A most gifted author .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every book by Susanna Kearsley is wonderful. This one included. She is a must buy author for me and I have never been disappointed.Her writing is beautiful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is such a wonderful book!! I loved it more than The Rose Garden and The Winter Sea and they were great books!! Love this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely charming book. I'm reading through all of this authors books and I have enjoyed every single one!
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CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
If asked to categorize A Desperate Fortune I would label it a romantic, historical, fiction book.  The dual timelines are perfect.   The storyline set in 1732 is told through a diary that Sara is translating.   The historical part of this timeframe is wonderful.   I could picture the towns they were travelling through, the people they had met, and the way they interacted with each other.    The wonderful horses, the beautiful carriages, the horsemen, and of course the houses they stayed in were all brought to life through Susanna Kearsley’s wonderful writing style.  The romance part of 1732 was quiet and subtle.    It was not the main part of the book, yet it was the part I kept looking forward too.  The current timeline is Sara’s story.  She lives with Asperger’s Syndrome and just wants to live a “normal” life.    She moves to start working on Mary Dundas’ diary and realizes that she can do more than what she thinks.  I enjoyed watching her figure out how to handle her different relationships with the other characters.    Everyone from the cat to Noah, a young boy, made a difference to how she acted and how she carried herself.   When Luc came into the story I was curious as to how she would react to him.   Their relationship was slow and steady.   It was a slow build to an ending that I was hoping for.   This is my second book by Susanna Kearsley and I was so excited to read it.   I have to say I was not prepared for how much of a slow read it was.   The beginning was very slow and it did speed up a little as the story proceeded.   Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed this entire story.  I loved the characters, I loved the storyline, and I definitely recommend A Desperate Fortune.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drew me in from the very beginning. Hated to put it down and couldn't wait to get back to it. Loved both the interconnected stories.
JJOBAKER More than 1 year ago
Great book with some actual history in it.and pre-order us so easy. When the book is released, your acct is charged for the book and it appears in your library. Simple.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GG19 More than 1 year ago
I love this author and she has excelled again with this latest book! Engaging, entrancing. You just never know what's coming. The endings are lovely and well done and her synopsis on how she derived the characters is just so well done. Can't wait for her next book!