In this dazzling first novel featuring the Knight family, bestselling author Gaelen Foley writes an elegant, emotional story that touches the heart and soul.
Driven to uncover the truth about the mysterious death of his ladylove, the Duke of Hawkscliffe will go to any lengths to unmask a murderer. Even if it means jeopardizing his reputation by engaging in a scandalous affair with London's most provocative courtesan—the desirable but aloof Belinda Hamilton.
Bel has used her intelligence and wit to charm the city's titled gentlemen, while struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. She needs a protector, so she accepts Hawk's invitation to become his mistress in name only. He asks nothing of her body, but seeks her help in snaring the same man who shattered her virtue. Together they tempt the unforgiving wrath of society—until their risky charade turns into a dangerous attraction, and Bel must make a devastating decision that could ruin her last chance at love. . . .
About the Author
"Romance is the literature of possibility," states award-winning author Gaelen Foley. "Romance celebrates the richness and beauty of living and reaffirms the eternal truth that love is the glue that holds the universe together. And, of course, it's wicked fun!"
After earning her B.A. in literature from the State University of New York at Fredonia, Gaelen moonlighted as a waitress for nearly five years while devoting her daylight hours to honing her craft. Her first book, The Pirate Prince, won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best First Historical Romance, and was nominated for the Holt Medallion for Best First Book. She is also the author of Princess and Prince Charming.
Read an Excerpt
Many years ago, as a curly-headed youth on grand tour,
he had fallen madly in love with beauty and so had stopped in Florence to take drafting lessons from a bonafide Italian master. Starry-eyed and romantical, he had followed the light-winged muses south to the Bay of Sorrento, where he had first heard the ancient Italian proverb "Revenge is a dish best served cold." He was an old man now, without illusions,
cold and canny as a scheming pope. Beauty had betrayed him, but decades later, oddly enough, here on this gray English day, the Sicilian proverb held true.
A neat, slight-framed man, James Breckinridge, the earl of Coldfell, gripped the ivory head of his walking stick in gnarled fingers that ached with the needling April rain. He permitted his footman to assist him down from his luxurious black town coach while another held an umbrella over him.
The slumbrous quiet in this place was like a church, but for the pattering of the rain. He turned slowly, looked past the servants' blanked faces, past the jagged wrought-iron fence, into St. George's Burying Ground on the Uxbridge
Road, just north of Hyde Park. Three weeks ago, he had buried his young bride here. Under a chilly gray drizzle,
where the hill curved green, her marble monument rose like an angry needle to the smoke-colored sky. Beneath it,
just where Coldfell had expected to find him, stood the tall, powerful, brooding silhouette of a man; wind-blown and lost, the wide shoulders slumped as the gusty rain blew his black greatcoat around him.
Coldfell's mouth flattened into a thin line. He took the umbrella from the footman. "I shan't be long."
"Yes, my lord."
Leaning on his walking stick, he began the slow ascent up the graveled path.
The thirty-five-year-old Robert Knight, ninth duke of
Hawkscliffe, appeared unaware of his approach, stony and immobile as the monument. He stood in bleak granite stillness,
the rain plastering his wavy black hair to his forehead,
running in chilly rivulets down the stark planes of his cheeks,
and dripping off his rugged profile as he stared down at the yellow daffodils that had been planted on her grave.
Coldfell winced at the ungentlemanly intrusion he was about to make on the other man's grief. Hawkscliffe was,
after all, the only one of the younger generation he respected.
Some of the old-school pigtail Tories found the young magnate's views alarmingly Whiggish, but none could deny that Hawkscliffe was twice the man his weak-willed father had been.
Why, Coldfell reflected as he hobbled up the path, he had seen Robert become a duke at the age of seventeen,
managing three vast estates and raising four wild younger brothers and a little sister practically single-handedly.
More recently, he had heard him deliver speeches in the
Lords with a cool force and eloquence that had brought the whole house to its feet. Hawkscliffe's integrity was unquestioned;
his honor rang true as a bell of finest sterling.
Many of the younger set, like Coldfell's own idiot nephew and heir, Sir Dolph Breckinridge, considered the so-called paragon duke a rigid high stickler, but to wiser heads,
Hawkscliffe was, in a word, impeccable.
It was pitiful to see what Lucy's death had done to him.
Ah, well. Men would see in a woman what they wanted to see.
Coldfell cleared his throat. Startled, Hawkscliffe jerked at the noise and spun around. Tumultuous emotion blazed in his dark eyes. Seeing Coldfell, his dazed expression of pain took on a stab of guilt. With his honorable nature, it had no doubt tormented the duke to have wanted an old friend's wife. Himself, he had never been that chivalrous.
James nodded to him. "Hawkscliffe."
"Beg your pardon, my lord, I was just leaving," he mumbled, lowering his head.
"Stay, Your Grace, by all means," Coldfell answered,
waving off the awkwardness. "Keep an old man company on this dreary day."
"As you wish, sir." Narrowing his eyes against the rain,
Hawkscliffe looked away uncomfortably, surveying the jagged horizon of tombstones.
Coldfell hobbled to the brim of the grave, cursing his aching joints. When the weather was fine, he could hunt all day without tiring. But he had not been energetic enough for Lucy, had he?
Well, she had had her fashionable London burial, just as she would have liked. Having died at his house just outside
London, she had a spot in the most exclusive cemetery in the city, complete with a Flaxman funerary monument, the height of good taste, sparing no expense. And well he should have to pay for this most expensive mistakean old man's folly, he thought bitterly. Beauty indeed was his weakness.
With nothing to recommend her but a magnificent mane of flame-colored hair and the most luscious thighs in Christendom,
the twenty-six-year-old Lucy O'Malley had been an artist's model in Sheffield before she had bewitched him into making her his second countess. He had sworn her to keep quiet about her background, devising a false one for her. At least she had given that pledge sincerely, eager as she had been to join the ton.
Coldfell was merely glad he had not been forced to bury
Lucy next to Margaret, his first wife, who was reverently enshrined at Seven Oaks, the ancestral pile in Leicestershire.
Ah, wise Margaret, his heart's mate, whose only fault had been her failure to give him a son.
"I amvery sorry for your loss, my lord," Hawkscliffe said stiffly, avoiding his gaze.
Coldfell slid a furtive glance at the duke, then sighed,
nodding. "It's hard to believe she's really gone. So young.
So full of life."
"What will you do now?"
"I leave for Leicestershire tomorrow. A few weeks in the country will help, I warrant." A visit to Seven Oaks would also take him out of the way of suspicion when this man carried out the deed for him.
"I'm sure you will find it soothing," Hawkscliffe said
They were both silent for a long moment, Hawkscliffe brooding, Coldfell reflecting on the uneasiness of living anymore in his elegant villa in South Kensington with its four pretty acres of sculpted gardensthe site of Lucy's death.
" 'Lay her in the earth. And from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring,' " Hawkscliffe quoted barely audibly.
Coldfell looked at him in pity. "Laertes' speech on
The duke said nothing, merely stared at the carven letters on the monument: Lucy's name, her date of birth and death.
"I never touched her," he choked out abruptly, turning to
Coldfell in impetuous anguish. "You have my word as a gentleman. She never betrayed you."
Evenly, Coldfell held his gaze, then nodded as though satisfied, but of course he had already known.
"Ah, Robert," he said heavily after a long moment, "it is so strange, the way they found her. She went out to our pond every day to sketch the swans. How could she have slipped? Perhaps my brain is muddled with grief, but it makes no sense to me."
"She could never slip," he said vehemently. "She was graceful . . . so graceful."
Coldfell was taken aback by his ferocity. This was going to be easier than he'd hoped.
"Did your servants report anything strange that day, my lord, if I may presume to ask?" pursued the duke.
"Did anyone see anything? Hear anything? She was in earshot of the house. Could they not hear her cries for help?"
"Perhaps she had no time to cry out before she fell beneath the water."
Hawkscliffe turned away again, his firm mouth grimly pursed. "My lord, I have the blackest suspicions."
Coldfell paused, watching him. "I wish that I could put your mind at ease, but I'm afraid that I, too, am haunted by severe doubts."
Hawkscliffe turned and stared penetratingly at him. His dark eyes glowed like hellfire. "Go on."
"It doesn't add up. There was no blood on the rock where they said she . . . struck her head. What am I to do? I
am an old man. These sore limbs are weak. I haven't the strength," he said slowly, emphatically, "to do what a husband should."
"I do," vowed Hawkscliffe.