What choice will she make and what price will she pay for her innocence lost.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Barbara Lynn Blake
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Barbara Lynn Blake
All right reserved.
Chapter One1862—A Large House in Paris
Count Kosvesky looked at the young woman as she descended down a flight of stairs from the ballroom above. It was sometime after midnight. The girl's face rose in color from the dancing that she had been enjoying but a moment before.
"Now there is a beauty," the Count said to his friend who stood with him at the foot of the stairs.
"So innocent. I dare say her lips have not yet been touched by a kiss," his friend snickered.
"Then I shall be the first," Count Kosvesky predicted as he smoothed his dark thin mustache with his finger.
"Ah only if I am not the first," he friend challenged him ."Besides she is not your type—too innocent, too pure."
"She is an American," the Count revealed to his friend.
"Ah, they are ... how shall I say it ... naïve."
"Yes, but then one has the pleasure of being a teacher—of training them just right so that they fit perfectly into one's life."
The young woman noticed the men at the foot of the stairs as she slowly walked down the stairs careful that she did not trip. An older woman, who was not altogether unattractive, appeared behind her and called to the girl.
The young girl stopped and looked back up at the woman who called her name.
"Her name is Rachel," Count Kosvesky confirmed to his friend.
"A rather ugly name even for an American," his friend grimaced as though to discourage the Count's interest. "Some kind of Biblical reference no doubt."
Count Kosvesky looked at his friend and laughed, "Do not try to deter me because she has an ugly name. It is her face that is charming. So different. And her body. She has a very pretty form."
"And do you propose seducing her?" his friend questioned the Count. "Young American women are not so easy to seduce. If you want her you may have to marry her."
The Count was quiet as the young woman continued her descent down the stairs with the older woman at her side. As the women drew near to them Count Kosvesky said to his friend as he smiled to the young girl.
"If that is the only way."
Chapter TwoRachel Lester was eighteen years old the night the Count saw her in Paris. She had just arrived in Paris with her aunt and uncle for an extended stay. Rachel spent her youth in Europe the only child of two American wanderers who had made their home in Florence, Paris and London. As a child she spoke flawless French, English and Italian but all with a queer accent so that no one could tell her origin. During her childhood there were times when she was doted on by her parents and then forgotten like some precious jewel only worn on special occasions. Rachel was an exceptionally pretty child in the way of her mother. Her dark brown hair fell in soft curls to her waist. Her blue eyes shone full of interest for the world around her.
Rachel's parents were from America's old New York stock. Vivian Crane had married Mr. Lester before either were twenty years old. Their interests in the arts lead them to live in the European capitals. Rachel's first years of her life were spent in Italy. But at the outbreak of the civil war there in 1849 her parents fled first to Paris then to London. When she was ten both her parents died on a ship carrying them on a visit to France. Little Rachel had been left behind with Mrs. Lucille Monroe, her mother's sister, who was living in London at the time. Rachel was soon transported back to America with her aunt to live with her parent's families whom she had never met.
In New York she lived like an exotic flower among the sturdiness of her American relatives. Rachel was different. As a child she was apt to say as she pleased but seemed to want nothing more than please those around her. Rachel had spent her first year in America adapting herself to her relatives although it was her relatives who thought they had the burden of adjusting to her. Rachel admired her cousins who were numerous and seemed so dull to her. They were so narrow in their views of life but also so strong in their convictions. So sure were they of their place in life. They possessed the solid roots that Rachel had missed as a child. Her American cousins she saw not as individuals but like eggs in pairs or dozens—interchangeable faces and all with the same ideas.
From birth their characters had been molded by old New York values. American values. They valued money, family, security and the promise of a good make on the stock market. One was so much like another. Her cousins thought alike, dressed alike and acted alike. But she admired them. Sometimes she even envied them. But she knew she was nothing like them.
In New York Rachel lived along with her aunt, Lucille Monroe, in her grandmother's house. Rachel quickly came to realize her aunt was thought of as a bit of an eccentric to the family. The family eyed Aunt Lucille with reserve and took to the young Rachel as someone to save from Lucille's influence.
Her mother's mother, Mrs. Crane, was immensely fat. She was a fixture in her house as much as the large dining room hutch—unmovable and omnipresent. Rachel came very quickly to love this huge fat woman as a source of comfort and warmth. Old Mrs. Crane mourned over the death of her daughter, Rachel's mother. She made a special place for little Rachel in her heart. That Rachel resembled old Mrs. Crane in her youth only strengthened their bond and affection.
The heavy bosom of Mrs. Crane could still remember her own slow acceptance by New York society and so took her young orphaned grandchild, Rachel, almost as her protégé. Rachel flourished in her growing years becoming prettier each year. Rachel's figure became thinner as Mrs. Crane's figure grew larger that prompted one acquaintance to remark, "Mrs. Crane must be eating all of Rachel's portions," which produced the expected snickers.
By the time Rachel was eighteen years old she had mastered the highly developed skills required by New York society as well as developing a high appreciation of art and history. Her childhood years of playing by the Arno River in Florence and Seine River in Paris had given her an extended education for the arts. If fate had allowed she would have stayed in New York and married one of the prominent men who were not put off by her black coming out dress. But Rachel did make the mistake of wearing a black dress to her coming out party. It was Aunt Lucille who had chosen the scandalous dress for Rachel's coming out party. The resulting scandal caused Rachel's life to change.
During the summer of Rachel's seventeenth year, Aunt Lucille had met a man—a Mr. Tinker. After a brief courtship and to everyone's surprise but her own, Aunt Lucille was married to him and planned on going back to England with him in a month's time. In one of her last duties before her exit to England, Lucille was to pick out an appropriate dress for the upcoming ball where Rachel would formally make her first appearance in society. Normally it was Rachel's grandmother who approved of all of her dresses. Mrs. Crane saw that Rachel was dressed like all the other girls. It was only because Mrs. Crane was quite ill at the time of Rachel's coming out party that she could not supervise the selection of Rachel's dress. So Aunt Lucille's unconventional will was left free. Aunt Lucille, who had forgotten of the ins and outs of New York fashion, chose a black dress for Rachel. The dress was made and worn. All this was unknown to Mrs. Crane until the day after the ball when Mrs. Crane's youngest daughter, Louisa Stone, reported the disgrace to her mother.
"Lucille has gone too far this time. She will disgrace all of us before we know it. I'm only thankful she is leaving for England for soon," Louisa Stone said to her mother while Mrs. Crane was still in her bed drinking her morning tea. Mrs. Crane was annoyed at the display of temper before she was even dressed.
"You talk in riddles, Louisa. Now tell me plainly how has Lucille offended you this time."
Mrs. Stone did not care for her sister Lucille and often brought complaints of her conduct to their mother. Mrs. Stone conveyed to her mother in exaggerated detail the offense of the dress. This time Mrs. Crane was apt to support her youngest daughter Louise. After a few tart meetings between Mrs. Crane and Aunt Lucille, Aunt Lucille decided to take Rachel back with her when she returned to England.
"She is still my responsibility," Lucille said in defiance to her mother.
"I should prefer to keep her here with me," Mrs. Crane insisted.
"And bury her here in New York. She is already disgraced in Louisa's view. You've heard Louisa say 'no family will want her now'. And yet you want to keep her here? She will suffocate here. She is her mother's daughter after all. New York could not keep Vivian and New York will not keep Rachel."
"You mean I am to lose her like I lost my Vivian?" Mrs. Crane reciprocated, shocked at the idea that she might lose her granddaughter to the excitement of Europe.
"New York is too constraining for her," Lucille said to her mother in her anger at her own reactions to society's pressures. "Let her marry a Duke or a Count or even one of the Princes of England. She will suffocate here. Let her go to Europe, she is more like them than us anyway."
Aunt Lucille seeing the old woman's anguish but knowing her to be sympathetic to Rachel's best interest appealed to her mother with a gentle voice.
"Let me take her to Europe ... for a year. New York will forget all this and she will come back to you."
Mrs. Crane nodded her approval knowing full well if Rachel were to return to Europe she would stay there. It was after all where she was born, where she had been raised. Mrs. Crane let the girl go to Europe with regrets at not "being able to keep her little Rachel, more dear to me than any of my children, here with me."
Mrs. Crane saw the young girl to say goodbye a few days later. She was determined not to let any tears fall even after Rachel had left the house for the ship that was to transport her across the Atlantic Ocean. She could not keep Rachel from her destiny.
Chapter ThreeRachel arrived in London an American by birth, in her dress and in her manners but her heart remained European. The gardens of Hyde Park were locked into her memories along with those of her parents. She had not been unhappy in America, not exactly. But as she stepped foot on British soil she could not help feeling as if she had arrived home. Everything seemed so different to her but also so familiar. In New York she felt like she had been wearing a corset which tightly concealed her thoughts. Back in England Rachel could breath again.
Rachel, with her aunt and new uncle, stayed for several weeks in the sophisticated city of London. London at that time was the capital of world—the wealth of Africa and India and the Americas and the Orient poured into her capital city. You could buy anything there. Society, despite its layers of Barons and Lords and Princes or perhaps because of it, seemed more flexible and open than the rigid society of New York. An American lady, like any exotic import, was in high demand. Especially one with money and as young and pretty as Rachel Lester.
After several weeks in London the family moved to Mr. Tinker's estate, Dartmore House, in Kent. Rachel was in Kent but a week when she had already captured the interest of two men. Lord Hatfield, who was in his early thirties, found the 'American Rachel' a girl of extraordinary gifts. She brought along with her her American independence, her freedom of thought and her childhood background of European art and history. All of which impressed her English admirer.
"She is practically a scholar," Lord Hatfield said to his friend Jeffrey Spears who also took a special interest in the Rachel. The two men when speaking of Rachel always referred to her as the 'American Rachel' as if she might be confused with another Rachel even though they knew no other Rachel.
"Yes, so unusual in a woman," Jeffrey agreed. "She can tell you about the Louvre room by room. Who painted what and when? And she commands the same knowledge of the Pitti Museum in Florence."
"They say her parents were great lovers of art. She was practically raised in the Louvre."
"But even without her background she is the prettiest girl here," Jeffrey confirmed Lord Hatfield's own good opinion of Miss Lester.
Rachel's Aunt Lucille was, of course, thrilled that the Duke showed such interest in her niece. He made his admiration of her public knowledge and fluttered about her, a bee to the flower. Rachel did not share the Duke's enthusiasm. He was pleasant enough in the manner of an English gentleman but she quickly dismissed any real interest in him. She thought him a man who had never done a hard day's worth of work, physical or otherwise and this was true. The Duke was a sitter. He was not even a thinker. His thoughts centered on petty problems such as the length of his pants or the strength of his tea. And over these issues he often became very distressed. His skin was white, as white as any Englishman's could be who rarely saw the sun. His hands with their elongated fingers were pale and fragile. He had hardly done any more in his life than lift a cup of tea or a book. Only a book had not been raised since the Duke left Oxford after two years of study. His days were spent in the long succession of taking his meals, his tonic water and his tea. Oh yes, and a butterfly collection. As a Duke he was sought by many that viewed the Duke's acquaintance as a prize but no one could hardly claim him as a friend. The closest thing he had to a friend near his own age was the man whom he now conversed with about the American Rachel.
His partner in pursuing this topic of Rachel was Jeffery Spears, a man two or three years older, who was well acquainted with the Duke since they were neighbors. They were drawn together by their sameness in life—namely both being rich, single men and of a marriageable age. Jeffery, if you did not know the two men's backgrounds, would have been the preferable choice. He was robust, not quite as thin as his sedentary companion. He rode daily to take away the dull hours of the day. He was the shorter of the two men, his dark curly hair already starting to leave his head bald. His face was congenial however and he was the more aggressive of the two men in pursuing conversation.
The Duke was not a talker. He preferred to watch life around him like a spectator in a theatre. This gave him a distance that many people mistook for conceit. Perhaps he was conceited but he had no other reason to be conceited other than his luck of being born to a title. Rachel saw all these things about the Duke on their first meeting. But her aunt only saw the prestige and money that would be accrued with such a marriage.
Aunt Lucille had her niece alone at the moment and said to her, "The Duke is looking at you. He is always looking at you."
Rachel took a quick glance and her eyes met the Duke's. She smiled, nodded and looked again at her aunt.
"He is in love I think," her aunt continued her attempt at matchmaking.
"Oh, Aunt Lucille, you imagine every man in love with me."
"It is not I, but the Duke who imagines his love for you."
"You would have me married before I finish my eighteenth year."
"To a Duke, yes. Even his companion, that Mr. Spears, is watching you. He, I believe, is also smitten."
"It will do you no good to talk like this," Rachel said exasperated at her aunt's persistence. "I find both of them much too dull to speak with for even half an hour. A lifetime would be beyond endurance."
"Couples never speak once they are married, my dear. You do not marry to converse."
Rachel looked at her aunt with a small smile rising to her face asked, "And what do they marry for?"
"For prestige and money," Aunt Lucille exclaimed with authority. "You can do no better than the Duke. He is wealthy and he is kind. That is all you need in a husband."
"He imagines himself ... ill," Rachel retorted.
"Is he ill?" Aunt Lucille asked in an exaggerated manner.
"No, nothing more than a cold from staying too long in damp rooms. And if he walks too much, he fears he will have a heart attack. I have known him but a week and twice already as we were walking along he felt his chest and said 'my heart, it is beating so fast,'" Rachel said mocking the Duke's tone.
"Oh goodness, I hope he does not have a bad heart. You must have a child right away then to make your claim on his property. Or else it will go to some forgotten cousin," Aunt Lucille instructed as if the marriage had already been arranged.
Excerpted from Innocence Lost by Barbara Lynn Blake Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Lynn Blake. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. 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.