An adventure ends in tragedy half a world away from Victorian London, leaving a noblewoman desperate for a miracle. From bestselling author Katherine Kingsley.
“A well-written, emotional, character-driven novel that is both sensual and inspirational.” – Romance Reviews Today
“Fans of historical romances will enjoy Katherine Kingsley’s second chance at love tale.” – The Midwest Book Review
Portia Merriem is about to embark on an adventure in Egypt, enjoying thrilling excavations along the Nile. But her plans are upended when tragedy befalls her pregnant traveling companion, leaving Portia alone in a strange land to raise her friend’s child as her own. Desperate for rescue, the last person she imagined arriving is John Henry Lovell, her childhood friend and protector who doesn’t seem to recognize her.
Little does Portia know that John has loved her all of his life, and ran away from Norfolk to escape the pain of his unrequited love. Face-to-face with her again, alone and vulnerable in a foreign land, the only way she can return to England and avoid the scandal of being a woman alone with a child, is to marry John and live as husband and wife.
“A well-written love story peopled with decent characters and a very tender and spiritually moving romance, capturing all the hallmarks of Ms. Kingsley’s works.” – Romantic Times
“Warm [and] sensual.” - Booklist
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About the Author
Katherine grew up between New York City, London, England, and Charleston, SC and spent twenty-five years in the Vail Valley of Colorado where she was a firefighte/EMT and teacher before becoming a full-time writer. She currently lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and two Jack Russell terriers and spends her autumns in Mykonos, Greece.
Read an Excerpt
October 16, 1835
Pip Merriem leaned on the railing of the ship, gazing out over the brilliant blue sea as the port of Alexandria came into sight. She released a deep, contented sigh. Finally. She was finally approaching the place she’d fought so long to see. Even as a child she’d dreamed of going to Egypt, and now here she was, about to embark on the adventure of her life.
Granted, her life was only twenty-seven years long, and although a great many people considered her over the hill, practically middle-aged and a spinster to boot, she felt as if she had just begun to live in this moment. Everything else had been nothing more than preparation — all her studies, her steadfast insistence on retaining her independence, the battles with her family merely steps on her path to her goal.
She brushed a blowing lock of auburn hair off her face and closed her eyes for a moment, savoring her hard-won victory, but she quickly opened them again so as not to miss a second of the miraculous sight before her. An amused smile flashed over her face as she considered that in the end, she really had to thank Isabel Bryson, of all people, for making that victory possible. The thought struck her as ironic, since Isabel had spent the entire journey confined to her cabin, suffering from seasickness. She wondered if Isabel was going to make a suitable traveling companion, given her performance to date. There were greater hardships yet to face, and she could only pray that Isabel would prove to be of stronger mettle than she had shown thus far.
Still, if Isabel hadn’t presented herself as the perfect chaperon, Pip wouldn’t have been standing there gazing at the coast of Egypt. Poor but educated, Isabel had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Pip’s family had been forced to capitulate to her wishes, since she’d finally managed to produce the ideal person to accompany her. Isabel was plain, sober, not given to flights of fancy, and eminently respectable, even though she was as old and unmarried as Pip.
Turning to her friend, who still looked slightly green about the gills even though they were in calm waters, Pip grinned, her sapphire eyes sparkling. “What do you think?” she asked. “Doesn’t the sight before you surpass everything you imagined in your wildest dreams? I certainly never expected the light to be quite so brilliant, or the sun so bright, or the buildings so impossibly white. Isn’t it glorious?”
Isabel glanced at her with no trace of the enthusiasm she had shown back in Norfolk when she’d accepted the job of paid companion on Pip’s wild adventure. “Oh, Portia, it is ... it is lovely,” she replied in a flat voice. “Forgive me if my eagerness doesn’t match yours, but I shall not feel comfortable until we are off this awful ship and on steady ground. I am sure that I will recover my composure then.”
“I’m sorry that you have endured such difficulties. If I had known that you would be so badly affected by sea travel, I would never have suggested you make the journey at all.” She bit her lip, then laughed. “Although in all honesty I have to say I cannot regret that I did.”
To Pip’s surprise, Isabel suddenly burst into tears, sobs racking her body. Bewildered, Pip drew Isabel into her arms and attempted to comfort her. “What is it, my dear? What causes you such distress? We shall be docked in no time at all, and once we reach Cairo you will be so much more comfortable. Shepheard’s Hotel is said to be all that is luxurious.”
“Portia ... Portia, my dear friend, I have not been entirely honest with you,” Isabel mumbled into the embroidered handkerchief Pip had pressed into her hand. She looked up at Pip with anguished eyes, the brown of her irises blurred by fresh tears.
“Not — not been honest with me?” Alarmed, Pip ended the embrace and took a step back, intently examining Isabel’s face, the freckles standing out against her pale skin. “I don’t understand. You said that you shared my fascination with Egyptology, that you wished for nothing more than to accompany me. Has the seasickness made you so ill that you wish yourself back in England?”
“No! Oh, no, anything but that,” Isabel cried, screwing the handkerchief into a tight knot. “I had to get away, and when you made your proposal — well, it seemed like the perfect solution.” She dropped her gaze to the deck, her shoulders hunched in misery. “There is no going back, at least not at present.” She sighed heavily. “I have made my bed, I must lie in it, and God will make His judgment upon me.”
A prickle of alarm ran down Pip’s spine. Isabel’s distress was clearly caused by more than severe mal de mer. “I don’t understand you,” she said, frowning. “What could God possibly judge you for? You are all that is good and kind, Isabel. If God is going to judge anyone, I shall be His target, for I have been nothing but disobedient and headstrong my entire life — you know how often I’ve flown in the face of my family’s wishes.”
Isabel said nothing.
Pip attempted a smile and continued. “Most recently, for example, I refused the offer of the Duke of Worcestershire, a considerable honor at my advanced age, according to my grandfather. I, on the other hand, felt that marrying a complete bore with an overinflated opinion of his own worth would have been a considerable dishonor to me.”
“At least someone offered for you, and certainly not for the first time,” Isabel said, blowing her nose loudly into a linen handkerchief. “I have never been offered for by anyone, ever, and I’m not foolish enough to delude myself as to the reason why. Unlike you, I am not attractive in any way, and I have no dowry to offer. But oh, Portia, I did think I had finally found love and would at last be happy and looked after and have my own house and — and — ”
Another flood of tears overwhelmed her, and she fell back into Pip’s arms.
“My dear Isabel,” Pip said, when her companion finally regained her senses, “you never made mention of a gentleman suitor. Did someone lead you on and then disappoint you? Who was the blackguard?” Her blood boiled at the thought.
Isabel refused to meet her gaze. “I cannot speak his name,” she whispered. “I made a fool of myself and what transpired is no one’s fault but my own.”
“Never mind, my dear. I think I understand,” Pip murmured, her heart breaking for her old friend. She knew that Isabel’s greatest wish had always been to marry, though her chances of making a suitable match were slim, given her unfortunate situation.
Pip had met Isabel during their second Season in London, when they had been drawn together by a mutual interest in academics, which none of the other debutantes, and certainly not the young dandies, shared.
Pip hadn’t given two shakes about Isabel’s plain features or her lack of fortune. She enjoyed conversing intelligently on a number of subjects they both enjoyed, so she had championed Isabel, taking a deep pleasure in forcing the idiots of society to accept into their midst a girl whom they otherwise would have shunned.
That the social elite accepted Isabel only to please Pip, who had somehow become the toast of the ton, made her revile the members of polite society all the more.
Nothing had changed in the years that followed. Oddly, the more Pip defied society’s strictures, the more she was admired, being hailed as an “original.” Isabel hadn’t been so lucky. They shared a love of knowledge and a dedication to furthering their education, but what was deemed endearingly eccentric in Pip was condemned in Isabel. All of this because Pip was considered a beauty, and Isabel anything but. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Pip was also the stepdaughter of the Marquess of Alconleigh and had an independent fortune of her own. That by itself was enough to put a mist into a man’s eyes when it came to his interpretation of beauty.
Pip released Isabel and took her trembling hands, squeezing them gently. “Let us forget about this ridiculous person who has caused you such distress. If indeed he is what sent you away from England, then we shall have your heart healed in no time at all. Just think, Isabel, of what awaits us. All of Egypt is about to be spread at our feet, and you will find yourself so transported that you will be able to think of nothing else.”
“Nothing else,” Isabel said, her red-rimmed eyes finally meeting Pip’s. “I wish that were so, but I fear that is not the case. I have lied to you mightily, and you will be right to condemn me, even cast me off, for my abominable deceit, which I can no longer hide. Or at least not for much longer.” She released Pip’s hands and laid a palm over her belly. “Do you understand now the nature of my transgression, why I have been so ill?”
Pip stared at her in horror as a hundred thoughts, a hundred concerns, rushed through her mind. Isabel, pregnant? Her condition changed everything.
Pip’s bright, wonderful dream collapsed beneath her. As the great noise of the dropping anchor sounded, she couldn’t help thinking that her dream had been only within footsteps of realization.
She wanted to scream her rage to the world, but instead she silently took Isabel by the hand and led her down below, all the while trying desperately to think of how she was going to deal with the catastrophe that had befallen them.
February 17, 1836
“Portia — oh, Portia, for the love of God, deliver me of this child!” Isabel writhed in agony, her eyes wild with fear, her body covered with sweat as she strained against her burden. Twelve hours she’d been like this, with no sign of progress, and Pip had no idea what to do to help her.
Biting her lip hard, she sponged Isabel’s pale face and neck with a cold cloth as she tried to reassure her. The stifling heat outside didn’t help, but Pip wasn’t thinking about that. She was praying desperately that their dragoman, Hassad, would return with help of some kind.
The dahabeehyah — the flat-bottomed houseboat that had served as their home for the last four months — bobbed gently on the waters of the Nile, the crew doing its best to ignore Isabel’s pitiful cries. Pip didn’t expect anything else. The men did their appointed tasks graciously and well, but delivering a foreign woman’s baby was not among them.
They’d moored miles and miles upriver from Cairo, where a European doctor could have been found, but Pip couldn’t have anticipated the possibility that Isabel would go into labor six weeks early. Instead of turning back as she could have, Pip lingered to sketch the temple of Medinet Abou at Thebes and to have another look at the amazing excavations in Karnak.
She and Isabel had become so close in the last months that Pip felt as if they were more sisters than friends, linked not only by the bond of Isabel’s growing baby but by their shared adventures. To Pip’s surprise and relief, once Isabel recovered from her sickness, she was a firm Egyptology enthusiast, traveling out to various sites and helping Pip catalog their experiences and impressions. Only in the last week had Isabel found herself unable to venture out as her pregnancy became more advanced, the heat depleting her strength.
Pip thought nothing of continuing her work, since Isabel was content to stay on the houseboat and rest. If only Pip had known how fragile Isabel really had been. If only ... But “if only” did no good now.
Cursing herself for her ignorance, she tried to focus on the task at hand. Surely in the small village Hassad would find a midwife, or at least a woman who had experience with delivering babies. Of course, Pip thought grimly, even if Hassad found someone, there was no guarantee that the woman would observe any standards of hygiene. She’d never seen such filth as existed in the local villages, or such disregard for even the most rudimentary sanitation.
Pip pushed her damp curls out of her eyes and pulled back the single sheet that covered Isabel’s swollen belly to see if there was any sign that the child was coming. She steeled herself not to cry out at the sight of bright red bloodstains on Isabel’s nightdress and the bedding beneath her. Pip didn’t know much about childbirth, but she was sure that a copious amount of blood wasn’t a good sign.
“Be strong,” she murmured. “For the baby’s sake you have to be strong. Everything will be all right, you’ll see.” But as reassuring as her words might have sounded to Isabel, Pip’s icy fear was turning her bones to water.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1835 Alexandria, Egypt, Portia ¿Pip¿ Merriem fulfills her life long dream of an Egyptian adventure until her chaperon Isabel admits that she fled England pregnant. Four months later in Luxor, Egypt, Isabel goes into labor. The locals get John Henry Lovell to help with the birthing. John Henry is stunned to see Pip; she is the woman he loves who once rejected his overtures because she felt he wanted to use her to gain social status. Her rejection led to his fleeing England. Isabel dies, but the baby is saved. Pip plans to raise the infant as her own. So Pip can avoid scandal back home in Norfolk, England, John Henry proposes marriage. Pip accepts in order for the baby boy not to become disgraced in the eyes of the Ton. She believes John Henry is using her and the child to gain social prominence. Unbeknownst to Pip, he already has attained that status, but now wants what he always desired from her, her love. LILIES ON THE LAKE is an entertaining historical romance that centers on relationships. The story line is well written but neither John Henry nor Pip hooks the audience until late in the novel. He is desperately manipulative and she is spoiled in spite of adopting the infant. That ultimately changes as love flourishes between the trio, but readers must remain patient and sail with the plot. Fans of historical romances will find enjoy Katherine Kingsley¿s second chance at love tale. Harriet Klausner