Raised as the youngest daughter of the Duke of Kendal, Elizabeth learns a devastating truth on his deathbed: he wasn't her father at all. And because the Duke had no sons, his title and fortune must go to his only male heir: a distant cousin who left England for America long ago. Anticipating the man's imminent occupation of her home, Elizabeth anxiously searches for her mother's diary, and the secret of her paternity. . .
Her Unexpected Future. . .
Arriving in London with his seven siblings, William Atherton intends to sell everything and return to his beloved Virginia farm, and his fiancée, as quickly as possible. But as Elizabeth shows William an England he never knew, and graciously introduces his siblings to London society, it becomes clear the two are meant for each other. Soon, Elizabeth finds herself determined to seduce the man who can save not only her family name but her heart. . .
Praise for Christie Kelley and Every Time We Kiss
"Rollicking, sexy. . .you'll enjoy this one!" --Kat Martin
"Kelley knows how to bring a great depth of emotion into a romance." –Romantic Times Book Review
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By Christine Kelley
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Christie Kelley
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Chapter OneLondon, 1817
As the door to Elizabeth's home slammed shut, she braced herself for the inevitable confrontation. They hadn't even waited for the butler or footman to open the door and announce them. Loud footsteps preceded their entry. Her heart raced as she attempted to rein in her emotions. Glancing up from her needlework, she watched Richard enter the salon with his wife Caroline following behind him.
"Elizabeth, we have given you six months and still you have refused to comply with my-our simple request," Caroline said as she sank to the sofa with a deep sigh.
"You have no claim here." Why must she have this conversation with them every month? And worse, why did it distress her so terribly each time? He had no claim here ... at least not yet.
"Actually, I just might," Richard said, and then sat in the chair across from his wife.
"You are not the duke, Richard."
"Not yet," he added softly.
Her attempts to keep the greedy couple from taking over her father's house had only made them more determined. They only wanted the house and the estates in the country for their ambitions. Mostly, Caroline's ambition. Without her, cousin Richard would have been happy with his manor home in Dorchester. But Caroline wantedmore. She would never be satisfied as the wife of a baron. She wanted the duchy and all that went with it, including Kendal House.
Only the house didn't belong to them ... or her.
"Do you have any new proof that Edward is dead?" Elizabeth asked, staring at him. "Don't forget he had at least one son who would inherit over you."
"It has been ten months since your father died," Richard said harshly. "The solicitor sent several missives to Edward, but received no reply. And he has yet to arrive. Everyone knows about those heathen savages they have in America. Edward and his family were probably killed by them."
"Edward has been in Canada for the past five years." Elizabeth inhaled deeply, trying to keep her patience. "And until you know for certain about his death, you have no right to live here. Kendal House and the estates belong to the duchy until such time as his death is confirmed."
She prayed she was right. Richard and Caroline would squander the income from the estates on gambling, gowns, and balls. Neither appeared to have an interest in putting forth the effort to ensure the tenants were cared for and the lands remained profitable.
"That is where you are wrong," Caroline said with a tight smile. "Our solicitor is drawing up the paperwork right now."
"That shall be nothing but a waste of his time-and your money. It means nothing. This is the duke's residence, and Richard is not the duke."
"Edward refuses to return and claim his rightful inheritance," Richard added.
"That still makes no difference," Elizabeth explained. "He is the duke, whether he chooses to return home or not. Besides, ten months is no time at all. He most likely had to pack up his entire house in York and arrange passage over here. Plus the voyage time. I have heard the winters in Canada are dreadful, so they might not have been able to leave as expected."
"Then he should have sent a missive to that effect. Something acknowledging his inheritance," Richard replied.
Caroline shook her head. "For all we know, Edward is dead."
"Then his son would inherit." Dear God, they were driving her mad. It seemed as if they were far more determined than in previous months.
"Ah, yes," Caroline drawled. "But if he and Edward are both dead, then Richard inherits."
"True enough. However, if they were both dead then someone else in his family would notify the family solicitor here." Elizabeth clenched her fists in frustration.
"Unless the entire family was wiped out by those savages they have over there. Besides, it really should not matter to you," Caroline commented. "You will either be a burden on us or the new duke."
A fact not lost on her. Elizabeth had only the very small allowance left to her from her fath-the late duke. "I realize that, Caroline. I suppose I shall live with one of my sisters once the duke is installed."
"As if they want you," Caroline sneered.
"It is nothing to concern yourself over," Elizabeth snapped. Her sisters were so much older that she barely knew any of them, save Jane. And none of them had ever taken the time to invite her to stay with their families for more than a week.
"And I don't," Caroline retorted with one brown eyebrow arched. "But if I were you, I would be looking at all the eligible gentlemen."
Self-serving Caroline would only be looking for the richest and highest titled gentleman she could hope to snare. Elizabeth didn't want that. If she found herself in a position that required marriage, then she wanted to find a man who would love her for who she was ... or who she wasn't.
"Nonetheless, Elizabeth," Richard started in a slow, warm voice, "we only want what is best for the estates. Your late father's steward could be robbing the family blind, for all we know. Someone must take over things until we hear from the new duke. My solicitor will petition the prince so that I may oversee the estates until such time as Edward either makes an appearance here, or is deemed deceased."
Elizabeth stared at Richard. With gray hair and tired lines creasing his forehead, he looked every bit his sixty years. She released a long sigh. "I have been checking over the books from each estate every month, Richard. My father's steward is an honest man."
Caroline gave a quick shake of her head. While her husband looked on the verge of elderly, Caroline was only six years older than Elizabeth's twenty-six years.
"You are looking after the books?" Caroline asked in a high-pitched tone. "I thought you were a lady."
"I am quite competent when it comes to mathematics. Unlike either of you, I grew up on the estates. Who better to know what they need?"
"Of course, cousin," Richard said quietly.
Elizabeth knew she was defeated. Unless she petitioned Prinny himself. But she doubted the prince would even listen to her. He would want what was best for the estates, and that meant a man controlling the lands, not her. She was a bit surprised the prince hadn't managed the situation before now.
"If your sisters refuse to take you in, I suppose you could stay here," Richard said.
"Richard!" Caroline's voice pitched higher. "In a few months, there won't be room in the house." She rubbed her rounded belly.
Richard shook his head and rolled his eyes. "This house is large enough for a passel of children, Caroline. I cannot have my cousin on the streets."
Elizabeth might have felt a spark of hope, except Richard's tired tone was scarcely convincing.
"And yet, we all know she isn't truly your cousin," Caroline muttered before standing to leave.
Before Elizabeth could think of one decent retort, the couple left. It wasn't surprising that they knew about her past. The rumors regarding her lack of inheritance had been the talk of the ton for months now. Most assumed it was due to a disagreement with her father over a suitor-a rumor she had started and encouraged.
But a few might have guessed the truth.
Silence finally filled the house as Elizabeth sat on the brocade sofa with a sigh. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt this tired. Picking up her small glass of sherry, she took a sip, letting the fruity essence rest on her tongue a moment before swallowing. Her head lolled back against the fabric as she stared at the ornate ceiling of her small salon. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of horses clomping past her home.
Only it wasn't her home any longer.
She had to do something, but at this point, her options had just about run out. Tomorrow, Richard and Caroline would return. This time with a solicitor in tow, no doubt. Elizabeth understood their desire for the house-greed and position. Nevertheless, the house wasn't theirs, and she would do everything in her power to make certain it stayed that way. She'd never trusted Caroline, and lately, Elizabeth questioned Richard's reasonableness. In the past four months, he had been spending more time at the gaming hells, and according to the gossips, losing serious amounts of money. Money she knew he didn't have.
Some days, she even wondered if the new duke had ever attained notice of his inheritance. Her father had died ten months ago, and she had never received one word from her distant cousin, Edward.
Of course, he wasn't truly her cousin.
Elizabeth opened her eyes and stared at the empty fireplace. She had to find her mother's diary before Richard and Caroline found a legal way to have her removed, or Edward arrived from Canada. Her mother had kept several diaries, and none held the information Elizabeth desired. After finding those journals in drawers, she discovered none contained anything too personal. However, one book made a mysterious reference to a hidden diary, and that was the one Elizabeth needed to find.
She had to uncover the truth.
After all this time, she wondered if the diary even existed any longer. Her father might have found the journal and burned it. Or her mother might have given the diary to a close friend to keep it away from Father. Elizabeth doubted both ideas. Her mother had died quickly following a carriage accident. She would have had no time to give the diary to a friend, and her father never seemed to care enough to look for it. Perhaps he had no need and had already learned the name of her mother's lover.
Elizabeth had only five rooms left to recheck. It made the most sense that the diary had been stashed somewhere in this house, since her mother rarely traveled to the estates. After checking every room in the townhome, she'd performed a thorough inspection of the other estates and uncovered nothing. Not one clue to her real identity.
Furiously, she blinked away the tears welling in her eyes. She refused to cry one more tear over something as silly as her real father's name. In the eyes of Society, she was and would always be Lady Elizabeth Kendal.
There had to be something she was missing in her search. Perhaps there was a secret compartment in a desk, or a hidden room that she had overlooked.
She turned at the sound of the footman. "Yes?"
"Miss Reynard is here to see you."
Why would Sophie be here at this late hour? "Send her in and bring some tea and cakes."
Elizabeth sat up and composed herself while waiting for her dear friend.
"Elizabeth, thank goodness you are here and not at Lady Tavistock's ball." Sophie rushed into the room and flopped to the sofa. Black tendrils clung to her forehead as she removed her damp hat.
Sophie shook her head. "Lady Tavistock would never have invited me to her ball and then I wouldn't be able to speak with you. I do apologize for the lateness of the hour, though."
"Is something wrong?"
"I am not certain. I had a vision and needed to see you immediately." Sophie picked up Elizabeth's hand and clutched it tightly in her own hand. Closing her eyes, she went still. "I was right," she whispered.
"Right about what?" Elizabeth pressed her friend for an answer.
"Something is about to happen," Sophie started, then paused and frowned.
"A man is going to enter your life," she said softly.
Elizabeth smiled. Sophie had gained quite the reputation as a medium and matchmaker in the past year. She had even matched Elizabeth's dearest friends, Avis and Jennette, with husbands. "Are you certain?"
Sophie glanced away from her and shook her head. "Not in that way, Elizabeth."
The serious tone of Sophie's voice made Elizabeth say, "Oh?"
Sophie shook her head again. "I cannot be sure but I feel there is something dreadfully wrong. This man will upset your entire life. I fear he will bring you great pain."
Great pain? "How do you mean?"
"Oh, how I wish my visions were clearer." Sophie looked back at Elizabeth. "This man comes with children. Many children."
The duke. Elizabeth's shoulders sagged. She'd heard the stories that Edward had numerous children and stepchildren. Obviously, he was on his way here. Once he arrived with all those children, she would have to find other accommodations. "Elizabeth?"
"It must be the new duke, Sophie." Elizabeth pulled her hand out of Sophie's grasp. "Do you have any idea when he will arrive?"
Sophie shrugged. "I really have no way of knowing. With Jennette, it was that very evening. However, with Avis, I knew in advance. My visions don't give me schedules."
"You don't think he would ask you to leave here, do you?"
Elizabeth waited while the footman brought in the tea and cakes on an ornate silver tray. After he left, she poured tea for them both and then rested back against the sofa.
"I don't believe I ever met Edward, the new duke. My father never had a pleasant thing to say about the man. Then again, he rarely had a good thing to say about anyone."
"You know my home is always open to you," Sophie commented. "My aunt would say that it lends credence to our social position to install a duke's daughter in our home."
Elizabeth blew on her tea before taking a sip. "Thank you, Sophie. I am praying it won't come to that."
She needed time to perform a meticulous inspection of the remaining rooms. It shouldn't take too long, a few days at most. Then she would be happy to leave the house to the duke. Not that she had any ideas on how she would survive. She only had a small allowance to live on, and despised the idea of being a burden on anyone.
"What will you do if he asks you to leave?" Sophie asked quietly before sipping her tea.
Elizabeth sighed. "I suppose I could find work."
"Elizabeth, you shall do no such thing."
"I won't be a burden, Sophie."
"You have some income from your father."
Elizabeth shook her head slightly. "It's not enough to survive on my own."
"You cannot even think about working. It is beneath you," Sophie said with a nod.
"Not any longer," she answered. "Besides, I have quite a talent for gardening. Perhaps I can find work taking care of someone's flowers."
"True. But do you think anyone would hire a woman gardener?"
"Perhaps not," Elizabeth said flatly. "I suppose there is always a governess position."
"Yes. But the lady of the house might be suspicious that the daughter of a duke needs to look for work. She might even believe her husband is installing you as his new mistress."
Elizabeth slammed down her teacup. The hot liquid spilled over the edge, just missing her fingers. "Then what am I to do?"
She barely kept from rolling her eyes at the ever romantic Sophie. "I do not need a man."
Sophie giggled softly. "Of course you do. Just not for what you're thinking."
This time she did roll her eyes. "Now you are as bad as Avis."
"A good man in your bed cannot hurt," Sophie replied with a slight shrug. "Think about what I said. My aunt and I would love to have you stay with us." She stood and reached for her damp hat. "I should take my leave now."
As Sophie left, her words remained with Elizabeth.
The last thing she needed was a man interfering in her business. Most men liked nothing better than to stick their noses, and other parts, where they didn't belong. Therefore, until she uncovered the truth of her parentage, she refused to suffer through any man's attempt at courtship. Even then, Elizabeth doubted she would desire any man.
It just wasn't in her.
While she found some men attractive, mostly she found them annoying. Sometimes she wondered if there was something wrong with her. After watching two of her dearest friends fall madly in love and marry, she thought she might feel as if something was missing in her life. Yet, the only thing she yearned for was the knowledge of her background.
Not knowing her father's identity seemed to be eating at her more and more lately.
Perhaps because she knew her time in this house might soon end. Even if her cousin took over control of the house, she couldn't stay. She wasn't one of them.
Her heart constricted with pain. All her life, she'd been Lady Elizabeth. The daughter of the Duke of Kendal. Since the duke had never disowned her in public, no one knew the truth, except the few people who might have guessed. Even Richard and Caroline couldn't know for certain. All they had were the obvious clues-her father had left her barely enough to survive, and with her red hair and freckles, she looked nothing like her sisters or late brother.
Excerpted from Something Scandalous by Christine Kelley Copyright © 2010 by Christie Kelley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1817 London, on his deathbed, Lord Kendal confesses to his beloved daughter Elizabeth that he is not her biological father. Thus the heir to his fortune resides across the ocean in America though odious Londoner relatives Richard and Caroline want the ducal and only need to remove the Canadian usurper Edward and his son. The distant relative's oldest son and a family retinue arrive to take ownership of the estate while a stunned Elizabeth grieves her loss but also searches for her mother's diary to learn the identity of the man who sired her. Virginian William Altherton and his sibling horde invade the mansion he inherited when his dad Edward died nine months ago. He plans to sell off his inheritance so that he can go home to get married. He is unhappy to learn he will not be leaving for America for several months. Elizabeth escorts the Atherton bunch around London and assists them in proper behavior amidst the Ton. As rumors fly that she is related to Americans, William and Elizabeth are attracted to one another. He helps her on her paternity suit quest until his fiancée Abigail Mason arrives in town to reclaim what is hers, but he now has doubts. This is an action packed Regency romantic suspense that will have the audience clamoring for more Atherton adventures. The lead couple is an intriguing pairing of two outsiders, but it is the strong secondary cast that brings them and the era to life while also brining tension to the superb story line. The sub-genre audience will enjoy Christie Kelley's entertaining historical tale. Harriet Klausner
You have to love her dedication. This book was a little slow for me but it was interesting to see things from a supposed 'American' point of view.
The writing was so poor that I stopped before page 50.
Christie Kelley knows how to draw a reader into the story line
This was a great story and I have really enjoyed the entire series! I would recommend this book to any historical romance lover!
Enjoy all her books