Praise for the novels of Jane Goodger
"Gentle humor, witty banter, and attractive characters." --Library Journal on Marry Christmas
"A touching, compassionate, passion-filled romance." --Romantic Times on A Christmas Waltz
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The Mad Lord's Daughter
By JANE GOODGER
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Jane Goodger
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBamburgh, England, 1862
Melissa looked out her first-story window and glared as a coach pulled up bearing the man who would take her from the only home she'd ever known. Her breath fogged the glass, and she wiped it away impatiently. She wished at that moment she had special powers and could make the coach burst into flames, forcing the man to run from her home in terror, never to return.
"I hate him," she said, trying to shut out the efficient bustling of her maid behind her.
"Go and tell that man that I'll not be coming down."
"Yes, miss." But the maid kept packing, ignoring her mistress even as she agreed with her.
Mary, who was nothing like what a young girl should have as a personal maid—she was quite old and not at all attractive—paused just long enough to give Melissa a chastising look, before placing another stack of books into an oversized chest. Mary had been with Melissa as long as she could remember and was far more friend than maid, which probably explained why the woman continued to ignore her orders.
"I'm not leaving. Chain me to the wall if you must," Melissa said dramatically, picturing herself as a secular Joan of Arc.
Mary raised one eyebrow, then slammed another stack down into the chest.
"Really, Mary, you can't care for me at all if you'll allow that man to take me away. Papa never would have allowed it. He wanted me protected. He wanted ..." She paused, because the thought of her father was simply too painful. He'd been dead just six months now, leaving her bereft and completely alone, but for Mary. She wondered if there was another soul in England who was as alone as she. She had no mother, no father, no siblings, and now, no home. She swallowed down the lump that instantly formed in her throat.
"Your father wanted you to be a normal young lady. He just didn't have the courage to let you go," Mary said, her tone holding the barest hint of disapproval. Whether it was disapproval of her father or of her childish behavior, Melissa didn't know.
"He was protecting me," she said for the hundredth time. She'd said those same words so many times since her father's death, they'd lost their meaning and even she had come to doubt them.
In all the time she'd been kept safe, she'd never once thought of herself as a prisoner. She'd been completely content to live her life, knowing she was protected and loved, and knowing her safety made her father happy. No, the doubts about her life had set in after her father's death when she'd overheard some well-loved servants characterize her as "the poor little lass, kept prisoner all these years." And then another servant had mysteriously added, "It's those eyes." Actually, the comment had been whispered, as if the maid had been afraid she might be overheard.
Melissa's first reaction to those overheard words had been rage. How dare they criticize her father for keeping her safe, for allowing her to live without threat of death or danger?
But the words she'd overheard wouldn't let go of her. Did the servants truly pity her? Did they think her secure existence more of a sentence? Had her father stolen from her, stolen her childhood, her freedom, her very life? She'd asked Mary, and the older woman had shaken her head in disgust. "Just silly words that you should pay no mind, miss," she'd said.
But as the weeks passed, and Melissa began to learn just how desperate her situation was, she couldn't help wondering if her father had not done all he could to protect her. She didn't like the idea that her father had feared for her, or had been afraid of something himself. As soon as those thoughts entered her mind, she pushed them away. Her father had loved her, wanted only the best for her. Surely he'd known better than the servants who worked for him.
Melissa paced in front of the window, stopping every so often to check whether anyone was departing from the coach. Ah, there he was, jamming his ugly hat upon his head. The devil himself who thought he could rip her from her home, bring her to God knew where, make her enter society with all its dangers.
Marry her off.
She still had the letter from the fiend, his evil words cloaked in a veneer of concern. Bah! The only thing that man was concerned about was getting rid of her. How artfully he'd written it. The letter had fairly dripped with sympathy and understanding, while hidden in those kind words was her sentence. She would leave her refuge. She would marry. She would never see her beloved home again. Not that she could actually ever remember seeing it from the outside.
That thought made her frown. She hated thinking ill of her father. Yet those words: Poor little lass, kept prisoner all these years. Over and over she could hear them, hear the real sympathy in that voice, picture another maid sadly shaking her head.
Poor little lass and her mad father.
She watched as the man held his hand out and helped a woman step down, as footmen stood guard beside the coach in their drab, dark green uniforms. Hmmm. She hadn't known there'd be a woman. The way he was treating her, the way she was dressed, it was evident she was not a servant. When he looked up, she instinctively backed away a pace and gasped.
Mary was beside her, and not being nearly so cautious as she, pressed her forehead against the cool windowpane. "Oh, I see," she said, looking at her charge warily.
"I hate him," Melissa said, but with far less venom than before. The man looked strikingly like her father, and so it was nearly impossible to truly hate him, after all. Mary went to pat her shoulder, but withdrew before making contact. Her weary brown eyes looked as if she might dissolve into a fit of tears.
"I don't want to go," Melissa said, her own voice tight from unshed tears as she stared blindly out the window.
"I know, miss, I know." Mary stood beside her, wringing her hands together as she often did when upset about something. She'd made that same gesture the morning she'd come to tell Melissa that her father had passed away overnight.
"I'm frightened." Melissa finally whispered what she'd felt in her heart for so long. Stark fear.
"It'll be all right. You'll see."
"But what if I die? What if my father was right?"
Mary let out a soft chuckle and peered at Melissa's stricken countenance. "We all must die sometime. But I'm fairly certain that day isn't going to come for you for quite some time. Your uncle will protect you now, and then your husband. Really and truly, miss, you don't need protecting at all."
"Then why ..." She'd never questioned her father out loud. Never. Her life had been her life. She'd never thought it strange, never realized there was anything different. Until now.
"Because he loved you so," Mary said, instantly understanding her confusion. "He'd lost everything and would have done anything to protect you. I don't think he ever considered what would happen to you when he died, how unprepared you would be."
It had been eighteen years since she'd walked through the threshold of her suite of rooms. Her father had made certain her life was filled with books, learning, and entertainment—all provided by himself and the rare tutor he'd allowed in. She knew how to comport herself in a drawing room, even though she'd never been in one. She could waltz and do the polka and perform intricate country dances, even though she'd never been in a ballroom. She could play the pianoforte, though she'd never heard a master play. She was perhaps one of the best-educated young women in England, but had no one with whom to share her vast knowledge.
She'd never questioned why she needed to learn all these things, knowing only that she was pleasing her father.
The first person she'd seen in years, other than the servants and her father, had been a solicitor, informing her that the estate was being sold to settle her father's debts, that there would be nothing left for her but a small inheritance. Enough, the lawyer had told her, for a dowry and to fund a single season in London, during which she could find a husband. After that, she would be at the mercy of relatives she'd never seen.
The second person she'd seen, though only from a distance, had been the man who would buy her home. He had explored the property at his leisure, while Melissa had paced in front of the window like some angry specter. She had raged at him through a closed door and had banged on it furiously when the Realtor had returned to inform her that she needed to remove herself from the house in one month.
"The house is sold, miss," Mary had told her. "You've no choice now."
"It can't be sold. It's mine."
"No, miss. Not anymore."
Now the time had come to leave, and Melissa was truly terrified. There were so many things to fear she couldn't name the one that left her most paralyzed. Her breath became short gasps, and Mary clapped her hands in front of Melissa's face, recognizing the coming panic.
"You'll be fine, miss. Fine."
If only Mary were coming with her, but she was going to Nottingham, so far away, and she knew Mary couldn't leave her family behind, not even for her. Mary's daughter was about to have a baby, her first, and Melissa couldn't ask her companion to leave.
Melissa nodded, more to please the older woman than to acknowledge her words.
"So. When they come, you'll go?"
At that moment, a knock sounded on the door. Melissa took a deep breath and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her tears. "I'm ready," she said with a jerky nod. It was, perhaps, the biggest lie she'd ever told.
Diane Stanhope stepped down from the coach and breathed in the sharp, fresh air, relieved beyond measure to no longer be confined in the coach with George Atwell, Earl of Braddock.
The man made her exceedingly uncomfortable. Saying he was not a conversationalist would have been a vast understatement. He'd offered but four sentences to her since they'd departed from Nottingham just days earlier. They were: The train is departing. I'll go arrange your room. We'll stop here to change horses. We've arrived.
Everything else, those one-word answers and grunts, had been responses to her inquiries. He'd stared out the window at the landscape passing by, dragging his gray eyes away from the view reluctantly when she'd ask him a question. This was her penance for being an old maid of independent means. She was deemed an appropriate companion for those young girls who needed a chaperone and were unfortunate enough to have no living female relatives who could perform the duty.
Lord Braddock had approached her at a ball, and she'd been foolish enough to believe he'd been only asking her to dance. What he'd actually wanted was to see if she was available to chaperone his niece, the daughter of a reclusive brother who'd recently died. She should have known better, but for that one moment she'd actually thought this man whom she'd been watching for ten years had finally noticed her.
But also, educating. She was thirty-two years old, had never had an offer of marriage, had never actually been officially courted. She'd spent the last few years watching over her own niece and doing a very bad job of it, if one were to be completely honest. Elizabeth had managed to fall in love with—and lose her innocence to—an artist's assistant. It was only luck that the man had turned out to be eminently marriageable. Indeed, Diane had been so blinded by her own jealousy of her niece's good fortune, she hadn't seen the signs that Elizabeth was in the throes of a love affair until it was far too late.
Now, Diane was to guide another girl toward marriage. How on earth should she be expected to do so when she'd failed so dismally? The truth stared back at her every time she looked in the mirror. Even her great fortune had been unable to overcome her plain looks.
And yet ... when Braddock had asked her to dance, she'd felt pretty, she'd felt flattered, she'd felt that cruel stirring of hope she'd thought was long dead. Lord Braddock was such a handsome man, not to mention fabulously wealthy. She'd thought his quiet nature held a thoughtful soul. But she was beginning to think that he was quiet because there was nothing going on inside. How could a man stare silently out a window for two days? Had his now-dead wife left him from sheer boredom?
Or was it that he resented her company? She knew that feeling: to be stuck in a corner of a room listening to the prattle of some old woman who felt the need to relate every event of her life no matter how tedious. Was that how he felt about her? Was he thinking: Good God, how long is this trip going to take?
Was she that objectionable?
At least for the journey home she could get to know her new charge. Braddock knew nothing of his niece but that she had led an even more reclusive life than that of her father. In fact, Lord Braddock believed that the girl hadn't actually left her home in years. It was incomprehensible. Was there something wrong with the girl? Was she damaged in some way? She knew of a few aristocratic families who kept their ill-formed children hidden from view for years. No doubt there were children born who were never acknowledged, never seen in public. Perhaps this girl was one. She certainly wouldn't know, as Lord Braddock had said nothing of his niece, and it was possible even he did not know the poor girl's circumstances.
"Miss Stanhope," Lord Braddock said, startling her with his deep voice. They stood in the shadow of a once-graceful manor, the wind from the sea cold and damp.
"I wonder if I could ask you for full discretion."
Ah. So the girl was damaged in some way. "Of course," she said.
"Melissa is not my brother's daughter. Her actual father's identity is unknown. Perhaps I should have said something to you before, but I feared if you knew the circumstances of her birth you would decline."
Diane lifted her chin. "Lord Braddock, I have never been a proponent of the Bastardy Clause," she said. It was rather brave of her to admit such a thing, given that the clause had overwhelming support and was stalwartly defended by most of society. Most, that is, but for those poor souls who became impregnated and were then tossed out to fend for themselves and their babes, shunned by even their families.
"I have had little stomach for it myself, but I fear Parliament has no interest in any sweeping changes. You are a rare woman, indeed," he said, his gray eyes warming a degree. "You understand it is paramount that no one know of her illegitimacy. To society she will be my niece, my brother's daughter, now orphaned."
"You have no idea who the father is?"
"It would make no difference in the eyes of society, but, no, I do not," Lord Braddock said, and she was amazed at the venom in his voice. She knew little of Braddock's political leanings, but she had not thought him an advocate of the poor or of women.
"Very good, my lord."
"When my brother met Christina, she already had the babe, and she was in a desperate situation. It is remarkable she did not turn to a baby farmer, given the state of destitution she was in. My brother wrote me—he was quite eloquent—and it was then I began to question the worth of the Bastardy Clause. Rupert loved the child as if she were his own, but she, in fact, has no legal right to any properties, not even the small inheritance my brother left to her. It is imperative that no one know this fact."
Something in Diane's heart tugged. How many men would have taken a bastard into their homes simply because she was loved by their brother? This fierce protectiveness was something unexpected. "You know nothing of your niece?"
"Only that my brother would have done anything to protect her. My brother was a good man, though I did not always agree with his method of protecting Melissa." He looked up to a window, and Diane followed his gaze, only to see an older woman looking down upon them curiously. "She's been a virtual prisoner in her rooms for eighteen years."
"She has not left her rooms for eighteen years. Indeed, no one has seen her as far as I know, but for servants and my brother. He went a bit mad when his wife died, forbidding me or anyone else to come to his estate. Christina died of some fever that nearly decimated the village, and he couldn't accept the idea of his daughter's dying as well. He thought to protect her, to save her. And to keep her hidden."
God only knew what such isolation had done to the child, Diane thought. "Why did you not tell me before now?" she asked, her eyes sweeping over the house.
"I feared you would not help me. I have no idea what we shall encounter. She could be mad, herself. Unkempt. Wild. Untrained. I don't know, and I didn't think I could face such a thing without a woman such as you."
"A woman such as me?"
His cheeks turned ruddy once again. "Someone stern and serious. Someone un-frivolous, solid."
"Ah." Yes, she was certainly all those things. "Shall we proceed, then?"
Excerpted from The Mad Lord's Daughter by JANE GOODGER Copyright © 2012 by Jane Goodger. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. 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
Reviewed by Shannon Book provided by the publisher for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book This is the second Jane Goodger book that has proven to be so much more than I thought it was going to be. Jane has a way of writing a story that completely immerses the reader into the lives of the charming, witty characters she’s created. The Mad Lord’s Daughter draws readers into Melissa Atwell’s life as she makes the transition from recluse to the center of attention in her small circle of friends and family. Melissa spent the first eighteen years of her life locked away in her room by her father under the guise of protecting her. When he dies, she’s forced from her family home to live with her uncle and his family during a season in London. The family’s hopes are to find a suitable spouse for Melissa while maintaining her dark, family secret. I really enjoyed Melissa’s character. Given the way she had been raised, she really was a very well-adjusted woman. She was sweet, witty and wasn’t as socially awkward as you would think someone who’s been locked away for eighteen years would be. She had an inner strength that made it possible for her to view each introduction to something new as an adventure. John had a very strong sense of family and duty, which was very evident in the way he initially dealt with Melissa and the search for her husband. He was very analytical and tended to look at things in a very black and white manner. Melissa she unwittingly forced him to re-evaluate everything he thought about love and relationships and realize you can’t apply a scientific theory to either of those to get them right. I loved the relationship that built between John and Melissa. While they both may have felt a spark of attraction to each other from the very beginning, their romance was slow building and allowed for them to get to know each other and become close friends. John may have fought what was happening between the two of them, but it made him appreciate what they had when he realized he might lose her altogether. Truly a fun read and one I would suggest to anyone historical romance reader out there.
What a fun historical! The Mad Lord’s Daughter is not a deep story, but I still found it very entertaining with an interesting storyline and enchanting characters. A young woman has lost everything; her mother, her father and her home. The worst is yet to come. For years, her father has protected her. He loved her fiercely, but he did her an injustice because of his fear of losing her. He kept her safe from the world, but he also kept her from life. He kept her a virtual prisoner in her own home. Only she didn’t know it. Melissa Atwell must hold her head up high and face her fears of the new world around her. Even the simple pleasures in life are new to her, like babies, puppy kisses and even snow. She will not fail her father or herself. She will face her new life with dignity and grace. Every day is new to her. With the help of her companion, Diana Stanhope, Uncle Lord Braddock and his son John Atwell, she will take London by storm. From the beginning John Atwell knows of Melissa’s circumstances. While initially he doesn’t know what to think of her, she quickly wins him over. It really is too bad they are first cousins though, because for a man that doesn’t believe in love, he sure is seeing things in a new refreshing light and it is all because of Miss Atwell. What can I say that won’t give the story away? Yes, the plot is very straightforward and the Ms. Goodger tells you upfront what is going on, but to put it into a review just seems wrong. She has some nice surprises. What I will say is: • The title, The Mad Lord’s Daughter, is perfect. It encompasses the mystery and truth of the story in so many ways. • Love is in the air and it is spread everywhere. • The women in the story are all strong in their own right and are fun to read about. They sure know how to keep the men on their toes. • The men…what can I say. Dashing, clever and gentlemanly, oh and don’t forget clueless. You got to love a romantically dimwitted hero every once in a while. The Mad Lord’s Daughter is basically a standalone book. Unfortunately, you discover at the end of the story that it is actually the second book in an unnamed series. WooHoo! But wait, it turns out I already read it, huh? I state this because I did not need the first book, When a Duke Says I Do, to enjoy this story. In fact, I didn’t even catch the hints that there was another book from the couple’s names, or their mentioned plot. I was totally clueless and it’s OK. It just shows that you can enjoy each novel alone without taking away from the other. I will say though, that I did enjoy the first book more, so be sure to check out the review if you want to know why. The Mad Lord’s Daughter is a sweet read. It was smoothly written and didn’t fail to put a smile on my face. It was a nice change of pace and if Ms. Goodger decides to write more in this series, I can see myself checking them out. I have not been disappointed yet. Great storytelling all the way.
Just enough quirky to make it a really good read
I enjoyed this book.
I enjoyed, greatly reading this book. Mel is so very loveable as well as john. A book worth reading!
Very slow story. Not very interesting.