A missing heirloom. A stolen inheritance. Can love conquer mistrust?
Athena Hawthorne never imagined that she would lose everything she'd ever had. But after the death of her father, his prosperous jewelry store is sold off to pay his supposed debts. Athena, now destitute, embarks on a mission to discover the truth, but circumstances force her to accept an offer from a handsome stranger to work as a governess. She's determined to clear her father's name, but a certain earl is making matters far more difficult than necessary. And she can't be in danger of losing her heart to a member of the aristocracy...
Orion Ashcroft, the Earl of Rockford, is convinced that Athena is a grasping thief who stole a priceless family heirloom, the rare sapphire known as the Couleur Magnifique. When he offers her the position of governess to his sister's children, he only intends to catch her in some nefarious scheme and get back the sapphire-his grandmother's dying wish. But he soon discovers that keeping his distance-and his sanity-around the beautiful Athena isn't as easy as he'd planned. It certainly doesn't help that his sister and his best friend plead her innocence at every frustrating turn. Soon he's struggling between honoring his promise and his growing attraction to Athena.
But there's danger closer than either expect. Even a masquerade can't hide Athena from the curiosity of the ton forever...and there's a threat hiding among the highest members of society...
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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London, England 1819
"What do you mean, it's all ... gone?" Miss Athena Hawthorne stared at the weasel-faced solicitor in front of her and tried to keep a rein on her rising temper — and utter panic.
Nigel Bartholomew shifted the girth of his pudgy body uncomfortably. Clearing his throat, he replied calmly, "It's just what I said, Miss Hawthorne." He looked at her as though he were trying to soothe an unstable horse, which only added to Athena's frustration.
"The funds your father invested from the profits of his shop, Hawthorne Jewelry, have been sadly depleted. I'm afraid that after all his creditors were paid, there was not much left. You will, of course, be given a draft of the remaining ..." Here he paused to recheck his paperwork, the rustle of the parchment causing Athena's fists to clench on the arms of her chair. "... two pounds, six pence ..." Glancing back at her, the man finally tried to appear somewhat contrite. "I'm truly sorry, Miss Hawthorne. Your father was a master in his field. It's regrettable that he wasn't more frugal."
Athena ignored the buzzing in her ears as she watched Mr. Bartholomew scratch a few lines on a bank note before handing it to her. Standing slowly, the shock of what had just taken place freezing the very blood in her veins and leaving her in a daze; she reached out and took what remained of her livelihood. Athena still couldn't believe that her father would leave her in such dire straits, knowing that he hadn't been long for this world. For years, it had been just the two of them, working side by side in their modest jewelry store, crafting priceless pieces for commoners and the aristocracy alike. Prinny himself had even remarked at how no one else in London could even begin to compare to her father's skill.
Now, just like that, it was all gone. Her father ... his legacy ... all she had left of him — of her life — was this scrap of paper with such a paltry sum that wouldn't even get her through the cold, winter months.
And suddenly, she found her voice.
Putting her hands on the desk in front of her, Athena leaned down to stare into the solicitor's wary face. "I don't know what's going on here," she stated evenly. "But I will never believe that my father was the spendthrift you claim he was." Narrowing her dark eyes, she added, "However, I can assure you that once I uncover the truth, you, sir, will owe me an apology for your false accusations." Straightening, Athena spun on her heel and left the gaping man's office, her threadbare, navy blue cloak swirling angrily behind her. It wasn't until she'd stepped outside into the gray, March drizzle, did her bravado finally fail her.
Putting a hand to her pounding heart, she collapsed against the side of the brick building she had just left and closed her eyes. Dear God ... it couldn't be true ...
For all of her one and twenty years, Athena had never known her father to even glance twice at a deck of cards, let alone fall prey to one of the numerous gaming hells in the city! In fact, he had seldom set foot outside his workshop; his focus remained continuously on gemstones of every shape, size and clarity. And when he wasn't working on a new piece of art, he had been with his only daughter in their comfortable but humble lodgings above the shop. Many nights they had spent around a warm fire, drinking tea and talking about the day's work, or else sitting in companionable silence as she read the latest dime store novel and he sketched new ideas. Ever since her mother had died many years before, they had shared a simple but satisfying life together.
More importantly, it was an honest one, which is why the accusations from Mr. Bartholomew just didn't make sense. Holding all those cherished memories close to her heart, she found it unfathomable that her father could be so careless as to squander a lifetime of hard work and timeless dedication, especially during those last few weeks when the lung fever had progressed to the point he was unable to fill any more orders. Even then, he had been concerned only for her welfare.
Now, with little to her name, other than the clothes on her back and the draft in her cloak pocket, knowing there were no relatives to go to for assistance, Athena was on her own. Granted, the baker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, had been offering her temporary room and board, but with their brood of four children to feed, Athena knew she couldn't rely on their hospitality for much longer. She would have to try and find some sort of suitable employment — and soon. Not only to ease the burden of her longtime neighbors, but if she was to hire a private investigator to look into Hawthorne Jewelry's true financial status, she needed to make haste before the paper trail began to run cold.
In the end, she vowed that she would uncover this deception, for it could be nothing else.
Intent on her newfound mission, Athena pulled up the hood of her cloak to ward off the rain and set off at a brisk pace. However, she had only taken a few steps forward before she was caught off balance as someone rudely bumped into her. With a cry of alarm, she found herself falling backward. Cringing at the thought of walking home in a mud-caked frock, she gasped as a pair of strong arms caught her mid air.
Both startled and furious, Athena looked up, prepared to give the individual a proper set down for nearly running her over, but the retort instantly faltered when her gaze caught the expensive flash of a maroon, superfine coat of quality. Not only was that enough to give her pause, but the shadowed face peering down at her was absolutely gorgeous! Tall and broad shouldered with a three-layered greatcoat and top hat that only enhanced the man's striking looks and obvious wealth, his stare was intent as it lit on her, so much so that she could almost feel it upon her skin.
When he spoke, of course it was with a rich, smooth timbre. "My apologies, madam. I'm afraid I was in a rush and didn't see you."
As her own harsh reality abruptly rushed back, Athena pushed away from the stranger, ignoring the way her legs shook and suddenly threatened to give way beneath her. Convinced that she was merely disturbed by the near fall and the bad news she had just received, she lifted her chin a mutinous notch. "That is apparent, sir. Now, if you'll excuse me?" Determined to put as much distance between the man — and the law offices of Bartholomew and Phelps, as possible — Athena set off again with purpose.
So it was with a start when she encountered that deep voice again, but this time at her elbow. "Surely you will allow me a chance to make amends?"
Athena kept her gaze affixed firmly ahead, though her entire body tingled at his nearness. Clenching her fists, she stated in no uncertain terms, "I don't have time to satisfy your gentlemanly honor. I have more pressing matters to attend to. Now, good day!" She glanced at him then, catching sight of a sardonic twist of those strong, masculine lips, before she quickened her pace.
When he lengthened his stride to match hers, she felt her pulse skip a beat, though that was ridiculous, of course. Why she might feel anything other than pure annoyance at his unwanted presence was completely absurd.
"So cynical for one so young," he murmured. "Why is that, I wonder?"
She gave a bark of laughter and for some inane reason felt the need to defend herself with a reply. "How about finding out that your father was an invariable gambler who left you a penniless orphan?" As soon as the words left her mouth, Athena could have kicked herself. Why she felt the sudden compulsion to confide her troubles to a complete stranger was beyond rational thought. Someone of his ilk likely looked at women in her position as little more than a bothersome insect to flick off their coat.
So naturally, his next statement took her completely off guard. "If that is the case, then perhaps I may be of some assistance?"
Athena finally stopped and faced him fully, her eyes wide with patent disbelief. "You're not serious?"
Now that he had her attention, the man leaned against a nearby lamppost, heedless of the congestion of the city around them and the poor weather threatening to break free on them at any given moment. With a shrug, he asked, "Why wouldn't I be?"
Athena lifted a dark brow. "I think a more appropriate question is why you would."
She thought she caught a predatory flash of his eyes beneath the brim of his hat, before he dipped his head. His face was swathed in shadow, though she was able to catch a glimpse of the strong line of his jaw, painted with a day's worth of dark stubble. "Mayhap damsels in distress are a particular failing of mine."
She couldn't help but give a rather unladylike snort at that. "I seriously doubt that." But before he could reply, natural curiosity came to the forefront and she found herself being blunt and calling his bluff. Crossing her arms, she asked pointedly, "What exactly are you suggesting?"
There was a brief pause as he appeared to be giving her person a slight perusal. Stiffening, the dreaded feeling that he was about to proposition her, Athena opened her mouth to give him a proper scathing, but again, he surprised her by offering something completely respectable. "I happen to know of someone in need of a governess."
Athena hesitated. As much as she would like to consider the idea, it just seemed too good to be true. "Is that so?" she said slowly, then in all honesty, "I've never been a governess before."
She felt that sly smile again before he countered smoothly with, "Oh, I have faith in you." Pulling a card out of his vest pocket, he handed it to her. "This is the address. Be there tomorrow at ten."
Athena noted that it was located in the fashionable area of Mayfair, but there was no name mentioned. Glancing back at the stranger to inquire further, she was chagrined to see that he was already halfway up the street. Blast. Other than chasing him down, she had no choice but to take her chances on the morrow. Even if it turned out to be a sham, at least she could say she hadn't shunned her first chance for respectable employment.
With a thoughtful frown, Athena tucked the card into her cloak and headed for the Grayson's.
* * *
"Did all go as planned?"
As Orion Ashcroft, Earl of Rockford, climbed back into his brother-in-law's carriage, he glanced at the man seated opposite him. "Very well, I should imagine." With a stony glance outside, he tossed his hat beside him and added stoically, "She'll be there."
"I suppose you're rather pleased that you have her right where you want her then," his companion replied with a lift of his brow.
"It's a means to an end, Gregory, nothing more." As the conversation fell flat, Rion, as he was better known among friends and family, sat back against the carriage squabs as they returned to his brother-in-law's town house. He was in need of a drink, but the crowded atmosphere of his club, White's, didn't much appeal at the moment. Besides, he needed to update his sister so she could rant at him some more, rather than leaving his longtime friend to suffer the brunt of her moral disapproval.
Recalling one such recent conversation, Rion asked dryly, "I don't suppose Cassie has come around yet?"
Gregory Dawson, Baron Ambrel, returned with a grunt, "I should say not. In fact, she's made it quite clear that if we weren't in dire need of a true governess for the twins, she would have told you to go to the devil with your 'crack-brained scheme' long ago. And I do believe that was her exact sentiment."
"My little sister never was one to mince words," Rion murmured affectionately before turning serious once more. "Do you think she'll ever forgive me?"
Gregory simply shrugged a shoulder. "I don't think forgiveness is the issue. She just hasn't come to terms with how you're going about all this. She doesn't accept your motives in destroying this girl's reputation without proof."
"Oh, I have every intention of gaining the evidence I need," Rion returned. "Trust me, if there had been any other way, I would have found it. You know I detest deceit, but if I don't find out what happened to the Couleur Magnifique, then our entire heritage is in jeopardy. Its origin is traced back to the Romans when they ruled England. It's part of the Ashcroft line."
"And you're quite sure that this rare, color-changing sapphire was last seen six months ago at Hawthorne Jewelry?" Gregory asked with a frown.
"Absolutely," Rion said without hesitation. "The stone was becoming loose in its brooch setting, so grandmother dropped it off to be reset. I have the receipt of acceptance."
Gregory pondered this for a moment. "If that's the case, then why don't you just confront Miss Hawthorne and end this subterfuge?"
But the earl was already shaking his head. "As if she would dare to admit that she had something so valuable in her possession now that she's lost everything. No, I need to keep her close at hand, because I'm confident that at some point in the near future she'll try and sell it, possibly to leave the country." Rion's eyes shone brightly in his fervor. "I intend to see that she doesn't succeed."
Gregory shook his head sadly, almost empathetically. "Must you always look for the fault in everyone?"
"I merely see past the façade," Rion countered evenly. "I promised grandmother, on her deathbed, that I would get the Ashcroft sapphire back, no matter the cost, and that's what I intend to do."
"Very well," the baron finally conceded with a heavy sigh. "I can see there's no changing your mind. You're as stubborn now as you were twenty years ago, but I said that I will help in any way I can and I meant it." With somber eyes, he added quietly, "I just hope you don't come to lament your actions."
Rion turned back to the window. "Lady Justice is a fickle mistress, my friend, and she seldom obtains anything without some sort of regret."
* * *
Cassiopeia Dawson, Baroness Ambrel, walked into the foyer at the men's return. Allowing her brother to bow over her hand, she addressed her husband, "I don't suppose you were able to talk any sense into him?"
It was Rion who answered. "You will be pleased to know that I have found you a new governess." His smile, however arresting it might be to the rest of the ladies of the ton, failed to charm his sister.
Crossing her arms over her swollen belly, Cassie again glanced at Gregory. With an arched eyebrow, she said dryly, "I assume that means no."
"Have I ever been able to hurdle the impossible, my dear?" Gregory said with an affectionate kiss on his wife's forehead, leading the trio into the parlor where tea and cakes were already waiting. Rion just shook his head. His sister had always had the uncanny ability to know when company might show up, or in this case, return.
"Come now, Cass." Rion used her childhood nickname as he sat and accepted a cup of tea that was still warm. "Don't paint me the villain as of yet. You haven't even met the chit, but already you're turning her into a martyr." With a glance at Gregory, he added wryly, "So much for blood over circumstance."
Cassie instantly narrowed her blue eyes. "Don't be impertinent," she said firmly, sounding so much like their grandmother right then that the tea nearly stuck in the sudden lump in Rion's throat. "Sarcasm doesn't become you. Stick to charm, it's what you think you're good at." Her mouth twitched as she lowered her girth next to her husband, and Rion knew that for all her blustering, his little Cass wasn't truly that cross with him. "So tell me again of this ingenious plan of yours to get back Gram's brooch, if indeed this woman did steal it?"
Rion sighed. "First of all, let me point out, yet again, that the Couleur Magnifique was never returned to Gram, nor was it listed in any of Hawthorne Jewelry's assets when it was broken apart and sold off. Thus, I believe there is a strong chance that Miss Hawthorne still retains it. We will simply observe her comings and goings and be ready to strike when the occasion arises."
"You've definitely put quite a bit of thought into this, haven't you?" Cassie interjected with a dry tone.
"Of course," Rion returned with a pointed glance. "I would not want anyone to be falsely accused."
"Indeed," was all Cassie said, though she did give her brother a "look."
Rion, in turn, smiled tolerantly. "Rest assured, the truth will surface, at some point or another. From the accused herself or the investigator I have looking into the matter."
Cassie shook her head. "That's what I don't understand. Why don't you just let Mr. Andrews take care of this? It is what you are paying him for, after all."
Rion held up a finger. "Ah, but then Miss Hawthorne would not be close at hand to keep an eye on."
"I still say you're judging her too harshly." Cassie returned to her old argument, the one Rion had suffered many times. "Can't you just believe that she lost track of to whom it belonged?"
"A sapphire that rare and valuable?" Rion gave a snort. "Highly unlikely."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Why the Earl is After the Girl"
Copyright © 2016 Tabetha Waite.
Excerpted by permission of Etopia Press.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was cohesive and well written. There were no slow parts, it was exciting and kept a great pace to the end. I couldn't put it down. I look forward to owning more of Tabetha Waite's books. I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.
What a great debut story!! I love historical romances and this fit right into everything I enjoy. Mystery. intrigue, romance and humor took the story through to the end. What happens when a a woman is left destitute after her father dies and finds that nothing adds up? Athena Hawthorne sets out to find out why her father owed so many debts, but seemed to be a prosperous jewelry store merchant. Through what seemed a fortuitous meeting with Orion Ashcroft, the Earl of Rockford, she obtains a job as a governess for his sister's children. But Orion is convinced that Athena has a family heirloom that was stolen from his family. This is when everything gets interesting!! Orion and Athena feel an attraction but of course, Orion battles with himself because he thinks Athena is a thief! The banter between the two is really delightful and brought a smile to my face. Read to see how this entertaining story comes to a conclusion and be prepared to pick up the second book in this series! Well done Tabetha Waite!
Why the Earl is After the Girl by Tabetha Waite is an amazing debut Regency Romance. Book #1 in what promises to be an intriguing series, "Ways of Love". Book 1 is the story of Athena, and Rion, a jewelers daughter and an Earl. A commoner and nobility, mixing to learn the truth of the disappearance of an inheritance and a priceless heirloom. Well written with well-developed, and engaging characters. The plot is as captivating as intriguing. Filled with mystery, suspense, passion, intrigue, and the possibility of a forever kind of love. I was glued to the pages from the first couple of sentences. I read this story in one setting, just had to finish and learn the truth. A story with betrayal, romance, revenge, the prospect of white slavery, conspiracy, sensual tension, surprises, and twists and turns. The story offers readers so much, it will capture your heart and put a smile on your face. Just let me say, more than one kidnapping, would have done me in, but Tabetha, was determined to learn the truth, of why her well-known, and beloved father's name had been tarnished and she left penniless. Rion, was determined to keep his promise he made to his beloved grandmother, on her death bed, to find her missing heirloom. Together Rion and Athena embark on a journey of discovery, sexy encounters, danger and finding a HEA. Debut author, Tabetha Waite, is an author to watch for in the Regency genre. I was very impressed with her writing style, her characterizations, and her vivid descriptions. A job well done, Tabetha Waite! I look forward to her next exciting adventure, in the "Ways of Love" series. A must read for any and all historical Regency fans. Bravo, Ms. Waite!! I received a complimentary copy. Rating: 4 Heat rating: Mild Reviewed by: AprilR
This is an entertaining Regency tale that includes the mysterious disappearance of a family jewel, dangerous encounters with members of the lower class and the ton alike, and an unlikely romance between an earl and the girl he suspects of being a thief. The mystery kept me turning the pages, and the romance was sizzling, as well. While there were a few anachronisms in the dialogue, I enjoyed the descriptions of life among the upper class as well as the working class people. The historical details really added to the story. The next story is set up at the end of this book, so I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.