Authors: Eileen Dreyer
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #General, #Erotica
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To the women of science who worked without acknowledgment
for so long, especially the women of astronomy, who
were usually relegated to doing the math.
They really were called computers.
My thanks to everyone who has helped bring Alex and Fiona to life. To my agents, Andrea Cirillo and Christina Hogrebe. To all of Grand Central, especially Amy Pierpont and Leah Hultenschmidt, who shared the gestation of this book, and Claire Brown for another fabulous cover. To Maggie Mae Gallagher, assistant extraordinaire, who has saved more than my sanity.
To my writing community, who also helps keep me sane. The Divas, of course. MoRWA, the Pubs. To the Aspen contingent—I know we gave ourselves a name, and if it hadn’t been a very long night I’d remember it—who taught me to successfully brainstorm and went to watch meteors with me and let me test out my new astronomy knowledge.
To my readers, who have been faithful and supportive, even when I’ve taken longer than I should to finish a story.
And finally, to those who have helped me research astronomy, which I have fallen madly in love with and would totally immerse myself in if I had any skill at math whatsoever. To John Beury of the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the late lamented Wired Coffeeshop, my guide to the night sky, for his patience, graciousness, and generosity in introducing me to the wonders of the night sky (without John, I doubt Fiona and Mairead would have been astronomers, no matter how much they wanted to). I swear the books are coming home. I have added the works that John gave me that helped me research this fascinating field to my research page. (Okay, I’m also giving a shout-out to my pretend scientist boyfriend Neil deGrasse Tyson. You’re such an inspiration, I’ll even forgive you Pluto.)
The Regency period was a golden age of amateur scientific research, from astronomy to physics to geometry, chemistry, paleontology, geology, engineering, and more. It has been a pleasure meeting the amazing minds of the age. But especially the women, who languished in obscurity for far too long. All of the scientists mentioned in this series were real. All made substantial discoveries and contributions to their fields. I hope I’ve inspired somebody to learn more about them.
Hawesworth Castle, Yorkshire
ady Fiona Maeve Ferguson Hawes received her sentence in a white room. White marble, white brocade, white porcelain, white-painted oak. The cold, spare temple to her grandfather’s pretensions.
Walking so silently she failed to strike an echo from the gleaming floor, Fiona came to a stop at the edge of the Aubusson carpet. She wanted to worry at the ivory muslin of her dress. She wanted to run upstairs and throw herself on her bed, where she could sob herself dry. Instead, briefly, she pressed her hand to her chest, absurdly afraid that the chaos that battered her would spill out all over her grandfather’s stark marble floor.
She couldn’t seem to draw a good breath. She hadn’t since Ian’s friend Alex Knight had told them the news. Since he had ridden away again, taking with him the last of her childhood dreams.
Gone. Her brother was truly gone. He had left before. He had fought in the king’s wars since she had been a child. But he had always come home. He had always done his best to keep track of his twin siblings, and do his best by them, especially after mama had died.
No more. This time, Fiona and Mairead would be truly alone, especially when her grandfather delivered the verdict he was so anxious to make.
“You took long enough to get here, girl,” he barked, rising from behind his massive desk and stepping forward.
“I was seeing off Alex Knight,” she answered with a dip of a curtsy. “Considering he was kind enough to deliver the news of Ian’s death in person, I assumed that you would not wish me to stint on Hawesworth hospitality. Was I mistaken?”
She was rewarded with the cold glare that had once made her tremble.
“I hope you didn’t waste your time setting your sights on him,” the old man said, his voice thick with disdain. “The likes of him will have nothing to do with the likes of you.”
She refused to flinch. “He left unmolested.”
If he had been the kind of person to react, her grandfather would have gone red. As it was, he froze into a tower of disapproval. Hands clasped behind his back, he stood straight as a subaltern on parade, the sun limning his pure silver hair and magnifying the immense dignity of his person.
To be truthful, Fiona’s grandfather could have stood in a barn naked and disheveled, and it would still be obvious that he was the current holder of one of the nation’s most illustrious titles. He carried the marquessate of Leyburn in his bones, in tendon and viscera and brain. And he never ever let anyone forget it. Especially the misbegotten twin granddaughters he’d been forced to take in four years earlier when they’d had nowhere else to go.
“I give you enough credit to know why I called for you,” he said, his voice crisp.
She had known before Alex Knight had finished giving his news. “I imagine you intend to find a way to blame Mairead and me for Ian’s alleged crime.”
“Nothing alleged about it,” the marquess snapped. “You heard his friend. Pulled a gun in front of a shipful of witnesses and tried to shoot the Duke of Wellington.” He snorted, shaking his head. “I should have known he was a traitor.”
You should know even now that he wasn’t.
“As for you…” The marquess pulled out his watch and flipped it open. “You have about twenty-five pounds of accumulated pin money between you both, which is yours to keep, along with what you can carry.” He snapped the watch closed. “I have an appointment in Leyburn in an hour. I don’t expect to see you when I return.”
“What about Mairead?” Fiona asked, hands clenched to hide their trembling. “Do you think she can simply wander the roads?”
He shrugged. “By your own account, she’s done it before. Wouldn’t have even known there was a life like this if I hadn’t interfered. Besides, it saves the embarrassment of trying to foist her off on society.”
Of foisting either of them off. Something he never would have done anyway, which they both knew.
“I have done my duty,” he insisted as if he’d heard a protest. “That is all that can be asked. This family goes back to the Conqueror. I will
have it fall to scandal.”
And the scandal of two granddaughters who had survived on the streets could be erased if the girls disappeared as if they’d never come.
Fiona fought a flood of panic. Where would they go? It had been so long since she had kept them safe out on the streets. Eight long years. Had any of her skills survived? Her instincts? Where could twenty-five pounds take them?
Well, standing here soaking in the marquess’s contempt would offer no ideas. Without another word, Fiona turned for the door.
“Where will you go?” he barked.
Fighting for calm, she turned back and lifted an eyebrow, unaware how identically she copied him. “I don’t believe that can be of any interest to you, sir.”
, her heart cried.
Get ye back to Edinburgh, where you know the streets and the people and the price of a meal.
“Of course it is of interest to me,” he snapped. “I demand to know that you won’t do anything more to sully my name.”
Glad to at least get a bit of petty revenge for all the slights she had suffered under this roof, she smiled. “In that case, Grandfather, I fear you are doomed to suffer disappointment.”
And without another look at the grandfather she had once thought would be her salvation, Fiona Ferguson walked out, shutting the door behind her.
Four weeks later
t took a lot to surprise Alex Knight. But there he stood in the White Salon of Hawesworth Castle staring like a simpleton at the hall door that had just slammed in his face.
Three days of hard riding to bring the Marquess of Leyburn the best news possible, and the old bastard had blindsided him.
Standing alongside him, Chuffy Wilde gaped like a landed trout. “Bit dense, I know,” Chuffy said, scratching his nose with a pudgy finger, “but did the marquess just say he threw his granddaughters out into the snow?”
“Yes,” Alex answered, still staring after the old man. “I believe he did.”
Throwing open the doors, Alex strode into the hallway to find the marquess climbing the sweeping white marble staircase, his hand on the polished rail, his back as rigid as his morality. If the old tartar hadn’t been moving, Alex could have easily mistaken him for one of the statues that lined the steps.
“A word with you, sir.”
The marquess didn’t stop. “I have said all I wish to.”
“Perhaps you did not understand me,” Alex said, his voice terse. “Your grandson is alive and exonerated of the charges of treason. Ian has even been commended by the Duke of Wellington himself for his courage. Surely that is excellent news.”
Not from the old man’s expression. “Do you perhaps believe me to be hard of hearing?”
“I believe you must have misunderstood me, or you would never have walked away without securing the safety of your granddaughters, as any gentleman would.”
His expression frozen in disbelief, the marquess stalked all the way back down the stairs. “You question my honor, sir?” the old man demanded in glacial tones.
“A man of
,” Alex retorted, “would not have abandoned the women under his care, no matter the provocation. Where are they?”
The marquess lifted a vague hand. “They left after your last visit. It is no longer my affair.”
That took Alex’s breath. He’d heard the term “seeing red.” He understood it now. Delivering the news of Ian’s death was one of the hardest tasks Alex had ever taken on. Fiona had been devastated by it. And Alex had left her. To this man.
“Do you mean that you threw your granddaughters out of your house the same day they learned that their brother was dead?”
The marquess’s expression grew, if possible, colder. “You are new to your title, Lord Whitmore,” he said. “Perhaps when you have worn it a bit longer, you’ll begin to comprehend just what is owed to it. My line has been unblemished for eight hundred years. It will remain so.”