Authors: Julia Quinn
For Gloria, Stan, Katie, Rafa, and Matt.
I don’t have in-laws. I only have family.
And also for Paul,
even though he has all the dominant genes.
By the age of twelve, Harry Valentine possessed two bits…
They say he killed his first wife”
Olivia dropped to all fours, her heart pounding. He’d seen…
Mozart, Mozart, Bach (the elder), more Mozart
That had gone well
There had to be a way to force the evening…
Harry had been planning to head home. It was his…
It was worse
Neither option was particularly appealing. Ruination, for obvious reasons, and…
They couldn’t remain in the alcove all night, and so…
Lady Olivia!” Sebastian exclaimed. “I am so sorry. Please accept…
All things considered, Harry was ready to call it a…
Sir Harry?” Olivia called out, coming to her feet. She…
Vladimir!” the prince suddenly barked out, rendering Olivia’s accounting one…
Harry was in a bad mood. The day had started…
By the following morning Olivia was feeling not quite so…
He didn’t think about what he did. He couldn’t have…
Olivia’s second coiffure of the day took considerably more time…
Olivia barely had time to catch her breath before she…
That evening, promptly at six, Olivia opened her window, leaned…
By the time Harry arrived at the ambassador’s residence, the…
Olivia left first
Where is she?”
Harry sat in silence while Alexei downed his second shot…
By the time they reached the ground floor, the feeling…
y the age of twelve, Harry Valentine possessed two bits of knowledge that made him rather unlike other boys of his class in England of the early nineteenth century.
The first was his complete and absolute fluency in the languages of Russian and French. There was little mystery surrounding this talent; his grandmother, the extremely aristocratic and opinionated Olga Petrova Obolenskiy Dell, had come to reside with the Valentine family four months after Harry’s birth.
Olga loathed the English language. In her (frequently expressed) judgment, there was nothing in this world that needed to be said that could not be expressed in Russian or French.
As to why she had gone and married an Englishman, she never could quite explain.
“Probably because it needs explaining in
,” Harry’s sister Anne had muttered.
Harry just shrugged and smiled (as any proper brother would) when this got her ears boxed. Grandmère might disdain English, but she could understand it perfectly, and her ears were sharper than a hound’s. Muttering anything—in any language—was a bad idea when she was in the schoolroom. Doing so in English was incredibly foolish. Doing so in English whilst suggesting that French or Russian was not adequate for the verbal task at hand…
In all honesty, Harry was surprised Anne hadn’t been paddled.
But Anne loathed Russian with the same intensity Grandmère reserved for English. It was too much
, she complained, and French was almost as difficult. Anne had been five when Grandmère had arrived, and her English was far too entrenched for anything else to gain an equal footing.
Harry, on the other hand, was happy to speak in whichever language was spoken to him. English was for everyday, French was elegance, and Russian became the language of drama and excitement. Russia was big. It was cold. And above all, it was
Peter the Great, Catherine the Great—Harry had been weaned on their stories.
“Bah!” Olga had scoffed, more than once, when Harry’s tutor had attempted to teach him English history. “Who is this Ethelred the Unready? The
? What kind of country allows their rulers to be unready?”
“Queen Elizabeth was great,” Harry pointed out.
Olga was unimpressed. “Do they call her Elizabeth
the Great? Or the Great Queen? No, they do not. They call her the Virgin Queen, as if
is anything to be proud of.”
It was at this point that the tutor’s ears grew very red, which Harry found quite curious.
,” Olga continued, with all possible ice, “was not a great queen. She didn’t even give her country a proper heir to the throne.”
“Most scholars of history agree that it was wise for the queen to avoid marriage,” the tutor said. “She needed to give the appearance of being without influence, and…”
His voice trailed off. Harry was not surprised. Grandmère had turned to him with one of her razor-sharp, rather eaglish stares. Harry did not know anyone who could continue speaking through one of those.
“You are a stupid little man,” she pronounced, then turned her back on him entirely. She fired him the next day, then taught Harry herself until they were able to find a new tutor.
It wasn’t precisely Olga’s place to hire and fire educators for the Valentine children, who by then numbered three. (Little Edward had been added to the nursery when Harry was seven.) But no one else was likely to involve themselves in the matter. Harry’s mother, Katarina Dell Valentine, never argued with her mother, and as for his father…well…
That had rather a lot to do with the second bit of uncommon knowledge tumbling around Harry Valentine’s twelve-year-old brain.
Harry’s father, Sir Lionel Valentine, was a drunk.
was not the uncommon knowledge. Every
one knew that Sir Lionel drank more than he ought. There was no hiding it. Sir Lionel stumbled and tripped (on his words
his feet), he laughed when no one else did, and, unfortunately for the two housemaids (and the two carpets in Sir Lionel’s study), there was a reason the alcohol had not caused his body to grow fat.
And so Harry became proficient in the task of cleaning up vomit.
It started when he was ten. He probably would have left the mess where it lay, except that he had been trying to ask his father for a bit of pocket money, and he’d made the mistake of doing so too late in the evening. Sir Lionel had already partaken of his afternoon brandy, his early-evening nip, his wine with supper, his port immediately following, and was now back to his favorite, the aforementioned brandy, smuggled in from France. Harry was quite certain that he had spoken in complete (English) sentences when he made his request for funds, but his father just stared at him, blinking several times as if he couldn’t quite comprehend what his son was talking about, and then promptly threw up on Harry’s shoes.
So Harry really couldn’t avoid the mess.
After that there seemed to be no going back. It happened again a week later, although not directly on his feet, and then a month after that. By the time Harry was twelve, any other young child would have lost count of the number of times he’d cleaned up after his father, but he had always been a precise sort of boy, and once he’d begun his accounting, it was difficult to stop.
Most people would have probably lost count around
seven. This was, Harry knew from his extensive reading on logic and arithmetic, the largest number that most people could visually appreciate. Put seven dots on a page, and most people can take a quick glance and declare, “Seven.” Switch to eight, and the majority of humanity was lost.
Harry could do up to twenty-one.
So it was no surprise, that after fifteen cleanings, Harry knew exactly how many times he’d found his father stumbling through the hall, or passed out on the floor, or aiming (badly) at a chamber pot. And then, once he’d reached twenty, the issue became somewhat academic, and he
to keep track.
It had to be academic. If it wasn’t academic, then it would be something else, and he might find himself crying himself to sleep instead of merely staring at the ceiling as he said, “Forty-six, but with a radius quite a bit smaller than last Tuesday. Probably didn’t have much for supper tonight.”
Harry’s mother had long since decided to ignore the situation entirely, and she could most often be found in her gardens, tending to the exotic rose varieties her mother had brought over from Russia so many years earlier. Anne had informed him that she planned to marry and “be gone from this hellhole” the moment she turned seventeen. Which, incidentally, she did, a testament to her determination, since neither of her parents had made any effort by that point to secure her a match. As for Edward, the youngest—he learned to adapt, as Harry had. Father was useless after four in the afternoon, even if he seemed lucid (which he generally did, up ’til suppertime, when the wheels came off entirely).
The servants all knew as well. Not that their numbers were legion; the Valentines did well enough with their tidy home in Sussex and hundred per year they continued to receive as a part of Katarina’s dowry. But this did not translate to splendid wealth, and the Valentines’ staff numbered but eight—butler, cook, housekeeper, stable boy, two footmen, maid, and scullery girl. Most chose to stay with the family despite the occasional unpleasant alcohol-related duties. Sir Lionel might be a drunk, but he was not a mean drunk. Nor was he stingy, and even the maids learned to deal with his messes if it meant an extra coin here and there when he remembered enough of his activities to be embarrassed by them.
So Harry wasn’t really sure
he kept cleaning up after his father, since he certainly could have left it to someone else. Maybe he didn’t want the servants to know how often it happened. Maybe he needed a visceral reminder of the perils of alcohol. He’d heard that his father’s father had been the same way. Did such things run in families?
He did not want to find out.
And then, quite suddenly, Grandmère died. Nothing so peaceful as in her sleep—Olga Petrova Obolenskiy Dell would never depart this earth with so little drama. She was sitting at the dining-room table, about to dip her spoon into her soup, when she clutched her chest, made several gasping noises, and collapsed. It was later remarked that she must have had some level of consciousness before she hit the table, because her face missed the soup entirely,
she somehow managed to hit the spoon, sending a dollop of the scalding
liquid flying through the air toward Sir Lionel, whose reflexes were far too dulled to duck.
Harry did not witness this firsthand; at twelve, he was not permitted to dine with the adults. But Anne saw the whole thing, and recounted it breathlessly to Harry.
“And then he ripped off his cravat!”
“At the table?”
“At the table! And you could see the burn!” Anne held up her hand, her thumb and forefinger pinching out a distance of about an inch. “This big!”
Anne sobered a bit. But only a bit. “I think she’s dead.”
Harry swallowed and nodded. “She was very old.”
“At least ninety.”
“I don’t think she was ninety.”
ninety,” Anne muttered.
Harry said nothing. He wasn’t sure what a ninety-year-old woman looked like, but Grandmère certainly had more wrinkles than anyone else of his acquaintance.
“But I’ll tell you the strangest part,” Anne said. She leaned forward. “
Harry blinked. “What did she do?”
“Nothing. Not a thing.”
“Was she seated near to Grandmère?”
“No, that’s not what I mean. She was across and diagonal—too far away to be helpful.”
“She just sat there,” Anne cut in. “She did not move. Did not even start to rise.”
Harry considered this. It was, sad to say, not surprising.
“Her face did not even move. She just sat there like
.” Anne’s face assumed a decidedly blank expression, and Harry had to admit, it was precisely like their mother.
“I shall tell you something,” Anne said. “If she were to collapse in her soup in front of me, I would at the
least look surprised.” She shook her head. “They are ridiculous, the both of them. Father does nothing but drink, and Mother does nothing at all. I tell you, I cannot wait until my birthday. I don’t care if we’re supposed to be in mourning. I’m marrying William Forbush, and there is nothing either one of them can do about it.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” Harry said. Mother would likely possess no opinion on the matter, and Father would be too drunk to notice.
“Hmmph. You’re probably right.” Anne’s mouth pressed together into a rueful frown, and then, in an uncharacteristic show of sibling affection, she reached out and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “You’ll be gone soon, too. Don’t worry.”
Harry nodded. He was due to leave for school in a few short weeks.
And while he felt a little guilty that he got to leave while Anne and Edward had to remain behind, this was more than drowned out by the overwhelming sense of relief that washed over him the first time he rode off to school.
to be gone. With all due respect to Grandmère and her favorite monarchs, it might even have been great.
Harry’s life as a student proved just as rewarding as he’d hoped. He attended Hesslewhite, a reasonably rigorous academy for boys whose families lacked the clout (or, in Harry’s case, the interest) to send their sons to Eton or Harrow.
Harry loved school.
it. He loved his classes, he loved sport, and he loved that when he went to bed, he did not have to detour to every corner of the building, doing his late-evening check for his father, fingers crossed that he’d passed out before making a mess of himself. At school Harry took a straight journey from the common room to his dormitory, and he loved every uneventful step of the way.
But all good things must draw to a close, and at the age of nineteen, Harry was graduated with the rest of his class, including Sebastian Grey, his first cousin and closest friend. There was a ceremony, as most of the boys wished to celebrate the occasion, but Harry “forgot” to tell his family about it.
“Where is your mother?” his aunt Anna asked him. Like Harry’s mother, her voice betrayed no trace of an accent, despite the fact Olga had insisted upon speaking to them only in Russian when they were small. Anna had married better than Katarina, having wed the second son of an earl. This had not caused a rift between the sisters; after all, Sir Lionel was a baronet, which meant that Katarina was the one called “her ladyship.” But Anna had the connections and the money, and perhaps more important, she had—until his death two years prior—a husband who rarely indulged in more than one glass of wine at supper.
And so when Harry mumbled something about his mother being a bit overtired, Anna knew exactly what he meant—that if his mother came, his father would follow. And after Sir Lionel’s spectacular display of stumbling grandiosity at Hesslewhite’s convocation of 1807, Harry was loath to invite his father to another school function.
Sir Lionel tended to lose his
’s when he drank, and Harry was not certain he could survive another “Thplendid, thplendid thchool” speech, especially as it had been delivered whilst standing on a chair.
During a moment of silence.
Harry had tried to pull his father down, and he would have been successful had his mother, who was seated on Sir Lionel’s other side, aided in the endeavor. She, however, was staring straight ahead, as she always did at such times, pretending she heard nothing. Which meant that Harry had to give his father a lopsided yank, setting him rather off balance. Sir Lionel came down with a whoop and a crash, striking his cheek on the back of the chair in front of Harry.
This might have set another man into a temper, but not Sir Lionel. He gave a stupid smile, called Harry a “thplendid thon,” and then spit out a tooth.