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Authors: Donna Hatch

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency

A Perfect Secret

BOOK: A Perfect Secret
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

The Guise of a Gentleman original copyright© 2009 by Donna Hatch

 

Second copyright© 2013 Donna Hatch

Cover Art by Lex Valenine

 

Originally published by The Wild Rose Press

Publishing History:

 

First English Tea Rose Edition, 2010 Print

ISBN 1-60154-701-3

Re-published by Mirror Lake Press, 2013

Digital ISBN 9781301364480

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

Published in the United States of America

Other books by Donna Hatch

 

The Rogue Hearts Series:

The Stranger She Married

The Guise of a Gentleman 

 

Historical Anthologies:

Regency Hearts
: “The Reluctant Bride,” “Constant Hearts,” “Emma's Dilemma”

A Timeless Romance Anthology
: Winter Collection “A Winter’s Knight”

 

Regency Short Stories:

Mistletoe Magic, Constant Hearts, Emma's Dilemma, The Reluctant Bride, Troubled Hearts 

 

Fantasy:

Queen in Exile

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

Other Books by the Author

A word about the author

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Tarrington Castle, England, autumn 1801

 

Six-year-old Christian Amesbury stood in the churchyard, trying not to crush the flowers he’d brought to put in front of the family crypt where they’d laid his brother to rest, the brother he loved, the brother he killed. Alone in every way, he stood, shaking, as his last taunting words to Jason echoed in his head. Christian had wanted to prove he was brave and strong. Instead, his brother, best friend, and advocate, was dead.

His throat tightened and tears blurred his vision. “I’m sorry, Jason,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. I miss you.” He knelt and placed his offering of wildflowers in front of the crypt.

A drop of rain landed on his cheek and mingled with his tears. He stood, unmoving, embracing the desolation. He had no one to blame but himself. He’d never be happy again.

That horrific day three months ago had started out innocently enough, with Christian running with all his might after his older brothers, desperate to prove he wasn’t a baby who should have stayed in the house with his sisters. As usual, he couldn’t keep up as they raced to the tree. But one day he’d outrun them all.

Christian’s brothers disappeared around a corner in the gardens, the shaking of shrubbery all that bespoke their passing. Drawing from some inner well of speed he didn’t know he possessed, Christian darted around the corner and skidded on loose gravel. His feet went out from underneath him and he crashed to the ground. Pain burst from his thigh and elbow. Now, he would be last. Again. But he wouldn’t quit.

Blinking back hot tears of humiliation, Christian scrambled to his feet and charged down the stone path toward Zeus’s Garden. He flew headlong through the arch of roses, past statues, dodging fountains and flowers and shaped shrubbery.

His brothers’ voices led Christian to their tree. Perfect for climbing with low, strong limbs spaced as evenly as a ladder, he’d imagined it as a pirate ship or sometimes a navy ship, a castle where a dragon lived, and a deep, dark dungeon filled with ogres.

Hanging from a branch, Grant mocked Christian. “Sorry, Chrissy, you’re last. Go back home and sew and draw and play music with the girls.”

Christian stuck his chin out. “I don’t sew.”

“Rules are rules,” Jared said with a taunting smile. “Last one here has to go back and play with the twins. Maybe they’ll put bows in your pretty blond hair.”

“Aw, come on, let him stay.” Jason’s voice broke in. “Look, he fell and scraped up his leg and arm and didn’t even cry.”

“ ‘The perfectly perfect Christian’ is too perfect to cry,” Grant sneered.

Christian clamped his mouth shut as Grant taunted him with that all too familiar, sing-songy phrase that never failed to make his blood boil. He wasn’t perfect, but he did try to be good for Mama’s sake. Which was the only reason he didn’t climb up the tree and punch Grant in the face.

“Let him stay,” Jason urged again. “He’s not bothering anyone.”

Grant let out a snort. “You’re too soft on him.”

Cole, highest in the tree and holding a paper he’d rolled up into the shape of a spyglass, let out a long-suffering sigh. “You can be the cabin boy. Ahoy there!”

A ship, today.

From his perch on one of the lower tree limbs, Jason leaned down and held out a hand. “Come on up, Chris. I’ll help you.”

Christian shook his head. “I can do it by myself.”

He would prove he could climb just as well as they could—without help. He stood below the lowest limb and jumped, his fingers curling around the branch as he caught it. After swinging his legs, he hooked his ankles around the limb and hoisted himself up.

“I’ll bet you can’t reach that one,” Jared said to Cole, their voices filtering down from above like falling leaves.

“Watch me.” Cole inched away from the trunk and tucked his feet below his body. After shifting into a crouch, his legs wobbling a little, he jumped toward an upper limb, and caught it. Within moments, Cole, Grant and Jason began leaping from limb to limb like sailors climbing the rigging of a ship.

Eyeing a branch far away from the others, Christian climbed. He’d jump to that far one, and prove he was as strong and able as the big boys. He ground his teeth against the throbbing pain in his elbow and leg, and hauled himself upward.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Jason put up an arm to block Christian’s climb. 

“Up there.” Christian pointed to the isolated branch near the top. “I’m gonna jump to it.”

Jason looked up. “That one up there? You’re mad.”

“I’ll show you. Bet
you
can’t jump to it.”

Jason let out his breath slowly as he looked up. “That’s a long way from the other branches.”

Christian nodded. If Jason admitted he could never do it, even on a dare, and Christian did reach it, they’d see how big and brave he was. “I dare you to try.”

Jason hesitated.

“You’re too scared,” Christian taunted. “But I’m not. I can do it.”

Grant’s voice cut in. “Jason’s not scared of anything.”

A bead of perspiration trickled down the side of Jason’s face and his hand trembled as he wiped it away. He jumped. His body made a graceful arc, his legs straight, his arms reaching outward. The tip of his fingers grazed the coveted branch.

And slid off. 

Jason fell.

Christian stared in horror as down, down, down Jason’s twisting body plunged, slowly, like one of Christian’s nightmares when it becomes impossible to run even when a monster is in pursuit. Someone screamed—a terrible keening noise that rent the air. Jason landed on the ground below with a thud that tore through Christian’s body like a lightning strike. Jason lay unmoving.

All sound faded away except for the wild pounding of Christian’s heart, and that terrible, terrible scream. Christian reached the ground without knowing how he got there. Faintly aware of searing pain in his hands, he collapsed on the ground beside Jason, reaching for him but terrified to touch him. Dizzy and out of breath, he gulped in air and the screaming stopped.

“Jason?” he rasped.

Other noises, other shapes, swarmed around him in a fog of confusion, but his vision fixed on Jason’s chest struggling to rise.

Christian put his forehead on Jason’s brow and wrapped his arms around his brother. “Jason, wake up. Open your eyes.”

Jason’s breathing grew more labored. He made a terrible rattle, then fell silent. All motion in Jason’s chest stopped. Christian’s own heart stopped. All the world stopped.

Someone peeled Christian off Jason and shoved him away. Voices, frantic and shrill, poured in all around him but he stood alone in a sea of horror. Adults shoved past him, crowding around Jason’s motionless form. A dull roar built up in Christian’s head drowning out everything but the image of Jason lying so still. Not moving. Not breathing. Not living. Somewhere the far reaches of his mind registered the knowledge that Jason would never open his eyes, never play, never laugh.

Someone shook Christian so hard that he bit his tongue. “What happened?”

Christian pushed back the suffocating fog. “He fell.” His voice sounded far away as if someone else were talking through the other end of a hollow log. The truth wrenched out of him. “I dared him to jump. And he fell.”

The ground had rushed up then, smashed Christian in the face, and had hurled him into darkness.

Another raindrop fell, jarring Christian back to the present. A moment later, the soft ping of raindrops pelted the roof of the crypt. Wiping his tears, he turned away, and stopped up short. Grant, as silent and dark as a shadow, glowered at him from the gate of the churchyard.

Christian glanced at the family coach waiting on the side of the road. The sound of Mama’s weeping scraped against him like sandpaper on bare skin. Father’s low voice as he tried to console her burned like lemon juice on an open sore.

He’d done this. He’d torn apart the family. It was his fault. Mama cried constantly and some days didn’t get out of bed. Father never smiled. Two months later, Cole and Jared left for the sea. Jason was gone forever. Grant never spoke to him, only shot him murderous glares that left Christian constantly looking over his shoulder, half expecting to see a knife plunging toward his back.

Christian squared his shoulders and strode with dignity he didn’t feel past gravestones and monuments. As he passed Grant at the gate, his brother spoke his first words to Christian in three months.

“I wish you were the one who had died.”

CHAPTER 2

 

Bath, England, Summer 1818, seventeen years later

 

Genevieve Marshall waltzed into the foyer of the home her family had let for the summer, humming dreamily, her lips tingling from Christian’s kiss when they’d ducked between buildings and shared a private moment that would have raised her papa’s brows and made her mother begin making wedding plans. Christian promised tonight he would formally seek Papa’s permission for marriage. They’d be wedded by autumn and at last, she’d be Christian’s in mind, body, and spirit.

From the moment she first saw Christian Amesbury, Genevieve knew she’d never love another man. It wasn’t merely the shy, sweet smile he gave when their eyes met across the room, or the intensity of his gaze as they were introduced, or even his stunning good looks akin to the mythical Adonis. No, there was something supremely familiar about him, and when he finally asked her to dance and she placed her hand in his, an almost audible click sounded from inside Genevieve, as if fate had placed a key piece into the puzzle of her life.

By the end of the evening, she’d vowed she’d marry him and no other.

BOOK: A Perfect Secret
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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