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Authors: Lauren Royal

Tags: #Signet (7. Oktober 2003), #ISBN-13: 9780451209887

Rose (Flower Trilogy)

BOOK: Rose (Flower Trilogy)
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ALSO BY LAUREN ROYAL

Lily

Violet

Amber

Emerald

Amethyst

“Forevermore” in

In Praise of Younger Men

R OSE

5

Lauren Royal

A S I G N E T B O O K

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Rose

A SIGNET Book / published by arrangement with the author All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2003 by Lori Royal-Gordon.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.

Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Signet Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is http://www.penguinputnam.com

ISBN: 0-7865-4173-3

A SIGNET BOOK®

SIGNET Books first published by Berkley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

SIGNET and the "S" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

Electronic edition: September 2003

For Taire Martyn,

Karen Nesbitt,

and Alison Bellach,

three crazy North Americans who share my love of
music, the UK, and good books

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank:

Audrey LaFehr, my editor, for her wonderful ideas that helped make this book the best it could be; Elaine Koster, my agent, for her amazing, unstinting support; my critique partner, Terri Castoro, for putting up with me through seven books (she truly deserves a medal); Brent Royal-Gordon, for designing and maintaining my award-winning Web site; Jack, Brent, Blake, and Devonie, for supporting me through writing another complete trilogy (without threatening to leave on grounds of neglect); fellow romance authors Glyn-nis Campbell and Cherie Claire, for being the two best friends a writer could have; Ian Franklin and Michelle Grif-fiths, State Apartment Warders at Hampton Court Palace, for directing me to the right places, and, in Ian’s case, giving me incredible information; Philip Sidebotham, Adrian Moles, and Tiffany Green at Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel in Windsor, for graciously allowing and assisting a crazy author to poke around and take photos of Wren’s house; Amy and Rick Tanaka, for their expert advice on matters architectural; Brent, Blake, and Devonie Royal-Gordon and their friends Darci Dipo, Dan Mehefko, and Anna Pione, for helping me explore Hampton Court Palace through many different perceptive eyes; Andrew Metz, for the videotape on Hampton Court’s history; Barry Waller, for converting the videotape on Hampton Court’s history so that I could actually watch it; Alison Bellach, for sharing a laugh with me over the yipping sex in the hotel room next to ours and then challenging me to put it in a book; my parents, Joan and Herb Royal, as always, for everything; my official First Readers, Ken and Dawn Royal, Taire Martyn, Karen Nesbitt, Jane Armstrong, and Alison Bellach, for telling it like it is; my Awesome Publicity Team—Rita Adair-Robison, Debbie Alexander, Dick Alexander, Joyce Basch, Alison Bellach, Diana Brandmeyer, Carol Carter, Terri Castoro, Elaine Ecuyer, Dale Gordon, Darren Holmquist, Catherine Hope, Taire Martyn, Sandy Mills, Karen Nesbitt, Jack Poole, Caroline Quick, Joan Royal, Wendi Royal, Diena Simmons, and Julie Walker—for all their hard work and support . . . and all my readers, whose wonderful e-mails and letters inspire me to write more books.

Thanks, everyone!

Chapter One

Trentingham Manor, the South of England
September 1677

Standing in her family’s small, crowded chapel, Rose Ashcroft shifted on her high-heeled shoes, wishing she were in a cathedral so there would be somewhere to sit.

Wishing she were
anywhere
but here watching her sister get married.

“Lord Randal Nesbitt, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”

“I will.” The confident words boomed through the magnificent oak-paneled chamber, binding Rand Nesbitt to Rose’s sister Lily.

But Rose wasn’t listening to the ceremony. Instead she heard
twenty-one, twenty-one, twenty-one
running through her head. Twenty-one and a lonely spinster . . . while both her sisters had found love.

Happy tears brightened their mother’s brown eyes. She leaned closer until she bumped against Rose’s left side, her voice made breathy by emotion. “They’re perfect together, are they not?”

Rose could only nod dumbly, staring at her sister’s petite form laced into a gorgeous pale blue satin wedding dress embroidered with gleaming silver thread. Lily’s hair, the same rich sable as Rose’s, cascaded to her shoulders in glossy ringlets. Beside her, Rand beamed a smile, looking tall and utterly handsome in dark blue velvet, his gray gaze steady and adoring.

The two were so clearly in love, Rose knew they belonged together—and truly, she was happy for her sister.

If only Lily weren’t her
younger
sister.

The priest cleared his throat and looked back down at his
Book of Common Prayer.
“Lady Lily Ashcroft, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband . . .”

Standing on Rose’s right, her older sister Violet shifted one of her twin babies on her hip and gazed up at her husband of four years, Ford Chase. Sun streamed through the stained-glass windows, glinting off her spectacles. “Oh, is this not romantic?” she sighed.

Holding their other infant, Ford squeezed his wife around the shoulders. Seated cross-legged at their feet, their three-year-old son Nicky traced a finger over the patterns in the colorful glazed tile floor, obliviously happy.

Rose gritted her teeth.

Her friend Judith Carrington poked her from behind. “I cannot believe Lily is getting married before I,” she whispered in a tone laced with disbelief. “
I
was betrothed first!”

Rose couldn’t believe Lily and Judith would
both
be married before she even received a proposal.

“. . . so long as ye both shall live?” the priest concluded expectantly.

In the hush that followed, even knowing it wasn’t kind of her, Rose half wished Lily would fail to reply.

But Lily didn’t, of course. “I will,” she pledged, her voice as sweet as she was, ringing clear and true.

A few more words, a family heirloom ring slid onto her finger, and Lily was clearly and truly wed now, the Countess of Newcliffe.

And Rose was clearly and truly miserable.

When Rand lowered his lips to meet Lily’s, Rose turned away. Behind her, Judith was grinning up at her own betrothed—although only a little way up, since his stature was less than impressive. Lord Grenville was five-and-thirty to Judith’s twenty, and his pale brown hair was thinning on top . . . but Rose imagined that the way Judith looked at him made him feel like a king. And he looked down on her in a way that surely made pretty, plump Judith feel like a queen.

Rose wanted someone who could make her feel like a queen. Good God, a duchess or countess would do. Or even a lowly baroness . . .

As the years crawled by without a husband on the horizon, Rose was getting less picky. So long as the man was titled, handsome, rich, and powerful, most anyone was acceptable.

The guests parted as Lily and Rand made their way from the chapel, followed by a cat, a squirrel, and a chirping sparrow.

Rose moved to hug her sister. “ ’Twas beautiful,” she murmured. “I’m so happy for you.”

She was. Truly she was.

Lily leaned down to pick up the cat, straightening with a brilliant smile. “Your turn next.”

A hurt retort came to Rose’s mind, but she wouldn’t snap at her sister on her wedding day. “I’m happy for you, too, Rand,” she said instead, rising on her toes to give her sister’s new husband a kiss on the cheek. But not too far up on her toes, because Rose was a tall woman. Too tall, perhaps, or too slim, or too quick-tongued . . . or too something.

There had to be some reason she had yet to find love.

Too intelligent, most likely. At one point, she’d thought Rand might be the man for her. Handsome, titled, and a professor of linguistics at Oxford—surely a good match for Rose, given her own exceptional command of foreign languages.

But he’d chosen her little sister. “I’m the luckiest man in the world,” he said now, making Rose feel the unluckiest woman.

She’d had better days.

Lily must have noticed her dejected expression, because her fingers stopped stroking the cat’s striped fur. Concern clouded her lovely blue eyes. “You
will
be next,” she said quietly.

“Undoubtedly so, since I’m the only one left,” Rose quipped. “Unless, that is, Rowan manages to find himself a bride before I nab a groom.”

They both swung to look at their eleven-year-old brother where he stood with Violet’s young niece, Jewel, their dark heads close together as they whispered animatedly. “He may have found himself a bride already,” Rose added dryly.

Lily’s laughter rang through the chapel, echoing off the molded dome ceiling. “Surely someone will claim you long before Rowan gets it in his head to wed. Why, you’re the most beautiful of all of us, Rose!”

Rose had always thought Lily the
most
beautiful, but she knew she was beautiful, too. Yet beauty, she had learned, was not enough to hook a husband.

Well-wishers pressed closer. Rose started moving toward the drawing room and found Judith by her side. Forsaking her betrothed, Judith clutched Rose’s arm. “Who is
that
handsome fellow?” she whispered conspiratorially.

Rose slid a glance to the man in question, a friend of Rand’s whose gaze suddenly met hers, then skimmed her body in a way that might have made her heart pound . . . if she were at all interested. “Mr. Christopher Martyn—Rand calls him Kit. He’s an architect,” she added dismissively.

“Christopher Martyn, the architect?” Awe hushed Judith’s voice. “Has King Charles not recently awarded him a contract to renovate Whitehall Palace?”

“Along with Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.”

“Ah, a man of intelligence to complement yours.”

Clearly Judith considered the man’s lack of a title no impediment. “No need for you to play the featherbrained co-quette for him.”

“I’ve no interest in him. And I’ve never acted featherbrained.” But perhaps now was the time to start. On her sister’s advice, Rose had tried to win Rand by appealing to his intellect, but that hadn’t worked at all. Never again would she attempt to attract a man by flaunting her brains. No matter what her family or Judith said, she knew there were better ways to entice men.

Unfortunately, where Rand was concerned, she’d come to that conclusion too late. To her intense embarrassment, she’d stooped to propositioning him in her family’s summerhouse, and when that hadn’t worked, desperation had driven her to attempt bribery and trickery of the worst kind.

She couldn’t imagine what had come over her that day and had half-feared she’d never be able to look Rand in the face again. But to her utter relief he seemed at ease with her, as though he’d graciously forgotten that humiliating episode.

“You cannot tell me,” Judith whispered, dragging Rose back to the present, “that you don’t find Mr. Martyn attractive.”

Rose slanted Kit another covert look. Dressed in forest-toned velvet, he was tall and lean, his hair dark as jet, his eyes a startling mix of brown and green. She dredged up a wry smile. “I’d have to be blind to claim that.”

“And he looks ever so nice. Is he not nice?”

“He’s nice enough.” Except for those unusual eyes, which were decidedly
not
nice.
Wicked
would be a better description.

“And good Lord, he’s building things for the King! I’m certain he has money—”

“Money,” Rose interrupted pointedly, “does not make up for lack of a title.”

Her sister Violet walked up, sans children for once.

“Who needs a title?”

Judith crossed her arms. “Rose, apparently.”

“Oh, well.” Violet sent Rose an indulgent smile. “That is only because she has yet to fall in love.”

Rose smiled in return. “And given ’tis as easy to fall in love with a titled man as one without, I’ve decided to concentrate on the former.”

Violet and Judith exchanged a glance that set Rose’s teeth on edge, then left her, to return to their respective men.

The wedding party was small, since Lily had given their mother only two weeks to plan the event. Still, there were more than enough guests to fill the drawing room and spill out onto the Palladian portico and into the exquisite gardens.

BOOK: Rose (Flower Trilogy)
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