Authors: L. K. Rigel
Copyright 2013 L.K. Rigel
Published by Beastie Press
Cover design Copyright 2013 eyemaidthis
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. With the exception of quotes used in reviews, no part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
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The Lost Bee (Singer Chronicles 1)
No head ever ruled a human heart ... and love was never wise
When tragedy alters Susan Gray’s standing in society, she’s forced to accept a position in service at the Duke of Gohrum’s London mansion. There the butler’s kind and handsome son falls in love with her, but Susan loses her heart to Leopold Singer, a wealthy intellectual foreigner who reminds her of her former life as a gentleman’s daughter.
Delia, Duchess of Gohrum, has her own plans for the man who once rejected her. She wants revenge on Leopold Singer, and she'll gladly use Susan Gray to get it.
Desire, jealousy, careless pleasure - and love - set events in motion that bind the fates of all for generations.
The Lost Bee
1796, Carleson Peak
“Miss, I’m so sorry.” Mama’s maid stood at the kitchen door, her face red with frustration and defeat.
“Quite all right, Fisher. Cook and I are finished here.” Twenty-one-year-old Susan Gray took off her apron and handed it to the maid.
Since she was fourteen, she’d run Millam Cottage as if she were its mistress. She consulted with the kitchen about stores and menus every day. Until her little brother John went away to school, she’d been his governess. On the rare occasion Papa brought home a guest, Susan served as his hostess.
She didn’t have to be told what the matter was now. Mama had slipped away from Fisher and out of the house. Again. She reached for the two bells dangling from wall hooks by the door. “Did you see which direction she went?” she asked, handing a bell to Fisher.
“We can’t go wrong to start in the woods.”
Susan rushed outside without taking time to find her hat and gloves. With Fisher on her heels, she crossed the garden to the path Mama had worn during the years the Grays had lived at the cottage. “Let’s split up. You go north to the fairy mound, and I’ll go to the great ash tree.”
Susan carried her bell by its clapper to keep it silent. She and Fisher had devised the scheme a couple of years ago. Whoever found Mama first would ring her bell to let the other know and take the poor wretch straight back to the cottage and a warm fire. It saved spending more time in search of the searchers.
A soft breeze played over Susan’s face like a cat’s paw. It was cold out for early autumn, and she picked up her pace. Mama was so frail. It wouldn’t do if she caught a chill. At a distant sound, Susan stopped. She couldn’t tell if it was Fisher’s bell or a human voice. Sometimes Mama sang when she danced through the trees in her search for the white lady.
After a few minutes, Susan resumed walking. It must have been nothing, only the wind in the leaves. When she was a little girl she believed in the white lady, the magical creature of Mama’s imagination: a fairy queen who stole human babies from their nurseries and in exchange left behind whorls of oak beneath their blankets. If you heard her song, you’d be her creature forever.
Mama’s fascination with the white lady was bewildering to Susan—until she grew up and slowly realized her mama was not quite right in the head. Then the white lady metamorphosed from romantic figure into harbinger of Susan's fate: to be housekeeper for an often absent father and nursemaid to a wretched, delusional mother.
Susan would never marry. Never know a man’s love.
She had come to the understanding five years ago at Baroness Branch’s harvest ball. She was sixteen, and a young had man asked for a third dance. She knew what a third dance meant. It meant more than politeness. More than hope for an introduction to her father, Mr. John Gray, the brilliant engineer favored by the Duke of Gohrum.
The young man took her hand and, so very briefly, squeezed it more firmly than he should. With the first notes, he risked brushing his lips across the back of her glove then let go as they took their places. She stepped toward him with the music, barely able to control her shy smile. When she stepped away, she caught a glimpse of Papa watching from the sidelines. His expression devastated her.
He pitied her, and in a flash of insight she knew why.
Papa had to travel. He didn’t design canals only for love of the work. He was a gentleman, and one day he would inherit a comfortable fortune. But his marriage had met with strong disapproval from his family. He was estranged from his own father and had lost all financial support. Papa needed the earnings his designs brought.
Susan could never marry. She would not leave her wretched mama to the care of strangers.
From that night, she attended no ball or any public function. She pulled herself out of the world and retreated into the books she bought from Mr. Davies or that her father brought her from his travels. She didn’t mind. She really didn’t. Better to answer to a kind papa than a cruel husband. She didn’t even remember that young man’s name.
A line of stamped-down wild grass ran off the path past a fine large ash, Mama’s favorite tree. “Ah, there you are,” Susan said aloud. “I’ve found you now.”
A low chuckle came from the other side of the tree. “I didn’t know you were looking for me.”
“Oh.” Susan automatically smoothed her hair and checked to see if her skirt was straight. She struggled to hide her delight. “It’s you.”
Morgan Baker sat on the ground, one long leg stretched out and a book resting on his knee. His rumpled hat lay on the ground beside him.
“Yes.” He peered through wild blond curls. His blue eyes lit up and a smile spread over his face. “It’s me,” he said.
Susan had retreated from the world. She hadn’t prepared for the world to come to her. Her heart leapt into her throat, as it did every time she saw the brilliant young engineer.
From the beginning, she treasured Morgan Baker’s visits to Millam Cottage. She was drawn to his informed conversation, but it didn’t hurt that he had broad shoulders, a ready smile, and blond curls that constantly fell over his laughing intelligent eyes. Company was rare in the Gray household, and after that first supper she didn’t think to leave the gentlemen alone with their brandy and cigars.
She and Mr. Baker discovered each other’s admirable qualities starting that night, and in the last few months they’d discussed all manner of things. Revolution versus civilization. Discoveries of the modern age. The changing style of poetry.
He jumped to his feet and took an eager step toward her.
“I beg you pardon the intrusion, Mr. Baker,” she said.
“You could never be an intrusion, Miss Gray.”
“May I ask what you’re reading?”
Poems on Various Subjects
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.”
She didn’t care what he was reading. She only cared that he was so near and they were alone and could speak freely. But her brain froze, stuck on inane niceties. “Are they good? I haven’t heard of the author.”
“I don’t believe they are.” He laughed, and his eyes twinkled with fun. “But one likes to support the new poets.”
“Quite admirable, I’m sure.”
“No, Miss Gray.” He dropped the book and took her into his arms. “I’m not at all admirable.” He held her close, an arm around her waist and a warm hand on the back of her neck. “I’ve been here for an hour, hoping you might come out today. For so long, I’ve dreamed of seeing you alone.”
“I was—I am looking for Mama.” She turned away from his penetrating gaze, but he held her chin and guided her back.
“Your eyes are bewitching. Do you know that?” he said. “Not really blue. So pale they’re gray, befitting your name, like a cloud passing in front of the sun.”
“Who is the poet now?” His touch was too much to bear. She was going to faint. The bell slipped from her grasp and fell to the earth with a muted clang.
“When I first saw you,” he said, “I didn’t think you were pretty.”
“Are you trying to woo me, sir? Those are hardly words to make love by.”
He silenced her with a finger. “Your eyes seduced me.” His gaze swept down from her eyes to her pounding heart and permeated to her very soul. “And led me to your other fine qualities.”
“This is madness.” She should be angry at his impudence. She should stay away from the brash young man who’d come into all their lives like a whirlwind and impressed her father with his knowledge and skill and thrilled her with…with his impudence.
“I agree. It is madness. But at all events, I spoke with Mrs. Gray not ten minutes ago.” He lifted Susan’s hand to his lips. Oh, why hadn’t she worn her gloves? “She said something about going to see the fairy flowers.”
“And you let her go on alone?”
“Why not? She didn’t want my company.” Mr. Baker looked puzzled, but was he sincere? Mama had never been present at his visits to Millam Cottage, but he’d lived in Carleson Peak long enough to hear tales of the erratic Mrs. Gray.
“Had I gone with your mama, I would have missed the great pleasure of seeing you, Miss Gray…Susan.”