Captain Nicholas Bonham of Wellington’s Peninsular Regiment, the 52nd Light Infantry, returns from fighting the Napoleonic wars to see his brother laid to rest after a riding accident. A skilled rider, George’s death remains a mystery, as does the parlous state of his finances. Debenham Park must be sold unless Nicholas can find a swift solution.
George’s former fiancée, Miss Caroline Mirrington, harbors a secret. She has trusted no man except her father and George and now considers her future to be a desolate one. When her father proposes that Caroline marries Nicholas, she is filled with dread. Nicholas, now the Earl of Debenham, is nothing like his amiable brother.
She wonders how their arranged marriage could possibly bring happiness. He would demand far more from her than she could give.
The search for answers to George’s death leads to a dangerous foe and brings Nicholas and Caroline together, forcing her to deal with her past.
This is a wonderful novella!
When one brother, George, dies under suspicious circumstances, his brother, Nicholas who just returned from the war, agrees to marry George’s fiancé, Caroline, to save his estate. Caroline has a secret and is quite sure that she could never allow a man to really love her.
Caroline shares her secret with Nicholas who vows revenge.
I really enjoyed how patient Nicholas was with Caroline. He took his time gaining her trust, then her love.
Despite a very scary visitor from Caroline’s past trying to bring her great harm, George’s death was solved and Nicholas was her true hero. I sighed with contentment. Maggi Andersen has written another fabulous book!
Twenty Years Earlier
“Do you know how I’m going to make my fortune, Nick?” Georgie asked, as he and his brother lay on their backs in the orchard, eating apples.
“But you’ll be the Earl of Debenham,” Nicholas said, spitting out a seed. “You won’t need to. But I shall, I suppose.”
“You’ll be all right. You have the brains. You’re like Father. I bet you’ll be the prime minister one day.”
Nicholas shrugged. “How are you going to make all this money?”
He laughed at his big rangy brother. “You’ll be too heavy to ride ’em.”
“I don’t want to ride ’em,” Georgie said. “I want to breed ’em. One day I’ll win the Derby Stakes.”
“What about all the things an earl has to do? Father is busy all the time. He’s always saying how we must live up to our ancestors and preserve the estate for future generations.”
“I don’t care much for any of that. It’s a pity you won’t be earl, Nick. You’d make a much better one than I will.” Georgie jumped up. “It’s hot. Let’s ride to the river for a swim. I’ll race you.”
Nicholas shook his head. “You know you always win.”
“You’ll beat me one day, Nick.”
Nicholas jumped up. “Right, you’re on.”
Gloves clasped in his hands, a black armband gracing the sleeve of his uniform, Captain Nicholas Bonham watched the coffin bearing his elder brother, George, Earl of Debenham, lowered into the ground. Nicholas was glad his mother hadn’t lived to see this day. George had been her favorite. It was impossible to tell what his father’s preference was if he’d had one. He’d been a cool man who didn’t show his emotions, and was more involved in politics than family life.
The wind whistled through the trees, and a cold drop of rain splattered onto Nicholas’ cheek. Dashed English weather, couldn’t the shower hold off for an hour or two until George was decently buried? He angrily swiped away a tear. He’d been away fighting in Wellington’s Peninsular Regiment, the 52nd Light Infantry, and hadn’t been back to England to see George in years. Now there was no chance of it.
His neighbor, the Baronet, Sir Marcus Mirrington stood amongst the small crowd with his wife and daughter. Miss Mirrington had been engaged to George when he suffered a fatal fall from his horse. She stood silent, her pale face partly hidden by her black straw bonnet. It was not usual for a young lady to attend a funeral. She must have insisted. However, when she raised her chin to observe him, Nicholas could detect no sign of anguish in her still features. Her marriage to his brother had been arranged for financial reasons, as the Mirringham and Debenham properties ran together on the western boundary. His brother was an amiable fellow, might she have loved him?
Amiable, but lacking a good financial head on his shoulders. George would not have wanted to leave Debenham Park in such a sorry state for Nicholas. He would rightly feel, at thirty-two, that he had years to rectify it. George admitted he’d never been good at handling the estate’s affairs. He was too trusting. When he’d left the running of the estate to his manager, the fellow had absconded with a large sum of money, and that, coupled with poor crops, and the sorry state England was in after years of war, the coffers of Debenham Park were now severely depleted. Not Dun Territory quite yet, but not far off, it seemed, unless something could be found quickly to remedy the situation. Nicholas hated that the tenant farmers were struggling with ramshackle cottages and not enough coal for next winter. He’d found a pile of tradesmen’s bills unpaid.
George’s marriage to Sir Marcus’ daughter would have brought about the joining of two fine estates. The fact that the Debenham name could be traced back to Tudor times when the estate was gifted to Nicholas’s ancestor by Henry VIII, was undoubtedly attractive to the immensely wealthy, newly knighted baronet, for he had offered a much needed infusion of the ready, in the form of a lavish dowry.
As Caroline was their only child and there was no entail, his estate, Mirrington Manor would one day have been George’s. A very attractive option, which George apparently had had no hesitation in accepting. Nicholas studied Miss Mirrington. Willowy in her dark-blue pelisse, she stood beside her mother in black bombazine. He wondered why Miss Mirrington hadn’t married long before she met George, as her first Season would have been five years ago.
Apparently, when his back was to the wall, George had borrowed against Aunt Hetty’s inheritance. Foolish in the extreme, for Aunt Hetty was like all the Debenham’s—or at least those who didn’t die of an accident or on the Spanish plains—likely to live to be ninety. And good luck to her, Nicholas thought, with a fond glance in her direction, for a livelier lady he had yet to meet. She was one of the few who would remember Nicholas and George when they were lads.
Nicholas stepped forward to sprinkle a handful of earth over the coffin, followed by the other mourners. The sound of dirt thudding onto the lid had a terrible finality about it. George’s dreams would now never be fulfilled.
Caroline surreptitiously studied the captain in his striking, scarlet infantry uniform, as he stood by the graveside. How different he was to dear George. Nicholas was a head taller, his broad shoulders slumped in grief, his face angular and somber where George’s had been pink and English and cheerfully round. A scar marred the smooth, tanned skin of one sharp cheekbone. The captain looked altogether too strong and harsh. Dangerous and unpredictable. He held his Shako under an arm and his brown hair, streaked blond by the sun, ruffled in the damp breeze. A curved sword hung at his side.
He cast a dismissive glance in her direction. Might he blame her in some way? She straightened her shoulders and sniffed back a tear. George was gone, along with her safe haven. She bit her lip at her own needy selfishness. But what would she do now?
The funeral service concluded. “A sad business,” her father murmured. “Come my dears.” He ushered her and her mother to their waiting carriage.