Read The Promise Online

Authors: Kate Worth

The Promise

 

 

Praise for
The Promise

 

“Filled with mystery and suspense that captivated me and left me barreling though the pages… well written, well thought out, and loaded with an amazing plot. The love story is simply icing on the cake.”

— Danielle Perez

The Bookwhore Blog

 

“The story just captivated me. Right from the beginning, where you will be going, ‘No!’… to each new twist and turn and delicious revelation, you will be held within the lovely world Kate Worth has created. I am eager for her next novel to see what new delights she comes ups with!”

— Lisa Wolff

Rogues Under the Covers Blog

 


I laughed, I cried, and I giggled. Worth spun a tale that I consumed in a single afternoon and I have the dirty laundry to prove it! Filled with suspense, mystery, secrets and a swoon-worthy romance I found myself completely captivated. Worth introduces us to some delightful characters. I loved the banter between Jane and Finn. I found his awakening to his own feelings endearing. I loved the Duchess and laughed at this meddling mom. From the moment Jane stepped into the Rutledge home I became completely swept up in the tale. There was no insta-love, and the romance developed slowly with tension and excitement.”

— Kimberly Costa

The Caffeinated Book Reviewer Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise

KATE WORTH

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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 publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

Copyright © 2012 Theresa Knight

All rights reserved.

Kindle Edition

 

 

 

Prologue

 

In secret we met, In silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget, Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee, After long years,

How should I greet thee? With silence and tears.

— Byron

 

 

Maura Wallace was dazzled. There was no other word for it. Reece Fairchild was so handsome, so charming, so, so...
perfect
in every way. He watched her with a brooding intensity that made her feel strange and tingly inside. When their eyes met, she blushed at the knowing intimacy in his gaze, the way his hungry eyes lingered on her body.

Infatuation had built into a fevered longing that eclipsed everything, even plans for her upcoming debut. She had been presented to the Queen and a spectacular ball was planned for her seventeenth birthday. Maura’s armoire was full of new gowns and silk dancing slippers, but she had no interest in waltzing or smiling or flirting with anyone but him.

She attended the Bridgeford’s soiree with her mother, listless because she didn’t expect him to be there. Her heart stopped then stumbled for several beats when Reece approached, flashing his devastating smile. Her pulse raced, bringing an unsettling flush of heat to her skin. He bowed and kissed her fingers, holding her gaze as he straightened. Maura recognized desire, dark and forbidden; a delicious thrill of anticipation zipped through her veins.

“I’ll die if I don’t kiss you soon,” Reece whispered in her ear.

Her eyes dropped to his lips, firm and finely sculpted. He searched her face and she realized he was waiting for an answer. Her mouth went dry.

“Yes,” she croaked.

They were standing at the back of the room, unobserved. Lady Godwin and her mother were deep in conversation. The rest of the audience was politely listening to Millie Bridgeford mangle
Für Elise
on the pianoforte.

“Come with me, sweet Maura,” he urged.

With a gentle smile of encouragement, Reece threaded his fingers through hers.
They slipped through the French doors into the garden
. He led her down a flagstone path to a tree-shadowed terrace beyond sight of the house, then turned and pulled her into his arms. With urgent heat he pressed her up against the wall and kissed her deeply. His hands took shocking liberties. Maura felt things she had never felt before… thrilling, wayward things. He cupped her small breasts in his palms. She moaned and closed her eyes.

“You like that, don’t you? There is no shame in it, sweet. You were made for loving.”

The brazen words added to the dangerous exhilaration. She looked into Reece’s beautiful, masculine face and felt unworthy. Of all the lovely girls in London, he had chosen
her
. He whispered erotic promises that sent shivers down her spine. She grew more aroused with every word, even the ones she didn’t understand.

He led her into the conservatory among the fragrant blooms of hothouse flowers and like a sleepwalker she followed, eager to feel his arms around her. At first she felt safe and cherished in his embrace, but when he dragged her onto his lap and began to explore her body more aggressively, anxiety spiked.

What they were doing was wrong and she knew it.

“Stop! We shouldn’t be here; someone may come. Please, take me back now.” Maura was confused, disoriented, overwhelmed. A simple kiss was all she had wanted.

“But you’re so beautiful I can’t help myself,” he purred, ignoring her plea. He reached for her hem then slid his hand up her calf, massaging in slow, rhythmic circles. She tried to wriggle free, but he hugged her closer, calming her with careful caresses and soothing words. His chest was warm and solid beneath her palms. She was torn between love for him and the moral restraints of her strict upbringing.

“Please stop,” she whispered in confusion.

“Don’t you love me?” Reece used words calculated to make her feel guilty, to take advantage of her obvious crush. He hid a smirk against her neck. Nearly ten years older and vastly more experienced, he understood girlish infatuation. She was not the first pretty young virgin he had seduced, just the first of his own class.

“Of course I love you,” Maura said earnestly. It didn’t occur to her until much later that he never once said he loved her.

“Then show me.”

She hesitated then nodded again. Practiced fingers slipped through the seam of her drawers and touched her
there
. Startled, she groaned and pushed against his chest.

“Please! Please let me. I need you,” he entreated.

She felt an exquisite ache where his fingers stroked her. The desire to prolong that throbbing pleasure warred with her instincts of self-protection. She made one last effort to save herself.

“I don’t think we should…”

She panicked as he pushed her down on the bench and raised himself above her trembling body.

“Shhh, sweet. I want you so badly.” Smothering her protest with a kiss, he deftly lifted her skirts and unbuttoned his trousers.

She tensed as he thrust into her. Profound embarrassment and shock blunted the pain; it was all over in a matter of moments. Misgivings wove through her mind, but in her naïveté she believed he now belonged to her irrevocably and completely, that the physical act had created an immutable bond between them. The rules of Society demanded that he marry her after taking her innocence.

She looked away, cheeks flaming as Reece casually fastened his trousers. They didn’t speak as he helped her rise. He smoothed wrinkles from her skirts and adjusted her bodice, running his fingers along the inside of her neckline, brushing against her sensitive nipples. She flinched. He smiled knowingly and kissed her one last time.

“You were very good.” A satisfied grin accompanied the remark. Far from the endearment Maura had expected, it felt like an insult. He had casually taken her virginity without loving words.

You were very good.

Her stomach pitched. He hadn’t spoken with affection, but with something ugly she couldn’t name, something that made her feel cheap. She pressed her hand to her belly and battled rising nausea.

Reece was composed and nonchalant as they strolled back to the party; Maura was shaken to the core. Her eyes sought his over and over again throughout the rest of the evening, but he never looked in her direction. She comforted herself with the notion that he was being solicitous of her reputation. He wouldn’t want any scandal to follow them into marriage. It made sense.

The next day she paced in her room, feeling a heady mixture of panic and exhilaration. Any moment she expected him to ride down Brook Street. He would call on her brother and ask permission to court her. Considering what they had done, he might even skip the preliminaries and ask for her hand.

The day passed. Then another. Then several more. Her head slowly began to accept the truth her heart could not.

Two weeks later, the notice of Reece’s sudden marriage was published in the papers.

No one,
no one
, on the planet had ever prayed as hard as she did in the weeks following that announcement. But her prayers went unanswered. Six weeks later, she wretched into her chamber pot for the first time. Maura had ignored her missed courses and sore breasts, but after three straight days of morning sickness she could no longer deny the harrowing truth.

While Reece enjoyed a long honeymoon touring the Continent, Maura was lost in a nightmare, vacillating between grim acceptance of her fate and manic denial. She would lose the child; she knew women who had miscarried. It was possible.

It could happen to her.

Then one morning something miraculous and extraordinary forced her to accept reality. Maura felt it move… just the softest, gentlest little flutter. She imagined a tiny baby growing inside her, no bigger than a peanut, swimming around in a small warm sea. It floated on its back and brushed up against her as if to say, “I’m here. I’m here. You may not want me, but I’m here.”

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

London, 1855

 

 

Lord Finn Wallace’s mount was skittish. It kicked and bucked as if sensing the potential for mob violence. Several yards away Nicholas Ridgeway sat atop a flashy black Andalusian surveying the crowd with a foolish grin. Finn had no choice but to grin back. Nick, his eternally reckless, fearless friend, still loved a good dust up. Of all the wild boys at Harrow, he had been the wildest.

They had come to Hyde Park to watch demonstrations against the Wilson-Patten Act that blocked the sale of spirits on Sundays, an extremely unpopular law pushed through Parliament by Evangelicals. The angry crowd vibrated with tightly leashed tension.

“I’m not sure what you find so funny, Nick. We’re sitting on a powder keg with a very short fuse. With any luck, none of these men has a match. I’d lay odds there will be some head-knocking before the day is done.”

Nick’s grin widened. “We can only hope! Isn’t it invigorating?”

“In the way bear baiting and cock fighting are invigorating, I suppose. I personally never acquired a taste for either.” Finn leaned over and murmured soothing words as he rubbed his mount’s withers.

“From the look of things, I do believe most Englishmen would give up the right to vote before the right to drink beer,” Finn quipped.

“Drinking is much more fun than voting,” Nick pointed out. “Still, all this just because the doors of their favorite pubs are now locked on Sunday? It seems excessive.”

“Imagine if you couldn’t drink on Sunday, Nick. I suspect you’d barely survive.”

“Sober for an entire day? God forbid! That would tend to put a thirsty man in a bad mood I suppose.”

Out of the corner of his eye Finn saw a mass of something colorful arc through the air, probably rotten fruit or vegetables. Outraged shouts soon followed and Finn held his breath, anticipating an eruption. It would take very little to incite the angry mob to riot.

At that moment several things happened simultaneously. A procession of coach-and-fours with liveried servants began to travel down Rotten Row at the southern edge of the park. Clearly blind to the potential mayhem presented by the jeering, taunting men surrounding them, several moralizing ladies stood in their open carriages, loudly reading from their bibles.

Shouts of “Go back to church!” and a host of inventive obscenities drowned the women out. A man produced a bucket of fish guts which he hurled. The women ducked and screamed amid a hail of stinking entrails. The crowd roared with laughter.

“Brings new meaning to the phrase, ‘stinks to high heaven’ does it not?” Nick laughed.

Finn winced theatrically and choked back laughter.

“That was like shooting fish in a barrel,” Nick continued with his theme. He raised a challenging brow to Finn who took up the gauntlet.

“There is something a little fishy about those women.”

“One would think they had bigger fish to fry.”

“Please, no more!” Finn begged. “This crowd is getting ugly.”

One of the protestors climbed onto an overturned box and began to address the crowd, but prudently disappeared into the throng as Inspector Banks, the Police Commissioner, and forty truncheon-wielding constables stormed the field, spurred on by the fish gut incident.

“Nick, I think that’s our cue to leave,” Finn turned his horse back toward Marylebone. “If I’m destined to give my life in service to my country, I would prefer it not be here, and not for this cause. I intend to take advantage of my mother’s hospitality for supper. Care to join me?”

Nick grinned. “I thought you’d never ask.”

When they reached the mews behind Carlisle House, two grooms rushed out from the stables to take their reins. They strolled through the rear garden to a set of French doors that opened into the library. There they found Finn’s mother, the dowager Duchess of Rutledge, in a state of near hysteria.

“Finn, thank God you’re home!”

Instantly on alert, he strode across the room and took her by the arms. “What is it?”

“Maura is gone!”

“What do you mean, gone?”

“Gone! We cannot find her anywhere. The maid knocked on her door this morning, but Maura did not answer, so she was left to sleep awhile longer. It wasn’t until I sent for her at noon that we discovered her room was empty. I’ve contacted her friends, but no one has seen her. We’ve looked everywhere.” His mother was almost hyperventilating.

“Calm yourself, Mama. It will do Maura no good if you become hysterical. Have you sent for Cameron?”

“I dispatched a footman to the House of Lords and his usual haunts in Westminster. They should find him soon,” she said, fretfully spinning her wedding ring around her finger.

Finn would feel better once his brother joined the search. The Duke of Rutledge, had many contacts in the Metropolitan Police Force that had taken control after the Bow Street Runners were disbanded. If the family was unable to find Maura on their own soon, they would need as many eyes and ears on the street as possible. His mind began to scroll through the possibilities. Had Maura been kidnapped? Would a ransom demand soon arrive?

“No one saw her leave? Not even the servants?”

“Your Grace, is it possible she went for a stroll and lost track of time?” Nick’s brows were drawn together in concern. He thought of Maura as his own little sister.

“She would never go walking without one of her brothers, or at the very least a footman to protect her. She’s not careless or thoughtless. This is not like her at all!”

The men exchanged a look. Both were thinking about the angry mob they had just left. If Maura was declaring her independence, she had picked a very unfortunate day to do so.

The library door flew open and Rutledge strode into the room. For the next half hour they reviewed what had been done to locate Maura. Every available servant was sent into the street to join the search. Although Rutledge wielded a great deal of power, he had no control over the day’s events. Two hundred officers had been assigned to guard Lord Grosvenor; he had introduced the bill and the crowd’s anger was focused on him. Every other officer available was responding to outbreaks of violence across the city.

The family held a long, sleepless vigil throughout the night. The duchess, powerless to do much more than pray, never stopped doing just that. Every second felt like a minute, every minute an hour, as she waited.

In the meantime, Finn and Rutledge armed themselves to search the streets and parks with their footmen until early morning. They returned to Carlisle House to see if any news had
arrived
. It had.

“I refuse to believe this! It can’t be true!” the duchess thrust a tear-stained letter at her sons. “Maura would never have done this. Not to me. Not to you!”

Rutledge held it so Finn could read at the same time.

 

 

My beloved family,

 

I know I have caused you a great deal of worry. Please believe me when I say I am profoundly sorry. I was a coward and could not face you, so I ran away. It was selfish, but I hope one day you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

I have eloped to Scotland. The man I love is not someone of whom you would approve and this is the only way we could think to be together.

Leaving you is the hardest thing I have ever done. I will miss you more than you could possibly know. Please do not try to find me. By the time you receive this letter, I will be far, far away.

It is my dearest wish that we will be reunited soon. Until then, keep me in your hearts and prayers, as I will keep you in mine.

Never doubt that I love you dearly,

Maura

 

 

The duchess quietly wept while her sons sat in stony silence, absorbing the grim implications of the letter. Even if they knew the exact route Maura and her lover had taken, even if they were able to catch them and prevent the marriage, her future was forever altered. The scandal would be impossible to live down; she would be shunned by polite society. Her friends’ mothers would no longer allow their daughters to associate with a fallen woman. No suitors would vie for her hand.

“She’s ruined,” the duchess sobbed. “Maura has thrown away her future. Foolish, foolish child.”

 

 

JANE GRAY WAS MAKING deliveries on foot because the clogged streets were impossible to negotiate with the bakery’s delivery cart. Everywhere she went, an angry, roiling energy infused the men streaming westward. Posters plastered on lampposts from Hillingdon to Havering had called out the poor to protest an unpopular law. Political activists like German immigrant Karl Marx had written editorials calling for a demonstration. Thousands had answered the call.

She grew concerned when she passed Russell Square and noticed a young girl sitting on a stone bench. Her gown, bonnet, and pelisse were high quality, the silk reticule dangling from her wrist irresistible bait for a cutpurse. Why was the foolish girl sitting there all alone, Jane wondered; couldn’t she sense the mood in the streets?

Twilight was falling by the time Jane finished her last errand. She went out of her way to walk past the square, alarmed to see the girl still sitting on the bench. She recognized a pair of pickpockets and quickened her step. The boys were among the group of homeless lads who sometimes came to the back door for goods that were being tossed out.

“Go on with you then,” Jane threw up her hands to shoo the hooligans away. She sat down on the stone and immediately felt the chill through her thick coat. The girl was insensate to her surroundings, the bitter air, the gathering darkness, the boys hovering nearby, even Jane.

The street urchins lingered as if waiting for Jane to depart.

“If you ever expect to get so much as a crumb from Sugarmann’s again, you’d best clear out,” she squinted her eyes and crossed her arms. For good measure she barked, “I mean it!”

They slipped away in search of another victim.

“Pardon, Miss. Is anything the matter? Are you poorly?”

The girl didn’t respond, her gaze was turned inward, her eyes dull and unfocused.

Jane considered leaving, but the gaslights were being lit and the pretty stranger made a tempting target. Her conscience would not permit her to walk away.

“This is not a safe place after dark. Have you a footman or maid?” Jane gently placed a hand on her arm.

The girl jerked, her head swinging toward Jane. “Who are you?” she asked, her sad eyes suddenly alert and wary.

“My name is Jane Gray. I work in a bakery not far from here. Miss, you’ve been sitting here all day. Are you ill? May I summon a hack to take you home?”

The girl clutched her reticule to her chest.

“I am not going to steal from you, although there are plenty who would. Stay out here much longer and you’ll discover the truth of it soon enough,” said Jane, infusing urgency into her voice. “I warned two cutpurses off you not a minute past. If I hadn’t, that reticule and your fine necklace would be half way to Bethnal Green as we speak.” Jane gestured to the heavy gold chain that hung around the girl’s neck. “A bauble like that could feed a family for years.”

The girl placed a protective hand over her neck, but didn’t respond.

“You are all but begging to be robbed.”

“What do you want from me?” the girl asked suspiciously.

“Nothing. I’ve been trying to tell you
it is not safe
here. Did you walk? I’ll be glad to keep you company on your way home. Come, let’s be quick about it,” Jane stood, hoping the girl would follow her lead. Instead she buried her face in her hands and dropped her shoulders, the very picture of abject misery.

“I can never go home again,” she began to weep softly.

“There, there. It can’t be that bad,” Jane murmured. She sat down again and draped a comforting arm around the girl’s shoulder, giving her a gentle hug.

“Your family must be worried sick. Please let me take you home.”

The girl began to wail in earnest. In between full-throated sobs and hiccups she blubbered, “I… told you… I… can never...”

“Hush,” said Jane, patting her back. Concern for their safety mounted as shadows darkened in the tree-lined square. “I live not far from here. You’re cold, and surely you must be hungry and thirsty. Come with me and you’ll be warm in no time. Then we can talk about your troubles and see what’s to be done. Every burden is lighter when shared by two.”

Jane reached into her pocket and pulled out a threadbare square of flannel then handed it to the girl. Her sobs gradually slowed to hitches and sniffles.

“I have destroyed your kerchief,” she lamented, offering it back.

Jane looked at the sodden rag and shook her head, “Why don’t you keep it?” The comment earned her a tremulous smile. Jane smiled back reassuringly, stood once more, and held out her hand.

“The first lesson we learn in life is not to talk to strangers, but I don’t see as you have much choice, love.”

The girl laughed and took Jane’s hand.

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