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Violet’s teacup clattered in the saucer, and a bit of tea sloshed over the side. “Oh, I’m so clumsy,” she said, grabbing a napkin and wiping the small spill while she blinked rapidly.
The others exclaimed in delight and wished Grace congratulations. Sara sat quietly and looked at her in sadness. Grace watched Prudence put her hand on her daughter’s arm and squeeze. Violet shot her mother a tremulous smile and surreptitiously swiped at her eye. Had Violet had an interest in Sir Timmons? It would make sense, since he was a wealthy eligible bachelor and Violet was on the marriage mart. If that were the case, then Grace felt even worse. Nigel, it seemed, was ruining everyone’s life.
Grace pulled her attention from Violet to accept the women’s good wishes and tried her best to deflect the most important questions of when the wedding would take place and when exactly she’d been spending time with Sir Timmons that he’d offered for her hand. Clara was more than happy to answer all the questions, launching into the story of how Timmons had approached the earl with his request for Grace’s hand and how thrilled the earl had been to give it to him. Clara did like throwing around her titles.
Violet and Prudence sat in silence, Prudence with a pained expression. Grace felt their tension and shock from across the room. She wished a hole would open up and she would fall through it. She wasn’t one for cursing but felt now would be an appropriate time to utter a few silent curses at Clara and Nigel and Sir Timmons. And yes, even Michael, for leaving her in this situation. It wasn’t the first time she’d been angry at him for abandoning her.
“It’s so soon,” Sara said quietly, effectively cutting through everyone’s joy. The chatter abruptly stopped, as everyone stared at Clara, waiting for her response.
“Sir Timmons said he was fine with waiting out the dowager countess’s mourning period,” Clara said with a bite to her words, apparently miffed that Sara wanted to take away her moment. “Meanwhile, she can plan the wedding. Besides, Michael has been gone much longer than ten months and, well, we all know there is no threat to the earldom in the form of an heir.”
Sara turned wide, accusing eyes on Clara. Rarely did she allow anger to show. In fact, Grace wasn’t certain she’d ever seen Sara angry. “There is more to mourning than waiting to see if a child is born,” she said in that soft way. But this time it put Clara in her place, and everyone knew it.
Heads swiveled to Clara, waiting for her response. Grace was convinced everyone was holding their breaths for fear of missing one word of the discussion. She should have heeded Ida’s advice and stayed home. That would have taken the wind out of Clara’s sails.
Clara’s chest and neck turned pink, and she appeared chagrined before indignation took over. “Well, of course there is, but it wasn’t as if Michael’s death was a surprise. He was fighting in a war, after all.”
Sara shot Grace a look as if to say, Can you believe the nerve of this woman? While Grace silently implored Clara to be quiet. Didn’t she see she was making things worse? Not just for Grace. Clara’s insensitive comments were putting her in a bad light, and Violet and her mother were becoming visibly uncomfortable.
“Sir Timmons is greatly enamored of our Grace,” Clara rushed on, maybe sensing that she was losing the good graces of her audience. “And I’ve been assured that she is equally enamored. Isn’t that right, my lady?”
And what should she say? That, no, she wasn’t enamored of Sir Timmons? That would be cruel, because word would surely get back to him. And yet she couldn’t lie. She shot Violet a quick glance, but the poor girl was looking down at her hands.
“I’ve just recently learned of these events,” Grace said carefully. “I’ve yet to form an opinion one way or another.”
Length: 265 pages
Publisher: Loveswept (December 23, 2014)
Perfect for fans of Mary Balogh, Sharon Cullen’s captivating novel tells the deeply emotional tale of two devoted lovers facing the ravages of war.
For months now, Lady Grace Ashworth has mourned the death of her beloved husband—until the day a very-much-alive Michael arrives at her front door. It’s nothing less than a miracle. However, Grace soon realizes that this Michael isn’t the same man who left for the Crimean War. She’s stunned to learn that he has suffered a devastating head injury. Putting all her own desires aside, Grace resolves to devote herself to Michael’s recovery and to love him no matter what troubles may come.
Convinced that his wife is wasting her time on a broken man, Michael attempts to shield Grace from a life of inconvenience by driving her away. But Grace will have none of that. Despite every obstacle Michael throws in her path, she stubbornly soldiers on, fighting not only for their marriage but for the love they once shared. In the end, will her determination alone be enough to save Michael from the darkness that threatens to consume him?
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