Prince of Ravenscar
The #1 New York Times-bestselling author returns with a brand-new Sherbrooke novel, featuring a cast of witty and outrageous characters and two wonderfully complex mysteries.
In April 1831, her grace Corinne Monroe wants her widowed son, Lord Julian, to marry her best friend's daughter, Miss Sophie Wilkie. Julian last saw Sophie when she was twelve years old, silent, skinny, and always staring at him. However, his mother is nothing if not persuasive, and Julian reluctantly accompanies her to London to meet the young lady.
And he knows that whatever happens isn't going to be good.
Lord Devlin Monroe, Julian's nephew, is very fond of his intriguing reputation in society: he delights, he frightens, he brings on delicious shudders. He's enjoying an extraordinarily pleasant bachelor life until Miss Roxanne Radcliffe and her niece, Miss Sophie Wilkie, appear in London society, and he finds himself wondering how he could have enjoyed midnight alone.
Julian and Devlin must discover what really happened three years earlier when Julian's first wife, Lily, was found dead. If they don't find out the truth, their lives could be ruined. And there is another, even more perfidious, danger that lurks in the shadows, waiting.
Near Saint Osyth On the Southern Coast of England
The night was as black as the Devil’s dreams‚ not even a ghost of a moon‚ not a single star to pierce through the thick rain clouds. It was a perfect night.
Julian tethered his sixteenhand bay gelding‚ Cannon‚ to a skinny branch of a lone bent oak tree and made his way carefully down the steep narrow winding path to the hidden cove‚ a trek he’d made countless times in the years before he’d left England. It was good to be back. He slapped his arms against the cold‚ the wind off the channel slamming against his thick coat‚ wheedling in to cozy up to his bones. Down‚ down he went. When he ﬁnally reached the shadowed overhang in the cliff‚ he lit the lamp and held it up‚ ﬂashed it three times‚ a signal he himself had established many years before.
Three answering ﬂashes of light came ﬁve minutes later‚ some ﬁfty yards offshore. Two boats were moving closer now with every passing second. Soon they’d be close enough for him to hear the oars dipping rhythmically through the water. Julian felt his blood pump faster‚ as it always did with the everpresent threat of excisemen suddenly appearing over the edge of the high cliff‚ waving guns and yelling. He could only hope the bribes his man Harlan had put into place held‚ though to his knowledge no one even knew about this small hidden cove.
No matter how you dressed it up‚ smugglingfree trading always sounded highﬂying and righteouswas still against the law. And smuggling would continue until those idiots in the government ﬁnally did away with the high import duties. Would they ever see reason? Julian hoped it would take the old curmudgeons a while‚ since he’d enjoyed the midnight hideandseek since he was sixteen‚ when Sergeant Lambert had introduced him to the adventures of smuggling. Teas‚ brandy‚ tobacco‚ China rice‚ ginit didn’t matter‚ he did it all. Every time Julian walked down to this beach‚ he thought of Lambert‚ who’d died the way he’d lived‚ all ﬂash and excitement‚ charging forward‚ his bayonet ﬁxed‚ a yell coming from his mouth when a howitzer shot had exploded at his feet. Julian remembered falling to his knees‚ tears ﬂooding down his face as the mayhem continued around him‚ searching‚ tearing at the bloody ground‚ but there’d been nothing left of Lambert. Julian knew someone had dragged him away from where Lambert had died‚ because he remembered Wellington buffeting his shoulder‚ telling him to carry a message to his left ﬂank. It was demmed important‚ move! And Julian had run faster than he ever had before.
He still wondered how he’d managed to survive Waterloo with only one sword gash‚ in his left shoulder. Blessedly‚ his memory of those long hours that became days blurred with the battle blood and screams and death‚ and with Wellington’s voice‚ yelling orders‚ always encouraging‚ even at the end of the day‚ when exhaustion sapped everyone’s will.
His mother had asked him once about Waterloo‚ but evidently the look on his face had stopped her in her tracks. She simply pulled him against her and said nothing more about it. But she’d been very proud when the Duke of Wellington himself had sent a commendation to the sixteenyearold Julian.
Until Julian had left England three years ago‚ every June seventeenth he’d visited Sergeant Lambert’s empty grave at his farmhouse near Saint Osyth. Julian was certain Lambert’s spirit knew he was using his favorite smuggling cave‚ and perhaps he occasionally slipped through from the other side to watch Julian bring in his boats. Is there smuggling in Heaven‚ Lambert? Why‚ he’d asked Lambert on the eve of Waterloo‚ couldn’t men ever be content? Because greed and envy and jealousy were sewn into the very fabric of a man’s body‚ Lambert had said‚ and spat.
So quickly the future became the present‚ and the present became a collection of memories‚ some bringing a smile‚ others still with the power to smash you with despair. Would he die in the next war‚ blown apart‚ as Lambert had died at Waterloo? Witness what was happening in Europe‚ revolution everywhere‚ and death and destruction‚ and always there was hope that something good would come of the violence. He wondered if this was ever true.
“All’s well‚ Captain!” He smiled and walked down to greet Cockeral‚ a madman‚ some whisperedbut only out of his hearing.
He stilled. He’d heard something‚ he knew it. Excisemen? He held up his hand for quiet‚ and Cockeral and his men fell ﬂat beside the boats.
Someone was there‚ watching‚ waiting‚ Julian knew it. But what? Who?
Time passed. They unloaded the cargo‚ mostly brandy and tea this time‚ and stored it in the hidden cave. Julian listened but heard only the wind.
When he fell exhausted into bed an hour before dawn‚ he knew in his gut his prized hidden caves were no longer a secret.
The Prince Returns
Ravenscar Near Saint Austell‚ Southern Cornwall
Corinne threw her arms around him‚ hugged him close‚ and
breathed him in. He smelled of a wild wind and a stormtossed
sea. His face was darkly tanned from months spent striding the deck
of his ship‚ and his eyes were alight with pleasure. He looked ﬁ t and
healthy and splendidly male. Her son. She’d thought of him every
single day he’d been gone‚ savored his letters‚ most arriving each and
every week‚ and she’d worried‚ but he hadn’t wanted her to come to
Genoa‚ where he’d lived. Too dangerous‚ he’d written.
She stepped back‚ her hands still clutching his arms. “At last you’re home‚ dearest. Ah‚ three years‚ Julian‚ three whole yearsbut now you’re here safe and sound. Come and sit down‚ and I will serve you tea‚ just as you like it‚ a tiny squirt of lemon‚ nothing more. Oh‚ dear‚ you haven’t changed‚ have you?”
“Not about how I like my tea‚ no‚ I haven’t.” Julian lightly laid his palm on his mother’s soft cheek. She looked not a day older than she had when he’d left her on that miserable stormy Tuesday‚ only two days after Lily’s funeral. Her eyes and hair were nearly as dark as his‚ but unlike him‚ her complexion was fair. “You’re still as beautiful as when I left you three years ago.”
“That is very kind of you to remark upon‚ dearest.” She studied his beloved face for a moment‚ so very beautiful he was‚ and she could see some of herself in him‚ the way his eyes shined when he was pleased‚ how he threw back his head when he laughed. Did he look at all like his father? She didn’t know‚ she’d never seen a portrait of her husband as a young man. She supposed there was a portrait hanging at his ancestral home‚ Mount Burney. She’d sometimes wondered if the father had resembled the son when he’d been young‚ if he’d had Julian’s habit of tilting his head when he listened‚ if he’d usually thought before he spoke‚ if he’d been as beautiful as his son. Such a pity Julian’s father had been old‚ whitehaired‚ but never stooped‚ no‚ the old duke had stood straight as a sapling until his death‚ and he’d had most of his own teeth when he’d breathed his last breath.
“Three years‚ Julian‚” she said again. “I hope you have” Recovered from your grief hung in the air‚ unspoken. “That is‚ how are you feeling‚ dearest?”
He grinned down at her. “I am ﬁne‚ Mother. Three years is a long time‚ too long‚ truth be told. I am very glad to be home. No‚ I do not still mourn Lily‚ but I miss her. I suppose I always will.”
Corinne looked up when the drawingroom door opened. “Pouffer! There you are‚ tea and some black cake for my returned prodigal.”
“Yes‚ your grace‚” Pouffer said‚ his old eyes on Julian‚ but he bowed grandly in both their general directions. He gave another wide grin to Julian‚ so happy he was to see him at last.
“Ah‚ Prince‚ I was remarking to Mrs. Trebah that you look as grand a gentleman as even the sternest critic could demand. She agrees‚ though she only saw the veriest glimpse of you.”
“Thank you‚ Pouffer.” Julian’s earliest memory of the Ravenscar butler was from his third year of lifehe’d rolled a ball against Baron Purley’s feet‚ and Pouffer had bowed to the baron as grandly then as now‚ scooped Julian up‚ rubbed his head‚ stuck him under his arm‚ and carried him out‚ Julian yelling for his ball. Pouffer had little hair now‚ only a white tonsure circling his head. As for Mrs. Trebah‚ the Ravenscar housekeeper‚ she’d been here even longer than Pouffer‚ come when the old duke had been a mere seventy‚ ﬁve years before he’d married Julian’s mother.
“Come and sit down‚ Julian.”
Julian hugged his mother once more and gladly accepted her fussing over him. She gently slipped a thick blue satin pillow behind his back‚ positioned the hassock directly in front of his wing chair‚ and even lifted his booted feet. He was laughing. “Enough‚ ma’am‚ I am not used to being so spoilt.”
“I am your mother‚ I will spoil you as much as I like. Now‚ while we wait for Pouffer to bring in sustenance‚ I will tell you we must leave for London very soon.”
He looked at her blankly. “London? But I just came from London.”
“You went to London? Already?”
“Well‚ yes‚ I had business with Harlan.”
“Ah‚ well‚ Mr. Whittaker and business‚ that is very different. No‚ dearest‚ I mean London‚ as in the Season. You did turn thirtytwo last monthalthough you were not here to celebrate your birthday and in my disappointment‚ I downed an entire bottle of champagne. I drank so many toasts to your beautiful self I was ﬂat in my bed all the next day. It is past time you were wed again.”
The words burst out of her in a torrent. Julian raised a black brow at her as he pulled his watch out of his waistcoat pocket. “I have been home exactly ten minutes‚ Mother. Perhaps we can wait to leave for London? Perhaps in a day or two?” Past time for him to wed again? What was this?
He found himself looking around the vast drawing room‚ giving his mother time to marshal her arguments‚ always entertaining‚ always worth waiting for. “I like what you have done with this room‚ Mother‚ the blues and cream shades suit it nicely‚ and the Aubusson carpet is magniﬁcent.”
“I am glad you admire the carpet‚ since you paid a substantial number of groats for it.”
“As for London‚ you’re right‚ Mother‚ I was there only a few days. As you said‚ I spent most of my time with Harlan‚ reviewing all Ravenscar expenditures‚ tenant proﬁts‚ repairs to be done‚ crops to be adjusted. You’ve done an excellent job‚ Mother.”
“Well‚ none of the stones are crumbling away‚ all our tenants are contentwell‚ several of them would complain even if God himself were to take tea with them. Actually‚ since you wrote detailed instructions to me every single week‚ it required little thought on my part.” She paused for a moment‚ gave him a fat smile. “Did you not notice the score of palm treesso very tropical they look‚ and so very distinctiveand the silver maple and oak trees I had planted along the drive? And now all the bare ground is covered with heath and daffodils. They have softened the landscape‚ which is what I wanted. I always thought Ravenscar looked so brutally stark.”
Actually‚ Julian had always liked the barren promontory that sloped down until the land fell away gently into the channel. “I must admit the new trees add interest. I suppose since there are no more enemies to invade our shores‚ Ravenscar has no more need to intimidate anyone‚ so the clumps of daffodils waving in the breeze add a nice romantic touch.” He paused‚ thought of Elena‚ and smiled.
“Ah‚ Pouffer‚ here you are at last. Bring on the black cakes for my beautiful son. He is fair to dwindling away before my eyes.”
When Pouffer grandly lifted the silver dome to uncover Mrs. Coltrak’s black cakes‚ Julian’s stomach growled.
He was drinking his second cup of tea when his mother said‚ “Lily died three years ago‚ and you left England‚ not‚ of course‚ to avoid scandal‚ since there wasn’t any‚ but to leave the Langworths and their terrible grief‚ and their blame. It is behind you now‚ Julian.”
The gentleness dropped from her voice. She became brisk. “You are not getting any younger‚ dearest. I will remind you yet again that you are turned thirtytwo years old. You really must have an heir.”
This was an interesting approach. “An heir? Why? Mother‚ I’m a duke’s son‚ true‚ but I am only a second son‚ not a duke’s heir. Why is it so important that I produce a male child?”
His very smart mother realized her logic wasn’t sound and retrenched in an instant. “Well‚ what I really meant is that I have the fondest wish to be a grandmother.”
Now‚ that was a lie that didn’t bear scrutiny. He lifted a dark eyebrow. “Shall you be called Grandmama‚ or perhaps Nana Corinne?”
“Mama‚ I have no desire to return to London. Indeed‚ I have an overdue ship from Constantinople‚ the Blue Star. I must travel to Portsmouth.”
“Why? How can your being in Portsmouth hurry the ship up?”
She had a point.
She hurried on before he could muster another objection. “I miss all my particular friends‚ dearest. I miss attending balls and routs.” She closed her eyes. “And there are many new plays to be enjoyed on Drury Lane.”
And shopping‚ he thought.
“And shopping‚ naturally. I do adore shopping on Bond Street‚ you know.”
She also adored shopping in Saint Austell‚ Julian thought‚ recalling the quantity of clothing bills that arrived punctually on Harlan’s desk.
“And you need to visit your tailor. Your coat is very well indeed‚ for Italian society‚ but not exactly what you would want here in
London‚ and your boots‚ well”
Yes‚ he did need new boots‚ but
She rose from the blue brocade settee opposite him‚ patted his shoulder‚ leaned down to kiss his cheek. “I truly wish to go. There has been so much rain here‚ and to be blunt about it‚ I am growing mold‚ not an elevating sight. It is time for a change of scene speciﬁcally‚ it is time to visit London‚ for the Season this time‚ not for your wretched man of business.”
Julian felt the earth shifting beneath his boots‚ his old boots. At last he was home. He wanted to settle in‚ manage his property‚ play with his spaniels on the dog run that ended at the low cliff above the beach. He knew it was time to see if Richard Langworth and his father‚ Baron Purley‚ still blamed him for Lily’s death. “You really don’t need me‚ Mama. You could as easily travel to London‚ open the town house‚ and do whatever pleases you. Why do you want me along?”
She said‚ with a good deal of hauteur‚ “Do you forget you are my son‚ my only son‚ and I have not seen you for threethreeyears? I wish all of society to gaze upon your exquisite self‚ admit there is no ﬁnerlooking a young man in all of England‚ and be jealous of me.”
What was going on here? He said slowly‚ “Don’t forget the other Monroe lady‚ namely‚ Lorelei‚ your stepdaughterinlaw. She will doubtless be there. You know you would rather have your eyebrows plucked than have to deal with her.”
His mother had thick black brows like his‚ and he’d heard her shriek when her maid‚ known as Poor Barbie‚ had to pluck them every week and a half.
“I shall ﬁrmly plant myself above Lorelei this time; I shan’t allow her to give me the headache with her obnoxious little observations on my looks and health and how you should never have been born and how your dear father turned into a pilchardheaded old moron when he turned seventyﬁve‚ and just look what came of it namely‚ meand would you look what I didbrought you into the world. And then‚ naturally‚ she will go on and on about you‚ her chins quivering all the whilea duke’s son‚ even though you should never have been born in the ﬁrst place‚ and you’re obviously deﬁcient‚ since you sprang from an old man’s tired seed‚ and not the healthy‚ intelligent seed of a vigorous man‚ as your dear father was many decades ago. Worst‚ you indulge in trade‚ and what a horror that is.”
She paused to take a wellearned breath. She tapped her long ﬁngers against her teacup and brightened. “If I recall‚ Lorelei had gained ﬂesh when I last saw her‚ and I haven’t‚ and I’ll wager she still persists in wearing all that purple.” She gave a small shudder.
Julian said nothing.
She eyed him. “Devlin is always in London for the Season. I know his father is beginning to agitate for a daughterinlaw‚ since Devlin is now twentysevencan you believe that?and he needs to get himself wed and set up his nursery.”
“Both Devlin and I are to be consigned to leg shackles?”
She ignored that. “Really‚ Julian‚ do not concern yourself about my dealing well with Lorelei. I shall give her my most regal nod and continue on my way.”
Julian gave it one more try. “As I said‚ you really don’t need me with you‚ Mother.”
To his surprise‚ her small rounded chin began to tremble‚ and those beautiful dark eyes of hers sheened with tears.
“All right‚ I see you will have the truth out of me‚ Julian.”
The truth? Before he could ﬁnd out this truth‚ Julian heard barking outside the drawing room and rose. “I have a surprise for you.” He opened the door and motioned to his valet‚ Pliny‚ to release the King Charles spaniels he’d brought back from Genoa.
Freed‚ the spaniels ran to him‚ yipping‚ leaping about‚ their long silky ears ﬂopping up and down. They didn’t jump on him‚ but they circled him‚ dancing‚ as he’d taught them.
He went down on his haunches and gathered them all to him. He said‚ pointing‚ “Mother‚ I would like you to meet Cletus‚ Beatrice‚ Oliver‚ and Hortense. They are a year old. You might think they all look the same‚ but their personalities are as different as ours. Since my estate room gives onto the dog run‚ that is where they’ll spend most of their time.”
“Ah‚ that is ﬁne‚ dearest. Goodness‚ they do leap about‚ don’t they? Look at that one.”
“Why‚ I think he would like to meet me.”
Julian picked up an excited Cletus and carried him to his mother‚ the other three spaniels barking madly behind him. She petted his soft hair‚ received a dozen enthusiastic licks.
“Cletus‚” she said. “I fancy you are a very wellbehaved little fellow‚ are you not?”
Cletus wriggled free from Julian’s hands‚ yipped and barked‚ and relieved himself on the Aubusson carpet.
Corinne said‚ “Yes‚ your estate room is an excellent place for these charming little dogs. Call for Pouffer‚ dearest‚ to clean up little Cletus’s accident.”
Soon the four spaniels were racing after Pliny‚ barking‚ tails wagging‚ to visit their new home in the estate room‚ and Pouffer was directing a maid to clean up little Cletus’s accident‚ after which he burned two feathers to eliminate any possible odors.
“Pliny is looking well‚” Corinne said.
“As much as his poet’s brooding soul allows‚” Julian said. “He should have trod the boards‚ I’ve told him. He adores drama and being in the center of it. I’m pleased‚ though‚ he didn’t cry when Cletus relieved himself on the carpet.” Pliny‚ a dapper little man of forty‚ blessed with a full head of whiteblond hair‚ had been selling boots in Portsmouth and fair to starving when Julian had hired him away as his valet. Eleven years‚ he thought‚ he’d been so young. On the other hand‚ Pliny had been young as well.
His mother eyed him and spit it out. “We must go to London because there is a young lady for you to meet.”
“Ah‚ so this is the truth you must tell me?”
“Yes. You remember Bethanne Wilkie. She was my very best friend. She died two years ago.”
“I’m sorry‚ Mama. You wrote to me of her death. I remember her as a charming lady‚ always smiling.”
“Yes.” Corinne sighed. “I still miss her. Do you happen to remember her daughter?”
Julian recalled a skinny little girl with dark braids scraped back from her small face‚ tall‚ awkward‚ never saying a word in his presence. He remembered once when he’d been working at his desk‚ he’d happened to look up and see her peering at him from behind a curtain in the estate room.
His mother cleared her throat. “The truth is Bethanne Wilkie and I always wished to have our families united.”
His stomach dropped to his dusty Hessians. He had a terrifying image of the skinny twelveyearold gowned in white standing beside him in front of a vicar‚ a long veil covering her face‚ the beautiful Ravenscar ruby ring sliding off her small ﬁnger to land on the ﬂoor and rolling‚ rolling“Good grief‚ Mama‚ she’s a little girl! When she wasn’t trailing after me‚ she was tucked against her mother’s skirts or lurking behind curtains to stare at me. As I recall‚ I once said hello to her‚ and she turned pale and ran from the room.”
“Little girls become ladies.”
“Why have you never spoken to me of this young lady before?”
“When you married Lily‚ she was far too young for you. When Lily died‚ she was still too young‚ but it didn’t matter‚ because you sailed from England for three years.”
“I don’t recall her name.”
“Her name is Sophie Colette Wilkie. Sophie is spelled quite in the French way‚ since her father‚ a clergyman‚ adores the French‚ a people few can stomach‚ and rightfully so‚ but so he does‚ particularly the classical French‚ particularly the playwright Molière. Sophie even has a French second nameColette.”
He had no memory whatsoever of the little girl’s name. Sophie Coletteit was enough to curdle his innards. Julian had come home to ﬁnd peace. And instead‚ his mama wanted to present him with a bride named Sophie Colette? He said‚ “I like Molière as well.”
“Yes‚ he is classical enough‚ I fancy‚ but I mean‚ who cares? Now‚ I have informed Sophie’s father that I shall present Sophie in London at the Buxted ball Wednesday evening‚ exactly two weeks from today. You will be there‚ naturally. I understand dear Sophie will be chaperoned by her aunt‚ Roxanne Radcliffe‚ who is one of Baron Roche’s daughters‚ and they will stay in the Radcliffe town house on Lemington Square. Since Roxanne was Bethanne’s sister‚ she must be well advanced in her years. Bethanne always told me Roxanne preferred the country‚ and so I simply must travel to London to assist her in bringing out my dear Sophie.” She paused‚ raised her dark eyes to his face‚ the look that always pierced him to his gullet‚ and had‚ obviously‚ pierced his father’s gullet as well‚ ancient though his gullet was at the time.
He tried once more. “If you tell me Sophie Wilkie is fresh out of the schoolroom‚ I will board one of my ships and sail to Macao.”
“I don’t know where this Macao place is‚ but it sounds nasty and foreign. Oh‚ no‚ dearest. Since her mama died two years ago‚ followed quickly by her grandmother‚ Sophie has worn black gloves forever‚ poor child. She is well into her twentieth year‚ not a child at all‚ indeed‚ very nearly a spinster.”
Twelve years between them‚ an acceptable age difference by society’s norms‚ but too many years for him. She’d been naught but a little girl when the Duke of Wellington ﬁnally vanquished Napoléon at Waterloo. She would have no memory of what was happening in the world during his ﬁrst twelve years. Julian realized he might as well batter his head against the huge stone ﬁreplace in the great hall of Ravenscar. No hope for it. He folded his tent. “When would you like to leave?”
His fond mama wasn’t a fool. She never rubbed her ﬁst in a face when victorious unless it was that of her stepdaughterinlaw‚ Lorelei. She gave him a sweet smile as she rose to kiss his cheek and pat his shoulder. “Did I tell you she is a beauty? Her hair is dark brown‚ her eyes a light blue like a summer sky. She is no small mincing miss. Indeed‚ I ﬁnd my eyes must travel upward a goodly distance to meet hers.” She patted him again. “You are a remarkably ﬁ ne son‚ dearest.”
“Do you think‚ Mama‚ that I might have a week at home to see to estate matters?”
She patted his face. “With your exquisite brain‚ I believe four or ﬁve days will do the trick nicely.”
He wasn’t stupid. He had four days.
Julian hadn’t been home in three years. Why hadn’t he waited three more months‚ until‚ say‚ August? The wretched Season would be over. But he hadn’t. He would go to London‚ he would meet Sophie Colettespelled in the French wayand he would pat her head and leave her to the younger gentlemen."The prolific Coulter balances this tale's serious themes and tone with humorous moments and a charming secondary romance ... Fans of Coulter's popular Sherbrooke series will be thrilled by this latest addition."
-Booklist (starred review)
"Coulter instinctively feeds our desire to believe in knights in shining armor and everlasting love- historical romance at its finest."
"With an unpredictable plot and characters readers will root for, Coulter delivers a tale of magic, mayhem and true love."
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