An Heiress at Heart
Love's Grace series, Book 1
October 30, 2012
Grand Central Publishing
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1455519958
Mass Market ISBN: 978-1455518937
Romance Writers of America RITA® Award Finalist
A New Beginning
A youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she’s finally returning home, but she’s still living a secret life. Her best friend Ria’s dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . .
A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville’s world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he’s invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother’s young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty. With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her façade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?
“An Heiress at Heart is Delamere’s debut, and it’s an impressive one! This first book of the Love’s Grace trilogy explores the themes of honor, family and faith in a compelling balance of charm, sentiment and suspense.”
~Kathy Altman, USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog
“This is a wonderful love story . . . The author’s diligent research of England and the traditions of the 1800s shines in her debut.”
RT Book Reviews
“A clever historical and subtly inspirational romance.”
“The romantic tension between Lizzie and Geoffrey is ever-present, but graphic love scenes are entirely absent, which will delight those historical romance fans who prefer a more delicate approach.”
"This sweet and charming tale of redemptive romance will touch your heart. Delamere's vivid characters will stay with you long after you close her book."
Sabrina Jeffries, New York Times bestselling author
"Jennifer Delamere weaves rich historical detail into a lovely, poignant romance of faith, trust and second chances. An Heiress at Heart will warm readers' hearts."
Katharine Ashe, author of When A Scot Loves A Lady
"Jennifer Delamere sets a new standard in Victorian romance, with characters who shine and a plot that'll keep you guessing."
Abby Gaines, author of The Earl's Mistaken Bride
"A sweetly rendered tale of discovery and forgiveness."
Cindy Holby, bestselling author of Angel's End
London, June 1851
“If you’ve killed her, Geoffrey, we will never hear the end of it from Lady Thornborough.”
Geoffrey Somerville threw a sharp glance at his companion. The man’s flippancy annoyed him, but he knew James Simpson was never one to take any problem too seriously. Not even the problem of what to do with the young woman they had just accidentally struck down with his carriage.
The girl had been weaving her way across the street, seemingly unaware of their rapid approach until it was too late. The driver had barely succeeded in steering the horses sharply to one side to keep from trampling her under their massive hooves. However, there had not been enough time or space for him to avoid the girl completely, and the front wheel had tossed her onto the walkway as easily as a mislaid wicker basket.
Geoffrey knelt down and raised the woman’s head gently, smoothing the hair from her forehead. Blood flowed freely from a wound at her left temple, marring her fair features and leaving ugly red streaks in her pale yellow hair.
Her eyes were closed, but Geoffrey saw with relief that she was still breathing. Her chest rose and fell in ragged but unmistakable movements. “She’s not dead,” he said. “But she is badly hurt. We must get help immediately.”
James bounded up the steps and rapped at the door with his cane. “First we have to get her inside. People are beginning to gather, and you know how much my aunt hates a scandal.”
Geoffrey noted that a few people had indeed stopped to stare, although no one offered to help. One richly dressed young lady turned her head and hurried her escort down the street, as though fearful the poor woman bleeding on the pavement had brought the plague to this fashionable Mayfair neighborhood. At one time Geoffrey might have wondered at the lack of Good Samaritans here. But during the six months he’d been in London, he’d seen similar reactions to human suffering every day. Although it was no longer surprising, it still saddened and sickened him.
Only the coachman seemed to show real concern. He stood holding the horses and watching Geoffrey, his face wrinkled with worry. Or perhaps, Geoffrey realized, it was merely guilt. “I never even seen her, my lord,” he said. “She come from out of nowhere.”
“It’s not your fault,” Geoffrey assured him. He pulled out a handkerchief and began to dab the blood that was seeping from the woman’s wound. “Go as quickly as you can to Harley Street and fetch Dr. Layton.”
“Yes, my lord.” The coachman’s relief was evident. He scrambled up to the driver’s seat and grabbed the reins. “I’m halfway there already.”
Geoffrey continued to cautiously check the woman for other injuries. He slowly ran his hands along her delicate neck and shoulders and down her slender arms. He tested only as much as he dared of her torso and legs, torn between concern for her well-being and the need for propriety. Thankfully, nothing appeared to be broken.
James rapped once more on the imposing black door. It finally opened, and the gaunt face of Lady Thornborough’s butler peered out.
“Clear the way, Harding,” James said. “There has been an accident.”
Harding’s eyes widened at the sight of a woman bleeding on his mistress’s immaculate steps. He quickly sized up the situation and opened the door wide.
Geoffrey lifted the unconscious girl into his arms. She was far too thin, and he was not surprised to find she was light as a feather. Her golden hair contrasted vividly with his black coat. Where was her hat? Geoffrey scanned the area and noted with chagrin the remains of a straw bonnet lying crushed in the street. Something tugged at his heart as her head fell against his chest. Compassion, he supposed it was. But it was curiously profound.
“She is bleeding profusely,” James pointed out. “Have one of the servants carry her in, or you will ruin your coat.”
“It’s no matter,” Geoffrey replied. He felt oddly protective of the woman in his arms, although he had no idea who she was. His carriage had struck her, after all, even if her own carelessness had brought about the calamity. He was not about to relinquish her; not for any consideration.
He stepped grimly over the red smears her blood had left on the white marble steps and carried her into the front hall, where James was again addressing the butler. “Is Lady Thornborough at home, Harding?”
“No, sir. But we expect her anytime.”
Geoffrey knew from long acquaintance with the Thornborough family that Harding was a practical man who remained calm even in wildly unusual circumstances. The childhood escapades of Lady Thornborough’s granddaughter, Victoria, had developed this ability in him; James’s exploits as an adult had honed it to a fine art.
Sure enough, Harding motioned toward the stairs with cool equanimity, as though it were an everyday occurrence for an injured and unknown woman to be brought into the house. “Might I suggest the sofa in the Rose Parlor, sir?”
“Excellent,” said James.
As they ascended the stairs, Harding called down to a young parlor maid who was still standing in the front hall. “Mary, fetch us some water and a towel. And tell Jane to clean the front steps immediately.” Mary nodded and scurried away.
Another maid met them at the top of the stairs. At Harding’s instructions, she quickly found a blanket to spread out on the sofa to shield the expensive fabric.
Geoffrey set his fragile burden down with care. He seated himself on a low stool next to the woman and once again pressed his handkerchief to the gash below her hairline. The flesh around the wound was beginning to turn purple—she had been struck very hard. Alarm assailed him. “What the devil possessed her to step in front of a moving carriage?”
He was not aware that he had spoken aloud until James answered him. “Language, Geoffrey,” he said with mock prudishness. “There is a lady present.”
Geoffrey looked down at the unconscious woman. “I don’t think she can hear me just now.” He studied her with interest. Her plain black dress fit her too loosely, and the cuffs appeared to have been turned back more than once. Her sturdy leather shoes were of good quality, but showed signs of heavy wear. Was she a servant, wearing her mistress’s cast-off clothing? Or was she a lady in mourning? Was she already sorrowing for the loss of a loved one, only to have this accident add to her woes? “If she is a lady, she has fallen on hard times,” Geoffrey said, feeling once again that curious pull at his heart. He knew only too well the wretchedness of having one’s life waylaid by one tragedy after another.
A parlor maid entered the room, carrying the items Harding had requested. She set the basin on a nearby table. After dipping the cloth in the water, she timidly approached and gave Geoffrey a small curtsy. “With your permission, my lord.”
Something in the way the maid spoke these words chafed at him. He had been entitled to the address of “my lord” for several months, but he could not accustom himself to it. There were plenty who would congratulate him on his recent elevation to the peerage, but for Geoffrey it was a constant reminder of what he had lost. Surely nothing in this world was worth the loss of two brothers. Nor did any position, no matter how lofty, absolve a man from helping another if he could. He held out his hand for the cloth. “Give it to me. I will do it.”
The maid hesitated.
“Do you think that is wise?” James asked. “Surely this is a task for one of the servants.”
“I do have experience in this. I often attended to the ill in my parish.”
“But you were only a clergyman then. Now you are a baron.”
Geoffrey hated the position he had been placed in by the loss of his two elder brothers. But he would use it to his advantage if he had to. And he had every intention of tending to this woman. “Since I am a baron,” he said curtly, motioning again for the cloth, “you must all do as I command.”
James laughed and gave him a small bow. “Touché, my lord.”
The maid put the towel into Geoffrey’s hand and gave him another small curtsy. She retreated a few steps, but kept her eyes fastened on him. Geoffrey suspected that her diligence stemmed more from his new social position than from the present circumstances. It had not escaped him that he’d become the recipient of all kinds of extra attention—from parlor maids to duchesses—since he’d become a baron. The years he’d spent as a clergyman in a poor village, extending all his efforts to help others who struggled every day just to eke out a meager living, had apparently not been worth anyone’s notice.
Geoffrey laid a hand to the woman’s forehead. It was too warm against his cool palm. “I’m afraid she may have a fever in addition to her head injury.”
James made a show of pulling out his handkerchief and half covering his nose and mouth. “Oh dear, I do hope she has not brought anything catching into the house. That would be terribly inconvenient.”
Harding entered the room, carrying a dust-covered carpetbag. He held it in front of him, careful not to let it touch any part of his pristine coat. “We found this near the steps outside. I believe it belongs to”—he threw a disparaging look toward the prostrate figure on the sofa—“the lady.”
“Thank you, Harding,” James said. He glanced at the worn object with equal distaste, then motioned to the far side of the room. “Set it there for now.”
That bag might be all the woman had in the world, Geoffrey thought, and yet James was so casually dismissive of it. The man had a long way to go when it came to finding compassion for those less fortunate.
He turned back to the woman. She stirred and moaned softly. “Easy,” Geoffrey murmured, unable to resist the urge to comfort her, although he doubted she could hear him. “You’re safe now.”
James watched from the other side of the sofa as Geoffrey cleaned the blood from her hair and face. “What a specimen she is,” he remarked as her features came into view. He leaned in to scrutinize her. “Look at those high cheekbones. And the delicate arch of her brow. And those full lips—”
“This is a woman, James,” Geoffrey remonstrated. “Not some creature in a zoo.”
“Well, it’s clear she’s a woman,” James returned lightly, unruffled by Geoffrey’s tone. “I’m glad you noticed. Sometimes I wonder if you are aware of these things.”
Geoffrey was aware. At the moment, he was too aware. He could not deny that, like James, he had been taken by her beauty. Except her lips were too pale, chapped from dryness. He had a wild urge to reach out and gently brush over them with cool water…
“Good heavens,” James said, abruptly bringing Geoffrey back to his senses. He dropped his handkerchief from his face. “This is Ria.”