A soldier burdened by guilt…
…to the future Earl of Foxgrove?
Captain Lucas Johns-Ives is injured in the same battle that killed his brother. Haunted by loss, Lucas is saved by Mairi Wallace. In this Highland idyll, masquerading as her family’s butler, Lucas can avoid the responsibilities of becoming the new earl. He’s tempted by Mairi’s sweetness—but to win her hand, he must face his demons and claim his noble birthright…
She broke into a smile. "You are awake!"
He had just enough energy to nod.
She jumped up from her seat and came even closer. "You should drink something. Are you able to sit? Let me help you."
She placed her hands, so warm and gentle, on his bare skin and helped him pull himself up. Where were his clothes? Why was he half-naked in front of this exquisite creature? He couldn't speak.
She turned to a table and picked up a cup, bringing it to his lips. One sip convinced him he was very thirsty. He drank all of it.
And could finally speak. "I don't remember—"
"—what happened to you?" she finished for him. "You have been very ill with a fever, but it has broken now. You'll soon get well." She sounded very relieved.
He remembered now. He remembered fevered dreams. Dreams of Bradleigh, impaled by the French cuirassier over and over. Dreams of an angel. "You." His voice rasped. "Do I know you?"
"No. You are not from here," she responded. "My brother and sister found you. We brought you here."
That was right. He'd wanted to get as far away from Foxgrove as he could and he'd not cared where. He'd headed north into Scotland and ridden from inn to inn, drinking enough whisky to keep him so constantly in his cups he didn't have to think about...anything.
"Village?" Not that it mattered.
"You are not in a village," she explained. ""You are in the home of my father, the Baron of Dunburn."
She was a baron's daughter? Not a tavern maid? He'd assumed this was an inn. "How did I get here?"
She sat again. "My brother and sister found you on our land, insensible from fever. We brought you here."
He had a glimmer of a memory. Of leaving an inn where the stranger with whom he'd shared a room had coughed and hacked the night through. Of somewhere losing his horse and climbing hill after hill in the rain.
He opened his mouth to speak but his words caught. "More. Drink," he finally managed.
She rose and poured more tea into the cup and brought it to his lips again. This time he wrapped his hands around hers and held on while he drank.
"How long have I been here?" he asked.
"Three days," she said.
He stared at her, the angel whose voice called him back. She'd stayed by his side for three days? A baron's daughter?
She poured him another cup of tea. "You were very feverish." She handed him the cup this time.
He drank gratefully.
"You kept calling out for Bradleigh." Her lovely brow knitted. "Was he with you? We searched but could not find him."
He glanced away from her. "He was not with me."
"Thank goodness." She sighed. "I was quite worried."
No need. Bradleigh was beyond worry.
Lucas wished there was whisky in that cup. He slid back down in the bed.
"Sleep now," she said and lifted his blankets to cover him up like his mother used to do when he was in leading strings. "Now that your fever is gone, I'll leave you to sleep. But I'll be back."
She extinguished the lamp.
When she reached the door she turned back to him. "Goodnight. Sleep well."
Starred Review! Mairi Wallace saved Captain Lucas Johns-Ives’ life, so the least he can do is help conceal the state of her family. After finding a drunken, desolate, and near-death Lucas on their property, Mairi, with some help from her sister, Davina, and her brother, Niven, nurse him back to health. Now in a better frame of mind and fully conscious of the debt he owes the Wallaces, who are struggling with severe financial difficulties, Lucas agrees to act as their butler, “John Lucas,” while the family entertains a house party of distinguished guests. However, the masquerade concocted by Lucas and Mairi quickly begins unraveling when both parties discover they have feelings for each other that are definitely not those of an employer and employee. RITA Award-winning Gaston gracefully tips her literary cap to the classic film My Man Godfrey in her latest thoughtfully nuanced, sweetly romantic Regency historical. While she deftly explores such serious themes as family duty and survivor guilt, Gaston also celebrates the importance of kindness and compassion in our lives.
—John Charles, Booklist
4 Stars! Gaston has a smooth writing style that is easy to read. Her characters are well developed and I came to care for Mairi, her family, and Lucas quickly. Mairi and Lucas both have pasts that haunt them. They are a bit flawed, injured. This makes them seem more real to me. I look forward to this author’s next release.
—Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews
4 Stars! Secrets greatly affect lives in this enchanting Regency era novel which is filled with one complicated dilemma after another....Historical details bring realism to the story, while colorful descriptions had me visualizing the setting for each scene. From fancy balls to daily routines, I got to see what the characters experienced...An entertaining book with appealing characters and notable circumstances.
Did you ever see the movie My Man Godfrey? There are two versions, the 1936 version starring William Powell and Carole Lombard and the 1957 one with David Niven and June Allyson. Both are romantic comedies.
Here is the tag line for the William Powell version:
A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler…but there’s more to Godfrey than meets the eye.
And the David Niven one:
The eccentric Bullock household again need a new butler. Daughter Irene encounters bedraggled Godfrey Godfrey at the docks and, fancying him and noticing his obviously good manners, gets him the job. He proves a great success, but keeps his past to himself. When an old flame turns up Irene's sister Cordelia starts making waves.
There’s much I like about both these movies, especially the wealthy man masquerading as a vagrant and how he helps the family avoid ruin, but I thought the writers (and the author of the book the movies were based on, Eric Hatch) missed a better opportunity.
In the story, the older sister is the “villain.” She is the most suspicious of Godfrey and she almost destroys everything. She is the most flawed, in the most pain, and is the one character that needs to be redeemed. In other words, SHE would make the perfect heroine! The romance should have been between Godfrey and her.
So I rewrote the story.
Godfrey becomes Captain Lucas Johns-Ives, heir to an English earldom. Like Godfrey he’s down and out—and ill from too much drink and guilt over his brother’s death when he’s discovered by the children of a Scottish baron. It is the older sister, Mairi, who is most suspicious of this stranger even as he comes to the family’s rescue again and again.
This is a romance, so Mairi is also attracted to Lucas, even though she doesn’t want to be. It is also not a comedy. Mairi harbors a terrible secret of her own that explains her wariness about Lucas. In the end, because of each other, they find their happy ever after.
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