The Earl of Egremont has returned...or has he?
It's been 15 years since Christian Sauvage has left England, but now he's returned to claim his title and his inheritance. Julianne knew Christian when they were children, and though there is a slight resemblance to the boy she once adored, can this ruggedly handsome man be the real earl? Or has she fallen in love with an impostor?
The visitor was late, but he would have been unwelcomeat any hour. Nevertheless, a stableboycame running to greet his carriage as it rumbled up tothe manor house as the first star appeared in a purplingevening sky. Many more eyes watched from behindcurtains on the dozens of windows of the greathouse. The oaken front door swung open, the butlerand his footmen stood in readiness.
After a moment, a lean gentleman was seen in thedoorway of the carriage. He bent his head, stepped out,and paused on the top of the little stair that had been letdown. Straightening, he stood arrested, staring at thehuge house, seeing the dark mass of it outlined by thelast dim glow of sunset, punctuated by lights that twinkledin the dozens of windows facing the drive. It wastoo dusky for anyone to make out the expression on hisface.
He stepped down and headed for the house, taking the fan of stairs to the front door rapidly and witheasy grace, as though he hadn't been confined in arocking carriage for hours.
"I believe I'm expected?" he asked the butler in arich tenor voice, as he swept off his high beaver hatand caped coat and handed them to a footman. "I amEgremont."
The butler bowed, expressionless. "This way, sir,"he said.
The gentleman hesitated. A thin eyebrow rose."Sir?" he echoed with cool amusement, slapping hisgloves against his palm. "Maybe you didn't hear me.I am the new earl of Egremont. I'd believed I wasexpected."
The butler's expression didn't change, but his facegrew ruddy. "Yes, sir," he said. "You were indeed expected.As to the other matter, I was led to believe itwas not yet settled, sir."
The gentleman laughed. "So it hasn't been. I supposeI can't fault you for being precise. Announce meas Sauvage then, if you must. Lead on. Oh, and I'dlike something to eat. Will you see to it? It's been adevilish long journey."
The butler bowed and led the gentleman into thefront hall. The new arrival scarcely seemed to look atthe house as he strode over the shining inlaid mosaicmarble floors. He didn't pause to study the life-sizedGrecian statues that lined the walls, or raise his eyesto the gilded domed ceiling of the great hall to see therose-and-gold frescoes there. He had hardly a glancefor the pair of separate twin staircases that woundtheir ways to the second level, where they met and embraced in a riot of carved acanthus leaves. He onlyfollowed the butler through the hall and down a corridor,seeming as cool and untouched by his surroundingsas the servant who guided him.
"You're awaited in the red room, sir," the butlermurmured. He threw open a door to an enormousroom with crimson stretched-silk-covered walls,Turkey red carpets, red and brown settees and chairs.A massive fireplace with a leaping fire sparked reflectionsfrom the gilt edges on the furniture and manypicture frames. But the fire only cast murky, ruddyshadows over the quartet of people there.
"Mr. Sauvage," the butler said, announcing him.
The four people in the room stared. The visitorlooked back at them serenely, only his eyes showinganimation, glittering in the firelight as he surveyedthem each in turn.
He saw a stout middle-aged balding gentleman, thevery model of a country squire, a young blond lady,delicate and perfectly dressed as a china figurine, anolder woman, who was obviously her mama, and asquare-faced, straw-haired, broad-shouldered youngman. They goggled at him from out of the crimsonshade.
Their first impression was of a dark, elegantlydressed, extravagantly handsome young gentleman.The high planes on his smooth face were exaggeratedby dancing firelight, making him look as though he'djust stepped, smiling, from out of the devil's owndressing room. He was impeccably clad in a...