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Greystone Manor, Cornwall
April 4, 1794
Grenville's wife was dead.
Amelia Greystone stared at her brother, not even seeing him, a stack of plates in her hands.
"Did you hear what I said?" Lucas asked, his gray eyes filled with concern. "Lady Grenville died last night giving birth to an infant daughter."
His wife was dead.
Amelia was paralyzed. There was news every day about the war or the violence in Franceall of it awful, all of it shocking. But she had not expected this.
How could Lady Grenville be dead? She was so elegant, so beautifuland too young to die!
Amelia could barely think. Lady Grenville had never set foot in St. Just Hall since their marriage ten years ago, and neither had her husband. Then she had appeared in January at the earl's ancestral home with her household and two sonsand a child obviously on the way. St. Just had not been with her.
Cornwall was a godforsaken place in general, but even worse in January. The region was frigidly cold and inhospitable in the midst of winter, when gale winds blew, and vicious storms swept the coast.
Who would come to the farthest end of the country in winter to give birth to a child? Her appearance had been so terribly strange.
Amelia had been as surprised as everyone else in the parish to hear that the countess was in residence, and when she had received an invitation to tea, she hadn't even considered refusing. She had been very curious to meet Elizabeth Grenville, and not just because they were neighbors. She had wondered what the Countess of St. Just was like.
And she had been exactly what Amelia was expectingblonde and beautiful, gracious, elegant and so very genteel. She had been perfect for the dark, brooding earl. Elizabeth Grenville was everything that Amelia Greystone was not.
And because Amelia had buried the past so long agoa decade ago, in factshe hadn't once made the comparison. But now, as she stood there reeling in shock, she wondered suddenly if she had wished to inspect and interview the woman Grenville had decided to marrythe woman he had chosen instead of her.
Amelia trembled, holding the plates tightly to her chest. If she wasn't careful, she would remember the past! She refused to believe that she had really wished to meet Lady Grenville in order to decide what she was like. She was horrified by the comprehension.
She had liked Elizabeth Grenville. And her own affair with Grenville had ended a decade ago.
She had dismissed it from her mind then. She did not want to go back in time now.
But suddenly she felt as if she were sixteen years old, young and beautiful, naive and trusting, and oh so vulnerable. It was as if she were in Simon Grenville's powerful arms, awaiting his declaration of love and his marriage proposal.
She was stricken, but it was too late. A floodgate in her mind had opened. The heady images flashedthey were on the ground on a picnic blanket, they were in the maze behind the hall, they were in his carriage. He was kissing her wildly and she was kissing him back, and they were both in the throes of a very dangerous, mindless passion
She inhaled, shaken by the sudden, jarring memory of that long-ago summer. He hadn't ever been sincere. He hadn't ever been courting her. She was sensible enough to know that now. Yet she had expected an offer of marriage from him and the betrayal had been devastating.
Why would Lady Grenville's terrible death cause her to remember a time in her life when she had been so young and so foolish? She hadn't given that summer a single thought in years, not even when she had been in Lady Grenville's salon, sipping tea and discussing the war.
But Grenville was a widower now
Lucas seized the pile of plates she was holding, jerking her back to reality. She simply stared at him, horrified by her last thought and afraid of what it might mean.
"Amelia?" he asked with concern.
She mustn't think about the past. She did not know why those foolish memories had arisen, but she was a woman of twenty-six years now. That flirtation had to be forgotten. She hadn't wanted to ever recall that encounteror any other like itagain. That was why she had dismissed the affair from her mind all those years ago, when he had left Cornwall without a word, upon the heels of the tragic accident that had killed his brother.
It all had to be forgotten.
And it was forgotten! There had been heartache, of course, and grief, but she had moved on with her life. She had turned all of her attention to Momma, who was addled, her brothers and sister and the estate. She had genuinely managed to forget about him and their affair for an entire decade. She was a busy woman, with strained circumstances and onerous responsibilities. He had moved on, as well. He had married and had children.
And there were no regrets. Her family had needed her. It had been her duty to take care of them all, ever since she was a child, when Papa had abandoned them. But then the revolution had come, the war had begun, and everything had changed.
"You were about to drop the plates!" Lucas exclaimed. "Are you ill? You have turned as white as a sheet!"
She shivered. She certainly felt ill. But she was not going to allow the past, which was dead and buried, to affect her now. "This is terrible, a tragedy."
His golden hair pulled casually back in a queue, Lucas studied her. He had only just walked in the door, having come from Londonor so he claimed. He was tall and dashing in his emerald-velvet coat, his fawn breeches and stockings, as he spoke, "Come now, Amelia, why are you upset?"
She managed a tight smile. Why was she upset? This wasn't about Grenville. A young, beautiful mother had died, leaving behind three small children. "She died giving birth to a third child, Lucas. And there are two small boys. I met her in February. She was as beautiful, as gracious, as elegant as everyone claimed." It had been obvious from the moment she had walked into the salon why Grenville had chosen her. He was dark and powerful, she was fair and lighthearted. They had made the perfect aristocratic couple. "I was very impressed with her kindness and her hospitality. She was clever, too. We had an amusing conversation. This is a shame."
"It is a shame. I am very sorry for those children and for St. Just."
Amelia felt some of her composure returning. And while Grenville's dark image seemed to haunt her now, her common sense returned. Lady Grenville was dead, leaving behind three small children. Her neighbors needed her condolences now, and possibly her help.
"Those poor boysthat poor infant! I feel so terribly for them!"
"It will be a rough patch," Lucas agreed. He gave her an odd look. "One never gets accustomed to the young dying."
She knew he was thinking about the war; she knew all about his wartime activities. But she kept thinking about those poor children nowwhich felt better, safer, than thinking about Grenville. She took the plates from Lucas and began setting the table grimly. She was so saddened for the children. Grenville was probably grieving, as well, but she did not want to consider him or his feelings, even if he was her neighbor.
She put the last plate down on the rather ancient dining-room table and stared at the highly polished, scarred wood. So much time had gone by. Once, she had been in love, but she certainly didn't love Grenville now. Surely she could do what was right.
In fact, she hadn't seen Simon Grenville in ten years. She probably wouldn't even recognize him now. He was probably overweight. His hair might be graying. He would not be a dashing young rake, capable of making her heart race with a single, heavy look.
And he would hardly recognize her. She was still slendertoo slender, in factand petite, but her looks had faded as all looks were prone to do. Although older gentlemen still glanced at her occasionally, she was hardly as pretty as she had once been.
She felt some small relief. That terrible attraction which had once raged would not burn now. And she would not be intimidated by him, as she had once been. After all, she was older and wiser now, too. She might be an impoverished gentlewoman, but what she lacked in means she made up for in character. Life had made her a strong and resolute woman.
So when she did see Grenville, she must offer her condolences, just as she would to any neighbor suffering from such a tragedy.
Amelia felt slightly better. There was some small relief. That silly memory had been just thatsilly.
"I am sure the family is reeling," Lucas was saying quietly. "She was certainly too young to die. St. Just must be in shock."
Amelia looked up carefully. Lucas was right. Grenville had to have loved his beautiful wife very much. She cleared her throat. "You have taken me by surprise, Lucas, as you always do! I was hardly expecting you, and you step in the door, with such stunning news."
He put his arm around her. "I am sorry. I heard about Lady Grenville when I stopped in Penzance to change carriages."
"I am very concerned about the children. We must help the family in every way that we can." She meant her every word. She never turned her back on anyone in need.
He smiled slightly. "Now that is the sister I know and love. Of course you are concerned. I am sure Grenville will make the appropriate arrangements for everyone, once he can think clearly."
She stared thoughtfully. Grenville was undoubtedly in shock. Now, deliberately, she kept his dark, handsome image at bayremembering that he was likely fat and gray. "Yes, of course he will." She surveyed the cheerfully set table. It wasn't easy making up a table, not when their circumstances were so pinched. The gardens were not yet in bloom, so the centerpiece was a tall silver candelabra, left over from better times. An ancient sideboard was the only piece of furniture in the room, and their best china was displayed there. Their hall was as sparsely furnished. "Luncheon will be ready in a few more minutes. Will you go upstairs and get Momma?"
"Of course. And you did not have to go to this trouble."
"I am thrilled when you are home. Of course we will dine as if we are an ordinary family."
His smile was wry. "There are few ordinary families left, Amelia, not in these times."
Her small smile faded. Lucas had just walked in the door moments ago, and she hadn't seen him in a month or more. There were shadows under his eyes and a small scar on his cheekbone, which hadn't been there before. She was afraid to ask how he'd gotten it, and even more afraid to ask where. He was still a dangerously handsome man, but the revolution in France and the war had entirely changed their lives.
Before the French monarchy had fallen, they had all lived simple lives. Lucas had spent his time managing the estate, his biggest concern increasing the productivity of their mine and quarry. Jack, who was a year her junior, had been just another Cornish smuggler, laughing about outracing the Revenue Men. And her younger sister, Julianne, had spent her every spare moment innocently in the library, reading everything she could and honing her Jacobin sympathies. Greystone Manor had been a busy, happy home. Although the small estate depended almost entirely upon an iron quarry and tin mine for its income, they managed well enough. Amelia had an entire family to take care ofincluding her mother. The only thing that the war hadn't changed was that Momma remained entirely senile.
John Greystone, her father, had left the family when Amelia was only seven years old, and Momma had begun losing her grip on reality shortly thereafter. Amelia had instinctively stepped into the breach, helping with the household, making shopping lists and planning menus, and even ordering their few servants about. And mostly she had cared for Julianne, then a toddler. Their uncle, Sebastian Warlock, had sent a foreman to manage the estate, but Lucas had taken over those duties before he was even fifteen. Theirs had been an unusual household, but it had been a busy and familial one, filled with love and laughter, no matter the financial strain.
The house was nearly empty now. Julianne had fallen in love with the Earl of Bedford when he had been deposited at the manor by their brothers, while at death's door. Of course, she hadn't known who he washe had seemed to be a French army officer at the time. It had been a very rocky roadhe had been a spy for Pitt and she had been a Jacobin sympathizer. It was still rather amazing, but she had recently eloped with Bedford, and she had just given birth to their daughter in London, where they lived. Amelia shook her head, bemused. Her radical sister was now the Countess of Bedfordand madly in love with her Tory husband.
Her brothers' lives had changed because of the war, as well. Lucas was rarely at Greystone Manor now. Because they were but two years apart in age, and because they had taken over the roles of their parents, they were close. Amelia was his confidante, although he did not tell her every detail of his affairs. Lucas had not been able to sit idly by while the revolution swept over France. Some time ago, Lucas had secretly offered his services up to the War Office. Even before the Terror began sweeping France, there had been a flood of emigres fleeing the revolutionariesfleeing for their lives. Lucas had spent the past two years "extracting" emigres from the shores of France.
It was a dangerous activity. If Lucas were ever caught by the French authorities, he would be instantly arrested and sent to the guillotine. Amelia was proud of him, but she was also so afraid for him.