Escape to beautiful Venice for this Victorian marriage reunited story…
An invitation to Venice…
To save their marriage!
Suggesting divorce to her estranged husband, Jamie, Duke of Byson, takes all of Rose Wilkins’s courage. Years of distance and heartbreak have taken a toll—she needs a new start. But Jamie won’t hear of divorce, because of the scandal alone. His counteroffer is a trip to Venice… Might discovering Venice’s delights together rekindle the still-simmering desire that drew Rose to Jamie as a starry-eyed young American heiress?
Rose and her husband Jamie married much too young—and much too passionately in love! Now separated, can they find their way back to each other, before it’s too late?
She straightened her feathered hat, smoothed the jacket of her blue velvet walking suit, and marched up the steps to the front door.
Someone must have been watching her, for it swung open before she could reach for the brass lion’s head knocker. Makepeace, the butler, stood there, his faded eyes startled but kind under bushy white brows.
“Your Grace,” he said with a bow.
Rose made herself give the careless, bright smile that had become famous in her photographs, and breezed through the door. The foyer was the same, too, she noticed as she tried to distract herself by gazing around. The black and white floor, the gilded balustrade soaring up to the drawing room, the alabaster-topped table holding a large blue and white Chinese vase and a rather drooping bouquet of white lilies.
“Hello, Makepeace, I hope you’re doing well,” she said, tugging off her gloves.
“Very well, Your Grace, thank you. Do you have an appointment?”
She waved her hand, the faint light from the brocade-draped windows catching on the diamond-studded ring she still wore. “Oh, no, I won’t be long at all, I have a teensy question for His Grace. No need to make an announcement.”
Assuming Jamie would be in his library, she hurried up the winding staircase. The green carpet under her feet muffled her steps, while various Grantley ancestors stared down at with astonishment from their portraits hung on the green-striped wallpaper. Maidservants peeked out at her, wide-eyed from behind doorways, feather dusters in hand, dropping hasty curtsies. She smiled and waved at them, astonished to see that they, too, were the same faces from before she left. She had hired them herself.
“His Grace said he cannot be disturbed, Your Grace,” Makepeace called, starting creakily up the stairs behind her. Rose was quicker.
“Shan’t be a moment, Makepeace,” she said, and pushed open the library door at the top of the stairs.
Jamie was there, of course, as he usually was, unless he was off at some museum or dusty archive. The cavernous room was dimly lit, the velvet draperies half-drawn against the daylight, the soaring bookshelves cast into shadows. Over the carved oak mantelpiece hung a portrait—Rose in her creamy satin and lace wedding gown, wide eyes so hopeful and unaware that this moment would come.
She turned away from her own gaze—and saw her husband. She nearly fell back a step, almost turned coward and ran, but she knew she couldn’t.
Jamie sat at his desk, amid an unruly pile of books and papers, the lamplight outlining him in amber-gold. As if he was a painting himself, a Renaissance prince as she had often imagined him. He wore no coat or cravat, and his waistcoat was unbuttoned to reveal the thin white muslin shirt beneath, the collar loose at his throat, the sleeves rolled back to reveal his corded forearms, his elegant hands. Those hands that had once caressed her so gently, so enticingly, drowning her in such delight…
Rose swallowed, and glanced sharply away from the sight. She could not think of that now, could not remember those long, glorious, giddy nights of their young marriage. The delight and wonder and wild, wild love she had known then. It was gone now, she was no longer that Rose.
She peeked back at him, and found him watching her with stunned eyes, as if she was a mirage suddenly appeared in the middle of his sanctuary. His hair had grown longer, falling over his forehead in unruly dark waves he impatiently pushed back, making his cut-glass cheekbones, his elegant features even more classically handsome. His skin was lightly golden, as if he had been somewhere far from misty London.
She felt a pang that she didn’t have any idea where that could be, that she didn’t know anything of his life now. Unlike her, he seldom appeared in A Lady in Society Tells All. Jamie was contained within himself, something that had always frustrated her even as she admired it. She well remembered sitting in this very room, novel or embroidery in hand, watching him as he was absorbed in his work. The play of emotions over his face, the way her drove his fingers through his hair, leaving the waves awry. The way he would suddenly burst into joyful laughter at some discovery and catch her in his arms…
“Rose,” he said hoarsely. “What a surprise.”
The out-of-breath Makepeace appeared in the doorway. “I am sorry I could not announce Her Grace, Your Grace.”
Jamie shook his head, and seemed to recover from the shock of seeing his estranged wife in his library. He smiled that slow, lazy, white-dawning smile she’d once longed for so much. “That is quite all right, Makepeace. It is her home, after all. Perhaps we could have some tea?”
“I won’t take up much of your time, Jamie,” Rose said, forcing herself to stay light, breezy. A fluttering butterfly, never still for long, never lonely for long, as she had learned to live her life. It helped keep reality, real emotion and fear and longing, at bay. She wasn’t sure it would work right now. She went to the window and tugged back the drapery, letting in a bit of pale daylight.
“Tea anyway, please, Makepeace,” Jamie said, and the butler bowed and left, shutting the door behind him. She wondered how many of the maids would be gathering to listen there.
Rose studied the room to give her a moment not to face her husband. Jamie rose to his full, lean height and took off his spectacles, fastening his waistcoat and reaching for his coat. Unlike the rest of the house, she had never touched the decoration and arrangement of the library, it was always Jamie’s alone, and it hadn’t changed at all. The same dark red and chocolate brown carpet, slightly faded under her feet, the same piles of books everywhere. The same velvet armchair by the fireplace, where she had once sat and watched him.
Jamie was known as a great scholar of literature and history, not only in Society (which marveled that a man of the ton would read so much, instead of hunting) but among other intellectuals all over the Continent, many of whom he corresponded with frequently. It was true he would have made an excellent Oxford don.
Rose had loved that about him, the way he made poetry and plays and history come alive for her, the beautiful way he saw the world. He had made her see it, too, and he never, ever made her feel foolish or silly. He spoke to her as he did to his scholarly friends. She was never little, fragile Rose who needed protecting, as she was in her own family.
It had been so glorious. Until it all came crashing down around them, and the shimmering dream-vision burst like a bubble on a summer’s day.
Rose bit her lip, forcing herself to remember this was now. Their days of poetry and passion and were gone.
“I’m sorry to disturb your work,” she said. “I was paying a call nearby, and I thought I would stop here for a moment. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“You know you are welcome here at any time, Rose,” he said gently. “I meant what I said—this is your home.”
Rose wasn’t so certain it had ever been her home. She studied the room, the dark, worn upholstery on the heavily carved furniture, the faded carpet, the shelves and shelves of books, the smell of dust and lemon polish in the air. This room had certainly never been meant for her. Yet her little house in Portman Square, arranged as she wanted it, every inch of it, didn’t quite feel like home, either. She stepped closer to the desk, and ran her fingertips over the pile of books. Servant of Two Masters. Man of the World. The Shrewd Widow. Memoirs of Goldoni.
“Goldoni?” she asked curiously. “The eighteenth century seems late for your work.”
“Yes, it is, generally,” Jamie said, running his fingers through his hair again, leaving the thick waves unruly. Rose curled her hand into a fist to keep from reaching out to smooth them, as she once had so often. “I saw a production of The Fan last year, and was quite enthralled. I’ve been corresponding with Signor Mastrelli in Florence lately, and he invited me to visit his archives. I’ve just returned.”
So that was why he looked sun-touched. He had been in Italy. Rose wondered with a pang if there had been a dark-eyed signora while he was there, a woman of greater wit and intellect than she could be. She reminded herself this was none of her business any longer. No more than her own arrangements were his business. And that was why she was there.
“Italy,” she sighed. “How I should like to see it. Properly see it.” With her mother, before Rose was married, it had been a quick whirl of paintings and palazzos and Baedeker before they headed to England to look for suitable husbands. A gloss of culture. Nothing at all as she was sure it would be with Jamie, a deep dive into beauty and books.
“You would adore it, and it would suit you perfectly,” he said, and Rose remembered how he had once compared her to a Veronese madonna, serene and smiling and pale and perfect—and then he would kiss her silly, the two of them swept away in each other.
Thank you, Amanda McCabe and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Amanda wrote her first romance at the age of sixteen–a vast historical epic starring all her friends as the characters, written secretly during algebra class (and her parents wondered why math was not her strongest subject…)
She’s never since used algebra, but her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times BOOKReviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. She lives in Santa Fe with a Poodle, a cat, a wonderful husband, and a very and far too many books and royal memorabilia collections.
When not writing or reading, she loves taking dance classes, collecting cheesy travel souvenirs, and watching the Food Network–even though she doesn’t cook.