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Authors: Alyssa Everett

Lord of Secrets

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Lord of Secrets
By Alyssa Everett

 

Somewhere on the North Atlantic, 1820

 

Rosalie Whitwell has spent most of her life sailing the globe with her adventurous father, dreaming of the day she can settle in one place long enough to have a home and family of her own. When her father suffers a fatal heart attack in the middle of the North Atlantic, Rosalie turns in her panic to a fellow passenger—the cool, reclusive Lord Deal.

 

For years David Linney, Marquess of Deal, has avoided the society of others. Even so, he’s drawn to his lovely shipmate, like him the victim of family tragedy.

 

As the voyage nears its end, Lord Deal is compelled to propose. But on their wedding night, Rosalie gets an unwelcome surprise: her handsome husband is strangely reluctant to consummate the marriage. Does she fall short of her groom’s expectations? Or is he hiding a secret past that only she can unlock?

 

83,000 words

 

Dear Reader,

 

It’s a known truth among the people who have to nag me to meet the deadline on these letters that I get writer’s block when I sit down to write them. I’m always excited to tell you about what’s in store for the month, but I often get stuck figuring out how to start it off. So these letters are always late (sorry, people in production!). I had particularly bad writer’s block this month, so I was especially impressed when I realized that this March, all of the authors with books releasing at Carina Press have written multiple books, and many of them have long careers in writing. How do these authors do it, writing multiple books a year, for years, creating new worlds, new characters and unique stories? It’s amazing to me, even after ten years in this industry, that there are people with this gift. And I’ll admit it, I’m a little jealous they have that gift. But I’m thrilled to introduce you to the books releasing this month from these incredible authors.

 

I know it’s a little past Valentine’s Day, but it’s
always
time for chocolate and romance, and Christi Barth brings us both in
A Fine Romance,
the second contemporary romance in her Aisle Bound series. And if you missed the first book,
Planning for Love,
make sure to grab that as well!

 

We have six! other authors joining Christi with sequels. Lynda Aicher heats up the pages with an emotionally gripping, smokin’ hot BDSM romance,
Bonds of Need
. Dee Carney also offers up lust and love in one package in her erotic paranormal romance sequel,
Hunger Awakened
.

 

Veteran author Vivi Anna brings us
The League of Illusion: Prophecy,
a steampunk romance with an illusionist, a hunt for a missing brother, an incomplete map and a psychic! Relative newcomer Nicole Luiken follows up her debut fantasy romance,
Gate to Kandrith,
with the second in this duology and the conclusion to the story,
Soul
of
Kandrith
.

 

R.L. Naquin offers the sequel to
Monster in My Closet,
her debut novel. In
Pooka in My Pantry,
empath Zoey Donovan is marked for pickup by Death. But when she refuses to die on schedule, she has a to-die-for reaper to deal with. And watch the battle of wills between a female gunship pilot and a combat controller hero in romantic suspense
Tactical Strike
by Kaylea Cross. Kaylea’s first book in this series,
Deadly Descent,
remains one of Carina Press readers’ favorite romantic suspenses!

 

Alyssa Everett follows up her debut offering,
Ruined by Rumor,
with a new historical romance, though it’s not a sequel. In
Lord of Secrets,
he’s her new husband...and he’s strangely reluctant to consummate the marriage. What secrets are keeping them apart, and keeping him from her bed? If you like your historical romance with a paranormal twist, returning author Laura Navarre brings us
Magick by Moonrise,
which combines Tudor England with the Faerie kingdom of Camelot. When the two worlds collide, can a fallen angel’s passion for an innocent Faerie princess save both realms from destruction?

 

Carina Press authors W. Soliman and Cindy Spencer Pape both return with installments in their ongoing series. In
Lethal Business,
W. Soliman brings us back to The Hunter Files with another Charlie Hunter mystery, where Charlie must answer the question: “Why kill the survivors of a sinking ship?” And Cindy Spencer Pape continues her popular steampunk romance series, The Gaslight Chronicles, with
Cards & Caravans
. Knight of the Round Table Connor MacKay has met his match in fortune-teller Belinda Danvers.

 

Last, this month we welcome to Carina Press contemporary romance author Kate Davies with the first in her Girls Most Likely to... trilogy,
Most Likely to Succeed
. Though Kate is new to Carina, she and I have worked together as author/editor for years, and I’m happy to have her writing for Carina Press. I hope you enjoy Kate’s charming contemporary voice as much as I do.

 

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

 

Happy reading!

 

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

 

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

 

Dedication

 

To my wonderful editor, Deborah Nemeth, without whom this book would never have seen the light of day. Patient, encouraging, insightful and highly skilled at what she does, she’s the answer to every writer’s prayers.

 

Acknowledgements

 

Karen Dobbins, Susanna Fraser, Vonnie Hughes and Rose Lerner, and my editor, Deb Nemeth. Any errors or deficiencies in this story are strictly my own. Thanks also to my family and friends for always being in my corner, especially my wonderful husband and my amazing, inspiring kids. Love you all!

 
 

Chapter One

 

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes...

 


William Shakespeare

 

May
,
1820

 

“Won’t this ship ever stop its odious rocking?” Mrs. Howard said in her American accent. “There’s not a soul alive who could possibly stomach food at a time like this.”

Rosalie could have stomached food, but she refrained from saying so as she applied a cold compress to the older woman’s forehead. She’d been on her way to the dining saloon when she’d received Mrs. Howard’s summons, and she was still in her pink sarcenet dinner gown. “Perhaps if you lie very still...”

Mrs. Howard pushed her hand away. “How I loathe sea voyages, and this ship is an absolute horror.”

Rosalie suppressed a sigh. It was only the seasickness talking. Though she’d seen her share of disagreeable vessels and cramped quarters, for this voyage her father had been fortunate enough to secure passage on the
Neptune’s
Fancy
, a top-of-the-line packet ship catering to passengers willing to pay the princely sum of one hundred and forty American dollars for a comfortable crossing. The ship boasted twelve small passenger cabins, six on either side of the vessel, each equipped with its own compact dresser, looking glass and commode. Rosalie feared it had forever spoiled her for the slow, small brigs to which she was accustomed.

“You’ll feel better once it’s calm again.” She gave Mrs. Howard a sympathetic smile. “Even my father chose not to go in to dinner tonight, and Papa almost never suffers from
mal
de
mer
.”

Mrs. Howard closed her eyes. “Dear Lord Whitwell. It was good of him to spare you to me.” She opened one eye to peer up at Rosalie. “But what about your young cousin? I hope he won’t be cross with me for stealing you away just at the dinner hour.”

“I doubt Charlie will miss me. He’s so excited about joining the army, my company can’t hold a candle to an officer’s.”

Mrs. Howard patted her hand. “What a dear child you are! But as for the colonel...well, I hope you won’t let him influence Mr. Templeton too much. You and your family are the only truly genteel passengers on this miserable voyage. The rest of the company is not quite up to our standards—merchants and ex-military men, you know, and the less said about that sort, the better.”

“There is Lord Deal...”

Mrs. Howard snatched the wet cloth from her forehead to eye Rosalie as if she’d taken leave of her senses. “Lord Deal? But that man is the worst of the lot! I’ve never met any creature so rude. And don’t tell me you disagree, Miss Whitwell, for I’m quite sure he’s never given you so much as a civil word, however pretty you may be.”

“He’s never said anything uncivil.” It was true enough, for the gentleman had yet to look in her direction, let alone speak a single word to her. The Marquess of Deal inhabited a rarefied sphere, far above Rosalie’s touch. Her papa might be a baron, but constant travel had taken its toll, wearing away whatever thin veneer of polish she and her father had once possessed. They were more accustomed now to breaking bread with camel drivers and native guides than to hobnobbing with the
haut
monde
. “Don’t you worry that poor Lord Deal must feel out of place? No one ever speaks with him except the ship’s captain.”

“And little wonder! You see how he holds himself apart. The man considers himself too good for the rest of us.”

“He
is
very quiet.” Quiet, and so austerely elegant he looked as if he’d stepped out of a Flemish portrait from another century. “I sometimes wonder if he must have suffered some great loss in his life...”

Mrs. Howard snorted. “Really, Miss Whitwell, I don’t know where you get such romantical notions.”

Had she really spoken that last thought aloud? Her cheeks warmed. “He doesn’t strike you as unhappy, then? Because I find myself staring at him sometimes, wondering how he can stand to be so solitary.”

Oh, dear. She needed to stop talking, for that remark had sounded every bit as fanciful as her earlier one. When she’d made a similar comment to her cousin Charlie, he’d laughed and said, “Ah, is that why you stare at him? And here I thought it had more to do with the man’s broad shoulders and dark eyes.”

Mrs. Howard gave a disapproving sniff. “Lord Deal is a block of ice, my dear, over-bred and under-mannered. So many of the English are—present company excepted, of course. At least you and your father know the true meaning of civility.”

Rosalie rose from the low bedside stool. “Speaking of Papa, I really must check on him.”

Mrs. Howard caught her by the elbow. “Oh, no, never say you mean to rush off so soon! Your papa is probably resting, and the other passengers will still be at dinner. Do stay a little longer. I was hoping to talk with you about my digestion.”

Obediently, Rosalie sank back down. Mrs. Howard’s health problems were the lady’s third favorite topic, finishing close behind the unsavoriness of the other passengers and the questionable merits of her daughters-in-law back home. Fortunately, when Mrs. Howard grew anxious about her afflictions, she required little more than a sympathetic ear. In every land Rosalie had visited from Bengal to Quebec, the most successful healers were usually the best listeners. “You’re sure it’s not just the seasickness?”

“No, this is an entirely separate complaint. I suffer from the most dreadful bilious attacks. I had another just last night. They start with a pain in my liver, and end in nausea and the megrims.” Her head dropped back against the pillow. “I’ve seen every doctor in New York about my health, and not one of them treats my symptoms with the gravity they deserve. Doctors can be such unfeeling creatures.”

“My father’s constitution suffers if he eats anything too rich. Have you tried taking apple cider vinegar? It seems to help Papa. A glass a day, mixed with a little water and honey.”

Mrs. Howard’s pink face creased in a smile. “There now, I felt sure you would know what to do. You’re so clever about such things. You have a true gift for healing, Miss Whitwell.”

Rosalie had no such thing, but for her papa’s sake she’d asked enough questions of enough ships’ apothecaries to have picked up the odd remedy here and there. She’d been traveling for the better part of nine years now, and she still remembered the lessons she’d learned on her maiden voyage, sailing to India with her father. The first lesson was that Madeira aggravated Papa’s gout. The second was that the more comfortable she made him, the less he talked of sending her back to Miss Stark’s Seminary for Girls of Good Family once they returned to England. And the third lesson, since she hadn’t yet found her sea legs, was that seeing to her father’s comfort took her mind off the constant pitch and sway of the ship, making her happier into the bargain.

Mrs. Howard gave Rosalie a look of appeal. “And since you’re so well-versed in these things, dear, I don’t suppose you’d mind bringing me a glass of apple cider vinegar in the morning, would you? A young person like you, with so much energy—I’m sure you must welcome any excuse to keep busy on a voyage like this one.”

“No, I wouldn’t mind.”

A rap sounded on the cabin door. “Come!” called Mrs. Howard in her strong contralto.

The door opened, and Charlie’s towhead appeared in the narrow opening. “Still here, Rosie?”

Rosalie stood. “Is dinner over already? Yes, I’m still here.”

He smiled his quick, amiable smile. “You must be tiring poor Mrs. Howard. You’d best bid her a good evening.”

“She’s not tiring me at all, Mr. Templeton,” Mrs. Howard said. “I’m sure you can spare her for a few more minutes.”

“Now, ma’am, you really must get your rest.” Charlie pinned Rosalie with a look. “Come along. You didn’t say you meant to skip dinner entirely.”

“I didn’t know.” Reaching for her reticule, she glanced back at Mrs. Howard. “You don’t mind, do you, ma’am?”

“Mind? Of course I mind. You know how I enjoy your company. But run along anyway. At least the worst of the ship’s infernal rocking seems to have eased, and my head isn’t paining me as it was before. Just don’t forget about tomorrow morning.”

“I won’t.” With a wave, Rosalie slipped out to join her cousin.

Charlie closed the door of Mrs. Howard’s cabin behind them. “So what did the mushroom want this time?”

“Charlie! You mustn’t call her a mushroom. She’s been most kind to me.”

He led the way down the narrow passage to the connecting cabins Rosalie shared with her father. “I rather think it’s the other way ‘round, and you’ve been most kind to her. This is the third time she’s had you waiting on her hand and foot, nursing her through some imaginary ailment.”

“They’re not imaginary, and besides, I like taking care of people.” That last part, at least, was no fib. If her father hadn’t needed her to look after him, she might have spent the past nine years of her life as she’d spent the previous two—alone and all but forgotten in Miss Stark’s boarding school, where the rooms grew so cold in the Yorkshire winters, the water froze in the washbasins. And before that, what if she’d been too young to look after her mother in her last year? How many fewer memories of her would she have now?

Besides, if you took care of people, they tended to want you in their lives. If you complained...well, Rosalie had seen enough of the world to know there were plenty of places every bit as lonely and cheerless as Miss Stark’s Seminary for Girls of Good Family.

Charlie stopped with her outside her cabin door. “You’re always a good sport about it. You’re a good sport about everything. But you can’t let people like that take advantage of you. Someday you’re going to have to learn to stand up for yourself.”

“But I
like
—”

“I know, I know. You like doing it. I suppose you’ll be giddy with joy tonight, going to bed hungry because you missed your dinner.” He shook his head, as if recognizing the hopelessness of arguing with her. “The devil of it is, those do-good tendencies of yours are starting to rub off on me. I took a stab at charity work myself tonight.”

At the teasing note in his voice, she searched his face. “Why? What did you do?”

He flashed one of his ready smiles. “I invited that Deal fellow to join us.”

“Oh, Charlie! Did you really?” A pang knifed through her at learning she had missed her chance to become acquainted with the marquess.

“Yes, asked him straight out. And do you know what he said?”

“‘I’d love to’?” Rosalie suggested in a hopeful tone.

Charlie laughed. “Not a bit of it. He said, ‘Thank you, but I shouldn’t wish to intrude,’ and gave me such a cold, hard stare, it fair bored through my skull. He made it perfectly clear he wished to be left alone. It’s exactly as I told you, Rosie. The man
dislikes
being spoken to.”

She drooped with disappointment. “Mrs. Howard thinks so, too. She says he’s too mindful of his own consequence to sink to dining with mere commoners.”

“As much as I hate to agree with that mushroom, for once she’s right. Some people are just unsociable, Rosie. If it’s any consolation to you, we’re far from the best society he’s snubbed. Even at White’s, he simply sits by himself and ignores everyone.”

“But why be so standoffish?” With a frown of concentration, Rosalie dug in her reticule for the key to her cabin. “We’re all in the same boat—literally. What else is there to do on an ocean crossing, except mix with one’s fellow passengers?”

Charlie shrugged. “I shouldn’t worry about the man. I daresay he’s never given us a second thought.”

Rosalie sighed. “No, I suppose not.” Retrieving her key, she unlocked her cabin door. “Good night, Charlie, dear.”

“The same to you, and tell Uncle I hope he’s feeling better. I suppose we’re blessed to have outgrown seasickness, eh?”

She nodded and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. She was blessed indeed—for that and for having taken so many voyages on so many vessels that she now ducked instinctively when passing through a doorway, and always kept one hand for herself and one hand for the ship. She scarcely noticed the constant crash and thump of waves against the hull or the creak of the boards, and it had been years since she’d last rolled out of her narrow berth at night.

Perhaps someday she might even be blessed enough not to spend most of her life at sea.

Charlie continued to his own cabin, and Rosalie stepped inside. The door communicating with her father’s quarters was still ajar, just as she’d left it before leaving for dinner. She reached up to remove the mosaic earbobs she’d acquired in Rome.

“Papa? How are you feeling?” she called through the open doorway. “I’ve been sitting with poor Mrs. Howard. She was suffering from the rough seas, too, though she seems a good deal better now.”

There was no answer. Rosalie dropped her earbobs on the dresser and went to the doorway. “Papa? Are you awake?”

When he didn’t reply, she stepped into his cabin to check on him one last time before preparing for bed. He was in his berth, still fully dressed but with his eyes closed. Should she wake him so he could change into his nightclothes? She set a hand on his forehead to check whether he might be feverish.

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