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Authors: Paula Marshall

Prince of Secrets

BOOK: Prince of Secrets
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He had a strong desire to be with his wife.

Not to make love to her, not to talk to her, but to enjoy her stillness. Cobie went looking for her in the grounds.

He found her at last, seated in the shadow of a stand of cedars, quite alone. Dinah was half dozing over a book.

Cobie stood and watched her for a few moments. Her face was tranquil, but something told him she was dreaming. He bent forward to kiss her gently on the cheek. He was beginning to worry even more about his feelings for her. They were like nothing he had ever experienced before.

 

Dear Reader

What's more natural for the grandson of Tom Dilhorne, the founder of the Dilhorne Dynasty, than to come to London, then the rich hub of the largest Empire the world had yet seen, and find excitement there? So Cobie Grant, freebooter and financial pirate, becomes the latest rich American to take his place in London society, where he meets Lady Dinah Freville. This brings about an adventure which started in THE DOLLAR PRINCE'S WIFE and reaches its climax in THE PRINCE OF SECRETS, each of which is a complete story in its own right.

I trust you'll enjoy Cobie Grant's adventures, and his marriage into a noble family, secure in the knowledge that his exploits have a strong foundation in fact. I hope they entertain you.

Paula Marshall

Paula Marshall
P
RINCE OF
S
ECRETS

Paula Marshall
, married with three children,
has had a varied life. She began her career in a large
library, and ended it as a senior academic in charge of
History in a polytechnic. She has traveled widely and has
been a swimming coach. She has always wanted to write,
and likes her novels to be full of adventure and humor.

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Introductory Prologue

‘Appearances often deceive.' Cobie Grant

T
he young, handsome, and clever American financier, Cobie Grant, arrives in London high society in early 1892. Because of his immense wealth he is nicknamed The Dollar Prince. Haunted by his own secret illegitimacy, he tries to protect the helpless. By chance he saves two young girls from misery and ruin. The first, the aristocratic Lady Dinah Freville, ill-treated by her family, he tricks into marriage. He tells her that he cannot love her but will look after her. In doing so, he transforms her from an ugly duckling into a swan. From fearing him, she comes to love him, particularly after he initiates her into passion.

The second, Lizzie Steele, is a little girl who has been sold to a nighthouse and he secretly rescues her before she can be sexually abused by Sir Ratcliffe Heneage, an apparently respectable MP and Cabinet Minister. With the help of the Salvation Army, Cobie places her into a home he funds for other similar waifs and strays. He also pursues Sir Ratcliffe in order to see him punished for his wickedness. Using a false name, he bribes the police to raid the night
house. They arrest the madame and her accomplices, but Sir Ratcliffe and his sidekick, Hoskyns, have been privately warned to stay away that night.

However, Cobie continues to watch and pursue Sir Ratcliffe and, in doing so, he is himself pursued by the honest Inspector Walker, who (wrongly) suspects him and his motives, particularly when he thinks that he has discovered that Cobie, as a young man, had a criminal past as a gunman in the American West.

Meanwhile, Sir Ratcliffe, through Hoskyns, has Lizzie Steele traced and kidnapped, after which he abuses and kills her. In turn, Cobie tracks down and disposes of Hoskyns, setting fire to the house which he was running—but is still unable to implicate Sir Ratcliffe who remains at large and whom he meets in society. In his crusade he has the help of his friend from his Western adventures, Hendrick Van Deusen. Like Cobie, he is now outwardly respectable, and both are active participants in the social scene around the Prince of Wales.

Dinah has become the season's latest success. She is unaware of her husband's secret life, but, being a clever girl, is suspicious that there is more to him than meets the eye. She has embarked on a campaign to persuade him to love her as passionately as she loves him. Indirectly, she helps him to evade the police at the time of Hoskyns's death and the fire. Cobie, who has always previously refused to involve himself emotionally with anyone—even his parents—has already begun to feel the pull of her many attractions, and is trying to resist them.

This part of their story ends with them having become the favourites of the Prince of Wales and they are about to visit Sandringham, his Norfolk home—together with Sir
Ratcliffe, who is still at large and is beginning to suspect that Cobie is after him. Will Cobie corner him? Will Inspector Walker corner Cobie first? Will Dinah's campaign succeed? Now read on…

Chapter One

August 1892, Sandringham

A
fterwards, Lady Dinah Grant was to think—no, to be sure—that all of the events of that eventful autumn and winter were set in motion during the week that she and her husband, Cobie, spent at the Prince of Wales's Norfolk home of Sandringham. After that, nothing was ever going to be the same.

At the time, though, they—or perhaps it might be more true to say that only of herself rather than of Cobie—were simply under the impression that they were going to take part in an ordinary country-house party. If, of course, any house party at the home of a member of the Royal Family could ever be called ordinary!

‘We are going there to enjoy ourselves,' Cobie told her in the train on their way there.

‘Really?' said Dinah, in her best teasing mode. ‘Really, Cobie, just to enjoy ourselves? From all that I have experienced so far, pleasure seems to be something one has to work at. It could scarcely have been more difficult to have
gone to Oxford and studied under my father than to survive the London Season successfully!'

‘True,' he conceded. ‘But better to succeed than to fail, do admit.'

‘Oh,' she told him airily, in exactly the manner in which he usually spoke to her, ‘I certainly intend to succeed—for your sake, if for no one else's. It would hardly do for our marriage to be seen as a failure since you went to such pains to get me to the altar.'

This sly reference to the way in which he had tricked her half-brother, Rainey, into allowing him to marry her, amused, rather than annoyed, her husband. It was proof, if proof were needed, of how far she had travelled since she had married him. The shy, defeated child he had rescued no longer existed. Instead he was the husband of a charming young woman with a delicate wit, which she exercised on him as well as others.

He might have been proud of his handiwork in transforming her, if he didn't also think that a lot of the credit was due to her own sterling character.

‘I noticed that Giles packed your guitar,' she said, looking at him over her cup of tea—they were travelling in luxury in the special coach provided by the Prince for his guests. ‘Was that done for me—or for HRH?'

‘Both,' said Cobie, giving her his best smile. ‘Someone apparently told the Prince that I am a reasonably proficient player on it, so I am to give a Royal Command performance—whenever, or if, he cares to command, that is. I gather from Beauchamp, who was the go-between in all the arrangements for this visit, that the Prince does not like to see any of his guests being idle. If they are, he thinks up occupations for them.'

‘Well, I dare say he won't need to do that for you, Cobie.
A less idle man I have never seen. Rainey told me recently that your industry made him feel quite faint.'

‘Oh,' said Cobie, giving his wife his best grin, ‘anyone's industry would make Rainey feel faint.' He had no illusions about his brother-in-law, even if Rainey had been trying to live a more sensible life since the setting up of the Trust to run what had been his estate before he lost it to Cobie at cards.

Dinah nodded amused agreement to this, settled back in her seat and decided to admire her husband rather than the scenery which seemed to grow flatter with each succeeding mile.

He was eminently worth admiring. His nickname in society was Apollo, and he certainly lived up to it. From the crown of his golden head to the tips of his well-polished shoes he was the model of a Greek god come down to earth, dressed in everything which the taste of the times dictated for a man who wished to be seen as a leading member of London society in the 1890s.

Like his looks, his athleticism was extraordinary—but not to Dinah, who had had the privilege of seeing him naked, and therefore of learning that he was a double of the nude Greek heroes whose statues filled the sculpture galleries of the British Museum.

Violet, Dinah's half-sister, once her tormentor but now her grudging admirer, was seated opposite to her. Her husband, Lord Kenilworth, had wandered up the coach to take his tea with Rainey, whose first visit this was. She was remarking acidly, ‘I heard that Cobie's hanger-on, Mr Van Deusen, is also a guest—he doesn't seem to be on this train.'

‘No,' said Cobie, ignoring Violet's slighting comment on his friend. ‘I understand that he had some urgent business to take care of today and will be arriving after tea.'

‘Hmm!' said Violet: a remark which Dinah thought could mean anything—or nothing.

Cobie smiled to himself and wondered what Violet would think if she knew the truth about his friendship with Hendrick Van Deusen: that, ten years ago, under other names, they had been outlaws and gunmen in the American South West. Each of them owed their life to the other.

Now they were respectable businessmen, those days long behind them. Except that recently their old outlaw relationship had been renewed in London, Mr Van Deusen successfully playing back-up once more to his younger, wilder, friend.

Wolferton Station, when they reached it, was rather larger than most, and, instead of the dogcart which had greeted Dinah there, a fleet of horse-drawn carriages was waiting to take the Prince's guests to Sandringham House, which stood some little distance away. Behind the carriages was another fleet of carts and carriages, there to transport the servants and the possessions of their masters.

Dinah wondered—with some amusement—what Cobie thought of the House itself—it was such a mixture of architectural styles both inside and out. She was to wonder even more when they were shown into an oak-panelled entrance hall where they found a stuffed baboon waiting for them, holding out a silver salver for the cards of visitors. She thought of the perfect taste of the Marquise's Paris mansion which was reflected in her own Park Lane home where every piece of furniture, every ornament and every picture had been chosen by its owner for its beauty.

On the other hand, there was a charming informality in the very clutter which filled each room. Sandringham was a home, not a museum, and its owner's cheerful enjoyment of some of the more simple pleasures of his world meant that his guests found it easy to relax.

Their suite of rooms was cosy rather than grand, and Dinah began to think that this visit might not be an ordeal after all—except that, as she later discovered, she had to change her clothes several times each day. If she found this a bore she discovered that Hortense and Pearson, her two maids, were absolutely delighted.

Her first change was into a lilac and pale green crêpe de chine tea gown with matching green and lilac slippers; when she was ready, and Cobie reverently outfitted in a tweed suit useful for the country, they made their way down to the drawing room for five o'clock tea.

To her dismay, the first person she saw was Sir Ratcliffe Heneage, who was busy complaining to all and sundry that his wife, as usual, was late coming down. The sundry included Susanna Winthrop, his current mistress and Cobie's foster sister, who gave only a slightly defiant nod in the Grants' direction to acknowledge their arrival. She was looking particularly beautiful, Cobie noted, but had a strange wild air about her, quite different from her usual serene calm: Sir Ratcliffe's influence, he thought dismally.

Sir Ratcliffe, who was bending over her hand, appeared to be happy to see them. Perhaps it was pleasing him to demonstrate to that damned Yankee his hold over Susanna.

‘Heard you were coming, Grant. Pity it's too early for shooting—you could have engaged in some useful practice.'

Cobie remembered with some amusement that he had, wrongly, disclaimed any ability as a shot, and adopted a suitably mournful expression.

‘Tum Tum'll probably invite you when the closed season's over, eh, Lady Dinah? You're one of his favourites these days, I hear.' Sir Ratcliffe's smile for Dinah was an unctuous one, something which did not please Susanna.

She said to Cobie, ‘
You
are looking well, I see. Marriage suits you, I suppose.'

Then in a voice which Cobie had never heard from her before, the kind of voice which Violet constantly used to cut down her rivals, she added, ‘It certainly seems to suit you, Lady Dinah!'

The tone prevented the words from being the compliment which they superficially sounded. Cobie remembered something which his mother had once said to him when he had been speaking of a friend whom he had lost for good after he had the beating of him at chess—or any other game he cared to play with him—‘Jealousy is as cruel as the grave, Cobie.'

After that he had always hidden his powers, so much so that he had almost come to forget that he possessed them, until he had need of them in Arizona Territory. He was aware that Dinah was speaking, telling Susanna and Sir Ratcliffe how kind her husband was, and how strange it seemed that she was the mistress of the house.

‘It is almost as though I were still playing with dolls,' she added, ‘which is naïve of me, I know.'

Sir Ratcliffe jammed his monocle in his eye, and stared at her. She was looking radiantly young in her beautiful tea gown which was cut with the utmost simplicity. Her hair was dressed simply, too, and he felt a dreadful spasm of desire—for Grant's wife, of all people!

Well, he had taken Susanna Winthrop away from the Yankee brute, and now the sight of Dinah's youthful beauty had him wishing that he had been the one to initiate her, to enjoy her, to teach her to please him…

Cobie, visited by the intuition which had plagued him—and blessed him—all his life, read the man before him. Something in his stance, the set of his mouth, in the answer he made to Dinah, innocent in itself, ‘You hardly look old enough to have left dolls behind, Lady Dinah, so not surprising, hey?' told him that he had been right to believe that
the murdering swine was lusting after his innocent young wife.

He knew, which few did, that Sir Ratcliffe's taste for young girls had led him into perversion and murder, and he also knew that for some reason the authorities were protecting him, which was why he had made it his business to try to trap him and see that he was punished for what he had done.

He controlled himself with difficulty, and took Dinah's arm gently, saying, ‘We must move on, my dear,' and led her away. He could hardly keep his hands off the man who had raped and killed poor Lizzie Steele and who was now laughing and talking with Susanna. He must try to warn her against him again, although he didn't think that the man was fool enough to treat her as he had treated his child-victims.

‘You don't like him, do you?' asked Dinah, smiling and bowing at those whom she knew as they moved through the press of people.

‘Who?' he asked, although he knew whom she meant, and was surprised by her acute understanding. He thought that, like himself, she probably possessed the uncomfortable gift of reading people accurately.

‘Sir Ratcliffe. I don't like him. I didn't like the way he looked at me.'

‘I didn't like the way he looked at you, either,' he told her frankly. ‘A man to avoid, my dear.'

Dinah was equally frank. ‘He gives me goose-pimples. Oh, hello, Violet. How odd and time-wasting that we have to go through all this polite palaver with people with whom we have already spent the day, just as though we were meeting them for the first time after years apart.'

Violet said briskly and nastily, ‘Don't waste your clever
remarks on me, Dinah. Save them for others. Not the Prince, he doesn't like clever women.'

‘Fortunately I like clever women,' Cobie murmured in Dinah's ear, in case she was overset, which she wasn't. He was bowing to Violet now, and saying all the right things. Reluctantly, Violet approved of him. He seemed to have an instinct which allowed him to be as exactly proper as the occasion demanded.

Kenilworth had once said that Grant was almost too good to be true. No one, and particularly no American, ought to be so civilised, so well seen, so athletic, so exactly everything a man ought to be. It was perhaps as well, Violet thought, that he couldn't know what a tiger Cobie Grant was in bed—and now Dinah was getting the benefit of that. But she didn't look particularly mauled, so perhaps she wasn't.

Then, as they moved away from her, to do their duty to the other guests, before sitting down before one of the tea trolleys, Violet saw Cobie bend his head to say something to his wife. She saw Dinah turn to look up at him and give him such a smile that sexual jealousy had Violet in its thrall. Oh, yes, Dinah was getting the benefit, all right—and the parlour maid's language which Violet used to herself was symbolic of the shock she was feeling.

Cobie had earlier told Dinah that she would have few rivals among the women present. She had teased him gently, saying that he thought so because she was his wife, and must therefore automatically be a
nonpareil
—as he was. Had she known of both Susanna's and Violet's reaction to her appearance and her manner, she would have known that he was speaking the truth.

They had barely sat down before the Prince and his wife arrived, and they all jumped to their feet to acknowledge the Royal presence.

Dinah was to discover that this strange mixture of Royal protocol and informality was typical of their Sandringham visit.

Later, after they had spent a leisurely hour over tea, she and Cobie retired to their rooms.

‘Now what do we do?' she asked him comically, once they were alone together.

‘Well,' he told her gravely, ‘I understand that if you are to be absolutely
comme il faut
in the drawing room by half past eight, you must immediately send for Hortense and Pearson and set them to dressing you. Whilst Giles and I must attend to the business of making me look suitable to honour the Prince's dinner table.'

Dinah stared at him in disbelief. ‘Who told you that? It can't possibly take us the next two hours—that must be nonsense.'

‘Violet did me the honour of putting me in the know, as she called it. She and Kenilworth come to Sandringham at least twice each autumn and winter for the shooting. We are a little early for that, so we must find other means of entertainment. The Prince, as you know, occasionally takes his with Violet. At the court of eighteenth-century France she would probably have been known as “
la maitresse en titre
”.'

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