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The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)
Author: Sophie Barnes

PROLOGUE

Constantinople, 1811

“Run, Lucy, run—as fast as you can!”

Rounding a corner, Lucy looked back over her shoulder to see the absolute terror in her mother’s eyes. Footsteps were coming fast behind them. Surely there wasn’t enough time.

“Through here.” Eugenia grabbed her daughter’s wrist and gave it a hard tug, pulling Lucy backward and through an archway. They stopped in the open space beyond to listen, their chests rising and falling rapidly as they fought to catch their breaths.

“Mama?” Lucy was shaking with fear. She’d been fast asleep in bed when she’d suddenly found herself startled awake by her mother urgently shaking her. When she’d told Lucy to hurry up and come with her, her voice had been filled with unmistakable panic.

“Hush,” her mother now cautioned in a soft whisper as she pressed her hand firmly over Lucy’s mouth.

A door swung open further down the hallway, revealing muffled voices—Turkish, as far as Lucy could tell. She stiffened, her heart pounding in her ears as she clutched her mother’s hand. A moment’s silence followed, and then…the steady click of deliberate footsteps coming closer and closer.

“Come,” Eugenia whispered, ushering Lucy forward toward an open doorway. “Just a little bit further and we’ll be safe.”

The strain in her mother’s voice did little to reassure her. Why was this happening? Lucy had no time to ponder before her mother ushered her inside a room that had always been reserved for informal visits. She watched as her mother closed the door softly behind them and locked it firmly in place. “We don’t have a moment to lose.”

“But what about Papa?”

She saw the answer in her mother’s eyes but failed to believe it. “Those men…” Lucy’s voice quivered and broke before she could get the rest of the words out. A tremor swept along her spine and her eyes pricked with the onset of tears as her mother swiftly shook her head.

“Your papa will not be joining us, my love,” Eugenia said, her face filled with despair as she answered Lucy’s unspoken question. “Now come along.” Hurrying across the mosaic-tiled floor, Eugenia quickly reached the window. She swung open the delicately carved shutters and glanced out over the rooftops before lowering her gaze to the alley below. “You will have to jump. Do you think you can manage it?”

Lucy peered out over the ledge of the window. They were only one floor above the street, yet such a leap seemed practically impossible. She shuddered at the thought of it, just as a loud bang sounded against the door to the chamber. The next thing she felt was her mother’s arms about her in a tight embrace, her lips grazing her cheek in a succession of quick kisses.

“Take this,” Eugenia said, shoving a small leather pouch into the palm of Lucy’s hand. She then lifted her startled daughter up onto the windowsill. “It isn’t much, but it will help you return to England. Run as fast as you can, and whatever you do, do not look back.”

“But where will I…” Everything was happening so fast. With her feet dangling over the edge, Lucy half turned in the opening. “Mama, what about you? I won’t leave you!” Life without her parents was unthinkable—she couldn’t do it.

“You must, my love. If we both go, they will catch us and all will be lost. I will try to delay them as long as I can.” Eugenia’s voice was calm, in stark contradiction to her tear-drenched cheeks. “Stay away from the family. If you go to them, they will find you.”

“Who will, Mama?”

Another bang resonated through the air to the sound of angry voices.

“There is no more time. Find my friend Constance. You remember? She will take good care of you. Just promise me that my sacrifice will not be for nothing.”

“I…Mama…I…”

“Promise me,” Eugenia insisted, her fingers clutched tightly around her daughter’s shoulders. All Lucy could do was stare back at her in confusion. She didn’t understand what was happening, much less why. “Promise me!”

The seconds seemed to stretch into minutes until Lucy eventually nodded. “I promise, Mama.”

Relief flooded Eugenia’s face. She hugged her daughter against her once more, as if the memory of it would have to last her a lifetime. “Remember that I love you.” It was the last thing she said before pushing her unsuspecting, twelve-year-old daughter out of the window to face her fate alone. A moment later the door sprang open, giving way to five armed men, each wielding a yatagan as they moved forward to face her. A tall figure garbed in a crisp black suit, his white cravat tied to perfection and a beaver hat placed neatly upon his head, followed in their wake. Upon his face, he wore a mask that concealed his every feature—a shiny black thing, the sight of which made Eugenia shudder. He cast a careful glance about the room before asking the only question that seemed to concern him, “Where is she?”

“I cannot possibly imagine to whom you might be referring,” Eugenia said as she bravely straightened her spine and silently prayed that her daughter would be saved from the fate she herself was about to suffer.

CHAPTER ONE

London, 1817

William Summersby stared into the darkness that surrounded the terrace of Trenton House. He’d stepped outside with his father in order to escape the squeeze inside the ballroom. Taking a sip from the glass of Champagne in his hand, he shot a quick glance in his father’s direction. “I’ve made up my mind, Papa.”

Bryce said nothing in response to this, but merely waited for his son to continue, the cigar he held in his hand seemingly forgotten for the moment.

“I’ve decided to marry.”

“Oh?” His father’s surprise was clear. “I suppose you must have some candidates in mind then?”

William turned away from the darkness to face his father, knowing that what he was about to say would probably be met with disapproval. “I have done far better than that, Papa. In fact, I have already proposed.” He paused for a moment, allowing his father to digest this surprising piece of news. “It may please you to know that the lady in question has accepted, and that we hope to marry before the year is out.”

“I…er…I see,” his father muttered in a half-choked tone that did little to conceal how astonished he was. “I always imagined that you would consult me first when it came to choosing a bride. However, you’re grown, undoubtedly capable of making such a decision on your own. What, if I may ask, is the name of the lady who has so suddenly captured your heart, William?”

“Lady Annabelle—Lord and Lady Forthright’s daughter, if you recall.”

An immediate frown appeared on his father’s forehead. “Yes, I know her well enough, though it did not occur to me that you were so well acquainted with her.”

William merely shrugged. “I’m hardly getting any younger, you know. It’s bad enough that both of my siblings are now married. I’m your heir, and, as such, I have a certain responsibility.”

His father’s frown deepened. “You aren’t even thirty years of age.”

“Perhaps not, but I’ve attended enough social gatherings by now to have met all the eligible young ladies, and I am forced to admit that not one has made my heart beat faster. Thus, my decision has been based on logic. Lady Annabelle will make a most agreeable wife. She is from a very respectable family. She has a level head on her shoulders, and I dare say that her looks suggest that our children shall not be lacking in physical attributes.”

Bryce stared back at his son with sad eyes. “I always hoped that you would marry for love, William. I was fortunate enough to do so, and it is quite clear that Alexandra and Ryan were as well.”

“We can’t all be that lucky, Papa. First comes duty, however unfortunate that may be. But I will not run from it. I’ve tried long and hard to make a match that would put Romeo and Juliet’s love to shame but with no success. I see no point in wasting any more time. Lady Annabelle will suffice. She’s quite pleasant, really.”

“Well, if your mind is made up, then the least I can hope for is that you might, in time, find more appropriate words with which to describe your bride. ‘Most agreeable’ and ‘quite pleasant’ are rather lacking, if you ask me. And don’t forget that if you both live long and healthy lives, you will be stuck with each other. Do you really wish to spend the remainder of your days with a woman who merely suffices?”

William let out a lengthy sigh. He’d always longed for the sort of happiness his father and mother had shared, but as time passed he’d gradually been forced to acknowledge that he would be denied that sort of marriage. The woman he longed for didn’t exist. “There’s no one else. Besides, I’ve already proposed, and she has accepted. It would be badly done if I were to go back on my word now.”

“Perhaps.” His father patted him roughly on his shoulder. “But whatever you do, you have my full support. I hope you know that.”

Lucy Blackwell’s gaze swept across the ballroom like a hawk seeking out its prey. She’d barely made it through the door before finding herself assaulted by a hoard of young gentlemen, all wishing to know her name and why they’d never seen or heard of her before. She’d favored each of them with a faint smile but had otherwise done little to enlighten them. She wasn’t there to elaborate on her pedigree in the hopes that one of those young gentlemen might find her eligible enough to merit a courtship. No, she’d done her research as meticulously as any detective, and, consequently, she already knew whom she planned to marry. All she had to do now was make his acquaintance.

Moving forward, she slowly made her way around the periphery of the room until she found her path blocked by a small gathering of women who appeared to be quite caught up in whatever subject it was that they were discussing. Lucy was just about to squeeze past them when one of these ladies—a lovely blonde with bright blue eyes, stopped her. “Please excuse my ignorance,” the woman said, “but I don’t believe that you and I have been formally introduced.”

Lucy stared back at her, making an admirable attempt to hide her annoyance. How many people would delay her this evening?

“I am the Countess of Trenton, and these ladies who are presently in my company are the Marchioness of Steepleton and my sister-in-law, Lady Cassandra.”

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintances,” Lucy told them, managing an even broader smile at the realization that the woman before her was not only her hostess but also Lord Summersby’s sister. “My name is Lucy Blackwell. I am Lady Ridgewood’s ward.”

“I had no idea that she had a ward,” Lady Trenton said, looking to her companions as if to see if either of them had ever heard of such a thing. Both ladies shook their heads.

“As you may know, Lady Ridgewood favors the country,” Lucy told them by way of explanation. “And since I have only recently turned eighteen, there hasn’t been much reason for us to come to London until now. But her ladyship has most graciously agreed to grant me a season, so here I am.”

 

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