I’m so excited. Today I’m releasing A LOVE TO REMEMBER book #7 in my Disgraced Lords series. I didn’t even know there would be a book #7 when I plotted out the series, or a book #8 (A Dream of Redemption releasing early 2018). However, as secondary characters, Rose and Philip’s love affair drew me in. I wanted to know, two years down the track, why they had not married. They were obviously perfect for each other.
But sometimes being perfect for each other is not enough. Sometimes, the hurt and guilt we carry from our past stops us embracing something good. How did Philip and Rose, friends since childhood and lovers for two years, learn to embrace love and put their fears behind them?
Here is the beginning of their story and I hope you love it as much as I loved telling their story.
Devon, England July 1815
I’ll wear your memory proudly
My honorable brother . . . my true friend
May my love for you reach heaven above
Until we meet again
Philip Flagstaff, the new Earl of Cumberland, barely heard the words as he stood beside his elder brother’s open grave. All he felt was the chill of Robert’s absence, and the burning stares that came at him from every side.
Whether friend, foe, or family, Philip knew each one thought the same: Why are you alive, you selfish bastard? Why are you alive when your brother lies dead?
He’d asked himself the same question every moment since Waterloo.
Their father’s firstborn favorite, Robert was destined to be the earl. Yet he’d never lorded it over his siblings. He had loved them, taken care of them, and stood up for them. As a brother, he was perfect.
When their father died, Robert turned the estate and family fortune around and proudly—earnestly—taken his seat in the House of Lords, determined to play his part in making England great.
Everyone loved him.
Everyone wanted to be him.
And everyone gathered at his grave today in the pouring rain knew why they had lost him.
Because of Philip.
Philip, who had been trouble since the day he was born.
Philip, who almost burned the house to the ground lighting a campfire in the nursery. Philip, who had cost his father a champion horse when the animal had failed to jump the river, broken its leg, and had to be shot. Philip, who had pretended to lose their sister Portia in the forest just before a storm, only to truly do so, and find her hours later ill with fever and at death’s door. Philip, who only the previous year had invested in a “sure thing” only to lose more than a year’s allowance.
Philip, who—against Robert’s advice—had taken a commission, and dragged his brother onto the battlefield with him because there was no way Robert would let a genuine walking, talking, breathing disaster go to war alone.
If anyone should have died on the battlefield of Waterloo it should’ve been Philip. Instead, he had watched in a macabre dream as Robert, selfless to the last, shoved between his brother and a French bayonet and took the mortal blow.
He hadn’t believed it. Had seen his own shock and disbelief mirrored on their friend Grayson Devlin’s face as he fought his way to them. And then nothing else mattered. He’d dropped to his knees beside Robert’s body, pressed his ear against the blood-soaked jacket, and caught his brother’s final words. “Look after the family. You’ll make a fine earl.”
Moments later, Robert had died in his arms.
And nothing would ever be the same again.
Philip’s stiff shoulders almost buckled under his guilt. It should have been his body, not Robert’s, in the grave at his feet. His life over and done. Instead, he stood in the churchyard, alive—and the new Earl of Cumberland.
You don’t deserve the title. Everyone at the graveside knew it. Was thinking it. It’s your fault he’s dead.
And they were right. He should have tried harder to make Robert stay home, to acknowledge that as an eldest son his duty was to his family. But he had not tried harder. He’d loved having Robert with him. Somehow it made him feel safer to have his perfect, indestructible brother riding by his side.
Look after the family. You’ll make a fine earl.
Philip stared blankly down at the elaborate coffin in the gaping hole and vowed he would be a man his brother could be proud of. He would look after his family. He would become a fine earl. But he would not continue his family line or profit from his selfishness. He had that much honor. Better that he never marry. Never produce a legitimate heir. Then the title would pass to Thomas, his younger brother, a younger replica of Robert, and one far more worthy of the line of succession than Philip would ever be.
He barely noticed as the others left the graveside. Maxwell had tried to draw him away but he’d brushed his brother’s hand from his arm. If only he could go back to Waterloo. Shove Robert away. Take the killing blow himself as he should have. He’d be in that grave, his guilt and pain finally over—and Robert would be here, alive, with a future bright before him.
He had no idea how long he stood in the downpour before a small, warm hand slipped into his chilled one.
He glanced down.
Rose Deverill, the Duchess of Roxborough, stood beside him. She was his sister Portia’s best friend. When they were younger she had adored him, following at his heels like an obedient puppy wanting attention. God knew why. She’d been one of the few people to ever see good in him. In the past few years she’d grown into the most beautiful woman, and since her elderly husband’s death—well, he’d heard her nickname. The Wicked Widow.
“The grave diggers need to finish their work before the grave floods,” she said gently. “Come home, Philip. Your mother and siblings need you.”
The compassion in her eyes almost undid him. For an insane moment he wished Rose would be the Wicked Widow with him, that she’d take him in her arms and make the pain go away. Make him forget—
No. A shudder ran through him. Nothing would take the pain away. Nothing would make him forget his guilt.
“Philip.” She tugged his hand. “Your mother needs you. Come. Please.”
For the brief moment that he looked into her eyes it wasn’t only compassion he saw. It was also tenderness. It was—
He jerked his gaze away and straightened to his full height. There was no room in his life now for more than duty to his family. That was what he would live for. He would ensure the Cumberland seat was the most profitable in all England when he handed it to Thomas, the eldest of the remaining three brothers or Thomas’s children, on his death. God willing, that death would be sooner rather than later.
Silently, Philip squeezed Rose’s hand and let her lead him back through the waterlogged garden, toward the house.
To a life, title, and estate that should not be his.
Scotland, early August 1817- two years later
Rose Deverill, Duchess of Roxborough, had not always enjoyed sex. Sexual congress with her elderly husband—the man to whom her family had literally sold her—had been something to endure. Then, as a young widow of one-and-twenty, she’d taken her first lover.
Imagine her surprise. Her older brother’s friend, Viscount Tremain, had been a marvelous teacher who had introduced her to a world of desire and pleasure and she was forever grateful.
But on that same day she’d made a decision. She would never marry again.
Marriage held few advantages for a woman. As a widow, no one told her how to behave, what to wear, what to eat, what to drink, or where she could go. It was a glorious freedom. She had her son, money, and a title. She did not want for anything.
The ton of course did not understand her resolve, or why she would turn down so many eligible proposals. She was still young and beautiful. She needed a man to make her life complete.
But Rose had men—a different man whenever she wanted, in fact. She just didn’t have a husband. Which meant she did not have to put up with a man’s tantrums, his boring displays of jealousy, or worry that she might be left financially ruined by his profligate spending. When a man bored her, she simply sent him on his way. After all, none of them really mattered to her.
The reputation she had crafted and built over the five years of her widowhood—and the double standards of their society—ensured most men would never again look at her as a potential wife. Although she could not guarantee it. Having a title and money forgave many sins.
Now six-and-twenty, Rose could say that she still enjoyed pleasure, the giving and receiving of it—especially the receiving. Who wouldn’t? But she’d learned from her experience of many paramours that not every man was as considerate, or as skilled a lover, as her viscount.
To her consternation, she’d also come to realize that making love was far more fulfilling than simply experiencing pleasure. Lovemaking was the most sensual and exquisite experience a woman could have. It was like touching heaven, and Rose had only ever felt that touch at the hands of one man. And she knew she’d only ever feel that with one man.
Philip Flagstaff, the Earl of Cumberland.
The man who’d become her lover on that wet, stormy day they had buried his older brother. The one man who could perhaps get her to change her mind and marry—if he asked.
The man currently naked and buried to the hilt inside her.
“Oh, God, Philip!” Rose fought to keep hold of the bedhead as he thrust forcefully into her from behind. “Yes, that’s it, I’m going to—”
And she did, her words lost in a scream of pleasure as her world exploded in a vision of color. Only his strong arm about her waist prevented her slumping to the bed as his thrusts became more frantic. Suddenly, and with a roar, he pulled out of her body and spilled his seed on the sheets.
Panting from his exertions, Philip tumbled sideways onto his huge bed, pulling her with him so that she landed curled into his side. Rose struggled to get her own breathing under control. She knew she should be grateful that he was so scrupulous about not getting her with child. But lately she hoped for a sign that he wanted to take their relationship further. A sign that he might want more from her. He’d invited her to Scotland, after all. He hadn’t done so last year. She’d thought perhaps he was thinking of marriage. His actions just now of ensuring his seed did not take root in her womb indicated that if he was thinking about marriage, it probably wasn’t with her.
The thought should have made her happy. It didn’t.
She glanced out the large windows and saw the sun low in the sky. “What is the time?” she asked, pushing at Philip’s arm still pinning her to his side.
“We have time.”
“Time for what?” She giggled as he tightened his hold. “You can’t possibly have that much stamina.”
They’d been in his bed since her arrival at lunchtime. Philip hadn’t even let her recover from her journey. He’d wanted her with a ferocity that excited and warmed her. After their third bout of lovemaking, her body was numbly sated and she needed a bath.
He lifted her hair and pressed a kiss to her neck. “I have missed you, darling. It’s been eight weeks since I saw you. Eight long weeks.”
Very long weeks. “I missed you. too. But Lord Kirkwood didn’t need my reputation shoved in his face while he was in London visiting Drake.”
Drake, was her five-year-old son. The Duke of Roxborough. The only person she loved more than Philip.
Philip snorted inelegantly. “Kirkwood knows we are lovers. Hell, the whole ton knows.”
Marquess of Kirkwood had been Rose’s husband’s and her father’s best friend. Luckily for her, the late Duke of Roxborough named him guardian of Drake.
Luckily for her because he was a kind man. He had always thought it wrong that she had been married off at such a young age to a man old enough to be her grandfather, so he tended to be lenient when it came to her behavior. But while he indulged her need to be free, Lord Kirkwood controlled every aspect of Drake’s life. Kirkwood had a son of his own, Francis, and he was a bit on the wild side. It was as if Kirkwood wanted to ensure he did not make the same mistakes with Drake.
Of course, he consulted with her. But ultimately, he was the one making decisions both as trustee of the Roxborough estate and as Drake’s guardian.
Yes, Kirkwood knew about her relationship with Philip, and he, like the rest of the ton, wondered why Philip had not yet proposed.
“There’s a difference between suspicion and incontrovertible proof,” Rose said. “He can deny the rumors if he doesn’t witness any scandalous behavior.”
One day, she knew, Kirkwood would order her to settle down. Probably apply gentle pressure to force her to select another husband. She’d fight that battle when it came.
Perhaps marriage would be bearable if Philip were that man. They had been lovers for two years and he didn’t seem to be tiring of her. She had certainly not tired of him.
Surely the fact that she had not ended their affair, as she normally did after a few months with a paramour, must tell Philip what was in her heart. Or did he believe the tale she’d spun to the ton that she never intended to remarry. Worse, did he not see her as worthy of marriage? If she’d ever imagined she had a chance of winning Philip’s heart, she would never have cultivated such a wicked reputation.
It, while no worse than his—definitely no worse than his—counted against her. Men tended to want their wives chaste, virginal, and young. She was none of those things. How she hated that damnable double standard.
She told her heart not to expect more from Philip. The only reason they’d become lovers in the first place was because of his grief. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that, two years later, he would still need her. Still want her. As far as she was aware he had no other mistress or lover.
But a man never married his mistress. An earl certainly did not.
She rolled over to face him. Simply looking at him still took her breath away. Bright blue eyes framed in a face of artistic angles and aristocratic lines, lips full and inviting, and deep auburn hair glinting copper in the sunlight. He could make her wet with a simple smile.
“Sebastian and Beatrice arrive tonight with Drake,” she said, trying to sound practical instead of needy. “We should get ready to greet them. Christian and Serena, Marisa and Maitland and their children will arrive tomorrow.”
Sebastian Hawkestone, the Marquis of Coldhurst, Maitland Spencer, the Duke of Lyttleton, and Christian Trent, the Earl of Markham, were three of Philip’s closest friends, and Rose was grateful that her reputation had not kept them from staying with Philip and bringing their wives and children with them.
Philip pressed more kisses over her bare shoulder. “Damn your bloody carriage losing a wheel. I wanted you to myself for a few days. Instead, all I get is an afternoon.”
“I’m as disappointed as you, darling. But we still have three weeks together with our friends. You’ll likely be keen to wave me goodbye by then.”
She made her tone both light and teasing, hoping he’d deny the possibility. He didn’t, and she felt absurdly hurt.
She should have been pleased that he wanted to spend time with her—and she was—but it almost sounded as if he resented her son’s imminent arrival.
That was just too bad. She would not let her affair with Philip distance her from Drake. Her son came first. The only reason he was traveling with Sebastian and Beatrice was because Drake and Henry, Sebastian’s ward, were about the same age, firm friends, and wanted to make the journey together.
It had been Beatrice’s suggestion that Rose leave three days ahead of them. It was rare for Rose to spend uninterrupted time with Philip, especially once the Season ended. He’d leave London to attend to his estate in Devon. She was expected to spend time at the Roxborough seat in Cornwall, and although Cornwall was not far from Devon, she could not openly call on him unless Portia was in residence.
Sadly, since Portia’s marriage to Grayson Devlin, Viscount Blackwood, she did not return to her family home nearly enough, in Rose’s opinion. Now a brand-new mother, Portia would travel even more infrequently and Rose’s excursions to Flagstaff Castle would be rare.
“I thought I’d take Drake and Henry fishing tomorrow,” Philip said, breaking into her thoughts.
She wanted to hug him. Only a moment ago she’d wondered if he resented her son. “They would love that. Thank you.”
“You are never too young to learn how to catch salmon.” He narrowed his eyes and his mouth curved in a smile. “Just watching them jumping out of the water…I still remember my first fishing trip with Father and Robert—” His smile dimmed and he rolled away and onto his back.
Rose had a sudden desire to seize him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. Two years, and Philip still refused to come to terms with his brother’s death. She used to try and talk to him about it, but he first refused to discuss the subject and then got angry with her for bringing it up. She understood his feelings of guilt that he had survived Waterloo when his brother had not. But Robert had been a grown man who had made his own decisions, and the choice to fight for his country had been one of them.
She reached out, took Philip’s large hand in hers, and squeezed. He didn’t squeeze back. Rose wished she knew where he went inside his head when these moods came upon him.
The silence lengthened, their intimate moment destroyed by Robert’s ghost. A far too frequent occurrence of late.
Finally, Philip disengaged his hand, rose, and donning a robe, pulled the bell to summon his valet.
“Wilson,” he said when the man entered the room, “please arrange for a bath to be drawn for me in here, and one for Her Grace in her dressing room.”
“Very good, my lord.” Wilson bowed and left.
Rose liked Wilson. The man had been Robert’s valet. After his master’s death he had asked to stay and valet for Philip. He was the soul of discretion and—no matter where he found her—treated her with genuine respect. He certainly accepted her presence here in Philip’s room.
Philip moved round to her side of the large four-poster bed and held a robe out to her.
“Here, my sweet,” he said. “You’re right. We should be ready and waiting for our guests when they arrive. Cook has planned a light supper in the drawing room as I suspect they will be tired from the journey, and Drake will be eager to see you.”
He escorted her to the door linking his master suite to her rooms. Wherever they stayed, he always gave her rooms connecting with his. He never tried to hide her away, or make her feel ashamed that they were lovers.
He pressed a brief kiss on her lips and then gave her a gentle push into her room. “I’ll be in the study when you are ready. Collect me on the way to the drawing room and we’ll greet our guests together. I promise I’ll be out of my sulk by then. Rose”—he hesitated, then continued—“dearest Rose, I am truly grateful that you’ve come all the way to Scotland to be with me for these weeks. I have missed you.”
Then he stepped back, letting her close the door.
As she did so, and then called for her maid, Rose inwardly smiled.
I have missed you.
This was why she stayed with him, even while hoping for more. Philip had always owned a piece of her heart. In moments like this he made her feel like the most special woman in the world.
I have missed you.
Not I love you. He’d never said he loved her. But then she’d never talked of love, either. It didn’t matter. He treated her better than many men treated their wives, or mistresses, and actions spoke louder than any words could.
When the bath was drawn and ready Rose slipped into the soothing heated water. How she wished she were not such a coward. She wished she could tell him what was in her heart, but her years of being the person who ended affairs and tried to ensure no one fell in love with her, had taught her the signs.
Philip didn’t want her love. He wanted her company, her intelligence, her beauty, and her presence in his bed. That was all.
The truth was that one day he would have to marry. He was, after all, an earl. For a moment, alone in her tub, she wanted to weep. But duchesses didn’t weep over hard truths. All she could hope was that, when Philip chose a wife, he chose her. If he didn’t, she hoped her heart was strong enough to become an impenetrable fortress, or her world would crumble to dust.
Buy links: A Love To Remember