Devil's Daughter Page 1

Author: Lisa Kleypas

Series: The Ravenels #5

Genres: Romance , Historical

Chapter 1

Hampshire, England, 1877

Phoebe had never met West Ravenel, but she knew one thing for certain: He was a mean, rotten bully. She had known it since the age of eight, when her best friend, Henry, had started writing to her from boarding school.

West Ravenel had been a frequent subject of Henry’s letters. He was a heartless, hardened case of a boy, but his constant misbehavior had been overlooked, as it would have been in nearly any boarding school. It was seen as inevitable that older boys would dominate and browbeat younger boys, and anyone who tattled would be severely punished.

Dear Phoebe,

I thought it would be fun to go to bording school but it’s not. There’s a boy named West who always takes my brekfast roll and he’s already the size of an elefant.

Dear Phoebe,

Yesterday it was my job to change the candlestiks. West sneaked trick candles into my basket and last night one of them went off like a rocket and singed Mr. Farthing’s brows. I got my hand caned for it. Mr. Farthing should have known I wouldn’t have done something so obvyus. West isn’t a bit sorry. He said he can’t help it if the teacher is an idyut.

Dear Phoebe,

I drew this picture of West for you, so if you ever see him, you will know to run away. I’m bad at drawing, which is why he looks like a pirate clown. He also acts like one.

For four years, West Ravenel had annoyed and plagued poor Henry, Lord Clare, a small and weedy boy with a delicate constitution. Eventually Henry’s family had withdrawn him from school and brought him to Heron’s Point, not far from where Phoebe lived. The mild, healthful climate of the coastal resort town, and its famed seawater bathing, had helped to restore Henry’s health and good spirits. To Phoebe’s delight, Henry had visited her home often, and had even studied with her brothers and their tutor. His intelligence, wit, and endearing eccentricities had made him a favorite with the Challon family.

There had never been a specific moment when Phoebe’s childhood affection for Henry had turned into something new. It had happened gradually, twining all through her like delicate silver vines, blossoming into a jeweled garden until one day she looked at him and felt a thrill of love.

She had needed a husband who could also be a friend, and Henry had always been her best friend in the world. He understood everything about her, just as she did him. They were a perfect match.

Phoebe had been the first one to broach the subject of marriage. She’d been stunned and hurt when Henry had gently tried to dissuade her.

“You know I can’t be with you forever,” he’d said, wrapping his lean arms around her, twining his fingers in the loose curls of her red hair. “Someday I’ll fall too ill to be a proper husband or father. To be of any use at all. That wouldn’t be fair to you or the children. Or even to me.”

“Why are you so resigned?” Phoebe had demanded, frightened by his quiet, fatalistic acceptance of his mysterious ailment. “We’ll find new doctors. We’ll find out whatever it is that’s making you ill, and we’ll find a cure. Why are you giving up the fight before it’s even started?”

“Phoebe,” Henry had said softly, “the fight started long ago. I’ve been tired for most of my life. No matter how much I rest, I scarcely have enough stamina to last through the day.”

“I have stamina for both of us.” Phoebe had rested her head on his shoulder, trembling with the force of her emotions. “I love you, Henry. Let me take care of you. Let me be with you for however long we’ll have together.”

“You deserve more.”

“Do you love me, Henry?”

His large, soft brown eyes had glistened. “As much as any man has ever loved a woman.”

“Then what more is there?”

They had married, the two of them a pair of giggling virgins discovering the mysteries of love with affectionate awkwardness. Their first child, Justin, was a dark-haired and robustly healthy boy who was now four years old.

Henry had gone into his final decline a year ago, just before the birth of their second son, Stephen.

In the months of grief and despair that had followed, Phoebe had gone to live with her family, finding a measure of solace in the loving home of her childhood. But now that the mourning period was over, it was time to start a new life as a young single mother of two boys. A life without Henry. How strange that seemed. Soon she would move back to the Clare estate in Essex—which Justin would inherit when he came of age—and she try to raise her sons the way their beloved father would have wished.

But first, she had to attend her brother Gabriel’s wedding.

Knots of dread tightened in Phoebe’s stomach as the carriage rolled toward the ancient estate of Eversby Priory. This was the first event outside of her family’s home that she would take part in since Henry’s death. Even knowing she would be among friends and relations, she was nervous. But there was another reason she was so thoroughly unsettled.

The bride’s last name was Ravenel.

Gabriel was betrothed to a lovely and unique girl, Lady Pandora Ravenel, who seemed to adore him every bit as much as he did her. It was easy to like Pandora, who was outspoken and funny, and imaginative in a way that reminded her a little of Henry. Phoebe had also found herself liking the other Ravenels she’d met when they’d come to visit her family’s seaside home. There was Pandora’s twin sister, Cassandra, and their distant cousin Devon Ravenel, who had recently inherited the earldom and was now styled Lord Trenear. His wife, Kathleen, Lady Trenear, was friendly and charming. Had the family stopped there, all would have been well.

But Fate had turned out to have a malicious sense of humor: Devon’s younger brother was none other than West Ravenel.

Phoebe was finally going to have to meet the man who’d made Henry’s years at school so wretched. There was no way to avoid it.

West lived on the estate, no doubt puttering about and pretending to be busy while sponging off his older brother’s inheritance. Recalling Henry’s descriptions of the big, lazy sloth, Phoebe envisioned Ravenel drinking and lying about like a seal on the beach, and leering at the housemaids as they cleaned up after him.

It didn’t seem fair that someone as good and kind as Henry should have been given so few years, whereas a cretin like Ravenel would probably live to be a hundred.

“Mama, why are you cross?” her son Justin asked innocently from the opposite carriage seat. The elderly nanny beside him had leaned back to doze in the corner.

Phoebe cleared her expression instantly. “I’m not cross, darling.”

“Your brows were pointed down, and your lips were pinched up like a trout,” he said. “You only do that when you’re cross, or when Stephen’s diaper is wet.”

Looking down at the baby in her lap, who had been lulled by the repetitive motion of the carriage, she murmured, “Stephen is quite dry, and I’m not at all out of humor. I’m . . . well, you know I haven’t kept company with new people for a long time. I feel a bit shy about jumping back into the swim of things.”

“When Gramps taught me how to swim in cold water, he told me not to jump in all at once. He said go in up to your waist first, so your body knows what’s coming. This will be good practice for you, Mama.”

Considering her son’s point, Phoebe regarded him with fond pride. He took after his father, she thought. Even at a young age, Henry had been empathetic and clever. “I’ll try to go in gradually,” she said. “What a wise boy you are. You do a good job of listening to people.”

“I don’t listen to all people,” Justin told her in a matter-of-fact tone. “Only the ones I like.” Kneeling up on the carriage seat, the child stared at the ancient Jacobean mansion in the near distance. Once the fortified home of a dozen monks, the huge, highly ornamented structure bristled with rows of slender chimneys. It was earthbound, stocky, but it also reached for the sky.

“It’s big,” the child said in awe. “The roof is big, the trees are big, the gardens are big, the hedges are big . . . what if I get lost?” He didn’t sound worried, however, only intrigued.

“Stay where you are and shout until I find you,” Phoebe said. “I’ll always find you. But there’ll be no need for that, darling. When I’m not with you, you’ll have Nanny . . . she won’t let you stray far.”

Justin’s skeptical gaze went to the dozing elderly woman, and his lips curled in an impish grin as he looked back at Phoebe.

Nanny Bracegirdle had been Henry’s beloved primary caretaker when he was young, and it had been at his suggestion that she oversaw his own children’s nursery. She was a calm and comfortable woman, her figure stout in a way that made her lap the perfect place for children to sit while she read to them, her shoulders just right for crying babies who needed soothing. Her hair was a crisp white meringue swirled beneath the cambric pouf of her cap. The physical rigors of her occupation, such as chasing after rambunctious children or lifting chubby infants from the bath, were now largely left to a young nursemaid. Nanny’s mind was still sharp, however, and aside from needing an extra nap here and there, she was as capable as she had always been.

The caravan of fine carriages progressed along the drive, conveying the entourage of Challons and their servants, as well as a mountain of leather-bound bags and trunks. The estate grounds, like the surrounding farmland, were beautifully maintained, with deep mature hedges and old stone walls covered with climbing roses and soft, fluttery bursts of purple wisteria. Jasmine and honeysuckle perfumed the air where the carriages came to a slow halt in front of the portico.

Nanny awoke from her light snooze with a start and began to gather odds and ends into her carpetbag. She took Stephen from Phoebe, who followed Justin as he bounded out.

“Justin . . .” Phoebe said uneasily, watching him dart through the mass of servants and family members like a hummingbird, chirping little hellos. She saw the familiar figures of Devon and Kathleen Ravenel—Lord and Lady Trenear—welcoming the arriving guests. There were her parents, and her younger sister Seraphina, their brother Ivo, and Pandora and Cassandra, and dozens of people she didn’t recognize. Everyone was laughing and talking, animated by excitement over the wedding. A shrinking feeling came over Phoebe at the thought of meeting strangers and making conversation. Sparkling repartee wasn’t even a possibility. If only she were still dressed in protective mourning, with a veil concealing her face.

In the periphery of her vision, she saw Justin trotting up the front steps unaccompanied. Aware of Nanny starting forward, Phoebe touched her arm lightly. “I’ll run after him,” she murmured.

“Yes, milady,” Nanny said, relieved.

Phoebe was actually glad Justin had wandered inside the house—it gave her an excuse to avoid the gauntlet of guests being received.

The entrance hall was busy, but it was calmer and quieter than outside. A man directed the tumult of activity, giving instructions to passing servants. His hair, a shade of brown so dark it could easily have been mistaken for black, gleamed like liquid as the light moved over it. The man listened closely to the housekeeper as she explained something about the arrangement of guest bedrooms. Simultaneously he tossed a key to an approaching under-butler, who caught it with a raised hand and dashed off on some errand. A hall boy carrying a tower of hatboxes stumbled, and the dark-haired man reached out to steady him. After adjusting the stack of boxes, he sent the boy on his way.

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