'How delightful to meet you again, Miss Louisa Sibson.'***
Jonathon, Lord Chesterholm's eyes bored holes into Louisa Sibsons back. The former fiancée he's thought dead is very much alive. Louisa has rebuilt her life, after being dishonourably dismissed from her post as governess for allowing Jonathon to seduce her. Now Louisa lives by a rulebook of morals and virtue. The devastating Lord Chesterholm will not ruin her again! But Jonathon will get to the bottom of Louisa's disappearance--and he'll enjoy breaking a few of her rules along the way!
Pain consumed Jonathon Ponsby-Smythe. Every breath seared his lungs. His limbs refused to obey his command. Jonathon fought against it and the heavy blackness that called to him and invited him into its embrace-- to death. Jonathon knew he was far from ready to die. His life mattered.
'Louisa, Louisa.' The words escaped from his lips, a plea for life, for salvation. With Louisa at his side, he could accomplish anything. With his last ounce of strength, he lifted his hand towards a shadowy female shape. 'Louisa, help me. I want to live.'
'Jonathon, oh my poor, brave Jonathon, you must rest. You are not allowed to die,' an overly sweet voice cried.
'Louisa...not you...' he croaked at the woman with her English rose complexion and immaculately golden curls. 'Get her now! Louisa!'
'Who is this Louisa?' the woman asked, less sugary and far more imperious. 'Should I know her?'
'He wants that little nobody, the governess, Louisa Sibson,' the brisk tones of his stepmother rang out. 'Put her from your mind, Clarissa. She is beneath your notice.'
'Not governess. Fiancée. Find her.' Jonathon ignored the sudden stab of pain that wracked him and forced his body to an upright position. He stared at the pair. They would do as he commanded. 'I want her here. Now. Louisa. Must marry.'
'Jonathon is marrying the governess?' Clarissa shrieked. 'But you said...Mama said...It is all arranged and has been since we were babies. I am the right wife for him.'
'Have license. Marry Louisa today.' Jonathon frowned. How much time had he lost to the black pain? A few hours? Days? He shook his head to clear his mind. 'Tomorrow.'
'He has hit his head, Clarissa, and raves. A good wife knows to allow these indiscretions. Men are like that,' his stepmother said. 'Jonny is lucky to be alive, to be given a second chance. I pray he makes a better fist of it.'
'But this Louisa? I will not have her here. This is my house! I forbid it! He is not allowed to be in love with her!'
'He will forget her. She is nothing. A trollop who had ideas bigger than her station.' His stepmother snapped her fingers. 'Patience and fortitude will win the day, my dear. Remember that and he will always come back to you.'
Jonathon summoned the last of his strength. Forget Louisa? Never. Louisa was his life. His lodestar. 'Find Louisa.'
'Rest, my darling, later.'
Jonathon searched his memory and met the heavy curtain of blackness. Something had happened to Louisa. Dead? Injured? His fault? Pain shot through him Jonathon rejected the notion. She had left. They had quarrelled and she refused to come with him in the curricle, said that he drove too fast. So he had driven the horses faster to show her. 'Clarissa, fetch Louisa to me. Now.'
Clarissa backed away and glanced over her shoulder. 'She is not here. I don't know where she is. But I promise I will see you back to health, Jonathon. Then...then you can find her if you wish.'
'Find her!' He bit his lip and pain pounded on his lungs and skull. 'Please.'
'Jonathon,' his stepmother said in her brisk voice. 'Louisa Sibson is not coming. Not now. Not ever. Clarissa will nurse you back to health.'
'Never?' Jonathon searched his memory. Had he gone back and insisted that Louisa come with him? He had wanted to. Louisa wasn't in the curricle when it over turned, was she? Every breath was fire and the pain in his head screamed worse than ever. He felt the memory of the crash slip away from him and become lost. 'Was she in the curricle? Clarissa, you would not lie to me. Did I kill her?'
Clarissa turned away, sobbing, unable to meet his eyes.
'No one is lying, Jonny,' his stepmother said with great precision.
'Venetia, where is Louisa? What has happened to her?'
'She has gone for ever from our lives, Jonny. You had to do indulge in your needs and to go against my advice.'
His stepmother was silent for a long moment. 'You will not see her again. Jonathon, you were spared. No one but a fool would have left a cart on a blind bend.'
Louisa had died in the accident. His stepmother had admitted it in that roundabout way of hers. The knowledge hammered against his chest. The one person in the world he loved, that bright shining girl, dead. He had sworn to protect her but instead he had destroyed her.
'It would have better if we never met.'
'You can't turn back the hands of time, Jonny.' His stepmother gave him a fierce look. 'You can only go forward. It was providence that led you here to Clarissa's. If the farm manager had not found you, I shudder to think.' She put a cool hand on his shoulder. 'You have everything to live for.'
Jonathon collapsed against the linen covered pillows and willed the darkness to take him to Louisa. His body refused to die.
He turned his head and met his stepmother's icy gaze. 'You are wrong, Venetia. Without Louisa, I am beyond redemption.'
You can read the start of chapter one on Michelle Styles's website.