The Youngest Dowager

Can she ever emerge from the shadows of the past?

Lucian Southwood returns from the West Indies, attends the funeral of an estranged cousin – and discovers he is the new Earl of Longminster. Not only that but his resemblance to his cousin is so close that Marissa, the widow, faints at the sight of him.

The attraction is instant and mutual, but a spectre from the past haunts Marissa and Marcus begins to doubt he will ever vanquish it and win her trust.

The adventures of his headstrong young sister, the threats of Marissa’s father and the arrival in London of Marcus’s ex-mistress only make things worse before Marissa can make the leap of faith that might bring them together.

This is an extensively revised version of the novel of the same name by Francesca Shaw, originally published by Mills & Boon in 2000.

Excerpt

The older Mr Hope, the senior partner of the solicitors who had served the family for generations, was at her elbow, clearing his throat in a meaningful way. She turned and inclined her head, giving permission for him to speak.

‘I think we should progress to the reading of the will, my lady. If those concerned and the staff assemble in the library, ma’am, I will deal with the bequests to the servants first. They can then leave us to the greater matters in privacy.’

The solicitor turned to catch the eye of various people, Whiting was already marshalling the staff to move into the book-lined room, then James came in and hurried to the butler’s side to whisper in his ear.

People fell quiet, wondering at the interruption. Whatever James said had the butler turning on his heel to stare towards the closed double doors, mouth open in surprise and thirty faces turned as one.

‘Whiting – ’Marissa stopped as the doors swung open and a tall man stepped into the gallery to pause, composed, on the threshold. It gave her ample opportunity to study him. Dark blue eyes scanned the room from under brows slightly raised at the startled expressions which greeted his arrival, and then his gaze met hers.

Marissa felt the blood leach from her face and a high pitched singing start in her head. With an almost physical effort she looked up from the man framed in the doorway to the portrait which hung above. Charles Wystan Henry Southwood, third Earl of Longminster, stared haughtily down, blue eyes chilly, face pale below raven black hair. Beneath, come back from the vault, he watched her with those same eyes, hair bleached by death.

With a little gasp of horror Marissa let the darkness engulf her. She was falling, but she had no strength to save herself.

‘Marissa.’ It was Aunt Augusta, she realised, the strong, horsewoman’s grip painful on her arm

Then, in the midst of the swirling blackness she was aware of being caught up in a strong embrace, of a feeling of warmth and safety and the hot scent of sandalwood. She snuggled closer as the grasp tightened, then she was laid down and the blackness swirled over her again.