Charles Royce was but thirteen years of age when his stepfather, the Earl of Weybridge, arranged for his kidnap and murder. But instead of burying his body in a shallow grave, as ordered by the earl, his kidnapper sells him to the Captain of a slave ship bound for Jamaica.
Eighteen years later, when Charles returns to London society to attain his revenge, it is as a very different person indeed.
For, whilst in Jamaica, Charles becomes Charlotte, a beautiful young debutante and wife to one of the richest plantation owners on the island. When her husband succumbs to yellow fever, the beautiful and fabulously rich Lady Charlotte returns to England with one ambition in mind—the complete and utter destruction of the Earl of Weybridge.
Lady Charlotte soon discovers, however, that revenge is not a dish best served cold, after all. Instead, she discovers revenge is a dish best tempered with love for her friends, with love for her family, and with her love for a very special man.
James Beaufort, 8th Duke of Camberly, stood before the ornate silvered mirror on the wall of his study and smiled to his reflection benevolently. He had, as usual, spent an hour or so on his correspondence, just as he did most mornings. This had been followed by a visit from Mr Paul, his Man of Business, for the monthly inspection of the estate books, and James had been exceedingly pleased with the state of affairs. Why even the estate in Scotland was turning a profit, thanks in part to the changes in farming policy he had introduced when succeeding his father.
“A good thing, too, for Anne’s gowns alone are costing a small fortune,” he said to himself.
Carefully he poured himself a small glass of his favourite Scottish whiskey and then wandered over to the picture window to stare out into the garden of his London townhouse, his attention drawn by the laughter he could hear. It was a beautiful day, and James found himself smiling once more as he observed his daughter with her friend, Lady Jane Chalmers, the two of them engaged in some sort of feminine conversation that would surely baffle any gentleman listening in.
Unexpectedly, his heart and mind became suffused with a host of mixed emotions. At very nearly nineteen years of age, Lady Anne Beaufort had blossomed into an incredibly beautiful and accomplished young woman. Not only was she a talented musician, being proficient on both pianoforte and harp, but she had also taken responsibility for the efficient management of the household of Grantly Manor, doing so with grace, humour, and sensitivity that endeared her to each and every servant.
But he knew time was fast approaching when he would be destined to lose her to another, and the thought saddened him intensely.
Three weeks before, the entire household had moved to the townhouse in Belgrave Square, so that preparations could be made for Lady Anne’s first season in London. In two weeks’ time she would be formally presented to the Prince Regent at court, and, a day later, would make her first appearance at the Duchess of Harrow’s famous debutante’s ball.
Yet again James wished, with all his heart, that his beloved wife still lived. Margaret would have shielded her daughter with the ferocity of a mama bulldog protecting her pups. She would have helped Anne to avoid the less scrupulous members of the ton, who would think nothing of compromising a naive young lady in order to get hold of a sizeable dowry. Margaret would have gently guided her daughter through the trials and tribulations of the marriage mart to make the best possible choice, only ever considering a love match to be good enough for her girl.
“Perhaps you should have remarried. At least then you would have had a suitable chaperon for Anne,” he groaned, knowing that talking to himself this way was never a good sign.
James shook his head sadly as he turned from the window, relishing the burn of the whiskey in the back of his throat as he sipped his drink. At four and fifty years of age, whilst no longer in the bloom of youth, he was still a fit and active man, and was often told by his friends that he could easily attract a wife should he so wish. But when Margaret had died, part of his heart had died too, and he had no desire whatsoever to offer it once more, only to have it crushed yet again. Besides, he needed no wife, for he already had a wonderful daughter in Anne, and his son, Richard, Viscount Addington, was developing into a splendid young man. Currently on his grand tour after graduating from Cambridge University, he would undoubtedly be a credit to the title of duke when it became his turn to inherit.
“But the fact remains,” he mumbled aloud, “that I still need to find Anne a suitable chaperon if she is to have her season. Perhaps I will have to ask Mother after all.”
Inwardly, he groaned at that thought, for he had no doubt that, despite the affection Anne held for her grandmother, she would not relish the idea of the dowager duchess being appointed as her chaperon.
Suddenly, a polite yet firm knock on the closed study door interrupted his train of thought and, as James looked up, Stevens, his butler, entered, holding a small silver tray in one hand. Despite his advanced age, the man’s back was ramrod straight and the uniform he wore as immaculate as ever.
“Yes, what is it, Stevens?”
“There is a lady caller, your grace, requesting a moment of your time. I told her that you were unavailable, but she was most insistent. She asked me to give you this.” The man held out his silver tray.
On the tray was a calling card that was clearly of superior quality and, after picking it up, James viewed it carefully, noting that the name was beautifully embossed in real gold leaf.
Lady Charlotte Winters.
Instantly, James’s interest was aroused. Lady Charlotte Winters! He had heard that name bandied around his club over the past couple of weeks, where speculation about the woman was rife. By all accounts, she was a widow recently returned from the West Indies and was said to be as rich as Croesus himself. She would have to be, if she was to rent Conway House for the whole of the season, the townhouse only four doors away from his own in Belgrave Square.
Looking up he smiled at the butler.
“You had better show her in, I suppose. Is she chaperoned?” he asked with a sudden afterthought.
“Yes, your grace. By the biggest African man I have ever seen. But she has requested that she speak to you alone.”
“Oh, very well. Show her in, Stevens.”