By Kelly Bowen
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 25, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Earl. War hero. Notorious rake. After the Battle of Waterloo, Eli Dawes was presumed dead-and would have happily stayed that way. He’s no longer the reckless young man he once was, and only half as pretty. All he wants is to hide away in his country home, where no one can see his scars. But when he tries to sneak into his old bedroom in the middle of the night, he’s shocked to find someone already there.
Rose Hayward remembers Eli as the arrogant lord who helped her late fiance betray her. Finding him stealing into her art studio doesn’t correct her impression. Her only thought is to get him to leave immediately. Yet the tension between them is electric, and she can’t help but be drawn to him. He might be back from the dead, but it’s Rose who is suddenly feeling very, very much alive.
Each book is a team effort, and I am privileged to have a talented team behind me. Thank you to Alex Logan, my editor, whose keen eye makes each story I tell so much better, and all the folks at Forever who work tirelessly on my behalf. To my agent, Stefanie Lieberman, who has offered me unerring guidance from the beginning. And to my family for supporting me every step of the way, thank you.
When Lady Ophelia Volante smiled, she had a face that could start a war.
Or at the very least provoke duels, enthuse poets, and empty hothouses of extravagant bouquets. A face with the sort of mysterious radiance that would have sent Rubens and Botticelli and Titian scrambling for their brushes and paints.
The old masters were long in their graves. But Rose Hayward was very much alive and indecently pleased with the image that had emerged on the canvas under her careful brushstrokes. She was almost done, and the sultry, raven-haired, green-eyed goddess who stared back at her from a palette of decadent color was nothing short of breathtaking.
Rose gazed at the portrait for a moment longer before she set her brush aside. She narrowed her eyes critically at the work, but even as hard as she was on herself, she knew without a doubt that this was one of her best. A slow grin spread across her face.
"Is it done?" Lady Ophelia asked from where she reclined, up on the dais. She sounded hesitant and hopeful all at once.
"Yes." Rose arched her back and rubbed her neck, stretching muscles that had tightened across her shoulders.
"Can I finally see it?"
Rose looked up at her. "I would like nothing more." She moved out from behind the canvas and made her way to the dais. She plucked an embroidered robe from the back of a chair on her way and climbed up to the long settee on the raised platform. Lady Ophelia had sat up and pushed her dark hair back over her shoulders, the self-consciousness that she had worn like a shield when she had first visited weeks ago nowhere to be seen.
Rose handed her the robe and extended her arm. The young woman reached for it and pulled herself slowly to her feet. She shifted slightly to gain her balance and then slid the robe over her naked shoulders before belting it neatly at the waist. Letting Ophelia lead, Rose assisted her down the steps until they were on level ground.
Lady Ophelia released her arm, and Rose retrieved her crutch from where it had been propped against the chair, passing it to her. They moved forward, Rose matching the speed of her steps to Ophelia's uneven gait until they had almost reached her easel.
"Close your eyes," Rose instructed. "Don't open them until I tell you to."
Ophelia gazed at her anxiously. "I'm nervous," she said suddenly.
"No, you were nervous when you first got here weeks ago," Rose said lightly. "Now you are…spectacular."
The young woman smiled shyly, and Rose was again mesmerized by her beauty.
"Thank you," Ophelia said.
Rose shook her head. "Truly, there is no need to thank me for doing something that I love to do. The pleasure was all mine."
"I don't mean the painting, though I am grateful for that. I meant for your kindness." She gestured to her crutch. "For treating me as a person and not a deformed cripple. For seeing me as something more."
Rose opened her mouth to retort and then thought better of it. "Let me show you how I see you," she said.
Ophelia held her gaze for a moment longer and then nodded.
"Close your eyes," Rose repeated, and this time, the young woman obeyed. She grasped Ophelia's hand and placed it on her arm, then guided her slowly forward until they stood in front of the canvas.
"Look," Rose commanded.
Ophelia took a deep breath and then slowly opened her eyes. She made a tiny noise in the back of her throat, and her fingers tightened around Rose's arm like a vise.
The nude woman on the canvas reclined on her side amid a bed of crimson satin, her skin like the finest ivory against the lush background. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders and across her generous breasts in a glorious curtain of midnight curls. One of her hands rested lightly on the exquisite curve of her hip, her good leg slightly bent and creating a shadow beneath the subtle swell of her abdomen. Her twisted, atrophied leg wasn't hidden but simply rested beneath the smooth lines of the other.
A soft smile curved her lips, her emerald gaze focused somewhere just beyond her audience. Sultry, seductive, almost dreamlike. As though she was thinking of a lover. Or perhaps reflecting on a sensual passage in the book that was cradled in her other hand. Or perhaps simply reveling in the sheer pleasure of being a woman, confident in her strength and power.
Ophelia's throat was working. "I don't…I can't…Oh God."
Rose glanced at the young woman and saw a tear slide down her cheek.
"That's not me," Ophelia whispered. "Is it?"
"That is every inch you," Rose replied firmly.
Ophelia let go of Rose's arm and stepped closer to the painting. She simply stared, and Rose retreated slightly, giving her whatever time she needed.
Finally the woman turned her head. "I don't know what to say."
Rose tilted her head. "Say that you'll look at this painting as often as you need to remind yourself exactly how beautiful you are."
"I never thought myself beautiful. But the woman in this painting…"
"But my leg—"
"Is simply a part of you."
"It's never been nothing to my family. To them it's a burden. An embarrassment at assemblies. An encumbrance during social calls. A liability in a ballroom."
Rose scoffed. "Clearly you've been dancing with the wrong men."
Ophelia laughed and sniffled at the same time, wiping the moisture from her cheeks. "No one has ever had the nerve to dance with me. Save for the poor dance instructor my parents paid to do so. Though he only lasted a week before he declared me hopeless and left."
"Then it is a good thing he left," Rose said coolly.
The young woman blinked. "Yes, I suppose it is." She looked back at the painting. "Can I take this with me?"
"I have a few details left to finish on the background," Rose told her. "And it will take some time to dry properly. I'll deliver it to you in London when it's ready. Discreetly, of course."
"I don't know how I can ever repay you for this."
"Don't fret about that. Your father has compensated me very generously."
Ophelia laughed again. "He paid you for summer painting lessons from the Haverhall School for Young Ladies so he and my mother could enjoy their vacation in Dover without having to shuffle me around."
Rose grinned. "Ah. Well, my sister might have been a little vague on who would be doing the painting when she made the arrangements with your father."
"I didn't want to come at all, you know. To Dover. To Avondale House. I didn't want to take lessons in anything." The smile slid from Ophelia's face, and her expression became sober. "But your sister would not take no for an answer."
"Clara has some good ideas from time to time." Rose was still smiling. "And duchesses always seem to get what they want."
"Did she know all along? That you would do…this when I got here?"
"But what if I hadn't…"
"Taken a chance? Trusted me to paint you as I did?" Rose raised a brow.
"Then I would have given you lessons. And you would have painted other women as I have painted you. Because there is no one perfect version of beauty."
Ophelia studied her fingers where they gripped the top of her crutch. "Do you do this for others? Like me?"
"Sometimes. Though most of the time clients seek me out. Lovers, husbands, wives, friends."
Ophelia lifted her head and stared at the painting again. She reached out and ran a fingertip along the very edge of the canvas with reverence. "I never knew."
"That's the idea," Rose replied gently. "Each painting I do is a personal undertaking for each individual. Each work of art is not meant for public consumption, to be judged and evaluated, measured or mocked by people who do not understand. By those who fear difference because they refuse to open their minds."
The young woman was silent, lost in her thoughts and the image in front of her.
"Get dressed," Rose suggested. "Take as long as you like with your painting. No one will disturb you. I'll be downstairs when you're ready to return to town."
Ophelia nodded, still transfixed by her likeness on the canvas.
Rose silently slipped from the studio, careful to close the door behind her. She glanced out the tall window at the end of the hall, noting the heavy clouds that were starting to gather on the horizon. It would rain again soon, she knew, and the darkening skies would steal the light she needed to finish the last details of the crimson satin on that canvas. But it didn't matter.
Because her work here this afternoon was done.
* * *
Eli Dawes, fourteenth Earl of Rivers, looked up at the ominous sky as he trudged onward. The clouds that hung low and heavy had broken in places just enough to allow a meager amount of moonlight through the all-consuming blackness. He'd forgotten just how much it rained along this coast, but the seemingly continuous deluge since his arrival had certainly reminded him. It seemed a fitting welcome for a dead man.
Eli had always assumed that his name had been permanently etched in the long lists of soldiers who had died in the chaos and confusion of Waterloo. Just another man lying in the morass of wasted humanity, rife with lost dreams and identities. Except his supposed death hadn't been accepted. At least not by the army of solicitors who had worked for his late father, and who presently, by default, worked for him. Somehow they had managed to find Eli Dawes, long after the guns had fallen silent.
And now here he was, back on English soil, back to face a world and a life that had long since ceased to appeal. A new reality where his appetite for the things that had once seemed so important had vanished. And for the life of him, he couldn't begin to explain what had finally made him return. A stubborn sense of duty that had ingrained itself too deep to be excised or ignored? A sense of guilt that, as the months had slipped by into years, he hadn't been able to put ink to paper to let his father know that he was alive? Eli felt the side of his lip curl, his good eye narrowing.
From the beginning his father had violently opposed Eli's decision to fight. Railed at him, threatened to disown him, swore that the only way he would have Eli back was in a pine box. He'd been a disappointment to his father for as long as he could remember, and it seemed fitting that his return should be a final act of defiance.
Just as well the old earl had died. He would never have approved of what was left of Eli Dawes anyway.
The wind had shifted, and the briny tang of the sea became more pronounced, laced with the earthy scents of the vegetation that grew along the cliffs ahead. Eli passed the familiar bulk of the castle, its outline just visible by the light of the handful of torches set along its walls, their flames dancing in the wind, but the surrounding roads were deserted this time of night. There was no one to mark his passage, and he was glad of it.
Eli hadn't been sure of his exact destination until he had stood, his boots sunk in the fine sand of Ostend, and stared across the narrow expanse of sea. The idea of London was intolerable, and he'd discarded that out of hand. He would never go back. But Dover was close, and the earldom owned a far-flung estate perched on those chalky white cliffs, a good few miles from the town proper. It was a substantial manse crafted of solid, buff-colored stone, a stoic sentinel overlooking the sea. He recalled neat rows of glittering windows punctuating the tidy facade at precise intervals, and a rolling lawn divided in half by a wide, sweeping drive. He'd been there only a few times as a young man, and the memories that lingered were of wildness and isolation. Tedious then. Exactly what he wanted now. What he needed.
If the solicitors representing his estate could manage to locate a dead man in Belgium, there was no reason they could not manage to conduct all further communication with him by post. And whatever matters might arise that needed his personal attendance—well, those lawyers could come to him. Let the rumors make their way back to the city, as they inevitably would. At least Eli wouldn't be there to listen to them.
He glanced up at the sky again. The clouds were threatening to crowd back in and obscure what little light their absence had afforded, and a dispiriting dampness hung thick in the air. It would rain again, Eli knew, and soon. As if on cue, the sky lit and flickered, and a rumble of thunder rolled in the distance, heralding the arrival of another summer squall.
He hurried on, heading for the one place where he knew his arrival would go unmarked and his presence unheeded by anyone save a handful of servants.
It wasn't the first time Eli had broken into this house.
The rain seemed to lessen slightly as he headed for the rear, toward the servants' entrance near the kitchens. The doors of the house would be bolted, but there was a window with a faulty latch, something he had taken advantage of a lifetime ago when he would stumble back from town in the dead of night after too much whiskey. Eli gazed up at the empty windows that lined the upper floors, relieved to find that the vast house was dark and silent. Avondale would be operating with only a skeleton staff—aside from maintaining the structure and grounds, there would be little to do.
Eli slipped his fingers under the edge of the low window and tapped on an outside corner while gently pushing upward. The window inched up slowly, though with a lot more resistance than he remembered. Above his head another roll of thunder echoed, and he cursed softly as the rain once again came down in sheets. Quickly he wrested the window the rest of the way up and swung himself over the sill, then lowered the window behind him. The abrupt cessation of the buffeting wind and the lash of rain was almost disorienting.
He stood for a long moment, trying to get his bearings and listening for the approach of anyone he might have disturbed. But the only sounds were the whine of the wind and the rattle of the rain against the glass. He breathed in deeply, registering the yeasty scent of rising dough and a faint whiff of pepper. It would seem nothing had changed in the years he'd been gone.
The kitchens were saved from complete blackness by the embers banked in the hearth on the far side. Eli set his pack on the floor and wrenched off his muck-covered boots, aware that he was creating puddles where he stood. A rivulet of water slithered from his hair down his back, and he shivered, suddenly anxious to rid himself of his sodden clothes. He left his boots on the stone floor but retrieved his pack and made his way carefully forward, his memory and the dim light ensuring he didn't walk into anything. Every once in a while, he would stop and listen, but whatever noise he might have made on his arrival had undoubtedly been covered by the storm.
He crept soundlessly through the kitchens and into the great hall. Here the air was perfumed with a potion of floral elements. Roses, perhaps, and something a little sharper. He skirted the expanse of the polished marble floor to the foot of the wide staircase that led to the upper floors. Lightning illuminated everything for a split second—enough for Eli to register the large arrangement of flowers on a small table in the center of the hall as well as the gilded frames of the portraits that he remembered lining the walls.
He shouldered his pack and slipped up the stairs, turning left into the north wing of the house. The rooms in the far north corner had always been his when he visited, and he was hoping that he would find them as he had left them. At the very least, he hoped there was a hearth, a bed, and something that resembled clean sheets, though he wasn't terribly picky at this point. His stocking feet made no sound as he advanced down the hallway, running his fingers lightly along the wood panels to keep himself oriented. Another blaze of lightning lit up the hallway through the long window at the far end, and he blinked against the sudden brightness.
There. The last door on the left. It had been left partially ajar, and he gently pushed it open, the hinges protesting quietly, though the sound was swallowed by a crash of thunder that came hard on the heels of another blinding flash. He winced and stepped inside, feeling the smooth, polished floor beneath his feet, his toes coming to rest on the tasseled edges of the massive rug he remembered. This room, like the rest of the house, was dark, though, unlike in the kitchen, there were no embers in the hearth he knew was off to his right somewhere. Against the far wall, the wind rattled the windowpanes, but it was somewhat muffled by the heavy curtains that must be drawn. Eli took a deep breath and froze. Something wasn't right.
The air around him was redolent with scents he couldn't immediately identify. Chalk, perhaps? And something pungent, almost acrid in its tone. He frowned into the darkness, slowly moving toward the fireplace. There had always been candles and a small tinderbox on the mantel, and he suddenly needed to see his surroundings. His knee unexpectedly banged into a hard object, and something glanced off his arm before it fell to the floor with a muffled thud. He stopped and bent down on a knee, his hands outstretched. What the hell had he hit? What the hell was in his rooms?
It hadn't shattered, whatever it had been. Perhaps it—
Eli froze at the voice. He turned his head slightly, only to feel the tip of a knife prick the skin at his neck.
"I asked you not to move."
Eli clenched his teeth. It was a feminine voice, he thought. Or perhaps that of a very young boy, though the authority it carried suggested the former. A maid, then. Perhaps she had been up, or perhaps he had woken her. He supposed that this was what he deserved for sneaking into a house unannounced and unexpected. It was, in truth, his house now, but nevertheless, the last thing he needed was for her to start shrieking for help and summon the entire household. He wasn't ready to face that just yet.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said clearly.
"Not on your knees with my knife at your neck, I agree." The knife tip twisted, though it didn't break the skin.
"There is a reasonable explanation." He fought back frustration. Dammit, but he just wanted to be left alone.
"I'm sure. But the silverware is downstairs," the voice almost sneered. "In case you missed it."
"I'm not a thief." He felt his brow crease slightly. Something about that voice was oddly familiar.
"Ah." The response was measured, though there was a slight waver to it. "I'll scream this bloody house down before I allow you to touch me or any of the girls."
"I'm not touching anyone," he snapped, with far more force than was necessary, before he abruptly stopped. Any of the girls? What the hell did that mean?
The knife tip pressed down a little harder, and Eli winced. He could hear rapid breathing, and a new scent reached him, one unmistakably feminine. Soap, he realized, the fragrance exotic and faintly floral. Something that one wouldn't expect from a maid.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"I might ask the same."
"Criminals don't have that privilege."
Eli bit back another curse. This was ridiculous. His knees were getting sore, he was chilled to the bone and exhausted from travel, and he was in his own damn house. If he had to endure England, it would not be like this.
In a fluid motion, he dropped flat against the floor and rolled immediately to the side, sweeping his arm up to knock that of his attacker. He heard her utter a strangled gasp as the knife fell to the floor and she stumbled forward, caught off balance. Eli was on his knees instantly, his hands catching hers as they flailed at him. He pinned her wrists, twisting her body so it was she who was on the floor, on her back, with Eli hovering over her. She sucked in a breath, and he yanked a hand away to cover her mouth, stopping her scream before it ever escaped.
"Again," he said between clenched teeth, "I am not going to hurt you." Beneath his hand her head jerked from side to side. She had fine features, he realized. In fact, all of her felt tiny, from the bones in her wrists to the small frame that was struggling beneath him. It made him feel suddenly protective. As if he held something infinitely fragile that was his to care for.
Though a woman who brandished a knife in such a manner couldn't be that fragile. He tightened his hold. "If you recall, it was you who had me at a disadvantage with a knife at my neck. I will not make any apologies for removing myself from that position. Nor will I make any apologies for my presence at Avondale. I have every right to be here."
Her struggles stilled.
Eli tried to make out her features in the darkness, but it was impossible. "If I take my hand away, will you scream?"
He felt her shake her head.
She made a furious noise in the back of her throat in response.
Very slowly Eli removed his hand. She blew out a breath but kept her word and didn't scream. He released her wrists and pushed himself back on his heels. He heard the rustle of fabric, and the air stirred as she pushed herself away. Her scent swirled around him before fading.
"You're not a maid," he said.
"What?" Her confusion was clear. "No."
"Then who are you?" he demanded. "And why are you in my rooms?"
"Your rooms?" Now there was disbelief. "I don't know who you think you are or where you think you are, but I can assure you that these are not your rooms."
Eli swallowed, a sudden thought making his stomach sink unpleasantly. Had Avondale been sold? Had he broken into a house that, in truth, he no longer owned? It wasn't impossible. It might even be probable. He had been away a long time.
"Is it my brother you are looking for? Is someone hurt?"
The question caught him off guard. "I beg your pardon?"
"Do you need a doctor?"
Eli found himself scowling fiercely, completely at a loss. Nothing since he had pushed open that door had made any sort of sense. "Who owns Avondale?"
"What?" Now it was her turn to sound stymied.
"This house—was it sold? Do you own it?"
"No. We've leased Avondale from the Earl of Rivers for years. From his estate now, I suppose, until they decide what to do with it." Suspicion seeped from every syllable. "Did you know him? The old earl?"
Eli opened his mouth before closing it. He finally settled on, "Yes."
"Then you're what? A friend of the family? Relative?"
"Something like that."
Eli drew in a breath that wasn't wholly steady. He tried to work his tongue around the words that would forever commit him to this place. That would effectively sever any retreat.
He cleared his throat. "I am the Earl of Rivers."
It was more of a wheeze than a laugh, more like the sound she had made the last time she'd taken a tumble off her horse and found herself flat on her back, stunned and gasping. She shouldn't be laughing, she knew, given the circumstances. But perhaps it was the release of the terror that had gripped her when she had first seen the intruder silhouetted in the doorway as lightning lit up the hall beyond. Perhaps it was from relief in the knowledge that whoever he might be, if he hadn't already assaulted her, it was unlikely he would do so now. He sounded quite sane. Or at least he had, until he had made his last, absurd statement.
"Is that supposed to be a joke?" she asked before she could think better of it.
"I'm sorry?" The rough, almost raspy quality of his voice that she had noticed earlier was more pronounced.
- "Bowen's ensemble offers a feminist character study in how to build a cast that is bursting with complex, nuanced women and men who are not only noble, but outright allies. Last Night With the Earl pulses with a lush romanticism, and its central characters' deep wounds give the text a palpable yearning that will sweep you up into Bowen's world of compassionate souls who drop lines from Shakespeare and lose their s- at the sight of a Titian painting."—Entertainment Weekly
- "Skillfully crafted with intriguing characters, this historical romance will appeal to fans of Mary Balogh."—Publishers Weekly
- "Wonderful! A charming, clever, and engaging storyteller not to be missed."—Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
- "Where have you been all my life, Kelly Bowen? If Julia Quinn, Sarah MacLean, and Lisa Kleypas were to extract their writing DNA, mix it in a blender, and have a love child, Kelly Bowen would be it."—HeroesandHeartbreakers.com
- "[T]he fun, intrigue, and romance crescendo in a whopping plot twist. Bowen's Regency romances are always delightful, and this is one of her best yet."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Between the Devil and the Duke
- On Sale
- Sep 25, 2018
- Page Count
- 464 pages