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The Hidden Countess:
A black robe brought Jonnet Killey to the Isle of Man and a black robe would take her away to the noble English family she has never known.
The King’s Man:
All Simon Burke wants is to carry out his mission to return Jonnet to her birth mother and secure the funds to help finance Charles Stuart’s return to British soil.
An Adventure in Exile:
A new life awaits Jonnet, with a mother on the brink of madness and a treacherous uncle who will stop at nothing to keep Jonnet’s inheritance to himself. While the end of exile nears, danger mounts. Can Simon and Jonnet depend on their newfound love to sustain them while the storm of treachery rages around them?
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Excerpt Simon advanced on the plaid-swathed bundle of woman that stood at the rail, still and stalwart. “We have a cloak for you below.” He bit back the rest. Jacoba Albyn had sent a fine cloak, a lady’s cloak, but Jonnet never wore it. Dark brown woolen with enough fur trim that it might belong to a respectable merchant's wife. There were dozens, hundreds of such cloaks in Breda, or England, or all the world. It was a world in which a blanket of bright yellows and blues was a good as a bonfire. Yet no seamstress or furrier could dress Jonnet in something as fine as that blanket looked now.
“I know.” The wind tugged stray wisps of reddish gold about her face. Her knuckles grew white where she clutched the edges of her wrap together. “I wanted to be Jonnet one more time.”
“You will always be Jonnet.”
The eyes she turned on him were wide and mournful as a scolded dog. “No. It is Easter Hastings who must step off this ship. Easter Hastings who will be welcomed with open arms. Easter Hastings who will fetch a fine purse from Englishmen loyal and true. God bless Easter Hastings, for I do not know who she is.”
Simon folded her into his arms and felt her tremble. Her whole body shook as she fit her head into the space between his shoulder and chin. “You will always be Jonnet to me.” In that moment, he knew it to be true. “As generous as your,” he could no longer say mother, “Lady Albyn has been, no matter how good a teacher Eben may be, nobody can change the way God made you.” Nor would I wish it. The shaking lessened as he spoke, so he continued. “My wild Manx Jonnet, tart-tongued and stubborn and strong.” And beautiful. So very beautiful.
Jonnet braced both hands on the front of his coat before she pulled back. “But that is not what she will pay for. If I could talk to her the way I talk to you, I could bear that. I fear we will have nothing in common. Mother Mawd and I knew,” small white teeth bit down into her lower lip. “Know each other. We have a history. With Lady Albyn,” she sounded out the name as she often did, as though making sure she had it right. “All I have is this.” She drew the small leather volume from the folds of her blanket.
“You’ve read more.” The ribbon marker was nearly at the end now. She held it like an offering he was loathe to take, and yet he did. His hand brushed against hers, fingertips on knuckle for a heartbeat longer than needed. Her hand was as chilled as the air, but the pulse beneath the skin was steady. “Worry solves nothing.”
“Action. I know. What action do I take next? What if she turns me away because I am not what she wanted? My feet are hard and my skin is brown and I would not know her if I passed her on the street. I would go home if I could, now, today.” Jonnet shut her eyes, lashes wet against her cheeks.
Simon swallowed. She could, if she wanted. What man could refuse a request from those eyes, that lilt of her voice? As for coin, she had a name to barter now, and enough of noble ways to give at least an illusion of means. “Will you?” Father God, make her say no.
She took in a ragged breath and met his gaze. “I cannot. Something in me has changed. I have to do this. She is in here. The woman who bore me is in here, and whatever else she may be, she is a mother. If I had a chance,” she broke off, took in a sharp breath. “A chance to bring one of Mother Mawd’s babes back to her for one day, for her to hold them one more time, I could not deny her that.”
“And so you will give that to Lady Albyn?”
Her nod was his only answer.
He looked over her head at the line of tall, slender houses coming into view. “We have a few days before that. You’ll meet my sisters first, and my mother.” And father, but she would not be there for that. Nor would he be there for what followed. A month ago, even a week, the thought would not have troubled him, and now would it not be the same as leaving one of his own hands? He shut off the thought. Any more down that road, and he would not sleep a minute until well into summer.
The mission was still the same, deliver the woman, collect the money, bring it to Charles Stuart. Only the man to carry it out had changed. I will be back as soon as I can, he wanted to tell her, but he could not give a word that might be broken before it even left his tongue. This was for England, and none of their lives were their own to give. “You will be all anyone could ask for,” he managed instead.
Jonnet rewarded him with a tremulous smile. She dashed the back of her hand across her eyes that were now rimmed with red. “Will you promise to remind me who I am if I start to forget? If Easter Hastings must live, will you help me make sure Jonnet Killey doesn’t fade away?”
The answer sprang so readily that it was a mere breath before Simon covered Jonnet’s mouth with his own. “Always.”
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