Please welcome historical author Erin Satie! Erin will be giving away a copy of her book, Lover’s Knot to one of you. Just leave a comment telling her you want it.
Now the cover.
Memory is his weapon. Forgetting is her armor.
Sophie Roe was once a wealthy young lady, with an adoring fiancé. But that was ten years ago. Now Sophie barely scrapes a living in trade. Her benefactor, the Duke of Clive, is dead. And the man she jilted is the new duke: rich, powerful, and determined to think the worst of Sophie. Julian has never been able to forget Sophie. He intends to find out just why she rejected him—and why she’s lying about the old duke’s death.
Sophie is hopelessly entangled in the past. But as long-buried secrets and betrayals come to light, Julian may be the man to set her free…
Spring, 1839 Derbyshire Julian Swann had been born seventh in line to inherit the dukedom of Clive. That gap ought to have expanded over the years, as the six who came before him sired sons who would grow up, take wives, and beget more sons.
But instead of adding new branches to the family tree, Fate had hacked away at the old. Age, war, disease. Everything that could have gone wrong had. The gap narrowed coffin by coffin, then finally closed.
And so, newly ennobled, Julian exchanged one name for another. One residence for another. One set of problems for… another. That much he could guess from the moment he arrived at High Bend, the duchy’s grandest holding.
Now his grandest holding.
His predecessor’s widow greeted him in the high front hall, young and fresh against a background of weathered stone and moth-eaten tapestries. She wore a gown that flaunted her curves rather than her grief, mourning black fitted tight around her full bosom and trim waist, crepe pleats flaring with her hips. She looked, he thought, like a nun in an erotic drawing.
“Are you ready? I’m about to perform my last act as mistress of the castle.” Gloria, Dowager Duchess of Clive, eyed Julian the same way he might admire a friend’s horseflesh, her regard frank and almost clinical. “My husband’s rooms have been cleaned and aired in preparation for your arrival. They’re yours now.”
She paused, and Julian felt a certain bitter satisfaction when she added, “Welcome home, Your Grace.”
Despite everything, he knew he had come home. As a child and young man, he’d kept his little room in High Bend while the title tumbled down the family tree. He might as well have been part of the entail: each new duke inherited the pastures, the mines, the factories, and the child.
Julian squeezed the young Dowager’s hands and leaned in to kiss her cool cheek. “I hope you know that you’ll always have a place here. You’re welcome to stay on at High Bend for as long as you wish.”
“I do not wish.” She grimaced. “I am sick unto death of this old pile. I’ve always hated living so far from Town, and now…”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t attend the funeral.” Julian settled a hand at the small of her back and urged her out of the front hall, with its drafts and echoes, and into the first of High Bend’s two central courtyards. Overhead, a latticework of iron and glass kept out the worst of the weather. “By the time I heard the news, there was no chance of arriving in time.”
“The news.” The Dowager laughed, low and throaty. “But, Julian, you haven’t heard the news. I’ve tried to keep it quiet—I didn’t dare write it down in a letter, though God knows the coroner’s told every shopkeeper and washerwoman in the county.” She took a deep breath and stared straight ahead. “Clive didn’t die of an apoplexy. He took his own life.”
Julian froze. “That’s not possible.”
She turned around to face him. One corner of her mouth, thin-lipped and deep red, turned up. “I would have said the same. And yet it was so.”
“For no reason? With no warning?” Julian shook his head. Men like Clive did not commit suicide. He’d been wealthy, esteemed. A duke, with a beautiful daughter only a few years younger than his even more beautiful second wife. “I don’t believe it.”
“He left no room for doubt,” said the Dowager Duchess. “Come along. I’ll show you.” The stiff crepe of her skirts rustled on the granite as she strode purposefully out of the courtyard and into a wide corridor. Lit sconces cast flickering orange haloes against the stone walls, and an oriental carpet swallowed the noise of their footsteps. She led him up one of the spiral staircases tucked into High Bend’s turret towers and down another corridor to a small sitting room, elegantly if impersonally furnished.
“I didn’t think you’d like my staying on in my old rooms, with the connecting door.” The Dowager opened up a small bureau and extracted a piece of paper from the bottom of a pile. “So I’ve moved all my things here until I can manage a permanent move. Here.” She held the paper with the tips of her fingers. “Proof.”
Julian took the sheet and read.
I know what I am doing, and I will not apologize. I have no confession to make but this. I meted out the poison and I drank it of my own free will. I am so sorry. I never did have the courage to do the right thing until it was too late. Please forgive me for asking you to remember the man I wished to be rather than the one I was.
Brief. To the point. And fake.
“What is this?” Julian traced the letters with his fingertip. He knew who’d written this note, and it hadn’t been his predecessor—though the ninth Duke of Clive’s signature did appear at the bottom.
“He left a note.” Her voice was low, furious. “He wanted us to know.”
“I suppose it would have been suspicious otherwise,” Julian murmured. He sniffed the paper, but the only perfume he detected was the dowager duchess’. “For a man to die of poison without any explanation.”
“How soft-hearted you are,” marveled the duchess.
Julian looked up, startled. It had been a long time since anyone had accused him of undue kindness.
“He wasn’t trying to protect us.” She slapped the table. “Who would have guessed? Who would’ve sounded the alarm? He was trying to punish us. To make us feel guilty.”
“And do you?” Julian asked.
The dowager duchess blushed.
But no. She hadn’t the skill to copy her husband’s hand. Clive the Ninth, only one rung ahead of Julian in the ladder of succession, had worked as a solicitor for more than a decade before inheriting the title. He’d developed a tidy, precise, legal hand. Hard to duplicate without similar training—or a talented forger’s skill.
And in these frozen hinterlands, he could only name one person whose abilities matched the task. Sophia Roe, Julian’s former fiancée. As a young man, he’d been astonished by her talent. On more than one occasion, he’d seen her forgeries fool the very individuals whose handwriting she had copied. They would take their own memories to task rather than doubt the evidence on the page.
In later years, after he’d started working for the Foreign Office, he’d been more impressed by her restraint. To his knowledge, Sophie had never attempted to profit from her ability.
But he’d read Clive’s will. The ninth duke had left her a handsome bequest—a bundle of properties guaranteeing her a revenue of some twelve thousand pounds a year. Perhaps, threadbare as her pockets were, she’d decided to hasten her benefactor’s demise?
Perhaps it hadn’t been the first time she’d succumbed to temptation.
The thought chilled him, but why? She wasn’t his wife. Her crimes couldn’t blacken his name. He hadn’t even seen her in ten years. And yet…
Julian drew the tip of one finger over a majuscule I. Ink had pooled at the base of the downstroke and left a small blot, because Sophie had paused over a letter that would have been a clean, quick line in his cousin’s hand. A small flaw.
He thumbed the curled flourish that crowned a small o, the line thinner and lighter than Clive the Ninth’s heavy fingers could have managed. Sloppy. Sophie must have written this in a rush. He knew her work. When she took her time, she could fool anyone.
Why hurry? Unless she meant these little flaws as a message to him. Because only he would look at this note and see the truth. He knew her abilities, and he’d been trained—first by Sophie herself, later by experts at the Foreign Office—to recognize such small irregularities.
“I have to go,” Julian announced.
“I have to go,” he repeated, handing the letter back to the dowager duchess.
“You’ve only just arrived,” she protested. “There’s nothing to be done. Take the afternoon to rest. There will be plenty of time in the morning—”
But he didn’t wait to hear her suggestion. If Sophie wanted a confrontation, he’d give her one. A decade ago, she’d sent her uncle to break their engagement rather than confront him herself. She’d denied him any chance to plead his case. But he wasn’t small-minded. He’d teach her a lesson just by making an appearance.
Julian retraced his steps to the front hall. He donned a thick scarf and his greatcoat before stepping out into the chill spring air. High Bend stood atop a windswept tor, perilously steep on three sides with a narrow road winding up the fourth. The gray stone of the building blended with the gray sky, melted into the Derbyshire hills. Weak sunlight glinted off the windows, black as dark water.
When the stable boy led his horse around to the front drive, Julian heaved himself into the saddle and urged his mount to a trot. Down they went, the road a pale crease dividing rows of rocky mountains, down to a shallow valley where the village of Padley spread from slope to slope.
Julian left his horse at the inn, flipped a coin to a stable boy, and clicked open his pocket watch. Iron & Wine Writing Fluid, read the label he’d glued to the inside face, 21 Halftail Road. He’d lifted it from a bottle of Sophie’s ink years ago, when she’d just started out. Soaked the bottle in water, peeled off the paper, and… kept it.
Most men carried a portrait of their beloved, but Julian never had to worry about forgetting what Sophie looked like. He did have to prod himself to remember what he knew in the abstract, but had never seen or felt or tasted: the woman she’d become, the things she’d gone on to do without him.
Her shop looked much as he’d imagined it, a small cottage only a block away from the row of shops lining Padley’s main street. A sturdy wooden sign with Iron & Wine spelled out in polished brass letters hung from a bracket over the lintel. A woman bent at the waist in front of the whitewashed front door, the ribbons of her apron billowing out from her waist.
She had the fine, balanced figure of a Greek caryatid. Supple curves crafted by a deity who preached moderation in all things and possessed skill enough to prove his point in the shape of a woman’s body. Sophie had always been just lush enough, just slim enough, just soft enough. Just right, in every way.
A woven shawl slipped down her shoulders. In his memories, she wore silks and fine woolens, muslin and velvet. Not gray serge and undyed homespun. At least her hair had stayed the same—it snarled and frizzed, skeins twisting loose from pins and bonnet to snap in the breeze.
Even after ten years, the sight of her moved him. He wanted to fall to his knees, rub his face in the dirt. Why didn’t you want me? Why did you turn me away?
She reached out with her white, white arms, a crystal phial tipped neck-down between ink-stained fingers. A single drop of sunny golden fluid formed at the lip and then, ever so slowly, fell to the ground.
Sophie tucked her elbows into her waist and murmured something in a voice too low for him to understand. Sweet words, so gentle and warm that his bone-dry soul wept with envy.
Then the rage came back, and he could move again. “What have you got there, Sophie?”
His voice startled her so much that she staggered, looking up and reeling away as she recognized him.
Her cheeks had hollowed dramatically since he’d last seen her, as though someone had scooped out all the baby fat with a spoon. With her pointed chin, her face now formed the perfect shape of a heart, marred only by a dark mark high on her left cheek.
The last time they’d been face to face Sophie had been distraught, more than a little drunk, and gushing blood from just that spot. He had gone to find help, and then he’d never seen her again.
But he wasn’t looking at a scar, now. It resembled a puncture wound, yes, but this mark was deep black. Inky. It had been made. Stamped, branded, tattooed onto her flesh.
It… didn’t surprise him. He could imagine it so easily. While he’d been beating down her door, out of his mind with heartbreak and rage, she’d been boxed up inside, savage with anger of a different kind. She had the strength of a snake eating its tail, self-immolating and infinite. Could a woman like that commit murder? Oh, yes. Absolutely.
“wonderfully compelling” — Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
“smart, somber, totally engaged me through every page with great suspense and a lovely romance” — Mandi of Smexy Books
“readers who like Courtney Milan would like this book” — Jane Litte of Dear Author
Erin Satie was born in California, but she’s lived all over the world. She went to college in New York, studied in Morocco and Egypt, worked in France. She endeavors to always have visited more countries than she’s lived years. But when she’s not traveling, she lives on a farm in Kentucky with a hound dog and a lovebird and writes historical romance novels.