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Only a Promise

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PRAISE FOR AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR MARY BALOGH

“Once you start a Mary Balogh book, you won’t be able to stop reading.”


New York Times
bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Mary Balogh has the gift of making a relationship seem utterly real and utterly compelling.”

—Mary Jo Putney

“Winning, witty, and engaging . . . fulfilled all of my romantic fantasies.”


New York Times
bestselling author Teresa Medeiros

“Mary Balogh just keeps getting better and better . . . interesting characters and great stories to tell . . . well worth your time.”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Mary Balogh is a superb author whose narrative voice comments on the characters and events of her novel in an ironic tone reminiscent of Jane Austen.”


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Mary Balogh reaches deep and touches the heart.”


New York Times
bestselling author Joan Johnston

“This is Mary Balogh at her riveting best.”

—#1
New York Times
bestselling author Debbie Macomber

“[Mary Balogh] writes with wit and wisdom. . . .
The Proposal
is both moving and entertaining and the beginning of what promises to be an outstanding series.”

—Romance Reviews Today

“This sexy, touching book revisits the marriage-of-convenience plot, joining two heroic, conflicted characters who are navigating their own versions of darkness and delivering them to the redemptive power of love. Regency bestseller Balogh once again takes a standard romance trope and imbues it with heart, emotional intelligence, and flawless authenticity.”


Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“This touching, totally enthralling story overflows with subtle humor, brilliant dialog, breathtaking sensuality, and supporting characters you want to know better.”


Library Journal
(starred review)

“Balogh can always be depended on to deliver a beautifully written Regency romance with appealing, unusual characters, and the second in her new Survivors’ Club series is no exception. . . . Future series installments promise more compellingly tormented heroes.”


Publishers Weekly

“[A] poignant and thoughtful romance.”


Booklist

“A compassionate love story with a unique hero and heroine. . . . The dialogue is snappy, and the climax . . . is exciting and helps bring about the blissful ending. . . .
The Arrangement
[is] a must read.”

—Fresh Fiction

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF MARY BALOGH

Longing

“Balogh capture[s] the allure of the land and the culture of the proud people of Wales . . . a very different sort of historical romance. Ms. Balogh’s writing has a very lyrical quality to it which draws out the feelings of yearning so that the reader can palpably sense them . . . pretty powerful.”

—The Hope Chest Reviews

“A particular favorite of mine.”

—The Romance Reader

Beyond the Sunrise

“Thoroughly enjoyable.”


New York Times
bestselling author Janelle Taylor

“Balogh’s . . . epic love story is a winner . . . absorbing reading right up until the end.”


Publishers Weekly

“High intrigue, daring exploits, a passionate love affair, what more could you want in a romance? Balogh gives us a humdinger of a tale set during the Napoleonic Wars. Great fun. Highly recommended.”


Manderley Magazine


Beyond the Sunrise
is an utterly absorbing, powerful tale of a love that was once doomed and yet blooms again amidst the intrigue and ordeal of war. With infinite care and deft plotting, Ms. Balogh spins an intricate tale with the skill of a master weaver. She draws you into the era by evoking the aura of the war and the passionate emotions of her characters. If you have never read another book by Mary Balogh, then
Beyond the Sunrise
will be your introduction to a writer of remarkable talents.”


RT Reviews

ALSO BY MARY BALOGH

THE SURVIVORS’ CLUB SERIES

The Proposal

The Arrangement

The Escape

Only Enchanting

THE HUXTABLE SERIES

First Comes Marriage

Then Comes Seduction

At Last Comes Love

Seducing an Angel

A Secret Affair

THE SIMPLY SERIES

Simply Unforgettable

Simply Love

Simply Magic

Simply Perfect

THE BEDWYN SAGA

Slightly Married

Slightly Wicked

Slightly Scandalous

Slightly Tempted

Slightly Sinful

Slightly Dangerous

BEDWYN PREQUELS

One Night for Love

A Summer to Remember

THE MISTRESS SERIES

More Than a Mistress

No Man’s Mistress

The Secret Mistress

THE WEB SERIES

The Gilded Web

Web of Love

The Devil’s Web

CLASSICS

The Ideal Wife

The Secret Pearl

A Precious Jewel

A Christmas Promise

Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride

The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet

A Christmas Bride/Christmas Beau

The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring

A Counterfeit Betrothal/The Notorious Rake

Irresistible

A Matter of Class

Under the Mistletoe

Longing

Beyond the Sunrise

Silent Melody

Heartless

SIGNET

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

First Printing, June 2015

Copyright © Mary Balogh, 2015

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

ISBN 978-0-698-15609-8

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Praise for Mary Balogh

Also by Mary Balogh

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Excerpt from
Only a Kiss

1

T
here
could surely be nothing worse than having been born a woman, Chloe Muirhead thought with unabashed self-pity as she sucked a globule of blood off her left forefinger and looked to see if any more was about to bubble up and threaten to ruin the strip of delicate lace she was sewing back onto one of the Duchess of Worthingham’s best afternoon caps. Unless, perhaps, one had the good fortune to be a duchess. Or else a single lady in possession of forty thousand pounds a year and the freedom to set up one’s own independent establishment.

She, alas, was not a duchess. Or in sole possession of even forty
pence
a year apart from her allowance from her father. Besides, she did not
want
to set up somewhere independently. It sounded suspiciously lonely. She could not really claim to be lonely now. The duchess was kind to her. So was the duke in his gruff way. And whenever Her Grace entertained afternoon visitors or went visiting herself, she always invited Chloe to join her.

It was not the duchess’s fault that she was eighty-two years old to Chloe’s twenty-seven. Or that the neighbors
with whom she consorted most frequently must all be upward of sixty. In some cases they were very much upward. Mrs. Booth, for example, who always carried a large ear trumpet and let out a loud, querulous “Eh?” every time someone so much as opened her mouth to speak, was ninety-three.

If she had been born male, Chloe thought, rubbing her thumb briskly over her forefinger to make sure the bleeding had stopped and it was safe to pick up her needle again, she might have done all sorts of interesting, adventurous things when she had felt it imperative to leave home. As it was, all
she
had been able to think of to do was write to the Duchess of Worthingham, who was her mother’s godmother and had been her late grandmother’s dearest friend, and offer her services as a companion. An
unpaid
companion, she had been careful to explain.

A kind and gracious letter had come back within days, as well as a sealed note for Chloe’s father. The duchess would be delighted to welcome dear Chloe to Manville Court, but as a guest,
not
as an employee—the
not
had been capitalized and heavily underlined. And Chloe might stay as long as she wished—forever, if the duchess had her way. She could not think of anything more delightful than to have someone young to brighten her days and make
her
feel young again. She only hoped Sir Kevin Muirhead could spare his daughter for a prolonged visit. She showed wonderful tact in adding that, of course; as she had in writing separately to him, for Chloe had explained in her own letter just why living at home had become intolerable to her, at least for a while, much as she loved her father and hated to upset him.

So she had come. She would be forever grateful to the
duchess, who treated her more like a favored granddaughter than a virtual stranger and basically self-invited guest. But oh, she
was
lonely too. One could be lonely and unhappy while being grateful at the same time, could one not?

And, ah, yes. She was unhappy too.

Her world had been turned completely upside down
twice
within the past six years, which ought to have meant, if life proceeded along logical lines, as it most certainly did not, that the second time it was turned right side up again. She had lost everything any young woman could ever ask for the first time—hopes and dreams, the promise of love and marriage and happily-ever-after, the prospect of security and her own place in society. Hope had revived last year, though in a more muted and modest form. But that had been dashed too, and her very identity had hung in the balance. In the four years between the two disasters her mother had died. Was it any wonder she was unhappy?

She gave the delicate needlework her full attention again. If she allowed herself to wallow in self-pity, she would be in danger of becoming one of those habitual moaners and complainers everyone avoided.

It was still only very early in May. A largish mass of clouds covered the sun and did not look as if it planned to move off anytime soon, and a brisk breeze was gusting along the east side of the house, directly across the terrace outside the morning room, where Chloe sat sewing. It had not been a sensible idea to come outside, but it had rained quite unrelentingly for the past three days, and she had been desperate to escape the confines of the house and breathe in some fresh air.

She ought to have brought her shawl out with her, even her cloak and gloves, she thought, though then of course she would not have been able to sew, and she had promised to have the cap ready before the duchess awoke from her afternoon sleep. Dratted cap and dratted lace. But that was quite unfair, for she had volunteered to do it even when the duchess had made a mild protest.

“Are you quite sure it will be no trouble, my dear?” she had asked. “Bunker is perfectly competent with a needle.”

Miss Bunker was her personal maid.

“Of course I am,” Chloe had assured her. “It will be my pleasure.”

The duchess always had that effect upon her. For all the obvious sincerity of her welcome and kindness of her manner, Chloe felt the obligation, if not to earn her living, then at least to make herself useful whenever she was able.

She was shivering by the time she completed her task and cut the thread with fingers that felt stiff from the cold. She held out the cap, draped over her right fist. The stitches were invisible. No one would be able to tell that a repair had been made.

She did not want to go back inside despite the cold. The duchess would probably be up from her sleep and would be in the drawing room bright with happy anticipation of the expected arrival of her grandson. She would be eager to extol his many virtues yet again though he had not been to Manville since Christmas. Chloe was tired of hearing of his virtues. She doubted he had any.

Not that she had ever met him in person to judge for
herself, it was true. But she did know him by reputation. He and her brother, Graham, had been at school together. Ralph Stockwood, who had since assumed his father’s courtesy title of Earl of Berwick, had been a charismatic leader there. He had been liked and admired and emulated by almost all the other boys, even though he had also been one of a close-knit group of four handsome, athletic, clever boys. Graham had spoken critically and disapprovingly of Ralph Stockwood, though Chloe had always suspected that he envied that favored inner circle.

After school, the four friends all took up commissions in the same prestigious cavalry regiment and went off to the Peninsula to fight the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, while Graham went to Oxford to study theology and become a clergyman. He had arrived home from the final term at school upset because Ralph Stockwood had called him a sniveling prig and lily-livered coward. Chloe did not know the context in which the insult had been hurled, but she had not felt kindly disposed toward Graham’s erstwhile schoolmate ever since. And she never had liked the sound of him. She did not like boys, or men, who lorded it arrogantly over others and accepted their homage as a right.

Not many months after they had embarked for the Peninsula, Lieutenant Stockwood’s three friends had been killed in the same battle, and he had been carried off the field and then home to England so severely wounded that he had not been expected to survive.

Chloe had felt sorry for him at the time, but her sympathies had soon been alienated again. Graham, in his capacity as a clergyman, had called upon him in
London a day or two after he had been brought home from Portugal. Graham had been admitted to the sickroom, but the wounded man had sworn foully at him and ordered him to get out and never come back.

Chloe did not expect to like the Earl of Berwick, then, even if he
was
the Duke of Worthingham’s heir and the duchess’s beloved only grandson. She had not forgiven his description of her brother as a lily-livered coward. Graham was a
pacifist
. That did not make him a coward. Indeed, it took a great deal of courage to stand up for peace against men who were in love with war. And she had not forgiven the earl for cursing Graham after he had been injured without even listening to what Graham had come to say. The fact that he had undoubtedly been in great pain at the time did not excuse such rudeness to an old school friend. She had decided long ago that the earl was brash, arrogant, self-centered, even heartless.

And he was on his way to Manville Court. He was coming at the duchess’s behest, it must be added, not because he had chosen of his own free will to visit the grandparents who doted on him. Chloe suspected that the summons had something to do with the duke’s health, which had been causing Her Grace some concern for the past couple of months. She fancied that he was coughing more than usual and that his habit of covering his heart with one hand when he did so was a bad sign. He did not complain of feeling unwell—not, at least, in Chloe’s hearing—and he saw his physician only when the duchess insisted. Afterward he called the doctor an old quack who knew no better than to prescribe pills and potions that served only to make the duke feel ill.

Chloe did not know what the true state of the duke’s
health was, but she did know that he had celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday last autumn, and eighty-five was an awfully advanced age to be.

However it was, the Earl of Berwick had been summoned and he was expected today. Chloe did not want to meet him. She knew she would not like him. More important, perhaps, she admitted reluctantly to herself, she did not want him to meet
her,
a sort of charity guest of his grandmother’s, an aging, twenty-seven-year-old spinster with a doubtful reputation and no prospects. A pathetic creature, in fact.

But the thought finally triggered laughter—at her own expense. She had whipped herself into a thoroughly cross and disagreeable mood, and it just would not do. She got determinedly to her feet. She must go up to her room without delay and change her dress and make sure her hair was tidy. She might be a poor aging spinster with no prospects, but there was no point in being an abject one who was worthy only of pity or scorn. That would be too excruciatingly humiliating.

She hurried on her way upstairs, shaking herself free of the self-pity in which she had languished for too long. Goodness, if she hated her life so much, then it was high time she
did
something about it. The only question was
what
? Was there anything she
could
do? A woman had so few options. Sometimes, indeed, it seemed she had none at all, especially when she had a
past,
even if she was in no way to blame for any of it.

*   *   *

When he found his grandmother’s letter beside his plate at breakfast one morning along with a small pile of invitations, Ralph Stockwood, Earl of Berwick, had only
recently returned to London from a three-week stay in the country.

He had come to town because at least it offered the promise of some diversion for body and mind, even if he did not expect to be vastly entertained. He would no doubt lounge about at his usual haunts in his usual aimless way for the duration of the spring Season. The whole of the beau monde had moved here too for the parliamentary session and for the frenzy of social entertainments with which it amused itself with unrelenting vigor for those few months. Ralph did not have a seat in the House of Lords, his title being a mere courtesy one, while procuring a seat in the House of Commons had never held any real appeal for him. But he always came anyway and attended as many parties and balls and concerts and the like as would alleviate the boredom of his evenings. He whiled away his days at White’s Club and frequented Tattersall’s to look over the horses and Jackson’s boxing saloon to exercise his body and Manton’s shooting gallery to maintain the steadiness of eye and hand. He spent as many hours with his tailor and his boot maker and hatmaker as were necessary to keep himself well turned out, though he had never aspired to the dandy set. He did whatever he needed to do to keep himself busy.

And he always yearned for . . .

Well, that was the trouble. He
yearned,
but could name no object of his yearning. He had a home, Elmwood Manor, in Wiltshire, where he had grown up and that he had inherited with his title from his father. He had also inherited a perfectly competent steward who had been there forever, and therefore he did not need to
spend a great deal of time there himself. He had almost sole use of his grandfather’s lavish town house, since his grandparents scarcely came to London any longer and his mother preferred to keep her own establishment. He had fond relatives—paternal grandparents, a maternal grandmother, a mother, three married sisters and their offspring, and some aunts, uncles, and cousins, all on his mother’s side. He had more money than he could decently spend in one lifetime. He had . . . What else did he have?

Well, he had his life. Many did not. Many who would have been his own age, that is, or younger. He was twenty-six and sometimes felt seventy. He enjoyed decent health despite the numerous scars of battle he would carry to the grave, including the one across his face. He had friends. Though that was not strictly accurate. He had numerous friendly acquaintances, but deliberately avoided forming close friendships.

Strangely, he did not usually think of his fellow Survivors as friends. They called themselves the Survivors’ Club, seven of them, six men and one woman. They had all been variously and severely wounded by the Napoleonic Wars, and they had spent a three-year period together at Penderris Hall in Cornwall, country home of George, Duke of Stanbrook, one of their number. George had not been to war himself, but his only son had died in Portugal. The duchess, the boy’s mother, had died a few months later when she threw herself over the high cliffs at the edge of their property. George, as damaged as any of the rest of them, had opened his home as a hospital and then as a convalescent home to a group of officers. And the seven of them had stayed longer than
any of the others and had formed a bond that went deeper than family, deeper even than friendship.

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