Chapter One 

Bolton, Cornwall, England

June 21, 1889


The brisk wind bit Madeleine Atherton’s cheeks as she stepped down from the train. Cornwall may be known for its temperate climate, but it felt more like November than June. At least the rain had stopped—for the moment.

Pulling her velvet cloak more closely about her, Madeleine took in her surroundings. The rural station at Bolton was much smaller than she had remembered. Just a red-brick building that resembled a cottage, with a single wooden bench facing the tracks. The platform was empty. Beyond the station stretched a single street lined with small houses and shops. Beyond that, wide green meadows were bisected by a narrow road as far as the eye could see. There was no sign of an approaching carriage.

Where was Alexandra?

Madeleine had spent the entire seven-hour train ride from London thinking about this moment, how wonderful it would be to see her sister again, and how happy Alexandra would be that Madeleine had dared to come. But no one was here to meet her.

Madeline bit her lip, worried. She had sent a wire yesterday to inform her sister of her plans. I’m stealing away, she had written, just like you did last year. Well, stealing wasn’t exactly the right word. She had simply left a note, packed a trunk, donned her best green traveling suit, and slipped out of Brown’s Hotel early that morning while her mother was sleeping.

As the second of three daughters of one of the richest men in the United States, Madeleine understood that she was expected to make an exceptional match. The quest for a titled husband might be her mother’s ambition, to further the family’s standing in New York society, but Madeleine had agreed to give it a try. It had worked out so well for her sister, after all. Alexandra had fallen madly in love with Thomas Carlyle, the Seventh Earl of Longford, and was now happily married and a countess.

Madeleine wasn’t actually opposed to the man her mother was urging her to marry. In fact, she rather liked him. The problem was, unlike most of the girls unleashed on the London Season, Madeleine wasn’t a wide-eyed, immature debutante. She was 24 years old. She was a college graduate. This was her second Season in London, taking into account last year’s half-Season, when she’d hastily crossed the Atlantic to take part after Alexandra’s impromptu exit.

And Madeleine had specific goals in mind.

Like her sister, Madeleine wanted love to figure into the equation in any match she made. And not just any love. Madeleine wanted a man who adored and respected her, but who also understood her and would be supportive of her dreams.

Was Lord Oakley that man? She wasn’t certain.

Her abrupt departure from town would no doubt enrage her mother, but Madeleine desperately needed a few weeks away to clear her head. She had a life-altering decision to make. And she needed her sister’s advice.

“Is this everything, then?” The query from a mustachioed porter broke into her thoughts. He and another man had deposited Madeleine’s trunk and two bags onto the platform.

“Yes, thank you so much.” Madeleine tipped both men, who touched their caps in thanks.

She was trying to decide what to do, when she caught sight of an approaching carriage on the horizon. Thank goodness. Alexandra was coming at last!

Just then, from another car further along the train, a tall, well-dressed gentleman descended, carrying a leather satchel. Madeleine’s breath caught in her throat.

It was Charles Grayson, the Earl of Saunders. The best friend of her sister’s husband.

A man she had no desire to see, much less speak to.

But he had already spotted her. His eyes widened in surprise as he closed the distance between them, then greeted her with a bow. “Miss Atherton!”

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