From Award-Winning Australian author Cassandra Dean comes the first book in her eagerly anticipated new Regency romance series, Lost Lords.
The boy she never forgot
Lady Alexandra Torrence knows she’s odd. Fascinated by spirits, she sets out to investigate rumours of a ghost at Waithe Hall, the haunt of her childhood. Its shuttered corridors stir her own ghosts: memories of the friend she’d lost. Maxim had been her childhood playmate, her kindred spirit, the boy she was beginning to love …but then he’d abandoned her, only to be lost at sea. She never expected to stumble upon a handsome and rough-hewn man who had made the Hall his home, a man she is shocked to discover is Maxim: alive, older…and with no memory of her.
The girl he finally remembers
Eleven years ago, a shipwreck robbed Lord Maxim Farlisle of his memory. Finally remembering himself, he journeys to his childhood home to find Waithe Hall shut and deserted. Unwilling to face what remains of his family, Maxim makes his home in the abandoned hall only to have a determined beauty invade his uneasy peace. This woman insists he remember her and slowly, he does. Once, he and Alexandra had been inseparable, beloved friends who were growing into something more…but the reasons he left still exist, and how can he offer her a broken man?
As the two rediscover their connection, the promise of young love burns into an overwhelming passion. But the time apart has scarred them both—will they discover a love that binds them together, or will the past tear them apart forever?
Northumberland, England, August 1819
LIGHTNING STREAKED ACROSS THE darkening sky and thunder followed. Stillness held sway a moment, the air thick, before a torrent of rain battered the earth.
Wrestling against the wind, Lady Alexandra Torrence tucked her portmanteau closer to her person as she pushed determinedly toward the estate looming in the distance. The storm had been but a sun-shower when she’d set out from Bentley Close, her family’s estate only a half hour walk, and while the light cloak she wore protected her from the worst of it, the wet was beginning to seep into her skin.
She pulled her cloak tighter. It was only a little farther and she’d be at Waithe Hall, though there would be no one to greet her. Waithe Hall had been closed for years, ever since the previous earl had died. The new earl—Viscount Hudson, as he’d once been—resided almost exclusively in London. Her family and his had been close for as long as she could remember, their townhouses bordering each other in London just as their estates did here in Northumberland. The earl was her elder by nine years, and his brother Stephen by five, but Maxim had been but one year her senior and—
She stopped that thought in its tracks.
Before too much longer she stood before the entrance to Waithe Hall, and with it, shelter. The huge wooden doors were shut. She could not recall that she had ever seen them closed and locked. Always before the family had been in residence, and whenever she’d visited she’d just walked straight in, calling for Maxim before she’d completely cleared the entrance—
Slowly, she exhaled. After a moment, she pulled the key to the Hall from her pocket, the one Maxim had given to her for safekeeping when he was ten and she nine, so they could always find their way back into the Hall should the doors ever be locked—
Shoving the key into the lock, she blinked fiercely as she forced memory aside once more. She could do this. It had been years, the wound so old it should have long since faded. She could investigate Waithe Hall and its ghosts, and she would not think of him.
The key turned easily, the door swinging open. She stepped inside. Cavernous silence greeted her, the din of the rain that had been so deafening now distant. The entrance hall stretched before her, disappearing into darkness, and the storm had made the late afternoon darker than usual, swallowing any light that peeked through closed doors. Pausing mid-step, she wondered if perhaps she had made a mistake in coming here.
Shaking off doubt, she started through the hall. The rain echoed through the vast hall, the hollow sound strange after being caught in its fury. Fumbling through her portmanteau she found a candle and tinder.
The flickering light revealed an entrance hall that opened into an enclosed court encompassing the first and second floors and an impressive chandelier draped in protective cloth hung at its centre. Memory painted it with crystal and candles, and she remembered sitting on the landing of the second floor, legs dangling through the gaps between balusters as she and Maxim counted the crystals for the hundredth time.
Bowing her head, she cursed herself. She should have known she could not have kept the memories at bay.
A roll of thunder reverberated through the hall, leaving behind quiet and dark. All her memories of Waithe Hall were full of life, the butler directing servants, fresh flowers in the vases lining the court, light spilling through from the mammoth windows. Now the windows were shuttered, and an eerie silence broken only by the sounds of the storm pervaded.
Hitching her bag, she made her way to the sitting room. It was as still as the hall, the furniture draped in holland covers, the windows also shuttered. Setting her candle down, she placed her cloak over the back of a chair and rested her bag on its seat, glancing nervously about. She caught herself. Don’t be stupid, Alexandra. There’s none here.
Before she could think further, she unbuttoned her bodice. Her clothes were soaked, uncomfortably damp against her skin, and a chill was beginning to seep through, though it was the tail end of summer and the days were still mostly warm. She’d chosen a simple gown, one she knew she could get into and out of herself. Her maid had been aghast that she sought to clothe herself but had begrudgingly helped in the end.
Heat rose on her cheeks as she shucked out of the bodice. There was none here. She knew there was no one. Cheeks now burning, she untied her skirt and petticoats, left only in her stays and chemise. She would love to remove her stays as well, but they was only slightly damp and she couldn’t bring herself to disrobe more than she had.
Opening her bag, she pulled out a spare bodice, skirt, petticoats and, finally, a towel. Thanking her stars she’d had the forethought to bring it, she quickly swiped herself, chanting all along there was no one watching her, that doing this in an abandoned sitting room was not immodest.
In record time, she’d managed to reclothe herself. Hanging her wet clothes to dry, she pushed her hair out of her face. Once she had explored further, she would choose one of the bedchambers as her base, but for right now the sitting room would suffice.
A thread of guilt wound through her. Technically, the earl did not know she was a guest of Waithe Hall—and by technically, she meant he didn’t know at all. She was confident however, he could have no objection. She had been a regular presence at Waithe Hall when she was a girl, and though the earl was nine years her elder or more, he held some affection for her. She was almost positive. Maxim had often said his brother thought her—
Damnation. Bracing herself against a chair, she bowed her head. She had thought more of him in the last hour than she had in the year previous. It was this place. She’d managed to convince herself she no longer felt the sharp bite of grief, but she did. It struck her at odd moments, and she could never predict when. One would think it would have lessened with time, but it hit her fresh and raw, as if she bled all over again. She’d been a fool to think she would remain unaffected returning here—he was everywhere.
She closed her eyes as realisation cut through her. She was going to think of him. It was inevitable. However, she had come here with purpose and she would not allow this preoccupation to deter her.
The ghosts of Waithe Hall beckoned.
A darkening gloom shrouded the drawing room. Night approached, quicker than she’d like, and she was determined to at least do a preliminary sweep of the estate to refresh her memory before it became too dark to continue. There was much to do before she camped out in the affected room one night soon, not the least of which was determining which room was affected.
From her bag, she pulled a compass, a ball of twine, and her notebook. Bending over the flickering light of her candle, she opened her notebook and dated the page, jotting down her notes on the expedition thus far.
There had always been tales of ghosts at Waithe Hall. On her and Maxim’s frequent rides about the estate, she remembered listening wide-eyed as Timmons had told them tales of ghosts and woe. The groom had waxed lyrical on the myths and legends of spiritual activity at Waithe Hall, and she’d been completely fascinated. Maxim had never seemed interested, but he’d always followed when she’d concocted a new adventure to discover ghosts and ghouls. As an adult, she’d turned her fascination to a hobby, researching and cataloguing ghost tales at every manor and estate she’d attended. Her own family’s estate had a ghost or two, stories her father had been only too happy to tell. She’d documented his tale and others, and had submitted several articles to the Society for the Research of Psychical Phenomena. They hadn’t as yet chosen to publish any of them, but she was convinced if she persisted, eventually they would.
Then, four months ago, reports had crossed the earl’s desk in London of strange lights at Waithe Hall. He’d mentioned it in passing to her father, who in turn, knowing her fascination, mentioned it to her. He’d also issued a stern warning she was not to pursue an investigation but, well, she was twenty-five years old and in possession of an inheritance a great aunt had left her. Her father could suggest, but he could not compel.
The lights could be any number of things, but the report had contained accounts of a weeping woman and the light had become a search light. Memory reminded her of a tale Timmons had told, the lament of a housekeeper of Waithe Hall who had lost a set of keys and caused a massacre. Her lips quirked. Timmons’s tales had ever been grisly.
Determination had firmed and within a week she’d made her way to Northumberland and Waithe Hall. Bentley Close had been shut as well, but unlike Waithe Hall, a skeleton staff kept the estate running. Along with her maid, she’d arrived late last night though she hadn’t been in a position to set out for Waithe Hall until late this afternoon. Her plan had always been to spend a few days here, but the rain made it so she now had no choice.
She would rather be here than in London anyway. Besides pretending she was unaffected by those who called her odd, her younger sister had finally made her debut at the grand old age of twenty. Lydia was taking society by storm, determined to wring every ounce of pleasure out of her season, and she had confidently informed their parents she didn’t intend to wed until she had at least three seasons behind her. At first horrified, their parents had resigned themselves to neither of their daughters marrying any time soon.
As the eldest of her parents’ children and a female besides, she had borne the brunt of their expectations in that respect, but at least Harry had now brought them some joy. He and Madeline Pike were to marry next year, the wedding of the heir to a marquisette and a duke’s daughter already touted as the event of the season. George had absconded to the continent, no doubt investigating the most macabre medical reports he could, while Michael was still at Eton.
Upstairs, a door slammed shut. Alexandra jumped, hand flying to her racing heart. It was the wind. It had to be. Even now it howled outside, rain pelting the roof and echoing through the hall as distant thunder rolled.
Hugging the notebook to her chest, she shucked off any concerns. There was no time like the present. She would start with an examination of the ground floor. The kitchens and servants rooms would take an age, so better to examine the rooms the family rooms and save the servants for another time.
The portrait gallery was as she remembered it, a long stretch of hall that displayed the Farlisles in all their permutations. Quickly, she traversed its length, telling herself the dozens of eyes of previous Farlisles did not follow her, that they did not judge her an unwelcome guest. Cold slid up her spine and she moved faster, especially as she passed the portrait of the old earl and his sons, Maxim staring solemnly from the portrait.
Pretending she felt not a skerrick of unease, she noted the gallery’s dimensions in her diary and moved on to the second sitting room. Again, nothing in particular was out of the ordinary.
The library was at the end of the corridor, and the door opened easily under her hand. It really was most obliging of the steward to have not locked any of the doors inside the estate. The room was vastly different to her remembrance. Few books lined the shelves thick with dust, and holland covers draped most of the furniture, although one of the high-backed arm chairs before the fire was lacking the covering. Peculiarly, one of the windows here was unshuttered, the weak light of storm-dampened twilight painting the wall opposite.
She’d always loved the library and its two storeys containing rows upon rows of books. As children, she’d insisted she and Maxim spend an inordinate amount of time within its walls, happily miring herself in book after book. Maxim had always been bored within seconds, spending his time tossing his ever-present cricket ball higher and higher in the air to see if he could hit the ceiling two floors above. He’d even managed it, a time or two.
Sharp pain lodged beneath her breast. Rubbing at her chest, she took a breath against it, pulling herself to the present. Somehow, night had encroached upon the room. How long had she been stood here, lost in memory?
Moving further into the room, she trailed her fingers over the side table next to the undraped chair. A stack of thick books was piled high, the top one containing a marker. Why was there a stack of books? Had an apparition placed them there?
A prickle rippled along her skin. She’d never seen a ghost. She’d heard hundreds, thousands of stories, but she’d never— Steadying herself, she flipped open the book to the spot marked, noting it was a history of the Roman invasion and settlement of Cumbria. Sections and rows were underlined with pencil, writing filled the margins, and there was something about the hand….
Closing the book, she placed it back on the stack. Why was this here? Every other part of Waithe Hall she’d seen had been closed, shut away. This room held an uncovered chair, a stack of books and…the fireplace held recent ashes.
Her heart began to pound.
Again, something—a door?—banged. Whirling around, she searched the encroaching dark, her gaze desperate as her chest heaved. What if the lights weren’t a ghost? What if it was a vagrant, someone dangerous and unkind? What if…what if it were a murderer?
The agitated sound of her breathing filled the room. Getting a hold of herself, she reined her imaginations in. Her thoughts could—and frequently did—run to the extreme. Though these anomalies were curious, there could be a perfectly mundane reason for their presence. There was nothing out of the ordinary, besides the books, and the fireplace, and— She took a breath. Calm, Alexandra. She was purportedly an investigator. She would investigate.
The fireplace had without doubt been used recently, newly cut logs placed in a neat pile to the side, while sconces held half-used candles, their wicks blackened and bodies streaked with melted wax. She could see no other signs of occupation—
Something banged for a third time, closer now, and brought with it a howling wind. Alexandra jumped, grabbing at the table for balance as the door to the library flew open, the heavy wood banging against the wall, the books wobbling and threatening to fall. Blood pounding in her ears, she looked to the darkened maw of the library’s entrance.
An indistinct white shape filled the door, hovering at least five feet above the floor.
A scream lodged in her throat. She couldn’t move, couldn’t make a sound, could only stare as the thing approached.
Lightning crashed, flashing through the room. She gasped, a short stacco sound that did little to unlock her chest.
Lightning crashed again. The shape became distinct in the brief flash of light, revealing a man dressed in shirt sleeves and breeches, his dark hair long about his harsh face. A strong, handsome face that held traces of a boy she thought never to see again.
Blood drained from her own face, such she felt faint. “Maxim?”
“Finding Lord Farlisle is a lovely story: sweet, witty, flirtatious, emotional, touching. A truly delightful way to spend a couple of hours.”
– Anna Campbell, author of the bestselling Dashing Widows series.
“Sweet, fun, and delightful! If you love friends to lovers, you’ll adore Finding Lord Farlisle.”
– Tamara Gill, author of the Lords of London series.
“I fell in love with this story instantly…It was absolutely perfect, which is really hard to do when you are trying to fit a good story into about 90ish pages, but Cassandra Dean did just that…This is a book you shouldn’t pass up.”
“Finding Lord Farlisle sucked me in from page one and I would definitely recommend this spicy romance.”
“I absolutely enjoyed this book. It was so simple and yet so engrossing.”
“What a beautiful well written second chance story.”
“Romance can sometimes be made into something so complicated, and convoluted. They make great stories too, but once in a while it’s refreshing to find two people who actually admire each other, that are simply fated to perfectly compliment each other so easily that it warms your heart.”
BEHIND THE STORY
What’s in a name?
This book didn’t really have a nickname. I wrote it so fast, I didn’t really need to refer to it while lamenting to my friends. I think I just called it ‘the book’ and left it at that.
Really a nothing tale. Sorry, peeps.
The Story Behind the Story
Finding Lord Farlisle was intended to be part of an upcoming project with a group of authors. I finished the novel in record time, however, and decided instead of being a standalone, Finding Lord Farlisle would be the first book in a series, with a subsequent book being part of the project.