Mary Balogh: Secrets of the Heart

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Mary Balogh Secrets of the Heart
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    Secrets of the Heart
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    Theirs should have been the perfect marriage. Sarah was as wildly in love with the Duke of Cranwell as he was with her…until, on their wedding night, Sarah was forced to reveal the secret of her past. And that, midst great public scandal, ended their marriage almost before it began.     Then in fashionable Bath their paths crossed again. The stunningly beautiful Sarah knew it was folly to think this dashing and sought-after lord would ever get over her shocking betrayal. His fury made it painfully clear that they should separate again, this time forever.     Sarah could find a thousand arguments against the wisdom -or likelihood- of so miserable an edict. For one, the duke's ridiculous masculine pride was no match for the sensuous power of her affection for him…as she counted on love to melt the last shred of his resistance to her passionate surrender…

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Mary Balogh

Secrets of the Heart

Chapter 1

The CITY of Bath during late summer was crowded with visitors from the fashionable world. At nine o'clock in the morning it was already alive with activity. The focal point of it all was the Pump Room, close to the imposing Abbey and next to the baths, the only hot springs in all England. The Pump Room itself was a long, high, elegant room with tall, arched windows stretching down its length, those on one side looking down on the King's Bath, in which many bathers sat immersed to the neck for the sake of their health. Also on that side of the room were vendors selling glasses of the sulfur water, also for the health of the drinkers.

Yet crowded as the room was, it was not full of invalids. This was the fashionable place to be before breakfast, a place where one might promenade and show off one's attire and admire or criticize that of others, where one might see or be seen, gossip or be gossiped about. An orchestra played from an upper gallery, but it is unlikely that many of the strollers paid it much attention.

Two ladies were not walking with the rest. Lady Adelaide Murdoch, an elderly widow, was seated at one end of the room, a glass of water in one hand, a lace handkerchief clutched in the other. The expression of distaste on her face suggested that she was finding her morning drink somewhat disagreeable.

"Bah!" she said to the young lady who stood at her shoulder. "If the Reverend Peabody had not told me himself that the waters would work miracles for my rheumaticks and my digestion, I should say that this was all a clever hoax. Water sellers, bath attendants, subscription collectors: everyone"-the hand that held the linen swept in an arc to encompass the whole of Bath around them-"making their fortunes at the expense of poor unfortunates like me."

"Perhaps when you have finished drinking, ma'am," her companion suggested calmly, "you would like to lean on me and take a turn about the room. I see Colonel Smythe and his lady farther along, and Mrs. Marchmont and her daughter said they would be here this morning. I expect they will arrive soon. You know you enjoy some lively conversation. It will take your mind off the ghastly taste of the water. Really, ma'am, I think you are downright heroic to take two glasses each day."

"Much good it does me, too," Lady Murdoch grumbled, "except to make my pockets lighter and to fill the purses of these thieves." She glared accusingly into her glass, wrinkled her nose in disgust, and sipped grimly at the contents again.

Miss Sarah Fifield gazed around her with some interest. The room was become familiar to her after a week of daily visits, and the people in it were also taking on names and characters. With several she was acquainted. It was easy to make acquaintances in Bath, she found. It was a policy of the masters of ceremony to promote an intermingling of the visitors. Private parties were discouraged, as was a cliquish clinging together of people of high ton. Everyone was expected to frequent the public places: the Pump Room, the Upper and Lower Assembly Rooms, and the parks.

Sarah was beginning to feel relaxed; she was almost enjoying herself. And that was certainly an unexpected development. She had not wanted to come to Bath, had shrunk from the prospect in some horror, in fact. She could not remember feeling enjoyment in four years. But she was beginning to feel that after all, her secret would not be found out, that perhaps she could accept the pleasure of these few weeks before retiring to obscurity again. Obscurity was really the only safe way of life for her, the only possible one.

She had lived in obscurity for four years, alone, with the exception of Dorothy, her servant since before she had been orphaned. And she had learned contentment, if not happiness there in that little cottage. There she had recovered some of her self-respect, some of her confidence. And she would have been contented to stay there, occupying herself with her needlework, her books, and her garden, consoling herself with her close friendship with the Reverend Clarence and his wife. And she would be living there still if it were not for that fiend Winston Bowen. Thanks to him she had suddenly found herself without money, and she had been forced to seek employment.

She had sent an advertisement to the London papers in an effort to obtain a situation as a governess. She had had a totally unexpected reply from Lady Murdoch, childless widow of a baronet, claiming that she believed herself to be a relative and asking if Sarah was the daughter of David Fifield. A few days after Sarah had written to confirm this fact, Lady Murdoch had arrived on her doorstep, leaning her considerable weight on the shoulder of a liveried footman. She was delighted, she had said, to discover the daughter of her favorite cousin's son.

It had seemed a very distant relationship to Sarah, but Lady Murdoch had insisted on making much of it. She had no one of her own. Not that she was lonely, she had hastened to explain. But sometimes it was provoking to hear her acquaintances boast of their children and grandchildren when she had no one. She realized that Sarah must be in desperate straits if she was prepared to hire herself out as a governess. She wanted Sarah to come and live with her.

"I need a companion, you see, dear cousin," she had said in her strident voice, "and it will be all the better if she is a young relative. Will you come?"

Sarah had hesitated. "Perhaps you would care to employ me, ma'am?" she had suggested at last. "I really could not be so beholden to you as to do nothing in return for your kindness."

"Employ a relative!" Lady Murdoch had exclaimed, appalled. "Nonsense, cousin. I would prefer to consider you the daughter I never had. Granddaughter would probably be the more appropriate relationship, for I am sure I am old enough to be your grandmama. But forgive an old woman's vanity. It seems such a short time since I was of an age with you. How old are you, cousin?"

"Three-and-twenty, ma'am," Sarah had replied.

"Three-and-twenty!" Lady Murdoch had repeated. "What is your aunt Bowen thinking of to allow you to live alone at that tender age? I understand that you were under your uncle's guardianship after your dear papa passed away?"

Sarah had nodded and held her breath. Had Lady Murdoch also heard of the great scandal? But she had concluded almost immediately that she could not have. She surely would not have come if she had.

The outcome of the visit was that Sarah had packed up her belongings and moved away to Devonshire with Lady Murdoch. She was amazed to think that this distant cousin was prepared to take her in with so little knowledge of what she was like. She judged that Lady Murdoch was far more lonely a person than she would admit.

And Sarah had found herself treated like a daughter from the start. She took her position as companion seriously and would have far preferred to be paid for doing that job, to have been merely an employee. As it was, she had had a new wardrobe and numerous trinkets showered on her, as well as pin money, which she found impossible to refuse.

When Lady Murdoch had announced that they were to go to Bath Spa in late summer, when a large portion of the fashionable world would be present, she was horrified and thought of all sorts of excuses to be left behind. She could not go into society. Her secret would be found out in a day. It was true that she had changed her name, or at least resumed her real name rather than her uncle's name of Bowen, which she had taken on to please him when she moved into his house on the death of her father. But she had done nothing else to cover her tracks. It needed only one person to discover the truth and all of Bath would know in no time at all.

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