Beauty and the Earl
A princess in danger . . .
Princess Amber Kazanov needs a husband. She flees her native Russia and takes refuge in England with her cousin Prince Rudolf Kazanov and his English wife. Prince Rudolf knows only one man who has the power and strength to protect his cousin. Arriving with Amber at the Earl of Stratford’s home, Rudolf makes the earl an outrageous proposition.
A broken man grieving for his dead wife . . .
Miles Montgomery, the Earl of Stratford, wants to be left alone. Since losing his beloved wife in a fire, Miles has sat in the dark and waited for his own death. Until the day a beautiful princess walks into his home seeking marriage and the protection of his name. Amber’s beauty attracts Miles, but her courageous heart shakes him to his core.
Drawn to Miles, Princess Amber sees beneath his masked scars and gruff exterior. Her love persuades him to push his bitterness aside and truly live and love again. Can Miles keep Amber safe when her enemies arrive in England? Or will his past return to haunt them?
Miles Montgomery, the fifteenth Earl of Stratford, turned his back on the nauseatingly cheerful sight outside his study window. He shifted his gaze to the portrait over the hearth. Sweet Brenna, gone in the flash of a midnight fire.
Out of habit, Miles reached to close the drapes and shroud his study in comforting darkness. He stopped himself, though, remembering his guests. John Saint-Germain, the Duke of Avon who was also his brother-in-law, and Prince Rudolf Kazanov had several business ventures in the offing and wanted to include him.
Business ventures. Miles twisted his chiseled lips into the ghost of a smile. Since the fire, business ventures had filled his empty existence.
Miles touched the mask that covered the left side of his face. His love, his face, his life had died on the fateful night of the fire. Now he needed to wait for his heart to stop beating.
“My lord, His Grace and His Highness have arrived,” the majordomo announced.
Miles touched his mask again. “Send them in, Pebbles.”
“Come on inside,” Pebbles called, his hands cupping his mouth.
Both the prince and the duke grinned at the majordomo as he passed them on the way out. Pebbles inclined his head as if he were the aristocrat and they the servants.
Miles met the two men in the middle of the room. With a smile of greeting, he shook the prince’s hand first and then the duke’s. Both men were as tall as he, a couple of inches over six feet.
Located on the second floor in the west wing of the manor, the earl’s study sat at one end of the Long Library. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathed the room in afternoon sunlight when the draperies were open, as they were now. Thousands of volumes filled the bookcases, and a thick red Persian carpet covered the floor. Over the main fireplace mantel hung an enormous portrait of a woman.
“Brenna, my wife,” Miles said, seeing where the prince’s gaze had drifted.
“She was a beautiful woman.”
“Shall we get down to business?” Miles gestured across the chamber. He sat behind his desk while the other two men took the chairs opposite him.
“Caroline misses you,” John said.
“I will visit her soon.”
“I’m surprised to see the drapes open,” his brother-in-law continued. “Normally, you sit in the dark. I was beginning to wonder if you were a vampire.”
“I opened the drapes for you,” Miles told him. “Normally, you comment on my sitting in the dark.”
Prince Rudolf chuckled, drawing their attention. “You bicker like my brothers and me.”
“We are not bickering, Your Highness,” Miles said. “His Grace prefers to mind my business instead of his own.” Though he spoke with a hint of a smile, his tone held a hard edge.
“You need a wife,” the duke said, undeterred by his brother-in-law’s sarcasm. “If you die without an heir, Terrence the Weasel will inherit.”
Miles wished he could be in his family’s company without listening to their comments regarding his life. Why should he care if his cousin inherited his title?
“I finished with the wife business when Brenna died,” Miles said, his weariness with the topic apparent. He glanced at the prince. “Do you see the nagging inflicted upon me?”
“The nagging will cease if you remarry,” Prince Rudolf said.
“No woman can ever replace Brenna.” Miles touched the masked side of his face. “Besides, what woman would consider marrying a scarred beast?”
“Georgiana Devon looks especially well,” John remarked. “She asked about you the last time I saw her in London.”
Miles shrugged his shoulders with indifference. “I left Georgiana behind a long time ago.”
“As I recall the gossip, you dropped Georgiana in favor of Sarah Pole,” John said. “You did know Sarah’s husband died and left her a wealthy widow? Weren’t you considering offering for her?”
Miles gave his brother-in-law a pointed look. “You know very well that I was considering Sarah when I met Brenna.”
“Vanessa Stanton lost her husband,” John said. “She always favored you, and you enjoyed her company.”
“Vanessa enjoyed everyone’s company. She sought her pleasures when I had a whole face,” Miles said. “I prefer living alone to wearing horns.”
“What would you do if a virtuous woman did want to marry you?” Prince Rudolf asked.
“I would marry and plant a dozen sons inside her,” Miles answered, hoping to drop the topic.
“Consecutively, I hope,” John quipped, making the other two smile. “Come to London and look over the latest crop of hopefuls.”
“I retired from society four years ago,” Miles refused. “If you have seen one debutante, you have seen them all.”
“Damn it, Miles,” John snapped. “Brenna is dead but you still live. Do you think she would want you to hide in the shadows?”
Miles said nothing, and an uncomfortable silence descended on the three men. Why, in God’s name, did John and Isabelle need to solve his problems? Why couldn’t they leave him alone in his misery?
“I couldn’t reach her in time and lost half my face for nothing,” Miles told the prince.
“I am sorry for your loss,” Rudolf said. “I cannot imagine the horror of losing the woman you love.”
Miles inclined his head, accepting the prince’s condolences.
“John is correct, though,” the prince added. “You need to return to the living.”
“Are you going to nag me, too?”
Prince Rudolf held his hands up in a gesture indicating he would say no more.
“I told you how pigheaded he is,” John said. Before Miles could reply, he added, “Shall we get down to business?”
Miles lifted his gaze to his wife’s portrait. He knew they were correct about living while he could, but his wife was gone. And the woman who equaled her had not been born . . .