Lady of Fortune
Reissued and repackaged for the very first time since 1988, Lady of Fortune is a classic story of one woman’s perseverance and strength in the face of insurmountable odds in the wake of the French Revolution.
A countess turned servant . . .
Forced to escape the French Revolution, resilient young Comtesse Marie-Christine D'Estelle flees to London. But when she finds herself unexpectedly penniless, Christa hides her aristocratic background to become a lady's maid. . . . Until rebuffing advances from both her tyrannical mistress’s husband and her lover gets Christa cast into the street—directly into a hero’s arms . . .
A Royal Navy commander . . .
After a long absence, Captain Lord Alexander Kingsley has returned to England on medical leave. Now head of his family, he must take charge of his younger siblings. He feels a special duty to his sister Annabelle, a shy debutante in need of a maid. So Alex is delighted to discover that the intriguing, outspoken, and lovely young woman who serendipitously landed in his arms is in need of just such a position . . .
The heart of a household . . .
With her warmth, charm, and surprisingly refined intellect, Christa soon wins the hearts of all the Kingsleys—especially Alex. And while their mutual attraction deepens to something more, the gap in their social stations seems an impossible obstacle. Only when Alex and Annabelle become the targets of fortune hunters, will the truth about Christa have a chance to be revealed. But will it mean a chance for true love to triumph?
Alex had decided to dismiss his carriage since the pleasant May morning was best enjoyed on foot. He had been in London for only a week and still reveled in the fact that he could walk more than a hundred paces in any direction. So far he hadn't missed the Navy at all, though he had not yet become accustomed to being "Lord Kingsley" rather than "Captain Kingsley."
He was admiring the houses in Portman Square when he heard a woman cry out, looking up just in time to avoid being bowled over by a falling female. Shifting his weight with the quickness of a man who has climbed a ship's rigging in a hurricane, Alex was able to catch her in his arms while maintaining his own balance.
Christa was not given to strong hysterics but the events of the last quarter‑hour had swept her up in a turmoil of anger and fear. She had been mauled by two men and had just escaped a potentially lethal fall. When her tear‑filled eyes registered that a tall blond man had saved her, reason and memory disappeared in a flood of chaotic emotion.
"Charles!" she cried as she wrapped her arms around the strong male body that held her as she succumbed to shuddering sobs.
Alex blinked in confusion. As a seaman he had always been known for his quick grasp of a situation, but having a delightfully soft female in his arms played havoc with his judgment. She had called him "Charles" with a wild, questioning note in her voice, then buried her head against his waistcoat. The girl's sobs started to abate, but a torrent of French words poured from her.
Alex found himself envying the absent Charles who should have been holding this delicious armful. He listened for a few moments, then said, "Sorry, but I'm not Charles. You must speak more slowly. I understand some French, but not at this speed."
She froze in his arms, then raised her head to took at him. He gave a gasp of pure shock.
Later-much, much later-Alex would realize that she wasn't really beautiful, but now the impact of her enchanting face hit him like a nine‑pound cannonball. Wondrous gray eyes had the clarity of smoky quartz, with dark flecks that flashed silver when her gaze shifted. The longest, blackest lashes he had ever seen set off a flawless complexion and an irresistible pixie face that seemed to be laughing even through her tears.
When she abruptly released him and stepped back, Alex calculated that the top of her head would just fit under his chin. Her agitation vanished and she said with quiet dignity, "Forgive me, monsieur. Of course you are not Charles for he is dead. I did not mean to cast my distress on you. Thank you for your most timely intervention "
Alex thought the girl had an indefinable air of quality to her, and a quiet elegance of dress that would have marked her as a Frenchwoman even if he hadn't heard her speak. He realized that she was inspecting him as carefully as he was studying her. Did they raise bolder women on the other side of the Channel?
Then he revised his thought as he realized that her gaze was not so much bold as disarmingly frank. Smiling a little, he asked, "Do I pass inspection?"
Christa suppressed a familiar stab of grief as she looked at her rescuer. Of course he was not her brother. Now that her eyes were not blurred by tears, she could see that the blond hair had a more golden cast and an irreverent curl, could hear that the voice was deeper and slower. His dress proclaimed him a gentleman, and he was taller even than Charles had been, with a relaxed, loose‑limbed figure. If his long tanned face was not classically handsome, the laugh lines around the corners of the clear amber‑brown eyes made it enormously appealing.
She said ruefully, "Oui, monsieur. I believe you will not attack me, which is my principal requirement of the moment."
"If you are wishing to be attacked, I should be happy to oblige, miss," Alex said helpfully.
Had he not been so disarmingly open, the remark would have sent her fleeing down the street. But it was impossible to feel threatened by this stranger. He seemed the sort who always found humor around him, and she had found that the ability to laugh was a civilizing influence. In her experience, the most unpleasant people were those who took themselves too seriously.
"I have been attacked quite enough today," she said dryly. "Do I pass your inspection?"
"I see no obvious reason why you should be thrown headfirst down those steps," he said seriously. "I realize it is not my business, but might I inquire the reason why?"
Christa bit her lip as she remembered the difficulties of her position. "I am-or rather, I was-abigail to Lady Pomfret here." She waved her hand up at the blank‑windowed house.
"Her repellent husband decided that my duties included serving him in a manner I much disagreed with. Her ladyship came on us when I was in the process of rather forcibly extricating myself from Sir Horace. She is a woman of limited understanding, and we,"-she paused dramatically-"Had Words. As I'm sure you appreciate, arguments between two people of unequal station may not be resolved on merit."
She gave a purely Gallic shrug. "And so you see me here on the street."
"You are certainly right about arguments between those of unequal station," Alex said feelingly. "I've spent fifteen years in the Navy, and the desire to be on the higher side of the power equation is a great incentive to promotion."
Christa looked at him with interest, but decided that she must pass up that interesting, potential conversation for the harsh realities. "Monsieur, do you know if there is a magistrate nearby? Perhaps one can help me recover my possessions from the house. All that I own in the world is still in there."
"You mean they literally threw you out without even letting you get your things? Outrageous!" A wicked gleam came into Alex's eyes. "I assume that time is of the essence since your possessions might be stolen before you can get the law to help you. Shall we see if they can be persuaded to allow you in to collect your clothes?"
The girl's quickly suppressed flash of anxiety gave Alex a sharp insight into what it was to be alone and at the mercy of hostile employers. In the Navy, even the humblest sailor had some rights, but an Englishman's home was his castle, and great crimes might occur behind these blandly respectable facades. "I will go with you," he assured her.
Relieved, Christa gave a decisive nod. Her instincts said she could trust this man, and he was right that the sooner she reclaimed her possessions, the better. "Lead on, monsieur!"
They walked up the steps together and he banged the heavy knocker. While they waited for the door to open, he asked, "By the way, what is your name?"
She bobbed a quick curtsy. "Christine Bohnet, at your service. I am called Christa by my friends." She was pleased that he pronounced her name correctly when he repeated it. He was the first person in two months to make the effort.
The door swung open to reveal a very angry James, still on duty despite a rapidly swelling jaw and a smudge of blood at the comer of his mouth. Seeing her, he gave a thick‑tongued growl, "Why, you little-!"
The footman was reaching for Christa when her rescuer's voice cut at him like a whiplash. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Captain Lord Alexander Kingsley, Viscount Kingsley, and a magistrate of the county of Suffolk. We are here to remove Mademoiselle Bohnet's possessions."
James stopped and blinked stupidly at the man he had overlooked. The little trollop had found a protector with amazing speed! His brain, never very quick, ground to a halt as he tried to decide whether to let them in. The law was the law....
"One side, my man." Alex's voice had the ring of authority that comes of commanding hundreds of roughneck sailors.
He brushed past James as a gleeful Christa skipped along beside him. An officer and a viscount! Le bon Dieu had provided for her safety very well!
"This way, my lord." She led him to the back of the house and up the servants' stairs. Alex was amazed at how tight the passage was. He'd sneaked up the back stairs of Kingsley houses when he was a boy, but he'd considerably smaller then.
As they climbed Christa asked over her shoulder, "Are you really a magistrate?"
"Not exactly, but my father was, like most men of property. I expect I can become a magistrate if I want to. I've been administering the king's justice at sea for years."
By the time they reached the attics Alex was puffing and his left side ached sharply, though Christa showed no signs of strain. The room she led him to reminded him of the minuscule cabin of a junior officer on a sloop.
When his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw Christa kneeling at the side of a small child who had been cleaning the floor. Putting her arms around the little girt, she said, "I am so glad you are here, Miranda, or I could not have said good‑bye."
The child said falteringly, "Good‑bye? You are leaving?"
Christa hugged the thin little body. "I have no choice, ma pauvre. Lady Pomfret has dismissed me and I must pack and leave immediately."
There was such a look of stark tragedy on Miranda's little face that Alex shifted uncomfortably. No one should be that vulnerable. He spoke for the first time. "Bring her along, Christa. My sister needs an abigail and I have a whole house to staff. I can certainly find a position for Miranda, and if my sister approves, for you as well."
The two faces turned to him with an identical look of hope. Christa sprang to her feet and asked the child, "Do you wish to come with me?"
"Oh, yes, Christa!" the child exclaimed with desperate intensity.
Christa patted her on the back and said, "Go quickly then and get your things."