by Rachel Van Dyken
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by ELAINA LEE
Edited by B.G. Lashbrooks
To my sister Kristin.
Without her this book would not have been possible!!
It was during the painfully loud and equally long rendition of “God Save the Queen” that Kessen decided she hated England. For the past two days her father had stopped at nothing short of threatening to cut his ties with her if she didn’t start taking her British heritage seriously.
“But, Father,” she had argued, even though she knew it was pointless to argue with a British lord without having to endure a dreary lecture about her place in the world. “I’m American. I was born in the United States!” Her voice grew louder as his eyes closed in despair. “We live in Colorado! Why is this a big deal?”
He had stared at her for what seemed like two hours, though it was closer to two minutes, his hazel eyes boring into her as if trying to set her on fire.
“Big deal!” he bellowed. She would say he yelled, but whenever it was mentioned that he raised his voice, he would give her a devastatingly long talk about how he never yelled, and lords who did yell had no sense of pride whatsoever.
“It is a big deal because I say it is! You are an heiress, my dear. There are certain things about your heritage which make it of the utmost importance for you to not only accept who you are, but to take pride in it.”
He had turned away, sweeping the ground with his large feet, and then sat in his favorite chair by the grand fireplace. “My dear, I do not want our legacy lost with me. I want nothing more than for you to respect and honor your heritage; is that so much to ask?” He looked up at her with pain in his eyes. Kessen knew she was done for. Her father knew how she pitied him when he gave her that look of complete anguish.
She cleared her throat, mainly to keep from crying. It had been an emotional six months. Her mother had been battling ovarian cancer for the past five years. The battle was finally over, but it didn’t mean her mother’s death hadn’t left a permanent mark on the Newberry family. The relationship between Kessen and her father had suffered immensely without the sweetness of Kessen’s mother.
Kessen knew she was the spitting image of her father, which made it so easy for them to engage in long arguments and discussions. It brought Kessen’s maturity level to astounding new lows each time her father discussed with her the need to align herself with her British heritage, as if being the daughter of an aristocrat wasn’t enough.
Kessen’s father had been on edge ever since her mother’s death, and who could blame him? He was the Earl of Newberry, which was an old and prominent earldom in Great Britain. One summer while he was studying at Oxford, he met Kessen’s mother and fell deeply in love. She moved back to Colorado and he soon followed, not caring that he left so much of his history and family behind. Love does crazy things. His aristocratic family thought him insane. The only family who still kept in touch was Kessen’s grandmother. Grandmother had always been supportive of Kessen’s father following his heart.
Kessen sighed as she put her shaking hands against her temples. The throbbing in her head told her unpleasant pain was rearing its ugly head.
Although her mother hadn’t hated London, it had always been a topic of discussion at the dinner table. Kessen had always taken her mother’s side that Brits put too much emphasis on tea. The running joke was if Newberry and Co. ever decided to start selling coffee, the entire country would boycott.
Kessen wasn’t certain why she disliked London, because it really wasn’t a hate, not unless she was exaggerating—which she had been known to do in her time. No, it was more of a blinding fear that the more she aligned herself with her father’s British heritage, the closer she was to losing her mother’s.
Kessen dabbed at her eyes for the second time that day and took a deep breath. It usually took a lot for her to cry, but lately it seemed to be all she was doing. Out of her family, she had always been the balanced one, the one who wasn’t a dreamer, who took life for what it was. Her mother would say she pitied her lack of imagination; her dad would claim it was the British blood. She merely smiled a tight smile and walked off, thinking about ways she could steal the Wall Street Journal from her father’s study without him finding out.
She sauntered over to where her dad sat and put a hand on his shoulder. “What do you want me to do?” She regretted the words almost instantly.
“You mean it?” The joy returned to his old, tired face.
She licked her lips and counted to three before answering. “Yes, I mean it—but no more singing.” He looked hurt; did he honestly think she wanted to hear that awful song again? For crying out loud, they lived in America. It was a democracy—they had no queen, so she didn’t need saving. The singing must stop!
They eyed one another tensely before he finally answered.
“Fine.” He put his finger up. “But it would be good for you to learn it before your cousin’s wedding.”
She vaguely heard him sputtering about her cousin’s wedding, but was momentarily distracted as she spotted the Wall Street Journal next to his chair on the floor. Her arm stretched out to reach it. Just a little further and she would be able to steal it right from under his nose. Her fingers caressed the edges just as her father leaned over and swiped it from her reach.
“Because,” he continued as his eyes scanned the first page. Apparently, he was still droning on about the wedding.” You’ll be spending the Season with her before she gets married.”
Kessen felt hot but attempted to swallow her growing anger so she could clarify. “The Season?” There was talk of Seasons in the last historical romance novel she had read, but surely the Brits weren’t so set in their ways they actually still believed in releasing poor young debutantes into society for the marriage mart. How positively archaic!
“When you say Season,” she said calmly, “you mean summer or winter, correct?”
Her father’s face turned red. It was as if she had just committed treason. Seriously. What was with British people? They didn’t hug, and they sang their national anthem as if they ruled the world, which in fact was actually quite the opposite of true.
Her father smirked then put the coveted newspaper down. “Kessen, you will be spending the London Season with your cousin. The Season in which everyone dreams of participating.” His hand swept the air in front of Kessen’s face, making the effect seem more of a fairy tale than of a waking nightmare.
“Hmm, must have missed that class at Harvard. You know, all the talk about the Season. Oh, wait … that’s because we have normal seasons: winter, spring, summer—”
The look he gave her stopped her mid-sentence. “Believe it or not, my dear, you have more to learn than merely holding your own in a conversation, or using your sarcasm as a weapon. You did say you would do anything, and this is what I want. You will not take over the corporation or inherit anything until you’ve participated in a Season.”
He chuckled to himself before pushing out of his chair. “I’ve just decided to launch you into society.”
“Dad, I’m pretty confident the launching took place the day I was born. Secondly, I’m twenty-five. Don’t girls usually get launched at the ripe age of eighteen?”
He ignored her irritated tone and proceeded to lecture, “Yes, girls normally launch at eighteen, but you are different. Just because you are older does not mean you do not need it. And a lot of good it will do you!”
“Oh I’m sure.” Sarcasm dripped from her every word.
“If you were younger, I would spank you.”
“If you were older, you’d be in my college history books.”
“Well played,” he said, defeated.
“I am your daughter.”
He winced. “Remind me when I’m in a better mood.”
“Go pack. You leave in two days.” He chuckled to himself again as if he was extremely pleased with his plan. “Kessen, if you really want the company and want the trust fund which goes with it, you will go to London, you will participate, and you will be happy. When you return, I’ll be more than pleased to hand over the Newberry operation … in England.”
“What?” Kessen asked with a dread-filled voice. “You don’t mean it.”
“Kessen,” her father said authoritatively. “As long as I’m alive, I’m the CEO. You’ll take what you can get. The London operation controls most of Europe. I think it’s enough to satisfy your needs, my dear.”
Kessen’s heart dropped to her stomach. She should be eternally grateful. It was what she had been dreaming about for years, but it meant she would have to live in London. Memories of her mother were not in London—they were in Colorado. The thought of having to be away from everything familiar, everything she had ever known, was terrifying.
Yes, she was successful and good at what she did. Was she not her father’s daughter? But the little girl inside, the one still needing her mother, the one afraid of making all the wrong choices and having no female guidance—that girl felt like she had just been wedged between a rock and hard place.
Honor her father’s choice now, or say goodbye to the familiarity and comfort of home forever.
Kessen sighed, and then groaned as her father pointed to the stairs. When she was little he used to tell her to “march.” Now all he needed to do was point, and she was on her way. It was his tiny way of showing her that he was the one who held all the cards and that if he wanted her to march her way up the stairs, she better do it with a smile on her face.
She defiantly shook her head; he pointed again, and somehow five minutes later she found herself in her room cursing to herself as she threw her clothes into her suitcase.
Really, how bad could a Season be? She was informed enough to know it wasn’t really a marriage mart anymore. The Season, although once well-known throughout London, in contemporary society consisted of lots of rich people getting together, drinking and eating, all the while talking about their money. It wasn’t like her father was sending her there to get married.
She laughed uncomfortably. Besides, when she was finished she would be the head of the European operation. Her dad must simply enjoy torturing her. But it would break his heart to know the only reason she fought him on the issue was the emotional ties she had with Colorado. Today was the first day she had seen a glimpse of her old father back. He had even cracked a smile. A first since her mother’s death six months ago.
Taking a deep breath she thought aloud, “I can do this.” Hadn’t she survived four years at Harvard and an excruciatingly long year at Yale for her master’s in business? Surely she could survive a Season in London.
She did a mental calculation of how long the flight would be and moaned.
Planes did not sit well with her. Ever since 9/11 she couldn’t get it out of her mind that someone might have the audacity to hijack her plane and crash it into something for the sake of religion.
“You’ll be fine,” she told herself.
Her thoughts were too scattered for her own good. What were they wearing in London now? Wasn’t it rainy there? She packed what she could, then decided she would go shopping with her dad’s credit cards if need be. He deserved some sort of punishment, even though a monetary hit would do nothing to his mounds of funds.
Technically, they were her cards anyway. She had been an employee since her graduation a few years ago. She wasn’t the type of girl to use company cards and not somehow pay her father back. But at least it would make her feel better to imagine his face as she scanned and emailed him the bill. Naturally, she would send him a check within the same day to pay for everything.
Being the owner and CEO of Newberry Tea and Coffee had its perks. It was nearly as well known as some of the largest coffee companies in the world. Just last year they were in a bidding war over the coffee rights of some of the smaller areas of Colorado. A major competitor ended up winning but not before they attempted to buy out Newberry and Company. They failed and, at the same time, received lots of bad press for trying to take out such a thriving company.
The Newberry brand was different from other brands, because they specialized in tea even though they still served coffee drinks and roasted their own beans. They prided themselves on tea which tasted just like it did during Regency times in London. They also had a line of specialty baked goods.
Kessen hoped that by the end of the year, the product launch of their specialty creamers and coffee flavorings would be as much of a hit as the last surge of peppermint-flavored English breakfast tea. She threw something else in her bag and sighed. She needed to concentrate on packing rather than business. She couldn’t help if her mind was always on the next marketing plan or the week’s sales.
After college her dad had placed her in the marketing VP position, which she took with open arms. He had left out that it was actually a glorified assistant job to the president, where she would be groomed until her father deemed her ready for advancement. And now it seemed she was ready.
She had been waiting two years for his approval.
Not that she blamed him, but she was incredibly ambitious, and this is what you were supposed to do with your life, right? The American dream was success. And she was a vision of success. She was everything America represented, yet why was it she didn’t have fulfillment? She kept telling herself it was because she was grieving, but maybe it was something more.
Needing a distraction, she grabbed her e-reader and plopped onto her bed. Reading was the only thing she could do to completely take her mind to another place. It was escapism, pure and simple. As much as she loved the Wall Street Journal, her feminine heart still desired romance; thus the reason behind her newest purchase … the latest historical romance in The Vandenbrook Series.
She had an unhealthy obsession with historical romance novels—and not just any historical romance novels, but the ones that were centered around London’s aristocratic society, ironically enough. To tell her father this would make him think he’d won. He could never know.
One time at a bookstore her mother had caused a huge scene at the coffee bar just so Kessen could purchase a book without her dad finding out. Naturally, he was too busy helping her mother to notice Kessen was off buying out the store’s supply of Regency romances. After that incident her mother had bought her an e-reader so she could purchase her books in secret. It was always fun to keep such a silly secret from her dad.
Historical romance provided Kessen the vision of a simpler time, a time when women still wore gloves, when men still bowed each time they w
What would it be like to be a part of such a time? She sighed and opened her latest book, The Duke’s Decision.
It was the tenth book in the Vandenbrook series. Their heritage had been traced back to Holland, but the family still resided in London to this day. An internet search had revealed the family has always had strict rules about blue blood matches. Each heir, regardless of the match, must marry a blue blood to keep the lines strong. Apparently it was important; though for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why.
She wondered if her blood was blue. Well, it was partially blue; it would have to be, considering her father was an earl, but her mother had been nothing, a nobody. Though her father hated to discuss it, things in his family had never returned to normal once he left London.
How would they accept her now? She was the much-rumored, long-lost daughter, returning to London in order to please her father, in order to inherit his company. Grandmother would be pleased; she had been begging Kessen to visit for years. Her grandfather had passed away shortly after her father had left London; Kessen figured it was from the shock of it all. Her grandmother didn’t shed so much as a tear at his funeral. She said they married for blood, which seemed to be the case with all British aristocrats.
It’s not as if anyone else in the world cared; why should they?
Some things she would never understand, nor did she want to. She glanced back down at her book and bit her lip. She could finish packing later. Right now all she wanted to do was find out if the duke chose the servant girl over the princess.
She threw on her fuzzy boots, grabbed her book, and let herself out onto her balcony. It gave her a grand view of the mountains, a view she would never tire of. She sat in her chair and began reading. “The duke was distressed indeed to learn the identity of the servant girl was, in fact, the princess herself! A switch had been made, a switch of identities.”