When Lady Jessalyn Hunter finds herself ruined, both socially and
financially, she is forced to accept the help of her older brother’s best friend
— the man she’s loved since childhood.
Ethan Tremaine has spent his entire life running from the tragedy of his past,
but he can’t refuse his best friend’s dying request. He reluctantly agrees to
marry Jessalyn, though he’s terrified by the thought of someone depending on
What begins as a marriage of convenience quickly becomes much more. Can
they find the courage to love, or will they let the ghosts of their past destroy
San Paolo, Brazil
September 15, 1867
A black orchid.
Dangling from the branch of an ancient mahogany, the fragile, inky blossom floated weightlessly—like a dark, ephemeral
ghost. Trembling from some unseen breeze, the flower seemed eerily prescient, as though fully aware of Ethan
Tremaine’s breathless interest.
“Look at you,” Ethan whispered, leaning forward for a closer examination. He took a deep breath and let the orchid’s
potent, musky perfume fill his senses. “You beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Black orchids were the stuff of legends. Some chemists swore the magical petals could cure all the world’s ills. Others
believed the flower held a deadly poison.
For most of the last decade, his entire life had revolved around finding one.
His search had taken him to the jungles of Asia and Africa, then across the Atlantic to South America. He’d survived
encounters with angry native tribes and man-eating tigers. He’d been laid low by an unexplained fever in Burma and
shot by a greedy competitor in Cameroon.
What luck that he’d taken to exploring away the daylight hours while waiting for his Brazilian agents to complete the
preparations for his latest expedition. Yet how ironic that after all his travels, he’d found the object of his obsession less
than a hundred yards from the bustling lobby of the seedy hotel he currently called home.
He reached to remove the orchid from the tree, but hesitated with his hand a mere breath away. His quest had
consumed him for so long he couldn’t imagine it coming to an end.
An odd sort of panic swept through him as he realized he’d purposely chosen a goal he’d believed to be unattainable.
What would he do with his life now? How would he fill his empty days?
Lost in thought, he took a step back. A shaft of sunlight filtered through the canopy and illuminated his find in a whole
new light. He froze, and the blood drained from his face.
The orchid was a deep, rich shade of purple. Fit for a king, but purple, nonetheless.
For a long moment he simply stared at it, feeling the strangest sense of betrayal. Stupid, he told himself. After all, he’d
only betrayed himself by seeing what he wanted to see. And he had to admit this wasn’t the first time he’d gone tilting at
With a pronounced sigh, he extracted the orchid from the tree and trudged back toward the hotel. The orchid he bore
might not be black, but it was still an amazing find, sure to win him both wealth and recognition. He could offer it as a gift
to the Queen, who was a rabid orchid enthusiast, and insure a permanent spot in her favor.
He should be thrilled. But he wasn’t. The flashes of happiness he sometimes found in his work never dispelled the
darkness within his soul for very long.
He entered the hotel and blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The threadbare carpet and battered furniture that
graced the lobby made him wince. Sometimes he managed to forget how far he’d fallen from the glittering aristocracy to
which he’d been born, but his current surroundings jarred him back to reality.
“Senor Tremaine? You have a letter.”
Ethan glanced over at the desk clerk, and all thoughts of today’s failure fled his mind. Changing direction, he gave the
old man a rare, genuine smile. “From England?” But he already knew the answer. Only one person in the world ever
wrote to him.
The thin, balding clerk grinned. “Si. All the way from England.”
“Excellent.” Ethan accepted the travel-stained envelope with the same care he’d used extricating the orchid from the
tree. Too many months had passed since he’d last received a letter from his old friend, Christian Hunter, the current
Heart sinking, he realized the bold, slanting script didn’t belong to Christian. Instead, the missive bore the seal of Ethan’s
older brother, Lucien, the Earl of Basingstoke.
Frowning, he took the stairs two at a time and tucked the letter beneath his chin as he paused to unlock his door. Once
inside, he placed the purple orchid in a specially designed glass case, then sprawled across the rickety bed and stared
down at the letter with reluctant curiosity.
It would be inaccurate to say he and his brother weren’t on good terms. Truth be told, they weren’t on any terms at all.
Years had passed since they’d last spoken.
Even then, they’d communicated through solicitors. Ethan had sacrificed what remained of his pride by pleading with his
brother to finance his first expedition. To his surprise, Lucien had provided the funds without question.
Oceans and continents of silence had stretched between them ever since.
Ethan often wondered if his brother still blamed him for the tragedy which had torn their family apart, but he preferred to
let the past remain buried. He certainly never expected Lucien to be the one to bridge the gap.
Holding his breath in trepidation, Ethan opened the envelope. Inside, he found an engraved wedding announcement,
inviting him to attend the nuptials of the Earl of Basingstoke and Lady Jane Bennett a little over four months hence. On
As he unfolded the invitation, a single sheet of paper fluttered out to rest upon the shabby coverlet. Ethan shifted closer
to the window in order to decipher the tiny rows of cramped, careful script:
August 12, 1867
I write this letter in part to appease my future wife, who believes I’ll never be happy until I make peace with you, and in
part because I’ve known for years that she’s right. I’ve taken pen in hand at least a dozen times since you left the
country, only to find myself staring at a blank page, unsure where to begin. So much has gone wrong between us it’s
hard to imagine ever making things right.
For a long time I was furious with you for leaving, even though I know I helped drive you away. I cringe every time I
remember the hateful things I said. How deeply those words must have cut. I can only hope that time, distance, and
wisdom have convinced you of something I knew all along— what happened to Nathan, Elizabeth and mother was not
your fault. Forgive me for making those dark days worse, for not standing up for you when you needed me most.
Please come home. I know I have no right to ask, but it would mean a great deal to me if you would stand beside me
during my wedding. After all, you’re the only family I have left.
P. S. Did you know your old friend, Lord Harding, is gravely ill? Consumption. Rumor has it that he won’t last long.
Despite the humid Brazilian heat, a chill traveled up Ethan’s spine. His brother’s words echoed in his mind, upsetting
long held beliefs and rattling doors he’d locked long ago.
Self-preservation urged him to rip the letter to shreds and pretend he’d never seen it. But whether by accident or
design, Lucien’s careless postscript had sealed Ethan’s fate.
He could ignore his brother’s belated apology. He could even resist the urge to accept Lucien’s invitation to return to
England and attempt to forge a new relationship out of the shattered remnants of the past.
But he couldn’t turn his back on the only true friend he’d ever had.
He and Christian Hunter had been roommates at Harrow, the boarding school where Ethan’s father banished him after
the accident that changed his life forever. He was twelve years old, and everyone he’d ever loved was either dead or
blamed him for causing the senseless tragedy.
He might never have come to terms with what had happened if not for Christian’s friendship.
They hadn’t seen each other in years, not since Christian took his father’s place as Viscount Harding and Ethan went
exploring, but they kept in touch via frequent letters.
It always comforted Ethan to know that no matter where he went in the world, someone still gave a damn whether or not
Overwhelmed with grief, guilt, and an unreasonable fury, he hurriedly packed. He didn’t think his brother knew him well
enough to manipulate him so cleverly, but whether he had or he hadn’t, one thing was clear. Ethan couldn’t remain in
Brazil while Christian was sick, perhaps dying, in England.
After years of running from his past, it was time to go home.