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Only beloved /

by Balogh, Mary [author.].
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Balogh, Mary. Survivors' Club series: Publisher: New York, New York : New American Library, [2016]Description: 393 pages ; 18 cm.ISBN: 9780451477781; 0451477782.Subject(s): Aristocracy (Social class) -- Fiction | Widowers -- Fiction | Veterans -- Fiction | Marriage -- Fiction | London (England) -- History -- 19th century -- Fiction | England -- London | 1800-1899 | Regency fiction | Romance fiction | Historical fiction | Fiction | Historical fiction | History | Romance fiction | Regency novels | Love storiesSummary: "For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again. Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she's left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then, one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true. For both George and Dora, that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

From the legendary New York Times bestselling author of Only a Kiss and Only a Promise comes the final book in the rapturous Survivor's Club series--as the future of one man lies within the heart of a lost but never-forgotten love... <br> <br> For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again. <br> <br> Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she's left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true.<br> <br> For both George and Dora that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?

"A Signet book."

"For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again. Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she's left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then, one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true. For both George and Dora, that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

<opt> <anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">            George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook, stood at the foot of the steps outside his London home on Grosvenor Square, his right hand still raised in farewell         even though the carriage bearing his two cousins on their journey home to Cumberland was already out of sight. They had made an early start despite the         fact that a few forgotten items, or items they feared they had forgotten, had twice delayed their departure while first a maid and then the housekeeper         herself hurried upstairs to look in their vacated rooms just in case.             Margaret and Audrey were sisters and his second cousins to be precise. They had come to London for the wedding of Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay, to Percy,         Earl of Hardford. Audrey was the bride's mother. Imogen had stayed at Stanbrook House too until her wedding two days ago, partly because she was a         relative, but mainly because there was no one in the world George loved more. There were five others he loved equally well, it was true, though Imogen         was the only woman and the only one related to him. The seven of them, himself included, were the members of the self-styled Survivors' Club.             A little over eight years ago George had made the decision to open Penderris Hall, his country seat in Cornwall, as a hospital and recovery center for         military officers who had been severely wounded in the Napoleonic Wars and needed more intense and more extended care than could be provided by their         families. He had hired a skilled physician and other staff members willing to act as nurses, and he had handpicked the patients from among those         recommended to him. There had been more than two dozen in all, most of whom had survived and returned to their families or regiments after a few weeks         or months. But six had remained for three years. Their injuries had varied widely. Not all had been physical. Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, for example,         had been brought there without a scratch on his body but out of his mind and with a straitjacket restraining him from doing violence to himself or         others.             A deep bond had developed among the seven of them, an attachment too strong to be severed even after they left Penderris and returned to their separate         lives. Those six people meant more to George than anyone else still living--though perhaps that was not quite accurate, for he was dearly fond too of         his only nephew, Julian, and of Julian's wife, Philippa, and their infant daughter, Belinda. He saw them with fair frequency too and always with         pleasure. They lived only a few miles from Penderris. Love, of course, did not move in hierarchies of preference. Love manifested itself in a thousand         different ways, all of which were love in its entirety. A strange thing, that, if one stopped to think about it.             He lowered his hand, feeling suddenly foolish to be waving farewell to empty air, and turned back to the house. A footman hovered at the door, no doubt         anxious to close it. He was probably shivering in his shoes. A brisk early morning breeze was blowing across the square directly at him though there         was plenty of blue sky above along with some scudding clouds in promise of a lovely mid-May day.             He nodded to the young man and sent him to the kitchen to fetch coffee to the library.             The morning post had not arrived yet, he could see when he entered the room. The surface of the large oak desk before the window was bare except for a         clean blotter and an inkpot and two quill pens. There would be the usual pile of invitations when the post did arrive, it being the height of the         London Season. He would be required to choose among balls and soirees and concerts and theater groups and garden parties and Venetian breakfasts and         private dinners and a host of other entertainments. Meanwhile his club offered congenial company and diversion, as did Tattersall's and the races and         his tailor and boot maker. And if he did not wish to go out, he was surrounded in this very room by bookshelves that reached from floor to ceiling,         interrupted only by doors and windows. If there was room for one more book on any of the shelves, he would be surprised. There were even a few books         among them that he had not yet read but would doubtless enjoy.             It was a pleasant feeling to know that he might do whatever he wished with his time, even nothing at all if he so chose. The weeks leading up to         Imogen's wedding and the few days since had been exceedingly busy ones and had allowed him very little time to himself. But he had enjoyed the busyness         and had to admit that there was a certain flatness mingled with his pleasure this morning in the knowledge that yet again he was alone and free and         beholden to no one. The house seemed very quiet, even though his cousins had not been noisy or demanding houseguests. He had enjoyed their company far         more than he had expected. They were virtual strangers, after all. He had not seen either sister for a number of years before this past week.             Imogen herself was the closest of friends but could have caused some upheaval due to her impending nuptials. She had not. She was not a fussy bride in         the least. One would hardly have known, in fact, that she was preparing for her wedding, except that there had been a new and unfamiliar glow about her         that had warmed George's heart.             The wedding breakfast had been held at Stanbrook House. He had insisted upon it, though both Ralph and Flavian, their fellow Survivors, had offered to         host it too. Half the ton had been present, filling the ballroom almost to overflowing and inevitably spilling out into other rooms in the         hours following the meal and all the speeches. And breakfast was certainly a misnomer, since very few of the guests had left until late in the         evening.             George had enjoyed every moment.             But now the festivities were all over, and after the wedding Imogen had left with Percy for a honeymoon in Paris. Now Audrey and Margaret were gone         too, although before leaving they had hugged him tightly, thanked him effusively for his hospitality, and begged him to come and stay with them in         Cumberland sometime soon.             There was a strong sense of finality about this morning. There had been a flurry of weddings in the last two years, including those of all the         Survivors and George's nephew, all the people most dear to him in the world. Imogen had been the last of them--with the exception of himself, of course.         But he hardly counted. He was forty-eight years old and, after eighteen years of marriage, he had been a widower for more than twelve years.             He was glad to see that the fire in the library had been lit. He had got chilled standing outside. He took the chair to one side of the fireplace and         held out his hands to the blaze. The footman brought the tray a few minutes later, poured his coffee, and set the cup and saucer on the small table         beside him along with a plate of sweet biscuits that smelled of butter and nutmeg.             "Thank you." George added milk and a little sugar to the dark brew and remembered for no apparent reason how it had always irritated his wife that he         acknowledged even the slightest service paid him by a servant. Doing so would only lower him in their esteem, she had always explained to him.             It seemed almost incredible that all six of his fellow Survivors had married within the past two years. It was as if they had needed the three years         after leaving Penderris to adjust to the outside world again after the sheltered safety the house had provided during their recovery, but had then         rushed joyfully back into full and fruitful lives. Perhaps, having hovered for so long close to death and insanity, they had needed to celebrate life         itself. He was quite certain too that they had all made happy marriages. Hugo and Vincent each had a child already, and there was another on the way         for Vincent and Sophia. Ralph and Flavian were also in expectation of fatherhood. Even Ben, another of their number, had whispered two days ago that         Samantha had been feeling queasy for the past few mornings and was hopeful that it was in a good cause.             It was all thoroughly heartwarming to the man who had opened his home and his heart to men--and one woman--who had been broken by war and might have         remained forever on the fringes of their own lives if he had not done so. If they had survived at all, that was.             George looked speculatively at the biscuits but did not take one. He picked up his coffee cup, however, and warmed his hands about it, ignoring the         handle.             Was it downright contrary of him to be feeling ever so slightly depressed this morning? Imogen's wedding had been a splendidly festive and happy         occasion. George loved to see her glow, and, despite some early misgivings, he liked Percy too and thought it probable he was the perfect husband for         her. George was very fond of the wives of the other Survivors too. In many ways he felt like a smugly proud father who had married off his brood to so         many happily-ever-afters.             Perhaps that was the trouble, though. For he was not their father, was he? Or anyone else's for that matter. He frowned into his coffee, considered         adding more sugar, decided against doing so, and took another sip. His only son had died at the age of seventeen during the early years of the         Peninsular Wars, and his wife--Miriam--had taken her own life just a few months later.             He was, George thought as he gazed sightlessly into his cup, very much alone--though no more so now than he had been before Imogen's wedding and all the         others. Julian was his late brother's son, not his own, and his six fellow Survivors had all left Penderris Hall five years ago. Although the bonds of         friendship had remained strong and they all gathered for three weeks every year, usually at Penderris, they were not literally family. Even Imogen was         only his second cousin once removed.             They had moved on with their lives, those six, and left him behind. And what a blasted pathetic, self-pitying thought that was.             George drained his cup, set it down none too gently on the saucer, put both on the tray, and got restlessly to his feet. He moved behind the desk and         stood looking out through the window onto the square. It was still early enough that there was very little activity out there. The clouds were sparser         than they had been earlier, the sky a more uniform blue. It was the sort of day designed to lift the human spirit.             He was lonely, damn it. To the marrow of his bones and the depths of his soul.             He almost always had been.             His adult life had begun brutally early. He had taken up a military commission with great excitement at the age of seventeen, having convinced his         father that a career in the army was what he wanted more than anything else in life. But just four months later he had been summoned back home when his         father had learned that he was dying. Before he turned eighteen, George had sold out his cornetcy, married Miriam, lost his father, and succeeded him         to the title Duke of Stanbrook himself. Brendan had been born before he was nineteen.             It seemed to George, looking back, that all his adult life he had never been anything but lonely, with the exception of that brilliant flaring of         exuberant joy he had experienced all too briefly when he was with his regiment. And there had been a few years with Brendan . . .             He clasped his hands behind his back and remembered too late that he had told Ralph and Ben yesterday that he would join them for a ride in Hyde Park         this morning if his cousins made the early departure they had planned. All the Survivors had come to London for Imogen's wedding, and all were still         here, except Vincent and Sophia, who had left for Gloucestershire yesterday. They preferred being at home, for Vincent was blind and felt more         comfortable in the familiar surroundings of Middlebury Park. And the bride and groom, of course, were on their way to Paris.             There was no reason for George to feel lonely and there would be none even after the other four had left London and returned home. There were other         friends here, both male and female. And in the country there were neighbors he considered friends. And there were Julian and Philippa.             But he was lonely, damn it. And the thing was that he had only recently admitted it to himself--only during the past week, in fact, amid all         the happy bustle of preparations for the final Survivor wedding. He had even asked himself in some alarm if he resented Percy for winning Imogen's         heart and hand, for being able to make her laugh again and glow. He had asked himself if perhaps he loved her himself. Well, yes, he did, he had         concluded after some frank consideration. There was absolutely no doubt about it--just as there was no doubt that his love for her was not that         kind of love. He loved her exactly as he loved Vincent and Hugo and the rest of them--deeply but purely platonically.             During the last few days he had toyed with the idea of hiring a mistress again. He had done so occasionally down the years. A few times he had even         indulged in discreet affairs with ladies of his own class--all widows for whom he had felt nothing but liking and respect.             He did not want a mistress.             Last night he had lain awake, staring up at the shadowed canopy above his bed, unable to coax his mind to relax and his body to sleep. It had been one         of those nights during which, for no discernible reason, sleep eluded him, and the notion had popped into his head, seemingly from nowhere, that         perhaps he ought to marry. Not for love or issue--he was too old for either romance or fatherhood. Not that he was physically too old for the latter,         but he did not want a child, or children, at Penderris again. Besides, he would have to marry a young woman if he wanted to populate his nursery, and         the thought of marrying someone half his age held no appeal. It might for many men, but he was not one of them. He could admire the young beauties who         crowded fashionable ballrooms during the Season each spring, but he felt not the slightest desire to bed any of them.             What had occurred to his mind last night was that marriage might bring him companionship, possibly a real friendship. Perhaps even someone in the         nature of a soul mate. And, yes, someone to lie beside him in bed at night to soothe his loneliness and provide the regular pleasures of sex.             He had been celibate a little too long for comfort.             Two horses were clopping along the other side of the square, he could see, led by a groom on horseback. Both horses bore sidesaddles. The door of the         Rees-Parry house directly opposite opened, and the two young daughters of the house stepped out and were helped into the saddle by the groom. Both         girls wore smart riding habits. The faint sounds of feminine laughter and high spirits carried across the square and through the closed window of the         library. They rode off in evident high spirits, the groom following a respectful distance behind them.             Youth could be delightful to behold, but he felt no yearning to be a part of it.             The idea that had come to him last night had not been purely hypothetical. It had come complete with the image of a particular woman, though why her he         could not explain to himself. He scarcely knew her, after all, and had not seen her for more than a year. But there she had been, quite vivid in his         mind's eye while he had been thinking that maybe he ought to consider marrying again. Marrying her . It had seemed to him that she would be the         perfect--the only --choice.             He had dozed off eventually and woken early to take breakfast with his cousins before seeing them on their way. Only now had he remembered those         bizarre nighttime yearnings. Surely he must have been at least half asleep and half dreaming. It would be madness to tie himself down with a wife         again, especially one who was a virtual stranger. What if she did not suit him after all? What if he did not suit her? An unhappy marriage would be         worse than the loneliness and emptiness that sometimes conspired to drag down his spirits.             But now the same thoughts were back. Why the devil had he not gone riding? Or to White's Club? He could have had his coffee there and occupied himself         with the congenial conversation of male acquaintances or distracted himself with a perusal of the morning papers.             Would she have him if he asked? Was it conceited of him to believe that she would indeed? Why, after all, would she refuse him unless perhaps she was         deterred by the fact that she did not love him? But she was no longer a young woman, her head stuffed with romantic dreams. She was probably as         indifferent to romance as he was himself. He had much to offer any woman, even apart from the obvious inducements of a lofty title and fortune. He had         a steady character to offer as well as friendship and . . . Well, he had marriage to offer. She had never been married.             Would he merely be making an idiot of himself, though, if he married again now when he was well into middle age? But why? Men his age and older were         marrying all the time. And it was not as though he had his sights fixed upon some sweet young thing fresh out of the schoolroom. That would be         pathetic. He would be seeking comfort with a mature woman who would perhaps welcome a similar comfort into her own life.             It was absurd to think that he was too old. Or that she was. Surely everyone was entitled to some companionship, some contentment in life even when         youth was a thing of the past. He was not seriously considering doing it, though, was he?             A tap on the library door preceded the appearance in the room of a youngish man carrying a bundle of letters.             "Ethan?" George nodded to his secretary. "Anything of burning interest or vast moment?"             "No more than the usual, Your Grace," Ethan Briggs said as he divided the pile in two and set each down on the desk. "Business and social." He         indicated each pile in turn, as he usually did.             "Bills?" George jutted his chin in the direction of the business pile.             "One from Hoby's for a pair of riding boots," his secretary said, "and various wedding expenses."             "And they need my inspection?" George looked pained. "Pay them, Ethan."             His secretary scooped up the first pile.             "Take the others away too," George said, "and send polite refusals."             "To all of them, Your Grace?" Briggs raised his eyebrows. "The Marchioness of--"             "All," George said. "And everything that comes for the next several days until you receive further instructions from me. I am leaving town."             "Leaving?" Again the raised eyebrows.             Briggs was an efficient, thoroughly reliable secretary. He had been with the Duke of Stanbrook for almost six years. But no one is perfect, George         mused. The man had a habit of repeating certain words his employer addressed to him as though he could not quite believe he had heard correctly.             "But there is your speech in the House of Lords the day after tomorrow, Your Grace," he said.             "It will keep." George waved a dismissive hand. "I will be leaving tomorrow."             "For Cornwall, Your Grace?" Briggs asked. "Do you wish me to write to inform the housekeeper--"             "Not for Penderris Hall," George said. "I will be back . . . well, when I return. In the meantime, pay my bills and refuse my invitations and do         whatever else I keep you busy doing."             His secretary picked up the remaining pile from the desk, acknowledged his employer with a respectful bow, and left the room.             So he was going, was he? George asked himself. To propose marriage to a lady he scarcely knew and had not even seen in a longish while?             How did one propose marriage? The last time he had been seventeen years old and it had been a mere formality, both their fathers having agreed upon the         match, come to terms, and signed the contract. A mere son's and daughter's wishes and sensibilities had not been taken into consideration or even         consulted, especially when one of the fathers already had a foot in the grave and was in some hurry to see his son settled. At least this time George         knew the lady a little better than he had known Miriam. He knew what she looked like at least and what her voice sounded like. The first time         he had set eyes upon Miriam had been on the occasion of his proposal, conducted with stammering formality under the stern gaze of her father and his         own.             Was he really going to do this?             What the devil would she think?             What would she say ?         2     One might almost be lulled into believing that spring was turning to summer even though it was still only May. The sky was a clear deep blue, the sun was     shining, and the warmth in the air made her shawl not only unnecessary but actually quite burdensome, Dora Debbins thought as she let herself in through     the front door and called to let Mrs. Henry, her housekeeper, know that she was home.     Home was a modest cottage in the village of Inglebrook in Gloucestershire, where she had lived for the past nine years. She had been born in Lancashire,     and after her mother ran away when she was seventeen, she had done her best to manage her father's large home and be a mother to her younger sister, Agnes.     When she was thirty, their father had married a widow who had long been a friend of the family. Agnes, who was then eighteen, had married a neighbor who     had once paid his addresses to Dora, though Agnes did not know that. Within one year Dora had realized she was no longer needed by anyone and indeed did     not belong anywhere. Her father's new wife had begun to hint that Dora ought to consider other options than remaining at home. Dora had considered seeking     employment as a governess or a companion or even a housekeeper, but none of the three had really appealed to her.     Then one day by happy chance she had seen a notice in her father's morning paper, inviting a respectable gentleman or lady to come and teach music to a     number of pupils on a variety of different instruments in and about the village of Inglebrook in Gloucestershire. It was not a salaried position. Indeed,     it was not a real position at all. There was no employer, no guarantee of work or income, only the prospect of setting up a busy and independent business     that would almost certainly supply the teacher concerned with an adequate income. The notice had also made mention of a cottage in the village that was for     sale at a reasonable price. Dora had had the necessary qualifications, and her father had been willing to pay the cost of the house-- more or less matching     the amount of the dowry he had given Agnes when she married. He had looked almost openly relieved, in fact, at such a relatively easy solution to the     problem of having his elder daughter and his new wife living together under his roof.     Dora had written to the agent named in the notice, had received a swift and favorable reply, and had moved, sight unseen, to her new home. She had lived     here busily and happily ever since, never short of pupils and never without income. She was not wealthy--far from it. But what she earned from the lessons     was quite adequate to provide her needs with a little to spare for what she termed her rainy-day savings. She could even afford to have Mrs. Henry clean     and cook and shop for her. The villagers had accepted her into their community, and while she had no really close friends here, she did have numerous     friendly acquaintances.     She went directly upstairs to her room to remove her shawl and bonnet, to fluff up her flattened hair before the mirror, to wash her hands at the basin in     her small dressing room, and to look out through the back window at the garden below. From up here it looked neat and colorful, but she knew she would be     out there in the next day or two with her fork and trowel, waging war upon the ever-encroaching weeds. Actually she was fond of weeds, but not --     please, please--in her garden. Let them bloom and thrive in all the surrounding hedgerows and meadows and she would admire them all day long.     Oh, she thought with a sudden pang, how she still missed Agnes. Her sister had lived with her here for a year after losing her husband. She had     spent much of her time outdoors, painting the wildflowers. Agnes was wondrously skilled with watercolors. That had been such a happy year, for Agnes was     like the daughter she had never had and never would. But Dora had known the interlude would not last. She had not allowed herself even to hope that it     would. It had not, because Agnes had found love.     Dora was fond of Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, Agnes's second husband. Very fond, actually, though initially she had had doubts about him, for he was     handsome and charming and witty but had a mocking eyebrow she had distrusted. Upon closer acquaintance, however, she had been forced to admit that he was     the ideal partner for her quiet, demure sister. When they married here in the village last year, it had been evident to Dora that it was, or soon would be,     a love match. And indeed it had turned out to be just that. They were happy together, and there was to be a child in the autumn.     Dora turned away from the window when she realized that she was no longer really seeing the garden. They lived in faraway Sussex, Agnes and Flavian. But it     was not the end of the world, was it? Already she had been to visit them a couple of times, at Christmas and again at Easter. She had stayed for two weeks     each time, though Flavian had urged her to stay longer and Agnes had told her with obvious sincerity that she might live with them forever if she chose.     "Forever and a day," Flavian had added.     Dora did not so choose. Living alone by its very definition was a solitary business, but solitude was infinitely preferable to any alternative she had ever     discovered. She was thirty-nine years old and a spinster. The alternatives for her were to be someone's governess or companion on the one hand or a     dependent relative on the other, moving endlessly from her sister's home to her father's to her brother's. She was very, very thankful for her modest,     pretty cottage and her independent employment and lonely existence. No, not lonely--solitary.     She could hear the clatter of china downstairs and knew that Mrs. Henry was deliberately hinting to her, without actually calling upstairs, that the tea     had been brewed and carried into the sitting room and that it would go cold if she did not come down soon.     She went down.     "I suppose you heard all about the big wedding in London when you went up to Middlebury, did you?" Mrs. Henry asked, hovering hopefully in the doorway     while Dora poured herself a cup of tea and buttered a scone.     "From Lady Darleigh?" She smiled. "Yes, she told me it was a very grand and a very joyous occasion. They married at St. George's on Hanover Square, and the     Duke of Stanbrook hosted a lavish wedding breakfast. I am very happy for Lady Barclay, though I suppose I must refer to her now as the Countess of     Hardford. I thought her very charming when I met her last year, but very reserved too. Lady Darleigh says her new husband adores her. That is very     romantic, is it not?"     How lovely it must be . . .     She took a bite of her scone. Sophia, Lady Darleigh, who had arrived back at Middlebury Park from London with her husband the day before yesterday, had     said more about the wedding they had gone there to attend, but Dora was too tired to elaborate further now. She had squeezed an extra pianoforte lesson for     the viscountess into what was already a full day of work and had had scarcely a moment to herself since breakfast.     "I will no doubt have a long letter from Agnes about it in the next day or two," she said when she saw Mrs. Henry's look of disappointment. "I will share     with you what she has to say about the wedding."     Her housekeeper nodded and shut the door.     Dora took another bite from her scone, and found herself suddenly lost in memories of last year and a few of the happiest days of her life just before the     excruciatingly painful one when Agnes drove off with her new husband and Dora, smiling, waved them on their way.     How pathetic that she relived those days so often. Viscount and Viscountess Darleigh, who lived at Middlebury Park just beyond the village, had had     houseguests--very illustrious ones, all of them titled. Dora and Agnes had been invited to the house more than once while they were there, and a few times     various groupings of the guests had called at the cottage and even taken tea here. Agnes was a close friend of the viscountess, and Dora was comfortable     with them herself as she gave music lessons to both the viscount and his wife. On the basis of this acquaintance, she and Agnes had been invited to dine     one evening, and Dora had been asked to play for the company afterward.     All the guests had been incredibly kind. And flattering. Dora had played the harp, and they had not wanted her to stop. And then she had played the     pianoforte and they had urged her to keep on playing. She had been led up to the drawing room for tea afterward on the arm of no less a personage than the     Duke of Stanbrook. Earlier, she had sat between him and Lord Darleigh at dinner. She would have been awed into speechlessness if she had not been long     familiar with the viscount and if the duke had not made an effort to set her at her ease. He had seemed an almost frighteningly austere-looking nobleman     until she looked into his eyes and saw nothing but kindness there.     She had been made to feel like a celebrity. Like a star. And for those few days she had felt wondrously alive. How sad--no, pathetic--that in all her life     there were no other memories half so vivid with which to regale herself when she sat alone like this, a little too weary to read. Or at night, when she lay     in bed unable to fall asleep, as she sometimes did.     They called themselves a club, the male guests who had stayed at Middlebury Park for three weeks--the Survivors' Club. They had survived both the wars     against Napoleon Bonaparte and the dreadful injuries they had suffered during them. Lady Barclay was a member too--the lady who had just married. She had     not been an officer herself, of course, but her first husband had, and she had witnessed his death from torture, poor lady, after he had been captured in     Portugal. Viscount Darleigh himself had been blinded. Flavian, Lord Ponsonby, Agnes's husband, had suffered such severe head injuries that he could neither     think nor speak nor understand what was said to him when he was brought back to England. Baron Trentham, Sir Benedict Harper, and the Earl of Berwick, the     last of whom had inherited a dukedom since last year, had all suffered terribly as well. The Duke of Stanbrook years ago had gathered them all at his home     in Cornwall and given them the time and space and care they needed to heal and recuperate. They were all now married, except the duke himself, who was an     older man and a widower.     Dora wondered if they would ever again gather at Middlebury Park for one of their annual reunions. If they did, then perhaps she would be invited to join     them again--maybe even to play for them. She was, after all, Agnes's sister, and Agnes was now married to one of them.     She picked up her cup and sipped her tea. But it had grown tepid and she pulled a face. It was entirely her own fault, of course. But she hated tea that     was not piping hot.     And then a knock sounded on the outer door. Dora sighed. She was just too weary to deal with any chance caller. Her last pupil for the day had been     fourteen-year-old Miranda Corley, who was as reluctant to play the pianoforte as Dora was to teach her. She was utterly devoid of musical talent, poor     girl, though her parents were convinced she was a prodigy. Those lessons were always a trial to them both.     Perhaps Mrs. Henry would deal with whoever was standing on her doorstep. Her housekeeper knew how tired she always was after a full day of giving lessons     and guarded her privacy a bit like a mother hen. But this was not to be one of those occasions, it seemed. There was a tap on the sitting room door, and     Mrs. Henry opened it and stood there for a moment, her eyes as wide as twin saucers.     "It is for you, Miss Debbins," she said before stepping to one side.     And, as though her memories of last year had summoned him right to her sitting room, in walked the Duke of Stanbrook.     He stopped just inside the door while Mrs. Henry closed it behind him.     "Miss Debbins." He bowed to her. "I trust I have not called at an inconvenient time?"     Any memory Dora had had of how kindly and approachable and really quite human the duke was fled without a trace, and she was every bit as smitten by awe as     she had been when she met him for the first time in the drawing room at Middlebury Park. He was tall and distinguished looking, with dark hair silvered at     the temples, and austere, chiseled features consisting of a straight nose, high cheekbones, and rather thin lips. He bore himself with a stiff, forbidding     air she could not recall from last year. He was the quintessential fashionable, aloof aristocrat from head to toe, and he seemed to fill Dora's sitting     room and deprive it of most of the breathable air.     She realized suddenly that she was still sitting and staring at him all agape, like a thunderstruck idiot. He had spoken to her in the form of a question     and was regarding her with raised eyebrows in expectation of an answer. She scrambled belatedly to her feet and curtsied. She tried to remember what she     was wearing and whether her garments included a cap.     "Your Grace," she said. "No, not at all. I have given my last music lesson for the day and have been having my tea. The tea will be cold in the pot by now.     Let me ask Mrs. Henry--"     But he had held up one elegant staying hand.     "Pray do not concern yourself," he said. "I have just finished taking refreshments with Vincent and Sophia."     With Viscount and Lady Darleigh.     "I was at Middlebury Park earlier today," she said, "giving Lady Darleigh a pianoforte lesson since she missed her regular one while she was in London for     Lady Barclay's wedding. She did not mention that you had come back with them. Not that she was obliged to do so, of course." Her cheeks grew hot. "It was     none of my business."     "I arrived an hour ago," he told her, "unexpected but not quite uninvited. Every time I see Vincent and his lady, they urge me to visit anytime I wish.     They always mean it, I'm sure, but I also know they never expect that I will . This time I did. I followed almost upon their heels from London, in     fact, and, bless their hearts, I do believe they were happy to see me. Or not see in Vincent's case. Sometimes one almost forgets that he cannot literally     see."     Dora's cheeks grew hotter. For how long had she been keeping him standing there by the door? Whatever would he think of her rustic manners?     "But will you not have a seat, Your Grace?" She indicated the chair across the hearth from her own. "Did you walk from Middlebury? It is a lovely day for     air and exercise, is it not?" He had arrived from London an hour ago ? He had taken tea with Viscount and Lady Darleigh and had stepped out immediately after to come . . .    here ? Perhaps he brought a message from Agnes?     "I will not sit," he said. "This is not really a social call."     "Agnes--?" Her hand crept to her throat. His stiff, formal manner was suddenly explained. There was something wrong with Agnes. She had miscarried.     "Your sister appeared to be glowing with good health when I saw her a few days ago," he said. "I am sorry if my sudden appearance has alarmed you. I have     no dire news of any kind. Indeed, I came to ask a question."     Dora clasped both hands at her waist and waited for him to continue. A day or two after the dinner at Middlebury last year he had come to the cottage with     a few of the others to thank her for playing and to express the hope that she would do so again before their visit came to an end. It had not happened. Was     he going to ask now? For this evening, perhaps?     But that was not what happened.     "I wondered, Miss Debbins," he said, "if you might do me the great honor of marrying me."     Sometimes words were spoken and one heard them quite clearly, but as a series of separate, unconnected sounds rather than as phrases and sentences that     conveyed meaning. One needed a little time in order to put the sounds together and understand what was being communicated.     Dora heard his words, but for a few moments she did not comprehend their meaning. She merely stared and gripped her hands and thought, with a strange,     foolish sort of disappointment, that he did not after all want her to play the harp or the pianoforte this evening.     Only to marry her.     What?     He looked suddenly apologetic, and thereby resembled more the man she remembered from last year. "I have not made a marriage proposal since I was     seventeen," he said, "more than thirty years ago. But even with that fact as an excuse, I realize that this was a very lame effort. I have had ample time     since leaving London to compose a pretty speech but have failed to do so. I have not even brought flowers or gone down upon bended knee. What a sad figure     of a suitor you will think me, Miss Debbins."     "You want me to marry you?" She indicated herself with a hand over her heart, as though the room was full of single ladies and she was unsure that he meant     her rather than any of the others.     He clasped his hands behind his back and sighed aloud. "You know about the wedding in London less than a week ago, of course," he said. "You doubtless     heard about the Survivors' Club when we were all staying here at Middlebury Park last year. You would know about us from Flavian even if from no one else.     We are very close friends. During the past two years all six of the others have married. After Imogen's wedding was over last week and the last of my     guests left my London home a few days ago, it occurred to me that I had been left behind. It occurred to me that . . . I was perhaps just a touch lonely."     Dora felt half robbed of breath. One did not expect a nobleman with his . . . presence either to experience such a lack in his life or to admit to     it if he did. It was the last thing she would have expected him to say.     "And it struck me," he continued when she did not fill the short silence that succeeded his words, "that I really do not want to be lonely. Yet I cannot     expect my friends, no matter how dear they are, to fill the void or to satisfy the hunger that is at the very core of my being. I would not even wish them     to try. I could, however, hope for such a thing, even perhaps expect it, from a wife."     "But--" She pressed her hand harder to her bosom. "But why me ?"     "I thought that perhaps you are a little lonely too, Miss Debbins," he said, half smiling.     She wished suddenly that she were sitting. Was this the impression she gave the world--that she was a lonely, pathetic spinster, still holding out the faint     hope that some gentleman would be desperate enough to take her? Desperate, however, was not a word that could possibly describe the Duke of     Stanbrook. He must be some years older than she, but he was still eminently eligible in every imaginable way. He could have almost any single woman--or     girl--he chose. His words, though, had wounded her, humiliated her.     "I live a solitary life, Your Grace," she said, choosing her words carefully. "By choice. Solitude and loneliness are not necessarily     interchangeable words."     "I have offended you, Miss Debbins," he said. "I do apologize. I am being unusually gauche. May I accept your offer of a seat after all? I need to explain     myself far more lucidly. I did not, I assure you, search my mind for the loneliest lady of my acquaintance, pick on you, and dash off to propose     marriage to you. Forgive me if I have given that impression."     "It would be too absurd to believe that you need choose thus anyway," she said, indicating the chair opposite hers again and sinking gratefully back into     her own. She was not sure how much longer her knees would have held her upright.     "It occurred to me after I had given the matter some thought," he said as he seated himself, "that what I most need and want is a companion and friend,     someone with whom I can be comfortable, someone who would be content to be always at my side. Someone . . . all my own. And someone to share my bed.     Forgive me--but it ought to be mentioned. I wished--wish--for more than a platonic relationship."     Dora was looking at her hands. Her cheeks were hot again--well, of course they were. But she lifted her eyes to his now, and the reality of what was     happening rushed at her. He was the Duke of Stanbrook . She had been flattered, made breathless, been ridiculously pleased by his courteous     attentions last year. One afternoon he and Flavian had escorted Agnes and her all the way home from Middlebury, and he had drawn her arm through his and     conversed amicably with her and set her quite as her ease while they outpaced the other two. She had relished every moment of that walk and had relived it     over and over again in the days following, and, indeed, ever since. Now he was here in her sitting room. He had come to propose marriage to her.     "But why me?" she asked again. Her voice sounded shockingly normal.     "When I thought all these things," he said, "they came with the image of you. I cannot explain why. I do not believe I know why. But it was of you I     thought. Only you. If you refuse me, I believe I will remain as I am."     He was looking directly into her face, and now she saw not just an austere aristocrat. She saw a man. It was a stupid thought, one she would not have been     able to explain if she had been called upon to do so. She felt breathless again and a bit shivery and was glad she was sitting down.     And someone to share my bed.     "I am thirty-nine years old, Your Grace," she told him.     "Ah," he said and half smiled again. "I have the effrontery, then, to be asking you to marry an older man. I am nine years your senior."     "I would be unable to bear you children," she said. "At least--" She had not gone through the change of life yet, but it must surely happen soon.     "I have a nephew," he said, "a worthy young man of whom I am dearly fond. He is married and already father to a daughter. Sons will no doubt follow. I am     not interested in having children in my nursery again, Miss Debbins."     She remembered that he had had a son who had been killed in Portugal or Spain during the wars. The duke must have been very young when that son was born.     Then she recalled what he had said earlier about not having made a marriage proposal since he was seventeen.     "It is a companion I want," he repeated. "A friend. A woman friend. A wife, in fact. I do not have grand romance or romantic passion to offer, I     am afraid. I am past the age of such flights of fancy. But though I do not know you well or you me, I believe we would deal well together. I admire your     talent as a musician and the beauty of soul it suggests. I admire your modesty and dignity, your devotion to your sister. I like your appearance. I like     the idea of looking at you every day for the rest of my life."     Dora gazed at him, startled. She had been pretty once upon a time, but youth and she had parted company long ago. The best she saw in her glass now was     neatness and . . . ordinariness. She saw a staid spinster in her middle years. He, on the other hand, was . . . well, even with his forty-eight years and     his silvering hair, he was gorgeous.     She bit her lower lip and gazed back at him. How could they possibly be friends ?     "I would not have any idea how to be a duchess," she said.     She watched his eyes smile, and she smiled ruefully back at him and then actually laughed. So, incredibly, did he. And she was glad yet again that she was     sitting. Was there a word more powerful than gorgeous?     "I grant," he said, "that if you were my wife you would also be my duchess. But--I hesitate to disappoint you--it does not mean wearing a tiara and an     ermine-trimmed robe every day, you know. Or even every year. And it does not involve rubbing shoulders with the king and his court every week. On the other     hand, there may be some amusement to be derived from being addressed as 'Your Grace' instead of just plain Miss Debbins."     "I am rather fond of Miss Debbins," she said. "She has been with me for almost forty years."     His smile faded and he looked austere again.     "Are you happy , Miss Debbins?" he asked. "I recognize that you may well be. You have a cozy home here and productive, independent employment doing     something you love. You are much appreciated both at Middlebury and, I believe, in the village for your talent and for your good nature." He paused and met     her gaze again. "Or is there a chance that you too would like a friend and companion all your own, that you too would like to belong exclusively to one     other person and have him belong to you? Is there a chance that you would be willing to leave your life here and come to Cornwall and Penderris with me?     Not just as my friend, but as my life's partner?" He paused once more for a moment. " Will you marry me?"     His eyes held hers. And all her defenses fell away, as did all the assurances she had given herself over the years that she was happy with the course her     life had taken since she was seventeen, that she was contented at the very least, that she was not lonely. No, never that.     She did have a cozy home, a busy, productive life, neighbors and friends, an independent, adequate income, family members not too far away. But she had     never had anyone of her very own that she would not have to relinquish at some time in the future. She had had her sister until Agnes married William     Keeping, and she had had her again for a year before she married Flavian. But . . . there had been no one else and no one permanent to fill the void. No     one who had ever vowed to cleave unto her alone until death did them part.     She had never allowed herself to dwell upon how different her life might have been if her mother had not run away from home so abruptly and unexpectedly     when Dora was seventeen and Agnes was five. Her life had been as it had been, and she had made free choices every step of the way. But was it possible that     now, after all . . . ?     She was thirty-nine years old.     But she was not dead .     She would not marry, though, just out of desperation. A poor marriage could--and would--be far worse than what she already had. But a marriage to the Duke of     Stanbrook would not be from desperation, she knew without having to ponder the matter. She had dreamed of him for a whole year--fourteen months to be     precise. Oh, not in that way, she would have protested even just an hour ago. But her defenses had come tumbling down, and now she could admit     that, yes, she had dreamed of him in that way. Of course she had. She had walked beside him all the way from Middlebury on that most vividly     wonderful of all the afternoons of her life, her hand through his arm as they talked easily to each other. He had smiled at her and she had smelled his     cologne and sensed his masculinity. She had dared to dream of love and romance that day and ever since.     But only to dream .     Sometimes--oh, just sometimes--dreams could come true. Not the love and romance part, of course, but he had companionship and friendship to offer. And     marriage. Not a platonic marriage.     She could know what it was like . . .     With him? Oh, goodness, with him. She could know . . .     And someone to share my bed.     She became aware that a longish silence had succeeded his proposal. Her eyes were still locked upon his.     "Thank you," she said. "Yes. I will." Excerpted from Only Beloved by Mary Balogh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon> </opt>

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Library Journal Review

Content with her quiet country existence as a well-respected music teacher, 39-year-old Dora Debbins is speechless when George Crabbe, the Duke of Stanbrook, comes to call and offers a proposal of marriage. But with all of his fellow Survivors now happily wed, George realizes that he wants a friend and companion of his own-a wife-and Dora, a woman he met once and never forgot, is the only one who will do. Surprisingly, Dora accepts, and their journey from friendship to love is as exquisite as one could wish-and the perfect conclusion to one of Balogh's most compelling series. -VERDICT A pair of wonderfully matched protagonists find happiness and a wonderful helping of romance in this unforgettable, danger-tinged story. It tugs at the heartstrings and will leave fans thoroughly gratified. Balogh (Only a Kiss) lives in Canada. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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