The Unforgettable Hero
Playful Brides, Book 4.5
To escape a forced marriage to her loathsome, social-climbing cousin, Cecelia Harcourt banks on selling a romantic novel. But when she’s hit by a coach on the way home from meeting a potential publisher and loses her memory, the accident leads to an encounter with a fascinating man. . . who she’s convinced is the hero of her novel.
Due to his brother’s influence, Lieutenant Adam Hunt finds himself honorably discharged from the army. Adam intends to make his way in the world without the help of a war-hero duke, brother or no. He finds his plans for independence sidetracked by a chance encounter with a lady whose memory has gone. She believes he’s a hero. Can Adam become the man he was meant to be and fill that lofty role?
Read an Excerpt
“And they lived happily ever after.” Cecelia Harcourt sighed as she finished writing the words on the paper. She dipped her quill back into the inkpot one last time. The End, she scrolled across the bottom of the page, biting her smiling lip.
“Are you finished, Cece?”
Cecelia spun around at the sound of the young female voice. She’d hidden herself in the servants’ quarters in the attic of the town house. The tiny whitewashed fourth-floor room was the perfect place to conceal her manuscript and her writing supplies from Uncle Herbert. It might smell like dust up here since they’d been forced to let most of the servants go, but the old codger would never climb up so many flights of stairs. And neither would his formidable wife, Aunt Selene.
“Yes, I’m finished, Mary,” Cecelia replied to her twelve-year-old sister.
Mary pushed open the door and hurried over to stand next to the desk, a weak smile on her face. “May I read it, Cece? Oh, please say I may.” Her sister coughed, her thin shoulders shaking.
Cecelia held her breath, waiting for Mary’s coughing to subside. Then Cecelia pressed her palm to her sister’s warm, pale cheek. Mary was so dear, such a sweet girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She looked so much like Mama. Cecilia had inherited her father’s dark hair and eyes. She sighed and blinked away tears. Her parents. If only she could have just one more moment with either of them, but a carriage accident had taken their lives nearly two years ago and ever since, she’d been struggling to keep up a brave facade for her younger sister.
“I’m sorry, Mary,” Cecelia replied, shaking her head. She pulled away her hand, turned around, and hurriedly gathered the pieces of paper. “You cannot read it today. There is no time. I must be at Mr. Cornwall’s by noon and—” She glanced at the small timepiece she’d brought upstairs with her. “Good heavens, it’s nearly noon now. I must hurry.”
A thump that sounded from the corner drew both sisters’ attention.
“Oh, Esmeralda,” Cece exclaimed. “I nearly forgot about you.”
A large brown rabbit sat on a rectangular cushion, blinking at both of them, nose twitching and eyes alert. Cece had saved the baby rabbit when she found her in the park one afternoon while out for a walk. There had been no sign of the mother. Cece had asked Aunt Selene if she might take the animal in and had immediately received a long-winded reprimand about the dangers of getting a dreaded disease from such a creature and the audacity to presume that paying for its food was something Cece should be so bold as to request. Dutifully, Cece had nodded her acquiescence to her aunt and left the baby there temporarily, only to sneak back later that afternoon to scoop up the poor little thing.
Now Esmeralda resided in the fourth-floor room upon a cushion that Cece had sewn out of an old gingham gown that no longer fit Mary. The cushion was stuffed with hay that was pilfered from the mews behind the town house. Cece had named a lady’s maid in her novel after the beloved rabbit.
Cece pulled a carrot and two celery stalks out of her long pocket and moved over to kneel in front of the rabbit. “Here you are, Esme.” She turned back to her sister. “Keep an eye on her, Mary, won’t you?”
Mary nodded once. Another short cough. “Yes, of course.”
Wiping her hands on her skirts, Cece turned back to the desk. She gathered the pages of the manuscript that weren’t yet dry and shuffled them into the larger stack. Paper was as dear as gold. A small fortune was sitting in front of her.
“Mr. Cornwall is sure to purchase your novel, Cece,” Mary declared loyally. The girl had slid to her knees in front of Esmeralda and was patting the rabbit on the head while the fat little brown ball chomped on her carrot. “I just know it.”
Cece hurriedly pushed the pages together. A nervous shudder worked its way through her frame. “We’ll see. He was the only publisher who seemed interested in meeting with a lady author, so that’s promising. Though I haven’t yet informed him that my novel is a romantic one. I told him it was an adventure story. Which, of course, is also true.”
Cece didn’t tell her sister that this was her last hope. If she couldn’t find a way to earn an income, Uncle Herbert would force her to marry her hideous first cousin, Percy. It wasn’t enough that her uncle and his wife had taken over her parents’ house. They also wanted the small bit of money that was left and earmarked for Cecelia’s dowry. Her parents had died the year she would have had her come-out. Now, at the age of twenty, she was entirely without prospects. She’d happily give her greedy relatives every bit of the money if it meant staying far away from Percy. But her uncle and aunt were intent upon the match and had been mentioning it more and more of late. The only hope Cece had was to make an income on her own to save herself and Mary.
Mary pushed to her feet and followed Cecelia toward the door. “Just tell me, Cece, does Lady Magnolia marry the duke in the story? Do they fall in love and live happily ever after?” The girl pressed both hands to her cheeks, wheezing slightly.
Cecelia couldn’t help her smile. “I can’t tell you that, silly. It would ruin the story.” She rumpled her sister’s hair. She and Mary shared a love of happy endings. And why shouldn’t they? Real life was difficult enough. In addition to their parents’ deaths and Uncle Herbert’s taking over as their guardian, Mary was sick with a lung disease. She needed expensive medicine that they could ill afford. They were little more than paupers, even if they could claim a connection to the ton on their father’s side. Father had been the youngest son of a viscount. Their mother’s younger brother, Herbert, could claim no such distinction and hoped to exploit what little familial claim to Society there was by marrying his only child to Cecelia. Cecelia would rather be hanged than marry Percy. She shuddered, then plastered her best false smile to her face for her sister.
“Don’t worry, Mary. I will sell the novel, and then we’ll move away to the countryside and—”
Mary’s face fell. “Oh, but we can’t leave the town house. Not Father’s town house.”
Cecelia turned away so her sister wouldn’t see the worry on her face. They couldn’t afford to keep the house. The creditors were sure to take it, not to mention it would be a feat to see Uncle Herbert and his corpulent wife and son removed from the premises. But she didn’t want to burden her sister. Mary’s wheezing worsened when she was upset. “We’ll talk about it later, darling. I must go.” Cecelia pulled her worn bonnet off the back of the chair and placed it atop her head. She tied a neat bow under her chin and nearly flew from the room.
“Wait!” Mary called, launching into another coughing fit.
Cece popped back into the room. Her sister pushed the stack of papers into her arms.
Cece laughed. “Oh yes, mustn’t forget this.” She glanced down at the first page, where she’d carefully written the title of the novel in large, scrolling letters.
Lady Magnolia and the Duke
Cecelia squeezed the papers to her chest. Oh, it just had to be good enough to be published. “Wish me luck, Mary.”
“Best of luck,” Mary said, picking up Esme and waving her tiny paw at Cecelia.
“And you, Esme?”
The rabbit blinked solemnly in response.
Laughing, Cece swiveled around again, rushed out of the room, and hurried down the servants’ staircase. When she reached the ground floor, winded, she darted her gaze about to ensure Uncle Herbert and Cousin Percy wouldn’t see her. There was no danger of being discovered by Aunt Selene. That lady rarely left her bedchamber. Thankfully, the space was deserted. Cece scurried out the back doors and passed the nearly vacant mews. Only Uncle Herbert’s half-deaf old mare sat inside, unhappily chewing at an exceedingly questionable pile of hay.
Cecelia clutched the manuscript. Writing it had been a joy. One of the few joys in her otherwise bleak life of late. And yes, of course Lady Magnolia and the duke fell in love and lived happily ever after, just as Cecelia would one day. But more important, just as Mary would, because even if Cecelia failed to save herself, she refused to allow her lovely, smart sister to fall victim to a loveless marriage. That was a fate worse than death. First Cecelia would sell her novel, then she’d get Mary the medicine the girl so desperately needed, then she’d find a way to leave London and her aunt, uncle, and cousin far behind. But first things first. Lifting her head and saying a prayer that Mr. Cornwall was in a buying mood today, Cecelia strode off toward the better part of Mayfair and the home of one Mr. Eugene Cornwall. She might not have a proper lady’s maid to accompany her, but that wasn’t about to stop her. No matter what happened, Cecelia would save Mary.