"Romantic, witty, and slyly provocative,
The Devil's Return will curl your toes and make you sigh. I loved it!"
~ Delilah Marvelle
The excavations of several ancient Assyrian cities—among them the biblical city of Nineveh—led by traveler, archaeologist, and politician Austen Henry Layard (1817-94) were the result of a happy accident: in 1839 Layard had been on his way to Ceylon, when he fell in love with the beautiful landscape of the Near East. Despite the dangers and the politically instable situation in the area, he stayed on.
He eventually became the personal secretary of the British ambassador in Istanbul, Sir Stratford Canning, who financed Layard’s first excavation of an Assyrian mount in order to secure Assyrian antiquities for the British Museum to rival those in the Louvre.
In 1846 the British Museum funded further excavations, namely those that are briefly described in Devil’s Return. The details of these excavations are all taken from Layard’s own account, Nineveh and Its Remains, first published by John Murray in 1849.
Seven years ago Fran and Alex were very much in love. Yet because Alex was only a younger son, with no fortune nor prospects to speak of, Fran's family pressured her into breaking the engagement and marrying a rich, titled man instead. Bitterly disappointed, Alex left England for the New World.
Now he is back, more dangerous and more cynical than ever before. He has found fame and fortune as an adventurer, traveling the world from America to the Far East and writing about his travels for Allan's Miscellany. He has come to London to drum up interest for his friend Layard's excavations in the old Assyrian city of Nimrod and soon finds himself the darling of society.
Meanwhile, fate has been not so kind to Fran. After a disastrous marriage, which has left her with deep emotional and physical scars, she is widowed and lives in genteel poverty in a small cottage on her late husband's country estate. She has come to London to see her doctor.
By chance, Alex and Fran's paths cross again. They both have changed so much and they are still divided by past betrayals and past hurts. So surely there can be no second chance for their love - or can it?
Praise for Devil's Return
~ Harlie, Harlie's Books
~ Tina Williams, areadersreviewblog
England, April 1847
“The Crenshaw Devil is back,” the inhabitants of a certain small Kentish town told each other not without pride, and fondly reminiscened about past hellraising pranks of a young boy, who, they had foretold, would go straight to the devil. Only he hadn’t.
“Crenshaw, it would seem that devil of your brother is back,” his sister-in-law said, perusing the society columns of the morning paper in the pretty pink morning room of the grand house, whose walls had once shook with the rows he had had with his father. “Surely he will not come here, will he?”
“I should not think so,” his distinguished brother, now owner of the house and the estate, said, then gave a derisive laugh. “What charms could a very proper village like Elworth hold for a man like him?” He leaned forward to pat her hand. “There is no need to worry. It was made clear to him when he left that he should not bother to come back.”
“Have you heard? Devil’s back,” said the men in the alehouses of London, where he had drunk and gambled and sometimes fought, ugly, brutal tavern brawls, not at all fitting for one of the house of Crenshaw. In the Cider Cellar, which could boast to have been his favourite haunt, they sang a raucuous song in his honor, toasting the man who would laugh the devil himself in the face.
“That Crenshaw Devil is back,” sighed some of the ladies in London, beau monde and demi-monde united by tingling memories of a young, muscular body and a stolen, wild hour or two in his arms.
“Have you heard?” Mrs. Major Nathaniel Ryder said at the breakfast table that morning. “Mr. Alexander Crenshaw has returned.”
Her husband raised his brows. “Indeed? I didn’t know you had an interest in adventurers, my dear.”
Mrs. Ryder giggled prettily. “Oh, there is no need to worry about a possible competitor, major. We have practically grown up together, didn’t you know? The Crenshaw lands neighbor on our father’s estate. Quite a wild boy, he was. The despair of his parents. A nice, good family, the Crenshaws. Though not” she added quickly, lest there should be any doubt about it, “quite as grand as the Harringtons, of course. There was some bitterness about that, wasn’t there, Frances?”
“There might have been,” her sister murmured, her lips white, her hands firmly intertwined on her lap so nobody would notice how they were shaking. Thank God, nobody had noticed the rattling of her teacup as Victoria had made her surprising announcement.
Hot tea had spilled over her fingers, but Fran had welcomed the sharp pain, a distraction from the even sharper pain in her heart.
That it could still sting, even after all this time…
Seven years, her contrary mind reminded her. Seven years and one month and nine days. It had been March, a wet and windy March, but so full of the promise of spring, so full of—
“He was always wild, that Alexander Crenshaw,” Victoria continued. “They called him the Devil even back then. I don’t think I shall know him when I meet him now. He is not the kind of acquaintance one would want to acknowledge in any way. Lord, if I think of the scrapes he got into! It was quite shocking!”
“All boys get into scrapes,” the major said mildly, as he cut into his bacon and eggs.
“Not such scrapes! A drunkard at eleven!”
That had been an accident, when Alex, who loved sweet cherries, had snatched a bottle of juice from the pantry. Only it hadn’t been juice, but wine, and Alex had ended up lurching around the high street of Elworth. It had caused quite a scandal, and the vicar had expressed his shock at the depravity of youth.
Old Mr. Crenshaw had flogged his son, and later Fran had cried over the welts on Alex’s back.
He had called her a goose.
“And he lamed my father’s best hunting dog!” Victoria continued her litany of woes.
Alex had tried to save a small cat. Another flogging had followed, and Fran had cried not only over the welts on his back but also over the poor cat, whom the stable master had drowned.
Alex had called her a goose.
He had been fifteen to her fourteen and had shot up that summer. Suddenly he had become as tall as a man—Fran had marveled at that. His blond hair had been as tousled and untidy as ever, but the rest of him…
She had secretly admired the long, lithe lines of his body, and had sometimes snuck to that corner of the lake on the Crenshaw estate, where, safely hidden behind the bushes, she could watch him swim. It had been naughty, yes, but she just couldn’t help herself. At that age she had not known what that thing was that drew her to him, and she would have never told him either—he would have only laughed and called her a goose.
As he did that day when he had tried to save the cat.
And then, because she had cried only harder, he had kissed her.
A sweet, clumsy kiss, which had heated her face and had brought a dash of red to his own cheeks.
“But the worst thing,” Victoria went on, “the absolute worst thing was when he asked father for Frances’s hand in marriage. Can you imagine? The gall of that man! As if a Miss Harrington would ever marry into a family that had still been in trade two generations ago! And a younger son at that! It was preposterous!”
Major Ryder looked up from his breakfast and cast a glance at Frances. At once his expression changed to one of concern. “I say, Lady Clifford, are you alright? You are looking quite ill.”
“Oh, I…” Flustered, Fran raised her hands to her icy cheeks. “I’m sure I’m…” Taking a deep breath, she let her hands fall back into her lap and forced her lips into the resemblance of a smile. “I’m afraid you will consider me very silly, major, when I admit that I am rather nervous about my visit to Dr. Grant.”
“Oh heavens, Fran!” her sister exclaimed, her voice tinged with impatience. “Surely there is no reason to be nervous about that, is there? You came and saw him last year, after all. You certainly must have grown used to those visits.”
An icy calm stole over Frances. “As I said,” she replied, her voice even, “it is silly of me. If you will excuse me? Perhaps I ought to lie down for a while.” She stood.
Her brother-in-law glanced at her. “I will tell the maid to bring a cup of tea up to your room.”
“Thank you, major. That is most kind of you.”
Calmly she walked across the room and through the door and through the hall and up the stairs, while deep inside her another Frances, a much younger Frances, was screaming and raging and slowly bleeding to death.
Och no, Fran thought, she starved a long time ago.
She sank down on the chair in front of the pretty dressing table in the pretty guest room of her sister’s pretty town house. The mirror showed her a pale woman well past the first flush of youth, the deep auburn hair and the light skin a stark contrast against her widow’s weeds.
Another few weeks, and she would be finally able to lay off the mourning clothes without causing too much comment and gossip in the village. Certainly, two years were enough time to wear mourning for an unloved husband, even if Baron Clifford had been considered a brilliant match for a girl from an old, but untitled family.
Certainly a much better match than the younger son of a family which had still been in trade two generations ago.
Her lips twisted in a wry grimace.
She assessed the image in the mirror.
You look rather horrid, my girl, she told herself. Drab clothes, drab hair, pallid skin.
Her eyes roamed over her face in the mirror.
Surely I won’t meet him. Where should I meet a man like him? No, surely not…
A knock heralded the arrival of her maid with the promised cup of tea. “Shall I put it on the table, my lady? And Cook sends a slice of her butter cake spread with her best apricot jam, too, saying as you like it so much, perhaps it would be appealing to you? The major said you haven’t had a proper breakfast yet.”
Frances turned with a smile. “That is most kind of Cook. And of the major, too, of course. Thank you, Mary.”
The maid curtsied and retreated, leaving the aroma of strong, freshly brewed tea and delicate cake behind. Dutifully, Fran nibbled at the cake. The taste of sweet apricots reminded her of summer and dear Little Gommell House. She would be glad to be back at home in the snug dowager house.
Just a few more days…
She glanced at the mirror.
No, there is no reason why you should meet him here in London. After all, you are here for a purpose.
She thought of the visit to Dr. Grant’s the next day, and a sliver of apprehension touched her heart.
As it always did.