Valentina had been admired, married, widowed, yet had never known love . . .
Not even at the illustrious court of Queen Elizabeth, where her innocent, violet-eyed beauty fired the hearts of England's most gallant gentry, especially the roguish Earl of Kempe and the irrepressible Lord Padraic Burke.
But her innocence shattered when a deathbed confession revealed that her true father might not have been Lord Bliss but the lustful Sultan Murad of Istanbul. Determined to find the truth, Valentina sets sail for the East, a voyage of unsurpassed danger . . . and sensual discovery.
Lavish, sexy, magnificent—Bertrice Small's Lost Love Found is a fitting tribute to the unforgettable heroine who rivals her famous aunt, Skye O'Malley, in grace, grandeur, and sensual daring.
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“It is all your fault, Valentina!” Anne Elizabeth St. Michael said, sobbing, her dark green eyes, so very like her father’s, now wet and shining with tears. “It is all your fault,” she repeated, “that my wedding has been ruined! Oh, I shall never forgive you, Val! Was it not bad enough that Robert and I had to wait so long while you made up your mind which of your many suitors you would choose?” Her lustrous brown hair, as rich with coppery highlights as her sister’s was, swung back and forth as she paced the room. “Just because you chose to have your wedding be a hole-in-the-wall affair, must I also?”
It was astounding that Aidan St. Michael, Lady Bliss, who was frankly somewhat plain, had produced the seven incredibly handsome young people now gathered together in the little family hall at Pearroc Royal. Aidan’s husband, Conn, however, had once been called “The Handsomest Man at Court,” and as he had fathered these children, their beauty was placed squarely at his door.
“Anne, I am sorry,” Valentina said quietly. “I will accept the responsibility for taking too long to choose a husband, but, my dear, I simply cannot assume the blame for the accident that killed poor Ned! If you must assign blame, then our cousin Robin is responsible, for ’tis Robin who gave Ned the stallion that killed him.” The black-garbed Valentina was a study in calm as she sat with her graceful hands holding the embroidery hoop lying in her lap. “How can one affix blame in an accidental death, Anne?” she continued. “As for your wedding, I have interceded as best I can, asking Mama that she not allow my mourning to interfere with your wedding plans. You will be married on July twenty-sixth, I promise you.” Valentina reached out to pat her younger sister, but Anne shrugged her off. “My wedding is ruined!” she insisted. “Mama has sent messengers to all of the important guests telling them not to come because although the marriage will take place, it must be a discreet event because of your mourning!”
“I cannot bring Ned back from the grave so that you may have a festive wedding celebration, Anne,” Valentina said dryly. “I regret that I have inconvenienced you, but I cannot help but wonder which is more important to you—your marriage to Robert or the fuss surrounding the wedding, which makes you the supreme center of attention.”
“You are hateful!” Anne St. Michael hissed at her sister.
“I am merely being observant,” was the reply. “Besides, Anne, times are hard. England has not had a decent harvest in four years. The government is short of money. Why, the queen has been pawning her heirlooms and jewels in order to support herself! She is so desperate that she allowed Aunt Skye and Uncle Adam to buy Queen’s Malvern, and those are not the only crown lands Her Majesty has sold.”
“What has that to do with me?” demanded Anne.
“Dearest Anne, you must learn to think of other people besides yourself,” Valentina said gently. “This entire family, all of its many branches, has earned its living over the years by trade, but much of England’s trade has ceased because of our unending war with Spain. Only Aunt Skye’s wisdom and instinct has helped us all to keep our fortunes at a time when most of the great fortunes of the past twenty years have been lost. Look at Papa’s brothers. They have lost almost everything they ever gained privateering for England along the Spanish Main. Now their sons have joined with Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, in his rebellion, and Ireland cannot win that war. In the end, the O’Malleys of Innisfana will be worse off than in our grandfather’s time.”
“And England, too, Anne,” put in Anne’s twin, Colin. “The Earl of Essex mismanaged the whole bloody affair, lost twelve thousand men and over three thousand pounds!”
“But all of this has nothing to do with me,” wailed Anne.
“Yes, it does,” Valentina said a bit sharply. “Does it not seem wrong to you, with all the hardship our country is facing, to have a large and ostentatious wedding?”
“Our tenants are not starving,” snapped Anne. “Papa’s monopolies on nutmeg and cloves have kept the estate solvent, and when the old queen dies, things will be better. Once we have a king again, England will prosper. Robert says so.”
“Elizabeth Tudor is the greatest monarch, man or woman, that England has ever had,” said Colin St. Michael vehemently. “I only wish I had been old enough to participate in those glorious days that Papa speaks of so fondly. It is the war that weakens our country, not the queen.”
“The queen is old,” Anne replied staunchly.
“Because she is old does not mean she is unable to govern well,” Valentina said.
“None of which has anything to do with the fact that my wedding is ruined!” snapped Anne.
“I am glad my wedding is not until autumn,” said Bevin St. Michael a touch smugly.
“You will be lucky if you have a wedding at all, as you are marrying an Irishman with Irish lands,” Anne said spitefully to her younger sister.
“Henry’s father, Lord Glin, is English, and the Glins of Glinshannon are loyal to the queen. Henry says there has been no fighting in or about their lands, and his father said last summer in the thick of it all that nothing would stop his son’s marriage to me. So there, Anne!”
“I shall have the grandest wedding of you all,” announced twelve-year-old Margaret St. Michael airily.
“How can you be certain of that, little Maggie?” asked Colin, ruffling his littlest sister’s copper-colored curls fondly. “Was it not you who swore to me only last year that you intended to be a holy nun like our Aunt Eibhlin?”
“Aunt Eibhlin is of the old church,” said Maggie. “The one that gives its allegiance to a foreign power in Rome. We are members of England’s own church, and no longer have nuns in convents. Nay, Colin! I shall marry a great man one day and have the best wedding of all. Val has already had her wedding. Anne’s is to be a quiet affair. That leaves only Bevin, and whatever Bevin has, I shall have twice as much of, I vow it!” Her green eyes sparkled with malicious triumph. As the youngest daughter she was usually last, but here was one place where being last would give her the advantage, and Maggie was quick to see it.
“But what if Val marries again?” Colin teased, laughing. “She is still young, and the most beautiful of you all.”
“And an old maid at heart,” Anne sniped. “She married Lord Barrows to escape spinsterhood. Who will have her now?”
“I married so that you and Bevin would not have to wait any longer to wed!” said Valentina spiritedly. “I shall never forgive myself for doing it, either. Had I not settled on a husband to please you, Anne, perhaps Edward Barrows would still be alive! All I have ever wanted is a man to love, one who would love me as Mama and Papa love each other. So many around me have found that kind of love. Why can I not? Why?
“How dare you whine at me that your wedding has been spoiled, and by me? Next week you will marry the man you love, Anne. Do you not realize how fortunate you are? I cannot believe you to be so self-centered and so blind. If you cannot see your good fortune, if all you desire is to be important for a day and to wear pretty clothing, then you are a bigger fool than I have believed you to be all these years. A supreme fool!”
“I? A fool?” Outraged, Anne St. Michael flushed unbecomingly.
“Aye,” Valentina repeated. “A fool! What else would you call a beautiful young girl about to wed a wealthy young man she loves? A man who loves and adores her in return? What else would you call such a girl, Anne, who has all and yet still complains that her life is not perfect? That she cannot have a large wedding? God’s foot, Anne, there are people going hungry in England tonight for whom a crust of bread would be heaven, and you dare to cavil over the fact that your wedding will be a small one instead of a large one. Shame on you, sister!”
“Val and Annie are squabbling again! Val and Annie are squabbling again!” sang out seven-year-old James, the youngest of the St. Michaels, as he capered devilishly around his two eldest sisters.
“Jemmie, you little beast!” snapped Anne, striking out at her small tormentor, but he dodged the blow and, grinning, stuck his tongue out at the angry girl as he danced out of her reach.
“Careful there, young ’un,” said seventeen-year-old Payton St. Michael, chuckling. “Our Annie does not easily forget an insult.” Payton, tall for his age, had not yet filled out, and consequently appeared gangling. He was dark-haired like his father, but he had gray-green eyes whose expression was very like his mother’s. Of all the St. Michael children he had the mildest temperament, and among his siblings was usually the peacemaker.
“How many times have I told you not to call me Annie?” shouted his irate sister as she glared furiously at the handsome lad. Payton, however, used to Anne’s temper, merely laughed and mischievously thumbed his nose at her.
“Oh, you are all impossible!” cried Anne. “Why can none of you understand my point of view?”
“Because it is a ridiculous one—and Val is right,” replied her twin brother. “You are making a mountain out of a mole’s hill, Anne, and behaving like a child to boot. How do you dare to carp for plum pudding when all about you the need is for bread?”
Before Anne could speak again, Valentina said calmly, “There is another solution to your problem, Anne.”
“And what is that?” demanded Anne irritably.
“Mother has imposed a three-month period of deep mourning on the family during which time we can neither attend nor partake in any festivities. By “October, however, we will be out of deep mourning. If you absolutely cannot be happy without a large wedding, why not postpone your wedding until October?”
“Postpone my wedding? Are you mad, Val?”
“She cannot be wed in October!” shrieked Bevin. “My wedding is in October, and I have no intention of sharing my festivities with anyone but Henry!”
“Anne could be wed on the eleventh and Bevin on the twelfth, as is already planned. The guests would all be here. It seems like the perfect solution to me,” said Colin.
“Well, it is not!” said Bevin huffily. “How could you even consider such a thing? I—”
“For once I agree with Bevin,” Anne interrupted. “I most certainly will not postpone my wedding.”
“And I know why.” Bevin giggled, tossing her golden-brown curls. Her blue eyes sparkled maliciously.