Set in Gilded Age America, a young woman must choose between circumstance and destiny. When orphaned as small children, Sterling Redmond and her older sister Charlotte are raised by their grandfather at the family’s Maryland country estate of Northampton. Charlotte blossoms into a famed Baltimore beauty, but Sterling is more interested in books and horseback riding than feminine pursuits. Concerned that her niece will never find a suitable husband among the local Baltimore gentry, Madame De Chant whisks Sterling away to Belle Époque Paris in search of a gentleman who can understand her. In their absence, Nicholas Pembroke, the son of an English earl, takes up residence in the manor bordering Northampton. When Sterling and her aunt return to America for Charlotte’s wedding, Sterling finds that her perfect husband is living right next door. But there is a problem: he is already engaged to marry Charlotte.
Prologue and First Chapter Excerpt - Sterling Redmond by Kim Nathan
Here I am. I stand before a house from my past on the edge of a small Parisian park. Across the lane and up a few stairs, the front door stares back and gives me nothing. I know this place. Shivering in the cold violet light of dusk that surrounds me, here I am, at the end of my journey to find him. I am stunned it did not occur to me sooner, the idea that he might come here, this place from our past. It occurs to me now that while I thought he was running away from me in the present; he was actually running back towards me in the past. And yet I am frozen on this boulevard, unable to move.
There is the flicker of firelight above stairs. Reassured my travel has not been for naught, I wait for a carriage to pass by over the cobble stones, and then I cross the lane. My body compels me up the steps and rings the bell. Twice. Beyond the glass windows I see lamps being lit. A noisy lock turns and the door opens. I expect a hall-porter, but I get the valet. Wolffe stares back at me with his stoic face, but I see the flash of shocked recognition cross his angular features before he regains complete control. His presence confirms my hope that Nicholas is here.
“Madame,” he says, blinking at me.
“Wolffe,” I reply, pushing my way past him and into the hall.
We stare at each other for a moment, saying nothing. The foyer where we stand has clearly not seen callers for some time. No fire warms the chill damp and stale air. I glance furtively at the bare fireplace. Wolffe, having now regained his composure, breaks our silence. “We were not expecting any callers this evening, ma’am.”
“He is here?” I ask, gazing up the stairs.
“He is,” Wolffe replies.
“I will see him.”
Wolffe nods his head and leads me up the steps. I feel every intake of breath as I climb. Memories from years before crowd all around me, but this place feels lifeless now. When we reach the top of the stairs, Wolffe pauses and says, in a voice barely above a whisper, “May I say…ma’am…what a comfort it is to see you here.”
The light from the drawing room is brighter now. It is good that I am here. Wolffe has told me so, and Wolffe knows everything there is to know about this house, about me, about Nicholas. Wolffe holds his hand up to stop me and then he walks into the bright flickering drawing room. He waits a moment to be acknowledged.
Finally, I hear him say, “Sir.”
“What is it, Wolffe? You know I don’t see callers,” an impatient voice says. Nicholas’ voice.
I hear Wolffe announce “Sterling Redmond, sir.” And I step into the light.
Three Years Earlier
Maryland, August 1889
Sterling Redmond walked into the room, and Nicholas saw her for the first time. Actually, it was not the first time. He had seen her earlier that day, from a distance, rolling along in an open carriage with her great-aunt, arriving back at Northampton after two years abroad, but she was only a blur of auburn hair in the distance. He had not yet met her, but Charlotte had told him this about her: she was dull. She lacked the vivaciousness of other young women. Her disposition was too serious. Some called her a bluestocking. In short, she was a problem. A young woman of such a prominent and influential Baltimore family was expected to secure a marriage worthy of her social status. After two seasons in Paris, where her great-aunt Madame De Chant maintained a household, she had yet to win a firm offer of marriage. There was a growing impatience among her closest family members, who wondered if her education and forthright manner prevented any positive momentum in this direction, and to make matters worse, Charlotte complained, the young woman seemed not the slightest bit interested in abandoning her independence.
Sterling was home now at the request of her grandfather and guardian, Andrew Redmond, who was busy arranging Charlotte’s own wedding, scheduled to occur in just a month’s time. These upcoming nuptials only served to accent the problem with her younger sister. Charlotte thought her sister’s willful manner and plain looks were to blame for her unclaimed state. It certainly wasn’t due to her lack of a dowry. Charlotte, on the other hand, was a famed Baltimore beauty, whose looks and accomplishments were universally admired. She was immensely popular in society, and it was no surprise to anyone that she had secured the engagement of the season to the son of an English earl. Her exquisite beauty, her delicate manners and gentle ways, her sensitive disposition, all were upheld as an ideal role model among the young ladies in the county. Other young women fashioned themselves after Charlotte in their manner of dress, in the way they wore their hair. Charlotte painted her own sister’s prospects in such a dim light that Nicholas was astonished when the supposedly awkward and plain sister walked into the drawing room, and he saw a creature quite unlike the one described to him.
Sterling was late, so she appeared slightly flustered. Madame De Chant was already established on the settee, holding court with her family around her. Sterling paused in the doorway, and Nicholas watched her eyes quickly scan the room. Her gaze finally reached him, the only person in the room with whom she wasn’t acquainted, and this prompted her to smile. She swept into the drawing room, her shoulders squared and her back perfectly straight. She was a simple beauty, not beautiful the way her sister was, but with a quiet, thoughtful face of porcelain skin and intelligent dark eyes full of natural curiosity and easy humor. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a soft chignon, held in place with a tortoise-shell comb. She wore a gown of cream faille with purple satin stripes that was impeccably tailored to her figure, and the lack of frills, bows and flounces only served to enhance the luminous effect the fashion had upon her. In her right hand, she held an embroidered black silk fan which she opened mischievously as she approached her grandfather, beaming a smile at him. Two years spent in Europe had clearly transformed the younger Miss Redmond into something unrecognizable to her sister Charlotte.
Nicholas glanced over at Charlotte now. She had told him the reunion of her family was a joyous occasion, but it was clear from her expression that it was not. In all her resplendent beauty, she sat beside her aunt, her hand tightly gripping the carved swan-necked armrest of the red Finley sofa, her lips pinched primly together as her eyes followed her sister across the room.
Sterling went first to her grandfather, who gave her a warm kiss on the cheek. He was visibly delighted to see her and there was easy affection between them. Next she turned to acknowledge her great-aunt, who was like a mother to her, and then to her sister Charlotte, to whom she expressed sincere happiness in seeing again after such a long absence. Then she looked back to her grandfather, and turned her body slightly towards her sister’s fiancé, signaling that Andrew Redmond should introduce them. Nicholas watched her command the room with a sophistication of etiquette and manners that he had not seen since taking up residence in Baltimore. Her eyes smiled enthusiastically at him as Redmond introduced them.
“Sterling, this is Mr. Nicholas Pembroke. Pembroke, may I present my granddaughter, Miss Sterling Redmond?” The smile now touched her lips and she gave him a slight bow. Her eyes stared back at him steadily, and in them, he saw the eyes of Europe, the place he had come here to escape.
Kim Nathan is an American author of romance fiction, including Sterling Redmond, a historical romance, and Dreaming Montana, a paranormal romance. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she relocated to Seattle, Washington in 1994, where she lives with her husband and cats.
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