Series: London League Genre: Adult, Historical, Regency, Romance Publisher: Phase Publishing Publication date: February 1, 2020
Gone, but not forgotten... Alex Sommerville should have been dead. To the world, he had been dead for almost five years, and with him, the secrets he had carried as Trace, the most elusive member of the London League. When a chance to escape finally comes, Alex finds just enough life left in him to take it, and races off to return to the woman he loves...Back, but at what cost?
The last person Poppy Edgewood ever expected to see suddenly falls into her life again - literally. Alex is a shell of the man he once was, and on the brink of the death she thought him already lost to. What answers will he have for her when he recovers, and can she even bear to hear them?
Rebecca Connolly writes romances, both period and contemporary, because she absolutely loves a good love story. She has been creating stories since childhood, and there are home videos to prove it! She started writing them down in elementary school and has never looked back. She currently lives in the Midwest, spends every spare moment away from her day job absorbed in her writing, and is a hot cocoa addict.
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Loneliness is a creeping creature, and its pangs were deep and ravaging. In the evenings, when work was completed and she had so much to tell, there was no one to listen. When she missed her sister or her brothers, her parents, or her life, there was no one to commiserate with. When she cried in the night because Alex was gone and no one cared but her, there was no relief. When she felt more alone than anyone ought to feel, there was no one to take away the darkness.
No one to share her burdens with.
The only person she had in her life with any sort of regularity was Stanton, and he would not take kindly at all to her sharing such personal and emotional thoughts with him. It would have made him uncomfortable and gruff, and he probably would have told her to focus on her work and the farm and forget everything else. He had once told her emotions were a nuisance, after all, and that the past was only good for lessons.
Not for visiting and staying for a time.
Poppy was only too prone to spend an extended period of time in her past these days, though she knew it wouldn’t do her any good.
The trouble was that it was too easy.
She scrubbed at the pot harder, her brow furrowing with the effort, and when she stopped, she looked at her hands. Once these hands had been delicate and soft, protected by gloves more often than not, fair and without blemish but for the occasional pricking of an embroidery needle. Her nails had been clean and manicured, the perfect embodiment of a fine lady. Every now and again, there might be a scratch on the skin from getting into mischief with Alex by climbing a tree or racing across their properties, but her hands had been fairly perfect.
Now, they were rough and worn, weathered by hard work and aggressive labor. She had callouses on her palm, on every fingertip, and along the edges of each finger. Her knuckles were often inflamed, and her skin cracked and peeled regularly. Lines and scars and dry patches dotted every surface of her hands, and her nails were almost brutally short, uneven, and usually had something under them, be it dirt or food or feed for the animals.
These hands were not those of a young lady.
Then again, Poppy could hardly be considered young anymore. Twenty-seven was not particularly old, but in those twenty-seven years, she had lived a lifetime, and she was decades older than anyone of her age. Her life did not even remotely resemble what she had thought out for herself, what she had planned, or anything like it once had.
She closed her eyes and set the pot aside, knowing it was far cleaner now than it had ever been with her excessive scrubbing.
This was what her life amounted to now. Scrubbing the pots and plates from her own meals, feeding the chickens and pigs, currying the horses, farming with whatever help she could afford to pay, even grinding her own flour to make her own bread, at times.
Oh, how far she had fallen.
Lonely and cast out, working for every morsel of bread, sweating her days away in the sun, and mourning a man who had never promised her anything.
Poppy’s hands curled into fists and hot tears filled her eyes. It was wrong to resent a dead man, she knew, but resent him she did. If he hadn’t have died, if that was what had truly happened, she would not be in this situation. He could have just broken off their impending engagement, and she would have been with her family now. She should have been wiser, not giving her heart so freely without the official connection between them.
Never mind that they had been in love since she was fourteen and he sixteen. Never mind that they had been planning to marry for years. Never mind that she was so utterly and completely his that she hadn’t been whole in almost five years.
She should have been wiser.
And it was his fault she was so destitute, despairing, and dismal.
It was his fault she had grown so attached.
It was his fault she still felt the ache within her at the thought of him.
It was his fault that when she looked out of her kitchen window and could see the shadows of Parkerton Lodge in the distance, she still looked for a light in any window.
As she did now.
But there were no lights within, and no lights without, and the crumbling estate looked as foreboding and desolate as it had the day the servants had departed it.
Poppy exhaled slowly, wiping her hands on dry toweling. She couldn’t do this anymore. Couldn’t watch for him, wait for him, ache for him. He wasn’t coming back, and this was the life she had chosen for herself. This was her future, and looking back would not make it any brighter.
She was done.
She had to be.
A knock on her door brought her head around, and she waited for Stanton to enter. When he didn’t, and the knock came again, more firmly, she rolled her eyes as she moved to the door.
“Honestly, Stanton,” she moaned loudly. “It’s not so cold that you had to fill your arms to the brim with wood.”
She reached for the door handle and pulled the door open, fixing her expression into one of mocking amusement.
The man who stood there stared at her with his dark, sunken eyes, leaning both forearms against the doorframe, his chest heaving wildly, and her amusement faded at once.
She knew that face. She knew the line of that jaw, the dark eyes that were endless in their depths, the nose with a slight crook in the bridge from where her brother had walloped him with a tree branch ten years ago. He was thinner, terrifyingly so, and his face was hollow and gaunt, sickly in color despite being tanned, and covered with a sheen of perspiration. His dark hair was cut brutally short, but it, and the scruff on the lower half of his face, were as dark as his eyes, if not darker still.
All changes aside, she knew that man better than any person on this earth.
“Alex…” she breathed, her voice catching on his name.
His corded throat worked on a swallow. “Poppy.”
Her hand lashed out and struck him hard across the face, a weak yet harsh cry ripping from her throat. He stumbled sideways, surprising her with his unsteadiness, and a tremor ran across his once broad shoulders and down to his legs. Slowly, he looked back at her, pressing his left arm against the doorframe again and almost sagging against the wood.
“Please,” he whispered, his voice fading with shocking rapidity as his eyes widened.
Then they rolled back, and he collapsed to the ground at her feet.
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