Forever My Love

By: Lisa Kleypas

Chapter One


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Her full name was Mireille Germain, but no one at Sackville Manor knew it. For that matter, no one in England knew it. It would have invited much unwanted trouble to use her real name. Another lifetime i was attached to Mireille Germain, one she had sought to escape by leaving her native country for good In France she had been Mireille. Here she was Miral and she much preferred her new identity over her old one.

Leaning her elbows against the sill of the turret window, she looked outside and enjoyed the breeze and the splendid view that the lofty height of her chamber afforded her. It amused Mira to watch the Arrivals of Lord Sackville's guests. The wealthy lords and ladies were all occupied with constant preening,. a habit which Mira had once jeered at and mocked openly, until she had been taken under Sackville's wing. Now she had been taught better manners… despite the rigorous tutelage she had received, she found that many of her old beliefs and attitudes were too deeply ingrained to change. She had been brought upon a world vastly different from this, in which the polite affectations of the gentry were looked on with contempt.

Another carriage approached the manor, having made the mile-long journey through the carefully wooded 'drive from the gate. The colors of the carriage were royal blue and black. According to Sackville's gossip about the guests that would attend his hunting pa blue and black were the Falkner colors. As the elegant pair of bays pulled the vehicle to a halt in front of the portico, Mira leaned a little further out the window, her coffee-brown eyes focusing on the figure of Alexander Falkner, Duke of Stafford, as he stepped view.

He looked much younger than she had expected, and he was very handsome, with tanned skin aid black hair that had been cropped short at the back of his neck. There was unconscious arrogance in the way he straightened his coat and walked to the front of the carriage. In a smaller man that stride could have been called a swagger, Mira thought, and smiled slowly as she stared at him. Around him there was an air of vitality and health that she found very appealing. Currently the vogue for men was to adopt the romantic pallor that Byron had made so popular. Most of the fashionable young bucks tried to look indolent and melancholy, as if they were pining with hopeless longing… but here was one man who seemed to have no such pretensions.

Mira rested her chin on her hands as she watched him extend a brown hand to one of the horses and stroke its neck in an absentminded gesture. He grinned at something the coachman said, his teeth gleaming white against his skin. Was Lord Falkner really the man who had reputedly suffered so terribly over the death of his cousin? It did not seem likely. He did not look as if he had recently been bereaved, Sackville had said that Falkner had grieved a long time over the murder of his cousin, but Mira decided that this must have been one of Sackvüie's typical exaggerations.

In her short lifetime she had often seen death and the shadows it left behind, but there were no signs of grief on Lord Falkner's face.

Two of Sackvüie's footmen appeared in all their pompous grandeur, powdered, wigged, and curled, bowing to Falkner and holding the doors open for him. After he went inside the manor, more carriages arrived to discharge their entertaining assortment of richly garbed strangers, but Mira watched only halfheartedly now, her mind still occupied with thoughts of the black-haired stranger.

Alec walked into the library and found William Sackville waiting for him with a drink and a pleased smile. That expression of quiet pleasure and good humor was one that Sackville wore often… and why not? Except for a wife and heirs to carry on his name, he had everything a man could want: a well-run home, many friends, financial stability, and the respect of all who knew him. His main interests, namely politics and hunting, were well-known to his friends. These interests were conveniently seasonal: each spring he went to London to represent Hampshire at Parliament sessions, and each fall he retired to the Sackville estate to hunt. He was unquestionably more skilled at the former pursuit. Sackville possessed the true essence of political genius, being able to keep from committing himself fully to any one loyalty. No one ever knew what stand he would take on a given issue, but every one knew that he would manage to end up on the winning side. Having lived with him for more than two years, Mira had discovered the simple truth about Sackville that his closest friends had only guessed at: he was desperately afraid of being ridiculed.

His image and his reputation were paramount to everything else, and his fear of censure sometimes drove him to irrational extremes.

Sackville's exact ancestry beyond his father was unknown; he had paid to have a distinctive pedigree created in order to mask the less admirable elements of his family's history. Pride had robbed him of a sense of humor, for although Sackville enjoyed teasing his friends and ribbing them in a friendly way, he did not receive such treatment from others in good spirit.

And it seemed that pride had inhibited his romantic life as well; it was rumored that the reason he had never married was that he had never found a woman to suit the high standards he desired in a wife.

"You're here earlier than usual, Falkner," he commented, handing Alec a brandy and sitting on the corner of the dark mahogany desk. His blue eyes twinkled. "Eager for the hunt this year?"

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