In the first of a dazzling series, Mary Jo Putney introduces the Lost Lords—maverick childhood friends with a flair for defying convention. Each is about to discover the woman who is his perfect match—but perfection doesn’t come easily, even for the noble Duke of Ashton…
Battered by the sea, Adam remembers nothing of his past, his ducal rank, nor of the shipwreck that almost claimed his life. However, he’s delighted to hear that the golden-haired vision tending his wounds is his wife. Mariah’s name and face may not be familiar, but her touch, her warmth, feel deliciously right…
When Mariah Clarke prayed for a way to deter a bullying suitor, she didn’t imagine she’d find the answer washed ashore on a desolate beach. Convincing Adam that he is her husband is surprisingly easy. Resisting the temptation to act his wife, in every way, will prove anything but. And now a passion begun in fantasy has become dangerously real—and completely irresistible…
“Intoxicating, romantic and utterly ravishing...”
“Gentle humor, exotic elements, compelling, flawless prose, and irresistible characters caught in a sweet, sensual dilemma will leave readers smiling, breathless, and anxiously awaiting the next adventure in Putney’s new “Lost Lords” series. Readers…are in for a rare treat; fortunately, there are more delicacies to come! Putney writes some of the most sensitive, exquisite historicals in the field.”
“The enchanting first Lost Lords novel confirms bestseller Putney as a major force in historical romance… Entrancing characters and a superb plot line catapult this tale into stand-alone status.”
“If you loved the Fallen Angels, you'll adore the Lost Lords: men who formed unbreakable bonds while at a school for boys of "good birth and bad behavior." Only the incomparable Putney could bring them to life and have readers yearning to be close to such dynamic heroes and the women who tame them.”
—Romantic Times (4 ½ stars)
Late-night visitors were never good news. Lady Agnes
Westerfield woke to banging on the door of her private wing
of sprawling Westerfield Manor. Since her servants slept two
floors above and she wanted to stop the racket before it woke
her students, she slid into her slippers and wrapped herself in
a warm robe.
Her candle cast unsettling shadows as she made her way to
the door. Soft, steady rain hissed against the windows, punctuated
by two deep gongs from the hall clock.
Among the quiet hills of Kent, robbers were unlikely to
knock on her front door, but she still called, “Who’s there?”
“Randall.” Recognizing the familiar voice, she swung the
door open. Her heart sank when she saw the three tall young
men on her front steps.
Randall, Kirkland, and Masterson had been part of her
first class of students—her “lost lords” who needed special
care and education. There had been six boys in that
class, and they had become closer than brothers. One had
been lost in the chaos of France; another was in Portugal.
Having three of the others show up with anguish in their
eyes did not bode well.
She gestured them inside. “Is it Ballard?” she asked,
voicing a worry she’d had for months. “Portugal is a dangerous
place with the French army running amok.”
“Not Ballard.” Alex Randall stepped inside and removed
his rain-soaked cloak. He limped from a wound he’d received
on the Peninsula, but he was still ridiculously handsome
in his scarlet army uniform. “It’s . . . it’s Ashton.”
Ashton was the sixth of their class, the most enigmatic,
and perhaps dearest of them all. She braced herself. “Dead?”
“Yes,” James Kirkland answered flatly. “We learned the
news at our club and immediately rode down here to tell you.”
She closed her eyes, despairing. It wasn’t fair for the
young to die when their elders lived on. But she had learned
early that life wasn’t fair.
An arm went around her shoulders comfortingly. She
opened her eyes and saw that it was Will Masterson, solid
and quiet but always knowing the right thing to do. “Did you
come together to support me if I went into shrieking hysterics?”
she asked, trying to be the calm headmistress they had
known for so many years.
Masterson smiled wryly. “Perhaps. Or perhaps we wanted
comfort from you rather than vice versa.”
That was the underlying truth, she guessed. None of her
young gentlemen had had decent mothers, so she’d taken
that role in their lives.
A yawning maid appeared and Lady Agnes ordered food
for her guests. Young males always needed feeding, especially
after a long ride from London. When they’d hung their
dripping cloaks, she led them to the salon. They all knew the
way, for they had been frequent visitors even after finishing
their schooling. “We all need some brandy, I think. Randall,
will you pour?” Lady Agnes said.
Silently Randall opened the cabinet and drew out four
glasses, the lamplight shining on his blond hair. He was taut
to the point of shattering.
She accepted a filled glass and sank into her favorite
chair. The brandy burned, but it sharpened her wits. “Tell
me what happened. An accident?”
Kirkland nodded. “Ashton was never sick a day in his
life.” He looked a decade older than usual. “Is Miss Emily
here? She will need to know, too.”
Lady Agnes shook her head, wishing that her longtime
companion and friend was present so they could mourn together.
“She is visiting family in Somerset and won’t be
back for a week. General Rawlings is also away.”
She contemplated her glass, wondering about the propriety
of drinking herself senseless. She never had, but this
would be a good time to start. “He was my first student,”
she said softly. “If not for Adam, there would be no Westerfield
Academy.” She didn’t notice that she had slipped into
using the late duke’s personal name rather than his title.
“How did that happen? I never heard the story. You know
how Ash was. When it came to his private life, he’d make an
oyster look chatty.” As Masterson spoke, the maid returned
with a heavily laden tray.
The young men fell on the sliced meats, cheese, bread,
and pickled vegetables like wolves. Lady Agnes smiled as
she poured claret for everyone, glad she could do something
for their bodies if not their spirits.
Randall glanced up. “Tell us how it all began.”
She hesitated, then realized that she wanted—needed—
to talk about how she’d met the very young Duke of Ashton.
“Emily and I had just returned from our traveling years.
Though I loved visiting so many faraway places, it seemed
like time to come home. My father was unwell and . . . well,
there were other reasons, but they don’t matter.
“After three months back in England, I was champing at
the bit, wondering what to do with myself. I’d already sorted
out the steward here at Westerfield Manor, and I needed a
challenge. A pity women aren’t allowed in Parliament.”
Kirkland looked up from his sliced beef with a smile. “I
would love to see you speak to the House of Lords, Lady
Agnes. I daresay you’d sort them out in no time.”
“I found a better use for my energy. One day I was
strolling through Hyde Park and wondering what to do with
myself when I heard a whip cracking. Thinking someone
was beating a horse, I went into the shrubbery and found a
dreadful little man cursing up a tree. Perched on one of the
branches over his head was Ashton, clutching the most indescribable
“Bhanu!” Masterson exclaimed. “I still miss that dog.
How on earth did Ashton get him up a tree?”
“And why?” Kirkland asked.
“The man was Ashton’s tutor, a fellow called Sharp. To
be fair, Ashton was driving the man to distraction,” she said
judiciously. “He refused to speak English or look anyone in
the eye. His only friend was this filthy puppy he’d found
somewhere. Sharp ordered the puppy killed, but the groom
assigned the job couldn’t bear to do that, so he released
Bhanu in Hyde Park. When Ashton found out, he ran away
from Ashton House to find his dog.”
“And he wouldn’t quit until he succeeded,” Randall murmured.
“Stubbornest man I ever met.”
“You should talk!” Kirkland exclaimed.
Laughter at the comment lightened the atmosphere a
little. Lady Agnes continued, “When I appeared and asked
what the trouble was, Sharp poured out all his frustrations
on me. He’d been assigned the task of preparing the boy
“After a fortnight of being driven mad, Sharp was convinced that the new Duke of Ashton was a lackwit who
couldn’t speak English and certainly couldn’t attend Eton.
The boy was a vile limb of Satan! He was the wrong duke;
the title should have gone to his decent English cousin! But
the boy’s fool of a father had been a cousin who never
thought he’d inherit, so he married a Hindu slut while stationed
in India. When the other heirs died, our Ashton ended
up with the title, to the horror of everyone in the family.”
There was a collective gasp around her. “I’m amazed Ash
didn’t go after his tutor with a knife,” Masterson breathed.
“I was tempted to take the whip away from Sharp and use
it on him.” Instead, she’d gazed into the tree and seen stark
misery on the boy’s face as the tutor raved. The child understood
every word and knew that he was despised.
In that moment, he’d captured her heart. Lady Agnes
knew a great deal about being different—an outcast in the
society to which one was born. This small boy with the startling
green eyes needed an ally. “Ashton had been treated
with contempt by those around him ever since he was taken
from his mother in India and shipped back to England. No
wonder he was hoping that his horrible new life could be
Her gaze went to each of the men in turn. “And that, gentlemen,
was when inspiration struck and the Westerfield Academy
was born. I used my grandest voice to announce that I
was Lady Agnes Westerfield, daughter of the Duke of Rock-
ton, and that I owned an academy for boys of good birth and
bad behavior. I also claimed to have learned ancient methods
of discipline during my travels in the mysterious Orient.
“Sharp was intrigued, and we struck a bargain. If I could
get Ashton out of the tree and behaving civilly, Sharp would
recommend to the trustees that the boy be sent to my academy
rather than Eton. So I chased the man out of earshot, dredged
up the Hindi I’d learned during my time in India, and asked
Adam to come down.” She smiled fondly at the memory.
“Of course he spoke perfect English—I was sure he must
have learned the language from his father. But since I made
the attempt to address him in Hindi, he decided that it was
time to come down from the tree and deal with the world
around him.” He’d had tears on his face when he’d reached
the ground, but that she would never tell anyone. “Though
I spoke the language badly, at least I was trying. He and I
struck a bargain of our own. He was willing to come to my
new school if he was allowed to keep Bhanu and continue
the study of mechanics, which he’d begun with his father.
“I thought that sounded perfectly reasonable. In return, I
would expect him to apply himself to all his studies and
learn how to play the role of English gentleman.” She had
also promised that his private thoughts would be his own.
Torn from the land of his birth and his mother, he had
needed to know that.
“Then I went in search of other students. You all know
how you came to Westerfield.” The English peerage had no
shortage of angry, frustrated boys who didn’t fit the pattern
expected of them. Randall, for example, had managed
to get himself expelled from Eton, Harrow, and Winchester,
the three most prestigious public schools in Britain. She
believed that his feat was unmatched.
The parents and guardians of her first class had been
grateful to find a respectable school that would take their
problem boys. Lady Agnes’s sprawling estate was well
suited to become a school, and her high birth had been a
powerful lure. So was her recruitment of General Philip
Rawlings. The general’s military reputation was stellar, and
parents assumed he would rule with an iron hand.
Instead, the general shared her belief that violence should
never be a first resort with children. Bored by his retirement, he had accepted her offer with enthusiasm. With her
connections among the beau monde and his ability to command
boys without ever raising his voice, they had created
a unique school.
Within a year, other parents were begging for places at
the school, and subsequent classes were larger. Lady Agnes
had become expert in alluding to her mysterious oriental
ways of creating well-educated and well-behaved young
In fact, her methods weren’t at all mysterious, though
they were unconventional. When she first met with a boy,
she found out what he most wanted, and most hated. Then
she arranged for him to have what he wanted, and not be
forced to endure what he found unendurable.
In return, she required her boys to work hard at their studies
and learn how to play the game of society. Once her students
realized that they could play the roles expected of
them without losing their souls, they did well.
Kirkland topped up everyone’s claret, then raised his
glass in a toast. “To Adam Darshan Lawford, seventh Duke
of Ashton and the finest friend a man could have.”
The others raised their glasses solemnly. Lady Agnes
hoped the tears in her eyes didn’t show in the dimly lit room.
She didn’t want to ruin her reputation.
After the toast, Kirkland said, “Now his cousin Hal is the
eighth duke. Hal is the one who notified us, actually. He
found us dining at Brooks, because he knew we would want
to know as soon as possible.”
“Hal is a good fellow,” Masterson observed. “He was
broken up by the news. Inheriting a dukedom is all very
well, but he and Adam were friends.”
Lady Agnes had met Adam’s cousin Hal. He was indeed
a decent fellow, though conventional. Life, and the Ashton
title, would go on. She wondered if there was any special
young lady who should be informed of Adam’s death, but
he’d never expressed interest in a particular woman. He’d
always been very close about his private life, even with her.
Well, the news would be public soon enough.
Realizing she hadn’t heard the full story about Adam, she
asked, “What kind of accident did he die in? Was he riding?”
“No, he was testing his new steam yacht, the Enterprise,
up near Glasgow,” Randall replied. “He and his engineers
were making a trial run down the Clyde. They ended up
steaming quite a distance. They had just turned to head back
when the boiler exploded. The boat sank almost immediately.
Half a dozen engineers and crewmen survived, but
several others didn’t make it.”
Masterson said gloomily, “Ash was probably in the
engine room tinkering with the damned thing when it exploded.
That . . . would have been quick.”
She supposed that if Ashton could choose how to die,
he’d be pleased to go this way. He was surely the only duke
in England with such a passion for building mechanical devices.
But he was unusual in many ways.
Then she stopped and considered what had been said.
“Has his body been found?”
The young men exchanged glances. “Not that I’ve heard,”
Randall said. “Though our information might be incomplete.”
He might be alive! Though she wanted desperately to believe
that, she knew her thought was hope, not likelihood.
And yet . . . “So there is no proof that he is dead.”
“With the fire and the sinking of the boat in such difficult
waters, his body might never be recovered,” Masterson said