Remember Love (Ravenswood #1) - Mary Balogh





Chapter One

Ravenswood Hall in Hampshire, home and principal seat for a number of generations of Barons and Earls of Stratton, was the center of the universe to most of the people who lived within five miles or so of its imposing splendor.

The current earl, the sixth, was Caleb Ware, a handsome, vigorous, genial man in his late forties who was well liked by all who knew him, and even loved by many. He had done his duty to family, title, and community early in life by marrying the lovely and charming Clarissa Greenfield, daughter of a neighboring landowner of some substance, when both were very young. They had produced a family of three sons and two daughters before he reached the age of forty. The fact that his lordship had also fathered a son prior to his marriage, shocking though it was when it was first disclosed, was not ultimately held against him, for he had had the decency to acknowledge the child and bring him into his own home when the mother died three years after giving birth to him. The earl and his countess had raised the boy in almost every way as one of their own, and he enjoyed the affection of both.

Ben Ellis, the earl’s natural son, now twenty-five years old, was the steward of his father’s vast estates, having chosen to stay home and learn all the intricacies of the profession from his elderly predecessor when he might have gone off to study at Cambridge and pursue some other career. The position had been his when the older man retired. His father had even insisted upon paying him the same handsome salary and upon increasing it a year later.

Devlin Ware, Viscount Mountford, the earl’s eldest legitimate child, was twenty-two. He had completed his studies at Oxford the year before and returned home to assume his responsibilities as his father’s heir. Fortunately, he and his older half brother, who had arrived in their home a scant three weeks after Devlin’s birth, had always been close friends and worked well together.

Nicholas Ware, aged nineteen, a handsome, fair-haired, sunny-natured young man who closely resembled his father in both looks and disposition, was about to begin the career as an officer in a cavalry regiment that had been intended for him from birth. He was looking forward to it immensely, especially since he was likely to see plenty of action, with hostilities heating up between Britain and France under the ambitious leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Lady Philippa Ware—Pippa to her family and close friends—was fifteen and rapidly turning from a pretty girl into a lovely young woman, to her mother’s great regret. She was slender and dainty and blond haired and lively, and she was yearning for beaux and balls and a come-out Season in London in three years’ time, as soon as she turned eighteen. An eternity away, in her opinion. Just around the very next corner, in her mother’s.

Owen Ware was twelve. His mother sometimes described him as one-quarter pure sweetness and three-quarters undiluted mischief. He was intended for the church when he grew up, but both his parents agreed that the church might very well heave a collective sigh of relief if he eventually insisted upon another career—as a pirate upon the high seas, for example, or as the inventor of some mechanical horror, such as a hot-air balloon that would carry him off all the way to America and turn his mother’s hair white long before he got there.

Lady Stephanie Ware was nine years old and everyone’s favorite, though she sometimes felt that it was a real nuisance to be the youngest in the family, and the youngest by a long way when one thought of Ben and Devlin and Nicholas. Even Pippa. But what irked her more than anything else was the constant assurance by everyone around her—mother, father, siblings, governess, and nurse, to name a few—that any day now she would lose her baby fat and grow into a tall and slender beauty. Was she still a baby at the age of nine? When exactly was this miracle going to occur? And did her family love her so dearly just because she was fat and ugly and they felt sorry for her? But she tried hard not to be a complainer or whiner, for none of the rest of her family were either of those things, even Ben, who was not quite their brother and did not have the courtesy title