To Save a Love - Alexa Aston

Chapter One

London—May 1798

Desmond Bretton bounded out of the coach the moment it came to a halt in front of his father’s London townhouse. His legs needing to stretch after the long carriage ride from Eton. School was behind him, at least for a little while. He would take the summer off and then enter university next term. After that, as a second son, he was destined for the army, while his older brother, Ham, would eventually become the Earl of Torrington upon their father’s death.

For now he intended to relax. Spend time with his sister, Dalinda—if she could make room on her calendar for him. His twin was in the midst of her come-out and she’d written to him of the busy swirl of social events. For a moment, his thoughts turned to Anna, who would also be making her come-out with Dalinda. Anna Browning lived on the country estate adjoining theirs.

And Dez had been in love with her ever since they were children.

The three of them had been inseparable from childhood. Riding. Walking. Sharing confidences. His favorite times were when they picnicked at the lake that straddled their fathers’ estates. It was at that lake that he had finally kissed Anna last summer. Dalinda had taken Jessa, Anna’s much younger sister, on a walk, leaving Dez and Anna alone. He couldn’t remember what he’d said. Only the feel of Anna’s lips beneath his. The taste of strawberries on her tongue. The soft curve of her hips.

They had kissed several times after that. In the gardens of Torville Manor. In the drawing room of Shelton Park, hanging back as others left the room for dinner. In an empty stall before riding. Dez had known it was forbidden but he couldn’t resist the irresistible urge that drew him toward the girl he had always loved. When he left for his final year at Eton, they had both known by the time he returned that Anna would be in the midst of her come-out. They spoke briefly about how they knew they had no future and that they would both make the best of what was to come. For Anna, it would be as the wife of some peer. For Dez, he hoped to ascend to the highest ranks of His Majesty’s Army.

Billy, his favorite footman who was close to Dez’s age, came out to greet him.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Bretton,” the servant said cheerily. “Finally done with school, are you?”

“For a bit, Billy. Where is my father?”

“The earl and Viscount Bowling are both at their club, Mr. Bretton,” the footman informed him, sending a ripple of relief through Dez, knowing he could avoid both his father and brother for short while.

He had never gotten along with his father. Not that the Earl of Torrington spent any time with Dez. Or Dalinda, for that matter. Torrington had no use for females and had been put out when his countess died giving birth to the twins. As a second son, Dez wasn’t lavished with attention as Ham, the heir apparent, was. Ham was five years older and had spent his entire life being cruel to Dez and Dalinda. Their brother blamed the twins for the loss of his mother, so he said. Dez simply thought Ham had a vicious streak that ran deeply through him, one Ham had obviously inherited from their father.

“Is Lady Dalinda home?” he asked.

“That she is, Sir. In the drawing with her friend, Miss Browning. They’re having tea.”

“Very good. I will join them. See my trunk brought upstairs, Billy.”

“Shall I unpack it for you, Mr. Bretton?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Dez entered the townhouse and took the stairs two at a time, eager to see Dalinda and yes, even Anna. He knew it would hurt to listen to her talk about her suitors but he loved her enough to know he wanted the best for her. It wasn’t destined in the stars for them to be together. He was gentleman enough to wish that she find a good man who would take care of her and treat her well. One who would give her the children she so desperately wanted.

The moment he entered the drawing room, though, he knew something was terribly wrong. He saw Dalinda’s arms wrapped around a weeping Anna. His sister sensed her twin’s presence and looked up, revealing the tears streaming down her own cheeks. Quickly, he rushed toward them.

“Dez is here,” Dalinda said softly and released Anna.

Without even looking at him, Anna turned and blindly latched on to him,