Princess Louisa of Aachen-Düren knows that her brother isn’t dead. She knows it deep in her heart, no matter what the newspapers say—and she’s going to prove it. But when Nik isn’t where he should be, she has no choice but to go out and search for him. How hard could it be to travel from Oxford to Dover… on her own… with no money and no means of transportation because her purse and horse have both been stolen? She’s never been on her own, but she’s not going to let these obstacles stop her. When she’s offered a ride by a handsome nobleman, she makes up a fake identity, certain her bodyguard will be sending men to find her.

Samuel, Lord Ranleigh, is off on his very last adventure before settling down and becoming respectable. He briefly stops in Oxford and discovers a clueless, beautiful foreign young woman trying to wheedle her way onto the mail coach. This might be the opportunity he needs to prove to his mother and the world he’s responsible. Ranleigh has no idea what he’s getting himself into when he offers the girl a ride. 

Picking up strangers and stray animals is the least of his worries when men begin to follow them, trying to kidnap Isa. But when bullets begin to fly, he knows he must do everything within his power to protect this beautiful, if not entirely honest, young woman in his care.

Chapter One

~Day 8~

Princess Louisa of Aachen-Düren sat down at a table in the dining room of the Abingdon School for Girls. She smiled at the other girls already sitting at the table. She knew most of their names as they were in many classes together, but despite the fact that she’d been at the school for nearly three months, she’d never actually spoken with any of them beyond the most superficial pleasantries.

A week ago when Isa had dinner with her brother, he’d scolded her for not making more of an effort to make friends. Now, knowing she only had four days before she would have to tell her brother exactly how that was going, she decided she might as well make an effort.

With a sigh, she pasted a smile on her face and sat. “Good evening,” she said to the four girls.

“Good evening,” Miss Leventham said before looking over to Lady Elizabeth Smyth, daughter of the Duke of Pentreth. At the frown from the young lady, Miss Leventham’s gaze dropped to her hands neatly tucked in her lap.

Isa sighed. It seemed as if she would need to befriend Lady Elizabeth before she could even hope to become friends with any of the others. She was slowly, with the help of her companion Frau Schmitz, beginning to understand how these things worked. Never in her life had she had to actually work to make friends. Well, she’d only ever had the daughters of the courtiers in her father’s court to be friends with, and they hadn’t had any choice but to be nice to her. This was a very, very different situation.

These girls not only didn’t have to be friends with Isa, they clearly didn’t even feel the need to be nice and were barely polite.

“Did you enjoy the assignment in our watercolor class today?” Isa asked, trying again.

The four girls were silent, so Isa continued, “I found it to be quite challenging. I can somehow never get my colors mixed just right.” She turned to the leader of the group. “Lady Elizabeth, I noticed your colors were quite beautiful. Do you think you could give me some hints—”

“It takes practice,” the girl snapped.

“It’s true,” Miss Leventham agreed. “Lady Elizabeth, indeed, all of us have been working at it for years. You’ve only—” She stopped speaking abruptly at Lady Elizabeth’s frown.

Their dinners were placed in front of them. There was no serving one’s self, no taking as much of whatever one wanted here. Full plates already made up were simply placed in front of each young lady. They were expected to finish it all, but even if they did, there were no second helpings. Isa was still getting used to this. She found the food here to be bland and tasteless. Very little of what she’d eaten did she actually like, but she was trying her best if only to keep from being sent back home.

Miss Leventham looked relieved to have something else to do besides try to be polite. The other two girls hadn’t even made an attempt. Isa supposed they were experienced enough—or completely cowed by Lady Elizabeth—to know not to do so.

After they’d eaten in silence for a few minutes, Lady Elizabeth looked up at Isa with an unpleasant smile on her face. “Do you read the newspaper, Princess Louisa?”

“Please, call me Isa,” Isa told her. “And, er, no, I generally don’t. Why? Was there something of interest recently?”

Lady Elizabeth widened her eyes in mock surprise. Miss Leventham winced. She knew what was coming. Isa tried to brace herself. “Oh! Well then, perhaps I shouldn’t… but, of course, I’m sure you already know.”

“Know what?” Isa asked.

“About your brother?” Lady Elizabeth tried her hardest to hide her smile and adopt an expression of worry or concern.

Isa stopped breathing for a moment. “What about my brother?”

“Let me see if I have a copy…” She reached down into her bookbag at her feet. They weren’t supposed to bring their books with them to meals, but no one was ever reprimanded for doing so. Lady Elizabeth pulled out a copy of a newspaper, carefully folding it to the second page and then in half so it was easier to hand over to Isa. “First column, about halfway down,” she instructed.

Isa let her eyes skim down the first column of print and then saw it.

In an unfortunate accident, amid rough waters, the ship carrying the Prince Heinrich Nikolaus Alexander Guelf, heir to the throne of Aachen-Düren, sank yesterday as it was crossing the English Channel while taking the young prince home. There were no known survivors. The prince leaves behind his only sister, Princess Louisa Catherine Anneliese, and his father, Prince Heinrich Norbert Albrecht of Aachen-Düren. We extend our condolences to His Majesty, Prince Heinrich.

Isa suddenly found herself on her feet. “No! It’s a lie! Is this some trick of yours? You are a cruel girl, Elizabeth, but even this, this is, is beyond… beyond…” she shouted.

“Princess, what is the matter? Lady Elizabeth?” the headmistress, Mrs. Clark, asked as she rushed over.

“Nothing, Mrs. Clark, I just—” Elizabeth began.

“She made this up. She lies!” Isa screamed, shaking the newspaper at the headmistress.

The woman took the newspaper and looked to see what Isa was referring to. She glanced at it but clearly had seen it before since she didn’t even bother reading it. “I’m afraid…”

“NO!” Isa snatched the newspaper back and ran from the room. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. She stopped to look at the paper and read the all too brief article again.

No. She’d know. She’d feel it if Nik was… It was wrong. She’d know.

She calmed herself. Of course she would know.

Isa couldn’t sleep that night. She kept pulling out the newspaper and looking at it. Reading it and re-reading it. She would know. She was absolutely certain she would know if Nik was dead.

She lay back down, but her eyes were wide open, and she didn’t think would be able to close them any time soon. She could hear Herr Mueller, her bodyguard, snoring in his cot in her sitting room. Frau Schmitz was in her own bedroom next to Isa’s.

There was only one thing to do, and Isa knew it. The only way she would be able to rest would be if she went to see her brother for herself. But she couldn’t go tonight. If she weren’t in class in the morning, that horrid Lady Elizabeth would know she’d won. No, Isa thought, she would bide her time, and when no one expected it, in a day or two, she would go and find Nik. He was probably in his room in Oxford, studying away and completely oblivious to the fact that he’d been declared dead.