by Calia Read
Book 2 in the Belgrave Dynasty series
I was just eight-years-old, looking up at the clouds, when Asa Calhoun became my one true love.
He was my brother’s best friend. He was stoic and solemn, and always believed everything in life had to be perfect. But I saw past his eccentric mannerisms.
I found him fascinating.
I was seventeen when I had my debutante ball. Throughout the years, there was a gradual shift between us. I stopped being the little sister he’s always known me as and transformed into a lady. By the end of that night, he found me fascinating.
I was twenty-one when he first kissed me. My one true love became my soulmate.
I was certain nothing would ever come between us.
I married at twenty-three. But I wasn’t Mrs. Asa Calhoun. At the time I believed it was for the best, leaving Belgrave and my memories of Asa behind.
I was twenty-eight when my husband died. The pain was swift and sharp. I saw what could have been and all that I let go of. Including Asa.
Nearly seven months later I’m back in Charleston, because six years of a broken heart is too much for anyone to endure.
Asa once told me he would always be my home, but will he still mean those words when I walk through the church doors and object to his marriage?
Lady Gouldian is the second book in Calia Read's Belgrave Dynasty series, and centers around Nathalie, and Asa - Etienne and Livingston's little sister, and their childhood best friend. Nat loved Asa before she knew what love was. Asa always saw Nat as a little sister - until her coming out in Society. He was enthralled. Out of respect to his friends, he kept his distance. But their first kiss turned to something much more passionate. At 24, Nathalie marries - but not to Asa. At 28, she is a widow. Six months of questioning how her life turned to this, and she travels back home - to fight for what she wants. To stop his wedding. But does Asa still love Nathalie as she still loves him?
Oh my god ... the tension in this book is blissfully painful. Do you know what I mean by that? The slow burn, the intense love and chemistry ... it physically hurts, but its SUCH a good story, its worth it. And I mean it - it is a good story. Something between Nat and Asa was hinted at in the Surviving Time series, but it's never been made clear what that is. In Lady Gouldian, it's a back and forth between the past and the present - childhood memories, up to Asa and Nat's secret relationship, and the present - where a heartbroken Nat finally decides to live her life the way she was always meant to - and it doesn't turn out the way she imagines. Her journey to heal, and find herself after heartbreak is rather inspiring, and you get a whole new appreciation for her character. We also get Asa's point of view in this book, and it's equally as painful. And this is hard to talk about without spoiling. haha. My only issue with this book was that it ends on a CLIFFHANGER! I figured, like King of the South, it would be a standalone book. But Nat and Asa's relationship, past and present, is layer upon layer complicated, so I get why Calia Read chose to do two books for them.
If you love a good slow burn romance, filled with sexual and emotional tension and longing, you will love this book - hell this series. Calia Read writes tension filled romance amazingly well ... to the point you feel it physically. You can't help but fall in love with these two characters. And while the wait for the conclusion of their story is killing me, I implore you, don't wait for the next book to come out to read these books. Like all good things, I think the wait will be worth it.
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For your story and mine, it will always begin with love. Every person on this earth will have love draw the air from their lungs in a hollow exchange, benefiting only love and leaving your soul empty.
Serene: “Alex loves her room. She likes to be alone a lot of the time.”
With those words, Serene and I look in Étienne’s direction. His eyes widen and he shrugs his shoulders.
Serene: “Alex is a lot like Étienne, and to be honest, I think she might be a genius.”
Behind Serene, Étienne mouths the word “no” and shakes his head. Politely, I nod at Serene, and wait for her to continue.
Serene: “To be honest, I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Nat: “Me comin’ home with my tail between my legs?”
I ask as we walk down the hall.
Serene: “No. I’ve been waiting for you to come home in general. It was torture not showing you all the changes.”
Etienne: “And do you know who she told instead? Me,”
Étienne says behind us, his voice droll. I look over my shoulder at him.
Nat: “My God. The nerve of her.”
Étienne grunts in reply.
Miles:“My sister isn’t here,”
Miles said around his laughter. Livingston sniffed and looked around the tree before he leaned against it.
Livingston: “You can never be certain about that. Le savauge always manages to appear in the most unexpected of places.”
Etienne: “It sounds to me as though you’re scared of her,”
Livingston: “I’m not scared of a little girl. The truth is, I’m goin’ gentle on le savauge.”
Miles: “That so?”
Miles asked. Livingston nodded. It seemed he grew more confident with each passing second that Rainey didn’t appear.
Livingston: “Of course. She’s a little girl. If I unleashed my… power. Nothin’ would stop me.”
Everyone went silent. Étienne looked around before he cleared his throat.
Etienne: “That doesn’t reassure anyone. It sounds rather meancin’.”
Miles: “Yes, I agree. You sound as though you’re a predator of children.”
Livingston rolled his eyes.
Livingston: “That’s not what I meant!”
He glanced at Asa and smiled.
Livingston: “You’re smart! Tell me you understand.”
Asa blinked up at him and shook his head.
Asa: “No, I do not. I agree with your brother and Miles. You sound quite weird.”
Livingston threw his hands up and then, right before our eyes, Rainey dropped from the tree.
Rainey: “You should be scared of me, Lacroix.”
I had the satisfaction of watching Livingston clutch a hand to his chest, while Rainey landed on the ground like a jungle cat. If my best friend could live in trees and britches, she would.
Livingston: “My God, le savauge!”
Livingston held his hands out in front of him and took a step back. Only one girl could put the fear of God in Livingston and it was Rainey Pleasonton.
Livingston: “You need a bell around your neck to alert all innocent bystanders.”
Rainey: “I could have twenty bells on, and you still wouldn’t hear me,”
Rainey said smartly.
Livingston: “Well, I’m ready to leave.”
Miles: “Why are you not unleashin’ your power, Livingston?”
Étienne, Julian and Rainey began to laugh. I held back a giggle. Even Asa smiled at the remark.
Livingston: “Because you all called me a predator.”
He waved us away.
Livingston: “Forget it. I’m going to the stables. Whoever wants to come can come.”
Livingston quickly saw the error in his words and amended them.
Livingston: “Anyone who isn’t named le savauge.”
Rainey: “Why do you care for him?”
Nat: “I more than care for him. I love him. And I’m gonna marry him.”
Rainey made a face, as though she had eaten something sour.
Rainey: “How silly. I love my slingshot, and what it can do for me, but I don’t want to marry it.”
Nat: “I mean it.”
Rainey: “So do I,”
Serene: “Étienne, she’s a grown woman. You can’t forbid a single thing,”
Etienne: “The hell I can’t!”
Serene slowly rises from her seat, ready and willing to go against my brother.
Serene; “The hell you can. You forget she has been married and away from Charleston for years now. She’s very capable of making her own decisions.”
Etienne: “Yes, but she lived with her husband,”
Serene: “So she has to live with a husband to be able to function in this world?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “What are the two of you whisperin’ about in French?”
Mrs. Pleasonton asks as she walks up to us. Rainey straightens her shoulders, looking like every well-behaved Southern beauty. If you were meeting her for the first time, you would never know the untamed wildness that lingered beneath.
Livingston: “Your daughter was encouragin’ my sister to be a fellow savauge like herself,”
Livingston says, as he smoothly steps toward the three of us.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Raina,”
Mrs. Pleasonton admonishes.
Livingston: “Really, Raina,”
Livingston says in mock disappointment before he winks at her.
Livingston: “If anyone can handle their whiskey, it’s your momma,”
Livingston says to Rainey as we watch Mrs. Pleasonton pour herself a generous cup of the punch.
Rainey: “You can admire her ability to hold her whiskey while you help me take her home after this party,”
Rainey replies dryly.
Livingston: “I’d be happy to,”
Livingston answers pleasantly and turns to Rainey.
Livingston: “Tell me, after I take her home, can I escort you to my home?”
The corner of Rainey’s mouth lifts. At his question, my face scrunches up.
Nat: “You know I live with you, right?”
Livingston hardly pays me any mind. His focus is on Rainey.
Livingston: “What’s your answer?”
Rainey: “You are incorrigible.”
Livingston wiggles both brows.
Livingston: “Is that a yes, le savauge?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Juliet was just tellin’ us about her background,”
Nat: “Oh… how lovely,”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “And did I hear that right. You can speak five languages?”
Mrs. Pleasonton questions. Juliet nods.
Juliet: “Yes, ma’am.”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Rainey can hardly speak English.”
Rainey: “I’m standin’ right here, Momma.”
Mrs. Pleasonton turns and pats her arm.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “I know, dear. I just think it’s impressive how Juliet’s so astucieux.”
A delicate frown puckers Juliet’s brow.
Juliet: “Pardon me?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “My apologies. I thought French would be one of the five languages you spoke.”
Mrs. Pleasonton finishes her harsh dismissal with a smile. It’s akin to being slapped and immediately placing a cold towel on the area. Juliet blinks seemingly dazed by what just happened. Mrs. Pleasonton turns away from Juliet and focuses on me.
Nat: “Nathalie, my beautiful girl, I believe lunch is about to be served. Walk with me to the dining room, yes?”
I nod, barely suppressing my smile. I’ve been gone from Belgrave for quite some time, but the people I love will always support me when I least expect it.
Rainey: “I’ve been thinkin’ about this, and I think Daddy left early so he could build a cloud house for your parents and Julian. That way they’re all together and safe. Forever.”
She nodded rapidly.
Rainey: “That sounds wonderful to me. What do you think?”
I wanted my family all the way together, and alive. But to imagine Julian safe and sound filled me with a small amount of comfort. I slowly nodded.
Asa: “The sky is cryin’ right now,”
I looked toward one of the windows and saw the clear blue sky.
Nat: “But it’s not rainin’,”
Asa: “No, but it should be.”
I carefully looked at him.
Nat: “You promise not to leave?”
Asa: “I promise.”
I took a deep breath before I nodded.
Nat: “I’ll go with you.”
Asa held his hand out. I stood and curled my small hand in his. He looked down at me and nodded back.
Asa: “I won’t leave you, all right? I will be with you the entire time.”
Nat: “What if I’m not good enough?”
Serene: “Don’t you dare say that. The greatest act of rebellion a woman can make is knowing her worth.”
Frustrated, Étienne stalks to the door and rips it open. He leans out and points to his sister and Serene who continue to speak in the hall.
Etienne: “Come here,”
he demands. Rather than jump at his beck and call, his wife mimics his actions.
Serene: “You. Learn some manners.”
The corner of my mouth kicks up, as I watch Étienne breathe deeply through his nose.
Etienne: “Serene, please come here.”
Serene: “Well, since you asked nicely.”
Etienne: “Can anyone explain why I’m just now findin’ out that Nat intended on workin’ as a telephone operator?”
Nat: “I didn’t know I had to let you know every aspect of my life. I was goin’ to have lunch with Rainey tomorrow. Does that meet your approval?”
Nat: “I could tell you I am a hard worker, but that would be a lie. I haven’t had to work very hard in my life. The truth is I need somethin’, anythin’ to keep me engaged. I have nothin’ to lose.”
At that heartbreaking remark, she gives a small smirk.
Nat: “But I guess you could say I have everything to gain because I’ll be willing and eager to learn whatever you show me.”
Asa: “Yes, Birdie. That shall be my nickname for you, so you will remember there’s always somethin’ better out there.”
For quite some time, she thought over my words before she nodded and looked up at me.
Nat: “A colorful bird?”
I couldn’t help but smirk.
Nat: “Not a toucan,”
Asa: “I agree. Perhaps the Lady Gouldian finch? It’s a colorful bird from Australia.”
Her eyes were wide.
Nat: “And they’re pretty birds?”
Asa: “Yes, very pretty.”
Nat: “Then Lady Gouldian it is.”
Asa shakes his head.
Asa: “You loved that swing.”
Nat: “I loved a lot as a child,”
I murmur and continue toward the front door. Asa hesitates for a moment before he quickly catches up to me.
Asa: “And you don’t love now?”
I stop and turn to him.
Nat: “As we grow so does our love.”
Asa: “So, you still do love.”
Nat: “At times, yes. The only difference is, if I do love, Asa, I’m smart enough to realize I deserve to be loved back.”
Rainey: “If only I had my bow and arrow…”
Rainey said beneath her breath. Wide-eyed, I stared at her.
Nat: “Surely, you wouldn’t take aim at Asa?”
Rainey: “Well, as a rule, I prefer to only strike limp Livingston, but since he’s not here and Asa is, I’m left with no choice,”
she said dryly and rolled her eyes.
Rainey: “Of course, I’d take aim!”
Nat: “My word, Rainey!”
Rainey: “Do not disparage the power of the bow and arrow. My aim is superb. I would not miss.”
Nat: “Because I started…”
I managed to get out, and suddenly stopped.
My God, I didn’t know if I had ever been this uncomfortable. If the ground opened and swallowed me whole right at this moment, I would be eternally grateful.
Nat: “Because I started my monthlies,”
I said in one giant rush. I hadn’t intended to tell him, but I was willing to say anything for this to end.
Nat: "When I was little, close to five or six, I was terrified of the dark. I would wail every night, cryin’ out for her. She would come and lay with me until I fell asleep. As time went on, she would tell me to take deep breaths and name three things I could see around me. If I could, that meant the darkness couldn’t overcome me.”
Nervously, my leg bounced up and down, but I continued with my confession.
Nat: “It worked. My fear was only as great as my imagination would let it be.”
Beside me, Asa nodded. He didn’t say a word for quite some time, and then,
Asa: “Name three things you can see right now.”
My gaze lifted from my lap. Skeptically, I looked at him and found him solemnly waiting for me to answer. I looked around, out into the darkness.
Nat: “Well, I see the driveway.”
I glanced at the sky.
Nat: “I see the stars.”
My eyes shifted to Asa.
Nat: “And I see you.”
Even in the dark, I could see Asa smile.
Asa: “That’s good. That’s really good. Lady Gouldian, you are far bigger than your pain and fears. You always have been.”
But if I learned anything from the mistakes of my life, it was this: we are born unto ourselves and no one else. What you give, you are not guaranteed to get back. That includes your heart.
Rainey: “Momma, corsets are horrid.”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “This is just below your bust. I do not want to hear any complaints. You can breathe with this on.”
Repeatedly, Mrs. Pleasonton tugs and tugs on the strings as she talks.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Unlike when I was a young woman. Do you know how uncomfortable the corsets were in 1857?”
Rainey: “No, but you’re certainly goin’ to tell me.”
With those words, Mrs. Pleasonton pulls tighter on the strings, causing Rainey to wince once more.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Of course, I am. They were so tight you were blessed if you didn’t break a rib or bruise a lung.”
Mrs. Pleasonton gives one last pull before she’s satisfied with her work. Dusting her hands off, she takes a step back and helps the maid with Rainey’s gown.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “I once knew a girl who had the smallest waist because of her corset. Eighteen inches. Can you believe it?”
Serene: “How did she breathe?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Oh, none of us did, dear. None of us did,”
Mrs. Pleasonton replies as she walks by with the maid. The gown held between them.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “As I was sayin. This girl was so small with her corset, but when it came time to have children, she couldn’t. It’s because the corset smashed her internal organs.”
Rainey rubs her temples.
Rainey: “Momma, this can’t be a true story.”
Mrs. Pleasonton appears outraged by Rainey’s doubt.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Of course, it is!”
She lays the gown on the bed and places her hands on her hips.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “What was that girl’s name?”
She taps her foot before she snaps her finger.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Cecilia!
Serene: "Poor Cecilia and her smushed organs,”
Rainey and I smile while Mrs. Pleasonton nods.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Precisely.”
She turns her attention back to her daughter.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Be grateful times have changed. There’s not a thing smashed inside you.”
Rainey lifts a brow.
Rainey: “Momma, is there somethin’ you need to tell me?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Absolutely. I want grandchildren from you. Preferably soon.”
Rainey’s mouth drops open.
Rainey: “Are you jestin’?”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Of course not. I think grandchildren would be wonderful.”
Rainey: “Well, let me get this dress on and make it down the aisle before I give you an answer, all right?”
Asa: “You will always be my Lady Gouldian,”
he whispers into my ear. Hurt at what can never be, I look him in the eye.
Nat: “That’s not enough for me, Asa.”
Asa: “I am your home, Nathalie.”
Asa: “And you are mine.”
Asa: “We can’t do this again.”
Nat: “Then stop starin’ at me like that.”
My eyes immediately moved to hers. Thankfully, she was covered.
Asa: “Like how?”
Nat: “Like you wanna kiss me.”
Asa: “I do,”