Lost in Love | Summerhill

SYW_Final

Portia Summerhill feels like a loser.

Thirty-something, jobless, and living at home… How could she not? Next to her accomplished sisters, Portia’s achievements—or lack thereof—are that much more noticeable.

The one thing Portia can claim is expert knowledge on antiques and her ancestry, and in a moment of serendipity, the perfect job lands in her lap: curator at the Museum of British Peerage. There’s one caveat: the museum won’t hire her unless she brings the family jewels with her. Or, more specifically, the infamous Summerhill tiara.

Except a cowboy hotelier stands between her and her tiara. Jackson Waite needs help getting his newest posh hotel launched and, luckily for Portia, he’s willing to make a trade. If she helps him meet the deadline for his new resort, he’ll give her the tiara. Only, the more time she spends with Jackson, the more Portia wonders if she wants the tiara or the man keeping it from her.

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SNEAK PEEK!

Lost in Love – Chapter One

Portia could tell her mother meant business by the staccato of clacking heels echoing through the halls—and she bet that business was her.

She turned her chair away from the door and shrank into herself. With any luck, her mother wouldn’t notice her. She pulled a blanket up to her chin for good measure. There—instant incognito.

“Portia, what are you doing here in the dark?” The Countess of Amberlin glided into the room and flipped a light switch. She looked around the study, her patrician nose wrinkled. “Although not even all the light of heaven can help the gloominess of this room.”

“I like it here,” she said, huddling in the chair. It was her father’s study, and she’d spent many hours in here learning about all the Summerhills through time. Of course, her former delight in the room was eclipsed by the fact that her father had turned out to be a lying cheat.

Nobody was perfect, she guessed. The funk that’d settled over her since New Year’s wrapped around her like the blanket, stifling her.

Her mother came to stand over her.

Portia squirmed under the judgmental scrutiny. Jacqueline Summerhill, the ninth Countess of Amberlin, was perfect in every way: beautiful, a leader in her social circle, stylish, and tireless in her charitable efforts. She was intimidating on a normal day, but standing over you with Joan of Arc’s passion blazing from her eyes, she was doubly intimidating.

Funny—Portia would never have called her mother passionate. Though she wouldn’t have suspected that her mother was behind the mysterious scholarships they’d all received when they’d turned eighteen, either.

“Here.” Jacqueline held out her hand.

Portia looked at the piece of paper. It appeared to be a printout. “What is it?”

Her mother arched her brow. “You could take it and find out.”

She could, but she had a bad feeling about it. A venomous snake would have felt less threatening.

But her curiosity won out, and she took the paper. She glanced at the text, frowning, confused. “This is a job ad.”

“For the Museum of British Peerage,” her mother explained patiently. “They’re searching for a curator.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“You’re going to apply for the position.”

Bitterness rose up her throat. She’d started the year with such good intentions—to turn her life around into something meaningful. But with each passing day, she’d realized that she didn’t have anything useful to offer the world. “I’m not qualified for this job. They want a degree in antiquities, history, or art.”

“Minor technicalities.” Her mother waved a dismissive hand. “You have something more important than a degree.”

“I do?”

“The Summerhill name.” The Countess of Amberlin stared down at her, daring her to say otherwise. “You have generations of prominent earls backing you. Do you really think you need more for a job at the Museum of British Peerage? You are peerage.”

A faint hope rose in her chest. She did have an unparalleled knowledge of the Summerhills, as well as other prominent families through the last several hundred years. She glanced at the posting again.

Her heart sank as she read all the qualifications. No museum director would hire the dilettante daughter of an impoverished earl—even if she had a name. Because she didn’t have a degree, any past job history, or any useful skills. “This is impossible.”

“‘If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces,‘” Jacqueline quoted.

The Merchant of Venice—the play she was named after. “Shakespeare didn’t live in an age of advanced education and Internet background checks.”

“What would Catherine Summerhill have done?”

Startled, Portia glanced up at her mother. “What?”

Jacqueline nodded at the pearls Portia had been unconsciously worrying. “You’ve always admired Catherine Summerhill. What would she have done?”

She gripped the necklace that had belonged to the first Countess of Amberlin. She did admire her—the woman had lived. She’d been accomplished and had taken what she wanted from life, everyone else be damned.

Portia had started wearing the pearls, one of Catherine’s favorite necklaces, as a way to connect to her ancestor. She’d thought that if she wore the necklace, maybe she’d remember to be just as great.

It hadn’t worked.

Worse: all her sisters possessed the goddess qualities Catherine had imbued. Beatrice was a leader, not just in their family but in business as well. Viola was an organizational master and a nurturing mother. Rosalind was a fashion trendsetter. Imogen was the siren. And Titania—actually, no one knew Titania well, but there was no doubt their youngest sister lived life on her own terms. Even Summer, who didn’t grow up as a Summerhill, inherited the countess’s accomplishment and drive.

For as much as she admired Catherine, Portia was the least like her. Thirty-something and still living at home with her mother.

Depressing.

Apparently her mother secretly agreed, because she gave Portia a direct gaze and said, “If not this job, then what?”

Portia blinked. “That’s rather to the point, isn’t it?”

Her mother’s expression softened. “I know you planned on living at Suncrest Park for the rest of your days, but your father sold that dream.”

“Thank you for reminding me,” she murmured, burrowing back in the blanket. Living at Suncrest Park had been all she wanted out of life: to be surrounded by her beloved antiques and a wolfhound or two. Her father had promised to give her the ancestral country manor—right up to his sudden death when she’d found out he’d sold it.

No wonder he’d kept her from visiting Suncrest Park this past year. Now it was gone, and she couldn’t even say goodbye.

“Isn’t it time, Portia?” her mother asked gently. “What would Lady Catherine do?”

Catherine Summerhill would have taken what she wanted. She’d have batted her eyes and cajoled her way into the position, and when that didn’t work, she’d have pulled rank. Portia touched her pearls. Catherine would never have taken no for an answer.

Maybe it was time to prove she was made of the same Summerhill genes.

Despite the uneasiness in her stomach, she folded the blanket and stood. “I’ll do it.”

What had she been thinking?

Portia shifted on the hard seat in the unnaturally lit office. The chair screeched in quiet agony on the linoleum floor. She nodded. She felt the same way.

What would Catherine do?

Whatever she wanted, and with style.

Portia held on to her pearls and took a deep breath. She could do this. She was armed with a Chanel suit her mother lent her and her name. She had Catherine’s blood running through her. She had a vast knowledge of British history and artifacts around specific noble families, especially the Summerhills. This job really had been made for her.

Catherine would have been fabulous. “I’ll be fabulous, too,” she assured herself.

“Sorry?” the director said as he entered the office.

“Very fastidious,” she said, gesturing to the sparse space. It lacked any sort of character, which she found odd for a museum that specialized in historical people.

“Thank you.” Leonard Wexler, the museum’s director, beamed.

Of course he’d see it as a compliment. He was the epitome of fastidious, with the way his clothing was so impeccably put together, down to the pocket square that matched the yellow in his tie. His eyebrows were the most perfectly shaped brows she’d ever seen on a man. She’d have called him prissy except for the fact that she wanted him to hire her. Even his manicure put hers to shame. She curled her hands, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

“Ms. Summerhill.” He held his hand out. “It’s a distinct pleasure to meet you.”

His handshake felt like a half-dead fish. She smiled, resisting the urge to wipe her hand on her mother’s skirt. “Thank you for taking the time.”

“Of course.” His plastic chair creaked as he sat down. His gaze flitted over her with approval.

Thank goodness. She hadn’t been sure how to dress, so she’d decided to dress the part of a peer of the realm who might work in a museum. She’d paired the borrowed tweed Chanel suit with a pair of clear-lensed glasses. And her pearls, of course. She never went without Catherine’s pearls.

“May I offer my condolences?” he said as he sat at his plywood desk. “Your father was one of the last great earls.”

Beatrice, her oldest sister, would have replied that their father had been an ass, but Portia figured she probably shouldn’t curse in front of her future boss. So she murmured, “Thank you.”

“I hear his title went to an American.”

She smiled faintly at the mild disdain in his voice. “Yes. A distant cousin. I’ve never met him.”

“Unfortunate.” Steepling his hands, he looked at her in a way that she could only describe as concerned. “Now how can I be of service to you?”

It was now or never. She held her breath, pulled out the printout of the job listing from her purse, and handed it over. “I saw this and wanted to inquire about the position.”

Leonard’s nose wrinkled as he read the paper, as though he smelled something bad. “Curator? You?

“Of course, me.” Portia frowned. “Why not? Aren’t you hiring?”

The man handed back the paper, his expression distinctly cooler. “Do you have a CV?”

A CV. On the inside, she felt herself wilt, but she lifted her head defiantly at the little man. “I don’t need one,” she said with Summerhill arrogance.

Leonard Wexler didn’t look like he believed it.

Before he could protest, she continued, “I’m of noble birth, and I have a vast knowledge of all genealogies and antiques.”

“Do you have training?”

“Yes,” she lied. “I’m self-trained.”

“Hmm.” He began to stand up, as though his timer had gone off and he was done. “I appreciate your time, Ms. Summerhill—”

“Lady Portia Summerhill,” she corrected, thinking of what her mother said. Staying where she was, she looked up at him as though he were a vassal. “You were so enthused to see me at first. What could you have thought I’d come in here for?”

“I thought you were here to offer some of your families artifacts for our private collection now that your father has passed.”

“I’m certainly not interested in giving you anything since you aren’t even considering my application for employment.”

Wexler’s eyes narrowed as he retook his seat. “Are you implying you might bring some of the Summerhill collection here should I hire you?”

He looked like a shrewd rodent. She had the urge to throw a shoe at him. “Yes,” she said firmly, as though it were her idea all along instead of her flying by the seat of her pants. “But only if you hire me as the Summerhill collection’s permanent curator.”

The man licked his lips slowly. “I’d expect some rarities.”

“Of course.” The South Street mansion was full of old pieces—the odd Rembrandt and Chippendale furniture that no one had ever sat on. It wouldn’t be a hardship to pull together a cohesive exhibit. In fact, the idea excited her. She began making a mental list of all the things she could bring with her, like—

“I want the Summerhill tiara,” the museum director said.

Portia blinked. “Excuse me?”

Greed made Wexler’s nose twitch. “The Summerhill tiara, or no curator position for you.”

Catherine’s tiara, as Portia always thought of it. It’d been given to her by Prussia’s king—after an illicit dance in the dark gardens during a soiree in his honor. The tiara was infamous. It was said the Queen Consort of England, Caroline of Ansbach, had turned green whenever Catherine wore it, which was as often as pleased her.

No one had worn the tiara in ages—it was too ostentatious. No one would care if it were bequeathed to the museum, and it was fitting that she had to produce a small part of Catherine to get the job.

Only the tiara was at Suncrest Park, and Suncrest Park and all its contents had been sold.

“It’s not an unreasonable request,” Wexler said.

“No, it’s not,” she murmured. Just impossible.

He stood up. “Include the tiara and you’re hired.”

She stood as well. “And if my family doesn’t agree to parting with the tiara?”

The director shrugged. “Then I’m sure there are other museums who’ll entertain taking you as a curator.”

There weren’t, and based on his tone he didn’t believe that either.

She lifted her chin. “I’ll let you know what we decide.”

“You do that.”

The weasel. Straightening the glasses on her nose, she nodded as she left, feeling panic claw at her. How would she get the job when she didn’t have the tiara?

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