In the opening scene of "The Briar and the Rose", Devan, Marquess of Castlereagh, has just returned to Dahlingham, his Ireland estate, to mourn Lady Katherine, who died in a great fire the night of the ball at Dakshire - the very night they were to run away to Gretna Green and elope. When a fiery beam fell between them, he tried to reach her, but fell unconscious from the smoke. Someone pulled him from the flames, not hearing her cries. When at last he awoke, he could do naught but watch, helpless, as Dakshire was consumed in flames.
Nothing can free him from the reality that he failed her, and he is consumed by guilt.
Enter Raven, a servant, found on the lawn of Dahlingham during his absence, near death. Nursed back to health by Collette, another servant, Raven has no memories when she finally comes to. Once she has recovered, she is given employment on the estate, tending to the laundry and the gardens.
It is the gardens where Devan first notices Raven, from his library window. What an easy life it is for people like her - spending her days amidst the roses, without a care in the world. While he spends his days trying to recall what it felt like to breathe. The injustice of it tears at his heart, but before he can turn away, she turns and faces him - and the Marquess of Castlereagh is confronted by the face of his beloved Katherine.
He summons the woman to the library, certain that once inspected closely, she will be little more than a shabby imitation of Lady Katherine. But when at last he looks into her eyes of deep lavender-blue, he is certain she can be none other than Katherine - until she speaks, and her thick Irish brogue confirms what his heart had, in reality, already known.
That night, Devan's dreams, for the first time, are not filled with the sounds of Katherine's anguished pleas for him to save her. Instead, it is Raven, cloaked, sitting atop a tall white mare, surrounded by mist, in the meadows of Dahlingham, who calls out to him for deliverance.
Three days later, Devan orders Raven be moved from the servant's quarters to a suite of rooms on the third floor, determined to unlock the mystery of Raven's past and put an end to the disturbing dreams that have plagued him every night since the day she entered his life.
This report prepared by Vivianne Grant