January 28, 2014
THE BRIDE SAYS NO:
THE BRIDES OF WISHMORE
Description | The Brides Of Wishmore Series, Book One
THE BRIDE SAYS NO
What happens when a bride says no?
He is the bastard son of a duke, arrogant, handsome, a little bit dangerous, and, of course, one of the most sought-after bachelors in London. He is also about to be publically jilted by some chit of a girl! Blake Stephens’ pride isn’t about to let him be humiliated, so he charges after his bride to the wilds of Scotland, determined to bring her to the altar.
What happens when the heart says yes?
He is promised to one woman, but discovers his soul stirred by . . . the chit’s sister! Lady Aileen Davidson’s reputation was ruined ages ago, which is why she’s buried herself in the country, but her fiery spirit and bold beauty threaten to bring Blake to his knees, making him wonder if he has proposed to the wrong lass.
The Bride Says No . . .
Blake Stephens, the oldest of the duke of Penevey’s four sons, albeit his only illegitimate one, seethed with fury.
His pride had made him a fool. A trapped one.
The moment Lady Tara had accepted his marriage offer, he’d known he’d made a mistake.
He didn’t want to be married. He liked being a bachelor. He wallowed in his freedom. He had his mates, a group of the finest sportsmen in London, he had more money than he could imagine spending, and he’d had what mattered to him most—his father’s respect, or so he had thought.
Penevey had wanted Blake to marry the Davidson chit. He’d advised Blake that it was time for him to be respectably settled and the marriage would be a good one for any children that might come of it.
Children had been the right argument for Blake. He planned to have them someday and he didn’t want them to suffer from the shame of his dubious parentage or the vicious teasing he had received in school. It had not been easy being Penevey’s bastard. Blake had earned the respect of his peers but he’d had to constantly prove himself. They had tested him hard. Meanwhile, his younger half-brother, Arthur, the duke’s legitimate heir, was accepted everywhere in spite of being a horse’s ass.
Too late did Blake learn that the reason that Penevey pushed him to marry Lady Tara Davidson was not for Blake’s well being, but to keep Arthur away from her. Arthur had tumbled head over heels in love with the lovely Tara, and, yes, Blake had received great satisfaction when Tara chose him over Arthur . . . but that was before he’d realized Penevey had paid the earl of Tay to accept Blake’s suit. Penevey had played upon Blake’s jealousy of his half-brother to remove the threat of Tara from his heir. He had not wanted Arthur associated with a Scottish nobody, no matter how beautiful.
But his bastard was a different story . . .
And then Tara had decamped.
If London knew she had jilted him, Blake would be a laughingstock. He did not like gossip, especially directed at him. He’d fought hard for everything he had, and on a whim, Lady Tara had been willing to humiliate him. He was already furious that Penevey knew she’d run and the duke had given him strict orders to make it right. Penevey did not want to take the risk that Arthur would be the one to chase after her. No, she was only good enough for his bastard.
Bitterness set heavy in Blake’s gut.
And it did not help that Tara Davidson had just left the room without so much as a backward glance toward him. She really did believe that a few pretty tears and a pretense of contriteness was all that was necessary to an apology.
She was going to make his life hell.
And he was stuck.
At least, her sister had enough sense to know he was angry. She eyed him warily.
He eyed her with interest.
Blake had not met the notorious Lady Aileen before. He’d heard about her. The Crim Con case to investigate her adultery had been the talk of London during a slow and lazy summer. Her husband Captain Geoffrey Hamilton had not held back in painting his wife as some lascivious Jezebel. Peter Pollard, her lover and one of Hamilton’s fellow officers, had not made any appearance to defend either himself or her. Since Hamilton’s father had held a Ministry position and Geoff was considered a war hero, the divorce had been speedily approved. It did not help her reputation that within six months of the divorce, both of the men had died in battle and been proclaimed war heroes.
Now, face-to-face with the woman who had launched a thousand wagging tongues, Blake could see what Hamilton and Pollard had admired. Before he’d been hard pressed to understand why such a profligate womanizer as Hamilton would begrudge his lady one lover, but here was a woman any man would jealously guard.
To the conventional, she wouldn’t be deemed half as pretty as Tara. Although her hair was thick and shining, it was brown with just a touch of gold but not striking enough to raise comment. Her mouth was too wide, too generous for beauty. Her eyes were not as blue as her celebrated sister’s and she would have been dismissed by the people who chronicle such things as too tall. Height didn’t bother Blake provided the curves were there. He was tall man and he liked a woman willing to look him in the eye.
Of course that didn’t have anything to do with one’s height as much as it did one’s intellect and Lady Aileen struck him as possessing a keen mind, a trait Blake valued. He also liked the energy that swirled around her.
Of course, she’d just energetically used her intelligence to argue for her sister to unceremoniously reject him. That was a strike against her.
Of course, she, too, had been left behind.
She stared at the empty doorway as if puzzled at how quickly the tables had turned on her. Her shoulders lowered, giving her the air of being graceful in defeat—until she swung her attention to him and the lines of her mouth tighten.
For a long second they took each other’s measure, and then she said with a tartness her lilting accent could not sweeten, “Well, are you happy? You will have a wife. It’s not right, you know. One shouldn’t be ‘forced’ to marry.”
“I knew your husband.”
His intent was to surprise her and he succeeded. Her manner changed. She reacted as if the air had been sucked out of the room.
“Relax,” he said. “If I’d been married to Geoff Hamilton, I would done anything I could to free myself of him.” He rose from the chair, his empty glass still in his hand. For a second he had to stretch his muscles. “That was a punishing coach ride. I don’t like being tucked into small spaces.”
“Especially with a man like my father.”
Blake shot her a glance. The earl of Tay was known for his rambling monologues and prodigious drinking. What most people didn’t know, and Blake now did, was that the earl had a whole array of disgusting personal habits from flatulence to picking at body parts. Blake never wanted to be that close to that man ever again.
“It was not a pleasant trip,” he commented.
“But you achieved what you wished. You have a bride.”
Yes, he did . . .
“How did you know my husband?” Lady Aileen asked, her manner defensive.
“I was in school with him. We did not like each other. He was a scoundrel, a liar, and a cheat.”
“He was.” The words hung in the air between them.
Usually, women were eager to babble their business. He’d thought them all magpies. But Lady Aileen was tense, her lips pressed in such a way that he knew she was determined to say no more. She expected him to think the worst of her. After having been the target of gossips for most of his life, Blake understood.
He changed the subject. “So you believe in love,” he said, walking over to the liquor cabinet to place his empty glass upon it.
“Of course,” she replied a touch too briskly. “Don’t you?”
“Of course,” he answered, echoing her breezy tone and letting her know he saw through her. “After all, I am here, aren’t I?”
“Very well . . . I don’t believe in love.” She raised her arms as if asking him what he wanted to do about it. “But my sister does and I’m certain you have little feeling for her.”
“Why would you say that?” Blake asked, curious to know her impression of him.
“It was very obvious,” she said. “You barely looked at her a moment ago and you don’t act like a wounded swain. When you didn’t rise when my sister and I entered the room, I thought it was poor manners born out of a sense of arrogance. And I’m not going to say you aren’t arrogant—but . . .” she said thoughtfully, “I don’t think you are afraid to let her jilt you.”
“Afraid? No, but my pride is all I have that is truly my own. I have no desire to be known as the man Tara Davidson refused to marry, not without a hand in my own destiny.”
“Oh, you will have a hand in your destiny, sir. You’ll have a miserable hand, one that you will make you rue the day you agreed to this marriage.”
He already did wish he wasn’t promised to marry, but no good would come from admitting it to the sister.
“I also know that Tara will make you a beautiful and dutiful wife. You will be the envy of your peers and your children will be precious replicas of the two of you-”
“You sound resentful–” he observed.
“While,” she continued, ignoring his statement but exerting the authority of her opinion, “the two of you will live separate lives. That is completely to be expected since it is so common. But it makes me sad to contemplate the possibility. While I am not acquainted with you, I do know there is more to my sister than meets the eye. She deserves better than a cold marriage.”
Her blunt assessment stung. “Says the woman who is divorced.”
Her chin lifted a notch. “Yes, I am divorced and at peace with it. Trust me, I am not comparing my marriage to yours.”
“That is comforting,” he murmured.
“Because if I did,” she went on, her smile growing steely, “I would have a pistol in my hand and not allow you a step close to Tara.”
“I shall consider that a warning,” he answered.
“It’s a promise. But if I were you, I would be afraid to give up my life to another. ‘Till death do we part’ can be a very long time.”
“Not if we have separate lives,” he reminded her.
She gave him an assessing look. “Is that what you really want? A life spent avoiding your wife, of pretending all is good?”
“So I take it that you plan marrying again?” he challenged, baiting her, wanting to know what she would do.
A sad smile crossed her face. “You said you knew my husband. Perhaps you did not know him as well as you thought or you wouldn’t have asked such a question.” She walked to the door. “We eat early in the country, Mr. Stephens. Dinner will be in two hours. I pray you make yourself comfortable. If you need anything, you have only to ask a servant.” On those words, she left the room.
And with her went that strong sense of presence, of vitality.
Aileen Davidson Hamilton was a force of nature. And perhaps one of the most interesting women he’d ever met. She didn’t hesitate to speak her mind. Nor was she coy or flirtatious in the way one would imagine a woman rumored to be promiscuous would behave. He found her directness and her loyalty refreshing.
He walked to the door. The hallway was already empty. She’d disappeared to somewhere in the house. He leaned against the doorframe, and wondered what he would do, what he could do, to honorably escape a marriage to Tara.
Because she was right—he would not be able to stand the married life she had described.
His mother had been the most manipulative woman he’d ever known. And his early years of being raised in her room at Madame Lavatt’s whorehouse had taught him that any woman could give a kiss as quickly as a slap. They were mercurial, difficult, grasping and greedy.
They were also a necessary evil for any sexually vigorous man, and Blake was that . . . although he was wise in his choice of partners. Discreet. He valued quality over quantity.
He also new himself well.
If Tara had not been the loveliest woman in London, if everyone had not wanted her, especially Arthur, he wouldn’t have courted her no matter how hard Penevey pressed. There had been a challenge in winning the woman they had all wanted. However, there had been times he’d paid a call on Tara where fifteen minutes seemed like fifteen hours. She bored him.
But he had a feeling he would find Lady Aileen anything but boring.
It was said that a wise man stayed away from clever omen. Blake had always wondered what the saying had meant. He’d known women who were witty, wise, humorous . . . but he’d never met one he’d consider “clever” in a dangerous sense.
He believed he’d just met one.
February 25, 2014
THE BRIDE SAYS MAYBE:
THE BRIDES OF WISHMORE
Description | The Brides Of Wishmore Series, Book Two
THE BRIDE SAYS MAYBE
What happens when a bride says maybe?
She’d once been the toast of London, but now scandal has brought her down. Still, pretty, petted Lady Tara Davidson can’t believe her new fate. She had wanted to marry for love . . . but her profligate father has promised her hand to none other than Breccan Campbell, the “Beast of Aberfeldy” and laird of the valley’s most despised clan! Well, Tara may have to marry him, but Breccan can’t make her love him—can he?
What happens when the groom insists?
Breccan Campbell is nobody’s fool. He knows that Tara is trouble. Yet he’s determined to reform the Campbell name even if it means forging an alliance with the arrogant beauty. There’s no doubt that Tara is a challenge, and Breccan loves nothing more. For he’s vowed to thoroughly seduce Tara—and make her his in more than name alone.
The Bride Says Maybe—
He’d called her vain.
No one had ever said such to her, at least not outright. No one would have dared.
But she found she appreciated Laird Breccan’s callous, unfair accusation. It did make her stop crying because she did not want her skin to be blotchy and it helped harden her resolve against him.
He might be her husband, but he was the enemy. He was a Campbell and she was a Davidson. She’d grown up on stories of the atrocities committed by the Campbells against their fellow clans—although at one time the Campbells and the Davidsons had been allies. And, yes, it had been centuries ago, but people still whispered the Black Campbells were the worst, and here she’d been “sold” by her father to them.
Focusing on the drama of her circumstances helped her wrestle with her very real fear. Tara had never been one for pain. She did not wish to be “split in half.” The horror of it unnerved her, and it didn’t help that she was tired, hungry, and feeling very much alone.
Twice. She only had to do let him have his way with her twice, the promise becoming her own little chant.
All too soon, they turned up a drive that led to Wolfstone Castle.
She’d only seen the castle once when she was very young. It was located at the shadow of Schiehallion, the mountain that was also known as The Constant Storm.
In the moonlight turned the castle’s stone walls to silver. The building had to be hundreds of years old and a fitting lair for wolf.
The pace of Laird Breccan and his uncle’s horses had picked up. The men seemed to lean forward, anxious to return home.
She toyed with spinning Dirk around and racing back to Annefield. But that would be cowardly.
A door opened and a servant came out with a torch. Two more men followed him out. They moved forward take the reins of the laird’s horses.
Tara could feel that they watched her with a great speculation. Ordinarily this would not bother her. She was accustomed to people staring at her, but this occasion was different than any other. She was their new mistress.
From hence forward, she would be known as the Lady of Wolfstone.
She didn’t know if she liked the thought.
The laird’s deep voice surprised her. He’d already dismounted and reached up to help her off Dirk. She had no choice but to let him.
His hands seemed to encircle her waist. The contact was actually minimal. He lifted her out of the saddle and placed her on the ground, setting her on her feet as if she was a piece of porcelain he feared breaking.
She stepped away.
He did as well.
And for the first time, she considered that perhaps he found circumstances between them awkward as well.
He was not a bad sort. Indeed, he’d been gallant to her. It was just that was so intimidating . . . and he reputation—
A herd of dogs came running out of the house. There were four of them in all shapes and sizes. She remembered the dogs. When she had gone to his stables in search of Ruary Jamerson, his dogs had surrounded him.
She took a step back but the beasts weren’t interested in her. One was the shaggy and gray and the size of a small pony. The others were hounds and then there was a black terrier who thought she was as big as the others. They playfully jumped on the laird, even the giant dog, anxious for his attention.
He laughed his enjoyment at such a happy greeting, rubbing the heads of his hounds and finally, he picked up the smallest, a black terrier, and rubbed her head. She seemed the most territorial where he was concerned. She growled at the other dogs.
“Whoosh, Daphne, stop that,” the laird ordered and the dog obeyed.
Tara was not fond of dogs running loose. She was not accustomed to them and thought them quite wild.
Her father raised hunting dogs but they were kept contained until there was a hunt. And she was even more unimpressed when she walked into the house and almost stumbled over a forgotten bone right inside the front door.
A serving girl in an apron with her blonde hair pulled back had been lighting a branch of candles. She heard Tara’s soft gasp over stepping on the bone.
“Och, I’m so sorry, my lady. Those naughty dogs. They have no manners.” She carried the candles over to Tara and handed it to her while she bent to pick up the bone, and the three others that were there.
It was cold in this house. The entry was all stone without a rug or a small table to give it the feeling of a home. The room where the girl had been lighting her candles had a cold hearth and a table with several chairs around it. Again, Tara was struck by the hard bareness of the room, and there was definitely the smell of dog in the air.
The laird came up behind her. She realized she blocked the doorway and she forced herself to move inside. His dogs followed him in, their tails still threatening to wag their rear ends off of their bodies.
“This is Flora,” the laird said, introducing the serving girl to her. He paused and then added, “You must be tired, my lady.”
“I am a little,” Tara admitted without thinking.
Jonas brought her back to her circumstances by saying he entered the house, “Well, don’t worry. Breccan will see you to bed.” He grinned and winked his true meaning, and Tara felt her stomach turn inside out.
The irrepressible Jonas didn’t stop in the hall but walked straight into the other room and threw his hat upon the table. Lachlan had entered and he now joined his brother. He glanced at Tara and the laird and said, “You two have sweet dreams. I’ll keep this rowdy ape away from you in case he decides to try any wedding foolhardiness.”
“Come now, Lachlan,” Jonas said, as he threw himself down in one of the chairs and leaned back, setting his booted heels on the table. “He is are only nephew. Are you saying we shouldn’t give him a blackening?” He referred to the country tradition of capturing the bridegroom and covering him with soot and whatever else could be found.
Flora giggled, Lachlan grinned and shook his head, and Tara wanted to run.
She needed for this night to be done and over before her nerves caused her to embarrass herself. Tears had become her ever present companions.
To his credit, the laird appeared equally ill at ease. “Do you need a private moment?” he asked.
Tara felt her heart lurch, uncertain what he was asking until she realized he wondered if she need to use a water closet. “Aye,” she answered gratefully.
“This way,” he murmured. He carried her valise and led her through the sitting room where Flora was lighting more candles for his uncles and into another back room, and finally outside through a back entrance. “Here it is,” he said, stopping in front of stone building a few feet from the back door.
Tara was not eager to go inside. She’d been to places like this before and she did not like the. Then again, she could use a private moment. Who knew when she’d have such an opportunity again?
She drew a deep breath and went in, closing the door behind her. To her surprise, the room was well kept and not a terrible experience at all. They had always said Wolfstone needed modernizing and she now understood exactly what they meant. She almost feared what she would find in the rest of the house.
The laird waited respectfully for her outside. His dogs were not with him. Seeing she had noticed their absence, he said, “They heard a deer. They took off running. Even Daphne, although with her wee legs she can never keep up.”
“Oh.” She had nothing else to say.
He seemed equally awkward. “We will take these back stairs,” he said, directing her back into the house. She lifted of the heavy skirts of her habit and started climbing.
The stairs were not as narrow and winding as the front staircase. A draft of cold wind seemed to swirl around her. She realized that she had not thought to bring her cloak. Hopefully, Ellen would see that it was packed in the trunk. There were doors off the staircase. They were closed, probably to keep out the cold air.
“Here is my room,” the laird said and reached in front of her to open a door to Tara’s right. The room was dark save for the moonlight flowing through two large windows. There were no draperies around them and no welcoming fire had been lit in the hearth.
Holding her brace of candles, Tara walked in, her footsteps echoing on the hard wood floor.
Laird Breccan closed the door behind, and suddenly the room seemed very small. Tara worked to not panic.
He walked past her to the four poster bed that dominated the center of the room. It was not an ornate piece of furniture but sturdy and substantial as one would expect for someone of his size. He set the valise on the bed.
“There is a trunk over by the corner for your things,” he said. He crossed to the hearth and knelt. He began building a fire. He was using peat and wood and seemed to be deliberately busy as if attempting to avoid meeting her eye.
Perhaps he was as nervous as she?
The idea seemed preposterous. What did he have to fear? He would be the one doing the splitting!
“I know the chest is not enough room for what you own,” he continued, “especially with my gear in there. I’ll move it out tomorrow and I’ll see if I can have another chest made or whatever you wish. You know more about your needs than I do.”
I need to return to Annefield.
She stayed silent.
Smoke came from the hearth. He waved it away and checked the damper. It was open but a peat was always smoky in the beginning. They didn’t use peat in the house at Annefield.
He stood, and she could have sworn he was taller than ever. She stared at the corner post of the bed. They stood not more than three feet from each other. She braced herself, waiting for him to pounce.
Instead, he said, “I’ll give you a moment.”
He left the room.
Tara found she could breathe again. She was so thankful she almost sank to the floor. Instead, she set the candlestick on the chest.
The furnishings truly were sparse and there wasn’t any softness anywhere.
She walked over to the bed and tested it by sitting on the edge. The mattress was hard and rested on a bed of loosely woven ropes. They were a bit loose. She imagined the laird had to see these ropes tightened often. They would stretch with use and time.
She hadn’t thought about beds before.
Whenever she had thought about marriage in the past, she’d had vague ideas of what married life would be like. Truthfully, she hadn’t concerned herself with anything other than the wedding breakfast. She’d planned whom she would invite and what would be served, but she was realizing that she’d ignored many practical matters.
She rose from the bed, but as she did so, her foot bumped something on the floor. Bending down to see what it was, she discovered a stack of books piled haphazardly beneath the head of the bed where the room’s shadows had hidden them. One was open and face down. Aileen would have scolded him for treating a book in that manner.
Tara pulled the open book out to see what it was. She couldn’t tell. It was written in Greek. Puzzled, she placed the book back. Laird Breccan didn’t seem like the sort who would be bookish.
Then again, what else was there to do out here in the wilds of Scotland? She had even started sampling the books at Annefield, although it was not a pastime she enjoyed.
A knock sounded at the door. “My lady?” her husband’s voice asked.
Panic made her chest heavy. “I’m not ready. Not yet. Just a minute more.”
She paced around in a circle and decided she must be brave. She opened her valise and removed her nightdress. Ellen had packed it.
Tara removed her hat and pulled the pins from her hair. Her hands trembled as she plaited it into one long, fat braid. She prayed she didn’t embarrass herself when the time came for her to let him have his way.
Making quick work of undressing, she pulled the nightdress over her head and then climbed on the bed. What did one do when sacrificing oneself? She pulled back the counterpane and climbed beneath the sheets. They were clean but not as fine and soft as the sheets from Annefield.
Tara studied the ceiling a moment, prayed for courage, and then said, “I’m ready.” She closed her eyes and braced herself.
The door opened.
She could feel his presence. She pictured him standing in the doorway, hopefully clothed–
Or was he?
Could he be standing in the door naked? It was a startling thought—first, because she’d had the notion—she had never once in her life pictured anyone, even Ruary . . . and then secondly, if his clothes weren’t on him, where were they? Would he have removed them on the landing–?
She had to look. She must open her eyes, even if she was afraid to because she didn’t know if she would like what she saw. Still, Tara did have curiosity–
But before she could make up her mind, she heard Breccan shout an angry, “No.”
It was the only warning she received before a heavy, furry body landed on top of her, knocking the wind out of her.
Tara opened her eyes and found herself nose-to-nose with the laird’s gray beast of a dog who happily slurped her face with his tongue.
In horrified seconds, other hairy, wiggling bodies with foul dog breath and rough paws bounded into the bedtime fray, climbing over Tara and trying to lick her every where they could.
She opened her mouth to scream, overwhelmed by the attack, but at that moment the ropes holding the bed on her left side broke as if the extra weight and activity were too much. Dogs and woman went tumbling to the floor.