When the duchess decides to wed her to a wastrel and a fop, Ravyn Grahm takes matters into her own hands and declares her engagement to another man. Instead of fessing up and telling her great aunt what she has done, she goes through with the pretense. Aric Lakeland is the bastard son of an earl and has a dangerous reputation. But Ravyn is willing to do most anything to keep the duchess from discovering the lie.
He'd bought land in America, looking to put down roots and end his life of adventure, but Aric Lakeland got more than he bargained for when he encountered a beautiful heiress who made a promise she didn't want to keep. But the promise could not be undone and standing between them were more obstacles than either ever dreamed. Aric had made plans to spend the rest of his life in America and that was at odds with Ravyn's plan of living in England and running her father's estate. Now, he'll have to choose between his dreams and the woman he loves more than life.
Ravyn smiled, curtsied, and stepped into Ryder’s arms with a grace learned from the first tutors in her English castle.
At the sideboard, Aric watched with veiled eyes. He poured himself a stiff drink then another, cursing silently the whole time. He had wanted so much to have Ravyn in his arms, to feel her softness and warmth beneath his fingertips and against the hard angled planes of his body. He could smell her delicate perfume and see the intense clarity of her eyes.
And he had let another man do all those things.
The mug hit the sideboard with a muted thud that was lost in the music of the pipes. A few long strides brought him to the fireplace. He stood in the shadows, leaning against the mantle, gazing intensely at Ravyn with a hunger he could no longer hide. Her simple day dress of the palest lavender made her eyes a more vivid shade of violet. Her skin glowed like fragile porcelain lit from within. The simple chignon emphasized the delicate lines of her face. Tendrils of hair escaped to lie in soft curves at her temples, nape and ears.
Even as Aric felt anger sweeping through his body at the sight of his wife burning like a candle flame in another man’s arms, Aric reminded himself there was nothing improper about the dance. Though Ryder’s unusual size made an intense foil to Ravyn’s fragile femininity, Ryder was holding her properly, neither too close to his body nor too familiar in the placement of his hands. Nor was Ravyn clinging too much. They were just dancing and skimming gracefully around the parlor floor.
Then the darkly handsome Ryder grinned down at Ravyn and began singing in his fine voice about the rolling hills of Scotland and the brave lads and lassies. When a braw Scotsman spied a bonnie lass by a clear meadow stream. The Scotsman’s charms quickly seduced the pretty girl, who pleaded for his name in marriage.
Ryder’s dark eyes simmered with suppressed laughter as he watched Ravyn react to the wry lyrics. Her golden laugher bubbled up contagiously, bringing forth more laugher.
Aric was too furious to laugh. Seeing the change wrought by Ryder on Ravyn’s pallid appearance made Aric feel murderous. The only thing preventing him from retreating to another room was the thought of not being able to watch Ravyn. At the moment, he was simmering for a good fight, and Ryder was at the top of his list.
Ryder kept on, whirling her easily around the room until she was breathless with laughter.
Unnoticed, and unable to keep himself from watching, Aric leaned against the doorframe leading to his bedroom. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at Ravyn with an impassive face and thoughts that promised Hell to anyone who ventured too close.
Aric couldn’t help noticing Ravyn, who appeared stunningly feminine next to the massive bulk of Ryder. Barely five feet one inches tall, she was eleven inches shorter than Ryder, yet there was nothing childlike in the proportions of her body. The curves of breast and hip, waist and ankle showed clearly against the soft folds of her dress as the cloth swirled fluidly with her movements.
Finally, the dance ended in a fast and furious pace, Ryder lifting Ravyn high over his head. After Ravyn landed gracefully on the floor and the music stopped, Ryder smiled and lifted one of Ravyn’s hands to his lips kissing the back of it. She curtsied deeply, graceful as a flower. Though he didn’t speak his thought aloud, it was clear from his expression he was thoroughly enchanted by his dance partner.
"Again, Damian," Amorica murmured. "That’s one of my favorite songs."
The melancholy strains of the pipes flowed through the room. A reminder of an ancient heritage they would not forget. Soon Ryder and Ravyn were whirling around the room again. Ryder held his partner lightly, gazing down at her with approving eyes, singing in his fine voice. No one could hear Ryder’s words but Ravyn blushed and laughed with transparent pleasure. Ryder spun quickly, taking Ravyn with him, making her skirt billow like wind-blown flame. He stopped and dipped deeply, forcing her to depend upon his strength for her balance. When she accepted his lead without protest, his smile flashed, transforming his face, making his handsome enough to stop a woman’s heart.
A burning fury swept Aric.
When I touch her, she berates me as a bastard. Yet when Ryder holds her, she stares at him as though she’s been struck by a lightening bolt.
I don’t know who is the greater fool--me for caring or Ryder for falling for a dream--for someone who can steal his heart but give nothing in return.
With a predatory grace, Aric crossed the parlor. It was only a moment, but it gave warning to Damian what was about to happen. Ryder didn’t notice Aric’s approach. His attention was on Ravyn’s smiling face and the firelight dancing in her hair. The hard masculine tap on his shoulder made him jerk.
"Patience, my friend," Ryder said. "It will be your dance soon."
"All the dances are mine."
The icy fury in Aric’s words made Ryder’s head snap around. One look at Aric and he released Ravyn without an argument. Ravyn’s lips parted in a half smile directed toward Aric, but her smile vanished just as suddenly as it started to appear. She tripped as he whirled her away from Ryder and into his arms.
"Aric," she breathed, inhaling a deep breath, while her fingers dug into his arms as if to steady herself. "You surprised me."
Arid didn’t bother to politely pretend it had been his error in the cadence rather than Ravyn’s that had caused her to trip.
"I will do more than surprise you if you continue to seduce every man you see."