Author: Christine Young
Genre: Historical Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
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."
EXCERPT: A Marriage of Inconvenience
Aric Lakeland dodged foot-traffic along the boulevard in a crazy attempt to keep up with the bouncing erratic carriage he followed. The day was intolerably hot and his mood was no better. He resented this mission. He’d left a cool pub and a cold brew to sweat beneath the hot sun.
His idea of fun was not traipsing after a notorious gambler and womanizer. Nor did he want to baby sit a spoiled debutante.
Yet, he’d promised. A wave of guilt washed through him.
Sweat beaded on his forehead, dripping down his face. He swiped it with the back of his hand and sidestepped, nearly knocking packages from a lady just exiting a dressmaker’s shop.
“You owe me, my friend. When this is done, I will collect,” he swore beneath his breath and began thinking of all the favors he might ask of his half brother.
The carriage he followed turned a corner and disappeared from sight. He plowed into a lamppost, swore again and raced through the crowds. Richy Richmond did not deserve this absurd protection. Richy could deal with his own affairs. The other part of his half brother’s request bothered Aric. He did not want anything to happen to the lady he followed. His half brother had reason to believe Richy might do something to compromise her. His gut instincts had never been wrong. Ravyn Grahm, cousin to his half brother’s wife, was in serious trouble.
Richy’s carriage came to an abrupt halt. Richy jumped from the vehicle. His cane in hand, he strode toward a dress shop Aric had reason to visit on occasion.
Aric watched, fascinated as the scene unfolded. He started forward but noticed Richy race to protect the women Aric followed.
“You ruffians! Get your hands off me!” The white-haried Duchess shrieked, her age-lined face mottled with rage, pushing at two little guttersnipes who seemed more intent on shoving the elderly woman around than stealing the packages she carried.
Ravyn swiped her parasol across a boy’s head and turned to the other, her eyes blazing, shooting violet blue sparks.
“Stop it!” she cried out, raising her parasol again and again. “Take that! And that!”
Amused, Aric leaned against a lamppost similar to the one he had run into earlier in his race to keep Richy’s carriage in view.
He crossed his arms over his chest, grinning as he watched Ravyn batter the boys who had had the audacity to try and harm the Duchess.
He chuckled, prepared to step in if needed but it appeared the two women had the situation under control. Ravyn, he mused, the regal, classy lady who seldom had a hair on her gorgeous head out of place was decidedly disheveled. Her cheeks were flushed, her hair flowed beautifully from its perfectly coiffed hairdo. Her jacket sleeve was torn and to his amazement, she grinned as if she were having the time of her life.
“Go on, get,” Richy stepped in, shooing the two boys away. He grabbed hold of one of the boy’s arms and shook him. “Patrol,” he yelled, looking around for help. The boy stomped on Richy’s foot. Surprised, Richy let go. “Bloody hell! Come back here. Little brat,” he yelled as the boy ran off.
Aric cocked an eyebrow, watching and wondering what would happen next, knowing Richy had a card up his sleeve. He had not forgotten he was supposed to be watching Richy, nor had he forgotten the man had suffered innumerable losses at the gaming tables and the racetrack the last few days and he might do something to Ravyn.
Aric pushed away from the lamppost and strode toward the women and Richy. He watched Richy change demeanor. Suddenly instead of rescuer, he was attacker. Aric’s heart stopped for a moment then raced.
Richy wrenched Ravyn against him, pulling her close, her arm behind her back, his mouth close to her ear as if he whispered something to Ravyn.
“Let go,” Ravyn cried out, twisting and thrashing her arms. It seemed to be the opposite scenario as moments before. The crowds that had previously closed around the women had now dissipated.
“Let go,” Ravyn cried again.
“You’re mine, Ravyn,” Richy said in a low well-modulated voice. “You should have realized it months ago and I’d have won the wager. But instead, you ignored me. You taunted me and sometimes you pretended to care while other times you turned up your pert little nose when I walked by.”
“What do you think you are doing? Let go of me!” Ravyn cried out, hatred now in her stormy violet eyes.
To Aric, she sounded incredulous, perhaps confused. But strangely, not afraid.
“We--“he paused a moment--“are going to Gretna Green. We are getting married and I will inherit your estate. You will be mine.”