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Authors: Dawn Ireland

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Love's Guardian

Table of Contents
Title Page
 

LOVE’S GUARDIAN

 

DAWN IRELAND

 

SOUL MATE PUBLISHING

New York

Copyright
 

LOVE’S GUARDIAN

Copyright©2011

DAWN IRELAND

 

Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the priority written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

Published in the United States of America by

Soul Mate Publishing

P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935-015-1

ISBN-10: 1-61935-015-7

 

www.SoulMatePublishing.com

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

 
Dedication
 

This book is dedicated to my parents,

 

Alexander Baird and Frances Lanore Ireland
,

 

who taught me that nothing is “impossible.”

 
Acknowledgements
 

Mmmm. How do you thank all the people who made this book happen? Friends and family have spent hours listening to my story ideas, book excerpts and writing ramblings—and they stayed in my life. Amazing. My husband encouraged me to spend hours in front of the computer, even when housework beckoned. Certain people refused to let me quit. Pat Iacuzza., it’s a good thing Tim Horton’s is open late. Pat Ryan & Tim Wright, you set my feet on the proper path and nudged me forward. My friends at Central New York Romance Writers took me in and nurtured my skills. And Debby Gilbert, without you none of this would be happening. You kept saying this book should be on a shelf, and now—IT IS. Thank You!
.

 
Chapter 1
 

England 1783

County Kent

 

Alexandra Kendrick reached for the doorknob, her hand hovering above the luminous orb. If the library’s occupant raised an alarm, her cousin Eleanor was sure to try and stop her. Alex took a deep breath, turned the brass knob, and prayed the creaky hinges on the door had been oiled recently.

She slipped into the book-lined room, then nudged the door closed with her heel as she watched for any sign of activity. A fire popped and danced in the hearth, but it was the dark hair just visible over the top of her grandfather’s favorite wingback chair that caught her attention. Lord Worthington had already made himself at home.

The worn edge of her rapier handle pressed into her palm, as her mouth turned up in a humorless smile. Eleanor had dubbed Alex’s special
talent
unacceptable in polite society, but her abilities might succeed where worry and arguing had failed. This stranger had no right to her estates. She’d rather die now, than see everything she loved destroyed.

With her right hand, she reached behind her back, then grasped the key that stood in the lock on the door. Keeping her attention on Lord Worthington, she turned the cool metal until she felt the click of the mechanism. In the quiet room, the noise sounded like a cannon. Alex’s body tensed.

With one lithe motion, her guardian rose to his feet and turned, dagger in hand.

Alex admired his speed. Even she couldn’t get to her blade so quickly. But admiration turned to horror when she realized who stood before her. “Get out!”

Declan slowly replaced the weapon in his boot, crossed to her grandfather’s desk, then turned toward her. He gave a slight shrug, his broad shoulders straining the material. “I’m afraid I can’t, even if I wanted to.”

Where was her guardian? And what was Declan doing here? His timing couldn’t be worse. The man hadn’t visited in eight years–and then only long enough to leave her on her grandfather’s front step and declare she was Lord Lochsdale’s problem.

Her nemesis studied her for a moment, a slight smirk on his face. “Your attire still seems to lean toward the masculine. Though I must admit, you fill out breeches better at twenty than you did at twelve.”

Heat flooded her face. She should be insulted, but a part of her couldn’t help being pleased at his comment. She’d changed in the last eight years, but so had he.

His broad shoulders were encased in a dark blue velvet coat with a touch of lace at the wrists and throat. Black breeches, spattered with mud, accentuated his heavily muscled legs. He dressed like a man of wealth, but his clothing didn’t change the common sailor she’d known as a child.

His chest did appear wider than she remembered, and the coal black hair she’d always admired now curled at his shoulders in defiance of the current fashion. But his Caribbean blue eyes were the same, and they narrowed as they studied her. No, he hadn’t lost any of his allure, damn him.

He had to leave before her new guardian appeared. She had no doubt that Declan wouldn’t help the situation. Hell, he’d probably side with the bastard.

“I trust I meet with your approval.” He gave her a knowing smile.

She flushed, the warmth creeping up her neck. She had been staring, but he didn’t have to bring it to her attention.

He lowered his gaze to her hand. “Still have a penchant for sharp objects, or do you always carry a weapon when I’m in the room?”

Alex had forgotten all about the rapier that hung in her left hand. She transferred it to her right, then clenched the handle.

Declan caught her gaze once more, a smug expression on his face. “You may want to consider retiring your weapons. After all, we’ll be spending a great deal of time together.”

The man was entirely too arrogant. She raised her brow and gave him a mock salute with her rapier. “Why should I spend
any
time in your company? To be honest, I’d prefer not to be in a room that had you in it.”

A flicker of surprise flashed in his eyes. “I do believe wards often spend a substantial amount of time with their guardians. In deference to your grandfather, I intend to see to your care myself.”

She almost dropped the rapier. “No.” Her response was barely audible. She cleared her throat and tried again. “No, that can’t be! You’re a sailor, nothing more.”

The words rang false in her ears. What a fool she’d been.

Declan had always seemed different from the other men on her father’s ship,
The Merry Elizabeth
. His mere presence and air of authority could dominate a room. Now she knew why.

Anger, hurt, and surprise vied for supremacy, causing her stomach to twist into a knot. Declan was the Earl of Worthington—and her guardian? Damnation. Of all men, why did her grandfather have to choose
him
?

She couldn’t recall ever being told Declan’s surname, but that wasn’t unusual on
The Merry Elizabeth
. Many men had a past to hide. She’d always assumed he was the younger son of a noble family who’d run up against the law. She met his patronizing gaze and raised her chin.

“Actually, my Christian name is Declan Deveraux, but in most circles, I’m known as the Earl of Worthington.” He rested one hip on her grandfather’s desk, watching her every move, like a sailor watched for the first sign of land after a long voyage. “I hired on to
The Merry Elizabeth
at your grandfather’s request. He wanted me to keep an eye on you.”

So, he’d been spying on her. Bloody hell. She’d followed him around the ship, thinking he could do no wrong, and all the time he’d been deceiving her. “I should have guessed you knew my grandfather. He wasn’t surprised when you showed up with me after my parents died.”

“Your grandfather wanted me to keep him informed, nothing more.” Declan’s voice softened. “He was worried about you.”

“Yes, well, Grandfather should have worried when he made you my guardian. If he’d asked me, I would have told him you are totally unsuitable.” Declan wasn’t going to ruin her life again. This time she was going to fight for the home she loved.

He crossed his arms and gave her a condescending smile. “I shall probably regret asking this, but why am I unsuitable?” What kind of an insult would raise his ire? Declan had always been angry with her when she’d been a child. What had she done then?

She searched her memory. The taunts that had annoyed him the most had disparaged his abilities. “You are unsuitable as my guardian because you’re inept.” Alex hoped she sounded convincing.

Declan’s eyes narrowed. The smile faltered.

“I remember your performance onboard my ship,” Alex goaded. “You couldn’t even best a child at climbing the rigging. Do you fare better on land?”

In truth, she’d never known a better sailor. He’d only been trying to rescue her that day, and in all fairness he’d had no way of knowing she’d been climbing before she could walk.

She could almost see the storm brew in his eyes. Alex trusted it was a tempest she could control. His well-drawn features became harsher, and his face could have been made of stone, except for the spasm of his jaw muscle.

Alex swallowed. An angry man didn’t think things through, did he? She hoped not. Her plan depended on it.

“Regardless what you think of me, you are my charge. You will do as I say.” His gaze raked over her body in an insolent manner. “Starting with wearing some decent clothing.”

“On the contrary. This clothing is very appropriate for our duel.”

Declan laughed. He couldn’t help it. Alex, was challenging him to a
duel
? “What will it be? Pistols at dawn?”

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