Authors: Leigh Greenwood
“What are you going to do?” Summer asked fearfully as Brent held her immobile against his lean, muscular frame.
“Ten years ago the earl took what was mine,” he said, and the years of hate and anger cut through his flaring desire. “Now I’m going to take something of his.”
“No,” Summer moaned. “Please don’t!”
Brent forced her to turn toward him. He cupped her face in his hands. “I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind all day,” he said in a voice husky with passion. “The thought of you has been driving me out of my senses.”
He took her mouth in a hungry kiss, and the feel of his firm, warm lips on hers nearly paralyzed her. His hands roamed over her at will, going where no hands had ever gone, doing what she had never imagined hands were meant to do. She was stunned, but an answering chord sounded within her and she realized with a shudder of anticipation that she wouldn’t stop him now even if she could….
To my family, who has given
up so much so I may write.
Copyright © 1988, 2011 Leigh Greenwood
“Hurry up, or I’ll come in and drag you out myself,” Charles Ashton shouted through his daughter’s bedroom door. “Your trunks are already loaded, and that damned prig is standing at the door looking as though one more breath inside these walls will choke him.”
Abraham Brinklow, agent in the proxy marriage of Gowan McConnel, the earl of Heatherstone, to Summer Ashton, was so anxious to leave he would have fetched Summer himself if doing so would have reduced by as much as one minute the time he had to spend in her father’s company. He hoped the girl took after her mother, for he shuddered to think of what would happen to the house of McConnel if any future earl should in the least resemble Ashton.
Summer descended the broad staircase with a quiet dignity that was at variance with the slovenly impatience of her sire; it cast into even greater relief the differences between them. A fixed gravity that made her look older than her nineteen years had replaced the tears and despondency of the past week.
“I’m ready,” she said in a soft voice in which resignation was the only discernible emotion.
“You surely took your time, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m never
going to have to stand around waiting for you again,” Ashton said cruelly. “Good-bye, and good riddance.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?” she asked, surprised into raising her eyes.
“Hell no. I’m not going anywhere in this damned heat. She’s yours now,” Ashton barked at Brinklow, who couldn’t disguise his relief that Ashton would not accompany them to the ship. “If you lose her, the earl can take his money out of
hide.” Ashton gazed contentedly at the documents that put ten thousand pounds into his hands. “I’ve got all I want right here.”
Summer turned and walked out to the waiting carriage without a parting word. Her father had heartlessly sold her into marriage, thereby stripping her of all feelings of love or belonging; his final brutal rejection had severed the last tendril of attachment. Nothing remained now but hurt and a profound feeling of betrayal.
Firmly resisting the temptation to take one last look at the only home she’d ever known, Summer stared before her with vacant eyes as the carriage rolled down the long drive. She felt cornered, caught between a vindictive father and the censorious representative of a husband she’d never seen, but whose shadow loomed ominously over her.
At times during the past week the whole scheme to marry her to the Earl of Heatherstone had seemed so fantastic she could almost believe she had dreamed it, but when she’d been dragged before a priest who’d solemnized the marriage despite her protests, she knew the nightmare was real. She had considered running away, but the marriages of all her friends had been arranged and no one thought her ill-treated.
“Why should I feel sorry for you?” her closest friend had asked in a jealous pique. “I’d marry a leper if he were an earl and wealthy enough to take me off this island.” Only Summer’s mother could have understood why she looked upon her wedding day as an end rather than a beginning; but Constance Ashton was dead and Summer had no one to turn to.
As the hired carriage lurched over the ruts and stones of the unkept driveway, Brinklow studied his new mistress in silence. To him, anyone from the Caribbean was unworthy to become the Countess of Heatherstone, but even his unyielding Calvinistic soul had to acknowledge that Summer was a vision to gladden any man’s heart. She sat upright in her seat, her long brown hair falling over slim shoulders bared by a deep neckline and sleeves pushed low on her arms to keep her cool. The simplicity of her gown outlined her slim figure, accentuated by the bright yellow ribbon at her waist. Soft brown eyes stared at him from under golden lashes, while the rich creamy color of her skin was heightened by the spots of color in her cheeks.
“Does the earl hope for an heir?” Summer asked uneasily, breaking Brinklow’s rigid silence.
“It is natural that a lord as wealthy and influential as the earl should hope for a son to carry on his ancient line,” intoned Brinklow, unbending slightly. The power, wealth, and grandeur of his employer was Brinklow’s favorite subject, and he readily expanded on the bright prospects of the young man fortunate enough to be the earl’s first-born son.
Summer didn’t speak again until they neared the waiting ship. “Does the earl travel from home often?”
“The earl is frequently called upon to advise persons of importance,” Brinklow announced, “and of course he undertakes a great amount of business in Edinburgh and London, but Glenstal is an excellently furnished castle and you may be assured that your comfort will be well attended to at all times.”
Their arrival at the dock brought Summer to the final step that would cut her off from her home and irrevocably thrust her into the arms of a complete stranger, her
Unwilling to leave the carriage until the last minute, she hung back while Brinklow conferred with the captain of the ship which was to carry her to Scotland, but once she placed her feet on the deck, once she realized there was no possibility of turning back, her courage began to assert itself, and she approached her fate with unsuspected courage.
“Welcome, miss. Your maid is waiting in your cabin. You’ll find it down those steps at the end of the galley.” Captain Bonner’s greeting made it abundantly plain that he didn’t relish having women on board his ship.
“I am the Countess of Heatherstone,” Summer informed him quietly. “I have no doubt my husband is paying you handsomely for the use of this vessel, so please have someone inform my maid that I await her attendance. And I would be pleased if you would accompany me to my cabin and see that I am provided with all I need for this journey.”
Brinklow gaped in dumb surprise. He had assumed the new countess to be only the stunned, helpless creature he had known the past week. But Summer had decided to fight and to survive. The ship was her first battleground.
“This is my vessel,” Captain Bonner blustered.
“If the terms are not acceptable to you, inform Mr. Brinklow at once so that he may make other arrangements.” Bonner paused to gauge Summer’s determination, but she didn’t give him enough time. “Please make up your mind. I’m tired and wish to lie down.”
Captain Bonner barked out an order, and a few minutes later a short, stout woman of middle age and sympathetic mien bustled on deck.