RELUCTANT BRIDES…When love is the key and dowry the bait, who can predict what a woman might do?
At Miss Peabody’s, there had been few chances for privacy, and with modesty expected at all times, Rose rarely had the opportunity to be totally alone and do whatever she liked. She couldn’t recall when she’d previously shed every stitch, and there was a heady freedom in the act that surprised her.
She slipped into her robe, relishing how the slinky material slithered over her bare skin. She didn’t tie the belt and let the lapels flop open so her front was visible.
In the mirror, she studied herself, and it wasn’t vanity to acknowledge that she was pretty.
Her eyes were green, merry and arresting, her face heart shaped and inviting, with two pert dimples curving her cheeks. She was five feet five in her shoes, her body shapely and rounded in all the right spots, and she prayed Mr. Oswald would be pleased with the bride he’d found.
Her hair was an unusual shade of auburn, and when she was younger, she’d fussed and fumed and hid it under scarves and bonnets. Every other girl in her world had seemed to be blond, but she wasn’t, and the odd difference had vexed her.
But as she’d grown older, she’d realized the color was striking and remarkable, and she told herself she’d inherited it from her deceased mother whose features she didn’t recollect.
There was a brush on the dresser—another of her mother’s belongings. She pulled the pins from her chignon, the lengthy tresses swinging down her back, then she grabbed the brush and began tugging the bristles through her hair. As she wandered toward the bedchamber, she quietly mused, “Oh, I hope he likes me.”
“I’m sure he will,” a male voice replied. “He’s never met a female he didn’t try to seduce.”
She halted, frowned, her mind struggling to register the fact that someone had spoken. Had she imagined it? It was an ancient mansion. Were there ghosts?
She tiptoed to the door that separated the two rooms and peeked out. Her brush fell to the floor with a muted thump. Frantically, she yanked at the lapels of her robe, tied the belt with a tight knot.
She wasn’t hallucinating. A man—a very handsome, very roguish man—had made himself at home in her bedchamber. He lounged on the chair by the bed, slouched down, his legs stretched out.
He was about her same age of twenty-five, but there was a hard edge to him, as if he’d seen trouble in his life, as if he’d persevered through adversity. But there was mischief lurking too, as if he would engage in any tomfoolery and enjoy it very much.
His hair was dark, worn too long and in need of a trim, and his eyes were incredibly blue, his gaze curious and bored. He hadn’t shaved so his cheeks were shadowed, giving him a reckless, negligent air.
Attired in a flowing white shirt, tan breeches, knee-high black boots, his color was high, as if he’d been out riding.
He appeared lazy and windswept and dangerous, and she probably should be terrified, but she sensed no menace. He was watching her as intently as she was watching him.
“I believe you’ve wandered into the wrong room,” she sputtered.
“I don’t think so,” he responded. “This has been my room since I was a boy. I’m positive I’m not mistaken.”
“No, you’re wrong,” she firmly said. “The maid brought me here directly from the coach. I’m certain she wasn’t mistaken. She was very clear. This is my room.” She made a shooing motion with her fingers. “You have to leave.”
“I could say the same to you.”
“Talbot. James Talbot.”
“I’m only newly arrived at Summerfield, and I’m not dressed. If you were any sort of gentleman, you’d do as I’ve requested.”
“There’s the rub for you, darling. I’m not a gentleman, and I’ve never aspired to gallant tendencies.”
“You sound proud of it.”
“I guess I am.”
“What type of person would boast of low character?”
“My type, I suppose.”
“I say it again. Go away!”
There was a decanter of liquor on the table next to him, and he poured himself a glass and sipped at the amber liquid. He looked vain and imperious and completely in the right, and she had no idea how to proceed.
As an orphan, then a spinster schoolteacher at an all-girls academy, she’d had very restricted interactions with men. It was a rare occasion when a male crossed her path. She’d never been kissed, had never walked down the lane with a sweetheart. She’d never ordered a man to do something and had him do it.
How did a woman make a man behave? Rose had never been told how it was accomplished. In her humble and somewhat limited opinion, men were obstinate, arrogant, and overbearing. They shouted and blustered and acted however they wished. Women had few weapons to fight against their worst conduct.
She should have hurried into the dressing room and put on her clothes, but she was already sufficiently unclad and didn’t want to exacerbate the situation. Her other option was to stomp out, to summon help, but she didn’t dare inform the servants that there was a stranger in her room.
She hadn’t met Mr. Oswald yet. If he learned of the scandalous exchange, what would he think? Her betrothal would end before it began.
She pulled herself up to her full height and mustered her most condemning expression.
“Mr. Talbot, we’re at an impasse.”
“Yes, we are.”
“I’m not in any condition to receive you.”
“I see that.”
His hot gaze took a slow meander down her body, lingering at several spots where he had no business lingering, and her cheeks flushed bright red. She’d never been ogled, and she scowled and stood even straighter.
“You must depart,” she fumed. “I’ll repair myself, and then we’ll call on the housekeeper to resolve our quarrel. I’m sure she knows to which rooms we’ve been assigned.”
“I wouldn’t agree to that.”
“I don’t need that old biddy scolding me because I’m sitting in my own room. Nor do I need her to tell me where my bed is located.”
“Mr. Talbot! Please!”
“I love it when a woman begs.”
About Cheryl Holt
Cheryl Holt is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirty-nine novels. She’s also an Amazon “Top 100” author.
She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age 40, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance, where she was stunned to discover that she has an incredible knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.
Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year,” by the trade magazine, Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.
Her hot, sexy, dramatic stories of passion and illicit love have captivated fans around the world, and she’s celebrated as the Queen of Erotic Romance, which is currently the fastest selling subgenre of women’s fiction. Due to the ferociousness of some of her characters, she’s also known as the International Queen of Villains.
She received degrees in music, languages, and education, from South Dakota State University, and her juris doctorate was obtained at the University of Wyoming. Her colorful and chaotic employment history includes such variety as public school teacher, cook, bartender, lobbyist, and political activist. She also did brief stints in metro-Denver as a deputy district attorney and administrative law judge.
Cheryl lives and writes in Hollywood, California.
Other Stops on the Blog Tour:
Be My Bard – April 21st
Manic Readers – April 22nd
Night Owl Reviews – April 23rd
Susana’s Parlour – April 24th
Stuck in Books – April 25th
Romancing the Book – April 28th
My Life, One Story at a Time – April 29th
Reader’s Entertainment – April 30th
Novels Alive TV – May 1st