This is all I can give you, he said. No marriage. No children. All I can offer is – this. And he kissed me, feather-light, until I was holding my breath, trembling in his arms. Do you agree?
Yes, I whispered, my lips brushing against his. I hardly knew what I was saying. Hardly thought about the promise I was making and what it would eventually cost me. I was too lost in the moment, lost in pleasure that made the world a million colors of twisting light.
But now… I’d gotten news that changed everything.
As I went up the sweeping stairs of his London house, my heart was in my throat. A baby. I gripped the oak handrail as my shaking steps echoed down the hall. A baby. A little boy with Edward’s eyes? An adorable little girl with his smile? Thinking of the sweet, precious baby soon to be nestled in my arms, a dazed, dazzled smile lifted to my lips.
Then I remembered what I’d promised, and my hands tightened.
Would he think I’d somehow done it on purpose? That I’d tricked him into becoming a father against his will?
No. He wouldn’t. Couldn’t.
The upstairs hallway was cold and dark. Just like Edward’s heart. I shivered. Beneath his sensual charm, his soul was ice. I’d always known this, no matter how hard I’d tried not to know it.
I’d given him my body, which he wanted. Given him my heart, which he hadn’t.
Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?
Maybe he could change. I took a deep breath. Reaching our bedroom, I slowly pushed open the door. If I could only believe that, once he knew about the baby, he might change… That he might someday love us both…
“You’ve kept me waiting,” Edward’s voice was dangerous, coming from the shadows of the bedroom. “Come to bed, Diana.”
Clutching my hands at my sides, I went forward.
Four months earlier
I was dying.
After hours of being cooped up in the back seat of the chauffeured Range Rover, with the heat at full blast as the driver exceeded speed limits at every opportunity, the air felt oppressively hot. I rolled down the window to take a deep breath of the fresh air and rain.
“You’ll catch your death,” the driver said sourly from the front. Almost the first words he’d spoken since he’d collected me from Heathrow.
“I need some fresh air,” I said apologetically.
He snorted, then mumbled something under his breath. Pasting a smile on my face, I looked out the window. Jagged hills cast a dark shadow over the lonely road, surrounded by a bleak moor drenched in thick wet mist. Cornwall was beautiful, like a dream on the far side of the world. Which was what I’d wanted, wasn’t it?
In the twilight, the black silhouette of a distant crag looked like a ghostly castle, silhouetted against the red sun shimmering over the sea. The far side of the world? I could almost hear the clang of swords from ancient battles, almost hear the roar of bloodthirsty Saxons and Celts.
“Penryth Hall, miss.” The driver’s gruff voice was barely audible over the wind and rain. “Up ahead.”
Penryth Hall? With an intake of breath, I looked back up at the distant crag. It wasn’t my imagination or a trick of mist. A castle was really there, illuminated by a few scattered lights, reflecting in a ghostly blur upon the dark scarlet sea.
As we drew closer, I squinted at the crenellated battlements. The place looked barely habitable, fit only for vampires or ghosts.
For this, I’d left the sunshine and roses of California?
Blinking hard, I leaned back against the leather seat and exhaled, trying to steady my trembling hands. The smell of rain masked the sweet, slightly putrid scent of rotting autumn leaves, decaying fish, and the salt of the ocean.
“For lord’s sake, miss, if you’ve had enough of the rain, up it goes.”
The driver pressed a button, and my window closed, choking off fresh air as the SUV bumped over rivets in the hard dirt road. With a lump in my throat, I looked down at the book still open in my lap. In the growing darkness, the words were smudges upon shadows. Regretfully, I marked my place, and closed the cover of Private Nursing: How to Care for a Patient in His Home Whilst Maintaining Professional Distance and Avoiding Immoral Advances from Your Employer before placing it carefully in my handbag.
I’d already read it twice on the flight from Los Angeles. There hadn’t been much written lately about how to live on a reclusive tycoon’s estate and help him rehabilitate an injury as his live-in physical therapist. The closest I’d been able to find was a tattered book I’d bought off ebay that had been published in England in 1959 – and when I looked closer I discovered it was actually a reprint from 1910. But I figured it was close enough. I was confident I could take the book’s advice. I could learn anything from a book.
It was people I often found completely unfathomable.
I stared out my window. For the twentieth time, I wondered about my new employer. Would he be elderly, feeble, infirm? Why had he sent for me from six thousand miles away? The employment agency had been not very forthcoming with details.
“A wealthy British tycoon,” she’d told me. “Injured in a car accident almost two months ago. He can walk but barely. He requested you.”
“Me? Why? Does he know me?” My voice trembled. “Or maybe my stepsister?”
Shrug. “The request came from a London agency. Apparently he found the physical therapists in England unsuitable.”
I gave an incredulous laugh, “all of them?”
“That’s all I’m allowed to share, other than salary details. The salary is sizeable. But you must sign a nondisclosure agreement. And agree to live at his estate indefinitely.”
I never would have agreed to it three weeks ago. But a lot had changed since then, since everything I thought I could count on had fallen apart.
The Range Rover picked up speed as we neared the castle on the edge of the ocean’s cliff. Passing through a wrought-iron gate carved into the shape of sea-serpents and clinging vines, we entered a courtyard. The vehicle stopped. Gray stone walls pressing in upon all sides, beneath the stinging gray rain.
For a moment, I sat still, clutching my handbag with one hand and the book with my other.
“Consider a carpet,” I whispered to myself, quoting Mrs. Warreldy-Gribbley, the author of the book. “Be silent and deferential and endure, and expect to be trod upon.”
I could do that. Surely, I could do that. How hard could it be, to remain silent and deferential and endure? Hadn’t I been training for it all my life?
The SUV’s door opened. A large umbrella appeared, held by an elderly woman.
“Miss Maywood? I’m Mrs. MacWhirter, the housekeeper,” she said, as two burly men got my suitcase. “This way, if you please.”
“Hello. Thank you.” Once out of the car, I paused, looking up at the moss-laden castle. It was the first of November, and it felt every bit of it. I shivered as drops of cold rain ran down my hair and jacket. This close up, Penryth Hall looked even more haunted. A good place to heal, I told myself firmly. But that was a lie. It was a place to hide.
“Right. Sorry.” I gave the housekeeper my best attempt at a smile. “Please call me Diana.”
She looked disapprovingly at my smile. “This way, please,” she said gruffly. “The master’s been expecting you for ages.”
I snorted a laugh. “Master….”Then I saw her humorless expression and straightened with a cough. “Oh. Yes. I’m terribly sorry. My plane was late…”
She shook her head, as if to show what she thought of planes and their lackluster schedules. “Mr. St. Cyr requested you be brought to him immediately.”
“That is his name? The elderly gentleman?”
Her eyes goggled at the word elderly. “Edward St. Cyr is his name, yes.” She looked at me, as if wondering what kind of idiot would agree to work for a man whose name she did not even know. A question I was asking myself at the moment. She turned away. “He’s waiting.”
I followed, feeling wet and cold and tired and grumpy. Master, I thought, irritated at the word. What was this, Wuthering Heights? – The original novel, I mean, not the (very loosely) adapted teleplay that my stepfather had turned into a cable television mini-series last year, with a pouty-lipped starlet as Cathy, and so much raunchy sex that Emily Brontë was probably still turning in her grave. But the show had been a big hit, which just went to show that maybe I was every bit as naïve as Howard claimed. “Wake up and smell the coffee, kitten,” he’d said kindly. “Sex is what people care about, aside from money.”
I’d disagreed vehemently, but I’d been wrong. Clearly. Because here I was, six thousand miles from home, and alone, hiding from the world.
But even here, there were flashes of modernity, like the sleek silver laptop between the old suits of armor and tapestries lining the walls. I felt a flash of anxiety. I’d purposefully left my phone and tablet in Beverly Hills. But it seemed even here, I couldn’t completely escape. A bead of sweat lifted to my forehead. I wouldn’t look back, I wouldn’t…
“In here, miss.” Mrs. MacWhirter led me into a starkly masculine study, with dark wood finishings and a fire in the fireplace. I braced myself to face an elderly, infirm, probably cranky old gentleman. But there was no one. Frowning, I turned back to the maid.
“Where is – ”
She was gone. I was alone in the flickering shadows of the study. I was turning to leave as well when I heard a low voice, spoken from the depths of the darkness.
Jumping, I looked around me more carefully. A large sheepdog was sitting on a Turkish rug in front of the fire. He was huge and furry, and panting noisily, his tongue hanging out. He tilted his head at me. I stared back in consternation.
Was I having some kind of breakdown, as my friend Kristin had predicted? Though I had seen enough funny pet videos on YouTube to know that animals could be trained to talk. Feeling foolish, I licked my lips. “Um, did you say something?”
“Did I stutter?” The dog’s mouth didn’t move. So it wasn’t the dog. But now I wished it had been. Animal voices were preferable to ghostly ones. Shivering, I looked around me.
“Do you require some kind of instruction, Miss Maywood?” The voice turned acid. “An engraved invitation, perhaps? Come forward, I said. I want to see you.”
It was then I realized the deep voice didn’t come from beyond the grave, but from the depths of the high-backed leather chair in front of the fire. Oh. Cheeks hot, I walked towards it. The dog gave me a pitying glance, tempered by the faint wag of his tail. Giving the dog a weak smile, I turned to face my new employer.
He was neither elderly nor infirm. The man who sat in the high-backed chair was handsome, powerful, even dangerous. His muscled body was partially immobilized. And yet he radiated strength, even danger. A fierce tiger – caged…
“Thank you,” the man said sardonically. “You are too kind.”
“Um…” I whispered, looking at him. Unable to look away. I swallowed. “You are Edward St. Cyr? My new employer?”
“That,” he said coldly, “should be obvious.”
His face was hard-edged, rugged, perhaps too much so for conventional masculine beauty. There was nothing pretty about him. His jawline was square, and his aquiline nose slightly off kilter at top, as if it had once been broken. His shoulders were broad, barely contained by the oversized chair, his right arm hung in a elastic brace in a sling. His left leg was held out stiffly, extended from his body, the heel resting on a stool. He looked like a fighter, a bouncer, maybe even a thug.
Until you looked at his eyes. An improbable blue against his olive-toned skin, they were the color of a midnight ocean swept with moonlight. Tortured eyes, with unfathomable depths, blue as an ancient glacier newly revealed in the lonely Arctic Sea.
Even more than his body, what was really immobilized, really trapped – was his soul.
Then his expression shuttered, turning sardonic and flat, reflecting only the glowing embers of the fire, leaving me to decide I’d imagined the emotion I thought I’d seen. Now his blue eyes seemed only ruthless and cynical. And… My lips parted.
“Wait,” I breathed. “I know you. Don’t I?”
His cruel, sensual lips curved.
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Text Copyright © 2014 by Jennie Lucas • Cover Art Copyright © 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
"Lucas’ precise, rhythmic narrative sets the mood and keeps the flow in this gothic heartbreaker. Her brooding, cold-hearted hero and innocent, nurturing heroine are perfectly matched, and the over-the-top settings complement the tale. But it’s the couple’s battle of wills that sets the novel on fire. "
- RT BookReviews, 4½ Stars TOP PICK! (posted February 2013)