The Bride's Necklace (Necklace Series #1)by Kat Martin
Knowing that she alone can protect her sister from the Baron Harwood, their lecherous stepfather, Victoria Temple Whiting snatches the family's heirloom necklace—believed to hold the power to bring great happiness or terrible tragedy—to pay for their escape to London. Terrified that the baron will find them, Victoria poses as Tory Temple and finds… See more details below
Knowing that she alone can protect her sister from the Baron Harwood, their lecherous stepfather, Victoria Temple Whiting snatches the family's heirloom necklace—believed to hold the power to bring great happiness or terrible tragedy—to pay for their escape to London. Terrified that the baron will find them, Victoria poses as Tory Temple and finds employment as a servant in the household of handsome Cordell Easton, the scandalous Earl of Brant.
The sisters' arrival couldn't have been more welcome. In need of a new mistress, Cord turns to Tory, whose wit and intellect intrigue him. But when the baron discovers the girls' whereabouts, Cord learns Tory's secret—her noble birth. Furious that he has compromised the daughter of a peer, Cord must decide—marry Tory to keep her safe or allow his stubborn pride to deny his heart.
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The Brides's Necklace
By Kat Martin
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.ISBN: 0-7783-2125-8
Chapter OneEngland, 1804
A soft creak in the hallway awakened her. Victoria Temple Whiting sat upright in bed, straining toward the sound. The faint noise came again, footsteps passing her bedchamber, continuing down the hall, pausing in front of the door to her sister's room.
Tory swung her legs to the side of the bed, her heart racing now, pounding in her ears. There was no lock on Claire's door. Their stepfather, the baron, wouldn't allow it. Tory heard the click of the silver knob turning, then the soft glide of shoes on carpet as someone walked into the room.
She knew who it was. She had known this day would come, known the baron would finally act on the lust he felt for Claire. Desperate to protect her sister, Tory rose quickly, grabbed her blue quilted wrapper off the foot of the bed and raced out into the hall. Claire's room was two doors down. She made her way there as quietly as possible, legs trembling, her palms so slick she could barely turn the doorknob.
She wiped her hands on her wrapper and tried again, successful this time, opening the door and stepping silently into the darkness of the room. Her stepfather stood next to the bed, a long, shadowy figure in the dim light coming in through the mullioned window. Tory stiffened at his low-murmured words, the fear she heard in Claire's voice.
"Stay away from me," Claire pleaded.
"I won't hurt you. Just lie still andlet me do what I want."
"No. I w-want you to get out of my room."
"Be quiet," the baron said more sharply. "Unless you want your sister to awaken. I think you can guess what will happen to her if she comes in here."
Claire whimpered. "Please don't hurt Tory." But both of them knew he would. Her back still carried the marks of an earlier caning, the punishment her stepfather, Miles Whiting, Baron Harwood, had delivered for some minor infraction she could now scarcely recall.
"Do as I say then and just lie still."
Claire made a sound in her throat and Tory fought down a wave of fury. Slipping around behind the baron, her nails digging into the palms of her hands, she inched closer. She knew what her stepfather meant to do, knew that if she tried to stop him, she would suffer another beating and sooner or later he would still hurt Claire.
Tory bit her lip, forcing down her anger, trying to think what she should do. She had to stop him. No matter what happened, she couldn't let him touch her sister.
Then her gaze lit on the brass bed warmer next to the hearth. The coals inside had long grown cold, but the bowl was heavy with the ashes left inside. She reached down and gripped the wooden handle, silently lifting the instrument up off the hearth.
Claire made another whimpering sound. Tory took two steps closer to where the baron leaned over Claire and swung the heavy brass bed warmer. Harwood made a sort of grunting noise and toppled over onto the floor.
Her hands shook. The bed warmer hit the floor with a soft clunk, spilling spent coals and black ash all over the Aubusson carpet. Claire leaped up from the bed and started running toward her, threw herself into Tory's arms.
"He was ... he kept touching me." She made a funny little choking noise and held on tighter. "Oh, Tory, you came just in time."
"It's all right, darling. You're safe now. I won't let him hurt you again."
Trembling all over, Claire turned toward the man lying on the rug, a dark streak of blood running from the gash at his temple. "Did you ... did you kill him?"
Tory gazed at the baron's still form and swayed a little on her feet. She took a breath to steady herself. It was dark in the room, but a sliver of moonlight slanted in through the mullioned window. She could see the scarlet stain spreading beneath Harwood's head. His chest didn't seem to be moving, but she couldn't tell for sure.
"We have to get out of here," she said, fighting an urge to run. "Put on your wrapper and get your satchel out from under the bed. I'll go get mine and meet you at the bottom of the servants' stairs."
"I - I need to change out of my bedclothes."
"There isn't time. We'll change somewhere along the road."
The journey wasn't unexpected. They had each packed a satchel three days ago, the night of Claire's seventeenth birthday. Since that night, the lust in the baron's dark eyes had grown every time he looked at her. They had begun making plans that very evening. They would leave Harwood Hall at the first opportunity.
But tonight fate had taken a hand. They couldn't wait a moment longer.
"What about the necklace?" Claire asked.
Stealing the baron's most prized possession had always been part of their plan. They needed money to get to London. The beautiful diamond-and-pearl necklace was worth a small fortune and was the only thing of value they could easily carry with them.
"I'll get it. Try to be quiet. I'll join you as quickly as I can."
Claire rushed out the door and headed down the hall. Tory cast a last glance at her stepfather and raced out behind her. Sweet God, don't let him be dead, she thought, sickened to think she might actually have killed him.
Tory shuddered as she hurried away.
Two months later
Perhaps it was the necklace. Tory had never believed in the curse, but everyone for miles around the tiny village of Harwood knew the legend of the beautiful diamond-and-pearl necklace. People whispered about it, feared it, coveted and revered the magnificent piece of jewelry crafted in the thirteenth century for the bride of Lord Fallon. It was said the necklace - The Bride's Necklace - could bring its owner untold happiness, or unbearable tragedy.
That hadn't kept Tory from stealing it. Or selling it to a moneylender in Dartfield for enough coin that she and Claire could finally escape.
But that had been nearly two months ago, before the two of them had reached London and the ridiculously small amount of money Tory had been forced to accept for the very valuable necklace had nearly run out.
In the beginning, she had been certain she could find a job as a governess for some nice, respectable family, but so far she had failed. The few clothes she and Claire had been able to take along the night they had fled were fashionable, but Tory's cuffs had begun to fray, and faint stains appeared on the hem of Claire's apricot muslin gown. Though their education and speech were that of the upper classes, Tory didn't have a single solitary reference, and without one, she had been turned away again and again.
She was becoming nearly as desperate as she had been before she left Harwood Hall.
"What are we going to do, Tory?" Her sister's voice cut through the self-pity rising like a dark tide inside her.
"Mr. Jennings says if we can't pay our rent by the end of the week, he is going to throw us out."
Excerpted from The Brides's Necklace by Kat Martin Excerpted by permission.
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