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A Dangerous Beauty
By Sophia Nash
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Sophia Nash
All right reserved.
Expectation, n. The state or condition of mind which is preceded by hope and followed by despair.
—The Devil's Dictionary, A. Bierce
It was said Rosamunde Isabella Maria Solange Magred Edwina Langdon was given so many names because she was the last child the seventh Earl and Countess of Twenlyne would ever have. But that was only half the truth.
The earl and his wife had carefully chosen names each time the countess had found herself with child. But while there had been great joy with the arrival of each of their first four children—all boys—there had been little surprise. For the last one hundred years the earldom had provided England with enough strapping males to make up a small regiment, but nary a single female.
All the present countess's sons looked like her—blond hair, brown eyes and a fine sprinkling of freckles on their upturned noses. And the earl was proud of his towheaded sons.
But he wanted a daughter. A daughter whose miniature he would carry in his pocket like his contemporaries. A daughter who would giggle and primp and twirl him about her jam-smeared little fingers. A daughter who would give him headaches and the ultimate heartache when she found another man who could make her eyes sparkle just a little brighter than they did for him.
And so, whenthe countess bore her fifth offspring—a daughter—after a long and painful breech delivery, the proud papa bestowed on this magical child the long string of feminine names he and the countess had chosen during her previous lying-ins. That they were the jumble of French, English, Spanish, Italian and Welsh names of each of the prior Countesses of Twenlyne was no coincidence.
In the rosy glow of the first morning after her birth, the earl hugged this miraculous girl child to his breast and reverently stroked her raven-black curls so like his own. From the glazed window, a shaft of sunlight bathed her slate-blue baby eyes as he gazed adoringly at her.
"You'll not have to put up with that ordinary color for long, my darling. I shall eat crow if they don't change into the proper Welsh Langdon colors by next midsummer's eve." And for the merest moment the earl felt his heart squeeze in recognition. Staring into her intelligent eyes, which were certain to turn into the smoky aquamarine shade of generations of Langdons, it was as if he had always known her. Their souls were destined to become entwined.
The entire household, in fact the entire county, celebrated the earl's happiness while the temporarily neglected sons only grumbled a little.
There was no question the frail countess would recover, for she knew her duty as a mother. And so she did. The earl refused to let doctors dampen his good spirits when his wife became with child soon after Rosamunde's birth.
The countess submitted to her discomfort with customary quiet grace, but it was not to be. She was delivered of another daughter, this one christened with her mother's name only, for there were no other ancestral names left to parcel out. Black-haired, brown-eyed Sylvia Langdon came into creation the same day the countess had nothing more to give this world and so passed on to the next.
If everyone held their breath when the countess died of childbed fever, it was for naught. For the earl, who had loved his wife quite devotedly, transferred that love to his children and never sought a new countess. In his mind, there were too many gothic stories about second wives who evolved into evil stepmothers.
And so, the reclusive earl chose to bury his heart in his love of the land and his children. His progeny gloried in his undivided attention during wild gallops and long nature walks amid the mystical circular stones abounding in the Cornish landscape of their home, Edgecumbe. Theirs was a working estate and the children were brought up to love country life—indeed, to know nothing of town.
It was heaven.
If the siblings noticed their father had a special place in his heart for Rosamunde, they tried to ignore it. The thing was, she was hard not to like. While she could pretend to be a proper, quiet young lady when forced into the role, there was no one who had a greater penchant for adventure—something guaranteed to endear her to her toad-loving, accident-prone brothers. She was always ready to race headlong into any escapade. If it included climbing trees, racing horses or lethal weapons, all the better.
And while her brothers might have been continually put out by her uncanny ability to outride them, outswim them, and even best them at every skill involving a target, well, it was something they tried to hide behind young male cockiness. Her generous nature, the only trait she had inherited from her English mother, was a useful balm in tending to bruised brotherly pride. That and her beautiful voice. For while all the siblings were musical by nature, especially Phinn and Sylvia, only Rosamunde could sing.
And oh how she could sing. Almost every evening they gathered in the music room, her father on the pianoforte, Sylvia with her harp and her brothers on various instruments, while Rosamunde sang Welsh songs of love and loss.
There was really but one fault she possessed. The earl called it "bloody pigheadedness" and refused to recognize he had inherited it himself from generations of strong-willed, hot-tempered blue bloods whose clashing characters boiled down to the same overriding element—passion. The cool British traits had melted away in the face of the overpowering heat of more unsteady temperaments. But this trait had benefits. When a Langdon loved, there was nothing insipid about it.
As her long, lanky coltlike limbs grew toward womanhood, Rosamunde began to wish she could trade in her sporting prowess for the cool serenity her younger sister Sylvia possessed in ample quantity. But Rosamunde was plagued with a face that revealed her every emotion.
Excerpted from A Dangerous Beauty by Sophia Nash Copyright © 2007 by Sophia Nash. Excerpted by permission.
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