Impetuousby Candace Camp
Loving the enemy is one thing. Trusting the enemy is quite another.
In the late 1600s Black Maggie Verrere was engaged to marry Sir Edric Neville in an effort to unite their two families. Instead she eloped to America with another man, and the famed Spanish dowry vanished along with her. The two familiesthe Verreres and the Nevilleshave hated/i>
Loving the enemy is one thing. Trusting the enemy is quite another.
In the late 1600s Black Maggie Verrere was engaged to marry Sir Edric Neville in an effort to unite their two families. Instead she eloped to America with another man, and the famed Spanish dowry vanished along with her. The two familiesthe Verreres and the Nevilleshave hated one another ever since.
Now, 150 years later, another Verrere woman seeks the dowry. Cassandra Verrere has no hope of providing a future for her younger siblings, or for herself, unless she recovers the treasure. Unfortunately her path to its attainment requires the help of a Nevillethe disarming Sir Philip. With an ancient feud marking their lineage, Cassandra cannot imagine trusting him. But the true challenge may be in trusting her heart not to fall for him.
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Cassandra was awash in pleasure. She had never experienced anything like it, dreaming or awake. She had been dreaming lush, colorful dreams from the moment she fell asleep. Somehow she knew they were dreams, and yet she was unable to awaken from them. She had been walking through her housethe old mansion of Chesilworth, not her aunt's more habitable, yet far less pleasant, homeand she had been warm and happy. Her father was still alive and puttering downstairs in his library. The walls were a warm, buttery tint, touched by the rays of the sun, and she passed a bedroom, where a jewel-toned red velvet spread covered the bed. Candles burned inside, beckoning her. She started into the room, but then somehow she was outside in a cool, vibrantly green bower. The leaves of the hedges were dark and waxy, smooth to the touch. A breeze swept over her, lifting her hair and tickling the back of her neck. She shivered a little in delight. The sun was warm upon her shoulders, the breeze caressed her. She closed her eyes, luxuriating in the feeling.
Pleasure welled up inside her as the wind played over her cheek and neck. She was aware that now she had on no clothes, but strangely this fact did not seem to bother her. She loved the way the sun felt on her naked skin, the way the air drifted over her. Now there was a man with her. But that did not bother her, either. She knew him, though she could not see his face or say his name. He put his hands on her, and her loins turned to warm wax. She felt weak and shaky as he kissed her over and over again. His lips pressed against her mouth, opening it to his questing tongue, and she jerked with the violent, unexpected pleasure of it. Warm moisture pooled between her legs, and she squeezed them together, trying to satisfy the ache that had arisen there.
His kisses filled her even as they consumed her. She clung to him in a maelstrom of pleasure. His hand traveled down over her body and delved between her legs, sending waves of pleasure through her. She moaned and moved her hips against his hand, instinctively seeking something, though she wasn't sure what. Then, suddenly, a pleasure more intense than anything she had ever felt seemed to burst within her.
Cassandra jerked, and her eyes flew open. She was awake. And a man she had never met was leaning over her, staring down into her face.
For an instant, she simply stared at him in stupefaction that matched the stunned expression on his face. Then horror rushed through her as her befogged mind began to function. She drew breath to scream. He saw her intent and quickly covered her mouth with his hand, which frightened her even more. She grabbed his arm, trying to pull his hand away, and at the same time, she struggled to sit up. He pushed her back down firmly, and she swung her hand up, hitting him sharply on the ear. He winced and grabbed for her wrist with his free hand, but she swung the other at him, too, and kicked, trying to wriggle off the bed. He threw his weight upon her to pin her down, and she was aware of every hard line of muscle and bone.
He was stronger than she, but Cassandra was not one to give up, and she had an advantage in that he had to keep one hand pressed across her mouth to keep her from screaming. She rained blows on his head and shoulders and back, and thrashed her legs, trying to land a kick that would do some harm. It took him a good while to finally get his legs wrapped tightly around hers and his hand clenched around both her wrists, pinning them to the bed above her. He was lying completely atop her, bearing her down into the mattress. Cassandra could not help but be aware of the intruder's power, of his very maleness. The position frightened her, yet at the same time she was confusedly aware of the heat that sizzled through her veins and lay pooled and heavy in her abdomen.
She wished that she could think better. Why was her head so heavy and groggy? And what was a man of the wealth and position of Sir Philip Neville doing assaulting a woman in her bedroom at a house party in the country?
He was breathing heavily, and Cassandra saw that sweat glistened in the hollow of his throat, just above the undone button of his shirt. Cassandra pulled both her eyes and her mind away from that tanned hollow of flesh that was visibly pulsing with each beat of his heart.
"Don't scream!" he whispered, leaning down close to her face. "I promise you I mean you no harm. I will let you go, if you will promise not to scream."
She gazed at him, wide-eyed, and nodded her head. He looked at her for a long, doubtful moment, then eased his hand from her mouth, moving in tiny increments, always ready to clamp it back down if she showed signs of screaming. Cassandra said nothing, merely watched him steadily.
He relaxed a little. "I swear to you that I mean you no harm. I will leave this room. I won't harm you. Do you understand?"
"Of course I understand!" Cassandra hissed back in the same undertone. "I'm not an idiot."
He moved off her with a groan. "Bloody hell! What a tangle." He looked at her, frowning. "You're the wrong one."
"I should certainly hope so," Cassandra retorted acidly, sitting up. "Oh, my head! I feel as if a thousand hammers were banging away inside it." Why was she so groggy? And why did she feel strangely hot and tin-gly inside?
She looked at the man sitting cross-legged on the bed beside her. She supposed she ought to be frightened, but, once that initial spurt of terror was past, once she recognized the stranger for Sir Philip Neville, she had not been scared, only stunned and confused.
The lingering emotions from her dream unsettled her, and she took refuge in sarcasm. "What young lady's room were you trying to break into, may I ask?"
"I wasn't breaking in," he responded, stung. "I was accepting an invitation."
"Of course. I should have known." Cassandra's voice was dry, and she arched an eyebrow. "I am sure that Sir Philip Neville has ample invitations to enter women's bedrooms."
Neville gazed at her for a long moment. "You are a most unusual female."
"So I've been told." Cassandra did not deceive herself that his words were a compliment.
"I would think a young lady would be rather more distraught in this situation than you are."
"Would you rather that I were?" Cassandra retorted. "I fail to see how it would help matters any if I were to fall into hysterics."
"I didn't say it would help. It just seems more natural."
"I must be an unnatural female, then. It is what my aunt and cousin tell me. They say it is why I never caught a husband. But I think that had more to do with the sad state of our finances than with my attitude, for I have seen odder women than myself marry well, as long as they had a wealthy father. Wouldn't you say?"
"I daresay you are correct." Sir Philip gazed at her in a sort of dazed fascination. He had never before met a woman who spoke in the candid, no-nonsense way this woman did. Indeed, it was something of an oddity to speak to a woman who did not immediately set to flirting with him. He had found that an income of one hundred thousand pounds a year acted as a powerful aphrodisiac.
"To return to the subject at hand," Cassandra continued crisply, "exactly why are you in my room rather than that of the female who issued the invitation?"
Neville grimaced. "I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere." He turned to light the candle he had set down on the bedside table earlier. Taking out a note from his pocket, he unfolded it and reread it. "Though I don't see how. It's quite clearthe fifth door on the right from the stairs. Isn't this the fifth door?"
Cassandra thought for a moment. "Yes." Curious, she rose onto her knees and looked over his shoulder at the note. She gasped as she recognized the blotted, sloppy handwriting and the distinctive looping initials at the bottom of the paper. "My God, that's Joanna's script!"
Neville turned to glare at her, crumpling the note in his fist. "I beg your pardon, madam. This is a private correspondence."
"Mmm. I think it's hardly a private matter, considering that you are sitting in my bed reading it."
"It would be the death of her reputation if this were known," he countered grimly.
"I think that my reputation is of more concern at the moment, since you are in my bedroom."
"I would trust, madam, that you would have enough sense not to bandy it about that you were entertaining a man in your room, and since I have no intention of revealing it, I think it is clear that your reputation is safe."
"Of course I have enough sense to keep quiet," Cassandra retorted, nettled by what she considered a rather excessive concern on his part over Joanna's reputation. "The one you ought to be concerned with is Joanna, since she is obviously so hare-witted that she directed you to the wrong room."
She reached over and plucked the ball of paper from his hand and smoothed it out, bending close to read it in the dim light of the candle. "Ah, yes, I see. She didn't say fifth door, she wrote fourth. You see? It's just her abominable handwriting, and she left out the u. She never was much good at spelling, I'm afraid. I can see how you made the mistakeespecially with, ah, your undoubted eagerness clouding your thinking. I have had a bit more experience with reading her notes."
"Then it is too bad that I did not consult with you first," Neville snarled, "but, you see, I was not aware that I needed an interpreter."
"There is no need to be testy," Cassandra stated. "And you needn't worry for your, uh, for the lady's reputation. I'm not likely to besmirch my family by telling anyone that Joanna makes assignations with men in her bedchamber. She is my cousin, you see."
"Your cousin?" Neville studied her face in the candlelight. "That's odd. I don't recall seeing you with her."
"That is often the case." Cassandra kept her voice light. She was used, after all, to being overshadowed by her beautiful, flirtatious cousin. Joanna's guinea-gold hair and large blue eyes generally captured all male attention when she was around.
Cassandra, at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, knew that she was on the shelf and, indeed, had never been popular with men. She had not "taken" one during her season, and her father had not been able to afford more than one. Cassandra knew, anyway, that any number of social seasons would not have seen her married. For one thing, she had no knack for flirtation and even less interest in it. For another, while she was not precisely plain, her features lacked the even perfection of a true beauty. Her cheekbones were too high, her jaw too firm, and her mouth was much too wide for the popular rosebud look. Even her eyes, which she felt to be her best feature, were a quiet gray rather than a soulful brown or a sparkling blue, and she did not use them to her advantage, instead gazing at the world in a straightforward, clear way that did not lure men.
So she had retired from the social world after one year, not really displeased that she had not made a successful marriage. She had done the season as a duty for her family. They were, as always, in desperate need of money, and she would have gritted her teeth and said yes if an eligible man had asked for her hand. But she had found no man during the year of her debut whom she had accounted as anything but boring, and she was, frankly, quite glad to return to the bosom of her family at Chesilworth unengaged and unlikely ever to be so. With relief, she had donned her old clothes, wound her hair up into the familiar bun and jumped back into the management of her father's household, which had fallen into a woeful state in her absence. She found contentment in raising her younger brothers and sister, and intellectual companionship with her father, and if there was anything missing in her lifeother than a chronic lack of moneyshe had not felt it, or at least had not allowed the feeling to dwell long. At social functions, she sat with the matrons overseeing the antics of the youngsters, rather than with the giggling, hopeful maidens, whose conversations she found stultifying, and in the last couple of years, she had even taken to wearing a small cap over her hair in acknowledgment of her spinster status. It was just as well, she thought, that men's eyes slid past her indifferently. It was much less trying not to have to make conversation about nothing.
Still she could not help but feel a twinge of hurt at the thought that Sir Philip had not even noticed her when he was standing not three feet away from her, chatting with Aunt Ardis and her cousin Joanna.
"You were otherwise occupied," she continued, not without a sting.
"I see." He turned and looked at her. It puzzled him that he could have missed noticing this creature with the wide eyes and tumbling mass of bright hair and other, entrancing features. His gaze dropped down to her torso, where her nightgown, still unbuttoned, had once again slipped off her shoulder and down her arm, revealing a high, firm white breast with its enticing pinkish brown nipple. Even fully clothed and with her hair done up in proper midday form, how could he not have noticed her?
Cassandra, following the direction of his gaze, glanced down and saw with horror that her breast was exposed. Blushing furiously, she jerked up the neck of her nightgown and began buttoning it up, keeping her eyes turned down. This was the worst thing that had ever happened to her! How could she face him again? No man had ever seen more of her than what was bared by the neckline of an evening gown. Now this man, this stranger to her, had seen her with the intimacy of a husband. Worsewhat was she doing with half the buttons of her gown undone? She thought of the wild, swirling emotions of her dream, the startling sensations and the heat in her abdomen. What had happened? Had it been not a dream lover but a real man touching her in those intimate ways? Had this man caused that fierce, primeval jolt of pleasure that had finally dragged her from her slumber?
Meet the Author
Candace Camp is a New York Times bestselling author of over sixty novels of contemporary and historical romance. She grew up in Texas in a newspaper family, which explains her love of writing, but she earned a law degree and practiced law before making the decision to write full-time. She has received several writing awards, including the RT Book Reviews Lifetime Achievement Award for Western Romances. Visit her at www.candace-camp.com.
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A very good read. LORRAINE
I love this author enjoyed this book along with her other books excellent writer
I couldn't put it down. Ms. Camp did it again this book has it all love/hate/passion/misunderstanding and a wonderful ending!!!