Intrigued (Skye's Legacy Series #4)by Bertrice Small
On her mother's advice, Lady Autumn Leslie leaves war-torn England for France/b>/b>/i>/i>/i>
Bertrice Small's New York Times bestsellers have won the hearts of countless readers time and time again. With Intrigued, Jasmine's spirited youngest daughter continues Skye's Legacy as she learns the price of love--and desire. . .
On her mother's advice, Lady Autumn Leslie leaves war-torn England for France in the hope of making a suitable match. The wealthy and handsome Marquis d'Auriville is all she could wish for in a husband, but when Autumn is widowed only a few years after they are wed, she believes she will never give her heart to another man.
Yet as two kings--Louis XIV and Charles II--boldly bid for her affections, Autumn is plunged into the heady world of court intrigue, where powerful men will not hesitate to use a beautiful woman for their own ends--or barter her for their own pleasure. Yet it is Gabriel Bainbridge, the Duke of Garwood, a face from Autumn's past, who is determined to become her passionate, and only, destiny. . .
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By Bertrice Small
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2001 Beatrice Small
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I hate Master Cromwell, and his pocky Roundheads!" Lady Autumn Leslie declared vehemently. "There is no fun in England or Scotland anymore, thanks to him."
"Autumn! Dammit! How many times have I warned you to mind your chattering tongue?" her brother, Charles Stuart, Duke of Lundy, said irritably.
"Oh, Charlie, who is to hear me but the servants?" Autumn answered her elder brother pertly.
"Not all the servants can be trusted these days," the duke replied in soft tones. "Nothing is now as it was. This is not Glenkirk, where the loyalty is first to your father and only secondly to the state. The king will one day be back on his throne, but until then we must be discreet. Remember, sister, who my father was, and my uncle, King Charles, God assoil his soul. Remember that while I am the not-so-royal Stuart, I am a Stuart nonetheless. Cromwell and his ilk will never trust me, nor should they, but I must protect my family until this madness is lifted from the land, and my cousin, Charles II, returns to England to govern us in peace."
"But what are we to do until then?" Autumn demanded. "These Puritans are dreadful people, Charlie. They are joyless with their edicts. No dancing! No bowls upon the green! No Maying on May Day! No Christmas! Nothing that would bring a person pleasure, or happiness. And Scotland is, I fear, just as bad. Still, once I am back at Glenkirk it will be a little better, especially when the winter sets in, and no one can know what we do. Papa pays little heed to the Covenanters and their dolorous ways. When do you think I can go home?"
The duke shook his head. "I do not know, Autumn. With Cousin Charles on Scotland's throne now, and a battle brewing between him and Cromwell, I cannot honestly say when it will be safe for you to travel north. Are you not happy here at Queen's Malvern with us?"
"I love it here!" Autumn replied. "I always have, Charlie."
"Then what is it that makes you so restless?" he asked.
"Charlie! I am going to be nineteen at the end of next month," Autumn wailed. "And I have no betrothed, no husband, no man at all who takes my fancy. I am quite as bad if not worse than our sister Fortune. At least she had the opportunity to find a husband, but what chance have I amid all this civil strife? There is no court, and even family gatherings are mandated as to size now by the Parliament. How am I to find a husband before I am too old?"
"Nineteen is hardly old," he chuckled, reaching out to take her hand up to kiss it. "You are a beautiful girl, little sister, and one day the right man will come along to sweep you off your feet, steal your heart, and make Papa and all your brothers jealous."
"I wish I could be as certain of that as you, Charlie," Autumn said. She sighed deeply. "Bess was still sixteen when you married her, and Rosamund was seventeen when she wed our brother Henry. I am old, Charlie! Eighteen going on nineteen, and not a suitor in sight, nor is there likely to be one. I hate Master Cromwell!"
Charles Frederick Stuart laughed, unable to help himself. His baby sister was deliciously dramatic, and yet she did have a point. Theirs was hardly a fit society nowadays for a duke's daughter to find a husband. There were men a-plenty who would have Autumn for her wealth and beauty, no matter her age; but it had always been his family's policy to allow its daughters to wed for love. Certainly Autumn should have the same chance as their two elder sisters had had.
"Mother will know what to do," he told Autumn in an attempt to reassure her.
"If I can ever get back to Glenkirk," she replied gloomily.
"The gossip is that there has been a battle in Scotland, and Parliament's forces have won out over King Charles II's army. Rumors, however, aren't fact. Perhaps I shall go into Worcester later this week and see what I can learn," the duke said.
"Worcester? You are going into Worcester? When?" The young Duchess of Lundy came into the room with two of her children. "You must see if you can find us some thread, Charlie. We have not a bit and are at a loss to mend, or hem, or make Sabrina and her brothers new clothing. They are outgrowing everything. At least we have cloth, thanks to your frugal family, but without thread we are helpless."
Bess Stuart was a lovely woman with light brown hair filled with golden highlights and warm gray-blue eyes. The youngest daughter of the Earl of Welk, she and Charlie Stuart had fallen in love at first sight. She had just turned sixteen, and he at twenty-six was considered a rake and a rogue by those at the court who knew him. Still, his amber eyes had met Bess Lightbody's sweet gaze, and his heart was immediately engaged. He began to play her most assiduous court.
The Earl of Welk and his wife had been horrified that Charles Frederick Stuart, the late Prince Henry's bastard offspring with the beautiful but notorious Jasmine Leslie—herself the dubious member of an infamous family—a young man openly accepted and beloved by the king and all his kin, despite his shameful birth, should seek to pay his addresses to their youngest daughter. They sent Bess home to Dorset, certain that would end the matter. They had underestimated their opponent.
Bess had not been gone from court a week when she was recalled by royal command to be one of the queen's maids-of-honor. The Earl of Welk sought to protect his daughter from the young Duke of Lundy's insistent advances by seeking a suitable marital alliance with a thoroughly respectable family, preferably one with similar religious and political leanings. Upright, modest, prudent people by whom his daughter could be guided in order to become a dutiful and obedient wife. Again he did not take his adversary seriously enough.
Learning from Bess of her father's plans, Charlie had sought aid from his uncle, King Charles I. Understanding his nephew's plight, the king had called the Earl and Countess of Welk into his presence.
"My nephew, the Duke of Lundy, has told me that he wishes to wed your daughter Elizabeth," the king began. "He has asked me to act for him in this matter. While your antecedents, my lord, hardly make your daughter a suitable match for Charlie, we are of a mind to allow it, for we love the lad right well. And he has never before asked a favor of us, unlike so many others who people our court. Bring your daughter to us tomorrow at this same hour. If she agrees to the match, we will permit it." The king smiled one of his very rare smiles, then waved the Earl and Countess of Welk from his august presence.
They backed away, bowing and curtysing, but once outside the king's privy chamber the Earl of Welk gave vent to his anger. He sent his wife to the queen's apartments to fetch their daughter and bring her to their small London house, where he would speak with her. Bess was not going to marry that bastard, he vowed silently to himself. And the king's inference that the Lightbody blood was not the equal of a bastard, royal or no, infuriated him.
When the women finally joined him, he told his daughter of their audience with the king. Then he said, "But you will not wed him, Bess! You will tell the king you do not want to marry his nephew. Do you understand me?"
"I will say no such thing, my lord," Bess answered. "I love Charlie, and he loves me. I will tell the king, aye, I will have his nephew for my husband, and gladly!"
"You will not!" the Earl of Welk shouted at his daughter.
"I will!" she replied defiantly.
"I will beat you black and blue if you continue to challenge my authority over you, daughter," he told her angrily.
"If you do, I shall show the king the stripes you have inflicted upon my back," she threatened.
"Oh!" The Countess of Welk collapsed into a chair, her countenance pale, her hand fluttering over her heart.
"Now look what you have done to your mother," the earl said.
"She is only surprised that I have spoken up as she has herself longed to do all these years of her marriage to you, my lord," Bess bluntly told her father. "Please, sir, be fair. Charlie has never before sought to wed a lady. He loves me enough to ask the king's aid in making our dream come true. We love one another."
"Are you with child?" her father demanded angrily.
"Oh!" The Countess of Welk closed her eyes in despair.
"What?" Bess looked astounded at her father's words.
"Have you allowed this Stuart bastard liberties?" her father said. "Have you lain with him? My question is plainspoken, girl."
"Your query is outrageous and insulting, sir," Bess said. "I have not allowed the duke any liberties. Nor have I shamed myself or him by behaving in a wanton manner, laying with him without benefit of clergy. How dare you even suggest such a thing, my lord!"
"I am your sire, and it is my right to make certain that you are chaste, particularly here at court, where gossip can ruin a maid's reputation even if it isn't the truth," the earl replied. "I only seek to protect you, Bess. You are my youngest child."
"I thank you for your concern, my lord," Bess said dryly. "Now with your permission I must return to St. James. The queen allowed me but two hours away, and my time grows short." She curtsied and departed her parents.
Having no choice, the Earl and Countesss of Welk grudgingly accepted their daughter's decision in the matter. Charles Frederick Stuart and Elizabeth Anne Lightbody were married in the king's own chapel at Windsor Castle on the third day of May in the year 1639. They had withdrawn immediately from the court, visiting only rarely thereafter, content to remain in the countryside at Queen's Malvern, Charlie's estate. And to everyone's surprise, the ebulient and charming not-so-royal Stuart was a loyal and devoted husband.
"What color thread?" the duke asked his wife in response to her request.
"Whatever you can find," Bess said. "But try and find some light color. There will be black for certain, for these Puritans are forever mending their garments until they are more thread than fabric. However, try and find something light," Bess instructed him.
"Can I go to Worcester with you, Papa?" the duke's eldest son, Frederick, asked his father.
"I should welcome your company, Freddie," his father replied.
"When?" the boy queried.
"In a few days' time," the duke promised.
"Let me go too," Autumn said. "I'm so bored."
"Nay," her brother said. "It is not safe on the road for a young woman these days, sister."
"I could dress like a boy," Autumn answered him.
"No one, little sister, would ever mistake you for a boy," Charlie said, his eyes lingering a long moment on his sister's shapely young bosom. "It would be impossible to disguise those treasures, Autumn. Like our mother, you have been generously endowed by nature."
"Don't be vulgar, Charlie," she snapped at him.
Bess giggled, unable to help herself. Then, managing to control herself, she said, "We'll find something fun to do, sister, while Charlie is in Worcester. The apples are ready to press, and we can help with the cider making. Sabrina loves cider making."
"Your daughter is nine, Bess. At nine little girls love just about everything. Why did the pocky Parliament have to behead King Charles and declare this commonwealth? I want to go to court, but there can be no court without a king. God's blood, I hope your cousin young King Charles comes home to rule us soon! Everyone I speak to is sick unto death of Master Cromwell and his ilk. Why doesn't someone behead him? They called old King Charles a traitor, but it seems to me that those who murder God's chosen monarch are the real traitors."
"Autumn!" her brother pleaded, anguished.
"Oh, no one is listening, Charlie," Autumn said airily.
He shook his head wearily. He had never thought when his mother asked him to allow Autumn to visit this summer that she would prove to be such a handful. He kept thinking of her as his baby sister, but as she had so succinctly pointed out to him earlier, she was going to be nineteen in another month's time. He wondered why his mother and stepfather had not found a suitable husband for Autumn; but then he remembered the difficulties they had had marrying off his two elder sisters. And who the hell was there in the eastern Highlands for the Duke of Glenkirk's daughter to marry? Autumn had needed to go to court, but these last years of civil war had made such a visit impossible, and then his Uncle Charles had been executed. Now what English court there was existed in exile, sometimes in France, sometimes in Holland. He didn't know what they were going to do with this sister, but he suspected they had better do it soon, for Autumn was ripe for bedding and could easily find her way into mischief.
The day he had planned on going to Worcester a messenger from Glenkirk arrived before dawn. It was early October. The clansman had had a difficult time eluding the parliamentary forces in Scotland but, moving with great caution, he had finally managed to cross over the border. From there he had made his way easily to Queen's Malvern. Grim-faced and obviously quite exhausted, he told the duke his news was for Lady Autumn first. The duke sent for his wife and sister, who came quickly, still in her dressing gown, hearing her visitor was a Glenkirk man.
"Ian More! Has my father sent you to escort me home?" Autumn asked excitedly. "How is my mother? 'Tis good to see one of our own."
Wordlessly—and, the duke noted, with tears in his eyes—the messenger handed the letter to Autumn. "'Tis from yer mam, m'lady."
Eagerly Autumn broke the seal of the missive and opened it. Her eyes scanned the parchment, her face growing paler as her eyes flew over the written words, a cry of terrible anguish finally escaping her as she slumped against her brother, obviously terribly distraught, the letter slipping from her hand to fall to the carpet. She was shaking with emotion.
The clansman picked up the parchment, handing it to the duke, who now had an arm about his sister. Charlie quickly read his mother's words to her daughter, his handsome face contorting in a mixture of sorrow and anger. Finally laying aside the letter, he said to the clansman, "You will remain until you are rested, Ian More, or does my mother wish you to stay in England?"
"I'll go back as soon as the beast and I have had a few days' rest, m'lord. Forgive me for being the bearer of such woeful tidings." "Stable your horse, and then go to the kitchens for your supper. Smythe will find you a place to sleep," the duke told the messenger. Then he turned to comfort his sister, who had begun to weep piteously.
"What is it?" Bess asked her husband, realizing that the news the Glenkirk man had brought was very serious.
"My f-father i-is d-d-dead!" Autumn sobbed. "Ohh, damn Master Cromwell and his parliamentary forces to hell!" She pulled from her brother's gentle embrace and ran from the family hall where they had been seated.
"Oh, Charlie, I am so sorry!" Bess said. She looked after her young sister-in-law. "Shall I go after her?"
The duke shook his head. "Nay. Autumn considers such a public show of emotion on her part a weakness. She has been that way since her childhood. She will want to be alone."
"What happened?" Bess queried her husband.
"Jemmie Leslie died at Dunbar in defense of my cousin, King Charles. He should not have gone, not at his age, not with the history of misfortune the Stuarts always seem to visit on the Leslies of Glenkirk, but you know what an honorable man he was. He has paid for his loyalty with his life. Mama writes that she will come to England before winter to live in the dower house at Cadby, which is hers. She asks that Autumn remain with us, or go to Henry until she comes. My half-brother, Patrick Leslie, is devastated by his papa's death, and chary of the responsibilites he must now take on as Glenkirk's new master. Mama feels he will better assume those obligations if she is not there for him to fall back upon. She is right, of course."
"But how will she be able to travel under the circumstances?" Bess fretted.
Excerpted from Intrigued by Bertrice Small Copyright © 2001 by Beatrice Small. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Bertrice Smallhas written thirty novels of historical romance and two erotic novellas. She is a New York Times bestselling author and the recipient of numerous awards. In keeping with her profession, Bertrice Small lives in the oldest English-speaking town in the state of New York, founded in 1640. Her light-filled studio includes the paintings of her favorite cover artist, Elaine Duillo, and a large library—but no computer as she works on an IBM Quietwriter 7. Her longtime assistant, Judy Walker, types the final draft. Because she believes in happy endings, Bertrice Small has been married to the same man, her hero, George, for thirty-eight years. They have a son, Thomas, a daughter-in-law, Megan, and two adorable grandchildren, Chandler David and Cora Alexandra. Longtime readers will be happy to know that Nicki the Cockatiel flourishes along with his fellow housemates, Pookie, the long-haired greige and white, Honeybun, the petite orange lady cat with the cream-colored paws, and Finnegan, the black long-haired baby of the family, who is almost two.
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