It's Always Been Youby Victoria Dahl
Once She Slipped Through His Fingers. . .
Aidan York has spent ten years mourning the woman he once loved and lost. He's filled the void in the only way he knows-by distracting himself with wild behavior and scandalous trysts. It's a hollow existence, but it dulls the pain. Until the day he encounters a ghost: the woman he thought drowned at sea, alive/b>
Once She Slipped Through His Fingers. . .
Aidan York has spent ten years mourning the woman he once loved and lost. He's filled the void in the only way he knows-by distracting himself with wild behavior and scandalous trysts. It's a hollow existence, but it dulls the pain. Until the day he encounters a ghost: the woman he thought drowned at sea, alive and as enchanting as ever. . .
Now He'll Keep Her In His Arms. . .
When Kate Hamilton sees the man she once hoped to spend her life with, she is hit with a storm of memories and longing. But though resisting Aidan's passion proves impossible, Kate must try not to love him all over again. For her seemingly quiet London life shields a dangerous secret, one that will catch up to her the moment she lets herself fall. . .
Praise for A Little Bit Wild
"The classic Beauty and the Beast tale is twisted into something new. . . funny and unlike the others." –Publishers Weekly
"A sharp and sassy romance, with a unique blend of an original, quick story and romantic characters." RT Book Reviews
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- 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)
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It's Always Been You
By Victoria Dahl
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Victoria Dahl
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKingston-upon-Hull, England September 1849
"Thank you, Mr. York. It's been a pleasure, sir. A pleasure."
Aidan York smiled grimly at the florid-faced squire. The hard, hot spark in the man's eyes couldn't truly be described as pleasure. The emotion was closer to abject relief. The man had invested all his income in a ship, and rough seas had brought him to ruin soon after.
Aidan inclined his head. "The money will be delivered to your representative this afternoon."
"Thank you." The man bowed with a jerk. "Thank you, sir."
Even as Aidan nodded, he turned away, his mind already moving on to other ventures. If he departed Hull before nightfall, he'd be back in London and on the hunt for a buyer before the ship's repairs were even started. A thousand pounds profit within a fortnight, if he calculated correctly—and he always did. Not a bad morning's work.
Stepping off the walk and onto the cobblestones of the street, he barely noticed the beauty of the scene that spread before him. Kingston-upon-Hull was a bustling river port—the clean streets and quaint lanes of the old town were crowded with goodwives and servants, sailors and merchants, all industriously occupied. Several faces turned up to look at the sky just as the sun broke through the clouds. Aidan did not look. There were arrangements to be made, deals to be brokered. The weather concerned him not at all, unless, of course, it affected the shipping schedule.
Outpacing the crowd swirling around him, he turned right to head toward the docks and the small office he'd let there. But his rush was interrupted when he found himself on a narrow lane that was even more crowded than the last. Unable to bear the slower pace, he bit back a growl and searched the lane, looking for an opening, a break in the crowd.
His eyes caught for a moment, moved on, then blinked as something clicked with razor sharpness in his mind. A tightness in his chest struck him, immediately familiar regardless that it had been years since he'd last felt it. Before he could think to resist the urge, he began a quick study of the people in front of him. Women, men, children. He shifted through them like cards at a table.
There. A woman walked far ahead, her dark green skirt kicking out slightly with each step she took. The plain wool fabric of the dress revealed nothing; her hair and face were completely concealed from his gaze by a rather large, very plain hat.
Aidan frowned at the way his pulse leapt. He was being ridiculous. Pitiful. But his eyes followed with close intent, taking in the details of this stranger. The line of her shoulder, the tilt of her head.
Sneering, he cursed himself for the terrible hope that bloomed in his chest. Even if there were something familiar in her walk, it certainly was not Katie.
He swallowed hard and forced himself to look away.
He had not done this in years. Had, in fact, thought he'd left this stupid impulse well behind him. Still, his pulse stuttered and his cheeks betrayed him with a hot flush. His gaze jumped back to search her out. As if in a trance, he slowed his pace and watched the woman stop to unlock a cheerfully blue door. She left it open to the cool day and disappeared inside.
One step out of the flow of traffic, Aidan studied the building. Just a small, tidy row of shops. The sign above the door she'd entered read HAMILTON COFFEES.
Perhaps the woman was Mrs. Hamilton. She certainly wasn't Katie. It never was and never would be. He'd known that long enough that it shouldn't hurt anymore, but somehow he still felt that ache in his throat. His lips thinned at the idea of grief. Even his sorrow had finally come under his control in the past few years. He could not let it loose again.
Inhaling slowly, he focused on the heavy smell of the shipyard that hovered over the whole town. Water and tar and wood. He closed his eyes and listened for the incessantly screaming gulls. They sounded as much like money to him as any pile of clinking gold.
When he opened his eyes, he was calmer. The blue door was just a door. The shop was just a shop. At some point, the woman would appear again. She'd step outside for a breath of fresh air or to sweep dust from the walk. And she'd be a woman, not a ghost. Then he could walk away and send the past back to hell where it belonged.
He waited. Waited as carriages and carts rumbled by, blocking his view for torturous seconds, waited as a rotund woman entered that dark doorway, then left again with a small package. He waited until the pressing urge lifted, and he knew he could move on. He didn't need to see the mysterious woman again.
She was not Katie.
Aidan turned away from the shop and walked in the other direction.
"Penrose," Aidan grunted.
Penrose appeared in the doorway that separated the two spare rooms they'd rented for the week. "Sir?"
His secretary reappeared a moment later with a small stack of letters. "Shall I arrange passage back to London for this evening, sir?"
Aidan meant to say yes. He was done here. He should've left already.
He eyed the letter on top of the pile, recognizing his brother's handwriting. "Give me a moment," he said instead of offering a real answer. Penrose disappeared. He was good at that.
Fully aware that he was using the letter to procrastinate, Aidan sliced through the seal and unfolded the paper. As a tool, the note proved ineffectively short. A few pleasantries and news of his sister's honeymoon trip. And then a warning that their mother was planning another house party. "Cousin Harry has hinted that he may marry soon, and Mother insists he will need an audience when he announces his betrothal. She seems unconcerned that Harry has yet to reveal which lady has caught his eye. One can only pray she invites the right family."
Aidan managed a smile at that, though the idea of another trip home filled him with dread. He loved his family more than anything in the world, but they knew him too well. Whenever he was home, they watched him with wary sadness. They loved him, but they wanted the old Aidan back.
He sighed and rubbed a hand over his skull.
He wasn't a boy anymore. He was past thirty-one, his brown hair already starting the march toward gray at his temples. You'd think they would take the hint that he'd never be that boy again.
Granted, he was no longer grief-stricken and angry. But he could not seem to rid himself of the space in his chest that left his heart knocking hollowly around.
Aidan folded the letter from his brother and halfheartedly cursed the day he'd met Katie Tremont. Given the choice, he could not say with any honesty whether he'd take back the joy of having loved her just to have peace. He probably would. A few months of tortured happiness were not worth years spent grieving, not unless one had an ambition to take up poetry.
But, at the time ... My God, at the time he would have sworn her kiss worth risking death itself. A smile tugged at his mouth at the melodramatic thought. He'd been only twenty-one, after all, and head-over-heels in love with her. "Christ," he murmured as he made himself pick up the second letter. This was good news. Rumors of a warehouse fire in Calais were confirmed, but his buildings had been spared. His business would profit by the wounding of others, and that bothered him not in the least. If it had been his buildings lying in ash, his competitors would snatch up his profits with clawed hands before the timbers had cooled.
Tragedy always benefited someone in the end. Hadn't he taken his share of the benefit from Kate's death?
"Penrose," he said hoarsely, ignoring the ice that crawled along his neck, "you reviewed the letter from Augustine?"
"I did. Excellent news."
"Indeed. Renegotiate the terms with Coxhill for the brandy. Supply will be limited for the quarter at least."
The slim young man paused, midturn, before spinning back toward Aidan.
"Find out which trains are leaving for London tonight. But ... don't book our passage until I return."
Penrose didn't even blink at the odd change of plans. "Of course, Mr. York."
Aidan had to return to the shop. He thought he'd successfully exorcised all his love for Katie, all his grief. It had been so long ago ... an eternity.
But now the memories were back. Memories of her easy smile, her wide brown eyes, her soft hands tentatively touching the skin of his chest, his arms ... everywhere. These images still shone clear in his mind though they now had a faintly stale feel—as if they were not real memories, but short vignettes he'd viewed once too often since her death.
He wanted them to fade again. If he didn't walk into that shop, didn't disprove this, she might follow him back to London and stay with him the rest of his life. Unacceptable. His life was just as he wanted it, and he intended for it to remain unchanged. He had a house, money, work to keep him occupied, and bedmates when he wanted them. He didn't need a long-dead love hanging about and complicating things.
Aidan retrieved his hat, angling it low over his eyes as he stepped out into the late sun. He kept his gaze straight ahead and pondered a trip to Italy in the spring. His strength lay in France, but his trips to Italy were becoming more profitable. Though lately, he'd had a good run buying disabled ships like the one he'd purchased this morning. He had money to sink into these projects, after all. Too much money, as he didn't seem to know what to do with it.
He could buy property, and had done. But what was he to do with more land or houses? It was only him, after all. Horses were tempting, but he felt like the worst sort of owner when he found himself with horses he'd never ridden and couldn't even recall purchasing. He cared little for fashion and less for gold and jewels.
No, he didn't need more money, but the triumph of making a profit lured him on. Each dollar made into ten felt like a victory over ... something.
He turned a corner, and there it was, two blocks ahead. His feet wanted to slow, but he kept his pace steady. He wouldn't hesitate before a damned coffee shop as if it were a threat. He'd march straight in and put an end to this farce.
But before he could close the distance, a man in a wine red coat stepped over the threshold of the shop and shut the door behind him.
Aidan stopped, leaned his shoulder against the brick wall of an apothecary, and waited for the chance to put a stop to this.
Chapter TwoGulliver Wilson's gaze slid over her shop, over the long oak counter, the smooth, dark wood of the floor. "You should be more careful," he intoned in his stuffy drawl.
Kate looked down and studied the green wool of her sleeve, willing herself not to lose her temper. "As you say, Mr. Wilson."
"This town is not so quaint as it seems."
"So you've told me." Her wry tone must have bounced off the man's thick head. He only nodded soberly and stroked his chin, eyes still crawling with that assessing squint she'd come to recognize.
"There's no reason to go about town by yourself, Mrs. Hamilton. I'm happy to escort you anywhere you have need to go."
Kate didn't reply to that, she only stared flatly at his pursed lips and wondered when he would leave. These visits were usually mercifully short.
"You may simply send a note 'round."
She continued to ignore him.
"Well ..." He twitched down the hem of his red coat. "I'll check on you tomorrow."
"I assure you that won't be necessary. I am quite capable of looking after myself."
"A woman alone can never be too careful, Mrs. Hamilton."
"My husband would not have sent me ahead if he wasn't sure of my safety. Good day."
"Good day," he snapped before stomping away.
She watched with narrowed eyes until he stepped into the street and closed the door behind him. Irritating little bug. He owned the tobacco shop across the street and kept an eye on her from his desk in the window. Worse, he'd dropped in almost every day for the past two months, looking over her property and her person with an arrogant air. Her nose crinkled with distaste at the thought of his shiny eyes resting on her bosom.
What did he want from her? Perhaps he suspected that there was no Mr. Hamilton and hoped to marry her himself one day. Or he believed that she and her husband were permanently separated and he could become her lover. Whatever he imagined, in his eyes Kate was a woman without a man, and he meant to step in and fill the breach.
"I think not," she muttered with a humorless smile. Gulliver Wilson didn't stand a chance of even taking her for a stroll on the street, much less a run to her bed. The mere thought made her shudder as she went to the counter and pulled her ledgers from their perch beneath it. Freedom was finally hers and she intended to keep it.
She was no longer helpless. She'd opened this store with help from no one—and had turned a profit in less than three months. A soft feeling bloomed inside her at the thought.
She'd never dreamed, not once in the past ten years, that she could be this content. This ... happy. Happy. Was that possible? She hadn't even bothered dreaming of happiness for so long. But she now had a home. She had peace. Self-sufficiency. And anonymity. That was a sort of peace in and of itself.
Kate inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma of roasted beans before letting her breath out in a rush. She loved this place, loved the sharp scent of the room and the rays of the sun creeping over the hard-worn floor. The silence of late-day also gave her time to check her figures and make plans for new shipments.
A few more weeks and winter would arrive. She hoped it would be cold. A bad winter would be good for sales, but that was not the sole reason she wished for cold. It had been years since she'd seen snow—ten endless years—and she'd almost forgotten it. A small flutter touched her belly at the thought she might never have seen winter again. Just the idea of a long life spent in Ceylon disturbed her enough to dry her mouth and tighten her throat.
But there was nothing to fear. She'd left the strange shores of Ceylon far behind her and returned to England as soon as was possible. She'd taken only the money that belonged to her, and a knowledge of coffee she'd managed to gather up in her decade on the island.
Now Ceylon was a world away, and she could only pray it would stay that way. Actually ... she could pray, and she could take every precaution.
She'd lost so many pieces of herself over the years. Some in small bits, and some in great cataclysms that had rocked her to her core. It was as if the very things that made her a person had been removed. Nothing so metaphorical as her heart or her soul, but a very real foundation of stones that held her up. And now, she was carefully piecing those stones back together, with her own hands and her own hard work.
Reassured by the thought, she glanced down to the book she held.
Hamilton Coffees, the engraving read in gold script. The lettering had been a luxury, but she was so pleased with it. She was only Mrs. Hamilton now. She was not Katie Tremont. She was not Katherine Gallow. Just Mrs. Hamilton, an unknown woman with no Christian name. She had no family, no past, no lover, no coffee plantation burying her in heat and deceptions. And no husband who'd ever show up and reclaim her. A perfect life, as far as she was concerned.
And she would let no one take it away from her.
Aidan stopped just inside the doorway of Hamilton Coffees. The afternoon sun shone warm and high, casting the interior of the shop in shadow. Standing silent for a moment, he let his eyes adjust to the dimness of the building and inhaled. The rich scent of coffee gave him a comfortable feeling—a reminder of countless damp days as a child spent watching his father drink his coffee as he reviewed the daily papers and planned his morning.
As his eyes adjusted, Aidan looked about the place. He'd expected a typical coffeehouse, full of tables waiting for customers to stop in and enjoy company and biscuits. Instead, the small space was lined with lidded bins. Labels were attached to each, no doubt a description of the contents. Hamilton Coffees was a coffee merchant, a very profitable position if one knew the market well.
Excerpted from It's Always Been You by Victoria Dahl Copyright © 2011 by Victoria Dahl. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I understand that this is about second chances but the main female character is a ninny and the male is only slightly more likeable. Please authors remember your characters must be likeable.
Got this book because it had 4 stars. Felt like author rushed thur her story. Great love scenes but the whole book was wack. Had to force myself to finish this book
A decade ago Katie Tremont and Aidan York were in love. However, the lovers got into a spat and she left. She traveled by sea far way, but he was told by her parents she died. Aidan was devastated by his loss and how they ended their relationship. He lived to make money and take women. In 1849 in Kingston-Upon-Hull, a stunned Aidan's pulse ignites for the first since she left him as he sees Kate in HAMILTON COFFEES. Irate and feeling inane, he attacks her for her duplicity. Kate asks him to leave insisting she is married with Mr. Hamilton to arrive soon, but she also has not forgotten the only man she ever loved. Calming down, Aidan wants a second chance with his Kate as both struggles with severe trust issues; he fears she will leave and she believes if her secret becomes known he will leave her to face the repercussions alone. This second chance at love Victorian romance is an engaging historical as the lead couple failed with their young love, but hopefully both are wiser and more mature now. However this time tough baggage makes success unlikely. Readers will enjoy Victoria Dahl's warn mid nineteenth century tale due to the fascinating relationship between Kate and Aidan. Harriet Klausner
This kept me engrossed and wondering what the characters were going to do next. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Review by Valerie: Gorgeous cover. Review: Oh, the lost love of youth! This book had me hooked from the very beginning...I wondered to myself...was it because it started with Aidan's glimpse of a woman that reminded him of someone he lost or was it because both Aidan and Kate were fated to be together? Regardless, this is one I devoured in a few hours. Aidan and Kate were young lovers but when she told her father she wanted to marry him, and could marry no one else since she was ruined, a horrible hand was dealt to them both. She was sent away to a tropical island, sold to a man who didn't want her so her father could collect her dowry. Aidan spent his days and nights mourning her death since her family shared the story of how she died tragically at such a young age. Ten years later (be still, my beating heart), he STILL stops each and every time he thinks he might be spotting someone that reminds him of Kate... Kate's version is a tad bit different than her family's. She was sold to a man who didn't want her but also tormented by his stepson who did want her, badly. Trying to make a new life for herself, yet stay safe and away from anyone who might know her, she has opened up a coffee shop using her knowledge from the decade she spent on the island. Watching these two characters reconnect was sizzling and incredibly heartbreaking. While she feels that he betrayed her by never rescuing her, he can't believe she's alive. The biggest twist of all though is that both are hiding a secret. Once the secrets are exposed, how they work through the repercussions kept me flipping the pages as quickly as I could read. Advice: From the very first page I was hooked! Quote: There. A woman walked far ahead, her dark green skirt kicking out slightly with each step she took...Aidan frowned at the way his pulse leapt. Page 2
I liked the first book alot better( A little bit wild ) I hope the 3rd book he this series is alot better ( the story of Edward )