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Just One Kiss
Beacon Hill, 1854
It was too late to turn back.
Odd, that the thought should chain itself in her mind now, when she had come so very far. Indeed, across the vastness of an ocean...
Lady Elizabeth Stanton cast one last, almost pleading glance at the carriage from which she'd just alighted. As she watched the vehicle totter around the comer, a flurry of dust and fallen leaves rose in its wake.
Clutching her reticule, grasping her courage, she turned.
In one sweep, her anxious glance took in the sight before her. Elizabethhelp it. There had been such pride in Nathaniel's voice as he'ddescribed his home to her-and no wonder. She caught her breath, for the house that loomed before her was as grand as Nathaniel had promised. Indeed, she marveled, it was surely the height of Victorian grandeur, as stately as anEnglish country mansion, as elegant as the finest London town house.
An ornate iron fence enclosed the whole of the property, yet despite the stark outline of tree branches and frozen lawn, it was not so very forbidding. Elizabeth could well imagine what it would be like with the bloom and brightness of spring upon its face: buds of flowers and trees stretching toward the sky.
The house itself was gabled and huge. She caught a glimpse of wispy white lace framing wide, stained-glass windows and resisted the urge to curl her white-gloved fingers around the iron and stare in sheer delight. She gave a tiny little laugh. Of course, she was being silly. Nathaniel was a highly successful American shipbuilder. Of course, his home would be beautiful.
As she stood there, a sight to brighten the latewinter twilight, little did she realize the picture she presented. Her traveling dress was of dark a trifle wrinkled perhaps, but the London fashion. Yet it was scarcely her that made her stand out like a jewel among coal...
No, for her coloring was far too striking. Hair as shiny and brightly gold as a newly minted coin lay coiled beneath her hat. Her eyes were the vivid green of an English meadow in spring. No pale, fragile flower was Elizabeth Stanton. Sweet natured though she was, her carnage was one of pride and hinted at hidden strength. Yet all at once, Elizabeth did indeed feel small and gray silk, Of clothing insignificant...and very, very lost.
No, she thought again, grasping for the spirit that had sustained her these many weeks. It was too late to turn back. And she had yearned to see Nathaniel for so long now.
Memories sifted into her mind, one by one. So much had happened, she reflected with a faintly wistful sigh . So very much...
He'd taken London by storm, this brash young American named Nathaniel O'Connor. Handsome as sin, as charming as the Pied Piper of Hamelin, blond and bold and dashing, he was all the rage in London: No fewer than a score of women proclaimed themselves instantly in love with him. But of all the beauties in London, she was the one he pursued.
The one he'd wanted.
He'd been an outrageous flirt, of course. At first Elizabeth had thought his attention to her a grand joke. She was hardly irresistible and most certainly not the type to swoon over a man! Yet secretly she'd been flattered, for indeed, she considered herself no beauty at all! And so she'd teased him as unmercifully as he'd teased her, certain his interest would surely wane.
But over the next few weeks, his interest did not wane. And though she'd always considered herself possessed of a steady, level head, Nathaniel O'Connor proved a temptation she could not resist.
It made her tingle inside to think of him. She remembered the first time he'd kissed her. They'd been dancing at Lord Nelson's birthday celebration, a lively, vivacious waltz that left her breathless and laughing. He whisked her out onto the terrace and onto a small stone bench near the garden. Slowly the laughter left his face. With his fingers he cupped her nape, tilting her face upward. There, with the sweet scent of roses swirling all around, with her heart leaping wildly and her pulse pounding madly in her ears, he'd kissed her a kiss that was something she'd never expected, yet all she wanted.
It wasnt so very long after...
They were sitting in the parlor of her father's London town house. Nathaniel took both her hands in his. "Elizabeth...something's come up, love. I'm afraid I must leave for Boston sooner than I expected."
The day had wrought such awful news already little wonder that Elizabeth gazed at him, stricken. "Oh, Nathaniel, no! When? When must you leave?"
"Tomorrow, love. I said with the morning tide." His hands gripped hers more tightly. "Elizabeth, please. Come away with me ... marry me. Be my wife. I'll make you the happiest woman on this earth, if only you'll consent to be my bride."
Even as Elizabeth's heart soared as high as the stars above, it was burdened by a heaviness she could scarcely put aside.
"Nathaniel. oh, Nathaniel, I want to...you don't know how much! But this day has brought us nothing but heartache! You know that terrible cough that has so troubled Papa these many weeks? Nathaniel, he is gravely.
She was caught squarely between heaven and hell. As the only daughter of the Earl of Chester, how could she leave? Never had she seen Papa so sick so weak! It frightened her. True, he was not alone. He had Gahm, his wife of the past two years. But she, Elizabeth, was his only child, and she could not desert her father! At such a time, her place was at his side.Just One Kiss
. Copyright © by Samantha James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.