The Marriage Contractby Cathy Maxwell
He was a man exiled from society - handsome, unpredictable, and proud. Dark rumours surrounded his name. But Anne Burnett had signed a marriage contract binding her to Aiden Black, the Earl of Tiebauld. And although she′d never met him, she′s determined to keep her word and make theirs a marriage in truth. Because a well-bred… See more details below
He was a man exiled from society - handsome, unpredictable, and proud. Dark rumours surrounded his name. But Anne Burnett had signed a marriage contract binding her to Aiden Black, the Earl of Tiebauld. And although she′d never met him, she′s determined to keep her word and make theirs a marriage in truth. Because a well-bred lady with little fortune to recommend her has no choice.
From the moment she arrived, Anne fell in love with Kelwin Castle and its roguishly handsome laird. By day, he instils a fierce loyalty in his people with his masterful ways...and by night, he tempts Anne to surrender her innocence to him. But while he is willing to offer his body, Aiden refuses to give Anne his heart...making her wonder what prevents him from truly claiming her as his wife.
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It rained almost every day of the trip from London up into Scotland. Side roads were mired with mud up to a man's knees, damp spring weather chilled a person to the bone, a broken coach wheel waylaid them for three days, bad food and uncomfortable beds met them at every stop-and Anne loved it all. This was the great adventure of her life.
She rode in Lady Waldo's well-sprung coach with the Waldo coat of arms on the door and enjoyed the attention she received in passing villages. She'd not had so much freedom since her parents were alive and for the first time felt as if she were coming into her own. Marriage was a good thing.
When the "proper" maid Aunt Maeve had hired quit at the Scottish border because she'd decided she wanted nothing to do with "barbarians," Anne wished the servant a good riddance. She would hire a maid when she arrived in Caithness. Meanwhile, Todd, Lady Waldo's coachman, was more than company enough. With the disapproving maid out of the way, his sense of humor and delight in the ridiculous came to the forefront and in spite of class distinctions he and Anne became co-explorers of the sights along the way.
Scotland's beauty was beyond anything Anne could have imagined. She felt at home in the rugged landscape, the tall mountains, and green valleys. 'Twas was like discovering Paradise. She reveled in the isolation of the wild, untamed highlands.
Yes, the people could be standoffish, especially when they heard her English accent-but she quickly discovered that they could be generous, good-humored, and fair.
But sooner or later, they had to reach their destination. Still, Anne was not prepared when Toddcheerily informed her two days out of Inverness, "We're within two days' drive from Caithness. Mayhap one if I push it. We've got nice weather for travel, too. I like seeing a bit of sun."
In the act of boarding the coach, Anne froze. 'What did you say?"
"I said the weather's clearing --"
"No, about arriving in Caithness today."
Todd's proud grin in his wizened face made him look a bit like a happy monkey. "I knew you'd be pleased for the news, Lady Tiebauld."
"But I thought we'd have several days, maybe a week longer.
He shook his head as if confused about where she could ever have gained such a notion. "No, the road between here and Caithness is good. It follows the coast. You'll enjoy the view, although I'd best keep my mind on the horses."
"Oh. Yes." Anne's stomach twistedanxiety.Tomorrow ... maybe today.
She was tempted to turn tail and follow the snooty maid's trail back to London But she couldn't. She had nowhere to go. Uncle Robert and Aunt Maeve wouldn't want her back and her cousins would all laugh at her.
A moment later, Todd took all choice away when, with a snap of the reins and a happy whistle, he set the horses on the road.How in the world was she going to break the news to her husband that they were married? How would she introduce herself?
The questions she should have considered earlier chased round and round in her. head. She shunned the breathtaking cliff view of the North Sea crashing on rocks by dropping the canvas shade down over the window. She pulled the miniature and her marriage papers out of her embroidered purse. She'd rarely looked at either since leaving London, assuming she would worry about the matter tomorrow. Now, tomorrow was here.
With the avid attention of a legal clerk, she pored over each word of the contract-and found no answers as to how to smooth the initial introductions. She studied the miniature, trying to decipher the mysteries of her husband's personality. Was he kind? Gentle? Understanding?
The tiny painting gave away no secrets.
And what of the carnal side of marriage? Would he expect her in his bed the first night? She knew she must consummate the marriage. It was her bargain with Lady Waldo. But what if he took one look at her and sent her packing?
The possibility made Anne's blood turn cold ... especially -since her knowledge of the intimacies between men and women was sketchy at best. What really did go on behind closed doors?
Worse, she'd been lazy this morning and worn her hair down with a simple ribbon. And she would have donned something other than her comfortable blue cambric if she'd thought she was to meet her husband.
Anne pulled the ribbon from her hair and shook hair pins out of her reticule. She'd put it up and then make Todd stop the coach so she could change clothes --
The coach came to an abrupt halt. It started to back up and shake. Todd shouted. Anne lifted the canvas covering the window. On one side of the road, they hovered on a cliff, high above the rocky coastline of the powerful North Sea. To their other side were rough terrain, grouse, and ravines. This didn't seem to be a safe place to fuss with the horses.
At that moment, she heard what sounded like a woman's shriek, and yet it wasn't. She didn't have time to consider the problem before the horses reared, screaming. Todd called them, "bastards.- He struggled to control them. Anne stuffed her mar riage papers back into the purse and leaned against the velvet seats, clutching the miniature in one hand. If Todd didn't get a handle on the horses, they could plunge the coach over the edge of the cliffs.
Todd swore long and colorfully. Anne could imagine him practically standing in the box, pulling on the reins. The coach tilted, almost rolling over. She threw her weight to the other side. She didn't want to die. Not this way...The Marriage Contract. Copyright © by Cathy Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Cathy Maxwell spends hours in front of her computer pondering the question, "Why do people fall in love?" It remains for her the great mystery of life and the secret to happiness. She lives in beautiful Virginia with children, horses, dogs, and cats.
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