One Moonlit Nightby Samantha James
New York Times bestselling author Samantha James has captured the hearts of readers everywhere with her dramatic love stories of fiery passion, intense emotion, and unforgettable sensuality. Now, Samantha has created a spellbinding romance between two people whose passion defies all logic--yet cannot be denied.
Forced to leave her home in the vicarage, proud and resolute Olivia Sherwood has hired on at Ravenwood Hall, where preparation for the new earl's arrival is underway. At first glance, Olivia stands transfixed by the dashing gallant with eyes dark and gleaming in the moonlight. Though his origins are shadowed in secrets, and Olivia knows better than to trust a man she's never met, she is intoxicated by him.
Crossing the threshold of his new home, Dominic St. Bride, the Earl of Ravenwood, sees suspicion in the faces of everyone surrounding him--for his staff knows of his illegitimate birth and dubious background. Yet, the radiant face of a beautiful servant intrigues him. Although the familiar wariness flares in her eyes, Dominic senses a smoldering desire there as well, and he determines to claim her. But can his passionate soul win the unlikely devotion of a defiant maid--thereby redeeming him with her unconditional love?
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Ravenwood Hall, 1821
"He's a Gypsy, you know, Olivia" There was an elbow in her ribs. "The devil's own."
In her own mind, Olivia had begun to call him that the very day she'd been hired on at Ravenwood Hall. No doubt the others here in the household did too, for that was what he was. The old earl's bastard son ...
Dominic St. Bride.
Olivia smiled politely, reaching for the yeasty chunk of bread that was her meal. As a man of God, her dearest papaGod rest his soulhad always regarded gossip as a grievous sin. No doubt Papa would have chastised her for even listening. Still, Olivia could not help it. Lord knew she harbored no affection for the Gypsiesnay, not after what had happened to Papayet she could not help it. She was intensely curious about the new master of Ravenwood.
A number of the servants had clustered together in the kitchen to take their noonday meal.
Franklin, the butler, raised bushy gray brows. "Langstonhe's the butler at the London town house, y' knowsaid he's a brooding sort. And he sleeps with his window open, even in the dead of winter!"
"Oh, he'll be a cruel master, no doubt." This came from Mrs. Thompson, the pastry cook. From the look of her, she often indulged in that at which she excelled. Her belly was round as her bottom, but Olivia had heard Franklin say there was no finer pastry cook outside of London.
Charlotte, ayoung girl who'd just recently come from Ireland, made the sign of the cross. Doe-soft brown eyes were as wide as a full moon.
"No different than the other, the old earl," chimed in another with a grimace. "How I wish he would remain in London!"
Franklin shook his head. "I still cannot believe the old earl fathered no other sons. Can you imagine? Three wives and all barren."
"P'rhaps it was him, and not his wives. Did ye ever think o' that?" This came from the cook.
"He did take to his wine rather fondly his last years"
"His last years? Why, the last decade, I daresay! Mildred, who's cousin to his London stable master, said he was in his cups from the day he went and fetched the boy from his Gypsy mother!"
Franklin nodded. "They say he could barely stand to look upon the boy. Why, it wasn't until his will was read that anyone realized he'd legitimized the boy's birth years ago."
"Aye," said the gardener. "It was only after he buried his last wife that he went after the boy. But the earl had to legitimize the little Gypsy's birth, for who else would inherit? Other than the Gypsy, a far-distant cousin was his only blood relativeand she is nearly as old as he was."
"But the title wouldn't have passed to her anyway. Besides," said Glory, one of the upstairs maids, "the old earl wasn't particularly fond of her."
"The old earl was not particularly fond of anyone!"
This last was followed by a rowdy burst of laughter from the group assembled.
Cook placed stout hands on her hips. Her gaze traveled from one to the other. "How can ye laugh?" she demanded. "A Gypsy now carries the title! And we'd best pay him the proper respect, else he'll likely cast a spell on us the way his mother did to his father!"
The laughter abruptly ceased.
"Oh, come now. That's rubbish!"
"'Tis not. Why, I heard the earl ravin' about it meself as he lay dying! The Gypsy witch cursed him. She said he'd have no children save the one she carried in her belly!"
"'E's a handsome enough devil or so I've heard," said Enid, one of the chambermaids. Enid was rather pretty, with round blue eyes and curling blonde hair.
"Oh, but 'e's a wild one. Why, he was from the moment the old earl laid hands on 'im. Refused to stay in school, as I recall. The little wretch persisted in running awayI remember quite distinctly. And now that he's grown, it seems all he's interested in is gambling and whor" The man hastily revised his words. "and women. He's always taken a particular likin' to the ladies, if ye know wot I mean. Why, the women he's left behind ... a duchess and a countess, I've heard. And at least two opera singers. I hear of late he's been taken with the actress Maureen Miller. Oh, yes, he's quite notorious, for he's trampled many a female heart."
Olivia's mouth turned down. Already she disliked himnot only was he a Gypsy, he was a profligate scoundrelthe veriest womanizer!
"That's certainly nothing wot's changed," added another chambermaid. "Why, he did that long before the old earl died! My mum, she lives in Londonshe used to send me the dailies. Why, no doubt 'tis what sent the earl into apoplexy?
"His father threatened to cut him off many a time, but 'tis said the Gypsy cared not a whit!" came the rejoinder.
"Yes, but now he's coming here and I daresay we'd best be prepared." Franklin rose to his feet. "We've dallied long enough, ladies and gents. Let us return to our work."
Franklin, an austere-looking presence with his gaunt frame and immense height, was a mellow, gentle soulthough he did harbor a tendency to gossip. But he didn't let his position in the household sway him from associating with the rest of the staff; he was always ready with a smile and a greeting, for even the lowliest scullery maid. Olivia liked him; she liked that he didn't consider himself above the rest of them.
But the housekeeper, Mrs. Templeton, was another matter altogether. Her manner was brittle, as brittle as her features. Olivia was convinced that if she deigned to smile, her face would surely shatter into a hundred pieces. Nor did she look at one. She glowered. She did not ask. She demanded. Nor did she tell. She snapped, like the lash of a whip.
Rising to her feet, Olivia brushed the crumbs from the starched white apron which covered her drab black gown. These last days had been a flurry of activity ... and all because of the imminent arrival of the Gypsy.
Olivia had lived all her life in the village of Stonebridge. She'd never met James St. Bride, the old earl, though she'd seen him occasionally, riding down the lane or trotting his horse through the village. He bestowed neither smile nor greeting but rarely. As vicar, Papa had naturally had dealings with him occasionally. One of the few times that Olivia remembered Papa being angry was just after he'd come from Ravenwood Hall; he'd asked the earl for monetary assistance in repairing the church roof, which had begun to leak most abominably.
The earl had refused. So it was that Olivia's only impression of him was scarcely flattering; in her mind, he had been a cold, selfish man who guarded both his money and his privacy with an iron fist.
Ravenwood Hall sat high upon a hill north of the village, a lofty, majestic sentinel of stone and brick and mullioned windows. Since the old earl had not spent much time at Ravenwood the last five years, much of the hall had been closed up; only a handful of servants had remained during that time. Even when the old earl had taken ill nearly two years ago, he hadn't returned to his ancestral home. He'd spent his last days at his London town house.
But Olivia had dallied a moment too long. She was one of the last to rise from the long oaken worktable; it was at precisely that moment that Mrs. Templeton entered the kitchen.
Her icy gaze lit straight upon Olivia. "Oh, but I should have known!" The older woman made no attempt to disguise the rancor in her tone. "I knew I'd not get a day's work out of you, young miss! Unfortunately, I had no choice but to hire you!"
Olivia was well aware what she referred to. Nearly a month ago, the Gypsy had sent word that he would reopen Ravenwood Hall. The village had been all abuzz with the news, but few were interested in hiring on at the Hall. Stonebridge residents were wary of the new master of Ravenwood Hall. To them he was an outsider ... a Gypsy.
But the wages offered were too good for Olivia to ignore. Papa had never been terribly good at managing his affairs, but there had been some money left after his death, enough to last almost half a year, thank heaven. It had been a difficult time; Papa's deaththe way he had diedhad been a blow. Not only that, there was Emily's affliction to contend with ... But now the time had come when funds were scarce, and she must make a living for them both. So it was that she needed the money a position at Ravenwood offered ... needed it desperately.
Mrs. Templeton was still in a tirade. "No doubt you think that you, a gentlewoman, are above the rest of us. But I'm warning you, Miss Olivia Sherwood, do not make me regret it!"
Two bright spots of color stained Olivia's cheeks. Her face was burning, for several of the servants had paused in the doorway. They watched, their mouths all agog. She was only barely able to hold her tongue, yet she shuddered to think what would happen if she were without employment.
Instead she held her head high. Calmly she said, "I regret that you feel that way, Mrs. Templeton. I assure you, I am well aware of my place in the household. Indeed, I am fully prepared to do as you wish."
Her quiet dignity only seemed to infuriate Mrs. Templeton further. Her lips barely moved as she said, "'Tis good that you feel that way, Miss Sherwood, for I should like you to clean and polish the grand staircase. And you'll not be dismissed until it is done to my satisfaction."
The grand staircase was immense. Midway, it divided in two, leading upward to each wing of the house ... Why, no doubt it would take her hours to finish ... Her heart sank. Bravely she resisted the temptation to glare at her tormentor. Instead she inclined her head and left. From the beginning, Mrs. Templeton hadn't liked her. Olivia had seen it in her eyes. Indeed, she was surprised she hadn't been made a scullery maid.
Charlotte was waiting just around the next corner. She lightly touched her arm. "Don't worry, Olivia. She's always been like that, or so I'm told. She's at odds with the world, and all in it."
Olivia gave her a weak smile. "And I thought it was me."
Moments later, she carried a generous supply of cloths and beeswax into the entrance hall. Determinedly she began the herculean task. On the other side of the staircase the yellow orb of the sun could be seen. Olivia tried to ignore the sun's reflection as it slipped beyond the horizon.
Time dragged. The clock below tolled the hour of ten. Olivia had just reached the landing where the staircase separated when a shadow fell over her. Pushing a stray wisp of golden-russet hair from her cheek, she glanced up.
Thankfully, it was only Charlotte. "I've come to 'elp ye," Charlotte said promptly.
Olivia got to her feet with a shake of her head. "Charlotte, no! Mrs. Templeton will be angry if she finds you here."
"And if she does, I'll 'ave to tell 'er that what I does on me own time is my business and none o' hers."
Reaching out, Olivia straightened Charlotte's cap, for it was ever askew.
"I'm touched that you should offer, but this is my work, not yours, Charlotte."
"Come now," Charlotte said crisply. "Ye've your sister to attend to at home. Indeed, ye should be on your way 'ome to 'er this very instant."
Olivia arched a slender brow. "And you should be at home with your son." Charlotte was three and twenty, not so much older than she, but she had a seven-year-old little boy, Colin. Colin's father had died, and times were hard in Ireland. For that reason, Charlotte and her mother had moved to Englandand Yorkshire.
"And me mum can take care of 'im as well as I. Indeed, p'rhaps better, for she raised fourteen of her own!" Charlotte gave her a lopsided grin.
Olivia sighed. There would be no arguing with Charlottethat was very clear. Handing her a rag, she whispered her thanks.
And indeed, it proceeded much faster with Charlotte's help. An hour later, she gently touched Charlotte's shoulder. "You've done enough, Charlotte. Please, I beg of you, go home to your little one." Charlotte opened her mouth to argue, but Olivia was quicker. She pointed to the last ten-foot section. "Look, that's all that remains. I can have that done in no time. Besides, if you stay and Mrs. Templeton finds you here, she'll have both our hides, and I don't want that on my conscience."
Charlotte bit her lip, then got to her feet. Olivia gave her a hasty embrace. "I can't thank you enough, Charlotte. Should you ever need anything, you have only to ask."
Charlotte's departure was well-timed. Olivia had scarcely finished the last stroke than Mrs. Templeton climbed the grand staircase. She ran a finger along the polished cherrywood and held it high before her nose, looking for dust; those small brown eyes missed nary a thing. Olivia held her breath anxiously, until at last Mrs. Templeton reached her.
The woman delivered neither praise nor reprimand. When she spoke, her tone was as sour as her disposition. "You may go," was all she said.
Olivia muttered a hurried thank you. Only when she had fled around the corner did she release a pent-up sigh of relief.
The house was dark as a tomb. In Olivia's mind, the name "Ravenwood" had always conjured up images that were dark and sinister. But that was before she had ever set foot inside the Hall. It had been a pleasant surprise to discover that Ravenwood Hall was lovely beyond measure. There were windows everywhere, filling the spacious rooms with light and a golden warmth that seemed wholly at odds with its name. Even as she shivered, curiously the house seemed almost hauntingly lonely.
Her footsteps echoed on the polished floor as she hurried toward the rear entrance near the kitchen. No one else was about. Many of the servants had beds in the servants' quarters, one floor below. A few, like her and Charlotte, lived in the village.
She winced a little as her hand closed around the doorknob. She'd spent all day yesterday scrubbing floors, hauling bucket after bucket to the third floor. Her shoulders and back still ached abominably, and half a dozen blisters had formed on each palm. Her fingers felt stiff and swollen from clutching the polishing cloth.
She trudged down the long, curving lane that led to the road. She knew there would be no extra wages for her efforts this nightoh, to be so blessed!
A melancholy sadness seeped into her heart. She blinked back the foolish tears which threatened to come, for the time to weep was long past. There was a part of her that still could not believe Papa was goneand Mama, too. Yet she had only to stare into Emily's vague, sightless eyes to know it was true.
A chill breeze caught her full in the face, rousing her from her doleful mood. She drew her cloak more tightly around her shoulders. The hour was late, near midnight, she suspected.
A low mist had begun to cling to the ground. Here the forest nearly trespassed upon the roadway. Gnarled branches twisted and turned overhead, mingling with one another in a dance that was somehow almost macabre.
She chided herself. The dark was playing havoc with her mind. Stonebridge was a small, quiet community. There was naught to fear here. Indeed, the most shocking event of the decade had been the murder of her fatherand the guilty man had been quickly apprehended and punished.
Still she could not banish the twinge of uneasiness that seized her. She moved to the center of the rutted roadway. Once she'd gained the next curve, the village was just over the next rise.
She felt it first ... the rumble of the earth beneath her feet. Her head came up. A strangled cry caught in her throat. A coach and four had just rounded the corner. It lumbered toward her, coming closer ... ever closer. The jangle of the harness reached her ears. She fancied she could hear the labored breathing of the massive beasts. Panic rose. Didn't the coachman see her?
It would seem not. Olivia dove to the side of the road just as the coach thundered by.
Branches scraped against her cheek. She landed hard upon her shoulder, jarring the breath from her lungs, and skidded across uneven ground until she rolled to a halt. Though her head was reeling, she was dimly aware of a shout. Stunned, she lay there, trying desperately to recover her breath. She was only half-aware that the coach had stopped. Struggling to her knees, she passed a hand across her eyes.
It was then that she saw it ... a huge beast hurtling toward her. She gave a strangled cry and flung up a hand, but it was no use. A tremendous force crashed into her chest. She was knocked to her back once again. For the second time in as many moments, the breath was knocked from her. Too stunned to move, to even scream, she stared straight into the gaping jaws of certain death.
There was no help for it. Fear wrapped a stranglehold around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and let loose of a scream then, certain she would be this monster's next meal ...
There was the crunch of gravel beneath booted feet.
"He's harmless," a disembodied male voice assured her, even as a warm, wet tongue lapped her cheek, "utterly harmless."
Her scream died in her throat. Olivia opened her eyes. From out of the shadows a towering form had appeared. It appeared he was dressed entirely in black.
A shiver touched her spine. Infinitely more frightening than thisthis beastly mongrel was its master ...
She stared into eyes as black as the devil's soul. Numbly she realized that it was he ...
Meet the Author
It was Samantha James's love of reading as a child that steered her toward a writing career. Among her favorites in those days were the Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames series of books. She still loves a blend of mystery and romance, and, of course, a happily-ever-after ending. The award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many romances and one novella, her books have ranged from medieval to Regency.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I truly loved this book. I have read it several times.
My friend bought me this book for my birthday and at first I was like really? But I thought I would give it a shot and loved it. Im not much of a book reader but I loved it. I would highly recommend it if you like a good romance novel!
This book was not very original. The virgin vs cad bit is worn out and downright annoying. The gypsy part was ok.
This book had my friend and I raving!! Gypsy's are hot and a gypsy who has power is even hotter, especially in the hands of Samantha James whose writing has befuddled my imagination and got me started on loving Historical Romance novels.
This book was a really great book! I didn't think it would be that good when I bought it but, I was suprised. I really liked the characters. A lot of reviews I read always boast about a book being great but this one truely was and if you read it you will not be disappointed......one of the few that honestly deserve 5 stars