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A crackling bolt of silver lightning snaked across the black night sky, and through the heavy rain, Barnaby glanced desperately around, trying to get his bearings, searching frantically for something to use to save himself, but all that met his gaze was roiling seas. There was no land or sign of rescue to be seen. He was going to die, he thought again as the brightness from the lightning vanished and he was left alone in the blackness. Fighting to keep afloat in the churning water, he admitted that there would be some in London who would rejoice at his passing, and heading that list would be his newly met English cousin, Mathew Joslyn.
Mathew had been furious that the title, long considered his, was going to an American and with it the Joslyn family fortune and estates. "A bloody, half-breed colonist, Viscount Joslyn? It is an insult!" Mathew snarled at their first meeting three months ago in October in the London solicitor's office.
Barnaby didn't blame Mathew for being angry. In Mathew's shoes he might have felt the same way, but he wasn't about to allow the slur to pass. "You are mistaken," Barnaby drawled. "It was my grandmother who was half-Cherokee." He smiled, showing his excellent teeth. "But I warn you—you would be wise not to use that term again in my hearing. As for being a colonist ..." His black eyes full of mockery, he continued. "I think you forget that America gained her independence from Britain a decade ago. I am a citizen of the United States."
"Very well," Mathew snapped, his cheeks faintly flushed, "but it is insupportable that someone like you should think to step so easily into command of my great-uncle's estates. Good God, man, you don't know the first thing about running an estate like Windmere. You're little more than a backwoods upstart!"
Barnaby held on to his temper with an effort, thinking that it wouldn't help his cause any if his first act as Lord Joslyn was to throttle his cousin. He took a deep breath and, letting that last comment ride for now, said curtly, "I would remind you that I am not uneducated and that I have been overseeing my own plantation in Virginia for a number of years. I'll grant you that Green Hill is not as vast as Windmere—there will be differences, but I'm quite capable of managing Windmere."
Mathew's lips tightened. "Perhaps, but you are a fool if you think that someone with a grandmother who is a half ... uh, part savage will be eagerly accepted by the ton as Viscount Joslyn."
"Considering the situation with France, you should be more worried about the fact that my grandmother's father was a Frenchman," Barnaby retorted. The expressions of horror on the faces of those present at this new abomination had Barnaby biting the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning. His gaze swept the handsome room, and with his foes momentarily silenced, he rose to his impressive height and walked to the door. His hand on the knob, he looked back at Mathew and said softly, "Upstart I may be, but I've never lived in the backwoods and you, sir, can go hang—and for all I care, take the damn title with you!"
It had been a pleasurable moment, but as he lifted his face above the next wave and the cold seeped deeper into his bones, Barnaby tried to remember the events leading up to his present predicament, but his thoughts were sluggish and erratic. Like a serpent curling around its prey, the icy water was inexorably draining the life from him and with every second, his will to survive wavered.
It would be so easy, so simple, he thought, to let the storm have its way, so easy to stop fighting and allow himself to be pulled down into the depths.... A wave slapped him in the face, startling him and shattering the seductive song of death that crooned in his head.
With a curse, he renewed his struggle to stay afloat in the darkness—if only for a few seconds longer. Ignoring the stinging pain at the back of his head, he vaguely remembered freeing his knife fastened at his ankle and then jettisoning his boots and heavy greatcoat, along with his jacket, within minutes of hitting the water, knowing they would only weigh him down. He'd held on to the knife for a while, until he realized it was hampering his ability to swim and then reluctantly he'd let the waves take it. Those memories did him little good because he still had no idea how he had ended up in the Channel, yet oddly enough he knew he was in the English Channel. But where, or how he had gotten there, he had no inkling. His mind was blank—as much from the lethal cold as the blood he had lost from the wound on the back of his head.
He frowned. How the devil did he know he had a wound? And how did he know that the wound had bled? Again he had no answers, and as his head slipped beneath the onslaught of another wall of water, the urge to end it, to let the cold and the Channel have its way, was nearly impossible to resist.
But as his friends often pointed out, he could be stubborn as a mule, and with a powerful kick of his long legs he surged up above the waves. He wasn't, he swore, with a fierce grin, going to make it easy for anyone or anything to kill him. Another streak of lightning lit the black sky and in that moment, Barnaby spied something that made his heart leap: several planks linked together bobbed in the water not six feet from him. He half recognized them as being a section of the floor of the yacht he had inherited along with everything else owned by the late Seventh Viscount Joslyn. Fighting his way toward that beacon of hope those boards represented, he struggled to think where the yacht had been moored and then it came to him: near Eastbourne on the Sussex coast. But what in the hell had he been doing there?
He had no time for further thought—all of his focus was on surviving—and though it seemed that it took him hours to reach those planks, in mere minutes, his fingers brushed against the slippery wood. Getting himself out of the water took longer, the tossing waves and the shifting, slick surface of the planks thwarting his efforts, but finally, he was able to heave himself aboard the makeshift raft.
Gasping for breath, he rolled over onto his back and with his face pelted by rain, he stared up at the black sky. He was freezing, his teeth chattering, his body shaking from the cold, and he suspected he had traded one form of death for another. Exposure would kill him as sure as a hangman's noose, but he wouldn't die, he consoled himself grimly, by drowning. And that, he thought as he drifted into unconsciousness, was a victory of sorts.
"Is he dead?" asked Jeb Brown ghoulishly above the shrieking wind and rain whipping around outside the best room at The Crown. It was a pleasant room with high, open-beamed ceilings and a gleaming oak floor covered here and there with cheerful rag rugs, the space dominated by a huge bed, impressively draped with a rich green silk canopy. A fire glowed orange and gold on the brick hearth; soft yellow light from several candles lit by Mrs. Gilbert, the widowed owner of The Crown, flickered about the room and, despite the snarling storm, cast a cozy spell.
Mrs. Gilbert, her liberally streaked gray hair half hidden beneath a muslin cap, gave a sharp shake of her head. "No, he's not dead. Half drowned and near frozen, but not dead."
Jeb looked to the other occupant in the room, a tall, fair-haired youth wearing breeches, boots and a leather jerkin over a billowy long-sleeved shirt. Looking beyond the boy's garb, closer inspection revealed that the slim shape and finely etched features belonged to a young woman, her thick silveryblond hair pulled back into a queue tied with a bit of black ribbon.
"I tell you, Miss Emily, it was pure luck I spied him," Jeb said, his wrinkled fisherman's face full of wonder. "With the storm and all, it's black as midnight out there, and if it hadn't been for this bloody big bolt of lightning at the very second I was looking in his direction, I never would have seen him." He shook his head. "Good for him that we had a run tonight else we'd be finding his body washed up somewhere along the shore—if we found it at all."
Emily Townsend nodded and walked closer to stare down at the man Jeb had pulled from the waters of the Channel. "He was indeed lucky," Emily said, her gaze running over the man who lay still and silent beneath Mrs. Gilbert's examination. His hair was black, his skin so dark it was almost swarthy—except for the worrisome blue cast to his lips. From what she could see, he was an exceptionally tall, fit man—and a stranger to all of them.
Mrs. Gilbert muttered, "He had the devil's own luck, I'd say." Looking up from her examination, she added briskly, "And most likely will recover with no ill effects." Her hand on the cold, damp blankets that Jeb had wrapped the stranger in once he'd dragged him on board his boat and stripped off the wet clothes, she glanced over her shoulder. "Miss Emily, you need to leave the room now," she ordered, "and let Jeb and I put this nightshirt on him and get him into a warm bed."
When Emily hesitated, Mrs. Gilbert's plump face softened and she said, "I know you have dozens of questions to ask Jeb, but go fetch those hot water bottles I left in the kitchen." When Emily's jaw took on that mulish cast they all knew so well, Mrs. Gilbert said firmly, "It wouldn't be proper for you to stay. By the time you return, we'll have him snug and warm between the sheets. Now go."
Emily snorted at Mrs. Gilbert's determination to treat her like some gently born miss just out of the schoolroom. It was true, she was gently born—her father had been the local squire until his death seven years ago—but she'd turned six and twenty months ago and was no child. And, she reminded herself, if it weren't for her, Jeb wouldn't have been running a load of contraband from France tonight and the stranger wouldn't have been found. She had every right to remain, but from past experience she knew that there was no arguing with Mrs. Gilbert and reluctantly she left the room. Never one to brood, by the time she reached the inn's kitchen she was smiling. No one, she admitted ruefully, as she picked up the hot water bottles and accepted the heated brick thrust into her hands by Flora, the middle Gilbert daughter, no matter what age or standing, disobeyed Mrs. Gilbert. Even her cousin, the dissolute Squire Townsend, was known to scamper away like a schoolboy to escape a tongue lashing by Mrs. Gilbert.
When she had returned, the stranger was decently garbed in an old nightshirt that had belonged to Mrs. Gilbert's deceased husband and tucked beneath the quilts. The heated brick was placed at his feet; the water bottles snuggled up against his sides. Mrs. Gilbert shooed Jeb from the room and after taking one last look around, said to Emily, "I'll send Mary up with some warm water and a cloth—you can clean that nasty gash on his head." With a meaningful look at Emily, she added, "We've wasted enough time as it is—the others need to be on their way."
Emily opened her mouth to protest but Mrs. Gilbert shook a finger at her. "I know," said Mrs. Gilbert, "you think you should be the one down there dealing with them, but for once act like the lady you were raised to be and stay up here out of sight. Please."
Emily hesitated. "Keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary," she finally said. "My cousin has been acting strangely lately and I think he is spying on me." She took a deep breath and confessed in a rush, "Every night for the past week or so someone, and I suspect it is my cousin, has tried the knob to my room." At Mrs. Gilbert's quick intake of breath, she said quickly, "Don't worry. I keep the door locked and a chest of drawers pushed against it—as does Anne—so whoever it was goes away. But it would not be good if my cousin found me gone from my bed." She swallowed. "If he were to discover what we are about—"
Mrs. Gilbert looked grim. "You don't think he saw you leave tonight and followed you when you left the manor, do you?"
"I don't believe so, but I've had the feeling ever since I slipped from my room that something wasn't right, that something was wrong." She glanced at the stranger. "First him and then ..." She shivered. "I feel like a goose, but I still haven't been able to stop myself from looking over my shoulder all night. I keep feeling as if someone is watching me ... us." Wearily, she added, "If the door to my bedroom was forced and Jeffery discovered my room was empty this is probably the first place he'd look."
Mrs. Gilbert's lips thinned. "Well, he won't find you. We'll have you on your way back to the manor quicker than a cat can lick its ear!" Giving Emily a fond pat on the shoulder, she said, "You worry too much, my dear—you always have. The stranger's arrival has put us all in a dither, but I'm sure that's all it is." She looked around the room one last time and said, "And now I must go and see if Jeb and the others are loaded up and ready to leave. I'll send Mary to you with those rags and the warm water. She can keep you company while I'm gone."
Mrs. Gilbert bustled from the room and shortly Mary showed up with the cloths and bowl of water. At seventeen, Mary was the youngest of the five Gilbert daughters, and her blue eyes wide with excitement she approached the bed and stared at the stranger.
"Coo!" she exclaimed. "He isn't dead, is he?" she asked, echoing Jeb's earlier question.
Emily smiled faintly and said, "No. He just looks dead, but your mother says he will recover." Her smile became a grin. "And we all know your mother is never wrong."
Mary grinned back at her. "You can wager your last guinea on that!"
Taking the clean, white cloth and dipping it into the bowl of water, gingerly Emily began to clean the ugly wound, wincing when the man groaned at her ministrations. Just as well he's unconscious, she thought, as she dipped and rubbed the length of the gash.
Mary shuddered as another violent gust of wind slammed into the walls of the inn. "Ma says it's a miracle he's alive. Not many survive a dip in the Channel on a night like tonight."
Concentrating on the task at hand, Emily nodded and murmured, "I wonder what he was doing out there. And who he is."
Mary paled as a thought struck her. "Oh, miss! You don't think he's a revenuer, do you?"
Having cleaned the wound as good as it was going to get under her hands Emily dropped the bloodstained rag in the water and studied the man's features, noting the broad forehead, the high cheekbones and the generous mouth. She had nothing to base it on, but revenuer would be the last occupation she would have guessed this man to ply. There was something about his face ...
Emily shook her head. "No, I don't think he's a revenuer." Lifting the quilts, she looked down at his hand, studying the long, elegant fingers and the clean and trimmed fingernails. She frowned and glanced over at Mary. "Did Jeb bring the clothes the man was wearing with him to the inn? Or leave them on board the boat?"
Mary's pretty face grew animated. "They're downstairs drying by the fire in the little private room at the back. Do you think they'll tell us who he is?"
Emily spared the stranger one last look. He seemed to be resting easier and the faint blueness around his lips was fading. There was nothing more she could do for him for now. Rising to her feet, she said, "I think we'll know more about him than we do right now, if we take a look at what he was wearing when Jeb pulled him out of the Channel."
The clothes told Emily quite a bit. Though damaged by salt water, the frilled white linen shirt was expensive and sewn by an expert seamstress and the cream-and-fawn patterned silk waistcoat was something only a wealthy man would own, as was the ruined pocket watch and the gold chain and fob. The water-stained cravat, like the shirt, was of the best linen and the finely knitted pantaloons also would have belonged to a man of means. When he'd gone into the water, to avoid the extra weight, she assumed his boots and coat had been wisely discarded.
Staring at the items draped over a pair of chairs near the roaring fire, Emily considered what she'd learned. The stranger was apparently a wealthy man. Not a revenuer, that much was certain.
Leaving his clothes behind, Emily dismissed Mary and returned upstairs. Resuming her seat beside the man on the bed, she stared at him, as if willing him to wake and tell her who he was and how he'd gotten into the Channel.
Excerpted from Rapture Becomes Her by SHIRLEE BUSBEE Copyright © 2011 by Shirlee Busbee. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 25, 2014
Posted November 4, 2011
I'am a Busbee fan and have read all of her books. This one was a bit slow but all in all it got better before the end. I have not read a bad Busbee book. Looking foreward to the next book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2011
a rolicking romance. Great secondary characters. Great Aunt Cornelia is a gem. I love how the many young men in her live both revere andlove her. Nice how the drama is not the romance itself--save that for the wastrels and the smugglers and the attempted murderers. The love affair is gntle and sweet. No consumation until the wedding night even. AWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 17, 2011
Shirley Busbee's "Rapture Becomes Her" is an involving historical adventure featuring a lovely and passionate romance. Emily Townsend, a squire's daughter raised to be a lady, dresses as a man in order to lead a band of smugglers to provide much needed income for her family estate in Sussex. After her father's death, her cousin Jeffrey had assumed the role of squire and promptly squandered the family fortune. Having grown up with vivid tales of bold smugglers plying their trade in her local coastal village, Emily forms her own band of privateers, including some of her own servants. On one of the smuggling runs, Emily's boat captain, Jeb, rescues a nearly-drowned stranger from the sea. Barnaby, Viscount Joslyn, is newly arrived from America to view his inherited properties when an attempt is made on his life. Finding himself rescued by those on the wrong side of the law is just the beginning of Barnaby's adventures. When he realizes that Emily is the bold leader of the enterprising band of entrepreneurs, his attraction to her intelligence and spirit steadily increases. Emily has never met a man like Barnaby, a large, commanding figure who is also thoughtful and down-to-earth. Their mutual admiration takes them both unawares, and their developing relationship is a pleasure to follow. The action and mystery of the story line is first-rate. I particularly enjoyed the stellar cast of supporting characters who added the salt and pepper to the delightful dish of "Rapture Becomes Her".Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2011
RAPTURE BECOMES HER by Shirlee Busbee is an exciting historical romance set in Regency England.It is written with depth and details. The characters are engaging,believable,charming and will capture your heart. It has romance,love,sweet sensuality,secrets, drama,attempted murder,family,passion,smugglers,intrigue,and danger. Emily Townsend is gently bred,leads a ring of smugglers,has a wastrel cousin,high spirited,and will lose than her life in the end. Viscount Joslyn,is handsome,sexy,a new viscount,from America,determined to uncover who is trying to kill him. Together, Viscount Joslyn and Emily must elude danger,surrender to an irresistible love,and risk everything on their biggest gambit ever. Stopping smugglers and finding a killer could cost them everything including their lives. This is a fast paced story of love,danger and finding happiness. A must read and a keeper. This book was received for the purpose of review from the publisher. Details can be found at Zebra Books,published by Kensington Publishing Corp and My Book Addiction Reviews.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2011
American Viscount Barnaby Joslyn has no idea how he ended up in the Channel. Sea Captain Jeb finds Barnaby and brings him to the Crown tavern owned by Widow Mrs. Gilbert. Dressed as a man, very tall Emily Townsend knows the guest interrupted their smuggling that keeps her beloved great Aunt Cornelia and Widow stepmother Anne safe from their cousin Squire Jeffery Townsend. Jeffery wants the three women out of his house with his plan to wed pliable Anne to his odious business partner Ainsworth who needs a wife immediately or lose a fortune as his inheritance has a stipulation.
Barnaby knows something is not right with the tall boy near his bed while Emily realizes he is the American. Jeffery arrives raging so Emily escapes through a closet as the five Gilbert daughters delay him before he rushes into the room occupied by Barnaby. The patient gives Jeffery a hard time. Barnaby knows they are smugglers but he owes all of them his life. He will find a way to pay then back though Mrs. Gilbert demands his silence as the only remittance. Meanwhile he wonders who wants him dead besides Mathew and considers his other cousins Thomas and Simon. Barnaby finds Emily and Anne in distress having been run off the road. Barnaby protects the three females while attempts on his life occur even as he and Emily fall in love.
The lead couple is atypical of the sub-genre while the ensemble cast enhances a strong story line. The story line is loaded with action but though there are a couple of other possible suspects, the villain seems obvious relatively early. Still historical romance readers will enjoy Shirlee Busbee's exciting thriller.
Posted July 12, 2011
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Posted October 24, 2012
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Posted July 26, 2011
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Posted August 6, 2011
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