Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Another noble bride is to be grudgingly married off in this awkward addition to Feather's Charm Bracelet conceit (The Diamond Slipper). The Earls of Ravenspeare and Hawkesmoor have feuded for decades. Now Queen Anne's decreed that Ariel, sister of Ravenspeare, must wed Simon, Earl of Hawkesmoor, and end the vendetta amicably. Feather's writing style is spirited and her plot is paced well, but discriminating readers will question the heroine's anachronistic behavior for 1709she's set on achieving financial independence by breeding racehorses; and the hunky, battle-scarred hero has a thoroughly annoying habit of "gritting" on every other page because of his bride's inappropriate activities. "Gritting"? Whether archaic or transitive, either way, it's jarring. Mutually enjoyable sexual antics abound, butand this is odd for the genrelove enters the relationship very late, almost as an afterthought. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Jane Feather is an accomplished storyteller...rare and wonderful."
Daily News, Los Angeles
"Feather's writing style is spirited and her plot is paced well...enjoyable sexual antics abound."
Read an Excerpt
Ranulf stood at the door to the Great Hall. He stared out over the thronged courtyard, and when he saw Ariel appear from the direction of the stables, he descended the steps and moved purposefully toward her. She was weaving her way through the crowd, the dogs at her heels, a preoccupied frown on her face.
"Just where the hell have you been?" Ranulf demanded in a low voice, grabbing her arm above the elbow. The dogs growled but for once he ignored them. "How dare you vanish without a word to anyone! Where have you been? Answer me!" He shook her arm. The dogs growled again, a deep-throated warning. Ranulf turned on them with a foul oath, but he released his hold.
>"Why should it matter where I've been?" Ariel answered. "I'm back now."
"Dressed like some homespun peasant's wife," her brother gritted through compressed lips. "Look at you. You had money to clothe yourself properly for your bridal celebrations, and you go around in an old riding habit that looks as if it's been dragged through a haystack. And your boots are worn through."
>Ariel glanced down at her broadcloth skirts. Straw and mud clung to them, and her boots, while not exactly worn through, were certainly shabby and unpolished. She had been so uncomfortable dressing under the amused eye of her bridegroom that morning that she had grabbed what came to hand and given no thought to the occasion.
"I trust you have passed a pleasant morning, my wife." Simon's easy tones broke into Ranulf's renewed diatribe. The earl of Hawkesmoor had approached through the crowd so quietly that neither Ranulf nor his sister had noticed him. Ariel looked up with a flashing smile that betrayed her relief at this interruption.
"I went for a drive in the gig. Forgive me for staying out overlong, but I drove farther than I'd thought to without noticing the time."
"Aye, it's a fine way to do honor to your husband," Ranulf snapped. "To appear clad like a serving wench who's been rolling in the hay. I'll not have it said that the earl of Ravenspeare's sister goes about like a tavern doxy--"
"Oh, come now, Ravenspeare!" Simon again interrupted Ranulf's rising tirade. "You do even less honor to your name by reviling your sister so publicly." Ariel flushed to the roots of her hair, more embarrassed by her husband's defense than by her brother's castigation.
"Your wife's appearance does not reflect upon the Hawkesmoor name, then?" Ranulf's tone was full of sardonic mockery. "But perhaps Hawkesmoors are less nice in their standards."
"From what I've seen of your hospitality so far, Ravenspeare, I take leave to doubt that," Simon responded smoothly, not a flicker of emotion in his eyes. He turned to Ariel, who was still standing beside him, wrestling with anger and chagrin. "However, I take your point, Ravenspeare. It is for a husband to correct his wife, not her brother.
"You are perhaps a little untidy, my dear. Maybe you should settle this matter by changing into a habit that will reflect well upon both our houses. I am certain the shooting party can wait a few minutes."
Ariel turned and left without a word. She kept her head lowered, her hood drawn up to hide her scarlet cheeks. It was one of her most tormenting weaknesses. Her skin was so fair and all her life she had blushed at the slightest provocation, sometimes even without good reason. She was always embarrassed at her obvious embarrassment, and the situation would be impossibly magnified.
Why had Simon interfered? Ranulf's insulting rebukes ran off her like water on oiled leather. By seeming to take her part, the Hawkesmoor had made a mountain out of a molehill. But then, he hadn't really taken her part. He had sent her away to change as if she were a grubby child appearing unwashed at the dinner table.
However, when she took a look at herself in the glass in her chamber, she was forced to admit that both men had had a point. Her hair was a wind-whipped tangle, her face was smudged with dust from her drive through the Fen blow, and her old broadcloth riding habit was thick with dust, the skirts caked with mud. But she'd had more important matters to attend to than her appearance, she muttered crossly, tugging at buttons and hooks.
Clad in just her shift, she washed her face and sponged her arms and neck, before letting down her hair. Throwing it forward over her face, she bent her head low and began to brush out the tangles. She was still muttering to herself behind the honeyed curtain when her husband spoke from the door.
"Your brothers' guests grow restless. I don't have much skill as a ladies' maid but perhaps I can help you."
Ariel raised her head abruptly, tossing back the glowing mane of hair. Her cheeks were pink from her efforts with the hairbrush and a renewed surge of annoyance.
The hounds greeted the new arrival with thumping tails. Their mistress, however, regarded the earl with a fulminating glare. "I have no need of assistance, my lord. And it's very discourteous to barge into my chamber without so much as a knock."
"Forgive me, but the door was ajar." His tone carelessly dismissed her objection. He closed the door on his words and surveyed her with his crooked little smile. "Besides, a wife's bedchamber is usually not barred to her husband."
"So you've already made clear, my lord," Ariel said tightly. "And I suppose it follows that a wife has no rights to privacy."
"Not necessarily." He limped forward and took the brush from her hand. "Sit." A hand on her shoulder pushed her down to the dresser stool. He began to draw the brush through the thick springy locks with strong, rhythmic strokes. "I've longed to do this since I saw you yesterday, waiting for me in the courtyard, with your hat under your arm. The sun was catching these light gold streaks in your hair. They're quite delightful." He lifted a strand that stood out much paler against the rich dark honey.
Ariel glanced at his face in the mirror. He was smiling to himself, his eyes filled with a sensual pleasure, his face, riven by the jagged scar, somehow softened as if this hair brushing were the act of a lover. She noticed how his hands, large and callused though they were, had an elegance, almost a delicacy to them. She had the urge to reach for those hands, to lay her cheek against them. A shiver ran through her.
"You're cold," he said immediately, laying down the brush. "The fire is dying." He turned to the hearth and with deft efficiency poked it back to blazing life, throwing on fresh logs. "Come now, you must make haste with your dressing before you catch cold." He limped to the armoire. "Will you wear the habit you wore yesterday? The crimson velvet suited you well." He drew out the garment as he spoke, and looked over at the sparse contents of the armoire. "You appear to have a very limited wardrobe, Ariel."
"I have little need of finery in the Fens," she stated, almost snatching the habit from him. "The life I lead doesn't lend itself to silks and velvets."
"The life you've led until now," he corrected thoughtfully, leaning against the bedpost, arms folded, as he watched her dress. "As the countess of Hawkesmoor, you will take your place at court, and in county society, I trust. The Hawkesmoors have always been active in our community of the Fens."
Unlike the lords of Ravenspeare. The local community was more inclined to hide from them than seek their aid. But neither of them spoke this shared thought.
Ariel fumbled with the tiny pearl buttons of her shirt. Her fingers were suddenly all thumbs. He sounded so assured, but she knew that she would never take her place at court or anywhere else as the wife of this man, whatever happened.
"Your hands must be freezing." He moved her fumbling fingers aside and began to slip the tiny buttons into the braided loops that fastened them. His hands brushed her breasts and her breath caught. His fingers stopped their work and she felt her nipples harden against the fine linen of her shift as goose bumps lifted on her skin. Then abruptly his hands dropped from her and he stepped back, his face suddenly closed.
She turned aside to pick up her skirt, stepping into it, fastening the hooks at her waist, trying to hide the trembling of her fingers, keeping her head lowered and averted until the hot flush died down on her creamy cheeks.
If only he would go away now. But he remained leaning against the bedpost.
She felt his eyes on her, following her every move, and that lingering sensuality in his gaze made her blood race. Even the simple act of pulling on her boots was invested with a curious voluptuousness under the intentness of his sea blue eyes. The man was ugly as sin, and yet she had never felt more powerfully attracted to anyone.
From the Paperback edition.