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The Impostor's Kiss
By Tanya Crosby
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Principality of Meridian, 1803
How could she have believed he would wed her?
Indulging in a rare moment of self-pity, Lady Fiona Elizabeth MacEwen sat upon the immense claw-footed bed that dominated her room. The fine silk bedcloth rumpled beneath her skirts. This room, where she'd been confined since the birth of her twins, was little more than a luxurious cell. In truth, she felt more like a prisoner than a guest.
Outside, there were no trees to shade the room from the heat of the day; the afternoon sun, diffused through gold-chiffon draperies, burnished the room with a gilded light that made one feel as though one simmered in the belly of a furnace. It was devilishly hot in this country - so unlike her beloved Scotland.
What had made her think someone like him would desire someone like her? He was a prince, after all, and she but an impoverished earl's daughter. Julian Merrick Welbourne III would command a nation someday, while Fiona no longer even had a home left to take charge of.
What a despicable mess she'd made of her life.
Fiona fought her tears. Her father hadn't raised a wilting violet - nor had he raised an imbecile. She understood why Julian was marrying that woman. As the only son of Meridian's sovereign, he was expected to marry for the good of his country, not for love. She just didn't comprehend how he could have forgotten his obligations to begin with.
Though perhaps he hadn't?
Perhaps she'd never been more to Julian than a final rebellion?
That revelation made her feel used, abused and deceived.
Her eyes stung fiercely. Had he never loved her? Had he brought her to this place only to become his mistress?
She would rather die first than be any man's jezebel!
A single tear slipped down her cheek. The worst of it all was not that she would never be wed to the man she loved ... but that she would never be wed at all.
What man would marry her with two sweet little bairns in tow?
And worse, because of her damnable pride, Glen Abbey Manor - their ancestral home - was no longer her sanctuary; even if Julian released her, she had nowhere to go. Her heart squeezed painfully at the thought of her father - a mere guest in his own home.
They'd had so little to offer as a dowry and they'd both been so deliriously joyful over Fiona's good fortune at marrying so well, that her dear papa had sacrificed everything to see her impossible dream come true. Trusting in the word of a gentleman, long before the impending nuptials, her father had handed over the deed to Glen Abbey Manor. For four hundred and twenty-two years her kinsmen had been proud to call the manor their home. From Creagach Mhor to the woodlands that spilled into McClellan's valley, all of Glen Abbey was a part of their legacy, and the little church in the grove was rumored to have even sheltered the stone of scone when Edward of England had sought to steal it for his own.
If her father was left wonting, it wasn't in honor or in charity. He'd shared his legacy generously, allowing the townsfolk, who'd settled the land along with their ancestors, to occupy their land parcels without payment.
What would become of them now?
How foolish they had been. How very foolish. And the irony of it all was that Julian hadn't even wanted or needed Glen Abbey. Bordered by the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, the Principality of Meridian covered no more than two square miles, but was one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in all of Europe. In comparison, the only value Glen Abbey held was as a means of control. She had no doubt Julian would use it to control her life and that of her sons.
Shortly after the church bells struck two, a rap sounded at the door.
Fiona didn't stir herself from the bed; her time to avoid it was long past. Anyway, she knew it would be him. The maid had a key and never bothered to knock. He, too, had a key; he turned it in the lock to allow himself entrance. She heard the lock click, the door creak on old iron hinges, and then he stood in the doorway. Her breath caught at the sight of him - as it always did. She loathed that weakness within herself, that she could love this man, despite that he'd treated her so shabbily.
For just an instant he glanced downward, as though ashamed, and then he said, "I've come to see my sons."
"I want to go home," Fiona demanded, though she knew it would gain her nothing.
His handsome face was stern, his chiseled jaw clenched with resolve. His blue eyes seemed pale as a new moon, whitewashed of emotion. "As I've explained, I cannot allow you to leave with my children, Fiona." He stood looking at her, his presence undeniable with his imposing size. She noted little sway in his posture.
Fiona couldn't help herself; a tear escaped and slid down her cheek. She ignored it. So did he as he started across the room, toward the crib. "I don't believe you ever loved me," she said accusingly, swallowing her pride, feeling defeated. "If you did, you wouldn't keep me here to suffer the sight of your new bride."
He said nothing and she took some comfort in anger. "Tell me, Julian, will it please you to know I shall be sitting here holding our bairns as your wedding bells toll?" He walked past her without looking at her and she added, "I wonder how pleased Elena will be when she learns of my presence in her home!" To her dismay, she started to cry.
Julian stopped finally and turned to face her, his gaze softening. "Please don't cry," he said. For an instant, when he met her gaze, she saw a glimpse of the man she'd known. It squeezed at her heart.
Unbidden, he came and sat next to her upon the bed, his voice softening. He reached out to wipe the tear from her cheek with a steady finger. Fiona closed her eyes, wincing over the tenderness in his touch.
"Fiona," he pleaded, "I could make you happy. I would shower you and my sons with gifts. I would take care of you - never disappoint you."
Excerpted from The Impostor's Kiss by Tanya Crosby Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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