Red Roses Mean Love
Available from Dell
Austin Randolph Jamison, Ninth Duke of Bradford, met the uncanny beauty at the ball at Bradford Hall. And from that first moment, he was stunned. How could this unsophisticated female, who climbed trees in a ball gown to rescue a kitten, know secrets that could ruin his family and speak of danger that threatened them all? Who was she, this American bluestocking who
Austin Randolph Jamison, Ninth Duke of Bradford, met the uncanny beauty at the ball at Bradford Hall. And from that first moment, he was stunned. How could this unsophisticated female, who climbed trees in a ball gown to rescue a kitten, know secrets that could ruin his family and speak of danger that threatened them all? Who was she, this American bluestocking who knew too much, whose innocence shone in her eyes even as her full lips tempted sin? Suddenly the duke knew he could not afford to let her go.
Some called it a gift. To Elizabeth Matthews, however, her visions were a responsibility that bound her to protect others from danger, no matter that the gossipmongers whispered she was chasing the duke to the altar. She vowed to use her powers to protect Austin at any cost, reckless of the passions that drove her into his arms, the need that made her his bride, never expecting her marriage to turn into a love match that would become the ton's most delicious scandal.
Available from Dell
Austin Randolph Jamison, ninth Duke of Bradford, stood in a shadowed alcove and surveyed his guests. Couples swirled on the dance floor, a colorful rainbow of expensively gowned and jeweled women escorted by perfectly turned out gentlemen. Hundreds of beeswax candles twinkled in the overhead chandeliers, casting a warm glow over the festivities. Over two hundred of Society's elite had gathered in his home, and he had only to reach out his hand to touch any one of a dozen people.
He'd never felt so alone in his life.
Emerging from the shadows, he plucked a brandy from a passing footman's silver tray and raised the snifter to his lips.
"There you are, Bradford. Been looking for you everywhere."
Austin froze, smothering a vicious oath. He wasn't sure who the speaker was, but it didn't matter. He knew why whoever stood behind him had been looking for him, and his stomach tightened into a knot. Well, there was no escaping now. Tossing back half his brandy, he braced himself, then turned around.
Lord Digby stood before him. "I just visited the gallery, Bradford," Digby said. "The new portrait of William in his military uniform is magnificent. A fitting tribute." His round face collapsed into a frown and he shook his head. "Deuced tragedy, passing on during his final mission."
Austin forced himself to nod politely. "I agree."
"Still, it's an honor to die a war hero."
Pressure built in Austin's chest. War hero. If only that were true. But the letter locked in his desk drawer confirmed his suspicions that it was not.
A vivid picture of William flashed through his mindthat last gut-wrenching image that nothing could erase. Guilt and regret slammed into him, and his fist tightened around his brandy snifter.
Air. He desperately needed air to clear his mind. Excusing himself, he headed toward the French windows.
Caroline caught sight of him and smiled, and he forced himself to smile at his sister in response. As much as he dreaded social functions, he was pleased to see Caroline looking so happy. It had been too long since that gleam of carefree joy had lit her lovely face, and if hosting this damn ball was what was necessary to make her happy, then host it he would. Still, he wished Robert were here instead of traveling on the Continent. His jovial younger brother was much more at ease in the role of host.
Ignoring the curious gazes cast in his direction, Austin exited the ballroom and made his way to the gardens. Neither the sweet fragrant roses scenting the warm summer air nor the full moon casting a silvery luster over the landscape improved his mood or relaxed the tension clenching his muscles. Couples strolled together, talking quietly, but Austin ignored them, determined to find a few minutes of peace.
But even as he struck out along a well-manicured path, he knew in his heart that peace was too much to ask for.
Would anyone guess the truth? No, he decided. EveryoneCaroline, Robert, his mother, the entire bloody countryall believed William died a hero, and it was an illusion Austin would pay any price to maintain. Anything to keep his family and his brother's memory safe from ruin.
He soon arrived at his destination, a private area surrounded by tall hedges at the perimeter of the gardens. The unoccupied curved stone bench was the most welcome sight he'd beheld all evening. Sanctuary.
Heaving a sigh of relief, he sat on the bench and stretched out his legs, ready to enjoy this peaceful haven. He reached into his pocket to extract his gold cigar case, but paused when he heard a rustling in the hedges.
The bushes parted and a young woman attempted to scramble through them. Panting and muttering under her breath, she tried unsuccessfully to free herself from the branches tearing at her hair and pulling at her gown.
Austin gritted his teeth and stifled an obscenity. He knew it was pointless to pray for her to go away. His prayers hadn't been answered very often lately.
The thrashing and muttering in the bushes continued. No doubt some chit sneaking about to indulge in a clandestine meeting with a lover. Or perhaps she was but yet another senseless female in search of a title and hoping to trap him into marriage. For all he knew, she might have followed him into the garden. Frustration shot through him and he arose to leave.
The exasperated cry exploded from the young woman's lips. She tugged impatiently on her gown to free it from the thicket, but it refused to budge. Grabbing her skirt with both hands, she gave a mighty heave. The unmistakable sound of fabric tearing cut the air.
Suddenly freed from the constraining hold of the bushes, she pitched forward, landing facedown in the damp grass. The air rushed from her lungs in a loud whoosh.
"Blasted ball gowns," she mumbled, shaking her head as if to clear her vision. "They're going to be the absolute death of me."
Austin clenched his hands. His first instinct was to escape before she caught sight of him, but as she remained lying there, motionless, he hesitated. Perhaps she was injured. He couldn't very well leave the foolish baggage here to rot, tempting though the idea was. If Caroline were injured, he'd want someone to help hernot that his sister would ever find herself in such a ridiculous situation.
Cursing his inability to simply walk away, he asked, "Are you all right?"
She gasped and jerked her head up. Her gaze locked on his black formal breeches for several seconds, then she lowered her head back onto the grass. "Why, oh why did someone have to see this?"
"Are you all right?" he repeated, fighting his growing impatience.
"Yes, of course I am. My health has always been of a most robust nature. Thank you for inquiring."
"May I offer you some assistance?"
"No, thank you. Pride demands I extricate myself from this, my latest in an endless series of embarrassments." She didn't move. A heavy pause filled the air.
"Are you going to get up?"
"No, I don't think I shall. But thank you again for asking."
Austin clenched his teeth until his jaw ached, and he wondered how much champagne the chit had swallowed. "Are you foxed?"
She raised her head several inches. "I don't know. I suppose it is possible. What does foxed mean?"
Her distinctive accent pierced through his annoyance. Closing his eyes, he barely suppressed a groan. "American?"
"Oh, for the love of heaven! I swear if one more person asks me that" She broke off and glared at his knees. "Obviously I'm American. Everyone knows that an Englishwoman would never be caught dead sprawled on the grass in such an undignified fashion. Heaven forbid."
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