A Bartered Lady
Lord James Harkness is shocked to discover a "bride sale" taking place in his small English village -- and surprised by the depth of his feelings for the unfortunate gentlewoman being auctioned off by a disreputable husband. But is it honor and nobility that compel James to outbid the townfolk for the proud, beautiful lady -- or is it something more akin to . . . desire?
A Mysterious Lord
Verity Osborne is not sure whether good fortune or ill brought her to this dark, brooding man and his lonely manor house on the moors. Local talk brands James Harkness as evil -- but Verity senses a gentleness underneath. She dearly longs for her liberty, but his sensuous touch causes her to stay. However, James must first trust Verity with his secrets if they are ever to share love's rapturous freedom. And will the promised passion she sees flaming in his eyes warm Verity's heart . . . or burn her?
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About the Author
Candice Hern is the award-winning author of historical romances set during the English Regency, a period she knows well through years of collecting antiques and fashion prints of the era. She travels to England regularly, always in search of more historical and local color to help bring her books to life.
Read an Excerpt
“C'mon, me laddies. What'm I bid fer this fine bit o' flesh?”
“'Alf a crown!”
Raucous laughter almost drowned out the auctioneer's rude response to the opening bid. James Gordon Harkness, fifth Baron Harkness, leaned against the rough granite wall of the village apothecary shop just off Gunnisloe market square. The lane and its shops were deserted; most of the villagers and market-day travelers had gathered in the square to watch the livestock auction. James nibbled on the last bit of savory meat pie as his servant loaded the carriage boot with the day's purchases: several bolts of local wool, a few hammered copper cook pots, two large bags of seed, a brace of pheasant,a basket of smoked fish, and three cases of wine.
James licked the pastry crumbs from his long fingers as he listened to the auction taking place around the corner. The voices of auctioneer and bidders rang clearly in the crisp air of early autumn.
“Two pounds ten.”
“Aw, c'mon,” a female voice shouted above the din. “The poor cow be worth more'n that, you bleedin' idiot.”
“Not to my man, she ain't,” another female replied, eliciting howls of laughter from the crowd.
“Two pounds fifteen!”
This was followed by more laughter and the ear-splitting din of what had to be the banging of dozens of tin kettles. Village women often took up the old tradition of kettle banging to encourage more intense bidding. It must be some primebit of flesh indeed, James mused as the rhythmic clanging grew louder.
A stiff breeze chased a flutter of red birch leaves down the lane, and James brushed back a lock of thick black hair blown forward by the wind. He watched the leaves skitter away, but kept his ear to the auction in the square.
As he listened, James savored the fragrant scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns and meat pies, of roasting pig and rabbit shank, of fresh cider and ale. The delicious smells and the sounds of gaiety and fierce bartering inevitably drew his thoughts to earlier times, when he might have enjoyed such a day, when he would have been a welcome participant. Now he would not willingly walk into a crowd that size, a crowd of people who knew him, knew who and what he was.
He seldom ventured into Gunnisloe at all, though it was the closest market town. He preferred the larger, more distant markets of Truro or Falmouth, where he was not as well-known. But he had business in Gunnisloe today. Taking advantage of market day, he had sent his footman into the stalls to purchase a few household goods. While the markets bustled and thrived in the village square, James had kept his distance. He was in no mood to endure the strained silence, the wary glances, the hushed whisperings that would inevitably follow his entry into the public square.
The footman closed the boot and locked it, then opened the carriage door and stood aside. James pushed away from the granite wall and walked toward the open door. He replaced his curly brimmed beaver on his head and tugged it low against the wind.
“Don't 'ee dare bid on her, Danny Gower, lest 'ee want yer heart ripped clean outa yer chest.”
Peels of laughter and more banging of tin kettles followed this interesting pronouncement. James halted his ascent into the carriage. What on earth was going on? He had never before heard a crowd behave in such a strangely boisterous manner at an auction. What the devil was so special about this particular cow?
His curiosity got the better of him, and he stepped away from the carriage. Just one look was all he wanted. Just to see for himself what all the fuss was about. Just one quick look and he would be on his way.
James walked the few steps to the end of the lane and peered around the corner, hoping no one would notice him. He quickly removed his beaver, realizing the tall, elegant hat would act as a beacon, drawing the attention of the simply dressed villagers and miners. But he needn't have worried. When he moved to the edge of the crowd of perhaps two hundred people or more, no one paid him the least mind.
For a moment he savored the once-familiar hustle and bustle of Gunnisloe on market day. Makeshift pens lined one side of the square where cattle and sheep were exhibited for auction. Many were already being rounded up and led away by their new owners. In one corner, several dozen individuals and families sat at long trestle tables and benches that were lined up in a herringbone pattern and sheltered from the wind by a temporary awning of striped canvas stretched over wooden poles. The substantial figure of Mag Puddifoot threaded her way among the tables, ladling out portions of her famous furmity pudding, just as she had done since James was a boy. Colorful carts and stalls selling all manner of goods and produce dotted the rest of the square's perimeter. Sweet and pungent aromas from the food vendors -- stronger and more seductive here than in the adjacent lane -- caused James to forget for an instant why he had made so bold as to enter the square in the first place.
James's gaze darted warily through the crowd as he moved closer. No one had yet noticed him. All eyes were on the stone plinth next to the market cross where the auctioneer, old Jud Moody, stood with one arm raised and stirring the air, punctuating the banging of the kettles and urging the crowd on to higher bids. In Jud's other hand was a leather harness attached to the neck of a woman.
What in blazes was going on here?
The...The Bride Sale. Copyright © by Candice Hern. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.