I’ve been lucky enough to share my stories with you for over forty years, and those first books occupy a special place in my heart. Vixen in Velvet and Whitefire are two of my earliest stories, and I am so happy to have this chance to introduce them to new readers.
VIXEN IN VELVET
Beautiful, well-bred Victoria Rawlings sees only one way to avoid an arranged marriage—switching places with a tavern maid. Her daring scheme leads her to Marcus Chancelor, who, like Tori, is not what he seems. The handsome American secretly poses as a highwayman to support a besieged colony. Once their identities are unmasked, will Tori seize a chance at happiness, far beyond the safety she’s known?
Katerina Vaschenko seeks vengeance against the marauders who destroyed her village and stole her priceless horses for the mad czar. But she never dreamed that her sworn enemy the Mongol prince would be the one to aid her quest. Or that together, they would forge a destiny as magnificent as the land that is their glorious heritage. . . .
|Product dimensions:||4.00(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.90(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
A myriad of golds and oranges was fast fading into the gray that precedes nightfall. With the setting sun, the warm summer air was taking on the chill of early autumn. Dusk was growing deeper as the ornate coach drew to a halt long enough for the liveried footman to jump down from his seat next to the driver and light the pewter-sconced lanterns alongside the doors.
Lord Nelson Rawlings, distracted from his thoughts, sat uneasily in the plush interior and gazed into the pool of yellow light the lanterns spilled onto the hard, rutted road.
When the coach started again, Lord Rawlings tried in vain to settle himself comfortably in his jouncing seat.
"These roads are a horror," he complained to his three companions. "If we aren't killed before we get home it won't be any fault of the driver. I daresay he has yet to miss one rut in this —" He stumbled over the curses which caught in his throat in deference to his wife and daughter and completed his statement in a garbled voice, "— road!"
"Yes, Nelson, you must speak to the driver, this trip is unbearable! Every bone in my body aches," Lady Rawlings said in a soft, high, childlike voice.
"We have but two hours to ride and we'll be home, my dear," the lord assured his wife in soothing tones. "We must be brave and put up with these inconvenient conditions. After all, we did enjoy the summer at our country home. Now it's time to realize the hardships of travel."
"You're right, Nelson," Lady Lydia Rawlings concurred, her small delicate face lighting up at the thought that soon they would be home in their London quarters.
Once more, Lord Rawlings leaned back on the heavily padded seat and closed his eyes. His stomach was punishing him cruelly for the greasy lunch he had bolted down. Way-station food! he complained silently, as the dull ache was fast becoming more insistent, cramping his innards into tight fists. He fumbled in his vest coat for his mints and withdrew a plain, shell box which held the small, white cubes.
"Stomach troubling you, dear?" Lady Lydia asked with concern.
"Nothing to worry about," Lord Rawlings grumbled as he deftly hid the box within the palm of his hand. He didn't want Lady Lydia to notice that his gold pill box had been replaced by one so inferior. Lord Rawlings emitted a sigh, and replaced the case in his vest coat. It seemed to him he had spent the entire summer concealing small items of value within the folds of his coat and driving to the money lenders and pawnbrokers to exact the pittance of cash the items would bring. Under no circumstances did Lord Rawlings want his treasured wife to know the hard straits which the family now faced.
What was he to do? Since he had lost favor with the Crown and his rental lands had been seized, he had been sinking deeper and deeper into debt. Rawlings knew that once he was again in London the creditors would be after him with a vengeance. There was nowhere to turn. He had exhausted every possibility before leaving the city.
He shook his head and opened his eyes and let them come to rest on the beautiful face of his daughter Victoria, who was seated across from him. His heart smiled as he gazed on her. A bonnet covered her golden hair but for a few wisps which escaped at her high forehead. Green eyes flecked with gold enhanced her pink and white complexion. Heavy, dark lashes fringed those strikingly colored eyes and concealed them from his view.
There was no other way, he debated with himself; he would have to sacrifice his daughter to Lord Fowler-Greene. As Rawlings thought of that portly gentleman who was older than himself, his stomach issued a sharp stab. He had wrestled with the problem throughout the summer. Victoria was twenty-two years old, much beyond the age when most girls married. Yet, he argued, this was the eighteenth century — modern times! It was foolish to consider as spirited a girl as Victoria an old maid, a spinster past her prime.
Still, he was getting on in years himself, he would be fifty-nine next birthday, and he wanted to see Victoria settled nicely. In case something should happen to him, he needn't worry what would become of Lady Lydia. Victoria would see to her mother's comforts and Victoria's husband would see to Lady Lydia's bills. And what person was more able than the wealthy Lord Fowler-Greene?
Although the general consensus held that Fowler-Greene was an overaged fop, Lord Rawlings had long ago decided that the guise of dandy covered a keen intelligence and a dedication to duty that very few were ever able to discern.
The lofty Lord Fowler-Greene had long had his eye on Victoria, and upon hearing of Lord Rawlings' difficulties, had more or less offered to help the latter out of his enigmatical problems, provided of course, that Lord Fowler-Greene would win a place in the Rawlings family, preferably as a son-in-law. All Lord Nelson had to do was convince his daughter that Lord Fowler-Greene would make a most suitable husband.
After the first encounter with Victoria concerning Lord Fowler-Greene, in which she unleashed an incredible verbal attack on him, the girl had not said another word on the subject. But Lord Rawlings was not one to be fooled into letting down his defenses. If he knew anything of anyone, it was his own daughter, and he knew the worst was yet to come on the subject of this marriage.
She was a wild one, he would give her that. Lady Lydia had long ago thrown up her hands in despair at their daughter's brazenness and unruly tongue. Nelson, too, had oft chosen to look the other way, but he also knew that if his circumstances were to come to her notice, she loved him enough to do anything for him, even marry a man she could hold no affection for. But he did not want it that way. He would have Victoria's cooperation because she thought it best for herself, because he would convince her she needed a strong man. He would rather have her wild and screaming, kicking at the idea, than have her quiet and complacent, silently suffering.
He took another look at his beloved daughter as she rested her head against the back of the seat. Her expression was sweet in repose, like an angel. Lord Rawlings shuddered again as he thought of how her remarkable eyes could freeze someone in his tracks one moment and, then, flash and change to so beguiling an expression that a person wished to stay in her presence indefinitely.
"Are you taking a chill, dear?" Lady Lydia asked solicitously.
Shaken from his reverie, Lord Rawlings answered, "No!" more abruptly than he intended. More than likely his conscience was guilty over the slight matter of selling his daughter into bondage. Still, there was no other way, and he must provide for Lydia. Sweet Lydia. His gaze rested on his wife's face as he ached to reach out and touch her. The same golden hair as her daughter's, paler now, peeked out from under her bonnet. Chapeau, he corrected himself. Lydia always referred to her hats as chapeau. His eyes raked over her slim body as he thought she'd not gained an ounce since their wedding.
Lady Lydia, too, had married for convenience, yet Lord Rawlings believed that she had come to love him. Not as much, surely, as he loved her, but enough to make him secure, enough to care about him and worry about his welfare. Dear, sweet Lydia. Her loyalty was much to be admired, even in the face of her only child marrying a man who was so much her senior. She had stated simply to Victoria, "If your father wishes it, darling, then it must be so." He imagined that when she and Victoria were alone, Lydia had spoken to Victoria of her own arranged marriage and tried to show the girl how well things worked out after all.
"Granger," Victoria called softly to her cousin, the fourth member of their party, who was seated next to her father. "Are you asleep?"
"No, Tori. Damned if I can sleep with this carriage jostling about." Granger cast an eye on his uncle, Lord Rawlings, and apologized. "Sorry, sir."
Lord Rawlings muttered something under his breath and turned his head toward the window. Granger gave his cousin a bold wink. Tori, as she was known to her family, laughed lightly as she glanced toward her father. Granger was always blaspheming, much to Lord Rawlings' annoyance, and Granger was constantly apologizing for it.
"Granger, please tell us of the highwaymen. The stories you tell are always so exciting, and we could all do with a bit of amusement. How do you know so much about highwaymen?" As an afterthought Tori added, "Gentleman that you are."
Granger Lapid glanced at his uncle warily. Why did Tori insist on upsetting the applecart by reminding Lord Rawlings of his knowledge of the nefarious characters that plagued the roads of England? The little minx, he thought, she likes nothing better than the bit of excitement that occurs whenever my presence is made known to Uncle Nelson.
Tori cast her green eyes on her cousin and did not fail to note his discomfiture. A smile played over her full lips and she lowered her heavy lashes to conceal her amusement. Poor Granger, she thought, so cowed by Father. Perhaps if he did not have to rely upon Father for his keep he would demonstrate more backbone. As she watched him it seemed as though she could see through his thin, wiry body directly to the spine which she was sure was absent from his anatomy. Granger nervously ruffled his light-brown hair, and a pinched expression played about his thin features.
"Go ahead, amuse the child," growled Rawlings. "If she hasn't the sense to see you've no knowledge of anything, much less the deeds and secrets of those scoundrels who plague our roads, then she hasn't the sense to be affected by your tall tales."
Granger looked questioningly at Tori, and she could see the hurt her father's statement had caused him. She was sorry she was the instigator. Tori was well aware that Granger indeed knew criminals and highwaymen. But she could never defend him to Lord Rawlings; to do so would be to admit that Granger visited those dark cellars and disreputable inns those felonious scoundrels frequented. Granger, not having the heart for a rogue's way of life, nevertheless sought his thrills by association with thieves and through those acqain-tances, however remote, gained for himself some measure of importance.
"My dear Tori," Granger said in a nasal tone which he knew irritated her, "everyone knows about the highwaymen. They are a passel of thieving rogues. There is one in particular, Scarblade. They say he has a black heart, and," he added ominously, "he does not care whether he robs women or men. He shows no favoritism."
"How absolutely delightful. I should dearly love to be robbed by Scarblade." Her eyes lit up and took on a sparkle that set Granger's nerves on edge. He knew his cousin well. She would go out of her way to be robbed if it were possible.
"Tori, you are impossible," Granger said sourly. "I, for one, don't want to be robbed. First of all, I have not even a farthing to my name." For an example he turned out the satin lining from his trousers' pockets for her to see. "What do you think Scarblade would do when I tell him I have nothing to give?"
"Why he would probably slit your throat. I do so hope it doesn't happen today," she said, fingering the fine yellow muslin of her skirt. "Blood does spurt so." Granger paled perceptibly as he looked at the laughing eyes of his cousin. "Please don't worry, Granger; if it happens I will throw myself at the mercy of this Scarblade and plead for your life. I'll tell him I'll do anything to save you. Besides, if I absolutely must, I can defend myself." She added, pouting her full, pretty mouth, "It's not been so long since you taught me to throw a knife. I am quite an accurate marksman, if you remember."
Granger blanched and nervously glanced at his uncle. He had been accused so frequently of teaching Tori unladylike behavior that he had almost forgotten it was Tori, not he, who led the way in social transgressions.
"It will make no difference, my dear cousin, this man wants only money and jewels. He doesn't care what he does to get them. A man's blood on his hands would not concern him. But I will tell you this: If we can get through the next few miles without being accosted, then we'll make it home safely. This section of the road is Scarblade's lair."
Lord Rawlings groaned aloud and Granger began to tell him that what he had spoken was the truth when he realized his uncle's disinterest. Granger knew when he was being ignored and allowed the matter to pass. What he did not know was that Lord Rawlings was thinking that if they should be robbed, his last shilling would be taken and he would be even more beset by financial worries.
Tori noted her father's attitude and prodded Granger further. "Do you really think this is his lair? And that we'll be robbed and our throats cut?" she asked softly, in an effort not to disturb Lord Rawlings.
Lady Lydia gasped, "Cut your hair? I won't hear of it! Did you hear the child, Nelson? She wants to cut her hair! My dear," she said, not waiting for a reply from her husband, "only madwomen and criminals have their hair cut. I won't have it! Do you hear? I never heard of such a thing! Foolish girl, what will you think of next? I knew it was a mistake to let you play in the kitchens when you were a child. I forbid it, Tori! Now let the matter rest. I want to hear no more of it!"
Resigned, Tori nodded her head. She knew from past experience it did no good to explain that her dear mother had misunderstood. Lady Lydia's hearing had been getting worse of late. Tori and her father pretended there was nothing the matter, for vanity's sake. But now, Tori wondered, what would she look like with her hair cut?
"What does Scarblade look like, Granger?"
"He's handsome, all right, at least that's what the ladies say. A scar on his left cheek in the shape of an S that flames brightly with the heat of passion. S for seduction," Granger smirked. "I've heard in town that one or two wealthy ladies have actually made arrangements for him to rob them a second time. A slip of the tongue, a casual mention, next they know they've found themselves in his clutches once again."
"Imagine that," Tori mused, "making arrangements to be robbed. Tell me more."
"He's said to have coal-black eyes. He rides a magnificent chestnut stallion that makes him ten feet tall. That's all I can tell you, Tori." Warily, Granger eyed the dusty windows and prayed silently that Scarblade was somewhere else this day.
"Oh," Tori breathed, enraptured by the tale, "I would like to meet this man."
"Victoria!" Lord Rawlings shouted, shocked at the words coming from his daughter, though why he was stunned was beyond him. She had been doing much as she pleased since she had learned to walk. It would be just like the girl to make an appointment to be robbed by this uncouth fellow. "I want no further talk of this nonsense!"
Tori always remained calm under her father's furious gaze and sudden shouts. She knew his bluff, she had cut her teeth on his outrages. Inwardly, Tori believed he had a kind heart, even to where Granger was concerned. Besides, she mused, the poor old darling really was frightened by Granger's story. She stifled a smile as she noticed Lord Rawlings fumble in his waistcoat for his purse.
Suddenly a shout from the top of the coach and the quickening of speed made the occupants fall over in helter-skelter positions.
"What is it? What's happened?" Lady Lydia quivered.
"I think we're about to be robbed," Tori laughed, as the pounding of hooves could be heard coming from behind the coach and thundering closer.CHAPTER 2
As the yellow light from the side lanterns swayed back and forth, Tori could see the decidedly green cast to her cousin's pale face. She couldn't help but prod the barb again.
"Don't look so sick," she hissed. "Haven't I already promised you I would do everything possible to save your throat?"
Granger shot her back a venomous look and sneered through clenched teeth. "Hold your tongue, Tori. You shall be lucky if your own life is spared."
Lord Rawlings said in a whisper, "Hold! The pair of you! For if the robber spares your lives, I promise you I shan't!"
Lady Lydia, whimpering to herself in fright, came around long enough to side with her husband. "Tori, now is not the time for your ill jokes! Hush!"
Peering out the window, Tori could see that the coach had finally stopped in a thickly wooded glade. She heard scuffling atop the coach as the footmen were forced from their seats. A wave of fear washed over her, and in her ears a roaring sound echoed, making it hard for her to hear exactly what was happening outside.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fate & Fortune"
Copyright © 2018 Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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