A maid secretly takes her mistress’s place in an arranged marriage—igniting unexpected passion—in bestselling author Heather Graham’s historical romance. On a frigid March day in Yorkshire in 1895, ten-year-old Marissa Ayers encounters the raven-haired, blue-eyed stranger for the first time. When next they meet, she has put the dust of the coal mines behind her and is now a lady’s maid at a fine estate, determined to escape her hardscrabble life. Marissa recognizes him instantly, but has no inkling that their lives are about to come together in the most intimate way—until her mistress begs her to take her place in a marriage of convenience. Haunted by the memory of his lost love, Ian Tremayne is honor-bound by the promise he made to an old friend. His marriage to Katherine Mary Ahearn will be a union in name only. Yet something about the proud, green-eyed Englishwoman seems familiar . . . and intrigues him. He takes her home to America, where the willful beauty slowly begins to thaw his guarded heart. New York Times –bestselling author and “incredible storyteller” ( Los Angeles Times ) Heather Graham’s sexy and stunningly written historical romances will enthrall you: “With the name Heather Graham on the cover, you are guaranteed a good read!” ( Literary Times ) This ebook features an illustrated biography of Heather Graham, including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Heather Graham (b. 1953) is a bestselling author of more than 150 romance, suspense, and historical novels that have sold seventy-five million copies worldwide. Raised in Florida, Graham went to college for theater arts, and spent several years acting, singing, and bartending before she devoted herself to writing. Her first novel, When Next We Love , was published in 1982. Although she became famous as an author of romance novels, Graham has since branched out into supernatural horror, historical fiction, and suspense, with titles such as Tall, Dark, and Deadly (1999), Long, Lean, and Lethal (2000), and Dying to Have Her (2001). In 2003 the Romance Writers of America, whose Florida chapter Graham founded, granted her a lifetime achievement award. She lives, writes, and scuba dives in Florida with her husband and five children.
Read an Excerpt
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Heather Graham Pozzessere
All rights reserved.
London, November, 1905
"He's coming!" Mary cried with distress. She allowed the heavy velvet drape to fall into place over the window and looked anxiously at Marissa. Mary's pretty face was pale, and her warm brown eyes seemed huge against the narrow contours of her face. She had lost too much weight, Marissa thought.
It had been a terrible time for Mary, for the squire had died just a month previously after a long, painful illness. Both girls had spent endless hours at his side, doing whatever they could to ease his discomfort.
No matter what their differences, Mary had loved her father. Marissa, too, had loved the squire. They both missed him.
We loved him, we miss him! Marissa thought wryly. And here we stand, determined to undo his dying wish.
"Oh, my God!" Mary moaned, nervously lacing her fingers together. "Are you sure you will be all right?" she anxiously asked Marissa.
Marissa wasn't sure at all. Her breathing was coming too hard and too fast, and butterflies the size of the Jabberwock were flying pell-mell through her stomach. But she'd faced far harder tasks in her life, she was certain. And she had been told that for a brief and shining season, her mother had begun to rise as a young actress upon the London stage. Marissa knew she was a gifted mimic. The act she played today would be for Mary's benefit.
"I'm going to be fine," Marissa assured her friend.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the hotel suite's elegant free-standing mirror.
She would be fine. She certainly looked the part of the lady today. She was clad in one of Mary's beautiful white silk dresses. The tiny buttons were shimmering little pearls that ran from hem to throat and from wrist to elbow. Her skirt was floor length and in the height of fashion, narrow, conforming handsomely to her figure. Her petite boots were beige leather, and buttoned all along her ankles.
Her hair was swept up off her neck and held in place just above her nape by a gold barrette that matched the brooch at her throat.
She was elegant in the most casual way. Mary knew clothing.
Marissa folded her hands negligently and managed to smile at Mary. A tea service was already set on the oak coffee table for her convenience at the arrival of their guest. And she and Mary had played at tea for a long time now.
A very long time.
When Marissa's father, the Reverend Robert James Ayers, had been alive, Mary and Marissa lived close to one another. Robert Ayers had been the vicar at the beautiful old medieval church in the squire's parish.
Marissa had loved and admired him greatly. He had been destined for the coal mines like his brother Theo, but he had proven such a promising child that the vicar of Leominster parish, twenty miles away, had taken him in. Robert had loved to study, and he had grown to love the church, so he had taken his benefactor's place when Father Ridgefield died.
As the child of the local vicar, Marissa had enjoyed many advantages. She had been brought to the manor house for tea on her sixth birthday. Poor Mary had been forced to entertain her. Marissa had presented herself as Miss Katherine Marissa Ayers of Leominster Parish House, and had grown furious when she had seen the other girl laughing. She had hopped up, ready to forget all about being a lady and tearing out a bit of her hostess's hair, when Mary giggled anew and held out her hand in protest of violence.
"I'm not laughing at you," she said. "Truly, I'm not! It's just funny, that's all. You see, I'm really Katherine, too, Katherine Mary Ahearn. Oh, don't you see. Our names are so very alike."
Marissa tossed her head. "I'm known as Marissa."
"And Father calls me Mary, so we shan't have a bit of confusion. Please, I'm really glad that you've come. I'm so very lonely so often."
Marissa had played with Mary often enough, but then her father had died. And with his death she also lost Mary, for she had gone to live with Theo in the mining town. She had hated her new life, but she had loved Theo, a wonderful man, uneducated, unable to read, but with a charming smile, laughing eyes and a way of telling a small girl a story that could make her smile and fall asleep curled into his strong arms.
Life was much worse for other children, Marissa knew that well. Especially orphans. Many of them were beaten and abused by their relatives or stepparents. She had known nothing but kindness.
Kindness ... and coal dust.
She had wanted to repay her Uncle Theo in any way she could. And so she had swept and cleaned and cooked, and had done her very best to keep his clothing laundered and mended, and to make their small cottage a home. But when her lessons ended she had known she would soon be sent off to work, for there was no other way for a child of her class.
During the days, though, she had dreamed.
Especially after she had seen the strange boy with his impeccably clean clothing.
She had dreamed of the grand manor where she had studied with Mary. And she had remembered Mary's delicate white hands, and the furniture that never reeked of coal dust.
And then one Sunday, when Uncle Theo and she had been able to borrow a pony cart and had taken the long drive to Leominster instead of attending the small chapel in the coal town, she had seen Mary again. Standing by the squire's side, she was tall and lovely with her burnished brown hair and warm brown eyes and her beautiful fur-trimmed winter coat. She had grown up. They had both grown up, into young women. They were nearly fifteen.
Marissa looked at her hands, curled around her prayer book. Her nails were broken and ugly, her hands chapped.
And she knew that Mary's hands would still be small and elegant and lovely.
When the last blessing was bestowed, Marissa turned to flee. She did not want to see Mary.
But it seemed that the squire had seen her, for she had barely exited the ancient church with its spires and saints and gargoyles when his hand fell warmly upon her shoulder.
"Why, 'tis you, Marissa, child! We were heartily bereaved at the death of your father. And we missed you dearly, Mary and I. How have you been keeping yourself?"
"Quite well, Squire, thank you," Marissa murmured, wishing she could run. But Mary was behind him. Marissa thought she would lift her elegant nose and turn away from the coal child Marissa had become. But Mary stepped forward and hugged her enthusiastically. "Marissa!"
Before the day was out, Marissa and Uncle Theo had been taken to the manor for tea. Uncle Theo had stared around uncomfortably, and he had spilled his tea and used all the wrong silver, and the blackness of coal that the years had etched into his long bony fingers was glaringly dark against the Ahearns' elegant china, but it didn't seem to matter. Marissa could remember having tea as a child, and then she was ashamed that she could judge an uncle who had been so very kind to her. And seeing Sir Thomas and Mary, she swallowed hard and thought she had truly learned a lesson. Class and elegance did not lie in upturned noses, but rather in the graciousness inherent in these people. When she said thank you and goodbye to Mary and the squire, Marissa came as close to being humble as she had in all her life.
Three days later, the squire visited them in the squalid little coal town, and he suggested that Marissa should come to live in the manor house. Theo refused charity, but Sir Thomas promised that she would be a maid and earn her keep—and her education.
"I cannot give me niece away," Theo said with deep emotion.
"And would you have her grow to womanhood here, marry a miner and watch him die of the black lung only to struggle on to raise an army of little ones herself? I don't ask you to give her away, good man. I ask you only to give her a wee bit of opportunity. I say it from my heart, for my daughter and myself. And in memory of your good brother.
"Good Lord, man! Would that I had authority over this place! I despise the way it is run. But Ayers, man, I can help your girl. Perhaps I haven't the power to change the mine, but I do have the power to change her life. And we are still close enough that she can see you often. She loves you, and she will not be far."
Theo hesitated for only a moment, seeing the earnest appeal in Sir Thomas's eyes. "Go on out, Marissa," Uncle Theo told her. "The squire and I have much to discuss."
When she came back, a bargain had been struck. She would live at the manor during the week, she would work, she would receive a salary, and she would resume her education.
There was nothing like it. Nothing like it on earth. She moved into the manor, into a room in the attic. It was a small room, but it was hers—all her own. Six days a week she worked and studied, and on the seventh, the Sabbath day, she went to church and then she went home to her uncle. She never went empty-handed. Thanks to the squire, she brought hams and fowl and fruit and vegetables and fresh-baked breads. And Uncle Theo would have his friends over, and they would all share in the largesse. She would read to Theo and his cronies, and sometimes she would try to teach some of the little blackened urchins of the other mine families, and she knew that her uncle was very proud of her, and she was proud herself.
She had escaped the coal dust.
Living with the squire and Mary was easy, despite the fact that she worked very hard and studied even harder in her determination to become a lady. Most of the time, she was happy. Very happy. Mary was her employer, but she was also her very best friend. They dreamed together, Mary of love, Marissa of riches grand enough to feed the entire mining population. Marissa learned her mannerisms from Mary, and she copied Mary's accent. She excelled Mary in their history classes, mostly because she loved the tales of brave seafarers and pilgrims and the London Company and all those others who had set out to forge a new life. She was also exceedingly quick with mathematics, since math was useful with money, and she knew that little could be done without that commodity.
She had always thought that the town by the manor was so big, compared with the small community of the village. With Mary, she traveled farther, to the county seat of York. She was fascinated to see the wall that the Romans had built still standing, and she marveled at the magnificent York Minster Cathedral, awed by the age and grandeur, so close to the squalor in which she had lived.
It was as if the cloud that hung over the coal village had been a prison of a kind. It had kept her from viewing anything beyond it.
The years had passed, and most of the time she was pleased. And proud.
Most of the time ...
Marissa frowned, wondering what uncomfortable thought hovered in the dark corners of her mind. Only upon occasion did she feel any less the lady than Mary herself. She could hold her head high in any company, and she had been attending the opera and the theater with Mary and certain acquaintances to perfect her current masquerade.
But every once in a while ...
Then she remembered. Blue eyes touching her, racing over her, seeming to see her for what she really was. A British maid graced with a burning will to succeed, and a kind-hearted employer and the friendship of his daughter. Those eyes had made her feel so uncomfortable. Vulnerable and naked, as if they could strip away every pretense. They had done so to her when she had been a child, and when she had been a woman. They had made her feel hot and flushed and uneasy. And even now, when she most needed her confidence, they seemed to intrude upon the moment.
"Mary, maybe we're making a mistake! Maybe this fellow is kind, and we should be honest and truthful. Maybe he wants a ward even less than you want a guardian! You should deal with this man Tremayne yourself," she murmured suddenly.
Mary's dark warm eyes clouded with pain. She hurried anxiously across the handsome Victorian parlor of their suite. "Guardian! And I'm nineteen already. How could my father have done such a thing!"
"He loved you very much, Mary," Marissa supplied gently. "Truly, I don't think that he meant to hurt you. Mary, your health has never been good, and you've always been so kind and compassionate. I'm certain that your father was afraid that perhaps a fortune hunter might take advantage of that very loving nature of yours. And he might have swindled all your money from you. And left you. Oh, Mary, he was mistaken, but he was a good man. And he did love you!"
"If only I had told him the truth!"
Marissa didn't think that it would have helped any for Mary to have told her father the truth.
Mary was in love, and she had been in love for well over a year. The problem was that she was in love with a young Irish clerk named Jimmy O'Brien.
Marissa liked Jimmy, very much. If she hadn't liked him so much, and liked him from the very beginning, she wouldn't have helped Mary this far.
Though indeed, there were times when Marissa still considered Mary to be a fool. Jimmy was a fine man. He was a struggler, a survivor, like Marissa was herself. He had left Ireland with little more than a good head for figures and a determination that no more potatoes could be eked from his meagre portion of land. He had a sense for fine wools, and he had managed to obtain a good, decent job with a fine merchant. He bought for his employer, and his eye was keen, and the merchant's shop was doing much better under Jimmy's care.
Mary and Jimmy had met, and fallen in love. The words of warning that her father would never accept the hardworking young merchant had not done a thing to turn Mary aside from her reckless affair. She had never told her father about Jimmy O'Brien, and Marissa had covered for her again and again when she had left the house in sunshine or twilight to carry on her liaison.
"Mary!" Marissa had warned her repeatedly. "You've grown up with everything you might wish handed to you on a very elegant silver platter! You're accustomed to servants and ease. Mary!" She had grabbed Mary's small delicate hands with their silk-soft flesh. "Mary, life cannot be so easy if you elope and marry this man!"
"You don't understand what it is to be in love, Marissa," Mary had assured her. "I would work for him, I would die for him!"
Such vehemence and passion from shy Mary were quite impressive. But Marissa merely replied, "And you don't know what it is to watch children starve."
Their argument became moot, for it was then that they discovered the squire was ill. And it was not too long before the doctors informed Mary that there was no hope, her father was going to die.
That night she and Marissa had grown closer than ever, crying, hugging one another through the night for what little comfort they could offer one another.
Mary never told her father about Jimmy O'Brien. There was no need to distress a sick man so. When the squire had whispered his last goodbye and Mary had learned to live with the loss, then someday she would marry Jimmy. And in the meantime, Jimmy O'Brien stood by her side. In those weary hours when Mary's father's illness was greatest, Marissa would tend to the squire, and Mary would disappear with her lover. He gave her a comfort that not even Marissa could provide.
Squire Ahearn breathed his last on a beautiful late summer morning. The sun was shining; the daffodils were in full bloom. Both Mary and Marissa had sat beside him at the huge bay window, and he had breathed in the fresh scent of the day, closed his eyes and died.
And three days later, after a very proper funeral, he had been laid to rest in the bosom of his ancestral tomb. Despite the knowledge of certain death, Mary and Marissa had grieved deeply, barely managing to speak to one another for days.
Marissa's Uncle Theo had been heartily worried about her, and so, when Sir Thomas had been dead about ten days, she had left to spend time with Theo at his cottage. She had cleaned away more coal dust, and she had convinced him that Mary was raising her to an income so high that Theo no longer needed to work in the mine. His cough was bad, hacking, almost a continual thing, and Marissa could not bear it. She had just watched Sir Thomas die and she was not about to let Theo follow him. She knew that she told the truth. Mary would be a wealthy woman now, and she could provide for herself and Jimmy and, in truth, offer Marissa a very fine salary, indeed.
Excerpted from Forbidden Fire by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1991 Heather Graham Pozzessere. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ever since I was a little girl, fighting & tension has made me nervous & sick to my stomach. That's how I felt through much of this book. The hatred, anger, fury, & physical altercations were overwhelming. I fast-forwarded through at least half the story. Definitely NOT one of my favorites.
I can't even finish this book. The heroine is ridiculous how can you be jealous , angry and hostile towards someone because they are wealthy. She is a nasty rude character. Oh and then she so called martyred herself and married this wealthy handsome man that she disliked. It's a really silly and annoying story, save your money folks please, soo not worth it.
Not very realistic, but a good romance all the same. Very interesting characters, though I think my favorites were minor characters like Uncle Theo and Darrin. It felt rushed towards the end at the way secrets were revealed and how they were handled. I think it could have been fantastic if there was more depth to the main characters, but overall not bad.