Jane Charlotte Danes has loved the squire of her idyllic country town for as long as she can remember. He is good, kind, and alluring beyond words... and he chose to marry another. Tired of dwelling on her futile longings, Jane plans a move to Bath, where she dreams of a new beginning. But the man who has so imprisoned her heart is only a few steps behind...
He Can't Let Her Go...
Until now, Matthew Cleaves has endeavored to meet the responsibilities of his position with dignity and good spirits--including his dutiful marriage. But when his wife leaves him for another man, Matthew is at last free to pursue his one true love. Only one vital question remains: will the captivating, stubborn, beautiful Jane allow him the challenge, and the pleasure, of winning her back?..
"An entertaining read." --Library Journal on The Temptation of Laura
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)|
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Her One True Love
By Rachel Brimble
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Rachel Brimble
All rights reserved.
Biddestone, England, 1899
Jane Charlotte Danes stared into the murky depths of the village pond. Was it true that a person could drown in little more than a few inches of water? The possibility seemed ludicrous, but what if the intent to die was there, pulling at a person over and over until they grabbed the opportunity with a carefully held breath?
"Jane? What is it? What are you looking at?"
Blinking, Jane turned to her sister and forced a smile to eliminate hints of her morose state of heart and mind. She met Monica's worried gaze. "I was merely wondering how soon the fish will disappear to the bottom for winter."
Her sister frowned and glanced uneasily toward the pond. "You do know such musings don't really make for the most stimulating conversation?"
Jane battled her need to escape into submission and stole her arm into the crook of Monica's elbow. "I'm teasing."
"Are you? Because your expression led me to wonder whether you were considering jumping in and seeing how long it would take for you to slip to the bottom."
Jane waved away her sister's astute observation. "Don't be silly. Come, let's go back to the house and take tea. Maybe we can even persuade Mrs. Seton for a slice of her delectably naughty sponges."
Monica shook her head. "You really are a conundrum. Albeit a conundrum I love with all my heart."
Forcing a smile, Jane trapped further words inside, and instead gently tugged on Monica's arm, urging her along the cobbled streets of Biddestone. Her sister's chatter accompanied them as they passed the tavern and walked toward the country lane that would eventually lead to their home, Marksville House. The November day showcased a picture of autumnal perfection with the leaves of the oak and birch trees changing color, and the crunch of their fallen foliage underfoot.
Yet, none of its beauty lifted Jane's spirits toward her once-held optimism. What would it take to quash her need to disappear? To heal her stupid, hapless heart and move on to a life with which she longed to do good? She sighed. At least the enormity of the pale blue sky, lessened only by the distant and hazy sunshine, muted a little of the loud despair tumbling inside her mind.
Easing her arm from Monica's, Jane pulled on one of her gloves, plucking at the fingers as unwanted tension continued to simmer inside. More and more often, the thought of leaving Biddestone and heading to Bath pulled at her. It felt right to follow what Monica had done almost six years before, even if her sister had eventually returned home. Yet how was she to leave Monica and Thomas when they relied on her so? What if, unlike Monica, Jane never returned to the village but chose to live the rest of her life in the city?
Would Monica forgive her when Jane had so vehemently claimed there was no better place in the world than Biddestone? She inhaled. That was before she fully accepted she held in her heart a man who would never want her. Well, now she'd accepted Matthew's disinterest, and the only course of action was to leave.
"Well, look who's here." Monica's exclamation cut through Jane's reverie. "Good afternoon, Matthew."
Jane's heart beat faster. They'd reached the corner of the church walls that stretched almost to the gates of the Manor House. How could she have been so foolish not to insist they cut across the fields and enter the Marksville Estate from the back entrance? She clutched her second glove in a bid to hide her trembling — a trembling from annoyance, whereas before she'd trembled with desire whenever she'd seen Squire Matthew Cleaves.
Desire soon ended when a man you loved married another. Or at least, it should.
Every ounce of self-preservation screamed at Jane to walk away, to save herself from having to talk to the man whose life had been the subject of village whispers and speculation since May seventeenth.
The day, almost seven months before, when the glamorous, seemingly perfect Squiress Cleaves had taken leave of Biddestone — and her senses — as far as Jane was concerned. She'd left her husband for her lover. She'd left Matthew.
He nodded at Monica. "Monica." Another dip of his head in Jane's direction, his eyes hooded beneath dark lashes. "Jane."
Jane smiled and nodded, unashamed triumph rippling through her that the man hadn't the gumption to fully meet her eyes. She might have been foolish to believe there had been flirtation between them, but she wasn't wrong about Matthew's aloof treatment of her and the other villagers since his wife's abrupt departure.
Well, sooner or later, he'd have to talk to her civilly. Didn't she and everyone else deserve an apology for his vast change in attitude? Some words to help them feel sympathy rather than irritation with his situation? She lifted her chin. In fact, there was no reason he couldn't talk to her right now.
"How are you?" Monica touched his arm. "It has been too long since you have visited us at the house."
"I'm well, thank you."
Jane bit back a huff. Well, indeed. Even now, the man's months-old — and seemingly permanent — scowl took an embarrassingly long moment to evolve into some semblance of a smile.
"Well, I have trouble believing that. Especially when you're always out and about whenever Jane, myself, or Thomas come calling," Monica admonished. "Unless, of course, the ever-faithful Mrs. Hershaw blatantly misleads us by sending us away with promises of passing on our wishes to see you. It's really most impolite to ignore people who care about you, you know."
Her sister's teasing would have once brought a boom of hearty laughter from Matthew, a quick and witty reply. Today, not a flicker of light brightened his dark blue eyes, nor a flush of pleasure brightened his wan pallor.
He cleared his throat and stared into the distance. "I've been busy cleaning up after the harvest, as well as making plans toward a Christmas fête."
Jane flinched and snapped her head up to fully face him. "A Christmas fê? But I thought this year, considering what has happened — "
"What has happened?" His hostile gaze burned into hers. "As in my wife betraying me with another man? Or the fact that I'm now a laughingstock to the entire village? I would hope you would give me more credit than to hide away or shirk my responsibilities of providing the Biddestone people with work and enjoyment in equal measure."
Monica slid her hand from Matthew's arm and glared. "I do not think Jane deserves your — "
"I can speak for myself, thank you, Monica." Jane held Matthew's unrelenting glare. "I was intending to say, I presumed the celebrations would not go ahead when I have heard such stories of people struggling this past year. I know business is not very good for many people, including, I should imagine, you. So much of their livelihood comes from the prosperity of your land." She jabbed her fingers into her second glove, her mouth dry, her indignation too hot to douse. "I think you're sorely mistaken if you think your wife's infidelity is of interest to everyone in Biddestone. As much as you might think it so, the world does not revolve entirely around the life of Matthew Cleaves."
Their gazes locked as Jane's heart pounded, waiting to hear what he would say next. He snatched his gaze between her and Monica, before turning his glare on Jane. "Could I have a word with you in private?"
She straightened her spine. "Whatever you have to say can be said in front of Monica."
He narrowed his eyes. "I must insist that we talk alone." He looked to Monica. "Do you mind?"
Monica turned to Jane, her brows raised. "Jane?"
Jane swallowed against the dryness in her throat, wondering if a moment alone with Matthew was such a good idea. She forced a smile. "What the squire asks, he shall have."
Monica rolled her eyes and wandered away from them a little way down the road.
Jane faced Matthew, curling her fingers tighter around her glove to hide her infernal trembling. "Well?"
His gaze bore into hers before he closed his eyes. "I'm tired of this tension between us."
"Between us or between you and the entire village?"
He snapped his eyes open. "Between us. Everyone else can go forth with their speculation, but your opinion matters to me. You know this."
Jane's heart picked up speed. "Do I? Because your rejection of any attempted kindness on my part, the way you speak and look at me nowadays, leads me to think you cannot stand the mere sight of me."
"That isn't true. When Elizabeth left ... when she left with him ..." He removed his hat and drew his hand through the dark brown strands of his hair. "Why can't you understand this?"
Sympathy poked and prodded at Jane's heart to see such pain in his eyes, but she would not falter. They had worked together so many times for the good of the village, and now he treated her so very differently. She dropped her shoulders. "What, Matthew? What do I need to understand?"
He sighed. "Marriage isn't always about love and happiness. It can also be about lineage, prosperity, and the good of others. Sometimes the very people who are married have to try their best to make the marriage last, regardless of whether that is what either of them wants. I tried. I tried a damn sight harder than Elizabeth, but still ..."
Jane's heart twisted. What was he saying? That he never loved Elizabeth? That he loved her, but she didn't him? She needed to hear the words. Needed to hear him say what was truly in his heart. If he couldn't confide in her, couldn't trust her, then he had made her decision to leave all the easier.
She stared at him. "But still what?"
His gaze bored intensely into hers. "But still I failed. I failed to make her happy. I failed to make you and the villagers happy. I have failed."
Her heart pounded as sympathy bloomed. This wasn't the assertive, determined, and ambitious man she'd fallen in love with. This was a man full of doubt, sadness, and misplaced blame. She reached for his arm. "Matthew —"
He raised his hand, halting her contact. "No. Your pity is the last thing I want. I just want you to know why I'm acting the way I am, why I'm finding it so hard to function as I did before. I failed, Jane, but I intend to rise again. I can guarantee you that much, at least."
Before she could speak the seemingly empty words that flailed upon her tongue, he donned his hat and strode away. Jane stared after him until Monica's hand at her elbow broke through her stupor.
"Jane? Are you all right?"
Jane swallowed. "Yes. Yes, I'm perfectly fine. Let's go home."
Her eyes stung with tears, but Jane set one foot firmly in front of the other. Thankfully, her sister had the mind to at least wait until they were a number of yards along the street before she broke her silence.
"Jane, stop. What on earth did Matthew say to you? You look in complete shock."
"It isn't shock I'm feeling." Jane halted, her hands trembling and her cheeks hot as inexplicable anger overtook sympathy. "The man is a ... a ... oh, I don't know what he is. What he says confuses me. Worries me. He might be Biddestone's squire, but he doesn't have the monopoly on being our only subject of discussion."
Monica stared, her blue eyes dancing with amusement. "Why does everything Matthew do annoy you so these days? We relied on him so much when Papa left us Marksville and the house in Bath. It was Matthew who convinced us to purchase the lower and upper floors and initiate a fine income from renting out a town house in the heart of the city. Goodness, Jane, was it not Matthew who finally made me accept Thomas's importance in my life? Now I'm happily married to a man I love deeply. Matthew is a good man. You know he is."
Jane looked past Monica toward the church. A church she'd stood in over two years before and watched helplessly as Matthew vowed to love and honor the beautiful, enigmatic, and now unfaithful, Elizabeth Cleaves née Philips. Now she was gone and Matthew seemed to have lost the very essence of what once filled, and now broke, Jane's heart.
His kindness, his warm, caring gaze, even his faith and care for the people of her beloved village had evaporated over the past weeks and months.
"Jane?" Monica raised her hand to Jane's cheek. "What is it?"
Jane lifted her cheek from Monica's gentle grasp and closed her eyes. "Nothing. I ... Matthew infuriates me because ..." She opened her eyes as frustration replaced her anger. "I thought he was so much more than this."
"More than what?" Monica frowned. "You're not making any sense."
Self-loathing that she should still care so deeply for a man who could barely look at her, unless in anger, swirled inside Jane's stomach. "He's half the man he was before his wife left him. He's cold to the villagers and us. I've seen none of the passion he had for his tenants, or lands, in months."
"Even if that's true, why do you act as though ..." Monica stared, her eyes wide. "It's him, isn't it? Matthew is the reason you've never taken my advice and utilized the house in Bath. How could I have been so blind?"
Humiliation burned hot at Jane's cheeks and poked the fire in her belly for change, to do more, and not spend another minute hankering after a man so clearly devastated by the betrayal of a woman Jane had to accept he truly loved.
"What of it?" She stepped back. "So I loved him, but believe me, these past months of watching him scowl and stomp around the village have quashed whatever futile feelings I might have held. You're right. You were always right."
"Oh Jane, come here. I hate seeing you this way."
Jane raised her hand, halting her sister's embrace. "No, I mean it. I'm tired of waiting for him to long for me the way I've longed for him." Her dreams of Matthew, of children and a home together, had one by one burst like popping bubbles in her heart. "I'm leaving."
Monica blanched and dropped her outstretched arms. "What do you mean, you're leaving?"
Jane's heart lifted with the excitement of a new future, a new life far away from Matthew Cleaves and the life expected of her. "I'm leaving for Bath this weekend. I'm going to the house."
"But you can't."
"Why not? Haven't you been forever urging me to go to the city? To have some fun? To discover there's more to life than Marksville and the work it takes to run the estate and look after the tenants? Well, I'm ready, Monica. I'm ready to find out what I can do past caring for this village." She smiled, excitement rippling through her. "I'm ready to start living my life. Like you once did. You had a life in the city, and when you returned, you fell in love and stayed. Maybe I'll go to Bath, fall in love, and stay there. It's my turn now ... and entirely on my terms."
"Are you intending to live alone?"
Jane frowned. "I'd like to take Jeannie with me. She deserves to see more than the village too. Please, can you spare her?"
Concern filled her sister's eyes. "Well, yes, I'd be happier with Jeannie being with you, but this seems so sudden. Have you really thought about what moving to the city will entail? What it will be like? Things are different in Bath. The people ..." Monica sighed. "The people are selfish, Jane. They only want what's best for themselves."
Jane lifted her shoulders. "Then I will discover that for myself. I want to work. I want to go out and do some good in the world. I looked after Mama for years before she died and I always did exactly as Papa bid me. Now they're gone. You and Thomas are running things so well. It's my turn now."
Monica clasped Jane's hand and lifted her other hand to Jane's jaw. She stared deep into Jane's eyes. "And I applaud your independence. You know I'll support you, but I want you to be absolutely certain about this. When I was in Bath, I had friends at the theater, people to call on for help and at least maintain my reputation, if not entirely save it."
"And I have friends in the city too." She smiled and gently lifted Monica's hand from her jaw. Jane squeezed her sister's fingers as excitement gripped her. "We're not so different, you and I. I do not care for others' opinions and neither do you. I can always call on Adam and Laura, if need be."
Monica's gaze softened as she cast her study over Jane's face. At last, her shoulders slumped and she smiled. "Fine. I can see your mind is made up."
Jane grinned. "It is. This is what I want."
"Then we will make it so."
Jane slipped her hand in Monica's elbow and, together, they made their way home.
Excerpted from Her One True Love by Rachel Brimble. Copyright © 2016 Rachel Brimble. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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