A decade ago, Douglas Scott, the elusive Lord Darkwood, survived a horrendous accident that left him with both physical and emotional scars. Abandoned by his beautiful fiancée at his darkest moment, he turns his back on society, embracing a hermit lifestyle, until an unexpected meeting awakes a desperate need for revenge.
Unaware of Lord Darkwood's wicked plans, Wendolyne Russell travels to his crumbling manor in the middle of the dark forest to be the companion to Douglas's sickly, bedridden elderly aunt. Used as a servant by her parents, Wendy easily adapts to a similar role at her new home, slowly awakening the once grand manor.
Thrown together, the beast learns to yield and the mouse learns to roar, and Douglas and Wendy find themselves warming to each other—to the point of flames. But danger lurks. Douglas's accident was an unsuccessful murder attempt, and the murderer returns to finish what he started.
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|Publisher:||Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Darkwood Manor, July 1805
It was an unusually warm day, even for the month of July.
Hot, unmerciful sunbeams washed over the crowd gathered on the lush, green lawn, forcing the ladies to wave their delicate fans in front of their flushing faces, while the men discreetly unbuttoned their jackets and loosened their cravats. Tray after tray filled with glasses of champagne and lemonade with just a hint of gin were brought out to the thirsty crowd, which grew merrier with every sip.
Anthony Scott hesitated behind the billowing curtains gracing the open French doors of the library. Frantically he searched the now quite tipsy crowd, looking for his cousin. He desperately needed to talk to the man. Chewing on his fingernails, his eyes flew from one dark masculine head to another, until he found the right one. There, in the middle of the almost one hundred guests, stood Douglas, the humble host of the annual summer house party at Darkwood Manor.
Leaving his hideout, Anthony slowly moved down the limestone steps which led to the lawn, making his way through the giddy crowd. Ignoring the few acquaintances who recognized him with haughty nods, he didn't stop until he had reached the small group which contained his cousin.
Arthur Basset, the Duke of Thornbury, the most prominent guest at the party, and, more importantly, Douglas's godfather, was telling something which seemed to be a hilarious tale of a one-legged man and a woman with no legs at all. Waiting for his laughing cousin to notice him, Anthony couldn't help but glance at the beautiful young woman who stood beside the Duke, a polite smile on her lovely pink lips. As always, something ugly moved inside him as he thought about his cousin's luck in life.
Douglas Scott, the Earl of Darkwood, had it all.
He was a very wealthy man, thanks to his father and the rest of his predecessors, who all very cunningly had made sure to grow the family's vast fortune even heftier. He owned two houses, this ancient country house in the south part of the Forest of Dean, and a luxurious town house at Berkeley Square in London. He had more friends than he ever could remember by name and a fiancée who outshone every other woman.
Anthony, on the other hand, had no money at all because of his and his father's extensive gambling. He lived in a small rented room in Lydney, from which he probably soon would be evicted, as he hadn't paid the rent for quite some time. The only woman he had ever wanted, the only woman who had ever made him consider he should stop fooling around and become an adult, he had lost forever when six months earlier he had proudly introduced her to his cousin.
Annabelle hadn't known about his infatuation, so he couldn't hold her responsible for her choice. She came from the same dire circumstances he did, also due to a father who couldn't stop gambling, and he could easily understand her quest for money and security. And Douglas Scott, the wealthy and well-connected Earl of Darkwood, could offer her both.
His cousin was an honest man, held in high esteem among the socialites of Gloucestershire and London — even though he was only twenty years old — not only for his noble standing but also for his handsome face, his attentive politeness, and of course his vast riches. Miss Annabelle Russell had caught herself one of England's most eligible bachelors. How could Anthony resent her for that?
Although he could resent his bloody cousin.
"Anthony!" Annabelle's smile was warm and welcoming as she noticed him standing beside them. "I didn't know you were attending today. How nice to see you again. It must have been months since we last met."
He inhaled her sweet scent as he lightly pressed his lips against the glove- clad hand she offered him in greeting. All he wanted to do was pull her closer and plaster his lips against hers until she moaned with raw pleasure, but instead he let go of her hand, nodding curtly toward the four men in the group, receiving nothing but cold bows back.
He knew they resented both him and his way of life, constantly comparing him to his perfect cousin who could do no wrong. Normally their undisguised contempt would bother him, make him feel less of a man, but for once he didn't care. His desperation was too deep, too overwhelming. All he wanted — all he needed — was his cousin's attention for a moment, and as he finally succeeded with his mission, he didn't waste any time.
"I need to speak with you," he told Douglas curtly, his forehead and hands turning moist with sweat.
"I have guests, Tony," Douglas acknowledged, with a polite, dismissive smile. "Please feel free to join the party. As soon as all the guests have left, we can rendezvous."
He hadn't meant to scream. Really, he hadn't. But the angst inside him was wearing him down. Ignoring the surrounding guests' baffled gazes, he took a step closer to Douglas, forcing his voice lower. "I'm desperate, Douglas. Please ..."
"Tony ..." Douglas looked tired, and Anthony knew he was losing this battle before it even had a chance to begin.
"For my father."
With a dejected sigh, Douglas's proud shoulders slumped, and Anthony knew he had won the first fight.
"All right, let's go to the library." Douglas turned to face Annabelle and her father. "I will be right back, my dear. Please excuse me for a moment."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
Douglas shook his head toward the Duke. "No, thank you. Please stay here with my fiancée, and I will be right back after taking care of this."
Following his cousin through the milling crowd, Anthony started to feel nauseous. What was this? What was Douglas going to take care of? If he wasn't mistaken, it had sounded as if Anthony was a problem. The Duke's offer to stand by Douglas's side scared him more than anything, because that meant his cousin had an agenda.
Shivers of fear ran down his spine, together with a waterfall of sweat, as he walked into the dark library. Now, when he had his cousin to himself, he didn't know how to start. He was aware of them having had this conversation more times than he wanted to admit. Every time his despair for funding was too deep, and he couldn't find another way out, he had come to Darkwood Manor to beg for money. To crawl for help.
However, this time something was different, and he couldn't tell what. Usually, Douglas would look at him, patronizingly, and Anthony would have to endure a long lecture about money and gambling before he was given the amount he had come for. His cousin never failed to include some extra, which was meant to go to pay his future bills and give him a fresh start, but it always ended up on the gambling tables as soon he had paid off his debts.
This time Douglas seemed sad, silently withdrawing himself, and Anthony knew he had to move fast. This was not the time for any light conversation before getting to the core of the matter, and so he threw himself into it head first.
"I need money."
Looking at him with the same sad expression, Douglas sighed deeply. "I have come to a decision that I will not give you any more money," he replied smoothly, but Anthony could hear the determination hidden in the velvety voice.
"Why?" he asked hoarsely, his voice cracking into pieces.
"Because if I am here, constantly refilling your pockets whenever you have gambled every penny away, you will never learn how to handle money."
Anthony let out a hysterical laugh, born in the depths of his despair. "Don't you understand?" he shrieked. "I'm dead if I don't pay back the money I owe. Dead! Do you want to be the one responsible for that? What would my father think of you then, when you coldheartedly have killed his only child?"
Douglas closed his eyes for a second. "You have to find another way," he said quietly. "I know you are an intelligent man, Tony, even though your extensive gambling suggests a different story. If you just think it through, you will find a way out of your predicament. However, this time you must do it by yourself. You will never understand that you can't live life the way you do if I'm always there, picking up the pieces. I guess it is partly my fault, as I have always handed you whatever you have asked for, as did my father before me. But to save you from yourself, I have decided that enough is enough."
Anthony shook his head, searching for the right thing to say, something to make Douglas change his mind, but his cousin's words scrambled by at a speed which made him unable to come up with a convincing lie.
"I'm dead," he whispered, as he staggered toward his cousin, not able to believe this was happening. But Douglas's obvious stoic pain told him wordlessly it wasn't a bad dream; this was happening. In one last attempt to have his usual easy way out, he threw himself down on the floor, at his cousin's feet, humiliating himself. "You have to save me. Please, Cousin, you have to."
The pity in Douglas's face as he took a step back, away from Anthony, brought another wave of nausea washing over him, and he stumbled up onto his feet. Without another word, he staggered away from the library and his cousin, through the dark hallway, and continued out into the courtyard. There he grabbed his still sweaty horse and galloped away from the clearing where Darkwood Manor was situated, into the dense forest.
He could hear his cousin's voice behind him, calling out his name, but he ignored the pleading tone and instead forced the horse into an even faster pace, losing Douglas and his pathetic little perfect life behind him. Humiliation and anger roared through his mind and soul, swirling around with the fear and desperation he had lived with for too long.
It wasn't until the road through the forest became narrower and the path tighter and curvier that he slowed down and let the horse catch its breath. Bare branches reached for him as he passed, stretching their skeleton hands after him, but Anthony was too caught up in his wretched pain to notice the scratches. Fear, like none other he had ever encountered before, made him weak and nauseous, and he knew he was riding toward a certain death.
He was done. He knew it and couldn't do anything about it. Not anymore. By refusing to pay up, Douglas had destroyed every last hope. And now he was a dead man.
As he reached the edge of the wood, he stopped, staring at the nasty manmade gash in the hillside in front of him — the Woodland Quarry. Looking down the deep hole, the coward's solution became more and more tempting. What if he took his own life? Then he wouldn't have to face the consequences of his actions.
Standing at the top of the quarry, he knew he could end his misery then and there. It was a long fall to the rocky bottom partly filled with water, and he knew it was a death trap. Last autumn a man had fallen from the very spot where Anthony stood, and the poor man had died a horrible death, his body torn into pieces by the sharp, pointed rocks.
If he rode a little farther down the road and then turned back, he could use the uncommonly straight part of the road at the top of the crest to push his horse into a wild gallop. And as the road did a sharp bend at the highest point of the quarry, before disappearing into the woods, he could force his horse to go straight forward, out into the air.
And then it would be over. No more misery.
Grabbing the reins, he took a deep breath, trying to encourage himself to sit up on the horse and make a run for it. But to his frustration he couldn't. Just as he couldn't stop himself from playing another game, he didn't seem able to take his own life. He was born a survivor and a leach, and as such he wasn't prone either to take responsibility for his own actions or to hurt himself by choice.
Ending someone else's life wouldn't be a problem for a man without conscience, but he couldn't take his own.
One thought led to another, and then another, until a relieved smile crept over his face. Why hadn't he ever thought about it before? If Douglas died, all his problems would disappear. Douglas had no offspring of his own, so Anthony, as his closest kin, would inherit Darkwood Manor, the title, and all the riches of the Scott family.
A new life. A new beginning.
Why, even Annabelle could be his. His smile broadened more and more as he thought about Annabelle finally becoming his wife, something he had dreamt about for quite some time.
The sound of horses closing in on him woke him from his thoughts. Not in the mood for company, he led his horse back into the forest, hiding behind a crooked old tree dressed in dark green moss. His eyes narrowed as he recognized the carriage passing by. It was Douglas, and Anthony could only guess his cousin was taking Annabelle and her parents back to Gloucester.
Unwillingly, his eyes darted toward the quarry, well aware that he would never find a moment as good as this if he wanted to go through with his plan. As his cousin's carriage disappeared down the hill, Anthony stood silent, hesitating. Memories of their childhood danced in his mind, memories of the little boy who had followed him around everywhere, always looking at him as if he was the most amazing person he'd ever met. Despite their five-year age difference, they had spent much time together, especially as his father had liked to leave Anthony at his brother's house when he was on a gambling spree.
Douglas and Anthony had been close, almost as if they were brothers, not just cousins. It was the years at Eton which had parted them, made them grow apart. Douglas's father, who had been a good man with a big heart, had sent Anthony with Douglas to the school, so he too would have the education a young man of his situation should have. At Eton, they had found new friends but not the same ones — friends more like each one's own state of mind — and things had never been the same between them again.
But still ... it was a long walk from growing apart from his cousin to cold- bloodedly killing him. Although ... Douglas had cut the final cord between them when refusing to help. If he hadn't, the thought of killing him wouldn't have crossed Anthony's mind. So, all in all, this was Douglas's own fault. Anthony could not be blamed for something his cousin had started.
Before he could change his mind, he walked farther down the road, until he came to the part where the road from Lydney reached the top of the hill and then flattened out, inviting a driver to increase to a more satisfying speed until the harsh bend at the edge of the forest forced one to slow down again.
The sound of hooves approaching woke him from his thoughts, and again he hid amongst the trees, planning his coup while carriage after carriage with guests from the picnic passed by. As dusk arrived, it arranged the setting for his crime perfectly, hiding him and the quarry in a coat of darkness.
When the Darkwood carriage finally returned from Gloucester, daylight was long gone. The cloudless sky was filled with twinkling stars and a full, shiny moon. Everything along the road cast shadows, spooking the already skittish horses. Just as the equipage was about to pass him, Anthony jumped out from the forest, and the horses reacted just as he had hoped. Shrieking, they wildly tried to get away from the carriage which held them down, galloping faster and faster while the coachman desperately tried to calm them.
But it was too late.
In a few breaths, the panicky horses galloped out into the quarry, their wild eyes not able to make out what was the road and what wasn't. If they hadn't been attached to the carriage, they might have made it without a scratch by following their instincts. But now, as the heavy carriage slammed behind the team, they continued straight on, blinded by fear. Just as the carriage went over the edge, the coachman threw himself off it, in a desperate attempt to save his own life, but he was too late, and his anguished scream became weaker and weaker until it was cut off. And then it all became quiet.
Anthony's shaky breaths were the only noise heard, until the sounds of the night started anew. Slowly, he moved closer to the edge, hardly believing what he'd just done. The horses and carriage were hidden in the deep darkness of the quarry. Straining his ears, Anthony listened, but no sound was heard. No screams for help or moans of pain.
After waiting for over an hour, Anthony knew he had succeeded. All the guilt which had filled his heart when he first realized what he'd done now vanished, and he couldn't hold back a triumphant sneer. Without looking back, he got on his horse and continued down the road until he reached his humble home in Lydney. Stumbling into the small rented room, he lay down on the bed, still fully clad, and slept like a baby for the rest of the night.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lord Darkwood's Revenge"
Copyright © 2019 Jenny Wennergrund.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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