Born out of wedlock to a London barmaid, Marietta Danver yearns to live life to its fullest despite her humble origins. But her dreams of love and happiness almost die in Newgate Prison, where she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit and deported to North America to be sold into indentured servitude.
In the wild Carolinas, Marietta uses her beauty to survive. But in doing so she arouses unruly passions in the hearts of three men: Derek Hawke, the enigmatic planter who buys Marietta for an outrageous sum; brash, charming Jeff Rawlins, who sweeps her away to Louisiana; and a gentleman whose fervor may conceal a violent madness. From New Orleans’ red-light district to a fashionable estate in Natchez, from the struggles of a life of bondage to the perils of helping to transport slaves to freedom, Marietta vows to prevail and find a true and lasting love.
The Marietta Danver Trilogy also includes Love Me, Marietta and When Love Commands.
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Love's Tender Fury
The Marietta Danver Trilogy
By Jennifer Wilde
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Jennifer Wilde
All rights reserved.
Pale, shaken, the girl descended the stairs clutching her pathetically battered bag and trying not to sob. Her cheeks were stained with tears, her blue eyes filled with a miserable resignation. Jenny was only sixteen years old. She had come to Montagu Square a year ago fresh from the country, a robust, rosy-cheeked lass typical of the thousands of girls who poured into London to go into service. She was thin now, her blond curls wildly disarrayed. The bloom of youth was already gone. Dismissed without references, she had no hope of finding another post.
He stood in the lower hall, vain, lordly, a half-smile playing on his lips as he watched the girl he had used and grown tired of. Jenny moved slowly toward the front door, defiantly, too, for none of the servants ever used the main entrance. Lord Mallory arched one dark brow, amused, but he made no effort to stop her. The girl paused, and for a moment it looked as though she might burst into tears again and plead, begging him to let her keep her job as scullery maid. He frowned, drawing himself up, no longer amused.
Jenny looked at him with sad blue eyes that had long since lost their innocence, but she didn't plead. She simply looked at him, hopelessly, wretchedly, and then she opened the front door and stepped outside. She had no money, no education, no hope of surviving unless she joined that pitiful parade of prostitutes who swarmed over London by the thousands.
As I watched her leave, I shuddered in sympathy. I might be educated, I might have aristrocatic blood in my veins, but my position here was tenuous as hers had been, and I knew that I could easily share her fate.
Lord Mallory sighed and moved over to close the door Jenny had left open. Turning, he looked up and saw me standing halfway up the grand staircase. That half-smile was on his lips again, and his dark eyes gleamed with masculine anticipation I couldn't fail to recognize. I knew full well why he had thrown Jenny out. I knew it was because he intended to have me next. I was his children's governess, true, but I was still a servant. Men like Lord Robert Mallory considered any attractive woman in their employ fair game. He stared at me and then he nodded. I turned on the stairs and hurried up to the nursery.
The children had left to spend three weeks with their grandparents in the country. Tomorrow morning Lord and Lady Mallory would be leaving, too, to be gone a week. I had a week, then, seven days before he would make his first move. Of late his very presence caused a tremulous alarm I found it difficult to conceal. Before, he had been preoccupied with Jenny and paid very little attention to the new governess. But when he began to tire of the girl whose attic room he visited almost every night, he started to stare at me with masculine speculation whenever we happened to pass in the hall. He also began to visit the nursery frequently, ignoring the children, asking me far too many questions. His intentions were clear. For the past week we had been playing a subtle cat-and-mouse game, and now that Jenny was gone I knew the subtlety would be replaced by open aggression. He intended to have me. Men like Robert Mallory never hesitated to take what they wanted, would use force if necessary.
Stepping into the nursery, I found that I was trembling inside. Jenny's abrupt dismissal had disturbed me terribly. It clearly indicated his ruthlessness. He could dismiss me just as abruptly, and my plight would be every bit as grave as Jenny's. I knew that I had been exceedingly fortunate to get this post in the first place, and it had come in the nick of time. Only a handful of coins were left in my purse when Lord Mallory interviewed me and told me the job was mine. I had been turned down time after time. I was too young, they told me, too inexperienced, too attractive. If Robbie and Doreen's governess hadn't left when she did, if Lord Mallory hadn't desperately needed someone to replace her ... I tried not to think of what might have happened when those few coins were gone and I was turned out of the humble, shabby room at the inn.
Distraught, I stepped over the mirror and examined myself with sapphire-blue eyes that reflected my alarm. I wished I were older, wished I were plain and pale and unappealing. I had never been vain, but I knew I was an extremely attractive woman. In the village the men had been after me ever since I was thirteen. The barmaid's daughter, I was their natural prey, but I had ignored their crude invitations, eluded their clumsy caresses. Later on, at that refined, expensive school for young ladies, the other girls had resented me because of my rich auburn hair, my high, sculptured cheekbones, my slender body that was undeniably shapely.
I had my father's cool, patrician good looks, my mother's high color and earthy allure. The combination was as unusual as it was striking. Although I wore my hair in a severe coronet of braid on top of my head, I couldn't conceal its rich luster, neither brown nor red but a vivid combination of the two, gleaming with deep coppery highlights. My plain brown dress was severe, too, long-sleeved, high-necked, but somehow that only emphasized the full breasts, the narrow waist. I might try to minimize my looks, but the fact remained that I was the kind of woman men had always pursued.
"Admiring yourself?" he drawled.
I whirled around. Lord Mallory was lounging in the doorway, one shoulder propped against the jamb. He gazed at me with those dark, mocking eyes, and his full, sensual lips still toyed with a smile. Women had spoiled him all his life, and now, at thirty-four, he wore his magnetism with casual disdain, taking it for granted that any woman he encountered would succumb at the snap of his fingers. Most of them did, and he accepted their adulation somewhat wearily, considering it no more than his due.
"You seem upset, Marietta," he remarked.
He had never called me by my first name before. In the past it had always been "Miss Danver." I looked at him, striving to maintain some kind of composure, fighting to conceal my alarm. Lord Mallory was fully aware of my apprehension, and he was enjoying it. He was so utterly relaxed, so confident. Most women would have felt a thrill of anticipation were he to gaze at them as he gazed at me now.
Robert Mallory, I realized, had to have a woman at all times, someone new, someone who would reassure him of his powers over the weaker sex. Lady Mallory didn't count. He treated her with the same indifference he displayed toward his children, humoring her every now and then just to make certain she was still enslaved. There were few secrets among the servants, and I knew that he had never loved her. Not even Lady Mallory had any illusions on that score. He had married her for her money, and she had been thrilled that her merchant father's abundant wealth had enabled her to wed such a splendid creature, a member of the nobility to boot.
"It seems I've been remiss," he said.
"I've been neglecting my ... uh ... duty," he replied.
"You've been here—what? Six weeks? In all that time we haven't had a real conversation. We've discussed the children, of course, but we've not had a real talk. I haven't inquired about your ... uh ... comfort." He paused, heavy lids half-veiling those gleaming dark eyes. "Are you happy here, Marietta?"
"I—I find the position quite satisfactory."
"I've been doing some checking up on you," he remarked. He spoke in a lazy drawl. "I've discovered some very interesting things about your background. You had no references when you came for the interview, but you seemed—suitable enough. You did tell me about your education and showed me your diploma from that very fine school"—Lord Mallory hesitated a moment before continuing—"but there was a great deal you forgot to mention."
"I didn't feel it was necessary," I replied.
I was surprised at my own calm, but I refused to be intimidated over something I couldn't help. I wasn't ashamed of either of my parents. He had obviously found out about them, and I wasn't about to apologize.
"Your father was the Duke of Stanton," he remarked.
"A fine old family, one of the finest, a power in Cornwall for generations. Your mother, though—it seems she wasn't from such distinguished stock."
"My mother was a barmaid at the Red Lion in the village where I was born. I was born out of wedlock, yes, but my mother was—"
"A mite too generous with her favors, it would appear. She raised you, and you worked behind the taps yourself on occasion, it seems, never knowing who your father was until after your mother died of pneumonia when you were fourteen. Your father was a widower by that time, and his wife had failed to give him children. He was a lonely old man, and it amused him to take in—"
"My father loved me," I interrupted.
"I've no doubt he did. You were taught how to speak, how to dress, how to conduct yourself like a proper young aristocrat. The barmaid's daughter disappeared, replaced by an elegant young woman of fashion. He sent you away to school to acquire those all-important finishing touches, hoping he might marry you off to some respectable, middle class merchant ..." Again he hesitated, toying with me, hoping I would break down.
"But it didn't work out that way," I said calmly. "My father died a few weeks after I returned to Stanton Hall from school. His nephew, George Stanton, became the eighth Duke of Stanton, inheriting everything. He found my presence an embarrassment and threw me out. I had very little money, just enough to come to London and take a room at one of the inns while I searched for work."
"And then I hired you," he said.
I waited. Lord Mallory arched a brow, pretending surprise.
"Now?" he repeated.
"Surely you intend to dismiss me."
"Dismiss you?" The brow lifted even higher. "My dear Marietta, I want to help you."
"Like you helped Jenny?" I couldn't resist the question.
"Jenny. Ah, that's a different story. The girl was ignorant, a common scullery maid who dropped every 'h,' couldn't even read or write. I took pity on her ... uh ... tried to make things a bit more pleasant for her. The girl was most unappreciative. She became quarrelsome and possessive, thought my interest in her gave her certain rights."
"So you threw her out."
"You needn't worry about Jenny. She'll find some man to take care of her—probably a number of them. Her sort always ends up on the streets. It's inevitable."
I was amazed at my own boldness, but I simply couldn't help myself. His arrogant superiority was insufferable. Because he was wealthy, because he was an aristocrat, he thought he could play God with those less fortunate in life, and because he was an attractive male he thought he could automatically enslave any woman he chose to notice. I could feel the color burning in my cheeks. Lord Mallory chuckled.
"Spirit," he said. "I like that. A man enjoys a challenge every now and then."
"I think you're quite a challenge, Marietta. I've had my eye on you for some time now."
"I'm ... not like Jenny. I'm not one of your—"
"Of course not," he interrupted. "You're very, very special. I saw that from the first. I've been—a bit preoccupied with other things up till now, but now I intend to pay more attention to you."
"I'm afraid you'll be wasting your time, Lord Mallory."
"I think not. You see, Marietta, I happen to know you're not the demure, timorous young virgin you pretend to be."
He smiled. He sauntered across the room toward me, stopping directly in front of me. He was so close I could smell his cologne, smell the musky male odor of flesh and perspiration. He was dressed for an evening on the town, and the elegant attire seemed to heighten the aura of animal magnetism that clung to him.
"We're going to be very good friends," he assured me.
"You're mistaken, Lord Mallory."
Once again the smile flashed. His eyes were filled with dark amusement. His face was inches from my own, and I could see the tiny scar at the corner of that full, curving mouth, see the faint smudges under his eyes. My heart was beating rapidly, and I was trembling inside. I detested him and, yes, I was afraid of him, too, but his nearness caused a purely physical response it was impossible to deny.
"Leave me alone," I whispered. "Please—"
"You don't want that, not really. You've got your mother's blood in your veins. The education, the fine manners, the cultured voice—they don't alter that fact. The man I sent to make inquiries was exceedingly thorough. I found out all about her. She was generous to a fault, never could resist a stripping young farmer, a handsome sailor. You might even say it caused her death. If she and her good-looking shepherd hadn't been out on the moors together, hadn't been caught in that rainstorm—"
"How dare you! You've no right to talk about her like—"
"You've got her blood in your veins. You fight it. You're fighting it now, but it's there."
A lock of dark brown hair fell across his brow. He reached up to push it back.
"You're beautiful, Marietta, much too good to be slaving away in a nursery. I have plans for you—splendid plans. I'm going to make you happy. You've no idea how happy ..."
Slowly, with lazy deliberation, he pulled me into his arms, and when I tried to pull away he laughed softly to himself, tightening his grip. His eyes gleamed, holding mine, and his wide lips parted as he tilted his head and pulled me closer. I opened my mouth to protest, but before I could speak, his mouth fastened over mine. It was a long, practiced kiss, his lips pressing, probing, savoring my own. I was rigid in his arms, but as he continued to kiss me, the weakness came and I melted against him, against my will, and when he finally released me his eyes were dark with triumph.
"You enjoyed that, love. Don't try to pretend you didn't."
"You need a man. A woman like you—a woman like you will always need a man. That's the way you're made. Those prim mannerisms, those drab dresses you wear—they can't conceal what you are. You're ripe, ready to be plucked ... and you're hungry for it."
"I am not! I—"
"You may think not, my dear, but in a short while you're going to be most grateful—"
Lady Mallory cleared her throat. Lord Mallory turned around to see his wife standing in the doorway. I hadn't noticed her before, had no idea how long she might have been there. How much had she heard? How much had she seen? Her thin, pinched face was expressionless, her eyes flat. She wore a white silk dress, and there was a stunning emerald necklace around her throat. The jewels seemed to flash with flickering green and blue fires, and their spectacular beauty only made her neck seem scrawnier, her complexion more sallow. Her lusterless blond hair was arranged on top of her head in an elaborate coiffure. Lady Mallory was the epitome of current fashion, but, alas, the fashion did not suit her.
"Here you are, Robert," she said in a dry, colorless voice. "I've been looking all over."
Her husband was not at all ruffled. "I've been conferring with Miss Danver," he replied smoothly. "About the children," he added.
"Of course," she said.
She looked at me with venomous blue eyes. Lady Mallory had disliked me from the first, had raged at her husband for hiring someone so young, so inexperienced, and as she scrutinized me now I could sense that she was going to do everything in her power to get rid of me as soon as possible.
"We'd best hurry, dear," she remarked.
"Uh ... yes. Wouldn't want to be late."
He turned back to me for a moment, the mocking amusement still in his eyes. His wife's open animosity delighted him, made him feel all the more confident of his male prowess. There was a certain swagger about him as he spoke to me in a low, barely audible voice.
"Alas, love, I have to leave for the country in the morning. Family responsibility, you know, but when I get back—"
Excerpted from Love's Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde. Copyright © 1976 Jennifer Wilde. 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.
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Read this many years ago but is my all time favorite. I have worn out paperback versions, so was excited to see it online. Fantastic story - you will love it!
Read this many years ago. Was so excited to see it again and can't wait to read on my nook.