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By Vanessa Riley
Pelican Ventures, LLCCopyright © 2012 Vanessa Riley
All rights reserved.
Shropshire, England, Iron Country, August 5, 1821
"Stop, thief!" Madeline St. James grabbed the coarse sleeve of the man who stole her guineas, but he shook free and dashed away.
"Give those back, this instant." Mouth open, pulse racing, she stopped her pursuit. A scream bubbled in the pit of her stomach, but she pursed her lips. A St. James never made a public scene or conceded defeat.
The thief reached the other side of the vacant courtyard, well ahead of a wagon rumbling up the cobblestone lane. He shot her a toothless grin and traipsed to the main building of Tilford Coaching Inn.
The dray and its lumbering horse team swerved closer, but if she waited one more second, the thief would escape her view. Another man would've taken advantage of her. Not again.
Picking up her weighty skirts, she sprinted onto the slick rocks of the road. The silver hem of her long carriage dress slapped at the mud. Better to be dirty than a victim. Cupping her palm to her eyes, she scanned for the thief.
The man bounded up the stone entree. He'd vanish like her driver, amongst the sea of gaming travellers.
She lengthened her stride to intercept him.
One high step too many, her boot heel caught in the sagging silk, tripping her. The air pushed from her lungs as she fell flat. The soggy earth saturated her layers to the shift and petticoat. Her injured elbow stung anew.
Wheels squealed. Hooves clomped the cobbles. Soon the horses would be on top of her, stomping and kicking.
A couple of tugs and yanks couldn't fish her boot free. No escape this time. Abba Father, forgive. She turned her head and braced for the onslaught.
A band of iron gripped her stomach and hauled her from the muck. She went limp, sprawled against the hard chest of a rescuer. He pulled her off the lane and under one of the overhanging galleries of the inn.
Wind slapped her cheek as the horses swept past. No one held the reins. The wagon swung wide, crashed into the inn's main building, and flipped to the ground. Ejected barrels hit the whitewashed wall and sprayed foamy liquid.
Madeline's breath came in heaves, and she clutched the titan arm sheltering her. No fainting. No need to lose more dignity.
One of the draught horses loosed from its tether and galloped to the emerald pines scalloping the surrounding hills. The other roan remained with the wreck, lifting its crooked leg. Poor lame creature.
An old man rushed out of the inn and cut at the horse's strap. "Bring my gun. This one needs to be put down."
With an awkward hold on her middle, her rescuer spun her, perhaps to keep her from seeing the cruelty. He needn't be concerned.
The past two weeks had numbed her to violence. Yet, God kept her as He did again today. "Thank you, Providence, but please ... spare the roan."
"You're welcome, but it's Devonshire, Lord Devonshire." The low voice kissed her ear, heated the pulsing vein along her throat.
How could this man sound calm? They both could've died.
He flung open the door to an onyx carriage and eased her onto the floorboards. "Are you injured, miss?"
"No." She rubbed her arms and gazed at her rescuer. He was very tall, enough to make her feel dainty even at her Amazon height. With broad shoulders and a solid chin, she couldn't have sculpted a more perfect hero. "The horse, sir? Can you help it?"
"Stay put. This mere mortal will see what can be done." He grabbed his top hat from the seat and marched away. His elegant form, straight posture, disappeared into the growing crowd.
It didn't matter she sat on the floor, chilled in her clothes, imposing demands of a stranger. Even against this errant horse, Death shouldn't win. She'd seen its victories too often, with Mama's passing seven years ago and Cousin Thomas dying this past spring.
She squeezed her throbbing elbow. Falling aggravated the sprain.
A quick shake of her foot didn't release her trapped kid boot but tore the lace trim on her gown, Mama's carriage dress. A lump formed in Madeline's throat. She missed Mama so much.
A few choice words shouted from the crowd and a round of loud snickers interrupted her woolgathering.
Lord Devonshire returned and rubbed the scruff of his neck. "It cost three guineas, but your nag will be kept by the innkeeper's daughter."
"I'll repay you, sir. My abigail has my reticule." She swallowed gall. The thief took most of her money, but surely three coins were left.
He waved his hand. "I'd rather not be a paid fool." Leaning along the door, he stared at her with irises bluer than a summer day.
What could Lord Devonshire learn from her disheveled appearance? She didn't mind his gaze. Since travelling to Shropshire, grey ash painted the clouds, no doubt from the ore foundries. No sunny skies like Hampshire.
"Now to be of true assistance." He reached under her hem, gripped above her ankle, and freed her boot from the tangle of silk. The warmth arising from his gloved hands seared her thin stockings. "Not broken." He released her foot to dangle through the entrance.
Shocking and bold. Though dressed as a gentleman in buff buckskins and an azure tailcoat, this definitely wasn't someone with whom to be alone.
Her wits returned, and she bounced out of the carriage. "I'll get your payment."
"Wait." Deep and commanding like Father's voice, his words stopped her. "I saw you trip trailing the miner."
She pivoted and clasped her hands across her ruined pelisse. Mud covered the delicate puce rosettes embroidered on the bodice.
"You were very brave to run after him."
"Bacon-brained would be a more apt description." A raindrop splashed her forehead. Her bonnet must have fallen in the commotion. She wiped her brow. The cold balm of mud smoothed against her skin. Her heart sunk, and she wrenched off her soiled gloves. If her cheeks weren't already scarlet, they should be.
He shortened the distance between them, a smile tugging at his full lips. "In mining country, the strikes have set everyone on edge. Some resort to crime. There's a would-be highwayman on every corner. You must take care around Tilford."
A fortnight ago, his concern might've warmed her, but not now.
"Father of Heav'n!" Mrs. Elsie Wilkins, Madeline's abigail, ran to her.
"Y' weren't to leave the livery." The good woman wrapped her stubby arms about Madeline's hips. "Too much for m' heart."
In vain, Madeline pushed at Mrs. Wilkins's indigo redingote to keep it from soiling, but no force could stop the woman's bear-like embrace.
Madeline's trampled bonnet peeked from the motherly woman's reticule. Dredged in dirt, the hat's ostrich plume lay crooked. Even in haste, her abigail took care of Madeline.
With another clench, Mrs. Wilkins finally let go. "Y' face?" She yanked from her pocket a crimson cloth and scrubbed Madeline's chin.
Madeline clasped her friend's wrist. "Dear, hand me my scarf. I'll do it."
Mrs. Wilkins shook her head and kept swatting the mud. She didn't want to come on this adventure, but how could Madeline be without her strongest ally? It must be the Irish blood bubbling in the abigail's veins, making her so loyal.
"First a broken wheel, now this." Mrs. Wilkins added a spit shine to Madeline's cheek then pivoted to Lord Devonshire. "The stable boys said ye saved her. Bless ye."
"I ... I saw the lass fall in the path of the wagon. I am the Earl of Devonshire. Very glad to be of assistance." An unreadable expression set on his countenance as he flicked a rain droplet from his sleeve. "Are there others in your party?"
"There's me — Mrs. Wilkins — and my lady, Miss Madeline St. James." She stretched on tiptoes and picked at Madeline's unraveling chignon, reseating pins and tucking tresses. "And m' lady's driver, but he disappeared, the no good lout."
Great. Mrs. Wilkins just confirmed they were alone. Now he'd be obliged to help. Indebted to a man. Could this day get any worse?
The earl rubbed his jaw. His gaze seemed locked on the colourful scarf.
Another drip from the overcast skies splattered and curled into the sable-brown hair peeking beneath Lord Devonshire's brim. He was too fine looking, too virile to be trusted. Step-mother's nephew, the handsome Mr. Kent, imparted that lesson before Madeline left home.
"Mrs. Wilkins, hand me my coins. I need to repay his lordship."
"No, miss. 'Tis my duty to escort you to your destination."
Madeline shook her head. "'Unnecessary."
"Cheshire. Please take us there." Mrs. Wilkins dabbed at her coat. "Like a divine appointm'nt, the earl being here."
"I can't speak for divinity, but you might say I've been waiting on a sign." He slipped the cloth from Mrs. Wilkins and waved it like a flag. "Someone brave to show me the way."
"I suppose we have no choice." Madeline snatched it from him with trembling fingers. She may be bacon-brained but not helpless or a plaything.
"There's always a choice. Like should I chase a scoundrel or let you freeze?"
She stilled her shaking palms.
He stepped near, removed his tailcoat, and draped it onto her shoulders. With his thick thumbs, he flipped the collar's revers to cradle her neck. His touch was gentle. "This should stop your shivers. I'll have my Mason get blankets."
Hugging herself beneath the weighty wool, Madeline gaped at Lord Devonshire. "Sir, we haven't agreed."
"The drizzle will get worse." He rotated to Mrs. Wilkins. "The young lady was just in my Berlin. Perhaps the visit was too short to attest to its comfort."
Trimmed in gold, the carriage could overshadow her father's. Either the earl possessed great wealth or liked the appearance of it. In her experience, both conditions made men pompous or cruel. She rubbed her elbow again.
Mrs. Wilkins curtsied. "My lord, we've two trunks in the stables with our brok'n carriage."
The earl nodded, opened the door to his Berlin, and then plodded the long lane toward the livery of the coaching inn. Was it confidence or arrogance squaring his shoulders?
He didn't pivot to check on them, not once. Arrogance.
"Come along, Lady Maddie. Don't get stubborn. Remember your plan."
Madeline raised her chin, grasped Mrs. Wilkins's forearm, and lumbered toward Lord Devonshire's carriage. "Another obstacle to peace."
Her friend's cheeks glowed. "The beginning of peace, child. It's the beginning."
If only Mrs. Wilkins could be right. The unease in Madeline's spirit disagreed.
* * *
The temptation to look back almost overtook Justain Delveaux, the Earl of Devonshire. He strode faster to the livery. The girl had been spooked. If he seemed anxious, she'd run.
A fire of independence burned in her jade eyes. He'd have to placate Miss St. James and win her trust. Then she'd lead him to the killer.
At the entry of the hay-filled livery, his driver brushed Athena, Justain's filly. "Sir, are you ready to give up? The informant isn't going to show."
Justain stroked Athena's thick ebony coat, a shade lighter than Miss St. James's raven locks. "He didn't. She did. Look behind me. Are ladies entering my Berlin?"
Mason squinted. "Yes."
"The young one possesses the red cloth signal. She's the informant."
Furrowing his brows, Mason shrugged. "You and your jokes, sir."
"I'm serious. We're taking them to Cheshire, probably a clandestine meeting. Never thought to look for a woman. Well, not for an informant. The lass will lead me to lynch —"
"Must you wax poetic?" Mason chortled. "Genteel women shouldn't be left here, but ..."
"Just say it."
"We need to leave, sir. Something's afoot." Mason wiped water from the brim of his tricorn. "The miners say a blood vengeance rides tonight."
"We'll leave soon, with my new acquaintances." Why was Mason hedging his words? Since Justain was knee-high, the man never held his tongue.
Rain fell in buckets. Justain moved under the stable's roof.
Mason and Athena followed. He searched his blue-black flap coat and retrieved his treasured silver flask and Justain's bottle of tincture. "The filly's cut is sealed."
"Superb, but no more of this." Justain pocketed the tincture. "Put away your spirits and say your peace."
"This chase won't bring Lord Richard back." His driver's voice grated like a rebuke from the old man, Justain's father. "You've other things to contend."
Justain concentrated on the steady rhythm of the shower. It blocked the memory of Richard's last breath and Justain's mounting guilt. He was to blame for Richard dying. Nothing took precedence over avenging his brother.
"Send blankets to my guests. Have the stable grooms load Miss St. James's trunks." He trudged toward the Berlin. This couldn't be a fool's errand. He hated being a fool.
* * *
Madeline forced a smile at Lord Devonshire as he leapt into the Berlin. He sat in the opposing seat, tossed his sodden top hat and gloves onto the floorboards, then pushed wet hair from his face. The rain poured hard minutes after she and Mrs. Wilkins entered his carriage, and it hadn't lessened.
Seeing him soaked eased her slight agitation at him.
"Thank ye, for savin' m' mistress." Mrs. Wilkins snuggled into the corner of his carriage, her greying red curls rested upon the creamy silk lining the walls. "Ye gen'rous to escort us to Cheshire." She yawned then winked at Madeline. "So noble and so handsome."
Heat crept up Madeline's neck. She didn't need to be reminded of his looks or his bravery. "We are grateful."
"Be at ease. It's not often I play the hero these days." His sable-brown mop shadowed a lean nose and tanned cheeks. "The escapade gave me needed exercise."
At least, he remained humoured. Gratitude should weigh on her spirit, but was his deed happenstance or had he followed her? Miles and miles from Hampshire, and the feeling of being chased refused to quit.
A servant stuck his head inside the carriage. Rain drizzled down his uniform causing the braiding on his mantle to droop. "To Cheshire, my lord?"
Twisting a signet ring, Lord Devonshire glanced toward Madeline and Mrs. Wilkins and then turned to the opening. "Yes, Mason, I haven't changed my mind. My guests have gone to great lengths to find me. I shan't forsake them."
What? Why did the earl think she sought him? What tales men must feed each other.
"Yes, my lord." The frowning servant nodded and shut the heavy door.
Madeline smoothed her bodice, trying to calm the tickle in her stomach. Father told her every kindness held a price. She'd paid enough for trusting Mr. Kent. The pain from his blows to her side persisted.
"Lord Devonshire, we haven't departed. Pray help us hire a post chaise to ferry my abigail and me to my aunt?"
"No. I will see this through." He cleared his throat. "I look forward to our conversation."
Though the earl's countenance appeared pleasant with his lips curling, he fidgeted his wilted cravat. Dried, the neckcloth might've held a little height in a fashionable sense. Was he one of those pompous dandies? Her scarlet handkerchief did hold his interest.
No. If he were, the earl would've let Madeline die than risk wrinkles to his clothes. The parade of fortune hunters Step-mother marched through Avington Manor surely would've made no effort. The shrewish woman probably hoped the flock of peacocks supping at their home could convince Madeline to accept her nephew for a mate, a lesser of evils.
The carriage lurched forward. Lord Devonshire reclined as if he posed for a portrait. His steady gaze set upon her.
Did he want his jacket returned? Did her slipping bonnet offend him? She righted it and smoothed its bent feather. "May I at least reimburse the livery expenses for my carriage?"
"Keep your precious gold coins. 'Tis my honour to serve you, Miss St. James." He grinned. Smooth white teeth peeked. "The opportunity to pull a headstrong beauty from harm's way is something I relish."
"Would you let a thief abscond with your coins?"
His smile dissolved. "No. I protect what is mine, and I'll avenge what is stolen."
Few had the patience for her opinions. She rolled one of the silver buttons of his jacket along her thumb.
"Praise be unto Prov ..." Mrs. Wilkins snorted a harsh noise, her chin bobbling in the throes of sleep. With a fold and a tuck, Madeline secured the dear woman's blanket then tugged a book from the abigail's reticule.
Excerpted from Madeline's Protector by Vanessa Riley. Copyright © 2012 Vanessa Riley. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
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
My kindof hero....Although life had dealt Madeline many death blows, her strength in her faith and saving grace of Jesus Christ, and the belief that we are all lost without it, was very inspiring. I absolutely was hooked from the very first chapter to the very end, and wished it had gone on just a little longer. She had the courage to speak the gospel to her father when he was the most sick, not leaving it to chance or think about it tomorrow, she held her own and spoke truth to him. It was fascinating to me to see how Justain's and Medeline's arrangement played out and seemed to be what a courtship should look like. Beautifully written and an enjoyable read. I will e recommending this to my sisters. I received this book from TBCN for my honest opinion.
I am a fan of the Regency romance genre, so it's always a joy to find one in the Christian market. "Madeline's Protector" by Vanessa Riley has all the elements that make for a good Regency adventure - wit, attraction, misunderstandings, compromising situations, marriage in name only, guilt, danger, suspense, and revenge - with the welcome addition of strong spiritual themes. The Regency era setting and dialogue felt natural. Justain and Madeline are both appealing characters and it was fun to watch their feelings for each other grow stronger as the novel progressed. In a conversation with her aunt, Madeline confesses that while she's fond of Justain, "my heart doesn't burst when I see him." Her aunt replies, "Sometimes love is quiet, a warm feeling of contentment. You light up when Lord Devonshire walks into the room." Both Madeline and Justain exhibit great strength of character, and I liked the way Justain is drawn to Madeline's faith. Misunderstandings and pride still abound, though. Angry that his past had been investigated, Justain responds to Madeline's father: "I've spent one lifetime seeking approval, another trying to drown the need. I won't change to please you." Fans of wholesome Regency romance will enjoy "Madeline's Protector."
Madeline’s Protector is the first regency romance novel I’ve read. It has an interesting storyline that draws the reader in from the very beginning. I enjoyed the way the story took me back in time and I felt as though I was there with the characters. Ms. Riley does a great job of tying in an intense plot with complex characters. An enjoyable read! I received this book from The Book Club Network in exchange for my honest opinion.
~ I must admit I am not a big “Suspense” fan, I love a good clean love story. I enjoyed this so much I didn’t mind the suspense! It was easy to become one with each of the main characters, their struggle and strengths were well laid out and demanded my understanding and my sympathy. I struggled along with them as they tried to protect and shield each other from harm and danger. I really enjoyed this book, was sorry when I had to lay it aside for real life. I would recommended this book for any who loves suspense or just love, it is full of both! I received this book from bookfun in return for my honest opinion.
Madeline's Protector was an exciting read, full of danger and many misunderstandings between the hero and heroine of the novel. Madeline is a believer, who finds herself in a marriage of convenience with Justain, a man who does not follow God. Justain has real trust issues and during the story he flips back and forth between trusting and being suspicious of Madeline. He also holds a vendetta against the man who murdered his brother. These feelings of anger and mistrust lead to difficulties in the marriage. Madeline has her own issues to deal with. She has had a great deal of hurt in her life and feels that she loses those she loves. With Justain changing back and forth between being kind toward her and antagonistic toward her, Madeline finds herself very confused most of the time. Vanessa Riley has done a good job of writing an interesting story with complex characters. I received this book for free from the author through The Book Club Network in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.
My Favorite Scene: "Her soft tongue grazed his cheek. Justain wasted no time in enfolding her in his embrace. He'd been tempting her this past week, finding ways to hold her hand during their isolated travels. He'd stroke her hair for no reason. Madeline's lips slipped to his neck. He groaned and lifted her head. "What is it that you want of me, Madeline? I'm your humble servant." She smoothed the crush of her fushia gown."Everything, but you'll only give this much." Madeline motioned with her fingers an inch. He patted her hand down to the blanket. "You don't think that you'll win everything or that I'm not capable of giving more?" "It's getting late. We should settle in for the evening." She started searching for her crutch. He sat up and pushed the staff from her reach. "Answer my question." "You hide me notes that speak of unveiled emotions. That's not you. You're restrained, even in the way you kiss me." Madeline set the dishes back into their basket. "I believe you will always hide parts of yourself from me. You don't trust me enough." "Trust?" He shook his head. "My sending you notes has nothing to do with trust." "You're right." Madeline put a final plate away. "Your heart has too many defenses. My knight bears too much armour." "Well, a man needs to know when his attention is wanted. You should speak of your desires." "Why, for you to kiss me on the forehead? Pat my head like a good girl." She tossed a mug into the basket. It clanged as it banged against the other dishes. "Sorry, I guess I hoped there was more to it. The poets make a kiss sound grand." Excellent. Madeline felt frustrated. Justain untied the ribbons of her bonnet and tossed the hat to the blanket. "I've never thoroughly kissed you, Madeline." The heart-shaped face studied him. She narrowed her eyes. "Thoroughly?" His words must have puzzled her, but if he was to do this now it must be right. "May I?" Madeline nodded her consent. He flicked away the pins of her chignon to free the bundled tresses. Then, gripping her shoulders, he drew her back into his arms and nibbled the edge of her jaw. "The poets don't lie." His lips covered hers. Tasting and nipping, he found his reward, the moist temptation of her deepest kiss. Trailing his fingers down her back to encourage her, he felt her temple. Should he relent? Her flailing hands settled on the space between his shoulders. She tightened her grip and pressed further into his embrace. Madeline saught his mouth with urgency, matching his intensity. Justain pulled her to his chest as he sank against the heavy wool. She touched his face and smooth away wisps of hair drizzling down his cheek, then reclaimed his lips. His thoughts spun. Strawberry fragrance swirled around him.Justain hadn't expected Madeline to be this warm, this inviting. Who was being seduced? This was too public a place to conceive a Delveaux heir, but would her exploring mood last if he moved them indoors? "Madeline, we should go in before it gets dark." "Not yet." Her thumbs twisted in the tails of his cravat, yanking it asunder. She lingered about his Adam's apple before returning to his mouth. The measured pacing of their romance erupted in flames. She was kindling wooc, and her warmth blazed his skin. He wrapped his arms about her tightly. "Shall we retire for the evening?" She abruptly pulled back. Her large eyes seemed filled with questions. No, she wasn't quite ready to surrender. He released her, sat up, and closed the basket. "We have a long ride tomorrow. I suppose I should get you settled into your room?" "Yes, I think that's best."" My Thoughts: After her mother's death, Madeline St. James grew up in constant fighting and bickering between her father and step-mother. Before leaving to stay with her aunt, Lady Cecil Glaston, she was attacked by her step-mother's brother. She has known nothing but heartache for years and her only illusions of love are gathered from the poems she reads. When her purse is stolen and Justain Delveaux comes to her aid, it starts a series of events that lead them to marriage. While Madeline has come to care for Justain, she has her doubts he could ever love her. Not only does she fight to save his soul, she fights to win his love. After the death of his father and, most recently his brother, Justain Delveaux is fighting to restore his family's estate and assests. He is constantly on lookout for the tirrants that are trying to kill him, or so he thinks. After so much devestation in his life he turns to alcohol to soothe his spirit, not realizing only God can soothe the wounds and hurts he carries with him at all times. When he helps a distressed Madeline, he never imagines their paths will forever become joined. But he soons comes to realize that he loves Madeline and wants forever to be Madeline's Protector. Madeline's Protector was a very enjoyable book. Vanessa Riley stayed true to the history of the "Ton" or "The Society of London". She wove together an exciting romance and suspense all in one. As they say" The Plot Thickens". In Madeline's Protector you never really knew what to expect next. It kept you guessing with the turn of every page. The romance between Madeline and Justain was a battle that was fought hard all the way to the end. Neither knew how to trust and put their demons aside, but God brought them together and healed their wounds. A great read! If you like regency romance, you'll like Madeline's Protector!
After being accosted by a nephew of her Step-Mother's, Madeline is heading to her Aunts for seclusion and hiding. When her carriage breaks down, and a thief relieves her of her purse, she is befriended by Justain Delveaux, or Lord Devonshire. Her misfortune doesn't stop there...then Justain's Coach is attacked. Once they are rescued and Justain gets her to her Aunt, the Aunt tells him that he has compromised Maddie's Honor, by spending a night in a cave. Never mind he saved her life! This story has a lot of twists and turns. Justain, has some growing up to do and need to rely in God's Will. Madeline has a great Love of the Lord, and tries to follow his will in all things. Come on a ride of old England, we travel the country side and old estates. There are some good surprises along the way, and some rather scary. Enjoy!! I received this book through First Wildcard Book Tours, and was not required to give a positive review.
I really struggle to get into this book; I did not feel the chemistry between the main characters. The conflict between the two characters was drag out too long; in the future the author needs less conflict and more romance. Justain was horrible at times. I receive a free copy of this book courtesy of TBCN for my honest opinion.