Trey Hawthorne, the Duke of Salterdon, once had a reputation that would humble the Marquis de Sade. Then he found his heart's desire in gentle, innocent Maria Ashton, whose healing touch ignited a forbidden passion between the noble duke and the lowborn vicar's daughter. Defying his family, Hawthorne intended to wed Maria -- but she mysteriously vanished before he could take her as his bride. After tirelessly searching for her for months, Trey gave up hope and reverted to his former wicked ways.
Now, chance has led Trey to his beloved at last -- but the devastating truth behind her disappearance might prove more than he can bear. As he fights to rescue his beautiful Maria from a life of torment, Trey wonders if in saving her, he will also finally save himself -- or if the fight will cost him everything....
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About the Author
Katherine Sutcliffe is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous novels. Sutcliffe has worked as consultant head writer for the daytime dramas Another World and As the World Turns, and resides in Texas with her husband and children.
Read an Excerpt
The dowager duchess of Salterdon perched like a crow on the church pew, her stubborn old chin outthrust, her liver-spotted brow creased, and her shoulders slightly humped within the black garment she wore -- she was not, after all, here to celebrate the most gossiped about marriage since my brother Clayton had wed some red-haired waif who haunted a crumbling old lighthouse and stole the King's horses.
The dowager's gnarled, bejeweled fingers curled around the crook of the cane she used to hobble around, and she impatiently bumped the cane upon the chapel floor, looking neither right nor left, seemingly oblivious to the whispers and occasional giggles of the guests who had packed the church, more for entertainment and perverse curiosity than to honor the bride and groom.
She wasn't oblivious, of course. I, Trey Hawthorne, the dishonorable, infamous, and disgraceful Duke of Salterdon -- the bane of the dowager's existence -- suspected my grandmother's hearing was still as sharp as the diamond facets on the ridiculously ostentatious ring she wore on her left hand. If someone within a country mile so much as murmured the Salterdon name in anything other than worship, she knew about it -- and God help the "hateful befouler."
"Hateful old bitch," I murmured as I gazed beyond the ajar rectory door, straight into my grandmother's eyes -- gray as my own -- and watched her thin, silver eyebrow lift, knowing full well she could read my lips.
I returned her look with a cold curl of my mouth, a lift of my port glass in toast, and a slight bow that was more mocking than courteous.
"There's still time to back out," came my brother's voice near my ear.
I turned my head a little too fast. The liquor in my veins slammed me hard enough to totter me backward.
My twin brother's face swam before me, my mirror image -- dark hair, slightly curly, stone gray eyes, chiseled features, and a mouth that reflected both concern and bemusement over my situation.
But that's where the similarities ended.
While Clayton Hawthorne had the heart and soul of a flipping saint, and the luck of the blessed, I was one thin hair from burning in hellfire for eternity.
My peers didn't refer to me as "Old Scratch" for nothing.
Clayton frowned and put out one hand to catch my arm, offering support. He sighed and shook his head.
"For the last three years, your objective in life has been to make Grandmother suffer -- and suffer she has. You've burned through your inheritance, you consistently find ways to get your name blasted throughout the London news, and finally scandalize with the ultimate revenge -- to marry not one of the acceptable young ladies of Grandmother's choosing, but
a notorious, thrice-divorced, twice-widowed older woman, whose penchant for cheating on her husbands and ruining them financially exceeds even your reputation. Edwina Narwhal Frydenthrope Thromonde Wohlstetter Rhodes is a...a..."
"Hussy." I quaffed the last of the port and plunked the empty glass aside. "Whore. Doxy. Slut. Slattern. Bawd. Harlot." I grinned and blinked sleepily at Clayton. "Shall I continue?"
"And you're marrying her."
I shrugged and adjusted my silk cravat. "So I am."
"It won't last."
"Of course it won't. But she's entertaining in bed. And she has money. In case you haven't noticed sufficiently, I need money."
Clayton's eyes narrowed. "How could I not notice? Thorn Rose Manor has gone to rack and ruin the last year. You're down to one scullery maid with a habit of pinching the family silver -- or what's left of it that you haven't sold to appease your gambling debts, a butler who is too frequently prostrated by the grape, and a groom too lazy to swat flies, much less muck the stalls. Trey, if you need money -- "
"I won't take it from you."
Frustration darkened Clay's face. "Damn you, brother, don't do this. I know you're still hurting -- "
"I don't want to hear it."
I shoved my brother aside and walked unsteadily to the mullioned window overlooking the grounds. For as far as I could see were the fancy coaches of every high-stocking, blue-blooded family in England.
"If you bring up Maria again, I'm going to punch you. Hard."
"Admit it. You're still in love with her."
"The hell you say."
Clayton moved up behind me, placed a compassionate hand on my shoulder.
I shrugged it away and laughed, a brittle, angry sound, as heat rushed to my face.
"Obviously, the young woman wasn't nearly so serious in her supposed affection for me as I was for her, or she wouldn't have vanished. She simply didn't care to be found. At least not by me."
Looking at Clayton, I added, "Had Grandmother not sent her from the house -- "
"What difference would it have made, if Maria didn't love you?"
My eyes briefly closed. The heat in the small room made me sweat. The tailored wool suit I wore clung to my skin and I began to feel nauseous.
Maria Ashton's image rose before my mind's eye -- a pretty face with big blue eyes, tumbling silken flaxen hair, and a gentleness of spirit that had rescued me from hell's torment. I might have died, had she not responded to my grandmother's call for a nurse to minister me in my illness and the injury to my head inflicted by highwaymen who had left me for dead.
Maria not love me? Ah, but there was the problem in a nutshell. She had trembled with passion beneath my body, sacrificing her cherished innocence. She had vowed her love for me in a thousand ways.
The entire world had turned its back on me. Maria, daughter of a vicar, had appeared like some earth-bound angel to save me.
For the first time in my miserable life, I had actually fallen in love. Deeply. And it wouldn't leave me. Despite the betrayal of her disappearance. Despite my immense anger. Though I was about to wed another, my heart thumped like a hot lead weight in my chest when I recalled the months I had searched for her, and the letter that had eventually arrived six months to the day after she had ridden away from Thorn Rose in my grandmother's coach.
"Your Grace, what transpired between us was a mistake. I have wed another. I wish you happiness. Maria."
Maria. God, how I had adored her. In my fogged lunacy I had poured out my heart and soul to her in music -- my only way, during that dreadful time, that I could confess my feelings.
Even now, three years later, the strands haunted me, playing over and over in my mind until I felt insane again.
Music from the chapel drifted to me, as did the murmuring of the collected guests. No friends there. I had no friends. Not any longer.
Dressed in their splendid clothes, arriving in their fine coaches, their wealth and titles dripping from their aristocratic pores like chips of ice -- they were here for one reason. To watch a man step from the precipice of his crumbling dignity and spiral into the abyss of total ruin.
And when I plummeted into that perdition, I would drag my dowager duchess grandmother along with me.
The port beat at my head like a cudgel as the vicar spoke solemnly, first to the breath-holding onlookers, then to me, then to Edwina, who peered up at me with a knowing smirk. Her fiery red hair was covered in a lace cap and her plunging décolletage revealed the most voluptuous breasts outside of Paris.
With any luck I would get through the ceremony before I passed out completely. God forbid the vultures collected in the cushioned pews would come all this way only to have their entertainment spoiled by the groom passing out before he committed his life to total perdition.
The vicar's words floated to me, scattering like leaves in a wind -- something about if anyone knew of any reason these two should not be wed, speak now....
Oh, there were many, many reasons. The least of which -- we didn't love one another.
But she had money. I needed money.
She needed a compliant lover to satisfy her bent for erotic escapades, and since she had burned through five husbands -- the last two dying in the throes of her orgasms -- there wasn't an available man on two continents who would come within a wink of her eyes.
Besides, if there was any woman on En-gland's beloved soil my grandmother despised, it was Edwina -- the duchess's deceased husband's paramour.
"I do," came a voice from the congregation.
The words were followed by a gasp and a sudden silence that rang through the room as resoundly as a church bell. The vicar, his expression frozen in shock, his face pale as flour, stared over my shoulder while the hands gripping the book went slack.
Clayton, standing at my side, let out a soft "Thank God."
Edwina spat out a curse as she slowly turned.
I shook free of my inebriation and confusion as I swayed around to focus on a drab little creature, round as she was tall, wearing a dingy cap of sorts and a gray, shapeless frock covered by an equally dingy pinafore, standing center aisle, her body shaking as if with ague.
The duchess struggled to her feet, her face gray as her hair, her eyes too big for their sockets -- eyes that locked with those of the intruder, who stepped back as if she anticipated an asp strike.
Lifting one shaking hand, the rotund little woman pointed at the dowager duchess and declared in a squeak, "She done it. All of it. May me sorry soul burn in hell for keepin' shut 'bout it. But I cum soon as I heard 'bout yer weddin', Yer Grace. I cudn't keep me mouth closed a minute longer."
Clayton stepped around me. "What the devil is this about?" he demanded.
I caught his arm, stopping him in his tracks.
Focusing on the terrified woman's face, I spoke with no hint of the inebriation that had sullied my blood and brains seconds before.
"Let her speak."
The woman sidestepped past the dowager, who clutched at her cane and opened and closed her mouth, saying nothing.
" 'Tis the lass, Yer Grace. Maria? I know where she is. Where she's been since the night she done rode off in yer grandmother's coach. 'Twasn't Huddersfield where yer grandmother had her took. 'Twas Menson, Yer Grace."
Another burst of gasps, twitters of shock mingled with nervous speculation.
"Menson." I stepped from the dais, the port's sluggishness replaced by a heat that began in my belly and sluiced through my body. "Surely you're mistaken. Menson is an asylum for the criminally insane."
The woman gulped and nodded, wrung her hands and began to cry. "Aye. Y'll find 'er there, Yer Grace. Or what be left of 'er, God bless 'er tormented young soul."
Copyright © 2004 by Katherine Sutcliffe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It is a great bummer.Where is the romance? I had to skip through just to get to some substance, never came! Who evre approved the cover & notes on it should not be used in the future. Do not judge the book by it's cover gives a true meaning..
I am a long time historical romance reader (over 20 years now) and also, a fan of many of Katherine Sutcliffe¿s novels. My favorites by her are ¿Shadow Play¿, ¿A Fire In The Heart¿ and ¿Dream Fever¿. These three are tops for character development, intensity, passion, and deep emotion. I recently bought ¿Obsession¿ because I didn¿t have it to complete my collection of most of her books. Like many other reviewers noted, this story is actually the third book in the Hawthorne brother¿s stories. Clayton¿s story was told in ¿Miracle¿, Trey¿s in ¿Devotion¿ and Trey¿s story continued and ended in ¿Obsession¿. Little good can be said of the ¿Obsession¿ story line. Trey was really made to look like a terrible guy. All he did was drink, get drunk, gamble, enhance his already terrible reputation, sleep with anything and anyone and eventually be willing to sell his soul and manhood for a few bucks to Edwina. Grant you¿he really fell off the wagon when Maria left his life and he thought she married another. Everything he did in life seemed to come from wanting to strike out at his terrible and nasty grandmother the Duchess. She seemed to detest her grandsons and likewise, they hated her. The story discusses in final detail why their relationship never worked and never would. So¿at least you got answers finally. In turn, Maria was in a mental institution for years because of Trey¿s grandmother again. Unknown to all¿she had Trey¿s child there and she was taken away and that made Maria go even more crazy. Maria was released when Trey found out where she was and he tried to nurture her back to sanity much like she did to him years before. The twists and turns in this story will make you dizzy¿.Trey playing nurse maid, Trey working in the mines to feel like a man for once, Maria thinking her dead brother talks to her, Maria thinking a doll is her daughter, Trey loving Maria but, she hates and doesn¿t remember him, Trey being mean to his brother, the nasty grandmother making things worse by paying Edwina to get involved and so on¿.See why you¿ll get a headache from this one? The sad thing is, this story had the makings of a good book ¿ all the necessary elements to make it work¿it just went way, way too far over-board. I felt insane myself in parts and I wasn¿t the one in the asylum. I do not like when authors tell a story in the first person. It makes it hard to connect with other characters and hear what they think and feel. The story becomes much to one dimensional and that never works in a detailed historical romance. I often like follow up books but, this one was better left to the imagination. Lucky for me¿there was no obsession with this follow up story.
I was so excited when the sequel to Devotion finally came out. Now I wish Sutcliffe had let Maria and Trey's story end with devotion. Obsession was a complete let down. Trey and Maria have virtually no scenes together. It was awful!