""Part Three of the Corsets and Carriages serial novels
"I will not be a wife in name only."
Rian Connor's proposal of marriage should have been the happiest moment of Catherine Davenport's life. He is her savior, her tutor in the ways of flirtation, the man she wants for her lover. But two impediments bar the way: the vicious assault that may have ruined her ability to enjoy any man's touch; and the vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to regain Rian's affection.
"There can be no turning back once you have given yourself to me."
One exquisite night of completely mutual pleasure proves to Catherine that with Rian, the physical side of their union will bring only joy. But even her new husband cannot protect her from the diabolical scheming of his former mistress. Delivered into the hands of the madman who once delighted in tormenting her, Catherine is swept back to the place where it all began. And this time, the price could be her future with the man she is finally free to love . . .
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"Why will you not see him?" Emily Pelham asked conversationally as her fingers sorted through a rainbow of threads in search of the color she needed.
Looking up from the book she was reading, Catherine Davenport did her best not to appear startled by the question. It was no secret whom Emily was referring to. Catherine wondered if the older woman would be saddened or pleased to know the same question had been on her own mind recently. More than it ought. Untwisting a pale curl from her forefinger, Catherine sighed and closed her book. She had absolutely no idea what she had been reading, but it seemed to her that every sentence began with the same name: Rian Connor.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to see him," she admitted to the woman who had been like a mother to her since she had come to stay at Pelham Manor.
"Why ever not?" Emily asked bluntly. "What are you so uncertain about?"
"I don't know." Catherine shrugged, a movement that spoke volumes.
Rian had returned to neighboring Oakhaven more than three weeks ago, and the very next day he'd called on her for the first time since he'd departed on his mysterious journey north. For a week he continued to arrive at Pelham, day after day, rain or shine, and still she refused to see him. However, it seemed to Emily that at this point Catherine would be hard pressed to say exactly why.
It went without saying that her refusal had sparked a great deal of curiosity in the two households. The Pelham servants, normally staid and unflappable, talked amongst themselves in hushed whispers, trying to decide who would yield first.
And then, without any warning, Rian had stopped coming. Concerned that he might have taken ill, Catherine had made surreptitious inquiries, only to learn he was enjoying excellent health. Now almost two weeks had passed without a visit from him, and she could not explain why his apparent abandonment hurt so much. It made no sense when she had no intention of seeing him. Or did she?
"Catherine." Emily softened her eyes. "This situation cannot go on indefinitely. If Rian has nothing that you desire, nothing you want from him as a man, then be kind and tell him so. Release him from this hopeless pursuit."
The tears, hot and stinging behind her eyelids, came without warning, and her lower lip trembled as she whispered, "But you're wrong. He is everything I desire, all I could possibly want."
Putting aside her needlework, Emily came to sit next to her. She placed an arm around her shoulders. "Then why not tell him?" she asked, kissing Catherine's forehead.
"But how?" Catherine stared at her best friend's mother with a forlorn look. "How am I supposed to tell a man like Rian such a thing?"
"Well, I think it might be helpful if the two of you were in the same room at the same time." Emily gave her a small squeeze. "The words will come, but it won't help if there's no one to hear them."
"Am I being ridiculously silly?" Catherine sniffled.
"No. You are simply being cautious, that is all." The words were reassuring. "There is still so much of your past that is unknown to you because of the amnesia you suffered, and now you are on the threshold of making a decision that could very well affect the rest of your life. None of us can know the future, but you owe it to yourself, as well as Rian, to see if perhaps you want to continue your life's journey in his company."
It was the kindness and concern in Emily's eyes that helped Catherine realize that avoiding the issue any longer was pointless. Now was the time to take a deep breath and face her insecurities. She had spent too much time already playing games of 'what if.' Emily was right. Felicity was right. As Rian's sister-in-law and Catherine's best friend, she had been encouraging his visits in the hope of seeing two of her favorite people in the world united at last.
"Is Felicity due to visit soon?" Catherine asked.
"Yes, actually both she and Liam are dining with us tonight." Emily smiled, always delighted by a visit from her only daughter and new son by marriage.
"Would you mind terribly if I did not join you?"
"No, of course not." Curiosity gnawed at Emily. "But, won't you be hungry?"
"I'm sure the kitchen at Oakhaven will be able to provide for me."
A puzzled frown creased Emily's brow. "I'm sorry, perhaps I wasn't clear. Felicity and Liam are dining here tonight."
Catherine gave her a warm smile. "Precisely. They are dining here, which means Rian will be at Oakhaven. Alone."
"Are you certain I cannot persuade you to change your mind and come with us?" Felicity asked. "Mama and Papa would be most happy to see you."
"I think I have caused your parents enough consternation with my comings and goings these past few weeks," Rian answered. "I have no wish to ruin what should be a pleasant evening for you all."
"You don't truly think that, surely?"
"Ah, but I do." Seeing the look on his well-meaning sister-in-law's face, he explained. "If I accept your gracious invitation to dine at Pelham Manor, then I predict one of two things will happen." He held up a finger. "Catherine will suddenly develop a headache and keep to her room, or" — he held up a second finger — "she will dine with us, but do her best to ignore me. Conversation would no doubt be difficult, even if I were to bring up the exciting topic of crop rotations."
"Who in their right mind would find the subject of crop rotations exciting?" Felicity asked, looking puzzled.
"Who indeed?" his brother Liam murmured from across the room.
"The point I am making," Rian continued, "is that regardless of which scenario unfolds, a pleasant evening will have been ruined." Hearing Felicity's sigh of frustration, Rian took her hands in his. "I appreciate your concern, but you must stop fretting over this. It will work itself out one way or another."
"But I feel horribly guilty, especially as it was my idea that you ride over to Pelham every day. I truly believed the situation between you and Catherine would have been resolved by now. That she is still refusing to see you, speak with you, defies all reason."
"She does have a considerable stubborn streak, I'll grant you that."
"Perhaps I ought to speak with her about —"
"You'll do no such thing," Liam said. "This is between Rian and Catherine, and no one else."
The arched brow that appeared in response to Felicity's sudden pout was a warning. A warning not to interfere. Felicity gave a mild snort of frustration and looked away. Not wanting the newlyweds to share a carriage cross with each other, Rian squeezed her hands.
"Your intentions were good, and no one knows that better than I, but Liam is correct. This difficulty between Catherine and myself will sort itself out. One way or another."
"I don't see how when you can't even get her to stay in the same room with you."
Rian raised a sardonic brow. "It's a challenge, Felicity, nothing more." His smile turned rakish. "Besides, I think Catherine was beginning to look forward to my daily visit and the chance to refuse me."
"So is that why you stopped riding to Pelham?" Felicity asked. "Because she was expecting you to?"
"Partly, but I also wanted to save the sensibilities of your servants."
"How are they involved?" Liam asked.
"Catherine's excuses for not seeing me were becoming increasingly inventive, and also more preposterous." Rian grinned at his brother. "The last time I rode to Pelham she denied me the pleasure of her company because she was so engrossed in a book, she did not wish to lose her place in the narrative."
"Did you not suggest a solution to her dilemma?"
"Of course. My proposal was to slip a ribbon between the pages of the book, thus securing her place." Rian nodded at his brother. "It is something I have seen your wife do on more than one occasion."
"Reasonable enough," Liam acknowledged, having also witnessed Felicity mark books in this manner.
"Unfortunately, the only ribbon at hand for such a purpose was the one woven in Catherine's hair, or one of those securing her stockings. Using either would reduce her to a state of unacceptable undress, or so I was informed." The corner of Rian's mouth lifted in amusement. "Given a choice, I would have much preferred the loss of a stocking, but then I am man who knows little about the intricacies of women's hair."
"What was she reading?" Liam asked.
"Does it matter?"
"No, I suppose not. I was just curious."
"I cannot believe she would actually mention her stockings." Felicity sounded slightly aghast.
"You should direct your sympathy toward the poor footman who delivered the message. I've never seen a grown man so distressed at repeating someone else's words."
Letting go of Felicity's hands, Rian watched as she moved away from him, shaking her head and making tutting sounds. "I was so hopeful," she told him, her words sounding apologetic. "She seemed settled, more sure of her own mind, especially while her dear friend Lord Barclay was visiting. But now he is gone, she has once again become indecisive and unsure of her feelings."
"Perhaps she now regrets not leaving with him," Rian offered in a low voice.
Now that Catherine had recalled her name and much of her former identity, it had not been difficult for Rian to travel north to the village where she'd once lived. His discovery of her childhood friend, Edward Barclay, had prompted a visit from that gentleman, and Rian sensed that the young man had come with a proposal for Catherine in mind.
"No, I don't think that is so."
The surety with which the words were spoken made Rian turn his head and look at his brother. It was no secret that Catherine had an easier time talking to the younger Conner. But then Liam was able to concentrate on her words when all Rian wanted to do was kiss her. More than once. Having already tasted her lips, he was eager to repeat the experience.
"Has Catherine shared some secret knowledge with you, brother?" Rian asked. "You seem very sure of yourself."
"Catherine has told me nothing, either in confidence or otherwise. I've seen no more of her recently than you have, Rian." The elder Conner's gaze shifted towards his sister-in-law, making Liam add, "And Felicity has shared nothing with me either. Well, nothing that concerns this awkwardness with Catherine," he amended.
"Then how do you know she suffers no regret about not leaving with her childhood playmate?"
"Because her childhood playmate told me so."
"When did you talk with Edward, and why did you not tell me?" Felicity asked in an annoyed voice.
"He stopped by on his return north, and in truth, it did not seem so very important. I assumed he was telling me facts already known to you."
Liam watched in bafflement as his wife threw her hands in the air and began muttering about the idiocy of the male sex. He was certain he heard a few more unflattering observations regarding his gender, but he wasn't so foolish as to ask her to repeat them. He did take comfort in seeing an equally bewildered look on his brother's face. Taking advantage of Felicity's distraction, he poured her a glass of sweet wine, and apologized for his shortcomings.
"So, what was your impression of the young lord?" Rian asked.
"I won't lie," Liam replied, frankly. "I liked him. I liked him a lot."
"So did I," Rian agreed with a satisfied nod. "Now tell me, what did you and young Edward talk about?"
"Mostly we discussed some new innovations in farming." Interrupted by the rude, snorting sound made by his wife, Liam waited until she gave her leave for him to continue. "He was, however, disappointed that you had not yet returned, and asked me to convey his thanks for providing him with Catherine's whereabouts."
"And just what possessed you to do such an addlebrained thing?" Felicity snapped, paying no attention to her husband's sigh at this further interruption. "Sending a potential rival directly to her?"
"Was he a rival? I thought he would be a welcome face from her past. Someone who might help restore some memories."
"You didn't think he might be in love with her?"
"Oh, I know he is, and probably has been for most of his life," Rian observed, "but he is also betrothed."
"He wouldn't be the first man to change his mind," Liam pointed out.
"No, he wouldn't be, but that would be Catherine's decision, not his."
"You knew she wouldn't let him do it," Felicity stated, staring at Rian in mild astonishment. "You knew, even if he offered, she would turn him down."
"Knew? No, I didn't know, but I did hope."
"You took a big risk," Liam said. "What if he hadn't mentioned his engagement and Catherine had returned with him? Would you have let her go?"
"Did Lord Barclay strike you as the kind of young man who would not be truthful, especially regarding any involvement with another woman? Besides, he and Catherine have known each other since they were children. I suspect they would each know when the other was hiding something."
"Even so ..." Now it was Felicity who seemed to view his reasoning with a certain measure of skepticism.
Rian watched as her hand, the one not holding the glass of wine, fussed with the buttons on her bodice. The rapid movement of her fingers reminded him of a small bird. "Even if Catherine cannot find it within herself to forgive me for what happened on the night of your Oakhaven ball," he continued in a low voice, "I could not let a chance at happiness slip away from her. The decision had to be hers to make."
Turning away, Felicity downed her drink with a most unladylike gulp.
"You're right of course," Liam said. "And he did tell Catherine he was to be married to someone else."
"And it is my understanding that their friendship was rekindled, but nothing else. I believe she offered him her warmest congratulations, and some keen insight on how to treat his new bride. So you see, brother mine, if there is something troubling Miss Davenport's mind, I do not think it is her decision not to travel north."
"Are you sure you will not come to dinner with us?" Felicity asked once more. "Catherine may be more amenable, now that it has been some time since she last saw you at Pelham."
Rian looked confused. "But she hasn't seen me," he clarified.
Felicity's laugh was something only another woman would appreciate. "Are you telling me you didn't feel her watching you as you rode away? Trust me, dearest brother, Catherine saw you every time you went to Pelham."
Isabel Howard lay quietly, her eyes closed, waiting patiently for the man to be done. His fingers moved gently over her skin, touching her with the utmost care. Finally, it was over and he moved away.
"You may get dressed now, your ladyship," he said, his voice as gentle as his hands, each possessing a soothing quality. Isabel wondered how many other nervous women had been put at ease by just one or two words from him. It was a definite addition to his other professional capabilities. She closed her robe and sat up on the bed, waiting for him to finish washing his hands. She never knew a man so obsessed with keeping his hands clean.
"When?" she asked.
The doctor looked up at the ceiling and calculated briefly in his head. It didn't take much to count to nine but he appeared to enjoy making it a theatrical process. "I would estimate in the winter, possibly November but most definitely by December."
"You are certain?" She knew it was a foolish question before it slipped out of her mouth, but he smiled indulgently at her. No doubt his skill had been questioned before, and she was certain he had seen just as many tears as happy smiles when delivering his news.
"Oh yes, I am quite certain."
Isabel got off the bed and tied the robe's sash. Was it her imagination or was her waist already thickening? She went to her dresser and retrieved a small black pouch from a drawer.
"For your discretion," she said.
The doctor felt the weight of the pouch. A sizeable secret. "Of course. I was never here, your ladyship."
Excerpted from "Salvation"
Copyright © 2018 Carla Susan Smith.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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
This could have a great book, but I would give it 3-1/2 stars. My main complaint with the book is the number of characters that are thrown at you in rapid succession without having the chance to really get to know them. Add in the fact that the action jumps around from time period to time period and from character to character and it is really hard to keep track! Also, it seemed like the author took every possible thing that might happen in a Zompoc and put it into this one book. You have "regular" zombies, mutant zombies, zombie animals, mutant zombie animals, bad "government" types, cannibals, kids being used as breeders and soldiers and some others that I am probably forgetting. Then, we have a huge pit monster that rears its ugly tentacles....I don't know how anybody could survive all of these things, but some manage to do it. There were some very heartbreaking moments that brought me to tears and some good parts to the book, but it was just too much, too fast for a really good read. And, zombie snakes? That is definitely going to haunt my nightmares!
Veronica Smith is an upcoming author and I had the pleasure of getting to see her scope of writing in this book. There will be no spoilers but it should be said, this book is meant to accompany (from my understanding) a game. I found the story intriguing. I always love to know what each writer's "origin" for their zombies are when they put out a story. In this case, it was a "Blistering Flu" (reminding me of The Black Plague). Veronica's imagination is vast and never ceases to amaze me, even when writing for a plot already laid out. In my opinion, this story made me more eager to see if the game lives up to it, rather than the other way around! I've read Veronica's work in several anthologies, and it is evident she is developing and growing her voice by leaps and bounds. I'll continue reading her work and I recommend this book, as well as her anthologies, to everyone. You will love the view from behind her eyes. Lisa Vasquez (Author of The Unfleshed: Tale of the Autopsic Bride)