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So in LoveBook Five of the Highland Lords
By Ranney, Karen
Avon BooksISBN: 0380821087
Douglas MacRae had no idea, when he prepared for the evening, that in one moment ten years would be swept awayand he would feel as lost and distraught as a young man. He had no intimation and no foreboding, when leaving his house a few hours earlier, that he might see her.
He stared at the woman standing in the doorway, limned by the light. An icy coldness encapsulated him, as well as a sensation of being instantly catapulted into some otherworldly place.
She was supposed to be dead.
Attired in a dark blue dress with only a hint of white at the collar and cuffs to soften the severe hue, she stood immobile, her face expressionless, holding on to the hand of a little boy. The child, his hair curling in brown ringlets, wore a suit of clothes identical to his father's down to the lace at his neck and wrists.
Douglas had two immediate thoughts -- that Hartley's wife was a ghost from his past, and that she wasn't, evidently, still bedridden as the man had said.
The little boy rubbed at his eyes and the woman spoke to him in hushed tones. A gentle smile changed her face, lit her eyes, and softened her lips.
Suddenly it was two years ago and he was standing in the captain's cabin of his brother's ship, a scrap of a handwritten notice in his hand. Hamish had brought the news from France and he'd read it three times before making sense of the words.
"The Comte du Marchand is dead," he said aloud, the words not having the weight he expected. "And Vallans is destroyed."
"What about his daughter?" his brother had asked.
"It doesn't say." He'd laid the notice down on the table in his brother's cabin, stunned and disagreeably affected by the realization that Jeanne du Marchand must be dead as well. But it seemed that she wasn't, was she?
"Bid your father goodnight," she said tenderly to the little boy. At the sound of her voice, Douglas was immediately reminded of Paris, a shadowed garden, and the sound of summer.
The child looked timorously at the man seated next to Douglas.
"Goodnight, Papa," he said, not relinquishing Jeanne's hand. The child didn't move from his stance by the door. Nor did his host bid him come closer.
"Goodnight, Davis," Hartley said, smiling absently at his son. He managed a longer look at Jeanne.
Her auburn hair was held at the back of her head in a serviceable bun. Over it she wore an arrangement of lace and dark blue ribbon. But it was her face Douglas studied as she stood with eyes downcast, her gaze fixed on the floor.
A lovely face, one he'd kissed enough times to know the texture of her skin, to measure the distance from the corner of her full lips across her high cheekbones to fluttering eyelashes. He'd traced the line of each winged brow with his fingertips. He'd seen a Roman coin once and the perfection of the profile had reminded him of her.
Thick spectacles now shielded her soft gray eyes, a shade that reminded him of fog and storms, and smoke from a peak fire. A voice from his memory, a laughing teasing taunt, whispered in his ear.
"I fear that I'm vain, Douglas. I could see you better if I wore them, but they are so ugly."
"Nothing you could do," he'd said, "could ever make you less beautiful in my eyes, Jeanne." His own voice had been laden with lust and youthful exuberance. But he had been in love, so desperately in love that he didn't see her as less than perfect.
She'd linked her arms around his neck and kissed him sweetly, gently.
"Then I shall always think myself beautiful, my dearest Douglas. Even if I must squint at you."
Now Jeanne's gaze traveled over him disinterestedly. Abruptly, her eyes widened as she seemed to still, her faint smile freezing in place, one hand splayed at her side.
The least she could do was appear afraid.
But perhaps she no longer had the ability to glean his thoughts as she once had. If so, she would have run from the room or begged for his forgiveness.
He would never give it.
His host flicked a finger in the child's direction and instantly the woman turned and gently pulled the boy through the doorway. Neither of them looked back, but Douglas could not stop staring in Jeanne's direction even as the door closed.
"I see you're struck dumb at the sight of my governess," Robert Hartley said, grinning. "I, too, feel the same when looking at Jeanne. If you discount that ugly eyewear, she's a fine morsel. Did you see those breasts?"
Douglas's hand reached out to grasp the etched crystal tumbler he was being offered, and he noted with detachment that it sparkled in the gleam of the branch of candles only a few feet from him. Warmth was curiously absent from the room, the chill so pervasive that he wondered why he'd not noticed it earlier.
Slowly, Douglas turned his head and look ed at his host. With some difficulty he managed a small smile. "Your governess is, indeed, a lovely woman."
Hartley grinned. "She'll be more than that in a few days. My wife is still abed from our youngest child's birth and a man has needs."
"And is your governess amenable to your suggestions?" How odd that Douglas's voice didn't reveal the tumult of his thoughts. Instead, it sounded steady and he appeared only barely interested in the topic at hand.
"What choice does she have? She's only a governess, after all. They may carry themselves as high and mighty, but in the end she'll do what's necessaryto keep her position."
Douglas placed the glass carefully on the brass coaster beside him ...Continues...
Excerpted from So in Love by Ranney, Karen Excerpted by permission.
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