Devin Aincourt, Earl of Ravenscar, makes no apologies for who he is—a drinker, a womanizer, a gambler. Having been cast aside by his disapproving father years before, Dev is content to live out his cursed life in this hedonistic manner. Until his mother asks him to make a bold move to restore the family name and fortune: marry a rich American heiress.
Believing it will be a marriage in name only, Dev agrees to marry Miranda. But he never imagined that this feisty, unconventional foreigner would have plans of her own: to restore Blackwater, the old abbey, to its former glory, to extricate Dev from the clutches of a devious mistress and to win his heart for her own. All while risking her own life to an unknown enemy.
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She reached up toward him, arms outstretched, eyes wide and pleading, mouth contorted in a death grimace. She was pale, her skin white with an undertone of gray, and water coated her skin and clothes. Dark seaweed wrapped around her chest, seemingly pulling her down into the roiling water.
"Dev! Help me! Save me!" Her shrill words echoed through the darkness.
He reached out for her, but her hand was inches from his, and he could not move forward. He stretched, straining every fiber of his being but she remained frustratingly beyond his reach.
She was sinking into the black water, her eyes closing.
"Don't!" he yelled, grabbing futilely for her. "Don't! Let me help you!"
Devin's eyes flew open, blank at first, then slowly gaining understanding. He had dreamed about her again.
"Christ!" He shivered, feeling cold to the bone, and glanced around. It took a moment for him to realize where he was. He had fallen asleep sitting up in his bedroom, dressing gown wrapped around him. A bottle of brandy and a gracefully curved snifter sat on the small table beside his chair. He picked up the bottle and poured some into the glass, his hand trembling so hard that the bottle clinked against the rim.
He took a quick gulp of the drink, warming as the fiery liquid rushed down his throat and exploded in his stomach. He ran his hand back through his thick black hair and took another drink. "Why didn't you tell me?" he murmured. "Iwould have helped."
He was still cold, despite the aid of the brandy, and he stood up and walked over to the bed, his gait a trifle unsteady. How much had he had to drink last night? He couldn't remember. Clearly it had been enough that he had fallen asleep sitting up instead of crossing the few feet to his bed. It was no wonder, he told himself, that he had had bad dreams.
He crawled into bed, the covers having been neatly turned back by his valet before he left last night, and wrapped the blankets around him. Slowly, between the brandy and the warmth of the bedspread, his shivers slowed down, then stopped. It was June, not really that cold, even for sleeping in only one's dressing gown, but Devin knew that his bone-chilling coldness had less to do with the temperature than with his most persistent and discomfiting nightmare.
It had been years. He had thought the dream would have stopped recurring by now. But he could depend on it popping up here and there throughout the months, at least two or three times a year. Devin grimaced. He could not seem to keep a farthing in his pocket, but a bad dream he could hold onto for years.
The shivering ceased, and his eyes drifted closed. At least, after all these years, he could sleep after the dream. When he'd first had it, he had stayed awake all night. Time might not heal all wounds, but apparently, with a little help from brandy, it could make them more easily forgotten. With a faint sigh, he slid into sleep.
It was several hours later and the sun was well up when his valet shook his arm gently and whispered, "My lord. My lord. I am sorry to awaken you, sir, but Lady Ravenscar and Lady Westhampton are below, asking for you."
Devin opened one eye and rolled it up to focus with bloodshot malevolence on his servant, hovering at the side of his bed. "Go away," he muttered succinctly.
"Yes, my lord, I quite understand. 'Tis a dreadfully early hour. The thing is, her ladyship is threatening to come up here and wake you herself. And one feels it beyond one's duties to physically restrain your lordship's mother."
Devin sighed, closing his eye, and rolled onto his back. "Is she weeping or warlike?"
"No sign of tears, my lord," his valet responded, furrowing his brow in thought. "I would say more ... determined. And she brought Lady Westhampton with her."
"Mmm. Makes it harder when my sister joins forces with her."
"Just so, my lord. Shall I lay out your clothes?"
Devin groaned. He felt like hell. His head was pounding, his body ached, and the inside of his mouth tasted as foul as a trash bin. "Where was I last night, Carson?"
"I'm sure I couldn't say, sir," his valet replied blandly. "I believe that Mr. Mickleston was with you."
"Stuart?" Devin summoned up a faint memory of a visit from his longtime friend. It seemed that Stuart had been uncharacteristically flush in the pocket. That explained the hangover. They had probably visited half the hellholes in London last night, celebrating his good fortuneand no doubt disposing of at least half of it.
He sat up gingerly, swinging his legs out of the bed, and waited for the rush of nausea to subside. "All right, Carson. Lay out my clothes and ring for shaving water. Did my mother indicate what she wanted?"
"No, sir. I spoke to her myself, but she was quite reticent as to the object of her visit. She would say only that it was imperative that she see you."
"No doubt." He looked at his valet. "I think a cup of strong tea would be in order."
"Indeed, sir. I will fetch it myself."
Thirty minutes later, shaved, impeccably dressed in the plain black suit and crisp white shirt that he favored, cravat knotted fashionably under his chin, Devin Aincourt made his way downstairs, looking every inch the sixth Earl of Ravenscar.
He walked into the drawing room, decorated tastefully in masculine tones of beige and brown by the selfsame sister who sat there now. An attractive woman in her late twenties, she had the black hair, green eyes and well-modeled features that were characteristic of the Aincourt family's handsomeness, and was possessed of a charming dimple in her cheek. She looked up at his entrance and smiled. "Dev!"
"Rachel." He smiled back at her despite the low-grade pounding in his head. She was one of the few people who was dear to him. The smile faded as he turned toward his mother, a slender blond woman whose exquisite taste in clothes and regal carriage elevated her looks above an ordinary prettiness. He bowed formally toward her. "Mother. An unexpected pleasure."
"Ravenscar." His mother nodded to him. She had always preferred formality even in dealings with her own family, believing that to behave otherwise would undermine one's importanceand whatever had befallen the Aincourt family over the years, they were important.
"I am relieved to see you alive," Lady Ravenscar went on dryly. "Given the reaction of your servants to the thought of your receiving us, I was beginning to wonder whether you were."
"I was still asleep. My servants are understandably reluctant to pull me out of bed."
His mother raised her eyebrows. "It is almost one o'clock in the afternoon."
The older lady sighed resignedly. "You are a heathen. But that is not the issue at hand." She waved the matter away.
Excerpted from So Wild a Heart by Candace Camp. Copyright © 2002 by Candace Camp. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.