Winner of the award for best Harlequin American of the Year with Wake Me with a Kiss, Danice Allen has mastered blending history and passion.
Her heroines travel the earth, frequently winding up in dangerous lands with even more dangerous men. But it’s in that risk that true temptation ignites, and where Danice Allen’s readers discover the beating hearts and wild hungers that make her one of the most compelling romance writers today.
“Danice Allen delivers characters who come alive from the pages and work their way into your heart.” —RT Book Reviews
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About the Author
Allen enjoys researching her novels almost as much as writing them, especially when the research includes travel. She has traveled extensively in the United States and spent some memorable times in Great Britain and Europe exploring castles and countryside.
Allen lives in Utah, but is an avid Anglophile and lover of British history and literature. At the same time, she immensely enjoys stories based in small-town Americana, both to read and write. This shared love for the “old” country and the “new” country made sense to her when her ancestry DNA test revealed that her origins were very, very British, and that her ancestors came to America with the earliest settlers.
Allen is married and has two sons, one of whom lives in Los Angeles and writes for television. Her other son lives close by with his wife and two children, which makes for many fun family gatherings.
Read an Excerpt
Cornwall, England — June 1821
"Do you think he'll come, Zach?" Elizabeth Tavistock slipped her arms around the tall young man, stood on tiptoe, and rested her chin on one of his shoulders. Together they looked out the mullioned windows of the library toward the moor. A lock of her rich chestnut hair tumbled over the lapel of Zachary's coat of black superfine. Leaden clouds rumbled in. Another storm was headed for Pencarrow.
Zachary Wickham pressed her little hand, but his gaze never strayed from the scene outside the window. "Yes, damn 'im! He sent word ahead that he'd arrive in time for the reading of the will. Mr. Hook could have arranged to meet him in London later on. I don't know why he's coming here. Richer than a nabob, I've heard, so he can't be that eager to hear of the possibility of inheriting money. I'm sure he knows as well as I do that it'd be devilish queer if Grandfather left him a single groat when the stubborn old clutch-fist refused even to acknowledge his existence all these years. And he's not coming out of respect, I'll wager."
Zachary shrugged away and dragged slender fingers through his thick, straight hair.
"Maybe he's coming to see you," Beth suggested, watching anxiously as he paced the floor and pulled at his thatch of wheat- golden hair.
"Why would he wish to see me now, when he's not wished to see me these seventeen years?"
Beth bit her lip, hard. Pain knifed through her at the depth of anguish in Zachary's voice. He'd seemed so calm just moments before. But that was Zachary — outwardly a placid pool, inwardly a deep, raging sea. And, as with his every thought, every joy or trouble, Beth felt Zachary's pain as if it were her own. She reached out a hand toward him, beseeching, "Please calm down, Zachary. It won't do any good to put yourself in a taking. Mayhap this will be an opportunity for the two of you to work things out. Then you can be friends, be as brothers should be to each other."
Zachary stopped pacing and fixed his strange tawny eyes upon her. Beth's heart wrenched at the look of agony reflected there. Dressed all in black as he was, his bright hair and gilded eyes were all the more striking — like Adonis in mourning.
Yet Beth knew that he did not really mourn his grandfather's death, for that event had been expected for some time now, and she knew from watching her own dear father's slow demise from a consumptive disorder last year that lingering illnesses tended to blunt the edge of grief.
In truth, it would have taken a determined heart to cling to an affection for Zachary's grandfather, the reclusive Chester Hayle. He had scorned any display of emotion and seemed to dare anyone, including Zachary, to love him.
Beth knew the main reason Zachary was so distraught at the moment was the loss of his brother years before, a traumatic event of childhood he was driven to relive from time to time. He would feel that loss dearly today when they faced each other for the first time since their separation.
"As well you know, Beth, my father did not want me," Zachary said bitterly. "But for many years I was foolish enough to believe that my brother regretted the separation as much as I did. When I never heard from him, I thought that our father must have forbidden him to write me. But when he did not come to me even after our father died, I was forced to admit the truth."
Despite his two and twenty years and the usual manly horror of giving in to emotion, Zachary's voice broke. With a grunt of self- loathing, he turned away and moved to stand by the mantelpiece, resting his head against the cool marble and grasping the edge with white-knuckled hands.
Beth took a deep breath and pushed back a dark curl that had sprung loose from the combs holding her heavy mane of hair. The damp, storm-charged air hung oppressively around her. A rumble of thunder bowled across the moor.
Beth knew the story well. Indeed, it had surfaced many times during the years she'd known Zachary. And just as a best friend would do, each time she'd helped him deal with the resurgent feelings of loss, rejection, and finally resentment. But this had been the only real sorrow to mar their otherwise blissful childhood, for they had grown up together as surely as if they'd been raised in the same house, though she lived three miles away at Brookmoor Manor.
Beth had always had mixed feelings about Zachary's estrangement from his family. If he had not been rejected by his father and sent to live at Pencarrow, she would never have known him. And she could hardly conceive of such a thing. Her childhood would have been dull indeed without his lively presence in the neighborhood. With just one other child in her family — Gabrielle, a sister much younger than she — Beth delighted in the entertainment and adventure of a boy three years her senior supplied. He'd become the center of her life, and she knew him as well as — or better than — she knew herself.
Now Beth recognized that what Zachary needed most was a diversion. Dwelling on the problem would only make him feel worse. Once started, he could brood for days, and Beth was determined to forestall a fit of moodiness from him, even if she had to dance a jig naked! But not as yet convinced that such a drastic measure was necessary, she decided that a gallop on the moor would be just the thing. Now if only she could convince him. She moved to stand beside him and pressed her cheek against his arm, saying in a cajoling whisper, "Why don't we ride out on the moor, Zach?"
He grunted, never lifting his head.
"There's still time before Mr. Hook is due here. Come!" she coaxed him, pulling on his arm.
"Good God, Beth, I hardly think it the most respectful thing to do on the very brink of Grandfather's funeral," argued Zachary, but Beth could see by the returning light in his eyes as he lifted his head to look at her that he was weakening.
"Pooh! As if your grandfather would wish you to be moping about like this," she returned, laughing. "In fact, if he were here, he would very likely give you a blistering setdown for pulling a long face. 'Vulgar,' he'd say." Beth mimicked old Mr. Hayle's gruff tones. "'Zachary, you're being vulgar!'"
Zachary straightened up and turned about completely. His shapely lips quirked in that winsome Wickham smile that had all the village lasses pining for him, and he said, "It's raining, you idiot. Or hadn't you noticed?"
"It isn't raining yet. 'Tis only thundering. You aren't such a pudding-heart as to be put off by a little thunder, are you?" she taunted him.
"You fancy dodging lightning, do you?" he inquired dryly.
Grasping both his hands, she pulled him toward the door. "I fancy many bright, exciting things, my dear boy," she said saucily. "I'm betrothed to you, am I not?"
The witticism earned her a shout of delighted laughter and the gentleman's complete cooperation. They left arm in arm.
Alexander Wickham, Lord Roth, was devilish tired. After fourteen straight hours traveling from Surrey through everlasting thunderstorms, he found the damp confines of his coach suffocating. His dog, Shadow, a huge mixed breed that had somehow managed to inherit a coat of pure white, lounged against the opposite squabs.
A musty smell had invaded the spotless traveling chaise, as had the distinct odor of wet canine, and the cloying stickiness of humid air pressed the viscount's slate-gray pantaloons to his muscled thighs.
But Alex dared not rap his cane with its golden lion's head against the ceiling to catch the attention of his cloak-shrouded coachman. If they stopped in this damnable moor so that he might stretch his long legs and breathe some freshness into his lungs, the horses might not be able to drag the narrow wheels from out of the raw, rich mud of Cornwall. Remote Cornwall, he mused. The back of beyond. The setting for many of his childhood nightmares.
Shaking himself, Alex returned to the uncomfortable present, which was marginally more comfortable than his faraway past.
He again weighed the possibility of halting the carriage but concluded that it was wishful thinking at best. Shadow might take a notion to jump out if they stopped, and the blasted cur was wet enough, thought Alex, ruffling the dog's wolflike head affectionately. And once Shadow made up his mind about something, it was a stronger man than he who could change it.
Alex turned his gaze to the fast-streaming rivulets of wind-driven rain sheeting his carriage windows. Turning back, he scowled at Shadow until the dog whimpered and moved restlessly on the cushions.
"Oh, never mind me, Shadow," Alex apologized. "It's not you I'm fretting over. I just wish I could get out of this damn coach! But even if I dared stop in such a storm, I would not dare to get out. I'd be drenched of a certainty! And Dudley would be vexed, wouldn't he?"
Shadow had begun to look sympathetic, but at the mention of Alex's fastidious valet, the same valet who would not ride in a coach that carried a dog, he lifted his drooping upper lip in a slight sneer.
"Sorry I mentioned Dudley, old boy. Go to sleep now."
The dog complied.
Alex sighed heavily. He was generally a patient man, and he withstood inconveniences with more good humor than most noblemen would. But this day and this trip were different. At the end of his journey, he expected to find nothing but misery.
This was not to be a house party with the usual diversions. There would be no alfresco luncheons, riding parties, gay dinners, impromptu dancing with the rugs rolled up against the walls, and, as so often happened, a dalliance with some luscious, lusty widow or bored wife. No. At the end of this journey there was nothing to greet him but an old man four days dead and a younger brother who must surely despise him.
Zachary. The wine-colored squabs and the huge white dog blurred as Alex returned in memory for the thousandth time to the day he was separated from his five-year-old brother. He'd adored Zachary. Since his father had paid scant attention to the tot except to glare resentfully at him from time to time, Alex had supplied the child with the affection he was being denied through no fault of his own.
A lad of eight when the boy was born, Alex had only vaguely understood that Papa was mad at Zachary because Mama died while giving him birth. His father was never the same after his mother died. But with a childish and innate sense of justice, Alex thought it terribly unfair for Zachary to suffer as a result. Alex had desperately missed his mother, too, and seemed to draw comfort from his closeness with Zach.
So Alex was there in the nursery when Zach first smiled and when he first sat up. He had held the sturdy, towheaded toddler's hands and set his fat little feet on top of his boots and walked him about the room until Zach got the idea and took his own first steps. Alex was there to watch and cheer him on. When Zach mouthed his first word, Alex was delighted to hear his own name — or at least something that sounded very much like it. Then, when Zach was five, Grandfather Hayle had come and taken him away.
Alex would never forget the tall, silver-bearded man with the stern mouth and black eyes — and he'd never forget the look of betrayal and bewilderment on Zach's little face when he was thrust inside the carriage and driven away.
When Alex turned to his father for an explanation, Lord Roth had advised his eldest son, then thirteen, to leave off thinking of "the child." His very existence, the galling sight of him day after day, had served only to remind Lord Roth over and over again of the loss of his precious Charlotte. They were all better off, he'd said, with Zachary tucked away in the wilds of Cornwall. Now they could rest much easier.
Alex smiled crookedly, bitterly. Easier, indeed! Perhaps his father was made easier, but many months passed before Alex could go to bed without crying himself to sleep. He was deeply ashamed of what he perceived as a womanly weakness, but he could not seem to help himself.
Alex wrote faithfully to Zach, and his father relented so far as to frank and post the letters for him, but there was never a reply. Even later, when Zach was old enough to pen his own letters, Alex never heard from him. There was the one letter, of course, the reply to a letter Alex had written to him after their father died. Zachary's missive was brief and to the point: He wanted nothing to do with his older brother.
Bitter disappointment and a sharp repetition of the grief he'd felt when Zach was first taken away had threatened to overwhelm him, but Alex was a survivor. He immediately set about trying to fill the void in his life. And by all appearances, he succeeded wonderfully well. He had not earned the name "Wicked Wickham" for nothing. If the possession of money, the attentions of women who were not only accommodating but enthusiastic, and the adulation of the ton were indications of one's happiness, well then, he supposed he was happy.
Suddenly the carriage lurched to a stop, and Alex shuddered free of the vexing thoughts that plagued him when he was too tired to resist.
Barely discernible through the fogged carriage window was a rumbling, terra-cotta stone building. Alex knew it must be Pencarrow, his grandfather's estate, which stood just this side of Bodmin Moor. Its occupants undoubtedly were considered the reigning gentry of the nearby village of St. Teath. Huge wooden doors, solid to withstand the erosive sea-salted winds and frequent rainfalls of Cornwall, seemed, to Alex's doubting heart, barred against visitors as well as inclement weather.
Through a slightly open carriage window Alex watched as his portly but spry coachman, Joe, jumped down from the carriage and moved to the door. Water dripped off Joe's wide-brimmed hat in an endless stream as he banged the brass knocker against the door for the third time. No one came. Joe turned and gave his master an apologetic shrug.
"By God!" muttered Alex, reaching for his tall beaver hat and an umbrella lying next to him. "I haven't come this far to be put off, damn 'em!"
To his well-trained servant, who not only took great pride in his job, but held his employer in considerable affection, the sight of Lord Roth's most imposing figure stepping unattended out of the carriage and into the muck of the courtyard filled him with horror. But he did not attempt to run forward to let down the steps, for, though he was spry, he knew he couldn't possibly compete in speed with the athletic Lord Roth.
With two long-limbed strides, Alex joined his coachman at the door of the house, popped open his umbrella, and gave the knocker such a battering against the door as to rattle the teeth of anyone within a one-mile radius. Predictably, Shadow followed and had pressed himself against his master's elegant pantaloons to avoid as much of the rain as possible.
Joe eyed his master while pretending to snatch a glimpse at the horses who were prancing about, impatient to be settled in a dry stable and to dine on a bucket of oats.
Alexander, Lord Roth, was not your average viscount. He had not the look of smooth symmetry usually attached to generations of careful inbreeding. He was not pale and delicate with a long nose, thin lips, and heavy-lidded eyes of a vapid hue. He was tanned, his nose seemed sculpted after some ruler's noble profile on an unearthed ancient Greek coin, his lips were shapely and sensuous, and his jewel- bright eyes were large almond crescents of deepest jet. From the tip of his obsidian hair to the toes of his polished Hessians, he was as glossy and black as a raven's wing.
Tall, broad-shouldered, lean-hipped, dusky-eyed, and swarthy, indeed, had it not been for the excellent cut of his clothes, which bespoke the elegant Spartan style of Weston, Lord Roth might have been mistaken for a bloodthirsty highwayman or a Gypsy rogue.
But it wasn't just Lord Roth's physical attributes that set him apart from others. He had an energy about him, a virile intensity that sent many a susceptible maiden into an exquisite shudder when he turned his keen black gaze upon her. Joe had seen it happen many a time.
Presently one of the massive doors creaked open just a little. A faded, cataract-clouded eye peered distrustfully around the casement, blinking against the gusts of rain to observe the gentleman whose vigorous handling of the knocker had made him drop a rather expensive crystal decanter on the stone floor of the kitchen.
"How may I help you?" the butler inquired icily.
Alex, driven to exasperation by hours of thought-burdened inactivity, dreadful, uncomfortable weather, and the incivility of a servant who would keep someone standing thus in the rain, sharply returned, "I daresay you might begin by letting me in! Mr. Wickham is expecting me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Danice Allen Anthology"
Copyright © 2014 Danice Allen.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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