I want you to marry me.”
Part of The Sinful Sinclairs. Samantha Sinclair was always Lord Edgerton’s complete opposite. But when Edge encounters Sam again in Egypt, it’s clear the years have changed her as much as him. So after she blurts out an impulsive, convenient proposal, Edge’s protective urge compels him to accept. Is it possible for two such different people to be together and find the happiness they both deserve?
About the Author
Lara Temple writes strong and sensual Regency romances about complex individuals who give no quarter but do so with plenty of passion. She lives with her husband, two children, and one very fluffy dog and they are all very understanding about her taking over the kitchen table so she can look out over the garden as she writes and dreams up her Happy Ever Afters.
Read an Excerpt
'No one passes through the Valley of the Moon and emerges unscathed.'
— Lost in the Valley of the Moon,
Desert Boy Book Three
Qetara, Egypt — eight years later
Sam stopped at the rim of the Howling Cliffs above Qetara. Below lay the ragged rock-strewn valley and beyond was the gleam of the Nile, a grey-brown ribbon nestled between green swathes of reeds. The sun was hanging low and already tinting the hills beyond the Nile in orange and mauve and touching the white building of Bab el-Nur with pink. She could just make out the edge of the garden where the trees shielded her mother's grave.
Could it possibly be three years since her mother's death sent her back to Sinclair Hall in England? The last three months here in Egypt felt more substantial than those three years. More substantial even than the long years that had passed since she married Ricki. As if she'd not truly been awake from the moment she returned to Venice and set out on a quest to mend her tattered heart and pride by finding herself a home.
Not that she knew what a home was. Living on sufferance with her mother's family in Venice or even as a valued and loved guest at Bab el-Nur with the Carmichaels did not constitute a home. Perhaps those two years in Burford in England when she'd been barely six — she remembered a vague feeling of being safe. Sometimes she wondered if she'd chosen Ricki from all her suitors because she'd discovered his father had a property near Burford, as if that created some magical link between him and her last memories of carefree happiness. They'd both expected the other to be something they weren't — no wonder they'd both been disappointed.
If only they had been older they might have weathered that disappointment and perhaps even built something on its ashes. And then poor little Maria might still be alive. She would be almost ten years old now had she not drowned. Sam rubbed her face wearily, trying to chase away the dank taste of the canal water. Thoughts of Maria always brought back pain.
She scuffed at the pebbles with the tip of her boot, kicking a few over the ledge and hearing them snap against the stone as they bounced into the valley below.
Egypt wasn't her home, but she loved it here. Thank goodness Chase and Lucas had all but forced her to return. It had woken her and the thought of slipping back into the half-existence she'd fallen into since her marriage to Ricki was unacceptable. She'd made a terrible mistake marrying him, but she was older and wiser now. Poppy and Janet knew many people in London with ties to Egypt. It was not in the realm of the fantastical that among them she might find someone who would wish to wed her and yet be a good, kind man and father. Someone who would watch the world transform from one magic to another with her. Perhaps even agree to howl with her.
How many times had she and Lucas and Chase and Edge scrambled up these cliffs as children, imitating the night yowling of the jackals? Well, not that Edge howled with them, he had always been too aloof for that, but he'd come none the less. Then they would watch the hills across the Nile turn from ochre to orange to purple and then fade into the indigo of night.
She tilted her head, baring her throat to the rising breeze, and breathed deeply, trying to chase away the murky taste of the canal waters of Venice that always followed thoughts of Ricki.
She chased away all those ghosts, even her own. She was no longer Lady Carruthers. Not even Lady Samantha Sinclair. Only Sam.
I am Sam.
She raised her arms to the world, tipped back her head and told the world that truth at the top of her lungs.
'I am Sam!'
* * *
Edge was viciously thirsty. His heart was beating and his legs burned from the climb, but none of the many physical discomforts concerned him as much at the moment as what he would see when he crested the sandstone cliff.
If he was wrong, if he'd made a single mistake on the crisscrossing camel and goat paths from Zarqa, there would be nothing but more desert — an endless, taunting ochre grin. Even the faint but distinct scent of the Nile could be nothing more than a sarab, a desert illusion like the shimmering trees and water that danced on the horizons until they were sucked under as he approached.
If he was wrong, he might end up like the jackal's carcass he'd passed hours ago. He should have taken into consideration that eight-year-old memories of terrain were not necessarily reliable. He was older, slower, less alert. But the path had looked so very familiar...
He stumbled a little as he crested the cliff, pebbles skittering under his feet. He stopped, narrowing his burning eyes against the glints that splintered along the broad green scar of the Nile. But it wasn't the Nile that held his gaze. Or the sprawling city of Qetara on the far side of the bank. It was the green gardens of Bab el-Nur tucked below the cliffs.
The word shivered in the air like a sarab threatening to disappear. Home. Not any more and not for many years since he'd tried and failed to build his own. They said third time lucky, but he didn't believe in sayings. Or in anything much any more.
He closed his eyes and heard nothing but air moving up the cliff below him, a distinctive hollow presaging the rise of the afternoon winds. He'd once loved this time of day when the sun finally showed signs of exhaustion from its brutal assault and the desert began changing, all kinds of new forces entering its stark stage. New colours, new animals, new sounds.
It had been so long since he'd just ... listened. Absorbed. It had been so long since he'd felt like listening. Since he'd felt anything much at all.
He didn't know if this was a good sign. He liked not feeling.
At least he'd finally made it. More or less in one piece.
A very tired, aching piece.
Edge glanced up at the keening of a bird swooping in and out of tiny indentations on the cliff face and winced as the glare of the sun made his head pound. He'd finished the last of his water some hours ago, a miscalculation on his part. The hiss of the wind cooled the perspiration on his forehead and nape and he smiled at how good it felt now that he no longer feared for his life. His smile itself felt like a crack in the cliff face, sharp and threatening, but he allowed it to linger.
The sound struck him as harshly as if he had fallen off the cliff and hit the ground.
It carried out over the valley and for a mad second he was willing to consider he had been wrong about his disbelief in all matters supernatural. But somehow he doubted an ancient Egyptian spirit would be yelling at the tops of its lungs. He hurried as best he could on his stiff legs along the cliff and stopped.
The image was worthy of any of the locals' tales: carved into a sky ignited into a blaze of orange and mauve by the setting sun was a figure cloaked in a pale billowing gown that snapped and surged under the evening wind as if being pulled towards the lip of the crater by desert furies. Then the figure raised its arms and the wind seemed to carry it upwards, as if preparing to hurl it over the cliff like a leaf.
Edge didn't stop to think, just vaulted over the boulders and ran towards it, his mind already anticipating the image of this woman casting herself off the cliff.
'Don't!' he called in Arabic. 'Laa! Tawaqfi!'
The figure whirled, one hand outflung as if to hold him back.
They stood facing each other in mutual shock.
His breathing was harsh from the fear of what he had expected to witness and the need to stop it. But his mind was already rushing ahead with a series of realisations — that the woman who had just keened like a vengeful houri at the top of her lungs into the desert air was neither a local nor a hallucination of his, but something far worse.
Egypt had taught him to always expect the unexpected. Especially when it came to Sam Sinclair.
She was dressed in local dress, and local male dress at that, a cream-coloured gibbeh tied with a red cotton sash around her waist over a simple muslin gown. She was still staring at him, her blue-grey eyes wide and far away, but then the pupils dilated as recognition settled in and with it wariness. For a moment he wondered whether he was mistaken. After all, almost a decade had passed and this was no child. She looked very much like Sam and yet she did not.
Well, she wasn't Sam any more. She was Lady Carruthers, wasn't she?
'I thought you were about to jump,' he said, his breath still short and her eyes focused even further as she glanced from him to the cliff.
'Why on earth did you think that?'
'Perhaps because you were standing on a cliff, screaming?'
'I did not scream, I howled. These are, after all, the Howling Cliffs. I didn't expect anyone to be listening. I came here to be private.'
Anger was proving to be a wonderful antidote to fear and shock.
'I am so dreadfully sorry to have intruded, Lady Carruthers.'
His sarcasm kicked up the corners of her mouth, but they fell almost immediately.
'And I am sorry I frightened you, Lord Edward. I thought it safe to do so since no one dares come here. These cliffs are haunted, you know.'
'I do now.'
The smile threatened again, but again failed to materialise. Perhaps this really wasn't Sam at all. Or perhaps marriage had finally succeeded in taming her where all else failed. If so, it was nothing short of a miracle.
'Not by madwomen,' she corrected. 'But by the protectors of Hatshepsut. Poppy was telling us they think that is probably her temple down there.'
She pointed to the structure at the foot of the cliffs. It and the flanking sphinxes were now completely uncovered as was a broad gravel pathway leading towards a jetty. It looked very small and inconsequential from where they stood, nothing like the sand-covered temple where he'd sat with this woman eight years ago ...
A lifetime ago.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. It felt raw and rough with sand.
'You are staying with Poppy?'
'Of course. Why else would I be in Qetara?'
Why indeed. His wits had clearly gone begging. Her gaze moved over him again and for the first time he realised how he must look. Filthy, for one. He hadn't shaved in days, or was it a week now?
'Where did you come from?' She looked around, frowning. 'I would have seen you if you came up from Bab el-Nur.'
'I haven't been there yet. I came from Zarqa.'
Her eyes widened, managing to look both surprised and suspicious.
'You'd best fetch your donkey or camel and come down. It will be dark soon.'
'I don't have a mount. I walked.'
Surprise turned to shock and then to outrage. He'd forgotten how expressive her face was.
'You walked from Zarqa. On foot. On your own.'
'Yes, on all counts. Is that an offence?'
'Only against good sense! And what on earth were you doing up here? The desert path leads directly through the valley to the Nile, not to the Howling Cliffs. Were you lost?'
'I wanted to see the view first.'
Her lips closed firmly on whatever was straining to be said. Then she gave her skirts a slight shake, as if dislodging something distasteful.
'Well, it's your hide if you wish to risk it. But I suggest you abandon this romantic conceit and make your way down before dark or you'll find yourself at the bottom of the cliff more rapidly and painfully than you would like.'
She set off down the path and he followed. The reversal of scolding roles was as peculiar as everything else about his return to Egypt. She was right, though. He'd been tempting the fates walking from Zarqa in the first place and going along the cliff path in his present state was ...
Romantic conceit. No one had ever accused him of being romantic. Conceited, yes. Romantic — he'd only been romantic once in his life and that had cost him dearly. He sighed. The path which he'd climbed and descended hundreds of times in his youth felt endless and his legs were a mixture of wool and fire when they finally reached the gate in the high whitewashed walls.
'It has changed a little since you were here last,' Sam said as she secured the gate behind them and he forced himself to look up.
She was right. Bab el-Nur used to be a sprawling but modest whitewashed structure surrounded by neat gardens, but Poppy had constructed a second storey and the gardens were a lush jungle of trees and flowering bushes surrounded by high mudbrick walls.
'Good God, he's constructed a fortress!' he exclaimed as the house came fully into view.
She laughed over her shoulder, her face transforming, and for the first time the cool woman from the cliff and the girl in his memory connected.
'It is even more amazing inside and Janet has made a marvel out of the gardens. I have been sketching ...' She paused and shrugged and it was like watching a flower furl its leaves as night fell, a physical and spiritual diminishment.
They continued through the garden, scents and memories engulfing him. It was already dark and the palm trees were weaving above them in their evening dance. The packed earth of the path gave way to the stone floor of the veranda and suddenly there was a flurry of movement.
'Good heavens, Sam, who is ...?'
Edge looked up and his uncle's question melted away.
'Edge. Dear Lord. My boy!'
Poppy wasn't quite as tall as he, but he was a burly man and his embrace was powerful, his arms catching Edge in a vice, his bushy grey hair surprisingly soft against his cheek. For a moment Edge just stood there in shock. It had been so long since he'd seen this man, though he'd been closer than a father to him. How had he allowed so much time to pass?
'Edge ...' The one word was a cracked whimper, then he was suddenly thrust away, his shoulders grabbed in Poppy's considerable paws. 'What have you done to yourself, boy? You look disgraceful! And why did you not tell me you were in Egypt? Janet! Edge is here!'
The last words were a bellow worthy of a call to prayer from the minarets and their effect was immediate. A plump figure hurtled into the room followed by others and Edge found himself being handed around like a parcel, embraced, scolded, questioned. He tried to keep his feet steady as he greeted everyone, but the room was beginning to move around him and suddenly a pair of blue-grey eyes were in front of him and he felt his hands clasped in a cool, strong grip.
'When did you last eat, Edge?'
His answer set off another bustle of activity, but at least it was away from him. Within moments a glass of tea infused with mint was shoved into his hand. It was so sweet it made him wince, but he drank and when they brought him food he ate and when they led him off to be bathed he went meekly.
It was very strange, being home.
'The poor fellow is still asleep,' Poppy announced as he entered the breakfast parlour and sat beside Janet.
'I know,' Janet said as she handed him a small porcelain cup of bitter coffee. 'I couldn't resist and peeked. He looks better now he's washed and shaved, but he's too thin, Poppy. You could cut stone with his cheekbones. I've told Ayisha to prepare the lamb stew he loved as a boy.'
'Don't fuss, Janet. You know he hates it.'
'I never fuss.'
Sam smiled to herself at how Edge's appearance had transformed her hosts. She'd forgotten how deeply they loved Edge. Janet was lit from within, her movements sharper but more abstracted, and after his heartbreaking show of love when he'd embraced Edge, Poppy now appeared taller, more resolute.
'He isn't ill?' Sam tried not to sound worried. He'd looked so haggard yesterday she'd lain awake a long time, waiting for the sounds of a household bustling around a sickroom. She knew desert fevers could be deadly.
'No, child, merely exhausted. Nothing food and sleep won't remedy.' Poppy's words were a little too hearty and Sam knew that, though Edge might not be ill, Poppy was worried.
'Did you know he was in Egypt?'
'No. We received a letter from him only a couple of months ago from Brazil, but it must have been sent long before.'
Janet wavered. Clearly she wanted to rush to Edge, but perhaps it was the sight of a very different but far more familiar Edge that stopped her. Daoud had done more than shave him, he'd trimmed his hair and found a set of clothes left by Lucas or Chase.
In the flowing gown and the long cotton strip worn like the natives to protect the head and face from the sand and sun Sam had hardly recognised him. Now she was thrown back eight years to the last time she'd seen Edge — in this very room, she realised. He'd stood just as straight and withdrawn and watchful. And yet this was a different man. He'd lived a whole lifetime in those eight years, as had she.
'Good morning, Edge. Would you care for tea?' she asked. His gaze moved to her and then settled on the tea pot by her hand.
'Yes, thank you, Lady Carruthers.'
Oh, for heaven's sake, Edge.
The words almost spurted out of her, but she held them back and held out the cup.
'Your tea, Lord Edward.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lord's Inconvenient Vow"
Copyright © 2019 Ilana Treston.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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