It’s public knowledge in Richmond that the only wife the infamous Cyrus Fortune wants is one who belongs to some other man. He has a knack for sensing an unhappy bride—and a talent for showing her what she needs to be happy. Obsessed with uncovering the circumstances of his own mysterious birth and the father he never knew, Cyrus doesn’t have the time or patience for a serious romance. Even so, an intelligent man knows when he’s at the crossroads of destiny, the moment when everything in his life changes. For Cyrus, that’s when he meets Julia Drummond.
Julia Drummond is painfully aware that no red-blooded woman should be able to deny the sensual assault of Cyrus Fortune, who wears power and influence like a finely tailored suit, and whose eyes promise passionate seduction. Still, she says no. She’s got her reasons—dangerous reasons—and yet she can’t trust her own body and heart from surrendering to the astonishing pleasure Cyrus reminds her she’s capable of simply when his knowing gaze meets hers across a crowded ballroom. He doesn’t know her secret, desperate terrors, but the passion he offers is irresistible. Just once, she tells herself. Just one night to know what sweet sin tastes like. And doesn’t every woman deserve that?
This ebook includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
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It was early one chill November morning in 1870 when he was found in a basket on the doorstep of an elegant mansion in Richmond, Virginia, wrapped snugly in several spotlessly clean and seemingly new woolen blankets. A housemaid, coming out to sweep the step, nearly fell over him. He didn’t seem the least bit concerned by his apparent abandonment, chortling happily at the young girl who, after a shriek that should have brought the neighbors bolt upright in their beds, seized the basket by its handle and dragged it into the house. (The baby boy, though obviously an infant, was not a small one. The housemaid, though an average-sized specimen, was totally unfamiliar with babies and had no idea if she could get this one out of his basket even if she could lift him. Which she doubted.)
Within minutes, a small group of servants surrounded the basket, all staring down at its occupant in varying degrees of bemusement or consternation. The infant blew a bubble at them with the greatest of goodwill and waved one pudgy—but surprisingly well formed—little hand, in which was clutched a much-wrinkled and rather damp piece of paper.
The butler, no more familiar with babies than the housemaid but aware of his responsibilities nevertheless, bent down and wrested the note from the child’s hand. Actually, he didn’t have to wrest very hard, because the boy gave it up willingly, almost as if it were his idea rather than the butler’s.
The butler, whose name was, oddly enough, Stork, fastidiously smoothed the note, held it out, and read aloud in a tone of mounting astonishment: “This child is The Sun, born for great things. His father was a prince, his mother—”
“The son?” one of the footmen said. “That’s a peculiar way to put it—”
“Not s-o-n. S-u-n,” the butler corrected the footman. “Like in the sky. Now, where was I? Oh. Born for great things…His father was a prince, his mother a poor girl, but a good girl seduced”—Stork cleared his throat rather loudly, cast a quick glance at the young housemaid, who was blushing furiously, then went on stolidly—“seduced by one immeasurably above her.”
“Wonder if he really was a prince?” the same footman murmured, nudging the basket contemplatively with the toe of his boot.
Stork ground his teeth audibly. “—by one immeasurably above her. An old and wise Gypsy foretold—”
“Gypsies and princes?” the footman queried critically. “Doesn’t sound right to me.”
“Tom, if you say one more word!” Stork glared at the footman until he assumed the properly respectful expression, then cleared his throat again and read the remainder of the note in the firm tones of a man who didn’t mean to be interrupted.
“The Gypsy foretold a special destiny for the The Sun, provided he was put into Fortune’s hands. I so deliver him to Fortune, in good health.”
The servants looked at one another, and it was the cook who said practically, “Well, of course the poor mother wanted her babe brought up in comfort, and Mr. Fortune’s is the finest house in Richmond. I don’t doubt the girl chose him because of that. And it’s natural she’d make up a fine-sounding story, hoping to make the babe more acceptable.”
Tom, venturing a comment since Mr. Stork was obviously finished reading, said with a heavy emphasis, “She picked right all the way around, didn’t she?”
Stork was so much in agreement with the spirit of this remark that he could only sigh and look somewhat mournfully toward the stairs. “I suppose I’d better…”
The other servants vanished promptly, giving no more than one or two muffled grunts as elbows and feet collided in the doorway, leaving only the timid housemaid and the butler in the entrance hall. She twisted her apron between nervous fingers and said hesitantly, “Sir, shouldn’t we get the baby out of that basket?”
Stork looked down his nose at the infant, who was sucking one fist as he stared gravely—and unblinkingly—back with very wide, very black eyes. “He looks comfortable enough to me,” the butler decided. “Stay here with him, Mary, while I go inform Mr. Fortune.”
He went up the stairs with a stately tread, returning some minutes later wearing a resigned expression. He stood eyeing the child for a moment, then bent and grasped the handles of the basket. A peculiar sound, a gasping grunt, escaped him when he straightened. The basket was a solidly made affair and with the large baby in it made a very heavy burden indeed.
Stork, aware of the housemaid’s scrutiny, strove for an appearance of ease and staggered only a little as he carried it upstairs. He had to rest a moment on the landing, but it was all right as he realized that Mary couldn’t see him. The child was perfectly quiet—and perfectly still whenever Stork lifted his basket, as if he were fully aware of his precarious balance.
The butler delivered the basket to the master bedroom, suffering the indignity of being greeted by a shout of laughter and the words: “Storks do bring babies, after all!”
He had expected it. He knew Mr. Tate Fortune rather well.
The entire neighborhood, in fact, knew Tate Fortune. So well did they know him that not a soul was surprised to discover he’d not only taken in the baby boy found in a basket, but also bestowed on the child his own surname—and the Christian name of Cyrus. The Sun might be the boy’s given name, Tate explained when asked about the matter, but it was a cursed confusing one. And, besides, Cyrus meant sun.
No one had the nerve to ask if he’d considered the idea that “The Sun” might well have been only a misspelling and undue emphasis on the part of an overwrought mother.
In any case, young Cyrus thrived in his adopted home. He proved to be an amiable infant, sleeping a great deal in those first months and not at all fussy about what he ate. He ate a great deal. He was not a fat child; those who lifted him eventually discovered that his frame was constructed of large bones and very firm flesh that resembled muscle far more than it did fat.
He was, actually, a rather peculiar baby. When the first pangs of teething woke him from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, his bellow held more startled outrage than pain and roused the household from attic to cellars. Ears ringing, Tate gave the boy one of his best leather gloves, and young Cyrus seemed satisfied to chew on it. The first word out of the child’s mouth was “Tate,” spoken with perfect clarity. Tate had said several times in the boy’s presence that he’d rather not be called Papa but, still…
Cyrus didn’t crawl. One morning, sitting on a thick rug in Tate’s study, he simply maneuvered himself upright and began walking. He never so much as staggered, and fell once only because Tate’s big hunting dog accidentally knocked him over.
He was no more than three when he began reading, and his precocious curiosity seemed insatiable. Tate, highly entertained, spoke to the boy as he would an adult, answered his questions with total frankness, and generally encouraged him to think for himself, to ignore society’s conventions whenever they didn’t appear to make sense, and to carve his mark upon the world.
With Tate overseeing his upbringing, Cyrus was bound to become a hellion.
Which is exactly what happened.
A big child, he became a big man. A very big man. Both powerful and graceful physically, he moved with deceptive laziness and his deep voice held a slightly sardonic drawl. He was unusually dark and unusually handsome, and if he felt any stigma attached to his illegitimacy, it certainly wasn’t apparent. In fact, he was somewhat arrogant.
In later years, even those who deplored Cyrus Fortune’s outrageous ways and abrupt manners—if manners they could be called—rarely disliked the man himself. There might have been a devil in his peculiar black eyes, but it was a laughing devil, and if he presented a mortal danger to wives and daughters because of his sinful charm, he was also invariably honest in his business dealings and was a man any other could count on in a dangerous or difficult situation.
It was quite true and perfectly obvious that Cyrus liked women. He liked women so much that he probably would have been shot by a number of husbands if he hadn’t been exceptionally fast for a big man and uncannily lucky. He was a bit more careful with daughters and confined himself to flirting with them, not so much because society frowned on the taking of innocence without sanction of marriage, but because he really did like women. And he didn’t want any broken hearts on his conscience….He did have a conscience. Still, he enjoyed flirting, and was gifted at the art whenever he set his mind to it. More than one sweet young thing had cried into her pillow at night because she couldn’t manage to claim his wayward interest for more than an hour.
The people of Richmond didn’t quite know what to make of Cyrus Fortune. Oh, his scandalous success with women was something his friends and neighbors could understand, even though they disapproved of it, but there was so much more.
Cyrus knew things. Things that logically he shouldn’t have been able to know—in advance, at least. He didn’t predict disasters or offer advice on business investments or any of that folderol. He merely possessed an extraordinary perception when it came to affairs, particularly amorous ones. He scarcely seemed aware of it, but others noticed. Young lovers, especially, seemed to flourish if they knew Cyrus. And it was also noted that whenever the love was obvious and true, Cyrus never made the slightest attempt even to flirt with the lady in question.
No one really understood him. And most were at least mildly relieved when, upon his adoptive father’s death in 1898, Cyrus Fortune closed up the Richmond house and headed west.
In the years following, occasional word of him and his doings reached Richmond. Most of the rumors were so fantastic that few believed them, concerned as they were with social scandal and ruin on San Francisco’s Nob Hill and deadly danger along the Barbary Coast—to say nothing of a very peculiar story involving Cyrus and a Turkish princess.
So, when the shutters came off the mansion in Richmond early in May 1902 and an army of workmen arrived to get the place in shape, curiosity was intense. Rumor had it Cyrus had notified his attorney in Richmond that he was coming home, but no one knew more.
It was midway through the first week in June when Cyrus returned to Richmond. It was a quiet homecoming, and for some time to come, people wouldn’t realize that this arrival, like the one nearly thirty-two years before, owed very little to chance.
Destiny, now, that was something else entirely.