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Authors: Karen Hawkins

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A Belated Bride

BOOK: A Belated Bride
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A Belated Bride

A

Belated Bride

Karen Hawkins

For my mother Damaris Evelyn Berry Smith— who blessed me with a lust for life,

a love of laughter,

and a very strange imagination. Mom, thanks for just being.

And to all the readers who sent tons of cards, letters, and emails after reading
The Abduction of Julia
—don’t worry!

Nick’s story will be next.

Thank you for all of your support.

nm

Contents

Chapter 1

“Lawks, Wilson! Why’d ye go an’ do that?” 1

Chapter 2

Lucien awoke slowly, adrift in muted sensations. His head lay… 10

Chapter 3

Lady Melwin sat knitting, her needles clacking through the red… 26

Chapter 4

Lucien awoke slowly, pulled from deep sleep

by a pounding… 36

Chapter 5

Arabella grasped the handle of the damper and pulled. The… 52

Chapter 6

“Bloody hell,” Lucien choked. “What’s this?” 66

Chapter 7

“What do you want, Lucien?” 82

Chapter 8

Hours later, Arabella entered her aunts’ room

with an impatient… 95

Buoyed by the duke’s brooding glances at

her niece during… 101

Chapter 10

Lucien stepped onto the terrace and lifted his

face to… 117

Chapter 11

“By yonder blessed moon I swear…” said a

deep, mocking… 137

Chapter 12

Dinner that night was grueling for Arabella.

Lucien took every… 147

Chapter 13

Sir David Loughton swung out of the saddle. “Damnation,” he… 160

Chapter 14

Night was her favorite time. Arabella loved

the endless black… 171

Chapter 15

The Red Rooster was unremarkable in that it

offered moderately… 189

Chapter 16

“Don’t look at me like that,” Arabella muttered

at the… 201

Chapter 17

Arabella closed the barn door and went to

pat Sebastian,… 214

Chapter 18

Arabella rested until noon, waiting impatiently

for Lucien to return. 229

Chapter 19

Arabella frowned at the snow-covered road.

“This isn’t the way”… 242

Chapter 20

Arabella turned back toward the fire, afraid

to look too… 260

Chapter 21

A brisk rap awoke Arabella from a deep,

languorous sleep. 270

Chapter 22

Lucien and Arabella rode up to Rosemont

on Sebastian and… 281

Chapter 23

Aunt Jane was determined that the wedding

would be the… 298

Chapter 24

A soft knock sounded. Startled, Arabella sat

bolt upright in… 312

There had never been a lovelier bride, decided

Aunt Jane,… 319

Chapter 26

Lucien heaved a heavy sigh of relief as the door…325

Chapter 27

Lucien checked his pocket watch for the fourth

time. The… 341

Chapter 28

Liza stared up at the tree, whose huge branches swayed… 355

About the Author Other Romances Cover

Copyright

About the Publisher

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Chapter 1

Yorkshire, England November 1815

“L

awks, Wilson! Why’d ye go an’ do that?”

The carriage jolted to a sudden halt, sending a basket of raspberry jam crashing to the floor. In alarm, Arabella Hadley threw open the carriage door and peered through the night gloom. “Ned? What’s happened?”

“Come quick, Miss Hadley!” the stable hand called. A stout, simple lad of seventeen, he also served as footman, errand boy, cook’s assistant, and did every other odd job Arabella could not afford to hire out. “Wilson’s done it agin.”

The old groom’s voice lifted in protest. “Hush your blatherin’, boy! There’s no need to call the missus.”

Arabella stepped across the spilled jam and clambered out of the carriage. She only hoped Wilson hadn’t run over another hapless pig. Lord Harlbrook still hadn’t recovered

1

from the loss of his prize livestock from last month. She halted when she came to the front of the carriage. “Why have we stopped?”

Ned pointed to Wilson, who stood muttering to one side of the coach. “He was drivin’ the coach like a mad- man agin, and—”

“I was not,” Wilson protested.

“Were, too. As we came ’round the corner, it musta frightened the man’s horse cause it jus’ bolted up and—”


What
man?” Arabella interrupted.

Wilson pointed with a grubby hand to the side of the road.

Arabella turned with apprehension. In the dim light, she could just make out the form of a large man lying prone in the dirt. Her heart sank when she noted his multi- caped coat and the unmistakable gleam of a costly pair of Hessians, shined to mirrored perfection.

“Heavens!” she managed in a faint voice. “Is he . . . dead?”

“Lawks, no.” Wilson jerked his thumb toward a fat, craggy tree. “He jus’ smacked his head on that branch when his horse reared.”

The low-slung limb quivered as if still recoiling from the blow. Thank God Wilson hadn’t run over the poor man; the last thing she needed was the attention of the local constabulary.

The old groom poked at the man with the tip of his worn boot. “Must not have much of a seat, to lose control of his mount.”

“A green ’un,” agreed Ned. “Pity his horse ran off.

Master Robert would have liked such a prime goer.”

“The last thing my brother needs is a horse that rears at the slightest provocation,” Arabella said in a dry tone.

“Give me the lantern. I must see how badly this poor man is injured.”

“Don’t get too close,” warned Wilson from a safe dis- tance. “He might come awake and be none too happy to find hisself a-lyin’ on the ground.”

“If he lunges at me, I give you full permission to shoot him.” Arabella bent to examine the man by the lantern’s light. “Judging by the quality of his clothing, he must be a gentleman of some means.”

Wilson snorted. “He may look a gent, but ye ne’er know. Don’t get any closer, Miss Arabella. Lady Durham and Lady Melwin would never forgive us if anything hap- pened to you.”

Arabella thought her aunts would be more upset that they had not been present for such an exciting episode. Aunt Emma and Aunt Jane were both addicted to flights of romantic fancy. Fortunately, life had cured Arabella of that fault long, long ago.

She bent closer to the fallen man. He lay on his side, his broad shoulders rising and falling in a reassuringly steady rhythm. Black as midnight, his hair fell across a large purple lump on his brow, while the rest of his face remained obscured by the folds of a woolen muffler.

The wind rose, carrying with it the faintest taste of snow. Arabella shivered and tugged her cloak closer. She had little choice but to take their guest back to Rosemont. Her aunts would look after him until the doctor could be sent for.

As Arabella was turning away from the fallen man, something caught the light. A gold signet ring set with a huge square-cut emerald glittered on the stranger’s shapely hand. Hardly aware of what she was doing, she set the lantern on the frozen road and sank to her knees.

Sweet heaven, it can’t be
— Every thought in her mind froze.

“Look at that gewgaw!” Wilson said, awed. “Must be a nabob, to have a ring like that.” His brow creased. “Ye don’t think he’ll be angry at me fer scarin’ his horse, do ye?”

Her heart pounding in her ears, Arabella barely heard the groom’s words. She reached for the muffler, numbed as if she were in a dream. Just as her fingers closed over the wool, a powerful hand enclosed her wrist like a band of warmed steel. The man’s eyes opened and met hers.

Slumberous and seductive, his gaze held her prisoner. Framed by thick curling lashes, his green eyes were as beautiful as an angel’s.

She knew those eyes. Knew them better, perhaps, than her own. She knew, too, what she would see beneath the muffler: golden skin and a bold, patrician nose over a sen- suous mouth designed for forbidden pleasures.

“Lucien.” The forgotten feel of his name whispered across her stiff lips. Though his hand still gripped her wrist, she pulled the muffler free, her knuckles brushing against his stubbled jaw. A bolt of raw heat lanced through her fingers and settled in her breasts, then slid lower.

Arabella hunched her shoulders at the strength of her reactions, panic rising. God help her, but she was still under his spell. With a strength she didn’t know she pos- sessed, she yanked her hand free, cradling it to her chest as if burned.

His gaze flickered and his mouth curved in a lazy smile.

But Arabella refused to respond. Whatever she may be, she was no longer an inexperienced miss of sixteen. “Damn you, Lucien. Why did you come back?”

His mouth parted as if he would answer, but then his eyes slid shut and his head fell to one side as unconscious- ness once again claimed him.

“Ye know him, missus?” Wilson’s voice quavered between hope and fear.

Arabella stumbled to her feet, her hands clenched in the folds of her skirt. “He is Lucien Devereaux, the Duke of Wexford.”


A duke!
They’ll hang me fer certain.” Ned gawked. “Jus’ fer scarin’ his horse?” “It don’t take much with the gentry.”

Arabella glared down at Lucien, hating him anew for disrupting her life yet again. For an instant she contem- plated leaving him where he lay, alone and helpless.

But the brisk wind cooled more than her burning cheeks. Neither her conscience nor her aunts would allow her such a luxury. With a heavy sigh, she picked up the lantern. “Help me get him into the coach. My aunts can tend him until we locate his mount.”

Grumbling at the inconvenience, Wilson and Ned car- ried Lucien to the coach and pushed and pulled him onto the leather seat. Arabella had just gathered her skirts to climb in herself when Ned stopped.

BOOK: A Belated Bride
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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