Authors: Lynette Vinet
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without the written permission of publisher or author, except where permitted by law.
Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey of
Razzle Dazzle Design
Originally published under the title
PASSION’S DEEP SPELL
1991 and 2013
First Leisure Books Edition: 1991
First Steel Magnolia Press Edition: 2013
“Whoever has a mind to abundance of trouble,
Let him furnish himself with a ship and a woman.”
A Voyage to Maryland;
Or, The Ladies’ Dressing-Room
The Cornish Coast of England
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
The magistrate smiled at the bride and groom, his job completed with those few words. The wedding ceremony was over, seemingly finished before it had begun. Marlee Stafford found herself embraced by Hollins Carpenter, the man who stood next to her and who had placed a ruby and gold filigree ring upon her third finger not five minutes ago. Hollins kissed her forehead in a polite but distant manner. “My best wishes to you, Lady Arden,” he addressed her by her new name.
“Thank you, Mr. Carpenter.” Marlee’s answer was automatic as she was somewhat dazed to realize she was a married woman. Only that morning she’d gone shopping in the village with her Aunt Clementina and two cousins; the purpose of the trip was to buy material to make a proper wedding gown. And now she would be unable to use the fine white silk she’d carefully chosen for her wedding in one month’s time to Lord Richard Arden, Baron of Arden. Hollins Carpenter was at the house upon their return, and his news took her completely by surprise.
“Lord Arden requests the marriage ceremony be performed by proxy today, my dear.” Carpenter, who was Marlee’s solicitor as well as Richard Arden’s, had told her this startling news in as gentle a voice as he could summon. “He’s aware your Uncle Jack has already made some arrangements for the ceremony, but…” And here Carpenter glanced down at the wooden floor in her aunt’s home, seeming to trace every nick in its polished surface before he looked up again to settle his spectacles upon his nose. “The baron has been abed lately and fears traveling might deter his hasty recovery. He has appointed me to be your proxy groom. I do hope you don’t mind.”
Mind? Certainly Marlee minded. It wasn’t everyday she’d be married, especially not to someone she’d never met. Tales about Lord Richard Arden abounded throughout Cornwall. Some people considered him to be the devil himself with his black hair and devilishly dark eyes. Rampant rumors circulated about his drinking, the large amounts of time he spent at the gaming tables. Tongues wagged that he’d sired half a dozen children without benefit of clergy. Indeed, Arden was a rogue of the highest order and she was going to marry him. She must marry him because only a rogue would have her.
For more than a fleeting second Marlee did wonder if Lord Richard was truly ill. Perhaps he feigned poor health as an excuse to marry her and lay claim to her fortune without making her a true wife, without meeting her face to face. So much had happened in such a short time, beginning with Arden’s sudden marriage proposal and now ending with a hasty wedding. Marlee couldn’t help but be suspicious of Arden’s motives. It was a well-known fact that his ancestral home, Arden Manor, had fallen into disrepair. Carpenter had already confided to her that Arden needed Marlee’s wealth to pay his creditors.
Carpenter had convinced Marlee that the marriage would solve a great many problems for herself and Lord Arden. Marlee could see the wisdom behind Carpenter’s suggestion, but no matter the circumstances for such an alliance, Marlee wouldn’t allow Arden to use her fortune without making her his wife in every sense of the word. She might only be the daughter of a tin miner, but she did possess some pride and wouldn’t allow a rogue like Richard Arden to deny her the chance to be a proper wife.
With a determined smile on her beautiful face and a slight inclination of her dark head, she placed her hand on Mr. Carpenter’s arm. “You’ve looked after my interests since my father’s death and I know you wouldn’t play me false. Since Lord Arden trusts you so well, I will be most pleased to have you stand in for him during the ceremony. I hope when I meet him I shall find him in good health.” She purposely flashed the solicitor a dazzling smile. Her cheeks dimpled prettily with the effort, causing her sapphire-colored eyes to glow like the sky on a sunny afternoon.
Hurriedly she changed into an ice blue gown which was fashioned from the finest silk and pulled her dark tresses away from her face with a white ribbon. Within minutes she stood before the magistrate in Jack and Clementina McBride’s small parlor and placed her trembling hand in Mr. Carpenter’s steadying clasp.
Her aunt and uncle with their daughters in attendance watched as Marlee Stafford became Lady Arden, Baroness of Arden Manor.
Carpenter swallowed and patted her hand during the ceremony but not once did he look at her directly until the moment he kissed her forehead at the ceremony’s end.
In the background Clementina sniffed and wiped at her eyes with a lace kerchief. Marlee sighed, knowing the woman wasn’t crying because she’d miss her niece though it would be nice to think so. Finally, after eight years of caring for her sister’s child, Clementina would be free of Marlee. No, the tears were joyous ones because Marlee, the orphaned but wealthy relation, had married into the aristocracy. Clementina’s mercenary heart must be weighing the advantages of having a relation with noble connections, now that her daughters Daphne and Barbara were of marriageable age. Marlee would be able to introduce them to eligible and wealthy young men, giving Clementina the hope that her girls would marry well.
“Such a happy day this is,” Clementina spoke aloud and noisily blew her nose. “We’ve a baroness in the family. It was worth all the trouble that lying Tim Lee caused with his nasty comments about Marlee’s virtue.”
A blush suffused Marlee’s cheeks. How dare her aunt mention such a thing now, especially with the magistrate nearby. He’d no doubt gossip about all that was said and done in the McBride household today. She could just hear all the wagging tongues, but soon she’d leave the village and go to live in her husband’s home, putting all of the nasty and untrue rumors firmly behind her.
Thankfully, her Uncle Jack was more tactful and kinder than his wife. He shyly kissed Marlee’s cheek. “I wish the best for you, dear girl. We all do. Be happy in your new life.” Gesturing toward his daughters, he urged them forward. “Girls, come wish your cousin Marlee happiness.”
Barbara, Marlee’s younger cousin, rushed toward her and clasped her hand. She peered at the ring on Marlee’s finger. “How beautiful it is, and how lucky you are! Oh, I do wish you good things, Marlee. May I come visit you at Arden Manor? I should like that ever so much.”
“Yes, I believe I’ll have need of a friendly and familiar face.” Marlee warmly regarded Barbara. Out of all the McBrides, she liked Barbara the best. They were friends as well as cousins, and she knew she’d miss Barbara when the time came for her to depart with Mr. Carpenter for her new home. However, she doubted she’d miss Daphne much—if at all. That sentiment was brought home when Daphne casually sauntered near and barely gave a glance at Marlee’s outstretched hand.
“Isn’t it a beautiful ring?” Barbara gushed to her sister, her chestnut-colored curls bouncing upon her forehead in enthusiasm.
“As rings go, I suppose it will do,” Daphne laconically proclaimed and didn’t give the ring an extra look.
Hollins Carpenter turned from his conversation with the magistrate and Jack. He smiled indulgently at Daphne. “If I may say something about Lady Arden’s ring, Miss McBride.”
Daphne shrugged, pretending a disinterest which Marlee guessed Daphne didn’t feel.
“Lady Arden’s wedding ring,” Carpenter interjected with a bright-eyed stare which caused his plain face to seem surprisingly animated, “is over three hundred years old. It was worn by the first Lady Arden and has graced the finger of each subsequent baroness. The craftsmanship is unequaled, the ruby is the most dazzling of any comparable jewel in England. Lord Arden is indeed fortunate to have such a gracious and lovely wife as Lady Marlee to wear it. I’m certain that one day some lucky gentleman will present a similar wedding ring to you.”
For just a second something like adoration behind the spectacles flickered in the depths of Carpenter’s eyes for the blond-haired Daphne. Marlee noticed it, but Daphne, too caught up in her envy for Marlee, didn’t. “Personally, I’d prefer a much larger stone,” was Daphne’s cutting remark. “Marlee, for all her wealth, is fortunate to marry at all, considering that no decent young men darkened our doorstep after her reputation was ruined. Everyone knows that Richard Arden only wants her for her money.”
“Daphne!” Barbara clutched her milky-white throat. “You shouldn’t say such terrible things, not today of all days.”
“Well, it’s true and you well know it, Barbara McBride.”
Clementina suddenly intervened by clapping her hands. “Girls, bid the magistrate farewell and go wash for supper. I’m certain Mr. Carpenter has things to discuss with Marlee.”
Marlee was grateful that for once Clementina had silenced Daphne. However, she guessed the magistrate would rush to tell everyone about Daphne’s remarks and, once again, the silly story about her fall from grace would be bandied in the village.
Minutes later, Marlee found herself sitting on a hard-backed chair in the parlor before a small tea table while Mr. Carpenter sat across from her. On the table he’d placed an official-looking document.
“I never believed the rumors,” he offered kindly and adjusted his spectacles.
“Thank you for saying that, Mr. Carpenter. “I wish others didn’t. People can be quite cruel, you know.”
“You’re a baroness now, my lady. What others think and say can no longer harm you.”
“I doubt, sir, just as I doubt that I shall ever get used to being addressed as “my lady.” Such a title is rather daunting to a tin miner’s daughter.”
“Lady Arden,” Carpenter intoned in a deep and serious voice with a demeanor to match. “You are Lady Marlee Arden, Baroness of Arden Manor and wife to a powerful man. The tin miner’s daughter is no longer.”
Marlee laughed out loud. “Oh, piddle, Mr. Carpenter. You know perfectly well that in my heart I am William Stafford’s daughter and descended from peasant stock. It was my father’s good business sense which allowed him to own the mines instead of working in them like his father and grandfather before him. Otherwise, I doubt a powerful and well-bred man as Richard Arden would wed me for myself. We’re both aware he married me for my fortune.”