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Authors: Jane Feather

Trapped at the Altar

BOOK: Trapped at the Altar
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Twelfth Night Secrets

“Feather brilliantly combines a holiday story with a spy thriller. Action and adventure, sweet passion and chilling escapades.”

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RT Book Reviews
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“This 1797 holiday crowd-pleaser calls for an afternoon curled up next to the fireplace. No heat? No worries. Feather provides plenty of sparks.”

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Publishers Weekly

“Steamy with fervent desire . . . a captivating tale where emotions are continually high and conflicts are often the result. . . . An intriguing historical story packed with profound feelings and one unknown after another.”

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An Unsuitable Bride

“Readers will be entranced as Feather infuses her protagonists with intelligence, wit, and maturity—along with a dose of sensuality. . . . What a wonderful and satisfying conclusion to the Blackwater Brides series.”

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RT Book Reviews
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A Wedding Wager

“Vivid protagonists, appealing secondary characters, and a passionate romance.”

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Publishers Weekly

“A page-turner. . . . A thoroughly enjoyable novel.”

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Rushed to the Altar

“Ms. Feather certainly knows how to titillate the imagination with some sizzling scenes set in a tapestry of bygone days.”

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Winter Haven News Chief

“An ingenious story line, witty prose, and charming characters . . . a well-written addition to the historical romance genre.”

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Romance Junkies

A Husband's Wicked Ways

“The utterly engaging characters and suspenseful plot combine to hold you spellbound.”

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RT Book Reviews

“Filled with recurring quirky characters, truly evil villains, and a fearless heroine who is definitely an equal to her hero.”

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To Wed a Wicked Prince

“Enchanting and witty . . . sizzling.”

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Publishers Weekly

“A poignant love story . . . strong characters, political intrigue, secrets, and passion . . . it will thrill readers and keep them turning the pages.”

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A Wicked Gentleman

“Filled with marvelous characters—and just enough suspense to keep the midnight oil burning.”

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“Intriguing and satisfying.”

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PROLOGUE

Somerset, England, August 1667

T
he cavalcade of horsemen rode into the narrow defile between the steep cliffs that hung over Daunt valley. The River Wye was a thin ribbon below them, sunlight dancing off its surface as it wended its way across the lush green floor of the valley.

There were six horsemen in total, wearing buff leather coats, swords at their sides, pistols holstered in the saddles in front of them. They drew rein at the narrowest part of the pass, where two men, swords drawn, stood in their path.

“Who enters Daunt valley?” one of the challengers demanded, standing easily, legs apart, his sword held between his hands. Higher up the cliff, behind two rocks, two others trained their muskets on the new arrivals.

“Chalfont,” responded the lead horseman. He had his hand on his sword hilt but made no attempt to draw it. “We are come in peace with a gift for Lord Daunt.”

The challengers sheathed their swords and stepped aside. “You are expected. Pass.” He gestured to a youth standing to one side. The young man took off with the news of the visitors as if all the devils in hell were upon him, flying across the rocky ground with unerring footsteps, setting off a shower of loose scree tumbling ahead of him.

With a nod, the horseman led his little parade in single file through the narrow pass and down to the valley floor.

By the time they reached it, a small crowd had gathered on a square of flattened turf outside a substantial cottage. A tall gray-haired man stood in the doorway to the building, an imposing figure with harsh gray eyes, the nose of a falcon, and angular features. He was dressed plainly in leather britches and jerkin, but his linen was fine, gleaming white, the fall of lace at his throat immaculate.

The cavalcade drew rein in front of him, and the horsemen dismounted. Only then did the small figure huddled on a pillion pad behind one of the horsemen reveal his presence. “We have brought the boy, my lord Daunt.” The spokesman of the little group turned and lifted the figure from his horse. The boy was wrapped tightly in a heavy cloak, the hood pulled low over his forehead, and when his feet touched the ground, he staggered a little, before righting himself with a steadying hand on his shoulder.

“The boy has been riding for four days with only a few hours' sleep during the hours of darkness,” the spokesman stated, as if excusing the child's sudden weakness.

Lord Daunt merely inclined his head in acknowledgment. “Come here, boy.” He beckoned.

The child shook the hood off his head, revealing a thatch of short chestnut hair. He looked at the man who had summoned him, his deep-set eyes blue as a turquoise sea. The steady gaze held defiance, but his lordship could see behind that to the boy's confusion and fear.

“Come,” he said again, more softly this time.

The child stepped forward boldly and offered a jerky bow. “My lord.”

“So, you are Ivor Chalfont.” The Earl tipped his chin with a forefinger. “Let me look at you.” He seemed to scrutinize the child for a very long time before saying, “You have much of your mother about you, my boy. I trust you have your father's courage to go with it.” He looked over the boy's head to where a group of women were gathered. “Dorcas, you will take charge of our ward. He needs food and rest.”

“Aye, my lord.” An apple-cheeked woman separated herself from the group and came over, dropping a curtsy in the Earl's direction. “Come along with me, lad. We'll soon have you running with the boys.”

Ivor Chalfont regarded her solemnly, then felt other eyes upon him. He looked behind the Earl. A pair of gray eyes were fixed upon him from the rather grubby countenance of a very small girl.

“I'll bring the boy, Dorcas,” the child declared, stepping out from behind the Earl. She held out her hand to the newcomer. “I'm Ari,” she stated. “And I will look after you, boy.” She grabbed his hand in her small, warm fist.

Ivor stared at her, torn between amusement and indignation. How could this little baby scrap even think of looking after him? He was six. He was proficient with a wooden sword, and if he'd been allowed to ride alone instead of with the indignity of pillion behind one of his father's men, he would have managed perfectly well.

The little girl tugged at his hand. “Come on, boy. Dorcas has made sweet cakes with honey. They're very good, you'll see.”

She tugged him along behind her, and after a moment's hesitation, he followed her. He had no idea where he was or why he was there, but the little hand firmly grasping his was oddly comforting.

ONE

Somerset, England, September 1684

A
ri . . . Ari, will you
please
stop climbing?” Ivor Chalfont stopped on the steep goat track leading up the sheer cliff from the river below. He looked in exasperation at the small figure climbing twenty yards ahead of him. He hadn't a hope of catching her; he knew that from experience. Ariadne was small and lithe and astonishingly agile, particularly at climbing the towering cliffs, which sheltered their childhood home in a deep Somerset gorge. He glanced behind him. Far below, the River Wye sparkled in the warm late-summer sun, running peacefully between wide green banks. Cottages were clustered on either bank, smoke curling from chimneys. A few figures moved around, working in the neat gardens or fishing along the river. The sound of hammering rose in the quiet air from a man repairing a strut on the wooden bridge that spanned the river at its narrowest point. It was a peaceful, positively bucolic sight. On the surface. The reality was quite different, as Ivor well knew.

He cast his eyes upwards again. Ari was still climbing. She couldn't really think she could escape the reality of the gorge, could she? But Ivor knew she wasn't thinking that. She understood the facts of their life as well as he did.

He cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, “
Ariadne.
Stop,
now.

Ariadne heard him, as, indeed, she'd heard his every other call. Those she'd ignored, too locked into her world of furious frustration to pay any heed, but now reason and logic took over, besides which, it was never wise to try Ivor's patience too far. She stopped on the track, turned carefully to look down at him so many feet below, then sat down on a rocky outcrop to the side of the track, hugging her knees, watching as he began to climb up to her.

His shadow fell over her a few minutes later, blocking out the sun's warmth. She raised her eyes to look up at him. Ivor stood with his hands on his hips, breathing easily despite the steep climb. He was a tall, well-built man, with the strong, muscular physique of one accustomed to physical labor and life in the outdoors. His deep-set eyes were the astonishing blue of the Aegean Sea, and they surveyed her upturned face from beneath well-shaped russet-brown eyebrows with a mixture of exasperation and wry comprehension.

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