My first novel, His Lady to Protect, is in the hands of my copy editor and will be available on Feb. 14th. It’s a book that has been SIX YEARS in the making.
I thought it would be fun to compare the first chapter of that book, back when it was loosely titled “1812 Trilogy Book 1,” to what it has become. I’m almost embarrassed to do this, for my first effort was SO POOR in so many ways (bonus points if you list them in the comments!), but at least now I (think I) know how to write a little better. (The original, 6 year-old chapter is first, followed by Chapter 1 of HLTP.)
Now, if you’ll please pardon me, I’m going to hide under the covers while you read.
1812 Trilogy Book 1 – Chapter 1
“Do whatever you have to, Susannah, but don’t marry him,” said Isabelle, “or you’ll end up like me.”
Susannah lay on her back in the cramped cabin berth, staring at the knotty wood above her, and replayed her sister’s last words in her mind. “Promise me,” she had said. “Don’t forget what I taught you. Be strong.” Then she was gone. A quick kiss on the cheek, a choked-back sob, then…gone. She didn’t even stay to see Susannah board the ship.
Turning to her side, Susannah closed her eyes and thought about where she now found herself: twenty-one and on a ship to England where she would marry someone she’d never met. But she’d heard of him, and what she heard wasn’t pleasant. Never mind that she didn’t want to marry anyone. Susannah sighed. This certainly wasn’t what I expected when I started this adventure, she thought. She remembered the day it all began as if it happened yesterday.
Four years earlier, Susannah’s uncle, Viscount Norbridge, had called her into his study. He sat behind a great mahogany desk, his bald head bent over the estate ledgers, his quill working furiously. Susannah stood before him, waiting for his invitation to sit in one of the club chairs that faced the desk. The invitation never came. Instead, without even looking up from what he was doing, he issued the five words that changed her life.
“Tomorrow you leave for Jamaica.”
Susannah’s mouth fell open and her eyes widened in shock. “I beg your pardon, my lord?”
“Tomorrow you leave for Jamaica,” he repeated, his quick glance at her full of scorn. “You may begin packing at once. The carriage will take you to Liverpool in the morning.”
Susannah stared at him, stunned. “But…why?”
“Because I wish it.”
“What sort of reason is that?” she asked.
“It’s the only reason I shall give, young lady,” he snapped. “You will travel to Jamaica to live with your older sister until I send for you.”
“But what about Marcus? He depends upon me!”
“Your brother will survive without you. It’s time he learned how to be a man.”
In a brash move, Susannah leaned forward and spread her palms on the gleaming desk. She stared at her uncle for several moments. Finally, he paused what he was doing to look up at her.
In a firm voice she said, “I don’t understand why you’re doing this, my lord, but you can’t. I must remain here to care for my brother.”
The viscount raised his eyebrows, gazed pointedly at Susannah’s hands on his desk, then looked back up at her and said, “You are dismissed.”
Susannah’s eyes narrowed and in a burst of uncontrollable rage, swiped her hands across his desk, scattering various trinkets, sending paper flying, and dumping the inkwell onto the rug. Then she turned and marched out of his office, slamming the door behind her. The next day, she was on her way to a sister she hadn’t seen since she was eleven.
Much to her surprise, Susannah had actually enjoyed getting to know her sister and learned much from her: how to run a household, entertain guests, make polite conversation…and also how horrible it was to be married to someone who terrified you. Surely Isabelle’s social standing had improved upon marriage. Her husband was a duke, after all. But he was also rough, unpleasant, and prone to violence. The duke scared Susannah, and there wasn’t much that she was afraid of. Isabelle made sure that if Susannah learned nothing else from her time with her, it was that her sister should do whatever she could to ensure a happy life, even if that meant running away from society and never marrying. Surprisingly, the idea sat well with Susannah. She didn’t need marriage to make her happy, and she didn’t want a man in her life if he would only make her miserable. In fact, Susannah had planned to use her dowry money, which would be hers were she not married by age twenty-one, to live abroad in Paris or Florence. Of course, this sort of scheme virtually guaranteed society’s scorn, but Susannah didn’t worry about such things. Society had done enough damage to her family. She had no need to concern herself now.
Rolling onto her back again in the small berth, she began to pull at a long strand of her mousy brown hair and thought about her current predicament. Ever since she had received the letter from her unreasonable uncle about her forthcoming marriage, Susannah and Isabelle had been at their wits end trying to contrive a way to avoid the inevitable. She knew there would be someone waiting for her when she arrived. She couldn’t just dash off when she disembarked, perhaps taking refuge on a ship bound for ports unknown. Her uncle would seek her out and find her. Besides, she needed to see her father’s solicitor in order for her funds to be transferred to her name. Her uncle would never allow her the privilege. Mostly, though, she had to avoid getting married before she could claim her inheritance and leave England. And that, she thought, was her biggest challenge, for she was sure her uncle would be waiting for her at the dock with her fiancé, a pastor, and a special license.
Susannah’s thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of shouting men, stomping boots on the deck above, and, she thought, the occasional crack of the whip.
“What on earth…?” she asked herself, standing up. Then she called out, “Fanny? Fanny! Where are you?”
Fanny, her maid, quickly entered the small cabin, giving the door a firm push to close it.
“Right here, missy…”
“What on earth is going on? Have we come under attack?”
“No, not at all. We’ve pulled up along side a warship and they are transferring prisoners from that ship to ours.”
Susannah shook her head in confusion. “Why should we be taking on prisoners? This is a diplomatic ship, not a prison hulk.”
“I think you have naught to fear, missy. It is only a few men…the captain of an American enemy ship that was captured, I’m told, and some of his crew. Apparently, he’s to be taken to Dartmoor Prison and the others transferred when we stop in Bermuda. However, until the prisoners are in the hold, Captain Hedlington has asked that you remain in the cabin. It would be neither safe nor proper for you to be on deck.”
Susannah huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Do you mean to tell me I’m supposed to just sit here and wait?”
“Yes,” replied Fanny in a droll voice. “It would appear so.”
Susannah turned away from her maid. She listened to the noises above her when suddenly she felt the ship lurch and bump and she nearly fell into the wall. She grabbed onto the edge of the table which was nailed to the floor and righted herself. Must have come up beside them, she thought. Too close.
She sat down on the edge of the narrow berth and looked up at her maid. Fanny had been with her since she was born. Susannah’s own mother died shortly before her sixteenth birthday, and Fanny was as much a mother to her as a real one could be.
Fanny came over, sat down beside Susannah, and put her generous arm around her.
“Don’t worry, dear. We’ve nothing to fear. The captain will see to that.”
“I’m not afraid, Fanny,” she said, shrugging Fanny’s arm off her own. “The last thing I would fear are some sailors. I have a more pressing problem.”
“Missy, there isn’t much you can do about that problem.”
“Of course there is! I’ll not stand about and wait for life to happen. I wish to chart my own course.”
“Enough,” she said, slicing her hand through the air. “I will figure a way out of this farce of a marriage. I promised Isabelle.” Susannah stood and stared blankly out the small porthole window at the miles of sparkly blue ocean stretched out before her.
She was startled out of her reverie by a sharp rap on the cabin door.
“Miss Humphries, it’s Captain Hedlington. Open the door. The prisoner transfer is complete.”
Fanny rose and moved quickly to the door, opening it and allowing the captain to enter. Susannah turned and smoothed her hair, her shoulders back.
“Miss Humphries,” he said, removing his hat and giving her a curt nod. “As you may have noticed, we’ve taken on prisoners from one of our sister ships.”
“Yes,” replied Susannah, “although I should have been given some warning. It’s quite distressing to hear shouts and feel the ship collide with another. Especially considering this is supposed to be a diplomatic ship.”
“My profound apologies, miss,” said the captain, bowing to her in mock submission. “We may be a diplomatic ship, but we are also prepared for battle. Stay below decks for now. We are moving the prisoners to the hold. That’s an order.”
“Yes, captain.” Susannah felt like saluting just to irritate him. Of course, she had no intention of obeying him.
“Very good,” the captain nodded. “Dinner is at seven o’clock sharp.”
“Yes, captain.” She curtsied, just enough to show the required deference, then turned away, dismissing him.
The captain humphed, then exited, shutting the door soundly behind him.
Susannah turned to Fanny, a devilish look in her eye. “Get my cloak,” she ordered. “I want to see who these prisoners are.”
“Missy, you heard the captain. This is not the time to be above decks,” Fanny reminded her.
“Nonsense. It’s just a few men. How much trouble could they be? And when will I ever see an American prisoner? I want to see why we’ve been at war for the past three years.” She went to the trunk to fetch her cloak, as it was clear Fanny wasn’t going to do it for her.
“You need to stay here,” Fanny said again.
Susannah spun around and gave Fanny a resolute look.
“No, not this time. I’m done taking orders. I’m going to see those Americans.”
And with that, Susannah whipped her cloak about her and slid out the door, shutting it firmly behind her and locking it. She wasn’t going to risk Fanny dragging her back to the cabin. There was too much she wanted to see.
His Lady to Protect, Chapter 1
London, Monday, March 6, 1815
“To Napoleon.” Nate Kinlan, Earl of Rainsford and intermittent agent for His Majesty’s Home Office, lifted his snifter of brandy and uttered what he hoped was a convincing lie. A lie designed to entrap Captain Alastair Cressingham in a web of treason. Yet despite their best efforts, the Home Office had been unable to pin Cressingham with solid evidence. The man was more cunning than a fox.
“To Napoleon,” Cressingham said in a deep, gravelly voice. He raised his glass and tossed the contents back, then thumped it down on his large mahogany desk. Cocking a bushy eyebrow, which only exacerbated the lines on his weathered, wrinkly face, he gestured to the marriage settlements covering the surface. “I want to make sure you clearly understand the terms before we draw the ink.”
“Of course.” Nate took a small sip of the amber liquid, then set it down, needing his wits about him. He’d been at this game with Cressingham on and off—but mostly off—for three years, only recently having been re-recruited by the Home Office. There was no question he would help, although doing so made him feel like a fish on land. A career spy he was not.
Cressingham rose, standing for a moment between the two branches of candles on either side of the desk, which barely illuminated the dark, walnut-paneled room. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases that flanked each wall, stripped bare of every volume the family had ever owned after Cressingham took up residence, reminded Nate of the charred, blackened skeletons he’d seen on the field in Spain, and he shivered involuntarily. This room had once been a place of happiness and light. Now, no amount of candles could chase away the darkness that hung like a shroud.
The captain’s barrel-chested frame was encased in a well-tailored blue coat, a stiff, white neckcloth tied neatly and without affectation at his slightly jowled throat. He limped around the desk, his gait the result of an old-and-oft-discussed war wound, and stood over Nate, his dark, cunning eyes glistening with intelligence.
Nate had to force himself not to shrink into the worn leather armchair. Damn, the man could be intimidating.
“In allegiance with his magnificence, the Emperor Napoleon, you agree to marry my niece, Susannah, and turn over to me her entire dowry of ten thousand pounds. I will then move her funds to an account on the Continent, where L’Empereur will make use of them to aid his escape from Elba and initiate a return to power.” A sly grin emanated from Cressingham’s lips. “Naturally, that latter bit of information isn’t in the settlements…only that you forfeit her dowry.”
Nate, uncomfortable with Cressingham towering over him, rose from the cracked leather chair, took another sip of his brandy, and set the glass down. “Naturally.” Boot-to-boot, he had only a few inches on Cressingham, but it was enough to dispel his sense of inferiority. “Out of curiosity, when do you expect him to make a go of it?”
Cressingham scoffed. “Oh, not until early summer, at the earliest.”
Nate nodded. He hoped so, for it would give him plenty of time to prepare. He gestured to the settlements. “Once this is signed, we’ll have the banns read. The ceremony will take place at my estate in Sussex, after which I will post up to London to facilitate the transfer of her funds.”
“Very good.” Cressingham’s tone was all business. “Now then,” he said, clapping Nate on the back, “sign this. Make it official.” He held out a quill.
Nate faux-smiled and accepted it. Dipping the quill in the ink pot, he leaned over the desk and scrawled his name at the appropriate spots on both copies of the settlements. Standing, he handed Cressingham the quill and watched as he did the same.
When he was done, Cressingham dropped the quill on the desk, then extended his hand, his large chest proudly puffed out, a smug-yet-sinister gleam in his eyes. “It seems we have an agreement.”
Nate shook Cressingham’s beefy hand as needles of apprehension pricked under his skin. This close. He’d brought the Home Office closer than they’d ever been to catching Cressingham. And Nate was now one marriage vow away from what he considered a much more important goal: keeping his promise to Ben, his best friend and Cressingham’s nephew, to protect Susannah. It didn’t bother Nate that he was marrying her without having seen her for years. He’d known her most of her life. She would make a competent wife.
“Now then,” Cressingham said, clapping Nate on the arm, “shall we dine? I have a little something special prepared this evening.”
“Oh? Excellent.” Nate exaggerated his enthusiasm even as he sighed inwardly. What he really wanted was to escape to the comfort of his library at Rainsford House and pour himself a glass of Martell 1795. He did not fancy enduring another poorly cooked meal in a home that harbored uncomfortable memories while sharing the company of a human parasite that not only grated on his nerves, but made him long to reach out and strangle him.
You promised Ben.
So Nate allowed himself to be led by Cressingham to the small but well-appointed dining room, resigned to a dull evening of listening to the captain puff up his own consequence and make insipid small talk.
But when Nate crossed the threshold after Cressingham, he was startled to see a person sitting at the dining table, facing away from him…a lady. It took only a moment for him to realize who it was, and his stomach twisted with anxiety. There at the dining room table, her dark, upswept hair shining in the candlelight, sat Susannah Cressingham.
His adversary’s niece.
His best friend’s sister.
His future wife.
Nate could scarce draw a breath, his feet seemingly frozen to the floor. When had she come to town? She was supposed to be in Northumberland, at his great aunt’s home acting as her companion until they wed. He’d made sure of that.
Cressingham didn’t slow down. He entered the dining room and made his way to the head of the table, barking orders to Bertram, his short, black-haired butler-cum-footman, to hurry up, bring the first course, serve the wine.
“And you, you silly chit.” Cressingham sneered at his niece, pulling a white linen napkin off the table and snapping it at her. “Stand up and welcome Rainsford. Surely no introduction is necessary.”
Turning in her intricately carved chair, she looked up at Nate, and with treacle-like slowness, she stood, her gaze riveted to his.
Nate’s heart nearly stopped dead in his chest.
By God, she was beautiful. More than beautiful. Exquisite. Susannah Cressingham had transformed, shedding her former awkwardness like a butterfly does a cocoon. She was a lovely creature. Tall. Pert nose. Creamy skin. Thick, brown hair. Eyes like dark pots of honey. Curves that would make a eunuch hard.
A wave of white-hot desire shot through him. Bloody hell. He was supposed to marry the girl, not desire her. Forcing his mind and body to function again, he stepped into the well-lit room—such a contrast to the study—until he was within arms reach of her. He bowed, the bright candlelight making it impossible for him to ignore the well-cut bodice of her lilac-colored gown or her long, delicate, and very bare arms. “Miss Cressingham. Well…” He noticed the way her brown eyes sparkled with…anger? Suddenly nervous as a schoolboy, Nate was unsure of what to say. How are you? You’re back in London? Have you heard from your sister? “Three years is a long time. Did you miss me?”
Imbecile. Nate gave himself a mental slap. Could he have said anything more stupid?
But Susannah, her face changing from an ever-deepening shade of pink then rose then flush, did for Nate what he’d only thought about. Like lightning, her hand flew, cracking him on the cheek.
The sting radiated down his neck. Nate flexed his jaw and covered his cheek with his hand. He deserved that. He’d never said anything so inane in his life. And the last time he saw her hadn’t been under the best circumstances.
Captain Cressingham grabbed Susannah’s arm, dragging her away from Nate. “What the devil do you mean by—”
“Thank you, Captain, but that’s not necessary. You may release her.”
Cressingham scowled, but did as Nate asked. “I thought sending for her from that old goat she’s been playing companion to would be a nice surprise.” He harrumphed. “Had I known she’d behave in such a boorish way, I wouldn’t have bothered.”
“I appreciate the gesture.” Nate nodded at Cressingham, then gave Susannah a peace offering smile, but she continued to glare at him, her eyes sparkling with a degree of rage that left him feeling slightly off-balance. Her bitterness certainly made sense, although Nate felt stupid for not expecting it. After what had happened the last time they were all in this house? He chided himself for his lack of foresight. “I suggest we all take our seats.” Nate moved behind Susannah’s chair and held it out. “Miss Cressingham?”
Susannah hesitated, then, with a characteristic lift of her chin he had always found endearing, she resumed her seat. Nate clenched the back of her chair, trying not to get lost ogling her soft, white shoulder or the ample swell of her breast. A rush of heat and pressure flowed to his groin.
How bloody inconvenient. He had to treat this as the business arrangement it was. Nate took his seat, laying his napkin in his lap and silently praying he didn’t make a tent out of it.
Cressingham pointed his fat finger at his niece. “You owe his lordship an apology.”
“Nonsense.” Nate affected nonchalance with a shrug. “She was merely expressing her overwhelming emotion at seeing me.” He smiled politely at Susannah, but she refused to meet his gaze. Smart girl. It was best he ignore her, too, lest he get lost in her beautiful brown eyes.
Bertram entered the dining room from a side door, his arms laden with a silver tray carrying three bowls of steaming liquid. He set the tray down on the sideboard with a clatter.
Nate smelled beef and his stomach roiled. Cressingham’s cook left something to be desired, like taste. Or flavor.
Cressingham prodded Bertram. “Be quick about it, man.”
“Yes, captain.” Bertram set the bowl of soup down in front of Nate. He bowed, then did the same for Cressingham and Susannah. Turning back to Nate, he asked, “Would you like wine, my lord?”
Nate nodded and Bertram filled both his glass and Cressingham’s, then filled Susannah’s glass with what looked like lemonade.
“Will there be anything else, Captain?” Bertram asked.
“No. You may go.”
With a swift bow, Bertram left the room.
“At last.” Cressingham reached for his glass of wine. Foregoing a customary toast, he took a large gulp, setting the glass down with such force that wine sloshed out, smattering the white tablecloth with red. “Now we can talk business.”
Susannah, who’d kept her eyes down, her hand moving mechanically from her bowl to her mouth, suddenly wiped her lips with her napkin and began to rise from the table.
Cressingham frowned. “Where the devil do you think you’re going?”
She looked at her uncle and shrugged. “You wish to discuss business. Females are rarely privy to that. Besides, I’ve lost my appetite this evening.” She spared a glare at Nate, making his heart skip a beat or twelve, despite her damning look.
Her uncle harrumphed, the sound something akin to a dog with a hairball, his eyes sharp and greedy and amused. “Well, dear niece.” Sarcasm dripped from his voice like tallow from cheap candles. “Seeing as the business concerns you, you will stay.”
She stood still for a moment, as if weighing what to do, but then resumed her seat, delicately laying her napkin in her lap. “Very well.” Her behavior was genteel, but her voice cut like a diamond. “What is this business?”
Nate’s hand, halfway to his mouth with a spoonful of the tasteless soup, froze in place. Hell. Hadn’t Cressingham told her they were marrying? He lowered his spoon and looked around the epergne at the center of the table to his host.
Cressingham, his fat hand clasped around his wine glass, ate up the scene before him with hungry eyes, which darted from Nate to Susannah, then back to Nate. He looked like a child on the verge of sharing an exciting secret.
Bloody hell. If Susannah didn’t know Cressingham had promised her to Nate, he certainly didn’t want the captain spilling the news. Turning to her, Nate said, “Miss Cressingham, I am glad to be able to tell you—”
“You’re getting married, chit,” Cressingham shouted, cutting him off.
Susannah sucked in a breath. Quick, sharp, punctuated. Then all at once, the color left her face, leaving her looking as if she’d succumbed to typhoid or the grippe or an overzealous blood-letter.
Nate had seen that look on her face once before. Instantly, he was transported back in time to that day three years ago when he left this very house, taking her brother Ben away to protect him from Cressingham’s imminent threats, yet forced to leave Susannah and her sister under the captain’s dubious guardianship. He remembered her…a frightened sixteen-year-old, eyes round and wide and uncertain, her face pale as linen. She’d kept a death grip on his hand as she ran through a litany of questions about where he was taking Ben, why she and her older sister Isabela couldn’t leave with him, and when they would see their brother again.
Nate also remembered that he’d made a promise to keep her brother safe, and a pang of guilt shuddered through his body. The expression on her face that day had been ironed in his mind like newsprint, never fading, never rubbing off. Now he was seeing it again, and it ripped his heart to shreds.
But then…her color returned. And so did the look she’d given him when he first entered the room. Eviscerating him with her eyes. Her spine was so stiff, her body so hard, she could have shouldered the pyramids.
Tension vibrated off her in waves, and Nate’s instincts went on alert. She was going to run, and if she did, he would follow her. He didn’t want her to leave without explaining the arrangement, at least as best as he could without telling her the truth.
Her eyes took on a tenacious gleam, her expression a mix of incredulity and something Nate didn’t like.
She directed her glare at Nate. “I’m to marry you?”
“Yes.” Marriage to Susannah was not only part of the scheme to catch Cressingham, but also a sacrifice he was willing to make to fulfill his promise to Ben. Although, to be honest, after seeing her again in all her unexpected beauty, Nate didn’t think he was sacrificing anything in marrying her. “Your uncle and I have already signed the settlements. After all, a long-standing friendship exists between your uncle and me. We thought it an excellent match.”
“And an excellent deal.” Cressingham’s whispered remark made it to Nate’s ears.
Susannah’s head whipped around. “I beg your pardon?”
Cressingham reached for his wine, taking a dignified sip. “Nothing that concerns you.”
She frowned, her hands gripping the edge of the table. “Of course this concerns me. You said so yourself. I am entitled—”
“You are not entitled to anything.” Cressingham’s tone was low but forbidding, as if he were daring her to challenge him.
Susannah inhaled through her nose. “Very well. I wish to know what his lordship”—her voice was laden with derision—“is gaining from this ‘arrangement’, for I’m getting nothing.”
“As I said, niece, that part of the arrangement is not your concern.”
“Then I see no reason to sit here and be a part of this.” She threw her napkin down and rose to leave.
Nate jumped out of his chair, nearly knocking it over, and raced to the doorway, propping his arm against the wooden doorframe to block her in.
She gasped at his quick move, stopping just shy of touching his arm. She did not raise her eyes to his, but kept them focused on the floor.
He leaned down to whisper in her ear and caught her scent. Roses and lavender and everything feminine and sweet, and for a moment, a sense of lightheadedness overcame him. It was unexpected, unavoidable, and almost more than he could bear. In a low voice only she could hear, he said, “This will work out, Susannah. I promise you. But you have to trust me.”
Susannah shook her head even as her eyes glistened, her lips trembled, and her throat worked repeatedly. He watched her swallow, swallow, swallow, as if their betrothal was somehow stuck in her windpipe.
Dammit. He could handle her anger better than her tears. He needed her alone. Taking her by the arm to escort her out of the room, he immediately wished he hadn’t. Heat coursed up his arm, sending a shock-like kick to his heart, which began pounding in double-time.
He could not lose control over his emotions now. Leaning behind Susannah, he spoke to Cressingham. “If you would please excuse us, I think your niece and I need a few minutes to get reacquainted. May we go into the sitting room?”
“Yes, of course. Take all the time you need. And do whatever you must in order to ‘acquaint’ her to you.” Cressingham laughed, clearly amused at Susannah’s discomfort.
Nate fought the overwhelming urge to plant him a facer.
He steered her across the hall and slid open the pocket doors to the sitting room. A branch of lit candles stood on a table in the middle of the powder-blue room, another on a side table, casting grey shadows in the corners. He gestured for Susannah to enter, but when her feet didn’t move, he put his hand on the small of her back and propelled her forward, then closed the doors behind them.
“Susannah, I…” God, what should he say?
But Susannah, turning to face him, narrowed her eyes. Any trace of tears was now gone. She crossed her arms under her bodice, which should have made her seem formidable, but merely drew Nate’s attention to her her breasts.
“My lord,” she said, her voice hard. “My uncle may have arranged this…”—she flung a hand out wildly—“…this betrothal. But he has not asked me my opinion on the subject, and I assure you, I have one. There is nothing you can offer that would induce me to accept your hand. You possess no qualities that I would find suitable in a husband. You lack honor and integrity. You live for your convenience. But perhaps, most significantly, I cannot marry a man I do not trust.”
Nate’s gut tensed, but he pushed the anxious feelings aside. What mattered right now was she willingly accept him as her betrothed. His ability to catch Cressingham depended on her not being a hostile fiancée, for sparks between them would attract too much attention from the ton, and that was attention Cressingham wished to avoid.
“Susannah, you don’t have a choice,” he said matter-of-factly. “You are not of age. Your uncle, as your guardian, is the sole arbiter of your fate.”
Her eyes flashed in the dim candlelight. “Hear me, my lord. My answer will be ‘No’. Always. I will never trust you again. And I don’t care what my uncle does, but I will never marry you.” She turned away from him.
Nate felt a pang in his chest, her words stabbing him like a knife in the heart. But the feeling was quickly swept away by another, more resolute one…he would have Susannah whether she wanted him or not. For if she didn’t accept him, Cressingham would give her to someone else, just as he had her sister.
And that was not a fate Nate could live with.
He’s promised to keep her safe. She doesn’t trust him. Can he convince her he’s not the man she thinks he is?
Seeking redemption for a ruinous past, Nate makes a promise to protect his best friend’s sister, Susannah, from her traitorous uncle, even if it means marrying her. But can a marriage of convenience stay that way with a woman he desires…and is falling in love with?
Susannah cannot possibly marry Nate. The man betrayed her by leading her brother to his death. It doesn’t matter that she used to love him. But can she continue to hate him if her heart—and body—can’t forget the way he once made her feel?
Determined to keep his promise, Nate must learn that to earn trust, one has to give it. And Susannah must accept that not everything—or everyone—is as it seems. But will those lessons come too late?
Buy His Lady to Protect to read the first in an exciting new series centered around six friends from Eton and set in the infamous Regency period.