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Authors: Shirlee Busbee

A Heart for the Taking

BOOK: A Heart for the Taking
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A Heart for the Taking
Shirlee Busbee
Warner (2010)

From her arrival in Virginia, Baroness Merrivale, better known as Fancy, and Chance Walker cannot abide each other. She thinks he looks like a backwoods barbarian. He thinks she is a haughty upstart and, worst of all, the fiancee of the scoundrel who long ago destroyed his first wife. But the attraction between them is instantaneous and powerful. When Chance decides to seek revenge against his old enemy by seducing Fancy, his plans lead them both toward a murderous trap - and unleash a wildfire love that sets Chance and Fancy free to taste nothing less than ecstasy.

Also by Shirlee Busbee

LOVERS FOREVER

Published by

WARNER BOOKS

Contents

Also by Shirlee Busbee

Copyright

Prologue: Chance Meeting

Part One: Fancy

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Part Two: Chance

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Part Three: Stormy Horizon

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Part Four: Devil’s Own

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Epilogue: Fair Horizons

Chapter Twenty-five

Excerpt from
And Love Remains

Copyright

A HEART FOR THE TAKING
.

Copyright © 1997 by Shirlee Busbee

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

For information address Warner Books,

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2391-3

A mass market edition of this book was published in 1997 by Warner Books.

First eBook edition: March 2010

To fine friends and good companions:

CARLA and SANDY REIMER, who feed us in moments of crisis and graciously share horse knowledge.

AND

BARBARA and LOREN MACK-FISHER, who delight with “dead dog” stories and lucid explanations of ancient text.

AND

HOWARD— who is still the best!

Prologue

Chance Meeting

Colony of Virginia April 9, 1740

In the dead vast and middle of the night.

William Shakespeare,

Hamlet

T
he storm shrieked across the land like a furious banshee, the treetops tossing violently in the fierce wind and lashing rain. Lightning tore the utter blackness of the sky time and again, and the angry rumble of thunder rose above the fury of the storm, sometimes just a sharp crack that seemed to shake the very ground, other times merely a long, ominous grumble.

It was certainly not a night, if she had been given a choice, that Letty Walker would have chosen to give birth. But then, just as she had no control over the arrival of one of the most violent storms to strike the Colony of Virginia in a decade, so did she have no choice over the arrival of her own firstborn child. It was not an easy birthing.

Letty hadn’t expected it to be. She had been married for
nearly twenty years to her beloved Sam Walker and had just celebrated her thirty-eighth birthday this past January in this year of our Lord, 1740. She was far too old to be having her first child, and her body made that clear with every spasm of pain that streaked through her. But, oh, dear God! She and Sam wanted this child so desperately. So
very
desperately.

The only children of only children, when they had married, they had planned to have a large, boisterous family. But as the years had passed, those desperately longed-for babies had never appeared. The one that was presently attempting to be born was the culmination of years of hope and yearning, and she would suffer this pain tenfold if it put a babe in her arms.

While Letty and Sam longed most urgently for this child, there was someone who did not. Constance Walker, Letty’s ridiculously young stepmother-in-law. Constance had arrived in the Colonies from England two years ago as the bride of Letty’s father-in-law, John, and had subsequently given birth to a baby boy. Until Letty’s pregnancy, it had been understood by everyone that at some time in the future, Constance’s son, Jonathan, would inherit all of the great Walker fortune.

In the normal course of events, it would have been Sam’s children who would have inherited, but Sam and Letty had not been so blessed. John had been determined for his vast estate to flow into the hands of his own direct bloodline, and at the age of sixty-two he had gone to England in search of a suitable wife to bear him another child—or children, if the fates be kind. To his delight, he had found everything he had been searching for in Constance Wheeler. When Jonathan had been born, some ten months after their marriage in England, John had been ecstatic. Letty and Sam had been happy over the event, and they all doted on the infant, Jonathan. Tragically, John had not lived six weeks beyond the birth of his youngest son. His vast estate had been divided equally amongst his two sons, with Sam having total control of the entire fortune until Jonathan reached the age of thirty-five, when his portion would be turned over to him. Constance
had slipped easily into the role of beautiful young widow, confident, since Sam and Letty had no heirs, that in due course, Jonathan would inherit
everything.

From the moment she had stepped into the New World, Constance had viewed all the diverse wealth of the Walkers as her own, from the thousands of acres of untamed land, to the rich tobacco fields and the elegant plantation house, Walker Ridge, the palatial home in Williamsburg, to the ships and the cargoes in their holds, to the cold hard cash that John Walker, unlike most colonists, commanded. And it was cold, calculating greed for her son’s future that made her view Letty’s stunningly unexpected pregnancy with such great rage.

The Walkers were Virginian aristocracy. An ancestor had been one of the early settlers at Jamestown in the last century, and John Walker, as his forebears before him, had continued to increase the family holdings. The Walkers commanded respect and prestige in the colony and controlled a great fortune. A fortune that had induced Constance at the age of nineteen to marry a man forty-four years her senior.

Not that John Walker had been a raddled old man. He had not been. Like the majority of the Walkers, Sam and Jonathan’s father had been tall, broad-shouldered, and robust, proud of the fact that he still had all his own teeth and that he had no need of wigs and powder to give himself a fashionable head of hair. Despite his age, with the glinting blue eyes and handsomely chiseled features of the Walkers, John could have taken his pick from any number of eager, nubile young women. He had traveled to England for the express purpose of finding a bride to give him a son, but he had taken one look at Constance’s lovely green eyes and soft fair hair and had fallen in love like a callow youth.

Possessing no fortune of her own and coming from a background of genteel poverty, Constance had wasted little time in debating the wisdom of marrying a man so much older and leaving behind all that she had ever known. There
was a fortune to be had, and she had every intention of securing it for herself . . . and her child.

For a moment her unfriendly gaze drifted to Letty, as she lay on the bed, her wan features twisted with pain as another contraction knifed through her. Constance’s lips tightened. She didn’t hate Letty, she actually liked her; Letty was kind to her and openly adored Jonathan. It was Letty’s child who aroused all her resentment and antipathy. All her hatred was focused on the child who would supersede her own son and who would one day inherit an enormous share of the Walker wealth. It just wasn’t
fair
, she thought bitterly. Jonathan was the heir! Jonathan was supposed to inherit
everything
!

Since Letty’s ecstatic announcement of her impending motherhood, Constance had had seven long months to brood over the injustice of it all, and she had come to view this child struggling so to be born as a rival, a usurper who had no right to take away her own child’s inheritance. It didn’t matter that as John’s youngest son, and Sam’s half-brother, Jonathan would still be wealthy and have land and a fortune of his own to order. All that mattered to Constance was that a major portion of the fortune she had considered her son’s would be given to someone else. If it weren’t for Letty’s child, it would all be Jonathan’s, which as far as Constance was concerned was how it should be.

A loud boom of thunder brought Constance’s thoughts back to the matter at hand. The babe was early—it wasn’t to be born until sometime in mid-May, and here it was not even the middle of April. Over a month too soon, and the birthing was taking too long. Far too long. Hope suddenly sprang into her breast. Perhaps the babe would die.

Slightly cheered, she bent over and, wiping Letty’s damp forehead, said kindly, “Push, dear. Try not to fight the pain. You must not struggle so—your babe will arrive soon enough.”

“Oh, Constance! Do you think so?” Letty whispered tiredly. “It did not take you so long to bring forth Jonathan, as I recall.” She smiled faintly. “It seemed that the servant had barely entered our wing of the house when Father John
arrived almost on his heels to tell us that you had safely delivered a son.”

Constance couldn’t help the superior smile that curved her small mouth. “That is true, dear Letty, but you must remember that I am much younger.” At the anxious look that flashed in Letty’s beautiful gray-blue eyes, Constance said hastily, “Which should not concern you at all. You will do just fine. ’Tis just taking a trifle longer. Do not worry. All will be well.”

“If only Sam were here,” Letty murmured. “I know he
never
would have gone to Philadelphia if he had had the least notion that the baby would decide to come early.”

“Shush. Sam’s task is done and ’tis up to you to finish the deed.”

Another contraction savagely clenched Letty’s swollen body, and she gave a soft cry. It was now well over thirtysix hours since the first onslaught of pain had struck her, and she was growing very weak and exhausted. Anxiety about the safety of her child gnawed at her, and with every passing moment she feared that both she and her baby would die. Poor Sam. He would be devastated.

Thoughts of her dear husband’s grief at the demise of both wife and child roused Letty from her dark musings, and she began to concentrate on the messages her body was sending her, pushing with renewed vigor with each contraction. For several moments there was just the sound of the raging storm outside the stout walls of the plantation house intermingled with Letty’s harsh, panting breaths as she struggled to rid her body of the baby within it.

It was a spacious, richly furnished room in which Letty labored. The huge bed in which she lay was lavishly hung with pale green silken curtains, a carpet in hues of rose and cream lay upon the floor, and a fire leapt comfortingly on the hearth of the gray marble fireplace. Lamps holding the finest whale oil shed a gentle light over the remainder of the room, revealing the tall mahogany wardrobes on the far wall and a satinwood dressing table with its velvet-covered seat. A chair near the bed held several clean towels and the small
blue-and-white blanket that Letty had knitted herself in anticipation of the coming child. Next to the chair, sitting on an elegant walnut table, was a china bowl and ewer, both filled with warm water.

BOOK: A Heart for the Taking
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