Authors: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Large Type Books, #Historical
Journal and Constitution
A PUBLISHING PHENOMENON!"
The New York Times
"THE FIRST LADY OF THE GENRE!"
"AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY VERSION OF
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!"
"ELEGANT ... SENSUAL ...
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Ashes in the Wind
Come Love a Stranger
The Flame and the Flower
Forever in Your Embrace
So Worthy My Love T
he Wolf and the Dove
And the Romantic Anthologies Featuring
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Three Weddings and a Kiss
Petals on the River
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Copyright © 1982 by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Published by arrangement with the author
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 82-13932
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Avon Books.
Books Mass Market Printing: October
PAT. OFF. AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, MARCA REGISTRADA, HECHO EN
RA 30 29 28 27 26
Dedicated to those readers who have
written letters of encouragement.
Thank you. You're appreciated.
K. E. W.
A ROSE IN WINTER
A crimson bloom in winter's snow,
Born out of time, like a maiden's woe,
Spawned in a season when the chill winds blow.
'Twas found in a sheltered spot,
Bright sterling gules and blemished not,
Red as a drop o' blood from the broken heart,
Of the maid who waits and weeps atop the tor,
Left behind by yon argent knight sworn to war,
'Til ajousting and aquesting he goes no more.
Fear not, Sweet Jo, amoulderin' on the moor.
The winter's rose doth promise in the fading runes of yore,
That true love once found will again be restored.
October 23, 1792
Erienne Fleming drew back from the hearth and slammed the poker into the stand, venting a growing vexation with the still young day. Outside, the cavorting wind gleefully whipped large, splashing raindrops and stinging shards of sleet against the leaded windowpanes to mock with its carefree abandon the bondage she felt in her spirit. The rolling chaos of dark clouds churning close above the tiled roof of the mayor's cottage mirrored the mood of this trim, dark-haired young woman whose eyes flashed with a violet fire of their own as she glared down into the flames.
The word flared afresh in her brain. Once the symbol of a girlhood dream, of late it had become more a synonym for foolery. It was not that she opposed the institution. Oh, no! Under the careful guidance of her mother, she had prepared herself to be a fitting spouse for any man. It was only that her father, that self-same mayor of Mawbry, was bent on matching her to any wealthy purse, regardless of what foppish, obese, or bone-thin caricature of a man bore it to her door. All other desirable traits, including manners, seemed unimportant to him. Indeed, not even to be considered. If the man be rich and willing to wed, then he was a likely candidate for her hand. A sorry lot they had proven to be, and yet—Erienne's finely arched brows drew together in sudden doubt—perhaps they were the best her father could do without the enticement of even a reasonable dowry.
"Marriage! Pah!" Erienne spat the words out in renewed disgust. She was quickly losing the blissful fantasies of youth and beginning to look upon the state of wedlock as something less than pleasant. Of course, it was not altogether rare that a young lady should detest an arranged suitor, but after the sampling she had been subjected to, she held little hope that her father's usual dogmatic nature would greatly improve his selections in the future.
Restlessly Erienne strode to the window and stared pensively through a diamond-shaped pane toward the cobbled road that meandered through the village. The trees that bordered the hamlet were little more than dark, skeletal shapes in the slashing rain. Her gaze drifted down the empty lane, and a dull ache, not unlike a mild dyspepsia, was born in her at the thought that barely an hour separated her from a meeting with an unwelcome suitor. She had not the smallest desire to put on a gracious smile for another simpering buffoon, and she dearly hoped, yea, even prayed, that the road would remain devoid of travelers. Indeed, should a rain-weakened bridge collapse beneath the conveyance bearing the man, and the whole lot fall into the foaming water never to be seen again, she would not grieve overmuch. The man was a stranger to her, a faceless entity identifiable only by a name she had very recently been given. Silas Chambers! What kind of man would he prove to be?
Erienne glanced about the modest parlor and wondered how he would view her home and if his disdain would be apparent. Though the cottage was as fine as any in the town, the spartan furnishings readily conveyed a lack of wealth. Had it not been for the fact that the dwelling was offered with the position, her father would have been hard pressed to provide such lodging.
Self-consciously she smoothed the worn velvet of her plum-hued gown, hoping its outdated style would not be noticed. Her pride had been stung too often beneath the haughty arrogance of mincing fops who saw themselves well above her and felt no compulsion to keep the fact a secret. Her lack of dowry weighed poorly against their heavy purses. She longed to demonstrate to those opinionated oafs that she was as well schooled and certainly better mannered than they, but such an attempt would have brought harsh disapproval from her father.
Avery Fleming thought it unnecessary and imprudent for any member of the fairer sex to be tutored beyond the basics of womanly duties and certainly not in ciphering and the written word. If not for her mother's inheritance and stubborn insistence, such a luxury of schooling would not have been bestowed upon the daughter. Angela Fleming had carefully held back a part of her own wealth to see the matter done, and Avery could say naught, considering he had himself, during the course of their marriage, appropriated the major part of it to support his own widely varied indulgences. Although the same opportunity had been lavishly expended upon Farrell, after less than a year at an advanced seminary, the lad had declared an intense dislike for "the pompous preaching and unjust disciplines of a bunch of stodgy old men" and resigned as a man of letters to return home and "learn the trade of his father," whatever that might be.
Erienne's mind prowled like a foraging hind through the long months since her mother's death, recalling the many hours she had spent alone while her father and brother played at cards or drank with some of the local townsmen or, when they traveled to Wirkinton, with the sailors and tars who came to the port. In the absence of Angela's careful rationing, the family's meager wealth dwindled rapidly away, and with its loss came the ever-constant tightening of purse strings, which in turn brought an increasing pressure from her father to wed. The critical juncture in this process came after the wounding of her brother in a viciously onesided duel that left his right arm hanging at his side with the elbow fused at an odd angle and the hand beneath it weak and nearly useless. From then on Avery appeared beset by a fever to find her a rich husband.
A sudden anger rapped at the heels of Erienne's memory, and her thoughts quickened with its challenge.
is one I'd like to meet," she hissed hotly to the room at large. "Christopher Seton! Yankee! Blackguard! Gambler! Roue! Liar!" Whatever name she seized upon seemed to fit. Indeed, a few titles that dwelt upon his lineage flitted through her mind, and she savored the taste of them.
"Aye, to meet that one face to face!" She imagined close-set eyes and a thin, crooked nose, stiff, straight hair sticking out from beneath the brim of a tricorn, narrow, pinched lips twisted in a cruel leer that revealed small, yellowed teeth. A wart at the point of a receding chin completed her creation. The vision was sweet as she finished and set it atop a thin and bony frame.
Oh, if she could just meet that one! Though she might not best him in a brawl, she could certainly flay his composure to her satisfaction. He would smart for a fortnight from the tongue-lashing she would lay upon him, then perhaps he would think twice before wreaking his vengeance on a less than wise and unwary lad, or causing havoc to rain upon an elder.
"Were I a man," she struck a fencing pose and swept her hand before her as if it held a razor-sharp rapier, "I'd fix him thus!" She stabbed once, twice, thrice, then whipped the imaginary tip across her victim's throat. Delicately she wiped the phantom blade and restored it to an equally airy scabbard. "Were I a man," she straightened to stare pensively through the window, "I'd assure myself that braggart knew the error of his ways and henceforth would bend to seek his fortune in some other corner of the world."
She caught her reflection in the crystal panes and folding her hands, struck a demure pose. "Alas, a brawling lad I am not, but a mere woman." She turned her head from side to side to inspect the carefully arranged raven tresses, then smiled wisely at her image. "Thus my weapons must be my wit and tongue."
For a moment she cocked a dark, finely arched brow above a baleful glare which, with the chillingly beautiful smile, could have iced the heart of the fiercest opponent. Woe to the one this lass unleashed her ire upon.
A drunken bellow from outside the house broke into her musings. "Eriennie!"
Recognizing her brother's voice, Erienne hastened into the entryhall and, with a heated admonition ready on her lips, threw open the portal to find Farrell Fleming leaning heavily against the doorjamb. His clothes were badly mussed and spotted, his tan hair like so much tangled straw beneath his tricorn. It was obvious from a mere glance that he had been drinking and carousing the whole night long and, since the hour was near the
eleventh before noon
, most of the morning as well.
"Eriennie, me own fair sister!" he loudly greeted. Stumbling back a pace, he managed to reverse direction and lurched into the hall, flinging wide a spray of icy water from his sodden cloak as he passed his sister.
Erienne glanced anxiously up and down the road to see who might have witnessed this debacle and was relieved that on this miserable morn no one was about except a lone rider some distance off. By the time he came over the bridge and passed the cottage, he would see nothing out of the ordinary.