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Authors: Veronica Jason

Never Call It Love

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NEVER CALL IT
LOVE

Veronica Jason

A SIGNET BOOK

NEW AMERICAN
LIBRARY

Times Mirror

 

A
BLAZING LOVE THAT WAS BORN IN SMOLDERING HATE

When
beautiful young Elizabeth Montlow lost her innocence, it was not on a night of
romantic dreams. It was in an act of savage violence by a man seeking
vengeance.

Yet
from this brutal beginning came an all-consuming passion that would take
Elizabeth from the sheltered eighteenth-century English countryside to a lonely
manor in Ireland, where she was forced to share her man with his ravishing and
ruthless mistress... to a nightmare exile on a lush and licentious Caribbean
island, where lust and murder went hand in hand... to the depths of the lawless
American wilderness, where two men played a monstrous game of heart-wrenching
deception with her as the stake....

Here
is a burning saga of a woman swept up in a whirlwind of desire that carried her
to the ends of the earth in search of her destiny....

CONQUEST

Elizabeth
lay naked before this man, as the cord he had tied around her wrists bit into
her straining flesh.

She
felt his gaze moving over her body. Then with startling gentleness his hand
closed over her breast.

For
perhaps a minute she stayed rigid, resisting the odd little thrills that seemed
to travel from her breast to somewhere deep within. Then all the stiffness went
out of her. Something was happening, something she had never experienced
before, a sense of warm, liquid swelling. His hand left her breast, moved
skillfully downward. Dimly she was aware that her hips were moving, as if her
body had a will of its own...

Later,
as she lay there, spent, she tried to protest, "It was only my body."

But
even as Elizabeth spoke, she knew that no part of her now was safe from this
masterful man's fiery passion....
NEVER CALL IT LOVE

New
American Library, Inc., 1633 Broadway, New York, New York 10019.

Copyright
©
1978 by Veronica Jason All rights reserved

Signet,
Signet Classics, Mentor, Plume, Meridian and NAL Books
are published by The
New American Library, Inc., 1633 Broadway, New York, New York 10019

First
Signet Printing, December, 1978

PRINTED
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

CHAPTER 1

There
were five of them cloaked and eye-masked, crouching below sidewalk level in the
pitch-black area-way. Moments earlier, when one of them had seen the
approaching figure, they had exchanged a few excited whispers. Now they waited
in tense silence. They knew nothing about the woman moving along the sidewalk
except that her footsteps were light and young, and that she was alone. But
that was enough to know. It made her exactly the sort of prey they had hoped to
find that night.

To
seventeen-year-old Anne Reardon, the London street seemed utterly deserted. She
saw no movement, and heard no sound except that of a fitful November wind,
rattling the leafless ivy vines that clung to the tall house fronts and making
the widely spaced oil streetlamps gutter despite their protective glass
lanterns.

She
quickened her steps. With a mittened hand she drew closer around her the hooded
cloak that hid her reddish-blond hair and framed her small face. It was a
somewhat plain face, thin and slightly freckled, but appealing in its youth and
gentleness. There was no reason for her to be afraid, she told herself, even
though long stretches of blackness lay between the dim patches of moving light
cast by the streetlamps. This was a fine neighborhood. Only the rich and
respectable lived in these tall stone houses, with their fanlighted doors that
here and there spilled warm light onto front steps and areaway railings. Too,
in only a few minutes she would reach her
guardian's lodgings in Darnley Square.
Nevertheless, she found herself wishing that she had stayed back there with
Auntie Maude in the disabled carriage.

The
accident had occurred without warning. A barrel-laden cart, drawn by a scrawny
horse, had rounded the corner from a side street and locked its left wheel with
the right-hand rear wheel of their hired carriage. Sitting beside her plump
chaperon, Anne had listened to the carriage driver and the carter exchange
invectives so violent that she expected the men at any moment to come to blows.
Finally, though, they had settled down to trying to disentangle their vehicles.

It
had proved to be a difficult task. Minutes passed, while the grunting, swearing
men struggled with the locked wheels. Anne had felt a growing anxiety. It was
now not more than a quarter of an hour to seven o'clock, the hour appointed for
the signing of the marriage contract. They would all be waiting: Thomas Cobbin,
the shy twenty-year-old she scarcely knew, but who nevertheless, in a few
months' time, would be her husband; his middle-class, highly respectable
parents; and Anne's Anglo-Irish guardian, Sir Patrick Stanford, fourth baronet.

It
would not do to arrive late on such an important occasion, especially since her
prospective parents-in-law, a London ironmonger and his wife, had not seemed
over-eager to have their son marry an Irish girl, even a baronet's ward. Only
the generous dowry offered by Sir Patrick had brought them to the point of
signing the contract.

The
carriage tilted slightly. From the suddenly relieved voices of the two straining
men, she had known that the locked wheels were almost free of each other. Then
the carriage horse, frightened by a scrap of paper blowing along the street,
had backed up in the shafts. With a sound of rending wood, the wheels locked
again.

Desperately
Anne had turned to her relative. "You stay
here, Auntie," she had
said, through the fluent curses of the two men in the street. "I'm going
to walk the rest of the way. It's not far."

Auntie
Maude's round face was appalled. "At night? Through this wicked town?"

Never
before out of Ireland, Maude Reardon feared and hated London. The noisy traffic
along the Strand. The dirty, ragged urchins who, if you stepped into St.
James's Park to rest your eyes on a bit of green, would surround you, beg for
coppers, and then reward your generosity by twisting a button from your best
mantle or filching your handkerchief from your pocket. She hated the smart
Oxford Street shops where the clerks sneered at her Irish accent. And she had
been terrified one evening when a hired carriage, unable to get through a
street where two houses were on fire, had taken her on a detour through Covent
Garden. With horror she had stared at the painted bawds of all ages sauntering
along the sidewalks, or calling, bare-breasted, from upper windows. She had
seen gin-soaked men and women reeling across the cobblestones, and heard young
boys hawking tickets for elevated seats from which to view the next day's
double attraction at Newgate—the hanging of a fifteen-year-old girl pickpocket,
and the drawing and quartering of a famous highwayman.

Ireland
was poor, true enough, and not unacquainted with violence. But no part of that
isle, Maude Reardon felt sure, held anything to match the filth and danger and
debauchery of London under the reign of His Gracious Majesty George III.

Anne
had said, "I must, Auntie. I can't be late. And this is a respectable
street. As soon as the carriage is freed, you can join us."

"I
forbid you!" Maude Reardon's pleasant face did its best to look stern.
"You know I cannot keep up with you,
not with my asthma. And you can't go
through the streets alone at night. What would Sir Patrick say?"

"Please,
Auntie! It's because of him I must hurry. I cannot bear to have him worried
or... or annoyed with me." She had slipped out of the carriage, and
ignoring the anxious cry her aunt sent after her, hurried away down the street.

It
was true that what distressed her most was the thought of displeasing, not the
Cobbins, but Patrick. Always she had shrunk from the idea of doing anything to
bring disapproval to his face, that rough-hewn face that some might consider
cold and proud, but which for her had never held anything but kindness. And he
had gone to such effort to secure her future. A month ago he had brought her
and Auntie Maude over from Ireland and settled them in lodgings near Grosvenor
Square. Twice he had summoned them to his own Darnley Square lodgings to meet
the Cobbins and their son, once for morning coffee, and once for supper. Behind
the scenes, he had worked out the marriage settlement with the elder Cobbin.

As
always at the thought of her guardian, Anne felt a twist of hopeless longing.
Only in her wildest daydreams had she pictured herself as Patrick Stanford's
bride. At thirty-two he was almost twice her age. And obviously his emotion for
her, compassionate and paternal, had not changed since she, an orphaned
ten-year-old, had been brought to Stanford Hall as his ward. Besides, when he
chose to marry, he would select a fine lady, either from the Anglo-Irish
aristocracy or from among the English beauties he mingled with for a few weeks
each year during the London season.

But
at least she had sometimes hoped that she would be allowed to live out her life
at Stanford Hall, where she could see him almost every day. See him dismount
from the rangy bay hunter in the cobblestoned courtyard after
a run through
the misty countryside. See him in his study, dark face frowning over the
account books his half-brother, Colin, had spread before him. See him at the
long, candlelit table in the drafty old dining hall, sometimes abstracted and
silent, sometimes good-natured and teasing. Yes, it would have been wonderful
if she could have stayed there always, silently loving him, and someday helping
care for the children another woman would give him.

But
it was foolish and ungrateful of her to want that. As Patrick plainly realized,
it was better for her to marry some quiet, decent man and have children of her
own.

It
was apparent now that the distance between the disabled carriage and Darnley
Square was greater than she had thought. Nor had she expected the street to be
this deserted. Perhaps five minutes ago an old-fashioned sedan chair, its
white-wigged occupant dimly visible through the glass, had moved past her along
the street, with a torch-carrying linkboy running ahead of the bearers. But the
sedan chair had soon disappeared around a curve. Since then there had been no
street traffic and no other pedestrians. Only darkness, broken at long
intervals by wavering yellow pools of light cast by the streetlamps. Only the
cold wind tearing at her cloak and rattling the ivy branches. Only this vague
feeling that had crept over her within the last minute or two, this
presentiment that some terrible danger lurked nearby.

A
wild, inhuman scream from somewhere at her right. Heart lurching, she stopped
short. A lean cat, white or light gray, shot between two pickets of an areaway
railing and scurried across the street. Anne clutched the railing until her
heartbeats began to slow. Then, smiling a little in her relief, she hurried
onward. It could not be much farther now. A few yards ahead, the street curved.
And beyond that curve, surely, she would see Darnley Square. She passed another
areaway.

Behind
her, there below street level, one of the masked figures gestured silently. He
led them softly up the stone steps. Then, sure that surprise and terror would
render her voiceless for the necessary few seconds, they all rushed after her.

At
the sound of running feet, she whirled around. Two of them seized her arms. As
she opened her mouth to scream, one of them who had moved behind her slipped a
cloth gag between her jaws. Too paralyzed with terror to struggle, she felt
herself lifted in someone's arms.

A
voice said, "Christopher! You've lost your hat." It was a male voice,
and young.

The
man who held her said in a low, angry tone, "Then pick it up, you damn
fool. And don't use my name like that."

He
had carried her down the areaway steps now. "Open the door," he said
impatiently, "and strike some lights."

She
had begun to struggle. The arms holding her tightened their grip, pinioning her
own arms to her sides. She heard a door creak open, and then, after she was
carried into deeper blackness, close behind her.

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