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Authors: Elise de Sallier

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BOOK: Protection
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Mr Grantham, the odious manager of the Blackthorn estate, required extra careful handling.
While not highly positioned, he was one of the most powerful personages in the district’s
society, as he controlled the purse strings that paid the majority of its inhabitants’
wages—Hannah’s father’s included. Accompanying him was the equally unpleasant Mr Trowbridge,
owner of a modest property on the outskirts of Blackthorn. Despite his position—and
the fact he was owed a considerable sum of money by her father—his interest in Hannah’s
youngest sister, Rachel, was wholly unwelcome. The man bore on his portly frame more
than twice the pretty, fair-haired girl’s years, and he had a reputation for lechery.
But with the power to see the vicar sent to debtor’s prison if the loan was called
in, the Fosters could not afford to snub him outright.

While Hannah had no desire for either of her younger sisters to meet her lonely fate,
neither did she wish to see their happiness sacrificed to expediency. If the horrid
Mr Trowbridge had cast his gaze her way, she would have accepted his proposal, as
an unappealing husband was better than no husband at all. The relief of knowing her
father was safe from penury would have been significant, and eliciting even modest
dowries for her sisters would have more than made up for any indignities she would
have endured. But, typically, Mr Trowbridge had shown no interest in Hannah. Nor had
the repugnant gentleman found her middle sister, twenty-year-old Naomi, to his taste,
as the girl’s strong opinions had the tendency to counteract her otherwise comely
charms. No, the recently widowed Mr Trowbridge’s interest was fixed on Rachel, a prize
he would not have the satisfaction of claiming if Hannah had any say in the matter.

Deliberately engaging Mr Trowbridge and Mr Grantham in conversation, Hannah did her
best to distract them until Rachel could make her escape. Her hope was the girl would
head straight to the vicarage as promised and not allow herself to become diverted
in some fashion, her flightiness an increasing cause for concern.

Once the rest of the local society had been sufficiently indulged, Hannah turned her
attention to the more lowly positioned members of the congregation, many of whom she
counted as friends. The highlight of her morning was sharing recipes with Mrs Darrow,
Lady Wescott’s cook. The portly woman’s scones were lighter than hers, but she readily
admitted Hannah’s pastry was flakier.

After luncheon, during which her birthday was celebrated in a modest fashion in keeping
with her wishes, Hannah left her sisters engaged in leisurely pursuits and her father
fast asleep in his favourite reading chair. Donning her bonnet, she made her way down
a well-worn path to the cemetery in the field beside the church.

“It’s been quite a day, Mama,” she murmured, kneeling down beside the grave and plucking
at the weeds that had sprung up since her visit the week before. “It’s my birthday,
and we both know what that means.”

Sitting back with her skirts spread out around her, Hannah sighed. All she’d ever
wanted was to be a wife and mother. Now, if their father was to pass away before at
least one of the girls was married—the hope being a husband would be willing to provide
a home for his wife’s sisters—all three girls would find themselves penniless and
without protection. But finding both generous and tolerable husbands for Naomi and
Rachel was proving easier said than done.

The curse that had blighted generations of the Blackthorn viscounts was believed by
many to have spilled over into the surrounding district in recent years, causing a
number of landholding families to relocate to more pleasant, prosperous climes. The
few eligible gentlemen remaining, while content to enjoy the company of the Vicar
of Hartley’s younger daughters, invariably chose girls from more substantial families—girls
with
dowries—
when it came to matrimony.

In an attempt to raise her spirits, Hannah lifted her face to the pale spring sun.
A movement caught her attention, and she looked to the nearby trees to see a large,
brown horse all but hidden in the foliage. After brushing the soil from her hands,
she stood and slowly approached.

“Hello, boy,” she said, reaching up to stroke his forehead. He must have run off from
a Sunday hunt, leaving his rider to walk home in disgrace. But rather than finding
the reins snagged on a bush, she was surprised to see them tied securely
to the branch of a tree.

“Where’s your rider? Off hunting for truffles?” Hannah’s lips twitched at the unlikely
image of the owner of such a proud beast digging around the forest floor.

The horse pushed against her hand, and she patted his velvety muzzle. There didn’t
appear to be anyone lurking—or grovelling—amongst the oak trees, and she scanned the
cemetery. Spotting the form of a man sitting against a headstone, the rider she presumed,
Hannah wondered who it could be. She had no intention of disturbing him, but when
he remained unmoving for several minutes, she took a few steps in his direction. Her
eyes widened. It was
him,
the bedraggled officer from the service, and he wasn’t sitting but had collapsed in
a heap. She picked up her skirts and ran across the grass, but her footsteps slowed
when she saw which headstone he was leaning against—the one belonging to the most
recently deceased of the Blackthorn Viscounts.

“William?”

The officer’s lids flickered open, revealing eyes clouded with pain. She knelt beside
him and placed her fingers against his brow, unsurprised to find him burning with
fever.

“Don’t worry. I’m here to help.”

Compassion and concern welled within Hannah, as her suspicions led her to an inescapable
conclusion. The battle-scarred and gravely ill officer was none other than her childhood
friend, William. The sixth Viscount Blackthorn had finally returned home.

Also by Elise de Sallier

Innocence
A Forbidden Love, Book 1

Ignorance is supposed to be bliss
, but in Anneliese Barlow's experience, it leads to unwise choices and unnecessarily
tragic outcomes . . . and there is nothing blissful about either.

Forced to flee her father's brutal heir, Anneliese masquerades as Lisa Brown, a servant,
in the grand country mansion of the Duke of Worthington. Discovering the life of gentility
she had known was a virtual fairytale, reality a dark and forbidding place, she faces
danger at every turn. 

Captivated by the beautiful maid, the Marquis of Marsden, decides the only way to
keep Lisa safe is by offering her his protection. With all hopes of returning to her
previous station lost, she surrenders her virtue to the man she has come to love
almost
beyond reason. Finding unexpected passion in Nathaniel's arms, her senses are awakened
to a world of sensuality she'd not known existed . . . a world not without grave risks.

If her identity is uncovered, Lisa's innocence won't be the only thing that's lost.

Download a sample at
The Writer’s Coffee Shop
.

About the Author

A great believer in living happily ever after, Elise began her lifelong obsession
with the romance and paranormal genres when she was far too young to be reading either.
With a lifetime’s experience and more than thirty years of marriage behind her, she
now knows great relationships don’t just magically happen, they take work . . . which
doesn’t mean writing about them can’t be a whole lot of fun!

While raising a family, Elise established a career as a counsellor and family therapist.
Seeking an escape from the stresses of her work, she discovered the world of fan fiction,
and her timid writer’s muse made its voice heard. Two point three million hits, twenty
thousand reviews, and an e-mail from an acquisitions editor at The Writer’s Coffee
Shop later, and her life found a new and fascinating direction.

Elise likes to see her characters grow, experience passion and adventure, tackle some
difficult issues, and find lasting love . . . eventually.

To contact Elise (she loves hearing from her readers) or to find out more about her
stories, check out her webpage or Facebook author page.

 
http://www.elisedesallier.com/

https://www.facebook.com/elisedesallierauthor

In an effort to help children and young women sold into sexual slavery in
this
day and age, Elise donates a minimum of ten percent of the money she makes from her
books to World Vision Child Rescue. She would like to encourage her readers to consider
giving to this wonderful charity or one of the many others dedicated to rescuing children
from abuse in all its forms.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Erin Morgan, my lead editor on
Innocence
and 
Protection
, for all her help and advice, along with Michele Milburn, Allison Hoover, and Andrea
McKay for their copy and proof editing. My thanks go also to Jenny Pedroza, Catherine
Edwards, Cindy Bidwell, Jennifer McGuire, Lea Dimovski, and the rest of the amazing
team at The Writer’s Coffee Shop for all their hard work and support. L.J. Anderson,
from Mayhem Creations, did an amazing job on the covers of both Innocence and Protection.
And last, but not least, I'd like to acknowledge my friends from Project Team Beta,
Neets and Amanda, who helped me with this story in its original fan fiction form.

BOOK: Protection
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