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Authors: Phoebe Conn

Swept Away

BOOK: Swept Away
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Dedication

Swept Away is gratefully dedicated to all my dear friends who’ve encouraged me from the first day I decided to write. You’ve been wonderful fans, and I love you all.

Prologue

Jamaica, Late Spring, 1863

 

Consumed with a restless energy, Raven changed his pose frequently as he leaned against the mantel in his uncle’s study, for the subject under discussion was not one he cared to pursue. “The very last thing I require is a bride, Alex, and you know that as well as I do,” he insisted for what seemed like the hundredth time. His voice was deep, yet soft and amazingly gentle to the ear despite the exasperation of his mood.

While he readily understood the cause of his nephew’s pensive frown, Alexander Sutton’s own expression was filled with a warm glow of admiration and pride. Raven Blade was always described as tall and dark but Alex knew that was no more than the superficial impression one gathered at first glance. While the words were true, they revealed far too little about the complex young man whose dashing good looks fascinated women, and made men so envious they frequently failed to notice the brilliance of his mind.

Years at sea had enhanced the bronze tones of his skin with a deep tan that never faded. The somber effect of his coal black hair was softened by thick, boyish curls but there was nothing youthful about his eyes. They were so deep a brown they appeared black and his gaze was often guarded, for Raven sought to see what others missed: the secrets that lay hidden beneath the layers of pretense that passed for fine manners in polite society.

An active man, he had an athlete’s grace and superbly muscled build. He wore finely tailored garments with the same ease he had once worn rags: with a careless nonchalance that belied their princely cost. He gave his extensive wardrobe no more thought than a horse gives his blanket, but despite the elegance of his apparel he had not once been called a dandy. He was now in his shirtsleeves, but that provided scant comfort in Jamaica’s sultry climate.

Alex nodded slightly to acknowledge Raven’s view, but he was too intent upon making his point to give in. “Julian thinks I may have a year left, but certainly not two. Before I die, I want to see you have a suitably adoring wife to look after you. I’m doing you a kindness by insisting upon it. You may not realize that now, but you’ll thank me for it later. I was married by your age, so my advice is based on my own experience, and it’s probably the most valuable I’ve ever given you.”

Raven turned his back on his companion and rested his outstretched arms on the mantel. Taking a deep breath, he valiantly fought against the pain that Alex’s casual mention of his impending death had caused him. At thirty-eight, Alex had already outlived his father by five years, and his grandfather by seven. While he was clearly able to accept the heart disease that had plagued the Sutton family for generations, Raven could not.

“There are other doctors. Why must you accept Julian’s prognosis as though it were a death sentence?”

Annoyed, Alex shook his head sadly. “I refuse to fool myself, Raven. I would only be wasting whatever precious time I have left if I used it to travel Europe searching for a physician who could extend my life. I prefer to take each day as it comes, and to enjoy it as best I can.”

Alex’s relationship with Raven often mirrored that of a father and son despite the fact only twelve years separated them. While they were not even distantly related, when Alex had plucked Raven from a Kingston gutter, made him his cabin boy, and then later introduced him as a nephew, the story had never been questioned. After so many years, their closeness was deeper than blood, so the fact their relationship was of their own making did not matter to either of them. Rather than uncle and nephew, on that afternoon they seemed more like brothers arguing over how one would live the rest of his life without the other.

Alex noted the tension that had stretched the fine linen of Raven’s shirt taut across his broad shoulders and realized how difficult a time the young man was having. “I swear if you start to weep, I’ll get up and beat you with the poker!” he threatened as convincingly as he was able before breaking into deep chuckles. “I know you possess a healthy passion for women, Raven, and if you choose the right one to marry, you’ll love her so dearly you’ll find it no effort to be faithful to her. Had Eleanora not died so young, I know she would still be making me as happy as she did on our honeymoon.”

Raven did not understand how Alex could speak of love and death in the same breath. Nor could he fathom how Alex expected him to throw his heart into courting when the man who was the only family he had ever known might not live to attend the wedding. “What you ask is impossible,” he refused again.

“No, it is not,” Alex argued. “We’ll spend the summer in London, and attend as many parties as we have to in order to find you a wife. I can guarantee it will be an extremely pleasant enterprise rather than the ordeal you imagine.”

Seizing upon the most obvious complication, Raven turned back to face Alex. “I’m accepted as your nephew, but surely if I were to propose marriage, the young woman’s family would ask which branch of your family I represent. How am I to answer such a question?”

“You will reply, and I hope smugly, that it matters not at all whose son you are, when you are my heir. That you’ll someday inherit not only my title but my estates and fortune as well, will make up for the fact we can’t name your parents. But I’m willing to wager that your heritage is an insignificant detail that will never be raised.”

They had had this same argument so often, Raven knew Alex would never back down from his demand. While he could not bear to think what his life would be like without the best friend he could ever hope to have, Raven did not want Alex to spend what could well be the last summer of his life worrying about him. Not pleased with what he would have to do, he began to pace up and down, his long stride readily conveying his distress.

“All right, I’ll go to London, and I’ll be as charming as I can possibly be to the young ladies. But if none proves tempting, I don’t want you to complain that I haven’t given them a fair chance.”

Delighted that he had finally wrung that concession from Raven, Alex broke into a wide grin. He was also a fine-looking man, his hair still thick if prematurely gray and his eyes a warm, clear blue. Rising from his chair, he extended his hand and Raven stopped his restless pacing to take it in a firm grasp.

“You’ll not regret the decision to marry, Raven. I can promise you that.” Raven responded to that enthusiastic prediction with no more than a rueful shake of his head, for he had already begun to regret it, and deeply.

Chapter One

London, July 1863

At her first opportunity to slip away from the ball, Eden Sinclair sought the inviting solitude of the dimly lit library. She closed the ornately carved door and leaned back against it, but she failed to shut out the lilting waltz melody that floated on the warm night air to the farthest corners of the spacious Carlisle mansion. Rather than soothing her troubled mood, the lyric beauty of the music served only to mock her cruelly.

It was all so unfair, the slender blonde fumed angrily as hot tears of frustration spilled over her thick lashes and slid down her flushed cheeks. Had her parents been blessed with a son rather than a daughter, she would have been in uniform that night, fighting for the Confederacy beside her father, but no, she was the Sinclairs’ darling daughter and she had been banished to England to await the outcome of the War. While she knew her parents had meant well, she could not abide being surrounded by luxury when she had heard the good citizens of Vicksburg had been reduced to eating rats.

Alexander Sutton had been dozing in front of the unlit hearth when the sound of the door closing awakened him. Aggravated at having his dreams disturbed, he leaned forward to peer around the side of the red leather wing chair to see who had dared to disturb him before shouting an emphatic demand to be left in peace. Finding a tearful beauty rather than a lazy servant avoiding his duties, or an amorous couple seeking a trysting place, his frown instantly relaxed into a welcoming grin.

“You’re far too beautiful to be so miserably unhappy. Come take my handkerchief and dry your tears. You must hurry back to the party before your absence is noted.”

The timber of the friendly man’s voice was rich and deep, as soothing as a caress to Eden’s ravaged emotions but she was astonished to find someone else had sought refuge in the library when the Carlisles’ ball was one of season’s most lavish. “I’m so sorry,” she rushed to apologize, the slurred tones of her Southern drawl made husky by tears. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.” She attempted to brush away her tears with her fingertips and, failing, came forward to accept the monogrammed handkerchief the helpful stranger had offered.

Through a mist of tears she had seen only the silver sheen of his hair and had mistaken him for an elderly gentleman, but when her vision cleared, she realized he was far closer to forty than sixty. While his hair was gray his brows and lashes were black. His skin was deeply tanned, with laugh lines etched at the corners of his vivid blue eyes. He was a handsome man with a charming smile, and while she knew she must have met him, she was embarrassed she could not recall his name.

Rather than rise as a gentleman should, Alex patted the hassock in front of his chair. “You must sit down a moment and compose yourself,” he invited with another enticing smile.

Eden hesitated, for she knew she should not be alone with him, but then, what did it matter? she wondered. She had no interest in the party, and sharing a few moments’ conversation with a pleasant gentleman might be the only enjoyment she would have that evening.

Eden artfully arranged the voluminous folds of her white satin gown and its stiff crinoline petticoat so she could sit down with a ladylike grace. She then apologized again, “I truly am sorry, but I’ve met so many people of late that I’m afraid I’ve forgotten your name. Should I be addressing you as m’lord? I constantly forget to do that and I don’t mean to be rude.”

A slow smile played across Alex’s lips before he broke into an amused chuckle. Eden looked at him askance, clearly offended by that response, and he reached out to pat her hand lightly. She was wearing gloves, as was he, but that did not minimize the pleasure he received from their brief contact. “Most of the pompous fools here have as many titles as the books on these shelves,” he explained with a sweeping gesture toward the crowded stacks at his right. “It’s no wonder you can’t recall a name or two. I would be pleased if you called me Alex. You’re Eden Sinclair, are you not? Lady Lawton’s niece?”

Eden looked down at the linen handkerchief he had so thoughtfully provided. If he knew her name, then he knew everything there was to know about her and she saw no reason to be coy. “Yes, I am, and I’ve had quite enough teasing about being a beautiful rebel for one night. If only England had agreed to be our allies, then surely things would not be going so poorly for the Confederacy.”

Alex reached out again, this time to tilt Eden’s chin up so her gaze was level with his. She had remarkable eyes for a blonde, for rather than the usual blue or green, hers were a rich golden shade, a sparkling topaz deepened with flecks of brown. Such a remarkable color would have been fascinating in itself, but Eden’s eyes were framed with a lush border of long, dark lashes that made her glance utterly devastating. Her hair was the glorious golden blond of ripening wheat, streaked with silvery sun-kissed highlights. Her crown of curls gave her a deceptively childlike innocence at first glance, but her golden gaze held a wisdom far beyond her years. Her preoccupation with America’s Civil War showed Alex she possessed a depth of character most young women her age lacked, and he immediately decided he liked her far too much to tease.

“I think your aunt must be looking for you,” he cautioned slyly before dropping his hand, but he purposely did not urge her to rejoin the party.

“I doubt it. She is devoted to her daughter, while I am merely a burden to her,” Eden responded much too quickly.

“I fail to see why you would be jealous of Stephanie. Her beauty does not begin to compare with yours,” Alex assured her with the same easy confidence that marked all his comments.

“I am not jealous!” Eden squared her shoulders proudly, and as she took a deep breath, another inch of the smooth swell of her bosom showed above the deep ruffle that edged her low-cut bodice. Unmindful of that tantalizing sight, she was horribly embarrassed she had thoughtlessly revealed so much to a stranger.

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