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Authors: Phoebe Conn

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BOOK: Swept Away
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The depth of her emotions was so easy to read in her expression, unlike the talkative young woman at his side whom Raven doubted possessed the capacity to feel anything deeply. As their ride continued, he was soon convinced that, for such a brief acquaintance, Eden and Alex had formed an amazing rapport. That worried Raven, for there was no point in the attractive young woman lavishing her affection on a man with no future.

Despite the cleverness of his plans, Alex found himself so captivated by Eden Sinclair’s insightful conversation he quite forgot that the purpose of the afternoon’s ride was for Raven to become enamored of Stephanie. He was dimly aware of the steady hum of Stephanie’s voice, but unlike her more considerate cousin, she did not frequently provide an opportunity for Raven to offer a comment of his own. Alex thought it odd she did not know how greatly most men enjoyed talking about themselves. Not that Raven had such a flaw, but even if he had, he would have had scant opportunity to express himself when Stephanie seldom paused, and even then only long enough to draw a breath.

“Tell me more about Jamaica,” Eden encouraged, determined not to make everyone else’s mood as gloomy as her own by dwelling on the Civil War. She could easily imagine Alex riding about the plantation as he began to describe it. He explained that he raised sugarcane, ginger, and allspice and deftly managed to convey the impression that his life was not only wonderfully satisfying but exciting as well. She gave his hand a fond squeeze the way her mother had taught her to do when she wished to encourage a man’s attentions. When Alex returned it, she blushed prettily at the effectiveness of that ploy.

Much to his own amazement, being with Eden made Alex feel younger than he had in years. He had never seen her so relaxed either. There was none of the tension about her manner now that he had noted at the Carlisles’ ball or on other occasions prior to that, for indeed she had caught his eye long before she had joined him in the library. She was simply adorable, so utterly charming he began to wish there could be more than the friendship that had developed so easily between them. That was completely impossible, of course, and the pain of that realization forced him to look away.

Alarmed by the sudden sorrow of his uncle’s expression, Raven leaned forward to touch his knee. “Are you all right?”

“What? Oh yes, I’m fine,” Alex replied. Then scolding himself for wasting even a second of the time he had to share with Eden, he continued to extol the beauties of his island home.

“Jamaica must be like paradise,” Eden mused with another appreciative smile.

“Yes it is, even without a wife to share it,” Raven interjected sharply, not realizing how his remark would be interpreted.

Stephanie was so startled by the sound of Raven’s voice she ended her monologue in midsentence, but she had not been following Eden and Alex’s conversation and had no idea what Raven meant.

Eden, however, gasped sharply, thinking she must have been too forward. She had not said anything about visiting Jamaica, though; she was positive she had not, let alone offered to share Alex’s home with him. As her glance locked with Raven’s, she felt the same icy chill of apprehension she had experienced at their first meeting. For a man raised in the warmth of a tropical paradise, he had a remarkably cold manner. It was not that his gaze was threatening, it was that he seemed to be looking right through her. To what? she wondered. Did he think she was merely flirting with his uncle and did not approve? She tried to think of some witty response to put him in his place, but when nothing suitable occurred to her, she was forced to remain silent.

Alex was too perceptive not to notice Eden’s embarrassment, and while he knew what had prompted Raven’s remark, he dared not explain it. “Raven didn’t have the benefit of a mother’s love while he was growing up and I fear the manners I managed to instill in him are rather few. You’re wrong, though, Raven. Every joy is enhanced when it’s shared.”

“And every sorrow cut in half,” Raven added flippantly. He looked away then, cringing at the pain of knowing that Alex had insisted he take a wife not for the pleasure a woman would provide but for the comfort he would need when he was alone. He turned, meaning to call to the driver to stop the carriage so he could get out and walk home, but Alex shot him so murderous a glance he thought better of it. He leaned back, resigned to spending the afternoon with a brunette who would not keep still and a beautiful blonde who was so charming he feared Alex might choose to die in her arms.

When they returned to the Lawton home, Alex let Raven and Stephanie leave the carriage first, then hurriedly apologized again to Eden for his nephew’s rudeness. “I have hopes that Raven will take a bride while we’re here. Unfortunately, he doesn’t share them. If his temper gets the better of him at times, you mustn’t think badly of him. He’s a fine man, only young and frequently thoughtless.”

Enormously relieved to learn that Raven had not been calling her a fortune hunter, or worse, Eden left the carriage with an agile dancing step. When Alex moved far more slowly, she did not question the reason, but took his arm and followed Raven and Stephanie inside the well-appointed townhouse where her Aunt Lydia invited the men to remain for tea. Delighted they would not have to part immediately, Eden decided if Raven continued to be an obnoxious bore, she would simply pretend he was not even there. She was having far too marvelous a time with Alex to allow anything, or anyone, to spoil it.

 

 

“Lady Lawton and Eden’s mother are sisters?” Raven asked soon after they had bid the young ladies goodbye, hoping his interest in Eden wasn’t too painfully obvious.

“Yes, but they are nothing alike,” Alex responded. He hesitated a moment, gathering his thoughts before continuing, “It must have been twenty years since I last saw Sarah. She was as lovely as her daughter, enormously popular, and created quite a stir when she chose to wed an American. Sinclair not only owned ships, but built them too as I recall, or at least his family did. It wasn’t as though Sarah had eloped with a ship’s captain, but she might as well have for all the gossip their wedding caused.”

“That explains why Eden is so unlike Stephanie then.”

Alex smiled, “They are like night and day, aren’t they?”

Raven nodded. “Fair and dark, charming and cloying. I can’t abide another minute of Stephanie’s company, but your interest in Eden astonishes me. I had no idea you planned to find yourself a bride on this trip.”

Alex tried not to react angrily to the sarcasm in Raven’s tone, but failed. “If you were not so lost in yourself, you would have noticed Eden has no suitors despite her beauty and charm. I’m sure there are those who recall her mother with other than fond memories, but the real problem is the uncertainty of her family’s future. She may be a lovely American heiress today, but who can say how she’ll be categorized a year from now? It’s obvious too many think the Confederate cause already lost and regard her as impoverished.”

“You are avoiding the issue,” Raven pointed out with his customary passion for the truth. “Is it merely pity that prompted you to call on Eden, or a desire for something more?” Unable to declare his own admiration for Eden, Raven held his breath as he awaited his uncle’s reply.

That impertinent question conjured up a mental image of the delectable Eden Sinclair lying nude upon his bed, and Alex hastily cleared his throat to force such an erotic vision from his mind. “I’m not dead yet, Raven, but I might as well be when it comes to pursuing a beauty like Eden. I have nothing to offer her but the innocent pleasure of an afternoon of sightseeing and polite conversation.”

Raven could see Alex was far from content with that, but what choice did he have? Knowing the man had none, Raven was filled with shame for forcing him to say so aloud. “You’re right, I’ve been very selfish. If you enjoy Eden’s company, and she is not refusing the attentions of others to see you, then what is the harm in your calling on her? Until I find someone who excites me as Eden obviously does you, then I’ll not complain about providing an escort for Stephanie so the four of us can spend our time together.”

A slow smile raised the corner of Alex’s mouth. Even if it was for completely the wrong reason, Raven had just agreed to continue seeing Stephanie Lawton, and that was too generous an offer to refuse. If nothing else, Raven would surely benefit from the practice of pleasing a cultured young woman even if it was one whose company he did not particularly enjoy. “Perhaps you will find one of Stephanie’s close friends more to your liking.”

Raven shook his head. “I doubt it, but as long as one of us is enjoying himself, our trip won’t be a total waste.” He turned away to hide his smile, but he was also looking forward to enjoying more of Eden’s company.

In the following two weeks, the foursome spent five more afternoons together. Raven also went to the effort of dancing with both Eden and Stephanie more than once at the three balls they attended while Alex had fabricated an equestrian accident which he blamed for preventing him from dancing more than a waltz or two in an evening. Whenever he did feel up to dancing, it was Eden who was in his arms.

As they arrived at still another lavish party, Raven sighed wearily. He was ready to go home to Jamaica, for while he had not admitted it to Alex, Eden Sinclair was the only woman who, interested him, and clearly she preferred his uncle to him. Whenever they danced together, she maintained a refreshing silence which provided a stark contrast to her cousin’s incessant patter. Raven considered the seriousness of her nature very appealing, but he found it impossible to confess that to her. He had to be content with merely observing her while she and Alex continued to cultivate the warmest of friendships. It was not in the least bit satisfying to do so, but when Alex’s pleasures were so few, Raven would not even consider competing against him for her affection.

 

 

By the third time she had seen Alexander Sutton, Eden knew beyond the slightest doubt that she had fallen in love with him. He was thirty-eight and she was nineteen, but women frequently married men many years their senior and she did not think the disparity in their ages too great. He was a marvelous dancing partner, even if he could only dance a time or two rather than all evening as she longed to. He was wonderfully attentive, but had not once contrived to be alone with her again. Just as they had in Richmond, she frequently saw couples disappear into the shadows on the terrace, but Alex had never lured her outside to steal a kiss.

Having had to contend with the affections of impetuous young Southern gentlemen in her early teens, Eden found Alex’s failure to demand more than a fondly held hand frustrating in the extreme. She wished she could talk to her mother about him, for she felt certain Sarah would remember Alexander Sutton had she ever met him, but that was impossible, and she could not go to her Aunt Lydia as a substitute.

No, Lydia was totally absorbed with helping Stephanie wring a marriage proposal from Raven Blade’s lips, and Eden did not feel close enough to confide in her. Besides, even if she could not remember whom to address as m’lord, Eden was clever enough to realize if she were to marry Alex, she would be the one to enjoy his fortune, while Stephanie might have to wait half a lifetime for Raven to inherit his share of it.

When the perplexed blonde found herself suddenly paired with Raven for the last measures of a lively dance in which partners were changed frequently, she quickly decided he would be the best source of information on his uncle’s feelings. His manner had remained too formal for her to consider him a friend despite the time they had spent together with Alex and Stephanie, but she had decided that was simply his way and no longer faulted him for it. Even if he lacked warmth, he was not openly hostile, and while it was a small comfort where he was concerned, it was the only one she had.

When the musicians accented the tune’s final note, Eden continued to hold Raven’s hand. “It’s gotten so warm. Would you mind strolling outside on the terrace for just a moment? I believe the musicians are taking a break.”

“Would you rather I brought you some refreshments?” Raven inquired politely, inordinately pleased that she wished to spend some additional time with him.

“I want to go outside,” Eden whispered insistently, and although Raven was startled by that demand, he graciously escorted her out onto the terrace, where numerous other couples stood looking out over the gardens or gazing up at the stars.

“I hope you won’t think me frightfully rude,” Eden began nervously, “but there is something I simply have to know and there’s no one else to whom I can turn. I want you to be completely honest with me. Will you promise to do that?”

Raven’s first thought was that somehow she had guessed how greatly he admired her, and not knowing how to respond, he simply nodded. The anguish in her expression was heartbreaking, and he could not bear to think he had caused her even a tiny twinge of pain.

While she did not find Raven’s response particularly encouraging, Eden plunged ahead. She took the precaution of making certain no one was standing close enough to overhear her questions then hurriedly asked them. “I adore your uncle, and I can’t pretend not to, but he has me terribly confused. He calls on me often but he seems to be no more than fond of me. Is it because he’s still in love with his late wife? Or because he thinks my family’s fortune doesn’t compare with his? I think I could better tolerate his reserve if I understood the cause. He doesn’t seem to care for any of the other young women, but is there some reason why he doesn’t care more for me?”

BOOK: Swept Away
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