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Authors: Shirlee Busbee

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The Tiger Lily

BOOK: The Tiger Lily
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THE
TIGER LILY

Shirlee
Busbee

 

 

Surrender

 

Ruthlessly
his lips came down on hers, the touch of his warm, hard mouth engulfing her in
a maelstrom of intoxicating, bewildering sensations. Ah, but it was sweet to
have him kiss her . . . to have that taunting mouth moving so urgently on hers,
to feel the thunderous beat of his heart against her breast. Compulsively, she
pressed her slender body closer to his, seeking more than this half-savage,
half-gentle assault upon her senses. Unknowingly, her arms crept up around his
neck, her head tilted backward as she shamelessly, innocently offered herself
to him . . .

 

 

Other
Avon Books by

 

Shirlee
Busbee

 

Deceive
Not My Heart

 

Gypsy
Lady

 

Lady
Vixen

 

While
Passion Sleeps

 

 

THE
TIGER LILY is an original publication of Avon Books. This work has never before
appeared in book form. This work is a novel. Any similarity to actual persons
or events is purely coincidental.

 

AVON
BOOKS

A
division of

The
Hearst Corporation

1790
Broadway

New
York, New York 10019

 

Copyright
© 1985 by Shirlee Busbee

Published
by arrangement with the author

Library
of Congress Catalog Card Number: 84-91200

ISBN:
0-380-89499-8

 

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 Edward J. Acton, Inc., 928 Broadway, New York, New York
10010

 

First
Avon Printing, February, 1985

 

AVON
TRADEMARK REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. AND IN OTHER COUNTRIES, MARCA REGISTRADA, HECHO
EN U.S.A.

 

Printed
in the U.S.A.

 

WFH
10 98765432

 

 

For
some ''Lilies" of my own:

 

MRS.
LILLIE HAYNES, Howard's sweet grandmother, a charming and wonderful lady.

 

LILLIE
PATTERSON, a sister-in-law, who is absolutely tops and willing, at the drop of
a hat, to feed the dogs and water the plants for me. Thanks, sweetie!

 

And
a special sort of "Lily," STELLA SULARSKI, another sister-in-law, who
has always been so good to me and is so dear to me. We miss you,
Steller-feller!

 

And,
as always, Howard.

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

FIRST
LOVE, FIRST CONFLICT

 

Natchez,
Mississippi Territory

 

Spring,
1789

 

This
bud of love, by summer's ripening

breath,

 

May
prove a beauteous flower when

next
we met.

 

William
Shakespeare

 

Romeo
and Juliet

 

 

CHAPTER
ONE

 

"Will
I be as beautiful as you, Tia Sofia, on my wedding day?" Sabrina asked
wistfully, her big amber-gold eyes fixed admiringly on her aunt.

 

Sabrina
asked the question as she stood next to a handsome satinwood dressing table in
her aunt's elegant bedchamber. Her aunt, Sofia Aguilar, was seated on a velvet-covered
stool and at the moment was critically viewing the image reflected in the
dressing table's gilt-edged mirror.

 

At
Sabrina's question, however, Sofia, looking absurdly young for a widow of
thirty about to embark on a second marriage, stopped her nervous fidgeting.
Momentarily ignoring the lovely cream-colored mantilla that covered her shining
black hair, she shot her young relative an affectionate glance. With a twinkle
in the dark Spanish eyes, she exclaimed with a smile, "Of course you will,
pigeon!" Adding teasingly, "Aren't you
my
niece?"

 

Her
niece promptly giggled. But then the small face was instantly serious as she
demanded, "But I mean
truly
."

 

Something
in Sabrina's voice made Sofia turn around to stare at her niece. And while
Sabrina waited anxiously, Sofia's gaze traveled consideringly over her.

 

It
was difficult to tell, Sofia thought slowly, precisely what someone seven years
old would look like when she was fully grown, but from the delicate planes of
Sabrina s lively features, she rather suspected that in time her niece would be
quite a beauty-though not a beauty in the usual Spanish mode. Her hair was too
shocking a color, a glorious flaming red-gold mane that defied all attempts to
tame it; even now, after it had been freshly brushed and firmly plaited, tiny,
unruly curls seemed to spring out defiantly and cluster around Sabrina's little
face. Surprisingly dark eyebrows and lashes intensified the impact of those
incredibly colored amber-gold eyes, eyes that could go dark with deep emotion
or burn an astonishingly bright gold when she was angry. A straight nose with a
slight upward tilt at the tip, an as yet too large mouth, and a delightfully
determined chin completed the features of what, Sofia was certain, would be in
ten years' time a thoroughly fascinating face. As for the rest of Sabrina, her
aunt smiled. At the moment her young niece resembled in both body and
temperament nothing so much as a week-old thoroughbred colt—mischievous,
spirited, stubborn, and possessed of a skinny body with long, unbelievably
slender legs. But in time . . .

 

Smiling
gently into Sabrina's anxious face, Sofia said softly, "Truly,
chica
!
On your wedding day you will be a lovely bride—a very lovely bride!"

 

Inordinately
pleased—for usually she cared nothing for her appearance—Sabrina threw her arms
impetuously around her aunt's neck. "Oh, Tia Sofia, I am so happy that
Madre and Padre allowed me to come to Natchez with them for your wedding! You
are the very best tia anyone could ever wish for!" Her eyes suddenly
brimming with laughter, she said dulcetly, "And you are as beautiful as I
am,
si
?"

 

Sofia
laughed, and shaking her head, she answered, "You, pigeon, are
incorrigible! And I think it is time that you changed your clothes—or do you
intend to wear that to my wedding?"

 

That
was a finely
embroidered white linen nightshift which reached to Sabrina's slender ankles.
With a smothered gasp of half-laughter, half-dismay, Sabrina disappeared out of
her aunt's bedchamber like a small, fiery whirlwind.

 

Sofia's
fond glance followed her. How fortunate, she thought with amusement, that while
her own first marriage had been childless, Elena, her only sister, had
presented her with such a delightful niece. And fortunate, too, Sofia admitted
freely, that despite the distance which separated Natchez from Nacogdoches,
where Elena lived with her only child and husband, she was able to see them all
so frequently.

 

Alejandro
del Torres, Elena's husband and Sabrina's father, was a wealthy man with varied
business interests up and down the Mississippi River, and at least once every
two years he came to New Orleans to oversee his expanding business affairs and
to discuss progress with his local man of business. It was only natural that
his family would accompany him, and it was even more natural that at some point
during their stay in New Orleans they would travel up the river to Natchez to
visit with Elena's only relative, Sofia.

 

Elena
del Torres was the elder of the two sisters, and when Jaime Aguilar y Farias,
Sofia's first husband, had died suddenly three years ago from one of the fevers
so prevalent along the Mississippi River, she had descended upon a numb and
stunned Sofia and whisked her away with much motherly clucking and concern to
Nacogdoches, in the eastern part of Spanish Texas. The months spent at the
lovely Rancho del Torres had been a healing time for Sofia, and gradually the
heartache of her husband's untimely death had eased.

 

Sofia
gave herself a shake—now was not the time to dwell upon the past! In just a few
hours she would be marrying Hugh Dangermond, and this was no time to be
remembering how sad she had been at the death of her first husband. Today was a
new beginning, and it would be a happy day.

 

And
yet, she wondered. The seven years she and Jamie had had together had been
tranquil, contented years, while Hugh's first marriage had been anything but
tranquil! For a moment, Sofia's eyes flashed angrily. How could Gillian, Hugh's
dead wife, have been so deliberately scandalous—so scandalous with her lovers
and extravagant expenses that all of Natchez had been atwitter with it? Even
more disgraceful, Sofia thought, had been Gillian's complete indifference to
her eldest son, Brett. It had long been the talk of Natchez that she clearly
wanted nothing to do with Brett and lavished all the love of which she was
capable on the second child, Martin. Martin, who so closely resembled her with
his sapphire blue eyes and golden curly hair, while Brett was so obviously a
Dangermond. . . .

 

Impatient
with herself for again letting her thoughts stray, Sofia rose gracefully from
the dressing stool and walked around the handsome room, trying to force herself
to think of the happiness she and Hugh would share—and the love and affection
she was more than willing to bestow upon his two sons ... if they would let
her.

 

She
supposed that Hugh's sons were the real reason for her doubts. Hugh loved her.
She was thankful that despite his disastrous marriage and the truly magnificent
scandal Gillian's final escapade had caused, he had not become a misogynist,
whereas Brett ...

 

Sofia
sighed. Brett had been ten years old seven years ago when his mother had run
away with a traveling preacher, taking the then eight-year-old Martin with her.
That Gillian had chosen a poor man upon whom to bestow her fickle affection was
in itself surprising, but a man of the cloth! Natchez had been stunned! But
only a year later when Hugh had finally found her in New Orleans, she had been
openly living with a gambler well-known in the Natchez area. A gambler who had
forced a duel upon Hugh, a duel that had left him nearly dead and permanently
crippled.

 

Sofia
was unhappily aware that Brett had been the one to suffer most. Clearly
rejected by his mother, he had clung pathetically to his father, and Hugh's
near-death had been the final agonizing blow. In a sense, Sofia thought
miserably, that duel had also crippled Brett—it was very obvious that he had
decided that women were not to be trusted, that they only maimed and betrayed.
Which is going to make it very hard for me, Sofia mused regretfully, thinking
of the aloof manner in which her seventeen-year-old stepson-to-be treated her.

 

Brett
didn't trust her,
that
she knew. And it wasn't just her, it was
all
women, she reminded herself with a frown. Then suddenly her face lightened. All
females that is, except Sabrina! Sabrina was clearly enchanted with the idea of
having a tall, handsome stepcousin, and she had adoringly followed Brett about
during the past two weeks since her arrival from Nacogdoches.

 

That
Brett allowed it said much for the way Sabrina could charm
anyone
, her
aunt thought with a smile. Perhaps little Sabrina would be the one to teach him
that women really weren't such terrible creatures.

 

As
if her thoughts had conjured them up, she happened to glance out of one of the
long windows that overlooked an expanse of green lawn and spotted Sabrina, now
suitably attired in a gown of jonquil muslin, standing next to Brett. The two
were underneath one of the many majestic oaks that dotted the landscape, and
from the unusually gentle curve of Brett's finely shaped mouth, it was apparent
Sabrina was weaving her innocent magic around him.

 

He
is such a handsome youth, Sofia thought fondly, her gaze skimming the chiseled
features that were just now beginning to lose the perfect beauty of childhood.
His hair was dark, like Hugh's, and like Hugh's, his eyebrows were strongly
defined. His dark green eyes, the color of jade, were deep-set, and their
expression was frequently hidden by the sweep of long, thick, curling lashes,
lashes, Sofia thought with a smile, she would have given a fortune to possess.
Brett was tall; almost eighteen, he stood two inches above six feet. Although
his shoulders and chest had not yet caught up with his height, it was obvious
he would be a powerfully built man. If only, Sofia mused with exasperation, he
would drop that icy barrier he keeps around him!

 

As
she watched the two below her, Brett openly smiling now and gently tweaking one
of Sabrina's neat braids, a third person joined them, and Sofia's sweet mouth
twisted with dislike. Martin.

 

She
had tried determinedly to like fifteen-year-old Martin, but it seemed
impossible. Martin was spoiled, selfish, and a born troublemaker. The boy took
enormous pleasure in reminding Brett that their mother had loved
him
enough to take him with her, and for that alone Sofia would have derived much
joy from using a horsewhip on him! Particularly when she remembered the way
Brett's face would close up and the way Martin's blue eyes would gleam with
malice.

 

To
be fair, and Sofia always tried to be, she supposed it was difficult for Martin
to adjust to living with his father and brother after the years he had spent
with his mother. And it was true, Sofia had told herself repeatedly during the
past several months, that he was probably still grieving from his mother's
unexpected death last year in a carriage accident in New York, where they had
been living at the time. Gillian's death had meant Martin's return to Natchez
and a family he hadn't seen in six years. It was bound to be difficult for him,
but did he have to take such delight in being so very obnoxious? He was sullen
and insolently disobedient to Hugh while committing acts of petty malice
against Brett.

 

The
sight of Elena in the doorway disrupted Sofia's unpleasant thoughts. Elena was
very like Sofia, a little plumper, it was true, but she possessed the same
wide, dark eyes and black hair, and although there was now a strand or two of
silver mixed in Elena's dark hair, she had at forty the liveliness of a woman
half her age. Elegantly dressed in a gown of soft green silk with a frivolous
flounce that nearly swept the floor, a warm twinkle in the laughing dark eyes,
she asked excitedly, "Are you ready? I know you dismissed your maid ages
ago, and Sabrina has been filling my ears with how beautiful you look, so that
I could not stay away any longer."

 

Sofia
sent her an affectionate smile, and then pirouetting gracefully, the full
skirts of her pale yellow, almost cream-colored, silk gown billowing out
lightly from her slender, fine-boned body, she demanded, "Well? What do
you think?"

 

Elena
gave a gasp of pleasure. "Oh, Sofia, how lovely you look!" And taking
in the delicate lace mantilla on her sister's head, she added warmly, "And
I am so happy that you are wearing the mantilla that I wore at my
wedding."

 

"Now
if it will only insure that Hugh find I are as happy as you and
Alejandro!" Sofia said teasingly.

 

Elena
gave her a saucy wink and murmured, "It will, my dear, it will!"
Then, glancing at the ormolu clock on the dressing table, she added, "It
is almost time for us to leave for the church. . . . Are you excited or
nervous?"

 

Sofia
smiled ruefully. "Perhaps a little of both and . . . even a bit
apprehensive."

 

"Oh,
but you shouldn't be,
chica!"
Elena protested gaily. "Such a
handsome man is your Hugh! And Brett is all that a stepmother could ask for, so
polite and well-mannered."

 

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