Authors: Harper Alibeck
The Water’s Kiss
by Harper Alibeck
Copyright © 2012 by Harper Alibeck
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
SUDDEN RICHES TURN A MERE LADY INTO A POTENTIAL QUEEN
For Lady Claire Hanscombe, her father’s sudden fortune from a risky investment in a South American silver mine means that marrying childhood love Evan Michaelson, a commoner, is now out of the question. Lord Christian Hanscombe, Earl of Landsdown, married off her twin sister, Sara, to a prince of a minor country and he plans to place Claire and her younger sister, Julia, in line for thrones as well.
Fearing her pending marriage to a prince from a strange land, Claire seeks refuge in a magical waterfall on the Hanscombe estate that draws women to it for special, sensual properties, qualities that no proper lady should know of, much less harness.
YET THAT WEALTH ENDS A MUCH-WANTED BETROTHAL
Evan Michaelson had known since his early teens that he would marry Claire; his wealthy solicitor father had planned the match quite carefully, lining up the poor noble with his family’s fortune to gain a title for his son. When the elder Michaelson suggested that Lord Landsdown consider a longshot investment in the Spanish colonies, he never imagined he would seal his own family’s doom and end the dream of marrying into nobility.
Evan, unable to sleep as he fitfully worries about losing his love, encounters her at the waterfall, finding her in a most compromising position – and mutual frustration yields to mutual desire. As Claire prepares to be betrothed to a prince far away, Evan schemes to find a way out of the impossible mess that keeps them apart.
A BOLD MOVE MAY RISK IT ALL – OR SECURE THEIR LOVE
Time is not on their side, but perhaps – just perhaps – Evan can convince Claire to throw all convention aside and take control of their destiny by making an irrevocable decision that would shock the
if known. One enormous risk taken by Claire’s father has nearly ruined their love; if Evan’s own risk pays off, though, it means a lifetime together...
The Water’s Kiss
is a Regency romance novella of 18,000 words, part of the Waterfall series.
The Water’s Kiss
Lady Claire Hanscombe hated cocks, but she was most tired of those that woke her with their demands for attention – and this morning the one she glared at through one eye seemed larger than usual, with a pressing need that made her sigh.
Cracking open her other, bleary eye, she made note of the tiniest ray of sunlight that appeared to have triggered the
that pierced her ears.
She had just turned twenty and was very, very tired of ever so many things. Tired of being proper. Tired of listening to her father suggest ideal royal matches for her. Tired of the endless whispers behind delicate fans at soirees. But most of all, she was tired from all the balls she was now forced to attend; what had once been a mad, enjoyable blur of fresh silks and men in formal attire, new refreshments and a mix of accents and pleasant conversation had quickly become a chore, a duty to suffer through as so many eligible men, most of them rakish, greedy cads, fought for her hand in a dance or, as they both knew, her dowry and her maidenhead.
As one of the daughters of Christian Hanscombe, the Earl of Landsdown, she was already a catch. That her father had also become rich three years ago from a highly speculative investment in the Spanish colonies made her and her other unattached sister, Julia,
young women to marry this season. Her father had taken an enormous risk with a highly-speculative investment in a silver mine. By the skin of his teeth, the shipment of precious metal had made it out of South America before revolution rippled through the land, causing problems for investors. Without her father’s silver windfall, a financial risk his wife, Lady Felicia Hanscombe, had given him great tongue lashings over – but that now she claimed to have supported – she and Julia, a year younger, would have just been middling in the marriage field.
Instead, she was at the top of the future brides of the
And she hated every minute of it. Thank goodness the season had ended; her social calendar could not tolerate one more obligation, and her feet were pinched and pained from dancing with men who were as graceful as oxen on a dance floor.
It was a bright morning, that moment when the roosters pronounced their manlihood, the birds stretched their beaks wide with a tweeting yawn, and when Claire was most able to escape to her new activity. She needed to go for a long walk on the family estate to try desperately to forget all about Evan Michaelson, the solicitor’s son she had been told, since she was fifteen, she would likely wed. He was quite pleasing to the eye, with thick, dark hair and paradoxically bright, keen blue eyes. “Black Irish” Papa had sniffed, but Mama had hushed him.
He was considerably healthier and far more distinguished in body than any other known suitor, standing a head above every other man, including Papa. Once, last summer, she had seen him shirtless as he boxed an old friend from Eton at a summer gathering at his parents’ estate. The party had wound down to the evening, more whisky than lemonade in the men’s (and, if truth be told, women’s) bodies and brains, driving out all common sense. Someone had suggested a boxing match, and a crowd had formed.
Claire had caught a ringside seat, only to be pushed back two or three layers behind the bodies, the rough shoves an affront, though more an ego bruise than anything else. Evan had stripped off his shirt and she had inhaled sharply. This was a chest like a Greek God’s, like the marble statues she had seen in Sir Percival Tetley’s private art collection. Her eyes had soaked in everything, amazed by Evan’s tan skin, the small scars that dotted him everywhere but seemed to have largely spared his face when the pox had stuck him as a child. Mama always said that having the pox as a child nearly killed the parents, but if the child survived at least the scars were less. Evan’s face was taut with muscle and focus, though an easy, casual friendliness stretched across his face when he smiled, and his hair fell across his forehead in a handsome manner.
During the boxing match she had measured him with her eyes, not caring about his competency in the fight but instead reveling in the opportunity to watch a man’s body in action. When he twisted, muscles stretched from his waist into his ribs. As he jutted a sharp blow his shoulders rippled with power and release. He huffed with exertion, the deep breaths expanding his rib cage and abdomen, the little clusters of small, tight mounds of muscle like little mice under the skin. When he stretched his arms up he looked like a viper from Sir Percival’s nature collection of curiosities, and then her eyes trailed down to the increasingly furry trail of hair that seemed to continue under his waistband. Without suspenders his pants hung quite low, revealing underclothes that were wrinkled with wear and then a bulge that had –
But she would not marry him. No matter how pleasing his body was, nor how polite he was, nor what a good dancer he was, she would not, could not, marry him.
Her sister, Sara, had told her once that Evan was a rake. A true cad who slept with women and who drank himself into a stupor. “He had two women at once, I have been told!” Sara had exclaimed, her blonde hair fringing a flushed face, those expressive green eyes more fascinated than horrified. Claire and Sara were twins, and Sara had whispered more to her that day, telling her everything she had heard about Evan’s proclivities.
That had been last year, before Sara had been married off to a prince in a small country in Europe. She would, long live the king, become Queen one day.
And so, you see, Claire could not marry Evan, for Papa had determined that if he could marry one daughter off to a royal prince, then he could, of course, marry off her identical twin to another. “It’s a shame about Celia,” he could be found muttering, for the eldest of his daughters had been married off before he was rich. “I had no choice but to give her to the elder Duke of Leyden.”
“She hates him, Papa,” Claire sighed. Her freshness normally would have elicited a frown from her father, but he merely sighed. Everyone knew Celia detested her husband, who was four and thirty years her senior.
“He has a sound income, and makes a good match for her.” But he gives her no heirs, thought Claire. For her sister had told her the bedroom ways the Duke preferred, acts that produce no children but do, indeed, accomplish one thing: they cause pain for the wife.
Claire had no desire to be a Queen, not in England and not far away. For that matter, when she thought of Celia’s life now, she was not quite certain she wished to be married at all!
What she desired today, though, what had plagued her all night, and what motivated her to get up so early was something Sara had whispered to her, in an entirely different conversation, but one no less salacious. As she slipped on her yellow cotton frock and left the buttons she could not reach undone, then added a warm, blue pelisse, she paused.
Should she go? Would it be too cold? What if someone saw her? She caught her worried face in the hand mirror on her side table. That face! She wore it too often, the look of indecision and of restraint, of wanting something desperately but stopping oneself for no good reason other than propriety.
Propriety be damned. She quietly slipped out of the house, the rooster’s boasting of his manhood the backdrop for her secret journey.
Evan Michaelson had spent the past night tortured by Claire Hanscombe. That untouchable woman. She invaded his dreams, the one place where he might have some refuge from this damned season. Father pushed and pushed, goaded and tried, insisting that he marry Claire. The Hanscombes were not just titled, “They are now bloody rich, and my family needs to be part of theirs!” Father had thundered. “You were all but betrothed to Claire all these years, and now Hanscombe reneges!”
Evan understood quite well for this had been the seventeenth such conversation (and, indeed, he was keeping track), but he could not force Claire’s father to like him, much less to let her marry him.
Christian Hanscombe had married Claire’s twin off to a minor prince in some little country in Europe that would likely be conquered and devoured soon by a larger power. If Spain could not, even with British help, keep France from removing King Ferdinand and imposing Napoleon’s brother Joseph on the throne, then what hope did the smaller countries have? But the success with Sara had been too tantalizing for the earl; he now scouted all of Europe for a similar match for Claire. Rumors swirled that a prince in Kievan Rus might be wanting a bride soon. Claire in that backwater land? Evan could not imagine it. She was too refined, too courtly for such a rough and vulgar place.
Who was he to judge? He had no standing. His main advantage all those years, when Hanscombe had made him think he could marry her, had been his family money. Father was a shrewd solicitor, investing for nobles in ways that earned everyone more. It was he who had suggested that the earl contact his wife’s sister’s husband, the now-Viceroy of New Granada, to ask about silver mine investments. Claire’s mother’s sister, Lady Katherine Bonham, had been the talk of the
a generation past when she had married the Spanish officer and moved to the jungle. Evan knew little about that side of Claire’s family, but his father had helped the earl with his new money by suggesting he maximize the connection in South America.