Winter Bride (9780345546197)

BOOK: Winter Bride (9780345546197)

Winter Bride
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

2013 Loveswept eBook Edition

Copyright © 1992 by Iris Johansen.

Excerpt from
Accidental Cowgirl
by Maggie McGinnis copyright © 2013 by Maggie McGinnis

Excerpt from
After the Kiss
by Lauren Layne copyright © 2013 by Lauren LeDonne

Excerpt from
The Notorious Lady Anne
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54619-7

Cover image: © Ocean/Corbis

Originally published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House Company, New York, in 1992.



Jed Corbin possessed a face that riveted attention and a deep voice he played like a musical instrument, projecting notes of humor, sternness, and crisp decisiveness with faultless symmetry. He bore no resemblance to Arnold at all, Ysabel realized with profound relief.

“It’s time you went to bed now.” The command came from outside the library where Ysabel sat. “I’ve made you a cup of hot chocolate and set it on your nightstand in your room. What are you—” Betty Starnes stopped in the doorway, her gaze fastened with shock on the face of the man on the big-screen TV. “Jed,” she muttered.

Ysabel’s finger went instinctively to the off switch of the remote control before she realized it was no longer necessary to hide her interest in Jed Corbin. “You were here before he left, weren’t you? Did he look like this when you knew him?” Ysabel leaned forward, absorbed with catching the expressions
flickering across the journalist’s mobile face.

“No, he was only twenty-two and his hair was black, not silver … and his expression is harder now.” Betty tore her gaze from the television to stare accusingly at Ysabel. “You shouldn’t be ogling that imp of Satan. You know Mr. Arnold wouldn’t like it.”

“He’s broadcasting from Paris tonight. He seems quite competent.” She added casually, “I just ran across the program.” Was she afraid to tell Betty the truth? she wondered. It was none of the housekeeper’s business that Ysabel had purposely arranged to watch Jed Corbin tonight, but the habits ingrained over the years were hard to break.

She tried to block the waves of disapproval the woman was projecting as she hit the mute button on the remote control. That was better. Jed Corbin’s deep mesmerizing voice was having a disturbing effect and interfering with her concentration. A perfectly natural reaction, she thought quickly. She had never been permitted to watch him on television, but from what she had read in the papers he had the same effect on millions of other viewers.

Jed Corbin was the foremost news anchorman in the United States and though he had built his reputation on a combination of sound journalism and breathtaking fearlessness, his magnetic physical appeal must have been a valuable asset to him. Twenty-two, Betty had said. That meant he was only thirty-six now, and his close-cropped silver hair was definitely premature. It was difficult to
imagine him with dark hair or with any hint of softness clinging to him. His tan face was lined by experience, and his light blue eyes gazed out at her with weary cynicism. Dressed in a cream-colored cable-knit sweater and tweed sport coat, he was as different from the elegant, thoughtful anchorman Ysabel regularly watched as a tiger was from a pussy cat.

“Competent? The only thing Jed Corbin’s competent at is causing trouble.” Betty marched over to the television, her tall, powerful body quivering with indignation. She turned off the set. “I can’t believe you did this. You were told that man’s program was never to be watched in this house. Here, poor Mr. Arnold has been in his grave only two days and already you’re flaunting his orders.”

“Betty, I’d like to see—” Ysabel broke off as she saw the woman’s determined expression. The housekeeper would have to learn the status quo had changed, but Ysabel was too weary to fight her at the moment. The last six months of Arnold’s life had drained her strength and stamina, and she must save herself for the important battles. “Very well.” She obediently rose to her feet and started toward the door. “By the way, I phoned Lyle Townsend late this afternoon, but his secretary said he’d have to return my call. Make sure he’s put through to me even if I’m already asleep.”

“Why would you call him?”

The question was spoken with Betty’s usual blunt curiosity, but Ysabel ignored her rudeness. “He’s Arnold’s lawyer. I thought I’d ask him to come to the castle tomorrow to have a discussion concerning the will.”

“You know what’s in the will. He read it to you in this very room right after the funeral.”

Ysabel carefully restrained the flicker of annoyance she felt. She had learned to control her anger, suppress her true nature, and it was not time to release either. “I’d still like to go over a few of the clauses with him.” She wished Betty would just accept her words without questioning. Lies did not come easily to her. Heaven knows, her life in this house would have been a good deed easier if they had.

“You shouldn’t trouble your head about such business. Mr. Townsend will take care of everything for you just as he did for Mr. Arnold.”

Ysabel forced a smile. “But it’s my duty to at least have a superficial idea of Arnold’s holdings.”

“Maybe,” Betty acceded grudgingly. “Okay, I’ll put through the call.”

“Thank you.” Ysabel kept the sarcasm from her tone. She moved toward the stone steps leading to the second floor of the castle. “Good night, Betty.”

“You remember to drink your hot chocolate. You need it to help you sleep.”

Ysabel knew Betty didn’t care a whit about whether she slept well or not. The chocolate was just another way of enforcing her will on Ysabel. Arnold had taught his housekeeper well the ways of tyranny. “Yes, of course.”

As she climbed the steps she noticed how softly and fluidly the skirt of her ivory-colored velvet robe flowed over the cold gray stone. How she had grown to hate these lounging robes Arnold had insisted she wear these past seven years. The gowns had become a symbol of her bondage as
much as Betty’s arrogant, bullying presence. But her imprisonment was nearly over. Soon she would be able to fully concentrate on the purpose that had obsessed her all these years, and both the symbols and chains would go up in smoke.

And Jed Corbin could well be the flame that would burn through the links.

“Now, mind you go right to bed,” Betty called after her.

Ysabel smiled serenely but didn’t look at her as she lifted her skirts with the quaint, graceful gesture Arnold had taught her, and proceeded up the stairs. “Don’t I always do what you tell me?”

“A Mr. Townsend to see you, Monsieur Corbin,” the concierge announced as soon as Jed picked up the phone. “Shall I send him up?”

“No problem. Townsend called me from the airport. I’m expecting him.” Jed hung up and immediately the phone rang again.

Ronnie’s voice practically burst over the line. “Jed, I just saw you on television. What the hell do you think you’re doing? You told me you were going on vacation too.”

“Calm down, Ronnie. That’s why I’m doing the series in Paris. It’s almost a vacation.”

“The devil it is. You send me to Puerto Rico and then go off on a job. I’m sick to death of all this sunshine and sand and—”

“Only you would complain about lying on a tropical beach for two months.”

“Beaches are boring.”

“Everything is boring to you but your camera.
You needed this vacation. The doctor said you hadn’t let yourself recuperate fully after you got out of the hospital in Kuwait.”

“Bull. I’ll be watching you. You do another broadcast and you’ll find me knocking on your door.” Ronnie hung up.

That’s all he needed, Jed thought ruefully. He should have known Ronnie would start chomping at the bit the minute it became clear Jed hadn’t taken a break as he had said he was going to do.

He replaced the receiver and went back to his packing.

A knock sounded on the door. Townsend.

Jed glanced through the peephole to be sure. He hadn’t seen the man for over fourteen years but had no trouble recognizing him. The lawyer was a little more plump, his graying hair receding, but he could swear the dark blue Brooks Brothers suit was the same one he had worn when he had arranged bail for Jed after that barroom brawl in Tacoma.

He swung open the door. “Come in, Townsend. But you’ll have to be brief.” He strode across the room and closed the suitcase. “You’ve caught me at a bad time. I’ve ordered a taxi to pick me up in fifteen minutes.”

“So that inquisitive young person downstairs informed me.” Townsend seemed faintly disgruntled. “She did everything but take my fingerprints before allowing me to come up and see you.”

“Good. I’m glad she followed through with my orders. I like my privacy.” He fastened the snaps on the suitcase. “Talk fast, Townsend.”

Townsend came into the room and closed the door. “I’ve flown all the way from Seattle to see you. I would think you could allow me a few moments of your precious time.”

“I am allowing you a few moments.” Jed grinned at him over his shoulder as he unplugged his laptop computer on the desk. “A very few moments. I’m sure anything my father has to communicate through you can be said in verbal shorthand.”

“Your father is dead.”

Jed halted in midmotion. He had known this news would come sometime, but he hadn’t expected the shock and rush of undefinable emotions flooding through him. “When?”

“A week ago. He suffered a heart attack over two years ago and was bedridden until his demise last week. We would have contacted you earlier, but it was his wish we not advise you of his illness.”

“I see.” He snapped the lid of his laptop shut. “Is that all you wanted to tell me?”

“Not quite. It’s my duty to inform you your father left none of his considerable fortune to you.”

“I never expected he would. My father hated my guts from the time I was old enough to see him for what he was.” Jed placed the laptop in its case and set it beside the suitcase on the bed. “Arnold Corbin had an aversion for truth in any form.”

“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”

“It’s no more than I’ve said to his face.” Jed shrugged on his tweed sport jacket. “Which is more honesty than you gave him.”

“Our firm was always most conscientious regarding the management of your father’s affairs.”

“And you detested him.”

“I didn’t say …” Townsend met Jed’s gaze and slowly nodded. “I didn’t realize you knew of my dislike. Arnold Corbin was not a pleasant individual.”

Jed experienced surprise and then a flicker of grudging respect. The man had more integrity than he remembered. Hell, the wild kid he’d been back then probably wouldn’t have been able to make an unbiased judgment of any of his father’s minions. He’d been too full of hurt and resentment and distrust. “He was a selfish bastard who didn’t care who he hurt as long as he got what he wanted,” Jed said bluntly. “You know it and I know it.”

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