Married By Morning (sale el 25 de Mayo)
Leo, Lord Ramsay, hace el nada bienvenido descubrimiento de que él y los otros Hathaway tal vez pierdan su amada Ramsay House . . .a menos que se case inmediatamente y tenga un hijo en un año...
"Leo," Amelia said as Leo entered the breakfast room, "you have to get married."
Leo gave her a warning glance. His sister knew better than to start a conversation with him so early. He preferred to ease his way into the day, whereas Amelia liked to fling herself at it full-tilt. Moreover, he'd slept badly the night before, plagued by erotic dreams involving Catherine Marks.
"You know I'll never marry," he said.
Marks' voice came from the corner. She was perched on a small chair, a sunbeam glancing off her fair hair and causing dust motes to glitter around her. "Just as well, since no rational woman would have you."
Leo took up the challenge without hesitation. "A rational woman . . ." he mused aloud. "I don't believe I've ever met one of those."
"How would you know if you did?" she asked. "You wouldn't be interested in her character. You would be far too busy examining her . . . her . . ."
"Her what?" he prompted.
"Her dress measurements," she finally said, and he laughed at her prudishness.
"Is it really so impossible for you to name ordinary body parts, Marks? Breasts, hips, legs--why is it indecent to talk about the human anatomy in a straightforward manner?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Because it leads to improper thoughts."
Leo smirked at her. "Mine already are."
"Well, mine aren't," she said. "And I would prefer them to remain that way."
His brows lifted. "You don't have improper thoughts?"
"But when you do, what are they?"
She gave him an indignant glance.
"Have I ever been involved in your improper thoughts?" Leo persisted, causing her face to flame.
"I told you I didn't have any," she protested.
"No, you said 'hardly ever.' Which means one or two are rattling around in there."
Amelia broke in. "Leo, stop tormenting Miss Marks."
Leo barely heard her, his attention fixed on Catherine. "I wouldn't think badly of you at all if you did," he said. "In fact, I'd like you much better for it."
"No doubt you would," Catherine shot back. "You probably prefer women with no virtues at all."
"Virtue in a woman is like pepper in the soup. A little makes for a nice seasoning. But overdo it, and no one wants very much of you."
Clamping her mouth shut, Catherine pointedly looked away from him, putting an end to the rapid-paced argument.
In the silence, Leo became aware that the entire family was staring at him with collective bemusement.
"Have I done something?" he demanded. "What's going on? And what the devil are you all reading?"
Amelia, Cam and Merripen had spread papers over the table, while Win and Beatrix appeared to be looking up words in a massive legal tome.
"A letter was just delivered from our London solicitor, Mr. Gadwick," Merripen said. "It seems there are legal issues that weren't made clear when you inherited the estate."
"No surprise there," Leo said. He went to the sideboard, where breakfast had been laid out. "The estate and title were tossed in my direction like used fish wrappings. Along with the Ramsay curse."
"There is no Ramsay curse," Amelia said.
"Oh?" Leo smiled darkly. "Then why did the last half-dozen Lord Ramsays die in quick succession?"
"Pure coincidence," she replied. "Obviously that particular branch of the family was clumsy and inbred. It's a common difficulty for bluebloods."
"Well, we certainly don't have that problem." Leo returned his attention to Merripen. "Tell me about our legal issues. And use small words. I don't like to think at this hour of the morning. It hurts."
Looking none too happy, Merripen sat at the table. "This house," he said, "and the parcel of land it stands on—about fourteen acres in total—were not part of the original Ramsay estate. It was added later. In legal terms, it's a copyhold portion, which is a separate property within the main estate. And unlike the rest of the estate, the copyhold can be mortgaged, bought or sold at the will of the lord."
"Good," Leo said. "Since I'm the lord, and I don't want to mortgage or sell anything, it's all fine, isn't it?"
"No?" Leo scowled. "According to the rules of entailment, the lord always retains his land and manor home. It's non-partible. And nothing can change that."
"That's right," Merripen said. "You are entitled to the ancient manor home. The one on the northwest corner of the estate where two streams meet."
Leo set down his half-filled plate and stared at him blankly. "But that's a pile of rubble covered with scrub. It was built at the time of Edward the Confessor, for God's sake."
"Yes," Merripen said in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's your true home."
Becoming more and more irritated, Leo said, "I don't want that bloody wreckage, I want this house. Why is there a problem with that?"
"May I tell him?" Beatrix asked eagerly. "I've looked up all the legal words, and I know it better than anyone." She sat up with her pet ferret Dodger draped around her shoulders. "You see, Leo, the original manor home was left to ruin a few centuries ago. And one of the ancient Lord Ramsays acquired this fourteen-acre parcel and built a new home on it. Ever since then, Ramsay House has been handed down to each new viscount by special custom in the manor. But the last Lord Ramsay--the one just before you--found a way to leave all partible property, including the copyhold, to his widow and daughter. It's called an award of enfranchisement, and it's theirs for life. So Ramsay house and the fourteen acre parcel it stands upon have been left to the widow, Countess Ramsay, and her daughter Vanessa Darvin."
Leo shook his head incredulously. "Why haven't we learned of this before?"
Amelia answered in a glum tone. "It seems that the widow had no previous interest in the house, because it was a shambles. But now that it's been restored so beautifully, she has informed our solicitor that she intends to move in and take possession."
Leo was filled with outrage. "I'll be damned if I'll let anyone take Ramsay House from the Hathaways. If necessary, I'll bring this to chancery at Westminster."
Merripen pinched the corners of his eyes wearily. "Chancery won't take it."
"How do you know?"
"Our solicitor has talked to the copyhold specialist at his firm. Unfortunately there was never an entail placed on Ramsay House, only on the original manor home."
"What about purchasing the copyhold from the widow?"
"She has already stated that no amount of money would induce her to part from it."
"Women's minds are frequently changed," Leo said. "We'll make her an offer."
"Very well. But if she refuses to negotiate, there's only one way for us to keep this house."
"I can't wait to hear this," Leo said.
"The last Lord Ramsay made a provision that you would retain the copyhold, including the house, if you married and produced legitimate male issue within five years of ennoblement."
"Why five years?"
Win answered gently. "Because in the last three decades, no Ramsay has managed to live longer than five years after receiving the title. Nor have any of them sired a legitimate son."
"But the good news, Leo," Beatrix said brightly, "is that it's been four years since you became Lord Ramsay. If you can stay alive for just one more year, the family curse will be broken."
"And furthermore," Amelia added, "you have to marry and sire a son as soon as possible."
Leo stared at them all blankly in the expectant silence. A disbelieving laugh escaped him. "You're all mad if you think I'm going to be forced into a loveless marriage just so the family can continue living at Ramsay House."
Coming forward with a placating smile, Win handed him a piece of paper. "Of course we would never want to force you into a loveless marriage, dear. But we have put together a list of prospective brides, all of them lovely girls. Won't you take a glance and see if any of them appeals to you?"
Deciding to humor her, Leo looked down at the list. "Marietta Newbury?"
"Yes," Amelia said. "What's wrong with her?"
"I don't like her teeth."
"What about Isabella Charrington?"
"I don't like her mother."
"Lady Blossom Tremaine?"
"I don't like her name."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Leo, that's not her fault."
"I don't care. I can't have a wife named Blossom. Every night I would feel as if I were calling in one of the cows." Leo lifted his gaze heavenward. "I might as well marry the first woman off the street. Why, I'd be better off with Marks."
Everyone was silent.
Still tucked in the corner of the room, Catherine Marks looked up slowly as she realized that she was the focus of the Hathaways' collective gaze. Her eyes turned huge behind the spectacles, and a tide of pink rushed over her face. "That is not amusing," she said sharply.
"It's the perfect solution," Leo said, taking perverse satisfaction in annoying her. "We argue all the time. We can't stand each other. It's like we're already married."
Catherine sprang to her feet, staring at him in outrage. "I would neverconsent to marry you."
"Good, because I wasn't asking. I was only making a point."
"Do not use me to make a point!" She fled the room, while Leo stared after her.
Love in the afternoon (Sale el 29 de Junio)
Captain Christopher Phelan ha estado intercambiando correspondencia con la bella y rubia Prudence Mercer mientras él estaba lejos en la Crimean War. Lo que él no sabe, de cualquier forma es que la mujer que le escribia era la mejor amiga de Prudence, Beatrix Hathaway. Hasta su regreso a acasa en Hampshire, se aclara que las experiencia en la guerra han cambiado a Christopher. En esta escena, Beatrix y Christopher pelean sobre un perro que el ha traido consigo, una mascota del regimiento llamada Albert.
When Christopher Phelan's tall form entered the front receiving room, Beatrix was instantly covered with a nervous, full-bodied flush.
"Miss Hathaway," Christopher said, bowing with meticulous politeness.
The dark smudges of sleeplessness beneath his eyes made him even more appealing, if that was possible, lending a human texture to the hard contours of his face.
Beatrix managed to pull up a casual smile. "Good morning, Captain Phelan."
"Oh, is it?" She glanced over his shoulder at the mantel clock. Half-past twelve. "Good afternoon, then."
One of his brows lifted. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"The reverse, I hope. I would like to keep Albert with me at Ramsay House while you are away to London."
His eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"I want very much to help him adjust to his new life. Albert would receive the best of care, and I would work with him, train him . . ." Her voice faded as she saw his forbidding expression. It had not occurred to her that he might refuse her offer.
"Thank you, Miss Hathaway. But I think it in his best interests to remain here with my servants."
"You . . . you doubt I could help him?" Beatrix managed to ask.
"The dog is excitable. He has need of absolute peace and quiet. I mean no offense in saying that the atmosphere at Ramsay House is too tumultuous for him."
Her brows rushed downward. "I beg your pardon, Captain, but you are entirely wrong. That is the precisely the kind of environment Albert needs. You see, from a dog's perspective—"
"I don't need your advice."
"Yes, you do," Beatrix said impulsively. "How can you be so certain that you're right? You could at least spare a moment to listen—I daresay I know more about dogs than you."
Christopher skewered her with the hard stare of a man who was not accustomed to having his decisions questioned. "No doubt you do. But I know more about this one."
"It's time for you to leave, Miss Hathaway."
Beatrix was filled with a surge of bitter disappointment mingled with outrage. "What do you think your servants will do with him in your absence?" she demanded, and rushed on before he could reply. "They'll keep him shut away in a shed, or locked in a room, because they're frightened of him, and that will make Albert even more of a danger. He's angry and anxious and lonely. He doesn't know what's expected of him. He needs constant attention and care, and I'm the only person who has the time and the willingness to provide those things."
"That dog has been my companion for two years," Christopher snapped. "The last thing I would subject him to is that bedlam of a household. He doesn't need chaos. He doesn't need noise and confusion—"
He was interrupted by a explosion of wild barking, accompanied by an earsplitting metallic crash. Albert had come racing through the entrance hall and had crossed paths with a housemaid bearing a tray of polished silver flatware.
Beatrix caught a glimpse of forks and spoons scattering to the doorway, just before she was thrown bodily to the receiving room floor. The impact robbed her of breath.
Stunned, she found herself pinned to the carpet and covered by a heavy masculine weight.
Dazedly she tried to take in the situation. Christopher had jumped on her. His arms were around her head . . . he had instinctively moved to shelter her with his own body. They lay together in a confusion of limbs and disheveled garments and panting breaths.
Lifting his head, Christopher cast a wary glance at their surroundings. For a moment, the blank ferocity of his face frightened Beatrix. This, she realized, was how he had looked in battle. This was what his enemies had seen as he had cut them down.
Albert rushed toward them, baying furiously.
"No," Beatrix said in a low tone, extending her arm to point at him. "Down."
The dog's barking flattened into a growl, and he slowly lowered to the floor. His gaze didn't move from his master.
Beatrix turned her attention back to Christopher. He was gasping and swallowing, struggling to regain his wits. "Christopher," she said carefully, but he didn't seem to hear. At this moment, no words would reach him.
She slid her arms around him, one at his shoulders, the other at his waist. He was a large man, superbly fit, his powerful body trembling. A feeling of searing tenderness swept through her, and she let her fingers stroke the rigid nape of his neck.
Albert whined softly, watching the two of them.
Beyond Christopher's shoulder, Beatrix glimpsed the housemaid standing uncertainly at the doorway, stray forks clutched in her hand.
Although Beatrix didn't give a fig about appearances or scandal, she cared very much about shielding Christopher during a vulnerable moment. He would not want anyone to see him when he was not fully in command of himself.
"Leave us," she said quietly.
"Yes, miss." Gratefully the maid fled, closing the door behind her.
Beatrix returned her attention to Christopher, who didn't seem to have noticed the exchange. Carefully she drew his head down and turned her cheek against his glinting amber hair. And she waited, letting him feel the even rhythm of her breathing.
The scent of him was clean, summery, like hot sun and saffron. Her eyes closed as she felt his body press along hers with intriguing firmness, his knees digging into the billowing mass of her skirts.
A minute passed, and another. For the rest of her life she would remember this, lying alone with him in a bright square of sunlight from the window . . . the delicious weight of him, the intimate heat of his breath collecting against her neck. I love you, she thought. I am madly, desperately, permanently in love with you.
His head lifted, and he looked down at her with bewildered gray eyes. "Beatrix." His ragged whisper thrilled along her nerves. His hands cradled her head, long fingers weaving gently through her tumbled dark locks. "Have I hurt you?"
Beatrix's stomach went tight. She shook her head, unable to speak. Oh, the way he was looking at her, really looking at her . . . this was the Christopher of her dreams. This was the man who had written to her. He was so caring, and real, and dazzling, that she wanted to weep.
"I thought . . ." Christopher broke off and drew his thumb over the hot surface of her cheek.
"I know," she whispered, her nerves sparking in excitement at his touch.
"I didn't mean to do that."
His gaze went to her parted lips, lingering until she felt it like a caress. Her heart labored to supply blood to her nerveless limbs. Every breath caused her body to lift up against his, a teasing friction of firm flesh and clean, warm linen.
Beatrix was transfixed by the subtle changes in his face, the heightening color, the silver brightness of his eyes.
She wondered if he were going to kiss her.
And a single word flashed through her mind.