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This book is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright 2010 by Nita Wick All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Published by Passion In Print Press 3052 Gaines Waterport Rd. Albion, NY 14411 Visit Passion In Print Press on the Internet: www.passioninprint.com Cover Art by Deana C. Jamroz Editing by Tess McKall ISBN# 978-1-60820-202-7 Issued 2010

Acknowledgments

I must thank my family and friends for their love and support, and my readers whose kind words of praise for my previous books have given me the desire and fortitude to continue writing. Special thanks to my editor, Tess MacKall, for the many, many hours of work she devoted to polishing this book. Without her confidence in my ability and her absolute certainty that this is a story worth sharing, this novel may never have been published. And as always, I thank God for blessing me with a supportive family and a wonderful network of friends both local and online. This book is dedicated to my husband. He is my hero and my happily-ever-after.
Prologue

England October 1745 You cannot be serious, Father. She is only a child, for Christs sake. Not even nine. Darien threw his arms in the air. She is older than that, I believe.

And for that matter, I am not yet one and twenty. I do not want to marry now. And when I do decide to marry, I would like to choose my own bride. Dennison Hawkesworth, Earl of Fennimore, leaned back in his high-back leather chair and steepled his fingers. His only son, DarienHawk to his friendspaced back and forth across the study floor. I can understand your reluctance to wed, son, but tis not as if you would be tied with a ball and chain. As you said, she is but a child and you would not be expected to live together as man and wife for several years. Angelina will remain at Lynnhaven with her nurse and her fathers steward or perhaps attend school. Her uncle will act as guardian. They will be responsible for her until she has matured and you are ready to claim her. Winstons solicitors and I will manage her accounts. You will have plenty of time to quench your thirst for travel and adventure. You may even return to London to satisfy your lustful appetites so long as you are discreet. He gauged his sons reaction and awaited his reply. Dariens face softened to some degree, but his anxiety remained evident. When his son seemed unwilling to answer, Dennison continued, You know Winston is my dearest friend, and we have long hoped for a match between the two of you. Unfortunately, his health necessitates expediency in the matter. The doctor warns that he could leave us at any time. It is imperative that we protect his investments from his brother-in-

law. Fairfax squandered his wealth. We cannot allow him control of Angelinas estate. Her uncle would undoubtedly destroy all that Winston has worked to build. The man hasnt monetary sense to manage investmentsinvestments, I might add, that are tied to our own. Angelinas inheritance is not the only fortune Fairfax could erode. Your legacy may very well dwindle to a paltry sum if he is given any control. We cannot afford to have him as a partner. And Winston cannot leave Angelinas fate in the hands of his bumbling brother-in-law. Julian Fairfax is hardly capable of choosing his own fate, let alone the fate of his niece. Dennison brightened. Exactly. Winston wants only to protect his daughter and ensure her happiness. This is his dying wish, Darien. Why me? Surely he could find a hundred young men willing to sell themselves for her abundant dowry. I do not wish to marry now, Father. And if I did, I would certainly not choose a spoiled, boyish little imp. Darien stopped his pacing before the desk, obviously waiting for him to refute his description of the proposed bride. You have met her only once, he cajoled. Granted, without a mothers guidance she has become somewhat less than docile, but she has much to commend her. She shows promise of growing into a great beauty, as was her mother. Though she is strong-willed, she does not whine and carry on. While she is a

bit outspoken, she expresses herself well. And she has a keen mind. The girl is very intelligent. She has spirit. Splendid. Just the kind of wife I have always wanteda beautiful, defiant, sharp-tongued, quick-witted hellion. Darien fell into one of the chairs in front of the desk before glaring at his father. You do the girl an injustice. Dennison abandoned his sympathetic demeanor. She is the well-bred daughter of an earl and a lady cousin of the king. She will grow into a fine young woman any man would be proud to call his wife. Unfortunately, circumstances do not allow us to wait for the finished product. You must marry her now. Our financial future depends on it. He leaned forward and pressed his palms before him on the desk. You will do your duty to this family as my heir. The wedding will be at Lynnhaven on Saturday next. This discussion is concluded.
Chapter One

Durham County April 1753 Those are not for your horse, Ellie complained with mock severity. The cook playfully swatted at her hands, and Angelina laughed. Smiling broadly, she stuffed the carrots into her

pocket. Coal is special, Ellie. As usual, the huge kitchen buzzed with activity, filled with the aromas of freshly baked bread, fried bacon, and coffee. The maids had finished their breakfasts and were washing the dishes at two big metal sinks. Mattie, Angelinas former nurse and now the housekeeper, was making a list of needed supplies at the little table where the servants took their meals. And Ellie, the cook, stood before the big wooden counter in the center of the room cleaning and paring vegetables. You spoil that beast. You do, milady. Ellie shook her head and continued her task. A smile played about her lips. Of course, I do, Ellie. Would you have me change my ways? She put her arm around the cooks shoulders and gave her a quick hug. That charm of yours does not work with me, lassie. Ellie pretended irritation. Go and use it on the men. Go on now. Out of my way. Angelina laughed again. I love you, Ellie, she replied and moved toward the door. The old woman smiled, making her look much younger than her almost sixty years. Shaking her head, Ellie winked at her mistress. Angelina waved and left the kitchen through the back door.

Angelina paused after closing the door behind her to breathe in the crisp morning air. A chill stole deeply inside her, but the sun rising above the horizon promised warmth. The fragrance of rosemary and mint lingered in the air of the small herb garden. Pebbles crunched beneath her riding boots and scattered along the neatly manicured path. She passed the hothouse with its fogged and hazy windows where many treasures hid behind the steamy glass. Several lemon trees, at least a dozen types of orchids and other flowers, and vegetable seedlings that would soon be transplanted outdoors sat bursting with life in their heated shelter. Rounding the corner and turning down the small hill, she waved at everyone she saw and called a friendly, Good morrow to dairymaids and farm hands alike who greeted her as she passed the dairy barn. Her path took her down a shallow slope to more of her estates buildings. Before her stood a large, roomy stable and carriage house. The stable boys lugged bales of freshly cut hay inside the stable. They nodded and smiled at Angelina with faces flushed by their exertion. Finally, she arrived at the enclosed pasture behind the stables where Coal awaited his morning run. The giant, solid black stallion whinnied and snorted, the fog of his breath a testament to the chilly temperature. Good morning to you, too, boy. Angelina smiled, pulling the carrots from her pocket and offering them to Coal through the fence slats. He snatched them greedily, and she stroked his mane and neck. Using the fence as a ladder, she mounted the

horse, sliding with agile ease onto his bare back. Without the saddle Coal disliked and the bit he refused, she rode through the fields and up into the hills, enjoying her vigorous morning exercise, heedlessly flaunting convention by riding astride in her breeches. There was no one to chastise her for it and no one from polite society to witness her rebellion. This morning she raced past the small lake and followed the stream to the woods edge at the northern end of her property. Then she turned Coal and trotted back toward the manor, anticipating the day ahead. Angelina crooned to Coal and tugged on his mane, stopping him just as she reached the top of the rise. Below lay Lynnhaven, nestled amongst the rolling hills, newly green with spring. A flock of sheep grazed in the pasture to her left. On her right, she viewed the large fields with neat rows and little green sprouts peeking out from the dark, rich soil. A row of well-maintained cottages bordered the crops. Angelina had provided the lumber and nails for the newest home as a wedding gift for the son of one her long-time tenants. The door of the new cottage opened, and a young man emerged only to be stalled by his bride who tugged his hand and smiled up at him. He turned and lowered his head to brush his lips across hers. Angelina stared at the couple. What would it be like to have a man kiss her like that? The woman wound her arms around

her husbands neck and pressed her body next to his. The man reciprocated by sliding his hands down his wifes back. Those hands, dark against the young womans light blue dress finally stopped at her bottom. He grasped the rounded globes and pulled her to him. Heat rose to Angelinas cheeks. She wanted to look away but couldnt. The caresses shared by the newlyweds fascinated her, teased and taunted her. How would it feel to be touched thusly? To be held in a mans arms? To know the warmth of his lips? One of the young mans hands rose to cup his wifes breast. He ended their kiss, but only to trail his lips along her jaw to her neck. His brides head fell back, her eyes closed. Even from a distance, the look of utter pleasure written in her features could not be mistaken. Angelinas own breasts ached. As did her heart. Loneliness seeped through her. The feeling was all too familiar. She filled her days with any activity should could find, but no matter how busy she stayed, no matter how hard she worked, she couldnt fill the void. The couple finally separated, and the young man waved as he strode toward the fields. His wifes smile sparkled as brightly as the dew in the morning light. She waved and blew him a kiss. The loving newlyweds would likely welcome a babe within a year. A twinge of envy rippled through her, but she buried the emotion along with the loneliness. She had never been one to

dwell on negative thoughts. Entertaining gloomy feelings only made matters worse. Better to count her blessings. Blessings like her beautiful Lynnhaven. A light breeze lifted stray locks of the curly hair she could never quite keep confined. Facing into the wind, she breathed in its fresh, clean scent. The soft rain of the previous night had left the entire countryside glistening in the early morning sunshine. Her heart swelled with pride as she contemplated the manor house nestled on another hill between the pasture and fields. Its noble face newly whitewashed, she could just make out the tall, white, Palladian columns framing the front entrance. Papa would be so proud. He had instilled his love of the country and his vision for Lynnhaven in her, his only child. If only he had lived long enough to see how successful and beautiful the estate had become. Angelina had worked tirelessly these past four years since the death of her overseer. She had taken over the running of Lynnhaven, and the estate had never been more prosperous, despite last years drought, despite the violent storms of the year before. Her children would have a wonderful place to grow up. If she ever had children. The dark, empty feelings bubbled forth again. And now anger rose in her chest as it always did when

she thought of the husband who had married her, and then promptly forgotten her. Husband. She had the urge to spit, the notion leaving a bad taste in her mouth. Eight years. Eight and a half years. And not a word. Not a single note. The man hadnt once taken the time to write her to inquire if she was well. She could be dead for all he knew. Uncle Julian had certainly never spoken or written to her husband on her behalf. She was certain of that because she had asked dozens of times. Martin, her late overseer, prepared quarterly reports for her husbands solicitors, and shed continued to send those after his death without signing her name to them. Shortly after shed returned from school at the age of fifteen, Martin had died, and Angelina had wanted to prove to her husband that she wasnt a child anymore. She had wanted to show him she would be a strong wife and that she could take care of Lynnhaven and herself if he needed her to on occasion. So, shed decided not to write to him of the overseers death because her husband might think it a plea for help. And when he arrived, as surely he would, he would be so proud of her. But her husband hadnt arrived to claim his bride as she had been convinced he would. And now it was a matter of pride. She understood that had he been notified of Martins death, he would have sent someone else to oversee the estate. Someone who did not know Lynnhaven or her people. Someone who did

not love them as she did. Once she had the management of the estate well in hand, she had begun tutoring Martins eldest son, Gordon, who was three years her senior so that she would have someone to help her. Angelina had reasoned shed need someone she could trust, someone who was loyal to Lynnhaven, to run the estate should she ever have to be away. But then, why would she ever need to be away? Tis not as if her husband would ever send for her. Husband. Oh, how that word ate at her. Husband indeed! A real husband would never neglect her and leave her so desperately lonely. And he would give her children She tried to imagine what a real husband would look like. At one time, Darien Hawkesworth had been the epitome of the perfect spouse. Like a noble knight in shining armor, hed married her, saving her from what her father had feared would be an uncertain and possibly unsavory future. Soon after, her father had died, and a short time later, Uncle Julian had sent her off to a school for girls. There shed clung to a small portrait of the handsome man who would someday be her husband in fact as well as in name the man who would one day, when she was old enough, rescue her from her loneliness. Even at school, though surrounded by girls, a few she even called friend, she felt utterly abandoned.

Too many nights shed spent gazing at his picture, daydreaming of the first time he would kiss her, wondering where he was, what he might be doing. As was the norm, gossip flowed freely amongst the adolescent girls at the school. Add the local newspapers scandal section, and Angelina had soon learned more than she wanted to know of her husbands licentious activities. Her treasured portrait had become yet another painful memory she kept tucked away. The striking young man in that portrait would never be the husband shed dreamt of. The visage painted on the canvas had ceased to promise a happy family and an end to her solitary existence. Through the past few years, she had tried not to think of her profligate husband at all. Now the only image her mind could form was that of Darien Hawkesworth as he had looked eight years ago on their wedding daytall with dark hair and stormy gray eyes filled with contempt. Angelina wanted to banish the memory from her mind. If only she had a husband who cared for her. She could be a good wife if ever given half a chance. How nice it would be to have a babe. If she were married to a man who wanted a family If only But that was unrealistic, not at all practical. Grinding her teeth in frustration, Angelina chided herself. Worry and regret were a waste of time. Either you accept things or you do something to correct the situation. Coal pranced beneath her, sensing her agitation. No longer willing to endure Hawkesworths neglect, she decided it was time to act. She would send a message asking him to come to her. And if he

refused, then by all that was holy, she would go to him and force him to acknowledge her. Angelina gently kicked her horse into a canter and headed down the slope toward the manor house. As she reached the bottom of the hill, she urged him onfaster and faster. Oh, how she adored the feeling of flying when she rode Coal. The sensation only added to her newly awakened determination. She would pen a note immediately. Her spirits lifted even as Coal jumped the fence of the holding pen near the barn and slowed to a halt. She slid from the horses back, softly smacking his rump to send him off to graze. Frankie, tend to Coal, she called to the stable boy, motioning for him to see to her horse. She ran all the way to the house, up the front steps and hardly paused as she pushed open one of the huge polished mahogany doors. Mattie. Mattie! Angelina rushed to her study. She had never considered changing the distinctly masculine dcor after her father died. The dark polished wood and forest green drapes and upholstery had been his choice. It reminded her of him. Almost immediately, footsteps sounded, running down the corridor.

What ever is the matter, child? What has happened? Mattie, short and round, paused at the doorway to tidy her graying hair and catch her breath. What is amiss? Angelina looked up from rummaging through her desk to find paper and a quill pen and offered Mattie a reassuring smile. Why, nothing is wrong, Mattie, dear. Everything is wonderful. Send for Ethan please. Ive a message I need him to deliver. Tell him to prepare for three days ride. Of course, Mattie answered, her expression perplexed. Angelina recognized that look. Mattie thought her impetuous. Obviously, her old nurse believed she was up to some kind of mischief. It was clear that Mattie wanted to question her. Watching as Mattie shook her head, seemingly reluctant to leave the room, Angelina smiled, knowing she would thoroughly question her as soon as she returned. She always did. There were no secrets between her and Mattie. Servant though she was, Mattie was her closest friend and confidante. Angelina penned a short note, only two lines, asking that her husband send word as to when he might speak with her. She thought to close with Your Wife. No. That wouldnt do. He hadnt actually acknowledged her as his wife yet. Perhaps Countess Angelina Kingsley Hawkesworth. Or Angelina Hawkesworth, Countess of Fennimore. That would get his attention. In the end, she simply signed, Angelina. He would

probably have to ask someone who Angelina was, she thought with a disdainful sniff. Ethan arrived just as she had finished sealing the envelope in wax with the Kingsley family crest from her fathers ring shed worn on her index finger since his death. Ethan, I need you to deliver this to Lord Fennimore. I assume hes in residence at Fennimore Keep. Please remain for his response, she said brightly. A young man of almost eighteen, he had been given the task of messenger when Gordon was elevated to the position of Angelinas assistant. Your husband, my lady? Yes, of course. You do have the direction to Fennimore Keep, do you not? Tis on the Scottish border. I hadnt considered that you have never been there before. I can send someone with you. Oh, no, my lady. I will go alone. His chest swelled with obvious pride. Angelina couldnt recall having sent him to any destination so far away. Clearly, he was excited to be called upon for such an important errand. I will not fail you. If his lordship is away, please do not return until you have

found him. Pressing her fingertips to her forehead, she tried to ignore the doubtful thoughts filling her mind. Fear not, my lady. I will deliver your message to Lord Fennimore directly and return with his answer quickly. Angelinas spirits lifted at his enthusiasm. Thank you. You are ever so reliable. I knew I could count on you. She smiled, pulling open the desk drawer. Here, take these. She dropped several silver coins into Ethans hand. Youll need lodging and hot meals. Thank you, my lady. He bowed and left the study, carrying himself as if he bore a message from none less than the king. Angelina listened as his footsteps faded down the corridor, and the door opened and closed. Now the deed was done, Angelina panicked. She knew nothing about Hawkesworth, or even men as suitors. She considered all she had learned about men in the past few years. After Martin died, Angelina had begged her ailing Uncle Julian to allow her to manage the estate, and he had agreed. By the time her uncle died last year, she had mastered the task, and her solicitors had no reason to replace her. It had been difficult at first. None of the men thought her capable. She had always been forceful and very sure of herself, but a commanding tone did not always work with men. Thanks to the few years spent at school among scheming, overindulged

debutantes, she had learned many ways to achieve her goals. She became quite adept at playing the damsel in distress when the need arose. Shed also found flattery to be effective. Though not manipulative by nature, she had learned, out of necessity, how to get a man to do her bidding. Mattie had counseled her, telling her to use womanly wiles when the situation called for such measures. Angelina quickly discovered she could charm a man out of his shoes if she desired to do so. She looked out the window as she heard a horse racing down the drive. Again, she shook her head. Take care, Ethan, she whispered. Worry not, child. Hell be fine. She turned to find Mattie standing in the doorway. The woman had been her nurse and then a second mother when four-year-old Angelinas own mother had passed away. Unknowingly pregnant at the time, Olivia Kingsley had died from complications resulting from a miscarriage after a fall from a horse. And Mattie had been there for her. Mattie had always been there. How she loved the woman. Well, will you not tell me whats got you so excited? Their conversations had always been relaxed without the usual formalities.

Ive sent word to Hawkesworth asking to speak with him. Glory be. Tis about time, it is. I wondered when you would realize that he is a man, too, and he needs just as much prodding and cajoling as the rest of them. Hmph. Perhaps, but Ive no intention of cajoling him. I am his wife and tis high time he became a husband. She nodded. Your father would approve. Papa would be livid if he knew how Darien Hawkesworth has shirked his responsibility. Ive waited far too long already. I need a real husband, Mattie. One who will give me children. Angelina looked away and murmured more to herself than her old nurse, I am tired of being alone.
Chapter Two

Sweat trickled from his forehead and down his cheek. Muscles strained to hold the last piece of the new irrigation trough in place. Hawk had returned to Fennimore a few weeks ago. He had been restless in London. The endless balls, soirees and theatre productions had bored him completely. The pleasure he had once found in the mens clubs and gaming houses had somehow lost its appeal. Hed even lost some of his interest in the women. Perhaps it was because he had already tasted the charms of all those he found appealing. Or perhaps it was something else.

His last lover had been extremely shapelytall with long legs and a bountiful bosom. But she had become possessive even more quickly than some of the others. Her continual whining when he chose to spend a single evening without her had caused him to sever the relationship. Unfortunately, it seemed all women expected more from him than he was willing to give. He wanted pleasure; nothing more. Though his reputation for giving as much pleasure as he received was rivaled by no one, the women did not seem to be satisfied with just the pleasure. They all wanted baubles and trinkets. And if that wasnt enough they wanted his fidelity as well. The required gifts of flowers, jewelry, and furs had been the least of his complaints. It was their attempts to control him that irritated him so. He had finally fled to his estate to find a bit of peace. After arriving at Fennimore, he had spent a few days fishing and hunting, dutifully reviewed the estates books, and had conferred with his steward daily. Like his father before him, Hawk strived to be a good and generous lord to his people. He took an active interest in the estates crops and personally supervised work to the ancient keep that was his home. He had never demanded the loyalty of his tenants. He believed it must be earned. Hawk knew hed earned their loyalty as well as their respect. But once again boredom plagued him. After a week of roaming the estate overseeing the spring planting and repairs to

the keep, he had decided to install an irrigation trough. Having seen similar systems in Egypt when he had visited there years ago, he had been thinking of trying it at Fennimore for some time. Now his body shook with each blow of the hammer as the men nailed the last piece into place. There, his steward exclaimed as he and the carpenter finished driving the final nails. Hawk released the piece and examined their handiwork. He shaded his eyes, calling to the young boy waiting patiently near the stream at the top of the trough. Now, lad. Hawk smiled as he watched the little boy bounce up and down and pull on the lever. Water came rushing down the trough, and cheers erupted as a small crowd of tenant farmers gathered to celebrate the completion. Hawk waved, smiling and wiping the sweat from his brow. Leaning into the tough, he splashed cool water on his face. Then he shook the carpenters hand, thanking him for his help and clapped his steward on the back as they walked to the keep. They were still laughing and talking about their success when they reached the open gates of the big wall surrounding the keep. The keep itself was centuries old, but it had been well maintained and updated to provide a few more modern

comforts. A sentinel standing guard on Englands border, Fennimore had once been a strategic stronghold against the heathen Scots. Now the estate prospered in peace. Hawks laughter died as he heard a horse quickly approaching. He turned to watch an unknown rider and horse gallop toward him. The rider slowed the horse only when he was about to enter the gates, calling out to the nearest man, Ive a message for Lord Fennimore. The man pointed in Hawks direction. Hawk moved forward and closed the gap between them. I am Lord Fennimore. Quickly dismounting, the young man bowed to Hawk. My lord, Im Ethan James from Lynnhaven. Ive a message for you from our lady. Hawks eyes widened. Concern immediately replaced the curiosity that had been there when the rider arrived. Is aught amiss? Nay, my lord. When Ethan offered no other information, Hawk questioned him further. Is your lady well?

Yes, my lord. She said only that I should deliver this to you and await your reply. Hawks brow furrowed with concern. Angelina had never written to him before. Clearly she had no more desire to begin their marriage than he did. He opened the letter and read the brief note. He shook his head and questioned Ethan again. Did she not say what this is all about? Nay, my lord. Hawk blew out a long breath. He was unsure if it was relief he felt that his little wife was indeed well, or if it was the dread he had always endured when he considered seeing her again. What could she want? The girl had probably grown some since last he saw her. Perhaps she wished to speak to him about when he planned to make her his wife in truth. Damn. Another woman who wanted his undivided attention. Just what he needed. And this time it was a little girl too young to even appeal to him. Well, there was nothing to be done about it, he supposed. He would have to go to her and assure her that in a few years he would indeed send for her. Perhaps it was time he began visiting her regularly so that they could become acquainted. We shall leave for Lynnhaven at first light, Ethan. Stable your horse and seek out Martha in the main house. She will see that you are fed and a have warm bed for the night.

Angelina entered the house through the big mahogany doors. She had been so fidgety and anxious these past few days, constantly looking for something to keep her busy. Too many doubts plagued her now. What if her husband did not like her? What if she didnt like him? Perhaps she should have left well enough alone. It was six days since Ethan set out for Fennimore. He could be home as early as this afternoon with the message from Hawkesworth, but Angelina forced herself to accept the possibility that if Lord Fennimore was not at home, it may be weeks before Ethan returned. Oh, how could she possibly wait that long? Already today she had helped to herd the sheep, and ridden Coal for almost an hour. Then shed reviewed plans for the spring shearing with Gordon. After visiting the crofters and conferring with merchants at the local village, she ate luncheon at the inn and returned home. Usually she looked forward to the less hectic days of late spring and the coming summer, but now she longed for the work that would fill the day. The spring shearing would begin in a day or two. What to do until then? The early afternoon sun poured through the many windows of the entry hall, and tiny particles danced on the rays as they

brightened the room. The white marble floor took on a golden glow, and the red-brown mahogany of the huge winding staircase looked warm and inviting. She gazed up to the ceiling of the second floor some twenty feet above her and studied the mural painted there. Beautiful scenes of gardens and fairies, angels and clouds, adorned the entire area. Spots of deep emerald greens, ruby reds, and sapphire blues complimented soft pastel yellows, blues, greens, pinks, and peaches. As a child, Angelina had loved to lie down right in the middle of the foyer on the plush Oriental rug and stare at the mural for hours. Well, maybe not hours. Angelina had never been one to sit still for very long. She would lie there and daydream of being one of the fairies or angels that cavorted through the gardens. Sometimes she would be the fairy that hovered above the rose bush, leaning forward to smell the beautiful crimson flower. Other times she was the angel sitting next to the fountain, watching the ripples made by the little fairies dancing on its surface. Today Angelina saw tiny rainbows dancing across the mural and down the walls. She looked toward the source, a huge crystal chandelier with hundreds of prisms dangling from its arms. The sun worked its magic there too. The entire room bathed in its golden glow, and it created the illusion of some magical world where all your dreams could come true. Surveying the room, she looked at the heavy mahogany table nestled just under the overhang of the staircase. A vase of

colorful spring flowers sat in its polished center. She moved forward to get a closer look at them and noticed that several littered the floor. She squatted to retrieve them and watched the play of the dancing sunbeams on the marble floor beneath the table. With the bright light illuminating it, Angelina noticed that the floor was not as clean as she was accustomed to seeing it. She stood just as Mattie entered from the hall on the left leading to the kitchens. Mattie was wiping her hands on her apron. The woman had always enjoyed helping with the baking. Mattie, the floor is a bit dirty. Will you have Beatrice clean it? Angelina said distractedly as she fingered the petals she had collected. Beatrice has not yet returned to us since the birth of the babe, my lady. Angelina looked at her as if she had just spoken in some unknown language. Oh my, how could I have forgotten? It has only been less than a fortnight, has it not? Guilt filled her. She hadnt been to see Beatrice since the day after the babe was born when she had delivered her gift and the promise that Beatrices position would be waiting when she was ready to return. The birth had been difficult for the maid, and she had been weak for several days. In truth, Angelina had tried not to think about the newborn lest her longing for a babe of her own

color her mood. How are Beatrice and the babe, Mattie? They are quite well. Beatrice says she will return next week. Her sister has agreed to keep the babe for a few hours each day. Angelina knew that Silas, Beatrices husband, had not wanted his wife to return to her job as downstairs maid. Your place is at home, he had told her. But Beatrice wanted to keep the extra income her position provided. She had told Angelina she wanted to save it for the babes future. So Angelina had spoken to Silas and convinced him that it would not hurt if Beatrice spent a few hours each day at the manor house. Oh, no, no, Angelina insisted. That will never do.Tis much too soon for her to return. Tell her to wait at least another fortnight. Then when she returns, she may bring the babe with her. Her duties should be light at first, Mattie. We do not want her to get sick. Silas would be very upset. And please tell her that her wages will continue as usual while she is recuperating. You are always so generous, child. I will tell her this very afternoon. Mattie moved to continue on her way. Mattie, will you be a dear and fetch me a pail of water and a brush? I shall clean the floor myself.

My lady, you need not scrub the floor. I will have one of the kitchen maids do it. Mattie dismissed the notion with a shake of her head. No, Mattie. I want to do it. I need something to do. I am so anxious for Ethan to bring wordand, well, I am so restless. She paused and waited for Matties answer. The Countess of Fennimore should not be scrubbing floors. What would your papa say? Mattie shook her head again and turned to leave. Papa would say that a little hard work never hurt anyone. Thats what he would say. Mattie looked skeptical so Angelina continued. Really, Mattie, I want to do it. I love this room, and cleaning the floor will keep me busy while giving me an excuse to remain right here for quite a while. Very well, child. If tis what you really want, but I cannot say that I approve. Mattie started back the way shed come to fetch the pail and brush. Angelina laughed and saucily called after her, That is not unusual, Mattie. Mattie chuckled and continued shaking her head as she disappeared down the hall. A short time later, Angelina found herself working feverishly on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor with a

vengeance. Odd. She never realized how much frustration one could take out on a floor. She would have to do this more often. Hawk stood with his back to the huge doors. He had sent his horse with Ethan to the stables and come immediately to the house. Looking about the beautiful room, he realized hed forgotten how welcoming the place was. The last time he was here, the day of his wedding, he had been so angry he wouldnt have noticed if the place had been on fire. The sunbeams played on the crystals, giving the room an enchanted look. He saw someone on the floor and moved forward, his footsteps muffled by the thick rug. At first glance he thought the servant to be a young boy. Tan breeches and white shirt were not the usual attire for a maid. But then she raised herself and sat back on her heels while she dunked the brush in the pail of water. With the back of her left hand, she pushed a stray curl from her face and resumed her position on her hands and knees, scrubbing fiercely. Hawk stopped abruptly at the edge of the rug. Shock coursed through him. All that glorious hair pinned atop that head could not belong to any boy. No. Those curves, that slender waist; this was no boy. He began moving slowly forward, watching the sway of that perfectly shaped bottom. Sweet Mother! How could he have mistaken that for a boy?

He stopped again just a few feet away from her and waited to see if she would realize she was no longer alone. Still he watched the sway of her bottom. Damn. He wanted her and he hadnt even seen her face yet! She continued her scrubbing, ignoring his presence until he couldnt stand it anymore. Her perfectly rounded bum swaying back and forth like that drove him mad, and his breeches grew tighter. Slowly, he circled to her side. He could not see her face. Several of those magnificent golden-red curls had fallen forward to hide all but a hint of her profile. Again, his eyes followed the line of her body. The sun shining through the windows filtered through the fabric of her white shirt revealing the shape of her unbound breasts beneath. He could just see the shadowed outline of the side of one of them, round and full. And was that the tip of her nipple there? Christ! He had to see her face. Stifling a groan of discomfort as his pants had impossibly tightened further, he cleared his throat to get her attention. Startled, she looked up quickly, her eyes wide, and a soft Oh escaped her lips. Beautiful! An angel! Her cheeks appeared flushed from her exertions, and several ringlets lay draped across them to frame her face. Those eyes. Green. And those lips. Full, cherry red, and shaped by that Oh she had whispered, and just begging to be kissed.

Angelina was shocked to see him. He was as tall as she remembered, but his shoulders seemed wider, stronger. His hair a bit longer, and the wavy half curls hung just to the edge of his collar almost brushing those broad shoulders. Though his eyes remained that stormy gray, they did not hold the scornful glare of her memories. Their silver light held a much different message this time, and suddenly she became very uncomfortable with this man towering above her. My lord, she murmured as she stood. Too late, she realized she held the scrubbing brush and turned slightly to drop it with a splash into the pail. Hawkesworth watched her as the water splattered her breeches, and she wiped her hand on her hip. Angelina wondered why his attention was on her hand instead of her face. You did not send word that you were coming. She was quite unsettled to have been taken by surprise. Damn him. You know who I am, then? Astonishment tinged his voice. Of course, Lord Fennimore. You have not changed that much since last I saw you. She tried not to sound cross, a bit miffed that he did not think she would recognize her own husband. He raised his brow and moved a little closer to her. I am sorry. His grin could only be described as wicked. I do not

recall a woman like you being here before. His voice was a deep baritone, much deeper than she had remembered, but then he had never really spoken to her. She only remembered bits and pieces of him reciting his vows through gritted teeth. My lord? Was he teasing her? He didnt remember a woman Oh! I suppose I was much younger then, she said looking away as heat rose to her cheeks. She never blushed, damn it. She must not let him do this to her. He was only a man, after all. And Angelina certainly knew how to handle men. Straightening her shoulders, she returned her gaze to his face and looked him squarely in the eye. Indeed. His expression softened, and he smiled at her. I have a gift for your mistress. He brought his left hand forward. Mymistress? The young countess. He chuckled. Stunned, Angelina stared at him. How could he not recognize his own wife? I see, she replied. Do you know where she is? He moved even closer. Iwell, that is she heard herself stammer. He was too close. What was he doing? He stood only about a foot away from her, forcing her to tilt her head back to look at him.

Whats the matter, pet? Cat got your tongue? He chuckled again. She frowned at him. Do all of the servants here wear breeches? Boldly, his gaze raked her top to bottom then returned to her face. No. She stiffened, his brazen assessment irritating. He leaned forward until his face stopped only inches from hers and softly inquired, Are they all as beautiful as you? Beautiful? Hed done it again. Blushing for the second time, she stepped back and gazed at the floor. You think me beautiful, my lord? Whose voice was this? It could not be her own. She sounded like a squeaky little mouse. At this, his now usual chuckle became a hearty laugh. He reached up to finger one of the curls at the side of her face and returned, Hair the color of a summer sunset, eyes as green as the finest emeralds Surely you have been told so before. Not by you, my lord. There it was again. That little squeak. She had to get control of herself. Why was her heart fluttering so? To anyone listening, her response might have sounded coquettish and playful, but Angelina was truly dumbfounded.

Her insecurities had mounted these past few years, and she had been left wondering why her husband did not want her. He stepped forward again, closing the space she had put between them. His hand released the curl, and he brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. He moved his index finger under her chin and lifted her face to him. Her breath caught and a feeling of panic assailed her. What was wrong with her? How could he steal her voice with a look? How could he stop her breathing with a touch? She must not allow him to control her this way. Leaning forward until she felt his breath on her face, he whispered, Share my bed tonight. What? She stared into those mesmerizing silver eyes and struggled to comprehend his words. Bed. He had said something about his bed. Good heavens! He had just asked her to share his bed. As the question registered in her muddled mind, she realized what was happening. This man, her husband, was trying to seduce her. Only, he thought her a servant. What an arrogant rogue! He watched her expectantly. She pressed her slightly parted lips into a thin line and clenched her teeth. And what of your wife, my lord? I am not the kind of man to bed a child. I would give her

time to become a woman. A full-grown woman. Like you. You think your wife is still a little girl, my lord? Do you know how old she is? He ignored her questions. Come to my bed tonight. You will not be disappointed. With that he leaned down. Angelina panicked as she realized he was going to kiss her. Just before his lips touched hers she ducked and took several quick steps back until her head bumped the bottom of the staircase. Ouch. She rubbed the back of her head. Perhaps she needed that to knock a little sense into her. He started toward her again, and she held up her hand for him to stop. My lord, I What could she say? My lord, I cannot. I am still a maiden. He threw his head back and laughed that deep robust way that was beginning to annoy her. Never say it. He gasped between bouts of his debauched merriment. Her outstretched hand balled into a fist which she planted firmly on her hip. Silently she fumed as he placed his palm across his stomach and tried to calm himself. Suddenly, he was before her again, his right hand perched on the staircase behind her head. Never say it, he repeated,

the amusement lingering in his eyes. Tell me you are married, that you are in love with another, anything. But do not expect me to believe that beauty such as yours is as yet untouched. He angled his head closer as if to kiss her and waited for her to answer. She said nothing, glaring at him furiously. He raised his brows then. Youre serious. I cannot believe it. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. I usually stay away from virgins, but for you I would make an exception. He stared at her lips. How old are you? Nineteen. She struggled to keep from snapping at him. A discreet cough sounded, and both Angelina and Hawkesworth looked over at Mattie. Welcome to Lynnhaven, my lord. Mattie curtsied respectfully. Thank you, he muttered, clearly unhappy with the interruption. He stepped away from Angelina. Mattie, would you see to Lord Fennimores comfort? Perhaps he would like a nice cool glass of iced lemonade with a bit of rum. Or perhaps we could add a little rat poisoning. The countess will want to bathe and dress before greeting her husband.

Mattie regarded her quizzically. Of course, child. This way, my lord. Holding out her arm, she indicated he should enter the corridor on the right. Youll be quite comfortable in the salon. He stared back at Angelina and whispered low for her ears only, We are not yet finished, sweeting. With what appeared to be reluctance, he moved toward the corridor. Angelina waited for him to pass the staircase entrance before she started toward it. Then she practically ran up the stairs to her bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and peeled off her clothes as she walked through her room. Damn him. How dare he show up here after eight years and immediately try to seduce a servant? And he thought her still a child. Wouldnt he be surprised when he learned he had just tried to seduce his own wife? Oh, she could not wait to see his face.
Chapter Three

Hawk stood near the unlit fireplace admiring a painting above its marble mantle. He mused about the beautiful servant and chided himself for his behavior. The first thing hed done upon returning to his wifes home had been to attempt to seduce one of her servants. The maid had stirred him like no other woman had in months, years even. Still, it was a poor excuse for his lack of manners. How should he handle the

situation? In his younger days, he would have wasted no time making arrangements to have the maid sent to London and installing her as his mistress. But now? Within a few short years, Angelina would be ready to take her place as his wife. His young bride would likely learn what had happened to her maid. And when she did, like every woman he had ever met, she would be angry and jealous. Hawk bit back a frustrated curse. The first woman who had interested him in months was unavailable to him. He could not begin his association with Angelina by angering her. If he hoped to have an amicable relationship with his wife, he could not afford to start out with such discord. Despite the fierce attraction he felt for the beautiful woman, he must deny himself this particular pleasure. The housekeeper, Mattie, he believed she had said, returned to the salon. My lord, your lady has asked that you join her in the garden. There is a cool breeze, and she hopes you will find it more comfortable there. He nodded and walked back to the big leather chair next to the window. Placing his empty glass on the table, he picked up the gift package he had put there before and started toward the door.

She led him down the corridor again, this time further away from the entry hall, and turned down another hall leading to the back of the house. They entered a large bright room with long windows that stretched almost from floor to ceiling lining the back wall. I remember this room, he mused. We were married here. Yes, my lord. The drawing room was quite lovely that day. Mattie reached for the large handle on one of the double doors that led out onto a veranda and waited for him to pass before she stepped through and closed the door behind her. A few steps at the end of the covered terrace led to a walkway lined with tall evergreen hedges. She held out her arm toward the path. Turn left at the end, my lord. Your lady awaits. Hawk looked again at the gift and took a deep breath. He glanced at Mattie and gave her a small half-smile. Wish me luck. The housekeeper curtsied, but not before he noticed a devilish twinkle in her eyes. Good luck, my lord. The garden was alive with spring. Roses as well as jasmine, lavender and other flowers adorned the grounds. Neatly

cultivated beds nestled all around the marble patio where Angelina planned to meet Hawkesworth. She had spent many hours over the years on this patio. Just as she used the mural to commune with her mother, Angelina came to the garden when she needed her father. It was here that he had found strength. It was here that he had taken her in his arms, dried her tears, and given her life back to her. Angelinas father had been devastated after her mothers death. He had become distant, closeting himself in his study, avoiding Angelina. It was years later before Angelina understood that her resemblance to her mother was the reason for her fathers behavior. He had not renewed their relationship until the day he had wandered into the garden and found her crying. Here now, why is Papas Angel crying? She had gazed up at him, her eyes filled with tears. Even now she recalled the loneliness she had felt when she whispered, My mama is gone, and you do not love me anymore. He had gathered her in his arms then and everything had changed. She accompanied him everywhere. They were never apart. Winston Kingsleys Angel, as everyone had called her, wanted for nothing, and she knew she was the center of his world. Then he had taken ill. His heart, the doctor said. He had died only days after the wedding arranged for Angelinas protection. So she often came here when she needed his

strength. She would sit on her swing, now recently whitewashed, and tell her father about her day. He is here, Papa. I am going to have him find a way to end this false marriage. Tis for the best. He never wanted me. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine his response. In her mind she saw her father and heard his voice. Are you trying to convince me or yourself, Angel? She stiffened and shook her head. How many times had he said those very words to her? And why did they have to intrude now? Oh, Papa, she sighed aloud. She had actually chosen to meet with Hawkesworth in the garden because she did not want to be in an enclosed room with him. He was too big, too dominating. She needed a more open space. This time he would not take her by surprise. This time he would not find a squeaky little mouse. This time she was ready. And this time he did not stand a chance. Angelina waited with her back to the walkway. She heard his footsteps as he turned the corner. His steps faltered. He could see her now, she knew. She waited to acknowledge him, keeping him in suspense just a moment longer. With deliberate languor, she turned, smiled her most devastating smile, and spoke cordially, Welcome to Lynnhaven, my lord husband. He stood there with his mouth agape. Angelina stepped

forward and waited for him to respond. He said nothing. Delighted that she had him at a disadvantage, she sweetly threw his own words back at him, What ever is the matter, my lord? Cat got your tongue? Shock and disbelief coursed through him. This was his wife. The angel scrubbing the floor was Angelina. He was torn between guilt and elation. Guilt because he supposed he should have recognized his own wife. Elation because this exquisite creature was his wife. Hawk realized just what Angelina had said to him and scowled. You have not outgrown that sharp tongue, I see. Oh, no, milord. If anything, it is sharper. Gesturing toward the package he held, she continued in her honeyed voice, For me, milord? He stepped toward her then and gave her the package. She accepted it and untied the ribbon. The delicate lace gloves he had purchased would be far too small for her. She held one up. Howthoughtful. The tone in her voice as she said the word thoughtful nothing more than mockery of his short-sightedness in his selection of size. He tried to control his irritation. I shall attempt to make better gift choices in the future. This was not exactly how he

had anticipated hed be greeted. Of course, he had imagined a shy young debutante, blushing and tittering, making every attempt to please him, not this beautiful, poised young woman. It amazed him at just how wrong he had been. Her welcoming smile hadnt been genuine. That much was obvious now. She raised her brows but said nothing. Why did you not tell me who you were? Perhaps this unfortunate situation could have been avoided had you sent word to expect you as I asked, my lord. Her I-toldyou-so tone served only to further annoy him. I came as soon as I received your message. A response would have only delayed my arrival. You said it was important. Is aught amiss? She ignored his last question. My message was quite direct, my lord. Folding her hands in front of her, she straightened her spine and recited: Dear Lord Fennimore, I humbly request to speak with you regarding an important matter. Please send word as to when I might expect you. She paused. Two lines, my lord. Which one confused you? He clenched his jaw as she reveled in his discomfort with a smug expression. Sharp-tongued little hellion. Staring at her pursed lips, he cursed himself for wanting to kiss away the annoyance now clouding her lovely features. While no woman

had managed to truly awaken his interest of late, this intriguing vixen had him thinking of kisses and other, more pleasurable pursuits without even trying. He wanted her. Hawk cleared his throat. Shall we sit on the swing? Thank you, but I prefer to stand. She did not appear the least bit willing to make him feel more at ease. You are enjoying my discomfort, you little minx. Not denying the charge, she lifted her chin. Why did you send for me? She rolled her eyes heavenward. Tis clear that you have no need or desire for a wife, milord, or you would have been here long ago. However, while you may not want a wife, I do want a husbanda real husband, not just a name. So, she had grown impatient. Without doubt, she was older than he had believed, and perhaps he had left her waiting too long. I meant only to give you time to become a woman. He watched her closely. I know you feel I have wronged you, but you needed to grow to adulthood before we began our marriage.

Hmph. A pretty excuse. Do you think me a fool? The truth is that you couldnt be bothered with a wife. You were too busy with your paramours. You want the life of a libertine. I want a husband, a family. I have tired of waiting for you. I will wait no longer. I shall not allow you to dictate to me. He stepped closer, glaring down at the beautiful young woman, using his height and size to intimidate her. He was her lord and she would remember that. We shall begin our marriage when I decide the time is right, Angel. She looked up at him, replying through gritted teeth, I suggest you decide that now is the right time. Her cheeks flushed with anger. Green fire flashed in her eyes. Christ, but she was beautiful. He grasped her elbow. I am your husband, Angel. You will My name is Angelina. And you are no husband, milord. She yanked her arm from his grip. A real husband would never have left me to fend for myself for eight long years. Eight years? Surely she exaggerated. It couldnt have been more than three or four. You have hardly been left to fend for yourself. I am aware your uncle recently passed, but I entrusted your care to Martin and your nurse. You seem to be in good health. Obviously, I was not wrong to do so. And Martin has clearly done a fine job of managing Lynnhaven. The quarterly

reports show excellent returns. At this, she displayed an impish little grin. Martin passed almost four years ago, and I am sure you know Uncle Julian could never have managed the estate on his own. Her voice rang with satisfaction as she crossed her arms over her ample bosom. Martin is dead? Then who He stared at her in disbelief, realization of just who had been running Lynnhaven echoing through his brain. Her smile widened. Quite right, my lord, she said as if reading his mind. I have been managing Lynnhaven. The quarterly reports you received were my own, and you are entirely correct. They are excellent. At last we agree on something. He tried to hide his amazement and the admiration he felt. Why did you not send word of Martins death? Why did you not inquire? she countered, arms still crossed. Damn. She was right. It was his responsibility to see that the property and investments she brought to their marriage were properly managed. He should apologize. No, he argued with his conscience. She should have told him. I suppose we are at stalemate on that issue. It is senseless to argue about it. Whats done is done. Nevertheless, I am your husband and I suggest you

treat me with a bit more respect. And I suggest that you behave in a manner worthy of my respect. I want a husband who will give me a family. Children. Lord, how I wish I had been given a choice in the matter. I would have chosen a man who prefers the country to the soot and filth of London. A man who values honor and family over the pleasures of the flesh. I see. So you have someone else in mind? Jealousy gripped him, a feeling entirely foreign and altogether unwelcome. Who was this paragon of virtue his wife admired so? Her eyes narrowed. No, but I must admit, the hope of becoming a very young widow has often accompanied thoughts of you. His stomach tightened and the bitter taste of bile stung his throat. You are fortunate to have a husband at all. No man would marry a woman with such a sharp tongue and bold demeanor. You have no sense of propriety. Her eyes widened and her arms fell to her sides. He saw the pain in her eyes. Christ. He really hadnt meant to hurt her. He was only defending himself. She turned away from him as if he had struck her. You are right, of course. I am not the refined and proper lady. Myriad emotions crossed her face. Her chin lifted and their gazes met.

And I am not the simpering little empty-headed, obedient piece of fluff that most gentlemen prefer, butbut She shrugged. Surely there is someone who would want me for his wife. Her words held a touch of melancholy, her disappointment palpable. But I shall never have the chance to find him. She shook her head. I suppose thats it, then. You do not want me. You have made yourself perfectly clear. You may go. I will not trouble you again. We should find a way to have the marriage dissolved. An annulment perhaps. Guilt reared its ugly head, again. Angelina had not deserved his spiteful words. She was just as trapped by this arranged marriage as he. Staring out across the garden, she did not even look at him. Any other woman in her position would beg forgiveness, plead with him to give her another chance. Not this proud lady. He stared at her beautiful profile. She held her shoulders square and chin high. And well she should. There was no reason for her to feel shame. Angelina had grown into a remarkable woman, managing an estate with more skill than the men who had gone before her. If shed become too bold and independent, it was because he had allowed it. This was not how he wished to begin a marriage. They should at least be friends. He ran his fingers through his hair. In truth, he knew already he wanted much more than friendship from her. But she had the right of it again. Respect

was something to be earned. Turning her to him and placing his finger beneath her chin, he forced her to face him. Youre wrong about one thing. I do want you. He bent to kiss her then, tasting the plump lips that tempted him far more than any others ever had. Cupping her face, he kissed her tenderly at first, testing her response. She stiffened but didnt fight him. A flick of his tongue elicited a gasp, and he took advantage of her parted lips, delving in to taste her honeyed sweetness. His body reacted instantly, tensing and hardening. As he continued to tease her mouth, soft mewling sounds escaped her, fueling his lust. Finally, he tore himself away and looked at her face still cradled in his hands. She was an angel. His angel. The possessive tone of his thoughts perplexed him. How could one simple kiss from a woman he had only just met produce such protective and passionate feelings? He waited for Angelina to regain her senses and open her eyes. Taking great satisfaction in her reaction, he slid his hands down her back and stopped at the tiny waist he could almost span with his hands. You have never been kissed like that before, have you? He knew what the answer would be. He had tasted the innocence in her kiss and it was oh, so sweet. Her jaw tightened and fire again flickered in her eyes. Angelina balled her fist and hit him square across the jaw

with more strength than he would have thought possible. He staggered, stunned at the powerful blow she had delivered and at the anger she possessed after such a perfectly delicious kiss. His temper erupted. What the bloody hell was that for? Holding his jaw, he worked it back and forth to ease the pain. Of course I have never been kissed like that before, damn you, she screamed. One of us took our wedding vows seriously. One of us has been faithful. Surely she hadnt expected him to remain celibate all this time. You were just a child. Ive not been a child in a very long time, milord. She took a deep breath, visibly trying to regain her composure. Ive always been the recipient of pity, first at school and then from the few visitors I receive. Tales of your exploits are recounted regularly in the gossip columns. Do you think we cannot get copies of the London newspapers here in the country? Hawk inwardly cringed as she continued. You are a rake and a rogue by all accounts. You say you want me, but tis obviously untrue. She turned her back on him. Go, and do so with my blessings. I most certainly do not want a husband like you. I am better off alone. I gave you all the chances I am willing to give. Chances? What chances? What are you babbling about?

The reproachful look she shot him twisted his gut. Firstly, I do not babble, my lord. Secondly, I have waited eight long, lonely years for you. Her voice had that irritating tone as if she were explaining to a slow child. After Martin died, I threw myself into the running of Lynnhaven as if my very life depended on it, but I did not write to you because I was so certain you would be coming soon. But you did not come. A year passed and still there was no word from you. I cried myself to sleep too many nights. She paused a moment, glaring at him, the pain shed felt evident in her eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up her hand. Oh, no, my lord. Thats not all the chances I gave you. I somehow convinced myself that you wanted a more mature bride. What a fool I was. Again, he tried to reply and she waved him off, continuing her tirade. I am not yet finished, milord. She paced the cobblestone walk as she lectured him. Yet another year passed and still you did not come. Finally, one morning I awoke with my eyes puffy and red and realized how naive I had been to continue hoping you would come for me. I began to hate you a little more with each passing day. Hawk flinched, watching the play of emotion on her face.

Another year passed. I no longer cried myself to sleep at night. I spent most nights cursing you to Hell. I had finished school and been here at Lynnhaven waiting for you for almost three years when Uncle Julian passed. I thought surely you would come for me then. No husband would leave his wife completely alone. I had been old enough to take my place as your wife for quite some time even by the most rigid of standards. I had expected you to attend the funeral and take me back to London with you. She must have thought him a heartless wastrel. I was in Paris when I received word from your solicitors. The letter assured me all was in order. I had already missed the funeral. And I knew it was Martin and your nurse who truly looked after you, not Julian Fairfax. She ignored his explanation. I will admit that Uncle Julian was not a saint. Nor was he the most intelligent of men. But he did visit me on occasion. At least he showed some concern for me. She sighed. I have been without any kind of family for almost a year now. And I have been far too alone since my father died. I have spent so many years wondering what I had done wrong. What was wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough? Why did you not want me? Her bottom lip quivered. Oh, no. She was going to cry. Hawk felt lower than pond scum. In my reply to your solicitors, I instructed them to extend my condolences to you and to have you send word should you

need anything. You should have written to me. I would have come. They did not tell me you had replied. She shook her head. It makes little difference. I would not have written anyway. Why not? And have you think me a spoiled, demanding child? Her words cracked with emotion. Or worse, a whining, helpless debutante without the whit to take care of herself? He went to her, wanting to put his arms around her, wanting to kiss away all the hurt hed caused her. She had closed her eyes and could not see what he meant to do. As soon as his arms encircled her, her eyes flew open. No, she hissed as she tried to push him away. He held tight, and she struggled against him. You had your chance. I cannot believe I was foolish enough to send for you. She clawed at him, pounding her fists against his back, but he refused to release her. You are a little hellion, are you not? he whispered in her ear. My little hellion. Again the possessive thoughts clouded his mind. Was it just the guilt influencing him? He tried to calm her. Holding her with one arm, he stroked

her hair from the back of her head all the way to her enticing, shapely bottom. Her fighting lessened, but then he heard her sniff. She buried her face in his chest and her shoulders shook. She was crying. Not that. Anything but that. Scream at me. Hit me again. Forgive me, Angel, he whispered. I am so sorry. He was being nice. Good lord, not that. Yell at me. Ignore me, but do not be nice. She could fight anything but that. I hate you, she choked through her tears. And my name is Angelina. He smoothed her hair and whispered softly, I know, Angel. I know. Im sorry. She clung to him then and cried, releasing years of heartache. Damn him! He had arrived behaving as if he were the king, deigning to give favour to his lowly subject. And he had the audacity to demand respect, even after the way he had treated her all these years. She had been a fool to send for him. Even the solitary life of an unwanted wife was better than being ordered about like servant. This false show of empathy and remorse could only be designed to manipulate her in some way. The uncaring reprobate thought only of himself. She pulled

away enough to wipe the tears from her cheeks. You should just go. You do not want me anyway. Not true, Angel. Again, he cradled her head in his hands, his thumbs caressing her cheeks. I want you. Then he kissed her again, slowly at first. Oh, why did he insist on doing that? And why did it take her breath away? Twas little wonder why the women panted after him. He was as handsome as any man she had ever seen. And his kisses were surely enough to weaken the strongest woman. His kiss grew more demanding, and when he finally released her mouth, she gasped for air as he spread tiny kisses across her face, licking away the last of her tears. Soft brushes of his lips across her eyelids, down her cheek to her earlobe. The sensual assault did not stop there as his arms held her tightly against his hard body while his mouth moved along her jaw. His lips caressed hers, drawing on them before his tongue invaded her mouth once again. And try as she might she couldnt fight the need to give him the response he demanded. Angelina moaned, an uncontrollable sound deep in her throat. She was lost to him. Perhaps it is time to consummate this marriage, Angel, he murmured as he nibbled on her ear and down her neck.

Angelina struggled to comprehend his words. She couldnt think with him kissing her. Especially not when he kissed her there, below her ear and Ohthere, on her neck. She struggled to clear her muddled mind. Had he said consummate? Now? Mmmhmm, he hummed against her skin. His lips blazed a trail of fire. But I do not even know you. And tis broad daylight, my lord. Surely you do not mean to He looked up at her then. There was that damned grin of his again. Oh, yes, Angel. I do. Now. Angelina renewed her struggles so suddenly that she managed to break free. My name is Angelina. Backing away, she shook her head. He was a complete stranger. Even if he did wish to begin their marriage, surely he would not assume she would share his bed immediately. But from the look in his eyes, that was exactly what he expected. You are mad. She turned to run, but he caught her and swung her around. Then he bent and slung her over his shoulder and headed down the path to the house. Yes, Hellion, tis quite likely that I am a little mad by now. His words did nothing but irritate her more. She screamed and pounded her fists against his back.

But we shall remedy that in short order. He chuckled again. She continued to squirm and beat at him. He entered the house through the drawing rooms double doors, heading toward the entryway. Angelina glimpsed Mattie standing at the foot of the stairs, a curious expression on her face. Before she could catch her breath to call out, he spoke. She could practically hear that wicked grin in his voice. Which bedroom is hers? The third door on the right, my lord. He started up the staircase again. Mattie! Help me. Do something. Angelina looked at Mattie, pleading from her precarious position. She was astonished to find Mattie doing her best to contain a smile. Mattie spoke. My lord? He paused and swiveled in Matties direction. Angelina could no longer see her, but she waited with bated breath for the exchange. Yes? he replied with far too much aplomb.

You will not hurt her, will you, my lord? His chuckle was infuriating. No, Mattie. I will not hurt her. He shifted her weight on his shoulder, giving Angelina one last look at Mattie before he reached the top of the staircase and made his way toward her bedroom. She didnt know what to make of the wink her housekeeper threw her. Confusion and disbelief warred with her frustration. Anger won out and she renewed her struggles.
Chapter Four

Angelina still pounded on his back and did her best to kick, though Hawkesworth kept her legs pinned. Her body swung about as he looked around the room and closed the door behind him, ignoring her protests to find the key in a dish on the corner of the bureau. She heard the clink of metal and the click of the door lock. Only then did he put Angelina on her feet. He set her down and slid his hands up her back to hold her securely, trapping her arms between his chest and her own. She squirmed and cursed. Bloody savage. He chuckled. You know, your tongue is far too sharp and most unbecoming a lady, Angel. Except whentis being kissed, of course. He bent to capture her lips.

She struggledbut only for a moment. His kiss sent a shiver down her spine even as it heated her blood. His tongue worked its magic, stealing her will to fight him. By the time he finally lifted his head, the hands that had been trying so desperately to push him away were tangled in the front of his shirt, clinging to him. She couldnt let this happen. She tried once more to push him away. I hate you. No more fighting, Angel. Let me love you, he whispered seductively, kissing her on that sensitive place below her ear. Strong hands caressed her bottom and pulled her hips to his. Her stomach quivered. His hands never stopped moving, stroking, and exploring as he kissed her neck. Several seconds passed before his words finally registered. They gave her the strength to fight him. Jerking suddenly, she managed to catch him off guard. She ran toward a table in the corner of the room. You say you wish to love me, but you love me not at all. Tis only lust you speak of, not love. Hawkesworth followed, but Angelina managed to put the small dining table and chairs between them and used the furniture as a shield. Wait. She raised her hand, her breathing still uneven. You do not realize what you are asking, milord.

He paused, a question in his eyes. You are my wife. I am asking no more than any other husband. But I do not even know you. And what she had learned of him warned her not to allow him to seduce her. It was a wellknown fact he never stayed with one woman for very long. She would soon be alone again, but then she would be forever bound to him with no possible chance for annulment. She should try to change his mind. As you said, the marriage has not yet been consummated. Perhaps tis not too late to correct the mistake. Hawkesworths hands rested on his hips. You believe it was a mistake for us to marry? Where would you be now had we not married? Disbelief sounded in his voice. Well, not a mistake actually. I mean I understand why Papa insisted that we marry, andand I do thank you for the protection our marriage has provided, but you need not protect me any longer. I am perfectly capable of protecting myself now. He shook his head and started to reply, but she forestalled his argument. You did not wish to marry me, milord. Deny it if you want, but I clearly remember your anger on our wedding day. Taking a deep breath, he blew it out slowly. I will admit, I did not wish to marry, but

You were not given a choice. I know your father must have demanded you marry me. I am sure it was quite frustrating for you. That is, to not be allowed to choose your own bride. His expression became guarded. But perhaps we have another chance now, milord. He shook his head and laughed. And just how do you think to accomplish this? I have no intention of making you a widow. Perhaps we could petition the king for an annulment or divorce. If we both went to him and explained It wont work. Weve been married for what, more than five years? Anger tore at her. Were you not listening at all before? Tis been more than eight years. She raced on to prevent his argument. But the marriage remains unconsummated. Surely, the king can do something. He is, after all, a distant relative. He stared at her, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. She tried to convince him. We could at least inquire. Think on it. You will be free to marry the woman of your choice. He started to shake his head again.

Was there no way to make him understand? Or to not marry at all if that is your wish. Do you not see, milord? I am offering you a means to escape that which you never wanted. I did not wish to marry eight years ago, but now I am not so certain it was a mistake. His statement confused her, but she persisted. We are strangers, milord. Surely you would rather know the woman you will be bound to for the rest of your life. We will come to know each other, I assure you. Even if the king refused their request, it would buy her some timemuch needed time to come to know this man who would share her bed. Perhaps she shouldnt be so cajoling. If she angered him, he might agree to petition the king. I already know all I wish to know about you, milord. Her reply was as terse as any she could muster. As I said before, you have quite a reputation. A frown marred his features. I apologize if Ive not been as discreet as I should have been. I am What you should have been, milord, is my husband. Clearly you preferred your numerous lovers to a wife and family. His head fell back, and he stared at the ceiling. Was he considering her request?

I concede your point, Angel. I should have come for you sooner. His statement surprised her. This was the first time he had admitted his guilt without trying to justify his actions. Thank you, but it matters not now. We should petition the king immediately. He edged slowly around the table toward her as he spoke. Just before my father passed, God rest his soul, we spoke of you. It was only a couple of years after we had married. You were still too young, and I was far too wild and rebellious. He warned me not to wait too long to claim you. He reminded me of my duty. He drew closer, and she realized he was completely ignoring the subject of a possible annulment. She took a step to counter his advancement around the table. You could be relieved of that duty. He shook his head. Forgive me, sweeting. I should have listened to my father. She watched him closely but did not reply. He took another step toward her, and she knew he wasnt even considering her idea. Fighting back the panic, she moved away and around the table again. Hawkesworths jaw clenched, his frustration evident. Stop

this nonsense. Nonsense? You think it nonsense that I no longer wish to be married to you? He frowned. Why can you not give me a chance? I did give you a chance. I told you. I was not aware you wanted me to come for you. Perhaps if you had written me He trailed off as if asking her to accept the blame. You would have had me beg for your attention? Like all your other women? No. That is not what I meant and you know it. Do not turn my words. You are not the kind of man I want, milord, she spat. Am I such a poor choice? He began listing his qualifications. I am not a drunkard. I enjoy a friendly game, but I do not gamble overmuch. Ive been told I am at least somewhat handsome. I am well educated. I am an earl, for heavens sake. There are dozens of young ladies in London who would like to marry me. Then marry one of them. Tis well known how quickly you grow bored with your lovers. I would prefer to have a husband

who will spend more than a night or two with me. Enough! I admit that in the past Ive not remained in any one place Angelina opened her mouth to tell him she was well aware of all his roaming about, but he forestalled her comment. Let me finish, he gritted out, his exasperation apparent. She closed her mouth and folded her arms. He relaxed his shoulders and rolled his neck. Nor have I been inclined to stay with any one woman. She gave him a curt nod and waited for him to say his piece. However, in the last few months, Ive feltI know not exactly how to describe it. A sort ofrestlessness, I suppose. I grew bored with London, so I went to Paris. He began to pace back forth. Angelina watched him, listening quietly and making certain he stayed on his side of the table. Paris held no appeal so I returned to London. But I remainedtroubled. I thought perhaps that I just needed to go home for a while. So I returned to Fennimore. Thankfully, she had achieved her goal of distracting him

from his determination to bed her. His kisses were quite nice, but she wasnt ready to share her bed with him. Not now. Not today. No matter how his kisses heated her skin and thrilled her senses, Hawkesworth remained a stranger to her. How could she allow a stranger to touch her? She eyed him with guarded uncertainty. He seemed to be trying to solve a mystery. Hawkesworth kept up his pacing. I think perhaps I was looking for something. As if I were missing something. My life seemed to be empty somehow. He stopped and turned to Angelina, a look of awe on his face. Then I received your letter. He shook his head as if amazed by his revelations. I did not even consider delaying. I left immediately. He began to speak faster, excitedly, as though he had just discovered the secret to a puzzle. Though I have long dreaded the burden of children, I will one day need an heir, and I truly do not want my sons mother to despise me. He laughed. Having now met the beautiful woman my child bride has become, the idea of marriage is no longer unappealing. Even the notion of producing an heir is a less ominous prospect. Hawkesworth was clearly as surprised by his musings as she was. He shook his head, laughing again. I suppose tis past time I

started a nursery. A nursery? Angelina couldnt believe what she heard. Perhaps she should reconsider. This was why she wanted a husband in the first place, wasnt it? She bit her lip. Could she do what she must to have a child? Could she allow this man to know her intimately? She had enjoyed his kisses more than she wished to admit. Perhaps the actual deed would not be too unpleasant. You want children, milord? A family? His demeanor instantly sobered. Ive a responsibility to provide an heir for Fennimore. I will be a good father. You need not worry on that account. He pinned her with his gaze. You say you want a family. I can give you one. He moved toward her. She countered his movements around the table. His eyes narrowed, and he slowed his steps, stalking her. You are my wife. Do not fight this any longer. You cannot win. Doubts returned with his commanding tone. Allowing him to bed her once or twice may not be enough for her to conceive a child. Would he truly stay with her long enough? Even if only half of the gossip proved to be true, he would tire of her within a few short weeks. She would be alone again with the no hope of ending the marriage. It might be years before he returned to try again for the heir he needed. Years. The prospect left her

cold. She needed more time. But-but We should petition the king. I am not the wife you want, milord. She seized an idea to dissuade him. She may indeed want children, but she wasnt yet convinced this man should be the father, and if there was any chance of the king dissolving her marriage You will not like me. We would not suit at all. I would not be a good wife for you. She paused for a quick breath. You have already commented on my sharp tongue. And I-I can be quite selfish. And I wear breeches and I Hawkesworth laughed. It will not work. The king will never battle the church over something so inconsequential. Panic threatened again. But Yes, yes, I understand you are less than perfect. I would not expect you to be. He moved to circle the table. Angelina shifted to circumvent his advance. His smile disappeared. Concern colored his eyes just before he closed them and shook his head. I can be such an imbecile. Youre afraid. I should have realized it sooner. Afraid? Hed done it again. His frequent change of subjects left her unbalanced, confused. Afraid of what? The marriage bed. Tis understandable. Expected even.

Youre a virgin. Perhaps she was a bit nervous about it, but she feared only a lifetime of solitary confinement. As for the marriage bed, she simply did not wish to be initiated by a stranger. Especially one who would likely leave before she conceived the child she so desperately wanted. Yes, but You need not be afraid, sweeting. I will not hurt you. He moved toward her. In fact, I shall make certain you enjoy it as much as I. You are not listening. How could you possibly want me for your wife? He persisted in trying to get close enough to catch her. And she succeeded in her attempts to evade him, the two of them circling the table. Milord, I can be quite a shrew on occasion. I I What other failing could she use to dissuade him? I have a dreadful temper. He stopped then, his eyes widening. Really? I never would have guessed. He rubbed his jaw where she had hit him. Angelina clenched her teeth. You need not be sarcastic, milord. She stepped opposite his movements around the table as she argued. Im independent and rebellious, not the least bit docile or obedient.

He followed her, saying nothing. Milord, really. I can be most disagreeable. He stopped quickly, adding a theatrical gasp. Nooo. Her frustrated groan echoed through the room. Stop that. Damn you! Im serious. As am I, Angel. I believe you would be a wonderful wife. You are quite beautiful, and you Are you so shallow that beauty is all that matters? Nay, but your beauty is most appealing, and you are intelligent. You How can you know that? You have only just met me. She narrowed her eyes to glare at him. If you have truly been managing Lynnhaven these past years, you must be quite intelligent, indeed. She bit her lip. Was he just using flattery to charm her? The reports you have sent are nothing less than remarkable. Angelinas face flushed with warmth. She shouldnt allow his praise to affect her, but she had waited what seemed like an

eternity to hear those words from him. He forged ahead with his commendations. It would require a strong woman to maintain order. Tis clear you command the respect of the tenants. You could never have been so successful without that. You are the perfect choice for a wife. A wife he never wanted before now. Had he truly had a change of heart? Or did he simply wish to claim his husbandly rights? The latter appeared to be far more probable. Angelina pursued her argument. But Im impulsive and contrary and She struggled to think of more flaws to list. Oh, yes, you can be most argumentative, he concurred. Yes. Yes. Quite right. I am entirely too quarrelsome. Hawkesworth grinned. And you are agreeable when it suits you. Yes, I am Angelina closed her eyes and sighed. You tricked me. Hawkesworth moved so quickly she did not have time to react. His arms encircled her. He laughed as she squirmed and tried to free herself. My father once told me How did he put it? Oh, yes. He said you would grow to become a woman any man would be proud to call his wife.

She ceased her struggles and searched his face. His silver gaze arrested her. My father was a wise man. He lowered his lips to hers. She avoided his kiss. Are you certain, milord? IIm not like the ladies in London. Thank God. His breath caressed her check. Her body reacted to his despite the alarms sounding in her head. How could she trust him to stay long enough to get her with child? How long would she be forced to wait for his return? His hand slid down her back, and his lips brushed her jaw. Angelina swayed toward him, and her breath caught. She fought the newly awakened desire he aroused in her. I can be outspoken and my actions are often ruled by my passionate nature, she whispered. He chuckled then. I certainly hope so. Her brows knitted at her confusion. Those are not good qualities. Her voice had become a breathless murmur. A matter of opinion, love.
Chapter Five

Angelinas knees weakened. She wanted to fight, but she couldnt. He was being nice again. He nibbled at her earlobe. Oh, so nice But II hardly know you, my lord, she answered, still trying to find some excuse. You are right, of course. Angelina pushed against his chest. She would be a fool listen to him. I should take the time to woo you. But then, I have wasted so much time already. His hands moved to her collar, and he deftly began unbuttoning the frog closures at the top. I shall have to seduce you instead, he whispered wickedly. We will not be strangers for long. We will learn about each other faster this way. As we bare our bodies, we will bare our souls. Tell me your secrets, Angel. Her heartbeat quickened, and the butterflies in her stomach grew more prominent. Her body thrummed in anticipation. Her resolve crumbled. The king would likely deny a petition for annulment. Did it really make sense to delay the inevitable? Regardless of when he bedded her, she would only have a short time to conceive a babe before his interest waned. Perhaps fortune would smile on her and she would conceive right away. The sooner she surrendered, the sooner she could hold a child in her arms. She trembled as his fingers slid against the bare skin of her neck.

Are you frightened, Angel? He cradled her face gently and forced her to look at him. No. She could hardly speak. So many nights she had lain awake wondering what it would be like to have her husband touch her like this. He brushed his lips across her temple. Hawkesworth may be a stranger, but he was her husband. There was no shame in surrendering to him. By doing so, she could have the family she had dreamed of for so long. She stared into his silver gaze and prayed she would not regret this decision. His fingers drifted lower to finish unbuttoning her dress. She stood motionless and watched as he undressed her. He reached the last frog at her waist, and his hands rose to push the dress from her shoulders, revealing her bosom, clearly visible through the thin silk chemise. He pulled the fitted sleeves to her elbows, pinning her arms to her side. He paused and sucked in his breath, his gaze fixed on her breasts. The look of hunger in his eyes pebbled her nipples as if he had touched them. He groaned. Perfection. You are beautiful, Angel. Moving his hands from her elbows, he lightly skimmed his palms across her breasts. Her head swam. For the first time in her life, she feared she might faint. His lips found hers again,

and he brought her to him, crushing her in his embrace. Angelina knew only his kiss, his tongue, his taste, his scent. And when he finally stepped away from her, she was astonished to find her dress and chemise pooled on the floor around her feet. She stood before him, her breath ragged, in only her stockings, garters and slippers. Vaguely, she chided herself for not wearing her petticoat and a corset. Perhaps he would have found it more difficult to undress her had she worn all the clothing of a proper lady. She looked at his face. He held her at arms length to gaze at her. Never had she imagined that a man could show such desire, such need, in his eyes, on his face. He slid his hands down her sides, gently skimming the outer edge of her breasts, caressing the curve of her waist to her hips and pulled her to him. The hardness of his shaft pressed against her belly. His lips brushed hers then down the line of her jaw to her throat. Lower and lower he kissed, along her shoulder to the hollow at her collarbone, all the while holding her hips to his. He moved his hips gently across hers and groaned. Angel. He loosened his hold and bent lower to kiss the swell of her breast. His tongue traced a line across its fullness to find her nipple. Oh, my. Her blood began singing in her ears. Fire ignited in her belly. Her hands had rested at his waist, but she moved them to his shoulders, tightened her grip and struggled to hold herself upright. She gasped when he drew her hardened nipple

into his mouth. Melting into him, she arched just as her knees gave way. He held her hips and supported her, slipping his knee between her thighs while he continued to suckle her pearled tip. Trailing kisses to the other nipple, he devoted equal attention to it. Angelina whimpered and tangled her fingers in his hair, holding him to her breast. She ached to the very core of her being, an insistent throb flaring between her legs. Hawkesworth turned her and put his arm behind her knees to lift her. Spreading heated kisses up her throat, he walked to the bed and placed her against the pile of ruffled pillows. His hand glided over her hip and thigh. His hands appeared to shake as he removed her garter, stocking and slipper from first one leg, then the other. When she was completely naked, he stood back from the bed and stared at her. Angelina took a deep breath, resisting the urge to cover herself. He began removing his own clothes, first his shirt then his boots and stockings. With a groan, he undid the last button of his breeches and his manhood sprang outward. Angelina watched, wide-eyed, mesmerized. His skin was unfashionably bronzed by the sun, and she wanted to touch it, feel it. She thought him beautiful. As he removed his breeches, she noted that the skin below his waist was a shade lighter than the golden tan of his chest. She gazed at the sprinkling of curly black hair across his chest and followed the rippling muscles

lower. His size worried her, though shed had no idea what to expect. The pulsing veins and rosy tip of him reached upward to his navel. She swallowed audibly and looked to find him watching her. He settled next to her. The bed sank beneath his weight, and she rolled slightly toward him. Do not be afraid, Angel. Im not afraid. She blushed and looked away. I just I did not know. He pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head then her forehead. Putting his finger beneath her chin, he lifted her face to look into her eyes. I shall try to go slow, Angel, but I do not know how long I can wait. With one arm still holding her, he buried his hand in her hair, pulling her face to his. I need you. His mouth covered hers, and he kissed her tenderly until she melted into him, all tension evaporating. His lips and hands explored her body. My lord? His lips touched her shoulder and his palms caressed her breast. Her own hands wandered, tracing the muscles of his back. He stopped to look at her.

I know not what to do. He smiled. You need not do anything, Angel. Just let me love you, touch you. His hands resumed their exploration and his lips continued on their path across her shoulder and lower. But Shhh. He used his to tongue to trace little circles across her breast. Then his mouth captured her nipple and he drew on it, tenderly at first, then more insistently. Angelinas thoughts vanished, a soft moan escaping her lips. His deft fingers touched her center, and her breath caught as they slid between her sensitive folds. With gentle strokes, he found the nub nestled there and rubbed as his lips and mouth shifted to the other nipple. Oh. She arched her body and laced her fingers through his hair and held him. Ooohhh. A tension coiled inside her. He inserted a finger inside her, teasing her, sliding his finger in and out. Another digit joined the first. The torturous pleasure tightened the coil. Oh, oh, my lord, she cried again, arching into his hand. Oh, please, my lord, she panted. I cannot bear it. Come to me, he whispered. Let go. Do not fight it, Angel. Come to me. His voice rasped husky and soft.

Angelina did not understand what he wanted of her. His fingers slipped into her again, and he used his thumb to gently tease the little nub, and she knew it didnt matter. She was dying. She was coming apart. Then it happened. Her body became racked by tiny little convulsions. Her head spun and stars burst before her eyes. Hawk took her lips, kissing her deeply, positioning himself between her legs and spread her thighs with his knees. Lost in the pleasure, Angelina hardly noticed the pressure as he eased his manhood into her. You are mine, Angel, he whispered against her mouth. The words echoed in her head. He deepened the kiss and drew back his hips to plunge himself past her maidenhead. A sharp pain tore through her, and she cried out. His mouth muffled the sound. Angelina bucked against him, trying to push him away, but he held her still, his persistent kiss distracting her. Moments passed, and she relaxed again. He released her lips to spread feathery kisses across her face and eyelids, kissing away tears she hadnt realized shed shed. Im sorry, Angel. I am so sorry. It will never hurt again. I promise. He continued kissing her face and nibbling on her lips, and

she opened her eyes to look up at him. He raised his head, eyes closed. Beads of sweat dotted his brow, and strain lined his features. Angelina thought it might have hurt him too. Her pain disappeared as quickly as it had come, and she moved her hips experimentally, struggling toto what? Christ! he ground out through gritted teeth, grasping her hips and holding them immobile. Do not move, love. Not yet. Youll unman me. You are so hot. So tight. But I need to Shhh. I know what you need, sweeting. He started to withdraw. She clamped her thighs together. No. Please, she whispered. It doesnt hurt anymore. She held him tightly and pleaded for him to stay. Let go. Ill not leave you. I promise. He kissed her until she relaxed, and her thighs relinquished their hold on his hips. Withdrawing a few inches more, he had all but left her then immediately began pushing his length back inside her. She gasped and lifted her hips to take all of him. Angel. A groan followed her whispered name. He withdrew, and this time returned more quickly, remaining

buried only a moment before withdrawing, quickening his pace. Angelina matched his rhythm, clutching at his back. She opened her eyes to see his face above her. Beautiful. Her body began to tingle all over. His bold, strong jaw clenched with his lips tight, slightly parted to reveal straight white teeth. She felt herself reaching for that pinnacle again only higher this time. She clutched him, crying out as she convulsed around him. He thrust deeply one last time. Angel, he rasped. His body jerked above her. Somewhere in her mind, she heard him call out her. She fell endlessly into the stars bursting around her. Oblivion beckoned. Hawk rested his forehead against Angelinas shoulder and waited for his breathing to return to normal. He felt surrounded by herher hair, her scent, her body. Yet he wanted more. Even after the most incredibly satisfying climax he had ever experienced, he wanted, needed more. His swollen length pulsed, still hard. Lifting his head, he gazed at her. Her eyes were closed and a small smile curved her lips. Her breathing had returned to normal. No. Not normal he noted. It was so even. She was all but asleep. Though disappointed, he smiled and withdrew himself. He rolled to his side and pulled

her to him. She snuggled into the curve of his body, her head resting on his shoulder, her hand on his chest. He watched her sleep, admiring everything about herher straight little nose with the smattering of tiny freckles he hadnt noticed before, her long, dark lashes resting on her cheeks, her high cheek bones, and that incredibly sensual mouth with lips as soft as rose petals, now swollen from his kisses. Sleep now, Angel, he whispered softly. But when you awake Angelinas eyes fluttered open, and she saw Hawkworths hand near her face, twirling one of her curls about his fingers. With her head still resting on his shoulder, she looked up into his face. He grinned. So you are awake. I was afraid I would have to wake you soon. His voice grew husky. Having that beautiful little body of yours pressed next to mine is driving me mad. I need you again, Angel. He rolled atop her and settled between her thighs. Again? Her bodys response puzzled her. Just as before, heat flared in her belly, and her heart raced. Her nipples tightened. How can he make me feel this way? He chuckled softly, and his lips descended to meet hers. Yes,

my tempting little hellion. Now, he whispered with a kiss. Your kisses are sweeter than honey. Your skin is softer than silk. His fingers teased her nipples. Your breasts are the fruit of the gods. His mouth moved to her breasts and his hands drifted lower. His fingers found her core and stroked her gently, massaging her with the warm liquid that pooled between the folds. And your sheath is hot, and wet, and tight. He raised himself above her and positioned his sex at the entrance of her sheath. She tensed, closed her eyes tightly and bit her lower lip, bracing herself for the pain she expected. He cupped her head in his hands and nibbled at her lips. Look at me, Angel. Her eyes opened slowly, and she looked into his eyes, now sparkling silver with passion. As if reading her mind, he spoke to her softly. It will not hurt this time. I promise. She searched his face. For reasons she did not understand, she trusted him. Her body relaxed a bit, and air hissed between her lips with the release of the breath she had been holding. He captured her mouth with his, teasing her lips. Never has a woman been so perfectly fashioned for loving, he crooned. Then he tilted her head slightly and deepened the kiss. His

tongue found hers and drew on it. Angelina melted. She tightened her thighs and lifted her hips to take him. That must have been the invitation Hawkesworth had wanted. Slowly he entered her and sank deeper and deeper. When finally he was completely buried, he ended the kiss and looked at her. No pain? he asked, grinning wickedly. She closed her eyes and shook her head, beyond speech. The feel of him filling her, stretching her, took her breath away. He began to move, rocking his hips. His hands moved to grasp her bottom and pulled her to him. She whimpered and clutched at his shoulders and raised her legs higher around his hips to take him more deeply. Sweet friction engulfed her. Angelina recognized that tingling sensation that would soon consume her, and a moan of pleasure fell from her lips. She reached for it, her passion and need growing. With her legs wrapped around him, she clung to him and met his thrusts. Yes, Angel, he croaked. Take me to heaven, my sweet Angel. Yes, she answered between gasps. Heaven Oh! She cried out then as he drove her over the edge.

With a hoarse shout, he collapsed on her, only his elbows keeping a portion of his weight from her. Angelina could hardly breathe. It was heaven. Her husbands ragged breathing finally slowed, and he lifted his head. His smile sent a rush of heat to her cheeks, and she looked away, embarrassed by her wanton behavior. His fingers grasped her chin and turned her face back to his. He stroked her cheek. Im sorry I stayed away so long, Angel. I was a fool. He kissed her. I am going to enjoy being your husband. His wicked grin returned. With one last kiss, he withdrew, rolling on his side next to her. She moved to leave the bed. Something wrong? He grasped her arm. I feelsticky. She wrinked her nose. He laughed and kissed her forehead. Stay here. He got out of the bed and walked toward the door at the side of the room. Is there water in your dressing room? At her confirming nod, he entered the room. Returning to the bed, he kneeled next to Angelina and began washing his seed and the traces of blood from her thighs. I will do it. Angelina sat up and grabbed his wrist to still his

hand. No. I want to do it for you, Angel. He tugged his hand away to continue his task. But, I would rather do it myself, my lord. Angelina bristled at his commanding tone. Hawkesworth paused and stared at her, his expression one of bewilderment. A good husband would do this for his wife. He would take care of her. Surprise at his thoughtful remark stole Angelinas irritation. Oh, she whispered. Though uncomfortable with his attentions, she let him finish cleaning her. He took the cloth and returned to the bathing room for a moment. Angelina took the opportunity to leave the bed. She had just slipped into her dress when he reentered the bedroom. Where are you going? His tone spoke of disapproval. She shrugged. I have an estate to run, my lord. She crossed to the bed, retrieving her stockings and slippers. Though he watched her, she ignored him as best she could, donned on her stockings and tied the garters. He sat on the bed next to her. Surely there is nothing so

pressing that it cannot wait until tomorrow. Embarrassed and confused by her physical reaction to this man, she needed an excuse be alone to collect her thoughts. The sun is already setting, my lord. I need to check with Gordon to see if all the sheep have been corralled. Well begin shearing tomorrow. She put on her slippers and started toward the door, avoiding his gaze. Weve usually finished by now, but I delayed this year to whitewash the manor andwell, I must see that everything is ready to begin in the morning. Dinner will be ready soon. If there is anything in particular you would like, just let Mattie know. Finding the key, she unlocked the door. Hawkesworth caught her around the waist and forced her to face him. Im sure thatwhat did you say his name was? Gordon?has everything under control. He grasped both her hands and massaged the backs of them with his thumbs. Angelina averted her gaze. She looked down, then quickly up again, her face heating at the sight of his member. She stared at his chest as he tried to persuade her. Can you not stay with me for a while? Do you never take time to relax and enjoy yourself? Of course, I do. Only today I rode my horse and swam in the pond and And scrubbed the floor. He chuckled. No wonder you

were so tired. She frowned at him. And I spent the entire afternoon with you. I have responsibilities, my lord. I cannot spend all my time in pleasurable pursuits. It was quite pleasurable, was it not? He chuckled again as his wicked grin returned. Angelina tensed in his arms, reluctant to discuss with him how she had felt about their lovemaking. I simply meant that I have things to do, my lord. Now, if you will excuse We will find someone else to do them. He brought her hands to his lips. These hands have seen too much work, love. Massaging her fingers, he turned the Kingsley crest on her index finger and examined it. His brow knitted. Where is your wedding band, Angel? Angelina yanked her hands free and straightened her shoulders. I outgrew that little ring years ago, my lord. Tis too tight. We shall get you a new one. He covered her mouth with his. She resisted for a moment, then melted against him with a whimper. He kissed her thoroughly and nibbled at her lips. I was only planning to stay a day or two. But now I think I

should like to stay awhile. Do you mind? A swell of anger cleared her senses. Angelina shoved him. You do not need my permission to stay here, my lord. She turned toward the door. Hawkesworth grabbed her arm. I was not asking permission, Angel. I wanted to know how you felt about it. I believe I have my answer. My name is Angelina. If you must shorten it, call me Lina. As for you staying, I cannot believe that you have been here only a few hours and already you are deciding when to leave! She glared at him as her voice rose. I am talking about staying, Angel! he yelled back. I hate you. She yanked her arm free and grasped the doorknob. She jerked the door open and stepped through the threshold. And if you leave now, I shall hate you forever. She closed the door behind her without looking back.
Chapter Six

Angelina ran toward the stairs as if the hounds of Hell were nipping at her heels. She had to get away from him. She needed to think. Good heavens! The things he had done to her. And shed enjoyed it entirely too much. What would

happen now? Would he leave her? Did she even want him to stay? All the things she had heard about his rakehell ways raced through her mind. She would end up with her heart broken if she werent careful. And already he spoke of having someone else manage the estate. Would he strip her of the authority she had worked so long to claim? He spoke sweetly and treated her gently, but could he be trusted? The only thing he had proven to her in the eight years they had been married was that she should not rely on him. For anything. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she bumped into Mattie as she turned down the hall. Is aught amiss? Mattie asked. No. Angelina tried to go around her. Mattie blocked her path and grabbed her hand to keep her from leaving. He did not hurt you, did he, child? she asked expectantly. Angelina sighed. There was no avoiding Mattie. No. He did not hurt me. He was very gentle. She tried to remove her hand from Matties grasp. But? Mattie supplied, concern in her eyes. You did not even try to stop him.

He is your husband. What would you have had me do? Angelina shrugged. Confusion accompanied an aching heart. He already speaks of leaving. A stunned expression stole over Matties features. Surely you misunderstood. The man is completely smitten with you. Oh, Mattie, Angelina lamented, he cannot leave. Not yet. Now that hes bedded me, he will surely lose interest. I know you have heard all the stories. And how will I ever have a babe if he leaves now? He has to stay. At least untiluntil he gets me with child. I cannot bear the loneliness any longer. I need someone to love. Someone to share my life. Hell get you with child soon enough. Perhaps he already has, she whispered conspiratorially. Angelinas frown lifted, hope growing. I need to figure out how to keep him here, just in case. Just crook your little finger. Angelina laughed softly. Do you really think it will be that easy? Theres not a man alive who could resist your charms. Heaven help your husband. She chuckled.

Angelina hugged Mattie. Thank you. I shall be in the garden if you need me. Quickly, she escaped down the corridor. Hawk watched from the top of the stairs. He couldnt hear what they were saying but saw the look of concern on Matties face. He did not want to interrupt so he waited. Angelina hugged the servant before disappearing down the hall. He paid little attention to the housekeeper as he hurried down the stairs, his shirt hanging unbuttoned. My lord. She moved to intercept him. He nodded and tried to go around her. Mattie blocked his path. May I get you anything? He looked down the hallway. Do you know where my wife went? She didnt answer until Hawk returned his gaze to her. She went to the garden, my lord. Thank you. He tried again to go around Mattie. She countered his steps. Tis where she goes when she wants to be alone, my lord.

Mattie had his full attention now. Surely this woman didnt think she could stop him. She stared at him with the admonishing glare of a nanny, warning her charge to tread with care. Realizing that she must be trying to help, he sighed and confided his concerns. She was overset. She is fine, my lord. A bit confused, perhaps, but she will sort things out. Tis best you give her a few moments. Youll find her much more agreeable at dinner. How long until dinner? Dinner is served at half past eight. You have only to wait a little more than an hour, my lord. You will be glad you did. Hawk looked down the corridor where Angelina had disappeared. He took a deep breath, blowing it out in a loud hiss as he ran his fingers through his already tousled hair. Mattie knew his wife far better than he did. Perhaps he should heed her advice. I should bathe before dinner, he said finally. Have my things brought to my wifes room. I will be sharing her room as long as I am here. Yes, my lord. Mattie nodded her approval. I would also like to have a word with Gordon before dinner.

Yes, my lord. He was halfway up the staircase when he paused. Mattie, he called. She stopped and turned back to him. Thank you. I will need all the help I can get. Mattie only smiled and continued on her way. Hawk had been sitting at the table in the massive dining room for almost twenty minutes. He had spoken with Gordon after bathing and changing into the clean clothes hed brought with him. Where was she? He fidgeted and straightened his cuffs. The long polished table, set with fine china and adorned with a huge vase of flowers, stretched out before him. A large crystal chandelier hung above, its candles flickering, their warm light reflecting off the many prisms and sending a shimmering glow throughout the room. His gaze settled on the large, wooden clock that stood against the far wall. A quarter of nine. Deuce! He stood abruptly, almost knocking over his chair. She would have dinner with him if he had to tie her to the chair. The door opened, and Angelina stepped through it. Hawk stopped, his breathing arrested. She stood before him in a

golden confection, her hair pinned atop her head with ringlets falling to brush the creamy shoulders bared to the swell of her breasts. I am sorry to keep you waiting, my lord. I do not usually dress for dinner. I had forgotten how long it takes. Her lips curved in a small smile. Hawk stared, his jaw slack with surprise, all anger at her tardiness instantly gone. A heavenly vision had entered the room. He half expected to find a halo or wings as he took in the sight of her. Angelina knew she had surprised him and was pleased at his response. She would keep him here as long as it took. If she could tolerate him that long. It had only taken minutes alone in the garden to clear her head, reminding herself that she could not trust this man. He would take what he wanted and leave her. It was up to her to get the child she wanted before that happened. To do so, she would need to pretend to accept his authority and hide the resentment she felt after all these years of neglect. Is something amiss, my lord? No. Hawkesworth cleared his throat. You are simply breathtaking, Angel. She cringed inwardly at the use of her nickname. Her papa

was the only one she had ever allowed to call her that. But continuing her role as obedient wife, she offered a smile. Thank you, my lord. He pulled the chair out for her. She sank into it, murmuring a soft, Thank you. Mattie entered through a secret side door hidden in the wooden-paneled wall and held it open as two maids entered with the first course and a bottle of wine. I hope lamb is to your liking, my lord. The cook had not planned anything special for dinner tonight, Mattie explained. The cook could serve me shoe leather tonight, and I would think it ambrosia as long as I have this lovely vision before me as I eat it. His gaze remained locked on Angelina. Mattie laughed. Aye, my lord. There is none so lovely as your lady. You are a very lucky man. Indeed I am, Mattie. He grasped Angelinas hand and brought it to his lips. Indeed I am. Angelina attempted a smile but avoided looking into his eyes. She could not be taken in by his charms. He would leave as soon as he tired of her, and she should remember that. Hawkesworth released her, and she picked up her fork, taking a bite of the tender lamb on the plate before her. She hadnt

realized how hungry she was. After several more bites, she looked up to find her husband watching her. She gently laid her fork aside, took a sip of her wine, and asked sweetly, Are you not hungry, my lord? Pardon? Oh, yes. Yes. He picked up his fork and looked at his plate. However, the food is not nearly so tempting as you. His seductive grin appeared as he brought the food to his mouth. The man was so handsome. And charming. She understood now why every woman in London wanted him. The last thought angered her, though she knew not why. Suppressing a frown, she retrieved her fork. For a while they ate with little conversion. Maids brought in braised potatoes and fresh bread while he spoke about the weather, about the foodneutral subjects. Angelina ate in silence, replying shortly only when necessary. He told her that he had spoken with Gordon. He says that everything is ready for the shearing tomorrow. Good. She should have been allowed to hear that directly from Gordon, but when shed gone looking for him, she was informed that Gordon was with Lord Fennimore. There is no need for you to trouble yourself tomorrow. He will see to everything.

Angelina nodded, hiding her anger. It was just as she suspected. He would give the management of Lynnhaven to another. Mattie held the door, and a maid brought in two more courses. Angelina pushed her food around her plate, her anger and resentment building. How would she spend her days once he left? He would strip her of her position. She would be nothing more than an unwanted wife. Alone. I hope the weather holds. Tis difficult to shear wet sheep. Her teeth clenched with her reply. Yes, it is. The skies are clear tonight. A good sign. Mmhmm. Blessed silence reigned for a moment. His deep voice ended it. These potatoes are quite tasty. Angelina closed her eyes. How could she carry on a conversation with this manthis stranger who sought to take everything from her? How could she do so without losing her temper? She must take care to be amenable and hold his interest until she conceived.

You are not eating much. Do you not like it? Her patience waned. No matter how she tried to pretend she enjoyed his polite conversation, his every statement served to remind her how little she knew of this man beyond the gossip and tales of his exploits. If only she could find a topic of interest that would not only distract him but also help diffuse her anger. Unable to think of think of anything, she answered his question with as much congeniality as she could muster. Oh, yes. Ellie is a wonderful cook. She is a wonderful cook. Everything is delicious. With a nod, she hummed her agreement. Resentment slithered through her thoughts. She was his wife. They had been legally married for nearly half her life. Yet the man remained a complete stranger. Images of his hand on her breast flitted through her mind. Perhaps not a complete stranger. But what had she learned of him other than his talents in seducing a woman? She shouldnt think about how he acquired those skills. Such thoughts would serve naught but to anger her further. The lamb is especially tender, he offered. Angelinas fork clattered to her plate. Stop it, she hissed. Just stop it. What? He spread his arms, holding his hands wide as if in

surrender. What did I say this time? Angelina took a deep breath. Nothing, she said, instantly contrite. Forgive me. You have been perfectly charming. She regretted her slip. Truly, I am sorry. He took her hand. What is wrong, Angel? Nothing. I suppose I am a just a bit fatigued. She tried to pull her hand away, but he did not release it. Talk to me, sweeting. Talk to you? He nodded. I want to know what you are thinking. She stifled a deprecating laugh. I doubt you would like to hear what I have to say. Try as she might, she could not hide her irritation. Yes, I do. Let me hear it. Fine. Just remember, you asked. What do you want to know? she quipped, cocking her head to the side. To begin, what did I say to upset you, Angel? She struggled to keep from screaming at him. Angel. Angel. Angel. How many times have I asked you not to call me that?

Do you do it just to irritate me? His soft laugh filled the air. No, sweeting. I do not. Today, when I first saw youwhen you were scrubbing the floor and you looked up at meI thought to myself, She is an angel. The first time I kissed you, I looked at your beautiful face and saw an angels face. Then again tonight when you appeared in that dress, so beautiful, I thought I would find a halo above your head. Honestly, love, were your name Margaret or Mary or Caroline, you would still be my Angel. A smile touched the corners of his mouth as he brought her hand to her lips. Oh, she breathed. Startled by his sweet and obviously sincere explanation, she almost forgot why she was angry with him. Almost. Well Could you not speak of something other than the weather or the food? Again he laughed. Was it that boring? I was afraid I might upset you again, so I tried to pick safe topics. Apparently, the weather and the food were not safe enough. You pick a subject. Oh, no. He was being nice again. She could not succumb to his charm. He would break her heart. I have eaten all I can. Please excuse me. She tried again, unsuccessfully, to pull her hand free. Please, I want to talk. What would interest you? She bristled at the way he refused to release her. She felt like

a captive. Realizing escape was not an option, she braced herself for battle. Very well. I would like to talk about you. I would like to know about you. He lifted his brows. What would you like to know? he asked, his tone hesitant. She smiled sweetly. What I would really like to know is She paused and let her pleasant mask fall away. What kind of idiot thinks his eleven-year-old bride will still be a child after eight years? Hawkesworth visibly cringed. She did not raise her voice, but her words sizzled with her anger. What kind of arrogant, insufferable, unbelievably overbearing scoundrel thinks that he can come here after all this time and expect me to just bow to his wishes and welcome him with open arms? What manner of Enough. He raised his hand to stop her tirade. One question at a time, Hellion. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. You are right. I am an idiot. But I honestly did not realize it had been that long. Eight years. I still cannot believe it. He held up his hand again as Angelina started to reply. I know. Tis no excuse. But I suppose I did not want to realize how much time had passed. Perhaps I just wanted to believe that you were still a child. If you did not grow up, you would still be my child bride. I could live with that. I was not ready for a

wife. I did not want the responsibility. As long as you were a child, someone else could see to your needs. So, in my mind, you were still that little imp with the red bush atop her head. He finished with a chuckle. Imp? Imagine my surprise to find an incredibly beautiful temptress where I left an imp. I was not an imp. Angelina knew not whether to be angry or hurt. She almost pouted at his description of her. She had been a well-behaved child. No one had ever called her an imp. To a wild, young man who was angry at being forced to marry a child, you were an imp. Funny. You thought me an unpleasant, mischievous child, and I thought you some kind of hero. Papa had praised you and your father so much. Distressed, she asked again, An imp? I am certain my opinion was biased. He kissed her hand again. She looked away. Now. What was your second question? Oh, yes. Arrogant, insufferable, etcetera, etcetera. Again he took a deep breath. I would never have purposely hurt you, Angel. I somehow convinced myself that you did not want to see me anymore than

I wanted to see you. I did not know you were unhappy, though I admit I should have made it my business to know. I am sorry. Sincerity reverberated in the timber of his deep voice. Please forgive me. Angelina sighed, her anger and resentment fading in light of his explanation and unmistakably heartfelt apology. And as for being an arrogant, insufferable, overbearing scoundrel, I am sorry for that too. His enticing grin returned as he added, But you shall just have to accept that. Tis in my nature. Angelina laughed. Damn him. Why did he have to be so charming? She just could not stay angry with him. Mattie entered carrying covered dishes. Angelina pulled her hand free and smiled at Mattie. What have you there, Mattie? It is a surprise for you, child. Moving dinner plates aside to make room, she put the covered dishes between Hawkeworth and Angelina and lifted the lid from one dish. Angelina saw whipped cream. Oh, is it Mattie removed the lid from the other dish. Strawberries. She clapped her hands. Thank you, Mattie.

You know how I love them. Yes, child. I know. There will be more for breakfast. The plants in the hothouse are laden with fruit. Her gaze moved to Hawkesworth. Will there be anything else, my lord? No, Mattie. Thank you Good night, my lord. With that, Mattie left them alone. Angelina dipped the berry in the cream, covering it completely, and put it in her mouth. She closed her eyes as she ate. Mmmm. She sucked each finger to savor the juicy sweetness. Without hesitation, she chose another berry and bit into it. Cream slid across her lips in the process, and she licked it from the corners of her mouth before finishing the berry and reaching for a third. Hawk shifted in his chair. Angelina glanced at him, dipped the berry in the cream, and brought it to her lips. Mmm, she hummed again as she closed her eyes, savoring the taste. A groan echoed through the room. Her gaze met his. Do you not like berries, my lord? She placed the succulent red fruit in her mouth. If you do not stop that, you are going straight to bed. Angelinas brow furrowed. Stop what?

He chuckled, staring at her mouth. Do I have cream smeared on me? Angelina swept her tongue across her lips. You have no idea what you are doing to me, do you? Hawk asked and shifted in his chair again. I was just eating. Let me show you what I mean, then. He pulled his chair around the corner of the table and next to hers. He picked a berry, dipped it deep into the cream, and brought it to her lips. She hesitated but only for a moment. Slowly she parted her lips, and he rubbed the berry across them, covering them in cream before allowing her to bite into it. She chewed and watched his eyes. Their silver depths darkened. He held his fingers at her mouth until she had eaten the rest of the berry and softly pressed his index finger between her lips and into her mouth. Heat coursed through her as she lapped the cream from his fingers. A responding shiver skittered down her spine. You have cream on your lips, Angel. She licked themfirst the top one, then the bottom. You missed a spot, he whispered, his voice hoarse. Here,

let me help you. Lowering his mouth to hers, he traced her lips with his tongue. Her body tingled with wanton need. Angelina whimpered, unable to control her bodys reaction to his caress. Hawkesworth growled and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her, exploring her mouth in a sensuous rhythm. Her blood heated further, and she softened against him. Finally he lifted his head and spoke, the words thick with need. We should go to bed now, Angel. He put his arm beneath her knees and stood with her. Oh, but She bit her lip. What about the berries? He chuckled and leaned toward the table. Pick them up. We shall take them with us.
Chapter Seven

Angelina woke early as she usually did, but this morning was different. Today she found herself nestled next to her husband. He slept on his side, his arm pillowing her head. Still drowsy, she watched him sleep. She studied his face, the dark thick eyelashes, the strong square jaw with the shadow all its own. Memories of how those whiskers had felt against her skin reminded her of all the sinfully delicious things he had done to her body.

She stretched. Her body ached all over, but not unpleasantly. Warm and cozy, she smiled and snuggled next to him. She could get used to this. Or could she? Doubts invaded as her sleepy haze lifted. He wouldnt stay. He wanted to be her lover, but did he really want to be her husband? After first behaving as an arrogant, overbearing tyrant, he had been as charming and thoughtful as a man could be. Why? Because he wanted to bed her. While she couldnt complain about the pleasure he had given her, she knew his reputation. And once he lost interest, his treatment of her would likely return to that of an imperious dictator. Hawkesworth shifted, moving onto his back. She watched the rise and fall of his chest, thinking back to the day before. He hadnt recognized her. But that was understandable, wasnt it? Her hair was longer and much lighter from years in the sun, and the tight little ringlets shed had as a child now curled more softly under the added weight. Shed not had even a hint of a womanly figure when shed married. That had come a few years later. Yes, she had changed dramatically. It was all right that he hadnt known she was his wife. But then, he had tried to seduce her. Would he really bed one of her servants?

Of course he would. He was a rake. Never mind his wife. She did not matter to him. Would she ever? Not likely. He had said himself that all these years he had just wanted to think of her as a child. He didnt want the responsibility. He did not want a wife. Well, that was just fine! She didnt need a husband. As soon as she was with child, he could go on his merry way. Having done perfectly well without him all these years, she would do fine without him forever. She would be the one to raise their child, teach him to run the estate. She did not need Hawkesworth. Her anger and resentment had built until her cozy little nest had become a bed of needles. She rose slowly and carefully so as not to disturb him and went into the bathing and dressing room, closing the door softly behind her. After using the privy, she washed herself, chose a chemise and stockings from the chest of drawers, and put them on. Then she selected a pair of breeches and a shirt from the wardrobe and dressed. A loud rumble from her stomach brought thoughts of breakfast. Mattie had said there would be more berries for breakfast. Strawberries.

Angelina closed her eyes and remembered how her husband had used those berries and cream to drive her mad last night. He had dipped the berries in the cream and painted her body with it, licking the cream from her skin. A shiver raced along her skin as she recalled how his tongue had danced across her belly, making her want him. Making her need him. He had slowly licked the cream from her thighs, nibbling at the tender skin and then moved to But shed stopped him. Surely he wouldnt have Would he? She shook her head to clear it of the images. No berries this morning. Never again would she be able to eat strawberries without thinking of last night. She put on her riding boots and exited through the door to the hall. Hawk awoke to the bright morning sun shining through the bedroom windows. He rubbed his eyes and stretched. First confusion then disappointment assailed him. Where was his wife? He felt the bed next to him. Cool linen met his palm. She must have left a while ago. Why did she not wake me? he muttered. He washed and dressed quickly, finding the clothes hed worn to Lynnhaven freshly laundered and neatly folded on top of the chest of drawers next to the wardrobe. He went directly to the dining room in hopes of finding Angelina having breakfast there. The dining room stood empty save the covered

dishes on the sideboard. Lifting the lids one by one, he found an egg, sausage, and a scone. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to eat. Mattie entered through the side door. Good morning, my lord, she said brightly. I see you have found something to eat. Is there anything else you would like to go with it? Only my wife, he answered sourly. Do you know where she is? Mattie laughed. Our lady rises early, my lord. She left on her morning ride a least a half hour ago. Does she usually ride long? She will return soon. Shes seldom gone for more than an hour. After you finish breakfast you can walk out to the stables. She should be returning by then. Mattie spoke with a cheerful note as she fussed over the dishes on the sideboard. More coffee, my lord? Yes, thank you. Now then, she said, pouring more coffee into his cup. If there is anything youd like, anything at all, you just let me know, my lord. Hawk looked up at the womans friendly face and realized that she was not just offering hospitality, she was offering an ear

and advice should he need it. Why was your lady scrubbing the floor yesterday? Are there not enough maids at Lynnhaven? Beatrice is the downstairs maid, my lord. She delivered a babe about a fortnight ago and has not yet returned to her duties. Twas a difficult delivery that left her very weak, and our lady was adamant that Beatrice take a few weeks to recover. I would have had one of the kitchen maids clean the floor, but my lady insisted that she do it herself. She paused then added apologetically, I tried to dissuade her, my lord. My wife is a bitwillful, is she not? Mattie laughed. Tis an understatement, indeed, my lord. She contained her laughter and continued more seriously. My lady is also the kindest, most generous, hardest working woman I have ever known. Some might see her willfulness and boldness as faults in a lady of her station. Theyd be wrong, my lord. Those qualities are her strengths. She has a heart of gold, she does. And a will of iron. There is no other woman like her. Mattie paused in her tribute. Hawk looked at his food and sighed. She is difficult to deal with. Nothing worth having ever came easily, my lord. He grinned. You are a wise woman, Mattie. Any other sage

advice? She says she hates you, my lord. Hawk frowned as she spoke. She does not. Oh, I suppose she thought she did these past years, but now that you are here Well, she is attracted to you. And she thinks herself vulnerable for that attraction. Though shell fight you for her independence, she truly wants a family and a dependable husband. But she fears youll leave her again and not be here when she needs you. You must win her trust, my lord, if you want her heart. Hawk raised his brows. What makes you think I want her heart, Mattie? Love is seldom found in a marriage of nobility. Do you think me a fool, my lord? Ive seen the way you look at her. What greater prize is there for a man than the love of such a beautiful and passionate woman? He smiled as he stood to leave. For the sake of argument, let us say I did want her heart. How do you know I can win it? Mattie smiled and waved her hand in the air as she walked toward the door. I know my girl. And I have seen the way she looks at you. True, twill be a challenge for you, my lord. The more pertinent question is, do you want her heart enough to pay for it with your own?

She turned and lifted her brows in question just before she exited, leaving Hawk to ponder his answer. He left the house and headed to the stables. Almost there, he heard a rider quickly approaching. Across the field, Angelina rode at breakneck speed toward the corral. He froze as she neared the fence without slowing. Shell be killed! He held his breath, terror gripping his chest as she jumped the fence and slowed her mount before coming to a halt near the front side of the pen. Angelina called out for someone to tend to Coal and moved to the gate to meet him. Good morning, my lord. He grabbed both her shoulders and shook her. What the bloody hell did you think you were doing? Then he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. You could have been killed! My lord I Angelina pushed on his chest. Icannot breathe. He held her for a moment longer until her words penetrated his brain. Releasing his embrace, he grasped her shoulders and bent so

that his face was directly before hers. He does not even have a saddle or bridle. He looked back toward the holding pen to see that Coal had neared the fence. The horse reared back on his hindquarters and whinnied loudly. The damn thing is wild! Nonsense. He is just trying to protect me. You were yelling at me and Well, he is not wild. He does not like a bit or saddle, she explained softly, a bewildered expression on her face. I can handle him fine without them. You could be hurt or killed. I will not have it. I do not want you riding him again. I will not be hurt. She crossed her arms. Not that you would care if I was. His temper flared. How did your mother die, Angel? Her face went pale, but then fire lit in her eyes. You do not fight fairly, she said, anger seething through her words. Her horse was spooked. It was an accident. The muscles in his jaw tensed. You are never to ride that horse again. What? Angelina took a step back, shaking her head. Coal

is my horse. I helped birth him. I trained him. He is mine. I mean it, Angel. He is dangerous. You will not ride him. He is not dangerous, she argued. He is spirited, yes, but I can handle him. She looked at him as if he were mad. Hawk shook his head in denial. I forbid you to ride that horse. Angelina stiffened at his words. Her jaw tightened. Oh, you forbid it, do you? she asked through clenched teeth. Yes. I forbid it. You cannot stop me. Oh, but I can, Hellion. Anger at her defiance pushed him. If I catch you on that horse again, I will kill the cursed thing. Her eyes widened in disbelief. You would not do it, she breathed. Hawk answered her in silence, raising his eyebrows, daring her to test him. A horse was a small price to pay for her safety. An unbidden vision of Angels crumpled body lying lifeless on the ground beneath the wild, black stallion reinforced his resolve. While he could never kill the animal, he would make certain she never saw the beast again.

You Youwouldnt. He refused to withdraw his threat. Riding that animal was too dangerous. I love that horse. How could you? She balled her fists, and for a moment, he was certain she would try to hit him again. He had seen her angry before, but now she was bloody furious. Despicable cur. Though hardly more than a strained whisper, the pain and disappointment in her voice struck him harder than any punch she could have thrown. She spun around and raced back toward the main house. Bloody hell. He took a deep breath. Angel! She ignored him as she increased her pace. He would let her go for now and give her a few moments to calm herself. Perhaps she would see reason once her temper cooled. After speaking with Gordon in the barn, Hawk entered the house through the big double doors with a sense of djavu. Before him on her hands and knees, was Angelina, scrubbing the floor.

She looked up at him when he approached. What do you want? Stand up, Angel. I am busy. She returned to her chore. I do not want you scrubbing floors. I care not. I will scrub floors if I wish. Hawk reached down, put his hands around her waist, and hauled her to her feet. Damn you, Hawkesworth. Leave me be. My wife does not scrub floors. He took the brush from her. Really? You have another wife? I should like to meet her. She would be interested to know how therapeutic the chore can be after dealing with you. Ignoring her insolence, he continued in a quiet voice. Since I have your attention, I will also tell you that I do not want you wearing those breeches. I will not have that perfect little bottom of yours displayed so enticingly. Anything else, Master? she ground out, her fists clenched at her sides. She took a step back, clearly intending to flee again.

Hawk moved quickly, grabbing her wrist before she could escape. Let me go. I will not. We need to come to an understanding. Oh, I understand you perfectly, my lord. Contempt filled her eyes. You expect me to bow to your superior intellect, mindlessly follow your orders, and cater to your every whim. Angel My name is Angelina. And I warned you beforeI am not the obedient piece of fluff men like you want. But you would not listen. She tried to yank her arm free. I am happy to have a wife with more substance than the simpering, half-witted ladies of the ton. He pulled her to him. But I am your husband. You must learn to obey me. I will not tolerate this insolence. You need not tolerate anything at all, milord. You may leave any time you wish as Im certain you will do directly. Everyone knows you never remain with a woman more than a few weeks. You are the one who refuses to listen. You will do as I say. I will not have you risking your life on that horse. When she

would have argued, he shook his head and continued in a quiet voice, Nor will you wear those breeches again or scrub the floors like a servant. You are my countess, and you will behave accordingly. As you wish, my lord. She all but spit the words, and her eyes thinned to slits as she again tried to pull away. Hawk sighed. Arguing with his beautiful, willful wife was not how he had planned to start the day. I am going to Durham. I shall You are leaving? She stilled, and shock replaced the venom in her voice. Today? I shall be back in a couple of days. He released her wrist and tried to take her into his arms. She ducked away from him. Do not trouble yourself. Angelinas spine stiffened. The glare he received spoke volumes. Anger and pain dulled her eyes. I have been just fine without you for years. And I shall do fine without you for the rest of my life. Clutching her shoulders, he struggled to keep from yelling. I will be back soon, he repeated. If I am going to stay here, I will need a few things. You need not stay here. Go to Durham. Go to London. I care not. In fact, a taunting smile curved her lips, perhaps you

should simply go to Hell. He lowered his face to hers. You will not speak to me Looking into her eyes he saw the depth of her pain behind her bold faade. She swallowed and blinked away tears. The realization that he had somehow hurt her again twisted his gut. His anger died. Sweeting, please listen. I shall return in two days. I do not care. She jerked herself away from him and ran for the stairs. Goodbye, my lord. And good riddance! Rubbing the back of his neck, he watched her disappear. Moments later, a door slammed above stairs. That went well, he muttered. I warned you that she feared you would leave her, my lord. Mattie stood behind him with her arms crossed over her chest, a disapproving look on her face. Mattie, I brought only one change of clothes. I have sent to London for my things, but surely you understand that if I am going to stay here, I will need more clothing. Nothing you cannot get in the village or that cannot be made for you in short order, my lord.

Hawk gazed at the top of the stairs. It will be easier to buy everything I need in a big city like Durham. He paused, returning his attention to Mattie. Besides, there is something I want to get for Angel that I cannot buy in the village. More gloves, my lord? she teased. You are brutal, Mattie. Hawk grinned at her. I need to leave soon if I want to get there before the shops close. I will take Ethan with me. Make a list of anything you would like me to get for the estate. He started toward the door. I shall get to it, my lord. And Mattie, tis obvious that I will get no such list from my wife. If there is anything you think she would like, scented soap, fabric, anything Would you please add it to your list? Of course, my lord. My lady is particularly fond of the liquorice sold at Trenthams Bakery. Ah, Mattie, you are priceless. Where would I be without you? He winked and blew her a kiss.
Chapter Eight

Hawk sat sprawled in the chair before the fire in the room he had let at the inn. He swirled the golden liquid in the snifter and contemplated the woman who was his wife. She was as prickly as she was beautiful. How had she gotten under his skin

so quickly? He silently cursed, took another sip of brandy and turned his attention to the rain falling heavily against his window. Recalling the moment she had first looked up at him from her knees, his stomach tightened just as it had then. He took a deep cleansing breath, trying to dispel the image of the angel that had plagued his thoughts all day. Haunted by the green eyes and ruby red lips, he cursed again. Memories of the taste of her kiss and her silken skin under his fingertips taunted him. His groin reacted to his libidinous thoughs, and he groaned in frustration. This was going to be a very long night. Angelina spent a sleepless night pacing her room, listening to the spring storm that had begun just after dark. Lightning flashed and thunder rattled the windows. Rain pelted the glass as she stared through the panes. The night was as cold and gloomy as her mood. She rubbed her arms and paced. He will be back. What was she thinking? Why would she want him to come back? He was a beast. A bully. Why did she miss him already? Each time her mind strayed to thoughts of her husbands kisses, she would think of his orders not to scrub floors or wear

breeches. Every time thoughts of how he touched her crept into her mind, she would remind herself of his threat to kill Coal. Morning chased away the storm, and the sun rose over a calm and tranquil countryside. The weather had brightened, but Angelinas mood had not. She donned a dress. No need for breeches if she couldnt ride. She would not risk Coals life. Perhaps Hawkesworth had only been bluffing, but she was unsure if he would actually harm Coal. Making her way to the dining room, she took a cup of chocolate and went to her office, closeting herself there. At luncheon, Mattie brought a tray to the office and entered after knocking once, not waiting for Angelina to answer. She put the tray on the desk. Mattie, thank you, but I am not hungry. Please take it away. You must eat, child. You had no breakfast. You mustnt skip meals. Tis not healthy. Angelina sighed. She would never win this one. Just leave it. I will eat in a moment. Youll eat now. I shall keep you company, Mattie said matter-of-factly. Urghhh, Angelina groaned. Really, Mattie. Must you treat me like a child? I am a grown woman. I have been for

some time. I said I will eat. Mattie seated herself next to the desk. Im worried about you. I am fine. You need not worry. Angelina lifted the lid from the tray to reveal cheese, scones, sliced ham and Strawberries. She groaned again as she replaced the lid. Mattie looked at her quizzically. Ive never seen you turn down berries. Youre not yourself. How can I help? I appreciate what you are trying to do. Honestly, I do. But this is something I must sort out for myself. You do not trust him, Mattie said. You want to, but youre afraid. Angelina looked to her friend and confidante. You know me too well, she replied, irritated that Mattie could seemingly read her mind. She rested her elbows on the desk and put her head in her hands. Oh, Mattie. What is wrong with me? I hate him. I miss him. I want to strangle him. I want to kiss him. Grabbing handfuls of hair she pulled lightly. Tis driving me mad! Mattie laughed softly. He will be back tomorrow. First kiss him. Then if you still want to strangle him, well, it wouldnt hurt to try.

If I kiss him first, I shall forget why I want to strangle him. Exactly, Mattie said as she stood. Eat your meal. If you do not want the berries, we shall save them for your husband. I think hes fond of them too. Heat rose to Angelinas cheeks, and she bit her lip. Mattie laughed again. Tis what I thought. With a wink, she stepped to the door. Give him a chance, little one. He may surprise you. Angelina busied herself with menial tasks for the rest of the evening and spent another sleepless night thinking of her husband. The following morning and afternoon crept by with maddening slowness. Angelina languished in the garden, twisting the remnants of a now indistinguishable flower between her fingers. Footsteps clicked against the cobblestones behind her. Hawkesworth, covered with mud, stopped a few paces away. Exhaustion lined his handsome features. He took a deep breath. Look, he began. I am tired. I am dirty. And I am hungry. So I need to know. Which woman have I found here in the garden? Pardon? Which are you? Hellion or Angel? I have not the strength for Hellion right now.

Oh. Well, I suppose that depends. She took a few steps toward him. On? Which man has found me? He looked puzzled but said nothing. Are you the arrogant, infuriating tyrant and bully or the arrogant but charming rogue? He closed the distance between them. The rogue. He took her into his arms, brushing her lips with his. I missed you, Angel. She smiled but held her tongue. I believe your response should be I missed you too, he murmured. Uncertain she wanted to admit it, she searched his eyes. Was your bed not cold and lonely last night, Angel? he whispered. I will wager yours was not. Did you find some chamber maid to warm your bed, my lord? A groaned rumbled through him. That is Hellion talking.

Hawkesworth stepped back, wiping his hand across his face. She crossed her arms. Well, did you? Did she even want to know the answer? His expression brightened. You are jealous. A note of surprise rang in his voice. I am not jealous. Am I? She frowned. Just answer the question. He smiled and cupped her face in his hands. My bed was as cold and lonely as yours, Angel. And I spent the entire time wishing I had brought you with me. Relief washed over her, and she closed her eyes. Truly? I swear it. He covered her mouth with his, kissing her soundly. I missed you too. He pulled her into his arms and buried his face in her hair. There is my Angel. She gently pushed away from him, wrinkling her nose. You need a bath. You smell like horses and sweat, and you are covered in mud. Chuckling softly, he replied, The roads were muddy from

the rain. And we rode hard. With a shrug he added, I was anxious to see my wife. He pulled her back into his arms and nibbled playfully on her neck. Mmm. I am hungry. She swatted him lightly. You need a bath first. Then you must give me one, he said with that familiar grin. Me? Is a wife allowed to do that? Oh, yes. Tis a wifes duty. Do I understand you correctly? She paused and placed her index finger against her cheek, her thumb and other fingers resting under her chin. A slight frown added to the look of serious contemplation she tried to affect. I am allowed to scrub you, but not the floor. Her husband stiffened. It was clear he was uncertain how to answer. Without answering, he tried to kiss her again. She stepped back to avoid his lips. Well? Do I have the right of it? His hands settled on his hips, and he closed his eyes. Yes. He was holding his breath. Was he bracing himself for her wrath? Angelina could not help but smile. Clearly, he expected her

to be angry. She said nothing for several moments. Hawkesworth opened his eyes. A weary glint clouded their gray depths. Grinning, she wound her arms around his neck. I can live with that. She lifted her face, offering her lips. The air whooshed from his lungs. He kissed her again, picking her up and twirling her around as he did so. Once he set her down, she laughed and took his hand. Come, husband. You must have your bath before dinner. Wait. I have something for you. He reached into his inner vest pocket. More gloves, my lord? she teased. He shook his head and replied with a chuckle, First Mattie, now you. Will I never be forgiven for that? She giggled. He grasped her left hand and placed a ring on her third finger. There, he whispered. You must have a proper betrothal ring. Surprise filled her, and she held her hand before her to study the ring. Tis beautiful. A wide gold band held the most

perfect rectangular emerald she had ever seen. Two rare pink oval diamonds on each side complimented the flawless stone. It seemed to glow with a life all its own. An emerald to match your eyes. He brushed a lock of hair from her face. I love it. Thank you, she whispered and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him tenderly. Holding his hand, she led him inside. They made their way through the house. Angelina paused halfway up the stairs and called out, Mattie! Within seconds Mattie appeared. Have water brought for my husbands bath. And have Ellie send supper on a tray to my room. My husband is fatigued from his trip. We need not be formal tonight. Mattie smiled and nodded. Ill see to it. She winked at Angelina before she left. Angelina glanced at Hawkesworth. He gazed back at her with nothing less than adoration. Thank you, Angel.

She wondered at the affectionate look in his eyes. Could he possibly care for her? Determined not to misinterpret, she put the thought aside. He would break her heart if she wasnt careful. Fighting back the urge to kiss him again, she replied with a smirk, I had ulterior motives, my lord. She started up the stairs again. Now I shall not need to dress for dinner. Her husband shook with robust laughter. She threw what she hoped was a smug look over her shoulder, led him past the door to her room to the next one and entered directly into the dressing room. She left the door open for the maids and drew him to the side. We should remove these dirty, smelly clothes. She wrinkled her nose and pushed his vest from his shoulders. Hawk stood still while his wife unbuttoned his shirt. Several maids and young boys emptied buckets of hot water into the oversized, elongated tub. Lined with hammered copper, the wooden tub spoke of wealth and luxury. By the time the tub was filled, Angelina had managed to divest him of his shirt, boots, and stockings. He had been half aroused for her even before hed found her in the garden. But now his desire flared as he watched her undress him. Finish undressing while I check the water and find some

soap, she instructed. He quickly shed his breeches, watching her dip her fingers into the water to test the temperature. Perfect. She straightened, her gaze traveling over him. Her cheeks reddened at the sight of his erection. She shook her head and glanced away. Are you always like that? He spread his arms wide. I cannot help it. I have but to look at you, and I want you, he proclaimed, adopting an expression of innocence. Laughing at his theatrics, she shook her head again. Well, at least most of the dirt was on your clothes. Perhaps this job will not be as difficult as I had imagined. Now in with you, she ordered, pointing to the tub. Hawk stepped into the huge copper tub and paused as he lowered himself. Tis a bit warm, is it not? Nonsense, my lord. A hot bath will sooth your tired muscles. She dumped a pitcher of water over his head and laughed while he sputtered. She retrieved a bar of soap and washed his hair, carefully keeping the suds away from his eyes. Close your eyes, she warned before pouring another pitcher of water on his head to rinse it. He sputtered a little less this time, but was unprepared when she poured yet another pitcher over him. Are you trying to

drown me, wench? he asked with mock anger. Oh, stop fussing like a babe, she teased. Once more, my lord. I must get all the soap out. That done, she lathered a cloth and began washing his back and neck. She scrubbed fiercely, and Hawk endured for as long as he could before he asked sardonically, Would you mind leaving a bit of skin, wife? Apparently startled by his question, she stopped and caught his merry gaze. After a moment, she smiled and replied, a serious tone to her voice. Im terribly sorry. But, as you know, I have no experience scrubbing men. Only floors. Her lips twitched. She held the solemn expression for a moment before she grinned and added, I shall endeavor to be a bit more gentle with your delicate skin, my lord. He chuckled and splashed her lightly. Stop that! she squealed and returned his splash. You shall get me all wet. I intend to make you very wet. Schooling his features to appear serious, he responded with appropriate contrition. Terribly sorry. He leaned his head back against the rim of the tub and sat motionless while she washed his chest, legs, and feet. When she passed over his more private area, he grasped her hand and guided it to his manhood. You forgot something,

wife. Now how could I have forgotten that? She blushed. I suppose I should take extra care not to scrub too hard, should I not? Her voice softened. There, she whispered hoarsely. All clean. She met his heavy-lidded gaze just as he reached out and pulled her into the tub with him. Ohh! she sputtered and tried to regain her balance. Look what you have done. She wiped the splattered water from her face and glared at him. Tsk. Tsk. Your dress is all wet. His lips brushed hers. Now you shall have to take it off. His hands moved to the laces on her bodice. Here, let me help you. Angelina moaned softly. You are a wicked man. She kissed his jaw line and moved toward his ear. Wicked, she murmured, her voice soft and lush. Hawk growled again and struggled to remove her wet dress. Where did you learn to do that? Frustration built as his efforts to remove her dress made little progress. My husband taught me. Do you like it? He hummed affirmatively. With a firm tug, he managed to free her breasts. His lips found her nipple, and he drew it into

his mouth. She moaned her pleasure, tilting her head back and turning her body toward him. He feasted on her sweet flesh for a moment more. Help me with your dress, Angel. I want you naked. Angelina trembled in his arms. Pulling away, she stepped out of the tub and stood to peel away the dress and chemise tangled about her waist. Completely naked, she stood before the tub and looked down, watching him. His gaze traveled the length of her and back to her face. The sight he beheld enthralled him. Are you not going to get out? she asked softly. Other ideas tempted him. No, were not finished with my bath yet. He grinned. Get in. But Come. Get in, Angel, he coaxed. Very well. She stepped into the tub. But Face me and put one foot on either side of me. He reached up to grab her hips to steady her. Then he kissed her thighs and tasted her flesh with teasing flicks of his tongue. His lips

brushed the curls between her legs. She gasped. My lord? Hmmm? he murmured as he nuzzled her there. You are not going toto Oh, my. He slid his tongue between the folds and flicked the nub nestled there. My lord! Her knees weakened, and her legs spread wider, giving him better access. His tongue delved inside her. Mmmm, he hummed. Oh. She braced her hands on his shoulders. Her knees buckled, and she cried out. Hawk held her up before him, feasting on the honey that flowed from her, not stopping even after the tiny contractions eased. He persisted, hoping to hear that sweet cry of ecstasy again. Please, my lord, she panted. Lifting his head to look into her eyes, he lowered her to straddle him. His voice hoarse with need, he beseeched her, Take me inside you, Angel.

Here? In the water? Mmhmm. He captured a tight, pink nipple. Without argument, she reached for him. Her hand came around him, wrenching a groan from his throat. She guided him to her opening. Hawk pulled her down and thrust forward, entering her quickly and smoothly. Her breath caught, and she moaned. Her body encased him, her heated sheath intensifying his need. Hawk trailed kisses up the column of her neck, across her jaw to her lips. Deepening the kiss, he explored her luscious mouth. His tongue caressed hers, showing her without words the hunger she had aroused in him. Angelinas response to his hunger pleased him beyond reason. She buried her fingers in his hair and kissed him back, delving her tongue past his lips in wanton abandon. He thrust more deeply, groaning his approval. She released his lips only to nip at them, licking first the top, then the bottom. Vixen, he whispered. You are driving me mad. Cupping her bottom, he squeezed the perfect globes. Ride me, Angel. His words hissed between clenched teeth. Her brow knitted, apparently confused by his request.

Like this He taught her the motion, lifting her then bringing her back down on his length. She quickly learned the rhythm and threw her head back, purring as she filled herself with him over and over again. Yes. He buried his face in the valley between her breasts. Hurry, Angel. Hurry. His hands came over her breasts, thumbs caressing the taut nipples, his lips and tongue teasing the side of each swollen, perfect mound. Her moans grew louder each time she lowered herself. His mouth closed around her nipple and he drew on it. Tremors shook her body, and a cry of completion signalled her release. Grasping her hips, he thrust into her once, twice, a third time. Hawk spilled his seed and answered her cry with his own shout. He buried his face once again between her breasts, his breathing ragged. Angelina ran her fingers through his damp hair. He lifted his face to find a warm smile in her green gaze. She grinned. I do believe I like giving you a bath, my lord. Good. He chuckled, nuzzling her neck. Tis your responsibility now. You must bath daily, my lord, she said with mock seriousness and giggled.

He playfully bit her neck. I shall be the cleanest man in all of England. Oh, yes, my lord. I shall see to it. Such a dutiful wife. I take all my responsibilities seriously, my lord. A knock sounded on the door. My lady? Your dinner is ready, Emma called through the door of Angelinas bedroom. Angelinas cheeks darkened to a rosy pink. Hawk smiled at her embarrassment. Emma had most likely heard them a moment ago. Thank you, Emma, his wife called back. Just leave it on the table. We shall serve ourselves. Her gaze met his. You are hungry, are you not, my lord? Starving. Laughing, she raised herself to leave the tub, and Hawk voiced his disappointment.. Stepping from the tub, she gasped, her attention on the floor. My goodness! What a mess we have made!

We? She smirked at him and reached for a bath sheet. Are you implying that I should have been lessactivein the water, my lord? Certainly not. He left the tub to wrap his arms around her. Besides, messes like this are the reason we have maids. With a kiss, he added, Thank you, wife. I have never enjoyed a bath more. Twas my pleasure, husband. Handing him a bath sheet, she wrapped another around herself and went into the bedroom. At the table, she peeked beneath the covered dishes. Venison roast seasoned with scallions and herbs filled the first dish, potato soup another. A third contained buttered asparagus spears. A linen cloth covered a basket of fresh rolls. Angelina lifted the last lid to expose baby carrots in a sweet cream sauce. She frowned. Is something amiss, Angel? he asked. No. No. Nothing is wrong. Everything looks delicious. Sit, my lord. I will serve you. Why do you look so disappointed?

No dessert. He chuckled and squeezed her hand and seated himself. Do not worry about that, sweeting. I have a surprise for you. A surprise? Spooning food upon their plates, she gave him a sidelong glance. You do not trust me? He laughed. She raised her eyebrows. I brought another gift for you. Another gift? She paused in serving him, excitement spreading across her face. What is it? He took a bite of his roast. I shall show you after dinner. Tell me now. Oh, please. She clasped her hands. Hawk laughed. Patience, love. Eat first. He spoke of his trip and commented on the food. Angelina fidgeted in her chair. She had eaten no more than half her dinner. Can you not give me a hint? He chuckled and took a drink of his wine, enjoying her impatient angst. Perhaps you could persuade me, he suggested. He wanted her again already. Though he had not yet finished

his meal, another, stronger hunger demanded his attention. He held out his hand in summons. Would you like to try? She took his hand, and he pulled her from her chair and into his lap. He tugged on the bath sheet she had wrapped around herself. Slipping her arms around his neck, she kissed him sweetly. Now may I have my surprise? Her sheet fell away, and he ran his palms along her back. Surely, you can be more persuasive than that. Offering another kiss, she nibbled at his lips before trailing kisses to his ear, where she ran her tongue along the edge as she had in the tub. Fiery lust swept through him as he filled his hands with her breasts, kneading them. She moaned, wiggling her bottom against his growing erection. Hawk enjoyed her persuasion as long as he could without taking her. You win. Hmm? Clearly she had forgotten all about the gift. Passion darkened her eyes. Your surprise. He cleared his throat in an effort to dispel

the husky tone. I thought you wanted your surprise. Oh, yes, she answered in a breathless sigh. My surprise, she whispered, her voice barely audible. He lifted her quickly, taking her to the bed. Hawk laid her down, stripped the bath sheet from around his loins, and joined her on the bed. Angelina hooked a leg over his hip and pulled him toward her. Give me a surprise, she propositioned him shamelessly and raised her hips to meet him. Hawk reveled in her new wanton behavior and flexed his hips to enter her, stroking slowly at first. She urged him to speed up the pace. Unable to resist her pleas, he stroked them both to completion with an urgency that surprised him. When her breathing slowed, Angelina sighed deeply, a satisfied grin playing about her lips. Twas a delicious surprise, my lord. He chuckled and kissed her nose. Rising from the bed, he searched through the bags that had been sent to her room when he arrived. Ah, here it is. He returned to the bed with a box wrapped in plain paper and tied with a red ribbon.

She sat up quickly, her curiosity evident. What is it? Handing the box to her, he sat beside her. Open it. Angelina untied the ribbon and tore the paper. Hawk laughed at her excitement. She looked at the box a moment before lifting the lid and setting it aside. Her smile brightened the room. Trenthams liquorice! Mattie told you. She put the box of candies on the bed before launching herself into his arms, covering his face with tiny little kisses. Thank you. Thank you, she whispered between pecks. Then she stilled and buried her face in the curve of his neck. He pulled away to look at her. Her eyes were moist with tears that didnt fall. Thank you, she repeated. If I had known you liked them so much I would have brought them the first day. He kissed her nose and her eyes, tasting her salty tears. Even after the hateful way I screamed at you when you left, you brought me presents. She sniffed. This beautiful ring. She held her hand out to admire it again. And my favorite candies. A frown marred her lovely features. I do not deserve them. I have not been very nice to you. I said some horrible things.

He cupped her face and brought her lips to his, kissing her tenderly. You deserve diamonds, pearls, furs, silks, perfumes, and all the candies you can eat, Angel. You have been a faithful wife, working harder than any woman should have to while I ignored my responsibility to you. I deserved your scorn. Thus far, I have failed to be a good husband. But I vow to be better. She smiled, And I will be a better wife, my lord. I promise. In that case you may begin your wifely duties immediately. He pulled her hand toward his staff. You are insatiable, she chastised with a laugh. Her breath caught as she wrapped her hand around his erection. These are very pleasant duties. He fed her liquorice and made love to her slowly, arousing her until she begged him for mercy. Finally, he buried himself in her tight sheath, taking them both to heaven. She cuddled into his arms and nestled her head on his shoulder. Hawk pulled her close. The restless discontentment he had suffered these past months no longer plagued him. Here in Angelinas bed, with her leg curled over his thigh and her hand splayed across his chest, he felt a sense of tranquility he had never thought possible. He drifted off to sleep, the source of his satisfied, peaceful state of contentment wrapped in his arms.
Chapter Nine

Angelina opened her eyes. Her husband slept soundly next to her with an innocent, almost boyish appearance. She mentally corrected her thoughts. Darien Hawkesworth was anything but innocent. No matter how charming and thoughtful he was, she must take care to remember what she knew to be true. He would leave when he tired of their bedsport. Until then, she should enjoy his attention while it lasted and simply guard her heart. After a few moments, she eased from the bed, careful not to disturb him. The sun had not yet risen, but she knew she would not be able to go back to sleep. She washed and dressed with her stomach grumbling in hunger. A short time later, she sat at the dining table. Hawkesworth entered as she was finishing her breakfast. She offered him a smile. Good morn, husband. You did it again. Pardon? You slipped out of our bed without waking me. Well, I Gordon entered before she could form a reply. Please excuse me, my lord, my lady. He bowed to each of them. We should be finished shearing today or early

tomorrow. I was wondering if I could speak to you. Yes, of course, Gordon. Angelina stood. Let us leave Lord Fennimore to his breakfast. We No, Angel. I will handle this. The day-to-day management of Lynnhaven is no longer your concern. Clenching her fists and biting her tongue, she lowered her eyes and said nothing. I will return in a few moments. He left the room with Gordon. Silently fuming, she headed for the drawing room. She wanted to rant and rave. Resisting the urge to stomp or throw something, she paced behind the sofa. Blasted man! She knew she must get control of her emotions. It wouldnt do to anger her husband. The last time shed had a fit of temper, he had left for Durham. Last night had been wonderful. A modicum of the tension in her shoulders eased as she recalled his return. Lifting her hand, she admired the ring he had given her, its weight still foreign to her finger. And it was certainly heavy. Large and flawless, the stones twinkled in rays of sun shining through the windows. She sighed deeply. The ring was beautiful, but she would trade it without regret for a promise that he wouldnt leave her. Or would she?

Damn the man! She had managed Lynnhaven for four years, but now he would take it from her. Because Im a woman, she thought bitterly. She began pacing again. Twas not fair! She needed to calm herself. Closing her eyes, she began counting backwards from twenty. A man of Hawkesworths reputation would stay for no more than a few weeks at most. Then she would be alone again. Unless she could conceive a child before he left. She must play the docile wife and pretend to accept his dominance over her for as long as it was necessary. She had reached seven when Mattie entered. Your husband requests that you join him in the dining room. He summarily dismisses me, in front of Gordon, no less, and now he changes his mind and summons me? Matties face revealed her confusion. Never mind. Tilting her head back, Angelina took a deep breath and prayed for patience. With a mental reminder to control her temper, she straightened her posture and sailed past Mattie.

Pausing at the door to the dining room, she ran her palms along her dress and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. It would not do to appear ruffled. She pushed the door open. You wished to speak to me, my lord? Hawkesworth was pouring coffee into a cup at the sideboard. Where did you go? I said I would be right back. I was hoping you would join me for breakfast. I have already eaten. Sit with me, then. Her jaw clenched and moved to the chair he offered. Silently she chanted, Temper. Temper. Gathering his plate and cup he sat next to her. What are your plans for the day? I no longer have any, she replied softly, struggling to keep the hostility from her voice. The scone he held stopped halfway to his mouth. Would you care to explain? She shook her head. Was there something you wished for me to do? He stared at her, his look guarded, weary. What is it?

Again she looked away. I know not what you mean. Look at me. After only a brief hesitation she did so. Tis best we are honest with each other. He waited for a reply. She remained mute, uncertain of how she should respond. Would you agree? She nodded but offered nothing else. Then you will tell me what has upset you. His tone of his voice rang with authority and command. She swallowed hard and cautioned herself to remain calm. I am angered by your dismissal. Dismissal? I never dismissed you. I distinctly remember telling you that I would return. I meant the dismissal from my duties. His face revealed his puzzlement. Duties? I have managed Lynnhaven successfully for quite some time. You admitted as much. You have no call to remove me

from that position. He reached beneath the corner of the table and took hold of her hands. You have worked far too much these past years, Angel. I will not have my countess laboring as a commoner. Her eyes snapped back to his, and she shook her head. Tis a pretty excuse, my lord. Now tis I who should remind you. We should be honest with each other. His eyebrows drew together. Admit it. You simply do not believe that a woman is capable of managing an estate. The corners of his lips twitched at her accusation. Was he going to laugh? The subject was not the least bit amusing. Hawkesworth rubbed his chin. Had someone asked for my opinion on that topic a week ago, my answer would have been much different than it is today. But I have recently learned that a woman can manage an estate as well as any man. At least one woman can. He winked. You have done a fine job of managing Lynnhaven. A damn fine job. Some of the anger faded, but she was still disappointed. Then why will you not allow me to continue? I believe I have explained that already. I will not have my wife working as a steward. He squeezed her hand and smiled.

Nor will she be working as a maid. No more scrubbing floors, remember? You may only scrub me. She smiled at his teasing. The sincerity in his eyes could not be questioned. His motives were not unkind. Her anger abated somewhat. But if I cannot work, how shall I spend my time? He released her hands and slid his palm over her knee and up her thigh. His eyebrows lifted with lascivious intent. I am certain I can keep you busy. Quite amusing, my lord. Shaking her head, she smiled and grabbed his hand to stop its arousing caress. I am serious. Surely you do not expect me to lie about all day. I shall be bored to tears! Hawkesworth sighed. We will find duties for you that do not include manual labor, sweeting. And I believe that we need to spend some time getting to know each other. Tis a bit late for courtship, is it not? He sent her a questioning look as he began eating his breakfast. I would have to disagree with you there. With a wink, he took a bite of the crisp bacon. Then he washed it down with a sip of coffee. What does that mean? It means I intend to take you on carriage rides and long

walks in the garden. We shall spend some time doing things like He paused as he thought. Do you play whist? Chess? Chess. I enjoy chess. He smiled. Good. Tis settled then. We shall begin our courtship today. Angelina could not help but return his smile. I had thought never to know what it was like to be courted. This will be a first for both of us then, because I have never courted a lady before. They spent a pleasant afternoon together with Angelina giving him a tour of the house and gardens. After luncheon they strolled through the hothouse, barns, and stables. The main barn had been abuzz with activity as the last of the sheep were being sheared. Angelina introduced him to all of the staff, the dairymaids, the carpenter, the beekeeper, the gardener, and several of the tenants who worked in or near the main house. They enjoyed a quiet dinner, and then played two games of chess. Angelina was out of practice, but she still did well against Hawkesworth. When the second game ended in a stalemate, he complimented her on her ability and insisted they play again another day. Hand-in-hand, they left the drawing room to retire. He made love to her slowly, insisting he needed to kiss every inch of

her skin. Not willing to allow him complete control, Angelina endeavored to explore his body as well. Afterward she lay in his arms and snuggled next him, resting her head on his chest. He stroked her skin lightly. Do not leave me in the morn. She lifted her head. What? I want my wife in my arms when I wake. His tone was commanding and brooked no argument. It occurred to Angelina to rebel. She did not like that tone, but his words were too sweet to fight. I feel He paused. abandoned when I wake and you are gone. Do you always sleep so late? Wake me, he whispered just before he drifted off to sleep. Angelina smiled and laid her head back down on his shoulder, her arm across his chest, and a leg curled over his. She fell asleep within minutes, more content than she had ever been in her life. Angelina awoke slightly later than usual, the suns bottom edge just clearing the horizon. She and her husband had shifted

positions during the night. Hawkesworths arm lay across her torso, his hand possessively cupping her breast. His leg covered her thighs, and his head and shoulder rested on her hair. Leave him, indeed. She could hardly move. She sighed and smiled. It was wonderful. For the first time since her wedding day so long ago, she felt as if her husband really did want her as his wife. For a certainty, he wanted her in his bed. She ran her fingertips along his arm, admiring the muscles that looked so strong even at rest. Her fingers continued to his shoulder and across his chest. Perhaps, if she was a good wife, he would come to care for her and stay. Following his neck to his strong square jaw, her hand grazed the stubble on his chin. Though difficult to move with him lying on her hair, she glanced up a little higher to his lips. Oh, those lips were sinful. She wanted to touch them but was afraid she might wake him. Pulling her head back as far as she could, a mere inch or two, she looked to his eyes. They gazed back at her with heavy-lidded intensity. Oh. You are awake, she whispered. Did I disturb you? Hawk offered her a smile before he brushed a light kiss

across her lips. He had very much enjoyed her disturbing exploration. You are a most beautiful sight to wake to. You lie. I look a fright in the mornings. Nay, wife. You are beautiful, he insisted as he lifted his hand to brush her cheek. It appears that you need not have been concerned about my leaving you this morning. He chuckled. You do seem to be a bit...confined. He caressed her breast and pulled his leg a little higher over her thighs. Mmm. She sighed. Deliciously confined, my lord. Closing her eyes, she offered her lips for a kiss. Hawk accepted by pressing his lips to hers, gently at first, then more firmly. He slid his tongue along the crease of her lips, coaxing her to open for him. She did and he explored her mouth leisurely until she began her own exploration. Her soft hands ran along his shoulders then to his neck. Burying her fingers in his hair, Angel pressed closer, heating the kiss and demanding more. Hawk groaned. He had already been hard for her when he awoke to find her fingers stroking his skin. But now. Bloody hell. He couldnt get enough of her. Her passion, so fresh and new, fueled his lust beyond anything hed experienced.

She wiggled against him, driving him wild. This beautiful wife of his would be the death of him. He laughed to himself. He would die a very happy man. He shifted then, putting his knee between hers, thereby releasing her hair and allowing her some freedom. She pulled her lips from his to kiss him along his jaw and down his neck, her tongue heating his skin. His breath caught as she licked the pulse point at the base of his neck and suckled gently. No woman had ever affected him like this. She continued to suck and lick for a few moments, and then she lightly nipped him, drawing her teeth across the skin made sensitive by her kisses. Hawk growled deep in his throat. Angel, he whispered hoarsely. She surprised him by pushing him hard and rolling him to his back. No, no, my lord. Tis not Angel in your bed this morning. She ran her palms along his chest, her voice husky as her eyes met his. Tis Hellion who has you now. She nipped him again and ran the tip of her tongue to the base of his ear. I want to taste you, my lord. And I shall have my way, she whispered against his ear before she ran her tongue inside the little hollow and drew the lobe into her mouth. Mmm, she

hummed. You taste so good. Hawk gritted his teeth as she continued her sensual assault. Have you any idea what you are doing to me? he croaked. Is it anything like the fire that spreads in my veins when you touch me? She brushed his lips with hers before moving lower to kiss the top of his chest. Hawk couldnt answer her. Lust, fevered and uncontrolled, raged through him. Her legs and hips slid against his own as she moved lower. Her tongue glided down his chest to find a flat nipple. It hardened instantly. Unable to restrain them any longer, his hands came up to tangle themselves in her hair, clutching her head. She tongued his nipple. He clenched his jaw, trying desperately not to give into his desire to toss her down and bury himself deep inside her. Those maddening lips left his nipple only to find another as she continued her torture. Her hand moved across his belly, and her fingers brushed the tip of his arousal. Hawks breath hissed through his clenched teeth. Her hand came around his erection, and she stroked him. His pulse throbbed in the veins that ran the length of his swollen manhood. Angel moved lower, her tongue tasting the skin covering his ribs, then lower. Lower.

His hands tightened in her hair as he realized what she meant to do. Angel. His voice rumbled, so gruff and low her name became little more than a growl. Her tongue touched the top of his erection, and then swirled lightly around the tip. She ran her tongue down his staff to the base and back again. Hawks body quaked with raw, mindnumbing need. Enough! he barked and rolled her beneath him. But I wanted to Her words ended in a gasp as he drove himself into her. Immediately he began pumping her fiercely. More. Hawk needed more. He withdrew, reached beneath her, and flipped her over onto her stomach. He grasped her hips, pulled her up on her knees, and impaled her once again. Yesss. He paused only a moment before he began thrusting and withdrawing, fast and hard, driven by his need to possess her. Oh, my lord. She whimpered and cried out softly each time he drove himself home. Her cries made him even more wild and frenzied. He pumped harder. Faster. Angel screamed.

Her cry of passion drove him over the edge. She tightened around him, and his own hoarse shout of release followed hers. The hot spurt of his seed splashed against her womb, and she collapsed beneath him. Hawk released her hips and leaned forward over her back, his arms on either side of her, bracing his weight as he struggled to catch his breath. Never had he lost control like that. As his breathing slowed, he became aware of Angelinas whimpers below him. Christ! What had he done? He pulled away from her and, lying on his side, drew her toward him so that he could see her face. No tears, he thought anxiously. Angel. He kissed her face, her cheeks, her forehead. Im so sorry. She opened her eyes, stilled dazed with passion. Hmm? Did I hurt you, love? His hand cupped her cheek as he gazed worriedly at her. She shook her head. Are you certain? I did not mean to be so rough, sweeting. Twas incredible, my lord, she answered breathlessly. Relief washed over him. Yes, it was. You incite me beyond all reason. He closed his eyes, shaking his head in wonder.

Tis a delightful way to begin ones day, I think. Mmm. Indeed it is. He chuckled and kissed the top of her nose and fell back on the bed. Angelina sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Where are you going? I need to use the necessary, my lord. She laughed and stood. But do not expect me to return to bed. He sat up on his elbow and reached for her. She squealed and evaded him. Oh, no, my lord. I am starving. She walked toward the bathing room, pausing at the door to smile at him over her shoulder. I seldom miss breakfast, husband. She exited the room, pushing the door almost closed behind her. Angelina used the privy then went to the basin and filled it with water. She dunked a cloth and scrubbed her face. Washing the stickiness from her thighs, she drew the cloth between her legs to clean herself. She carefully washed the tender flesh, still tingling from her morning activities. A smile curved her lips as she remembered the pleasure she had found.

Drawing the cloth away, she started to rinse it in the basin but stopped short. No, she whispered. A small reddish-brown stain colored the cloth. She quickly rinsed the cloth, wrung it out, and repeated the cleansing of her most private area, holding her breath. When she drew the cloth away, once again she found the familiar tell-tale stain. No! Her mind screamed. Her courses had begun. She was not with child. Her eyes filled with tears at her disappointment. After rinsing the towel again, she emptied the water and picked up a silver hair brush. Welcoming the distraction of the pain, she ran it through her tangled hair without restraint. She pulled a chemise and dress from the wardrobe and went to the chest of drawers to retrieve her stockings and the cloths she would need. Tears threatened. She had failed to conceive. His wife sat on the settee putting on her stockings when Hawk entered, having waited a several minutes to give her a bit of privacy. He watched her pulled a stocking over a shapely calf.

Everything she did seemed so graceful to him. Her hair hung forward, hiding her face as she bent to her task. She finished and sat back with a sigh, pushing her hair behind her ear. A tear rolled down her cheek. Angel? He came quickly toward her, seating himself next to her. She jumped at the sound of his voice and quickly wiped away the tear. My lord. You startled me. He put one arm around her waist and caught her chin in his other hand, forcing her to look at him. Why are you crying? She shook her head, refusing to explain. I did hurt you. He pulled her into his arms and stroked her back tenderly. I was too rough. Im so sorry, Angel. No. She sniffed. No, my lord. You did not hurt me. I am fine. Really. She cupped his face in her hands. Offering him a small smile, she brushed his lips with a kiss. Hawk remained skeptical. Then why are you crying? Im not. She denied the obvious as her eyes again filled with tears, and she looked away. He said her name, demanding an explanation with that one word.

Tis nothing, my lord, she whispered. Please tell me, Angel. Let me make it better. He trailed soft kisses across her face. I... She choked on her words. Tis just thatI am not... She burst into tears and buried her face against his chest, sobbing. Angel, Angel. Please do not cry, sweeting. Please. It was killing him. Why did her tears affect him so? True, he had never liked to see a woman cry, but when his Angel cried, it made him want to cry too. He held her close and stroked her hair. Angel. His voice cracked in a choked whisper. Please, Angel. Your tears pain me beyond words. Angelina sniffed and pulled back, wiping her cheeks with her hands. Im sorry, my lord. I know not what has come over me this morning. He reached for a small cloth hanging nearby and offered it to her. She dabbed her eyes and daintily blew her nose. I am fine now. I apologize if I upset you. He cradled her face in his hands again. Tell me why. Because... she began, and her eyes again filled with tears.

No, please, Angel, he said quickly. No more tears. He embraced her and held his breath, praying she would not cry again. Forgive me, she whispered against his shoulder. Perhaps... Perhaps we should speak of this later. He leaned back and studied her face. Do you promise to tell me later? Yes, my lord. She sighed, her relief clear. But I cannot talk about it just now. She wrapped her arms about his waist, giving him a little squeeze. We will discuss it later. I promise. Not completely happy to wait for her disclosure, but unwilling to risk a new round of tears, he reluctantly agreed. She moved from his embrace and stood. I will wait for you in the dining room. She slid her feet into her slippers. Hurry, lest I starve to death before you arrive. Her voice held a teasing tone. He gave her a half-hearted smile for her jest but could not muster more. She was unhappy, and that upset him more than he would have imagined possible. Angel padded toward the door. He remained on the settee, rested his elbows on his knees,

and held his head in his hands. My lord? Hawk lifted his head. Yes? Thank you. I have always imagined a real husband would hold me when I felt like crying. She turned and closed the door behind her, leaving Hawk to wonder if he had done something to cause her tears, or if hed finally done something right.
Chapter Ten

Mattie fussed with the items on the sideboard as Angelina entered the dining room. The older woman glanced up quickly, and then turned back to the sideboard to get a cup of chocolate for Angelina. You are a bit later than usual, child. She chuckled. Angelina mumbled an agreement. Did you sleep well? The cup clattered and splashed. What is it? What has upset you so? She should have realized her old nurse would react this way. Angelina was not one given to tears or hysterics. She only cried when something truly distressed her. My flow is upon me. I will not have a babe.

Mattie sighed. There, there, she crooned. Youve only been with him a few times. And everyone knows a woman is not fertile so close to her time. Tis much more likely you will conceive shortly following your flow. She patted Angelinas back. Worry not. You shall have a babe soon enough. But what if he leaves now that he cannot sleep with me? Or worse. What if he seeks another woman here at Lynnhaven to warm his bed? Angelina covered her face with her hands. Oh, Mattie, I would just die. You are borrowing trouble. Tis not like you to worry over what ifs. Where is my stubborn girl who makes the world dance to her own tune? Angelina smiled weakly at Matties teasing. This is different, Mattie. I cannot control him. And to my utmost aggravation he seems to control me. I do not understand it. How can he make me so weak just by looking at me? How does he do it? Perhaps because you let him, Mattie offered softly. Perhaps you really want him to. Nonsense. Why in the name of all that is holy would I want him to control me? The attraction atween the two of you is very strong. Perhaps tis like you said. Perhaps you want a real husbanda husband you can rely upon. How could you depend on any man who was

not strong enough to control his own wife? Perhaps you are testing him. Angelina eyed Mattie thoughtfully. Was this woman right? Sometimes, Mattie, I think you know me better than I know myself. Mattie chuckled. Of course I do. Now, you get something to eat. Ive chores to see to. She left the dining room. Hawk decended the stairs as Mattie entered the foyer. Mattie, a word with you, please. Of course, my lord. He reached the landing and stopped. Your lady was crying this morning and I know, my lord, Mattie interrupted. Ive spoken with her. Did she tell you why? The woman nodded. Did she not tell you? Every time she began, she started crying again. Hawk shook his head, trying to hide his frustration. We agreed to discuss it later, but

Her monthly courses have begun, my lord, Mattie interrupted again. Is that not normal? he asked, completely bewildered now. Why would she be so upset? She was hoping shed conceived a child, my lord. A babe? He couldnt stop the smile that formed at the image of Angel with a child in her arms. She wants a babe now? She said she wanted a family, but I hadnt thought she wished to start directly. Yes, my lord. More than anything she wants a family. She was very disappointed when proof came that she had not conceived. But we have only been together a few days. She could not possibly think it would happen so soon. Perhaps she did not expect it, but she prayed it would happen immediately. Tis understandable in light of her fears. He felt his smile melt away. Fears? Again, the housekeepers tone was that of tutor whose patience was wearing thin with her pupil. As I said before, my lord, she fears you will leave. She is doubly concerned that you will do so before she conceives. Shes also afraid that if you stay, you will seek out another woman here at Lynnhaven to warm

your bed until her courses end. Given the choice, I think she would rather you left. I am not going anywhere, Mattie. And my wife is the only woman I want in my bed. Tis not me you need to convince, my lord. Mattie smiled and gestured down the hall toward the dining room. Hawk had the distinct feeling that Mattie had arranged their little chat even though he had been the one to initiate it. The woman was a godsend. Angel sat nursing her cup of chocolate when Hawk entered the dining room. A pensive expression lined her features. She glanced up as he neared the table and smiled. Sorry to keep you waiting, he offered. Standing to greet him, she placed a kiss on his cheek. Sit, my lord. I shall serve you. You need not serve me. I do not expect my wife to be my personal servant. He blocked her way to the sideboard. Angelina laughed. Tis a good thing. I have not the temperament to be a servant. He grinned, silently agreeing with her assessment.

She placed her hand against his freshly shaved cheek. But after your kindness and understanding this morning, I wanted to do you this favor. Hawk turned his face to place a kiss in her palm. How can I resist such a sweet offer? His gaze held hers. Angelina cocked her head to the side. What may I get for you, my lord? Coffee, please. Are you not hungry? Of course I am. I have had a busy morning. Angelinas cheeks reddened. She looked away shyly. I will have an egg, a scone, and bacon. Sausage, too, I think. He kissed her cheek and moved to his chair. Angelina poured his coffee, placed the requested items on a plate, and brought them to the table. Thank you. You are most welcome. Would you like some butter or jam for your scone? No, thank you. Please get yourself

Angelina stopped his request with another offer. She had reached for a small crock and she brought it forward. Then you must have some honey. Lynnhaven produces the finest honey in all of England, my lord. You must taste it. He chuckled as he accepted the crock. Very well. I will have some honey, but only if you will get yourself some breakfast. You said you were starving. She smiled and went to the sideboard. Perhaps I exaggerated a bit. She chose a scone and a piece of sausage and returned to the table. You did not exaggerate. Hawk finished swallowing a bite of bread. This honey is perfect. Tis the best. She reached for the crock to add honey to her scone. They ate in a comfortable silence. Angel refilled his coffee and her own chocolate and returned to the table to finish her meal. Hawk watched intently as she licked the honey from her lips. He shook his head and smiled. How could she be so provocative and not even realize it? Knowing he could not throw her over his shoulder and take her back to bed, he tried to keep his mind off his wifes many charms. What do you plan to do today? First I think I shall go to the barn to speak with Gordon. I

am anxious to know the final tally for the shearing. We had three dozen ewes to lamb last year and almost four dozen again this spring. The flock has grown tremendously. Before he died, Papa bought two dozen of those new Bakewell Leicester breed. They grow larger and much more quickly and they have longer wool than the old Cotswolds. We should have a record setting harvest of wool this time. The autumn shearing, though we do not shear the sheep as closely, will be just as good. Hawk smiled at his wifes enthusiasm. I should look into buying some of these Bakewells for my herd. Mattie entered through the side door. My lady, when you have a moment, Ellie would like to speak with you. Yes, of course, Angelina replied. She rose and addressed him. Perhaps I shall meet you in the barn, my lord? He smiled and nodded, pleased with the invitation. I would like to stop at the stables afterward to see Coal. Hawks smile froze, and he looked sharply at her. She held up her hand, forestalling his refusal. I will not ride him. I only want to see him. Angelina exited through the side door, and Hawk pushed his chair back. Mattie spoke before he could stand. My lord, may I have a word with you?

What is it? Tis about my ladys horse, my lord. Hawk closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He started to tell her that he would not discuss the matter, but Mattie continued. Oh, I understand why you do not want her to ride that animal. All horses are dangerous. Ive seen too many people hurt to think otherwise. The beasts make me nervous and I agree with you completely. But there is something you should know about that horse, my lord. Go on. My lady dearly loves that horse. You see, she trained him herself. She tried over and over again to acquaint him with a saddle, but the stubborn thing refused. Each day for weeks she would try to put it on him. Each day she failed. The men, Gordon, Ethanall of themoffered to do it. Let me break him, they would say. Ill teach him who is master. But my lady adamantly refused. His magnificent spirit is what makes this horse so special. I will not have his spirit broken, shed say. Then one day, she sat at this very table and suddenly proclaimed, If he will not take a saddle, I shall learn to ride without one. And she did just that too. She marched right out to the stables and rode Coal that very day. She has tamed him to her hand, my lord. It took some time, but she eventually

taught him to accept the saddle. To this day, no one else has ever been able to ride him, saddle or no. Hes loyal only to my lady. Her compromise earned her the trust and utter devotion of the finest horse any of us has ever seen. Hawk pondered Matties words. Why do I get the feeling you are not actually talking about the horse? Mattie seemed quite satisfied with his question. Does the horse remind you of someone, my lord? she asked with a wink. Spirited...beautiful...stubborn. Indeed the horse does remind me of someone. He chuckled. So, my lord. You see the choice, then. Will you break her spirit, or will you compromise and tame her to your hand thereby earning her trust and loyalty? She turned and walked to the door. How did you get to be so wise, Mattie? I was born this way, my lord. Hawk made his way to the barn, finding Gordon. They spoke only a few moments before Angel joined them. Tell me of the shearing, Gordon. Are you finished? Was it the largest ever? Angelina asked, excitement ringing in her voice.

Gordon smiled broadly. Yes, my lady. We finished last evening. And, yes, it was the largest wool gathering weve ever had. We topped last spring by almost a third. Angelina clapped her hands, beaming. Wonderful! Is it not wonderful, my lord? Yes. I am very proud of all of you. Contrary to popular belief, tis quite a difficult task to keep a herd healthy and growing. You are all to be commended. He put his arm around her shoulders, aware of how possessive the gesture was. We will leave for Durham tomorrow then, Gordon? Angelina asked. Hawk interrupted before Gordon could answer. We? Yes, my lord. I always take the wool to Durham. Not this time. Gordon can take the wool. The task is no longer your responsibility. But, my lord, I No, Angel. Gordon will take it. Or do you not think him capable? Her jaw clenched. Anger flashed in her eyes. My lord, of course Gordon is capable, tis just that

Very good, then. Gordon will take the wool. Angelina stiffened, turned her back, and left the barn without another word. Hawk watched her leave. How did he always end up making her so angry? Why could she not simply accept his decisions? A little voice answered his questions with another. Will you seek to break her spirit? Matties words echoed in his head. Perhaps a compromise would soothe her temper. Hawk caught up with her halfway between the barn and the stables. Angel, wait. What is it, my lord? Her scowl did not bode well. Why is it so important to you to take the wool to Durham? She looked at him suspiciously. Tis just that I so seldom get to visit the city and the shops. Tis but twice a year I leave Lynnhaven, even for just a few days. Hawk sighed, guilt washing through him. I had not thought of that. He should have considered that, but his reasons for keeping her here might placate her. Do you know why I do not want you to go? Why? Because I want to spend some time getting to know my

wife. Can we not get to know each other in Durham? I want to be here. I want to know all about you and Lynnhaven. Tis beautiful here, Angel. And quiet. Durham is big and noisy and dirty. Angelinas anger seemed to fade, but not the disappointment. I like Durhamthe old cathedral and the castle. Tis a bit dirty in some parts of the town, but not like London. Her voice held a note of melancholy. Her unhappiness tore at him. Very well. He sighed. If it means so much to you, we can go for a few days. Angelina blinked up at him. Truly? Only a few days. I do not want to stay long. She smiled. Thank you. The light in her eyes sent warmth spreading through him. He couldnt let her know that she could so easily sway him. But do not think I will bow to your wishes in all things, Angel. I Her fingers covered his lips. Shh. Do not spoil it. Hawk clasped her hand and kissed her fingers. I want you to be happy.

She bit her bottom lip. Then we should continue our courtship in Durham where you will take me boating on the river, and we can picnic on the lawn below the cathedral. He grinned. And I will take you shopping if you wish. She twined her arms about his waist, laid her head on his shoulder, and squeezed him. Thank you. We shall have a wonderful time. You will see. And we will only stay for a few days like you said. Hawk hugged her back, holding her for several moments. Compromising certainly had its advantages. Angel finally released her hold. I want to see Coal now. Will you come with me? Hawk raised his brow. Oh, please, my lord. If you would just get to know him, you would see that he is not dangerous. I doubt you will change my mind. Could you not at least let me try? Her voice was hopeful. How could any man ever say no to her? He shook his head and chuckled. Very well. You may try. Thank you, my lord.

I have not said that you may ride him, mind you. I know, but your willingness to let me show you what a magnificent horse he is means the world to me. She slipped her hand into his. He stood at the fence and watched as Angel entered a small pasture near the stables and whistled for Coal. The magnificent horse came running toward her. Hawk stiffened when Coal did not slow as he neared Angelina. He gripped the fence, ready to climb over, but forced himself to watch as the horse circled her, neighing loudly. His wife showed no fear at all. The stable boy joined him at the fence. Hawk nodded at him, acknowledging his presence. Angelina giggled, drawing his attention back to her. The lad spoke quietly. Tis but a game they play, my lord. Watch. Our lady has something in her pocketmost likely a carrot. Coal loves carrots. He will chase her until she tires or he has her cornered. Hawk observed the little game, surprised that Coal hadnt trampled Angel in their play or shoved her down as he nudged her hips and bottom with his nose. Amazingly, the horse was very gentle with her, as if the animal was aware he might hurt her.

Hawk mused, She really loves that horse, doesnt she? Aye, my lord. What was your name? Frankie. Hawk smiled when Coal won their little game, and Angelina pulled two carrots from her pocket. She fed them to him, lovingly patting his nose and mane. Frankie, has my wife ever been hurt while riding that horse? The lad thought for a moment. I dont believe so, my lord. He threw her once a year or so ago. A wild boar startled the horse. But my lady said that after she fell, Coal trampled the boar and killed it. She said that he was protecting her. I believe it too! I think he wanted to trample you the other day. Frankies face reddened. Your pardon, my lord. Please forgive my boldness. Hawk just laughed. I believe you have the right of it. Your lady was not hurt when Coal threw her? Frankie shook his head. No, my lord. Not really. She said he reared back unexpectedly, and she slid off his back and landed on her bum. She said she had a bit of trouble sitting for a day or two, though. Thank you, Frankie. Hawk dismissed him with a nod and

watched Angelina. The stable lad nodded but did not leave immediately. It was clear that he wanted to say more. Was there something else, lad? He seemed to gather his courage, taking a deep breath. My lord, you should know that our lady rides better than any man Ive ever seen. With or without a saddle, Frankie rushed on. Hawk smiled. I noticed. You neednt worry that Coal will hurt her. The boy bowed before taking his leave. Angelinas servants were very protective of her. Perhaps his fear at seeing his young wife jumping fences at a dead run had caused him to act rashly. Angelina approached the fence and exited through the gate to stand before Hawk. Did I not tell you, my lord? Coal is not wild. He would never hurt me. She seemed to be holding her breath as she awaited his response. Perhaps you are right, Angel. I Angelina squealed and threw her arms around his neck. I have not said that you may ride him, Hawk said sternly, though he could not help but smile at her excitement. But you will. I know it. She pulled his face toward her and

stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. First a sweet little kiss upon his lips, then little pecks across his cheeks. Hawk hugged her close and lifted her from her feet. She laughed, now eye to eye with him. Then she kissed him again and laid her cheek against his, hugging his neck. I just do not want you hurt, Angel. She released her hold on his neck and looked at him, searching his face. You really do care. The surprise in her voice was obvious. Of course I care, Angel. You are my wife. Her lips thinned, and he saw the disappointment in her eyes. Apparently that was not what she had wanted to hear. He added what he hoped would please her. And I fear Ive developed a certain tendr for you. Her grin returned. Indeed? Well, that will not do. She kissed him lightly. Noble gentlemen are not supposed to actually care for their wives, are they? Certainly not, he playfully returned. What would society say about a man who actually loved his wife? She rubbed the tip of his nose with her own. And of course, tis not seemly for any gentile lady to care for her husband.

Oh, no, he answered with mock disapproval. No selfrespecting lady of the ton would dare to fall in love with her husband. Her eyes widened. Then the corners of her mouth lifted in a soft smile. Think of the scandal, my lord, she whispered as she laid her lips against his. They spent a pleasant afternoon together with Angelina showing Hawk around Lynnhaven. Afterward, they shared a quick luncheon and went over the estates books. Angels love for Lynnhaven and her pride in all they had accomplished over the years was evident throughout the tour. Hawks appreciation of his wifes abilities and character grew with each passing hour. After an informal dinner, they sat in the drawing room. Hawk questioned Angel. What do you do when the days work is done? What do you mean, my lord? How do you relax in the evenings? Well, mostly I read. I am not accomplished at most feminine pastimes like needlepoint or painting. Mattie tried to teach me to use a needle, and Uncle Julian employed a special tutor to teach me to use watercolors, but I have not the patience or the skill for such pursuits.

Do you host dinner parties? Have friends visit? he asked, curious and jealous of anyone who had been fortunate enough to spend time with her. No. I have few neighbors. To the east is Farley Manor. The viscount has a daughter, but she married a couple of years ago and moved away. Tis just as well. Angelina wrinkled her nose in distaste. She was only interested in gossip and fashion. I was never so happy to see her coming as I was to see her leave. To the south, Lord and Lady Fairchild spend most of their time in London. They have three sons of a similar age who are in residence at various times, but I think it unseemly to invite unmarried men to visit. Hawk nodded his agreement. She continued. Theyve invited me to a couple of dinner parties, but I did not feel comfortable attending without a proper escort. Hawk laughed at this. I would not expect a woman who rides a horse bareback and in breeches to worry about what is proper. Angel only smiled, not in the least embarrassed. This is my home. I do what I please while I am here, my lord. However, I would never cause gossip and scandal amongst our peers by attending a function unescorted or inviting unmarried men to visit me.

Of course not. I simply find it difficult to remember that Hellion and Angel are one and the same. Her cheeks flushed. She did not offer anything more. Hawk wasnt satisfied with what little he had learned. Any other neighbors? Only Lord Helton. Angelinas voice held obvious contempt for the man. His estate borders the north. Hes buried two wives and has only one legitimate son who is mean and hateful. Lord Helton is a lecherous old man. She shuddered as she spoke. At last count he has sired nine bastards amongst his tenants and servants. The last time he visited I made it clear to him he was not welcome here after his untoward advances on my person. Hawks anger over the neighbors transgression was matched only by his guilt. It must have been lonely for you here. Angel shrugged. I have been happy enough, I suppose. I have Mattie, Gordon, Ethan, Frankie, and the others. Though they are servants, they have become my only family. Hawk sought to turn the conversation to more pleasant topics. So you read. Anything else? Sometimes I play my harp, but usually I read. I recently finished The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding. Twas quite amusing. Now I am reading Voltaires new

book, Micromgas. Tis a short story, but tis written in French, so the reading is slow for me. My French is a bit rusty. So far, I have found it quite interesting, but tis difficult to envision a being from a distant star. Voltaire has quite the imagination. I have been trying to get a copy of that. You shall have to let me borrow it when you are finished. Angelina nodded. Of course, you are welcome to any of the books in the library. Papa had a large collection, and I have added to it a great deal over the years. I have an account with a bookseller in London. Any time he finds a new book he thinks I would like, he sends it to me immediately. Tis how I got the much sought-after copy of Micromgas. Hawk gestured toward a beautiful instrument nestled in the corner of the room. I noticed the harp earlier, but I did not realize you played. A half-smile flitted across her lips as she answered. Papa insisted I learn. Every angel needs a harp. Angelina laughed softly. Tis what Papa said. Will you play for me? She looked at him uncertainly, then at the harp. Clearly she was reluctant.

Please? Just one tune. She hesitated a moment more. I will, my lord. But I have not played in some time. You must promise not to tease me if I play the wrong note. I promise. He chuckled. His wife sat on a cushioned stool and pulled the instrument foward, resting it on her shoulder. She played a piece from Vivaldis Four Seasons. Though the music she played was beautiful, Hawk was moved more by the sight of her playing than by the sound. She closed her eyes, laying her cheek against the harps frame. Her hands glided along the strings. She was enchanting. Hawk was lost in his thoughtsthoughts composed entirely of images of his wife. Angel before him, gloriously naked. Angel asleep in his arms. Angel in a rage, or with her horse, or eating strawberries. She finished the piece and cocked her head to one side. My lord? Called back from his daydream, Hawk lifted his gaze to hers. Beautiful. He held out his hand in summons. She stood and crossed to him, taking his hand. He gently drew her down to sit next to him on the sofa. Cupping her face,

he stroked her cheeks with his thumbs, admiring the freckles scattered across her nose, her emerald green eyes, and her full, soft lips. You are the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, Angel. He kissed her tenderly. I will be a good wife, my lord. You are perfect, he whispered before he took her into his arms and kissed her. His hands roamed her body, and he reveled in her passion. Angel pulled away, her breathing ragged. My lord She gasped. We need to talk aboutabout what upset me this morning. Hawk cleared his throat. Are you still upset? No. She paused. Yes. Perhaps a little. I was disappointed. You see She stared at her hands, and her cheeks flushed. You see, my monthly flow began this morning. He tucked a curly lock of hair behind her ear. Go on. I I was hoping to have conceived a babe. He grinned and drew her into his arms. Then I shall have to work tirelessly to give you one.

She laughed as he nibbled on her neck. Twill be a demanding task. I expect many longsleepless nights. He emphasized his words with licks and kisses on her throat. She swatted his arm playfully. You make it sound like a sacrifice. He chuckled. A sacrifice I am more than willing to make, sweeting. His thoughts grew serious. I want a girl with green eyes and curly red hair. Certainly not, my lord. We shall have a boy, an heir for Fennimore. A boy? She nodded. He pretended to consider it. He would need an heir, of course, but the idea of a little girl somehow warmed his heart. I suppose if that is what you want. But if we must have boy then we shall have to have a second babe, for I want a girl. A second child? His wifes smile glowed with happiness. You would not mind? Definitely not. But if the second child is also a son, we will need a third, he teased.

Angelina twined her arms around his neck. And if the third is boy? Then we shall have to keep trying, love, for I must have a daughter to spoil and dote upon. He kissed the tip of her nose. She snuggled into his arms. Promise me that you will not leave until I have conceived, my lord, she whispered. Hawk hugged her. I cannot promise that, darling. Angelinas smile slipped. You see, he continued, I have already promised to take my wife to Durham. And, well, I cannot break a promise. Whenever I must leave, you will simply have to come with me. We leave on the morrow. Do we not? Angel kissed him then, spreading light pecks across his face. Yes! Thank you. Thank you, she said breathlessly. I have wanted a family for so long. I want you to be happy. But I should tell you that I will not be too disappointed if it does not happen right away. Pardon? Twould be nice to have you all to myself for a while. He gave her another squeeze. I fear I will be jealous of my own child.

She laughed. More likely you will tire of me and be thankful for a babe to occupy my time. Hawk shook his head. I cannot imagine ever tiring of you. She gave him a mischievous smile. You know, it occurs to me that I should have asked you for an annulment sooner, my lord. Hawk laughed loudly and held her close. You are a treasure, love. He nuzzled her hair. She snuggled close to him, resting her head on his chest. For several minutes they sat silently on the sofa. Hawk realized she had almost fallen asleep. You are tired, sweeting. Let us seek our bed. Angelina sighed deeply and stood, holding out her hand for him. He smiled as she led him to their room. But when they reached Angelinas door, she did not stop. Hawk tugged on her hand. Where are you going? I would show you to your room, my lord. He shook his head. I will not be sleeping there unless you are with me. Panic etched her features. Butmy lord. You would not I

mean I cannot He looked at her quizzically. Please, my courses He chuckled and pulled her to him. We do not have to make love, Angel. But I will not sleep without you in my arms. Her eyes widened. Youyou still want to sleep with me? He nodded. Even though we cannot I want your beautiful face to be the first thing I see in the morning. Hawk thought back on Matties words this morning. Angel, did you think I would seek another woman to share my bed? Iwell, men usuallythat is He shook his head and answered in a serious tone. You are truly my wife now and not simply my child bride. It would be disrespectful of me to take another woman to my bed here in our home. I will honor you always, my countess. You will be treasured and treated with respect. I would never do anything that might cause you embarrassment or shame. He lightened his tone. Besides, he said with a tweak of her nose, you are

the only woman I want. Angelina looked into his eyes, clearly judging his sincerity. A silent moment passed before she spoke. Thank you. I was so afraid that you would I mean I just could not bear it if He silenced her with a kiss, then took her hand and led her back to her room. She slipped into the dressing room for a moment and returned wearing her chemise and drawers. Hawk undressed, turned down the lamp, and crawled into bed wearing nothing. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly. Good night, wife. Good night, husband. She snuggled close to him. You are really quite good at being a husband, my lord. I fear I shall have to guard my heart lest you steal it. You had best guard it well, wife. For that is precisely my intent. Angelina looked up at him. He continued. I shall steal your heart and make it mine. Why? Tis only fair, Angel. I believe you may have already stolen a piece of mine. He chuckled at the surprise in her eyes as she searched his

face in the dim light of the moon shining through the windows. In truth, Hawk was equally stunned by this turn of events. He hadnt expected to enjoy the matrimonial state at all, but he found it more and more appealing with each dayand night that passed. Now that hed had time to think on it, he realized his life had been nearly as lonely as Angels. Other than a couple of cousins he saw on occasion, he had no remaining family. Most of his closest friends had succumbed to the duties of their station and married. The gaming halls and brothels were no longer places they could frequent without causing scandal for their families. Hed had lovers, of course, but none had stirred any great affection. Twas little wonder hed been so restless of late. Hawk looked into Angels green, questioning gaze. How could he blame her for doubting him? He had failed her for too long. No more. It would not be easy to tame her reckless independence. Perhaps it would take months, even years to earn her trust and loyalty. They would likely be at odds for quite some time. But she was his family now. She would be the mother of his children. Children. The thought of being a husband and father had

once soured his belly and made him physically ill. Now the idea promised of happy, carefree days chasing butterflies through the meadow with a pair of redheaded imps. His musings brought hope for his future, something Hawk had missed for a very long time. He cupped Angels head and pulled it to his shoulder. God give you sweet repose, love.
Chapter Eleven

Angelina woke early the next morning. She and Hawkesworth dressed and ate breakfast. Excitement bubbled through her as she directed Mattie on what clothing to pack. The weather will be a bit warmer this time since tis later in the season, but the wind off the river will still be cold. We have plans to go boating. I will need extra petticoats and my blue velvet dress. Pack the green and cream velvet dresses too. And be sure to bring that beautiful evening gown I bought last fall. I might have an occasion to wear it. Mattie just smiled and nodded. A few short hours later, Angelina sat in the carriage pondering the events of the previous night. Hawkesworth had promised her children. He had spoken as if hed come to care for her, telling her that shed stolen a piece of his heart. Did she dare believe it? The many gossip column reports shed read should be proof enough that she should be skeptical. The man was known to have broken dozens of hearts. She would be a

fool to let him add hers to his list of conquests. She leaned forward to peek out the carriage window. In the distance, the magnificent towers of Durham Cathedral graced the sky. The ancient stone structure stood high atop a hill on a small peninsula carved by the River Wear. Next to the huge church, Durham Castle covered most of the remaining land. Her husband had told her they would call on the new earl during their visit. Richard Lumley-Saunderson was a friend of Hawkesworth. They had attended school together. Richard, the former Viscount Lumley, had succeeded his father last year as the 4th Earl of Scarbrough. Angelina hadnt been in the old castle since her father had taken her there when she was just a little girl. She wondered if it would still be as cold, drafty, and frightening as she had found it then. With a shiver, she pulled her fur-lined shawl over her shoulders. Hawkesworth drew his horse closer to the carriage. In less than an hour we will be at the inn. Are you hungry? Angelina nodded. Yes. Are we going to the castle this evening? He shrugged. I will send a note when we reach the inn. Richards wife is expecting a child. I am not sure if she is receiving visitors. I know not when we should call or how long to expect we shall stay.

Angelina envied the other countess. Even now she suffered the mild cramping that always accompanied her courses, a painful reminder that her womb remained empty. As soon as they reached the inn, she would have Mattie prepare her special tea to help ease the ache. She glanced at the woman who served as her housekeeper and ladys maid, asleep on the seat across from her. Hawkesworth spoke again. I am going to ride ahead. I will have the innkeeper prepare a meal for us. Perhaps it will be ready when you arrive. He grinned and kicked his horses flanks. A short time later, Angelinas carriage crossed the bridge over River Wear and into the bustling streets of Durham. The local paper reported recently that the city had reached a population of more than five thousand. Jobs available in the expanding coal mining industry of the region had apparently sparked the growth. The town has grown since we were here last, Mattie noted in a sleepy tone. She sat up and smoothed her hair. Yes. Look. Angelina pointed toward a row of shops along a side street. Those buildings werent there six months ago. They crossed the narrow peninsula and Elvet Bridge. The Coaching Inn, the finest County Durham offered, sat nestled in the center of the tiny township of Elvet on the east, just across

the river from the main city of Durham. The carriage stopped at the front door of the three-story structure. The door opened. Hawkesworth offered his hand. Your meal awaits, my lady. Angelina returned his smile. Thank you. After a tasty luncheon, Hawkesworth took her shopping. He insisted on buying everything she admired. Perhaps he believed he could buy her affections. No doubt he had made his many mistresses happy that way. The thought left a bitter taste in her mouth. As late afternoon approached, she used an excuse of hunger to end their shopping trip and find some tea and crumpets. They returned to the inn to find a note from the Earl of Scarbrough, an invitation to join them for dinner tomorrow evening. Hawkesworth sent a reply of acceptance. They had a quiet meal in the inns dining room that evening, and made plans to hire a boat for a morning ride and have a picnic luncheon afterwards. Morning brought a few clouds, but an otherwise pleasant day. Angelina walked with her arm linked in her husbands elbow down the walk in front of the inn. Hawk! a masculine voice rang behind them. Hawkesworth turned. Nick!

A blond Adonis approached them. Almost as tall as Hawkesworth, the man possessed features that reminded Angelina of Greek and Roman sculptures. Golden curls framed a strong jaw, straight nose, and high, aristocratic cheekbones. Fine, tailored clothes fit his lean frame. Dark blue eyes smiled at her husband. What are you doing in Durham? I could ask you the same. He clasped the mans hand and gave it a firm shake. I mentioned my investments in a coal mine last time I saw you. The mine is not far from here. I have come to see it. I am considering some improvements. What He glanced at Angelina and stopped short. His gaze bored through her. He grasped her hand and pulled it to his lips. Who is this beautiful vision? And what must I do, Miss, to steal you away from him? Angelina stiffened. Never had any man been so forward. Even her licentious neighbor hadnt made his intentions so clear. Angel, her husband growled. This is my nearest and dearest friend And foremost rival, the man added. Hawkesworth scowled. Lord Nicholas Sexton, the Viscount Helmsley.

The golden rogue held her hand, refusing to let her escape. He smiled at her, a grin not unlike the predatory gleam of the man she was married to. Nick, Hawkesworth continued. This is Angelina Kingsley Hawkesworth. His angry growl became a menacing warning. My wife. Lord Helmsley blinked, and his eyes widened. The rakish grin slipped, and he released her hand as if she had burned him. He straightened. I beg your forgiveness, Lady Fennimore. He rubbed the back of his neck. I had no ideaI meanThat is to say Angelina spared him and took aim at Hawkesworth instead. You are forgiven, milord. As my husbands nearest and dearest friend, you know him and his reputation better than anyone. You cannot be blamed for assuming I was your friends latest mistress or lover. Angel, Hawkesworth barked. She glared back at him. Is this what I must endure when we go to London, my lord? His reply died with the roar of an approaching carriage. Its horses, wild and frenzied, shrieked their terror. Hawkesworth ignored the pandemonium ensuing behind him. He spoke, but Angelina couldnt hear the words. Her

breath caught as the carriage barreled toward them, promising a painful death for the both of them. She reached out to grab her husband in hopes of pulling him aside, but found herself tackled and shoved back. She landed hard on the ground, the impact knocking the wind from her lungs. Dizziness assailed her with the lack of air, but she refused to faint. Panic kept her lucid. Where was Hawkesworth? From the corner of her eye, a dark sleeve caught her attention. A low moan sounded. Turning her head, Angelina found Hawkesworth on the ground next to her, Lord Helmsley between them. She finally sucked in a much needed breath. Their golden savior leaned over her. Are you hurt? She shook her head and sat up. Hawkesworth shifted. He held his head and groaned. Blood stained his jaw. Fear splintered her thoughts. How serious was his injury? Lord Helmsley turned between them and pushed Hawkesworths shoulder to keep him from getting up. Easy, Hawk. Youre bleeding. Are you injured? Im fine. Wheres Angel? Let me go, damn it! Where is my wife? Hawkesworth bellowed. I am right here. Angelina stood and moved around Lord Helmsley. No need to yell. With shaking hands, she pulled a handkerchief from her reticule and knelt to dab at the blood

on his jaw. He grabbed her hand. Youre unhurt? She nodded. Thanks to Lord Helmsley, we are both alive. Are you sure she is not someone elses wife? Helmsley asked, jerking his head toward Angelina. Hawkesworths face revealed his confusion. What? Have you provoked the ire of some jealous husband? I swear it looked as if the driver was trying to run you down. Not lately. Angelina frowned. Hawkesworth sighed. Not in a long time. I do not have any enemies. I cannot say I have ever seen the driver before, but he certainly appeared to be an enemy, Lord Helmsley argued. Hawkesworth grunted. I never even got a glimpse of him. You knocked us out of the way just as I turned to see why Angel looked so alarmed. Angelinas worries calmed as she wiped away enough blood to reveal a shallow scratch on her husbands jaw. She let out a

breath of relief. Her eyes met his smoky gray gaze. He grinned at her. You do care. She looked away. Yes, she probably did care more than she should. And he would break her heart for it. Angelina thought to deny the charge, but decided a change of subject might be the better option. I think I need a cup of tea. Coming so close to being trampled to death is a bit more unsettling than I would have imagined. She stood and started back toward the inn. Angel, wait! Hawkesworth called after her. She sighed, stopped and turned around, not surprised she hadnt been able to escape. Lord Helmsley helped him to his feet. Hawkesworth rubbed the back of his head and inspected his fingers. Thankfully, Angelina saw no additional blood. She had forgotten hed hit his head too. Her stomach tightened at the reminder. They could have been killed. Both men joined her, and they returned to the inn. Before bidding them farewell, Lord Helmsley agreed to have dinner with them. As she and her husband would be dining with the Lord and Lady Scarbrough tonight, they agreed to meet at the inn the next evening. An hour later, they set out again for the promised boat trip along the River Wear. Being mistaken for Hawkesworths latest mistress had been a

disastrous way to start the morning, but their brush with death spurred Angelina to disregard the offense. If she wanted a family, a child to share her life and home, she couldnt allow her pride to interfere. Hawkesworth would soon return to his paramours and his libertine ways, and she would find herself alone again if she couldnt control her anger and resentment. She must make every effort to be pleasant, even if it meant biting her tongue until it bled. The lazy pace of their tour gave Angelina the opportunity to learn a bit about the man she had married. They lounged against a bed of pillows, and she questioned Hawkesworth thoroughly. What was his favorite food? His favorite color? When was his birthday? What was it like growing up at Fennimore? He answered each and every query without reserve, remaining congenial for the bulk of them, but before long a scowl formed on his face as he gazed out over the water. Angelina blamed herself for the change in his mood. Im sorry, my lord. Pardon? He jerked his gaze back to hers. My endless questions are annoying you. No. He paused. No. Tis not you at all. I was just wishing I had not waited so long to come for you.

Skepticism colored her thoughts. Coming from a renowned Cyprian, she doubted the sincerity in such a statement. Rather than risk an argument, she shrugged and accepted a portion of the responsibility. I suppose I should have written to you sooner. Yes, he said as he sat up. Yes, you should have. His voice was stern, as if to chastise her. Then he smiled and traced his finger down her cheek. You should have written to tell me what a complete and utter fool I was. Clouds darkened the skies, and Hawkesworth suggested they return to the dock. Unfortunately, rain ended Angelinas hopes for a picnic luncheon. Instead, they ate their meal at the inn and spent a quiet afternoon playing chess until it was time to dress for their dinner with Lord and Lady Scarbrough. Angelina admired the entrance of Durham Castle as they approached the ornate archway. Recessed crosses carved into the bricks adorned the faade. Gothic windows added to its grace. Heavy wooden doors stood open, welcoming them into the courtyard. Somehow the beige stone seemed warmer, more inviting than it had when she had visited so long ago with her father. Hawk helped her alight from the carriage, and they climbed the few steps to the front door. It opened just as they reached the top step.

Lord Fennimore, a stiff and proper butler intoned. Lady Fennimore, please come in. The halls of the castle hadnt lost their drafty chill, but an abundance of color warmed the cold, stone walls. Vases of spring flowers graced tables covered with ruby red cloths. Velvet tapestries hung at intervals down the corridor leading to the salon. Each one depicted scenes of the countryside in vivid hues of gold, green, red, violet, and blue. Flickering candles spaced between the narrow windows chased away all shadows along with Angelinas memories of the dark, dank, dungeon-like fortress she recalled. It seems the new countess has redecorated, she whispered to her husband. Hawk nodded. Indeed. I visited Richard here when his father was earl. The hall was bare save a couple of side tables and a few wall sconces. The butler announced their arrival and stood aside to usher them into the salon. As expected, the Earl of Scarbrough was a young man about the same age as Hawk, but any similarities ended there. Richard Lumley-Saunderson stood several inches shorter than Angelinas husband. His chestnut hair was drawn back in a queue. The style accentuated his prominent cheekbones. A neatly trimmed mustache rested below a narrow nose. A fashionable black waistcoat and trousers implied quiet reservation, but warm brown eyes greeted his visitors.

Hawk! So good to see you again, ole man. He grasped Hawks hand and gave it a vigorous shake. Likewise, Richard. You are looking well. I am well. I am! He gestured toward the woman standing near the settee. You remember Barbara. Hawk strode forward, bowed and brushed a kiss over the back of Barbaras hand. My lady, you are truly radiant. Motherhood becomes you. Thank you, Lord Fennimore. Barbara Lumley-Saunderson smiled up at Hawk, her round face aglow with her pregnancy. Blonde curls bounced as she nodded toward Angelina. Please, do not delay a moment longer. Introduce us to your lovely lady. Hawk straightened and turned toward her. Richard, Barbara, this is Angelina Kingsley Hawkesworth, my countess. Angelina did her best to smile and greet the couple, but the moment sent bittersweet thoughts skittering through her mind. Other than the unfortunate event with Lord Helmsley she had tried to erase from her mind, this was the first time her husband had formally introduced her as his wife. Long ago, as shed lain awake in her bed at the girls school, she had clutched his portrait to her breast and imagined this very event. She had envisioned a grand ball in their London mansion

with the entire peerage in attendance. This long-awaited occasion had happened first when shed been mistaken as his mistressnot at all as she had once imagined as a fanciful child. Now in a private salon, far from London, without fanfare, without celebration, Angelina finally had the honor of being properly introduced as the Countess of Fennimore. Lord Scarbrough stood before Angelina and grasped the hand she offered. He kissed her knuckles. My lady, a pleasure to meet you. Hawk is blessed to have such a beautiful wife. Angelina pushed aside thoughts of her childhood dreams. I am pleased to meet you, Lord Scarbrough. Barbara extended both hands. Lady Fennimore, welcome to Durham Castle. The petite young woman stared at Angelina, her gaze filled with curiosity. Angelina took her hands and smiled. Thank you, milady. I visited the castle once as a child. My father was a friend of the late earl. I must say the dcor is much more inviting now than it was then. Barbara blinked, apparently left speechless by the compliment. Confused by her reaction, Angelina looked to Lord Scarbrough.

He cleared his throat. Yes. Well My wife has an affinity for bright colors. You should see the nursery she has prepared. Please, forgive me, Barbara recovered her momentary silence. I was surprised to learn you had been here before. Do you live nearby? Angelina nodded. Yes, actually. My estate, Lynnhaven, is here in Durham County. Tis only a few hours away. Ah The young blonde seemed at a loss for words once again, but she squeezed Angelinas hands and smiled. How wonderful. You simply must visit more often. Dinner is served, the butlers dry tone interrupted. Barbara linked her arm through Angelinas. Thank goodness. I am famished. She rubbed her protruding belly. But then, it seems I am always hungry of late, she added with a laugh. Dinner was a quiet affair with light talk of the mild, spring weather and the recent growth of Durham and the nearby towns. Barbara suggested Angelina peruse a couple of her favorite shops while visiting and noted a new bakery that served delectable scones and the finest tea. Richard remarked on the news that Voltaire had left Prussia and the court of Frederik II. This prompted a discussion of Micromgas. Afterwards, the men left the ladies for brandy and cigars.

Angelina followed Barbara back to the salon where they sipped sherry. Barbara questioned Angelina. How long ago was it that you visited Durham Castle? Oh, it was at least a dozen years, I think. The blonde nodded. How old were you then? Seven or eight. Angelina thought back. I believe it was the summer before my eighth birthday. Yes, thats right. About twelve years ago. That would make you twenty years old now. Not quite. I am nineteen. I will be twenty in a few months. Angelina wondered why her age mattered to the young woman. How old are you? Eighteen. Nineteen soon. Her lips thinned. How long have you been married? Angelina tried to change the subject. A year. And youre already expecting your first child. How wonderful. Angelina smiled.

How long have you been married? Angelina took a deep breath. Well, actually Lord Fennimore and I legally married when I was still a child. Tis well known that Lord Fennimore married a child bride. I was expecting a girl younger than myself. Perhaps sixteen. Barbara frowned. You are older than me by a year. Confused by the womans sudden irritation, Angelina tried to soothe her. I am terribly sorry, Lady Scarbrough Please, please call me Barbara. She shook her head. And it is I who should be apologizing. I should not transfer my anger at Lord Fennimore to you. Why are you angry with my husband? Angelina wasnt certain she wanted to hear the answer. Barbaras eyes widened. Arent you angry? Good heavens! She pushed herself to her feet and began pacing in front of Angelina, her hand pressed to the small of her back as she waddled to and fro. That, that inconsiderate, selfish libertine has kept you locked away in the country for years! He Angelina stood. He did not lock me away. Not really. For some unknown reason, she felt the need to defend her husband. Tis not as if he forbade me to leave Lynnhaven. I could have gone to London if I had wanted.

The young woman crossed her arms. Then why did you not go to London? Well, I had no one to act as companion or escort. Uncle Julians health prevented him from participating in social functions. And I did not want to cause a scandal. Barbara gave a curt nod. Then I was right. Lord Fennimore did keep you locked away. By refusing to introduce you to society and allow you to take your rightful place as his wife, he has made you a prisoner. She grasped Angelinas hands. Oh, you poor, poor dear. Have you been terribly miserable? Angelina throat tightened. Not terribly, no. Lonely. I have been very lonely, but not unhappy. I prefer the country air to the sooty fog of London. The young blonde tugged Angelina toward the sofa, sat, and prompted her to do the same. Lord Fennimore is a favorite amongst the ton. She shook her head, and her jaw clenched. I cannot believe he allowed all the rumors to continue for so long. Despicable cur, she mumbled. Perhaps she should take offense to the womans condemnation of her husband, but hadnt she called him that a hundred times over the years? She ignored the insult and focused on the womans other words. Rumors? Yes. I have heard them all. Some said you might be

mentally inept or unstable. Others speculated that you were frail and sickly. I have even heard it said that you might be malformed. Angelinas stomach churned, threatening to heave her dinner. I had not imaged I remember a couple of young ladies who said they had attended school with you, and they denied those claims. Though they did imply you were a bit unconventional. The statement brought forth a bubble of laughter and eased the sickening tension. Yes, well, that is one rumor I can verify for you. While the other girls at school reveled in gossip and scandal, I was far more interested in geography books. Fashion, for me, was a necessary evil, not a grand pastime as it was for the other girls. They all thought me quite strange. Barbara squeezed her hands. It simply breaks my heart that such a lovely, sweet young lady has been treated so shabbily. Bile stung the back of Angelinas throat. In truth, Barbara, there was another reason I did not wish to go to London. She met the young womans eyes. I did not want to see the sympathetic glances or be the recipient of pity from our peers. Barbara blinked and sat back, searching Angelinas face. She sighed and shook her head. And my reaction is proof that you were right. After a moment, she leaned forward again.

Perhaps if you will not accept my pity, you will accept my friendship instead. Her eyes twinkled. I have never met a more candid and fascinating lady. Angelina grinned, relieved by Barbaras abrupt change in demeanor. Are you quite certain you do not mind having a friend who is a bit envious of your current condition? She giggled. All of my friends are envious of me. You see, my marriage was a love match. Richard and I met and fell in love at my debut. At the time he was Viscount Lumley, heir to Scarbrough, financially sound, and in need of a wife. All of the unwed ladies vied for his attention, but he courted only me. She patted Angelinas hands. I am accustomed to envy. Tis a burden I have learned to bear. Angelina laughed. Then I find I cannot resist your offer of friendship, Barbara. Perhaps I shall have to visit Durham more often.
Chapter Twelve

Hawk helped Angel into the carriage, still perplexed by Barbaras odd farewell. She had hugged Angel as if they had been the best of friends for years, but given him a curt nod and an aloof Good evening, milord. He sat beside his wife, and the carriage began the short ride back to the inn. They rode in silence the entire way. Hawk bit

his tongue and waited until they had climbed the stairs at the inn a closed the door behind them. Would you care to explain why you have not said a word to me since we left the castle? He failed to hide his irritation. Angel slipped out of her cloak and hung it on the coat rack. I had nothing to say. Hawk removed his own coat, hung it up, and crossed his arms. He watched her pull off her gloves. Have you any idea why Barbara treated me so coldly when we left? She responded with a shrug. He marched over to her and grasped her shoulders. Damn it, Angel. You will tell me what happened. Her eyes narrowed and her defiant chin rose. We discussed the shopping choices in Durham. Hawk wanted to shake her. Instead he released her and walked over to the fireplace. He leaned on the mantle and stared into the fire. You can be extremely vexing at times, he grumbled. A deep sigh sounded behind him. She was angry with you. His gaze returned to his wife. Why? Did I say something at dinner?

No. Angel sat in the cushioned chair a few paces away from him and the fire. She was expecting to greet a girl of sixteen for dinner, one who might be less than mentally sound or perhaps malformed. Dismay stole his anger. What? Would you have me believe you are completely unaware of the rumors circulating amongst the ton about the mysterious young wife you keep hidden away? Hawk stared at her. What rumors? Surprise colored her features. You really do not know, do you? Know what, Angel? he ground out. What rumors? Her lips thinned. Apparently, everyone in London has tried to answer the same question I had all these years. What is so wrong with me that you do not want me for your wife? They have speculated that I am frail and sickly. Some believe I must be a lack wit. Some think I must be malformed. They believe you are ashamed of me. I never heard any of those rumors. Hawk let his head fall back and he stared at the wooden beams running the length of ceiling. A few asked about you. I told them you were still too young.

Perhaps you did. She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. But there were a couple of girls I attended school with and a few of my parents friends and acquaintances who could count the years better than you could. They knew I was old enough to be attending balls and dinner parties. As is usually the case when people are left without answers, they assumed the worst. Hawk rubbed his temples. I suppose I shall have to expect the condemnation of many when we return to London. Society matrons will be especially brutal. Angel stood. You need not worry on that account. I will not be returning to London. Ever. His hands fell to his sides. He did not want to argue with her, but he may as well have done with this subject. Yes you will. When parliament is in session, I am expected to take my seat. I have a responsibility You may go to London any time you wish, milord. She stood, walked across the room, and slipped behind the changing panel. I will remain at Lynnhaven. You will accompany me, Angel. The detached voice from the screen dripped with venom. I beg to differ. Her dress snapped against the side of the panel as she slung it over the top. I will not be subjected to the kind of

pity I received tonight. Hawk felt as if he had been slapped. Pity? Yes. Pity. A petticoat joined her dress, and she stepped from behind the panel wearing a chemise and pantaloons. Oh, you poor, poor dear, she mocked. I cannot abide it. I will not. I am not going to London. She stood with her hands on her hips, defiance and outrage carving her stance. She had pulled the pins from her hair and let it fall in a riot of flaming curls over her shoulders. She was beautiful. And Hawk wanted her. His body reacted, his groin tightening and his heart racing. His gaze found her eyes. She blinked. And blinked again. Unshed tears glistened beneath her thick lashes. A vise gripped his heart. He crossed to her and drew her into his arms. Im sorry, Angel. She shoved against his chest. I do not want your pity either, damn you. He chuckled. Tis good that you do not. I can find no pity for you at all. She looked up at him, her eyes peeking through narrow slits. I have far too much admiration for my sweet Angel. And

too much respect for my defiant Hellion. He lowered his head and captured her lips. She resisted at first, but he persisted until she softened against him, and her lips parted. His tongue tasted the sweetness that belonged only to his Angel. His blood sang in his ears. He tore his lips away and whispered to her. When we go to London you will be the envy of every woman there. I will not leave your side. They will all wish their husbands were as attentive as yours. They will know that I am a man smitten with his wife. Their jealousy will erase any pity. His hands found the rounded globes of her bottom, and he pressed her against his erection. I will tell everyone what I fool I was for ignoring you for so long. All of London will know how much I regret not claiming you sooner. He picked her up and carried her to the bed. His palm found a firm breast, and the nipple pebbled against his thumb. She gasped. My lord. I My courses. Hawk groaned and laid his forehead against her shoulder. How many more days must I suffer this torture, Angel? What torture, my lord? You will not let me make love to you, Angel. It is torture indeed. How long? he asked again.

Usually four days. Sometimes five. Hawk groaned again. She laughed. But already this is the third day. Another day; two at the most. I am certain I shall be mad by then. Hawk sat in a high-backed chair in the inns library. Nick lounged in the adjacent chair as they waited for Angel to join them for dinner. She is a beauty, Hawk. You never told me what a prize she was. Hawk stared into the amber whiskey he sipped. I did not know. As a child she was Oh, I remember what you thought of her then. Nick chuckled. You made it clear how unhappy you were with the arrangement. I believed you called her a spoiled brat. Yes, well, that was a long time ago. Indeed. Nick took another sip of his drink. But what I do not understand is why you have kept her hidden away. Do you not get on well? Has the brat grown into an ill-tempered

termagant? Hawk shook his head. No. No, not at all. She does have a bit of temper, but she is far more amiable than I had ever dared hope. She has a quick wit, and she is pleasant company unless I have done something to provoke her ire. He sighed. Unfortunately, however, I seem to have a knack for that. Nicks laugh reverberated throughout the quiet room. I can imagine. Is that why you kept her hidden away so long? No, I Hawk let his head rest against the back of the chair. Bloody hell, Nick. You may as well know the truth of it. Until last week I had not seen her since our wedding day. His long-time friend and confidant did not hide his shocked expression. Not once? Hawk shook his head. Did you not correspond with her? Hawk closed his eyes and shook his head again. Deuce. I am surprised she will even speak to you. I will make it up to her somehow, Hawk vowed. Nick grunted. I have always envied yousafe from the loathsome mommas trying to push their simpering daughters in

your path. You were married, but not subject to the chains of matrimony. And now, I find I am still a bit envious. You may be chained, but a man can only dream of finding such a woman for his wife. I was prepared for hysteria after the carriage incident yesterday. Her reaction was nothing less than astounding. I think I need a cup of tea, he mimicked with a laugh. Incredible. Hawk smiled. Yes, my Angel is indeed incredible. She seems far more companionable than Janet. Nick leaned forward. You do know Janet was livid when you left London, do you not? Im sure she was. Nick grinned. I did my best to console her. Hawk chuckled. And Ill wager you enjoyed that. Indeed. Janets skill and imagination in the bedroom are unmatched. I owe you a debt of gratitude. She is Ahem. A feminine voice stopped his words. Hawk stood and faced Angel. How much had she heard? A small smile greeted them, but it didnt reach her eyes. Those eyes gleamed with that now familiar green fire. His gaze lowered

to her dress, made of the finest silk. A dark peach under-dress hid beneath a pearl-studded, light peach, sheer overlay that glistened with her every breath. The darker lining dipped low over her full bosom. A tantalizing glimpse of cleavage peeked through the sheer top fabric. Thoughts of Janet and whatever Angel had overheard fled as his body reacted to the enticing vision his wife presented. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Angel. Liar. She smiled again, but he wasnt certain if she was teasing. Nick defended him. I do not believe he is lying, my lady. After Eton, Hawk and I spent years traveling together. I do not recall ever seeing a woman as beautiful as you. He moved toward her and reached for her hand to greet her. Angel stepped back, a mask of weariness lining her features. She looked behind her then back at Nick. You are not going to attack me again, are you? Nicks shock mirrored Hawks own. My lady, I hardly attacked I distinctly remember being shoved to the ground with enough force to knock the breath from me, Angel argued. But I was Nick paused.

Angel tried and failed to cover a grin. Nick burst into laughter. Hawk joined him. Angel turned and took Nicks arm, leaving Hawk to follow as they strolled toward the dining room. A tiny seed of jealousy sprouted, and Hawk struggled to contain it. His friend would never betray him, but the mere sight of Angel on another mans arm made him want to hit something. She spoke to Nick. My lord, I do not believe I have thanked you for saving our lives yesterday. Please forgive my thoughtlessness. Your heroic action was greatly appreciated. We are forever in your debt. Nick smiled at her and glanced over his shoulder at Hawk. Hear that? You are forever in my debt. I like the sound of that. I owe you for saving Angel, but I think we are about even between us, Hawk countered. Nicks eyebrows rose. How so? I recall an incident just last year when I saved your skin after you got caught with Lady Harrington, Hawk offered. And then there was the time with Cassandra Sm Say no more. Nick grimaced. I concede. We are even.

After a pleasant dinner and a fond farewell to Nick, Hawk escorted Angel back to their room. He longed to strip the alluring dressing from her and kiss every inch of the skin beneath it. The woman drove him mad with need, and she did not even have to flirt with him to do it. He knew what passion hid beneath her innocence. And he ached to taste it again. Hawk closed the door behind them. Angel moved to the hearth and warmed her hands. The light from the fire outlined her purely feminine form. His groin tightened. Angel, please tell me your courses have ended. She glanced at him and frowned. Yes, but I doubt you will be satisfied with my lack of skill in the bedroom. Perhaps you should go and find Janet. So she had overhead. Hawk sighed and rubbed his temples. Fiery and beautiful as she was, his Hellion could give him headache with only a few barbed words. Angel Hopefully you need not suffer me for much longer. I ask only that you remain with me until I have conceived. She stepped toward him. You promised you would. Remember? I am sorry if the task is unpleasant for you. Hawk shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Damn. I wish we had stayed at Lynnhaven.

Why? So I would not have been mistaken for your newest mistress? So I would not have been subjected to the pity of our peers. So I would not have learned about Janet? She crossed her arms over her bosom. Though I regret all those things, I wish we had stayed at Lynnhaven because we were happier together there. Do you not recall the night before we left when we talked of red-haired little girls and plans for a family? he reminded her. She sighed and dropped her arms. I still want that family. More than anything. She looked away. I suppose I just wish you wanted me too. His jaw dropped. How many times must I tell you how much I want you? Why will you not believe me? She frowned. I mean for more than a few nights. He rubbed the back of his neck to ease the tension there. We are at an impasse. Only time can prove to you that I will not lose interest. Until then, I will not have us at odds. You will be the mother of my children. We should at least be friends, Angel. Can you not just give me a chance to be a good husband? Angel ignored his question. Is she very pretty? Her voice held a note of sadness. Hawk sighed. Not compared to you. He drew her into his

arms. You are far more beautiful. She shoved his chest, but the effort seemed half-hearted. How many Janets are there? None at the moment. She glared up at him. And there will not be any more. Hawk traced her sensuous lips with the tip of his finger. Youre the only woman I want, love. She pulled out of his arms. Do you honestly expect me to believe you will be faithful? How can we be friends if you treat me like an imbecile? I may be inexperienced, but I am not stupid. She turned her back on him. Hawk considered her words. Had he just told her he would be faithful? Perhaps hed implied it, but His realization surprised him. He had just promised to be faithful. Even more confusing and shocking was the fact that he wasnt at all distressed by the idea. Angel pleased him more than any woman ever had. He stepped behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. I do not blame you being skeptical. I would not have believed it possible either. Not before I met you. He turned her in his arms and cradled her face in his hands. I want only you.

How could you want only me? I have no skills. She spat the last word like an epithet. He couldnt stop the laugh that escaped him. Angel, your skills are unparalleled. God help me if they should improve. The muscle in her clenched jaw twitched, and her eyes narrowed. He shook his head and chuckled again. I know you think I am humoring you, but I am not. Your innocent touch stirs me far more than the practiced seduction of the most accomplished courtesan. Your passion is something none of them can duplicate. His drew his thumbs across her cheeks. You have ruined me for other women, love. Hawk kissed her, long and slow. She refused to respond at first, but he knew she would stop fighting him soon. Her nipples hardened against his chest, and she trembled in his arms. Her whimper of surrender fueled the fire already burning in his loins. He pulled her hips against him and pressed the hard ridge of his arousal against her belly. Can you not feel the proof of my desire, sweeting? She gazed up at him, her eyes dark with the passion Hawk found so heady and irresistible, but her words confirmed that she wasnt convinced. You will grow bored with me just as you

do all your lovers, she whispered. He bit his lip in frustration, but groaned as she tangled her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck. I suppose I shall just have to prove you wrong, he murmured. And how long do you think that will take? Hawk grinned. The rest of my life.
Chapter Thirteen

The next morning Gordon completed the sale of the wool and informed Angelina and Hawkesworth of the details. It seemed that some of the other farms had not been so fortunate with their herds. Lynnhaven had been among the last to bring their wool to market, and the price had been at a premium due to the low supply. The manor was prospering as never before. Hawkesworth informed her they would be leaving that afternoon. Though Angelina wasnt ready to go home, she did not argue. Her husband had only agreed to a few days in Durham. The trip had not been all she had hoped, but it had served as an important reminder. Darien Hawkesworth should not be trusted with her heart. On the carriage ride home, Angelina cautioned herself not

to fall in love with the charming rogue. At Lynnhaven there would be no one like Lord Helmsley or Lady Scarbrough to reveal the truth of her husbands reputation. Before leaving for Durham, Angelina had been perilously close to losing her heart to the notorious rake. She leaned her head against the back of the seat and sighed. It would be so easy to love him. Just the way he looked at her with those silver eyes sent shivers of desire skittering across her skin. His kisses never failed to leave her breathless and wanton. His touch set her afire with a passion so hot she feared she would burn to ash before he gave her that exquisite release, that beautiful explosion of sensation she would never have imagined possible. How would she learn to live without that pleasure once Hawk tired of her? Fool, she chastised herself. She shouldnt think of him in such friendly terms. Calling him by the name his friends used would never do. Though Hawkesworth insisted he wanted a friendship between them, Angelina knew the best she could hope for was a congenial truce. Sooner or later, he would return to London and his many lovers and mistresses. And if she was foolish enough to love him, he would take her heart with him. At breakfast the next morning, Hawk told Angelina he wanted to stay at Lynnhaven for at least another week. Then they would visit Fennimore Keep until the end of summer. He

was anxious for his people to meet his wife. When the weather began to cool again, they would go to London. He had responsibilities to see to, and it had been weeks since he had met with his solicitors. His will had been amended on the day he had wed Angelina to make certain Lynnhaven and the Kingsley fortune would revert to her in the event of his death. Provisions had been made to provide for his future heirs, but it would not be unwise to be sure all was in order. He should review some of his investments and discuss with his advisors exactly what holdings were entailed in the estate and which were not. What if he died without an heir? How would he provide for a second son? What about dowries for daughters? The questions were endless. His life had changed dramatically. And he had never been so happy. Five glorious days passed, each more full and enjoyable than the last. Battles with the defiant Hellion dwindled in number and intensity. Hawk commended himself for his newfound ability to compromise. Though he would never relent on some disagreements, learning to listen to his wifes views and values had made him realize that concessions could bring great rewards. The knowledge might serve him well in Parliament debates.

On their sixth day back at Lynnhaven, they picnicked near the lake. Hawk made love to Angel beneath a shade tree. He would never get enough of her passion. Each time he touched her, he only wanted her more. He had lied when hed told her that shed stolen a piece of his heart. She now owned all of it. Angel had stolen his heart completely, but Hawk could not tell her that. She still didnt trust him. She would not believe him. And if she thought he was lying to her, she might never learn to. At the end of their lazy afternoon, they returned to the manor in time to watch a lone rider race up the drive. Hawk recognized him immediately, and knew that he would not like the message this man was sure to bring. Something was amiss or his stewards son would not be here. The rider slowed his mount and had hardly brought his foaming horse to a halt before he addressed Hawk. Lord Fennimore, you must come immediately. The Scots have been raiding. Theyve burned out two of the cotters, injured several others, and raped the millers daughter. Exhaustion aged William beyond his years. Angelina paled at his words, even as Hawk stiffened with anger at the news. He kept his fury in check and spoke calmly. Stable your horse, William. Go to the kitchens and get something to eat and drink. Then I will see you in the study.

Yes, my lord, William replied, relief evident in his weary voice. We will need to leave immediately. Angelina fidgeted near the window in the study. Oh, that poor girl, she said more to herself than to him. Hawkesworth drained the rest of his brandy and crossed the room to her. This is not for you to worry over, sweeting. I will take care of it. Do you usually have so many problems with the Scots? No, actually. They steal some livestock from time to time, but weve had nothing violent in years. In fact, I find it difficult to believe the Scots are responsible at all. Since the Highlanders were defeated so completely at Culloden a few years ago, the border Scots have been unwilling to provoke the English. They fear some of the heavy reprisals that have been dealt to the Highlanders. I read about the resentment among the Scots for not being allowed to wear the plaids or carry firearms. I cannot say that I blame them, but I also cannot see that as an excuse to raid innocent tenants, burning their homes. They should be severely punished for all their crimes, but especially for what they did to that girl.

First I need to speak to William to determine exactly what has been happening. I will need to hire some extra men to help protect the tenants. We will need to work with the sheriff to bring these raiders to justice. Just then William knocked on the open door and entered the study. William, please sit down and tell me everything. Hawkesworth leaned against the corner of the desk. A young man of about twenty-four years, William was close to six feet tall, had carrot-red hair and was covered in freckles. He looked haggard, but Angelina had the immediate impression of a good mantrustworthy and conscientious. My lord, the attacks began only days after you left to come here. First, your cousins were attacked on the road just out of sight of the keep. My cousins are at Fennimore? Are they unharmed? Yes, my lord. Lord Compton and his brother arrived at Fennimore four or five days after you left. They said they had been attacked by several Scots. William then told them about the two separate raids on the cotters homes. Father hired extra men from Longtown, but he refused to send for you. Your cousins have been demanding that he do so, but he believed we could manage until you

returned. He looked at Angelina before he continued. The sentry alerted us to the attack at the mill, but by the time we arrived the Scots had already escaped. They had struck Mr. Jenson a blow to the head and knocked him cold. Leslie was raped by two of them. Williams voice wavered. Shes only fifteen. Angelinas heart constricted. How is she? William shook his head. Shes alive, but He was silent for a moment. Father decided that you should be notified immediately, he finished abruptly, either unwilling or unable to continue speaking of the girl. Thank you, William. Tell Mattie, the housekeeper, that you will need a bed for the night. We will leave at first light, her husband said. William nodded and took his leave. Angelina moved toward the door. I should go and pack. Hawkesworth reached for her as she passed. No, Angel. I cannot take you with me. Tis too dangerous. I am going with you. Angelina straightened her spine and prepared for battle. He shook his head and pulled her into his arms. Im sorry, sweeting. On this I will not relent. You mean too much to me.

But you said you wouldnt leave until I had conceived, she whispered, fighting tears. Please, do not cry. You know how it pains me. Hawkesworth held her close though she tried to push him away. I am sorry. I will send for you as soon as I am certain it is safe. I swear it. Angelina tore herself from his embrace. You promised. I know, but you must understand. My cousins were attacked on their way to Fennimore. A young girl was raped. I could not bear it if anything happened to you. I must go and make it safe for you first. We could hire some men to go with us. We could go to Durham or travel through Carlisle, and find a small army to take to Fennimore. No one will attack us if we have plenty of men, she argued. There is no time for that. My people need me. They are afraid and vulnerable. I must get there as quickly as possible. I will hire more men from Longtown when I arrive. If tis too dangerous for me to go, why is it not too dangerous for you? she stubbornly questioned, unwilling to let him leave without a fight. William and I will be able to travel much faster without

baggage and such. Angelina bristled. Are you referring to me as baggage, husband? No. Of course, not. He rolled his gaze toward the ceiling. I simply meant we would need to take a carriage with your things. We would be a much larger and slower-moving target. I could ride Coal. We need not take a carriage. She rushed on as Hawkesworth began shaking his head again. I can ride as fast as any man. You know I can. I know. But then we would not be able to bring your things. Angelina started to deny her need for extra clothing, but he covered her lips with the tip of his index finger. I will not argue this any longer. You are too precious to me. I will not put you at risk. I shall send for you as soon as I can ensure your safety. His tone brooked no argument. Perhaps she was being selfish, she admonished herself. Fennimore needed him. But she needed him too. Blast it all! He had been with her less than three weeks. Twas not fair! She should be allowed to go with him. She had waited eight long years for him. Why could Fennimore not wait one extra day for them to employ

enough guards so that she could accompany her husband? In answer to that question, doubts that had plagued her from the beginning descended in a rush of anger. He had obviously tired of her already. He could hire guards if he wanted, but this gave him the perfect excuse to break his promise. He would leave as he had planned all along, and he would appear to be the noble hero protecting his wife. She had known he would not stay. Why had she let herself forget that? Angelinas heart hurt, but she would not beg. Do not bother sending for me. I will not come. She spun around and sped to the door. He moved faster than she would have thought possible. Once again, she found herself slung over his shoulder as he marched toward the staircase. A sharp slap stung her bottom. She bit back a cry of pain. Put me down, you blasted barbarian! In silence he climbed the stairs. He didnt even flinch when she landed a blow to his ribs with her elbow. Once in her room, he did not stop like before and set her down. He kicked the door shut and tossed her on the bed. She tried to escape, but he pinned her to bed with his weight. Do you think I have tired of you, Hellion? Anger darkened his words.

Hawkesworth spiked his fingers through her hair on each side of her head and tightened his grip. She whimpered, but not from the pain. Her husbands hard thigh wedged between her legs, and the rigid length of his erection pressed against her hip. Her heart raced in anticipation. Liquid fire spread through her blood. His lips slammed down on hers. Angelina dug her nails into his back and kissed him back. Anger, resentment, and heartache battled for control of the kiss. She arched her hips into him. Blast him for making her want him. Curse him for making her need him. His kiss softened, and a sob wracked her body. Her heart was breaking. Damn him for making her love him. Shhh. He kissed the corners of her closed eyes. I will make it safe for you if I have to hire a thousand men. We will be together again soon. How long? Perhaps only a few days. But it may be a fortnight or more. Angelina shook her head. He cradled her face in his warm hands. She kept her eyes closed to hold back the tears. Look at me, love, he whispered. She obeyed.

I will not allow a band of outlaws, or any cursed Scots, not even the devil himself to keep us apart. I will bring the raiders to justice, and I will send for you immediately. I will do this as quickly as possible. I promise you this, Angel. I need you. I will be miserable without you. Please trust me. Angelina gazed into those silver-gray eyes and saw her own fears and sadness reflected in them. Should she trust him? Did she have any choice? She nodded in compliance. A look of relief spread across his face, and he leaned down to kiss her again. Angelina forestalled any thoughts of victory he might have. I will accept your decision, but I do not have to like it, she grumbled. Know this, my lord, if you stay gone too long, I shall hire an army of my own, and I shall declare war on all of Scotland if I must. He chuckled. Heaven help the Scots if my Hellion is angered. Heaven will be all that can help them if I lose patience. And she laughed just a little, then too. Besides, if it takes too long, I will begin to worry that another Janet has turned your head. Never, love. Never. Once a man has tasted heaven in the

arms of an Angel, all the Janets lose their appeal. He kissed the tip of her nose. She pulled his head down for a kiss. This kiss was tender and sweet, and it left her shaken. Her husband was leaving tomorrow. How would she bear it? Daybreak arrived all too soon. Hawk stood on the front steps with Angel. A cloudy and gray morning matched his mood. He had slept little last night, making love to his wife, watching her sleep for a time, and making love to her again. He hadnt wanted to take his eyes off her, did not want to leave her, and dreaded being away from her. He was sorely tempted to take her with him, but thoughts of losing her forever to Scottish brigands were too much to bear. He would have to live without her for a few days. Damn. Love was more difficult than he had ever imagined. Hawk stiffened his resolve and turned to bid her one last farewell as William brought both their horses from the stables. I will send for you as soon as tis safe. God willing, that will be in just a few days. Angels eyes reflected her sadness as well as worry. Godspeed, husband. She held onto him. He knew not what else to say to her. He couldnt tell her

that he loved her. Not yet. She wasnt ready to hear it, but he had spent the entire night trying to show her how precious she was to him. In return, Angel had loved him thoroughly, showing him how much she wanted him. She hadnt said the words, but Hawk understood now that she cared for him. He had seen it her eyes, tasted it in her kiss, felt it in her touch. Blessed Mother. How he would miss this wife of his. Please take care, she whispered. I will. Hawk loosened his embrace and held her gaze. Behave yourself, he added with a grin as he walked down the steps and mounted his horse. The look of panic on Angels face pained him. Hawk! She ran to him and laid her hand upon his knee. Promise me I will see you again soon. Though she would probably deny it, the truth was in her eyes, in her voice. She cared for him. And she worried for his safety. He leaned down and cupped her cheek. I swear on my mothers grave. The Grim Reaper himself could not keep me from you. Not now, not when I have only just made you mine. We will have a life together. We will have children together. And we will grow old together. I promise.

Angel nodded. Hawk smiled. Pack some bags so you will be ready when I send for you. Do not keep me waiting. She returned his smile and settled her hands on her hips. I shall expect your summons soon. Do not keep me waiting. He laughed and pulled his horse toward his servant. We will be riding hard, William. Aye, my lord, William answered. We should hurry. Hawk took one last look at his wife, memorizing her face, her hair, her figure. She blew him a kiss. He winked and kicked his horses flanks.
Chapter Fourteen

Hawk and William raced northward, taking the most direct route possible, often forsaking the road to cut across farms and save time. They ate while they rode and paused only to water their horses. When it became too dark to see, they stopped at a small farm. Hawk asked the owners permission to sleep in the barn, offering a couple of coins to do so. The family was most appreciative of the payment, and the farmers wife served them each a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread. Hawk thanked them for their hospitality and insisted they accept two more shillings for the meal. The farmers son brushed the horses and stabled them while the men ate. Again, Hawk offered another shilling

for the boys labor. The woman brought them each a blanket and thanked Hawk for his generosity. She offered to serve them breakfast, but Hawk declined, explaining that they would be leaving at first light, and they would eat what they had brought with them. Though exhausted, sleep did not come easily for Hawk. His concerns for Fennimore were not so much to blame as was Angels absence. He thought it unusual for a man to become so attached in such a short time, but admitted to himself that he had done just that. He missed her already. He missed her smile. He missed her voice. Never had he imagined he would actually enjoy spending time with a woman outside the bedroom, but Angel was different. She was intelligent, and he had come to value her opinion. He enjoyed their discussions on Voltaire and politics. Her views were refreshing, and though he did not always agree, he found it a challenge to argue with her. Her ability to manage such a large estate amazed him. Hawk still hadnt overcome his guilt at having ignored her for so long, leaving her alone and vulnerable. But he was determined to make it up to her. He realized now that a wife at least his wifewas not a burden or responsibility. She was a treasure, a friend, and a partner. As soon as Fennimore was secure, he would begin working on that family she wanted. He finally drifted off to sleep with visions of little girls with curly red hair and emerald green eyes.

Hawk and William left before the sun rose, riding hard just as they had the day before. After another long day of riding, Hawk and William rested for the night at a small inn. Once again, Hawk climbed into his saddle at daybreak. They stopped to water the horses twice, then paused briefly at midday to eat. We shouldnt stop once we get near Fennimore, William. Take care of any needs now. If the raiders are waiting for us, I do not want to be an easy target. The sooner we reach the keep, the safer well be. William nodded his understanding. Mayhap we should stay off the main road, he suggested. I considered that, but the forest is too dense, especially this time of year. It would take more than twice as long and there would be some places where we would need to walk and lead the horses. That would be even more risky than the main road. Hawk shook his head and squinted as he looked back toward the road that ran parallel to the small creek where they watered the horses. No. I think it best we keep moving as quickly as possible. If we are attacked on the open road, at least well have half a chance at escape. The path to Fennimore cut through the heart of the forest. As the men rode, the beauty of the lush green trees and thickets encompassed them. Beech, elder, rowan, and juniper were complimented by the spring flowering ash and Gean, a type of wild cherry tree. Usually Hawk loved the forest during spring,

but today his instincts remained on high alert. He couldnt shake the feeling that he was riding into a trap, and the little hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Twists and turns in the road provided plenty of blind curves perfect for an ambush. Hawk often found himself holding his breath as they rounded a bend. Sunlight filtered through the leaves. Bright light shone down on stretches of road and made the way seem warm and inviting on this beautiful spring day. Other places lay steeped in dark shadowsperfect hiding places for all manner of sinister forces. Long ago, travelers had been confronted by wolves in the area. But the wolves had been exterminatedat least the ones with four legs had been. Hawk and William topped a small rise. Shots rang out. Hawk urged his mount to greater speed, yelling to William to do the same. More gunshots echoed through the forest, and Hawk looked over his shoulder just in time to see William slide from his mount, limp and lifeless. Hawk slowed his horse and saw a group of riders draw near. Four of them. He quickly assessed his opponents, debating his chances, wanting to help William. The debate ended as a bullet tore into his thigh. Searing pain spread down his leg. His hand instinctively covered the injury. Warm, wet liquid sifted through his fingers, and he lifted his palm. Blood dripped from his fingertips.

With a curse, he gathered his wits and ground his teeth against the agonizing pain. If he was to be of any assistance to William, he must first escape his attackers. Again, he urged his mount to quicken the pace, but the damage was done. Hawks hesitation had allowed the highwaymen to close most of the distance between them. Bullets whizzed past him, but he did not look back. He was still fifteen minutes from Fennimore Keep even at this pace. He must hurry. His life depended on it. Bending low, he kicked the horses flanks harder. As he reached the top of the next hill, an explosion of fire stung his back. Agonizing pain sent spasms through his chest, and he struggled to breathe. His lungs seized, refusing to work. He held tight to his mount and prayed for divine intervention. More shots rang out. This time his horse was hit and the animal panicked, bolting into the woods. Branches snagged his clothes and scraped his skin, but it was almost as if he were watching the scene from outside himself. His body had gone numb. His head spun, and his grip on the reins slipped. The crazed horse continued his dash through the dense forest and veered sharply. Hawk couldnt hold on. Though he hit the ground with a resounding thud, he hardly felt the blow. His body was almost completely numb now. The world swirled as he tumbled down an embankment, rolling for what seemed

several minutes, though it may have only been a few seconds. He couldnt focus his mind or his eyes on anything. Hawk came to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the hill under a thick mass of bushes. Somewhere above, he heard voices and the rumble of horse hooves. He fought to breathe. Ragged and shallow gasps were all he could manage as he prayed his pursuers wouldnt be able to find him. He couldnt move, much less fight if they approached. Though dark beneath the bushes, it grew even darker. Hawk realized he was losing consciousness and struggled to stay awake. Then the visions began. He saw Fennimore Keep, his father, his mother, friends, his life passing before his eyes. Next, his Angel found himher face, her eyes, her smile. She stood below him as he sat his horse, touched his knee and gazed up at him, worry in her beautiful green eyes. The vision blurred and her image faded, and Hawk tried desperately to hang on to it. No, he croaked. Angel! His mind screamed, but his lips hardly moved. Her name was but a whisper, and he lost the battle. Darkness claimed him.
Chapter Fifteen

Angelina paced the room, repeatedly reminding herself not to worry. She kept telling herself that Hawk was fine. Realizing she had begun to think of him as Hawk, she did not bother to correct herself. For Lord Darien Hawkesworth had stolen her heart just as that beautiful, strong bird of prey plucked its

unwitting quarry from the ground. He would forever be her Hawk. She grasped the back of the sofa to still her shaking hands. Hawk is safe, she whispered. But a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach belied her words. It had been six days since her husband had left. Late in the afternoon on the day Hawk should have reached Fennimore, the worry had begun to haunt her. She breathed deeply, shaking her head and arguing with the little voice of doubt and resumed her pacing. Hawk is fine. Absentmindedly, she trailed her fingers across the frame of her harp as she reached the corner of the drawing room and turned toward the windowed back wall. There is something terribly wrong. She stopped before the windows to gaze at the dreary scene outside. The rain had begun early yesterday and had not stopped. It wasnt a storm, not really heavy. Just the usual spring rains that made everything seem muted and gray to match the sky. Perfectly normal. Why did it seem so foreboding? How much longer till the suns warming rays peeked through the clouds again? Hearing footsteps in the hallway, she turned to see Mattie enter.

Rider coming, Mattie said breathlessly. Angelina lifted the hem of her dress and ran down the hall to the front doors, hardly pausing to push them open. She stood in the drizzling mist watching the rider approach. The unknown man reined in his horse before the steps and addressed her. Are you Lady Fennimore? he asked, his voice brusque, carrying a hint of urgency. Yes. Im Marcus Smythe from Fennimore. I must see your husband immediately. He is needed at the keep. Angelinas stomach lurched, and the little nagging voice screamed at her in agony for not having listened. Blood drained from her face as the implications assailed her. She clutched at her skirt and weaved with the dizziness that swept through her. The rider dismounted. My lady? Angelinas breath constricted in her throat. She tried to answer, but the words would not form. Matties arm encircled her waist, and her old friends solemn tone answered Marcus in her stead. His lordship left here with William six days ago.

Marcus face turned ashen. William is dead. Angelinas knees buckled, but Mattie held her firmly. She led Angelina to the front parlor and called for Emma to bring some tea. Shaking, Angelina struggled to make sense of what she had heard. Marcus, a short, stocky man of about forty years, waited near the fireplace. Mattie stood next to her and stroked her hair, trying to soothe her. Angelina breathed deeply as her mind raced. Hawk had never arrived at Fennimore. She stared at Marcus. You said William is dead. Yes, my lady. We found him on the road to Fennimore. He paused. You are aware of the raids by the Scots? Yes. My husband was returning to Fennimore for that reason. There was no sign of my husband where you found William? No, my lady. Williams horse arrived at the keep well after dark a few nights ago. When we went to search for him the next morning, we found him next to the road in the mud. We couldnt be sure how long he had been there. His voice thickened as he continued. Im sorry to say that scavengers found him first.

Mattie covered her mouth at this news. Angelina swallowed hard and nodded solemnly. But there was no sign of my husband? No, my lady. We couldnt be certain if William had ever left Fennimore grounds at all. Our best guess was that he couldnt have been dead for more than a few days, but it was only a guess. We knew William would never have returned without our lord. So we thought We hoped, that Lord Fennimore was still here. Emma arrived with the tea just as Marcus finished his explanation. Mattie kept her hand on Angelinas shoulder. All watched her, most likely expecting her to accept that her husband had been killed. Angelina rose slowly and walked to the door. Mattie moved to follow. No, Mattie, I need to be alone for a little while. The tears fell by the time she reached the garden. She ignored the raindrops on the swing and sat down, rocking gently. What am I going to do, Papa? she whispered. She waited, but no answer was forthcoming. Even that nagging little voice that had taunted her for days remained quiet now.

Please, Papa. I need you. She cried and waited, swaying slowly. Long moments passed before she recalled an incident from her childhood. Her tutor had insisted that she write with her right hand, but Angelina could only do it with her left. She had run crying to her father for his help. Once he had sorted it all out, and later dismissed the tutor for her foolishness, he had said to her: Never give up on something you really want or need. Find a way, Angel. His words rang clearly in her mind. Moments later, seated at her desk, Angelina pulled a sheet of vellum from a drawer and wrote quickly: Dear Lord Helmsley, I am in need of your assistance. Hawk is missing. I am on my way to Fennimore. Please meet me there. Bring several armed men for protection. Be prepared for trouble. Please hurry. Angelina Hawkesworth She sealed the envelope in wax with the Kingsley crest, took a handful of coins from the desk, and walked purposefully down the hall and back to the parlor where Mattie, Marcus, and

Emma still waited. Squaring her shoulders, she said, Mattie, I need you to send Ethan to Durham. Have him give this message to Lord Helmsley. He should find him at the inn in Elvet. Tell Ethan to leave immediately. She gave Mattie the coins and message for Ethans journey. Yes, my lady, Mattie replied without question. Emma, pack a bag for me. Gordon, fetch Mr. Collins, the carpenter, and Mr. Peterson, the beekeeper. Tell them to have Frankie ready Coal and a horse for themselves as well. They will ride with me to Fennimore at first light.
Chapter Sixteen

Marcus steered his horse closer to Angelinas, yelling in order to be heard over the sounds of the groups horses. Up ahead is where we found William. We should take extra precautions. Angelina nodded and gave the signal for them to slow. It had been three and a half days since she had left Lynnhaven. Angelina had detoured slightly and traveled to Carlisle before going to Fennimore. There, she met with an old friend of both her father and Hawks, the powerful Duke of Carlisle. She had asked for his assistance, and he had readily supplied half a dozen trained men, well-armed and experienced. Her small contingent

slowed and brought their horses closer to hear their ladys words. Marcus says we are nearing the place where Williams body was found. They were likely attacked in this vicinity. Angelina kept her voice strong although the thought of being so close to the likely attack on Hawk left her cold inside. The senior of the dukes guards, Sir Oliver, nodded sharply and gave his men their orders. Marcus, John, James, and two of the guards flanked Angelina, effectively encircling her. Sir Oliver and three others would ride ahead to be certain all was safe. My lady, Sir Oliver addressed her then, if you hear sounds of gunfire you should turn back immediately. We will come for you once the way is clear. Angelina nodded her understanding and watched the four men ride ahead. She held her breath as the captain and his men topped a rise and descended the other side, praying brigands would not be laying in wait. Not because she feared injury, but because she feared a moments delay. No one in Carlisle or any of the towns or boroughs along the way had been able to offer any news from Fennimore. Hawk may have been found or still be missing. Anything was possible, but not knowing gnawed at her. Several moments passed. The quick cadence of horses

hooves drifted further away. Angelina and her guards reached the top of the rise, giving them an excellent view of the winding road ahead. Sir Oliver and his group were about to round a bend where they would be hidden from view once more. Such a place would be an excellent site for an ambush. Again, she held her breath, listening. A single gunshot pierced the peaceful calm. Angelina thought her heart would stop beating. The others drew back on their reins. She tugged lightly on Coals mane, her way of stopping the horse that refused a bridle, and waited anxiously for more sounds, but none were forthcoming. Marcus was the first to speak. My lady, mayhap we should turn around. No. This from Nigel, one of the dukes guards. If there were real trouble, there would be more than one shot fired. We will wait for Sir Oliver. The birds of the forest, evidently disturbed by the noise, had taken flight and everything grew eerily quiet. Angelina could hardly stand it. She wanted to round the bend to see what was happening, but she knew that would be foolish. Long minutes dragged on before the sound of approaching horses reached her. Finally, Sir Oliver came into view. Angelina let out the breath she had held and patted Coal again with shaking hands. Thank God.

Sir Oliver slowed his horse to a halt at Angelinas side. We met a patrol from Fennimore. I have sent them on ahead to tell the keep to expect us. Thank you, Sir Oliver. She offered him a small relieved smile. Is there any word of Lord Fennimore? She gazed at the captain, anxiously awaiting his answer. His face flushed, and he shook his head. Im sorry. Disappointment sliced through her. Marcus sought to comfort her. Worry not, my lady. Well be at the keep soon. Only minutes later, the group arrived at the keep. Angelina scanned the wall surrounding the home, thinking shed somehow stepped back in time. The main structure, though well maintained, must have been hundreds of years old, almost as old as the cathedral and castle in Durham. A tall, square structure rose above the stone wall. Angelina suspected it had once been a pele tower, built to warn Carlisle of impending attacks. The three-story fortress would likely be the main portion of the keep. Only the roofs of additional buildings peeked above the security wall. The great wooden doors opened as Angelina and her party approached. Marcus took the lead, guiding the group inside where several people gathered. As soon as they had stopped,

Angelina slid from Coal, not waiting for assistance. Her knees wobbled a bit, but she knew not if it was due to the long ride or the nervous fear she felt. She doffed her cloaks hood and moved toward the small assemblage, anxiously scanning their faces. A man stepped forward. Lean and of average height, likely in his late forties, he greeted her. My lady, welcome to Fennimore. Im Albert Fielder, your steward. He bowed. At your service, my lady. Angelina wasted no time with pleasantries. What news of my husband? Albert shook his head. Im sorry, my lady. Until a few moments ago, we were still hoping he was with you. Angelinas shoulders sagged with the terminal ache in her heart, and her worry grew tenfold. Calm yourself, she silently chastised. If she had counted correctly, it had been seven full days since the attack on William and Hawk. Surely, if he was dead, too, his body would have been found. Never give up. She lifted her head and straightened her spine. Then it looks as if we have work to do, Mr. Fielder. Angelina turned to the escort. Please see that the horses are stabled. John, Coal seems to like you. See to his care. Captain, once you have stabled your horses, meet me inside.

Yes, my lady. Sir Oliver walked away issuing orders to his men. As she faced the concerned assemblage, two men moved to stand in front of Albert. One man was short and stocky with the beginnings of a pot belly, only a few inches taller than she, with dark hair similar to Hawks. The other was much taller and leaner with sandy brown hair. She surveyed both men and walked toward them. Though their hair coloring differed, they both had the same piercing dark brown eyes, straight nose, and thin lips. Quality clothing proclaimed their status. The shorter of the two wore dark, muted colors, while the other adorned himself in bright red and yellow. The heavier man spoke first. So you are Angelina. He scanned her from head to toe and sniffed disparagingly. I have never met a lady who wears breeches beneath her skirt. Angelina narrowed her eyes, but before she could reply, the other man interceded. Do forgive my brothers rudeness, Lady Fennimore. I am Frederick Ellison, your husbands cousin, and this is my brother Charles, Viscount Compton. Please come inside. I am certain you are exhausted from your travels. He offered her his arm which she reluctantly accepted and allowed him to escort her inside.

It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust after she had entered. While inviting enough, with impossibly high ceilings, the ancient keeps interior was very dark. To the left, a massive stone staircase rose to the second floor. Centered at the back wall, a doorway opened into what appeared to be a hallway. Overwhelming in size, at least sixty paces wide and fifty paces long, the keeps main room held two long wooden tables on one side and half a dozen large chairs surrounding a huge fireplace on the other end. Angelina had never seen a fireplace so big. It ran nearly twice the width and height of the ones at Lynnhaven. Frederick led her to one of the chairs. Sit here, my lady. Angelina nodded, but before she complied, she looked for Albert. He had followed them and stood near the entrance. Mr. Fielder, could I ask that you fetch the head housekeeper for me? I should like to give her instructions regarding the men who have accompanied me. It was her duty to see to her men first and foremost. Of course, my lady. He headed toward the doorway on the other side of the room. Angelina removed her cloak and sank into the chair. Dust covered every inch of her clothing, and her body ached. How she longed for a hot bath, but that would have to wait. More important things required her attention nowmost importantly, Hawks safe return. Frederick took the cloak and

handed it off to a maid who lingered nearby. Upon receiving the cloak, the maid spoke shyly. Would our lady like some tea? Of course she would like some tea, you imbecile, replied Charles. She has been riding for hours. Angelina smiled gratefully at the maid then glared at Charles. Again, Frederick sought to smooth things over. Lady Fennimore, was your trip without incident? She gave her attention to Frederick. Mr. Ellison, I do Please, call me Freddie. After all, we are family. Angelina nodded. Freddie, I do appreciate your consideration, but please forgive my bluntness. I should like to dispense with the pleasantries. I need answers. Please take a seat and let us talk. Forgive us, my lady. We are still quite surprised that you have come. Freddie seated himself next to Angelina. Charles spoke. Yes, I cannot say I am happy to have a grieving widow amongst us. Enough, Charlie. She is here and we will give her whatever

aid we can. He faced Angelina. What would you like to know, Lady Fennimore? Angelina will do. She gave him a small smile. Have there been any more raids since the attack on William and my husband? No. All has been quiet, but that may be due to our increased security. Has there been any contact with the Scots? Have they made any demands? she pressed further. Freddies brow wrinkled. Demands? No. Why would there be? A ransom request. My husband is missing. As his body has not been found, I can only assume he is still alive. Since he has not returned, someone must be holding him. There have been no requests for ransom. Freddie leaned forward and covered her hand with his, giving it a little squeeze. You should not get your hopes up, Angelina. The odds are not in your husbands favor. She removed her hand, his forwardness making her uncomfortable, but she reminded herself that he was only trying to comfort her. Thank you for your concern. However, I will not believe that Hawk is dead until I have proof.

Freddies lips thinned, and he looked away. She attempted to assure him. I am not such a fool that I have not considered the possibility. But I prefer to believe that I will find him alive and well until I have evidence to the contrary. Charles sniffed haughtily. You are obviously quite foolish, woman. Your presence here alone is proof of that. What in bloody hell are you doing here? Once again Angelina narrowed her eyes as she gazed at Charles. Do you make an effort to be so discourteous, Lord Compton, or is it a natural trait? Freddie chuckled at her barb. Charles ignored the insult and repeated his question. Why are you here? Angelina rose, stood before him, and lifted her chin. This is my home, milord. I am countess here. What are you doing here? Just then, Albert returned with a middle-aged woman. My lady, this is Martha, our housekeeper. Angelina glared at Charles for a moment longer before she directed her attention to the woman. Martha, I have brought several men with me. I would prefer to have them sleep here in

the keep. Are there any rooms available? Most of the rooms in the main part of the keep are occupied, my lady. But there is another wing with ten guest chambers. Lord Comptons men are using two of them. There are eight more available. Excellent. See to it the beds are made ready. And Martha, I brought only a few things with me, but I would appreciate it if you would have them delivered to my husbands chambers. In addition, please inform the cook that she will be serving eight additional men. They shall dine with me. Yes, my lady. She curtsied and hurried away. Charles slammed his hand on the table. Surely I did not hear you correctly. You do not mean to have all those men at our table. Angelinas jaw tightened as she struggled to control her anger. You may take your meals in your chamber if you do not wish to eat with us, milord. The guards are as much my guests as you. Not quite finished, Charles said, Clearly you have not yet realized that you are likely the dowager countess here. And since you have not provided my cousin with a son, I am his heir. Tis most probable that you are actually my guest. Angelinas patience ended. My husband is alive, Lord

Compton. I will not believe otherwise until you present me with his cold, lifeless body. Until then, I suggest you remember your place here. You will treat me with more civility, or I shall insist you leave. You cannot force me to leave, woman. I Yes, she can, an irritated voice said from the entrance. Sir Oliver, the other guards, and the two men from Lynnhaven strode forward and stared menacingly at Charles. Would you like us to remove this man, Lady Fennimore? asked Sir Oliver. Angelina folded her arms over her bosom and revealed a taunting little smirk for Charles. No, thank you, Captain. Not just yet. I believe I have made my position clear to Lord Compton. If he is a sensible man, we will get along fine now. Charles scowled and tried to stare her down. Before either of them could say another word, Freddie intervened yet again. Ahh, here is your tea, Angelina. Please, come and refresh yourself. Then he warned his brother. Behave, Charlie. Angelina crossed to the table and spoke to the quiet little maid. What is your name, miss?

The maid curtsied. Im Meg, my lady. Angelina smiled. Thank you for the tea, Meg. Please fetch some refreshments for my guards. Ale, bread, cheese, whatever we have will be fine. Yes, my lady. Meg curtsied again and moved away quickly. Angelina poured herself a cup of tea and added a tad of honey. She took a sip and turned to Albert. Mr. Fielder, I would like a word with you in private if you please. Do you have an office nearby? Charles groaned loudly and looked at Frederick. Frederick shrugged in return and poured himself some tea. The steward answered in a quiet voice. My personal office is near the stables, but we could use the library if you like. That would be fine. Sir Oliver, you and your men should make yourselves comfortable. Meg will bring you something to eat and drink. She gestured to Albert with her outstretched arm. Please, lead the way, Mr. Fielder. Albert nodded and walked to the doorway at the rear of the room which opened into a hallway. Several wall sconces with candles lit the way. Albert pointed to the door on the right as they entered. That way is the kitchens, my lady. The next door on the right

is a bathing room, but I fear you will find little privacy there. You should have the maids prepare a bath for you in your chamber. That would be lovely. I shall ask as soon as we finish. He opened a door at the end of the hall and allowed her to pass in front of him. A fireplace occupied a large portion of the left wall. Bookshelves covered the right, and a stout-looking wooden desk sat centered near the back. Albert drew the drapes away from long thin windows behind the desk. Angelina set her teacup down and rubbed her arms for warmth as he lit a small lamp. Angelina walked behind the desk and lowered her tired body into the dark brown leather chair. Please, have a seat, Mr. Fielder. He sat in one of the two chairs facing the desk. Angelina wasted no time. Tell me what you have done to secure Fennimore. My lady, there is really no need for you to concern yourself with Mr. Fielder, stop right there. Angelina leaned forward, pressing her palms on the desk. I would not have us start off on the wrong foot. While my husband is away, you answer to me. Do we understand each other?

Albert held Angelinas gaze, obviously assessing her character as she boldly challenged him. I believe Lord Fennimore is quite fortunate to have such a strong woman for his wife. As I said before, my lady, I am at your service. And I would prefer it if you would call me Albert. Angelina relaxed, relieved she wouldnt have to battle the steward for authority. Thank you, Albert. Now, what have you done to secure Fennimore? He cleared his throat. We have four shifts of patrols. Each is six hours and consists of three men. They overlap by a few minutes, and Ive altered the routes regularly to avoid predictable patterns. Excellent. My husbands faith in you was, as I suspected, not misplaced. You are aware that I arrived with over half a dozen men. Two are from Lynnhaven. One is a carpenter, the other is my beekeeper, and neither is experienced in security matters. The other six are the Duke of Carlisles men. All have served in his majestys infantry and have experience. A couple of them even survived the Battle of Culloden Moor. All are competent and trustworthy. She paused, and Albert nodded his acceptance of her statements. My husband would never forgive me if I put myself at risk, therefore, some of the dukes men will ride with me when I

leave the keep to lead the search. The other My lady, please forgive me, but surely you do not intend to search for Lord Fennimore yourself. Indeed, I do. He opened his mouth to undoubtedly argue, but she held up her hand to silence him. Do not bother trying to dissuade me. I cannot possibly sit here waiting for my husband to be found. I will go stark raving mad. Alberts lips turned up in a small smile, and he dipped his head. You need not worry that Lord Fennimore will be upset with you. He is well aware that you would never be able to stop me from doing as I wish. She looked away and added softly, Sometimes he calls me Hellion. Bringing her attention back to the conversation at hand, she breathed deeply and said, My husband will not hold you accountable, Albert. I will keep the captain and two others with me. I will instruct Sir Oliver to work with you to assign the others to your patrols. The dukes men will be a much appreciated addition, my lady. Most of our men have little experience with weapons

other than for hunting. Good. Angelina thought for a moment then decided to warn the steward. You should know that I have sent for Viscount Helmsley. I am sure you know he is a dear friend of my husbands. He will want to help with the search. I understand, my lady. Lord Helmsley should be no more than a day or two behind me. Well look for him soon, then, Albert replied. Oh, no. You must not tell anyone. No one is to know that the viscount is expected. I will not have him ambushed as my husband was. The steward considered her words. Are you suggesting that someone here at Fennimore might have alerted the Scots of our lords return? I would not accuse anyone of doing so purposely, but tis quite possible that a conversation regarding his return may have been overheard and inadvertently relayed to our enemies. Perhaps, he mused. But? Angelina supplied at his hesitation.

There is something amiss, Lady Fennimore. I know not what it is, but all is not as it should be. Angelina stood and moved around the desk to stand before him. As protocol dictated, Albert started to stand, but she motioned for him to remain seated and rested her hip against the desks corner. He explained cautiously, It is only a feeling, my lady. Pay no attention to my ramblings. In my experience, Albert, one should never ignore ones feelings. There is, more often than not, a just cause for them. Aye, my lady. Youre right, but Ive not been able to determine the cause of my unease. Until you find the cause, you should be suspect of everyone and everything. I will, my lady. I should like to set aside a few minutes each morning and again each afternoon to confer with you. Just until my husband returns, of course. Yes, my lady. Angelina started toward the door. We should talk to Sir Oliver now.

Albert paused as they reached the door. My lady? Yes? Do you truly believe that Lord Fennimore is still alive? Yes, Albert. I do. I feel it. She placed her hand over her heart as she answered. The steward smiled. We will find him, Lady Fennimore. Yes, we will. And after I am certain he is unharmed, I will make him sorry for worrying me so.
Chapter Seventeen

Angelina trailed her fingers across the bureau in her husbands room. It must have been as old as the keep itself, but it was beautiful. Polished to a high gloss, the solid cherry wood glowed warm and rich. Lifting the hand mirror, she checked her appearance one last time. Thank goodness Sarah had insisted there was room in her bags for a couple of extra dresses. One of her husbands cousins had already deemed her unworthy. The other had been unfailingly polite, but she had not felt any real warmth from him. She hoped this evening would be better, but she knew it didnt really matter. She was here to find Hawk, and no titlehungry cousin was going to stop her.

With her determination reinforced, she left the room and descended the stairs, pausing halfway down. The sight she beheld set her blood to boiling. Charlesseated at the main table in the lords chair as if he belonged there. Angelinas fists clenched and unclenched several times as she struggled to rein in her anger. Sir Oliver approached. She hurried down the remaining steps to meet him. My lady, would you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to supper? I would, indeed, Sir Oliver. But I would ask a favor. Of course, my lady, you have but to name it. She motioned for him to lean closer so he could hear her whisper into his ear. He nodded with a twinkle in his eyes. Consider it done, my lady. She took the arm he offered, and they walked toward the tables where the men had already seated themselves. With her approach, the men rose and she and the captain halted at the head of the main table. She looked to Charles who had remained seated, ignoring her. Have you no manners at all, Lord Compton, that you do not rise for a lady when she enters a room?

Charles stared her up and down, and then stood. I do beg your pardon. I did not realize a lady had entered. Angelina narrowed her eyes at his insult. She turned to Freddie. Tell me, do you and Lord Compton share the same mother? Yes, milady. Why do you ask? With a delicate shrug of her shoulders she said, I find it difficult to believe that one brother could be such a charming gentleman while the other is not. She glanced pointedly at Charles and sank gracefully into her chair. Charles has not been in the best of spirits of late, milady, Freddie offered apologetically. He is not usually socontrary. He delivered Charles a warning look and took the seat next to Angelina. sit. Charles stared menacingly at her as he lowered himself to And found himself sprawled in the floor. The entire room erupted in male laughter. Angelina managed to contain her mirth, but she could not hide her smile. Charles scrambled upward, his anger palpable. Who moved my bloody chair?

I had my husbands chair removed, Lord Compton. No one will sit in it while Lord Fennimore is away. His gaze bored into her, his countenance threatening. Woman The mens laughter ended with deadly abruptness. Her guards stood and moved toward her, taking a protective stance. Sir Oliver positioned himself at her side. Angelina met Charles hateful gaze. I prefer that you address me as Angelina, Lord Compton. You are my husbands family, after all. But if you refuse to be friendly, you may address me as milady or countess. She raised her eyebrows in challenge. Frederick interrupted, a hint of laughter in his voice. I believe you have finally met your match, Charlie. She has only been here a few hours and already has bested you twice. Charles scowled, but Angelina wanted peace. Tis not a matter of besting anyone, she said. I simply demand that I be treated with respect. She addressed Charles once more. And I will not allow anyone to assume my husbands rightful place while he is away. Charles nostrils flared. You are deluding yourself. Hawk is not coming back.

Angelina lifted her chin. Until there is proof to support that claim, we shall have to agree to disagree on that point. I would prefer that we not be enemies, but the choice is yours. Please, take a seat, milord. I am quite famished and completely exhausted. I should like to have a quiet supper and retire early. She looked around the room to find the servants. Meg and Martha stood off to the side, both smiling. Meg, Martha, please begin serving. With that, Charles dismissal became final. The men returned to their seats. Sir Oliver quickly took the only remaining seat near the head of the table, leaving Charles to seek another at the other table, which suited Angelina just fine. She sighed with relief when everyone began eating. She had not anticipated a battle with Hawks cousin. For now, Charles would have to wait to continue this little war of his. Finding Hawk was her foremost concern, but also bringing the raiders to justice. Albert sat opposite her and a couple of chairs down. Mr. Fielder, she addressed him formally before the other men, there have been five attacks in all. Is that right? Yes, my lady, Albert said. Frederick chimed in. The first was the attack on our

carriage, then two separate attacks on the tenant homes outside the keep. Things were quiet for a few days, and then there was the attack at the mill. Where is the mill? Angelina asked. Albert answered. From atop the tower it can be seen next to the river. Ill show you tomorrow if you would like. Yes, I would. Thank you. Tell me of the Scots near the border who might be involved. She continued to pick at her food, not really tasting it. Despite her claim of being famished, she had not had much of an appetite since Hawk had left Lynnhaven. Albert pondered a moment. The land along our northern border belongs to the Earl of Wemyss, Lord George Seton Kerr. Seton? Angelina interrupted. That is a very old and noble Scottish family, is it not? Indeed, my lady. But more importantly, Kerr is the name of a family with a long tradition of being border reivers. I see. Has there been any contact with Lord Wemyss since the raids began? No. He has sent no messages, and we have sent none to him, my lady.

Angelina remained quiet as she tried to eat her supper, knowing she must eat to keep up her strength. Mr. Fielder, she said after a few moments, Is it well-known that Lord Fennimore is missing? It is known that his lordship is not in residence, my lady. But as I said before, none of us knew for certain that he was missing until you arrived. It makes no sense. She shook her head and reached for her goblet. What does not make sense, Angelina? Freddie asked. Well, if I were a border reiver and knew that his lordship was not in residence, I would be inclined to believe that Fennimore is vulnerable and increase the number of raids, not stop them entirely. Sir Oliver spoke. I see your point, my lady. Why would the raiders stop their attacks when they know that Fennimores lord is not here to defend her? Albert rubbed his chin. The last attack was on William and Lord Fennimore. Do you think perchance they recognized his lordship? Perhaps knowing he had returned, they ceased their raids. Or perhaps they killed my cousin and decided to go into

hiding for a while, Freddie offered. Angelina scowled. She refused to even consider that Hawk might be dead. Or the raids were intended as lures to bring my husband back to Fennimore, Freddie. And quite possibly their trap worked, and they have kidnapped my husband. Angelinas irritation increased, and she could no longer feign an appetite. She rose from her seat. Every man followed suit. She nodded to them. I am exhausted gentlemen, please excuse me. She turned to Lynnhavens men who had taken seats at the far end of the table. John, have Coal brought around for me in the morning. She looked back over her shoulder at Sir Oliver. We will begin our search at dawn, Captain. Sir Oliver bowed slightly. Good night, my lady. Good night, Captain. She inclined her head to Freddie. Good night. Please forgive me if I have not been the most gracious hostess. I am quite fatigued after my trip, and my concern for my husband has affected my demeanor. I do hope you will not hold it against me. Of course not. You must be quite overset by the whole situation. I understand completely. Rest well, milady. Freddie bowed politely.

Angelina offered the group a small smile before she retired from their presence. The men resumed their talking, and as she climbed the stairs she caught snippets of what they said. All seemed to be asking questions of their own and cursing the damned Scots. Angelina vowed she would soon confront her enemy, but first she needed to evaluate the situation further. And she would not rest until she had her answers. Inside Hawks chamber, she crossed the room and stood for a moment before the long slender window, grateful the ancient keep had been modernized with the addition of paned glass and wood paneling to cover the cold stone. Over the top of the courtyard walls, she could see a portion of the valley surrounding the keep and the forest beyond. She laid her head against the cool glass, feeling lost and alone, fighting the urge to cry. Where are you, Hawk? She sighed and walked around the room, wanting to find something to make her feel closer to Hawk. Discovering several of his shirts in the drawers of the beautiful cherry bureau, she pulled them out and smelled them. But no hint of her husbands scent remained in the well-laundered clothing. She put one on to sleep in anyway, rolled up the sleeves on the shirt that hung well past her knees, and continued her explorations.

The sparsely furnished room was large with a settee and a small end table in front of the fireplace. Logs crackled in the hearth, flames lapping upward. Against the wall stood an ancient wardrobe of the same stout cherry wood as the bureau with an intricate inlaid carving of deer and other woodland creatures adorning its doors. She looked inside, found a night robe and put it on, inhaling deeply as she wrapped it around herself. Hawk must have worn it at least once since it had last been laundered. She smelled his spicy scent and took comfort from the traces of sandalwood and juniper found in his favorite soap. Angelina dug around in the bottom and located a couple of pairs of boots and shoes. The wardrobes size prompted her to imagine Hawk as a child hiding in it. On impulse, she climbed into the big cabinet, sliding down, drawing her knees to her chest. For the first time since leaving Lynnhaven, a modicum of peace stole over her. She smelled Hawk and almost felt his presence. Leaning her head back, she placed the weight of her shoulders and upper body against the back of the cabinet. Suddenly, the back wall gave way, and she stifled a scream as she fell. Pitch black darkness surrounded her, and she couldnt see a thing, but realized she had somehow pushed open a door. She scrambled to her feet and held her hands out in front of her. Her right hand touched a wall, and she reached out with her

left to gain her bearings, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Taking a tentative step forward, she swung her left arm wide. The tips of her fingers brushed another wall. She must have discovered some kind of hidden passageway. Hawk must have loved this as a child. Though she wanted to explore, she knew that it was getting late. She would need to be rested if she planned to search for Hawk tomorrow. Reluctantly, she stepped back inside the wardrobe, slid the cabinet into place and climbed out. She dusted herself off and crawled into the bed still wearing Hawks robe. Tossing and turning for several minutes, she turned on her side and brought the robes sleeve to her nose. The spicy scent calmed her, and within moments she began to drift off.
Chapter Eighteen

Angelina awakened before sunrise and dressed in a skirt with breeches beneath it, knowing she would spend several hours riding this morning. With any luck, she would find some cotter who had taken Hawk in or at least someone who had seen him. A few of the men were already gathered at the table when she entered the main room. She murmured a Good morning to them and poured herself a cup of tea. Preferring to eat alone, she snatched a slice of warm bread from a tray and took it along

with her tea to the library. Dwarfed by its size, she felt like a child sitting in Hawks high-backed leather chair. Hawk, with his tall, broad frame, would have found it quite comfortable, however. Her nerves on edge, still plagued by a lack of appetite, she forced herself to nibble on her breadanticipation over finding Hawk today and fear that she would not, the cause of her malady, no doubt. Ahem. A man cleared his throat at the door, startling her. Oh, Albert. I did not expect you so soon. Please, come in. I am curious. Was it common knowledge that Lord Compton and his brother would be arriving? Nay, my lady. Do they often visit without notice? No. We received a note from them the day before your letter arrived. When his lordship decided to leave for Lynnhaven immediately, he instructed me to send a missive informing his cousins he would not be in residence. And you sent the note? Yes, of course. The message posted the very next morning. But his cousins decided to come anyway. Do they often visit when Hawk is away?

No. They never have before. When they arrived there was so much confusion over the attack, I forgot to ask why theyd ignored the message. I just assumed theyd not received the post before leaving. I see. So they made no mention of returning home? They decided to wait here a few days before returning to their home, wanting to be certain it was safe and requested that I send for Lord Fennimore. Angelina nodded. So, the assault on the carriage could not have been planned. It makes no sense. Why would there be regular raids and then nothing? No attacks. Have the raiders even been sighted? Nay. Ive tried to understand the motive myself. Fennimore has seen nothing violent like this since the Jacobite Rebellion almost forty years ago, and no more than a few missing sheep since Culloden. Your husbands father and Lord Wemyss were on friendly terms. They had a truce of sorts. As far as I know, nothing has been said or done to change that. Are we certain it was the Scots who were behind the attacks? Albert seemed stunned at her question. I Angelina waited patiently as he considered his words.

I suppose we have no proof of the identity of the attackers, but Lord Compton cursed the Scots several times when they arrived at the keep. Lord Frederick complained that the Scottish brigands had ruined their carriage. Both were adamant that Scots had attacked them. And the other raids? Did anyone see or hear the attackers? Im not certain, my lady. Perhaps we should question those involved further. I think it would be prudent to do so. We should also make inquiries to discover if Lord Wemyss is in residence. I believe he is, Lady Fennimore. But Ill confirm that. Would you like to send him a message? Angelina made an unladylike snort. Oh, I should like to send him a message, she muttered. But first, let us be certain that he is responsible for the attacks. We will gather the evidence we need, and then I will personally confront him. Albert appeared both shocked and concerned. Do you think that wise, my lady? It could be dangerous. I will take plenty of protection to be sure. She paused, considering her next words carefully. Albert, what do you think of my suggestion that the attacks were orchestrated to lure my husband back to Fennimore?

Since the raids ended upon his return, it may be entirely possible. But if thats true, then why would the Scots want to lure him back here? Again, you assume the Scots are responsible. Even if the attackers were Scottish, tis possible they were hired by someone else. Again, Albert seemed surprised. Lord Fennimore has no enemies. At least none that I know of. He shook his head. Your theory, though plausible, raises more questions than answers. Angelina sighed. I know, but I do not understand the timing or reason behind the attacks. Another idea assailed her. Two homes burned. Did the raiders take anything? Not that I know of, my lady, but neither family was wealthy at all. Exactly. Was anything stolen in the raid on the mill? Nay. Albert raised his brows. Now that you mention it, I do not believe that Lord Compton or Mr. Ellison complained of being robbed of anything either. And why would they kill William? He was not carrying anything valuable, was he? Nay, he answered quietly, pain written in his features. It

was clear that speaking of his son was difficult. Angelina thought to apologize but decided that perhaps it would be easier for the grieving father if she simply continued the discussion. Raiders, thieves, brigands, whatever you call them, target people because they want something, Albert. What did the Scots, or whoever hired them, want from Fennimore? I believe that if we find the answer to that question, Lady Fennimore, we will have the answer to all the others. Angelina nodded and with determination stated, We will find that answer, Albert. I will not rest until we do. I promise you that those responsible will be held accountable. Williams murderers will be brought to justice. Albert held his head high and squared his shoulders. Thank you, my lady. And I will do all I can to see that happen as well. Angelina stood and prepared to leave. We will meet again before dinner. Albert stood as she did. My lady, if you would not mind I mean, I would like to he stammered. Never mind, my lady. I do hope your search goes well. Angelina searched the mans face, guessed at what he wanted to ask, and gave him a small smile. Albert, you are familiar with Fennimore lands, are you not?

Yes, I am, he replied quickly. Ive lived here all my life. I wonder, if you are not too busy, of course, if you would mind joining me this morning. I could use your help. Albert smiled broadly. Thank you, my lady. Please remember that you may ask me anything. I would much prefer that you speak freely with me. I will, Lady Fennimore. She smiled again. Really, Albert, I have never had anyone drawn and quartered for something they said to me. She laughed softly and turned to leave. She looked back over her shoulder. Tarred and feathered, perhaps, she added with a shrug. Albert chuckled and followed her from the room. Just as Angelina had instructed the night before, John stood in the courtyard with Coal. Angelina suppressed a frown when she saw that Charles and Frederick intended to join the group. There were four other men there as well that she had not met. They appeared to be with her husbands cousins. She walked to Coal and stroked his neck. Good morning, boy, she whispered.

Coal whinnied softly in return. John cupped his hands and leaned down for her to put her foot in them. Charles began his now all-too-familiar insults. Does your man have no sense at all? That horse has no bridle. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. Angelina ignored him for the moment and allowed John to help her mount. Seated, her fingers tangled in Coals soft mane, she turned to Charles, unable to resist a small jab at the odious man. Some of us are skilled enough riders to manage without a bridle, Charles. She smirked and awaited what undoubtedly would be a hateful reply. Charles narrowed his eyes, but to her surprise, did not respond. Frederick cut in. Good morrow, milady. I beg your pardon for my brothers rudeness. I am most impressed by your riding ability, but how do you control him without a bit and reins? Angelina graced Frederick with a polite smile. Coal responds to the slightest tug on his mane. Freddie moved his horse closer to study Coal, reaching out.

He is a beauty. Coal snorted and shied away. He seems a bit wild. Were you unable to break him properly? That is just the point, Freddie. I did not wish to break him. His spirit is what makes him such a joy to ride. Angelina turned her attention to the task at hand. Sir Oliver, I think we should begin in the area where William and my husband were attacked. Perhaps we can find a clue. Sir Oliver nodded and directed the two guards he had chosen to accompany them, as well as John and James. Encircle Lady Fennimore and stay alert. He took the lead as the group made their way through the courtyard. Once they reached the site of the attack, they spread out and circled the area, looking for signs. Nothing seemed out of place. The sun had not risen above the treetops, yet the forest had already awakened with the sounds of birds, its air fresh and crisp. Ordinarily, Angelina would have taken the time to revel in the natural beauty, but this morning she barely noticed as she meticulously scoured every leaf, twig and blade of grass. Finding little out of place, she called to Albert a few lengths away. Albert quickly moved his horse closer to Angelinas.

William was found here. Am I correct? Yes, my lady. Just there, I think. He pointed to the ground. There are few signs that anything happened here at all. It has rained a bit since then. Much of the evidence has been washed away. Charles injected his own thoughts. If there had been anything here to find, we would have found it before. We are wasting our time. Angelinas jaw clenched. Lord Compton, you may return to the keep, or even your own home for that matter, whenever you wish. I did not ask you to accompany me. I do not need your invitation to search for my cousin. Had we known for certain he had returned with William, I would have begun the search immediately. Tis you who should return to the keep, woman. Why, milord? Do you fear you will be unable to keep up with me? You are a sharp-tongued little shrew. If you have felt the sting of my words, Charles, you have brought it on yourself. You have done naught but insult me

since I arrived. You do not belong here Enough, brother! Frederick brought his horse near. Angelina has every right to be here. She is the Countess of Fennimore, and you should show her more respect. To Angelina, he said, I am sorry, milady. Do you never tire of apologizing for your brother, Freddie? Upon seeing him frown, she sought to sooth his feelings. Forgive me. I should not snap at you so. I appreciate your kindness. Freddie sighed. Then hopefully you will not take offense when I say I agree that you should return to the keep. Angelinas lips thinned. Tis dangerous for you to be here, he explained. How do you expect us to search properly if we are distracted with concerns for your safety? Angelina bowed her head as she considered her reply. After a moment she lifted her chin. Clearly you have not considered what you are asking of me. Had I been inclined Nay, had I been capable of simply sitting and waiting for word of my husband, I would have done so at Lynnhaven. I cannot and I will not be passive. I will search for my husband until I find him. If my presence distracts you, perhaps we should separate our

searches. Frederick and Charles exchanged a look. Charles shook his head. Frederick answered, Nay, milady. Twould only make you more vulnerable. As it is, we have a dozen men. Tis less likely anyone will attack as long as we remain together. As you wish. But I will not tolerate your brothers rudeness. He will be civil, or I will insist that he take his leave. Charles glared at Angelina. The lady is right, Charlie. You have been an absolute beast. I know the situation is taxing, but you need not impart your frustration on Angelina or the rest of us. Charles nodded curtly and mumbled, My apologies. Angelina breathed a sigh of relief. Well, if tis settled, then let us continue. She gestured down the road back toward Fennimore. If my husband had not yet been injured or captured when William fell, he would have continued toward the keep. Let us search each side of the road. The men nodded and turned their horses back in the direction they had come. The group split, some searching along the left, some along the right, but parted by only a few yards.

All looked for clues but stayed alert for any indication of an attack. Angelina, intent on finding something that would lead her to Hawk, tried not to think about the possibility of enemies lurking in the forest. They traveled slowly, combing the ground and nearby trees and bushes for quite some time, when Sir Oliver tugged on his horses reins and halted altogether. He stared at the forests edge. Angelina noticed the broken branches just as the captain stopped. She urged Coal off the road and toward the disturbed foliage. Sir Oliver dismounted. My lady, please, stay atween us that we may protect you. She pointed to the limbs. Someone or something entered the forest here. He scanned the ground. There are several grooves here that may be hoof prints. Angelina nodded and slid from Coals back. Sir Oliver and his man, Nigel, exchanged a glance. Nigel moved his horse between Angelina and the tree line, careful not to interfere with her inspection of the area. Several horses may have passed through here. She ran her fingertips over the ground. The rain has softened them, but there are remainders of what could be the prints of three or

four horses. Sir Oliver squatted next to her. Yes. The remnants are faint, but most definitely hoof prints. At least three horses, perhaps as many as six. Angelina gestured toward the broken branches. They must have entered here. We should follow. A mixture of hope and dread choked her. The clue they had found was proof that Hawk had been pursued by his assailants. Had they captured him? Or killed him? Forcing the dark thoughts away, Angelina started forward. Wait, my lady. I will enter first. The captain directed his men. Nigel, through there. He pointed to an area about ten feet away to the right. George, there. Again, he pointed to an area about ten feet away, but to the left. The rest of you follow behind Lady Fennimore. He completely ignored Charles and Frederick and their men. Angelina cast her gaze heavenward but said nothing. She understood the captain took his responsibility as her protector seriously and remained grateful, but sometimes exasperated her as well. Sir Oliver pulled on his horses reins and started into the forest. Obediently, Coal walked behind Angelina, sometimes gently nudging her shoulder with his nose as she followed Sir Oliver deeper into the woods.

Sunlight trickled through the treetops, but the dense copse remained dark beneath the canopy of foliage. It took a minute for Angelinas eyes to adjust, yet once she grew accustomed to the dimness, she scanned the ground and brush for signs. Sir Oliver seemed to have no trouble at all finding a trail. He motioned to the ground in front of him. The way is littered with broken branches and the cover of last seasons leaves has clearly been kicked about. The riders who passed through here must have done so quickly. Horses will disturb much more dirt and leaves at a gallop than they do at a walk or trot. Perhaps the riders chased someone, Angelina suggested. Quite likely, my lady. They continued through the forest. Hawks cousins and their men talked to each other in low tones, but Angelina could not make out what they said. She would ask Albert about the roughlooking men later. Shed always been a fair judge of character, and all of Charles men made her uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because their employer was so abrasive that she was inclined to dislike them, but she should rely on her instincts. And her instincts told her not to trust them. Angelina looked back once again at the pair with their heads together. Even from such a distance they caught her gaze, their expressions remaining impassive. The tiny little hairs on the

back of her neck stood on end. Not only would she question Albert about them, but she would ask Sir Oliver to have them watched as well. The trail curved to the left due to a deep ravine. A steep slope fell directly below them. Sir Oliver continued around the curve, following the path left by the riders. Angelina stopped as Coal nickered softly and stamped the dirt with his hoof. What is it, boy? Angelina stroked his neck. Shh. Coal quieted, and as she turned back to the trail, something caught her eye. A small blue piece of fabric clung to a bush at the edge of the slope. She bent to retrieve it. She stood and praised her horse. Good boy. If not for you, I would have missed this. What is it, my lady? Albert asked and brought his horse to a stop. Angelina examined the cloth. She could not be certain, but it was very similar to a shirt Hawk had worn in Durham. It looked to be a piece from a sleeve or perhaps the collar. She sniffed the swatch. Nothing. It had been outside in the woods too long with the rain and wind and only smelled of dirt and leaves. She looked to the others and realized they all awaited her response.

I believe this may be a piece of my husbands shirt. Albert called to Sir Oliver. Captain, our lady may have found something. Sir Oliver had continued on and was now some distance ahead. He mounted his horse and quickly returned, dodging branches and bushes along the way. Hawks cousins and their men joined the gathering as Sir Oliver dismounted near Angelina. She showed the cloth to him. I believe tis from a shirt my husband purchased while we were in Durham. I cannot be certain, of course. But tis the same color and thickness. The captain nodded. If it does belong to Lord Fennimore, then your theory that he may have been chased through the forest is even more plausible. We should keep to the trail. Angelina fell in behind Sir Oliver and his horse. After only a few steps, she paused and glanced back at the bush where she had found the cloth. Captain, I found the scrap on a branch close to the ground. Why would it be there instead of hanging on one near the height of a horse and rider? The captain shrugged. Perhaps the wind carried it. Perhaps one of the higher branches tore it away but it was knocked loose as his pursuers passed. There could be any number of

explanations. Angelinas mind raced. There must be more to this clue. She shook her head as the answer evaded her. The group trudged onward through the forest. Again they spread out, Angelina and the captain still on foot while the rest of the party remained astride their horses. As they followed the path of mangled foliage, the woods grew darker as clouds moved slowly through the sky and blocked the suns light. What had promised to be a pleasant day had quickly and ominously changed. The wind rustled the trees and thunder rumbled in the distance. After a quarter hour, the trail ended in a small clearing. Some of the men dismounted to get a better look at the ground. They found what appeared to be evidence that several horses had been through the area. To Angelinas dismay, the hoof prints seemed to point in every direction, indicating the horses had turned circles in the areapossibly several times. When she could find no indication of which direction the riders had headed, she looked to Sir Oliver. What now? We will need to find where the trail begins anew within the forest. He turned to the men. Everyone separate. Try to find a trail. Angelina stayed close to the captain as he walked into the woods to the right of the circular clearing. The others entered

the forest as directed, fanning out and moving further away from the center. After several minutes, Angelina heard Johns voice call loudly, At least one horse came through here, but I see no evidence of more than one! Albert shouted next. There were likely two through here. Possibly three. Another voice joined the chorus. A couple over here. Definitely more than one. It was Charles. Angelina caught the captains gaze and said, We should follow the trail with only one horse. He winked at her then yelled to the others. Follow your trails for a few paces. John, where are you? Angelina shouted. Here, my lady. Angelina and Sir Oliver followed the sound of Johns voice and found him kneeling, closely examining the ground. As they approached, John said, It does not appear to be more than one small horse. The prints are not deep. Instinct told Angelina that the pursuers would have paired

off to look for the lone rider had they lost him at the clearing. We shall follow this trail for now. It grew even darker as the cloud cover thickened and again thunder echoed, the storm looming closer. The trio had pursued the trail for several minutes when the wind stirred a pungent smell. Angelina paused and sniffed the air. Do you smell that? Each of them stopped, inhaling deeply. The captain nodded. He looked to John, his face grim. Angelina understood his expression. The acrid odor was the smell of decaying flesh, animal or human. Angelina swallowed hard, steeling herself. I think tis coming from over there. She started in that direction. Both men moved to intercept her. My lady. Sir Oliver clutched her elbow. Stay here with John. Angelina pulled her elbow from his grasp and shook her head. No, Captain. Her chin lifted defiantly. I realize what we are about to see will not be pretty, but I will see it for myself. If the odor arose from human remains, she would need

to see with her own eyes whether it was her husband. She walked cautiously toward the source. A large fallen tree blocked her from seeing what lay behind it. Portions of the tree were rotted, but the trunk remained intact for the most part. She paused as she neared, hesitating before going further. The captain and John, on either side of her, both peered over but neither said anything. Angelina found the courage to look and leaned toward the tree. The sight she beheld stole her breath. Gasping, she reached out a hand to the trunk to steady herself. Never had she seen anything more gruesome. On the other side of the fallen tree was a small slope. At the bottom, some six feet below them, lay the remains of a horse. She closed her eyes for a moment then looked again. The horses carcass, or what was left of it, was so mutilated it was difficult to tell what color it had been. In a strained voice, she said, I need a closer look to see if it was Hawks horse. Are you certain you wish to do this, my lady? John and I can check it. I would see for myself, Captain. I must. He nodded gravely and led his horse around the fallen tree then carefully down the hill. Angelina and Coal followed with John and his horse behind her. Thunder rumbled once more.

The horses whinnied and snorted, the approaching storm and the smell of the carcass adding to their unease. Angelina covered her nose and mouth, stubbornly refusing to gag, and scanned the horses remains for anything familiar. The horse had been a medium to dark brown, but it was difficult to gauge the size of the animal. Predators or scavengers had obviously found the horse first. A layer of blood, mud, and insects, made it impossible for her to identify the saddle. Then she noticed something lying on the ground next to the horse. She pointed to it and asked the men, Is that a saddle bag? Yes, let me get it. Sir Oliver stepped gingerly around the foul-smelling carcass, pulled a long knife from a sheath at his waist, and squatted next to the bag. He used the blunt side of the knife to lift the bag by its top flap and pulled it away from the decaying animal. Insects of every shape and size dislodged in the process. Angelina waved her hand before her face to clear the flies and gnats swarming around her. Can you open it, Captain? He turned his knife and slid the sharp blade down the front of the bag, cutting the ties holding it closed, and then lifted the flap to expose the contents. Dampness had soaked through the leather. He brought out what had clearly been a white shirt, now discolored from water damage. Angelina inspected the

cloth but noticed nothing familiar about it. Just a typical white shirt of good quality, but she could not be certain it belonged to Hawk. She shook her head and shrugged. Is there anything else? As Sir Oliver lifted the shirt higher and away from the bag, a slip of folded paper fell to the ground. Angelina bent to retrieve it, opening it quickly. She read the script printed there already knowing what it would say. She closed her eyes and held the note to her chest. John and the captain glanced at one another. Sir Oliver asked, Is it your husbands, my lady? Tears stung her eyes, and her throat grew tight. Unable to speak, she nodded and handed the note to him. He read it aloud. My Darling Husband, I miss you already. Please return to me soon. Angelina P.S. No Janets The captain nodded solemnly and handed the note back to her, which she folded and placed in her pocket. No one spoke

for several moments. The wind whipped around them as the storm drew closer. Lightning flashed above them. Finally, John said, Im sorry, my lady. Angelina, still a bit dazed, struggled to calm her emotions and answer the questions flitting through her mind. Tis of no consequence, John. I was not particularly attached to my husbands horse. She gave him a weak smile, trying to lighten the weight of what they had discovered. Relief flooded the faces of both men. They had likely expected her to cry, perhaps even to become overset. Lightning streaked through the sky. The captain reached for her elbow. We should get you back to the keep before the storm, my lady. Angelina gazed at the dark clouds above her. She sighed and turned toward Coal. The trio made the short climb back up the slope. Just as Angelina reached level ground near the fallen tree, she opened her palm and stared at the swatch of blue material she still held. She was missing something. Something important. The answer struck her suddenly. Of course, she said. Both men looked at her questioningly. She struggled to contain the excitement caused by her

revelation. John, the horse would have left shallow prints if it were small, but what if a larger horse was not carrying a rider? Yes, the prints would not have been as deep. Perhaps Lord Fennimore was not on the horse when it passed through here. Angelina held cloth out to the men. That explains why this was so close to the ground. He was not on his horse. She clicked her tongue at Coal to bring him closer. We must return to where we found this. Not waiting for either man to help her mount, she stepped up on the fallen tree trunk, slid onto Coals back, and hurried through the trees toward the clearing. My lady, Sir Oliver called. Wait! Angelina ignored his calls as she raced through the woods. Several of the other men had returned to the clearing, but she did not slow her horse and pressed onward. She arrived at the curve in the trail and tugged on Coals mane to slow him. Her gaze scanned the foliage for the bush as she dismounted. My lady, you must not ride ahead without us. Tis not safe. The captains voice held a tone of chastisement as he and the others caught up to her. Angelina ignored him. I found it here on this branch. She

knelt and examined the area around the shrub. He must have been on his knees or at least bending for this branch to have torn his shirt. She pushed the small branches aside and discovered an embankment. He must have gone that way to escape his pursuers. She pointed at the steep incline, and without a moments consideration, began scrambling down the slope. My lady, Sir Oliver protested. Several colorful oaths filled the air as he joined her in the descent. Left behind at the top of the rise, Coal whinnied and snorted. John, she shouted. See that Coal does not try to follow. Yes, my lady. The wind blew harder and the claps of thunder came more frequently. Angelina disregarded the weather as she carefully made her way down the hill, intent on finding a clue to her husbands whereabouts. She scoured the bushes, and a little further along the way found a second swatch of blue. Another piece of his shirt! He definitely came this way. At the bottom, she dusted her hands on her skirts and looked around to gain her bearings. She walked toward a line of bushes and shrubs not far from her and peered beyond them. On the other side, some twenty paces away, a wide stream

meandered through the forest. Sir Oliver reached her side and scolded her again. Please, my lady, you must allow me to make certain it is safe before you enter an area. His gaze rolled heavenward, and he sighed. She pretended to take no notice. We must find his direction. Look for footprints. Searching the area close to the bushes, her hip sometimes brushing them, she cried out at an unexpected noise and jumped back. Instantly, Sir Oliver came to her. What is it? Oh, dear, she said breathlessly. Forgive me, Sir Oliver. A sound from beneath that bush startled me. Twas likely just a small animal. Albert and James joined them, concern etching their features. Let me look. The captain knelt and lifted the lowest branches. Nothing moved. He reached under the bush and drew out some twine. A rabbit trap. You must have tripped it. Thank you, Captain. She gestured to her left. Albert, what lies in that direction? Is it the keep? Yes, my lady. If you follow the stream you will first come to several cotters and tenant homes. Beyond that, fields and pastures, and then the keep.

And that direction? Her hand swept to the right. If you follow the river it will lead you to Longtown. And if we crossed the river and rode directly forward? More forest mostly. Albert thought a moment. Our gamekeeper has a small home there. As Albert finished, another clap of thunder shook the forest around them. The rain would begin any minute. Angelina glanced up at the sky. Let us hurry to find which direction he took. What little evidence may be here could be washed away in the storm. They fanned out to examine the ground for footprints. Angelina looked up the incline to locate the bushes where she had discovered the second piece of fabric, trying to determine where Hawk would have reached the bottom. The swatches had been clinging to the lower branches, so she squatted and ran her hand along the spindly branches closest to the ground. Grimacing at the touch of what she thought to be a spider web, she withdrew her hand to see several strands of dark hair tangled around her fingers. He eyes widened and she kneeled, lifting the edges of the lowest branches. Several more strands hung there. Hawks hair.

Have you found something, my lady? The captain walked over to her. I believe I have. Tis a few strands of my husbands hair. Her voice trembled a bit, but she held onto her emotions. Perhaps he hid beneath the bushes. She reached out and pushed back the foliage. What she saw shook her to her very core. She cried out and covered her mouth. Tears filled her eyes and trailed down her cheeks. Albert touched his hand to her shoulder. The rain fell. Huge drops pelted her. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. A sign that the heavens were in no less turmoil than she. And the blood-stained dirt would soon wash away.
Chapter Nineteen

Angelina and the men arrived at the keep soaked through and through. Charles had grumbled incessantly all the way, but the other men had remained as silent as Angelina. Chilled to the bone, she clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering as a tremble wracked her body. Sliding from Coals back, she made her way to the door, met by Martha. Martha wrapped a bath sheet around Angelinas shoulders. Come, my lady, she said in a soothing tone. There is water heated for your bath and a nice warm fire in your room.

A deep ache had settled into Angelinas heart, so deep she thought she might die from the pain. Martha fussed over her and gently scolded for not returning before the storm as she led Angelina up the stairs to the waiting bath. Angelina hardly heard the womans words. The chill that had claimed her would not go away. Martha helped her undress and get into the tub. Though the water warmed her body, her blood still ran cold with worry. Silent tears fell down her cheeks while Martha combed out her hair. There, there, my lady. All will be well, Martha tried to comfort her. Angelina wished Mattie was there. Mattie always knew what to say to her when she was troubled. She had not felt so lost and alone in quite a while. The last time must have been at Uncle Julians funeral when Hawk had failed to come for her again. In her mind, Matties voice spoke to her. You are stronger than this, child. Sighing, she wiped away the tears. Mattie was right. She was stronger than this. Let me get you a spot of tea and something to eat. Martha set the comb aside and left the room. Angelina dressed and braided her hair. She sat with her feet

tucked beneath her on the settee, deep in thought, when the housekeeper returned. Martha placed the tray on the table next to her. You should have put on your nightgown, my lady. You should nap when you finish your meal. Perhaps I will. I do believe I shall remain in my room for a while. I have no desire to listen to Charles bickering at the moment. Loathsome man. Tis as if he wants everyone to be as miserable as he. Yes, he is quite the ogre. His visit has been a great trial without his lordship here. Nothing we do pleases Lord Compton. Martha gave Angelina a grateful smile. Were all quite relieved you are here now. I will do what I can to keep Lord Compton from causing any trouble, Martha, but I can do nothing to alleviate his surliness. He has made it clear he does not approve of me. Tis not his place to approve of anyone or anything here, my lady, Martha huffed. You should know that everyone believes Lord Fennimore is most fortunate to have such a beautiful, kind, strong woman for his wife. Thank you, Martha. My husband is fortunate to have such

loyal servants and friends. Angelina covered her mouth and pretended to yawn. I believe I shall finish my soup and then nap for bit. Aye, rest is what you need. Ill see that you are not disturbed. As soon a Martha left the room, Angelina ate a few spoonfuls of soup hoping it would give her enough sustenance to go on. She had eaten so little in the past week. Then, taking the lamp, she crossed to the wardrobe and opened the doors to move the hanging clothing out of the way. Stepping inside, she pushed against the back, and the panel slid away easily. She lifted the lamp and waited for her eyes to adjust. Unlike last night, she could now see that the passage walls were about three feet apart. She stepped into the corridor and turned back to close the secret entry. On the back of the door she found a torch lamp and a few twigs of kindling, dipping one into the top of the lamp so she could use it to light the torch. The torch provided additional illumination, but more importantly, it would show her the way back to her room should she become disoriented. Angelina tried to decide which direction to explore first. The decision was made when she realized that to her left, about ten paces away, was another wall and the passage went no further in this direction than Hawks room.

Anxious to discover what other rooms connected to the hidden corridor, she held the lamp out before her and moved deeper into the darkness that lay ahead. Unsure of the floors condition, she stepped cautiously as she advanced and located another door. Thinking it must lead to the chamber across the hall and uncertain if anyone used the room, she did not take the chance of being discovered and moved on. Another few steps and the corridor ended in a very narrow staircase, the stairs just half the width of the hallway. A brick wall, about waist high, served as a barrier to keep someone from falling to the floor below. She grasped the staircases metal railing and carefully descended. At the bottom, the passageway ended and turned back directly below the one above. Angelina had no trouble negotiating the small corner, but a large man would need to turn sideways to pass. To her right she located another staircase leading down. An underground escape route, she surmised. She used the kindling next to the torch lamps at the top of the stairs to light one of them. Angelina decided to explore the rest of the passage before descending into the tunnel. Walking further down the corridor, she searched for another entry and discovered a door and lamp. This must be the library. Curious as to how the door might open, she lit the torch lamp for better lighting and looked for a latch on the door.

Finding a small square on the right side, she slid it over. As suspected, the peephole revealed the library. After locating the latch to open the library door, she returned to the underground staircase and descended the steps. By the time she reached the bottom, she noticed a difference in temperature. Angelina rubbed her arm with her free hand and continued through the narrow walk. She shivered, uncertain if the chill resulted from the cold air around her or the darkness that loomed ahead. Unwilling to turn back, she forged on for several minutes to the end of the passage where she entered a small room. On the far side, a heavy oak door with a large iron bar stood as a lone soldier protecting the entrance. Torch lamps flanked each side, and she lit one of them, casting the small room in a warm golden glow. Cobwebs hung in eerie sheets from the ceiling, and scampering rats forced a shudder from her. Anxious to be rid of the disgusting creatures, she pulled the handle on the crossbar and the ancient door slowly creaked open. A strong breeze blew into the passage. Raindrops splattered her face. Brush and branches covered the doorway. Pushing them aside, she took a tentative step forward to check her surroundings. The wind whipped loose tendrils of hair about her face. Thunder resounded and lightning streaked the sky. Below her, she saw a wide stream. It was likely the same one that ran through the forest where they had been searching

earlier. The icy rain slapped at her already chilled skin, but she stood there for a while, thinking of Hawk. He was out there somewhere, and she prayed he was not cold and alone. Angelina turned and walked back toward her chamber. Heartsick, exhausted, but more determined than ever, Angelina made her way down the stairs and marched into the main hall. The men rose as she approached, but she motioned for them to sit and took a seat next to Sir Oliver and Albert, who were off in the corner to themselves. I need to speak to you both. She looked over at the tables to be certain none of the men gathered there listened and continued to enjoy their game of cards. Albert, I do not trust Lord Comptons men. I am not certain what it is that makes me leery of them. Do you know them? Have they worked for Lord Compton long? Albert shook his head and answered, his tone low, Not long. These men accompanied Lord Compton on their last visit a few months ago. I did not care for them then, and my opinion has not changed. They are a rough bunch, unclean and without manners. As I recall, Lord Fennimore made similar remarks concerning Lord Comptons new guards.

Angelina nodded and turned to Sir Oliver. Captain, I am concerned with their presence here. Can you have them watched? Without drawing any attention, of course. My lady, I must be honest with you. I have had my men watching them since we arrived. I, too, do not find them trustworthy. Angelina relaxed into the chair. Thank you, Sir Oliver. I should have known you would be a step ahead of me. Your safety is my responsibility, Lady Fennimore. I do not take that lightly. Your husband was attacked. Now that you are here you may be a target as well. I have questioned some of the servants. There have been no skirmishes with the Scots along the border for many years. I am not entirely convinced that the Scots are to blame. No? You mentioned last night at supper that you believe your husband may have been lured back to Fennimore. Angelina nodded. Your reasoning is sound. There have been no further raids, and it does seem that the attacks were designed to do no more than cause troubletrouble that your husband would be required to settle. So assuming that someone was trying to lure him back, who was it that wanted his return? To what end? I

have yet to determine how the Scots would benefit. The captain seemed to consider his next words. My lady, in my estimation, the only one who would benefit is Lord Compton. Angelina sat quietly for a moment then whispered, I have no wish to accuse my husbands cousin. Though I do find him difficult and rude, I cannot overlook the fact that he is family. If he is indeed guilty of anything, we will need undeniable proof. We will find who is responsible and bring them to justice. But until we have the proof we need, no one is above suspicion, he warned. Though everyone had been interviewed before Angelina arrived, something might have been missed. So they made plans to question the witnesses again, including Charles and Frederick and their men. Meg and Martha entered carrying trays laden with food. The rest of the men joined the ones who had been playing cards at the tables, and soon the food was served. Angelina remained only long enough to have some soup and bread then excused herself to retire for the evening. As she had done the night before, she donned one of Hawks shirts and his robe. She blew out the lamp and crawled into the large bed, praying for several minutes, asking God to watch over Hawk and to help her find him.

She shifted restlessly, worry for her husband plaguing her. How she wished he was there to hold her. Thoughts of his kisses heated her blood, invaded her mind. She closed her eyes and remembered his touch. Memories of the feel of his lips against her skin and his hands as they caressed her breasts incited a tingle to run through her body. She punched the other pillow lying next to her before grabbing and pulling it to her in a hug. Anger at herself for needing her husbands touch warred with concern for his safety. Emotions played havoc with her heart and her mind. She should have told him she loved him. Would she ever have another chance to do so?
Chapter Twenty

Angelina awoke with a start as thunder shook the keep. No! Quickly, she jumped from the bed and ran to the window. Last night as she had tossed and turned seeking the evasive peacefulness of sleep, the storm had subsided and she had finally dozed off knowing she could begin the search again that morning. Now another storm threatened her progress. Angelina leaned her forehead against the glass, alternately cursing the weather and praying to heaven for it to end. Moments later, she lifted her head as a thought came to her. They may not be able to search in the storm, but they could certainly question the victims of the attacks. She dressed in a hurry, taking care to brush and braid her hair, wash her face,

and clean her teeth before going downstairs to announce her plans. A few men were already gathered at the table, eating and talking. Angelina took a slice of bread and her tea to the library to await Albert, who joined her within minutes along with Sir Oliver. They agreed to spend the morning interviewing everyone and when the storm ended to begin the search again. The morning seemed to crawl, the weather outside only adding to the sluggish moodand her anxiety. Everyone who might have glimpsed the attackers had been brought to the library to be questioned. Frederick and Charles could not describe their assailants as they had been inside the carriage and unable to see them. Frederick claimed he had heard one or two of the mens voices and was certain the brigands had spoken with a Scottish brogue. The miller and his daughter, Leslie, were expected to arrive later, and Angelina planned to question the young woman herself, not wanting to cause her any more pain than necessary as she had most certainly been traumatized enough. By the time the midday meal was served, the rain had stopped, although the clouds lingered. They had begun to eat when a commotion outside drew their attention. One of the captains men entered. We encountered Lord Helmsley and his guards on the road. He says youre expecting

him, my lady. Angelina stood. immediately. Indeed. Allow them entrance

She waited next to the big fireplace for her husbands friend and clasped her hands behind her back when she realized she had been wringing them. Lord Helmsley entered the keep with long, purposeful strides. Concern coated the handsome mans features much as the mud covered his boots and trousers. Not waiting for the customary pleasantries, he asked, Any news? Angelina swallowed and vowed to give him the facts without bursting into tears. He is still missing. He and William were attacked on the road in the forest. We found his horse. Dead. We also found She tightened her fists until her nails dug into her palms. We found evidence that he was injured. He He lost a lot of blood, but But no body, Helmsley finished for her. She shook her head. Then he must still be alive. The intensity of his belief came through clearly. His tone conveyed a certainty Angelina had been desperate to hear for days. A modicum of relief eased her tension. I

believe he may have been kidnapped. Possibly. Or perhaps he is still recovering from his injuries. He stepped closer. Im sorry I did not get here sooner. The storms slowed us. We rode through the night, but You are here now. Angelina stopped his explanation. And I thank you for that, Lord Helmsley. He grimaced. Nicholas, he corrected. Hawk is like a brother to me. That would make you my sister now. He winked. Thank you, Nicholas. Please, call me Angelina. Charles and Freddie walked over to them. Helmsley, Freddie intoned. She was not surprised they already knew each other. Freddie waved his arm toward the tables. We were just about to eat. Would you care to join us? Angelina groaned. Oh, yes. Where are my manners? You must be hungry. Please have something to eat, and then you must rest. She took his arm. I cannot rest until Hawk is found. So, if you do not mind, I would like to wash up a bit, and then have some food.

To know someone else was there who would not sleep until Hawk was found meant the world to Angelina. She wanted to thank him, but choked with emotion, tears welling in her eyes she said, The bathing room is down that hall. Nicholas patted her hand, gave her another wink, and chuckled. Yes, I remember the way. Angelina released him and watched him go, smiling for the first time in days. I suppose you would know your way around this ancient monstrosity better than I. Later, they all sat at the table, Nicholas next to Angelina. For a few moments, they ate in relative silence. Nicholas took a drink and turned to her. You are not eating. She looked down at the plate before her. I have not had much of an appetite of late. I never would have guessed. His dry tone exposed his sarcasm. You have lost weight since I saw you last. Enough, in fact, to make your dress hang loose. She shrugged. Tis no matter. I shall have it altered. No, Nicholas corrected. You will eat. Angelinas eyes widened at his forceful command. I beg

your pardon? He may be her husbands friend, but she barely tolerated Hawks overbearing orders. She was not about to allow this man to do the same. You have shadows beneath your eyes. Your complexion is wan, and you have lost entirely too much weight. Hawk will have my head when he returns for allowing his wife to make herself ill with worry. Now eat. He used his fork to point at her plate. Though his explanation softened the words, his arrogance still irritated her. I will eat when I am hungry, she ground out. He laughed, the sound echoing through room. Angelina stared at him as he sat back in his chair and smiled. No wonder he calls you Hellion. Her heart cinched, and her eyes filled with moisture. She could not speak. Nicholas leaned toward her. He loves you, you know. Angelinas breath caught. She shook her head to deny it, unable to form the words. Nicholas looked at her with clear, confident blue eyes. Yes, he does. Surprised me too. But I know Hawk. And he is in love with you. He grinned. Of course, I should have expected that he had not told you.

Angelinas heart resumed its beating as it swelled with hope and joy. All thoughts scattered save one. Hawk loved her. Nicholas tilted his head. You have not told him either. Have you? She closed her eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek. His warm finger brushed it away, prompting her to look at him once more. Eat, Angelina. If not to save my neck, then do it for Hawk. Angelina complied as best she could. Though Nicholas words had been uplifting, her appetite had not returned. With the meal finished, Angelina, Nicholas, Albert, and Sir Oliver gathered in the library and awaited the miller and his daughter. Charles and Frederick, unfortunately, decided to join them as well. This was not the first attempt on Hawks life, Nicholas informed them. Angelina deduced his meaning immediately. Her mind reeled with the implications. No? Charles questioned. His eyebrows arched in surprise. When was the first? Sir Oliver asked.

Three weeks ago in Durham, Angelina breathed. Nicholas nodded. Angelina and Hawk were nearly killed by what appeared to be a runaway carriage. I suspected foul play, but Hawk believed it was only coincidence. She shivered. The incident had unnerved her, but she had thought it just an accident. Now, the realization that someone had actually tried to kill them shook her beyond reason. Sir Oliver sat forward in his chair. I feared Lady Fennimore might be in danger. We should reconsider allowing her to accompany us in the search. Anger replaced Angelinas horror. I will thank you not to speak of me as if I am not here, Sir Oliver. And I will search for my husband with or without your approval. Nicholas chuckled. Hawk told me how stubborn you are, Angelina. I thought he exaggerated, but perhaps he understated your tenacity. Angelina glared at him. Nicholas addressed Sir Oliver. I shall ride with her from now on, and we will take additional guards with us. Better to have her with us where we can protect her than leave her alone and vulnerable here. She would be safer here with guards assigned to protect

her, Charles argued. Nicholas shook his head and laughed again. Yes, but her guards may not be safe from the ladys wrath. Angelina folded her arms. I will not be held prisoner here. Very well, Sir Oliver relented. With the addition of Lord Helmsley and a few of his guards, we should be able to provide sufficient protection. He paused. But, my lady, you must remain with us at all times. You could be risking your life should you race ahead of us as you did before. She sighed. I understand, Captain. I have no wish to court danger. I will use more caution. With their argument settled, they made plans to go to the tenants homes near the edge of the woods. The stream where they had found the evidence of Hawks presence would have led to those cottages, and the area was not too far from the keep. If the storm raged again, they could return quickly. Just then, Martha came to the library door to announce the arrival of the miller and his daughter and showed them inside. As it turned out, the miller had been hit from behind and could provide no help. His daughter had sat close to her father as he had been questioned and only listened, her head down. Satisfied the miller knew nothing, Angelina rose from her chair. Gentlemen, I will speak with Leslie alone.

Charles and Frederick exchanged glances. Charles began to argue, I would hear Sir Oliver interrupted. Come, Lord Compton. Nicholas aided Sir Oliver. The girl will be more open with a woman, Charlie. Charles sent him a dour look. Frederick also voiced his objection. Angelina, surely you would agree that we have a right to hear what the girl has to say. Angelina stood between the girl and the men. I will not have this innocent victim humiliated any further, Freddie. You have already interviewed her once. I will speak to her alone this time. I will then report to all of you if she has since recalled any information we can use. Fredericks lips thinned. Sir Oliver moved toward them. Do not make me ask again, milords. The men left without further protest, and Angelina closed the door firmly behind them and crossed the room to the girl who looked nervously at the door. Leslie was very pretty, blonde and blue-eyed with a cherubic face. Angelina recognized her

frightened expression and sought to put her at ease. She grasped one of Leslies hands and gave it a little squeeze. This conversation is just between us. I want you to feel comfortable speaking with me, and I will not have the men listening. The girl nodded and relaxed a little, but still seemed quite discomfited. Angelina sat on the sofa next to her. I am so sorry for what happened to you. Leslie stared at her hands, now folded in her lap. Thank you, my lady. I cannot pretend that I know how you feel. I can only imagine how horrible it must have been. She paused, giving Leslie a chance to speak. Leslie peeked upward at Angelina shyly. Yes, my lady. Thank you, she whispered and veered her gaze to her lap again. No, Leslie. It is I who thank you. This cannot be easy for you, but I need you to be strong now. Angelina cupped the girls face and forced her to look up. We will not let those blackguards win, she stated firmly. She reached for the girls hands. I will see that the men responsible for these crimes are punished.

Angelina watched as the girls fear receded, but it was clear that her uncertainty remained. Hoping Leslies desire for justice would be the key to overcoming her reluctance, she repeated her pledge. They will pay for what they did to you. I promise. I will not rest until I find them. Leslies chin lifted a notch. Angelina slid closer to her and pleaded in a soft tone, I need your help. I need you to tell me everything you can remember about those men. You are the only one who saw them. I will try, my lady. Her voice quivered. But I do not know what I can tell you that will help. The two men wore masks. I did not see their faces. What color were the masks? Leslie thought for only a moment. Black I think. Can you tell me what the men were wearing? She shook her head. I do not recall. Try to remember, Leslie. Were they wearing plaid? The girl pondered her answer. No. I dont think so. I remember a lot of brown. Brown coats, I think. Just brown like the color of fallen leaves.

Angelina nodded. Do you remember anything else about them? The color of their eyes? Did you see their skin at all? Leslie shook her head. Did they say anything to you? Leslies eyes misted. Terrible things, she whispered. Angelina squeezed the girls hands. I need you to tell me everything. What they did. Everything they said. The girl sniffed and nodded. I heard voices and rushed to see what was happening. My father was lying on the floor, and the two men with masks were standing over him. I screamed, and they came after me. I made it back to the main room, but they caught me and shoved me down. The girl gulped audibly and took a deep breath. The big one pinned me with his body andand he yanked my skirt up. Hehe said Her face rendered to a mask of anguish. Angelina stroked the girls hair. I know it was horrible, but you must go on. Tell me what he said. He said that he was going to enjoy this. Then he raped me, she whispered. I screamed and screamed, and I could hear him laughing and grunting. I thought it would never be over. Angelina patted Leslies hand. What did he say when he finished?

He said to the other man, She is nice and tight. Then that man said, My turn. And the first man held me down while the second one raped me. Leslie buried her face in her hands. Angelina waited and gave the girl time to compose herself. Leslie sniffed and raised her head. I am so sorry, milady. You have nothing to be sorry for. Are you able to continue now? Leslie nodded. Do you remember anything about either man? Leslie shrugged. The first one was bigger and smelled awful. He laughed hatefully. The second one didnt say much. Did they say anything else to you? Nay. Not really. They said things about my breasts. Did they talk to each other at all? Leslie wiped away a tear and bit her lip. The big man kept telling the other what to do. He said things like, Be quick about it, Clem. And then it was finally over. I Leslies hand went to her mouth. Angelina smiled at her.

Confusion colored the young womans face. My lady? She squeezed Leslies hand. How would you like to watch while a man named Clem and his big, smelly friend are castrated? Leslies eye grew wide. Clem He did say Clem. I know he did, she said, her words breathless, excited. There may be something else we can use, Leslie. Think now. What did they say to each other after that? Apparently encouraged by the information she had recalled, Leslie squinted her eyes, concentrating. When the second man finished, the first one helped him stand. The second man pulled up his pants and said That will bring him back. Hell not like it that we had our way with her. Hell be back real quick like. Angelina closed her eyes for a moment and clenched her teeth. What is it? Leslie asked. As I suspected, the attackers used you to force my husband to return to the keep. I am sorry you suffered so. Leslie nodded but said nothing.

Tell me, what was the mans voice like? Deep? A Scottish brogue? No, not really deep, but quite loud, and I shall never forget that awful laugh. Tell me what he said again. Leslie thought for a moment then repeated what she heard the man say. That will bring him back. He will She stopped mid-sentence. Nay. Nay, my lady. Slowly, she annunciated, at will bring im back. Ell not like it at we ad our way wit er. He dropped the Hs, my lady. Angelina smiled at Leslie. Very good. Now Clem and his big, smelly, Cockney friend will pay for their crimes, she said firmly. For the first time, Leslie smiled too. Did he say anything else? No. I did not see them leave. I turned away from them. I I was crying. It hurt so much. I will be certain those men suffer as you did. I promise. Angelina stood and pulled Leslie to her feet. As they walked toward the door, Angelina praised her. You have done very well today. I know how difficult it was, and I am very proud of you.

Thank you, Leslie whispered, holding her head a little higher now. Angelina hoped that perhaps this would help her recover. The bleakness that had been in the girls eyes had lessened. She ushered Leslie out of the library and took a few steps down the hall. Sounds from the main room drifted to them. The men were gathered in the large foyer. Suddenly, Leslie stopped. Angelina turned to her. Leslies face had paled to ghostly white, her eyes full of fear as laughter filtered through the hall. Tis him, my lady. That laugh. I shall never forget it. Angelina motioned for her to remain still and walked toward the door at the end of the hall. She located the man who laughed and watched as he slapped another man on the back of his head. Yer a bloomin idiot, Clem, the man said. Angelinas eyes narrowed as anger gripped her. She hurried back to Leslie and instructed her quietly, I want you to leave through the kitchens. But, my lady, Leslie said frantically, I know that is the man. I know it. I believe you, Leslie. He will be arrested, but first I must

speak to Lord Helmsley and Sir Oliver. The men who hurt you were working for someone, Angelina explained in a hushed voice. Someone wanted Lord Fennimore to return so they could kill him. Before I see that these men are hanged, I need proof to convict the man who hired them. If that man instructed them to rape you, he should pay, too, should he not? The one who hired them is just as guilty, my lady. Quite right. I need you to give me time to collect the evidence needed. For now, I will tell everyone you could not remember anything of any use. Only Lord Helmsley, Mr. Fielder, and Sir Oliver will know the truth. You must keep this secret until we are ready to arrest all of them. Do you understand? The girl nodded as some of her color returned. Yes, my lady. I understand. Good. Now exit the keep through the kitchens. Go directly home. And Leslie, I will make certain those men are followed and watched at all times. You will not be in any danger. Leslie hurried down the hall toward the kitchen. Angelinas heart lurched at the sight of the young woman leaving. Angelina schooled her features, intent on making everyone believe that the girl had not given her any information. Her strides full of purpose, she vowed to punish the culprits for their

every crime. Minutes later, Angelina mounted Coal to continue the search, praying the let up in the weather would hold. They had visited every cottage along the edge of the woods, asking each man, woman, and child if they had seen any sign of the attackers or Lord Fennimore. Everyone was cooperative and polite, but no one had seen anything. All promised to pray for their lords safe return and to report any findings to their lady. Outside the last cottage, they watered their horses. Angelina was at her wits end. She had seen evidence as to where Hawk had been, so why could she not find him? Rubbing the back of her neck, she sighed. Coal pranced beneath her, seemingly as anxious as she. Nicholas looked at her, leaning forward on his horse. Angelina, no one could blame you if you wanted to go back to the keep and rest. You are so pale. Disgusted with herself for revealing her weakness, she summoned her strength and said, I wish to return to the place whereto the area where Unwilling to speak of the blood stain, she took a deep breath and continued, Where we found the last evidence. We shall travel east toward the gamekeepers cottage.

Nicholas gave her a short nod and hung his head but did not argue. We shall need to spread ourselves apart in our search. It is most likely we will find another trail. Her mind racing, she turned to Albert. Have you been able to determine if Lord Wemyss is in residence? But it was Sir Oliver who answered. Yes, my lady. The information we obtained confirms Lord Wemyss arrived at Kerr Castle four or five weeks ago. Angelinas eyebrows rose as she calculated the date. A fortnight or so before the raids began. What a coincidence. Or perhaps a convenient coincidence for whoever wished to lay the blame for the attacks on Lord Wemyss, Sir Oliver offered. Perhaps. Angelina was not yet certain that the Scots were innocent, but neither was she inclined to believe they were guilty. I should like to speak to Lord Wemyss soon, but for now, we will continue our search. Angelinas party crossed the swollen stream near the tenants cottage, making their way to the area where the last of the evidence had been found. All of them spread out at ten paces to comb through the forest, searching for any sign of passage.

By late afternoon, the group came upon the clearing where the gamekeepers cottage stood just beyond. Built on a small hill in the center of a large meadow, the cottage seemed peaceful and inviting. Late spring and early summer wildflowers covered the ground. The cottage reminded Angelina of one in a fairytale she had read as a child. Its thatched roof and wooden shutters were worn but well kept. Wisps of smoke drifted on the breeze from the narrow chimney. A man stood outside and shielded his eyes from the sun, staring in their direction. Sir Oliver spoke to Angelina. Remain here with George and Nigel. Albert and I will make the inquiries. Angelina wanted to protest but decided against it. Albert knew the gamekeeper, and the captain was only trying to protect her. I am coming with you, Frederick stated as he moved his horse forward. As am I, Charles echoed with his usual irritable tone. Nicholas spoke not a word but followed along behind the others. The captain and Nicholas questioned the gamekeeper, but Angelina was too far away to hear. From the distance she could do little more than watch for gestures and wait for them to relay the information to her. Her hopes fell as she watched

the gamekeeper shake his head, shrug, and lift his hands, palms up. Returning to her side, Nichols said, I am sorry, Angelina. Mr. Hunter was aware that Hawk is missing. He had heard about it in the village just after you arrived. But he has not seen Lord Fennimore or any signs that he has been near. Nicholas expression remained somber. He has promised to report to us if he finds anything that may be useful. Angelina forced herself to hold her posture. Though her hope had suffered yet another blow, she would not give up. We shall search again on the morrow. With evening fast approaching, she and the men returned to the keep. But rather than taking her tired body upstairs for a hot bath and to be alone, she instead shared dinner with the men. With Freddie and his brother so close all afternoon, she had not yet had the opportunity to tell Nicholas or Sir Oliver what Leslie had really said. At some point after dinner she would find a way.
Chapter Twenty-One

Once Angelina excused herself at the meals end, she called Martha to the side and conspired with her to slip a note to Nicholas, asking him to bring Sir Oliver and Albert with him to the library and no one else. Confident Martha would see to it, she waited, anxious to tell the three men what Leslie had

indeed remembered. Pacing the room, she finally heard footsteps approach. Nicholas entered first, followed by Albert then Sir Oliver. Angelina ceased her pacing and instructed Sir Oliver to close the door. Instead of using the desk and chairs, she motioned for them to be seated on the setteeaway from the peephole and the possibility of being overheard should Charles be privy to the secret passage. In hushed tones, she related to them every word of Leslies testimony. Not one of them questioned the validity of the charges against Charles men, but Albert apparently felt the need to give Charles the benefit of the doubt. Could the men have acted of their own accord? Perhaps they were not responsible for the other attacks, only the one at the mill. It is difficult for me to believe that Lord Compton would try to murder Lord Fennimore. They were such good friends when they were young. Angelina knew nothing of Hawks relationship with his cousins, but the evidence could not be ignored. Our suspicions that the attacks might be designed to lure my husband back to Fennimore were correct as evidenced by what Leslie heard one of them say. Sir Oliver asked, Did Leslie hear the men speak of Lord Compton?

No, Captain. The only name mentioned during the attack was Clem. The larger man called him by name. Albert? Do you know the name of the Cockney man? Alberts brow furrowed. It might be Carl. Im not certain. I see no reason to doubt that Lord Comptons men orchestrated the attacks at their employers direction, Nicholas concluded. Albert voiced his reluctance to blame Charles and added, But what of the attack on Lord Comptons carriage? A ruse, perhaps? A means to claim that the Scots were threatening Fennimore in order to force my husband to return, Angelina said. But why now? Albert asked. Lord Fennimore was in residence for several weeks before leaving. Why was he not attacked then? Angelina considered the question for a moment, her mind whirling with possible motives. Albert, you said that you sent a note to Lord Compton and Lord Frederick stating that he was no longer in residence and that he had gone to Lynnhaven. Albert nodded. Nicholas cut in. There is your answer. Lord Compton did not wish to give Lord Fennimores wife time to conceive an

heir. It was imperative that he return to Fennimore immediately. In order for Charles to inherit, Hawk would need to be murdered. Charles must have designed the false attack on his carriage in order to bring Hawk back to the keep. Albert grimaced. When the lords arrived, they both insisted that I send for Lord Fennimore immediately. When I did not, there were additional attacks. The raids continued until I sent William to inform Lord Fennimore. Angelinas heart constricted. Clearly, Albert blamed himself for his sons death. Tis likely William was killed because he could have identified the attackers, Albert. I am truly sorry for your loss, but anyone who had returned with my husband would have been murdered. Albert nodded. We should confront Lord Compton immediately. No, Angelina and Nicholas answered in unison. Nicholas took the lead. Unless the two men are willing to confess that Lord Compton instructed them to carry out the raids, including the murder of William and the attack on Hawk, we will have done nothing but reveal that Lord Compton is a suspect. A confession of murder is highly unlikely if not completely out of the question. With Leslies testimony, we may be able to convict the two men of rape, but we have no proof they were involved in the other raids. And we may not be able

to gather that evidence if Lord Compton is made aware of what we have learned. Sir Oliver agreed. Good point. We must keep this information a secret until we have additional evidence. Albert added quietly, We must find Lord Fennimore. He may be able to identify his attackers. Yes, Albert, Angelina replied. If my husband can identify his attackers as Lord Comptons men, we may be able to get the men to confess. With their testimony against Lord Compton, we can bring him to justice. I believe Freddie is involved as well. The three men exchanged glances. I realize that Freddie has nothing to gain, but I I know not how to explain it, but I do not trust him. Angelina felt it deep inside her. We should watch him, Nicholas said. Tis not unlikely that Charles has confided in his brother or that the two have conspired together. Angelina warned that they should end their meeting lest they draw suspicion from Charles and Freddie. Everyone agreed to meet again as usual the next morning. The less they strayed from their usual activities, the less likelihood of alerting Charles.

Nicholas poured a glass of whiskey, and then escorted Angelina to her room. He stopped at her chamber door and pushed the glass into her hand. Drink this. Oh, no. I am not fond of It will help you sleep. Heaven knows you need it. Drink. All of it. Angelina took a deep breath and turned the glass up. She coughed and sputtered as she handed the glass back to him. I know not how you drink that foul stuff. But even as she said the words, warmth filled her belly and chased away the chill shed had for days. Now lock the door and go to bed. You need not worry for your safety. I am right across the hall. Nicholas pushed the door open. Sleep. You will need your wits about you tomorrow. She nodded. Thank you, Nicholas. Angelina secured the door as told, dressed in Hawks shirt and robe, and crawled into bed. Whether it was the whiskey or sheer exhaustion, she did not know, but sleep claimed her within minutes.

At their meeting the next morning, Angelina directed the conversation to the plans for the day. This morning we shall call on Lord Wemyss. We should return in time for the midday meal. Afterward, well continue the search for Lord Fennimore. Why would you wish to call on Lord Wemyss? Alberts eyebrows knitted together. We know now that he was not involved. Sir Oliver smiled. I believe I can answer that. Lady Fennimore wishes to mislead Lord Compton. If she confronts Lord Wemyss as she has planned to do since she arrived, Lord Compton will have no reason to believe that his secrets have been revealed. Am I right, milady? Just so, Captain. Angelina smiled. I shall make a great show of accusing Lord Wemyss. Then she became serious. I have been thinking, however. I should like to speak with him alone. He may have garnered some information from his tenants about my husbands whereabouts. Excellent strategy, Nicholas said. We should take Lord Compton and Frederick with us. When we arrive, you can ask to speak with Lord Wemyss alone. We will wait for you and when you finish, you will simply state that Lord Wemyss was uncooperative.

Angelina grinned. Oh I can do much better than that, Nicholas.


Chapter Twenty-Two

The group arrived at Kerr Castle two hours later. After being questioned, they were allowed inside and within minutes led into the main room very much like the one at Fennimore Keep. Lord Wemyss emerged through a door on the left wall of the room. An older man of medium height and build, his hair graying, he had a bit of pouch around his middle. His face was weathered, but the lines and wrinkles about his eyes gave witness to his tendency to smile. His good nature was immediately evident to Angelina. Charles started forward, but Sir Oliver detained him as Angelina spoke to Lord Wemyss. Milord, I would have a word with you, she stated firmly. You must be Lady Fennimore, Lord Wemyss replied, ignoring the obvious irritation in Angelinas voice. I am. I would speak with you privately. Charles and Frederick muttered their discontent in low voices, but Nicholas and Sir Oliver held them at bay, placing a hand to each of their shoulders. Lord Wemyss raised his eyebrows in surprise. Very well. He glanced at the men crowding his home, confusion

evident in his features as he ushered her into the room from which he had entered and closed the door behind them. May I offer you some refreshment, milady? No, thank you, Lord Wemyss. Please forgive my lack of manners, but I should like to dispense with the pleasantries. I see. My lady, I must say that I find it quite baffling that you have brought at least a dozen men with you and yet you ask to speak to me privately. Why? Are you aware that my husband is missing? I had heard that he was apparently attacked. Angelina started to reply, but Lord Wemyss continued. I have also heard rumors that Scottish raiders have been blamed for the attack. Are you here to accuse me, milady? Angelina moved farther away from the door and lowered her voice. Should I be? Lord Wemyss frowned. I have no knowledge of the raids. She dipped her head in acceptance. I do not believe you are responsible, Lord Wemyss. Shock colored his face. Then to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Lady Fennimore?

First, I should like to ask you if you have any information that might help me find my husband. Im sorry. I know nothing about your husbands disappearance. Angelina sighed. I had hoped that perhaps you had provided him sanctuary, she said, disappointment evident in her voice. Sanctuary? Yes. We have a traitor in our midst. I have come here on the pretense of accusing you. You see, Lord Wemyss, I must mislead this traitor in order to gather the evidence I need to prove his guilt. Very clever. So you understand, then, what I must do? Do? Liar! she screamed. Lord Wemyss jumped slightly at her outburst. Angelina smiled and winked. Then she continued her tirade. Everyone knows it was Scots who attacked Fennimore. Tell the truth, Lord Wemyss.

Lord Wemyss returned her smile and sought to play along. Should I say anything in particular, milady? he asked quietly. She shook her head and answered, her voice hushed, Tis not necessary, milord. I do hope you will send word if you happen upon any information that may help me. Of course. She shouted again. I will find my husband. And I shall see those responsible hanged for their crimes. She lowered her voice. Thank you, milord. I hope that when this is all over you will join us at Fennimore for supper one night. I look forward to it. Angelina noticed a particularly ugly piece of pottery on a table next to a pair of chairs. She picked it up and examined it more closely. Quietly she asked, Are you quite attached to this piece, Lord Wemyss? Good lord, no, he whispered vehemently. My wifes sister gave that to me, and Lady Wemyss will not allow me to hide it away. Angelina grinned. Let me do you a favor, then. She flung the piece against the fireplace. It shattered with a resounding crash, and she moved toward the door. Scottish cur, she yelled. Then she turned back toward Lord Wemyss. Sorry, she

whispered and pulled the door open, letting it bang against the wall. She rushed out of the room and passed the men, calling over her shoulder, We are leaving. Angelina hoped she looked as if she was completely enraged, and Charles and Frederick believed she was throwing a proper temper, therefore keeping up the ruse. The ride back to Fennimore was quiet. Charles and Frederick had tried to question her, but she replied only that Lord Wemyss had refused to admit his guilt. She pretended to be annoyed and rode ahead to be certain they could not see her face if her angry expression were to slip. They returned to the keep in time for the midday meal as planned. Though her worry had not decreased, Angelina felt stronger today. The sleep she had managed thanks to the whiskey had helped. Somehow her conviction that Hawk was still alive had grown stronger too. She worried only that he was injured and needed her. And now that she knew the identity of the enemy, her determination to see him pay had brought a bit more composure to her thoughts and feelings. Immediately following the meal, it was decided they would search to the east of the keep where there were some small pastures and fields before the forest began. Though she left the keep trying to be optimistic, Angelina held little hope that she

would find Hawk there. Somewhere along the way, she had missed somethingthe clue she needed to solve this mystery. And it had to do with the scraps of fabric she had found. Hawk could simply not have disappeared. The search party rode at a trot. A rabbit scurried to the side of the road, garnering Angelinas attention. Some day, when Hawk had returned to her, she would like to explore the forest with him, possibly accompanying him on a hunting trip. Fennimore lands were certainly abundant with all manner of game. She imagined herself riding alongside him, his rich voice relating tales of him as a boy hunting with his father. Angelina tugged on Coals mane and stopped. She thought of the rabbit scampering into the forest. Hawks trail had ended in the area where they had found the rabbit trap. Hawk had not just disappeared. The gamekeeper would have checked his traps, and if Hawk had been there, injured, he would have taken him to safety. Most probably to his cottage. Lost in thought, it took her a few moments to realize all the men had stopped talking and stared at her expectantly. She looked at Nicholas, hope soaring in her heart. Knowing better than to reveal anything openly, she said, I want to go back to the area where the fabric was found. Good lord, woman. You cannot be serious. We have searched that area. Charles face reddened considerably.

You may join us or go your own way. But we are returning to the area. She smiled at Nicholas and raised an eyebrow. One corner of Nicholas mouth turned upward. I have yet to see that area myself. I agree. Let us ride. Without giving anyone time to comment further, Angelina squeezed her legs against Coal and took off at a gallop. It appeared Sir Oliver had been ready for her sudden bolt, and he and Nicholas both rode at her side. She did not look back to see if Charles and Freddie followed, but she had no doubt they were right behind them. Angelina had difficulty containing her eagerness on the ride. She wanted to race to Mr. Hunters cottage but believed it would only cause Charles and Freddie to suspect she knew more than she was telling. It was clear to her now that Hawks cousins had only joined her in the search because they wanted to find Hawks body, proof that Fennimore now belonged to Charles. The more she thought about the two men, the more she was convinced that Freddie had aided Charles in his murder scheme. After what seemed like an eternity to Angelina, they finally came to the clearing near the cottage. Today Mr. Hunter was

out by the woodpile stacking firewood, and a woman, who Angelina assumed to be Mrs. Hunter, was at the well drawing water. Angelina announced, We will stop to inquire if the gamekeeper has found anything. Then we will try to pick up the trail again. Angelina purposely affected a weary tone for the statement. It would be easier to convince Charles and Frederick of the little ruse she had planned for them. If they believed she had tired, they would not find her need for refreshment suspect at all. The group made their way across the clearing. As they approached, Freddie immediately addressed the gamekeeper. We are still searching for Lord Fennimore. Have you found anything that might assist us? Mr. Hunter shook his head. Nay, milord. He noticed Angelina and greeted her. Milady. He bowed briefly. Sir Oliver introduced her. Mr. Hunter, this is Lady Fennimore. Lady Fennimore, this is Mr. Hunter, your gamekeeper. Mr. Fielder tells me that Mr. Hunters family has been responsible for Fennimores game for generations. How do you do, Mr. Hunter? Angelina replied quietly, again using a weary, breathless voice, letting her shoulders sag. Both Nicholas and Sir Oliver looked at her, concern written

in their expressions. Well, if she fooled them with her weary tone and tired appearance, she must be fooling Charles and Freddie too. I am well, my lady. He paused for a moment, searching the faces of the men attending her. Then he addressed her again. How are you managing with the disappearance of your husband? She sighed loudly. It has been quite taxing, Mr. Hunter. I spend my days riding Fennimore lands trying to find him, and alas, I spend my nights worrying over his safety. The man frowned and cast his gaze downward. After a moment he lifted his face to her and replied, You must not lose hope that Lord Fennimore will return to you, my lady. He seemed quite sincere as if he were trying to tell her something. Angelinas heart fluttered, knowing deep inside she had been right about Mr. Hunter protecting Hawk. The woman from the well joined them. She was slim with graying hair. Her face wore a look of concern. Mr. Hunter introduced her. Lady Fennimore, this is my wife, Annie Hunter. I am pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hunter. Angelina struggled to keep the excitement from her voice and maintain the appearance of weariness. As a result, her words sounded even

more strained. Mrs. Hunter reacted immediately. My lady, are you well? Oh, yes, Mrs. Hunter. I am justThe worry is taking its toll. Do you suppose I might beg a spot of tea? The woman looked to her husband, seeming to be in a bit of panic. Her husband nodded curtly and moved toward Angelina. He raised his arms. Allow me to assist you, my lady. She slid from the saddle and spoke to the men. I shall not be long. I am completely parched. She followed Mrs. Hunter toward the cottage a few yards away and called to Nicholas as she walked, Nicholas, perhaps you and the others can take refreshment at the well. The two women entered the cottage, and Mrs. Hunter closed the door. It took a moment for Angelinas eyes to adjust, but once they had, she quickly scanned the tidy little room. The ceiling was low, the shutters on the windows thrown open to provide fresh air and light. The scent of rosemary and sage wafted in the air. A small wooden table and chairs graced the left side near a brick oven with a grate on top that served as a stove. To the right was the fireplace with a couple of chairs. There was a door on the back wall that Angelina assumed led to the bedroom and a curtain divided off a corner of the room, likely a place for a privy or bathing area.

But there was no sign of Hawk. Ive some water heating on the stove. Twill only take a moment for your tea, my lady. Angelina abandoned her pretense and grasped the womans hand. There is no need, Mrs. Hunter. I asked for tea because I needed to speak with you privately. The womans eyes widened. I must find my husband. You have seen him. I know it. Mrs. Hunter shook her head in denial. Angelina continued. I must speak to my husband before he returns to the keep. He is in danger. We have a traitor in our midst, and I must warn him. The woman searched Angelinas face, compassion showing in her eyes. Im sorry, my lady, I Angelina refused to give up, but her eyes misted as hope faded. Please, Mrs. Hunter. Please, she said softly. I need my husband. How would you feel if Mr. Hunter was missing for almost a fortnight? The woman closed her eyes and sighed. She nodded and stepped away from Angelina to cross the room, pausing before the curtain. Reaching up, she grabbed it and pulled it aside.

Angelina took a single step forward and gasped, a small sob escaping her lips. She stood mesmerized by the sight she beheld. Silent tears flowed freely down her cheeks. On wooden legs, she moved forward into the small alcove created by the curtain. She knelt and reached a shaking hand out before her, laying her palm on her sleeping husbands chest. Her heart rejoiced as she felt the steady rise and fall of his breathing and the healthy beat of his heart. She wondered at the extent of the injury covered by the bandage. He wore breeches, but no shirt. The dressing was wound completely around his chest. Tears continued to fall as she leaned forward and tenderly brushed her lips across his. Hawk stirred but did not open his eyes. Angel. Her name was like a prayer on his lips. She smiled and hiccoughed through her tears. Yes, my love. I am here. Mrs. Hunter spoke from nearby. Ive slipped plenty of valerian into his broth to keep him in the bed, my lady. Hes quite anxious to return to the keep, but he should not be jostled too much. His wounds might reopen. Angelina nodded and brushed a lock of hair away from his brow. A tear fell, splattering his cheek. His eyes opened slowly. Angel? Yes, darling, I am here. Everything will be fine now.

He frowned as he tried to sit up. He winced with his efforts. No, no, Hawk, lie still. He ignored her instruction, pushing himself upward. Angel, you should not be here, sweeting. You are supposed to be at Lynnhaven. He made it to a sitting position and let out a deep breath. Now that Hawk was upright, she moved to sit next to him on the little cot. She smiled and wrapped her arms around his waist as she laid her head against his chest. Did I not warn you that I would come after you if you did not return to me? Tis too dangerous here. My cousin Yes, yes, I know. You know? Yes, Charles and Frederick are responsible for the raids. I know. But how? It appears that I have a talent for sleuthing, husband. She smiled and peered up into his face. Kiss me, she demanded softly. He grinned and obliged her. His kiss was tender and filled

with longing and love. Mrs. Hunter turned away, busying herself at the stove to give them a bit of privacy. When Hawk finally lifted his head, he stared into her eyes. I missed you. When you have recovered I intend to skin you alive for worrying me so, Angelina teased. He chuckled and hugged her close. Im sorry, love. I shall be happy to accept any penance you name so long as you are not out of my sight. Remain here. I shall only be a moment. She rose and walked toward the door. Where are you going? To send Charles, Frederick and their hired thugs back to the keep. Wait, Angel, Hawk stood with effort. I will join you. No, no, Hawk. We cannot let them know I have found you yet. Angelina wiped the remaining tears from her face and schooled her features. She could not let the men see her smile. What? Confusion colored Hawks features. Why not? She turned just as she reached the door. We shall discuss it

in a moment. Let me send them away. You expect them to just leave you here alone? Angelina could not stop the smile spreading across her face. Of course not, silly. Nicholas is here with me, and the duke loaned me his captain and several of his guards. Hawk started to question her, but Angelina shook her head. In a moment, husband. Let me send the others away, and I will explain everything. He nodded his acceptance. She stepped outside and located the men. Mrs. Hunter followed her out of the cottage and joined her husband. Most of them were gathered near the well. Some were standing next to the water trough near the woodpile watering their horses. Angelina walked slowly over to Nicholas. She hung her head and sniffed loudly. Nicholas questioned her. What is it? Nothing, she said none too softly and sniffed again. He grasped her shoulders and demanded she explain. Angelina, why are you so upset? Oh, I cannot do this any longer, Nicholas, she wailed and buried her face in his chest. She pretended to sob

uncontrollably. Nicholas seemed bewildered by her outburst. He patted Angelinas back. Tis alright, Angelina. We will find him, he crooned over her wailing sobs. She pulled away from him.I am so tired. I simply cannot continue. She laid her head on his chest and whispered for his ears only. Send them away, Nicholas. Send Charles and Freddie away. Then she quickly began sobbing again. What do you wish to do? he asked loudly enough for the men near him to hear. Angelina sniffed again. I just need to rest a while, I think. Immediately Charles protested. We cannot just sit here all day. Then he spoke to Angelina. Come, we shall return you to the keep where you belong. Angelina gritted her teeth to keep from snapping at him. She needed to make him believe she was exhausted. Oh, Charles, I simply cannot sit a horse right now. I must rest for a while. You go on. Nicholas and Sir Oliver will escort me back to the keep. Nicholas agreed quickly. Yes, Charlie. You, Freddie, and your men continue the search. We will return Lady Fennimore to the keep when she has rested.

It is not safe for us to separate, Frederick argued. Sir Oliver spoke then. My men and I will protect the lady. An attack is unlikely. There have been no raids in over a fortnight, and all of the previous attacks happened in the late afternoon. It is still early. We shall allow Lady Fennimore to rest here for a while, and we will return to the keep before the midday meal. Charles and Frederick exchanged glances. When they did not immediately agree, Angelina sought to convince them. She sobbed hysterically and pretended to beg Nicholas. Please, Nicholas. Just for a little while. Charles grimaced and spoke to Frederick. I have no tolerance for wailing women. Well return to the keep. This is all a waste of time anyway. We have searched every inch of Fennimore land. Hawk is not to be found. Frederick nodded his agreement and mounted his horse. Charles and his men did the same. Angelina waited until they had ridden away, keeping her face buried in Nicholas shirt. When the sounds of the horses faded she looked up and scanned the little meadow to be certain they had gone. Then she turned to Nicholas and flashed him a smile. Nicholas returned her smile. Bravo. Well played. You even had me fooled.

Sir Oliver and the others stared at her as if she had grown horns. Well played? the captain asked in bewilderment. Nigel and George looked completely confused. Angelina laughed. I do apologize if I distressed you and your men, Captain. But I needed to send the others away. She slid her hand into the crook of Nicholas arm and tugged him along with her as she spoke to Sir Oliver. Come inside. Angelina led them to the cottage. She released Nicholas, opened the door, and entered. The two men followed, both ducking through the low door. Nicholas stopped abruptly, his jaw dropping in surprise. Sir Oliver bumped into Nicholas. He mumbled an apology, but the words died on his lips as he spied the man standing next to Angelina. Hawk had donned a shirt, but he remained barefoot. Blessed Mother. Nicholas chucked. Hawk smiled at the dumbfounded looks on the mens faces. Nick. Hawk dipped his head in greeting. Nicholas laughed and put his hands on his hips. You do realize I am going to beat you for worrying us the way you have. It was more a statement than a question, but delivered with a

smile. My apologies, old man. It could not be helped. He shrugged, grimacing at the pain caused by doing so. Angelina reacted immediately. Hawk, sit now, darling. I am fine, Hawk grumbled but sat down at the little table then gestured for Angelina to take the seat next to him. He looked at Sir Oliver as if trying to place him. Angelina introduced them. Hawk, this is Sir Oliver, Captain of the Duke of Carlisles guard. Captain, this is my husband, Lord Darien Hawkesworth, Earl of Fennimore. Hawk nodded as the captain bowed. I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, milord, the captain said. Hawk shook the captains hand and turned to Angelina. Now explain yourself. Angelina began her account with the arrival of Marcus at Lynnhaven. She explained how she had sent for Nicholas and went to the Duke of Carlisle to ask his assistance. Briefly, she recounted their searches and the clues they had found. She told him she and the captain had suspected Charles and Frederick almost immediately, and that Leslie had identified the men who worked for Charles as her attackers.

Hawk nodded. I recognized them too. Nicholas spoke then. We had hoped you would. Now we can prove that Charles tried to have you killed. Angelina contradicted him. Not if the men refuse to admit Charles instructed them to do it. And I still believe that Frederick is Charles accomplice. I do not believe that, Angel, Hawk argued. Freddie has always been as close as a brother to me. He has nothing to gain by killing me. Angelina shook her head. I know only what I feel, Hawk. Freddie is as guilty as Charles. I know he is. I know not why I feel this way, but when Freddie is near me, I become anxious and uncomfortable. Hawks eyebrows rose in surprise. Everyone loves Freddie. He has ever been unfailingly polite. The women in London flock to him like bees to honey. Angelina shrugged. Nicholas assured Hawk. It seems your wife is unusually intuitive. She may be right. I have known Freddie for a long time, and he has not seemed himself lately. He has changed. Sir Oliver added his opinion. It is unlikely that Lord

Compton could have staged the raids without Fredericks knowledge. Possible perhaps, but unlikely. I do not trust Frederick, either, Lord Fennimore. He strikes me as a man who hides his feelings well. I would wager that he is an expert at the card tables. You would win that wager, Captain. Freddie has always managed to supplement his meager allowance with his winnings from the gambling hells. Few will accept his challenges anymore. We must find a way to determine if they are both guilty, Angelina said. She stood and began to pace. We need a trap. The men watched her pace. What kind of trap? Hawk asked. I am not sure. Charles wants Fennimore. Perhaps he has agreed to share the wealth with Freddie. She stopped her pacing as she realized the answer. She turned to Hawk and smiled. What if Charles was no longer your heir? His brow creased in confusion. Charles is my heir until I sire His eyes widened, and he stood so quickly the chair fell with a bang behind him. Are you expecting, Angel? His face was hopeful, a smile playing about his lips. She shook her head. No, I Her words ended suddenly as she thought about the possibility. I could be. I am not certain.

Tis too soon to know. But I have been feeling a bit odd lately. I have had more than a bit of nausea, and Ive been quite tired of late. Not eating or sleeping will do that to person, Angelina, Nicholas put in. She frowned. Yes. I suppose it would. Without effort, she recalled the beginning of her last cycle almost a month ago. Well, in any case it will be a several days before I have proof that I am not pregnant. But that is not my point. Charles and Frederick need only believe that Im carrying your heir, Hawk. Realization struck him. No. No, no, no, Angel. You will not make yourself the bait for this trap. Have you a better suggestion? Anything is better than endangering your life. I will not have it. Angelina rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. And why will I be in danger, husband? Because they will try to kill you! he roared. But you will not let him, she replied calmly. I will not be in any danger because you and Nicholas and Sir Oliver and almost a dozen other men will be there to make certain that I am not harmed. They need only try to harm me to prove their

guilt. Hawk shook his head. I do not care if there is a whole army, I do not want you in danger. Hawk, be realistic. How else can we prove their guilt? she argued. If the men who work for them will not implicate Charles and Frederick, we will just have to let it be. He scowled as he finished. And spend the rest of our lives watching over our shoulder, wondering when they will strike again? I think not, husband. What if I am pregnant? What if we have a son? Will we be forced to live in fear for his life? Hawk met her gaze, but unable to answer, he looked away. Angelina persisted. Hawk, your cousins still believe that we blame Lord Wemyss and the Scots for the attacks. They have no idea that we even suspect them. They know nothing of Leslies testimony, and they do not know you are alive. Tis perfect. I will tell them that I am pregnant, and when they attempt to to To kill you? Hawk supplied. Yes, well, it does sound quite unappealing, she said sourly. Then she added more hopefully, But I trust you to protect me.

You have forgotten one little problem, Angel. Hawk pinned her with his glare. She raised her eyebrows in question. I cannot protect you if I am not with you. Well, of course you will be with me, Hawk. Angelina, Nicholas broke in, for your trap to work, Charles and Frederick must believe that Hawk is still missing. He cannot be with you. Angelina smiled. Oh, but he can, Nicholas. The men looked at each other in confusion. She explained. Hawk will enter the keep through the secret passage. Nicholas and Sir Oliver looked to Hawk. He grinned. How do you know about that? I found it quite by accident. She wouldnt allow Hawk to change the subject. Do you not see? You can enter the keep through the passage. You will be able to watch from the peephole whenever I am in the library, and you can be with me when I am in our room. Nicholas and Sir Oliver can be with me at all other times. I will never truly be unguarded, though I will appear to be alone and helpless when I am in the library and our room. This will work, Hawk. Admit it. I still do not like it, he grumbled.

Angelina wound her arms around his neck. I trust you to protect me and our child, darling. We do not know yet if there is a child. She ignored his statement. We shall have a boy. Do you mind if we name him after his Uncle Nicholas?
Chapter Twenty-Three

Twenty minutes later the plans were made. Angelina and the others would return to the keep. After the midday meal, it would be announced that Sir Oliver, Nicholas, Albert, Nigel, George, and two of Nicholas men were going to Longtown for supplies. The group would split on the road with Albert, Sir Oliver, and Nicholas going to the cottage. The others would continue on to Longtown to get supplies. Albert would wait at the gamekeepers cottage while Nicholas and the captain escorted Hawk on Alberts horse to the entrance of the tunnel. Once Hawk was safely inside, Nicholas and Sir Oliver would return with Alberts horse to the cottage. Both groups would then meet later on the road back to Fennimore and return to the keep together. Angelina would unlock the doors in the passage while everyone believed her to be napping. Nicholas and Sir Oliver exited the cottage. They would explain everything to Nigel and George while Angelina was given a few moments alone with her husband.

Are you feeling well enough to ride? she asked anxiously. Tis not far. I shall be fine. I will tell Sir Oliver and Nicholas to set a slow pace. Mrs. Hunter said your wounds could reopen. Mrs. Hunter has taken very good care of me. I am still a bit weak but getting stronger every day. Like you, she worries too much. She moved into his arms and laid her head against his chest. Oh, Hawk, I was worried. Im sorry, love. He kissed the top of her head. Thoughts of you are the only reason I am alive, Angel. Mrs. Hunter tells me I should not have survived. She said I lost too much blood. But I could not bear to leave you. I need you. He cupped her face in his hands and lifted her chin. I never want to be without you, Angel. He brushed his lips tenderly across hers. Tears of joys threatened to fall once again. I will not have you disappearing like this again, she teased. Never. He kissed her again. She forced herself to step out of his embrace. I should go now. The sooner we return to the keep, the sooner Nicholas and the captain can bring you home. I have missed you so much. I cannot wait to sleep in your arms tonight.

The grin she loved played about his lips. You may not get much sleep. She smiled and shook her head. You are not well enough for that, husband. He pulled her back into his arms and kissed her. Gentle at first, he touched his tongue to the corner of her mouth. She moaned, and her lips parted. Rather than taking what she so readily offered, he continued to tease her. He nipped at her full, lower lip, and then drew on it, sucking it into his mouth. She whimpered. Angelinas bones had already begun to melt. Now her heart raced and her blood sang in her ears. At last, he tilted his head and kissed her fully. His tongue explored her mouth, dancing with her own. Angelinas breath came in little pants when he lifted his head, his eyes glittering like melted silver. I believe I shall manage well enough, wife, he boasted, his voice a seductive whisper. Angelina groaned in frustration. That was not fair, husband. Angelina paced across the room. He should be here by now. They had returned to the keep. It had been difficult to

maintain her pretense of exhaustion, but she tried to remain quiet while the midday meal was served. Nicholas brought up the subject of supplies, noting that with himself and the six extra men that had accompanied him, the keep would likely need more. Then he suggested that Angelina rest while they went to Longtown. She had immediately agreed and retired to her room, asking Martha to see that she was not disturbed for a while. Once in her room, she quickly entered the passage. Like the first time she had explored the corridor, it took half an hour to reach the outside door. She had simply slid the bar free from the lock on the outer door, leaving it closed. She had lit the wall torch and left it burning. After returning to her room, she waited almost an hour before going downstairs to ask Martha to send up a bath. Now she paced back and forth and brushed her hair. She had hoped that the water would still be warm so that Hawk could bathe when he arrived. It was cooling rapidly. If he did not arrive soon, the water would be completely cold. She peered out the window to assure herself that the weather was still pleasant. Noting the brilliant sunshine and clear skies, she turned to pace back toward the bureau. A grating sound elicited a sigh of relief. Opening the door, she held the hanging clothes aside as Hawk stepped through. I was beginning to worry. She closed the bureau door.

Sorry. The tunnel seemed longer than I remembered, he responded wearily. She searched his face and noted his pale complexion. Oh, my. Sit down, darling. You have overexerted yourself. Tis the first time I have taken more than a few steps. I supposed I overestimated the extent of my recovery thus far. He cursed beneath his breath and lowered himself to the settee. Angelina poured some tea for him and brought it to him quickly. Drink this. He grimaced and she understood the look immediately. I shall fetch some wine or coffee for you later, Hawk. This is all I have for now. He nodded and took the cup. A brandy would be nice. I shall have Martha deliver some to Nicholas room later. Then I can bring it through the passage to you. Nick is in the room across the hall? Yes. He doesnt know about the passage. I never got a chance to show him. He only arrived a couple of days ago. But I had Martha put him there so that I could speak to him privately without anyone knowing if need be. I was feeling quite anxious and preferred to have him nearby. Sir Oliver and the guards sleep in the extra wing. Hawk nodded and sighed deeply. Deuce. I feel weak as

kitten. Angelina sat beside him. I like kittens. May I pet you? He smiled. I have missed you. We will need to tell Martha that you are here. Hawk nodded. Angelina had second thoughts. Can she keep a secret? I trust Martha completely, Angel. She has been with my family for years. Angelina laughed. I trust her, too, Hawk, but that is not what I asked. I asked if she can keep a secret. I see your point. Hawk considered it for a moment. Yes, I believe she can. Angelina nodded. Good. It will be much easier if I do not have to pretend that I am eating enough for two. She snuggled next to him. I just bathed. I had hoped the water would still be hot for you, but it is lukewarm at best now. A bath would be wonderfulcold or notbut Mrs. Hunter changed the bandages before I left and warned me not to get them wet.

Come. I will help you. She stood. I can keep the bandage from getting wet. Hawk removed his shirt, and Angelina knelt to help him remove his boots. He steadied himself on the back of the settee as she removed one, then the other boot. Angelina gasped, staring at the bandage on his leg when he loosened his pants and slid them off his hips. I should have warned you, he whispered. I was shot twice. He opened his arms and she stepped into them. Do not worry, Angel. Mrs. Hunter took good care of me. Both wounds are healing well. The scars will be small. Scars? You think I am worried about scars? She did not give him time to answer. Hawk, I could have lost you. She struggled to keep her voice low. Never. I may have been foolish enough to wait so long to claim you, but I am not stupid. Now that I know what I have been missing, it will take more than a couple of bullets to keep me away from you. He smiled then and kissed her forehead. Now, did you not promise to help me bathe? Though she was still shaken by the discovery of the additional injury, she tried to smile. I suppose you shall need to stand in the tub while I wash you. You cannot sit with that bandage on your thigh.

Hawk stepped into the tub. Angelina reached for her soap, but paused, realizing that he may not wish to smell like jasmine and roses. Do you have some of your soap here in your room? He pointed to the small wooden commode in the corner which held the chamber pot. In the drawer. She quickly retrieved the soap and began to lather a cloth. Hawk stopped her. Wait. I would really like to wash my hair. Any ideas? She searched the room, her gaze landing on a small stool near the bed. She put the stool next to the tub. Step out and sit on the stool. You can lean over the tub. It will be awkward, but it will work. He did as she instructed. Once he was settled on the stool and leaning over the tub, Angelina took the metal jug she had used while washing her own hair and poured the water, careful not to let it splash on his torso. She lathered his hair with the soap and gently scrubbed his scalp. Mmm. That feels wonderful, Angel. Have you not been able to wash it at all? She wrinkled her nose. Mrs. Hunter tried to wash it a couple of times. I leaned my head off the bed and she rinsed it, but I could not hold the

position for long, so she could not scrub like this. Angelina continued to work her fingers gently against his scalp. Besides, tis better when you do it. She smiled and continued her ministrations. Did she shave you, as well? You have only a little stubble. No. But yesterday I could not stand it any longer and asked to borrow Mr. Hunters razor. Had you arrived a day sooner, you may not have recognized me. Angelina did not argue, but she shook her head. Of course, she would have recognized him. Before rinsing his hair, she draped a drying cloth over his shoulders. Carefully she poured several jugs of water over his head. She finished rinsing and squeezed the excess water from his hair, then pulled the drying cloth over it and rubbed gently. Hawk sat upright and finished toweling his hair. I feel better already. Good, now step into the tub and I will wash the rest of you. She grabbed the cloth once again and lathered it fully, using the stool to aid her in reaching his shoulders and arms. Neither spoke as she bathed him and Angelina tried to remain unaffected by his naked form, but as she rubbed the cloth over his buttocks her breath caught. Forcing herself to breathe evenly and continue scrubbing him, she marveled at

the muscles bulging in his uninjured thigh, letting her fingers trace the contours as she loosely held the cloth. When she finished his left leg, she cleaned the right one, making certain to keep the bandage dry. Finished with his legs, she moved around in front of him and lathered his stomach. She gasped at the sight of his erection. Her eyes lifted to his. His lids grew heavy, and she noticed that his breathing had become uneven. He did not immediately respond, but the desire in his gaze was palpable. Her mouth went dry, and she licked her lips. He groaned as she did so. Angel, he whispered. I need you. She closed her eyes. He breasts felt heavy and her body ached now, the throbbing between her legs almost unbearable. Knowing that her husband was still weak from his injuries, she struggled to control her lust. We should finish your bath, husband. Her husky voice contradicted her words. Hawk grinned. Hurry then. She scrubbed his stomach, and paused only briefly before she washed his straining erection. Angelina trembled as she wrapped her hand around it and gently stroked. If I had the strength, I would pick you up and carry you to that bed, he murmured.

If I had the strength, I would carry you. She laughed and finished cleaning him, laying the wash cloth aside before giving him the drying cloth. Hawk stepped from the tub and dried himself. He finished and reached for her. She went readily into his arms, and he lowered his head. His breath mingled with her own, and she closed her eyes and parted her lips, begging for his kiss. A little squeak escaped her when there was a sudden knock on the door. Hawk whispered, Answer. Angelina took a deep breath. Yes? Who is it? Tis Martha, my lady. Ive brought some more tea and some tarts. Hawk grinned. Pete makes wonderful tarts. Angelina rolled her eyes. I cannot let her in while you are still naked. Then she called to Martha. A moment, Martha. She went to the wardrobe and drew out his robe. She held it out for him to put on. Now, she whispered as he tied the belt. Get into the wardrobe. She held the door open for him. I thought we had agreed to tell her, he mumbled. Yes, but if she walks in and sees you before I have time to

prepare her, she will likely cause a scene. Hurry. You are probably right. He stepped into the wardrobe and she closed the door. Angelina hurried to the door and turned the key to unlock it. Then she pulled it open. The servant entered, and without the woman noticing, Angelina closed the door and locked it. As Martha put the tray on the little table next to the settee, Angelina spoke to her. Martha, you know that I have always believed that Lord Fennimore is alive. Martha nodded. Well, I was right. He is alive. Marthas brow knitted. Yes, ofof course he is, my lady. Angelina stifled her laughter. The woman was looking at her as if she had lost her mind. I can see I shall have to show you. She moved to the wardrobe and grasped the handle. Now you must remain quiet, Martha. Do you understand? The poor servant was still bewildered, but she answered dutifully. Yes, my lady. Angelina opened the door and Hawk stepped out. Martha gasped. Angelina rushed to her and placed a hand over the womans mouth. Quiet, Martha. Remember? Martha briefly tore her gaze from Hawk and nodded to Angelina. Angelina removed her hand.

Hawk winked at Martha. Did you miss me? Martha used her apron to wipe her tears. Forgive me, my lord. She sniffed. I am just so glad to see you. Hawk chuckled. As am I to see you, Martha. What happened to you, my lord? Someone shot me. Ive been recuperating in a cottage nearby. Angelina spoke then. Martha, we know who shot him, but we have no way to prove it. We believe those responsible will strike again if they discover their attempt to kill Lord Fennimore was unsuccessful. More raids? Martha asked anxiously. Hawk touched the womans shoulder. No more raids. There is no need to worry. Angelina agreed. Now that we have the dukes men and Lord Helmsley and his men, when the villains try to strike again, we will catch them in the act. They will not be allowed to harm anyone. Martha nodded her understanding. We need you to help us keep Lord Fennimores presence a secret, Martha.

Hawk quickly confirmed Angelinas statement. No one can know that I am here, Martha. You must not tell anyone. Not even Albert, my lord? Hawk smiled. Albert already knows. But you must not speak to him about it, someone might overhear. Martha agreed. Hawk changed the subject. Did I hear you say you had tarts? Martha laughed. Yes, my lord. I would have brought more if I had known you were here. He can eat these, Martha. I am not hungry now. But we shall need you to find a way to bring enough food for the both of us at supper. I shall pretend to be too exhausted to join the men at the table tonight. Twill not be difficult, my lady. While Pete is not watching, Ill fill a tray and cover it. No one will know how much food I bring to you. Good, Angelina replied. After Lord Helmsley returns, I would like you to take a bottle of brandy and a glass to his room. If you are questioned by anyone, just reply that Lord Helmsley bought it in Longtown and asked that you deliver it to his room. Yes, my lady. Martha turned to Hawk. Oh, my lord, I am truly happy you have returned.

Thank you, Martha. Tell me, what do you think of my lady wife? Martha beamed. She is far too good for you, my lord. Hawk chuckled. Indeed she is. She loves you, you know. Angelina cut in. Martha, you must not tell him, she whispered theatrically. She wrapped her arm around his waist. A woman should never reveal such secrets. Why, her husband could use such knowledge to his own advantage. Martha chuckled. Hawk gave Angelina a squeeze. I love her too. I can see that, my lord. I shall see that the two of you are not disturbed before supper, Martha said on her way to the door. Hawk touched Angelinas lips in a tender kiss. Ahem. My lady, you should lock this behind me. I do not believe anyone would enter, but it would be best not to take any chances. Yes, of course, Martha. Angelina slipped from Hawks arms and spoke to him as she locked the door. Have some of

those tarts, darling. Angelina crossed the room to the little table and poured tea for both of them. Hawk took a seat on the settee. She handed him his cup and settled next to him. He had already finished one of the small tarts and was biting into another. Mmm, he hummed between bites. Mrs. Hunters cooking was fine, but nothing like Petes. Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that she gave me only broth for at least a week. Angelina sipped her tea. She took very good care of you, husband, and I shall be eternally grateful. As will I, love. Hawk finished of the second tart, turned up his cup, and drained the tea in one swallow. He stood and tugged Angelinas cup gently from her hands, and set both cups on the table. Then he held out his hand for her. She laid her hand in his and stood, her body already responding to the look in his eyes. He led her to the bed and sat on the edge, pulling her between his legs. You are wearing entirely too many clothes, wife. Hawk, are you certain you should I mean, you should rest.

Angel, I am quite certain that if I do not make love to my wife very soon, I shall go completely mad. He unlaced the collar of her dress. As soon as he finished with the ties, she drew the dress over her head, revealing only a thin shift beneath. He loosened the laces on the shift, pushed it off her shoulders and tugged until it fell around her feet. His hungry gaze seemed to burn her skin. Her nipples pebbled, and she buried her fingers in his still-damp hair. Hawk, she whispered. I missed you so. He leaned forward and flicked his tongue across the tip of her nipple. She reacted by holding his head closer to her breast, offering herself. He took the nipple into his mouth and suckled gently. His hands slid down over her hips and squeezed her bottom. Hawk lifted his face to hers. You have lost weight. So have you. I shall have to make certain you eat enough, wife. His hands lifted to her hips. These bones here need a bit of cushion. Angelina ignored his comments and lowered her lips to his. She nibbled on his lower lip as he had done to her, rewarded with Hawks groan of impatience. Without breaking the kiss, Hawk slid his hands over the curve of her bottom and lower to

her knees. He pushed gently on the back of one of them to lift her leg, guiding her to rest her knee on the bed next to his thigh. He wasted no time once her knee was settled. His fingers trailed along her inner thigh and higher. Angelinas hands loosened from his hair to caress his neck and shoulders, pushing the robe off his frame. Nimble fingers teased the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, and he used his other hand to untie the belt of his robe. He quickly shrugged it off, and his fingers resumed their teasing. As her tongue danced with his, her thoughts were focused on the fingers stroking her inner thigh, and she impatiently wiggled closer, anxious for him to touch her throbbing core. She jerked when his fingers found the little nub nestled there. It was swollen and sensitive, and she moaned as he manipulated her. His other hand skimmed down the leg still between his knees, and he put a small amount of pressure on the back of her knee, encouraging her to straddle him. She did so without hesitation. Then both of his hands cupped her bottom as he brought her forward. His lips trailed down her throat and across the tops of her breasts. Take me inside you, Angel, he whispered, his voice husky with need. Angelina scooted forward a bit and reached between them. Her breath caught as she wrapped her hand around him. She felt him throbbing, and he would not have to ask again. Aching

for his possession, she guided him to her. With as much patience as she could summon, she lowered herself onto his engorged shaft. Angelina could hardly breathe as she felt him stretch her. Savoring the fullness, she shuddered and drew a shaky breath. Silent tears trailed down her cheeks. He lifted his head from where his lips and tongue teased her nipples. Angel? She opened her eyes and met his gaze. I love you, Hawk, she said, her voice cracking swith emotion. Those are the sweetest words I have ever heard. His palms moved up to cup her face. His thumbs wiped away the tears. Why are you crying? Because I have never been so happy, she whispered. I missed you so. And I worried that I might never feel this again. You are my heart, Angel. I will never again be able to live without you. His words caressed her even as his hands slid down her back. She responded softly, You are everything I have ever dreamed a husband would be and more. So much more. Neither was capable of more words as he lifted her slightly and eased her back down again. Angelina took up the rhythm. Unable to control her need, she increased the pace and moaned

as Hawk laved first one breast, then the other. In only moments she was reaching for the summit, and her whimpers grew louder. Hawk cupped the back of her neck and drew her lips to his, muffling her cries even as his fingers found her nub once again to increase her pleasure. He swallowed her scream as she reached her peak. The warm spurt of his seed filled her, and he groaned into her mouth. Hawk leaned his head forward against her chest, his breathing ragged. Angelina wrapped her arms around his head and laid her cheek against his hair. She sighed with contentment as her breathing returned to normal. They sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Hawk lifted his head and brushed her lips with a tender kiss. I love you. She smiled. I love you too. She brushed a lock of hair from his forehead. You should rest now. He nodded but did not release her. As long as you rest with me. I believe I could use a nap, as well. They both slept soundly until a knock on the door woke

Angelina. My lady, I have your supper, Martha called. Coming, Martha. Hawk stirred and reached for her as she slid from his arms. Where are you going? Martha has brought supper, and I find that I am famished. Are you hungry? Hawk grunted his affirmation as he sat up against the pillows and covered himself. Angelina quickly donned Hawks robe, tied the belt, and unlocked the door. Martha put their supper on the bureau and moved to clear away the items on the table. She watched Angelina lift the lids on the tray. I am glad to see that my ladys appetite has returned. She gathered the used dishes and moved them to the bureau. I will put your supper next to the settee, my lady. Thank you. Angelina smiled. Martha paused. I cannot say that I have ever seen you smile like that, my lady. It does my heart good. You look much better too. The shadows beneath your eyes are gone and your color has improved. Clearly our lords return has been good for you. And you are right about my appetite, Martha. It has

returned as well. I am ravenous. Martha looked to Hawk then. You should shave, my lord. He sent her a questioning look. Your stubble has left its mark on your lady. Someone may question it if they notice. Hawk rubbed his chin. Thank you, Martha. I had not thought of that. I will shave after supper. Martha gathered the tea tray, saying she would be back for the supper tray in an hour. She also warned them that she would need to allow the boys to empty the tub. Hawk should hide before they entered. Hawk and Angelina ate as if neither of them had eaten in days. Though Martha had provided a great deal of food, the tray was almost empty by the time they finished. They snuggled next to each other, replete both in appetite and love. Martha arrived moments later. Hawk was hidden by the time the servant boys arrived to help with the tub. Angelina knew that it would raise questions if she were to ask for another bath this evening, so she asked Martha if she could find a way to bring a pail of hot water. Hawk reemerged from the wardrobe after the boys removed the tub. He questioned Martha when she returned with the hot

water. Did Albert and the others return from Longtown without incident? Yes, my lord. They returned just before supper. Oh, and I put the brandy in Lord Helmsleys room as you asked, my lady. Angelina nodded and thanked Martha, telling her that she would not be needed for the rest of the evening. She locked the door behind Martha and turned to Hawk. I shall retrieve your brandy for you. He snagged her around her waist as she passed him. Thank you, love, he whispered as he nuzzled her neck. Angelina giggled as he tickled her, then sobered quickly. Hawk, you should shave while the water is still hot. Though I do not mind the stubble, Martha is right about the redness it leaves on my skin. He nodded and released her. She grabbed a lamp and entered the passage through the wardrobe. Then went quickly to the secret door leading to Nicholas room and opened it. She stepped into a wardrobe very much like Hawks and eased the door open just a crack. Nicholas lay on the bed with one knee drawn up, reading a book. Angelina pushed the door open fully and stepped out. She had not yet seen this room. It was relatively plain. There was a bureau on the wall next to the door, a large bed in the center of

the room with plain brown bed linens, and a settee and table next to a small hearth. The layout was very much like Hawks room, but the furniture was not nearly as ornate. The only exception was the wardrobe she had just exited. Like the one in Hawks room, it was clearly hundreds of years old, but well made, sturdy and beautifully carved. Nicholas looked up, obviously startled by her sudden appearance. You did not tell me this room had an entrance to the secret passage. She shrugged. Tis why I had Martha prepare this room for you. Not only is it close to my room, I can also speak privately with you without anyone knowing. He nodded and put the book aside. Did you need to speak to me? She shook her head. Not now. I just came for the brandy Martha delivered. I could not have her deliver it to my room for Hawk. If anyone had seen her, she might be questioned. And here I thought you had been so thoughtful as to send me brandy. Angelina laughed. Forgive me, Nicholas. You shall have to drink the brandy in the library if you want some. He chuckled.

Tucking the bottle into one big pocket of Hawks robe, she put the glass in the other pocket. Nice robe, he teased. She waved and reentered the wardrobe. Angelina returned to Hawks room, poured some brandy for Hawk, and waited patiently while Hawk finished shaving. Curious, she sniffed the brandy and took a tiny sip. She grimaced at first, but when she felt the warmth it gave her, she took another tentative sip. Hawk dried his face. Do you like it? Tis a bit strong, but it is not too bad. Taste for yourself. He joined her on the settee. I believe I will. Ignoring the glass she held out for him, he claimed her mouth in a searing kiss. Angelina melted into him, marveling that his kiss was even more intoxicating than the brandy. His kiss not only warmed her belly, but also heated her blood, setting her afire. He lifted his head. Tis damn fine brandy, he murmured. She smiled and put the glass in his hand. You should take this. I will spill it if you kiss me like that again.

Hawk smiled and tipped the glass up to take a healthy swallow. Then he set it aside and drew Angelina into his arms. Eventually, the pair made it to the bed where they made love again. Though Hawk told Angelina he felt much stronger after his nap and the meal, his weakness was still evident. Several times Angelina had pushed him to the bed, claiming that it was her turn when his strain became obvious. Even now, Angelina was atop Hawk, his length embedded inside her. She moved slowly as she felt herself racing toward climax. Wanting the pleasure to last a little longer, she struggled to hold back. Hawk gazed up at her with heavy lids. His hands caressed her breasts, his thumbs grazing her nipples. He lifted his hips into her down stroke and gently squeezed her nipples. Angelina cried with her orgasm. Her body shook and her tiny muscles convulsed around his erection. Hawk groaned softly in surrender, his seed filling her. A loud knock upon the door startled them. Angelina? a voice said. Angelina, tis Freddie. Is something wrong?
Chapter Twenty-Four

Angelina struggled to catch her breath and reply calmly.

No, Freddie. I heard you cry out. Are you certain there is naught amiss? I am fine, Freddie. II just stumped my toe. Angelina frowned. Hawk chuckled softly beneath her. Freddie tried the door. Angelina, are you alone? May I come in a moment? Is there a problem, Freddie? Relief flooded Angelina on hearing Nicholas voice in the hallway. She listened for Fredericks reply. I heard Angelina cry out. I thought perhaps she was in need of assistance. Nicholas called to her through the door. Do you need help, Angelina? No, Nicholas. I am fine. Please go back to bed. I stumped my toe, she repeated. Light a lamp if you should decide to get up again so you can see where you are going, Nicholas advised. I will. I have already returned to my bed. You should do the

same. Then she added, Thank you for your concern, Freddie. Forgive me for disturbing you. Freddie must have accepted the explanation. She heard no more from him, but the sound of footsteps echoed in the hall. Angelina could not relax until she heard Nicholas door close. Hawk laughed, and she covered his face with a pillow, scolding him. She was mortified that her cry of passion had been overheard, but her husband seemed to find her embarrassment quite humorous. Knocking woke Angelina again the next morning. She quickly escaped the tangled sheets to answer it and found Martha waiting with a tray of food. Angelina expressed her surprise since she had not taken breakfast in her room before now. Martha apologized for waking them so early but explained that she feared her lady would come downstairs, and she would not have an excuse to bring enough food to Angelinas room for Hawk. Hawk thanked Martha for her thoughtfulness. Angelina lifted the lids on the tray. She grimaced and quickly covered the poached eggs she found. Angel? Are you ill? You look a bitgreen. Hawk wrapped the sheet around his hips and crossed to her. I just I She gulped. I feel a bit queasy this morn. Martha hurriedly poured a cup of tea. She stirred in a bit of

honey and offered the cup to Angelina. Sip this, my lady. Perhaps it will help. Angelina nodded and took the cup. She sat on settee and sipped slowly. Hawk put his palm against her cheek. You do not feel feverish. Tis passed now. Twas just the smell of the eggs, I think. Hawk frowned and spoke to Martha, though his attention was still on Angelina. Has anyone else been ill, Martha? No, my lord, Martha replied, a hint of cheer in her voice. Your lady is perfectly fine, my lord. There is no need to worry. For a woman to have an aversion to the smell of eggs is not unusual. He questioned Angelina. Does the smell of eggs always make you ill, Angel? Not that I can recall. Martha smiled again. Well, if my suspicions are correct, for the next few weeks, possibly even months, there will be many odors that might cause you a bit of nausea. Angelina and Hawk looked to each other, not understanding Marthas statement. Angelina shook her head

then turned back to Martha. Martha, why Angelina stopped abruptly as she gleaned the servants meaning. A smile spread across her face. You may be jumping to conclusions. Hawk looked back and forth between Angelina and Martha as if they were speaking another language. Martha shrugged. Perhaps, but you have tired very easily of late, my lady. Have you not? Angelina nodded. And your appetite changes wildly. Yesterday when I brought the tarts, you were not hungry at all, but less than three hours later you were ravenous. Yes, but Youve had bouts of mild nausea several times over the past few days. Yes. And youve not been sleeping well. Hawk tried to question them. What are you two talking about? The women ignored him. Angelina continued to argue. But, Martha, all that can be attributed to my worry over Hawk.

Yes, but they are also early signs, symptoms that can occur very early. You are not worried this morn. Are you, my lady? Angelina smiled. Not in the least. Martha returned her smile. Hawk growled his frustration. Symptoms of what? Angelina wrapped her arm around his waist and beamed up at him. Morning sickness, she answered. Morning His breath hitched as he searched her face. But I thought you said it was too early to know. It is. I cannot know for certain for a least a few more days, but with these symptoms, there is a very good chance. Is it not wonderful, darling? He gave her a squeeze. Yes, but I do not want you to be disappointed if there is not yet a babe. Angelina thought back to the day when her courses had begun. She had been terribly upset, but Hawk had helped her and comforted her. Though I fear I shall be saddened if there is not a babe, I am certain that my husband will comfort me. Hawk smiled and whispered in her ear, And I shall redouble my efforts to see that there is a babe very soon.

Angelina giggled and turned to speak to Martha. She was surprised to find that the servant had crossed the room, giving them a bit of privacy. She stood next to the door. Martha, would you tell Lord Helmsley, Sir Oliver and Albert that I shall meet them in the library in about an hour? Please explain that I am suffering from a bit of nausea this morning and will wait to settle my stomach before our meeting. Yes, my lady. You may want to avoid the eggs, but there are several thick slices of toasted bread and jar of honey. The toast will likely ease your queasiness. Thank you. Angelina smiled as the servant left. She tipped her face to look at Hawk. He wore a look of concern. What is it? If Martha announces that you are nauseous this morning, there will likely be questions to the cause. Yes. That was the whole point. We will meet with Nicholas, the captain, and Albert and discuss our plans. When the midday meal is served, I shall join the men. Nicholas will question me about my nausea, and I shall very happily tell him that I believe I am carrying your child. Hawk sighed. I do not like this plan of yours, Angel. He paced away from her and ran his hands anxiously through his

hair. I should just show myself. Then you will no longer be in danger. Hawk, we discussed this. We do not know for certain that those men will testify against Charles and Freddie. His cheeks puffed as he blew out a deep breath. I do not like making you the bait for this trap. Tis too dangerous. Darling, I shall never truly be alone, remember? In here and in the library, you will be watching. When I am not with you, Nicholas and the others will be with me. Your worries are unfounded. She held his gaze. Though he did not insist that the plans for the trap be cancelled, he did not agree with her either. She changed the subject. Our breakfast is getting cold. We should eat. You may have the eggs, she added with a grin. At their meeting later, Nicholas spoke to the other men. Lady Fennimore is not to be without one of us at any time. They were all gathered around the desk in the library. Nicholas leaned against it. Hawk had entered through the secret door of the library and sat in the high-backed chair with Angelina standing at his side. Albert and Sir Oliver sat in the two other chairs. Nicholas turned to Angelina. If, for some reason, it is

necessary for us to leave, you must make some excuse to come to the library or go to your room. Angelina nodded. Hawk rubbed his brow. How will I know where I should be? I cannot protect my wife if she is in our room, and I am waiting for her in the passage here next to the library. You should remain in our room, husband. You can rest there and be comfortable. Hawk scowled. Angelina rushed to finish her statement. Whenever I go to the library, I shall send Martha to warn you. He nodded. You will need to instruct Martha to stay nearby. She nodded. Everything will be fine, darling. Angelina soothed him. Charles and Frederick will not do anything to harm me unless they believe me to be alone and unprotected. You should return to our room. I shall join you in a couple of hours. We must make a show of continuing the search, or they might become suspicious. I would rather not have you out of my sight. The men can continue the search and you can remain with me, Hawk suggested. The captain disagreed. She has accompanied us every day, my lord. I believe the lady is right. If she does not accompany us,

they may believe something is amiss. Nicholas argued in Hawks favor. Perhaps the lady can be convinced to remain behind today. She will join us to leave. Charles will, no doubt, complain of her presence because she became emotional yesterday at the gamekeepers cottage. The rest of us can then agree with Charles out of concern for her health. He addressed Angelina directly then. I can even plead with you to rest. You and I can argue a bit before you finally agree. We have seen your acting skills. You can make them believe it. Sir Oliver agreed. Aye. If the little scene is even half as realistic as the dramatic ploy at the gamekeepers cottage, they will not question it. You should have been an actress, my lady. The men chuckled as they agreed. Hawk covered Angelinas hand with his. Tis settled then. My wife will remain with me. Angelina sighed. It seems I am out voted. She grinned at Hawk then. You are fortunate that I enjoy your company, husband, or I should be forced to argue further. Their little play had been flawless. Charles and Frederick had seemed inordinately relieved when she had finally succumbed to Nicks persuasion. They had been equally fooled a

few moments ago when Angelina had cheerily answered Nicks inquiry as to the cause of her nausea. Fredericks face had remained expressionless. Charles had looked so surprised that Angelina had struggled to keep from laughing. With the midday meal finished, Charles rose from his seat. Angelina, I would like to have a word with you privately. Would you join me in the library? Angelinas eyes widened in surprise. Yes, of course, Charles. She rose and sent a glance to Martha, who nodded and quickly headed toward the stairs. Hawk would be in the passage outside the library within minutes. She thought to ask Charles if Nicholas could join them, but decided that her husbands cousin would be less likely to threaten her if someone else was present. She followed him to the library, slightly nervous despite her assurances to Hawk that she would be safe. Charles entered the library and closed the door behind them. Angelina looked curiously at him. It was not completely proper for her to be alone with him behind closed doors, even if she was married this mans cousin. She said nothing as she waited for Charles instructions. He crossed to the desk, turned the two chairs in front of the desk to face each other and motioned for her to sit. Once she was settled, he sat across from her and took a deep breath.

Angelina, I am sure you know that if you are pregnant, even the possibility of an heir changes everything. I believe I should explain my situation to you. Angelina did not even pretend to be friendly with the man. I need no explanation, Charles. If I have a son, you are no longer Hawks heir. You have made it clear since I arrived that you want Fennimore, but you What? You are quite mistaken, Angelina. I have no interest in Fennimore at all. Oh, come now, Charles. You did make a point to remind me that if Hawk was she corrected herself quickly, Is, indeed dead, that I would be your guest. Yes, well, I was quite out of sorts, milady. You see, I had come here to bid farewell to Hawk. I have tickets to sail to America. He stood and paced back and forth. Angelina was relieved that he moved closer to the bookcase. Hawk should not have any trouble hearing him. Charles continued. Of course, I have missed my original departure date now, but I still wish to leave as soon as possible. You should know that I have had my solicitors prepare the necessary papers to give Freddie the authority to act in my stead. Angelinas eyes widened in suprise.

If Hawk is not found alive, and your child is a daughter, Freddie will be here to look after Fennimore. So Freddie will control everything for you? Angelinas mind reeled with the implications. Yes, when I leave for America. I may be away for some time. I trust him to manage my own estate and he can manage Fennimore, too, if need be. I do apologize for my surliness of late, Angelina. Twas most difficult to contain my disappointment and anger. I have been dreaming of starting a shipping business in the colonies for as long as I can remember. My father prevented me from doing so. When he passed so unexpectedly, my hopes were renewed. I believe tis not too late to realize my ambitions. Hawks disappearance delayed my departure yet again. I felt the fates were plotting against me. Please forgive me if I offended you in any way. I know I was most disagreeable at times. Angelina nodded numbly. Frederick. It must have been Freddie all along. Tis understandable, Charles. I am certain that I have not been at my best either. I shall accept your apology if you will accept mine. You have been exceptionally admirable, Angelina. I hope to find a wife someday who is as reliable and loyal as you. I do wish you all the best in your endeavors, Charles. But what do we do now? I mean, are you planning to stay until

Hawk is found? No. He shook his head and returned to the seat before her. I am leaving the day after next. I will, of course, continue to help with the search until then, but if I do not leave soon, I will not be able to complete many of my plans before winter begins. It is imperative that I leave soon. I see. But I no longer feel that I need to stay. You have proven that you are capable of managing things here. You have Lord Helmsley to help you as well as Freddie. You will be fine. Angelina smiled weakly, guilt at having accused him of attempted murder filling her. Yes, Charles. I shall be fine. I still believe that Hawk is alive. He will return soon. Charles looked away. She tried to reassure him. And if Im wrong, I will manage. You are quite right. I have all the help I need. Charles nodded his approval. Good then. I am relieved that you are not upset I will be leaving. I would not want you to think I am abandoning my responsibilities. Not at all, Charles. Under the circumstances you have remained longer than should be expected of you. Thank you for delaying your departure.

Charles stood. I am grateful for your understanding. Angelina stood as well and watched as Charles turned to exit. There was something else she needed to know before he left. Charles? He turned back to her. Is there something else? I was just curious. I mean I have not had the opportunity to discuss it with you. Tis about your men. My men? Yes, the four men in your employ. They seem a bit How should I put this? Uncivilized? Charles nodded. I feel the same way. They are quite rude at times, but I did not hire them. When I informed Freddie that I would be leaving, he decided to hire men of his own. He said he did not believe that the men who worked for me would accept orders from him. I disagreed, of course. My men were quite competent, but Freddie was adamant. In the end, I decided that it did not matter. Even if I insisted he keep my men, he would only replace them as soon as I left. It did not make sense to pay eight men when four are more than enough. We usually have very little need for security, but I am glad they were with us when our carriage was attacked. Angelina nodded. Yes, you might have been killed. She

wanted to know one other thing. I know we discussed the attack before, Charles, but we have still not found the raiders, and we have no information as to their identities. So please forgive me for pestering you about it. But I do not remember if you said whether you saw any of the attackers. I never saw anything. Freddie pushed me to the floor of the carriage as soon as the first shot was fired. Angelina nodded grimly. Frederick had staged the whole thing. Thank you, Charles. I appreciate you taking the time to explain your intentions to me. Charles bowed slightly and left the room. Angelina walked to the bookcase and spoke softly as she pretended to examine the books. Did you hear that? Charles has nothing to do with any of this. Freddie would control Fennimore if you had been killed. Nicholas entered the library. Angelina, there is some kind of disturbance on the northern border past the mill. The captain and I are taking our men. Stay here in the library or go to your room. Understand? Yes, Nicholas. Take care. As Nicholas departed, Angelina turned back to the bookcase and spoke softly. I will be in our room in just a moment. She left the library.

As she reached the staircase, a man entered the front doors and called to her. My lady! My lady, you must come immediately. The man was unknown to Angelina, but she had seen him before near the stables. Perhaps he was the stable master. There is a problem with your horse. Coal? Angelina was instantly worried. What is it? What has happened? He became unruly just after the captain and the others left. No one can calm him, my lady. You must come quickly. Angelina looked to the top of the stairs then back to the man. She searched the room for any sign of Martha. There was not a single servant in sight. The tables were empty. Apparently all of the men had accompanied Sir Oliver to see to the disturbance. She hesitated a moment. My lady, I fear your horse will be hurt. Please. The decision was made. She could not let Coal be harmed. Angelina ran across the room and dashed through the front doors. She arrived at the stables moments later. Coal whinnied and snorted loudly as she entered and found Frederick trying to control him. Coal, she called. Calm yourself, boy. She ran to him,

ignoring the danger and patted his neck. Shhh. She cooed to him and stroked his neck. What has you so riled? Frederick spoke. I know not what caused it, Angelina. I had him saddled for you, and he went wild. Why would you have him saddled? she asked, her apprehension building. I am afraid that a body has been found. Freddies voice sent a shiver up her spine. We believe it may be Hawk. Angelina swallowed hard. Of course, she knew that Hawk was fine. She glanced over her shoulder. The man who had alerted her of Coals distress was gone. I see, she said quietly. When the captain and Lord Helmsley return, we will all go to investigate. I will take you, Angelina. Tis not far. It could be hours before the others return. Surely you will not want to wait. I Of course I do not want to wait, but it will be safer if we all go together. Tis not like you to procrastinate. Is there something you are not telling me? No. No, Freddie. I am not procrastinating. I am just concerned about the Scottish raiders. Her mind raced. He was trying to get her alone. She considered her options. This may be

the only chance they had to trap Freddie. If she refused to go with him, he may not try again, but the danger was more than she was willing to risk. Without Hawk, Nicholas, or Sir Oliver to protect her, she would be at Fredericks mercy. The raiders are likely the cause of the trouble, Angelina, he told her. Sir Oliver and the others will take care of them. We have nothing to fear. We will be traveling east. The problem is on the northern border. We will be far away from the danger. Angelina shook her head. I am not going with you now, Freddie. We will wait Frederick pulled a gun from his vest. We will go now. Her heart raced. Freddie Get on the horse, Angelina, he growled. No. You will not shoot me, she reasoned. Everyone will hear the shot. You will not escape. Fredericks lips curled as he pointed the gun at Coal. Then I will shoot the horse. Hawk paced the room. Angelina should have been here by now, even if she stopped to speak to Martha or someone along

the way. A knock sounded on the door before it opened. My lord, Martha said. I just thought to see if you and your lady needed anything. Hawks blood ran cold. She is not with me. Odd. She rushed past me in the hall outside the library. She said shed be in your room. Hawk pushed past Martha and raced toward the stairs. Angel! No answer came. He scanned the empty hall and continued on to the front doors of the keep. Without slowing, he pushed them open and stood at the top of the keep steps. Angel! His voice rang throughout the courtyard. Everyone stopped and stared. Hawk ran down the steps and called to the nearest man. Have you seen my wife? The man nodded, his face blank. My lord, it is so good to see you. We feared you dead. Hawk gritted his teeth. My wife. Where is she? The man blinked. She left with Mr. Ellison a moment ago. Charles, Nicholas, Sir Oliver, and several guards rode through the gates.

Hawk rushed toward them. Freddie has Angelina! He reached one of the guards. I need your horse. The guard slid from the saddle, and Hawk took his place. Hawk? Charles called to him. How? Where? No time to explain now, Charles, Hawk shouted. He turned back to the man in the courtyard. Which way did they go? Hawk waited only long enough for the man to point the direction. He kicked the horses flanks and tore through the gates.
Chapter Twenty-Five

Angelina did her best to stall for time. Though Coal balked at not being allowed to keep up with the other horse, she trailed behind Frederick as far as she could without raising his suspicions. Worried that Hawk would not be able to find her, she cautiously drew a handkerchief from her pocket. Frederick slowed his horse. You will stay next to me or pay the price, Angelina. Thank goodness Coal refused a bit. Freddie would be tugging her along by the reins if he could. As soon as he looked away, she dropped the handkerchief directly behind her onto the path. She realized that the direction they were headed would lead to the cliffs near the

secret passage. She wondered what Frederick planned to do with her there and prayed that Hawk and Nicholas would not be far behind. After several more minutes, they reached the rocky cliffs near the river. Scanning the area, she surmised that the entrance to the secret passage was too far away for her to use it as a means of escape. Even if she were able to get to it, Hawk would have barred the door from the inside after he entered. Frederick dismounted near the edge of the cliff and wrapped his horses reins around the branch of a small sapling. Angelina remained atop Coal, again stalling for time. Frederick came to her side. As usual, Coal snorted and rebelled at having Frederick so close. Coal had known it was Freddie all along. Angelina did nothing to calm the stallion Frederick showed his irritation. Really, Angelina, I cannot imagine why any gently bred woman would prefer a wild horse. He is not wild, Angelina replied. She struggled to keep her voice calm. Showing her fear would only make Freddie more confident. For some reason, he simply does not like you. Frederick stepped away. Dismount. Now. He pointed the gun at her. Angelina delayed as best she could. Of course, just let me make certain there is level ground. Thankfully, the area near

the edge of the cliff had a gentle slope and her excuse was plausible. She fidgeted and pretended to look about her for a likely spot to dismount. She directed Coal away from the cliff to a stand of trees. Torn between the desire to run and the fear that Frederick would shoot her or Coal if she attempted escape, Angelina desperately tried to formulate a plan. Frederick had proven his guilt. Now she could only hope and pray Hawk would find her before the would-be murderer achieved his goal. She dallied a few moments more. Now, Angelina. He pulled the lever back to cock the gun. Angelina sucked in a deep breath and purposely dismounted on the side opposite of Frederick, feeling safer with her horse between them. Come here. Frederick moved closer to the edge and motioned for Angelina to follow him. She took only a small step or two, hoping to delay his intentions as long as possible. Unfortunately, he was not willing to allow her to stall any longer. He moved toward her. She took a step back, and he stopped and raised the gun. He held her gaze as he slowly stepped forward. She took another step back. He snarled and lunged for her. Angelina turned to run but stumbled on some large rocks behind her. She righted herself, but not before Frederick was

upon her. He viciously grabbed her arm and yanked her into his embrace. His laugh was evil and sent chills down her spine. Panic gripped her, and she tried to free herself. You little bitch, he sneered. I had thought perhaps to make you my wife after an appropriate mourning period. It would have been nice to have your money as well as that delectable little body of yours. But you had to go and get pregnant. You are mad. She continued to struggle, kicking his shin. He grabbed her hair and yanked her head back. She screamed in pain as he used his other hand to bend her right arm behind her back, effectively immobilizing her. How can you be pregnant already? He must have been between your legs constantly. Angelinas refused to admit defeat, though she could hardly move. She lifted her foot and stomped as hard as she could on his foot. Bitch! He pushed her arm higher behind her back. She bit back a cry of pain. You are a pig, Freddie. A lying, murderous cur. And you are a little hellcat that I would love to have tamed. As it is, I shall simply take my pleasure of you before you decide

to fling yourself over the cliff. No one will believe that I took my own life, you idiot. Oh, but they will. I shall tell everyone that you were so overcome with grief and the misery of losing your beloved husband that you did not wish to live without him. His insane laughter echoed through the ravine. I know just how I will tell it. I tried to stop you, but you cried and said I cannot bear to go on without him. Everyone will believe you to be as distraught as Juliet was when she found her Romeo dead in the tomb. They all know I would not do that, she cried. You will pay for your crimes. No one will ever know the truth, Angelina. Not even my imbecile brother who would give up a title and land to chase after his stupid dreams. He pulled her against him roughly and ground his pelvis against her. Angelina whimpered softly as the pain in her scalp and arm increased. The sound seemed to excite him further, and he growled his satisfaction. I will give you the pleasure of having a real man between your legs before you meet your fate. You are not half the man my husband is, Her eyes filled with tears. The pain was almost unbearable now.

Was, you stupid little bitch. I had him killed. He was shot at least twice, possibly more. Again his insane cackle echoed in her ear. I know not where his body lies rotting, but Hawk is dead. Now it was Angelina who laughed. He is alive, Freddie. I found him at the gamekeepers cottage. They were hiding him away until he was recovered. He yanked ferociously on her hair. You lie. No, Freddie. You have lost. Even if you kill me you will not control Fennimore. Hawk is alive! she shouted. Angelina continued to argue through the agonizing pain. Her scalp was likely beginning to bleed now. Her head and arm throbbed, making it difficult for her to think. He was in our room last night and the night before. Do you remember when you knocked on my door because you heard me cry out? He growled. We were making love. Her voice was strained, pain stealing her breath. She knew that she couldnt free herself. She must make him release her. I cried out in pleasure. You may have been rutting with someone, you little whore, but it was not Hawk. He is dead. Angelina noted the loosening of his grip and continued. I was with my husband.

He sneered at her, and she met his hateful glare. Knowing that she needed to distract him further, she used his apparent irritation over the fact that she had been with a lover. Hawk and I were making love, she repeated. Stop lying, Angelina. Your husband is dead. A small smile lifted the corners of her lips. How do you think I knew that you meant to harm me? Did you not wonder why I did not agree to go with you? She paused to let her question simmer a moment. Then she answered it herself. I knew you were lying. I knew you had not found Hawks body, because Hawk is alive. I slept in his arms last night. He searched her eyes. Dismay masked his features. He must have realized she was telling the truth. A look of utter disbelief crossed his face, and he shook his head. Nooo! He ruthlessly shoved her away. Angelina hit the ground hard, knocking the air from her lungs. She struggled to catch her breath. Frederick paced back and forth in front of her, raking his hands through his hair. This cannot be true. They shot him. They shot his horse. His horse is dead, and he should be too. Angelina shook her head. She had recovered her breath and sought to convince him. The gamekeepers wife removed the

bullets and nursed him back to health. They hid him away there because Hawk recognized the men who shot him. He knew they worked for you and Charles. He did not want to return to the keep until he was strong enough to confront you. She shifted to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in her injured arm. You lie, Angelina. He laughed. Hawk would never have believed that I was behind the attack. True, Angelina agreed quickly. He believed that Charles was responsible. She must keep him talking long enough for Hawk to find her. Hurry, Hawk! Frederick sneered at her. You see, I am not stupid. I knew that if my plan failed that I would not be blamed. I planned for the Scots to be condemned for the attacks, but if that ruse were unsuccessful, Charles would be the prime suspect. After all, he was the one who would benefit. I told him that you were also guilty. I told him you could not be trusted. And why would you believe that? I was nice to you. I defended you from Charlies angry attacks. You are lying again, Angelina. He took a menacing step toward her. She scooted back a little, trying to put some additional space between them. I knew you were not the gentleman you pretended to be,

she answered hurriedly. There was something about you that made me uncomfortable. Coal does not like you either. She recoiled as his laughter assaulted her. You accused me because your horse is not fond of me? Come now, Angelina. You can do better than that. Tis true. You made me nervous just as you do Coal. The evil look he leveled on her made her more uneasy than ever before. He kneeled beside her. Leaning forward, he pinned her to the ground. Angelina shoved his chest but cried out as pain radiated in her injured arm. Oh, yes, my sweet. You will scream for me. His breath was foul against her cheek. I will enjoy you thoroughly before I kill you. And I will enjoy the killing as well. You will not get away with it, Freddie. Hawk will make you pay. He will not discover your fate until I tell him. He shoved her back and covered her with his body. She kicked and flailed her fists at him. Just before I kill him I will tell him how you screamed for me. He will kill you! Angelina cried.

Frederick yanked her blouse free of her skirt, shoving his hand beneath it to cup her breast. Laughing at her struggles, he squeezed her breast cruelly. Tears again filled her eyes, but she would not surrender. He is coming for me. He knows that I left the keep with you. She turned away to avoid his kiss. You should run while there is still time. Lying bitch. He lifted her skirt. Just then the ground beneath her rumbled. Hawk, she breathed. The sound of galloping horses grew louder. Hawk! She fought harder. Frederick cursed and denied her escape but then froze, listening. Angelina took advantage of his distraction. As quickly as she could, she brought her knee up between his legs, delivering a crushing blow to his most vulnerable area. Frederick howled in pain, and she was able to push him off of her as he jerked away. She scrambled on her hands and knees a few feet, then stood and ran toward Coal, screaming at the top of her lungs. Hawk! Here, Hawk! She tried to mount her horse, but without a

something to stand on, she could not pull her leg high enough to reach the stirrup. A steely arm came around her neck, choking her. Frederick dragged her toward the cliff. It seems that we have no time for pleasure, sweet. Angelina clawed his arm and battled him as best she could, but she could hardly breathe with his arm squeezing her throat. She was lightheaded by the time he got her to the edge. He swung her toward the rim but hesitated. This is your fault, Angelina. You should never have come here. After I kill you, I will kill your husband. Angelinas mind screamed, but not a sound escaped her. She felt herself losing consciousness and heard his evil laugh. A horse whinnied and snorted. Coal. Help me! There were other soundsmore horses, voices perhapsbut they seemed muffled as the darkness began to swallow her. She slumped against her attacker. Stay back or I will kill her. Frederick jerked her up roughly, handling her like a rag doll. Angelina fought the urge to tense. She struggled to keep her breathing shallow, but she could not control her racing heart. Perhaps Frederick would loosen his hold enough for her to

escape. Put the gun away, Freddie. Killing her will solve nothing. Hawks voice carried to her. She opened her eyes and met her husbands gaze. Hawk, Hawk. Frederick sighed. You should have had sense enough to die. Now you will watch as I leave with your wife. You will not go anywhere, Nicholas yelled. You will release her immediately, or you will suffer for it. Fredericks cackle would only confirm everyones belief that he was indeed insane. You do not seem to understand, Helmsley. I intend to take Angelina with me. One way or another. His voice was ominous as he cocked the gun and pointed it at Angelinas temple. Why, Freddie? Disappointment filled Charles voice. Stupid, fool, Frederick spat. That little manor hardly supports itself. When you take half the estates coffers with you, I shall be left with little more than an aging house with no funds for maintenance. I will not live as a pauper. Enough, Hawk conceded. You can have anything you want. Just dont hurt her. He paused. Please, Freddie.

Surprise colored Fredericks face. What is this? You would negotiate? For her? Yes. Hawk replied without hesitation. Anything you want. You want Fennimore? It is yours. Just release my wife. I do not believe you. He tightened his grip on Angelina, his voice growing louder with his irritation. No man would give up his land for a woman. I would. For Angel. Hawk spread his arms in surrender. I love her. I would give everything I have for her. Liar! Frederick yelled. Coal snorted and tried to push between the horses and men that stood between him and his mistress. Angelina saw him, but no one else paid him any attention. I do not lie, Freddie, Hawk stated firmly. Release her to me unharmed, and you may have everything. Then he added with deadly seriousness, But hurt her, and I will kill you with my bare hands. Slowly. I need her to make my escape, he argued. With each shout Coal grew more agitated. Charles and Nicholas both denied his claim just as Hawk shouted back, You need not escape if you release her. He

moved toward Frederick. Give her to me. At Hawks advance, Frederick panicked and pointed the gun at Hawk. Angelina reacted instantly, screaming and pushing Fredericks arm up and away. Frederick was apparently so stunned by Angelinas unexpected movement, the gun discharged into the air. Coal burst through the group of men and reared before Frederick and Angelina. Frederick shouted at the enraged horse pawing the air above him. Angelina freed herself, but she did not run. Anger fired her blood, and she turned back to the insane man. With all the strength she had, she balled her left fist and hit Frederick squarely on the jaw, staggering him. Hawk and Nicholas both rushed at him then, grabbing his arms. While the men struggled, Angelina calmed Coal, crooning to him and thanking him for his help. Frederick flailed against the two men and tried to jerk away toward the edge of the cliff only inches away. Hawk and Nicholas exchanged a look, realizing their precarious positions. They released Frederick to keep him from pulling them over the cliff. Frederick shifted his weight the moment Hawk and Nicholas

let go of him. He screamed in terror, unable to stop himself from falling backward over the ledge. Freddie, Charles shouted, reaching for him. He watched in horror as Frederick fell to the rocks below. Angelina covered her mouth to keep from crying out. Nicholas and Hawk looked on in utter disbelief. Angelina rushed to Hawk, embracing his waist. Hawk took her in his arms, crushing her to him. Then he grasped her shoulders and pulled her away from him so that he could look into her face. Are you hurt? She shook her head. Oh, Hawk, I am so sorry. He threatened to kill Coal. He ignored her and gave her a little shake. You will never do anything like this again, he yelled at her. You took ten years off my life, woman! Angelinas lips twitched, but she contained her smile. Yes, husband, she replied dutifully. I should turn you over my knee, he continued to rant. Yes, husband.

You will not risk your life again. You will not take such chances. Yes, husband. Never again, Angel. Do you understand me? Yes, husband. He paused then and narrowed his eyes as her responses registered. Are you humoring me? She tried, but she could not stop the response or the smile that accompanied it. Yes, husband. His mouth dropped open in astonishment. Angelina waited patiently for him to accept that she was unharmed. Hawk stared down at her. The anxiety and fear masking his features faded, and his piercing silver gaze softened. He threw his head back and laughed. Good lord, but I love you, woman. Angelina twined her arms around his neck. I love you, too, husband. Hawk chuckled and kissed her forehead. Perhaps I should hope for a son after all. I am not at all certain my heart can survive two fearless, red-haired Hellions.

About the Author

NITA WICK lives in southern Tennessee with her husband of 22 years and their two children who are now attending college. When shes not busy at the day job, you will likely find her reading or writing. She prefers romance novels because there absolutely, positively must be a happily-ever-after ending. She loves to hear from readers. You can find her email address at her web site: www.nitawick.com