The Second Seduction by Shelley Munro
Though the gifts of second sight and a loving heart have made her an extraordinary healer, Rosalind finds her talent has also branded her a misfit and an outcast. When a marriage is arranged for her with the mysterious Viscount Hastings, heir to Castle St. Clare, she embraces what she sees as the last chance for a normal and secure future.
Lucien, Viscount Hastings, back from the dead and safe in the bosom of his family, has no time for the chit his family has arranged for him to marry. There is no room in his life, or his heart, for anything but vengeance for the death of his
beloved first wife, Francesca.
Threats echo in every crash of the waves beating upon the cliffs on which Castle St. Clare stands. Whispers linger in the corridors during the still of the night. Malicious eyes track every move made by the spurned bride and her scarred, but handsome would-be husband. Is there a chance for two lonely hearts? A dark past collides with the present, bringing together family, truth and . . .
The Second Seduction . . .
The carriage swayed and bounced over the uneven road. With each successive pothole, the driver cursed more colorfully. Rosalind gripped a carriage strap, the excessive jolting doing nothing for her frazzled nerves. At the completion of this journey, she would meet her betrothed--for the first time. Questions pounded inside her head. Would he like her? And would he accept her, despite her...faults?
Beside Rosalind, her childhood friend and maidservant, Mary, pressed her nose to the carriage window. “Oh, miss! I think we’re almost there.”
Rosalind tensed at the news. She forced a smile then bit back a cry of alarm as the carriage lurched. Grabbing the seat to avoid a tumble to the floor, she righted herself and slid along the seat toward Mary. “Can you see Castle St. Clare?” She peered out the dusty window.
A snarling gargoyle appeared inches from their faces. Rosalind’s breath escaped with a horrified gasp. Beside her, Mary trembled and jerked away from the window.
She clutched at Rosalind’s forearm, her voice rising to a squeak. “Miss Rosalind, do you think we should turn around and return to Stow-on-the-Wold?”
Mary’s dread, her frenzied thoughts, bombarded Rosalind and she shrugged from her maid’s grip to break the connection.
“The earl is expecting us, Mary. We can’t go back.”
They sped past a rundown gatehouse, the carriage jolting from one pothole to the next. As they clattered through a stone gateway, Rosalind glimpsed the gargoyle’s twin. It leered from atop a stone wall and seemed alive, as if it could step from its granite prison on a whim.
The carriage made a sharp swing to the right, the coachman cursing his team of straining horses as the gradient increased sharply. The whip cracked. Without warning, the interior of the carriage turned pitch black. Mary yelped and clutched at Rosalind.
Rosalind swallowed her gasp, rearranged the skirts of her best blue and gold-trimmed riding habit, and patted Mary on the arm.
“It’s all right,” she soothed, yet the hand hidden in her skirts trembled. For a moment, the temptation to turn back teased at her, then she recalled the situation she’d return to--relations who resented her presence. The reality pushed aside her fears. Ugly gargoyles or not, she silently vowed to continue her journey.
An object scraped along the carriage sides, sending a shiver down her spine. Mary’s piercing shriek echoed within the confines of the enclosed space. Goosebumps rose on Rosalind’s arms. Her gaze whipped about the carriage. The noise repeated with an eerie echo.
“Hush, Mary,” Rosalind snapped, her heart pounding so loudly she could barely hear herself think. Mustering every shred of courage, she pressed her nose to the cold glass of the window.
This was meant to be a grand adventure, her last opportunity to seize a secure future. Rosalind, the afflicted one, the one the people of Stow-on-the-Wold whispered would never catch a husband. The cousin destined to stay on the shelf. This was her chance to prove them all wrong. Despite her accursed gift.
Leaves swept against the windows, followed by the same scraping sound. The cold knot of fear in her stomach twisted. A flash of ghostly fingers waved before her startled eyes. A branch. That was surely a branch. The fear clogging her throat lessened, and she relaxed against the plush cushions of the St. Clare coach with a tremulous sigh of relief.
“It’s a branch,” she said to Mary. “We are driving along an avenue of trees. I fear they need trimming to let in the sunlight.”
“Are you sure, Miss Rosalind?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Rosalind made her voice firm and decisive. “Look out the window. You can make out the branches if you look hard enough.” As she spoke, the darkness in the carriage lifted. Then they were in daylight again. “There, what did I tell you?”
Mary grabbed her arm. She tugged. Frantically. “
Rosalind turned. Her mouth dropped open. This was where she was to live? She swallowed as she studied the fortress that perched on the cliff top like a menacing monolith. The castle was built of stone, solid and strong to withstand the winds that howled across the
English Channel. Arrow slits glared like malignant eyes. Hardly the welcoming home she had envisioned.
“We’re almost there,” Mary announced. “I can see the gate and the courtyard beyond.” She turned to Rosalind, her eyes huge brown rounds in her freckled face. “There are people waiting to meet us.”
Uncertainties assailed Rosalind threatening her fragile composure. Repeated swallowing did little to clear the lump in her throat. They said
Hastingswas mad. Perhaps she should have refused to marry him, but she had promised her uncle. The papers had been signed when her cousin, Miranda, and she were babes. One of them had to marry Hastings. Miranda had flatly refused so it was up to her to fulfill family obligations. At least she would have a home of her own. Her hands crept up to check that her lacy cap sat straight. That was what she wanted, wasn’t it? A home of her own. A husband, and if she was fortunate, lots of chubby, laughing babies.
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