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Excerpt From: Emily's SeductionPhiladelphia, PA February 1794
“Oh, come now, Alex, please tell me you’re not going to marry that sweet, innocent girl.”
The words were like an icy fist closing over Alexander Dalton’s heart. Yes, he’d asked himself the same thing but to have it confirmed, outright, by his old friend—resentment replaced the coldness. He tapped on the windowsill of his bedchamber, his gaze still captivated by the slender young woman below in the garden. Her spill of ringlets glittered like rubies in the sunlight. His claret-haired girl. She was the jewel he had found. A treasure he would never let go.
“It won’t work. You know it won’t.” Beneath the wry cynicism, there was a wealth of sympathy in Nicolo Calabria’s voice. He knew Alex’s demons intimately. No one else was better qualified to make such a judgement. “And, my friend, your life is quite firmly attached to America, is it not? It won’t be so easy for you to get away.”
Nicolo had three wives. One in France, one in Italy and one in England. And God knew how many mistresses. It was a kindness between the two of them that they never kept count of each other’s discarded mistresses.
But, today, Nicolo’s words were like sugar poured into a cracked tooth and Alex couldn’t prevent the rush of angry, defensive words. “I am not going to run away from my marriage.”
There was a pause. “Ah, you wound me. You truly do.”
Alex forced himself to turn away from the window and face his accuser. “I am not judging you. I never have. But I am telling you, I would never—could never abandon her.”
A small smile softened Nicolo’s face and the black eyes glowed with sympathy. “Alex, Alex, do you think I haven’t said the same thing to myself? Each time? And I shall burn in hell’s fire for my bigamy. But I have so longed for a second chance, a renewal. Some woman’s love that can change what I am, what I have become. And, each time I thought I’d found it, I did not care at what cost it came. I had to have it. But it always ends the same.”
“I am telling you I shall stand by her or die trying.”
“You may convince yourself but you cannot convince me. I know too well how it is. You will not be able to bear living with her and seeing each day the hurt accusation in her eyes. You won’t be able to do anything about it. You will have withdrawn the vital parts of yourself long before. You won’t be able to bear it. You’ll do anything to get away.”
Alex fisted his hands, resisting the urge to lash back angrily. Nicolo was only an echo of his own doubts. His chest grew tight. Both Nicolo and the little voice inside were wrong. It wasn’t true.
He couldn’t bear looking into those sympathetic, understanding eyes a moment longer. He glanced back at the window. Dr John Abbott, a frequent visitor, had come into the garden. Emily was laughing at something he’d said, her head tilted back exposing the pure, graceful lines of her throat. A sharp pain erupted in his chest. God, he wanted her. Nicolo did not understand. He couldn’t have loved a woman like this and ever turned his back on her. However, Alex wasn’t playing jury with his old friend. He should simply let this subject drop but he couldn’t. He spoke in slow, controlled tones. “If I decide to love her, to be loyal to her, then I shall be steadfast in my affections.”
“Ah, I remember this confidence. I wish I could attain it again if only to have the brief pleasure of believing I can change. Being in love is the finest thing in life. Do not think I don’t know this.”
“You say it as if it were fact, already decided.”
“No man, introduced to women the way we were, could ever be settled into a normal married life.” Nicolo laughed softly. “The variety, the perfection, the pure carnal decadence. What one woman can ever compare?”
Alex turned away and contemplated the window again. Emily was gone from the garden and all that remained were muddy puddles and bare trees.
“Well, would you look at the time?” Nicolo sighed. “Some of us still have to work for our living. I shall be going.”
Without bothering to turn around, Alex nodded mutely. His mind was already far away in another time and place.
“I am going to die in childbirth, I know it.”
He stroked her hair. “You’re not going to die.”
“I don’t want to die here. I don’t want to die a slave.”
He placed his hand on her still flat stomach. “I promise, I shall think of something. I’ll get us out of here before the child comes.”
Ah, the confidence of youth. Alex laughed cynically. But the past was dead and now he wanted only to forget it.