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A marriage of convenience…full of inconvenient secrets.
Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.
Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.
Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.
As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…
Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?
The carriage rattled over a rut, jolting the entire vehicle. Jocelyn braced her hand on the interior to hold her position. Once she’d committed to Mr. Sherbourne, affairs moved rapidly. With Melburn’s help, she’d signed a betrothal contract and a few days later, she became Mrs. Leo Sherbourne. An urgent message came from Merrivale, summoning Leo home and he left London the same day, leaving Jocelyn to arrange the move to Devon.
Now that she was on her way to join her new husband, trepidation traveled with her. Anxiety jostled in the pit of her stomach each time the carriage struggled through a pothole.
“Are we there yet?” Elizabeth Townsend’s querulous voice pierced her thoughts—an oft repeated question, that had grated Jocelyn’s nerves raw.
They’d taken the journey in small stages over many days, but even so, by the time they reached the outskirts of Dartmoor, Jocelyn wanted to strangle her mother.
“We should reach Merrivale later this afternoon.” Jocelyn pushed down the carriage window and tilted her face to the bright sunshine. Fresh air ruffled her hair, tugging the strands not covered by her cap.
The carriage labored up a slope, the wheels protesting and the coachman urging the horses on with a snap of his whip. When they reached the crest of the hill, Jocelyn’s breath caught. The countryside stretched out before them—an endless carpet of greenery, studded with piles of rocks, stacked like a haphazard pile of oversize books. A cloudless blue sky completed the majestic panorama.
“Mother, look at the view. Isn’t it glorious?” She’d heard the area could be inhospitable and eerie with dangerous mists and treacherous bogs, yet it wasn’t today. For their arrival, Dartmoor was showing her finest.
“I can’t see,” her mother complained.
“Come and sit beside me,” Jocelyn said.
They shuffled around the carriage interior until her mother could view the vista.
“Pretty,” her mother said. “Are we there yet?”
“It won’t take long now,” Tilly said in a firm voice.
The hours passed and, after a brief stop for lunch and to change horses, they finally approached Merrivale Manor. Mature trees and extensive gardens surrounded a sprawling gray stone building, screening it from sight until the last minute. When the carriage came to a halt, several people hurried down the front steps of the manor.
“Are we there yet?”
“Yes.” Jocelyn wiped clammy hands on her skirts, nerves striking her afresh now that they’d arrived. Today her marriage would start in truth, and tonight, she’d share a bed with her new husband.