2012 Golden Heart ® Finalist
A fiercely independent spinster who desperately needs assistance ...
Lady Cassandra Gardner will inherit fifty thousand pounds when she turns thirty, and just in time. She has a special purpose for her money, one no man could understand. But when her brother the duke tries to cheat her out of her fortune, she has no choice but to accept the help of the man who shattered her heart years ago.
A gallant nobleman who can’t resist rescuing a damsel in distress ...
Lord William Poniard is looking for a wife, but the last woman he should consider marrying is his archenemy’s sister, the woman who hates him with a vengeance. Yet, when she is compromised by her brother’s nefarious scheme, he sees an opportunity not only to rescue the lady by marrying her but also to exact revenge on the duke for his past betrayal.
Will she accept his offer of help and at what cost?
Despite the long-standing animosity between Cassandra and William, sparks fly when their attraction to one another ignites into a passion neither saw coming. Will one night of rapture unite them or drive them apart? Can she forget past wounds and let him back into her heart? And can he convince her that she is the only woman he wants?
Excerpt--King of Swords
Lady Cassandra Gardner outdid all expectations. Oh, most of the scandal sheets predicted she would somehow insult Lord William Poniard, as she was wont to do, at the Wellesley house party in the Lake District, but she surpassed all forecasts when she threw her drink in his face after overhearing the provoking comment he had made about her beloved sister Phoebe during the opening ball.
“Such a shame about Lady Abadon, is it not?” the oft befuddled Sir Lionel Farnsworth had remarked to Lord William.
Cassandra, who had been making her way across the ballroom, stopped in her tracks upon hearing her sister’s name.
“Come again?” Lord William had asked. He stood on the periphery of the dance floor speaking with Sir Lionel and appeared confused as to why the gentleman was suddenly talking about the Countess of Abadon, who had died a while ago.
Cassandra herself was also baffled as to why her sister’s name had arisen out of nowhere in the conversation, so she stood riveted to the floor listening to the two men for clarification.
“I say, it’s a shame about Lady Abadon, is it not?” Sir Lionel reiterated as if the question made perfect sense.
“A tragic shame. But why on earth do you ask all of a sudden?”
“Oh, I only bring it up because her brother, the duke, reminded me just a few minutes ago that it’s been almost two years since she died. I was the duke’s second when he called Abadon out over her death, you know.” Sir Lionel’s chest puffed out with such an obvious sense of pride that Cassandra thought he might pop a button on his waistcoat. He then leaned in toward Lord William to say in a quieter, almost conspiratorial tone, “It’s unfortunate that Abadon survived the duel, don’t you think? I mean, what do you make of the rumor that he killed Lady Abadon?”
“A horrendous crime, if it’s true,” Lord William had replied shaking his head. He then added in apparent afterthought, “Of course, if she was of the same temperament as her sister Cassandra, one could almost see how her husband might have wanted to hurt her, can’t one?”
“Uh . . .,” said Sir Lionel. It was all he could say before Cassandra stomped over to Lord William, tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention, and threw her punch in his face.
Most of the guests appeared to feign shock at such a display, when in fact it was common knowledge that most had accepted invitations to Lady Wellesley’s week-long party so far away from London right before the beginning of the Season with hopes of being treated to just such a spectacle. Entertainment value alone had been the point of inviting the two to the same soiree. After all, their mutual animosity toward one another had been infamous amongst society since Lord William’s return from the Continent last year after a ten-year stint in the dragoons, although Lady Cassandra’s own hostility toward him predated his return as a war hero and began at her coming out party when she refused to dance with him, preferring instead to sit next to a potted frond. However, she eclipsed all past bad behavior with the beverage incident this evening.
Lady Wellesley herself appeared delighted at Cassandra’s fit, even as she faked umbrage at the scene. “Lady Cassandra!” she exclaimed as a broad smile broke out on her face. She instructed a footman to assist Lord William with a towel.
Though outwardly Lady Wellesley remonstrated her, Cassandra guessed that inwardly, the woman congratulated herself at her own success. To deliver such amusement to her guests would be a definite feather in her cap. For his part, Lord William stared at Cassandra with incredulity, saying nothing, his utter astonishment evident as he blinked several times to clear the liquid that was probably stinging his eyes.
Cassandra, meanwhile, stood back and glowered at him. Well, it was his own fault that he now needed a new cravat from the punch dripping down his face onto its snowy folds. Had he not insulted her with his offhanded remark involving her sister, she might have passed by him without incident. Her response to his words, however, had come from her gut, not at all thought out.
After her own shock had worn off, she gathered her wits. “Oh, please do forgive me, Lord William. I must have slipped.” Then she turned and walked away, leaving him perceptibly stunned and speechless.
Once alone and with a moment to think about the recent scene, she opened her fan and cooled her face. That had been very bad of her. Very bad indeed. Better to have come up with a verbal rejoinder to his comment than to physically assault the man. Yet, it had not been in her to think up a response to the affront he had just made at the expense of her dear sister. Furthermore, his insinuation that Cassandra herself had a defect in temperament that would drive someone to acts of violence also stung.
“Bad form, Cass,” said her brother, the Duke of Benthower, as he came up alongside her in all his noble hauteur near the windows overlooking the moonlit garden.
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know it was, Your Grace.” She called him that sardonically, mocking his arrogance at his own station. “However, I was provoked. Your erstwhile friend, Poniard, insulted the memory of Phoebe with something he said.”
“Nevertheless, do try to rein in that temper of yours. Such a spectacle. You’ll undo all the work I’ve done to get Sir Lionel to agree to marry you. I have him thinking he is quite in love with you, and I don’t want you ruining it. I want to announce your engagement as soon as possible.”
“If I’ve told you once, Michael,” she said, using his given name this time because he didn’t like anyone to address him by it, “I’ve told you a thousand times that I am not marrying anybody, least of all that half-wit Sir Lionel.”
“You’re nearly thirty, old girl. At your ripe age, you’re lucky to get anyone, even if it is Sir Lionel. Better to get at least a half-witted husband than none at all.”
“Better for me? Or better for you? What unholy deal have you made with the man?”
“Now, now, Cass. The negotiations of men in these matters must remain between the men. You women wouldn’t understand them.”
She snorted in a most unladylike fashion at that statement. “Let me guess. You get half my dowry for his right to marry me? Aren’t those the usual terms? That’s what you did with Phoebe’s and Julia’s dowries, at any rate. Poor Bess died before you could get your hands on her money, and Violet is next after me, no doubt. Better get me married off, though, before I turn thirty and my dowry reverts to me for my own personal use, as it does on that happy day. Am I not right?”
“You make me sound so conniving. All I want is your happiness, Cassandra.”
“All you want is your happiness. Having run through the dowries of two of your sisters, you’re in need of a little blunt, I would bet. And now you’re after mine.” She turned to confront him head on. “Well, you can’t have it, Michael. It will soon be mine to do with as I please. I have a purpose for my money, one you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh, what ludicrous purpose could you possibly have for fifty-thousand pounds? Better to leave it to your husband to manage. You’ll just fritter it away on frippery.”
She eyed him warily and nearly told him what she intended to do with her money once it was hers to control. That she intended to build a refuge for unfortunate women whose husbands beat them, a place where they could find haven from the cruelty and abuse, a place where others understood and cared about their plights, a place where they could start afresh with new identities, if necessary, and funds to help them into new homes, as needed. All in honor of her sister Phoebe who’d been brutally beaten to death by her husband. But she remained silent and merely stared up at him as he looked down upon her in that condescending way he had of looking down upon those beneath him in rank and circumstance and making them feel like worms.
Finally, she said, “What I do with my money is my business. And you’ll not get your hands on any of it.”
“Tsk, tsk. Don’t be so sure of yourself, my dear. Sir Lionel doesn’t like a woman with so much self-confidence. He likes his women sweet and demure.”
“Sir Lionel—and you—can go to blazes for all I care.”
“Oh, you’ll care, Cassandra. You’ll care,” he said cryptically—and with a hint of malice—before he turned and stalked away.
She gazed out the windows onto the terrace as she briefly considered what he had meant by his last comment, and then her mind returned to her earlier ruminations about the scene with Lord William. Throwing punch on him was not at all the thing to do, she silently chastised herself, especially if she hoped to drum up support for her shelter among the ladies of the ton present at this week’s party. She must be on her best behavior to woo them to her cause. Another slip like the one she had just made could sink her ship before it set sail, and she blamed him for the blunder. Loathsome man.