By: Janet Lane Walters | Other books by Janet Lane Walters
Published By: Books We Love
Published: Jun 16, 2011
ISBN # 9781926965918
Published By: Books We Love
Published: Jun 16, 2011
ISBN # 9781926965918
Word Count: 82,704
Available in: Epub, Palm DOC/iSolo, Adobe Acrobat
DescriptionWhen Nicola Gordon and her younger sisters travel from India to England, she goes to a marriage she doesn’t want.
Drew Barlow has no desire for marriage, but his distant cousin and Nicola’s grandfather, ran the estates into debt. Drew agrees to the marriage for the money and to please the Dowager, Nicola’s grandmother, but he has no trust for women or for love.
When the two meet they clash and come together, igniting a blazing attraction they cannot resist.
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Sensuality Rating: Not rated
From Fallen AngelsJanet Lane Walter's latest book Gemstones is a stunning tale of the differences between two cultures, English and Indian, and what occurs when two different cultures clash. After the death of her father, eldest daughter Nicola Gordon must take charge of her family, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth, a budding flirt, and ten year old Margaret, a hoyden of
Calcutta, July 1810
"Miss Nicola. Miss Nicola."
The whisper woke Nicola Gordon. Like wasps around ripe fruit, tales of native uprisings swarmed in her thoughts. She groped beneath the pillow for the knife she kept there.
The girls. She had to protect her sisters.
"Miss Nicola, wake up."
"Who?" She tried to keep fear from clogging her voice.
"What are you doing here? Where's Papa?" Just two days ago, she had seen her father and his young native assistant off on a buying trip. Fear gripped her spine. The knife fell from her fingers.
"Your father. You must come."
"I can't leave my sisters. What if they wake and find me gone?"
"They will be safe. Your papa needs you. We were set upon by thugs and he was hurt. I found a safe place for him to stay until I am sure we were not followed."
Nicola pushed aside the netting that enclosed the bed. She found her shoes and grabbed a dark cloak. Her heart thudded in her chest. Though she and Sarad had engaged in mischief years ago, her childhood friend had become sober and responsible. So had she.
"Where is he?"
"The place is not far." He slid open the door to the verandah. Nicola followed him to the gate in the compound wall. The aroma of wet earth rose from the garden, but outside the gates, the recent rains had failed to mask the scent of exotic flower and spices of the odor of garbage. The absence of the moon created an ominous darkness. She hurried through alleys and along streets beside her silent guide. Her thoughts conjured a thousand tragedies.
She stumbled. A groan escaped.
Sarad gripped her arm. "Be silent as the tiger stalking prey."
His warning chilled her. Who knew what would happen to an Englishwoman caught in the streets at night.
Ahead, she saw the looming shadow cast by one of the city's many temples built to honor one of India's multitude of gods. Why had they come here?
Sarad pulled her into a dark passageway that led into the temple.
Their passing stirred the dust of the ages, musty and dank. Finally, they emerged in a torch-lit room. She followed her friend to a recessed alcove.
"Papa!" The blood-stained bandages around his chest and head alarmed her. "Papa, oh, Papa." She knelt on the stone floor beside him.
His dark eyes were unfocused. His skin felt hot.
"The eye. Siva. The eye."
"I don't understand."
"Nicola. Must warn. Must tell."
"She is here, Sahib Gordon."
Nicola gripped her father's hand. The flickering torchlight revealed his pain-filled features. "Papa, I will take you home and see to your wounds."
He took a shuddering breath. "Must leave Calcutta."
"Where will we go?" She couldn't think of leaving. Calcutta was home.
"To England. Ian Grey will send an escort." He gasped a breath. "Your grandmother and Denmere. Old Earl dead. Marry the new. Distant cousin."
His words shocked her nearly as much as her memories. "My grandmother did not protect Mama. I don't want to marry and live with strangers."
Why was he saying this? He would get better and until then, she could care for her sisters. For ten years, since her mother's death, this had been the case.
His fingers tightened around hers. "You must. Danger for you. For sisters." He struggled to sit up. "Your knowledge. Gems."
Fresh blood seeped through the dried stains on the bandages. "Rest, Papa." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "I cannot leave you."
She chewed her lower lip. "I will keep them safe."
He sank back. "Promise. Marry Denmere."
She couldn't say the words. "Papa."
He pressed a velvet pouch into her hand. "For you and sisters. Not Fergus. Now go."
Though she thought about disobeying, she kissed his cheek. As she and Sarad left the alcove, tears cascaded down her cheeks and blurred her sight. She stopped to wipe her eyes and stifled a gasp.
Torchlight illuminated statues and wall carvings of men and women engaged in activities she had read of in the Sanskrit manuscripts her teacher had given her. Her eyes widened in astonishment. She hadn't believed the human body could assume such convoluted positions.
Sarad grasped her arm. "We must go."
His whisper broke the spell. She tore her gaze from the figures that fascinated and repelled. Her cheeks burned as though she stood beneath the mid-day sun. She followed Sarad into the dark passageway.
* * * *
Drew Barlow, Earl of Denmere, slouched on the brocade sofa and crossed his legs at the ankles. His highly polished Hessians gleamed in the light from the fire. He stared at the flames that danced and sent sparks flying up the chimney.
"What does an impoverished earl do?" He addressed his question to the portrait above the chimney piece. To restore the estates pillaged by his predecessor, marriage to an heiress with a considerable fortune and probably a father in trade was essential. While some members of the ton would look askance at his choice, his family had created enough scandals to make the taint of trade a mere blemish.
He groaned. His mother's passionate nature, his father's drunken behavior, the late earl's obsession with gaming. All played a part in his need to wed and his antipathy toward marriage.
A log fell and sent a rain of sparks flying. The Dowager Countess of Denmere was the only woman he respected. His need to marry money was as much for her as for the estates and to pay the debts left by his distant cousin.
Aldora had rescued him from a drunk and abusive father. She had seen to his education, and though not related to him other than by marriage, had treated him like a son. She deserved the comforts he couldn't afford to give her.
The library door opened to reveal his host. Drew's London house had been rented, and for the past two weeks, he'd been a guest in his friend's Mayfair townhouse.
Tristan Atwell, Duke of Cairnton, strode into the room. Only a white shirt relieved the stark black of his riding clothes. He held a crop in one hand and leaned against the Adam's mantelpiece to study Drew. "Town is a bit thin of company these days."
Drew nodded. "I should have come in March but I had a dozen problems to untangle."
"I have the acquaintance of a wealthy widow who would favor an earl as a second husband. Would you like me to arrange an introduction?"
Drew shook his head. "A widow is used to controlling her own fortune and bestows her favors where she will."
Tristan lifted a crystal decanter and filled a glass with port. "A loan? My pockets are deep."
Drew considered the essential purchases needed to put the estates in working order and shook his head. "They're not bottomless. I didn't come to town to drag you into my financial problems."
"Let me have your cattle. A team of grays might lighten my reputation."
"And ruin your image." Drew chuckled. "Why not one of whites?"
Tristan shrugged, "You make being a friend difficult."
Drew looked up. Would Tristan, who always had blunt to spare, understand the need to pull himself from the River Tick? With an infusion of a goodly sum, the farms and herds would bring a profit. "Tattersall's will do the honors. Having me as your guest is enough."
Tristan shook his head. "Anyone who contemplates marriage is either a fool or desperate."
"I plead guilty to both conditions." Tristan's raised eyebrow and sardonic expression made Drew laugh. "I do what I must. What do you hear from Michael and Niall?"
"From Niall, nothing."
"I'm sure he's in the thick of action. He was always one to love a fight. And Michael?"
Tristan's stance relaxed. "He's awaiting the birth of his heir or heiress. Never thought he'd be the first caught in the parson's mousetrap." He turned from the window. "What say you join me for an evening at Eugenie's? Her charming cousin, the fair Janine, frequently asks about you."
"Another time." Drew followed his friend to the door.
While women looked on him with favor, he seldom accepted their invitations to dally. To surrender was to flirt with the loss of control, something he couldn't afford. Too often, he'd seen what happened to a man who gave in to his passions.
A footman approached. "Your Grace, a message for the Earl has arrived. His man's in the kitchen and awaits an answer."
Drew accepted the note. As he read the contents, he frowned.
"She wants me to come home. She has received a letter concerning something I must attend to at once."
"Another demand for money from some tradesman?"
Drew's casual shrug belied a deep sense of frustration that threatened to drag him to the depths. In the year since his distant cousin's death, there had been many such demands. "The note is vague and so unlike her. I fear the news has overset her. I'll leave at once."