A Bartered Lady
Lord James Harkness is shocked to discover a "bride sale" taking place in his small English village -- and surprised by the depth of his feelings for the unfortunate gentlewoman being auctioned off by a disreputable husband. But is it honor and nobility that compel James to outbid the townfolk for the proud, beautiful lady -- or is it something more akin to...desire?
A Mysterious Lord
Verity Osborne is not sure whether good fortune or ill brought her to this dark, brooding man and his lonely manor house on the moors. Local talk brands James Harkness as evil -- but Verity senses a gentleness underneath. She dearly longs for her liberty, but his sensuous touch causes her to stay. However, James must first trust Verity with his secrets if they are ever to share love's rapturous freedom. And will the promised passion she sees flaming in his eyes warm Verity's heart...or burn her?
âC'mon, me laddies. What'm I bid fer this fine bit o' flesh?â
â'Alf a crown!â
Raucous laughter almost drowned out the auctioneer's rude response to the opening bid. James Gordon Harkness, fifth Baron Harkness, leaned against the rough granite wall of the village apothecary shop just off Gunnisloe market square. The lane and its shops were deserted; most of the villagers and market-day travelers had gathered in the square to watch the livestock auction. James nibbled on the last bit of savory meat pie as his servant loaded the carriage boot with the day's purchases: several bolts of local wool, a few hammered copper cook pots, two large bags of seed, a brace of pheasant,a basket of smoked fish, and three cases of wine.
James licked the pastry crumbs from his long fingers as he listened to the auction taking place around the corner. The voices of auctioneer and bidders rang clearly in the crisp air of early autumn.
âTwo pounds ten.â
âAw, c'mon,â a female voice shouted above the din. âThe poor cow be worth more'n that, you bleedin' idiot.â
âNot to my man, she ain't,â another female replied, eliciting howls of laughter from the crowd.
âTwo pounds fifteen!â
This was followed by more laughter and the ear-splitting din of what had to be the banging of dozens of tin kettles. Village women often took up the old tradition of kettle banging to encourage more intense bidding. It must be some prime bit of flesh indeed, James mused as the rhythmic clanging grew louder.
A stiff breeze chased a flutter of red birch leaves down the lane, and James brushed back a lock of thick black hair blown forward by the wind. He watched the leaves skitter away, but kept his ear to the auction in the square.
As he listened, James savored the fragrant scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns and meat pies, of roasting pig and rabbit shank, of fresh cider and ale. The delicious smells and the sounds of gaiety and fierce bartering inevitably drew his thoughts to earlier times, when he might have enjoyed such a day, when he would have been a welcome participant. Now he would not willingly walk into a crowd that size, a crowd of people who knew him, knew who and what he was.
He seldom ventured into Gunnisloe at all, though it was the closest market town. He preferred the larger, more distant markets of Truro or Falmouth, where he was not as well-known. But he had business in Gunnisloe today. Taking advantage of market day, he had sent his footman into the stalls to purchase a few household goods. While the markets bustled and thrived in the village square, James had kept his distance. He was in no mood to endure the strained silence, the wary glances, the hushed whisperings that would inevitably follow his entry into the public square.
The footman closed the boot and locked it, then opened the carriage door and stood aside. James pushed away from the granite wall and walked toward the open door. He replaced his curly brimmed beaver on his head and tugged it low against the wind.
âDon't 'ee dare bid on her, Danny Gower, lest 'ee want yer heart ripped clean outa yer chest.â
Peels of laughter and more banging of tin kettles followed this interesting pronouncement. James halted his ascent into the carriage. What on earth was going on? He had never before heard a crowd behave in such a strangely boisterous manner at an auction. What the devil was so special about this particular cow?
His curiosity got the better of him, and he stepped away from the carriage. Just one look was all he wanted. Just to see for himself what all the fuss was about. Just one quick look and he would be on his way.
James walked the few steps...