Dearest readers of bookworm2bookworm,
I’m so thrilled to take part in the anniversary celebrations and shenanigans of this wonderful blog. I always love getting to visit or see my books reviewed here!
The tale I wish to share with you today is one of passion, darkness, madness and of course a Happily Ever After. I hope you jump into Mary and Edward’s world, loving those two tortured souls as much as I do!
Certainly, few deserve a happy ending more. Good luck!
BOOK BLURB: Lady Mary Darrel should be the envy of London. Instead, all society believes her dead. For Mary holds a secret so dangerous, her father chose to keep her locked away…and have a grave made for her near her mother’s. Driven to the edge of desperation, Mary manages to escape the asylum, only to find that her fate yet again rests in the hands of a man…
Edward Barrons, Duke of Fairleigh, longs for some way to escape the torment of his father’s crimes. In Mary’s warrior spirit and haunted gaze—which so mirrors his own—he finally sees his path to redemption. He will stop at nothing to keep her safe, even as she seeks revenge. But will the passion they discover in each other be enough to save them from their demons?
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For the first time as long as Edward could recall, he was at a loss for words. One did not usually find frightened, naked young women in Madame Yvonne’s room. Especially frightened, half-starved young women who glared with defiance etched upon every feature.
“Go.” Her pale lips parted, exposing white teeth.
“If that is what you wish.” Yet he found his boots unable to move and do her bidding. It was as if she were a snake charmer upon the dusty street playing her tune to keep him mesmerized. A strange stirring he hadn’t felt in an age kindled inside him. Not desire, but. . . interest.
“Go,” she snapped again, breaking the thrall of her gaze.
In one shaking sweep of motion, her hands tightened on the copper tub and she pulled herself from the water. She didn’t even try to cover herself but stood fiercely, her defined and lean muscles tense. She was most definitely accustomed to being naked before men. But from the anger and apprehension crackling from her, she despised every moment of it.
He should have left. Immediately. He was not one to force his company on women, especially vulnerable ones.
But nothing could make him leave, not even if the building were burning to ash around him, not when he had to know who she was and why she was here. And he did need to know. The very demand echoed in his bones.
Water sluiced her small frame and he winced at the austerity of her body. Damnation, but she hadn’t been eating enough. Delicate was one thing. . . This was emaciation and then there was the chartreuse, telltale signs of healing bruises on her forearms and ribs.
The sight filled him with anger so intense he had to close his eyes briefly and force the fury to still so that he wouldn’t frighten her.
She vaulted out of the tub and darted towards the fire.
It took him only moments to realize she was going for the poker. But before she could reach it, her bare, wet feet slipped on the marble before the grate and she plummeted forward, arms flailing as she desperately tried to catch herself.
Edward sprang across the room. His arms circled her just as her head narrowly missed the iron grating that would no doubt have left her severely unconscious or dead.
The warm water soaking her body dampened his shirt, and he could barely get a good hold on her sleek skin. He held her carefully with his hands pressed into her back, taking all her weight though her toes still skimmed the ground. She kept her hands folded protectively over her chest, not daring to touch him.
Her violet eyes widened, wounded and old for a woman of her years. “Are you going to hurt me?”
Her pulse thudded wildly, tangible beneath his fingertips. The very essence of her face that of a doe right before the hunters moved in for the final kill.
The muscles along her neck strained as she attempted to keep her head up. Before she could protest, he slid one of his hands up to her nape and cupped it carefully.
Two warring emotions brewed riotously within him. Sadness that her life had been so bleak and a sudden spark of hope. . . Perhaps she was the one who could shake him from his darkness. The one who could finally see justice done.
“No,” he whispered, his voice rough to his own ears. “No harm will come to you by me. By anyone. Not now, not ever again.”
*** *** ***
The books towered all around her. Hundreds of them. Mary stared in awe at the beautifully leather bound copies of more novels than she could ever have imagined stacked carefully on the mahogany shelves. This was twice the size of her father’s library.
Several titles jumped out at her, Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserable, Tom Jones, Wuthering Heights, Villette. . .
How long had it been since she had slipped a book into her hands and vanished into a story? Years. So many years and stories lost. Hesitating, her fingers curled into her palms, aching to touch them, but unsure if she should.
She’d almost not left her room, but after being locked away for so long, her new relative freedom couldn’t be denied. Slipping down Edward’s wide stairs had been thrilling and the first room she’d found had been this one.
She took a step forward, her slippers sliding over the deep red and cream Turkish carpet. The long hem of Edward’s dark navy dressing gown trailed behind her.
Wearing his clothing hadn’t bothered her as she thought it would. Surprisingly, the lustrous feel of the velvet and silk traced over her skin easily, as carefully as his own touch had done. She hugged it a little closer and glanced to the tall windows.
Though the drapes were all pulled back, exposing London’s dark night, lantern light spilled in over the carpets dancing with the candles flickering from the many candelabras interspersed throughout the library. The lights surrounded her in a soft glow giving the room an ethereal feel of magic and hope.
In this room, she felt so warm, so at ease. . . Well, more at ease. She was still unsure of her position and what Edward truly thought of her and what he might think if he found out the truth.
“Do you enjoy reading?”
She jumped then whipped towards that deep voice.
Edward stood in the door, his shoulder pressed against the frame. His white linen shirt was open slightly at the neck, a careless posture.
It was all so strange. Being free and being here with him. She should have been terrified. But she wasn’t. Not at all. “I do,” she folded her hands tightly before her. “If the book is good.”
He pushed away from the door and took two steps forward, close, but still far away enough to allow her space. She appreciated his effort. She imagined everything he did was rather calculated, even the decision to take only two steps.
*** *** ***
She’d never been to the grave. Now, standing only feet from her mother’s remains, she once again wished tears would come or some rending pain would finally pull her apart. But nothing happened. There was no overpowering, soul-searing moment, only the sound of the wind whistling through the trees.
Edward stared at the crypt for several moments. Then his piercing gaze turned toward her. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you?” She had known he wouldn’t find precisely what he was looking for. There was more, so much more.
He let his attention wander from her to the crypt. “No.”
“Read the names,” she said tightly.
He scanned the words. There was a single beat of silence, before he said, “Mary.”
“Lady Mary Elizabeth, yes.” Her eyes locked on the crypt until they burned.
Only the slightest exhale revealed his shock. “You’re the Duke of Duncliffe’s daughter.”
“I am,” she confirmed flatly.
“I. . . came to your funeral.”
“Did you? How kind.”
He turned to her, his shoulders squared and his gaze snapping with a hundred unspoken questions. “I don’t– I don’t know what to say.”
A mocking smile forced her mouth wide. Even though she knew it was a grimace, the way her lips pulled against her lips, she couldn’t help herself. How she wished they could go back to his townhouse and sit and read. But Edward seemed consumed by the need to know what had nearly destroyed her, as if that might help her somehow. “Imagine my position, then. . . if you don’t know where to begin.”
He shook his dark head, disbelief paling his sun-kissed skin. “What happened?”
*** *** ***
One could never fall if one felt such ecstasy. Mary slipped her hands into his hair, savoring the hot taste of his mouth and the careful touch of his lips. Was this the pleasure of freely giving oneself? With no condition or expectation?
She would never plummet to the hard earth with this feeling of wonder. She would glide free and alive in this kiss. . . In his glorious touch. Mary opened her mouth in a gasp of delight and immediately tasted crushed mint and the hint of red wine.
Without thinking, she pushed herself against him, as if she might climb inside his strong fortress of a body. The full bells of her skirt batted at her legs, the hoop dancing out, but she gave no notice. If anything, she longed to be divested of her garments and feel him.
Freedom was in his touch. The freedom of knowing that she was giving herself because she wished it, not because she had to or had anything to gain but the pleasure of the moment.
Carefully, she lowered a hand to his chest, just over his heart and its solid beat. Gently, she pushed.
He broke the kiss, his breath ragged. “Forgive me.”
Her own breath came at a rapid pace as she let her hand hover over the thin linen covering his hot skin and hard muscle. “As you are always telling me, there is nothing to forgive.”
A slight smile touched his lips and he began to step away, but she grabbed him, her fingers holding tightly to the linen shirt covering his warm body. “There is something. . . I would like to do.”
Stilling under her touch, his dark eyes flashed with desire as they searched carefully over her face. “Whatever you wish.”
Every bit of her urged her to lower her gaze, but she would not be meek. She wanted this.
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AUTHOR INFO: 2011 Golden Heart winner Máire Claremont first fell in love with Mr. Rochester, not Mr. Darcy. Drawn to his dark snark, she longed to find a tortured hero of her own… until she realized the ramifications of Mr. Rochester locking his first wife up in his attic.
Discovering the errors of her ways, Máire now looks for a real-life Darcy and creates deliciously dark heroes on the page. Oh, and she wants everyone to know her name is pronounced Moira. Her parents just had to give her an Irish Gaelic name.