Locked away by her reclusive and intensely protective father, the recently deceased “Mad Lord of Northumberland,” Melissa is beautiful and educated but painfully naïve about the real world—and the dark secrets of her birth. Now in the care of her uncle, the Earl of Braddock, she must prepare to enter London society and find a proper husband, a task that grows complicated when she falls for the one man she can never have. Just as a promising new life begins to eclipse her tragic past, she’ll find herself consumed by a forbidden love that could destroy it all…
Praise for the novels of Jane Goodger
“Gentle humor, witty banter, and attractive characters.” —Library Journal on Marry Christmas
“A touching, compassionate, passion-filled romance.” —Romantic Times on A Christmas Waltz
The man stood, his black cape whipping around him in the cold, blustering wind, and stared at the grave of the only woman he had ever loved. The monument held a winged angel looking down solemnly at him, as if feeling the very pain that squeezed his heart. He stared at the words BELOVED WIFE and his stomach clenched; bile threatened to flood his throat. Behind him sat a stone manor house, empty and as cold as the North Sea that stretched endlessly before him.
He bent, and with a long elegant finger, traced her name, the carved granite icy to the touch. It had been years since her death, years of suffering her loss, of wondering why she’d left him when he’d loved her so. He would never forget the terror, the madness of searching for her, running from room to room in his massive manor house, only to finally realize she was gone.
God, how he had loved her. And yet . . . she’d left him alone, without a word, without a single sign she had loved him in return. He’d told her more than
once it didn’t matter that he had a wife and children; it mattered only that they loved one another. But she left in the middle of the night as if the hounds of hell were chasing her, left him to suffer silently, as his heart hardened. Christina. Beautiful, lovely Christina, who had told him she’d hated him. But he knew better.
It took him years to find her, and when he did, it was only to discover she’d married another. Spread her legs, allowed another to touch her, to plant a seed inside her. The thought that she’d pushed out another man’s child nearly drove him past the edge of sanity. He pictured that madman, rutting between her legs, grunting like the pig he was.
Years and years ago she’d died, been buried in this cold ground, but he’d been unable to come until now. Beside her tomb was a freshly dug grave with a simple marker where her husband had been laid not five months ago.
The usurper was dead, and now the house and the land where his love was buried could be his.
Even if he could only have her cold bones, the home she’d lived in, the walls she’d touched, the floors she’d tread upon, it would be enough. It was all he had, after all.
Behind him, the agent cleared his throat.
“Are you ready, Your Grace? I do believe you’ll be pleased with the home. It’s quite authentic, you know, though it will require some improvement, I daresay. The views of Bamburgh Castle are quite stunning. Yes, indeed.”
He raised his eyes from the gravestone and stared blindly ahead, feeling a rage grow, which he quickly tempered to mere irritation. He loathed dealing with
lower beings. It made his skin crawl. He was willing to deal with this man only because the agent was the only way to obtain what he so desired.
“Of course, we cannot see the east wing today because of the daughter,” the agent continued. “She is quite terrifyingly fierce about her privacy.
I’ve never actually seen her myself, but . . .”
The man jerked his head and stared at the agent, who stopped abruptly, his mouth open, frozen midsyllable. “She had a child with him? Their daughter is still here?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Her relatives have been contacted, but they’ve yet to arrive to remove her. Apparently, she’s refused to leave.”
A slow smile spread across the man’s face, and the agent gave him an uncertain smile in return. A daughter. A living, breathing piece of Christina just a few dozen yards from where he stood. He looked toward the manor as if he might see her, peeking through the curtains, a shy little girl just like her mother. Sweet. Innocent. Did she have Christina’s wispy blond hair? Her blue eyes? Or did she have the drab, dull brown of her father?
Did she smile like Christina? Did she have the same intoxicating scent? Would she sigh when kissed or struggle? . . .
He realized with sudden and joyful insight that he did not only want the house and the land.
He wanted the daughter.