“I will not be a wife in name only.”
Rian Connor’s proposal of marriage should have been the happiest moment of Catherine Davenport’s life. He is her savior, her tutor in the ways of flirtation, the man she wants for her lover. But two impediments bar the way: the vicious assault that may have ruined her ability to enjoy any man’s touch; and the vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to win back Rian’s affection.
“There can be no turning back once you have given yourself to me.”
One exquisite night of completely mutual pleasure proves to Catherine that with Rian, the physical side of their union will bring only joy. But even her new husband cannot protect her from the diabolical scheming of his former mistress. Delivered into the hands of the madman who once delighted in tormenting her, Catherine is swept back to the place where it all began. And this time, the price could be her future with the man she is finally free to love . . .
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Rian looked at the almost full bottle of brandy he had carried with him to his bed chamber and seriously considered finishing it off, but the numbing effect would be a temporary salve at best. With a sigh he set the bottle on the dresser and began undressing, cursing his own stupidity as he did so. What on earth had possessed him to ask Catherine to marry him? Not that he didn’t want to wed her, but the informality of his manner made the offer seem…disreputable, somehow.
What had he been thinking?
He hadn’t and that was the problem. He’d simply blurted out what he was feeling, which was his desire to spend the rest of his life with her. Rian had only ever proposed once before, and that had been a lifetime ago when youthful exuberance could easily be excused for a breach of etiquette. But he had no such excuse now. He was a grown man who really ought to know how to propose marriage to a woman without it sounding so off-the-cuff.
I’m thinking about making an offer for that rather fine stallion Lord Wobbleychops is willing to part with, and if you have no other pressing engagement would you consent to be my wife afterwards?
The problem was he couldn’t think clearly when he was around Catherine.
The problem was he loved Catherine.
The problem was he was in love with Catherine.
But none of that made any difference now. Her reaction had spoken volumes, shattering any hope he may have held of sharing a life with her. The sudden awkwardness that rose between them, and the fact that she refused to look at him, could not have made her answer more clear.
Her request that he ask again in the morning was an obvious ploy. It would give her time to fabricate a refusal that would not cut him to the quick. One that would spare his pride. Although she was, most likely, hoping he had enough brains not to ask again.
“Damn it all to hell, but you’re an absolute ass!” he declared, berating his reflection in the mirror.
He was behaving like a lovesick swain when he was older than Catherine by a decade at least, and ought to know better. Well, he had told himself that if she wanted no part of him then, he would hear it from her own lips, and Liam could not fault him for his listening skills this time.
In the morning he would tell Catherine that it was not too late for a future with Lord Edward Barclay. It didn’t matter that she was not in love with him. The young man with the fiery red hair was still in love with her, and that could be enough for both of them. She had admitted she still cared for her childhood friend, and always would. Marriages had been built on far less. And if anyone could help the young man find the strength to stand up to his formidable mother, it would be Catherine.
The decision made, Rian did his best to ignore the hollow ache in his chest. The grief of loss was already starting to suffuse him. Turning around, he gasped, the breath caught in his throat as Catherine took a step toward him.