Release date: March 17
Series: Colors of Scandal #1
Blurb: Surviving the wilds of Cornwall is more life changing than they thought.
Miss Caroline Sloane is on her way to Poughill, Cornwall. In highhanded fashion, her estranged grandfather has arranged a marriage for her to a sea captain she’s met but once, and she wishes to convince him otherwise. She’ll marry for love or not at all, but an accident with the crowded mail coach on which she’s traveling throws her existence into chaos.
Alan Blackmore, the Earl of St. Clair, has been summoned to his Devon estate by his ducal father. His engagement, designed by the duke years ago, has now come due and he must wed to merge holdings. The last thing he wants is a leg-shackling, for he enjoys his life of a rake too much, and he means to tell his father off, but one dark, rainy night on mud-slick roads changes his course forever.
Lost and injured in windswept and rugged Cornwall, the first order of business is survival. As their wounds heal, Caroline and Alan come to know each other while living a simple, uncomplicated life. A friendship of necessity slowly grows into something passionate and scandalous, but when reality returns to rescue them, they both must decide what is more important: duty, tradition, or an unexpected love.
Caroline watched him. What would become of him when they were rescued and forced to separate? Her chest tightened with a pain akin to the loss of a loved one. I can’t contemplate that now. Loath to leave him to mundane tasks, she asked, “What was your dream for your life when you were a child?”
A delighted grin curved his mouth, which drew her attention to it. “When I was ten, I desperately wished to become a pirate. To sail the seas, ferret out treasure, and charm the ladies.” His chuckle reverberated through the small room. “Mostly, though, I wanted the freedom to sail where the wind took me. To explore, to listen to people who are different from me.” Then his grin slowly faded. “In many ways, that experience would have done me more good in handling my responsibilities now than what I spent my life on.”
“It’s not too late. Use that dream—that determination—to help you as you put your estate in order. Noble superiority won’t bring you where you need to go.” She nodded in encouragement. “The people will listen to you if you wish to understand their viewpoints.”
“How can you know that?”
“I believe in you.” It was the truth and as deep as she wanted to go for fear of showing her budding emotions.
“You are a gem.” Alan gawked at her. “What if I’m an utter failure? I’ve never tried my hand at being responsible for anyone except myself.”
“Then try again differently tomorrow. Eventually, you find the knack.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t trying and failing better than never doing anything at all?”
He nodded. “I suppose.” For long moments, he studied her. “What did you dream of as a little girl?”
“Nothing as grand as you, I’m afraid.” Caroline shot him a tiny smile. “I wanted the kind of love my parents shared. My father left his birthright for that love. He put my mother above his duty.” She glanced at him. “One has to be incredibly lucky for that kind of romance; that is something I don’t have.”
“Neither do I,” he said in a soft voice.”
Yet here they both were, survivors of a horrific accident. “I was incredibly fond of music. I wanted to play the pianoforte. We were too poor for any of that.”
“Perhaps the future will present you with that chance.”
“I can hope.” Her chin trembled, for they both knew it was unlikely to happen. “Beyond that, I don’t want to be forgotten. How sad if no one will ever remember me.” Tears filled her eyes. She blinked them away, for they were silly. “I want to make a difference in someone’s life. And…” One stupid drop fell anyway. “…I won’t know if I’ve done that because who would tell me?”
“Ah, Caroline.” Alan surprised her when he swiftly stood, closed the distance between them, his limp barely noticeable. Then he held her face between his palms and gently pressed his lips to her forehead. The heat of his hands warmed her skin. “You already have made a difference. In my life. And you can be damned certain I’ll never forget you.”
Her heart pounded so loudly she feared he could hear as their gazes locked, so close their breath intermingled. His eyes darkened. Trembles played down her spine. “Alan…” She dropped her focus to his mouth. Would he kiss her? Drat, she shouldn’t wish for that, for nothing could come of it. Still, she’d never been kissed in all her nine and twenty years.
Why shouldn’t her first come from this man who shared this incredibly poignant time with her, so that she wouldn’t be such a novice when she wed?
“Botheration.” He tore himself away, mumbled a few unintelligible words, and then left the cottage without his crutch or another word.
Caroline stared after him as cold confusion engulfed her, and his words ringing in her ears.
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