Never Say Never (The American Beauties Series, 3)

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9780671024222: Never Say Never (The American Beauties Series, 3)
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In Never Before and Never Again, award-winning author Jo-Ann Power evoked the drama and elegance of the Gilded Age with wonderful romances of American heiresses Victorian England would never forget. Now, in a tale as lavish as the age itself, she portrays the last and youngest of these ladies -- as beautiful as they are spirited, as enchanting as they are wealthy...the American Beauties.

Augusta VanderHorn knows too much about scandal. As the younger sister of the infamous American beauty, Colleen VanderHorn, who wed British Lord Bryce Falconer, and was divorced for adultery, it's been hard for Gus to avoid the taint. Now she is embroiled in scandal herself, for Colleen has kidnapped her own child from his father, to hold him for ransom to support her latest lover. Gus knows it's vital to help find her nephew, but she harbors a secret reason for wanting to assist in the search. Gus is in love with the man her sister married. For Bryce, she'll do anything, even risk her reputation -- and her heart -- by traveling at his side on a quest to rescue his child.

Bryce Falconer is a man driven by two passions -- the love of his adored son, and the hatred of the wife who left him for a string of lovers. But thrown together with his young ex-sister-in-law in desperate pursuit of his missing child, Bryce is discovering a new passion. Little Augusta, who was once his dearest friend, has become an alluring woman whose sensual beauty sends him reeling. At long last, Bryce is learning what a miracle true love between a man and woman can really be...from the only woman whom God and English law forbid him to ever love.

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About the Author:

Jo-Ann Power now calls herself a Texan!

While anyone in that state will quickly tell you it is the best place on earth, Jo-Ann -- who hails from the east coast -- took her time to agree. Oh, maybe five minutes or so.

Now, to show just how much she likes her new home, she takes readers on a trip with her heroine in Never Say Never, from Ireland and England to New York and Kansas, and finally to a small town in the Texas hill country, Boerne. There she re-creates Boerne just as the town records show it was in the summer of 1880: bands, ice cream, hotel, stage coach, and all!

So know while you read this, she's learning how to become an even better Texan. Yep, you guessed it -- she's learning how to ride Western saddle and adding more jalapenos to her chili recipe!

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

"I like...[American women] because they are original and bring a little fresh air into Society. They are livelier, better educated and less hampered by etiquette...they are not as squeamish as their English sisters and...better able to take care of themselves."
-- Edward, "Bertie," Prince of Wales

February 1880
London, England

I'll abduct her.

If she won't help me, I'll force her.

Bryce Falconer smiled sardonically. But the injustice of kidnapping this innocent woman made him curse.

He flipped up the collar of his greatcoat against the winter storm that had dogged him south from his home for the past three hours. He could have arrived in London before this damned dinner party started if it hadn't been for the sleet.

Yet, now that he had arrived at Forsythe House, he became frozen in place. An ice man, standing in a barren garden, staring at the only person in the world who could help him.

And what was Augusta VanderHorn doing as his world was battered by a crime as ugly as the storm around him?

Bryce rubbed a gloved finger beneath his eyepatch and studied her.

Gussie was doing what she usually did. Chuckling. Tonight she did it with her friends -- and his -- Ann and Rhys Kendall and Raine and Gavin Sutherland. Gussie was bubbling over some matter. Typical of her to do that, to carry on in her own inimitable way, creating a life -- and an identity distinct and apart from her sister, Colleen. Dodging the demands of her mama to marry as nobly and quickly as her notorious sibling. Living down the scandals Colleen created and tarred her with. Joking often. As she was now, and in the bargain, charming the starch out of one more English man.

The trilling sound of her voice permeated the panes of glass in the garden doors. The delicacy of it rushed through Bryce, warming him like brandy. Boiling his blood.

Damn Colleen! She destroyed his enjoyment of everyone. With this new outrage, she could ruin the best friendship he'd ever enjoyed with a woman. Despite the fact that the very female was his former sister-in-law.

Bryce marched toward the kitchen entrance. He hoped to God none of the servants was using the back stairs. He'd scare the hell out of them, breaking in like a thief.

He'd do it anyway. He did not want to go in the front doors and confront the Kendalls and the Sutherlands with their questions. He needed to talk to Gussie only. Alone.

He pushed in the door and stood a moment inside the threshold. Shivering as the heat of the house chafed his face, he listened for sounds. No servants were on the stairs. No music came from the drawing room. Doors slid open. Voices drifted as people bid each other good-night.

Bryce took the stairs two at a time up to the second story where the bedrooms were. He knew where Gussie's was. He had been there before when the suite had belonged to Colleen, before she and he were married...and his life became a daily nightmare.

Five years ago, he had entered this way three times. He had proposed to her, she had accepted, they'd set a date for their wedding -- and he could not wait to have his future bride. Colleen was more than cooperative; she encouraged him. She would ensure the lock was off this same door and he would enter at precisely one o'clock, stealthy as a tomcat, up the curving staircase, to her suite on the second floor. There on her chaise longue, she allowed him liberties that whet his appetite for all of her. By his third visit, he had put her to her bed and satisfied himself -- and her, too, and despite his precautions, he had planted the seed for his son and heir, Bradford. Establishing a greater need for their hasty marriage than his madness to possess Colleen. Inviting a she-devil into his heart and home only to make a mockery of love and marriage and now, even motherhood.

Tonight, Bryce had come intending to enter the front door of Forsythe House. He'd wanted to be polite, to ask to see Gussie, to be rational about this matter. Skip Brighton, who rented the house and who was Gussie's guardian in England these past five years, would let him in. Skip and Bryce had been fast friends and business partners for more than seven years.

But when Bryce's coachman had stopped before Fifteen Belgrave Square, Bryce had peered through the tall drawing room windows and had not seen Skip among the six who laughed together. Nor did Bryce find Ellen Newton, the duenna whom Skip had hired to chaperone Gussie. Bryce had seen only Gussie with the Kendalls and the Sutherlands. Bryce also noticed the other man. The one Gussie flirted with. The one whose hand lingered so long at the small of her back.

Who was he? Why did the man merit an invitation to a little dinner with Gussie's nearest and dearest friends?

Bryce let himself inside her bedroom and paused in the flickering gaslight, shrouded in a fresh misery. Was she finally interested enough in some man to ask him to a small at-home?

The picture of Augusta VanderHorn naked across some man's bed flashed into his head. It startled him.

Even more surprising, it saddened him.

Hell, what was wrong with him? He always knew the day would come when she would marry and become less available to him. Less inclined to see him on a minute's notice.

No matter. She would see him tonight.

He swept off his top hat, upending it on her cluttered reading table. He tugged off his gloves and dropped them in his hat. Removing his greatcoat and careful not to shake the sleet from it over the nearby standing camera, he spread it over the wing chair before her fire. Like her friend Ann, Gussie appreciated warmth and always requested strong fires to receive her.

But the flames that began to heat his body were doused by the chill of what he saw on her mantel.

A dozen or more photographs of Ford graced the ochre-veined marble. In gilt frames or silver, square or oval, big or small, stood the cherubic face and form of his darling boy. Some of these pictures Bryce had himself. Gussie had given duplicates to him as soon as she took one which passed her standards for excellence. But her collection included the ones which were too under- or overexposed. The ones which were blurred with the movement of a baby, a toddler, a three-year-old who could not sit still to wait upon the foibles of a camera which took too long to capture an indelible image.

Tears at Ford's loss choked him. He turned away. He could not gaze at these!

He spied an overstuffed chair in Gussie's bedroom beyond this sitting room. He would wait there. Where he could not see the photographs of his son. Where he could see the bed in which his boy was conceived -- and where he himself had lost his mind and his soul to a woman who was not worthy of any sacrifice. It was hell's own irony that he would sit here tonight, where he could gird himself to view Augusta VanderHorn, not as his friend, not as his confidante, not as his ex-sister-in-law, but as the only person who knew where that bitch Colleen had taken the one person he loved in this world.

His son.


Gus cocked a brow at Ann Kendall and Raine Sutherland. They were donning their coats to go to their respective homes with their husbands. The two men stood by the front door, discussing a topic of their own interest. "Don't keep me waiting until lunch tomorrow. Tell me now what you think of Lionel."

Ann's expression went deadpan. "Do I detect anxiety?"

Raine glanced at the hem of Gus's dinner gown. "That sound we hear of drilling in the floor? She's tappin' her foot, sugar."

"Mmm," Ann mused. "Let's leave before the floor caves in."

Gus was grinding her teeth. "If you don't tell me right now what you think of Lionel Eldridge, I will spit."

Ann feigned shock and looked at her cousin Raine. "Thank God there are no reporters here to put that in the gossip columns, Raine. Why we'd be lambasted again as those gauche American 'gels' who -- "

"Ann," Gus was insisting, "be quick about this!"

Ann glanced at Raine, her tone matching her imposing title of the Duchess of Carlton and Dundalk. "Darling, were we cold?"

Raine flattened a palm to her chest. "Why, I do declare, warm as butter over flapjacks."

"I'm going to warm your ears in a minute, if you don't tell me -- "

Ann grinned. "He's certainly qualified to become the husband of the most eligible American heiress in London this season."

"Comme ci, comme ça," Raine reflected. "He's got a strong chin, sweet chocolate eyes and -- "

"Raine!"

"A few other assets." Raine checked Ann's gaze. "Shall we?"

"First," Ann raised her hand and one finger, "and most important to your mama -- "

Gus relaxed. This was their routine the three of them called the Tally, their analysis of all potential suitors who crossed their paths. Ann, Raine, and Gus had perfected the repertoire for Gus. Heaven knew, Gus had been approached by many an eager bachelor from the Isle of Wight to the tip of the Highlands since she'd debuted here in London two years ago. She had no illusions about her appeal. Her looks were more perky than pretty. Her dowry, more alluring than the infamy by which her sister shamed her. Augusta Roberta VanderHorn was the last of the four famed American Beauties yet to be married. Ann Brighton had married Rhys Kendall, the sixteenth Duke of Carlton and Dundalk. Raine had found the love of her life in famed novelist and member of Parliament Gavin Sutherland. Gus's sister, Colleen, had married the twelfth Earl of Aldersworth, Bryce Edward Falconer, borne his son and then was divorced by him for adultery.

Raine nodded. "Lionel has a grand title."

Ann elaborated, "The Viscount Gormsley."

"Second, he is heir to his daddy's marquessate." Raine stuck up a second finger. "Your mama likes titles and land."

"Third," Ann said, "there is the matter of his money."

"Of which," Gus declared, "there is a considerable amount."

Ann arranged her hood over her rosewood curls. "So we can assume Lionel is not pursuing you for your fortune."

Raine's sapphire eyes flashed with the perceptiveness which made her invaluable to her husband's political career. "Sugar, we can safely say after looking at Lionel tonight that he sees beyond the blinding light of the five hundred thousand greenbacks Gus's papa has set aside for her groom."

"Imagine," Ann urged, "how much the interest alone is."

"Do you think" -- Gus moved marginally closer -- "he cares for me alone?"

Ann's hazel eyes shimmered with concern. "What does your instinct say, honey?"

"I think Lionel is right for me, more so than any of the others I've liked."

"Of which" -- Raine made a circle with her thumb and forefinger -- "there have been none."

Rhys and Gavin approached and each claimed his wife.

"Are we done with the Tally?" Rhys asked as he turned his wife in his arms and secured her cape more firmly around her throat and face.

"You knew about it?" Gus was laughing.

Gavin draped an arm around Raine and hugged her to his side. "Sweetie, we've been in this family too long not to notice." That Gavin used the term family had them all grinning at each other. Gavin continued, "So? What's the analysis? Does Lionel win the day -- and the lovely damsel?"

Raine kissed her husband on his cheek. "He gets a high score. What do you and Rhys think? Shall we allow the man inside the gates?"

Rhys gazed down at his wife. "Your father likes him. Gives him a sound financial rating."

"Ah," Ann proclaimed, "my father's prime stamp of approval."

"Well," Gus concluded, "we know he'll tell Daddy. I do want to marry for all the right reasons." She wiggled her brows.

"We'll talk more tomorrow over luncheon about those," Ann promised. "Come early and we'll take the afternoon to dissect Lionel's character completely."

"And exhume any Eldridge family skeletons," Raine added.

"Yes. Before Mama arrives in May," Gus vowed, "I have got to be prepared for her. This year, she'll launch a full-scale attack to get me off the market."

When Veronica VanderHorn had arrived in London last May to open her younger daughter's second season, the woman had insisted that Gus accept a man's proposal before June was out. Gus, she declared, was becoming more than a spinster. She was becoming a subject of speculation. Therefore, she must marry soon to show that she had none of the deleterious qualities her sister Colleen exhibited.

Gus had obliged her mother by promptly receiving two proposals of marriage. She accepted neither. Her mother had sailed for New York July first in a huff, threatening to cut Gus's allowance, confiscate her shares in her father's companies, and make her return to New York. Gus's father had saved the day by refusing to follow his wife's edicts. He did, however, notify Gus that she was to affiance herself to someone this spring -- or find her mother in permanent residence in London until she did take a husband. The possibility that Gus might have to endure living with her mother day in and out motivated Gus to find at least one suitable candidate for wedded bliss. Only Lionel Eldridge had emerged from the pack with his ever ready smile as his drawing card.

"Don't worry, honey," Raine soothed her, "we're going to help you."

Gus puckered her lips. If you really want to do that, you could help me remain single.

"Unfortunately," Ann said as if she had read Gus's mind, "opening your own fencing academy -- "

"Or photography studio -- " Raine interjected.

"Is not on your mama's list of acceptable pastimes," Ann concluded, as she tugged on her gloves. "Come tomorrow with your own list of reasons why Lionel is the right man."

"And that list," Raine continued, "should be short."

"Very," Ann insisted. "There is one reason only to marry him."

Do you love him?

Gus could. If she put her mind to it. She would begin tonight, before Ann and Raine raided it tomorrow.

She shooed them toward the door. "Go home, the four of you." She kissed them each good-night. Simpson, the butler, who had stood by during all this like a wooden statue, forbore Gus's intrusion on his duties. He locked the doors with a snick of the top and bottom rods, then a flick of the key.

By the time Gus heard the clink as he deposited it in the silver bowl atop the reception table, she was climbing the stairs. She had enjoyed the evening, but she had fretted the entire time. A week ago, Colleen had promised to come here tomorrow morning to visit. But a note from her, delivered by regular post in this afternoon's delivery, said she wouldn't arrive. Changes in plans were a normal occurrence for Gus's sister. Especially when Colleen was in the throes of an affair with a man.

Gus thrust open her door and sighed, sinking against it as it clicked in the lock. She removed her earbobs and reached around to undo two of the covered buttons of her dinner gown. The silk slid through her fingers like water and th...

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