Enchanted (Sonnet Books)

Victoria Malvey

Published by Pocket, 1999
ISBN 10: 0671020714 / ISBN 13: 9780671020712
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Synopsis: Lord Crispin Merrick and Amelia Ralston, childhood playmates until Cris left home and headed off to school, meet again ten years later, and the brotherly fondness Cris previously felt for Amelia gives way to emotions that set his heart reeling.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

London, England
July, 1827

Cris stood on the edge of the dance floor and stifled a yawn. After five years in town, the sights that had once awed him merely left him bored.

"Care to join me in cards?"

Cris Merrick turned to see Owen Chambers, Earl of Newbury, standing a step behind him. He'd met Newbury a few times at Oxford and found him to be a likable fellow. Still, the thought of staying any longer at this dull party was more than Cris could bear. "No thank you," Cris declined with a shake of his head. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm about to head off to White's."

"Understandable," Owen murmured. "These affairs get a bit tedious after a while." He tilted his head toward the dance floor. "Do you see the lovely Miss Lockley there with Lord Nowell?"

Cris saw the beauty spinning around the floor. "She's quite attractive," he acknowledged.

"And also quite ambitious. Make no mistake about it, my dear marquess, that sweet thing is in pursuit of a title."

Cris lifted an eyebrow. "Which one of these beauties being paraded before us isn't?"

Owen laughed over the remark, nudging Cris in the side. "For truth, Merrick. So many of these young dandies see all these bits of beautiful flotsam floating around the balls, that they don't bother to look beneath the surface at a one of them."

Cris looked at Owen with a growing sense of respect. The earl was echoing the sentiments Cris himself often felt. "Do you see Lady Havershill over by the refreshments?"

Owen nodded.

Cris leaned closer. "Last season she tried to convince me she was desperately in love with me and couldn't bear to contemplate marriage to anyone else." His lips twitched. "Of course, she was Miss Pensham then. Since her wedding took place a few weeks after her declaration, I can only assume she overcame her devotion with admirable swiftness."

"Quite amazing how that works, isn't it?" Amusement danced in Owen's blue eyes. "Even more interesting is that earlier this evening, the lady in question approached me, intimating that she would not be adverse to seek a relationship with me that was of an intimate nature."

Cris felt his gut tighten, "That poor sot, Havershill. So, it would appear, sadly enough, that even her husband cannot hold her interest."

"Don't feel sorry for that old bastard," Owen said with a shrug. "He's playing pansy with Lady Daveran."

Cris struggled to keep his expression blank. Disgust for the entire matter roiled inside of him. Instead, he said lightly, "It appears to be the newest rage."

"What does? Tasting the flowers?" Owen laughed. "It's hardly new, Merrick. Trust me, I know. My parents were experts at it. If my sister and I didn't look nearly identical, I would swear she had a different sire. By the time of her birth, my dear parents were exploring other interests." Owen brushed back a lock of his blond hair. "Of course, everyone knows that your parents are different, utterly devoted to one another."

"Hmmm." Cris pushed away the swirl of contempt caused by Owen's innocent words. Utterly devoted to one another. That described them perfectly, Cris realized. When he'd first arrived in London, he'd tried to fit into their world, to find a place for himself in their already happy home. Thank God, he'd long since grown out of that naive pursuit. Instead, he now enjoyed the social status afforded him by his rank and wealth. And if the sheen of excitement seemed a little less bright, it was merely because he needed a change of pace. The season would be over in a month, and he was planning on heading up to Scotland for some grouse hunting. Undoubtedly, all he needed was a change of scenery.

"Merrick? Are you still with me?"

Owen's question snapped Cris from his thoughts. "Sorry. I was wool-gathering for a moment."

"So glad to know you find me such a fascinating conversationalist," Owen returned, the humor in his voice softening the statement. "And here I thought I was being absolutely brilliant by pointing out that there seems to be only two choices with marriage."

Again Cris apologized. "Please continue, Owen. To what two choices are you referring?"

"You can either marry with the intention of wandering afterward, which seems perfectly acceptable to me as long as both parties are in agreement, or you can wed the lady of your heart, remaining true to her throughout time."

Cris shook his head. "The first is distasteful and the second too confining. You forgot one option, Chambers."

"That would be?"

One side of Cris's mouth tilted upward. "Why, to never marry at all."

"I didn't forget that option, Merrick, because it isn't one." Owen put his hands on his hips, pushing back his coat. "You know as well as I that with the title comes the responsibility to beget an heir. Remaining a bachelor is not an option for either one of us, I'm afraid."

Cris frowned at the realization that Owen was quite correct. Eventually he would have to marry. "Very well, Chambers. When it is time for me to marry, I shall look for someone who is undemanding, unassuming, and unquestioning in her loyalty to me."

"Lofty expectations. What man wouldn't want the perfect shadow of a wife? Unfortunately, my friend, it will be difficult for you to find such a paragon. Most women are unwilling to be so, shall we say, pliable?" Owen replied.

"Perhaps, but I'll find her." Cris looked around the ballroom, seeing far too easily beneath the veneer of the smiling ladies. "I will indeed."

Owen clasped a hand upon Cris's shoulder. "Then I wish you luck in your quest."

"There's no need to make it sound as if I'm about to embark upon an impossible search," Cris said, shifting away from Owen. "Besides, I'm in no rush." A grin split his face. "Simply because I have no wish to marry one of these doves doesn't mean I don't wish to play with them a bit."

Owen tossed back his head, exploding with laughter, garnering glances from the couples nearby. "Ah, Merrick," Owen wheezed finally, wiping at his eyes, "I feel as if I've found a kindred spirit."

Cris nodded in agreement, before offering, "I'm off to White's now. Would you care to join me?"

Owen accepted readily, glancing toward the main entranceway. "Our indomitable hostess, Lady Hammond, is guarding the exit. I can only assume she had no desire to let anyone escape before it is fashionable. Otherwise people might speculate on the entire affair being a bore."

Cris knew this too was another game played by the members of the ton. Gossip spread through polite society with speed and ferocity. After all, what better way to dispel your own failing than to point out someone else's? He shook his head. "Why don't we head through the gardens. There should be a door in the rear wall through which we can make our escape."

"By Gads, Merrick. My admiration for you continues to grow." He swept out his hand. "You make your way out first, my clever marquess, and I'll follow in a few minutes."

"Fine, though I don't believe your delay is necessary. I doubt if anyone will even notice our departure."

"True, but I prefer not to take the chance of getting caught. Lord, if we were, we might have to stay even longer," Owen finished with a mock shiver.

Cris nodded in agreement, before he began to weave through the throng of people, exiting into the garden. A few couples strolled along the terrace as Cris headed down the steps onto the stone path leading toward the rear of the garden. The strains of the music followed him even as he stepped into the darkness of the night.

"Bloody damn dark out here," Cris murmured to himself, looking at the unlit torches lining the path.

The sounds of the party faded as Cris wound his way through the garden. Suddenly, a muffled scream ripped through the night air, bringing Cris to a halt. The cry cut off abruptly, only to be followed by scuffling noises. Cris peered into the darkness and was able to make out three figures holding a lady in a flowing, white gown.

"What's going on there?" he called out, hurrying toward the group.

"Stand back," one of the men called out. "This is not your concern."

"Damn if it's not!" Cris moved closer. He could almost feel the woman's fear and smell her desperate sense of faint hope. "Unhand the lady."

The man shifted in front of the girl, blocking her with his body. "This is a matter between gentlemen," he said in a gruff voice. "Leave us to our business."

"And leave that poor girl at your mercy?" Cris asked, fury bursting to life within him. Despite the fact that he was woefully outnumbered, he could not abandon the poor lady to the fate that awaited her at the hands of these so-called gentlemen. "Unhand her," Cris ground out again.

The bushes rustled, signaling someone's approach.

Cris could see the leader of the trio straighten to alertness.

"Someone's coming," whispered one of the men.

"Indeed." Frustration resonated in the leader's voice. "Let's be off."

With that bidding, the two men released their hold on their victim, and she shrank away from them, cowering against the door in the garden wall.

With muffled curses, two of the men turned and ran into the thick brush of the garden. The leader paused, pointing a finger at Cris. "You will regret your actions this evening," he rasped. "You have my word...as a gentleman." Then he too faded into the darkness.

The lady buried her face in her hands. "Don't touch me," she cried. "Please leave me alone."

Cris felt helpless to calm the terrified woman. Still, he had to try. "Shhh," he murmured. "I won't hurt you."

"There you are, Merrick." Owen walked into view. "It's so bloody dark out here that I lost my way for a moment. I say, what is going on here?"

Cris kept his attention focused on the weeping girl. "I came upon three men accosting this poor girl."

Owen stepped closer. "Samantha?" he asked, his tone incredulous.

"Owen?" the girl asked, her voice wavering. "Oh Owen, I was so frightened! The men grabbed me and they -- " Cris was stunned when she launched herself into his companion's arms with a final wrenching sob.

Cris looked at the pair as the girl sobbed uncontrollably within Owen's tight embrace. "You know this girl?"

Even the darkness could not hide the fierce light of anger burning in Owen's gaze as he lifted his head to look at Cris. "This is Samantha, my cousin." The words scraped from him, raw and filled with pain. "I don't know what happened here, but I'm going to find out."

Samanatha lifted her head, fear etched across her features. "No, Owen. Please, no. I couldn't bear if anything happened to you."

Owen smoothed his hands down Samantha's back. "Nothing is going to happen to me. I just want to find out who did this to you."

She shook her head. "But you might be hurt trying to find out, Owen. These men are monsters, I tell you. I came out to the garden to look for you...I thought you might be out here getting some air. I had no idea that there were men lurking out here...just waiting to -- " Her voice broke on the last word, sobs overtaking her body once more.

"Oh, Samantha," Owen murmured, gathering her close.

Cris glanced around, all too aware of the darkness surrounding them. He didn't think the three men had left the garden. It seemed as though he could feel the gaze of Samantha's attackers upon him. "Let's be gone from here. My carriage is around front. I shall drop you off at your town house if you'd like."

Owen nodded. "Most appreciated."

The trio left together, hurrying out toward the security of the crowded street.


Owen tossed back his brandy and poured himself another. Cris settled into his chair, waiting until his new friend calmed himself. "Are you certain your cousin is all right?"

Owen slammed his hand down upon the sideboard. "No thanks to me," he ground out. "Those bastards almost got her."

Cris leaned forward, resting his elbows upon the arms of his chair. "What bastards? What's going on, Chambers?"

Owen's gaze narrowed on him, but Cris held steady beneath it. "Can you keep a confidence?"

"Most certainly."

Owen paused again, before finally nodding. He took the seat facing Cris. "Samantha came to live with me last year. Her father, Baron Wickham, had passed away and she had no other relatives. She's not been a bother; she is a delightful girl and a pleasure to have in my home." Owen brushed away his rambling thoughts. "A few weeks ago, my cousin told me that she felt as if someone was always watching her. She said that she had even been followed home from the modiste's. At first I scoffed it off, thinking it was merely Samantha's fanciful imaginings." A bitter sound broke from Owen. "How wrong I was. Last week, I came home early from my club one night. I wasn't quite ready to head inside, so I decided to take a stroll around the grounds. No sooner did I open the gate than I saw three men, dressed all in black with hoods, climbing over the top of my wall. At my shout, they dropped back over to the other side. By the time I got out to the street, they were gone."

Cris frowned as he tried to piece everything together. "What I don't understand is why they didn't rush you. Or why they didn't come at me tonight. It was three against one. Yet, they didn't even try to overtake us."

"I don't know. Perhaps they were startled." Owen shrugged. "It really doesn't matter. All that concerns me is that these monsters have targeted my cousin for some reason. But even I didn't guess to what lengths they would go to capture her. It stunned me to find Samantha had been in their clutches this evening. I thought she was at a different ball with my friends, the Earl and Countess of Rawth, as escort. Ever since the incident at our home, I'd made sure Samantha didn't leave the house unescorted."

"Then how did she find herself at the Hammonds's?"

Owen thrust to his feet, pushing his hands into his pockets. "She decided to meet me at the Hammonds's affair. Her escort left her in the care of our hostess, but since Lady Hammond wouldn't leave her post by the entryway, Samantha was free to roam. She searched for me, but apparently couldn't find me in the crush. She was looking for me in the garden when she was grabbed from behind and dragged out into the bushes."

"So, the men must have been following her," Cris concluded. "Why?"

"How the devil do I know!" Owen exploded. "If I knew that, don't you think I'd have stopped them? She's been engaged to Lord Whitten all season and is due to marry him in one week's time, so it's not as if she'd have a thwarted suitor. I can't imagine who would come after Samantha this way."

"Are you going to hire a Bow Street Runner to investigate the matter?"

Owen began to pace in front of the fireplace. "I want to, by damn, but Samantha won't hear of it. She's worried that word will leak that she was accosted, and she knows all too well how the truth can be twisted."

"If Whitten hears of it from the gossips, he'll be enraged." Cris rose, mo...

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Enchanted (Sonnet Books)
Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
Book Condition: Good

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