Available September 15, 2015
With the death of her beloved father, Meghan Moresworth’s sheltered life collapses into hell, when she is forced into marriage and abuse. She finally escapes to find safety and unexpected passion in the arms of Galen Thorne. She grows to love the man who thinks she’s a runaway servant and fears her deep, dark secrets will destroy them both.
Galen never expected to discover that the little waif he rescued would turn into a woman who could tempt him to the breaking point…and steal his heart. When the secrets of Meghan’s past are revealed, will Galen keep her as his own, or is she destined for the gallows?
Sharp, hard, piercing.
Meghan tried to draw in a deep breath, but the searing knife jabbing her side refused to allow it.
Cold. Yet she perspired. The uncontrollable shivering caused every muscle in her body to scream.
She must decide what to do. Where to go. How to escape Alfred’s wrath.
She was alive.
He had sworn to kill her this time.
Memories assailed her.
No! No, it must be a nightmare.
When she was able to control her labored breaths once again, she fought to take in her surroundings. Wood smoke. Warmth. Soft, clean quilt. There were no clean quilts in the pit. There was no warmth, either. She smelled nothing to remind her of damp earth or mildew.
Slowly, carefully, she raised her eyelids. Pain spiked in her brain. She slammed her lids shut, waiting for the agony to ease before trying again.
As she opened her eyes just enough to peek out, confusion engulfed her. A canopy over the bed. Not her bed. Softer than her bed. Bigger than her bed. A feather mattress? No, that could not be. The only feather mattress in Moresworth Hall was Alfred’s.
She turned her head by tiny degrees, the aching in her muscles screaming for her not to move, she looked over the walls. Rich, fine tapestries. Definitely not Moresworth Hall. Alfred had sold all her tapestries two years ago.
“My little dove is awake.”
With a yelp and strength dredged from the bottom of her soul, Meghan dove off the side of the bed, covering her head, curling into the tiniest ball she could, and waited.
Waited for the beating to commence. Waited as all the other pain in her body expanded with each heartbeat.
Barely able to draw breath, she surmised she had broken ribs, at least two, possibly three. If he kicked her now, he may get his wish and she would die.
Footsteps approached. She scrunched tighter, trying to shield her already broken bones.
“Ah, sweet.” Galen’s heart tripped with pity for the tiny creature, her perfect round bottom sticking up in the air as she huddled on the floor. Kneeling next to her, he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her body tensed even more under his touch. “Little one,” he whispered. “You are safe here. I shall not hurt you.”
Her body shook as she gasped, “Please do not… I cannot…cannot take more this day.”
“No one in my home shall harm you, little one. You are safe.” He eased his hand down her back, gently stroking her as if she were a wild, frightened, injured animal. “I promise.” He continued to stroke her back and cool, silky hair as he murmured reassuring words. The moment his voice had moved through her terror, her body slowly began to relax. The tension that tightened her muscles eased.
“That is it, my little dove.” Slowly he slid his arms around her, careful of her ribs, and lifted her quivering body onto the bed, tucking her beneath the warm quilt. “That is it,” he repeated. Sitting down next to her, he brushed long strands of hair away from her bruised cheeks and forehead.
She squeezed her eyes tight, her bottom lip tucked between her teeth. He did not know if she fought against pain or fear, and his heart tumbled. “Can you speak, little one?”
After a moment, she whispered, “I am not a child.”
Tension eased inside Galen. “I noticed.”
As the pain slowly subsided to an almost bearable throbbing, Meghan finally opened her eyes. Sparkling golden brown eyes watched her. More stress eased within her. This man was not Alfred, nor was he any other man known to Moresworth. The straight, lean lines of his face were marred only by the dark shadow of whiskers and one small scar bisecting his left eyebrow. Her fear slipped a notch as she stared at the slow smile forming on firm lips and the slight dimple that appeared in his right cheek.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Galen Thorne, Earl of Metetsa, Wethershire and Corniline. You are in my home, Thorne Hall. As long as you are here, you are under my care and protection. What might your name be?”
His voice was a low rumble that vibrated to her very soul, soothing her. But she did not know how to answer. What should she to tell him?
Days of memories flooded her mind, and she shut her eyes to hold them back, unable to relive them yet.
“Your name? It’s but a simple question.”
“Meghan,” she answered softly.
She opened her eyes, trying to calm her mind, to dispel images she did not have the strength to face just yet. “Aye, simply Meghan.”
“Where do you come from, Simply Meghan?” The dimple in his cheek grew, and his eyes sparkled with what seemed to be humor, though it had been forever since she last saw a man who held any humor in himself.
She doubted he would be so pleasant if he knew the truth.
Slowly shaking her head, she could not tell him. She would not.
“Are you fearful I may send you back?”
“Aye,” she answered truthfully.
“Was it your master who did this to you?”
“Aye.” It was only a partial lie.
“The law states that I must return you to your master,” he said as he crossed his arms over his extremely wide chest.
Meghan realized he thought her to be a servant or slave. Perhaps she stood a chance of survival if this man never learned the truth. Once she was well, she could leave here and get further away from Moresworth and the horrors that had played out there.
“Please, my lord, do not send me back. It would surely mean my death.” She spoke the truth, though he would assume the death would be punishment by her master, not the King’s law to punish a murderess.
Straight white teeth flashed at her as he smiled. “And what, little Meghan, will be my benefit for harboring a fugitive?”
When he reached out to touch her, she jerked away, causing another wave of pain to crash over her. “Do not touch me,” she hissed with a combination of agony, fear and despair.
He frowned, though he did not seem angry. “My little dove has sharp talons to wound my heart. I but wish to feel the softness of your hair between my fingers once again.”
She blinked at him and pushed her hair behind her shoulders with her right hand—her left was bandaged to the elbow and ached like the very devil. “Again?”
A midnight black eyebrow arched at her as he once again folded his arms over his massive chest. “Do you remember how you came to be here?”
Searching her mottled memory, she could remember nothing of this man before she awoke here, in this soft, warm, fresh-smelling bed. “I do not know.”
“You nearly drowned in the lake. If I had not been there, you would have.” He had a truly beautiful smile for a man, the dimple playing hide-and-seek. “I carried you here and removed your clothing myself. Until I saw your body with my own eyes, I thought you a child.”
Meghan’s face heated when she realized what he meant. He laughed deep and loud, startling her. Not since her father passed had she heard the deep timbre of a man’s mirth. The sound brought aching, bittersweet memories to her mind and filled her with a longing she had suppressed for years.
“I do believe that under those bruises you are blushing as if you were a maiden. I wager you are a beauty when you are not covered in black and blue.”
Meghan had no idea if she were a beauty or not. No one, save her own father, had ever told her so. She had been called many other things, though. Feeble. Runt. Pale. Of her maidenhood, though, she was positive. Though she had been married to Alfred Stratton for over three years, never once had he bedded her. Her initiation to marriage had been a sound lashing, followed by three days in the punishment pit. Never a matrimonial bed.
She had heard rumors that he was not fully a man, which was why he had never taken her maidenhead. Whatever the reason, she was grateful. Her maidenhead was the only proof that her marriage to Alfred had been a farce. It was her only hope of an annulment, her only hope of reclaiming her father’s land and acquiring a husband who would not torture her. Her virginity would save her life.
Her eyes shut again on the memory of seeing Alfred sprawled on the ground, blood oozing from the side of his head. Even my virginity cannot save me now. Meghan pulled the covers up to her neck as the images sent chills shivering up her spine.
“Modesty is a virtue, though I fear you take it too far,” Galen said, amusement in his light tone. “You will not do well among my wenches.”
“You mean to keep me, then?”
“Aye, I shall keep you.” He stood then, placing his hands on his hips. He was a giant. She had thought Alfred was tall, yet this man was at least a half-head taller. The muscles that rippled beneath the tanned skin of his arms fascinated her. And his bared legs, the mass of them! His thigh looked as if it were thicker than her waist. No excess or rolls on this body, only hard strength.
Fear rippled through her, along with some other emotions she could not quite define.
“You will heal before you are expected to work.” He let out a soft chuckle. “Or perhaps I will simply keep you hidden away in here for my pleasure alone.”
She turned her face away from him, too aware that she had been staring at his body.
“Little dove,” he said softly. “You will never feel pain from my hands. This I swear to you.
“Ah, such a shy little thing,” he continued, his lips curling in a teasing grin that confused her. It made her leery, yet at the same time ignited some strange flitting emotion inside of her. “No need to blush. One day when you are no longer in pain, I shall teach you all the pleasures between man and woman.”
When his arrogant words penetrated her mind, she wanted to scream. She did not want him to touch her. And she surely did not want to join his group of wenches.
As Galen moved toward the door, he said to her, “Rest and heal, little dove.” He sent her another smile before he left the room, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Meghan gasped. “He will never touch this body.” Easing herself into the luxurious down mattress, she ached from head to toe and wished for the store of medicine she had left at Moresworth.