There was a problem sending you an sms. Check your phone number or try again later.
We've sent a link to the Scribd app. If you didn't receive it, try again.
Gentle, rose-scented breezes wafted in through the open windows and French doors of
Oakley Plantation house, filling the spacious rooms with the cooling air of a
midsummer's evening. In a second-story bedroom, the refreshing zephyrs slipped inward
with a silky sibilance of lace panels billowing beyond elegantly adorned velvet draperies.
The swishing of the cloth was no more than a whisper in the hushed stillness, as soft as
the tremulous sigh of the young bride as her new husband raised his lips from hers.
Beneath his warmly admiring regard, her dark lashes slowly lifted, and Jeff Birmingham
found himself immersed in radiant pools of aqua blue.
Raelynn's gaze leisurely followed the path of a slender finger as she traced it down his
sun-bronzed cheek, past a tiny half-
moon scar at the side of his mouth, and then along the boldly chiseled line of his jaw. He
was so handsome, it was easy to imagine an impressionable young maid being instantly
Smiling into the green eyes that sparkled with a shining luster close above her own,
Raelynn brushed the tips of her fingers caressingly across his lips. "Perhaps wehave been
in love all our lives, Jeff, and were only waiting to find each other."
"Then I'm a man immeasurably blessed," he stated huskily. "You were the vision I
glimpsed in my dreams, and though the face and form of my enchantress were but vague
shadows in my mind, I was driven by the hope that if I searched long and hard enough,
one day she would become reality. When I saw you this afternoon, it was as if you had
walked out of my dreams into my life. You're the one I've been yearning for, the sweet
nectar I've been craving. Henceforth, I'm eternally bound to you."
Looping her arms around his neck, Raelynn sighed dreamily. "Little did I foresee when I
slipped from my uncle's grasp that
I'd be dashing into the arms of my future husband only a few blocks away." Her silvery
laughter spiraled upward, melding
with the soft tinkling of crystal prisms that the breezes bestirred in the chandelier above
their heads. "And to think I nearly
split your crown in front of Mrs. Brewster's hat shop."
Jeff's lips twitched with amusement as he recalled the discussion he had been having with
the portly, middle-aged milliner just before he had stepped back in the path of this
winsome beauty. Mrs. Brewster had been fretting about the possibility of him being able
to find a wife who could equal the exquisite loveliness of his sister-in-law, yet scarcely
ten minutes later he had discovered such a one struggling for balance beneath his very
nose. "You have a distinct way of commanding a man's
attention, my dear."
Raelynn giggled at his waggish humor. "I suppose I should apologize for my unseemly
haste, sir, but how was I to know that
a grand gentleman like yourself would be leaving a ladies' hat shop just when I'd be
running past it?" Tilting her head at a coquettish angle, she contemplated him with
playful skepticism. "You don't look the sort to be wearing bonnets, Mr. Birmingham. Or
did you perchance go there to visit with Mrs. Brewster? Isn't she rather old for you?"
"About as old for me as you are young, my dear," Jeff replied with a deep, throaty
chuckle. "If you must know what I was doing in her shop, my winsome little tease, I went
there to buy my sister-in-law a bonnet for her birthday. Had I foreseen
my own wedding ere the evening was done, I'd have found a bonnet of comparable
beauty for you as well."
Raelynn pouted prettily as she smoothed his neatly tied stock. "To be sure, sir, ten and nine is for some the age when spinsterhood begins. So you must agree that I'm not so young."
Jeff's laughter challenged her claim. " 'Tis young when you've just married a man who's
put the better part of thirty and
three behind him this year. I'm sure the gossips will be speculating on which orphanage I
found my child bride in."
She could not understand how a man of his splendid good looks had managed to reach so
mature an age without acquiring
a wife for himself, and siring a goodly number of offspring to boot. A veritable avalanche
of wistful entreaties must have
come from all the awestruck maids in the area. And if he had never yielded to the pleas of
those doe-eyed maidens who yearned to marry him, then surely there had to have been a
mistress or two who doted on him. Perhaps, even now, there
was some sweet young thing he was wont to woo when his manly moods demanded.
"Tell me truly, sir," she begged with a coyly inquisitive smile. "Have you had many loves
in your life? Do you tease me by
saying that I'm the only one you've searched for all these many years?"
Jeff's eyebrows flicked briefly upward as he acknowledged, "In my lengthy quest for the
woman of my dreams, I cannot
deny that I've tested my heart with others, but they never assuaged that unsettled feeling
gnawing at my vitals. I tell you no
lie, madam, when I say that of those maidens I've courted, I favored none with a plea to
be my wife. Whatever enticements inspired me to seek their company were ephemeral, as
fleeting as the morning dew. Indeed, the longer I searched for my
vision, the more resolved I became to remain a bachelor 'til I found her." His mouth
curved slowly in a lopsided grin. "I
never once supposed she'd have to cross the ocean to get to the place where we'd meet."
Raelynn was grateful that the grim residue which had darkened her thoughts after a
disastrous voyage and the death of her mother had been whisked from the forefront of her
mind by the joy and pleasure she was presently experiencing. Her hopes
for a brighter future helped to ease the trauma of losing her last remaining parent. Still,
her life in the past year had been
marked much too often by tragedy for her to feel completely free of it now.
London had certainly seemed a cruel, despicable place to live after accusations of treason
were hurled against her father by some of his less notable peers. Perhaps the ambitions of
those particular viscounts and barons had been at the crux of their malicious attempts to
defame the name of Lord Randall Barrett. Whatever their motives, they had succeeded in
having him arrested, and though he had vehemently denied their allegations, her father
had died in his cell without even being allowed a trial. Following his demise, the crown
had stripped away his wealth and properties, leaving Raelynn and her mother with no
recourse but to seek shelter in a tumbledown cottage on the outskirts of the city. With the
small cache of coins her father had secreted away against a possible reversal of fortune,
they had at least seen their basic needs provided for, but it had been a drab and joyless
existence. They had found little compassion in the hateful slurs and glowers that the
common folk in the area had liberally bestowed upon them.
Now bringing you back...
Does that email address look wrong? Try again with a different email.