The Groom: Rogan Hunt has no need for a wife. After a stint in prison, he is only concerned with rebuilding the coffers of his estates. But then the Duke of Belvingham makes him an offer only a fool would refuse .
The Bride: Lady Caroline Ware is horrified when her father arranges her marriage with a man said to have a wild temper and an even wilder reputation. But the Duke is dying, and Caroline has no choice but to agree.
The Marriage: Caroline could not have imagined that her husband would be so tender, so warm, so . sensual. Rogan was expecting a meek and timid wife, but instead Caroline is vibrant, charming and passionate. Will this marriage turn into something they have secretly hoped it would be? Or will the real reason behind it finally come to light, destroying them both?
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Excerpt from Just One Touch
Rage tore at him like a biting wind. He leaned over the horse's neck, the pounding of his mount's galloping hooves keeping rhythm with his thundering heart. Beneath the thin skin of civility, fury and frustration bubbled in a dangerous elixir that drowned out reason. He would rebuild what had been stolen from him. Moonlight lit the way as man and horse skimmed the boundaries of his neighbor's vast estate. Inside the elegant manor house, the duke slept peacefully, unaware that he held the key to a man's dreams -- his very existence -- in his hands.
The duke had no agenda; refusing Rogan's offer had been merely a matter of practicality, not a personal victory, and Rogan would not blame him for it. But the beast inside him howled for justice.
Leashing the beast was never easy. Deliberately, Rogan opened his senses to the land around him, sucking the fresh, cool air into his lungs, letting it serve as a calming balm to his boiling temper. The shadows of the bushes and trees surrounded him like old friends, and the darkness enfolded him like a warm cloak. In the sky, the moon shone like a candle left burning, and the stars glittered.
The beast slunk back into the dark recesses of his mind, snarling and reluctant, but obedient.
And beneath him, the stallion stretched its legs, eager to chase away the whispering of Rogan Hunt's demons.
Lady Caroline Ware tucked her cloak more closely about her and watched through the coach's window as the moonlit countryside rushed past. The urgent heyah of Denton the coachman and the crack of his whip told her he was doing his best to honor her request that they arrive home with all possible speed.
She glanced around the dark, empty coach and suppressed a shiver, wishing she hadn't sent the footman and her abigail and the guards home. But Mrs. Trenton's childbirth had taken hours longer than expected, and she hadn't wanted the servants to be away from their families for so long. All had gone home to their children while Caroline stayed at the Trenton home and kept her promise to widowed Mrs. Trenton that she would watch over the woman's other offspring during the birth.
She had expected to be home by dinner.
But Mrs. Trenton's ninth childbirth had developed complications, and so Caroline had stayed until nearly midnight to help Dr. Raines deliver the healthy baby girl.
The coach jolted, and she groaned as her sore back muscles protested. She huddled deeper into her cloak, hating the night, but hating far worse the fear that made her distrust every shadow. It had been five years, and still she could not shake the legacy her tormenters had left her.
Tired and achy from assisting with the birth, she sniffed back the tears that threatened, swallowed despair that she would never be able to have a normal life.
A life of contentment where she would never have to be afraid again.
She wanted that, wanted it so much she was willing to climb mountains and swim the seas to have it. But the fear always stopped her. That craven, crippling dread of being touched. The panic that choked her and turned her into a whimpering, frantic animal.
How could she ever have children if she couldn't bear the simplest touch of a man?
The coach jerked to a stop. Unprepared, she slid to the floor in a tangle of skirts and cloak.
"Stand and deliver!"
Her blood froze. Highwaymen? Impossible!
Someone shouted. Denton's voice.
The crack of a pistol echoed around her, vibrated through the coach. A soft thud sounded from outside.
Caroline cried out and scurried back into her seat, squeezing herself into the farthest corner of the coach. Her hair began to slip its anchorings, and she impatiently plucked out the hairpins, clutching them with white-knuckled fingers.
Footsteps. She huddled in her cloak, tried to make herself as small as possible. Then the door jerked open, and a brigand grinned at her, his uneven teeth a dull white in the moonlight. "Well, well. Good evenin', milady."
He reached for her and grabbed a piece of her skirt, dragging her toward him. Laughing.
He was laughing at her, amused by her helplessness.
Rage exploded out of nowhere.
She jabbed his hand with her hairpins. He howled as blood spurted, and he dropped her skirt. She scurried across the seat to the other door. He grabbed for her ankle, but she kicked him as hard as she could in the chest. He fell backward with a yell of surprise.
She managed to open the door, still clutching some of the pins in her hand. She slid from the coach, hesitated when she realized her only option for escape was the dark woods at the side of the road. A scuffling sound from the other side of the coach decided her, and she sprinted toward the woods.
Copyright © 2005 Debra Mullins
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