When a crippled young lord rescues a girl falling from a tree, it reveals a secret about himself and his mother’s side of the family that could put him at the center of a war with beings he thought only existed in fariytales.
Tristan Gareth Smyth lived his entire life stuck at home at Waverly Park and left behind while his Grandfather makes trips to London, all because of his blasted wheelchair.
Then an American heiress falls in his lap, literally, and he must find a way to keep her at a distance to protect not only his secret, but everyone around him from an assassin sent to kill him.
About the Authors:
Melissa Turner Lee holds a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism from the University of South Carolina. She has studied fiction writing since 2008, attending various writing conferences and workshops, along with guidance from professional writing coaches. She resides in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and 3 sons.
Pauline Creeden is a horse trainer from Virginia, but writing is her therapy. In her fiction, she creates worlds that are both familiar and strange, often pulling the veil between dimensions. She becomes the main character in each of her stories, and because she has ADD, she will get bored if she pretends to be one person for too long.
They sat at the dinner table, all five of them. Gareth sat across from Mr. Keller and would rather have avoided him, but found it necessary to make some sort of conversation with the man before asking for his daughter. Gareth cringed at the thought of matrimony. Sarah’s herbed soup was usually his favorite, but today he could hardly swallow the broth. His stomach was in knots. Gareth forced himself to swallow before asking, “So you own some factories in America?”
Mr. Keller was a jolly looking man with dark hair and eyes like his daughter’s. He was all smiles like her as well. Obviously not British. “Yes, textile factories. They turn cotton into thread and thread into fabrics. It used to take the families of everyone in town working day and night to fill our quota. But with our patented automations, one man does the work of five.”
Gareth kept his expression to his normal look of boredom. “And the poor people put out of work? How do they feel about your success?”
Mr. Keller rubbed at his whiskers. “No one has been made jobless except the children and we’ve endowed schools for them. Among the workers, we’ve re-educated the ones with a head for numbers and administrative work. We just built a park by the railroad tracks to greet newcomers, right across from the depot. The city of Chesnee, South Carolina, will be on the map soon as an example of what education and hard work can do.”
“I see.” The man was very unlike Grandfather. Most men of standing held no real occupation at all to speak of over a meal. If they did, they were only interested in growing their own purse, not helping those less fortunate. But Gareth couldn’t show interest so he considered what his Grandfather might say. “And you are here, visiting your sister?”
That was good, like he wasn’t interested in what was just said. “And how did she end up living here if she, too, is American?”
“In America, she married an Englishman. He grew homesick and moved back here, so I haven’t seen her in years.”
“And visiting her was what brought you here?”
Mr. Keller glanced over at Jessamine who appeared to blush. “That and other things.”
Gareth glowered at her before looking back at his soup with disinterest. He didn’t like her, but if she was in the room, he could never truly ignore her. If only she were harder to look at. If she had some ugly mole on her chin he could think about. Gareth glanced her way again, trying to find something disagreeable about her appearance, but his glance turned into a stare and she caught him. He had to turn his attention back to his soup.
They finished dinner and Grandfather invited the men to the library for drinks and cigars. Although Gareth followed, he chose not to indulge in either vice. It wasn’t long before the room filled with men’s chuckles and cigar smoke. Dizziness caused Gareth to waver and not pay close attention to what the older men discussed. A short while later, Grandfather excused himself and patted Gareth on the shoulder as he left. A cue.
Gareth angled his chair to view Jessamine’s father. The gaslight surrounded the man in an orange glow. Gareth cleared his throat. “It has come to my attention that a match between your daughter and me would be advantageous for us all. Are you opposed to such a match?”
Mr. Keller sat, meeting him eye-to-eye. “I’m not opposed to it, if it’s what she wants. She had her heart set on marrying an English gentleman and wouldn’t consider any of the young men back in America. Honestly, she’s the one to arrange this whole trip. I just want my little girl to be happy. It was my hope she’d find a love match like her mother and I have.”
Gareth frowned at the man’s last statement. “And you allow her such freedoms? Too much thinking and planning is said to be unhealthy for women. Do you care so little for her health?”
“Balderdash!” Mr. Keller’s fist slammed down on the desk beside him. The normally jovial man’s reaction took Gareth aback but he concealed his shock. “Jessamine is just like her mother. They’re both smart and know their own minds. They are both healthy as horses. That’s fairytale garbage spun by men with little minds. Jessamine’s mother is just as much my business partner as my life partner. I’d hoped Jessamine would find such a match in life … I still do.” The man looked Gareth in the eye on the last part. “If a stupid wife’s what you want, you best not propose to my daughter.”
Gareth shook his head. “I don’t want any wife, stupid or smart, but I have no choice really.”
Mr. Keller stood. “If you don’t wish to marry my Jessamine, we’ll be off. There are dozens of men back in America who do.”
Gareth pushed his chair to block the man’s passage. “But your daughter doesn’t wish to marry them, as you, yourself, have stated. Besides, my grandfather’s ward is anxious to join you and your wife in American society. So, let’s cut to the chase. Do I have your permission to ask for Jessamine’s hand?”
Mr. Keller glared down at Gareth, his cheeks red with anger. “You do. But I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I. Have the financial arrangements been worked out between you and my grandfather?”
Mr. Keller spoke through clenched teeth. “They have. My attorney has been in contact with his solicitor.”
“Do you have a woman to accompany Tabitha with you back to America? I don’t want her reputation tarnished in any way.”
“She’s two years my Jessie’s junior and I’m a happily married, faithful husband. I’d never touch the girl. But, yes, my niece is also traveling with us. They will board together on the ship. No harm will come to your niece.”
“My aunt,” Gareth corrected and then let out a sigh. The first part of the blasted deed was done. “Then all that is left is for me to find Miss Keller and propose.”
Gareth turned his chair to leave when the man stood and blocked his path. “Be good to her and try not to hurt her. Ever. That’s all I ask.”
Gareth gestured toward his legs. “I’m not a man capable of violence, as you can see. Your daughter is safe.”
“There are many ways a man can hurt a woman. If one woman isn’t enough for you, make sure my Jessie never finds out.”
Gareth rolled his eyes. “Believe me, one woman is more than I want in my life. There won’t be any others. Now please move before I change my mind and choose starvation.”
Gareth wheeled himself out the door. Grandfather stood just outside, leaning against the banister.
“Is it done?” The old man fixed his eyes on Gareth, a look of expectation on his worried face.
“Yes. All that’s left is for me to propose.”
Grandfather nodded toward the evening room’s door. “She’s waiting for you on the terrace.”
As Gareth started to push himself in that direction, his grandfather put his hand on his shoulder. “You’ve grown into a fine man, a far better man than I was at your age. Better than I am even now.”
Gareth choked on the lump which formed in his throat and nodded at his grandfather. “I …” he swallowed. “I need to be done with this.” And he wheeled himself down the way to the sitting room and onto the terrace where Jessamine stood.
Her crème colored dress with muted red flowers swayed in the breeze and hugged her figure. Gareth felt heat rush to his face. The cold night air filled his lungs. He drank it in. She certainly wasn’t difficult to look at. In fact, she grew prettier each time he saw her. Her cheeks were rosy in the cool air, and the breeze blew back the portion of hair pulled back but not up, as she looked at him expectantly. The longer he gazed at her, the harder it was to look away.
But it didn’t matter how pretty she was; this would not be a love match. This slavery was forced on Gareth. It wrenched his gut to be coerced into anything. She was like the chair now,
trapping him and labeling him. Imprisoning him. When he let his thoughts linger there rather than on her pretty face, it put a bad taste in his mouth and he was ready to spew it all over her. This union wasn’t even a like match.
“Miss Keller, how fortunate to find you alone out here. It’s almost as if you were waiting for me.”
Jessamine smiled. “Maybe I was.”
“Yes, like a snake waiting in the rabbit’s den.” He narrowed his eyes at her.
Jessamine blinked hard and looked taken aback. “I am a snake and you are my prey? Is that how you see this?”
“How else am I to see it? Either throw Tabitha out to the wolves or sacrifice myself to you and give her a chance at a life.”
This wasn’t the topic he’d planned to speak on. He’d plan to get the proposal out of the way and over with but his ire at the situation couldn’t be contained.
Jessamine circled him, never backing down or looking offended. “Why so hostile? Why can’t you see it as the offering a lifeline rather than a trap? I didn’t create your grandfather’s financial problems. My father and I have only offered a solution.”
“Perhaps it is different in America, but here, it is not polite to speak of finances.”
“You were the one calling me a snake for trapping you. I was simply pointing out that I was offering a lifeline to you all.”
“At the price of me and my future title.”
Jessamine turned and placed her hands on her hips.
“Well maybe it’s not your title that interests me about you. Maybe I couldn’t care less about such things. Maybe what I want from you …” Jessamine stepped toward him and bent down until her face was inches from his, “is far more interesting than a title.”
Gareth swallowed. Jessamine’s floral fragrance mixed with what had to be her natural essence, and it clouded his mind.
He held his breath in order to think. Her eyes were as teasing as her scent was maddening. The way she leaned over him caused her modest décolletage to become less modest. He forced his eyes shut in order to think.
Why was he angry with her? Right, she was forcing him to live life in the blasted chair. Forcing him to hide in his own home. The anger returned. Anger—his go-to emotion.
“Step. Back. Miss Keller.” Gareth’s tone was harsh and commanding.
When he sensed she no longer stood close, he opened his eyes. Jessamine had retreated against the balcony railing. A calculating smile played on her lips. She always looked like she had him figured out already.
“Oh, let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Jessamine motioned for him to proceed.
“Miss Keller, will you honor me by agreeing to become my wife?”
Jessamine’s brows furrowed as her hands went to her hips. “Is that it? That’s how you’re going to propose to me?”
Gareth glared at the girl. “Well I can’t get on one knee, obviously.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t mean that.”
She seemed frustrated by his comment, but not embarrassed the way most people were when he mentioned his disability.
“Then what do you want?”
“I don’t know. Presenting me with a family ring? Maybe some romantic words?”
Gareth repositioned his chair to better his view of her. “Grandfather sold all the rings, and I thought of starting with how much I ardently admire and love you but I choked on the vomit that came up when I tried to say it.”
Jessamine stared in silence at first only to burst into laughter a second later. “Now that was perfect. I love honesty above all else. Yes, I will marry you. I think this will be fun for both of us.”
How insane. He glared at her. “You must have a different idea of fun in America.”
She moved closer, extended her hand, and ran her fingers through his hair. A shiver shot down his spine. It took all his effort to keep the reaction from showing. He remained still as stone.
“Don’t think I don’t see who is really beneath the armor.”
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