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by Gayle Callen
Book 3 of the "His" trilogy
(The books do not have to be read in order.)
Gwyneth Hall has heard the dark
rumors about Sir Edmund Blackwell, the man she is betrothed to but has
never seen. To save her penniless family from ruin, however, she would
wed the devil himself.
And this gorgeous, moody "devil" sends a tremor of excitement
racing through her when they first meet--sparking the young bride's
determination to turn a marriage of mere convenience into much more.
Edmund dares never love again.
Already wicked tongues falsely blame him for a crime he didn't
commit. And while his exquisite new
bride fills him with intense desire, their union is simply a means for
him to retain his hard-won lands. Gwyneth is, after all, related to his
despised enemy and therefore not to be trusted. But how long can
resist the temptation of her luscious lips...or her warm sensuous touch?
"Gayle Callen keeps getting better
Affaire de Coeur Magazine
(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot
copied or reprinted without permission.)
“My wife is dead.”
Sir Edmund Blackwell folded
his arms across his chest and stared into the faces of his
“I am sorry for your grief, my lord, but I do not understand
felt the need to see me. After all, you know how she died.”
He’d been summoned from
Yorkshire to Earl
Langston’s estate in Lincolnshire, to face the two people
conspired to make the last few years of his life a nightmare. He knew
blamed him for their daughter’s poor choices. When he
been offered no refreshments, only led through the great hall, with its
of spears and suits of armor, as if the threat of their military power
supposed to daunt him. The gallery where he now faced them ran the
of the mansion and let in the sun through stained-glass windows, which
muted color everywhere. He was seated on a heavily carved chair. Dour
portraits glared down at him; the earl and his countess did the same
a cushioned bench. A polished table stood as a barrier between them.
and cupboards were scattered down the length of the room, decorated
china or covered with Turkish carpets.
Lord Langston, a thin, cold man, made
no effort to conceal
his contempt. “As part of Elizabeth’s dowry, we
gave you Castle
Wintering and its lands, which is an ancient part of our family
We merely wish to buy it back from you now that our daughter lies at
Edmund barely resisted the urge to
voice his disgust.
Their daughter hadn’t let herself have peace in life, so why
be blessed with it in death? He had hoped that with time, he and
would have grown to suit each another, but she and her parents had made
that had never happened.
But give up Castle Wintering? Give up
worked so hard for, the only source of income he had left? Never.
Edmund returned the cold stare with one
of his own. “I
have invested much time and labor in the estate, and I wish to
He started to rise. “If this was all you had to discuss, we
done it through letters.”
“Please sit down, Sir
Edmund,” said Letitia
Langston, his wife’s mother. Where her husband pretended
let malice glitter behind her eyes. “We could force you to
sell us the
land. After all, there are already those who believe you were the cause
my daughter’s death.”
He remained standing above them,
knowing that his size
usually frightened people. He narrowed his gaze at Lady Langston, as
threat seemed to coil around him. What more proof did he need that they
planted this lie even as far away as Castle Wintering, all in an
to manipulate him? Would it ever end? “And we both know that
a lie. I have already agreed not to publicize the details of her death.
you wish me to change my mind?”
Edmund knew his own threat was a
gamble, for they were
a very powerful family. Yet their weakness was the merest thought of a
connected to their family name.
The countess’s fingers were
white where she gripped
her skirt at the knees.
Before she could speak, her husband
“Blackwell, we have another suggestion for the dilemma
“There is no longer a dilemma
Edmund said tightly.
“Then there is your
He stiffened, but remained silent.
“You have land, Blackwell,
but you no longer have
the money to make it succeed.”
Not a difficult thing for their spies
“Thanks to you--and your daughter.”
Lady Langston slammed her hands onto
the table between
them, but her husband touched her arm.
“I am resourceful,”
Edmund continued, “and
will get what I need for Castle Wintering.”
Lord Langston said, “I have a
solution to your
problems--all of them. We regret that there are those who blame you for
daughter’s death. We would like to offer you a new
Edmund tried not to let his
astonishment show. He had
known Elizabeth’s parents had something planned, but he never
have guessed this attempt at manipulating him. “I am not
in marrying so soon, my lord.”
Lord Langston continued as if Edmund
and his eyes glittered with challenge. “The girl is of good
as she’s a cousin of mine through her mother, and her father
by the queen. By offering another relative in marriage to you, we prove
the world that we do not believe the rumors about our
Edmund controlled his bitter laugh.
wife? They had said nothing that would induce him to marry someone from
“There is a substantial dowry
course,” the earl said slowly, as if dangling bait.
And it was the perfect bait. Money was
the one thing
he desperately needed, now that his wounds prevented him from earning
living as a mercenary.
The Langstons were offering him a way
out-but at what
price and for what twisted reason? He could only imagine the kind of
they wanted to saddle him with. But what choice did he have?
“Sit down, Sir
Edmund,” said Lord Langston.
He sat. “Why are you doing
this? Are you trying
to rid yourself of this girl?”
The earl leaned back in his chair, not
bothering to hide
his triumphant smile. “She is a good girl whose family is not
We’ve taken her under our wing. She is used to hard work and
an asset to you.”
That Edmund doubted. Why should a
cousin of Elizabeth’s
know anything more than beautiful clothes and what court functions to
If he actually went through with this farce, he would handle marriage
“Show me the bridal
Lord Langston reached into a cupboard
behind him and
brought forth a sheaf of papers, which he pushed across the table.
Both of Elizabeth’s parents
were watching Edmund
Edmund bent over the contract as the
thought of another
Langston bride made his stomach churn. His instinctive reaction was to
but he had to be smarter now, to weigh the advantages. Castle
potential was enormous, with the land so perfect for raising sheep, and
wool trade prosperous. And he had yet to have the land explored for
opportunities. But all of this required money. He desperately needed
estate, even if it meant matching wits with the Langstons.
The contract was brief and the language
was only one clause that Edmund had to read twice, a provision that
he die without a male heir, the land would return to Langston hands. He
at them, and the earl’s lip curled as if he knew the exact
They really wanted their property back,
did they not,
even if their heirs had to await Edmund’s death?
He sat back in his chair and studied
parents with narrowed eyes.
“You are still
suspicious,” the earl said.
“Every dealing I have had
with you has made me that
“Then let us be open about
the hostility between
us. You seduced our daughter and forced that marriage, and now she is
Edmund gritted his teeth, knowing all
the critical things
Langston had left out of his summary. But he would let some of that go
now. “And while I was away, you threatened my steward to make
years’ worth of profits from Castle Wintering went for
lavish accessories rather than grain and cattle. Why should I trust you
“There will never be a time
for trust between us,
Blackwell. If you choose not to accept this…arrangement, you
the land for taxes, and who do you think the queen will agree to sell
“Then why are you
The earl leaned forward, and his lips
curled back over
his teeth. “Because this is personal between us, Blackwell.
this a challenge, a duel of wits between you and me. If you accept, you
have the money to begin the restoration of Castle Wintering, and a
to give you an heir. But always you will have to wonder what
how I’ve manipulated this situation to win. The money and
as important to me as knowing you’ll be humbled in the end.
to take that chance?”
For several moments, Edmund could only
stare at the old
man, feeling hatred suffuse the gallery. And by God, he returned their
“And what do I win if I solve your plots?”
“Your freedom from me. You
will already have the
money and a gently bred bride to begin a new life.”
“And if I lose?”
“But you’re already
close to losing everything,
are you not, Blackwell?”
How he longed to defeat Langston in
battle, the honorable
way. But it could not be. He desperately needed that money--and he
to defeat Earl Langston once and for all. Already he had a plan
in his mind.
He took a quill pen, dipped it in ink,
and signed his
name at the bottom of the contract.
“Your challenge is met,
London, One week later…
“Gwyneth, we have news of the
kind,” said Earl Langston. “We have found you a
Feeling suddenly light-headed, Gwyneth
Hall tried to
keep herself from gaping at him. “A husband, my
lord?” He had never
shown interest in helping her family--his cousins--before. Why now?
Stunned, she sat back in the cushioned
chair and tried
not to feel overwhelmed by the opulent withdrawing room in her
London mansion. Painted angels hovered above her on the ceiling. Somber
of people she’d never met decorated the darkly paneled walls.
a timid maid served her spiced cider, the earl and his wife smiled like
were baring their teeth.
They’d only invited her to
their home once, a few
months ago, when they’d needed a companion for their
while her husband was out of the country. Gwyneth had accepted, glad to
experience more of London than her poor corner of it. Instead of a
she had been an unpaid servant, seeing to her cousin’s
Elizabeth was dead now, and Gwyneth had promised to keep the
a secret. Was this offer of a husband a repayment for her silence?
“How old are you
now?” Lord Langston asked.
“I have three and twenty
“And I believe your father
does not have dowries
for his four daughters.”
She saw the earl glance distastefully
at her garments,
knew her green woolen gown with its simple lace ruff at the neck might
well be rags to him. But besides her gloves, she wore a hat with a
brim that her mother had given her tilted at a smart angle. She felt
of her appearance.
Her back stiffened as she lifted her
chin. “My father
works hard, Lord Langston, but he has grown sickly over the last
“I understand, my dear. That
is why I have taken
it upon myself to provide you with a dowry.”
She narrowed her gaze. “And
why would you do
She heard Lady Langston inhale with a
hiss, and the
earl’s smile thinned.
said Lady Langston, “we
cannot give you in marriage to Edmund Blackwell without it.”
Edmund Blackwell? The name echoed about
in her head like
a stone thrown down a rocky cliff.
husband?” she finally managed
to say in a faint voice, though her tongue felt swollen. The husband
cousin had cried over?
The earl nodded. “He has an
estate to run, and we
feel that a wife will ease his burdens and provide
Gwyneth well remembered trying to start
with Elizabeth. Once she had asked if hers was a love match, because
always thought the Langstons wanted to marry her to a nobleman.
had only burst into angry tears and refused to discuss it.
“Elizabeth died but six weeks
ago,” she said
in bewilderment. “He needs a wife this quickly?”
Lady Langston shook her head.
“Do not think he agreed
to it easily, girl. It is a difficult thing to lose such a woman as my
was. But he understands the reality of needing the dowry for his lands,
a woman to run his household.”
But of course he needed the money most
of all; she could
see that immediately. Such was the way of things in marriage. She had
it would be different for her, that she’d have a man to love
and a family
to care for.
And there was no saying she
couldn’t have that yet.
She had spent her life learning how to be a good wife, and had
of ever getting the chance--until recently, that is, when a prosperous
had begun to court her. He was twice her age and had lecherous
but he offered a gift of money that would bring her family back from
edge of poverty, and he had wanted no dowry from her, which in itself
him attractive to her family. She would be one less daughter to worry
But Edmund Blackwell would offer no
money. How would
this help her family--help her sisters with dowries?
Suddenly, her hope soared as she
glanced from the earl
to his wife excitedly. “Forgive my curiosity, but does this
will be so kind as to offer my sisters dowries as well?”
Lady Langston gave her a frosty,
knowing look, as if
Gwyneth was begging for ownership of all of their estates.
is family. We are offering to ease her burdens by seeing one of her
settled. Is your greed so great that you demand more?”
Gwyneth felt the blood drain from her
lady, you misunderstand me. I am grateful for this opportunity, and
wish to make my decision with all the facts available. I only ask that
might meet Sir Edmund before I decide.”
“He has already returned
north to Yorkshire because
the grain harvest is well under way.” The earl already seemed
as if her concerns were unimportant.
“There is no choice,
girl,” said Lady Langston
coldly. “He needs a wife, and we have already offered you to
marriage contract has been legally signed.”
Gwyneth stared at her clenched fists,
trying to quell
her rising panic. The decision had been made without her. Did Sir
leave so quickly because he did not want her to see him? She tried not
think about the cold, bitter tone of Elizabeth’s voice
spoke of him.
Yet she had been wishing desperately
for another man
to choose as her husband, because she soon would have been forced by
conscience to marry the merchant. Was an ugly stranger better than an
man, whose odor often lingered after he had left the room?
Although her cousin Elizabeth had
complained about her
husband leaving her alone when he went to France, she had never said
he mistreated her--and he had put up with her selfishness. Of course,
had heard the rumors that he killed Elizabeth, but Gwyneth herself had
there at the end of her cousin’s life, while Sir Edmund had
the army in France. Malicious gossip was only for people with little
to occupy them, and she gave no credence to it.
Surely if she was a good, hard-working
wife to him, she
could persuade him to offer small dowries to her sisters. After all,
she bringing a large dowry to him herself, thanks to the Langstons?
“What are you thinking about,
my dear?” Lord
“I am thinking how kind you
are to offer a dowry
for me, my lord,” Gwyneth said firmly, looking up in time to
exchange relieved glances. “When will Sir Edmund come to
“He cannot spare the
time,” said Lady Langston.
“He is sending an escort to bring you north to Castle
The name of the castle sent a strange
chill through her.
She inwardly berated her foolishness, even as she imagined how lonely
new life would be. She wouldn’t be getting married amidst a
celebration--not her family, anyway. None of her three sisters could be
from the family bakery to travel with her. She would be alone with her
husband. She had to force aside thoughts of a wedding night with a man
she’d never met.
Earl Langston stared out the window at
the receding figure
of his cousin, Gwyneth, and allowed his satisfaction to show.
His wife came to his side.
“Everything worked out
as we planned.”
“Aye, my lady wife. Blackwell
signed the contract,
and Gwyneth agreed to it. Not that she had much choice. The pressure I
have had to put on her father might have been…distressing to
And she’ll be away from London, where she can’t
cause trouble with
what she knows about our daughter.”
“If only Blackwell had been
willing to sell us the
property instead. The gall of that baseborn churl to obstruct us! We
have begun mining immediately. You said if we started rumors that he
Elizabeth, he would have no choice but to do as we wished. She was so
that it was apparent to all that he was at fault.”
“Patience, Letitia. The
steward at Castle Wintering
made certain that all the servants understood that Blackwell had killed
Elizabeth, but that we cannot prove who Blackwell hired to do it. And
has done as we wished--he’s taking another Langston bride. We
send the bailiff from our Durham properties to witness the wedding.
he can examine the ore site to see if Blackwell has discovered it. If
is undisturbed, the lead ore will wait.”
She flung up her hands and strode away
from him. “But
you have made certain we must wait years. It will take many female
before that barbarian realizes that Alyce Hall’s branch of
never has boys. Since the marriage contract states that the property
to us if he has no sons, this could last beyond our deaths!”
“And you do not wish to
provide for your sons’
At least she still retained the ability
to blush, the
earl thought with his usual exasperation.
“But I wish to provide for
ours as well, you
fool,” she said.
When she returned to his side, he
gripped her arm tightly
to hold her still. He watched her blanch and enjoyed her wince.
you not yet trust my abilities, my lady wife? After all, Blackwell
that we’ve raised Gwyneth as almost our ward.”
She bit her lip. “I trusted
you with our children,
and our daughter ended up married to an ignorant monster. And now
He quickly spoke before the inevitable
“Elizabeth chose poorly, Letitia, but we have begun to remedy
against our family. I have not fully informed you on the extent of my
Her stare was skeptical. “And
I am supposed to trust
this? You challenged him, when we could just have waited for him to
the estate to taxes.”
He softened his grip, and her shoulders
was correct about the rumors of murder forcing Blackwell to accept our
wasn’t I? Then trust me in this. I would not risk the chance
would grovel to a wealthy friend for the money. Edmund Blackwell will
as a landholder long before we have to care what brats he sires.
already made certain of it. And then the land will be ours again, and
will be ruined.”
Gwyneth had never imagined how
difficult it would be
to leave her family. Her father’s frailty weighed on her, and
that she would see him again someday. Would her new husband ever bring
to London to visit her parents?
They had once lived on a farm north of
the city, when
her father had been whole and could support his family by working the
They’d been so happy there. His illness had necessitated
to London, where her father could guard merchants, a less demanding
Even that had eventually proved too much for him.
Now her three sisters would have to
assist their mother
without her. They supplied several of the London bakeries with their
goods, and Gwyneth had always been the one to deal with their customers.
But her mother reassured her and
displayed genuine enthusiasm
and gratitude because Gwyneth would finally have a home of her own. She
calmed Gwyneth’s fears about her wedding night with an
what would happen. Although Gwyneth was grateful for the truth, she
about doing such things with a stranger. And what if he
wasn’t as gentle
as her mother said husbands should be?
The trip to Yorkshire took ten long
days. Sir Edmund’s
soldiers were pleasant, especially the sergeant in charge, Sir Geoffrey
who had a good-natured smile and seemed too irreverent to be a military
Even his garments were too rich for a soldier, but a soldier was what
professed himself to be. She was grateful for the friendship he offered
and interested to realize that he seemed to be Sir Edmund’s
Thank goodness for Lucy Tyler,
who’d insisted she
accompany Gwyneth. She was a tall, thin girl, with startling black hair
ambitious eyes, who’d often had to walk the streets selling
her father caught. They had met the first day Gwyneth’s
to London. They had been two little girls dealing with the danger of
life and had become good friends in the process.
The day before Gwyneth was to leave,
Lucy had volunteered
her services as companion and maid, hoping to send money home to her
struggling family. It was a great relief to Gwyneth not to face the
north all alone.
On the last part of their journey, they
the broad, fertile plains of the York valley, and Geoffrey pointed off
the northwest, where the Pennines rose flat-topped to the sky. He
that Castle Wintering was in Swaledale, the valley of the River Swale,
flowed from the Pennines. But for the wedding, Sir Edmund would meet
the next day in Richmond. Gwyneth’s dulled nerves roared back
as she realized she would be married on the morrow. What would her
look like? She’d spent the entire journey trying to remember
Elizabeth had ever said about him, but her cousin’s usual
had been only about herself.
In the morning, she and Lucy were
escorted into Richmond,
a village of stone houses in the shadow of Richmond Castle, which had
built on a cliff above the River Swale. While Gwyneth’s
with nervous spasms, she consoled herself with the thought of a warm
at an inn before she would meet her husband.
Geoffrey dashed those hopes as he rode
coach. He informed her that she and Sir Edmund were returning to Castle
today after the wedding ceremony.
Lucy protested, leaning over
Gwyneth’s lap to look out the window. “Mistress
Gwyneth is a bride.
Surely she can prepare. She never even met the man.”
He shrugged, his expression reluctant.
ladies, but Edmund…he has much to do. The letter I just
“I am sorry,
Geoffrey,” Gwyneth said, “but
I shan’t marry until I can change into my best gown. Please
find a suitable
“There’s no one who
will see you but Edmund
and myself. We’ll be late--"
Her heart did a little flip of
disappointment on hearing
that not one of Sir Edmund’s friends or villagers would be
“Regardless, I am changing. Do what you must.” She
had never felt
so certain of anything. Her life was out of her control--but how she
her fate was not. She would not be wed wearing dusty travel garments,
her face full of perspiration and dirt.
Soon they turned into a quiet church
courtyard with benches
and a garden on one side and a graveyard on the other. While Geoffrey
inside the church, Gwyneth and Lucy stepped out of the coach and stared
at the largest black stallion they had ever seen. Its back was well
Gwyneth’s head, and it seemed to roll its eyes as if
possessed by the
devil. It tossed its shiny mane and snorted at them, and the silly
fear of horses that Gwyneth thought she’d conquered came
It had to be Sir Edmund
Blackwell’s horse, and she
stayed well away, wondering about the size of the man who could ride
an animal. Geoffrey returned with the black-robed vicar, who smiled and
as he escorted her to a small chamber at the rear of the church. Lucy
with the gown, and they were left alone.
Gwyneth felt unreal as she washed her
body with tepid
water from a basin. She had wanted to bathe and perfume herself, but it
not to be. She could only put on the blue cloth gown over her smock and
petticoats and allow Lucy to button it up the front. Before
London, her mother had cheerfully told her that she’d lowered
neckline to display the assets Gwyneth was bringing to the wedding, but
had not realized how exposed she would feel. She tried to tuck a piece
lace in her bodice, but with a frown, Lucy removed it and tied a long
about her waist.
When they went back to the courtyard,
Geoffrey rose from
the bench with a smile and motioned for them to sit.
Minutes passed, and Gwyneth’s
nerves were stretched
taut. Lucy got up to wander through the garden, sniffing roses and
Gwyneth couldn’t move her legs to do the same. Why did Sir
them wait, if he were in such a hurry?
Wearing a smile, Lucy eventually came
back, holding up
a circlet of blossoms. “I’ve made ye a garland for
Gwyneth felt foolish tears sting her
eyes as she bowed
her head and let the girl place the flowers in her hair.
I’ve been your friend forever. Call me by my name.”
“Soon ye’ll be Lady
she said soothingly. “Won’t that be fine?”
When she heard a door open at the top
of the stairs,
Gwyneth shuddered and slowly looked up.
Sir Edmund Blackwell--for who else
could it be?--stood
before the doors of the church, clothed in a loose leather tunic,
at the waist, over plain cloth breeches. A cloak was thrown back on his
shoulders. He was taller than any man Gwyneth had ever seen; his
filled the doorframe, and surely he’d had to duck to step
didn’t think she could put her arms around his barrel chest.
hair was cropped in layers close to his head. His clean-shaven face had
hard, spare lines of a granite cliff, not handsome, but impressively
and darkened from the sun. This was a man who’d seen more of
and death than home and family. There was no welcoming smile or even
Beneath his frowning brow, pale blue eyes the color of a dawn sky shone
at her, assessing, and maybe finding her lacking.
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