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Almost a Bride
by Gayle Callen
Book 1 of the Brides trilogy
Roselyn Harrington ran from her arranged wedding to Spencer Thornton and into the arms of a man she thought loved her. Years later, when a wounded Thornton washes ashore on her island, his presence threatens her in more ways than one.Spencer lies helpless, knowing that a Spanish spy plans to accuse him of treason—or kill him. He must return to London, but how can he leave, when his anger over Roselyn's betrayal is rapidly becoming passion?
Note: This book was previously published as His Betrothed.
"Skillfully blending poignancy and
humor, she will enchant readers seeking excellent entertainment."
riveting, emotional read. It's 'Shakespeare in Love' meets 'Jerry
Maguire.' I couldn't put it down!"
(The following is the property of the author and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
London, October 1586
On the eve of her wedding, at a party to celebrate the joining of their families, Lady Roselyn Harrington laid eyes on her betrothed for the first time— and felt like tearing the flowers from her hair.
Oh, Sir Spencer Thornton was handsome enough, with his dark, foreign, brooding looks. His mother was Spanish, but he’d been born and raised an Englishman, and would someday inherit his father’s title of viscount. But courtesy was beyond him.
He was nothing like Philip
Grant, her father’s stable groom, who accompanied her on her wild gallops
Thornton had obviously been
drinking before he’d arrived at the celebration, because his laughter was too
free and too loud. He stood across the room with his friends, looking the very
picture of the court dandy, from his silk doublet to his high neck ruff to the
pearl earbob dangling from one ear. Yet where his friends wore their beards
dyed in outrageous purple or orange,
He smiled broadly at every lady who passed him, be she maiden or dowager, and his teeth glimmered like moonrise in his dark face.
But he spared not a glance for his betrothed.
Smoldering with fury, she
watched him and catalogued the sins he’d thus far committed during their short
betrothal. He had never come to visit, never brought gifts. While every other
young maiden was at least being wooed by her family’s choice in husband,
Philip’s gifts might be only a handful of wildflowers and the pleasure of his company, but she felt cherished by his adoration, beloved.
Thornton, on the other hand, had come early to their betrothal ceremony the previous week, and after signing the contract, had left before she’d even come downstairs. She’d caught only a glimpse of his back as he slammed the front door.
Roselyn should have expected no better, since her parents had chosen her husband because of his money. When they had taken care of the contract without her, her father had said only, “Don’t worry yourself, dearest.”
When she’d tried to ask about Thornton and his family, her mother had asked in a frigid voice, “Are you questioning our choice of your husband?”
Roselyn had been so offended by the whole process that she went along with them, for after all, she didn’t need to read that ornate tiny script when every marriage contract was the same: the groom would be well paid to marry the bride.
But the groom could have made a small effort to pretend to court her, for the bride’s sake!
She had heard stories of Thornton’s wild revelry, his attachment to Queen Elizabeth, his Spanish ancestry—which no one ever let her forget. And to think there might soon be a war with Spain, and she would be married to the enemy! She suspected every female friend of laughing behind her back, and every gentleman friend of deserting her.
Finally, Thornton’s father led him forward for the First Meeting, and her own father, the Earl of Cambridge, gripped her elbow as he escorted her to the center of the hall.
“Lady Roselyn,” Viscount Thornton said, his brown eyes filled with hope, “this is my son, Sir Spencer Thornton.”
Spencer Thornton glanced at her with those hooded, dark eyes, and a tremor of something—probably shock—jolted her. Then he looked away and swallowed another mouthful of wine. He was as dark as Satan himself, and she wondered if on the morrow the church would burst into flames rather than admit him.
“Sir Spencer,” said her father, “allow me to present my daughter, Lady Roselyn.”
Full of affronted pride, she wasn’t even going to curtsy until her father squeezed her hand in warning. With her chin high, she sank into a deep curtsy. Viscount Thornton gave her a warm smile, while his son stood stone-faced until his father elbowed him. Even then, he only nodded to her.
Roselyn’s outrage flamed higher, and she felt humiliated, knowing everyone was watching.
Her betrothed and his friends left the celebration without waiting for the first dance. Alone, Roselyn watched them go from her place near the wall, her arms across her chest. How could she marry such a man? she wondered, glaring at her preening parents as they accepted the congratulations of the nobility. Thornton would probably send her off to his family seat in Cumberland, as far from London as one could get without crossing the Pict’s Wall into the wilds of Scotland—just when she was finally of an age to attend the queen’s court.
As the party guests began to dance, again her mind returned to Philip, who just this day had sworn his undying love for her, vowing to help her escape this forced marriage. She’d told him it could never be, but as she stood alone and contemplated a loveless match, she was more unsure than ever of what she should do. He was forbidden to her by class, by betrothal, but it made their time together wildly exciting. Could she have the unthinkable—a man who loved her for herself?
On his wedding day, Spencer Thornton waited on the stairs of the church, his head pounding, his throat dry, and prayed for the nausea to subside. Sometime before dawn he’d fallen into his bed roaring drunk, but that was still not enough to make him forget the disdain in his betrothed’s eyes.
He’d handled the entire affair badly.
But what choice had he? Spencer had done his best to ignore the poor girl his parents had picked for him, hoping that her family would end the courtship. But short of outright disobedience—and he loved his parents too much for that—there was nothing he’d been able to do but drown his rage in his cups.
But he did regret his treatment of her last night. It wasn’t her fault that his parents had resorted to the blackmail of needing an heir. If only they understood that he would never have the kind of marriage they had.
Through the crowds gathered to stare, Spencer saw the approach of Roselyn Harrington’s gilt carriage. A tight feeling of despair clutched his chest, but he straightened grimly.
The bride was helped from the carriage, and her wedding garments glittered under the sun. Again, he saw that pale face, remembered the vulnerability of freckles scattered across her nose. He found himself hoping that they wouldn’t hate each other.
Roselyn took a step toward him and stopped as their gazes clashed.
Suddenly she turned and ran.
Spencer stood in stunned silence as he watched her dodge past people on the street, pull off her headdress and throw it into the mud. Both sets of relatives moved about in pandemonium, shouting, pointing. Someone ran after her, but it wouldn’t matter even if they caught her. The damage was done.
Spencer stood as if he’d been turned into a statue, unsure what he was feeling. Shouldn’t it be relief, exaltation?
Everyone turned and looked at him, mouths agape, and a chill shuddered through him. He was used to creating scandal, and enjoyed making sure the nobility knew he was there.
But not this way. His gaze darted from person to person, and soon they were whispering behind their hands. His own friends started to laugh, and the ensuing uproar reverberated through him.
He’d forever be a laughingstock, an object of ridicule—and it was all Roselyn Harrington’s fault.
He looked at his parents, whose disappointment must be even worse than his humiliation.
“Am I too late?” said a familiar voice. “Just got into town for the wedding of the year.”
Spencer glanced aside to see his brother Alex, lurching up the church steps with a giggling, dressed-up doxy on his arm.
“She left,” Spencer said, wondering if his brother would take satisfaction in the rejection. “There will be no wedding.”
“But I wanted to meet her,” Alex said with an exaggerated sigh. He slung his free arm around his brother. “Come on, Spence, let’s go. There’s this tavern by the river…”
For the last time, Spencer looked down the street where his bride had disappeared, feeling the bitterness inside him freeze and become brittle. Then he turned and walked away.
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