May 1789, near the village of Fernsby, Kent, Lady Anne Dankworth sits in her bedchamber in fear. Her husband, a nationally acclaimed military hero, has just threatened to have her deported. There is only one man in the whole of England she can trust with her secret.
Wylde by name and by nature, disgruntled rogue and sea-merchant Sir John needs only to gaze into her dark fathomless depths to know he is still affected by her. But after 20 years, Anne is a changed woman. Gone is the hot-headed temptress from their youth, replaced instead by a cool, serious, good-wife.
In this race against time, admitting their true passion is only the start. The scandal Anne and John uncover will strike fear in the heart of England’s elite—where integrity, love and honour—may well cost them their lives.
All the while, the enemy prepares to strike.
“You are another man’s wife, Anne.”
“I am a woman pleading for your assistance! Does your reputation extend to refusing aid to a woman in distress?”
“Not if your distress were real,” he retaliated. “However, you come here with neurotic fancies. Your daughter is about to get married, and you are back at Graystone Manor living with your father who has never been easy, indeed, appears to despise you, and a husband who needs assistance from his comrades about issues beyond your ken. You are anxious and fragile. Who can blame you?”
“You maintain this is in my mind? That I am shallow, some poor mother of the bride, insipid in thought, delusional like my poor mother? Is this what you believe?”
He labored up from his chair. “It was never my intention to offend you. I apologize if you have misconstrued my comments as a reflection on your mother’s health and death. However, as an advisor, a man who has experience of this world, I tell you your family, the military, or perhaps the advice of a leech, are better placed to answer these concerns. Not me. Anyway, I am in the midst of preparations for my next voyage.” He turned away and began walking to the door.
His indifference sent her reeling. The scandal sheet had the facts of the matter—he was an ornament, but hardly brilliant. About as useless as the weaponry adorning his walls.
“You’ve changed.” She remained in her chair. “Where is the man London talks of, who loves adventure and danger? Are you so exhausted by your thrilling living? Is this what life has done to you? One sore leg after an altercation with a jealous husband and you’re a cripple? My request would require two hours of your time in Margate.”
He turned to face her, his gaze like stone, his hand curling and uncurling on the stupid walking stick. The John she knew would never have admitted to such infirmity. She needed his influence and damn him, but she would demand it.
“John, there are rumors in Fernsby that you do not leave the house. Making these enquiries would give you something to do. You can hardly walk, let alone balance on a ship’s deck in rough seas.”
In an instant, his expression went blank.
Empty as a pocket.
She closed her eyes. She’d pushed too far.
He leaned on his stick, turned, and went through to the hall, the stick tapping an echo on the cold marble tiles, his voice colder. “Unfortunately, the cripple can’t help,” he called over his shoulder. “I have heard nothing of artists in the neighborhood, and I repeat…your husband, as head of his household, is better placed to make inquiries.”
She retrieved the gloves from her purse, taking her time to stand and exit his horrible reception room. He put her in her place—at the feet of her husband.
“Either way, it seems someone is admiring your beauty from afar,” he continued, his clipped voice echoing from the main hall where the marble tiles bounced and slapped his cruel sardonic quips in her face. “A romantic notion that should keep your marriage alive, as I am sure your visit to my house will inspire your husband’s affection once he learns of it. It does for most women, even with the reputation of a cripple.”
She fitted her gloves, pushing each finger into its stall, fiddling with the shiny yellow buttons which were too gay and dainty. “You must not ever mention this visit to my husband,” she called back. If he could not bother, neither would she.
“Oh, believe me, this visit is forgettable.” He laughed humorlessly.
Her hands shook as she placed her reticule into the crook of her arm so as to readjust her hat as she followed him out to the hall. “You haven’t changed, John. Always running away when situations became tough. Even now. I did wrong to believe more of you.”
“That was always your problem, wasn’t it, Anne? You never believed in me at all.”
“You never gave me reason to.” At his growl, she let her mouth break into a gaping hole making hollow sounds. “So, thank you, on behalf of the Fernsby Ladies Literati, for your kind and generous donation.” She paused, letting her eyes rake over him one final time. She wanted to unglove her hand and hold it out to him, to have his angry hot lips graze her bare knuckles. One last touch to brand his name into her bones.
But she also longed to slap him. Hard. To hear her hand crack sharp against his arrogant stubbled cheek. To have it hurt him red stinging sore, to leaving him feeling, but for a moment, some of her pain.
Instead she nodded, turned, and crossed the hall to the door his manservant held open.
“See you in another twenty years,” John said, his tone full of boredom.
His stick tapped on the tiled hall, and she turned at the doorway determined to have the last word.
But all utterance died.
Two young women waited halfway on the stairs, holding their arms out to him, crimson and indigo dresses falling off their shoulders, disheveled hair, smiles wide, inviting him up in lewd whispers. He stretched out his arms to them, then leaned forward to get his foot balanced on the stair, his vest rising against his white shirt, as if already undressing. A gray pistol nestled near his spine, close to the hand of the coaxing woman. Not so crippled.
Stinging needled the back of her eyes, her ears hummed, her throat gripped tight, and her chest hurt to breathe. She turned and stepped into the afternoon sunshine, while a pickaxe mined rock-hard ruby chambers in her heart.
Dear God, the agony of scars ripped bare. Neither good enough, nor bad enough.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When not studying medical research in dementia care, Rosemary Foy escapes into writing historical romance—it’s a yin-yang thing. She and her ever-patient husband, along with their two beautiful daughters, live beneath Mt Canobolas in regional Australia. Her love of social history and the tranquility of landscapes, together with the cherished friendships of like-minded romance readers and authors, all play a part in the world she creates in her stories.
Author’s Note: Writing historical romance creates a wonderful opportunity to weave fiction with fact. One of Joseph MW Turner’s (1775-1851) last paintings, mentioned in chapter 20, was entitled ‘The Angel Standing in the Sun’ (1846). Indeed, Joseph Turner said of Margate, “dawn clouds to the east and glorious sunsets to the west…the loveliest skies in Europe”. I have also been fortunate to research newspaper articles circa 1789 when writing Wylde at Heart. The items mentioned in this story have been adapted from actual published accounts. I hope you enjoy the rich authenticity of the language in these snippets, which is not generally available in today’s popular literature.