Margaret Vaughn is the wealthiest heiress in London—or so everybody thinks. Saddled with debts and facing financial and social humiliation, she finds an unlikely savior in Tom Poole . . . After surviving a shipwreck and amassing a fortune in the gold fields of Australia, Tom Poole is the toast of London society. Yet despite his new found fame, he’s never forgotten his own humble beginnings. When he learns of Margaret’s plight, he offers her financial assistance—but his interest is not strictly business. This rugged adventurer now seeks a different kind of gold. Although many men pursue Margaret’s hand because of her beauty and lands, can Tom convince her it’s her heart he’s after?
Three hours. Three hours it had taken to sort out the mess, to clear the guests from the hall as graciously as she could, and to settle with the owner for the damage. It would take far longer to recover from the blow to her good name. Tom Poole had humiliated her publicly. He had shown the world that he was nothing but an ill-bred, lower-class hooligan with no regard for common decency. He had turned their wedding breakfast into a brawl. Even now, the memory of Tom’s face during the fight sent chills down Margaret’s spine. Even though she had seen him threaten a man before, she had not fully comprehended how volatile he was. Now that she was his wife, how was she to deal with this darker aspect of his nature? Margaret paced up and down in the suite of rooms Tom had rented for them in the hotel. She felt trapped in these unfamiliar surroundings, but coming here after the wedding breakfast had been her only option. All her clothes and immediate necessities had been brought here.
“Shall I find some tea, madam?” Bessie asked. “Perhaps some chamomile, to help soothe the nerves?” She was sitting in a corner of the room, darning and keeping Margaret company until Tom arrived. Where was Tom, anyway? He’d left with the men carrying Richard out of the hall, and he’d arranged to get the man home and under a doctor’s care. Then he had left, saying grimly that he had something else to attend to. But he had not told her what it was. Nor had he offered any apologies.
“Tea won’t be necessary,” she told Bessie, ignoring her maid’s concerned expression. Nothing would calm her until she had given Tom a good piece of her mind. Margaret whirled from the window as the door opened and Tom walked in. Whatever he’d been up to since they had parted, he’d done nothing to repair his disheveled appearance. His cravat was loose, his shirt collar smudged with dirt and blood, his coat sleeve torn. Her heart leaped into her throat when saw dried blood crusted along his right eye and hairline. She told herself it was anger. What kind of a man fought like this, heedless of danger to himself? “Where have you been?” she demanded. Tom shot her a look, but didn’t answer. He set down his hat and looked at Bessie.
“Leave us, please. I need to change.”
“Then we shall both leave,” Margaret countered, motioning for Bessie to follow her to the door. “Where is your valet?” Tom put out a hand to stop her. “My valet has the night off. You will help me.”
“Me?” Margaret said, astounded.
“You are my wife.”
“Precisely. I am your wife, not your valet.”
He took a step toward Margaret, hands outstretched. “I had hoped I could count on my wife to help tend my wounds.”
Margaret took an involuntary step back. What did he think she’d do, after the mortification he’d caused her today? Run into his arms? He was a fool if he thought so. Disappointment crossed his face, but he made no move to close the gap. Instead, he surprised Margaret by walking past her, pulling off his coat as he did so and tossing it onto a table. He began tugging furiously at his cravat. Good heavens, he’s serious, Margaret thought. He’s going to undress right here in front of me. In front of the maid. Bessie flushed, turning her eyes away in embarrassment, and Margaret had to take pity on her. This was Margaret’s problem now. She would have to face her husband alone sometime, and the sooner they had things out between them, the better.
“That will be all, Bessie. I will send for you if I need you.”
“Yes, madam,” Bessie said, with unmistakable relief. She hastened to the door and let herself out.
The cravat came off, and Tom tossed it onto the coat. His shirt fell open, exposing the base of his throat and upper portion of his chest. He slipped the braces off his shoulders. Margaret stood, unable to move, her anger displaced by the shocking novelty of seeing a man undressing. Her heart began to pound wildly, so much so that she thought he must be able to hear it. She tried to hold on to her resentment at all that had happened today, at how his actions had embarrassed and humiliated her. But it was difficult not to be distracted by the outline of his broad chest under the white shirt, at the way his trousers dropped lower on his hips without the braces to hold them up. He looked up and caught her looking at him, and Margaret thought she detected a particular glint in his eye. He had promised her he would wait, but here he was, half-undressed, and today he had proven himself a man of uncontrollable passions. What if he decided to act now, even if she was unwilling? But he made no move to unbutton his trousers. Instead, he dropped into one of the two overstuffed chairs that flanked the fireplace. He lifted one foot and began to tug at his boot. After a moment he seemed to think the better of it and allowed his foot, still shod, to fall back to the floor. He rubbed his hands over his face but then stopped, wincing, as his hands found a tender spot—a cut on his forehead that was probably the result of his tumble into the broken glass. With a groan he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.
“God, I’m tired,” he said. Sensing that there was no immediate threat to her person, Margaret found her righteous anger returning. She crossed her arms and regarded him coldly.
“I should think you would be tired.” Her voice was brittle and hard, as she intended it to be. “It takes a lot of energy to get married and destroy a banquet hall in one day.”
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About the Author
Jennifer Delamere writes romance and adventure set against the backdrop of real events in Victorian England. Her debut novel “An Heiress at Heart” was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America 2013 RITA® award—the highest award for romance fiction. Her second novel, “A Lady Most Lovely,” earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Jennifer earned her B.A. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where she also gained fluency in French and developed an abiding passion for winter sports. She’s been an editor of educational materials for over a decade. An avid reader of both classic novels and historical fiction, she also enjoys biographies and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the characters and places in her books.