Storm & Shelter
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When a storm blows off the North Sea and slams into the village of Fenwick on Sea, the villagers prepare for the inevitable: shipwreck, flood, land slips, and stranded travelers. The Queen’s Barque Inn quickly fills with the injured, the devious, and the lonely—lords, ladies, and simple folk; spies, pirates, and smugglers all trapped together. Intrigue crackles through the village, and passion lights up the hotel.
One storm, eight authors, eight heartwarming novellas.
Includes Cerise’s novella LORD STANTON’S SHOCKING SEASIDE HONEYMOON.
Read an Excerpt
The night before his second marriage, the Earl of Stanton explains the disaster of his first marriage to his bride whom he’ll wed on the morrow.
He stared at her. “I married my first wife out of duty. Friendship among our families and land that marched beside each other’s led to an expectation that she and I marry to seal the union of affections. From childhood, I never questioned it. Neither did Henrietta.”
Torment sluiced over his brows and he dropped her hands as if they burned him. Josephine swayed toward him, the magnet of his touch, the hurt of his rejection had always drawn her toward him no matter where he strode.
He took up a stance near the mantel, an Adams creation of stark white. His severe black dinner attire created a pillar of harsh contrast to the alabaster. His hand to his lips, the swipe of his fingers across his mouth gave her notice that he meant to continue in this dark vein of remembrance.
“Growing up together we thought we knew each other. Certainly we valued the same things, didn’t we? The same friends. The Berber horses our fathers raised. The hunt. Poetry.” His pause sent a chill up her back and the hair on her arms lifted. “She wanted to marry young and quickly so. Her father had died and her older brother had married. She wished to set up her own house. I agreed to that, to everything. I was free. A carefree lad. Randy, actually. And I had the money. Why should I not marry and indulge us both, eh?
“But I did not see that my agreements were one-sided. I wanted the city. She wanted the country. I wanted the work of Parliament and my friends who worked at Whitehall. She wanted the solitude of her dogs and her roses. When I heard the call of the cavalry and the need to defend my country, she did not approve of my decision to join the Hussars. She demanded I return home and give her babies, days of idling in gardens and reading and pulling deadheads from rosebuds.”
He ran a hand through his hair. The thick mass rumpled wildly around his aquiline features. “She ordered me not to join, not to leave her alone in the country. I refused. For the next few months, she ran hither and yon about the country. Without word of her whereabouts, she kept me guessing. She also kept the ton in ripe gossip. She led me a merry chase. When I learned finally that she had returned home to the Hall, I went there and confronted her. She was wild. She bargained with me. She’d stay in one place if I quit the service and came home to her. She required a constant attendance I could not give her. When I refused, she turned…ugly and took an andiron to me. I bear the scar.”
Josephine’s mouth fell open. She’d never asked how he’d acquired it, assuming it was a battle scar. “Oh, my dear.”
He swung toward her, the horrified look upon his face warning her off. “I left her that night and never returned. I went off to Portugal and Spain, and learned first-hand the delicate art of supplying thousands of men and animals on the march in a foreign land. A year later while I was there, she died of catarrh. I had her buried in her family’s crypt. Six years ago, when I returned home to England, I had the Hall in Bury St. Edmonds stripped of all she’d put into it. Since then, I’ve had a few essential rooms redecorated. That house, too, awaits your kind touch.”
He’d told her last week that he’d written to tell staff there that they would arrive at a future date for a wedding holiday and that she would attend to the renovations.
He threw her a wan smile. “When I married her, I was twenty years old. She was eighteen. I thought I knew her. She said we were…cut from the same cloth. Ah, but what does one know at eighteen?”
I knew I loved you. That first afternoon, when my father brought me into his offices and introduced his friend, the dashing creature who ensured soldiers had uniforms to clothe them, blankets to warm them, beef to sustain them, shot and rifles and cannon and boots.
“I am sixteen years older now, Josephine, and I do hope much wiser. I see in you, my dear, much that resembles my own temperament. You love people and your work, your father and young brother. You see joy in living and cultivate it. I want to make a good husband to you, Josephine, and I promise to give you the best of me.”
No declaration of love, but she would take it. “Thank you, Russ. I do not marry you lightly. I’ve had suitors.”
His face broke into a rueful smile. From the looks of it, he welcomed the change to a lighter topic. “I know you have. Many, I would say.”
She took his good humor and wished to build on it. “I refused them all.”
“Good prospects they were, my darling.”
At his use of that endearment, she noted progress in his regard of her. She tipped her head. “You knew, did you?”
He grinned. “Your father and I are very good friends.”
She flowed nearer to him, her hands flat to the silk of his waistcoat. “I was never attracted to any of them.”
“I often wondered why. They were young. James Caffrey of Hammond Lane was only twenty-five when he asked for your hand three years ago. And what’s-his-name English? Thomas English is rich as Midas. Clothier to His Majesty’s Army makes him a good catch.”
She toyed with a button on his waistcoat. “Youth and money have their charms but I was not enchanted.”
“Your father was astonished you refused.”
Years ago, he was. Not lately. “Many times, he asked me why. I’m shocked he told you about their proposals.”
Russ reached for her, his large sure hands cupping her cheeks. “Your papa sprinkled details like lures to a treasure. In truth, I heard more from my friends, tidbits of gossip that you would not have any of them. And I rejoiced.”
Her heart pounded with his admission. “I wish I’d known.”
“Do you?” He hooted, hugged her close and kissed her forehead. “Minx! With every man you refused, I could not keep up with the parade.”
“Surely, sir, you can count to five.”
He guffawed. “Miss Meadows! Your father counted eight.”
“That many? How complimentary!” She wrapped her arms around his waist and drew back to admire the man who would be hers at last. Here in this noble, honorable, hard-working creature was all she had ever desired of love. “I wanted only you.”
He blinked, the shock of her declaration making his words sound unrehearsed. “No, surely.”
“Most definitely. From the day I strode into Papa’s office and he introduced me to you as your personal private accountant.”
“Josephine,” he pronounced her name as if he were reading a hallowed passage from the Bible. “Sweetheart, you were—”
“Young. But never cloistered. I’d met men, of all ages, for years. In trade, we women are not kept in tidy little confines sipping tea, my darling.”
Her statement—perhaps even her own endearment—induced him to crush her close. “You do not marry me because your father wishes it.”
“Or because he fears he dies soon. No. I marry you because finally you asked me.”
“Russell Downey, hear me. I marry you because I want to be your wife.”
He gasped and took her lips in a happy declaration of a devotion and yes, a passion that set her on her heels.
He took his lips away all too soon and she nestled into the crook of his shoulder.
He spoke against her ear. “Come. I will accompany you home. I wish to assure your father I am not stealing you away like a highwayman.”
She laughed, rejoicing at the results of the evening. “I will always run away with this thief.”
“You try a man, my darling. Patience we must have until tomorrow.”
She pecked him on the lips. “Tomorrow.”