Only her beloved grandmother, Lady Esther, knew how devastated Taylor Stapleton had been when her fiancé eloped with Taylor's cousin. Now dear Esther, one of London's richest and most formidable matriarchs, lies dying. But first she was going to help Taylor pull off the scam of the season.
To escape becoming a ward of her unscrupulous uncle, Taylor would wed Lucas Ross, a rugged American rancher. Lady Esther's money would enable Ross to return home to Montana. Taylor had her own urgent reason to go to America: a precious legacy she hadn't revealed to Ross, for they had agreed to part ways once they reached Boston. But as her handsome new husband spoke of life in Montana, Taylor began planning a new future. To Taylor, the wide-open spaces of Montana sounded like paradise.
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From Chapter One
The clapping was suddenly, inexplicably cut off. Couples still lingering on the dance floor turned to the entrance. A hush fell over the guests. Lucas was intrigued by the behavior of the crowd. He turned to see what attraction held eve
"Not everything in England is tainted," Morris announced. "Have a look, Lucas. The proof of England's superiority stands at the entrance."
From the enthusiasm in his voice, Lucas didn't think he would be surprised to find the queen of England standing there.
"Hampton, get out of his way so he can see," Morris ordered.
"Lucas is a good head taller than every other man here," Hampton muttered. "He can see well enough. Besides, I can't take my gaze off the vision long enough to even consider moving anywhere. God love her, she showed up," he added in a whisper, the adoration in his voice unmistakable. "She's got courage, I'd say. Oh, yes, courage, indeed."
"There's your maverick, Lucas," Morris announced in a voice thick with pride.
The young lady under discussion stood on the top of the steps leading down into the ballroom. The Englishmen hadn't exaggerated. She really was an incredibly beautiful woman. She wore a royal blue evening gown with a scooped neck that was neither overly revealing nor overly concealing. The dress wasn't molded to her figure, yet it was impossible not to notice her softly rounded curves and her creamy white skin.
She was all alone, and from the faint smile on her face, she didn't seem to be the least bothered by the stir she was causing. She didn't seem to care that her clothing wasn't considered fashionable either. Her skirt wasn't all poofed out at odd angles, and it was apparent she wasn't wearing one of those wire contraptions underneath. Her hair wasn't bound up tight in a braid. The long, goldencolored curls fell in soft waves around her slender shoulders.
No, she wasn't dressed in the uniform of the other women at the ball, and perhaps that was one reason she held every man's rapt attention. She was a refreshing diversion in perfection.
Lucas was certainly affected by the sight of such loveliness. He instinctively blinked. She didn't disappear. He couldn't see the color of her eyes, but he already knew they were blue...candlelight blue. They had to be.
He was suddenly having difficulty drawing a breath. A tightness settled inside his chest, and his heart started slamming a wild beat. Hell, he was acting like a schoolboy. It was humiliating.
"She really is a maverick," Hampton agreed. "Will you look at the marquess? He's standing directly across the ballroom. I declare I can see the lust in his eyes even from this considerable distance. I imagine his new wife sees it, too. Look how she's glaring at him. Lord, this really is quite delightful. I do believe justice is finally being served to the blackheart. He's getting his due now. God, I'm sorry, Lucas. I shouldn't be talking about your half brother with such disrespect."
"I don't consider him family," Lucas replied in a hard, unbending voice. "He disowned the rest of us years ago. And you're right, Hampton," he added. "Justice has been served in more ways than even you realize."
Hampton gave him a quizzical look. "You've made me mighty curious, Lucas. What is it you know that we don't?"
"He probably heard all about the humiliation," Morris speculated. He didn't wait for Lucas to confirm or deny his statement but hurried on to give the full report just in case he hadn't heard every single little detail.
"The beautiful vision in blue smiling so sweetly was engaged to your half brother, but I'm certain you already knew that much of the story," he began. "William could have had it all. He was quite smooth while he courted her, and she, so young and innocent, surely found him attractive. Then, just two weeks before the wedding was scheduled to take place, William eloped with his fiancee's cousin, Jane. Over five hundred people had been invited to the celebration, and of course, all had to be notified of the cancellation. It was going to be the bash of the season all right. Can you imagine the disgrace of having to call the thing off at such a late hour?"
Hampton nodded. "Do you see how Jane is clinging to William now? Oh, this is priceless. It really is. William isn't even trying to hide his lustful thoughts. I wouldn't be surprised if he started drooling. Jane's a pale shadow next to what he gave up, isn't she?"
Lucas wasn't amused. "He's a fool," he muttered.
Hampton agreed with a nod. "I despise William Merritt. He's a crook and a manipulator. He duped my father, then publicly boasted of his cleverness. My father was humiliated."
"Look what William did to his own brothers," Morris said.
"He almost destroyed Jordan and Douglas, didn't he?" Hampton asked.
"He did," Morris answered. "William's getting his just reward, all right. He's going to be miserable the rest of his life. Jane's every bit as vile as he is. They make a frightening couple, don't they? Rumor has it she's carrying his child. I pity the babe if that gossip is true."
"She could be carrying," Hampton agreed. "The two were blatantly carrying on while he was engaged. Jane's going to be sorry, too. She thinks William has quite an inheritance left."
"Doesn't he?" Lucas asked the question.
Hampton shook his head. "It will soon come out with the wash. He's as destitute as a beggar. The fool speculated and lost every pound he had. The bankers own his land now. He's probably counting on Jane getting a fat inheritance when old Lady Stapleton dies. She was ailing, but I understand she made another miraculous recovery."
Copyright © 1994 by Julie Garwood