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«Ravished», Amanda Quick

Chapter One

 

It was a scene straight out of a nightmare. Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, stood on the threshold and gazed into the cheerful little anteroom of hell.

There were bones everywhere. Savagely grinning skulls, bleached ribs, and shattered femurs were scattered about like so much devil's garbage. Chunks of stone with teeth and toes and other odd bits embedded in them were stacked on the windowsill. A pile of vertebrae littered the floor in one corner.

In the center of the unholy clutter sat a slender figure in a stained apron. A white muslin cap was perched askew atop a wild, tangled mane of chestnut-brown curls. The woman, obviously young, was seated at a heavy mahogany desk. Her slender, graceful back was turned to Gideon. She was sketching busily, her entire attention focused on what appeared to be a long bone embedded in a chunk of stone.

From where he was standing, Gideon could see that there was no wedding band on the supple fingers that held the quill. This would be one of the daughters, then, not the widow of the late Reverend Pomeroy.

Just what he needed, Gideon thought, another rector's daughter.

After the last one had died and her grieving father had left the vicinity, Gideon's father had appointed another rector, the Reverend Pomeroy. But when Pomeroy had died four years ago, Gideon, who was by then in charge of his father's estates, had not bothered to appoint a new rector. Gideon had no particular interest in the spiritual welfare of the people of Upper Biddleton.

Under an arrangement Pomeroy had made with Gideon's father, the Pomeroy family had continued on in the rectory cottage. They paid their rent on time and that was all that mattered as far as Gideon was concerned.

He contemplated the scene in front of him for a moment longer and then glanced around once more for some sign of whoever had left the rectory cottage door open. When no one appeared he removed his curly-brimmed beaver hat and stepped into the small hall. The brisk breeze off the sea followed him inside. It was late March and although the day was unusually warm for that time of year, the sea air was still crisp.

Gideon was amused and, he admitted to himself, intrigued by the sight of the young woman seated among the old bones that cluttered the study. He crossed the hall quietly, taking care that his riding boots made no sound on the stone floor. He was a big man, some said monstrous, and he had long ago learned to move soundlessly in a vain effort to compensate for that fact. He received enough stares as it was.

He halted in the doorway of the study, watching the woman at work for a moment longer. When it became obvious she was too engrossed in her sketching to sense his presence, he reluctantly broke the spell.

"Good morning," Gideon said.

The young woman at the desk gave a startled shriek, dropped her quill, and shot to her feet. She whirled about to face Gideon, her expression one of dawning horror.

Gideon was accustomed to the reaction. He had never been a handsome man, but the deep scar that slashed across his left jaw like a lightning bolt had not improved matters.

"Who the devil are you?" The young woman had both hands behind her now. She was clearly trying to shove her drawings out of sight beneath what appeared to be a journal. The expression of shock in her huge, turquoise blue eyes was rapidly converting into a look of dark suspicion.

"St. Justin." Gideon gave her a coldly polite smile, well aware of what it did to the scar. He waited for her incredibly brilliant eyes to fill with revulsion.

"St. Justin? Lord St. Justin? Viscount St. Justin?"

"Yes."

Enormous relief rather than disgust flared in her blue-green gaze. "Thank God."

"I am rarely greeted with such enthusiasm," Gideon murmured.

The young lady dropped abruptly back down into her chair. She scowled. "Good grief, my lord. You gave me a terrible shock. Whatever do you think you are about, sneaking up on people in this manner?"

Gideon glanced significantly back over his shoulder at the open door of the cottage. "If you are anxious about the prospect of being disturbed by intruders, it would no doubt be best to keep your door closed and locked."

The woman followed his gaze. "Oh, dear. Mrs. Stone must have opened it earlier. She's a great believer in fresh air, you know. Do come in, my lord."

She sprang to her feet again and swept two large tomes off the one spare chair in the room. She hovered indecisively for a moment, searching for a spot amid the rubble that would accommodate the volumes. With a small sigh, she gave up the task and dropped the books carelessly onto the floor. "Please sit down, sir."


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