Penniless when she arrives in Norfolk, her mother and father drowned at sea, Raine Brinsley would give anything to return home to her grandfather in Maine. When Derek Stafford, owner of a large plantation, offers a solution to her dilemma, she’s stunned, if not outraged. She’d prefer to fulfill the contract to have his child and forget about him and his self-serving scheme. But she hadn’t counted on the decadently-delicious passion he’d awakened in her. And she hadn’t counted on the spirit of his dead wife leaving her cryptic messages or the evil machinations of his brother, Lyman, who will stop at nothing to hold the title of Stafford House in his hands . . . including murder.
A rogue cccustomed to getting what he wants, Derek’s only desire was to father an heir for Stafford House, thus securing his future. He didn’t count on the Scottish lass with dark green eyes to interfere with his well-laid plans. But after one night in her arms, guilt, not to mention the loss of his heart, became his penance. Now he’d do anything to get her back, anything to quench the hunger and passion tormenting his soul.
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He took a seat across from her, pulled the leather pouch and the brown envelope from his vest pocket and placed them on the table between them. Her eyes drifted between the items and his face.
“I’m not certain how to begin,” he said his hands breaking into a cold sweat.
She appeared to be holding her breath. He rose and ran his fingers through his hair. Damn, this would be harder than he had anticipated.
"We had a discussion the other evening in the garden about children, did we not?”
“I explained to you the position my father takes on the matter and the difficult situation I find myself in due to my failure to produce a male heir?”
The dark green eyes searched his. “Yes, sir.”
“You’re a beautiful woman with a significant amount of intellect and a variety of coveted traits and talents.”
“Thank you, but you hardly know me.”
“That’s true,” he said, his throat suddenly dry. “But what I’ve seen in the last two weeks far exceeds my highest expectations.”
“You’re in a difficult situation and,” he smiled. “I’m prepared to offer you a way out.”
“A way out? I’m not usually thick-skulled, but I don’t see―”
“Hear me out, please.” He paced like he always did when anxious. “I realize the arrangement might sound quite outrageous, even obtuse, but I’ve thought a great deal about it since our meeting in the garden. I took the liberty of consulting an expert.”
“Expert, what type of expert?”
When she folded her hands, her knuckles turned white. “I’m not following you. Perhaps you should come right out and tell me what arrangement you’re alluding to.”
The seconds ticked away on the mantle clock as though a thousand night crickets had entered the room.
"Yes, I’m trying to get there.” He stopped pacing and held onto the back of his chair. “Here’s the way I see it. You need to raise your station in life, that is, you need enough money at your disposal to return to your former lifestyle. I, on the other hand, need a male heir. I’m offering you security.” He alternated between looking at her and the floor. “In exchange, I want to have a child with you, preferably, a male, however,” he said, rushing the words, “if it happens to be female, I’ll love and accept her.”
An audible gasp fell from her lips. “I couldn’t possibly accept your proposal of marriage. It would be most unfair to both of us, in light of―”
Good God, this wasn’t going well at all. “Marriage? I’m not offering matrimony, Raine.”
Her eyes darted about the room.
He walked to the table and picked up the envelope. “More money than you could earn in a lifetime is in here. I’ll give you half now and the other half when-when the contract has been fulfilled.”
She looked at the envelope and back to him, her eyes dark and smoky. “How much is in the envelope?” she asked, icily.
“Five thousand dollars.”
“Five thousand now and five thousand the day the child is born,” he said tossing the envelope onto the table again. “It’s all yours should you decide to accept.” The rapid pulse in a tiny blue vein on her neck pulsated in perfect sync with his heart.
“If you’re not offering marriage, in what capacity will I live in the manor?”
“You’ll be free to go home after the child is born. Until then, you’ll have complete freedom to do whatever you choose.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“You said you wished to return to your grandfather one day. That day can be sooner than you think. You need only sign the contract my barrister has drafted.” He nodded toward the envelope. “It’s also in there.”
“Horace Masterson, the kindly gentleman who promised me safety and security until I could return to Maine?”
Her face paled against the enormous green eyes and dark eyebrows.
“Yes, well, it does guarantee your safety and security, and certainly it isn’t charity.” He dropped into the chair again and leaned forward. “Read it, think about it, and let me know if you have any questions. I’m sure you’ll find everything in order, and I’ve already signed it.”
She blinked, and for a moment he wondered if she might cry. Christ, he hoped not. He couldn’t bear up under a woman’s tears.
“You seem more than well prepared,” she said, her tone scornful. “I must commend your valiant efforts to keep your father’s threats at bay.”
“I don’t blame you for reacting in this manner at the onset, but surely you see the practicality for all concerned.” His tone took on the innocent pleadings of a child. “You’ll be free to go about your life in a manner envied by most women. I’ll acquire an heir to Stafford House, and my father will end his relentless pursuit.”
“Oh, do enlighten me.” She shot him a lethal glare. “Should I decide to engage in your well-contrived scheme, how do you propose we bring the end result to fruition?”
“It’s quite simple, really,” he said, staring into the fathomless green depths. “You spend three nights with me, the specific nights to be chosen by Madam Seren, an ancient medicine woman. She’s prepared several concoctions and you’ll need to follow strict diet recommendations for several weeks. Highly knowledgeable in these matters Seren claims certain remedies enhance the possibility of producing a male child. I’ll expect you to abide by her recommendations if you accept my offer.”
She shook her head. “It would seem there isn’t a stone you haven’t left unturned. I applaud your tenacity and the immense preparation expended to carry out your self-serving plot.”
She looked out the window. In her eyes he saw sadness again, and something else. Indecision? Hatred? An interminable amount of time passed before he spoke again. “Think of it as a business arrangement.”
She turned to him with a look that said she’d like to shin-cap him.
“You have two days to come to a decision. If you accept, I’ll be in my study two nights from now. If you decline my offer, you can remain at Stafford House, in your present position of course until you’ve earned your fare back to Maine. Do you have any questions?”