Wicked schemes are afoot at Westwood Hall this Christmas. And lovely, innocent Adeline Osbourne will be ensnared by dark, dashing Grant Leighton and a scandalous assignation....
Betrothed against her will, Adeline had been resigned to a loveless marriage. At the mercy of her father's wishes, she had lost all hope of experiencing what life really had to offer.
But now a scandal has altered her destiny! Adeline secretly thanks the festive season for working its magic--promising pleasures long denied her....
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October 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Wicked Pleasures by Helen Dickson
From where he stood, leaning gracefully against a silver birch tree, allowing his mount a moment's respite after the long ride from Sevenoaks, Grant Leighton was taken by surprise when two horse-riders--a man and a woman--came thundering past him like the Light Brigade hurtling into the Valley of Death.
Utterly transfixed, he heard the woman's joyous laughter as her horse's competitive spirit flared; it seemed determined to keep ahead of its mate. Its mane and tail flying, legs flailing, the horse, setting a cracking pace, was galloping its heart out. From what Grant could make out, the other horse was beginning to tire and didn't stand a chance.
Looking through his binoculars, he watched them, filled with admiration for the woman's ability and daring. It was clear that she was utterly fearless. It was unusual to see a woman riding astride, with her mane of hair like polished mahogany flying behind, a tangled pennant of glossy waves. He could see buff-coloured breeches and riding boots beneath the skirts of her dark brown riding habit spread out over the horse's rump.
The man was riding a chestnut mare and the woman a grey stallion--a huge beast, a thoroughbred and no mistake-- which would take some handling at the best of times and would challenge even his own.
Wide and emerald-green, the field stretched before them. Giving up the chase, the man slowed to a canter, but the woman carried on, riding beautifully, her slender and supple body, arresting and vigorous, bent forward, her gloved hands almost touching the horse's flicking ears, urging him on. Leaping a gorse hedge and landing soundly, she then soared over a wide ditch like a white swan and rode on, following the field round and down the other side, her body moving with her horse like a lover's, encouraging him every step of the way. Coming to the far end of the field, she slowed him to a canter. Riding through an open gate, with a backward look and a wave of her hand to her companion, who seemed in no hurry to follow her, she disappeared from sight.
Long after he could no longer see her Grant continued to stand and stare at the spot where she had vanished, half expecting--and hoping--to see her appear once more. Never had he seen a woman ride with so much skill. By God, she was magnificent. Deeply impressed, he was curious as to who she might be. He hadn't seen her features, so he would be unable to recognise her again, but he would dearly like to meet her.
The early morning was cool and crisp--unusual weather for earlyAugust--butAdeline, riding back to the stables, favoured it over the sticky heat of midsummer. As always, she had enjoyed her ride on her beloved Monty enormously, feeling those splendid muscles flexing beneath her. Pausing to retrieve her bonnet from where she had left it hanging on a fence, and hurriedly arranging her hair into a demure bun at her nape, she secured the untidy mess and tied the ribbon under her chin. How she would love to toss the bonnet aside and feel the wind tear through her hair once more--but that would never do. Not for the demure and prim Miss Adeline Osborne.
Now she was close to the house there was the possibility that she would be seen and her father informed, and he would chastise her most severely for riding with such complete abandon.
Horace Osborne was a strict authoritarian, and expected little of his daughter except that she behave as a well-brought-up young lady should. Adeline thought about her father as she followed the path. She was an only child, her mother deceased, and one would have thought she would be his golden child-- the adored centre of his life--but he was indifferent to her. It was as if she was some kind of reject, and she was convinced that the reason for this rejection was her lack of beauty-- which her mother had possessed in abundance.
As soon as Adeline had come out of the schoolroom, and her governess had been dispensed with, she had taken on the business of running the household--instructing servants, entertaining neighbours and her father's business colleagues, making things comfortable for him.
To her surprise and dismay, Paul was waiting in the stable-yard when she rode in, his presence reminding her of the importance of the day ahead. Later there was to be an 'at home' at Rosehill, to celebrate their engagement.
The sight of him put a dampener on her ride. Paul Marlow, a widower, and twenty years Adeline's senior, was distinguished-looking rather than handsome--of slender build, with fair hair peppered with white. Women were generally drawn to him. He moved carefully and spoke carefully. He was impeccable, and his clothes fitted him in a way that only the best tailors on Savile Row knew how to fit them.