Austin Randolph Jamison, Ninth Duke of Bradford, met the uncanny beauty at the ball at Bradford Hall. And from that first moment, he was stunned. How could this unsophisticated female, who climbed trees in a ball gown to rescue a kitten, know secrets that could ruin his family and speak of danger that threatened them all? Who was she, this American bluestocking who knew too much, whose innocence shone in her eyes even as her full lips tempted sin? Suddenly the duke knew he could not afford to let her go.
Some called it a gift. To Elizabeth Matthews, however, her visions were a responsibility that bound her to protect others from danger, no matter that the gossipmongers whispered she was chasing the duke to the altar. She vowed to use her powers to protect Austin at any cost, reckless of the passions that drove her into his arms, the need that made her his bride, never expecting her marriage to turn into a love match that would become the ton's most delicious scandal.
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September 11, 2000
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Excerpt from Whirlwind Wedding by Jacquie D'Alessandro
Chapter 1 England, 1816 Austin Randolph Jamison, ninth Duke of Bradford, stood in a shadowed alcove and surveyed his guests. Couples swirled on the dance floor, a colorful rainbow of expensively gowned and jeweled women escorted by perfectly turned out gentlemen. Hundreds of beeswax candles twinkled in the overhead chandeliers, casting a warm glow over the festivities. Over two hundred of Society's elite had gathered in his home, and he had only to reach out his hand to touch any one of a dozen people. He'd never felt so alone in his life. Emerging from the shadows, he plucked a brandy from a passing footman's silver tray and raised the snifter to his lips. "There you are, Bradford. Been looking for you everywhere." Austin froze, smothering a vicious oath. He wasn't sure who the speaker was, but it didn't matter. He knew why whoever stood behind him had been looking for him, and his stomach tightened into a knot. Well, there was no escaping now. Tossing back half his brandy, he braced himself, then turned around. Lord Digby stood before him. "I just visited the gallery, Bradford," Digby said. "The new portrait of William in his military uniform is magnificent. A fitting tribute." His round face collapsed into a frown and he shook his head. "Deuced tragedy, passing on during his final mission." Austin forced himself to nod politely. "I agree." "Still, it's an honor to die a war hero." Pressure built in Austin's chest. War hero. If only that were true. But the letter locked in his desk drawer confirmed his suspicions that it was not. A vivid picture of William flashed through his mind--that last gut-wrenching image that nothing could erase. Guilt and regret slammed into him, and his fist tightened around his brandy snifter. Air. He desperately needed air to clear his mind. Excusing himself, he headed toward the French windows. Caroline caught sight of him and smiled, and he forced himself to smile at his sister in response. As much as he dreaded social functions, he was pleased to see Caroline looking so happy. It had been too long since that gleam of carefree joy had lit her lovely face, and if hosting this damn ball was what was necessary to make her happy, then host it he would. Still, he wished Robert were here instead of traveling on the Continent. His jovial younger brother was much more at ease in the role of host. Ignoring the curious gazes cast in his direction, Austin exited the ballroom and made his way to the gardens. Neither the sweet fragrant roses scenting the warm summer air nor the full moon casting a silvery luster over the landscape improved his mood or relaxed the tension clenching his muscles. Couples strolled together, talking quietly, but Austin ignored them, determined to find a few minutes of peace. But even as he struck out along a well-manicured path, he knew in his heart that peace was too much to ask for. Would anyone guess the truth? No, he decided. Everyone--Caroline, Robert, his mother, the entire bloody country--all believed William died a hero, and it was an illusion Austin would pay any price to maintain. Anything to keep his family and his brother's memory safe from ruin. He soon arrived at his destination, a private area surrounded by tall hedges at the perimeter of the gardens. The unoccupied curved stone bench was the most welcome sight he'd beheld all evening. Sanctuary. Heaving a sigh of relief, he sat on the bench and stretched out his legs, ready to enjoy this peaceful haven. He reached into his pocket to extract his gold cigar case, but paused when he heard a rustling in the hedges. The bushes parted and a young woman attempted to scramble through them. Panting and muttering under her breath, she tried unsuccessfully to free herself from the branches tearing at her hair and pulling at her gown.