DEVIL’S EMBRACE by Catherine Coulter
DEVIL’S EMBRACE by Catherine Coulter
Edward Forsythe Lyndhurst, fifth Viscount Delford, drew a deep breath of sea air and guided his bay mare closer to the rocky cliff. The day was unusually warm for the end of March, and the early afternoon sun reflected brightly from the blue water as it rippled gently toward the shoreline.
He tugged at his unfamiliar waistcoat and wished again he was still wearing his comfortable officer’s crimson and white uniform. He suspected that his batman and valet, Grumman, felt the loss as much as did he. The fiery little Irishman had been full of voluble complaints about the hoity-toity fashions newly affected by English gentlemen. “Just like the ladies you’ll look now, m’lord,” he’d said, smoothing Edward’s light blue coat over his shoulders, “all lace and bright colors, a strutting coxcomb.”
Grumman, Edward thought, had a point.
Edward shifted in his saddle, shaded his eyes, and looked into the distance up the coastline toward Hemphill Hall, an ancient stone structure that stood at the very edge of the cliffs. He felt a powerful sense of anticipation at seeing the home of the Broughams, Cassie’s home.
He drew a small miniature of Cassandra, painted on her fifteenth birthday, from his waistcoat pocket and gazed into the young girl’s smiling face. Even at fifteen, her face had begun to take on a young woman’s contours. Her high cheekbones, set above a well-formed stubborn chin, were delicate and finely etched, her large blue eyes vivid and questioning. He smiled at the thick wheat-colored hair braided about her head, and remembered how it rippled in deep, natural waves to her waist. He had thought her beautiful even when she was but eight years old and he a lad of fourteen, intolerant of other girls. He had painted outrageous adventures for her, with himself the brave military man, and she had listened to his every word, her eyes serious and intent.
Edward shook his head, bemused by memories that had not come to him in years. What an ass you were, he grunted to himself. But Cassie hadn’t thought that. He still pictured her looking at him solemnly, her hair in scraggly ringlets about her small face, saying in her soft child’s voice, “You must wait for me, Edward. I shall be a woman grown soon and then we shall wed. I shall follow the drum with you and share all your adventures.”
He gazed once again at the miniature and wondered if Cassie was still the same long-legged, skinny girl. He thought about a letter she had written him some six months before, hinting at some rather perplexing changes in her appearance, and grinned at her oblique way of informing him that she was becoming a woman.
A frown passed over his brow and he snapped the miniature shut, replacing it gently in his waistcoat pocket. He turned his mare from the path that led to Hemphill Hall, down the rutted trail to the beach below. Cassie had been much on his mind since his Uncle Edgar’s death some two months ago, when he had felt compelled to resign his commission and return to England to oversee his estates. But he had spent the months in London, with a simple note to Cassie that he would be delayed. Even now, he felt ambivalent. She was, after all, but eighteen years old, and undoubtedly looking forward to her first Season in London. He had felt he had no right to deprive her of an experience that every young lady of her station should enjoy. But he could not help feeling intensely jealous at the thought of her being courted by other gentlemen. What would he do if when he met her she gazed at him and felt nothing more for him than childhood friendship? He had cursed himself for a coward and ridden home to Essex. Now, but one day later, he was still dawdling, and not one mile from her home.
Edward dismounted when his mare gained the beach, and tethered her to a sturdy bush that had thrust itself up in a small crevice between the rocks at the base of the cliff. He strolled slowly up the beach, blankly watching his boots crunch into the coarse sand, deep in thought. He was caught unaware when a large wave broke and sent water lapping up over his boots. He took several irritated steps back and gazed out over the water. To his surprise, he saw someone swimming through the breakers, bare arms moving in sure, graceful strokes. Although he was some distance away, it would have taken a blind man not to see that the figure emerging from the water was a woman. He watched silently as she rose to her feet and walked through the shallow water to the beach.
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