Rose paused at the church door. Lily and George fluttered around her, straightening the circlet of flowers in her hair, arranging the lace train of her dress. Rose stood, lively as a statue and about as warm. “Now, don’t be nervous,” Aunt Dottie had said a few moments before. “It will all work out perfectly, trust me, my love. I have one of my feelings.”
But Rose wasn’t the slightest bit nervous. It all felt strangely distant, as if it were happening to some other girl. She moistened her lips and waited.
George poked her head around the door, glanced in and pulled a face. “He’s there.”
“Well, of course he’s there,” Lily said crossly. Poor Lily. She’d been in a brittle mood all morning, trying to put a good face on a wedding she still had grave doubts about. Lily wasn’t very good at hiding her feelings.
What if the duke hadn’t come? He was notoriously unreliable about keeping engagements. What if he’d jilted her at the altar? Rose considered it briefly and decided that it would be embarrassing . . . and possibly something of a relief.
Nonsense. She needed to do this, needed to draw a line in the sand between her old life and her new. Cut the bonds of the old, and move on.
“Ready?” her brother Cal asked. She nodded and took his arm.
Now. She took a deep breath and stepped inside the church and stood blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the interior. A hush fell, followed by a susurration of whispers and rustling silk as the congregation turned as one to look at the bride.
The church smelled of flowers, spring flowers, and beeswax, brass polish and perfumes, a hundred clashing perfumes.
At the end of the aisle, in the dappled light of a stained-glass window, stood her future husband, the Duke of Everingham, looking bored. He’d removed his gray kid gloves and was slapping them rhythmically in his palm. Bored and impatient.
At least he’d turned up.
The organ played a chord that swelled to a crescendo, then died, and then the music started and she was walking, walking like an automaton, toward the altar, toward her fate.
She felt everyone’s eyes on her. She’d hardly slept. Did it show? Did she care if it did?
The duke stepped forward. Cal waited, his arm steady beneath her hand, ready to hand her over—like a parcel, like a possession, George had muttered once at another wedding they’d attended.
Rose glanced up and met the duke’s gaze. Dark eyes, gray-green, and cold as the winter sea. Perfectly good eyes, but the wrong color. The wrong eyes.
She regarded them bleakly. Time healed all wounds. Or so they said.
The bishop, resplendent in his robes of gold and purple, cleared his throat and they turned to face him. Rose hoped he wasn’t the kind of bishop who would give some long dreary sermon. She wanted this wedding over. Over and done with. No going back.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here . . .”
The familiar words washed over her. She was calm, quite calm. Coldly, perfectly calm. Not like last time.
The bishop continued, speaking in those melodic rises and falls peculiar to ministers. Did they teach them that singsong cadence at minister school? “. . . not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites . . .”
She shivered. Lord, but this church was cold.
“Therefore if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”
Her fingers were freezing. She should have worn kid gloves instead of these lace ones.
The bishop paused for a perfunctory breath, then continued, “I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that—”
“Stop the wedding!”
I absolutely loved this book! There was no “Oh, woe is me”. No navel-gazing. No page-after-page of angst – even though both of these characters had every reason to do those things. I know – it is odd to love a book for what it doesn’t have, but I do get so tired of books where the main focus is nothing but those things. This one was refreshing, romantic, steamy and just a lovely read.
There are some heartbreaking subjects in this novel, particularly that of the slave trade on the Barbary Coast. It doesn’t touch on or deal with the African slave trade (to the Americas), only that of the Ottoman Empire.
Lady Rose Rutherford is one of the best heroines I’ve read in a long time. She’s smart, steadfast, loyal, faithful and loving. She fell head-over-heels in love at sixteen and never doubted, never faltered, never stopped – even in the face of some of the worst heartache you’ll ever see.
Thomas Beresford followed in his father’s footsteps and purchased a commission in the Navy when he was sixteen. He loved the navy and rose through the ranks over the next seven years to the rank of Commander. Then, at the age of twenty-three, he met, fell in love, and married Rose Rutherford. They married in secret and then he sailed away. His ship sank with all hands reported lost – and his four-year nightmare began.
Thomas was a wonderful hero. After all that had happened to him, he was still the most honorable and caring of men. He was truly a hero in every sense of the word. He was totally unselfish and bent on rescuing the other members of his crew who were enslaved.
I loved the opening scene. Rose had finally agreed to marry because it would, with agreement from the groom, be a totally loveless marriage based solely on procreation. Rose would never love again, but she did want children, so a marriage of convenience would suit her fine. At the wedding ceremony, during that tensest of statements “If anyone has a reason this marriage cannot take place” – there is a shout from the back of the church. The man is unkempt – with long hair, beard, ragged clothing, and a stench – and he had just claimed that Rose was his wife.
After Rose’s initial shock – and wouldn’t that be a shock – she embraced her marriage to Thomas and her love for him. She never, ever wavered even when he tried to dissuade her. Her initial reaction might not have been everything he had hoped for, even he recognized that his appearance and his return from the dead was enough to shock her for a while. But boy, once that shock wore off, she was a very determined lady.
I highly recommend this book and hope you love it as much as I did.