Love’s Legacy ONLY
a Worth Brothers novel by Joan Avery
English plantation owner Geoffrey Worth has misgivings about hiring an American widow as a governess. But while Geoffrey longs to forget the past—and the daughter who reminds him of it daily—there is still duty to consider. And Bellefleur, his plantation. This is his life now. Warmth, family, love; these things only bring pain. And scars he’ll carry forever…
Elizabeth Malfonte is certainly not the aged widow he had anticipated. She’s young and beautiful, with a determination that wakes something deep within Geoffrey. Yet Elizabeth hides her own secret―the babe within her womb. And despite Geoffrey’s handsome―yet scarred face―her new employer has a cold and unforgiving nature that unsettles her, even as Elizabeth’s wariness slowly heats to desire.
But the bright beauty of this land is no match for the dark, ominous clouds of the past…
More in the Worth Brother’s series by Joan Avery:
Title: Love’s Legacy (Worth Brothers, #3)
Author: Joan Avery
Genre: Historical Romance, Regency
Length: 297 pages
Release Date: November 2014
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by Joan Avery
Copyright © 2014 by Joan Avery. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Grenada, British West Indies
“I’m sorry, Geoffrey,” James Douglass said quietly. “More so because of the delay in getting the news.”
“There’s no need to feel sorry for me. It matters little when or where he died. I hated my father and everything he stood for,” Geoffrey Worth replied coldly. “His death will not impact me in any way.”
The two men sat astride their horses high on a bluff overlooking the town of St. George’s on the island of Grenada. Before them lay the Caribbean in all its azure glory.
James asked tentatively, “Do you think that your brother Stephen will return from America now that Hugh is the head of the family?”
Geoffrey bridled at this last question. He did not like talking about family. Only his long friendship with James persuaded him to reply. “I doubt Stephen will return to England. The scandal of his departure left little place for him in polite English society. He has made a life in Colorado as a metallurgist.” Geoffrey patted his horse’s mane. “I don’t blame him for any of the scandal. It was my father’s doing. He treated my mother abominably until she took her own life. Stephen hated my father almost as much as I did.”
“But the man was still your father.”
“Anyone can sire a child. Parenting is another matter.”
“I wish you would remember that with Angelina. It’s not the child’s fault. None of it.”
Geoffrey scowled. He appreciated James’s friendship, but James had now overstepped that friendship. His daughter was no one’s concern but his.
James ran his hand down the neck of his horse. Wisely, he did not meet Geoffrey’s eyes. “I’m glad you’ve made arrangements for a governess. Angelina deserves someone other than Mary and Noni to care for her.”
“Are you implying that I don’t care?”
“If you do, you have an unusual way of showing it, my friend.”
The criticism had the force of a slap across his face. He was still reeling when James added, “But I’ll leave you to it. I’ve got to go to the office and finish up some bills of lading so we can get our cargo on the ship before it sails.”
James didn’t wait for a reply. He pulled his horse back and headed down toward the town and its docks.
Geoffrey sat deep in thought for a long while before he, too, headed down to the docks and the ship that had moments earlier arrived at the pier. James had pestered him until he had hired a governess for his daughter. In an intentional insult to his homeland and upbringing, he had advertised for the position in the United States. He had hired an American widow. Only time would tell if it was a wise move. He hated change. Hated being dragged away from the only thing that mattered any more—Bellefleur. The plantation stood for everything that was important. Everything that made him different than his father. Freedom where there had only been stricture, success where there had only been failure, and nurture where there had only been neglect. Bellefleur was his life now.
The terrible retching was about to begin again. It wasn’t the sea that caused the sickness. Elizabeth Malfonte was an experienced sailor, and the small schooner had weathered no storms, but each day she had been caught up in these bouts of nausea. Her cabin was in disarray. The illness had left her little time to prepare for their arrival at St. George’s. She should clean the mess in her cabin, but another round of vomiting kept her close to the chamber pot.
What wonderful, perverse irony. She was pregnant. Cold sweat beaded her forehead. Nausea swept over her again, wiping everything from her mind but the persistent agony of vomiting. Her mouth dry, her stomach empty, she did not think her situation could get much worse.
“Mrs. Malfonte?” The knocking at the door was gently persistent. “Mrs. Malfonte? Are you there? Someone has come for you.”
She could not rise to answer. She dare not leave the floor that offered support and the chamber pot that held the recent contents of her stomach. She retched again, too unhappy to care about the man at the door or anyone who had come for her. The whole thing was impossible now. It had been a foolish thing to do, coming here. She thought it would deaden the pain of John’s death, but now there was a child on the way and the anguish of his death was almost unbearable.
The door to her small cabin opened, but she couldn’t turn to see who entered. She heard only his voice, deep, resonant, and brutal.
“The bloody fool. This is who he sends me? Look at this mess. The woman is no more fit to be a governess than one of the mona monkeys that swing about the trees up in the rain forest.”
Then he addressed the ship’s captain. “My carriage is at the end of the pier. See that she gets there sometime this morning. I will be returning to Bellefleur at noon. And, Captain, tell her I expect her to be presentable by then.”
At the man’s biting words, Elizabeth managed to lift her head to see the breadth of a linen-covered back retreating. Somehow she was grateful she had not seen his face.
Two hours later, as she made her way slowly up to the deck, Elizabeth again questioned the wisdom of her flight from Washington. She couldn’t think of her late husband John now. It would be her undoing. She hesitated, then forced the final step that would bring her out into the new world she had chosen for herself and, unknowingly, for her unborn child as well.
She was aware of the sun first. It caressed her dark red hair. She raised her face and closed her eyes. She let it wash over her. Down across her brow, her neck, across the bodice of her black bombazine gown to warm her arms beneath the long black sleeves. It was a lovely embrace. She opened her eyes.
Turquoise water lapped the shore of the island. The sun’s rays highlighted each soft wave, then scurried onto the land, lighting the red tile roofs of the houses that clung like swallows’ nests to the hillside.
Color. Everywhere there was the touch of color. Houses in every pastel imaginable clung to the rising green steps of small hills. Then there was the green itself, in every shade and hue. The verdant colors of the foliage climbed up the mountains that rose before her. The great mounds resembled the backs of huge sea serpents half hidden in the azure sea.
And there was white—white so brilliant that it hurt her eyes—the whitewashed walls of the warehouses that huddled near the water, the white of the beach strewn with brightly painted boats, and the white of the sea birds that played on the great waves of wind that carried the exotic smell of the island of Grenada to her.
With the sudden barrage to her senses, she closed her eyes again and let the sun coax her from her despair.
She inhaled, and the wonderful smell tantalized. It was as if she had stepped into a spice shop. What was the lovely odor? She would have to ask.
“Mrs. Malfonte? You’re feeling better?”
She took a moment before she opened her eyes. “Yes, Captain. Much better. I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“No, of course not…of course not.” The barrel-chested man with a handlebar mustache was somewhat flustered. When he spoke again, his words were deliberate and measured. “I know it’s none of my concern, ma’am, but are you sure you wouldn’t like to return with us after we load our cargo?”
“Thank you for the offer, Captain, but I doubt it will be that simple. I signed an employment contract for two years. It was a condition of my passage here. So you see, even if I am unacceptable, it will not be so easy…” She had too much pride to admit she had no money for a passage home.
“Well, ma’am, if I might speak freely.” The captain cleared his throat. “He was lucky I didn’t teach him a little lesson in manners. I don’t know how they do things here, but that kind of rudeness certainly deserves some kind of response.”
She was touched by his concern. She looked toward the shore again and held a hand up to shade her eyes. “Let us give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? Certainly I was not a picture of propriety and decorum this morning.”
“But Mrs. Malfonte, surely he can understand…”
She was afraid if he spoke any more of it, she would lose her resolve. “Please, Captain.” She couldn’t bear kindness right now. She would rather face the ire of her new employer.
“As you wish, ma’am.” The captain bowed slightly and withdrew to supervise unloading the ship’s cargo.
Elizabeth searched the docks for the broad back she had glimpsed earlier. What kind of life created such coldness? What of his child that she was to care for? What child could thrive under such cruelty?
The carriage was uncomfortably hot. Her heavy black dress was ill suited to the tropics, but it had been made in haste with no knowledge of where the future would take her. The fabric clung to her damp skin and wrinkled to the touch. The increased heat and its effects stripped her of what little confidence she had regained after this morning’s disastrous encounter.
Her employer had said she was to be ready by noon and she was, yet there was no sign of him. It was unconscionable to leave anyone, let alone a woman, sitting so long in the warm confines of the carriage. His arrogance, it seemed, knew no bounds.
With growing irritation, Elizabeth’s thoughts returned for the hundredth time to the shipboard meeting, to the brusque voice whose owner was so offensive—to her new employer, Geoffrey Worth. If there was one thing keeping her from despair, it was a growing anger.
“I see you have managed to clean yourself up, Madame.” His approach to the carriage window had been soundless, so his words startled her. She recognized the voice immediately. Her heart beat double time as she tried to regain her wits. His huge shoulders blocked out most of the sunlight entering the carriage. He didn’t even have the courtesy to look at her. He stared out toward shore.
“I see that your manners have not improved since this morning, sir. Perhaps it is you who is more fit company for the monkeys you spoke of earlier than for more civilized society.”
She found satisfaction in his stunned silence.
Slowly, he turned to face her. She stifled a gasp. A long, ugly red gash ran from his nose to his right ear. She had seen many such injuries after the Civil War. But this ragged line puckered his face and gave him almost a permanent grimace. It appeared particularly cruel, as if it was intended to deform what was otherwise a handsome face. Was this the cause of his bitterness?
He gave no hint that he saw her reaction. When he spoke again, his words were measured and curt. “Our ride to Bellefleur will take a little over an hour.”
An hour. An hour away from civilization. She hadn’t anticipated that Bellefleur would be so far from the city. He approached a great black horse tethered nearby. Her discomfort grew. He appeared almost barbaric. He wore no jacket, no cravat, none of the formalities she was accustomed to in men. His outfit consisted of only fawn-colored linen slacks carelessly tucked into riding boots and a fine lawn shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled back, revealing heavily muscled forearms.
As he untied the horse, she prayed she would be saved from further close contact with the man, but he did not mount. Instead, he led the horse back to the carriage, shattering any hope she may have held.
She could see his features clearly now. His hair was light, made lighter still by the sun. His face, neck, and forearms were deeply bronzed. His chest, at least the part she could see, was tanned as well. He moved like a tawny male lion, king of his realm—accustomed to having his own way. His distorted mouth only added to the illusion.
She waited as he tied his horse to the rear of the brougham and then settled into the opposite seat. He obviously felt little compulsion to speak, for he turned his head away from her and stared out the window.
The terrible scar was almost hidden. She took his measure. His features overall were strong but not coarse. The aquiline nose and full mouth must have been attractive at one time. On a man with a more amenable temperament she guessed they would have won the heart of many a woman. But clearly that was no longer the case.
She had no doubt that he was a strong-willed man and she would have to establish her position—make him understand that she was not one of his plantation’s manual laborers. But it would be more difficult than she anticipated. His sheer physical presence dominated the small space they shared.
It was not that he was overly large. He was a tall man, but she had seen taller. He was strongly built, but she had seen stronger. He was older than her twenty-three years, but not by enough years to matter.
It was something else about him that gave her a sense of unease, something primal, something unforgiving and, in the end, something very disturbing. She suspected he did not ride in a carriage often. He sprawled across the opposite seat. She shifted uncomfortably as the carriage pulled out.
He stretched his long legs out toward her and her own retreated. It was a strange visceral response. She would not let him do this to her. She moved her feet back to their original position.
They headed slowly north, winding their way into the mountains. He turned back toward her, but it was only to stare. It made her skin tingle uncomfortably. She became conscious of her own breathing and worked to keep it even and deep.
As the horses climbed a rise, she had a view of St. George’s from above. An old fort sat high on a promontory looking out to the sea. It reminded her of an ancient warlord awaiting the return of an enemy long dead.
The minutes passed, and her discomfort grew until she wanted to scream. He just sat there staring. He said nothing, as if there were no obligation for polite conversation. But perhaps there was none. She was, after all, only an employee.
Finally, incapable of holding her silence any longer, she searched for some safe topic. Before she found one, he spoke.
“My agent tells me you are well educated, Madame.”
She picked her words carefully. “These things are subjective, are they not?”
“I expect quality in everything. Your credentials are impeccable. It is on your credentials that you were selected.”
“Should I be grateful that you didn’t see the poor package that enclosed them before you made your decision?”
“I care little for the look of a thing. I find that one can be terribly misled by appearances.” He unconsciously ran a finger down his scar.
“As it seemed this morning.” She bit out the words.
His face remained impassive. She could read nothing in his harsh features. He simply continued to stare, and she felt the color rise in her cheeks.
Finally, he shifted his head and made a movement of dismissal with his hand. If it was an apology, it was a poor one.
“Did my agent make clear the terms of your employment?”
“We are a colony, Madame, with all that entails. Life here is not easy, especially for a woman. This climate will not tolerate frailty.”
Her head lifted slightly with the challenge. “I am not weak. I will not violate the terms of the agreement, if that is your concern.” She tried not to think of the child growing within her and the immediate discharge it would no doubt mean.
“So we shall see.”
She would not let him dismiss her that quickly. It was much easier to deal with him when she made him talk. “The island is very beautiful.”
He did not respond, but she was undaunted. “I had hoped that you would bring your daughter to greet me.”
His body tightened. His knuckles whitened and she could see the tendons of his neck clearly. The lurid scar blanched as well.
“Your agent said that her name is Angelina. She is six, is she not?”
Still there was no response.
“Does she remember her mother?”
His eyes blazed. “My wife is none of your concern, Madame. I will not discuss her, nor will you. Is that clear?”
She was startled by the outburst, puzzled by the strange reaction. Was it grief? She did not blink or lower her head. His anger, whatever its reason, was something with which she could cope. “Perfectly.”
She let him absorb her response before adding, “But if the child is to be in my care, we will have to discuss the girl. Is that clear?”
She found comfort in the emotional distance her response had created. But she was haunted by other concerns now. What kind of life was she entering? What kind of man was this? She thought she could escape from the agony of losing John so far away from home, but every action of her employer made that less and less likely. She had placed too much hope in this job, in this disturbing man. It had been a naive and stupid thing to do. Her hand moved protectively over her womb.
The sharp report of a gunshot rent the silence. The carriage jolted, then shook violently. The horses reared with frightened whinnies.
She looked over to Geoffrey Worth. His eyes gave warning, confirming her fears. There was only a second before the inevitable. She tried to brace herself.
The carriage lurched forward, shoving her back into the leather seat with such force that it drove the air from her lungs. Gasping for breath, she fought against the side of the carriage in a desperate attempt to remain upright. It took all her strength to hold her seat.
Her flesh bruised as it was forced repeatedly into the hard wood side of the carriage. She grasped for something, anything that would help prevent the beating she was receiving. There was nothing.
Her employer hesitated, as if coming to some decision. Then he struggled to the door.
The carriage swung wildly, and he was thrown into her seat. The straining muscles of his back forced themselves against her, warm and hard.
He held the door frame and kicked the door into the flailing underbrush. He forced his upper body out through the opening. His deep voice was clear and commanding over the noise of the wheels and harnesses as he shouted orders to the driver. Then he pulled himself up and out of her sight.
The horses had still not slowed. The carriage climbed higher. The road became a single lane. A wall of rock to the right ripped at the carriage’s side each time the panicked horses forced the vehicle against the jagged stone face. With each collision, the careening vehicle ricocheted perilously close to the hundred-foot drop to the sea on the left.
The thought of dying crossed her mind. The idea of seeing John again was not frightening, but the child in her womb prevented her from accepting death eagerly.
Another jarring rut sent her to the floor. She tried to brace her feet against the two seats, but her shoes slipped on the highly polished wood. Her dress tangled around her legs. A new jolt sent her head into the metal door handle, and it nauseated her. His voice penetrated the carriage again. He was talking to the horses. Soothing them. Their pace slowed somewhat.
She caught her breath, unaware she had been holding it. Perhaps it was over. Dizziness foiled her as she struggled to sit.
Suddenly the carriage lurched violently once more. Elizabeth gasped at the grating sound of metal against metal and the splintering of wood—a wheel was breaking.
They were still going too fast. She began to pray. When the carriage started to topple, she welcomed the blackness that slowly crept over her. Death would be painless, it seemed.
In her peculiar reverie, his hair was even lighter than she had first believed. It was bleached almost white by the sun, and a strand of it had fallen across his brow. She wanted to reach up and brush it away, but her arms wouldn’t obey her.
His face had opened. It was quite queer, but she could see what she had not seen before. She could see past the gruffness, past the well-guarded exterior.
His mouth was no longer tightly set. There was softness in his finely drawn, full lips—a certain sensuality.
The lines etched around his mouth were not from laughter but from something more sobering. She needed to know what had scarred him so. She needed to know she had not made a mistake in coming here.
She found her answer in his eyes, eyes that in this moment of crisis could not mask their pain—pain as vivid and real as her own.
His eyes were a green almost as vibrant as the tangled jungle that surrounded them. Hauntingly, they summoned her past and the memory of different, familiar green eyes filled with concern and love.
Her dizziness distorted the image before her, and for a moment she could believe it was John who held her so, John who whispered the words of concern. But the moment fled and, when her tears ran in salty rivulets into her hair, she knew this was not John.
“Are you all right? Can you move?” His deep voice reverberated with genuine feeling. How different it sounded—how appealing.
She struggled to speak. “Yes, I believe so.”
“Do you feel well enough to sit?”
Perhaps foolishly, she nodded. His powerful arms supported her, moving her to a sitting position.
“Ben, bring the black. I’ll ride to Bellefleur with Mrs. Malfonte and send someone back to help with the carriage.”
“Yes, sir.” The driver attempted to free the big horse. When he finally succeeded, the powerful stallion reared, happy to be free of the overturned carriage.
“Quiet, Lucifer, quiet.” The horse whinnied at its master’s voice.
He drew her up with him. “Can you stand now?”
“Yes, I think so.” She held her hand to her forehead, afraid she would be sick.
He helped her over to the horse, which now stood quietly. He mounted and then directed Ben to assist her.
With Ben’s help, she sat before Mr. Worth on the stallion. She had not had a man’s arms around her since John, an army major, had left for a new command post in the defeated South almost three months ago. She had looked forward to following her husband to his new posting. There had been no foreboding that day. No forewarning that their parting would be forever. Perhaps if she had known…perhaps…
A sob grew in her chest, and she tried to smother it. What remained came out as a strangled, guttural sound. The powerful arms around her tightened slightly, protectively. With relief, she closed her eyes and slipped back into the welcome sanctuary of oblivion.