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Beyond Surrender

Beyond Surrender by JoAnn Wendt
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Dianna Brandley was heartbroken when Christian Cartwright married and took his bride to Virginia. Danni fulfilled her mother’s deathbed wish by marrying her Virginia cousin, North Delveau, and followed Christian to the new world. But she soon came to yearn for North, who seemed indifferent to her. In the turbulence of the wilderness she longed for North to understand and forgive her. Historical Romance by JoAnn Wendt; originally published by Avon

Belgrave House; February 1982
ISBN 9781610840330
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Title: Beyond Surrender
Author: JoAnn Wendt
 
Excerpt

Late June, 1766

Horse, rider and road shimmered in the heat that gripped the wilting countryside. The sky, framing horse and rider, was not the usual English sky. It was hard and blue, without cloud or breeze. No gulls wheeled overhead. There was only sun.

Under that punishing sun, horse and rider plunged on. The stallion strained, his muscles rippling beneath a sheen of sweat. He faltered and broke gait. A quirt lashed out, and the exhausted mount again spurted forward.

I watched, my stomach tight with anger. How dare he treat a fine animal so? And how dare he come to call? Did he think I would be as easily bent to his will as that poor beast? Well, I would teach him different. He would learn not to trifle with a Brandley.

But as I stood at the window of my bedchamber, caught up in loathing him, I felt a prickle of apprehension. Despite the suffocating heat, I shivered.

Like a child who wakes in the night—confident he lies safe in his own bed but still frightened by shapeless and unnameable fears—I tried to comfort myself with the sound of my own voice.

“The slyness of the old fox. Nan! He knows Father is in London on Tuesdays, but how does he know Aunt Matilde and Clarie are out? Does he bribe the servants to tell him when I’m alone in the house?” I snorted my contempt. “Does he truly believe I would receive him unchaperoned?”

Nan’s response was a sleepy grunt.

“Hum? Whuzzit? Lor’ lummy, no, Danni—I ain’t sleeping—”

I turned, shrugging irritably. It would never do to let him affect me so. It wouldn’t do to let him get under my skin. That would only give him a subtle power over me.

“I ain’t sleeping,” Nan repeated, pawing her way off my bed. Earlier, she’d been doing her work, smoothing fresh cambric sheets over the bed. In the heat, the drowsies had overtaken her and she’d fallen asleep on the spot.

I hadn’t had the heart to rouse her. Nan was Nan—a country servant-girl and my friend from childhood. I loved her and had stopped trying to reform her long ago.

Nan’s bare feet squished on oak parquet flooring as she left the bright turkey carpet to join me at the window. Her mob cap had slid to one ear, and hair the color of boiled carrots stuck out in all directions.

“Look, Nan.”

She followed my gaze out over the rose garden, beyond the grounds to the high road. She squinted as she tried to focus on the shimmering scene.

“Judas!”

“Yes. It’s he. When he arrives. Nan, you’ll go down and tell him I refuse to receive him.”

She thumped down into a thin-legged chair and gave me a look designed to draw pity.

“God, Danni, whyn’t you ast me to speak up to the devil hisself? Sir Gordon’s pure temper—from head to hindmost! Why—why—he’s like to pick me up and throw me—”

I bit back a smile. Throw Nan? My father often joked that she was built to be ballast in Brandley-Cartwright ships, and he vowed that someday he’d pack her off to Malta with the next load of chickens, sheep and American tobacco.

She eyed me reproachfully. “It ain’t no laughing matter, Danni.”

“Neither would marriage to Sir Gordon be a laughing matter.”

We fell silent.

“Course you don’t want to bed down with no old he-goat,” she said loyally. “Why, I be set to run a blade through his liver, dast he contrive to win you!”

She rumbled on in indignation. Then, finding the day too hot to support indignation, she leaned back in the protesting chair and fanned her face with her apron, sighing. “Still, there be something about him. Them silvery eyes, maybe,” she trailed on. “Built like a bull, he be. Old or no, he do stir something in the women folk.” She studied me. “Mebbe even in you, Danni.”

“Nonsense. The heat addles you.” The very idea rankled.

“Then why’s the rosy-reds rising to y’ cheek?” she demanded impudently.

I flushed. “Mind your own cheek, girl. Any more and you’ll find yourself working in the stables.”

She tittered, unimpressed.

I gave her my back, picked up a book and, kicking back the skirts of my loose muslin gown for coolness, settled myself on the settee.

I tried to read, but the words seemed to jump about on the page. Nan’s remark had hit the bull’s-eye, piercing through to uncharted territory. I hated Sir Gordon. But Nan was right— he did stir things in me, feelings I didn’t like and didn’t understand. I pretended to be engrossed in reading, but Nan blundered on.

“The chambermaids at Chillburn Hall, they say he be twicet the man of any young buck in bed. They do say he invites the lasses two at a time. They do—”

“Oh, hush!”

“When he bedded Ruby, she told me—”

I slammed the book shut. “One more word and I shall take you to the magistrate and have your tongue slit for a Gossip.”

She snickered at my empty threat, but stopped chattering,

“Now, Nan. Go down and tell Sir Gordon I won’t receive him.”

She searched my eyes for reprieve. Finding none, she heaved herself out of the chair and grumbled her way to the door.

“Nan?”

She turned, hope lighting her plump face.

“Behave to Sir Gordon as a lady’s maid should. Comb your hair. Straighten your cap. Put on your shoes.” I paused. “And for heaven’s sake, refer to me as Mistress Dianna.”

She heaved an enormous sigh. “Oh, certain-sure, Danni,” she agreed.

As she lumbered off, I smiled wryly. My orders would, no doubt, be forgot not twenty steps down the corridor. Sir Gordon, as he was wont to do, would complain to Aunt Matilde and press home his suggestion that I should be given a proper maid—French or Italian.

My irritation with him began to rise. But then, amusement came flooding in. Let Nan be Nan. Sir Gordon detested her. I smiled at the thought of Nan in her bare feet and uncombed hair adding one more irritant to Sir Gordon’s afternoon.

Nan’s gossip about Sir Gordon kept intruding and interfering with my attempts to read. I’d been less than honest with her. The truth was I’d wanted to hear all of it. Only a few months short of being eighteen, I was ready for marriage and longed to know every detail about love.

Sometimes at night, as I lay between cambric sheets waiting for sleep, I grew hot with my imaginings. My thoughts centered on Christian Cartwright. I imagined what Christian’s caresses would feel like. I imagined his tender love words when he would return from his three-year venture in Malta and urge me to become his wife.

Pride forbade my asking Nan about such things, but I was on fire to experience man-woman things. I couldn’t ask Nan. She was a servant, after all. But if not Nan, then whom? Mother had died when I was six. Aunt Matilde was a spinster. She flushed scarlet and dabbed at her temples with a vinegar-soaked cloth if even horse breeding was mentioned.

If only Father were home. Had I sent down a message too insulting in tone? Sir Gordon was my father’s friend and a prime investor in the Brandley-Cartwright Trade Company. Perhaps I should have sent down a softer excuse. A plea of head pain. Perhaps—

Nan’s bare feet slapped down the corridor and she burst in, her face white.

“Judas, Danni—” She gulped. “He say—say—if you don’t come down—” She snatched at air, gulping it in.

“Yes, what?”

“He—he be set to come up here!”

“Nonsense. He would not dare. It isn’t done.” I laughed.

But the wildness in Nan’s eyes contradicted me.

“Done or no,” she went on breathlessly, “he be in the fettle to do it. His horse, he dropt deader than a doornail of the over-hots. And Sir Gordon, he says to me he be damned if he kill a good mount to see Mistress Dianna and Mistress Dianna, she not receive him.”

It was a deliberate taunt. My anger ignited, blazing up, driving cool thought from my mind. “Insufferable boldness. Who does he think he is? Is it temper he wants? Then temper he shall get!”

With my fury boiling as hot as the afternoon, I didn’t stop to consider. My heels beat a furious staccato through the long upper corridor. One of Aunt Matilde’s fragrant hanging pomanders, a lemon from Tangier studded with clove, loosened and fell as I brushed past. I ignored it and flew down the winding center staircase, the ring on my hand clicking sharply against the wooden larks, roses and small creatures carved in the balustrade. I rushed through the lower hall and flung open the door of the drawing room.

“You have no right—” I raged, then stopped short.

Sir Gordon lounged in Father’s leather chair, his feet casually propped up on a stool. He’d poured himself a goblet of wine and was sipping it. He looked no more concerned over the loss of his mount than if he’d just lost a few shillings at a gaming table. The corners of his mouth twitched with amusement as his eyes traveled over me in a proprietary way. With exaggerated politeness, he rose slowly.

“I—I—” In my anger and frustration, my words came out haltingly. So his display of temper had been merely a ruse. How could I have been so stupid? So. He had won this time. Next time, I would win. But to win, where Sir Gordon was concerned, I must depend upon my intelligence and never again let him bait my emotions.

I flashed him an angry look to cover the uneasy thought that suddenly pricked me. Did he know me so well then, that he was able to play me as a musician plays his instrument? In confusion, I dropped my eyes to my hands, then lifted my chin again and glared at him.

He bowed with great politeness, and just a hint of mockery.

“Miss Brandley, how extremely good of you to receive me.”

I did not reply.

He inclined his head, as though I’d offered my hand in greeting, and then he resumed his usual erect, yet casual, confident posture. It was the stance of a man certain that life will deliver all he demands of it.

A riding quirt drooped from one hand. Because of his mien, one didn’t count him a short man, though he was. Even in the heat, he wore his usual black waistcoat. But in deference to the temperature, his shirt was unbuttoned at the throat, exposing a mass of black hair. The color of the hair was repeated on his head, although there it was streaked with the same silver that glinted in his dark eyes.

The strange magnetism of those eyes began doing its work upon me. I looked away quickly, unwilling to let him see the surge of fear that washed through me. Out of his presence, I felt strong and confident. Nan and I often giggled as I rehearsed the remarks I planned to hurl at him, humbling and crushing him with my wit. But in the actual presence of the man, all strength seemed to ebb out of me.

Groping for some semblance of dignity, I said coldly, “Will you take tea. Sir Gordon?”

Idly, he tapped my father’s cherry wood escritoire with his quirt. “My dear Dianna, I did not ride five miles in this damnable heat merely to take tea.”

I flushed. Anger throbbed in my throat.

“Then state your mission and go!”

He chuckled softly, lounged into Father’s chair and picked up his wine goblet.

“How your high spirits charm me, my dear.”

As he sipped wine, he eyed me over the rim of the goblet.

“But come. I grow impatient, Dianna. It has been six months since the day I told you I mean to have you as my wife.”

“That day!”

“Yes,” he said lightly, “that day.”

To keep from trembling I clasped my hands.

“I marvel, sir, that you have the gall to mention that day.”

He laughed softly.

“Then you marvel easily.”

I looked away.

On that day, six months earlier, Sir Gordon’s wife had been buried only a week. I’d paid a condolence call with Aunt Matilde and my sister Clarie. Using the ruse that I was to come into the library and select a miniature of Lady Chillburn to keep as memento, he contrived to get me alone.

He’d been not only direct then, as now, but he’d pulled me into his arms. Oh, the iron strength of this old fox! He’d frightened me, kissing me hard on the mouth. That had been my first male embrace. After the initial stunned moment, I fought—fought uselessly, as he took what kisses he wanted.

Now, standing before him, I shuddered at the memory. Without thought, my hand flew to wipe at my lips. To my dismay, the gesture seemed to please him.

He laughed softly, lifted one gleaming boot to the footstool and settled comfortably into Father’s chair. “My dear Dianna. On that day, you didn’t cry out. One cry, and a dozen servants would have come running.” He arched a brow at me. “You didn’t cry out. Further, you told no one of our little encounter. Am I right?”

Sick with sudden humiliation, I whirled from him.

“I thought as much,” he said. “My sweet, you enjoyed my embrace.”

“No!”

Trembling with shame, I buried my face in my hands. My cheeks burned as though touched by flame. In the past months how often had I tortured myself with that one question: Why hadn’t I called for help? It was pride, I’d rationalized. Pride kept me from confessing so sordid an incident to Father or Aunt Matilde. And I’d only told part of it to Nan—that Sir Gordon pressed to marry me.

As I stood there, confused and trembling, I heard him move across the room until he stood behind me. I stiffened, poised like a wild animal about to bolt. My movement arrested him and he halted at once. I could hear his breathing, smell his male smells: leather, horse, shaving soap, sweat...

His leather quirt touched my cheek. I jumped, startled. It slid down my spine to my waist.

“Don’t!” I didn’t dare turn to look at him.

The quirt continued to rest on my waist.

“Exquisite, my dear. Dianna, when you are my wife, you will never wear muslin. You will wear silk. Only silk.”

I shuddered at the thickening in his voice.

He whispered, “I will give you gowns, jewels—my love, I will give you anything—”

I shrank from him.

“Don’t touch me! I care nothing for gowns or jewels. I care nothing for you.”

But his quirt moved boldly, possessively up my spine, lifting my hair. I could feel a sudden puff of cool air on the nape of my neck.

“Don’t—”

I sensed his lips moving to my neck and I jerked away. Stumbling against a chair, I lurched for the door.

But he was too quick.

He grabbed my wrist and sent the door slamming shut. The banging echo seemed to reverberate from one end of the house to the other. Then the echo died, leaving only the loud banging of my own heart. I froze. Because Sir Gordon was of the nobility, no servant would come in without being summoned. Call them? It would only prove to Sir Gordon that I was a child. Stand up to him? Refuse to be intimidated?

With a boldness I didn’t feel, I looked straight into his eyes, matching his anger with mine. The sting of my rejection was apparent in the tightness of his mouth.

“Let me pass.”

He didn’t move. But, slowly, his facial muscles began to relax. He released my wrist. His lips twitched with the faintest suggestion of amusement, and—for me—the heart-stopping terror of the moment passed. I felt weak with relief.

“Let me pass!” I demanded again.

He laughed.

“Certainly. But first, you must compensate me for my mount.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded.

“You’ve the gall to demand money?”

He smiled.

“Not money.”

With a quick motion, he hooked his quirt into the sleeve of my dress, drew it down, then bent and kissed the bared flesh of my shoulder. It was done so quickly, I was stunned.

With a cry of outrage, I fumbled at my sleeve.

He only laughed.

“Delicious, my sweet.”

All rational thought flew out the window. I snatched the quirt from his hand and smashed it across his face.

His head snapped back and he cried out in pain and surprise.

I snarled in satisfaction at the welt rising from temple to chin and struck at him again, but he grappled for the quirt, wrenched it from my hand and flung it away. I went at him with my nails.

“You would have a foretaste of our wedding night?” he taunted. “Then you shall have it.”

I lunged for the door. With animal quickness, he caught my wrists and pinned them in the small of my back.

“My God, don’t—”

But my outcry was smothered by his brutal mouth. Pressing me into the door, he kissed me savagely. I tried to break free, but he yanked down on my wrists. Dizzying shafts of pain speared me from wrist to shoulder.

“You’re hurting me—” I gasped, pulling my mouth free for an instant.

“Don’t fight me! Else I am forced—”

Pain and terror rendered me limp. I was unable to fight more. Crying, shaking, I was forced to endure his passion.

“That’s better,” he murmured, kissing me long and thoroughly, kissing me as I had never imagined being kissed in my innocent dreams of Christian. His warm moist mouth teased mine, and my bones seemed to melt. To my horror, my own body turned traitor and I began to respond to him.

“No! Oh, no—” I sobbed, and yet I opened my mouth to his.

“Cry out,” he whispered. “Your servants will come—”

I moaned, wanting to escape and yet bound by dark urges.

His hand slipped under my camisole. I gasped, as new pleasure sent my blood racing. “Don’t! Oh, don’t—”

But my mind and body were pitted against each other. Hating myself for doing it, I lifted my mouth to his once more. We tasted freely of each other.

Then, at the height of my passion, Sir Gordon suddenly loosed his grip and let me sink slowly to the floor. I looked up at him, blinking. For a moment I didn’t know if I was in heaven, on earth or in hell.

He laughed softly.

“My dear Dianna, let us save something for the wedding night, or your father will have my hide.”

The mockery in his voice made me want to die of shame. I dropped my head into my hands.

Dear God, what is wrong with me? How can I behave so wantonly with a man I hate?

He casually strode across the room. I heard the clink of decanter against goblet, the trickle of wine.

“Madeira?” he said.

I wanted to retch. This thing he had done to me—to him it was a mere exercise. My hate was so great I felt I was choking on it.

“I despise you,” I whispered unsteadily. “I shall never marry you. Never. I would kill you first.”

He burst into laughter, leaned against the escritoire and drank his wine.

“It’s your charm that captivates me, my dear. How you amuse me! A lesser woman would have vowed to kill herself. You, Dianna?” He toasted me with his wine goblet. “You vow to kill me. I find that utterly charming.”

“I hate you.”

He smiled.

“I do not require that you love me. It’s enough to know that I inspire in you one thing.” He paused. “Lust.”

There was nothing I could say, no defense I could make. He had stripped me bare, then clothed me in this humiliation.

“How I loathe you,” I whispered. “And how I loathe myself.”

He said nothing but watched me as a cat watches a mouse, without worry, confident the prize is his.

“I love Christian,” I burst out irrationally. “I mean to be his wife.”

“Cartwright?”

Sir Gordon laughed, as though Christian were of no consequence. “A nice boy, Cartwright. But really, Dianna. Impossible. You are too young to know your own nature. However, I know you. I know that once you have slept in the marriage bed, you will require more than a nice boy to keep you happy.”

“Get—get out!”

I began to shake. Not with fear but with anger. To hear Christian’s name bandied about on those vile lips. To hear him demeaned!

Sir Gordon ignored my fury. He smiled and bowed formally, as though we had just spent the past hour over a pleasant tea table.

“Good-day to you, Miss Brandley.”

Every fiber of my being screamed for vengeance: to strike one blow, if not for myself, then for Christian. My voice ringing with hate, I said, “Your riding quirt. Sir Gordon. Do not forget your quirt.”

He paused in mid-stride, his face going dark as he touched the welt I had cut into his face. It was beginning to swell. It was a mark he would see in his mirror for many days.

I gave him an icy smile.

He nodded slightly, as though acknowledging my small victory. Silver fire began to flicker in his eyes. For one unguarded moment, we faced each other as equal adversaries. The moment passed. Without hurry, he strode the length of the drawing room and retrieved his quirt. Again, he moved to the door but, as he passed me, he stopped suddenly and touched my chin with the tip of the quirt.

“By the way, my dear future wife. Do not ever repeat the mistake of striking me. For if you do—”

His voice was cold as winter. I trembled, looking up into eyes that had become frozen steel.

“For if you do, I shall be forced to punish you.”

Fear jolted through me. Quickly, I averted my eyes.

The door of the drawing room opened, then closed.

Sir Gordon Chillburn was gone.

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ISBNs
161084033X
9781610840330