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The Forgotten Bride

The Forgotten Bride by Maureen Mackey
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After years of struggle to keep her father and young ward fed and clothed, Mary Blackmore believes her worries are over when a rich baronet proposes marriage. Then Sebastian, the soldier husband she thought had died, appears in the village dressed as a dandy. She is confused by his frivolous behavior, and relieved to find he is no more eager to claim a relationship with her than she is with him. When he offers her a way to free herself from their union and marry her baronet, Mary reluctantly agrees to hide his true identity. After all, this isn’t the man she fell in love with seven years ago. But is the Sebastian she once knew really gone, or merely playing a desperate game in disguise?

Awe-Struck Publishing; April 2006
180 pages; ISBN 9781587495557
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Title: The Forgotten Bride
Author: Maureen Mackey
No, it was impossible. It couldn’t be. But it was. The silly clothes, the affected style, none of it could contradict what every fiber of Mary’s being knew. This was Sebastian, her supposedly dead husband, come back to life. Her heart leapt. She wanted to rush into his arms, but his strange appearance made her hesitate. Could she possibly be mistaken? He gave her an insolent wink. “Do I know you, my good woman? Or do you stare so boldly at every handsome young blade who crosses your path?” His voice clinched it. Unmistakably Sebastian’s. Here he stood before her, pretending not to recognize her. He was grinning, unrepentant, and seemingly unconcerned about the years of pain his desertion caused her. Conflicting emotions tumbled inside her. Astonishment, joy, confusion, and finally, a dawning fury. “You!” She couldn’t quite bring herself to utter his name aloud. “What are you doing here, after all this time?” Sir John, goggle-eyed, struggled to his feet, knocking Mary’s basket out of her hands. Her eggs splattered on the flagstones, making a sticky yellow mess. The young man clicked his tongue. “Now look what you’ve done. Some poor hen went to a lot of trouble for nothing.” That insensitive comment spurred her to action. She ran towards him, stumbling in her haste. He had to catch her to keep her from falling. “I know I’m irresistible,” he drawled. “But please, dear woman, try to contain yourself.” “Oh, you, you popinjay!” “Yes, I am rather fine, aren’t I,” he replied complacently, still holding her in his arms. “No wonder you’re so drawn to me.” She struggled to disengage herself, and laughing he held on a moment longer. Impulsively, she kicked him in the shins, hoping the iron rings on her pattens would convince him to let go. With a howl he released her, and she took a step back and slapped him. She almost burst into tears. “How dare you come back like this? I don’t understand at all!” Sir John was aghast. “Miss Blackmore, do you know this person?” The innkeeper’s voice cut through the confusion. “Don’t let that man get away. He owes me money, he does. He threw a bottle of my best beer through my window and broke it. Then I discovers he has no blunt, not for the drink nor the damage. I’m going to call the constable.” “If anyone has committed an offense, it is you, innkeeper. That beer you served me was a crime against drinkers everywhere. I would only aid and abet you were I to pay for it.” Sebastian shrugged his shoulders and laughed. With a war cry the portly innkeeper rushed up behind him and pinned Sebastian’s arms back in a strong grip. Expending a minimum of energy, Sebastian rotated his shoulder blades forward sharply, easily breaking the older man’s grip and flicking him off like a bothersome insect. Sir John pulled Mary away just in time to keep her from being knocked to one side. “You’re a real wit, aren’t you, my young buck?” Hands on his knees, the innkeeper puffed with exertion. “We’ll see how funny the magistrate finds your jests.” “Take me where you please,” said Sebastian, examining the cuticles on his long slender fingers. “But do have a care for my waistcoat. It would be a tragedy if it got soiled by your brutish handling of my person.” Mary’s confusion receded, replaced by embarrassment. How could time have changed Sebastian so much? She remembered a dashing soldier, not a ridiculous, painted fop. A chiseling, penniless fop, to boot. She allowed Sir John to lead her away from the inn-yard. Though Sir John tried to conceal it, Mary could tell he was deeply shocked. Mary knew she’d acted badly. She would have to explain her actions to Sir John. But at the moment her thoughts were in too much of a whirl. “Thank you, Sir John,” she managed to say. “I have no explanation for my behavior. I really do not know what occurred back there.” “Hysteria, brought on by a strange humor. Must have temporarily affected your brain. Nothing lasting, I’ll be bound.” He seemed to be talking more to himself than to her. “Let me take you back to your cottage, Miss Blackmore. What you need now is a cup of tea and a lie-down. We can stop at the apothecary’s for a calming remedy, if you wish. Yes, I believe that would be best.” Mary almost wept with frustration as Sir John handed her into his elegant carriage. By now she should have been Sir John’s affianced bride, with the prospect of security before her. An hour ago her only problem had been when and where to tell Sir John about her late husband. Now she’d have to explain a live husband, a decided obstacle to contracting an advantageous marriage. Mary lay back against the squabs, holding her suddenly aching head, while Sir John watched her apprehensively. Everything was ruined. All her plans and dreams for the future lay in ashes. Oh, why couldn’t Sebastian have simply stayed dead?