Velvet Cavendish had lived at St. Germain,
France at the impoverished Court of exiled Royalists since she was a child,
but had recently come to London to live with her wealthy aunt Christian, Dowager
Countess of Devonshire. Velvet had been reluctant to live with the other branch
of the family when they had chosen Cromwell over Charles, but at least she
would be living in England and she and her father's new wife would not be
at each other's throats. With great daring she found the courage before she
left to voice a thought she'd kept hidden deep, and never spoken aloud before.
"What about my betrothal?" Her father, Earl of Newcastle, rubbed the back
of his neck. "I wouldn't count on it, Velvet. Circumstances have changed considerably
over the years we've lived in exile. The Earl of Eglinton will not be eager
for his heir to take a wife without a substantial dowry." Deeply stung, she
tossed her head. "Nor am I eager to wed Eglinton's heir.
am delighted the betrothal is null and void. I don't remember the callow youth,"
she lied. "Of course, should King Charles be restored to the throne and we get
back our confiscated estates, I have no doubt your union would once again become
most desirable to Eglinton." Velvet lifted her chin. "That will be too bad.
I wouldn't have his son for husband if he were the last man alive!" In her chamber
at the dowager's great house in London, Velvet looked at her reflection in the
mirror. Though most females would have thought the dress of plain grey cambric
with starched white collar and cuffs extremely plain, she was most grateful
that it was new and fit her perfectly. She picked up the silver hairbrush and
fashioned her unruly red-gold hair into neat ringlets and pinned on a sheer
linen cap. She hurried downstairs to take breakfast with Christian. "Good morning,
darling, you look lovely." Oh dear, you look like a little milkmaid rather than
an aristocratic Cavendish. Your years of penniless exile robbed you of your
confidence. I must build up your self-esteem and try to restore some of that
delicious precocious attitude you displayed as a child. She watched Velvet eat,
bemused that she seemed to relish plain bread and honey. "My dear, you have
the most radiant complexion. Your skin is translucent and seems to glow from
the inside. What is your secret?" Velvet flushed, pleased at the compliment.
"I use cold water. Mother told me about using glycerin distilled with rose water
when she was a girl. I wish I had some." Her wants are so simple. "Well, we
have glycerin and the garden is filled with summer roses. Go out and gather
some." "Oh, thank you." She wiped her mouth and folded her napkin. Christian
watched her through the back windows. "Ods bodkin, you'd think I'd given her
the Crown Jewels." Greysteel Montgomery had learned the Dowager Countess of
Devonshire was living at her grand house in Bishopsgate, the one where her late
husband had entertained royalty on a lavish scale. He turned his horse over
to a groom and went up the front steps. He presented his card to the butler.
"I'm here to see the Devonshire steward on business, but first I'd like to pay
my respects to the dowager countess if she is receiving." "Very good. This way,
my lord." The butler showed him into the library and in less than two minutes
the dowager appeared. She gave her visitor a quick appraisal and liked what
she saw. The gentleman had a commanding presence, which set him apart. She glanced
at his card. "Lord Montgomery?" "My father is Alexander, Earl of Eglinton. I'm
her to pay your steward for some sheep we recently acquired from you." "Ah,
yes, you were a Captain with the Royalist army." Velvet came into the library,
her head bent over a flower basket. "Christian, it is such a pity that these
lovely cream roses have specks of soot on--" she looked up and saw the dowager
had a male visitor. "Oh, I beg your pardon..." her voice trailed off as she
stood and stared. The man had a military bearing with ramrod straight back and
broad muscular shoulders. His face was dark, hard, lean and his grey eyes were
so compellingly direct a shudder ran down her back. He was the most powerfully
attractive male she had ever seen and her physical response to him was immediate
and profound. Montgomery took one look at the female and felt as if time stood
still. His heart too stopped beating momentarily and then began to thud. The
young lady before him in the simple gown, carrying a profusion of cream roses,
was a vision of sweet innocence. She had the face of an angel; he'd never seen
anyone as lovely. "Velvet, darling, this is Captain Montgomery--" His dark brows
drew together. "Velvet?" Her violet eyes widened. "Greysteel?" "Of course!"
Christian's face lit up as she realized why his name was so familiar. "Greysteel
Montgomery is your betrothed!" Velvet's cheeks turned crimson. "He is no such
thing!" "It was so long ago. You were only about seven, perhaps you have forgotten,"
Christian suggested. "Yes, I have forgotten." No, I never forgot. That was the
day I decided to name myself Velvet and realized I was in love with Prince Charles.
Your first glance told me you wanted to beat me. You were forced to betroth
me because of my family's wealth, and you hated me for it. Now that the wealth
is gone and you don't wish to be reminded of the betrothal, you still hate me.
"Perhaps you have forgotten, Mistress Cavendish. I was a thirteen-year-old youth.
My looks have changed considerably." Velvet stared at him haughtily, desperately
trying to mask her physical response to him. Though there was no trace of youthfulness
left in the dark, hard countenance, she could never forget the mesmerizing grey
eyes, which had the ability to look into her mind and read all her secrets.
Moreover, the arrogant devil knew she hadn't forgotten him. "I'm sure the Earl
of Eglinton considers the betrothal null and void, as does my own father, after
all these years." "It matters little what they consider." Greysteel set his
jaw. "It is I who will decide about our betrothal." "You must be mad!" she defied
him. "Go to the devil!" Her words stung him. She had made it plain she hadn't
wanted him then, and she didn't want him now. Set yourself against me and you
will lose; your objections only make me more determined. "My lord, do forgive
Velvet, she doesn't mean to be rude." "Of course she does. She'd like to run
me through with my own sword, but she doesn't quite dare." "You read me thoughts
exactly, sir," Velvet said sweetly. Christian eyed the pair of antagonists with
relish. The sexual sparks between them heated the air. "Lord Montgomery, may
I suggest that you come to dinner Wednesday night? Perhaps you two can settle
your differences--or continue your duel. Either would be vastly entertaining,