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The Scarred Heart [MultiFormat]
eBook by Denise Patrick

eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Sometimes, the greatest casualty of war is trust. Lionel Cantrell has all but given up hope of finding his missing wife and child. He left them in the care of his parents and older brother while he went abroad to fight the French, only to return to a marriage in shambles, a daughter who cannot possibly be his, and his wife and son fled to parts unknown. Until now. At a former comrade's house party, Lion comes face to face with the object of his five-year search. Emma, whose cold reception is keenly edged with barely concealed panic. When Emma's perfect marriage to her childhood sweetheart crumbled into an unendurable year of humiliation and torment, she had no choice but to take their son--and her sanity--to build a new life under an assumed name. Her chance meeting with Lion threatens to expose long-buried emotional scars. And physical ones, the origins of which he must never know. Emma's stubborn refusal to explain why she won't return home only fuels Lion's relentless curiosity. So does their undeniable passion. Time is on his side, and his well of patience is deep. But Emma's trauma runs far deeper?perhaps too deep for love to reach. Warning: Contains a heroine caught in a treacherous web of deceit not of her making, two adorable children, and a hero determined enough to make things right.

eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2012


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Chapter One

Essex County, England

November 1820

The heavy thump of McKeown Manor's door knocker forced Emma Laughlin's attention from her mending. Moments later, the drawing room door opened to admit a stylishly dressed young woman.

"Lady Royden to see you, madam."

"Sarah!" She jumped to her feet, the garment swiftly laid aside. "What brings you out on such a dreary day? Graves, tea for our guest, if you please."

The butler withdrew and she embraced her friend.

"You are looking better every day. How are you feeling?"

Lady Royden laughed. "I am fine." Taking one of the padded chairs, she brushed a stray lock of pale hair from her face. "Between you and Max, I can barely take two steps without someone coming to my aid. I am not made of porcelain."

"Yes, I know. Unfortunately you look as though you are."

"If this is what the next few months will be like, I may have to shoot Max to put him out of his misery."

"Be thankful you aren't sixteen."

The door opened to admit Mrs. Smythe carrying a tray on which rested a gleaming silver tea service. Placing it on the small table before Emma, she smiled at Emma's thanks before leaving and closing the door behind her.

"Ah, a hot cup of tea will be just the thing," Sarah said.

Once they were settled with their cups, Emma looked over at her friend. "So, to what do I owe this visit?"

"I've come to formally ask you to be David's godmother. We will be holding a small house party for his christening next week."

Surprise kept Emma immobile for a few seconds. "Me?" she finally managed. "You want me to be your son's godmother?"

"Of course," was the response. "Max and I have talked it over." She leaned forward and put her cup and saucer down on the tray. "Please say you will. I can think of no one I'd love more to be my baby's godmother."

Emma didn't know why she was surprised. From the first day she met Lady Royden nearly a year ago in the small village of Calder's Cross, they seemed to hit it off instantly. Newly married and in mourning for her brother-in-law, Sarah still made the effort to make the acquaintance of those living around Calderbrooke, the country seat of the earls of Calderbrooke. McKeown Manor wasn't large, but it was comfortably situated on a few acres of beautiful parkland abutting the southern end of the estate. Emma had been living there quietly for almost three years before she'd met Sarah.

Viscount and Lady Royden had accepted her as Emma Laughlin, widow, with a young son, Jamie. She'd been granted permission by her brother, the Earl of Englevyn, to live at McKeown Manor as long as she and Jamie needed. For now, that was all they knew about her.

Smiling with difficulty, she looked across at the vivacious viscountess. "Very well. I'd be honored."

Sarah clapped her hands. "Wonderful. Now, would you mind very much if we wanted you to come up to Calderbrooke to stay for the house party?"

Her smile dimmed. "I don't know. What would I do with Jamie?"

"I would say you should bring him with you, but somehow I don't think an eight-year-old would have much fun with all the adults around."

She shook her head. "No." She took the time to replenish her cup from the pot while she thought. "I could ask Mrs. Wight if Jamie could stay with her for a few days. He and Abel are such good friends, I don't think it would be a problem."

"Perfect."

"I'll have to see if I have anything to wear that's not too out of date."

"You must wear that beautiful green velvet you made for last Christmas. It does wonders for you. Even Max remarked that you looked lovely."

And that was a compliment, because Emma knew Lord Royden only had eyes for his wife.

Once Sarah left, Emma composed a short note to the vicar's wife asking if her son could spend a week with them a week hence. Having had Abel over at the manor many nights, she was fairly certain of acceptance, but would wait until she heard back before mentioning it to Jamie.

Then she went upstairs to look through her wardrobe for something suitable for a week-long house party. It wasn't that she didn't have suitable clothing, she just didn't like bringing attention to herself. As a widow of modest means, she deliberately kept to herself. If it wasn't for Jamie, she'd have declined all attempts to befriend her and kept completely out of sight.

She fingered an emerald silk ballgown. Sarah had given it to her last year when she was increasing and couldn't wear it herself. Emma had planned to wear it to the annual Twelfth Night ball at Calderbrooke, but Jamie had come down with a putrid throat, so she'd remained home with him that night. Would there be an opportunity this week? Did she dare wear it?

Emma wasn't vain, but she knew the jewel-toned gown would be stunning with her white skin and red-gold hair. She was still young and comely, and a number of gentlemen in the immediate area had already cast their gazes in her direction. Fortunately, she was not available--even if she wanted to be. Which she didn't.

She was not a widow.

And she had no wish to be subject to a man again.

The last one had broken her heart.

She closed the doors on her thoughts and turned away from the wardrobe. She'd just tell Mary to pack something suitable for a week's stay at Calderbrooke and leave it at that.

The slamming of a door and running feet had her smiling, even before she heard the boyish voice.

"Mama?"

Hurrying into the hall, she called, "Up here, Jamie."

He met her on the stairs, his face ruddy from the raw wind outside, his auburn hair windblown and wild. For the past few days, he'd been hoping for snow, but so far none had fallen. She was glad of the reprieve, for once it began to snow they were housebound. Jamie might love the snow, but he didn't handle the cold well, so she was vigilant about how long he could stay outside.

"I was at Abel's when your note came," he said without preamble. "Mrs. Wight said I was welcome to stay for as long as I wished, and she told me to tell you so."

She laughed at his boyish enthusiasm. "And how long do you wish to stay?"

"A week will be long enough," he replied in all seriousness. "I like Abel, but his brothers are pests sometimes."

"Then perhaps it's fortunate you do not have any siblings of your own."

He wrinkled his nose at her, and she smiled down at him. Despite his antipathy toward Abel's siblings, he'd told her more than once that he wished he had a brother or sister to play with. Especially on those days when they were housebound because of the weather.

She wanted to tell him the truth--he had a sister. But she couldn't bear all the questions that would bring. Or the memories that would surface with them. No, he was better off not knowing she'd deprived him of a family in order to save herself.

* * * *

"You must be losing your touch, Lion, old boy," Viscount Royden observed as he watched his opponent's ball spin neatly out of the pocket of the billiard table. "Scotland's made you soft."

The amused chuckle that came from Viscount Lanyon was genuine as he observed his friend taking his place. "Not any more so than you, I suspect," came the reply.

Royden took his shot and neatly pocketed two balls. He looked up at his friend and grinned.

"Been practicing, have we?" taunted Lion.

"Obviously more than you have," came the reply. "What have you been doing up there?"

Lion laughed. "Obviously not whiling my time away playing billiards. Been bored for the last nine months have we, Max?"

"Bored? Me?" Royden tried to sound offended. "You haven't spent much time in my wife's company, so I will allow the comment to pass."

The familiar bantering with a good friend was just what Lion needed these days. He watched Royden cross the carpet and refill his glass from the sideboard. What would his friend think if he knew what Lion had actually been doing up north?

Lion took a hearty swig of the amber liquid, feeling it burn all the way down to his stomach. Turning, he paced across the carpet to the window and stared out at the stark November landscape. The weak sun cast its rays through tree branches bereft of leaves. By northern England and Scotland standards, it was only nippy, but here it was cold indeed. Winter was not far off. At nearly four in the afternoon, the sun was setting fast.

"Your Sarah is a beauty, I'll grant you." She wouldn't hold a candle to my Emma. "One wonders what she saw in you."

Max laughed. "It was a near thing."

Two women walked by, both swathed from head to toe in fashionable woolen cloaks, fur muffs, scarves and bonnets. Although he hadn't been formally introduced to her yet, having arrived while she was out, he recognized Lady Royden when she turned and glanced toward the house. The other woman did not look, but he noted a lock of what looked to be red hair had escaped her bonnet and trailed over a slim shoulder. His interest was piqued and he willed her to turn as well, but she didn't. Moments later the two women turned a corner and were lost from view.

The door to the billiard room opened and he turned to see Max's father, the Earl of Calderbrooke, enter with another white-haired gentleman. Viscount Lakersby, if he remembered correctly, Max's father-in-law.

"Ahh, so this is where you've been hiding," the earl teased.

"Hiding?" Max responded. "I hardly think playing a game of billiards qualifies as hiding."

"That's what Sarah would call it," Lakersby added.

"Especially since we have guests," the earl finished.

"You do realize, Father, that all those guests are friends of yours, not mine or Sarah's?" Max crossed to the sideboard again. "Brandy or whiskey?" he asked the two fathers.

They both opted for brandy and he poured generously for both.

Lion remained by the window as the other three took seats by the fire, the earlier billiard game forgotten. Listening to the three of them debate the merits of who had been invited to witness the christening of the newest addition to the Calderbrooke line made him smile. He was reminded that barely a year and a half ago, he'd returned home from London after investigating Max's brother's activities and searching for information of his own. He'd been able to help Max, but his own search had turned up empty.

Suddenly feeling as if the walls were closing in on him, he downed the last of his drink and turned to the trio.

"If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go for a walk before it gets dark."

Donning his coat and gloves, he set out toward the lake. It was a short walk, and not far from the house, giving him time to think.

Max hadn't asked, but he knew eventually the question would come up. Why hadn't he brought his wife with him? Last year, when they met in Scotland, it had been easy to tell Max his wife was living with his parents at Edenvale. He had no idea what he'd say this year.

The wind had calmed, but the air was cold, the sky clear, its fading reds and golds reflected in the smooth surface of the lake. He closed his eyes, and the fiery sunset colors coalesced into a riot of curls around a smooth oval face with eyes the color of jade.

Emma.

Filling his lungs with the cool air, he gave himself up to the memories.

She had been little more than a waif the first time he'd seen her. A four-year-old orphan brought home by his parents after a visit to relatives in Edinburgh. It hadn't taken her long to settle in, to become the daughter his mother had desperately wished for. And it hadn't taken much longer for the two of them to become inseparable.

His older brother hadn't paid her much attention, disdaining her as a worthless girl. Charles had been too busy following in their father's footsteps.

Life changed when he went off to school. He and Emma lost some of the closeness they'd once shared--and she grew up. He still remembered the shock of seeing her at fifteen. She had blossomed, developing the body of a woman with curves in all the right places, petal-soft skin, and a mane of fiery silk that reached to her waist. At twenty, he fell instantly in lust.

He might have been able to control his impulses if she hadn't come to his room one night, shaking and in tears, after having fought off Charles's drunken advances.

Opening his eyes, he turned to look at Calderbrooke. He and Max had met when they purchased commissions. They were assigned to the same regiment and quickly became friends. Both being second sons had provided more common ground, although he'd often thought the minute's difference in Max's situation was worse than the four years' difference between he and his brother.

After Waterloo, he'd accompanied Max home before heading back to Edenvale in early August, only to learn Emma had disappeared. Her desertion might not have been so shocking except for what she'd chosen to take with her and what she'd chosen to leave behind. When his brother died two years later and he became Viscount Lanyon, he'd intensified his search to no avail.

With the sun gone, the chill in the air was more pronounced. Shaking off the depressing memories, he headed back inside. It was near tea time, and everyone would be gathering in the drawing room. Arriving two days late, he was the only one not acquainted with the rest of the guests, and he knew his host expected to remedy that as soon as possible.

Max was crossing the foyer as Lion emerged from the rear hallway. Stopping only long enough to give the butler his coat and gloves, he joined Max at the door to the drawing room.

"You're just in time," Max said. "Sarah wanted you to meet Mrs. Laughlin. She's to be David's godmother. I think the Bishop will want to speak to you both before the ceremony tomorrow."


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