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Sherry Thomas is one of the hottest new voices in historical romance, garnering the highest praise from today's bestselling writers ("Entrancing." --Mary Balogh; "Ravishingly sinful, intelligent and addictive." --Eloisa James). Now Sherry delivers this powerful story of a remarkable woman and the love she thought she'd never find--with the man she thought she'd lost forever....
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North-West Frontier of India
In the bright afternoon sun, the white streak was a gash of barrenness against the deep rich black of her hair. It started at the edge of her forehead, just to the right of center, swept straight down the back of her head, and twisted through her chignon in a striking--and eerie--arabesque.
It invoked an odd reaction in him. Not pity; he would no more pity her than he would pity the lone Himalayan wolf. And not affection; she'd put an end to that with her frigidity, in heart and body. An echo of some sort then, memories of old hopes from more innocent days.
In a white shirtwaist and a dark blue skirt, she sat between two fishing rods set ten feet apart, a bucket by her side, a twig in her hand, tracing random patterns in the swift-flowing, aquamarine water.
Across the stream, fields glinted a thick, bright gold in the narrow alluvial plain--winter wheat ready for harvest. Small, rectangular houses of wood and stacked stone piled one on top of another along the rising slope, like a collection of weathered playing blocks. Beyond the village, the ground elevated more rapidly, a brief stratum of walnut and apricot trees before the bones of the hills revealed themselves, austere crags that supported only dots of shrubs and an intrepid deodar or two.
"Bryony," he said. His head hurt, but he must speak to her.
She went still. The twig washed downstream, caught in a rock, then spun and floated free again. Still facing the stream, she wrapped her arms about her knees. "Mr. Marsden, how unexpected. What brings you to this part of the world?"
"Your father is ill. Your sister sent several cables to Leh, and when she received no response from you, she asked me to find you."
"What's the matter with my father?"
"I don't know the specifics. Callista only said that the doctors are not hopeful and that he wishes to see you."
She rose and turned around at last.
At first glance, her face gave the impression of great tranquillity and sweetness. Then one noticed the bleakness behind her green eyes, as if she were a nun on the verge of losing her faith. When she spoke, however, all illusions of meek melancholy fled, for she had the most leave-me-be voice he'd ever heard, not strident but stridently self-sufficient, and little concerned with anything that did not involve diseased flesh.
But she was silent this moment and reminded him of a churchyard stone angel that watched over the departed with a gentle, steady compassion.
"You believe Callista?" she asked, destroying the semblance.
"Unless you were dying in the autumn of ninety-five."
"I beg your pardon?"
"She claimed you were. She said you were somewhere in the wastes of America, dying, and desperately wanted to see me one last time."
"I see," he said. "Does she make a habit of it?"
"Are you engaged to be married?"
"No." Though he should be. He knew a number of beautiful, affectionate young women, any one of whom would make him a suitable spouse.
"According to her you are. And would gladly jilt the poor girl if I but give the command." She did not look at him as she said this last, her eyes on the ground. "I'm sorry that she dragged you into her schemes. And I'm much obliged to you for coming out this far--"
"But you'd rather I turned around and went back right away?"
Silence. "No, of course not. You'll need to rest and reprovision."
"And if I didn't need to rest or reprovision?"
She did not answer, but turned away from him. Then she bent down, retrieved a...
Not Quite a HusbandBy: Sherry Thomas