Authors: Karen Robards
Tags: #Western, #Historical, #Romance
This Side of Heaven
Random House Publishing Group (2011)
WRITERS, READERS, AND CRITICS RAVE
ABOUT “THE MISTRESS OF SIZZLING
“Karen is one of those writers I buy without needing to read a review.… The high tension [is] sustained throughout, keeping me glued to the pages.”
“Karen Robards writes an absolutely splendid tale, and is among the best for giving the reader incomparable sexual tension.… She is certainly one of the few authors who successfully moves from historical to contemporary fiction and back again with gifted ease … [she writes] romantic adventure that will leave you breathless.”
Affaire de Coeur
“Behold the wondrous star in the firmament of historical romance that is Karen Robards. With each new book her luster intensifies.… No one writes with more fire … Ms. Robards has a fine talent for combining sex with romance, along with choosing interesting backdrops.”
Ms. Robards writes “spellbinding romance.”
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Copyright © 1991 by Karen Robards
Excerpt from The Last Victim © 2012 by Karen Robards
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This book contains an excerpt from The Last Victim by Karen Robards. This excerpt has been set for this edition only, and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
he prow of the
s longboat accidentally bumped the first of the landing pilings. The barrels of sugar and molasses that crammed bow and stern teetered, scraping together noisily.
“Careful, there!” Captain Rowse snapped to the oarsmen as the unexpected shifting of its load caused the boat to heel. Seated directly in front of him—he was in the stern, she nearly in the center of the boat—Caroline had to grab the edge of the plank seat to keep her balance. Her slippered feet slid off the leather-bound lid of one of her own sizable trunks, where, for want of another place to put them, they had settled. The large, lidded basket that rested in her lap tilted precariously. She grabbed for it, restoring it to an upright position seconds before its precious contents were tipped into the bay. Her feet returned to their perch. One hand settled on the basket’s lid; the other curled around the thick handle, tightening until her knuckles showed white. That was the only outward sign she gave of the nervousness that was making her stomach churn so she could hardly keep her breakfast down. Had she been aware of how much her grip revealed, she would have deliberately relaxed it.
It would be too humiliating to let the silent men
around her know just how apprehensive of her reception she was. Carefully she avoided their gazes, her posture both lonely and proud as she looked past the straining sailors toward the unfamiliar land that was to be her new home.
Her eyes remained unreadable. She had learned it was best to keep them so. They showed none of the dismay she felt as she took in the forbidding gray shoreline that sloped upward to end in earthen fortifications, and the ugly raw wood of the dock. Beyond the dock perhaps a hundred acres of grassland had been hacked from the towering blue-green forest. The grassland was studded with rows of tiny, boxlike sheds. What could they be? Fishermen’s shacks? Surely they were too small, too mean, too few, to comprise the town that she had supposed lay directly beyond the bay.
The brisk morning air blowing in from the sea smelled strongly of salt and fish. A fine spray splashed from the crest of a playful wave to splatter her cheek and cloak with icy water. Lifting a pale, long-fingered hand, Caroline wiped the beads of moisture from her face. It was early spring of 1684, and at home in England the weather would be misty and cool. But here the March air was plain cold, although the sun shone with almost vulgar intensity. Caroline reminded herself grimly that this was not England. It was unlikely that she would ever see England again.
This was not how she had pictured Saybrook. Her half sister Elizabeth’s letters had contained glowing descriptions of her home in Connecticut Colony. During the difficult years that had preceded this moment
when every downstroke of the oars brought her nearer to what she very much feared would be a humiliating comeuppance, Caroline had taken her sister’s words and elaborated on them to create a picture of a verdant paradise that she could visit anytime she closed her eyes.
But as was ever the case, the reality was already proving far inferior to the fantasy. Doubtless the hope she’d cherished of her sister’s warm welcome was misplaced, too. Although in all fairness, given the circumstances, Elizabeth couldn’t be blamed if she were to be less than elated to see the baby sister she must scarcely remember.
“Ahoy there! Daniel Mathieson!”
The shout, coming almost in her ear from Captain Rowse, made Caroline jump. Both hands clamped around the basket’s handle, and her lips pressed together in an effort to forestall the tart words that rose to her tongue. But the impassive shell she had learned to hide behind remained in place, and she did no more than glance witheringly over her shoulder at the captain, who was waving at someone on the dock. From the last name, she knew the man he hailed had to be her sister’s kin. Her heart pounded, but her expression did not change. A facade of haughty dignity was far more effective than cringing apologies, she had learned.
The boat brushed the pilings again, farther along the dock than its first inadvertent contact, and this time a sailor leaped ashore to catch the hawser and make the craft fast. Caroline clenched her teeth. Her time of reckoning was at hand.
“Up with you, missy.” Captain Rowse placed a hand under Caroline’s elbow and all but lifted her to her feet. “You there, Homer, lend Miss Wetherby a hand.
, Daniel Mathieson!”
Wincing from the booming shout, Caroline scorned the sailor’s proffered hand and clambered onto the dock without assistance. The wooden boards suddenly seemed to tilt beneath her, and she staggered. A male hand grasped her arm, steadying her.
“Careful there, you ain’t got your land legs back yet,” a gruff voice cautioned. Caroline jerked free. Shrugging, the sailor turned away to other duties while a man in a wide-brimmed black hat emerged from the chattering crowd gathered to watch the unloading of the tall ship. Captain Rowse, bounding onto the dock beside Caroline, greeted the newcomer with a hearty thump on the shoulder, while at other points along the dock more longboats from the
arrived and began to unload cargo along with the other passengers.
“What can I do for you, Tobias?” Daniel Mathieson, for that was clearly who he was, greeted the
s captain genially. Tall, with auburn hair and weathered skin, Daniel was attractive despite the sober garb and short-cropped hair that marked him as a Roundhead. His blue eyes roamed curiously over Caroline. She met his interested look with frosty composure. Not for anything would she permit him to see her anxiety, which was now so acute that she had to clench her teeth to avoid becoming actively ill.
“Is Matt about?”
“Nay, he’s to home. He’s expecting naught, and he’s
too much work to do to waste time on such a useless pursuit as viewing the docking of a ship, he said.”
Captain Rowse chuckled. “That sounds like Matt.” He sobered, glancing at Caroline. “Fact is, I’ve something for him. This young—lady, to be precise.”
“What?” Daniel turned incredulous eyes back to Caroline. She met his gaze without flinching.
“ ’S truth. Claims to be his sister-in-law. Come to make her home with him, she says.”
“ ’Tis the first I’ve heard of such!”
Before Daniel could give further voice to the surprise that had widened his eyes and pursed his mouth, Caroline spoke up with chilly dignity. She was not a child, or an idiot, to be discussed as if she were riot even present! “I am Caroline Wetherby. Ephraim Mathieson is husband to my sister Elizabeth. From your surname, I presume she is also some connection of yours. Perhaps you would be so good as to take me to her.”
“May the good Lord preserve us!” Daniel’s tone expressed the same surprise as his expression. Without making any direct reply to her request, he took a quick and thorough inventory of her person. Caroline’s eyes narrowed as she was clearly weighed and seemed to be found wanting, although there was little enough of her available for him to see. Except for her face, with its delicate, even features and large, almond-shaped eyes of a brown so golden as to be almost amber, and an inch or so of sleekly pulled back black hair, none of which any gentleman had ever before found displeasing, the vast hooded cloak she wore concealed the rest. But the cloak itself, of deep scarlet velvet purchased
when her father had been flush and held on to through the subsequent lean years, was probably quite enough to provoke his dismay. Judging from the drab brown, gray, and black homespun that was the predominant attire of the citizenry around her, the vivid hue alone was likely to be looked upon with disfavor. Indeed, several among the milling crowd were already casting her censorious looks. Those that were most disparaging came from the
s other passengers, who had somehow learned, in the mysterious way news travels throughout small communities, of her plight. The story would soon be spread all over Saybrook, Caroline realized as she watched the new arrivals greeting friends and acquaintances among the colonists. Already a few of them had their heads together with those who had come to greet them, and were shooting furtive glances her way. Caroline’s spine stiffened at the unwelcome scrutiny, but in no other way did she acknowledge she was aware she was the subject of their gossip.