Title: The Renegade Wife
Author: Caroline Warfield
Genre: Historical Romance: Late Georgian Period (1832)
Desperate and afraid, Meggy Blair will do whatever it takes to protect her children. She’d hoped to find sanctuary from her abusive husband with her Ojibwa grandmother, but can’t locate her. When her children fall ill, she seeks shelter in an isolated cabin in Upper Canada. But the owner returns unexpectedly, and he’s furious to find squatters disrupting his self-imposed solitude.
Reclusive businessman Rand Wheatly had good reason to put an ocean between himself and the family that deceived him. He just wants the intrusive woman gone, but it isn’t long before Meggy and the children start breaking down the defensive walls he’s built. Their fragile interlude is shattered when Meggy’s husband appears to claim his children, threatening to have Rand jailed.
The only way for Meggy to protect Rand is to leave him. Her husband takes her and the children to England, Meggy where discovers he’s far worse; what he’s involved in endangers all their lives. To rescue the woman who has stolen his heart, Rand must follow her and do what he swore he’d never do: reconcile with his aristocratic family and finally uncover the truth behind all the lies. But time is running out for them all.
Rand sipped some more. The hot liquid satisfied his taste buds and warmed his innards. He liked it. For some reason, that irritated him. “She has no business trying to bring me up sweet with soup.” He ignored the fact that she had made it for her children before he arrived. He refused to see her as a doting mother. “She’ll show her true self soon enough. They all do.”
Rand didn’t remember his own mother. His older sister took the role, and she had been good to him, at least until she married her earl and they sent Rand and his brother off to a hellish public school.
He swallowed more soup and closed his eyes. It did taste good.
“Mister, ah, sir? May I have a word?”
He jumped up at the sound, dumping Cat into the chair, and squeezed his eyes shut. Damned woman. Can’t she leave me at peace even in my own parlor?
“My name is Wheatly,” he growled. “You might have found that out before you broke into my house. What do you want? Did I fail to provide silk sheets and a down coverlet?”
She stood with her back to the stairs in the flickering candlelight. Her face turned red, and she swallowed hard. “Of course not. I came down to thank you. The willow bark seemed to help. She’s sleeping peacefully.”
“That makes one person in this damned house. Is that all?” he growled.
She pushed away from the door. “If you’re finished, I’ll clear up your dishes.”
“Damn it, woman. I fend for myself here.” He scrutinized her from crown to toe, taking time to examine her deep blue eyes, midnight black hair, and dusky skin. “What are you? Gypsy? Is that where you learned how to diddle a man out of his belongings?”
She drew her back up straight and squared her shoulders. The gesture pulled her dress tight across obviously ample breasts.
There’s a practiced enticement. She’s in for a surprise if she thinks that trick will work on me.
Chin high, she met his eyes without flinching. “My grandmother is Ojibwa, my father was French, and my husband was a Scot. You can despise whichever one of those your English heart chooses, or all of them, but I am not a thief.”
She grabbed her skirt and took a step toward the door. “Do fend for yourself. We’ll leave as soon as we can.”
“I’ll decide when you’re a thief,” he snarled, bringing her to a halt. “It’s my house.”
She spun on him, eyes blazing, but he spoke before she could.
“What’s your name?”
“How do you come to be on the road out here in the back country with two sick children?”
“I, ah—I came seeking my grandmother, in the direction I remembered from some time ago, but the last of her people have moved on. I can follow her above the lakes, but—”
“But not until spring. What do you plan to do in the meantime?” He didn’t like the way her bleak eyes made him feel, didn’t like that she had an exotic beauty he couldn’t ignore. He knew better than to succumb to a pretty face, better than to give in to pity where it hadn’t been earned. At least the woman doesn’t seem to harbor any illusions about staying.
“I don’t know. Find work. I can cook. I can clean. I’ll find something.”
Not bloody likely and not my problem either.
“Where is your husband, Meggy Campeau? Couldn’t he keep you satisfied?”
“Dead.” She rushed her reply.
A widow? A brief flare of interest, quickly doused, raised his body temperature. There are plenty of widows in Upper Canada—too damned many.
She waved her hands as if to wave away the question. “Last month,” she said. She appeared as skittish as a deer, immobilized but ready to bolt.
There’s more to that story. I’d stake my land on it. She showed more fear when I threatened her with the authorities than when I pointed a gun at her. He eyed her carefully.
Meggy squirmed under his scrutiny. “If you think widowhood makes me a willing woman, think again,” she said, venom evident in her voice.
“Even if your children need to eat?” he asked maliciously.
“I’m not that desperate yet. If I ever am, you’ll be the last to know.”
She left in a swirl of skirt and indignation.
Rand cursed himself. What drove me to say those things? Meggy Campeau brought out a side of him he preferred not to examine too closely. He hated her for it.
“That woman needs to leave,” he said to the empty room, “before I do something I’ll despise myself for.” The cat rolled over and yawned but didn’t wake up.
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Caroline Warfield grew up in a peripatetic army family and had a varied career (largely around libraries and technology) before retiring to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, and divides her time between writing and seeking adventures with her grandson and the prince among men she married. She reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.
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