The fifth story in the Edilean series, published in December 2010.
Would you risk your life - on the love of a lifetime?
Charleston, 1799: A daughter of Southern gentility and a gifted painter, Catherine Edilean Harcourt has no lack of suitors at home in Virginia, waiting to fulfil her dream of marriage and family. But Cay's adventurous spirit, fostered by growing up with her three brothers, is piqued while visiting her godfather in South Carolina. Bedridden with a broken leg, he asks Cay to fill in for him on an urgent task: on her way to a fancy dress ball, she must deliver a packed horse to an old friend's son - who also happens to be an escaped convict charged with murdering his wife! Cay agrees to the plan, which doesn't go at all as planned . . . whereupon she finds herself fleeing Alexander McDowell's captors, riding blind into the night with the fugitive Scotsman. Though she should fear him, Cay finds herself overwhelmingly attracted to Alex, and drawn into his tale of misguided justice and his innocence as they seek refuge in the steamy Florida everglades. Will trusting him be the worst mistake of her life? Or will falling in love be the salvation both of them have been looking for?
Cay has come to Charlestown to visit her godfather, and to think about her three suitors: a priest, a gamber and an older man with a son only one year younger than herself. She really wants to make a good marriage, just like her parents have done, and they are really happy together. On her way to a ball, dressed like a princess in a white sparkling ballgown, wearing diamonds in her hair, TC asks her to bring a packhorse to a friend in need. His other goddaughter Hope tells her the truth: that friend is a convicted felon, who murdered his own wife on their wedding night! Uncle TC believes his friend innocent, and has arranged for him to be sprung from the prison before he is hanged the next day.
And Cay really should do it, she is not dressed for horseriding, even though she is very good at it. But Cay can’t resist a challenge, and agrees to do it, before she goes to the ball. While waiting in the dark, her white gown hidden beneath a huge cloak, she is starting to get afraid. Then a man finds her, speaking with a horrible Scots accent. He is being pursued, and they are shooting at both of them, so Cay has no choice but to flee with the man. She is already guilty of helping him escape.
And so a difficult journey begins. Cay has always been looked after, is used to have the best and everything she wants. And now she has to keep riding most of the day and night, seeking shelter in the forest to sleep, and with Alex next to her, sharing her cloak for warmth. Their pursuers don’t give up easily, and Alex cannot risk letting her go and be captured. Even though she is from a rich and influential family. And she makes him laugh, and feel good after that awful time in prison. He only knew his wife for three weeks, but he was madly in love with her. Who murdered her? He was unconscious when they busted in his room, to find his wife lying dead next to him. He didn’t even consummate the wedding!
Cay will have to disguise herself as a boy, and they steal some clothes for her, and for Alex too. And while they are at it, Cay takes a bottle of jasmine oil to kill the bugs in Alex’ long hair and beard. He protests adamantly against it, but of course Cay gets her way, and as a result, Alex is finally cleaned up, and smelling of jasmine …
Upon reaching Florida, they learn her family has cleared her name, and will fetch her as soon as possible. But Cay doesn’t want to be left behind! Alex is hired to go on an expedition to explore the swamps, and Cay can do the drawings TC would have been doing. And so they set out. It doesn’t take long for them to become lovers, as they come to really know each other. Cay becomes stronger, harder, and is busily drawing everything they see, while Alex takes care of the animals and hunts for their food on the way. The other men seem to know their secret, but make no point of it, except for a young boy who tries to make Cay’s life hell.
Finally at a hunters outpost, they learn from an old acquaintance of Alex, that his wife isn’t dead afterall, he has seen her in New Orleans a few weeks ago. And Alex and Cay set out to New Orleans at once, to find her, and to find out the truth. How could she let Alex go to trial for murder when she is still alive?
In New Orleans, they find Cay’s brothers first, who have found Lilith already, and were waiting for Alex to get the truth out of her. Cay’s world explodes: Alex is not a bachelor she is free to love, he is still a married man! A man who fell in love with his wife at first sight! Does he still love his wife after everything she put him through? Or does he really love Cay?
Alex is determined to clear his name, just having the murder conviction dropped isn’t enough for him, and get his marriage dissolved before he will declare himself and ask Cay to marry him. And what is Cay to do? Sit demurely at home in Edilean and wait for him?
Of course, there is much more to the story then I just outlined. I loved Cay. She is young, but she cares about everyone and everything, and does her best to cheer Alex up. She keeps up with him, and even agrees to have her hair cut short to disguise herself as a boy. And when she enjoys the joy of being without a corset! And she also tries to matchmake the other women she meets …
Alex is a real Scotsman. Used to getting his own way, he races his horses and makes a lot of money out of it. But the trial, and the fact that all his friends except TC have let him down, has changed him. He was easygoing and carefree, and having rocks and mud thrown at him, really changed his life. But Cay is there to lighten him up, to make him laugh again.
Of course, he never tells her he knows all about her, as he has been writing with her brother since they were boys. He lets her believe he is much older, and ugly, while he isn’t even thirty yet and very handsome underneath his beard. And when he finally shaves, she is so furious with him for deceiving her!
It is a lovely story, filled with lots of humor, and heartache. I quickly devoured the book, and I can’t wait to read the next one. Or the previous ones, as I realise I haven’t read those yet! Two great characters as main ones, and some very good secondary characters. I hope her brothers find their wives in the next books.