Everything has a price . . .
Railway magnate Tom Severin is wealthy and powerful enough to satisfy any desire as soon as it arises. Anything—or anyone—is his for the asking. It should be simple to find the perfect wife—and from his first glimpse of Lady Cassandra Ravenel, he’s determined to have her. But the beautiful and quick-witted Cassandra is equally determined to marry for love—the one thing he can’t give.
Everything except her . . .
Severin is the most compelling and attractive man Cassandra has ever met, even if his heart is frozen. But she has no interest in living in the fast-paced world of a ruthless man who always plays to win.
When a newfound enemy nearly destroys Cassandra’s reputation, Severin seizes the opportunity he’s been waiting for. As always, he gets what he wants—or does he? There’s one lesson Tom Severin has yet to learn from his new bride:
Never underestimate a Ravenel.
The chase for Cassandra’s hand may be over. But the chase for her heart has only just begun . . .
This sneak peek of Chasing Cassandra was actually a deleted scene from the previous Ravenels novel, Devil’s Daughter. However, I liked it so much that I decided to make it the beginning of Tom and Cassandra’s story!
It had been a mistake to invite himself to the wedding.
Not that Tom Severin gave a damn about politeness or etiquette. He liked barging into places where he hadn’t been invited, knowing he was too rich for anyone to dare throw him out. But he should have anticipated the Ravenel wedding would be an utter bore, as weddings always were. Nothing but romantic drivel, lukewarm food, and far, far too many flowers. At the ceremony this morning, the tiny estate chapel of Eversby Priory had been stuffed to the rafters, as if the entire Covent Garden Flower Market had disgorged its contents there. The air had been so thick with perfume, it had given Tom a mild headache.
He wandered through the ancient Jacobean manor house, looking for a quiet place to sit and close his eyes. Outside, guests congregated at the front entrance to cheer for the newly married couple as they departed for their honeymoon.
With the exception of a few guests such as Rhys Winterborne, a Welsh department store owner, this was an aristocratic crowd. That meant the conversation consisted of subjects Tom couldn’t give a rat’s arse about. Fox-hunting. Music. Distinguished ancestors. No one at these gatherings ever discussed business, politics, or anything else Tom might have found interesting.
The ancient Jacobean house had the typical dilapidated-but-luxurious look of an ancestral country manor. Tom didn’t like old things, the smell of mustiness and the accumulated dust of centuries, the worn carpets, the ripples and distortions of antique window glass panes. Nor did the beauty of the surrounding countryside hold any enchantment for him. Most people would have agreed that Hampshire, with its green hills, lush woodland and sparkling chalk streams, was one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth. In general, however, the only thing Tom liked to do with nature was cover it with roads, bridges and railway tracks.
The sounds of distant cheers and laughter funneled into the house’s quiet interior. No doubt the newlyweds were making their escape amid a shower of uncooked rice. Everyone here seemed genuinely happy, which Tom found both annoying and somewhat mystifying. It was as if they all knew some secret that had been kept from him.
After having made a fortune in railways and construction, Tom had never expected to feel the bite of envy again. But here it was, gnawing at him like woodworm in old timber. It made no sense. He was happier than most of these people, or at least richer, which was more or less the same thing. But why didn’t he feel happy? It had been months since he’d felt much of anything at all. He’d been overtaken by a gradual, creeping awareness that all his usual appetites had been blunted. Things that usually gave him pleasure now bored him. Nothing, not even spending a night in the arms of a beautiful woman, had been satisfying. He’d never been like this before. He was at a loss to know what to do about it.
He’d thought it might do him some good to spend some time with Devon and West Ravenel, whom he’d known for at least a decade. The three of them, along with the rest of their disreputable crowd, had often caroused and brawled their way across London. But things had changed. Two years ago, Devon had unexpectedly inherited an earldom and had assumed the role of responsible family patriarch. And West, the formerly carefree drunkard, now managed the estate and tenants, and talked incessantly about the weather. The weather, for God’s sake. The Ravenel brothers, formerly so entertaining, had become as tedious as everyone else.
Entering an empty music room, Tom found a large upholstered chair occupying a shadowy nook. After turning the chair to face away from the door, he sat and closed his eyes. The room was as silent as a sepulcher, except for the delicate ticking of a clock somewhere. An unfamiliar weariness settled over him as gently as mist, and he let out a sigh. People had always joked about his vitality and his fast-paced life, and how no one could keep up with him. Now it seemed he couldn’t keep up with himself.
He needed to do something to jolt himself out of this spell.
Maybe he should marry. At the age of thirty-one, it was high time to take a wife and sire children. There were dozens of eligible young women here, all blue-blooded and well bred. Marrying one of them would help to advance him socially. He considered the Ravenel sisters. The oldest, Helen, had married Rhys Winterborne, and Lady Pandora had married Lord St. Vincent this morning. But there was one sister left . . . Pandora’s twin, Cassandra.
Tom had yet to meet her, but he’d caught a glimpse of her at dinner last night, through multiple bowers of greenery and forests of silver candelabra. From what he’d been able to tell, she was young, blonde and quiet. Which wasn’t necessarily all he wanted in a wife, but it was a good start.
The sound of someone entering the room broke through his thoughts. Damn. Of the dozens of unoccupied rooms on this floor of the house, it would have to be this one. Tom was about to stand and make his presence known, when the sounds of a female sob caused him to shrink deeper into the chair. Oh, no. A crying woman.
“I’m sorry,” the unfamiliar feminine voice quavered. “I don’t know why I’m so emotional.”
For a moment Tom thought she might have been talking to him, but then a man replied.
“I imagine it’s not easy to be separated from a sister who’s always been your closest companion. A twin, no less.” The speaker was West Ravenel, his tone far warmer and more tender than any Tom had ever heard him use before.
“It’s only because I know I’ll miss her. But I’m happy she’s found true love. So very happy—” Her voice broke.
“So I see,” West said dryly. “Here, take this handkerchief and let’s wipe away those tears of joy.”
“It would hardly be unnatural,” West commented kindly, “for you to feel a touch of jealousy. It’s no secret that you’ve wanted to find a match, whereas Pandora has always been determined never to marry at all.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m worried.” The woman blew her nose with a soft little snort. “I’ve gone to all the dinners and dances, and I’ve met everyone. Some of the eligible gentlemen have been very pleasant, but even when there’s nothing terribly wrong with one of them, there’s nothing terribly right, either. I’ve given up looking for love, I’m only searching for someone I could come to love over time, and I can’t even find that. There’s something wrong with me. I’m going to end up an old maid.”
“There’s no such thing as an old maid.”
“Wh-what would you call a middle-aged lady who’s never married?”
“A woman with standards?” West suggested.
“You might call it that, but everyone else says ‘old maid.’” A glum pause. “Also, I’m too plump. All my dresses are tight.”
“You look the same as always.”
“My dress had to be altered last night. It wouldn’t button up the back.”
Twisting stealthily in the chair, Tom peeked around the edge. His breath caught as he stared at her in wonder.
For the first time in his life, Tom Severin was smitten. Smitten and slain.
She was beautiful the way fire and sunlight were beautiful, warm and glowing and golden. The sight of her dealt him a famished, hollow feeling. She was everything he’d missed in his disadvantaged youth, every lost hope and opportunity.
“Sweetheart,” West murmured kindly, “listen to me. There’s no need to worry. You’ll either meet someone new, or you’ll reconsider someone you didn’t appreciate at first. Some men are an acquired taste. Like oysters, or gorgonzola cheese.”
She let out a shuddering sigh. “Cousin West, if I haven’t married by the time I’m twenty-five . . . and you’re still a bachelor . . . would you be my oyster?”
West looked at her blankly.
“Let’s agree to marry each other someday,” she continued, “if no one else wants us. I would be a good wife. All I’ve ever dreamed of is having my own little family, and a happy home where everyone feels safe and welcome. You know I never nag or slam doors or sulk in corners. I just need someone to take care of. I want to matter to someone. Before you refuse—”
“Lady Cassandra Ravenel,” West interrupted, “that is the most idiotic idea anyone’s come up with since Napoleon decided to invade Russia.”
Her gaze turned reproachful. “Why?”
“Among a dizzying array of reasons, you’re too young for me.”
“You’re no older than Lord St. Vincent, and he just married my twin.”
“I’m older than him on the inside, by decades. My soul is a raisin. Take my word for it, you don’t want to be my wife.”
“It would be better than being lonely.”
“What rubbish. ‘Alone’ and ‘lonely’ are entirely different things.” West reached out to smooth back a dangling golden curl that had stuck against a drying tear-track on her cheek. “Now, go bathe your face in cool water, and—”
“I’ll be your oyster,” Tom broke in. He stood from the chair and approached the pair, who stared at him in openmouthed astonishment.
Tom was more than a little surprised himself. If there was anything he was good at, it was negotiating business deals, and this was not the way to start off. In just a few words, he’d just managed to put himself in the weakest possible position.
But he wanted her so badly, he couldn’t help himself.
The closer he drew to her, the harder it became to think straight. His heart worked in a fast and broken rhythm he could feel against his ribs.
Cassandra moved close to West as if for protection, and stared at him as if he were a lunatic. Tom could hardly blame her. In fact, he already regretted this entire approach, but it was too late to hold back now.
West was scowling. “Severin, what the devil are you doing in here?”
“I was resting in the chair. After you started talking, I couldn’t find a good moment to interrupt.” Tom couldn’t take his gaze from Cassandra. Her wide, wondering eyes were like soft blue midnight, star-glittered with forgotten tears. The curves of her body looked firm and sweet, no hard angles or straight lines anywhere . . . nothing but inviting, sensual softness. If she were his . . . he might finally have the sense of ease other men had. No more spending every minute of the day striving and hungering and never feeling sated.
“I’ll marry you,” Tom told her. “Any time. Any terms.”
West gently nudged Cassandra toward the door. “Go, darling, while I talk with the insane man.”
She gave her cousin a flustered nod and obeyed.
After she’d crossed the threshold, Tom said urgently, without thinking, “My lady?”
Slowly she reappeared, peeking at him from behind the doorjamb.
Tom wasn’t sure what to say, only that he couldn’t let her leave thinking she was anything less than perfect, exactly as she was.
“You’re not too plump,” he said gruffly. “The more of you there is in the world, the better.”
As far as compliments went, it wasn’t exactly eloquent, or even appropriate. But amusement sparkled in the one blue eye that was visible before Cassandra vanished.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (Starred Review)
"Opposites attract in spectacular fashion in the sixth Victorian-era Romance in bestseller Kleypas’s Ravenel series (after Devil’s Daughter), which pairs a true romantic with a cynical intellectual. Lady Cassandra Ravenel has turned down many proposals, holding out for real feeling. That doesn’t stop railway magnate Tom Severin from asking for her hand within moments of meeting her. Though she ignores his proposal, the shrewd businessman fancies her from just a glance and sees winning her as a thrilling challenge. His pursuit leads the pair to grow close. But when Tom starts to feel more than lust, he abruptly ends their budding friendship to avoid the liability he feels his emotions pose on his cold, calculated life, leaving a smitten Cassandra confused and hurt. They continue to run into each other, and their physical and mental attraction proves too strong to ignore. When one of Cassandra’s scorned suitors slanders her reputation, Tom is determined to protect her. The plot is well-balanced, the pace steady, the characters deliciously complex, and the chemistry electric. Returning readers will also be pleased by cameos from characters from earlier installments. Kleypas fans and first timers alike will fall in love with this refreshing romance. (Feb.)