Blackthorne's Bride

A Bitter Creek Novel

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A rogue nobleman, a rescued lady, and revenge undone by romance all play a part in New York Times bestselling author Joan Johnston’s irresistible novel of best-laid plots, delicious deception, and unexpected passion.
 
Two years have passed since Josie Wentworth was bought from the Sioux for a gold watch and whisked back to England by Marcus Wharton, the Duke of Blackthorne. When Marcus breaks his promise to return Josie to America, she ends up as a maid in the home of his charming but neglected nephews. Once Josie’s long-lost family finds her, however, the suddenly wealthy heiress sets out to save the two boys from their indifferent uncle—and teach the duke a lesson in honor.
 
Learning that Marcus is seeking a rich American bride to save his estate, Josie plots to catch his eye—certain he’ll never recognize the beauty she’s become as the ragged captive he rescued. But Josie doesn’t wager on her marital charade taking a tender turn, as the nobleman she’s despised for years proves to be a very different man than she’s imagined. And there’s no denying his passionate caresses, as she falls deeper under the spell of a husband determined to claim her heart.

Praise for Blackthorne’s Bride
 
“[Joan] Johnston’s gloriously dramatic twelfth Bitter Creek novel, the fourth installment in her Mail Order Bride subseries, whisks readers across the Atlantic. . . . [This] page-turner is replete with romantic angst, sizzling sex, and the promise of an enduring love.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Second chances, marriage of convenience, revenge, reconnection, and redemption . . . Blackthorne’s Bride is another winner from Joan Johnston that gives readers a delicious story of love, laughter, forgiveness, and family.”—Smexy Books
 
Blackthorne’s Bride is a sweeping tale that takes you from the Wild West . . . to Regency England. [It’s] a feisty and surprisingly enticing romance that takes you on an adventure through the city streets of London and the countryside.”—Addicted to Romance
 
“Riveting . . . Johnston excels at descriptions, peppered with period details that make this book a picturesque reading experience.”—Buried Under Romance

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Blackthorne's Bride

Chapter 1

The Duke of Blackthorne was sitting in a wing chair at his gentleman’s club in London, drink in hand, staring absently out the window, when his best friend said, “It’s the girl, isn’t it? You’re thinking of the waif you rescued from that savage.”

“What if I am?” It irritated him to be so predictable. And embarrassed him to have his late wife’s brother point out his preoccupation with a girl he’d barely known, rather than the woman who’d been his wife for a year, before she’d died bearing his son.

“It’s been two years,” Seaton said. “You need to forget about her. You have more important things to consider, if you want to rescue Blackthorne Abbey from ruin. You need to find a woman with means and marry her before the month is out.”

Blackthorne made a face. Within a month of marrying Fanny, which was to say, within a month of his return to London from America, he’d learned that the Blackthorne estate was badly strapped. His father had made a number of risky investments that had not paid off. Then his younger brother, Montgomery, had died in a carriage race, and Black­thorne had been pressed to settle his brother’s outrageous gambling debts and find somewhere for his brother’s two sons to live, since Monty had died not only destitute, but a widower, whose late wife had no family.

Blackthorne had done his best to economize and had put Fanny’s dowry to good use, but it soon became apparent that, without an infusion of capital, land that had been in his family for eight generations was destined to be lost forever.

He’d spent the months of Fanny’s pregnancy filled with hope that she would bear him an heir to the dukedom, and with despair that he might be leaving his child an estate with only a glimmer of its former glory.

Unfortunately, things hadn’t improved in the year since Fanny’s death. In fact, they’d gotten worse. Now there was some doubt whether he could keep anything at all.

After his terrible experience losing Fanny and their son, he hadn’t been inclined to marry again. Now circumstances demanded it. He needed a rich wife, and he needed her in a hurry.

The New York Times lay open on his lap, so he could see the text of the advertisement his solicitor had inserted in all the major American newspapers several months ago—­along with the London Times, of course, in order to catch any American heiress who might already have crossed the pond to secure a British title in exchange for a bit of her father’s wealth:

WANTED: American heiress for purposes of matrimony to titled gentleman.

The notice then gave the name of the Blackthorne solicitor, in an effort to make the duke’s search for a wealthy bride somewhat anonymous. Not that everyone in Society didn’t know the straits to which he’d been reduced. His grandmother had paraded a number of eligible English heiresses in front of him, but he’d insisted that, if he was forced to marry for filthy lucre, he wasn’t going to do it among the ranks of his peers.

There was another reason he’d advertised for an American bride. Although he hadn’t admitted it to anyone, he kept imagining that, somehow, the mystery woman he’d rescued all those years ago would show up again in his life.

Blackthorne thought more often than he ought to of the girl he’d nursed on the sea voyage across the Atlantic. He knew so little about her, not even her name. Perhaps that was why she’d remained so intriguing. Where was she now? How was she? He could have left her with an American family who’d been willing to take her in, but he’d refused to let her out of his sight. Why? What was it about that suffering girl that had so captivated him that he’d insisted on taking care of her himself?

Was it the courage that had kept her from begging for mercy at the sting of the lash? Was it that stubborn chin lifted in defiance of the pain the savage had inflicted upon her? Or was it the enormous strength of will that had kept her alive in spite of the terrible wounds she’d endured?

A doctor had straightened her nose as best he could, but it would always have a bump where it had been broken. Her battered face and her blackened eyes, which had remained mere slits for the balance of the journey, had left her unrecognizable. Blackthorne had feared that infection would kill her on the voyage across the sea, but she’d survived, although fever had plagued her all the way to England.

Day after day, she’d remained out of her head with pain from her ravaged back, but she hadn’t complained, hadn’t screamed or cried. She’d hissed when a hot cloth touched her flesh. She’d thrashed as Blackthorne held her still for the doctor’s examination. Sometimes, she released a moan that was almost a sigh. He’d talked to her to keep her mind off the agony he knew he was causing, when he tended her ragged flesh.

“I’ve never seen a girl so brave,” he’d told her as she bore his ministrations. He’d waited anxiously for her fever to break, for her to speak intelligible words, to say something—­anything—­to prove that what she’d suffered hadn’t driven her mad.

“You have to let the physician mind the girl,” Seaton had admonished him. “He knows best. You’re liable to cause more damage, if you try to manage her treatment yourself.”

He’d barely looked up from the girl’s face, as he sat vigil beside her bunk in the captain’s cabin, while the fever raged. “I bought her. She’s my responsibility.”

“Listen to yourself,” his friend chided. “You rescued a damsel in distress. Your duties as knight in shining armor are over.”

“Not until I know who she is,” he’d murmured.

“What difference can that possibly make?” Sea­ton asked. “From the way she was dressed, it’s clear she’s one of the lower classes.”

Blackthorne had shifted his gaze sharply to look his best friend in the eye. “That doesn’t make her any less in need of my help.”

“What are you going to do with her when you get her to England?” his friend demanded. “You’re engaged to be married. How do you think Fanny is going to react to this wild hair of yours?”

He’d turned his attention back to the girl, who’d shifted and moaned. “Fanny will understand.”

“You don’t know my sister as well as you think you do.”

“Go away, Seaton,” he’d said in a firm, ducal voice. And Seaton had left.

Blackthorne was surprised by what the girl said when she finally spoke.

“All my fault,” she muttered against the pillow. “Everything. If only they knew. All my fault.”

“Surely you can’t be responsible for the attack on your wagon,” he’d said in a soothing voice.

She’d clutched the pillow tightly with both fists and said, “The fire. The fire.”

For a long time he’d thought she was saying her back was on fire, which he could easily believe. But it wasn’t that at all. She’d remained out of her head, raving and incoherent with fever, and it had taken more than a week before he’d cobbled together enough of the story, which had been revealed in bits and pieces, to understand her guilt.

She’d been referring to the terrible conflagration in Chicago three years previously, the one sup­posedly caused by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, which had kicked over a lantern in the barn. The resulting inferno, which had raged for three days, had burned down virtually the whole city, including this girl’s home.

She’d been terrified by the flames and smoke and had hidden under her bed, making it necessary for her parents to hunt through the house for her. She hadn’t replied, even when they’d pleaded for her to answer them. Her parents had finally found her, and her father had dragged her out. But by then, the bedroom doorway was blocked by fire. Her mother had tied the bedsheets together so her father could lower her out the back window. Safe outside, she’d watched her home burn to the ground with her parents inside.

He’d prodded her for her given name, or her family name, but she’d been too lost in her personal agony to respond. Apparently, she’d been orphaned. It was a mystery how she’d gotten from Chicago to the Dakota Territory, but presumably it involved travel in a Conestoga wagon, since she—­and whoever was in it with her—­had been attacked by the Sioux.

She’d mentioned a few names, but he had no clue whether they were relatives or acquaintances. Hetty and Hannah—­always together. Miranda. Nick and Harry—­again, always together. And a Mr. McMurtry. He wondered if she could be married to the man. But she wasn’t wearing a ring, and there was no mark on her finger to show that she’d worn a ring that might have been removed by the Sioux.

She made two other statements relentlessly: “I have to find them. I have to go back. I have to find them. I have to go back.”

He kept hoping she would recover enough by the time they landed in England to answer all his questions about exactly who it was she had to find and where she had to go. But she was still far from well when their journey ended.

To his chagrin, Fanny was at the docks to greet him, together with her mother, who’d come along to welcome home her son and future son-­in-­law. Suddenly, he wasn’t so sure Fanny would understand that he’d spent the entire crossing nursing a half-­naked girl. Or why he’d parted with two irreplaceable heirlooms—­a whalebone-­handled knife and his grandfather’s gold watch—­to “buy” a young woman. Or why he’d insisted on nursing her himself, rather than allowing the perfectly capable physician he’d brought along to do it.

When he saw Fanny waving to him—­fragile Fanny, who’d fainted at the sight of a cut on his face from a bout of fisticuffs at Jackson’s Saloon—­he realized Seaton was right. Fanny would never understand any of this. She would shortly be his wife, and he didn’t want to start off his marriage with an unnecessary misunderstanding.

“Seaton, I need a favor,” he’d said.

“Anything, Blackthorne.”

“I want you to make sure that, once the girl is well, she’s sent home to America.”

“Of course. Consider it done.”

- About the author -

Joan Johnston is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many historical and contemporary romance novels. She received a master of arts degree in theater from the University of Illinois and graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. She is currently a full-time writer living in Colorado.

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Blackthorne's Bride

A Bitter Creek Novel

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Blackthorne's Bride

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