The virgin and the venge.., p.1

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The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom
 


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The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom


  Lily Knew What Their Kiss Meant.

  Oh, yes, she knew it. Knew that no matter how much she wanted to deny the inevitable, she couldn’t do it. Eve and that damned apple. The dark, sweet taste of temptation—of his mouth on hers, his hands on her body. Wherever they were headed, she was going willingly, knowing she’d be hurt in the end, because there was no way on earth she could protect herself against something so powerful, so wonderful—so compelling. For the first time in her life, she knew what it must be like to be addicted. To need—to want so desperately that nothing else in the world mattered.

  And Curt Powers was the only cure.

  Men bound by blood, tied to the sea

  and destined to be heroes.

  Dear Reader,

  Our 20th anniversary pledge to you, our devoted readers, is a promise to continue delivering passionate, powerful, provocative love stories from your favorite Silhouette Desire authors for all the years to come!

  As an anniversary treat, we’ve got a special book for you from the incomparable Annette Broadrick. Marriage Prey is a romance between the offspring of two couples from Annette’s earliest Desire books, which Silhouette reissued along with a third early Desire novel last month as Maximum Marriage: Men on a Mission. Bestselling author Mary Lynn Baxter brings you November’s MAN OF THE MONTH…Her Perfect Man. A minister and a reformed party girl fall for each other in this classic opposites-attract love story. A Cowboy’s Gift is the latest offering by RITA Award winner Anne McAllister in her popular CODE OF THE WEST miniseries.

  Another RITA winner, Caroline Cross, delivers the next installment of the exciting Desire miniseries FORTUNE’S CHILDREN: THE GROOMS with Husband—or Enemy? Dixie Browning’s miniseries THE PASSIONATE POWERS continues with The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom, part of our extra-sensual BODY & SOUL promotion. And Sheri WhiteFeather has created another appealing Native American hero in Night Wind’s Woman.

  So please join us in celebrating twenty glorious years of category romance by indulging yourself with all six of these compelling love stories from Silhouette Desire!

  Enjoy!

  Joan Marlow Golan

  Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire

  The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom

  DIXIE BROWNING

  Books by Dixie Browning

  Silhouette Desire

  Shadow of Yesterday #68

  Image of Love #91

  The Hawk and the Honey #111

  Late Rising Moon #121

  Stormwatch #169

  The Tender Barbarian #188

  Matchmaker’s Moon #212

  A Bird in the Hand #234

  In the Palm of Her Hand #264

  A Winter Woman #324

  There Once Was a Lover #337

  Fate Takes a Holiday #403

  Along Came Jones #427

  Thin Ice #474

  Beginner’s Luck #517

  Ships in the Night #541

  Twice in a Blue Moon #588

  Just Say Yes #637

  Not a Marrying Man #678

  Gus and the Nice Lady #691

  Best Man for the Job #720

  Hazards of the Heart #780

  Kane’s Way #801

  *Keegan’s Hunt #820

  *Lucy and the Stone #853

  *Two Hearts, Slightly Used #890

  †Alex and the Angel #949

  †The Beauty, the Beast and the Baby #985

  The Baby Notion #1011

  †Stryker’s Wife #1033

  Look What the Stork Brought #1111

  ‡The Passionate G-Man #1141

  ‡A Knight in Rusty Armor #1195

  Texas Millionaire #1232

  The Bride-in-Law #1251

  §A Bride for Jackson Powers #1273

  §The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom #1331

  Silhouette Special Edition

  Finders Keepers #50

  Reach Out To Cherish #110

  Just Deserts #181

  Time and Tide #205

  By Any Other Name #228

  The Security Man #314

  Belonging #414

  Silhouette Romance

  Unreasonable Summer #12

  Tumbled Wall #38

  Chance Tomorrow #53

  Wren of Paradise #73

  East of Today #93

  Winter Blossom #113

  Renegade Player #142

  Island on the Hill #164

  Logic of the Heart #172

  Loving Rescue #191

  A Secret Valentine #203

  Practical Dreamer #221

  Visible Heart #275

  Journey to Quiet Waters #292

  The Love Thing #305

  First Things Last #323

  Something for Herself #381

  Reluctant Dreamer #460

  A Matter of Timing #527

  The Homing Instinct #747

  Cinderella’s Midnight Kiss #1450

  Silhouette Yours Truly

  Single Female (Reluctantly) Seeks…

  Silhouette Books

  Silhouette Christmas Stories 1987

  “Henry the Ninth”

  Spring Fancy 1994

  “Grace and the Law”

  World’s Most Eligible Bachelors

  ‡His Business, Her Baby

  DIXIE BROWNING

  has been writing for Silhouette since 1980 and recently celebrated the publication of her sixty-fifth book, Texas Millionaire. She has also written a number of historical romances with her sister under the name Bronwyn Williams. An award-winning painter and writer, Browning lives on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You may write to her at PO Box 1389, Buxton, NC 27920.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  One

  His bare, size-eleven feet propped on the railing, Curt let the long-neck bottle slip through his fingers to rest on the sandy porch floor. Gazing out over the Atlantic, he continued the word game a fellow patient had introduced him to in a certain Central American hospital.

  Applicable words only. Even playing alone he stuck to the rules. He’d started over with the As once he’d settled here at Powers Point. After less than a week he was up to the R words. There was not a lot to do here.

  Not a lot he could manage yet, at any rate.

  Rest and relaxation.

  Recuperation and recreation.

  Nah. Scratch recreation, it didn’t apply.

  Rebuild, restore…retire? At age thirty-six?

  Well, hell—how about rotting, raving, royally pissed-off?

  Too much like the Bs. Bored, bad, broken. And bitter. Yeah, that, too, but he was working on that one.

  The Ps had come easy. Powers Point. Private. Privateer?

  Could his old man have been a pirate? Being the descendent of several generations of seafarers about whom he knew next to nothing, Curt had to wonder. Powers Point was a pretty valuable chunk of real estate, at least, it was now that the island had turned into a tourist haven. What about a hundred years ago? Two hundred? Why would anyone settle in a place like this unless he valued privacy and needed easy access to the sea?

  Private, privacy, privateer…

  It was only a word game, he told himself. He would never even have thought of it if he hadn’t fallen heir to six sealed boxes a few months ago. After years of believing his father was dead, he had discovered that Matthew Curtis Powers had lived right here in Powers Point until a few years ago, when
he’d entered a nursing home in Virginia, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Curt could have passed his own father on the street and never known it. Never even recognized him. Just thinking about it made him want to strike out at something.

  He’d been on twelve-hour notice before leaving on another mission when the lawyer had finally tracked him down to inform him of his father’s death. Stunned, he had accepted a deed and two keys—one for a house at a place he’d never even heard of at the time, Powers Point, and another one to a storage unit in Norfolk. He hadn’t had time to absorb the knowledge—barely had time to locate a storage place and stash the stuff. Six boxes of ledgers, logbooks, diaries and old newspapers, not to mention half a dozen old novels. He’d glanced at a few of the titles and seen enough to know that he wouldn’t be in any great hurry to read them.

  The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom. Was that an example of his family’s taste in literature?

  But then, what the hell did he know about his family’s taste in books or anything else? At a time when he’d been too young to know what was going on, his mother had taken him away and told him his father was dead. All those years he’d believed it, because he’d had no reason not to.

  As for the boxes, he’d had little time to do more than scan the top layers, but even that had been enough to fuel his imagination. Later, lying in a series of hospital beds with nothing but time on his hands, stories his father had told him more than thirty years earlier had started coming back. Fragments. Images—things a kid might recall, never knowing if it came from a comic book or a television show or something real. Even now he wasn’t certain how much was real and how much was invented out of need. Like the memory of a ship named the Black Swan.

  He’d just about decided it was a bunch of bull when those six boxes of papers had turned up. At least some of those papers were definitely ship related, triggering a few recollections of some female relative who had grown up aboard a ship and then written a few wildly imaginative stories.

  In fact, once he’d set his mind to it, he’d begun to recall quite a few tales about a family—his own, a few generations back—that had gone to sea and stayed there, men, women and children alike.

  The Powers of Powers Point. He hadn’t put much stock in any of the old tales as a kid. Probably more into space rangers at that age. But then, soon after that the family he’d taken for granted had disintegrated, and for the next few years he’d been too caught up in trying to understand things no kid could possibly understand to worry about his father’s old stories.

  They were trying to come back, though. Bits and pieces—nothing particularly outstanding, but then, memories were notoriously unreliable. Ask five men about an event that had taken place a week ago and you’d get five different stories.

  So, although he hadn’t put much stock in old memories, while he’d been lying flat on his back in a series of hospitals he’d had plenty of time to wonder. And, yeah, he had even wondered whether or not old Matthew might have indulged in a bit of skullduggery. Blackbeard had operated in these parts. Met his grisly end, in fact, on the next island south in the Outer Banks chain—Ocracoke.

  At least it had served the purpose of occupying his mind while he waited for skin grafts to take, for broken bones to heal, for torn muscles to mend. Not to mention the time it took his body to rid itself of a variety of exotic bugs he’d caught while lying buried up to his ears in a stinking mud hole in a Central American jungle.

  There wasn’t a whole lot he could do yet, physically, but as soon as he was up to making the trip to Norfolk, he fully intended to retrieve his legacy and learn a little more about his past. After years of being a rolling stone, he could afford to gather a bit of moss. That didn’t mean he was under any obligation to hang around, once he was back in shape.

  Physically he was still a mess, but mentally he was pretty solid. Certain things were beginning to make sense to him now. Such as the way he had always felt like an alien in corn country, Oklahoma, after his mother had remarried. He’d been about eight then. His stepfather had been a decent enough guy, but they’d never been close.

  Eventually Curt had joined the Navy and ended up seeing more of the world than he ever cared to see again. That was still up for grabs. His future. Meanwhile he was here in a place that bore his name, if not his imprint. Along the way he had loved and lost, as the old saying went. Loved not wisely but too well—another cliché. Alicia was a fast-fading memory he hadn’t even tried to recover.

  Somewhere in one of those boxes might lie the explanation for why he’d always felt drawn to salt water. Why he’d ended up choosing a career as a Navy SEAL over his stepfather’s farm.

  A mosquito landed on the tender flesh of a newly healed skin graft. He swore, slapped, and swore again. This recovery business was a pain in the—in various parts of his anatomy. Patience had never been one of his virtues. At least here he had time and privacy. The house itself was a gaunt, unpainted relic, sparsely furnished but, surprisingly enough, still solid. The outbuildings had weathered a few too many storms to be worth repairing, even if he’d had a use for them. Even if he’d planned on hanging around. As for the rest of his estate, it consisted of roughly a hundred-odd acres of blowing sand, stunted trees and muddy marsh that stunk to high heaven whenever the wind was off the sound.

  Not to mention the small, private cemetery with half a dozen or so leaning tombstones. Most of the names had been sandblasted until few of them were even legible. One stood out. His father. Matthew Curtis Powers, born September 9, 1931, died, September 9, 1997. Ironic. He could think of better ways to celebrate a birthday.

  Curt took a deep, cautious breath. Too deep and it hurt; too shallow and he got that suffocating feeling again. Nightmare stuff.

  It’s over, man. You’re out of it.

  Physically he was out of it. Mentally…he was getting there.

  At least he had something to focus his mind on. That helped. The nightmares came less frequently now. Once he got involved in rediscovering the father he remembered only dimly—the man who had taught him to fish when he was barely old enough to hold a fishing pole and promised that one of these days they’d buy a boat and sail to the West Indies—he’d be well on the way to full recovery.

  In a week or so he would drive to Norfolk and reclaim the rest of his inheritance. While he had no intention of hanging around any longer than necessary, it didn’t hurt for a guy to know something about his past—his roots.

  Moving with the deceptive ease of someone afraid of jarring something loose, Curt made his way to the kitchen, squeaked open the rust-speckled refrigerator and scowled. “Well, hell,” he said plaintively.

  No beer. Also, no bacon, no eggs—nothing but a chunk of green cheese that wasn’t supposed to be that color. No more leftover pizza—he’d finished that off for breakfast. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to making another supply run. Especially as he’d insisted on keeping his four-by-four instead of trading it in on something with an automatic transmission. The drive down from the hospital in Maryland had damn near killed him, but he’d stuck it out on the theory that if it hurt, it must be good for him. Once he’d opened the house up, aired it out and unloaded his few possessions, he had hauled south to the nearest village to hire a carpenter. While he was there, he’d stocked up on the necessities of life: beer, bacon and eggs and a variety of canned goods.

  This time the drive wasn’t too bad. The usual beach traffic, but what the devil—he was in no hurry. He pulled in at the post office to collect the accumulation of junk mail, then drove on to the nearest supermarket. It was late August. The place was mobbed. As a rule he did his shopping before eight in the morning or after ten at night. If there was one thing that galled the hell out of him—and actually, there were several—it was having strangers stare at him as if he were some kind of freak. So he had a few scars—so what?

  So he walked kind of funny. So what?

  Kids were the worst. They’d stare at him, half scared, half fascinated. As if he w
ere a carnival display or something instead of a guy who’d happened to get in the way of a few pounds of miscellaneous scrap metal. “You ain’t seen nothing, kid,” he was tempted to growl. “Wait till I take off my pants.”

  But of course, he never did. His own mama, bless her frivolous, lying soul, had taught him a few manners before he’d left the nest.

  Bracing himself not to use the shopping cart as a walker, he started with the As and tossed in a couple of apples. Next, he grabbed a few cans of beans, some corned beef, bread and beer. Enough of the Bs. He moved through the alphabet to cookies, candy, cheese and coffee, then located the eggs. His unwritten list was another of the mental exercises designed to keep his brain from atrophying. By the time he’d done pickles and preserves, he’d had enough. Skipping ahead to the Vs, he opted for a copy of today’s Virginian Pilot instead of vegetables. He had canned beans and pickles, after all.

  Three days after she’d brought them home, Lily still hadn’t got around to finding putting-places for the contents of a single box. She was too caught up in exploring her treasure trove. Organizing could wait. Imagine, a diary written more than a hundred years ago. For all she knew, she was the first person to read it since the woman named Bess had made the last entry.

  “Okay, Bessie, where did we leave off?” she murmured. “We were hiding from that jerk who had locked up your crew, right?” Propping her feet on one of the boxes, she opened the diary she’d been reading. The stuff was gold, pure gold. Diaries, travel journals—and she hadn’t even started on the novels yet. Six boxes full of who-knew-what wonderful material. It was better than winning the lottery.

  The handwriting was better formed than her own, but it was still hard to read. Now and then Lily had to look up a word in the dictionary. Even so, it was amazing how a woman of the twenty-first century could slip into the skin of a woman from another era. Bess Powers had grown up in an unorthodox way and gone on to do her own thing.

 
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