The Southern Devil
Read an Excerpt »
Even a perfect gentleman has a little devil in him.
Once an orphaned, starving, Confederate war veteran, Morgan Evans is now a wealthy man respected for both his business acumen and his chivalrous Southern manners. He would be the perfect catch for any woman, but only one holds his constant attention. Jessamyn Tyler Evans has been his obsession since the time she derailed one of his spy missions by holding him hostage in her bed for days. Her innocent explorations awakened a fierce hunger inside the young Morgan, and the passion and intimacy they shared frightened them both. Jessamyn spurned Morgan for his cousin, and Morgan vowed that someday he would drive her as wild with desire as she had driven him. Now Jessamyn has returned. The payback has begun…
Jessamyn has an obsession of her own: hunting for a legendary family treasure in the hills of Colorado. To do so, the spirited widow needs a husband, and Morgan Evans is only too happy to join her masquerade…for a price: she must submit to being his, body and soul, surrendering herself to whatever he demands. It’s a devil’s bargain to be sure.
Their union is as treacherous as it is passionate—and the only thing they can trust. Searching for a treasure that may not exist—a treasure others would kill for—two lovers are moving deeper into unmarked territory, where no threat is more perilous than everything they feel…
Read an Excerpt
Memphis, June 1872
Jessamyn Tyler Evans stared out of the carriage windows eagerly, drinking in every precious sight of Somerset Hall, starting with the high turrets of the private racetrack her father had built as a wedding present for his wife, Sophia. The stream rippled past, marking Somerset Hall’s boundary. Then the tall oak tree appeared, whose branches she’d climbed so often to look for the Evans family, her parents’ best friends and her two childhood playmates, Morgan and Cyrus Evans. No matter what joys and pains were associated with those men as adults, including marriage and widowhood, her childhood memories were only of innocent fun.
Jessamyn leaned out farther, almost rocking Richard Burke’s carriage in her eagerness. It was ten years since she’d lived here and nine years since her father had sold it, but it still looked much the same as she remembered.
The great paddocks, the core of Somerset Hall’s fame, were green and lush and blessed with dozens of beautiful horses. Colts tossed up their heads as she drove past, then raced, showing they were faster than the sedate carriage. One fine yearling was a chestnut, running with the wind for pure joy. She craned her neck to see him as the road turned, then sat back, tears filling her eyes. He was the image of old Aldebaran, her father’s favorite stallion.
Yellow roses still covered the small chapel. She’d woven a garland of them and cast them into the stream with a prayer for forgiveness, when she’d learned of her mother’s death.
The large main house was built of red brick, with white columns and porticos, in a comfortable Palladian style. Shutters were open onto the east loggia, showing a glimpse of the library where Cyrus had studied for West Point, while a bronze statue of Hermes was still slightly askew amid a fountain. She and Morgan had knocked him sideways during a particularly lively game of bat and ball.
Dear God, how happy they’d all been.
The carriage drew up in front and Aristotle, her family’s old houseman, handed her down. Behind him, Richard Burke— Somerset Hall’s present owner—smiled warmly at her from the top of the stairs, where he stood next to his sister.
The hair on the back of her neck promptly stood up. She’d thought Eliza Burke, Richard’s spinster sister, had invited her here for answers about Somerset Hall’s origins. Why the devil would Richard Burke, who had little use for women, be charming to her, a penniless widow?
Setting aside her suspicions for the moment, she smiled at her old friend. “Thank you, Aristotle. How are you doing now?”
His face split into a grin. “Very well, Miss Jessamyn. Very well indeed.” He patted her hand and rolled his eyes toward his current employer, silently warning her as he had so many times before.
She squeezed his hand briefly in thanks and turned to her host and hostess, who’d come down the stairs to greet her.
“Mrs. Evans, what a great honor to have you here,” Mr. Burke rumbled.
“Please take a drink with us,” his sister added.
“Thank you.” She curtsied slightly and followed them to the side porch, her father’s favorite place for entertaining in hot weather. The rose garden reached the house here, curved around a delicate fountain that her parents had brought back from Italy on their honeymoon. Her bedroom had overlooked this part of the garden, with its path to the family’s stables.
Cassiopeia, Aristotle’s wife and her old family cook, brought out the serving tray, which offered lemonade and an array of treats that would have tempted even the Widow of Windsor. Jessamyn managed a private smile for Cassiopeia, with a silent promise of a later meeting as old friends. Cassiopeia silently retreated to a servant’s correct distance beside her husband and Jessamyn was left with the Burkes’ unfamiliar company.
She sighed softly and sipped her lemonade. Richard Burke was talking about a rich miner from Colorado, a topic that interested Jessamyn very little. Was that Socrates, her old groom and Aristotle’s brother, coming down the path from the stables? His uncle had been Somerset Hall’s chief groom for decades and Father had brought Socrates here when she was six.
Why was Socrates so concerned to see her now? Didn’t he realize she’d meet all of them later, as befitted their friendship?
“So you see what a good deal it is,” Burke finished.
She frowned internally and reviewed his last few sentences. Something about a land deal in Denver? “Excuse me, sir, but I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.”
“Charlie Jones . . .”
Charlie Jones? Her cousin Charlie? Every nerve inside Jessamyn came screaming to life. If her Sharps carbine had been handy, she’d have loaded, cocked, and aimed it.
“Will trade me a thousand acres of prime Colorado railroad right-of-way for Somerset Hall. He plans to remove the top two or three stallions, plus a handful of mares, before fever season starts and send the rest of the horses to the knackers.”
Kill the horses? Kill her beloved horses, the fabled gold of Somerset Hall? Take just enough horses to be able to re-create Somerset Hall’s fabled stud farm and do it before yellow jack struck again at high summer, as it had for the past five years, turning Memphis into a panicked, dying city. That way, a few grooms could handle the horses and the knackers would take the risk of entering Memphis during a time of year when half of the population dropped dead of high fever, yellow skin, and screaming insanity.
Damn Charlie to hell. The cheap bastard wanted Somerset Hall and its stud book enough that he’d actually made an excellent offer for it. Her father had done whatever it took during the War to keep the horses alive—smuggled feed in from St. Louis, hidden the horses, even paid bribes to both sides of the conflict. Jessamyn pressed her lips firmly together and waited for her host to finish speaking.
“All you have to do is sign here. I’ll give you five hundred dollars for your right of first refusal.” He produced a traveling desk and opened the leather portfolio within, revealing a sheaf of papers.
No wonder Burke hadn’t sold many of the horses since the War if this was how he conducted business. She’d also heard rumors that he’d overpriced them, even for their legendary quality.
Jessamyn’s decision had been made the instant she’d heard who wanted to buy the land. She would crawl through hell on broken glass before she let Cousin Charlie set foot on Somerset Hall. “No.”
Burke straightened, papers in hand. His sister stared at Jessamyn from just behind him, with a bottle of ink in her hand. “What do you mean—no?”
She folded her hands in her lap, lifted her chin, and straightened her spine even further. Her former governess, Miss Ramsay, the daughter of a British naval officer, would have been proud, especially since Jessamyn’s heart was leaping inside her chest like a rabbit trying to escape a fox. Aristotle, Cassiopeia, and Socrates were lined up on the brick walkway like an honor guard, hopeful and desperate.
“According to the terms of sale when you bought Somerset Hall, I have six months to match the sum you paid my father. Until then, you cannot accept any other offer.”
Burke’s jaw dropped and he slammed his fist down on the table, making it shake. “You’re only a penniless Army widow! Where the devil will you obtain enough money?”
Jessamyn tilted her chin slightly higher, thinking of the lawyer’s letter inside her purse. “In Colorado, sir.”
By way of Kansas City, if I can just find a husband first.
And claim the gold in Colorado without seeing Morgan again…