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Authors: Judith McNaught

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Once and Always

BOOK: Once and Always
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Beyond the Storms of Fate,
 

a
Glorious Love Would Flourish...
 

Once and Always
 

Across the vast ocean sailed Victoria Seaton, a free-spirited American beauty left suddenly orphaned and alone. Eager to claim her long-lost heritage, she was amazed at the formal elegance of Wakefield, the sumptuous English estate of her distant cousin ... the notorious Lord Jason Fielding. Sought after at plays, operas, and balls by London’s most fashionable ladies, Jason remained a mystery to Victoria. Bewildered by his arrogant demeanor, yet drawn to his panther-like grace, she came to sense the searingly painful memories that smoldered in the depths of his jade-green eyes.

Unable to resist her spitfire charm, Jason gathered her at last into his powerful arms, ravishing her lips with his kisses, arousing in her a sweet, insistent hunger. Wed in desire, they were enfolded in a fierce, consuming joy, free at last from the past’s cruel grasp. Then, in a moment of blinding anguish, Victoria discovered the shocking treachery that lay at the heart of their love ... a love she had dreamed would triumph ...

ONCE AND ALWAYS
JUDITH MCNAUGHT

Published by POCKET BOOKS

For orders other than by individual consumers, Pocket Books grants a discount on the purchase of 10 or more copies of single titles for special markets or premium use. For further details, please write to the Vice-President of Special Markets, Pocket Books, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-6785 8th Floor.

For information on how individual consumers can place orders, please write to Mail Order Department, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 200 Old Tappan Road, Old Tappan, NJ 0767S.

POCKET BOOKS New York London Toronto Sydney Tokyo Singapore

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Copyright
©
1987 by Judith McNaught

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN: 0-671-73762-7

First Pocket Books printing January 1987

25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Cover art by Yuan Lee Printed in the U.S.A.

CONTENTS

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33

To my father, who always made me feel that he was proud of me and

To my mother, who helped me do the things that made him proud

What a team you are!

Once and Always

Chapter One

ENGLAND

1815
 

“Oh, there you are, Jason,” the raven-haired beauty said to her husband’s reflection in the mirror above her dressing table. Her gaze slid warily over his tall, rugged frame as he came toward her; then she returned her attention to the open jewel cases spread out before her. A nervous tremor shook her hand and her smile was overly bright as she removed a spectacular diamond choker from a case and held it out to him. “Help me fasten this, will you?”

Her husband’s face tightened with distaste as he looked at the necklaces of glittering rubies and magnificent emeralds already spread across her swelling breasts above the daring bodice of her gown. “Isn’t your display of flesh and jewels a little vulgar for a woman who hopes to masquerade as a grand lady?”

“What would
you
know about vulgarity?” Melissa Fielding retorted contemptuously. “This gown is the height of fashion.” Haughtily she added, “Baron Lacroix likes it very well. He specifically asked me to wear it to the ball tonight.”

“No doubt he doesn’t want to be troubled with too many fasteners when he takes it off you,” her husband returned sarcastically.

“Exactly. He’s French—and terribly impetuous.”

“Unfortunately, he’s also penniless.”

“He thinks I’m beautiful,” Melissa taunted, her voice beginning to shake with pent-up loathing.

“He’s right.” Jason Fielding’s sardonic gaze swept over her lovely face with its alabaster skin, slightly tilted green eyes, and full red lips, then dropped to her voluptuous breasts trembling invitingly above the plunging neckline of her scarlet velvet gown. “You are a beautiful, amoral, greedy . .. bitch.”

Turning on his heel, he started from the room, then stopped. His icy voice was edged with implacable authority. “Before you leave, go in and say good night to our son. Jamie is too little to understand what a bitch you are, and he misses you when you’re gone. I’m leaving for Scotland within the hour.”

“Jamie!” she hissed wrathfully. “He’s all you care about—” Without bothering to deny it, her husband walked toward the door, and Melissa’s anger ignited. “When you come back from Scotland, I won’t be here!” she threatened.

“Good,” he said without stopping.

“You bastard!” she spat, her voice shaking with suppressed rage. “I’m going to tell the world who you really are, and then I’m going to leave you. I’ll never come back. Never!”

With his hand on the door handle, Jason turned, his features a hard, contemptuous mask. “You’ll come back,” he sneered. “You’ll come back, just as soon as you run out of money.”

The door closed behind him and Melissa’s exquisite face filled with triumph. “I’ll never come back, Jason,” she said aloud to the empty room, “because I’ll never run out of money. You’ll send me whatever I want...”

“Good evening, my lord,” the butler said in an odd, tense whisper.

“Happy Christmas, Northrup,” Jason answered automatically as he stamped the snow off his boots and handed his wet cloak to the servant. That last scene with Melissa, two weeks earlier, sprang to his mind, but he pushed the memory away. “The weather cost me an extra day of travel. Has my son already gone to bed?”

The butler froze.

“Jason—”A heavyset, middle-aged man with the tanned, weathered face of a seasoned seaman stood in the doorway of the salon off the marble entrance foyer, motioning to Jason to join him.

“What are you doing here, Mike?” Jason asked, watching with puzzlement as the older man carefully closed the salon door.

“Jason,” Mike Farrell said tautly, “Melissa is gone. She and Lacroix sailed for Barbados right after you left for Scotland.” He paused, waiting for some reaction, but there was none. He drew a long, ragged breath. “They took Jamie with them.”

Savage fury ignited in Jason’s eyes, turning them into furnaces of rage. “I’ll kill her for this!” he said, already starting toward the door. “I’ll find her, and I’ll kill her—”

“It’s too late for that.” Mike’s ragged voice stopped Jason in mid-stride. “Melissa is already dead. Their ship went down in a storm three days after it left England.” He tore his gaze from the awful agony already twisting Jason’s features and added tonelessly, “There were no survivors.”

Wordlessly, Jason strode to the side table and picked up a crystal decanter of whiskey. He poured some into a glass and tossed it down, then refilled it, staring blindly straight ahead.

“She left you these.” Mike Farrell held out two letters with broken seals. When Jason made no move to take them, Mike explained gently, “I’ve already read them. One is a ransom letter, addressed to you, which Melissa left in your bedchamber. She intended to ransom Jamie back to you. The second letter was meant to expose you, and she gave it to a footman with instructions to deliver it to the
Times
after she left. However, when Flossie Wilson discovered that Jamie was missing, she immediately questioned the servants about Melissa’s actions the night before, and the footman gave the letter to her instead of taking it to the
Times
as he was about to do. Flossie couldn’t reach you to tell you Melissa had taken Jamie, so she sent for me and gave me the letters. Jason,” Mike said hoarsely, “I know how much you loved the boy. I’m sorry. I’m so damned sorry.. . .”

Jason’s tortured gaze slowly lifted to the gilt-framed portrait hanging above the mantel. In agonized silence he stared at the painting of his son, a sturdy little boy with a cherubic smile on his face and a wooden soldier clutched lovingly in his fist.

The glass Jason was holding shattered in his clenched hand. But he did not cry. Jason Fielding’s childhood had long ago robbed him of all his tears.
 

PORTAGE, NEW YORK

1815
 

Snow crunched beneath her small, booted feet as Victoria Seaton turned off the lane and pushed open the white wooden gate that opened into the front yard of the modest little house where she had been born. Her cheeks were rosy and her eyes bright as she stopped to glance at the starlit sky, studying it with the unspoiled delight of a fifteen-year-old at Christmas. Smiling, she hummed the last bars of one of the Christmas carols she’d been singing all evening with the rest of the carolers, then turned and went up the walk toward the darkened house.

Hoping not to awaken her parents or her younger sister, she opened the front door softly and slipped inside. She took off her cloak, hanging it on a peg beside the door, then turned around and stopped in surprise. Moonlight poured through the window at the top of the stairway, illuminating her parents, who were standing just outside her mother’s bedroom. “No, Patrick!” Her mother was struggling in her father’s tight embrace. “I can’t! I just can’t!”

“Don’t deny me, Katherine,” Patrick Seaton said, his voice raw with pleading. “For God’s sake, don’t—”

“You promised!” Katherine burst out, trying frantically to pull free of his arms. He bent his head and kissed her, but she twisted her face away, her words jerking out like a sob.

“You promised me on the day Dorothy was born that you wouldn’t ask me to again. You gave me your word!”

Victoria, standing in stunned, bewildered horror, dimly realized that she had never seen her parents touch one another before—not in teasing, nor kindness—but she had no idea what it was her father was pleading with her mother not to deny him.

Patrick let go of his wife, his hands falling to his sides. “I’m sorry,” he said stonily. She fled into her room and closed the door, but instead of going to his own room, Patrick Seaton turned around and headed down the narrow stairs, passing within inches of Victoria when he reached the bottom.

Victoria flattened herself against the wall, feeling as if the security and peace of her world had been somehow threatened by what she had seen. Afraid that he would notice her if she tried to move toward the stairs, would know she had witnessed the humiliatingly intimate scene, she watched as he sat down on the sofa and stared into the dying embers of the fire. A bottle of liquor that had been on the kitchen shelf for years stood now on the table in front of him, beside a half-filled glass. When he leaned forward and reached for the glass, Victoria turned and cautiously placed her foot on the first step.

“I know you’re there, Victoria,” he said tonelessly, without looking behind him. “There’s little point in our pretending you didn’t witness what just took place between your mother and me. Why don’t you come over here and sit by the fire? I’m not the brute you must think me.”

Sympathy tightened Victoria’s throat and she quickly went to sit beside him. “I don’t think you’re a brute, Papa. I could never think that.”

BOOK: Once and Always
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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