Chapter One

The gentle spring breeze spawned ripples of green waves across the English countryside. The day was still fresh and dewy eyed, but already the quaint little village of Evol was bustling.

Passing through on the cobblestoned streets, between the box wooden buildings, was a dark carriage with velvet curtains obscuring curious eyes from a view inside. Tall horses with their black coats glistening crushed the ground below their metal shoed hooves and drew the carriage on with a steady pace that waited for no man.

The villagers hurried out of the way of this unforgivably fast carriage, for those who didn't not only risked injury, but being whipped out of the way by the sneering coachman.

The coachman narrowed his eyes at a little figure standing in the middle of the road. The boy was, alas, deaf, and did not react as the coachman cracked his whip and shouted, "Get out of the way, you damned kid!" When the boy saw the carriage, it was already too late. The coachman reined and the horses reared, striking down the boy with the enormous Us of their hooves.

There was a shrill scream as a woman rushed forward. "Oh, Kenneth! My boy! My little Kenny!" She knelt beside the broken body of her son, eyes swimming in heavy tears of grief. Looking up, she cried at the coachman, "You bastard, you killed Kenny!"

"What's the commotion?" a cold voice asked from within the carriage.

The coachman jumped out of his seat and hurried to open the carriage door for his master. "It seems a boy ran into the horses and died, my lord," he murmured lowly.

"Lies!" the sorrowful mother screeched. "You ran over my boy! You killed Kenny!"

A polished leather boot peeked out of the carriage before revealing a tall, dark man. The sun reflected off his black hair, and his blue eyes were piercing. The black silk shirt he was unbuttoned at the collar and revealed a triangle of thick, black chest hair. His trousers hung low on his hips and tantalizingly traced out the plump perfection of his buttocks and the sinewy muscles on his well formed legs.

For a moment, the hysterical woman was quiet, silenced by his pure masculine presence. A shudder ran through her body. His handsome features awaked her most female senses, but logic saw that his man was not to be approached for as much as he was handsome, he was dangerous. Danger hung on his muscular person like heavy cologne.

He scanned the scene lazily with his icy blue eyes. The look was brief, but from his eyes the woman knew this man had no mercy. He produced a leather clip that bound together more pounds the woman had ever seen at once and tossed it on the ground in front of her. Without another word to her, he turned to his coachman.

"I will proceed on foot. Have the carriage ready for Miss Bently and I when we come out." He didn't wait for a response, but left for the small bookshop across the street.

The woman stilled her sobs and reached for the pounds the man had so casually strewn. Well, this was better than getting nothing for the death of her boy. She pocketed the money and turned once again to look at the man. He was now striding towards a dusty shop, tight pants pinching his rear with very jouncy step.

The man was here to fetch Miss Bently: the bookkeeper's daughter, the beautiful girl he longed to possess…his bride.

He had seen her one day and vowed to have her. Now, once he took her back to his grand estate to be his wife, he shall. Or perhaps he wouldn't have to wait until then. There was the long carriage ride back to London and he was sure he was going to be bored. She would…amuse him.

- -

Katherine Bently could hear the merry ringing of the bell on the shop door as costumers came in and out of the bookshop below. In her own room above her father's shop, she was less merry. But she didn't want to think about whether or not she was merry for it sounded like 'marry', which was exactly what her problem was.

She leaned her beautifully sculpted forehead wistfully against the cold glass windowpane and emitted a soft sigh. She, Katherine Bently, was about to be married. Married! The idea mere idea was offensive to her young mind. She never wanted to get married, for men were such pigs. There were the ones that leered at her on the streets, the hoodlums that harassed her when she worked in the bookshop, and of course…Steven. The memory that stirred at the thought of his name was enough to bring pearly tears to her wide hazel eyes. The heartbreak he left was now a resounding sore in her breast, so long ago was their relationship. She had been a young lass of seventeen, then. And he? He was nineteen, and the exciting young man that brought a bit of color to her dry, bookish life. After Steven, Katherine had vowed never to meddle in men again. They were all pigs. Yes, all of them.

She had planned to grow out of Evol and move into the city. Perhaps become an author. Travel the world. Familiarize herself with the seven seas and the lands around them.

Now she knew this was never to happen.

She was going to have to marry a strange man she'd never met. She barely knew what he looked like. The only glimpse of him that she caught was that of the back of his head when he came into the shop to ask her father for her hand in marriage. She didn't know how or why he came to decide that she and only she was going to be his wife. She didn't know him, but he seemed to know her quite well. Well enough to want to marry her, anyways. Creepy stalker.

There was another jingle off the shop bell that snapped her out of her reverie. She heard the murmur of two male voices. One of them she recognized as her father. The other was foreign to her. A few moments later, hurried steps climbed up the stairs. Then, a knock sounded on her door.

"Katie? Are you ready?" a voice asked through her door.

"Er…no, father," she answered, standing up. "But do come in."

The wooden door opened and Katherine's father stepped inside. His glasses were hanging low on his nose and his ink stained fingers were clutching some small trinket.

"He's here to pick you up, Katie." The old voice was filled with false cheeriness and Katherine tried to play along by smiling.

"That's…that's good. I'm almost ready. I just need a few more things." She went to her bed and added the last few items into her bag. She'd saved those for the very last minute just so she could have a few moments to stall.

"I'm sorry it had to be like this," her father murmured, dropping the happy façade.

She shook her head, her hands very slowly packing away her things. She didn't want to turn around lest he saw her crying. "He threatened to burn down the shop if you refused to give me to him. You had no choice, father, so don't apologize."

"Let him burn it down, then!" he cried savagely, anger salting his words. "Dear God, it is better than giving up my own flesh and blood in the bargain."

"This shop if your life," Katherine answered, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. "I won't let that man burn it down. And, you said he was rich. I would be living a good life. I could send you money every month."

Katherine's father clenched his jaw, but nodded. "This shit is bananas," he cursed.

"B…a…n…a…n…a…s," a new male voice drawled, taking pride in being able to spell such a multi-syllable word. The man stepped inside, and both father and daughter turned in shock.

Katherine's eyes raked over what she assumed to be the man who was going to take her away. She observed his belligerent blue eyes, chiseled jaw, firm body, and impeccably beautiful ass. Not bad looking, really. She was just too angry with him to appreciate his flowing virile beauty.

"I asked you to wait downstairs, sir," Katherine's father said curtly.

The man shrugged simply. "You will find…Dad…that I am not one for waiting. I just want to see if Katherine here was ready. And I want a private word with her before we leave." He looked pointedly at the door.

The older man barely hid a scowl. He went to his daughter and kissed her gently on her forehead. "Here, I want to give you this before you leave. Your mother would have wanted it, bless her soul." From his gnarled fingers, he slipped a delicate silver band onto her finger. "Before she…before she passed away, she said she wanted me to give this to you on your wedding day. And since I'm not going to be there, I think today is a better day to give it to you."

Katherine nodded, unable to speak so stopped as she was with snot and tears.

Her father held her hand for a moment longer, then let go and drifted out of the doorway. She swallowed harshly, and then she turned her back to the man and continued packing.

"So…Katherine," the man said after a moment. He sounded as he was sampling the name, and it had turned out delicious. With a snap, the door closed. Katherine flinched. "Katie…Kat…"

"I'd prefer if you called me Katherine," the girl said coolly.

He ignored her. "…Cat…Kittycat….Pussycat…Pussy…."

"I said Katherine would do," she growled, turning on him.

At the sight of her bristling, he reached out for her hand and patted it. "My little Pussycat…Doll…Darling...Love, there's no need to be so unkind to your new husband."

"You're not my husband, yet," she hissed, retracting her hand.

"A fiery temper just as fiery as your hair," he said approvingly. "I wonder if it's just as fiery down…there. Or if you'll be wild like a mare."

She scowled, her cheeks coloring. "For shame, don't you dare."

"Be fair. I will be your husband soon, and frankly I think we make quite a handsome pair."

"I don't care," she said stubbornly.

Her words didn't affect her. He only glanced down at his pocket watch. "My, think it's time to return to my lair. I mean…our house. I think you'll like it there."

"I don't think so. And I think I know myself better than you do." She crossed her arms. "Who are you anyways?"

"Oh, of course. I'd forgotten to introduce myself. How rude." He bowed mocking before her. "I am the son of the Earl of Lyndale. My name is Billiam Mclean. But you may call me Will."

She raised an eyebrow. "Billiam?"

"Yes, Billiam." He nodded to confirm this.

"Then why Will? Shouldn't I call you Bill?"

"God works in mysterious ways," he shrugged.

She looked utterly puzzled, and decided not to pursue this name thing further. "So, tell me, Will, why is it that you want to marry me? I'm just a bookkeeper's daughter and you're of nobility."

"Let us not be so separated by class, now," he said smoothly. "But if you really want to know, I will tell you." He settled himself comfortably on her armchair. "You see, my life is brilliant. My love is pure. I saw an angel, of that I'm sure."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. You smiled to me on the coachway. You were with another man."

"Ah, my father. That was the time we went to town," she sighed.

"No, not your father. You were with another man. But I won't lose sleep on that because I've got a plan. You're beautiful."

"Thank you," she said grudgingly.

"You're beautiful."

She frowned impatiently. "I said thank you."

"You're beautiful, it's true. I saw your face in a crowded place. And I didn't know what to do, because I thought I'd never be with you. Yeah, you caught my eye as we walked on by. You could see from my face that I was flying high."

"I never saw you in my entire life," she informed him tersely.

"And I didn't think that I'd see you again," he continued as if oblivious of her words. "But we shared a moment that will last till the end."

"How romantic," she said dryly. "And that's it? You saw me, and you wanted me to be your bride?"

"Basically, yes," he nodded. "Now let's not waste any more time. I'm impatient to leave."

"I-I'm not done packing," she lied.

"No matter. I'll provide you with everything you need when we get to London." He stood up and headed for the door, signaling her to follow.

With a sigh, Katherine Bently picked up her bag and looked around her small room for the last time before following the man that was to become her husband.