"For anyone who loves a grand love story, In My Wildest Fantasies is a great choice. Bravo Ms. MacLean."
- Lettetia Elsasser - CataRomance
"An exciting, evocative and sensually tingling read..."
- Laurel, TheMysticCastle.com
Pembroke Palace Series Book One
Four years ago, a mesmerizing stranger pulled Lady Rebecca Newland from her runaway coach, galloping to her rescue in a fog-shrouded forest. Though she was just seventeen, Rebecca felt an irresistible desire for the mysterious man and swore that she would someday be his bride. But now she is betrothed to another man whom she detests - and Devon Sinclair, the future Duke of Pembroke and her hero, lies tantalizingly beyond her reach...
Haunted by an unspeakable past, Devon has no intention of taking a wife, not even the enticing Rebecca. But then his father rules that Devon must wed by Christmas or forfeit his rightful inheritance. Now, with his fortune at stake, Devon sets out to lure Rebecca to his bed… where the most unexpected secrets and lies stand in the way of their scandalous, explosive passion.
Read an excerpt...
From Chapter One -
(Lady Rebecca Newland and her father have become stranded on a deserted road in a fog shrouded forest...)
Rebecca's father frowned and leaned closer to the window on his own side. “Why the blazes are we stopped here? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“I think you were right," Rebecca said. "We might have lost a bag.”
Growing impatient, he reached for his walking stick and folded his gnarled, rheumatic fingers over the ivory knob, waiting for the driver to appear at the door and inform them of the problem. But there was not even the sound of movement from outside the coach.
“Maybe he’s already gone back along the road to retrieve it,” Rebecca said.
“Well, he could have informed us, instead of leaving us sitting here like a couple of ducks, wondering what the devil is going on.”
Rebecca peered out the window again, glanced up at the sky under the mist-shrouded canopy of leaves, and took note of the fading light. “I hope he is quick about it,” she said, “or he won’t be able to find it – or us - in the dark.”
They continued to sit and wait in silence for something to happen, but nothing did. Rebecca watched the mist blow past the window, and felt rather uneasy all of a sudden.
“May I get out to see what is going on?” she asked.
Her father grunted his displeasure and reached for the door handle on his own side, while she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and did the same. The step had not been lowered, so she hopped the distance to the ground. She landed with a thud and turned to lower the step. As she did so, a chill enveloped her and seeped like icy water through the sleeves of her black serge gown. She looked around. The forest was as silent and still as the grave, except for the mist drifting between the trees. She could smell dampness and moss and tree bark, but heard nothing. No wind, no birds, nothing.
She shivered, then one of the horses whinnied and shook the harness again. Turning and gathering her shawl more tightly around her shoulders, she looked up. The coachman’s seat was empty. It was as if he had simply vanished. Was this a haunted forest? she wondered ridiculously. Was there a troll who plucked coachmen from their seats and feasted on their tasty bones?
Her father came around the back of the coach and stopped to stare down the road they’d already traveled. “I’ll have his hide.”
Rebecca sighed, wishing her father’s nap had not been interrupted. Now he would be irritable the rest of the day, and she would be the one to bear the brunt of it inside the coach.
“Smith!” he shouted, his voice swallowed instantly by the thick chill in the forest. “Did we lose something?”
No reply. Not even an echo.
Rebecca moved closer to him. “Should we go and look for him?”
Her father leaned his frail form upon his cane while he considered what to do, then a noise from somewhere ahead caused them both to turn. It was the heavy, thunderous rumble of hoof beats.
Rebecca’s heart began to tremble and race. Someone was coming.
With her imagination getting the better of her in these eerie, deserted woods – were they about to have their cold bones feasted upon, too? - she slipped her arm around her father’s as her heart continued to clatter in her chest. A second later, an enormous black horse and rider emerged from around the bend, galloping toward them, hooves pounding hard and fast upon the ground.
The man, like a phantom in the mist, was as dark and mesmerizing as the horse, broad-shouldered and cloaked in a black overcoat, a top hat perched at a rakish angle upon his head. The instant he spotted the coach and team blocking the road, he pulled his great steed to a skidding halt. The horse reared up in protest, its hooves clawing at the air, its enormous muscles straining and flexing while it let out a sharp, angry whinny. The man shouted and fought to regain control, while the beast reared up a second time and turned on its hind legs in a complete circle.
“Whoa!” His voice was deep and commanding, arresting Rebecca on the spot. For a brief second, she feared the man would be thrown to the ground, but he held firm, soon bringing the wild creature under control.
“Easy now, Asher!” he commanded. “Easy…”
While the animal huffed and stomped around on heavy hooves, Rebecca noted the luxurious quality of the man’s overcoat. The collar and lapels were lined in chocolate-brown fur, all the way to the hem.
A second later, he sat back in the saddle and turned his striking gaze to Rebecca and her father. His eyes were pale blue like the dawn sky, penetrating like an arrow pointed directly at one’s heart. His lips were full, his nose straight and aristocratic. It was a magnificent face with strong lines and sweeping splendor, and Rebecca was both captivated by his beauty and intimidated by his authoritative presence, high upon the massive horse.
“What has happened here?” he asked impatiently, glancing at the empty driver’s seat, then back at Rebecca and her father, who were, she suddenly realized, staring up at him as if they had just encountered Lucifer himself. The stranger urged his horse forward along the side of the road, approaching even closer until he was directly in front of them. They instinctively backed up, and her father spoke harshly.
“Get in the coach, Rebecca.”
“Do as I say, gel.” She supposed he was wise to be cautious. They knew nothing about this man or his intentions, so she dutifully stepped back into the coach, boldly meeting the stranger’s gaze as she climbed inside.
She perched herself on the edge of the seat, leaning forward where she could at least peer out the open door and witness the conversation. But because the man’s horse was adjacent to the door, she could see him only from the chest down. The top of the door was blocking his head and shoulders. Consequently, knowing that he couldn’t see her either, she let her gaze wander down the length of his muscular leg. She felt a strange, quivering curiosity in her belly as her eyes traveled over his thick thigh and strong knee, then down to the toe of his expensive black riding boot, polished to a flawless sheen. Even the stirrups were gleaming.
“Do you require assistance?” he asked her father.
Assistance… That at least sounded promising.
Her father leaned upon his cane. “No, we are quite all right, thank you.”
“But father…” she protested, inching forward on the seat.
He gave her a stern look, which told her to keep quiet.
The stranger bent forward over the horse’s well-groomed mane to peer inside at her. Her heart began to race again as she noted for the second time the striking color of his blue eyes, which seemed to see straight through her. She felt naked and exposed, and her blood seemed to burn with a dark, almost frightening excitement. Heaven help her, she had never in her life encountered such a striking man. He took her breath away. She could not move.
Then suddenly, a crazed black raven swooped down from the trees, screeching and flapping its wings in front of the horses. The coach jerked under her, and she was thrown back against the seat, smacking her head against the leather upholstery. The horses took off like a shot, and before she knew what was afoot, the trees outside were whizzing by the open door in a dizzying blur.
Sheer fright blazed through her, and she clutched at the side of the coach, which continued to gain speed and bounced out of control over the bumps in the road.
“Stop!” she shouted, knowing it would do no good, but needing to scream at something. What could she do? If she didn’t simply stay put and hold on, she might fall out the open door.
The coach swerved around a sharp bend in the road, and she was tossed to the side. She hit her head again, winced and shut her eyes at the pain, and when she opened them, she found herself gazing out the door at another blur of movement. Something passed her by - a flash of black. It was the man on the horse, galloping even faster than the out-of-control coach.
The heavy hooves thundered over the ground as he disappeared in front, and she heard the sound of his deep voice shouting, “Hold up! Steady now!”
The horses whinnied, the coach rocked and swayed, then the noise and commotion died away as they pulled to a gradual halt. Overcome with panic, she scrambled across the seat to the open door, looked out at the gentleman who was still on his horse up front holding onto the harness, and said, “Thank you, sir!” She threw a foot out to climb down.
“But Miss,” he quickly replied, glancing over his shoulder. “Please don’t--”
She didn’t even have a chance to comprehend the warning before – kersplash! – she was hip-deep in a cold bog, her breath coming short from the shock of the chill.
“Oh, bollocks!” she cried, as the cold water seeped into her drawers and numbed her skin. “This is freezing!”
She flapped her hands through the air, flicking glistening droplets of water in all directions.
The man quickly brought his horse around. “Give me your hand.”
The plain words and firm voice of command moved her to action, and she reached out. Without delay he hauled her up out of the water, which was no easy task with her skirts dripping and heavy as a dead elephant. He set her sideways in front of him, then smoothly walked his horse out of the bog.
As soon as they reached dry ground, he dismounted, and she found herself looking down at those mesmerizing blue eyes again while he reached his arms up to her.
“Down you come, darling,” he said. “Just slide yourself into my arms.”
Darling. Dear Lord…
A runaway coach and a darkly handsome stranger who wanted her to slide into his arms. This was more than any socially sheltered seventeen-year-old could take. It was the stuff of daydreams and fairy tales.
Flustered and befuddled, Rebecca placed her hands on his broad shoulders and felt the soft fur of his wide lapels through her wet gloves as she slid down from the saddle into his solid male frame. She had never touched a man like that before, had never been so close.
He began to lower her down, and the whole front of her body pressed tightly against his firm chest. Her heart was pounding so fast it was making her lightheaded, and she wasn’t sure if it was the lingering terror from being whisked away inside a runaway coach, or if it was the fact that she was being held by this man – this dangerous, exciting stranger with shoulders as broad and solid as an oak, and eyes that made her shiver inwardly with a strange curiosity she couldn’t even begin to understand. She had never experienced anything as exciting as this. It felt wild and wicked and shamefully titillating.
When her toes finally touched the ground, neither she, nor he, made a move to step apart. He continued to hold her steady, his huge hands gripping her corseted waist while he looked down at her.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She nodded. “I think so.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” he replied, the corner of his mouth curling up in a sweltering grin that turned her brain to clotted cream. “For a minute there, I thought you were done for.”
Despite the overwhelming shock of what had just occurred, and the fact that she was freezing cold from the waist down and still being held in his arms, she found herself letting out a nervous little chuckle.
His blue eyes warmed at her response, and he stepped back, appearing comfortable with the fact that she was indeed all right and would be able to stand on her own two feet without swooning.
But it was only early yet, she supposed. There was still plenty of time for swooning.
In My Wildest Fantasies