A night of forever, p.1
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       A Night of Forever, p.1

           Lori Brighton
 
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A Night of Forever


  A Night of Forever

  Published by Lori Brighton at Smashwords

  www.LoriBrighton.com

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced , stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Other Books by Lori Brighton

  The Night Series:

  A Night of Secrets (Book 1)

  A Night of Redemption (Book 2: Coming Fall 2013!)

  A Night of Forever (Free Short Story!)

  The Seduction Series:

  To Seduce an Earl (Book 1)

  To Capture a Rake (Book 2)

  To Please a Lady (Coming November 2013!)

  Check out Lori’s bestselling Young Adult series below!

  The Mind Readers Series:

  The Mind Readers (Book 1: Free!)

  The Mind Thieves (Book 2)

  The Mind Games (Book 3)

  The Mind Keepers (Short Story coming Fall of 2013)

  A Night of Forever

  By

  Lori Brighton

  Chapter 1

  Cumberland, England 1859

  Who was Aidan Callaghan?

  The eternal question that constantly nagged at Mary Ellen. Two months ago, her brother-in-law Grayson had announced that a friend would be visiting the estate. Mary Ellen had expected an elderly, titled gent who’d needed to borrow money from Grayson. Perhaps a businessman wanting to invest in her brother-in-law’s shipping company. Or perhaps even an obnoxiously demanding friend from the war. She certainly hadn’t expected Aidan, a young man who had slipped into their home quiet as a hawk, brooding and mysterious as any hero from a gothic novel.

  She sighed and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. For an hour now she’d been reclining on a blanket hidden behind a brittle patch of dying daisies, getting lost in her book. Then he had arrived, reminding her exactly of why she’d escaped the house. One moment the bench under the maple had been empty. Five minutes later she’d looked up while turning a page and there he was, reading his own novel.

  She hadn’t dared to call out a greeting, or even stand to leave. That would only draw attention and she’d rather watch him unnoticed. Not that she studied him because she cared. No. Of course not. Aidan was too… too boring. Too… too serious…. too quiet and much, much too much of a no one to pique her feminine interests. Determined to be in charge of her life as much as she could, she’d decided years ago she would only marry a man with a cheerful disposition and, of course, deep pockets.

  But she could admit, at least to herself, that Aidan Callaghan intrigued her.

  Where had he come from? Who was his family? Where had he lived most of his life?

  Other than Grayson, no one seemed to know the man. And getting information from Grayson was like getting her niece Hanna to eat cabbage… impossibly frustrating.

  Still, she had heard some supposed facts. One, Aidan was the second son of a Baron or some such lowly title. Two, Grayson and Aidan had met during the war, at a battle or something or another. Three, Aidan had apparently saved Grayson’s life. A dashing story indeed. She might have believed the rumor, if the man’s personality wasn’t so completely dull. He’d barely said a string of words to her since arriving those months ago. He mostly sat quietly in corners, merely watching their antics. And in a household of four females there were plenty of antics.

  A brown skirt suddenly swooshed before her, blocking her view. “You’re always staring at him,” her younger sister Sally stated, drawing a furious blush to her cheeks.

  Mary Ellen resisted the urge to tug the younger girl down, knowing it was too late, Aidan had already seen them. Her hiding place had been uncovered. “Whatever do you mean?” Mary Ellen pushed herself upright, feigning indifference. She hadn’t heard her sister approach, for she’d been too involved in thinking about Aidan. Really, the man was taking up much too much of her time lately.

  Sally plopped down beside her, the dress she wore settling around her coltish legs like a deflated hot air balloon. At fifteen she wasn’t quite an adult, although she seemed to think she was. “That man…Aidan.”

  Heat shot to Mary Ellen’s face. “Am not.” She lied, of course, and pulled her shawl around her shoulders to hide her guilt. Utterly sinful. But how could she admit the truth? And the truth was thoughts of Aidan kept her up at night. When she met his gaze, she felt it all the way to her toes. It was as if her corset was suddenly too tight. Breathing became impossible.

  “Are so always staring.” Sally leaned closer, her blue eyes wide with interest. “Are you in love with him?”

  “Sally!” Mary Ellen glanced around, making sure no one had overheard. Her sister was at the prime age for romance. She still believed in happily ever after, silly chit. “Don’t be a ninny!”

  Even as she reprimanded the young girl, she couldn’t help but glance at Aidan. Sensing her attention, he lifted his head. Their gazes clashed. It was as if a bolt of lightning shot through her very being. Mary Ellen sucked in a sharp breath, but as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t seem to look away. He hadn’t heard their discussion. He was much too far away, so why did she fear he had heard every word?

  “Well, you are…” Sally’s voice trailed off into a low murmur that Mary Ellen could barely hear over the roar of blood to her ears.

  Was he attractive? Yes, she supposed there was something incredibly appealing about those fathomless light blue eyes and dark wavy hair. The charming way he tilted his head to the side when he was listening. The way he rubbed the back of his neck when he was bemused. The way his eyes sparkled and the corners crinkled when he was amused, even if his lips didn’t quite lift into a smile. And she supposed most women would consider his silence and mysterious past rather intriguing.

  But not she. Not at all.

  She wasn’t interested. He had no home. No title. And as far as she could deduce by the cut of his plain clothing, he had no money. She hadn’t plotted and planned for a season in London only to marry some nobody before she’d had time to find a somebody. Only a handful of months left, and this spring she’d be in the city, absorbing the ton. Searching for the very man who would be her husband. Why then, couldn’t she blasted look away from Aidan?

  A cool gust of fall wind swirled through the garden, bringing with the scent of decaying leaves and rich earth. Aidan glanced down at his book, breaking eye contact. Mary Ellen could finally breathe once more. She tore her attention away, wondering what he read. Most likely something dull, such as farming techniques.

  “Well?” Sally was looking at her expectantly, her large blue eyes full of mischief.

  “Well, what?” Unable to take the pressure any longer, Mary Ellen surged to her feet and started toward the house, eager to escape the outdoors, escape Aidan’s piercing attention and Sally’s ridiculous questions. But mostly, eager to escape her own confusing r
eactions to the man.

  “Well, will you ask him to dance at the All Hallows Eve Ball?”

  She clutched her shawl close. “Don’t be silly.” Mary Ellen pushed the door wide and stepped into the warm kitchen. The roar of conversation and orders being shouted vibrated in the large, stone room. Gone was the quiet fall afternoon. “Women don’t ask men to dance. Tisn’t proper.”

  They weaved their way around a maid churning butter, careful not to get anything on their skirts. In the air hung the welcoming scents of nutmeg and cinnamon.

  “Well, will you dance with him if he asks to sign your card?” Sally stepped aside as a cook rushed by with a tray of biscuits.

  Mary Ellen snatched a warm pastry from the passing woman. Would he ask her? Why did the thought send a warm shiver of anticipation through her body?

  “Oy!” The cook cried out, slapping her hand away from the tray. “Out wit ye two!”

  Sally and Mary Ellen flushed with guilt and moved toward the door. The house practically buzzed with activity. The ball would, no doubt, be an enormous success, especially given the fact that balls rarely happened in their small shire. “I will have to accept his invitation to dance, should he ask. It would be rude to refuse, especially since he is Grayson’s friend.”

  They moved into the foyer, the maids busy filling vases with red roses from the greenhouse. Before Meg had married Grayson, they never would have had flowers in the fall. Yet another advantage of marrying wealthy, and yet something else she looked forward to when she had a home of her own.

  “And if he asks you to marry him?”

  Mary Ellen rolled her eyes. “He won’t.”

  “I’ve seen him watching you.”

  Mary Ellen froze halfway up the curved staircase. She should have been horrified. At the very least, offended. Instead, she couldn’t deny the odd sense of excitement that whispered through her. “No, he doesn’t.”

  Sally nodded, completely serious. “Indeed. Often, you know. He watches you when no one is looking.”

  A heated rush of emotion swirled low in the pit of her belly. She was pleased, damn it all. She didn’t want to be pleased. She had a plan, a plan to marry a man with a title and money, or at the very least, money. A man who smiled often and laughed loudly. A man who never took life seriously. Her plan most assuredly did not involve the poor and dour Aidan Callaghan.

  “So, shall you agree to an engagement if he asks?”

  Mary Ellen steeled her resolve and continued up the steps. “Not at all.”

  “Why ever not? I’ve heard many a women in town discuss him. He’s rather handsome and mysterious. They’re in a twitter when he is near.”

  Mary Ellen gritted her teeth, annoyed, although why, she wasn’t sure. Did their neighbors have nothing better to do? “No, I won’t because I’m going to marry someone wealthy and titled.”

  “Mary Ellen, what a snob you are!” Meg stood in the middle of the hall, her belly swollen underneath her blue day dress.

  While most women were ill and sickly, her older sister practically glowed with her pregnancy. In fact, she looked better than she ever had. Her face was rosy, her brown hair shimmered from the light coming in through the hall window, and her blue eyes sparkled with a happiness that Mary Ellen would have envied, had she not adored her. Standing next to Meg, Sally was her miniature version. Mary Ellen was the odd one out with her brilliant red hair.

  Mary Ellen frowned. “Easy for you to say, Meg, you’ve married the only handsome and wealthy man in the vicinity.”

  Her sister grinned, that all too familiar dreamy look crossing her gaze, the same look she had whenever someone mentioned Grayson. “Handsome, indeed.”

  Mary Ellen crossed her arms, growing impatient. It was bad sport indeed to brag about her accomplishments when there were unmarried women in the vicinity.

  Meg sighed, taking Mary Ellen’s hands in hers. “Dear, you no longer have to worry about money. You know that. Grayson would never see you suffer. You don’t have to marry for wealth.”

  Mary Ellen glanced at the carpet runner, her cheeks flushing. “I know.”

  The problem was she wanted to marry. She had always desired a home of her own. A doting husband, darling children. But she wouldn’t settle for a man with little to offer. No, she’d already lived a life of poverty and she swore she was never returning to that gray and depressing state.

  Meg released her hands and smiled. “So, perhaps you might possibly think of marrying for love?”

  Mary Ellen gave her sister a tight smile. “Perhaps.”

  “Good.” Meg kissed her cheek. “Now, Sally dear, do help me down the steps. I must see that everything is in order for the festivities. While I’m planning and plotting, you must find Hanna and keep her occupied. The child is bored and intent on making mischief.”

  Sally took Meg’s arm and they started toward the steps. “Cook said if I look into a mirror on Hallow’s Eve, I’ll see the face of the man I’m to marry.”

  “Sally, that’s pagan and sinful.”

  They started down the steps. “So is your celebration, but you’re still having it!”

  “Well, yes, but that’s different.”

  “Meg, please let me attend the ball! I promise I’ll behave.”

  “Darling, I told you not this year. There will be much too much indulging in things a young lady dare not witness.

  “Which is exactly why I want to go,” Sally muttered.

  Mary Ellen grinned.

  “Perhaps next year,” Meg replied.

  “It’s not fair…”

  Mary Ellen watched the two until they disappeared into the foyer, taking their argument with them. Meg might have been fortunate enough to marry a rich man who adored her, but Mary Ellen was realistic.

  She moved to the window at the end of the hall and glanced outside. A patchwork of fall colors—red, yellow and orange—quilted the landscape. And there, below in the garden, the bench was now empty. Aidan gone.

  Mary Ellen sighed, leaning her forehead against the chill glass window. Why couldn’t she forget the man?

  She knew that love and money didn’t often go hand in hand. She would be silly to believe she could find both. And if she had to choose, she would, undoubtedly, choose money.

  ****

  For two months now Aidan had fantasized about Mary Ellen James. For two months nothing else had occupied his mind.

  From the moment he’d stepped from the carriage, intending to visit his friend Grayson Bellamont for a much needed rest, and had seen the man’s sister-in-law with the flaming red hair, he’d been rather obsessed. Even now he was acutely aware of her hiding behind those daisies. He’d sensed her the moment he’d stepped outside. Drawn to her like a mongrel to a bone.

  In the evening, he watched her as she pushed her green beans around her plate, pretending to eat her vegetables. He studied her while she read those gothic novels, her face showing her every emotion as she became fully immersed in the story.

  He adored the way she constantly hummed. The way the light hit her hair and made her glow as if she held the very sun. He even adored the way she took such pains to care for her gowns, smoothing the wrinkles and frowning over a mere speck of dirt as if she’d never owned anything so valuable.

  Yes, the woman absolutely intrigued him.

  Unfortunately, she was doing her damnest to pretend he didn’t exist. Not that she was indifferent. No, he knew she was attracted to him, he could sense it, hear it in the tremble of her voice, see it in the way she flushed when he was near. Hell, he could smell the desire, a scent that riled the beast hidden deep within. Aidan’s fingers curled around the book he held, his nails digging into the leather binding as he forced himself not to look her way.

  The worst of it was realizing he could seduce her so easily, but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t betray Grayson. Besides, he wasn’t what she wanted. What she needed. She’d made that clear upon many occasion. Her words hadn’t been meant for his ears, but he’d heard them all
the same.

  “When I marry, he’ll be rich and titled.”

  The bitterness he felt at the words was so unlike him. But then again, so were the emotions he felt when she was near. It had been years since a female had piqued his interest, and a human female at that. Why here? Why now? And why couldn’t he bloody stop thinking about her?

  Aidan sensed Grayson before the man appeared in front of him, silent as an owl swooping down on a field mouse. “Gray.”

  His friend paused under the maple, his pale face intense, his green eyes so knowing that it was hard for Aidan to meet his gaze. “Aidan. How do you fare?”

  Aidan dropped the book to the bench, hoping Gray hadn’t noticed the indents from his fingernails, and glanced toward the house once more. Mary Ellen had disappeared inside with her younger sister Sally. It was as if the very sun had hidden behind a cloud.

  “Well enough.”

  A shout of laughter drew his attention to Hanna, the youngest in the family, who was jumping in a pile of leaves the gardener had just raked. The old man was hurrying toward her, his fist raised. Grayson merely grinned.

  “Little ruffian,” he said with pride.

  Aidan managed to smile, it was the most he could do. Obsessed, that’s what he was. Yes, he’d smelled Mary Ellen’s scent the moment he’d stepped outside. And like a mongrel, he’d followed the scent to the bench. He’d seen her immediately, that red hair like a beacon even though she was half-hidden amongst the flowers, watching him… always watching him although trying desperately not to.

  “You’re always staring at him,” her younger sister Sally had said, although Mary Ellen had denied the accusation. He wasn’t what she wanted. What she needed. He had to constantly remind himself. But the animal inside didn’t care. The animal only wanted her for his own.

  Grayson glanced toward the brittle and brown patch of daisies where Aidan was focused. “What do you find so intriguing?”

 
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