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Always Yours

Always Yours

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CHERYL HOLT tantalizes readers once again with the second novel in her acclaimed ALWAYS trilogy…

Sebastian Sinclair is a famous adventurer who’s spent two decades exploring the wilds of Africa. But after his most recent expedition ended in tragedy, he’s staggered home to London, where he’s bored and chafing and struggling to figure out how to move forward into the future.

Sarah Blake Robertson runs an orphanage and has spent her life helping the less fortunate. Because she’s always been busy with her charity work, she’s viewed herself as having a rewarding and satisfying existence.

But when she crosses paths with handsome, dashing Sebastian Sinclair, her entire world is pitched into chaos. And nothing will ever be the same…

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Always yours…Always mine…Always…

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CHAPTER ONE

“This is the place.”

Sarah Robertson glanced over her shoulder at the teamster who’d conveyed her in his wagon.  They were only a few miles out of the city, so the distance wasn’t as great as she’d expected.

If she’d had the energy—which she didn’t—she could have walked from town.  Or if her life had been plodding on in its usual condition, she could have paid a cab to bring her.  But funds were never abundant, and recent events guaranteed they would soon be in even shorter supply.  It was vital to hoard every penny.

So…she’d stood on the road and had begged for a ride.

It was difficult to believe London was so close.  The noise, crowds, and traffic had quickly faded, and they’d been spit out into pretty, rolling woods that meandered along the river.  The trees were so green, the August sky so blue.  Fluffy clouds drifted by, and the ambiance was soothing.

She was London born and bred, and she never ventured out into the rural countryside.  Why didn’t she?  It was lovely.

“You just head down the lane,” the teamster said.  “It’ll lead you directly to the manor.  You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

She slid to the ground and studied the gate that indicated the entrance to the grand property.  There were carved posts on each side and an arch over the top that spelled out the name of the estate:  HERO’S HAVEN.

“That’s a tad pretentious, isn’t it?” she asked.

“What is?”

She gestured to the sign.  “The Sinclairs aren’t big on humility.”

The teamster’s jaw dropped.  “There’s no need for them to be humble.  The whole nation agrees with me.  For goodness sake, the Royal Family attended Sir Sidney’s funeral. Who are we to quibble over their status?”

“Who indeed?” Sarah muttered.

Obviously, her opinion of the exalted Sinclairs was vastly at odds with the rest of the kingdom.  She had to remember that fact and be more circumspect.

“Thank you again,” she said, simply wanting to get on with her unpleasant mission.

“You’re welcome, and if I may inquire, Miss, should you visit all by yourself?”

“I’m not a fancy lady, sir.  I have no maid, and I am twenty-seven this year. I think I can knock on the front door without a chaperone to show me how.”

“Yes, you seem very…mature, but young Mr. Sebastian Sinclair is in residence, having inherited from his father.”

“Isn’t he thirty?  I’d hardly describe him as young.”

“Yes, but his adventuring friends are all staying with him.  It’s the men from Sir Sidney’s African expedition team?  They’re a collection of rich, important fellows who have too much time on their hands.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning there are rumors flying around the neighborhood that there’s mischief occurring.  I’d hate to see you land yourself in a jam.”

“You imagine one of them might accost me with wicked intent?”

The teamster shrugged.  “It’s been known to happen.”

“Not to me it hasn’t.”

She viewed herself as being fierce and independent.  Her dear, deceased father, Thomas Robertson, had reared her to be.  In her line of work, as sole proprietress of the Robertson Home for Orphaned Children, she had to project a tough, imperious air, and she could never allow herself to be worn down by negativity, failure, or strife.

Yet she was only five-foot-five in her slippers, and she was much too thin.  Her white-blond hair and big blue eyes made her look like a princess in a fairytale, a damsel in distress who was caught in a tower and in desperate need of a prince to save her.  She appeared frail, vulnerable, and helpless, when she was none of those.

If a determined rogue espied her when he was bent on mayhem, she couldn’t defend herself, but at the moment, she couldn’t worry about bumping into any potential cads.  There was one cad in particular with whom she had to speak—that being Sebastian Sinclair—and he was likely the most despicable in the entire group.

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted, and she smiled her best smile, the one that calmed terrified urchins and encouraged patrons to open their purses.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure.  I’ll be meeting with Mr. Sinclair himself, and as he is Sir Sidney’s beloved son, I am positive I’ll encounter no problems.”

“Mr. Sinclair might be a gentleman, but watch out for his companions.”  He leaned closer and murmured, “I hear they’d been away from England for so long that they behave like natives.  They’ve forgotten our British ways and habits.”

She could barely keep from rolling her eyes.  Didn’t he read the newspapers?

Sir Sidney had died in Africa, and he’d received a state funeral where no expense had been spared to honor him.  His team of explorers had been present at all of the events, and as far as Sarah was aware, nary a one had exhibited the conduct of a savage.

“I appreciate your concern,” she said, “but you needn’t fret over me.”

She was anxious to continue on, and she waved to him and headed for the gate.  He sighed and almost delivered another warning, but apparently, he seemed to recall she was just a stranger he’d picked up on the side of the road. If she wanted to imperil herself, what was it to him?

He whistled to his horses, and the wagon lumbered off.  She tarried until he vanished around a corner, then she squared her shoulders and marched down the lane.  Orchards skirted the route, the branches laden with fruit, and through the trees, she had occasional glimpses of the mansion.

She’d spent plenty of time with the affluent.  Her orphanage was a private facility that housed the natural children of the famous and infamous.  The wealthy scoundrels who sent their bastards to Sarah were required to pay the cost of raising and educating them, but if they refused, or if they stopped paying, no child was kicked out, so she constantly scrounged for funds.

If she’d been forced to clarify her employment position, she’d have described herself as a beggar.  She solicited money from every available source, and she was shameless about it, so she was used to observing prosperity and opulence, but it annoyed her.

When a smattering of people could have so much, and the rest have so little, the world was a very unfair place.

She emerged from the trees and went up the curved driveway to the manor.  It was three stories high, constructed of a tan brick, with dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of windows gleaming in the sun.  An expansive lawn surrounded it, the river slowly rolling by behind.  It was peaceful and bucolic, and though she hated to admit it, she was quite charmed.

What would it be like to live in such an extravagant, marvelous spot?  She couldn’t imagine.

A set of grand stairs swept up to the front doors, and they were wide open, as if the whole kingdom was welcome to enter without requesting permission.  There were carriages parked haphazardly in the grass, a sign of many visitors, and she grumbled with frustration.

She needed to have a very frank, very difficult discussion with Mr. Sinclair who was son and heir to the exalted, deceased Sir Sidney, but if he was busy with guests, he wouldn’t have time for her, and her message was dire.

His illustrious father, Sir Sidney, may have been a national hero, but his morals had left much to be desired. Currently, she cared for two of his illegitimate children, a boy named Noah, and a girl named Petunia, whom they called Pet.

According to gossip, he’d sired many others besides them, but she hadn’t had the misfortune to have any of them dumped on her stoop.

Did Mr. Sinclair know about his father’s less savory proclivities?  Had he been informed that he had at least two confirmed half-siblings?  If he didn’t know, and she was the unlucky person to apprise him, how might he react?

Hopefully, he wasn’t the type to lash out in anger.

She climbed the stairs, and as she reached top, she could hear laughter and raucous conversation.  It was just after one in the afternoon, but it sounded as if a party was in progress.

Her exasperation soared.  The rich and notorious never ceased to amaze her with their antics.  Didn’t any of them have jobs?  Didn’t any of them have tasks to accomplish?

Well, no, they didn’t.  They thrived on their laziness and sloth, and it was accepted that a gentleman never worked.  It was considered vulgar and common.

She strolled into the foyer, and a footman was there, but he was completely focused on the activities in a nearby parlor. It was packed with people, mostly men, but there were women scattered about too.  They were perched on the men’s laps in a very scandalous manner that indicated dissipation was condoned by their host.

There was a harpsichord off to the side, and a pair of gorgeous women stood next to it and were about to sing a duet. They looked like doxies, attired as they were in bright red dresses that exposed lots of bosom.  Everyone was drinking hard spirits, their glasses full, servants hurrying about to be sure.

The footman was so fixated on the party that he hadn’t noticed her.  She tapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped and whirled around.

“I’m here to see Mr. Sebastian Sinclair,” she told him.

The cheeky oaf rudely assessed her, the said, “You’re very pretty.  He’ll like you.”

She frowned.  “I beg your pardon?  He’ll like me?”

“Yes.  I’m to admit every female immediately.”  He gestured toward the parlor.  “Make yourself at home.”

“I assume Mr. Sinclair is in there?”

“Yes.  He’s seated on the blue sofa.”

“Might you ask him to attend me somewhere quieter?”

“I wouldn’t dare disturb him.”

“It’s very important.  I’m afraid I have to insist.”

He scoffed.  “He’s having too much fun, so if you’re expecting him to take you upstairs, I doubt he will.”

Sarah was appalled.  “I wouldn’t go upstairs with him if he paid me a hundred pounds!”

“He never pays for any tart so don’t get your hopes up.”

Sarah blanched.  Was Mr. Sinclair consorting with harlots?  Were there loose women in the house?

She always claimed nothing surprised her anymore.  With how she had to talk to children about their salacious fathers, with how she had to explain bastardry and illicit bloodlines, she thought she was prepared for any eventuality.

But…harlots?

“Just fetch him for me!” she furiously said.

“I’ll try, Miss, but I don’t understand why you won’t simply join in the merriment.  All the fellows would enjoy having you arrive.”

At the comment, she almost stomped out, but she couldn’t leave until she had a commitment from Mr. Sinclair on several pertinent issues regarding Noah and Pet.  The most riveting one was that the orphanage was about to be shut down, and she’d been unable to find another home for them.

What might he do about it?  She was terribly worried he might not be willing to do anything.

She had a powerful way of glaring at a man.  She could cow and shame even the worst sinner into better conduct.  She employed it now on the footman, and he scurried off to the parlor.  He was gone for only a minute.

“Sorry, Miss,” he said as he strutted up. “Mr. Sinclair advises you to participate in the festivities or to depart if they’re not to your liking.  He’s too busy to speak with you.”

She smirked with aggravation.  Why keep pestering the Sinclairs?  It was obvious they weren’t interested in the children’s plight.  She’d spent weeks seeking an audience with Sir Sidney’s widow, Gertrude Sinclair, but she’d finally received a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney, and she was running out of time.

What if she returned to the orphanage and there was a chain on the door?  Would she live on the streets with Sir Sidney’s children?  Was it a conclusion the Sinclair family would be happy to allow?

Suddenly, the weight of the world seemed to press down on her until she could barely breathe.  She was twenty-seven, a single female and spinster, who was all alone and on her own except for her awful sister, Temperance, but having Temperance was very much the same as having no one at all.

Over the past few weeks, after her building had been sold out from under her, she’d found alternative places for every child in her care—but for Noah and Pet.  She refused to accept that there might not bea solution for them, and her temper flared.  It had been flaring ever since she’d first written to Mr. Sinclair’s mother and had been ignored.

Now, after seeing him reveling with doxies in the middle of the day…well!

It was the limit.  It really, really was.

“I believe I’ll tarry for a bit,” she apprised the footman.  “How will I know Mr. Sinclair?  I haven’t previously met him.”

“Why, he’s quite the grandest gentleman in the land.  You’ll recognize him on sight.”

Sarah whipped away and went into the room.  There were about thirty people present, and the duet had begun to sing.  It was a bawdy tune with bawdy lyrics, and the crowd chimed in on the chorus.

She scanned the faces, and the footman had been correct.  She recognized Sebastian Sinclair, both because he was simply the handsomest man ever, but also because he looked exactly like his half-brother, Noah:  blond hair the color of golden wheat, striking blue eyes.

With Mr. Sinclair seated on a sofa, it was difficult to judge his height, but she was sure he’d be six feet tall or perhaps even taller than that.  His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.

He was sipping a brandy, appearing regal and magnificent, like a lazy king who was bored.  There were two men standing behind the sofa.  They appeared tough and dangerous, as if they were guards, though why he would need to be guarded in his own parlor in rural England was a mystery.

Maybe they were always vigilant, watching for trouble, and they never acted any other way.

The song ended, the spectators chortling and clapping, and he perused the room, finally settling his attention on her. He grinned a wicked, delicious grin and signaled for her to approach.  She didn’t move, and he patted his thigh, inviting her to saunter over and sit on his lap.

The whole incident was disgusting, and she couldn’t decide the best course, but one thing was certain.  She had to confer with him and wouldn’t give up until she had.  She marched over so she was directly in front of him.  He didn’t rise to greet her as was appropriate, being so disrespectful that she yearned to shake him.

He scrutinized her as if she were a harem girl sent to entertain him, his insolent gaze starting at her head and meandering down, lingering at several spots he had no business evaluating.  She might have been parading before him without her clothes, and she could hardly keep from squirming, but she stood very still, being positive he would enjoy disconcerting her.

His stunning blue eyes were locked on hers, and she couldn’t look away.  He was waiting for her to state her purpose, but she—who was never discomposed by any situation—was utterly discomposed.

He was a celebrity, renowned for his spunk, courage, and daring-do.  Since he was ten, he’d traveled the Dark Continent with his famous father, exploring the wildest, most isolated locales.  He’d been honored by kings and commoners alike.  He’d even written acclaimed accounts about his adventures, and his books were so gripping that they’d been serialized in the newspapers.

In journeying to Hero’s Haven, she hadn’t wondered what it would be like to actually confront him, and the reality wasn’t like she’d imagined.

He oozed virility and power, much like an ancient god who could destroy worlds or fly to the heavens.  It was like stumbling on an angel or a saint. Humiliating as it was to admit, she was completely agog.

They seemed bound together by an odd spell, as if the universe was marking their meeting.  It was very strange, but she felt as if she’d always known him, and there was a peculiar sense in the air that it might be the greatest moment of her entire life.

But if she was a tad overwhelmed, he definitely wasn’t.  He was a pompous ass, and he wrecked the thrilling perception quickly enough.

“You’re pretty,” he said.  “I’ll give you that, but was it Maud who sent you out from town?  I’ve notified her that I’m weary of all the blonds she’s provided—even if you are more arresting.  I hate to have had you come all this way for nothing.”

“I’m so sorry to disappoint you,” she churlishly snapped.

“I’m not disappointed.  You’re justblond.”  He waved over her person.  “And you’re dressed like a frumpy nun.  How will you entice me when you’re garbed like such a drab?”

“I’m not trying to entice you.”

“That much is obvious.”

“Is there somewhere we could speak privately?”

“I’ve apprised you that I’m not in the mood to fuss with you.  Why would we traipse off?”

“I’m not here to…to…frolic, you dolt.”

At her calling him a dolt, his two guards stiffened.  They might have rounded the sofa and grabbed her, but he raised a hand, halting them in their tracks.

“If you’re not here to revel,” he said, “why are you here?”

“I told you:  I need to talk to you.”

“I never waste time talking to women.”

“Well, I think you should talk to me. In fact, when you learn of my mission, I’m sure you’ll deem it vital.”

“I very sincerely doubt it, and I’m busy.”  He glanced over his shoulder and said, “Raven, this harpy is annoying me.  Escort her out and spread word among that staff that she shouldn’t be allowed to return.”

The noise had diminished as people noticed they were quarreling.  They watched the exchange as if it were a humorous theatrical play.

She’d been chucked out of rooms before by rich, important snobs.  When pleading an orphan’s case, she could be a bit of a nag, so it wouldn’t kill her to be evicted.  But she’d come for Noah and Petunia, and she wouldn’t waver in her resolve merely because their older half-sibling was arrogant and unlikable.

“Should I voice aloud what I have to tell you?” she asked.  “Would you like everyone to hear it?  I can guarantee you don’t want that.”

“Raven!”  He gestured toward the door.  “Hurry please.”

The man, Raven, towered over her. To match his name, his clothes were all  black, which added to his sinister demeanor.  His gaze was severe, his manner frightening, and he could probably be very dangerous if provoked.

In three hasty strides, he’d seized her and was pulling her away.

“It’s about your father,” she tossed over her shoulder to Mr. Sinclair.

“Isn’t it always?” he snottily retorted.

Then she was yanked out, as behind her, the guests tittered and snickered.

“Did you let her in?” Mr. Raven asked the footman who’d initially greeted her.

“Yes, sir.  She’s quite fetching.  I thought Mr. Sinclair would approve.”

“Take a good look at her,” Mr. Raven said, “so you don’t forget her face.  Don’t ever admit her in the future.”

“I won’t, sir.  I promise.”

Mr. Raven stomped outside, his grip on her arm still very tight.

“You don’t have to keep holding onto me,” she complained.  “I understand plain English, and I realize I’ve been thrown out.”

“You’re too stubborn to realize it,” he scoffed.

“Release me, or when you’re through, I’ll likely have bruises.”

“Be silent.”

They reached the driveway before he finally relented.  She rubbed her arm and, even though he’d warned her to be silent, she wouldn’t be.  “I am Miss Sarah Robertson.”

“I don’t care who you are.  Mr. Sinclair has asked you to go, and I expect you will.  Immediately.”

“What if I don’t?”  Her tone was just as snide as his.  “Will you send me to bed without supper?”

“I will count to ten,” Mr. Raven said. “If you’re not walking down the road by then, I will hog-tie you and drag you off the property.”

“You’re as awful as your precious Mr. Sinclair, so I’m certain you would behave that despicably.  Do you always manhandle females when he orders it?  Or are you simply rude and horrid all on your own?”

“I’m horrid on my own, and I do whatever he tells me.”  He leaned down so they were nose to nose.  “Now go!

She never heeded overbearing, obnoxious men, and she wasn’t about to start with him.

“I am proprietress of the Robertson Home for Orphaned Children,” she announced.  She wouldn’t be for much longer, but for the moment, it was her title. “Inform Mr. Sinclair that I have custody of two of his father’s bastards.”

Mr. Raven blanched and lurched away as if she’d struck him.  “What did you say?”

“Don’t pretend to be deaf.  Sir Sidney’s clerk was paying their fees, but upon his death, the money suddenly ended, so I’m owed a small fortune in arrears. Also, the orphanage is closing, so they’re about to lose their home.  I’m sure Mr. Sinclair would hate to have rumors spread that they were tossed out in the street.”

He studied her with a mix of revulsion and rage.  “You’re serious.”

“Serious as a poisonous viper.  My facility is in London.  Sir Sidney’s clerk knows where it’s located.  Mr. Sinclair may call on me at his earliest convenience.”

She whipped away and sauntered off.

Mr. Raven actually shouted at her. “Hold it right there, Miss Robertson.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“You accursed shrew!  Is there a man alive who can command you?  Stop!”

She halted and glared over her shoulder. “I never listen to insufferable men, and I most especially don’t parlay with bullies.  Mr. Sinclair can find me whenever he has a free hour.  It would be such a tragedy if I had to talk to the newspapers about his lack of…concern for his poor siblings.”

She continued on, thinking it was an interesting threat—one she would never carry out—but it definitely had an effect on Mr. Raven.  He spun and raced inside.

What would he say to Mr. Sinclair? How would Mr. Sinclair react?

She suspected, before too many minutes had passed, all of her questions would be answered.

ALWAYS YOURS is the second book in the Always Trilogy by Cheryl Holt. Like the previous book, this one is full of wonderfully interesting characters. This trilogy is a three-book saga. Many of the characters in the first book are also featured in the second, but the focus is on a different couple, and the story takes its slant from their perspective. I love this because I wanted to know more about these characters and their story is both slightly familiar and yet new and different.

The talented Cheryl Holt has woven another unique and enthralling story that will hold and increase your interest so that you just can’t wait to see what she’ll write for the last one. This book is, if possible, even more tangled and dynamic than the first. Cheryl Holt is now on my favorite author’s list.”
  Georgianna at the Reading Cafe…

“First off, let me say that I LOVE the covers you have for the Always books. Even though these are three stories about these men finding the women who are perfect for them, the covers are at the heart about Nathan, Sebastian and Raven.

I loved Sebastian and Sarah both. She is a very strong minded and strong willed person and one who spoke her mind, which was VERY uncommon at the time this book is set.

I think Sebastian was used to having women fawn all over him and even throw themselves in his path simply because of who he is. When Sarah not only didn’t fawn all over him but didn’t even seem to particularly like him he was initially intrigued, then as he got to know her she (like Nell for Nathan) was one he was comfortable with and he knew that in certain ways what he told her would be safe with her. Not only that but she would “tell him off” when he needed it.

I loved ALWAYS YOURS and will tell you what I thought of ALWAYS MINE when I get done reading it. From the little that I have read so far I can say that I already love little Alex and Raven’s brother is something else.”
~ Susan

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Always Yours Cover Flat
Sample Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

“This is the place.”

Sarah Robertson glanced over her shoulder at the teamster who’d conveyed her in his wagon.  They were only a few miles out of the city, so the distance wasn’t as great as she’d expected.

If she’d had the energy—which she didn’t—she could have walked from town.  Or if her life had been plodding on in its usual condition, she could have paid a cab to bring her.  But funds were never abundant, and recent events guaranteed they would soon be in even shorter supply.  It was vital to hoard every penny.

So…she’d stood on the road and had begged for a ride.

It was difficult to believe London was so close.  The noise, crowds, and traffic had quickly faded, and they’d been spit out into pretty, rolling woods that meandered along the river.  The trees were so green, the August sky so blue.  Fluffy clouds drifted by, and the ambiance was soothing.

She was London born and bred, and she never ventured out into the rural countryside.  Why didn’t she?  It was lovely.

“You just head down the lane,” the teamster said.  “It’ll lead you directly to the manor.  You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

She slid to the ground and studied the gate that indicated the entrance to the grand property.  There were carved posts on each side and an arch over the top that spelled out the name of the estate:  HERO’S HAVEN.

“That’s a tad pretentious, isn’t it?” she asked.

“What is?”

She gestured to the sign.  “The Sinclairs aren’t big on humility.”

The teamster’s jaw dropped.  “There’s no need for them to be humble.  The whole nation agrees with me.  For goodness sake, the Royal Family attended Sir Sidney’s funeral. Who are we to quibble over their status?”

“Who indeed?” Sarah muttered.

Obviously, her opinion of the exalted Sinclairs was vastly at odds with the rest of the kingdom.  She had to remember that fact and be more circumspect.

“Thank you again,” she said, simply wanting to get on with her unpleasant mission.

“You’re welcome, and if I may inquire, Miss, should you visit all by yourself?”

“I’m not a fancy lady, sir.  I have no maid, and I am twenty-seven this year. I think I can knock on the front door without a chaperone to show me how.”

“Yes, you seem very…mature, but young Mr. Sebastian Sinclair is in residence, having inherited from his father.”

“Isn’t he thirty?  I’d hardly describe him as young.”

“Yes, but his adventuring friends are all staying with him.  It’s the men from Sir Sidney’s African expedition team?  They’re a collection of rich, important fellows who have too much time on their hands.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning there are rumors flying around the neighborhood that there’s mischief occurring.  I’d hate to see you land yourself in a jam.”

“You imagine one of them might accost me with wicked intent?”

The teamster shrugged.  “It’s been known to happen.”

“Not to me it hasn’t.”

She viewed herself as being fierce and independent.  Her dear, deceased father, Thomas Robertson, had reared her to be.  In her line of work, as sole proprietress of the Robertson Home for Orphaned Children, she had to project a tough, imperious air, and she could never allow herself to be worn down by negativity, failure, or strife.

Yet she was only five-foot-five in her slippers, and she was much too thin.  Her white-blond hair and big blue eyes made her look like a princess in a fairytale, a damsel in distress who was caught in a tower and in desperate need of a prince to save her.  She appeared frail, vulnerable, and helpless, when she was none of those.

If a determined rogue espied her when he was bent on mayhem, she couldn’t defend herself, but at the moment, she couldn’t worry about bumping into any potential cads.  There was one cad in particular with whom she had to speak—that being Sebastian Sinclair—and he was likely the most despicable in the entire group.

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted, and she smiled her best smile, the one that calmed terrified urchins and encouraged patrons to open their purses.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure.  I’ll be meeting with Mr. Sinclair himself, and as he is Sir Sidney’s beloved son, I am positive I’ll encounter no problems.”

“Mr. Sinclair might be a gentleman, but watch out for his companions.”  He leaned closer and murmured, “I hear they’d been away from England for so long that they behave like natives.  They’ve forgotten our British ways and habits.”

She could barely keep from rolling her eyes.  Didn’t he read the newspapers?

Sir Sidney had died in Africa, and he’d received a state funeral where no expense had been spared to honor him.  His team of explorers had been present at all of the events, and as far as Sarah was aware, nary a one had exhibited the conduct of a savage.

“I appreciate your concern,” she said, “but you needn’t fret over me.”

She was anxious to continue on, and she waved to him and headed for the gate.  He sighed and almost delivered another warning, but apparently, he seemed to recall she was just a stranger he’d picked up on the side of the road. If she wanted to imperil herself, what was it to him?

He whistled to his horses, and the wagon lumbered off.  She tarried until he vanished around a corner, then she squared her shoulders and marched down the lane.  Orchards skirted the route, the branches laden with fruit, and through the trees, she had occasional glimpses of the mansion.

She’d spent plenty of time with the affluent.  Her orphanage was a private facility that housed the natural children of the famous and infamous.  The wealthy scoundrels who sent their bastards to Sarah were required to pay the cost of raising and educating them, but if they refused, or if they stopped paying, no child was kicked out, so she constantly scrounged for funds.

If she’d been forced to clarify her employment position, she’d have described herself as a beggar.  She solicited money from every available source, and she was shameless about it, so she was used to observing prosperity and opulence, but it annoyed her.

When a smattering of people could have so much, and the rest have so little, the world was a very unfair place.

She emerged from the trees and went up the curved driveway to the manor.  It was three stories high, constructed of a tan brick, with dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of windows gleaming in the sun.  An expansive lawn surrounded it, the river slowly rolling by behind.  It was peaceful and bucolic, and though she hated to admit it, she was quite charmed.

What would it be like to live in such an extravagant, marvelous spot?  She couldn’t imagine.

A set of grand stairs swept up to the front doors, and they were wide open, as if the whole kingdom was welcome to enter without requesting permission.  There were carriages parked haphazardly in the grass, a sign of many visitors, and she grumbled with frustration.

She needed to have a very frank, very difficult discussion with Mr. Sinclair who was son and heir to the exalted, deceased Sir Sidney, but if he was busy with guests, he wouldn’t have time for her, and her message was dire.

His illustrious father, Sir Sidney, may have been a national hero, but his morals had left much to be desired. Currently, she cared for two of his illegitimate children, a boy named Noah, and a girl named Petunia, whom they called Pet.

According to gossip, he’d sired many others besides them, but she hadn’t had the misfortune to have any of them dumped on her stoop.

Did Mr. Sinclair know about his father’s less savory proclivities?  Had he been informed that he had at least two confirmed half-siblings?  If he didn’t know, and she was the unlucky person to apprise him, how might he react?

Hopefully, he wasn’t the type to lash out in anger.

She climbed the stairs, and as she reached top, she could hear laughter and raucous conversation.  It was just after one in the afternoon, but it sounded as if a party was in progress.

Her exasperation soared.  The rich and notorious never ceased to amaze her with their antics.  Didn’t any of them have jobs?  Didn’t any of them have tasks to accomplish?

Well, no, they didn’t.  They thrived on their laziness and sloth, and it was accepted that a gentleman never worked.  It was considered vulgar and common.

She strolled into the foyer, and a footman was there, but he was completely focused on the activities in a nearby parlor. It was packed with people, mostly men, but there were women scattered about too.  They were perched on the men’s laps in a very scandalous manner that indicated dissipation was condoned by their host.

There was a harpsichord off to the side, and a pair of gorgeous women stood next to it and were about to sing a duet. They looked like doxies, attired as they were in bright red dresses that exposed lots of bosom.  Everyone was drinking hard spirits, their glasses full, servants hurrying about to be sure.

The footman was so fixated on the party that he hadn’t noticed her.  She tapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped and whirled around.

“I’m here to see Mr. Sebastian Sinclair,” she told him.

The cheeky oaf rudely assessed her, the said, “You’re very pretty.  He’ll like you.”

She frowned.  “I beg your pardon?  He’ll like me?”

“Yes.  I’m to admit every female immediately.”  He gestured toward the parlor.  “Make yourself at home.”

“I assume Mr. Sinclair is in there?”

“Yes.  He’s seated on the blue sofa.”

“Might you ask him to attend me somewhere quieter?”

“I wouldn’t dare disturb him.”

“It’s very important.  I’m afraid I have to insist.”

He scoffed.  “He’s having too much fun, so if you’re expecting him to take you upstairs, I doubt he will.”

Sarah was appalled.  “I wouldn’t go upstairs with him if he paid me a hundred pounds!”

“He never pays for any tart so don’t get your hopes up.”

Sarah blanched.  Was Mr. Sinclair consorting with harlots?  Were there loose women in the house?

She always claimed nothing surprised her anymore.  With how she had to talk to children about their salacious fathers, with how she had to explain bastardry and illicit bloodlines, she thought she was prepared for any eventuality.

But…harlots?

“Just fetch him for me!” she furiously said.

“I’ll try, Miss, but I don’t understand why you won’t simply join in the merriment.  All the fellows would enjoy having you arrive.”

At the comment, she almost stomped out, but she couldn’t leave until she had a commitment from Mr. Sinclair on several pertinent issues regarding Noah and Pet.  The most riveting one was that the orphanage was about to be shut down, and she’d been unable to find another home for them.

What might he do about it?  She was terribly worried he might not be willing to do anything.

She had a powerful way of glaring at a man.  She could cow and shame even the worst sinner into better conduct.  She employed it now on the footman, and he scurried off to the parlor.  He was gone for only a minute.

“Sorry, Miss,” he said as he strutted up. “Mr. Sinclair advises you to participate in the festivities or to depart if they’re not to your liking.  He’s too busy to speak with you.”

She smirked with aggravation.  Why keep pestering the Sinclairs?  It was obvious they weren’t interested in the children’s plight.  She’d spent weeks seeking an audience with Sir Sidney’s widow, Gertrude Sinclair, but she’d finally received a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney, and she was running out of time.

What if she returned to the orphanage and there was a chain on the door?  Would she live on the streets with Sir Sidney’s children?  Was it a conclusion the Sinclair family would be happy to allow?

Suddenly, the weight of the world seemed to press down on her until she could barely breathe.  She was twenty-seven, a single female and spinster, who was all alone and on her own except for her awful sister, Temperance, but having Temperance was very much the same as having no one at all.

Over the past few weeks, after her building had been sold out from under her, she’d found alternative places for every child in her care—but for Noah and Pet.  She refused to accept that there might not bea solution for them, and her temper flared.  It had been flaring ever since she’d first written to Mr. Sinclair’s mother and had been ignored.

Now, after seeing him reveling with doxies in the middle of the day…well!

It was the limit.  It really, really was.

“I believe I’ll tarry for a bit,” she apprised the footman.  “How will I know Mr. Sinclair?  I haven’t previously met him.”

“Why, he’s quite the grandest gentleman in the land.  You’ll recognize him on sight.”

Sarah whipped away and went into the room.  There were about thirty people present, and the duet had begun to sing.  It was a bawdy tune with bawdy lyrics, and the crowd chimed in on the chorus.

She scanned the faces, and the footman had been correct.  She recognized Sebastian Sinclair, both because he was simply the handsomest man ever, but also because he looked exactly like his half-brother, Noah:  blond hair the color of golden wheat, striking blue eyes.

With Mr. Sinclair seated on a sofa, it was difficult to judge his height, but she was sure he’d be six feet tall or perhaps even taller than that.  His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.

He was sipping a brandy, appearing regal and magnificent, like a lazy king who was bored.  There were two men standing behind the sofa.  They appeared tough and dangerous, as if they were guards, though why he would need to be guarded in his own parlor in rural England was a mystery.

Maybe they were always vigilant, watching for trouble, and they never acted any other way.

The song ended, the spectators chortling and clapping, and he perused the room, finally settling his attention on her. He grinned a wicked, delicious grin and signaled for her to approach.  She didn’t move, and he patted his thigh, inviting her to saunter over and sit on his lap.

The whole incident was disgusting, and she couldn’t decide the best course, but one thing was certain.  She had to confer with him and wouldn’t give up until she had.  She marched over so she was directly in front of him.  He didn’t rise to greet her as was appropriate, being so disrespectful that she yearned to shake him.

He scrutinized her as if she were a harem girl sent to entertain him, his insolent gaze starting at her head and meandering down, lingering at several spots he had no business evaluating.  She might have been parading before him without her clothes, and she could hardly keep from squirming, but she stood very still, being positive he would enjoy disconcerting her.

His stunning blue eyes were locked on hers, and she couldn’t look away.  He was waiting for her to state her purpose, but she—who was never discomposed by any situation—was utterly discomposed.

He was a celebrity, renowned for his spunk, courage, and daring-do.  Since he was ten, he’d traveled the Dark Continent with his famous father, exploring the wildest, most isolated locales.  He’d been honored by kings and commoners alike.  He’d even written acclaimed accounts about his adventures, and his books were so gripping that they’d been serialized in the newspapers.

In journeying to Hero’s Haven, she hadn’t wondered what it would be like to actually confront him, and the reality wasn’t like she’d imagined.

He oozed virility and power, much like an ancient god who could destroy worlds or fly to the heavens.  It was like stumbling on an angel or a saint. Humiliating as it was to admit, she was completely agog.

They seemed bound together by an odd spell, as if the universe was marking their meeting.  It was very strange, but she felt as if she’d always known him, and there was a peculiar sense in the air that it might be the greatest moment of her entire life.

But if she was a tad overwhelmed, he definitely wasn’t.  He was a pompous ass, and he wrecked the thrilling perception quickly enough.

“You’re pretty,” he said.  “I’ll give you that, but was it Maud who sent you out from town?  I’ve notified her that I’m weary of all the blonds she’s provided—even if you are more arresting.  I hate to have had you come all this way for nothing.”

“I’m so sorry to disappoint you,” she churlishly snapped.

“I’m not disappointed.  You’re justblond.”  He waved over her person.  “And you’re dressed like a frumpy nun.  How will you entice me when you’re garbed like such a drab?”

“I’m not trying to entice you.”

“That much is obvious.”

“Is there somewhere we could speak privately?”

“I’ve apprised you that I’m not in the mood to fuss with you.  Why would we traipse off?”

“I’m not here to…to…frolic, you dolt.”

At her calling him a dolt, his two guards stiffened.  They might have rounded the sofa and grabbed her, but he raised a hand, halting them in their tracks.

“If you’re not here to revel,” he said, “why are you here?”

“I told you:  I need to talk to you.”

“I never waste time talking to women.”

“Well, I think you should talk to me. In fact, when you learn of my mission, I’m sure you’ll deem it vital.”

“I very sincerely doubt it, and I’m busy.”  He glanced over his shoulder and said, “Raven, this harpy is annoying me.  Escort her out and spread word among that staff that she shouldn’t be allowed to return.”

The noise had diminished as people noticed they were quarreling.  They watched the exchange as if it were a humorous theatrical play.

She’d been chucked out of rooms before by rich, important snobs.  When pleading an orphan’s case, she could be a bit of a nag, so it wouldn’t kill her to be evicted.  But she’d come for Noah and Petunia, and she wouldn’t waver in her resolve merely because their older half-sibling was arrogant and unlikable.

“Should I voice aloud what I have to tell you?” she asked.  “Would you like everyone to hear it?  I can guarantee you don’t want that.”

“Raven!”  He gestured toward the door.  “Hurry please.”

The man, Raven, towered over her. To match his name, his clothes were all  black, which added to his sinister demeanor.  His gaze was severe, his manner frightening, and he could probably be very dangerous if provoked.

In three hasty strides, he’d seized her and was pulling her away.

“It’s about your father,” she tossed over her shoulder to Mr. Sinclair.

“Isn’t it always?” he snottily retorted.

Then she was yanked out, as behind her, the guests tittered and snickered.

“Did you let her in?” Mr. Raven asked the footman who’d initially greeted her.

“Yes, sir.  She’s quite fetching.  I thought Mr. Sinclair would approve.”

“Take a good look at her,” Mr. Raven said, “so you don’t forget her face.  Don’t ever admit her in the future.”

“I won’t, sir.  I promise.”

Mr. Raven stomped outside, his grip on her arm still very tight.

“You don’t have to keep holding onto me,” she complained.  “I understand plain English, and I realize I’ve been thrown out.”

“You’re too stubborn to realize it,” he scoffed.

“Release me, or when you’re through, I’ll likely have bruises.”

“Be silent.”

They reached the driveway before he finally relented.  She rubbed her arm and, even though he’d warned her to be silent, she wouldn’t be.  “I am Miss Sarah Robertson.”

“I don’t care who you are.  Mr. Sinclair has asked you to go, and I expect you will.  Immediately.”

“What if I don’t?”  Her tone was just as snide as his.  “Will you send me to bed without supper?”

“I will count to ten,” Mr. Raven said. “If you’re not walking down the road by then, I will hog-tie you and drag you off the property.”

“You’re as awful as your precious Mr. Sinclair, so I’m certain you would behave that despicably.  Do you always manhandle females when he orders it?  Or are you simply rude and horrid all on your own?”

“I’m horrid on my own, and I do whatever he tells me.”  He leaned down so they were nose to nose.  “Now go!

She never heeded overbearing, obnoxious men, and she wasn’t about to start with him.

“I am proprietress of the Robertson Home for Orphaned Children,” she announced.  She wouldn’t be for much longer, but for the moment, it was her title. “Inform Mr. Sinclair that I have custody of two of his father’s bastards.”

Mr. Raven blanched and lurched away as if she’d struck him.  “What did you say?”

“Don’t pretend to be deaf.  Sir Sidney’s clerk was paying their fees, but upon his death, the money suddenly ended, so I’m owed a small fortune in arrears. Also, the orphanage is closing, so they’re about to lose their home.  I’m sure Mr. Sinclair would hate to have rumors spread that they were tossed out in the street.”

He studied her with a mix of revulsion and rage.  “You’re serious.”

“Serious as a poisonous viper.  My facility is in London.  Sir Sidney’s clerk knows where it’s located.  Mr. Sinclair may call on me at his earliest convenience.”

She whipped away and sauntered off.

Mr. Raven actually shouted at her. “Hold it right there, Miss Robertson.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“You accursed shrew!  Is there a man alive who can command you?  Stop!”

She halted and glared over her shoulder. “I never listen to insufferable men, and I most especially don’t parlay with bullies.  Mr. Sinclair can find me whenever he has a free hour.  It would be such a tragedy if I had to talk to the newspapers about his lack of…concern for his poor siblings.”

She continued on, thinking it was an interesting threat—one she would never carry out—but it definitely had an effect on Mr. Raven.  He spun and raced inside.

What would he say to Mr. Sinclair? How would Mr. Sinclair react?

She suspected, before too many minutes had passed, all of her questions would be answered.

Reviews

ALWAYS YOURS is the second book in the Always Trilogy by Cheryl Holt. Like the previous book, this one is full of wonderfully interesting characters. This trilogy is a three-book saga. Many of the characters in the first book are also featured in the second, but the focus is on a different couple, and the story takes its slant from their perspective. I love this because I wanted to know more about these characters and their story is both slightly familiar and yet new and different.

The talented Cheryl Holt has woven another unique and enthralling story that will hold and increase your interest so that you just can’t wait to see what she’ll write for the last one. This book is, if possible, even more tangled and dynamic than the first. Cheryl Holt is now on my favorite author’s list.”
  Georgianna at the Reading Cafe…

Fan Reviews

“First off, let me say that I LOVE the covers you have for the Always books. Even though these are three stories about these men finding the women who are perfect for them, the covers are at the heart about Nathan, Sebastian and Raven.

I loved Sebastian and Sarah both. She is a very strong minded and strong willed person and one who spoke her mind, which was VERY uncommon at the time this book is set.

I think Sebastian was used to having women fawn all over him and even throw themselves in his path simply because of who he is. When Sarah not only didn’t fawn all over him but didn’t even seem to particularly like him he was initially intrigued, then as he got to know her she (like Nell for Nathan) was one he was comfortable with and he knew that in certain ways what he told her would be safe with her. Not only that but she would “tell him off” when he needed it.

I loved ALWAYS YOURS and will tell you what I thought of ALWAYS MINE when I get done reading it. From the little that I have read so far I can say that I already love little Alex and Raven’s brother is something else.”
~ Susan

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