Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon--to no one's surprise, not even Bryony Asquith's. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn't possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?***
Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won't rest until he's delivered an urgent message from her sister--and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them--or their rekindling passion?
Bryony felt it in her stomach, the keen pitch of interest around the table, including her own--she had no idea what he could possibly say. But he was in no hurry to gratify the collective curiosity. With great leisure, he finished the remainder of the cake on his plate.
He reached for his glass of whiskey. Instead of lifting it, however, he only turned it a few degrees by its base. For the first time, she noticed the condition of his hands. When they'd been married, he'd had very fine, gentlemanly hands. Today his fingers were rough and chapped, with faint cuts and bruises along his knuckles.
But then he smiled at his audience and she forgot all about his hands, for it was a smile that conquered, as sweet as it was merciless. With that smile came a light in his eyes, an irresistible light: This was the Leo who had taken London by storm.
"It's a long story," he said, taking a sip of Mr. Braeburn's whiskey, "so I will tell only a very condensed version of it.
"Mrs. Marsden and I grew up on adjacent properties in the Cotswold. But the Cotswold, as fair as it is, plays almost no part in this tale. Because it was not in green, unpolluted countryside that we fell in love, but in gray, sooty London. Love at first sight, of course, a hunger of the soul that could not be denied."
Bryony trembled somewhere inside. This was not their story, but her story, the determined spinster felled by the magnificence and charm of the gorgeous young thing.
He glanced at her. "You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart."
The tides of her own heart surged at his words, even though they were nothing but lies.
"I don't believe I had moods," she said severely.
"No, of course not. 'Thou art more lovely and more temperate'--and the tides of my heart only rose ever higher to crash against the levee of my self-possession. For I loved you most intemperately, my dear Mrs. Marsden."
Beside her Mrs. Braeburn blushed, her eyes bright. Bryony was furious at Leo, for his facile words, and even more so at herself, for the painful pleasure that trickled into her drop by drop.
"Our wedding was the happiest hour of my life, that we would belong to each other always. The church was filled with hyacinths and camellias, and the crowd overflowed to the steps, for the whole world wanted to see who had at last captured your lofty heart.
"But alas, I had not truly captured your lofty heart, had I? I but held it for a moment. And soon there was trouble in Paradise. One day, you said to me, 'My hair has turned white. It is a sign I must wander far and away. Find me then, if you can. Then and only then will I be yours again.'"
Her heart pounded. How did he know that she had indeed taken her hair turning white as a sign that the time had come for her to leave? No, he did not know. He'd made it up out of whole cloth. But even Mr. Braeburn was now spellbound by this ridiculous tale. She had forgotten how hypnotic Leo could be, when he wished to beguile a crowd.
"And so I have searched. From the poles to the tropics, from the shores of China to the shores of Nova Scotia. Our wedding photograph in hand, I have asked crowds pale, red, brown, and black, 'I seek an English lady doctor, my lost beloved. Have you seen her?'"
He looked into her eyes, and she could not look away, as mesmerized as the hapless Braeburns.
"And now I have found you at last." He raised his glass. "To the beginning of the rest of our lives."