The Ruin of Miss Phoebe O'Roarke (Star Frost Lovers Book 1) Kindle Edition
The Ruin of Miss Phoebe O'Roarke (Star Frost Lovers Book 1) Kindle Edition
Ruined by the man of her dreams.
Phoebe has loved Will all her life, but he’s a rogue, hellbent to remain as far from Star Frost as possible, enjoying the delights of London. His sudden return brings her hope, but those dreams are torn asunder when one moment of unbridled passion forces marriage upon them.
Will has been outcast from society, but his return home proves just as disastrous. Now he must salvage Phoebe’s reputation and his own. But marrying her is the easy part, saving her from his inner demons might be the end of him.
To salvage Phoebe’s name, they both return to London and pretend their hasty engagement is a love match. Phoebe must make a grand debut and Will must stay out of trouble and keep his past from destroying their future. Not an easy task when secrets and scandal lurk in every shadow. Can the burning passion between them turn lust to love or is a marriage born of ruin destined to break them?
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April 5, 1810
Isle of Star Frost, England
“Miss Phoebe O’Roarke.”
Phoebe froze, the sultry velvet voice laced with the gruff of whiskey, shimmered down her spine like a ghostly touch, but not cold…
Her skin was oh so warm. Perhaps it was only from the sun, which bore down on her back through her thin muslin dress as she picked wildflowers for the entry table.
She knew that voice. She heard it in her thoughts, dreamed it, replayed his words, and added her own. He never said much to her, or rather, nothing since deserting Star Frost Isle three years ago.
He was back?
Had London not been satisfactory? What could have driven him back to their quaint isle off the coast of Cornwall?
She dusted her hands and turned, schooling her features into something that wouldn’t reveal her ardent feelings toward a man deemed too mature, too dark for her.
Reckless, her mother always said.
Phoebe braced herself as she turned, preparing her heart for the first glimpse of him. She took the impact like an invisible gust of wind from the bellows of his soul to hers.
He cocked his head, the shadows under his eyes deepened by the gathering clouds. His unshaven jaw gave him a dangerous edge. Her pulse took off like a startled rabbit, but her feet remained rooted. His eyes were still the same. Unnaturally bright blue, swirling with all the angst of an oncoming storm.
His shoulders had broadened, and his face was leaner, but he still took her breath away.
“You haven’t forgotten me.”
A statement. Not a question.
Did he know her true feelings?
“You haven’t been gone that long,” she returned. Phoebe studied his rumpled clothing.
“You’ve changed,” he said.
Her cheeks bloomed with warmth as she looked down at her plain green gown. Lord only knew what fashions he was accustomed to seeing in the ballrooms. “Have I?”
Phoebe shrugged one shoulder. “Time has a way of doing that.”
“You’re a woman.”
His voice had deepened, and now flurries of sparks swirled inside her. Flickering bursts of hope and long-buried desire.
Was there anything more incorrigible than foolish infatuation? She’d told herself time and time again to let go of him. He was a bright star she couldn’t reach and—in his eyes… She was that strange neighbor girl who wore breeches under her skirts.
Too much time had passed since he’d spoken. Phoebe wet her lips. “I suppose that is the natural way of things. Girl to woman, rather than girl to squirrel.”
How idiotic can I be?
His mouth twitched. He shifted on his feet and then sauntered forward, coming down the small slope to the sun-warmed spot where she’d been kneeling, picking flowers. A soft breeze ruffled his black hair, carrying his scent to her.
Whiskey. As if he’d doused himself with the bottle.
Her hopes floundered. Some things never changed.
“Why did you come back?”
He shrugged and sat on a felled log, bending one leg and stretching out the other while leaning to one side to rest on this elbow. He did this with great care, as if it pained him. She saw no bruising on his face to indicate fisticuffs—his preferred method of debate with other drunken louts.
“Can’t a man wish to come home?”
I hope to never see this lump of dour land again. You’ll be glad to be gone, Phoebe. They don’t call it the Isle of Ruin for nothing.
Phoebe tugged at her tattered gardening gloves as his words came back to her. She’d believed him then. Had cried for days, lamenting his departure, thinking she’d never see him again, not until her debut. Soon, she would be the one to leave. Spring had come at last, and her aunt was determined to rescue Phoebe from Star Frost.
Why couldn’t anyone but her see the beauty and mystery of this place? If she had her way, she’d never leave. She’d grow old like Mrs. Mossley, tending her garden, reading in the shade of an old oak, or staring at the stars that shined more brightly here more than any other place in England, according to legend.
Star Frost was a world of its own, filled with myth and magic. But most chose only to see its failures. It’s history with unsavory characters, pirates, exiled rogues; it’s isolation from the mainland, and its lack of fine goods. Never mind the white sandy beaches that shimmered like diamonds, the velvet grassy hills to the west, the lush forests to the north. Star Frost had everything Phoebe held dear.
Bountiful nature, unspoiled. Peace.
Phoebe shook her head. “You said you never wanted to come back.”
“I can’t change my mind?”
“You’re as stubborn as the rising sun.”
He smirked sardonically. “That I am.”
“So, what are you doing here?”
“Why, it’s almost as if you’re not happy to see me. Aren’t we old friends—” He burped. “I could really use a friend right now.”
Phoebe grimaced. What a sorry state he was in. Drunk—which was typical, but also forlorn. She could see it in the downward cast of his brows. Whatever it was, she was sure it was his own doing. And just as she saw all the wonder in Star Frost, she saw all the good in him, though he tried to drown it in whiskey.
“What have you done, William?”
He squinted up at her, sunlight filtering through his sooty lashes to make his cobalt iris’s glow. “I went to London and had myself a rousing good time. A little too good, I’m afraid. I got shot for my antics.”
Phoebe’s mouth dropped open and all the air left her lungs. She dropped to her knees and scooted toward him.
“It’s a week old now. Properly tended and healing just fine.” He pointed to the shoulder he wasn’t leaning on.
“Were you robbed?”
“Only of my dignity and reputation,” he quipped.
She frowned at him. “Then…how?”
“A duel, poppet. A duel with an angry husband.”
Which meant… Her stomach sank and turned to cold sludge. She swallowed. He’d been with another man’s wife.
Of course. Why should she expect a man of his status, attractiveness, and penchant for trouble to remain celibate? It wasn’t as though he returned even an ounce of her feelings. If he knew how she pined for him, how she’d confessed her love for him to her pillows, they would both be embarrassed.
Her throat grew thick. “You came home to heal and then you’ll return?”
“I could have stayed to heal, but it seems… I am not welcome to return to my circle of acquaintances. Not that I’m the first man to take an unhappily wed wife to bed.”
“Don’t judge me.”
“You feel no remorse at all?”
He grimaced. “I feel…embarrassed. I should have been more discreet.”
“You should not have”—she swallowed—“lain with another man’s wife.”
He smiled at her. “Scandalous. You said lain.”
Phoebe rolled her eyes and bit back a smile. “You brought it up. I’m a country girl—um, woman. I know what happens between men and women.” She blushed and chewed her lip, looking everywhere but at him.
“You’re an innocent through and through. As you should be. I taint you with my very presence.”
“You taint me with your smell,” Phoebe returned. “Have you had food today or only drink?”
“Pfft. I had a hearty breakfast with my whiskey. Whiskey has healing properties.”
“Says who, other drunkards?”
“Said the surgeon when he poured it over my wound. Hurt like the devil.” He scratched his chin. “Maybe he lied and was set on torturing me for my sins.”
“Serves you right.”
“Haven’t I been punished enough? I was shot and turned out by my friends. I fulfilled my bargain of honor.”
“They don’t agree and nor do I. How could you?”
“I can’t stand a sad woman.”
“How do you think she feels now?”
He winked. “Satisfied.”
Phoebe huffed as heat rushed over her skin. “You’re incorrigible.” Even disgusted with his behavior she couldn’t stop these feelings for him. She loved him, whether he deserved it or not. She dusted off her hands and sat on the log beside him. He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees with a wince.
“I knew I could tell you, and you wouldn’t disown me.” He gently bumped her with his good shoulder.
“We all have our vices.”
“You’re a good woman.”
“How long will you stay?”
“Until I can’t bear it any longer.”
Her heart lurched. He’d leave her again. “I’ll be going to London soon. For my debut.”
He scowled. “Don’t do it.”
“London will ruin you.”
“You said Star Frost would ruin me.”
“No. You belong here. You’re as wild and rare as this island. But for others, it’s too small, too suffocating.”
“And yet here you are.”
“I can feel the noose around my neck already.”
“You could come to London with me?” The words ran far ahead of her good sense.
“No. I can’t be seen there until this blows over. I won’t be at your come out. In fact, you’d do well not to associate with me at all.”
Phoebe picked at the brittle bark on the log, hurt by his words. “You’re not a villain in my eyes, just…misguided.”
“And the love of a good woman will fix me? That’s what my mother seems to think.”
A good woman? Like her?
She shook her head, not at his words, but her own foolish thoughts. “She wants you to be happy.”
“Since when has marriage equaled happiness?”
“You’re not happy now. Perhaps you need a change?”
“Marriage is never an answer.”
Phoebe rolled her eyes. “You wish to remain a perpetual bachelor?”
“I wish to remain… I don’t know. I think that’s my problem. I don’t know what purpose I serve.”
“You’re the heir. You’re meant to take hold of your father’s legacy.”
“What legacy? We live on a bloody island. My father repeats the same routine every day. Walking miles of land, counting his sheep, kicking at fence posts, and smelling the dirt. Is that all I’m meant to be? Gentleman farmer? A landholder.”
“You have a title.”
“I’ll be a baron. Hardly impressive.”
“It’s better than most have. Perhaps you were exiled from London for being so melancholy. Poor you, born to wealth, privileged to travel and indulge yourself until the time comes when even more money will come to you.”
Phoebe stood and scowled down at him. “A spoiled brat, that’s what you are.”
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