Surrender To Ruin (Sinclair Sisters Book 3) – Carolyn Jewel

EMİLY STOOD BY the door with her breath caught in her throat, and her heart shattered all over again. Momentarily paralyzed, she watched her dog gallop across the entry. The leash bounced and curved like some demented snake as Frieda headed for the stairs and the man who stood there. “Frieda. No!” But her ungainly adolescent dog, intent on making a new friend, did not stop. Frieda was also, perhaps fortuitously, unable to safely negotiate the marble floor. Her front legs splayed and propelled her into a four-footed spin that ended with a crash into the bottom step. She scrambled to her feet and shook herself off, panting and wagging her tail hard enough to move her entire body. The Earl of Bracebridge remained on the stairs, his attention on Frieda, as was wise when a large dog whose bark was a cross between a bay and a bone-chilling snarl was heading straight for one. Thank God for Frieda, for Emily needed time to master her feelings and the brutal realization that her heart was as yet unhealed. Oh, heavens above, how could she still ache like this? Emily leaped for the trailing leash, but Frieda bounded up the stairs. For all her size and bloodcurdling noise, the dog wasn’t snarling or threatening in any way. She wriggled with joy. Emily had last seen Bracebridge over a year ago. They had met—her fault, all her fault, that meeting—inappropriately alone.

Their usual escalation toward unrecoverable disaster had ended with harsh and brutally honest words from him. Devastating words. He’d kissed her yet again, then the embrace had spun completely out of control. His hands had been underneath her skirts, on her bare skin. She, to her everlasting shame, would have allowed him anything. Anything at all. But he’d stopped. Pulled away and told her, in no uncertain terms, that he would never love her, that she must not have any expectations of him. Without exaggeration, the encounter had crushed her heart to nothing. She recognized her responsibility for that outcome.

She did. He loved her eldest sister, not her. He would never love anyone but Anne. How could his heart not be broken beyond anyone’s ability to repair it? Anne had been forced to marry the Duke of Cynssyr, one of Bracebridge’s closest friends, when everyone, Emily included, had expected a match between Anne and Bracebridge. The fault for that lay squarely with the duke. On that infamous night when Anne had been dosed with laudanum, the duke had been found in her bed. His claims of mistake changed nothing. Anne and Cynssyr had married the next day. Frieda woofed again. Emily just missed regaining the trailing end of the leash, allowing the dog to reach Bracebridge and rear up on her hind legs.

Her front paws landed on his chest. Frieda was heavy, strong, and intent on licking his face. “Good day to you, too, milady.” Bracebridge rubbed the dog’s ears, then gently pushed her back to all four paws and down the last of the stairs. At least he wasn’t angry; Emily was grateful for that. Emily tried for the leash again, but the moment Bracebridge was off the stairs, Frieda reared up to attempt another face-lick. “Honestly, Frieda! Down!” Emily missed the leash yet another time. He had yet to fully register her presence and truly see her. In the instant when he did, she watched with dismay as his smile vanished and his eyes turned hard. How utterly humiliating that her stomach was full of butterflies.

She would absolutely not let him see that nothing had changed for her. “Oh, drat, Frieda. Behave!” “Down,” he said in that dark, unyielding voice that never failed to send a shiver down Emily’s spine. The dog did not precisely obey, but she did return to four legs. He grabbed the leash near where it fastened to her collar and pulled the loose end until he had the strap firmly in hand. Emily was relieved, not to her credit, by this excuse to delay or defuse what was plainly going to be an uncomfortable and awkward encounter. She’d never intended to fall in love with anyone, but one day, not long after Anne was married, she’d seen him walk into a room, and all these feelings had simply appeared and refused to be dislodged from her heart. “I beg your pardon, my lord,” she said. He didn’t immediately respond to the first words spoken between them in over a year. Yes.

Thank goodness for Frieda. “She hasn’t ruined your coat or shirt, has she?” Besides being monstrously large, Frieda had the worst traits of several breeds; a deerhound’s wiry coat, but greyish-brindle instead of a solid color, the floppy ears and jowls of a bloodhound, a mastiff’s girth, and the tendency to slobber of all those breeds. “Not at all.” He crouched and rubbed Frieda’s ears. She pressed the top of her head to the center of his chest and wagged her tail hard enough to move half her body. He glanced up, and Emily caught the fading edge of his frustrated look. If she told anyone just how bad things had got with Papa lately, she’d be forced to leave the Cooperage to live with one of her sisters. If that happened, Bracebridge would have to give up his friendship with her brothers-in-law. “I came to see Mary and the children,” she said abruptly, the heat in her cheeks a further reminder that she was not anything like sanguine. Mary, Lady Aldreth, was wife to Baron Aldreth of Rosefeld and the second of Emily’s three sisters.

The four women had endured a great deal when they were growing up. Their mother died when Emily was quite young, and Anne, still a girl herself, had stepped in to run the household in the face of their father’s utter inability to manage anything himself. “Did you?” Bracebridge said with understandable skepticism. He didn’t know—no one did—that Papa was drunk most days or that if she forgot to lock her door, he’d come in looking for something to convert to ready cash. She’d quickly learned the only safe hiding place for money to pay the taxes and put toward the most pressing bills was in a tin box she kept buried at the southern edge of the property. “I did not know you were here,” she said. Unfortunately, for the past three days, Papa had been in one of his states. She’d spent her time taking Frieda on long walks or hiding in her room with the door locked. “I’d have stayed away otherwise.” Given that her sisters were married to men Bracebridge called friends, the best and most obvious way to avoid him had been to remain at the Cooperage with her father.

She was not deluded enough to believe he had not himself declined invitations likely to bring him into contact with her. She’d done the same. Her persistent and unreciprocated love was a hopeless case. Some people refused to overlook his disreputable past, most notably and painfully her own father, who had banned Bracebridge from the Cooperage shortly after Bracebridge first offered for her sister. Of course, he had not been Bracebridge at the time. No one had expected he, as the youngest of seven boys, would inherit. She was not privy to the details, but Bracebridge’s late father had all but disinherited him when, as a boy, he refused to join the navy or the army. Thereafter Bracebridge had supported himself as a prizefighter and, soon after, as the owner and operator of several enterprises, the nature of which were the subject of scandalized whispers. “I suppose meeting again was inevitable,” he said carefully. He maintained his prizefighter’s physique to this day, and though his style of dress was always austere, she liked that about him nearly as much she liked his size, his sense of humor, and that air about him that suggested he was about to do something wicked and did not care what anyone thought.

He gave Frieda another pat, then stood. He smiled—not warm, but not unfriendly—and she ignored the spark of attraction that shot through her. His eyes were inky black, his hair the same color, all unruly curls, and his nose was slightly crooked. He wasn’t a handsome man, but when he walked into a room, everyone stared. He took effortless command by presence alone. “I suppose so.” She stayed where she was and prayed she looked composed, even though she wasn’t. She would not have blamed him if he’d refused to speak to her. Through no fault of his, her feelings had become engaged, and he had not returned them. She had reacted strongly to him from the very day they met, when she was a girl scarcely old enough to guess there might be something more behind her admiration of him.

“Good afternoon then, Em.” He flinched, and she ignored his use of the too-familiar diminutive. “My lord.” She curtseyed with the formality due an acquaintance of his status, rather than someone she had known since she was a girl. She had no choice but to be done with him. “Have a pleasant outing.” A year ago, the tension between them would have destroyed any possibility of either of them walking away unscathed from the encounter. She was, she wanted to believe, now better able to moderate her behavior with him. “Thank you.” The coldness of his reply stirred up old hurts, but she had vast experience suppressing emotions she did not wish to display.

He had no way of knowing she was determined to overcome her feelings for him. He surely and understandably believed he was still in danger of unwanted emotion from her. She ignored the tiny, resentful voice in her head that said he bore some responsibility for what had happened. “Forgive me, Miss Sinclair. I did not mean to speak so curtly to you.” Miss Sinclair. Emily understood the need for distance between them. All the same, his formality was a blow. Which did she prefer? A too intimate address or one that was too formal? She hated both. “I have an engagement this afternoon,” he said.

She steeled herself. True, she had meticulously avoided him for more than a year, but she wasn’t a fool. He’d been to Bartley Green several times in the past months, and she’d long ago guessed the reason. She summoned a smile of the sort she had perfected with dozens of men who needed to be discouraged. How ironic that she must use that skill now, when she was dying inside. “With Miss Glynn?” Clara Glynn was Emily’s dearest friend. She hated herself for wishing she was wrong about them. Clara deserved to be happy, and so did Bracebridge. “Yes.” His relief was a knife across her heart.

“I’m to meet Miss Glynn and her brother.” “Please give them my regards.” She was astonished by her poise. What an actress she was. “I shall,” he said. “Frieda. Dear dog, do come here.” She clicked her tongue several times, to no avail. Frieda sat on his feet. She looked at the dog, her heart aching with affection.

“Be so kind as to hand me her leash, would you, my lord? I’ll hold her so you may escape in safety.” “That seems an odd name for a dog.” She did not want this cool, remote acquaintance. She wanted the heat of his touch, the shiver of his eyes on her, looking at her as if she were the only woman in existence. Except that had never been true for him. She’d misinterpreted everything. “I think the name suits her.” “Frieda.” He shook his head. “Was it Aldreth or your sister who chose that name? Or one of the children?” “I chose the name.

” More proof that he held her in low regard. He considered her frivolous, vain, and spoiled, and most of that was true. She would trade her beauty in an instant if doing so would grant her but half the character of any of her sisters. “Indeed?” “Frieda is my dog.” She held out her hand for the leash, but he didn’t give it over. She was twenty-two compared to his thirty-four, but that wasn’t an insurmountable difference to her. It had been for him. The whole trouble was, she’d never been attracted to men her own age. She’d only ever wanted him. He continued to hold the leash.

She had the awful feeling he was debating whether to invite her to accompany them on their walk. God, no. She’d never survive watching him court her best friend. He settled his weight onto one hip and slightly hunched his shoulders to make himself shorter, as he so often did with women who were not tall. Clara was a more comfortable height for him. “She’s a splendid dog,” he said. “She certainly fancies you.” A quick smile appeared on his mouth, froze in place, then vanished. The distance between them took on a weight she did not entirely understand. “Mystifying, isn’t it?” he said.

Oh, another mistake. Resolutely, she ignored the past that lived in that statement and prayed he would, too. She wasn’t the same person she’d been a year ago. She was wiser now. “To be sure, my lord.” The sooner she extricated herself from this conversation, the better. She held out her hand for the leash, but infuriatingly, he did not give it to her. “As you see, Frieda is as beautiful as she is well behaved.” He patted Frieda’s head. “She’s good natured.

” “And loyal and brave.” “Admirable qualities, all.” The front door opened as he was extending the leash to her. Harry Glynn entered, followed by his sister, and Emily’s heart fell to the very end of the earth. Clara stopped a few steps from the door and looked between Bracebridge and Emily. Bracebridge smiled at Clara with a fondness Emily had never seen from him except where Anne was concerned. He deserved to be happy. “There you are, Bracebridge,” Glynn said too heartily. “We thought you’d forgot us, but what better reason for delay than a beautiful woman?” He clapped a hand on Bracebridge’s shoulder. She only just managed to restrain Frieda from attempting to greet the Glynns with kisses.

“Down, Frieda. Down.” She was delighted when the dog obeyed. “Stay.” While she had the chance, she went to Clara and kissed her cheek. Kind, generous Clara was the very best friend one could have, and she was absolutely the sort of woman Bracebridge ought to marry. “How lovely to see you.” Clara briefly squeezed Emily’s hand. “I say the same to you.” “Miss Sinclair,” Glynn said in a softer voice.

“You are perfection, as always.” “Thank you.” She had always treated Harry Glynn with the familiarity that came with a lifelong acquaintance. She had never encouraged his recent admiration of her. He was too close to her age and, well, not Bracebridge. Glynn patted Frieda on the head, and the dog gazed at him as if the sun rose and set on his broad shoulders. “You mustn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, Miss Sinclair.” He knew the trick of keeping a hand on Frieda to prevent her jumping on him. He grinned. “What a propitious meeting, for here you are, cloak and hat already donned for an outing on this beautiful autumn day.

” “I came to see the children.” Mary and Aldreth had three, two boys and a girl. “Bracebridge was on his way out whilst I was on my way in. He was detained by meeting Frieda. You know how she must make a friend of everyone new to her.” “We aren’t going far,” Glynn said. He snapped his fingers, and Frieda came to attention. Her tail thumped against Bracebridge’s thighs. “You see how she anticipates an excursion.” “She’s already had a walk from the Cooperage to here.

Besides, I haven’t seen the children in an age.” She must have convinced everyone she hadn’t a care in the world, for Clara said, “Well, Harry and I haven’t seen you for an age. Join us, won’t you?” “Come, Miss Sinclair,” Glynn said. “My sister is correct. We’ve not seen you in too long.” “Please?” Clara squeezed her hand again, and Emily’s heart sank. If she refused now, she would seem childish and petty. “Please do,” Bracebridge said when she caught his eye. His request seemed genuine. “Very well, then.

Frieda and I should be delighted.” She looped Frieda’s leash several times around her hand, then extended her other arm to Harry Glynn. Though he was not as tall as Bracebridge, he laid proper claim to six feet. Emily scarcely reached his shoulder. Why couldn’t she return his affection? He was tall, handsome, and good-natured, yet in all the time she’d known him, he had never made her insides shiver. Outside, Frieda pulled Emily several paces ahead until she was well ahead of the others. She walked briskly, doing her best to control excitable, gigantic Frieda, all the while excruciatingly aware she was using the dog as an excuse to walk alone. Harry caught up with her from time to time. He did so, she knew, to give Bracebridge and Clara privacy. At one point when Harry had fallen into step with her, she picked up a stick and waved it just out of Frieda’s reach.

“Tell me,” she said, “have you ever seen such a sight as Frieda with her ears flapping and her tail wagging?” “Unique among canines, I dare say.” Harry had helped her rescue Frieda when she was a starving, aggressive young stray living in the alley near the Bartley Green livery stable. “She’s growing into a monstrously large dog.” “You’ve an affinity for the monstrous,” he said gently. Those soft words defeated her utterly, and she found she had to swallow several times against the lump in her throat. “Why not let Frieda off her leash? It would do her good to exhaust herself.” “Oh, no!” she said without thinking. “She might run away. What if she does and cannot find her way back?” Her fear was unreasonable, but it was also unshakeable. “That is unlikely,” he said.

“She doesn’t always come when she’s called.” She held tight to Frieda’s leash while she and Harry walked side by side in a silence that was no longer comfortable. She wanted badly to look behind her at Clara and Bracebridge and, eventually, she could not resist. She looked. Clara was laughing at something Bracebridge had said to her. He was smiling, too. Harry sighed. “There’s no shortage of women who like what he has on offer.” “Mr. Glynn, I—I am sorry.

Forgive me for my thoughtlessness.” She faced him and immediately regretted doing so because she could see Bracebridge and Clara walking slowly, arm in arm. He was courting her. Clara, her dearest friend. What sort of awful person was she to wish that were not so? “I hope you do not misunderstand what I’m about to say.” Harry took Emily’s arm and turned her around. “I don’t mean to give you hope where there is none. I meant what I said about Bracebridge and other women. He has a savage charm that appeals. But not, I worry, to my sister.

” “I don’t care what anyone says about him.” No one knew that three years ago, shortly after Anne’s marriage, Emily had seen Bracebridge without a stitch of clothing. The incident was burned into her soul. Him very deliberately getting out of bed and standing in front of her, daring her to faint. Savage charm, indeed. “That is in the past. He’s not a prizefighter anymore.” “No, not that.” Harry meant a good deal more by that oblique denial than he was willing to say to her. She supposed his disapproval had to do with the source of Bracebridge’s personal wealth.

“I mean no disrespect,” she said, “but I sincerely hope your mother does not intend to interfere.” Few people disapproved of Bracebridge more than Clara’s mother and, naturally, one of them was Emily’s father. Emily disagreed vehemently with all of his detractors, and she held tight to that anger because it helped soothe her hurt and jealousy. Harry did not immediately reply, but when he did, it was thoughtfully. “She’ll interfere. She cannot help herself. But the fact is, Lord Bracebridge has asked for and received my permission to court Clara.” She stared at the path ahead. Her happiness for Clara and Bracebridge was dwarfed by her abject misery. Harry was the head of the family since his father had passed away.

So, yes, Bracebridge would apply to Harry for permission. “I’ll manage my mother. But now I have a question for you.” His tone went from avuncular to something too intimate. “Oh, Harry, no.” “Do you know what Bracebridge told me to do?” She did not want to know. She shook her head to discourage him. “He told me that if I wished to engage your affections, I should tell you I find you beautiful beyond words and that I love you with a mad passion.” She refused to cry. She absolutely would not.

“You see how badly he underestimates you,” Glynn said softly. “Sinclair women are immune to flattery.” Emily tossed her head. She was an expert at smiling, no matter the circumstances. “I adore being told I’m beautiful.” “You hate it.” She tossed Frieda another stick, throwing it just to the length of the leash. They watched in silence while she destroyed the stick in two bites. “Consider this: I understand where your heart lies. Call me a fool, but that state of affairs cannot last, not without encouragement.

Not past his marriage. We could grow old together, you and I.” The weather was fine. Blue sky, only a hint of a breeze. “With your mother?” “I would not have her in my household. Mama must live at Withercomb surrounded by her memories of our father and her iron hold on the society of Bartley Green. You and I can make our home elsewhere. Far from here.” He gestured. “Far from your father.

Far from the Earl of Bracebridge.” “I cannot leave Papa.” That was a lie. How could she marry Harry Glynn when it meant she would regularly see Bracebridge? However far away they went, one saw family on holidays and other occasions. It was inevitable. She simply could not bear the idea of having to pretend her heart wasn’t broken. “The sentiment greatly behooves you. Clara feels the same loyalty toward our mother. However, I will not allow your father to live with us any more than I would permit my mother to do so. My willingness to support his more objectionable habits is already nonexistent.

But he won’t starve, and I promise I shall keep a roof over his head.” “Your confidence in my character is misplaced,” she said. “I think not.” He sighed. “I am not foolish enough to make you an offer yet. But I don’t want to see you spend the rest of your life looking after your father. Not after the way he’s treated you and your sisters. I do indeed mean to speak ill of him.” He pressed her arm. “If your situation becomes intolerable, you must inform me.

I’ll have us in Gretna Green as soon as possible.” “An elopement?” She laughed. “Marriage is a permanent solution to your difficulties with your father.” He was right, of course. Marriage was her only escape from her intolerable situation at home. But she needed a husband who would also provide her an escape from Bracebridge. Who, though, would marry her, only to give up the considerable advantage and influence of her connections to her brothers-in-law?

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