Mistress of His HeartYears ago, the father of heiress Rosemary Greenwood forbade her to marry Merritt Temple, a young soldier, because of his lack of fortune. Now Merritt has returned to her small village a rich widower with an infant son. Rosemary is too proud to tell him that her family has been left penniless by her father's spendthrift ways and are struggling to save the family home from creditors. But Merritt has a secret of his own...
by Deborah Hale
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"H-hate you?" The very thought made Merritt bilious. "Never!"
Sometimes he'd wished he could. It might have been easier to live with hate than endure the delicious torment of unrequited love. "You were right to act as you did."
Rosemary fumbled the spray of flowers and almost dropped it. "I was?"
Merritt nodded. "I understand now that a marriage of unequal fortunes places an intolerable burden on both parties. I wouldn't have wished that on either of us."
He left her to draw the obvious conclusion that since they were now on a similar financial footing, the impediment between them had been removed.
The stricken look on Rosemary's face told him he'd misspoken though he could not fathom how. Clearly his want of fortune hadn't been her only reason for spurning him seven years ago.
He tried to mend what he'd marred. "What transpired between us as children is long in the past, my dear. I hope it will not prevent us from being friends now."
"Friends?" she echoed. "Of course. I will always think of you with the fondest friendship, dear Mr. Temple."
When her bewitching lips formed the words fond and dear, it took every ounce of self discipline at Merritt's command to curb the urge to take her in his arms. He longed to kiss lovely Rosemary with a man's kiss that might make her forget the gangly boy who'd once played at wooing her.
But how could he risk the fragile treasure of her friendship in his quest for even sweeter prizes?
With a chaste but affectionate touch, he tucked her delicate hand into the crook of his elbow. "Then I am a most fortunate man indeed. Shall we get back to the house before your sister succumbs to temptation and eats all our tea?"
"An admirable suggestion." Her laugh sounded a trifle forced, but greatly relieved. "Now, we must catch up on the time we have been apart. Ivy and I read the thrilling newspaper accounts of your exploits with General Wellington. Did you enjoy soldiering?"
As they walked back to the house through the green, fragrant garden, he entertained her with stories of his adventures and misadventures in the Rifle Brigade, collecting every dulcet trill of laughter, every sparkle of interest in her eyes like so many rare jewels he would hoard to cherish in the days ahead.
"What a time you've been," complained Ivy when they rejoined her, though she hardly looked displeased. "I helped myself to some cake. Wait till you taste it, Rose — it's heavenly. Will you pour? This eating has left me parched."
Rosemary cast a questioning glance at Merritt.
"Please do the honors." He held her chair. "I recall many pleasant teas at Barnhill when you played mother."
This set Ivy off on a round of remember whens while Rosemary concentrated on pouring the tea and Merritt watched her with jealous interest, indulging himself in the momentary pretense that she was mistress of his home.
As well as his heart…