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by Sandra Heath
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Kathryn Vansomeren is a modern day New York career woman with her marriage on the rocks. She visits England alone, and events conspire to exchange her life with that of a Regency beauty who is torn between an adoring lover and a cold, complex and compellingly handsome husband. Passion and excitement are Kathryn's for the taking, but dare she make the choice? Regency Romance by Sandra Heath; originally published by Signet as Magic at Midnight
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1995
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [338 KB]
Reading time: 217-304 min.
The hot New York afternoon gave Kathryn Vansomeren no hint of the extraordinary events she had in store over the following weeks. There was no warning at all of the amazing emotional entanglement that would change her existence in every imaginable way.
It felt like any other summer afternoon, and her marriage was in the same mess it had been for the past year, ever since she lost the baby. No, if she was honest, it had been a mess for longer than that. She and Richard were temperamentally unsuited, and should never have married in the first place. At least, that was how she felt; maybe he thought the same. They seldom communicated properly these days, which was something they did both know, but were refusing to face.
This was why the coming vacation was so important. As far as she was concerned, it was far more than just a fortnight in the ancient city of Gloucester in England's West Country to trace his mother's family; it was a lifeline that might give her a chance to think positively about the shambles her career was in, and might also save the marriage that right now was on track for extinction.
Researching his ancestry was something Richard liked to do. Before they married, he'd gone to Holland to trace the Vansomerens; this year it was the turn of the English Larvilles. She'd once tried to find out about her own family, but it proved impossible. She was adopted, and the New York agency that dealt with all the paperwork had burned down a few weeks after her birth. Now there was no information to be found about who her real parents had been. Not that she really minded. She'd been adopted by the Milliards, an Albany accountant and his wife, both now dead after a traffic accident, and she'd adored them both.
This particular Saturday afternoon brought the marriage difficulties to a head. It was early July, and the weather was hot as Kathryn read one of her favorite historical romances on the roof garden of their Manhattan penthouse. Money was no object for Richard, so theirs was a sought-after address. He was out of the ordinary in that, although young, he was a rising star in one of the premier firms of architects in the city. His family was very wealthy, so he could afford the best. In fact, it must be said that in every area except his marriage, Richard Vansomeren had it made.
If the same could have been said for Kathryn's situation, it mightn't have been quite so bad, but her career was no longer as rewarding as it had once been, which meant she was unhappy both at home and at work--a lethal combination when it came to remaining sweet-tempered and level-headed at all times.
It was through work she and Richard had met. He'd been the project architect for the new offices commissioned by the local TV station she worked for as a junior reporter. She'd liked her career then, and it seemed like the sky might be the limit, but that was before her old boss retired and his successor arrived on the scene. Anyway, for some reason Kathryn couldn't remember now, on one bitterly cold January morning she was picked to attend an important building site meeting.
She'd been wrapped up like someone from an Alaskan oil rig, with only her eyes showing through a frame of faux fur. Not exactly haute couture, but at least she stayed warm. The last thing she'd needed was to come face-to-face with a tall, blond, blue-eyed god with a divine smile and a Mount Olympus tan. To make matters worse, she slipped on some ice and fell on her butt in front of him. What a stupid entrance. Stage left and down she went. The leading lady made a complete hash of her opening scene with the leading man of her dreams. Oh, yes, Richard was the sort of man she went for in a big way, but in those first few minutes it really seemed she'd blown it. Yet he looked past the fringe of ice-tipped fur and liked the hazel eyes peeping out at him. So much so, he asked her to dinner that night.
Things had gone from strength to strength after that, and it wasn't long before they'd become lovers. She wasn't very experienced. Sleeping around had never been her thing, and she was afraid of disappointing him in bed. Eventually it was to be the other way around, and he would disappoint her, but that too was to come, like the change for the worse in her career.
In those heady days of first romance, they'd been happier than they ever thought possible, and for a while she walked on air both at home and in the office. She was certainly floating around too much to realize what a difference there'd be when Joe Carini retired and Diane Weinburger took over. From that moment on, Kathryn found herself being steadily and cleverly elbowed out, so instead of the sky being the limit, maybe her desk might have to do instead. But she didn't really notice at first. What did a change of boss matter when one was in love?
Richard got sent to Hawaii for a week to set up a new project, and she'd been able to take time off to go too. It turned out to be a week in paradise, and she came back pregnant.
She half-expected Richard to run a mile, or at the very least to offer to pay for a termination or something, but instead he'd been over the moon. Nothing less than marriage would do, and she'd been swept along on a wave of happiness. What more could any girl want? She thought she had a great career and a great guy, and that the future couldn't look rosier. And all in the space of a few months from that fateful January day when she'd landed on her butt on the ice.
It was when she was in the middle of the worst morning sickness since woman was created that she began to realize how bad things were becoming at the TV station. Diane Weinburger had been waiting for an excuse to find fault with her, and a few late mornings caused by a difficult pregnancy were just the thing. Diane began to pick away, undermining and under-informing, so Kathryn gradually ended up on the sidelines of everything. The choice assignments Joe would have seen she got, to bring out the qualities he knew she had, never came her way now. There was an element of personal vindictiveness too. It wasn't just Diane Weinburger versus another female colleague, it was Diane Weinberger versus Kathryn Vansomeren in particular. Kathryn got sent on all the stomach-turning jobs, which then got mysteriously omitted when the programs went out, and after a while her pregnancy was used as an excuse to exclude her. Diane would give one of her sweetly concerned smiles and murmur something about one having to take care at such times.
It was a downward slope, and Kathryn was sliding fast, but at least her marriage was solid and happy. At least, she thought it was, because there hadn't really been time yet to realize she and Richard had too many conflicting ideas about what they liked to do. Being in the middle of a lousy pregnancy didn't make her the life and soul of the party, and going out until all hours had never really appealed to her. Working full time meant she needed to rest in the evenings, but Richard still wanted to go out. There came a time when she had to insist on staying in, and at first he tried to stay in too. But he was bored. Oh, was he bored! He liked company, lots of it, and sitting alone in the penthouse with just her and the TV was like putting him in jail! He wanted her to give up work for the time being, pointing out, very reasonably, that they didn't need the money. But she wanted to cling to her independence. Being married meant being a partner, not a chattel, so she kept her job. He began grumbling then, and maybe he was right, for with hindsight it was plain there was something very wrong with the pregnancy.
The clashes over whether or not she should work, and whether or not it was really necessary for her to stay in every single night, showed her the honeymoon was well and truly over. It also showed that the everyday business of marriage wasn't simple. But there was still the baby, and that meant everything to Richard. He was looking forward to being a father--no, more than that, he was longing to be a father. Just like some women aren't happy unless they're surrounded by babies, Richard seemed like he wouldn't be complete until he had a child. Boy, girl, it didn't matter, just so long as it was his.
Then the worst happened, and she miscarried. It started when she was sent to cover a union dispute at a sewage treatment plant--yet another of Diane's malevolent, never aired assignments. Standing around for hours on end waiting for something to report had left her feeling decidedly unwell. Gradually she felt worse and worse, until she was doubled up in agony. For once, Diane couldn't have been more helpful, but afterward it became clear the situation simply provided her with another chance to prove how the station could function perfectly well without Kathryn Vansomeren's dubious input.
Nothing could save the baby, and as if that weren't bad enough, the doctors discovered that due to complications she was very unlikely to ever have another. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility, but highly improbable. She'd been devastated and numb, but Richard had been noisily distraught, and for several weeks it was his own loss that concerned him, not hers. When she'd been allowed home, he'd gone through the motions of looking after her, but she could sense his unspoken accusations. Losing the baby was her fault; if she hadn't selfishly insisted on keeping her career going... He didn't say it out loud, though, and for that at least she was thankful. She felt guilty enough already, and didn't need to be told that trying to do a high-powered job while in the middle of a difficult pregnancy wasn't the wisest thing in the world. But it was done now, and they had to pick up the pieces, if indeed there were many left to pick up.
Now, when everyone else in New York was sweltering under the summer sun, it was like a cold weather front had gotten stuck right over their penthouse. The marriage was going downhill as fast as her career, and she knew that the crisis point for both of them had almost been reached. It didn't help that they seldom made love now, or that she'd succumbed to the temptation of a brief fling with a colleague, for that fling had opened her eyes to what sex really could be like. Harry Swenson was a practiced lothario, and she didn't really know why she'd let it happen, except she'd been at her most vulnerable and he knew when to pounce. But he sure as hell knew his stuff! Being with him reminded her of a commercial she'd seen on Irish TV during a weekend assignment in Dublin. Something about a particular brand of beer reaching the parts other beers couldn't. Harry definitely knew what parts to reach! He knew about parts Richard never dreamed existed, and she didn't know much about either.
After that she tried to tell herself that the physical side of marriage shouldn't be given too much importance, and she should concentrate on building up the rest of the crumbling estate of her particular portion of holy matrimony. The trouble was, Harry had opened her eyes too much, and sex suddenly mattered a lot more than it used to. She discovered she had a wanton side that longed for the sort of erotic gratification Richard couldn't or wouldn't give. She yearned for romance and excitement, to be swept off her feet and kept off them! She'd have liked more spontaneity where sex was concerned. If possible, she'd like it in the middle of the morning, on the floor, over the table, in the shower, in the car, and anywhere else the mood took her, but the distance between Richard and her seemed to widen by the day, and now it was several weeks since they'd made love at all.
From the pinnacle of happiness she'd known when they came back from Hawaii, everything had somehow gone wrong. And she had Diane Weinburger on her back as well. The woman wanted her out, and Kathryn had reached the point of wondering whether it was better to go before she was pushed. What satisfaction was there in a job that had deteriorated to this extent? And what satisfaction was there in a similarly deteriorated marriage? Should she get out of both before it was too late?
That was why the forthcoming English vacation was so important. What had started out as a chance for Richard to trace his roots had turned into something much more important. She knew they needed time together in new surroundings if they were to patch things up, and she needed time to think about her career. The more she dwelt on it all, the more stressed out she became. She needed a rest just to stay sane!
That was how things stood that baking hot summer afternoon when Richard came home from playing golf to tell her the vacation was off.