Fate had thrown them together many times. The first time ... he kidnapped her from a rival village, outrunning their pursuers for days on end but when he took her maidenhead, she wed him without further protest.
In another time, he saw her when she made her entrance at what would one day become the Court of St. James, begged for her hand before he even knew her name and wed her with the Monarch's blessings.
Both times ... she obeyed him without question and they lived in harmony.
Their previous sojourn on this earth found them in Scotland - their union a joining of two powerful clans. Jenna, the high spirited daughter of a reigning family, Albawr, the heir to a rival faction. Jenna had fought him - with her fists, her kicking legs, and with a weapon suitable only for a man.
Albawr had easily subdued the feisty female, his hand resounding loudly as it connected with her backside. When he finally let her up to sit on his lap, she slapped him, spit at him and threatened his death.
For her efforts, he spanked her again.
Again, she hurled ancient curses in his face.
Again, he burned her backside and when she finally collapsed against him, he told her how fiercely they would love each other, how strong their sons would be, and how beautiful their daughters. ... And they were.
In this joining ...
His heart was in his mouth as he galloped after her, his steed showing the exertion of running at full speed uphill. The path was treacherous, sharp edged rocks hidden in the high grasses, the occasional recess in the hard ground yet another trap for a horse's hooves. Sanity returned and he reined the horse in; falling or injuring the beloved animal would not help the situation.
But when he caught up with her ... If she's alive ... If her mare hasn't galloped over the cliffs ... If she remains whole ...
He already knew what he'd do, something he should have done to prevent this disaster, something he should have done on their wedding night.
Jennifer Rebecca had been an unwilling bride but her father couldn't resist the bride's price and the prospective groom was already half in love. From the moment they first set eyes on each other at the start of the Season, he knew he wanted to court her. In his heart of hearts, he knew she was everything he wanted in a wife. He had no doubts about the match; her father would gladly agree to the marriage. But he wanted the girl to want him for a husband and he set about wooing her and winning her heart.
She resisted him. She was courteous to a fault but refused all his attention. When they met at a ball, she demurred at his invitations to dance and when she couldn't turn him down and still remain a lady in the eyes of the dowager harridans that supervised those events, she remained silent through their dances.
He was perplexed by her attitude. Marcus Albane Everly Hollingsworth was an eligible and handsome duke, wealthy, mannerly, and held in high esteem by friends and foes alike. Since his uncle's untimely death and his inheritance of the title at the age of two and thirty, he had been the center of attention of many debutantes' doting mamas.
Jennifer was as beautiful a debutante as any that had graced the ballrooms of London. Her father was a baron with enough monies to pay for a Season for his only daughter but not much more. She was old for a debutante - two and twenty and basically on the shelf - and he wanted her off his hands. A marriage to the first eligible and honorable man who offered for her was as high as he dared hope.
When the Duke asked permission to court his daughter, the Baron was ecstatic. An alliance with the man's prestigious family far exceeded his expectations. Permission was swiftly granted.
When informed that the Duke would politely court her and that he had consented to their marriage, Jennifer replied that she'd rather remain unwed.
"I need not be a burden to you, father," she said in the soft tone of voice she always used toward her sire. "I can hire out as a nanny or perhaps, teach in the village near our home. I can ..."
"You will marry this man," her father said in that same soft tone he had passed on to his only daughter. "His wealth and the prestige he brings to our family with this alliance is of great import to me. That is my final word on the subject. Disobey me and rue the consequences."
The consequences were too much to contemplate. Her only brother had disobeyed their father - a matter no one talked about - and soon found himself dispatched to the colonies. The colonies were reputed to be wild, untamed and filled with man-eating animals. Jennifer couldn't imagine living there.
She knew better than to argue with her sire and wisely remained silent while he lectured her on the merits of the alliance. News of her upcoming nuptials spread throughout London and people speculated that the Duke was besotted with the girl's beauty and sweet personality. She brought nothing else to the marriage, not even a dowry; it had to be a love match.
At the Duke's direction, his staff would take care of the wedding plans. Jennifer refused to participate and maintained her distance from her future husband.
He was undeterred, intercepting her on her morning carriage rides, taking hold of her hand and expressing his desire to spend time with her. Jennifer remained silent, her eyes downcast when she ignored his questions.
"Jenny ..." he began.
"It's Jennifer," she said softly, finally speaking to him. "Jenny is a child's name. I am not a child."
"Jennifer ..." he smiled and began again.
"It's Jennifer Rebecca, your Grace."
He arched a brow at her newfound voice and then laughed at her sudden streak of independence. At least she was talking to him.
"What is it about me that offends you, Jennifer Rebecca?"
"I do not wish to be wed. You have your pick of any woman. Many would be happy to be your bride. Why me?"
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" he asked as he placed a gentle hand on her chin, tilting it up and toward him.
"That is sad news, indeed. I saw you and Cupid struck me with his arrows. I was smitten. You will be my bride and in time, I hope there will be some small amount of affection in your heart that is reserved for me. It would be far more pleasant for our children if their mother had a fondness for their father."
"Yes, children. That's what happens when a man and a woman ..." He paused, unsure of just how much Jennifer knew about the intimacy between a man and his wife. "Children are expected from the union of a husband and wife," he said gently. "And we will be united in marriage."
"I do not want this alliance," Jennifer persisted stubbornly, pulling away from his hand.
"I'm not marriage material."
"Explain yourself, please."
"I'm used to my independence. I like doing things my own way and I do not like being told what to do," she said, sternness in her tone. "You will not find me biddable. I will be an embarrassment to you and you will rue the day you married me."
It was the longest conversation they had ever had and the Duke thought it was a revealing one. His Jenny came from simple means and he came from wealth. She was unsure of how she would be received by his family and how she would be treated in society. She would be his duchess; he was certain she would be very well received in society. As for his family, he knew his mother did not approve of this union but since he was the head of his family and administrator of its wealth, she would be accepted as his bride. As for ruing their wedding day ... The Duke knew he wanted her for all time and couldn't wait to show her how wonderful their life would be.
He smiled at his intended bride.
And then he shocked her into silence when his arms went around her, pulling her close to his chest. His lips locked onto hers and he kissed her over and over again.
Jennifer remained speechless when he loosened his hold on her, her heart beating so fast and so hard she thought it was possible it would rip through the bodice of her morning dress. The back of her hand went to her mouth and a soft gasp finally escaped between her lips when she remembered to take a breath.
"Did you like that?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with delight at her reaction.
"I am *not* marrying you."
"Yes, you are," the Duke smiled and kissed her again.
Eventually, Jennifer and her father gave up their rented London house to return to their home village. The Duke sent men with them to surreptitiously watch over her. He cancelled the large London church wedding originally planned and settled on a quieter affair at the Baron's home. The bans had been posted moments after her father signed the marriage contracts. There was no reason to delay. The village priest could perform the ceremony - sooner rather than later. The Duke wanted to be wed and wasn't going to give his bride any excuses to bow out of the alliance.
The Duke had always been an even-mannered man, astute in business affairs, and in his private life, he had quietly enjoyed the company of many women. All were beautiful, mostly educated and skilled in making his bed a pleasurable place to be. None were marriage material. He wanted a chaste bride, a biddable wife, and a well-bred lady to bear his children. He sent parting gifts to his previous paramours, ending each of those liaisons.
As quiet and subdued as Jennifer appeared, he knew he would have to take the upper hand, take her to task a time or two, set the rules, and shape her demeanor to fit his ideal of a wife and mother. Something had tugged his heartstrings the first time he laid eyes on her, something familiar in his memories but undefined. He had been immediately smitten and knew with a certainty that she was the one that would bring love and joy into his life. The brief independent streak she had shown in refusing his attentions made him smile. Soon she would be dependent on him and once they were wed, he knew all would be well between them.
Against her wishes, she was wed. Her lifelong maid had dressed her, reminded her she had no say in the marriage contract and urged her to make the most of what lay ahead.
"He is a handsome man, this Duke of yours," the elder woman said gently.
"He is a man. He will want his way in all things," Jennifer replied. "I do not need a man to make choices in my life."
"But that is the way of it for women, child. You will have it better than most. He is a duke, you will be a duchess and he loves you. I can see it whenever his eyes set upon you. And he has gold coins to spare. He will spoil you with whatever you want. Mark my words. This is a good match."
"I will have to share a bed with him whenever he wants me," Jennifer whispered, taking hold of her maid's hand.
"Aye, you will, but with such a handsome man, I think that will not be a hateful chore. He will show you the way of it and I think the bedding will please you."
"What if it does not please me? What then?"
"A man in love with his wife will often do anything she asks of him when they are in the marriage bed. Let him have his way at that time and use it to your advantage. Think about what you want - it must be reasonable to a man's way of thinking. Make small requests. Do not make demands, just gentle requests. Over time I think you will be satisfied with what fate has given you."
Later that night, after the wedding guests had finally taken their leave, Jennifer stood passively as she waited for her husband to come to her and consummate their vows.
"You are so beautiful," the Duke said as he beheld his bride.
"We are joined," she said by way of greeting. "Do what you will. I will not fight you."
"We aren't joined yet," her husband smiled as he scooped her up into his arms. "But we soon will be."