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Coming soon from L.C. Sharp

and Carina Press

Ash & Juliana

The Sign of the Raven

THE WEDDING NIGHT AFFAIR

L.C. SHARP

For my friends in the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

About the Author

Excerpt from The Sign of the Raven by L.C. Sharp

Chapter One

Spring, 1748

Were all wedding nights this terrifying?

Juliana, as of yesterday Lady Godfrey Uppingham, dared not move. If she did, Godfrey might wake up. Then it would all start again.

Her terror threatened to rise into panic, her heart pounding, her stomach churning. For hours she’d visually traced the curving pattern on the dark green brocade-clad wall opposite the bed, trying to control her senses.

Her mind churned with confusion and horror. Would she have to face this every night? Could she accustom herself to it?

She had no answers. Nobody had prepared her for this assault.

The weight behind her in the bed told her Godfrey was still there, though she could not hear him breathing. After the last time he’d taken her, she’d clung to the edge of the mattress, terrified of rolling over and into him. She was still clinging. From the moment he’d used his dagger to slice her wedding gown off her body, she’d known nothing but pain and terror.

Every part of her body ached, the place between her legs still throbbing, beyond sore. All night he’d been on her, at her, in her. Pain shot through her when she breathed, but she forced control, trying to keep the rhythm regular as if she was still asleep. For a full five minutes, she concentrated, using the loud tick of the clock as a guide: breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Slowly, waiting for her pounding heart to ease and the tears that threatened to shake her body to abate.

She mustn’t wake him.

The thought of him forced her tension up again, nausea setting in, so she took another breath, as deeply as she dared, and let it out slowly. This was her life. She had better get used to it, that was all. She had learned how to handle other uncomfortable realities, so she could learn to cope with this, too.

But she had not expected the act of making progeny to be so visceral, so painful, so—So, violating. It hurt the first time. It hurt even worse the second, and the third and fourth times she preferred not to think about.

She pushed the memories away. She would weep when she was alone, then dry the tears and get on with what her life had become. She had no choice. She never had.

All her life she had obeyed her parents, done what was expected of her, married the man they chose for her, and what had that done for her?

Nothing.

Then why should she carry on this way? What had obedience and acceptance done for her? It had brought her to this horrific wedding night.

No more. Then and there she vowed it, as sacred as any promise she’d ever made. With that final betrayal from her parents, she was done, finished with obedience and propriety. She’d replace them with honesty and independent thought.

Had her parents known what Godfrey was like? If they had, would they have married her to him? She feared the answer was yes. She was on her own, the only person who cared about her.

What power she had, she would use to save herself. If she did not, she’d be dead in a year. She had one weapon, just one, and she’d use it. Her parents wanted a grandson. In order to do that, she’d have to be alive. She would point that out to her mother, who would then ensure her daughter lived to bear the longed-for grandson.

That was a start. Her heart slowly returned to normal and she could breathe properly again. Decision made, she would make her plans.

The clock struck the half hour, its delicate chimes drawing her out from her thoughts. The light seeping through a crack between the curtains was stronger now.

He did not move. He wasn’t even snoring, as he had last night. Perhaps he was exhausted from his efforts. Had the household heard her screams? Most likely they had, but Godfrey took the sounds she made as encouragement, and only came at her harder. She had bitten her cheek and her tongue after that until she tasted blood, then clamped her teeth together until she feared they would break.

And still he lay quietly, without moving. Juliana dared to shift in an effort to creep slowly over the edge of the bed. If she could get out of it without him noticing, she might be able to make her escape.

Her thighs slid together, slippery but cold. She bit back her cry of pain when her aching body protested a move even as slight as that. Slowly, she eased the covers off her naked body, bracing herself to witness the mess she was in.

Blood stained her thighs, and pooled beneath her. She knew there would be blood, but only a smear, a trace to mark her passage to womanhood. There was more than a smear here, and it smelled rank, the tang hitting the back of her throat. Why so much? Had he ruptured something inside her?

She patted her body, wincing as she encountered sore spots and bruises. Plenty of those, but no gashes, nothing that would cause such a mess. When she dared to stretch a little, no more blood emerged from her body. There was so much that parts of the sheet were crusty with it. If she had lost so much blood, why wasn’t she dead?

The blood was congealing, thick, black dots forming on the surface now she had let in the fresh air.

Something was terribly wrong. Her husband lay so still, he might as well

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