She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age 40, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance, where she was stunned to discover that she has an incredible knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.
Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year,” by the trade magazine, Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.
Her hot, sexy, dramatic stories of passion and illicit love have captivated fans around the world, and she’s celebrated as the Queen of Erotic Romance, which is currently the fastest selling subgenre of women’s fiction. Due to the ferociousness of some of her characters, she’s also known as the International Queen of Villains.
She received degrees in music, languages, and education, from South Dakota State University, and her juris doctorate was obtained at the University of Wyoming. Her colorful and chaotic employment history includes such variety as public school teacher, cook, bartender, lobbyist, and political activist. She also did brief stints in metro-Denver as a deputy district attorney and administrative law judge.
Cheryl lives and writes in Hollywood, California.
When love is the key and dowry the bait, who can predict what a woman might do?
Wicked by Cheryl Holt
Series: Reluctant Brides (# 1)
Released April 2, 2014
Rose Ralston has spent her life at Miss Peabody’s School for Girls—first as a student, then as a teacher. But with Miss Peabody’s passing, the school has been closed, the students sent away, and Rose is facing an uncertain future. As Miss Peabody’s will is read, Rose had been told to expect a small bequest, but she’s stunned to discover that her inheritance is a dowry that’s already been paid to an elderly widower. The man is in quick need of an heir, and Rose can agree to wed or she’ll get nothing and will have no money and nowhere to go. She’s never lived on her own, and without family or friends to assist her, she’s out of options. Reluctantly, she agrees to the marriage and heads off to the man’s Summerfield estate.
James Talbot grew up at Summerfield. But as an orphan, his position was never exactly clear. The owner, Stanley Oswald, constantly tormented James with the secrets of his parentage. Rumors abound that he’s Stanley’s natural-born son, but the truth has been impossible to unravel. Needing to escape Stanley’s manipulations, James has spent the past decade in the army. But Stanley has lured him home, and when James learns of Stanley’s pending marriage, he can’t help but be intrigued. He’s eager to engage in a little mischief, and nothing would give him greater pleasure than to ruin the match before it begins.
Rose is fascinated by handsome, virile James, but bound to wed elderly, decrepit Stanley. As Stanley woos her and James interferes, any wild ending seems possible. For Rose—who only ever wanted a home of her own—she just might end up with more than she ever dreamed.
RELUCTANT BRIDES… When love is the key and dowry the bait, who can predict what a woman might do?
“Your home is lovely.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Thank you for inviting me.”
Rose forced a smile and tried to look happy.
She’d had the past week to conjure up images of what Mr. Oswald would be like, but none of them came close to the reality.
He appeared hale and hearty, but still, he was seventy, and she was twenty-five. She emphatically scolded herself to stop fretting over the obvious, to stop concentrating on the negative, but it was difficult to ignore the facts.
He was thin and wiry, bald as a ball, and while his eyes had probably once been a striking shade of blue, they’d faded to gray. Most disconcerting to Rose, he was shorter than she was, only by an inch or two, but it was odd to have to glance down whenever she spoke to him.
It just seemed…peculiar. And jarring. Scraped raw were any foolish romantic notions she’d ever possessed about a handsome swain sweeping her away. From the moment Mr. Thumberton had explained the match, she’d understood that Mr. Oswald was older. She had to let it go, had to focus on the truth of her circumstances.
He was wealthy and settled, and he was prepared to marry her and provide for her for the rest of her life. There was some satisfaction to be had in knowing she would finally be allowed to mingle in the social echelon that would have been hers had her mother not run off with the wrong man. That one, rash act had permanently altered Rose’s path, and she’d never envisioned that her social position could be regained.
Few women in her situation were ever offered the chance Mr. Oswald was willing to bestow, and she had to remember to be grateful. So far, she hadn’t mustered much appreciation, but once she caught her breath, she was positive she’d be delighted.
They were walking in the park behind the mansion, so it was the perfect opportunity to have some questions answered. She was curious as to how their betrothal had come about.
“How were you acquainted with Miss Peabody?” she asked.
“I’d known her for decades.”
“I didn’t realize that. Did you ever visit the school? Would I have met you there?”
“No. My first wife, Edwina, was friends with Miss Peabody from when they were girls. Edwina was an early patron when Miss Peabody was starting out.”
So…he’d known Miss Peabody forever. His wife had been a childhood friend. How long had Miss Peabody planned Rose’s engagement? How long had the idea been brewing as a possibility?
Rose had assumed it was a last-minute arrangement, made as Miss Peabody’s health was failing, but now, Rose wasn’t so sure. Now, she wondered if the marriage hadn’t been percolating for years.
“Miss Peabody has been dead for several weeks,” he said. “Do you consider yourself to be in mourning for her?”
She was taken aback by his query. It was crudely posed. “I suppose I’ll always mourn her. In many ways, she was a mother to me.”
“But she wasn’t kin.”
He looked impatient and slightly irritated. “I only raise the issue because I’m in a rush to wed. If you’re in mourning, there would have to be a delay.”
At his blithe mention of a hasty wedding, she grew weak in the knees, and she missed her step and stumbled. He grabbed her arm to steady her.
“Are you all right?” he said.
“Yes. I’m just…”
She halted, wishing she could expound on the myriad of panicked emotions swirling through her, but she was certain it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell him she was terrified.
He’d paid for her coach fare, for the inns where she’d stayed along the road, and she’d accepted his proposal. It seemed a tad late to complain.
She peered out at the beautiful park, the rolling hills beyond, the splendid mansion nestled in the trees. It was all too much to absorb.
“You’re just…what?” He sounded impatient again. He was brusque and gruff, and it would definitely require some adjustment on her part to grow accustomed to his mannerisms.
“Everything is happening so fast.”
“I never dawdle. I reach a decision and move ahead.”
“I see that.”
“I’ve never understood why a person would dilly-dally. I’m not getting any younger, and I need to wed as rapidly as possible.”
It was such a cold, pragmatic statement about their pending nuptials, and it hurt her. It made her feel superfluous, as if he could have chosen her or any female, which he absolutely could have done.
Stop it, Rose! You’ve said you’d do it. You agreed. You knew he was in a hurry.
Still, she couldn’t help asking, “Aren’t you worried about the fact that we’re practically strangers?”
“No. Men and women are always strangers when they marry—whether they’ve been acquainted for a day or a decade. You’ll be my fifth wife. There’s no mystery on my end.”
“Your fifth?” she wanly inquired.
She forced another smile, but couldn’t hold it. It was their initial meeting. Couldn’t he have tried to charm her? Couldn’t he have pretended he was glad he’d picked her?
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Be My Bard – April 21st
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Night Owl Reviews – April 23rd
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Stuck in Books – April 25th
Romancing the Book – April 28th
My Life, One Story at a Time – April 29th
Reader’s Entertainment – April 30th
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