SMOKE AND SHADOW
by Catherine Snodgrass
Amber Quill Press www.amberquill.com
Can two people cast aside fifteen years of feuding to reach for the love that has been lurking on the sidelines all those years? That’s what Ben Slade and Ariel Dillon try to discover when a chance event puts them in each other’s arms--and in the path of a murderer.
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Smoke And Shadow is vintage Snodgrass. A powerful romance woven into an equally powerful plot. New readers and fans alike will not be disappointed as they're pulled in and led through danger, greed, excitement, laughter and passion--wrapped around a mystery which will keep you up well past bedtime until the very last word has been savored. Snodgrass has outdone herself...uses a broad brush to create well-rounded and fully developed characters to paint a portrait of true love withstanding many tests. This is a book to tuck into the keeper's bookcase. ~Donna E. Bedrick, The Romance Studio
FIVE ROSES!!! Catherine Snodgrass has done it again. Smoke and Shadow is a magical love story that continues the saga of the Dillon family, which was introduced in Silk Dreams and Satin Lies. This was one of the finest novels I have read in a very long time. The characters of Ariel and Ben are enchanting. The plot is fast paced and contains enough surprises that it remains interesting and fresh throughout the entire book. The underlying theme of trust verse betrayal is well developed and helps this story connect to the reader, I found this story to be a light and wonderful read, one of the best! ~Jen, A Romance Review
FOUR FLAMES - RARE FIND!!! SMOKE AND SHADOW is a wonderful romance about two people who overcome some dangerous events in order to have a life together. This story will keep you turning pages until the very end. ~Hattie Boyd, Word Museum
Ariel Dillon waded ankle-deep through a field of buttercups. The pollen dusted a golden hem around the bottom of her emerald riding habit, giving a lacy appearance to the velvet. The peace she sought was here at the center of this pasture. This quiet niche had been her refuge the last six months. A place where she could escape, if only temporarily, from that certain annoying presence at home…Benjamin Slade.
The image of a bright smile cutting a swath across lightly bronzed features invaded her thoughts. He was handsome—she would readily admit that. But how could anyone like the man, much less admire him?
Mr. Perfect. Mr. Wonderful. Sarcasm dripped with each thought.
Ariel shoved the image aside, knowing it would only return another time when she least expected it.
Why didn't he go home where he belonged? Why did he have to show up here? Why couldn't he keep his nose in his own business and stay away from her?
It seemed he thrived on goading her. He had for as far back as she could remember. His teasing was a constant frustration to her. Sometimes her only recourse was to storm away from his presence. If she had a door to slam upon departure, it made the leaving all the more pleasant. Just being near him made her blood boil, her body quake.
Still, the skirmishes between them did nothing to taint the golden reputation her parents assigned to him. To them Ben was and would always be perfect, no matter how much he teased her.
Ariel hiked her chin up a notch. Ben would be shocked to learn that this time his teasing reaped her a reward of a different sort—love. Here in this very spot she had met the man she intended to marry. Finally, she would know the joy her parents experienced—of being with her life-mate.
It started with Ben's arrival six months before. If it hadn't been for him, she never would have run from the house that day. Never would have come across her younger brother's tutor sitting under the tree.
Since then once a week, she met Albert under the spreading arms of this chinaberry tree. There she sat, enraptured by the sound of his British accent while he read his books of poetry. Often he shared his own muse, a romantic tumble of words that lifted her heart with affection.
She was undeniably in love. What else could it be? Albert must feel the same. She heard the emotion in the rhythm of his poetic verse. And to think she had Ben to thank for that. Ariel would certainly never give him the pleasure of knowing he had done her a favor.
Sucking in a breath of crisp spring air, Ariel wrapped her arms around her midriff. Albert was late, a most unusual occurrence for a man who prided himself on punctuality.
He was unlike any other man she had ever known, and she supposed that had a good deal to do with her attraction to him. He was small in stature, not much bigger than she really—the complete opposite from the muscle-bound adventurers her family seemed to boast. Even Ben patterned his zest for life after the Dillons.
She stopped herself short. Why was the man constantly intruding on her thoughts when she least expected it?
This time the thought of Ben Slade chased away Ariel's good feelings. Jealously replaced them.
It was wrong. Ariel had always known that…but the emotion persisted. She was jealous of Ben. Jealous that he had so effortlessly found and married the beautiful Eleanor Cushing. Jealous that he had a relationship with her parents long before her arrival. Jealous of what Ben and her older brother Justin could do. And while she was able to ignore that feeling for her brother, she had never managed to do so for Ben.
Ariel tried not to begrudge Ben his good fortune in having her father take him off the streets and into his home. No child deserved to live as Ben had in his early years. But why did he have to be so accomplished? As with Justin, Ben excelled at anything he tackled. Whether it be riding a horse or climbing some obscure mountain.
She was grateful her parents never flaunted these successes in her face; that would have hurt beyond measure. But she was also smart enough not to let them see how woefully inadequate their eldest daughter was. They would never see her fail, for she refused to attempt the questionable pursuits others in the family thrived upon. Let young Henrietta put her fifteen-year-old reputation out for inspection. Ariel was beyond those trials.
Her one concession had been in learning to ride a horse and handle a buggy. It was a skill common sense dictated she learn. How else could she get around on her own?
A smile curved her mouth as she recalled her father's patient tutoring. His closeness as he placed the reins in her young hands. Sitting in front of him as a child. Beside him as a fledgling woman in the buggy. God, how she loved her father! She closed her eyes and remembered those strong arms, warm, steady, comforting. Her father…Ben…
Her eyes flashed open. Again, Ben! He ruined things now just as he always did. Just as he ruined her buggy lessons. Everything spoiled by Ben, even her memories.
She was delighted when he married Eleanor and moved away. His very presence unnerved her. How could she possibly concentrate on anything with him around? Ben was perfect, and the last thing she needed was to fail before his eyes.
That was seven years before. She hadn't seen Ben again until six months ago, nor did she care to. His marriage occurred without her presence but with a heartfelt blessing, since its inception took him to San Francisco—far away from the family's Maryland farm. No longer did she have to worry about that…that…on the edge feeling he gave her.
Now he was back…alone while beautiful Eleanor toured Europe. A boy grown to a man of whom the elder Dillons could be proud. A surrogate big brother to the Dillon offspring. A golden Adonis Henri could worship. And the chigger which still burrowed under Ariel's skin. Every time he was near her heat flushed her within and without. Her mind clouded.
A soft nicker drew Ariel back to her mare's side. She dusted her hand over the glossy chestnut coat then rested her head against the horse's neck. A breeze swirled about them twining hair and mane together into one gold-brown mass.
Ariel brushed a wayward strand from her eyes and stood on tiptoe to survey the surrounding landscape. The gently sloped hill gave her a good view of the ribbon of road that wove through green pastureland. Trees dotted the area in random patches of shadow. Farther on was the sprawling Dillon farm.
Split rail fencing defined the boundaries, which dipped far beyond Ariel's view. The columned front of the massive two-story house smiled a greeting to visitors who arrived on the cobblestone drive. The barn, stables, and paddock were a short distance from the house.
If she squinted hard enough, Ariel could see movement. Her father and brother would be working the horses while her grandfather looked on with pride. Often her mother would lend a hand, and, of course, Henri couldn't keep out of the way. It was all Ariel could do to ride the mare she had. She was too afraid of being kicked to try working with the animals.
She sighed. How was it possible to feel isolated and yet feel a part of it all at the same moment? Her mother had said it was all part of growing up, and she supposed that had something to do with her recent unrest. But these feelings had been with her for as long as she could recall. She would have given anything to be as self-assured as her three siblings. Even ten-year-old Daniel had more confidence than she. She was so unlike the others.
Maybe I'm adopted.
But Ariel knew that was false. She had her mother's features. It was said they were mirror images. Ariel could not see that close a resemblance. Her mother wore that Dillon confidence as if she were born with it, and her beauty surpassed any other female Ariel had ever seen. To be compared to her in such a way was ludicrous, a kindness people used to placate awkward, unattractive children. Ariel easily saw through the deception, yet kept her tongue to herself when the inevitable comparisons were made.
"There you are. I thought I'd find you still here."
Ariel spun around at the sound of Albert's voice. She had been so absorbed with thoughts of her family and her nemesis that she had not heard his arrival.
His pale cheeks were flushed from the effort of running up the incline. Each pant for breath reddened them further. Ariel felt a thrill of pleasure that he had been that anxious to see her. His blue eyes, so light they were almost no color at all, crinkled with his smile, deepening the lines already there.
"Come. I have someone I want you to meet."
Without touching her, he hurried over the small knoll behind the tree. He had never touched her. Theirs was a love that transcended the physical. A mutual understanding that did not require them to speak it aloud.
His buggy came into view as she topped the rise. A small woman was seated inside. Dressed in tea-brown attire from head to toe, Ariel likened her to a sparrow.
Albert ran the last few feet and clasped the woman's gloved fingers. "Miss Ariel Dillon, permit me to introduce Miss Anabel Tufts."
A sister? Cousin? New servant? No, her parents would not have sent a tutor to pick up new help. This had to be a relation of some kind.
Ariel gave her a polite smile. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."
"No more so than I yours," she replied with a lilting British accent. "Albert and I owe so much to your parents. If it weren't for them hiring him on as a tutor, it might have been years before I could have come to America. Instead, here I am, and after only six months."
"And we can be married without delay." He lifted her fingertips to his lips and kissed them.
The wind left Ariel's lungs. She tried to pull in a breath. Air refused to pass her stricken throat.
Albert's eyes were full of love for Anabel. He gave a soft laugh. "Ariel has been most patient with me these last months, my love. She personally approved every one of those hopelessly long, lovesick poems I sent to you."
Anabel cupped his cheek. Love transformed the sparrow into a swan. "I adored them all. Thank you, Ariel."
She clutched her stomach and took a step back. All those sweet words were to another woman?
"In any event," Albert looked her way, "your parents asked to meet Anabel straight away. We're to stay to dinner. Most unusual, I know, but your parents are not known for their conventional manner. Are you all right? You look positively ill."
Another woman? How could she have made such a terrible mistake? No wonder he had never professed his love to her. It belonged to another woman.
"I'm…fine…really. I must be going." Ariel spun around and sprinted up the hill.
"We shall see you at dinner," he called out.
She kept on. Tears blinded her way. They could not see her cry. That would involve too many humiliating questions. She swung into the saddle and heeled her mare to action. The horse jumped forward. Ariel let it have its head.
The horse knew the way. Ariel was grateful. She couldn't see the road. Each time she blinked her eyes clear, a new flood of tears rushed in. Frustrated, she dug her heels deeper into the horse's sides.
The mare relished the freedom its normally docile rider gave. Its mane and tail fanned out in parallel formation to Ariel's unbound tresses. Tears made horizontal streams that pushed deep into Ariel's hairline. Her home was a white blur growing closer with each pounding stride of the horse's hooves. The sanctuary of her room lay ahead.
She snapped the reins, urging her mount onward. The horse dashed for the rail fence that bordered the corral.
Too late Ariel realized its intent. She drew back on the reins. The horse shook free and hurled itself skyward. Ariel soared from the saddle. She hit the ground with an oof and a small cloud of dust.
Footsteps beat a path her way. Embarrassment paralyzed her. A man's shadow blocked the sun. Seconds later three Dillon heads hovered above her in a generational color arc that muted from Justin's dark brown to her grandfather's silver with her father the median between the two.
Her father cupped her cheek. "Are you all right?"
Ariel drew a breath to fill her lungs. "I think so."
Justin squatted down beside her. "We should have Uncle Stewart look you over just to be sure."
She pushed herself to her elbows. "No, I'm fine."
"Just to be sure. You took quite a fall." Ever the protective older brother, he slid his arms behind her knees and shoulders.
Ariel shoved him back. "I said I'm fine! Now leave me be!"
"You are not fine. You've been crying." Worry made her father's voice harsh.
The accusation brought on a new flood of tears. This time it was his arms that gathered her up. His years of parenting kept her from protesting. She would be seen by a doctor—Jonathan Dillon decreed it.
His long-legged strides bore her effortlessly to the house while her grandfather hurried ahead to open the door. Justin took her mare to fetch their uncle.
Her father had barely placed her beneath the lavender canopy of her poster bed when her mother swooped in the see what had happened. A brief explanation drew her eyebrows together in a worried frown.
"Go on you two." She shooed the men toward the door. "I'll help her undress. Send Stewart up when he gets here."
They left without argument. No one dared when Rebecca Dillon issued orders. She could be as equally formidable as her husband.
God, but they were a magnificent couple! Each was devoted to the other and their children. Ariel loved the way their eyes shone with love for one another. She craved that in her life and had lavished Albert with every meaningful glance she could muster. Why hadn't she noticed those looks were never returned? She was so hungry for that special love, she sought it where it did not exist. What a fool she had been.
Her mother reached for the buttons on the back of her habit. Ariel scooted out of reach. "I'm fine." Why couldn't they just leave her alone in her misery?
"I'm sure you are, but you know your father will not rest until Stewart checks you over. It's merely a precaution, but a courtesy your father deserves."
Ariel expelled a sigh of relief as her mother unhooked the corset.
She clucked her tongue and tossed the garment to the corner of the room. "I don't know how you can breathe with the blasted thing on. Why go through the torture? You certainly don't need it."
She held up her palms. "I know. I know. It's the fashion." Fluffing up the pillows, she plopped them against the headboard. "Rest. I'll be back in just a minute."
Ariel waited for her mother to shut the door. With a flick of her wrist, she snapped back her bedcovers and slipped between the cool sheets. Other than a large bruise growing on her hip, she fared well from her fall. Her pride was another matter. Two blows in one day were more than she could bear.
Oh, to bury herself beneath the covers until the sting of humiliation lessened. What would it take? An eternity seemed an appropriate length of time. Unfortunately, she would be lucky if she got one full day to recover. And her injuries did not dictate she get that much time.
Feigning greater hurt would be of no use. Her uncle would see through the charade in less time than it took her to concoct it. With his brood of children, there wasn't a trick the doctor hadn't seen. He had no patience for lay-abouts. If he so much as suspected she was trying to fool him, she would be back on her feet so fast it would boggle the mind, and forced to endure a dinner with Albert and…
She jerked the sheet to her chin and flopped into her pillows. Her gaze wandered around the room of lavender and cream, a room filled with knickknacks from travel around the world. Paintings from Italy, vases from China, Grecian urns, French perfume bottles. Material objects, nothing more.
A gentle breeze stirred the lacy curtains. Henri's squeal of delight filtered to her. Ariel's curiosity pulled her to the window.
In the drive below, Ben lifted Henri from her horse. The young girl's raven hair clashed with her blond hero's as she hugged him.
He certainly has a way with females.
Ariel wondered how his wife felt about that. She chided herself. Females were not the only gender that succumbed to Ben's charm; men were equally roped in.
The door opened behind her. Ariel let the curtain fall into place.
"You mustn't be hurt too badly if you can stand," her uncle said.
With a sigh Ariel crawled back into bed. "I told them I wasn't, but you know Mother and Father."
A smile lightened dark eyes hidden behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He was grayer than her father, yet no less handsome.
"Yes, I know, but shall we humor them? Where are you hurt?"
Ariel cupped her right buttock.
Roll over and let's have a look."
She did as he asked and nuzzled her cheek into her pillow as he peeked at her backside.
"Ugly bruise. It's going to hurt for a while. You're lucky you didn't break a bone. What made you do it?"
"Justin said you urged the horse on. That you meant for this to happen. Is that true?"
It was a question she expected. The answer was what surprised her. A flood of emotion burst forward. Pain, embarrassment, the loss of a love that never existed. And here was her Uncle Stewart, always a ready confidante despite his own flock of children.
Children. That was an agony she hadn't considered until now. When would she ever find that special someone and hold his child to her breast?
He pulled her pantalettes back into place and sat back. "Do you intend to answer me?"
Ariel clutched the pillow to her chest and rolled over to face him. Tears poured down her cheeks while uncontrolled sobs choked her words.
"What is it, sweet one?" He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
She hiccoughed. "A…child…"
Her uncle pulled back. A deep sigh brought his hand down to her knee.
"And you sought to lose it?"
Ariel blinked. What? He misunderstood. Sobs overtook her. Vainly she fought for control.
"There is still a possibility you will. Do you feel any cramping?"
"No…," she somehow managed. Why couldn't she make him listen?
He rushed on again. "Did you tell the father of the child?"
Ariel shook her head. "No…Uncle…you don't… Albert." Words came out an incoherent tumble. She buried her face into the pillow's softness to hide her frustration as more and more tears flooded her eyes.
Her uncle patted her knee, and his weight eased from the bed.
"I'll speak to your parents. I'm sure they'll be up later to see you. Rest for now…just in case."
Ariel heard the door close and looked up. Good heavens, what had just happened? She had to stop this before it went any further.
Clutching the bedspread around her, she dashed to the door. A thought brought her to a halt before she could reach it.
It was like a long dormant seed that burst through the soil to branch forth in intricate detail. Its rapid growth both shocked and delighted her. Should she dare? She had never lied to anyone. It was the one thing she prided herself on.
It was for the best, she argued. Albert would be much happier married into the Dillon family than to spend his life struggling as a tutor.
She wandered back to her bed and nestled her cheek deep into the feather pillow. It was a horrible thing to consider, much less do. The man didn't love her. But hadn't she heard her grandmother once say that a man didn't know what he wanted until a woman told him.
Of course Albert would have to bear the initial brunt of her parents' outrage. Denials would be futile on his part. Ariel's assertions wouldn't be questioned. Once they were wed, her little fib could easily be made reality. She and Albert would be the happiest couple in the world…she was sure of it.
Guilt picked at the corners of her dreams. What of Anabel? What of her broken heart?
She buried her head beneath the pillow. "I don't care." But in her heart she did. She had to straighten this out now!
Ariel flopped over and came face to face with Ben's azure eyes. She jerked the sheet to her chin and wiggled upright. He was the last thing she needed right now.
"What are you doing here? Get out."
Ben stretched his long body upon the cream brocade slipper chair beside her bed. "Always the perfect hostess. I came to offer my condolences or congratulations…which ever phrase applies. I passed Stewart on the stairs. Having a child, are we?"
Ariel's mouth tightened. So what if she was having a child? She was just as capable of love as he. Didn't she have as much right to become a couple as he? Not that she had…but the right was hers and she resented his intimation that it was not.
"I thought you had a book to write."
"Finished it yesterday. Put it in the post today. Thank you for your concern, though. I wasn't aware you were an admirer of my work."
"Don't bother to preen your feathers. I'm not. I don't care how successful an author you are. I will never be so desperate for entertainment that I read something you've written."
Her insult did nothing to dampen his spirit. "Alas, my loss. I'm sure what little celebrity I have will surely suffer, especially when news of your feat reaches the papers."
Ariel narrowed her gaze. "To what are you referring?"
"To this miraculous conception of yours…or should I say immaculate conception?"
Ben jerked forward so fast Ariel jumped. Her heart banged against her ribs. He braced his knuckles on the edge of her feather mattress and hovered before her so that she was forced back to her elbows in order to look at him.
"No, how dare you." His voice was a calm contrast to the menacing features above her.
Ariel refused to crumble. She let her expression mirror his, despite the tremor in her heart.
"Don't think you can bully untruths from me."
"I know the truth better than you think." The left side of his mouth curved into that smirk she hated. "Did you really think I was going to let you wander off alone to rendezvous with a man like Albert Gibson?"
"There's nothing wrong with Albert Gibson."
"Nothing except the fact that he was promised to another woman. I wasn't about to let him take unfair advantage of you. No matter how willing a participant you might have been. As it stands, my protection was never necessary."
Ariel pushed herself from under his cold perusal to the arched headboard behind her. She nestled her arms under her breasts. "And I suppose you were with us each and every time."
"Impossible. You were not there today."
"Because I knew he had gone to meet his fiancée."
Her tiny thrill of victory faded, yet she refused to end the battle. Finger combing her hair back, she met his blazing eyes with a fire of her own.
"It will be your word against mine. I would hate to put my parents in the position of choosing who to believe."
Ben laughed and pushed away from the bed. "A war of loyalties with Jonathan and Rebecca Dillon at the center. An interesting concept. Especially when your untruth is easily uncovered."
With a nonchalance she didn't feel, Ariel smoothed the bedcovers around her. "You're the fool. You see, Ben, you weren't as careful as you thought. That tree was not our only rendezvous."
Ben's gaze drifted over her face, searching for some hint that she was lying. Ariel held steady. She had him wondering…good. He needed to be knocked down a notch or two from his pedestal.
"I guess time will tell then, won't it?"
She swallowed the dryness in her throat. "I suppose it will."
After another long look, Ben left, and Ariel felt free to breathe, no matter how shaky those breaths were. Silently, she damned his interference.
Ben would see. He wasn't the only one who could make a good marriage. She and Albert would be married, and they would be gloriously happy.
So why did she feel so miserable?
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