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A Shaft of Sunlight by Barbara Cartland
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A Shaft of Sunlight

by Barbara Cartland

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He touched her cheek with his fingers, running them along the line of her chin then down the side of her soft neck.
It gave Giona a sensation she had never known before and made her breath come quickly between her lips.
"You make me .. feel .. very strange," she whispered.
"What is it like?" the Duke asked.
"Like .. like .. a shaft of. . sunlight."
The Duke smiled.
"My darling, you are so sweet and unspoilt!"
"Are .. you laughing at me .. because I am .. ignorant?"
"Only adoring you because your innocence is what I never thought to find but it also excites me!"
"I .. excite .. you?"
"More.than I dare tell you at this moment."
He felt her draw in her breath and he said:
"I will ask you again -- how soon will you marry me.? "
"Now! This .. second!" Giona cried.
He laughed gently.
"That is what I wanted you to say, and so let us go and talk to Grandmama, for it will cure her rheumatism and make her twenty years younger 1f you are married here from her house."
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Giona had not slept well because she had sensed when the Duke of Alverstode had said goodnight that something had annoyed him. "What has... upset him? What could... I have... done?" she asked herself. Then she went over it in her mind.

The Duke had kissed his grandmother's cheek and walked towards the front door. He had not yet spoken to Giona. He was at the door when she said wistfully: "Goodnight... Your Grace."

He did not look at her, nor turn his head. He merely replied: "Goodnight!" as if he were speaking from the icy reaches of the North Pole. He drove away, and Giona, watching until the carriage was out of sight, felt as if it carried her heart with it.

It was not until several hours later in the darkness of her bedroom that she admitted to herself that she loved the Duke. "I love him! I love him!" she whispered into her pillow. She tossed and turned until the first golden fingers of dawn crept up the sky. It was only then that she fell asleep, with the word "love" on her lips.
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The Viscount Frome is in love, and intends to marry Claribel Stamford, belle of the Social Set, as quickly as possible. She is young, beautiful, charming, and rich; in fact, he considers her the perfect match. The only drawback is that he needs the permission of his uncle, the Duke of Alverstrode before he can propose. The Duke, a more cautious man experienced in the wiles of aspirational young women, suggests a visit to Claribel's home to meet her doting father Sir Jarvis, the well known race-horse owner. That way, the Duke can get to know Claribel and her father and set his mind at rest before welcoming her into his illustrious family. Impressed by Stamford Towers, but eager to escape the heady charm offensive of Claribel and her father, the Duke cannot shake the instinct that something is not right and remains on his guard. Even so, he is shocked to discover a sad young woman, Giona, alone watching the sunset over the magnificent gardens. He is astonished to discover that she is the niece of Sir Jarvis, but lives hidden away like a 'skeleton in the closet'. Horrified by her story of mistreatment, and intrigued by the mystery that surrounds her, the Duke offers Giona his protection and vows to uncover the family secret and restore her fortunes. But Sir Jarvis is just as committed to keeping his family secrets buried forever and will stop at nothing to keep his reputation intact. Two determined men, both used to getting their own way, but this time only one of them can win.… (more)

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