Readers of The Deverells series first met Mary as the heroine's loyal and beloved friend in CHASING RAVEN, and they will get to know her much better in RANSOM REDEEMED.
The Ashfords were once a family of wealth and circumstance, but all that changed after a series of misfortunes— some brought about by fate and others by the stubborn, narrow-minded pride of her male relatives. Men, of course, rule the roost in Victorian England. Even with a woman on the throne, it remains very much a man's world. Most decisions are left up to the men, whether those decisions are good or bad and the women have no voice. As a consequence Mary has lost all her relatives to war, prejudice, scandal and a rigid inability to move with the times. Now she has only her sister left, and Mary is determined not to let standards fall. They may be poor now, reduced to living and working in a book shop, but that is no excuse to give in and give up. Her main interest is in seeing her younger sister well married and content, to put the sadness behind them and never think of it again.
"There was never anything to be achieved by dwelling on the past, or on what one didn't have. It was not a practical use of a person's energies, as she would remind her sister. One must look ahead, plow onward."
But while Mary always looks where she's going, Ransom Deverell is less attentive. One morning, when hasty escape from an angry lover causes collision with a lamp post, it changes his course and puts him on a path he's never before encountered. Seeking shelter from his irate pursuer, he hides in Mary's dusty, cluttered book shop.
And is eventually forced to buy books. Oh, the horror of it.
"I thought, perhaps, you might like to buy a book. Or two. While you're here."
"How can I buy a book this morning? I'm quite without funds. As you observe, I do not even have a shirt on my back, Miss...what is it again?"
"Ashford," she repeated steadily. "And we can send you the bill, if you find yourself currently insolvent." Mary did not believe for a minute that he was one of the poverty-stricken. Even half dressed he exuded an unmistakable air of privilege, and his clothes— the pieces in existence— were well made of very fine material, perfectly fitted. A fact she had tried her hardest not to notice. "It is the least you could do, sir, considering I saved your life this morning."
"Saved my life?"
"Save me. Those were your words, sir. Since I'm not in a position to save your soul, I assume you referred to your life. Or, at the very least, some necessary parts of your anatomy."
He exhaled a blustery sigh and folded his arms. Like a tall, slowly falling tree, he tipped to one side, resting a shoulder against the door. "But I don't need any books."
To Mary, that was like saying one did not need air. "Everybody needs books," she exclaimed.
"Had my fill of 'em in the schoolroom and at university." He shuddered and brushed dust from his sleeves. "Ugh. Quite put me off opening another dull tome as long as I live."
"Then you're missing out and I pity you. But I suppose not every man wishes to enlarge his mind to fit the size of his head."
The stranger's eyes sparked, spidery cracks in the ice of their practiced indifference suddenly letting the light through. "Just because you've got a ton of the blasted things you're trying to be rid of—"
"And most men, in my experience, do not keep their promises, so I shouldn't be surprised that you now intend to renege on yours."
"Well, I don't make promises, so if you heard one from me it was a mistake."
"Mine or yours?"
Still leaning against the door, he glowered at her for a long moment.
"Fate can lead a fool to a bookshop," she added with a sigh, hands clasped before her, "but it cannot make him read."
Eventually a low groan rumbled out of his bare chest. "Very well. I'll take some of these dratted books off your hands." But despite this weary tone, a cunning, wicked amusement had come into his eyes and stayed there, slowly thawing the ice. "I'll say this for you, you're determined. Don't give up easily, do you?"
"It's a vexing quality that comes to women in advanced age."
Although a long-time friend and confidant of Raven Deverell, Mary has never been introduced to any men in that notorious family. Having now met Raven's elder brother she begins to understand why her friend kept them apart.
That naive, sheltered youth seemed so long ago now. Another era, a sunshine-glazed past that belonged to somebody else.
And as for Ransom Deverell, he is less assured in his ability to read character, and does not know what to make of her at first.
Something had drawn him to her, and it wasn't great beauty or charm or any seductive quality. She did not gaze up at him with shy admiration or coy invitation. Her expression, in fact, was akin to that of a woman who had just turned in the street to see a large, muddy, wolf-hound galloping playfully toward her with its eager, slobbering tongue hanging out. She did not know whether to flee or brace herself.
Of all the ways women had ever looked at him, that one was hitherto unknown.
But, after years of being kept carefully apart by his sister, these two opposites suddenly find themselves colliding more often. And neither can figure out whether it's by chance, or due to their own fascination with something different. Is Mary Ashford really only interested in getting Ransom Deverell to read a novel? Is Ransom really what he claims to be— a man without a conscience or a heart, an irredeemable sinner?
Are they merely a challenge to each other?
At twenty six Mary feels as if she has seen and done everything— well, almost everything. She's not even perturbed when her sister calls her an old maid. There is something safe and comforting about being an unimportant player on the edge of somebody else's stage. Mary is content to be the quiet observer, rather than the character who has to make all the grand speeches. There are advantages to not being noticed.
But there is something about Ransom Deverell and the way he notices her, that even a "moderately sensible woman" can't resist.
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RANSOM REDEEMED (The Deverells Book Four) - Coming August 3rd, 2016