Courting Thomasyna

For actress Thomasyna Tollefson, this past weekend has been a horridly rude awakening. Her latest romantic interest has left her for another woman. His cousin’s fiancee as a matter of fact! Left with a fair share of her money and a good deal of her dignity too . . .

And now here’s that cousin, Dr. Stephan Deverill, DVM, come with the idiotic idea that she ought to help him carry out a plan of revenge against Charley. For Aveleen’s not the only woman Charley’s stolen from him – there were five or six others before her.

It’s nothing to Thomi. Totally his own problem!

 Thus, she swiftly backs away from that scheme – right over the edge of the cliffs behind her Rhode Island home.

 Now Stephan holds an ace in his pocket. For now Thomasyna owes him her life . . .

 

 

 

Chapter One

Divulging His Plan

 

“OH, STEPHAN GREGGORY DEVERILL—you cannot be serious!” Karla Storm Deverill Van Kirk brought the lawn swing abruptly to a halt with a white sneakered foot and fixed her cousin with a gaze of disbelief and reproof. “Stephan, that’s the most callous thing I’ve ever heard you say!”

Kourtnay Deverill reclined in a chaise lounge to her sister’s right, her tiny niece sleeping cuddled against her side. She, too, fixed wide eyes upon Stephan. But, while astonished at his pronouncement, she wasn’t quite as disapproving of his scheme. “Whoa, Stephan . . . that is callous—ly . . . brilliant!”

“Thank you for thinking so, Kourtnay. I’ve thought it over carefully, and I don’t see how it can fail.”

Replied Stormi dryly, “I can see how it could!”

Leaning against the giant maple under the shade of which the girls had been lazing, he told them, “I’ve just come from a chat with my illustrious father. Not a joyous occasion, as you might imagine! Since his latest matchmaking scheme has been undone once again, thanks to the efforts of our jealous cousin Charley, my esteemed parent is, right now, making desperate phone calls in an effort to rectify this setback.” He let that sink in for a moment. “If I have to meet anyone else of his choosing  . . . be expected to marry some beautiful, but brainless, female he believes will suit me, I will have to jump off the highest point of the Newport Bridge!” With an expressive gesture, he ended, “I’ve had enough. I am moving on to Plan B.”

Returned Storm, “Well, I’m happy to hear you’ve had enough of it! Been dancing to Uncle Greggory’s tunes far too long! Even so, I can’t approve of this Plan B of yours, Stephan! Go with Plan C. Find someone who hasn’t been mixed up with this whacked out family at all—in any shape, way, or form! You’ll fare better.”

He shook his head. “Plan B, there is no Plan C. Thomasyna Tollefson, or Tami, as Charley called her, is our salvation, can’t you see that? If she’s even half as upset as I imagine she must be, she’ll never want to have a thing to do with him again. Just as I don’t want a thing to do with my father’s wishes ever again!”

“To do with this, anyway,” responded Storm. “You’re still working for him!”

He let that pass with just a look, went on, “Aveleen stopped by the office to hand in her notice, deplore my scheme of a family of at least six children, and flung this at my head.” He withdrew a large diamond solitaire ring from his pocket for their brief perusal and thrust it back. “The others kept theirs. Not that I care about that; not having bought any of the rings myself!”

“Six kids!” echoed Kourtnay. “Wow, he laid it on thick, didn’t he? One would have done the trick! I’m amazed she has a dog even!”

“Yes,” said Storm with some amusement, “how could anyone think she’d prefer the snotty noses of a nursery full of infants over the cold, moist nose of her furry baby?” She cast a wry, but affectionate glance at her three-year-old daughter, who’d wiped that little nose on her shoulder many a time since her birth. Then, looking back at Stephan, she said, “Bet your father will expect you to try your luck next with Aveleen’s sister, Holly Noelle.”

“Those Hallwells are more snobbish than even our family . . . if that’s possible! It’s why we’ve called them the Hellwells since forever!” declared Kourtnay roundly. “Go with your Plan B! Tami, I’d love to meet!”

“Kourtnay! Don’t encourage him for this!”

“Hey, we’d have another reason to visit DreamWynd if he was engaged to her!”

“We don’t need another reason. You sold Rogue and Fairwind to her father before we left. That’s the only reason I need to visit their stables. Find a Plan C, Stephan!”

He shook his head. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m confident that I can charm Tami out of her tears by the end of the month, if not the week. Because I am much nicer than Charley. Definitely far more so than Dean van Kirk! Voila!—my wedding goes on as planned! All’s safe!” He fixed Stormi with a meaningful look. “Every­body’s happy!”

“Oh, not everybody, Stephan!” Storm tossed back. “We’re all well aware of your father’s opinions about actresses—thanks there to his ex-wife! Even if Tami hasn’t a temperament like Delaney Gaylord’s, he won’t see it. Delaney’s betrayal ruined it for him. Leaving him for some director who’d promised her the moon; dragging him through a messy divorce. Telling her “story” to all those stupid gossip tabloids which might have really ruined him had not Grumpa Deverill stepped in. He’ll shove poor Tami into Delaney’s mold, sure as I’m sitting here telling you so!”

“Yeah! Yeah, and your mother’s forever trying to prove herself to him,” Kourtnay pointed out. “How unfair is that? She’s never had a dream to perform. Maybe see a play or a show; but that’s it.”

“So,” concluded Storm, “he’ll never stand for you wasting your life and our inheritance on an actress—Tami, or any other!”

“If it gets you the means of settling with Dean, I won’t count it a waste. You promised him the moon when you petitioned for divorce. Yes, I know you were desperate. I haven’t forgotten the circumstances. But, once again, Charley’s robbed me of the chance to help you get rid of him! And there’s not a lot of time left . . . have I mentioned the timeframe we’re dealing with?”

Which, of course, he had no need to, as they were well aware of it from the time the contents of Papa Ascott’s will had been disclosed to them all.

She didn’t care. “Papa wasn’t fair to any of us, least of all you! Okay, and Uncle Charles. So, of course, Charley is angry. He and Ryon were never acknowledged as his grandsons!”

“Yes, all right,” Stephan conceded impatiently, “he has a right to feel angry about that! It doesn’t help matters, nevertheless! I could right that for them, though, if he’d only stop to consider that! Which I may do out of my respect and deep affection for Uncle Charles.”

Stormi conceded him that plan. “Yes, do. But, as his son hasn’t considered you’d be so generous, just as soon as the world hears of your hooking up with Thomasyna Tollefson, his recent stepping stone to his schemes, he’ll fly back to be sure you’re still single right up to, and after, your birthday!”

Stephan shook his head, said gently, but no less firmly, “By the time he realizes dumping her to steal Aveleen was the biggest mistake he’s ever made—his former darling will be my wife!”

“I swear, Stephan—”

“Come on, this could be a good thing,” Kourtnay persisted.

“Yeah, for your other reason for visiting DreamWynd! What is your first reason, if I may ask?”

“No, listen! Seriously, she could turn out to be someone he could actually cuddle close! Aveleen never wrapped her arms around anything but her briefcase and that snooty Pekinese of hers! Now, if Tami would be impressed by his handsome face, his—” she flung out an expressive gesture, “—athletic bod, and those coppery curls! That smile that always makes me do whatever he wants, even if I don’t want . . .!”

“Sure, and let’s not forget his voice,” added Storm, but with less enthusiasm. “Hypnotizes anyone listening to him—doesn’t matter what he’s saying!”

Amused, Stephan responded, “As if you hadn’t a clue your own voice has similar effect! But all right—it’s fortunate for my plan’s success that I possess those worthy assets. And I mean to use all of them shamelessly. Open my wallet wide, too! If none of that makes her see I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to her, we are doomed! If you’ll excuse me now, I’ll be off on my mission!”

“Stephan!”

He halted and looked down at her, a hint of a challenge in his voice. “You planning on reconciling with Dean any time soon?”

“Don’t be dumb! Papa’s purpose with those conditions was to try forcing me into that! As if money means more to me! Let it all pass to his wolves, his horses, and the rest of his zoo, Stephan! Marry when you’re ready to be, not by command!”

“Oh, I think your parents, and mine, would cut your tongue out for that! So would Dyana since she’s got a share in this. My darling sister never fails to complain of your selfishness and unreasonableness in putting your interests before all others. You were Papa’s favorite, after all. Why did you defy him? Dean couldn’t have been that bad; he’s always the gentleman when he comes to Deverill Hall. And much, much more to the same tune! And yes, he’s made appearances at Deverill. I’m sure I’ve told you so.”

“I’m sure you have. And I’m sorry for her loss. But, like you, I’ve had enough of living under miserable conditions. Not sacrificing myself just so she can live more expensively than she already does!

“Besides, despite Papa’s banishing me from SeaCrest when I told him I would never reconcile with Dean, I can’t forget Papa’d allowed us every chance to do what we wanted with our lives! He was there for us when they weren’t. Our happiness was his and Mama Thea’s. I won’t forget that! So, I need nothing more from him!” She eyed Stephan pointedly. “You don’t either!”

“I’m not doing this for me.” And, reaching out, he ever so lightly touched her back and shoulder. She flinched but met his gaze unwaveringly. He said, “You show up here in Littleton, with raw welts on your back from your latest run in with Dean, inform me Lawron’s been killed in a car accident just a week before you were to marry him, then say that Dean may have had a hand in that, and you expect me to turn my back on the only means I have of rescuing you?”

“Short of murder . . .” murmured Kourtnay suggestively.

“True,” said Stephan with a nod. Then, to Storm, “Look, no one witnessed the accident, you said. So it may never get proven Dean, or some accomplice of his, actually ran Lawron off the road. Or sabotaged his truck . . .”

“Probably won’t,” said Kourtnay. “Was a dark rainy night, and it occurred on one of those winding roads with no guardrails to save him from going over the drop off. Ruth and I took a drive out there—Storm wouldn’t go. They hadn’t yet gotten his truck up out of that chasm. Mangled mess . . . They had to cut him out . . .”

She paused a moment to regain her composure. “The police are calling it an unfortunate accident. But, Stephan, the things he said to her while he beat the crap out of her—he did it! So obsessively jealous he is! He killed Lawron just as casually as you just squished that mosquito.” As he flicked that dead insect off his arm.

“Yes,” agreed Storm. “He’ll take the money—and, eventually . . . me!” Her stomach sickened as she said it, but still she firmly ordered, “Don’t sacrifice your happiness for a lost cause!”

“You’re not a lost cause, Storm! He is!” He studied her face a second. “Pretty cool about that possibility, though, aren’t you?”

She shrugged. A slight one, for any movement caused her considerable pain. “I’ll spare you my panicked hysterics!” She gave a wry smile, made reference to her six foot two stature. “I’m much too big for that! Oughta be big enough to look after myself, thinks the world. And I can, if I’m not caught off guard. Look, all I have to say is, let it all go!”

“I’m not likely to do that, Storm. I am much too fond of you!”

“Stephan, how the hell can you think even for a second of wrapping yourself in a meaningless marriage that has to last ten years—ten years before we see the bulk of it? You should know what a horrendously miserable prison sentence that could turn out to be! You helped me escape my horrendous three and a half years!”

“Miracle she survived it,” uttered Kourtnay, who’d witnessed several brutalities against her sister, besides this last one. She shifted her position in the glider, trying to ease the ache in her left hip. “A miracle he didn’t kill us the night we helped her leave him! When he slugged you, Stephan, and you fell and hit your head so hard against the stair post . . .” she paused, shuddering. “. . . thought sure he’d murdered you!” Deliberately leaving that memory, she tossed a saucy grin at Stormi. “I’ll say it again . . . pretty clever—skipping out on him while he showered!”

Stormi accorded it a slight smile, but a deep concern and a certain regret clouded her eyes. “Oh, but you, he nearly did kill! When I saw those pictures of his wrecked Caddy . . . and the car he’d pulled out in front of wedged into the passenger side doors . . . I was sure you wouldn’t make it!  When Stephan ordered me not to come out of hiding . . . that nearly killed me! And Dean—Dean got off with a few bruises.”

Stephan answered, “Couldn’t let you compromise your own safety. Had you gone to Kourt, he would have confronted you then and there and forced you to go back with him. With Kourtnay lying there, looking so bad, you might’ve felt guilty enough to agree! Couldn’t let you do that. Everything we’d been through that night would’ve been for nothing. Kourtnay’s alive, if lamed from the accident! It could’ve been much worse. And if I do this, you’ll both stay that way!”

“Oh, Lord, open his ears!” uttered Stormi exasperated. “There is no guarantee of that! Even with my promise of a generous settlement, he’s never accepted the divorce as final! Doesn’t matter where I go, he eventually finds me! He’s—” she stopped, her gaze coming to rest again on her little daughter stirring slight­ly in the circle of Kourtnay’s arm. “He’s frightened Kailey so badly, she hasn’t spoken in months . . .”

“Not likely to start after this last time,” Kourtnay uttered with feeling. She might have said more, but Stormi’s look prevented her.

After a moment of trying to assess that look, Stephan said, “See, that’s what I’m talking about! You and Kailey deserve a life, Storm. Kourtnay ought to get one of her own!”

Before Storm had a chance to respond, Kourtnay’s hotly retorted,  “Excuse me? I’ve had a life, don’t you worry about that!”

“You plan to live forever in her shadow? Don’t recall you ever dating anyone ever. You must be the female version of me, Kourtnay!”

She laughed, saying “Oh, I will be at my prince’s side quicker than you’ll have your princess at yours!” She stared up with arrogant confidence. “What if tomorrow I meet the man I can’t possibly live without, and we were married? ­Would that make your happy?”

He laughed, shaking his head at her playful exaggeration. “Sure, if it happened like that, and you were ecstatically happy! In what kingdom will you meet this Prince?”

“In his.”

He laughed and shook his head again, then glanced over at Storm, favoring her with a mock severity. “In the meantime, Karla Storm, quit running—it hasn’t, as we’ve seen, helped your situation in the slightest! Sell that bus you’ve been living in all this while, and make a life—a real life—for yourself . . . and for Kailey!”

“A real life isn’t possible. But hey, I’ll consider it if you resume your practice as Dr. Stephan G. Deverill, DVM., use that trust Papa set up for you for that purpose, and get a place of your own!” retorted Karla Storm, not much moved. “Why do you waste your time at your father’s factories? Forget the sailboats and all that! That should have been a condition in that idiotic will! Papa had faith in you when he sent you to Cornell. You have a real gift with animals!”

“That’s why he could put up with Aveleen and the other cats Uncle Greggory tossed at him . . .”  murmured Kourtnay, stroking Kailey’s reddish locks. “You were the beauty and she was the beast!”

Stormi laughed, then demanded, “What happens if Miss Tami manages to resist all your charms? What then?”

He answered, “I told you, we’re doomed. But, I’m thinking she’s feeling quite like you felt when you walked in on Dean and Valerie Bryant romping in your bedroom. How you felt when you learned that he’d been taking her on all his business trips while you were away at school learning to manage your equine business.”

“All right! Let me put it another way: Forget your charms and wealth. Why do you imagine she’ll trust you—you being related to Charley! I think that’s going to be the biggest issue. Obviously she was charmed by Charley. Trust has been shattered, my beloved cousin! That’s what you’ll have to fix first! And that could take more than a couple of months. Should she ever have the occasion to ask me what I think—”

“Oh, don’t you sabotage this one!” he warned, laying two fingers against her lips. “The wolves, the horses and the rest of ‘em will not reap our fortunes—and you will pay Dean his settlement as promised! So, yes, it will happen sooner than August!”

His fingers slid under her chin, pushed it up so that her smoke grey eyes met his sapphire blue ones. “She’ll be better off sacrificed in marriage to me than you were to a devil like Dean van Kirk!  No more arguments!”

His look and tone changed, and he told her, “Calling your bluff, as well, I’m afraid! As you say, I will need a place of my own since I can’t bring her to live at Deverill Hall! She wasn’t even permitted to step out of the car when Charley brought her here to introduce her to us just a while ago. We were gathered in the Blue Room at the time, but I understand it wasn’t pretty!”

Storm pushed his hand away. “All he cares about is the woman’s social standing and wealth! Every one he’s chosen for you was a tall, blond, cold hearted, rich bitch! Exactly like Delaney! He may hate her profession more than he does the woman herself. Otherwise he’d be choosing someone more like Auntie Irina!”

“Maevis was the exception,” Kourtnay reminded her. “Her heart had hot desires! And she was as redheaded as he is! How’d that happen? Uncle Greggory run out of blond goddesses for you?”

Stormi waved it away as of no consequence. “Ah, her wick was lit, but the candle was short! All of them were so idiotically gullible! I’m thrilled you want to marry someone you’ll choose—who’ll love you! But why should you rob Tami of that for herself? She’s an innocent bystander here!”

“In war,” he replied lightly, “there are casualties! But don’t worry! She’ll never realize she is one! I shall court her in a way she can’t resist! Never will I be anything but my own sweet self—never deny her anything! A gorgeous home, not to mention a Newport mansion, cars, the best clothes, staff to cater to her every whim—what more could a woman ask for?” He paused, then added, “Children . . . if she wants.”

“I wanted that, along with my true love,” responded Storm pointedly. “And if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Stonefield, I would’ve had it. We wouldn’t now be having this conversation.”

“Not this exact one,” he answered. “But your mother would’ve had Stoney’s head on a platter had she not reported your plan to elope . . . and mine to help you do it!”

“She could have waited an hour,” observed Kourtnay with a scowl.

“Oh, she regretted not doing just that when she learned about the plan to send Storm away to some mental institution if she didn’t, that night, marry Dean! Money pulls strings . . . they found someone to come prepare a license immediately as I’m sure we all remember! Too bad there’re no restrictions in Rhode Island, no wait periods. We might have had time to have figured out a rescue for you despite them.”

His look turned dark. “I lost all respect for them that night. Was a heartless thing to have said and done to one’s own daughter!”

“Supposedly Uncle Greggory arranged it with Papa’s blessing. I was a kid . . . scared silly by their horror stories of such institutions. Seemed marriage to anyone, at the time, was preferable. Turned out to be a lose-lose situation.”

Stephan shook his head. “No, they lied about that. I mean, I can imagine that my father had a hand in it. He’s as much a strong figure in Uncle Edward’s life as he has been in mine. But Papa Ascott would never have condemned you to such a fate! Papa liked Lawron. I know he didn’t want to let him go, but in the end he gave in to your mother’s pressure. Gave him a generous parting wage when he left to spite her!”

“Yes, Lawrey told me it was what let him get into horses once he went back to West Virginia. Not that he gave up cars totally . . .” Her eyes filled with tears. “I couldn’t go back to it now. His mother can do with it as she wants.”

“You and Ruth don’t get along?”

“She felt as everyone else did. I was too good for him, and we’d never really get it to work. She was civil, but that was it. I’ll find a place of my own here, and we’ll see what happens after that.”

“You could go back to Ascott Meadows. The house has been rebuilt; I’ve seen to that. I held off rebuilding anything else. Do you want the barns rebuilt?  . . . or would you rather sell the place?”

“Yeah . . . we’ll see . . . I’m not sure what to do there. It was Papa’s wedding gift to me. But . . . I still have flashbacks of that night . . . the fire . . . hearing my horses screaming . . . Kailey only days old . . . I wasn’t sure I’d get to her in time . . .”

“He put you in a lose-lose situation. You made the right choice, and you know you did. When I discussed the plans with the contractor, I made sure it wouldn’t resemble the old layout. Although, I made sure to give it the wraparound porches you love.”

When she looked undecided, he said, “Why don’t I take you out there when I get back? We’ll plan the barns. Toss up a decent temporary one for Rogue and Fairwind. So, go buy them back from Tami’s family. Figure out what sort of place you want it to be now. And run it your way for a change! I’d imagine Kourtnay will insist on living with you and helping with that. As best she can!”

“She’d be welcome,” returned Storm promptly, then once more gave vent to her objections to his impossibly improper plan. “Don’t do this, Stephan! If you can’t love her first, don’t do this!”

“If I wait for love, Stormi, it’ll be too late! Charley’s handed me this golden opportunity, I’m taking it!” He bent to kiss Kailey’s cheek, then straightened up. “Tami’ll never guess I that I need her, rather than want her!” A pause, and he added, “Anyway, hot desires have never been my main priority!”

“Or any priority!” Stormi eyed him impatiently. “Charley told Maevis only the truth there! You had less than brotherly affection for any of them! I don’t blame you, but—you’ve never tried to find anyone you could feel passionate about! You worry me!”

Amused, he replied, “I’m amazed you’ve never lost yours married to Dean. What was it Papa said? He always knew you’d be the lusty one!”

“Oh yes, of all the things anyone’s ever said of me, remember that! Will you ever want a woman?”

“I’ve never met a woman worth wanting,” he returned apologetically. “Except you two, and you’re my cousins! Highly inappropriate, even if this state does allow for such marriages!” He paused, considering this possibility. “I suppose that could be our last resort, should it come to that. Wouldn’t the folks die of shock over that plan! Call that our Plan C, all right? For now, stop trying to deter me from my purpose! I’ve no doubt Miss Thomasyna Tollefson will be as happily in love with my multimillions as the others were.”

Before she could retort as she wanted to, Stephan thrust his hand into his pocket and pressed the ring into her hand. “Here, take this! Go have a good time for yourselves with it. About time you had one! Never had any meaning for me, anyway.”

When she would’ve objected, he curled her fingers around it. “No, it’s yours. I’ll get Tami one of her own—from me personally! No, that’s it! I’m trusting in her hurt and humiliation to keep us safe from Charley’s machinations. We will all live happily ever after!”

“This isn’t a book, Stephan!” She called after him as he purposefully strode across the side lawn to the last of the several garages where his emerald green Corvette was parked. “And even if it was,” she added for her sister’s benefit, “doesn’t mean it’s going to go like he thinks it will!”

They watched him back out of the garage, turn, and buzz down the driveway.

“Uncle Greggory’s going to have baby elephants.”

“Yes, but he’ll swallow ‘em if Stephan saves all. Eventually.” Stormi gazed at the gem in her hand for a moment, then thrust it into the pocket of her jeans.

“What are you going to do with that?”

“I don’t know. Probably slip it into his sock drawer.”

“He’d only make you take it again,” said Kourtnay, once more attempting to relieve the ache in her hip. “Hard to have had good times, on the run as we were. Every time we thought we were safe, Dean showed up to shatter that illusion! Him or one of his goons!”

 Stormi rose stiffly to her feet, the deep wounds upon her back causing her to catch her breath and a soft groan escaped her lips. “Well, I’ll have to figure out how to get him to see that the d-i-v-o-r-c-e was f-i-n-a-l. Don’t ask me how! Here, let me take Kailey. Time you went inside and gave that hip a proper rest. Although, I’ll need you to dress my wounds first.”

“You could ask Mrs. Stonefield or Auntie Irina’s m—” And chuckled when Storm cast her a look of extreme censure. “I know. It’s best if we keep it to ourselves.”

“Yes, absolutely! I’ll see Dr. Wray if I must.” Storm gingerly lifted her sleeping daughter. With a note of resignation, she said, “Knew he’d try saving it whatever the cost!”

Kourtnay followed her across the lawn to the back entrance of Deverill Hall, the stately mansion belonging to Stephan’s family. “Try saving you, whatever the cost, you mean! Well, at least this time he’s using his own plan. I think I’ll give him credit for that whatever happens! I mean, come on! It is a practically perfect idea!”

Storm chose to let that last bit pass, replied to the first part of her remark. “Okay fine; he’s trying to save me. It’s not going to make a bit of difference as I have told him all along! However, if he insists, I think he should find a Plan D! Plan C is, without question, out of the running. He might think it a possible save, but I can’t. He’s like our brother. Who marries a brother?”

“Very true. Shouldn’t we be going round to the front entrance, Stormi? Auntie Irina won’t be too put out . . . but if Mother were to find out we came in the back door—”

Stormi blew out a scornful breath. “The hell with her! She and Father shouldn’t be here, if you ask me! Why aren’t they in Europe now? Or, Florida, at least. Or here at Seaward? We are not walking all the way around the front to please her, when a perfectly good bathroom is right inside this door! And that is my Plan B—B for bathroom . . .! And so I’ll tell her if she wants to fight me on the matter.”

“She will, she will . . . And they’re all going to fight with fangs and claws, Stephan’s Plan B!”

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