Authors: Virginia Henley
“STOP THIS, MY LORD.
YOU CANNOT TELL ME OUR MARRIAGE
IS OVER AND EXPECT YOUR RIGHTS
AT THE SAME TIME,”
SUMMER SAID WITH CONTEMPT.
“Can’t I?” Ruark asked silkily. “I can do anything I please. I am still master of my own hall.” “I’ll fight you,” she vowed.
He laughed deep in his throat. Such a promise only spurred him. He reached out strong hands to take her by the shoulders, but she shrugged from her bed gown and ran.
His arm swooped down to catch her ankle, and as she tumbled to the carpet he was on top of her in a flash. As he bent to take her mouth, she managed to free one hand and rake his flesh. “Damn, you little wildcat, do I have to tie your hands?”
“Leave me alone … damn you to hell,” she spat out.
“That’s it!” he exploded. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you….”
Books by Virginia Henley:
THE RAVEN AND THE ROSE
THE HAWK AND THE DOVE,
winner of the 1988
award for Best Elizabethan Historical Romance
THE PIRATE AND THE PAGAN
THE FALCON AND THE FLOWER
THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL
A YEAR AND A DAY
A WOMAN OF PASSION
THE MARRIAGE PRIZE
THE BORDER HOSTAGE
Dedicated to Adele Ellis, my very first fan,
and to all my readers who are so loyal
I deeply appreciate it.
Five and twenty ponies trotting through the dark—
Brandy for the Parson, ’baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Rudyard Kipling, “A Smuggler’s Song”
hat a beautiful cock!” she murmured under her breath. The young woman was wildly beautiful in a dark, unconventional way, and her personality and way of life matched. She gazed at it for long, silent minutes in wonder. It was without doubt the biggest cock she had ever seen. Her eyes actually dilated with pleasure as she closed them and reopened them slowly to make sure she hadn’t imagined its great size. Pleased beyond belief that she would soon possess it, she licked her lips in anticipation.
Truly it was a magnificent specimen. She held her body perfectly still and coaxed him with a soft, seductive voice. “Come, my big boy, another few inches and you are mine. Don’t be shy, don’t retreat, after all ’tis only a little sin I’m committing,” she whispered coaxingly. “Our chance encounter will soon be consummated,” she soothed with confidence.
“You’re a very big cock—I hope you fit—never mind, I’ll cram you in somehow,” she said under her breath. She begged prettily, “If I reach out my hand, will you let me touch you, stroke you?” Better not, she thought as he looked ready to bolt.
Now she was face-to-face with the act, she wondered wildly if she could go through with it. She’d never done it before, although she had contemplated it for weeks, but she knew after this time she
would probably do it again and again. For a moment its size frightened her. What if it hurt her? It could probably do her irreparable damage given half a chance. She pushed her fear to the back of her mind, took a deep breath, and plunged upon it.
The fat rooster squawked so loudly and flapped his black wings so frantically that she almost lost it, but the fierce hunger in her belly made her hang on determinedly. Then she closed her eyes tightly and wrung its neck until it was very, very dead.
Lady Summer St. Catherine had an abundance of jet black, shining hair which fell heavily below her shoulders and curled on the ends into great natural ringlets. Her black-fringed eyes were a changeable shade of hazel, sometimes soft brown, more often leaf green and they were tip-tilted at the corners giving credence to her nickname, Cat, which she preferred because she felt her full name to be laughably pretentious. Her mouth was wide and capable of a sulky pout, a firm-lipped determination, or a dazzling laugh, but it was as red as crushed strawberries. Her skin was the color of rich Devon cream, a vivid contrast to her billowing cloud of jet black tresses.
Cat was slender and long-legged as a colt with small, high up-thrusting breasts which strained the laces on the too-tight boy’s shirt she wore. She also had on a pair of ragged knee breeches and scuffed boots which her young brother Viscount Spencer had outgrown.
Viscount Spencer St. Catherine also hated his name and answered only to Spider. The Cornwall estate where they lived was called Roseland, and though it stood on five acres with a once-splendid manor house, it could not boast of one servant or gardener and had an overgrown, unkempt air of neglect. Cat’s mother was dead, her father alive, and she fervently wished it was the other way about since she had nothing but hatred for her father. He was and always had been a selfish, ruthless drunken swine who indulged every vice known to man.
Her mother had died giving birth to Spencer when Cat was only three. Years later, she’d learned through servants’ gossip that her mother had almost died when she was born and the doctor had told Randal St. Catherine in no uncertain terms that another child would kill her.
“The useless brat’s a girl!” he had raved. “I’ll not stop trying till she gives me a son.”
“’Twould be deliberate murder, Randal, if she conceives again,” the doctor had warned.
St. Catherine shrugged. “Then I’ll be free to take a new wife—a younger, healthier woman to satisfy me in bed.” But by the time his wife had given him his son and conveniently departed for heaven, the arrogant St. Catherine’s world had been turned upside down by civil war. Parliament had decided to run the country with Oliver Cromwell’s heavy hand at the helm. St. Catherine found it expedient to turn his coat, for being loyal to the old King could get your lands and money confiscated and it became a crime to be a member of the aristocracy.
So he had paid lip service to the austere “new order” which banned drinking, whoring, and gambling along with every other vice designed to make a gentleman’s life tolerable. It didn’t take many years for this new order to become tarnished, for Englishmen soon realized they had gone from bad to worse. With sinking trade and bad harvests, men everywhere were poorer with long unhappy faces atop their dull, worsted garments. The larger cities and towns were filled with Cromwell’s spies and a breath of protest could carry you off to prison. Cornishmen were not quite as docile as the rest of the English, and while the ones with honor and integrity such as the Grenviles and Helfords risked their wealth and their lives to help restore the Stuarts to the throne, others such as St. Catherine took advantage of their isolated estates to further their own ends.
Roseland became no better than a gaming hell where forbidden cards, dice, and liquor became the order of the day. St. Catherine did not play on the square and soon cheating at cards became second nature even to his children.
In 1660 when Charles II was joyously embraced by one and all, St. Catherine was no exception. He took himself off to London and for the past few years had been slowly devoured by the dissolute life of the wicked city. The only reason he ever returned to Rose-land was to denude its walls of its valuable paintings or sell off the last of the horses.
The last time he’d been home four months since, Cat had removed her beloved black Ebony from the stables and stayed out all night with him. Finally, Rancid, as she called her father, had driven off in a rage, cursing the young hellcat to perdition, and taking all of his servants with him.
Cat made her way through the tangled overgrown estate which
bordered the well-kept lands of the Helfords. She had only actually trespassed once on the magnificent Helford estate. The night she had protected Ebony she had ridden him onto the broad acres attached to Helford Hall and hidden in one of the many yew glades which were part of the formal gardens. The clipped yews formed high dark walls which kept out even sunlight and would be cool on the hottest days. Deep within the mile of yew walks it was remote, silent, and more than a little eerie, almost threatening.
The Helford estate boasted over five hundred acres, but these ran back from the seacoast along the Helford River right up to the town of Helston. The house itself stood atop the cliff’s edge like Roseland, but they were over a mile apart and only Helford Hall’s clustered chimneys, turrets, obelisks, and widow’s walk were visible from the St. Catherine property. Of course they were only visible when the coast was free from heavy fog or sea mists.
Cat hummed a tune to herself as she strode along, swinging the large rooster by its feet. As she neared the house she waved gaily to her brother and called, “Spider, did you manage to get the eggs?”
At sight of her he stopped dead in his tracks, a black scowl descending like thunder upon his brow. “Hell and damnation, Cat, you send me to steal eggs, a job any five-year-old could manage, while you sneak off to throttle a cock!”
She sighed, knowing his male vanity had been injured. “Spider, I swear to God he walked right through a hole in the fence, straight into my path. I damned near tripped over him. What did you expect me to do? Ask him to hang about while I ran off to look for you?”
“All the same,” he said grudgingly, “butchering is no job for a lady.”
She nodded solemnly, “Fowl play.”
He broke into a grin. “Christ, it’s a big bugger. I bet it put up a hell of a squawk.”
She laughed now, remembering. “I thought the bloody gamekeeper would come running.
I was ready to defy him if he had. Possession is nine-tenths of the law and the cock was on our land.”
Spider said, “That bastard is the reason there are no rabbits left for me to snare. Can’t have rabbits nibbling precious Helford shrubbery.”
They made straight for the kitchen door. Roseland was a picture at this time of the year. Its soft red-brick walls were covered with
flowering vines. Honeysuckle had overgrown each arched doorway and early pink roses and spring violets vied with a sea of daffodils which spread out under the fruit trees now covered in blossom. The lawns in close to the house were a lush green and looked well tended, but that was only because she tethered her horse Ebony and Spider’s pony there so they could crop it. They had no oats or fodder for their animals and so the thick green lawns must suffice.
At the back of the house Cat always planted a kitchen garden, for they relied upon the vegetables she grew to keep them alive. They had used up all last autumn’s harvest as well as the last of the apples. This time of year the gardens were very pretty but pretty didn’t fill your belly. The only things that were big enough to eat were young green onions and a few new potatoes no bigger than marbles. Cat sighed as she put water on the fire to boil. First she’d have to pluck the cockerel, then clean it, long before the savory smell of the cooking bird would permeate the corners of the kitchen.
“The old man’s been gone a hell of a long spell this time,” said Spider.