Authors: Virginia Henley
“She isn’t a waiting woman, darling, she’s the terror of my kitchens,” explained Lil.
“He won’t know that,” pointed out Summer. “I’ll take that haughty old footman, too. The one who looks like he just smelled something disgusting.”
“Very good, Summer,” drawled Lil with admiration. “You play the game rather well.”
The corners of Summer’s mouth turned up in a secret little
smile. “I think I’ll borrow that delicate pale gray outfit today. I might as well leave the lovely clothes I bought packed. After all, I’ll be sailing home at week’s end.”
Lil Richwood would have bet money on it.
The unusual trio left their coach at the first dock and the two servants followed behind Summer as she carefully scanned each ship and passed on to the next. Suddenly she saw him, but immediately pretended otherwise. She gave all her attention to the names painted on the ship’s sides until he was almost upon her.
Lord Helford swept off his hat. “Lady Summer,” he said warmly.
She looked up at him, then sank to her knees before him. “Your Majesty,” she breathed.
He immediately took hold of her hands to raise her and a slight frown marred his brow. “I’m not the King,” he said, puzzled.
Her eyes flew open in surprise. “Oh, surely my aunt wouldn’t play such a cruel trick on me?” He stood holding her hands, looking down into her lovely face framed by the pale gray fox fur of her hood. She said hesitantly, “After you left, I asked my aunt who the tall, dark gentleman was and she told me it was the King.” Her lashes swept to her cheeks and she blushed prettily.
Ruark threw back his head and laughed. The corded muscles in his bronzed neck stood out strongly. She cast him a reproachful look at his amusement. “The other man was the King. Forgive my terrible manners for laughing at you, Lady Summer, but in truth I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
She looked at him innocently, but she knew damned well he had been flattered to have been mistaken for the King or she wouldn’t have made the deliberate mistake.
“Ruark Helford, at your service, Lady Summer. Whatever are you doing here on the docks?” he asked.
“I’m looking for passage home to Cornwall. I arrived on the
an American ship, but I don’t seem to be able to locate it here,” she said breathlessly.
“Cornwall?” he asked with disbelief.
She extracted her hands from his and slipped them into her pretty fur muff, out of his reach. “I’m going home to Roseland. It’s mine now,” she said delicately without mentioning her father’s death.
“But Roseland is the next estate to mine,” he said with delight.
“What an amazing coincidence,” she said with wide-eyed wonder. “You must be
“There are no coincidences. It’s fate, Lady Summer. All things happen for a purpose. I shall take you home on my ship.”
“You are too kind sir, but I couldn’t possibly put you to such inconvenience,” she demurred.
“As a matter of fact ’tis the most convenient thing in the world. I leave for Cornwall day after tomorrow by order of the King.” His face was hard and serious. “I won’t take no for an answer. I couldn’t possibly entrust you to an American captain.”
She took a deep breath. He liked to take control. He was clearly a man used to having his own way. “Come aboard now and I’ll show you my
Summer glanced behind her at the forbidding faces of her attendants. “Ah sir, I don’t think they would permit me to do such a thing.”
“Dragons,” he muttered. “My dear Lady Summer, you do not need permission from servants to do anything.” He raised his voice and said with authority, “I am taking your mistress aboard my ship. Be good enough to wait.”
His firm hand was under her elbow guiding her up the gangplank and he couldn’t believe this stroke of good fortune. Lady Summer had been the name on everyone’s lips at Court, and he assumed she would take the opportunity offered her to become its latest courtesan, to be feted and fawned upon and, yes, fucked, if he was going to be honest. First by the King and then by the King’s cavaliers when he grew negligent. That she was innocently unaware of the stir she had caused and was returning home to Cornwall was almost unbelievable.
Sailors swarmed both above-and below-decks as he ushered her down to his cabin. “Let me take your cloak,” he said, his strong hands already undoing the tie at her throat.
She clung to the velvet and fur creation, her voice catching in her throat as she said breathlessly, “Ah no, Lord Helford. I don’t know the mores and manners of London very well, but I’m sure we shouldn’t be alone like this.”
Her soft words were so suggestive and provocative that his semiarousal hardened like iron and it was an effort for him to remove his hands from her. She dropped her lids over her curious eyes and stole a look at a movement she’d seen in his tight white breeches. What she saw alarmed her. He didn’t seem to be shaped
like other men. How odd that she hadn’t noticed it before because it was really quite pronounced.
His fingers itched to undress her. How could he possibly have her this close and not begin to make love to her? Her perfumed breath came to him and his own mouth went dry with the need to taste her. His shaft moved forward of its own volition with its great need to be plunged deep inside her. My God, what was the matter with him? He was reacting to her as if he was an untried boy about to taste intoxicating female flesh for the first time.
His jaw muscle hardened and he said, “You are right of course. Forgive me for taking advantage of such a lovely lady. Tomorrow I’ll send someone to Cockspur Street for your boxes and I’ll speak to your aunt personally to allay any fears she may have about your complete safety.”
Summer’s female instincts guided her infallibly at this crucial moment. She sensed he was waging a battle both physically and mentally, and womanlike, she knew she must tip the scales so that he lost the battle. She took his hand and held it tightly as she looked way up into his face. “Thank you, Lord Helford. I shall put myself into your hands completely.”
He swallowed hard.
“I know I can trust you,” she breathed. And then she was in his arms, his fierce mouth taking that which he could deny himself no longer. She was so small and her curves fit so nicely into a man’s arms, emphasizing his masculinity. Never had he felt so strong and dominant, yet at the same time so protective.
Her mouth tasted like sweet wild strawberries and he was amazed at the inexperience he discovered. If he was any judge of females, this one was untried, and the thrill of his discovery raced along his nerve endings to fill his senses with the taste, the feel, the scent, and the innocent promise of virginal, female flesh.
Summer felt herself engulfed. His strength and masculinity totally overpowered her as her soft body was molded to his, her lips crushed beneath a mouth so demanding it made her pliant and without a will of her own. Her eyes wanted to close; her lips wanted to open; her arms wanted to slide up about his neck. She recovered herself just in time. This wasn’t a game, it was a calculated role she was playing. If she lost control of the situation from the beginning, she didn’t stand a chance. Lil had emphasized that she must make him think she was a lady or he would treat her as a casual love, which was exactly what he was doing!
She was angry with herself over the potent reaction he’d had on her and she vented that anger on him. “I should never have come aboard your ship, sir,” she gasped, her color high. “I have been warned about men like you. Now I realize why my aunt insisted I be well attended. I never would have dreamed a gentleman would insult and manhandle a lady in such a fashion,” she cried, outraged. “An American captain would be infinitely preferable.” She flashed him such an accusing look because he had betrayed her trust that he felt a stab of shame. Without another word she turned and left, quitting the ship without a backward glance.
He came abovedecks in time to see her stiff little back disappear down the dock escorted by her dragons. “Damn,” he cursed, then used a filthier word to express the disgust he felt with himself. Now she’d never take the voyage home to Cornwall with him. His eyes darkened, his fists clenched, and his jaw knotted. By heaven and hell she’d sail with him if he had to carry her off in the night like booty.
Next morning his note of apology arrived accompanied by masses of cream-colored roses. Auntie Lil drawled dryly, “I take it you will put the dashing cavalier out of his misery and forgive him at the last moment?”
Summer laughed delightedly. “You know, Lil, if I didn’t know my American was way off in Portsmouth, I’d be tempted to thumb my nose at Lord Helford and sail home on the
“Darling, you’d have a duel on your hands and you know Charles has forbidden them.”
Summer sighed. “I’m particularly partial to the forbidden.”
“Then Helford should suit you to a tee, you little hellcat. Seriously, I’m going to miss you dreadfully. Do let me know how you go along. It may not be as easy as you’re assuming despite the cream roses, Summer. I don’t believe Helford is a man you can lead about by the nose, or any other prominent appendage for that matter.”
Somehow Summer knew she was alluding to his male parts and immediately she said, “Lil, I’m so shamefully ignorant, I’m going to ask you some questions which will probably embarrass you.”
“How novel; I haven’t been embarrassed since I was twelve, darling.”
“What … is a man like … down there? Oh, I’ve seen my brother when he was a little boy of course, but Lord Helford … I mean … he seemed … there was such a big bulge….”
Lil’s trill of amusement stopped and she became suddenly serious. “I wouldn’t dream of sending one of my girls off for a tête-à-tête with a gentleman without thoroughly briefing her step-by-step on everything appertaining to the male, from what he looks like to what he will expect her to let him do to her, but in your case I don’t want to do that. No, no, don’t be offended, darling, let me see if I can explain this to you. Innocence cannot be simulated. It is a rare and precious gift which a woman can give to a man only once in her lifetime. If a man is a connoisseur of women … if he’s sensitive and appreciative, he will savor that gift for a lifetime. It is so much more meaningful for a woman to have the mysteries of sensuality explained to her by a loving man; I wouldn’t deprive you of the experience. And the deep pleasure it will give the man to tell you and show you and instruct you will be like an aphrodisiac. He will remember it always. It will come flooding back to him to almost unman him and it will give you a power over him that is almost mystical.”
Summer licked lips gone dry. Oh, how she would enjoy having a mystical power over Lord Ruark Helford.
Lil continued, “Fortunes are paid for innocence, so it is like having an ace up your sleeve. A man is drawn to it irresistibly, lured by his instinct to hunt, to snare, to dominate, to possess that which no other man has captured. It is even possible to play the card skillfully enough to exchange the innocence for a wedding ring.”
Summer’s eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Oh, darling, I shouldn’t have said that. Helford is definitely experienced enough to pluck a woman’s innocence without paying the
price, but what I’m trying to impress on you is not to let him have it without paying a fortune.”
ing Charles had been in his laboratory most of the afternoon. He had a passion for chemistry and the room was lined with shelves holding jars of powders and pastes and bottles of colored liquids. Alchemy fascinated him to the point where he was an easy mark for any quack’s nostrums. He had a vast collection of books on the subject, all beautifully bound in leather, and some of these volumes touched upon witchcraft and wizardry.
No one ever dared to disturb him when he was working in his chemical laboratory as it was an unwritten law that he wished to be private. No one dared, except of course Barbara. She entered the long room with its open casements which let out the peculiar odors and vapors of Charles’s concoctions.
When Charles heard someone enter the room, he frowned and set down the beaker of oil of prima materia he had just carefully measured out. When he saw that it was Barbara, however, he gave her a lazy smile of welcome.
“Charles, I thought I’d better warn you that the monsieur returned unexpectedly from the country this morning, so plans for tonight will have to be canceled.”
“Not canceled surely, sweetheart? Can’t we move them ahead to this afternoon?” he suggested with a healthy leer.
“What, here?” she asked doubtfully, glancing with unconcealed distaste at all the odd paraphernalia.
His eyes never left her luscious breasts as he reached for a glass container holding a golden liquid. He poured some into a glass and offered it to her.
“Charles, are you trying to poison me?”
“It’s wine, sweetheart.” He sampled some himself to show her it was no mysterious concoction. “We’ll share a loving cup and a pleasant hour.” He gathered her to him in one strong arm and held the golden wine to her exciting lips. Charles’s heavy eyelids drooped at the sensual feel of her body pressed against the hardening length of him.