Authors: Laurie McBain
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Regency
A severe beating was
first indication that she would have to battle alone to achieve her destiny. Young and beautiful, born into English nobility,
was suddenly an orphan—and caught in the clutches of an aged, spiteful aunt whose brutality toward
forced her to flee for her life!
Alone and penniless, she embarked on a perilous journey through the English countryside,—only to encounter the man they called the Devil—Lord Alex
, with his jet-black hair, golden gypsy eyes, and enormous sensual appetites. Women meant but one thing to the arrogant Lord Alex—until he met
Thrown together by sinister forces into an alliance of hatred,
and Alex soon felt stirrings of passion for each other—like none they'd ever felt. But pride kept them apart, until that one night when all the world seemed to explode—and the deep-seated rivers of emotion within Alex and
burst into the white heat of desire and destiny!
A RAPTUROUS TALE OF SPLENDOROUS ROMANCE AND BREATHTAKING EMOTION, FROM THE PUBLISHERS OF
THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER
DEVIL'S DESIRE is an original publication of Avon Books. This work has never before appeared in any form:
AVON BOOKS A division of
The Hearst Corporation 959 Eighth Avenue
New York, New York 10019
[email protected] 1975 by Laurie McBain.
Published by arrangement with the author.
All rights reserved, which includes the right
to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Avon Books.
First Avon Printing,
CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
AVON TRADEMARK REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES, REGISTElI.ED TRADEMARKMARCA REGISTRADA, HECHO EN CHICAGO, U.S.A.
Printed in the U.S.A.
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair,
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
High in a cloud-laden afternoon
a free-spirited skylark soared gracefully; its spread-winged shadow traveling swiftly over the colorful autumnal countryside below. Its song pierced the primeval silence of the forest below as the cheerful cry carried through the chill air; the clear notes penetrating beneath the thick canopy of branches, and reaching the soft, loam-covered forest floor, the sound was absorbed by the bright carpet of fallen leaves.
The woods seemed to come to life, humming with the chirpings and chattering of busy forest creatures contentedly gathering food for the oncoming winter, until another sound intruded into the aimless animal chatter and sent a hush over the clearing. An uneasy silence hung over it as the threatening sounds of baying hounds and pounding horses' hooves echoed in the distance.
The gossiping birds took wing and the bushytailed squirrels scurried into safe nests as a figure emerged from the trees, twigs snapping sharply as it moved into the clearing.
"Tally-ho!" Ribald laughter followed the cry of the hunt. "Where is that foxy wench? Damnation! Don't lose sight of her now, man!"
The excited voices drifted to a still figure, galvanizing it into action, and the raised voices became louder as the riders moved closer. Then the voices merged into one menacing sound as they intermingled with the snorting of their mounts.
As they came closer, Elysia could almost feel their hot breath against the back of her neck, as she held up her skirts and hurriedly climbed over a fallen tree. She stopped, pausing to catch her breath, panting heavily as she leaned against another tree for support. She could hear the raised voices of the men as they searched about the undergrowth, not far off, beating it back to find her hiding place. She shivered as she heard the throaty yelping of the dogs, and saw movement through the trees as the horsemen pressed on toward her; each passing second bringing them closer ..
She stood still, frozen with fear, her eyes darting about like those of a trapped animal seeking safety. Suddenly, she noticed the hollowed out trunk of the fallen tree, the opening partially concealed by the full-fronded ferns and wild weeds that grew about the gaping mouth. She moved quickly into the cool, concealing darkness. Crawling past the thick ferns, she pulled them back into order as she stretched out full length on the rotted and damp bottom. She shivered as she felt the little crawling inhabitants of the decayed tree about her. Elysia's breath caught painfully in her throat as she heard the pounding of the horses' hooves coming straight towards her; shaking the earth beneath her body until she thought she would be trampled to death beneath them.
"Bloody fool! You've let her flee!”
said a petulant voice, startling Elysia by its closeness.
"Damn it all, it's you who slowed me up—thought you saw her in a dozen different places," another voice complained.
"First decent bit o'muslin I've seen in this damned county, and what happens?" demanded the first voice, self-pityingly. "She gets away. Did you see that glorious hair! A real little fox she was—and those long legs! By God, I'll not be cheated out of my prize after going to the trouble of giving chase!"
Elysia heard the creaking of his saddle as the rider shifted impatiently, and the ominous snapping sound of a riding crop being tapped angrily against gloved hands.
"Where are those cursed hounds? We'd have had her flushed out by now if those hounds were on her scent. Could've sworn I saw something over here."
"Sounds like they've caught scent of something over that way," the other man spoke as the distant sound of raised voices and barking reached them.
"Damn! It'd better be the wench! I'll beat their hides off if they've cornered a bloody hare. I'm going to have that maid to warm my bed this eve. It's too damned cold in this blasted place to sleep alone." He sighed in exasperation. "We’d better find her soon, because I'm played out; too damned tired to even breathe, much less enjoy the wench. Wish I were back in London—don't have to hunt for my pleasures there. Plenty of high-steppers just begging for my favors," he boasted.
"You're getting soft, my friend. The hunt adds spice to the victory, but we'd best be off, or you'll only have your old housekeeper to warm your bones this eve," his friend snickered.
"I'll be warming myself against that red-haired wench. You can have my housekeeper, or one of the scullions—more your style," he said laughing loudly.
"You don't have her yet, and who knows, she might prefer me after she's caught a glimpse of you."
"Damned if she will!" he answered rising to the bait. "I'll wager my team of blacks she begs me to take her back to London before the night's out."
Elysia heard their laughter, and then trembled as she felt the fragile walls of her sanctuary shake as the riders urged their mounts over the fallen tree, and moved off into the trees toward the excited barking of the hounds.
Elysia waited, scarcely breathing as she listened to the retreating hoof beats. Breathlessly, she peered out between the lacy, interwoven fronds, seeing only emptiness in the clearing beyond. At last, they were gone.
Slowly, like a hunted animal, she crawled from the safety of her hole and paused, as if sniffing the air for the scent of an enemy, poised for fight at the first sign of danger. As she made her way through the trees Elysia felt tears of rage and fright well up in her eyes.
Her lips quivered as she thought of herself like some animal being hunted for pleasure. No wonder the villagers kept their young daughters close to their sides when the wild bloods, the fancy London gentlemen, paid their irregular visits to their estates in the country. Attired in their finely-cut coats and lacy cravats, jewels glittering from their long white fingers, they demanded, and expected, anything they wanted, causing havoc the few days they took up residence on their country estates. They abused their land lordly rights by browbeating their tenants, and seducing their daughters. From upstairs maid to milk maid—not one comely face was safe from their lust.
And now she, Elysia Demarice, daughter of aristocratic parents, was humiliated and reduced to cowering like a frightened beast, afraid for her life. She had to suffer the indignity of being pursued by fun seeking young bloods from London, out to satisfy their carnal desires. Were she still under the protection of her father's house, they would not dare to approach her; she was their equal—in name and position. Possessing beauty was a liability when one did not have the protection of ones family.
But a far greater outrage. Elysia thought, was her aunt's perfidy. She had sent her out here to the north end of the property, well aware that young Lord Tanner was visiting with a party of his disreputable friends. The possibility of their paths crossing while she innocently searched for acorns, had probably wriggled in the back of Aunt Agatha's mind like a worm in a rotting apple.
Aunt Agatha seemed to derive some sadistic pleasure in reducing her to the lowest level of human existence. What sin had she committed? What gods had she angered to deserve such a fate, Elysia wondered despondently? If only she could turn back the clock and return to happier days. The happier times, the innocence of her childhood—those were the things of which she dreamed.
Elysia slowed her pace, feeling safe as she skirted a field of dumbly grazing sheep, unaware of the burrs and mud clinging to the hem of her dress. She wandered down the stony path, her mind far too preoccupied by other thoughts to see the dark storm clouds gathering to the north, or to feel the wind gaining strength and threatening the colorful autumn leaves on the trees.
The wind whipped the hair framing her face into curls of wild disorder and brought color to her pale white cheeks. Elysia clutched her shawl closer about her shoulders as it grew chillier and the cold penetrated her light woolen dress.
Jumping as agilely as a cat onto the wet and slippery stones bridging the gurgling brook, Elysia landed sure-footedly on the bank opposite. She looked towards the large house in the distance. A small copse of sturdy oak partially hid it from her view, but she mew by heart every line of its unwelcoming outline. She had memorized each ugly, gray stone in its walls, every shuttered window and locked doo reach was indelibly imprinted upon her mind.
Elysia wished that she could travel on past the old house, passing without a glance of recognition at its unfriendly appearance; but she couldn't. She had lived at Graystone Manor, her aunt's house, since the death of her parents.
How different her life had been before that fateful day! She could never forget the image of her father's sleek new phaeton as it overturned on a sharp curve of the road near their home. The panicked horses raced wildly down the road, dragging the overturned carriage with her helpless parents trapped beneath it.
Their death had left Elysia alone in the world. Without a guardian she had been unable to deal with the affairs of their estate as the army of solicitors and tradesmen descended down upon her like vultures smelling death.
Her father, Charles Demarice, blithely unaware of his fate, had left no will. With his death went the last of the income they had been living on from day to day—money won in gambling. This, added to the inheritance left to her father by his grandmother, had allowed them to live comfortably, if not extravagantly. But now Elysia found, to her dismay, all that was left of that gradually depleted inheritance were the debts to be paid.
Her home would have to be sold, along with the furnishings, and their stable of horses. It would be difficult to leave Rose Arbor, the manor house she had known since she had been born; but the thought of parting with her treasured stallion Ariel was too much to bear.
She and her brother Ian had learned how to ride at an early age, and Elysia could mount and ride a horse with a skill few men could equal. She had been taught by her father and Gentle Jims, the family’s groom, who seemed to read a horse's mind and had a hand as gentle as a baby's upon the reins. Riding was Elysia's existence, the breath of life to her and she rode like a wild and free spirit of the moors. Ariel was a pure Arabian stallion, sleek and white, his slender tapered legs barely touching the ground as he galloped through the misty mornings with Elysia joyously astride him.
Elysia had known that she had caused considerable talk among the villagers with her escapades. She had heard the gossiping about her, but it was of little concern to her; in fact it had amused her to hear what they had said especially the self-appointed matriarch of the village, the Widow MacPherson.
"T'isn't natural the way her rides that horse. You wouldn't believe me if I was to tell ye that she talks to that beastie, aye, and by all that is Holy, if he don't understand her too!" she had raved. "I see dark clouds over the horizon. She be a heathen, that one." But Elysia had only laughed as she had listened to the Widow's rantings to a wide-eyed audience of avid listeners.
. The Widow MacPherson had cautioned the villagers with this ominous prediction during the years that the Demarices had lived in their manor near the village. The villagers began to believe her prophesies when Elysia's brother, an officer in the British Navy, was lost at sea only a day after the tragic death of their parents. The villagers cowered behind closed doors as Elysia rode madly through the village at midnight after hearing the news, her long hair streaking behind her, Ariel a white Hash of light against the darkness of the night.
That had been the last time Elysia had ridden Ariel. Within the week a relative she had never met arrived at Rose Arbor claiming to be her mother's stepsister. Elysia vaguely remembered her mother telling her that she had lived with a stepsister when she was a young girl. That was all she would tell her. What was in the past was best forgotten, her mother had said sadly, with a look of remembered pain darkening her blue eyes, and it had been the only time Elysia remembered seeing her so unhappy.
Agatha Penwick, a tall, thin woman in her fifties, had taken command of Rose Arbor and all business and financial matters with authoritative efficiency. Her plain, gaunt face, with its long, narrow nose and small, colorless eyes had a speculative, calculating look as she inspected the house; assessing the value of everything down to the last shilling.
"I am your mother's only living relative, and I believe your father had no one who could take on the responsibility of raising you now," she had said coldly, without a trace of warmth or commiseration in her voice for Elysia's loss. "The proceeds, if any are left after paying off your parents' debts, will serve as payment to me for taking you into a proper home."
Agatha had then proceeded to have auctioned off the family's possessions, pleasing the Demarioes' creditors and solicitors. Everyone had been pleased with the results except Elysia, whose wishes had been ruthlessly dismissed as sentimental rubbish.
Elysia had been heartbroken as Agatha coldly dismissed all of the Demarice's faithful servants, most of them having served the family for over thirty years.