Authors: Tessa Dare
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #Tessa Dare, #regency romance
Afterward, they rose and dressed quietly, pausing to tidy the small dwelling before latching the door as they left. The night was cloudless, and the nearly full moon provided them sufficient light to follow the path. They walked hand in hand.
“Did you see it last night?” she asked quietly. “The stag?”
“It was beautiful.” When he didn’t answer, she added, “Don’t you agree?” Perhaps men did not think animals “beautiful”, or did not admit to it if they did.
“Yes.” He gave her a rare, easy smile. “It reminded me of you. Beautiful, graceful, fearless.”
“And here I thought him so much like you. Proud, wild, strong.” She laughed softly. “Perhaps he didn’t exist at all, and we were just out here chasing each other.”
If the stag truly existed, they did not see it again before reaching the border of Swinford Woods and emerging onto the green. Then again, a whole herd of bloodthirsty man-deer could have been lurking in the thickets, and Cecily would have remained oblivious. She only had eyes for Luke.
And that fact must have been painfully obvious to Denny, when he nearly collided with them at the entrance to the drawing room.
“Cecily.” His gaze wandered from her unbound hair to her disheveled gown, to her fingers still laced with Luke’s. “I . . . I was just about to go searching for you.”
“There you are!” Portia called from behind him. “Come in, come in.” She lay swaddled in blankets on the divan, with her bandaged leg propped on a nearby ottoman. Brooke sat beside her, balancing a teacup in either hand.
Cecily turned to Denny. “I’m sorry to have worried you, but . . .” She squeezed Luke’s hand for courage. “You see, Luke and I—”
“I understand,” he replied. The serious expression on his face told her he did understand, completely. To his credit, he took it well. He turned to Luke. “When will you be married?”
“Married?” Portia exclaimed.
Cecily sighed. Just like Denny, to take his responsibilities as her third cousin twice removed—and only male relation in the vicinity—so seriously. But did he have to force the issue now? Certainly, she hoped that she and Luke might one day—
“As soon as possible.” Luke’s arm slid around her waist.
Cecily’s gaze snapped up to his.
Are you certain?
she asked him silently.
He answered her with a quick kiss.
“Well, then. When can
be married?” Brooke directed his question to Portia.
“Married!” Blushing furiously, Portia made a dismissive gesture with both hands. “Why, I’m only just learning to enjoy being a widow. I don’t want to be married. I want to write scandalous novels and take dozens of lovers.”
Brooke raised an eyebrow. “Can that be negotiated to lov
“That,” she said, giving him a coy smile, “would depend on your skill at negotiation.”
“What an evening you’ve had, Portia,” Cecily said. “A brush with death, a proposal of marriage, an indecent proposition . . . Surely you have sufficient inspiration for your gothic novel?”
“Too much inspiration!” Portia wailed, gesturing toward her bandaged foot. “I am done with gothics completely. No, I shall take a cue from my insipid wallpaper and write a bawdy little tale about a wanton dairymaid and her many lovers.”
“Lover, singular.” Brooke flopped on the divan and settled her feet in his lap.
“Oh,” she sighed, as he massaged her uninjured foot. “Oh, very well.”
Luke tugged on Cecily’s hand, drawing her toward the doorway. “Let’s make our escape.”
As they left, she heard Denny say in his usual jocular tone, “Do me a favor, Portia? Model your hero after me. Just once, I should like to get the girl.”
Cecily and Luke tumbled into the corridor, hands still linked.
“I’m sorry,” he said, twirling her to a stop and backing her against the wall. “I didn’t have a chance to ask for your hand properly, but . . . you don’t have an objection, do you?”
She paused a moment to savor the endearing vulnerability in his expression. Then she kissed him soundly, threading her fingers into his hair and pressing her body to his. “There,” she said finally. “Does that feel like an objection?”
He smiled and planted a light kiss between her eyebrows before resting his forehead against hers. Between them, their hands made a tight knot of fingers and thumbs.
“I’ll leave within the hour,” he said, “to go speak with your father. I cannot expect even Denny to be so generous as to continue hosting his rival in this house. And I couldn’t spend another night here without having you in my bed.”
“As if I would find that objectionable.”
They kissed again, and he pressed her against the wall, his hips grinding deliciously against hers. “We must have”—
—“a very brief”—
“Can we not just elope? I could pack a valise in a trice.”
He laughed softly into her hair, and she thought it the most beautiful sound in the world.
“Cecy,” he whispered against her ear, “tell me this is not a dream. Are you truly mine at last?”
“Oh, Luke.” She slid her arms about his waist and gripped him tight. “I always have been.”
I hope you enjoyed
How to Catch a Wild Viscount!
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If you’re new to my books and wondering what to read next, I suggest starting with my bestselling Spindle Cove series. I had great fun creating a seaside village populated by young women who defied the conventions of their time—engaging in such unladylike pursuits as medicine, geology, and artillery. And I had even more fun dreaming up the strong-willed, unsuspecting men who found their hearts ensnared by these unlikely heroines.
Turn the page for an excerpt from Spindle Cove book one,
A Night to Surrender
“Lively and sexy, this funny, enjoyable battle of the sexes ensnares readers in a delightful adventure.”
Spindle Cove is the destination of choice for certain types of well-bred young ladies: the awkward, the delicate, the painfully shy; young wives disenchanted with matrimony and young girls
enchanted with the wrong men. It’s a haven for the women who live there.
Victor Bramwell, the new Earl of Rycliff, knows he doesn’t belong in “Spinster Cove,” but he has orders to gather a militia. It’s a simple mission, made complicated by the spirited, exquisite Susanna Finch—a woman who is determined to save her personal utopia from the invasion of Bram’s makeshift army.
The scene is set for an epic battle . . . but who can be named the winner when both have so much to lose?
Bram stared into
a pair of wide, dark eyes. Eyes that reflected a surprising glimmer of intelligence. This might be the rare female a man could reason with.
“Now, then,” he said. “We can do this the easy way, or we can make things difficult.”
With a soft snort, she turned her head. It was as if he’d ceased to exist.
Bram shifted his weight to his good leg, feeling the stab to his pride. He was a lieutenant colonel in the British Army, and at over six feet tall, he was said to cut an imposing figure. Typically, a pointed glance from his quarter would quell the slightest hint of disobedience. He was not accustomed to being ignored.
“Listen sharp, now.” He gave her ear a rough tweak and sank his voice to a low threat. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do as I say.”
Though she spoke not a word, her reply was clear:
You can kiss my great woolly arse
“Ah, the English countryside. So charming. So . . . fragrant.” Colin approached, stripped of his London-best topcoat, wading hip-deep through the river of wool. Blotting the sheen of perspiration from his brow with a handkerchief, he asked, “I don’t suppose this means we can simply turn back?”
Ahead of them, a boy pushing a handcart had overturned his cargo, strewing corn all over the road. It was an open buffet, and every ram and ewe in Sussex appeared to have answered the invitation. A vast throng of sheep bustled and bleated around the unfortunate youth, gorging themselves on the spilled grain—and completely obstructing Bram’s wagons.
“Can we walk the teams in reverse?” Colin asked. “Perhaps we can go around, find another road.”
Bram gestured at the surrounding landscape. “There is no other road.”
They stood in the middle of the rutted dirt lane, which occupied a kind of narrow, winding valley. A steep bank of gorse rose up on one side, and on the other, some dozen yards of heath separated the road from dramatic bluffs. And below those—
below those—lay the sparkling turquoise sea. If the air was seasonably dry and clear, and Bram squinted hard at that thin indigo line of the horizon, he might even glimpse the northern coast of France.
So close. He’d get there. Not today, but soon. He had a task to accomplish here, and the sooner he completed it, the sooner he could rejoin his regiment. He wasn’t stopping for anything.
Except sheep. Blast it. It would seem they were stopping for sheep.
A rough voice said, “I’ll take care of them.”
Thorne joined their group. Bram flicked his gaze to the side and spied his hulking mountain of a corporal shouldering a flintlock rifle.
“We can’t simply shoot them, Thorne.”
Obedient as ever, Thorne lowered his gun. “Then I’ve a cutlass. Just sharpened the blade last night.”
“We can’t butcher them, either.”
Thorne shrugged. “I’m hungry.”
Yes, that was Thorne—straightforward, practical. Ruthless.
“We’re all hungry.” Bram’s stomach rumbled in support of the statement. “But clearing the way is our aim at the moment, and a dead sheep’s harder to move than a live one. We’ll just have to nudge them along.”
Thorne lowered the hammer of his rifle, disarming it, then flipped the weapon with an agile motion and rammed the butt end against a woolly flank. “Move on, you bleeding beast.”
The animal lumbered uphill a few steps, prodding its neighbors to scuttle along in turn. Downhill, the drivers urged the teams forward before resetting their brakes, unwilling to surrender even those hard-fought inches of progress.
The two wagons held a bounty of supplies to refit Bram’s regiment: muskets, shot, shells, wool and pipeclay for uniforms. He’d spared no expense, and he
see them up this hill. Even if it took all day, and red-hot pain screamed from his thigh to his shinbone with every pace. His superiors thought he wasn’t healed enough to resume field command? He would prove them wrong. One step at a time.
“This is absurd,” Colin grumbled. “At this rate, we’ll arrive next Tuesday.”
“Stop talking. Start moving.” Bram nudged a sheep with his boot, wincing as he did. With his leg already killing him, the last thing he needed was a pain in the arse, but that’s exactly what he’d inherited, along with all his father’s accounts and possessions: responsibility for his wastrel cousin, Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne.
He swatted at another sheep’s flank, earning himself an indignant bleat and a few inches more.
“I have an idea,” Colin said.
Bram grunted, unsurprised. As men, he and Colin were little more than strangers. But during the few years they’d overlapped at Eton, his younger cousin had been just full of ideas. Ideas that had landed him shin-deep in excrement. Literally, on at least one occasion.
Colin looked from Bram to Thorne and back again, eyes keen. “I ask you, gentlemen. Are we, or are we not, in possession of a great quantity of black powder?”
“Tranquility is the
soul of our community.”
Not a quarter mile’s distance away, Susanna Finch sat in the lace-curtained parlor of the Queen’s Ruby, a rooming house for gently bred young ladies. With her were the rooming house’s newest prospective residents, a Mrs. Highwood and her three unmarried daughters.
“Here in Spindle Cove, young ladies enjoy a wholesome, improving atmosphere.” Susanna indicated a knot of ladies clustered by the hearth, industriously engaged in needlework. “See? The picture of good health and genteel refinement.”
In unison, the young ladies looked up from their work and smiled placid, demure smiles.
. She gave them an approving nod.
Ordinarily, the ladies of Spindle Cove would never waste such a beautiful afternoon stitching indoors. They would be rambling the countryside, or sea-bathing in the cove, or climbing the bluffs. But on days like these, when new visitors came to the village, everyone understood some pretense at propriety was necessary. Susanna was not above a little harmless deceit when it came to saving a young woman’s life.