Read In the Garden of Temptation Online
Authors: Cynthia Wicklund
Tags: #1800s, #bath, #beautiful, #carriage, #castle, #england, #handsome, #historical, #horse, #lady, #london, #lord, #love, #marriage, #regency, #romance, #sensual, #sexual, #sexy, #victorian
IN THE GARDEN OF
Cynthia Wicklund on Smashwords
In the Garden of Temptation
Copyright 2010 by Cynthia Wicklund
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Lady Catherine Bourgeault placed her fork on
her plate and ended the pretense that she was enjoying her supper.
She had scolded the cook repeatedly, but as long as the baron did
not care nothing would change.
What’s the matter, my dear?
Do you not find the meal to your liking?”
Catherine stared down the long table to where
her husband sat, though she felt no need to answer his facetious
question. She would never understand how he stayed so thin, for he
ate great quantities of food and drank copious amounts of wine, and
quality of taste was never an issue.
Lord Bourgeault expelled a loud belch and
patted his stomach. “Robby,” he bellowed, “another bottle of Port
and don’t dawdle.”
The burly footman who stood at the dining
room entrance rushed to do his master’s bidding, fetching the Port
from the sideboard. Rather than waiting for the servant to pour the
wine, the baron grabbed the bottle and took a swig.
She’d had enough. One more night of dancing
attendance on a drunken reprobate and her mind might go numb
forever. Happily, he no longer demanded her presence when he was in
his cups, rambling on at her until she felt like pulling her hair
out in frustration.
She stood to leave.
One moment, wife.” He
paused, his manner sly. “I have an announcement to
Catherine felt a fissure of alarm sluice down
her spine, but she allowed her face to register nothing more than
mild curiosity. She knew he liked to disconcert her, and she
refused to grant him the pleasure of believing he had
When she did not speak the baron began anew,
although she knew she had irritated him. “If all goes according to
plan,” he said, “we will have a guest coming for a short stay. I
will expect you to play the hostess.” It was not a request.
When might that be, Edgar?”
She allowed her tone to fall just short of insolence.
He stood abruptly, knocking the chair he sat
on to the floor with a crash. He wrapped his great hands into fists
and, leaning them on the table in front of him, glared at her. “The
arrangements haven’t been made.” His eyes narrowed as he continued
to study her. “Do not toy with me, Catherine, for I can and will
make you very miserable.”
I have no such intention,
Edgar. I simply do not understand what purpose it serves to have me
preside over festivities no decent woman would allow. I’m aware
that men engage in activities that are less than noble, but they
usually protect their wives from the goings on. Let me greet your
guests and then withdraw.”
This is no ordinary
gentleman.” He spoke softly now, although she still detected his
displeasure. “He is the Earl of Ashworth, and I wish you to be
especially pleasant to him.”
What does that mean
It means,” his voice took
on a silky quality that unnerved her more, “I want him to feel
welcome in my home, and I expect you to do your part.”
Why would the Earl of
Ashworth pay you a visit?”
Business if you must know.
Nothing that need concern you. Robby, right my chair.”
The baron sat down heavily and emitted
another deep-throated belch as the footman once again hastened to
do his master’s bidding.
Catherine swallowed, unable to hide her
disgust. “It’s Abel and Cain, isn’t it? Why do you continue to use
those horses to entice the unsuspecting to this barren old castle?
We both know you have no intention of selling them. No one will be
able to meet the price you have placed on their hides.”
The baron bit the end of one fingernail and
spit it across the table. He smiled at her, his expression smug.
“The earl can many times over—without a noticeable dip in his bank
account, I might add.”
But you are also rich,
Edgar. You have no need of the money.”
I would prefer you not
mention that to the earl.”
Catherine understood the threat attached to
what seemed an innocuous request. “If that is all,” she said.
She turned once more to leave, and once more
he detained her.
There is one other thing,
love.” Why must he always appear gratified when he knew he was
about to tell her something she would hate? “I purchased you a new
gown to wear the first night the earl is here. Cost me a pretty
penny and, I assure you, it is very fashionable.”
And she could put it next to all the other
gowns he had bought her now hanging in her wardrobe, she thought
disparagingly, gowns only a trollop would wear.
Aloud she said, “Perhaps, if fashionable
began in a bawdy house, Edgar. How could you wish the gentlemen you
invite here to view your wife as someone so vulgar? Perhaps someday
you will explain it to me.”
You know everything I wish
you to know, my dear. You may go now.” He dismissed her with a wave
of his hand. As always, the baron had had the last word.
Catherine left the dining room and entered
the great hall of the castle. Lifting her skirts, she dashed up the
ancient staircase to the landing above. She went to her room and
slammed the oaken door with a burst of angry energy.
Damn him! Damn him! What had she done to
deserve her fate? She would have cried, but the knot of pique that
had formed in her chest would not allow her that relief. She paced
back and forth across the moldering carpet, arms folded tightly
across her breasts, trying to calm the maelstrom of loathing that
had taken her emotions.
She wanted to scream her hatred for that
detestable man who symbolized everything wrong with her world. At
times like this she envisioned planting a razor-sharp blade in the
middle of his bony back. Then she was seized by a guilt so
overpowering she feared losing her mind. Worst of all, she could
see no end to the madness. Her bed had been made, albeit for her,
and now she must lie in it until that drunken bastard in the dining
hall cocked up his toes and released her from this prison.
There came a timid knock at the door and,
with Catherine’s permission, her maid slipped into the room. “I
heard your door close and thought you might be needing my
Edna, you know very well I
slammed the door, and now I’m feeling miserable because I allowed
that man to incite me into throwing a temper tantrum.”
She was embarrassed by her loss of control,
smiling an apology at her servant. She cringed inwardly because
Edna’s neutral expression did not mask the little abigail’s
concern. Catherine knew her situation aroused feelings of pity
among the staff. All were aware of what she had suffered at the
hands of her husband—not in a physical way, for the baron’s
affliction precluded that, but emotionally, a more subtle form of
Having spent all her pent-up rage, Catherine
felt suddenly limp as though all her bones had been removed. She
let Edna help her disrobe and don a soft flannel nightgown, and
with unsteady legs she climbed into the middle of her four-poster
bed to lie on her back atop the counterpane.
After all these years I
ought to be used to these little scenes with my husband. I suppose
he would be gratified to know he can still disturb me
She turned her face to stare at the
diminutive maid who stood patiently waiting at the foot of the bed
for further instructions.
Smiling wanly, Catherine shook her head. “You
must grow weary of such self-indulgence, Edna. Get some rest.
Tomorrow is another day to live through.”
Having said that, Lady Bourgeault flung her
arm over her eyes to block out what remained of the ruined
Mother, you’ve done it
again.” Adam Edward Stanford, Sixth Earl of Ashworth, bowed low
over his parent’s hand and kissed her freckled knuckles. “However,
it becomes boring to be so consistent. You should try being a
disappointment. People like to gossip, and the morning following
one of your parties all anyone can say is how wonderful this was
and how marvelous that was. Tedious, don’t you think?”
He spoke with fond generosity, for the earl
wished nothing more than his mother’s continued social success. The
dowager countess rarely entertained and, being choosy about where
she was seen, this became her one time of the year to shine.
Would you grant your
favorite and, I might add, only son a dance?” He winked at her,
knowing he was the one individual who could impose on the countess’
Naughty boy,” she said on a
giggle and tapped him on the arm with her fan. “You should be
dancing with the young ladies instead of partnering an old fossil
I hardly consider you an
old fossil, Mother, but then that is what you were hoping to hear,
She sniffed, but clearly pleased, followed
him onto the dance floor. They joined the other couples, and Adam
watched in amusement as his mother’s expression took on a haughty
aspect. She was proud of him and she showed it. Perhaps her bias
came from the fact that they looked so similar. At any rate, he
suspected it strengthened her feeling of kinship with him.
She was still a handsome woman, although her
once dark hair was now ribboned with gray. The countess had told
him more than once she was pleased that her height and large bones
had been useful for something, as Adam had inherited his physique
from her and not his father. Rest his soul. Though the earl had
never given it a thought until he reached adulthood, he realized
his parents had made an unusual looking couple.
Adam knew the countess had been worrying
about him of late. She wanted him to occupy his seat in the House
of Lords, and yet having attained the mature age of thirty-two, he
felt no desire to do so. She seemed to think a wife and children
would provide stability in his life, forcing him to settle down.
But Adam had no desire to marry without affection, much to his
parent’s dismay. Such a bourgeois attitude, she had said.
Only last week, she had given him her little
speech about love. Love interfered with all the finer feelings.
Love knew nothing about constancy or permanence or compatibility.
It was passion and when the passion died, what was left? Not that
she wished him to choose just anyone so long as the lineage was
correct. He should like his perspective bride, she insisted. But
respect and common goals were the cement that bound a successful