Authors: Once a Rogue
Back Cover Copy
Sometimes a bad boy is just a hero in disguise.
Lucasta Collyer is about to resign herself to an arranged marriage. First, however, she wants one night of discovery, on her own terms, with a complete stranger. But Lucy’s plan for one night of anonymous passion is destined for trouble. Her fortress heart, once fiercely protected, is suddenly breached. John Carver, a blue-eyed, salty-mouthed, yeoman farmer and self-professed former rogue, has found a way in. He’s everything she shouldn’t want. He’s brazen, arrogant and refuses to obey her orders. Lucy simply can’t resist the challenge.
John Carver never bows to the wretched nobility and he won’t be the passive plaything of this imperious, icy-tempered young hussy who offers him three sovereigns to take her virginity
touching her with his filthy hands. Clearly she needs a lesson, and he’ll gladly teach it.
But this rogue isn’t as reformed as he wants everyone to believe and Lucy soon knows that better than anyone.
She cautiously studied the man before her. He seemed much larger now they were in the same room. His shirt was stained, the cuffs hanging over his broad wrists frayed and discolored, his boots thick with mud.
“Can we proceed?” Once again, she tried to conceal her nervous tremors under a haughty tone. “Would you like the money now or later?”
Because he stood so close, looking up into his face made her feel small and vulnerable. Instead, she stared at whatever reached eye-level. This, she discovered, was a mistake, drawing her gaze to the part of him for which she went to all this trouble, and subsequently reminding her that he was still fully clothed, while she was half-naked.
“Well, farmhand? Three sovereigns are enough, surely? You may remove your breeches and begin.” She glanced dubiously at his hands where they hung at his sides. “Try not to touch me too much. Beyond the necessary, of course.”
Once a Rogue
By Jayne Fresina
Once a Rogue
Copyright © 2011, Jayne Fresina
Edited by Tiffany Maxwell
Book design by Lyrical Press, Inc.
Cover Art by Renee Rocco
First Lyrical Press, Inc. electronic publication: November, 2011
Lyrical Press, Incorporated
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Published in the United States of America by Lyrical Press, Incorporated
To Jan Jan.
Thanks to friends and family for their continued encouragement and support.
The first time she saw him, she knew he was the one.
Squinting through a peephole, heartbeat falling like coins from a tumbler’s pockets, Lucasta Collyer made the decision that changed her life.
To this man, a complete stranger, she would give her maidenhead.
She watched him for a while. Careful assessment suggested he was ideal for the job: sturdily built, quietly confident, a man of few words. Compared to the other available choices at hand, he looked sober. Participating in none of the games taking place, he sat at one corner of the hearth, mellow-tempered and disinterested, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. One might even say he looked bored, until one of the resident old dogs slouched over to inspect him. Then his eyes lightened, his face relaxed in a smile and he leaned down to pet the animal. He wore no doublet, just a shirt with a jerkin over it, loose breeches and lugged boots. A simple peasant, with broad shoulders and a build carved through hard physical labor, he was certainly no one she was ever likely to encounter elsewhere. Their worlds would never meet again after tonight.
“Yes. He’ll do.” A pulse, reckless and runaway, hummed through her veins, but her voice remained composed. She hoped.
Mistress Comfort, the proprietress of this establishment, needed no assistance from her sharp eyes while efficiently counting the coin in her wrinkled hands. Instead she stared curiously at Lucy. “Are ye quite certain, madam?”
“Yes. The dark-haired man by the fire. Now I’m in haste. Where might I…” Tattered courage momentarily deserted her, shortened her breath so words expired on her tongue. Planning this daring escapade was one thing; actually carrying it out another. “Where might we have privacy?”
She was escorted up a narrow set of stairs and along a dark hallway to one of the small bedchambers. Mistress Comfort asked no further questions. The weight of her coin purse would silence any. Sometimes it was useful to have a wealthy father, although until now, as the somewhat inconvenient, least favored child, Lucy had never felt much benefit.
“This is my best chamber, madam,” the old proprietress assured her. “It is on the quieter side of the house,” she added.
Eager for some fresh air, Lucy hurried around the bed to open the window. It was a chilly evening with a hint of rain, but she would rather be cool than too hot. The sudden introduction of a sly breeze woke the few lit candles from their lazy slumber and long shadows danced, stretching around the walls, fluttering wings of light beating across her face. She drew a steadying breath and, in this flickering, capricious glow, inspected the scene of her imminent ruination.
A low table stood in one corner, holding a ewer and washbasin, a chipped chamber pot beneath. There was evidence of some effort to make the room appear more luxurious: a pair of threadbare, moth-nibbled tapestry curtains draped around the bed and even a small bowl of dried rose petals set nearby to sweeten the air. After all, this was the finest whorehouse in Norwich. Apparently.
Mistress Comfort, eager to impress, had carried up a jug of wine on a tray with two dented pewter cups. Unfortunately her lurching, crook-backed gait was not conducive to an even hand, and as she shuffled by Lucy to set her burden down, several puddles of vinegary liquid sloshed onto the tray. A shiny black beetle, caught napping on the small table beside the bed, was too slow to escape its doom when she brought the tray down with a clatter.
“A little something extra, madam,” she grunted, hobbling back to the door. “Free o’ charge.”
Free of charge, indeed! She’d paid a small fortune for the use of this chamber and the old crone’s discretion.
Fingertips tentatively pinching the dusty folds of the frayed bed curtain, contemplating a damp patch on the wall, Lucy muttered, “Well, now I’ve come this far, I may as well proceed.”
She was aware of Mistress Comfort’s beady eyes assessing her critically. The old hag must be wondering why she wore a leather mask over the top half of her face and why she was there to buy a man for the evening. Lucy certainly wouldn’t tell her.
Releasing the curtain, she whirled around. “Bring him to me, then!” As always, when she was anxious, Lucy’s voice grew tight and clipped. She heard the tone, but could do nothing to soften it, Her mouth was dry, her tongue might seize up at any moment. Eager to get this over with, she jerked off her hood. “Make haste, woman!” she added, pretending not only that she purchased a man’s company every evening of the week, but she didn’t hear the little skip of panic in her own voice.
Mistress Comfort retreated quickly, closing the door behind her, and Lucy began to undress before she changed her mind.
He’d better have clean hands. She didn’t want him getting any dirt on her. A quick glance at the ewer assured her there was enough water to make him wash them. Good. And he could wash his other parts too, thank you very much, before they came anywhere near her. She looked at the bed, nervously pacing around it. There would be fleas, more than likely. She itched already at her arms and the back of her neck.
Lifting the wine jug, she sniffed daintily and immediately wrinkled her nose, almost retching. Stale, as she suspected, and there were flies floating there, merrily drowned. She set the jug back on the tray with trembling hands and ran to the window, afraid she might be sick. It was nerves, of course. Taking a few deep breaths, she bolstered her courage with a hasty self-lecture, for this was no time to be squeamish. At six and twenty, with only days left before her wedding to a man she despised, it was high time.
At least, this was her choice and on her terms. Lord Winton, that pompous old windbag, would be exceedingly miffed to find he’d bargained for used stock, but Lucy gained some satisfaction from this small protest. Her father would soon hand her over to Winton, the man he’d chosen, but she’d have this experience first, one last rebellion.
For once in her life, she did something for herself, her own way.
She knew the risks she took. Anything might happen to her at the hands of a stranger, but then Lord Winton was also little more than a stranger to her and nobody was concerned about her fate at his hands. At least this stranger was her choice.
Of course, there were other dangers. Once Lord Winton discovered she was no maid, he might take his fury out on her, but he was more than twice her age and had a bad leg. He certainly would never catch her if she ran. And she was no stranger to the sting of a cane or her father’s belt. It had been a frequent occurrence for much of her childhood. Hardened by it, numb to it now, she would cope with her punishment, as long as she had this to comfort her later, a memory of one last mutinous act.
Sometimes, for women, life was only tolerable with occasional doses of victory, especially when there was no hope of winning the entire war.
She scratched her shoulder, glancing pensively at the bed again. Now where was this man she deigned to honor with her maidenhead? How dare he keep her waiting?
* * * *
“Yer wanted upstairs. Last chamber on the right. Lady willing to pay three sovereigns. She says yer to make haste, young feller.”
He thought she addressed another, but as he shifted his gaze upward, merely out of curiosity, he found the old proprietress directing these words at him. Just to be sure, he glanced over his shoulder, but there was no one behind.
“What ye waitin’ for? The queen’s permission?”
Yawning loudly, John Sydney Carver sat up, running a splayed hand through his hair. “Most amusing. Where is he?” He waited, certain his cousin would leap out of the shadows, convulsing with laughter.
She sniffed at him with her hooked nose. “What yer sitting there gaping at me for? I don’t know any feller who’d look this fine gift horse in the mouth.”
He was still skeptical. While his mother claimed Cousin Nathaniel’s practical jokes, however tiresome and often ill-timed, were never planned with spite, John wasn’t entirely certain. Nathaniel would go to any peculiar lengths to make a point and win a wager.
“I know my cousin’s behind this,” he said evenly. “He told me to meet him here.”
“Never mind that now, young feller. If yer don’t get a move on, yon fine pigeon will fly the coop!” She prodded with her stubby thumb upward. “She’s waitin’ and she’s none too patient. Proper little madam.”
Eyes narrowed, he studied the low beams above and sighed deeply. So what did Nathaniel have up his sleeve this time to challenge John’s new vow of celibacy?
He supposed he’d have to go up and find out.
* * * *
Before she left the house, Lucy had her maid loosen all the necessary points and laces, preparing herself for haste. In her long, hooded cloak she was discreetly covered and no one noticed her state of half-undress. Now her clothing fell away easily, as planned, and she was soon down to corset and shift. There was nothing left to do but pace, listening to the muted laughter from below.
Now she was struck by another troubling thought.
He might not be willing. There to enjoy a few ales, possibly choose his own woman for a sixpence, he might object to being the prey instead of the hunter.
Her heartbeat raced, straining within the confines of her corset, but just as she considered slipping her cloak back on and leaving, the door opened and he entered.
She almost heard a drum roll heralding his appearance. Her brother was right, she’d watched one too many plays.
Clutching the nicked, scratched bedpost, she looked at this man she’d chosen and discovered, to her shame and frustration, a wretched streak of cowardice threatening the fulfillment of her grand plans. She’d never felt so apprehensive in the presence of a man, but then she’d never been alone with one, other than her father or brother, before this. Under normal circumstances some form of introduction would be expected, but in a situation like this, were there any rules?