Authors: Dorothy McFalls
LADY IONA’S REBELLION
For my dad, Robert McFalls, a wonderful father and proud WWII veteran. I know you would have loved this story.
And for Jim, who has been the glue in my life these last few months.
I love you both dearly.
* * * * *
However rare true love may be,
it is less so than true friendship.
~ La Rochefoucauld
Lord Nathan Wynter peeled open one eye and then the other. His body felt sated and heavy like he could sleep forever, so what had woken him up? He strained his ears in the silence of the dark room. Nothing.
Curious. He rarely woke in the middle of the night for no reason. He gently pushed aside the slender, pale arm draped across his bare chest and slipped from the large canopied bed.
A draft of frigid air struck like a fist in the gut. It must be late indeed for the coals to have cooled so completely. Though it was nearly summer the nights at Dundas Manor, just a half-day’s ride north of Edinburgh, were still cold enough to make a man fear for his private parts.
Nathan would have escaped to a warmer clime more than a month ago if not for the smoldering, though sometimes coarse, Mrs. Jane Sharpes who’d inherited Dundas Manor and did a wondrous job keeping him warm beneath the sheets.
Jane stretched like a lazy cat and murmured in her sleep. She was only half-covered by the bed’s heavy blankets. The cold never seemed to touch her. Her long, shapely left leg was exposed. The creamy flesh appeared to glow in the gloom. Her raven black hair pooled around her head like a dark silky halo. A tug of lust hardened him.
Good heavens, he should be exhausted beyond repair, not thinking of new ways to savor every blessed inch of her. As it was, Jane had an insatiable appetite for lovemaking. She was always teasing his body into a frenzied state, Lord love her, several times a night. It was a wonder that Mr. Sharpes hadn’t died in this very bed after twelve years of marriage to Jane.
Sharpes instead had had the ill manners to collapse in the middle of a ballroom in London, dead on the spot. It had been quite a spectacle, elevating his rather overlooked wife to a popularity rivaled only by the Prince Regent himself.
Ah, winning the lovely, rich widow had been no easy task. Every rogue in London had set his cap for her. Nathan had used all his rakish charms to lure her to him, shocking many of the matrons of the
along the way. One notorious night, he’d acted a little too outrageously and was caught in a rather compromising position with Jane in the Earl of Davenport’s portrait gallery. As a result, both Jane and Nathan had felt compelled to flee north to her husband’s estate—and shiver in the chilly air while the London Season wound down.
According to a letter he’d received a few days ago from Viscount Evers, the gossiping town tabbies had sunk their teeth deep into the scandal. His name was still being bandied about at teas and soirées, tearing apart what little good he had left to his already thoroughly debauched reputation.
His father, a stickler for propriety, must have been having fits.
Nathan would have chuckled at the thought of his crusty old papa huffing about the rambling Callaway Abbey, red-faced, if his lips weren’t so damned cold. He tugged on a heavy velvet dressing gown and thrummed his hands against his arms.
“Come back to bed, my pretty young pet,” Jane said. Her baritone voice was deepened from sleep and desire.
Nathan’s body instantly tightened, ready to take another tumble with Jane in her bed. Yet, his troublesome mind balked.
My pretty young pet
she’d called him. Such endearments were falling with disturbing regularity from her full, red lips, as she demanded his attentions in
bed and in
house. During the last few days, he had begun to feel like a male version of a mistress. A kept man.
The thought was lowering.
“You aren’t still pouting over the cross words I spouted this evening, are you?” She propped herself up on one elbow. “I’ve already apologized for speaking to you like a servant. But really, pet, this is my estate. You shouldn’t have tried to interfere with its management.”
Nathan gritted his teeth to keep himself from saying something they would both regret and moved closer to the cool air gathering around the window. Damn her seductive ways, his body was truly aching for what Jane was offering to give him.
“I heard an odd sound, I think,” he said and peered out into the darkness. A dull orange glow from the full moon managed to peek through the heavy clouds and shine its soft light on the gardens and park surrounding the manor house. In a moment, he’d return to bed and give in to his baser needs. He’d worry about his self-respect in the morning.
He was making his way back toward the bed when a movement among the trees caught his eye. “What’s this?” He nearly pressed his nose to the cool glass to get a better look. A lone rider was approaching the manor at breakneck speed. There was a blur of the horse’s legs and the rider’s arms in the bleak night.
He turned back toward Jane. “Who could it be at this hour?”
Jane shrugged elegantly and rose from the bed. “I suppose we’re about to find out,” she said with a dramatic sigh.
She gave him her most tempting pose, as she stood in all her glory, no doubt knowing he’d burn and turn as hard as the bricks lining the fireplace. He swallowed down a lump of lust and tossed a pearly silk gown in her direction. Her lips pursed into a frown that threatened to singe his eyebrows while she slipped the gown on over her slender shoulders.
Ten minutes later, Jane’s sleepy-eyed maid appeared in the bedchamber. “You rang the bell, Mrs. Sharpes?” the girl asked around a wide yawn.
Jane tapped her toe on the floor. “Go find out who has presently arrived and disturbed all our sleep.”
“Yes, Mrs. Sharpes,” the young girl said. She gave a shallow curtsy before disappearing back into the dark hall.
“I would have gone down myself,” Nathan said. “You didn’t have to wake the entire household for this.”
am awake. And unhappy, since you have fled my bed. Why shouldn’t the servants be roused?”
“Why, indeed?” he said dryly.
When had her haughty manner ceased to charm him?
The sleepy maid soon returned. “‘Tis a messenger, Mrs. Sharpes.” She bobbed a quick curtsy before handing a neatly folded foolscap to Nathan.
“For me?” he asked and bit his lower lip while giving the maid a roguish smile. He accepted the silver candleholder with its flickering taper from her slender hands and held it aloft so he could study the paper. The letter bore no identifying mark but was sealed with a simple blob of red wax.
“Whatever are you gaping at? Be gone with you, you foolish girl,” Jane said rather petulantly.
The maid blushed deeply and lowered her gaze. She curtsied as she rushed away, nearly tripping over her own feet.
Nathan wondered at the girl’s queer behavior until he noticed his dressing gown had slipped open. The maid had been given an unobstructed view of the entire length of his bare chest and a little below. He felt close to blushing himself.
He hadn’t even thought to don a pair of trousers or a nightshirt before her arrival. Had his wickedness really made him so immune to the sensibilities of others?
Ah, well. A bitter chuckle escaped his lips. There was no hope for it. Such was the life of an unredeemable rake.
He broke the wax seal to read the letter. No doubt, some interesting news detailing the
’s reaction to his latest fall from grace.
“Yes?” Jane glided toward him but stopped just short of peering over his shoulder. She reached around and caressed his chest. Her wandering fingers dipped lower and lower with each tantalizing stroke.
“Good Lord,” was all Nathan could say at first. He pushed Jane away and read the letter from beginning to end again.
His father’s man of affairs had penned the words. Not his brother, nor his mother. His father’s blasted man of affairs had written Nathan because no one else deemed it important he knew—and it would soon be too late.
“I have to go home,” Nathan said. His head suddenly felt as cold as his heart. He couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the letter. “I must leave at once. My father…my father may be dead.”
Lady Iona Newbury rushed down the hallway with a handful of her light blue muslin skirt tucked between her fingers. She was thoroughly shocked at herself for being late to tea. The afternoon had slipped away without her notice, which was most unusual. She was almost never late.
Of course she had an excuse. Her family had only moved into their Georgian-style townhouse on the Royal Crescent the day before and after helping her lady’s maid unpack she’d spent the afternoon taking baskets to several widows who resided in town year-round. A low murmur of voices rose from behind the closed parlor door. Iona sucked in a deep breath. From the sound of things, all of Bath had chosen today to pay a friendly call.
But of course they would. Her father, the Duke, was an enormously popular figure in the rather staid town.
She slowed her step and smoothed out her skirt before turning the parlor’s oval, rosette-encrusted, brass doorknob. She hadn’t opened the door more than a sliver when she heard her name clearly spoken from within.
“You cannot pretend to defend your sister, Lillian,” a lilting voice belonging to Miss Frances Cuthbert, the daughter of one of the local gentry, said. “Six seasons and still unwed. It begs to be said. Your older sister is lovely. Her blonde locks shine like silk. It’s her stubborn nature that has put her quite on the shelf.”
On the shelf? Iona closed her eyes and tried to draw a calm breath. The air wedged in her throat seemed to be stuck there.
Surely three-and-twenty was years away from being considered a spinster!
“She is rather like a soggy milksop, isn’t she?” another of Bath’s youthful society ladies said with a giggle. “No, don’t take offense, Lillian. We only mean to assist her. You must try to make her more daring. I daresay it is not your sister’s stubbornness that is keeping the eligible bachelors at bay but her utterly dull manner.”
Iona curled her hands into a pair of tight fists and found her breath. Propriety and courtesy were important traits for a woman to display, weren’t they? As daughter of a duke, her behavior reflected directly on her family’s honor. There could be no other way for a dutiful daughter to act.
Surely no man had ever been frightened away by her naturally quiet demeanor. Those ladies, nothing more than vain gabble-grinders pretending to be such close and personal friends to Lillian, were wrong. Her personality lacked for nothing. It wasn’t her fault she’d simply never found a man worthy of her interests.
Moreover, a woman didn’t necessarily need a man to bring her satisfaction and passion in her life. She could find those things all on her own.
“Lady Iona?” A familiar voice brimming with good humor sailed down the hallway. “Whatever are you doing with your ear pressed to the parlor door?”
“I…uh…I…” She jerked away from the door with such speed that she nearly tipped over. A solid hand grabbed her elbow and held her steady. She raised her head up and up the length of the man’s body until she set her eyes on the sparkling azure blue gaze belonging to none other than the very wicked Lord Nathan Wynter.
A crooked grin landed on his lips. “Take your time, my lady,” he said as she continued to stammer.
His cream pantaloons hugged his legs like a second skin, which no proper lady should of course admit to noticing. A high-collared Wellington brown coat that pulled across his broad shoulders gave only a hinting glance at the lime green waistcoat underneath. His cravat had been tied with such elegance that the greatest arbiter of taste and refinement, Beau Brummell, would surely applaud at the sight of it.
He stood with his legs parted just so, leaned his free arm against the wall and waited while she composed herself. He was so very much in command of himself, a gentleman at ease in his own skin.
Two summers ago they had grown to be close friends. His surprise appearance at her side now utterly pleased Iona. She nearly lost her senses and tossed herself into his arms. A warm smile formed on her lips and she almost gave in to impulse when, stopping herself, she remembered the horrid rumors surrounding his reputation.