Authors: Celeste Bradley
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency
One Night with a Spy
Every ruler needs a few men he can count on to tell him
whether he wants to hear it or not
Created in the time of the Normans, when King William the Conqueror found himself overrun with "advisors" more concerned with their own agendas than with the good of the whole, the Quatre Royale were selected from the King's own boyhood friends. Lords all, and bound by loyalty rather than selfish motives, these four men took on the names of ruthless predators while acting as the Quatre, keeping their lives and identities separate from their true roles…
… to act as the shield of deceit and the sword of truth in the name of the King.
Courageous as the Lion
Deadly as the Cobra
Vigilant as the Falcon
Clever as the Fox
The appointment is for life—the commitment absolute. Bonds of family, friends and even love become as insubstantial as a dream when each hand-selected apprentice takes the seat of the master. All else is merely pretense, kept for the sake of secrecy and anonymity. For it is true that the iron bars of duty cage the hearts and souls of…
The Royal Four
This book is for my family members who were so devastated by Hurricane Katrina. You inspire me with your strength and resiliency. To Jack, Dave, Gretchen, Steve, Virginia, Claudia, Janine and all of your loved ones… thank you for making me feel at home again.
I would like to thank the Bad Pennies for their support, and I would like to extend special thanks to Darbi Gill, who listened to me talk about the story long past the point where I stopped making sense.
The moon is full and swollen in the dark lapis sky. A bright path shines on the glassy lake, leading me in, calling me onward. I want to follow. I want to feel the lake on my bare skin.
A tingle on the back of my neck at the hint of sandalwood on the night breeze. No, there is no one there.
The water will be cold silver, slipping silky fingers into places it would never reach through a bathing costume. I reach to untie my wrapper
and his hands come about me from behind. "Let me." His voice is deep enough to make me quiver, but not a growl
My breath catches in my throat. "I told you to never come here again."
"I cannot stay away."
I look down to where large, competent fingers slowly tug free the knot in the satin belt. He lets the ends fall and spreads his open hands over my belly. I close my eyes at the heat that sinks into my skin and let my head fall back against the firm shoulder there. He rises behind me like a fortress, a wall of strength and protection that will never fail me. He is wrong for me, but I cannot resist him.
He presses warm lips upon my temple and I turn into his arms, leaving my wrapper behind to slip to the grass. I am as naked as he. His arms come around me and for one, long perfect moment he holds me pressed close to his heat and strength. His embrace is a pledge, a vow, and I nod in understanding before I open my eyes.
I may look upon his form—I must look upon it, and caress and take pleasure in it. His great chest rises with each breath, which comes more quickly as I allow my fingers to explore the plates and cords of muscle that shape him. I slip my hands up to trace the thickened strength of his arms to his broad shoulders—those shoulders I do love to rely upon—and then back down. I especially love to trace the risen vein that throbs in each forearm, and to feel his blood jump at my touch.
Then I take his large, square hands in mine and press them to my breasts, giving him the weight of them in his palms. His organ rises between us, rigid and hungry, without shame. "Do you want me?" I know he does, but I need to hear him say it.
"I want you." His hands tighten on me, not cruelly but possessively. I close my eyes and let my head drop back.
"Tell me why."
I want you because I was made to fit within you. I live to lose myself in your wetness and your heat. I love
No. Wait. She couldn't have him say that. Good heavens, love was the last thing she wanted on her plate! He was a plaything only. That thought sent a tiny shiver through her and put a naughty twist to her lips as she bent to scribble in her diary once more.
I stop him with trembling fingers over his lips. No. Not that. Even I dare not dream of that.
"I need you."
That was better. Not as dangerous.
I flow against him, melting into his skin, wishing I might stay in the circle of his protective, urgent embrace forever.
He sweeps me into his arms, lifting me lightly from my feet. With me in his possession, he strides into the lake. The water is cool, not chill, on my heated skin and it slides over my nipples and between my bare thighs like a sweet invader, tightening my flesh and making me shiver. He spins me in the water, creating a wake of shimmering wavelets that continue onward to break up the flawless pale path to the moon. I won't be going there tonight. I will stay here, in my lover's arms.
He stops with the moon behind him, throwing him into silhouette, and only then do I look up to see his dampened hair curling about the shadows of his face. He kisses me and allows my body to slide down his until we are pressed breast to chest once more. My feet do not touch bottom, for I am weightless under the heat of his mouth.
I wrap my arms about his neck and my limbs about his waist. His erection presses demandingly to me and I ease myself down onto his thickness.
I close my eyes and press my face into his muscular neck. I don't want to see his features, for if he has a face he will also have a name
and I must never know it
"Will you bathe, my lady?"
With a start Julia, Lady Barrowby, twenty-year-old wife of the elderly lord of the manor, looked up from her writing to where her maid, Pickles, stood tapping her toes impatiently.
Julia blinked as the fantasy faded into mundane reality. Right. It was only early evening, not midnight, and she was in her bedchamber as usual, not swimming naked in the lake. A twinge of guilt went through her. Her life in Derbyshire was wonderful, after all. Why did she feel the need to escape it into these diary entries? "So sorry, Pick. I'll put it away as soon as the ink dries."
"Always scribblin'. You'll lose your eyesight, my lady, see if you don't!"
"I know, Pick." Julia capped the ink bottle with a sigh. "Did his lordship mention that he might be joining me this evening?"
A glint of pity shone in Pickles's eyes. She turned briskly away to hide it. "Himself went straight to his room after dinner, as usual."
As usual. Julia lifted her chin. Aldus hadn't come to her in so long—and even when he had, he'd always been more embarrassed than amorous. She didn't care about the difference in their ages. She owed him so much. She would do anything for him… if ever he should ask.
"Humph. Good hot water gettin' cold, too." Pickles sniffed reproachfully, the moment of crusty pity past. "If you were still our little Jilly, I'd tan your bottom for wastin' my time this way."
"Yes, Pickles." Julia let a little Lady Barrowby creep into her voice. "You've made yourself perfectly clear."
Pickles subsided with a last irritated grunt and held out her hand for Julia's wrapper. Julia removed it and stepped into the now tepid water with another sigh. Pickles left the room, giving the door a decidedly miffed slam.
Julia closed her eyes. She'd pay for that one later—she likely wouldn't get a truly hot bath for a fortnight—but she couldn't allow Pickles to go too far. Aldus was adamant—simply because the woman had once been one of her mother's closest friends was no reason to allow her and the rest of the handpicked staff to badger the mistress of the grand house of Barrowby.
Looking back, she decided tonight's entry had been a particularly lovely fancy, full of beauty and titillation. The last line was a bit embarrassingly melodramatic— "if he has a face he will also have a name—and I must never know it"—but what did it matter? No one was ever going to read it but her.
She slid deeper in the bath and leaned her head against the back of the lavish copper tub, letting the fantasy take over her imagination once again.
The moon is full and swollen
. . .
"My lady!" Pickles burst back into the room, graying hair astray and eyes wide. "My lady, it's his lordship—he's collapsed!"
THREE YEARS LATER
Husbands came and husbands went, but dreadful hair lasted forever.
Julia, now the widowed Lady Barrowby, forced one last curling strand back into her severely restrained hairstyle and settled the black veil over it all. Her beloved Aldus had lingered for three long years in his efforts to stay with her after his initial collapse and although he'd been more mentor than husband, she had sworn to mourn him for one entire day before she took on the task he had set her.
Just as he'd wished, she had buried him today with no more fanfare than the baker of the nearby village of Middlebarrow might have received. Now, she must pull herself together and dry her tears, for the moment had come.
With a sigh, she saw that another pale wisp had come loose. Her hair refused to adapt to the role of highborn lady, a last holdout from the common Jilly Boots she'd once been.