Authors: Louise Allen
Secrets, sins and a scandalous affair
Crispin de Feaux, Marquess of Avenmore, has always done his duty and knows the time has come to find a suitable wife. But when the intrepid Tamsyn Perowne saves his life off the Devonshire coast, Cris is unable to tear himself away...
The widow of a notorious smuggler, Tamsyn would never make an appropriate bride. And Cris has secrets that could tear them apart before they’ve even begun! Yet, for the first time, Cris is tempted to ignore his duty and claim Tamsyn as his own!
Lords of Disgrace
Bachelors for life!
Friends since school,
brothers in arms, bachelors for life!
At least that’s what “The Four Disgraces”—
Alex Tempest, Grant Rivers, Cris de Feaux
and Gabriel Stone—believe. But when they meet four feisty women who are more than a match for their wild ways, these lords are tempted to renounce bachelordom for good.
Don’t miss this dazzling new quartet by
His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish
His Christmas Countess
The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux
And don’t miss
The Unexpected Marriage of Gabriel Stone
Coming next month!
When I started to tell Cris and Tamsyn’s story, I had a very clear image of how it began and also just where it would be set, on the wild and rugged coast where North Devon and North Cornwall meet. I have known and loved this coastline with its towering cliffs, secret coves and tales of smugglers since I was a child. All of the towns mentioned are real, as is Hartland Quay, where Cris’s adventure begins, but the villages are imaginary, although based on the places where I spent many happy hours. I also borrowed Hawker’s Hut on the cliffs at Morwenstow, possibly the National Trust’s smallest and most charming property, for Tamsyn’s secret hideaway. If you search online for images, they will give you a vivid picture of the lovely setting.
I do hope you will enjoy the story of how Cris de Feaux, the least likely of the Lords of Disgrace to lose his head and his heart, meets his match in one very independent Devon lady with a scandalous past.
The Many Sins
of Cris de Feaux
loves immersing herself in history. She finds landscapes and places evoke the past powerfully. Venice, Burgundy and the Greek islands are favorite destinations. Louise lives on the Norfolk coast and spends her spare time gardening, researching family history or traveling in search of inspiration. Visit her at
Books by Louise Allen
Lords of Disgrace
His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish
His Christmas Countess
The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux
Brides of Waterloo
A Rose for Major Flint
Danger & Desire
Ravished by the Rake
Seduced by the Scoundrel
Married to a Stranger
Linked by Character
Forbidden Jewel of India
Tarnished Amongst the Ton
From Ruin to Riches
Unlacing Lady Thea
Beguiled by Her Betrayer
Harlequin Historical Undone! ebooks
Disrobed and Dishonored
Auctioned Virgin to Seduced Bride
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For the Quayistas, in memory of a very cheerful week’s research.
ris de Feaux was drowning. And he was angry. The realisation of both came with the slap of a wave of icy salt water in the face and he shook it out of his eyes, cursing, while he came to terms with the fact that he had swum out from the little cove without thinking, without stopping to do anything but shed his clothes on the rocks and plunge into the breakers.
It had felt good to cut through the surf out into deep water, to push his body hard while his mind became mercifully blank of anything except the co-ordination of arms and legs, the stretch of muscles, the power of a kick. It had felt good, for once in his life, not to consider consequences, not to plan with care and forethought. And now that indulgence was going to kill him.
Was that what he had wanted? Eyes wide with shock, Cris went under, into a watery blue-green world, and kicked up to the surface, spitting and furious. He had fallen in love, unsuitably, impossibly, against all sense and honour. He knew it could never be, he had walked away before any more damage could be done and now his aimless wanderings across England had brought him here, to the edge of North Devon and the ocean.
Which was about to kill him, unless he was very lucky indeed. No, he did not want to die, however much he ached for what could never be, but he had swum too far, beyond the limits of his strength and what he could ask of his hard-exercised horseman’s body.
Use your head
, he snarled at himself.
You got yourself into this mess, now get yourself out of it. You will not give up. I am
killing myself for love.
He studied the shore between sore, salt-crusted lids. High cliffs, toothed at their base with jagged surf-lashed rocks, mocked him, dared him to try to land and be dashed to bloody death. But there were little coves between the headlands, he knew that. The current was carrying him south-west along the line of the shore so he would go with it, conserve his strength until he saw a point to aim at. Even in those few minutes as he hung in the water it had already carried him onwards, but he dared not risk just lying there, a passive piece of flotsam on the flow. It might be the first day of June, but the sea was strength-sappingly cold. He could hardly feel his legs, except for the white-hot pain of over-extended muscles and tendons. His shoulders and arms felt no better.
The wind shifted, slapping the water into his face from a different angle.
. Above the nearest towering headland, a drift of something against the blue of the perfect sky. Smoke. Which meant a house, a beach or perhaps a jetty.
. Ignore the pain. Dig down to every last ounce of strength and then find some more. Whatever it was that eventually killed the fifth Marquess of Avenmore, it was not going to be a hopeless love and a lack of guts.
Time passed, became simply a blur of pain and effort. He was conscious, somewhere in the back of what was left of his consciousness, that he could not stay afloat much longer. He lifted his head, a lead weight, and saw land, close. A beach, breakers. It seemed the scent of wood smoke and wild garlic cut through the salt for a second. Not a mirage.
But that is.
In the moment of clarity he thought he saw a woman, waist-deep in the water, thick brown hair curling loose on her shoulders, calling to him, ‘Hold on!’
And then his body gave up, his legs sank, he went under and staggered as his feet hit sand. Somehow he found the strength to stand and the mermaid was coming towards him, her hands held out. The water dragged at him, forcing his legs to move with the frustrating slowness of dream running. The sand shifted beneath his feet as the undertow from the retreating wave sucked at him, but he struggled on. One step towards her, then another and, staggering, four more.
She reached for him as he took one more lurching step and stumbled into her, his hands grasping her shoulders for balance. Under his numb hands her skin was hot, burning, her eyes were brown, like her hair. There were freckles on her nose and her lips were parted.
This was not a mermaid. This was a real, naked, woman. This was life and he was alive. He bent his head and kissed her, her mouth hot, his hands shaking as he pulled her against him.
She kissed him back, unresisting. There was the taste of woman and life and hope through the cold and the taste of salt and the hammering of the blood where his hands rested against her throat.
The wave broke against his back, pushing them both over. She scrabbled free, got to her feet and reached for him, but he was on his feet now, some last reserve of strength coming with that kiss and with hope. He put his arm around her waist and lifted her against him.
‘I do not require holding up—you do,’ she protested as they gained the hard sand of the beach, but he held on, stumbling across the sand, over stones he could not feel against his numbed soles. Then, when they reached the grass, his legs finally gave way, and he went down again, hardly conscious that he was falling on to rough grass and into oblivion.
* * *
Tamsyn stared down at the man at her feet, Adam-naked, pale, tall, beautifully muscled, his hair slicked tight to his head, his face a mask of exhaustion and sheer determination even in unconsciousness.
A sea god, thrown out of his element.
You could not live on this coast for long without knowing what to do when someone was near drowned. Tamsyn did not hesitate, for all that her head was spinning and an inner voice was demanding to know what she thought she had been doing just then in his arms. She threw all the towels she had over the still body, then her cloak, dragged her shift over her head and set off at a run up the lane that sloped up past the front lawn of her aunts’ house on the left and the steep flank of Stib’s Head on the right, shouting for help.
‘Mizz Tamsyn?’ Johnny, the gardener, came out from the woodshed, dropping the armful of logs when he saw her. ‘What’s amiss?’
She clung to the gatepost, gasping for breath. ‘Get Michael and a hurdle. There’s a man down at the shore, half-drowned and freezing cold. Bring him back here and keep the cloak over him. Hurry!’
Her aunts’ cook just stared as she burst into the kitchen. ‘Get Mrs Tape, tell her we need blankets and hot bricks for the couch in the bathing room.’
She made herself stop in her headlong dash and open the door into the bathing room more slowly so as not to alarm her aunts. They were there already; Aunt Rosie, tight-lipped with pain, had just reached her armchair after the slow walk from her bedchamber, supported between Aunt Izzy and Harris, her maid. Steam was rising from the big tub, where she took the two long soaks a day that were the only remedy that eased her crippled joints. All three women looked up.
‘Tamsyn, dear, your clothes...’ Izzy began.
‘They are bringing a man up from the beach, he needs to get warm.’ Tamsyn plunged her hands into the water, winced. ‘Too hot, it will be agony, I’ll let some out and run in cold.’ She moved as she talked, yanking out the plug, turning on the tap. ‘I’m sorry, Aunt Rosie, but I think he will die if we don’t do something drastic. I’ve never felt anyone so frozen.’
Except for his mouth.
‘I’ve sent Cook for Mrs Tape and blankets, we’ll have to use the couch in here for him.’
‘Yes, of course. Izzy, Harris, never mind me—help Miss Tamsyn.’ Rosie was all practicality as usual. ‘Hot bricks, do you think? And lots of towels. Warm them by the range and then they can go on the bed to wrap him in, you must keep replacing them as they cool.’ The urgency animated Rosie’s face, even as she frowned in anxious thought. ‘Poor creature, a fisherman, I suppose.’
‘I’m heating that beef broth.’ Cook bustled in and held the door open. ‘Here they come. There’s a lot of him, that’s for sure.’
Johnny and Michael had clearly sent for help, for along with them Jason, the groom, had one corner of the hurdle while Molly, the maid of all work, and skinny little Peter, the odd-job boy, struggled with the other.
Over six foot of solid, unconscious man was indeed a lot, Tamsyn realised, as they lowered their burden to the floor. She checked the water—warm, but not hot—and pulled the cloak and towels from him. Aunt Izzy gave a squeak, Cook sucked in her breath and Molly murmured, ‘Oh,
‘For goodness’ sake, stop having the vapours, all of you. Haven’t you seen a naked man before?’ As she spoke she realised that the aunts probably hadn’t, even if Cook and Molly had quite
social lives and she...
Never mind that now
. ‘Lift him up and lower him into the water.’
That brought him round. Cursing, the stranger flailed at the men’s hands as he was lowered into the big tub until only his head was above the surface. ‘What the hell?’ His eyes opened, red-rimmed from the salt. ‘Damn, that hurts.’ Tamsyn saw him focus on her, then his hands moved convulsively under the water to cover himself.
‘Not you, too,’ she scolded, dropping a large towel strategically into the tub. ‘It doesn’t matter in the slightest that you are stark naked. No one is looking and we need to get you warm.’
‘I apologise for my language.’ The words came out in a mumble through chapped lips that set into a tight line as he closed his eyes.
‘That is of no account either. I know this is painful, but we need to warm you.’ A sharp nod was his only answer, so Tamsyn reached into the water, took his right hand and began to chafe it. ‘Molly, you rub his other hand. And, Harris, could you help Miss Pritchard back to her room? You had best go, too, Aunt Izzy.’
‘Nonsense, we will stay right here.’ Aunt Rosie was as brisk in her manner as she was slow in her movements. ‘Johnny, ride for Dr Tregarth.’
‘Don’t need a...’ Cris began.
‘You be quiet, young man. Do as you are told and stop wasting your energy.’
Across the tub Tamsyn met Molly’s amused gaze. She doubted whether the man under their hands, who must be about thirty, had been addressed like a stubborn schoolboy for quite some time. He was exceedingly handsome in a severe way and very blond now that his hair was drying patchily. She shuffled along on her knees, dipped her hands into the water and felt for his feet, which recoiled at the touch, bringing his knees above the water and a small tidal wave slopping over the edge.
‘I’m sorry if you are ticklish. Can you bear it if we add more hot water?’
‘Yes. And not ticklish,’ he muttered. ‘Taken by surprise.’
And aren’t you cross about that, my merman?
He was not used to being at a disadvantage, Tamsyn suspected. Certainly he was unused to his body not being under his complete control. She stood up to reach for the hot tap, hoping the supply of hot water would last. As she leaned across him he opened his eyes and looked directly at her.
Tamsyn realised she was wearing nothing but a linen shift that clung to her wet body in a manner that was barely decent and was probably thoroughly unflattering into the bargain. And not only was the stranger looking at her, but the room was full of male staff and a lad who certainly shouldn’t be exposed to the sight of the youngest lady of the house in such a state. She topped up the hot water and picked up the cloak from the floor with an assumption of ease. ‘I’ll just go and put on something...warmer. Keep chafing his hands and feet. Oh, there you are, Mrs Tape—can you make up the couch as a bed and get it warm, please? I’ll be back in a minute.’ She fled.
It was a perfectly calm and collected exit, on the outside. But it was flight nevertheless. Her hands were shaking as she stripped off the shift, sponged the salt from her skin as rapidly as she could, heedless of drips and splashes. Her hair, curly and wayward at the best of times, was resistant to having the salty tangles combed out, but the pain as the comb snagged and pulled was a welcome distraction.
The stranger surely wouldn’t recall that they had kissed in that hot, open-mouthed exchange of life and...well,
on her part, she might as well face it. She couldn’t pretend it had been shock and that she had been merely passive. She had kissed him back, she knew she had. Goodness only knew what had made him kiss her. Delirium, maybe?
He probably wouldn’t recall being dumped stark naked into a large vat of warm water with an interested audience of most of their household, male and female, either. He would be lucky to survive this without catching an inflammation of the lungs, and that was what she ought to be worrying about, not wondering what had come over her to feel a visceral, dizzying stab of lust for a total stranger.
He had a beautiful body and she had seen it, all of it, and she was not made of stone. She was, after all, the notorious Tamsyn Perowne of Barbary Combe House and she might as well live up to it, once in a while.
But that was quite enough scandal for one day. The gown she pulled from the clothes press was an ordinary workaday one with sleeves to the elbow and a neckline that touched her collarbone. She twisted up her plait, stabbed a few hairpins into it and topped it with a cap.
. She gave her reflection a brisk nod in the mirror. No one in history ever had inappropriate thoughts while wearing a cap, surely?
* * *
When she re-entered the bathing chamber the couch was heaped with pillows, towels and blankets. Mrs Tape was wrapping bricks in flannel and the aunts had retreated behind the screen. Molly was up to her elbows in the tub, rubbing the stranger’s feet with what Tamsyn decided was unnecessary enthusiasm.
‘That will do, Molly. I think we had best transfer the gentleman to the couch.’
It came out as a croak. He opened his eyes, narrow slits of winter-sea blue. Perhaps she had over-estimated the likelihood of him forgetting anything.
‘Jason and Michael, help the gentleman out and to the couch. Come, Molly, behind the screen with you.’ She shooed the maid along in front of her and grimaced at her aunts. Aunt Izzy was looking interested, although anything from the mating habits of snails to the making of damson jam interested her. Aunt Rosie wore an expression of mixed amusement and concern.