Authors: Michelle Kelly
‘I’m no stranger to it,’ he said. ‘But it’s been a while since I have been here, and I wanted to get reacquainted with the land myself.’ It was his turn to stop abruptly, as if there were things that he too did not want to say. His eyes met hers, and she felt a sudden jolt of electricity between them. Time seemed to freeze for a moment as they gazed at each other in the moonlight, secrets shimmering in the air between them.
When he closed the last bit of distance between them and put his hand gently under her chin, Amelia made no attempt to deny him. She realized with a stab of wanting that she had been waiting for this. The soft breeze caressed her face as he reached for her, and Amelia had the strange sensation of being not entirely herself, or perhaps more herself than she had ever been allowed to be. Jasper bent his head to hers excruciatingly slowly, until Amelia’s own lips were parted and moist with anticipation. As their mouths met and he put an arm around her waist, pulling her into the strong lines of his body, Amelia felt herself respond with an eagerness she had never experienced before. This, she thought hazily, was lust.
Whether it was the moonlight, the enticing warmth of him, the knowledge she’d freed herself from her father’s machinations, or a combination of all three that caused her to throw caution to the wind and give in to this new yet thoroughly exciting feeling, Amelia neither knew nor cared. As if her body had a mind of its own she pressed her hips into him, leaned into his embrace and moved her lips in time with his in a natural rhythm. A small moan escaped her as he devoured her mouth with his, and when his tongue claimed her she felt a flood of heat to her groin and her breasts throbbed under the thin material of her shift. It felt deliciously forbidden and yet utterly right. Her blood pulsed in her veins, warming her and making her feel deliciously alive, as if all of her time before this had been spent in a slumber.
When they broke away from each other, her breathing was ragged. Even before Horatio’s unwanted attentions, she had been raised to believe physical relations were something a lady had to endure. Only now did it occur to her that perhaps there was pleasure to be had on her part, as well.
‘You taste divine,’ he murmured, his voice low and his breath hot against her neck, sending a feeling of warmth throughout her body that belied the cold.
‘So do you.’ He tasted of wood smoke and heather; the taste of this wild Scottish coast, she fancied, so different to the smell of London men, all snuff and hair pomade and starched shirts.
Jasper still had one arm around her and she was pressed up against him so that her cloak had fallen open and her breasts rose above the top of her shift where they pressed against his chest. His gaze fell to them and almost lazily he lifted a hand and ran a thumb across one stiff peak where it showed through the flimsy garment. Amelia inhaled sharply and bit her lip. Her knees felt weak. When Jasper lowered his head and sucked her breast tenderly into his mouth, material and all, Amelia thought she would die from the pleasure and shame of it. It was so utterly wanton, and yet she wanted to be reckless, to give herself to this man here in the moonlight, on the damp ground, and to hell with her father and London and all the rest of it….
A sudden sound, of someone nearby, cracking twigs underfoot, had her leaping away from him in fright, and Jasper’s hand going again to his dagger.
A figure appeared out of the gloom in front of them, a rifle raised. Amelia gasped, clutching at Jasper then relaxed as she saw it was the gamekeeper.
‘It’s me, Vimes,’ Jasper assured him. ‘I found the lady of the house out wandering, exploring her new surroundings no doubt. But she wandered too far and luckily—’ the Scottish lord shook his head as if in disapproval of her actions ‘—it was only me she came across and not some vagrant.’
‘Aye, sir. Ye shouldnae be wanderin’ around this time of night, mam,’ the gamekeeper agreed in gentle reproach.
‘No, you never know who might be about,’ the laird said, cutting her a sideways glance that had her blushing once more as the realization of what had just happened sank in. He offered her a small bow and pressed the back of her hand to his lips. It was a courteous gesture, but Amelia shivered at the sudden heat flooding through her.
‘She’s freezing, Vimes, get her in and ensure she’s given a drop of brandy. My deepest apologies for scaring you, my dear,’ he said, all politeness again then dropped his voice as he went on. ‘You must attend dinner with me tomorrow, allow me to make your acquaintance as my neighbour in more…favourable circumstances.’
Amelia opened her mouth to reply, although she had no idea how to respond, but he was gone, slipping into the shadows like a cat. She turned and hurried back to the house, Vimes tramping solidly along just behind her.
‘Lord Glendir is a most…intriguing man, is he not?’ she said, still reeling from their encounter, her lips still thrumming from his passionate kiss.
‘Aye, he’s a scoundrel, right enough,’ Vimes agreed amiably, steering Amelia back into the house and ringing for the housekeeper, who was horrified at her dishevelled appearance. Blaming it on nerves and a tendency to sleepwalk, Amelia found herself ushered up to bed with a hot brick and a nip of brandy and fell into a deeper sleep than she could have thought possible after her recent worries, a hand pressed to her mouth as if in wonder. Almost as if the mysterious Lord Glendir had, with that sudden and shocking meeting of mouths, kissed her cares away. Temporarily at least.
* * *
For the mysterious Lord Glendir himself however there was little sleep to be had that night, as he tossed and turned, alone in his room in Glendir Castle. The bed was too big for one, and Jasper was surprised to find himself feeling lonely. He, who had made a life for himself in the shadows, determined never to be tied down. Oh, there had been plenty of women, but never one he had wanted for more than a mere dalliance. Yet tonight he was feeling his isolation keenly, and couldn’t help wondering if the feelings were connected to his coming across Lady Amelia in the woods. She was undoubtedly hiding something, and he had enough secret business of his own to be worrying about some woman’s affairs, and yet…something about the young woman had captivated him, something more than just her obvious physical charms. Why on earth had he invited her for dinner? But then, why not? If she was only here for a few days…
Telling himself that he was tired, and unsettled at being back at Glendir, Jasper resolved to put Lady Amelia out of his mind for now. But the sky outside was growing as pink as the heather on the moors beneath before Jasper finally drifted off, only to have his dreams invaded by visions of beautiful girls in flimsy white dresses, running through the woods calling his name.
Amelia woke the next morning with a start, after a dream filled with the laughing eyes and full lips of Lord Glendir. That image left her with a restless longing, and she sat up, shaking her head to clear it, and swung her legs out of bed. As her feet touched the cold floor she was reminded of the sensation of running through the damp grass the night before and her mouth curved into a smile. It had been foolish maybe, but also freeing. As for her encounter with the laird…Amelia’s face flamed at the memory, but her smile remained. Widened in fact, as she thought that for the first time since childhood she did not have to endure a day of social calls with her aunt or learning to play the piano or working at that blasted sampler. After she had written to Madeleine, she decided to explore her new surroundings while she had the chance to do so, though in a rather more conventional fashion than last night.
‘Are you well, miss?’ The maid’s voice cut through her thoughts as she bustled in and began to brush and plait Amelia’s abundance of honey-blonde hair.
‘Yes, thank you, Sally,’ she replied, closing her eyes as the tugging at her hair caused her scalp to tingle pleasantly. She only had vague memories of her mother, but she did remember having her hair brushed and plaited by her, and now always found the sensation comforting.
Thinking of her mother made her think of her father, banishing her unexpected good mood. Of course he had been adamant Amelia accept Horatio’s proposal—what father of a young and attractive unmarried girl wouldn’t be? She knew her father only wanted the best for her, and to his mind that would be marriage to a wealthy and well-connected man. Yet Amelia had not expected her father to insist even after her repeated refusals, or, when Horatio had made unwanted advances on her after the soirée her aunt had thrown, to intimate to his daughter that perhaps she should have accepted them.
Although he had always been an authoritarian man who displayed little affection for his daughter, she had never expected him to try to force her into a liaison she didn’t want. She suspected his insistence that she marry Horatio had a great deal to do with his recent financial difficulties, and wondered if her father had got himself into deeper water than he cared to tell her. Even so, his betrayal had upset her enough to send her bolting to Trevan. Quite why Lord Winters was so insistent that Amelia be his bride was the one thing she couldn’t fathom. She was pretty enough, she knew, but there was no shortage of other attractive girls in London who, unlike Amelia showed no reluctance to marry him. Although she had grown up expecting to make a good marriage, she wanted it to be with the right man. The wrong sort of husband would constrain or even control her, and she knew that would plunge her into misery. Just as her mother had been with her father, or so Aunt Matilda had insinuated in her infrequent letters.
Lord Winters would, she would stake her life on it, be exactly the wrong sort of husband. He seemed a cruel, cold sort of man that made her skin crawl, and she had heard rumours about him that suggested he was both a bully and possibly even dangerous. Lord Glendir now, she could not imagine as a husband at all. He was a complete rogue, certainly the sort of man she should keep well away from, and yet Amelia couldn’t prevent the pleasant warmth the memory of his touch ignited in her belly.
Amelia took her breakfast in her rooms and busied herself writing her letter to Madeleine, briefly explaining her predicament. She was sure Madeleine would be able to help and even provide letters of reference so that she could secure herself a role as companion or chaperone. It wasn’t the future she had envisaged for herself, but at least she would have her independence, and the money from the sale of Trevan would be enough for her to secure lodgings, perhaps even a small cottage. That sounded infinitely preferable to being trapped into a loveless marriage with a man she despised. Having written her letter, Amelia decided to have the coachman take her into town with Sally to post it herself when the housekeeper approached her with a card in her hand.
‘From Lord Glendir, my lady. He requests your presence later for dinner.’
Amelia frowned even as her heart leaped. She had not expected his dinner invitation to be a genuine one. Where on earth was she supposed to find a chaperone at such short notice? She could barely go alone, and taking Sally would be most unsuitable. Any respectable young lady would be affronted, she knew. But being a respectable young lady hadn’t worked very well for her so far, and it was not as if she had to see any of these people again. Including Lord Glendir, she thought with a pang, doubting indeed that she would ever meet anyone quite like him again., She may as well enjoy her freedom from Society’s restraints while she had it, she decided, handing the card back with a flutter of excitement at her own boldness to Mrs Brown, Trevan’s long-time housekeeper.
‘You may send word to Lord Glendir that he can expect me around seven,’ she said, intending to sound confident and firm in her decision, and annoyed when her voice came out girlishly high and breathy. Mrs Brown raised her eyebrows but said nothing. Amelia made to leave, then remembered something Jasper had said to her the night before.
‘Yes, mam?’ The woman’s tone was completely respectful, but Amelia was sure her expression was nothing short of disapproving.
‘My aunt…did she know the old lord Glendir well? The new lord indicated that they were acquaintances.’
Mrs Brown’s eyebrows nearly shot into her hairline, though her voice remained bland.
‘I believe they were close acquaintances, mam. They visited each other often. Your aunt was a very…independent woman.’
Amelia nodded. So she had not been imagining the insinuation in Jasper’s comment. Did that mean his offer of dinner was based on the presumption that she was like her aunt? Yet Matilda, from what Amelia knew of her, had been no flighty woman but a force to be reckoned with and utterly her own mistress. Amelia gave a little nod.
‘Thank you, Mrs Brown,’ she said quietly, and left for the coach, Sally following close behind. On the journey into the nearby town, over roads that were a great deal rougher than Amelia was used to, Sally regaled the gossip about Jasper Glendir. ‘The Glendirs made their fortune raiding and smuggling, so people say, and then came into favour with the Crown when they helped to put down one of the Jacobite rebellions, but they’re still known for being awful wild, and this latest one is a notorious rake.’ Sally’s voice came out in a rush, so anxious was she to impart this news. Amelia merely muttered something non-committal in return.
Inside, though, Sally’s words gave her cause for thought, and she found herself too distracted by them to properly enjoy her visit into town, no matter how many pretty ribbons Sally exclaimed over. She fingered a tartan shawl, feeling its rough plaid, and found herself wondering how Jasper would look in a Scotsman’s kilt, his legs bare. She dropped the shawl, flushing as an unmistakable voice came from behind her.
‘How much for this good plaid?’ the figure behind her asked the shopkeeper. Amelia froze. Surely she must be mistaken, yet as she slowly turned she knew she would forever recognize that voice from now on, with its soft Scottish burr.
‘My lord,’ she said, a slow burn creeping over her face. For all her proud wilfulness to the housekeeper, now that she was faced with him again she was as shy as an untutored country girl.