Second Sons of London

As Spencer strode quick­ly along the pave­ment, he saw up ahead a woman turn the cor­ner and head in the same direc­tion he did. Rec­og­niz­ing her by her cloak as his neigh­bor, Spencer decid­ed to catch up to her and intro­duce him­self. He won­dered if she were the count­ess or one of the daugh­ters of the house­hold. It would be con­ve­nient if she were a daugh­ter and he came to know her even before the Sea­son began. She might make for a good count­ess. Already, he knew she enjoyed dai­ly exer­cise. She moved with pur­pose. If she were intel­li­gent and could hold a decent con­ver­sa­tion, his work would be done. He could offer for her before the Sea­son even began and not have to go through all the motions of court­ing a woman.

He had almost caught up to her when a fig­ure stepped out, bran­dish­ing a knife. In the still of the morn­ing, the thief’s voice car­ried as he said, “Gimme your coin, my lady. Now.”

Spencer start­ed to run as the woman replied, “I have none with me but I live just ahead. Come eat some­thing and we can talk.”

Was she mad—asking a rob­ber to dine with her?

He reached the pair and knocked the knife from the young thief’s hand before sound­ly punch­ing the bas­tard in the face. The boy crum­pled to the ground.

Turn­ing to the lady, expect­ing her grat­i­tude, he was stunned when she slammed her palms into his chest, knock­ing him back. Spencer stum­bled a moment and then regained his balance.

What the bloody hell did you just do?” she demanded.

Wh-what do you mean?” he sput­tered. “I just saved you, Woman.”

Saved me?” Her bright blue eyes flashed in anger at him. “From this poor girl?”


Lady Ada­lyn turned and caught sight of Everett. She crossed the room with pur­pose and slammed her hands into his chest, push­ing hard against it.

Anger sim­mered in her eyes when he didn’t move and she cried, “What the bloody hell did you do to my cousin?”

I … didn’t do any­thing,” he stam­mered, want­i­ng to pro­tect Miss Goulding’s privacy.

That is an out­right lie. Louisa’s cheeks were flushed with embar­rass­ment.” Lady Ada­lyn paused. “Oh, my heav­ens. You took advan­tage of her, you bastard.”

She slapped him hard, total­ly catch­ing him off guard, and he stum­bled back a step.

I will kill you, Cam­den!” she shout­ed, rais­ing both hands.

Everett knew she meant to claw his face or attack in some man­ner. He grabbed her wrists and forced them down. She tripped and fell into his chest but quick­ly recov­ered, jerk­ing free and rais­ing her hand to strike him again.

No, you don’t,” he said, wrap­ping his arms about her so that her arms were bound to her side.

The trou­ble was that she was now flush against him. Her soft breasts pushed against his chest. She wrig­gled, try­ing to escape, mov­ing against him so that his man­hood began to stir. That won­der­ful, intox­i­cat­ing vanil­la scent enveloped him, going straight to his head.

Her beau­ti­ful face con­tort­ed with rage. “You are a bloody scoundrel. You aren’t fit to speak to Louisa, much less touch her. Don’t think you will wed her. I won’t allow it. Do you hear me? Now, let go of me, you bloody oaf. Or I’ll—”

Everett slammed his mouth down on hers.

He didn’t know what else to do in order to qui­eten her. She wasn’t the kind of woman who would lis­ten to rea­son. She already thought him guilty of some ter­ri­ble sin against her cousin.

Instead, he quick­ly real­ized he want­ed to sin.

With her.

I am sor­ry we seemed to have got­ten off to a bad start. If I did any­thing to cause this rift, I apologize.”

She stud­ied him a long moment. “I still believe you to be a rake, my lord, but some­where in there is a good man. Else you wouldn’t be such a close friend to Everett. I apol­o­gize for being waspish with you. I feared that Everett and Ada­lyn might try to force us togeth­er dur­ing the  upcom­ing house par­ty. I know she is hold­ing it to find me a husband.”

Or me a wife,” Owen coun­tered. “That’s what Ev thinks.”

The col­or rose on her cheeks, mak­ing her very appealing.

I am sor­ry that I have made this all about me. They are con­spir­ing on both our behalves.”

He grinned. “Then per­haps we should unite, Miss Gould­ing. I have no desire to enter a state of mat­ri­mo­ny at this point. Per­haps we can stick togeth­er dur­ing this house party.”

How so?” she asked, her brow fur­rowed, mak­ing her very attractive.

You can shep­herd away any young lady set­ting her sights on me. I will steer away any rogues that show an inter­est in you.” Owen smiled charm­ing­ly. “And I will sing your prais­es to any gen­tle­man that you find interesting.”

Hmm.” She con­sid­ered his propo­si­tion. “That might not be such a bad idea, my lord.”

Owen. If we are to con­spire togeth­er in this endeav­or, I would like you to call me Owen.”

Owen,” she tried out.

He found he very much liked the way she said his name.

So, we would pro­tect each oth­er and our inter­ests?” she asked.

Yes, indeed. I do plan to flirt because that is what I do when women are around. I can’t seem to help myself. How­ev­er, you can help me avoid being found in any kind of com­pro­mis­ing posi­tion. I will keep the rogues from you and only encour­age those you might have an inter­est in.”

Your pro­pos­al is intrigu­ing, Owen.”

It’s bloody smart if you ask me,” he quipped. “What do you say, Miss Goulding?”

She smiled bril­liant­ly. “I say that you should call me Louisa.”

Per­cy hadn’t come to West­field to kiss Minta Nicholls.

And yet he found him­self doing that very thing.

He was con­scious of so many things. The sweet smell of vanil­la com­ing from her skin. The feel of her fin­gers, warm on his arm. The soft­ness of her lips against his.

Rais­ing a hand, he cupped her cheek, want­i­ng to touch the smooth skin. His lips slow­ly brushed against hers, an aching sweet­ness pour­ing through him. Her hand left his arm and both her fists clutched his lapels, pulling him clos­er to her. His pulse thumped wild­ly in his throat as the blood rushed to his ears. His heart pound­ed so loud­ly he feared she would hear it and laugh at him.

But it didn’t stop him. His lips con­tin­ued to caress hers slow­ly as time slowed and then ceased to exist. All that mat­tered was this breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful woman, who was far more than her pret­ty face and shape­ly curves.

He increased the pres­sure, his mouth ask­ing more of her. His hand slid from her cheek to her nape and held her still. The oth­er moved to the small of her back, mov­ing her for­ward, anchor­ing her to him. Slow­ly, his tongue swept back and forth along the seam of her mouth and her lips part­ed, grant­ed him entrance.

Into Heav­en …

She tast­ed as sweet as she smelled. His tongue swept along hers, mat­ing with it. He could sense her sur­prise and won­dered if she had ever been kissed. If she had, cer­tain­ly not like this.

He grew bold­er, demand­ing more of her, heat fill­ing him. His fin­gers pushed into her hair, tan­gling in it, even as his tongue tan­gled with hers. She caught on quick­ly and though he bare­ly knew what he was doing, instinct led him and she joined in with ease. With eager­ness. Lit­tle sighs came from her, urg­ing him on.

He had nev­er kissed a woman for this long. His pre­vi­ous kiss­es had only last­ed a few sec­onds. This kiss went on and on. Or was it one kiss which blend­ed into anoth­er and anoth­er? He didn’t know and didn’t care. He sim­ply let it con­tin­ue, hold­ing her near, kiss­ing her until he was breath­less and knew she had to be, too.

Tell me about play­ing the vio­lin,” Win urged. “You are remark­ably talented.”

Thank you,” Sera said soft­ly. “It is some­thing I turn to often. When I am sad, play­ing can cheer me. When I am excit­ed, it can calm me. When I am lone­ly, my vio­lin is my friend.” She paused. “I played quite a bit after receiv­ing news of Cap­tain Marsh’s death and again when Minta left for Eng­land and I remained in Canada.”

Win’s gut twist­ed. He didn’t like hear­ing how the army captain’s death had affect­ed her. It made him angry. Then he real­ized he was jealous—of a dead man. That was utter­ly ridicu­lous. Sera had already told Win she did not love Marsh. That she mere­ly won­dered what might have been between them if he had lived and returned to her. Still, it trou­bled Win.

And that wor­ried him.

He felt too much for this woman when he didn’t want to feel any­thing for her. He feared if he attend­ed his friends’ house par­ty, it would throw them togeth­er too often and his feel­ings for her would mag­ni­fy. He couldn’t allow that. He couldn’t mar­ry Sera Nicholls. He didn’t want to mar­ry Sera Nicholls. Win want­ed to con­tin­ue to divorce his feel­ings from him­self and be neu­tral regard­ing his future wife.

It would be impos­si­ble to attend. For if he did, he would kiss her. Do more than kiss her.

And that would be disastrous.

Reed let his heart speak.

You are the one for me, Vanes­sa. You will have to decide if I am the one for you. Don’t answer me now. It would be unfair to you to say yes. You nev­er came out into Polite Soci­ety. You need to mix in it a bit, start­ing with this house party.”

She gazed at him, dazed, unspeaking.

He hoped he hadn’t over­whelmed her, but he want­ed her to know going into this event that he had deep feel­ings for her.

You say … you believe … that we are meant to be?” she asked, doubt in both her eyes and tone.

I will fight for you if I need to. You are a dia­mond of the first water, Vanessa.”

She bit her lip, caus­ing desire to flare with­in him. “I fear you will change your mind when the oth­er ladies arrive. I doubt I will com­pare favor­ably to them.”

You should not com­pare your­self to oth­ers. Because no one com­pares to you,” he said, his voice tender.

He bent, touch­ing his lips to hers again.

I have done what I need­ed to do. I hope I have left a last­ing impres­sion upon you, espe­cial­ly with the gen­tle­men who will soon arrive who will wish to steal you away.”

She looked so beau­ti­ful and yet so unsure. For a moment, he warred with­in him­self, won­der­ing if he was good enough for this frag­ile creature.

It didn’t mat­ter. He had to have her.

Vanes­sa was The One.

Some­thing stirred with­in him. He want­ed more than a kiss from this woman.

He want­ed all of her.

The thought was shock­ing. Thrilling. And utter­ly fool­ish. He was dam­aged goods, both phys­i­cal­ly and deep into his soul. He had nev­er thought to wed when he was an offi­cer in His Majesty’s army. At this point, Devin was at loose ends, hav­ing no idea how he was going to sup­port him­self. Tak­ing Julia Birm­ing­ham as his wife was out of the question.

He might not want to wed her—but he still want­ed to kiss her. His head warred with his heart, telling him it would be unwise if he attempt­ed to do so. The prac­ti­cal Miss Birm­ing­ham might slap him. But if she didn’t? He want­ed to plumb her depths. Though she had been friend­ly dur­ing din­ner, he sus­pect­ed that she’d held back a part of her­self. He want­ed to get to know the parts of her that she did not dis­play to oth­ers. Why he wished to do so was a mys­tery to him.

He hoped he could begin solv­ing that mys­tery soon. Pos­si­bly even tonight.