The Strongs of Shadowcrest

Mrs. Grant took a deep breath and then reached for her wine, down­ing the entire contents.

A lit­tle liq­uid courage,” she said.

You are the bravest woman I have ever met,” James told her. “Only a hand­ful of women could have tak­en on what you have and met with success.”

But even women who are skilled in busi­ness have needs, Captain.”

The atmos­phere in the room changed. He looked at her, won­der­ing if she meant what he thought she did.

I am sure you under­stand what I speak of,” she con­tin­ued. “You have spent long stretch­es of time at sea. When your ship comes into port and you go on shore leave, I am sure you have tak­en care of … those needs.”

I have,” he said care­ful­ly, won­der­ing where this con­ver­sa­tion was headed.

Women, too, have cer­tain needs,” she said. “As a wid­ow, I have … a bit more free­dom in see­ing that mine are … met.” Clear­ing her throat, she said, “I am ask­ing as del­i­cate­ly as pos­si­ble if you might wish to explore those with me, Cap­tain Jones. I do not expect any type of com­mit­ment from you. In fact, I do not want any­thing of the sort. You are here for a lim­it­ed time, and then you will be gone. I am lone­ly. I stay busy with my com­pa­ny for long hours, but I long for some … phys­i­cal companionship.”

She wet her lips ner­vous­ly and gazed at him beseech­ing­ly. “Would that be a possibility?”

I am flat­tered, Mrs. Grant,” James said, his thoughts swirling.

He had want­ed her for more than a brief encounter or two. He wanted—needed—a wife.

And he could think of no more suit­able woman than Mrs. Grant.

Pip­pa couldn’t believe she had actu­al­ly winked at Lord Hopewell.

She had no idea why she had done so. While her fam­i­ly teased her of being impul­sive, she had nev­er done some­thing so …

She was so baf­fled by her behav­ior, she couldn’t even think of a word to describe it.

Yet Lord Hopewell did seem inter­est­ed in her. No, Seth. She liked the name. It suit­ed him. And she was also inter­est­ed in him. Like a woman would be inter­est­ed in a man. Being around him had her insides doing all kinds of mad flips. She blinked, try­ing to focus on the task at hand.

Grow­ing stern, Pip­pa instruct­ed, “You must always focus when you are atop a horse. Any slight dis­trac­tion, any wan­der­ing of your thoughts, and the horse might take off. Rid­ing is seri­ous busi­ness, Seth.”

I under­stand,” he said. “Ori­on is quite large.”

Yes,” she agreed. “A good sev­en­teen hands.”

I can feel the pow­er in him, even if you and the groom said he has a gen­tle nature. I under­stand I am a begin­ner at all of this, Pip­pa. I promise to con­cen­trate. On the horse. And not you.” He paused, his gaze intent. “At least for now.”

She grew hot at his words. Her core seemed to seize up, and for a moment, she couldn’t breathe.

Do not lose your head, she warned herself.

August had no con­trol over him­self. He had spent years being a dis­ci­plined per­son. His father had a rigid stan­dard which August had always tried to live up to.

Georgina Strong tempt­ed him beyond all reason.

Still, he reined in the pas­sion flow­ing with­in him and kept the kiss fair­ly chaste, hold­ing her in place, his lips pressed firm­ly to hers. She felt stiff in his arms for a moment, tak­en by sur­prise by the sud­den kiss. He believed it to be her first one, hav­ing come to know her, and decid­ed if it would be the only one between them, it must be memorable—for both of them.

Slow­ly, he began brush­ing his lips back and forth against hers, feel­ing her body relax. He start­ed a series of soft, gen­tle kiss­es, touch­ing his lips to hers briefly. Break­ing the kiss. Doing so again and again.

Her hands came to the lapels of his coat, and her fin­gers bunched the mate­r­i­al, now hold­ing him in place. He couldn’t help but smile against her mouth at her assertiveness.

August now let the kiss­es go for a longer peri­od of time. Need began build­ing with­in him, though, and he knew he must stop soon.

Before he lost his head.

Before he took too much from her.

Before he gave her his heart.

You have anoth­er caller, Your Grace.”

Oh, both­er. Not anoth­er one,” Dinah com­plained. “I had antic­i­pat­ed a qui­et teatime alone. Who could pos­si­bly want to inter­rupt it?”

Cap­tain Andrews, Your Grace. He arrived today and was call­ing on Their Graces. When I informed him they were at Shad­ow­crest, he asked to see you.”

She felt heat flood her cheeks. “Then please show him in, Pow­ell. And have anoth­er teacup sent up if you would.”

Yes, Your Grace.”

The but­ler and maid left the draw­ing room. Dinah took three slow, deep breaths before the but­ler returned, announc­ing, “Cap­tain Andrews, Your Grace.”

She rose as he entered the room, look­ing tall, his face tanned from his days on the open waters. He came toward her, stop­ping, and bowed just as she had taught him to do.

Your Grace,” he said in a low rum­ble, his dark brown eyes gleam­ing as he accept­ed her offered hand and kissed her bare fingers.

A rip­ple raced through her. Antic­i­pa­tion? Desire?

It didn’t mat­ter. He was here. Now.

And she want­ed him.

Still hold­ing her hand, he said, “It is good to see you again, Your Grace. You look well.”

You do, as well, Cap­tain Andrews.”

She pulled on her hand gen­tly, think­ing he would release it.

He didn’t.

Cap­tain?” she asked, her brows arching.

He kissed her fin­gers again. “You do not know how I have longed to do that very thing,” he told her, his voice low and rough.

Dinah swallowed—and then com­mit­ted to a course of action which might change her life.

You do not know how I have yearned for you to do that—and more, Cap­tain. Much, much more.”

Tempt­ed by the Earl:

I find I enjoy the com­pa­ny of women,” Lord Car­roll said, his voice warm and seduc­tive, despite them being in a draw­ing room full of oth­ers. “I hope you and I will be able to enjoy one another’s com­pa­ny dur­ing this house par­ty, Miss Allegra.”

Now she under­stood why Lord Mot­ley had been cool to this man. From his ele­gant dress and smooth talk­ing, she real­ized that Lord Car­roll was a rake. Why Aunt Dinah had invit­ed such a rogue to this house par­ty puz­zled her, though. Yes, she and Lyric were eager to meet all kinds of peo­ple, but at the same time, it was under­stood that this house par­ty would give them the advan­tage of get­ting to know a small group rather quick­ly. Rakes weren’t known for com­mit­ting to any woman, much less offer­ing marriage.

Alle­gra decid­ed to call him out and be done with him.

Have you always been a rake, my lord?” she asked soft­ly, not wish­ing for the oth­ers to hear their conversation.

His eyes widened in sur­prise, but he recov­ered quick­ly. “Have you always been so bold in speak­ing your mind, Miss Alle­gra?” He paused. “Espe­cial­ly when speak­ing to a rake such as myself?

The Vis­coun­t’s Heart:

It is no secret to any­one in Polite Soci­ety. I have sown quite a few wild oats, Miss Lyric. I think I have always been search­ing for some­thing I nev­er had. Some­thing just out­side my grasp. I was all about seek­ing thrills. Gam­bling and drink­ing with my friends. I nev­er gave a thought about tomorrow.”

His grip tight­ened on her elbow. “Then I lost my uncle, whom I loved dear­ly. That filled me with new resolve. I deter­mined to be a bet­ter earl—and a bet­ter man.”

The feel­ings rush­ing through her were new and exciting.

I want to build a life with my vis­count­ess. I wish to enjoy a friend­ship with her.”

His gaze bore into her, and Lyric felt as if he saw her soul laid bare before him.

I searched this past Sea­son for a bride on the Mar­riage Mart and found no one to my lik­ing. You inter­est me a great deal, Miss Lyric. I would not be so fool­ish as to offer for you right now because I believe we must get to know one anoth­er bet­ter.” He smiled. “I would like to do that now by ask­ing if I might kiss you.”

Lyric’s breath hitched. She gazed into his eyes, dark as melt­ed choco­late, know­ing her reply might change the course of her life.

Yes, Lord Blanken­ship. I think we should kiss.”

Byron believed most women in Polite Soci­ety had no idea what was involved in run­ning an estate. But the woman seat­ed next to him appar­ent­ly did because she thought it would be impor­tant to one day share those respon­si­bil­i­ties with her husband.

He yearned to get to know her bet­ter. To talk with her. Kiss her. See if they were suit­ed for a life togeth­er. Yet the shad­ow of his father loomed over the both of them, and Byron felt the press­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty of see­ing his father’s wish­es of unit­ing the Bal­four and Bowles fam­i­lies come to fruition. Yes, he was might­i­ly attract­ed to Lady Mirella.

But his future lay with Jacin­da Bowles.

Ris­ing, he said, “Shall we return to the house, Lady Mirella?”

A shad­ow flick­ered across her face, the emo­tion unread­able to him, but he sensed her dis­ap­point­ment. He hid his own as he offered his arm to her.

Thank you for show­ing me the gar­dens, my lord,” she said. “I will see you this evening at dinner.”

Byron watched her walk away, feel­ing a piece of him go with her. He cursed under his breath, wish­ing he didn’t feel the strong pull of oblig­a­tion which his father had instilled in him.

Because in anoth­er life, he believed he might have found love with Lady Mirella Strong.

*Excerpt com­ing in 2024!