Four sisters are discovered by their father to illegitimate. The Outcast Earl (the story of Abigail) is followed by The Rusticated Duchess (the story of Gloria). The Second Sons (the story of Fiona) is available from Pride Publishing on 4 August 2015, and is not part of The Misbegotten Misses because it features a loving M/M couple who want to add a third (Fiona) to their small family. The final book of The Misbegotten Misses (the story of Genevieve) is scheduled for general publication in May 2016 as The Troubled Knight.
A 9,000 word excerpt of The Second Sons is available below.
Oliver and Alden quickly realize they want Lady Fiona de Rothesay, but she keeps a secret. Convincing her to trust them is going to be more difficult than they expected.
Lady Fiona de Rothesay isn’t like her sisters, or even the typical academic bluestocking. She has a secret life, and she’s determined to live it without interference, despite the overbearing supervision she unexpectedly acquires with the return of the Duke of Lennox’s prodigal second son—and his lover.
Lord Oliver Morewell was perfectly happy living in Amsterdam with the love of his life. However, Lord Alden Swenson has been summoned to England for at least the next twenty years, and Oliver is committed to his lover. He also won’t deny what his soul knows to be true. Alden is his past, present and future, but Fiona belongs there, too.
Lord Alden can cope with the disapprobation of Oliver’s family and the whispers of society, but Fiona is a complication he did not expect, despite the vivid fantasies he and Oliver have had about finding a woman to make their relationship complete.
Once Fiona is in residence, wild horses can’t keep him away, despite her stubborn streak of independence and outright refusal to explain her mysterious absences, late night disappearances and male companions. Alden and Oliver will have to conquer Fiona’s distrust, her secrets, but most of all her heart in their search for perfect, if unconventional, love.
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Goodreads also has a link for The Second Sons here.
[Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of male-male intercourse, erotic spanking, sexually charged disciplinary spanking, steamy oral sex, and ménage.]
(Extended Sample of) The Second Sons
by Elle Q. Sabine
Copyright 2015 by Elle Q. Sabine (email@example.com). Published by Pride Publishing, a subsidiary of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved, do not reprint in paper or electronic form without prior permission of the author and publisher. By reading further, you are stating you are 18 years of age, or over.
Late August, 1824
“Sign this last document and we’ll be finished, my lord,” the white-haired solicitor directed, shifting a sheaf of parchment from before the Duke to the ink-stained blotter in front of his second son.
Perfectly at ease despite the difficult subject of the papers, Alden dipped his pen and signed below his father’s name in a flourish, noting that the elder Collier had already signed shakily in his place as a witness.
Alden would be entrusting his personal business to the younger Collier, but the Duke’s son knew well that his father would patronize the frail solicitor as long as the old man could still climb the steps of Lennox House and attend the Duke personally.
The elder Collier, currently packing up stacks of paper at the head of the table, was witnessing the end of an era. The highly respected and often-feared Duke of Lennox was sharing, if not ceding, some of his authority with his only remaining son. Lennox and Lord Alden Swenson were attempting a new sort of working relationship, at least in the operation of the Duke’s business and personal finances. Alden had agreed to not openly thwart Lennox’s rule, but Lennox had also agreed not to intervene without first conferring with Alden privately.
Alden well knew that no one would have predicted such a thing a year earlier. Then, Alden had been happily managing the Duke’s affairs in Europe, largely independent of his father’s direct rule. He’d been content residing in Amsterdam, with occasional trips to the major trading centers of Europe. He’d had a full life there, making a home with Oliver in the diverse community of artists and musicians who flocked to Amsterdam.
The news of his nephew’s birth—his elder brother’s first son—had further removed Alden from the succession and cemented his residency in Europe.
But within a very few months, everything had changed for Lennox and his family. Alden’s elder brother, known by the courtesy title the Earl of March, had committed suicide in a very public and unmistakable scandal. With March’s son and Lennox’s new heir only a wee babe, Lennox had renewed an old request. The Duke wanted Alden to return to London, and with the louse who had haunted Alden for three decades finally gone, Alden had few reasons to refuse.
“It’s done then,” his father said softly, sighing and sitting back in his chair. Alden looked up and caught Lennox considering him. “In addition to the business, I’m happy to have it legally established that you shall follow me as one of Eynon’s guardians.” Lennox examined him carefully, even as the Duke spoke of his daughter-in-law and grandson. “Gloria may be safely remarried now, and I am confident her husband will look after Eynon as he matures, but Eynon will still need you to protect his inheritance when I am gone. And Johna and the girls will need someone to look out for their interests.”
Lennox was hardly failing, but he had visibly aged in the years Alden had been in Europe. His face was narrower and the lines around his eyes and mouth had deepened. His hair had thinned, too, and turned a brilliant shade of white that gleamed in the late afternoon sun. Lennox had always been a driven man—full of passion, often moody, overburdened by the combined forces of his financial affairs, government responsibilities, legislative obligations and Court duties. Despite any physical changes, though, Lennox was still that same intense personality that Alden remembered.
The Duke had been rightfully disappointed in his elder son, but he’d also been oblivious to the acrimonious relationship that had defined Alden’s childhood and youth. The bitter feud had begun at Eynon Castle and gone with them to Eton and Oxford. As an adult, Alden’s sense of self-preservation and protectiveness had taken him as far from March as possible, until March had left his life permanently.
Coming home had been disruptive—disconcerting—in ways far beyond the relocation of Alden’s household.
Alden had once acidly said that his father needed to love. He’d only found out in the time since his brother’s death that Lennox had loved, did love. Indeed, Alden now understood that Lennox had probably delegated his responsibilities as a parent to nurses and tutors because of his father’s tragic love life. Lennox had lost his first love to Napoleon, and his second great love was a woman who could not be Lennox’s wife. In his youth, Alden had assumed that Lennox provided a haven for Johna de Rothesay and Lennox’s bosom bow Robert Twicken to indulge their secret passion. Now Alden understood that Lennox, too, had been devoted to Johna. The couple had spent years constructing a web of lies so complete that society still reeled from the revelation of her long-time affair with Lennox. Of course, she remained married to the Earl of Winchester, but Winchester’s crimes meant that she no longer had to endure living within his household. Protected from prison by his peerage, the House of Lords had committed Winchester to an asylum and what remained of his estate had been put into the care of the Chancery Court to support him. A divorce was, of course, out of the question, but Johna now lived openly at Lennox House.
Alden well knew that Lennox fully planned to support Johna and her daughters as if she were his widow and not his mistress, just as he’d been secretly doing for the last twenty years. Indeed, Genevieve, the youngest of Johna’s daughters, was in truth Lennox’s progeny and Alden’s half-sister, though Genevieve’s parentage had only become public knowledge when Winchester’s mental instability had become a sensational affair of the Court and Lords.
“Abigail and Gloria are well provided for,” Alden said briefly, naming the two middle of Johna’s four daughters. Abigail was married to the Earl of Meriden, and Gloria—who had once been married to March and was the mother of Alden’s nephew—was now married to Lord Clare, the Duke of Lauderdale’s heir.
Lennox snorted. “We shall see. Fortunes come and go, and I would not have them ever in need. Meriden may be a wizard with pounds sterling, but he is a pariah among the bishops and relishes in it, as well as straddling the aisles whenever he’s in the mood to disrupt the Lords. He’s really become quite adept at muddling up even Canning’s reform efforts. No one knows if the man is a Tory or a Whig, least of all me, and one day politics or war may well be his downfall. As for Gloria, she is Clare’s second wife. Even if they have children, she did not produce Clare’s heir and she is much younger than him. She’s likely to outlive him by decades.”
Alden did not need Lennox to spell out the complexities. Alden had met Gloria during the summer months when she had come to London with Clare and Eynon. She claimed to finally be happy living in seclusion with Clare and Eynon at the Scottish border. No matter what that poor woman did, she hadn’t been able to escape scandal in London.
Her first marriage to March was antipathetic to London’s ladies, who had openly despised March. His death put her in the untenable position of being blamed for it, pitied for it and relieved by it, all in the same ten minutes, depending on the gossiper. Winchester had humiliated her again by going to Chancery Court in an attempt to force her to return to his custody after March’s death, as a sick revenge in which he desired to keep Johna’s daughters in misery and to gain access to Gloria’s inheritance. Remembering the gawking girls and gimlet-eyed gossips who had followed Gloria about London during her visit exhausted Alden.
Alden’s silence did not deter his father from further speaking. “But you know I worry most about Fiona—and Genevieve.”
Genevieve—a sister!—had been a shock to Alden, and her marriage of convenience to the gambler Sir Peter Devon had taken Alden some time to accept. The couple obviously led separate lives, but the marriage had protected Genevieve from the sort of machinations that Gloria had endured.
Alden had not yet met Johna’s eldest daughter, Fiona. According to her mother, the young woman was the antithesis of domesticity and docility. Johna was rather proud of the independent bluestocking, but listening to Fiona’s scholarly letters to her mother made Alden’s head ache.
“With you here in London taking an active role in the estate and looking after my business interests, and with Lords not sitting until late in the autumn, I’ve decided it’s time for me to attend to duties I’ve neglected for far too many years.” Lennox made the announcement calmly, and Alden looked up, puzzling at his father’s tack. “Genevieve is away for the summer with Peter’s mother, so Johna is also without obligations. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to spend some time at Eynon Castle. I hope the air and refreshing absence of gossiping harridans will be good for Johna’s health and state of mind.”
Alden’s eyes widened. Lennox had resisted the trip to the western coast of Wales as much as possible for Alden’s entire lifetime, but especially in the years since Alden had left the Castle for Eton.
As a child trapped there with March, Alden had believed Lennox wanted as little to do with the young brothers as possible. Later he’d been disabused of the notion by Lennox’s frequent excursions to Eton, even if those jaunts had proved necessary for hauling March out of trouble with the headmasters. Still later, awakening to tragedy and love in all its variations, Alden wondered if Lennox avoided Eynon Castle as much as possible because it reminded him of Alden’s mother, who had died in childbirth there when Alden had been just a tot. As a young man, Alden had postulated that Lennox could not be so far from London and the seat of government, he didn’t like to travel or he simply had a dislike of the countryside. But during the last months, Alden had realized that for nearly two decades his father simply hadn’t been willing to leave Lady Johna behind in London, alone with her husband. Lennox had spent over twenty years providing a safe haven for the woman—even longer than he’d been her lover—and closing Lennox House would have robbed her of that sanctuary.
“The chance was just waiting to be seized. Johna agrees that now is the perfect time, though she’s not thrilled at the idea of traveling in a closed carriage for that distance in August.” Lennox shook his head and stood. Alden followed automatically. “Johna received a letter from Fiona in this morning’s post. She read it to me over breakfast. Fiona doesn’t intend to return before the end of September, when she’ll travel down with her Cousin Olivia’s mother, Lady Arlington. I expect to be back in Town by then, but if not, she can reside at Arlington House until we return.”
Alden inwardly shrugged, not seeing any reason that Fiona should not take up her customary residence at Lennox House even if Lennox and Lady Johna were in the country. He could honestly admit that his own immersion into the Lennox household had been smoother and more welcoming than Alden had expected, and all of London’s matrons who oversaw the mores of the rest of society thought they knew him well. Alden had been openly surprised by his own reception in London. Lennox and Johna had welcomed Alden home without criticism. He’d allowed Alden’s small household to disrupt the calm environment, and drew back to watch without comment as the household was reorganized to fit Alden’s temperament and preferences. But if Lennox and Johna were not in residence—
“With our work today and Fiona’s plans in place, it seems a propitious moment waiting to be seized. The servants were bringing down trunks and discussing packing before Johna had finished her tea. We’ll leave tomorrow, immediately after breakfast.”
Surprised by Lennox’s determination to rush from the capital, Alden and his father climbed the stairs to the second floor. He turned left as the Duke turned right. Nearly two months of refurbishing after his return home was finally finished, and a comfortable apartment lay before him, occupying most of the massive wing on this floor, though some smaller suites and bedchambers remained between the grand staircase and Alden’s destination. Lennox House was large enough to lose an entire orchestra inside it, but Alden’s own corner overlooking a walled side garden was perfectly sized—his own private study, a large sitting room, two comfortably large bedchambers and two massive dressing rooms.
Even as he pushed open the door to the sitting room, he felt the anxious, lifelong drive to impress his father fade. He paused, took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, letting the peace he knew he’d find inside the room fill him.
He entered silently, immediately looking about.
Oliver was sitting in the far corner of the large sitting room, where they had created a space to meet Oliver’s needs. His desk occupied the corner itself and his music stands waited within the curved half-circle of windows that looked over the garden. The rose garden below was easily accessible from the ballroom and terrace below but hardly private, as Alden and Oliver could easily see out into it at any time. Gold and forest green striped drapes were pulled back to allow large swaths of sunlight to lighten the room. A white ceiling and cornices provided contrast to the sunny yellow walls, and sturdy oak furniture with plump green cushions sitting on a complementary paisley carpet made the room complete. Landscape paintings of their favorite haunts in Europe hung on the walls, framed in English oak. It was simple, without fuss, but in a style reminiscent of their Amsterdam home.
Despite Alden’s pleasure with the space, he ignored it all and concentrated on Oliver. Blinking dazedly as he looked up at Alden, Oliver was a studied contrast to Alden’s hulking size and muscular bulk. His dirty blond hair was pulled back into a tight tail, tied with a leather band. His frame was slender, and his height merely average. Obviously the man had been deep in thought as he studied the pages spread on the table. It was large enough to seat six, though only Oliver and Alden ate there upon occasion. It was more important that they had the option of privacy than that they actually ate alone.
Alden didn’t hesitate, despite the glazed look behind Oliver’s dark brown eyes, but paced to a spot just behind Oliver.
Upon examination, he was unsurprised to find the pages were music. “Beethoven,” he remarked, checking the title and composer written at the top of each sheet.
“Symphony No. 9. The London Philharmonic Society commissioned it years ago, and he’s finally finished it. They just received the sheet music and I dashed over to insist on a copy of the oboe instrumental. You remember it was performed in pieces in Austria just before we left Europe? He’s included a choral component, and the Philharmonic Society is in a dither over who will sing it.”
Alden rested his thick hands on Oliver’s shoulders and rubbed gently, listening to the enthusiastic words. He suppressed an urge to untie Oliver’s hair and run his hands down its length, even as he admired his lover’s full lips. They trembled, drawing Alden’s attention even more to Oliver’s generous mouth. Oliver was focused on his music just now, so his eyes were glazed as he twisted to look up at Alden. Oliver’s abstracted look always fascinated Alden, no matter the cause. Alden was reminded of the way Oliver looked when Oliver’s mind was on his lover instead of his music, and it pleased Alden that he fascinated Oliver as much as music did.
At one time when they’d been young, Alden had been threatened by Oliver’s intensity, jealous of any occupation that took Oliver away from Alden’s company. They’d coped with the issue, but not truly conquered it until it had come to a breaking point early on in Amsterdam. Oliver had discovered the large population of musicians that lived and congregated there and had enthusiastically thrown himself into a community of people who welcomed him like no one in England ever had. But Oliver hadn’t just indulged shamelessly in music and like-minded musicians while in Amsterdam. He’d also invited Alden into his world and made him welcome at his side, a dramatic change from their cautious, secret life together in England.
Even though they’d relocated to London, Alden could never return to those days of secrecy, when he’d been forced to conceal every hint of the depth of his association with Oliver, on the pretext that someone might suspect their affection. In any event, March could never harm or even threaten Oliver—never again. And their relationship was an open secret to upper crust London, though it would have been a graceless breach of etiquette to discuss it openly in any drawing room or at a ball.
He brushed his palm over Oliver’s ear. “Play for me,” he invited.
Oliver turned from the sheets and met Alden’s gaze. In Amsterdam, Oliver had rarely been alone in his music. He’d been surrounded by others just as passionate about their art as Oliver was. Watching Oliver express his emotions in song had been an experience to be endured in public as Alden perfected his ability to conceal his true reaction under the mask of a public façade.
Here, in London, Alden reveled privately in Oliver’s passion. Oliver did not hold court in the drawing room at Lennox House, at least not yet. He went to the Philharmonic Society frequently, but he practiced at home, here. Alone.
Alden stepped back and drew an armchair from where it sat in a grouping before the fireplace. He set it down six feet from Oliver and settled into it while Oliver shifted through the pages and arranged them, first on his desk then on the long music stand that waited for him. He would position himself to the side to benefit from the sunlight on the music sheets, where Alden could examine his profile rather than his face, but the view was more than satisfactory. Oliver’s dark eyes twinkled sharply in the brightness, and Alden smiled. Oliver wanted to play, to perform the piece. He was excited. His face was slightly flushed, and his high cheekbones pointed to his slender nose that flared when he breathed deeply. Oliver arched his eyebrows as he wet the double reed in the instrument and played a few brief scales.
“Father is taking Johna to Eynon Castle. They leave in the morning.”
The words came out abruptly, as they always seemed to do when Alden spoke more than a few of them at a time. Oliver paused in his warm-up and glanced at him with a smile flirting at his lips before returning his gaze to the music before him. “I know,” Oliver admitted. “It seemed quite clear from the maids, menservants and footmen scurrying about, but I asked His Grace’s valet, to be certain.” Oliver moved his long, slender fingers lovingly over the instrument. As if transfixed, Alden followed the play over the keys as Oliver studied the music and silently prepared.
“We will be alone here,” Alden teased, semi-seriously, when Oliver lowered the oboe again.
Oliver’s gaze traveled from Alden’s cheeks down his torso, over his waistline and to his knees. Blessing Alden with a heated look, Oliver slowly drawled out his answer, “Johna’s company is pleasant, even when in a fit of the blue-devils. Still, time alone with you is something to treasure these days. The only thing that could possibly improve upon the temporary privacy would be the surprise arrival of our own fated female.”
Alden watched Oliver, lust rising in him at Oliver’s suggestive words. They had no intention of living life without each other, but the addition of a loving woman would fulfill a dream they both had had independently and together since they were boys. Each had experimented with women when they’d been young. A rite of passage among their class, Oliver and Alden had first visited the Incognitas at Oxford together. Both enjoyed the physical experience, though they’d never had a woman who aroused them as they did each other. In Amsterdam, they had found a bold, brassy lady who wanted to experiment with them at the same time. It had been interesting in its novelty, but somewhat awkward for both Oliver and Alden, who’d been honestly more attracted to each other than to the female between them. When discussing it afterward, Oliver had voiced a sentiment with which Alden wholeheartedly agreed. It had been awkward because they didn’t know the lady’s heart. She’d simply been a creature of skin and sensory sensations between them, outside the bond Oliver and Alden had established. They’d decided to save the experience for the partner they both craved.
Oliver settled his lips around the slim double reeds and tightened his embouchure, sucking in his cheeks as he inhaled. Alden relaxed, determined to enjoy the performance before he made any concerted effort to distract Oliver. They had nearly two hours before it would be time to dress for dinner.
Alden lasted until the end of the first movement, his eyes on the passion and intensity in Oliver’s face the entire time. The music was lovely, but watching Oliver play roused every one of Alden’s passionate and possessive instincts. At first, the music new, Oliver was tentative, but as Oliver absorbed the melody, the instrument transformed into an extension of Oliver’s heart. As Oliver finished the last sheet and lowered the instrument to rest on the desk, Alden launched himself from the chair. Oliver, gathering the music, glanced up in surprise, so Alden captured Oliver’s cheek in his hand and tilted up his face.
Oliver was a year or so older, but Alden was taller, bulkier and decidedly stronger. “I need you, love,” Alden rasped, sliding his free hand down Oliver’s torso and firmly clasping his hip. Alden’s lodged his thumb into the wedge between Oliver’s groin and thigh, a position that was guaranteed to awaken Oliver’s interest, even through his trousers.
Oliver didn’t hesitate. He cupped Alden’s cheek in return, stepped forward against Alden’s chest and lifted his lips to Alden’s.
They were shirtless and shoeless when they stumbled into Alden’s bedchamber.
“Describe her to me,” Alden whispered. He bit Oliver’s earlobe, hard, then sucked on it for a moment before asking a second question to incite him further. “Will she look like me?”
Oliver moaned. “Smaller than you, but not a tiny thing,” he grunted dryly in reply, fondling Alden’s swollen cock through his trousers. Alden matched Oliver’s moan with his own. “Small enough that she’ll blow your mind when you fuck her, tall enough for me to look her in the eyes when we dance.” Obedient to the jerking of Alden’s cock,
Oliver began to unbutton Alden’s trousers, all the while expertly stroking the straining organ with the pads of his fingers and his short nails. “What about you?” Oliver taunted back. “What will she be like? Blonde hair, black hair, ginger?”
Alden closed his eyes and shuddered, even as Oliver drew Alden’s cock from the placket of his pants. “If she’s any smaller than your tight ass, I’ll never fit.” He growled against Oliver’s ear as Oliver pumped Alden’s stiff arousal between them and against Oliver’s own navel. “Her hair could be green,” he mumbled, “as long as she’s wet when she’s down on her knees.” As if in demonstration, Alden untied the leather band in Oliver’s hair, dropped it to the floor and slowly gathered Oliver’s tawny mane in his fist and tugged him down. “You?”
“No preference, not as long as she sasses you,” Oliver agreed with a low laugh, taking Alden’s trousers to the floor as he knelt.
“She sasses me, she’ll end up just like this, with her mouth stretched wide.” Alden’s voice was gruff as he answered, because he was watching Oliver unbutton his own pants and draw out his own impressive erection. Oliver’s cock was beautiful, but so very different than Alden’s. It was pale and flushed to cherry red as Oliver approached a climax, whereas Alden’s golden flesh darkened as it swelled. Oliver’s long cock curved, making it perfect for fucking Alden into sensory overload and for shooting his semen onto Oliver’s stomach while Alden watched. Now, Oliver took it in one hand and stroked it with his palm, until Alden grunted and pressed the tip of his heavy, thick appendage to Oliver’s mouth.
To Alden’s satisfaction, Oliver lapped his lower lip in anticipation before opening his mouth just enough for Alden to ratchet forward and past Oliver’s warm lips. Alden loved the feel of the pink tissue scraping over his genitals, and today was no different.
Eager and generous, Oliver lapped eagerly then sucked Alden deep inside, his lips stretched around Alden’s girth. Oliver brushed the inside of Alden’s thigh with his knuckles, and a shiver of anticipation rippled up his spine. Just as Alden needed, Oliver cupped his testicles in one hand, pulled on them gently then released them to drag his fingernails over Alden’s scrotum.
Another fissure of delightful sensation ran up Alden’s spine. He had no intention of ejaculating in Oliver’s mouth, though, especially not so soon. Alden jerked away, pleasure doubling at Oliver’s gasp of frustration. Instead, he drew the man up and fisted Oliver’s cock firmly in his own huge palm, pumping it into the base of brown curls just below his own erection so that the tip of Oliver’s penis pressed rhythmically into the pad of flesh between Alden’s balls and cock. Oliver was no small man when fully erect, but Alden’s hands were massive and gripped him nearly from tip to root.
Oliver’s eyes glazed and he gripped Alden’s shoulders. “If her mouth is any smaller than mine, she’ll never be able to take you,” Oliver taunted Alden, palming Alden’s nipples. “She’ll have an easier time with my cock.”
Alden chuckled huskily. “Make me your promise,” he demanded, knowing very well that Oliver craved and delighted in Alden’s possessiveness. It was a reality any woman in their lives would have to cope with as well, because Alden didn’t think he could share Oliver with anyone but someone he wanted as desperately as he did Oliver. Some days he wasn’t certain he would be able to share Oliver with anyone at all, no matter how perfect she was or how much Alden wanted her.
Oliver’s lips were red and swollen from having Alden’s cock shoved between them, and his chest heaved in anticipation of Alden’s touch. Alden had every intention of touching more intimately, though he now ran his hands over Oliver’s arms and cupped Oliver’s lower jaw in his palms as he waited. It wouldn’t be long before Oliver was on Alden’s bed and the backs of Oliver’s legs pushed against Alden’s chest. Alden wanted his cock settled firmly inside Oliver’s rear. Anticipation burned in Alden’s mind. Once he started to fuck Oliver, Alden would be free to caress Oliver’s skin from chest to knees, while Oliver gripped Alden’s hips.
Oliver’s eyes sharpened and his body tightened, his cock prodding at the juncture of Alden’s thighs in his eagerness. “You’re not even going to let me have her without your permission?” he questioned incredulously.
A surge of arousal pulsed in Alden’s cock as he envisioned watching Oliver use his body to love a wanton female beneath him. He rubbed his stiffness against Oliver’s abdomen. “No, I’m not,” Alden answered, determination forming inside him at Oliver’s response. “Promise me.”
Oliver groaned and took his revenge by pinching Alden’s nipples simultaneously. Sensation streaked through him, followed by fire, then an outraged howl as he realized Oliver had seriously not considered this angle of permanently sharing a woman. He tightened his hold on Oliver’s jaw for a moment then spun the man around and pushed him face-first over the side of the bed. The thought of being excluded as the man he loved made love to another filled Alden with aggravated uneasiness.
He had wanted to see Oliver’s face as he came, but a little reinforcement would be good for Alden’s soul—and for Oliver’s. “Who fucking owns your cock?” Alden pressed his palm to the base of Oliver’s neck, holding him to the bed. He reached out with his spare hand and grabbed a jar of the specially made cream both men kept conveniently located beside their beds, in their dressing rooms and in various drawers throughout their apartment. He pushed off the lid, dipped two fingers inside, and fisted his cock, smearing the cream over his skin. He reached in for a second dip with his fingers and pushed them confidently against the tight ring of Oliver’s ass.
The faint, familiar fragrance of the cream signaled to Alden’s body that satisfaction was imminent. It was one of the few luxuries they’d had imported from their favorite London apothecary to Amsterdam, and that gentleman had been delighted when Oliver had appeared personally in his shop upon their return. It had begun as a hasty alternative to the traditional lard older boys at Eton had passed down to Oliver, but both had found the cream tinted with a mild lavender base highly preferable to animal fat. Oliver’s finely tuned senses responded to the scent, and Alden had grasped the opportunity to not feel as if he were a rutting barnyard animal. Years later, the apothecary had added a small amount of bay leaf and oak moss to enhance the aroma.
The shopkeeper had once added ginger as an experiment, and the effect on Oliver had been so pronounced and dramatic that Alden still kept that particular jar in his dressing room for the occasional, memorable use. If Oliver didn’t relent soon, Alden would be happy to retrieve it and use it now.
As though he’d heard Alden’s stray thought, Oliver lifted and relaxed his tight ring, welcoming Alden’s thrusting fingers. The groan that Oliver emitted into the pillows reminded Alden of his own growing needs. Alden withdrew his hand.
“Please,” Oliver gasped.
“Promise,” Alden grunted, guiding his cock to Oliver’s waiting ass. He kept his one palm solidly at the top of Oliver’s back, holding his upper body to the bed.
“I promise not to use my dick unless you permit it.” Oliver gasped as Alden tucked the head of his penis against the waiting muscle. “Now, please. Please.”
Alden thrust forward, thankful that Oliver had offered little-to-no resistance. Like Oliver, he wanted a woman’s soft curves to rest against. He wanted to caress silken skin, so different from Oliver’s satin hair and hard muscles. He needed the fragrant smell of a woman to forget old wrongs. He needed the sound of a melodious voice to contrast with his deep tones and Oliver’s baritone. He desired to see the sensual form of a woman stretching in Oliver’s arms, her cries of pleasure flooding the room as she begged Alden to taste her and fuck her. He desired the tangy taste of a woman on his tongue while he thrust into her and Oliver came in her mouth.
Instead, Oliver’s hands and mouth were empty as he begged for Alden to bring him the same bliss Alden was finding in his body. Alden slid a hand around him and fisted Oliver’s cock, jerking Oliver’s erection with practiced skill.
“We will find her, someday,” Alden promised, rolling his hips to stimulate the place in Oliver’s rear that was guaranteed to send Oliver over the edge into orgasm.
Alden’s lover reacted just as he expected. Oliver grunted, and cream spilled over Alden’s fingers and onto the bedclothes. The hot liquid, evidence of Oliver’s response to Alden’s dominance was exactly the reassurance that Alden needed. He thrust one final time into Oliver and erupted.
“I love you,” Oliver said, the words raw with emotion.
Alden threw himself onto the bed beside Oliver and luxuriated in the sensation of Oliver stroking his chest and abdomen. Alden wiped his fingers on the sheet and drew Oliver’s head against his shoulder, then ran his hands down Oliver’s body. A long minute of silence passed, then in the quiet room, Alden whispered in reply, “I love you, too. Always.”
Fiona shifted restlessly in the carriage. The busy traffic, noise and noxious aromas associated with the roads into London had already subsided into the restrained, elegant avenues of Mayfair. The sidewalks were mostly deserted in the late evening, though a few gentlemen strolled in the streets, on their way to private dinners and clubs and other masculine entertainments.
Just as gentlemen strolled and ladies glided, so their carriages rolled along slowly, the axles quiet and well-greased. Their coachmen, footmen and maids moved smoothly and silently, at least in public. Young ladies were languid and graceful, elegant in how they disposed themselves in drawing rooms and discreet as they spoke quietly or giggled behind their fans. Boys and girls and nurses might hurry about on their way to Hyde Park, and occasionally a drawling gentleman had been known to rush, but these exceptions were few and far between.
Indoctrinated to the highest standards, Fiona’s temporary coachman had slowed to a snail’s pace when they’d entered the macadamized and brick-laid streets of Mayfair. Fiona thought resentfully of her maid, riding on top beside him, and sighed at her own inexplicable jealousy. Lucy might be catching the last rays of the sun, but she was also breathing in the sooty, foul air that permeated London, even in the warm summer.
The slow pace was yet another reason that Fiona often felt out of place among the cognoscenti. She had never glided properly.
Of course she tried. She’d watched carefully and studied Abigail, Gloria and even Genevieve as they’d taken lessons from governesses and their mother. But even with that intensive training, Fiona simply couldn’t remember to glide. Invariably her mind drifted away from the manner in which she walked and she reverted to her customary brisk stride. Even worse, when she was worried or angry, Fiona bustled.
Fiona’s walk was just one of the innumerable ways that made her different from the girls and women who populated London’s ballrooms. She’d never flirted with a man under the chandeliers, and her dancing partners were primarily limited to those men with whom she’d established a family friendship. She’d never been asked to waltz by anyone with a personal interest in her.
It was a very lonely existence and a lesson she’d learned over the bitter passing of the years. When her twenty-fourth birthday had come and gone with no change in her life, Fiona had accepted her stature as ape leader and archetypical bluestocking spinster. Publicly, she’d meekly adjusted from wearing pastels and always appearing with her mother to wearing darker hues that better suited her complexion. She’d begun attending events beyond her mother’s interests, too. Indeed, when one looked beyond the trite, repetitive script of balls and soirees, London was full of rich culture—lectures, musicales, museums, gallery events, gardens, the theater, the philharmonic, libraries, diplomatic receptions and even church chorales.
A second, small sigh escaped as Fiona watched a well-dressed couple step out of their front door, their black town carriage waiting to whisk them off to some dinner party. The majority of the ton may have deserted the stifling air of London until the end of summer, but a few gentlemen remained, and occasionally their lovers—spouses or not—stayed to keep company. Figures essential to government and business couldn’t completely abandon London for two months, even if Parliament was in recess. These few bastions of the nobility and merchant classes were still stepping beyond their front doors and gathering to play society’s games.
Fiona played a game, too, just not the one her contemporaries pursued. Gradually, over the last two years, she had mostly abandoned the familiar ballrooms lit by chandeliers, the dark card rooms where fortunes were gambled and won, and even the sunlit afternoons gossiping in Hyde Park. They’d been tolerable when her sisters had been her company, but now they were simply a demonstration that Fiona did not belong. She no longer walked through a crowded foyer with hope that she’d meet someone who could appreciate her. These days, Fiona kept up the appearance of social entertainments purely to please her mother and to provide a cover for her actual nighttime activities. Even in such a limited scope, the more time she spent in such venues, the lonelier she felt.
Relieved that it was too late to attend any evening affair, Fiona pondered her upcoming agenda. She would send a note around to Canning House directly, but needed to settle into her rooms before presenting herself personally on Canning’s doorstep. Unless they were hosting an evening event, the Cannings would be out anyway, and she’d be stuck scrawling a note for Young Canning or his father. She’d do better to sleep tonight, so she was prepared for tomorrow evening.
The gloom sank into the carriage, but Lady Olivia and Lord Anthony Morewell’s driver kept the horses plodding on, turning into Grosvenor Square. At last the carriage rounded the final corner of the square, where Fiona had spent so much of her life. They passed the mansion once known as Winchester House, standing empty and dark.
The Earl of Meriden owned the great house now. He was her brother-in-law through his marriage to Fiona’s sister, Abigail, and Fiona’s natural nephew. Fiona’s mother had had a short affaire with Meriden’s grandfather twenty-seven years earlier that had resulted in Fiona’s birth. Meriden was tenanting it out for the Little Season to a prominent laird and his wife, set to arrive soon from Scotland, and Fiona sincerely hoped the mansion was more of a home to that family than it had been to Fiona.
Lennox House was on the far corner, three doors away. Fiona’s mother and the Duke of Lennox would be inside.
Two elusive men from Amsterdam were probably also in residence. They had finally obeyed Lennox’s summons to return to London earlier in the summer. Fiona had heard of them endlessly over the last few years, since her mother’s long-time affair with Lennox had become public knowledge. Years ago, of course, Fiona had worked out who owned that house a few gates past her own via the mews, and Winchester’s library had identified the key players in the drama she’d witnessed as a girl—Lord March, eldest son and heir to the Duke of Lennox, and Lord Alden Swenson, his second son. Early on, she’d used a dictionary and a Bible to try to define the word sodomite but she’d only successfully deciphered it years later, after Abigail and Gloria had clarified the mechanics involved in the marriage bed. The identity of Oliver, the man beaten senseless by March, had remained a mystery until Fiona’s cousin Olivia—Libby—had married Lord Anthony Morewell, a younger son of the Duke of Weymouth. Lord Anthony was the third son. Weymouth’s heir was Morpeth and his second son was Lord Oliver Morewell, living in Amsterdam apart from his family.
Quite when she’d put together the entire mystery was unclear even to her, but she’d known for some time that Alden Swenson and Oliver Morewell were lovers.
The carriage stopped, and Fiona listened to the familiar sounds of the coachman jumping down and helping down the maid. The front door was standing open and the driver was putting down the step. Fiona hoped feverishly for a cool bath and a quiet night in her room before the next night’s work. No doubt she’d formally meet the other two tomorrow, unless all four residents of the house decamped from the dining room to greet her.
A niggle of disquiet struck Fiona as she mounted the steps and found Carrington himself holding open the door. At this time of evening, Carrington ought to be serving dinner and not at the door. Lennox and Johna never deviated from dinner, served at promptly half past seven, and it was nearly eight o’clock.
Still, the butler’s eyes were sparkling with welcome and he creased his lips into a smile. London butlers could be fearsome, rigid creatures and Carrington was one of the prime examples of the species, but he had always made an exception for Johna and her daughters. Carrington smiled at them all, even before he bowed. At times, he’d even been known to beam.
“I know you weren’t expecting me, Carrington,” Fiona rushed to explain. “I wrote only days ago and said it would be next month, so I do hope my rooms can be opened and aired this evening. Where is Mother?”
Carrington’s welcoming expression faded and concern colored his answer. “I’ve already sent the maids up to your rooms, my lady, but I regret to say that Lady Johna and His Grace are not in residence. Your mother wrote to you before she departed this morning with His Grace, and we posted the missive today, but it appears you will not receive it until it’s sent back down from Northumberland.”
Fiona’s mouth opened in surprise, but she hastily covered it with a question. “Where on earth have they gone?” she asked, incredulous. Her mother hadn’t left London in years, except once earlier in the year with Lennox, when Fiona’s sister Gloria and her infant son Eynon had been in danger.
“Eynon Castle, miss. They expect to be gone through the third week of September. I’m sure His Grace would have remained in town had they known. It’s unfortunate she didn’t have warning that you were coming—”
“Oh, no, they need to be able to have a holiday,” Fiona interrupted hurriedly, thinking rapidly. “I suppose there’s no harm done. I am hardly in my first Season.”
Carrington hesitated. Fiona wondered at his reaction, but a voice from the stairs distracted her. Looking up, Fiona realized why the butler was so indecisive.
“Carrington, don’t keep the poor lady standing in the hall,” the man chided, descending the last step and approaching them.
Even without an introduction, Fiona knew him immediately. Lord Oliver had the same tawny hair color and face as Anthony, with a clean, firm chin where Anthony cultivated a goatee and mustache. He was, Fiona thought, a few inches shorter and smiled a great deal more easily than his brothers.
She blinked and instinctively began to curtsy, but he reached forward with his hand and waved her off. “No, no. Not to me. You must be Fiona. I am Oliver, and as our loved ones are connected in so many layers I can’t even remember them all, it’s almost a crime to wait for an introduction. Welcome home, my dear.”
With that flourish of familiarity, Oliver lifted Fiona’s gloved fingers and squeezed them, then expertly took her arm and drew her to his side.
Dazed by his elegant manners, Fiona forgot what she’d been saying, and absorbed the flurry of instructions Oliver listed instead, blinking as Oliver switched between addressing the butler and providing asides to Fiona. “Carrington, send up a maid to help her unpack and settle. The poor girl out on the front steps with the footmen looks positively exhausted. Traveling is so tiresome for the servants too, no? And they must all be hungry. We were going to dine upstairs but perhaps the family dining parlor would be a better choice. I can’t see setting out the formal dining room for three. Send someone up to warn Alden of the change in plans, would you? He’s hiding in his office again, waiting for dinner to be taken up, you know. Fiona, I assume you will want to wash up. There’s no need for you to change for dinner at this hour and just with our quiet company, my dear. I’m sure you’ll want a bath just as soon as your hunger is satisfied. Carrington, if you could arrange for washing water immediately, she can bathe once her rooms are prepared.”
This Morewell, Fiona considered, had more vibrancy and energy than the other brothers combined. Morpeth, the eldest, was grave and traditional, a staid and somewhat righteous man who served as an undersecretary at the Foreign Office. Fiona had spent countless hours with Anthony and weeks in Anthony’s home, and knew him to be a quiet, dutiful man. Nevertheless, Anthony had defied his family, abandoned the family business of government diplomacy and moved his beloved Libby to Northumberland for Libby’s sake. He credited Oliver for demonstrating the courage that Anthony had required to refuse his father’s plans to keep Anthony in London, a place Libby could not bear to live for more than a few days at a time. Martin, the youngest son, had only spent a few years working his way up in the Foreign Office, but Fiona knew him well as a reserved, cautious man, unlike the Corinthians, rakehells and sharps of his age but perfect for his eventual roles in the embassies of Europe.
Oliver, while perfectly placed geographically for the last several years, had never been conscripted into serving in the Foreign Office, despite his brothers’ careers and his father’s history as Foreign Office Secretary. He also presented the perfect hospitable foil against interrogation. His spate of chatter lasted the entire time Oliver shepherded her up the stairs and to her door. Fiona had good reason to wonder if he secretly was a spy, and all the family drama simply a cover.
Fiona knew she should speak, saw the door looming ahead, felt the warmth of Oliver’s hand on her arm through the gown and experienced the oddest sensation she’d ever known. A shudder slid up her body from the base of her spine to her head.
Perhaps she had pushed the coachman, and thus herself, entirely too hard.
“I am grateful, but there was no need to change your plans. Mother and His Grace would already have dined so I was expecting a dinner tray in my room,” she began, but Oliver shook his head and stopped, turning her to face him and examining her from the hems of her skirt to the crown of her hair under a decorous, dark purple bonnet. Fiona knew exactly what he would see. She was not fashionable or glamorous or beautiful, but her attire was high quality and well-tailored with simple lines, made in London of high-quality textiles. He would find nothing to criticize, even if she wasn’t quite accustomed to the open examination of her person.
“Now, now. You’ve been with my brother and his wife. You can imagine I want to hear all about my nephews?” Oliver asked directly.
Fiona felt a fissure of guilt. Oliver had never met his nephews, but she was not surprised that he asked after her firsthand experiences. He’d certainly never hear them from his family. The Duke of Weymouth and Morpeth had made their disapproval of Oliver exceptionally clear within the family and forbidden him from Weymouth House and all the country properties. He was not to be welcomed back without a white flag of surrender and a vow of filial obedience.
Despite this avowal, Anthony had maintained a correspondence with Oliver for some years and had only recently named his newborn son after Oliver.
“Or do you disapprove of me as well?” Oliver asked directly.
Fiona’s eyes flew wide. She shook her head abruptly. “No, that’s not what I meant—”
“Then come down for dinner,” he said firmly.
“For dinner,” she agreed, reluctance coloring her voice. “But after, I think I should remove to Grillions. I have no chaperone here.”
Oliver stared at her, and Fiona felt a nervous flutter in her stomach. She couldn’t understand it, but panic began to erupt, and she opened her mouth to insist.
“You’d have no chaperone at Grillions either, but we can discuss it at dinner,” Oliver compromised. “And here’s your maid.”
A little chambermaid—was it Carrington’s granddaughter?—scurried along the corridor, and Fiona greeted her gratefully, pulling away from Oliver’s grip. He began to follow her into the suite’s sitting room, but Fiona stopped through the doorway and pointedly shut the panel in his face.
She sensed Oliver Morewell was more of a formidable force of nature than his family understood. Even as unsusceptible as Fiona was to men and as much as she understood Oliver’s commitment to Alden, Fiona had felt a curious tingle of awareness where they had touched. Despite the fact that Fiona did not attract attention from men, Oliver had taken her arm in his and claimed the spot beside her eagerly, without any sort of reserve. Fiona had nearly jumped from the energy that seemed to pulse from the innocuous back of his forearm where her hand had rested.
Of course, she might just have been tired from the long journey and off balance at the discovery that her mother was gone.
Fiona crossed the hall between the bottom of the stairs and the drawing room at five minutes after eight, determined to forget any curious anomalies about Oliver she’d imagined. Carrington was haunting the front hall, obviously waiting for them to exchange at least the barest of greetings before serving the meal, so she waited for him to open the door to the drawing room and bustled forward with her chin nobly high.
Bustled. Halting abruptly, she slowed and adjusted her steps just as she entered the room.
Oliver, who had been lounging negligently against a bureau on the side wall, set down his wine glass and immediately stepped forward to greet her. As he did, a second man rose from a chair in the center of the room. Fiona saw him from her peripheral vision but the sight was enough. She instinctively recoiled, then realized her mistake immediately. In recompense, Fiona turned to face him directly and forced a smile to her lips, making every effort not to stare.
His identity was without question. As her sisters had told her, Lord Alden Swenson might have been a larger twin of March at a healthier, sober point in time. He was simply gigantic, perhaps the largest man outside of a circus that Fiona had ever seen. He towered over his surroundings as he approached her, his movements restrained despite his broad shoulders and muscular, proportionate hips. His ebony hair was impossibly darker than Fiona’s black mane, but was sleeked back and barely long enough to capture at the nape of his neck in a short, deep burgundy ribbon that matched his evening coat. The hue was rich and vibrant without being foppishly garish, and under the lamps of the drawing room, it complemented the ivory inexpressibles and waistcoat he wore beneath it.
Breeches? For a dinner party of three?
Fiona had to clamp her teeth down on the inside of her lip to conceal her reaction to the sight of the man’s thigh and calf muscles on display before her in the old-fashioned garments. Even covered by the tight fabric, those muscles were simply the most magnificent ones she’d ever seen, an improvement upon the nude, sculpted masculine thighs she’d studied in museum and privately collected statues. No gentleman wore breeches and hose if he could help it, except to Court and Almacks, and now Fiona understood why. Trousers were perfectly acceptable evening attire because they prevented ladies from staring, from ballroom accidents—
“Ah, you’ve noticed Alden,” Oliver broke into her thoughts, unperturbed and smiling. “Lady Fiona, Lord Alden Swenson. Alden, Lady Fiona de Rothesay. Now then, you’ve met, and don’t curtsy, Fiona. That’s a dear girl,” Oliver breezed through the introductions, coming up just behind and to the side of Fiona as Alden Swenson stopped before her.
Alden’s hazel eyes glinted in the light as he took in Fiona from her hems to her hair. It was a comprehensive look, and entirely too similar to the examination Oliver had conducted. “A pleasure,” he said briefly, the deep drawl transforming the familiar word into some forbidden, sensual phrase.
He stepped closer and Fiona had to stiffen her knees to prevent her muscles from jumping away. Indeed, even the rigid joints and muscles would not have been sufficient to hold her still, except that Oliver was directly behind her.
At least Oliver was attired much more sensibly in black trousers and an elegant black jacket with a simple ivory waistcoat and snowy white shirt.
The man in front of her wore a white shirt as well, but it was concealed by a complicated cravat that Fiona thought was the Mathematical, anchored with a pin featuring a deep garnet. “Isn’t that color perfect for him?” Oliver asked, eyeing Alden as appreciatively as she just had, but with a great deal more affection.
In her surprise, Fiona forgot to speak, so Alden grasped her fingers in his and lifted them high. The old-fashioned kiss to the back of her hand turned her silence into an open-mouthed gape as Fiona stared up into his face.
Bemusement covered his. “Yes, I’m overdressed,” he agreed simply and without explanation, then looked past her shoulder to Oliver.
Fiona began to twist away to look at Oliver as well, but just then Carrington knocked on the door.
Fiona quickly found herself out-maneuvered. Before she could quite work out how they’d proceed, she found both her arms captured, with Alden on her right side and Oliver on her left.
If Oliver’s presence at her side had been disconcerting, the pair of them together was nerve-wracking. She moved proudly, but her hands and chin trembled wildly. Dressed in a summer gown that left her collarbone and lower arms bare, Fiona experienced an awkward vulnerability and awareness. She wasn’t meant to feel so intimately the touch of these hands on her arms, the scrape of their fingers against her skin. They loved each other and could see her as no more than a sister or cousin. Panic gripped her stomach when Alden rubbed his oversized fingers against her skin, offering comfort.
Her breath caught, but Oliver settled her hand more comfortably on his forearm and kept it there by the simple expedient of clamping his second hand over the backs of her fingers.
Thankfully the family dining parlor was only a quick walk down the long corridor that separated the front of the house from the back. The table had been shortened as much as possible, but Fiona was still surprised when the men escorted her to the seat at the foot of the table. Alden held out the chair, and Fiona sat, confusion burgeoning.
Oliver gave her a half-smile and took the chair on her left, as Alden seated himself at her right. Fiona shivered as Alden’s gaze rested on her face, then lower, and she quickly turned to Oliver. Her sisters hadn’t mentioned any distracting tendency of Lennox’s younger son to stare at his guests.
“So you’ve just come from Anthony and Olivia, who I am most anxious to visit, though it seems our reunion must be delayed until His Grace returns to London. The babies are thriving and Olivia is recovering well, yes?”
Fiona drew a quick breath. She had planned to bring up her intent to hire a room at Grillion’s Hotel, but the eagerness in Oliver’s voice reminded her of how generous the Morewells had been to share their two small boys with Fiona. She recalled how much Libby and Anthony grieved the rift between Oliver and his family.
“Anthony and Olivia—separately—asked me to repeat their invitation to you personally. They’d like for you and Lord Alden to make the acquaintance of little Benjamin Oliver.”
Oliver beamed, an unconscious expression so reminiscent of Anthony and Libby’s eldest son, Christopher, that Fiona caught her breath and quickly looked down at her plate, grateful when a footman stepped close to serve her.
The meal passed quickly, primarily because Oliver had a stream of questions for Fiona about his brother, Libby, the Northumberland estate in Gallowhill that Libby had inherited from her father, his two nephews and all related concerns. Oliver’s rapid-fire enthusiasm was almost feverish and rather disconcerting, but after a few moments, Fiona realized that she was Oliver’s sole source of information aside from Anthony’s own letters. Northumberland was hardly teeming with friends and family to provide updates.
Indeed, he engaged her so thoroughly that it took Fiona half the meal to notice that Alden’s contributions to the conversation were limited to single word responses. She snuck a glance at him while Oliver told a story about Libby shopping in Antwerp when she and Anthony had been on their wedding trip. Oliver had apparently visited with them there.
Fiona forgot to laugh at the proper point, however, because when she glanced at Alden, she discovered that he was examining her as well—and not just her face.
No man had ever ogled Fiona de Rothesay.