The short tale below is part of a series of vignettes written to characterize Johna de Rothesay, formally known as Lady Winchester. Johna is a significant person in her daughters’ lives, though she does not appear directly in The Outcast Earl, and only briefly in The Rusticated Duchess.
If you have not finished The Outcast Earl, this is officially your spoiler alert. Go read the book first, then come back here.
Temptation in 1797
by Elle Q. Sabine
Copyright 2012 by Elle Q. Sabine (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All rights reserved, do not reprint in paper or electronic form without prior permission of the author. This material is supplemental material to books in the series The Misbegotten Misses (The Outcast Earl, The Rusticated Duchess, TBD) published by Totally Bound. By reading further, you are stating you are 18 years of age, or over.
Early November 1797
He knew when a woman wanted him. The sweet plum laughed into his face as he matched her lively dance steps. She had the telltale glitter in her eyes and a subtle tremor in her pert figure. She could barely keep her hips from swinging too obviously.
It wouldn’t do to advertise her interest, or his. She clearly understood the need for discretion, and had done all she could to command his attention without drawing ire and attention from the other women that crowded the duchess’s entertainment. This particular plum’s husband had recently inherited a title equal to his own, though with less precedence. And she was young, both to her marriage and in age. The couple had only been in town since the opening of Parliament, and not so very long ago this sweet creature had been a virginal debutante.
While an affair for one such as him held little personal risk, she had not yet birthed Winchester a son. It bothered him a bit, but he shrugged it away. If he didn’t respond to her sultry eyes soon, she’d turn elsewhere. He found he didn’t like that notion at all. She was already circling his hook, and it was time for her to be caught.
Of course, if she was out hunting for companionship, either she was already with child or Winchester was monumentally stupid. If the fool had spent even a few minutes of his evenings looking in on his interests, the wolves of London wouldn’t be already stalking her, closing in for the kill. He’d had to warn two of them off himself, nearly giving away his own self-interest under the cover of bored indifference and the ‘unintentional’ interruption.
He wondered why she had chosen him, decades older and steadfastly married, to smile at and crook her pretty little finger. It was time to find out, in any event. Not that he’d rush her off to a linen closet for a stiff kiss and poke; he’d want much more time and intimacy than that. Indeed, presumably even Winchester would notice if she returned home at the evening’s end in disarray from the games he planned to play with her.
The measure over, he bowed, appreciating the momentary revelation of her smooth, shapely breasts as she curtsied to the perfect degree before him. “Would you care to stroll in the conservatory, my lady?” he murmured, lifting her with a graceful tug on her fingers as he stood. “I believe the terrace, while naturally preferable for conversation, would be completely too wet and cold tonight.”
Her eyes suddenly more serious, she studied him intently. “What a refreshing suggestion, my lord,” she smiled, her carefully controlled smile in place as they turned, touching no more than by their raised fingertips to leave the dance floor. Once amid the throng, their arms fell and he settled her arm on his easily, strolling negligently but directly toward the long doors at the end of the ballroom.
The doors stood open, welcoming guests, but the conservatory wasn’t yet crowded and would allow a modicum of private conversation. It was early in the evening, and those strolling had no wish to congregate and chat. Such was the purpose of the ballroom. Here was the place for actual conversation.
He directed them onto a path, permitting her to set a slow pace, before saying directly, “You, my dear countess, are flirting with me.”
She glanced up at him, calm and cool but looking decidedly determined. Slowly one of her finely shaped brows rose high and she murmured, “And you, my lord earl, are not objecting.”
He shrugged and made clear his opinion on the matter. “I’m hardly one to deny myself the pleasure to come from both the flirtation and its ultimate consequences, although you are tempting me to turn you over my knee for it.”
To her credit, she did not fluster in heat or indignation. A slow blush rose up her neck to her cheeks. He looked disgustingly at the gown; the things women were forced to don in public these days were clearly the work of some fanatic prude. He wanted to be able to see how far down the blush spread, but her fashionable gown, complete with front and back bustles and wide petticoats over stiff hoops, prevented him from it. True to his intuition, he was charmed when her mind and voice rose to the occasion. “I hardly think you would attempt such an encounter in Her Grace’s conservatory, even if you had such a privilege.”
“I would not,” he agreed. “Her Grace’s ball is hardly the proper atmosphere for what I plan. Although I must warn you, should you come to me even for the few weeks of the Little Season, I shall assume I do have the privilege, when circumstances permit.” It would be better to set out the rules of their relationship now. He only had one wife, and the sugarplum about to be caught in his palm would have to keep her husband. Such was dalliance. While she was delectably pretty, she would not be his first game, nor his last.
Her lips curled mockingly as she laid down her own rules of engagement. “I remain in London at Winchester’s convenience. As long as he remains, I might as well be entertained.”
“Ah,” he mused, careful to keep anything revealing from his face. “Tell me, my dear lady, how long have you been married?”
“Six months, my lord, and we have been in the country all that time.” Clearly anticipating his interest, she added tonelessly while looking directly ahead of her, “And no, I am not with child. He presumed a change of scenery would be helpful, and Lords is sitting, so here we are.”
“He must still share your bed then.”
She looked at him, her eyes wide with honest surprise. “Why do you inquire about such a private matter?” she said stiffly.
He was audacious enough to openly chuckle, but then lowered his voice to ensure no others could listen. “Merely for our mutual protection, my dear. I want to be sure you are thoroughly educated as to the etiquette and my expectations, so that we do not have any unfortunate misunderstandings later.” Glancing around, he steered them to a narrower path, which forced her six inches closer to his side. He could smell her perfume now, some heady scent of jasmine.
“I suppose you mean,” she said after a moment, “That I should not interfere with his convenience, as that might indicate I was having some change of heart.”
“Precisely. Also, sharing his bed occasionally will protect you. Because while he might not have got you with child, there’s nothing to say I couldn’t. I should not want you or any progeny to be faced with the question of paternity, particularly as Winchester has no son. Yet.” He made his words short and blunt, knowing she must understand she could expect nothing from him, but she simply shrugged and made a careless gesture with her hand.
“Never fear, I shall continue to accept his attentions like clockwork, though how you should manage to implant me with a child while chastising me is a far more amusing conversation.” Her voice was low and modulated, fiercely controlled, despite the awkward topic.
He halted for a second, astonished by her lack of womanly reticence, and then continued onward. “You are quite frank, you little vixen. Tell me, is this the first time your tongue has been so bold, or should I not have rescued you from Smythe and friends the other evening?”
The woman beside him gave him a pouting, indignant look for just a second, then quickly smoothed out her face and looked emotionlessly ahead. “Had they gone any further and managed to lift my skirts,” she said sweetly, “I should have taken great delight in kneeing them each in the crotch and stamping my heel down on the tops of their boots. My brothers taught me the move before allowing my mother to take over and bring me to London three years ago.”
He waited, patiently.
“As to boldness, I’m afraid my tongue is a curse. However, as you are subtly asking if this is the first time I have sought distraction outside of my marriage, it is,” she finally gave in. She shot him a small look. “But it is not your first dalliance, my lord, so I must trust you to guide me safely through the possible perils.”
At her small capitulation, he smiled, exultant. He found her wit and charm distracting, the perfect foil to the tediousness of political life in London. He was already ready to whisk her out of the rooms in search of a private moment, though they couldn’t stroll much longer without drawing notice. He’d have to return her to the ballroom and depart from her side instead.
“The first lesson is to keep private things private. As such, we’ll have to separate soon for the evening or we’ll attract notice from the sharp-eyed tabbies.” He glanced down at her wig and the powdered curls that escaped the formal white headpiece, wondering what color would be concealed beneath it. “One dance per night, and perhaps a stroll. Nothing more to draw attention.”
At that, she raised both brows.
“The second lesson is to the arrangements. When does Winchester expect you home at night?”
She shrugged a shoulder dismissively. “He does not. Well, except on Fridays, when he arrives home at promptly ten o’clock and comes to my bed at precisely eleven for his weekly appointment, stays for perhaps a half hour in the dark, and then leaves the house again. He rarely returns before four o’clock in the morning, often not until dawn, and has never once checked on me. His clubs, I suppose, or his mistress.” She paused and added, a bit tensely, “That creature has never gotten pregnant either.”
The earl felt a moment of unease. What nobleman in his right mind would find so little to interest him in this beautiful creature’s bed? Yes, she was perfectly controlled, but he’d already seen the telltale tremors of her eyes and face, enough to know she could heat and melt. In any event, once a week for a half-hour explained Winchester’s problem perfectly. The man had no interest in his wife, and apparently did need a surrogate. He wondered briefly if Winchester laid the blame for his own inadequacies on her.
It was no wonder she was so ripe to stray.
He supposed he should feel guilty, but couldn’t bring himself to care. The man needed a son, and clearly had no idea how to go about getting one himself. It was practically a damnable charity case.
Except it wouldn’t be a chore, or an obligation. No, he’d spank her. And poke her. And then dress her and send her home at night.
“Is your coachman loyal?” he asked after a long moment. “To you, I mean.”
“I pay him extra out of my own allowance,” she murmured with a soft laugh. “And yes. My brothers hired him, almost more as a guard than a driver, years ago when I started going about. He might have spied for them then, but he was spying on my mother, never me.”
Her brothers? He’d have to ask her about that, but later. They were coming to the end of their stroll. He could see the ballroom ahead, and they were coming up on other people. “2 Portman Square,” he murmured finally. “Have him go into the mews behind the house, then into the yard itself. Don’t leave the carriage unless I have come to fetch you myself. Be there at half-past ten tomorrow evening, and send a note to the back door if you encounter any difficulty before then.” He glanced at her briefly. “And lose the powder somehow. I’ll remove a wig, but if I have to wash your hair I’ll be tempted to teach you to like something more painful than spanking, minx.”
Her breath caught in her throat.
He heard it, and smiled.
* * * *
He held her hand as they walked through the back garden and up onto his terrace, and into a long library. Without pausing to admire the fine room, he made for the far wall. Unhesitating, he swung open a door and led Johna inside, pulling it closed behind him firmly and snibbing the lock.
She gasped. The room was brightly lit even this late at night. Lamps stood on every surface, casting a golden glow over the creamy walls. Long drapes were closed over two windows to keep out the chill, and a large fireplace already had a fire crackling merrily on the hearth. The room had likely been a music room but was clearly fitted as a bedchamber; there was a large example of the defining furniture at the end. Comfortable settees and a chaise were organized around the fireplace. A small table held a tray of finger food, with two chairs.
Before Johna could see more, he spun her to face him, and lifted his hands to her cloak. She’d worn a very dark green one, with the hood pulled up and over her face, easily concealing her appearance unless one came close. Very slowly, he reached within it and pushed it back, tipping his head and sucking in a slow breath when her bright gold hair gleamed in his hands.
She’d dressed it simply. All morning Johna had debated her plans, but finally had canceled her evening engagements altogether, excusing herself on the grounds of the headache. After Winchester had departed for dinner at his club, she’d ordered dinner in her room, asked the French dresser she’d just hired to bring it, and gotten ready for bed. After dismissing the girl, Johna took the long braid and wound it into a simple coronet, and then dressed.
She wore a morning gown. It was the only sort she could put herself into without help. Biting her lip, she wondered if she’d be able to bribe the French girl into silence because there were certainly more appropriate — more inviting gowns — in her wardrobe than the one the earl was uncovering. He’d undone the fastenings of the woolen cloak and opened it to the bottom, before drawing it off her shoulders.
He made no comment on her lack of fashion, but stepped back to survey her. She stood proudly, wondering at her racing heart. This, this was what she wanted, needed even. She needed more than Winchester sliding into bed beside her, his cold hands lifting her bedgown to her waist, fumbling about as he scraped his fingernails against her vulva in the dark. He always plunged one finger inside her first, then two, then pushed her thighs apart to ram his staff into her. It always hurt.
It wasn’t supposed to hurt.
“Stop thinking about him,” the man before her said grimly, tilting up her chin. “He’s not here, and I do not wish to have his clumsiness or bad manners share my bed.”
Johna shivered at his touch, unable to conceal her reaction. She’d felt him through their gloves of course, but this was not a ballroom. His fingers were warm on her jaw, and they slipped down her neck and played with her collarbone teasingly. She felt her body respond, whispering with sensational delight. “Yes, milord,” she murmured, almost instinctively, feeling him take a step closer.
“William, my dear. When we are private, call me William.” His warm breath came out against her ear, and her shiver turned to a shudder as a gentle kiss on her bare lobe edged downward along her jaw. “Save the civility for when must meet in public, or at least for when you are in trouble, little one.”
He kissed her.
He kissed her. She stood, still and stunned, as the sensation of having her mouth pressed to his, of his tongue tracing her upper lip, sank into her soul. She knew some helpless cry came to her throat, but it was almost more than she could bear. Her hands sank into his shoulders in almost desperate gratitude.
William lifted his face and smiled down at her tenderly, concerned by the tears swimming in her eyes. “Are you having second thoughts, little one?” he murmured. “I haven’t even removed your garments, yet you are crying. Are my kisses distasteful?”
Johna shook her head, hardly daring to say it, yet knowing she had no choice. He had to understand her shock, her reaction. “No, I want it. I want it, William. I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to say this, but—“ she stopped and hesitated, then hurried on when his face lost its smile and started to look more threatening. “I’ve never been kissed. I mean, not like that. Just a short press on the corner of my mouth at the wedding.”
William’s eyes widened and he fairly growled.
“I like it though,” she placated him, her hand resting a moment later on his chest. Was she allowed to touch him? Winchester never wanted her to do more than grip the sheets beneath her and close her eyes. Early on, once, she’d tried to put her arms around his neck and hold him close, and he’d nearly snarled at her as he told her to keep her hands away from his face.
She watched nervously as this man struggled to regain his equilibrium, watched as he battled back a violent reaction she hadn’t foreseen. Johna didn’t understand it, but she didn’t fear this man’s trembling body, the growl in his throat, or the snarl on his face. Indeed, in a moment of clarity she realized that at least part of his rage was on her behalf. How beautiful it was, she thought, that this stranger cared more about her innocence than her husband ever had.
After long minutes, he clasped her hands in his and spoke gently. “Come, sit by the fire with me.” Numbly, she followed, taking the place he led her to and turning as he sat at her side. With little warning, he drew her forward within one arm and his lips descended swiftly.
She whimpered with the firm pressure and the utter joy of it, and he didn’t pull back until her tears mingled in with their lips. “I-I’m sorry,” she said breathlessly. “I’m not sad. I don’t kn-know why I’m crying.”
“I want you to forget everything you think you know,” he whispered, kissing at the wet trails on her cheeks. “Forget everything, and let me teach you what you need to know — about kissing, about your body, about how a man can make it feel, and make you feel. Let me teach you about pleasure, and even about how some pain can be pleasurable.”
Johna nodded, watching as he undid the buttons of her bodice. He didn’t pull them apart, just unbuttoned it. When he reached the waist, his lips twisted, but he went on, “You must tell me if I go too fast or too slow, if you want more or less. I may decide otherwise, but I will not know how you’re feeling unless you tell me. Do you understand?”
She blinked, shaking suddenly. “All right,” she answered as his hands pulled apart the bodice, exposing the lines of her linen chemise.
“Despite the contradiction, there is much sensation to be found in some sorts of pain. For example, you know I will spank you. But you will know what should hurt, and what should feel good. If I am doing something with you that hurts, when it should feel good, you must tell me immediately. Do you understand, Johnanna?”
His hand traced the line of her bosom where the chemise clung to her breasts. She drew a sharp breath, knowing even as she did so that her breasts were changing. That light, comforting touch seemed to make them tighter. Johna flushed brightly. “Yes,” she breathed, arching back just a bit. “Johna,” she whispered a moment later. “Not Johnanna. Johna.”
“Good girl,” he murmured, taking her wrists one at a time and unbuttoning her sleeves. He pushed the bodice off her and stood her up, turning her to loosen the skirt. It fell to the floor, leaving her in a flannel petticoat and her chemise. It felt too little, but then, she’d be wearing even less soon enough. Her unintentional tears had not scared him away. She felt her petticoat fall to the floor, and he turned her to face him.
“No corset?” he questioned, raising a brow.
She shrugged helplessly. “I dressed myself. I didn’t want to ask the maid to help.”
“So where do your servants think you are?” he asked sharply, his eyes focusing sharply on her face.
“Sound asleep, exhausted from the late nights. Except for my driver,” Johna assured him. “I couldn’t think how else to get out of the house in the evening without powdering my hair.”
He raised a brow. “Johna,” he murmured, “your maid or dresser must be loyal to you, extremely loyal. Make sure that she is.” It was more than a small point of etiquette, Johna thought, if he was making a point of it. She waited, tilting her head in inquiry so that he would explain. “A man such as I will leave marks on you, from touching your body with my hands and mouth and teeth, from bringing pleasure to your breasts and your cunny and everywhere else. Unintentionally, or intentionally. Your maid will see them. And she will know they are not made in your own bed.”
In her stockings and chemise, her clothes piled on the floor around her, Johna whimpered. She’d never felt so naked before in front of a man; the black inky darkness she shared with Winchester meant little.
“I’m going to finish undressing you now, Johna. Then I’m going to carry you over to the bed, lay you down in the middle of it, and kiss every part I’ve uncovered. Do you understand?” His voice was deep and dark, and Johna felt a rush of heat sweep through her body.
“Yes, yes,” she gasped, and he did.
* * * *
“Why did you pick me?” he murmured, stopping the thrusting motion of his hips and staring up at her, lips pursed.
She moaned and her dark eyes fluttered open. They were glazed with passion, the lashes long. It was a look of beauty on any woman, but in Johna it seemed devilishly sensual. When it sharpened into a threatening glare, he simply chuckled. His hands were already cupped around her rump, so he squeezed, groaning himself at her whimper and the jerk of her hips.
He’d spanked her hard and thoroughly, reddening her arse until she’d cried pitifully in his arms. It had been a release both of them desired, even needed. She hadn’t cried because he’d spanked her too hard, she’d cried because it was the last spanking he’d be giving her, and William knew well the difference. She’d think about tonight on every bumpy mile as her carriage traveled away from London, knowing their time together had faded. He’d think about it as she grew round with his child, and birthed it far from him.
Despite any time she’d spent in Winchester’s bed, William knew well that the baby was his.
William would never — could never — see her or her child again. He recognized the temptress in her and knew he could not succumb to her, for both of their souls, for both of their families. He had a patient and understanding wife who knew well that he had other women in his bed but trusted him to be discreet. He had two sons, two grandsons, and three tiny graves in the parish cemetery near his home, and a family history that did not need to be tainted by scandal. It was enough duty and responsibility for any nobleman, and to see Johna with his child in her arms would be too much temptation.
England would not allow otherwise.
She’d not made any demands, any indication she’d ever wanted more from him than he was able to give, but neither could he take the chance. He’d have to watch her from afar, and occupy himself elsewhere.
Whether she intended him to know about the coming baby or not was immaterial. He knew, though she’d said not a word to him about that, either. They’d been together more than four full weeks and she’d not bled. It was early, and he’d played with her thoroughly that month and knew her body to its minutest details; she tired more easily already, and her breasts were already swelling and more sensitive to his caresses.
He still wanted an answer. So he waited, patiently. It was the sultry temptress positioned on top of him who wanted him to go faster and take her into bliss, immediately.
“William,” she said pertly. “You said you didn’t want him in your bed.”
“Fine,” he grunted, thrusting into her. “Talk about that asinine man you share a house with, then.”
She paused and stared at him, suddenly thoughtful at his tone of voice. Her hands traced a pattern on his chest, then clutched at the hairs around his navel. Johna smiled at him, tremulously, and blurted out abruptly, “Because you’re so different from him.”
He wasn’t satisfied, but the discussion was cooling her, and he didn’t want that. Raising his hands to her breasts, he palmed them, loving the weight against his hands and her arching back as she moaned. “That’s it, my dear,” he whispered. “Ride hard, take me deep inside you.”
She was sweetness and heat inside, and she knew it now. He wouldn’t see her again, but some day another man would. Winchester would never capture her soul, and it needed to be captured, devoured and sated, regularly. She’d find another in time. He didn’t want to think about it; he couldn’t help thinking about it. Some perverted part of him wanted to be there, watching her flower under the touch of a man’s hands. Another part of him ached at the thought.
William took a deep breath, his mind suddenly wiped of anything but the dark blazing eyes above him. She squeezed him inside her, and her feet slipped under the backs of his thighs. “Fuck me, William,” she begged, clearly at the mercy of passion again. The glaze had come back to her eyes, and her breasts shook as she thrust hard down onto him.
His fingers clenched in her rump and he answered her plea, exploding a moment after her glazed eyes shattered into sparkling bits before reforming into her dark orbs. He brought her down to the bed beside him, loving that they’d managed to do this in the hours after lunch, when the sun shone in through the garden windows and touched her hips and legs beside him.
After he’d settled her comfortably against his hip and kissed her bright golden hair, William took a deep breath and settled himself. She was safe, and unquestionably happier than he’d found her. He’d done all he’d planned to with her, and more, a circumstance occasioned not just by her husband’s inattention, but ultimately her own eagerness to learn and experience anything he showed her.
“Thank you,” she eventually said.
“You are welcome,” he laughed. “But why? You did all the work, my dear Johna.”
“Not for that,” she smiled into his shoulder and let her hand slid up and over him to trace his ear. “For being different.”
“I’m glad you think of me as different from a man who has so little regard for the most important woman in his life, but I’m afraid I’m confused, sweetness. Explain it to me.”
She shrugged then, and her voice dropped to a sober sigh. “I guess I thought all men would be the same. That coming to you would be, sort of, like him coming to me. Dark and fast and sneaky, somehow.”
William laughed. He’d not once made love to her in the dark. He loved looking at her skin, at her curls, at the lust in her eyes when he drew it forth. “Hush,” she chided, pinching his ear lobe. “I didn’t know.”
“I remember,” he mused. “So if you thought it would be the same, only with a different man, why did you pick me? What were you looking for that you can’t get with him?”
“Then?” She paused, and then smiled into the side of his chest. “I-you.” Her voice faded and then she went on. “You looked at me, and you actually saw me, a person. I wasn’t this intrusion in your life. You didn’t walk into a room, see me and frown, then go on as if I wasn’t there. You actually looked at and saw me. That’s why I picked you, then. Because you looked back at me.”
Because you looked back at me.
William growled. It was his reaction whenever Winchester’s idiocy became apparent. He couldn’t help it. “He’s a fucking idiot, Johna,” he said roughly, his fingers tightening in her skin. “And you deserve so much better. You deserve to be honored and respected and cared for with both firm and gentle hands. Never forget it, and never accept anything less.”
“Except from him,” she said bitterly.
William said nothing, but later, instead of letting her don her clothes and go out alone as she usually did, he helped her dress, his hands soothing and smoothing her skin wherever he found it. He kissed the tears on her cheeks when he tied her hat over her curls, making a bow under her chin. He bent his head and kissed her again, as gently as that first night, and kept kissing her. His mouth stayed there, with hers, until he could taste the tears tumbling down her cheeks.
He stayed in the garden long after her plain black carriage departed. She wouldn’t return, but it was the last place he’d seen her teary, haunting eyes, and he could hardly leave it, until darkness fell and house before him seemed painfully empty and alone.
It was time for him to leave London, too.