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 and The Rusticated Duchess, as well as Temptation in 1797 and Temptation in 1798, this is officially your spoiler alert. Go read the books first, then come back here.
Temptation in 1799
~Elle Q. Sabine~
Copyright 2014 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.
“It would be good for Fiona to be with other children more, particularly her cousins,” Johna mused, almost to herself. The boy – formally John Phillip de Rothesay, Viscount Aston – was cradled against her shoulder as he slept. Winchester sat across the small sitting room, watching them with a measure of interest that Johna had never before seen in him. She wondered at it but she went on, “I don’t want them in London at such young ages, and I don’t think I have the stamina – yet – even for the Little Season. In her last letter, though, Susan suggested that removing to Hanover Fields for a long visit might be just the thing. It’s a simple drive for you to come visit the children and I over the Sunday recesses. Otherwise I’ll be alone here in Chester until we meet up for Christmas at the Castle.”
“I don’t see how you expect the little ones to come home again,” he finally said. “It will be the dead of winter, and I won’t risk Aston. He’s too small for that sort of chill.”
Johna raised a brow but responded quietly. “I could take them out to Devon before the snows start,” she conceded. “It would perhaps be a little earlier than usual but it would be the southern coast and there’s no reason for me to delay the trip if I’m not waiting for Parliament to recess. You know your mother would love to have them in the nursery there, and it is your family seat, after all. Indeed, they can stay in the nursery there for as long as we like, even through the spring months. Surely I will be ready for London by the spring.”
Winchester could hardly argue that. Winchester Castle was his family home, despite his dislike of the drafty, stone halls. “We could go so far as to close Aston Manor altogether, leave it in the hands of caretakers, and plan not to return until the summer recess.” At his continued level gaze, Johna went on carefully, “I have every intention of being a dutiful wife to you, Stuart, but I am taking longer to recover this time. I think the country is a better place for the children and I this winter. Neil and Susan would of course welcome you regularly while I’m there – it’s not as if Hanover Fields is in Chester.”
A long pause ensued. “I suppose it makes sense, and Mother has asked me to bring them down; I gather she wants to see the little nipper as soon as is practical,” he agreed, nodding his head at the sleeping infant. “You’ll make the arrangements?”
“Yes. I’ll want to leave as soon as possible, while we can still travel during the day without fearing a freeze. So perhaps we should leave in a week?”
“Whenever you like.” Winchester sat down his glass of port, half-finished, and rose. “I’ll retire now. I’ll travel with you as far as Reading, then head into London while you finish the journey south.”
“Goodnight then,” Johna murmured calmly as he departed without another word, hardly able to still her own excitement and relief. If she had her way, the children would stay at Hanover Fields through the spring, giving her more than adequate reason to stay there in the new year or at least visit frequently. And she did want to visit frequently.
* * * *
“Mon ange,” he said quietly behind her, the endearment rolling roughly from him. Johna’s breath seized and she spun around in the corridor before launching herself at Alex. He caught her as she landed against his hard, muscled body. His forearm trapped her in his embrace and his hand stroked her lower back and down over her rump, despite their location. “Come into my room,” he murmured, practically kicking open the door at his side and pushing her through. She willingly went, then turned and met his mouth as the door slammed closed behind him. The kiss turned immediately into a frantic exploration of skin and frame as both Johna and Alex cataloged the changes in their forms that the long months of distance had wrought.
Johna had birthed a baby – Alex’s son. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived,” he growled against her earlobe, biting it gently for a second. “I’ve been riding every day, and Colby wanted me to go with him over to the east farms while he inspected the new cottages going up there. We thought you’d arrive later.”
“We left Reading at dawn,” Johna explained. “Both of the children were up and restless; there didn’t seem to be any reason to sit around and wait for a fashionable hour.” Her hands stroked over his hips, noting the new strength in his form. He now had a stiff wooden leg and foot to give him balance, and he hadn’t been using the cane. Susan had written to her that it was difficult to keep him from overworking himself physically now that he’d begun to recover some of his independence; Alex’s carefully worded letters were otherwise filled with relief that he was no longer confined to the house and near gardens.
“Where’s Winchester?” he eventually murmured, when Johna’s hands began to unfasten his breeches with the desperation of seven months absence.
“London,” she said shortly, “And not expecting to come down until Saturday evening.” She’d very deliberately written to him of Winchester’s proposed schedule, enclosing the sealed missive within her regular long letters to Hanover and Susan. Winchester planned to drive down every other Saturday afternoon, and return Sunday. One night every other week during the short autumn months– she accepted that Winchester would come into her bed for the express purpose of conceiving a second son. He’d written his time with her in all deliberation in his appointment book, scheduling an hour of his evenings for their appointment, and had spent a half hour in her bed during their last night in Chester.
Johna hardly wanted to discuss Winchester, so she pulled out Alex’s shirt and ran her hands up beneath the linen to rub against his warm skin.
Immediately, he growled and pushed her back toward the bed. “Good,” he grumbled after a long silent moment in which his shirt was lost and her breasts spilled prettily out of her muslin bodice. She hadn’t bothered to wear a corset for that long last day of driving.
“You’re hardly decent,” he rasped, his hand firmly squeezing one of the bulbs, now larger with the weight of recent childbirth, so that her red nipple popped out between the knuckles of his index and middle finger. Johna had hired a wet nurse for the baby before leaving Chester, but her body still responded to the pressure; a latent bead of white milk formed against the teat.
Johna moaned, arching into his hand as he bent forward and licked the treat. “Too hard,” she gasped, “to hold the children in the carriage all day, whalebone in my sides.”
“Delicious,” he whispered. He lifted his head and examined her form carefully. “Are you nursing him yourself, then?” he questioned in a deep voice.
Johna blinked. “I did for the first few weeks, of course, until we found a proper, reliable nurse. But it’s hardly necessary now, Alex,” she shrugged. “It would confine me to the nursery if I continued.”
“Ah, you’re bringing him up a proper Englishman, then,” Alex mused, shifting Johna so that her clothing fell to her ankles. Johna blinked but then understood; while the English nobility customarily hired nurses for their babes, it had always been the custom in Ireland – even among the nobility – for a mother to suckle her own children.
Looking down, she was shocked to see herself garbed in no more than her white stockings, tightly knotted garters and heeled slippers. A moment passed and she looked up to Alex, but he was already pressing her back to the bed. “God above, I have missed you, Johna,” he ground out, following her down into the mattress.
Her hands pushed up his shirt even as he was pulling it over his head, and then she was shoving down the leather around his hips to free his cock. It pushed against her, seeking the soft skin between her legs.
Johna happily opened herself up to his quest, and moaned helplessly when the hard length of him slid inside without hesitation or thought. Alex braced his forearm beside one ear and used his hand to slide into her hair and against her scalp. Firmly his fingers dug into the mattress, anchoring her head back against the tick even as he withdrew and thrust forward forcefully again. “Missed you too,” she gasped, but the last word morphed into a loud moan of pleasure. “This,” she groaned with another thrust. “Sleeping beside you,” she managed before an errant cry escaped her. But then words were lost to her as the forceful thrusting of his hips rocked her deep into the bed’s cushions and she bit her lip to hold back the screams.
* * * *
Afterward, they slowly climbed the steps to the nursery. Johna was a bit wobbly and Alex had to concentrate on climbing stairs with his wooden, knee-high boot. His breeches restored, he’d shared a laugh with Johna about not even taking his shoes off before fucking her and very seriously promised her that the next time they would both be naked and they’d take hours instead of a mere twenty minutes.
She’d answered quite seriously that it had been the best twenty minutes she’d spent since she’d left London – and Alex – the previous spring.
His fist clenched at his side, Alex watched her hips sway in front of him with their natural rhythm. He loved to watch her walk, and climbing stairs was an improvement on even that delight. His hand itched to draw her back against him and rub her jaw with his thumb, but instead he hung onto the railing until he was beside her at the top of the house.
“He should be waking from his nap, but even if he’s not, you can still hold him, Alex.”
Alex drew in a sharp breath. He’d held Susan and Neil’s children, of course, many times. He’d learned to lay the babes in the crook of his arm and use his damaged limb to gentle the child. But this was different than the three wee ones belonging to Neil and Colby. This baby was not a godson, nor a virtual nephew, nor the child of his best friend. This baby was his son. His son.
They found both children still abed. Alex snuck a peek at Fiona and, despite his inclination to resent this evidence of Johna’s former lover, found himself captivated by the tousled black curls and sleep-filled face that graced the child’s bed. But then Johna was turning to him, with the boy in her arms and his breath caught on another unexpected whirlwind of emotion.
His arm dropped and he reached out for the child instinctively. Johna passed him to Alex without hesitation, nothing but trust and confidence in her eyes.
Alex bent his head and murmured to the boy, shuffling over to the deep rocking chair by the window. There, in the late afternoon light, he met his son, rocked him, crooned to him and studied him intently.
Later, Alex surrendered the child to a clean, black-garbed woman. She held the boy carefully and walked away with him. Alex stood awkwardly as Johna came up beside him, little Fiona’s hand clasped in hers. Speaking quietly, she gestured at the door where the nurse had disappeared with Johnny. “Her son died less than a day after his birth. ‘Twas to have been her first. Her husband’s a batman for a cavalry major. She’s not from one of the usual estate families, either. Her mother is a modiste in Birmingham and her father a steward at one of Devonshire’s smaller estates. Hiring her was pure luck and a matter of some sensitivity; she cries for her boy every day and has written to her husband. I am not sure how long I’ll be able to keep her with us.”
Alex looked down at Fiona as another woman Alex knew to be one of the Hanover nurses came and took the girl’s hand. She smiled at the child, promising her a sweet and Johna was silent until they had removed to the next room. He took Johna’s arm as they departed the nursery and gained the landing outside. “You should write to the major yourself, and Neil should as well,” he suggested carefully, wondering how much involvement Johna would permit him. “To reassure the man that his wife is safe, healthy and cared for. Neil should tell the major that his batman is welcome to visit, if he has leave from his officer to do so.”
Johna looked at him curiously, but he was once again focused on the stairs. She waited until they were at the bottom of the staircase, then asked. “Why?”
Alex blinked and leaned against the wall, waiting until Johna turned to him and lifted her face. Meeting her eyes, he said quietly, “Because soldiers are more apt to return home if they believe there is something to come home to. Even a batman is likely to face danger, and his job is only the care of the major’s equipment and person. If he’s like the men who served under my command, he’ll worry about his wife’s well-being even as he grieves for his child. Soldiers who worry are distracted and make mistakes. When soldiers make mistakes, someone doesn’t get to go home again.”
Johna drew a sharp breath and nodded. Alex drew her into his arms and his lips brushed her forehead. “I’m glad you came home, Alex,” she whispered into his chest.
He was quiet for a long time. “I didn’t want to,” he finally said. “I asked the surgeon why he hadn’t just let me die and he said that if he did his best and I recovered, that was a sign from God that there was still something to live for, even if I didn’t know what it was.” Alex tilted up her chin and smiled a bit crookedly. “I didn’t believe him, then. It took Neil coming into the hospital, dragging me out and ripping me a few furious scolds to make me function semi-normally. It took you to give me the courage to try and live again.”
Neither of them expected Johna to cry in his arms, then, but she did.
* * * *
On Saturday evening, Neil and Colby inveigled Alex into the billiards room after dinner, abandoning the ladies to tea alone in the drawing room. The brothers were making it the habit of every few evenings, where they had worked out the practical adaptations needed to recover his skill at the game. It was an exercise in amusement and frustration, although he was beginning to recover the knack.
Neil had been his best friend since their first weeks at Eton. Having long been the earl, with his heir and a second son now in the nursery, Neil had developed into a sober man with little respite from the constant demands of business, estates, farms and family. Colby, having returned to Hanover Fields after Oxford, was effectually Neil’s loyal and devoted lieutenant. His wife Jane was delivered of a daughter with another child expected in the late winter. Alex knew the brothers were planning to move Colby’s small family from the estate house soon, as Alex himself was overseeing updates to the Dower House a quarter-mile away. In the last year, Alex had spent hours upon hours with Colby, assisting as he was able both mentally and physically, until Colby could claim in truth that they spent more time together than Colby spent with his wife. Still, with changes to their families coming soon, it behooved Alex to spend as much time with his friends now, when the opportunities arose.
Still, he fretted inwardly. Intellectually he knew Johna would still be awake when the game ended and that she’d be in the house for many days to come. Even so, he’d much prefer to be steeped in Johna’s heady scent now, whether in the drawing room or upstairs. Susan had indiscreetly assigned Johna a room that connected to Alex’s through an adjoining bathing chamber, with a private sitting room at the end of the corridor convenient for their mutual use. Alex couldn’t find it in his heart to worry, however. Both brothers and their wives knew their secret and he supposed it was inevitable that all of the Hanover servants discovered it eventually.
Johna had spent every night in his bed since her arrival. He wondered if she’d be bare tonight or garbed in some filmy negligee. He thought he preferred the black peignoir over the white one, but in any event, it would be on the floor –
“Alex!” Neil interrupted his musing, smacking him on the shoulder. “Stop thinking, Colonel, and pot your shot.”
Blinking, Alex followed orders, considering the table. He used a small bit of wood he’d carved for control and lined up the cue over his arm instead of through his missing knuckles. When the ball fell, he smiled and straightened. Neil and Colby both groaned and slid the standard reward – a gold sovereign each – in his direction.
“Give me a chance to win that back, Alex,” Colby grumbled. “You’re up 5 games this week. Jane is going put me on a billiards allowance.”
Alex grinned at him. “Gammon. You’ve still got at least twenty games on me from last month.” Pursing his lips, he set the cue in its case and frowned. “Actually, I think I’ll retire. It’s time to get off this wooden peg of a foot.”
He turned just in time to catch Neil shooting Colby an odd glance. Neil and Alex both knew the state of Colby’s finances, and a few crowns would not risk dun territory for either brother, so Neil was right to be confused by Colby’s comment. “Let’s go into the library and have a drink of that new whiskey your uncle sent down first,” Neil suggested easily. “I’ve been thinking, Alex, that we ought to plan a short jaunt up to the lodge for a few days, perhaps the Friday after next, just for a couple of nights? The hunting string needs a right proper outing.”
Frowning, Alex shook his head. “I’d rather not,” he said slowly, thinking of Johna, the baby and little tousled Fiona as she tottered around the nursery floor. “I’d be happy to stay here and look after things while you’re gone?”
Neil frowned as he stacked the other cues in the wooden case and ushered Alex out of the room in front of him. “That’s why I have a steward and a secretary, Alex, so I can take my friends along. You’re hardly a servitor, even if you are gracious enough to pitch in instead of expecting us to treat you like a rather spoiled guest. Besides, rather dull work if it’s just me. Already know Colby’s not going while Jane’s expecting. He’s a mother hen.”
Alex sighed. Reluctantly he wished that he had been present when Johnny was born, but it had been the bacon-brained Winchester who hadn’t even availed himself of the honor –
His heart nearly stopped. It was Saturday. Saturday night. And he was playing billiards while Johna … “Bloody hell.” Coming to a complete stop, Alex shot a furious look at Neil, whose expression showed a brief contriteness before carefully blanking. “You conniving bastard!”
“It won’t wash, you know,” Colby tossed out after a pregnant silence, leaning against the wall. “But let’s go into the library and you can lambast us both.”
Alex’s lips clamped in a thin, tight line. “I’m going upstairs,” he spit out in anger.
“To what purpose?” Colby shot back, just as angrily. But then his face twisted. “Are you going to stand outside her door and listen?”
Alex stood stiffly until Neil grimaced. “Nobody hates this more than you, Alex, but I claim a close second. I blessed the damned marriage. So let’s go into the library where the servants can’t see and you can take a good hard jab at my stomach. You have been sparring, haven’t you?”
Colby actually put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him along, but they had hardly reached the threshold of the room when Alex spat out angrily, “When did he get here?”
His voice carefully blank, Neil answered, “Just after we were seated at dinner. He told the staff not to disturb us; he wasn’t presentable for the table and requested a tray in his room.” Neil had the whiskey waiting, he was handing Alex a glass of it before the sentence was even finished.
Alex threw it back as Colby went to shut the door. Almost as soon as it closed, a knock sounded firmly and Colby started, opening it so quickly that even the servant looked startled.
Colby narrowed his eyes.
“Excuse moi, monsieur,” the voice said easily and Alex jumped.
“Frenchie,” he spoke up, one hand tight on the back of the sofa. “What needs done?”
The little maid turned her eyes away from Colby and met Alex’s. “C’est la comtessa, monsieur. She requests a glass of his lordship’s whiskey, said it was kept only in the library.”
“Frenchie, go up to your mistress. I’ll bring up a dram for her tout de suite,” Alex declared firmly.
A moment passed while she looked him closely in the face, openly measuring his fitness for the errand. “Perhaps it would be for the best. Merci, monsieur, for your help.” she replied with a bob, hurrying away.
Colby closed the door after her, even as he spoke. “Well, either that was a classy way of extracting you from our clutches or the girl thought we were still playing billiards.”
Alex didn’t respond. Instead, he filled his own glass nearly to the rim, took a healthy mouthful from the top, and moved to the door. Colby opened it for him, watching closely as Alex struggled to keep the glass from spilling. He started to speak but Neil interrupted. “Colby, shut the door after him. We might as well go over the profit projections for the proposed Caribbean trade route.” Reluctantly, Colby did so, and listened carefully as Alex’s measured steps moved away.
“She never would have summoned Frenchie or risked sending her downstairs if it wasn’t over,” Neil said bluntly.
Colby grimaced. “I don’t see how he can climb the stairs without spilling it.”
“A point of pride,” Neil murmured sadly. “Something he can do to relieve his guilt and anger. Can’t much blame him; my own guilt is why I’m condoning the liaison in my own house. God knows I wouldn’t be so complacent if it were Susan. Or Jane. Or you.”
Colby’s face twisted in a strange emotion that might have been agony. “Susan married you because she worships the ground you walk on, Neil. And my Jane is fiercely loyal.”
“God be with them,” Neil murmured, emptying his share of the heady drink.
“They’ll need it,” Colby concurred with a sigh.
* * * *
Alex carefully shuffled into his room, pushing the door quietly shut behind him with the wooden boot. He took another sip as he glanced around. She wasn’t present, so he heaved a sigh and started across the room to the door that adjoined to his smaller dressing room and then the bathing chamber. Inside the dressing room, he paused for a moment, and as he rested Alex smiled.
From the next room he could hear the telltale sounds of Johna’s bath. He slipped inside the door, refusing to dwell on unlikely possibilities; Johna had told him of the perfunctory, rather ungentlemanly manner Winchester took to bedding her and he didn’t believe for a second that the earl would be in her bathing room. And if he was around, Alex had no doubt Johna would have locked the door from inside to keep Alex out.
And there she was, kneeling in the metal washtub before the fireplace shared with her bedchamber. There was a larger bath, but filling it was an exercise that required the services of watermen; this washtub could be managed by the maids and heated on the hearth. Frenchie was pouring more water over Johna’s shoulders to rinse off the soap that teased her hips and ran down her plump thighs. Johna’s head turned and looked at him, and she smiled, only her bottom lip trembling. Alex didn’t miss the small sign of distress. He slid the whiskey down onto a small table as Johna spoke softly to her maid. “Make sure my door is locked, and then slip out through Mr. Blessing’s room, Frenchie. And thank you.”
“Mais oui, madame,” she said simply, and bustled out. Alex didn’t move, but waited until she returned to drop a final curtsy and disappeared.
“You’re beautiful, Johna, as always,” Alex said huskily.
“Thank you, Alex,” she said softly. “I couldn’t bear to not scrub myself clean. I couldn’t bring him – that is, I would never ask you t-to –”
“Any way, any day, no matter what, bath or not, Johna. But why didn’t you tell me?” he asked in the same quiet voice, watching as Johna rose elegantly until she was standing in the water. The soap dripped down her legs as he watched, mesmerized by how the rivulets ran down the curved muscles.
“I don’t want you to dwell on it,” she said after a long moment.
“You can tell him no, Johna.” Alex lifted the whiskey in both hands and carried it to her, lifting her lips so that she could sip.
Tears welled up her eyes, but she remained before him, naked and brazen, vulnerable to his tender gaze. “If I tell him no, I cannot continue to sleep with you, Alex. It is a small sacrifice, for the joy of freely sharing your bed. I pay the price gladly.”
“Mon ange,” he returned, his voice breaking a bit. “There are ways to prevent pregnancy –“
“Alex, I need help,” she whispered, cutting him off. “There’s one more pail on the hearth. Please rinse me off. I need to dry so that I can be in your arms again.”
Alex heaved a deep breath and pushed away from the wall, obeying her instructions almost mechanically. But after he had wrapped her in silk and held her against him as she drank back the remaining whiskey, he lifted her up into his arms and stalked to his bed, ignoring the pain and stress in his damaged body. “Johna,” he whispered. “What can I do? Hold you? Love you?”
She sighed and pressed herself into his arms. “Oh Alex,” she whimpered. “Hold me close for now. I-I don’t want to be alone.”
“Every night, Johna. You can spend every night in my arms if you’d like, for as long as I have arms to hold you.” Alex made the promise in a low voice as he lowered her to the bed. “Every night.”