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, Temptation in 1798 and Temptation in 1799, this is officially your spoiler alert. Go read the books first, then come back here.
Temptation in 1800
~Elle Q. Sabine~
Copyright 2014 by Elle Q. Sabine (email@example.com).
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.
Alex was nearly in a semi-conscious drunken stupor when a knock sounded at the library door. Casting Alex a suspicious look, Neil strode across the room and unlocked the door, permitting the butler to step into the doorframe. Alex couldn’t hear the man’s low words, but Neil answered loudly.
Alex hated happy at the moment. He would truly despise happy for another hour or two, until the clocks chimed midnight and someone would help him climb the stairs to his room and collapse, a blathering sot, in his bed. Alone again.
Waiting until midnight was pure torment, but only because it was Friday. Any other day of the week and Alex would be sober, and perhaps naked with the luscious and dear Johna in his bed, at least until they were both exhausted and he slept. But not Fridays.
Alex hated Fridays with a fierce glumness that couldn’t be concealed. He snapped, he grumped, he stomped around like one of the big black bears of the Canadian forests. His temper had gotten so out of hand that he’d begun avoiding any sort of rendezvous with Johna during Friday’s daylight hours, so that she wouldn’t see his heartache and agony. After dinner, once he was locked in the Earl of Hanover’s library with Neil, the earl, Alex drank away his miserable jealousy and low spirits until he had seen the end of yet another ghastly day.
“Alex,” Neil clasped him on the shoulder, drawing his attention so that the world tipped dangerously. “Your cousin is in town. Clare. He’s come to call.”
Alex blinked. Clare, currently heir to the Duke of Lauderdale, looked down at him grimly. Alex winced, reached out to try and tip more of the whiskey decanter into his tumbler. Neil was immediately there, steadying him, filling the glass on his behalf.
“Dinna look as if he has need o’ more,” Clare observed, taking his own tumbler of the Scottish elixir and sinking into the wing chair near Alex’s elbow.
“Is Friday,” Alex swallowed a full mouthful of the spirit, his mouth already numb from his previous swallows. The fragrant liquid slid down his throat, no longer burning. His head fell back against the high back chair. “Will ss-sss-stop when bloody Friday is no more.”
Beside him, already easing the tumbler from his hand, Hanover – Neil to his friends – explained. “Alex sometimes takes advantage of his privacy on Friday evenings to sink into a stupor and forget about the world.”
“My J-J-Johnny girl is m-m-married,” Alex slurred, in explanation. “Bbbuttt not to me.” That didn’t even begin to explain it, but Alex knew Clare would understand. Andrew Patrick Blessing, better known by the courtesy title Marquess of Clare, was of the same bloodline as Alex. He and Clare had had the same childhood, shared a nursery. They had the same understanding about women.
Clare sat back and blinked. “Ah,” he said simply, and Alex knew that was enough.
“Sshhhould never have left England,” Alex managed, then threw back another swallow. “Ssshhhould ‘a ssstayed here. Sh-sh-she was here.”
“She would have married someone, even if you’d been here,” Neil said, gently. “Would it be worse or better if it was someone you liked?”
Alex felt the rage, couldn’t hold it back. He poured out of the chair, and took a lunging swing at Neil, who simply stepped to the side so that Alex’s fist went wide. Alex lost his balance and tripped, knocking his wooden leg hard against the settee and causing a jarring pain in his thigh. He fell to the floor, a stream of curses bellowing forth, most of them directed at Neil. Neil, after all, was the one who had given his sister Johna permission to marry the incompetent twit who had the honor of being her husband.
Neil and Clare watched him dispassionately. Neil had learned long ago not to interfere in Alex’s physical battles. He’d given him a home, been patient as Alex had learned to adapt to life with half a leg and a missing hand, opened Hanover House in London and organized for Alex to return to his work at the War Office with his previous commission.
It was Neil who sat with Alex every Friday night while the twit shared Johna’s bed.
Eventually, the stream of invectives exhausted, Alex took a deep breath and lifted himself enough to collapse on the settee. “Would’ve been happier if I’d had a say,” he confessed. “Would’ve picked ss-ss-someone who dinna in-insist on h-h-hurting her.”
“Hurting her?” Neil said harshly. His hand came down on the back of the settee, unusually hard.
“Sh-sh-she said ssoo,” Alex mumbled, his eyes stretching open to stare at Clare. Tears formed inexplicably in the corners of his eyes. “T-told me s-so, once. Still think I-I-I sh-should sh-sh-shoot him. But J-Johna sss-said n-nooo.”
Clare sat back against his chair and downed the remainder of his own whiskey.
“D-d-did I tell y-you about the boy?” Alex asked, squinting to see Clare more clearly. “M-my s-son?”
Clare shook his head, looked up in frank astonishment at Neil, who shifted uncomfortably before explaining, “Johna’s son, my nephew. Currently Lord Aston. Alex believes he sired the lad.”
Alex smiled broadly and a bit too widely, paternally proud. He sat up to tell Clare about the baby’s chin and ears and Blessing eyes, but instead fell to the side. At least, he thought as the world blackened around him, it would be over when he woke up.
Stretched out on the settee, the world around him dark and dim, he thought he heard Neil’s voice in the distance. “I’m seriously worried about him,” Hanover said to his guest. He heard glasses clinking, a cabinet door close. They’d put away the whiskey for another week. Inwardly Alex groaned. A few more glasses would not have gone awry and would have ended this dim awareness of his surroundings. “Although he’s not usually so chatty on Friday nights.”
“And other nights?” Clare’s voice was calm, even.
“On other nights, Johna is here. Or if she goes out into the ton, it is in a group with my wife, Blessing and a few others, thus keeping them in a group and concealing their association.”
“So their relationship is not widely known?” Clare cleared his throat. “I had thought – wondered – if perhaps I should not take Alex away. To Ireland, or at least to Ladykirk. The family could use his education and his skills, and we could support him, although not as well as you do.”
Inwardly, Alex roared an objection. Outwardly, he knew he continued to snore. He could hear it. To his relief, Neil grunted in objection. “He would not leave. And Johna would be devastated.” Silence ensued for a few moments, a chair shifted. “You should stay a few days, Clare. Do you have a place here in town?”
“Lauderdale House is let for the Little Season, so I have a room at my club,” Clare returned casually.
“No, no, stay here, at Hanover House.”
Alex’s cousin paused, then confided, “I would like to see Alex in a more reasonable condition.”
“I’ll send a footman over for your bags.”
Alex breathed a sigh of relief. He’d have a chance to talk to Clare, at least. But he wouldn’t be leaving London, not as long as Johna was here.
* * * *
Soft familiar fingers soothed his forehead, pushing back his hair. Her nails scraped his rough jaw, then trailed down to the soft place at the base of his neck where his collarbone left an indentation. Johna liked to kiss and nibble there, but this morning she sat on the edge of the bed and touched him, instead of joining him in it.
He moaned, and even the low sound caused his head to ache.
“You are expected downstairs, Colonel,” she murmured into his ear.
Alex kept his eyes shut and reached out one arm to wrap around her waist and hold her to him. “Come here,” he mumbled. “Need you close.”
“You need a shave,” she scolded, but the words were husky and intimate so Alex didn’t mind. He waited and her lips pressed to his ear, then smoothed down his jaw, despite the roughness of his stubbly growth. He felt warmth spread through him, replacing the empty coldness of the previous night.
“You wear too many clothes on, mon ange,” he returned, soaking up her touch and scent and the sound of her voice.
“You will too, momentarily. Your cousin Clare’s come to stay, and you’re still abed.” Johna’s gentle chiding was amused, tender.
Alex sighed and let his eyes open just enough to see the golden strands of her hair glinting in rays of morning light that drifted between the window coverings. The creaminess of her skin flashed past his eyes, then her dark, tempting eyes. His arms tightened about her precious form. “Clare can wait,” he growled, his hand dropping to cup her bum through her layers of petticoats and cambric. “I can’t. Take the dress off or I’ll wrinkle it.”
Half-beside him, half-above him, Johna shuddered, her dark brown orbs flickering and growing, glazing over. But still, her fingers went to her bodice and he thought he had her.
Just as she started to undo the top button, and his hands loosened, she rose from the bed and jumped away, shaking her head. “Oh, no,” Johna frowned at him. “Come now, Alex.”
His eyes darkening as he sat up, Alex looked her over carefully. She was smoothing out her skirts, settling herself. She turned and bustled to the mirror, carefully arranging her strands of hair. Even though she was partially turned away from him, Alex could see the pale hue of her skin, the darkness around her eyes, and exhaustion etched into her face. She was more than simply tired and restless; this expression was a physical weariness, the echo of pain and heartache, and Alex struggled to keep his reaction hidden.
Alex grabbed his crutch and hopped over to stand behind her, despite the sudden pounding in his temples, pressing close against her rear and back, his arm sliding around her waist. They stared at each other in the mirror, suddenly both breathless, until Alex growled, “Did he hurt you?”
Johna’s eyes widened. Her breath caught and the truth was simple to see on her face, even though she carefully and gently replied. “Alex, he did not cause any undue harm.”
His jaw tightened until Alex thought it might crack from the pressure. His hand gripped his crutch, and the stump of his other hand pressed into her abdomen. “Do you think I don’t know when you lie to me?” Alex growled.
Emotion shadowed Johna’s face for a moment. Fear and self-consciousness passed over it, followed by an evocative vulnerability that never failed to draw a response from Alex. Physically concentrating on unlocking his jaw until his ears rang, Alex opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again and stared at her. Waited.
Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, but he held her against his body and continued to wait. Stubbornly – patiently – he watched the teardrops pool and then roll down her elegant cheekbones and along the sides of her lips.
“I hate what this does to you, Alex,” she whispered, her voice breaking.
“I hate what he does to you, too. But I won’t walk away from you, mon ange,” he murmured against her temple. “Not for this. If you sent me away, maybe, because you no longer loved me.”
“I won’t have you hung for killing him either,” she mumbled.
“Tell me, Johna,” he returned evenly, implacably, “Before I make promises I can’t keep.”
Johna recognized his stubbornness for what it was, sighed in defeat. “I’m still sore, inside,” she whispered, looking down at her shoes, color staining her cheeks.
Alex raised his handless arm and pushed the stump under her chin, forcing her head up so that he could see her eyes in the mirror. “Do not be ashamed,” he bit out gruffly. “You have done nothing wrong; you are the most innocent of anyone in this atrocity.”
Johna choked back a disbelieving sob and twisted away from him. Alex saw her need to busy her hands, to occupy herself, so he cooperated while she went about the business of washing his face, hand and arms after he sat on the stool near the basin. Her touch was tender and her mouth followed her fingers and the washing cloth over his eyebrows and cheeks. When she finished, he took the cloth and set it aside, using his hand to cup her cheek. Carefully, he drew her face forward to his and kissed the tear trails along the edge of her face.
Her voice was husky and emotional. “Your valet is waiting in your dressing room to help you shave. Lord Clare will be at the luncheon table. I met him this morning; he seemed to disapprove of me.”
Alex frowned, sighed, confessed. “I was drunk when he arrived last night. He doesn’t yet understand, not completely.”
Johna blinked, nodded. “Go on, then, I’ll wash up here and see you downstairs,” she murmured in a low voice, almost despondent with discouragement.
“In a minute,” Alex agreed, using his arm to capture her at the waist and draw her closer until their lips met. Her mouth responded to his deliberately careful contact, but after a moment he drew back reluctantly. “Tonight you will come to my bed, mon ange,” he said firmly. “Say yes now. Trust me to care for your heart and your body, to know how much loving will help you, and how to temper my desires to care for you.”
Johna’s eyes widened but after a long moment she nodded in agreement. Alex drew in a deep breath in relief and turned away. Friday was past and she was his, again, for another six days. Relief and an uneasy determination filled him.
* * * *
Alex was sitting on the edge of the bed, already half-undressed, when Johna slipped in the door. She stood with her back against it and snubbed the lock, her eyes on his.
Without hesitation, Alex opened his arms to her and she dashed across the room, landing against his chest. They fell back into the mattress but Johna didn’t mind. She pressed kisses to his jaw, earlobe and then lower along his collarbone. Alex held her close, his hand rubbing her back lovingly. Unresisting, he soaked up her open affection even as she pushed his shirt up above his chest, her mouth tasting his skin again until he shuddered beneath her lips and tongue. Groaning, he tried to drag her up, but she resisted, at least until she squirmed over him and lower. Her access blocked by his trousers, she growled in frustration.
Alex was just as anxious. He jerked his shirt over his head and then tugged at her bodice intently. His skin still tingled where she’d kissed him so his fingers fumbled at his waistband and he rolled away to the edge of the bed, shoving down the garment to his knees. Scowling at the remaining sight, he unhooked the hose from around his wooden leg and untied the garter around his thigh that held it up. He glanced over his shoulder but Johna was struggling to remove her own complicated skirt and layers of bustles, petticoats and chemisette. Working quickly he unsnapped the contraption of straps and wood that held his leg in place while he moved, setting it carefully on the floor even as the nude woman behind him wrapped her arms around him and pressed her bare breasts into his back.
“You are so beautiful,” she whispered against his ear. Alex chuckled in dry disbelief.
Twisting quickly, he pushed her back on the bed, down into the pillows and silken counterpane. His arm pressed against the pale skin above her breasts, holding her down and his chest pressed into her hip, anchoring her beneath him.
Slowly, so slowly that her hands came up and tugged at his hair as she murmured encouragingly, he lowered his mouth to her breast.
Alex licked first, then nibbled, then used his hand to roll her other nipple between his fingers as his lips opened and he drew her pink berry inside his mouth. He sucked gently, then harder. He tugged, he laved. He switched sides, using his mouth, tongue, teeth and even the stubble of hair along his jaw to worship her nipple, her areola, her breast. He reached across and gripped her first softening nipple in his fingers for a moment, then grasped her hand in his hair and drew it down to her breast. “Toy with it,” Alex growled against her skin. He sucked deeply for a moment, then repeated the motion with her other hand, using his fingers to be sure she pinched and pulled as he wished, before his mouth trailed kisses down to her navel.
Beneath him, her hips were already urging him on, tempting him, but Alex nipped at her navel instead of sliding further over her. She was sweet and he nibbled at her hip before sliding between her legs, his shoulders pushing her thighs further apart.
Alex nearly had to close his eyes at the delicious feast before him. Her curls were, as always, neatly trimmed and already slick with desire and want. Her flesh was pink and warm, her labia swelling and spreading as his arm slid down her chest to press across her stomach, still holding her in place. “Keep your hands as they are,” he purred, curling his body so that one of her legs was draped over his waist and the other lay trapped under his cheek. The tissue of her inner thighs was soft and velvety, and his cock tightened painfully.
Mentally he set his own pleasure aside. Johna’s passion, her enthusiasm, her welcome was far too important to Alex to let the selfish needs of his flesh triumph.
She’d said she was sore.
His jaw tightening, Alex lowered his head and trailed kisses over the softness of her plumping flesh. Despite her gasp of shock, his lips stopped and sipped at the clear juices leaking from her rich, fragrant skin. He used his hand to lift and push her thigh up, spreading his fingers on the precious skin until her labia parted and she was open to him.
He had to bite his lip so hard he nearly felt it bleed. He turned his head and licked the tender juncture where her thigh became her vulva.
She’d said she was sore.
The dark petals spreading open for him were cherry red, the skin rubbed raw. Johna, his angel, had been dry and unprepared. On the verge of nausea, fearful she’d notice, Alex licked the sweet moisture, letting the tangy flavor flood his senses. His muscles tightened nearly to the point of stiffness, he closed his eyes against the painful evidence before him and gave himself up to his earlier promise.
Alex would care for her heart and her body. He would not seek his own pleasure within her this night, perhaps not for several nights. Instead, he would use his tongue, his lips, and even unusually gentle teeth, to bring her to the verge of orgasm over and over, so that his saliva and her own juices soothed the abrasive damage. He’d slide his tongue inside her and probe her delicately until she fell into the climax, and then he’d start over and do it again, until her body had no thought of anything except pleasure and bliss and the safety of his body so intimately close and connected to hers.
Much, much later, he whispered against her shivering, shaking thighs. “Mon ange, je t’aime.”
“I love you too,” she whispered wearily in the darkness, the candles having guttered.
“Sleep, angel,” he crooned, heaving up beside her and gathering her beside him. The room was cooling, and the exertion of his play had left her skin damp, so he dragged a blanket he kept over her, and then another over his own body. It was too late – and she was too exhausted – to force her out of the pillows to draw back the counterpane and heavy blankets.
Instead, he remained awake and cradled her, his hand soothing her, adjusting the wrap when she would kick it away. Warming her. Loving her.
It was all he could do, all he had the freedom to do, except wipe away the tears filling his eyes.
* * * *
“Here, poppet, where you going?” Alex smiled at the mop-headed urchin with jet black hair and dark eyes that stood in the garden hall before him. He’d been headed to Neil’s library, but the unattended angel tottered before him. Just past her second birthday, she nevertheless exuded imperious personality through the lines of her face and the angle of her chin.
Little Fiona pointed at him, her stubby finger wet and mangled from being chewed. “Unc!” she said.
Alex nodded, accepting the name despite any actual absence of blood link. The pain in the pit of his soul pitched sharply. This darling child would never see him as more than an uncle figure, nor could his own son ever call him by anything more familiar than this. “Uncle Alex, that’s right,” he murmured. He held out his hand. “Shall we go find Nurse, or Mama?” he asked politely. If he was sitting, he could have picked her up and sat her on his lap, but he wasn’t convinced that he could carry her and keep his balance if she lost her temper.
Fiona shrugged, her little black-shod feet shuffling until she stood beside him and tucked her fingers into his hand. He left his cane against the wall and stepped carefully beside her, disgusted by the nerves that struck him. He didn’t really need the cane, unless he was forced to descend the terrace steps into the garden.
They reached the terrace just as Fiona’s nurse came dashing up the stairs, her eyes wide with alarm. Her features schooled quickly into passivity when she found her erstwhile charge holding fast to Alex’s hand. Fiona favored him with a beaming smile and pointed at Alex with her free hand, still clutching his hand tightly. “My Unca,” she introduced him.
“The little lady was on her way to taking charge of the house,” Alex said. “We discovered each other in the garden hall and had a little chat.”
The little nurse, who seemed hardly older than a child herself, bobbed and flashed him a quick smile. “Lady Fiona, you must not wander away from the other children,” she said simply, holding out her hand.
Fiona went to her willingly, happily chattering to the young woman. “I come play now,” she chatted agreeably, then looked back at Alex until she had to concentrate on descending the stairs. She tugged her hand from the nurse’s and sat down on the top step, sliding down to the next and then the next, as the nurse kept close watch.
Meanwhile Alex glanced down to see the occupants of Hanover’s nursery mingling with a number of other children, nurses and mothers.
His expression leaching to emptiness, he excused himself and escaped back into the house. He had no desire to be caught by such a group, even if Johna was comfortably fixed in the center of it, flanked by Neil’s wife and sister-in-law. Her bright smile had returned and wreathed her face as the other young matrons – her contemporaries – congregated about, comparing notes on children, governesses, and all manner of related topics.
Alex very much wanted to kiss that smile, but not at the expense of an afternoon pursuing his own objectives. He retrieved his cane and moved into the corridor. Neil’s library was at the end of the corridor, and the door partly ajar, so his hand was reaching for the wooden panel when Neil’s tone made him freeze. The words sank inside, and helpless to resist eavesdropping, he stepped into the shadow behind the door.
“You’ll have no choice except to give me control of her capital soon enough,” Winchester said snidely. “I’ll be seeing my solicitor this week.”
“I think you’ll find you’re mistaken,” Neil returned coldly. “My solicitors and I wrote the trust specifically to keep the capital in Hanover hands, so that Johna only has access to the income. You and your solicitors signed off on it during the marriage settlements. The executors are fully vested to make decisions, including succession of the executor function. You are not an executor, and I’ve organized to make sure you never are, even if I’m not around to see to it myself.”
“Those funds were intended for me –“
“Those funds are to support Johna and ensure her safety, and to care for her children if she is not here to see to it,” Neil said firmly. Alex could hear the stubborn implacability in Neil’s intonation, but Winchester was beginning to become agitated.
“Hanover, you are going to regret interfering –“
Neil’s hand slammed down on the desk, with a force that caused Alex to wince. “I’m going to regret? You have no idea what sort of interfering I’d like to do and am refraining from. If it were up to me, Johna and her children would be living here, away from your abysmal treatment of her. Lady Hanover told me -”
Winchester snorted in disbelief. “She’s a female, and my wife. She’ll continue to perform her duties at Winchester House or I’ll confine her to Winchester Castle under guard and forbid you or any of yours from contact with her or my children. Watch yourself, Hanover.”
Alex’s fist clenched and his lip curled as he fought the compulsion to violence that had been growing in him for the last year.
“Get out of my house,” Neil ordered, a sharp edge to his voice, “Without making a scene. And don’t come back without an invitation.”
“You’ll hear from my solicitors,” Winchester said again, derision in his voice. Alex sank further against the wall, knowing the earl would push the door open and hoping that the man wouldn’t notice him sneakily hiding behind it.
Winchester didn’t. Neil stood silently in the doorway and watched until the butler met Winchester at the end of hall.
When, in the distance, Neil and Alex both heard the front door open and close, Neil spoke, his eyes never once even turning to Alex in the dark corner. “How much did you hear?”
“Enough,” Alex said grimly. He paused, cleared his throat. “I already knew about –“
“After Colby and I, you are the next executor and can appoint another to follow you,” Neil broke in calmly. “It’s large enough to support her, not enough to keep her in the height of fashion, but enough.” He turned and stepped back into the library, closing the door after Alex. “And unfortunately not enough to support her children, whether it’s Eton or debutante gowns.”
“Good,” Alex murmured, thinking about Johna and little Fiona at his knees, in addition to the natural attachment he had to baby John. Winchester needed money? He didn’t have much, and he didn’t want the prick laying hands on anything else that was his. “I’ve been thinking. I’m not going to marry, or have a legal heir. But now that my parents are gone and I have the cottage at Strangford Lough under my care, I should make plans.”
“Lauderdale – your uncle – is your heir, Alex.” Neil’s voice was clipped. “He and Clare would expect it.”
“I spent all morning with Clare today, and he has no illusions about my priorities,” Alex returned stubbornly. “That’s what I came to tell you – that I have no intention of leaving London or Johna behind. And I want Johna and the little ones to have all that I have, little as it is. But I already knew I couldn’t leave it to them outright.” A bare fifteen minutes of conversation with Clare had crystallized Alex’s plans. Alex would not leave, Clare had gracefully desisted from any persuasive attempts, and they’d both moved on to catching up on the various relations in the Blessing family.
“Leaving it to the trust would solve that,” Neil mused. “There’s no reason Winchester ever need know. All right, if you’re determined. You can always change it later, in any event. You know the name of my solicitor. You can follow up yourself.”
Alex met his eyes, level and serious. “Anything and everything I can manage in order to care for her, I will do it.”
Neil’s hand clapped on Alex’s shoulder, familiar, supportive and even brotherly. “That’s the only reason you’re still allowed in my house, Alex. You lift her up, encourage her. Support her. If she hadn’t looked happier today than she did yesterday morning, I would consider ripping your ears off and digging your tongue out with a spoon.”
Johna was in the garden of full of children. He’d just seen her there, her skirts bobbing, her smile benevolent and warm as a summer’s day. She did look better today – rested, at ease, comfortable. A small measure of pride enthused Alex’s reluctant smile. But then he wiped the smile off his face and said quite seriously, “If spending time with me ever makes her look worse than she did yesterday morning, Neil, promise you’ll rip my heart out and toss me to the devil yourself.”
“You have my word,” Neil returned grimly.