As an author, I owe a special debt to Mel because she was the very first person to encourage me after I e-published my first book NEVER A MISTRESS, NO LONGER A MAID. Without her, I truly wouldn’t have continued.
I’m a huge Regency fan and I started writing this series about the Kellington family in part because I was in a reading slump and wanted to spent more time in that world. I recently published the fourth book in the series and am now working on the one that most people who like the series have been waiting for: the Duke of Kellington’s story. He and his love, Rosalind, were introduced in the very first book and it’s been heating up ever since. He was even in a terrible mood in the most recent book because the woman he loves seemed beyond his reach.
Congratulations bookworm2bookwork on your Blogoversary. I can’t wait to read what your next year has in store.
AN EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT one WHOLE chapter of the upcoming book we’ve all been waiting for ”Never Deny Your Heart’.
Rosalind Carson stared at the ceiling above, unable to sleep. There could be any number of things keeping her awake, such as her betrothal to the Duke of Fallmoor, a man more than five decades her senior. It was a match engineered by her mother, the Dowager Viscountess Worthington and Rosalind’s brother Calvin, the current Viscount.
Far from a love match, the betrothal was little more than an exchange of funds for flesh, brought about by Rosalind’s family’s extreme lack of economy. Her mother and brother cared little about Rosalind’s opposition to the match. Fallmoor had already buried five wives and was in need of an heir. He was also wealthy to a vulgar degree, though decidedly less so after imparting enough blunt to Rosalind’s relations to purchase her hand in marriage.
She’d had little choice but to agree to the match. She was four and twenty years of age and had never received a proposal of marriage, nor was it likely she ever would. She was of average height and average build, with brown hair and brown eyes. She wore spectacles. And if that hadn’t been a grievous enough sin as far as her mother was concerned – being seen looking good was much more important than seeing well, according to the Dowager – she was a bluestocking and rather proud of it.
Contrary to the dire warnings of her mother and brother, Rosalind couldn’t confine her conversations to the weather and idle gossip. When gentlemen uttered absurd notions about books or politics, she could not smile and tell them how clever they were. She could not even consider marrying a man whose intellect she didn’t respect. It was perhaps for the best, then, that none of them had ever sought her hand. She rarely even had partners for dances. Part of that was due to her outspoken nature and her penchant for making jests. While gentlemen often professed a desire to find a lady with a good sense of humor, Rosalind found what they really meant was they wanted their females to laugh at their witticisms, not come up with anything clever on their own.
It was one of the reasons she and Elizabeth Kellington, now Lady Riverton, got along so well.
At one and twenty, Lizzie was three years Rosalind’s junior. They’d formed a bond shortly after Lizzie’s come-out when one of her admirers had attempted to ravish her in the garden at a ball. Rosalind had come to Lizzie’s aid and the two of them had very neatly dispatched the bastard with a knee to the bollocks area, courtesy of Lizzie, and an elbow to the throat from Rosalind. They’d made a pact not to tell Lizzie’s brothers of the incident since one or all of them would have challenged the blackguard to a duel and killed him.
The beautiful Lizzie, with her black hair and green eyes, could have been a spoiled, pampered brat, the only girl in the vaunted Kellington family. But she had as little use for insipid conversation as Rosalind and, further, was set on improving the lives of others through her reform work. Earlier that very year, she’d published a treatise in the broadsheets calling for equal rights for women. It had created such an uproar that even her powerful family had had difficulty in stopping the ensuing scandal. But Lizzie’s subsequent marriage to the upright and honorable Marcus Redmond, Marquess of Riverton, had not only preserved her reputation but given her an even more prominent position from which to accomplish her work.
The other members of Lizzie’s family were equally infamous for the deeds, but usually it was their romantic escapades that people noticed. Lizzie’s second eldest brother Ned, handsome at nine and twenty, with green eyes and dark brown hair, had been a spy in the war. He was now happily married to Jane, a woman he’d met in Belgium who’d secretly borne him a daughter, Violet. Jane was the de facto surgeon in their village of Marston Vale.
At seven and twenty, Arthur was recently married to Vanessa and the two of them worked as spymasters in the Home Office.
And only weeks earlier, Hal, the most carefree of the brothers and the youngest at five and twenty, had married American Melanie Sutton, whom he’d met as she tried to save London prostitutes.
Only one brother remained unwed. William Kellington, the Duke of Lynwood was one of the marriage mart’s most sought after targets. At two and thirty, Liam had never come close to marrying, despite the ton’s mamas’ ongoing efforts. With black hair and blue eyes and the build of a fighter – indeed his nose had been broken as a youth who often got into mills – he’d inherited his title at the age of nineteen due to the untimely death of their parents. All at once, the wild young man had become duke and father figure to four siblings. While their maternal Aunt Prue and her companion Mariah had lent guidance when needed, the responsibility had largely been his alone.
And Rosalind had been in love with him ever since a chance encounter at the Serpentine when he’d been a young man of twenty and she’d been but a gangly twelve-year-old. It had been a humiliating experience for her, though he’d never given any indication he even remembered it. Liam had an acquaintance with her brother from school and when Cal had thrown Rosalind’s favorite muff into a tree to impress his friends, Liam, who’d been passing by, had retrieved it for her. She remembered he also said something to Cal in passing that Rosalind had neither fully heard nor comprehended. But it had made the other men laugh, which had made Cal glare at the duke with such ferocity it had scared her. But Liam had simply handed her the muff, then smiled and told her she had beautiful eyes, even though he almost certainly couldn’t even see them behind her thick spectacles. But it was the first compliment she’d ever received from a man. Almost the first compliment she’d ever received from anyone. And she’d fallen instantly in love.
She’d been too tongue-tied to say anything. She’d simply stared at him wide-eyed. Perhaps, what he’d meant to say was she had big eyes, instead of beautiful. But from that day forward, she began to think her eyes were her very best feature. And she replayed that compliment from the handsome duke many times over.
It wasn’t until she made her come-out six years later that she saw him again. Her mother, already desperate for funds, had made much of Rosalind’s come-out. The duke, along with every other eligible bachelor in the ton, had been invited to her ball. She’d dreamt of that night for years, even knowing it was foolish to pine to see him again. But the years between twelve and eighteen had been lonely ones. Her mother had thought boarding school to be a waste of blunt and a formal education, other than a few tutors here and there, a waste of time. But Rosalind desperately wanted to know more of the world around her. Consequently she’d lost herself in books and educated herself as much as possible.
She knew she was being foolish to think the duke would remember her from that day in the park. But he had complimented her on her eyes, and he hadn’t needed to say anything. He still wasn’t married and while it was foolish in the extreme to think she might catch his eye, she was young.
And foolish in the extreme.
On the night of her ball, she’d been standing in the receiving line for what seemed like an eternity, blushing at her mother’s blatant attempts to marry her off before the evening had even begun. Then all of the sudden, she’d felt it. It was as if the room had been a violin and someone had just plucked a string. He was there. She could feel it.
She looked up to see William Kellington, Duke of Lynwood, in his evening clothes standing in line. He was talking to a gentleman behind him, but all eyes were upon the duke. Particularly all female eyes. If he was aware of their attention, he gave no sign of it.
As the line inched forward, Rosalind found it difficult to breathe. Her stays were much too tight, the ballroom overly warm. She could scarcely remember to curtsey and smile to the gentleman her mother was presenting her to.
Then finally, he was there. All towering six feet of him. William Kellington in the flesh. Even at six and twenty, he had the presence of an older man. A distinguished man. One who could pierce a girl with his blue eyes. Eyes that were currently focused on the dowager, who was extolling Rosalind’s virtues, including, dear Lord, her womanly build and sweet temperament. Rosalind rather thought she had neither of those two things, but what she dearly wanted most in the world was to catch her breath and figure out just what she was going to say to William Kellington.
If her mother ever stopped singing her praises and actually presented her to him.
Finally, her mother made the formal introduction and Liam was in front of her, looking at her and only her. She’d thought about this moment countless times, and tried out any number of greetings – all of them flirtatious and witty. Yet, none of them came to mind now. Not a blasted one.
Liam smiled at her. “Miss Carson,” he said in his deep voice. “My best wishes on this special night.”
Rosalind could only stare, mouth slightly agape. She was, however, of sound enough mind to lift her hand to him.
His eyes crinkled just a bit as he smiled and took her fingers in his and lifted them to his mouth. As per custom, his lips did not touch her fingers, but she could feel his breath upon them. A shiver ran from her fingers back up her arm and into her soul. It was the closest she’d ever come to a kiss and she would treasure this moment until she died.
Finally, she remembered one of the lines she’d practiced. She took a breath…
“I’m shocked to see you here, Lynwood,” drawled Rosalind’s brother on the other side of her. “Would have thought you’d be off actually enjoying yourself instead of stuck at yet another come-out. Wouldn’t be here myself if I didn’t have to be. But dear Mama believes we’ll never get the chit married off if we don’t make some type of effort. Do be a good boy and take her off our hands, won’t you, chap?”
Lynwood looked uncomfortable in the extreme, but nothing could compare to Rosalind’s mortification. The duke recovered first.
“Worthington, do be so good as to stop talking out of your ar…er, hat. I’m sure Miss Carson will have no trouble finding a husband, though you can probably be of most assistance in that endeavor by playing least in sight. Now, if you will excuse me, Miss Carson, I believe I am holding up the line.”
With that, Lynwood smiled kindly at her and moved into the ballroom. She wanted to run after him. She wanted to disappear into a hole. She wanted to be anything other than she was: a still awkward young woman whose family wanted to sell her into matrimony.
The rest of the evening was less embarrassing – because, really, how could it be more – but far from enjoyable. Rosalind’s mother had taken it upon herself to fill her daughter’s dance card, chasing the rich and titled to ground as they penciled in their names. When it was returned to her, she hoped against hope that her persistent mother had somehow secured the Duke of Lynwood for a waltz. But instead, there had been another duke in his place, an elderly one named Fallmoor, who was reportedly looking for a fourth wife. Worst of all, William Kellington wasn’t on her card at all. He was still at the ball, which was a bit surprising. Had Rosalind been in his place, she surely would have run out the back directly after going through the receiving line.
But, no, he was still there. And for the rest of the evening, Rosalind watched him dance with a succession of ladies, all of them flirting madly with him, some being quite brazen about it. Finally, right before the supper waltz, she saw him duck out into the back garden.
He never returned.
In the months that followed, she’d seen him at events, but they’d never spoken. She rarely danced and was often found sitting in the corner. It was the easiest way to avoid being offered up by her mother or brother to whichever gentlemen they had mind for her at the moment. As her first year ended without a proposal and the second one followed, the gentlemen her mother pursued for her became older and less reputable. Income seemed to be the only criterion that mattered and Rosalind became all the more resigned to a loveless marriage.
Then she saved Lizzie in the garden and Rosalind discovered she hadn’t been in want of a husband; she’d been in need of a friend. She finally had someone she could sit with at these events, even though Lizzie rarely sat out a dance.
Rosalind began spending more and more time at Lizzie’s home, where they could lounge about for hours in the library or in her rooms dreaming of the adventures they’d have. Rosalind never envied Lizzie her wealth or freedom for even a moment. Her friend was too dear to ever entertain such notions. But she did envy her for one thing: the close bond she shared with her brothers.
To say that Rosalind and Calvin were not close was to severely understate the situation. Calvin took every opportunity to harangue Rosalind into doing her duty to her family, even as he lost large amounts of blunt gaming and in bad investments. Neither he nor her mother ever had a kind word for her, which made her escapes to Lynwood House all the more welcome.
But her visits were both anticipated and dreaded for another reason: Lynwood House was, of course, the home of the Duke of Lynwood. While all of Lizzie’s brothers were handsome and treated her with kindness, there was only one who held her interest in a non-brotherly manner. She rarely saw Liam and when she did, as often as not he was scolding her and Lizzie for getting into some sort of scrape. Still tongue-tied when she met him, she never had a substantive conversation with him, although in her mind she would impress him with clever observations and he would stare longingly into the eyes he’d once remarked were beautiful before kissing her. On the lips. While she wouldn’t have been adverse to another kiss on the hand, what she really wanted to experience was a kiss on the lips. And from the gossip she’d overheard at balls, William Kellington was quite skilled at kissing, as well as other acts she knew nothing about but sounded most intriguing.
She paid attention to all news relating to Liam. She knew who his mistresses were and how he never continued seeing the same one for long. She held her breath when it was rumored he was close to marrying a lady, then released a sigh of relief when it all came to naught.
It’s not like she’d ever thought she’d had a real chance with Liam. For one thing, she couldn’t see him allying himself with Cal and her mother. But, as long as he was single, there was always a chance, if only the slightest one.
Then earlier this year, things had changed. From the time Jane and Violet had returned to London with Ned, the Kellingtons had undergone a series of upheavals and, as Lizzie’s friend, Rosalind has been right there beside them.
She’d actually had a few conversations with Liam where she hadn’t been tongue-tied and he’d asked her to waltz for the very first time. Of course, they were interrupted before they took the dance floor, but she’d been waiting for that offer for years, even though she had, technically, asked him herself.
Perhaps it was a woman’s intuition, but it felt like Liam’s feelings for her were no longer that of a brother. Then on Lizzie’s wedding day, it all changed again.
At the time of the wedding, Rosalind was already betrothed to Fallmoor. Neither her mother nor brother had wanted her to attend the ceremony, since it would be at Lynwood Manor in Hertfordshire. But under the strict chaperonage of her maid, Rosalind had been given leave to spend exactly one day in the country, with the strictest orders to return home immediately.
It had been a beautiful ceremony and Lizzie a radiant bride. It was also a bittersweet occasion because she knew they would no longer spend long days together, since Lizzie would now have a husband who was as devoted to her as she was besotted with him. Lizzie, of course, had assured Rosalind nothing would change. She’d even invited Rosalind to come live with them because Lizzie was vehemently opposed to the match with Fallmoor.
But Rosalind would never be a burden to her friend. She loved her too much to do so.
So, she travelled to beautiful Lynwood Manor, breathed in the clean crisp air, admired the wilderness of the grounds as they were on their way to the chapel. She also stole many a glance at the object of her affection, as Liam guided the group on their way to the wedding.
Rosalind couldn’t help looking his way again during the ceremony, imagining it was the two of them exchanging vows. But it was never to be. She couldn’t bear to think of her own wedding day advancing upon her like dark clouds heralding the coming storm. Her mother had not yet told her when the ceremony would be, but since Fallmoor’s year of mourning was almost at an end she knew it would be soon. She also knew the information was being purposely kept from her to make sure she didn’t do anything untoward before that day.
But she was in the mood to do something quite untoward.
The wedding breakfast was a feast, despite the short notice. It was also a relaxed and happy affair, since only family and close friends had been invited. Rosalind’s glass was kept full of champagne and it helped make her less nervous for what she was determined to do.
She might have no choice when it came to marrying Fallmoor. But she would get one kiss from the man she loved to hold with her until the day she died.
She wasn’t sure how she would do it, since Liam was a man of honor. He would never make a move on another man’s betrothed. So if this was going to happen – and it was – she would have to arrange for it herself.
After the breakfast, the Kellingtons all retired to the sitting room. Rosalind felt a touch on her shoulder. Without turning, she knew who was. There was no mistaking the charge to her system.
“I wonder, Rosalind,” said Liam softly as he brought his mouth so close to her ear it made her shiver, “if I might have a word with you in the library.”
She nodded, then quietly left the room with him following closely behind.
She entered the library and thought back to the naughty book she and Lizzie had once read. It had been the memoirs of a courtesan and they’d found it tucked away in Lynwood’s library, in a place he no doubt felt was safe from virginal eyes. One of the odd bits of advice was to lightly stroke your fingers down a common object, such as a table or piece of art. She and Lizzie had laughed about that one.
But Rosalind needed every trick at her disposal. So, as Liam closed the door and snicked the lock, she ran her fingers along the spines of the priceless volumes on the shelves. She was almost afraid to turn to see his reaction. He might even be irritated with her for touching his books, as he used to be when he thought Lizzie and she hadn’t treated them with the reverence they deserved. Which was odd, since they were always gentle with books. But it had almost been as if he’d been checking up on them, then lingering to hear whatever nonsense they’d been discussing.
She wasn’t sure what his reaction would be to her running her fingers over his volumes, but it seemed to be working on her. She was growing more heated, her breath more labored. Just being in the same room with him alone was doing all sorts of things to her and giving her wicked ideas.
She turned to look at him and then stopped breathing altogether. The look on his face was one she’d never seen before. His blue eyes were naught but dark pupil. And the way he advanced on her put her in mind of a great prowling cat.
And she loved cats.
He took her into his arms and his lips came down on hers hard. Crushing them. Devouring her. Pulling her closer to him as if he wanted to bind her to him.
It was everything she’d ever dreamed of and more. It was a kiss so powerful it wiped out every other thought in her mind. All she could think about was holding him. Slipping away with him to where passion would take them. Losing herself in him.
She hadn’t the slightest idea how to kiss, so she simply let him lead. She knew he’d never steer her wrong. She was shy at first, but quickly mimicked what he was doing, then gave up trying to kiss and simply kissed. It came from her heart.
That’s when things escalated.
She was vaguely aware of his hands on her gown. Unlacing her, pulling if off her shoulders. She couldn’t hold back the groan that escaped. She looked at him embarrassed, but if anything it seemed to excite him more. He smiled and kissed her again, even as he reached one hand slowly down her neck to her shoulder, to the swell off her breasts. She would never have believed such a small movement could make her feel so much. So alive.
He stroked her breasts with the fingers of one hand. Lightly, back and forth. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, exposing her neck to his lips.
As one hand eased beneath her chemise to touch one breast, she bit her lip to keep from moaning again. But it was almost like he wanted her to moan again. Wanted to hear her reaction to what he was doing to her.
He ruched up her skirts, then lifted her. She wrapped her legs around him and he pressed himself against her mound. She knew he was still wearing his breeches, but the pleasure was so intense she opened her eyes wide in astonishment. Without thought, she began to move against him, which only intensified her feeling.
He pressed against her while holding her. She rode him, powerless to stop. He encouraged her with whispers and kisses and she continued to rock against him. She never knew it was possible to feel this way. All she knew was she never wanted to let him go.
Suddenly, she was overtaken by a wave of pleasure such as she’d never known. He had taken her there and she wanted nothing more than to see him experience the same thing. She knew he was still fully dressed. Unfortunately, she’d been so overwhelmed she hadn’t even touched him other than hanging on to his shoulders. But, oh, how she wanted to explore him now.
Suddenly, she realized he was no longer moving. His breath was ragged, but he was easing her to the floor. Moving away from her inch by inch. The shock of it – and the shakiness of her legs – almost made her fall, but he reached out to steady her, then pulled back his hand as if burned.
Something was wrong. But he couldn’t pull away now. She wanted him to take her away from her travesty of a betrothal. There would be a scandal, yes, but he was the Duke of Lynwood. He was not someone others crossed lightly. And he must feel something for her to have kissed her and caressed her the way he’d just done. He did care for her. He did.
But as she looked at his face, her heart lurched. He wasn’t looking at her as a lover would. He had a look of horror, as if revolted by her wantoness.
No, this was all wrong. He wouldn’t reject her like that. He couldn’t.
But as he calmly set about adjusting himself and putting his clothing back to rights, she realized nothing had truly changed between them, other than he had probably lost a great deal of respect for her. How would she face him? How would she face any of the Kellingtons if they guessed what had transpired in the library?
Finally, he spoke. “Pray forgive me, Rosalind,” he said at last. “I fear I forgot myself.”
A nobleman to the very end, she thought wryly. Taking the blame for her wanton actions.
She looked at him for once more, praying her hurt and humiliation would not show. Unable to look at his dear face one moment longer without bursting into tears, she turned away to check her appearance in the looking glass. “There is no need to apologize, your grace. I was just as much at fault as you.”
He closed the distance between them in an instant. “Don’t ‘your grace’ me. I cannot abide that from you. Especially after what we just shared.”
She blushed at the reminder. For a moment it looked like he might take her in his arms again. She hoped with all her heart, he would. But, instead, he ushered her out of the room and back to where his family was talking.
Shortly thereafter, it was time to return to London with her maid and under the escort of Liam’s friend, Inspector Joseph Stapleton of Bow Street. She was both anxious to leave and wretched at the very thought of it. She would never see Lynwood Manor again as an unmarried woman. She might never see it again under any circumstances. Even if her husband did allow it, she could not bear to come here and see Liam with his duchess when he eventually married. It would break her heart.
No. Her heart was already broken.
After she said her farewells to Lizzie and the others, Rosalind was handed into the carriage by Liam. It was just a light touch of his fingers, but she could feel it even now. She kissed those fingers, then lay them close to her heart.
She turned on her side and tried again to find peace in sleep.”