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Authors: Sophia Nash

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A Dangerous Beauty

BOOK: A Dangerous Beauty
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a Dangerous Beauty
Sophia Nash

 

 

Sophia Nash
A Dangerous Beauty

To Madeleine

Contents

Chapter 1

It was said Rosamunde Isabella Maria Solange Magred Edwina Langdon…

Chapter 2

“Care for a dose of mother’s milk?”

Chapter 3

“Now my dear ladies”—an immediate hush fell when Her…

Chapter 4

A mid a clutter of discarded sheets of precious paper,…

Chapter 5

“There’s nothing more to be done, Luc. You must sell…

Chapter 6

He had promised to wage a campaign of adventure and…

Chapter 7

The wedding morning dawned as fair and bright as the…

Chapter 8

They set off in the elegant ducal coach and everyone…

Chapter 9

If there was one thing Luc knew how to do,…

Chapter 10

He could figure out a way to entice her to…

Chapter 11

The water in the bath was tepid at best and…

Chapter 12

It was the worst feeling in the world, trying to…

Chapter 13

The beautiful widow paused in mid-sentence and searched her face.

Chapter 14

The almost imperceptible scent of parchment and India ink met…

Chapter 15

Luc took pleasure in trimming this particular quill for the…

Chapter 16

Luc allowed his valet, or rather his former cabin boy,…

Chapter 17

She dozed fitfully through the first part of the night…

Chapter 18

Luc sat in the shadow of the Helston second-tier box…

Chapter 19

Rosamunde untied the ribbon holding the violets Luc had handed…

Epilogue

I am condescending to write to you solely at the…

Chapter 1

Expectation,
n.
The state or condition of mind which is preceded by hope and followed by despair.

—The Devil’s Dictionary, A. Bierce

I
t was said Rosamunde Isabella Maria Solange Magred Edwina Langdon was given so many names because she was the last child the seventh Earl and Countess of Twenlyne would ever have. But that was only half the truth.

The earl and his wife had carefully chosen names each time the countess had found herself with child. But while there had been great joy with the arrival of each of their first four children—all boys—there had been little surprise. For the last one hundred years the earldom had provided England with enough strapping males to make up a small regiment, but nary a single female.

All the present countess’s sons looked like her—
blond hair, brown eyes and a fine sprinkling of freckles on their upturned noses. And the earl was proud of his towheaded sons.

But he wanted a daughter. A daughter whose miniature he would carry in his pocket like his contemporaries. A daughter who would giggle and primp and twirl him about her jam-smeared little fingers. A daughter who would give him headaches and the ultimate heartache when she found another man who could make her eyes sparkle just a little brighter than they did for him.

And so, when the countess bore her fifth offspring—a daughter—after a long and painful breech delivery, the proud papa bestowed on this magical child the long string of feminine names he and the countess had chosen during her previous lying-ins. That they were the jumble of French, English, Spanish, Italian and Welsh names of each of the prior Countesses of Twenlyne was no coincidence.

In the rosy glow of the first morning after her birth, the earl hugged this miraculous girl child to his breast and reverently stroked her raven-black curls so like his own. From the glazed window, a shaft of sunlight bathed her slate-blue baby eyes as he gazed adoringly at her.

“You’ll not have to put up with that ordinary color for long, my darling. I shall eat crow if they don’t change into the proper Welsh Langdon colors by next midsummer’s eve.” And for the merest moment the earl felt his heart squeeze in recognition. Staring into her intelligent eyes, which were certain to turn into the
smoky aquamarine shade of generations of Langdons, it was as if he had always known her. Their souls were destined to become entwined.

The entire household, in fact the entire county, celebrated the earl’s happiness while the temporarily neglected sons only grumbled a little.

There was no question the frail countess would recover, for she knew her duty as a mother. And so she did. The earl refused to let doctors dampen his good spirits when his wife became with child soon after Rosamunde’s birth.

The countess submitted to her discomfort with customary quiet grace, but it was not to be. She was delivered of another daughter, this one christened with her mother’s name only, for there were no other ancestral names left to parcel out. Black-haired, brown-eyed Sylvia Langdon came into creation the same day the countess had nothing more to give this world and so passed on to the next.

If everyone held their breath when the countess died of childbed fever, it was for naught. For the earl, who had loved his wife quite devotedly, transferred that love to his children and never sought a new countess. In his mind, there were too many gothic stories about second wives who evolved into evil stepmothers.

And so, the reclusive earl chose to bury his heart in his love of the land and his children. His progeny gloried in his undivided attention during wild gallops and long nature walks amid the mystical circular stones abounding in the Cornish landscape of their
home, Edgecumbe. Theirs was a working estate and the children were brought up to love country life—indeed, to know nothing of town.

It was heaven.

If the siblings noticed their father had a special place in his heart for Rosamunde, they tried to ignore it. The thing was, she was hard not to like. While she could pretend to be a proper, quiet young lady when forced into the role, there was no one who had a greater penchant for adventure—something guaranteed to endear her to her toad-loving, accident-prone brothers. She was always ready to race headlong into any escapade. If it included climbing trees, racing horses or lethal weapons,
all the better
.

And while her brothers might have been continually put out by her uncanny ability to outride them, outswim them, and even best them at every skill involving a target, well, it was something they tried to hide behind young male cockiness. Her generous nature, the only trait she had inherited from her English mother, was a useful balm in tending to bruised brotherly pride. That and her beautiful voice. For while all the siblings were musical by nature, especially Phinn and Sylvia, only Rosamunde could sing.

And oh how she could sing. Almost every evening they gathered in the music room, her father on the pianoforte, Sylvia with her harp and her brothers on various instruments, while Rosamunde sang Welsh songs of love and loss.

There was really but one fault she possessed. The earl called it “bloody pigheadedness” and refused to rec
ognize he had inherited it himself from generations of strong-willed, hot-tempered blue bloods whose clashing characters boiled down to the same overriding element—passion. The cool British traits had melted away in the face of the overpowering heat of more unsteady temperaments. But this trait had benefits. When a Langdon loved, there was nothing insipid about it.

As her long, lanky coltlike limbs grew toward womanhood, Rosamunde began to wish she could trade in her sporting prowess for the cool serenity her younger sister Sylvia possessed in ample quantity. But Rosamunde was plagued with a face that revealed her every emotion.

The first cloud appeared on her horizon when she turned fifteen. Rosamunde learned there was more to boys than their rude noises and lilting taunts. This discovery came in the form of a particularly handsome example of the species, Lord Sumner, the eldest son of the Duke of Helston, whose family had taken up residence at Amberley, a long vacant castle in the neighborhood. Only the younger son of the family was absent, apparently gone to war.

At a supper dance in the village assembly rooms, Rosamunde set eyes on the duke’s heir. And it was here for the first time that she failed, utterly and completely, at something. No matter how much she tried to capture his interest, the twenty-six-year-old gentleman was blind to her yet enraptured by several other girls, most notably Augustine Phelps, the reigning beauty of the county.

But Rosamunde had set her cap on him and, well,
there was that issue of her stubbornness to contend with, tinged with the elemental female desire to lead the male species down the right path…toward their destiny. Even if it meant kicking and screaming—
their
kicking and screaming.

Rosamunde flopped onto the chaise longue in her bedchamber for a coze with her sister after a particularly exhausting morning following the hounds, and a late breakfast at the Duke of Helston’s estate.

“Sylvia, it’s positively unnerving”—she tossed her unpinned riding hat with the dashing pheasant feathers onto the bed—“the way he looks at me, or more to the point, the way he looks right through me as if I don’t exist.”

Sylvia jumped toward the bed and removed the hat. “You know hats on beds foretell disaster.”

“I seem to earn a measure of bad luck wherever I go.” She shrugged her shoulders ruefully. “Oh Sylvia, I need your help. What am I to do? You’re so much better at this sort of thing than I.”

“That’s not—”

“I heard Auggie whisper I look like a witch, what with this hair and figure.”

Sylvia sighed. “Well,
our
hair is unfortunate. But everything else that wicked girl says is ridiculous. There’s a reason Father calls you his dangerous beauty and I’d give anything for your height.”

“She called you ‘the dearest angel from heaven.’”

Sylvia tried to hide a smile.

“Now you’ll tell me that perhaps she isn’t
so
wicked after all.”

Sylvia’s face lit up with merriment before both girls dissolved into laughter.

Rosamunde wiped her eyes. “Well, at least Henry finally spoke to me at the breakfast.”

“So it’s Henry now?” Her sister’s eyes were as round and dark as well-worn half pennies. “What did he say?”

“He slapped me on the back and congratulated me for jumping that deep ditch at Penhallow. Then our brother ruined the moment.”

“Which one?”

“Phinn. He drew next to us and said I looked like a spotted hen, with mud splattered on my face. Of course I had no idea,” Rosamunde said.

“Oh
Edwina
.” It was her sibling’s favorite nickname for her—all because she liked that one the least of her plethora of names. The picture of the countess Edwina in the portrait gallery always seemed to stare at her in an accusatory fashion as if Rosamunde had misbehaved recently and escaped unscathed, and the countess was annoyed she was stuck within the confines of a frame and unable to do anything about it.

“And then Fitz and Miles
and
James turned to look at me and started laughing. And worst of all, Phinn intercepted Henry’s handkerchief with one of his own. I was so close to having a little memento to place under my pillow at night.” She sighed dramatically. “I know I’m being ridiculous. Come on, it’s hotter than Hades. Let’s go swimming.”

And that is how the season went. Much plotting and few results. All the while, Rosamunde’s fifteen-
year-old, childish emotions warred with her emerging womanhood.

The next year was worse, as the duke’s family chose to summer in Brighton under the splendid onion-domed Pavilion as favored guests of the Prince Regent.

But the following June, Rosamunde got the seventeenth-birthday present of her dreams—the return of the Helston clan, specifically the duke’s heir.

Little did she know, her dreams—and the attainment of such—might just prove to be the opposite. Personally, her sister swore afterward, it was the accumulation of more than a decade and a half of ignoring the power of superstition. Everyone knew there was more magic in Cornwall than there were saints in heaven.

Rosamunde’s desire to see Lord Sumner that dangerous hot season was unrelenting in its intensity. Yet each time she found herself near him, she became tongue-tied and could not stop herself from acting like a smiling simpleton. Her nervousness around him infuriated her. There was something about his light brown hair falling into his eyes and his smile that left her heart racing and her prayers filled with requests for forgiveness. All of her brothers noticed it and teased her relentlessly, as any normal sibling would.

The morning before the duke’s family was to repair to town, Rosamunde put on a good face and laughed off her dejection. Determined to move her thoughts from Lord Sumner, she boldly chose to ride her father’s new four-year-old iron-gray stallion to the beachhead.

Rosamunde lowered her body to the horse’s white-
peppered mane, urging the already excited animal to new speeds. She galloped Domino toward the tall sea grasses on the nearby cliffs of Perran Sands and was exhilarated by the sense of freedom.

Lord Sumner. Who needed him? What was he, compared to her family and the beauty that surrounded her, especially on the back of a powerful horse with a mind to explore the stark splendor of the land?

Overlooking the wind-whipped sea from a magnificent promontory point, she suddenly noticed another rider near the cliffs in the distance. A man astride a massive chestnut with four white socks. She sucked in her breath.
Lord Sumner
.

Just when she had determined to forget him. Not that it meant a thing to him. Why, he barely knew she existed.

“Hey ho,” he called, riding up. “Lady Rosamunde? What a great surprise. I thought ladies were still abed at this wickedly early hour.” His horse crow-hopped near hers.

Her heart beat so strongly she felt sure he could see it through her riding habit. She swallowed her nervousness and reminded herself she didn’t care anymore. “I am not a lady, sir.”

He chuckled.

She felt the heat of a blush and was mortified. She never blushed. “What I mean is that I am not that sort of lady.”

“Clearly not. Good God, is that a stallion?”

“Why, yes.”

“Amazing. Boots here is ready for a bit of a run to
earn his oats. Shall we have a go at it, then? A race down to the end of the beach?” He laughed and the sun struck his hair in a way that revealed the gold in his brown locks.

She nodded, unable to say a word. And with a shout they were off.

The powerful hindquarters of Lord Sumner’s gelding pumped into the sandy soil but were hampered by the gentleman’s weight. The horses pounded along the path parallel to the cliff side by side at times, clearing low-lying coops and field markers with inches to spare. When Rosamunde’s mount nosed ahead as they wound down toward the beach below, she knowingly violated the cardinal rule of courtship…marriage-minded females should never tamper with male prowess.

Shooting past the outcropping of rocks at the end of the crescent of sand, she turned to see Lord Sumner right behind.

“Lady Rosamunde”—he dipped his head in an exaggerated fashion—“I concede defeat.” Oh, he was so dashing, even with his ruddy complexion. “But we never did specify a prize to the winner, did we, Scamp?”

Scamp
? With that one silly word, her dreams shriveled yet again. “Why, I’ll have you know I’m seven and ten, sir. And taller than most ladies by a full hand at least. I’m no scamp.”

Lord Sumner pursed his lips in silent laughter and dismounted, his boots making deep impressions in the sand. He looped his arm through his horse’s reins
and crossed to help her dismount. His superior height compounded her annoyance at his benevolent smile.

He tilted his head and a wave of amusement passed over his expression. “Perhaps. But don’t you think
scamp
refers to sensibility rather than age?”

His deep baritone voice did queer things to her insides.

“Your sister and Augustine—
Miss Phelps
—for example, don’t have a scampish bone in their bodies despite their tender years.”

BOOK: A Dangerous Beauty
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