Read After the Kiss Online

Authors: Suzanne Enoch

After the Kiss

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Suzanne Enoch
After the Kiss

The Notorious Gentlemen

For Esi Sogah—
who thought this story needed
a masquerade ball.
Thanks, Esi!
You were right.

Contents

Prologue

Captain Sullivan James Waring ducked low along his mount’s neck…

Chapter 1

It was moments like this that Sullivan Waring was struck…

Chapter 2

“You might have mentioned that someone saw you.” Bram opened…

Chapter 3

Sullivan Waring leaned over the wooden gate of the box…

Chapter 4

Isabel followed at a distance as Waring walked into the…

Chapter 5

As the barouche rolled to a stop on Chalsey House’s…

Chapter 6

Though Barbara left to go home and change her clothes…

Chapter 7

Isabel awoke well before ten o’clock in the morning. Groggy,…

Chapter 8

Isabel expected to see Oliver Sullivan at social gatherings. He…

Chapter 9

As Isabel walked outside into the breezy morning sunlight, she…

Chapter 10

“‘And that is a warning,’” Sullivan sneered as he swung…

Chapter 11

Sullivan glanced toward the street. At this time of night…

Chapter 12

Sullivan winced as he pulled on his boots. The bandage…

Chapter 13

“What’s to keep it from rolling over on me?” Isabel…

Chapter 14

Sullivan sat heavily in his overstuffed chair. His damned leg…

Chapter 15

Sullivan stifled a yawn. He generally enjoyed the early mornings,…

Chapter 16

Isabel flipped open the cover of the pocket watch she’d…

Chapter 17

Sullivan made his way behind the Chalsey House stable. Once…

Chapter 18

The idea of dressing as a butterfly had seemed a…

Chapter 19

Isabel gazed out her window into the dim predawn darkness.

Chapter 20

“If you’re going to say something awful to me, I…

Chapter 21

Isabel’s entire family happened either by accident or by incredible…

Chapter 22

“How do you know if this is even one of…

Chapter 23

“What did you do with them?”

Chapter 24

“What?”

Chapter 25

“Douglas, go talk to the grooms,” Isabel said, her gaze…

Chapter 26

“Do you have any idea how poorly this makes you—us—appear?”

Chapter 27

“Mr. Waring, someone left open the conservatory window last night,…

Epilogue

Isabel stood on the front steps of Amberglen and waved…

The First Royal Dragoons
Maguilla, Spain
June 11, 1812

Captain Sullivan James Waring ducked low along his mount’s neck just as a rifle ball whistled past his head. The French continued their retreat, but they weren’t making the English advance an easy one. Guiding his chestnut gelding, Salty, with his knees, Sullivan reloaded his pistol as he and nearly seven hundred members of the combined First Royal Dragoons and the Third Dragoon Guards pounded across the rolling Spanish plain.

“Sullivan! What the devil is Slade doing?” the rider just to his right shouted.

“Advancing seven miles past any assistance,” Sullivan replied grimly, not certain Captain Phineas Bromley could even hear him over the gunfire and pounding hooves. He sent a glance back over his shoulder at the men and horses under his command. The line was ragged, and the horses tiring. And General Slade continued to gallop along in front of them.

The six hundred French mounts ahead of
him
were tiring, as well, but it was hardly a compensation. Seven miles behind them they’d left a hundred or so French captives with a handful of dragoons to watch them—a victory and a damned fine bounty by anyone’s measure. Continuing this pursuit so far beyond any reinforcements was mad. With the village of Maguilla and the broken ground of a riverbed coming into view ahead of them, it was beginning to look suicidal.

“Close ranks!” he bellowed.

Another rider angled toward him. “At this pace,” Major Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns contributed breathlessly, “in three days we’ll reach the coast and then be able to swim home to Dover.”

“We’ll never live that long,” Sullivan returned, blinking dust from his eyes. “That’s Maguilla up ahead. You outrank Phin and me, Bram. If you can catch General Slade, you might remind him that the bulk of the French cavalry is out here somewhere.”

The major began to reply, then flinched sideways as his black watering cap flew back off his head. “They’ve shot my bloody hat off, the bastards!” Bram took aim, fired his pistol, and dropped one of the French cavalrymen ahead of them. “Take that, you brigands!”

The French might be brigands, but the Royal Dragoons had their own troubles. A hundred feet ahead of them General Slade waved his saber in the air, yelling as he had been for the past ten minutes. “Haste, haste! Gallop, damn you!” The black horse hairs on his hat trailed behind him like a bloody parade streamer.

“That man is the worst officer I’ve ever seen,” Sullivan grunted, beginning to see why they’d had to make it a punishable offense to shoot one’s own commanding officer.

They pounded over a low rise, twelve hundred French and
English cavalry stretched out over nearly a quarter mile. Ahead the ramshackle town of Maguilla looked deserted, as did the broken, tree-dotted riverbank beyond.

“This is not good,” Phin shouted, echoing Sullivan’s own assessment.

“Take the right flank,” Bram ordered Phin, abruptly serious as he signaled for his men to fall to the left.

Spread out as they were, flanking maneuvers at best would keep them from being surprised from behind. Waving an arm forward, Sullivan kept his own men pounding up the middle behind the general. “Idiot,” he muttered. At least Slade hadn’t stopped the charge to adjust his stirrups this time, like he’d done last month at Corunna, but the current insanity didn’t seem to be much of an improvement.

The French dragoons slowed as they reached the outskirts of the town. Sullivan lifted his pistol, accelerating as Slade stopped, the dimwit probably surprised that the chase was ending.
“Arrêtez!”
he yelled, focusing his attention on the nearest of the green-coated officers.

At the same moment he heard Phin’s distinctive bellow. “Fall back! Fall back, for God’s sake!”

He looked to the right just as a barrage of pistol and rifle fire nearly took off his head. Charging over the lip of the riverbank looked to be an entire regiment of green-jacketed dragoons, all of them firing into the mass of British cavalry.
Christ.
The French Seventeenth had been waiting for them.

“Covering fire!” He aimed beyond Phin’s retreating dragoons and fired off his pistol. One of the Frogs hit the ground, but he barely took the time to note it. The right flank, made up of two hundred of the First Royal Dragoons, was disintegrating.

He wheeled Salty to see that most of the left flank was leading the way back in the direction they’d come. Bram
waded his bay against the current, rejoining him. “I knew I should have stayed in bed this morning,” the Duke of Levonzy’s second son panted, shoving his pistol into his waistband and pulling his saber.

“Maybe we’ll find your hat on the way back,” Sullivan grunted. A dismounted greencoat grabbed for Salty’s bridle. Sullivan kicked him in the face, and the Frog flew backward to the ground, where he stayed. “Where’s Phin?”

Wheeling again, he spotted Viscount Quence’s younger brother. The captain was on the ground, his bay floundering half on top of him, with the French dragoons cutting a swath toward him through the fleeing English. Without thinking, Sullivan spurred Salty. The chestnut charged forward, right into the French line. Sullivan sliced out with his saber, feeling the wrench and tug as steel met flesh.

“Phin!”

Phineas Bromley staggered to his feet as Sullivan reached him. Kicking a boot out of his stirrup to provide a foothold, he reached down a hand, grabbed Phin’s wrist, and hauled backward. The captain swung up behind him. Salty stumbled sideways as he adjusted to the additional weight, and then they were off back the way they’d come, Bram flanking them and yelling obscenities in French as General Slade passed by them, still yelling.

“Fifty pounds to any man who’ll stand and fight with me! Fifty pounds!”

Bram muttered something that sounded like, “Bloody stupid muggins,” but Sullivan couldn’t be certain.

“My thanks, Sully!” Phin shouted in his ear.

“No need. My mother wants to paint your portrait, remember? You can’t get killed before you’re immortalized.”

Something burned hot and wet into his left shoulder.
Sullivan slammed backward, nearly knocking Phin off of Salty’s back behind him.

“Sully? Sullivan!”

His vision blurred. The last thing he remembered was Phin reaching around him for the reins, and Bram moving in to grab his left shoulder and keep him upright. And then everything went dark.

London
One year later

It was moments like this that Sullivan Waring was struck by what a difference a year had made in his life. Whatever the circumstances that had brought him to this point, being shot in the shoulder now seemed to have been the best of it.

Sullivan tied the black half-mask across his eyes and sank into the shadows at the base of the house, squatting between the white wall and a low stand of thorny shrubs. He knew how the clocks and calendars of the London aristocracy ran, and so he’d waited until well past midnight to come calling. Tonight was about revenge. And it had the added benefit of being dangerous.

The last light went out upstairs, but he remained motionless for another ten minutes. He had time, and the more soundly the residents slept, the better for him. Finally, as Mayfair’s
scattered church bells chimed three times in ragged unison, he stirred.

The information Lord Bramwell Johns had given him was inevitably reliable, though he had to question the motives of a man who sold out his own kind for no better reason than boredom. Still, he and Bram owed their lives to one another many times over, and he trusted the Duke of Levonzy’s son. Bram had never betrayed him. He couldn’t say the same for his own so-called father, the Marquis of Dunston.

Of course, the marquis probably had his own complaints lately. With a grim smile Sullivan stood. Tomorrow Dunston would find he had even more about which to be privately ashamed, and that was the point of the evening. Sullivan hefted the shoeing hammer in his right hand and jammed the narrower end between the window frame and its sill beside him. With one hard wrench the two separated. He dropped the hammer onto the ground and shoved the window open far enough for him to slip inside.

He’d passed by the Mayfair, London, home of the Marquis of Darshear at least once a week both before his sojourn to the Peninsula and in the six months since his return. As he made his way silently around the tasteful furniture of the morning room, he smiled again. He was inside Lord Darshear’s house, now, but he doubted he would ever enter through the front door. Nor would he ever care to. He didn’t approve of the marquis’ taste in friends. One friend in particular.

It was one thing to be a bastard, he reflected, and quite another to be treated like one, and by his own sire. Well, he could dole out as good as he got. Better, even. And the best part of his nocturnal sojourn was that while no one else knew what was going on, the Marquis of Dunston did. He was fairly certain Dunston’s pretty, legitimate progeny did, as
well, or he would hope the marquis had been forced into confessing it to his eldest son by now. And there wasn’t a bloody thing Dunston or the precious Viscount Tilden could do about it. Well, they could read the local newspapers and be alarmed at what they’d unleashed on their unsuspecting peers, but nothing more than that.

Sullivan tucked an ugly porcelain dove figurine into one of his voluminous pockets and made his way to the door that opened from the sitting room into the main foyer. There he paused again, listening.

Nothing stirred, but then Bram had informed him that the Chalsey family had spent the evening at the Garring soiree. Even the servants would be fast asleep by now.

Crossing through the foyer, he turned down the main hallway, which would open onto the breakfast room, with probably an office or another sitting room and then the kitchen beyond. He didn’t need to go that far. Just opposite the breakfast room doorway, he found what he’d come for.

“There you are,” he murmured, his heart beating faster as he ran a finger along the gold-leaf frame. An original Francesca W. Perris painting, done back just after she’d married William Perris and left behind her maiden name of Waring. Back when she’d raised him in a small house just outside of London, back when she’d promised him that even though his father might not be able to acknowledge him legally, he still had a heritage—hers.

Except that Francesca Waring Perris had died at about the same time he’d been wounded in Spain, though he hadn’t learned that news until weeks later. And then he had returned home a handful of months ago to find that while he’d been good enough to fight for Britain as an officer, in the eyes of the law he had no standing at all. Not when George Sullivan, the Marquis of Dunston, claimed that all of Francesca Perris’s
property belonged to him. She had, after all, been his tenant for the past thirty years.

Sullivan clenched his fist, then shook his hands loose again. Memories, revenge fantasies, could all wait. At the moment he was in the home of someone who’d probably never met his mother, but who had bought or accepted one of her paintings from Dunston’s hand. He didn’t care whether it had been a purchase or a gift. All he cared was that by sunrise it would be his again. His heritage, his inheritance. His. And Dunston would hear about this latest theft and pray that no one else made the connection.

He grabbed a second small painting from some other obscure artist off the wall for good measure, then stripped the lace table runner from the hall table and wrapped both paintings in it. A small crystal bowl and the silver salver from the same table went into his pockets as well. Then he tucked the paintings under his arm and turned back toward the front of the house. And stopped dead.

A woman stood between him and the morning room. At first he thought he’d fallen asleep outside the house and was dreaming—her long blonde hair, blue-tipped by moonlight, fell around her shoulders like water. Her slender, still figure was silhouetted in the dim light from the front window, her white night rail shimmering and nearly transparent. She might as well have been nude.

If he’d been dreaming, though, she
would
have been naked. Half expecting her to melt away into the moonlight, Sullivan remained motionless. In the thick shadows beneath the stairs he had to be nearly invisible. If she hadn’t seen him, then—

“What are you doing in my house?” she asked. Her voice shook; she was mortal after all.

If he said the wrong thing or moved too abruptly, she
would scream. And then he would have a fight on his hands. While he didn’t mind that, it might prevent him from leaving with the painting—and that was his major goal. Except that she still looked…ethereal in the darkness, and he couldn’t shake the sensation that he was caught in a luminous waking dream. “I’m here for a kiss,” he said.

She looked from his masked face to the bundle beneath his arm. “Then you have very bad eyesight, because that is not a kiss.”

Grudgingly, despite being occupied with figuring a way to leave with both his skin and the painting, he had to admit that she had her wits about her. Even in the dark, alone, and faced with a masked stranger. “Perhaps I’ll have both, then.”

“You’ll have neither. Put that back and leave, and I shan’t call for assistance.”

He took a slow step toward her. “You shouldn’t warn me of your intentions,” he returned, keeping his voice low, uncertain why he bothered to banter with her. “I could be on you before you draw another breath.”

Her step backward matched his second one forward. “Now who’s warning whom?” she asked. “Get out.”

“Very well.” He gestured for her to move aside, quelling the baser part of him that wanted her to remove that flimsy, useless night rail from her body so he could run his hands across her soft skin.

“Without the paintings.”

“No.”

“They aren’t yours. Put them back.”

One of them
was
his, but Sullivan wasn’t about to say that aloud. “No. Be glad I’m willing to leave without the kiss, and step aside.”

Actually, the idea of kissing her was beginning to seem less mad than it had at first. Perhaps it was the moonlight, or
the late hour, or the buried excitement he always felt at being somewhere in secret, of doing something that a year ago he would never even have contemplated, or the fact that he’d never seen a mouth as tempting as hers.

“Then I’m sorry. I gave you a chance.” She drew a breath.

Moving fast, Sullivan closed the distance between them. Grabbing her shoulder with his free hand, he yanked her up against him, then leaned down and covered her mouth with his.

She tasted like surprise and warm chocolate. He’d expected the surprise, counted on it to stop her from yelling. But the shiver running down his spine at the touch of her soft lips to his stunned him. So did the way her hands rose to touch his face in return. Sullivan broke away, offering her a jaunty grin and trying to hide the way he was abruptly out of breath. “I seem to have gotten everything I came for after all,” he murmured, and brushed past her to unlatch and open the front door.

Outside, he collected his hammer and then hurried down the street to where his horse waited. Closing the paintings into the flat leather pouch he’d brought for the purpose, he swung into the saddle. “Let’s go, Achilles,” he said, and the big black stallion broke into a trot.

After ten thefts, he’d become an expert in anticipating just about anything. That was the first time, though, that he’d stolen a kiss. Belatedly he reached up to remove his mask. It was gone.

His blood froze. That kiss—that blasted kiss—had distracted him more than he’d realized. And now someone had seen his face. “Damnation.”

 

“And what would I do at home, Phillip?” Lady Isabel Chalsey asked her older brother as they descended from the family’s coach. “Cower beneath my bed?”

Phillip, Earl Chalsey, frowned at her, tugging at his sleeves as he always did when he was distracted. “You came face-to-face with a burglar, Tibby. The Mayfair Marauder, no doubt. That is not an everyday occurrence.”

“Precisely. I can’t wait to tell absolutely everyone about it. Which is why you should be taking me to Bond Street and not to look at silly horses. None of my friends will be here, because they are shopping.”

“When you jumped into the coach you knew I was going to Tattersall’s. You didn’t have to join me.”

“Yes, I did, because I think Mama wants to send me to a nunnery now for my own safety.”

“You’ve being overly dramatic again. And I wonder if you would be so flippant if it was
your
things that went missing instead of Mother and Father’s.”

For a moment she considered informing him that her virtue had nearly gone missing, but she didn’t want a reputation for kissing intruders. Or Marauders, rather. “Hardly anything went missing at all. And truthfully, I’m not a bit upset that that silly dove of Mama’s is gone. But I’m not being flippant. Or dramatic.”

“Do tell. Next you’ll be saying that the Marauder had you at swordpoint or something.”

“Ooh, that does sound terrifying, doesn’t it?”

“Tibby.”

Isabel took Phillip’s arm as they entered the grounds of Tattersall’s. Ordinarily she would have preferred to remain home rather than attend the horse auctions, but after hours of listening to her mother bemoaning the loss of her various trinkets and growing faint every time she thought about the danger her daughter had been in, Isabel had had enough. Thank goodness she
hadn’t
mentioned that the thief had kissed her, or she wouldn’t have to imagine her fate. Her
parents would have sent her back home to Burling in Cornwall for her own safety—or her virtue—and she would miss the rest of the Season.

She should have felt terrorized, she supposed, and she had been frightened half out of her wits when she’d slipped downstairs for an apple and he’d been standing there in the middle of the hallway. In that dark coat and black half-mask he’d looked like a demon—but he’d sounded like something else entirely. Not a ruffian, certainly. And his eyes had glittered green in the moonlight. His face when she’d removed his mask…No, not a demon at all.

“I’m not being dramatic,” she said again, when she realized her brother was expecting her to feel chastised. “Not terribly so. I know I might have been injured. But I wasn’t, and if I wish to talk about it with my friends and if it makes me feel braver to make it into an adventure, then I suppose I have that right.”

“Yes, I suppose you do,” he conceded grudgingly. “I only wish something more useful than a topic of conversation had come from this calamity. If you’d seen his face, Bow Street might finally be able to stop these thefts,” Lord Chalsey commented. “You know we’re at least the tenth house in Mayfair to be robbed over the past six weeks. The Marauder has everyone panicked.”

Men
. “Now you want me to have seen his face?” she returned. “I thought I was supposed to close my eyes or faint.”

Phillip slowed, bringing her to a stop beside him. “I do not understand you, Tibby,” he grumbled, his brown eyes somber. “This was serious. Confronting a thief in your own home—”

“It made me angry,” she interrupted, beginning to wish that he would change the subject, after all. “If I’d been a man, I would have shot him or something, I’m sure. But
since I wasn’t armed, all I can do now is turn it into an amusing tale and pretend it didn’t bother me. It’s over, anyway. Crying now seems like a waste of time.”

Her older brother patted her hand where it lay over his arm. “You’re correct. And you’re safe, while we’ve lost nothing but a pair of paintings and a few trinkets, however much Mother may claim to cherish them. If you hadn’t awakened when you did, we might have lost more. So if you want to go to Bond Street to gossip this afternoon, I will escort you. But I only say that now that you’re safe.”

Safe and a little befuddled. No, her thief hadn’t spoken or looked like a ruffian, nor had he kissed like one—not that she’d kissed any ruffians before. And there had been something else, as well. The way he’d so carefully wrapped one of those paintings, as though it were a Rubens and not a minor work of a minor artist. As though it were precious to him.

“Ah, there he is,” Phillip said with a smile, increasing his pace. “He’s absolutely champion.”

Isabel shook herself and looked out at the teeming crowd of horses, breeders, trainers, grooms, and hopeful buyers and spectators. “Who is?”

“Not a person who. A horse who.” Phillip pointed. “Over there. The bay. Sullivan Waring’s stable. Bram Johns is there. Oh, by Jupiter. He’s standing with Waring himself.”

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