Authors: Carole Mortimer
Tags: #Fiction, Romance
St. Claire House, Mayfair, London, 1784 “Would you kindly explain who you are and what you mean by coming here uninvited and taking me from my dinner guests?”
Miss Angelina Hawkins rose slowly to her feet as a tall, arrogantly forceful man strode into the cavernous entrance hall where the butler had requested she wait whilst he informed his employer of her arrival.
Whilst she waited for this man. Alexander St. Claire, the ninth Duke of Stourbridge.
A man who, as an acquaintance of her late father, was not at all as Angelina had imagined him to be whenever she had thought of him these past three years. Pleasantly so. She had been prepared for a man of middle years, perhaps running to fat, with a face florid from an overindulgence of port.
But this man could be aged only thirty years at the most. And his face, though admittedly hard and aristocratic, held the same chiseled beauty of an archangel Angelina had once viewed in a painting at one of the art galleries her tutor, Miss Bristow, had
insisted “my young ladies” visit in an effort to broaden their education.
It was a decadently handsome face, one stamped with authority as well as arrogance, with a firm, unyielding jaw, and dominated by the darkest, most beautiful eyes Angelina had ever beheld.
Elegantly dressed, his shoulders were wide beneath the tailored black evening coat, his waist narrow, and his thighs and legs long and muscled in black silk breeches.
Yes, Alexander St. Claire was very handsome indeed. “I am come, Your Grace,” she informed him huskily, almost overwhelmed by how instantly taken she was by his good looks.
“Come?” he echoed sharply. “Come where?”The scowl on his brow deepened with his increasing irritation.
She gazed up at him guilelessly. “Here, Your Grace.”
“Without a doubt.” He gave an icy inclination of his head. “What the devil do you mean by it?”
“Do not be cross with me, Alexander!” She moved to press herself against him, her head resting on the broadness of his chest as her arms moved lightly about the slender waist hidden beneath the fine material of his black evening coat. “Miss Bristow did caution me to remain patient and wait until you came to collect me, but I could not wait any longer, Alexander, and
decided to take matters into my own hands and come to you instead!”
Alexander stood stiff and unyielding under this overfamiliar onslaught of feminine softness, as he felt a faint stirring of memory at the mention of a female called Bristow. He had the distinct feeling he had heard that name before. But for the moment, with firm breasts pressed against his chest, slender arms about his waist and the soft rose perfume wafting from the golden curls peeping from beneath her bonnet, he was having difficulty remembering exactly when and whereâ¦!
Not that it mattered at this particular moment. What mattered was releasing himself from this young woman's far from unpleasant hands upon his person.
Alexander straightened to push her from him abruptly. “Now see hereâ¦”
“Excuse me, Your Graceâ¦?”
He turned a scowling face in the direction of his butler. “What is it, Thompson?”
Thompson became uncomfortable under Alexander's icy stare. “Should I inform your guests that you have beenâ¦called away on business, Your Grace?”
“His Grace will rejoin his guests in but a few moments,” the young woman reassured Thompson before Alexander could speak.
He cast a look at this very forward and beautiful young lady. She was perhaps nineteen or twenty years, dressed in a traveling gown the same peach color as
her bonnet. The golden curls beguiled, and her eyes were the clear blue of a summer sky. With a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her tiny nose, and a mouthâAh, her mouth! Surely no respectable young lady should have such a sinfully decadent mouth! Those lips so full and pouting that they begged to be kissed and to kiss in returnâ¦
Damn it, who was this chit to come here and interrupt Alexander's evening entertainment, addressing him so familiarly by name, whilst at the same time evoking such fantasies that Alexander's perfectly tailored breeches now felt uncomfortably tight?
She smiled up at him, seemingly unconcerned. “I understand your need to return to your dinner guests, Alexander. I am tired from traveling these past two days, anyway. And of course, it would not do for you to introduce me to any of your guests,” she accepted good-naturedly. “I assure you I shall be quite happy to wait in one of the private salons until you have finished dinner and are free to join me.”
Alexander's head was starting to spin. Who was sheâ¦? From where had she been traveling these past two days? And why did the name Bristow seem so irritatingly familiar? Until he had answers to his questions, Alexander was reluctant to return to his guests.
“Wait there, Thompson,” he ordered, as the butler
would have moved to do this young woman's bidding. Meanwhile, Alexander's dark gaze never wavered from the creamy and irritatingly enchanting perfection of his intruder's face. “Exactly who are you?” he demanded of her impatiently.
That blue gaze widened. “Angelina Hawkins, of course. Although I would much prefer that you call me Angel. Your Grace.” Belatedly she made a polite curtsy.
Alexander stared down incredulously at her bent head.
Angelina Hawkinsâ¦! The illegitimate daughter of Benjamin Hawkins and his mistress? An illegitimate daughter whose existence Benjamin had confided to Alexander on his deathbed almost three years ago?
It had been bleak and stormy on the night Alexander was ushered into Benjamin's hushed bedchamber. The older man had suffered a fall from his horse in an even worse storm two nights previously, resulting in injuries that would ultimately prove fateful. Alexander had sat at Benjamin's bedside and listened to his tale of love and passion for the mistress who had been carried off by a fever but three days before. Benjamin's distress at her loss was such that he had no desire to continue without her; hence, the deranged horse ride and fall that had sealed his own fate.
But there had been more. There was a child from the alliance. A daughter, named Angelina.
With both of her parents gone, and no other
relatives who could take her in, Benjamin feared what would become of her, and had requested that Alexander see that suitable arrangements were made for her. A request that Alexander, distraught at his friend's rapidly failing health, had readily agreed to do.
But he had assumed that the girl was no more than nine or ten years of age, and had requested that Hopkins, his man of business at the time, place her in a school where she could board until she reached adulthood. At which time Alexander would turn his attention to arranging a suitable marriage for her, to a parson or some such. Someone who would not question her family background too deeply.
Obviously the chit had decided to take matters into her own hands by appearing here uninvited this evening!
“You really must run along back to your dinner guests, Alexander,” Angelina now told him dismissively. “Thompson and I shall sort out where I am to go.”
The last person to instruct Alexander St. Claire to “run along,” had been his nanny when he was but five years of ageâno one would have dared to do so in the four and twenty years since then!
That thisâthis young woman had done so was intolerable. Unacceptable. As was the fact that she was here, in his home, at all, and acting as if she had a
perfect right to be here!
Alexander drew in a sharply hissing breath. “AngelinaâMiss Hawkinsâ”
“Did I not tell you I would prefer you to call me Angel, Alexander,” she chided mischievously.
Alexander blinked. This young woman was no angel. More like a devil sent from hell to plague him!
He reminded himself that, in fact, he did not have the time for this conversation with Angelina Hawkins now. His dinner guests were political allies and their wives, and Alexander had already been absent from their company longer than was polite. He would find out the answers he required later. “Thompson will indeed show you to the blue salon.” He turned to give the butler a pointed stare before moving his reproving gaze back to Angelina. “I will join you there once my guests have departed, and then we shall talk further on this matter,” he assured her grimly.
Her eyes widened. “Talk, Alexander? But I had thoughtâ”
Alexander did not care to hear what this young woman “thought”âalthough her overfamiliarity and habit of launching herself into his arms at will was beginning to give him a fair indication of what some of those thoughts might be!
Angelina was having the most wonderful dream. Of lying on a bed. Of being held in Alexander's arms. His strong, muscled armsâ¦
Her own arms moved up over his shoulders and her fingers became entangled in the dark thickness of his hair as she pulled him down to her and pressed her parted lips against his, before kissing him with warmth and passion.
Alexander, having finally rid himself of his last guest at almost two o'clock in the morning, had entered the blue salon to find Angelina fast asleep on the sofa. His efforts to wake her had proved fruitless. As it was already so late that any chance of removing her from the house, without causing a monumental scandal, was out of the question, he had decided that he had no choice but to carry her up the stairs and deposit her in one of the bedchambers on the floor above.
Only now he found himself being pulled down beside her as he placed her upon the bed! Her arms encircled his shoulders and her fingers threaded through his hair as she pressed her warm, parted lips against his. To both his dismay and delight, her actions
sent a fiercely hot lick of desire coursing through his body.
“Xander?” Angelina groaned in protest as he pulled back in shock at his response. Her blue eyes were reproachful as she raised sleepy lids to look up at him. “Do you not wish to kiss me?”
Alexander scowled down at her as he was prevented from rising to his feet by her fingers still linked together beneath the loosened hair at his nape.
Angelina had removed her bonnet some time before falling asleep, revealing her gloriously golden curls. Her brow was smooth and creamy and her deep blue eyes were looking up at him in seductive invitation. Her mouth was full and sensual, and her neck long and slender above the full swell of her breasts, the low neckline of the peach gown having slipped so that it almost revealed her nipples.
“Kiss me, Xander,” she encouraged throatily as she pulled him toward her once more.
Beautiful and willing as Angelina undoubtedly was, Alexander knew he ought to stop this right now. To demand an explanation for the obvious invitation in her behavior.
Perhaps he had overindulged in the port following dinner and his wits had momentarily deserted him? Or perhaps it was just that the invitingly sensuous pout of Angelina's lips cried out to be kissed? Just as the slender curves of her body begged to be crushed against his much harder ones! Whatever the reasonâor perhaps excuseâinstead of pushing Angelina
Hawkins firmly away from him and leaving the bedchamber as he knew he should, Alexander found himself unable to do anything but draw her more fully into his arms.
Angelina moaned low in her throat as she felt the firmness of Alexander's lips against her own, parting them to deepen the kiss as he pulled her roughly toward him.
Oh, how glorious it was to be kissed at last! By Alexander. It was so much more intimate, so much more arousing, than Angelina had ever imagined a kiss to be, and she found her neck arching in invitation as Alexander broke the kiss to seek out the hollows of her throat with his lips.
“Touch me, Xander!” she invited breathlessly, taking one of his hands in hers and placing it against one of her aching breasts. They swelled beneath the material of her gown, their tips swollen and sensitive as she felt the palm of Alexander's hand against her.
But it was not nearly close enough, Angelina decided, as she ached for the feel of that hand against her flesh. She shifted the artfully designed gown and the material moved accommodatingly lower, exposing her breast fully so that her nipple pressed urgently against Alexander's fingers.
Alexander's gaze moved down sharply, feeling the bareness of Angelina's flesh against his hand, desire coursing fiercely through him and causing his already
hard and pulsing erection to throb anew as he looked at the fullness of her exposed breast with its tight rosy nipple. Momentary madness came over him as he started bending his head to take that luscious bud into his mouthâ
Alexander pulled back abruptly, jaw clenched as he straightened Angelina's gown determinedly, before pushing her firmly away from him.
He ignored her seductive pout this time, to rise sharply to his feet, and moved purposefully away from the bedside, hands clasped firmly behind his back as he took several deep, controlling breaths before he dared face her again. “I have no idea where youâ¦That sort of behavior is totally unacceptable, Angelina!” he finally rasped in his most disapproving tone.
Disapproval for himself, as much as for herâ¦
He may never have set eyes on this girl before tonight, may have ignored her very existence these past three years except to pay her school fees, but Benjamin Hawkins had nevertheless placed her under Alexander's protection. He doubted that his friend had ever envisaged that it was Alexander himself Angelina might need protection from!
“How is my behavior inappropriate?” Angelina gave Alexander a quizzical stare as she sat up to swing her feet down onto the rug beside the bed.“I am sure we will touch each other much more intimately than that once I become your mistress.”
“Once you are become my what?” Alexander glowered down at her in shocked disbelief.
“Your mistress, Alexander.” Angelina smiled. “I assure you I have applied myself most diligently to my lessons these past three years whilst a pupil at Miss Bristow's school.”
At last, Alexander knew where he had heard the name before!
At the time of Benjamin Hawkins's death, Alexander's own father had also recently died, and Alexander had found his time much occupied with his newly elevated status as Duke of Stourbridge.
Even so, it had been remiss of him not to have at least visited Angelina after the death of her parents. Perhaps if he had done so he would have realized that she was not a child at all, but a young lady of fifteen or sixteen years! As it was, he had left all the arrangements for Angelina Hawkins's schooling to his man Hopkins. Something the elderly man had later happily assured Alexander he had done by placing her in what he believed was a “suitable” school in Brighton.
But suitable for what?