Read Between the Devil and Ian Eversea Online

Authors: Julie Anne Long

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea

BOOK: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea
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Acknowledgments

M
Y DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO
my darling editor, May Chen; my stalwart agent, Steve Axelrod; the talented, hard-working staff at Harper Collins; and all the wonderful readers who let me and everyone else know how much my books mean to you.

 

Chapter 1

I
F INNOCENCE HAD A
color, it was the rain-washed silver-blue of Miss Titania Danforth’s eyes.

Her spine was elegantly erect against the back of her Chippendale chair, her hands lay quietly in her lap; her white muslin day dress was as spotless as an angel’s robe. She would have in fact been the picture of serenity, if not for her lashes. They were black, enviably fluffy, and very busy. They fluttered up. They fluttered down. They fluttered up again. Then down again. As if she could only withstand the potent gaze of the Duke of Falconbridge in increments.

A bit the way a virgin might sip at rotgut gin, the duke thought dryly.

Then again, even grown men found him disconcerting. Disconcerting was what the duke did best, without even trying.

Two hours earlier Miss Danforth’s companion hired for the ocean voyage to England—a redoubtable barrel-shaped woman of middle years whose name the duke had promptly forgotten—had delivered her along with nearly a dozen trunks, and with an irony-tinged “Good
luck
, Yer Grace,” departed with startling haste. No teary, lingering good-byes between her and Miss Danforth. But then, long ocean voyages could play havoc with even a saint’s nerves, and familiarity was a well-known breeding ground for contempt.

And now that Falconbridge had seen his cousin’s daughter, he was certain no luck was necessary. Her faultless breeding was in every word she spoke. Her voice was pleasant, low and precise, with a very becoming husk to it.

But her beauty astonished.

As if to affirm his conclusions, a great sheet of afternoon light poured in the window and made a corona of her fair hair. She might as well have been wearing a bloody halo.

On the whole, however, sheltered women irritated him. He never knew what to say to them. They taxed his patience. But the future of this particular sheltered woman was now his responsibility, thanks to an almost-forgotten promise he’d made many years ago.

A promise his cousin had seen fit to immortalize in his will.

The surreptitious press of his wife’s knee against his stopped him from sighing aloud or muttering under his breath or any of the things she knew he was tempted to do. He reflected for a moment on the multitude of glorious things that could be communicated with a knee press. That he was known, loved, fortunate beyond all reason, and could afford to be charitable when the beautiful, gloriously kind young woman at his side on the settee was his. Genevieve was never dull. She’d never had a prayer of being dull, having been raised an Eversea.

Fortunately, he’d done most of his underbreath cursing when the succinct, ever-so-faintly harried letter from Miss Danforth’s solicitor had arrived two months ago.

Genevieve said brightly, “I understand the crossing from America can be . . .”

She paused as two footmen appeared in the doorway, their knees wobbling under the weight of a profusion of brilliant hothouse blooms stuffed into an urn.

“For Olivia?” Genevieve said this almost with resignation.

“Yes, my lady.”

“I think there might be a little room on the mantel.”

The footmen shuffled into the room and hoisted the urn up with little grunts. Miss Danforth followed their progress to and fro with wide, wondering eyes.

The long stems continued quivering for a time after they departed.

“I was saying,” Genevieve continued smoothly, “I understand the crossing can be grueling indeed, but the sea air seems to have agreed with you. You look radiant, Miss Danforth. What a delight it is to meet such a pretty cousin!”

Miss Danforth glowed. “You’re too kind! Truly, the crossing from America was mercifully uneventful. I understand I come from hearty stock.”

The lashes went up again and her eyes were limpid. She looked about as hearty as a blown dandelion. He humored this transparent attempt at flattery with a faint smile. “Certainly, Miss Danforth, our stock, as you say, has withstood any number of buffetings over the centur—”


. . .
aaaaannnnnnnn . . . !”

He swiveled his head. High-pitched, very faint, very sneaky, a sound floated into the room. It was impossible to know from which direction it came. It waxed and waned, a bit like the whine of a diving mosquito.

He glanced at his wife, who was sporting a faint, puzzled dent between her eyes.

Miss Danforth, on the other hand, remained unruffled. She gave no appearance of having heard a thing, unless one counted a slight further straightening of her spine. Her eyes were bright with curiosity now. Perhaps she thought men of his advanced age—he had just turned forty—naturally acquired twitches and tics, and she was prepared to be sympathetic and tolerant.

“Your home is remarkably beautiful,” she said. “And so very grand.”

“We’re so pleased you think so,” Genevieve said warmly. “I loved growing up here. Falconbridge is indulging me in a hunt for another home nearby, so we can live near my family for at least part of the year. But I cannot wait to show you the grounds! Though I’m certain it will all seem rather tame compared to America, Miss Danforth.”

Miss Danforth’s laugh was like bells. “I daresay it isn’t as exciting as you might think, though it certainly is different from England
.
Oh, and I do hope you’ll come to call me Tansy! All my friends do.”

Both Genevieve and the duke paused. There
was
a bit of American expansiveness to her manners, as if all those wide-open spaces across the ocean caused them to stretch indolently, the way one slouches in a chair when no one is about to impress. The duke smiled faintly.

“We’ll have such fun introducing you to society, Tansy,” his wife indulged. “How exciting New York must be, but oh, we do manage to have a lovely time here! Do you enjoy dancing? We’ve a splendid array of activities planned for you.”

“Oh . . . well, I fear I’m a bit of a wallflower. Life has been a bit . . .” She cleared her throat. “. . . a bit quiet, you see, for the past year or so.”

The lashes stayed down and there passed a little moment of silence. For they did see. Her parents had been killed in a carriage accident a little over a year ago, her older brother had died in the War of 1812 before that, and that left Miss Danforth alone in the world. Save, of course, for the duke, who was now charged with marrying her off to a title spectacular enough to match the girl’s fortune, which would only be released to her in its entirety when the match was made. Her future, essentially, was in the duke’s hands.

So dictated her father’s will.

His cousin had decamped from Sussex to America when the girl sitting before him was only eight years old. The duke had always hoped to see him again, for they’d been close, and the duke’s close friendships were few.

“. . . aaaaaaannnnforth . . . !”

Bloody hell—there the sound was again. So eerie, nearly ghostly, it almost stood the hairs on the back of his neck on end. He whipped his head about again. But not before he saw Miss Danforth’s eyes fly open wide, then give an infinitesimal guilty dart toward the window and back again.

He narrowed his eyes at her.

Her smile never dimmed. Her hands remained neatly folded in her lap. She met his gaze bravely.

“Perhaps a sheep fell into a drainage ditch?” Genevieve suggested into the ensuing silence. “Poor thing.”

“. . . oooooooove you . . . !”

The sound was quite discernible as a voice now.

A
man’s
voice.

“Per . . . perhaps it’s the wind?” Miss Danforth had tried for casual, and almost but not quite succeeded. “Wind” was more a squeak than a word.

Miss Danforth jumped when the duke stood abruptly.

“I’ll just have a look, shall I?” He crossed the room in three strides. He pushed the window open and a stiff breeze hoisted the curtains high, like a villain brandishing his cape.

He peered out. On the green, far below the window, a man was down on his knees, his hands clasped in the universally understood gesture of beseeching, his head thrown back so far his mouth looked like a little dark O. And from this O issued howls of what sounded like tormented passion.

“Miss Daaaaaanfooooorth! I loooooooove you! Please just one word, I beeeeeggg of you! Do not forsake me!”

The duke eyed this pathetic scene for a moment.

And then he turned around very, very slowly, and stared at the now silent and very wide-eyed Miss Danforth.

He was silent for so long that when he launched his brows upward in a silent question she jumped. “Does that voice sound familiar, Miss Danforth?”

She cleared her throat.

“Oh . . . dear. That does sound like Mr. Lucchesi. He was a passenger on my ship, and I fear he may have nurtured a . . .” Pretty color flooded her face. “. . . a
tendre
which I assure you I do not return, though I took great pains to ensure I was all that was polite and my behavior was all that was appropriate. He must have . . . he must have somehow followed me from the ship.”

Probably her open American manners were at fault. Although, admittedly, Lucchesi wasn’t bellowing “Tansy!”

“. . . pleeeeeeaaaaase . . .”
The forlorn word drifted into the window.

“He’s Italian,” Miss Danforth added into the ensuing dumbstruck silence.

“Ah,” said Genevieve sympathetically, as if that explained everything.

Miss Danforth shot her a look of gratitude.

“These things happen,” Genevieve embellished.

At this, her husband’s eyebrows shot upward again.

“Not to
me
, of course,” she hastened to add. “But my sister Olivia . . . well, you’ve seen the flowers.” She waved in the general direction of the mantel. “Men have always thrown themselves at her feet. They’re forever sending flowers. They make embarrassing wagers about when she’ll be married in the Betting Book at White’s and . . .”

She trailed off when she saw what was no doubt incredulity writ large on her husband’s features.

“Careful, my dear,” he said. “It’s beginning to sound like an endorsement.”

She grinned at that and he grinned back, and there passed an infinitesimal moment during which they were the only two in the world.

Miss Danforth’s voice intruded.

“I am so terribly sorry to inconvenience you, when you’ve been so kind and welcoming!” Miss Danforth’s hands wrung. “I never dreamed . . . that is, I could not anticipate . . . to follow me onto your grounds! I am
appalled
that—”

The duke held up a hand. “Do you wish to speak to Mr. Lucchesi, Miss Danforth?”

She shook her head so vigorously the two blond curls flagellated her cheeks like a cat-o’-nine tails.

“Do you wish
me
to have a word with Mr. Lucchesi?”

“No! That is, I’d rather you didn’t. That is . . . Oh, I wish he would just go away.” She ducked her head again. And said nothing more.

He did sigh then. Mother of God, but she was the veriest babe. The girl was a danger to herself. The sooner he could hand this one off to an appropriate husband, the better. It ought to be a simple enough matter to accomplish, but he would need to keep her out of trouble until that happened. That sort of thing shouldn’t present too much of a challenge. Intelligent rogues were afraid of the Duke of Falconbridge and the stupid ones could be dispensed with easily.

One particular rogue, however, warranted a personal warning.

He turned to his wife. “My dear,” he said idly, “do you suppose your brother is in Pennyroyal Green at the moment?”

She didn’t need to ask
which
brother.

I
AN
E
VERSEA
R
OLLED
over and opened one eye. Mercifully, he’d awakened before the usual dream could really get his talons in, which was one reason he awoke in a cheerful mood.

As he always did after that dream, he stretched his legs and flexed his arms, grateful he still pulled air, grateful he still possessed all his limbs.

Not to mention
another
appendage.

He sighed a long, satisfied sigh and opened his other eye.

The window next to him framed a perfect half of a moon and a few stars. It was evening.

Which meant he’d better leave soon, or he’d ruin his unbroken record of never staying an entire night through.

He rubbed at his ear. “Funny,” he muttered.

“What is funny,
mon cher
?” came a sleepy, French-inflected purr next to him. She was the other reason he’d awoken in a cheerful mood.

“My ear is hot.”

Monique propped herself up on one elbow and peered at him through her great cloud of auburn hair. A position that mashed her large and delectable breasts together and reminded him of the pleasures of pillowing his head there. An embarrassment of riches, those, just inches from his nose.

“What is it they say when your ear is hot? Someone must be talking about you.” She reached out a finger and trailed his ear with it.

“Someone,” he murmured with satisfaction as he rolled over to Monique to pull her into his arms and continue the marathon of lovemaking, “is
always
talking about me.”

BOOK: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea
5.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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