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Authors: Samantha Holt

Rogues and Ripped Bodices

BOOK: Rogues and Ripped Bodices
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Rogues and Ripped Bodices

A
Victorian Romance Boxset

Samantha
Holt

Sinful Confessions

A Cynfell Brothers Novella

Samantha Holt

Copyright 2015 ©Samantha Holt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except
in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

 

Chapter
One

Warwickshire,
England 1895

Bang,
bang, bang
.

Somebody was setting off fireworks inside of
Julian Cynfell’s skull. He winced, cracked open an eye and peered around. The
curtains were drawn and a blanket of gloom dominated the large drawing room.

“What in the devil...?”

He eased up from the chaise longue and groaned.
There it was again. No fireworks though. The flashes of bright light bursting
through his skull had merely been a product of the headache plaguing him.

Julian scrubbed a hand across his face and sat
fully upright. He cradled his delicate head for a few moments and closed his
eyes. Apparently some mischievous elves had taken up residence in his skull and
were taking tiny hammers to it. Each movement felt as though they were renewing
their efforts in protest of being jostled about.

Bang, bang.

The front door. That was where the noise was
coming from. Well, that made more sense than fireworks in the main drawing room
of Lockwood Manor he supposed. Cursing the little creatures inside his head, he
stood and squinted into the darkness. A tiny slit of light slipped through each
of the three sets of curtains, spilling onto the highly polished walnut
furniture, picking out the gilded highlights of the soft furnishings and
emphasising the strong patterns on the carpet. Julian curled his lip in
distaste. Far too much for one’s delicate eyes to see after a night of heavy
indulgence.

Whoever was at the door clearly had no intention
of leaving. Where was the damned butler? Or the maids? Yes, he didn’t have many
of those left but he could spare one member of his household to open a damned
door, surely?

Feeling as though he had aged a hundred years
overnight, he dragged himself to the hallway door and flung it open. Bright
light greeted him and he groaned. At the smell of fresh flowers and a hallway
that had certainly already been aired out, he hated himself anew. Even he could
smell the fog of alcohol surrounding him. He needed a bath, a teeth clean and a
swirl of mint tea.

Then he needed some strong coffee to help him
sober up.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he muttered to the
persistent visitor as the door knocker vibrated through the house again.

Julian took a moment to steady himself against the
marbled banister of the staircase before heading to the large double doors that
signalled the entrance to his house. Tall pillars in matching cream marble
reached high up to support the ceiling and he had to stare at them for some
time to realise they were not wavering from side to side. It was, in fact, he
who could not stay still.

Damn. No more drinking.

He snorted. Who was he kidding? Besides it
wasn’t as if he was a slave to the drink. He’d only indulged—what?—twice this
week. Admittedly, he did like to indulge until darkness swallowed him and he
could forget everything, but it didn’t normally matter. Normally he didn’t have
visitors and he could sleep off any ill effects. Everyone was wise enough to
stay away.

But not this person, damn them to hell. Didn’t
they know who he was? Hadn’t they heard tell of his infamous reputation?

On wobbly legs, he edged over to the door and
drew it open, readying himself to say something cutting before slamming it
shut.

“What in the—?”

Instead of slamming the door closed as planned,
he found himself opening it farther. The feathers caught his eye first. The
white plumes of her hat drooped under the weight of raindrops. Though his front
door stood under the shelter of several columns and a jutting pediment, this
woman had clearly been a victim of quite the soaking.

He peered past her and saw that it was indeed a
miserable day. Grey clouds weighed down the sky like lead and water filled the
dips in the road leading to the house.

Julian turned his attention back to the soaked
woman on his doorstep. The white feathers matched a long, white gown, shielded
from the weather by only a pale blue jacket. She looked dressed for fine summer
weather and certainly not spring showers.

When the woman lifted her head and took a long
perusal of him, he stiffened. A shard of sensation twisted through him, making
the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Underneath the huge brim of her
hat sat bold blue eyes, a narrow but plump set of lips and a face that made his
heart stutter.

Still drunk
, he reminded himself.
She could have been a hideous beast but the fog of alcohol made even the
plainest of women beautiful.

He peered at her again. The strong nose wasn’t
beautiful. However, when he stopped looking at it and took her face in as a whole,
she was back to being spectacular.

He really ought to give up the drink. His mind
was playing tricks on him.

The stranger lifted an auburn eyebrow. Several
strands of hair that would likely be the same colour when dry clung to her
cheeks. Those pouty lips parted.

“Yes?” he asked abruptly, aware he’d been
staring at her for too long. His alcohol-soaked brain seemed to be working at a
snail’s pace.

Her wet lashes darted over her cheeks several
times before she spoke. “Oh, hello. Um. Is the master home?”

An American. He tried not to sound like his
mother but the voice in his head had sounded distinctly marchioness-like. A
brash, coarse, unsophisticated American. That was his mother’s voice too.
Julian hadn’t met many American women so he couldn’t really be a judge of how
brash, coarse and unsophisticated they were.

She looked at him, awaiting a response. Brash
indeed. Most women withered and looked away under his darkest stares. In fact,
most ladies wouldn’t even approach him. Too scared of him. After all, the
Marquess of Lockwood had the touch of death.

“The master is home,” he drawled.

A smile slipped across those lips and he
followed the movement of them. They were certainly narrow but, bloody hell, the
cupid bow shape of them did strange things to his insides. He couldn’t remember
any of his wives’ lips making him feel as though his gut was twisting into
knots.

“That is wonderful news.” She thrust out a
gloved hand. “I’m Miss Viola Thompson. My friends call me Vee.”

Viola Thompson. Oh Christ, the woman he’d been
writing to in New York. The woman he’d been... well that didn’t matter. What
the blazes was she doing here? He contemplated her hand for several moments
until her fingers curled and she tucked them back against her side.

“Could I speak with your master?” she tried
again, her voice holding a little less strength this time.

“I have no master.” He leaned against the door
frame and folded his arms. A little amusement first thing in the morning would
do no harm.

“But I thought...” Colour seeped into her pale
cheeks and confusion marred her brow.

“Julian Cynfell, Marquess of Lockwood, at your
service, Miss Thompson.”

“But...” Her lips opened and closed several
times while her gaze ran over him. “You cannot possibly be.”

He hadn’t considered what he looked like. If he
looked down, he’d likely see his shirt was untucked, his feet were bare and he
knew at least a month’s worth of bristle covered his jaw. What sort of servant
she thought he was, he didn’t know.

“Forgive me if I disappoint.”

Viola clutched her travelling bag to her chest.
“No, no, forgive me. I didn’t realise... Well, anyway,” she said brightly.
“Here I am.”

Letting both brows rise, he ran his gaze from
head to toe. What was he meant to do with her? “Yes, here you are.”

“Can I come in?”

Julian’s head pounded anew. All he wanted to do
was have a coffee, eat something wholesome and go to bed—a proper bed. His back
ached from having fallen asleep on the chaise. Instead, he had an admittedly
stunning American woman on his doorstep, expecting him to do
something
with her.

He could think of several things he might like
to do with her—it had been over a year after all—but he doubted those were the
sort of
somethings
she expected. Viola Thompson was all of twenty-two
and definitely innocent—that had been clear from her letters. Besides which,
Julian didn’t
do
women anymore.

He scowled and leaned out of the door to search
for a carriage or sign of a chaperone. No one. Nothing. Was Miss Thompson all
alone?

“How did you get here?”

“The mail coach dropped me off at the end of the
road.” She pointed in the direction of the end of the private road. It couldn’t
be seen from the house as rows of large oak trees hid it from view.

“And you walked all the way up here in the
rain?”

She nodded and a tiny shudder wracked her.

“You’re alone?” He did another scan of the area,
wondering if someone was hiding behind the fountain or had decided to walk
around the back of the house to explore the ornamental garden.

“Yes.”

“You’re American.” He didn’t ask, just stated.
He needed to work his brain around several things and saying them aloud helped.

She squeezed her bag tightly to her chest.
“Well, yes, but you knew that. We’ve been writing to each other for six months
now.”

“No, it’s just... did you travel from America alone?”

“Yes.” She nodded again as though this was a
perfectly normal thing to do.

Fingers to his temples, he levered himself away
from the door frame.  For some reason, he had this woman he’d been writing to
on his doorstep, alone, expecting
something
. And she’d crossed the ocean
on her own. He opened and closed his eyes several times to make sure he wasn’t
seeing things, but she remained, resolute and a little fragile-looking.

“You can’t come in.”

“What?” She almost dropped her bag and had to
fumble to keep hold of it.

“You’re alone. You cannot possibly come in.”

“But... Julian...” Her eyes widened. “I mean, my
lord, I am cold and wet and hungry. I haven’t slept since my ship docked in
Southampton.”

“Miss Thompson,” he said slowly as though
speaking to an imbecile, “there is no room at the inn. No place for you to
stay. No warm welcome here. May I suggest you find a hotel and find your warmth
and rest there?”

A crease appeared between her brows and she
studied him for long moments as though trying to work out a puzzle. “The
nearest town is five miles away. I know that because that is where I caught the
train to. Firstly, how do you expect me to get there? And secondly, I thought
you were expecting me.”

Julian found himself taken aback by her sharp
tone. Coarse, definitely coarse. Also slightly appealing. None of his wives had
ever spoken to him so directly—not even the last one.

“I wasn’t expecting you.”

“But your letter...” She tried to reach for the
purse hanging off her arm by a metal chain but her travelling bag slipped and
dropped to the floor with a thud. He half expected the overly-stuffed fabric to
split apart and for her belongings to explode all over him. Viola thrust her
hands to her sides and let out a small huff sound. And there, in her eyes, was
the undoing of him. The little shimmer of tears that never failed to scour his
insides and turn him into an utter weakling.

“Come in for a moment.” He said the words as low
as he could, half-hoping she wouldn’t hear and she’d decide to run back to New
York.

She brushed by him eagerly, not even waiting for
him to step aside properly. Her arm breezed past his chest and a few feathers
tickled his nose. Julian stepped back and shut the door. Viola removed her hat
and lifted her gaze to the vaulted ceiling. Her mouth fell open.

“Goodness, what a place.”

Brash for certain. His mother would have
delighted in meeting this woman and putting her in her place. He, however,
couldn’t help but enjoy her open expression of pleasure. He supposed the house
was impressive when you first saw it but he’d grown up in it. Lockwood Manor
didn’t interest him. It was nice to see it appreciated, though. The few
visitors he received usually did their upmost to appear entirely unimpressed
and at ease with his grand home.

“Come into the...” No, he couldn’t put her in
the main drawing room. The place would smell of alcohol and he’d probably left
a few empty decanters lying around. She already didn’t have the best impression
of him. Best not to add to that.

Though why did he care?

“Come into the day room,” he said, motioning to
the door on the other side of the hall.

Julian supposed it was a relief to have someone
who didn’t already have a bad opinion of him in his house. The rumours and
gossip were the very reason he never set foot outside his house anymore, so if
there were any ladies left who didn’t know all about him, he had never met
them. Miss Thompson knew him as nothing more than some words on paper—nice
words too. Honest ones. Their correspondence had been one of the more enjoyable
aspects of his life.

BOOK: Rogues and Ripped Bodices
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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