Lady Featherstone's Fervent Affair
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by Cerise Deland
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: Stanhope Challenge Series, Book Two Willful Lady Lacy Featherstone knows how the lack of love can warp a person's life. When her dashing fiancé, Colonel Wesley Stanhope retreats to his hunting lodge after a devastating cavalry injury in Spain, she sweeps into Wes's hideaway with a scandalous proposal. Wes will make her his wife or she'll make him her lover. But if Lacy cannot conquer the Hero of Talavera with logic and kisses, how risqué must she become to prove that she is his equal in fortitude?and the only one worthy to grace his bed? Bonus! This title includes a free read, Lady Ramsey's Ribald Choices. Don't miss this additional installment to the Stanhope Challenge series!
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [131 KB]
Reading time: 80-112 min.
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September, 1809 Lancashire, England
Wes galloped in the rain, the night thick and the air moist. He slumped over the saddle, his horse lathered and laboring. He dug his spurs into the hide of the animal. Mad to get his men up to the French line, Wes yelled at them. His voice cracked, hoarse. His throat raw. The din clamored around him. Like a vise.
The damned French came on like banshees from hell.
Why at night?
The dead of it.
Why in the rain?
He circled his troops. Blinking. Disbelieving. His men lay like broken toy soldiers, littering the earth. Ghouls, dark and bony, they lay strewn about, their blackened arms up-stretched to him, grasping, calling for help, survival. Others cried out to him as they lost their seats and tumbled to the hard dark earth. Their horses whinnied and shrieked, rising up and pawing the sky. Men fell, hacked to pieces before they hit the ground. His lieutenant, mouth open, yelled at Wes to go back. Go back.
He would not. Could not. He wheeled about. How to ensure my rear line turns to meet the French assault?
But still the enemy came on. Gold and silver epaulettes shone in the rain. French shakos fluttered over their skeletal faces.
They whacked at Wes' youngest recruits. Not men. But boys. Just boys. One cried in the mud. His horse was wild eyed and thrashing, hooves beating a retreat where there was none. The sounds of the clashing steel, the agonies of men, the gunpowder clogging the air with smoke so thick, so dry men coughed and hacked, choked and drowned on it.
Then at once, a jolt to his own horse. His animal trembled, buckling, bowing down into the mud like a child at prayer. His mount, which he'd trained himself, had bought himself in Lisbon from the peasants' auction. His mount screamed, throwing Wes into the mud.
The foul grit sank between his teeth and down his throat. He clawed at it. A searing pain crossed his eyes. Burning, he tried to push up, push out, lift his head from the muck of earth and stones, ashes and blood.
He turned his head, spit out a mouthful, called for his servant. Where are you? Charles?
No one came.
He couldn't see. He pushed the mud from his eyes and screamed. Get me out of here! Up!
In a flash of lightning, it hit him. He was wounded. Cut? Where?
He lifted his head. Around him, two of his men lay, crawling toward him in the mire.
Am I crawling?
Back to the line, man. Back to the line...
And he stopped.
This scene was as it always had been. The woman in black would stride toward him now.
A fearful hag, she was. Petite, skin and bones, in her voluminous rags of death, she came to peer down at him, wrench his head up by a handful of hair. Then she'd kick him in the ribs and in the left arm to make him howl like a beast. She sneered at his pain, laughing at his writhing.
"Take him," she would order in her devil's voice. "Take him to die!"
"No! No!" he would yell as her rat-like minions scurried round him, rolling him to his back, while he screamed in the torment as they took his body up, up, up, his left arm hanging useless as the pain careened through his body and tore his mind to shreds.
"Let me be!" he would yell to no avail. "Let me die!"
Wes bolted upright.
His heartbeat pounded a tattoo.
Perspiration dripped down his temples.
"Oh, Christ!" he muttered, wiping his brow. He glanced around, felt his arm in the sling. Safe. Yes, safely on the armrest. "The nightmare."
"Sir?" his sergeant and servant, Charles, stared into his eyes, the man's hands on Wes' shoulders. "Tis the dream again, sir. Are you recovered?"
"Yes," Wes grumbled, hating how his voice quavered. "Yes, yes! Brandy."
"Here, sir. A hefty draught."
Wes grabbed the glass as if it were ambrosia then gulped it down.
He coughed, the damn strong stuff burning all the way down his gullet but inspiring strong affirmation that he was indeed alive.
He sank backward in his old wingchair, the one he had inhabited now for nigh onto thirty days. Ever since they had brought him home from the Peninsula in a hospital bay, he'd sat in a goddamn chair. At Jack's house in Grosvenor Square. At Adam's in Berkeley Square. Here. Like an old man. A cripple.
He cursed. He'd left both brothers' homes, knowing, seeing and seething at their understanding--aye, their pity--for his infirmity. Riled, he had come north to this old hunting lodge and sat in this chair.
His sergeant had come with him. Charles Brighton was a loyal sort. From childhood, Charles had been a servant at their father's Stanhope estate in the Cotswolds. Charles had been Wes' body servant since Wes was five, and he had followed Wes into the Hussars. Promoted by Wes four years ago, the older man probably had never thought he would need to play nursemaid to the illustrious cavalryman, Wesley Stanhope. More like, Charles would have thought to care for his horse and his kit until Wes pensioned him off at sixty.
Instead of any such banality, Wes found himself here, in this drafty old place his father had given him on his twentieth birthday. He sat here day after day in this big ugly chair, recovering from a broken left arm, a broken left ankle and the loss of his left eye. A scar long and ragged as sin ran across his left cheek.
No thanks to a French corsair and the muck of the Spanish plain outside Talavera, Wesley Hamill Curruthers Stanhope had fallen in battle during a charge of his own cavalry brigade. Days later, in a medic tent, his commander had informed him that his maneuver had won the day for the British, but Wes rued the praise. What good was a man fallen in the pursuit of his duty? What joy in that? What recompense were words of praise when his body was broken and ripped? He could only ponder his own mortality, which now he expected would have a sad and lonely ending.
A man without his profession. Without his faculties. Without an income, save what he got as a handout from his roue of a sire. Without hope of the comfort of a woman.
He growled in frustration at the memory of desire. The memory of how he'd made love to a woman. The recollection of how virile he'd once been, fucking as he wished. When. Whom. Never loving. Until two months before he'd left for Portugal, Spain and the terror of Talavera. Then had found a sprite of a woman. Never before had that been his type. But once he'd seen her, talked with her, been amused and enchanted by her, he'd known he was fully caught. Captured. Enraptured. Only that one time in his life had he thought he might brave the family curse on all loving marriages and find more than the temporary slaking of his desires.
But Lady Lacy Featherstone would never want a weak and broken man. His gut wrenched at the memory of her in all her angelic glory. She was a beauty, an accomplished horsewoman, an heiress freshly debuted last Season with family connections and willful as sin. If he had ever considered himself a proper match for the lady, now he was less than suitable. He was a cripple. Deformed. An oddity for any drawing room, let alone a bedroom.
Lacy. He shut his eye now, recalling how she had looked the night he'd met her for the very first time at his brother Adam's house party in April. In jade green bombazine, she had followed him into the library after the supper.
"You are ignoring me, Wes," she had accused him as she'd shut the door behind her.
He'd chuckled ruefully. His need to stop eating her up with his eyes was a monstrous thing so gigantic, he'd had to retreat here. Alone. If only just to get his cock down. "Evidently not entirely."
She'd drifted forward to face him, her startling robin's egg blue eyes searching his. "I want a kiss."
He'd raised a brow and chuckled. "We have only just met. Two hours ago."
She'd glided forward, her pale moonbeam hair a sweet accent to her flawless skin and the perfect roses of her cheeks. "Minutes, hours. What do they matter when you know in your soul what is to be?"
He'd adored her audacity to counter him but had had to show some resilience. "Ha! And what is that, Lady Featherstone?"
She'd tossed him a smile. "We are to be one. Forever."
"You are so certain."
"Doubt me? Kiss me and see."
He could not take his eyes off her as she'd come to stand an inch from him. His fingers had itched to draw her close, feel her delicate curves pressed to his rock hard body. "You are all of what? Eighteen?"
"Nineteen," she'd whispered and risen on her toes to press her lush lips to the corner of his mouth. "I have debuted. Of age. Open to a proposal."
He'd hooted. But his hands had gone around her small waist. "We are not suited."
She'd slid her lips to rest on his. "You are a cavalryman. I am a horsewoman. We are strong, independent and know what we want."
He'd pressed his palm to her back, and against his chest, he felt the warmth of her breasts. "You need a man of wealth and position. I have neither."
"I have a large dowry, and you have position. You are a colonel in the King's Hussars."
"We are at war, my sweet."
"Ah. I see." She'd kissed him once, quickly, the fragrance of her perfume fogging his brain. "You fear you will come back an invalid."
"Or not at all," he'd corrected her, giving her a small shake.
She'd nestled closer to him. Her breasts, large and supple, had bored into his chest. Her thighs, strong and insistent, had pressed against his. "Darling, I care not how I have you." Her voice, soft as a cat's purr, had enveloped him. "I want you." She'd run her fingers through the curls as his nape.
He'd snatched her hand away. "That is wrong."
She'd placed his palm over one breast. "Kiss me and tell me then."
How could he refuse?
She was courageous and wise and had foresight. Yet he had left his own wits somewhere in the drawing room. From the moment he had watched her greeting his sister-in-law, he had wished she were his.
There in the library, she'd stood on tiptoes and brushed her lips over his.
"Darling Wes." She'd taken his hand from her breast and pushed it down to press against her mound. Beneath her gown, she was hot. "I need you. As you do me." She demonstrated by pushing his fingers hard against her dress. He could detect her slit and the plush lips of her cunt. "Feel how I need you." She had gathered up her skirts and he could not resist helping her.
"Oh, god," he'd groaned, his fingers wet and deep within her, sluicing her slick folds. "You are a jewel." He'd stroked, listening to her succulent desire, feeling her heat and his own outrageous lust to get inside her. "But we will not do this."
In the next two months, every time he'd seen her at house parties or balls, he had kissed her, caressed her and had been sorely tempted to take her wherever they stood. But reason had prevailed. He had never been so bold. Instead, he had gone to her father to ask for her hand. The man had readily accepted.
"Against common sense," Wes mourned now, ran a hand through his hair and directed his gaze out the casement window at the never-ending rain. September in Lancashire. Supposed to be warm. Sunny. Now cold and dark as sin.
He struggled up from his chair, grabbed his cane and plodded in his slippers to the window. Would he ever be warm again? Anywhere?
The sound of carriage wheels made Wes tip his head in the direction of the drive.
No one visited. He had made it plain to Charles that the man was to spread that word in the village. Wes desired no visitors. No well-wishers. No expressions of gratitude for the so-called hero of Talavera.
Still, Wes heard the carriage wheels grind to a stop.
Shouting above the downpour of the rain made Wes turn to listen.
Then came the knock on the front door.
Charles emerged from the dining room where he'd been laying out luncheon.
"Who might this be?" Wes asked of the man who would not have invited anyone. He never disobeyed Wes.
"I have no idea, sir," Charles replied as he stepped toward the foyer and the carved wooden door. "I will inquire."
Wes nodded, putting pressure on his cane as he hobbled back toward his chair.
"Good afternoon," Charles greeted the visitor. "Do come in. May I say who is calling?" he asked in a tone of voice so caring that Wes, out of his own immense curiosity, became focused on the portal and the figure standing there.
Wes stiffened. His mouth opened. His one good eye squinted in disbelief.
"Yes, you may say. Charles, isn't it?" asked the vision in the bright navy blue pelisse and pink straw bonnet. The vision stepped inside, handed Charles her umbrella and pulled at her gloves, finger by finger, as she gazed about, her large robin's egg blue eyes landing on Wes. Her face severe, unsmiling, she told Charles, "You may say Lady Lacy Featherstone calls upon Colonel Stanhope."
"I'm afraid, Miss Featherstone, that Colonel Stanhope is indisposed."
Her incomparable blue gaze danced down Wes's form. "He looks quite fit to me, Charles."
How can I? Looking like a gargoyle. Feeling weak as a puppy. He stepped back into the shadows of the great room.
Lacy took a step forward.
Charles blocked her.
She glared at the servant. "Charles, let us understand each other from the start. I am here. I have arrived here after an extremely discomfiting journey by coach from Kent. Do you know how far that is, Charles?"
"Yes, Lady Featherstone, I certainly do. The Colonel and I traveled here from London, and we did so with the Colonel in dire pain. I tell you that you may not see him."
Will be repulsed to see me. Wes forced himself to stand his ground.
"But, Charles, I do see him. I see him now. I see him plainly. And I will speak with him."
"My lady, you may not enter."
"Wes!" she called to him, bracing herself on two dainty feet. "I will not leave."
"Lacy, I do not wish to see you."
"I do not care what you wish."
"It is not proper that you are here. And unescorted, as far as I can tell."
She folded her hands before her, prim as he had never known her to be. "I do not care for escorts or proprieties."
"You must!" Was she mad?
"You heard me," she said as she surveyed the wooden beams of the ceiling and the black and white of the foyer floor tiles.
God, she was lovely. Like spun sugar, fragile and scrumptious. Meant for him. Once. Long ago.
"I came alone. My father thinks I am with my aunt Mary in Dorset."
If Wes were in his right mind or of sound body, he might have laughed. As it was, he scowled at her. "Go home, Lacy."
What a piece she was. Once his. Once his match. "You will ruin your reputation," Wes insisted.
"Of what value, Colonel Stanhope, is reputation?"
Lacy continued to glide toward him. Her gorgeous eyes riveted on his one good one, hers fixed with determination. "I suppose yours has saved your happiness for you?"
Wes choked on fury. How did one so young, so fair, know such a truth?
She strolled further into the room. "I came to help you and nurse you, Wes."
Wes huffed, the sight of her heaving breasts in the fitted jacket making him remember the night he'd viewed them in a garden at someone's ball. He'd put his rough hand inside her gown, the sight of her nipples inciting him to taste the gossamer, pink areolas. He ground his teeth. "I have a nurse. I have Charles."
"He does not love you," she remarked.
Charles startled. "Sir? I...I do not--"
Wes raised a hand to his man and both brows at Lacy. "I venture to say he does. In his way."
"He does not love you as I do." She stepped forward, her gown swishing against the carpet. "Or love you as I can."
"He is enough for me."
"Is he?" She looked Charles up and down.
"Go home, Lacy," Wes instructed with more sadness than he'd planned. "You and I have no future."
"Not true, Wesley Stanhope!" She stood toe to toe with him now. Her incomparable robin's egg blue eyes boring into his one. "Give over, Colonel. You have lost this battle. I am here to marry you."