What The Earl Desires
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by Aliyah Burke
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: Preferring solitude, Colin Faulkner resides at his country estate. Yet, fate being fickle, introduces a mysterious woman into his life. Societal dictates say he has no business wanting her...he does. Najja's in England for one thing, however, meeting Colin changes everything. After he unexpectedly becomes Earl of Clifton, Najja withdraws. Her excuse? His title. Her vow. Colin doesn't care, but wanting and /having/ Najja are two different things. For Najja can never truly be his so long as another controls her. Obstacles are meaningless when a love that spans the continents is... What the Earl Desires
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/Passion in Print Press,
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [437 KB]
Reading time: 283-396 min.
1811 Western Afric
"I do not care, Josephine Adrys!" The shrill voice pierced the air with alarming precision. "We will be returning to Society soon and you cannot continue to carry on like this...such boorish behavior will not get you a husband. Get down from that tree this instant."
High up in the thick mangrove two young women lounged on a gnarled branch. It was hot and humid; everything around them dripped with moisture. To some, it may appear dangerous, okay, to most it would. But these two relaxed quite comfortably up there, as if they belonged. The bright African sun struggled to penetrate the foliage of the rainforest and scattered bits of light across the young women. Screeching monkeys flew overhead on the vines which drooped. They hung, roots up and fronds down toward the floor of the forest, getting nourishment from somewhere above.
The females were different as night and day. The mulish and defiant spitfire, Josephine "Jo" Adrys, had a peaches and cream complexion, tanned by the sun and her many days outside. Numerous freckles lay scattered along the bridge of her nose, spanning to below her large, luminous blue eyes. Blue like the sky at the height of day when it is at its most brilliant. Her hair a combination of browns, reds, and copper shone in the light.
Najja was a few years older than her and she was dark where Jo was light. Her skin the color of coffee with a splash of cream. Hair fell straight in waves of black silk. She had dark brown eyes that always seemed aware of everything around her. Her build was more muscular than Jo's slighter one.
They were even dressed differently. Jo wore a light green dress of sprigged muslin to help combat the oppressive heat while Najja wore breeches and a sleeveless shirt, better for her job of keeping the young woman safe. It didn't matter what one wore in this heat, everything sweated.
"I love it here!" Jo wailed. "The only reason to return is Mother is ready to pawn me off on some man."
Najja almost smiled at the theatrical statement but the torment in Jo's voice kept it contained. "You English sure are strange with your habits."
Jo scowled. "I will thank you not to remind me. I could not possibly survive being married to some ancient, crotchety old man who wants to breed me." She shuddered in disgust while her mother, Lady Adrys hollered up again.
One eyebrow rose. "Breed you? Your mother would faint if she heard you talk in such a way."
An impish twinkle replaced the sadness and frustration there moments before. "Do you think so?"
The question was so hopeful she couldn't help but laugh. "I have no doubt." Lady Honoria Adrys was prone to theatrics. Ones which probably suited a drawing room in England far better than an African rainforest.
"Josephine Marguerite Adrys!"
They both winced at that.
"You should go," Najja said.
"What about you?"
"I will ensure you both arrive safely then I must return to camp."
Jo stood and hugged her. With a smile she returned the affection. Jo was a true friend. "See you later," Jo whispered before scampering down the tree.
Jo's mother's horrified gasp made her chuckle. Najja was grateful she remained above ground and out of sight well aware how Lady Adrys would react to her attire. While Jo, her mother, and the servants who'd accompanied her maneuvered along the path, Najja kept her upward position.
As mother and daughter headed to the large home they had built for themselves, she remained on the outskirts until they vanished inside. She shook her head, the need for such opulence continued to be a mystery to her. Not that she didn't appreciate sleeping there, but Lady Adrys seemed intent on bringing as much English society to the rainforest as she could.
Her beloved rainforest. Dangerous. Alluring. Unlike any place on earth. She'd traveled much in her life, to India, The Orient, and beyond. Sometimes with the men her father sent and sometimes alone.
She shook herself from her thoughts and hurried back to her Father's camp. Never her home, no, the rainforest was her home. Father's camp was just that. His. It bordered the rainforest and she opted to spend most of her time there, unless she was riding her horse.
All joviality she'd felt spending time with Jo had been wiped clear, her expression composed. With her friend she could enjoy being a person, her own and not the one Father had created her to be. Two very different sides to the same coin. She strode through the encampment headed straight for the largest tent and slipped inside. Three steps into the open area and she paused in wait. Head down, hands clasped loosely before her, she closed her eyes and breathed deep.
"You are late." The voice was deep and graveled, full of the power he held.
"Apologies Father. Miss Jo had no desire to go home since they are to return to England soon."
"I know." He spoke their language, not English.
She knew he knew. He knew everything. There was no reason to argue so she stayed quiet and waited for him to continue.
"Look at me, Najja," he said, his tone a bit odd.
She lifted her head and stared at her sire. He somehow seemed weaker. Not a lot but there were lines around his black eyes she didn't recall seeing before. His dark skin stretched tight over taut muscles, riddled with scars. He cast his gaze about as if ensuring their privacy. She knew they were alone but his checking yet another testament to his advancing age.
She did as he bade, chin up and eyes focused on his. Instinctively she waited for an attack, all the while maintaining her composed facade. It was a struggle, knowing an assault could happen any moment and she was forbidden to retaliate in any way.
He licked his lips and ran a hand over his bald head. "You know of the attempts on the family?"
"Lord Adrys wants protection for his daughter."
A sinking feeling began to rise within her. Jo's father was Viscount Adrys. "I see. Back in England, I suppose."
"You will go with them."
Of course. For the first time in a long time panic filled her chest and threatened to consume her. Swallowing back the bile, she dipped her head in silent acceptance of his order.
Bitterness hung on the cusp of her tongue, warning to spill over. "No questions. I know what is required of me."
Something which looked akin to painful regret flashed across his face. Before she could think about it, like a bolt of lightning, it vanished.
"I will take you there tomorrow. You will remain with them until the time to depart."
Another tip of her head and she spun around leaving without a word. Across the camp she could feel gazes upon her. She altered her gaze neither left nor right, just stared straight ahead. She had a single area set up at the edge of camp and released a sigh as the cloth fell in place blocking out any and all potential stares. There wasn't much for her to pack and it was soon finished. A single roll which contained everything she carried, her weapons safely inside it and a change of attire. The early evening settled around as she scampered along the thick branches of the trees with the ease of a leopard.
She put herself through her workout ensuring she remained sharp and quick. Exhausted she sat down along a river and waited. Night came, the area changed, and she made her way back with the undercurrent of danger pacing her every step of the way.
Sleep evaded her, making work to grab it. Regardless, she was ready the following morning when Father came to retrieve her. He stared at her then turned and walked off. She followed, her items in hand. They didn't speak as they headed toward the Adrys', even though his presence was a shock. Normally she travelled with a few of his warriors to the ship if she were going alone.
A sliver of warning skated up her spine. Without a word, she allowed the forest to swallow her up where she swiftly made her way to the branches she usually used to traverse back and forth. Then she began to run along the branches to get there quicker. She didn't look down to see if Father was keeping up. All her attention focused on what had caused the unease.
The closer she got the stronger her unease. Upon the air there lingered the acrid stench of smoke. Then came the screams. She ran harder.
The house was aflame. Servants ran about in mass confusion. Immediately she saw Jo wasn't in the group and she ran for the house. Najja broke through the window and choked almost immediately on the thick smoke. Calling upon her memory of the room's layout, she made her way to the bed and felt for her friend. There. Dragging her unceremoniously back to the window she started lifting her out. A servant stood there and pulled Jo to safety.
Without a second's hesitation, she took a deep breath and went back in to ensure the entire household had gotten out. The smoke and flames increased exponentially with the dry wood of the house and the morning breeze. A few hours later, she stood with Father and Lord Adrys by the smoldering and charred remains of the house. They left in silence and trekked down to the port. She could smell the smoke on her clothes but ignored it.
Jo and her mother waited surrounded by servants. Viscount Hayworth Adrys, was a man who still turned heads. His hair, mostly brown, was streaked with silver. His body in good shape, tanned from being outside so much. But where his expression was mostly composed, she could see the remaining fear from the fire. Her gaze moved from him to the waiting ship where Lady Adrys and Jo had just boarded and were probably headed to their rooms. Staring at the tallest mast, she fought a grin when she saw the crow's nest and her own personal distress calmed. She also knew her own horse had been loaded.
"It is time." Father spoke the obvious.
They were departing early. The ship had been readied only waiting for Adrys to finish. However, with the fire he'd abandoned his studies and agreed to leave earlier.
She nodded and walked after Lord Adrys. There was no hug, no tearful farewell. But she didn't expect one. She had a purpose and it wasn't to be an affectionate daughter. They cast off and she stood by the rail as the ship slowly picked up speed. She gazed back to watch as her beloved rainforest grew smaller and smaller, but Najja never looked back for Father.
Jo approached her, face alight with tears of joy. "I am so glad you are coming with us," she said wrapping her up in a huge hug.
Najja smiled in return before stepping away.
"With you with me, England shall be most exciting. Imagine the fun we shall have."
"I believe you will be getting ready for your Season."
A scowl crossed Jo's face. "I do not care to be matched up with a stuffy member of peerage."
"Perhaps it will not be that way."
She didn't believe what she'd said and from Jo's expression, neither did she.
"Excuse me, Jo, I need a word with Najja. In private," Lord Adrys interrupted.
Jo harrumphed but left. She doted on her father and the feeling was mutual. He spoiled her rotten. As she watched the daughter of Viscount Adrys leave and head to her waiting mother, she wondered how it would have been to have such an interaction with her own.
No point in dwelling on that.
"Yes, my lord?" she asked, facing him only to catch another glimpse of her fading homeland.
He gave her a charming smile. "No need to be so formal. You are practically my daughter as well." The words touched her in ways he couldn't possibly fathom. "I know this was not easy for you. To give everything up and come with us." She remained silent throughout his proclamation, not willing to tell him she had no say in the matter, it had been purely Father's decision. He cleared his throat and continued, "I am not sure what you were told." He waited and she took his silence as her time to speak.
"He told me to protect Miss Josephine until the trouble has been ascertained and dealt with."
"I will keep you updated on information as I learn it."
He seemed a bit uncertain but she merely waited for him to figure out what he longed to say and how to voice it. Past him she watched her homeland vanish, swallowed up by the ocean. Her heart hurt and she didn't understand. She'd been away numerous times before with training, lessons, and.... She shook her head, stopping the thoughts. Regardless, this time felt different. Almost like her heart believed she would not be returning to Africa's beautiful shores.
"I do not want Jo to know; or Honoria for that matter," Adrys said.
"I will not say a word on it. I will tell Jo I am...her companion?"
He nodded. "Perfect." The strain on his face faded awarding her a glimpse of the handsome man he was. "Thank you, Najja. You kept my daughter safe all the years we lived here and your father tells me there is no one else he would trust to keep my daughter safe than you. I hope your stay with us in England will not be horrible."
Words escaped her for a moment. She was more than a bit unsure on how to handle that bit of news. Pride from Father? Unheard of.
Regaining her wits quickly, she said, "Do not worry about me, my lord. You have enough to focus on."
"Let me show you to your room. And stop with the 'my lord' bit." He paused. "At least when it is family around. If you are to be her companion I suppose in public it would be best," he said a bit distractedly.
She dipped her head in acknowledgement. With a final peek to the crow's nest she followed him to find her room, small but clean.
"I will come get you for dinner."
His announcement startled her. She had assumed to dine alone. "As you require," she replied.
He gave her a kind smile and slipped away. With a sigh, she sat in the hammock and pushed it slightly. Barely a minute later, a knock came to the door before it opened, admitting Jo. Without asking she hurried and joined her in the hammock.
"Does your mother know you are here?"
Jo huffed. "She instructed me to nap. I guess I am supposed to be tired. I have no clue why, it is not like the rowing of the ship falls on my shoulders."
Najja chuckled and stared at the ceiling as they swayed back and forth with the rhythm of the ship. She would make her way above deck come nightfall and look around. One thing is certain, she thought listening to Jo continue to prattle on, it would not be a dull trip.
October 1811, England
"I am sorry...care to repeat that?" Colin Faulkner swallowed the rest of his whisky and glared at the man who stood before him quaking in his boots.
"I...I...so sorry, Mr. Faulkner. It...it was hijacked and the two with it were killed. Sliced up."
He released a round of curses which caused the man before him to blanch even more. Mr. Pickner worked for him and had for years. To look at him one would be hard pressed to tell. His gnarled hands clutched the worn wool cap at waist level and abundant fear overflowed in his eyes.
"Damn it!" He slammed a hand down on the desk, the precise moment thunder rocked the house. Struggling to calm himself he said, "You should get home before this weather gets any worse. We do not want Mrs. Pickner to worry."
Relief crossed the older man's face and he gave a slight bow and headed out. Alone in his study, Colin stared at the flames which danced in the fireplace sending flicks of gold throughout the room.
He was livid. This was the third shipment of his to have been stolen right out from under him. He poured another shot of whisky and took the glass with him to stare out the large window. Somehow, someone was ahead of him every step of the way. And now they had moved up to murder. He had to see to the family and make sure they were provided for. It was his fault the men had been on that trip.
It wasn't long before the sky ripped open and released its fury in torrents. Rain thrashed the window with savage intent. Lightning slashed the sky with deadly promise. He was glad to be indoors.
Slowly he sipped the drink and mulled over what to do with this increasing problem. He was the third son who had since he'd acquired these estates built up more money than his estranged father, the Earl of Clifton. More than most members of peerage actually.
He'd purchased a commission for the Royal Navy as soon as he'd been old enough and when he'd sold it he'd come here and run his estate, which his capable butler had been doing while he served. He didn't deal much with social differences. He worked hard and spent time around men of the same mind. That was important to him, not how far back one could trace their 'supposed' blue blood. Regardless of all the money he had, it was his and he despised being stolen from. So he stood there and watched as the rain came down harder and attempted to devise a way to stop the hijacking.
"Sir! Sir!" A feminine voice called out from behind him.
Turning in confusion of the noise and intrusion, he frowned. It was Molly, a maid. She looked near panicked and he slowly released the heavy drape he held in one hand. "What is it?" he demanded with a scowl.
Her breathing came faster and he watched her flinch from his tone. Lord, what a mouse.
"There be guests, sir. Abel sent me to get ye."
He frowned and ignored the increased uncertainty in her expression. Who would be out on a night like this? It is crazy out there. The thunder rolled as if to agree with him.
"Well, I cannot very well refuse them in this confounded weather. Make up some rooms," he ordered, even though visitors were something he'd rather avoid.
Molly dipped a curtsey but didn't leave.
He raised a brow.
"One of them's been shot."
That spurred him into action. He hurried to the door, leaving his drink on the desk as he went. Hastening to the entrance hall, he saw two women huddled together staring at a figure on the floor. Abel, his butler, seemed curiously rattled.
He noticed his housekeeper, Mrs. Hawkins, come up with towels for the women. There was another person bent over the pale man on the floor. He could see blood beginning to pool on his white floors.
"What is this?" He covered the remaining ground.
"Sir," Abel said, seeming to compose himself. "Lord Adrys and his family were set upon by brigands."
Viscount Hayworth Adrys. He knew the name. There had been some big talk about his returning after having been gone for about fifteen years. The man had been out of the country, mostly in Africa for those years and oddly enough had taken his family with him. He frowned, recalling only one child, a daughter. Although fifteen years would be more than enough for at least another child. Or a servant.
"Mrs. Hawkins, please see Lady Adrys and her daughter to rooms so they may dry off. We shall see to your husband, Lady Adrys."
Two sets of blue eyes stared at him. He saw a mixture of fear and tears in them. Weak women didn't sit well with him. The younger patted her mom's hand and said, "You go on, Mama. I will stay with Papa."
"You are soaked to the bone. You need to be dry." Lady Adrys' voice was taut with strain.
Ignoring the women, he crouched by the other soaked figure and frowned as a scent of something exotic teased his nose and stirred his loins. He was not attracted to men. "We need to get him to the morning room. See a fire is lit immediately," he barked out the orders.
"What about Najja?"
He tore his gaze from the pasty pallor of the man to the daughter who paused at the foot of the stairs and issued the query.
"Who?" he asked as he ran the foreign name over in his mind.
"Go tend your mother," a husky, sultry voice said from right beside him. "I will stay with your father until your return."
His frown deepened. The voice was in no way belonged to a man. His shock increased when the girl followed her mother up the polished stairs pausing at the top to cast a glance back down. This woman gave orders, which they followed without question. Intriguing.
He touched her shoulder and stared at the gloved hand that held the bloodied cloth unflinchingly to the wound. In a second, he found himself staring into the face of a woman who, to be honest, he'd not been expecting to see. Her face was a stunning shade of brown, and her eyes were dark brown framed by doubly thick lashes. Was she a slave? The thought rankled, having worked some of his final years in the Royal Navy associated with the abolition of the slave trade.
She stared briefly at him before her attention returned to the man lying here. Colin gestured for them to move him; she stepped back and followed them. The moment Lord Adrys had been placed by the fire, she knelt back down.
"We got this," he said. "You should change into something dry." Another shudder went through him at the mental image of her naked body. What is wrong with me?
She backed away and he took over, ripping open the shirt. Abel, his butler, and his valet, Berry, joined him. Berry had been a medic in the Navy with him. Well aware of his ability, Colin focused on the woman again and felt that stirring deep within. She stood silent dripping on the floor before the fire. Protectiveness rose in him.
"You need to get dried off." He issued the order expecting to be obeyed.
She barely looked at him. Her gaze stayed transfixed on Lord Adrys' face. He wasn't used to being ignored. Muttering a curse, he focused back on the task at hand, a curse which didn't go unnoticed by either Berry or Abel for he noticed their shared look.
A while later the younger Adrys hurried in. He regarded her as she hurried to the side of the silent one.
"How is he?" she inquired.
Colin pushed to his feet and faced the women. One dry, peaches-n-cream complexion darkened by exposure to the sun. The other wet, dark-skinned, and aloof. Not to mention intriguing.
"Your father will be alright so long as he does not acquire a fever." Her fearful expression made him regret his choice of wordage. "The wound will be fine, we will carry him upstairs to bed." He glanced between them and saw the daughter grip the hand of the one called Najja. His gaze flicked back to Najja only to find her staring at him. Seeking, almost.
Seeking what though?
A low whisper moved between the women, a language he didn't understand but the brown-haired miss did. Her eyes widened and she stepped forward, dropping into a slight curtsey.
"Forgive my manners. I am Josephine Adrys. We...we are grateful for your hospitality..." she trailed off obviously unaware of who he was.
"Mr. Faulkner, Miss Adrys," he replied. "I am curious how this...incident came to pass."
"Of course," she said, before dismissing him and speaking with incredible ease to the woman beside her.
He glanced at the other woman and again realized she was soaked. What he didn't need was another sick person.
"I can have a room readied for your servant and she can get dry."
That head covered by brown hair snapped up and blue eyes blazed with fire and yet chilled him. How he'd ever assumed she was meek, he had no idea.
"Najja is not a servant, not mine nor anyone's. She is part of our family. She can room with me if you do not have space for her."
He'd just been dressed down by an impertinent chit. And all for a woman named Najja. Najja. It had a delightful exotic sound to it. Nawh-jah.
"My apologies." He stepped back. "I will have more water heated and sent up. She will be placed in the room next to yours." The women moved by him only to pause at the door. He watched Miss Adrys frown but turn back.
"Thank you, sir. Our horses?"
"In the stable, rubbed down and fed."
Najja seemed to sigh slightly at that bit of news.
They vanished from sight and he groaned. He moved to lean against the mantle. He didn't need this.
"Will that be all, sir?"
He rolled his eyes and rotated so he could glare at his butler. Lord Adrys had been taken upstairs. "Speak your mind, Abel."
"I was merely going to check on things. If you did not need me."
"Go on, Abel." His butler bowed and vanished. As he left the drawing room, sidestepping a maid who came to clean the mess, he found himself wondering about the timing of this. Stolen shipments and this unexpected arrival.
Highly doubtful Lord Adrys would shoot himself though. Which brought his thoughts back to Najja. With a muted curse, he went to tell Mrs. Hawkins to prepare some food for the travelers who could now be labeled guests. Heading back to the study, he paused briefly to stare up the stairs.
Why do I feel something has just changed in my life?
An hour later, he heard voices on the stairs. Moving nearer to the study door, he eavesdropped.
"Do you think Papa will be alright?" Miss Josephine Adrys asked.
"Your father is a strong man. You need to help your mother through this."
Najja's voice toned low, skated along the edge of his skin, alighting with tiny pinpricks of fire.
"Mama. She is probably plotting a way to get me married off already."
He almost laughed at the contempt in those words. There was, he also noted, a slight accent, similar to Najja's.
"I think you are safe for the time being, Jo."
"Maybe I should warn Mr. Faulkner so he is aware of my mother."
He liked the chit even more.
"I am sure Mr. Faulkner is well aware of matchmaking mothers."
"Damn it, Najja, I hate this bloody country. When can we go home?"
He crossed his arms and fought the encroaching laughter. Most well-bred women he was acquainted with wouldn't know those words much less have the guts to speak them. He should be offended or shocked but he was neither. What he was was amused and even more intrigued about these females.
"Jo! You cannot speak like that."
"You taught me," Jo retorted.
"Kindly keep that to yourself. You must think before you speak as to not--"
"I know; would not want to give mama an excuse to swoon."
"No. Think of your father, Jo. Your behavior also reflects upon him."
Colin easily picked up on the reprimand.
"You are right, like always," Jo said.
He could see them now and he almost started when his gaze was met by piercing brown eyes. Instead, he held her stare until she looked away. Yet he was the one who felt dismissed.
"You are staying, right, Najja?"
There existed a thread of vulnerability and uncertainty in Jo's voice. He held his breath waiting for the response. For some reason he wanted it to be in the affirmative.
"I will be near until you are settled."
Colin pushed away and made his way to where they continued to talk. Lady Adrys descended the stairs and joined them. He noticed how Jo seemed all the more withdrawn.
"Ladies," he said with a bow. "There is some food if you would care to join me."
"That would be lovely," Lady Adrys said, with a smile one which was slightly strained.
The gleam in her eyes alerted him to what the young women had been discussing about matchmaking mamas. He should be fine for not being titled though. Shouldn't he? He did have more wealth than a lot of titled men so perhaps he wasn't as safe as he'd like to believe.
Over the course of the meal, Lady Adrys filled him in on the man who'd shot at the carriage. He was wondering about what to do when Jo spoke.
"It would have been worse if Najja had not moved so fast."
That caught his attention. He peered over his glass at Najja while Jo was reprimanded by her mother.
"I will just never talk again then," Jo snapped.
While he knew Lady Adrys had some reply to her daughter, he never took his attention from Najja. She wore a simple blue gown, no adornments or frills. She ate with quiet grace and despite her being flawlessly polite, he could tell she wanted to be anywhere but here.
What a mystery you are, Najja. Her skin called to him, he wanted to touch and see if it was as soft as he believed. He shifted on the seat as his pants grew tight. He could scent the erotic potpourri he'd gotten when kneeling beside her and it drove him crazy. Spiced roses and vanilla.
Hell, if she smelled this good, imagine how perfect she would taste.
He pushed back and rose with a jerk. Three sets of eyes landed on him.
"Excuse me," he forced out. "Please make yourselves at home." Then he escaped to his study and slammed a glass of whisky before sitting at his desk.
Someone scratched at the door, startling him from where he stared at nothing. He realized he'd been brooding.
"Enter," he barked.
Berry walked in and limped to a leather chair before sitting. The man had been a damn good medic but with his injury in the Navy could no longer serve, so he came with when Colin left. And had fallen into the role of valet.
"Why are you not abed?" he asked his valet.
Berry lifted one blond brow.
"Do not give me that crap of staying up to help me. I have managed miraculously to dress and undress myself."
"I did not want to leave you defenseless."
He cocked a brow. "Defenseless?"
Casting a scowl at his friend and valet, he opted not to answer. Two are safe. Naught but one catches my attention. "Go on, Berry. Rest your leg. I am confident between myself and Abel we can handle three women."
"Very good, sir. I trust you will not scare them with your scowling."
"Get out of here," he snapped playfully.
Berry flashed a grin and limped to the door, leaving without a word. Colin remained there for a while longer before leaving. Abel waited for him.
"Everything okay, Abel?"
"Yes, sir. The women have retired. Lord Adrys is resting quietly for now."
"Very good. Thank you, Abel. Good night." His staff had done wonders. Four rooms readied. One for a sick man and three for women who had been attacked. He should send for the constable but on a night like this...the man was probably already in his cups. Deep in them.
"Good night, sir." The man disappeared without a sound.
With a groan, Colin made his way up the stairs to his room, pleased to find a fire burning and warding off the chill from the rainy night. Despite the comfort and warmth he found in his room it was barely ten minutes before he headed back downstairs and spent the night in his study. The rain still continued come morning when he cleaned, shaved, and went to grab some breakfast. Lady Adrys was there. Alone.
He was a bit shocked to see her up so early.
"Good morning, my lady," he said sketching a bow.
"Mr. Faulkner. I must thank you again for handling our abrupt arrival on your doorstep last night."
"How is Lord Adrys this morning?"
She frowned slightly. "He has caught a fever. We will be on our way and out--"
"Nonsense," he interrupted. "I will send for the doctor. Your husband and his health are more important. He is safe and dry where he is, no point in moving him." He sat down at the other end of the table. "I trust everything else is acceptable."
"Oh, yes." She wrung her napkin. He knew that move, his mother had done it many, many times. "Mr. Faulkner, I feel there is something I should tell you."
He lifted a brow. "Everything okay? Something wrong with Miss Adrys or Miss..." he paused realizing he didn't know Najja's last name.
"Oh no, my daughter is with her father and Najja went to check on the horses." She waved a hand. "I wished to apologize for my daughter. She has spent almost all of her life in Africa, so...despite my best intentions she tends to speak her mind."
He almost chuckled recalling the harsh language from the previous night. It was apparent Lady Adrys had no wish to mention this but felt the need to explain any societal blunder which--from what he'd seen of Jo--would happen.
"This is the country, my lady, we do not stand too much on what London deems right or wrong. However if you could answer one thing for me."
Her relief apparent, she gave him an encouraging nod.
"Your daughter's...companion. What is her last name?"
Lady Adrys opened and closed her mouth a few times, her expression confused. He'd never met the woman before last night but he was certain she was rarely at a loss for words.
"I...I do not know." Her brows furrowed and a look of honest distraught took over her normally composed face. "All I ever call her is Najja. It is all we ever call her." She blushed and regained her composure. "Najja is fine."
He merely nodded and sipped some coffee. "Very well. I will see that a doctor is summoned."
"Thank you, Mr. Faulkner. Excuse me, I shall go sit with my husband."
He stood when she did and watched her walk out. With a groan, he ate a few more bites then swallowed the rest of his coffee and headed for the door. He left a message for the doctor to be called to the house and headed for his study.
"Good morning, Mr. Faulkner."
He glanced up and saw the youngest Adrys coming down the staircase. She wore a lavender day dress. He bowed.
She came to the step which put them eye to eye. Her large blue gaze held some worry but this was no coquettish miss.
"Have you seen Najja?"
That pang which seemed to coincide with the name Najja came again to his midsection. Ignoring the stirring thoughts that Najja gave him, he shook his head. "No. I am sorry." Recalling what Lady Adrys said, he opened his mouth to share the information but she was already talking.
"I bet she went to the stable." Jo flashed a smile which quickly faded into a frown. "Drat. Mama will not like me going out in this." She stepped around him and headed for the breakfast room, all the while muttering about how horrid England was and how she longed to return to Africa.
He found himself watching her with amusement. Seconds later, he had been helped into his great coat and dashed to the stables, waving off the footman who tried to hold an umbrella for him.
Shaking his head upon entering the stable he noticed that Tim, one of the lads who worked there, stared at him with confusion. He gave him a slight smile.
"Did you need your horse readied, sir?"
"No, I am actually--" He snapped his mouth shut when he saw his quarry step out then back into a stall. "I found her."
"Yes, sir." Tim vanished and Colin strode to the back, seemingly alone other than the snorting and stomping horses.
Najja was in the last stall on the left. He leaned against the half-door. She wore a dress, the same hue of blue she wore last night. It fit tight to her, showcasing a body he'd only dreamt she'd have. Her small waist he wanted to span with his hands. When she moved the fabric allowed him an amazing view of the curve of her ass. His thoughts immediately went to something carnal. He wanted to do things to her which polite society would deem uncivilized.
He didn't care. Hell, right now he was imagining taking her in the stable, against a wall, upon the sweet smelling hay...
His shaft stiffened and he tore his hungry gaze from her to the equine beside her.
Holy hell the beast was magnificent. A coal black Arabian stallion. Where did they get such an animal?
"Good morning, Mr. Faulkner."
Her voice glided along his skin like crushed velvet. His hair stood on end and it felt like lightning coursed through him. And that was just with four simple words.
"Miss Najja," he said, loving the way her name slipped off his tongue. "Good morning." Look at me.
She rubbed the stallion's head beneath the shiny forelock and turned to stare at him. Her eyes roamed over him from top to bottom. He expected some kind of feminine approval; lowering of eyes, flushed skin, anything. What he got...nothing. Her hooded gaze remained remarkably impassive.
"He is a beautiful animal," he commented, opting to keep to a safe subject.
Her entire countenance softened for a half second but it was enough to show him another layer. While all emotion faded away from her face, she continued to stroke the equine's head.
"Yes, he is." She murmured something to the animal and stepped to the door of the stall.
He inhaled sharply, her evocative scent filling him. After a pause he moved back and she exited the stall. Then she left without a single word. He leaned against the door and watched her. Grace yet strength embedded each step taken.
The urge to take a woman had not been so strong since he'd first left the Royal Navy and had fancied himself in love. He frowned at the bitter--unwanted--memory of Francesca. She'd left him for a man much higher up the status ladder. A titled man.
He cast a final glance at the horse. Damn thing seemed to stare down his nose at him. Colin headed back out into the deluge and saw another carriage arrive at the house. The doctor.
Good. She is taking up too much of my thoughts. It never registered until he stood in the entrance hall dripping on the marble floors that it had been only Najja who he'd been thinking of.
Striding to his study, he paused and changed direction at the last minute and headed for the library. There were some books on Africa he wanted to peruse. Once in he noticed a fire already burned and the air smelled like...like...
Turning his head he found her. Curled up on a chaise by the window, a book in her hand. Najja.
Their gazes met and his heart pounded. What was it about this woman? There was no simpering, no fluttering of lashes. No coy looks. And yet...he was drawn with a ferocity he'd never experienced before.
"I beg your pardon," she said closing the book and began to rise.
He didn't want her to leave. "Stay." She hesitated before lowering herself back down. "There is plenty of room in here for both of us." Especially if we are on top of one another.
The gown she wore teased him with barely any hints of her flesh. Her fingers were long and graceful where they curled around the book. He faced a far shelf and fought to regain his out of control reaction to her. The titles didn't register for all he could see was laying her back on the chaise, sliding his hands beneath her skirts and...
He shook his head and grabbed a book from the shelf. One deep breath and he turned. She had her attention on the book before her, but he believed her to be as aware of him as he her. Settling into a chair which allowed him a direct view of her, he opened the tome. Najja looked comfortable there. The gray rain-filled morning behind her in the window. The muted light didn't cast a pallor over her; she seemed to add her own glow.
"Did you find something interesting to read?" he asked wanting her eyes on him.
Ever so slowly those large, beautiful eyes she had rose to his. Not in a flirtatious way, more like she loathed to stop reading.
"I did, thank you." She dropped her gaze back to the page.
He scowled but allowed the silence. The pages before him made as much sense to him as had they been written in ancient Greek. He couldn't seem to keep his eyes from straying to Najja.
Her lips were full and luscious. How would she taste? How would her breasts feel in his hands? He squeezed his eyes shut with a groan. Her eyes were on him when he opened them.
"Are you alright, Mr. Faulkner?"
Colin! Damn it. I want my first name on your lips. And there is nothing wrong with me that you could not fix, luv.
"Fine. What are you reading?"
She held it up and he was more than a little amazed to see her reading one of his naval history books. It wasn't one he'd bet any other of the women he knew would read. They tended toward Byron, if they would read at all.
Travelling from the book to her gaze, he held it. Seconds passed and the air charged with heightening intimacy. She dampened her lips and he felt the hit right in his groin. His own book wobbled in his hands and he began to rise, needing to touch her when...
"Najja, there you are!" Jo came barreling into the rom.
There was no jump, no flush of embarrassment from Najja. But it were as if he watched a door close around her emotions for any remnants of what he saw--and knew to be desire--vanished.
"Miss Adrys," he said, gaining his feet.
Her smile encompassed them both. "I hope I am not interrupting." She made her way to Najja's side and sat next to her all the while chattering in a language he didn't understand.
"Not at all." He forced himself to speak those words all the while his libido railed against him. Pinning Najja with his gaze, he allowed her to see his hunger for her. It didn't intimidate her for she looked at him then focused on Jo.