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Диксон Хелен

Miss Cameron's Fall from Grace

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«Miss Cameron's Fall from Grace» - Хелен Диксон

‘WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE OF PLEASURE, MISS CAMERON.’In a seedy tavern in the backstreets of London a case of mistaken identity leads respectable Miss Delphine Cameron to be unwittingly ravished by a devilish colonel: Lord Stephen Fitzwaring. Now she’s had a taste of lovemaking, and against her better judgement she craves it again…But the Colonel has ruined her honour, and there is only one way they can avoid a scandal: Delphine must marry her dark-eyed seducer! Now Delphine must decide between a life of chastity…or succumbing to her husband’s irresistible temptation…
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Delphine stood just inside the room. She could hear a man’s heavy breathing, but apart from that it was quiet, the light dim. It was a small room, but well furnished, and on a bed a man lay asleep. His arm was raised to cover his eyes, a bandage wrapped round his wrist. Assuming the wound it covered was the reason Mr Oakley had brought her to the tavern, she moved towards the still figure.

She opened her mouth to speak, but at that moment she was unable to utter a word. This was a man the like of which she had never seen before. A sheet covered him up to the waist, beneath which he was naked. His body was perfect. He was lean, his muscles hard, his dark chest broad, his shoulders strong.

Sensing her presence, he slowly lowered his arm and opened his eyes—an extraordinary midnight-blue. Delphine’s heart turned over. They remained fixed on her face, and she could feel her cheeks burning, but she could not look away …


MISS CAMERON’S FALL FROM GRACE was an exciting book to write—what I like to think of as romantic suspense. All my novels are historical romances set in varied backgrounds, and I’m equally comfortable writing stories in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I love inventing characters whose stories are worth telling, and I like my heroines to be strong-willed, with a spark of life and determination.

As in my other books, my heroine has hopes and ambitions—until she meets Lord Stephen Fitzwaring, and then she has hopes and dreams of a different kind.

I wanted to write an intensely romantic story. I hope I have achieved this in my latest novel, and have managed to create an enjoyable escape for you, the reader.

About the Author

HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Previous novels by Helen Dickson:





(part of Christmas By Candlelight)









Did you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Miss Cameron’s

Fall From Grace

Helen Dickson


Chapter One


It was not Delphine’s habit to visit bordellos, but she had a duty to ensure that Maisie, who had disappeared from the orphanage, was safely with her mother. Granted, this particular bordello was of a most prestigious kind, but although the location was not beyond criticism, it was certainly no place for a lady. The genteel world of Delphine’s mother and sisters, however, had begun to matter less and less of late.

Delphine was usually accompanied by one of her mother’s footmen who drove her in the carriage, but today he had duties at the house so she’d gone to the orphanage alone. Two of the children had gone down with temperatures and a rash. After isolating them and on the point of leaving, one of the warders had informed her that Maisie was missing. Delphine had a good idea where she could be found—there was nothing for it but to go after her.

The evening was warm and sultry and oppressive, the kind of oppression that comes before a storm. Mrs Cox’s was an imposing three-storey building, and torchlights burned on each side of the red-painted door. Delphine was admitted to this house of assignation by Fergus Daley, the man Mrs Cox employed to keep order within the house and the rougher elements of the district out. The purple livery he wore looked out of place on his huge frame. The bones of his face were pronounced, with a lantern jaw sharp enough to cut paper. His crooked nose, which had been broken several times during his years as a pugilist, and his eye sockets set deep beneath his heavy brow gave his face a sinister look. But now he smiled, for Miss Cameron was a regular visitor to the house when she was looking for young Maisie.

‘Welcome to our house of pleasure, Miss Cameron,’ he greeted jovially in a deep, baritone voice, his expression warm and welcoming.

‘House of depravity, more like, Fergus,’ she replied in hushed tones as she placed her brown-leather bag containing medicaments and dressings on the hall table, ‘but don’t tell Mrs Cox I said so.’

‘Wouldn’t dream of it, miss,’ he replied, giving her a conspiratorial wink.

‘I think I know why you’re here—and I don’t think it’s to sell your body for what pitiful rewards a common man could offer you.’

‘How right you are, Fergus—not even for the king himself. I can only hope my parents never learn I come here.’

‘Not from me, Miss Cameron, and while you are here, you are solely under my protection.’

‘That’s a comfort to me, Fergus,’ she said, standing back to allow an inebriated gentleman to sway past and disappear into the salon, his clothes in some disarray. During business hours there were always gentlemen present.

‘If it’s young Maisie you’re looking for, she arrived an hour since.’

Delphine uttered a sigh of relief. ‘Thank goodness. I do wish she wouldn’t run away like that. If only she knew how much trouble she causes. She’s just a child. She shouldn’t be here.’ What Delphine said was true. She’d been doing her charity work in and around the area of Covent Garden and St Giles long enough to know that wealthy and depraved gentlemen of the city would pay a fine price for girls as young as Maisie.

Fergus nodded towards the curved staircase. ‘She’s with Meg—or the Luscious Delphine as she’s calling herself these days.’

‘She does seem to have taken a fancy to my name,’ Delphine remarked, laughing lightly, ‘although last month it was Gorgeous Louella and the month before that Sweet Angel. I find her peculiar taste in names rather odd. She seems to change it whenever another takes her fancy. It must be very confusing for her clients—but I suppose it adds to her mystique. Can I go up?’

He nodded. ‘She’s no clients tonight—which you can put down to Will Kelly. He was here earlier.’

Delphine glanced at him in alarm. It was no secret that Fergus had no liking for Will Kelly, nor the devious and often brutal way he went about procuring girls for Mrs Cox’s brothel. ‘Has he hurt her?’

‘You’ll see for yourself—but I swear I’ll swing for the bastard if he lays a finger on young Maisie and he knows it, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, Miss Cameron. Go on up. I’ll have to tell Mrs Cox you’re here.’

‘Then I’ll disappear before she sees me.’ Delphine was hoping to avoid seeing the strict madam of this establishment.

With such an impressive array of whores available, Mrs Cox’s business profited from well-heeled and aristocratic customers. Mrs Cox—if that was indeed her name—always dressed plainly in a black gown, her greying hair pulled severely back into a knot at the back of her head: the very picture of respectability. She might have been someone’s grandmother, but Delphine knew she was not. Mrs Cox had lived a life and knew how to make it pay.

She was very proud of her establishment. Some of the girls were brought to her from the provinces by the ruthless procurer Will Kelly, who took a fair cut of the profits from the brothel’s immoral earnings. Mrs Cox chose the other girls from poverty-stricken backgrounds and girls whose indiscretions had made them outcasts from their own kind. She taught them how to give pleasure by offering clients temptations to which they could yield. Love didn’t come into it—what went on in Mrs Cox’s establishment made a mockery of love.

From the spacious hall—which was hardly what one would expect of a bordello, with its light oak-panelled walls and black-and-white-tiled floor—Delphine, hearing excited ribald laughter and raised voices, glanced into the main salon where young women in various stages of undress were lolling about on sofas. She had been to the house several times during the day and thought nothing of it.

Tonight, the sight of scantily clad female bodies both shocked and excited her. The flimsy garments clung to their figures, showing off curves of pearly flesh gleaming in the soft light. The tantalising half-sight of their bodies weaving into the heady scents of perfume was more arousing to the gentlemen pawing them than nakedness would have been. The girls were taking refreshment with clients before going upstairs. Sometimes the gentlemen preferred girls to come to their places of residence, a service they were charged extra for—and as for what happened after that, well, it was no business of hers.

The salon was elegant with its dark-blue carpet and crystal chandeliers. Occasional tables and padded chairs were scattered about and scarlet-velvet curtains, deeply fringed with gold, hung at the windows. Venetian mirrors adorned the walls, along with gilded lewd pictures of nudes in elegant poses.

There were ferns in jardinières so tall they almost reached the high ceiling; plinths on either side of the room held beautiful, life-sized Italian marble statues of male nudes of such quality one would expect to see them in the house of a nobleman, not in a bordello.

Lifting her skirts slightly Delphine began to climb the stairs. The air was sweetened by perfumed candles. Reaching the top, she went down one of the two landings, halting at the door at the end. Knocking gently and hearing a voice telling her to come in, she opened the door and entered a rose-pink boudoir. Its furnishings were surprisingly cosy; facing Delphine was a dressing table littered with cosmetic pots, perfumes and a silver-backed hairbrush, the border of the gilt mirror carved with cherubs.

Meg was reclining on a low couch, toying with her dyed red hair. With her big blue eyes, full soft lips and luscious form, there was little wonder men couldn’t resist her. Expecting her visitor, for she knew Delphine would come after the child, she gave her husky laugh and stretched luxuriously like a cat, raising a shimmering leg and admiring its shapeliness whilst watching Delphine out of the corner of her eye, trying to gauge the effect of the voluptuousness barely contained within her violet-silk robe. When she registered neither shock nor horror in Delphine’s countenance, she rose, drawing the robe tight about her body.

‘I suppose you’re looking for Maisie.’ She nodded towards the ten-year-old child asleep on the bed. ‘She went to sleep straight away. I didn’t want to wake her.’

‘No—of course not. I had to come, Meg, to make sure she was safe. I know Mrs Cox thinks I ought to mind my own business, but anything could have happened to her.’

A wry smile twisted Meg’s lips. ‘Mrs Cox? Don’t be fooled by her.’

‘I’m not.’

‘She’s a trollop as old as sin, but she’s right. You should mind your own business,’ Meg remarked, sitting back on the couch.

‘I come here because I care.’

‘Why should you?’ Meg said, with a haughty toss of her head. ‘You with your fancy name and fancy clothes and all your airs and graces. Why would someone like you care about people like me and my Maisie?’

‘Because I do. I do care about you and Maisie, otherwise I wouldn’t be here—and as for my name, you appear to be making good use of it.’

‘Aye—maybe. I like it, that’s why, but I don’t own it and there’s the difference. You don’t belong here.’

‘Neither do you, Meg. None of the girls do—and Maisie certainly doesn’t.’ Delphine glanced across at the sleeping child curled up against the pillows. She was an extremely pretty child, with large green eyes and an abundance of light blonde hair, and she remained devoted to her mother, despite her neglect.

Meg shrugged. ‘I can’t help it if she keeps on coming. And as for the others, it’s become a way of life for them—most of them driven to it by one hardship or another.’

‘Don’t make it a way of life for Maisie. She deserves better.’

‘I have to make a living,’ Meg replied, her voice hard and flat.

Delphine crossed the room and crouched on the floor beside her. ‘You don’t have to stay here. Take her away, Meg. Somewhere decent. I’ll help you all I can.’

‘I don’t want charity; besides, I can’t leave. You see, this is where I want to be—where I choose to be.’

‘Why? Because it excites you? Because you can’t leave Will Kelly? For heaven’s sake, Meg, look at you,’ Delphine hissed, taking one of Meg’s arms and shoving up the sleeve to reveal a host of bruises, some purple and some yellowing with age. ‘He’s a cruel, overbearing bully. I simply cannot for the life of me understand why you tolerate his ill treatment.’

Meg shrugged, jerking her arm out of Delphine’s grasp and pulling down her sleeve. ‘I’ve had worse. He does care for me.’

‘Nonsense. He merely seeks to use you. If he cared for you, he would not have brought you here. You know full well, Meg, he may be all flattery and honey when he’s sober, but once he starts drinking—well—I’m the one who patches you up. I’ve seen the results of his behaviour once too often. Oh, Meg, please think about it.’

‘I try not to think. I accept what there is.’

‘Don’t give him the chance to hurt you again. I implore you.’

Meg’s face clenched up like a fist as she fought to keep her voice under control. ‘I need no instructions from you on how to conduct myself.’

‘Of course not—but really I am most concerned about you.’

‘Save your concern for someone else,’ she grumbled ungraciously. ‘I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.’

‘Are you?’ Delphine pressed. ‘I beg you to go away somewhere—for Maisie’s sake as well as your own. She is but a child and deserves better than this. You once worked in the theatre as an actress, touring the provinces. Could you not go back? It has to be better than this.’

Meg’s lovely face became almost ugly as she looked down at Delphine. ‘I don’t know what you’re trying to gain by this,’ she said nastily, ‘but I’m not going anywhere. I can look after myself—as I’ve always done. I won’t leave Will. I can’t.’ She looked away. ‘That’s the way it is.’

Unable to understand Meg’s loyalty and devotion to Will Kelly, Delphine’s heart sank with defeat. Meg had grown partial to Will’s silken tongue and good looks whilst on tour with an acting troupe; when he’d offered to take both her and Maisie to London and a better life, she’d packed her bags and gone with him—to Mrs Cox’s place, to become one of her whores. Now she was at the service of any lecherous rogue with gold in his pockets and Maisie stayed in the nearby orphanage. Will was the first man Meg had loved. She would do anything to keep him. He had been the first male to reject her, scorn her, beat her, awake in her all the fury of which only hell has the like, yet she would not leave him.

‘And Maisie? Can you look after her?’

Meg’s eyes narrowed and anger sparked in their depths. ‘I know what you’re thinking, but don’t,’ she said fiercely. ‘I’m her mother—not a good mother, I admit, but I am still her mother. Do you think I’d let any one of the dirty brutes who come here touch her? I’d kill her and myself before I let that happen—after killing the man who tried.’

Delphine nodded. ‘I know you would. But there are men who come here who would take a young girl—whether she was willing or not.’

‘They won’t. You don’t understand one thing about me. Do you think I don’t worry about Maisie? That’s why I put her in the orphanage. If anything should happen to me …’ She swallowed audibly, weakening and allowing her emotions to show. ‘I worry about what would happen to her.’

‘Nothing is going to happen to you, Meg, but if it did, then I would do my utmost to take care of her.’

Hope welled in Meg’s eyes as she gripped Delphine’s hand. ‘Would you?’ she whispered. ‘Would you do that for me?’

‘Of course I would.’

‘You promise?’ Meg urged, her eyes dark with anguish.

For the first time Delphine heard a tremor in her voice. She was conscious of strong conflicting urges—though she ached to vent her impatience, she was tempted, too, to put a sympathetic hand over Meg’s. She resisted both compulsions and forced herself to think calmly for a moment about the promise she was about to make should anything happen to Meg. Her heart sank precipitously at the thought.

‘Yes, Meg. I promise. I would see that she came to no harm.’

‘Thank you.’ Her voice trembled on the words, and she looked away, jaw clamped tight. Then she looked back at Delphine, eyes bright and tearless. ‘You should go. I’ll see Maisie gets back to the orphanage. I’ve no customers so she can stay with me tonight. I’ll take her back in the morning.’

Delphine rose, standing for a moment in grave silence. ‘Very well,’ she said eventually, gazing at the sleeping child. ‘But think about what I’ve said, Meg. Take Maisie away and put this place behind you.’

Without another word she left, exceedingly vexed by the interview. She was anxious of the influence this place would end up having on Maisie, for deep in her heart she knew Meg would not leave while Will Kelly continued to have a hold over her.

She paused, hearing a moan, and lingered at the top of the stairs, transfixed. Someone had left a bedroom door ajar in his haste to bed his companion. Overcome by a strange sense of curiosity, she moved hesitantly towards it and peered through the crack.

One of the girls was doing what she was paid to do. Delphine flinched, about to draw back—but she could not.

At first she felt shock, then she felt her body growing warm. Her spirit seemed suddenly quite apart from her body. Like a rabbit before a stoat, she was mesmerised. Two naked bodies, arms and legs entwined as they writhed and sprawled on the bed, moved in a voluptuous rhythm. Against her will, Delphine felt her body respond to what she was seeing. Her pulse was beating faster; every nerve seemed to tingle.

She drew a long, shuddering breath. What was happening to her? The two people she was observing were strangers to her. How could their impassioned movements awaken these dark longings in her blood? Loose women, she knew from her mother’s lectures, were the only women who took pleasure in such things. Attempting to calm her mind as well as her body, she shrank away, her body trembling. She felt like a little girl at a keyhole.

Suddenly she was snatched from her preoccupation by the sound of a voice close at hand. It was a loud, brutish voice, belonging to a heavily built man with thick fair hair and a coarseness that dominated his heavy features. As he ascended the staircase, his dark gaze assessed her with a scathing vulgarity. He wore a coarse linen shirt stained with food and ale, and dark-velvet trousers fastened with a wide belt.

This was Will Kelly, a swaggering, ill-mannered brute who drank, gambled and seduced his way through life. He had close-set, foxy, clever eyes that missed nothing and a way of looking at Delphine that made her flesh crawl. He carried with him a smell of the poverty-ridden streets that turned her stomach. When she had first laid eyes on him, his manner had conveyed to her that this was a man of intense cunning, utter ruthlessness and terrible danger.

He watched as she approached him, standing with his feet wide apart and his huge fists resting on his wide hips, his grey eyes cold and unfriendly.

‘So! What have you been up to, Miss Cameron? Interfering again?’

‘Not at all,’ Delphine replied haughtily, determined to remain unruffled, even though beneath her skirts her legs were trembling at his nearness. ‘I’ve been to see Meg—and there’s no need for you to shout; my hearing is perfectly sound.’

‘Not thinking of entering the profession, are you?’ Moving closer, he reached out his gnarled, dirty fingers and gripped her chin roughly, turning her face from side to side, showering her with spittle as he spoke. ‘You’re comely enough, I’ll give you that—a tempting wench.’ He grinned lewdly. ‘I’m a reasonable man. We could come to an understanding.’

Delphine glowered at him, pushing his hand away. ‘Do not touch me. Do you honestly think that I would consider giving myself to the likes of you and the men who frequent this place? Never.’

He laughed sneeringly. ‘I’ve met many haughty women like you, Miss oh-so-high-and-mighty Cameron. There was a French bitch who considered herself a prize for the most handsome rogue in Paris once. In a matter of days she came crawling, begging me to take her to bed. Then there was a beauty from Kent. Oh, yes, she was an arrogant bitch. But little more than a week of my hospitality brought her to see the light and she came to me willingly,’ he boasted with a triumphant laugh.

‘Do you mean to frighten me with that repugnant account of your conquests?’

His eyes raked her boldly and a repulsive smile twisted his lips. ‘If I wished to frighten you, I would drag you into an empty room and listen to you scream. I’m a strong man and I can’t say I don’t enjoy a fight, but I do not wish to frighten you, only to point out the advantages of my protection should you decide to join the ladies in Mrs Cox’s fine establishment. You’ll not find boredom here.’

‘That will never happen. I came here to find Maisie and for no other reason.’

‘Ah—young Maisie,’ he drawled, an interested, dangerous gleam entering his narrowed eyes. ‘Now, there’s a pretty little thing. She’ll be a beauty one day—’ his gaze narrowed ‘—just like her mother. Imagine how popular they would be, working together—mother and daughter.’

Delphine went cold, suddenly fearful for Maisie. Was this to be her lot, her destiny? No, not if she could help it. Will Kelly’s eyes were watching her sharply. Deliberately she considered his gaze, but she knew that he none the less sensed her deep, desperate need to protect Maisie. She had given him a weapon.

‘You leave Maisie alone, Will Kelly. She is nothing but a child. Meg would kill you before allowing you to get your filthy hands on her daughter.’

‘Meg would have no say in it. If she opposes me, she’ll rue the day. Don’t fool yourself. Maisie is in my hands. She’ll make a fine whore—just like her mother.’

‘Never. At least, not while I have breath in my body.’

Without another word Delphine swept past him. As she made her way down the stairs she felt both angered and unsettled by her encounter with Will Kelly, but nevertheless she considered Maisie safe for the time being.

She was also affected by what she had witnessed prior to Will’s arrival. The air around her still shimmered with the heat of what she had seen. Her whole body had ignited and she was still afire. It was a wonder she didn’t burst into flames.

There was no sign of Fergus in the hall, so she picked up her bag and opened the door herself. A man stood on the doorstep, about to raise the heavy brass knocker.

‘Excuse me. My name is Nicholas Oakley. I’m looking for a lady by the name of Delphine,’ he said in a pleasant voice.

Delphine looked at the stocky, broad-shouldered, neatly dressed man. ‘I’m Delphine Cameron. May I help you?’

He didn’t look like a man who would visit a bordello, nor did he look ill. In fact, he appeared healthier than most, his face weathered by wind and sun, but hale and full-fleshed.

Mr Oakley was thinking along similarly approving lines as he considered her. She was wearing an open jacket of brown velvet with brown ribbon around the edges and a coffee-coloured dress and brown poke bonnet with tendrils of deep-red hair escaping its confines. Most prim, he thought—in fact, she didn’t look at all like the red-haired siren the landlord of the Blue Boar had described to him when he’d enquired about a clean and comely lady with whom his master might pass the night away while he was in London. But then, these ladies of the night were full of surprises.

The landlord had assured him that Mrs Cox’s establishment operated affluently and was one step above the other brothels—and such was the excellence of Delphine’s technique that she would make love an entire night without ceasing, at his master’s pleasure.

He smiled, a sudden charming smile that quite transformed his big face. ‘I believe you can—or perhaps I should say you can help my master. Yes, indeed! I am sure you can be of great help.’

‘Would that not depend on what is wrong with him?’

He raised one of his bushy eyebrows. ‘In a manner of speaking. All I can say is that he’s in great need.’

‘Is he sick?’

‘I suppose you could say that. My master—I am what is termed as his batman—the Colonel Lord Stephen Fitzwaring is home on leave from Spain, where he’s been with Wellington fighting the French. Fighting has taken its toll on him, I’m afraid.’

‘I see,’ Delphine replied, thinking rapidly. She was sure that she didn’t see the half of it—whatever it was—but on the face of things, if the man was wounded then, even though it was beyond her capabilities to cure him, she would make an assessment of his condition and ask Dr Grey, who often ministered to the children at the orphanage, to take a look at him.

‘Mr Taylor, who keeps the Blue Boar at the end of the street, assured me there is no one better equipped to relieve my master’s—er—’ he coughed as he sought the appropriate word ‘—discomfort.’

In her complete naïvety and gullibility, Delphine smiled broadly, finding it hard to believe her charitable deeds had attracted so much attention. She was acquainted with the landlord of the Blue Boar—a kindly man who donated regularly to the orphanage—and if Mr Oakley’s master was suffering from some kind of discomfort, then it did not strike her as odd that Mr Taylor would recommend her. She had waved to him from across the street earlier and, aware of Maisie’s habit of visiting her mother, he would have known she would be at Mrs Cox’s establishment.

‘If you will come with me, I will take you to him.’ Mr Oakley was watching her with interest. ‘I am sure you can accommodate each other. My master will be most generous.’

At the mention of money and considering how it could benefit the orphanage, Delphine looked at him levelly. ‘Indeed I hope he is. I do not give my services for nothing.’

His brows went up at that. ‘My master would not expect you to. Dear me, no! Though, I must say, most persons of your profession seem to care for everyone.’

‘Not everyone, Mr Oakley. Only those I believe can be helped. Your master is an amenable gentleman, I hope?’

‘Most of the time. There are times when he looks far more fierce than he really is.’ A smile touched the corners of his lips. ‘Don’t mention that to anyone else, or you’ll ruin his reputation.’

‘Reputation?’ Delphine tipped her head to one side, casting him a sideways glance. She was becoming more intrigued by Mr Oakley’s master by the second. ‘Does he have one?’

‘Of the worst sort,’ he averred flatly, shooting her a teasing look.

‘Then spare me the sordid details. I shall be seeing him for no other reason than to make him feel better. Is there no woman in his life to look after him?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Mr Oakley replied. ‘In Spain, a beautiful, voluptuous señorita is most enamoured of him and often keeps him company, but Spain is a long way away. My master is one of the finest men I know. He has a most tremendous strength of mind and a will that has carried him through many a battle. Because he is so strong-willed, he seldom encounters opposition from anyone—unless it be from the enemy Bonaparte!—which is why you may occasionally find him somewhat … dictatorial.’

‘I see,’ Delphine said stiffly. ‘Thank you for that insight into your master’s character, Mr Oakley. I shall remember it. Where is he?’

‘I left him abed at the Blue Boar. Are you prepared to come with me now?’

Delphine held up her bag and smiled. ‘I have everything I will need in my bag.’

Mr Oakley raised his brows in awe as his mind conjured up the delectable items that bag might contain; items she would no doubt use to titillate his master.

Delphine was not thinking logically. The mortal danger she might be incurring did not enter her mind. She had long ago acquired the habit of ignoring other people’s advice and plunging into situations with no thought for the consequence.

‘Lead on, Mr Oakley. Let us see if we can make your master feel better, shall we?’

But time was of the essence for Delphine. If she hurried, she would make it home in time for her mother’s musical evening; woe betide her if she was late. Her charity work often provoked trouble with her mother. Privileged by birth, Delphine had been drawn into such pursuits by her Aunt Celia, who had instilled into her the duties of a gently born woman to the less fortunate.

The Devil finds work for idle hands, she had said, then she had smiled, adding, or I should say, there is always work for a spare pair of willing hands. In an attempt to invest her empty life with meaning, Delphine had been more than willing. She was the youngest of five children—all girls—and, disappointed that the last of their last offspring had not been the much-wanted son, her parents had not even bothered to announce her birth.

Neglect bordering on rejection beat a bitter note in Delphine’s heart. All her life, doubts had drummed heavy blows upon the crumbling walls of her confidence. In her parents’ eyes she could never be the woman her sisters were: beautiful women who attracted men wherever they went.

She did not like to dwell on her inadequacies, but when she was in the presence of two exquisite creatures like her twin sisters, she was painfully aware of her unfashionable reddish hair, her too-large mouth and the light scattering of freckles across cheekbones that were much too high.

From childhood she had been trained to detachment, but she was none the less human and thought life in her parents’ house very cruel and so very lonely that she had long ago made up her mind to be her own woman. She would defy convention and be true only to herself.

And so she had thrown herself into her charity work, becoming closely involved with the homeless and destitute children and venturing into dark places not one of her four pampered older sisters could have imagined.

Most of her work was carried out with other charity workers at the orphanage in Water Lane. Not all the children were orphaned; some, like Maisie, had been abandoned by their parents. When she wasn’t at the orphanage, Delphine was forever organising fund-raising events and annoying her mother by lobbying her friends for donations. From the beginning, charity work had given a purpose to her life. She could breathe, could live, could give of herself at last.

On entering the orphanage for the first time, the things she had seen had upset her terribly. Her aunt, a spinster who had made charity her life’s work, had a natural air of authority, which she shared with her brother, Delphine’s father. She had told Delphine that to do this work well she must remain detached. She must not let emotion get the better of her. If she did this, she would control others—and herself.

Delphine had taken this advice and used it as best she could. Working among the poor, she was surprised at the intensity of her feeling and compassion, so long suppressed, and wondered whether her work was in fact altering her, turning her into a more passionate human being.

Her skin still burned from what she had seen at the bordello; her face felt as if it were glowing with fever as she followed the stranger. She hated the streets at night. There were ghosts in these streets that sometimes made her tremble with fear. It was all a million miles away from her mother’s genteel world; violence was endemic in London. Muggers and cut-throats roamed the streets virtually unchecked; anyone who walked alone at night took a serious risk.

Delphine decided that, once she had seen the gentleman, she would ask Mr Oakley to order her a chair or a hackney to take her home. Her eyes were cast down to the ground, but the night above stretched black and clear and infinite, the stars burning with their own fire.

They reached the Blue Boar, entering by a back doorway. It was a busy night at the inn. She followed Mr Oakley up a narrow staircase. He stopped at a door and opened it, standing back for her to pass through.

‘I shall leave you to it.’ Without another word he left her, closing the door as he went.

Delphine stood just inside the room. She could hear a man’s heavy breathing, but apart from that it was quiet, the light dim. It was a small room, but well furnished, and on a bed a man lay asleep. His arm was raised to cover his eyes, a bandage wrapped round his wrist. Assuming the wound it covered was the reason Mr Oakley had brought her to the tavern, she moved towards the still figure.

She opened her mouth to speak, but at that moment she was unable to utter a word. This was a man the like of which she had never seen before. A sheet covered him to the waist, beneath which he was naked. His body was perfect. He was lean, his muscles hard, his dark, furred chest broad, his shoulders strong. Sensing her presence, he slowly lowered his arm and opened his eyes—an extraordinary midnight blue. Her heart turned over. They remained fixed on her face and she could feel her cheeks burning, but she could not look away from him.

This man was quite exquisite, perfect, and Delphine, untouched by any kind of passionate emotion, felt her heart take flight. She was aghast at herself, staring like an ignorant girl. When he saw her a slow, appreciative smile curved his firm lips. It was such a wonderful smile and Delphine, poor naïve innocent, felt a thousand emotions explode inside her head all at once. She was lost. Bewilderingly, heart and soul, lost.

‘Well, well,’ he drawled groggily, ‘what have we here? Such a prize I did not expect. Oakley has surpassed himself. What kept you?’

Delphine realised suddenly that she had been holding her breath from the moment she had entered the room. She had come with the sure knowledge that this man was ill. Now she lost some of her certainty. The gentleman was most handsome, about thirty-one, haughty looking, his body as lean and supple as a sword. His finely chiselled features were clean-shaven and golden skinned. His thick, curly gleaming black hair—slightly flecked with silver at the temples—was dishevelled and those midnight-blue eyes now gazed warmly into hers. His voice—slurred with sleep or alcohol, she could not decide which, but strongly suspected it was the latter—was deep and golden like his skin. ‘I—I came as soon as Mr Oakley asked me to.’

‘Good old Oakley. Always a man of his word, is Oakley—and I can see he’s done a handsome night’s work finding you.’ Thrusting the sheet away and exposing his nakedness, in one swift movement he was off the bed and walking slowly, deliberately, around Delphine as she stood rooted to the floor, drowning in a well of embarrassment. He touched her with only those deep-blue eyes, yet they were enough, boldly, rudely evaluating every angle of her assets. He paused in front of her and smiled broadly, extremely pleased with what he saw.

A cold dread grew deep inside Delphine and she clutched her bag to her bosom, trying hard to focus her eyes on something other than his nakedness. She was beginning to wonder what she had let herself in for. Outwardly she appeared calm, but the emotional frenzy raging within her was beginning to sap her strength. She was both tired and confused; she was also angry that Mr Oakley had lured her into a trap.

‘I was under the impression that you were sick or injured in some way,’ she said crisply. ‘Since that does not appear to be the case, I will bid you goodnight, sir.’

He laughed softly, barring her path of escape with his naked body. ‘Not yet, my sweet. What is your name?’

She raised her head, jutting her chin. ‘Delphine. Delphine Cameron.’

‘Delphine.’ He sighed. ‘A lovely name—a fitting name for a lady. I am Lord Fitzwaring. My friends call me Stephen. Can I offer you some wine?’ He indicated a decanter on a small table.

‘No. I would rather not.’

Stephen chuckled, taking her bag and carelessly tossing it into a chair by the bed. Before she could protest he had whipped off her bonnet and removed the pins holding her hair up, watching hungrily as it tumbled over her shoulders. The glow of the lamp brought out the fire and vibrancy in the thick tresses. He marvelled at her beauty. Long, wavy hair the colour of rich mahogany framed a perfectly proportioned face, her skin a creamy hue. Even through the fog of alcohol he concluded the girl was beautiful. Her cheekbones were high beneath large and slanting eyes, dark brown, mysterious and magnetic and flecked with green. Her nose was small and straight, her mouth soft and sensitive, luscious and pink.

‘Well,’ he murmured, ‘I am well satisfied with Oakley’s choice.’

He moved closer, slipping his arm about her narrow waist and drawing her into his arms in one rapid movement. At his touch, a tingling, magnetic touch, she was drawn to him as the needle on a compass is drawn north. But Delphine had no compass to guide her through this strange, alien territory, a dark and seemingly dangerous place she had stumbled blindly into. It was her fault, she thought despairingly. If anything awful should happen to her, she would be to blame. Except that she did not know quite what she had done wrong, or what she might have done differently to prevent it.

Covering her mouth with his, Stephen engulfed a stunned Delphine in a heady scent, not unlike brandy. Too shocked and surprised to resist, she trembled, holding herself rigid in his arms. She felt as if she were detached, seeing herself from outside her own body; in this trance-like state, she was amused when she felt him deepen his kiss and from a low level of consciousness grew a vague feeling of pleasure as she became caught up in the moment. She had never been held so close by a man before. It was an extraordinary sensation to feel the heat of his body so close to hers, to feel the muscles in his chest and arms and legs, his slim hips pressed to her own. Had the circumstances been different, she might even have enjoyed the sensation.

When he raised his head there was fire in his eyes. With swift dexterity he removed her jacket and took her in his arms as she stood frozen in stunned silence. Once more he proceeded to kiss her lips, with a hunger that alarmed her. When he released her, she was astonished to feel her dress fall away, settling about her feet. As his arms once again enfolded her in a grip of iron, her body full against his, Delphine little realised the devastating effect her soft flesh was having on him as he crushed his mouth to hers, invading, demanding, taking everything with a sensual, leisurely thoroughness, aching to sample the woman more meticulously.

Delphine’s mind reeled from the intoxicating passion of his kiss, from the smell of him—a combination of sandalwood, alcohol and bodily scents—and the touch of his skin. The trembling weakness in her limbs attested to its potency. It really was a very strange situation, she thought coolly, her mind numbed with shock, and he, a very strange man—and, following what she had paused to watch at the bordello, she was in a very strange mood. She was conscious of her increased pulse rate—due to nervousness and trepidation, no doubt—but what to make of the weakness in her legs and the warm, glowing feeling low in her belly she truly did not know.

Reason began to flood back to her as she felt his hands wander all over her body. She fought and twisted within his embrace, for with sudden clarity it dawned on her just what he had in mind. She quickly realised her disadvantage; his grip was no longer like iron, but like finely tempered steel, and her struggles were in vain, for it was impossible to free herself. Still holding her, with an easy pull on the fastenings of her chemise he separated it from her body, spilling the full glory of her breasts before him. The only garments that remained were her drawers and white silk stockings.

Smothering a shocked gasp, at last Delphine managed to extricate herself from the embrace, at the same time catching both his hands and pushing him back.

‘Sir, your eagerness astounds me,’ she gasped, clutching her precarious modesty close, pressing the fullness of her bosom upwards until it fair besotted her assailant’s senses, ‘but I am not who you think I am and I really must go.’

A half-frown, half-smile crossed his face. ‘I know not where your duties call you, sweet Delphine, but they can wait. At this moment—’ Delphine saw the hard, flint-like gleam in his eyes ‘—I must have you.’

His arms scooped her up and, in a single lunge, they were on the bed. The heady scent of her gentle perfume, mingled with the essence of pure woman, filled Stephen’s head and warmed his blood. The heat of his hunger spread with eager bounds through his loins.

Delphine started violently as her bare thigh brushed his and she felt the scorching heat of his flesh. She rolled away from him and came to her feet on the far side of the bed, but was halted in her intended flight when he rolled after her, shot out his arm and with a deep and throaty laugh jerked her back on to the bed. Her naked breasts were crushed against his chest as he bore down on her, his lips upon her neck insistent, his breathing uneven. With definite panic rising, she pushed hard and for a moment was free of him.

‘Sir, please,’ she begged with quiet desperation, managing to keep her voice from betraying her alarm. ‘Let me go for just a moment. There will be plenty of time later,’ she cajoled in the softest tones. ‘I shall return as soon I am able.’

‘Don’t be a tease.’ His eyes were dark and heavy-lidded with desire and he smiled with wicked enticement as he divested her of her drawers. ‘If this is a game you play, Delphine, I ask you to stop it now. Your maidenly blushes are a conceit. I want you—why else would you be here?’

Smothering a shocked gasp, again she moved to the side of the bed, and again he caught her round the waist with a strength that did not surprise her. Though she shoved at his hands, she could not escape; purposefully he drew her toward him. Kneeling on the mattress, he lowered her to its softness and, before she could move, his arms came down like sinewy pillars on either side of her, trapping her between them. He lowered his weight until he lay upon her, pinning her beneath him; it seemed that every move she made only abetted his unswerving seduction. She could no longer escape that long blade of passion that seared her thighs and made her quake. Raising his head, he stared down into her eyes and smiled slowly.

‘I will have you now, Delphine. I will pay you your dues when the sun comes up, so do not disappoint me and I shall make it worth your while.’

‘Oh,’ she gasped, feeling his hardness searching, probing; feeling the heat of his maleness. ‘What am I doing?’

He chuckled against her throat. ‘If you don’t know, sweetheart, who am I to tell you? You are a whore, my pet, and tonight you are mine.’

Delphine heaved beneath him, straining against the broad expanse of his chest, but his strength overpowered her struggles. It was too late now, he couldn’t draw back, not now, not with that urgent need, swollen and throbbing, demanding release.

A burning pain exploded in her loins and his face pressed harder against hers. Tears filled her eyes and she tasted blood as she bit her own cheek. Then his hungering mouth found her lips and he kissed her long and deep. The pain started to subside as he began to move within her, savouring each passing moment of pleasure.

With her eyes closed tight, Delphine lay unresponsive. She resolved that she would resist any intrusion of physical delight from anything his body would do to her. If she remained still, he could not reach her. His long-starved passion grew; he could no longer control himself. She was unaware how long it lasted, but when he pulled away from her she turned, pulling the covers over herself, covering her used body from his gaze.


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