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Диксон Хелен

The Bride Wore Scandal

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«The Bride Wore Scandal» - Хелен Диксон

Virgin Lady… From the moment Christina Atherton first saw the notorious Lord Rockley she couldn’t control her blushes. She knew she could not hold out for long against his dark and seductive ways.…Scandalously Pregnant! Lord Rockley only meant to protect Christina from a dangerous highwayman, but she was oh so beguiling. And when Christina discovered that she was expecting, Lord Rockley knew of just one way to restore her virtue. He must make Christina his bride…before scandal ruined them both!
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About the Author

So engrossed was Christina in her thoughts that she was unprepared for the sight that sprang upon her. A horse was nibbling the lush green grass that grew along the riverbank, and its owner was about to plunge into the water.

Hidden by the dense foliage across the narrow stretch of land that separated them, Christina let her gaze make an admiring appraisal of the man as the sun beat down on his almost naked form in shimmering waves of heat. A narrow cloth covered his loins, and provided a minimum of modesty as it moulded itself to his manhood. As a respectable young woman she knew she should avert her innocent eyes but, urged to see more, carefully she parted the branches.

Her eyes widened and her mouth formed a silent O on recognising Lord Rockley.

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.


Helen Dickson


On reaching the bank of the wide river, the lone rider dismounted. After doing a quick scan of the surrounding area, with no one else in sight, he removed his frock-coat. The day was hot, the water too tempting to resist. Unbuckling his belt, he sat down on a tree stump and removed his boots. This done, he removed his breeches and shirt, laying them out on the ground. Moving to the water’s edge, he stretched his arms high above his head, the muscles rippling beneath the firm flesh of his magnificent body showing a ready, capable strength, gleaming golden brown under the hot rays of the sun.

Moments later there was a splash, followed by the lesser sound of a body, like a dark, sleek blade, cutting its way just below the surface of the water with slow, controlled strokes.

Meanwhile, just half a mile away, a young woman trotted along on a grey mare, following a narrow and twisted path, the tall trees—mainly beach and oak—through which she rode dappling her glorious mane of fair hair and body with shades and light. In the pungent smelling undergrowth, small animals foraged, and above her head squirrels darted along the branches of trees, birds fluttered and sang and starlings flew frenziedly in the blue sky. Ahead of her, in a meadow bordered by a wide meandering brook, a spread of deep pink-and-white campions, ox-eyed moon-daisies and golden buttercups brightened the gloominess.

The dark-haired man emerged naked from the river, droplets of water clinging to his bronzed skin and tinier beads sparkling in the dark furring on his broad chest, while, following a narrow, well-worn path, Christina Atherton rode in the shadow of the sturdy stone walls that surrounded Oakbridge, her home. Having ridden her horse hard for the past hour, she now rode at a more leisurely pace, breathing in the humid, sweet scented air. She was hot and tendrils of damp, ash-blond curls clung to her cheeks.

The brook offered the only relief in sight and the temptation to dip her bare feet in the cool, flowing water was almost overwhelming. She guided her mare across the meadow, and on reaching the brook she dismounted, patting the sleek chestnut neck before turning her attention to the stream. She took a moment to turn and gaze back at the house, beautiful in its ancient splendour, with appreciative, loving eyes, refusing for now to allow herself to dwell on the tension that existed within its walls and the worries that awaited her there. Turning her head in another direction, she gazed at the slope of land, to the gentle fold of hills that went on into the hazy distance. She was quiet, deep in her own thoughts, distracted by the splendour of what lay about her.

As she approached the brook, her walk was graceful, the gentle sway of her hips seductive, causing her mane of softly curling hair to lift and bounce about her shoulders. Sitting on the grassy bank, she removed her shoes, casting her eyes about her to make sure she was quite alone, before raising her skirts and peeling down her stockings. The look on her face was one of pure rapture as she dangled her feet in the ice-cold water, raising them now and then before dunking them back in, disturbing the tiny minnows darting about beneath the surface.

So absorbed was she in her pleasure that she was unaware of the lone horseman watching her from the shelter of the trees a short distance away, or the smile that curved his lips when she hitched up her skirts and stretched her long and slender legs out in front of her to dry.

Christina lay down on the dry grass, letting the fronds touch her face. The ground was vibrant with life. Through half-closed lids she saw a shiny black beetle scurrying away, and here and there tiny blue-and-white flowers. After a while, on a sigh she sat up and reluctantly donned her stockings and shoes.

The watcher sat on his horse without moving. The beauty of the young woman was such that he could not tear his eyes away. It brought home to him the starvation of his long celibacy. Her light blond hair tumbling over her shoulders was rich and luxuriant. Golden strands lightened by the sun shimmered among the carefree curls. He felt a great temptation to cross the meadow and run his fingers through the soft tresses. It was with a will of iron that he kept a grip on himself and did no more than watch.

Mounting her horse, about to ride towards the house, Christina heard a loud yelp followed by a whimper coming from the trees. Without a thought, she rode towards the sound, entering the dark coolness of the woods once more. She was surprised to see a small white dog of indeterminate breed caught up in some bramble bushes.

The distressed dog was familiar to Christina and, dismounting quickly, she went to try to set it free. Cleary frightened, it growled and bared its fangs, trying to back off.

‘Toby—good dog. Dear me, what a pickle you’ve got yourself into.’ She bent her head to smile at him. ‘Don’t struggle so. You know who I am,’ she murmured, holding out her hand in an effort to calm him down, relieved when he recognised her voice. Knowing he could trust her, he reduced his growl to a whimper; crawling forward on his belly as far as the clinging barbs would allow, he licked the end of her bare fingers with his sloppy wet tongue. ‘Hold still now and you’ll be out of there in a trice. Don’t wriggle so. You’ll make it difficult for yourself as well as for me.’

Falling to her knees, she carefully began prising away the brambles curling round his lacerated body, wishing she had worn her riding gloves when she felt the sharp prick of the barbs. They drew blood and spattered her gown. Hearing the heavy tread of someone coming up behind her, although her heart jumped, with a force of will she managed to ignore him, for she believed it to be the dog’s owner. But she could not quell the tremor of fear that gripped her on knowing she was alone with him in the woods.

‘I’ve told you before about letting your dog run wherever it pleases,’ she reproached crossly, her own pain from her hands and the suffering dog sharpening her tone. ‘There are sheep in the next field and Farmer Leigh is likely to take a gun to him if he worries them, so if you care for him you’ll see he’s fastened up in future.’ Unable to set the dog free, she sighed with frustration; sitting back on her heels, she wiped her damp forehead with the back of her hand, smearing it with blood. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to do it. I can’t release the brambles.’

Someone squatted beside her, the lean, hard muscles of his thighs flexing beneath the tight-fitting breeches, and it wasn’t until he spoke that she realised he wasn’t the dog’s owner.

‘Here, let me,’ the stranger said, producing a knife. Methodically and deftly his long brown fingers cut away the offending brambles. Not until the dog was free and wagging his short, stubby tail and licking his hand as he ruffled his ears, checking that the animal was unharmed apart from a few surface lacerations, did he turn and look at the young woman beside him. She did not smile, nor speak, but her startling eyes, a dark and mysterious blue, tilted to look up at him.

‘There, it is done. The owner, whoever he is, will be grateful to us for having freed it. It would never have freed itself. No doubt it was after rabbits.’

Three things hit Christina at once: his eyes were deep and piercing—a strange colour of silver grey—while his voice was richly textured, cultured and deep, and the hands that had released Toby from the briars had the strength in them of a man who was not afraid to dirty them in his chosen profession, yet giving the impression of a creative man of some refinement. The combination sent a peculiar warmth up her spine, and nothing had prepared her for the thrill of quivering excitement that gripped her now, beginning in her chest where her heart lay, and radiating to every part of her body. He looked steadily at her. Then he moved his head closer to hers.

Hypnotised by those passionate silver eyes, which were coming nearer and nearer to her own, Christina found she couldn’t move—she had neither the desire nor the strength to do so. Her heart thumped so wildly in her breast that she could hardly breathe. Cupping her chin in his hand, he placed his mouth on hers. Without ever being aware of it, she yielded her lips to his. His kiss was both gentle and compelling. The world around her seemed to vanish away, leaving only this stranger and herself locked together in a charmed circle against which dull reality crumbled away.

She was aware that this was a moment of great importance, that she stood on the threshold of a great revelation, but could not yet understand the substance of it. Her heart swelled with an emotion of such proportions she was overwhelmed. It was as if she were being sucked down into a pool of deep, dark, swirling water, a turbulence of longing—a longing for something she had never known before, but which this man could provide.

Releasing her chin he pulled away. ‘Well, well,’ he murmured. ‘I can see I shall have to come this way more often.’

‘I should not have let you kiss me.’

He smiled.

‘No, you shouldn’t—any more than I should have attempted to. Do you mind?’

She shook her head. ‘No, no, I don’t.’

‘Then there’s no harm done.’

They continued to look at each other. Christina saw that his thick, dark brown hair was curiously wet and drawn back, accentuating high cheekbones, a heavy lock falling carelessly over his wide brow. A firm, cleanshaven chin, well-formed nose and strongly sensual mouth added to the enigmatic character of his bronzed face. His eyebrows were inclined to dip in a frown of perplexity over eyes that were ever watchful. He was very handsome, but there was an aggressive virility in his bold gaze that made her uneasy. They looked at each other with startled eyes, a look that lasted no more than a moment and yet seemed to last an eternity before she lowered her eyes.

When he straightened and she stood before him, the dog content to sit at her feet, she was conscious of the hard lines of his body beneath his clothes, of how tall he was, how lean and superbly fit, how proudly he carried himself. His eyes observed her with frank interest. She felt she should be nervous, in the woods all alone with a perfect stranger, but she wasn’t and she couldn’t have said why. He appeared to offer no threat to her, tall and arrogant-looking as he was, a complex man who would be as elusive as smoke, a man who would break the heart of the woman who loved him.

‘I—I’m sure you’re right about Toby,’ she murmured, giving him a wobbly smile. ‘He’s badly scratched, poor thing, but had he become caught in a poacher’s snare, he would not have fared so well. Thank you for what you did. I’m sorry I spoke sharply. I—I thought you were Toby’s owner.’

‘You will have a few choice words to say to him when next you meet, I am sure. You are well acquainted with him—the dog’s owner?’

‘I—I—no,’ she stammered, cursing herself for being flustered. ‘Not very.’

‘Then if you tell me where he lives, I would be happy to return the dog.’ He saw something flare in her eyes, something akin to fear. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared. His curiosity was roused. ‘I promise you it would be no trouble.’

‘No,’ she said—too quickly, the stranger thought, noticing how her glance flitted hesitantly away from him. ‘I’ll take care of it myself.’

‘As you wish.’ He looked down at her face upturned to his, tempted to caress the delicate, unblemished cheeks blooming with colour. Her features seemed perfect. Her soft pink lips were slightly parted, tantalising and gracefully curving. Her brows were gently arched above eyes that were clear and blue, brilliant against the thick fringe of jet black lashes. They stared back at him open, yet as unfathomable as any sea he had gazed into.

As he looked at her he felt burned—scorched—by her beauty. He was quite bewildered by the emotion he felt in the part of his body where he supposed his heart lay. He couldn’t describe what he felt because he didn’t have any words. It was then that he saw the colour that stained her cheeks darken, sensed her breath catch in her throat and felt momentary wonder. Could she, too, be feeling the lure of deep attraction awoken by the kiss?

‘Are you far from home?’ he asked, amazed at his concern, for what did he care about a woman riding in the woods alone? Perhaps it was because of her vulnerable femininity, or was it her total lack of concern over her own safety? Whatever it was, it annoyed him slightly, since he didn’t really have the time or patience to be fretting himself over a woman he did not know, but something about this young woman intrigued him, made him want to get to know her better.

‘Oh, no, I live quite close,’ she replied, regarding him steadily, not the slightest bit alarmed at his large, male presence.

‘And where’s home?’

He was smiling, and his smile was luminous, joyous, heart-stopping. ‘As I said, not far.’

Unexpectedly, he reached out and took her blood-smeared hands, bending his head and frowning at the scratches. ‘I see you have not fared so well yourself. You’d best get along home and have them tended—although I suppose you could clean them in the brook.’

Something in his tone alarmed Christina. Her eyes snapped to his and she gasped, slowly pulling her hands from his gentle grasp. ‘It’s nothing. They’ll soon heal—but … Oh! You were watching me, weren’t you—when I …?’ His smiling eyes captured hers and held them prisoner until she felt a warmth suffuse her cheeks.

‘I saw you dunking your feet in the brook, if that’s what you mean.’ His white teeth gleamed and his bold eyes laughed at her as his leisurely perusal swept her face, delighting in her confusion. ‘And what pretty feet you have, as perfect as any I have ever seen.’

At this questionable familiarity, mortified, Christina suffered through a scorching blush. His having taken the time to watch her—no, spy on her would be a more appropriate word—as she removed her stockings, told her his manners were somewhat lacking. ‘And how long were you standing there ogling me?’

Having leisurely observed the beauty to his heart’s content while she indulged herself in the brook, he made no effort to curb an amused, all-too-confident grin. ‘Long enough to know I won’t forget what I saw in a hurry. It would be impossible. You have pretty legs, too, by the way.’

‘Oh!’ She jumped as if she’d been stung and her mouth flew open to speak her outrage. ‘You should not have looked—or you should have made your presence known so I could have covered myself.’

‘I did not want to intrude on what was, to me, a very gratifying moment—although on second thought,’ he murmured, smiling lazily and his eyes narrowing to gleaming slits, ‘had I thought you would welcome my presence and allow me to share your … paddle, then I might very well have shown myself.’

‘And got yourself dunked in the water for your cheek,’ Christina retorted, meeting his predatory stare, feeling much like a hen before a wily fox and expecting to be devoured at any moment. She was unable to believe the man’s audacity. The moment of enchantment—the kiss and the care and kindness he had shown Toby a moment before—was forgotten.

‘I’d have been more than willing to risk it, to verify with more credible evidence that what I was seeing was actually mortal and not some wondrous vision I’d conjured up.’

Christina’s ire flared. ‘A kick on the shin would have supplied that evidence just as well.’

He chuckled softly. ‘Had I but known such beauty was so close at hand—a beauty who shares the same enthusiasm for water as myself—I would have invited you to share my dip in the river just now, which I found most gratifying and refreshing on such a hot afternoon as this.’

Christina’s slightly sunburned nose snubbed him. ‘You are shameless. You, a stranger, can hardly expect me to welcome your advances,’ she retorted angrily.

His grin was wicked. ‘You had no objections a moment ago.’

‘You may be accustomed to easy conquests, but being a lady, I find the thought of sharing anything else with you utterly distasteful. Who are you, anyway?’

‘My name is Simon. Until recently I was a soldier.’

‘And now?’

He shrugged nonchalantly. ‘I haven’t decided—besides, you do not want to hear about what I do.’

Christina lifted a sleek brow. ‘Why would I not want to hear? I am curious about all manner of creatures, including soldiers and men who haven’t decided what they want to be,’ she said coolly, hoping to sting him into a retort.

The stranger’s eyes narrowed, but he was only considering whether or not to answer her question. She could see the moment when he decided not to. She found she was disappointed, which was foolish. Why should he tell her anything about himself, and why should she care?

‘What I do—or what I might do—cannot possibly be of interest to such a gracious young woman as yourself.’ Suddenly the stranger’s eyes gleamed with devilish humour, and his lips drew slowly into a gentle smile. ‘I ask you to forgive my boldness. You are a delight to my eye. Have mercy on me.’

His eyes slid over her like a touch, making Christina shiver despite the heat of the day. She lifted her chin with a show of bravado. There was arrogance in the tilt of his head and a single-minded determination in the set of his firm jaw that was not to her liking. She had an uncomfortable feeling that her angry words, far from discouraging him, had acted as bait to this handsome stranger called Simon. ‘It passes through my mind that you are too much of a rake for me to do that.’

‘There are many who would agree with you—but believe me when I say that never have I met so lovely or charming a woman as you.’

Confused by the gentle warmth of his gaze and the directness of his words, Christina could find no words to reply. In her innocence, it was impossible for her to determine whether he mocked her or told the truth. He was not like any man she had ever met. Suddenly aware of the confines of the trees, which seemed to be closing in on them, the closeness of this stranger and the danger he might pose—why, he might be a thief, a molester of women or even a murderer for all she knew—sanity heavily mixed with panic had her turning from him and striding to her horse.

In amused silence the stranger watched her, admiration in his eyes as he watched the sway of her hips and the arrogant toss of her head. So, the young woman was a lady—or at least she thought she was. She was also a lady who needed a lesson in manners. And the stranger knew he was just the man to give it to her.

With a quick movement he was behind her. Clamping his hands tightly about her narrow waist, she was seized and lifted and settled into the saddle as if she weighed nothing at all. A gasp caught in her throat when he very boldly led her knee around the horn.

Snatching the reins and controlling her restless horse, after calling to Toby she looked down at the man with cool disdain. ‘May I ask what you are doing here? The woods are out of bounds.’

He grinned, a wicked pirate’s grin. ‘I’m a stranger to these parts. I am merely finding my way about.’

‘Then might I suggest that you find your way about somewhere else. You are not welcome here.’ With that and setting her heel to the mare’s side, she rode off, Toby following dutifully in her wake.

‘Considering the pleasant interlude we have shared,’ the stranger called after her, admiration and merriment lighting his eyes, ‘I think I should at least know the name of such a captivating companion.’

Christina ignored him, riding on, his mocking laughter still ringing in her ears long after she reached the house.

Tom Bradshaw rushed to assist her when she rode into the stable yard, casting a disapproving glance at the dog close on her heels.

Tom was a middle-aged groom who had worked for the Atherton family since he was a lad. He was a man of few words, a decent, discreet man, whom Christina could rely on. He also had a remarkable way with the horses and had taught both Christina and her older brother William to ride as soon as they could sit a horse. He was also the only person at Oakbridge who knew what went on and that the young master had got himself into something that wouldn’t be easy to get out of.

‘See to the dog, please, Tom,’ Christina instructed as she slid from the saddle and handed him the reins. ‘I found him in the woods caught in brambles. He isn’t badly hurt, but perhaps you could clean him up a bit before you return him to his owner.’ She gave him a meaningful look, sarcasm curling her lip. ‘I’m sure you know where he can be found—although at this hour it’s highly likely he’ll still be abed.’

With that she strode into the house, determined to forget her meeting with the stranger, a thoroughly obnoxious man she hoped never to have the misfortune of setting eyes on again. And yet, she thought on a softer note when she remembered the tenderness of his kiss and the gentleness that had warmed his eyes to soft grey velvet, this was not exactly true. Her meeting with the stranger had been her first encounter with the intimacy and power of strong attraction between a man and a woman, of desire that melted the bones and inflamed the flesh and caused all coherent thoughts to flee.


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