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The Captain's Christmas Bride

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«The Captain's Christmas Bride» - Энни Берроуз

Wrong man…Lady Julia Whitney is at her wits’ end. Her perfect beau just won’t propose! But she’s struck upon a plan to ensure her marriage by Christmas. Between masquerades and mistletoe, she finds herself fully compromised…by the wrong man! …right husband?Captain Dunbar cannot believe he’s fallen for this chit’s game! Now he must marry society miss Lady Julia with nothing to connect them other than incredible passion. But he’s about to discover that the best Christmas presents come in surprising – and delightful – packages!
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She slid her arms round his neck, hugging him in sheer delight.

‘Oh, David …’ She sighed. ‘We’ll have to get married now.’

He tensed.

Well, she’d been prepared for that. He must be shocked to learn that she was the woman he’d just ravished.

But before he could say anything someone flung up the sash window and stepped into the orangery.

She didn’t have time to do more than lift her head and swivel it in that direction before the light of two lanterns flooded the scene, clearly showing the unmasked faces of the three people standing there.

The Neapolitan Nightingale, her mouth agape.

Marianne, her hands clasped to her bosom.

And worst of all … David—not the man currently embracing her!

ANNIE BURROWS has been writing Regency romances for Mills & Boon since 2007. Her books have charmed readers worldwide, having been translated into nineteen different languages, and some have gone on to win the coveted Reviewers’ Choice Award from CataRomance. For more information, or to contact the author, please visit or you can find her on Facebook at

The Captain’s Christmas Bride

Annie Burrows

To my brand-new daughter-in-law Emily.

Welcome to the family.

And special thanks to Joe for the brainstorming on this one.



About the Author

Title Page


Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen



html#ulink_351f3628-1573-534f-b727-79770b03d31a" id="back_ulink_351f3628-1573-534f-b727-79770b03d31a">Chapter One

Christmas Day, 1815

‘How long do you think it will take? To make sure I am thoroughly compromised?’

Lady Julia Whitney observed Marianne’s face turn a little pink as a frown flitted across her brow. But then Marianne disapproved of the whole venture and was uncomfortable being dragged into it.

‘You only need to leave us alone long enough to be sure he is kissing me,’ Lady Julia pointed out. ‘And then you can burst into the orangery and find us.’

‘Yes, but how will I know he is kissing you?’ Marianne yanked hard at the laces in her valiant, prolonged struggle to do up Lady Julia’s masquerade gown. ‘The mistletoe didn’t work. And we hung kissing boughs everywhere.’

Lady Julia winced. Not only had they hung mistletoe everywhere, but almost everyone else was making good use of it.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Marianne. ‘Did I pinch you? This dress is rather tight, isn’t it?’

‘I shall hold my breath until you get it done up,’ said Lady Julia, unwilling to admit that it was chagrin that made her wince, at the reminder that after all the hours spent gathering mistletoe, fashioning it into dozens of kissing boughs, and getting footmen to hang them all over the house, she hadn’t managed to coax David to stand still underneath a single one of them.

‘Thank you,’ said Marianne. ‘I didn’t realise how difficult this would be. I mean, you do look about the same size as the Neapolitan Nightingale. I didn’t think we’d need to make any alterations when she agreed to lend you her gown for the evening. But actually, you are rather’

She gave another hard tug. ‘There. All done,’ she said.

‘Oh, my goodness,’ said Lady Julia, studying her reflection in the mirror with awe, as well as a touch of dizziness from having held her breath for so long. ‘But it was worth it.’

‘Lawks,’ said Marianne, her eyes widening as she peeped over Lady Julia’s shoulder.

Lawks indeed. The peacock-blue silk gown was a lot more daring than even she’d suspected it might be. On the Neapolitan Nightingale—the opera singer from whom she’d borrowed it—it hadn’t looked any more daring than any of her other gowns. But with Lady Julia’s bosom hitched up like that, and overflowing the straining bodice, it was teetering on the verge of scandalous.

‘Lawks,’ she echoed faintly, staring with astonishment at the impressive cleavage which had never before had a public airing.

‘Well, that puts paid to any worries that people might recognise you,’ said Marianne tartly. ‘Once you put the mask on, not one single man there will be able to raise his eyes from the front of your gown.’

‘And don’t forget the wig,’ came a muffled voice from behind the screen where the Neapolitan Nightingale herself was changing into the costume supposedly made for Lady Julia.

Marianne and Lady Julia exchanged a guilty look. Just how much might she have heard? They’d been whispering to start with, but the sight of that cleavage had shocked them both into indiscretion.

‘Goodness,’ said the Neapolitan Nightingale when she came out from behind the screen—in a voice that betrayed her far-from-Italian origins—and saw the way the two young ladies were gaping at Lady Julia’s extremely risqué décolletage.

‘You look far more delicious in that than I ever did,’ she said, with a wry twist to her lips. ‘You can keep it if you like, after the party is over.’

‘Oh, no, really, I couldn’t...’

‘Well, I shan’t want it back. It’s been my favourite this season, but it’s about time I got a new look.’

Julia took another look at herself in the mirror. The idea had been to make herself look irresistible and completely unlike her rather demure self. Well, she’d certainly done that!

She stroked the shimmering blue-green silk lovingly. She couldn’t imagine ever having the nerve to wear such a revealing gown again.

But she would rather like to keep it as a memento. Of this party, and the woman who’d lent it to her, and, she hoped, the successful conclusion to her campaign to make David propose.

‘Then, thank you. Thank you very much.’

‘Now, the best way to trick everyone,’ said the Nightingale briskly, ‘is to let me do all the work. I’ve got that rather mannish stride of yours down pat. And some of your other little mannerisms. And your stock phrases.’

‘Stock phrases? I don’t use stock phrases,’ Lady Julia objected.

‘Everyone uses stock phrases. Marianne is always saying, “Oh, dear me, no. Really, I couldn’t,”’ said the Nightingale in a voice uncannily like Marianne’s. ‘And you are always saying, “Stuff!”, and then sniffing, and tossing your head.’

‘I don’t toss my head.’

‘You do,’ said Marianne, trying not to giggle. ‘Really, Nellie has you down to a T.’

Lady Julia was on the verge of saying stuff before recollecting that she’d objected to having it pointed out that she was always doing so. Her neck muscles clamped up as she resisted the urge to toss her head, or sniff, or do anything else to express her irritation at learning she was so predictable. It was a funny business seeing someone as talented as the Nightingale learn to impersonate you. She’d had Marianne in stitches over the past couple of afternoons, aping attitudes Lady Julia had no idea she affected. Like the way she shrugged just one shoulder, apparently, and made a little moue with her lips when she was struggling to be polite to some crashing bore.

‘Now, Marianne,’ said the Nightingale briskly. ‘Your part is to stick close by me all night, the way you usually do with Lady Julia. And you mustn’t forget to call me Cuz now and then, just to reinforce the idea that it is Lady Julia in this modest white gown.’

‘I know,’ said Marianne in a resigned tone of voice. They’d been over all this dozens of times. And spent several hours, on the pretext of working on their costumes for tonight’s masquerade, rehearsing.

‘Now for the wigs!’

Nellie the Neapolitan Nightingale lifted a glossy blue-black wig from its stand, and placed it on Lady Julia’s head.

‘I wish my hair was really this colour,’ said Julia, fingering one of the rather coarse-feeling ringlets. Her own was that depressingly dull shade of brown that, were she not the daughter of an earl, people would decry as mousey.

‘Nobody really has hair that colour,’ said the Nightingale prosaically as she tied Lady Julia’s mask over her face. ‘Not unless they get it out of a bottle. There.’

Marianne and the Nightingale stood staring at her, while she stared at her own reflection in the mirror. The mask was made of the same silk as the dress, with just the hint of a beak to disguise the shape of her nose, and was topped off with a plume of peacock feathers that made her look several inches taller.

Actually, she was several inches taller anyway, thanks to the heels of the shoes Nellie had lent her.

‘Now for the finishing touch,’ said Nellie, reaching for a pot of blacking.

With a little brush, she dabbed at the upswell of Julia’s left breast, recreating the distinctive diamond-shaped mole that nestled provocatively upon the Nightingale’s own bosom.

‘There, all done,’ said Nellie. ‘If anyone can tell that we’ve swapped places under these costumes, I’ll eat my hat. But look,’ she said, turning to Julia with a frown. ‘If you find any of the men behave a bit too free, thinking you are just me, then we’ll stop the charade at once. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if you got into trouble.’

Julia and Marianne looked anywhere but at each other. The whole purpose of swapping identities was so she could get into trouble. Naturally, they hadn’t let Nellie into the whole of the plan, else she’d never have agreed to go along with it, or been so helpful coaching them. As far as she knew, they’d just thought it would be a lark to try to get everyone thinking that Nellie, the opera singer who’d been hired to entertain her guests, was Lady Julia Whitney, daughter of their host, the Earl of Mountnessing, and vice versa. They’d reminded her of the tradition of having a Lord of Misrule at Christmas, who upset the social order by taking a crown and ordering his betters about, and how everyone thought it a huge joke.

They’d neglected to tell her that the Earl of Mountnessing had never unbent enough to permit a Lord of Misrule to form any part of the Christmas festivities.

‘I shall be fine,’ she said, to Marianne and Nellie, who were both looking at her with a touch of concern. ‘You go off now, together, and I shall come down to the ballroom in a moment or two.’

‘By the backstairs,’ Nellie reminded her, before tying on her own white-satin mask, which sported a set of cat’s whiskers, and pulling up her velvet hood, which was topped with a pair of pointy ears.

Marianne was the only one of them not in costume. She’d agreed to don a plain black-silk mask, but that was as far as she was prepared to go. Julia hadn’t argued with her for long before realising that actually, her stubborn refusal to have an expensive costume made up would help her achieve her goal. Everyone would recognise Marianne instantly. And would assume that the woman she shadowed, who was dressed, very primly, as a white cat, must be Lady Julia.

Once they’d gone, Julia was able to add the last, final touch to her disguise.

From her reticule, she withdrew the bottle of perfume she’d taken from Nellie’s dressing table earlier. Normally, ladies dabbed scent behind their ears and on their wrists. But she couldn’t get at her ears through the mass of false hair and peacock feathers. Neither was she going to risk pulling off her elbow-length evening gloves. She’d never get them buttoned up again without help from a maid.

Finally, in desperation, she tipped the bottle between her breasts, hoping she didn’t spill too much on her gloves in the process. The cloud of scent which billowed out made her eyes water for a second or two. But at least it would mark her out as the Nightingale. Nellie had this perfume specially made, so rumour went, by one of the most exclusive parfumeurs in Paris. There was a lot of musk in it. Not at all the sort of light, floral scent a young girl like Julia would normally use, if she were to use scent, which she didn’t. Plain soap and water was enough for her.

Lifting her chin, she opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. As she made her way to the back stairs, she concentrated on the languid way Nellie had taught her to walk, swaying her hips in what felt like an exaggerated manner, but when viewed in a mirror simply looked sensuous. They’d only practised for a couple of afternoons, but the heels, as Nellie had promised, did help her to avoid striding out the way she usually did. Though she wasn’t mannish. She walked with a purposeful manner, that was all. She’d taken on a lot of responsibilities since her mother had died, and she’d never get the half of her duties done if she dawdled about.

She clutched at the handrail all the way down the stairs. The last thing she wished to do was trip and tumble headlong into the hall below.

‘Nellie, my love,’ cried a man’s voice, as she descended from the last step. ‘You look sublime!’

It was a slender young man, dressed as an Elizabethan courtier. She was just basking in a sense of achievement at having fooled him, when he shocked her by walking slap up to her and kissing her cheek, just where the mask ended and her skin began.

She’d sniffed and turned her head away before she realised the gesture might give her away.

‘Beg pardon,’ said the courtier, raising his hands in apparent surrender. ‘Didn’t think. Must have taken you hours to get into costume. Don’t want it spoiled before you go into the ball.’

Thank heaven this young man didn’t know her very well. She slid him a sideways glance, wondering exactly who he was. At this time of year the house always swarmed with all sorts of extra staff, from Nellie the famous singer, to the humble artist brought in to chalk fabulous yet ephemeral decorations on the ballroom floor. He couldn’t be one of the extra servants, even though she’d met him in the service corridor, or he wouldn’t be all dressed up and ready to attend the masquerade. From the familiar way he’d spoken to her, it was more likely he was one of the troupe of players who worked at the same theatre as Nellie. Wasn’t he the one who played romantic leads? Eduardo something or other—that was it. Though the name was patently false. This man was no more Italian than Nellie, for all that people called her the Neapolitan Nightingale.

Still, he would lend credence to her disguise if he escorted her into the ballroom. So she took his arm and drifted down the corridor beside him, thankful that she’d bitten her tongue when he’d accosted her. The moment she opened her mouth, her disguise would fall apart. No matter how hard she’d tried, she simply couldn’t imitate the mellifluous tone of Nellie’s voice, let alone capture the way she peppered her speech with vulgarisms.

But at least if Eduardo had been fooled by the way she’d moved, the fake mole on her bosom, and the cloud of perfume hanging round her, then it looked as though her plan stood some chance of succeeding.

‘Uh-oh,’ murmured Eduardo into her ear, a few moments later. ‘Here come your admirers.’

She froze as the gentlemen guests of the house party all turned to peruse her through their eyeglasses, detached themselves from the respectable females they were supposed to be escorting and headed her way. Her stomach lurched. Was this what Nellie felt like every time she went onstage?

‘Don’t worry, I shan’t cramp your style,’ said Eduardo, letting go of her arm. She was just about to beg him not to desert her, when he slapped her bottom with an earthy chuckle.

Making her wish him at Jericho.

Five minutes later, she realised he was no worse than any of the other men. They all seemed to think her derrière existed for the sole purpose of being patted, or pinched, or squeezed. It wasn’t long before she was sure it must be a mass of bruises. How on earth did Nellie put up with this kind of treatment? She was sorely tempted to sidle into an alcove and keep her back to the wall, only that might mean losing sight of David.

She’d hoped he would have been amongst the crowd clustering round Nellie. But, bother him if he wasn’t being particularly attentive to her tonight—at least, the woman he thought was her, since she was dressed as a white cat, and attended by a girl who was very obviously Marianne.

Oh, but he did look splendid in the full-skirted coat, long dark wig, and tricorne hat of the seventeenth century. The telescope he held in his hand told the world that he was dressed as Sir Isaac Newton. Well, of course, David being a man of science himself, he was bound to choose such a costume, rather than something more frivolous, like a pirate, or a Roman emperor, or an Elizabethan courtier.

Her own Uncle Maurice was dressed tonight as Henry VIII, a figure he managed to emulate extremely well, since he was rather corpulent and florid of complexion. She smiled at him in relief when he offered her a glass of champagne, feeling sure her dear old Uncle Maurice wouldn’t pinch her, or squeeze her bottom. But her relief was short-lived. First, he tried to manoeuvre her under one of the kissing boughs. Then he asked if she would like to come to his room that night. Of course Uncle Maurice was rather foxed. And he didn’t have very good eyesight. Nevertheless, it was with genuine indignation, larded with a good deal of revulsion, that she rapped him over the wrist with her fan.

It was all proving far more difficult than she could have imagined. She’d assumed David would have approached her before now. She’d banked on it. He’d been so fascinated by Nellie, from the moment she’d arrived. So fascinated that she’d even accused him of flirting with the singer.

David had pokered up. Sworn it was no such thing.

‘If you cannot tell the difference between flirting, and the conversation of an educated man with an intelligent woman, then I despair of you,’ he’d said. ‘The Neapolitan Nightingale has a unique perspective on the world. She has travelled extensively, and rubbed shoulders with the very highest, though she comes from very humble origins.’

Nellie certainly did have an entertaining way of talking, Julia had to admit. Though her stories were sometimes rather scurrilous, she always related them so wittily that Julia could hardly blame David for joining the throng of her admirers.

Though now she wished she hadn’t reproved him for doing so. He was behaving with perfect propriety, just when she most wished him to stray!

She’d almost given up hope of getting him on his own, when a gust of cold air swirled into the ballroom, heralding the arrival of a troupe of mummers. At the sound of their pipe, fiddle, and drum, the professional musicians laid down their own instruments, left their chairs, and headed for the refreshments table. With murmurs of anticipation, the masked-and-costumed guests fanned out, yielding the heart of the ballroom to the newcomers.

Julia’s stomach constricted into a knot. If she didn’t make a move soon, David would leave. Since they’d discussed her father’s refusal to countenance David as a suitor, he hardly ever visited the Hall any more. It was only because of the Christmas masquerade ball, to which all the tenants were invited, that he was here now. Once the mummers finished their act, everyone would unmask, go in to supper, and then go home. And he would return to Edinburgh, and it would be months and months before she could see him again.

It was her last chance. If she didn’t manage to entice David away from the other masqueraders, in her guise as Nellie, the fallen woman who exerted such fascination over every single man attending this house party—and quite a few of the married ones, too—she would have failed. And she couldn’t fail. She just couldn’t.

There had to be some way. Some way to indicate she wanted to get him alone without having to open her mouth and say it, thereby giving away her identity.

But how? How did anyone convey their intentions without speaking?

And then it hit her. She’d hated the way men had been pinching and pawing at her all evening, but it had certainly conveyed their intentions.

Her heart sped up a little more. Both because she’d come up with a plan, and because David had temporarily moved out of sight.

But then she spotted him again. She wondered that she’d lost sight of him even for those few moments, because he was half a head taller than most of the gentlemen present. Especially with that tricorne hat, worn over that long, curled wig.

He was subtly moving to the back of the crowd as they all pressed forward to get a better view. Of course the mummers were dressed up to play out the tale of St George and the dragon. And they would include a scene where a doctor was called to bind up St. George’s wounds. It was a comic scene, which always annoyed David intensely, since he was studying medicine himself and couldn’t bear to see a doctor being made a figure of fun.

Her heart in her mouth, she edged around the outskirts of the crowd until she was right behind him. Nobody was paying her any attention. Especially not now the mummers had taken up their starting positions.

The dragon let out a mighty roar, a puff of smoke billowed from his nostrils, and the heroine of the piece let out a piercing scream.

Lady Julia slid her hand between the tails of his full-skirted coat and found the curve of his bottom. His muscles clenched under the palm of her hand.

St George strode onto the scene, waving his cardboard sword.

The guests gave a rousing cheer, which drowned out the gasp Sir Isaac Newton gave when she pinched his bottom, hard.

She kept her gaze directed at the mummers, and their antics, when he turned to see who’d pinched him. It was bright enough, just here, for him to be able to see her fairly clearly, and she only bore a superficial resemblance to Nellie. She had the same soft roundness to her jaw, but anyone looking closely at the uncovered part of her face would surely notice that her mouth was not as generous, nor her lips so full. And it would be fatal to look directly into David’s eyes. Even though the upper part of her face was covered, and she was using her cleavage as a distraction, if he looked into her eyes he’d be sure to wonder why Nellie’s melting brown eyes had faded to the hue of a peeled grape. And he’d know. And be furious that she was doing something so improper.

But she was done with being proper. It hadn’t got them anywhere at all. If only he didn’t recognise her then the chances were she could get him to behave in a highly improper fashion, too, and then all their problems would be solved!

Only he still wasn’t doing anything! St George was stepping over the heroine, who’d just collapsed in an artistically terrified swoon, but Sir Isaac Newton was just standing perfectly still, apparently content to savour the sensation of her fondling his behind.

Now what?

Oh, bother the man, couldn’t he just once forget propriety, and act with a bit of dash? Well, there was nothing for it. She was just going to have to take the initiative.

She removed her hand from his bottom, and fumbled her way round the tailcoat until she discovered his hand. She got as many fingers round it as she could, considering it was bunched round the brass telescope, and gave it a little tug.

It was enough to propel him into movement. Meek as a lamb, he followed her to the nearest door, which happened to lead out onto the terrace, then all along its length, and down the steps at the end.

She didn’t dare glance over her shoulder, not even when they plunged into the pitch darkness of the path through the shrubbery. And especially not when they emerged again, round the back of the house, where some light did filter out through one or two unshuttered windows, making the glass roof of the orangery glitter as though it was sprinkled with sequins.

She’d chosen to take David to the orangery because it would be lovely and warm in there. It was tacked on to the back of the kitchens where specially designed flues kept her father’s collection of rare tropical plants frost-free throughout the winter. Gatley, the head gardener, had locked the door when the first of the house guests arrived, to prevent anyone wandering in and then carelessly leaving the door open when they wandered out again. But the lock on one of the sash windows, which could be raised or lowered during the summer months for ventilation, was broken. She’d made sure of it that very afternoon.

Julia had to let go of his hand while she pushed the sash window up, but that didn’t matter. He wouldn’t have come all this way only to run away now.

She stepped over the sill, and stood to one side so he could do the same. Then she carefully lowered the sash again. Gatley would be livid if his precious plants were exposed to a draught. Anyway, she didn’t want to be exposed to a draught either. Not when there was so very little gown draping any part of her body.

Goodness but it was dark in here. Only a faint glimmer of moonlight peeked in through the roof. The massed palms at the east end of the orangery curtained the interior from any light that might have found its way this far from the house.

But the darkness seemed to make David uncharacteristically bold. He didn’t even wait for her to turn round before sliding his arms round her waist, and bending his head to kiss her cheek. As his lips brushed her skin, sending delicious shivers right down her spine, she felt his tricorne hat tangle with her feathers.

With a low growl, he pulled off his hat, and his wig, and tossed them aside. Then stooped to lay the telescope down on top. She turned round, longing to be in his arms again, but face-to-face this time, so that he could kiss her properly. On the lips. And so, as he straightened up, she flung her arms round his neck and pressed her lips to his before he could say anything, or required her to say anything that would give her away, and have him marching her back to the house, scolding her all the way.

And, oh, joy! He put his arms round her, and kissed her back.

At last. At last. And, oh, it was every bit as magical as she’d ever dreamed. Better. For now she was in his arms, he seemed taller and broader, and so very much more...muscular, and masculine, than she’d expected.

Her heart pounded, her breath shortened as though she’d been running. Actually, her feet were moving, now she came to think of it. For he’d turned her round a bit, and was steering her toward the rear wall. Against which there was a bench. Oh, clever, clever David, to remember the bench where they’d all sat on rainy days, talking of every topic imaginable. Until, that was, her father had warned him off.

He kissed her all the way to the bench, then let go of her with one hand to feel his way down to the cushions. He sat, and pulled her down after him. Not that she needed much of a pull from his hand. It had taken all her resolve to stop herself from flinging herself onto his lap. Except he didn’t pull her onto his lap, but onto the bench next to him. Oh, well, it was almost as good. It was heaven to feel his mouth on hers once more. Such heaven, that she put up no resistance at all when he pushed against her, and kept on pushing, until she was sprawled rather inelegantly on her back with him half over her.

Never mind the inelegance of the sprawl, she sighed. It felt too wonderful to feel his weight bearing down on her. She put her arms round his neck, kissing his face and caressing his shoulders to encourage him to keep on doing what he was doing. Because if Marianne and Nellie found them together like this, then there was no way he could deny he’d crossed the line.

Though, ought she to let him be quite so free? His hands were exploring rather more of her than she’d expected. And a deal more roughly. Not that he was hurting her, on the contrary, it was all very stimulating.

She did let out a shocked gasp when he delved into the front of her bodice and scooped out her left breast. But it didn’t stop him raising it to his mouth, and lashing it with his tongue.

Heavens, it was as though she’d unleashed a wild animal.

She’d never dreamed David could be so...unruly.

Or so exciting.

At last he’d abandoned all his stuffy principles about the way a gentleman should behave. Where, now, was his declaration that he was beneath her station? That he couldn’t aspire to her hand?

Sacrificed, apparently, to his determination to get beneath her skirts.

So forgetful of his station was he, that he was actually reaching down, seizing a handful of her gown and pushing the material up her legs.

All thoughts of Marianne and discovery went up in smoke when he moaned into her cleavage at the exact moment his hand reached the soft flesh of her inner thigh. He was being so eager, so ardent. If anyone dared to interrupt them now, she would probably scream with frustration.

For this was absolutely heavenly. She’d never felt anything so utterly delightful.

Until his exploration became shockingly intimate.

She winced, and yelped, at the startling, and rather painful intrusion of his fingers.

‘I’m sorry,’ he growled into her ear. ‘I thought you were ready.’

Ready? For him to touch her there? How could she have imagined he’d want to do such a thing? Not that she could protest. Else he might stop altogether. Which was the last thing she wanted. They had to be discovered locked in a passionate embrace, not sitting next to each other demurely begging each other’s pardon.

While she was still puzzling over what response she ought to make, he dropped to his knees on the floor and pushed her skirts right up to her waist. She almost cried out a protest. It had been hard enough having her bosom on show all evening let alone her most private parts. Not that he could actually see anything in the darkness, nor was he trying to, Julia suddenly realised in shock. What he was doing was lowering his head and kissing her. Nibbling at the top of her tightly clenched thighs, and then, when the sheer bliss of it had her relaxing, he pushed her legs apart so that he could kiss the exact place where his hand had ventured.

Julia almost panicked and pushed him away. Surely he couldn’t want to kiss her there? Could he?

Oh, heavens, whatever was she supposed to do now? What would Nellie do in her place? Was she used to men doing this sort of thing? Was she...?

Oh, heavens but that felt...

Oh, goodness, if he kept on doing that...

Oh, goodness, she hoped he would keep on doing that. That was...that was...

Excitement built in her, just as though he’d lit a fuse. It went fizzing through her, burning brighter and brighter, until somehow, she knew, there was going to be some sort of explosion.

It burst through her, startling a scream of pleasure from her throat.

He knelt back with a satisfied growl. Got up, bent one of her lax legs at the knee and propped it up against the wall. He then pushed the other down so that her foot was on the floor and came back down on top of her.

‘Unnhhh...’ She tried to say something, anything. But she was still stunned by the force of the explosion that had just flung her skyward. She was still floating, somewhere far above the earth, as he settled between her legs.

It was only when he surged forward she realised that at some point he’d undone his breeches and was sliding inside her. She tensed, remembering the discomfort his fingers had caused. But this didn’t hurt. Not even when he started thrusting into her—clutching at her bottom with one hand, and propping himself against the kitchen wall with the other.

And then he exploded, too. She felt him pulsing deep inside her as his whole body shuddered over her.

She slid her arms round his neck, hugging him in sheer delight.

‘Oh, David,’ she sighed. ‘We’ll have to get married now.’

He tensed.

Well, she’d been prepared for that. He must be shocked to learn that she was the woman he’d just ravished.

But before he could say anything, someone flung up the sash window and stepped into the orangery.

He didn’t have time to do more than lift his head and swivel it in that direction, before the light of two lanterns flooded the scene, clearly showing the unmasked faces of the three people standing there.

The Neapolitan Nightingale, her mouth agape.

And Marianne, her hands clasped to her bosom.

And, worst of all... David.


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