Bound with Honor (A Regency Reimagined Novel)
This title is part of the Regency Reimagined universe.
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Lord Archibald Cambury, Marquess of Camburton, has never wanted for anything . . . except normalcy. Although he adores both of his loving mothers, and his vivacious twin sister with her two husbands, he wants a wife. One wife. Full stop. Is that so much to ask?
Miss Selina Ashby appears to be everything Archie has always wanted in a marchioness: demure, soft-spoken, and pretty, with a quick mind and delectable humor. Yes, she is a bit forward, but he chalks that up to youth. Yes, she has a very particular friend in Beatrix Farnsworth, but he chalks that up to loyalty. He is a lord; she is a lady; they are in love. And so they marry. That should be the end of it.
But when Archie discovers that his wife is as passionate with her particular friend Beatrix as he is with his particular friend Christopher, his world is shattered. He must decide if Selina’s love is big enough for both of them—and whether normalcy is truly more important than the love he feels for both the man and the woman who have become so dear to him.
Winner: Best Romance in the 2015 Bisexual Book Awards!
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Camburton Castle, September 1810
“Damn it, Archie.” The Marquess of Camburton pulled his eyes away from the microscope as he chastised himself. His laboratory was usually a place of guaranteed concentration and uninterrupted thought. Lately, however, he hadn’t been able to focus his mind on anything but Selina Ashby’s bright cheeks and slightly parted lips. Even as he’d stared at the latest cowpox variolation through the scope, he had imagined Selina’s long, dark eyelashes instead of the menacing virus he was attempting to stabilize.
Archie looked out the partially open window at the afternoon sun as it shone across the deer park. Accomplishing as little as he was, he decided to give up for the day. He scrubbed his hands and dried them meticulously, then hung his apron on the hook near the door. Slipping his formal coat back on, he took one last glance around the lab and, satisfied that everything could wait until tomorrow, set off for a walk around Camburton Park.
All of the land technically belonged to him, but he had never thought of it that way. His mother had raised him and his sister to view their inheritance as a temporary gift of immense responsibility. He was a custodian for future generations. He was starting to become preoccupied with said future generations, since it fell to him to be their progenitor. He sighed at the weight of it all, of wanting very much to be correct in his decisions, to honor the memory of his dead father, and to support the ongoing work of his imaginative mother.
It was not by chance that he found himself walking near the cottages where many artists spent the summer months. Or rather, chance had turned to habit of late. For years, Archie’s mother Vanessa Cambury and her partner, Nora White, had invited painters, writers, musicians, and all sorts of inventive souls to rusticate at the large country estate every summer. Throughout Archie’s rather bohemian upbringing, he had been exposed to every manner of creativity. Perhaps that was why he had pursued a career in science, for its supposed absence of creativity. He liked order.
Unfortunately, he was now coming to realize that science held an infinite number of mysteries. Yes, there were some irrefutable scientific facts, but that was like saying all paintings were composed of paint or all books were written with words. Those facts were the barest beginnings. The study of infectious diseases had captured his imagination because of one very promising idea: a cure. It hadn’t penetrated his youthful enthusiasm that a cure sometimes took hundreds or even thousands of years to grasp.
He looked at the leaves overhead as he walked, marveling at the variety and nuances of each branch, each cell.
“Ooofff!” he grunted, then realized he’d bumped into Selina, and quickly reached for her upper arms to prevent her from falling. She was warm from her walk in the sun, more alive to the touch than in even his most fervent imaginings.
“Oh!” she gasped. “I’m very sorry to be so careless!” She slipped a finger into her book to keep her place and then held it close to her chest. He released her arms with great reluctance. “It’s such a terrible habit to be walking and reading,” she continued breathlessly, “but I simply had to be outdoors when the air is so . . . so . . . silky, don’t you agree? But I couldn’t tear myself away from this scene either. The villain is about to be discovered . . . Oh dear, I’m rattling on again.” She curtseyed formally. “Lord Camburton.”
“Oh, Selina. Please call me Archie. I beg of you.”
Wrong choice of words. He knew it immediately. When he said “beg” and she looked at him like that—quick and wise—he was quite sure his tailor had mismeasured all of his clothes and cut them too small. He refrained from tugging at his collar like a schoolboy, but the urge was pressing. He stood perfectly still.
“Well, since you beg so nicely . . . Archie . . .” Her voice wasn’t singsongy exactly; more like Archie was a shiny new toy she was very eager to play with.
She was tormenting him. He knew it as well as she did. But she was so sweet about it, so honest.
“Shall we walk together for a spell?” He held out his arm in a formal, gentlemanly way.
“Yes, thank you.” She looked quickly at her book, remarking her page, then shut it completely and slipped it under her other arm. When she rested her fingers on his proffered forearm, they both shivered slightly. She pressed her fingers harder, gripping his muscle. “That’s better.”
He exhaled. Better was debatable. Unsettling was more like it.
He’d spent the past few weeks alternately avoiding Selina and seeking her out. He’d felt rather listless and enervated when he failed to track her down, and then rather overexcited and agitated on the occasions when he’d found her. Neither state was at all familiar. Archie was what was commonly known as a steady, settled sort of man. He had seen all manner of debauchery in his days at university and later in London, and he’d neither judged nor desired to participate in anything of an extreme nature. Yes, he occasionally fulfilled his baser desires when he went into town, but it was merely a passing comfort—like a warm meal on a cold day—when he and his close friend Christopher Joseph would spend a few hours in Christopher’s rooms at the Albany. He had never thought, never could have believed, a girl would overset him quite like this—on his blind side.
But this . . . this . . . girl. For dear God, that’s all she was. A slip of a girl. Blonde hair and creamy skin and dark pink lips. An English lass like any other. But she was so completely unlike any other. Or at least he was unable to dismiss her or overlook her as he had overlooked every other young woman of his acquaintance. To wit, he now imagined her as a possible wife, despite knowing very little about her past—except that it was checkered.
“How is your writing coming along?” he asked politely as they strolled.
“Well, you aim for terror, don’t you?”
She laughed, a clear burst that startled a bird from the branches above them. “Very good, Archie. Very good.” She sighed. “Alas, that’s not the kind of terrible I meant. I can’t get a word to come. Or rather, I have many words that are of the most pedestrian, hackneyed variety. As if my only inspiration is akin to the latest medicinal ointment being purveyed by a passing charlatan: Get your satisfaction here! Buy me now!” She did a fair imitation of a circus barker.
Her profile was limned by the hazy sun, until she turned her animated face directly toward him and her glittering green eyes sparked with that challenging taunt that made his heart hammer so. He faced forward quickly. “It’s difficult when we are trying to achieve subtlety, for quite often the very attempt only serves to make us that much more crass.” He would know.
“That’s it exactly!” She grabbed his forearm even more tightly. “The words whisper around me—the good words, the subtly delectable ones—and then I put quill to paper and all I’m left with are the awkward, bungling words. Stomping boots when I want a featherlight pas de deux.” She sighed and leaned into his upper arm. “But you must not encounter anything of the sort in your work. You’re more of a hunter, yes, stalking the crafty viruses? Going in for the kill.”
Even the way she talked about his work scattered his thoughts. Stalking. Crafty. Why was she so free? Why was it so enchanting? “Quite the contrary,” he replied. “The truth eludes me far more often than it presents itself. And then when I do catch a glimpse of it, I’m usually misreading the evidence or imagining something that is not even there.”
“Oh! I think it sounds fabulously exciting!” She loosened her hold as she looked off into the distance, where a pair of riders crested the low hillock.
“That must be Mayson and Rushford come for supper,” Archie offered.
“I believe you’re correct.” She kept staring. “They are a handsome couple.”
He looked down at her again. Despite his mother’s decidedly liberated approach to everyone’s sexual freedom at Camburton Castle, he had never become entirely accustomed to that level of openness. When he visited Christopher in London, he didn’t go shouting announcements from the rooftops. That sort of thing was private. Or at least he’d always thought so. His mother and sister often poked fun at him for the way he clung to his old-fashioned notions of propriety, of what should and shouldn’t be said aloud, but cling he did.
Trevor Mayson was marrying Archie’s beloved sister, Georgiana, in a week’s time. Trevor also lived with James Rushford. Even this, Archie could get his mind around. Everything was fine . . . for other people. He merely had certain traditional notions when it came to his own future. He had no wish to judge.
Over the summer, he had seen Selina with her dear friend Beatrix Farnsworth often enough, and while some suspected the two of them were more intimate than mere friendship, he had never broached the subject directly. For some reason, now he felt the compunction to do so, to let Selina see he was not a moralizing man. Perhaps he also felt the courage to ask because deep down he was certain two such lovely women could not possibly be involved in anything sordid. “You and Beatrix are a handsome pair as well.”
Her face clouded instantly. “We are, aren’t we? The closest of friends.” She spoke to herself more than she spoke to him. “Were, I mean. We still are—” Selina stumbled over the words and her brow furrowed “—friends, that is. It’s just that Bea left this morning, as you must know?” Her face cleared somewhat.
“I’m sorry, Selina. I didn’t know. I apologize for my carelessness—”
“Not at all. She’s off to perform in Milan and Rome and Venice and everywhere, and it’s all very glamorous and wonderful.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
She looked up at him boldly. “I didn’t want to leave England.”
And wasn’t that proof enough that there was nothing more intimate than deep friendship between Miss Farnsworth and Miss Ashby? Surely Selina would’ve gone with Beatrix if they were indeed a couple. “Really?” He knew he was being childish, but he wanted more. He was greedy for her interest. And confirmation. “What is keeping you?”
She licked her lower lip, slowly, like a cat preparing to pounce. “Unfinished business . . .”
His heart felt too large for his chest. “What type of business?”
Trevor and James were nearing, and the sound of pounding hooves began to encroach on their conversation.
“Oh!” She broke the moment with a toss of her chin. “I’ve a book to deliver by December. A book that’s all clumsy, inelegant words at the moment.”
“Yes.” He exhaled to get his pulse back to a normal rate. “Your work. Of course.”
“And for you, Archie.” Her words were barely audible. Perhaps he’d misheard, he must’ve misheard—and then Trevor and James were upon them, tipping their hats to the lovely Miss Ashby, who curtseyed prettily and dipped her chin with a polite, “Lord Mayson. Mr. Rushford.” The horses were sweaty and breathing heavily from the brisk ride over from Mayfield House, and Archie had a forceful desire to protect Selina from their threatening presence. Wrong again.
She released his arm and reached for Trevor’s horse, the larger of the two. “Well, now, who is this beautiful creature?”
Archie watched, enthralled, as her small delicate hand pressed into the gleaming fur of the horse’s powerful neck. She rarely wore gloves—she said they were tedious when it came to turning pages, and since that was her primary occupation she’d had to decide between gloves and books. And of course she’d chosen books. So he was free to stare at the subtle turn of her bare wrist, the fine bones of her long, slender fingers, the ink stains on her right hand.
“Archie!” James called with a jovial lift of his chin. “How is this fine day treating you? Solving any mysteries in the laboratory?” Smiling when Archie caught his eye, James winked to let Archie know he’d caught him ogling the lady.
“Alas, no. The little creatures are still winning in some instances, and we are aiming for complete eradication. But Jenner’s on it. We’re close to having a stable enough vaccine to package and distribute on a wide scale.”
“Good to hear, good to hear.”
“Will you be joining us for supper?”
“Yes, with all the wedding plans, it’s the only chance we get to see Georgie. And we wanted to ride before dinner—nothing surpasses Derbyshire at this time of year.”
Selina finished her conversation with Trevor while petting his horse, and then the two men continued on their way, trotting slowly across the park toward the castle.
Archie pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket. “Would you care to wipe the smell of horse sweat off your hands?”
Dear Lord, this man was put in her path to give her every sordid thought. The mere mention of “sweat” and “hands” and “wiping” coming out of his prim, delectable mouth made her want to—
Her gaze flew from his lips to his eyes, those amber eyes that always appeared so brilliant and tentative and eager all at once. Men were supposed to be full of blustery conviction and arrogance and superior notions. Men were not supposed to be biddable. Men were not supposed to tempt her the way the Marquess of Camburton tempted her.
Damn it, Selina, you are not that sixteen-year-old miss with no control of your emotions! As her fingers rested on his forearm, she tried to steady the frantic beating of her heart, gripping harder onto him as if that would ground her somehow.
Falling in love with the Marquess of Camburton was absolutely not on her agenda! She had books to write. She had her own life to lead. Not to mention Beatrix had barely been gone a day! Even though Bea had given Selina her blessing should she decide to pursue her burgeoning feelings for the marquess, Selina had believed herself to be a bit more in control than this. She’d fancied it would be a lark, a safe male friend with whom to satisfy her curiosity about what it would be like to be with a man.
Here she stood next to Archibald Cambury, attempting to be immune to his kind, gentlemanly ways, and instead her heart was pounding wildly . . . and not just with lust. She actually admired the man. The way he spoke about her relationship with Bea with such understanding and acceptance, the way he listened to her when she talked about her work, and the way he looked at her with such devotion. She wanted him, yes, to touch him and fulfill her own dreamy sensual desires, but she also felt the beginning of something far deeper—a desire to protect and nurture him and to be protected and nurtured by him in return. She wasn’t just smitten.
In fact, Selina was beginning to entertain the previously preposterous notion that she might actually wish to marry the Marquess of Camburton.
She accepted the handkerchief out of polite habit, then, without thinking, brought it to her nose, wanting to inhale the warm scent of Archibald Cambury’s pocket square . . . wanting to inhale Archibald Cambury.
“Thank you,” she murmured through the fabric. He watched her hands; he always watched her hands. But her hands were so close to her eyes that he was forced to meet her gaze.
“Archie . . .”
When he licked his lips, she reached for him, and her book fell from between her arm and her ribs. “Damn it, Selina!” she chastised herself.
They both bent simultaneously to fetch the book and nearly banged heads. He got to it first, and they rose slowly at the same time. He was a good four or five inches taller than she was and, unaccountably, that made him even more precious—like one of those German boarhounds on the estate that, despite its size, still thought it fit on her lap.
He held out the book for her to take it back, but she ignored the gesture and reached for his face. She gripped the handkerchief in one hand and trailed the other along his slightly rough jaw. It was the first time she had really touched him, skin to skin, and the surge of power through her fingertips was even greater than she had dreamt it would be. “Archie . . .”
His eyes closed and a gentle moan escaped him as her fingertips continued to explore the planes of his cheeks, the turn of his jaw, the arch of his brow. She avoided his mouth, savoring the anticipation, watching him closely as his nostrils flared and the tip of his tongue touched the corner of his lips and then retreated. She toyed with his ear, lightly caressing the edge and wondering if the silky texture was similar to the sensitive skin of a man’s cock.
Standing perfectly still, except for those stunningly desperate breaths, Archie resembled a statue, or a treasure—something awaiting discovery, or about to be pillaged. “I want you, Archie . . .” Words escaped her when she saw the color flood up his neck and cheeks. She had never seduced anyone, and the power of it was beginning to fill her with a throbbing energy. Not that she’d ever been passive—she’d been with three loving, attentive women over the past five years, with whom she had been exuberant and fearless—but she had never initiated any of those relationships. In the first two instances, they had found each other, a shared joining of equals. And Beatrix, well, Beatrix was like a force of nature; she had taken Selina with her sheer intensity, in a passionate night that had unfurled into three years of companionship and deep, abiding love.
And Beatrix had encouraged her over the past few months, egged her on even, when it came to the marquess. “Why don’t we invite him over?” she’d taunted.
“He would never!” Selina had replied, knowing what Beatrix was suggesting. “Archibald Cambury is looking for a wife, not an orgy.”
But Beatrix was gone for now. And it was just Archie and Selina standing here under this beautiful tree, with him holding her book and her touching his magnificent face.
“I’m going to kiss you now, so if you don’t want me to, you must stop me.”
His eyes opened slightly—amber shards burning with desire—but otherwise he remained perfectly still. She stood on the tips of her soft-soled summer shoes. When her lips touched his, they both pressed against each other, quivering. He dropped the book again, God bless him, and put his strong hands on her upper arms the way he’d done earlier when he was trying to stop her from falling. But now it felt like he was holding on, afraid he would be the one to fall.
“Selina . . .” His voice was thick and full of want, as he brushed his lips against hers. “Selina . . .” He pushed her away, but kept his hands on her in that firm, almost accusatory way. “It’s not proper.”
God, how she loved his propriety. She wanted to slink around it like a randy cat, rubbing herself against his upstanding self. “I don’t want to be proper when I’m with you,” she whispered.
He shook her slightly, then looked ashamed that he had manhandled her. The inner battle was divine. She wanted to push him to the edge of that conflict, force him to release all that inappropriate, violent lust despite himself. She adored his aristocratic ways, because unlike the airs and grasping of her own family, his devotion to his place in society was entirely authentic. In all their walks around the estate and quiet strolls across his lands, she had seen the depth of his commitment to a life that many would see as a burden of birth, or something to be leveraged for financial or social gain. Not Archie. Getting to know him over the past few months had proven to her that he was that rare creature: a true gentleman.
But beneath that, simmering just there where no one else could see it—or perhaps no one but she had ever been permitted to see it—resided a crouching animal, some part of him that he held in check. That was the part of him that she wanted to break free. Against his better judgment. To get him to unleash it on her.
He exhaled through his nose. “Please don’t say such things. I don’t want to do anything to compromise you, Selina.”
She repressed a laugh at the idea she could be compromised. “Very well.” She stepped back, and he was forced to release her. With Beatrix gone for at least three months, she had more than enough time to pursue Archibald Cambury. Three months? Three days would probably be enough to get him to his knees, where (quite certainly) he very much wanted to be. “I know proper matters to you.”
“Does it not matter to you?” He bent to pick up the book from its second tumble, and handed it back to her.
They began walking again. “I suppose not. My parents were very strict, and I decided many years ago that I would not live my life in the same way, filled with fear of society or the opinions of some imaginary jury. Or God.”
He held his forearm out again, defaulting to tradition. She went along, resting her hand easily on the fabric of his coat and walking in time with him. “Do you not feel the prick of your own conscience?” His voice held a hint of worry.
She let the silence spread easily around them while she thought about that, finally answering with a slight laugh. “Of course I have a conscience. I just— Oh, I don’t know. I don’t believe in sins of the flesh, I suppose.” She paused again, and then blurted, “Did you know I was in hospital?”
“What? No. Were you ill? I’m so sorry to hear it.”
“No, actually. I wasn’t ill. But I was a problem. I wouldn’t be quiet. My mind wouldn’t settle. I didn’t like embroidery.” She laughed again. Without looking at him, she realized the truth of it. “I think my parents put me into a lunatic asylum because I refused to broider.”
“How long were you . . . there?” The tenderness of his concern almost made her feel more sorry for him than she did for the injustice done to her. Almost.
“How long was I imprisoned, you mean?”
“No! Your family wasn’t imprisoning you; they were caring for you. They must’ve thought they were doing what was best.”
“Oh, but you have a generous heart.” She remembered the daily ice baths and restraining devices, and suppressed a shiver of disgust. “My family does not care for me, not in the way you mean.”
They walked on quietly, and she could tell the unaccountability of her parents not loving her was causing his brain to stutter. “Was it for a few weeks, then? They put you in someone else’s care?”
“It was over a year. A full cycle of the seasons . . . so I have something to remind me . . . all year round.”
“But they must’ve wanted you to be healthy.”
“No, they wanted me to be tamed.”
That silenced him completely. He was a brilliant man, she knew that from the way he looked at the world, from the walks they’d taken—the very proper walks—when he’d discussed his research, or the sonata that Beatrix had played, or Nora’s latest painting. He saw things clearly. And those things that perplexed him, he was able to ponder at great length. He was patient.
“I can’t imagine such a thing.”
She burst out laughing again and pulled her hand from his arm. “I can see why!” She spun around, her arms wide and free, encompassing the seemingly infinite breadth of Camburton Park, with Camburton Castle shimmering in the distance. “You were raised here in paradise, and you were raised by Vanessa. Did she ever tell you no? Even once?”
His brow furrowed adorably. How a man of twenty-eight could have the innocence of a child, she knew not, but she never tired of his virtue. He looked as though he were quite methodically going through every interaction he’d had with his mother over those twenty-eight years, before he finally replied. “I can’t think of . . . Now that you ask . . . I think not. Of course there were matters of etiquette and behavior and that sort of thing, but when it came to our own ideas? No. In fact, I think she may have even encouraged us to disagree with her. She would laugh and throw up her hands when we would question her authority, and kiss us on our heads and tell us how beautiful we were.” The realization appeared to strike him hard, perhaps the guilt of how lucky he was.
“See? Heavenly. Whereas . . .” She hated being glum. It was so tedious talking about her puritanical childhood. Beatrix had been a glorious remedy to all of that. Any time Selina even approached the dark edges of memory, Beatrix would laugh and tell her to celebrate her freedom, her escape from the clutches of those small, mean minds that had raised her. She would usually make love to her at times like that. “You are free now. Dwell in that,” Beatrix always said.
Archie reached for her hand and, rather than the formally proffered forearm, he laced his gloved fingers through her bare ones. They walked hand in hand like that for another quarter hour or so. Eventually they ended up at her cottage as dusk fell. She looked appreciatively at the late summer wildflowers and riotous blooms that filled the small front garden. And she was lonely already.
And grateful. She sighed. Lonely and grateful.
The writing life had turned her into a walking conflict: she craved the peace and isolation that would allow her to write, but she loved the sounds and scents of another person nearby. She was selfish, and she knew it. About that, at least, her parents had been quite astute—Selina Ashby wanted things.
“Here we are.” He stood away from her and clasped his hands behind him.
“Yes, here we are.” She stared at the bright-red front door, then back into his eyes. “Would you like to come in?” She’d meant to ask it in a casual way, but her desire betrayed her, and she knew she sounded like some sort of throaty seductress.
He stepped back another pace. “Oh, I think not.”
“Of course, yes. You need to get back to the house in time for supper.” She turned toward the setting sun as if it held all the answers between them. “I’m going to stay here at home for dinner tonight. I think I need a bit of quiet.”
“I’m going to London.” He said it like a bark.
“Oh?” She looked back at him. “Yes, that’s right. For your sister’s wedding.” She wasn’t sure why he was telling her. Initially, his advances and withdrawals had amused her, but lately—today especially—she was feeling agitated and needy around him. She wanted to go into her cottage and pleasure herself before she did something stupid like beg him to touch her. When he failed to elaborate, she continued, “Very well. I hope you have a pleasant journey.”
“Come with me.”
“What?” Good God, when he spoke in that halting, desperate way, she wanted to tear off her clothes and pull his lips to her breasts. “To London?”
He settled somewhat, still with his hands clasped behind his back, which (unfortunately for his propriety), drew her attention to the bulge in his tight, revealing breeches. She forced her gaze back to his eyes.
He spoke softly. “Yes. Would you like to accompany me to London? In addition to my sister’s marriage celebration, I have several appointments and a lecture to attend, so I am going to town for the week. With my prior obligations, I wouldn’t be able to escort you anywhere, but I thought perhaps you would want to see your publisher, or might wish to visit a friend. I have room in my carriage. Mayhap it was a silly invitation. I regret—” He began to sketch a small bow of apology.
He startled. “Yes?”
“Yes.” She smiled broadly through the word. “Yes, I would love to accompany you to London. And once there, I shan’t inconvenience you. I shall stay with my father’s sister, the one from whom my mother is certain I inherited all of my worst attributes—she is forward and brash and shameless. And wonderful. She designs sets for the theater and lives near Drury Lane, and she has been wishing for me to visit all this past year.”
“Very well, then.” He was pleased, she could tell, but he was keeping it all buttoned up in that riveted way of his. “We will leave Monday morning at first light.”
“Very well. And thank you . . . Archie.” Saying his name aloud felt like the greatest intimacy. She lifted herself up on tiptoes and kissed him quickly on the cheek, then turned and ran the last few steps into her small home. The door shut behind her, and she waited breathlessly until she heard his footsteps recede down the path and off into the park. Then she slid to the floor, set her book aside, and reached her hand between her legs, burrowing under the multilayered folds of her dress. She was swollen and wet, and it didn’t take more than a minute—imagining Beatrix suckling at her breast while Archie pounded into her pussy—for her to come in a brilliant flare, right there on the floor.
In the misty dawn of Monday morning, Vanessa and Nora stood close by in the forecourt while the footmen hoisted Selina’s bag onto the rack at the back of the carriage. Archie watched out of the corner of his eye as Selina waited slightly apart from the rest of them, in that observing way of hers, as if she could look and not look all at once.
Vanessa kindly included her. “Farewell, Selina. I’m sorry we won’t see you in London. You know you are more than welcome to attend the wedding.”
“You are too kind,” Selina replied graciously. “But it is a family affair, and I will also have my own commitments. But thank you again. I look forward to hearing all about it when we return here in October.”
“Yes,” Nora agreed. “We will all be back in a few weeks, isn’t that right, Archie?”
“Yes, Nora. We’ll all be back.” He opened the carriage door for Selina. “But now we must depart if I am to reach London in time for Jenner’s lecture tomorrow evening.”
“Yes, you must go.” Nora hugged him and smiled. “We will see you in a few days, my dear.”
As soon as the carriage door shut, the horses began trotting away at a steady pace. It was an excellent carriage, well sprung, comfortable, and amply stocked for the rigorous three-day-long trip ahead of them. He removed his hat and set it on the seat next to him. After checking to make sure everything was secured properly, he stared across at Selina and let himself look his fill. She happened to be peering out the window with a seemingly oblivious concentration, the edge of her poke obscuring part of her profile, yet accentuating the turn of her jaw and her delicate chin.
He loved observing the world; he especially loved observing Miss Selina Ashby. Archie was no artist himself, but even though Nora was not his mother by birth, she was still one of his parents. He had inherited her habit of seeing the world carefully, noting the hints and shadows of things.
“Archie?” Selina asked without turning from the window.
“Yes.” He almost said, Yes, love, as he did to his mother or Nora or his sister, Georgie. Selina was beginning to reside in the same chamber in his heart.
“What do you think of me?”
He tried to laugh it off. “What a strange thing to ask, Selina. I think very highly of you. You must know that.”
She turned slowly, and the way her hat framed her face made her look even more like a portrait, a perfect ivory cameo or immaculately painted miniature. “I mean, do you think of me? Do you . . . imagine me?”
He suddenly realized six hours spent in this confining manner would be an eternity. He might need to ride up on the box with the coachman if this sort of intimate conversation was the only alternative. “I think of you often. I think of you . . .” His throat was dry, so he reached for the hamper. “Would you care for some tea?” He took out the flask that had been wrapped in cotton wadding to hold in the heat, and held up a small cup. “Yes?”
She ignored his offer. “Am I being too forward?”
He unscrewed the top of the flask and poured it carefully into the cup. “Here. Have some.”
As he handed it to her, the coach jostled and a bit of the hot liquid spilt onto her finger. She didn’t flinch, and she was actually smiling when he looked up.
“I am so sorry for being so clumsy.”
“It’s not your fault.” She took the cup in two hands and held it close to her chest, still with that lovely smile playing at the corner of her lips. She held his gaze as the warm liquid passed her lips and slid down her throat. He watched her swallow. The image of her taking his cock like that—lips taut, throat working—flashed in his mind like a pornographic firework. An impossibly inappropriate vision.
He blinked it away, cleared his throat, and sat back abruptly, then refastened the top of the flask.
“Aren’t you going to have any?” she asked.
“No. I’m fine, thank you.”
They rode in silence for nearly an hour after that. He spent most of the time wondering how he could appropriately distance himself from her in the current circumstances. It was much too close in the coach; perhaps at the first stop for the horses he could suggest that she might prefer privacy.
“Archie?” She tilted her head slightly.
“Yes, Selina?” He’d been working his way through the periodic table in his mind to pass the time, while she’d been reading a novel.
She’d removed her hat, and her hair was coming loose, a few blonde tendrils snaking down the side of her neck. It was much easier when he didn’t have to focus on her, but she’d asked for his attention and it would be rude to look away. The silence lengthened and his heart rate increased. She just gazed at him like that, quietly taking him in. “Will you come sit next to me?”
His cock twitched, and even though the flaps of his coat concealed his lap, he suspected she somehow knew how his body reacted to her. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Why isn’t it a good idea?” she asked, sounding a bit short-tempered.
“For obvious reasons.” He exhaled. “When I get close to you, I . . .” He couldn’t finish that thought. What could he say? When I get close to you I want to touch you? When I get close to you I want to pull the pins out of your hair and burrow my face into your neck? And I want to make love to you? I want to put my face between your legs and swallow every ounce of what makes you who you are?
“What happens when you get close to me?” She set her book down and came over to his side of the carriage. She moved his top hat and set it respectfully on the other bench, where she’d just been sitting. He wondered if the seat was still warm, if his hat was somehow enjoying the warmth of Selina Ashby’s body. She was touching him, lightly caressing his hand. “Do you want to touch me, Archie?”
His heart was pounding so hard now; it was becoming difficult to hear her over the ferocious drum of blood in his ears. “We shouldn’t . . .”
But she didn’t stop. Her fingers traced his, skimming the sensitive skin between each one, then the flesh at the base of his thumb. “You have amazing hands. I love them.” She brought his knuckles to her lips and began kissing her way across each ridge. “I imagine you touching my body.”
He ripped his hand from hers and gasped. “Please go back to your seat, Selina. This is entirely improper.”
She didn’t move. In fact, she smiled. “It is, isn’t it? Deliciously improper. The two of us in a closed carriage. The noise of the horses concealing my screams of passion. The clatter of wheels and springs muffling your moans.”
He leapt away as she reached for his now-hard cock beneath his straining buckskins. Then he settled on the other seat, nearly crushing his hat. “Perhaps I should sit with the coachman—”
She didn’t even try to stop him. He was about to pound on the ceiling of the carriage to alert his man that he wanted to stop—his arm extended for a seemingly infinite moment—yet still he hesitated. And she saw it. She saw him so clearly.
Selina looked at him, all tense and pulled in every direction, his strong arm reaching for escape, but his whole body yearning to stay. “You want this, Archie.”
His arm fell, but he said nothing.
“Why else would you have asked me to join you?” She began to unbutton her spencer, and his eyes widened as her fingers worked at the tight fabric buttons over her breasts. “I kept thinking about it over the weekend. Why would he invite me? Does he want me as much as I want him?” She spoke casually, as if she were alone and musing aloud.
His breath caught when she said “want.”
She tugged at the spencer after she’d undone the buttons. The rose velvet was close-fitted, the garment one of her best, so she had to arch her back to tug the sleeves free. He kept staring at the edge of her gown where the bodice skimmed across her straining bosom. After she’d managed to get one sleeve off, she breathed a sigh and reveled in the new freedom for her ribs and breasts.
“So confining.” Her other arm finally slid free, and she smiled as if the marquess would understand her sartorial frustrations.
“Selina . . . you should . . . you should not . . .”
Her eyes caught his as they skimmed her arms, bare except for the short sleeves that capped her shoulders. It was cool in the carriage, but not uncomfortably so. The autumn air was beginning to whip across the hills and the morning was still brisk. “That is the problem, isn’t it? I should. And I should not. That has always been my difficulty. I want things. And then I think about the things I want. I think and think. My imagination takes over. I imagine things in great detail. I imagine you.”
He swallowed, the loud gulp echoing through the compartment.
“Have you imagined me, Archie?” He stayed silent. “That’s fine, you don’t have to answer. I know it’s hard for you.” She loosened the laces of her dress as she spoke, and felt the throbbing between her legs. God, the way he looked at her, paying attention to every detail, every movement of her fingers and arms, the way her legs shifted or her neck tilted. He almost didn’t need to touch her, his gaze was so powerful. Almost. For now. She could live without his touch for now, but eventually . . .
Eventually she would have his skin against hers, even if it meant she had to tie him down to accomplish it. He would like that.
She smiled devilishly at the prospect. “I think about you while I touch myself.”
He began to perspire, the sheen of sweat making his face—that perfect patrician face, usually all cool authority and solid planes—even more desperate, more eager.
“I’m going to touch myself now.”
He grunted or moaned or something that might have constituted some form of resistance in the high court, but he didn’t move. He sat there like a statue, a prisoner of what he so obviously wanted but could never actually ask for. She could see his cock pressing against his breeches.
She rolled her shoulders, first the right and then the left, enjoying the liberty of her loosened stays and her absent spencer. “If you don’t care to watch, you should close your eyes.” His eyes stayed open, and she felt it like the greatest victory—she almost tossed out a cavalier I thought so, then decided that would perhaps break the spell, and put him back on the side of propriety. She brought her fingers to her mouth. “I often think of kissing and licking your hands, like I started to do before . . .” She licked her fingers, then dipped her thumb and forefinger into the front of her gown, where she’d loosened the fabric enough to pinch one of her nipples. She bit down on her lower lip as she did so. “I think of your mouth on my breasts. I want that so much. I want that beautiful mouth of yours on me.”
He moaned, and she saw his knuckles strain as he gripped the squabs on either side of his powerful thighs. Poor, beautiful man. So tight. So contained.
She squeezed her nipple hard and sighed at the bittersweet satisfaction of it. “I would beg you to be hard with me. Strict and strong. You would know how much I need that, for you to be strong for me. For us.”
He ground out some unintelligible epithet or plea, and it was more than enough to prod her on. One day she would make this man scream out what he wanted.
“And I will be strong for you, as well. I will be able to take what you so obviously want to provide.” She used her other hand to lift up her skirts, slowly revealing her stockings and the pretty rose-colored ribbons she’d used to tie them. “I thought of you while I dressed this morning. I wanted you to see me like this.” She spread her legs and exposed her naked, swollen sex.
He rubbed both of his hands over his face, viciously scraping his palms against his eyes and cheeks. “Selina . . .” His voice was ragged and so deliciously conflicted.
“Yes, love. I’m right here.” She began to stroke her pussy, lightly at first, trailing her finger along her slit while she kept toying with her nipple. “I do this while I think of you.” She traced the shell of her opening. “I imagine you being tentative and curious at the beginning.”
He whimpered and pressed his hand over his engorged cock, as if he could make it go away.
She slid her hips forward to get a better angle—better for her to see her hand working and better for him to see as she did. “But then I would want more, wouldn’t I?” She began to circle her clit, to pinch and moan. “Because the way I want you . . .” She panted through the words. “There is nothing tentative about the way I want you, Archibald Cambury.” Thrusting two fingers in, she kept up the pressure on her clit. Her ragged breath made it hard for her to speak. “I can make it last, when you finally come to me, I promise I will make it last . . .”
He pressed cruelly against his crotch, groaning in near pain. “Selina . . .”
“But right now I am going to take my pleasure fast and hard, picturing you thrusting into me—” She rode her hand for three or four harsh strokes and then exploded, crying out his name as she arched and quaked for him. For him to watch.
When she was once again able to focus, she saw his jaw was clenched, eyes murderous. Breathing in steady, controlled pants, he kept his lips in a firm line as he inhaled and exhaled through his nose. He looked so angry, so furious, because she had . . . what? Sullied his opinion of her?
She wasn’t about to let him deny what was so obviously true for both of them—he wanted her as much as she wanted him; she was sure of it. Refusing to let his supposed irritation limit her lingering pleasure, she removed her hand from her breast, adjusted her bodice, then pulled back the fabric of her petticoats to get a better look at her hand pressed against her pussy. Her slick moisture was glistening against her inner thighs, and she spread it around, imagining a time his seed would be mixed with it. “God, what you do to me. I’m so wet—”
“Stop it! At once!”
She peered up with a slight smile. “Well, it’s pretty much over at this point. For now. But fine. I’ll stop.” She dragged her hand away from the still quivering flesh between her legs and put her dress to rights.
The coachmen called “Whoa,” and the coach began to slow.
“Perfect timing.” She adjusted her hair and tightened the laces of her dress. “I could do with a bit of fresh air and to stretch my legs.”
He stared disapprovingly at her spread legs when she said that, and she couldn’t help laughing at his furious censure. Surely he would admit his own desire at any moment. Wouldn’t he?
“Do not laugh at me, Miss Ashby.” His voice was cold and empty, as if she were a stranger, or a servant. Though she’d never heard him speak in quite that stony way to anyone, servant or otherwise.
She ceased giggling at once. Her heart was pounding, with a heady combination of fear and desire. “Yes, my lord. As you wish.” She bowed her head slightly and put her knees primly together.
“I suspect you are mocking me, or mocking the formal show of respect you are now employing, but I shall take you at your word—that you will do as I wish—and you will permit me to ride the rest of the way with the coachman, outside the confines of the carriage.”
“Oh, Archie—” She reached for him, and he withdrew as best he could. More like recoiled. “I’m very sorry,” she whispered.
“So am I.” He opened the carriage door before the horses had come to a complete stop. Unable to abandon his manners entirely, he waited patiently for her to exit the carriage, so he could aid her descent. She had to put her spencer back on, and the arms were too narrow and she almost cried in frustration. She refused to cry, damn it. He wanted her. She knew it. Just because he was ashamed or embarrassed by his desires, didn’t mean she had to be ashamed of hers. She would never be ashamed of that. She slammed her stiff hat on her head and tied the satin ribbons tightly beneath her chin.
When she stepped from the carriage, she ignored his offered hand. “Thank you, Lord Camburton, but I’m quite capable of stepping out of a carriage—and accomplishing many other things—without your assistance.” She walked toward the tavern across the stable yard where the carriage had stopped to water the horses. Selina entered the modest establishment in search of a privy, a bracing drink, and a secluded room where she could avoid the scathing, judgmental glare of the Marquess of Camburton.
Archie had so hoped Selina Ashby would prove to be the woman he had long imagined in his rather particular vision of what he wanted in a wife: a woman who would be an attentive, loving mother to his children; a woman with a keen intellect, who would perhaps share his interests in Camburton Castle and the responsibility of keeping it in high fettle for future generations; a woman, in short, he could respect.
As they approached London, he did his best to shove all those hopes aside. Selina was not that woman. She was a sexually precocious trollop. Well, maybe he didn’t need to go as far as trollop. She was sexually precocious. And that simply did not coincide with his wishes for a happy, secure home life. She was too pressing, too forward. It was probably for the best that she had accosted him in that way, revealed herself, as it were. He groaned at the double meaning.
Of course he had responded physically! What man wouldn’t? But he was not a beast. He could control those base desires. He didn’t need to act on them. Why did she have to act on every careless impulse?
“Damn it,” he mumbled to himself.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” The coachman turned to him. They were both sitting on the raised driving seat of the large carriage.
“Oh, I was just thinking aloud.” Archie paused and looked around at the encroaching city. They would reach Mayfair within the hour. “Are you married, Granger?” He realized the coachman had worked for his family for as long as he could remember, and yet he had no idea about the man’s personal life.
“I am indeed, my lord. Twenty-two years of wedded bliss.” Granger turned and winked ironically, but Archie remained perplexed. The driver resumed his serious concentration on the crowded street ahead.
“I didn’t mean to appear humorless. Congratulations on your domestic happiness.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
They rode in silence the rest of the way. Archie was in knots. Was he a hypocrite? He’d never thought so, but damned if he didn’t resent Selina for what amounted to honesty. The entire situation was far too vexing. He eventually decided such vexation was yet another indication Selina Ashby was not the right woman for him. He did not wish to be vexed.
When the carriage finally pulled up in front of Camburton House on Grosvenor Square, Archie leapt from the high perch as if he’d been riding on a bed of hot coals for three months, rather than a mere three days.
And here came said hotbed. The footman held the carriage door open as Selina peered out. She smiled when she saw the glorious autumn leaves in the center of the square and then she beamed appreciatively when she scanned the sparkling mansions along the north side.
“Miss Ashby.” Archie sounded especially formal, even to his own ears.
“Lord Camburton.” She adopted the same cool tone, taking the tips of his fingers for support as she stepped down without making eye contact.
He had tried not to notice her appearance earlier in the day, but there was no avoiding it now that he was helping her from the carriage—she was gloriously dressed for town in another damnably tight spencer that pulled affectionately across her full bosom. Beneath, she wore a pale blue dress of some sort. Archie had never taken an interest in fashion, but the dress seemed to skim her body in the most distracting way.
She avoided looking at him. “Shall I hire a hackney to take me the rest of the way to my aunt’s?”
They had stayed at two of his favorite inns during the journey, and he had originally envisioned private dinners with the pair of them chatting comfortably in front of a low fire. After the disastrous carriage ride on the first morning, he wasn’t surprised when Selina chose to dine alone in her room both nights. He knew it was for the best. Of course it was. But damn it. Why couldn’t she just behave like a normal young woman?
“Of course you will not hire a hack!” He sounded more exasperated than he intended, but he was at his wit’s end with this woman. The least she could do was adhere to the last few threads of propriety until he deposited her at her aunt’s townhouse. “I will drive you to your aunt’s in my curricle as soon as your luggage is transferred. It is easier to navigate the smaller vehicle on the narrow lanes near Covent Garden.”
“Very well.” She removed her fingers from his and clasped both hands around her reticule.
“Won’t you come in for refreshment before we go to your aunt’s?” He gestured toward his grand home behind them.
She looked up at the imposing façade of Camburton House. “Thank you for your kind invitation, but I think not. I told my aunt I would be to her by five, and I have already gone far beyond the boundaries of your kind consideration. I also know you are eager to attend Mr. Jenner’s lecture.”
Everything she said was true, but he was irritated nonetheless. For some reason, it felt as if she were giving him a set down.
He spoke to one of the passing footmen. “Have my curricle brought round at once.”
“Yes, my lord.”
They stood silently for the next ten minutes, Archie refusing to engage Selina in conversation when she was in this icy mood. The curricle arrived at last and the matched bays pranced and snorted. He watched as Selina reached for one of the animals, about to stroke its shimmering russet coat.
“You do not wish to be late.” His voice was overly stern, but he’d had quite enough of watching her touch things. “Let us not tarry, Miss Ashby.”
She gasped at his obvious effort to prevent her movement, and withdrew her hand before she touched the animal. “Yes, my lord.” She dipped her head in apology and accepted his hand with cool detachment when he assisted her up to the elevated seat. He double-checked that her luggage was attached to the back of the curricle, and then he took the long whip and reins out of the driver’s hand. He leapt up to the high perch next to Selina and they were off in a trice.
He had very few vanities, but this vehicle was one. He’d redesigned the suspension system himself, and the flow and movement of the two wheels beneath them was smooth and exhilarating, especially after the large traveling carriage and team of four they’d used to come down from Derbyshire. Trying to ignore the close press of Selina’s thigh against his, he focused on the horses and held the whip more as a gentle reminder than a form of discipline. His sister Georgiana had trained these two mares herself several years ago, before she’d left for Egypt the first time, and they were a perfect pair in both temperament and appearance.
He led the curricle down Audley Street, then turned onto Curzon, quickly reaching the bustle of Park Lane. The more he focused on the horses, the less he thought about his swirling, convoluted feelings for the woman next to him. He navigated them around Hyde Park Corner and, when they entered Green Park, he loosened his hold and gave an encouraging swish of the long whip. The two horses bounded forward, thrilled to be given free rein. Letting the autumn air swish past him, enjoying himself fully for the first time in three days, he risked a quick glance at Selina. He expected her to be gripping the low handle to her right, probably hoping to steady herself in the midst of a frightfully exhilarating ride. He was slightly ashamed to admit he wanted her to be afraid, to have to rely on him, but that was the truth of it.
He shouldn’t have looked. He simply should not have looked. Her head was tilted back joyfully, her chin lifted in some sort of cosmic welcome, her partially open mouth revealing a blissful half smile, eyes nearly closed in communion with the wind and speed. She looked just like she had when she’d cried out his name—
He pulled at the reins far too abruptly. It was only due to excellent training that the two mares didn’t break their traces altogether. As it was, the high wheels beneath them tilted at a precarious angle and one even came off the ground for a few dangerous seconds. Selina grabbed his right arm with both hands when they were in that suspended moment of unknowing, and their eyes locked. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds before the carriage righted itself and bounced slightly when it resettled. She stared into him a moment longer, then pulled her hands—and flaming green eyes—away from him.
“I am so sorry—”
“You should be!” she raged.
He’d never heard her angry, and it sent a shocking thrill of desire straight to his cock.
“You are angry at me for being wanton or forward or whatever you wish to call it,” she cried, “but it is you who are reckless. You could have killed us!”
The way she clenched her hands into tight fists made him want to hand over the reins and the whip and let her mete out his punishment. He’d never gone in for that sort of thing, but something about the fury in her expression made him want to . . . receive it.
“I am utterly to blame.”
She breathed in fast pants, like the horses in front of them who were trying to calm themselves, and stared at him. “You are. You are entirely to blame. I shan’t forgive you for this anytime soon, Lord Camburton.”
“I lost control of the curricle—”
“You do not lose control!” Her voice was raised to a high pitch, and he looked worriedly toward an approaching carriage that bore the family seal of the Duke of Devonshire.
She caught the direction of his look. “Damn you,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “You are more worried that I’ll make a scene in front of Hartington? He’s my cousin, you idiot. And unlike some people I know, he actually respects me.” Despite her contentious tone, she smoothed her skirt politely and sat prettily as the other carriage neared.
“I respect you,” he whispered.
She glared at him for a second, then shook her head in frustration and turned with a fake smile toward her cousin. Archie tried to appear calm; the Marquess of Hartington was an inquisitive, observant young man and the last thing Archie wanted was to be perused by the twenty-year-old William Cavendish.
Alas. He seemed to be getting the last thing he wanted on many occasions recently. Selina’s smile appeared to be more genuine as the brilliant red phaeton slowed to a stop next to them.
“Well, if it isn’t the reclusive marquess and my wild cousin.” Hartington tipped his hat. “Camburton. Miss Selina.” He looked from one to the other. “What brings you to the big bad city, Camburton? I thought you preferred life in Derbyshire.”
“Nice to see you too, Hartington. My sister is to be married at the end of the week—”
“Ah yes! Yes, I will be there.” He narrowed his eyes. “Will Rushford still reside at Mayfield House after Mayson and your sister are married?”
Damn him and his direct, invasive questions. It was none of Hartington’s business how Georgie and Trevor and James chose to set up house. “I believe they will be visiting Egypt for several months after the wedding.”
“Not the answer to the question I asked, but point taken. And you, Miss Selina?” He turned his imperious gaze on her, but there was a twinkle of affection beneath the haughtiness. “Enjoying your freedom, I see.”
“Yes, my lord. Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome, my dear.” He tipped his hat again. “Enjoy your stay in town.” With that, he clucked to his pair of horses from his high perch and set off at an elegant trot, his back as straight as his too-high starched collar.
Archie was irritated again. They spent the rest of the journey in silence—except for the most basic exchanges when Selina gave directions to their destination—until they parted ways at the door of Selina’s aunt’s house on Tavistock Street.
[W]ell developed story with characters that pop off the page but sex acts so hot my Kindle melted in my hands. . . . This one is an absolute must for any fans of erotic romances with solid storylines.
The characters were well-developed, the relationships were believable, the sex was hot with dom/sub tendencies. . . . I'd recommend this to anyone one who likes menage stories with a little bit of plot and some really fascinating relationships.
This series is great fun to read, the author manages to put a brilliantly kinky, erotic twist on the usual Regency romantic stories.
Hands down the best LGBTQIA I’ve ever read.
[T]his book was hot AND it was damn good, too! . . . [A] lot of fun to read. I would definitely recommend this book!