Bound with Passion (A Regency Reimagined Novel)
Lady Georgiana Elizabeth Cambury has been a “wild romping girl” all her life: dressing in trousers, riding astride, and doing just fine, thank you very much. Her father’s exceedingly generous bequest — and her mother’s liberal views of the world — have ensured that Georgie will never be a slave to the barbarous institutions of marriage or motherhood. Or so she thinks.
When she returns from five years in North Africa to boring Derbyshire for a brief, obligatory family visit, she finds herself in the midst of a legal snarl involving Mr. James Rushford and Lord Trevor Mayson — neighbors, lovers, and her two closest friends. Mayson’s father has declared that he must marry or forfeit his vast inheritance, so Georgie blithely offers to walk down the aisle, in name only. Problem solved.
But try as she might, Georgie cannot ignore the passion that quickly blazes between all three of them. When her marriage of convenience turns into something much deeper, Georgie must decide if she is willing to give up the independence she has fought so hard to achieve — or if love is worth the ultimate surrender.
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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:dubious consent, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Kinks: 69ing, barebacking, biting, bondage, breath play, cross-dressing, dirty talk, double penetration, edge play, erotic massage, exhibitionism, face-fucking, fisting, flogging, frottage, hate-sex/angry sex, humiliation, impact play, masturbation, power exchange, public play, rimming / anilingus, rough sex, spanking, voyeurism
Ajax, Southampton Harbor
Georgie swayed in the bowels of the ship. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d slept in a proper bed. Not that it mattered—she was just grateful to have secured passage at all, for herself and for the two beautiful beasts with whom she shared her accommodations . . . such as they were. Her string hammock swung with the gentle currents of the harbor, just as Saladeen and Cyrus swung in their equestrian slings. The three of them were tired and filthy, and quite ready for this treacherous journey to be over.
Rolling out of her hammock, Georgie stood as best she could in the awkwardly shaped hold.
“We’re almost there, my dears. We disembark today.” She stroked Saladeen’s neck the way the horse loved, and watched the more aggressive Cyrus out of the corner of her eye. Georgie and the larger stallion had a very cautious peace. He knew he was being taken someplace cold and inhospitable, and he was not pleased about it. But he also knew Saladeen would be there, so . . . he moped along.
“Don’t look at me like that, Cyrus. I’m just as unhappy about it as you are. At least you will be coddled and prized—a lifetime of sweet oats and green pastures await you. And the beautiful Bathsheba.”
She turned to dismantle her hammock and do what few ablutions she could with the bucket of cold water that sloshed near her feet. Sweet oats and green pastures do not await me, she thought sadly. More like an army of people who would try to convince her that spending the rest of her life in rural Derbyshire would offer some Elysian Field of perpetual pleasure.
No, thank you.
Georgie splashed her face, not worrying too much about any residual dirt. After all, it helped make her look more like the young British lad she’d been posing as for the entire trip. Her clothes were simple, masculine, and well made. She’d found a tailor in Cairo who—after the requisite horror that she was a woman—agreed to make her a full kit of men’s clothing, including the stiff, unforgiving corset that flattened her troublesome breasts.
She shook her head and began the familiar routine of defending herself to herself. She was quite fond of her breasts, actually, when occasion warranted acknowledging them—when strong or soft hands liberated them, caressed them, toyed with them. But for the most part, her life did not revolve around such occasions. Lady Georgiana Elizabeth Cambury lived her life at a full gallop, demanded that all doors be open to her, and none of that happened while reclining on a palanquin, having one’s nipples fondled.
Putting an end to that fruitless line of thinking, Georgie continued packing her flannel and soap and other small items with military neatness, buckled up her leather bag, and took one last look at the two beautiful horses. “Now I have to leave you for a short while to deal with the captain and the customs officials. Don’t bite anyone, Cyrus.”
He stared at her as if he didn’t understand. She leaned in and kissed Saladeen on his satiny nose. “Be good, handsome.” She patted each of them one more time for good measure.
Then she turned out of the grimy stall where she’d spent the past three weeks, and with a masculine swagger she’d perfected over the past few years in Egypt and Syria, she strode up on deck and prepared to begin greasing the palms of everyone who was going to help her get the horses off the ship and on their way to Derbyshire.
By midday, they were on dry land—or rather, seeing as she was back in dreary England, moist land was more the truth. She hired a carriage and two men to accompany her north. While she rode Cyrus and led Saladeen, they drove the carriage with her trunks and all of the additional saddlery and equipment she had bought as a present for Trevor. At least the promise of spending time with James and Trevor was one glimmer of sunshine in what felt like an otherwise gloomy errand.
For as far back as Georgie could recall, she had loved Trevor Mayson. Not romantic love, of course—she’d decided at the age of seven that she would never do something as stupid and self-defeating as fall in love. And Trevor had decided . . . or rather, it hadn’t been a decision at all, had it? It was simply a wonderful fact: Trevor loved James Rushford. The two of them had been attached to each other since university, and Georgie had enjoyed getting to know James better in the intervening years—or as much as she could in her perpetual absence. She knew Trevor loved him, and that was enough for her to love him as well.
As her little caravan made its way north, the air turned surprisingly restorative, despite the thick, cool, humidity of it. Georgie gradually let Cyrus have his way, and she enjoyed the prick of cool autumn wind as it swished past her cheeks. Occasionally, she’d loosen her neckcloth, welcoming the cool air against her skin, and let him ride harder. She’d taken to tying Saladeen to the carriage after lunch, warning the two coachmen that she’d cut off their bollocks if anything happened to the prized stallion.
Along the way, they bedded down in Sutton Scotney, Newbury, and Oxford, staying well out of the town centers so Georgie wouldn’t run the risk of seeing any familiar faces. She had plotted an overland trip that would take them about twenty miles a day, getting them to Derbyshire by the middle of September. She’d thought of sending her mother and Nora another letter once she landed in Southampton, but it would arrive only a few days before she herself did, so she didn’t see the point. She had managed to dash off a quick note to Trevor and James to say she’d landed.
As the days passed, the horses became accustomed to the lush greens and autumn ochres that were so foreign to their native Arabia, while Georgie feared she would never become accustomed to England again.
The idea of her native land tortured her. Yes, of course, she felt filial responsibilities, love even, but the closer she got to Derbyshire, the more she missed the Levant. The freedoms she’d enjoyed in the Middle East were impossible here—both in terms of her outward appearance and simply speaking her mind. Everything in England was prescribed; everyone was meddlesome and opinionated and irksome.
She gave Cyrus a spurring kick and he quickened his pace—at least she was going to enjoy riding astride for a day or two more. As soon as they reached Castle Donington, Lady Georgiana Cambury would be required to make her appearance. Until then, Georgie prevailed.
On the ninth night after they’d set off from Southampton, Castle Donington rose up in the distance, a fine spread and one that held fond memories from her childhood. Georgie had released her pair of employees that afternoon, sending them back to Southampton, planning to hire two more local men in the morning. That evening, young master George checked into the Lion and Lamb—chosen primarily for its immaculate stables—and informed the innkeeper that his cousin, Lady Georgiana, would be arriving at some point, but George was not certain when. The proprietor hadn’t seemed to care much one way or another. As usual, once money changed hands, that was the end of it.
She’d decided to spend the next two nights and days at the Lion and Lamb, shedding George and becoming Lady Georgiana. Shedding was quite the right word, she thought, like peeling off a second skin. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it made her think of a cobra she’d seen in the desert marketplace, as it slowly rubbed its nose and slid out of the glaucous wrapper that had served its purpose and must now be left behind.
But Georgie never really left it behind.
The supposedly masculine way she felt and acted when she was dressed as George—confident, outspoken, resilient—was part of her now, neither masculine nor feminine. In fact, she bristled at the idea that men should arbitrarily have those excellent qualities under their sole purview. And she was not alone in that view.
She had become friends with an older English woman in Cairo and had finally confided to her about her alter ego, George. Sibylla Tickenham had laughed and laughed, and had then reached for the shelf and opened a collection of drawings that showed a young Sibylla in traditional Bedouin attire. Traditional Bedouin male attire.
They’d spoken late into the night and on many occasions after, about the freedom and risk, the danger and the pleasure of appearing in public as a man. Sibylla said she believed the masculine and the feminine coexisted inside everyone, but the extent to which one cultivated their varied natures was up to them.
“I believe you are a perfect Janus like me, dear Georgie, swinging like a pendulum from extreme to extreme, and loving both.”
At the time, Georgie had been reclining on a pile of ornately brocaded pillows at Sibylla’s feet, her head resting casually on the older woman’s lap. She’d taken a sip of Sibylla’s brandy and thought about that. “I do love both.”
Sibylla had nodded her encouragement, and made Georgie believe—or begin to believe—that Janus heads were in fact perfect, that being open to all things in every direction was a sign of vitality and strength, not a sign of duplicity or ambivalence.
Now that she was back in England, loving both—in herself and others—seemed a preposterous, distant dream, something misty and forbidden that she could only do in a faraway land where her family and connections were all severed. One more reason to sigh and hope for the shortest trip possible, after she’d delivered Cyrus and Saladeen to Trevor. And one more reason to get completely slewed in the meantime.
So, that first night at the Lion and Lamb in Donington, Georgie sat in her room and got summarily drunk. Without making a big stink in the bar downstairs, she simply drank alone and let the alcohol do its job. She wallowed in a bit of self-pity during the first few glasses. Then she laughed at herself—her wealthy, independent, spoiled self—during the next few glasses. Then she ordered a large tub to be delivered and sat staring at the steaming water for a few moments after the male servants had left with their empty buckets and their laughter.
That was another thing she was going to miss while she was all trussed up in lace and fripperies here in England. When she was George, other men—from haughty valets and rumbustious stable boys to enigmatic pashas—were accessible to her in an utterly nonsexual way. Well, in a sexual way too, on occasion, but it was the easy pedestrian camaraderie that was the most enjoyable. They would make rude jokes and laugh and speak inappropriately around each other, around her. Around her when she was George Camden, that is.
No one dared speak inappropriately around Lady Georgiana Cambury—no one dared do much of anything interesting around Lady Georgiana Cambury, heiress, sister of the Marquess of Camburton, daughter of Lady Vanessa Montagu Cambury.
After tossing back a fifth glass of Scotch, she set the crystal decanter down and began to untie her neckcloth. She removed her small amber pin and set it next to the liquor. She pulled off her close-fitting jacket, and then bent to remove her boots. Her buckskins came off next, then her stockings. She pulled her shirt over her head and let it float to the floor with the rest of the clothing she wouldn’t be wearing again until she returned to Egypt.
Then she began unlacing the intricate corset-vest she’d designed with the tailor. It was similar to a woman’s stays, but she’d designed it so it went over her shoulders like a skintight, sleeveless waistcoat. While it flattened her breasts, giving her the masculine appearance that let her be George, it also gave her back support while riding.
When her breasts were finally free, she arched her back, contemplating the unfamiliar weight of them, then slid into the hot water. The silky heat enveloped her and helped facilitate the mental and physical transition from lad to lady. While she lingered in the tub, she tried to envision herself perhaps enjoying the next few weeks as the jaunty Lady Georgiana. She sank deeper into the water and smiled, reminding herself that hot baths and silky undergarments were hardly trials to be endured.
An hour or so later she was languishing under the covers, in a light cotton night rail, slipping her feet around the clean sheets that covered the feather bed. For a brief moment, she missed the dank confines of the shipboard stable and the nearness of Cyrus and Saladeen, but quickly let go of her perverse sentimentality, burrowed deeper into the luxury of freshly laundered linen, and fell asleep.
The next morning she woke to a spectacularly sunny day, as if the weather were eager to provide a fresh start on this, her first day as Lady Georgiana. She narrowed her eyes against the brightness—that fifth Scotch might have been a mistake—then let the curtain fall back into place. She drank as much water as she could stomach, then opened her trunks filled with pantaloons and chemises and ribbons and gowns and riding habits. She opted for a dark blue velvet habit and a hat that would cover most of her short hair. By comparison, her female corset was softer, looser, and emphasized her breasts, and although it was supportive, it was far less constricting. She liked constricting, damn it.
When she was ready to go downstairs, she took a long look at herself in the mirror. Her face needed powder—she was far too dark by British standards of femininity—but otherwise she looked, well, rather pretty. She smiled at her reflection, grabbed a parasol, and tried to enjoy the swishing fabric around her legs and the luxury of so many layers cosseting her.
As she began to make her way down the stairs, she realized she was quite out of practice when it came to moving with all that skirted fabric. The silk velvet was everywhere, and there was so much of it. She nearly tripped on the last step and had to steady herself before continuing into the parlor where luncheon was being served. As she was turning in to that room, she heard a familiar deep voice coming from the front hall behind her.
“She should have arrived by now. Are you certain? Lady Georgiana Cambury?”
She wheeled around and was unable to repress a squeal of delight. “Trevor!”
He glanced in her direction and his face bloomed with pleasure on seeing her. “There you are!” He turned with a lordly look of disappointment to the innkeeper. “She is right there and she is quite obviously the most beautiful creature this side of the Channel. How you could have missed her arrival, I cannot understand.”
Georgie smiled benevolently at the innkeeper, then back to Trevor. “I slipped in late last night—”
“Yes, the other gentleman said you would—” began the innkeeper, eager to preserve his reputation.
“What other gentleman?” Trevor interrupted with a raised brow.
Georgie slid her arm through his and turned him toward the parlor. “Let’s catch up over lunch, shall we? The innkeeper must mean one of the men I’d hired to carry all my trunks and my special gifts for you and Rushford.”
The innkeeper shook his head and went back to his bookkeeping.
Trevor tipped his hat to the man and then squeezed Georgie to his side. “I am so pleased to see you, darling. And looking so well.”
“You’re such a charmer. I know I must look like I’ve been dragged through the Sahara. My skin has become coarse, my arms thick.”
“Your strength has always appealed to me, you know that.” He smiled and showed her to a table near the window.
His compliment gave her an unfamiliar blush. “Where is Rushford?” she asked quickly. “Did he also ride ahead to meet me, or are you traveling alone?”
“No.” Trevor seemed preoccupied, and he kept looking at her in an unusually assessing way. “I wanted to speak to you privately.”
“Truly? I can’t imagine what you could possibly have to say to me that you wouldn’t say in front of Rushford. Is he as darling as I remember? I’m hoping we can spend lots and lots of time together on this visit, so I can get to know and love him as thoroughly as you do.”
If Georgie hadn’t known better, she’d suspect that her innocuous statement was making Trevor blush. He looked unaccountably shy.
Before she could press him for details, the serving girl came over and asked what they’d like to drink, and told them what was on offer for lunch. They ordered, and then Georgie gave Trevor her full attention, reaching for his hands. “What is it, my dear? You look troubled. You know I’ll do anything you need. Is it money?”
He narrowed his eyes and exhaled. “In a way . . .”
“Well, that’s easily solved! It turns out I’m quite clever with my finances—my mother’s daughter, in that at least. How is Vanessa, by the by? Still managing everyone?” Georgie knew it was wrong of her to cast her mother in this negative light, but Vanessa was managing, and it was tedious.
“She and Nora are wonderful.”
Georgie looked at the wood of the round table, where the sun caught the high polish. “Nora has always been wonderful.”
“Vanessa has always been wonderful too, Georgie.”
She looked up. “Yes, yes. Of course she is. So how much do you need? I’ll have it sent up from London.”
When their drinks arrived, Trevor looked politely at the serving girl, then refocused on Georgie. “It’s a bit more complicated than that, I’m afraid.”
“This is rather more awkward than I thought when James and I were speaking about it.”
Georgie smiled and took a sip of her lemonade—her lady’s drink, she thought with a wrinkled nose—and set her glass down. “You don’t ever need to feel awkward with me, Trevor. We’ve seen each other through every possible stage of our silly lives, haven’t we? Remember when I first got my courses? What could possibly be more awkward than that?”
He paused, then looked straight into her eyes. “I want to marry you.”
She choked on the second sip of lemonade, and within seconds Trevor was standing behind her, patting her back and giving her one of his perfectly monogrammed linen handkerchiefs to help contain the spray that was threatening to explode from her nose. Several other patrons of the inn turned to make sure she wasn’t actually choking to death, but with a quick smile and nod from Trevor, they were assured of her non-imminent demise.
When he sat back down across from her, he simply stared. And she simply stared back. And then she started laughing uncontrollably. Her eyes watered, her nostrils burned. He smiled at her and let her mirth run its course.
“I’ve missed you terribly,” he said at last.
She breathed deep to prevent a new wave of merriment from overtaking her. “So much so that you now want to marry me?”
“No!” He smiled through his words. “I mean, yes, of course I’ve missed you desperately and wish you would just move home already, but this isn’t about that.”
“Are you certain?” She ventured another sip of the lemonade and prayed he didn’t say anything equally absurd while she attempted to swallow it. The idea of Trevor having romantic notions about her was just . . . preposterous. And yet, a silly flush was creeping up her cheeks at the mere idea of it. What if . . .? Of course not!
“Yes.” He was quite serious this time. “I’m certain. This is not some ploy to bind you to a life you despise.” It was a life he adored, so she always felt small when he said it like that.
“Oh, don’t say it that way, darling. I don’t despise England. We’re just . . . a poorly matched pair.” She smiled at the equine reference. “Speaking of pairs, have you seen Cyrus and Saladeen?”
“I have, actually.” He sat back and gazed at her. “I went into the stables a few minutes ago, and there they were looking as regal and out of place as you promised. I was surprised you weren’t bedded down with them in the hay.”
His good humor was contagious. “Truth be told, it was the first night in many that I didn’t bed down with them.”
“You can’t be serious.” He looked appalled at the idea. If he only knew.
“Quite serious.” She waved her gloved hand to swat away that conversation. She’d tell him about her life as George—at some point, or maybe never—but not now. “Now, go back to this perplexing marriage proposal. You must be serious about it or you never would have risked sending me into convulsions. Why?”
He tapped the table with his index finger several times, then stopped and looked up at her. “It’s my father. He’s gone a bit berserk ever since my mother died—”
“I’m so sorry for your loss—you received my letters, yes?”
“Yes, thank you. It wasn’t awful—as far as these things go. She was in fine fettle, and then last winter she fell ill, and she was gone in a matter of weeks. I understand my father’s misery—he was entirely devoted to her—but her absence has, well, made him quite . . . difficult. He’s threatening to withhold my inheritance if I don’t marry . . . a woman.”
She smiled at the unnecessary addendum. Of course, James and Trevor had been living together as bachelors for many years, but Trevor’s father had never—would never—accept the truth of their partnership. “Thank you for clarifying your father’s preference for the gender of the person you marry.”
When he looked at her then, Georgie saw something so much deeper, so much tenderer than her light words could possibly allay. The man was in trouble. Not because of who he was or whom he loved, but because this damnable society was punishing him for being the wonderful person he was. Her heart hammered for him.
“What about my assets?” she asked pragmatically. “I’m generous, but I shan’t become feme covert, even for you, my sweet. I shall never be a man’s property.”
“Are you s-saying—” He stuttered. “Are you even willing to entertain the idea, if we can iron out the logistics of you retaining your independence, financial and otherwise?”
She spread her arms wide. “As you can see. Here I am, entertaining the idea of marrying you.”
“Oh, my dear, dear friend.”
“There are many particulars, I presume. Your father isn’t going to simply accept a marriage of convenience. First off, I shan’t have children under any circumstances—”
“Oh! Of course not! No. I mean—” He stuttered again, and Georgie reached for his hand and held it in hers. “Not that I wouldn’t, you know, if you ever wanted that, I mean—”
The poor man. “I love you, Trevor. You know that. Just tell me everything and we will sort it out. You won’t ever need to bed me, if that’s what you’re getting to.” The words came out sounding cavalier enough, but something went a bit haywire in Georgie’s chest when she uttered the words bed me while looking into Trevor’s eyes and holding his hand in hers.
He squeezed her hand and breathed a sigh. “James thought I was crazy to even suggest it—the marriage, I mean!—but I knew you would be your breezy self. I’m so relieved you didn’t take offense.”
“Offense? James must think very little of me if that’s what he thought.”
“No. Quite the opposite. He thinks very highly of you and didn’t want you to think I was—oh, I don’t know—toying with you or forcing you into anything.”
“Well,” she chuckled, “then he and I really do need to get to know each other better, because you of all people know that I will not be forced into anything . . . ever.”
Trevor laughed and then leaned across the table and kissed her cheek. That damn flush crept up her neck again, and she shivered and pretended it was the draft that had just come into the parlor as the front door swung open.
“That’s exactly what I told him,” Trevor continued. “That’s why you were the perfect person to ask. You would never be coerced into doing something you didn’t want to do.”
She smiled back at him. “Quite so.”
“James then made a joke about whether or not you could be coerced into something you did want to do.”
“Oh, I like him all over again for saying that.” Georgie patted Trevor’s hand and slipped her own back into her lap. There had been some sort of tingling in her palms when she held Trevor’s hand in hers, and that needed to stop immediately. What in the world had got into her? Her best friend was asking her for what amounted to a legal favor; he was not pledging his troth, for goodness’ sake.
She sat up straighter, took another sip of lemonade, and then looked him straight in the eye. “How soon do you want to call the banns?”
They spent the rest of the afternoon meticulously sorting out the details of a settlement. It turned out Trevor really had no need of her funds; once he married, according to the terms of his father’s wishes, he would inherit both the real property and a sizable portion of the income from his mother’s myriad investments. His family home, Mayfield House, was a vast country estate in need of renovation and attention. All of the agriculture had stagnated under his father’s less-than-watchful eyes, and Trevor was eager to implement the latest crop rotations and irrigation schemes.
Knowing this, Viscount Mayfield was threatening to halt any financial support for the modernization of Mayfield House and the surrounding lands. If that occurred, Trevor was sure the place would descend into bankruptcy within five years, if not sooner. How his father could allow that to happen—to embark upon a self-destructive path that was so obviously motivated by spite—Georgie did not want to contemplate. The viscount had always preferred his life in London, and the glory of Mayfield was lost on him. Not so Trevor, who had inherited his mother’s love of the land.
The next day they rode into Derby and met with their respective solicitors. It was all very unusual according to Messrs. Ward and Wooley, but they drew up the papers nonetheless, and everything was sealed with wax and rings and stamps.
As the somber clerks went about their business, Georgie turned to Trevor. “I am finding this all quite delightful! To be poking fun at the law satisfies my rebellious nature, and to be helping you attain what was rightfully yours suits my heart.”
He lifted her ungloved hand and kissed it. “You suit me, Georgie.” There was nothing more to it, she told herself. They were best friends. That’s all he meant. Of course that’s what he meant. He loved James Rushford. Why was her silly heart fluttering, then? Preposterous heart.
“I am to marry my best friend. How lucky am I?” She turned to Trevor and laughed from the sheer joy of it all, then handed him the pen for him to sign the rest of the documents that granted her complete financial independence.
The lawyers and clerks merely shook their heads while Georgie and Trevor laughed and signed page after page. When Trevor had signed the last line, he set down the pen and looked at her. “There. Now you will be my wife.” His smile was tentative and adorable, filled with wonder and gratitude.
In name only, she reminded herself briskly.
They reached Mayfield two days later, and Georgie decided to stay on with James and Trevor for a little while longer—ostensibly to settle Cyrus and Saladeen into their new home, but mostly to postpone seeing her mother and having to remove to Camburton Castle for the remainder of her visit.
James was waiting for them at the front door when they rode into the forecourt of Mayfield. Trevor leapt off his horse and tossed the reins to a groom who waited nearby, then took the front steps two at a time to get to James.
Georgie dismounted more slowly, breathing in the familiar air of home, and trying not to be too obvious about her interest in how Trevor and James behaved in front of the servants. Did they embrace? Shake hands? Nod?
A second groom took hold of Cyrus for her and she turned casually to see James and Trevor by the front door. They were somehow intimate and appropriate all at once. Trevor had one strong hand gripping Rushford’s firm upper arm and was laughing and talking all at once. Georgie heard bits of the conversation on the wind—“she said yes” came out clearly, and James turned to catch Georgie looking at them. He mouthed a thank you, then returned his attention to Trevor.
She ascended the steps with ladylike poise, taking care not to stumble on the reams of fabric. She’d got back into the habit of being a lady over the past few days, but it still felt like she was playing a part.
“Lady Georgiana!” James patted Trevor once on the cheek, then walked around him to greet her. “It’s such a pleasure to see you again after all these years.” He took her hand and kissed her gloved knuckles. “I’ve missed your sparkling company.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you as well, Mr. Rushford.”
“What’s all this Mr. Rushford and Lady Georgiana blather?” Trevor asked on a laugh. “Come inside at once and let’s the three of us have tea and cease with these silly formalities. There’s much to celebrate, and I want to be festive with my two favorite people in the world.”
Rushford held out his forearm for Georgie to take. Very formal. Very appropriate. She rested her hand lightly on the fine fabric of his jacket and accompanied him into the grand front hall. “Thank you. A million thank-yous,” he said in a low, intimate tone. “You have saved this place, but more importantly, you have saved Trevor. I am indebted to you forever.”
He spoke with such earnest regard, and in a way that was a bit close to her ear. The hot breath of his words tickled Georgie’s neck and she had a strange sensual response to the man’s nearness. Her breasts tightened and a fizzing awareness simmered low in her belly. Perhaps she’d been too long alone on her journey, or perhaps being in England was doing something to her, because it seemed as if every man of her acquaintance was suddenly making her think of . . . fornicating.
She inhaled to clear her muddled thoughts and then smiled brightly up at James. “It was nothing at all. A favor from one friend to another.”
He looked taken aback, almost hurt. “Oh, no. It was so much more than that, Lady Georgiana—”
“Please call me Georgie. I insist.”
“Very well, Georgie. But you must know what an enormous gift you’ve given him, and how hard it was for him to ask. He simply adores you, you know, and the idea that he was perhaps risking the intimate friendship that you’ve shared all these years. Well, it has been quite a difficult few months while he tried to figure out how best to broach the topic.”
Perhaps a cold bucket of water was required, thought Georgie, because that devilish flush returned when Rushford said the words he adores you. And worse, she had an image flash in her mind of what it would be like if her intimate friend—and his partner—happened to simply adore her body. The vision was quite abrupt and quite clear. And then it was gone in a snap. She opted for silence, lest her voice betray her bizarre imaginings.
“I am garrulous and you must be tired from your journey.” James laughed at himself and Georgie felt it rumble through her. “I beg your pardon. I did not mean to launch into an endless stream before we’d even reached the drawing room. I’m just so grateful, on Trevor’s behalf of course. So grateful.”
He quieted until they reached the splendid drawing room. When they entered, the fire was crackling and a large tea had been laid out in advance of their arrival.
“Here we are,” James announced, patting Georgie’s hand where it rested on his forearm, then releasing her and crossing the room to join Trevor.
The two men stood close together, not actually touching, yet an undeniable heat arced between them. Heat, or love perhaps. They seemed relieved and happy to be in one another’s company, and Georgie enjoyed the simple pleasure of being with like-minded friends. She hoped her strange attraction to Trevor—and now, it seeme