Hetty St. James (aka
It is October, 1817 in London when their first kiss came as a result of a drunken wager at a party set-up by Baron Percy Morrow hoping to snag the Earl of Westbridge (Simon) for Freddy, his half-sister. After the kiss, which severely rattles both of them, Freddy flees Percy’s house, and goes to the home of a school friend, Elizabeth Chambers. While there, she learns of the Dowager Countess Solange, who needs a companion to read to her, etc. Knowing of Freddy’s facility with French, Lizzie recommends her, and she’s hired. Now she can wear her glasses without causing all sorts of difficulties.
Simon, in the meantime, refuses Percy’s demand that he marry Freddy – he’s never even seen the girl in daylight. After Simon leaves, Percy sends for her, only to discover she’s gone! Simon cannot determine if he is more irritated with Percy or with Freddy! He’ll never again see either of them, so why waste a moment’s further thought about this entire rattle-brained family?
A day or two later, Freddy and Betsy, her maid, walk to the local haberdasher. They encounter Simon in passing, and he is quite taken with the pretty young woman, who doesn’t of course, recognize him. Of course, he doesn’t recognize her, either, as this time she’s properly and fashionably dressed, with a charming bonnet over her dark brown hair. The night of that first kiss, she’d been wearing a nightcap and a full-length voluminous nightgown. But the kiss – he can’t quite dismiss the kiss as easily as he would like.
Simon heads off to the countryside for a few days in order to cool off. He certainly can’t stay away for long, what with Christmas speedily approaching, and that’s the favorite holiday of his beloved Grandmère.
Freddy and the Dowager hit it off very well, and Freddy takes up residence in the Dowager’s London home. After a few days, Simon comes to visit. Now that she has her glasses on, she can silently agree with her elderly employer that indeed he’s quite handsome, when Solange introduces them. Of course, as Freddy’s now wearing glasses, Simon pays no attention to her whatever. He does, however, have pleasant thoughts about the young woman he saw on the street earlier, while wondering about her identity. There’s something familiar about both of them, but cannot figure it out.
When Solange sends Freddy and Simon off to find all the items to decorate for Christmas, the little dog that Simon gave his grandmother accompanies them in the carriage. When Valmont (the dog) sees something intriguing beyond the carriage he jumps, inadvertently pulling Freddy with him. Her glasses hit the floor, and she is once more cast into her usual fuzzy world.
Simon suddenly realizes that not only is the woman in his arms the Baron’s half-sister, with whom he shared that other kiss, but she is also the woman he passed on the street that has so intrigued him for the past weeks.
A long and happy conversation provides numerous answers
to the many questions each of them has for the other, with the happy
result of a Christmas betrothal celebration. He’s managed to save
the spectacles, the dog and the girl!
London, October 1817
Anticipation was heavy inside the library of Baron Morrow’s London townhouse. Eight young gentlemen, mostly aristocrats and “pinks” of the ton, waited eagerly for the door to open. Having indulged in alcoholic spirits, the mood was one of ebullience and high spirits. Ordinarily, whatever was on the other side of the library door would not have held such fascination. However, the very next person to enter was the all-important subject of a wager, consequently assuming an importance not otherwise granted.
A moment or two earlier, the room had resounded with the endeavors—some better than others—to imitate the Berkeley Hunt pack scenting its quarry. To be certain, some sounded more like wolves than hounds, but any attempt at true discernment was not of high priority. It was the wager itself—just who could produce the most realistic cry—that was important. Just as the new wager, tumbling rapidly on the heels of the first, the identity of the anxiously awaited yet unidentified personage who would appear on the other side of the heavily carved oaken door—and that person’s reaction to the clamor within—was of more moment than the actual person.
“Shhh!” loudly whispered the young Viscount Sanders. “I think I hear s-s-someone now.”
All chatter ceased for bare seconds, then impatiently resumed again. “Got earwigs in your brainbox, Sandy, old chap,” muttered Mr. Ponsonby, the only untitled person in the room.
“No. Really, I say. This time it r-really is!” Lord Sanders tried again. “I can h-hear the f-footsteps.” Despite his best efforts, the unfortunate young Sanders would occasionally stutter when he became excited.
But, to be certain, the doorknob did begin to turn—very slowly. All eyes watched it, fascination writ large on all but one of their faces.
That face belonged to Simon Norrington, Earl of Westbridge, who had, several minutes earlier, begun to wonder just what was he doing here in this room, acting even more the fool than was his usual habit. It had occasionally been said of him that he had a talent for putting his foot wrong in the most unusual ways and this experience was not likely to change that opinion in the eyes of anyone of sensibility.
Next to him stood Lord Morrow himself, present owner of the London townhouse in which the other seven young tulips stood so casually awaiting their prey.
At last the catch snicked and the huge old door began to open, very slowly. Impatience prodding him, the baron pulled the door open, tugging the person on the other side into the room. The interior of the room was made indistinct by the flickering candlelight, aided by the drifting clouds of smoke emanating from the cigars. Still, the baron was able to discern no more than that the person was a female, so he obligingly shoved Norrington toward the young woman.
Cheers arose from the onlookers.
Without giving himself time to see if she was young or old, beautiful or plain, or even if he could recognize her should he be so fortunate as to ever lay eyes on her again, he took her hand in his, pulling her to him, and engulfed her within his embrace. The roaring cheers grew louder and a smile creased his pleasant face as he covered the young woman’s lips with his own.
She uttered a startled gasp as she allowed herself to be captured and imprisoned within his strong arms. He felt her eyelashes upon his cheek, faintly sweeping downward, perhaps to protect the large eyes behind them. Or perhaps the sight of him was so horrible she couldn’t bear to look at him! That would serve him right, he thought wildly before just slightly tightening his grip on her.
It does not take much of a hint for an experienced man—even an inebriated one—to notice when the woman in his arms is young and has become a participant in the amatory adventure at hand. Norrington became aware of her change from bewildered to accepting and loosened his grip slightly, adjusting the set of his feet to provide better balance for them both.
Her lips were soft and sweet and extremely inviting. Dimly, his mind registered this amid other wandering thoughts. She smelled wonderful—like wildflowers in a sun-drenched spring meadow. His hand moved over her back, cradling her to his chest. She had obviously been in bed already, or nearly so, for there were no undergarments beneath her thin, silky but voluminous nightrail to restrict contact. He was certain he could feel her well-formed and womanly body even through all the layers of evening clothes he was wearing.
With no further thought of their onlookers, he nudged her lips gently with his tongue. He didn’t know if she opened her lips to protest or agree and gave her no time to think. He simply took advantage, invading the softness of her mouth, relishing her sweet taste. He heard the slight sound she made, but it wasn’t really a protest, he told himself as he moved his tongue around hers, inviting a response.
To his everlasting surprise, he felt her tongue on his lips, causing such astonishment that he nearly broke the embrace. His hand moved to cup the warm, tingling, tantalizing mound of flesh nearest to him when he was abruptly pulled away from her. He stood there, swaying drunkenly and blinking in the half light.
“Thass ‘nuff,” a whisky-laden voice asserted. “Thass m’sister, after all.”
“Sister?” An unidentified voice repeated in a whisper.
Norrington shuddered. Sister? his thoughts echoed. I didn’t even know Morrow had a sister. Slowly he opened his eyes and was instantly sobered by the presence of the young woman standing in front of him. She must surely have been someone’s sister, for certainly she wasn’t a housemaid or anyone of the lower classes. Birth and breeding were evident in her stance, if not her apparel.
Her shoulders were thrown back and Norrington wondered if she knew what that did to her frontal structure, garbed as she was in the virginal white nightrail. The flickering candles cast interesting shadows throughout the room, but nowhere were they more enticing than on that sheer fabric. Her every movement turned her silhouette into a swirling, shifting, intriguing work of art. Although he had dislodged her night bonnet, tilting it askew, one long brown curl managed to tumble down and rest on her shoulder.
She stood bravely, her head raised slightly, in the manner of a knight facing down a dragon. Those soft, tender lips were swollen and trembling slightly, the only outward sign of discomfort at her recent ravishment. Although her deep blue eyes were still unfocused from the passion she had exhibited it was obviously a new sensation for her. She had been tidy when drawn into the room, now she was rumpled and tousled from his hand at the back of her head and the hand that had so firmly held her in place for his kiss.
As Norrington watched, her eyes filled, giving them a glassy sheen, and he wondered if she would give way and resort to a woman’s ultimate weapon—tears.
Was she really Morrow’s sister? He had thought her no more than a doxy, a lightskirt brought to the celebration by the baron. And to think he had been about to caress her in a most intimate fashion, and in front of all the wastrels in this room. He shuddered involuntarily, beginning to feel soiled by his own actions. Maybe his grand-mère was right—he needed new friends and a change of scenery. Desperately so, if tonight’s actions were any indication. How on earth could he apologize for his appalling actions? Actions which he would happily repeat again—right this moment—if she were to allow such.
He closed his eyes, biting his lip to keep from saying anything, anything at all, much less something totally inappropriate.
This little incident would really put the finish to his
London stay. And yet, she hadn’t once turned away from him, had
made no effort to withstand him. She had even encouraged him. What manner
of sister was she?