Improper Pleasures (The Pleasure Series), page 30
Wesley cocked his head. “Tell them to shoot me, Astra or I shall tell everyone who fathered Lark at my trial. It’s bound to come out.”
Astra laughed. “I don’t give a bloody damn.”
Wesley’s face crumbled. His lower lip quivered. “Please, Astra. I will die of shame as will you.”
Astra reached for James’s hand. “I shall be fine.” She kissed James’s knuckles, tears she had not realized she needed to shed taking her by surprise. “I have nothing to hide.”
She glanced up at James.
He shook his head in agreement and drew her in closer, balancing Lark with his other arm. “Have it your way. But you are too honest for your own good. Will you let me take you home now? I’ll send someone for the sheriff.”
Astra collapsed against her husband’s side, suddenly too exhausted to argue. She would be grateful to crawl into their bed, but not to hide…to live. With her husband by her side, her children safe and cherished by both their parents, it was all she needed. Their love was stronger than stone and mortar and would shelter her through anything the world could toss their way.
Astra readjusted the blanket around her infant son, not sure what was more beautiful, his full round face or the late autumn sun casting a net of gold on Eastlan’s pond.
“I want to hold him, Mama,” Lark stood beside Astra’s chair and patted her brother’s head.
“Wouldn’t you rather take the boat out with your father? We will not likely see another day as fine as this until next spring.”
Lark tucked the blanket around Astra. “I want to be with you in case you need anything. You are not well yet.” Lark laid her head on Astra’s shoulder.
Astra lifted the edge of the blanket. “Here. Crawl under with us. Pretend to be my baby girl for a little while.”
“I’m not a baby,” insisted Lark, but she nestled beside Astra on the fainting couch a servant had carried out to the gazebo. She claimed she did not remember anything that happened the night Wesley had drugged her, but Astra thought differently. Lark still had nightmares, but she no longer spoke of fairies or trouble-causing spriggans.
“You’re in the Times again,” Astra’s mother yelled, waving the paper.
Nothing else but juicy scandal would have persuaded her mother to traverse the gardens to reach the gazebo. She’d hated it when she and James had insisted dinner be served there all summer long. Lady Phillina on the other hand loved the ritual, complaining when the evening chill finally suspended the practice.
Her mother came around to stand in front of Astra, a twirl of colorful skirts swishing in her wake.
“A certain Lady K,” she read, “the same Lady who was at the center of the trial—”
“Mother,” Astra interrupted. “Neither Lark or myself engage in gossip.”
Her mother glanced up, seeing Lark snuggled in the blankets. “Oh, hello, lovey.”
“I want to hear what the paper said about Mama.”
“Well…” Astra’s mother cleared her throat. She braced her hand on the hip of her striped gown of vibrant lime and burnt orange.
Astra gave her a warning look. Wesley had only been tried for attempted murder and kidnapping, to which there had been numerous witnesses. The punishment would be the same even if Wesley had been convicted of murdering Lowell, and since Wesley had no choice but to plead guilty, it seemed the most efficient avenue for swift justice. Though the circumstances of Lark’s birth had been kept out of the trial, what was said in the drawing rooms was a different matter. Luckily, the lurid love triangle painted between she, James and Wesley proved titillating enough. Astra kissed her son’s forehead, smiling to herself because she wouldn’t alter a single thing.
“Well, it just says that…here, I’ll read. Lady K stopped all tongue-wagging by delivering the heir to the barony, William Lowell Keane, on the eighteenth of November, exactly eight months and three weeks after her surprise marriage to her late husband’s American cousin. White’s reports that wagers leaned heavily toward the Lady’s chastity and have caused quite a bite in the gaming house’s bank.”
Astra brushed back her son’s thick pale hair, grateful William chose to stay in his cozy womb two weeks longer than expected, despite the fact she thought the extended labor would kill her.
“And that’s all.” Her mother winked, assuring Astra there was indeed more.
“I hope Lady Phillina did not see it,” said Astra. Astra had tried to discuss with Lady Phillina the things that were sure to be made public, but she’d refused to hear it. She’d declared nothing would change her opinion of Astra.
“Astra?” James’s voice boomed across the garden. He strode into the gazebo waving a letter of some sorts. “Fifty kegs of Ale! Thirty cases of wine! Are you mad?”
Ah, the libation for the celebration had arrived. “Eastlan has not thrown a Yuletide feast in over five years. I thought you agreed that it should be festive.”
Much of his bluster melted when he spied his children. He walked toward them and touched Lark’s cheek with the pure love of a father, then lifted his son from Astra’s arms, delight shining in his blue eyes. “Who the hell are you inviting?”
Lark giggled and covered her mouth. James’s wasn’t supposed to swear in front of Lark.
“Sorry, Birdie.” James used his nickname for Lark, making her giggle again. “Let me start again. Who are you inviting exactly who would drink so much? Blackmore won’t come and he drinks whiskey anyway.”
“Yuletide is for the tenants. The village. To thank them for all they do for us. To gather together before the dark months give way to spring.” Astra studied her husband. She saw that he’d clawed at his cravat and his tied hair, leaving both loose. And ruggedly sexy. His properly tailored breeches and waistcoat somehow seemed to reform to his spectacular physique, wrinkling and catching at all the hard planes of his muscular body. Keeping him pressed and formal was impossible. Which suited Astra since she’d fallen hopelessly in love with his casual charm.
“Oh, all right, then,” James relented. “Make sure the Bainbridges are invited. He’s pleased with his profits from the last voyage and we might double it if we can commission another ship.” James returned their son to Astra’s arms. “I think the wind’s picking up. Ready for a sail, Lark?”
Lark gave Astra a worried glance but leapt off the lounge chair when Astra nudged her in the ribs. Her daughter took James’s hand and Astra choked back the well of emotion that wet her eyes so Lark would be sure to feel free to enjoy herself. James strode across the lawn to find their small skiff at the pond’s edge, Lark skipping beside him to keep up.
Astra’s mother plopped down beside her and rested her arm on the chair’s cushioned back. “I told you he’d be worth the risk of a bit of improper behavior. Sometimes it’s good to be bad.”
“You know, Mother”—Astra reached out and gripped her mother’s hand—“for once, you are absolutely right.”
Darien and Ivy’s story continues The Pleasure Series in
First ruined by circumstance and then by choice, Ivy Templeton wishes nothing more than to retire from notoriety as one of London’s most well-paid courtesans. Unfortunately, neither Georgian society or her ex-fiancé, Darien Blackmore, will let her forget her past. Though Ivy prays Darien doesn’t believe the rumors that she ended their engagement to become his father’s mistress, she can’t deny her longtime liaison with his former friend. Since Darien has become a drunk and a recluse, Ivy suspects he has heard every torrid thing whispered about her.
When Darien learns of his father’s engagement to a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, Darien hopes to stop the wedding. He persuades Ivy to join him in his quest, letting her believe she could somehow atone for their bitter breakup. Knowing he might never be able to forgive her, he also has never stopped loving her. Once he has Ivy back on his family estate, nothing will stop him from keeping Ivy or discovering the secrets his father desperately wan
Available on Amazon October 2012
Look for Cheryl’s other titles to be available in digital format late 2012
The power of female friendship played a huge part in this book ever getting written. Thank you to the Wednesday Morning Borders Critique Group for getting me through some grueling years. I don’t know what I would have done without your encouragement and support. So many of my close writing friends read original versions of this book and many revisions after. Thank you Ara Burklund, Ann Collins, Lorelle Marinello, Sylvia Mendoza and Janet Wellington for all the time you put into setting me straight. Thank you Judy Duarte, Chris Green, Mary Leo and Cathy Yardley for always having an encouraging word when I needed it. And a huge thanks to Romance Writers’ of America San Diego Chapter. What an amazingly supportive and warm group!
And of course a big thanks to my husband Russ who had no idea what he was getting into when he encouraged me to pursue my dream of being a writer all those years ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl Howe writes sexy historical romance novels with strong characters in sensual settings. She is an avid reader and would rather bury her head in a book than do just about anything else. She published her first novel in 2003. When she’s not reading or writing, she tries to balance her time between cooking healthy gluten-free meals, not ignoring her husband, and catering to her menagerie of house pets. She lives in Southern California with an understanding husband, two spoiled dogs, a demanding cat and a bright yellow parakeet.
To learn more about Cheryl and her books, visit her blog, Whole-Healthy-Writer, at http://cherylhowe.com/
You can email her at CherylHowebooks@gmail.com
Cheryl Howe, Improper Pleasures (The Pleasure Series)