When You're Desired, страница 1
WHEN YOU’RE DESIRED
“Why did you choose me?” Simon asked.
“I thought you were the finest man in London,” she answered, closing her eyes briefly, as if to summon the memory from the depths of her consciousness. “And you wanted me so much; more than the others, I thought. When I told you I would meet you in Brighton when the theatre closed, I meant it. I would have gone. I planned to go. But . . .”
“But you got a better offer. I understand.”
“If you understood me at all, you would not be jealous,” she said, laying her hand on his arm. “You would know there’s no one else.”
He looked down at the hand on his arm but did not shake it off.
“I never loved anyone but you.”
He seized her hand, pressing it to his face. “I wish I could believe you, Celia.”
“You need not believe me,” she said, “to take what I am offering.”
He could bear no more. Taking her in his arms roughly, he pressed her close to him, kissing her hungrily . . .
Books by Tamara Lejeune
SURRENDER TO SIN
RULES FOR BEING A MISTRESS
THE HEIRESS IN HIS BED
CHRISTMAS WITH THE DUCHESS
THE PLEASURE OF BEDDING A BARONESS
WHEN YOU’RE DESIRED
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
When You’re Desired
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
WHEN YOU’RE DESIRED
Books by Tamara Lejeune
“I do wish Lord Simon would not go out into society,” Lady Langdale declared, her booming voice cutting across the idle chatter in the crush room of the Theatre Royal like a flourish of trumpets. “He always makes one think the war is starting up again!”
Mr. George Brummell had been the first to say it—once, in passing, in 1815. It was now the spring of 1817, but like many of the Beau’s offhand remarks, this one had remained stubbornly in circulation. (Sadly, Brummell himself had not remained in circulation, having been obliged to remove to France to escape his creditors in 1816; his well-publicized break with the Prince of Wales had ruined him.) Mr. Brummell had meant to pay Lord Simon a sort of left-handed compliment, but Lady Langdale, apparently, saw nothing to admire in that gentleman.
“What does his lordship mean,” she squawked, “coming to the theatre bristling with weapons? Does he mean to frighten us? Should we all scatter before him like chickens?”
Though situated at the other end of the room, Dorian Ascot, the Duke of Berkshire, could not help overhearing her ladyship. Rather startled, he turned to look, and discovered to his surprise that it was indeed his younger brother, clad to advantage in the gold-braided blue coat, glazed white leather breeches, and polished black top-boots of his cavalry regiment, whose appearance had so offended Lady Langdale. He was not, Dorian was glad to see, “bristling with weapons.” By no means the only military man at the theatre that night, Simon’s sword was but one of many, but unlike the other officers, he seemed ready to draw his sword at any moment and cut someone in half. Perhaps that was what her ladyship meant.
As Lord Simon stalked through the crowd, his cold green eyes seemed to be in search of an enemy. His left hand never left the pommel of his saber. He was tall and powerfully built, magnificent in appearance if not precisely handsome, with beautifully barbered black hair, and yet he attracted no flirtatious glances from the ladies. Quite the opposite. Averting their eyes, the ladies ceased their chatter as he passed by, and the gentlemen, as though suddenly made aware of their own inadequacies, quickly got out of Lord Simon’s way—almost, Dorian noted with amusement—scattering before him like chickens.
Quickly, the duke excused himself from his companions. Making his way through the crowd, he clasped Simon warmly by the hand.
Simon had the distinction of being the taller, but the Duke of Berkshire was the handsome one, with clear-cut, patrician features and fashionably pale skin. His chestnut hair was streaked with gold, and his eyes, not as green as his brother’s, were warm and hazel. Slim and graceful, he had a body built for dancing. Just thirty-six, he looked even younger. His income was an astonishing forty thousand a year, but what was most remarkable about him, perhaps, was that his good fortune and good looks were exactly matched by his good manners. A childless widower, he was considered the most eligible parti of the London season.
Simon was Dorian’s only sibling, and as boys they had been very close. The bond had been loosened somewhat when Simon, at the age of fifteen, had been packed off into the army. War had changed Simon into a rather harsh, unyielding man, while Dorian had remained more or less the same.
“Have you lost your way, sir?” the elder brother teased the younger. “This is Drury Lane, you know, not Covent Garden. I trust you have not quarreled with Miss Rogers?”
“What a romantic you are, Dorian! You know I never quarrel with females.”
Lady Langdale’s voice again carried across the room. “They say Lord Simon is soon to be elevated to the peerage, but don’t you believe it, my loves,” said she, addressing her three daughters, who were all Out, and had been for some time. “They have been saying it for years, but nothing ever comes of it.”
“Hush, Mama! The gentleman will hear you,” her eldest girl begged her, to no avail.
“Nonsense, child! I was speaking sotto voce,” screamed her mother.
“Look, girls! Look! There is the Duke of Berkshire! Isn’t he the handsomest man you ever saw? Lord Granville without his smirk, as Mr. Brummell used to say—though, for myself, I say the duke is far handsomer than Lord Granville or anybody else! Forty thousand a year! Now, that would be a great catch for you, Cat’rine, if you would but try harder. The girl who gets him shall be a duchess, you know!”
“Come, Mama,” Catherine Langdale said firmly, dragging her mother up the stairs.
Dorian felt sorry for the very tall and awkward Cat’rine, whom he had known for years, and pretended not to hear. “You are very late, sir,” he chided his brother. “You’ve missed more than half the play, if that matters to you.”
“That would depend on the play,” Simon replied coolly. He, too, had pretended not to hear Lady Langdale, though not because he felt sorry for Cat’rine, whom he also had known for years.
“A most charming revival of She Stoops to Conquer,” Dorian said with enthusiasm.
“A trifling farce,” Simon said, brutally dismissing Mr. Goldsmith’s most popular work.
“Perhaps,” Dorian admitted, “but I’ll take a trifling farce in Drury Lane over a grand tragedy in Covent Garden any day. Mr. Kemble, for all his classical airs and graces, leaves me quite cold. Though he be rough and uneven, give me the dark fire of Edmund Kean!”
“Edmund Kean ain’t here,” Simon pointed out. “He’s taken his dark fire on a tour of America.”
“We do miss Kean,
“No indeed,” Simon drawled. “I believe she is quite smooth and symmetrical.”
Dorian frowned slightly. “I find her manner of play very pleasing and natural. Certainly she brings something to the role of Miss Hardcastle.”
Simon snorted. “To be sure! She brings her golden hair and her perfect breasts.”
“I am speaking of her talent, sir,” Dorian protested.
Simon lifted his brows. “Forgive me! I didn’t realize you’d been stricken with St. Lys fever. I thought you were come to London this season to seek a bride, not a mistress.”
“Can’t a man have both?” Dorian said lightly.
Simon frowned. “A word to the wise, Dorian—St. Lys doesn’t take lovers; she takes slaves. You mustn’t confuse the actress with the part she plays.”
“What?” said Dorian, with sarcastic energy. “You mean Miss Hardcastle doesn’t really marry that painted ass, Marlow, after the play? I am glad to hear it! She is an honest child and deserves much better.”
“By all means, worship your false idol,” Simon said grimly. “Throw yourself into her power. But don’t come crying to me when she rips out your heart and feeds it to her dogs.”
Dorian laughed aloud. “She keeps dogs, does she? Surely a woman who keeps dogs cannot be all bad.”
Unsmiling, Simon shook his head. “Be warned, sir: in her world, it is men who wear the collars. That golden-haired saint you worship on the stage doesn’t exist—except on that stage. In reality, Celia St. Lys is a devil’s daughter.”
“If that is so, then at least you must allow her to be an excellent actress,” Dorian retorted. “I’d never have guessed she was a devil’s daughter! Simon, what have you to accuse her of?”
Simon compressed his lips but did not answer.
“Well?” Dorian demanded.
“She ruined one of my officers,” Simon said reluctantly.
“Did she? How?”
“Her usual method,” Simon replied. “She lures men to their destruction in the gaming hells, keeping them at the tables with her charming ways. Then, when they are ruined, she discards them. London, my dear sir, is full of her empty bottles! Think of that while you are enjoying her smiles and her shapely ankles.”
Dorian only laughed. “If that is all—I am not a greenhorn, Simon. Nor am I a gamester. I thank you for your warning, sir, but you need not worry about me.”
By now the interval had ended, and the crush room was emptying out. “I’d best be getting back,” Dorian said presently. “Her Grace will be wondering what happened to her favorite son. Will you not come up and pay your respects to your mother?”
“Of course,” Simon replied.
“We have two guests with us this evening,” Dorian went on as the brothers joined the last of the stragglers going up the grand staircase. “Mama invited them, not I. I suppose you will have to meet them. I was sorry to do so myself, but you may feel differently. The father is called Sir Lucas Tinsley, and Lucasta is the daughter—his only child and heir.”
“Yes,” said Simon. “I have some business with Sir Lucas. When I called at his house, his man told me I would find him here.”
Dorian recoiled in dismay. “Business? But, Simon, the man is in coal!”
“In coal?” Simon repeated, amused. “That’s rather like saying Midas was in gold. From what I hear, Sir Lucas is the king of the Black Indies, and the fair Lucasta is its crown princess.”
Dorian groaned. “Mama has been throwing that girl at my head for nearly two weeks now. Her dowry is quite three hundred thousand pounds. A man would have to be a fool not to take her. And yet . . .”
“I don’t know,” Dorian said gloomily. “I just don’t like her well enough, I suppose.”
“As reasons go, that is paltry, sir. Paltry! What is the matter with her that a dowry of three hundred thousand pounds cannot cure? Is her body covered in scales?”
“I’m happy to say I have no idea.”
Dorian thought a moment. “She talks over the play.”
“You are too fastidious,” Simon told him, smiling a rare smile.
“I am too fastidious?” Dorian protested. “You would not marry Miss Arbogast. She was perfectly unexceptional, but you turned your nose up at her, for no better reason than that Mama approved the match. As reasons go, sir, that is paltry,” he added, throwing Simon’s words back at him with relish.
They had reached the top of the stairs. Gloved attendants opened the doors leading to the foyer for the private stage-boxes, and the two gentlemen passed into a corridor softly lit by sconces and elegantly appointed with neoclassical statues.
“Miss Arbogast had but twenty thousand pounds,” Simon said, as the door closed behind them. “For three hundred thousands, I should be ashamed not to marry anybody. And so should you be.”
“We are not talking of me,” Dorian said firmly. “If you had married Miss Arbogast, your mother would have made your inheritance over to you. That is the material point. Her fortune is nothing to yours. You could have sold out last year, and kept Miss Rogers, too.”
“These are excellent reasons to marry in your estimation, perhaps, but not in mine!” Simon retorted. “I should not have to marry Miss Arbogast in order to keep Miss Rogers.”
“I will speak to Mama on the subject again,” said Dorian. “She must be made to see that this is not what my father intended when he made out his will. You are one and thirty. It is absurd that Mama still pays you an allowance. You should be master of your own estate.”
“I’d rather you not interfere in the matter,” Simon said sharply. “Such appeals, as we know all too well, only serve to increase the woman’s obstinacy. My mother enjoys wielding her power over me too much ever to relinquish it. What the pater may or may not have intended is of little concern to his widow. There was just enough ambiguity in our father’s will as to give our mother lifelong control over my inheritance, and that suits Her Grace very well.”
They reached Dorian’s stage box, and the footman opened the door for them.
The Dowager Duchess of Berkshire was seated at the front of the box with her two guests. Though a titan in society, Her Grace was physically tiny, a frail-looking bird wrapped in lace. Diamonds blazed at her throat and ears, and more diamonds crowned her tightly curled iron-gray hair, granting her all the consequence that nature had not. In one gloved hand she held her fan, and in the other her lorgnette—as the monarch holds the symbols of his power. From her Simon had inherited the pale green eyes and aquiline nose of the Lincolnshire Kenelms.
Though it was clear she took no pleasure in it, the dowager presented her younger son to Miss Tinsley while Dorian quietly slipped into the velvet-upholstered seat closest to the stage. The play had started up again, but hardly anyone in the place was giving it their attention. Society did not come to the theatre to see the play, after all; they came to see and be seen. A great deal of attention was focused on the Duke of Berkshire’s box. The on dit was that His Grace very soon would announce his engagement to Miss Tinsley and her three hundred thousand pounds.
Simon made a swift assessment of the heiress’s charms as he bowed over her hand. Apart from a slight cast in one eye, and a sallow, spotted complexion, there was nothing much wrong with Miss Tinsley. Her fashionable gown of puce satin flattered her plump figure as much as possible; her thick brown hair had been elegantly styled, and her rubies were magnificent. Her maid was to be congratulated, Simon thought.
“Lord Simon!” Casting her eyes over him with warm approval, the heiress spoke with a slight, childish lisp. “I vow, ’tis high time we met.”
“Have you been wishing to meet me, Miss Tinsley?” he asked politely.
“Yes, of course!” she replied. “I have always wanted to have a brother.”
Beside her, Dorian l
“What a remarkable coincidence,” Simon replied, giving the girl a wicked smile. “I’ve always wanted to have a sister—several, in fact.”
Lucasta giggled, but without, he was sure, understanding his meaning. “You did not tell me your younger son was so charming,” she murmured to Simon’s mother, while glancing provocatively at Simon over her shoulder, her left eye twitching.
Miss Tinsley, Simon noted with much amusement, had all the vanity and caprice of a beautiful woman, and none of the beauty.
“Pray, don’t encourage him, Miss Tinsley,” said the dowager, opening and closing her beautiful tortoiseshell fan.
Simon turned to Miss Tinsley’s father. “Good evening, Sir Lucas,” he said politely.
As lampooned in Punch magazine, Sir Lucas wore an ill-fitting brown wig and a waistcoat that strained at the buttons, but there was something magnificent about his massive, oddly shaped head. His face, too, was ideal for caricature: protuberant eyes; a bulbous, red nose; and thick, rubbery lips. His strabismus, more pronounced than his daughter’s, made him look foolish, and yet Simon knew he must be cunning as the devil, for a fool does not rise from poverty and obscurity to become one of the richest men in England. Sir Lucas owned most of the coal mines in the north of England. Dorian, with his forty thousand a year, was a pauper to him.
“Lord Simon.” Sir Lucas’s left eye stroked rapidly from side to side like a trapped animal pacing its cage. “Thank you for coming so quickly. Tomorrow would have sufficed.”
“Our mutual friend is most anxious to put the matter behind him,” Simon answered.
Sir Lucas chuckled. “‘Our mutual friend!’ Let us not be coy. You mean the prince regent.”
“I have the honor of serving that gentleman, yes.”
“Odious man!” Lucasta broke in. “I wonder you can serve him, Lord Simon. In your place, I would not do it. I believe he has treated his wife shamefully. And the P. Charlotte, too! Everyone knows he tried to force her to marry Prince William when all along she was in love with Prince Leopold. His own daughter!”