Tempt Me with Diamonds, страница 1
“DAMMIT, RUPERT. PUT ME DOWN.”
She pushed against his chest, but his hold merely tightened.
“No,” he said calmly, heading up the stairs. “Not yet. I’m enjoying the feel of you.” He shouldn’t be teasing her, Rupert knew, not when she was so vulnerable, but somehow he couldn’t help himself, and besides, it was perfectly true.
“Oh, you’re insufferable.” It was more than she could bear and she grabbed at his ear, twisting hard.
“Vixen,” he said appreciatively, turning along the gallery to her bedroom. Shifting her in his arms, he turned the knob and pushed the door open. The velvet curtains were drawn and the gas lamps were lit but turned down to provide a soft light. The coverlet on the bed was folded over, and on the dresser stood a small Primus stove, a saucepan of milk, a cup, and a plate of sweet biscuits.
“Very inviting,” he observed, carrying her over to the bed. “Would you please let go of my ear now?”
Diana’s fingers opened, releasing his earlobe. She looked up at him, at his face bent so close to hers. An arrested expression crossed his countenance, and she was suddenly very still in his arms, a soft flush warming her complexion, her gaze holding his before fixing upon his lips, hovering just above hers.
Imperatively, she lifted her hands to grasp his face and brought his mouth down to meet hers.
Also by Jane Feather
TEMPT ME With DIAMONDS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
“DAMMIT, RUPERT. PUT ME DOWN.”
ZEBRA BOOKS are published by
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Copyright © 2019 by Jane Feather
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ISBN-13: 978-1-4201-4361-4 (eBook)
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London, August 1902
Rupert Lacey, as was his habit, moved from sleep to wakefulness in a matter of seconds. He opened his eyes abruptly, aware of the faint gray light of dawn showing between a gap in the curtains and the unmistakable sense that something was happening in the house. There was nothing specific to give him this feeling, no particular sound, just a stirring of the air, a sense of motion. He sat up, reaching for the bellpull on the wall beside him.
It was answered within minutes. Davis, his batman, came into the bedroom carrying a tea tray. “Good morning, Colonel.” He set the tray by the bed and went to draw back the curtains.
“Seems we have a visitor, sir,” Davis continued, imperturbable as always. “Miss Sommerville arrived a short while ago . . . with her household, it appears.”
“Oh, did she indeed?” Rupert took a fortifying gulp of the strong morning brew that his years in South Africa had made a morning necessity, swung his long legs out of bed and rose to his feet. He slept naked as always, another habit acquired during the hot African summer nights. He stood for a moment, holding his teacup with one hand, stroking his chin with the other. Then he drained his cup and said briskly, “Pass me my dressing gown, Davis?” He would have preferred to greet Diana fully dressed but there was no time now for such niceties.
He had wondered how she was going to react, and when. He had expected her to bring the fight to him one way or another. Diana had never been able to resist a challenge or a battle of wills.
But what if her arrival had nothing to do with the will? What if she didn’t know about the will as yet? Dear God, he hoped she did. Either way, all hell was about to break loose.
He shrugged into the robe Davis held for him and made for the door, tying the belt securely. He stepped out onto the wide gallery that ran along either side of the horseshoe staircase that rose from the marble-floored hall of the elegant Cavendish Square mansion. He hung back in the shadows for a moment, looking down into the hall at the invasion below.
Steamer trunks and hatboxes were piled high, and in the midst of them Diana Sommerville stood, stripping off her gloves, issuing crisp orders to two servants. On either side of her sat two magnificent South African Ridgebacks, the original lion hunters. They appeared placid enough, gazing around them with their sharp, intelligent eyes, their long, sleekly muscled bodies poised for instant movement.
“Barlow, would you organize the library and yellow parlor for my immediate use? I doubt we’ll have callers for a few days, but just in case, we should have the drawing room fit for visitors as soon as possible. Mrs. Harris, would you go to the kitchen and create order there? I expect it will take some work to put the house to rights again.” A dazzling, conspiratorial smile accompanied her words, and the two retainers returned the smile with understanding nods.
“I’ll have it all back to normal in no time, ma’am,” Mrs. Harris declared. “I daresay the Trimballs have done their best to keep the house in good shape, but . . .” She gave an eloquent shrug. Caretakers could not be expected to keep an empty house up to snuff. “Come, Izzy, I shall need your help if Mr. Barlow can do without you for the moment.” She swept away in her black bombazine dress, a small parlormaid trotting at her heels.
Rupert hadn’t known how he would react when he saw her again, but now he knew that nothing had changed. He had wanted to punish her for the hurt and disappointment she had inflicted upon him, but all he could see now was that Diana was as wonderful as ever, and he responded as ever to the imperious, arrogant set of her small head, the richly luxuriant coffee-colored hair curled fashionably into a fat chignon at the nape of her long neck, the tall, slender frame that seemed to throb with energy, the pleats in her rich silk skirt moving gently, hinting at the restlessness of the long legs beneath. Such wonderful legs. For a moment, he was distracted by a memory of her naked body hovering above him, her legs scissoring his thighs.
He stepped forward out of the shadows. “Good morning, Diana.” He rested his elbows on the gilded railing as he looked down.
He had just got out of bed. In her house. It made no sense. He couldn’t possibly be here, the man she had sworn never to speak to again. And yet he was. Just as if time had slipped away and it was as it always had been in the days when Rupert Lacey was as welcome on Sommerville property as the Sommerville children themselves.
“Get out,” she demanded. “Now.” But to her frustrated bewilderment, she could hear the futility of the demand. She was no physical match for him, and if he wouldn’t go, she couldn’t wrestle him out of the door. But why was he here?
Rupert cursed silently. So she didn’t know what had happened. How the hell was he to handle this?
“I said, get out of my house,” Diana repeated, ignoring the sense of futility even as she wondered why he wasn’t saying anything. If anything, he looked vaguely discomfited, not an expression she would ordinarily associate with Colonel Lacey. “I have no idea how you got in, or why you’re here, but you are trespassing.”
Rupert sighed. Explaining this situation to Diana in full combat mode was not something he wanted to do. “As it happens, Diana, I am not trespassing. I assume you have not yet visited Muldoon?”
“Muldoon? The solicitor?” She looked even more bemused. “What has he to do with your breaking and entering my house?”
“A great deal, as it happens,” he said dryly, beginning to descend the stairs. “Not that I did either of those things.”
The two dogs, who had been sitting alert but quiet at Diana’s heels, growled in unison, a deep and threatening sound.
Rupert blinked in surprise. He and the dogs were old friends. Nevertheless, he took a step back to the gallery. Diana’s hostility was enough to provoke their instincts to defend her even against someone they had known since they were puppies.
Diana laid a hand on each dog’s head, saying softly, “Hera, Hercules.” They subsided, but their eyes never left Rupert and the muscles rippled beneath their sleek coats, their long bodies still very much on the alert.
Rupert decided to take the coward’s way out and let a professional handle the situation. Sometimes discretion was indeed the better part of valor. “When did you arrive in England, Diana?”
“Yesterday evening, as it happens. But I fail to see what that has to do with your illegal presence in my house.” Her eyes challenged him in a way that was achingly familiar, but he resisted his usual response to meet and match the challenge. This was neither the time nor the occasion for the old ways. There’d be opportunity enough later, he was sure of it.
“Muldoon will explain it to you, Diana. I suggest you visit him at once. I know you won’t listen to me, but you will listen to him.”
Diana turned away from him, her gaze sweeping the mountain of luggage as if somehow its very presence could make sense of this impossible, unbelievable situation. Her butler and personal maid were trying not to look fascinated by the scene being played out before them. They had known Colonel Lacey since he was a lad at boarding school with a penchant for mischievous adventures. And they knew the present state of affairs between Miss Sommerville and the colonel.
Diana made up her mind. She couldn’t unravel this craziness alone, and if Muldoon could offer some kind of explanation, she needed to hear it at once. She hated to leave the house with Rupert still in possession, but it seemed the only way, because he clearly had no intention of going anywhere. “Barlow, would you see if the hackney is still outside?”
The butler bowed and hurried to the still-open door. Two hackney carriages stood at the door. Both drivers were wrestling with the last few pieces of baggage fastened on the roofs. “Still here, Miss Diana. Still unloading.” He stepped aside as one of the men staggered past with a heavy steamer trunk, setting it down with a sigh of relief.
“Then please tell one of the cabbies I need to be taken to Chancery Lane.”
“Right, ma’am.” He turned back to the still-open front door and sent a piercing whistle through the early morning air. “One of you needs to take Miss Sommerville on to Chancery Lane.”
“Should I accompany you, Miss Diana?” asked a thin, angular woman, who had been standing to one side, her sharp gaze moving between her mistress and the man on the gallery as if she were watching a tennis match.
“No, thank you, Agnes,” Diana replied. She didn’t need a chaperone, and her personal maid had better things to do in the next hour. Resolutely, she kept her back to Rupert, as if by ignoring him she could convince herself he wasn’t there. “Would you see to the unpacking? I’d like to settle in as soon as possible.”
“Indeed, ma’am. Izzy can help me once Mrs. Harris doesn’t need her.”
Diana nodded, drawing on her gloves again. She felt very strange, disoriented, bewildered and not really in control of anything, however much she tried to give an impression of imperturbable command. Muldoon, the family solicitor, would restore that control. He’d make damn sure Rupert Lacey left her house in short order.
“The cabbie’s ready, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Barlow.” She inhaled deeply and walked to the open door, her head high and back straight, telling herself that she was not leaving Rupert in possession of the field. When she returned she would come armed.
Half an hour later, Diana stepped out of the hackney carriage on Chancery Lane and stood for a moment savoring the soft warmth of the English summer morning as she gathered her thoughts. It was still early, barely nine o’clock, but she had been so anxious to get installed in Cavendish Square that she’d left Brown’s Hotel, where she’d spent the previous night, after her arrival on the White Star liner from South Africa at soon after seven thirty. It had been the beginning of the South African winter when she’d left Cape Town for the monthlong voyage home, the dawn mornings bitter when she’d ridden out to watch Kimberley Diamond training on the racetrack. The cold air had seemed to suit the racehorse. How would the filly respond to her new home in the English countryside?
But there were more pressing matters at the moment than the well-being of a racehorse, however important she was. Diana walked up the shallow steps to the front door where a brass plate proclaimed the offices of Messrs. Muldoon and Muldoon, Esq., Solicitors. She pressed the bell and the door was opened almost immediately by an elderly frock-coat clad clerk.
He blinked in surprise at his unexpected visitor. “Why, Miss Sommerville, how delightful to see you. We didn’t realize you were back in the country. A letter was sent to you in South Africa only last month.”
“I had left by then,” she said, managing a slightly shaky smile. “I arrived in Portsmouth only yesterday, Mr. Bates. Would it be possible for me to see Mr. Muldoon?”
“Yes, yes, of course. I’ll tell him you’re here. He’ll be so pleased to see you.” The clerk held the door wide. “Please, step inside, Miss Sommerville.”
“Thank you.” She stepped past him into the cramped foyer from which rose a narrow flight of stairs. The air was stuffy and smelled dusty, a smell she remembered from past visits to the family lawyers. An attic smell of ancient books and piles of parchment. It was oddly comforting in its familiarity, as was Mr. Muldoon, who came hurrying down the stairs, rosy-cheeked and rotund as ever. He bowed with old-fashioned courtesy and kissed her hand.
“My dear Miss Sommerville . . . Diana . . . I wrote to you just last month. I wish I had known you were coming home.”
“After my father’s death so soon after my brother’s, I found it difficult to stay in South Africa.” She smiled the same shaky little smile.
“Yes, yes, I understand.” His clasp on her hand tightened. “I cannot tell you
“Not really, no,” she agreed. Her anger rose again with the upsurge of grief, never far from the surface these days. “Pointless to die in a war over diamonds and gold.”
Mr. Muldoon inclined his head in acknowledgment but after a pause said with a slight note of reproof, “Those gold and diamond mines, Diana, are responsible for your family’s considerable wealth.”
Diana flushed with annoyance. The solicitor was presuming on the years of his firm’s service to the Sommerville family. She said sharply, “Maybe so, Mr. Muldoon, but my brother’s life was not worth that fortune, however pleasant it is to possess it.”
The solicitor reared back, like a tortoise withdrawing his head. He’d forgotten about the Sommerville eyes, the deep purple of sloes. Alight with that flash of anger, they burned like purple fireworks.
Diana instantly regretted her spark of temper. She had to watch her tongue; it had always been her downfall . . . speaking her mind without a tactful pause, that vital moment of reflection. Jem had had a similar problem, but he controlled the impulse better than his younger sister. Rupert, of course, had never pulled his punches, except when it was in his interests to do so. But of course, Rupert Lacey was not a Sommerville, for all that he acted as if he were.
Which brought her to the point of this visit. But before she could say anything further, Muldoon said, “I’m very glad to see you, my dear. As you would not have received my letter with a full explanation of your circumstances, I must explain matters to you in person. Please come into my office.”