The Lady Confesses

By: Carole Mortimer

Chapter One

May, 1817—Hepworth Manor, Devon

‘How dare you? Lord Thorne, I insist you release me at once!’

Lord Nathaniel Thorne, Earl of Osbourne, laughed huskily, his lips moving to the ebony-haired beauty’s throat. She avoided his kiss by struggling in the confines of his arms, the squirming of those slender curves as she lay across him only succeeding in increasing Nathaniel’s pleasure. ‘You know you do not mean that, my dear Betsy…’

‘I most certainly do mean it!’ She raised her head to glare down at him with eyes of an indignant and deep blue surrounded by long dark lashes, her dark curls smelling of lemon and jasmine.

Nathaniel smiled confidently. ‘A kiss, Betsy, that is all I ask.’

Her mouth tightened determinedly. ‘Very well—you asked for this!’

Nathaniel drew in a swift hissing breath as the woman in his arms deliberately pushed against his chest in an attempt to wrench herself free, a painful reminder that he had broken several of his ribs only nine days previously, which had resulted in his being confined to this bed or another ever since.

A fact this little minx was well aware of!

‘And you have been asking for this for days!’ Nathaniel’s arms tightened instead of releasing her as his teeth nibbled at one delicately scented earlobe.

Her struggles ceased, her expression one of blank bewilderment as she looked down at him. ‘I have?’

Well…perhaps he exaggerated the situation slightly. But after four days spent in London being confined to his bed and fussed over by his closest relative—his widowed and childless Aunt Gertrude—followed by another four days of discomfort inside his coach as they’d travelled to his aunt’s home on the rugged Devonshire coast, Nathaniel had felt in need of some feminine diversion.

Waking from an afternoon nap to find this delicious morsel tidying his bedchamber, also aware that no matter how painful his injuries were they had also allowed him to escape the tedium of a London Season and his aunt’s intention of finding him a wife, Nathaniel had decided to reward himself for that lucky escape by indulging in a little sport with his aunt’s young companion.

He grinned up at her unabashedly now. ‘You have been fussing about my bedchamber, and latterly myself, for this past half an hour: tidying the room, straightening my bedclothes, plumping my pillows.’ During which time he had been gifted with a tempting view of the fullness of her breasts as she leant across him and a tantalising glimpse of the plump, rosy-hued nipples that tipped those delicious breasts!

‘It was on your aunt’s instruction that I sat with you this afternoon.’ The ebony-haired beauty looked down the length of her little nose at him.

‘And where is my dear aunt this afternoon?’ he enquired.

‘She felt rested enough from the journey here to be able to go out in the carriage to reacquaint herself with friends in the area— You are deliberately changing the subject, my lord!’ She glared her indignation at him once again.

‘Am I?’ Nathaniel drawled in amusement.

‘Yes,’ she maintained firmly. ‘And I fail to see any encouragement on my part of this—this attack upon my person, in the mundane actions you have just described.’

Which was not to say that Elizabeth had found those attentions completely disagreeable, if she was being totally honest with herself.

Her last kiss—in fact, her only kiss—had been taken—stolen—from her several months ago by the local vicar’s precocious fifteen-year-old son, who unfortunately had a propensity for sweetmeats, cakes, spots and an unbecoming plumpness.

It had only been that expression of lazy satisfaction upon Lord Nathaniel Thorne’s handsome face, as he’d pulled her effortlessly into his arms, which had prevented Elizabeth from enjoying the sensation of allowing those sensually sculptured—and no doubt much more experienced—lips to possess her own.

The same satisfaction the earl displayed now as he looked down at the plump swell of her breasts made visible by the low neckline of her blue gown. ‘A man can only stand so much temptation, my dear Betsy.’

Elizabeth gave an inner wince at Lord Thorne’s continued use of the name bestowed upon her by Mrs Wilson almost two weeks ago, after that lady had declared ‘Elizabeth’ was far too refined a name for the young lady she intended to employ as a companion.

Nor did Elizabeth appreciate the way in which Lord Thorne continued to ogle her breasts; she had no doubts Mrs Wilson would dismiss ‘Betsy’ without a single reference if she were to enter the bedchamber and witness this damning scene! ‘I am sure I offered you no such temptation, sir,’ Elizabeth argued.

He eyed her with amusement. ‘Then perhaps it was just wishful thinking on my part?’

‘And no doubt I should have expected such behaviour from someone who is obviously so well acquainted with a man such as Lord Gabriel Faulkner!’ she came back tartly.

The challenging insult had the desired effect of obtaining Elizabeth’s sudden release as she felt his lordship’s arms instantly fall back to his sides, which allowed her to struggle back onto her slippered feet. She pulled her crumpled gown into some semblance of order and tidied the disarray of her hair before venturing a glance at him once again.

The icy haughtiness of the earl’s expression and the dangerous glitter in the narrowed brown eyes that looked up at her so coldly warned her instantly that she had said something heinous. She sighed inwardly. Despite his suddenly cold demeanour, Lord Nathaniel Thorne, Earl of Osbourne, had to be one of the handsomest men in England—he was certainly one of the most handsome males Elizabeth had ever set eyes upon. His fashionably styled hair was the colour of ripe corn, those brown eyes a rich mahogany. His face was stunningly masculine, with high cheekbones, a long aristocratic nose and sculpted lips above a square and determined jaw.

As the earl had spent the majority of the last nine days wearing very little other than a shirt, and occasionally pantaloons, for the comfort of his injuries, Elizabeth could also vouch for the fact that he had very wide shoulders, a muscled chest and stomach sprinkled with a fine dusting of golden hair, lean and powerful hips, and long masculine legs perfectly suited to those thigh-hugging pantaloons and the highly polished Hessians he had worn for their journey into Devonshire.

Until this moment, from the occasions she had witnessed him in conversation with his overly affectionate aunt, she would also have said he was in possession of a tolerably pleasant, if slightly haughty, nature to go along with those rakish good looks.

The dangerous glitter that now lit those dark, almost black, eyes showed another side of him completely. No doubt it was that same ruthlessness of nature that had stood the earl in such good stead during his five years of fighting as an officer in Wellington’s army.

‘You will explain that last remark, if you please.’

The even pleasantness of Lord Thorne’s tone did nothing to soothe Elizabeth’s feelings of unease—the sort of unease one might feel, she imagined, as if the good-natured cat sleeping peacefully upon one’s hearth suddenly turned feral!

Her chin rose. ‘I noted Lord Faulkner’s visit to you five days ago.’

‘On the day of his return to England after an absence of eight years, yes.’ The earl’s manner remained frosty.

‘I—well—his scandalous past is well-known, surely, my lord?’

‘Is it?’

Elizabeth’s throat moved convulsively at the dangerous edge she now heard beneath the mildness of the earl’s tone. ‘The servants were all agog following his visit to you and I couldn’t help but overhear what they were saying about him, about the scandal that marred his past.’

‘Indeed?’ Those blond brows rose. ‘And am I to take it you are the type of young lady who enjoys listening to such malicious gossip?’

Elizabeth felt her cheeks flush at this deliberate set-down. ‘It can hardly be termed as malicious when it also happens to be the truth.’

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