Surrender to Sin

By: Nicola Davidson

As always, for Sherilee Gray, CP and friend extraordinaire. Also, to those striving to make the world a better, kinder, safer place for all: thank you.

Chapter One

Gloucester, England, May 1814

“Ah, there you are, Grace. Lord Baxter and I have been waiting.”

Lady Grace Carrington somehow kept her smile in place as she curtsied. Anyone would think she had been lazing on a chaise eating sweets, not distributing food baskets to the poor within her father’s parish. This was typical from Bishop Lord Harold Lloyd-Gates, though. Even twenty-three years after her birth, he’d never forgiven her for being a daughter rather than the longed-for son.

“I apologize, Father,” she replied politely, starting to perspire. Though it was spring, he always kept his library at furnace temperature. “And to you, Lord Baxter. I wasn’t aware you were paying a call today, my goodness, I haven’t seen you since Carrington’s funeral. How are you keeping?”

Lord Baxter smiled but there was no kindness or joy in it. Was the man even capable of such emotions? Forty years her senior, the same age as her father and her late husband the Earl Carrington, yet so much colder. Infinitely stuffier. And the way his deadened, pale blue eyes stared on the few occasions they’d spoken made her skin crawl. “Well enough, Lady Carrington. I merely came here to inspect you and sign the contracts. Pleasingly, all is ready for June first.”

All the air whooshed from her lungs. Inspect? Contracts? “Excuse me?”

“One always makes a last inspection before purchase, even knowing the beauty and bloodlines. Despite your failure to give Carrington an heir, your family physician assures me there is no impediment. I must say, though, gowns revealing bare arms and collarbone like the one you wear are neither appropriate nor good for your health, and will be burned and replaced in London. Lady Baxter will not dress like a strumpet.”

Horror enveloped Grace, dark and suffocating, and her fists clenched in the folds of her lavender day dress. No. Surely her father couldn’t be so cruel again. She’d paid her blasted filial dues: five interminable, loveless and passionless years as Countess Carrington, until the earl blessedly made her a widow. His delighted nephew hadn’t even needed to chase her out the estate door once the inheritance legalities were settled. And on returning home, her father and stepmother had sworn she could either embrace widowhood or remarry as she pleased.

Oh, the wicked daydreams she’d had of finding a gentleman like the one who’d fueled a thousand secret fantasies. She’d only seen him once, six years ago in Hyde Park, but the memory had been seared forever in her mind. Young. All-conquering. Broad shoulders, muscled thighs, dark-haired and gloriously handsome, with a wicked grin that spoke of unimaginable pleasures.

She’d wager a man like that wouldn’t follow a twice-weekly routine: A quarter hour, fully clothed in a darkened, silent bedchamber, hurting his lover’s unready body because female pleasure was irrelevant and in fact, immoral. No, he would kiss and touch and stroke. Prepare his woman so thoroughly she’d beg him to take her, and he would, whenever and wherever she wanted. Rough or gentle, fast or slow, not content until she came apart in his arms several times.

Indeed, as her forced year of mourning came to a close, the chance of sexual freedom had beckoned seductively as a siren. And now it was being torn away from her.

“No, Father!” Grace burst out, too shocked, too furious to temper her voice to the quiet, decorous level he required in conversation. “You promised. You said I could remain a widow or choose my own husband!”

“What an unseemly display from your daughter, my lord bishop,” said Lord Baxter, his lips thinning further in distaste. “Surely she understands the enormous honor of my name, address, wealth, and position.”

“Yes, my lord!” her father said, gripping her arm and dragging her toward the door. “Of course she does. Grace is merely overwhelmed with delight. Perhaps you might excuse us for a moment?”

Lord Baxter nodded approvingly. “By all means. In situations such as these, correction is most appropriate. I commend your values.”

Alone in the narrow hallway, Grace wrenched from her father’s hand. “No. Not ever. He’s far worse than Carrington. Besides, I’m well past my majority, and have a widow’s jointure. You cannot force this.”

“On the contrary,” he hissed, anger reddening his face. “The new earl sent word yesterday. He visited the property set aside for your income, and it’s in a terrible state of neglect. Crumbling manor, unploughed and badly watered fields…it will take years to put right. No one was expecting the old earl to pass when he did.”

“But I still have money, don’t I? What about the inheritance from Mama?”

“You cannot touch that until you are twenty-five. And I cannot keep you until then, you know very well I have next to nothing of my own. Everything belongs to Waverly, and your uncle near-strangles me with his purse strings.”

Despair and fury threatened to choke her at the bald-faced lie. No clergyman in the world lived as well as her father did. His older brother, the Duke of Waverly, had always been fair and obliging.