Read Regency Wagers Online

Authors: Diane Gaston

Regency Wagers (4 page)

BOOK: Regency Wagers
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Madeleine stood in the doorway. ‘A bed for Linette?’

‘Aye, miss. And a chair to rock her in.’

The look she gave Bart was almost worshipful. Devlin’s skin grew hot. By God, he was jealous. Of Bart. He wanted Madeleine’s gratitude all to himself.

‘Set the bed up in our room for now, Bart,’ he said and received not a glance from her.

Sophie peered out from the closet where Bart slept. ‘Can I help you, Maddy? What would you have me do?’

‘Prepare some food for Madeleine,’ Devlin said. Sophie shrank from his voice, but scurried to do what she was told.

Devlin sat Madeleine at the small table and took a seat across from her. He poured a small glass of port. ‘This will fortify you a bit.’

He sat so near to her, Madeleine again became aware of the scent that had surrounded her in his bed. The lines in his face were clearly visible and told of years spent on battlefields. Her heart gave a lurch. He was too much like her dreams.

‘Drink,’ he commanded, handing her the glass.

Madeleine obeyed. The sweet liquid warmed her throat, but Devlin’s solicitude frightened her. The doctor must have given ominous news indeed.

He continued to speak to her in a kind voice. ‘We will put the child into her bed as soon as Bart has put it together. Sophie can see to the linens. You must try to eat something, Madeleine.’

Sophie scurried from the scullery. Madeleine sipped her port, keenly aware of Devlin’s eyes upon her.

Bart announced the bed to be ready, and Devlin accom
panied her to the room. She placed Linette gently into the small wooden bed and carefully tucked the linens about her. The child settled, and Devlin took Madeleine’s arm and urged her away.

When she returned to the table, Sophie put a plate in front of her with a fat slice of bread and cheese. Madeleine ate, because she did not know what else to do.

 

When darkness fell, Devlin lit the candles in the bedchamber to dispel the gloomy shadows that had crept into the room. The soft glow of the candlelight illuminated Madeleine, who looked vulnerable as she sat by Linette’s bedside. She had barely moved from the little girl’s side all day, though he could not fault her. Little Linette was an appealing child and it pained him to see her suffering.

Madeleine glanced at him. ‘Do you go out this evening, my lord?’

He put his hands on the arms of her chair and leaned over her. ‘My name is Devlin.’

‘Very well. Devlin.’ Her eyes drifted back to the child.

He pulled up a chair next to her. ‘Now, how could I go out when our babe is ill?’

She gave him a sharp glance. ‘You are not obligated to stay. I would not hold you.’

‘Fustian,’ he said.

She rocked gently. He wished he could convince her all would be well. He’d been trying to do so all day, but she did not believe in reassurances.

Devlin heard Bart’s deep voice coming from the next room. He smiled to himself. The old sergeant was taken with that mouse of a female. It was amusing. Devlin always imagined Bart would shackle himself to some sturdy country girl to match the farm he used to dream of owning. To make a fool of himself over a wisp of a city chit amused Devlin no end.

‘Devlin?’ Madeleine’s voice was barely more than a whisper.

‘Yes?’

‘I have never thanked you for…for the doctor and for…allowing us to stay.’

‘Deuce, Madeleine. What do you take me for?’ Tossing her out, indeed. ‘Did you think I’d send you back to Farley?’

She twisted around to face him, alarm lighting her face. ‘You would not!’

He stroked her cheek. ‘Of course I would not.’

She turned back to Linette, but her hand went to the place he had touched. Devlin leaned back in his chair, balancing it on its back two legs. ‘How the devil did you come to be at Farley’s? You are too young, surely.’

She rocked at a faster pace. ‘I am old enough.’

‘Nonsense, you are hardly out of the classroom.’

She tossed him an insulted look. ‘I am eighteen.’

‘Eighteen!’ he cried, unbalancing the chair and nearly pitching over. Linette stirred, whimpering.

‘Shh.’ Madeleine reached for the child, rubbing her back.

‘Good God.’ He lowered his voice. ‘How old were you when you came to him?’ He’d made the computation in his head, but could barely believe it. She’d been so young, and he’d made love to her. How could he have done so?

‘I was fifteen.’

‘Damnation!’ So painfully young. He had left her there when she was younger than the silly chits making their come-out, the ones he thus far had successfully avoided. ‘The man’s a damned reprobate.’ Devlin had bedded her, as well. What did that make him?

She gave him a sideways glance. ‘You assume me the hapless victim, Devlin. Don’t make me so good.’

‘You did not join him willingly.’ He would not believe it.

She continued her rhythmic rocking. ‘Is this any of your concern, my lord?’

‘Not a whit.’ But that would not stop him. ‘Why did you join that cheating lout, then?’

She sighed. ‘This is a sordid story. Hardly of interest.’

‘Of interest to me,’ he persisted.

‘Very well.’ She paused to stroke Linette’s hair. ‘He seduced me. I was ruined. What else could I do?’

She made being ruined sound like getting a soiled spot on her gown. This was a rum story if ever he heard one. Farley was forty, if he was a day. Seducing a girl of her tender years—abominable. Devlin ought to have rescued her from him back then. Saved her from that abominable life.

She adjusted the blankets around the child, the candle behind her placing her profile in silhouette. His breath caught. She was a beauty. As fair as a cameo. As exotic, with her thick black curls, as a goddess from foreign shores. As skilled in the sheets as would fuel any man’s dreams.

Her fingers gently touched the child’s forehead. When she drew them away, they covered her face. Shame on him. Her child’s life hung by a fragile thread, and he thought of bedding her.

‘She will recover, Madeleine. Do not fear.’

She leaned back in the rocking chair and closed her eyes. Her silence stretched into the night, and Devlin felt guilty and useless. He watched her rock slowly back and forth in the chair. Back and forth. Back and forth.

‘Devlin?’ Her voice came as if from a great distance.

‘Yes?’

‘Do you believe God punishes sinners?’

Chapter Four

D
evlin woke sharply, still sitting in the chair. The candles had burned down to stubs and the peek of dawn came through the windows. Madeleine cradled the child in her arms. The child was still.

‘My God, is she…?’ No, it was unthinkable.

‘She’s sleeping.’

Devlin’s heart started beating again.

Madeleine shuddered. ‘Her fever broke and she fell asleep. I thought I would lose her, Devlin. It is what I deserved.’

‘Nonsense.’ Weak with relief, he stretched his stiff limbs. ‘She is through the illness, then?’

She nodded, her cheeks wet with tears.

While she had kept her anxious vigil, he had fallen asleep. Damned if he was not a useless sot. He stood up and, with a tentative hand, stroked the child’s hair.

He kissed the mother on the forehead. ‘Now you can get some sleep, as well. To bed, Madeleine, the babe can lie with us.’

He urged her up by her elbow and put an arm around her waist as he escorted her to the bed.

She looked about to protest.

He grinned. ‘Now don’t get in a twist. I’m too tired to
remove my clothes and so are you. We will be as proper as peas.’

She removed her slippers and laid Linette on the bed. Devlin’s boots had long been tossed into a corner, as had his coat and waistcoat. He turned down the covers, and she crawled in. When he took his place next to her, he tucked her against him and promptly fell back to sleep.

 

When Madeleine woke, she was alone in the bed.

Linette. Where was Linette? She scrambled out of the covers and ran to the door.

Opening it, she saw Devlin seated at the table, Linette on his lap. The child giggled as she pulled on Devlin’s nose. Two dark curly heads so close together.

Devlin turned his head to escape the assault on his nose. He spied Madeleine. ‘Good morning, sleepyhead.’

‘Deddy’s nose,’ cried Linette, pushing Devlin’s head back with two chubby hands on his cheeks. Devlin pretended to resist.

‘Would you like some nourishment, miss?’ asked Bart, pulling out a chair for her.

She glimpsed Sophie perched on a stool near the kitchen alcove, looking smaller and more childlike than ever. Sophie jumped down and disappeared into the scullery.

‘Our girl has made a remarkable recovery, wouldn’t you say, Maddy?’

Hearing Devlin say ‘our girl’ gave her heart a lurch. Nor did the familiarity of him calling her Maddy escape her notice.

‘She seems fit,’ she agreed.

‘Mama!’ Linette scrambled off Devlin’s lap and flung herself into Madeleine’s. ‘I got Deddy’s nose!’

‘I saw, sweetling.’ She kissed the top of Linette’s head and felt her forehead with her hand. It felt blessedly cool.

Bart brought a tray of tea things, followed by Sophie carrying a plate of biscuits. He set the tea service beside her and poured her a steaming cup. ‘Do you want some tea, Dev?’

Devlin nodded.

Linette pointed to the biscuits, ‘I want one.’

Madeleine placed a biscuit on a plate and lifted Linette on to the other chair to eat it.

‘Maddy, you’re a sight.’ Devlin blinked at her over his cup. ‘That awful dress.’

She glanced down at the crumpled red silk.

‘Would you like Bart to fill you a bath? We have a tub hereabouts, don’t we, Bart?’

‘I believe so,’ Bart responded.

Before Madeleine could think of what she wished to reply, Bart fetched the large tub, carrying it into the bedchamber while Sophie put on more water to boil. When they began to carry buckets to fill the tub, Madeleine offered to assist, but Devlin would not let her. Even Linette helped, carrying small pitchers of water, spilling more than made it into the tub. It felt all wrong to be so pampered.

When the bath was filled, Devlin brought her into the bedchamber. Bart and Sophie took charge of Linette, but Devlin remained. Madeleine began to understand.

Devlin closed the door and leaned against it. ‘Shall I play lady’s maid for you?’ His voice was velvet.

It was time for her to pay for his kindness. Farley had taught her how.

She cast Devlin a demure look under her lashes and strolled over to the bath. ‘As you wish, sir.’

He moved closer, as smooth a motion as a stalking cat. Presenting her back to him, she lifted the long tangled curls off her shoulders. His hands slid up the length of her back. Slowly he undid her laces, his fingers light and dextrous. She remembered him fumbling with her laces all those years before. Her body lapsed into a languid state. His hands slipped under her dress and ran over her skin like warm liquid.

The wrinkled red silk dress fluttered to the floor. Next came her shift. When she was fully naked, she knew he would wish to see. She turned to face him.

As she expected, his eyes feasted on her, darkening with arousal. She had learned to stand still for a man’s visual pleasure.

He took time to regard her, longer than she thought she could bear. His gaze disturbed her. Not precisely as the ogling from Farley’s clientele had done, but in an indefinable, unsettling way. His eyes finally reached her face.

‘You are lovely.’ The corner of his mouth turned up, and his dimple deepened.

The next move belonged to her. She stepped toward him and reached out her hand to caress his neck. She had not intended to kiss him, but he leaned down, and she had only to rise on tiptoe to reach his lips. He crushed her against him, standing wide-legged so she could feel his arousal pressing into her. For a moment she forgot her role and simply revelled in the strength of his muscles, the sweetness of his mouth, the feel of his hands pressing into her back, sliding down to hold her tightly against his groin. She did not realise how quickly she removed his shirt, how efficiently she freed him from his trousers, how she clung to him as he carried her to the bed.

‘Madeleine.’ His voice was a groan as he placed her on the bed and climbed atop her. His lips feathered her cheek and neck, soft, warm, and hungry. Her heart raced in excitement. His tongue circled the pink of her nipple, and all her senses sprang to life. She ached with wanting him.

She was spiralling out of control at the precise moment she ought to check herself. She had succumbed to the ecstasy of Devlin’s lovemaking once, but that interlude belonged to daydreams. She must shield herself, protect herself from feeling, just as she’d done when required to endure the attentions of other men. The Mysterious Miss M could not be hurt, or humiliated, or betrayed, because The Mysterious Miss M felt nothing at all.

The Devlin of her daydreams was not the same Devlin whose hand now stroked the flesh of her belly, whose mouth rained kisses over her breasts. She would not be fooled, no
matter what kindnesses he chose to make. Ultimately, all men served their own needs, and demanded payment for any small favour they bestowed. If they were refused, they could be very cruel.

It had been that way after the enchanted night with Devlin so many years ago. Farley had come afterwards to claim his pleasure, but Madeleine refused him. He went into a rage that left her bruised and in pain. The next day, Farley departed on one of his mysterious long trips. By the time he returned, Madeleine knew herself to be with child.

Now Devlin’s hands and lips threatened to engulf her in sensation. She remained still, resolving to repay him for rescuing her, for taking in Sophie, for snatching her child from the clutches of death, but she would not allow herself to feel anything.

She pushed on his shoulders, and he lifted his head.

‘Shall I pleasure you now, my lord?’ She modulated her voice to a velvet smoothness, as she’d rehearsed many times.

He leaned on his elbow, his expression puzzled. ‘Pleasure me?’

She deliberately slithered out from beneath him, facing him instead. She ran her finger in circles on his chest. ‘I wish to please you. Tell me what I must do to pleasure you.’

He grabbed her hand and searched her face. ‘What the devil…?’

She laughed, making a throaty sound Farley insisted she learn. ‘Oh? Would you like me to be wicked? I can be wicked, my lord, if that is what you wish.’

He dropped her hand and sat up, rubbing his face.

She pretended to look wounded. ‘What is amiss, my lord? I shall do whatever you desire.’

‘Stubble it, Maddy.’ He swung his legs over the side of the bed and grabbed his clothes.

‘Do not be vexed.’ Retaining her velvety voice, she pressed herself against his back. ‘I would not wish you unhappy.’

His muscles stiffened. ‘And I do not wish to play this game of yours. We are not at Lord Farley’s establishment, Miss M.’

‘Game?’ She sat back, blinking in confusion.

He shoved his arms into the sleeves of his shirt and groped around for the rest of his clothes, donning each piece as he came to it. ‘You are acting like cheap Haymarket-ware.’

She blinked at him, covering herself with the bed linens. ‘I do not know what that means.’

He glared at her. ‘It means lightskirt, Cyprian, dolly-mop. Shall I continue?’

Her eyebrows knitted together. ‘But that is what I am.’

He grabbed at the linens covering her and yanked them away. Before Madeleine could protest, he picked her up and dumped her into the now-tepid bath water.

‘How dare you!’ she shouted before she remembered that men did not like it if you showed them anger.

He lunged down at her face, and she drew back, fearful of the price he’d exact from her show of temper. Only an inch lay between their lips.

His voice became disturbingly low. ‘You cannot fool me, Maddy. You wanted me as much as I wanted you.’ As quickly, he strode out the room, slamming the door behind him.

Dripping with water, Madeleine burst into tears, but she did not know if it was because she had angered him or because what he’d said had been only too true.

 

‘Can you make it fit, Sophie?’

Madeleine stood in the centre of the bedchamber while her friend pulled on the strings of her dress. Though her hair, now in a braid down her back, remained damp, all other signs of the bath had been removed. Not from Madeleine’s mind, however, where Devlin’s angry eyes continued to haunt. She rubbed her temples.

Sophie tugged on the material of the dress. ‘It is too small, Maddy, and the seams cannot be let out.’

‘Oh, bother,’ she mumbled.

The door slammed. Footsteps sounded in the outer room. ‘Bart! Bart!’

Madeleine felt the blood drain from her face. Devlin had returned.

‘Where is everybody?’ He entered the bedchamber.

Sophie shrank back to a corner. Madeleine braced herself.

Surprisingly, he wore a grin on his face. He walked briskly over to her, lifted her off the ground, and swung her around. ‘I have a surprise for us. Where is Bart?’

‘Here I am, Dev.’ Bart appeared in the doorway, holding Linette’s hand. Linette had her thumb in her mouth.

Devlin released Madeleine. ‘We’re moving. Right now. We have to pack.’

‘Did you get us tossed out of here?’ Bart asked, his eyes narrowing.

Devlin clapped Bart on the shoulder, smiling broadly. ‘No, I’ve merely secured lodging spacious enough for the lot of us.’

Madeleine’s hands flew to her face. For all of them? What of sending them away?

‘Explain yourself, lad.’ Bart said.

‘I have procured the lease to Madame LaBelmonde’s apartments,’ Devlin responded, grinning.

‘Madame LaBelmonde?’ Madeleine raised an eyebrow.

‘Two bedchambers above stairs and two below. A parlour, dining room, and a proper kitchen.’ He placed his hands on his hips in satisfaction. ‘It should do very well.’

‘A sizeable rent, I suppose?’ Bart pursed his lips.

Devlin shook his head. ‘Not beyond our touch, once my quarterly portion is in hand.’

Bart clucked his tongue. ‘How do we pay until then?’

Devlin tossed Madeleine a broad wink before answering Bart. ‘I wagered the first month’s rent on a roll of the dice and won. My recent winnings should pay the second.’

‘You wagered the rent?’ Madeleine gasped. Visions of fool
ish, ruined men, their faces bleak and despairing, leaving Farley’s gaming rooms flashed through her mind. She remembered the sounds of angry words, overheard years ago outside her parents’ bedchambers.

‘Lord Devlin is a sad gamester, ma’am,’ Bart told her.

‘What else was I to do with my time but play cards?’ Devlin countered. ‘We shall go on very well, I promise.’

Madeleine wondered about more than the rent. ‘Who is Madame LaBelmonde?’

Devlin smiled at her. ‘A close neighbour.’

‘Close?’

‘Indeed. She has found a new protector. Lord Tavenish, I believe. He purchased a town house for her. She leaves her furnishings.’

‘Lord Tavenish,’ Madeleine repeated. A frequent visitor at Farley’s, Lord Tavenish had been well over fifty with sagging skin, and a sour smell. Would a town house be worth such a man?

Bart blew out a breath. ‘Well, what is done is done.’

‘Indeed.’ Devlin grinned. ‘We have not a moment to lose. There is a tenant interested in these rooms.’

‘These rooms? Already?’ Bart asked.

‘The matter is completely settled. I called upon our landlord and made an arrangement with him. If we move out today, our debt to him is forgiven.’

Little Linette let go of Bart’s hand and tottered over to Madeleine. ‘Up, Mama.’ She reached her hands up. Bart turned on his heel, muttering about setting to the task and hotheadedness. Sophie quietly crept along the wall until she, too, reached the door.

Devlin turned to Madeleine, his smile taking her breath away. She spun to face the wardrobe, gathering Devlin’s clothing to pack in the trunk.

‘You rented these accommodations to include us?’ She could not believe it. There must be some mistake.

He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face
him again. ‘Yes, to include you. We could not get on here, all of us, in this small space.’

She dipped her head, hiding her face from him. ‘You are not obliged to house us.’

He tilted her face to him, his fingers under the soft skin of her chin. ‘I am obliged.’

Not that he understood it, but Devlin felt keenly responsible for them. What would happen to them otherwise?

BOOK: Regency Wagers
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Monkey by Ch'eng-en, Wu
Becoming the Story by L. E. Henderson
Dangerous Place For Love by Sam Crescent
Morgan's Choice by Greta van Der Rol