Authors: Raven McAllan
Unravelling her secretsâ¦
The exquisite designs of mysterious dressmaker Madame Belle are the most sought after in the ton, yet only a few are trusted with Belle's deepest secret â her
Lady Belinda Howell has gone to great lengths to disguise her identity, it's the only way to protect herself from the ruthless demands of her wicked fatherâ¦and to protect her heart.
Until Lord Philip Macpherson walks into her salon and his scorching kiss burns a memory onto her lips that she'll
be able to forget!
Now it's only a matter of time before the notorious rake unveils the truth, and when he does, Belle knows that she won't be able to resistâ¦
The Scandalous Proposal of Lord Bennett
The Rake's Unveiling
of Lady Belle
lives in Scotland, the land of lochs, glens, mountains, haggis, men in kilts (sometimes) and midges. She enjoys all of themâexcept midges. They're not known as the scourge of Scotland for nothing.
Her long-suffering husband has learned how to work the Aga, ignore the dust bunnies who share their lives, and pour the wine when necessary.
Raven loves history, which is just as well, considering she writes Regency romance, and often gets so involved in her research she forgets the time.
She loves to travel, and says she and her hubby are doing their gap year in three-week stints. All in the name of research of course.
She loves to hear from her readers and you can contact her via her website
Stirling Council library vans staff under the able direction of Nelson Busby
This one's for Paul.
Really, how pathetic to have been reduced to this sort of behaviour. Skulking around like a thief.
Or a peeping Tom.
At the advanced age of fifteen she shouldn't still be able to climb trees like a hoyden or indeed if she could, she ought to reject the notion out of hand. Nevertheless, needs must. After all how else would she be able to stay out of sight and drool at the way Phillip, Lord Macphersonâthe recipient of all her childhood hero worship and dreamsâtouched the young damsel he'd taken into the barn, and then into the hayloft of his ancestral estate? Thank goodness they hadn't thought to close the doors where the hay would be tossed down from inside the loft to the ground. That open aperture gave her the perfect view.
Belinda shivered and went hot and cold, as she clung on to the swaying branch of the old oak tree at the edge of the meadow as if it was about to break. She stared at it dubiously, but any lower and she could well be seen. That really would be beyond the pale.
It wasn't solely the thought of being discovered that had her legs wrapped around the trunk and her arms the branch, but also the scenario that unfolded in front of her that had her transfixed.
Luckily the man and woman whom she spied upon were oblivious to her presence. Indeed they were so wrapped up in each other, Belinda doubted they would notice her if she ran in front of them naked, waved madly, and shouted beware of the bull, or the hayloft is on fire.
Not that she intended to. She needed to observe and learn.
She let her body sag, just a little, to enable her to watch as the couple sank into the soft bed of hay.
I hope a stalk goes where no stalk ever should.
The long strands of hay embraced them and Belinda tilted her head and squinted to peruse better. Lord Phillip muttered something to his companion that Belinda couldn't hear, as he proceeded to nibble the neck of the lady, who wriggled and squirmed.
She'll get marks on her gown if she's not careful and how is she going to explain that away?
Phillip made his nibbling way lower, downward from his companion's neck andâ¦ Belinda blinked and opened her eyes in a hurry so as not to miss anything.
Would he ever caress her, Belinda, like that? Bare her breasts and put his lips to her skin? Lift her skirts and move his hand upwards? Upwards to where? Her imagination ran riot. Surely not to those places she touched herself? Did a gentleman do such things? If he tried, would she let him succeed? The hay hid exactly what he did, and even if she hung down like a monkey in the Royal Menagerie she just couldn't quite see what was going on. Howeverâ¦ The lady's skirts went high into the air and they covered his lordship's head.
For a brief moment Belinda allowed herself to imagine it was herself, not that beastly Lady Rosemary Minchin with Lord Phillip and
, not Rosemary, was letting him do all those things.
What did he see in Rosemary? She had a shrill and grating laugh, and treated those younger than herself with disdain, or even malice. Plus, it was generally agreed her eyes were unkind. Belinda didn't know one lady who had a good word for Lady Rosemary, and it wasn't generally down to sour grapes. According to Clarissa, Phillip's sister, not a lot of gentlemen thought much of the woman after even a short association.
Even so, Rosemary's body seemed to be of taste to Phillip, who emerged from his covering of silk and lace and turned his attention to her breasts, feasting on them as if they were all he desired.
âMine I believe.' His soft and arousing laugh drifted back to Belinda. âSuch beautiful breasts, begging for my attention.'
The lady who had his attention sighed. âOh, Lord Phillip.'
Phillip rolled on top of Rosemary and out of Belinda's sight.
Goosebumps dotted Belinda's arms and her throat went dry.
Then Rosemary gigged. Giggled, for goodness' sake. It was no giggling matter, more a sigh and a moan situation, surely? What on earth did Phillip see in her? Apart from her breasts andâ¦
Carefully, Belinda edged along the slender branch, peered between the leaves and shook her head in despair. It was a certainty, she decided, if Phillip did ever touch her like that, she wouldn't be so miss-ish as the woman now pouting and pretending to smack him with her fan. Surely Rosemary was more than aware of why rakes and bucks suggested a walk in the gardens? Even Belinda, at her tender age, knew it wasn't to admire the roses.
Belinda rolled her eyes. If only Phillip looked at her like he did his companion. As if she was the marchpane on the cake, the dessert course of a splendid meal, andâ¦ There her comparisons ended. Her youthful self couldn't think of anything else.
But to be the recipient of such intense attention.
Oh yes, oh my.
Not yet, for at fifteen to his twenty-six, when he only saw her as his sister's friend, and probably an annoying one at that, it was hardly likely, and Belinda was wise enough to know she wasn't ready. However, one day?
Definitely, oh yes.
Behind the leaves that concealed her from the older couple, Belinda closed her eyes and indulged in a daydream of him with her, andâ¦
And nothing else. Her imagination was oh so limited.
With a crack loud enough to waken the dead, the branch snapped. Belinda fell head first into a rhododendron bush, missing a prickly blackthorn by inches.
âOh, what was that?' Rosemary's voice was shrill and sent several birds whirring upwards from the roof of the barn with indignant squawks.
Belinda groaned silently, shut her eyes and waited to be discovered. It was the last thing she needed. To find herself in deep disgrace and probably never to be invited to her friend Clarissa's home ever again.
Phillip laughed. She opened her eyes expecting to see him looking down at her. Instead she saw the sky.
âIt was probably a pigeon.' His voice carried clearly back to her. âOr a duck.'
Belinda couldn't help it. She was renowned at school for her ability to mimic. She quacked.
âSee, a duck. Now where were we?'
With stupid Lady Rosemary wittering like a widgeon.
Belinda sighed, wriggled and sank deeper into the bush. She had no chance of scrambling out without being discovered. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Nevertheless, that sight of how Phillip appeared to worship his companion stayed with her throughout the years. From school, thence to her father's house. Through all the stories of the women Phillip was alleged to be associated with, and those who tried to catch him and didn't. From gossip she and Clarissa picked up and discussed in detail, to what they overheard the servants mention to each other. Even if one tenth was true he had a woman a day and plenty to spare. A typical rake. Why was it that men seemed to be dangerous creatures who gambled and cavorted throughout their lives with not a care in the world for the women they played with?
Although, in Lord Phillip's case, it was said he never parted with a mistress in anger, and every woman still stayed on good terms with him. However, as not one of them, or indeed his lordship, subscribed to kiss and tell, most of what anyone could gossip about was pure conjecture.
With each piece of information they assimilated, through the scandals that rolled off him and the way he never let himself be caught in the marriage net, Belinda's fascination and, she admitted, devotion never wavered. Her dreams were of him, only him. Oh to be the one who changed his ways.
To her annoyance and disgust, no other man ever seemed to match up to Lord Phillip Macpherson. Not that anyone really noticed her anyway. Belinda's father had no intention of letting his daughter be seen and admired. When she wasn't at school, he kept her mostly in the country, and if she ever came to town, Belinda certainly didn't get involved in the balls and parties like her father and brothers did. Sometimes she wondered if people even knew she existed.
If it hadn't been for Clarissa, her life would have been lonely indeed. Both at school and during the holidays. Clarissa's fatherâher mother had died years beforeâwelcomed Belinda into his household. As he was a man with many interests the girls were left to enjoy themselves. Hence her chance to watch Phillip and his amour.
Clarissa had the toothache and had retired to bed with oil of cloves. Phillip had turned up unannounced just after lunch and Belinda had stumbled upon him and Rosemary on her afternoon stroll. She still had a crescent-shaped scar on the base of her thumb where she'd had an argument with the blackthorn as she had finally extracted herself from it and the rhododendron.
In general though, Phillip was not around much so it was no wonder on the odd occasion their paths did cross, he never noticed her, other than as his sister's friend. They achieved an amicable friendship albeit a distant one. No doubt he saw her as an extension of his little sister, and not someone to pay specific attention to. In one perverse way it was a relief. She didn't want to discover his feet of clay or have her daydreams shattered. Sometimes reality was not the best thing to have.
Even though his actions were of a man who admired women, and thought they were put on the earth for his entertainment and enjoyment, he genuinely seemed to like his companions and none ever spoke a bad word about him. Not the attitude she perceived in her father or brothers. They, Belinda decided, treated women like rubbish, to be discarded when finished with and no longer needed. It was not an attitude she approved of, especially when it so often applied to her. It was no wonder she was wary of any man who even glanced her way.