Was she late or simply not coming?
Lucas Randolph Morgandale, the ninth Earl of Morgandale,
sat in his book room with his booted feet propped on the
Louis XIV writing desk. He sipped brandy from a glass that
had been warmed by his hand and listened to the rain gently
beat against the windowpane. The foul weather, the
indulgent amount of drink he’d consumed, and the fact
that the woman hadn’t arrived, had him feeling
restless, much to his irritation.
But it was more than the weather and the absent courtesan
that had him in an ill humor. Morgan had watched both his
cousins, Blake and Race, fall in love and marry during the
London Season, and he had no intentions of falling prey to
the same trap, despite their clever machinations over the
past few weeks. In order to avoid any such confining
pitfalls, he’d decided to quit the city early and
spend the entire summer at his Valleydale estate in Dorset.
The first couple of weeks, it had been easy for him to fill
his days with endless paperwork, hunting, and working with
his thoroughbred horses. Later in the summer he had taken
the time to ride over the vast lands of all his holdings,
visiting with each of his tenants and thanking them for
their hard work and dedication. In the evenings, he had
enjoyed gaming at the local tavern or attending one of the
many house parties that were scheduled at various estates
around the area.
Still there was a void, an inexplicable feeling that
something was missing in his life. Since a young lad, he
had always enjoyed his stays at Valleydale, and he
couldn’t put his finger on what made this time
Perhaps he had simply grown tired of the slower pace of
country life. But every time he thought about going back to
London, he remembered the knot of frustration over
Blake’s and Race’s scheming in trying to show
him how wonderful married life could be. He had told them
on more than one occasion that he had no desire to be tied
down by the bonds of matrimony.
Gambling, drinking, riding, and all the other things
he’d done had not completely distracted him from the
fact that his two best friends, cousins at that, had
married. And while both of them had done the proper thing
and invited him to dinner often, it hadn’t taken him
long to realize that was half the problem. Every time he
turned around, one of them was having him to dinner at
their home with their wives and very conveniently happened
to invite a string of uninspiring young ladies as well.
He was tired of being entangled in their schemes.
Morgan huffed under his breath and took another sip of the
brandy, letting it settle on his tongue a few seconds
before swallowing. They were mollycoddling him as if he
couldn’t find feminine companionship for himself.
He had to get away. He had to get away from them. London
Society was fueled by gossip, and all the scandalmongers
were laying bets he’d be married by the end of
summer. Morgan had scoffed at that ridiculous notion as
utterly preposterous. But it hadn’t kept
White’s from making it an official wager, much to his
Morgan would rather pay for his women so there would be no
strings attached. But finding a suitable bedmate was
obviously more easily planned than carried out so far from
It wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of women
around willing to share their beds or to give him a few
minutes of pleasure, but Morgan had realized a few months
ago, when he was at Valleydale with his cousins, that a
quick romp with an upstairs wench at the local tavern no
longer held any appeal for him. And unlike his cousins,
Blake and Race, Morgan had never cared for the idea of a
setting up a paid mistress in Town to be at his beck and
call. Mistresses demanded time and attention that he
wasn’t willing to give.
So in desperation, he supposed, he had come up with a grand
plan to hire a woman never destined to be a wife to come
and spend a couple of days with him at his estate; a
beautiful, willing woman he could sink his flesh into with
no strings attached, only relief.
With the help of his solicitor, Buford Saint, Morgan had
gone to great lengths to arrange for an exclusive and quite
expensive lady of the evening to travel out via a private
coach to see him. Saint had assured him she was highly
sought after, and even Prinny himself had been known to
enjoy her services from time to time.
Morgan had a letter from Saint saying she would arrive this
afternoon, but afternoon had turned to evening, and evening
had become late night, and there still was no sign of Miss
Francine Goodbody. When she hadn’t made it by nine
o’clock, and it was clear she wouldn’t be
taking supper with him, Morgan had sent his two house
servants to bed. Since then, he had been in his book room
drinking too much, as was evidenced by the pounding in his
temples and the roar in his ears.
He hated the feeling of not being quite in control of
himself. That and the cursed headaches the next day were
the reasons he’d fallen out of favor with drunkenness
years ago. But tonight, for some damned reason, he had
uncharacteristically given in to frustration and ended up
feeling justified for overindulging in the fine brandy his
cousin Blake had given him before he left London.
While continuing to grumble over his unfortunate plight,
Morgan heard a noise. A sharp sense of warning shimmied up
his back for a second, and he regained control of himself
instantly. Did he hear the sound of a carriage coming up
the tree-lined drive that led to his house? Had the much-
anticipated Miss Francine Goodbody finally arrived? As
quietly as possible, he lowered his feet to the floor and
placed the brandy glass on the edge of the desk. He rose,
walked to the opposite side of the room, parted the sheers
that covered the window, and looked out into the darkness.
A dense fog had settled over the landscape, and rain
fell in a steady stream. No one should be out in this
downpour, but he was certain that he saw the lights from a
coach coming up the lonely road that led to the front of
She had made it at last.
Morgan threw a glance to the brass-encased clock on the
mantel. Almost midnight.
“It was probably Lord Chesterfield who said
‘better late than never,’” Morgan mumbled
softly. And for once, he agreed with the pompous earl.
Though he doubted Chesterfield had said half the stuff his
grandmother attributed to the man.
If Morgan met Miss Goodbody at the door, perhaps he could
get her above stairs and settled into her room without
waking the servants. It wasn’t that he felt as if he
had to sneak around in his own house or censure his conduct
around his staff , but he would just as soon not have to
deal with his butler, Post, or the man’s wife until
Three days ago, when he received the letter from his
solicitor saying that all had been arranged and Miss
Goodbody would be arriving today, Morgan had given most of
the staff a week off. At first he had had no feelings for
the servants’ sensibilities concerning this matter,
but later, he wisely decided it was best to take
precautions and be discreet. Why let his entire household
of servants know about his dalliance with the courtesan?
The fewer eyebrows he raised with his aberrant behavior of
inviting a woman to entertain him in his home, the better.
Most of the servants at Valleydale had been with his
grandmother for many years and were reluctant to leave,
feeling they would be neglecting their duties to him to
take a full week off. Morgan finally had to insist they
take the holiday.
Miss Goodbody would be gone by the time the staff returned,
and hopefully, because Morgan had complete trust in Post
and his wife, no one else would be the wiser about
Morgan’s rendezvous with the delectable-sounding
woman Saint had selected for him.
Morgan grabbed the low-burning lamp from his desk and
walked toward the front of the house. As he strode by the
drawing room, he saw lights from the lanterns on the coach
pass by the window. He picked up his pace, wanting to get
to the door before Miss Goodbody hit the large brass
knocker that was fashioned in the shape of a magnificent
horse. The clang from that thing could wake the hounds of
hell. He placed the lamp on a vestibule table, and then and
as quietly as possible, he threw the latch and opened the
heavy door. It creaked, but he hoped, not enough to wake
the servants who slept on the second floor and off the main
section of the house.
As he stepped onto the porch, the wet, chilling air filled
his lungs and helped clear his head. In the distance,
behind the coach and through the trees, he saw a break in
the clouds. The moon shone down, giving an eerie cast to
the whorls of fog that lingered and hovered close to the
Through the rain, he watched the driver jump down and open
the door to the coach. A lady covered head to toe in a
black hooded cape stepped out. In the gray light from the
lanterns attached to the outside of the coach, he saw
another woman who looked to be wearing what he would
consider a servant’s headpiece start to step down,
too, but the lady on the ground turned and spoke to her.
Morgan couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it
seemed to him that they were having a heated discussion. He
assumed that the maid wanted to follow Miss Goodbody to the
door, but she wasn’t having any of that. It struck
him as odd that Miss Goodbody’s maid would take her
to task over anything, especially considering the fact her
employer was getting drenched from the cascading rain while
she was doing it. After a few moments, the maid disappeared
back inside the coach, and the driver shut the door.
It hadn’t dawned on Morgan that his courtesan would
bring her maid, but it should have. He had intimate
knowledge of how difficult it was to get a woman out of her
clothing or back into it for that matter. That thought sent
a wave of anticipation shooting through him. He could more
than adequately handle that job for Miss Goodbody while she
was at Valleydale. In fact, he was looking forward to it.
There were times when unlacing stays could be quite
titillating. He would find a place for the maid on the
servants’ floor. Her services wouldn’t be
Miss Goodbody turned and headed his way. Though the rain
pelted her, she remained unfazed by the downpour and calmly
walked up the steps toward him, shrouded in a drenched,
hooded cape that was lavishly trimmed along the edge in a
brightly colored braid. She was tall and walked with a
graceful, regal air that made his lower stomach clench in
anticipation. Saint had said she was as cultured and
polished as she was skilled, and Morgan was looking forward
to finding out all about her talents.
Beneath her heavy cloak, he could see that she was slender
and not as voluptuous a woman as Saint had promised, but
that didn’t bother him. Morgan had learned many years
ago that a woman’s prowess had nothing to do with her
size. She stopped before him, and though he couldn’t
see much of her face in the gloomy light, he was instantly
struck by her ivory complexion and searching eyes. Was that
uncertainty he saw in their sparkling green depths?
“Sir,” she said rather breathlessly as she took
a quick, fervent look behind her before fastening her gaze
on him. “I’m sorry to disturb you this late in
the evening, but I’ve been traveling all day to get
She had a beautiful lilt to her soft voice that surprised
and intrigued him immediately. She was British, of that he
was certain, but he heard a hint of a foreign accent, as
well, that he could only identify as perhaps from a mid-
Eastern country. He was certain it wasn’t French or
“Never mind all that,” he said. “The only
thing that matters is that you are here now. Come in where
He opened the door wider and allowed her to walk past him
and into the front hall. Once inside, she folded back the
dripping hood, exposing the most beautiful light auburn
hair he’d ever seen, flowing over her shoulders in a
cluster of rich-looking curls. As she untied the braided
cord at her neck, the movements of her slender fingers and
delicate hands were equally prim and sensual.
Morgan’s heart started beating a little faster.
With her hood off and in the light from the lamp he’d
left on the entrance table, he could see she was quite a
bit younger than he’d expected for a courtesan with
the experience Saint had assured him she possessed. Morgan
would trust that the man had thoroughly checked her out and
knew what he was talking about.
Her soft-looking skin was uncommonly pale. He was surprised
that her full lips had little color, and dark circles lay
under her large, expressive green eyes as if she had
recently been gravely ill or hadn’t had proper rest
for several days.
In spite of her wan appearance, she was beautiful, enticing
in a dreamy, exotic way that caused a sudden surge of heat
in him that settled low. Already he wanted to reach out and
caress her cheek. He wanted to bring her into the circle of
his arms and pull her close to his chest. He wanted to bury
his nose in the crook of her neck and breathe in her soft,
Saint had certainly done well for him as far as beauty and
allure were concerned. From the heavy rise Morgan felt
between his legs, there was no doubt he was physically
attracted to her. That alone told him she would be worth
every pound he was paying her.
“What delayed you?” he asked simply to make
conversation. “It must have been the weather—or
perhaps your driver was a laggard.”
Her dark, fan-shaped brows rose slightly as if to question
him. “We didn’t let anything delay us. I came
straight here,” she countered.
Morgan looked closer at the young woman. He couldn’t
see her dress, but the fabric and trim of her cape were of
fine, expensive materials that couldn’t be bought in
ordinary shops in London. She had definitely piqued his
“I suppose it rained all the way from London. But no
worry, you are here now. I have your room ready. Let me
help you with your cape, and then I’ll go tell your
driver how to get to the carriage house. Your maid, of
course, will be given a room as well.”
As he reached for her, she stepped away from him. Her eyes
challenged him with a high-handedness he hadn’t
expected from a woman he was paying.
“Excuse me, sir. You didn’t know I was coming.
How could you have a room prepared for me?”
Morgan paused, confused for a moment, but quickly
remembered that Saint had told him Miss Goodbody was
excellent at role playing. She could be any type of woman
he wanted. Morgan wasn’t really into masquerades and
mystique, even though it was the current rage in London
Society. He was much too conventional to find pleasure in
hiding behind a mask or pretending to be someone he was
not. But if it made Miss Goodbody happy, he supposed he
could play along with her for a little while, even though
his head was throbbing, and playing games at this hour of
the night was the last thing he wanted to do.
“Madame, surely you know that I always have a room
ready in case an unexpected guest arrives at my house in
the middle of the night.”
Her darkly fringed gaze searched his face, and her
uneasiness became more noticeable as she threw another
furtive glance toward the front door. For a moment Morgan
thought she was going to bolt out of it.
“This is your house? Sir, I think I should leave
immediately. Because of the fog and rain, I believe my
driver has brought me to the wrong door.”
Another snag of concern caught in Morgan’s head, but
he immediately dismissed it. Did she think to arouse him by
acting the part of a skittish, innocent waif who had lost
her way and ended up at his mercy? If so, she should have
been on time. It was far too damned late in the evening for
her antics of the damsel in distress to work for him.
“Don’t be coy,” he said, wanting to end
her ruse and get on with the matter for which he’d
hired her. “I’m afraid your acting abilities,
while really quite good, are wasted on me. Now allow me to
take your cloak so we can retire.”
Her eyes widened in alarm. She took another step back, and
her foot landed against the closed door. Morgan gave into
the worrisome feeling that something wasn’t quite
right, even though there was something infinitely
compelling and mysterious about her.
Keeping her gaze riveted on him, she looked suspiciously at
him and seemed to struggle for words. “I fear you
have mistaken me for someone else.”
“Don’t be silly. I knew you were coming. I had
Mr. Saint arrange your visit for me, though it is true I
was expecting you earlier in the afternoon.”
She looked at him from eyes sparkling hot from outrage and
surprise. “How dare you, sir! I don’t know what
you are talking about. I have never heard of anyone by the
name of Saint.”
More doubt about her stirred around Morgan. If she was
acting, she was damn good. Could what he was thinking be
possible? No, he didn’t want to believe that.
He tensed and allowed the silence between them to lengthen.
He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the answer,
but finally he calmly asked, “Are you Miss Francine
Her chin lifted defiantly as if an inner confidence
surfaced, fortifying her. “Sir, I am not.”
Morgan groaned as the realization that he would not be
enjoying the pleasure of this soft, alluring woman in his
bed tonight seeped through him .
But another thought suddenly struck him as well, and he
said, “My cousins sent you here, didn’t they?
“They somehow found out about my arrangements, and
this is their idea of a humorous trick. I suppose they
waylaid Miss Goodbody and sent you in her place. No doubt
they are having a laughing good time at my expense as we
The young woman bristled perceptibly. “I have no
knowledge of Miss Goodbody, the cousins you speak of, or
anyone else you might know.” She looked straight at
him and very confidently said, “I am Miss Arianna
He eyed her skeptically at first, but the longer he stared
at her the more he wondered what her role in this debacle
really was. Could she possibly be telling the truth? She
certainly looked like she was. A stab of disappointment
struck him, and it instantly turned to anger.
Morgan swore softly under his breath.
Her assertion that she was not the courtesan he expected
sobered him more than he liked. A sardonic chuckle passed
his lips, and he shook his head. This situation would be
laughable if it wasn’t so annoyingly unbelievable. A
beautiful, tempting woman finally arrives at his door, but
now quite obviously not the one he was expecting. What were
the chances of that ever happening?
Spending his summer at Valleydale was not turning out to be
one of his better ideas. Perhaps life in London
wasn’t so bad after all.
Morgan fought to quell his frustration over the realization
that this delectable young lady was not Miss Goodbody, and
she would not be spending the night beneath him.
He stared at her, unable to look away from the intensity of
her gaze. She was so indignant at his accusations that he
felt forced to believe her.
“Obviously, I was anticipating someone else, Miss
Sweet,” he said, unable to hide his frustration or
his impatience. “So if you are not here by way of my
cousins’ conniving or at Mr. Saint’s behest, by
all means, tell me what is it that brings you to my door on
this rainy, late evening? If it was directions you wanted,
I could easily have spoken to your driver.”
His brusque tone didn’t seem to faze her as she took
a commanding step toward him and said, “I came to
speak to Lady Elder. I realize she is not receiving at this
unbelievably late hour, but do you think she would mind if
I waited until she’s available to see me?”
Morgan grunted another laugh. What madness was this woman
“Lady Elder is not here,” he said, unable to
keep the sarcasm he was feeling out of his voice.
Miss Sweet stared at him with guarded surprise. Morgan got
the distinct impression she didn’t believe him.
“But she must be,” the young lady challenged
him in a stiff voice. “This is Valleydale, is it not,
or am I, indeed, at the wrong estate?”
“Yes, Miss Sweet, it is,” he said derisively.
“You are here, but she is not.”
Her hand flew to her forehead in contemplation, and Morgan
thought he saw her fingers tremble. He noticed
vulnerability in her that he hadn’t seen before, and
he was certain now she wasn’t acting.
Something troubled her, but what and why had she brought it
to his door?
She looked up at him with imploring eyes, and in a soft
voice said, “I came all this way to see Lady Elder.
Tell me where she is at once, and I shall go there.”
The throbbing in Morgan’s temples increased. Just who
the hell did this chit think she was?
Unable to keep a hint of accusation out of his voice, he
stepped closer to her and said, “Excuse me, Miss
Sweet, but are you issuing a demand to me?”
Morgan realized he’d spoken more sharply than he
intended, but this encounter had gone beyond being a
dreadful farce. It was more than comical or frustrating, it
was damned maddening, and he was ready for it to end.
She seemed unruffled by his gruff behavior and looked
straight into his eyes.
“No, of course not.” She took in a quick, deep
breath and then slowly exhaled before adding, “All
right, maybe it was a demand. But you don’t
understand. It’s imperative that I speak to her as
soon as possible.”
Miss Sweet was nothing if not direct; he would give her
Morgan shook his head and laughed softly under his breath.
Of Lady Elder’s three grandsons, Morgan was the
levelheaded one. He had always been rational, sensible, and
clear-minded no matter the situation. He was a planner and
never did anything without thinking through the
consequences, and he never lost control. He was determined
this intriguing young lady’s allure was not going to
get the best of him.
He watched as she moistened her lips, giving them a little
shine and color. Though she remained quiet, he could tell
by her rigid stance and rapidly blinking eyes that she
struggled to keep her composure. She lightly shook her head
as if to clear her thoughts and to renew some inner
strength that was weakening. There was a determined edge to
the set of her jaw, and sudden fear that he hadn’t
seen before shimmered in the depths of her beautiful green
eyes that gave him a moment’s pause.
But only a moment.
Another time, Morgan might have been more indulgent with
this captivating lady standing before him and enjoyed the
conversation, but not tonight. She had picked the wrong
evening to arrive at his door with her odd request to see
his grandmother. His head pounded from the drink, and his
stomach had begun to roil.
“I can tell you that it won’t be possible to
see her or speak to her, and I should know. I’m her
Alarm flashed in her eyes. Her gaze swept down his body as
she took in his attire.
“Oh, my lord, or is it Your Grace?” She
immediately curtsied. “I apologize for mistaking you
for one of Lady Elder’s staff. I shouldn’t have
jumped to conclusions. I know that she has three grandsons,
an Earl, a Marquis, and a Duke. Forgive me, but I
don’t know which you are.”
Morgan glanced down at his clothing and silently cursed.
Sometime during the long evening in his book room, he had
not only discarded his neckcloth and collar but his
waistcoat and coat as well. She had no way of knowing he
was the master of the house. It was no wonder she thought
him a servant, and a damned sloppy one at that, giving the
state of his rumpled shirt that was more than half pulled
from the band of his riding breeches.
He cleared his throat and said, “There is no need for
an apology. I am the Earl of Morgandale and Lady
Elder’s oldest grandson.”
“My lord, if your grandmother won’t be away for
a long time, do you mind if I wait for her to return? I
really must speak to—”
Morgan held up his hand to stop her from further discussion
of his grandmother. For a moment, he thought he saw her
Did she think him such a scoundrel that he wouldn’t
offer her the hospitality of his house for the night before
sending her on her way in the morning? That angered him.
Damnation, he wasn’t an ogre, but his patience was
already on a short tether before she had arrived. And it
was damned frustrating that he was immensely attracted to
her, since clearly he couldn’t do anything about
that. Given the lateness of the hour and the foul weather,
he really had no choice but to offer her shelter for the
Still, he wasn’t in a mood to be kind along with
having to be accommodating. “You will be waiting a
long time to see her, Miss Sweet,” he said grimly.
“My grandmother died over a year ago.”
A soft, anguished gasp fluttered past her lips.
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head.
“That can’t be.”
“I’m afraid it is,” he said, thinking it
was rather odd that she seemed to be taking the news of his
grandmother’s death so hard. Morgan watched the last
shade of color drain from her beautiful face. Her green
eyes blinked rapidly and then slowly.
But she didn’t respond.
Her head tilted back as her eyes fluttered closed, and
despite a long night of drinking, he leaped forward just in
time and somehow managed to catch her as her body collapsed
and she fainted into his arms .