Rose in Bloom – Helen Hardt

“I’ll have you yet, little one.” Beau had sneaked up on the pretty young housemaid while she was making up one of the many guest rooms in the London terrace home. Now she stood across from him as he backed toward the door and turned the key in the lock. “I’m not leaving for university before I have a taste of those treasures under your dress.” Joy frowned, but then giggled and tossed her copper curls. “A few stolen kisses are one thing, my lord. You may think I have no choice to resist you, but I shall.” “Come here,” Beau said, as he sat down on the unmade bed. “Absolutely not. You touch me and I shall scream.” “Who would hear you, dove? I sent everyone else away this afternoon.” “You sent an entire household of servants away? ’Tis not possible.” “I’m the master’s son.” Beau winked at her. “My command makes anything possible.

” Joy smiled demurely. “You think you can command me?” He grinned. “I know I can, little dove,” he said, “and I’ll have you begging for it by the end.” Joy backed slowly away from the bed, into the alcove created by three windows. “I will never beg for anything.” “We shall see about that.” Beau crawled slowly across the bed and lunged at Joy. She ran toward the door of the chamber, but he was too quick for her. He grabbed her and whirled her around, throwing her on the bed. “My lord,” she said, “not like this.

” “Like what?” he asked breathlessly, his black hair falling into his eyes as he looked down at her sweet innocent beauty, her full lips the color of rubies. He had to have her. “You…you wouldn’t force me, would you?” He smiled. “No, sweet dove, I won’t force you. That I promise.” He crushed his mouth down on hers and coaxed her lips open, yearning for a taste of her sweetness. He had coveted Joy since she first came to the London house two years ago. Her coppery tresses and rich blue eyes enraptured him. A shy lad of sixteen at the time, Beau had worshiped her from afar and had only gained the courage to steal a kiss a mere three months ago. Joy had responded, so he stole another one, and then another.

The newfound knowledge that he was attractive to women had led him to steal kisses from a couple of other young servants and a few girls in town, but none were quite so luscious as Joy and her honeyed lips. As they parted for him now, he knew he would have her before he left on the morrow. Damned if he would arrive at Oxford as an untried lad of eighteen. He fumbled clumsily with her bodice, the weight of his body imprisoning her beneath him. She wriggled under him, trying to push him off of her, but to no avail. She was trapped, just the way he wanted her. “My lord,” she said breathlessly, “you said you wouldn’t force me.” “And I shan’t,” Beau gasped. “I won’t take you unless you beg me to. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a taste of your delights.

” He freed her young plump breasts from their restriction. Perfection. “How lovely you are, little dove.” He clamped his mouth onto a tight nipple. He wanted to be gentle, really he did, but his passion overwhelmed him. He pulled at her roughly, squeezing and kneading her breasts, panting and puffing as she writhed under him. “My lord! Oh!” “Yes, yes,” Beau said. “Just a little. You’re so beautiful. Does that feel good?” “Aye, my lord.

” She panted against him. “So good.” He glided his lips moved over her bosom. “I’ll make it good for you, dove.” He pressed tiny kisses over her milky skin and then returned to her nipples, licking them tenderly, until he felt her body relax beneath him. “Is that better?” Joy didn’t answer. She moaned softly, and then inhaled sharply as he stroked her private parts. “Such sweet wetness,” Beau whispered against her soft flesh. “Do you want me to fill the emptiness inside you?” She sighed. “I want… But I’m afraid.

” “Don’t be, dove. Let me touch inside of you.” Beau entered her slowly with one finger. So sweet, so tight. Soon she was writhing under his touch, wanting more, wanting him. “Oh, my lord,” she moaned. “Do you want me?” he asked huskily. “Aye, my lord. I want you.” Joy arched her hips.

Beau added another finger, stretching her. “Are you begging me?” “Aye. Yes. I want you. Please!” Beau ripped the buttons from his trousers, sending them plunking across the wood floor. He freed his aching arousal and plunged it into her, taking her maidenhead with more force than he had intended. She screamed from the pain, but the pleasure he felt overpowered his concern for her. “Oh,” he groaned. “Oh my God. Joy.

Joy!” He shuddered as he climaxed, spilling himself into her, welcoming the release of his seed. He collapsed onto the bed and rolled off of her, too exhausted to move. Joy remained silent for several moments. Then, “My lord?” He turned to look at her beautiful face flushed like a ripe raspberry. “Yes?” “I… May I go now?” “No, don’t go.” Beau took her delicate hand and lightly brushed his lips over. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t… It will be better for you the next time. I’ll make sure of it.” She smiled.

“Aye, I know, my lord.” But a next time never came. When Beau came home from Oxford on holiday, Joy was gone. Chapter One Laurel Ridge, Lybrook Estate, Wiltshire County, England Wedding Ball for the Duke and Duchess of Lybrook, 1853 Cameron Price downed his fourth glass of champagne and cursed the day he’d ever laid eyes on Lady Rose Jameson. Watching her waltz with Lord Evan Xavier for the fifth time this evening was more than he could stomach When the Duke of Lybrook had approached him six weeks earlier to compose a wedding waltz for his bride, Cameron had no choice but to take the commission. His family, tenants on the Lybrook estate, needed the money badly, and the sum of two hundred pounds also offered him the opportunity to hire a man to work his family’s farm so he could devote more time to his music. The duke had insisted that he work closely with Lady Rose, a talented pianist, while composing the waltz, so she would be adequately prepared to play it at the wedding. The many hours of sitting next to her at the piano, working out measures and harmonies, their elbows grazing as her fingers danced across the keys… He’d nursed many a cockstand afterward. Fighting his attraction to her had become a loathsome burden, a constant duel between his head and his heart. Her sapphire eyes haunted him.

Even in slumber he found no peace. Rose’s beautiful visage tormented him in his dreams. No one played as Rose did. She made the pianoforte sing, giving Cameron’s music a power and seductiveness it didn’t otherwise possess. The waltz had been well received tonight, but he had no doubt that Rose’s interpretation, not his talent as a composer, had made the difference. Watching her now, in the arms of Xavier, who was courting her, felt like a punch in the gut. No. More like a stampede of heavy-hoofed stallions trampling him. Xavier had been an oarsman at Weston and was consequently a big man, tall and blond with friendly brown eyes and a pleasantly handsome face. Surely a perfect match for the quietly virtuous Rose.

Cameron disliked him on principle. Cam had bedded his share of females in the past, but never before had he felt such an intense attraction to a woman as he did for Rose. He ached inside. She was meant for parties and high teas, silk gowns and diamonds. He had nothing to offer her. He set his champagne glass down on the refreshment table and walked out of the ballroom. “You’re not leaving yet, are you, Mr. Price?” Cameron turned to face the duke’s mother, Morgana Farnswroth, the Dowager Duchess of Lybrook. “Yes, Your Grace,” he said. “I believe it is time I got back to my family.

” “We’ll be serving a small meal at midnight. Won’t you stay and join us?” “I’m sorry. I couldn’t impose.” “Nonsense. The duke and duchess would never forgive me if I let you leave. Everyone here is dying to talk to you about your compositions. You have an exciting career ahead of you.” “Thank you for the compliment, Your Grace.” Cameron bowed politely. “However, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to stay.

After all, I’m one of the duke’s tenants.” “You’re an invited guest,” the duchess said. Cameron sighed. If these people wanted to speak to him about his music, he couldn’t afford to leave yet. Perhaps it might lead to another commission, and he needed the money to provide for his widowed mother and two younger sisters. “Thank you, Your Grace. I would be honored to stay.” “Wonderful, Mr. Price. Please make yourself welcome.

” She touched his arm in a maternal fashion and then hurried off to speak to another group of guests. Cameron headed back toward the refreshment table, inhaled another glass of champagne, and strode toward the ornate double doorway that led to the back terrace. He needed some fresh air. * * * * Rose thanked Evan for the waltz and hurried to the ladies’ retiring room to check her appearance. Her pale green satin gown was in fairly good shape, considering she had been wearing it since early afternoon. She fussed with her blond tresses a bit, which were swept atop her head in an elaborate coiffure of cascading curls, and then bit her lips and pinched her cheeks. The midnight meal was only minutes away. Rose was not hungry, but it would be bad form not to attend. She smiled in the looking glass as she thought of her sister, Lily, who had already left the ball with her new husband, Daniel, the seventh Duke of Lybrook. They would no doubt be missing the repast, as well they should.

To have a wedding night with the man she loved—Rose envied her sister’s good fortune. Seven weeks ago the sisters had come to Laurel Ridge with their parents, the Earl and Countess of Ashford, and their brother, Thomas, Viscount Jameson, for a pre-season house party hosted by the Duke of Lybrook. Lily had caught the eye of the duke soon thereafter, and the two had fallen deeply in love. The way they looked at each other took Rose’s breath away. She couldn’t imagine feeling that intensely for someone. Well, she could. Just not for Lord Evan Xavier. She cared for him and she enjoyed his company…and his kisses. But they didn’t share the ease together that Lily and the duke—Daniel— did. It was still difficult for Rose to call her new brother-in-law by his Christian name.

Then again, she and Lily were two very different people. Perhaps Lily, with her disdain for convention and the dictates of the peerage, was just more comfortable using Christian names than she, Rose, would ever be. Rose took a few deep breaths and walked to the back terrace for some air before the midnight meal. Several couples hid in the shadows, chatting intimately. Some were embracing each other and laughing softly. She walked swiftly away from them, looking for a dark corner where she could be alone with her thoughts for a few moments. She finally settled on a spot against the railing, outside the glimmer of the torchlights. She inhaled the fresh night air, expanding her lungs as much as her corset would allow. “Good evening, my lady.” Rose turned, squinting in the dark shadows.

About ten feet away from her, concealed in the nightfall, stood Cameron Price. Rose’s skin erupted in tiny bumps and her breath caught. He never failed to affect her, and this evening, dressed formally, he was an intoxicating vision. Cameron drained the glass of champagne he was holding and shuffled toward her. “A well-born lady such as yourself shouldn’t be out here unescorted,” he said, the aroma of alcohol on his breath unmistakable. “Mr. P-Price,” Rose stammered. “I…I was just getting breath of fresh air.” “Won’t Xavier miss you?” “I don’t know… I…I’m not wholly his concern.” Cameron snorted.

“He certainly monopolized you on the dance floor this evening.” Rose’s cheeks warmed. She was thankful for the darkness. “Not many others asked me for a dance.” “How could they, with him breathing down your neck? He’s the size of a mountain, for God’s sake.” Rose wrinkled her nose. “You’re inebriated, Mr. Price.” “Slightly.” He chuckled.

“Tell me, would you have danced with another man if he had asked you?” “Of course,” Rose said. “I danced with my father and my brother, and my cousin’s friend Mr. Landon.” “You danced with a mister?” Cameron shook his head. “You mean you’ll dance with an untitled gent?” “Why wouldn’t I? Mr. Landon is an impeccable gentlemen. He owns land here and in the Americas, and he’s a cousin to His Grace.” “Ah, I see.” Cameron lifted his champagne glass to his lips. “Damn, it’s empty.

” He set it down loudly on the railing. “Money is the issue then, as well as blood.” “Mr. Price,” Rose began, unable to look at him, “I fail to see what—” “My lady,” Cameron interrupted, “would you have danced with me, had I asked you?” Rose turned. His silver eyes penetrated her flesh like daggers. She felt defenseless. All those heart-wrenching hours spent at the pianoforte with him, fighting her attraction to him and telling herself they had no future, flooded into her like a tidal wave. He had treated her with such disdain, never missing an opportunity to make a snide comment about their different stations. Was it possible he felt an attraction too? “You’re foxed, Mr. Price,” Rose said, forcing herself not to stammer.

“This conversation would be better served if we were both in our right minds.” Cameron tentatively reached toward her arm and touched her lightly with his finger. A spark shot through Rose at the contact. “I may have imbibed a bit more than usual, my lady,” he said. “But I assure you, I am in my right mind. I asked you a question. Would you have danced with me?” “I…don’t know. It wouldn’t really be appropriate.” Cameron snorted again. “Of course.

What would the other peers have thought if you, the daughter of the Earl of Ashford, were seen dancing with a commoner? Pardon, not just a commoner, but a tenant on your brother-in-law’s land.” He turned away from her. “Good evening, my lady.” Rose’s heart hurt. She had wanted to dance with him. She had dreamed of more than that. Of kissing him the way she kissed Evan. Of doing…more than kissing. “Wait, Mr. Price.

” He turned. “What is it?” “Yes,” she said. “Yes, what?” She gulped. “Yes. I would have danced with you.” He walked back to her and brushed back a stray curl. Her skin burned where he touched her. “Will you dance with me now?” “It’s nearly time for the meal.” Rose swallowed. “The orchestra is taking a break.

I…we should go in.” “Please. Dance with me.” Her heart hammered against her chest. “There’s no music.” He cupped her cheek. “We don’t need music. You and I together have it in our souls.” “Mr. Price…” “Come with me.

” He took her arm and led her to the stairs of the terrace. Rose looked around quickly. They were alone. Completely alone. The other couples on the terrace must have gone in to be seated for the meal. Cameron pulled her down the stairs and out onto the soft grass of the lawn. He led her away from the torchlights to a dark crevice where only the light of the crescent moon veiled them in a lustrous cloak. “Dance with me,” he said, taking her into her arms. He led her left hand to his shoulder and pulled her to him. “Look at me.

” She gazed up into his sterling eyes, the moonlight illuminating his handsome face and casting highlights into his coal-black hair. He looked like a pagan god come to earth to deflower an innocent maiden. Her heart raced and fear coursed through her, but she didn’t look away. He began moving in a slow waltz, leading her around the lawn in intricate steps that surprised her. “You dance very well, Mr. Price,” she said. “Yes, we common folk dance too,” he said, a bit sardonically. “I didn’t mean—” “Shhh.” He pulled her closer. She laid her cheek on his shoulder and inhaled his salty cinnamon scent.

She closed her eyes, the pulse of his throat racing against her forehead, her own heart thumping madly. Being in his arms at last felt wonderful. Too wonderful. She started to pull away. “No,” he said, resisting her. “Stay with me. We haven’t finished our dance.” She relented, melting into him. He stopped waltzing and simply swayed gently. To finally embrace him, feel him against her, filled Rose with joy and agony.

If only this moment could last a lifetime. Slowly he pulled away from her, just slightly. With one hand, he tilted her chin up and gazed into her eyes. Her lips trembled, but she knew what he wanted. She wanted it too. His mouth descended until his lips were on hers. Rose knew how to kiss. Evan had taught her well. She parted her lips and Cameron’s tongue invaded her mouth, tasting her gently, slowly. He withdrew his tongue and brushed it delicately over her lips.

She sighed softly and tentatively reached her own tongue out to explore the fullness of his lips. They were softer than Evan’s, and she felt a surge in her womb that was new to her. Frightened, she turned her head away. His lips caressed her cheeks, her neck, nibbling and nuzzling her until she shivered. “We should go in.” “No. Not yet,” Cameron said. “I know I can never have you. I need at least this much of you. Please.

.

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