For the first time in as long as Ginny Davis could remember, peace reigned at Starcross Castle. And even though that peace had come at the price of the shocking, violent death of Lord William deVere, nephew of Lord Peter deVere, the Earl of Dunsford and master of Starcross, Ginny and the rest of the staff were more relieved than anything else. Lord William had been a blight on the household and a constant thorn in his uncle’s side, and everyone downstairs at Starcross was overjoyed that, at last, their beloved master could be happy. His dastardly nephew was gone, his new wife, Lady Mariah, was just as wonderful as he was, the two of them were obviously besotted, and a new baby and possible heir would be born that winter. But that didn’t mean that the staff wasn’t dripping with concern for Lord Peter’s health and well-being. “Can I fix a cup of tea for you, my lord?” Ginny asked as she set the tray she’d carried up from the kitchens on the table beside the sofa where Lady Mariah was reading in Lord Peter’s study. “Hmm?” Lord Peter glanced up from the report he’d been frowning over at his desk. He was a handsome man at age fifty, with broad shoulders, a fit physique, and the most expressive face of any man Ginny had known. His hair had turned white while he was still young, but it seemed to have grown snowier still since his nephew’s death, and the lines around his eyes and mouth betrayed that he mourned for him. Even if no one else did. But then, Lord William had been the only family Lord Peter had left. “Would you like tea, my love?” Lady Mariah repeated Ginny’s question, shifting from reclining on the sofa to sitting on the edge so that she could pour tea. Ginny stole a peek at her mistress’s belly, eager for signs of her pregnancy to show, but it was still too early. At least Lady Mariah hadn’t had miscarried, like Lord Peter’s first wife had so many times. “Tea,” Lord Peter said as though realizing there were more things in the world than the papers in his hands.
“Yes, please. Thank you, Ginny.” He sent Ginny a kind smile that confirmed every good thought she had about him. Then he stood and crossed from his desk to sit on the sofa next to Lady Mariah, and his whole countenance lit up. “I suppose it is time for me to take a break,” he said, then kissed Lady Mariah softly on the lips. Ginny blushed as she poured tea for both of them, her heart dancing with sentimental happiness. Her sister Gwen, who served in another house up near St. Ives, would be scandalized if the lord and lady of that house showed affection for each other in front of the servants, but Ginny loved seeing Lord Peter and Lady Mariah in love. She suspected that the two of them tried to keep their kisses behind closed doors, but the spark between them was too bright to deny. And if Ginny had a penny for every time she’d entered Lady Mariah’s dressing room in the morning to ready her mistress’s clothes for the day and overheard the sounds of passion through the door to Lord Peter’s bedroom, she could fund a trip to the orient.
It was as if the two of them were trying desperately for the baby they had already conceived. A surprise giggle escaped from Ginny at the thought, and Lord Peter glanced past Lady Mariah, raising an eyebrow at Ginny. “I’m sorry, my lord,” Ginny said, blushing furiously and adding sugar cubes to the two cups of tea she’d poured. “It just warms my heart so much to see you and Lady Mariah so happy.” Gwen would also have an attack of the vapors if she saw the way Ginny spoke to an earl and a countess, but it was well known that Lord Peter didn’t mind his servants expressing their opinions to him, in the appropriate setting. “Thank you, Ginny,” Lady Mariah answered for both her and her husband, grinning widely and squeezing Lord Peter’s hand. “Your support these last few months has meant a lot.” “My lady.” Ginny curtsied and handed the teacups to her mistress and master. “Do you need anything else before I go?” “Would you mind opening the curtains?” Lord Peter asked.
“I think the sun has moved to the point where the glare won’t be so bad.” “Certainly, my lord.” Ginny curtsied again, and headed to the opposite end of the room to tie back curtains. Lord Peter’s library faced east, and while it was wonderful in the afternoon, the light could be unbearable on sunny mornings. “So was that a letter from Mr. Egbert?” Lady Mariah asked as Ginny worked. Mr. Egbert was the butler at Lord Peter’s London house. “It was,” Lord Peter answered. “He’s willing to send some of the more experienced staff back to Cornwall to help train the new hires here.
” Ginny said a silent prayer that they wouldn’t send Jane—a maid who had caused a horrible amount of trouble the year before—back to Starcross. “And he suggests we send some of the new footmen to London so that he can oversee their instruction.” Lady Mariah laughed. “Don’t tell Mr. Snyder. He’s very protective of his footmen.” “He’ll see the benefits of the situation,” Lord Peter said, and from the sound of things, he kissed Lady Mariah again. Ginny grinned to herself as she moved on to open the next set of curtains. At the same time, a pang of longing filled her heart. Love was such a wonderful, beautiful thing.
It was something that she dreamed about, but had never really thought was for her. She was too busy, too focused on rising up through the ranks of service to make a comfortable living, and Harry was too— She stopped herself before her thoughts could betray her. Harry Pond was her friend, nothing more. And while she did find him to be the handsomest, cleverest, and most delicious man she knew, not to mention the best kisser, their dallying was just that— dallying, and nothing more. And yes, as she’d confessed to her American friend Millie, when Millie was going through a hard time, that though she had let Harry take liberties that a good girl simply wouldn’t, the rules had been established. She and Harry were just having fun with each other. But sometimes, when Lord Peter and Lady Mariah were particularly ardent and obviously in love, Ginny wondered if there could be more between her and Harry. “What did Mr. Adler say about the possible new tin mine?” Lady Mariah’s question snapped Ginny out of her thoughts. She scolded herself for losing concentration and moved on to the next window, keeping one ear turned toward her master and mistress’s conversation.
After all, the mines Lord Peter owned effected everyone at Starcross Castle and their families, including hers. “Adler is hopeful,” Lord Peter said. “He thinks the reason the tin deposit he believes he’s located could be so large and profitable is because I, my father, and my grandfather have been so focused on mining copper. But tin has increased in value, and the demand is high right now.” “And this potential new mine. Would it be run the same way as a copper mine?” Lady Mariah asked. “Would the men who rely on you be able to make the switch easily?” “I believe so,” Lord Peter said. “The process of extracting ore is reasonably similar between the two substances, although there will be much to learn. Adler would like to address all of the workers about it sometime soon.” “We should host them here,” Lady Mariah said, sitting straighter and resting a hand on Lord Peter’s leg.
“The weather has been lovely lately. We could set up a meeting in one of the gardens. We could even serve refreshments.” Ginny finished with the windows, but lingered, curious about Lady Mariah’s plans. Lord Peter chuckled. “You’d find yourself hosting nearly two hundred miners and their families. It would be a challenge.” “If it’s a challenge, then I accept,” Lady Mariah said. “I haven’t met most of the men who work for you—” “Work for us.” “I’d like to host them,” Lady Mariah finished.
Lord Peter smiled and kissed her lightly. “Then we’ll host them all.” He glanced up and caught Ginny watching them. Ginny jumped and blushed even deeper, but Lord Peter only smiled and asked, “Ginny, would you mind sending Mr. Snyder in?” “Yes, my lord. Absolutely.” She curtsied and rushed from the room, half embarrassed to have been caught eavesdropping and half excited to spread the news of the grand event that was about to happen. She came across Mr. Snyder in the front hall and sent him in to Lord Peter, then picked up her pace as she reached the servant’s stairs. A piece of gossip like the kind she had was worth its weight in gold downstairs.
Being the first person to tell would impress the new, younger servants, most of whom hadn’t been there for more than a few months. But as she reached the kitchen, noise and bustle abounded. Mrs. Harmon shouted instructions to her kitchen maids as they scurried to fetch pots, raid the larder, and keep the stove lit. Christopher, the new head footman, scolded the brand new hall boy for spilling expensive silver polish. Poppy rattled off a list of everything she’d done to help Miss Victoria Travers, Lady Mariah’s unfortunate younger sister, who had squirreled herself away at Starcross Castle since the harrowing events of Lord William’s death. Ginny shot straight through it all and out the door that led to the kitchen courtyard and the stables. She knew exactly who she wanted to tell her news to first. Harry. Always Harry.
“Whoa, young lad. Take it easy.” Harry approached the finicky gelding pawing the straw in his stall and the nervous new stable boy with his hands outstretched. “He’s not gonna hurt you.” Chances were, anyone looking on would think he was talking to the horse, but Jimmy had been turning over buckets, walking into doorframes, and jumping every time a horse neighed since he started working at Starcross a scant month before. “A-are you sure, Mr. Pond?” the young man asked, backing away from Bear. “H-he looks like he’s in a state to me.” Harry’s mouth twitched into a grin. Bear was young and energetic.
At the moment, he needed exercise. Whoever had put Jimmy forward to work in Lord Peter’s stables, on the other hand, needed a knock upside the head. Of course, considering he was the one who had insisted that his oldest brother’s son be given a chance to work at the castle and learn horse husbandry, it all fell on his shoulders. At least the young lad had stopped calling him Uncle Harry and begun addressing him as befitted a lower-ranking servant. Now, if Harry could just get Jimmy to stop being afraid of horses, he might turn into something useful. “Bear’s a good sport,” Harry insisted, stepping into the stall and stroking Bear’s neck to prove his point. Bear snorted and bobbed his head. It was a show of how much he appreciated being pet, but Jimmy skittered back to the edge of the stall. “Come here and rub his neck so he can see you’re no harm to him.” “Are you sure?” “Positive.
” Jimmy took a tentative step forward, cautiously reaching out for Bear. It was all Harry could do to bite his tongue and keep himself from laughing. Bear was in a tolerant mood, though, and as soon as Jimmy rested a hand on his back, he blew out a friendly breath. “There,” Harry said. “Now keep it up for a while and the two of you will be thick as thieves in no time.” “Do you think?” Jimmy glanced to him hopefully. “I know it.” “Harry. Harry, where are you?” The second Harry heard Ginny’s voice calling to him from the stable door, his heart leapt in his chest, then knocked around against his ribs. In an instant, he was as excitable and skittish as Bear and Jimmy combined.
But he called back, “In here,” as though a rainbow hadn’t just landed at his feet. A second later, Ginny popped her head around the edge of the row of stalls that lined the long stable. Harry stepped out of Bear’s stall to greet her, and she smiled. Her whole face lit up, the pink on her beautiful, round cheeks glowing, her blue eyes sparkling. Her golden blonde hair looked so much better caught up in a knot at the back of her head the way she wore it since becoming Lady Mariah’s lady’s maid than it had when it was hidden by a mobcap. Harry lived with the constant desire to pull the pins out, loosen those silky locks, and run his fingers through it. “What brings you out here in the middle of the day?” he asked, masking every one of his tender feelings for her. He and Ginny were just friends. Nothing but friends. Well, slightly more than friends, but that’s where it ended.
Unfortunately. “I have news,” Ginny said, skipping toward him, excitement in her eyes. “Oh yeah?” Harry leaned casually against the stable wall, raking Ginny with an appreciative gaze. Her face wasn’t the only pretty thing about her. She had perfect breasts, a slender waist, and round hips. Her curves filled the very best of his dreams. She sidled closer, closer than any of the senior staff would like if they saw it, and leaned against the wall in a stance matching his. “Lady Mariah has asked Lord Peter to hold a meeting for all the miners here, at Starcross Castle.” “Has she?” Bold as brass, Harry reached up and stroked the back of his fingers along Ginny’s cheek. Her flush deepened.
She straightened and stepped closer, reaching up to play with the topmost fastened button on his shirt. “Apparently, Mr. Adler is ready to give a report to the miners about opening a new tin mine, and Lady Mariah asked if they could do it here. She wants to provide refreshments and make an event of it.” “She’s a kind and generous woman,” Harry said. His voice dropped and the heat that Ginny always ignited in him flared. He watched the way she studied his chest and shoulders. “It’s about time Lord Peter had a wife who matched him in kindness.” “I’m so happy for him,” Ginny sighed. The button she’d been playing with popped open.
She darted a glance up to him. “It’s inspiring seeing the two of them so much in love.” Harry’s senses ran riot. They always did with Ginny around. Blood rushed to his groin, and his trousers grew tight. He focused his gaze on her softly parted lips. “It’s always nice to see two people in love.” He inched toward her. “I think he likes me,” Jimmy proclaimed from the stall beside them. He gave just enough time for Harry and Ginny to jump apart before rushing out into the aisle between the stalls.
“I think Bear might actually like me.” “Of course he likes you,” Harry said with a laugh, betraying nothing of how close he and Ginny had been moments before. “Why don’t you take him out for a ride around the grounds. He needs exercise. They all do at some point or another.” “Good idea, Mr. Pond. I’ll saddle him up and take him out right now.” Jimmy nodded, then dashed back into the stall, slamming half his body into the doorway as he went. A moment later, he led Bear out.
Harry nodded to Ginny and gestured to the end of the aisle. He grabbed her hand, then walked her past half a dozen or more stalls to the dusty room that served as his office at the end. The small room was dim and cool, which was perfect for August, and held shelves of tack and supplies, a few books, a large fireplace that warmed the room nicely in winter, and a desk where Harry did his paperwork for Lord Peter. Harry walked to the desk and sat on the edge. “Now, tell me about this event,” he said, circling his arms around Ginny’s waist and drawing her close. “It sounds like it should be fabulous,” she said, straddling his legs and resting her weight against him. More than that, the juncture of her thighs pressed right above his now rigid staff. She had to feel it, just as he couldn’t mistake the fire in her eyes or the flush on her cheeks. Or the way she unfastened the buttons of his vest. “My brother will be happy,” Harry went on, sliding his hands from Ginny’s waist to the curve of her backside.
“He and all my cousins have been worried that they’ll be out of a job, now that the Carleen mine is exhausted.” “Lord Peter wouldn’t let that happen,” Ginny insisted. She finished unbuttoning his vest and spread it open, then toyed with the buttons of his shirt. “He cares about his dependents.” “He cares about all of us,” Harry agreed, staring at Ginny’s lips. His hands made their way from her backside, up her sides, and across her chest to fiddle with the buttons of her high collar. “We’re lucky to have an employer like him.” Ginny hummed, then sucked in a quick breath as he popped the top button of her collar free. “Gwen doesn’t approve of the informality we all have here, but she’s always been a bit of a prig.” “I’m glad that’s not a family trait,” Harry said with a wicked grin.
He undid the next three buttons of Ginny’s blouse, spreading her collar open, then leaning forward to kiss her neck. The heat of her skin drove him wild. “It’s definitely not,” she sighed, tilting her head back to give him better access. “Some of us don’t mind being a little naughty once in a while.” “Hmm. Good.” Harry undid a few more buttons, exposing Ginny’s chemise and corset, and the tops of her breasts, which he proceeded to kiss. He adjusted his hands to hold them from underneath, brushing his thumbs across her nipples through the fabric. Ginny sighed with pleasure, and Harry angled his hips up into hers. Men in positions like his were supposed to go for good girls, nice, sweet girls who would make good wives and mothers.
But there had been sparks from the moment he and Ginny had met years ago. He’d been reckless and a little wild back then, and had kissed her behind the stable one afternoon. But instead of getting the slap he probably deserved, Ginny had kissed him back. That in itself had been a surprise and delight. Especially since it wasn’t the only time. But there’d been a lazy summer afternoon, not unlike the one they were in, three years ago when he’d been particularly full of himself while they were fooling around down by the sea. He’d asked her to show him her tits, and, Lord help him, she had. Just opened her blouse, unhooked her corset, and pulled down her chemise to show him two of the most perfect, soft orbs he’d ever seen. She had rose-colored nipples that he still dreamed about. Best of all, she’d cooed when he cupped her breasts, telling him she liked it.
At least, until he crossed the line and pinched her nipples. Then he’d gotten the smack he deserved. But ever since then, for more than three years, when no one was looking, and when they were both feeling particularly frisky, there had been kisses, there had been touching, and there’d even been a borderline embarrassing night when he opened his trousers and let her stroke him until he came. But that was as far as they’d gone. Which was a bloody miracle as far as Harry was concerned. He wanted more. He wanted so much more. And not just of the carnal variety. Ginny threaded her fingers through his hair as he kissed the tops of her breasts, then scooped a hand into her corset to free her nipple. Which he promptly closed his mouth around to suckle.
“Harry,” she panted, her hips moving restlessly against his. “That feels so good.” “I’m glad you like it,” he whispered, blowing across her damp nipple and making her shiver. He wanted to see her completely naked—something he still hadn’t done, in spite of having touched what he hadn’t yet seen—and splayed in his bed. But with a ring on her finger after standing up in front of the vicar. He wanted to see her grow round with his children, spend Christmases and summer holidays with her. He wanted to grow old and feeble with her and reminisce about when they were naughty young bounders, years ago. But not once in all their years of fooling around had Ginny ever indicated that she wanted more than his hands and mouth on her. Not once had they talked about anything other than Starcross business. Not once had they even acknowledged the things they did to each other.
“Will you be attending the meeting?” he asked, letting her breast go and leaning back to catch his breath. If he didn’t steady himself, he’d do something he’d regret, like spilling his heart out and telling Ginny how much he loved her. “Of course,” she answered as if she were standing in the servant’s hall sipping tea instead of straddling him, one breast out, it’s nipple red from his teasing. She made no attempt to cover herself either. “I’m sure Lady Mariah will need my help.” “I’m sure she will.” Harry rested his hands on her waist, wondering how he could prolong their time together. “Oh, and Lord Peter also got a letter from Mr. Egbert in London.” “Oh?” “Yes.
It sounds like there is going to be a staff shuffle between Starcross Castle and Dunsford House.” Harry tensed, his chest squeezing. “Are you thinking of transferring to London?” “No,” Ginny laughed. “I’m Lady Mariah’s maid now. Which means that when she goes to London, I’ll go.” She tilted her head to the side with a far-off look. “I suppose that means that if she and Lord Peter travel, say, to the continent, I’ll get to travel with them. What a splendid thought.” Something inside Harry withered. “You wouldn’t mind being away from Cornwall?” “Of course not,” she laughed.
She rested her forearms on his shoulders and leaned forward, giving him an excellent view of her breasts. “You know how much I’ve wanted to travel.” “I know.” He worked to keep the disappointment out of his voice. Travel could only take her away from him. “You want to travel too, don’t you?” she asked, eyes gleaming with what he tried not to interpret as hope. He couldn’t let himself hope, not when Ginny was so clear about what she wanted, and what she didn’t. Harry shook his head. “I’m a homebody. You know that.
My family is in Cornwall, my whole life. I like it here.” Her face pinched, and she leaned back, rubbing her hands over his shoulders and chest. “But surely you want a little bit of adventure.” He didn’t like the tension that was growing between them, so he grinned and circled his hands across her back. “I love adventure,” he said, pulling her toward him for a quick, light kiss. “I’ve got my hands full of adventure right now.” He kissed her harder, but his insides squirmed. The last thing he wanted to do was let Ginny know what she did to him. The second he was exposed as a romantic fool, she wouldn’t be hot for him, she’d pity him.
Then he’d have to deal with a thousand excuses from her about how they were just friends, how even though they enjoyed each other physically, there were rules and lines that couldn’t be crossed. Lines they’d never talked about but knew were there. Her kisses were far too sweet for him to give them up, and the way she wriggled her hips against his would keep him up all night. He wasn’t willing to lose what little he had. “Mr. Pond, I think Bear doesn’t like me again.” Jimmy’s call tore Harry and Ginny apart, giving them a split second to untangle themselves before Jimmy stumbled into the room. Harry jerked to the side as Ginny rushed to put her breasts and bodice back in order, her back to Jimmy. “Oh, sorry.” Jimmy dashed out of the room after one glimpse of what he’d walked in on.
He was barely old enough to understand what he was seeing, but likely knew it was wrong. Harry sighed and rubbed his face. “I’ll set him straight,” he told Ginny, straightening his shirt and rebuttoning his vest. There was nothing he could do about the bulge in his trousers, though. Ginny giggled, turning toward him once she was covered and pressing a hand to her mouth. She stepped closer to Harry and whispered, “You know half the staff knows we canoodle now and then, don’t you?” Harry’s eyes went wide. “Do Mr. Snyder and Mrs. Wilson know?”