The Forgiven Scoundrel – Laura A. Barnes

Rosalyn stared out the window, jumping at every movement. Her gaze searched the lane for any sign of Phillip’s arrival. He was late. Phillip had promised they would meet this afternoon. She had much to tell him. Rosalyn hoped the joy of her news would bring him the same happiness as she felt. She rested one hand on her flat stomach and smiled. The hour grew late and her need to return home grew closer. But not before Rosalyn spoke with her true love. The last few months spent in Lord Phillip Delamont’s company had been the most enjoyable time in her life. Rosalyn had never expected to hold a love for another so deeply. The word love didn’t even come close to the emotion she held for Phillip. He was the other half of her soul. She’d known this from the moment their eyes met, the touch of his hand when they danced, the first taste of his kiss invading her senses. The world spun with Phillip in Rosalyn’s universe.

She reflected on Phillip’s care when they made love for the first time. His gentle, loving nature. His passion. Phillip held himself back for her pleasure until Rosalyn’s curiosity convinced him she wasn’t a fragile miss. Rosalyn’s smile widened, recalling the pleasure Phillip showed releasing his passion. Phillip left no part of her untouched. His kisses, his touch, and the whisper of his voice, wrapped Rosalyn in love. A flicker outside the window caught Rosalyn’s eye. She peered out from behind the drapes, admiring Phillip riding his horse to the front of the cottage. Rosalyn’s anticipation intensified at the sight of him.

His muscular thighs gripped the horse, while his sandy locks blew in the air. Phillip had let his hair grow longer through these summer months. Rosalyn couldn’t wait to brush the hair behind his ears while she welcomed Phillip with a kiss. She whirled away from the window, rushing through the open door to fly into his arms. Phillip caught her and held Rosalyn close. His grasp tightened before abruptly pulling away. Rosalyn, too caught up in his appearance, didn’t notice Phillip’s serious demeanor. She laughed at his attention and smoothed her dress, trying to press out the wrinkles. Since Phillip had arrived later than they’d planned, Rosalyn would need to leave soon, before her parents discovered that she had snuck away. She would share the news with Phillip and then agree to meet him later after her parents retired for the evening.

Rosalyn grabbed his hand and tried to pull him into the cottage. When Phillip wouldn’t budge, she turned. “Phillip?” Phillip stared at Rosalyn. There were no words to describe what he must do. He must give her no reason to doubt him. Every cell in his body wanted to gather her close and never let her go. Phillip wanted to spend the rest of his life showering Rosalyn with love. To kiss her lips every morning and devour her body long into the night. She was the very air he breathed. However, his wishes would be forever denied, because of circumstances out of his control.

Phillip would never get to awaken with Rosalyn by his side again. Never watch her grow with a child. Never hold her hand. Phillip took in every inch of Rosalyn. From the moment they met, he had fallen under her spell. Her smile had fooled him. He’d never expected the desirable, sassy, lovable chit packaged under the sweet innocence. From every witty remark to every whisper of love, Rosalyn stole his heart. From every strand of her fiery hair, to her flashing green eyes, to her long lovely legs he wanted to worship at her feet. She would always be Belle to him.

It was the special name given to her by him after they first made love. She rang the bell to his heart. Phillip noticed Rosalyn held a secret that she wanted to share with him, but he refused to hear it. It would only make his declaration that much harder to say. R What he was about to do would crush her soul. Phillip knew what his news would do, because at this moment his soul was torn apart with bitter resentment. Rosalyn’s excitement disappeared at the seriousness in Phillip’s gaze. When he wouldn’t respond, Rosalyn stood on tiptoes and tried to press a kiss to his lips. Any other time, this would have loosened her serious lord’s manner. Only this time was different.

Phillip didn’t return the kiss, instead pushing her away to stalk across the room. The rejection cut deep. It was as if her touch revolted him. Rosalyn wrapped her arms in front of her. Phillip turned and raked her from head to toe, glaring at her appearance. This was the same judgmental stare Phillip’s father had done to Rosalyn the week before, when Phillip made the introductions at his family’s annual ball. Now, Rosalyn took a step back in shock. When his glare continued, she dropped her arms. Rosalyn returned Phillip’s stare, refusing to be intimidated by his aristocratic air. His father might have made her feel unworthy, but she wouldn’t allow Phillip to treat her with the same disregard.

There must be an explanation for Phillip’s behavior. After Phillip had begged for forgiveness, Rosalyn would announce the news. When Rosalyn stood proudly before him, Phillip knew in his heart she would survive. He might not, but Rosalyn would. Rosalyn’s resilient character would endure the heartache about to unfold. How Phillip craved to take those pinched lips under his until they melted. To wrap his arms around Rosalyn and reassure her of their love. To have the hostility evaporate. To strip away the dress tightened around her curves and make love one last time. Phillip moved forward before he realized it.

Her eyes lit with forgiveness, and this became the fuel to destroy their relationship. Rosalyn forgave too easily. She needed to stand strong with her anger towards his behavior. When he advanced, Rosalyn thought Phillip had let go of whatever infuriated him, but she was mistaken. Rosalyn could never have prepared herself for the onslaught of pain Phillip would deliver. “Our time together has come to an end. My father will have the banns read this Sunday for my marriage to Lady Julia Minturn. Since we are to wed within a month’s time, I need to settle my affairs. I cannot be caught amusing myself with the lower gentry. It would not be fair to my intended.

I realized what a mistake you were when I invited you to my family’s annual ball. Your inadequate manners and the status of your family made me aware of how unsuited we could ever be. While you have made my time in the country this summer a delightful affair, that is all it ever was. You, my dear, have been a fetching piece of baggage, and I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching you the finer points of lovemaking. Your innocence whetted my appetite to many pleasures that I will find hard to deny myself. But deny I must.” Rosalyn paled at his cruelty, swaying back and forth. She might even have whispered the word no over and over, but nothing passed from her lips. Instead, the denial was shouted inside her head. Rosalyn’s heart broke into a million pieces when Phillip’s words continued to drone on.

His nonchalant attitude confirmed a belief in everything he said. He meant every single word. The coldness in Phillip’s gaze froze Rosalyn still. Phillip realized he’d convinced Rosalyn when the light vanished from her eyes, replaced by a blankness never seen before. Phillip had to leave now, before he crumbled and admitted to the lies, unable to keep the truth from Rosalyn. With one final look to last him a lifetime, Phillip strode past Rosalyn. When she choked out a sob, Phillip paused at the door. Rosalyn’s pain echoed around him. “Phillip,” she whispered. He closed his eyes.

Phillip flung the door open and continued to his horse, not once looking back. He climbed onto the saddle and urged the horse into a sprint. He needed to put distance between them. No matter how far away Phillip traveled from the cottage, the broken pieces of Rosalyn’s heart followed, clinging to his soul. Rosalyn followed Phillip to the door where she watched him fly away down the country lane. Her legs gave away, and she sank to the floor. Rosalyn leaned her head against the door jamb. Tears trailed along her cheeks, landing on her clasped hands which gently rubbed her stomach, trying to help ease the pain. But the ache would never disappear. The man who she gave her heart to, who she loved with every fiber of her being, had dismissed her as one would a servant.

Phillip had never loved Rosalyn as she loved him. Rosalyn had thought she knew the true Phillip. Wasn’t he the other half of her soul? The words he’d spoken couldn’t be real. A nightmare rocked Rosalyn’s world. One she would wake from soon while Phillip held her in his arms, soothing her with loving words. Belle brought one hand up and touched her heart. Yes, all would be well. Rosalyn had yet to tell Phillip the exciting news. Once she awoke she must tell him. They were to have a baby.

A baby created from their love for one another. Chapter One id-afternoons were Belle’s favorite part of the day. They were a time where she could slip away unnoticed by the staff and everybody else in London. These moments she regained sanity from her hectic life. Belle unwound from the previous night’s activities and prepared for the evening to come. Ned, her man in charge, wanted Belle to take an escort on these walks, but she refused. When she ventured out, she was no longer Madame Bellerose, the notorious brothel and gaming hell owner. No, she was Rosie, a widow enjoying the fresh air. She walked the line in two separate worlds. While she held friendships with many of the peer, she was a pariah to others.

This wasn’t how Belle imagined her life would be when she was a young innocent girl, but it was the life she now lived, making a living supporting herself and many others. Her girls and guards were family. They were more of a family to Belle than one she was born in to. Her parents had thrown her out because Belle made the mistake of giving her heart and body to a man whose primary intent was a bit of fun. Belle no longer held resentment for the past or those who’d wronged her. She overcame the sense of abandonment with the help of a dear friend. If it weren’t for Alexander Langley, the Duke of Sheffield, the path of Belle’s life would have destroyed her in the end. Belle didn’t really understand why she wanted to reflect today. She thought to have put the past behind, but with the recent wedding of her dear friends she had turned sentimental. All her past sufferings and imagining of what could have been consumed Belle.

The only thing she wouldn’t let herself remember was him. Belle wouldn’t even speak his name. The pain would be too intense. It still consumed her at times. Especially those moments when she wanted to be held in a man’s tender embrace. Many gentleman had made offers through the years, and tempting as they were, Belle had refused them all. Why she still saved herself for him, Belle held no clue. Belle walked over to a favorite bench in the park and sat down. The ton didn’t frequent this area; only the working class of London. The shopkeepers, professionals, and the lower gentry.

As the regular visitors passed, they would stop and speak a few words before they carried on. None of them knew her actual identity. Belle wore a simple day dress that hid her curves, sensible shoes, and her hair laid in a long braid hanging down her back. She refused to wear a bonnet. “Hello, Rosie.” “Hello, Poppet.” Belle smiled at the little girl holding her mother’s hand. The mother struggled to try to hold onto a babe in her arms. Belle pulled Ashley on her lap while the tired mother sighed with relief before she sat down. Belle’s heart ached for Claire.

Her husband worked the dock and they could barely afford to feed their children, let alone own a baby basket to carry the child. Belle had made an offer to help, but Claire refused. When pride was all one had, it was best to let them keep it. If not, it could lead to their downfall. Belle understood that only so well. Ashley chatted gaily about the new ball Papa bought for her birthday. Ashley pointed across the park at her brother sharing the ball with a new friend. Belle watched Nicholas playing with a boy she had never seen before. She turned to Claire to inquire about the lad, but Claire mouthed later. Belle nodded and opened a paper sack.

She peeked inside, then looked at Ashley. The little girl giggled, enjoying the game they always played. “How lucky we are that I brought three biscuits with me today. Perhaps your brother’s new friend M would like one too?” “Let me go ask, Rosie. I will be right back.” Ashley crawled off Belle’s lap and ran across the open lawn toward the boys. Belle chuckled at her excitement. “You should not spoil them so.” “Pssh. A biscuit does not spoil a child.

Do not take my enjoyment away, Claire.” “I’m sorry. The babe is teething and kept me awake all night.” Belle smiled in sympathy. She ran a hand over Joshua’s soft hair. The old familiar ache tugged at her heart. An ache never to be relieved. The pain had resurfaced with friends starting their families. Recently, Dallis and Rory had welcomed a baby girl named Morgan, and now Kathleen and Devon were expecting a child in a few months. It was only a matter of time before Sidney and Sophia would become pregnant too.

Not an ounce of envy Belle felt, only happiness for them. However, the ache of never holding her own child made Belle melancholy. “So, spill the story before they come for their treat.” “I am not sure who the boy’s father is. But he made the mistake of hiring Alice Timmons,” said Claire. “She is the worst governess in London.” “Yes, there is no doubt about that. From what I can gather, he is an influential peer of the ton. The poor boy lost his mother earlier this year and his father has returned to London to take his seat in Parliament. Alice said his late wife detested the town life, so they resided at their country estate.

With his wife dead, he came to resume his old life.” “Where is Alice? And why did she bring him to this park?” “She is fooling around with the stable hand in the park mews, hence the reason they are here.” “The poor lad. I wonder who his father could be?” Was Belle acquainted with the gentleman? Alice was always one to brag if she gained a position with a prestigious family. “That remains a mystery. Alice is keeping silent on who her employer is. She calls the boy Henry. She told Mrs. Hoppington that the lord will pay her a generous bonus if she keeps quiet on his status.” “Why such secrecy?” “Rumor is the boy is not his, but a bastard.

The lord only married the woman to give the child his name. They were engaged to wed, and she fooled around with another. The lady cuckolded him before becoming his bride. The poor man. However, he has raised the son as his own, which makes him honorable in my eyes.” Belle hadn’t heard of any gentleman returning to London from the country. Her heart went out to the boy already painted by scandal at such a young age. A stigma he would wear his entire life. Even his father suffered from rumors and innuendos. If the gentleman wanted to remarry, he would meet resistance by many.

They wouldn’t want their daughters attached to any scandal. Most gentlemen in his position would want to marry again to gain a spare. Belle would make inquiries with Sheffield into which lord had returned to town. Why she felt a curiosity was a mystery. Perhaps it was because the child held a sadness about him, missing his mother. Before Belle responded to Claire, the children had clamored to her side. She smiled at them when she opened the sack, offering them each a biscuit. Ashley and Nicholas thanked her under their mother’s guidance. But Henry hung back, not attempting to take the remaining treat. Belle held the bag out.

“No, thank you, ma’am. It would be highly improper of me to take your last biscuit.” His manners and offer of courtesy impressed Belle. For one so young, to think of another implied the discipline in which he was being raised. Belle smiled, holding the bag out farther. She could tell Henry wished to eat the treat by the longing glances he gave Ashley and Nicholas. “But I bought it for you.” “How so? You have never met me before.” “Yes, but I always buy biscuits for Ashley, Nicholas, and their friends. I might not have known of you, but I knew they would have a friend near.

” “Go ahead, Henry. Rosie is swell, she always spoils the children in the park,” said Nicholas. Still the boy wouldn’t stick his hand in the bag. “Would you reconsider if we split the treat? For I cannot eat the entire thing by myself. Would you be agreeable to that, Henry?” “Yes, ma’am. I suppose that would be fair.” Belle broke the biscuit in half, offering the bigger piece. Soon the kids were running off eating their treat at the same time. Henry stopped and ran back. “Thank you, Rosie,” he said hesitantly, unsure if he should call her by name or not.

“You are most welcome, Henry.” His face lit up and Belle lost what remained of her heart. She fell in love with the sweet boy. Henry reminded Belle of herself. Lost. Belle watched the children play while she caught up with Claire. Soon they watched Alice gather her charge and leave. After Claire and the children left, Belle remained for a few more minutes. She closed her eyes, letting the peace of the park soothe her soul before she returned home. Belle would need to hurry and change before any customers arrived.

This time in the park today lasted longer than usual. Maybe she should retire to the country? The hustle and bustle of the city was starting to take its toll. While she’d enjoyed it for years, now Belle only wanted open skies and fresh air. Or maybe just time away. Belle had thrived in the city. The excitement of London made her come alive. But she would ask Sheffield if the offer of his home along the coast was still available. Belle walked back along the path, the sun starting its descent into the night. She headed back to the life that differed so much from the one she portrayed as Rosie. “YOU ARE LATE, BOSS.

” “I know, Ned. Please fill me in.” Ned explained who was on duty and which guests had arrived already. With the season not in full swing, most families were still away at their country estates. That left the gentleman bored and seeking attention. Belle gave further directions to Ned then started back to the office. “Sheffield awaits you in your private parlor,” Ned called after her. “Why did you not tell me earlier?” “Because he said he would wait until you were available, when I told him you had not returned from your walk.” Belle nodded and then hurried to the parlor. She missed her friend.

The need to be in the company of somebody who understood her grew stronger. “Alex, my dear, I was not aware that you had returned to town.” Sheffield rested on Belle’s sofa, nursing her fine whiskey. She had the stiff drink smuggled in to cater to the clientele. Sheffield’s long limbs stretched out on the sofa, like he used to when he was a customer and bored with London’s delights. Since his marriage to Lady Sophia Turlington, Sheffield never graced the brothel again. Once in a blue moon, he would play cards. But not often. Belle missed his companionship. Why did she still remain so sentimental? “Yes, Sophia wanted to welcome Dallis and Rory’s newest addition.

Do not tell Sophia, but I suspect she is jealous of Sidney getting the baby all to herself.” “Your opinion is safe with me.” Belle sat across from Sheffield. For years she would rest beside him and lay her head on his shoulder while they shared their problems. Other times, he would just hold her, always knowing when she needed affection. It felt strange not to do so now. Sheffield frowned at Belle’s pensive mood. Any other time she would tease him unmercifully. However, this evening he sensed Belle’s melancholy when she entered the parlor. Now she sat across from him, lost.

The hell with propriety, Sophia would understand. Rather, she would scold him for not offering affection sooner. No prying eyes would witness it. Nobody dared to enter Belle’s private chamber without permission. Sheffield patted the space next to him. “No, those days are behind us, Sheffield.” “No, they are not and will never be. The dynamics of our friendship has not changed, nor will it.” “What about Sophia?”

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