To Tame the Lyon – Sky Purington

“CLARA,” HER MOTHER would warn. “Go no further, my sweet dear. You are too young to wander about a strange place alone.” Yet wander she did, drawn deeper into the recesses of the splendid castle with all its regal people staring down from their gilded-framed paintings. Some English, some Scottish, all wondered what she would do next. How daring she really was. “I believe you know what I am up to,” she whispered, responding to their curiosity. “I have come to play for you, if only…” Was there a pianoforte here? Dare she hope? Compelled, she drifted further into the abyss, past grand rooms that allowed her but a moment of escape from the loss of her mother. She should turn back. Her father would be furious. But she could not help herself. Just a few more steps. Just to see if she would come across the right room. “And what will happen if you do?” she imagined the friendliest of pictures asking. A rosycheeked woman in ancient clothing.

“They will hear you if you play.” She was just about to pass another room but stopped short. There it was. A stunning pianoforte made of gleaming mahogany and pristine ivory keys. Needing its sanctuary, she drifted that way and sat. Dare she touch it? Was she that brave? “Well, you have come this far,” a miserly fellow from another portrait pointed out. “You might as well go all the way.” He was absolutely right. So, she pressed down tentatively on one of its magnificent keys. “Perfectly in tune,” she murmured, reeled in by the sound.

Utterly enchanted. Not giving it another thought, she placed her fingers on the keys, closed her eyes, and chased the next note. Then the next and the next until the music flowed, and she said goodbye to her mother the only way she knew how. On the sweet soulful melody she played. It felt like coming home and leaving all at once. Like embracing her mother while letting her go. Tears fell, but she did not care. Instead, she gave herself over to them, lulled into a much-needed sense of peace, until the very last note echoed off the walls. “Are you well, my lady?” came a curious voice, pulling her from her reverie. “Should we fetch your father?” Her eyes snapped open.

Startled by the boys who had appeared out of nowhere, she stood “Go no further, my sweet dear. You are too young to wander Yet wander she did, drawn deeper into the recesses of the splendid castle with all its regal people staring down from their gilded-framed paintings. Some English, some Scottish, all wondered “I believe you know what I am up to,” she whispered, responding to their curiosity. “I have come Compelled, she drifted further into the abyss, past grand rooms that allowed her but a moment of escape from the loss of her mother. She should turn back. Her father would be furious. But she could she imagined the friendliest of pictures asking. A rosy- “You might Not giving it another thought, she placed her fingers on the keys, closed her eyes, and chased the next note. Then the next and the next until the music flowed, and she said goodbye to her mother the It felt like coming home and leaving all at once. Like embracing her mother while letting her go.

Tears fell, but she did not care. Instead, she gave herself over to them, lulled into a much-needed “Are you well, my lady?” came a curious voice, pulling her from her reverie. “Should we fetch Her eyes snapped open. Startled by the boys who had appeared out of nowhere, she stood abruptly and shook her head. “My apologies, my lords,” she stammered, assuming them fellow nobility based on their clothing. “Whatever for?” the first boy said, obviously the one in charge. Taller with dark hair and intense blue eyes, he glanced from the pianoforte to her. “You play well.” “Aye, you do,” the shorter, blonde-haired one agreed, his accent the same as the other’s with just a touch of a Scottish burr. “I’m Andrew MacLauchlin, son to the Marquess of Durham.

” He gestured at the other boy. “This is my brother, Isaac.” She introduced herself, not sure what else to say. All she knew was her father would be most displeased at her predicament. No matter what one’s age, one should not be unchaperoned with two boys. “Why are you wandering about on your own?” Isaac glanced from the pianoforte to her, forthright to a fault. “And why do you cry?” Mortified, she brushed away her tears and shrugged. Though not inclined to answer, something about the way he looked at her made the truth come right out. “Because my mother just died.” Where Andrew offered his condolences and left it at that, Isaac said he was sorry, then focused on what he considered the matter at hand.

“What will become of you now, my lady?” He cocked his head, clearly aware that her father currently visited with Lord Durham in his study. “Though I dare say it interesting you remain with your father when you should be educating elsewhere, yes?” “My mother was unconventional,” she explained, “and wished me raised and educated at home.” “Do you imagine that will change now?” “Most likely,” she said softly. Though tempted to cry again, the time for that had passed. She must behave like a lady now. So she stood up straighter and clasped her hands in front of her, sure to appear well-mannered. “Father would prefer it.” “Will leaving your da not make you sad?” Andrew frowned. “Where will you go?” “Wherever I will get the best education, I suppose.” “Then what?” Isaac asked.

“Then, I will marry.” “Who?” She shrugged. “Whoever makes a good match, I would think.” Isaac considered that. “Your father is an earl.” “Yes,” she confirmed. “Then I will suggest you educate right here in Durham,” Isaac stated, shocking her, “so that we might know each other better and marry someday.” He nodded once, as though pleased with his decision. “Very good, then.” Done with the discussion, he bowed, then strode for the door, calling over his shoulder, “I look forward to hearing you play my pianoforte again when you are my wife, my lady.

” With that, they were gone. Clara frowned. Well, how very presumptuous. She would marry who she pleased. It turned out, however, who she pleased eventually proved Isaac’s words true, indeed. More so, they ended up being her saving grace. abruptly and shook her head. “My apologies, my lords,” she stammered, assuming them fellow nobility based on their clothing. “Whatever for?” the first boy said, obviously the one in charge. Taller with dark hair and intense blue eyes, he glanced from the pianoforte to her.

“You play well.” “Aye, you do,” the shorter, blonde-haired one agreed, his accent the same as the other’s with just a touch of a Scottish burr. “I’m Andrew MacLauchlin, son to the Marquess of Durham.” He gestured at the other boy. “This is my brother, Isaac.” She introduced herself, not sure what else to say. All she knew was her father would be most displeased at her predicament. No matter what one’s age, one should not be unchaperoned with two boys. “Why are you wandering about on your own?” Isaac glanced from the pianoforte to her, forthright to a fault. “And why do you cry?” Mortified, she brushed away her tears and shrugged.

Though not inclined to answer, something about the way he looked at her made the truth come right out. “Because my mother just died.” Where Andrew offered his condolences and left it at that, Isaac said he was sorry, then focused on what he considered the matter at hand. “What will become of you now, my lady?” He cocked his head, clearly aware that her father currently visited with Lord Durham in his study. “Though I dare say it interesting you remain with your father when you should be educating elsewhere, yes?” “My mother was unconventional,” she explained, “and wished me raised and educated at home.” “Do you imagine that will change now?” “Most likely,” she said softly. Though tempted to cry again, the time for that had passed. She must behave like a lady now. So she stood up straighter and clasped her hands in front of her, sure to appear well-mannered. “Father would prefer it.

” “Will leaving your da not make you sad?” Andrew frowned. “Where will you go?” “Wherever I will get the best education, I suppose.” “Then what?” Isaac asked. “Then, I will marry.” “Who?” She shrugged. “Whoever makes a good match, I would think.” Isaac considered that. “Your father is an earl.” “Yes,” she confirmed. “Then I will suggest you educate right here in Durham,” Isaac stated, shocking her, “so that we might know each other better and marry someday.

” He nodded once, as though pleased with his decision. “Very good, then.” Done with the discussion, he bowed, then strode for the door, calling over his shoulder, “I look forward to hearing you play my pianoforte again when you are my wife, my lady.” With that, they were gone. Clara frowned. Well, how very presumptuous. She would marry who she pleased. It turned out, however, who she pleased eventually proved Isaac’s words true, indeed. More so, they ended up being her saving grace. Chapter One London, England, 1815 CLARA PULLED HER shawl tighter around her shoulders, lowered a veil over her face, and stepped out of the carriage onto the bustling street in front of the Lyon’s Den.

Though a prospering gambling establishment, it was better known in the right circles for its notorious matchmaking services. Murky coal smoke hung over the city, and gas lanterns cast shadows on scantily dressed women luring men into alleyways. Trotting horse hooves mixed with raucous laughter and the cool air reeked of animal refuse and cheap perfume. A woman opened a side door for her. “Right this way, my lady.” Clara nodded thank you, understanding she was addressed that way out of discretion lest anyone on the street overhear. She headed down a hallway to what appeared a ladies’ dining room, then on to a dimly lit observation gallery overlooking the gaming hall. “Mrs. Dove-Lyon will be with you shortly,” the woman informed her, before she closed the door, leaving Clara alone. Violin music played softly in the background of a spacious, bustling room below, and a dim haze of cigar smoke hovered around gaming men.

Some played most seriously, where others seemed keener on cocktailing and socializing. “Oh, Isaac,” she whispered, finding her childhood friend in no time. How could she not, when he was amongst the tallest and most boisterous of them all? Also, quite clearly, the most inebriated. Though it seemed impossible considering the ample carousing he reportedly did, Isaac MacLauchlin, Marquess of Durham, was more handsome than ever with his thick ebony hair and striking blue eyes. His shoulders were even broader than she remembered, and his features more chiseled. Though he sat at a card table declaring this and that to the dealer, his gaze often wandered to the curvaceous women meandering about. “All a show, my dear,” came a soft voice before an attractive older woman melted out of the shadows. “At least when it comes to women.” She introduced herself as Mrs. Dove-Lyon.

Her astute gaze never left Clara. “Normally, I would invite you to join me in my private room, Your Grace,” her gaze flickered from Isaac back to Clara, “but I think perhaps it is best we discuss things right here.” She nodded, grateful Mrs. Dove-Lyon had the foresight to make this room empty, for surely she had. “You will help me, then?” “We will help each other,” the older woman corrected. “You understand the marquess spends a substantial amount of coin in my establishment.” She perked a brow. “That losing his patronage will not come cheap.” “Nor would I expect it to.” She flinched when Isaac roared an obscenity at a patron who evidently shawl tighter around her shoulders, lowered a veil over her face, and stepped out of the carriage onto the bustling street in front of the Lyon’s Den.

Though a prospering gambling Murky coal smoke hung over the city, and gas lanterns cast shadows on scantily dressed women luring men into alleyways. Trotting horse hooves mixed with raucous laughter and the cool air reeked Clara nodded thank you, understanding she was addressed that way out of discretion lest anyone on the street overhear. She headed down a hallway to what appeared a ladies’ dining room, then on to “Mrs. Dove-Lyon will be with you shortly,” the woman informed her, before she closed the door, Violin music played softly in the background of a spacious, bustling room below, and a dim haze of cigar smoke hovered around gaming men. Some played most seriously, where others seemed “Oh, Isaac,” she whispered, finding her childhood friend in no time. How could she not, when he Though it seemed impossible considering the ample carousing he reportedly did, Isaac MacLauchlin, Marquess of Durham, was more handsome than ever with his thick ebony hair and striking blue eyes. His shoulders were even broader than she remembered, and his features more chiseled. Though he sat at a card table declaring this and that to the dealer, his gaze often wandered to “All a show, my dear,” came a soft voice before an attractive older woman melted out of the Her astute gaze never left Clara. “Normally, I would invite you to join me in my private room, Your Grace,” her gaze flickered from Isaac back to Clara, “but I think perhaps it is best we discuss She nodded, grateful Mrs. Dove-Lyon had the foresight to make this room empty, for surely she “We will help each other,” the older woman corrected.

“You understand the marquess spends a substantial amount of coin in my establishment.” She perked a brow. “That losing his patronage will “Nor would I expect it to.” She flinched when Isaac roared an obscenity at a patron who evidently offended him. “I will pay it, though, for this cannot go on, nor can my daughter and I remain alone.” What she did not say, but Mrs. Dove-Lyon already knew, was the more pressing reason she needed Isaac to become her husband. The extra protection it would afford her given the rumored outcome of a recent duel. “You are still fairly young and quite lovely beneath that veil.” Mrs.

Dove-Lyon tilted her head. “Why take on such a man when you could have any you please?” Her gaze returned to Isaac. “For, as is evident by his reckless behavior, he’s more troubled than most.” She wasn’t surprised by the flash of pity in Dove-Lyon’s eyes. If Isaac frequented this establishment as much as rumor had it, then surely she’d glimpsed the man beneath and felt sorry for him. What was this about admiring women being a show, though? “How troubled is he?” Clara asked softly, grateful for the woman’s bluntness. “I cannot speak to the extent other than to say troubled enough.” She sighed. “His patronage of late is becoming far too disruptive.” Such information could be used for bargaining power, but Clara wasn’t here for that, and DoveLyon knew it.

“It saddens me to hear that.” Clara’s gaze went to the man beside Isaac, who clasped his shoulder and roared with laughter. With wavy wheat-colored hair and classically handsome features, he likely turned a head or two. “Who is that with him?” “That is my lord’s ever-faithful companion in crime.” Mrs. Dove-Lyon considered the man. “Though a cousin held in high esteem, I have yet to determine if Blake MacLauchlin, Viscount of Lorne, is friend or foe.” She gave Clara a look. “All I know is where Durham goes, Lord MacLauchlin, as he prefers to call himself, follows and has his ear more often than not.” “I will keep that in mind.

” “You should.” The older woman grew serious, hinting at a soft heart yet again. “I hear you knew Lord Durham in your youth, Duchess Surrey. That you even spent time at his estate. So are you certain this is what you want?” What she did not say, but Clara saw in her eyes, was, did she want this for her daughter? Unlike most, she had not sent Mabel away. Nor would she. Her daughter would be educated and grow up near her mother. Which also meant, if she went through with this, she would grow up under Isaac’s care. “Yes, this is what I want.” Not only because she needed protection but because she owed Isaac.

He had been there for her when she needed him, so she would be there for him, too. Mrs. Dove-Lyon’s gaze settled firmly on Clara. “Then let us talk coin.” “Let us,” she agreed. “And, of course, strategy. Because it’s important Lord Durham understand what he is getting into upfront.” Truth told, she would have preferred to go about this when he was not in his cups, but it seemed that rarely happened nowadays. “Leave everything to me.” Mrs.

Dove-Lyon’s attention returned to Isaac. “I know just how to go about it.” She glanced at Clara. “I will send word when it is finished.” She nodded and handed over a purse that more than compensated for the woman’s assistance plus money lost from Isaac’s future patronage. “I wish you the very best, Duchess.” Mrs. Dove-Lyon glanced inside the purse before her astute gaze returned to Clara’s face. “May you tame Isaac’s beasts and find a good life with him.” What she did not say, but Mrs.

Dove-Lyon already knew, was the more pressing reason she needed Isaac to become her husband. The extra protection it would afford her given the rumored “You are still fairly young and quite lovely beneath that veil.” Mrs. Dove-Lyon tilted her head. “Why take on such a man when you could have any you please?” Her gaze returned to Isaac. “For, as She wasn’t surprised by the flash of pity in Dove-Lyon’s eyes. If Isaac frequented this establishment as much as rumor had it, then surely she’d glimpsed the man beneath and felt sorry for “I cannot speak to the extent other than to say troubled enough.” She sighed. “His patronage of late Such information could be used for bargaining power, but Clara wasn’t here for that, and Dove- “It saddens me to hear that.” Clara’s gaze went to the man beside Isaac, who clasped his shoulder and roared with laughter.

With wavy wheat-colored hair and classically handsome features, he likely “That is my lord’s ever-faithful companion in crime.” Mrs. Dove-Lyon considered the man. “Though a cousin held in high esteem, I have yet to determine if Blake MacLauchlin, Viscount of Lorne, is friend or foe.” She gave Clara a look. “All I know is where Durham goes, Lord “You should.” The older woman grew serious, hinting at a soft heart yet again. “I hear you knew Lord Durham in your youth, Duchess Surrey. That you even spent time at his estate. So are you certain What she did not say, but Clara saw in her eyes, was, did she want this for her daughter? Unlike most, she had not sent Mabel away.

Nor would she. Her daughter would be educated and grow up near her mother. Which also meant, if she went through with this, she would grow up under Isaac’s “Yes, this is what I want.” Not only because she needed protection but because she owed Isaac. “Let us,” she agreed. “And, of course, strategy. Because it’s important Lord Durham understand Truth told, she would have preferred to go about this when he was not in his cups, but it seemed “Leave everything to me.” Mrs. Dove-Lyon’s attention returned to Isaac. “I know just how to go She nodded and handed over a purse that more than compensated for the woman’s assistance plus “I wish you the very best, Duchess.

” Mrs. Dove-Lyon glanced inside the purse before her astute She nodded, glanced Isaac’s way one last time, then made her way out. “How did it go?” Maude asked the moment Clara climbed back into the hackney that she had rented for discretion. “Will she see to things?” As though just saying the woman’s name might lead to scandal. “Mrs. Dove-Lyon was very cordial.” She settled back against the seat. “I will hear from her soon.” “Very good.” Maude whipped out her handy fan and peeked out from behind the dingy curtain.

“Such a place!” She adjusted her bonnet on her crop of brown curls. “Mark my words, this is going from one scandal right into another. Dare I say, testing the limits of good propriety?” “Yes, so you have told me.” Time and time again. Maude had gone from being Mabel’s wet nurse to her teacher. She was also Clara’s dearest friend and, as of late, even her lady’s maid. Albeit a dramatic one with an overly fanciful imagination and a tendency toward gossip. Nevertheless, she had been there for Clara during trying times, and Mabel thought highly of her. Of a similar age to Clara, Maude was considered plain by some and fetching by others. Her fair skin was unblemished, and her cheeks often rosy.

Yet her true power, or so Clara had always thought, was in her lively cinnamon-colored eyes and the way they captured one’s attention. “Did you see him?” Maude’s fan fluttered faster than a woman of the night batted her lashes at a passing man and reeled him into the alley. “Did you see your troublesome lord? The man you intend to let—” “Heavens above,” she interceded before Maude blurted out an indecency. “Yes, I did.” “Oh, my.” Maude whipped the curtain mostly shut, one eye still on the wickedness outside. Her cheeks flamed red. “Forgive me, madam. I nearly said something quite inappropriate.” “All is forgiven.

” What else could she say when her friend had a tendency to speak before thinking? “And yes, I saw Lord Durham.” “How did he look?” Maude’s eyes rounded. “And did he see you?” She put a hand to her heart. “I can only imagine the look in his eyes if he did. The utter shock! After all these years and—” “And nothing,” she cut her off gently. Maude also excelled at rambling. “He did not see me, nor will he until I know if all of this has been successful.” “But of course, it will be.” Maude’s brows pinched, and she cocked her head. “Or will it?” She looked skyward.

“Oh, but the things you are asking of this poor unsuspecting man.” Her fan stilled, and she went doe-eyed. “But then, at one point, he would have done anything for you, would he not?” “That is neither here nor there.” He may have for the girl from his youth but not necessarily for the widowed woman who might have a madman after her. “What matters is that my lord has all his facts up front before agreeing to this, which Mrs. Dove-Lyon assured me he would.” “Quite right, my dear.” Maude nodded, then paused in thought before echoing Clara’s guilty conscience. “Though one has to wonder how sober he will be when he signs his name.” Like her, Maude knew of his carousing.

“Not very,” she murmured, wishing there was another way. But from what she had seen tonight of Isaac’s self-destructive behavior, this was best for them both. Not just that, but once upon a time, he had said he would marry her. In fact, he had said a great many things before fate took them in different directions. Softly spoken words about a future lost to them. A future stolen when a duke decided he wanted to wed her. “How did it go?” Maude asked the moment Clara climbed back into the hackney that she had “Mrs. Dove-Lyon was very cordial.” She settled back against the seat. “I will hear from her “Very good.

” Maude whipped out her handy fan and peeked out from behind the dingy curtain. “Such a place!” She adjusted her bonnet on her crop of brown curls. “Mark my words, this is going Maude had gone from being Mabel’s wet nurse to her teacher. She was also Clara’s dearest friend and, as of late, even her lady’s maid. Albeit a dramatic one with an overly fanciful imagination and a tendency toward gossip. Nevertheless, she had been there for Clara during trying times, and Of a similar age to Clara, Maude was considered plain by some and fetching by others. Her fair skin was unblemished, and her cheeks often rosy. Yet her true power, or so Clara had always thought, “Did you see him?” Maude’s fan fluttered faster than a woman of the night batted her lashes at a passing man and reeled him into the alley. “Did you see your troublesome lord? The man you intend .” Maude whipped the curtain mostly shut, one eye still on the wickedness outside.

Her “All is forgiven.” What else could she say when her friend had a tendency to speak before “How did he look?” Maude’s eyes rounded. “And did he see you?” She put a hand to her heart. “I “And nothing,” she cut her off gently. Maude also excelled at rambling. “He did not see me, nor it?” She looked skyward. “Oh, but the things you are asking of this poor unsuspecting man.” Her fan stilled, “That is neither here nor there.” He may have for the girl from his youth but not necessarily for the widowed woman who might have a madman after her. “What matters is that my lord has all his facts “Quite right, my dear.

” Maude nodded, then paused in thought before echoing Clara’s guilty “Not very,” she murmured, wishing there was another way. But from what she had seen tonight of In fact, he had said a great many things before fate took them in different directions. Softly spoken words about a future lost to them. A future stolen when a duke decided he wanted to wed her. Naturally, her father had given her no recourse. Why would he when her late husband outranked Isaac? She had often wondered since if that marked the first of a long run of unfortunate events for Isaac. Soon after, he and his brother fought in the Napoleonic Wars for a time, and Andrew lost his life. If that were not enough, Isaac’s wife died of illness, and his daughter, soon after. So it was safe to say he had suffered his fair share of loss. Grief, he undoubtedly tried to numb any way he could.

Some might say that made Clara’s current endeavor all the more deplorable. Even so, she had to think of Mabel and could only hope when all was said and done, Isaac understood. First, though, things needed to go as planned at the Lyon’s Den. Where, as it happened, she heard word from first thing the next morning.

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