A reputation at risk
What woman in her right mind would say no to marrying the dashing Duke of Sedgemoor? Miss Penelope Thorne, that’s who. She’s known Camden Rothermere since they were children – and she also knows she’d bring nothing but scandal to his name.
Cam can hardly believe Penelope turned down his proposal. But if she wants to run off to the Continent and set the rumor mill ablaze, he can’t stop her. Then her brother’s dying request sends him to bring home the one woman he thought he’d finally gotten over.
The only way they’ll both get back to London without their reputations in tatters is to pretend they’re married during the journey. That means kissing like they mean it and even sharing a bed – until it becomes hard to tell where the game ends and true desire begins…
Grand Central Publishing /Harper Collins Australia ~ 25 August 2014
Mils & Boon UK ~ November 2014
Below decks, Cam had thought the din would lessen, but it was somehow worse for being contained. The creak of timbers, the water pounding against the hull, the deep, irregular bang as the Windhover struck the bottom of a wave. He wondered how the fragile wooden structure survived.
Pen was in her cabin. Throughout this trip, she’d borne every inconvenience without complaint. But in such a storm, even a good sailor with a courageous heart would be frightened.Whatever her distaste for Cam’s company, he couldn’t leave her terrified while they plunged through this turbulent ocean. She was alone – her maid hadn’t wanted to come to England.
Although it was only early afternoon, the hallway was as dark as the pit. Cam knocked on Pen’s door, received no reply, knocked more loudly, then realized that he’d need to bash the polished teak with a hammer for her to hear. Feeling like a trespasser, he depressed the brass handle and stepped inside.
All day he’d breathed air sour with salt. How was it, then, that the moment he stepped into this shadowy room, he caught Pen’s violet scent? Sweet, womanly, alluring. He closed his eyes and reminded himself that he was here purely to provide assistance.
“What do you want?” Pen asked sharply from across the cabin.
As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw her braced in the porthole embrasure. He’d imagined she’d be in bed, but of course, that would be devilish uncomfortable, given the yacht’s lurching.
“I wanted to see if you were all right.” He raised his voice over the bedlam. He shut the door, hoping that might help. It didn’t.
“Of course I’m all right.”
Disappointment and self-disgust weighted his gut. He’d been a fool to imagine she might want him with her. “I’ll go to my cabin, then.”
He faced the door, catching the lintel for balance, when she replied. “No. Stay.”
From Pen, that counted as a major concession. Slowly, he turned. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“Cam, don’t be a numbskull,” she snapped. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
“Oh, my dear.”
The endearment escaped before he could stop it. He prayed that the storm muffled the words. With a few unsteady steps, he covered the space between them and, knowing it was a mistake, wrapped his arms around her. As he pressed into the opposite side of the embrasure, lightning flashed, revealing her face as she jerked her head up.
“Cam, what are you doing?” Like her expression, her voice was wary, but her eyes betrayed flaring heat. Even without the lightning, near the window the light was better.
“Stopping you from falling.” They balanced inside a narrow nook, porthole on one side, cabin on the other. The restricted space offered at least an illusion of stability.
Was his world reeling because of the tumultuous ocean or because he touched this woman? His hands tightened on her waist and he couldn’t even pretend that he held her for safety’s sake. She was tall and strong, but he felt her tremble.
“They’ll give you a medal,” she said with a dryness that wouldn’t have disgraced his Scottish captain John MacGregor.
“Is there a kiss with my medal?”
More lightning illuminated the way she nervously licked her lips. She shifted backward, but their nook was so small, she had nowhere to go unless she returned to the cabin.
“How can you flirt when we’re about to find a watery grave?”
“How can I not?” His voice roughened into urgency. “If the ship goes down, I’ll be damned if I die without kissing you.”
She started without moving away. “This is a mistake.”
He laughed, wondering how his demise became cause for amusement. Perhaps Pen’s courage bolstered his. Most people would cower at the raging seas, but valiant Penelope Thorne met the storm and the man who wanted her with her head high and a smile on her lips. At that moment, if he’d been capable of love, he might imagine that he loved her.
“The thought of kissing you has tortured me.”
Her hands linked around his neck. To steady herself or because she wanted to touch him? He hardly cared as long as she stayed near.
“I thought you were bored with this journey.”
He snorted his disbelief. “We’ve battled brigands, avalanches, bad roads, nosy English travelers, and fleas as big as cats. Boredom would be a relief.”
“You acted bored.”
He’d never seen her like this. Like she yearned for his touch the way he yearned for hers. Desire pounded harder than the waves outside. Thunder cracked close.
“Oh, hell, Pen,” he groaned, firming his grip on her. He was incapable of gentleness. The storm outside was a pale echo of the storm in his blood.
On another guttural groan, his mouth crashed down.
These letters originally appeared as part of the 2015 Valentine’s Day event on the Ramblings from this Chick blog. They’re written while Cam Rothermere, the Duke of Sedgemoor, is away from his wife Penelope on a quest to save his friend (once enemy) the Marquess of Leath from a blackmailer, events described in A Scoundrel by Moonlight. Because Pen is in the late stages of pregnancy, she’s remained behind at the Rothermere family seat in Derbyshire while Cam goes adventuring. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into their married life!
From Camden Rothermere, His Grace, the Duke of Sedgemoor, Maidenhead, Berkshire, 28th November 1828
My dearest darling wife Penelope,
How can I tell you how much I hate being absent from your side when the birth of our child is so close? The truth is that I hate to be away from you at any time.
I hope you’re keeping well and taking the doctor’s advice to rest. I hope, but have no great expectation that my hope will be fulfilled. You were always a headstrong chit, even when you were the size of a grasshopper and dogging my footsteps, expecting me to get you out of a thousand scrapes. I should have known then that we were destined to be together! But as you know, I was a complete blockhead when it came to knowing my own heart.
We had quite the dramatic encounter with Greengrass today and succeeded in all our aims, apart from the principal one of seizing the blackguard and turning him over to the law. Poor Leath collected a dramatic black eye in the scuffle. When we brought him back to the inn, Miss Trim looked more likely to scold him for his carelessness than faint in horror. I do like her, as I know you do, too. He’s inclined to expect his own way – and I say that as his friend, which wouldn’t have been the case a few weeks ago – and she stands up to him most delightfully.
I dearly wish I could tell you that I’m heading back to Derbyshire and your beguiling self soon, but Greengrass has gone to ground so the devil knows when we’ll lay our hands on him. In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to tell you how ardently I love you and how grateful I am that you decided against all common sense that you wanted me for your husband.
But then common sense and the scandalous Thornes have never been bosom bows, something for which I thank God every day. You make me so happy, my lovely beloved.
Missing you more with every moment we’re apart.
With undying love
From Penelope Rothermere, Her Grace, the Duchess of Sedgemoor, Fentonwyck, Derbyshire, 30th November 1828
You terrible, terrible man!
How could you? I want to throw something at your handsome head. Something priceless that some dunderhead of a previous Duke of Sedgemoor collected, stumbling around the Continent in a drunken haze.
You know that I’ve been a complete watering pot lately, since I discovered I was carrying our child. I cry at puppies. I cry at kittens. I cry at the mere prospect of Christmas coming up in a month. I howl like a lost dog at the sight of a decent breakfast.
And then you are so mean as to send me that beautiful letter crammed with the sweetest words of love telling me how much you miss me. As I read it, I cried fit to fill the lake at the bottom of the garden. Then I kept crying all day. Poor Genevieve needed an umbrella to have afternoon tea with me.
Honestly, I could shoot you.
Except if I shot you, I really would cry because I love you so dearly. It’s quite the conundrum. I hope you’re soon beside me to help me solve it. Oh, dear, I already know I’m going to cry buckets when you walk through the door and sweep me into your arms, as you always do, even if you’ve only been to the stables and back.
My darling, dearest, wonderful, dreadful, tormenting, romantic, passionate, gorgeous husband, come back soon and make me cry. I most definitely cry when I retire each night and find myself alone in that great galleon of a bed that sits in the middle of the Rothermere state chambers. Without your arms around me, it’s like sleeping on a parade ground.
Although I’m not exactly alone, am I? Your son makes his presence felt. I charge you with keeping an eye on him once he arrives into the world. He promises to be a little hellion and after keeping me safe so many times when we were children, you’ve had much more practice in dealing with unruly little rapscallions than I have.
All jokes aside, my love, stay safe. I’ll never forgive you if you come to harm – and a duchess’s wrath is not to be sneezed at.
With much embarrassing blubbering and wringing of delicate lace handkerchiefs.
Your lonely Penelope. xxx