A Bed of Wild Roses
Copyright©Jackie Williams 2015
A Bed of Wild Roses. Flowers of the Aristocracy. (Untamed Regency Series)
A Regency Mystery Romance.
An innocent kiss might not have sealed her fate. Even a scandalously slippery jelly could be explained away. But revealing one’s long hidden charms to the local nobility can only lead Lady Felicity into marriage or ruination.
How could a childhood game become so complicated? How could a dessert behave so decadently? And how could his own shrubbery become so untamed? Caught between debt, honour, and Felicity’s more than irate brother, Lord Algernon Barclay’s immediate future can only lead in one direction. Straight into a parson’s noose.
But even while reconciling themselves to their fate, a killer stalks. Amid attempted murder, thieving relatives, and renovating an impoverished estate, will they surrender to their shared attraction, or will Algernon’s stubborn heart convince her to give up and leave him.
This light-hearted Regency mystery romance is suitable for ages 16 and above due to sensual love scenes.
Lord Algernon Barclay stood by his sister, eyeing her pale blue silk gown with something bordering on horror. He glowered at any man over the age of fourteen who dared turn his eyes upon her. That meant every man in the room came under his savage scrutiny.
“How on earth did mother let you out of the house dressed like that? It’s virtually transparent, and your, your...” He hissed as he took a deep breath and waved his hand about in the general direction of her breasts. Her breasts? Good God! My sister has breasts! He thought as he rolled his eyes heavenward, hoping that this was all a bad dream.
It wasn’t. An elderly gentleman bowed and smiled appreciatively, his eyes never rising as far as her face. He glanced up at Algernon after some seconds blatant perusal.
“Ah, Barclay. My condolences on your father’s passing. A good man. And who might this young incomparable be.” The old goat had the temerity to wink as he bowed over Sophia’s hand.
Algernon’s chest swelled with fury as he drew in a long breath. Although his father had been gone less than half a year, he had decided that Sophia should be allowed to come to their farewell dinner. Black wouldn’t have been the kindest choice for someone so young to wear at her first public function, but right at that moment he wished he had insisted on custom. He quelled his temper for his sister’s sake and made the expected introduction.
“My sister, Lady Sophia. She’s only out for this evening.” He bowed and steered Sophia in a new direction even as he growled under his breath. “Dear Lord! Every man in the room, including old Bucklersby has been ogling you these last ten minutes. If I come out of this without having to put a round through someone’s shoulder, I’ll be mightily surprised!” He took a third glass of champagne and threw it down his throat.
Sophia Barclay dimpled up at her brother.
“Don’t be such a ninny. I’m sixteen, hardly a child any longer, and this style of dress is all the rage. It’s beautiful. Thank you for agreeing to me wearing it.” She brushed her fingers down the yards of delicate fabric. Her gown was gaining the exact reaction that she hoped, though she would rather it had been Brendon Spencer ogling her rather than Lord Bucklersby.
Algernon snorted loudly.
“I don’t know what I was thinking! You are not yet out. I swear I’m going to punch someone. Look at Bertie Devereaux, and Lucas Caruthers! They’re both positively salivating! I’ll have to kill them!” He pushed his empty glass back at a passing servant and took a long stride forwards, but was immediately pulled back by his sister’s quick hand.
She held onto his elbow.
“You’ll do no such thing. You are being a horrible grumpy goose. This is supposed to be a fare-thee-well party. Our two families celebrating yours and Brendon’s success. Don’t be a horror to your other friends. They will be all I have while you are away.”
“Friends are all they had better be. I’m going to speak to them later. They might be a year younger than Brendon and I, but I know what those young gentlemen are like. If they so much as look at you in the wrong way whilst I am gone, I’ll call them out as soon as I come back!”
Sophia smiled up at him, loving his concern. She hadn’t seen a lot of him for the last eight years and it hurt her that he was going away again so soon after their father’s passing. That he cared so much about his friends attentions made her feel slightly better about the situation.
“There will be no need for pistols at dawn.” She soothed him. “Your friends will have far more exciting things on their minds than attempting to court me.” She changed the subject quickly as Algernon’s frame puffed up even more at her words. “Felicity and Bren will be down soon. We can make up a foursome just like when we were little.”
If Algernon had still been drinking he would have spat out his wine.
“You jest, surely! I need to keep out of his sister’s way as much as possible tonight. Took me almost a year before Bren would even look at me again after that little debacle in the housekeeper’s office. And another six months before he would listen to my perfectly honest explanation. My eye has never been the same since either.” He stopped as his sister let out a ringing laugh.
“Oh Algernon! You do make me laugh. We were only eight. I suspect she barely recalls the incident. I wouldn’t even remember it if you didn’t go on about it every time I even mention her name.” She wafted her fan to cool her cheeks and the scent of flowers reached him.
Algernon sucked in a breath as he recalled the fateful day. Felicity Spencer had smelled of flowers. The scent had been in her hair. Not gardenias, like his sister preferred, but roses if he remembered rightly. Not that he wanted to remember, but it had been an unforgettable day.
He slid his hand into his pocket and rubbed the guinea he’d refused to ever spend. The thought of deriving any pleasure from the bribe sickened him. What with discovering his father’s infidelities, the horrible subsequent conversation, and then the fateful game of hide and seek, it might have been the most miserable day of his life.
But that time was past. He had grown up and his father was gone. He really should get over it, but something still rankled and he knew exactly what. Felicity. He had seen little of her over the subsequent years but he hadn’t needed to. Every time he smelled even the merest hint of roses, he recalled that day.
He leaned down and hissed his words.
“The trouble she caused, can you even wonder why I can’t forget it. If I never see that little viper again it will be too...” His voice faded and his jaw fell open as he noticed his best friend following the host and hostess into the salon. Walking beside Brendon, no, not walking but gliding elegantly, was the most ravishing creature he had ever laid his eyes upon.
Well! The sly old dog! Where on earth had Brendon conjured her up from? They had only returned from Italy six months previously and what with the scandal surrounding Lord Barclay’s death, he and Brendon had barely gone out, preferring to remain at home or at their club with friends almost every evening since. It hardly seemed possible that the man could have discovered anyone so utterly gorgeous without his best friend knowing.
He watched Brendon walk into the room with his companion held tightly at his side. The man scowled around the salon as Bertie, Lucas, Pierce and several other gentlemen bowed in front of them. Algernon stared at the beauty. Her dark golden ringlets curled over one bare shoulder, her cornflower blue eyes sparkled in the candle light, her silk dress shimmered, catching the breeze coming in at the window, and for one infinitesimal moment, the material outlined the curves of her slender but lush body. He gulped at the image that had all his blood heading for his groin and he thanked the Lord that he had kept his jacket buttoned.
His sister’s voice sounded at his side and she gave a tug at his elbow.
“Would you like a handkerchief?”
He glanced down uncomprehendingly.
“Pardon? Whatever are you talking about?”
Sophia pressed her lips together and lifted her hand to pluck a square of silk from his coat pocket. She held it up for him.
“For the drool.” She smiled brightly as she waved the cloth under his nose.
Algernon rolled his eyes, grabbed the fabric, and shoved it back in his pocket while he looked back towards his friend.
“Bloody dark horse! He never told me he was bringing a partner. Damn, but she’s lovely. I wonder where he found her?” He looked down curiously at his sister’s trilling laugh. “What now?” But Sophia had stepped forward, obviously intent on greeting Brendon and his delectable partner.
The two young women clasped hands and kissed each other with exclamations of delight and compliments on each other’s dress.
Brendon frowned down at the pair of them before glancing back up at Algernon and whispering an aside.
“It seems that your escort knows Felicity. If I find she’s the one who has been teaching her about men and their wild oats, I’ll have your hide,” he hissed menacingly.
Algernon felt the earth fall away from beneath his feet.
“Felicity? Your sister, Felicity?” His voice was a strangled cry. What had happened to the brat who followed them about and played hide and seek?
Brendon’s frown deepened.
“Well, of course! Who the bloody hell did you think she was? Some lightskirt like you brought along to dinner? Where in god’s name have you been hiding her? I’m surprised Johnston let you through the door,” he hissed back.
Algernon immediately snapped his head back and drew himself up to his full six feet four inches.
“Lightskirt? How bloody dare you! I should call you out! That’s Sophia, my sister, you idiot! Damnable girl has grown far more than I thought in the last couple of years, and what with mother’s liking for the latest fashion...Well, I’ve been holding off half your randy guests for the last twenty minutes!” He ran his finger around inside his suddenly over tight cravat.
Brendon cast his eyes back over the two women who had now taken glasses of champagne from a tray. Good God! Could they possibly be the same two girls with whom they had once played hide and seek? He let out a deep breath and glowered about at the rest of the guests. Many eyes were still on both Felicity and Sophia. The males with appreciation and lust burning in their eyes, while the women sent barbs sharp enough to skewer armour. Not that he was one bit surprised. The two young women, one dark as night and the other as fair as a summer day, outshone everyone else in the room. He turned to his friend who had backed down somewhat.
“Dear God! And we’re leaving them to their own devices for the foreseeable future. I might have made different choices if I’d known this was going to happen. You should have seen Lucas Caruthers. I swear he had drool dripping from his jaws.” He ran his fingers through his hair.
Algernon nodded in agreement.
“I’ll speak to mother. What with father gone, there will be no knowing what Sophia will get up to. I wish I’d decided to stay here now. I blame you. You convinced me to go. I was quite happy to rusticate with my man of business for the next couple of years while I tried to salvage something of my inheritance. I doubt I would have been able to afford a season for Sophia, but at least I would have kept her safe. Now Uncle has agreed to fund mother until I can sell my commission, Sophia is going to be left to the wolves. Damnation!” He vented his feelings upon another rapidly swallowed glass of champagne.
I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt of A Bed of Wild Roses.
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