A Ring of Midnight Orchids
Untamed Regency 3
Who would have believed it? His lifelong friend, Lord Pierce Trenchard engaged! To none other than the lovely, but frivolous Angelique Lancer. As if hurt pride, a broken nose, and crushed hopes were not enough, the surprise announcement in the London paper almost made Lord Lucas Caruthers choke on his breakfast.
Lovely she may be, but marriage to a woman who prefers to peruse books rather than follow the hunt? Not in Pierce’s lifetime! However, with essential body parts under threat of imminent amputation, what other options does a man have? None. The Peckham Pulveriser, a notorious cheating prizefighter, breaker of the Caruthers noble nose, and brother of Angelique, is not a man one can reason with... Unless Pierce can perhaps persuade someone else to do the dreaded deed! A visit to his most stalwart friend, the recently jilted Lucas Caruthers, is clearly in order.
Lucas could barely believe his own ears! Friends they might be, but marrying his archrival’s sister was stretching the boundaries too far. Although the suggestion did throw up certain ideas. Could Pierce’s ill fortune be Lucas’ salvation? A chance to seek retribution for his own pain and ruined looks, while saving his friend from a parson’s noose? It certainly seemed an opportunity not to be missed.
But the truth about Angelique is not quite what Lucas has been led to believe. His quest for revenge reveals depths he would never have imagined, and while Pierce disappears into hiding, Lucas’ is left with the delightful tilt of a stubborn chin, a pair of deliciously determined shoulders, and the heady fragrance of Midnight Orchids playing on his mind.
And this time he concedes that, if the Pulveriser wants to fight it out, it might not be simply the Caruthers nose that is broken.
A Ring of Midnight Orchids – book 3 in the Untamed Regency series, is a light-hearted Regency romance, suitable for anyone age 16+
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A Ring of Midnight Orchids
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She glanced up at the house. Her prison for the last three days. It was a pity it didn’t look more like one, but no, it looked just as beautiful in the slither of moonlight, all shadowed and interesting, as it had when she first saw it. A sigh left her lips, but she didn’t sway in her determination. She had to leave and go home to London before all was lost.
She turned her mind back to the potential difficulties of mounting a horse. A small problem perhaps, but her father and brother and all the other gentlemen she had ever seen had made it look to be a simple enough motion. A little more difficult in her dress perhaps, but she doubted that Lucas Caruthers owned a side saddle. Besides, sitting on one looked to be a most precarious affair. At least if she sat astride she might have some chance of staying on. Perhaps if she lifted her skirts and tucked them up somehow... She stopped as she heard a soft nicker followed by some gentle clopping. Lucas Caruthers own mount perhaps, or one of the carriage horses moving about on straw covered cobbles?
She dropped her bag again and strained to lift the bar on the stable door. Good grief! But it was heavy. She took a few recovery breaths before picking up her pillowcase and taking a step into the darkness, breathing in the wonderful smells of fresh hay, animals, and leather.
Several large shadows appeared over stall doors, nodding in her direction as she walked towards them. Heavens! They were so much bigger up close. But this wasn’t the time to be a coward. She was almost free. Just a moment to sort out her skirts. She drew up the yards of material and tucked each handful into the waist of her unmentionables. Now all she needed was a bridle and saddle and she would be off, heading homewards to freedom.
She didn’t know why the thought didn’t fill her with joy, but she wasn’t about to be put off now. A moment later she had found the bolt to the nearest stable door. She slid it back and was about to step inside when a deliciously familiar scent, assaulted her seconds before a warm hand closed over her mouth and another stilled her hand.
A quiet, but deep voice whispered at her ear.
“I beg your forgiveness, Angel, but Blaze won’t take kindly to any other rider. Especially if he is disturbed during the middle of the night.”
Lucas Caruthers had found her, captured her again. She struggled against his hold, but with his rock hard body against her back and his arms around her, she had no way to evade him.
What would he do to her? Would he beat her as her father had her mother? Would he shout and bellow and stomp, as Harold was wont to do? Would Lucas lock her in a closet, slap her face, or throw her into the lake?
Her thoughts spun wildly, each scenario becoming worse than the last as she fought him, twisting, turning, tears running down her cheeks. He was everywhere, too strong, too big, too tall.
But he smelled good too. And his hands were gentle, if firm, on her skin. Were those his lips touching her ear? His hair brushing her neck? And what was that enormous, hard lump pressing against her spine? She gave up fighting him. There was no point. He had discovered her flight. He would do what he wanted and she had no power to resist him.
Following her had been easy. Such was her concentration on her goal that she hadn’t heard his footsteps only a few paces behind her, but even that short distance had been enough to still his heart as she went to open Blaze’s stall.
The animal was a giant, usually well mannered enough, but quick to temper when tired, and Lucas had put him through his paces only a few hours previously. The animal was likely to kick out or bite if anyone he didn’t know came to call.
But a shrill scream of fright wouldn’t have been ideal either. A quick step and a hand over her mouth had been the only solution to the immediate problem. What he didn’t expect was her wild reaction.
Ow! She actually bit his palm! And kicked his shin with her heel! She squirmed like an eel caught on a line. Oof! An elbow to his stomach knocked the wind out of him. Good Lord! Had her brother given her tips? He was going to be black and blue.
But she was clearly terrified. What did she think he was going to do? Harm her? Hit her? That he would never do. His only thought had been to save her from Blaze’s unpredictable temper. But those were panicked noises coming from beneath his injured palm. Small, desperate noises that broke his heart to hear.
Lucas tightened his hold on her. If he let her go now, there was no telling what she might do.
“Angel, stop fighting me. I swear that I will do you no harm, but what I say about Blaze is true. He will not allow you to go near him, let alone ride him off into the night.” He kept his voice calm as she continued to wriggle against him. Hell! Now what had she done! Her tantalizing body was inflicting havoc upon his. His cock strained at his fall. It took him a moment to will his body back under control. “Angel, listen to me. It is me, Lucas. I am not here to hurt you. Please be calm. Blaze is becoming restless and he can be the very devil when annoyed.” She suddenly went still in his arms, her breasts rising and falling against his forearm.
“Lucas! Please, I cannot breathe. I swear that I will not scream,” she gasped from between his fingers and he gradually peeled them away from her mouth. “Thank you.” She didn’t attempt to move out of his arms, and he wasn’t inclined to release her. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. She fit against him so well, the dip in her spine perfectly aligned to him.
She gave the tiniest wriggle.
“So what are you going to do with me, now that you have caught me?” Her chin lifted a fraction, a hint of her perfume tantalizing his senses. How had he never thought of the flowers as tantalizing before? He enjoyed their scent for a few seconds before speaking again.
“Caught you? Caught you doing what? Trying to steal my horse? Well, yes, perhaps I will have to punish you,” he breathed into her ear again not bothering to hide the desire in his tone. He bit back a groan as she whirled in his arms, her breasts pressing against his shirt.
Her eyes sparkled up at him.
“I was not stealing your...” She stopped as she realized that was exactly what she had intended doing. Her chin tilted higher. “I was simply about to teach myself how to ride.” As if learning to ride in the middle of the night, in a totally unsuitable gown and with a bag of stolen contraband at your side was a perfectly normal thing to do.
Lucas peered down at her and tilted his head to one side as he tried not to laugh.
“Learning to ride, Miss Lancer. I see. Well, in that case I must assist you. Best shed some light on the matter before we begin.” He let her go before reaching out and feeling along a nearby shelf. The next moment he held a lit lamp in his hand. “Easier if you can see what you are doing, I normally find.” His mouth suddenly fell open as he saw her skirts tucked into her bloomers for the first time. If his manhood hadn’t been as hard as granite already, it certainly was now.
She had the grace to blush, quickly pulling the crushed material from its temporary tethers.
“Lord Caruthers, you are amusing yourself at my expense.” She kept her eyes on the straw covered cobbles.
Lucas shook his head even while he smiled at her frantic movements to cover herself.
“Not at all, Miss Lancer. And you may call me Lucas. All my friends do, you know.”
Dress back in place, she glanced up at him, her long eyelashes casting shadows across her cheeks.
“Am I your friend? I confess that it does not feel like it. At the moment, I feel I am your captive to do with as you will.”
Did her voice tremble suddenly? Did she really fear him? Did she not know that she was the one who held him prisoner? Clearly not. The clods of earth sitting in Lucas’ stomach rolled around, settling themselves uncomfortably. Lord, but he had made a mess of things, and had no idea how to sort them out.
“I do apologize, Miss Lancer. It was not my intention to make you feel unwelcome. Quite the opposite, in fact. You were meant to find it so peaceful here, the library so interesting that you didn’t want to leave. I had prepared the hunting lodge specifically for your stay, but have not yet had the opportunity to take you there.”
The fear in her expression changed to astonishment.
“The hunting lodge? As if this house wasn’t enough, you have a hunting lodge too?” She gaped at him.
Lucas shrugged, relieved that the apprehension had turned to surprise. It was time to begin telling the truth.
“I can take no credit for the making of Perrydale. It was already established long before I was born. But the place was not entailed and my grandfather left it to me. All I have had to do is pay for its upkeep since inheriting. Something that helped me in my decision to begin prize fighting. There was no way I could afford the place without doing something drastic. Luckily I am handy with my fists.” He grimaced as she stepped back quickly, the dread overtaking the hard won curiosity. He hastily returned to her original observation. “The hunting lodge is beautiful. Not large, but what it lacks in size is far outweighed by its glorious situation. It lies on the other side of the forest beyond the chapel and lake. Perhaps you would like to view it sometime.” He strode over to some saddles sitting on a frame. “Here, I think this is the one for you.” He picked up a saddle and bypassing the nearest stall, walked to the other end of the stable before glancing back over his shoulder. “Are you coming, Miss Lancer? You won’t learn much from over there.” He beckoned her closer.
Angelique took a hesitant step nearer to the dark haired man. Lord, but he was handsome. If she had thought to bring her fan, she might have wafted a cool breeze over her heated cheeks. Her heart began to flutter, her insides flipped over and over. How strange he made her feel. How wonderful and warm. His smile made her giddy. The tones of his deep voice thrummed through her veins.
A deep voice that now mocked her attempted escape. She narrowed her eyes as the warmth left her. He was laughing at her, finding her actions risible. It was unfair seeing that this was all his fault. It was he and his friend who had caused her endeavour to escape.
“I think I have changed my mind, my Lord.” She stopped, huffing out an impatient breath as he raised a dark eyebrow and waited for her to use his given name. She gave into him. It seemed the easiest thing to do. “Very well, Lucas. You know I wasn’t interested in learning to ride at this ungodly hour. I was attempting to leave this place. Unfortunately I hadn’t considered the difficulties. There is more to riding than I imagined.”
Lucas returned the saddle to the box and came back to her.
“Why did you try to run away, Miss Lancer? And in the middle of the night? You could have fallen, been thrown, or become lost. Footpads might have set upon you, highwaymen would have meant you harm. Anything may have happened to you.” His voice was tight with concern as he stared down at her.
Angelique shrugged her delicate shoulders.
“What would it have mattered? Would you have cared? It seems that I am nothing but a burden to everyone.” Her lips quivered through her miserable attempt at bravado.
Burden? More layers of guilt settled on him. What had this woman gone through to feel that she was such an encumbrance?
“You are no burden, Miss Lancer, as you would have known if you had come out of your room before now. The library is quite at your disposal as are any of the other areas of the house and gardens. There is a quite delightful music room overlooking the terrace, and a balcony on the second floor with excellent views over the dale. Perhaps you would care to join me at one of them for breakfast?”
Angelique glanced back at the horses. Three big heads nodded at her, long eyelashes blinking slowly over large, gentle eyes. Even the temperamental Blaze didn’t seem too bothered by her presence. She turned back to Lucas, a tentative smile playing about her mouth.
“Very well, I apologize for my stubborn nature, though in my defence, your words did distress me, however, that is in the past, and we must move forward.” She gave a quick sigh, and a bracing smile. “Breakfast overlooking the dale sounds wonderful, though I will need you to promise me something, my Lord. Er, Lucas,” she corrected herself rapidly.
Lucas breathed a sigh of relief.
“If it is within my power.” He wasn’t about to tell her that he would do anything for her. Anything! Let her find out later that he was as soft as fresh made dough in her hands.
She smiled more brightly.
“Two things actually. The first is that you promise to teach me how to ride so that I can visit the hunting lodge that you mentioned.”
He nodded instantly as he stepped around her, lighting her way to the door.
“It would be my very great pleasure. I will escort you as soon as I think you are safe to ride. And the second thing?” He waited impatiently, heart beating hard as he hoped she wasn’t going to ask that he let her go. It wasn’t possible. He hadn’t heard from Pierce yet. Not that he wanted to hear from his friend any more. The man might not give him the response Lucas wanted to hear. Namely that the wedding had been cancelled.
She tilted her head and brushed past him, picking up her pillowcase as she walked by. She glanced back over her shoulder, her eyelashes fluttering in the lamplight.
“The second thing is that you call me Angel.”
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