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Ravished

Book 12 of The Rakehell Regency Romance Series


Sorcha MacMurrough
Matthew Dane rescues his cousin Althea from a fate worse than
death when he stumbles across her tied to a bed in a London
brothel.
Kidnapped from her home and sold, the orphaned young woman
has no recollection of how she got there, and is terrified that
whoever grabbed her will try to seize her again.
Matthew can only see one solution: marry Althea and give her
the protection she needs as his wife. But the accomplished rake is
at a loss as to how to deal with the delicately beautiful woman, and
has no belief in love, only lust.
Althea has been in love with Matthew for as long as she can
remember. Tired of being treated like a victim or empty-headed
Society belle, she wages a campaign to put behind her the
traumatic ordeal which brought them together.
Althea is willing to fight using every weapon in her arsenal to win
Matthew's love, and stop her husband from seeking solace with the
many women who wish to be his mistress.
When another young woman goes missing near her childhood
home, Althea must risk all in a depraved and deadly game to save
the imprisoned girl. Althea will stop at nothing to uncover the identity
of the criminal mastermind who has engineered the ring of
debauchery lurking under the pleasant facade of aristocratic society.
The thought of losing Althea is more than Matthew can bear-can
he save his beloved before its too late?
Althea was indeed a virgin, but she was not nave. There was
no mistaking what was about to happen next. She desperately
tried one last gambit to stop the passion rising between them. He
had no idea it was her tied to the bed like a sacrificial lamb in this
out of the way brothel.

<p>Worse still, she had no notion what he would do once he


discovered her identity if she didn't try to stop him now before it
was too late. Matthew, please, you need to think what youre
doing. If this is what you really want.
Do you want me? he asked, stroking down her neck, his
hands all over her breasts, abdomen, and buttocks. Do you want
me? he asked, stroking down her neck, his hands all over her
breasts, abdomen, and buttocks.
She had never lied to her cousin, and so even now in this
moment of crisis she told him the absolute truth. Ive always
wanted you, Matthew. You know that. From the first moment I
saw you a fully grown man, so tall and broad and handsome, and
so well, virile, I couldnt help myself. I knew you would be
magnificent. Naked as you are now, well. Words fails me. And the
way you touch me? But we need to leave, we must hurry-
We have all the time in the world. You just said you wanted
me, after all. And I most certainly want you.
Reviews:
A remarkable blend of eroticism, mystery and suspense. It
certainly gave me all kinds of goosebumps. Her heroes are always
sexy, her villains really spine-tinglingly nasty. Matthew is a fallen
hero if ever there was one, and Althea certainly not a conventional
heroine either.
Ravished is a perfect title for this novel, and proves a sensual
addition to this fabulous series, and a super opportunity to catch up
with your favourite Rakehells, who are all in top form. Evelyn
Trimborn
Totally creepy, and yet sexy too. The author has penned yet
another Gothic Regency romance with heady sensuality, and a very
complex hero and heroine with genuine depth and a very rocky road
to their happily ever after. The superb cast of supporting characters
provide a fascinating mystery and a breathtaking race against the
clock to save an innocent girl from certain doom. Jacinta Carey

Also by Sorcha MacMurrough


Contemporaries
Hearts Desire
Star Attraction
Ghost from the Past
Historical Romances
The Hart and The Harp
The Faithful Heart
The Sea of Love
The Rakehell Regency Series
The Mad Mistress
The Missed Match
The Miss Matched
The Matchless Miss
The Scarred Heart
Guardian of the Heart
The Mistaken Miss
The Model Master
The Model Mistress
Innocence
Innocence Afire
Ravished
Experience
The Model Husband

Ravished

Book 12 of
The Rakehell Regency Romance Series

Sorcha MacMurrough
HerStory Books

Dedication: To A, for more reasons than I can count.


Copyright USA, UK and Worldwide the author 2004, 2009
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information and
storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are the product of the authors imagination, and any resemblance to
any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely
coincidental.
ISBN: 978-1-58345-137-3
Ravished
Book 12 of The Rakehell Regency Romance Series
Published by HerStory Books
9511 Shore Road, Suite 514
Brooklyn New York 11209
http://www.herstorybooks.com

RAVISHED
CHARACTER LIST
The Rakehell Regency Series
Matthew Dane, a Rakehell, and financier
Lady Pemberton, his aunt, prominent London Society hostess
Althea Dane, his cousin
Lucy Rowe, Altheas step-mother
Charles Rowe, Altheas step-brother
Dr. Antony Herriot,
Avenels cousin

runs womens clinic in London, Isolde

Philip Marshall, a Rakehell, works with Alistair Grant, a


prominent London barrister
Jasmine Marshall, his wife
(for their story, see The Mistaken Miss)
Alistair Grant, a Rakehell and barrister in London
Dr. Blake Sanderson, a Rakehell, a doctor in London and
Somerset
Arabella Neville Sanderson, his wife
(for their story, see Guardian of the Heart)
Jonathan Deveril, a Rakehell, vicar of Brimley and Eltham

Pamela Deveril, nee Ashton, his wife


(for their story, see The Miss Matched)
Sarah Deveril Davenport, Jonathans youngest sister
Alexander Davenport, her husband, a Rakehell
(for their story, see The Matchless Miss)
Martin Jerome, Blakes cousin, a Rakehell
Eswara Paignton Jerome, his wife, a healer from India who
works with Blake
(for their story, see The Model Mistress)
Ash Paignton, Eswaras son, training to be a doctor with Blake
Michael Avenel, a Rakehell, Randalls eldest brother
Bryony Avenel, his wife
(for their story, see The Model Master)
Randall Avenel, the Earl of Hazelmere, a Rakehell and horse
breeder
Isolde Avenel, his wife, Viscount Linleys daughter
(for their story, see Innocence)
Clifford Stone, a Rakehell, owner of Stone Court
Vanessa Stone, nee Hawkesworth, his wife, a great scholar
(for their story, see The Mad Mistress)
The Duke of Ellesmere, Thomas Eltham, a Rakehell, lives at
Eltham Castle

The Duchess of
Castlemaine, his wife

Ellesmere, Charlotte Eltham, nee

(for their story, see The Missed Match)

Chapter One
The hands were there again. Upon her body. Touching her once
more. Constantly seeking. Never leaving her alone. All over her
breasts and belly and thighs, her face, her lips.
Only this time they were warm, gentle, soft. Almost teasing.
Cresting her nipples, feathering along her hips. Touching her
delicate flesh most intimately, deeply, for the first time. Dabbling with
her soft feminine curls, her secret peaks and valleys. Dewing her
with moistness as if a sponge were being wrung out between her
slender thighs.
She shivered hot and cold with the indefinable thrill of it all. This
couldnt be real. It had to be a fantasy. A beautiful dream stemming
from all of her secret yearnings for her handsome cousin Matthew,
the only man she had ever loved.
Althea opened her eyes, and tried to peer through the fog. No,
no fog, a gauzy blindfold which had not been fastened securely and
had slipped down over her face, obscuring her features, but
allowing her to peep over the edge of it to see the person touching
her.
Now Althea was sure she had to be dreaming. For she was
certain that it was Matthew leaning over her, working the most
exquisite magic with his hands. All these weeks she had been
praying, and now at last he was here to help her. Save her from her
torment.
She gazed with joy and terror at his raven-black hair, turquoise
eyes, and exquisitely fine nose and cheekbones.
Althea tried to speak, but the sound was muffled, the words
hardly forming in her bruised mouth and throat. Her tongue felt like
lead. She was so parched she was sure she had sucked sand.
She tried again. Please, help me. You have to get me out of
here.

Its all right. No ones going to hurt you. I wont hurt you.
I know. I trust you. But theyll be coming for me in a minute.
Theyll kill you if you try to rescue me.
Her world spun dizzily, and she shut her eyes against the swirling
sensation which sickened her. She could still feel his hands upon
her, stroking down her bare belly in long soothing caresses. The
contact was her only anchor in the stormy sea of confusion she
found herself bobbing upon, weightless and powerless to stop
herself from drowning.
Only Matthew could save her. Yet if he were here, touching her,
did that not mean he had betrayed her too?
When Althea opened her eyes again, her cousin was still there,
as he had been before, his face familiar and beloved as always. But
he was naked. Naked and fully aroused. And he was touching her in
the one place the men had said it was forbidden to tamper with. The
pleasure was so great she gasped.
Pleasure, or pain? For she had never felt anything but utter
revulsion before when the others had poked and prodded all of her
other orifices like a beast of burden at auction. What was
happening? Why was Matthew doing this to her now of all times?
She cast her eyes wildly about and saw she was no longer in the
dank dungeon in which shed been kept a prisoner. Moreover,
Matthew was alone. No one else was laughing, jeering, shouting
encouragement or the disgusting words she could only guess the
meanings of. Doing things to themselves in their excitement over
the brutal act being committed upon her until she screamed or
choked. Or tried to as the crushing weight and blackness rolled over
her once more.
But Matthew had always cared about her, protected her. Why on
earth was he here? Touching her in her most secret place reserved
only for the man who was to become her husband?
It was dark in the room, black and red, a single candle in each
corner of the shadowy chamber giving off but feeble light. She was
in a proper brass bed with a real feather mattress, not on a
splintered table. No longer tied with rope, but something silky. Laid
out on her back spread-eagled, her head comfortably resting on

some soft pillows, not hanging over the side. There had to be some
mistake. Matthew would never be party to...
Matthew, please, we need to get out of here, now. Theyre
coming for me. Its not safe.
He halted for a moment, surprised at the use of his name. Then
he shrugged. He must have told her it when hed come in.
He was bare and aroused, but the truth was, he wasnt so sure
about this game. He had said he wanted a young clean girl. Hed
examined the pretty blond with dusky eyes partly concealed behind
her gauzy blindfold and found her pleasing and seemingly free of
disease. But the supposed ultimate fantasy hed been offered by the
doorkeeper of the brothel when he had asked for something fresh
and ripe did not sit well with him at all.
At the same time, it was a novelty. Hed dragged himself to this
bawdy house at his friends recommendation for a bit of something
unusual. If he was going to debauch himself tonight after months of
trying to live on the straight and narrow, he might as well do it with
verve.
He was certain the girl was not a virgin. All the same, he entered
into the fantasy of the evening by saying, Its all right. They wont
hurt you. Im here. Youre my willing slave now, and I shall protect
you. I wont hurt you. Ill be gentle.
But Matthew, why would you let them take me, treat me like
this?
I didnt take you. Youve been given to me. So you belong to me
now, he said, whispering the tips of his fingers over her naked flesh
like a miser caressing his treasure.
She sighed and licked her lips, not struggling against the curious
throbbing wherever he touched her.
Please, Matthew, water. Then you have to untie me and let me
go.
In a moment.
Please, Im so thirsty.
There must have been enough urgency in her tone for him to
pause in his detailed exploration of her opulent body. He rose and

went over to the small washstand, and poured a glass from the
carafe there.
He held it to her lips. She forced herself not to gulp, taking each
mouthful and swirling it around before swallowing in order to
alleviate the dreadful sere feeling.
Better? he asked after half a glass.
More, please, she gasped.
She drained the beaker and struggled for breath. Thank you,
Matthew. But now, please, you must untie me. Theyll be here
soon.
Matthew was delighted to resume the game. They wont harm
you. Youre mine now, all mine.
No, you dont understand, theyre-
But he had refilled the glass and pressed it to her mouth. As soon
as shed drunk the rest of the water, he replaced the glass with his
lips.
Althea wanted to plead with him, but her tongue was like glue,
and in any event all her protests flew right out of her head at the
nature of the kiss.
You have the most fabulous mouth, he murmured when he
eventually raised his lips. So red and inviting. I just had to kiss you.
And your breasts.
He swirled his tongue over each in turn. Such lovely dainty
nipples, pink and tight. I can tell they liked that. But then I adore
them. You really are perfection, he said in surprise.
He had known some very lovely women his day, yet never been
tempted to wax lyrical over their attributes. But then, he was sure
none of them had ever been so luscious as this girl. All this talent
going to waste...
Youre so gorgeous and ripe, a delectable bowl of fruit, all mine
for the asking. Skin like a peach, breasts like melons, and oh, your
pear-shaped hips are just so delightful. You really are a treasure.
And to think youre my captive. That I can do whatever I like with
you.

But, Matthew-
Are you a virgin? he demanded suddenly in a harsh tone. Or
have you let someone else enjoy you before me?
Of course I am, she replied quickly, stung at his accusation. I
havent let anyone do anything. Ive been tied up for I dont know
how long.
Her head hammered as she attempted to remember, tried to
struggle upwards out of the darkness they had kept her in for what
seemed a lifetime. At least the water hed given her hadnt been
tainted. Not this time.
Please, more water, and then I can explain every- Oh!
He was kissing her again, and now his bare hips were grinding
against her soft abdomen, his manhood a red hot brand between
them. One hand was already reaching down to caress her even
more intently.
She stiffened for a moment as he probed with one long, hard,
slightly callused finger, sending shivering sensations right down to
her toes.
You forgot to wear your riding gloves again, she whispered
when he raised his mouth to kiss down her neck and breasts.
I dont need gloves or a crop for the kind of riding I have in mind,
my dear, he said with a laugh.
Please, Matthew, you have to listen, she gasped as a second
finger now began to tease and coax her tight entrance. Im not
saying I dont want you. One touch of your hand or kiss is enough to
set me on fire. But we have to go. We need to leave this place!
Ill not be leaving until Ive done what I came to do. To make love
with you, make you mine. We have an hour. So just lie back and
enjoy it. Or I shall have to spank you for being a disobedient little
slave.
No, please, Matthew- she whimpered.
Call me Master, he said with a wolfish smile, entering even
more into the spirit of the fantasy.
Please, Matthew-

Ah, no, its Master, remember? Otherwise I shall have to spank


you.
She strained against her bonds then, knowing only too well what
that meant. But he made no move to turn her over as usual, and
gentled her with his hot hard hands.
Now I can give you as much pleasure as you like, dear little
slave, but you have to be submissive. If youre naughty you get
nothing.
It was no lie he told, for the pleasure was almost crushing in its
intensity. Though the last thing she had expected was to feel elation
after all she had been through, his touch upon her body was so
heated and assured she felt herself going on fire. The moisture
shed felt before gushed between her thighs uncontrollably.
There now, you see how lovely and wet that is? It will be much
easier for us both if you just play nicely.
But Matthew, you need to listen to me. Cant you see what
theyve done to me is wrong? We need-
Youre a hostage of war, he said, playing the game and finding
it more entertaining and exciting than hed thought.
Perhaps his friend Matthew Sampson was right. Maybe all men
really did have a streak of the primitive, the ravisher in them. Not
that he had ever--but he was enjoying the diversion.
Of course in his case, he was not just going to swive her with one
huge thrust, though she was certainly positioned like some sacrificial
victim on an altar.
He looked around the room for a brief second as he refilled the
glass and took a drink himself, then placed it back down on the
bedside table.
He wondered at the decor. Something meant to depict Ancient
Ireland, he guessed. Something from the Celts in any case, for he
had seen similar art work to that which decorated the walls here in
the fields around his country house in Somerset.
The lurid red and black were a bit off-putting and made the room
seem even more dark and sinister. He would have liked something
a bit more sensual, a touch of the harem. A scrap of dark silk,

perhaps, or even a hint of the feminine and floral to match the


supposed purity of the slave he was about to make cater to his
every whim.
Althea was squirming now as his hands continued to thrill her. It
was not in any effort to get away. He toyed with the idea of untying
one of her bonds, but wondered what it would like to have a woman
truly at his mercy. He could always unbind her later, for a second or
third go around. Normally he would just take his ease with one of his
mistresses and leave, not being able to abide their chatter.
This one, though, seemed barely able to speak, and he had no
doubt that he could keep her Cupids bow mouth busy will all sorts
of other sultry things besides prattle once his most urgent needs
had been assuaged.
It had been months since hed been with a woman, since the
hideous scenes Matilda had subjected him to. The lust sizzling
along his skin as he touched the whore was urging him to fulfil
himself and come back for more as soon as he could manage. He
even found himself wanting to see how many times he could satisfy
himself in his allotted hour.
Matthew thought he had experienced just about all hed ever
wanted as a rake. But this game was so erotic he wondered why he
had never tried it before. He inserted a third finger into her now, and
she whimpered with surprise and need.
He delighted in the tightness he found. Some of his most expert
women had had wonderful muscle control like this, which was truly
thrilling and could squeeze the essence from him if he were without
armour. He threw all caution to the winds and left his sheepskin
prophylactics in his jacket pocket as he slid back up over her body
to position himself between her silken thighs.
Althea was indeed a virgin, but she was not nave. There was no
mistaking what was about to happen next. She tried one last tack.
Matthew, please, you need to think about what youre doing. If this
is what you really want.
Do you want me? he asked, stroking down her neck, his hands
all over her breasts, abdomen, and buttocks.
She had never lied to her cousin, and so even now in this
moment of crisis she told him the absolute truth. Ive always wanted

you, Matthew, you know that. From the first moment I saw you a
fully grow man, so tall and broad and handsome, and so well, virile,
I couldnt help myself. I knew you would be magnificent, but naked
as you are now, well. And the way you touch me? But we need to
leave, we must hurry-
We have all the time in the world. You just said you wanted me,
after all. And I most certainly want you.
Matthew glided his throbbing tip along her moistness, trying to
seek entrance. She was so tight he was not sure he could manage.
So he kissed her deeply, his tongue thrusting possessively, though
as a rule he didnt normally kiss anyone the French way.
As she relaxed against him, he penetrated slowly, inch by inch.
She arched up against him, taut and tense, her scream echoing in
his mouth as he continued on. She felt the hot gushing between her
thighs and knew what hed done to her. What hed done himself as
well. He hadnt lasted two seconds inside her entrance to paradise,
but his manhood was already urgently demanding more.
She prayed, as shed been told, that the pain would subside. It
diminished to a dull ache as he went on. She could feel her back
bow to take him still deeper, observing as if from a long way away
her drugged body responding to the ardent pressure.
Lord, he panted against her cheek, you are so tight, so hot.
Absolutely incredible. Im going to lose myself all over again in a
minute. And the one after that.
Her desperation to escape the pain of his huge size within her
slender body battled with the compelling throbbing deep with her.
She managed to shift her weight and kissed him harder. Matthew,
please, I want to lose myself too.
For the agony she was in was nothing compared to the ecstasy.
The heady drug still swirling through her brain served to deaden
some of her soreness. She knew it was only natural for her first
time; he had been gentle, tender.
But the drug made her feel so strangely. Her head felt as though
it were going to roll from her shoulders, and her eyelids throbbed so
that she could barely keep them open.

Yet still there was such euphoria radiating out from between her
thighs that she could scarcely breathe. She pushed off the bed with
her heels, trying to get closer to the man she loved above all else. It
had been so long since shed seen him. Weeks. Months. Theyd
been so close just before hed left. Had his thoughts been tending
this way all along? If only shed known, she wouldnt have been so
despondent.
He should have taken her with him. Then she would never have
been so cruelly attacked by those monsters.
Matthews senses swirled uncontrollably. With one long groan he
pounded into Althea and she met his demands with thrust after
thrust. She let out a gasp, calling his name over and over again until
he hardened anew.
Her writhing as she sought to make him go even deeper sent him
soaring yet again. His great need vibrated through her inside and
out, peaking her pearl of pleasure until she quivered and sobbed,
her hips nearly lifting him off the bed with her fulfillment.
Swept up in her clamorous response, he climaxed a fourth time
and stilled his body in an effort to steady his giddy world. His hands
continued to bring her to rapture, however, so much so that she was
sure she was going to faint.
She was stunned by his ardour and her own response to it. She
lay under him for some minutes panting as he teased her breasts
and her dainty curls.
She knew her time was running out. If he was not one of the men
who had seized her, he was in danger too. She couldnt be sure. But
she had to trust someone.
For she never wanted to go back to that dreadful place, to all
those horrible men. To the violence and violation she had had to
endure. He was her cousin, and she had always loved him. And
hed made love to her, had tried to please her, not intentionally
harmed her even though she was completely at his mercy, bound
as she was.
Having indulged their bodies before marriage was wrong. Yet he
had never been anything other than a warm and loving man toward
her all these years, and most especially since she had come out last

Season. Matthew had bedded her now, true. But he was her last
hope.
Her virginity was well and truly gone. Yet after the brief loss of
her tender membrane, the exquisite pleasure had sparked, and built
and built into a conflagration.
Summoning all her scattered wits about her, Althea moved under
Matthew abruptly enough for him to turn his head to look in her
eyes. He had forgot about the blindfold, and tried to summon the
energy to move off her to untie it, and her arms as well, the better to
enjoy her more fully.
He had been intent upon his own pleasure, of course, but was
happy that the girl had enjoyed herself, and was already seeking
more. He knew he certainly wanted her in the worst way, and would
have indulged himself still further, until he managed to make out the
words that she next uttered.
Please, Mattie, if youve ever loved me at all, please get me out
of here right away and take me home with you, or to Lady
Pemberton's before it's too late, she gasped.
He stilled deep within her, the creeping sense of guilt and unease
over the tawdriness of the fantasy halting him mid-stroke.
But her body was already rippling around his vast compelling
invasion, driving him onwards. His orgasm rent his sanity asunder
and he lunged straight upwards into her and exploded.
Her breathless cries and the way she frenziedly began to kiss his
neck told him he had wrung the pleasure from her too. He was glad
and fearful, for her words and knowledge of his name and family
had set his flesh prickling in the most bizarre and not entirely
pleasureable way.
He couldnt believe he had indulged himself so completely and
enjoyed her without any thought for safety, either from disease or
conception.
Now he had even more to regret, for as he withdrew from her
tight sheath and moved to pour more water he gaped. The
spreading red stain on the sheet, the red flecks daubed all over his
most intimate parts, proclaimed what the incredible tightness of her
body should have. Had he not been so driven by his own blind lusts

he might have paused to consider those facts. It hadnt been an act.


Shed been a virgin in truth.
He tried to survey the situation with some nominal attempt at
rationality, though his heart jolted in his chest alarmingly. His fingers
trembling, he took one candle from the nearest wall sconce and
brought it over to the bed. He stared at the sheets again, at his own
now shrivelled manhood, and swore softly to himself.
Incredible, but there could be no doubt about the truth. The girl
had really been a virgin. He only prayed he had not been too hard
on her.
Hed never indulged in one for this very reason, though hed had
enough offers from amongst the more racy set in the Ton. There
were enough misses about to be married to some dried-up old stick
or other and wanting to spite them to have kept him busy if hed so
chosen. But breaking them in had never held even the remotest
appeal.
He looked around the room with a sense of sickened and
helpless despair. There was a cracked basin and ewer with some
relatively clean cloths beside it. He brought them over to the
bedside table and began to untie the girls limp wrists.
Her arms flopped bonelessly down onto the mattress. The only
change in her was the blush which flooded her from throat to knees,
proclaiming her moved by his act of passion.
It was a only a small consolation. He had thought it naught but a
fantasy. He had never pressed on with any woman, decent or
otherwise, if shed shown even the slightest hesitation. He knew his
reputation as a rake. With some women it had ruined his chances.
With others it had actually enhanced it.
But hed never wanted underripe fruit, innocence defiled. It
reminded him far too much of his tender and very beautiful cousin
whom he adored and worshipped like a goddess. It was wrong of
him to think of her in a carnal way, or indeed any of her
contemporaries, no matter how much they angled for an
introduction or flirted boldly.
No, he much preferred experienced women of the world who
could understand good healthy lust and the necessity of slaking
ones baser desires. Now as he cleansed the voluptuous naked girl

hed just debauched, he realised just how base they really were.
Hed once been an idealist, had tried to hold himself back in an
effort to remain chaste, worthy of his beloved.
But once the floodgates had opened hed been so disgusted yet
thrilled that hed just given in to all the temptations of the flesh
without another thought. Hed lost his battle, lost his chance of love.
Oh, not that his lovely little cousin would ever reproach him. But he
blamed himself bitterly enough to be willing to renounce her, give
her a chance of a decent match to a good and loving man, not a
stallion who could barely stop rutting long enough to attend his
uncles funeral.
He grimaced at the memory, and acknowledged that his selfreproach in this instance was not quite fair. Hed actually been alone
rusticating on his new estate in Somerset after his nasty split with
his former mistress Matilda. Shed pursued him for matrimony to the
point where he was being made a laughingstock and it had become
the talk of the Town.
Still, he should never have let things go so far that when Althea
had written to him for help and solace in the wake of the unexpected
death, hed been days away and unable to get there in time to say
goodbye.
Or be of much comfort once there, for fear he would reveal his
true feelings and shock her utterly.
Matthew did not remove the silk blindfold, for he feared and
dreaded to see reproach and horror in the poor girls eyes. Or
worse still, glee at the start of a long and lascivious career. Damn.
Maybe he could do something to prevent such a disaster. Such a
lovely young girl. It would be such a dashed shame.
How much money was he carrying? He could give her whatever
he had to leave this den of inquity and never come back. After all,
had she not said she wanted to go? Seemed frightened?
As he worked to clean the blood from himself and then her,
tenderly stroking the delicate flesh, he tried to cool his ardour. Think
of something besides her succulent body. The sounds of the brothel
filtered in through the paper-thin walls: moans, cries, screams.
Matthew shuddered. He had made her scream and loathed
himself for it, natural though the pain was supposed to be. This

place was Hell, and he would not leave yet another girl to be so
cruelly dragged down by the world. He would take her to the clinic
for fallen women which he and his friends the Rakehells supported.
Dr. Herriot and the others would help her, he was sure.
The girls lips parted with a sigh. Her words were far more
dreadful than any reproach she might have uttered. Please, Mattie,
please take me out of here. Take me home to Enfield. She gave a
heart-rending sob. But before he could say a word she shook her
head. No, not Enfield. Its not safe for me there. Please take me
with you to Barton.
His tongue withered in his mouth. His breath choked in his
clenched throat. His fingers shook as if with the palsy. He could feel
his insides churning with both revulsion and a blinding knife-blade of
lust.
Althea? God, please, no, it couldnt be... No, no, no... It just
couldnt be!

Chapter Two
But as Matthew removed the gauzy silk from the blonde womans
face at last and gazed into her dusky deep blue eyes, he knew that
it was. Althea.
He clamped his hand over his mouth and averted his head for a
moment while he attempted, without success, to get his emotions
and stomach contents under control.
He lunged for the chamberpot in the corner and heaved until he
was sure his guts had been turned inside out. Wiping his mouth with
a damp cloth and rinsing it with some water from the glass he had
poured a short time before, he at last managed to speak.
Dear God, Althea, what have I done? What are you doing here
in this Godforsaken place? Whats wrong with you?
But one more look at her face with the aid of a raised candle was
enough to tell him all he needed to know. Gone was his haze of lust
and desire, the thrill of a novel new fantasy for his jaded palate.
The truth stared him right in the face, and it was an ugly one. His
poor, lovely cousin....
She had been beaten, taken by force, drugged, mauled,
ravished. He had to get her out of there at once. She could tell him
everything later, once she had seen a doctor and was safe, but for
now, they needed to flee.
He soothed the hair back from her badly bruised face for the
briefest second. Come, my dear cousin. There's been a mistake,
clearly, and I'm so sorry. But no matter for the moment. We need to
get you out of here, to a place thats warm and safe. Come, love, let
me help you.
"Yes, please. Take me to Barton, or Aunt Pemberton's, but
please, get me out of here before they take me again."

He cast a look around, but there were no garments in the room


other than his own, and no wardrobe in the chamber, nor dressers
that might hold any clothing.
He gathered the sheet around her now-shivering form and
fastened around her and up under her arms, then brought the ends
forward to tie it in front in a secure knot. He drew his coat off the
floor, sat her up, and placed her arms in the sleeves. He felt the
pockets until he located his small pistol. It wasnt much, but it was
better than nothing.
Can you walk? he asked, his cheek against her hair.
Im sorry, Mattie, I don't think I can at this point. They gave me
something--
The use of her childhood nickname again hit him with the force of
a body blow. A momentary vision of her laughing, high up in the air
as he swung her round and round by the wrists, their hands
clasped, almost unmanned him. He sniffed back the tears, and he
said to her now what hed always said to her then.
Ive got you. I wont let you go. He patted her hand for a
moment and steeled himself for his next move.
He was not going to fail her now. He yanked on his discarded
clothes in record time, and prayed that his carriage driver had taken
him literally, that he would only be gone an hour, and would meet
him around the corner.
He could try to hail a cab, but this was not the best
neighbourhood. Few ventured south of the river unless they were
very brave and armed to the teeth. A cab posed a few risks even if
he could find one. He had no idea who had left her there to be
swived, but he knew he had to get her away to an undisclosed
location until he found out more. At the moment he was completely
in the dark about how his bookish and devout cousin had ended up
in a house of ill-repute, tied, bound and blindfolded, about to be
ravished.
By God he was going to get some answers. But first he was
going to get her some medical treatment. The clinic at Bethnal
Green would be open; pray God Antony himself was there. He just
had to get out the door and into a vehicle with his precious burden.

Were going to leave in a minute, sweetheart, he said as he sat


on the bed to yank on his stockings and boots, listening all the while
for approaching footsteps. His nerve endings were all afire, his
hands scarely able to fasten his clothes. You need to hang onto me
the way you always have. Hold me round the neck and waist, and
dont let go. Promise me.
Promise me you wont leave me, she begged, gripping his
upper arm tightly.
No, never. I promise. Not as long as you need me, dearest. Not
while theres breath in my body.
Her blue eyes regained for a moment the tiniest hint of their old
sparkle, and she smiled slightly, though she soon grimaced as the
movement resulted in a twinge from her dreadful bruising.
Thank you, Mattie. I knew youd save me. Ive prayed and
prayed. Ive seen you in my head a thousand times. When you
came to me just now I knew it was the answer to all my prayers.
A bubble of hysterical laughter formed on his lips. He had just
ravished her, for pitys sake. He felt so ill he thought he was going to
faint.
He took a deep breath, and whipped out his pocket flask to take
a swig of brandy. He got his emotions and stomach back under
control, and rose from the bed.
Come, dear. We need to go.
He stood with the pistol in his right hand, and gathered her to him
with his left arm. Althea clung to him around the neck, with one thigh
nestled around his waist, the other in the small of his back. He
gripped her supple bottom hard, and listened for a moment. The
sounds of revelry continued, but at a distance. It was time to act. He
only hoped they wouldnt have their way blocked going down the
single flight of narrow stairs.
He took a deep breath, flung open the door, turned left, and
ploughed on. He was half-way out the front door before the
madame could even blink. The strange fey-looking boy/man who
had let him in and told him which room to go to was nowhere in
sight.

Stop! Stop! Bloody hell, hes taking her! Stop him, quick! the
frowzy red-head shrieked.
But Matthew was already half way around the corner, and
thanked all the gods that his carriage was right there.
Gibbs! Onto the box, now! he bellowed.
The driver had been taking the opportunity to give the horse
some feed, but snatched off the nosebag, and leapt up onto the box
in a single fluid movement.
Down to the right, and onto the nearest main road. Drive round
for a time until I tell you where to go next.
Gibbs knew enough from one glance at the prostrate girl that he
didnt want to be followed. A further reason presented itself as a
shot pocked into the side of the coach just as Matthew sat his
tender burden on the leather seat and scrambled into place.
Gibbs whipped up the horse and they hurtled forward. Matthew
snapped the door hard into a pursuers jaw and yanked it tightly
shut. Another man on the far side of the vehicle was convinced to let
go when Matthew aimed the muzzle of his gun right in his face and
said, "Ill use it. Dont think I wont.
The man jumped off the step, and Matthew heaved a sigh of
relief. Then they were racing free and clear up toward Tower
Bridge, and soon crossed the river. They picked up speed and
began to wind their way through the City.
Only when Matthew saw the grand white dome of St. Pauls
Cathedral did his heart slow enough for him to be able to take a
deep breath. Althea still clung onto him like a limpet, her arms tightly
around his neck, her breath stirring the delicate hairs at his nape.
Her long legs still twined about his waist were most arousing, and he
adjusted her against him, drawing comfort from her nearness even
as he scolded himself for indulging in such intimate contact.
But he also had little choice, for it was safer having her so close
than jounced around as they rode over the rutted streets. She was
shivering so badly it would have been cruel to not try to ease her
suffering.

She seemed slightly more alert, but as he said, Its all right.
Were safe for now, she lapsed back into her torpor, her head
slumping heavily against his chest.
He moved with her into the corner to lessen the jostling of their
bodies, and held her close. He inhaled her familiar fresh smell of
roses, lemon verbena and vanilla. All innocent and clean. But as he
held her close, the familiar fragrances became part of a sensual
feast which made him long to pull her atop his surging manhood
and taste all of her delights until he couldnt breathe any more.
But far more overpowering than her usual delicate aroma was a
strong sweetish smell and some undefinable odor which reminded
him of an apothecarys shop.
He looked into her eyes and saw the pupils like pinpricks, her
gaze unfocused. Opium, or laudanum was his best guess. The
bluish tinge of her flesh told him she had been drugged heavily-hed
seen a friend almost overdose once at a bucks party and hed
looked almost exactly like this.
He couldnt imagine his delicate cousin ever willingly abusing
laudanum. So who on earth had drugged her? How long had she
been in such a shocking state? Just what the hell had he unwittingly
stumbled across tonight?
At this thought he held her more tightly as they ran over some
deep ruts in the road and she groaned and flinched.
How had the poor child ended up drugged, beaten and misused?
Unless of course shed been in an accident and there had been
some sort of mistake made? She had fallen into the wrong hands,
been sold into prostitution? Had eloped with some scoundrel as his
friend Thomass sister had? Worse still, had been married to
someone unsuitable, someone who had betrayed her?
He knew only too well that many wives and mistresses had to
tolerate men who were cruel to them. Was it possible she had been
encouraged by her nasty step-mother into making an unsuitable
match?
He recalled with horror Jane Elthams downfall, when she had
willingly eloped with a vile seducer only to be subjected to a living
hell at the hands of he and all of his friends.

Had Althea similarly been too trusting and paid the price? She
had been one step away from being ravished by God knows who,
when Fate had taken a hand.
Matthew was sick enough over what he had done. The thought of
one man or many in the brothel being cruel to her nearly made him
collapse. At least she had been a virgin when he had found her, but
he knew other things could have been done to her, dreadful things...
Why on earth was Althea even here in London? She much
preferred life in the country, even if she did have to share her home
with her step-mother and step-brother. She had been most
studious, and did not seem the type to ever have her head turned
quickly. Her father had died a little over two months ago. Surely a
girl as decent as she would never dream of doing something so
unseemly as to elope so soon after that sad event.
Moreover, they had been for the most part very close
correspondents, even if he didnt trust himself to see her too often.
He felt sure shed have written to tell him if there had been anyone
so special in her life. If there had been, surely hed have met him
when he was last down in Surrey. And Althea would not have been
so unhappy when hed left, trying to persuade him to stay because
she needed him. Knowing Althea, it was likely that out of respect for
the father shed adored she would wait the full two years of official
mourning before ever even considering moving on with her life.
Despite her triumphant London Season, shed never been paired
with anyone that he knew of in Town. He knew shed had several
offers due to her fortune. Of course her undoubted gentility and
decency, her sterling virtue, had also been deciding factors
motivating the several beaux who had tried for her.
But shed refused them all with grace and firmness. He had to
admit hed heaved a sigh of relief. None of them had been good
enough for her so far as he was concerned. Was it possible that one
of them had been so lustful or vindictive that he had...
He only wished he could remember all their names. He sighed.
Damn him for a fool. He had failed her badly. He ought to know.
Not that he had been her confidant, for he had been in the midst
of his particularly tempestuous affair with his mistress Matilda, and

had kept well away from Althea, not wishing his own scandalous
reputation to tarnish hers.
Hed escorted her when shed asked him, danced with her when
their paths had chanced to cross, but never monopolised her
despite his feelings. Shed been perfectly charming to him, always
warm and tender, not morally reproachful at all, not even when
shed interrupted a horrendous scene between he and Matilda on
the terrace of the Duke of Ellesmeres house.
Shed looked at him with such compassion, hed longed to put his
head into her lap as he had done when he was young, and tell her
all his woes. But that would never have done, any more than holding
her so intimately did now.
Except that hed now lain in her lap, ruined the poor respectable
young woman. He had deflowered the girl, he thought with a
dreadful pang.
Another image of her popped into his head. It was of Althea when
shed been about ten and had followed him around like an adoring
puppy, telling anyone who would listen that one day she would grow
up and marry her dear cousin. Theyd all laughed good-naturedly,
and he had even given her an engagement ring made out of gold
foil with a glass bead for a diamond before going back for his final
two terms at Eton.
He gazed out the window moodily. Since he was now sure that
they were not being followed, he shouted up to his driver to head for
the clinic in Bethnal Green.
He settled himself back in the seat and allowed himself the luxury
of holding her close. He had struggled hard to keep his feelings for
her in check. What was the point now? All his efforts to do the
decent thing had become for naught.
Matthew had told himself she was only a child, and had gone off
to his studies at Oxford and gradually became more and more
caught up in the life of the Ton. His visits to her home had become
more and more infrequent, though theyd written. She had
occasionally seen him in Oxford and London, but the prospect of
quiet domestic and familial pursuits in Surrey was as nothing
compared to the drinking, whoring and gambling he and his set had
engaged in.

Except that that lifestyle had begun to pale a long time ago, and
his closest friend Randalls joyous marriage earlier in the year had
forced him to do something about his terrible mistress and his whole
way of life.
Six months of unremitting war with Matilda and six months of
celibacy had driven him to such lengths this evening. He had
loathed himself for giving in to his baser desires-it did not augur well
for his ability to remain faithful once he was married. But at the
thought of what might have happened to Althea had he not gone to
that room, he quailed.
The rawness in this throat and rapidly rising bile made him lay
her on the opposite seat, throw open the window, and vomit once
more.
When Matthew had finished he mopped his mouth and shouted
up to Gibbs to pull up at the next corner.
He did as he was instructed.
Please come down, he requested.
He waited while the driver did so and explained when he had, I
need to take this young lady to the clinic in Oak Street. But I dont
want anyone to see us together. I need you to let me down at the
mews in the rear. You go round to the large livery stable and bring
her in yourself. But dont tell anyone who you work for, and as soon
as youre done I want you to drive around for an hour before going
home.
Gibbs bristled and looked as indignant as Matthew had ever seen
him. Surely youre not going to just leave the young lady-
No, not at all, Matthew said, his voice hoarse with emotion and
the rawness in his throat which just wouldnt ease. I just dont want
anyone looking for her to know we rescued her. I swear, Im going
to head into the clinic through the back way and in through the
boiler room.
Yes, sir, sorry, sir.
Thats all right. Your tender sentiments do you credit. But come.
We need to get her to a doctor.
How will you get home?

I shall manage, never fear. But dont expect me back for a


couple of days.
He nodded. Ill tell Bevis, sir.
Thank you, Gibbs. I know I can rely upon your discretion.
Gibbs mounted the box and whipped up the team.

Chapter Three
Fifteen minutes later Matthew was stepping out in the mews.
Another five minutes saw him inside the clinic hallway making his
way to the pair of private examination rooms near the front to
rendezvous with his coachman and Althea.
Dr. Herriot and his assistant Oliver Neville were busy in each
room, and Matthew felt relieved that they were both in attendance.
Antony was just finishing with a woman and her baby and looked
up in surprise. Why Matthew, to what do we owe the pleasure?
Im well, thank you. But this isnt a social visit. I need your help,
and your utmost discretion. Can we close these curtains and talk for
a moment? he asked, stepping into the room and away from the
open door.
Certainly. Clarissa, can you please take the baby and her
mother to the dispensary?
Yes, sir. His dark-haired assistant quickly did his bidding.
As soon as the door was shut, Matthew began to slide the
curtains closed and told him what had happened as briefly as
possible.
Antony Herriot looked stunned. Ill go out there right now and
see if your driver has brought her. Really, Matthew, you did well to
come to me. Ill be as discreet as I can, of course, but this really is
most shocking. The authorities-
Are not going to be called, at least not yet. We know nothing at
this point, and theyll only be in the way.
The sandy-haired young doctor looked doubtful, but nodded. All
right. Let me go see if shes here.

He brought Althea in a short time later. Matthew almost snatched


her out of the doctors arms. He laid her down on the table gently
and smoothed her hair back from her brow.
Its all right, sweetheart. Antony here is going to help you. He
needs to examine you, my dear. Theres no need to be scared. Its
all right. Hes not going to hurt you.
All right, she sighed.
Matthew positioned himself at her head, and kept hold of it by
gently stroking her hair and face, and whispering reassuringly in her
ear.
Dr. Herriot examined her thoroughly under the relatively bright
light from the lantern they used overhead. Matthew could see now
that there were dozens of bruises all over her, but they had been
covered over with powder.
Her nose has been broken and badly set, her left cheekbone
smashed. She looks like shes fought in a mill, for heavens sake.
Several teeth knocked out. A couple of broken knuckles, a smashed
finger, some of her nails ripped and jagged. She must have fought
like a tigress. I just wonder how badly shes hurt internally if the
bruises are that bad. It looks like shes been bound with rope for
some time. You can tell from the marks on her ankles and wrists.
How long? he rasped. How long has she been made to suffer
like that?
My best guess, about five or six weeks.
So ever since I left her after her father died, he sighed. He
passed away two months ago."
The sandy haired doctor, dressed from head to toe in black save
for his dark gray cotton coat thrown over his clothes, frowned and
nodded. I doubt it is a coincidence. The abuse looks to have been
pretty systematic. The drugs too. Id say theyve kept her under all
that time to stop her struggling, but it also killed some of the pain.
That means I cant tell how badly she feels.
He continued to examine her in silence, but finally he had to ask,
A virgin, you say?
Matthew saw he was frowning.

Yes, he said, staring at him. Im sure. Im the one who defiled


her, after all. I mean, not that Ive ever had a virgin before, but there
was pain, blood, and I could see the remains of her maidenhead on
me. It wasnt a monthly if thats what youre wondering. Why do you
ask?
Antony blushed and shook his head. Its just well, he said
reluctantly, when Matthew continued to stare at him, Its just that...
Come on, out with it, man.
Shes your cousin. I dont want to upset you.
Cripes, how much more upset can I possibly be? he exploded.
Antony cringed. Drat it, Matthew. All right. Its just that shes
been, um, used everywhere else. I find it hard to believe that they
didnt just rape her too. But at least we dont need to worry about
pregnancy or disease there.
Oliver Neville entered at that moment and shook his head pitingly
at the sight of the girl. Come now, Antony, youve been working
here long enough to know a virgin fetches a much higher price on
the open market. They can make her do all sorts of other things
until they can find someone willing to pay the right price.
Matthew felt the bile rise again, and availed himself of a nearby
basin.
Both men clucked sympathetically.
"It's terrible, I know," Oliver said, "but she's safe now. Don't let
your imagination run wild and get the better of you."
"It's what I've done that's sickening me," Matthew rasped.
Antony looked down her throat and all over her body
dispassionately. It may not be much consolation, but if her body is
anything to go by she was probably so drugged she didnt even
know what was happening to her most of the time. At least it would
have deadened the pain.
Matthew took a swig from his flask to deaden his, but the smell
and taste mingling with the odors of of the clinic were enough to
render him light-headed.

When Matthew came to himself once more Oliver was holding his
head down between his knees and telling him to breathe deeply. A
basin at his feet held the rest of the noisome contents of his
stomach. Oliver tidied him up like a small child, and gave him a pat
on the shoulder.
It is all very well to have sensibilities and fine feelings, but we
mustnt give way completely to our emotions. Your cousin needs us
all to try to concentrate on helping her.
Tell me what we need to do. I would never forgive myself if she
died.
Antony shook his head. I dont think it will come to that. But nor
can make any promises. Shes pretty badly beaten. Even if she isnt
suffering from internal bleeding, she has a long road to recovery.
Im not so sure you shouldnt send for the rest of you family to-
No!" he shouted. Then he shook his head. "No, I dont want
them involved. My aunt Lady Pemberton would be beside herself.
Im not sure how this happened, how Althea ended up in the
clutches of those foul swine, but she's my responsibility now. Ill take
care of her. Whatever she needs.
The two medical men exchanged significant looks. Its very
commendable of you, Matthew, Antony said, but have you any
idea what this is going to entail?
No, Matthew admitted, but youre going to tell me. I shall either
do it myself or hire whatever staff I need to assist me. Im sure you
have some good nurses you can recommend.
Antony sighed. Matthew--"
"What, what is it? I'm sorry to say she's not the only woman in
the world who has ever been beaten, and they recover. And as for
her, er, loss, well, I swear, I didn't--"
"Nay, that's not what I mean. But I won't lie. She's not in good
shape. Even if she recovers physically, it seems she is an opium
addict. Even if we cure her of the addiction, there will likely be long
lasting mental effects of the hell the poor child has been through.
"But perhaps in time," Matthew began with hopeful desperation,
rising up off the floor at last to stand by her bedside once more. He

stroked her cheek with the back of one hand and she sighed in her
sleep.
"But that's just it, Matthew, time. I dont mean to reproach you,
but youve taken on mistresses the way most dilettantes do a hobby.
Once you have all you want or need to know, you move on.
In this instance were facing the prospect of months of rest and
recuperation, and you have the patience of a flea. You cant just
pick the girl up and drop her when you get bored--"
"I would never! She's my cousin and--"
Antony ignored his protests and pressed on. Nor is it suitable for
a bachelor such as yourself to take on the role of nursemaid. Even
with the purest and most decent of intentions you will bring scandal
to her. Your reputation only is enough to cause-
Thank you for your concern and your candour, Antony,
Matthew said stiffly. Let us deal with the unpalatable truth head on,
shall we? Ive used the poor girl cruelly. The only way to protect her
and try to mitigate this disaster in some way is to marry her. If you
could please send for the local vicar so we can be wed at once, I
would be most grateful.
He fished out a wad of notes for the special licence and handed it
to Oliver.
He and Antony shot each other a concerned look, but each could
see the wisdom of what he had proposed. The determined set of
Matthews jaw also spoke volumes.
Oliver cautioned now, So long as you know shes going to have
to be awake enough to give her consent.
Fine. How long do you think that might take?
Some time tomorrow morning is my best guess. Why dont you
go outside and get someone to make you some coffee whilst we
finish up here?
He shook his head stubbornly. Im staying. Oh, Ill keep out of
the way here at the top of the table, but I promised I wouldnt leave
her, and I wont.
He moved back to his former seat and murmured, Im here,
dear.

He put his head on the table next to Altheas and began to talk to
her in a low soothing tone whilst they did what they could for her
bruised and battered body.
For the most part she seemed to be quiet enough as he sought
to reassure her. Only when they tried to turn her over to rub some
ointment on all of her cuts, scrapes and bruises did she begin to
struggle.
Youre all right. Antony just wants to help, put medicine on.
Youre all right. No one is going to hurt you. No ones ever going to
hurt you again. Including me.
Her groans lapsed to a whimper and finally subsided as he
continued to soothe her with his voice and his hand stroking her hair
every so often.
Im going to give her some cream to put on. Lets see if shes
sensible enough to do it herself.
Althea, love, did you hear the doctor?
Hmm?
Explain it to her again.
I want you to put some cream on your back and bottom to
soothe the cuts and so on. Can you manage if you roll on your
side?
I can try.
He flung a sheet over her, and Matthew had to watch her wince
as she rubbed it in. She was soon tired and sore, and rolled onto
her back once more. She began to her shiver, and Oliver scrambled
for some blankets while Antony began to bank up the fire.
He asked his assistant to call for Clarissa. When she arrived he
requested, Some tea for all of us, please, with plenty of sugar in it. I
think were going to need it.
The grim-faced woman nodded curtly and left.
When Antony was certain all had been tended to to make Althea
as comfortable as possible, he said, Now you need to decide what
to do. If youre afraid of her being found, we need to think about
where to take her.

Matthew blinked. Take her? Can she not stay here? We were
careful not to be followed.
The doctor nodded. She could stay tonight. Itll be morning soon
enough. But were already so overcrowded, and she wouldnt get a
wink of sleep. You can use my house, and there is always Philip
Marshalls as well. He and his wife would be glad to help, and they
are most discreet.
Theres also Alistair Grant, though with him being a bachelor as
well, like myself, hes not such a good choice. And I wouldn't
recommend it for another reason. You did say you wanted to keep
the authorities out of this for the moment. He would feel obliged to
notify them if you turned up on the doorstep with her in this
condition."
"True."
And I hate to say it, but if you admit to anyone what you did
when she was bound to the bed, theyre going to blame you for all
of this. Its a pretty remarkable story by any stretch of the
imagination. Theyll think you seduced her away from her home with
intent to commit all sorts of depravities upon her. Who knows what
will happen to both of you then.
I know. You dont need to remind me. But I swear to you, I
never-
I know. I believe you.
What about Blake? Are he and Arabella here?
He shook his head. Im sorry. He just shut up the house to go
back down to Somerset.
And I just came up tonight. My house is in an uproar even if I
were willing to take her there. So I supposed the best choice is to go
to Philips.
Antony nodded. Hes a good man in a crisis, completely
unflappable.
"But he does work for Alistair."
"Aye, but he's the soul of discretion, and the last man to judge,
even if you tell him the whole truth."

Matthew's mouth set in a grim line. And I have the feeling Im


going to need his own special knowledge of the London underworld
to get to the bottom of this.
Oliver stared. Now youre not going to do anything hasty, are
you, Matthew?
No. But I need to know what bastard put my cousin in a brothel!
Philip can ask the right questions, put out the feelers, pull in some
favours.
But hes hasn't been a prostitute, nor lived in London for years,
Antony pointed out mildly.
No, but he gives a lot of aid to the women hereabouts when they
need it. Someone in that brothel will know him, Im sure of it. Know
him and want to help. So we can send him to collect information.
Hes going to need to keep a low profile, though. Those sorts of
people arent too keen on lawyers going around asking questions.
And we dont want them to follow Philips trail back to Althea.
True, Matthew acknowledged.
I can help, Oliver offered. I mean, its been a while since I
patronised the stews, but they arent going to get their dander up if I
ask around compared with an out and out posh toff like Philip
Marshall. You give me the details of what happened. I can say Im
looking for something similarly exotic, willing to pay for it.
"I mean, Im guessing whoever took her probably knew who she
was, would have known about her being your cousin, and you being
in thick with the Rakehells. Theyre not a group of men youd want to
take on, not if you were a criminal wanting to carry on your
nefarious career.
Matthew shrugged one shoulder. But Im only on the fringe. Old
school friends, but Ive never been political or anything, and you
know they dont really hold with rakes like me.
Thats not to say they dont forgive them if they mend their ways,
as with Philip and Randall. Thats also not to say they wouldnt
defend a friend who needed it, or a damsel in distress. No, whoever
took Althea either didnt know who she was, or they are so powerful,
or so foolish, that they don't care that interfering with your family

most likely means letting himself in for a whole heap of hot coals on
his head.
Matthew wondered why this thought made him so uneasy. But it
was true. The Danes had always been a powerful family, and his
aunt Lady Pemberton was a formidable woman. Likewise the
Rakehells were prominent and powerful men. Even the lowest class
of pimp would have heard of them, and quailed.
But the brothel had not been a complete cesspit. Many men of
his acquaintance went there for the anonymity and clean women.
There were far worse places. Not to mention dirty back alleys. So
who would have dared...
He pictured the room again, the odd markings everywhere. Again
they reminded him of his new home in Somerset. Strange symbols...
What could they have meant?
Oliver was speaking again, and Matthew dragged his mind away
from his present chain of thought.
When its quiet enough here Ill go, Oliver offered. After
everything I did, even if anyone recognises me, theyll just think Im
back to my old ways. Ill pretend Im on the prowl for a new fresh
young thing, heard they had just got in a new prime article or two.
But if the authorities hear about it-
Its all right. They wont. Or if they do we can come up with some
excuse or alibi. I know Im supposed to be on my best behaviour,
but just asking questions cant get me into trouble.
All right, I agree. But dont take any risks. You were a young
man back then when your brother used and murdered all those
women. But there will always be some who think you were guilty too.
I would hate it if you--
Oliver waved away his concern. "It will be worth the risk to help
this poor girl."
"Thank you."
Youd better go now, Oliver, Antony said. Otherwise theyll be
closed for business until tomorrow evening, and we might lose the
scent.
Are you sure youll be all right here without me?

Yes, but take a cab there, and make sure no one follows you
back here, the canny doctor cautioned.
Dont worry, Ill be careful.
You just go in the door, ask, see what the response is, and get
out. Dont go poking more than you have to. Here, take my pistol,
Matthew insisted. They shot up my coach pretty well.
Olivers brows rose, but to his credit he didnt back down. In that
case I might take one of the burliest porters with me.
Listen, if you cant get anything out of the odd-looking young
doorkeeper, try to talk to some of the women. See if they caught
sight of the man or men who brought her in. Have you got enough
money to pay for your expenses?
Oliver looked shocked. I have no intention of futtering any of the
Matthew rolled his eyes. You have been out of the game too
long. I just meant that itll be easier and far less suspicious to just
pay for their time regardless and get them up to a room to talk in
private. I wasnt accusing you, I promise.
Oliver had the grace to look sheepish. Oh yes, er, sorry. This all
just dredges up some- Sorry.
Antony smiled at him reassuringly.
Matthew hastened to say No one wants to throw your past in
your face. Believe me, I have no right to cast any stones. Im very
grateful to you for any help you can give me. He emptied his
pockets and held out the pistol.
All right, off I go. Oliver tidied his black hair and took the money.
He hefted the percussion pistol, lifted the spare ammunition and
powder, and left.

Chapter Four
As soon as Oliver had left to investigate the strange events in the
brothel that night, Antony began to clean up the room. How are you
bearing up, Matthew? he asked quietly.
He took a ragged breath and swallowed hard. I cant believe
this. Its like my worst nightmare.
I can see how it would be very shocking, he said
sympathetically.
No, you dont understand. Shocking doesnt even begin to
describe the disgust I feel at myself. The fury I feel for the men who
did those things to her. She was a joy as a child. And as a young
woman. Always has been. So happy and lovely. His voice cracked.
He rubbed his sour-tasting mouth, feeling the bile rising once
more. Now look at what theyve done to her! Shes been
debauched and degraded. How will she ever be able to lead a
normal life?
Antony said gently, We have to hope that she shall, in time. After
all, weve helped a great number of women here reform their lives.
Some went on the game by choice. The game. A euphemism if ever
there was one, and certainly not fun for these poor women.
"Choice might also be a bad word. Most did it out of economic
necessity. Still others were forced or coerced or even blackmailed
into it. I know how much you admire and care for Althea. If shes as
intelligent and devout as you say, then with help shell rise above
this and you can eventually have a normal marriage. Youre just
going to need to be patient for a time. And honest and open about
this above all.
Matthew looked appalled. A normal marriage? How can you
even suggest-

Conjugal comfort is one of the reasons a man weds. One of the


main ones, I should think. Surely you want to have a family one
day?
Can she even- He swallowed hard.
Antony sighed and patted him on the shoulder. There, there. I
know youre blaming yourself, but theres no reason to think the
worst. Well know more when shes awake and lucid. But Im sure
you dont want a marriage of convenience. Youre far too hotblooded for it in any case, if I may say so.
Too damned hot-blooded for her after what shes been through,
so please dont even mention conjugal relations to me again.
Antony put down the instruments he had been washing in boiled
water. But if thats true, then you cant marry her! Im telling you as
a friend, marriage is an irrevocable step. If you cant absolutely and
firmly commit yourself to making Althea happy, both body and soul,
then you should have Alistair set her up legally as your ward. As her
nearest eldest male kin it would be simple and you would not need
to fear the consequences of sending her back to Surrey
unprotected.
And what about the unfortunate fact of her loss of virginity? The
possibility of her being with child? Matthew growled.
Some men would not hold it against her--
He grimaced. Most men would. Damn me for a hypocrite, but
even I would, I have to admit. I know men like to have their fun, but I
havent gone about defiling virgins, and I would want a chaste wife.
They might say they dont care, but most would be lying. I dont
want Althea ending up unequally yoked to a man who will sneer at
her, blame her. This isnt exactly something that can easily be
explained, now is it? Nor would a child be, and Im damned if I am
farming out any more Dane babies after what happened with my
poor mother and sisters.
He bit his tongue, not wanting to discuss something so personal
with the doctor. Moreover, he did not want to be sidetracked. And I
have the feeling that however disturbing the thought is of ever
attempting to have her as a true wife in earnest, even more
perturbing is the prospect of leaving these wounds to fester. No one
is ever going to be able to understand what she went through

except me. I was there. I saw her. I contributed to her ruin even if I
didnt engineer it.
But the only thing worse than the first time having sex is the
second time. It confirms all your worst fears, or your best joys. I
should have known the second time I was with Matilda and she
turned up with a riding crop that she was going to be nothing but
trouble. Like a fool I tried to control her, change her.
With Althea, she needs to know that it isnt a horribly repellent
experience, and that she has a choice. That she's not some victim
of my ravishment. I blame myself for my clumsy stupidity, but I know
enough about women to know I can make it better if I have the
chance. She has to know shes not to blame. I only pray she doesnt
bitterly blame me for my part in what happened tonight. I should
have untied her when she asked me to. Then maybe none of this
would have happened.
I dont think shell blame you. Besides, by the time you help
wean her off the opium shell probably hate you anyway. Or you
might hate her.
Matthew stared. What are you saying?
Antony finished rinsing his instruments and looked at his friend
directly. It wont be her fault. Its an illness. There is a cure, but its
not a pleasant one. You have a choice here. Are you sure you still
want to marry her and nurse her? No one will think any the less of
you for admitting youre not up to the task.
She needs me. I have to make certain I am up to it.
Forcing yourself is not going to help her, Antony warned.
Force. Aye. My forcing her certainly didnt help, he said bitterly.
But thank God I wasnt really rough or out of control. With some
women, like Matilda, yes, if they ask for it. I know what Im capable
of, and it revolts me. But I should never have kept her tied. Even as
a game.
Yet some couples enjoy it, the doctor pointed out mildly.
Matthew shook his head. Not me before, not ever. Matilda used
to try to persuade me. To do it to her, and especially for me to let
her. I cant bear the thought of compulsion. Philip has told me

enough stories about his old life to make me cringe just thinking
about it.
Yet as soon as I touched Althea, I was so excited I couldnt stop,
even when she said my name the first time. I should have
suspected something then. But no, I just plunged on heedlessly like
some ravening beast.
Dr. Herriot saw the tears brimming again and said gently, It was
an honest mistake. A shocking one, true, but how on earth could
you be expected to have known it was your cousin.
"And no, you didnt cause any of these injuries, if thats what
youre worried about. None of them are fresh. They're all a few days
old. And I dont think you were excited because she was bound, but
because she was beautiful. She is, you know. Theres nothing to be
ashamed of for wanting someone so lovely.
And so young. Not even eighteen yet, Matthew said bitterly.
The doctor shrugged one shoulder. Many women marry at
sixteen. Some even younger.
True, but I wanted her to grow up a bit more before- And wanted
to set my house in order, so to speak. He sighed. Well, too late
now.
He looked at his friend sharply. You sound like youre gritting
your teeth to perform some unpleasant duty, Antony accused.
Not at all. Just being practical. I knew I was on the wrong course
in my life, and wanted to do better. I'm not complaining, I just hadnt
thought to marry so soon. Everything you said about my raking
before was true. So I do admit it. Even beyond all the obstacles you
warned me about, marriage is going to be a big change in my life.
And I certainly dont know how Im ever going to make myself a
better man so that I can truly deserve her.
You can work to be worthy of each other, Antony said in a
reassuring manner.
But you dont understand what a monster I am. His voice
dropped to a low groan. I actually enjoyed it. Enjoyed her. She was
the most incredible woman Ive ever touched in my life. And the
worst thing is, even after everything thats happened, all I can think
about is how much I want her. I still desire her so badly I can taste

her. What sort of man does that make me? Nay, not a man at all,
but a beast!
Antony shrugged and shook his head. Its not as if shes a
complete stranger. Youve been intimate with each other for years
emotionally, if not physically, through your being close cousins. Ive
suspected from the way youve spoken about her in the past that
you hold a great deal of warmth and tenderness for her. Shes an
incredibly lovely woman. Id say it makes you normal.
Matthew gaped. Bound and gagged? Normal?
It was only supposed to be a game. Two consenting adults, no
one getting hurt. Did she- He paused, not thinking Matthew was
really ready for the question.
Did she what? Matthew demanded.
Did she what? he asked more sharply when his friend remained
silent for some time.
Dr. Herriot flushed red. Well, you enjoyed Althea."
Matthew felt his face flood with color as well. "Aye, too much, to
my mind."
"Then the question is, did Althea enjoy you?

Chapter Five
Matthew scowled blackly, and cursed under his breath. But he
considered the question seriously. At length he replied, I think so.
Yes, yes, she did enjoy me, after the initial pain left her. I'm pretty
sure I know women well enough to be sure of that. at least.
"And it wasn't like I was setting out to hurt anyone. It wasnt just
sex for me, much as it started out that way. I wanted her to be
happy, to be pleased and enjoy it, even when I thought she was just
a paid companion.
Dr. Herriot nodded and gave an encouraging smile."Then thats a
good thing. A hope you can cling on to. That you can share
something special one day when shes recovered from her
abduction.
Matthew looked at him incredulously. Share something special,
you say? Ill be happy if shes even willing to share the same house
with me, let alone, well, conjugal rights!
Youre being far too hard on yourself.
He sighed heavily and shook his head, then threw himself down
into the chair and stroked Althea's hair as she lay on the clinic
examining table. I dont think I am being too hard on myself.
Actually, I've been forced to take a long hard look at myself for
some time now. The debauched and empty way Ive been living,
well, this is just a sign I was right all along. That I need to seek
redemption before it's too late."
"But not through marriage, surely, not if you aren't willing to face
up to your responsibilities as a husband."
Matthew shook his head. "No, I mean even before this
happened. Ive been regretful for a long time, ever since I broke up
with Matilda and realised how much time Id wasted with her, and

upon women like her. Women not even fit to be in the same room
as a woman like Althea. So this has to be a sign. After what
happened last night, it really is the last straw. My days of raking and
prowling in brothels are over.
Speaking as the head of a clinic for fallen women, I cant say Im
sorry to hear it, Antony said drily, pulling up a chair beside his old
friend. I do hope you stick to your resolutions. But dont let this one
incident take all of your joy out of the act entirely. Youre a good
man who deserves to be loved by a good woman. I feel sure Althea
can be that woman, and you an excellent husband in time. Dont
doubt or reproach yourself, and above all, be honest with her about
how you feel.
Honest? What man is ever honest with a woman? he asked
disparagingly.
Dr. Herriot gave him a pointed glare which in any other man
would have been called ferocious. A man who loves and cares for
her. You need to stop thinking like a rake and start thinking like a
true Rakehell. All of the married ones adore their wives. Philip and
Jasmine are inseparable. Hes had more sexual liaisons than Ive
had hot dinners, yet he would never stray. So has Randall, and look
how happy he is. You can reform. You can build a satisfying
relationship on every level with Althea if youre both patient and
truthful. Just dont judge yourself too harshly.
And now, he said, looking over at Althea and seeing she had
opened her eyes, I think she needs some warm broth.
Matthew watched carefully as Antonys assistant Clarissa fed her
from a beaker, and then insisted he wanted to do it himself.
Always test with your wrist to see it wont burn. Like feeding a
baby with a dummy tit, the Cockney assistant advised as she
watched him.
Ive never fed a baby, he admitted distractedly, all his
concentration focused on Althea and doing things right for her.
Anything to get her better, no matter how intimate or even revolting.
She gave him a withering glance. Aye, typical man. Have your
fun and run. You rakes are all the bloody same. Think youre
summat special cos you twiddle your tiddler about. Roger virgins
left, right and centre, then call them whores. A man enjoys dozens

of women, hes a buck, stag, stallion, stud. Girl does the same,
shes a slut. You all make me sick.
Matthew instantly began to rise to his own defence on instinct
alone. Now see here-
Aye, I know, youre going to tell me youre different. Every man
does. That the girls enjoy it too, so wheres the harm? That all you
have you have to do is walk into the room and they wet their
knickers. Or that they really mean yes when they say no. Or that just
because theyre working girls, you can do what you like with them.
That its all a bit of fun and no one will get hurt."
"Now I never said--"
You don't 'ave to. Well, you mark my words. If you dont give a
damn about the person your swiving or she doesnt about you,
someone is bound to get hurt. Just have a look at all the women we
have here. Or go to a madhouse or orphanage if you dont believe
me.
I am different. Ive always been careful and-
Then how have you come to be here? How did this poor lass get
this way?" She pointed at Althea's bruised face. "Even if you didnt
do all this yourself, men like you did. You drive each other on with
your loose talk and never-ending competition to be cock of the walk.
You may not have beaten and buggered the girl yourself, but I bet
you know plenty of the kind of men who like that sort of thing. Dont
tell me you dont.
Matthew could feel his stomach churning, and raised one hand
as though to ward off a blow.
Fortunately the doctor arrived before she could lambaste him
further. Thank you, Clarissa. That will be all for now.
Yes, Dr. Herriot.
When she had gone Antony said, I must apologise for her. A
good friend of hers was killed as a result of Chauncey Howells
brutality.
Im nothing like him! Matthew exclaimed furiously. He was a
degenerate and murderer. He nearly killed Randall and lsolde.

You dont need to remind me. He and my cousin were most


fortunate. But its good to put things into perspective. Youre not as
pure as someone like, say, Alistair Grant, but nor are you as
depraved as Howell was.
May the bastard rot in Hell. Along with all of the men who did this
to Althea.
Antony sighed heavily. It might be a sin to say it, but amen to
that. I get so sick of all the depravity in the world sometimes. I look
at your cousin here and I want to burn down every stew in London.
Matthew's handsome mouth thinned to a tight line. That would
be getting nigh on half the Town.
Certainly this district and Southwark would all go up in flames,
he said with a nod.
Is there any more broth? Shes almost finished this.
Ill go get more.
Althea was shivering intermittently, so Matthew piled on more
blankets, and rang for additional hot water bottles.
Im so cold, she stammered between chattering teeth.
Matthew stroked her hair back and looked around futilely for
more blankets.
Dr. Herriot returned with the broth a moment later.
Matthew looked at his friend. Warm bricks, the heating pan,
more hot water bottles? he requested.
Theyre all coming, I promise.
Antony pulled the blankets up to her chin. She was shaking so
badly that Matthew swore under his breath, then laid himself over
her chest to chest, putting his arms around her loosely.
She made no protest, but rather seemed to relax, and soon the
trembling eased.
Just stay there with her," the doctor advised. "Ill be back in a
few minutes. Shout if you want me for any reason.
Thanks for all your help. I wont forget this.

A nice donation to the clinic will be most welcome if you feel


obliged to thank me. And talk to Oliver. I know you think youre a
bad man, but he might put things into perspective about what he
and his brother did. He never stopped to think either. Treated
women like objects. Refused to take no for an answer. Watched
while his brother Adam abused them.
He discovered the error of his ways and thinking. Its all too
common in our society, for all we claim to be so civilised. He can tell
you that you never meant to hurt Althea, or any woman. I wish it had
never happened, Matthew. But dont let this one error in judgement
and startling turn of events when you found out she had been
brought to that wretched place by force ruin your whole life.
I will try.
Antony left to go about his errands.
A short time after his departure, Matthew felt some movement
under him.
I did, you know, Althea said suddenly.
Did what, dear?
Enjoy you, Matthew. Very much.
He jumped, his cheeks flaming. He wondered how much of the
various conversations she had heard?
He peeped open one eye, but there was no sign of
consciousness. He let the lid close and resumed holding her until
the shivering stopped completely and her breathing told him she
was in a deep but more natural sleep.
Antony returned a few minutes later with some hot beef and
barley soup and more blankets. The tea tray arrived a short time
after, and he poured three cups.
You can give it to her when its cooler. In the meantime, go on
and drink up yourself.
Matthew made a moue of distaste. My stomach still feels as
though its been turned inside out.
Then come over to the sink and use a brush and some
toothpowder. Wash your face as well. You look like hell, mate. He

laid out the spare toiletries as he spoke. "And I have a couple of


spare sets of my own clothes as well."
Matthew grinned and shook his head. Thanks. Just the wash-up
will be fine. And by the way, you look like hell too."
I know I do. Too many late nights trying to change the world.
For me its too many late nights swiving like a sailor, and now
this poor child has paid the price.
Now now, thats not the reformed rake I know. And shes a
strong woman to have survived what she did, fought back like a
tigress, I'll be bound. She may look cute and fluffy, but Ill lay you
any odds you like that shell be more than a match for you, Matthew
Dane.
He looked completely incredulous. She was always so delicate
and gentle. I cant tell you how appalled I feel.
You can tell her when shes ready to hear it, but dont ever tell
her youre out for revenge. Shell never be honest with you if shes
afraid of your emotional reactions. Just listen to her talk about it if
she can bring herself to.
Matthew paled. I dont think I could bear-
You need to try. You both need to be honest. Im going to
suggest she talk to a woman as well and a couple of former opium
addicts-
Oh, no-
Its all right. Theyre good people, and it will help them put things
into perspective for her. The worst thing she can do is lock it all
away, feel like shes done something wrong, something to be
ashamed of.
I understand, I think. Its just so hard to even grasp what they did
to her.
I know. But you dont have to in some senses. She does.
Matthew considered this for some time and then said quietly,
The opium addiction. You need to tell me what Im dealing with.
Dr. Herriot sighed. I cant be entirely sure. I dont know how
much or how long Altheas been like this, and what form of the drug

shes been taking. But any of the opiates would appear to have
given her have the same effects. I cant see any redness around her
nostrils, or staining on her teeth, so Im going to guess they simply
drugged her food or water.
Opiates tend to relax the user. They can also make them
restlessness, nauseous and cause them to vomit. She certainly
seems to be very thin. If she vomited they would have had to carry
on giving her more to keep her in a state of torpor, thus making her
even more ill. The drug can cause a person to alternate from alert
to drowsy, unless they drugged her so heavily as to render her
unconscious.
Shes still looking a bit blue, so Im inclined to think they did. The
pupils also become smaller, the skin becomes cold, moist. The
breathing slows down and death can occur from an overdose.
She could hardly breathe when I found her, and by the time I
looked in her eyes I could see the pupils were like pinpricks, even
with a candle shining right in them.
Were lucky they didnt kill her off completely, then.
Matthew tried to fight back the wave of nausea which crashed
through him. Is she in a lot of pain?
No, I dont think so at this stage, Dr. Herriot said in his most
reassuring tone. Opiates produce a tranquil and euphoric effect.
They slow breathing, heart rate and brain activity. They also
depress appetite, thirst and sexual desire. The bodys tolerance to
pain is increased.
She was very thirsty, though.
The doctor moved over to touch her hand. If you look at the
slackness of the skin you can see how dehydrated she is. They
might have been giving her food and water, though I doubt it. And if
she was suffering from nausea and vomiting, she would only have
made her condition worse. Without water, the body becomes
imbalanced, and she can have a whole host of other symptoms. I
think were seeing some of them now.
For instance? Matthew asked worriedly.
Leg cramp, severe anxiety, confusion, or an inability to stay
awake. Faintness that isnt relieved by lying down, or

lightheadedness that continues for two minutes. Weak, rapid pulse.


Cold, clammy skin. So we need to keep getting liquids into her, and
need to build her up as much as possible in the next twenty-four
hours before we have our next set of problems to deal with.
And they are? Matthew asked, feeling more and more hopeless
with every passing moment.
Opiates are addictive. The body comes to hunger for them much
as it would regular food. Take them away suddenly, and she is
going to start to go into whats called withdrawal. Its going to begin
four to six hours following the last dose. I dont know when her last
one was, though.
Can we give her more laudanum just until she starts to improve
in other respects?
We can, but I have no idea how much to give her.
Even a small amount might be better than nothing, right?
I suppose. But I dont like dosing her with a dangerous narcotic.
Cruel to be kind?
He sighed. Yes, thats what it boils down to. But youre going to
need to prepare yourself for the cruel too.
Matthew looked appalled. What do you mean?
If you ever want to wean her off the opiates, shes going to have
a whole host of symptoms, none of them pleasant. She is going to
be little better than a raving mad woman at times if her dependency
is as bad as I think it is.
Shes not mad, damn it! They abducted her! This isnt her fault.
How can you-
Antony shook his head. Im not,
Im not judging her. The intensity of
as I can gather from what Ive seen
the drug was taken, how often and
knowing any of those things.

Matthew, believe me. I pity her.


the withdrawal symptoms so far
really depends on how much of
for how long. I have no way of

Matthew put down the washrag and soap he had been using to
clean his face and the back of his neck. Well, I last saw her eight
weeks ago. I had a thank you note from her on her mourning

stationery about seven weeks ago. She was certainly not ill or raving
or in some drug-induced torpor when I left her. Im going make her
step-brother taste my fist when I-
The doctor gripped his shoulder hard. Never mind that now. The
last thing you need is to stir up a hornets nest over this. Not if
youre in earnest about helping to nurse her.
What do you mean?
Just that its going to take at least a fortnight to get her back to
something even approaching normal, and you cant fight effective
battles on so many fronts. Not to mention the fact that you dont
want to go blundering in and make things worse."
"Aren't they bad enough? I deflowered her, for God's sake--"
"Someone grabbed Althea and treated her barbarously. With any
luck they didnt know who you were when you rescued her. Do you
really want to let them know you have Althea, and run the risk of
them seizing her again to either complete whatever bizarre plans
they had for her, or make sure that she can't testify against them?
He sighed and shook his head. All right. I see what you mean. I
burn for revenge, of course, but even more than that, I need her to
be well and safe. Can you note down for me all the things Im going
to have to look out for?
Antony smiled patiently. Surely. They include uneasiness,
diarrhea, abdominal cramps, chills, sweating, nausea, runny nose
and eyes, irritability, weakness, tremors and insomnia. She can also
have sneezing and yawning fits. These symptoms are usually
strongest one to three days after the drug has been withdrawn.
They can persist for seven to ten days. Her confusion and lassitude
can persist for several months even after all the other symptoms
have disappeared.
Matthew shook his head and sighed. Damnation! I had no idea.
No reason for you to.
Those bastards.
I can give her some laudanum now just to make it easier for you,
so you can prepare yourself for whats to come, but-

He set down the toothpowder tin with a decisive click. No! Im not
going to give the girl more poison while I come to terms with her
desperate state. Dont ever give it to her for my sake. Do it for hers.
She needs to get a bit stronger. Just give her a tiny amount, and
lets try to get some more broth or beef tea or something into her.
Water, anything. If the er, dehydration I think you called it, is as bad
as you say, lets deal with that first.
I can check her urine, see what she is producing, how much,
how dark it is. Those are usually indications that the body is in
trouble. I had one teacher at medical college who swore by urine.
Im sure, Matthew said, lifting one corner of his mouth in a smile
at Antonys small attempt at levity. Do you think we need to worry
about pregnancy?
The young doctor sighed. Not a pretty prospect if we do, but we
need to hope for the best. An opium addict is much more likely to
have a miscarriage, a breech delivery, premature birth or stillbirth.
The babies born to opiate-addicted mothers often have withdrawal
symptoms similar to adults.
My God, how awful. Matthew shook his head.
He checked her again and found she was sweating and
shivering. You need to give her some now. She seems to be
getting worse.
All right, if youre sure.
He ran the fingers of one hand through his thick dark hair. No,
Im not sure of anything. I havent been since I put my hands on her
in the brothel. But we need to do something to stop her suffering.
Antony took out a small bottle and gave her one drop of the liquid
in a glass of water.
No, really, I dont want any more, she protested.
Youre going to be really ill in a few hours if you dont take it now.
Well just give it to you until you start to heal. And your ribs must be
really sore.
She nodded. I feel like Ive been run over by a team of horses.
But I dont want to get all confused, disappear into the blackness

again. And I dont want to lose Matthew. Not when Ive only just
found him.
Matthew felt the tears springing to his eyes. Youre not going to
lose me, lass. Im right here. Were going to be married, and Im
going to stay by your side always. You just need to be a good girl
and take all the medicine, and rest.
She looked at him for a moment, and then did as she was told. A
moment later, Althea lapsed back onto the pillow and closed her
eyes again.
Matthew sat with her patiently, stroking her hair, feeling more
wretched than he ever had in his life.
Oliver returned from his quest a short time later.
Both men stared at him in surprise.
Back so soon? Antony commented.
Aye. There was nothing to find.
Matthew scowled. Maybe if you tried harder to get one of the
girls to talk-
No, you dont understand, Oliver said, raising his voice to be
heard. Theres nothing left. The whole place has been burnt down
to the ground.

Chapter Six
Matthew sat dumbstruck at what Oliver had revealed. The icy
trickle of fear was back with a vengeance, gripping him fiercely as
he gazed at Althea.
We can try to shift through the ashes of the brothel when theyre
cool, Oliver suggested, but I have no real hope of finding anything.
The fire brigade tells me they never saw a house fire burn so
brightly. Fortunately it was detached from the other houses in the
row and on the corner, and the wind was light this evening.
Otherwise, who knows how much damage could have been
caused.
Damn. They might even have killed someone. If not in that
house then the one nearest. How could they just burn the whole
place down like that? I mean, it was a noted establishment.
Oliver shrugged one shoulder. No one was injured, and the
street was alerted when all the tarts did a flit. The fire brigade was
on the scene in minutes, and they evacuated the whole street just to
be on the safe side.
Matthew looked at him. Oliver, I need you to go back up and
down the street. We need information. Everyone in that street must
have known the place was a knocking shop for all it had pretensions
to being posh and exclusive. Servants always talk. Try to find me
anyone who was working there. Chances are some of them might
linger with a friend for a rough lie down if they have nowhere else to
go. Try to find out names, if anyone saw who brought a woman
matching Altheas description there this evening.
And well need to keep tabs on any new houses opening up for
trade. The girls wont suddenly stop. Theyll set up elsewhere
sooner or later. Then we can try to find the right price for some
information.

Oliver looked tired, but when Antony assented, he nodded.


All right, Im going back now, sir. Ill see what I can do.
"Good man. Thank you."
"Not always so good, but doing my best," he said with a sigh, and
departed once more.
Damnation. They were one step ahead of us, Matthew gritted
out, pacing up and down in front of the doctor.
They must have been scared witless to torch the place. And
whoever had it done has to be pretty powerful. A regular patron and
an important man.
What could they be trying to hide?
Antony shrugged one shoulder and handed Matthew another cup
of tea. Apart from the chaps identity, Im not sure. I pray well have
some idea once we can get into place to have a look around.
We? Matthew echoed in surprise.
Aye. We need to know who's responsible. I know we both
suspected white slavers at first, but this fire proves its a lot more
than that. Alistair knows all the top Bow Street Runners-
I dont want the Robin Red-breasts involved in this, Matthew
insisted.
Think about it, though," Antony said as he stirred a lump into his
own cup. "Someone is going to want to know who torched the place.
We dont have to tell Alistair the whole story if youre worried. We
can just say we wanted to track down a friend of Philips who worked
there, make sure she was all right. He would know a discreet man to
try to get information through the proper legal channels. We get the
name of one girl who worked there, and they can do the rest.
Or who knows, maybe the building was insured, in which case
the company is going to send someone to determine culpability for
the fire if they try to collect on a policy. The very fact that it went up
so quickly means that someone doused the place and set it alight.
I see.
You certainly don't sound so eager now. What is it? Antony
asked, staring at him.

Im just worried about dragging Alistair into this. At least not until
Ive married Althea safely and spoken to Philip about what to do.
This fire has raised all sorts of questions.
Perhaps if we work together well all find our answers. Who
knows, Oliver might get lucky.
Matthew opened his mouth to reply, but Althea began to shiver
anew.
Its all right, sweetheart. Im here.
Dont go to the house. Its dangerous. A trap.
But-
Please, you promised not to leave me. Dont go there.
Her tone was so urgent he nodded. Its all right. I wont go. I
promise.
She began to cry softly.
He did his best to soothe her, murmuring, Anything you want,
dearest, just ask. You can talk to me, trust me. I give you my word
Ill try to do my best to tend to all your needs. Just so long as you
know I only want to help you. Do my best for you as your father
would have wanted.
Thank you. She put one hand to his cheek. Im sorry to put you
to all this trouble.
All of Matthews pent-up emotions finally gushed forth at her
sweet apology and he gathered her into his arms and cried as he
had not cried in years. Hot tears ran down into her hair in rivulets,
and he felt scorched by her body, so close under only the thin
sheet.
He longed to bury himself inside her sweet softness, yet hated
himself for the need. It was thanks to him and men like him that the
poor girl had been brought to such a sorry pass.
As he wept, her arms came up around him, and he felt flooded
with peace.
Antony patted him on the shoulder, and Altheas soft slender
fingers came up to caress his cheek and wipe his tears away.

Thres no need to cry, Mattie.


The use of his childhood nickname nearly caused him to break
down utterly once again. Oh Lord, Althea, Im sorry, so very sorry.
She shook her head. Not your fault. You came to save me.
Youve always been there to save me. Remember the vicious dog?
How could he forget? It had been a family legend for more years
than he cared to count.
And the time the horse bolted when I was twelve?
I remember, he rasped past the lump in his throat.
Then there was the time we pretended we were hunting for
treasure in the old ruined monastery, and the wall began to
crumble?
Yes. It had only been a year or two ago.
Except that was on purpose.
He stiffened and looked at her in shock. But who-
But there was no reply. She was already out like a light once
more.
Matthew sighed and sat heavily in a chair, clinging to her hand as
though to a lifeline. Every time he spoke with her he ended up with
more questions than answers.
What had she meant about the house? The house here in
London, or her home down in Enfield? If she had gone missing from
there so many weeks ago, why had he not heard from her stepmother? Surely she would have inquired as to her whereabouts?
Unless she thought she was in London or the country with one of
her schoolfriends? Or some other explanation accounted for her
disappearance?
He kept thinking Althea might have fallen in with some scoundrel
who had wanted her to elope. But surely she would not have been
so glad to see him, and would have said something about such a
sorry state of affairs.
He wanted her awake, wanted some answers. He dried his eyes
with his cuffs and asked the doctor, Can we give her that tea now?

Antony checked the temperature of the beverage. Yes, if youre


sure she is fully awake. Be careful of choking.
He poured it into the feeding beaker, added cream and sugar,
and helped her to drink, supporting her around the shoulders with
one strong arm.
She made a face after one or two swallows. Sore, she
complained.
I know, love. How about some honey? Ill even let you lick the
spoon.
It was another of their shared memories, and a small smile lit her
face.
What was that lovely dessert we would get with the hazelnuts,
honey and pastry?
I cant remember what its called, but I feel sure your old nanny
would remember. We can ask.
Her eyes flew open wide. Mrs. Briggs is gone.
Gone? You mean she left Enfield? But she was supposed to be
a lifetime pensioner.
No, shes dead. Heart attack six weeks ago.
Well, that explained a lot. The old woman had guarded her
charge as zealously as her own mother. Far better than her stepparent. Not that it could have been easy for the woman, being the
second wife of a man who had adored his first wife to distraction,
and had only re-married to try to provide some domestic stability for
the little girl bereft of her mother.
But Matthew had had no use for the woman since hed come to
the house for Altheas sixteenth birthday and the much older woman
had tried to quiddle his cod. Matthew had been completely revulsed,
and had gone to visit less and less.
During her Season, Althea had been up in London, and hed
called upon her formally, but she had looked such a regal young
lady, hed been almost afraid of her.
As had his mistress. Matilda had accused him of being mentally
unfaithful with Althea. At the time he had been outraged and

confused, for hed never really admitted his deepest longings even
to himself. Never dared to own up to the terrible truth: that his love
for his beautiful cousin could easily spill over into pure raw lust if he
didnt keep his desires under firm control, and never, ever allowed
himself to be alone with her.
Shocked at himself and Matildas perceptions, hed vehemently
denied the accusation. At the time hed been convinced that his
protestations were completely sincere. But in his dreams....
Now all he could see was Althea in bed, her ripe young body
spread for his delectation, and he could feel his cullions gather so
tightly he was sure hed burst.
Yet in the blink of an eye he could see all of her bruises, and
wanted to cut off those very same cullions for having driven him to
do what hed done.
Come, love, drink up. Then you can have the honey.
Whos that singing? she asked when she had finished the tea.
Singing? Theres no one.
I can hear someone singing Barbara Allen.
He looked at the doctor in confusion.
Addicts can often hear things, he said with a shrug. And feel
them too.
A short time later she began to scratch her hands repeatedly until
they began to fear she would draw blood.
We need to stop her. Her nails are filthy and ragged.
Antony nodded. They must have kept her imprisoned
somwhere, then took her out for a bath today. Ill have Clarissa
come in and cut them as best she can, and get them soaked and
washed.
Can she have a whole bath?
No. A sponge one is all right, though.
Her fingers were sore enough as Clarissa tried to help, but
eventually they got the nails cut and cleaned with good strong soap.

Then they let her rest for a time, before embarking on the sponge
bath.
Like the kitties claws, she said with a fond smile. Right,
Mattie?
I remember. You always had a special cat.
Including the one named after you.
Now he was a most bedraggled and wretched specimen, he
said with a laugh. I have to admit I was quite insulted to have been
given such a feeble namesake.
Yet he went from being a malnourished stray to the best cat I
ever had. A fabulous mouser, and I could swear he understood
every word I said to him. And so handsome, just like you.
Er, thank you, if you think being covered in ringworm and mange
is handsome.
She giggled girlishly. Not when we first found him, silly,
afterwards.
I know. I was just teasing you, sweetheart. He was truly
magnificent, sleek tawny, jet black.
Like you. Except were all still waiting for you to live up to your
potential.
Are you now? he asked coolly.
Aunt Pemberton is.
Well, shes certainly getting one of her wishes now, for Im about
to get married, am I not.
Her face fell. Do I know the girl? she asked in a tiny voice.
You most certainly do. Very well indeed. After all thats
happened, dearest, we really need to be married at once.
She gazed up at him and shook her head. Oh, no, I cant have
you-
Please, Althea, my dear. You know what high regard and
esteem Ive always held you in. I became your lover tonight. I have
to accept any and all consequences of what my ravening lust has
wrought.

But youve never been loverlike towards me, and-


He kissed her hand tenderly, silencing her protest. I'm sorry for
the practicality and lack of romance, but I shall make it up to you
once we are man and wife. We have a wonderful shared family life
together, the same tastes. We were always happy in the past, do
you remember?
Yes, I do. It wasnt just a dream, was it, Matthew?
No, it wasnt. Youve had a bad nightmare, but its over now.
But we cant get back the past. Were man and woman now, not
boy and girl.
They were such happy times. Utter bliss. All the more wonderful
for having shared them with you. He clamped his mouth shut when
he realised what hed said. You can be happy again.
Clarissa indictated the sponge. If youre going to be making an
honest woman of her, Id better teach you how to tend to her needs.
Watch and learn.
His mouth went dry as the sheet was peeled back, baring her
lush charms to his avid gaze. He nearly swallowed his tongue as
she pressed the sponge into his hand and said, Here, now you try.
Er, um-
Its all right, Matthew. I trust you. You can touch me. I wont
break.
Hands trembling, he washed the other half of her body, though
when he got to her feet he balked.
You can do her back, Clarissa, if you dont mind. I dont think
shes too happy with most people touching it.
Matthew saw Althea's face go white, but the helper reassured
her, "There, there, dear, be done in a trice. Clarissa gave her a few
efficient swipes.
There now, all done, Matthew said with a significant look at the
woman which she interpreted readily enough.
Ill get her some more ointment and clothes to put on.
Thank you.

A short time later, Althea was decently clad in one of the clinic's
spare gowns, and reclining on a pillow drowsing.
Matthew looked out the window and saw dawn was breaking. He
shivered. It had easily been the longest night of his life, and was by
no means over. He needed to get her to a warm safe place, and
knew that the battle to save her from her addiction was only just
beginning.
Antony gave him some ointment, and laudanum for emergencies,
and a few more last-minute instructions, then had one of the porters
go around for a cab from the livery stables.
Send a note around if you need anything. Otherwise Im going to
go home to get some sleep, and Ill come in the afternoon.
Thanks, Antony. I wont forget this.
Say hello to Philip and Jasmine for me.
I will.
He gathered Althea in his arms, and with a last heartfelt thank
you to everyone, slipped out the back way and into the waiting cab.

Chapter Seven
It was an ungodly hour to be knocking anyone up, Matthew knew,
but Althea had to come first. He felt sure his worldly Rakehell friend
Philip Marshall would understand once he explained. Though he
hardly understood himself how this had all come about.
Once the butler had opened the door, and fetched Philip and his
wife, things moved at a whirlwind pace which was both astonishing
and gratifying. The taxi was paid, Althea brought inside, and then
food and rooms, fresh linens and changes of clothes, a hot bath for
Matthew were all produced with lightning efficiency.
Matthew looked around the charming gold and cream room with
relief a short time later.
Im going into the bath, pet. Ill be right on the other side of the
bathroom door. Jasmine is going to help you get ready for bed.
Althea opened her eyes to look at him sadly for a moment, but
nodded.
He didnt waste any time, but got into the steaming water and
scrubbed himself until he was raw. Yet still he felt sullied by what
had happened that night. At least the remaining evidence of his
depravity, and the trace of her sweet feminine fragrance was gone.
His desire coiled and clenched within him, but it was the last thing
he wanted to think about.
He donned the nightshirt and shrugged into the dressing gown
his kind hostess had provided, and came out to see Althea in bed
lying propped against the pillows. Jasmine was brushing her hair
and plaiting it, so he went out to seek his friend and give him a few
more details other than that Althea had had a dreadful experience.
He found him in a small study a couple of doors down, and
quickly told his tale of woe.

Its a most bizarre story, but not unheard of, alas, Philip said
with a sigh at the end of the narrative, watching his friend drink
some brandy he had pressed into his hands to calm him. I recall
running into Lettie Monroe in Covent Garden once, just after I got
back from Australia. Her sister was engaged to Lawrence Howard,
ended up marrying his brother, you might recall.
Aye, good man, Lawrence. Scholarship boy. Went off to be a
tea planter. Used to be great friends once, until-
She was seized by a man shortly after he left England. Was rife
and riddled with disease. I got her into a sanitorium. Ended up
meeting with a bad end, though. Drowned in the bathtub when they
werent watching her.
How dreadful.
It was very sad. She was a damned fine girl.
You were a damned fine man until everything-
Philip shook his head. Please, lets not dredge up the past. I
merely mentioned it to tell you that it does happen. Except that you
were fortunate enough to have come along in time to save her.
Fortunate for myself above all, now that Ive enjoyed her,
Matthew growled. Damn, how could I have been so stupid and
blind!
Philip shrugged. We see what we expect or want to see. If its
any consolation, I made a similar mistake with Jasmine. Thought I
was bedding her sister. Turned out she had a twin. Best damned
mistake of my life, as it turned out. Though it could have been a
disaster if Jasmine had been any less of a woman. And if I had
persisted in my folly."
"Folly?" Matthew echoed witha frown, before draining his glass.
"I had only wanted to roger her sister for revenge."
"Oh dear."
Philip nodded grimly. Quite. But Jasmine's kisses, her eyes,
were enough to tell me she and I could have so much more than
mere intercourse if only I put the past behind me and trusted to
love. To tell you the plain truth, old chap, I rather wondered if you
werent half in love with Althea all these years.

Matthew began to defend himself more as a reflex than anything


else. I never laid a finger on her before-
No, thats not what I meant. She is good, decent, a truly fine
woman. No, I just meant how you light up whenever she comes into
a room. Shes a lovely girl, and you could do a whole lot worse. In
point of fact, you have done a lot worse with your last two
mistresses."
Matthew fumed. "I say! Steady on."
But Philip continued, "What a pair of dragons. Youre lucky you
kept the family jewels. Strange how both of them looked a bit like
Althea.
Matthew could feel himself reddening with shame and ire. Are
you saying-
Philip clapped him on the shoulder reassuringly. All Im saying is
youve been searching for love for a long time. I doubt you expected
to find it in these circumstances. But shes with you now, and
judging from the look of her, she needs you.
Needs me? Shes been sodomised half to bloody death and
drugged, beaten and practically raped by me. She must loathe me.
Were you violent with her? Philip asked with a frown.
No, but still. It was hardly the lovely romantic wedding night that
most women have the right to expect.
But she didnt say no? he asked quietly.
No. She wanted to leave, told me she was in danger. But she
didnt say no. In fact, she said she had always admired me, he said
with no small degree of wonder.
Good then. Stop kicking yourself and start thinking about getting
her well and happy again.
Jasmine came out of the room into the corridor now and called,
Shes ready for bed.
Oh, no, Im not-
Nonsense, of course you are. She wants you to stay with her.
Its going to be the hardest thing youve ever had to do in your life,
but it will be worth it.

Philip pushed him down the hall. And my wife and I will help.
Were going to send for Blake too. Hes only just left the City. We
can get a messenger to call him back.
Oh, no.
Really, hell be happy to do it, she reassured him.
Thanks all the same, Jasmine, but he must hate me for having
paid my attentions to Arabella before they were wed.
No, not at all, Philip said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Any fool could see they were meant for each other. You didnt
stand a chance. Besides, though it isnt common knowledge, Belle
was assaulted by Adam Neville on her wedding night."
Matthew stared, stunned. "What?"
"I will spare you the details except to say they were similar,
though at the time he thought she had been raped. She was beaten
so badly that she lost her memory for a time. So Blake can advise
you as a doctor, and someone who has had to be really patient
while his wife recovered from her terrible ordeal.
Is she all right now? he asked, wide-eyed.
Yes, really. She's fine now, and they're both happy. Blake is a
good doctor, and an understanding friend. He can do a lot that
Jasmine and I cant. And once youre back down in Somerset, he
has a wonderful assistant, Eswara Jerome.
Married to Martin?
He nodded. Thats right. Lovely lady, and her son from her first
marriage is a student of Blakes. Shell be a big help, a woman
Althea can talk to truthfully.
We wont be able to go down to the country until she is better.
Just keep a low profile, then. Word has it Matilda is looking
everywhere for you.
But its over, he said in exasperation.
Jasmine gave a knowing look. She isnt the type of woman who
takes no for an answer, and will be desperate to discover that such

a big fish wriggled off the hook. As soon she hears youre married,
shes going to go wild.
Matthew paused on the threshold of the room. Who said
anything about-
Oh come now, Philip said impatiently. Youre smitten with
Althea. Always have been. And she needs your help. Youve ruined
her chances of a good match, and only a man of the world like
yourself can understand and help her, not judge her. And the
danger to her isnt over.
How do you know so much? Matthew asked, his eyes
narrowing suspiciously.
Call it a gift-my intuition. Its won me a fortune at the gaming
tables when Ive chosen to play. Trust me. You and Althea will be
blissfully happy if youll only give each other time.
You sound awfully sure of yourself.
Philip flashed him a grin and hugged his wife around her
shoulders. Ill bet you anything you like.
Jasmine grinned up at him. Im going to go see about some
breakfast for us all. Well send a tray to your room. Ring if you need
anything, and call us if you want some help nursing Althea.
Thank you, I will.
In the meantime Ill find out what Olivers been up to and make
some discreet inquiries. I also think you need to find out what is
going down in Enfield. Write Althea an innocent enough letter
asking how shes faring so they wont suspect youve got her with
you here. I shall go down ostensibly to visit my cousin Angelica and
her daughter Patrice, and see whats what. Stop in to see Althea,
dont you know.
Wont her step-mother wonder who you are? Matthew worried.
Im counting on it. We need to flush out the guilty parties. They
need to give a good accounting of whats happened to her.
But you might be walking into God only knows what kind of
situation, putting yourself in danger too. Not least because her stepmother is a predatory wench if ever there was one.

Philip gave a dismissive wave. I can handle women like her.


Literally.
Oh, no, please, I dont want you and Jasmine to suffer because
of-
Dont worry. Im nothing if not subtle, and I wont touch the old
viper if thats what youre worried about. Never fear. Ill just let her
do all the work. Nothing like the power of suggestion.
Matthew stared at him in wonder. You certainly do know how to
play the game a lot better than me.
Oh, Ive learned a few things about women over the years,
Philip said with a shrug. Though I can honestly say that I thought I
knew it all until I married Jasmine and then met Eswara. No, dont
look so scandalised. Shes a healer. I hated my body for having
been defiled and degraded when I was a quean. But the human
body is a lovely thing. Eswara can help with that too. Shes done
wonders for our love life, which was already sheer magic to begin
with."
"That sounds, well, wonderful," Matthew said, then shook his
head. "But I'm not so sure..."
Althea is going to need to know that her body is a lovely thing.
Just as yours will be to her if it is to you. You hate yourself at the
minute, but in time-
But Matthew wasnt fully listening. Magic. Yes, its what I felt for
Althea last night. It was the most incredible sensation being with
her.
Good. So enjoy it. Explore it together.
Matthew frowned. Marriage is such a big step.
It is. But youre ready. And so will she be, in time.
Jasmine returned just then with toast and tea and some
scrambled eggs. She indicated that he should follow her.
Matthew peered through the crack in the door and they went in.
Althea looked glad to see him, and did her best to eat. She
couldnt quite manage the toast without soaking it in the tea. Every

swallow was like a knife through his heart as she winced in pain, but
she was eating, and that meant regaining her strength.
Philip and Jasmine hovered outside the door. When the tray was
empty, Philip asked, Antony has told you what to expect, hasnt
he?
Yes, he has, Matthew said grimly.
Well have broth and hot water on the go all the time down in the
kitchen, Jasmine informed him. Anything else you need, let us
know. And dont be ashamed to admit youre tired, or need help.
Thanks, both of you. Youve been real friends.
Dont mention it.
"But I have to. I don't know what I would have done without you
both being so understanding."
"Glad to do it, and so will any of the Rakehells be happy to help if
they can, Blake, Eswara, just let us know what you need."
"Thank you." He embraced them both briefly, then shut the door.
When Matthew closed the door, she opened her eyes wide for a
moment. Poignant relief flooded her features and she lapsed back
onto the pillows.
Is everything all right? he asked softly. Do you need anything?
Im still so cold.
He opened the door again and asked Jasmine for more blankets,
which she promptly fetched herself.
He bundled Althea up as though she were living in the frozen
north, and then began to disrobe. But the prospect of being so
scantily clad in the bed, being so close to her, marrying her, made
his head swim.
He put the robe back on. He thought about popping his head
back out and asking for a trundle bed, but Althea had other ideas.
She mewled, Im still so cold, and began to burrow even more
deeply under the covers.
He stoked the fire and gave her his dressing gown, but she was
still shivering.

Can you please hold me? she asked in a barely audible


murmur.
Darling, I mustnt-
I trust you.
I dont trust myself, Althea. What if I roll on you in bed, hurt you
by accident? Touch you in an unseemly or painful way? he said in
an agonised whisper.
She opened her eyes to gaze at him steadily. I dont blame you
for what happened.
But I blame myself. For a whole host of reasons. Not least of
which is the fact that I should have checked in on you in the past
few weeks, instead of turning tail and fleeing from my importunate
former mistress.
Former? she asked softly, with a trace of surprise.
Aye, its been over for months now. But Matilda still keeps
angling to get me back. She wont succeed, so theres an end to it.
Still, I heard some of what you said to Dr. Herriot. If theres
someone else you wish to marry-
Oh, my dear, he said sincerely, theres never been anyone Ive
wanted to marry until now.
Me? she asked with a winsome smile.
You, he confirmed, without an ounce of hesitation. I only hope I
can make you happy. I really do want to try. I just dont think Im
very good at it. The whole marriage and family thing, I mean.
Well learn together. Now come to bed.
No, really, I shouldnt.
Then put your back to me. I can hold you to stay warm, and
promise not to compromise your virtue. Only hurry. Im freezing.
He laughed slightly and did as she asked, throwing back the
covers quickly and sliding between the sheets.
He put his broad back to her, and her arm came around his
shoulders. Her delightfully full breasts pressed against him like red-

hot brands, and her warm lap caressed his buttocks. He was sure
he was never going to be able to fall asleep...

Chapter Eight
He might have known the peace could never last.
Matthew awakened with a jolt several hours later when he heard
Althea groan.
Oh God, I think Im going to be sick.
She was spectacularly ill into the basin, and began to complain
about how cold she was again. Her nose was running, her eyes
tearing. She was sweating so heavily she had almost soaked
through all the layers of bedclothes.
Philip came in response to his ring, and immediately went for
more linens. I think you need to give her some laudanum. The
dose shes been taking has probably been great, making her
weaning process that much more of a shock to the system.
Matthew wasnt so sure. He changed her and the bed, and then
hoped she would settle back down. But as she began to get more
and more nervous and agitated, and confused, and threw up all the
broth he gave her a short time later, he gave in and put one drop in
water.
Philip returned a short time later with a pile of night rails and told
him Jasmine had gone out to buy more. Then he sent in the
servants to clean the room, and the process began all over again.
She slept well for several hours, but woke up confused and
shaky, and became ill again.
Antony came to visit as promised, and told Matthew he just had
to ride along with whatever her body had in store for her. I would
carry on giving her one drop. I think Philip is right. Even a tiny bit
until she starts to get stronger might be best. Shes going to pull a
muscle in her stomach or chest if she keeps being so violently ill.
After he left, Philip came in and said, I took the liberty of
sending round to to Tavistock Square. Youre in luck. Jonathans

here in Town with Alexander and Sarah. Ive asked him to call. And
Blake will be here soon, Im sure.
Thank you.
I just told them you needed help. Ive left it to you to explain the
exact circumstances. You can use my study.
Matthew swallowed hard, then said, Listen, this wedding. I
would appreciate you standing up with me. I know Randall will
forgive me given all thats happened, and youve been a good
friend. Im sorry about that whole rivalry thing over Arabella-
Philip shook his head. Dont even bother to mention it. I was only
helping Blake, not offering for Arabella myself. Water under the
bridge. Anyway, thats ancient history now. All concerned parties are
happily married now except you. Enjoy your bachelorhood one final
hour, and the only bucks party youre getting is a cup of cocoa by
the fire with your friends.
That sounds like heaven to me after all Ive been through, he
said in a tone ringing with sincerity.
Philip gave him a long appraising stare. My, you are a changed
man.
Not just because of last night. I was attempting to redeem myself
even before all this happened. Now I shall have to try even harder.
Philip patted him on the shoulder. Its all any of us can do.
The interview with Jonathan did not take long. Matthew explained
to the vicar briefly what had happened to Althea, gave his word he
had not harmed her in any way, and declared that he wanted only to
protect her through this marriage.
Is your aunt coming to the ceremony? Jonathan asked stiffly.
I would rather leave her out of it, but only because seeing Althea
like this would upset her dreadfully. I fear she would shout what
happened from the rooftops in an attempt to bring her abductor to
justice.
Jonathan frowned. I can understand your caution, but do you
not want justice for her too?

He sighed. I fear it would never be had. It would only open her


up to scandal and ruin. You know the double standard in our
society. No matter how virtuous Althea was, it would be seen as a
black mark against her. Some buck claiming she led him on. And all
the drugs and bruising in the world wouldnt matter. Some people
would still wonder. I dont want my wife and any children we might
have to go through that.
And are you sure youre not just trying to save your own skin?
the vicar challenged.
If you werent a man of the cloth Im make you taste my knuckles
for that! Yes, I admit not wanting to go to jail if they suspected me.
But I didnt harm her. I dread to think what might happen to her if
she is left alone and defenceless. My aunt is a good woman, but
she would never be able to protect her from the kind of degenerates
who did this to my poor Althea.
Jonathan nodded, mollified at last. All right, I believe you.
Nothing irregular has occured on your part, and youre looking after
her own best interests, not just your own. So sorry for the grilling,
old chap. We can get started as soon as you like.
Are Alexander and Sarah here yet?
They were just behind me.
Then we can get things underway as soon as you tell me what
you need.
"I gave a list to Jasmine when I came in."
Wonderful, thank you. Ill just go see how Althea is and explain.
You will be patient with her and the vows, though, won't you? She's,
well, not quite herself.
Jonathan patted him on the shoulder, and nodded his sandyhaired head. Yes, of course. We can take as long as you like. You
need a ring, though.
My signet will have to do for now.
Good then, were all set. You go see her, and Ill just jot a few
things down on paper. Im so glad all you Rakehells are so
romantically inclined. I do so love a good wedding.
Thomass was the first, wasnt it? Or so Ive heard.

The first I presided over myself, yes. Clifford was the first. But
not to worry, there are still enough of you single Rakehells out there
for me to bag a few more, Jonathan said with a grin. Glad to see
your turn is finally coming. And if its any consolation, Im really
proud of the way youve tried to take to country life down in
Somerset. And truth to tell, every man has doubts about their ability
to be a good husband. Especially if theyve been a rake. Philip past
was a bit different, but he's found happiness despite his past. And
Randall has settled very well. With some hard work, love and
patience, you can do the same.
I do love Althea, honestly. Adored her for years. Worshipped
her.
She has feet of clay like everyone else, the vicar warned.
Matthew grimaced. Hah. If hers are clay, mine must be dung.
Jonathan smiled indulgently. If you love her and want to make
her happy, all will be well, I promise. I was no rake, but I was also no
virgin when I married Pamela. None of us were when we wed. But if
you keep telling yourself how much you stand to lose if youre ever
unfaithful, it will keep you out of temptations way.
I will try to remember. Thanks. He took a deep breath and blew
it out shakily. Ill go up now. Philip will show you the way.
See you shortly.
Matthew went up to visit Althea, and saw that Jasmine had clad
her in a pretty nightgown and robe set embroidered with roses. She
had brushed out her hair and applied powder to the worse of her
bruises.
Look at you, how pretty you are, Matthew said with a tremulous
smile and a heart brimming over with so much love and suppressed
emotion that he thought it would burst. Are you all ready for the
wedding?
I am. But you might want to borrow something from Philip?
Matthew looked to Jasmine. She nodded. Weve laid out a
couple of choices for you in that little room down the hall. Take what
you need.

Thanks. Youre an angel. Back in a minute.


By the time he returned, the three couples were all assembled
and Matthew took Altheas hand. His knees felt weak, and he hoped
he was not going to stumble too badly over his vows, or choke on
them. But no. He loved Althea. He just had to try to come to terms
with the suddenness of it all, and what he had done.
She had been his benchmark by which every other woman in his
life had been measured, and come up short. He had no cause for
complaint, no reason to repine. He only prayed the same would be
true for her.
He was too worldly to consider himself devout, but he found
himself praying harder than he ever had before. And wanted to try
to do better, at least attempt to match some of her piety.
She looked so innocent and fresh in the embroidered night set,
he had all to do not to kiss her senseless. He was all too aware of
the rise and fall of her perfect breasts under the thin lawn fabric
Could swear he saw her delicate pink nipples blush through the
folds. His mouth went dry and a frisson of desire peaked him.
Damn. A full blow cockstand right in the middle of his wedding, and
his bride with two black eyes. What a bastard he was.
That thought sobered him, and he dragged his gaze away from
his brides bosom and tried to concentrate on the service.
Jonathan kept the ceremony simple, but offered Matthew some
words of comfort in the circumstances through his choices of text.
Since his friend had been named after one of the four evangelists,
he selected Matthew 5: 1 to 10 for them both.
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when
he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth
and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for
they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of
God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
For his general remarks on the nature of marriage, he selected
Genesis 1: 26 to 28. Then God said, Let us make man in our
image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish
of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and
over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon
the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of
God he created him; male and female he created them. And God
blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill
the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves
upon the earth.
He continued with Mark 10: 6 to 9 and 13 to 16, But from the
beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this
reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his
wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two
but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man
put asunder.
Like Ruth in the Bible, Matthew is going to be giving up her
home to join with you. As it says in Ruth 1:16 to 17, But Ruth said,
Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for
where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people
shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die,
and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also
if even death parts me from you.
In turn you are giving her a solemn undertaking to forsake all
others and cleave only to her. As the Lord reminds us in John 15: 9
to12, As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my
love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just
as I have kept my Fathers commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and

that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you.
If you keep this convenant, and abide my the commandments,
untold joys await you. You shall bring her into your home and create
a new paradise on earth if only you love one another with all your
hearts. As in the Song of Solomon :10 to13, Matthew shall entreat
his bride, Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the
winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the
earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are
in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
Psalms 128:1 to 6 tells us, Blessed is every one who fears the
Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of
your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your
wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be
like olive shoots around your table. Lo, thus shall the man be
blessed who fears the Lord. May you see the prosperity of
Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your childrens
children!
I know everyone here will join me in wishing all this and more for
this lovely couple as they journey down the road of life together.
Amen, was echoed around the room, and Matthew could feel
the tears welling up in his eyes once more as he looked down at
Altheas dusky blue eyes.
Then Jonathan reached the benediction, for which he had
chosen Hebrews 13: 20 to 21. Now the God of peace, that brought
again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the
sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you
perfect in every good work, working in you that which is well
pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory
forever and ever, Amen.
At last they were married, and Matthew smiled and kissed his
wifes hand.
His wife.
He had dreamed of this moment, but had never imagined it
would be like this. But he never even saw her bruises as her lovely

eyes shone up at him. He could not resist then, and kissed her
firmly on the lips. It wasnt an open-mouthed kiss, but it had all the
impact of a battleship broadside. His friends all beamed at him as
Althea stroked his cheek tenderly, and lifted her lips for another kiss.
He resisted the temptation, however, and kissed her hand
instead. Thank you all for your help and for coming. These have
been a most trying couple of days. I have no doubt the next few are
going to be hard too. But I give you my word Ill do anything to see
Althea well. I know you all want to help, and have been most kind. If
I forget to express my thanks often enough, just know that its
because Im so distracted, not because Im ungrateful.
Anything you need, please ask, Sarah Davenport offered, and
her husband Alexander nodded.
Philip said, Ill have guest rooms prepared for anyone who
wishes to stay. Even if you dont nurse Althea yourselves, Im sure
Matthew will be glad to have friends who can help him divert his
thoughts.
They all offered to stay, and Matthew said, Thank you so much.
If I leave the door open, you can come in and help and visit. If we
shut the door its because we need privacy.
Well set up a nursing schedule so you can get some sleep.
Id appreciate a trundle bed made up in here, Philip. Im not
leaving her.
But Matthew, youre going to be exhausted in no time, Jasmine
protested. Everyone here will-
Do their best, yes, I know. But I have to do better even than that.
Althea is my wife now. She means the whole world to me.
Blakes arrival a short time later with his wife Arabella helped
them all get more organised, but he respected Matthews insistence
that he remain with his wife at all times.
You do what you feel you have to. Just tell us when you need
some time alone.
Listen, Blake, I really do appreciate you coming back to Town
like this-

Think nothing of it. Im only ashamed that you would even have
hesitated to call on me.
Well, Antonys been so helpful, he and Oliver. And you were
gone, and-
The tall dark haired doctor clapped him on the shoulder. You
know us. The Rakehells never let a chap down. And if youre
thinking Im mad at you over Arabella, dont be silly. Any man in the
world who didnt want to marry my wife would be a fool and not
worth knowing. He grinned.
Matthew offered his hand and they shook heartily.
And while Im here, let me just say congratulations. I hope youll
both be very happy. As soon as youre back down in Somerset, take
Althea to see Eswara. Shell be much better off talking to a woman.
Thank you.
And come see me yourself if you need someone to confide in,
he said with a long, lingering look at the pale and nervous young
man, a far cry from the worldy and self-assured Matthew Dane he
knew of old. Im going up to my room for a wash. Ill be back.
Philip popped his head around the door a short time later. Im
heading down to Enfield in the morning with Jasmine and the
Davenports.
Be careful.
Dont worry. Alexander is nothing if not clever and resourceful.
Matthew nodded, but all the same, he found himself praying
again that whatever he and his friends did wouldn't end up making
matters worse for poor Althea.

Chapter Nine
Matthew was moved at how his friends had all banded together
to help him, but he insisted on nursing Althea as much as he could
by himself. He dressed her, changed her, fed her, mopped her
fevered brow. All the while her body was so near his, tantalising in
its pink perfection, that his hands trembled. And touched.
And as the days and nights passed, he went on from touching to
full possession.
He didnt know what had come over him-it was if he had taken
some sort of drug that rendered him incapable of rational thought
where she was concerned.
All Althea had to do was turn her face up to his for a kiss, wrap
her arms around him to steady her reeling world, and his tilted off its
axis.
He had no idea if she even knew what she was doing as she
snuggled into his body so importunately at night when they were
alone and the whole house slept. Her fervent breathy cries told him
she was fulfilled, but was this uninhibited response the result of his
skill as a lover, or the drugged state she was being weaned from?
All he knew was that he couldnt resist her. Though he tried to be
gentle she drove him on, sometimes even taking the dominant role
on top, guiding him into her feminine sweetness when he was
scarcely even awake.
Other times she simply stared into space, and he didnt know if
her confusion was from the opium withdrawal, or a deep
unhappiness. He tried to get her interested in the things she had
liked, embroidery, music, reading, but she was so listless it was
heart-rending to see. He got her a kitten and a puppy to try to take
her out of herself more. She fed and attended to their needs, even
played with them, yet not once did she ever smile.

Only when Althea looked at him at times, before he kissed her,


did Matthew ever see a hint of the sparkle that had once lit her blue
eyes. It was as though all of her spirit had been leached out, leaving
this pale and wan copy of the bright, lovely debutante who had
turned the head of every man in London.
Was that how this had happened? Someone had seen her at a
dance, coveted her, snatched her from her friends home, a ball or
soiree? Had a seemingly innocent offer of a lift home turned ugly,
into the abduction and brutality the poor child had had to endure?
When he thought about this, and his own part in her ruin, he felt
his gorge rise once more. Then he would try to withhold himself
from her, sleeping on the trundle bed until Althea would awake
screaming in the night and cling to him hysterically.
Often she would only quieten if he made love to her. He would
start out gently, but her urgent entreaties would drive him on
fiercely, sometimes over and over again all night, until at last her
wakefulness subsided.
Matthew felt appalled at his own need, his lack of moderation
where she was concerned. It was like taking advantage of someone
who was ill. Not to mention the fact that she was after all his wife.
Even worse was him equating himself with the men who had held
her in thrall. Was he any different from them, lusting after the poor
girl? Keeping her under lock and key forcing her to bend to his will,
to eat, sleep, drink, bathe, all at his say so, while he weaned her off
the opium?
He felt so shaken and shamed, he did not even discuss it with
her doctors, and was almost obsessive about keeping her, her
nightrails and the linens immaculate, concealing his deeds from the
rest of the world as his friends came in and out during the day to sit
with her and allow him to get some real sleep.
Antony and Blake had told him everyone was different. That with
some it took them very little time to become addicted, and with
others a very long time to be free of the gnawing hunger for the
drug.
Matthew wanted to be patient, never give up hope, but some
days he wondered if she would ever be back to normal again. Then
he would sigh at the thought. How could she ever be normal again?

Ravished, and now wed. He wondered too if she even recollected


their wedding ceremony.
He felt ragged, worn out, on edge, but he knew this was also
because all their attempts to discover what had happened to Althea
had met with a stony silence that was all the more telling because it
was so utter.
Antony, Oliver and Philip had come away with nothing. If anyone
knew anything, they were far too terrified to say. Again, it suggested
a really powerful man or group of men had been responsible for
what had happened, and would do anything to make sure they were
never found out.
Try as he might, Matthew couldnt even begin to guess how his
sweet cousin could have ever drawn the attention of someone like
that. None of her friends knew anything either. All of them were safe
and well, and seemed innocent of any knowledge of her
whereabouts other than that she had been living quietly at Enfield
with her step-mother and step-brother.
Alistair Grant, despite all of his connections, had no news either,
but the barrister was confident that even if his men or the Bow
Street Runners didnt find anything, some of Philips or Olivers
seamier connections just might.
Philips visit to Enfield had turned up only the fact that her stepmother had seemed a bit on edge, but she had convinced him that
she truly believed Althea was staying with friends in London.
At his cousin Angelicas house though, he did learn one
interesting thing from her shy daughter Patrice. Several girls had
eloped from the area in the past few years. Enfield and its adjoining
villages were not on any main routes to the Town, so this seemed
strange. Equally odd was the fact that none of the girls seemed to
have wanted to attempt a reconciliation with their families once they
had done so.
In most cases, elopements were a bit of a strain and scandal, but
the family usually had to accept that the couple were married, make
some sort of marriage settlement, and the thing would gradually
blow over. If the man were only toying with the girl, she would be

ashamed, of course, and many hard-hearted parents would no


doubt shut the door in their faces.
But Philip had found that all of the girls had been quiet,
respectable, decent, church-goers. None of them had seemed likely
to be very flighty. Their parents were good Christians, loving, not
liable to be so uncharitable as to heap coals upon their heads when
they were at their lowest ebb.
He called upon the local vicars, and they all professed some
surprise at the sheer number of girls, which Philip guessed to be at
least half a dozen in as many years, if not more. Was it possible that
one man had systematically set out to ruin them all?
Unfortunately Althea had not been able to provide any clues as to
what had happened to her. She said she had gone to bed one night
in her own chamber, and when she had next awakened, she had
found herself tied up in a dank, lightless, airless dungeon. She
wasnt even sure if she had been in London or Enfield, and no
amount of coaxing could get her to say more.
The expression in her eyes was enough to convince Matthew
and Alistair not to probe any further. If she did recall any more than
that, now was not the time to ask her. She continued to suffer
uneasiness, insomnia and confusion, and an overwhelming
lassitude which had her husband fearing she was never going to be
well.
As February advanced to March, her bruises had all healed, her
broken bones had mended. Despite Philips protests to the contrary,
Matthew insisted that he had prevailed upon his friends hospitality
long enough.
Blake needs to head down to Somerset. He has patients, and
Eswara his assistant and her son are really at the end of their
tether. So as long as we can travel down with them, so I can be sure
Althea is safe and well, I ought to do it.
I understand.
I cant thank you all enough. Especially you and Jasmine. If
theres anything you ever need-
Lets hope it never comes to that.

"Still, all the same, I'm very grateful."


"I'm just glad we could help her. And more sorry than I can say
that the trail has gone cold."
Matthew shuddered. "It's probably just was well. Let sleeping
dogs lie."
"Still, if any more girls 'elope' from that village, I'll be down there
like a shot, you mark my words."
"Elopement is no proof of a crime."
Philip nodded. "I know, but let's just say I smell at rat."
"So long as Althea is safe, I don't care any more."
"Well I do. I certainly don't want any sister or female friend of
mine--"
His cheeks heated as he thought of his own sisters for the first
time in years. "No, indeed, you're right. By all means, let me know if
you find anything, but otherwise, I thank you for your hospitality, but
it's about time we went home to start our married life."
"Best of luck with it then." He offered his hand.
Matthew took it firmly in his own, and prayed he had more than
luck on his side, for he would certainly need it with the delicate
blossom who had now become his most alluring yet fragile wife.

Chapter Ten
Matthew headed down to the village of Barton near Bristol with
his new bride, and tried to settle into his new estate and get his wife
well.
It was a huge strain upon him, for it all felt so fruitless at times.
He felt he couldnt concentrate on estate business for more than a
couple of minutes before Althea either needed him, or he panicked
and went to see how she was.
For the most part she responded when spoken to, but did not
speak of anything more than their shared recollections of childhood
happiness until he wanted to scream. He felt so guilty over having
ruined her, he almost felt he couldnt bear it when she looked up at
him so trustingly. Or when she sought him in bed in the middle of
the night.
Once or twice he tried to apologise for his base desires, but she
had acted as if she didnt know what he was talking about. He was
sure she was enjoying herself, if her internal rippling and cries were
anything to go by, but otherwise there was silence in the bed, and
any attempts on his part to elicit what she wanted or needed were
met with a shake of the head and a kiss which spiralled out of
control into the ultimate bliss.
Matthew had never met any woman who could make him so
thrilled with one simple kiss. He found himself in a daze at times,
wondering at the disparity between the serene and innocent young
woman he sat with day after day, and the siren he lay with every
night.
For he had never known anything like her kisses and caresses,
leaving him aching for more even as he was in the throes of the
most exquisite satisfaction. He felt as though he could spend a
lifetime making love to her, climbing right up into her to delve into
her deepest mysteries, and still never be able to touch the magic
they felt spiraling within.

Gradually Altheas most unpleasant symptoms began to subside,


and she began to fill out. Matthew had to admit he was both relieved
and worried. For with all of her desperate yearnings in the middle of
the night, he wasnt able to use protectors, and only rarely ever had
the presence of mind to pull away from her at the critical moment.
He was surprised and relieved when her monthly courses
continued unabated, and vowed to try to do better. The trouble was
that his pert new wife just took him by surprise when he least
expected it. He thought ruefully that unless he walked around with
one tied on permanently, he was never going to be really ready for
her.
Even more damnable was his own enjoyment. He had always
been so careful in all his relations, that the unalloyed pleasure of
being with her sans any barriers drove his desire on even more.
And while he enjoyed himself so much now that he felt as though
he had never made love before, his very pleasure seemed to prove
to him that he was even more of a degenerate than he already
thought himself to be for having taken advantage of such a tender
young wife in so barbarous a manner.
March advanced to April, and still Althea seemed to be lost in her
own little world, with the puppy and kitten, some simple sewing, and
a Bible and some poems for company when she was alone.
One of the Rakehells with his wife, or the wives by themselves,
would stop in whenever they got the chance, and she was equally
quiet with them.
They all reported back to her husband that Althea seemed to be
improving every day, but Matthew couldnt see it, much as he
wanted to be hopeful.
Blake told him she needed time. Eswara had visited for five
minutes and said she was not ready, and had departed as suddenly
as she had come, leaving Matthew more concerned than ever that
there was something seriously wrong with his wife and no one had
the courage to tell him the truth.

One day, just when Matthew was at the end of his tether fearing
she was always going to be so listeless and wan, Althea seemed to
look at him more lucidly, and took his hand.
Im so glad youre here with me. And it is a lovely house. A lovely
room youve give me. Thank you for everything.
He immediately knelt and put his head in her lap, overcome by
the tender emotions which flooded through him, dewing his
turquoise eyes.
Im sorry, darling. Im so sorry, she said a short time later.
What have you to be sorry for, love? he asked, stroking her
cheek.
Her eyes held a tiny trace of the old spark he recalled. Ive been
in a very dark place. And clinging to you like a lifeline. But it isnt fair
to you. You look tatty, unkempt. Look at this hair, Althea said,
running her fingers through the overlong waves. Not the dapper
Town gentleman Im accustomed to at all.
A small smile played about her lips as she stroked his hand. He
adored the intimate contact, but unable to accept it for the simple
affection it was, he brought his mouth up to hers and swept her into
his arms.
From the chair it was only a few steps over to the bed. Once
there he removed her drawers with one hand and unbreeched
himself with the other. The urgency of his desire made his head
swim. He planted himself between her thighs and made time stand
still for them both.
Hours later, finally rolling off her and onto his back, Matthew
wondered how he could desire her even after he had climaxed so
many times he was sure hed been drained as dry as the desert.
He was about to fall asleep by her side when he caught a tiny
sound. He glanced at his wife in the deepening twilight, and was
sure he heard a little sob. The sound was like a knife through his
heart.
What is it, Althea? he asked in alarm.
Im sorry, darling, so very sorry.
Why are you apologising now?

For all youve been through, I suppose.


And all Ive put you through.
She looked up at him in surprise. Youve done nothing but try to
help me.
He tasted bile rising in the back of his throat. Ive helped myself
as well.
Is that not what marriage is all about? Helping each other?
Comforting?
Then why are you crying? Id like to try to comfort you if I can,
he said, completely nonplussed by her tears. He couldnt recall ever
having seen her cry, or if he had, it had not been for years.
Its just so hard to explain. I want to put all of this behind me,
these last few months. I want to get better, be well, be a good wife
to you, not this terrible insane woman who-
He put his lips over hers to silence the dreadful words. Not
insane, he said fiercely when he at last broke off the kiss. Ill, not
insane.
Still, I need to start doing things for myself now. I need to be
strong. Ive been foolishly self-indulgent.
Not at all. Youve been ill. Youve needed help. He stroked her
blond curls like a miser caressing his dearest treasure.
And Ive been a burden to you. And I know the huge sacrifice
youve made by marrying me, she sniffed, wondering how he could
bear to be so nice to her when he knew so many gorgeous women
he would rather be with.
After all, she had been in London for months during her Season,
and whilst they had seen each other often enough, he had never
deliberately sought her out.
No burden, for youre so tiny I would no more feel you than a
dandelion seed. And no sacrifice if it keeps you safe and well. Your
father would have wanted me to protect you.
She sighed. Yes, my father. She had been thinking about him,
how much she missed him, how glad he would have been that she

had wed the man she loved. His untimely demise had been a great
shock, and she had been mourning him ever since.
She had just spent the weekend in Enfield and returned to
London to attend a card party at the Duke of Ellesmeres home
when the news had reached her. Shed immediately gone to
Matthews townhouse, only to be told he was away in the country.
No doubt not alone.
His servant had seen her distress and promised to pass on the
message instantly. But by the time Matthew had arrived, the funeral
had already taken place, and shed had to endure it with no one to
comfort her.
Her step-mother and step-brother had never been close to her,
despite her kind fathers best efforts over the past five years since
her mother had died. Her father had decided she needed a
womans hand in her upbringing, and taken on a modestly
circumstanced widow and her teenaged son.
When Matthew had told her he had to leave Enfield at the end of
a fortnight, she had been almost beyond consolation. Now her
fathers death was also a reminder that Matthew had married her
not because he loved her, but because he had felt responsible for
her. He was now well and truly leg-shackled.
Oh, Matthews excuse for leaving had been a plausible one: he
had business to attend to. Mistresses to placate, she had surmised.
She had no idea hed fled Enfield for fear of blurting out his love
for her, asking her to marry him at the most unforgivably
inopportune and grievous moment in her life imaginable.
I think, well, I think Im a great deal better now. You dont need
to spend so much time nursing me. I want you to start going about
your business more, taking care of all the things youve neglected
during this time youve been helping me.
If you like, he said doubtfully.
She got up from the bed, lit a candle, and drew on her dressing
gown. He dragged himself from the bed, shielding himself from her
gaze, though he could not have told anyone why. The room was
redolent of their recent gloriously torrid lovemaking, but a
recollection of her bound and injured made him cringe inwardly.

Althea sat gazing at him, his breathtakingly beautiful body, and


wondered what she had ever done to deserve such luck. But she
felt inadequate, for she had known several of his mistresses, or
known of them, and each one in her mind had been exceptionally
lovely. How could she ever hope to compete?
She was not worldly, wise, experienced. She had no bedroom
tricks with which to keep him. All his mistresses were strong, canny,
hard as India rubber. He had always like them that way, had never
sought out her or her friends at any of the balls, though she knew
her friends would have given their eye-teeth to have even one
dance with the fabulously gorgeous and infamous rake Matthew
Dane.
She could not be seen to be weak, feeble, clinging any longer. A
pathetic opium addict who had been reformed by her patient and
devoted spouse. Patient and devoted, but how loving? For she most
certainly loved him.
But as he rose, gathered his clothes and left her alone without so
much as a kiss, she could have sworn she detected relief in his eyes
that he was being released from his self-imposed duty to be ever at
her side.
Matthew gave his wife one last long look of lust. He had all to do
not to snatch her from her chair and drag her back to bed with him.
But she was his wife, and as such deserved better. Now that she
was well, fully cognizant of what she was doing, no longer in need of
his comfort beside her in bed, he could not take such gross
advantage of her.
He told himself he had given her some much-needed oblivion
from all the worst symptoms of her disease. Yet he had to face the
fact that his uncontrollable ardour might have left her pregnant.
The thought both thrilled and disturbed him. He had a vivid vision
of an adorable pair of daughters and several sons who all took after
her, though he knew that with his own dark looks compared with her
blond ones that was going to be to be no mean feat.
But Althea was so young. How could she be sanguine about
being married to and the mother of the children of the man who had
done little better than rape her? The cousin she had trusted for so

many years, whom she had never suspected of harbouring a


passion for her.
The base fellow who had now let her down, robbed her of the
virtue he should have helped her protect? The bastard who had
kept on using her for his own pleasure and oblivion when she had
been in the limbo of recovery?
It was unthinkable...

Chapter Eleven
During the days which followed Matthew was pleasant and polite,
but he moved back into his own adjoining chamber, leaving her
alone at night unless she had a nightmare, in which case he held
her in a gingerly manner and then left as soon as she was asleep
again.
Althea could sense a certain strain in him, a restiveness which
she ascribed to his resentment at being forced to remain in the
country, though he appeared to be busy enough with the planned
renovations for the house, which he wanted fully modernised with
indoor plumbing.
He was so busy, in fact, that she scarcely saw him except at
meals, and then only fleetingly. He assigned a maid and footman,
Libby and James, to look after her every need, and never to leave
her alone for an instant.
But there were some needs which could not be catered to by the
servants. Althea missed his soothing presence by her side as she
struggled to embroider, knit, and trim the new gowns he continued
to shower her with. She tried to be witty and engaging when they did
converse, but it was almost as if there were a brick wall between her
old self and her new. It was so hard to dredge up anything
resembling her sparkling old self from London, and try as hard as
she might, the sense of loss was crushing at times. Her father, her
old life, her joyfully young and exuberant relationship with Mattew, it
was all gone....
Althea could see Matthew looking at her sometimes with what
she was sure had to be disgust. After all, he had seen her at the
worst ebb in her life. He probably couldnt bear to look at her. It
certainly explained why he didnt want to touch her.

He did not come to her bed for a fortnight, by which time Althea
was almost climbing the walls with desire. Every time she had
thought to be alone with him, he had made some sort of excuse and
left her with her maid.
But at the end of two weeks Matthew had to admit he could not
keep his urgent need for her in check any longer. He came to
Altheas room late one night when she was in bed, armed with his
protectors. He had been relieved as well as disappointed to discover
from her maid that she needed linens that month, and thus she was
not with child.
But now that he was certain, he was going to take pains to
ensure that it didnt happen. Not until he had some sign that she
might not view him with complete distrust. The way she sometimes
looked at him, as though trying to understand who he was, made his
blood run cold.
Take pains was the best way to describe their new conjugal
relations, for Matthew was so tentative and hesitant that what
should have sent the blood singing in her veins as it usually did
ended up painful and tepid at best. He tried so hard to rein in his
rampaging desires that he never even thought of her own.
So Althea was dry, unprepared, and the almost brotherly kiss on
her brow did nothing to ignite her passions. He was so stilted in his
posture and movements he resembled the garden statuary.
She lay and endured, trying to stroke his face and kiss him, but a
tell-tale wince was enough to send him flying out of the bed.
I apologise, Madam. It appears I was far too importunate.
But Matthew-
Then she snapped her mouth shut. How could one tell a man
who was supposed to be a consummate rake that he was going
about making love entirely the wrong way?
Althea didnt even get the chance, for he grabbed his dressing
gown and bolted.

A fortnight later he reappeared, gritting his teeth and feeling as


though he had swallowed lead. With a heavy heart he admitted, Im
sorry. I cant help myself. I know we had a rather difficult time last
time, but I had hoped that perhaps you might consider forgiving me
and trying again.
Theres nothing to forgive, darling. You were so severe and
tense last time. I dont understand how it can be so different from
the way weve made love before.
Well, I dont want to hurt you. You are after all my wife, Althea,
and-
She put her finger to his lips, dreading to hear what she thought
he was about to say. She knew he could not possibly find her as
exciting as the mistresses he had chosen and pursued. There was a
sort of alchemy between lovers, she knew. She felt it with Matthew,
but he evidently did not feel it for her.
They got along a bit better when he risked kissing her lips a
couple of times, though they were small pecks only. He brushed her
breast lightly with his fingertips, and managed to relieve some of her
tightness without as much pain and strain. But it was all over in a
minute and had them both gritting their teeth, he with despair over
how much he longed for her even having just been with her, she
with frustration and soreness. She couldnt understand why his
manhood was suddenly as raspy as a dull file, why her body
seemed to be so unyielding and dead to the touch.
Had all the pleasure she felt been only the result of the opium
sailing through her veins? But she had hated every moment of her
captivity. There had been no pleasure then, and she had been
drugged to the point of near-unconsciousness.
There had to be some sort of sensible answer to the mystery. But
what?
Althea got a clue one day when she came upon her husband in
the library sleeping. She knelt to kiss him, deepening the contact
until she parted his lip with her own, and slid in her tongue
sinuously. Her flesh and spirit soared. All of the old delight had
come back to her in full measure
She could feel the moist heat building between her thighs. He
angled his head to deepen the kiss, and his hands came up to tease

her nipples, feather the sides of her throat, stroke around and
behind her ears.
He was about to lift her skirts when the butler interrupted, telling
him Philip had called. That put paid to their lovemaking in an instant,
and with one last peck on the cheek he left her.
Their meeting that night was slightly better, but the grinding
sensation was still there, and left Althea exhausted and tearful,
completely at a loss as to what to do to improve her lot.
Matthew was even more despairing, convinced she hated him
touching her, believing that because he couldnt get the night in the
brothel out of his mind, that she reproached him bitterly too. The
afternoon in the library had been lovely, but one simply didnt toss
ones wife on her back on the carpet or sofa. He had to act the
gentleman, even if his thoughts were in the gutter.
He stood or sat far away from Althea now so he could be sure
there would be no accidental touching. If he did go to sleep, he did
so behind closed and locked doors, he was so fearful he might lose
control in his sleep as he had so many times before.
But sleep brought no relief. Even when it did come, he did
nothing but dream of his wifes luscious body, rendering himself
enflamed, and thus even more terrifying to himself. If he offered
himself ease, a vision of her panting under him was enough to set
him off in an instant, yet leave him desperate for more.
Thus the third month of their marriage passed with each young
person more confused and worried than ever, but with no one they
felt they could confide their deepest feelings to.
Althea was willing to try to talk to Matthew, but he looked so grim
and forbidding, she shrank into herself, and could only peep at him
shyly at meals, until he wanted to hang himself from the highest tree
for ever having made her so miserable that she scarcely dared look
at him because she was so terrified.
Relief from some of their marital problems came from a
completely unexpected quarter. The news of his marriage gradually
filtered out from his nearest circle of friends into the neighbourhood,
and from thence to London.

It wasnt long before his aunt, the redoubtable Society hostess


Lady Pemberton, came to call, and expressed in no uncertain terms
her delight at the news. Delight, and confusion.
But my dear boy, I dont understand. Everyone in the Ton would
be absolutely thrilled. Why all the secrecy?
He did not dare meet her gaze. I feel badly about the
elopement, and Im afraid her solicitors might make a fuss, try to
separate us, he said, standing in the corner far away from his aunt,
feeling utterly trapped.
Lady Pemberton laughed off his concern. There is no need. She
obviously consented. Shes always loved you.
He sighed. She says that, but things change.
His aunt frowned. She would never have married you if she
didnt love you, no matter what might have happened before you
were married.
He started. How on earth could she know... What do you mean,
Aunt?
Lady Pemberton chuckled in a worldly way. Simply that if you
had been cavaulting beforehand and Althea was caught, so to
speak, she would have been distressed, true, but she has courage.
She would never have married you just for the sake of a baby, no
matter what anyone said. If she married you, Matthew, its because
she wants to be a good loving wife to you forever.
He shook his head. Forever is a long time, and Im not so sure I
really believe in love. Or that if it does exist, it can be found in
marriage.
The older woman looked appalled. Her grey-silk-clad back
stiffened and her sharp blue eyes narrowed. What on earth are you
saying? That you only married her because you thought it was high
time to set up your nursery? That youre just going to treat her like a
brood mare? Deposit her here in the country once shes safely
breeding and go back to London to resume your, er, recreations?
I forbid it, do you hear me! You are not to step foot in London
without her for the next six months. And if I find you youve been
quiddling your cod with Matilda or any of the other light-skirts youve
wasted so much time with in the past two years, so help me I shall

cut you off without a penny. Youve married Althea, and she loves
you. Be a man and take responsibility for your marital happiness. Its
in your hands.
I hope so, he said with an unmistakable air of dejection.
She stared at him, never having seen her ebullient nephew look
so dejected in his life. Well, its not in mine. And it wont be in yours
if you make her so unhappy she seeks consolation with another.
Think about it, and stop being such a damned prideful fool. Do
something before its too late. Whatever you think is wrong with your
marriage, try to solve the problem, dont just sweep it under the
carpet."
"I would if I could!"
If youre kicking against your loss of freedom as a bachelor,
consider of all you have gained. None of the hobbyhorses youve
ever had can even come close to the beauty of Altheas person and
character. What on earth would ever give you cause to doubt that
yours can be a love match? Love isnt weakness, you know. It can
be strength. What are you frightened of? Your parents loved each
other. Whatever else went wrong, you can be sure that they did love
each other more than life itself.
How do you know? How can one ever know? he asked, his
emotions surging so powerfully they threatened to choke him.
His aunt sighed. So that was it. Its no one single thing. Its a
million things, little and great. The life you build together with each
other. The nights of joy and the sharing, tenderness, even when
intimacy isnt possible. Holding hands, putting your arms around
each other, being affectionate and devoted, aware of the other
person. Desiring to please her instead of only yourself. Your parents
had all that and more, until your father destroyed his marriage by
refusing to trust your mother. I can tell you for certain, she was
never unfaithful.
Then why-
Lady Pemberton sighed. Matthew had been a self-centred man
for a long time, but perhaps he was ready to hear the whole truth
now. Hear it, and listen, and understand. And open his heart to be
able to love completely and truly at last.

Your mother adored you, wanted a whole house full of children.


Alas, it was not to be. Years passed with you as the only one. Not
even a false pregnancy or miscarriage. Then one day, just after
you went off to boarding school for the first time, she suspected she
was pregnant. Was overjoyed, but fearful she might have made a
mistake, or that she might do something to provoke a miscarriage,
lose the chance of such a huge blessing. She withheld herself in the
marital bed because of that. She didnt tell your father because she
was afraid he would make a huge fuss, be upset, treat her like an
invalid. She was also afraid of disappointing him if it turned out that
she was wrong, or that she lost the child.
She never lost interest in him as a husband, never came to
London to see a lover. She came up to see a specialist. She was
staying with me, told me all about her bright hopes of another son.
She adored you so. Worshipped you. Raised you like a demigod,
which is why you were always a little spoilt and wilful, though you
have a good heart. She bestowed upon him a fond smile.
But I digress. Your mother went out the following day to buy your
father a gift, to make up to him for what she felt was her neglect. To
tell him what the doctor said, explain everything. Share the
wonderful news. Whilst out, she ran into an old school friend, and
agreed to take tea with her.
Her friend met up by chance with a male acquaintance. The
friend went across the street to buy something in a shop and left
them alone. Your father had followed her up to Town hoping to
surprise her, and saw she and the hapless chap together admiring
the gift your mother had bought for your father, a lovely new fob
watch.
Im ashamed to admit that my brother misread the whole thing
completely. He banished her from the house, forbade her to ever
see you, filed for divorce. Named the chap as having had a criminal
conversation with her."
Matthew leaned forward on the settee, all ears as he finally
learned the truth about how his parents' marriage had actually
ended.
Everyone tried to reason with him, me above all. Your mother
was as close to me as any sister could ever have been. But your

father said that even if she had been blameless in London she had
been up to no good for months at home. He refused to believe the
child was his.
She died in childbed, with the twin girls farmed out to a decent
family down on the south coast. I begged and pleaded, but they
were not permitted to be brought up with you, though I can honestly
say, having seen them, that they could not have looked more like
him if they had been stamped at the same mint.
I wanted to raise them mysef, but your father forbade me to
interfere, and Im afraid to say my husband, God rest him, insisted I
stay out of it.
But never mind about your sisters now. Its you we need to
concern ourselves with. After your mother died, your father was
never the same after that, as you know. He became a religious
fanatic, saw depravity everywhere. He no doubt told you you were
full of base desires, which probably goaded you into committing
even more rakish excesses. I understand young people only too
well, their spirit of rebellion.
But what was even worse than his fanaticism was
Her supposed infidelity made him second guess
treachery everywhere even when none existed. He
you were his, though you were as alike as two peas
should have trusted her. They were so happy. Why
believe it was true love?

his coldness.
himself, see
doubted that
in a pod. He
could he not

Perhaps he felt he didnt deserve it? Matthew said softly.


And what would ever give you the idea that you didnt?
He sighed, poised on the brink of a momentous confession,
something he had dared not admit even to himself before. I wanted
to be a good, virtuous man. I wanted to wait, I really did. I couldnt
help myself. Then I was polluted and undeserving, and just kept
right on raking, looking for love, but not feeling I was worthy of it. Of
her.
I dont understand, Matthew. Wait for what?
For marriage. To Althea.
His aunt stared at him in surprise. You mean-

Yes, Ive always loved her, he confessed at last, wondering


even as he did so why the admission did not make him feel better,
only worse. I wanted her for years, even when she was playing with
her little dolls and kittens. She was my soul mate, the other half of
myself. She would hug me in that tender way of hers, and I could
feel our hearts beating as one.
I came up from a trip to the country to see her and missed her
so badly, her smile, her voice, her eyes, that I got drunk. My friends
and I. They took me to a whorehouse in Oxford and I lost myself in
a feast of the senses. And then it was too late, and I woke up hating
myself. Ruined my chances of ever being the kind of man she
deserves, as good and pure as she was. I corrupt and ruin
everything I touch. And I dont know how to love her as she
deserves.
She shook her head. My dear boy, I may be an old woman, but I
know how compelling the desires of the flesh can be. And if youre
telling me you were in love with Althea all that time, you couldnt
possibly have been expected to wait so many years. There are ten
years between you in age. Even if you had wed her at sixteen you
would have been twenty-six. It would not have been impossible, but
for a virile man like yourself, a bit harsh and exacting.
Virginity is the Churchs ideal. No one thinks ill of you for
indulging, only for indulging so indiscriminately and selfishly. Your
mistresses are certainly not discreet. Especially not Matilda. But
then, she was trying to wheedle your head into the noose.
But the point is, Aunt, I wanted to wait for Althea, really I did,
however difficult it was. However scorching were the hot coals in the
pit of my belly, my loins. But part of me told me I was wrong to have
loved her, to have dared to think of her in those terms. She was only
a child. I wanted her to grow up her own woman. I didnt want to
play Pygmalion to her Galatea. I wanted her to have her own
thoughts and feelings and character even if she was the woman I
loved, my wife.
Yet even as a child she was the only woman for me. Her eyes,
her sweet voice, that fresh clean lemon verbena smell. I was a
grown eighteen year old and I worshipped her. But now Ive
destroyed her with my lust.

Lady Pemberton shook her head impatiently. Youre making no


sense. What could make you think you destroyed her? You havent
given her some horrible disease, have you? Or she is having trouble
with a pregnancy?
He looked candidly into her frowning face. No, nothing like that. I
give you my word. Ive always been very careful in both those
regards. No by-blow can ever be laid at my door, I swear it. Nor
have I ever had the clap.
Then I cant understand this excessive concern for her, and selfreproach. She looks a bit tired, true, but happy, truly happy. You
must allow her some grief over her father. Just because she might
seem in a blue funk at times doesnt mean youve caused it. Women
sometimes get like that, before and during their monthlies, for
example, or when theyre with child. All these things get stirred up
inside her, just as they do in you when you are libidinous, or feeling
moody and restless."
He considered these possibilities for a moment, and felt slightly
mollified.
Althea loves you. Please trust that. Dont do anything to dent the
fine warmth and confidence youve always had in each other. You
were friends and companions long before you became husband and
wife.
I would like to remain friends with her. The passion, the sexual
pleasure, is fleeting. My duties as her husband are not.
Fleeting, you say? She chuckled and shook her head. I dont
think so. I may be an old widow now, but Im not so old that I cant
recall long torrid nights with my husband that lit up my days as I
went about my daily chores. You cant separate one from the other,
relegate your love to some dark shadowy place at night only. It
should be joyous, exuberant, whenever and wherever, as long as
you dont get caught. Though sometimes thats part of the whole
thrill."
Matthew gaped.
Oh, aye, indeed. For example, if theres no one about to find
you, you can pretend to hear a footstep, someone rattling a door
latch, or about to draw aside the curtain.

He looked horrified. Aunt, really! Bedroom games from you?


She laughed at his shocked expression. Better for me to give
you some sound advice than for you to become embroiled with that
strumpet Matilda again. The latest on-dit tells me that shes been
seen in the district looking for you. Shes been tracking you down for
months, apparently. Shes not going to be so easy to get rid of, even
when she discovers youre wed. Please dont even give her the time
of day. You dont even like her as a person. I never thought you
would stoop to treating her like nothing more than a convenient.
Matthew winced. It wasnt like that. Well, not exactly, anyway,
he acknowledged with a rare flash of candour. Now that he knew
what making love with a woman he cared about was like, he could
see he had simply used his mistresses as outlets, nothing more. It
had always been only Althea.....
It was, and you would do well to remember it. Matilda is nothing
if not determined. But shes not worth ruining your marriage over.
Once fidelity and trust are gone, they can never be replaced. You
think I didnt have dozens of offers in my day? I was quite a beauty,
Ill have you know. I was no saint, any more than you are. But I was
always, always faithful. Because I knew if I wasnt, I would be
damaging my marriage irreparably.
Even if my husband had never found out, I would have been
taking something away from him. Keeping some part of myself
guarded, secret. Withholding a part of myself I would never be able
to share for fear of the consequences. And dont flatter yourself that
you can keep it a secret forever, Matthew. Someone always finds
out, and in any case, you cant lie to yourself.
I know cant lie to myself, he groaned. I wish I could. For then I
could really pretend I was a good man.
Lady Pemberton sighed. I dont now whats happened between
you two thats made you so upset, but Althea loves you. If she was a
shy or timid virgin on her wedding night, well, thats only to be
expected. But its never going to improve if you dont try to make
things better. She deserves pleasure too. Dont ever let anyone tell
you the physical side of matrimony doesnt count. It cements people
together, binds them, makes them close. Youre an experienced
man of the world. If you cant make her happy in bed, who can?

Matthew blushed profusely. But what if she hates that part of our
relationship? Finds it repellent?
Does she? she asked in surprise.
No, not exactly, but-
Then if she didnt say anything about disliking it, trust her
enough to believe her. Trust and honesty are everything in a
marriage. Its all about talking, telling each other what you like, how
you feel, appreciating one another."
"But she's so young--"
"Plenty old enough, and you are married and deserve to be
happy, and yes, the two can go hand in hand. I know that true love
is foreign to a rake like you, but marriage is different, like nothing
youve ever experienced before. I know you think Im meddling, but
Id give anything to see two of you happy. Whatever problems you
might have together in bed or out, you need to solve them together.
Bringing a third party into this, or even letting me interfere, is not
going help.
Stay away from Matilda and take whatever advice I give in the
spirit in which its intended. Find out what you and your wife both
want and go after it.
I know you mean well, Aunt, really I do. Im trying my best. Im
just afraid it isnt good enough.
She sniffed impatiently. Well, at least youll have tried. Thats
something. Even if you do fail. But you arent a coward or a man
who gives up easily. Youll stand the test of time, and character, Im
sure of it."
Matthew drained his cup of tea and sighed. "Thank you for the
vote of confidence."
Just one final piece of advice. Your raking can only diminish
what you have to offer Althea, so please, try to concentrate all your
attention on making her happy. Let her know shes the most
important thing in the world to you. If its true, of course. She eyed
him sternly. If it isnt, well, you should never have married her.
Matthew gave a small tight smile, and it was no lie he told. Never
fear. Its true. Though at times I wish it wasnt.

Good then. So go into the hot house, make her up a posy, and
do something special with her. Go for a walk, or just hold her and
tell her how lovely she is. Youll think of something. Just open your
heart. Just because your parents marriage failed does not mean
yours will. And just because you were once a rake does not mean
you arent worthy of love."
"Thank you."
Now I shall take my leave of you. Im staying with the Duke and
his wife for a few days. Come see us if you feel like it, though we will
quite understand if you dont.
She gathered her reticule and fan, kissed him warmly on the
cheek, and swept out of the drawing room as suddenly as she had
arrived.

Chapter Twelve
Matthew sat frozen for a few moments, then took his aunts
advice. He went into the hot house behind the stairs, and put
together a small nosegay of African violets.
He adjusted his toilette and entered the small gold and pale blue
parlour his wife had taken to using as her own. Once there he was
at a loss for words, and knelt at her feet.
Hello, Matthew, darling. She looked at the flowers in surprise.
What-
Ive missed you. Come for a walk, he blurted out in a most
unloverlike manner, feeling as bashful as a schoolboy.
Althea stiffened slightly, wondering what bad news he was
working up the courage to impart.
Are you sure? I mean I know how busy you are, and I have this
work to--
Never mind that, he said, flinging the darning aside and taking
her hand. Nothing is more important than us being together.
She felt her cheeks flame with delight, and wished with all her
heart that she could believe his words. But she was so astonished
that she was unsure what to think.
She was no fool. She knew Matilda was in the neighbourhood.
She had overheard the servants talking of it. And what on earth had
occurred between Matthew and his aunt that had had her sweeping
out of the house before shed had a chance to see her for more
than a minute?
Is there something wrong with Aunt, perhaps? she ventured to
ask as they stepped onto the gravel path leading to the ornamental
lake.

Shes very well. No cause for alarm. She sends her regards, of
course, and will be staying with Thomas if wed like to see her.
But why doesnt she stay here? Does she disapprove of our
marriage? she asked, feeling near tears.
Not at all. Shes thrilled. She just didnt want to interrupt our
honeymoon in any way.
It is no interruption, really.
He scowled. A fact I hope to remedy.
What?
Never mind my aunt now. Its a lovely day. I would not have you
cooped up, and I would not like you to go out alone. Ive been
thinking, we really ought to spend more time with each other, during
the day, he hastened to add with a blush.
All right. So long as youre not too busy, she said doubtfully.
If youre not, he said, his tone cool.
No, Im always at your disposal. I would very much like to see
more of you. Day or night, she said candidly.
Then we shall make plans. Starting with breakfast tomorrow,
and every morning thereafter. Then work and calls, dinner and a
constitutional such as this if the weather is fine. And perhaps, if
youre well enough some time soon, a ride?
Im feeling well enough now.
He blushed. I would like to get Blakes advice before we allow
you to embark on such strenuous activities.
She looked up at him, her blue eyes pained. I promise you, Im
fine. I know you fear lasting effects from my ordeal. I do too. I fear
not being able to give you children, for example-
Er yes, um, but I have been taking steps to prevent that in any
case, so you need not worry about for the moment.
Her gazed sharpened perceptibly. What steps have you been
taking, precisely, apart from avoiding my bed? she asked, feeling
chilled to her marrow.
The um, well, protectors. You might have noticed, seen one.

And they are comprised of what, exactly?


Sheep intestines, gut and ribbon.
So thats why Ive been in such pain, then? Not because I was
imagining things, but because it was well, rough and dry?
He winced at her revelation. Oh damnation, Althea, Ive made a
mull with you again-
He began to stride away, but she ran after him and caught his
arm. Wait! We need to discuss this. You determined we werent
going to have a baby, and decided to use those things without
telling me. Now you just want to walk away without explaining
anything?
Its because I didnt want to hurt you.
But you have! Ever since we married, theres some sort of wall
youve built around yourself to shut me out. The only time I ever get
past it is when were in bed together.
Matthew turned away, his turquoise eyes taking on a pained
expression.
We were developing intimacy, or at least I believed we were,
until you started to get all tense and frozen. Started using those
things as yet another barrier between us. Theyre called armour,
arent they? Youve been walking in a suit of armour ever since I first
went to London for my Season, treating me so politely as if we were
mere strangers."
"I'm sorry, but there were reasons--"
You were warm and tender when you finally came down to
Enfield after my father died. But within a fortnight you had your
armour back on and an excuse about important business, and left. I
dont understand. I cant reach you, Matthew, even though youre
standing right in front of me." She planted her hand on his chest and
he froze, stockstill, before he gave in to temptation and kissed her
senseless.
"I want to know what it is that Ive done wrong that merits such
treatment?
He rubbed his face and the back of his neck with one hand and
shook his head. You havent done anything wrong, Althea.

Her patience at an end, she demanded, Then why am I being


kept a prisoner, treated to a life sentence inside and out of this
house?
He started. What do you mean?
We never go anywhere, see anyone. If we do have visitors apart
from the Rakehells and their wives and children, you hang on to me
like you think Im going to bolt or be snatched away from you. That
isnt a full and happy life. And yet as solicitous as you are during the
day, you're, well, youre so cold and indifferent to me at night." She
blushed, but plowed on. "You only come into my bed now as if it
were some sort of business appointment. And even when you are
there, you act as though you cant bear to touch me. As if its some
unpleasant duty or task you feel you have to perform.
His eyes flew wide. No, thats not it at all!
Now you tell me you dont want to have children, when Ive been
thinking all this time that I was a failure in that regard. Plus youve
been using something that feels like, well, an old sock, and wonder
why I dont take delight in the conjugal act as I did when we first
married.
He turned away from her. The less said about that, the better.
She stared at his broad back in confusion. I dont understand
whats wrong. Why cant we talk-
Because I feel guilty over what I did to you, my appalling
selfishness, and the hurt I caused as a result, he said over his
shoulder, staring out moodily over the rolling hills.
But you havent hurt me since except with your armour. It is
natural to feel pain when one is a virgin, and to bleed then. You did
nothing wrong. Im sure it cant be normal to feel pain all the time
when I felt such pleasure before, well, before you started to avoid
me and used those things. If it really is me doing something wrong,
we need to find the answer-
You arent doing anything wrong!
Understanding that they had reached a critical juncture in their
marriage, she stood up to him boldly, surprising even herself. She
reached for his broad bicep, and turned him around to face her.
Hear me out, Matthew. If there is something wrong, we need to try

to cure it. I dont want to be only half a wife, or a disappointment to


you.
You could never be that, he sighed, cuffing away the tears
which had formed behind his lids.
Then stop locking your doors, turning your back to me, she said
gently, taking his hand to turn Matthew around to face her fully.
A surge of pure lust shot through him as he gazed down at her,
though he told himself that was the last thing he needed right now.
Ignoring his surging loins, he said with all sincerity, I dont know
how to do anything else. Ive never been married before.
Neither have I. Do you think we could just try to discover a
happy married life together?
He squeezed her hand. Oh Althea, I want to try. But Im afraid Ill
muddle it up just like my father...
She blinked. Your father? I dont understand.
His expression closed up like a vise. Never mind.
Never mind? But you brought it up. Tell me the truth, Matthew. I
need to know what it is you fear.
A thousand things, he admitted at last.
She took his hand firmly in both her own. Lets just start with this
one then, shall we?
She led him over to a nearby ornamental bench and listened as
he told her what his aunt had revealed.
Its a sorry tale, Althea sighed when Matthew had concluded the
story of the end of his parents marriage. I cant promise to never
give you cause to be jealous, for jealousy is about whats inside of
you, what you feel, see, choose to interpret. But I can promise to be
honest with you always, no matter how unpalatable the truth might
be, or how difficult.
So in the vein, I have to say, darling, the truth is, I miss you in
bed beside me and hate those protectors. I want to have a baby,
though I agree with you that perhaps Im not quite ready at the
moment. But I know there are other ways to avoid it, and at least its
my choice, our choice together. I want to have at least some control

about whats happening within my own body. And Id like to be


allowed to go pay some calls around the district.
All right. I understand. Ill support you no matter what, you know
that. I just want you to be well and happy.
She gazed at him, her eyes shadowed by pain, and squeezed his
hand. I want to, well, I want to take up Blakes suggestion that I go
over to Millcote and spend time with Eswara. I think perhaps talking
to a woman about some of whats been happening might put my
mind and body more at rest.
"And since youre obviously so uncertain about having me go out
into company, we can invite people here. Cards, a soiree. I know
were supposed to be on honeymoon, but theyll think it odd
eventually if we never see anyone except the Rakehells, who only
come to visit for five minutes. I'm not mad, or an invalid."
"No, of course not," he agreed, squeezing her hand.
"Im guessing that somehow your aunt found out we were wed
and wanted to know why she had not been invited?
He gave a sheepish smile and nodded. Yes, rather. Though she
forgives us. Im sorry, Ive just been so worried about those men
coming after you.
She blushed, but said in a low tone, They prized my virginity as
some sort of ritual sacrifice. Thats long gone, so what could they-
Matthew grimaced at her candour.
Im sorry. That wasnt intended as a reproach. She patted his
shoulder and held his hand. He leaned into her, allowing him himself
the luxury of her touch for a few brief moments before pulling away
to stand up.
I shall take you over to Millcote myself.
And I want you to consider talking to Blake about the way you
feel.
The way I feel? he said in confusion.
I know you very well, Matthew. I can see something has been
troubling you. Youve not been sleeping. You have terrible

headaches, youre short, abrupt and tense all the time. It could be
an illness, or it could be, well-
Yes?
You kicking against the restraints of our marriage. Stuck here
day after day protecting me when you really want to-
No, its not that, he denied hotly.
Youre trying to tell me you dont miss the cut and thrust of life in
the Ton? she said, her doubt evident in her tone as they walked to
the stable block side by side, the wind rippling her dark blue day
gown against her shapely legs, which only made Matthew desire her
even more.
Youre forgetting that I was down here for months, for the most
part, before I went up to London to seek some entertainment, as it
were. And for six months I had been celibate. I know my past
doesnt bode well. But Im trying to be a better man.
You are a good man. I just feel this distance between us which
Im not sure how to breach.
He kissed her hand. Its me. Im just not used to having any
woman with me day and night. I dont know how to share. I long for
you, but want to be kind and decent. Believe me, youre a perfect
angel in every way. Im the one whos at fault.
What would you do if I werent here?
He shrugged. Pay visits, make calls, ride, oversee the estate
and the renovations, go see my bankers in Bristol, shop in Bath or
Brimley, read, keep up with my correspondence. That sort of thing.
Then you must do all those same things now, not hide in the
house hovering in case I should need you.
But I shouldnt hide from you either. Ive gone from not letting
you out of my sight, to avoiding you because Im never sure what
Im going to do when I see you next.
I dont understand what changed, why youve become so
diffident.
He sighed. You were crying. Told me you didnt need me to be
solicitous all the time-

I didnt intend to push you away. I just thought you might be


feeling trapped, she admitted, pausing in front of the double doors
to the stable.
Why were you crying? he asked softly, steeling himself for her
answer.
I was thinking about Pa, how pleased he would have been that
we were married. That I missed him, she said, her expression open
and candid, not the shadowy one he had come to dread. I didnt
mean to make you feel unwanted.
Still, I would like to try to control myself a bit more, treat you
properly.
She shook her head. I dont understand. Youve been avoiding
me because you think thats what I want?
Partly. And because I can barely keep my hands off you, and
thats wrong, he confessed.
But I dont want you to.
I need to, dont you see? Youre still not well, and-
She folded her arms and sighed. Its been over two months now,
nearly three. Surely we cant live our marriage as if that one night in
the brothel was a defining moment which we are doomed to suffer
the consequences of forever.
But there is also everything that happened to you before,
Althea, he said in a low tone, shuddering. And I blame myself too
for, well-
What?
For taking advantage of you when you were, um, unwell. You
probably dont even remember, but I-
I do remember. Youre talking about when I was being weaned
from my addiction to opium and I sought your comfort, when we
made love?
He nodded, wringing his hands. I cant be sure that it was really
you, that you really cared about me. And I didnt use protectors. And
I was so afraid you would get with child and that I might be hurting
you, but I couldnt help myself. I mean, you seemed to enjoy it, but

you were also confused with the drugs, and I just made love to you
over and over-
He at last paused for breath, sucking in a great lungful as he
leaned against the stable wall and hung his head.
Matthew, please stop punishing yourself for what's only natural
between us, this, well, passion we share. It must have been very
hard for you tending me like that, but Im fine. So long as I never
have any opium or laudanum again, all will be well. I can only guess
how shocking it must have been for you to see me like that. I can
recall some of my terrible fears, and hallucinations. It was the drug,
not me. Im not mad, and I really wanted to be with you. I can
remember what we shared. I miss it. I adore being in your arms.
I know youre not mad. But nor can I be sure of the um, pleasure
you felt. If it was not still part of the drug-induced euphoria. That you
didnt know what you were doing or saying.
She wrapped her arms around her slender waist, suddenly
feeling chilled. Was it so horrible? Did I shock or disgust you?
He shook his head quickly. On the contrary. I find I can think of
little else but to hold you close.
Then why-
He toyed with one curl, the ache in his chest and loins almost
suffocating in its intensity. Because youre my wife, a good decent
woman. Im told once a week is more than enough. Twice a week
would be overindulging, and-
She stared at him in disbelief. Who on earth told you that?
He blushed. Im told that respectable women do not have the
same level of desire as men. They want it little, we want it all the
time. But our staying power is often brief, far too brief where you are
concerned, though I do try.
And was this one of those bawdy books that pass around the
mens clubs? Oh, dont look so surprised. One of my friends saw
one once. Her brother brought it home to giggle over. Because if it
is, I think its absurd. There are no rules for being married, a
husband and wife being happy together. Our marriage can be as
good as we want to make it.

I may not have much experience in these matters, but I know


what feels pleasant and what doesnt. If you were happy making
love with me night after night when we were first married, then we
ought to-
No, I cant. Its too-
Althea's blue eyes looked up at him in hurt confusion. I dont
understand.
Matthew remained silent. Even he didnt understand how it was
possible to make love with her, have all his needs satisfied and still
want her even more than he had done before.
It had never been like with his mistresses. He had never had
anyone with him every night, not even every week. There had been
the difficulty of assignations, but sometimes even when he had
known Matilda was available he had made excuses, that he had
other plans, and gone home alone. They had had a liaison for two
years, but he had not been exclusive any more than she had. Hed
had a few game Town wives along the way, and shed had her
husband and quite few young bucks in tow.
He hadnt minded. He had never felt the incredible stirring of the
blood he did with Althea. The kind of desire that made him want to
stay in bed all night, every night, not just have a quick quiddle
before heading home or off to the club for port and cards for the
rest of the evening.
It was all so confusing. How could a little tender young thing like
Althea turn his entire world and all he had thought himself certain of
upside down in an instant?

Chapter Thirteen
They walked on in silence, and soon they had arrived at Eswara
Jeromes. Arent you coming in? Althea asked when Matthew
hovered outside the open front door, Eswara having told them to
come right in.
I might as well talk to Blake while Im here, he said grudgingly.
Thank you.
Matthew crossed the road to his old friends house, striding up
the long drive as though on the most urgent appointment of his life.
Blake gave him the same reassurance that his aunt had. If he
was in love with Althea, desire was only natural. Belle and I go at it
as often as we get the chance. Every night, several times a night
when we were first shaking down together. Believe me, once the
children come along and you have scarcely any privacy, youll kick
yourself for having missed out, he said with a broad grin.
I dont want the children to come along yet," he confessed, then
blushed. "It's too soon, she's so young and delicate, and well,
Antony warned me about the hell that the children of addicts can go
through."
"That is true."
"But the protectors, well, she says they hurt. Its taken all the joy
out of it, that and me being so nervous.
You need to have a lot of moisture to use those successfully.
You might want to try some oil, and there are some sponges for
your wife to use if she doesnt mind. Or if she is awkward about
touching herself, you can help.
Matthew stared at them in confusion.
Blake explained patiently.

What on earth?" Matthew gasped when the doctor had finished


illuminating him. "I couldnt ask her to-
Blake laughed. If shes with Eswara, I imagine that is the first
thing shes telling her. You dont have to be a slave to your passions
or biology, but can make decisions for yourself about having a child
or not. Neither of these methods are completely foolproof, but a lot
better than the alternatives. Now lets go on to this idea of yours
about what decent wives versus naughty women do and dont do.
Matthew blushed as Blake gave him a list of ideas to put the
romance back in their lives. He was sorely tempted and titillated, but
shook his head. But she was assaulted so cruelly.
So was Belle. But she trusts me. We love each other. All the
boundaries come down if thats true. Or they should do. I was
terrified the first time we resumed relations. I had to use protectors
because I couldnt be sure she was diseased, and how badly she
had been hurt inside. As it turned out he had battered but not raped
her, just as Althea has endured.
But she endured other things. Im terrified to touch my wife
sometimes. And afraid she will equate it with the horrible
circumstances-
Im not saying Belle doesnt recall what happened. But it fades in
time, and a good loving relationship goes a long way to making her
feel happy, and not dirty or polluted.
Polluted? Im the one who-
Blake sighed and shook his head. If youve been avoiding her,
shes bound to feel rejected, at fault in some way. Especially if you
havent discussed why youve been behaving so oddly. You need to
be honest about your thoughts and feelings with her about her, not
her attack. Talk to her. Find out what she wants, what makes her
happy, what pleases her.
Talk to her? he asked in confusion. One doesnt discuss-
What, not even with a mistress?
He shrugged helplessly. We just sort of got on with things.
Fiddled and twiddled, you know.

Blake shook his head. I do, when I was single and still gauche.
Oh, mate, you have no idea what youre missing.
Matthew raised his brows in surprise. Go on, tell me, he urged
curiously.
Blake took out his pocket watch. How much time do you have?
Matthew gaped. He swallowed hard past the lump in his throat.
Well, start from the beginning and well see how we get on.
Fine. Have a drink. You might need it. Just try not to get too
carried away in the coach on the way home, he said with a knowing
wink.
Althea stared at the sponges Eswara gave her in wonder. She
paid rapt attention to her instructions, and agreed to try them. Im
not that shy about touching myself, my body, for all Matthew thinks
Im a shrinking virgin.
Then the healer gave her some oils and a few potions to try to
help relax Matthew, and some pointers on how to help along her
own arousal if things were too painful.
First you teach yourself, then you can teach him how to touch
you.
She coloured to the roots of her hair. I couldnt. What would he
say? I mean, he i'supposed to be an expert lover.
Say? What is there to say? You just need to ask nicely, be
honest. Hell probably ask you to do the same for him.
My husband is very worldly. Hes probably done it all before.
Finds me dull.
Hah, rakes? They go at it like rabbits for about two minutes and
then shout for their port and a deck of cards. Some of them are
slightly better than others, but most assume that dipping into all the
wells they can find makes them a good lover. Most never stay
around long enough to see if the woman is really pleased.
But this isnt really why you came here, is it? I mean, Im more
than happy to educate young brides and husbands, but I see
something else in all of this which has caused a lot of pain. If you

dont cure it now, you might carry it with you forever. I can see from
your expression its affected your relationship with your husband
also. Please, I would like to help.
Althea looked around worriedly. Have you time? And are we
alone?
Ill make time. And yes, well be left alone. I shall tell my maid to
bring tea, and that were not to be disturbed.
My husband is over with Blake. He will-
Blake will know how to keep him busy. Well go over there when
were finished. But we dont have to finish today, merely get to the
root of the problem. Id like to offer you a regular appointment to see
me so we can work on your cure.
She drew in a shuddering breath. I have much to be cured.
Eswara gave her a reassuring smile, her golden eyes soft as they
rested on Altheas dejected face. I have much patience.
So Althea sipped some lovely spiced tea made with milk and
cardamom, and recounted as much as she could recall of what had
happened to her in her cold, dank prison. She also revealed her
addiction, and what she and Matthew had gone through in the
brothel and afterwards.
I wasnt myself, and I fear I did or said something to make him
hate me.
Im sure not," Eswara said, patting her hand kindly. "You are
lovely and adore your husband, it's plain to see. But even if you had
done something out of character under the influence, Matthew
needs to understand that the addiction was an illness. It is no more
blameworthy than having gout.
"It was the drug that caused anything which might be amiss, not
the person underneath. And it was no fault of your own. You werent
trying to escape from this life because you were unhappy. You were
a bright sunny girl who has been tarnished by the world. A little
polishing can bring up your lustre once more.
Id like to believe that. That I could be the same person he once
cared for, Althea said breathlessly, her heart soaring at the
prospect.

But everyone changes, grows up, matures. Perhaps you


shouldnt wish to be that little girl again, but rather aspire to be a
strong and powerful woman?
Powerful? She laughed bitterly. I certainly had no power when
they treated me like a slave. I have no power now, when my
husband can scarcely bear to be in the same room with me. Uses
those horrible sheeps intestines so I dont have children.
But dont you see, those things are signs of the power you have
over him. He sounds as though hes frightened of you and your
power as a woman, the mysterious one of birth. He also sounds like
a man struggling to protect you, even from himself.
If Im so powerful, why am I so frightened? she asked in a tiny
whisper.
I can understand after all thats happened to you that you have a
lot of fears for the future. But I can at least reassure you on a
medical level if I examine you. Then we can talk about the rest.
All right.
Eswara led her to examination room, and asked her to strip bare.
Althea hesitated only a moment, then complied.
No sign of disease, Eswara said some time later. There is no
chance of you being pregnant, though I am not sure about any
internal injuries that might be residual from your ordeal. But do you
feel well?
I do. Matthew is the one who insists on treating me as if Im ill all
the time, Althea complained.
So you feel well physically. What about in you mind?
Anxious, worried about my marriage, and I do miss my father.
The first two can be left over from the addiction. Grief is only
natural.
It isnt just him. I feel like Im grieving for my lost youth. Not that I
want to go back to Surrey or anything. Just that Matthew and I were
happy the way we had been before that fateful meeting in the
brothel. And yet I've been so happy since in some ways, being his
wife. It was my dearest wish. It just, well, it just never came about as

I had hoped, with a declaration that he adored me and couldn't live


without me.
I would hope you could be even happier if we can solve some of
these difficulties which have cropped up between you as a result of
what happened in London, and what is happening now. Relations
between a man and a woman can be truly joyous. Ive examined
you, and find nothing abnormal or indicative of illness. So as long as
youre here naked, Im going to give you primer on your body. Just
relax. Im not going to touch you, merely guide your own hand. Give
you a map, as it were. Let you have some practice with those
sponges. We need to teach you about your own body. And later
about his. You can being exploring each others when you are
feeling more confident. For the moment, concentrate on yourself. In
the bath is always a good, relaxing time.
She took her through the various parts of her body, even using a
mirror to make it what she was looking at and feeling.
Gosh, I had no idea. Its sort of pretty, isnt it. Like a pitted
peach. And soft like one too.
And the sponge doesnt hurt?
No, it was easy compared to what Matthew used. I dont know
what hell say, if it will feel different when, you know, but-
You need to get over this inhibition about talking about it. If you
are old enough to have sexual relations, you're old enough to
discuss them with your husband. And some men like it when you
talk dirty.
She took a deep, steadying breath. All right. Maybe it will feel
different when he thrusts his huge hard cock right up into me until
we both melt. But it's fine now, and would appear much more
convenient to use for monthlies than linens.
Eswara laughed. Good. So several problems have been solved
today, eh?
Thank you, Im very grateful.
I can see you still look worried.
Althea began to put her clothes back on. Its just, well, my
husband had some very lovely and experienced women warming

his bed before we married. Im afraid that I wont please him after
all. Not after the novelty wears off. Men like variety and, well,
strange things...
Fantasies are all very well in their place, but should never be a
substitute for being mindful of the other person. You must never do
anything you dont wish to. Anything you dont feel comfortable or
sure of, do you understand? No matter what the other person wants
or even tries to demand.
Just like if you are not in the mood, dont just lie back and give
in. You need to be honest about it, talk to him, tell him what you
need, but also what you dont want. Its all about trust, setting
boundaries. Youve already gone beyond the biggest one, into
sexual relations. Now you have to forge intimacy."
At Althea's surprised look, the older woman shook her head. "It
isnt the same thing, believe me. It isnt easy. People throw up all
sorts of barriers because they fear rejection. That they are going to
be found lacking as compared with some unknown standard of
perfection. But just because you want to try to live up to this
unknown standard doesnt mean you compromise who you are. No
one has the right to force you, do you understand? Even if he is
your husband.
Hes never forced me. He didnt force me the first time, he
doesnt force me now. I meant, I want to be, well, more alluring.
She nodded. Self-confidence is a big part of the allure. If youre
happy in your body, chances are he will be as well.
She blushed, but asked, Will you teach me?
So youre asking me to not just educate you on the biological
side, but on the sensual side as well?
Althea nodded, feeling more confident already. Yes, I think so. If
you can. I know its a lot to ask, but youve been married twice and
you seem very, well, fulfilled, content as a wife and person. I want to
make him happy.
And yourself at the same time?
Yes, both. Even the Bible sees nothing wrong with that sort of
pleasure within wedlock.

Eswara grinned. My dear, by the time Im finished with you, hell


never even recall the name or face of any other woman hes ever
met.
Althea smiled eagerly. Yes, thats what I want.
Then be patient, learn well, and you shall have your hearts
desire in the end. If you really love him.
I do really love him, Althea said with a tender smile.
Good. Come, lets get some pictures to show you.
All too soon the clock struck six, and Althea started up, blushing.
l must go. But I wonder if I could-
Come again Thursday and we can go over this again, and teach
you more. And we shall have my son Ash teach you some simple
self-defense techniques. They might come in handy should you ever
end up in another dire situation with a man whos violent or wont
take no for an answer. I know you and Matthew both fear you being
attacked again. No harm will come to you if you have the power.
Thank you. Youve helped me so much, you have no idea. She
hugged her hard.
I do. I was a very young bride once too, you know. It was only
older, more experienced women who helped me understand it all. It
was a good first marriage, but now that Im older and more canny,
my second one is so much better.
And do you- She blushed.
What?
Well, do you and your husband subscribe to the notion that it
should only be done once a week? My husband says-
Every couple is different. You need to adjust to each others
level of need. Sometimes none is required. Other times you might
be forced to compromise. If you want to be with him more, or less,
you need to admit it.
If you want him more, and he is reluctant, youll have to take
matters into your own hands one way or the other. Usually its the
man whos more libidinous, but just because he lusts doesnt mean

he knows what to do with it. In what I have taught you, the Tantra,
its a case of making time for the other person, each other. If you
can only manage it once a week, fine. If you can manage it more
often, even better. But it shouldnt be about frequency. It is
supposed to be about treating the other person with reverence."
"That sounds lovely."
And it doesnt have to be full intercourse to be thrilling. The
important thing is caring for one another. Sexual fulfillment as part
of being at one with the universe. With God.
She stared in surprise. With God?
Certainly. Are not all the joys as well as sorrows of the world
provided by him?
She coloured to the roots of her hair. Yes, yes, they are. I lost
sight of that in my anger over what happened to me. My wondering
how the Lord could have let me be used so cruelly.
Youve been tried in a crucible of fire. The elements within you
have all blended, and rendered you a new person. Not least
because your life and Matthews have merged and fused. You are
now one flesh. Mind and soul too if you can get past the fear. If you
can have faith in one another. But first you need to have it in
yourselves."
Althea's face brightened a little. "Yes, I would like to, very much."
Eswara stroked her shoulder soothingly. Today Ive set you on
the path to seek yourselves. To know yourself, and to know him
better. I cant speak for your husband, but it would be good if you
could try to teach him as I am going to teach you."
"Me, teach him? But I have so much less experience in these
matters--"
"Educate him about you."
"Oh, I see."
It wont be easy. Men are reluctant to discuss their feelings, or to
analyse them. They feel things very deeply but try to shove them
way down into themselves, and they can be very hard to reach.
Unless of course they explode uncontrollably, usually in a fit of
anger.

But I dont think you need to fear that from Matthew. Your
husband sounds like a good man, for all hes been a rake. Hes
been fleeing from something. You need to get him to stop running
and slow down. Grasp the significance of the momentous thing
thats happened to him.
Which is what, exactly? Althea asked in confusion.
Eswara smiled. The sacredness of uniting his life with yours. It
can be the greatest blessing if only he will leave himself open to it.
Not fear it.
Althea stared at Eswara in surprise. Does he fear me all the
time? Is that why?
He fears himself, and his own power. As well as yours, of
course. And he will confide his other fears to you.
Like being worried he will turn out to be like his own father?
Eswara raised her brows. Tell me.
Althea took a sip of tea, and recounted what Matthew had told
her that afternoon.
Yes, that would be one of his fears. That and hurting you,
Eswara said at the end of the sorry tale.
Althea's eyes widened. But he would never-
Perhaps not. But your love for him gives him the power to do so.
Intentionally or unintentionally. He actually fears the latter more. But
if there is no love, there can be no hurt. You do love each other, or
else you would not have come here to myself and Blake for help. If
you trust to that, the rest, we can teach you as we go along.
Thank you, Eswara. Ill come see you again on Thursday.
I shall look forward to it.

Chapter Fourteen
Matthew had borrowed one of Blake's carriages to take his wife
home, and enjoy a leisurely drive so they could have a chance to
talk, grow more mentally intimate, even if not physically, though
after all the doctor had told him, he ached for her with a passionate
intensity bordering on agon.
On the way back from Millcote, Matthew asked how Althea was,
fearing the worst even as she did so. What did she say?
To his infinte relief she looked up at him and smiled brightly. She
says Im fine. No injuries physically, all the signs of addiction lifted.
Im still grieving for my poor father, which tends to make me sad, but
other than that, all is well. Theres no reason why we cant enjoy
conjugal relations, and she gave me some, er-
Sponges? he guessed with a small laugh.
She nodded. And some other things to help make it easier.
He sighed. I should know all this, try to be a better lover-
Its not your fault, not entirely. I also need to let you know what I
want. For example, I adore it when you kiss me, but you do it so
seldom.
Thats because its like wildfire rushing though me when I do,
Matthew admitted with a shaky laugh.
Surely thats a good thing.
He shook his head. Not if I want to avoid hurting you.
She squeezed his hand. Im healthy and strong. The doctor said
so. Oh, and I adore it when you kiss my breasts. She lifted his hand
to her bosom, but he started and tried to pull back.
Its all right. Youre allowed to touch me, dont you see? Im a
grown and desirous woman.
Yes, I suppose you are at that, he said with a grin as she put
his other hand around her waist.

Now kiss me, Matthew.


He began to shower her face with little light kisses, but soon he
pulled away and sighed. You must be tired after the journey and
visit to the doctor. I dont want to take any more advantage-
Im asking you to touch me, kiss me, love me on the seat of this
carriage if thats what you want, she said in a sultry murmur. Be
spontaneous, I believe the phrase is.
I know, but the driver-
Althea recalled what Eswara had said about making time for each
other.
All right, if not now, then how about this evening? Well set apart
a few hours before bedtime to kiss and cuddle and do whatever
feels nice. Is that a bargain?
Hours? More like five seconds when Im around you.
Then let me help you.
Help me? Matthew echoed in confusion, staring at his wife in
amazement. But youre, well, you were, a virgin. Until I got hold of
you and did the unthinkable--
She gripped his hand hard. You know a lot about me, about
women." She blushed. "Teach me about yourself. Let me learn what
pleases you.
My dear, you arent a professional or a bad woman, youre my
wife, he said, mildly shocked at her request.
Althea lost patience then at his double standard. What I am
supposed to do, Matthew? Just stumble onto what you enjoy by
sheer luck, am I? Play blind mans bluff with your genitals until I hit
the right spot that makes you happy?
Althea! he gasped in outrage.
Well, Ive just told you what I like. You havent done either of
them. Im trying to be honest here. What else do you want me to do
to make things right between us? she wailed, near tears.
Youre right. Im sorry. So sorry. He pulled her close to him,
brushing her peachy soft skin with his hand as he began to kiss her

again, her eyelids, nose, her cheeks, and finally her mouth. "The
trouble is it's too right between us, for all it started out so wrong."
"There is no right and wrong, darling, there's just this..." she
breathed, before melting against him completely.
Their senses soared as her lips parted and his tongue twined
silkily along his. Matthew was sure he would be driven mad as she
peeped the tip along his bottom lip, which she drew into her mouth.
His hands cupped her breasts with tender urgency and he could feel
her nipples jutting into his palms eagerly.
Her hands stroked down his hard cheeks, neck and chest. She
clung to his shoulders as they jounced over a rut in the road. By
now she was in his lap, and the contact was excruciating against his
manhood. The need to feel her around him was so profound he
threw all caution to the winds, and raised her skirts above her
knees. He tugged at the tapes of her drawers and drew the lacy
knickers down, then pressed her back onto the seat.
Althea marvelled at his urgency, but it was equal to her own. Her
arousal had been triggered by their contact in the garden, and the
thrilling things Eswara had told her about pleasing her husband and
herself.
Eswara had been right about one thing. It was a great deal easier
without him using any protectors, and she opened to him like a
flower to the rays of the sun. She deepened their kiss, drawing his
tongue right into her mouth and sucking lightly.
As his hands scooped her closer to him, pressing on the small of
her back, she could feel herself soaring. She gasped into his mouth
at the huge pressure building inside her body, radiating right out to
her toes.
Suddenly the most magnificent display of fireworks sparked off in
her head. She pulled him closer, his buttocks clenching fiercely
under her cupped palms as he drove to his own climax.
Matthew was terrified by the forceful rushing sensations, but
couldnt have stopped even if he had wanted to. His need for Althea
was so acute it trammelled over all other considerations, even those
of preventing conception.

But as his ardour cooled and his senses returned, so too did his
feeling of disgust with himself and how hed treated her. He tore
himself from her soft twining limbs as though he had been scorched,
and shoved himself into the far corner of the seat as though he
couldnt bear to be near her.
She stared at his defensive posture, and her heart sank. Near
tears, she twitched her garments back into place and said quietly,
Im sorry if that was terrible for you. I do want to learn, try to make
you happy.
Dont you see! I cant be trusted!" he exploded, pounding his fist
against his own chest like a self-flagellant. "Cant you see what Im
capable of?
Her eyes widened. But were married! Theres nothing wrong
with taking comfort from each other.
He snorted in derision. There is no comfort, dont you see? I
deserve none! Not after what I've done!
Althea stared at him, completely at a loss. What have you done,
darling? she asked gently.
T-t-took you when you were t-t-tied up. Had to m-m-marry you
to save your reputation. And because I still throb with yearning for
you, no matter how many times I, well, I--
"Enjoy me?" she supplied with a small lift in spirits.
He nodded, though his expression was anything but joyful.
In fact, she had never seen her gloriously handsome cousin, now
husband, in such a state before in his life, stammering, angry,
utterly at a loss.
She pressed the palms of her hands together and counted to ten,
another sage piece of advice Eswara had given her. She also
recalled what the older woman had said about men not being able
to handle their emotions very well, but that clearly whatever this
display was, it meant he cared.
She gave her most encouraging smile, and said, In that case,
the only thing youve done, darling Matthew, is made me happy as
well as yourself. Satisfied both of our desires.

She stayed one trembling hand as he tried to refasten his


clothes, and in a fit of daring, touched him intimately. His sucked-in
breath was one of both delight and dismay as he began to harden
anew.
Oh, no, please. You shouldnt-
I want to. Youre so handsome. Like a classical statue. Why
should I not wish to-
And Im no use to you now anyway. Im completely s-s-spent
and- he stammered, though his body certainly told a different tale.
It doesnt have to be useful, as you put it. That makes it sound
like a garden implement.
They both giggled, and Matthew looked away and covered his
eyes.
Does it feel nice?
Mm, lovely.
Despite his words, he was already nearly ready for action once
more.
Well, I like touching him because hes a part of you, and I love all
of you.There are some things I would change, such as this
incessant need of yours to protect me, darling. But on the whole, I
have no complaints about our marriage. Except about you being
high-handed and making decisions for us which by rights we ought
to make together. I really am well, even if still very sad. You cant
expect me to be the happy little child you used to push on the swing
and take out boating, but there are other joys we can share. Even
more remarkable ones now that we're man and woman.
She had inched right over to him on the seat, and put her head
on his shoulder once more.
He nodded. Yes, there are at that. And a great number of
compensations in being married, have to admit. I cant tell you how
strange and how thrilling it is to see you day after day, know youre
in the house, in the bedroom next door to me. That I can see you
any time I like, be with you.
She gave a teasing pout. Does that mean youre taking me for
granted?

Not at all.
Then why avoid me if it makes you so happy?
He stroked her blond curls and sighed. Im too happy. I cant
trust myself, or you, dont you see? Im afraid youre going to come
to hate me.
She shook her head vehemently. Only when you withhold
yourself from me. The time were apart. Otherwise... She pulled his
head down for one of their ravishing kisses, and there it was again,
that incredible sense of delight as they melded into each other.
No, really, we mustnt, Matthew gasped a short time later in a
near panic.
Why not? Why do their have to be any rules?
She slipped into his lap and after a few hesitant tries surrounded
him and gasped as she slid down the full impressive length. Already
the hot blush of love flooded her features in the twilight filtering in
through the carriage window.
She felt completely in thrall to the exquisite sensations of the
rocking of the coach as he pulsed inside of her with a steady throb.
The movement over the potholes and ruts was compelling enough
to leave them poised tightly, yet relaxed enough to see where the
unique journey would take them.
When the pressure and need grew too unbearable, she pushed
up on the upholstered seat with her knees. Matthew stroked up her
back to cup her head so that she could meet his kiss full on. His
other hand curved round her buttock to help her raise herself up
and down, and set the pace.
It grew faster and deeper, and he could feel the tension which
had him in its grip leave him in an instant as he surrendered to the
sensation and reached the ultimate bliss.
For once he had not driven on uncontrollably, but let nature, the
carriage and his wife take their course, and it was exquisite.
Althea gasped her way to completion against his mouth, and
collapsed against his huge broad chest. He brushed the damp
tendrils from her brow and cradled her against his hammering heart.

She was almost too overcome to move off him, and he was too
overwhelmed to shift her off his lap. So when she kissed him and he
began to burgeon again and she moved, his emotions warred in his
breast once more.
No, surely not again.
Darling, weve told the driver to take us around the district for
about and hour, but he'll be dropping us off soon, he warned.
Mmm, she said, kissing down his throat. Blake won't mind if we
borrow him a bit longer. Call up to the box and tell him to keep
driving.
He was sorely tempted, for the rocking of the carriage was more
thrilling than he had ever imagined. But he had to be firm with
himself and her. His natural caution and concern for his new wife
was not going to be completely overturned in just one afternoon.
Matthew lifted her onto the seat and adjusted his own clothes
first, then hers. His smacking kiss on her cheek was reminiscent of
his busses when she had been about twelve.
She stared up at him in the shadowy coach, wondering what
shed done wrong now. She tried to kiss him once more, but he
cupped her chin and kissed her on the brow.
Im sorry, I should never have-
We did it together. If you want to blame anyone, I did it the
second time by tiddling you.
Ill have a supper tray sent up to your room, he said, his tone
neutral.
All right, she said, somewhat mollified.
But when they got back to their estate, and he conducted her into
the foyer and then bowed to her as though they were being
introduced at a ball, and said, I bid you good night, she felt as
though she had been kicked.
But Matthew-
Alas, he had already turned on his heel, not even meeting her
eye, and vanished into the drawing room leaving her standing along

staring at the shut portal, with no idea how to breach the barrier that
seemed to stand between them no matter what she did.

Chapter Fifteen
As soon as Matthew entered the drawing room after his
passionate carriage ride with Althea, he seized one of the cut crystal
decanters, sloshed some brandy into a snifter, and downed it in one
fiery gulp.
Lord in Heaven, he could scarcely keep his hands off his wife.
He'd had her in the carriage, twice... What sort of depraved man
was he? This was his young virginal bride, not some strumpet. What
on earth was wrong with him? He had never been so out of control
with any woman in his life. Let alone one so chaste as his dear
cousin....
He grabbed the decanter and threw himself on the sofa in front of
the fire, and began to gaze moodily into it as he downed one drink,
then another.... Anything to dull the ache in his heart and loins that
never seemed to leave him no matter what he did.
Althea paced up and down in her room, wondering why her world
seemed as though it had just spun off its axis. Wht was it about
Matthew which filled her with such delight? How could one or two
kissed turn her into someone she barely recognised, a complete
mass of quivering need?
Worse still, it seemed to turn her into someone he didnt want.
Once the lovemaking was over, Matthew seemed to be filled with
nothing but regret.
Yet she had been told that desire was a good thing. She also
began to wonder at the prospect of getting pregnant. The sponge

had been fine; she had left one in place after Eswara had taught her
how to use them, just in case...
But she didnt have to use them if she didnt wish to. It seemed
so thrilling, yet frightening too, to know that she had the power to
decide her future and her actions for herself.
Well, decide as far as she could given that Matthew was the
other side of the equation. He had been so heated in the coach. But
once they had got home, hed just dismissed her as if her feelings
were unimportant. As if hed had what hed wanted from her, as if
she were a mistress, and gone off to his other life.
Her one consolation was that he did stay down in the study
working all evening. He didnt go out and leave her alone the way
she knew many spouses did.
But nor did he come to visit her, though she stayed up late trying
to concentrate on the novel she was attempting to read. He would
have seen the candlelight under her door, but he didnt come in.
She had a poor night, not full of nightmares, but that was most
likely because she barely slept.
However, the next day her husband did seem to try to keep his
word to her, taking her out to visit Randall and Isolde and Philip and
Jasmine, and also running her into Barton and asking her if she
wanted to have chocolate in the very fine small bakery there.
She marvelled at the alteration in Matthews demeanour, and
really enjoyed the change of scenery. They chatted about
insignificant things, and about the renovations on the house. He
also mentioned her keeping the keys to the household now that she
was feeling so much better.
He seemed in a good enough mood, but Althea kept getting the
sense that there was something vast being left unsaid between
them.
Finally in the carriage on the way back home, Matthew declared,
I just wanted to apologise for yesterday. I really didnt mean to
press my attentions in the carriage upon you like that.
But were married!

I know. However, theres a time and place for everything, and


the inside of my coach for half an hour as if you were some paid
companion is not it.
Are you willing to engage in what I suggested, then? Setting
aside some time for each other for us to get to know one another
better?
He nodded, though he looked doubtful. I suppose I can try. Its
just, well, Ive never before. Its always been simple, clear. A
mistress is different from a wife, no complications, just the basic-
I see, swive and run off, is that it?
No, not exactly, he said almost angrily.
What then?
No expectations. Because its only temporary. This is supposed
to be forever.
His words chilled her. Do you do feel like a prisoner with a life
sentence? she accused, the icy fingers of fear creeping around her
heart.
I never said-
Do you think I might feel the same?
He stared at her, mouth agape. Why, was there someone else
you wanted to- he asked, his chest aching as though it were about
to explode.
She shook her head angrily, setting her curls bouncing. Dont be
silly. Have you not listened to one word Ive said? Why is it so
impossible for you to believe I love and want you, Matthew? That I
want to be everything to you, without any labels or boundaries? Not
just your wife, or your mistress, but both and neither. We were
friends, are cousins. Weve shared so much. Why are you fighting
me on this?
He sighed. I dont mean to. Im just so confused. Its all
happened so suddenly. I mean, not that I hate being married, but
suddenly I am. And there were all the complications, and all my
fears about you being so ill. Now at last youre better. I feel like Ive
been in some sort of quagmire, bogged down and constantly having
to cope with all sorts of shifting sands. I promise Im trying to get

used to everything. To build a real marriage. I can only do it one


day at a time.
Night too.
Aye, one night too.
What about tonight, then? she asked so softly he almost didnt
catch the words.
I dont think we should risk it.
Im going to see Eswara again tomorrow. If I have her examine
me again, do you think we can try to risk it?
His eyes closed, his breath caught in his throat. I can try. I cant
promise-
I dont need you to promise. We just need some time, and some
honesty. Im sorry its been so difficult for you. I really didnt intend
for it to be.
She hugged him then and he held her tightly. I want to do this
right. I want to be a good husband, Althea.
You need to start convincing yourself that youre a good man.
He looked down at her in surprise. What do you mean?
I mean youve spent so much of your time playing the gadfly,
you think thats all there is to you. But I can remember the man who
used to have advice for everyone about their stocks and shares,
and someone who was superb at gardening. Not to mention
hunting, riding, fishing. You dont have to give up all the things you
enjoy just because were wed.
I dont want to leave you on your own.
Youre forgetting that I used to garden, hunt and fish too. With
you.
Thats true, but youre a grown woman now.
And want to spend time with you. So why dont we try it?
Business in the mornings and perhaps paying some calls, riding
when you think Im up to it. Im going to go to Eswara a couple of
times a week to talk to her, and in the afternoons we can do things

together. Unless of course you think Im trying to keep an eye on


you.
He shook his head and smiled. Not at all. I know we have to trust
each other.
Then are you willing to try? Just see where all this takes us,
without any preconceived notions of what couples do and dont do?
He nodded. I cant think of any better plan at the moment. He
stroked her cheek tenderly.
Thank you for trying.
He planted a warm kiss on her cheek. Thank you for suggesting
it. I do love you, you know, Althea. My wife. He shook his head in
wonder. Ive never said either of those things to anyone before in
my life. Its really terrifying. The thing is, I think Ive always been in
love with you. But I get so, well, swept up in all sorts of thoughts and
emotions that I cant think straight sometimes.
She smiled. I know how you feel. I love being in your arms, but
all rational thought flies out of my head.
He stroked the back of her neck, revelling in the feel of her soft
skin. She closed her eyes at the contact, feeling herself fill with
rapture.
Looking at her lovely face filled with rapture, he could resist no
longer. His mouth was on hers in an instant, hot, seeking.
Her mouth opened to him, their heated breaths mingled, and she
would have started to remove his shirt had his hands not stayed
hers.
There I go again, he muttered, pulling away. "Something as
simple as a kiss, and I still can't get a hld of myself."
"But maybe I don't want you to," she said, her eyes never leaving
his face.
His reply was lost as he sat up to tidy his clothes and hers, for the
coach was already slowing.
He helped her down in front of the grand entryway, hugged her
and said, Im going out for a ride. Ill see you soon.

Althea smiled at him wanly, and watched with a heavy heart as


he headed to the stables for his mount.

Chapter Sixteen
Matthew's emotions were pummeling him so unmercifully, he
rode like the Devil was hard on his heels, then turned the head of
his lathered mounting the direction of Philips house for some tea
and sympathy.
Philip welcomed him, listened intently, and said, I understand
youre still suffering from guilt, but if she says she wants you, and
quite clearly does, I dont see the problem.
Well, how often do you and Jasmine, er- He blushed.
As a gentleman I should call you out for that, he said with a
grin, and most men would lie and say all night every night. But I
dont mind telling you as often as we can manage considering we
now have two very lively children. Four or five times a week for sure.
More if I can grab her and make her stand still long enough. The
night needs a bit more planning and preparation, but then Eswara
has taught us that that can be a good thing. You should consult with
her as well.
Matthew looked utterly horrified. Discuss these things with a
woman? A woman not my wife or mistress? What on earth for?
Shes a font of useful information. However much of a man of
the world I was, Ive learnt a huge amount. Ill do anything to please
my wife, and she loves to please me.
But dont you find it, well, strange to share so much with a wife
compared with a mistress?
Philip shook his head. Not strange at all. I can truly be myself
with her. Trust her utterly as I could never trust anyone else. My
wife is truly the other half of myself. It took time, but weve been
inseperable since we wed. Above all, weve been honest with one
another. There have been times, for example, when the children
were born, when we couldnt have full conjugal relations, or she was
just too tired. But there are a lot of other things one can do besides

full coitus. Stop worrying about your todger so much and just kiss
and cuddle her, and let the rest happen without worrying about it all
the time.
Matthew's mouth drew downwards. Thats easy for you to say.
Your wife wasnt attacked.
I know. But Blakes was. You ought to talk to him about this. Hes
far better qualified-
Hes been really good about it, but I dont want to dredge up any
more unpleasant memories for him.
Hes a doctor and your friend. Hell be happy to help.
All right, Im going to go over to see him again now. And there
was another reason for coming over today, apart from discussing
my marital woes."
"Oh, surely not so woeful, Matthew, are they? She's a lovely girl,
and anyone can see you adore her, even if you never thought you
would ever marry so soon."
"Aye, true enough on both counts," he admitted. "But aye, you're
right, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine being wed to
Althea, simply because I never imagined I could aim so high, or win
her love."
"Just remember that the next time you have doubts."
"Thanks. And you can be on hand to remind me."
"Oh?"
"Yes, I wanted to come over to invite you all to a soiree next
Friday evening. All the Rakehells. Its about time my wife and I came
out of hiding.
Fine. Well be there. And are you going to Thomass ball the
week after?
Aye, if Althea wants to go.
She will. Women love dancing, and you cant keep her behind
closed doors forever. Whoever troubled her in the past is not going
to try all the way over here in Somerset. Not now, not when shes
married to you. Try not to worry so much about her. Shes a resilient
woman, and she loves you.

Id like to believe it. Really, I would, Matthew said wistfully as he


gathered up his hat, riding crop, and gloves.
Believe it. And never miss the chance to tell her you love her.
If only it werent so hard to relax and just count my lucky stars at
the gift the universe has given me.
It doesnt have to be, if you dont let it.
But Matthew's marriage was about to get even harder, for after
his visits to Philip and Blake, Matthew was just on his way back to
his house when he saw a familiar figure in a royal blue riding
ensemble galloping through the fields towards him.
Hello, darling. Fancy meeting you here, Matilda said with a
sultry smile.
Matthew nodded to her, feeling completely cornered. Yet he was
almost glad to see her in a way too. He noted how remarkably well
she was looking. They had been together long enough. While he
had had no wish to marry her, nor did he wish her ill.
She had been a habit. A bad habit. One he had been too lazy
and weak to break. And old habits were said to die hard...
I didnt know you were in the area, Mrs. Barnet. Who are you
staying with?
Ive rented a small cottage just the other side of Brimley. Its so
wonderful to be conveniently located between Bristol and Bath.
How nice for you, he said, keeping his tone neutral. I hope you
have someone special in your life now?
She tossed her head back like a fractious filly and declared, Im
not going to beat about the bush. I was rather hoping--
He could tell from the predatory gleam in her eyes exactly what
she was about to say, and forestalled her by declaring, I feel sure
you would have heard by now about my recent nuptials?
Her face fell completely, and her cat green eyes sparkled with
fury. No. No I didnt hear you were married. Who is the lucky
woman?

My cousin Althea.
Her tone was chilling when she finally replied, Ah, I see. Well, I
cant say Im surprised. Its the way things are done in our society.
He knew what she was implying, and sought to defend both he
and his wife from the accusation of a marriage for the sake of
convenience or expediency. No, you were right all along. You saw
it even before I did. Ive been in love with her since I was eighteen.
There was no undue haste or familial pressure. I was more than
happy to get married, once I owned up to my true feelings. And
now, if youll excuse me, I need to get home to my wife.
But Matilda hadnt finished yet. She sawed on the horse's reins
with such fury that the horse began to rear. And do you think that
little milksop is going to make you happy? You know what a good
horsewoman I am. I can ride you at a gallop and make you-
The closer she came, the more repelled he felt. Thank you for
the offer, but Im just coming back from paying visits. My days of
rampant equestrian pursuits with anyone other than Althea are long
over. She and I are very happy.
He clicked to his mount, but Matilda called after him, I know
you! I know your extreme tastes. Youll be back! You wont be able
to help yourself.
He rode off, telling himself he was not the least bit tempted. That
it had been her tastes which had been extreme.
But all the same, the words echoed in his mind, and the truth was
more complicated. He was tempted by the notion of how easy it was
to just take what he wanted with no thought for anothers happiness.
When sex was just a simple bodily function like eating and drinking
when he was hungry and thirsty. Then it could just be easy, fun.
Marriage put an entirely new complexion on things.
Above all, he wondered if he ought to have an outlet into which
he could pour all these longings. Then he might be able to spend
time around his wife without wanting to throw her on her back and
ride her like the wind.
He covered his eyes with the fingers of one hand. His
uncontrollable lust had got him into this mull in the first place. To

have an affair with the vicious and troublemaking Matilda would get
him even more muddled.
And there would be no keeping it a secret, for even if Althea were
not so bright and perceptive, Matilda would have no qualms about
telling everyone.
Matthew wondered at the complex Hell that had become his life.
He hated himself, but couldnt help himself either. All the assistance
of his friends and all the reasoning in the world was not going to
help him where his marriage was concerned.
He needed to get a grip on his emotions somehow. Work and
activity would perhaps solve the problem. He would have to just
push himself into such a state of exhaustion he couldnt pounce on
Althea every two seconds. And a cold bath every day in the stream
where he fished might not be a bad idea either....

Chapter Seventeen
Althea was working towards an entirely different solution to their
marital difficulties.
Eswara was very patient with her, and reiterated all she had
taught her on her last visit, clarifying some of the things she had not
completely understood.
So this word Tantra then, means weave?
Yes. Think about the warp and the woof. You cant have woven
cloth without the two together. And if it is too loosely or too tightly
woven, it can come unravelled. Or all knotted and tense, and not at
thing of beauty. We need to focus on you feeling in control and
powerful.
Althea stared. Theres that word again. Power.
You deserve to be treasured as a goddess, and command
respect. But you dont have to be weak or feeble to command that
respect. Rather, you can earn it if you love your body and share
your sensuality without shame. And if you dont let other people,
including your husband, tell you what to think and feel. You need to
trust your wisdom and intuition, and feel secure enough to express
your feelings in a way that reaches your partner. Get him to
understand your needs.
Also, you need to learn this power so you can get what you want
without having to control or manipulate the way so many mistresses
and wives do. I suspect deep down youre very angry about what
happened to you, the way you were treated so brutally. You can
transform that rage into personal power. Use the energy of the
anger to create instead of destroy. Nurture and protect instead of
tear apart. If you open your heart to Matthew, he might also be able
to open his heart to you all the time, but especially during
lovemaking.

She toyed with the tassel of a decorative wine silk sofa cushion. I
still cant see how its possible. I mean, women are supposed to be
the weak, passive ones.
Eswara shrugged one shoulder dismissively. I dont see why.
Women tend to give their power away in intimate relationships,
creating anger, frustration, and sadness. Wait for the man to take
the lead, not say what they really want. Its very difficult to overcome
this habit once it becomes ingrained. Society tells women to be
passive, after all. It seems easier to just accept it than to try to
change it.
But you came to me because you wanted it to change. By
coming to view yourself as a goddess, a manifestation of the
divinely feminine, you can connect with all of your gifts.
My gifts? she asked with interest.
Eswara nodded.
Your wisdom, sensuality, intuition and
compassion as well as your power to create a beautiful sacred
union with your husband. If you work at this, youll become able to
express your deepest desires and discern those traits within
Matthew which help meet that need. Why you love him, in other
words. And youll make peace with your body, and allow it to
become an ecstatic instrument for the expression of love.
Althea blushed. That last part sounds like the best of all, but its
so hard. Im not sure of how I feel at times, and he runs away if we
get, well, too intimate.
The grasping of your power is even harder for you as a survivor
of sexual abuse. You need to do a number of things before you can
be a good wife to Matthew. A few of them you probably never had
before you were attacked, so you might not even be aware of what
youre missing.
Well, yes, thats true. I was a virgin in every sense of the word.
And did you like your body? Eswara asked.
She considered the question in silence for a moment. I never
really thought about it too much. It was just, well, there. She waved
up and down with her hand almost dismissively. Its not like I had a
choice.
Were you frightened of it?

Not really, more worried about men doing inappropriate things to


me. Fear of pregnancy.
Were you ashamed of, say, touching yourself?
She blushed. Well, I never really did except when I, um, thought
of Matthew. Breasts only.
So it sounds like the first thing is to establish a loving relationship
with your body, to admire it, feel comfortable with it. Theres nothing
like self-confidence to excite a man. You think all those Incognitas
have anything different under their dresses than you? No. Not at all.
Its what they do with it that counts.
Her blue eyes widened. Eswara, really!
The older woman smiled knowingly. No need to sound so
shocked. I just meant that they werent ashamed, and knew what
they wanted and went after it. James IIs mistress Catherine Sedley
was one of the ugliest women in England, and thin as a stick to
boot. Yet she climbed to power and kept him dangling on a string for
years, and made a fortune from him. If she could manage all that,
well, just think what a woman with a pretty face can do.
Oh, but now it sounds like Im some sort of harlot! Althea
exclaimed in dismay.
No. Not at all," Eswara reassured her, before pouring more
spiced tea. "Youre not manipulating him or doing it for money.
Youre reclaiming and asserting your sexual and emotional
boundaries. And your relationship boundaries. Claiming him as your
husband, partner. Hes the man you love, true, but Matthew needs
to understand that youre a person with your own emotional and
sexual needs, which you have to be able to express to him if youre
going to have a good marriage in every sense of the word. And to
try to make sure that what the two of you share is so special he will
never be tempted to stray. Were going to give you exactly that
power.
But Ive never even spent time with a man like, like a lover. I
mean, we dont talk in bed, so how am I going to-
She passed the fragrant cup, then a plate of cinnamon biscuits.
Youll also need to develop skills for emotional intimacy then.
Honesty and truthfulness, being in tune with him, will help a lot here.

But you need to be in tune with yourself. If theres residual


unexpressed anger, grief, and shame over what happened to you,
you need to let it out.
And you need to learn how to relax, both of you. Not feel as if
you are some sort of performing ponies. If you have too many
expectations, youre bound to be disappointed. No expectations,
and you wont live up to your full potential in your relationship.
And from what you told me the other day, it would appear that
you were not the only one to suffer abuse, a fragmenting of your
sexual persona.
Althea frowned and set down the plate of biscuits. Im not sure I
follow.
Eswara gave her a long look, choosing her words carefully. Well,
sexual abuse can take a number of different forms, including rape,
molestation, inappropriate touching, and mental invasion. Being told
sex is dirty, wrong, abnormal, disgusting. Or that a person is. I
would guess Matthew heard a great number of negative things
about human sexuality from his father, who became little better than
a Puritan, and so it distorted his energies.
In your case I think your feelings have been suppressed, by
yourself and certainly by him because hes scared. In his case, he
was told he was dirty and disgusting, and so hes used sex as a
drug to dull emotional pain.
You think thats why hes raked everywhere? Althea asked,
astonished but also relieved. "As an act of rebellion?"
Yes. I dont think its normal behaviour. I mean, I know men
compare notes and everything, but most of them are all mouth and
no trousers, as the saying goes. For the most part, though, they
dont have dozens of different partners every year. Most men settle
down a bit more than that.
So what can I do if both of us are so damaged? Althea asked,
starting to worry she was never going to be a good wife to Matthew.
Well start with you first. Tackle your problems head on. You
need to let the sexual side out of yourself with a trusting and caring
partner, a devoted husband. He needs to feel loved, needs to see
that emotional closeness with a truly intimate partner can create a

loving, heart-centered sexual connection. Not just a genital one. Not


an exploitative relationship."
"I see."
Eswara took a sip of her own tea and continued, The fact that
you told me he left his last mistress and was celibate for months
before he saw you means hes started to understand that the life
hes been leading isnt normal. That he found it unfulfilling, and is
looking for more. Thats a hopeful sign."
Althea felt her heart lift at that, and nodded.
But we need to start with you. What you like and dislike. It
doesnt have to be sexual but it does have to be truthful. Things you
like to eat, drink, do. Not compromising all the time because you
think women ought to be passive, or because you wish to be
accommodating. Theres nothing wrong with being selfish and doing
what you enjoy. And of course you can share a lot of these things
with him and other people. Have a fabulous dinner party with all of
your favourite food and drink and flowers, a trip shopping, a day in
Town when you do nothing but indulge yourself with plays, the
opera and so on.
That sounds easy enough. But I dont want to be frivolous, she
said with a frown.
There is nothing wrong with fun. The things you share dont
even have to be expensive. You can also recapture some of the
simple joys of your life. Walking, talking, just holding hands. The joy
you undoubtedly had when you were young people together.
She smiled warmly then. There was certainly a lot of that. She
patted her golden retriever puppy he had gifted her with on the
head.
My only question is, when did your feelings for Matthew change
from childhood closeness to something sexual?
Althea contemplated the question for a time, and admitted, I
always adored him, but I think I was about thirteen when I felt it as a
real bodily need. I used to dream of him coming to visit, us going in
the stables and well-
A nice fantasy to act out some time.

Do you think so? She grinned.


Why not? Just dont scare the horses.
Althea smiled back, but admitted, He just seems to get so
shocked if I take the lead.
In our society, men tend to divorce themselves from their
feelings, making it difficult for them to experience bliss both
physically and spiritually. When feeling is cut off, so is sensation in
the body."
"A bit like me going away mentally when all of that was
happening to me," she admitted quietly.
"And where did it go?"
"To Matthew," she confessed. "Him rescuing me, telling me he
loved only me, no matter what."
"He does, you know."
Althea nodded. "I think I do, for a time, then he just withdraws."
Eswara nodded sagely. "They all do it, no matter how close you
are."
"So how can we stop it?"
The older woman thought for a moment, then said, "When a man
gets in touch with his emotions, he becomes more open throughout
his entire body. His whole posture changes. He can give and
respond to affection without overreacting, grabbing and seeking like
a greedy child, never relaxing. Once hes more open, hes able to
connect with himself and his lover in a very deep and intimate way.
In order for a man to become a good lover and partner, he has
to be able to open his heart and merge his sexual energy with it. Be
able to listen and understand. In addition, he must be able to try to
slow down and match his partners sexual rhythm, rather than
expecting her to match his. Theres a big gap between male and
female response times, which is why I see so many discontent and
confused female patients.
Slow down? How exactly? I mean, its so explosive. Isnt that just
the way it is all the time? And why has it changed for me? I mean, I
used to get so much pleasure.

There are different methods for holding off orgasm. If he can


adjust his tempo and needs to suit you better, he ignites your
shakti, which is the female sexual energy, the doorway to the divine.
This creates a healing and transformative connection of love.
Althea raised her brows in surprise. Transformative?
Your love for him has changed you already, hasnt it?
She stared at her friend in wonder. Yes, yes, it has.
Has it changed him?
Hmm. Hard question. She patted the dog again. At length she
replied, I think its starting to. It might if he let it.
Eswara nodded wisely. Hes still having a hard time opening up,
then. That's not surprising, if his relationship with his last mistress
was as bad as everyone says. He may have had affairs, but he
hasnt really grasped the significance of being a couple.
Which is what, according to the Tantra?
Eswara smiled. Oh, lots of things. For one thing, you need to
honor and celebrate your masculine and feminine differences. I
mean, we carry aspects of both inside us, but men dont tend to like
to admit their softer side, and frown on bossy or demanding
women. But there is a difference between being assertive, and
being controlling to the point of emasculation.
Hmm, I think his mistress Matilda was the latter.
Im sure. But it didnt matter because he only dealt with her
sexually. They werent a true couple. It was just sex.
Just? Althea gasped.
Eswara gave her a fond smile. Yes, that's all it was, so it was
little enough, and nothing for you to feel threatened by. I know he
loves you, probably always has, but feels he never deserved you.
That's why he wasted his time with relationships that would never
and could never be anything more than just sex.
"Real intimacy as a couple is so much more. Its an
understanding of each others communications, becoming deeply
attuned to each others needs. Feeling really connected, and not
just at the loins. When you have a great deal of love and trust and

sharing in a marriage, you each become a catalyst for the others


spiritual and emotional growth. Youll create an ongoing passion in
your relationship that feeds itself."
"That sounds so wonderful."
I know its been hard for you. I think if they're honest, every
couple except the most naive or self-deluding will admit they are
going to have rough spots in a marriage, and have to face really big
issues, like having children, adultery, and so on. But you can learn
how to turn anger and other negative emotions into a healing force.
And the physical Tantric practices I can teach you will enhance your
lovemaking beyond anything you can guess at. But it will go even
beyond the physical if youre emotionally and spiritually close. And
when that happens, well, all the mere sex in the world will never be
of the slightest interest to him.
That sounds almost too good to be true."
"I promise you, if you want to put in the work in this marriage,
you'll get more rewards than you could ever dream of."
Althea nodded. "I do want that. I really want to please him, make
him happy. Then I'll have everything I could ever wish for.
Eswara smiled gently. Then lets start with you, oh great
goddess, what makes you happy. Ill teach you more about men in
a couple of weeks when youre ready.
Althea could hardly wait

Chapter Eighteen
Under her new friend's patient tutelage, Althea gradually
awakened to her own power and sense of self. She not only took
lessons with Eswara, but with her son Ash in what he termed martial
arts.
Her nights with Matthew improved considerably, though he was
still feeling exceptionally guilty and flustered, especially as she grew
in confidence and surprised him by making her wishes known in no
uncertain terms.
He grew so excited at times, he would flee the bed rather than
risk getting what he considered to be too carried away, leaving her
confused and not a little hurt.
But Eswara told her it would take him time to get used to the
goddess within her, and to become more in touch with his own
feelings. So she worked even harder on getting to know herself, and
expanding her knowledge of her own inner strength.
Althea loved all her lessons, from the Tantra to Indian cooking to
baking and spices, taking the opportunity to learn all that the
unusual Indian family had to offer.
Ash was a large man, about six foot three, but gentle, and a very
patient martial arts teacher. He taught her how a couple of simple
grips on his wrist or hand could do serious damage to an assailant.
She had no doubt her husband would be livid if he found out she
was almost wrestling with a man so much larger than herself, but
she learned what she could do with a knee or elbow or even the
side of her hand, and how to turn someones own violence back on
themselves.
At the end of a month, she insisted that Ash really try to attack
her.

Youve been giving me an easy time of it up until now, she said


to him as they practised at the back of his house. But a real
attacker isnt going to worry about being gentle. So come at me.
Lets see if Im ready.
All right. But Im going to do it with the usual ox-like demeanour
of most English men who dont know any martial arts. Otherwise I
might rip your head off.
Thats fine. And do you think Martin might help too?
What do you mean?
She shrugged and blushed. Just that chances are it might be
more than one man.
Ash studied her carefully for a moment. All right, but Ill tell him
not to use his skills on you either.
Martin joined them a short time later, and said, Are you sure you
want to do this in that lovely frock?
I doubt my attackers would be concerned with such niceties. So
dont worry about it. If I let either of the two of you get close enough
to me, it will be my own fault if it gets ripped or torn.
All right. So were pretending to be two debauched men trying to
drag you off and have our way with you, are we?
Yes.
Forgive us if we do manage to grab anything we oughtnt.
Martin blushed. Oh, no, Im not-
His step-son rolled his eyes. Then pretend to try to hold her for
me while I do.
I say, Ash, shes a married woman!
Althea quirked one brow at him. I doubt theyre going to take
the trouble to ask me that either. Theyll just grab. Again, it will be
my own fault if you succeed.
Martin sighed. All right, but you can explain this to your mother
if she catches either of us honking something we shouldnt.
Ash shrugged one shoulder, and they began.

However, it wasnt Eswara who caught them, but Matthew,


coming rather earlier than usual to collect his wife.
His heart nearly leapt into his throat when he came around the
back of the house to the stable block and saw what looked to be two
men attacking his wife. His breath caught, so that he couldnt even
shout a warning to her.
He ran forward, but to his astonishment she managed to elude
capture, and even ward off the blows with some remarkably deft
moves that left him gaping.
She even succeeded in disabling both of them, one with a wellplaced kick, the other with a twist of the wrist and a sharp elbow.
Good, Althea, one of the men said, whom he now recognised
as Eswaras son Ash.
Easy for you to say, the other man wheezed.
Matthew realised with a jolt that it was Martin Jerome.
You didnt get it in the goolies, Althea said with a dismissive
wave, "so stop whining."
Ash gave his step-father a sympathetic look. Ill explain to
Mother.
Thanks, he said sarcastically.
Im really sorry, Martin, I didnt mean-
No, its all right, Althea. You did well. Exactly right. No mercy. Do
you want to try again as soon as I get my wind back? Only this time
you can come at her from behind, Ash.
Fine. Im not married. Thats not to say I wish to be rendered
completely incapable of having children, though, Althea, so do
please be careful.
Hah, now you tell her.
They all giggled, and it was only when Ash looked up and
stiffened that Althea turned and saw her husband standing in the
courtyard staring.
Matthew, youre early, Althea said, hot colour flooding her
cheeks.

More like too late, by the looks of things, he said, shooting a


look at Ash as sharp as a dagger.
You know Ash and Martin, of course. Theyve been teaching me
some martial arts to help me defend myself if anyone tries to attack
me. Do you want to watch?
Really, Althea, I dont think I can bear-
Shes very good. Honestly, she wont come to any harm. And
isnt it better for her to be strong and aware, than cringing in her
room in fear? Ash asked.
I suppose so. But youre not married. Would you want your wife
Well, my wife can, Martin interceded. Why not yours?
It just isnt done, Matthew said primly.
Maybe it should be, Althea said with a lift of her chin. Come on
you two, once more.
Althea, please.
You dont have to watch. Go in to Eswara and have some tea
and a chat. Well come for some refreshment in a minute.
Matthew shook his head. Im not leaving you out here to-
Then stay and watch, but dont get in the way or distract me.
She took up her stance once more. While the two men were
reluctant to do it again with the ladys glowering husband present,
they knew it was for her own good.
And they had not been lying to her. She really was more than
capable.
So they pretended to be two assailants attacking her in an alley,
one creeping up behind, one trying to be charming at the front.
Ash went flying over her shoulder and crashed into Martin, and
neither of them had put a finger on her.
Try not to overreact, though. I mean, for all you know we might
have been stopping to ask directions.
She shook her head. No. If you were both standing so close to
me, and I was alone in an alley, night or day, you meant me harm.

She has a point, Martin said.


Matthew had to admit that he was impressed. Impressed, and
proud.
Althea, he said quietly.
She steeled herself for another tongue-lashing.
If youre not too tired, do you want to try that once more?
The two men looked at each other, and nodded to her.
All right, Matthew. If you like, she agreed.
This time Martin crept up behind her, and grabbed both her
arms, trying to pin them. She ducked and tripped him, and skittered
out of the way as Ash pursued her. She turned and held her ground,
and ducked out of the way and to the side as he tried to paw her.
Ash went for her hair next, but she grabbed his arm, and with
one fluid movement brought it up around his back. She jerked one
foot out from under him with her leg and sent him sprawling face
first.
I give up, Ash groaned, spitting out a mouthful of dirt.
Good practice, lass, Martin praised, offering his step-son a
hand up. Come on, lets get some tea and cake.
Matthew was silent throughout the meal as his wife discussed the
Tantra with the other three in knowledgable terms. He looked at the
pictures on the wall of people dancing with renewed interest. No,
not dancing at all...
Matthew recalled what Philip had said about talking to Eswara.
Well, maybe not to her, but certainly to her husband or son.
He was blushing profusely by the time they ever left, but was
curious and excited too. He had seen a whole new side to his wife,
well, several, and it amazed him to see how grown up and
sophisticated Althea was becoming.
It was frightening too, for he was conscious of his own
deficiencies, which rendered him even more susceptible to Matildas
blandishments.

For she had been ever present during the past month,
supposedly running into him or them almost daily as they made the
rounds of all the Rakehells and their other neighbours.
Matilda made no disguise of her continuing interest in Matthew,
which set Altheas teeth on edge no end. Had he not told the
perverted blonde that he was happily married?
Matthew had, but the truth was her interest in him made him feel
good about himself. It was nice to feel desirable instead of
debauched, intelligent instead of idiotic, powerful instead of
powerless.
Oh, none of it was Altheas fault, but he couldnt seem to get
their first night. Though he was more and more warm
demonstrative with her in bed and out, he was still not able to
himself over fully to the intimacy Althea was trying to develop in
marriage.

past
and
give
their

The truth was he found it far easier to be a rake. Althea was so


much a part of himself and his life that he was terrified of driving her
away, losing her love, once she found out how truly depraved he
was.

Chapter Nineteen
Matilda began to flirt more and more outrageously with Matthew,
until it was all Althea could do to not execute a few martial arts
techniques on her and rearrange the classical features on her smug
face.
The Rakehells all did what they could to defuse the volatile
situation, but even if they made it known Matilda was not welcome
at their houses, she had an uncanny knack for running into Matthew
no matter where he was.
Bristol, Bath, Brimley, there she was, wreathed in smiles, and
exuding a heady sensuality which Matthew, even though he was
more active in the bedroom with Althea, was finding so flattering,
that his former paramour was becoming harder and harder to resist.
Matters came to a crisis when Blake and Arabella hosted a ball in
their new home, not quite completely finished yet, but with a grand
enough ballroom to host a special dance for the summer solstice.
Though they had not specifically invited Matilda, she had turned up
on the arm of the rattle Tobias Parke, who had also befriended the
flighty light-skirt Georgina Jerome, Blakes cousin. Georginas
reputation as an incorrigible minx was amply proven when she
displayed her cleavage openly to Matthew right in front of his
mortified wife.
Matilda licked her lips and had visions of a wonderful threesome.
Foursome if she could get Matthew to agree to Tobias joining them,
though she had tried and failed often enough before.
But then, Matthew had not been stuck in the country with such a
dull little wife to do his duty with before. Her eyes alight with eager
anticipation as she danced with him, she said, Meet me on the
terrace in twenty minutes. I need to speak with you, be with you. Ill
simply die if I dont have you soon.

Althea, dancing in the set behind, was moving back into place
when she caught the womans words. She blinked and saw that it
was indeed her very own husband the hussy was speaking to.
Damn her eyes. And damn his for not saying no at once.
Ill see you shortly. We need to talk, he said in an undertone.
Althea saw red. He needed to talk indeed! But not with Matilda.
When Georgina Jerome tried to latch onto Matthew, rubbing her
chest against his arm most voluptuously, that was truly the last
straw.
She stood in front of the couple as they began to adjourn
together to the refreshment room, and took her husband by the
hand.
Pray excuse us. My husband and I are going to have a quick
futter in a corner.
Georgina gasped, giggled, grinned, and then growled, for her
quarry had got away.
Matthew was speechless with embarrassment and not a little
outrage. But by the time he found his voice, they were in Blakes
library and she had slammed the door behind her.
She said without preamble, Im sorry, Matthew, I cant go on this
way in our marriage. Half of the women in Somerset are spreading
themselves before you like jam. And you have the gall to go buzzing
around their honeypots. I cant live with me always wondering, never
knowing for certain if you love me, if youre being unfaithful. I know
what I saw and heard just now between you and Matilda. Dont even
bother to try to deny it. I know that even if nothing has happened
yet, its in danger of occurring. She wants you back."
Matthew blushed but didn't even bother trying to deny it.
She pleated the silk of her sapphire silk gown nervously with her
fingers. And whether you intend it or not, every time you sleep with
a woman who isnt a professional, youre making an unspoken
promise to them. Dont look at me like that. You know its true. As
soon as she was widowed, she expected you to marry her. You
know its true. You broke it off with her, presumably because you
saw no future with her. Ive seen you two together, Matthew. You

may be physically attracted to her, might enoy the sex because it's
an outlet, a habit, but it's just sex."
"Just sex?" he echoed, as she once had done with Eswara.
"Aye, and that's all it is. There's nothing else between you that I
need be jealous of. It's just an itch of the loins. The truth of the
matter is, you dont even like her.
He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Thats true. As a
person I really detest her.
So what did you do in the past? Swive her out of contempt?
He sighed and nodded again. I suppose that was part of it. A big
part, I have to admit. I never had to fear uncontrollable feelings or
emotions, just indulged in the physical, and it was easy to just, well,
relieve myself and walk away.
She glared at him indignantly Thats unworthy of you. Of you
both. And she deserves better. Someone who is committed to her
pleasure too, not just his own.
Youre right, of course, he conceded. I dont want to bed her,
not really. Shes just, well, available, and its all too easy. She was
good at enticing me, and I couldnt be bothered to fight it when she
twiddled my knob. It was like a bad habit, one I didnt bother to
break until she began to insist we marry.
"It never occurred to be that she had read something completely
different into the odd hour here or there we spent together. It meant
so little to me except as an entertainment, like going to the races,
that I never stopped to think what a selfish bastard I was being.
Now with me being married, and my desires clamoring within me
every moment youre with me, Ive been weak and foolish where
shes concerned. Flattered, and totally unthinking regarding what all
of this must look and seem like.
" I dont want to be unfaithful to you, Althea, really I dont, he
said earnestly. I swear it on my life. I just cant seem to bring myself
to, well, allow myself to enjoy you. I cant truly believe that you
desire me. That Im attractive, that you want and love me.
But I do, Matthew! Gods above, you know I do. Thats all weve
ever quarrelled about in our marriage, me needing you in my bed,

between my legs, she said boldly. She was so desperate and


earnest she didnt even blush as she made the whole-hearted
admission.
I know you say you want me. I need to believe it though. The
light-skirts are uncomplicated. Its flattering to have her and
Georgina Jerome hang on my arm the way they do, as if Im Gods
gift to women. And its all right, because theyre trollops. In my mind
Im thrusting my unwelcome attentions on Matilda instead of you.
But Philip said you love me, that you want me. My aunt said it too. I
would like to believe it, but, well--"
"But what, darling?" she asked gently.
"Im so terrified, he confessed, his voice trembling in this throat
with barely suppressed emotion.
She put her hand on one of his. Terrified of what, my love? she
asked gently.
He took a ragged breath. Of ruining everything Ive ever
touched. Of harming you with my surging passions the way I did that
very first night when I drubbed you half to death.
She hugged him around the waist, gazing up into his face
lovingly. Darling, you didnt hurt me apart from the breaking of that
one small membrane. I bled, just like most other virgins. It wasnt
something awful. You were tender and considerate, truly, even
thinking I was a tart at the time. Youre not a bad man. The shock of
finding me there instead of safely at home in Enfield must have
been great. Im sorry the carnal relations were terrible for you, but
Im trying-
Terrible for me? he echoed in confusion.
I recall you being sick to your stomach because you didnt enjoy
my body.
No, he rasped. The opposite! I enjoyed you far too much
considering what I had done.
Really? she asked in surprise.
Truly. It was a revelation, he said honestly.
Im glad. It was for me too. She gave him a shy smile.

I can see you looking doubtful, Althea, but I swear, Ive never
wanted any woman as much as I want you.
If thats true-
It is true! I swear it, Matthew said passionately, stroking down
her back, his fingers whispering over the silk of his wife's elegant
gown.
If thats true, then perhaps its because we fit together, are
meant to be. Two halves of one whole?
He sighed, and kissed her hand. I would love to believe that. But
I dont deserve a treasure like you.
Althea stroked his hair tenderly. Leaving that thought aside,
perhaps theres something we can do to get you out of your slough
of despond over what you believe to be the terrible thing you did to
me.
Matthew looked at her hopefully. Do you really think so? What
did you have in mind?
She considered for a moment. What if I were in control of the
situation?
He frowned in confusion. What do you mean? You mean you on
top of me? I go even more wild then.
Partly, but not quite. I was thinking of something a bit more
comprehensive. What if we could replace the night we first become
lovers? Only this time youd be the captive slave.
What, you mean tie me? he asked, both thrilled and nervous at
the suggestion.
Yes. A pair of silk stockings, a blindfold, and then you can see
what it was like, what I recall, and what I would like from our
marriage.
He shook his head and took a step back, his eyes wide with
disbelief. Oh, you dont know what youre asking, Althea. What sort
of tiger youre about to unleash.
She raised her brows, her face a picture of studied calm. I may
not, true, but Im willing to run the risk to find out. Anything has got

to be better than you walking around with blue balls and nearly
being unfaithful to me with that nasty bitch Matilda."
Blue- How did you- he sputtered.
"Living with you at arms length because youre trying to do the
kind thing and protect me from your supposedly raging lusts for
me.
"Oh, Althea, if I don't protect you, who will?"
"You saw me the other day. I can take care of myself. And I
certainly don't need to be rescued from my own husband, the man I
married of my own free will."
"Althea, my love, not that I'm not thrilled about your new-found
confidence, but where is this all coming from?"
I'm not willing to let any woman have what's mine, and I'm
certainly not willing to settle for half a marriage because of both our
inner fears and insecurities."
He paced back and forth in front of her and then nodded. "You're
right, of course."
"And I havent just been talking to Eswara about my past, Ive
been planning for my future too. Our future as husband and wife,
Matthew."
"I see. And what plans have you formed?" he asked, both
terrified and excited at the prospect.
"What makes men desire women like Matilda? Their experience.
Where does one get experience? By actually living life,
experimenting. You and I are safely married. In all other respects, I
think were happy, arent we? I mean, apart from the romantic
problem, we seem to be a good match.
He nodded, and bowed over her hand. Youve always been the
embodiment of perfection for me, Althea, he said sincerely. So
yes, I would say were a good match. We have a good marriage.
Youre my equal in every way that counts, if not my superior. Youre
my dream come true, dearest.
She squeezed his hand and kissed it. But Im a real woman,
flesh and blood. I dont want to be the embodiment of perfection if it
means I never get to touch you. Never have you by my side in bed

except to sleep. Never make love with you unless its by


appointment or accident in the middle of the night. Please, if you
have any love for me at all, tell Matilda shes no longer welcome in
your life. Well say goodnight to our hosts, and you and I will go
home together now to make love.
Looking at her earnest, beseeching gaze, he nodded. Yes, oh
God, yes. Im sorry, Althea, Ive been such a fool. Ive wanted you
so desperately Ive stumbled around like a blind idiot. Please forgive
me for hurting you?
Althea gave him a long level look. So long as you know that Im
playing this game to win. To make sure our marriage is a happy and
real one. I will brook no rival, and I will never, ever grant you a
divorce as long as we live. We took the sacrament of marriage
together. I have every intention of us both living up to it.
"Starting now, Matthew Dane, your raking days are over. It wont
be trying to thrill a thousand different women for one night. Im going
to expect you to thrill me a thousand different ways, night after
night.
He groaned with desire, his face flushed, the pressure in his skull
almost unbearable. Oh, lord, Althea, youve nearly unmanned me
just with your words.
As soon as you get home, I can show you a few other things I
can do to delight you. But first were going to get rid of Matilda.
We? he echoed in consternation.
To avoid any unpleasant scenes or doubts, Im going to go with
you to your little assignation. Out on the terrace, isnt it?
Oh, darling, no-
Why? Do you have something to hide? Have you been telling
her a pack of lies about how badly misunderstood you are? she
sneered, furious.
No, not at all! he defended himself hotly. Im just afraid shell
get mean and spiteful. Say things that arent true just to hurt you.
Im a big girl now. Ill live. Better nasty words than evil deeds. We
go, we get rid of her from our lives, we head off to bed. Those are
my terms.

"Then yes, by all means, if you're up for it, yes."


She wasted no more words, but took his hand and marched
determinedly through the ballroom to the terrace.

Chapter Twenty
Eagerly waiting for her former lover on the terrace, Matilda was
astonished to see Matthew with his wife in tow. She was even more
surprised when Althea spoke, Matthew remaining completely silent,
not even looking at her.
Its my understanding that youve been trying to regain your
place in my husbands life. Im sorry, theres been a muddle. Hes
mine now, all of him. If you ever had a chance, its long gone. He
broke off with you almost a year ago.
"Hes been trying to be protective of me by not enforcing his
conjugal rights very often, its true, but hes been too much of a
gentleman about the whole thing. You tempted him as an outlet, no
more, but he doesn't need one. Im more than willing. So your, er,
services will not be required here. Not now, not ever.
Her cat green eyes narrowed furiously. Matthew, are you going
to let her-
Shes spoken for me, Matilda. Thats precisely whats in my
heart. I was weak and foolish, trying to take the easy way out to get
a leg over, as the phrase goes. Its true my wife is very young, and
Ive been overly cautious of her.
"Its also true that she is easily the most voluptuous and exciting
woman Ive ever met. To go to bed with anyone else, especially you,
would really be a waste of time. They would just be a pale substitute
of what I share with my remarkable wife, and not able to make me
happy the way she does. It would be just sex, and that would be all."
"All? It's plenty, as I'm sure you recall--" she purred, thrusting out
her bosom.
Matthew shook his head. "I'm sorry it was that important for you,
but since I never loved you, it meant nothing to me other than
scratching an itch. It was wrong of me to ever continue seeing you
once you brought up the subject of marriage, and I should have

broken it off sooner and not string you along. I was weak and foolish
and I'm sorry. I wish you well, but I have no interest in continuing
with our friendship."
"You say that now, in front of her, but mark my words"
"No, you need to mark ours," Matthew insisted, for they're no less
than the truth."
"You've never had it so good as--"
Matthew shook his head. "Good isn't good enough. I want the
best for my wife."
Matilda glared. "That whey-faced--"
"You were right, I did always love her. I'm sorry. I wasn't
deliberately deceiving you, Matilda, whatever you might think. The
only person I was lying to and hurting was myself."
"You expect me to believe that, when you suddenly turn up
married. I bet the pair of you have been laughing behind my back all
the while," she stormed.
Althea shook her head. "No, I swear it. He thought me too young,
and I've been in mourning for some time. Nothing romantic has ever
passed between us until recently, when, well, we were both knew
the attraction between us was too great to resist any longer."
Matthew nodded. "Aye, and you and I both know we've not seen
each other for a long time, been with each other as anything more
than mere acquaintances. It's been over a year, Matilda. It's time
you moved on."
"Damn you, Matthew Dane, and your little slut too! This isn't over
yet, not until I say--"
"It is over. I've said it often enough in the past year. Please don't
make me despise a woman I once thought I cared about with any
more bitter recriminations."
"You'll be back. When you're done playing house with this little
doll, and need a real woman to cater to all your dark, depraved
needs, you'll be"
"Enough," Matthew said, suppressing a shudder at the
debauched woman's words. He was not like that, he was not. He

took his wife's hand in a firm grip as though she were a lifeline, and
he a drowning man. "Come, darling, we have things to do at home
that are far more pleasureable than this."
"Indeed." She gave him a smile as intimate as a caress, causing
the other woman to glare in stunned fury.
Why, the little chit really had made his sap flow like a fountain.
Matthew gave a slight bow. "Au revoir, Matilda. I wish you well in
the future, and hope you do find someone willing to marry you. But
that man has never, and will never, be me. Goodbye. I doubt we
shall ever cross paths again. If we do, please be so good as to
simply cut me.
He bowed and turned away, leaving Matilda fuming impotently,
aching to run after him, but not knowing a single thing to say to help
win him back to her after all she had seen and hear pass between
Matthew and his wife.
As Matthew turned his back on his former mistress, he squeezed
his wifes hand, and in a burst of joy at the freedom he suddenly felt,
he swung her up into his arms and ran for their carriage.

Chapter Twenty-one
A short trip back home in the carriage with Matthew and Althea
kissing and caressing the whole way as though they would devour
each other had them in Barton a half an hour later.
Once there he lifted Althea into his arms and took the stairs two
at a time as he ran to his bedroom.
No, my room. I have a few treats in store for you, she
whispered against his lips, and gave a sensual smile.
Hm, treats? he said with a broad grin. Every moment I spend
in bed with you is like all the Christmases Ive ever had all rolled into
one.
Thats so nice of you to say so. I love being with you too. You
make my body and soul soar with the least little caress.
He let her slide down his body as soon as he closed the door to
her room, and she illustrated her point by taking one of his hands
and gliding it along her cheek. She kissed the palm of it, but before
he could pull her hard against him, she stepped away and indicated
the room with a sweep of her arm.
On the bed were navy blue satin sheets shot through gold
thread, and matching bed hangings. There was champagne and
strawberries, massage oil aromatic with sandalwood, and a little
brazier with a small kettle. She lit the coals and wood, and soon the
kettle began to boil.
Her movements were all slow, deliberate, seductive.
I hope you dont mind the presumption, but I was rather hoping
that you would come visit me this evening after the ball.
His turquoise eyes glowed. I dont mind at all. Thank you for the
most kind invitation. Youve obviously gone to a great deal of
trouble. What sort of visit did you have in mind?

Ive told you, I want us to try to start again. Overcome some of


both our fears. I have some special tea I want you to drink to relax
you. Then you can undress and Ill bind you. Let me get some
stockings.
He hesitated. I think Im going to be far too excited even with
being tied down. Let me give myself some relief- His hands were
on the waistband of his trousers, but she shook her head and
pushed his hands aside.
No, if you really want some instant gratification, Ill do it for you.
But otherwise, for tonight, youre my willing slave, and Im in
control. Her eyes sparkled. And I say you cant touch yourself
unless I allow you to.
Yes, Master, he said meekly, with a grudging smile.
I dont mind the title Mistress, since I am your wife. I want to be
your lover as well.
Yes, Mistress.
She began to undress him slowly as he stood and drank the tea
as she had insisted. Eswara had said it would heighten his pleasure
enormously. She certainly hoped so. She wanted Matthew to see
that no other woman could ever love him or give him as much as
she could. As much as she wished to, if only he would stop viewing
her as the delicate little flower he had known as a child, then
ravished and rescued.
Then she started to undress herself, refusing his help as she put
on a display for him, baring just as much as she had to without
revealing it all, before draping herself in a sapphire silk robe which
made her skin and hair seem like they glowed.
She indicated a matching robe in burgundy, but he shook his
head, and stood proudly naked, fully erect, his arousal making him
strained, taut, bringing the heat to her whole body as she looked at
him. Here was a man worth risking it all for--she had the feeling the
rewards were going to be even more wonderful than she had
hoped.
When Matthew had finished the aromatic tea, Althea led him to
the bed and told him to lie down comfortably. He reclined against
the pillows with only a slight pause of indecision. She tied his wrists

with her silk stockings, her every lingering touch designed to


inflame. She used a third one to cover his eyes, so that he could
see her through the gauzy veil just as she had done him.
The first thing she did when she had tied him was kiss him
warmly. Next she sat on his chest and leaned forward. Do you mind
very much kissing my breasts?
Not at all. Just remember, Im your humble slave this night in all
things.
You may have cause to regret that offer, she said with an
impish smile.
His mouth fastened on her, ruching her nipple instantly as he
glided around her aureole with his clever tongue. He devoted his
attention to each breast with great care and concentration, drawing
as much of each in turn as he could into his mouth, even using his
teeth with clever little nips to exact more pleasure.
More, please. Again, she whispered, feeling the tugging
sensation deep in her womb.
All of her skin flooded with desire which cascaded downwards,
spreading her legs, parting the robe so he could see the rest of her
at last. She sat by his knees and twined one leg with his, facing him.
You see what you do to me. My breasts, my secret little strawberry,
all red and ripe just for you. She stroked herself delicately and
Matthew groaned.
God, Althea, what are you doing?
Showing you how wet and glistening and desirous you make me.
Do I look worried or concerned, forced to be with you in any way?
No, I think I look excited, so completely aroused my skin is like a
shower of sparks.
She sat on one of his granite-hewn thighs, and rubbed herself up
and down. His crinkled body hair was rough against her soft skin
and she sighed. Mm, you see?
Ill do anything you want, love, he babbled, nearly beside
himself with desire. He strained at his bonds until the brass
headboard groaned. You have only to ask and its yours. I want to
make you happy, really I do. I just cant believe-

Believe it. Here, here and here, she said, touching his forehead
and heart, before lightly brushing his loins. Trust me, as I trust
you.
She trailed kisses down his face from forehead to chin, then
down his throat until she came level with his nipples. She swirled her
tongue over each of them in turn, and got an answering sigh of
contentment as he lay prone, too excited to move a muscle, wanting
to see where this relinquishing of control was going to take him.
Her kisses went down even further, over the rock-hard plain of
his abdomen, and down further still.
No, you dont have to. I dont expect-
Youre so beautiful, my darling Matthew. Let me worship you as
you deserve to be. I wouldnt do it otherwise. I always have a
choice. Im free now. I always have been, even when I was in the
brothel and tied. I could have said no, do you see? I knew it was you
through the veil, and I could have said no. But I wanted you. I think I
always have. And I want you to want me. To let go of the idea that
you've hurt me in any way through making love to me, Matthew.
He began to twist even harder at the silken bonds now, but she
soothed, Its all right. Youre lovely. Im not afraid. In fact, Im
looking forward to putting into practice what Ive learnt about the
male anatomy. Theres so much more to life than thrusting and
twiddling.
Oh Lord, Althea, he gritted out, feeling his climax roaring
through him already. I want to please you, but I cant last more
than-
He was shocked to find the tumultuous sensation had subsided in
an instant, as soon as she had pressed on the base of his penis and
pulled his gathered scrotum away from his torso with a firm hand.
What on earth? he gasped, for she had already begun circling
the huge head of his manhood with the thrilling glide of her lips once
more.
I can keep you like this for hours, or release you in an instant.
Which would you like?
Oh, hours, he begged, soaring again, only to be cut off once
more.

Matthew almost had cause regret the request, for each time she
stoked his fires and tamped them down, he could feel his desire
soaring up to an even more giddy pitch. Her hands and lips were
never still over his body. He was astonished that even after she
moved away from the centre of him, his pleasure roared in his
veins.
Any part of the body can be orgasmic, she said with a smile
when he stared at her in confusion and with some alarm.
A massage of his feet and ankles had already started to elicit
another awesome response. She planted each foot on her breasts,
and rubbed herself against the soles of his feet as she massaged
his ankles. He was sure he had died and gone to Heaven.
He who had bedded some of the most experienced women of the
world in London, Paris and Brussels now felt like a mere puerile lad
who had only played at love before. But in a very real sense
Matthew only ever had, for any notion hed had of regard for any of
the others dwarfed in the face of his overwhelming need to have his
incredible wife by his side day and night.
I worship you, my darling. I know what youre trying to do, and I
adore you for it. Im trying to let go of the past, really trying. Im just
so frightened for you, he confessed, the tears springing to his eyes
unbidden. And frightened of you. The passion you unleash in me is
uncontrollable.
She pressed and released him, and with a thump and sigh he fell
back upon the pillows.
She slipped back up him slowly, using her entire body for one
vast caress. But Ive just proven I can control it, darling. You can
too. But we dont need to any more. Im fit and well, and would very
much like, her voice had by now dropped to a sultry whisper, a son
with turquoise eyes.
He almost swallowed his tongue. Are you sure? Really sure?
She nodded and said without hesitation, Completely. I always
have been, you know. Ive never loved anyone but you. I always did
tell everyone we would fall in love and marry. You all thought it was
the foolish dreaming of a young girl. But no one else completes me
the way you do, Matthew. And I think its the same for you.

Its true, he confessed, opening his whole heart to her, and


himself at last. Just like in Platos Symposium, I spent all my life
looking for the other half of myself. The better half. I just couldnt
believe it was right under my nose the whole time. You were so very
young, my dear. And I thought about offering for you, really I did.
Last year, and again a couple of months ago when your father died.
But things were so difficult with Matilda, and I didnt want- He bit his
lip and sighed.
Didnt want what? she prompted gently, whispering her lips over
his in a way that made him ache to possess her whole body with
one blistering thrust.
I didnt want to be selfish. I wanted to give you time. Time to fall
in love with someone else if that was what you were destined for.
And time to become your own person. I thought if you were
eighteen and a bit more independent I wouldnt feel so badly about
selfishly pressing my suit.
She smiled as she stopped his surging orgasm by squeezing the
head of his cock as Eswara has instructed, leaving him still sizzling
but in control. Not exactly the mark of a true rake, now is it? Being
noble enough to give up your conquest? You see, darling, what a
good, decent man you are? You made one error in judgment, but
no one was hurt in the end, least of all me.
Please let go of all the sorrow and upset over than night, and
remember only the joy. That we became the most incredible lovers,
and you saved me from a fate worse than death at the hands of my
abductors."
"But still, you were a virgin, and I--"
"Darling, I've told you, I never did say no that night. I could see
you, knew who you were. I could have talked you out of it quickly,
tried to explain things a bit better. Told you I was a virgin, struggled
against my bonds. But I did none of those things because I knew
you, trusted you. You asked me if I wanted you, remember? I told
you the truth. One kiss and I was truly lost. One touch from you and
I was on fire.
Oh, God, I know, he groaned, twisting his wrists in a futile
attempt to free them. I am too. And I want to touch you, so very
much.

She moved her hands over his body purposefully, caressing the
sides of his chest from underarms down to waist with a sensuality
which made him shudder to the brink.
Just wait until we do this with massage oil.
His mouth went dry and he stared at her, a trembling mass of the
most tempestuous yearnings which could scarcely be put into
words.
But not now. We have so many more nights to explore each
other. For now, since youve been such a very good little slave, I
think we might have a few more treats for you.
Oh, yes, please, he said eagerly, twisting in the bed to try to
brush against her.
But first you have to service me with your tongue, she said
suddenly, taking him by surprise as she put her back to him and
locked her thighs on either side of his head.
Matthew gladly complied, her rich aroma of arousal setting all of
the veins in his body bulging with need.
Her pattern of enticing and releasing him never faltered, not even
when he began to buck and squirm as she renewed her thrilling
attentions to his far too sensitive velvety tip. He was sure he was
going to explode in her mouth, and couldnt even dissuade her since
his own mouth was firmly locked against her engorged flesh.
Althea was not so ruthless in denying herself, and reached
several pinnacles before finally giving him one last long lingering lick
and stopping him.
When she turned to face him again and glided onto his surging
cock, she was so hot he was sure his flesh would be left scorched.
She sat astride him, and moved against him sitting straight up,
causing the most incredible friction between them.
Then slowly she leaned forward and angled her body and legs
until each thrust caressed her from the tip of her peaked
womanhood to the opening of her gate to paradise. As she pressed
against his hard abdomen, her inner muscles clenched fiercely.
Only a few strokes rendered him on the verge and incoherent
with need. He could feel the perspiration bead under his arms,

between his thighs, even spring up on the soles of his feet and the
tips of his fingers.
Oh, Althea, whats happening? Even his own manhood seemed
to have a mind of its own as it surged almost frighteningly into her.
Its the tea I made you drink, she said, sensing his change deep
with her own body. It increases the blood flow.
You need to stop me now, he groaned through gritted teeth.
Im going to expire if you dont. Literally.
For indeed the swirling sensations within him were so powerful
he could feel the void reaching up for him, threatening to drag him
down.
But Althea had a different place to press now. Stretching one
hand behind her back, under his tightly-gathered orbs, she
depressed the small dimple at the flat section of the juncture of his
thighs with her thumb.
His passion crashed through him, leaving him deaf, dumb and
blind. The pure pleasure and near-pain of the joyous explosion was
his only thought as he poured into her hot sheath, his essence
wrung from him in great shuddering bursts, yet leaving him still
wanting even more.
I want you so much, Althea. Even inside you like this I cant get
enough of you, he panted when at last he could speak again.
Did you enjoy that?
Enjoy? he laughed incredulously. A pathetically weak word
which doesnt even come close to what I feel. No, no, dont untie
me!
She looked at his suddenly alarmed expression in surprise. Why
not? Dont you want to touch me, put your arms around me?
That and so much more. But Im still so on fire, Im afraid-
All the more reason to let you have whatever you want now,
she said, freeing both wrists.
He immediately cupped her buttocks with both hands and rolled
her under him, pressing his again-burgeoning flesh into her with one

bold stroke. He set a deep, rhythmic pace which had her aching for
more.
But Althea had other surprises in store for him, moving her hips
so that he could only penetrate her entrance with the smallest of
strokes. She did this about five times, then rammed down, sending
him surging so deeply he was sure she would split in two.
Althea, what are you-
You can control it. Small strokes just at the edge, about five is
fine, one deep. Five, one deep. Oh, Matthew.
Her face, already flushed, darkened to crimson, and with his next
deep thrust she raked her nails down his back and let out a keening
cry.
Her body curved upwards, breasts thrusting against his crisp
chest hair. Clasped tightly in his arms, her delight went on and on.
Matthew wanted to follow along with her, but also needed to gift
her with all the pleasure he had given him, and more besides.
He continued to count to six, and suckled her breasts like a
starving man. Moving one hand up to her face, he gentled her
tousled blond hair back. At the end of one of her paroxysms he just
paused and held her for a moment.
Is that what your uncontrollable pleasure looks like? she asked
breathlessly.
Mmm, pretty close, he admitted. Yes. I love losing myself
inside the bliss only you can give me.
Yet were both still in control, arent we? No ones hurt, no ones
afraid. And even now I can tell youre already looking for another
way to make me reach my zenith.
He smiled at her in sheer relief, an open, happy smile such as
she had not seen in years. I can see it all now. Im sorry for
everything, my darling. Ive been a fool. I promise to try harder, to
trust in our love. Believe you when you tell me whats in your heart.
Just so long as you know I never meant to hurt you. That everything
Ive done has been for love.
Her eyes shone as she stroked his face tenderly. I know it.
Believe me. Never in one second of the time weve spent together

have I ever doubted your love for me. I only ever doubted I could be
enough for you.
Always enough, Althea, and in fact, quite a little handful.
Big handful, he amended, touching the sides of her breasts
reverently. You didnt have to ask Eswara about all sorts of exotic
sexual practices and nostrums to be enough for me. Just being here
kissing you like this is enough.
He illustrated his words by giving her one of the uninhibited
kisses she so longed for but seldom got to indulge in.
Now it filled her world, and he sensed the change in her, and
himself. It was as though both their entire souls were laid bare in an
instant. Any doubt or unease or fear of the future left them at that
moment, and there was a spark of new hope, new life as he poured
into her.
She surrounded him shimmering, her soul fusing with his in an
endless dance of desire and delight.
Althea! he cried out, his passion, gentle though it was,
overwhelming him, tearing him apart, yet still leaving him whole.
More than whole--complete.
He tumbled at last into the darkness of absolute peace and
contentment, safely cushioned in his fall by Altheas strong supple
body, her loving soul.

Chapter Twenty-two
Matthew awoke with the most remarkable sense of well-being,
and stretched in the early morning sunlight bathing the bed. He
halted suddenly as he felt the feather-light brushing of his penis
against one silken thigh.
He looked down in consternation, until he realised it was indeed
his wife in the bed bedside him. He had not been dreaming, not got
drunk and done something he would forever regret. Would never
again have to be revulsed by his own passions and the emptiness of
his life as the consummate rake.
His recollection of how they had ended up the evening before
caused a smile to play about his lips. He rolled half onto his side to
face her, and saw her long lashes flutter slightly. He swept his hand
up her back to stroke her hair and shoulders.
Good morning, darling Matthew. Did you sleep well?
The best ever, my love.
It was no lie he told. He couldnt recall ever having felt so tranquil
and fulfilled. Certainly not since they had met in such appalling
circumstances in London.
Im glad. Althea snuggled into his embrace, trying to match all
of her body to his long frame. She arched against his manhood,
rendering herself breathless in anticipation as it kneaded her
outwardly with a satiny caress.
She moved herself up the bed slightly, and threw one leg over his
waist.
He knew a brief moment of panic, but his unease was assuaged
as she brought her lips up along his neck and chin to kiss him. As
the kiss deepened, his movement within her did as well, and she let
out an ecstatic little cry as he filled her.
Mmm, that is so nice.

Mmm, he agreed. Lovely. Youre lovely, Althea. But are you


sure-
Please, darling, Im sure. I have a choice, free will. I want you. I
love you. Youre not hurting me. And I dont want to hurt you.
He opened his eyes, halting mid-stroke. You could never hurt
me, love, except by leaving me.
No, I meant hurting us together. I dont want you to hold back all
the time, treat me as though Im fragile and constantly in need of
nursing and care. What happened to me was terrible. I may never
forget it in my odd times, my worst nightmares. But this, she said,
rolling her hips until he saw stars, this is real. Its warm and loving
and safe and kind and generous, not greedy and grasping and
brutal.
He sighed and confessed, Oh, Im not so sure Im any better
than those men. My lust is barely contained where youre
concerned. You do that to me and I want to roll you under me and
skewer you until you scream. Sorry to be so crude, but-
Then do it. I want to be skewered by you until I scream, and you
scream too, she said, a little spark in her eyes telling him she was
in earnest.
No, youre my wife and-
Did you do it with Matilda?
Pardon me? he gasped, his face suffusing with colour.
Skewer her until she screamed, she said in a tone devoid of all
emotion or judgment.
Er, well-
Ill take that to be a yes.
But she was only a mistress! Youre my wife. And she never, like
you- And I never wanted any of them so badly, the way I do with
you.
What matter mistress or wife? Im still the one being skewered.
Or not.
But darling-

She rolled him onto his back and rammed her hips down hard.
If you wont do it, then I will.
No, please, I might hurt you, and I couldnt bear-
She smiled and shook her head. I thought I proved it to you last
night. Even in the throes of the greatest passion, we can still control
this. Youre not going to hurt me. But I can see I'm going to have to
prove it to you again, you naughty, naughty lad. Mistress is most
displeased, and thinks you need to be taught another lesson.
Each word of her last sentence had been punctuated with the
most alluring undulations of her hips. He tried to raise Althea off his
clamoring cock, but her body was angled into his with her legs out
straight.
She had one arm firmly locked around his waist, the other around
his neck. She kissed him hard, driving the breath from his body as
her pace grew ever more urgent and his own hips rose to met each
of her frantic rotations.
With a growl of pure raw unadulterated desire he rolled over on
top of her, grabbed the backs of her knees up over his forearms,
and spread her legs wide.
One huge pounding thrust was enough to finish him off, but she
begged, Please, stay with me.
She was continuing to move, and he could feel her inner muscles
clenching almost desperately for release. He had felt the urgent
rippling before, but now she clamped down upon him fiercely,
massaging him to hardness again.
The need to please her took precedence over everything else,
including his need to protect her. He watched her in awed
fascination as she threw her head back and let out a cry of delight.
He kissed down the side of her neck to her breasts, now rosily
flushed with passion, and took each delicate nipple into his mouth
and sucked gently. Her hips were still moving so he stayed with her,
angling his body to increase the friction against her soft outer flesh.
Pressed so deeply within her, he moved up and down and from side
to side, and still her climax continued.

Perspiration beaded her forehead and upper lip. He licked her


dewy lip and plunged his tongue in, completing the act of
possession of her trembling body. He cupped her buttocks now with
both hands and pressed ever deeper, his hips up and down motion
sending showers of spark against her delicate rosebud of desire.
More please, she groaned into his mouth, wrapping her legs
around his waist.
He had known many women, but never one as compliant as
Althea. But then he had never been in love with a woman before. He
knew that now. Even what he had thought had been his puppy love
for her could in no way compare with the absolute cataclysm of his
heart and soul which he felt when they were together.
Now that he had been truthful about his feelings at last, there
were no barriers between them any longer. That was what Althea
had asked for, and he understood it all now.
He wasnt just taking from her, he was giving. Giving her the most
exquisite joy, if her tremulous cries were anything to go by. And his
desire was equally matched by her own ardour, for it seemed she
couldnt get enough of him any more than he thought he could get
enough of her.
He could feel another climax rushing through him and had an
image of them both spiralling off into the heavens never to be seen
again. The vortex of pure raw sensation where their bodies joined
sent them spinning into the realm of untold delights.
Still he kept moving within her, bringing one hand around to rub
between them as he massaged her peaked flesh. It provoked a wild
answering cry from deep inside her.
Soon her fingers joined his between them as she slid them
delicately over his silken pouch and rubbed the underside gently
with her fingertips.
Althea, oh, Althea!
The increasing pressure set him off yet again. Matthew was as a
swimmer at the mercy of the most unpredictable tides, which
buffeted him to and fro, swirling him round and round until he was
sure he was drowning.

Yet buoying him up too, for he felt he was riding upon the crested
waves, before at last plunging back downwards again.
When Matthew eventually regained his senses, he was on his
back just as he had been several hours before, and Althea was
draped over him once more so that every inch of their bare flesh
seemed to touch. For a moment he wondered how he had ever had
such an incredible erotic dream.
Then she sighed between her smiling lips and said, Thank you,
darling. That was so wonderful.
He touched her tentatively, and himself. She was soaked with
perspiration and his essence. The strong smell of arousal in the
room told him that it had been no dream. That their lovemaking had
been he and his wife as they truly were, with no doubts or
hesitations.
Yet still he doubted. Feared.
Althea, my love, look at me.
She opened her eyes, and gave him such a smile of pure joy he
was sure he would reach his zenith again right then and there. Her
warm gaze was like a hand caressing him. He cupped her face in
both his hands and kissed her like a starving man.
What is it, whats wrong? she gasped, a small frown of
confusion marring her otherwise beatific expression.
He smiled back at her with a lightness of heart which he hadnt
felt since their childhood days. Since he had left her behind and lost
his virginity in a depraved whorehouse.
Nothing, my love, he said truthfully, nothing at all. I can
understand it all now. Last night, and this morning. This it the true
start of our marriage. I comprehend everything now, most especially
the vows we exchanged. One flesh, one heart, in sickness and in
health, forsaking all others, until death do we part.
Are you sure? she asked softly.
He nodded and said firmly, Sure of us both.
She stroked his cheek. Im so glad.

Thats not to say I wont move heaven and earth to protect you,
and this will take some getting used to." He stroked her bare belly
and grinned. "But I dont think having such a wonderful wife by my
side day and night, all night, every night is going to be any great
hardship. Quite the opposite. It will be pure pleasure.
He took her hand and kissed it, running his tongue along in the
palm in a slow, lazy caress. He licked along her wrist, up to her
elbow, then tugged her arm around his shoulder and moved her on
top of him.
I think I interrupted you before, my love. You were saying?
You chased everything right out of my head, she said with a
delighted grin, wriggling into position. Just let me get back to where
I was, and Im sure it will come to me.
He laughed joyously. To me too.
"And there will be plenty more to come too."
"Lucky us."
"Not luck. A gift from the gods. Fate. Whatever. It was meant to
be."
"And for which I will be eternally grateful for the rest of our lives."
She looked at him pertly. "Exactly how grateful?"
"Let me show you, my love."
"Oooh, yes..."

Chapter Twenty-three
After their incredible night of passion, Althea was sure her
husband was taking their marriage vows a bit too seriously.
Matthew was ever at her side and showered her with attention
and affection, so much so that she began to wonder if they would
ever leave the house.
Oh, they started out with the best of intentions, but no sooner
would they be dressed and ready to depart to Bath, or to see
friends, than he would enfold her in his arms for a seemingly
innocent kiss, and they would end up right back in their bed
chamber stripping each other bare like two ravenous people eager
for a feast.
It was indeed a feast of the senses, as they each sought ever
new ways to delight the other. He tried to avoid anything which
might remind her of her past, but he made no mention of it and she
said nothing either, on an eager quest of her own to thrill him.
Even the simplest massage stroke Eswara had taught her
became enough to delight him, and he was soon eager to learn the
techniques for himself. The more intimate massages left him
speechless and impatient to try with her. He became the most avid
student of the Tantra she could ever have hoped for, and they
shared their desires and fantasies, and laughed and loved. They
had more fun and sheer joy than Matthew could have ever dreamed
possible.
If either had had doubts about each others love, they were firmly
laid to rest. Yet still Matthew could not quite banish the image of her
as the delicate little flower he had seen tied up like a slave.
He tried to force it from his memory, and gradually it began to
cease haunting him, as it faded over time into the background
compared with the new images of his beloved smiling, opening to

him, and bathing him with the warm glow of her passionate
cherishing.
For as each day and night passed, Matthew could imagine no
woman less abject than his wife Althea as she blossomed with his
love and her own self-confidence, and transformed from girl to
woman to goddess.
Their bedroom became a haven of sensual delights which no one
dared intrude upon, and where time had no meaning. They were
inseparable, and his attention was always so focused on her, she
was sure that if he ever thought about his past mistresses at all, it
was only to compare them unfavourably with his wife, and
congratulate himself on his lucky escape.
Matilda, no longer seeing Matthew out and about, knew she had
well and truly lost her gambit to get him back. She left the district at
last, returning to London looking for bigger quarry by all acounts.
Althea breathed a sigh of relief when she informed her spouse of
the news and he told her how delighted he was that she had gone.
His face was so opening and smiling, she never had cause to doubt
his sincerity in the least.
They chatted for hours about their shared past, and their hopes
for the future. Through their new affection and hard-forged intimacy,
they got to know each other in ways which went beyond the
physical. They basked in each others adoration, and Matthew was
sure hed never known such happiness could exist.
Now that he was happy, it was time to share his joyous good
fortune. Once they started being more practical about how they
spent their days, Matthew became firmly committed to helping the
clinic Blake had founded in London, and even setting up similar
ones in Bristol and in Bath.
He turned his considerable business acumen to the task of
setting up a special fund to give each place some working capital
and a steady income. He also planned to set up a trust designed for
fallen women who wanted to get help seeking alternate careers.
Their bed became the centre of their universe as they loved,
chatted, played and worked on their new schemes. If the paper got

crumpled or the ink spilled, no one ever complained, and they found
some fascinating new uses for the feathered end of the quill.
Gone was the quiet and withdrawn Althea. In her place was a
joyous and radiant young woman, the goddess Eswara had told her
was just waiting to come out into the light to be worshipped by
Matthew. And worship her he did, even more than the charming little
girl with the kittens he had once been so taken by.
At last reality and urgent business intruded on their honeymoon
idyll in the form of a letter from Bristol asking Matthew to come in to
see his bank manager about reallocating some funds in his vast
portfolio.
She had awakened that morning to find Matthews face buried
against her feminine core. He had been sound asleep, but as hed
gradually awakened he had slowly stirred her as well with long,
languid licks which had filled her limbs with lassitude.
For once there wasnt the burning urgency to drive them both to
completion, but a gentle rising and falling passion like the swell of
the sea. He had treasured her so completely, theyd both been
moved to tears by the tenderness.
He was so reluctant to part with her that he resumed his position
once more with his head resting on her mound, his arms wrapped
tightly about her thighs and breasts, and said he would go to Bristol
some other time.
But Althea felt guilty that he was neglecting important work, and
so coaxed him into the bathtub, pampered him until he was
breathless, and cajoled him until he agreed to go. But only if she
joined him in the tub for a small tidal wave or two.
By noon they were just about dressed, and she had him half way
out the bedroom door despite more of his delaying tactics.
No, darling, really, put that down, and lets go, she said, tugging
his hand to lead him to the front door.
You know how much I adore tickling your fancy.
And you know just how ticklish I can be. But you need to go tend
to your financial matters.

Still he lingered, his eyes beseeching. Oh, very well, If I cant


persuade you to go on a wild ride with me...
No, you cant. And Im not going to Bristol with you either. But
dont just stand their pouting. The sooner you leave, the sooner
youll come home to me. And then Ill let you have your feather
back.
She gave him a playful sidelong glance, and brushed it up and
down the massive bulge in his trousers. He gripped her around the
waist and kissed her long and ardently.
Promise?
I promise.
He gazed down at her, and she felt their eyes lock.
Matthew.
Althea, he said at precisely the same time.
You first, they both said, and both laughed in embarrassment.
No, really, you go ahead, Matthew. The carriage is waiting. What
is it?
His turquoise eyes had gone as deep and dark as the sea. I just,
well, I just wanted to say thank you for all youve taught me. The
Tantra, about yourself, and even about me. For sharing your life
with me, for making me the happiest of men. All the dreams and
hopes we've shared, all the magnificent sides of your character."
"Oh, darling--"
I knew you were lovely, and knew it wasnt only skin-deep. But
nothing ever prepared me for the absolute and complete joy of
being with you day and night. So thank you, my dearest love.
Oh, Matthew, she sighed, stretching up to kiss him. It was a
most tender and unsolicited declaration of love, and as such was to
be treasured all the more.
Thank you. I feel exactly same, all the time. Just so long as
youre not saying that to avoid going to take care of your business,
and trying to get your feather back. She gave him a broad smile.

He grinned back at her. No, I meant every word, love. But now
that you mention it...
No, go to Bristol, and Ill see you later. Let this keep you warm
until then. Althea kissed him once more, and with a lusty cupping of
one of his buttocks which made him start and blush, she pushed
him gently out the door.
He blew her a kiss, and she returned it and waved. She sighed
pensively as she watched him head down the drive.
Althea would have gone with him, but she was almost glad of the
respite so she could be alone with her private thoughts. Could plan
a wonderful homecoming for Matthew and tell him her momentous
news, which she had been just about to blurt out...
She was as sure as she could be. Six weeks had passed since
their miraculous night of love after Blake and Arabellas ball, and the
hope between them that they were trying for a baby. Neither of
them were taking the trouble to worry about contraception any
longer. Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful....
A quick trip to see Eswara as soon as Matthew had taken his
tender leave of her confirmed all of her bright hopes. She returned
to the house hugging her joyous knowledge to her, reliving the
wonderful affectionate manner in which he had departed.
There had been no fear in his eyes, and no jealousy raging in her
breast, just a certain knowledge of their love being eternal. And
there had also been a promise to renew that pledge as soon as they
were together once more.
Matthew had had a great number of doubts about himself, but he
had proven more than capable of facing the challenges of a being a
good and loving husband. She was sure that being a devoted father
to their child would be as natural for him as breathing.
She was just about to go upstairs to prepare few more romantic
surprises courtesy of Eswara for his homecoming when Philip
Marshall strode into the drawing room looking more agitated than
she had ever imagined possible for such a calm, worldly man.
Forgive me for presuming to come here like this, Althea. But I
need your help, he said without preamble.

She stared, but nodded and said, Anything, Philip, only please
sit and stop looking so wild. What on earth has happened? Is
Jasmine all right?
She is fine, very well," he said with a tight smile. "But my cousin
Angelicas daughter Patrice has gone missing. Shes only fourteen.
Althea gazed at him in horror. Oh no! When, where?
I just got the letter now from Enfield. So it must be at least five
days ago. Forgive me. I need to ask you--"
"Go on, ask me what?"
"Forgive me," he said, rubbing his brow with one hand as though
trying to untangle a knot there. "I don't want to bring up anything
unpleasant, but well-- When you were taken captive, was there
anything you can remember about where you were kept that might
lead us to the man or men who seized you?
Her eyes widened. Oh no, Philip, surely you dont think--
But even as she began to protest, she knew. Knew, and
trembled.
He fixed her with a hard stare from his remarkable sherry-brown
eyes. He weighed, assessed, his gaze like a caress, though with
nothing threatening or lewd about it.
She could see it for what it was. It was the gaze of an honest
man who wanted everything laid out in the open between them. A
man who could be trusted implicitly, though her fears told her that
he had brought danger to her doorstep once more. The gaze of a
man desperate for her help. And only she had the power to give it to
him.
Eswara had said it, Matthew too. She had the power... And only
good could ever defeat evil.
Patrice is very much like you. A woman of unquestionable purity
and decency, religious and kind to a fault. The kind of girl ripe for
debauching by the person who took you and sold you into that
brothel."
Althea bit her lip and blushed.

Please, I know how hard it is for you to think about that night.
That youd like to put it all behind you, and be happy with Matthew,
live a normal life with the man you love. I know how hard it's been.
I've been through something similar with my own wife Jasmine, after
having been made a victim of worldly, selfish people for far longer
than I care to remember."
"I know," she said, nodding. "It's taken a lot of courage for you to
do that, by all accounts. I'm glad it's worked out for you. And thanks
to all your help when Matthew first rescued me, well, it's worked out
for me too. Thank you, thank you both."
He gave a tight smile again and nodded. "You're very welcome.
And that's why I've dared to come. Because I know you've been
through hell, but you've survived, nay, thrived as a result of the
adversity.
"So while I hate to bring it all up again, I think you're strong
enough now to face the truth. And while it might be more prudent to
let sleeping dogs lie where you're concerned, that you deserve to
know the truth. To find out who harmed you so foully, and bring
them to justice.
"Because Ill lay any odds you like that the same man has got
her. Patrice isnt as strong as you, and she could be even now in
any number of bawdy houses in London. Or even a private house.
We have to find her before it's too late."
"Oh Philip, I would love to help, but you said it happened almost
five days ago. It may already be too late."
I can't think that. I won't be so defeatist. And in any event, we
know a fair bit about the perpetrators already. I feel certain we can
help her before it's too late."
"We do?" she said numbly, feeling a cold creep of fear up her
spine as she moved to pour the distraught man a tot of whisky from
the crystal decanters on the drawing room side board.
He nodded. "Aye. Small enough clues, but better than nothing.
When I went down to make discreet inquiries as to how you could
have gone missing without your step-mama knowing or seemingly
caring, I discovered that several girls had vanished in the district in
the past couple of years, too many to my way of thinking. So all of

this has been carefully plotted and planned for some time. Which is
why, whilst they may be cunning, they are also likely vulnerable."
"Vulnerable? Those men?" She shivered.
"They made a mistake in your case, did they not, and now we are
on their trail. I also know the condition Antony Herriot found you in
when Matthew rescued you in the brothel."
She poured herself a sherry and downed in it one gulp. "Indeed."
"So yes, we are running out of time, but I don't think we're too
late yet."
"I pray not," she said, pouring herself a second drink, then
bringing both glasses over to where he sat and handing him his.
"Aye, I think they would want to
with a mouse, and it would take a
opium to render her in the dazed,
found you in. An addict, God help
would be ill.

play with her first like a cat toying


few days to subdue her with the
er, sacrificial state that Matthew
us all." He looked as though he

"Aye, but I'm better now, and shall remain so if I am always


careful."
"Still, I can't just hope for the best. I might have some time if I
leave right now and ride to Enfield without stopping, but not much. If
you can give me any clues at all, Id be greatly in your debt.
Oh Lord, she said, wringing her hands as she started to pace
up and down herself. Ive worked so hard to suppress the
memories. Its so difficult. I cant just blurt out what you need to
know, not here. Not like this. And they might not even be in Enfield
any longer--
"Still, it's a start, if you can tell me anything you recall, no matter
how small or insignificant, which can help me track the trail from the
time you were taken, until the time Matthew found you in London."
Althea rose from her seat in obvious agitation. She paced for a
moment on the hearthrug, then strode over to the window and
gazed out at the lovely day. It almost mocked the darkness, the
crushing sense of despair, the impotence she felt inside.

She blinked again as a stray cloud scudded over the sky,


eclipsing the sun for a brief moment, only to make it appear to burst
out even more brightly than before.
But that was the key, wasnt it? she decided, her ragged
breathing levelling out the more she gazed over the lovely
landscape of her happy home and drew strength from it. The only
way to combat evil was with good. And the only way to combat
powerlessness was to be strong. To be a goddess, just as Eswara
and Matthew had helped her become.
She turned to face her agitated visitor with a new feeling of calm
and purpose. I can understand you being terrified for Patrice, but
we need to be rational and practical if we have any hope of saving
her.
We? he echoed, tugging at his neck cloth, unease suddenly
prickling the nape of his neck.
You cant do this by yourself. We need all the Rakehells we can
get, and anyone else reliable and discreet from amongst our
acquaintance who can be spared. If they really have taken her, then
perhaps this is my best chance to bring those men to justice.
What are you saying? he gasped.
Im saying the only way Im ever going to be free of the past is if
I hunt down the culprits. Im going to put a couple of things into a
valise and come with you. While I pack, you must send notes to all
of the Rakehells explaining what has happened. We need to find all
the men responsible, and as you've said, we have little time.
All? he repeated, appalled. How many were there?
She shut her eyes, willing the memories to come from the
shadows where she had so forcefully tried to drive them. At my
best guess, I would say nine, but it could be as many as twelve.
Twelve? Even the worldly Philip paled.
"Aye, twelve, with a leader to make up thirteen, as in a witch's
coven."
He gaped. When he was finally able to speak again, he
whispered, Im so sorry, Althea. I had no idea. Matthew told us you
had been attacked, but this goes beyond-

He sat with his head in his hands on the sofa, overwhelmed and
almost in despair at the thought of his poor cousin being in the
hands of such madmen.
Althea closed her eyes. I can tell by the different voices, and
seeing them naked. They wore masks, but not all men are exactly
the same, if you take my meaning. One was most certainly my stepbrother. Another two had to be his particular friends in the district,
the Conroy lads. Three other men were quite a bit older, heavy set,
paunchy from too much good living. Local merchants and squires,
I'll be bound. Look for the most rakish in the area and you'll
probably find them.
"Im not sure about the others except that there were definitely
three more regular ones, and some who came in for a, er, fiddle. A
group that size cant congregate without someone knowing
something."
Philip nodded. "Good point."
"Let's rule out the houses where the other girls went missing."
"Why? They took you. It might be all the more easy to throw
suspicion off themselves to victimize women in their own homes."
She shook her head. "I was a mere step-child, remember." She
went over to the desk and took pen, ink, and paper out of the
drawers. "No, no matter how debauched they are, I doubt they are
taking turns harming their own and each other's daughters. So they
must be childless, or have sons, most likely not even married
because they hate women. I can start giving you a list, and draw
you a map now."
"That's assuming they all come from the area."
She closed her eyes again. "I don't recall the sound of a lot of
horses or carriages going to and fro, nor the smells and sweat of
anyone who had taken a good vigorous ride, not much mud, so yes,
I would say local for the most part."
"Good girl," he praised, as he came to look over her shoulder at
the list and map she was drawing up.
"So if we have the Rakehells help and keep a low profile, we can
watch all of these houses in the district and even try to catch them
red-handed. Track the movements of the men I am certain of, at the

very least, and one of the three should lead us to her place of
captivity."
"An excellent plan. But I hate asking--"
She gripped his arm hard. "Don't be silly. Any right-minded
person would be more than eager to help. We need to ask for their
assistance and notify the authorities. All I need is a tiny bit of proof
and I shall be able to rest easy. More to the point, Matthew will as
well."
"Aye, where is he?" Philip asked, looking around.
"Gone to Bristol, else he would be here and happy to help, I'm
sure. No, what I meant was, hes so fearful of them coming to take
me again, or someone else harming me, he scarcely dares let me
out of his sight. I love him dearly, but I cant keep living like this. Like
Im in hiding all the time for some crime I didnt even commit."
"I understand."
Tell the Rakehells to wear dark clothes and bring pistols. Write
ahead to London, get Antony and Oliver to pass along anything they
might have learned recently, and too keep their ears open. You can
also tell Alistair what I suspect. He will put pressure to the authorities
to send someone to investigate.
He nodded. "If I give you the addresses now, and you can spare
some servants to post the messages, you can write yourself, in my
name. I must be on my way."
"I'll spare the servants, gladly, but Im coming with you. So you
write, I'll pack, and be with you in ten minutes." She shoved the pen
and paper at him.
Philip shook his head. Matthew will kill me if I take you with me in
your condition.
She stared at him in shock. How did you know? Ive only just
become sure myself.
He shrugged one shoulder. Intuition. Sorry, Im just an expert on
women. The point is youre not going, he said in a firm tone.
Althea put her hand on his sleeve. I need to come with you. I
know there's something else about all this I've forced myself to

forget, but which could be all the difference to your poor cousin
Patrice. But I need time."
"I understand, but--"
"So write those letters. Tell everyone well put our plan into
motion in three days time.
Plan? What plan?
She was already striding for the door. Trust me. I know what Im
doing. I know them for what they are, and that will be the key to
defeating them. It will be all right. Just listen, and dont argue. Ill
explain it all in the coach once were under way. We need to meet in
a place where our arrival will not be so obvious. Tell them the town
of Bartlet is large enough. The Kings Head will do. Ill write to
Matthew to explain. You take care of the other letters. And Ill pack
some of Matthews clothes for you too, and him. I can guess you
havent bothered with anything so mundane as even a change of
linen.
He ducked his head in embarrassment. No, youre right, I said
goodbye to Jasmine and came straight here. I knew you could
help.
She gave what she hoped was an encouraging smile. Ill do my
best. I know Matthew will be upset, but I would never want anyone
to go through what I went through. It was bad enough the hell of
being imprisoned and sodomised. At least I wasnt deflowered and
raped. Left pregnant or diseased.
"I was lucky Matthew came, that I loved him, always had, even
though the circumstances under which we married could have been
a great deal better. But with Patrice, God knows what beast they
might be planning to sell her to.
If they harm her, Ill kill the whole bloody pack of them! he
rasped.
She shook her head and moved over to grasp his shoulder firmly.
Philip, youre an ex-convict. You would hang for certain if you so
much as laid a hand on one of them. No, brains wins the day over
brawn. You need to leave this to the authorities, and to me.
You? Youll pardon my saying so, but you didnt do very well
looking after yourself when they snatched you, he said quietly.

She held her head high, though inwardly she quailed at his
words. I know. But I was drugged. Outnumbered, helpess. Im
thinking clearly now. Theres a lot I can do about this given a bit
more time to plan. And with the Rakehells backing me. Im not the
same naive girl I was all those months ago, Philip. They're not going
to get the better of me again.
He gave a long groan. Matthew is going to skin me alive.
Not if we get Patrice back safely and stop those men. Besides,
its my decision, not his. Ill be ready in ten minutes.
Ill let you have half an hour. Ill need all your servants to round
up our little army.
Whatever you need. Ill tell Jones to make sure all your orders
are carried out.
Thank you.
Althea hugged him. Dont mention it.
Oh no, youre not brushing off my gratitude so lightly.
No, indeed Im not. Just dont thank me yet. Not until Patrice is
safe.
Aye, and will certainly pray to the gods to keep her so, he said
grimly and bent his dark head to begin writing his missives.

Chapter Twenty-four
Althea was as good as her word. She was ready in ten minutes
herself, and wrote her own note to Matthew whilst her staff prepared
men's clothes, food and drink for the journey.
If they road post in Philip Marshalls carriage and travelled day
and night, and had not difficulty with changing horses, they might be
able to reach Enfield within two days. She could take her ease at
The Kings Arms at Bartlet, wait for their friends to amass, and
prepare herself for the next stage in the game.
The final stage if she had anything to do with it.
Althea forced the flickering memories back into their assigned
place, for the moment at least. If she allowed them to filter upwards
from the dark recesses of her mind she had relegated them to, she
might well be overwhelmed, and the poor girl would be truly lost.
She was not going to let that happen, not if she could help it. She
had been gifted with a reprieve from a fate worse than death. She
had life, love, happiness in full measure, such as she had never
known or even suspected could exist.
But Patrice would not be so fortunate, of that she was sure, not
unless they got to her in time. Althea had no doubt what her fate
would have been if Matthew had not come for her. Rape, assault,
and sexual enslavement for as long as it had suited them to keep
her alive.
But that would not have been long; long enough to wrest the
entirety of her estate away from her bit by bit. Long enough to make
money as her pimp, until she became too ill or disease ridden to
work. Or pregnant, in which case she would have either been forced
to get rid of the child, with all the associated risks involved with
abortion, or have the baby, also with its own grave risks. It would
have been taken from her, thrown in the orphanage as were so
many others, and...

I said are you ready?


She blinked and realised she had slumped over the desk,
clutching at it weakly for support. She caught Philips look of
consternation, saw him opening his mouth to protest that she
shouldnt come after all.
She drew herself to her full height through sheer willpower. Im
fine. It was nothing. A momentary vision of what was, and will be if
we dont go now. Come, dont look so worried. Ill be fine.
Im glad one of us is. For Im sick to my stomach with
apprehension.
She took his arm and moved to the foyer, where she donned her
cloak and bonnet quickly, and lifted one of the portmanteaux.
Here, let me.
Not at all. I can manage. Im not going to allow what happened
to me define my entire life. I have told Matthew that, and Im telling
you. Im not sick.
I was thinking more about you being pregnant, Philip said with a
sheepish look at her stomach.
Oh, quite. But Im not sick, she maintained. Women have been
having babies since the beginning of time. Ill be fine. Come, the
carriage is waiting.
He took her arm and helped her into it. They settled back in their
seats opposite one another, and watched the house fade into the
distance as they headed for the main road to London.
Its bad luck that Matthew wasnt at home when I called.
Im not so sure. I dont think he would ever agree to what Im
about to suggest.
She then told him what had been brewing in her mind ever since
she had forced herself to recognise at least a few of her assailants.
Philip gaped at her proposal, and certainly didnt agree either, but
she talked him through the plan logically, outlining at as the only
way to bring the vile men to justice. Poor Patrice was certainly
suffering, but a chance here had presented itself that they simply
had to take to end the vile conspiracy once and for all.

It was first and foremost a rescue mission, to ensure that the girl
was safe. But no one in the vicinity would be safe if the men were
not caught this time.
She said as much to Philip when he tried to argue, But Althea,
youll never be able to pull it off. Even if I were to agree to you trying
to do anything so desperate, this is madness. It would be
tantamount to suicide! I love my cousin, but I would never forgive
myself if her rescue meant you destroying your own life and even
that of your unborn child.
She gazed at him levelly, not backing down one iota. Im not the
naive virgin I was when they took me. Im a wife, married now. Ive
learned things from Eswara and her son which have given me
power I never had before.
"And even more than power, I have an unshakeable confidence
that I can defeat these men. Can vanquish them on my own terms
as they tried to vanquish me. Turn their weakness against them. If
we catch them red-handed with the girl, they will hang. Then
everyone will be safe.
Its the red-handed part that has me sick with foreboding. Have
you any idea--
I think I do, she said coolly, meeting his gaze with such
steadiness that Philip actually blushed, something he had thought
himself incapable of after all his years in prison and as a debauched
man of the world.
And the rest youre going to teach me. Tell me about your
experiences as a quean, the kinds of things women liked you to do
to them. Something thats also a male fantasy, that will make my
offer irresistible. And you need to tell me about women and women
too. I need to--
He shook his head and groaned in exasperation. Matthews
never going to forgive me for this in a hundred years. And if I tell
you, you probably never will either.
She shrugged one shoulder. Just look at it as an expansion of
my education. I was so sheltered, privileged, smug. I would probably
have lived my life as a pampered and bored little wife, content with a
husband who spoke to me twice a day and took his conjugal ease
upon me once a month if I was lucky.

"Now I have passion, love, and a new way of looking at the world,
which, if not precisely comfortable and easy, is nevertheless almost
all I could wish for. The only thing lacking is the sense of closure. Of
making sure that the men who did this to me pay for their crimes.
No one will be safe else.
I dont know how many girls have vanished in Enfield and the
surrounding villages in the past five years or so, ever since my stepbrother came to live there. All I do know is that there have been
several, and thats far too many to my way of thinking. I wont even
talk about the number of ruined serving maids in the area.
Her eyes were shining brightly, and her breath rasped in her
throat.
Philip looked at her, his dark sherry-brown eyes smouldering with
hidden fury. Maybe you should talk about it, he suggested. All of
it. And when youve told me, you might consider telling Matthew the
parts you think he can bear. Otherwise not."
Now it was her turn to blush.
He is a sensitive soul, is our Matthew, for all hes been a rake for
so long. I would have given anything for love and intimacy. Other
men flee from it as if from the plague. Im so glad to see Matthews
found it with you. But sometimes honesty with him can be too much
of a good thing.
She met his eye candidly and gave a tight smile. Then I shall
never tell him what youve told me, if you dont tell him what Im
about to tell you.
He put his hand over his heart. Word of honour.
All right. You first.
He rolled his eyes. Where should I begin?
Lets start with erotic fantasies.
But you know, not all of them are nasty and horrible, he said
quietly. Not if they are done with love, and caring. Bedroom games
can keep a marriage fresh and lively.
Ill keep it in mind if I ever think Matthew and I are starting to go
stale, she said with a grin. I do appreciate you being concerned.
But really, I do know the difference between love and compulsion.

Between consensual sex between two people who care about each
other, and the brutality those men subjected me to.
"Matthew fears for me, blames himself. But I adored him as a
child, loved him as a woman. I never knew how much until his
finding me, rescuing me, laid his soul bare. And mine. Its cut him
deeply, but I think the gash is starting to heal.
I dont want to reopen his wounds, and certainly not yours.
You wont. Now come, we havent much time. Teach me
everything I need to know about becoming a, a, what was the word
you all used for Matilda? Ah, yes, I remember. All right, Philip, teach
me how to be a nymphomaniac.

Chapter Twenty-five
Between Philips coaching about sexual pleasure, the whole
gamut from the sensual to the debauched, and what she had learnt
about the human body from Eswara, by the time she reached The
Kings Arms Althea felt more than ready to face her foe.
But it wasnt just the knowledge she had gleaned from an often
blushing Philip which filled her with confidence now. It was also what
she had revealed to him.
It was a cathartic experience letting out all of the filth which had
hovered in the depths of her mind. She had on occasion wept and
been too overcome to say any more. Philip had been horrified, but a
tower of strength. He had held her hand or put his arms around her
whenever shed needed him to.
She commented after one particularly difficult session, I adore all
you Rakehells. Youre such a wonderful band of brothers. I cant tell
tell you how blessed I feel to have known you.
He looked surprised and pleased, though his words belied his
expression. What, even a former male prostitute, ex-convict and
blackmailer?
Those are things youve done. Theyre not you.
A man is judged by and is the sum of his actions, he pointed out
quietly.
And the reasons for them," she argued. "You did it all for love.
Love of your family. Just as youve become an amazing solicitor to
help the poor and downtrodden, and look at all you've done to help
me, and are doing now to help Patrice.
Done? I'll tell you what I've done. Allowed you to dredge up
painful memories, and am corrupting you into the bargain, he said
with a scowl.

She shook her head. No, for I asked you to take me, to help me
carry out my plan. And Im not going back to Somerset until shes
safe and those men are in Newgate or dead, she said firmly.
Thank you.
Thank you.
What for? Dragging you into this?
Listening, being so patient with me.
Its the least I can do after the hell youve been through. But if
you want one free piece of advice, here it is. Dont ever tell Matthew
even one fragment of all you've told me.
Just like youve never told Jasmine much of what you have told
me, she guessed astutely.
No, you're right, I never have. Not because I don't love her
enough, or fear her reaction, but for the same reason you want to
not share it with Matthew. To protect the people we love. Jasime
was just like you when we met, sheltered, unspoiled. It was bad
enough her having to learn about my past after we were married.
She took it in good part, but I know she sometimes wonders if I miss
my old life.
And do you?" she dared to ask, thinking of Matthew's old raking
days. "I promise I shall not tell.
He looked stunned at the question and shook his head at once.
Not in a million lifetimes. I look at Jasmine and my soul sings. I
look at my wonderful children, and know I would kill anyone who
tried to harm my family.
Lets make sure it doesnt come to that, though. Our mission is
to capture, not kill.
It depends on how many of the Rakehells and authorities come.
If you think its as many as a dozen men--
Im at least sure of nine. That will make it easier. And if theyre
all as debauched as my step-brother, Im sure there will be some
disgruntled servants who will cry rope on them in some way.
What if they dont go to the secret place every night?

Althea said grimly, They will. Believe me. Its never a question of
if, but when. And how long for. How many at the same time. When
they get a plaything, they clearly make the most of it.
Im so sorry.
You have no reason to be. Youve never attacked a woman, now
have you?
He looked aghast at the very idea. No, never. Or a child. For
heavens sake, Patrice is an infant.
Althea chewed a ragged nail, then caught the gesture and put
her hand back in her lap. Thats the only thing that might save her.
For one thing she might be a great deal more passive than I was,
not be beaten so badly and continuously drugged into nearunconsciousness. For another thing, if shes so tiny and delicate,
they might not be so rough with her. The more I fought, the more
they tried to subdue me. The more excited they got.
Maybe if she weeps and cries they might even been moved by
some sort of human compassion and not use her so brutally.
Though with my step-brother, I cant tell. He hated me so much that
perhaps that's why they were so savage. Or prehaps Im thinking
him worse than he actually is. Yet I truly think that he and his friends
were determined to make me suffer in the worst way possible. So
unless any of them have a grudge against Patrice, she will just be a
pretty little plaything to them.
God, I hope so. I cant even begin to imagine her-
Then dont," she insisted, squeezing his hand hard. "Don't let
your imagination run wild, or your fears get the better of you."
"I'll try not to, but all the while I can hear a clock ticking in my
head."
"Their opening gambit will be to starve her into submission. Get
her frightened, cooperative. Or try to. That will have been the first
few days. They might start on the fondling, or even have got up to
the showing themselves and groping a bit stage. I have the feeling
its like a ritual. Part of some sort of bizarre paganism such as the
Hellfire Club celebrated. An initiation into their debauched realm,
with the deflowering part of it held in reserve. Though in my case I
think Charles had something even more nasty in mind.

What makes you say that?


Because I was taken to London, put in that strange room, and
the brothel went up in flames so quickly."
"Tell me about the room."
"It was black and red, painted with strange symbols."
"It does sound ritualistic. And you did use the words witch's coven
before."
She nodded. "So I'm sure there was more to it than mere kidnap
and rape. And again, look how they tried to kill us when we were
escaping. They were willing to kill to keep their secret. They had a
contingency plan so complete they dared to burn down the brother.
They weren't just worried that something might go awry, and
planned to just flee. They wanted to make sure they left no
evidence, and no witnesses if they could help it."
"Aye, the poor girls. Antony told me at least four bodies were
found in the house, three of them women."
She shook he head and offered up a prayer for the souls of the
dead.
"So what could be so bad that they dare not even allow the
people in the brothel, a criminal element, as it were to find out about
it?"
"Indeed. Which goes back to the larger question, if they were
having such pleasure with you in Enfield, why risk so much to bring
you to London?"
She nodded. "Exactly. So, they were meeting someone, waiting
for him. That was why I was left alone, and Matthew found me.
It makes sense.
There was someone in London who was coming especially to
see me," she repeated, trying to wrack her brains for more details.
Charles had sold you to the man, and they were all going to watch
me be, er, sacrificed."
"Only Matthew got sent in instead.

Yes. But they didn't know who to expect. Not a regular, obviously
a gent. Good Lord, it could be anyone in London. And who on earth
Philip sighed. It happens in the so-called gentlemens clubs all
the time. Willing or not so willing virgins are brought up and
sacrificed for one man, or the delectation of many. Of course not all
of them are virgins, but-
Damn, and now we will never know...
Unless he comes down to the country now to have his fun and
we get lucky.
I dont know. It was a rather humble brothel, but in Town.
Anonymous enough.
So, whoever it was doesnt or cant leave London easily, and
certainly doesnt want to be discovered, Philip speculated aloud.
Her eyes lit up. Someone important, from the way they talked,
someone who has association with the district, but lives in Londo
now."
"Aye," Philip said, nodding, "but who can't get away from Town
that often. So it would have to be someone who worked in some
profession or had a regular calendar, like an MP."
"That makes sense."
"Someone obviously afraid of scandal, powerful, wealthy.
Someone who patronised that brothel regularly, or the owner of it
owed a favour, perhaps.
"Or he might be a secret shareholder in it? she speculated.
He nodded again. All possible. I can jot down some of these
thoughts in my pocket book, see what we find out as soon as
Patrice is safe. I dont know if we will be able to locate the rogue, but
my men and Olivers havent given up on someone from the burntdown brothel singing like a canary sooner or later.
I hope so. Even if we catch the men in Enfield, it wont stop the
ringleader from just moving his game to another arena.

We can also find out how many men from London are regular
visitors to the district, if theres some sort of pattern or match with
when the other girls supposedly eloped.
You might as well include Matthew on that list, Philip, and
yourself, she pointed out mildly.
Not for the past five years, though, no. My family and I are only
recently on speaking terms again, thanks to a bit of interference
from my darling wife. As for your darling husband, I dont blame you
for wondering a bit when he found you in such a bizarre set of
circumstances, but he would never hurt you, and you were under
your father's protection until he died. This has been going on for
some time, but surely not under his nose.
"Well, Charles can be clever when he wants to be, but you're
right, he was more interested in tormenting me with tadpoles in my
bed, not his todger."
"So they've been recruiting, as it were, since these incidents first
started."
"You're the one who told me how seductive the forbidden can
be."
"Is that why you didn't struggle when Matthew arrived?"
She sighed. I was sure my mind was playing tricks on me when
I saw Matthew there, but I was sure I trusted him even then. At least
with my life.
Its he who has had a hard time trusting you. Love is a hard
thing to accept if youve had little of it. Its such a rare gift. You feel
so frightened its going to be snatched away, that you dont always
allow it into your heart. At least not straight away.
Was it like that for you and Jasmine? she asked softly.
He nodded slightly. I knew I loved her. It took a bit more time for
her to be convinced. Just as it probably did you, since Matthew was
not exactly a lily-white young chap.
She gazed out of the window at the sun rising higher in the sky
as she pondered the question. No, I think I always knew I loved
him. He was the one who kept thinking that I would walk out on him.
I hope he doesnt think weve eloped.

He grinned and shook his head. No chance of that.


You neednt sound so unflatteringly sure, she teased.
Er, well, at the risk of being ungallant, no other woman but
Jasmine will do for me. Thanks for the offer, though.
Any time, she said with a pert toss of her head that had them
both laughing good-naturedly.
But seriously, Matthew adores you. He might be a bit piqued,
however.
Althea shrugged one shoulder. You have to trust your loved
ones, or else its all meaningless. Just as I have to trust him when
he goes to Town or Bristol or wherever. It isnt easy, but its better
than the alternative, to blight our lives with awful suspicions. Really,
to be fair, hes never given me a moments cause for concern
except when Matilda was in the area. And once she was gone, there
was nothing to fear. Of course, I mistrusted her more than him. But
thats all water under the bridge. She's gone now, gone for good.
"How can you be so sure," he asked with interest.
"Because we faced her together, Matthew and I, and both told
her where she stood in no uncertain terms.
Philip raised his brows. Good for you, my little tigress."
She made a meowing sound and clawing gesture with her hands
that set them both laughing.
"Matthew is worth fighting for. So it was easy to stand up to her in
the end."
"And you lived to tell the tale."
"In the end, she didn't even put up that much of a fuss. She knew
when she was defeated. In fact, she knew all along that Matthew
loved me. That we belonged together. It just took him a bit longer to
figure it out than the rest of us."
"Im glad he did. It's nice to see him so happy. I couldnt wish for
better for all the Rakehells.
Amen to that.

How much further do you think? she asked after a time, peering
out the window once more.
About another three hours. You should rest. Ill wake you just
before we have to get down.
Thanks, Philip, Ill do that. I want to be rested and refreshed for
our next move.

Chapter Twenty-six
A quick stop at the tavern at Bartlet to leave word for all the
Rakehells that they had arrived safely, some food, water, and an
adjustment to her toilette, and Althea declared herself ready to meet
her nemesis.
Philip, to be fair, tried to talk her out of it one more time, but
Althea was adamant that this was the only way.
Just remember, if Im not out of the house within two hours, start
to worry.
Wonderful, he groaned.
Trust me, it will be all right.
She swept up to the door of her old home, recalling the front
garden when it had rung with happy laughter as Matthew and she
had played there together not all that long ago. Well, it was a new
game now. Life and death. And she had every intention of winning.
Her former servant Barkins was surprised but pleased to see her,
and did not act in the least nervous or suspicion. Good, an ally, she
thought to herself with an inward sigh of relief.
Barkins informed her that the mistress was out, but she could
join her step-brother Charles in the drawing room.
She thought she was more than ready for her role, but the sight
of her step-brother Charles hit her broadsides. For moment she
could feel her fists clench and her smile turn to a snarl.
But she gritted her teeth, thinking of the poor girl somewhere
nearby, cold, frightened, alone, possibly injured, and her certain dire
fate, and propelled herself forward into the room, girding herself
mentally to put on the performance of her life.

He looked shocked to see her, and wary, as she had anticipated.


So her first move would have to be to get him receptive to her
overtures.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him on both cheeks,
and then more lingeringly on the lips, a taste to tempt the lascivious
man.
Althea reminded herself it was all an act, and tried not to jerk
away or spit as he returned the kiss for a moment until she came
down off her tiptoes and ended it. She could never allow her newfound confidence to waver for an instant, or she would be their
victim once more.
She told herself that she was a goddess. Eswara had taught her
well. Matthew worshipped her. She would have her enemies at her
feet if she just held her nerve a little while longer...
Hello, Charles. So delightful to find you home alone. Perfect for
a tete a tete. I must say youre looking very well, she said,
dredging up one of the long lusty looks she usually reserved for her
husband. Very well indeed.
And you, my dear. Positively blooming he said with a leer.
She resisted the temptation to slap him.
Though you appear a bit anxious, my dear. Dont tell me married
life is not all you imagined it to be, he said, circling her now like a
wolf its prey.
She sighed, fluttering her lashes. You always did know me so
well, Brother, she said with a vulpine smile. I do find that though
my husband is a fine man, there is something missing from my life
on occasion. Hes so gentlemanly, respectable. Lord save a girl
from a reformed Rake. Oh, he has taught me much, but thats just
the trouble, isnt it?
What is? Charles asked softly.
Once one discovers the er, delights of Venus, she said in a
stage whisper, its so hard to get enough of them.
You dont say, he said, his voice lowering in timbre.
It vibrated through her, not setting off desire, but rather filling her
with disgust. But he was playing the game according to her rules,

and she needed to keep him in thrall now that shed got him to sport
with her.
I find Ive got a prodigious appetite for, um, all the delights of the
senses, and Somerset is such a sleepy little backwater that I find the
opportunity to expand my education and try, um, some new dishes
is sadly limited. One can only dine at a few select houses, and even
then the fare is only middling to good."
"You don't say." His ears were not the only things pricking up
now.
"I find that some of the ladies of the house are very good card
players, but indifferent to what is spread on the table. Some of them
are most obliging, but there arent enough couples at table.
Especially damning is the way the men retire with the port and
cigars, and keep their amusements to themselves.
Her step-brother was almost drooling as he gathered the
underlying message in her veiled discourse.
I do so like some good lamb, dont you? But not old mutton. Of
course, the ram has the fullest flavour, as Ive discovered thanks to
you. And I adore the shank.
She licked her lips suggestively, and then took her forefinger into
her mouth for a brief second before giving him her most winning
smile.
Would you care to dine now?" he growled, reaching for her.
Not now, but thank you for the offer of your, er, warm
hospitality," she said, sidestepping him neatly. "I find as with all
excellent meals, anticipation is at least half of the pleasure. But I can
give you something of a taste if you like.
He moved to kiss her again, but she ducked her head and
reached for the fastenings of his trousers boldly. His brows shot up.
Someone might come in. My mother-
She knows. Doesnt she? And she likes to dine too, with our
friends, doesnt she? So why be so hypocritical?
"Well, yes, when you put it that way, but--"

She had unfastened his drawers enough by now to be able to


reach in and under, and without touching him in any other way she
unerringly found the dimple Eswara had called the sacred spot and
pressed hard.
He gasped and cried out, and she pulled her hand away before it
was flooded with dampness. He fell backwards onto the sofa
clutching himself and trembling as weakly as a sick kitten.
My God, how did you-
Ive learned about all sorts of exotic cooking. Did you know the
banquets in India last for hours and hours, with all sorts of hot, spicy
dishes? she drawled in a husky tone.
She managed to keep her gaze steady, the smile inviting on her
face, though inside she would have liked nothing better than to
grabbed his cullions and twist them until they snapped off. But all in
good time.
Hours, you say? he gasped, licking his lips.
Hours, she confirmed. And Im getting so hungry.
We have a nice little squab, now that you mention it. But she
needs to be dressed and made ready. We can let you work you
culinary skills with her so long as you promise not to get too spicy
and stuff her. Shes very, very fresh.
Mm, sounds delicious. But bound for the cook pot soon, I hope?
He nodded, not the least bit suspicious as he boasted, Oh, yes,
very soon. Who knows, perhaps even tonight. Were expecting more
guests for dinner shortly.
Althea gave a broad smile. How wonderful. The more the
merrier. She rose from the sofa. In that case, I believe Id like a
bath and to change for dinner? I'd like to be sufficiently er, dressed
for the occasion.
May I join you?
She kept her gaze level. So long as you dont mind just watching
for now. Its been a fatiguing journey and I want to last through all of
the courses at dinner.

Watching you would be a pleasure. So long as you dont mind


giving me a hand stirring the pot.
Not at all. I think youll find I can stir for ages without getting
tired.
By the time she finished in the bathroom Charles was a quivering
mass of need. She paused as if hesitating to tug on her chemise.
No point getting dressed, now is there?
Our, ah, dinner party is a distance away outdoors. So do don it,
and you can put on your boots and cloak if you like. Otherwise, you
can dispense with a gown. I rather fancy the rest of you just like
that, all rosy and creamy and ripe, just ready for dessert.
He reached for her, but she stepped away and threw the
chemise over her head.
She slapped his hand away coquettishly when he tried again.
Now, now, I cant abide a chef who dabbles his fingers into all the
pots.
Ah, but you must admit a taste is good every now and again.
Helps keep things on track.
Ah, but I have a few things Id like to taste myself first. Is it dark
enough to go now, do you think? I find Im so famished, if I dont get
something soon, Im just going to have to lie down and expire.
He shivered at her double entendre, and began to pleasure
himself. She pretended to watch avidly from under veiled lids and
toyed with her breasts, the better to get him to finish as soon as
possible. He did so a short time later, pulled himself together and
got ready to leave.
It was still quite light, and the hands of his watch pointed to only
five, but Charles was so eager to possess Althea that he decided to
go with her early. The others would be along soon enough.
She could only hope that several of his accomplices would decide
to go to their secret hiding place early as well. But she really needed
to be sure. Is it too soon for the others? she asked as they
checked their garments once more.

No, I can send the signal as soon as we get there telling them
that all is well. I can also send a signal to hurry.
Yes, please, hurry, she purred, running her hand along his
chest lingeringly. If we are going outside, then let me just get my
cloak.
Since she was naked under the chemise, Charles never took
much notice of the weight of the cloak as she swirled it around her,
nor the fact that she carried her reticule underneath.
He took her right arm, and she forced herself to smile up at him
as he stroked along its bare inner length. She told herself she would
walk over hot coals if it meant bringing Charles and his colleagues
to justice.
As Althea had guessed, he led her out the back of the house
over the fields and along the hedgerow and into the back entrance
of the parish graveyard, to the ancient chapel there. It was seldom
used now except for special feast days since the new church had
been built about ten years before.
The door to the ancient bell tower yielded with the twist of a key,
and he instructed, Here, this is the latch.
She looked as he pointed to what appeared to be a small
gargoyles head. But when he took her hand and pressed it over the
stone, the wall shifted, opening a gap wide enough to let a man
pass through. She could see the altar in the distance, and he now
pressed a second stone in the floor.
The old crypt. You head down and start to er, dine. Ill get the
others.
She was about to descend when he grabbed her wrist. For a
moment she wondered if he had sensed her terror in having to
descend into the pit once more, or the brief second when she had
paused to reconsider what she was doing going down in the Devils
own lair.
But he only handed her a small bottle, pressing it into her fingers
so intimately she had to fight off her revulsion at his slimy touch.
You might need to give her some of this if shes not amenable.
She can be a little wildcat when roused. Worse even than you
were.

Dont worry. I have a very persuasive tongue, as Im sure you


recall.
He licked his lips lewdly, fondled her buttocks, and left her. He
headed up to the bell tower, whilst she hurried downstairs to see
how the poor girl had fared.
Althea gasped as she saw the wild-eyed, tiny brunette tied to the
table. She looked like a feral cat with her glowing green gaze. The
stream of invective which came from her mouth was so vile it made
even Althea blush.
Sush, your cousin Philip sent me, she whispered hurriedly,
loosening her bonds in preparation for their eventual flight. He was
under the impression you were retiring and demure. Just goes to
show that its impossible to ever really know another human being.
Her eyes flew wide. Philip sent you? A woman? Are you a
whore?"
"Nay! A decent married woman."
"My God, have you any idea what theyre going to do to you?
She said, nodding grimly. I do. They already did it to me. I
escaped. Im here to help you, but you need to trust me, play
along."
"Play along? This is no game! Those bastards--"
"I need to buy us some time. We can't flee just yet. We need to
wait long enough for the others to come, so they can be caught in
the act and pay for the crime against both of us. Do you
understand? Im supposed to, er, warm you up so to speak."
"No, no you don't--"
"Not like that," Althea hastened to assure her. "I can do
something called massage. I promise not to hurt you, touch you in a
bad way, but we need to play the game just a little while longer.
Then Philip will get these horrible men arrested and we can all go
home. Do you understand?"
She looked at her for a time longer, the nodded.
"Do you trust me?

The girl eyed her, then shrugged. I havent got much choice, so
yes, I do.
She looked at Patrice in surprise. She seemed lucid. Have they
not been drugging you?
They have. But Ive been throwing it up again and trying to find a
way out.
Listen, my step-brother Charles will be here in a minute. Get on
the table, pretend to be drugged. If I tap you twice with my finger
like this, pretend to groan with pleasure.
Ill try. God, Im so thirsty.
She flicked off her cloak and opened her reticule. Im sorry I
dont have any water with me, but I do have a brace of pistols.
Thatll do, she said with evident relief, and less of a wary look in
her eyes now.
Althea stared. I must say, you're nothing like Philip-
Oh hes so protective, I might as well live in a nunnery. But Im
no fool. I know what men are like. Theyve been trying to get into my
knickers since I was twelve and grew breasts. I want to have as little
to do with them as possible as a result. But Im not a naive country
bumpkin, and certainly not naive after what this lot have been doing
to me. The bastards.
Just relax, dont tense up so. We need to be ready for a fight,
she whispered, bringing her head parallel with the girls on the
splintered wooden table which had served as the platform for many
of the acts the men had subjected both women to.
Patrice had positioned herself with her head toward the single
chair in the crypt and now Charles came downstairs and sat in it.
Theyre on their way, he said, settling back and prepared to
watch and enjoy the show. Did you need to drug her?
I gave her more, yes, but shes already a bit out of this world
from whatever you gave her last time. No sense in dabbling with her
if shes like a corpse. Unless of course some of you like the whole
dead thing. I cant recall the naughty word for it.

He shook his head. "No, I like mine fresh and lively enough. I
even prefer a good fight, as you know, little sister. Im sorry I hurt
you, but I just got so excited. But the drug saves a lot of time and
energy, and Mother swears it heightens the pleasure for the
woman.
Yes, just where is your dear mama?
On her way. She couldnt wait for supper either.
Althea should not have been surprised to see her arrive a short
time later with the two Conroys, though they were both so much
younger than she. It was evident what they had all been doing by
their state of undress under their cloaks. What did shock her was
the third man, for he was none other than the handsome young
vicar Mr. Simpson.
He stripped off and stood naked and at the ready faster than any
of them, and leered at Althea as he began to oil his body all over
with great gusto from a bottle he took from a recess full of supplies
which she shuddered to look at once more.
How lovely to see you again, Althea, he purred. We missed the
finale with you. But I have a feeling that being married has taught
you all sorts of interesting things. Virgin sacrifice is all very well in its
place, but theres nothing quite like the bounce of a good
experienced woman of the world, eh, Lucy? he said with a grin over
at Charles mother. Anyway, my dear Althea, welcome home.
Her step-mother glared at her, taking in her ripe figure covered
only by the thin chemise.
Althea had placed her cloak under the table, the pistols at the
ready, but the woman was clearly eying her as a threat.
What are you doing to her? Hes paid good money. You havent
No, its just something called massage, to get her warmed up.
She dipped one hand seemingly between her legs and tapped on
the girls back lightly. Patrice gave a convincing moan.
They all looked surprised. Obviously likes a womans touch,
Charles said.

Well, I know what I like," Althea said in a sensual purr. "So I just
give it to her. I can teach you if you wish. I mean, Im sure youre all
excellent lovers, but practice makes perfect, and I do so love a
willing pupil.
And where have you been to boarding school? Mr. Simpson
laughed, using the slang term for a bawdy house.
There are some real benefits to being married to a rake, albeit a
reformed one.
She tried to choke down the bile as Simpson stepped nearer to
her to caress one of her breasts, tugging on the front of her
chemise to drag the fabric down off her shoulder and tease her
nipple.
She was saved from further attentions by the arrival of three
more men, local landholders, Simms, Brown and Davis, and finally
the last two, Petrie and Stoke, who were men she recognised as
living in Bartlet. She had guessed aright. All of them single, no
children, all bored rakes...
Our leader will be down this evening, and is apparently going to
be bringing five or six guests with him, Charles said. You know the
rules. He paid for her maidenhead, so he gets her first. But in the
meantime, you can do anything else you like.
And we have the added delight of welcoming back Althea, who is
so proficient at the housewifely arts now, that shes had me
simmering and boiling all day. So lets get started. I claim Althea first
as mine.
She fluttered her lashes coyly. Shouldnt the lady get the choice?
After all, Mr. Simpson seems so glad to see me.
His massive erection sickened her, but there was only one way to
control him, and that was to use his lust against him. She sensed he
was the biggest threat, more dangerously fanatical than the others,
and obviously loyal to their erstwhile leader.
All of this had been instigated by him, of that she was sure now.
No one else would have ever thought to use the old crypt for such
debauchery save for the vicar himself. He had come into the district
at precisely the same time as Charles had moved into her home
with his mother and the girls had one by one started to vanish.

The vicar had also successfully debauched several of his


neighbours, if all the gossip was to be believed, but then what girl in
the area had not tried for him, he was so manly. Only Althea had
been immune to his charms, in love as she was with Matthew. Plus,
there had been just something about him....
The gleam in his eyes told her he was not averse to using
violence, though her recollections were in the main that her stepbrother had beaten her as a prelude to the other vile things he had
done to her body.
He had wanted to hurt and degrade, but hed also treated her
thus as a means to get her to sign away yet another field to him, or
make another so-called loan when she had been left on her own
after her father had died. A signature had bought her a temporary
reprieve from the molestation, she recalled with a shudder as her
dammed memories burst forth and began to flow fully at last.
Until finally she had signed it all away, and then found herself
locked up in this crypt....
At the recollection of all she had suffered, all Patrice would go
through if she failed, she steeled herself. She cupped and pressed
Simpson as fast as lightning. She stepped away and averted her
head as he lost control.
Her step-mothers eyes narrowed. Damn, youve ruined the fun!
I fancied the ride even if you didnt.
I can get him back any time I like, she said, licking her lips. She
turned away from the man still wracked in the throes of the most
tempestuous orgasm. But I think it really is Charless turn now.
Althea had waited until all of the other men were naked. Once
they were, she recognised them all as she had not before. They had
all debauched her at various times during her incarceration. She
choked down the bile in her throat once more as Charles came
forward to claim his prize eagerly.
She bent as if she were about to lift the hem of her chemise to
take off her boot. Instead she reached under the table and grabbed
both pistols. She rammed one against her step-brothers temple,
and aimed the other at Simpson.

As she had guessed, they all fell back and waited for orders.
Simpson, still unmanned after what she had done to him, glared in
fury, while Charles began to curse and tremble.
Patrice, put on my coak and get out of here, now.
Altheas step-mother moved to stop her, but the lithe young girl,
unbound thanks to Althea, shoved her hard, grabbed the garment,
and fled up the stairs screaming.
So it was all an act, Charles hissed.
Yes, an act from beginning to end. I cant take pride in all of my
accomplishments, however. I did have a very good set of teachers.
I must say, you missed your vocation. As both an actress and a
courtesan. We can still strike a bargain you and I-
No, thank you, Mr Simpson. I hope you burn in Hell for what you
did to me. And the rest of the women, however many there may
have been. All those girls who supposedly eloped. Supposedly
confided to you that they had a beau. I should have suspected when
Philip Marshall reported back to me what hed found.
Damn. I knew we shouldnt have taken his cousin, Charles
rasped.
Simpson shot him a withering glance. Say nothing. It will be their
word against ours. No will ever believe an hysterical fourteen-yearold who tried to elope and was jilted. As for Althea, shell never get
out of here alive, will she.

Chapter Twenty-seven
The last of Simpsons menacing words against Althea were
drowned out by the clatter of booted feet on the stone steps.
Nearly every Rakehell came charging down, all except for Philip,
Thomas Eltham, and her own husband. Shed never been so glad to
see anyone in her life as the familiar faces which now surrounded
her and apprehended the men.
Alistair Grant, Kings Bench. Oh, I think theyll be believed.
Especially in conjunction with the testimony of your servants as to
names, dates and places. Not only for Althea and Patrice, but two of
your other last victims so far as we can ascertain. Months of
entertainment, wasnt it? But Althea was special. You were saving
her for a special coup de theatre, were you not?
The brothel may have burnt to the ground, but the women didnt
leave empty-handed. In your haste to dress, you left behind
cufflinks, stockpins and of all things, a wedding dress and ring which
some of the ladies just couldnt resist. Who were you going to marry
her to? Several special licences were applied for in that period of
time, but none had her name on it. Was it all a charade?
Yes, yes it was, Althea said with conviction. I was going to be
married to the Beast, was I not? The Devil himself and the virgin
sacrifice. You stuck me in the room and tied me up whilst you made
the preparations. You were going to bathe and dress me, and he
would have me first, all the rest of you later. Then I would be
brought down to the common room of the brothel and enjoyed by
all. Then murdered. The blood sacrifice.
The surprised look on Charless face told her she had guessed
correctly. Or was it just another memory she had dredged up from
the past?
Althea turned to Charles fully. Why? Why did you do it? Was it
my fault Father didnt leave aything to either of you?
Her step-mother hissed, I always hated you. So pure and good,
always so much like your mother. It was my idea to sacrifice you. I
saw Charles and Simpson lusting after you. I used it against you.

We began a concerted campaign to ruin you one way or the other,


either by word to your father or by actual deed, I didnt care which.
But then it was time for your London Season, and you escaped
us. You were so closely chaperoned by your friends parents and
Matthew, that there was no chance to cause any scandal that would
stick. Once you came home after your fathers death, well, it was the
perfect opportunity to get all wed ever wanted.
A cold prickle of fear pierced her heart. Papa didnt have a heart
attack, did he? she asked through numb lips.
The older woman shook her head smugly. No, it was arsenic.
We all ingested it before, for months. We waited until you went back
to London, and had the dinner party, which we all attended. If
anyone suspected poison, we could all say in truth that we ate
exactly the same thing. We built up our tolerance until we could
safely eat a dose large enough to kill him.
Hed found out, you see. He'd been fond of the Randolph girl.
Shed vanished on the way back home from our house, dont you
know. As had the Canning lass. He had his suspicions, but no proof.
Then he came home early one day from hunting and caught me
in bed with Timothy and Edgar. That was the last straw, so we had
to be rid of him before he told the authorities everything.
But, Mother, Charles at last protested, youre confessing to--
She shrugged. Dont you see, were going to prison no matter
what. I might as well co-operate. Cant be too proud heading off to
Newgate. Itll be every man and woman for themselves once we get
there. But if we stick together, son, we can do well. With my luck I
might get transportation. I hear you can make a good start over in
the Antipodes.
Not to mention all the entertainment to be had on the ship down
there for a year in close quarters, with some nice beefy men, and
sailors willing to look the other way in exchange for some special
favours. Make the best of what life throws your way, thats what I
always say.
Alistair and Althea both stared at her in complete dismay. But
there was something about her step-mothers cocksuredness that
made her wonder.

Ive heard enough of this filth, Alistair barked. Come, lets get
them out of here. And dont even bother to let them stop to dress.
Clifford Stone and Malcolm Branson began to drag the shackled
men up the steep stairs. Alistair took Altheas other pistol and
trained it on Simpson as the crypt cleared.
Althea watched Charles and her step-mother cautiously. There it
was again. Some sort of prearranged signal or nuance of meaning
between mother and son.
Theyd had an awfully long time to plot and prepare for the
eventuality of discovery or capture. She felt sure she was missing
something.
But soon they were the last four people in the space and all
seemed well enough. Jonathan Deveril popped his head down and
motioned for the vicar come up with him. Michael Avenel came to
grab Charles by the scruff of the neck, and then Alistair was left
alone with Althea.
Are you not coming? she asked in surprise.
Im going to start gathering evidence now, beginning with their
clothes and the souvenirs they seem to have kept of all their
victims.
Althea heaved a deep sigh. Well never know how many there
were?
Only if they tell us.
Are you sure this is all over?
Alistair stared. I think so. Why, what are you looking so worried
about?
She looked around the chamber of horrors, the whips, chains,
and other implements hanging on the mouldering walls, and shook
her head.
I cant help wondering if my step-mother has something else up
her sleeve. All of this was almost too easy in some senses. Oh, I
know, they never imagined they would get captured, but theres still
one man missing. The Beast. Their leader.

He cant help them now. We are talking abour murder, rape,


goodness knows what other charges.
Youre the barrister, you tell me.
He raised his hands in surrender. Whatever I can find, I promise.
Now go on up and see Philip. Tell him youre all right. With any luck
your husband will be here soon. We wouldnt want him to see you in
here looking like that, now would we? Hes a sensitive soul, is our
Matthew, for all he was once a rake.
She stared. Youre the second person whos told me that. Are
you all banding together to convince me I have nothing to fear now
that Im married to him?
Alistair shook his head. His raking was all a facade. All a front,
my dear. A hard outer shell to the world to stop himself from being
hurt.
I know. So is your facade."
"Mine?"
She nodded. "The perfect, incorruptible, untouchable barrister.
He smiled then. Possibly. But the world is a very grim place. I
think I lost my sensitivity a long time ago.
Who knows. Perhaps the love of a good woman will help you
find it. Or a bad woman, she said with a wink.
Thank you, my dear. I shall clutch those words of comfort to me
in my lonely bed at night. Now go on, up you get.
Blake and Philip fell in step beside her as soon as she emerged
from the crypt.
Are you all right? Blake asked.
Yes, yes, Im fine. Alistair needs the rest of us to start cleaning
up down there.
Oh no, my dear, youre not going back in that miasmic place,"
Philip insisted. "I need your help with Patrice.
"Where is she?"
"In my coach."

Very well, well go back to the inn and get her injuries tended to.
I promise to keep an eye on her.
Thank you.
Any sign of Matthew? she asked hopefully.
Not yet," Philip informed her with a shake of his head.
She looked around for a moment longer, then nodded. All right
then. Tell him to meet me there if he does arrive.
I shall.
Althea now noticed a tall, silver-haired, stick-thin man who had
been waiting silently nearby witnessing the exchange between the
friends.
Catching her eye, he stepped forward to introduce himself as
Lord Witherspoon, a colleague of Alistairs, and his superior.
I will need to take depositions from all of you. If youre going
back to the inn at Bartlet, you can come in my carriage.
We will be happy to wait for you, sir, Blake said.
We can go now. I have done all I can here. The rest of the
investigation I can leave in Alistairs capable hands. Please allow me
to help you into the carriage, Mrs. Dane.
Thank you. That is most kind. But let us help Patrice first. Im
sorry, what did you say your name was again? she asked, staring
at him for a moment.
Witherspoon, Lord Witherspoon, Alistairs superior at the Kings
Bench court.
"Have we met?"
"No, I don't think so, formally at any rate. But come, the night is
growing chill--"
He was already taking both the women's arms.
Very well, if you dont mind taking us.
No, not at all. My pleasure. He smiled thinly.
Althea and Blake got into the carriage with Patrice and
Witherspoon, and it rolled off into the deepening twilight.

Althea gazed out the window as they went passed, and observed
the Rakehells busily trussing the naked men like turkeys and loading
them into the vehicles which would take them to jail.
Philip waved to her, and then Witherspoon instructed his drive to
whip up the horses and head on.

Chapter Twenty-eight
The sound of a carriage drawing up nearby and a door being
flung open broke the silence in the graveyard a short time later.
Philip saw Matthew and Thomas hurrying towards him, and gave
them both a welcoming smile.
"Patrice is safe, and all save the ringleader have been captured."
Where is she? Is she all right? Matthew panted, looking livid.
Philip knew exactly which woman she was referring to, but his
answer was suitable for both. Shes fine. Its all over now. They'll
both be safe from now on.
You bastard, how could you-
It was her choice, and thank God she did it, Philip said fervently.
Is your cousin-
Aye, shes all right, yes, thanks to Althea. Theyre both as well as
can be expected considering.
Matthew grabbed the lapels of his friend's coat. Considering?"
"Althea is fine, I swear!"
"Where is that bastard Charles? When I get my hands on him, Ill
bloody well--
Philip began to remonstrate, Now, Matthew, you know thats not
going to-
Charles squawked in terror as he saw the huge man bearing
down upon him. He broke free of Michael and Jonathan and began
thundering along the road. His mother took advantage of the
diversion to ram her fist up into the groin of one of Alistairs
unsuspecting constables, and then she too fled.
Thomas, a horse, quickly! Philip shouted.

But Matthew was already on one geldings back. The Duke was
not far behind as they tore off in pursuit of Charles.
Clifford and Jonathan pursued Altheas step-mother. She was
brought back kicking and screaming like a wild thing, and finally had
to be bound and gagged.
Alistair stood alone in the crypt and shivered with dread. He had
always imagined Hell to be a hot place, but this dank, miserable
prison where the most unspeakable acts had been committed was
bitingly cold.
Just one of the many circles of Hell, then, he muttered to
himself as he climbed the winding stairs glistening with cobwebs and
stepped out into the twilight, feeling as though he would never be
warm again.
Philip looked at him closely once hed emerged. I say, old chap.
Youre looking a bit green about the gills.
Ive been feeling poorly ever since I got your note, he confided.
Ever since I discovered that Althea was mixed up in all this. She is
safe, isnt she? I mean, it was all an act for her, wasnt it? They
never-
He shook his head. No, they never," he reassured his friend in a
low tone. "But the less said about that to Matthew, the better.
Understood. Where is he?
In hot pursuit of her step-brother.
Alistairs eyes flew wide in alarm. Oh God, hes not going to-
Charles escaped. Matthew has Thomas with him. That will keep
him reined in, I promise.
Is he the only one unaccounted for?
Yes, so far as I can tell. His dear Mama tried to bolt as well, but
we have her. They were expecting their leader, as they call him, to
come down, from what I can gather anyway. But he must have seen
all the commotion and fled.
Alistair was only half-listening to Philip. He still could not shake off
the feeling of dread which threatened to engulf him.

Where is Patrice again? he asked suddenly, looking around in


every direction.
She and Althea went off with your colleague Witherspoon to give
their testimony. Blake went with them to tend to their medical needs.
Back to The Kings Arms, in Bartlet.
Even as Philip spoke he could see Alistairs rising consternation.
What? What is it, Alistair?
Im trying to remember.
Remember what? Philip asked in confusion.
Let me just close my eyes for a second.
Ah yes. That famous memory of yours.
I was leaving my office. I had just got your note. I was issuing
orders to my clerk, and had to see Lord Witherspoon to explain that
I would need some time off...
Im sorry, sir. I know there are cases to hear, motions to be filed
in a timely manner. But Ive had the equivalent of a family crisis, and
need to head down to the country ths instant.
The country, you say? Lord Witherspoon asked in some
confusion.
Enfield in Surrey," Alistair supplied as he checked his briefcase
once more to be sure he had all of his most pressing papers with
him. "A distant relation, to be sure, but she needs my help.
Witherspoon stilled in an instant. And who might the charming
young lady be?
Alistair felt uneasy at the question. He did not want to put off his
superior, but nor did he want to run the risk of ruining Patrice
Sinclairs reputation any further than it undoubtedly had been by
false tales of her elopement. He only wished it were something so
trivial.
Its Althea Dane, he blurted out, before he could stop himself.
Ah, Althea. I know who you mean now. His eyes shifted in
colour from jade to emerald with a rapidity which reminded Alistair of

a chamelon. Lovely little filly. Such spun gold hair, bright blue eyes,
creamy complexion, marvelous figure, wonderful seat.
He licked his lips, but then suddenly shook himself, his eyes once
again the flat jade Alistair recognised.
She had some bother with her step-brother or some such
regarding her fortune. You were looking into it, were you not?
Yes, sir. Good of you to remember, Alistair agreed readily
enough, seizing on the convenient explanation he was being given.
I take it things have reached a crisis. So I tell you what I shall do.
I shall come down with you.
Alistair's jaw dropped, and he began to both express his gratitude
and protest at the same time.
"Tush man, no need to thank me, and as for inconveniencing me,
well, hear me out. I don't wish to interfere in your family affairs, but I
would like to help. Ive never been to Enfield, but I have heard its a
charming place. I happen to have a couple of days of leave all
scheduled. So its no trouble at all. Let me just gather a few papers
myself, and we'll go.
I tried to object, but he insisted, Alistair told Philip. He said he
had never been to this village, yet when we pulled up in the lane, he
came straight out of the carriage to this church, and straight to the
entrance of the crypt without a single ounce of doubt as to the way.
Philip gasped. When he spoke to Althea now, she had no idea
who he was. But he certainly knew her.
Oh God. Its him. The man from London who bought her! I just
know it!
How on earth-
Never mind that," Alistair said, running towards his own coach.
"We havent got time now. Where the hell is he taking them?

Chapter Twenty-nine
Althea stared out at the deepening twilight with growing unease.
She was sure they should have reached The Kings Arms at Bartlet
village by now.
On the other hand, she told herself, trying to subdue her
increasing feeling of inexplicable dread, the carriage driver was from
London and no doubt didnt know the roads as well as she.
She was about to give directions to right their course, when Blake
looked over at her beseechingly.
He was doing his best to tend to Patrice, but she was still beside
herself with terror over her lucky escape. A mans hands on her was
the last thing she wanted.
Here, let me try," Althea said in an undertone. "Im no doctor, but
I can at least attempt to make her comfortable.
It was when Blake changed seats with her that Witherspoon
made his move. He bashed Blake in the head with the butt of the
pistol he had concealed in his side pocket.
Althea heard a sickening crunch. Before she could even let out a
cry of protest, Witherspoon the barrister pointed the pistol at her
and commanded, Tie him up. Hands and feet. Theres some rope
in the seat under you.
He hauled the now hysterical Patrice into his lap and silenced her
roughly by stuffing the muzzle of his pistol into her mouth. Her lower
lip split open, and great gouts of blood began to run down her chin.
Althea cringed at the sound of metal crunching against teeth.

Theres no need to be so rough with her! Althea protested


furiously. "You've got a gun, after all. Or is that not enough power
for a man like you?"
Ill be putting something harder in her mouth than that in a little
while. In both of you. Anywhere it fits. As much as I like, over and
over again.
Altheas eyes narrowed as she hissed, Ill see you dead first.
Brave words, Missy, but in the end youll give in like all the
others. Both of you.
And just how many others were there? she asked, knowing a
fiend like this would not be able to resist the temptation to boast.
Oh, now that would be telling. And Im far above the ordinary run
of criminals who just wants to gloat to each victim about how clever
they are.
But in your case, seeing as were going to have such a long and
pleasurable association, the three of us, Ill tell you. Since youre
never going to see your husband and his friends again, how on
earth can it harm me? It might even help. Make you realise youre
no match for me, either of you. Give up on the false hope that youll
ever escape me in this life. Or even in the next. I own you both,
body and soul.
You can try to possess us. But well fight you every minute of the
way, both of us. As an act of defiance, she handed her
handkerchief to Patrice, who began to use it to mop up her bleeding
mouth.
Oh, they all fight in the beginning. Its part of the fun. Patrice
here was number fourteen. You were lucky number thirteen, set to
be the ultimate sacrifice, until that bastard Dane stumbled in before
the ceremony and rescued you. But theres no chance of that now.
Even as we speak, hes gradually being lured to his death by
Charles.
No, we captured him, caught him red-handed, he and his
mother.
Witherspoon looked nothing if not smug. They wont hold them
for long. Things disappear from the prosecutions files all the time.
Cant get efficient staff in the courts these days, dont you know.

Althea stared at him in horror. It all made sense now, her stepmothers behaviour. Any charges raised against them would simply
be made to disappear
I cant tell you what a treat it is to have you here, Althea. It's the
icing on an already rich cake. I was so looking forward to this little
victim here." He began to grope her breasts hard enough to bring
tears to her eyes, though to Patrice's credit she didn't cry out.
"I hear shes really feisty. I hadnt expected you to have the
courage to come back here to try to help the girl yourself. I was
going to bide my time, let you get a little bit more comfortable and
complacent in your new life in Somerset, and then make my move."
She stared at him in horror.
I lost track of you once, but Ive been careful ever since. I know
your every move, your routines, your habits. Its so easy to
investigate someone in my line of work. Come up with a false case
and evidence against them.
By the way, I know youre pregnant. No linens used for weeks.
Its a prospect which makes me even more excited than I was at you
being a virgin. Youre more voluptuous than ever before, and I can
enjoy you over and over with you at my mercy...
He began to mutter to himself, the most unspeakable fantasies.
She tried to shut her ears lest she be ill.
Althea had by now fished out the ropes from his cache, but had
also taken stock of the other "supplies" in the coach, and was
sickened. She knew what most of them were; Philip had told her
about such things.
Alas, there were no proper weapons to be had. Only what she
carried in her boot, and it seemed a long way away.
If youre such a magnificent lover, why bother with these? she
mocked, throwing one of the obscenely large objects at him.
He looked flustered for a moment, and that was enough chance
for Althea to make her move. Althea yanked Patrice out of his grasp
and grabbed his wrist as he tried to discharge his pistol.

He would not kill her, of that she was sure. No, he had a far more
horrible fate in mind for both of them. So it was worth it to risk even
getting wounded if she could disarm him.
Already her right hand was reaching down into her boot for her
knife even as she stretched up with her left with all her might and
shook his arm. Witherspoons pistol went off, pocking the thick red
velvet back of the seat.
Now all they had to do was make sure he had no chance to
reload.
Patrice now determined she was going to fight as well. She flew
at him like a fury, scratching, biting, kicking, pummelling, until he
finally he subdued her with one well-placed fist.
Althea slipped her knife out of her boot at last. Thanks to the
marital arts lessons she had learned from Ash, she got Witherspoon
into a vice-like grip with one hand and jolted hard, snapping two of
his fingers.
He shrieked in agony and tried to shake her off. The knife blade
digging into his throat was enough to convince him that he ought to
remain still for the present.
Patrice, come help me tie him. Then were going to turn him into
a eunuch. That is, if he isnt already. After all, what sort of man
enjoys doing those things to a woman? Watching while other men
do it? Someone with no sap in his trunk, thats who.
He began to curse her most foully, but the tip of the knife pressed
to his jugular silenced his tirade.
Havent you been taught not to swear in the presence of ladies?
she said with a snide smile, enjoying watching the man who had
tried to engineer her ruin now squirming at her mercy.
The thundering sound of horses hooves approaching filled her
with relief. She was sure the Rakehells must have guessed
something was amiss when they had got to The Kings Arms and
found they hadnt arrived.
Theyre coming for you. Youre going to go to prison.
Witherspoon looked down his nose at her as though he was lord
of all he surveyed. What for? Ive done nothing. I have an

unimpeachable reputation. Who will believe you? It will be the word


of two harlots versus mine. By the time your criminal record, which I
have fabricated, is revealed, it will be the gallows for you both. And
your husband too, if you dont keep your mouth shut now.
An uneasy
There was no
the past. And
documents or

feeling began to creep down her back. He was right.


real proof that he had done anything wrong, now or in
he had enough power and opportunity to falsify any
records he liked.

True, Blake had been knocked unconscious, but still, that was no
real proof of any serious wrongdoing. And with his glib tongue, the
depraved barrister could lie his way out of almost any situation, she
was sure.
Althea hesitated. It would be so easy to...
Witherspoon took the matter out of her hands as he fought
against Patrice once more, and shoved Althea backwards onto the
seat, determined to have his way with her.
The knife flew out of her hand as she hit the cushions hard. She
had just enough time to shoot a warning look to Patrice before he
was upon her, clawing at her neck and chest, tearing her chemise
even with his broken fingers as he tried to drag her hem up over her
knees to her waist with his bad hand.
She steeled herself, gambling that her guess about him had been
right as he fumbled with his britches. She struggled to breathe
against his crushing weight.
Let him get caught in the act. Just a bit longer. Theyll be here to
save you, she urged herself. This is the only way to stop him from
hurting anyone else. I have the power.
She waited, forcing herself not to resort to her martial arts
training again, though she longed to pummel him to dust.
But to her credit, Patrice was pounding on his back like a mad
woman. For all the young girls slenderness, Althea could feel every
jolt flattening her further into the coach seat, so violent were her
blows.
"Youu-dirty-old-bas-tard!" she screamed. "I'll kill you. I'll kill you!"

The vehicle slowed at last and the door was flung open. She
could hear her husbands roar of fury and shouted to him, No,
Matthew, dont! Dont kill him! He didnt hurt me. He said I had no
proof, that it would be the world of two harlots against his. So I let
him attack me. You can all bear witness now to what he was trying
to do.
Witherspoon now heaved his weight off her at last. Althea quickly
covered herself and wrapped her arms around her waist.
The insane barrister stood in front of them all, untrussed and
slightly tumescent, though rapidly dwindling once more. Yet he was
still defiant.
Matthew launched himself at him with a feral snarl. Randall and
Thomas dragged him backward before his fist could connect with
the man's sneering face.
Alistair shook his head as he dragged Witherspoon out of
Matthews clutches. I cant believe you would ever-
"Oh come now, Grant, don't be such an old woman. It's the way
of the world, don't you know."
"Not my way!"
"Nor mine," Matthew said with a glare, and spat right in his face.
"You tried to ruin a sweet, innocent girl, turn her into an opium
addict, and for what? It's not as if there aren't plenty of willing
whores in the world!"
"Ah, but that's just it. The delight is in ruining them. In making
your ripe young wife into the slut she truly is."
"Damn you! Arrgggh" Matthew struggled to break free, but his
wife now hurried over to his side and embraced him.
"I'm fine, and he's a liar."
"You're nothing like he said"
"I know. We both know the truth. He's a raving lunatic. Don't pay
attention to a word he says, my love."
"I can't believe"

"I'm fine. I wanted him to be caught in the act," she whispered


hurriedly. "It's the only way. He's a barrister, has false evidence
against us all that he'll use if we don't stop him right now."
Witherspoon glared at the couple, looking so intimate depsite all
that had happened. "Don't let the little whore deceive you any
longer, Matthew. She loved every minute she was with my friends."
"Damn you, shut your filthy mouth," Alistair rasped, losing his
normally mild temper, and shaking him by the collar of his coat.
The little slut was leading me on. They both were."
"I said shut up!"
"And much as I would like to have had her, I didnt succeed, now
did I? The old tackle not quite what it was. So it's hardly rape when
they were both willing parties."
Althea raised up to her full height? "Willing? Then please explain
the state of Patrice's mouth, the fact that Blake is unconscious in the
carriage, and the bullet hole in the ceiling when I forced your pistol
to go off."
He made a dismissive gesture. "Pah. Do your worst, all of you.
You might manage to put me in Newgate for a couple of months,
but I think the authorities want to just sweep all this scandal under
the carpet, dont you?
"After all, a man in my position? It would hardly be worth it. Not
when I would mean bringing disrepute upon the entire justice
system for one measly pair of trollops.
A bellow of rage such as Althea had never heard before came
from behind her. She grabbed her husbands elbow, and Randall
Avenel snatched him around his waist as well.
But the cloaked figure who flew at Witherspoon and raised its
arm, plunging the knife down with all its might, was Patrice.
Philip pleaded, Patrice, no!
But it was already too late.
The dagger pierced their assailants heart. Witherspoon was
dead before he even hit the ground.

To their horror, Patrice kicked the corpse in the groin and spat.
Trollop, am I? All whores, are we? Well, youll never harm any
innocent girls like me again.
She raised her eyes to her appalled audience. Any of them.
They won't get away with it, will they, Philip? Will they?
No, lass, he said gently. Theyre all going to hang. Alistair will
see to it that the case is watertight. So it really is all over now, and
youre coming home with me.
She blinked in confusion. But what about jail--
He fell on the knife trying to escape, Alistair said promptly. A
fitting end to a debauched and degraded man. Now come, lets
have a look at poor Blake, and get back to the inn.
At last Thomas and Randall released Matthew's arms, and Althea
was able to turn into the circle of her husbands warm embrace. He
hugged her so hard, she was sure her ribs would crack, but it was
the most welcome pain of her life.
She steeled herself for the words of reproach she was sure were
about to pour from him in a torrent, but there was nothing but
silence. She hardly dared look at him, but he touched one finger to
her chin to lift her gaze up to his gently.
Matthew and Althea stared at each other for a heartbeat, and
she threw her arms around his waist and wept.
Matthew began to cry too, tears of joy as he realised that their
nightmare truly was over at last.

Chapter Thirty
Much later, when everyone was in their rooms trying to rest after
the cataclysmic events of the day, Matthew finally forced Althea to
lie down.
Along with Antony and Oliver, who arrived a short time after they
had returned to The Kings Arms, she had tended Blake and Patrice,
and had refused to do more than fling her husbands coat over her
torn chemise until she was certain they were all right.
Now Matthew was her most tender nursemaid as he carefully
removed the jacket and ragged chemise and gave her a sponge
bath, gentling the soap and water over her.
When he felt he could trust himself to speak without getting lividly
angry all over again, he said, You did a very brave, and very foolish
thing, my love. I dont even want to think about what could have
happened to you. Walking into the lions den like that with all those
men. What on earth were you and Philip thinking?
She sighed. I knew we had to catch them redhanded if we ever
had a hope of saving Patrice and bringing them to justice."
"But still, to go in there like that"
"We needed to find her before it was too late. I never would have
forgiven myself if she'd been raped or even killed because I held
back out of fear or missishness."
"It's not missishness, but decency. I don't know how you dared"
"I dared because I had your love, Matthew. I dared because I
hated to think what would have happened to me without it. I didn't
want that fate to befall Patrice."

He gentled the sponge over her back, the one part of her she still
felt awkward about him touching, given all that had happened to
her. To his relief, she didn't stiffen up or act nervous.
"It would have been fine if Witherspoon hadnt been in league
with them all along. Im only glad Alistair realised it in time.
He wasnt the only one who realised there was more going on
than met the eye. I was going to pursue your step-brother to the
ends of the earth when something he did gave me pause.
She raised her brows in surprise. What did he do?
It wasnt something definite I could put my finger on. He looked
like, like a man who was gloating. Like all his plans had come to
fruition after all. He was almost triumphant.
Charles didnt get away, did he?
No. I stopped, Thomas plunged on and caught him. He tried to
set the house on fire, but the tinder was damp and Thomas felled
him like an ox.
"They planned for every contingency, didn't they?"
"Aye, the brothel, your house. I think they knew it was only a
matter of time before I would seek the truth about what had
happened to you, and wanted to be ready for it."
She held him close. Aye, Witherspoon said he was leading you
into a trap.
He may well have done. But Thomas got him, as much to halt
him as to stop me killing him with my bare hands, which in the
circumstances was a good thing.
Aye, I wouldnt want you to go on trial for murder. She nestled
full-length against him.
Like Patrice.
She frowned, but shook her head. I dont think it will come to
that. Im sure Alistair will be as good as his word. Cover the whole
thing up.
Hes pretty incorruptible. But at this point the whole truth coming
to light would do far more damage than just burying this quietly, he
said with a sigh.

But Patrice will have to live the rest of her life with what shes
done.
Matthew shrugged. I dont personally see why. She put down an
animal. It would be no different from killing a rabid dog. That man
was deranged.
Althea nodded. Shes the fourteenth victim. He actually boasted
about it.
And only fourteen years of age. Its disgusting.
And all too common, isnt it, if all the stories about the
gentlemens clubs and so-called boarding schools are to be
believed. She shivered.
He immediately began to reassure her. I know I was a rake, my
love, but I never-
I know. You dont have to tell me, she soothed, stroking the
dark hair back from his brow.
I dont know how I was ever so lucky as to deserve you. I
promise you I shall spend the rest of my life thanking all the gods in
the heavens for you.
Althea shuddered at the word. He said I was lucky thirteen in his
satanic sacrifices, or whatever he wanted to call them.
He caressed her cheek tenderly. They were just his excuse for
his perversions, Im sure, he said, his tone evincing his disgust. No
need to be superstitious.
No, I wont be. Were safe now. And so is this village.
Aye, thanks to you.
With a great deal of help from Philip and the rest of the
Rakehells, she pointed out.
But it was your idea to walk through the fire.
I would do it again in a minute," she said truthfully. "Anything to
stop them once and for all. My only regret is that well never know
what happened to all the other girls.
Did he say anything? Any clues? Matthew asked softly.

She shook her head. Not enough to give the whole game away.
I'm sorry to say, though, that Im pretty sure theyre all dead.
He sighed heavily. I hate to agree, but youre probably right.
After all, whats the point of a blood sacrifice?
She sighed. Well know more when we get to London and
search his house. Well, all their houses, but Witherspoon was the
key. I'm sure he kept records, trinkets, some evidence that will at
least let their poor families stop clinging to the forlorn hope that
they'll see them again one day.
Matthew nodded sadly. "Aye, it will be hard for them, but better to
know the truth now and mourn them properly, than let them live a lie
for the rest of their lives." Then he sat up abruptly. We? Oh no! We
are doing no such thing. Were heading home to Somerset. Alistair
can take care of-- But even as he said the words, he saw the
determined look on his wife's face.
I need to know, Althea said in a tone which brooked no refusal.
But, darling--"
She rubbed his chest, settling him back into the bed beside her.
You do too. Admit it. A part of you cant believe theres such evil in
the world. The other part of you is terrified to think that if youd been
anything less than a decent man, you might have ended up like him.
Or have harmed me terribly that night in the brothel.
Oh, God, he sighed. I feel so, so polluted. And if I feel like that,
I can only imagine how you must feel.
She shook her head. We've done nothing wrong. I'm not a slut."
"No."
"Nor any of the other foul things he said about me."
"No, of course not," he said, kissing her.
"And you are nothing like him, Matthew! Look at me! Youre
nothing like him. You raked, its true. But all the women went
willingly to your bed, didnt they? You never bound or tortured
them.

No, thats true. But its no consolation when I yearn for you every
second of the day. His hands on her face and hair were whispersoft.
She leaned into him with a sigh, and lay quietly for a time as he
cherished her, but it was in an affectionate, not an overtly sexual
way.
You just said you want me all the time, yet look how gentle and
caring youre being. It isnt just passion, its love. I dont want you to
fear your desires, for theyre mine too. I want to indulge in them until
were old and grey whenever were able. There are going to be
times in the future when I cant, starting at about seven months from
now, but-
He stared and then kissed her hard, and shed a few tears of joy.
"A baby? Truly?"
"Yes."
She was sure she had never seen him look so happy.
But suddenly the thought struck him. You came here with Philip
even knowing this? he asked angrily.
She could sense his barely suppressed ire. Its because I knew I
was pregnant that I had to come. I didnt want to risk myself later on,
when I was more advanced, or risk our child once it was born.
Better to end it now, than face months and months of uncertainty.
Have the baby be born and serve as a hostage to fortune."
"Hostage to fortune? You're my wife now. No one would dare"
She shook her head. I know you love me and would have tried
to keep me safe, but I was caught in this web whether I wanted to
be or not."
"I dont understand. It's been months, since, well, London."
"Witherspoon wouldnt have stopped, you know. He actually
admitted that much to me," she admitted at last.
Matthew stared at her in horrified disbelief.
"Aye, it's true," she insisted, nodding. "He was planning to come
after me in Somerset. He was having us watched all the time. He

even knew I was pregnant. The things he said, Matthew, well, it was
clear that he was completely obsessed, deranged."
"Oh, Althea"
"He said he was going to kill you," she revealed, forcing herself to
repeat some of his threats, the better to exorcise them from her
mind. "He planned to leave me a widow, alone and defenseless. So
he could try to be with me, I suppose. My feeling that I was being
watched all the time, and not just by you, wasnt my imagination. I
knew you had all the Rakehells keeping an eye on me, but there
was just something too odd about it all."
Matthew stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "Aye. That
would certainly explain a few things I wondered about too, including
how Matilda had such an uncanny knack for seemingly running into
me at just the most opportune times."
Althea shuddered. "Do you think she was in league with them all
along against me?"
He held her close as he considered the point. "Not at first,
perhaps, but later, once we were married, aye. I have to say that
her tastes rather inclined toward the extreme. She might not have
known all about the sacrifices and so on, but she certainly would
have been happy to work with anyone who was trying to split us up."
"You see, I knew there had to be more to it than just wanting you
for herself. It was only when we put up a united front against her at
the ball that she knew she was wasting her time, and left. So
darling, while I know you're angry with me, my intuition was telling
me all along that the stakes were far higher than just our marriage,
and another girl going missing in Enfield. I needed to protect you
and our baby the only way I knew how.
Matthew gazed at Althea for a time, and appeared to weigh her
words carefully. Even though he most certainly did not approve of
the risks she had taken, her protestations were enough to mollify
him.
I understand. I dont condone what you did for a minute, and I
dont necessarily forgive Philip for allowing you to take the risk. But I
do understand."

"I'm glad, for I'm only just beginning to myself. Witherspoon was
a top barrister on the King's Bench, a clever man, who knew Alistair.
So he must have known who Patrice was."
Matthew was aghast. "You're saying they took her because he
was fairly certain we would get involved?"
"I can't be sure, but yes, the house being set to go on fire would
have suggested that. They were all so smug, so sure of
themselves."
"So you walked right into a trap."
She sighed heavily.
overplayed their hand."

"It looks that way. Well, they certainly

"They were sure that with Witherspoon on their side, they would
get away with all of it, with no one the wiser."
"And drag a few Rakehells down in the process."
"Aye, it looks that way," he said pensively. "But once again, we
outwitted them."
She gave a small smile. "Aye, even a mouse can turn on a cat
and bite."
"In this case, the smallest mouse turned the most deadly." He
shook his head, still astounded at what Patrice had done.
"So you see, darling, I really couldn't have done anything else"
"You could have waited for me, and we could have gone together
to Surrey."
Althea shook her head. "I'm sorry, darling, but time was of the
essence. Philip was desperate to help Patrice, and I was eager for
justice."
"Well, all I can say is, thank the gods you both succeeded in your
quests."
"Amen to that."
He stroked his hand down one shoulder. "So I don't want to
argue any more about what you did or didn't do. I'm very proud of
you, my brave little wife, even if I'm less than delighted with the
lengths to which you went to get what you wanted.

"But Enfield and Witherspoon are the past now. Alistair and Philip
will mop up that mess, and make sure none of Witherspoon's false
incriminating papers ever see the light of day. All of the coven will be
punished to the full extent of the law, and all your property your
father intended for you to have will be yours at last."
"Poor Papa. They murdered him, you know," she said with a sniff.
"Arsenic. He was in the way of their plans for me, and so they
waited until I was having my season to get him at their mercy and,
well"
"My poor love. You've lost so much, your father, your
innocence"
"I know, and I still miss him so much. But I've gained so much
too," she said, stroking his cheek. "A wonderful husband, an
amazing life, and the bliss only two people truly in love can share. A
love that has been tested and found more than strong enough."
"Like my incredible wife."
"And a love all the more precious because we've almost lost it
several times. Thanks to Blake and Eswara and our other close
friends, and our own courage, we've built the most incredibly lovely
temple of love out of some pretty disgusting mud."
Matthew laughed at that, and wrinkled his nose. "A not entirely
flattering comparison, but fairly apt considering."
"You know what I mean. And we all of us have feet of clay, as the
Bible says."
"Some of us more than others."
"You're doing it again, Matthew, blaming yourself," she said,
cupping his cheek.
"You're right, darling, blame is pointless. So let's just say I've
grown older and wiser thanks to the wisdom of my most wonderful
wife, and leave it at that." He kissed her hand, and smiled.
"Then you don't blame me for going with Philip."
He shook his head. "Now that I know everything, how could I.
Which is not to say that I'm totally at ease with what nearly
happened. So you will have to forgive me, Mrs. Dane, and
understand that for the next seven months, and indeed the rest of

your life, Im going to pamper, spoil and cosset you. And from now
on its me who is going to protect you, keep you safe. No more
sneaking off with my friends on some pilgrimage of justice.
You have no call to be jealous, she said quietly.
He kissed her ardently, tasting her like fine wine. When he spoke
again a short time later, he said in all sincerity, I know, Im not.
Philip loves Jasmine and you love me. But he should never have
asked--
She shook her head. He didnt ask. I talked him into it. You know
how persuasive I can be. She winked at him jovially.
He said in tones of mock severity, So long as you didnt use the
same methods!
She gripped his hand hard. Not at all. Theyre reserved for my
most darling husband. So if youre done berating me, how about
removing that surfeit of clothing you have on and giving me a kiss.
He looked more than happy to, and stripped off quickly. Once he
was bare, she got in under the covers and lifted one corner
invitingly.
He slid in beside Althea and wrapped his arms around her as
though he would never let her go. She snuggled against him for a
moment, and then began to kiss her way down his chest.
Oh, no, Althea. No.
Its all right, she murmured against his heated flesh.
But I dont want you to because you think-
Weve been through this before, darling. You have to believe me
now. I want to. Trust me. Its not about thinking.
Its all about trusting me though, isnt it?
Her blue gaze met his head on. Yes. I trust you with all that I
have, all that I ever am or shall be. No more barriers, please?
She suckled him until he panted her name pleadingly, then slid
back up his body in a lingering caress. But before he could roll her
under him, she turned on her side to put her back to him, and lifted
one leg.

No, love, I know you get nervous about this position after
everything. I dont want you to feel scared or-
She shook her head and smiled. Im not. In fact Im looking
forward to it. Im told it creates an entirely new sensation when it
glides against me inside, and you can even use both hands to
fondle me all over. Lets try it at least.
Matthew slipped carefully into her feminine core and she
immediately clamped around him eagerly. He teased her nipples to
crested fullness, and his fingers were never still upon her delicate
whorl.
She climaxed long and hard, and he was grateful when she
turned her head for a kiss so he could muffle her increasingly ardent
cries before she woke the entire inn.
They would both have been mortified if they could have seen
Blake and Philip listen, laugh, and toast each other in the bar
downstairs.
"Here's to true love," Philip said.
The doctor nodded. "True love! Wherever one may find it."
When at last they were both spent, Althea breathed, Oh my.
That was wonderful. And to think Ive been missing out on that all
this time.
Well, you never will again. Anything you want, love, to make you
and the baby happy, you have only to ask.
There is one thing, she said shyly.
Name it, he insisted, his expression once more open, warm,
and carefree, as it had been when he was a young man.
I wouldnt mind if you... She whispered the rest in his ear,
blushing.
He laughed long and hard. Where did you- He chuckled. I
guess I cant be mad at Philip any more after all.
Well, he did say sharing fantasies tenderly could be a wonderful
part of marriage, she said with a flutter of her eyelashes.

He pressed himself even more tightly against her, the warmth of


the contact filling them both with the joyous exhilaration that had
now become so familiar, but was still never enough.
And was not terrifying for them any longer, now that they had put
the demons of their past to rest.
I dont need fantasies when my reality is so incredibly wonderful.
But youre right, my darling Althea. Fantasies, hopes, wishes, we
have it all, and so much more, a dream come true. Sharing all of
that with you is what being married is all about. Ill gladly share all
that's in my heart and mind with you from now on, my lovely wife,
with the greatest of sensual pleasure, I hope.
"And not just share my romantic side with you, darling Althea, but
the whole of my life, every part of me, body, heart and soul, forever
and ever.
She gazed at him, seeing the promise of an eternity of bright
happiness glowing in Matthew's sparkling turquoise eyes. Not a
doubt crossed her mind as she vowed, Forever, my dearest love.

Authors Note
As I have progressed in this series, the Rakehells have really
come into their own, a group of friends who would do anything for
each other.
Yet throughout the series, I have also had to come up with some
remarkable heroines who could compliment them well, and deal with
real relationship issues without the absurd bickering which counts
for so-called sexual tension in many of the romance novels I have
the misfortune to pick up these days.
Another area where I feel that many romances go wrong is in not
recollecting that the central focus of the attention in the book is upon
the couple falling in love. The hero and heroine have to work out
problems both internally and externally, but the love is supposed to
be there and growing even as they grow as characters (and not just
go around in purposeless circles).
Another problem I have found in romance novels is the so-called
love scenes, often gratuitous, and in at least eight out of ten cases
violent non-consensual ones in which the woman quite clearly says
no, and yet is told she wants it anyway. Has her wrists pinned
down, for example, and gets it.
This is not entertainment so far as I am concerned. Nor is it love.
It is rape. The sooner women complain to the big publishing houses
about these types of stories, the sooner they will be seen for the
exploitation they are.
A man can be a brilliant lover without being a brutal Alpha male.
Nor does strength have to equate with violence.
As you can see, my couples are all very sexually active and quite
playful, and have many interesting fantasies, but they are not brutal
or exploitative. If theyre playing games, they have quite clear rules,
and a great deal of trust involved.

Matthews problem at the start of the novel was that he thought


he was indulging in a simple sexual game. Only when it went wrong
did he realise that for many women of the time, being forced to
submit to a mans will was not a game at all, but a sad fact of life.
The Regency period was one of great savagism as well as civility.
I try to write the kinds of novels Jane Austen would have if only she
had dared. There are certainly dark enough hints in her world with
Wickham in Pride and Prejudice running off to London with Lydia
just to ruin her and spite Lizzie and Darcy. Not to mention Colonel
Brandon's first love, and her daughter, both falling prey to
unscrupulous men in Sense and Sensibility, and Marianne's
fortunate escape from a similar fate.
The later Rakehells are lusty, but intentionally offer a contrast
with the depraved men and women who appear as my villains, who
are sadly true to life.
Also, historically speaking, sex always had consequences in one
form or another in this period of time, just as it does today. A
sensible and intelligent Society chap or woman looked before they
leapt. Just read Pepys seventeenth-century diary if you want more
detailed information on his armour and rather rakish sex life!
The bizarre little cabal in Enfield is based in part on true stories of
what the Hell Fire Club got up to, and other gentlemans clubs as
well, which were little better than high-class bordellos and gambling
dens.
If men continue to objectify women, and see them as victims to
be preyed upon, these sorts of abuses depicted in the book will
continue even hundreds of years after the last Hell Fire Club
meeting.
I enjoyed catching up with all of the Rakehells, and of course
Alistair still has to meet the woman of his dreams, in the novel
Ruthless. He has been sadly neglected--he was supposed to have
had his turn after Philip Marshalls story, but some of the other
books branched off from Blakes story Guardian of the Heart and
Michael Avenels The Model Master. Thus the years passed by,
over ten in terms of the chronology of the series.
My only excuse is one has to go with the inspiration and see
where it takes one. There are a few other loose ends to tie up as

well for this whole series, as you can guess, which originally started
out at a trilogy and has expanded beyond all my expectations.
My only excuse is that I simply adore the Duke of Ellesmere,
Philip, Michael and Randall. They most definitely have an interesting
collection of friends. And I love giving all of them happy endings,
even when (and especially if) they have had a hard time in life.
As you may have guessed, I also love to have my couples meet
in the most unusual of circumstances, and am a firm believer in love
at first sight! And of the power of love.
In the next novels in the series, we see a former Rakehell return
to the fold after years abroad, in Experience, and will also soon
return to Brimley to see the divine Ash Paignton become The Model
Husband.
Many thanks to my fans for your continuing loyal support, and as
always, keep the fan mail coming at http://HerStoryBooks.com.

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