Her life changed one fateful night.
Lord Conway, a rich and powerful aristocrat, left her broken and battered. She was nearly rescued by Lord Somerville, a man of new money and no class. He must have thought he was interrupting a lovers’ tryst. Disgusted, he turned away from her.

But the truth was far darker. With hands strangling her neck, making it impossible to breathe, she lied to save her life that night. After that, the lies never ceased.
Years later, she came across Lord Somerville again, only to discover that things weren’t always as they appeared. Her heart yearned for release and her body craved closure. Could she tell him the truth?

Publisher’s Note: This is a modern, sweet romance, where secrets and naughtiness often are met with stern discipline. If that isn’t your thing, then don’t read this book.




“Shall we find a place that’s a little more private to continue our discussion?”

Your gaze flickers momentarily past his shoulder to the man you can see is standing alone, while surrounded by dancing, drinking party goers, staring with an annoying fixation at you and you alone. He is not bothering to hide his highly improper interest in you as you ignore the fact that he’s looking at you in much the same way you have spent years looking at the tall Adonis next to you.

You deliberately gaze up at the man whose hand rests even more improperly at your lower back, losing yourself in those bright blue eyes, knowing that, in his presence, you needn’t be concerned about the boorish Lord Somerville and his common, coarse attentions, which, over the past few months—since not long after he was elevated to his current status—had been solely focused on you.

Your escort’s smile, as he guides you away from the safety of the ballroom and further down the hall, away from the crowds, is nothing but angelic, and you can hardly believe it’s finally happening.

Lord Aaron Conway—the man you’ve been quietly, secretly in love with for as long back as you could remember—since long before you came out—is paying attention to you! Indeed, he’s been fairly doting on you all evening. If he’d offered to take you to the moon, you would have agreed without a second’s hesitation.

He is everything you admire and desire—your heart beats faster to even think the word—in a man. He’s smart—having graduated from Eton and Cambridge with high honors—possesses a title with a long and storied lineage, not to mention the manners and elegance and grace that go along with having grown up in this society, all of which you’re quite sure your own admirer—such as he is—doesn’t possess.

You’re panting and in a bit of a trance as all of your silly schoolgirl daydreams appear to be coming true. You know no one who knew you would think you even had such things—if anything, you have a bit of a reputation for being smarter than you “should be” and not afraid to curb it in front of gentlemen who might not quite meet that mark.

Hence the fact that this is your fourth season, and your second, so far, without any offers—plenty of invitations, but no offers, not that there was a flurry of them in your first or second seasons, either. You know your parents already despair of you ever marrying, but you’re completely unconcerned, having watched patiently as Lord Conway cut a—sometimes less than gallant—swathe through the sea of eligible young ladies you’d debuted with, leaving broken hearts in his wake and never once offering for any girl’s hand, no matter how badly he’d compromised them.

And yet, because of his impeccable pedigree and background, eager, overbearing mothers continue to throw their innocent young daughters at him every year in hopes of snaring him—and his family’s vast fortune—for themselves.

But you are only too willing to look past those foibles, quite sure that you’re the one who will convince him to change his rakish, roguish ways. Those others didn’t understand him, didn’t love him, the way you do.

And now, in the middle of the season, when most of the couples who will pair up permanently already have, you’ve just managed to attract his wandering eye at what has turned out to be a long, dull party.

“Ah, this will do—” he says, tucking you into the smallish room he’s found, well away from everyone else, pushing you into its complete darkness ahead of him.

You stumble a bit as you move forward, not able to see anything, expecting him to flip a switch so that electric light would flood the room, but then, this is the Roethlisberg’s big, ancient mansion, and you’re pretty sure they haven’t succumbed to the temptation of very many modern conveniences. Your advance into the room is brought to an abrupt halt by a large piece of furniture of some sort, so you stay right where you are, lest you end up in an ungainly heap on the floor.

Turning around, you say, still unable to discern Lord Conway’s location, “We should have brought a candle—it’s black as night in—” And then you hear it. The sound of him deliberately closing the door behind him—it was as final as if he had been locking it.

Your heartbeat quickens—but not in the same way it had been before, and not at all for the same reason—wondering if, perhaps, he had.

It strikes you, suddenly, that no one knows where you are or who you are with. You told your mother flat out, at the beginning of the season, that you don’t require—nor do you appreciate the idea of having—a chaperone any longer, reminding her that you are hardly a dewy-eyed ingénue any longer, and besides, no one’s going to offer for you now, anyway.

You’d tried to get your parents to forget the idea of parading you through yet another season, but they refused to budge.

But your mother had allowed—however reluctantly—that she didn’t necessarily need to be your shadow at these things any more, which gave you much more time to spend with your dwindling circle of friends or by yourself, in a corner, in a room not much different from this, reading by candlelight, if necessary, yourself, which is most often where she discovered you at the end of an evening.

Now you find yourself heartily wishing that you’d stayed closer to her, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as the rather large and suddenly quite threatening man you’d been quite sure was the epitome of an English gentleman begins to bear down on you, having acquired several more hands and mouths than he had when you’d first arrived there.

You are the cosseted, spoiled, indulged only child of Lord and Lady DeVere, and you have never in your life felt unsafe—until this moment, when he rends the front of your dress to get at your breasts while reaching beneath your skirt with his other hand to tear at your underthings. Before you know it, he’s lifted you onto whatever table or bookshelf or desk is behind you and is standing between legs he’s opened easily, simply because you’re still so shocked at how he’s treating you that when he advanced, they fell open. You feel frozen, unable to put up anything but the feeblest of defenses, and the only time you cry out is when you feel him actually touch you—there.

The sensation is highly unpleasant, his rough fingers marauding through your delicacies like the Vandals through Rome.

Suddenly, the door opens, however, and light from the hallway blinds you again, although you know the silhouette of the man who has interrupted you, as well as that deep, throaty voice.

“I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to interrupt.” His tone drips contempt and you’re not sure why, but you’re both horrified and relieved that he’s found you.

Throwing caution—and very probably your reputation—to the wind, you open your mouth to scream for help, but find a big hand clamped over it.

“Yes, but you are, so clear off,” the man who is holding you captive answers gruffly.

There is no sound that your potential rescuer has made any move to leave at all, despite the other man’s command.

“I would hear it from the lady that she prefers I leave.”

Lord Conway moves his hand from your mouth to your throat threateningly, whispering quickly into your ear in a terrifyingly calm tone, “Agree with me or I will strangle you before he can get to you.”

Having no idea how such things work, you find yourself saying, “Y-yes, do go.”

He still does not leave.

“You’re sure, my lady?”

The fingers tighten, leaving you barely enough air to respond.

“Yes. Go!”

He does so, slowly, closing the door behind him.

And, as the light fades, engulfing you yet again in darkness, you look up into blank, soulless eyes that are as blue and merciless as the open ocean, having sent away what is probably your only hope for being saved from what your idol, your crush, the man you would have readily given your heart to, has in store for you.


Chapter One

Three years later

“You’re sure you won’t consider him, darling? I know his title is new, as is his money—but it spends just as easily and he does have a vast amount of it. He bought Valiant Hall, you know.”

You sigh, although you try not to show your exasperation at the same time, knowing your father simply wants what’s best for you. The fact that what you think is best and what he thinks are two different things could sometimes be a source of friction between the two of you—which you hated. And it didn’t help that you seemed to have attracted a persistent suitor—and from the most unexpected of quarters, too.

For a while, it had seemed that phase of your life was over, and you were only too happy for it to be so. You had gone away to America for nearly a year, severing a lot of ties when doing so, and when you came back, it was to almost no social invitations at all, except for those from family, bless their hearts, which was fine with you. There were certainly no suitors or offers—another thing for which you were eternally grateful and about which your parents despaired.

But several months ago, at a small dinner party your mother’s sister—your Aunt Prudence—had thrown, someone you hadn’t thought of in years reappeared from a part of your past you would much rather have forgotten.

He looked much the same as he had before when he’d watched you at various balls that last season—he was perhaps a bit broader and even more muscular, neither of which, to you, was a point in his favor.

His very maleness was a point against, and it was, like the rest of him, unmistakable.

Sometimes, the only thing you could see, when you looked at him, was that disapproving, disgusted expression he had given you from over the shoulder of your tormentor.

Still, when reintroduced, he hadn’t just shaken your hand, as had become the custom lately—formalities were being shed like winter clothes in May since the war—he had taken it very gently in his and brought it to his lips before raising his head to yours to catch your eye and say, in a tone that should never be used outside the boudoir, “I am very glad to see you again.”

You try not to snatch your hand away from his much bigger, rougher one, but don’t quite manage to do it so that no one notices. Especially him, and he gives you a very sardonic smile when you retract it with such ill-concealed distaste.

“It’s very nice to see you, also, Lord Somerville,” you mumble automatically, courtesy and manners having been drilled into you since you could speak.

He chuckled in a manner that announced to everyone that he highly doubted your sincerity.

The uncultured oaf, you thought.

Unfortunately, as you began to suspect that your aunt and your mother were in collusion and that this was much less of a surprise than a carefully staged bit of matchmaking, you found him sitting next to you at dinner.

Luckily, the trend towards downplaying formalities worked in your favor, and you were not forced to converse with him until allowed to turn, as you might have been not long ago, but instead you spent your time ignoring him completely in favor of chatting up the Right Reverend Playfair. Although discussing any topic with him was rather like conversing with a very old, very pedantic tutor. Indeed, you were seconds away from disengaging from him politely and voluntarily conversing with Lord Somerville when your mother must’ve noticed your abominably discourteous behavior and decided to do something about it.

“I understand you’ve spent quite some time in America, Lord Somerville. My daughter spent a bit of time there, too, a few years back. In Chicago.”

Your mother’s eyebrows were moving up and down so rapidly—in signal to you to pick up the conversational thread—that you thought she was likely to take flight.

But you stubbornly refuse to do so, nodding politely. Instead, you place a tender piece of partridge into your mouth so that you couldn’t reply.

Your mother’s intended target, however, refused to play along with you. “I was only in Chicago for a very short time, Lady DeVere. I didn’t get a chance to spend much time there at all. Boston and New York are where the majority of my business concerns lie. Did you make it to either of those cities when you were visiting, my lady?” he asked you pointedly, actually turning in his chair a bit as if he was incredibly interested in your reply.

Damn him for joining forces with the enemy, but then, you suppose you should have suspected that he would.

You take your time in replying, thinking of all sorts of sparkling rejoinders, but you settle for that which sailed the closest to downright impolite without actually being so. “No.”

Ignoring what you knew would be your mother’s outraged look and out of the corner of your eye, as you concentrate on your meal, you would swear that you could see him smile at your ploy, as if he knew exactly what you were about.

Although you were hoping that would be the end of it, you weren’t that lucky. No, Lord Somerville took the ball that your mother and aunt had handed him and ran with it, trying to engage in all sorts of perfectly acceptable small talk with you, making gentle inquiries about your life and telling amusing stories about his own that had the whole table—with the glaring exception of you—laughing and generally being wonderful company and an excellent dinner guest—which was an accolade that you could not lay claim to yourself at the moment.

Although you know that your curt, blatantly impatient replies to him are just the wrong side of churlish, and that your mother is nearly apoplectic because of it, you consciously refuse to amend your behavior in any way.

You can’t wait for this meal to be over, and intend to, as soon as the pudding arrives and you scarf it down as politely as you can, to plead a headache—which was not necessarily a lie, considering that the man next to you was a rather large one in persona—and remove yourself from this fiasco of an evening as soon as is humanly possible.

But as soon as you finish and open your mouth to do so, he gets there ahead of you, having finished his own, too.

“I thought, if you didn’t mind, Lord and Lady DeVere, that I might ask your lovely daughter to show me that Renoir you had mentioned is in your collection.”

Damn him! He was giving you no choice in the matter whatsoever. Your parents would have wrapped you up—naked, but for a big red bow around your neck—at this point, as long as he continued to evince interest in you.

Your mother answers for them both, almost before he finishes his question. “Of course—that’s a wonderful idea!”

Laying your napkin on the table next to your plate, you begin, “I’m sorry, but I have a bit of a headache and I was going to excuse myself to my room—”

“Nonsense, dear,” your father interjects gruffly, earning an outright glare from you that didn’t set him back nearly enough for your comfort.

The tormentor to your left agrees, murmuring in an almost intimate manner, “Then a walk outside might be better perhaps. Before you show me the painting, to clear your head.”

He’d already risen to stand much too close to you, his hand out, palm up.

As much as you want to, there is no way you can bring yourself to do what you want to do, which was to reiterate more strongly that you’re ill, ignoring him entirely and simply leaving to go to your room. But your mother—and your nannies and your governesses and your finishing school—had all drilled manners into you such that—at times like this—you found some of them unfortunately hard to eschew. To say nothing of the fact that lying had never been your forte, and you didn’t know if you had the nerve to repeat your bold-faced lie to the table—and him—again.

You don’t bother, however, to stifle your clearly exasperated sigh as you slide your chair back and get up without benefit of his assistance, practically stomping out of the room ahead of him as you can hear everyone else getting up to head into the drawing room for after dinner drinks or coffee and, perhaps, cards.

He catches up with you easily, moving in a surprisingly catlike manner, such that you couldn’t even hear him come up on you, not realizing he had until he grabs your upper arm and herds you none too gently into the nearest room, which ends up being a small coat and boot closet.

His sarcasm surprises you when he comments, “Well, this seems to be your favorite type of room to visit when you’re alone with a man—small and dark and out of the way.”

It’s not that dark—the light from the hallway seeping in along the bottom and sides of the door—so that you could see him more than well enough to crack him across the face for that remark, after which you immediately reach for the doorknob, but find your hand captured by his, instead.

“I don’t think so, my dear. Perhaps you’re used to a different kind of assignation with the male of the species, but I’m not going to join what I’m sure is a long line of your lovers. I am, however, going to do something that no other man seems to have done for you in your life, and that you are sorely in need of.”

You are seconds away from screaming bloody murder—unwilling to quietly endure what you’d been made to years ago—when you realize that his intent is quite different from what you’d experienced previously. Although once you discern what that goal is, you know that you shouldn’t have stopped yourself from screaming.

Especially since you end up doing so anyway—uncontrollably. You aren’t sure whether it is a good thing that the servants are at their own dinner and everyone else is cloistered in a big room quite a way away from you and on another floor. No one was going to rescue you from him, either. And as much as you really want him to stop swatting the bottom he’d bared with frightening ease, you are quite sure you don’t want to be found tipped over his knee as you are, tears streaming down your face as you are being subjected not only to a fierce spanking, but also a stern lecture.

“Your behavior towards me this evening has been abominable. If I was your father, I would have excused the both of us from the table and taken you to my study, where I would have thrashed you thoroughly before bringing you back to the dining room, where you would have been expected to apologize to me before you were able to reclaim your seat—although you probably wouldn’t want to unless there was a pillow on it.”

“I would never apologize—I’ve done nothing wrong!” No amount of gyrations loosens his hold on you in the slightest, nor do they disrupt the terrible rhythm of his palm scorching your nether cheeks.

“Then I would have brought you back to the study as many times as was needed until you’d learned your lesson.”

You’d never been spanked before, and damned if it didn’t hurt like the dickens!! “Ow! Cut that out! Stop it! You’re hurting me!”

“That’s the general idea, princess.”

Your father sometimes called you that as an endearment, but coming from his lips, it was an insult, and there was no doubt that that was exactly how he intended it.

“I’m going to keep spanking you—even if someone opens this door and we draw a tittering crowd—until you apologize to me.”

“I’m sorry!” you scream instantly, but the spanking continues, moving down the backs of your thighs, which is almost worse.

“Now, why don’t I believe you, I wonder?”

It’s horrifying to realize just how quickly he’s managed to reduce you to caring about nothing in this world besides getting him to cease and desist. You’re surprised your backside isn’t searing his palm every time it connects, but apparently, it’s not, because he doesn’t let up in the least as it drags on.

You’ve never felt such desperation before—you have to do something to get him to stop.

So, when you’re already disheveled, your carefully coiffed hair hanging down and sticking to your teary face, makeup smeared, dress hiked up to your waist, underthings kicked down to your ankles, if not off, both sets of cheeks a coordinating shade of crimson, you use what little remains of your breath to moan, still hating that you have to utter the words, “All right. I’ll apologize.”

He stops, but his palm still claims your behind.

“Properly?” he asks suspiciously.

“Yes, properly,” came the still slightly sarcastic answer, which began the spanking immediately again.

“You’ll have to sound more convincing than that, little girl.”

Despite your complete mortification, you practically scream that you’ll do it properly, this time without a trace of snark in your tone. To your surprise, he helps you onto your feet to stand before him while he continues to sit with one leg hitched up onto the boot rack, which provided the easy position from which he had tipped you over his thigh, the unspoken threat being that he could do so again anytime, if he didn’t like what he heard.

His commanding tone interrupts you when you lean down to reach for your shoes and stockings and begin to right your appearance. “No, drop those. I want you to stand there as you are.”

As you were? Your dress is still at half mast, bunched at your waist, caught on the curves of your hips. Your hose have fallen, you’re shoeless and you can feel how your still very bare rump is radiating heat in the small room. He expected you to stand there like that, in front of him! You begin to tremble, and not just because of what he’d done to you, although his outrageous demands distract you some from the stark fear that was beginning to settle in.


He doesn’t say anything, merely reaches out to curve his hand around you, laying his palm on your bottom and using that hold to pull you closer to him, so that you are actually touching, standing caged between his legs.

“No buts. Now, I expect a sincere apology, or I will put you right back over my knee.”

The idea of ending up there again is not a possibility, so you know you have to make it good. “I’m sorry that I was impolite to you this evening.” Not bad, if you do say so yourself.

But apparently, he didn’t think so. “That’s a start, now do it again, and this time look at me when you say it.”

You bite back an unladylike snort and somehow manage to do as he asked.

But even that wasn’t enough for him.


“And?” you parrot back, wondering what he was driving at.

And you acted like a spoiled rotten brat, and you ignored me, and generally acted very naughtily towards me, which is something you’ve done since we were introduced years ago.”

This time, an impatient sigh does escape your lips, but all it takes to motivate you further is him squeezing your rump even slightly.

“All right, all right. I acted like a spoiled rotten brat, I ignored you, and I acted very” you do not want to use the same word that he did—the one that makes you sound like a recalcitrant child—but you’re already at the point where you’ll pretty much do anything to get out of this room and away from him. “…naughtily towards you since the dawn of time, and for which I am very sorry,” All the while, you keep your eyes on his until the end.

He laughs a bit at your exaggeration, then whispers, “And I think you need to confess to fibbing about having a headache because you wanted to get away from me, too.”

Your eyes fly to his, and you realize you’ve been caught out. “I did not—”

Another hearty squeeze. “Think very carefully about what you say next, my dear, because believe me, I will know if you’re lying to me.”

Another sigh. “Fine. I fibbed about the headache, and I’m sorry about that, too.”


“There’s more? I haven’t seen you for years—how much more could I have done to insult you in one evening, for Heaven’s sake?”

He chuckles, and it is a rich and warm sound that makes you feel much better about him than you want to. “No, but isn’t a part of an apology asking for forgiveness from the offended party?”

“Oh.” Now why does that make you feel just that much more guilty and submissive? “Please forgive me.”

The arm that is around your waist contracts a bit, tilting you forward suddenly, as his lips rise to meet yours and you kiss for the first time.

It was, at first, like no other kiss you’d ever had, warm and gentle and almost loving, but soon his mouth slants across yours, his tongue seeking entrance to your mouth and it becomes much too similar to the very unpleasant thing you’d endured previously for you to enjoy it, your body quickly becoming both board stiff and shaking so hard you are likely to rattle apart within his arms.

To his credit, when that happens, he stops immediately and stands, holding you gently, but the shuddering doesn’t stop. He bends to retrieve your things, even helping you into them and setting everything to rights but your hair, all while watching you with that unsettlingly intent stare of his. Although it feels better not to be so exposed in front of him, you are still vibrating with fear as he kneels before you and slips your feet back into the shoes that had flown off at his recent efforts.

He stands, reaching around you to get the door, as he suggests, “Why don’t we go for that walk, hmm?”

Feeling a little bit more yourself now, you use the heel of your shoe to stomp down on his instep as hard as you can, then run through the open door with him stumbling after you.

Unfortunately for you, your father catches you sprinting away from him—although the door to the closet was already closed, so he would have no cause to think anything untoward about the time you’d spent together, and you are obliged to stop when he begins to speak. “I see you decided to take in the painting first. Heading out for your walk? Better take a coat—it’s chilly out this evening.”

Your nemesis is stalking towards the two of you, and you kiss your father’s cheek quickly, darting away from him just as he reaches you heading out the door.

“You’d better go after her, Lord Somerville. She’s quite a runner, our girl is,” your father says with a laugh.

And you have no doubt he will, but you’re reasonably well ahead of him by now, and you have the advantage of knowing every inch of the grounds of this estate.

Unfortunately, he is a trained soldier, and he catches up with you with depressing ease, capturing your arm from behind to push you up against the wall of one of the outbuildings you’d been skirting, not too far from the house, trying to lose him enough to sprint for the door and the safety of your room.

He crushes you to it, swiping his foot casually between yours to separate your legs, then reaching down to haul your skirt up again, this time permanently relieving you of your underthings. “I knew I shouldn’t have allowed you to have these back,” he growls from behind you.

Soon, you are at least as vulnerable to him as you were before, perhaps more so, trying to brace yourself for the coming swats.

But instead, he presses his mouth to your ear and you can smell the whiskey and coffee on his breath. “I should tan your hide again, woman, for that stunt you just pulled. I’m going to walk with a limp for days. Those shoes are lethal!”

“Good!” you retort, but he just laughs.

“And I will, if you don’t behave. I’ll make you scream, and everyone will come running. You don’t want that, now, do you?”


The tremors have set in again, and their ferocity makes him ease back a bit.

“Good. Then, instead, I want your promise that you’ll stop treating me like a pariah and behave civilly towards me.”

That was easy enough, you suppose. If you have to. It was better than him spanking you again, regardless of whatever audience you might acquire.

“All right.”

“And that you will receive me any time I want to see you—that you’ll go out to dinner with me and you’ll stop putting stumbling blocks in the way of me courting you.”

You are dumbfounded, never having thought that he’d ask for something like that, although you supposed you shouldn’t have been so surprised, since he’d been pursuing you—of a fashion—for quite some time.


His big hand finds not just your bum, but his fingers probe—however gently—between your spread legs.

You can’t help it. You throw your head back and issue a full-throated scream, scrambling frantically away from him, your vehemence catching him off guard, tripping and falling to the ground after no more than a foot or two, and actively cowering away from him when he bends to offer his hand to help you up, scraping your sore bottom against the rough terrain as you try to scramble away from him.

He hunkers down beside you in the moonlight, not trying to touch you in any way. “Shhh-shh-shhh. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

You can’t really hear his apology, but his tone sounds soothing.

“You’re shivering.” He doffs his big coat and drapes it gingerly around you. “This will keep you warm.”

He’s right. It’s enormous, swallowing you up the way his big presence threatens to, incredibly warm and smelling of him.

“May I help you stand? You’ll be warmer if you’re up off the ground,” he suggests softly, extending his hand, which you ignore for the millionth time that evening, getting to your feet yourself, but remaining quite wobbly and unsteady as you stand there, shaking so hard from reaction and cold that you feel as if you’re going to faint.

He’s not too close to you, watching you as he always does, and then it’s as if he’s made up his mind, so he’s going to do what he thinks is best, regardless of what your opinion might be of his actions. But he also tells you what he’s going to do, as he’s doing it, and you think that’s probably his attempt to try to alleviate some of your fear.

“I’m going to pick you up and bring you back to the house now—all the way up to your room, even though I know that might not be quite proper. We’ll tell them that your headache caused you to get a bit dizzy and that you stumbled and fell in the darkness, which you kind of did, and that you’re fine but you need to warm up and rest. And I will apologize heartily to your father for not having taken better care of you.”

You squeak loudly when he swings you up into his arms, but that’s all he does, walking the ways to the house and then striding confidently up the stairs—asking your parents, who are trailing after him—where your room is, then laying you gently down on your big bed before dealing expertly with their anxious inquires.

“She had a bit of a fall and just needs to warm up some and get some rest—maybe a headache powder might not go awry.”

And then he did exactly what he said he was going to do—apologized profusely to your father for several things, among them not making sure you’d brought a coat, and not keeping a closer eye on you when you had said that you weren’t feeling well.

Your father is suitably impressed, you can tell, while you’re lying there trying not to roll your eyes at his obvious bid to gain favor with your parents. How could he not realize that they already think the sun rises and sets on his broad shoulders, and that they would love him forever if he would just take their spinster daughter off their hands?

“Should we send for the doctor, do you think, Lord Somerville?”

He came to stand by your head, brushing the hair out of your face in what must have looked like a very affectionate gesture to those eager to read something into it, not so innocent bystanders.

You reach up to grab his hand in a way that looks as if you are clasping it lovingly, you suppose, when, in reality, you are sinking your nails into his skin as hard as you could.

Not that you would have known it—he didn’t so much as flinch. “No, I don’t think so. A good night’s sleep and a warm fire, perhaps a swallow or two of brandy or whiskey, if you have it—should put her to rights. I don’t even think she’ll have any bruises or anything, since she landed on her keister.”

Oh, you were going to have bruises—bright red ones, you knew, courtesy of him!

“Well, then, I’ll send for her maid, June, and we’ll let her get to bed.” Your mother and father kiss you good night, but—you’re ever thankful—don’t leave you alone with him. They do, however, move away from the bed, so as to give you a small amount of privacy, you suppose.

Lord Somerville bends down to press a kiss to your cheek. “I shall call on you in a few days, my dearest, to assure myself that you have recovered in every possible way.” Then he lowers his voice an octave or two, if that was even possible. “In the meantime, might I suggest you’d like a pillow beneath you when you sit?” Then back to his usual tone and volume. “Feel better soon.”

You wish you could turn your head and take a chunk out of his ear, but you don’t.

When June arrives, you thank her for the medicine, but tell her you’ll undress yourself, and seconds later you’re in your nightgown, holding it high around your waist, turning this way and that and taking in the undeniable evidence of his bright red palm print in stark relief against your white skin.