By Love Unveiled Reworked
Deborah Martin’s Reworked Restoration Series
By Love Unveiled
Baronet’s daughter Marianne Winchilsea was running for her life from those who thought she was involved in an attempt to kill the king. Forced to disguise herself, she trusted no one—especially not Garett Locke, the Earl of Falkham, the man who usurped her family home and who seemed to be her most dangerous enemy…
And what Garett saw beneath her disguise was a beautiful half-gypsy, who was enrobed in mystery, deception and burning secrets. A woman he should avoid at all costs. Somehow, in a world of treachery and passion, of sweet seduction and whispered betrayals, each would have to learn to trust the other, as a desire that could not be disguised turned into a passionate love that all the powers of the world could not defeat.
“Stand up very slowly if you wish to live another day,” a deep voice said behind Miss Marianne Winchilsea.
Her hands froze as she recognized the rumbling timbre of that voice. It was as if her very thoughts had conjured up the Earl of Falkham.
Something sharp prodded her ribs, making her stiffen. For heaven’s sake, the man was actually holding a sword to her back!
“Stand!” he commanded.
She did so, cursing her all-encompassing black cloak that made her look like any thief in the night. “’Tis only I, the gypsy. I mean no harm, my lord.”
The sword point left her ribs. She gave a sigh of relief, but the silence behind her did nothing to lessen the pounding of her heart.
“Turn around,” he said tersely, and she obeyed so quickly she nearly tripped over her cloak.
Her eyes widened as she saw his finely hewn face, implacable in the early morning light. Underneath the gray cloak draped casually about his shoulders, his clothes were in disarray, as if he’d dressed in a great hurry, but he held his sword in readiness.
His gaze fixed on her mask, which she’d worn in case a stranger came upon her, then traveled to her cloak stained with dirt, grass, and dew. She kept her pouches of herbs hidden under her cloak, but they made a noticeable bulge, which he seemed to fix on next.
“Remove your mask and cloak,” he said, his expression unchanging.
“I will not! You know who I am!”
He lifted the sword threateningly. “Remove them!”
She considered refusing again, but he had every reason to be suspicious, for she’d been trespassing in his gardens. Letting her pouches slide to the ground, she then did as he asked.
As soon as her cloak hit the ground, she became aware of several things at once. The air was colder than she’d realized. Her hands were smeared with dirt. And though the earl had lowered his sword, he was staring at her in a way that boded trouble.
His gaze paused only a moment to take in her cheeks pinkened by the cold and her hair tied back with ribbon. Then it slid lower to linger where her chemise of cream muslin bunched over the tops of her breasts.
A slow smile lit his lips as his eyes swept down the boned bodice of her simple chocolate-brown gown to her waist, and then to her hips. She wore few petticoats these days—there was no place for them in the wagon—so her form appeared much as nature had intended it.
“Enchanting.” His gaze returned to her face. “But I felt certain you would be.” Then he sheathed his sword.
It took her a second to realize he’d only made her remove her cloak so he could satisfy his lustful urge to gawk at her body, but when she did, she snatched up her cloak. “You, sir, are a lecher!” she cried as she retied it about her neck.
“And what are you, my dear? A spy? A thief?” He gestured to the pouches at her feet. “Why are you skulking about in the wee hours of the morning, alarming my cook so she rouses me to confront the intruder?”
She reddened under his scrutiny. “I merely wanted some plants.” She knelt to pull an innocuous one from her bag. “You see? I want to start a garden of my own, and I thought you wouldn’t mind if I took a few of the ones difficult to cultivate. You have plenty, and you obviously don’t use them.”
Looking skeptical, he stepped close enough to bend and examine the pouches. When he found nothing but plants, he held out his hand to help her rise, which she ignored as she stood.
That seemed to annoy him. “Would it have been too much for you to humble yourself and ask for the plants? Think you I would have begrudged you a few herbs?”
She met his gaze boldly. “I really don’t know what you might begrudge me, my lord.”
He grunted, then scanned the garden. His eyes narrowed. “How did you know where to find what you needed? You couldn’t have been here more than half an hour, yet you’ve clearly put aside a goodly supply.”
The question caught her off guard. Scrambling for an answer that might pacify him, she said, “I’ve been here before. The former owners allowed me to take what I wished.” With that half-truth, her next words came more readily. “That’s why I didn’t think anything about coming here now. I’m accustomed to gathering what I need when I need it.”
“Is that why you came at this hour, when you thought no one would see you? I’d say that’s the habit of a thief, not a guest.”
“I’m no thief,” she said stoutly. “The former owners never called me such. And you don’t care about the garden, anyway, so why quibble if I take a few plants? To you, they’re just weeds.”
His mouth thinned as he stooped to pull the nightshade from her bag. “Belladonna is not a weed.”
She willed herself to remain calm. If he recognized the plant, he must know its properties. “I use it for poultices,” she said in an even voice.
“And here I thought it was to make those entrancing eyes of yours look more mysterious.”
That too was a property of the plant—Italian ladies used it to dilate their pupils and give them a sensuous appeal. “I’ve no desire to look mysterious, I assure you, my lord.”
He laughed grimly. “Yes, that’s why you lurk about in a cloak and mask, sneak into my garden, and steal my plants, particularly the poisonous ones.” When she bristled, he added, “I won’t tolerate your being in this garden without my knowledge. I have enemies—”
When he broke off, fear curled around her insides. Ah, yes, his enemies, the ones who stabbed him on the highway and made him suspicious of gypsy girls. What crimes had this man committed to make him have to watch his back so fiercely?
Lord Falkham glanced at the manor. “You knew the Winchilseas?”
She swallowed. Best tread carefully with this one, since she was supposed to be merely Mina, the gypsy. “I did.”
“I know little of them,” he surprised her by saying. “Tell me, what manner of man was Sir Henry?”
Her desire to paint her father truthfully warred with her common sense, which cautioned her to say as little as possible. The former won out.
“He was wonderful—kind and gentle,” she said, unable to hide the pleasure she took in speaking of Father. “He cared about everyone here, rich and poor alike. I learned a great deal about doctoring from him.”
A shadow passed over Lord Falkham’s face. “You seem to have known him quite well. What’s more, you seem to have cared for him. Perhaps you’ve had more experience with protectors than I first realized.”
It took her a moment to realize his meaning. “For shame! How dare you imply that Sir Henry and I . . . that we . . .” She scowled. “Only a reprobate like you would think such a thing! Why, the man was old, and he loved his wife. What would he have wanted with the likes of me?”
Her response seemed to affect him, for his mood altered. His gaze raked her body, gleaming with a familiar light. “I can easily answer that, sweetling. A man would have to be either blind or a fool not to consider your form an enticement to all manner of pleasures.”
His words put her instantly on her guard. She backed around the hedge behind her until she’d put it between them. “I’d best leave now, my lord. My aunt will worry.”
He stalked her at a leisurely pace. “Let her worry. You weren’t too concerned about her when you came sneaking about here in the first place.” He placed himself between her and her plants, though the hedge still lay between them. “Besides, you wouldn’t want to leave without taking what you came for.”
“I don’t need them after all,” she lied.
“Nonsense. You wanted them badly enough to steal them. What can I do with them now that they’re uprooted? By all means, take them.”
He scooped them up and laid them on the hedge. But before she could snatch them, he vaulted the hedge with ease, landing between her and the plants.
“You still want them, don’t you?” He laid one hand on the pouches behind him.
“Yes.” She backed away until she came up against an apple tree, then groaned as she realized he had her trapped.
He took full advantage of that to move closer. “Then you’ll have them, but for a price.” His voice lowered. “One kiss. That’s all. Then you may take the plants and do as you wish with them.”
The quick thrill that shot through her roused her anger, at herself as much as at him. No, not herself. She would never even consider touching the lips of this . . . this killer. Never! “Trust a rogue to ask for such a thing. How dare you?”
With an arch of his eyebrow, he stepped nearer. “What a little princess you are, with all your indignation. Remember, you trespassed in my garden. One kiss is a small price to pay for my ignoring that.”
“Since when do rogues stop with one kiss? I’m not so innocent as to let you talk me into such foolishness. My aunt has warned me often enough about noblemen like you, and I plan to take her warnings to heart.”
His face darkened with a dangerous quickness that made her aware of how alone they were. The servants might be about, but she and the earl were far enough away from the manor that he might harm her without anyone noticing.
“I should remind you,” he snapped, “that if I wished, I could have you thrust in the gaol.”
“You would do that for a few missing herbs?” she dared to taunt him. “And because I refuse to satisfy your lust? I should have expected as much from such a varlet. Well, then, call the constable. I dare say he’d rather have me free to help his wife with her sickly newborns than locked up at your whim.”
She prayed he didn’t call her bluff. Although the constable had supported the townspeople’s harboring of her, if the earl brought her to him, the man would have no choice but to act.
But her audacity merely seemed to surprise Lord Falkham. “You would risk being sent to the gaol to avoid giving me one kiss. You’re a strange gypsy indeed.”
Devil take him! Must he always remind her she acted far different than her role would warrant? What would a gypsy girl do? Probably use his passion to eke out some small reward for herself.
“I merely quibble over your price. These are only plants, hardly worth a kiss. Now if you were to offer me more of an enticement . . . .”
Eyes narrowed, he closed the distance between them to trap her against the tree. “So the gypsy princess shows her true colors.” His eyes glittered like winter sleet as they dropped to her lips. “You’re right. One taste of your sweetness would be worth more than mere herbs, but the bargaining is done. You’ll satisfy my ‘whim,’ sweetling, if you want your plants.” When she eyed him warily, he softened his tone. “Come, Mina, give me my taste.”
His voice washed over her like sun-warmed water, holding forth a rich promise just as enticing. Annoyed by her reaction, she plucked an apple and thrust it at him. “If you’re hungry, my lord, this will serve your needs better.”
“Adam may have fallen for that trick, my little Eve,” he murmured, “but I am not so foolish.” He pulled her body up against him, then brought his mouth down on hers.