April 1, 2010
Book two in the two-book Fairchild series
Too Hot for a Rake
He can keep her safe… or be her very ruin…
1818—When Lady Helena Fairchild’s betrothed returns home, she tries to seduce him only to discover the man in her bed is a notorious rake. When she is discovered, the man she loves calls off the wedding and her family adds to her misery by sending her away to avoid a major scandal.
To her horror, Helena’s escort turns out to be Lord Desmond Bannington, the rake she attempted to seduce by mistake. Their destination is Waverley Castle in Land’s End on the rugged coast of Cornwall. When they reach it, they must set aside their hostility and work together to restore not only the run-down castle, but also the health of Desmond’s beloved grandmother.
Intrigued by Helena’s boldness and the memory of her nude body that first night, he struggles to win her for his wife against the strong opposition of her father, the autocratic Duke of Heatham.
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“A spirited character-driven tale with a lively, strong heroine and a reformed rake. Who could ask for more?”
“As strong as Ms. Wolf started with her debut novel Too Hot For A Spy she continues with Too Hot For A Rake. She confirms her status of a fast rising star in the world of Regency romance. There wasn’t one moment in the whole book that was boring and it wasn’t predictable. It was pure joy to watch the story develop and I was more than a little sad when it ended.”
– Love Romances & More
Rated 4 ½ / 5! “Too Hot For A Rake is a fast paced historical romance. Ms. Wolf gives us two exceptional characters in Desmond and Helena. The two are made for each other and the scenes with them together are hot! Secondary characters are fun and interesting and keep the story moving. There is plenty of action, intrigue, and romance, everything this reviewer looks for in a historical romance. This is one you won't want to miss!”
– The Romance Readers Connection
Rated 4 cups! “Too Hot For A Rake is a very good historical romance. The characters are likable and believable. The plot is easy to follow and difficult to put down. The author combines romance and adventure in an inventive way. The mysterious and sinister forces at work at Waverley will have you at the edge of your seat. I was rooting for Lady Helena from the first. I loved her determined attitude. She is beautiful, competent, intelligent, and very stubborn. Desmond did not stand a chance against the legendary Fairchild determination.”
– Coffee Time Romance
Sunday, The twenty-second of March, 1818
A young Englishman stepped out of the hired chaise, his face at once assaulted by the icy March winds. He shuddered against the inhospitable cold that bit into him and raised his eyes to the formidable façade of Le Chabanais.
To keep his beaver hat from blowing away, he held it firmly in place as he climbed the steps of the building, an establishment that took its name from its location: 12 Rue Chabanais. He raised the knocker on the door, let it fall and waited. One eye appeared through a small hole.
“I’ve come to see Lord Bannington. Is he at home?” He pressed his calling card to the hole.
The door opened a crack and a hand snaked out to snatch the card from him. “I shall inquire if Monsieur is at home.”
When the door clanked shut, the man had to content himself with stamping his feet to keep from freezing. He raised his fist to bang the knocker again, when the ponderous oaken door swung open.
“Entrez, s’il vous plais, Monsieur.” The porter led him through a dimly lit hall that opened into a large room where the visitor was at once blinded by the blaze of hundreds of candles.
He handed his coat, hat, muffler and gloves to a footman and surveyed the scene. The mirrored room was the size of a large London ballroom. It’s walls were lined with red banquettes. Young ladies in various states of undress lounged on them, apparently awaiting the arrival of male clientèle, a reasonable assumption considering the nature of the business conducted at 12 Rue Chabanais. Someone behind him tapped a fan on his shoulder. He turned, startled by the astonishing sight of a tall, buxom woman of a certain age. She wore a low cut black gown studded with crystals, long white gloves and a black lace mantilla attached to her haïr, powdered in the French fashion.
« Monsieur? Welcome to Le Chabanais. I am Madame Z’evareau. How may I serve you? Our salon offers the finest young ladies in Paris. But you can see that for yourself. How many of our ladies would you like this evening ? One, two, more ? »
He took the hand she offered and bent to brush his lips over it, a gesture she appeared to expect. « No, Madame. I am not here to be entertained this evening. I seek an audience with Lord Bannington. He resides hère, does he not ? «
“Ah, oui. Le roue’ Anglais. He is our guest. The dear boy may be occupied at the moment, however. Allow me to inquire.” She turned and said to a young lady nearby, “Entertain the gentleman, Cecelie.” She hurried off, Darlington’s card in hand.
“What is your pleasure?” Cecelie asked him. In spite of her painted rouged cheeks, charcoaled eyelids and short red hair, she could not have been more than sixteen. She wore a sheer white chemise over long black stockings and red high-heeled shoes.
“I’m not here for your services, mademoiselle. I’ve come to see Lord Bannington.” He resisted the urge to loosen his neck cloth.
The harlot giggled. “You are a friend of le roué Anglais? Then there shall be no charge, monsieur. He pays for all his friends.” She reached up to kiss him on the lips, but Darlington restrained her.
“You do not like Cecilie? Perhaps you would prefer another . . .?”
To his relief, Madame Z’evareau returned, saving him from further embarrassment.
“Lord Bannington will see you now. Follow me if you please.”
He tried to ignore the snickers he heard and the lascivious ogling that followed him as he made his way past to the red banquettes, but he reddened just the same.
“Pay no attention to my girls, monsieur. Sunday evenings are always thin of visitors here at Le Chabanais. Our clientele’ prefer to remain at home with their families, you see. My little cocottes work hard all week. One must allow them the release of a bit of naughty mischief on Sundays.” She led him up the red-carpeted grand staircase to the first chamber on the left and knocked on the door.
“Come,” a deep male voice said as she opened the door. “Thank you, Madame Z. You may leave us.” Come in Darlington. Have we met before? I can’t recall, for I have an atrocious memory. Shocking, but there it is.”
Bannington had dark hair streaked with hints of the sun and blue eyes the color of the sea. His lordship lounged on a large bed in the middle of the room. He wore nothing save loose black silk pantaloons, but the women in his bed wore nothing at all. His head reclined on the breasts of a young girl whose fingers played with his long curls. Another was trimming his nails while a third massaged his feet. Embarrassed, Darlington’s gaze wandered over his lordship’s opulent surroundings, his eyes fixed everywhere but on the bed.
The chamber was large, its walls lined in red silk. The floors were covered with a carpet of Turkish design. The ceiling revealed a scene filled with curvaceous women engaged in sensual couplings, but over the bed itself, a mirror the length and width of the bed was prominent. Opposite the headboard there stood a large desk and chair. Beyond that, a huge stone fireplace faced the footboard, two comfortable chairs on either side, a round table between them. A settee facing the fireplace completed the sitting area.
“What do you think of my home, Darlington,” asked Bannington, much amused by the scandalized expression on the face of his visitor. “I prefer to live here, you know. Meets all my needs most conveniently.”
“Handsome surroundings, but as marquis. . .”
“Marquis? Why do you address me thus? I am Lord Bannington. I have had no other name for these past twelve years.”
“So I have been informed, my lord.”
“Why have you come? Who sent you?”
“I must insist upon speaking with you alone, your lordship.”
“Pay no attention to my playmates. None of them understand the English tongue. What is it you want of me?”
“My mission is too sensitive. Privacy is essential, your lordship.”
A condescending grin met Darlington’s plea. “As bad all that, eh?” He turned to his companions. “All right, my lovelies. Party’s over.” He kissed each one in turn. “Amelie’. Babette. Colette. Be off with you, my delectable ABC’s. I’ll send for you later,” he said, lightly patting each on the derriere’ after each one kissed him adieu’.
When the giggling trio put on their robes and danced out the door, Waverley said, “You must join me for dinner, old chap. The food’s excellent, and I am starving.” He rang and at once a small brown man appeared as if from nowhere. He wore a turban, a yellow satin coat, black tights and shoes with turned up toes.
“Dinner for two, Rabu. Tell Madame Z we should like two bottles of her best wine and some French brandy later.”
“Yes, Mastah!” His bow almost touched the tip of his shoes.
“You seem shocked, Darlington. This is my valet Rabu. I lived in India for years, you see. The little devil adopted me there and I cannot rid myself of him no matter how hard I try. One must be gracious in defeat, mustn’t one?” He rose from his bed as he spoke, donned a dressing gown and slid his feet into slippers.
“Le Chabanais is the finest bordello in Paris, you know, which is why I choose to live here. It is well known for its cuisine, thanks to Madame Z’s outstanding chef. Let us sit by the fire, sir. You can tell me your business after we finish our dinner.” Waverley sprawled in a seat opposite Darlington and took some snuff from an ornate box resting on the small table beside his chair.
In spite of himself, Darlington enjoyed every bit of the French cuisine, a rare treat for him. The first course was a delicate turtle soup. The second was a ragout of beef, which proved to be succulent. The meal ended with a chocolate soufflé that defied description. When Rabu cleared the last of the dirty dishes, he set the brandy on the table along with a bowl of nuts and some fruit.
“Leave us,” said Bannington, dismissing his valet with a wave of his hand. He waited for Rabu to disappear through a side door. ” We are alone now, sir. What brings you to Paris?”
“I have been searching for you for almost a year, your lordship. I am an envoy from the home office, sent to find you.”
“Really? What can the home office possibly want with an expatriate like me?”
Ignoring this for the moment, Darlington said, a hint of frustration in his tone, “I made my way to India to seek you, but you had already left that country.”
“Ah, India. I lived in Calcutta for ten years. It is where I made my fortune, more to luck than to business acumen, I might add.”
“You led me a merry chase all over Europe, my lord. My search took me to Greece, Italy and Spain, all to no avail.”
His host’s brow furrowed. “Come to the point, Darlington. Why were you sent to seek me out?”
“Prince George, our Regent, most urgently requests your return to England, my lord.”
Waverley was amused by the young man’s pompous turn of phrase, but he ignored it. “The Regent? How is this?”
“The Third Marquis of Waverley, your father, passed away a year ago. His majesty is anxious for you to return him to take his place.”
Bannington’s eyes widened. “Then I am the Fourth Marquis of Waverley?” He laughed, a sound tinged with resentment.
“If my father knew I was being summoned home to England to take his place, he would rise from his grave to protest, for there was no love lost between us. This is the first communication I’ve had from him since he disowned me twelve years ago. Inform Prince George that I renounce my right to the marquisate. I have no reason to return, for I have fashioned a life in Paris that suits me well. I have many friends here, and none in England. Besides, there is no longer anyone alive at Waverley Castle now that my father is dead.” Now that my father is dead, there is no longer any opportunity for reconciliation, though God knows I tried more than once during my long exile.
“You mistake, my lord. Your grandmother is alive. Her ladyship lives at Waverley Castle.”
Thunderstruck by this news, Bannington turned pale. “My grandmother is still alive? You can’t be serious. I thought she died years ago.”
“No, my lord. Your grandmother is eighty years old and very much alive.”
“Is she being well cared for?”
“I can’t answer that question, my lord. Six months ago, distant cousins took up residence at Waverley, to care for your grandmother.”
“Mrs. Jennie Trasker and her son Harry.”
“Never heard of them. How do you come by all this information, Darlington?”
“My information comes from the intelligence division of the home office. It is entirely reliable, though not public knowledge, my lord. I must urge you to reconsider and accept the marquisate, for the sake of England if not for your grandmother. If you do not, Harry Trasker is next in line. My information is that he is ill equipped to take your father’s place.”
Bannington stared into the embers as if they held the answer for him. Grandmother alive? Does she still love the lad I once was or did my unforgiving father forbid her to communicate with me? All these years I thought I had no family. Now I have a grandmother and two cousins. I must return, for her sake. A gamble, to be sure, but no worse than the risks I’ve been forced to take all my life. Waverley Castle. I loved it well once. Aloud he said, “If I decide to return, what then?”
Darlington relaxed for the first time for this was his area of expertise. “When you return to London, you will find a warm welcome awaiting you. Viscount Sidmouth, the home secretary, is most anxious to meet you. You may count on him to counsel you in light of this . . .delicate situation.”
“Delicate? Have you been withholding something from me? Is my grandmother in any danger?”
“I have not been thus informed, but I cannot say for a certainty.”
Desmond again stared into the fire, struggling with his conscience. He recalled a gentle lady who loved him well. At last he spoke. “If my grandmother is alive, for her sake I have no choice but to return to England.”
The envoy looked relieved. “It is my duty to escort you to London for your investiture by the Regent. How soon can you be ready to leave, your lordship?
Bannington’s brow cleared and he smiled. “How long have you been searching for me?”
“I’ve been away from my home for more than a year.”
“Have you a wife? Family?”
“No, your lordship. But I am betrothed.”
“I wish you happy, old chap. All right. I’ll be ready as soon as may be.”
“Appreciate it, sir.”
“I need time to wind up my affairs here. Shouldn’t take more than a few days at the most. Will that do?”
“Yes, of course. With your permission, I’ll arrange for a carriage to take us to Calais where I can book our passage to Dover.”
“Order two carriages, one for Rabu and all my possessions and one for the two of us. Which reminds me. I haven’t any place to stay. I have no idea whether my father’s London domicile is habitable and hotels frown on my little Indian, which makes me uncomfortable. Any suggestions?”
“I would be honored if you were to accept my hospitality, your lordship. You may stay as long as you need to arrange your affairs. I live in Mayfair, an easy ride to Carlton House where you shall meet with the Prince Regent.”
“You are an excellent fellow, Darlington. I accept your offer.”
London: Wednesday, April Fools’ Day, 1818
Lady Helena Fairchild shivered in anticipation as she stole across the lawn. The night was misted in fog with only the dim glow of the street lamps piercing the gloom. She paused in the shadows of the familiar oak tree and stopped to listen. When she heard no sounds from within or without the town house, she gathered her silk gown, tucked it into her pantalets, turned and climbed the tree.
With customary ease, she slithered along a sturdy branch that led to the balcony. Her hands and feet found purchase on the ornate grillwork and she let go of the tree limb. It snapped back with such a loud crack, she froze, waited a heart stopping moment, and then eased herself over the balustrade. The door was ajar. She stepped into Darlington’s chamber and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark.
She followed the sound of gentle snores coming from the bed a few steps away. The drapes were not drawn, for the night was warm, one of those rare April nights that made the air feel as if it were already the middle of May. Her fingers trembled as she loosened the ribbons of her bodice. She pushed both sleeves off her shoulders and shifted her gown to undo the back buttons. It slipped from her hips and fell to the floor. She removed her chemise and her pantalets. A shock of cold air bruised her nude body. An irregular mountain of discarded clothing rested on the Aubusson rug.
There was no turning back now. She lifted the quilt and climbed into his bed. A small smile curved her lips when she noted that he favored the right side of the bed when he slept. That was a good sign, for she favored the left.
Though the erratic pounding of her heart seemed too loud to her ears, Chris didn’t stir. She touched him. His arm was strong and warm and firm. How muscular he had become since she had seen him last. Was it only a year? His brawny body filled her with wonder. He turned again, pulling the quilt with him. It slid to the floor on his side of the bed. Her eyes widened in astonishment, for he wore nothing. Where was his nightshirt?
She hesitated, trapped between panic and curiosity. Curiosity won. She dared to stroke his back with a feathery touch. Her hand trailed down to his buttocks and came to rest on one dimpled cheek. He sighed. She pulled her hand away, caught between fear of waking him and hope. She waited a few seconds and touched again, astonished at her own boldness.
She hadn’t expected the spark of electricity that tore through her. When a beam of moonlight ran across his body, she raised herself on one elbow and rested her chin on her hand. She studied his body unable to believe her good fortune. Once scrawny, the boy she fell in love with when she was still in the schoolroom had grown into a powerfully built man.
Darlington turned and flung an arm across her chest, sending her flat on her back. His hand came to rest on one breast, causing her nipples to pucker. When the rhythm of his breathing gentled and her heart ceased its knocking, she lifted his wrist and placed his arm by his side. The moon skittered behind a cloud, plunging the room into darkness.
Helena dared to spread her fingers through the curled hairs on his chest, trailing down to his navel. She steeled her resolve and explored further. Her hand wandered down to the mound of hair below his waist. She stopped when he threw one leg over her thighs and pinned her to the bed with one arm. His head settled on one breast as if he’d found his pillow. After allowing herself a moment of bliss, she moved his head away and resumed her exploration of his body.
She touched something soft and allowed herself a tiny smile. When his manhood began to engorge, she jerked her hand away, but his shot out and kept hers where it was. If he woke now, surely he would willingly seduce…
The door to the hallway flew open and a blinding light transformed the chamber into bright daylight. They had been discovered! Chris would be forced to marry her now. She had but a moment’s regret. They hadn’t had time to complete their lovemaking.
“Have I woken you? What’s wrong, Waverley? I heard a noise.”
Chris? But who’s this in his bed? Helena hid her head under the pillow. A voice fogged in sleep, said, “That you Darlington?”
Darlington banged the door shut behind him and set the candelabra down. “Have you lost your senses, my lord? How dare you seduce one of my maids? I never expected a guest in my home to behave in such a fashion.”
Desmond sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Maid? What maid?”
“Get out of bed, lass, and return to your room at once.”
She whimpered at the anger in his voice.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t cry. Do as I say. I promise not to sack you.”
Christopher Darlington wore his dressing gown, having had no time for proper attire in the middle of the night. His blond hair was uncombed and lay limp, a few strands pasted to his forehead. Myopic gray eyes squinted at the bed’s inhabitants.
Helena drew in her breath, lifted one corner of the pillow and said meekly, “I’m not a maid, Chris. It’s me.”
Thundering silence met her words. Darlington’s gray eyes squinted at her, for he was near-sighted and far too vain to use his spectacles except when absolutely necessary.
His hand shook as he fumbled in his pocket for his spectacles. When he jammed them on his nose, he found his voice and said, “Helena? What are you doing here? Cover yourself, for heaven’s sake!”
The marquis felt as if he were a spectator at a melodrama. The leading lady enchanted him, for she had the body and the face of an angel. Her exotic skin was bronze, her eyes shone like two obsidians and her hair bounced in a crown of dark, burnished curls.
“Um. I can explain.” Her head swiveled in her search for the quilt, but it was out of sight.
Waverley reached for the fallen cover and threw it over them both. His eyes met hers with a questioning intensity that made her turn red. “I await your explanation with interest, ma’am.”
Helena sat up and clutched the quilt to her bosom. Distracted by the sight of his wavy black hair and startling blue eyes, she managed to glare at him. “I thought that he was you, Chris. What’s this… rake doing in your bed?”
The marquis managed to mask his laugh with a cough.
Chris ignored her question. “Collect your clothing and get dressed at once, Helena.”
She swung her legs off the bed and attempted to yank the cover with her, but Waverley held his end in a firm grip. “Oh no you don’t. Not before my host hands me my dressing gown.”
Darlington glanced around him, found Waverley’s robe on the back of a chair and launched it toward the bed as if it were the main sail of a ship.
The marquis let go of his end of the quilt and Helena fell off the bed, quilt and all.
“Cur,” she grumbled as she wrapped the quilt around her. “Turn your head!” She held the quilt with one hand, gathered her clothing with the other and sidled across the room toward the dressing screen.
When she emerged a few moments later, she swiveled her head from Chris to Waverley and back to Chris. She jutted her chin out. “How is it that this rake is occupying your bed chamber?”
“You chose the wrong chamber,” growled Darlington. “This is the guest chamber. The Marquis of Waverley is my guest.”
Oh dear! Was I in bed with a marquis? Her heart sank at the mortification.
“You owe me an apology, Darlington.” Waverley drawled, examining his fingernails. “The young lady is most certainly not one of your maids. Indeed, she woke me from a deep sleep.” He turned to Helena and added, “You needn’t blush, ma’am. I merely supposed I was in the midst of delightful dream.” He stretched, yawned and ran his fingers through his hair.
“A nightmare, more like!” she said bitterly.
His eyes danced with amusement. “Allow me to assure you, ma’am, that nothing drastic occurred. You were not violated, ma’am. Not, by me, in any event.”
Nothing drastic occurred? What of your engorgement? What of the heat that seared my loins? You call that nothing, you cad? “Why is the marquis here, Chris?”
Waverley took a step toward her, picked up her hand and kissed it. “Darlington was kind enough to offer me his hospitality, ma’am.”
“Don’t touch me.” She drew her hand away.
Darlington stepped between them. “How did you get in here, Helena?”
She glanced at the open door to the balcony.
“You climbed the oak tree? You’re not a child anymore. You might have fallen and broken your neck.”
“Would you care to make an introduction, Darlington?”
“Sorry, my lord. This is Lady Helena Fairchild, my betro… my next door neighbor.”
“Pleasure, Lady Helena Fairchild.” Waverley made an exaggerated leg.
Helena cast her eyes down. “How do you do, Lord Waverley,” she murmured, appalled at what she’d done to this man, at the embarrassing places her hands had been, at how readily he had responded. At how much pleasure she’d felt.
“It isn’t polite to stare,” said the marquis, his eyes filled with amusement.
“My apologies, sir. For… for calling you a rake.”
Chris interrupted. “I’m waiting for you to give me your explanation, Helena.”
“Nothing happened, Darlington,” repeated the marquis.
“He’s right, Chris. I haven’t been compromised.”
“I beg to differ! The mere act of being in bed with a naked man is enough to be deemed a compromise.”
“Is it indeed?” she challenged hotly. “The fault is yours, then, for having driven me to this desperate act.” Her breath exploded in anguished bursts. “We need to talk, Chris. In private.”
“Lord Waverley will excuse us, I’m sure.”
Waverley held the door open for them. “Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
Before Helena could make some biting retort, Darlington grabbed her by the elbow and attempted to push her toward the door, but she refused to budge.
“No, Chris. The servants…”
“They’ve all gone to bed. We’ll finish this in the library.”
Her heartbeat seemed to her loud enough for him to hear. Finish this? What can he mean? Finish what? Her insides turned cold. They spoke not a word as he led her downstairs, but once inside the library, she broke the uneasy silence.
“Tonight was nothing more than a horrible mistake. I wanted to welcome you on the night of your return home, Chris. Besides, what difference can it make? Are we not to be married?”
Chris paced back and forth, hands clasped behind him. His eyes narrowed as he answered. “You don’t know what you’ve done, do you? You don’t even know who the marquis is, do you?”
“If he’s a peer, he’s a gentleman. He won’t breathe a word of this.”
“Oh, won’t he? Waverley’s bounced around Europe for years, ever since he left India. That’s why it took me all year to find him. Do you know what they call him there? No. How could you?”
Helena recoiled at his fury. “You needn’t shout at me. Well? What do they call him?”
“I found him at Madame Z’s bordello, 12 Rue’ Chabanais. A bordello! He chose to live there as a matter of convenience. When I asked for him, she laughed and said, ‘Ah, oui. Le roue’ Anglais.’ I found him in bed with three young er . . .ladies. You can imagine my shock.”
“Why had you sought him out?”
“I was sent to find him in order to inform him that his father died and he was the new Marquis of Waverley, summoned home to England by order of the Regent.”
“I see. And the marquis is known as the English rake in Europe? I’ve never heard of him. Perhaps his reputation isn’t known here.”
“If it isn’t, it will be. Rumors travel like the waves across the English Channel. If it becomes known that you have been in bed with him, your reputation is ruined.”
“Then we must marry at once. Make it right. You know I love you, Chris.”
“Marry you? Ha! You’ve rendered that impossible! We’re finished.”
She turned ashen. “Finished? Am I to understand that you no longer wish to marry me?”
Chris forced a laugh. “How can I marry a woman who disgusts me? You destroyed all hope for our happiness when I saw you naked in bed with Waverley like a common light skirt.”
Helena searched his face. Was this the man she had loved since she was a child? Disillusionment assailed her. She said evenly, “Have you lost your desire to marry me? I cannot believe my ears.”
“Believe that I’m done, Helena. You destroyed all hope for my marital happiness when I saw you bedded the marquis. You know my ambition. I mean to become an ambassador for England one day. Your brash conduct has shown me that you can never be a proper wife for a man with a diplomatic career.”
Had he battered her with a cudgel, he could not have wounded her more. Determined not to weep, she bit back her tears and said, “What a pretty speech, My Lord Ambassador. How noble of you to think of England before the woman who has loved you all these years.”
He ignored her angry words and said, ”In spite of what you may think at this moment, I’m a man of honor. I’ll call on your father in the morning to inform him it is your decision to cry off. I don’t intend to tell him why. Perhaps that will salvage your reputation. The duke is free to announce that it was you who broke it off. That way, you may still marry.”
“No, Chris. I shan’t ever marry. I won’t put myself through the pain of loving and losing again, I promise you that.” She whirled around and fled the library.