Bound with Passion (A Regency Reimagined Novel)

Bound with Passion (A Regency Reimagined Novel) by Megan Mulry
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-314-8
eBook release: 
Jul 6, 2015
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-315-5
Print release: 
Jul 6, 2015
Word count: 
73,000
Page count: 
253
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Regency Reimagined universe.

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Lady Georgiana Elizabeth Cambury has been a “wild romping girl” all her life: dressing in trousers, riding astride, and doing just fine, thank you very much. Her father’s exceedingly generous bequest—and her mother’s liberal views of the world—have ensured that Georgie will never be a slave to the barbarous institutions of marriage or motherhood. Or so she thinks.

When she returns from five years in North Africa to boring Derbyshire for a brief, obligatory family visit, she finds herself in the midst of a legal snarl involving Mr. James Rushford and Lord Trevor Mayson—neighbors, lovers, and her two closest friends. Mayson’s father has declared that he must marry or forfeit his vast inheritance, so Georgie blithely offers to walk down the aisle, in name only. Problem solved.

But try as she might, Georgie cannot ignore the passion that quickly blazes between all three of them. When her marriage of convenience turns into something much deeper, Georgie must decide if she is willing to give up the independence she has fought so hard to achieve—or if love is worth the ultimate surrender.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Chapter One

September 1810

Ajax, Southampton Harbor

Georgie swayed in the bowels of the ship. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d slept in a proper bed. Not that it mattered—she was just grateful to have secured passage at all, for herself and for the two beautiful beasts with whom she shared her accommodations . . . such as they were. Her string hammock swung with the gentle currents of the harbor, just as Saladeen and Cyrus swung in their equestrian slings. The three of them were tired and filthy, and quite ready for this treacherous journey to be over.

Rolling out of her hammock, Georgie stood as best she could in the awkwardly shaped hold.

“We’re almost there, my dears. We disembark today.” She stroked Saladeen’s neck the way the horse loved, and watched the more aggressive Cyrus out of the corner of her eye. Georgie and the larger stallion had a very cautious peace. He knew he was being taken someplace cold and inhospitable, and he was not pleased about it. But he also knew Saladeen would be there, so . . . he moped along.

“Don’t look at me like that, Cyrus. I’m just as unhappy about it as you are. At least you will be coddled and prized—a lifetime of sweet oats and green pastures await you. And the beautiful Bathsheba.”

She turned to dismantle her hammock and do what few ablutions she could with the bucket of cold water that sloshed near her feet. Sweet oats and green pastures do not await me, she thought sadly. More like an army of people who would try to convince her that spending the rest of her life in rural Derbyshire would offer some Elysian Field of perpetual pleasure.

No, thank you.

Georgie splashed her face, not worrying too much about any residual dirt. After all, it helped make her look more like the young British lad she’d been posing as for the entire trip. Her clothes were simple, masculine, and well made. She’d found a tailor in Cairo who—after the requisite horror that she was a woman—agreed to make her a full kit of men’s clothing, including the stiff, unforgiving corset that flattened her troublesome breasts.

Troublesome.

She shook her head and began the familiar routine of defending herself to herself. She was quite fond of her breasts, actually, when occasion warranted acknowledging them—when strong or soft hands liberated them, caressed them, toyed with them. But for the most part, her life did not revolve around such occasions. Lady Georgiana Elizabeth Cambury lived her life at a full gallop, demanded that all doors be open to her, and none of that happened while reclining on a palanquin, having one’s nipples fondled.

Putting an end to that fruitless line of thinking, Georgie continued packing her flannel and soap and other small items with military neatness, buckled up her leather bag, and took one last look at the two beautiful horses. “Now I have to leave you for a short while to deal with the captain and the customs officials. Don’t bite anyone, Cyrus.”

He stared at her as if he didn’t understand. She leaned in and kissed Saladeen on his satiny nose. “Be good, handsome.” She patted each of them one more time for good measure.

Then she turned out of the grimy stall where she’d spent the past three weeks, and with a masculine swagger she’d perfected over the past few years in Egypt and Syria, she strode up on deck and prepared to begin greasing the palms of everyone who was going to help her get the horses off the ship and on their way to Derbyshire.

By midday, they were on dry land—or rather, seeing as she was back in dreary England, moist land was more the truth. She hired a carriage and two men to accompany her north. While she rode Cyrus and led Saladeen, they drove the carriage with her trunks and all of the additional saddlery and equipment she had bought as a present for Trevor. At least the promise of spending time with James and Trevor was one glimmer of sunshine in what felt like an otherwise gloomy errand.

For as far back as Georgie could recall, she had loved Trevor Mayson. Not romantic love, of course—she’d decided at the age of seven that she would never do something as stupid and self-defeating as fall in love. And Trevor had decided . . . or rather, it hadn’t been a decision at all, had it? It was simply a wonderful fact: Trevor loved James Rushford. The two of them had been attached to each other since university, and Georgie had enjoyed getting to know James better in the intervening years—or as much as she could in her perpetual absence. She knew Trevor loved him, and that was enough for her to love him as well.

As her little caravan made its way north, the air turned surprisingly restorative, despite the thick, cool, humidity of it. Georgie gradually let Cyrus have his way, and she enjoyed the prick of cool autumn wind as it swished past her cheeks. Occasionally, she’d loosen her neckcloth, welcoming the cool air against her skin, and let him ride harder. She’d taken to tying Saladeen to the carriage after lunch, warning the two coachmen that she’d cut off their bollocks if anything happened to the prized stallion.

Along the way, they bedded down in Sutton Scotney, Newbury, and Oxford, staying well out of the town centers so Georgie wouldn’t run the risk of seeing any familiar faces. She had plotted an overland trip that would take them about twenty miles a day, getting them to Derbyshire by the middle of September. She’d thought of sending her mother and Nora another letter once she landed in Southampton, but it would arrive only a few days before she herself did, so she didn’t see the point. She had managed to dash off a quick note to Trevor and James to say she’d landed.

As the days passed, the horses became accustomed to the lush greens and autumn ochres that were so foreign to their native Arabia, while Georgie feared she would never become accustomed to England again.

The idea of her native land tortured her. Yes, of course, she felt filial responsibilities, love even, but the closer she got to Derbyshire, the more she missed the Levant. The freedoms she’d enjoyed in the Middle East were impossible here—both in terms of her outward appearance and simply speaking her mind. Everything in England was prescribed; everyone was meddlesome and opinionated and irksome.

She gave Cyrus a spurring kick and he quickened his pace—at least she was going to enjoy riding astride for a day or two more. As soon as they reached Castle Donington, Lady Georgiana Cambury would be required to make her appearance. Until then, Georgie prevailed.

 

Chapter Two

On the ninth night after they’d set off from Southampton, Castle Donington rose up in the distance, a fine spread and one that held fond memories from her childhood. Georgie had released her pair of employees that afternoon, sending them back to Southampton, planning to hire two more local men in the morning. That evening, young master George checked into the Lion and Lamb—chosen primarily for its immaculate stables—and informed the innkeeper that his cousin, Lady Georgiana, would be arriving at some point, but George was not certain when. The proprietor hadn’t seemed to care much one way or another. As usual, once money changed hands, that was the end of it.

She’d decided to spend the next two nights and days at the Lion and Lamb, shedding George and becoming Lady Georgiana. Shedding was quite the right word, she thought, like peeling off a second skin. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it made her think of a cobra she’d seen in the desert marketplace, as it slowly rubbed its nose and slid out of the glaucous wrapper that had served its purpose and must now be left behind.

But Georgie never really left it behind.

The supposedly masculine way she felt and acted when she was dressed as George—confident, outspoken, resilient—was part of her now, neither masculine nor feminine. In fact, she bristled at the idea that men should arbitrarily have those excellent qualities under their sole purview. And she was not alone in that view.

She had become friends with an older English woman in Cairo and had finally confided to her about her alter ego, George. Sibylla Tickenham had laughed and laughed, and had then reached for the shelf and opened a collection of drawings that showed a young Sibylla in traditional Bedouin attire. Traditional Bedouin male attire.

They’d spoken late into the night and on many occasions after, about the freedom and risk, the danger and the pleasure of appearing in public as a man. Sibylla said she believed the masculine and the feminine coexisted inside everyone, but the extent to which one cultivated their varied natures was up to them.

“I believe you are a perfect Janus like me, dear Georgie, swinging like a pendulum from extreme to extreme, and loving both.”

At the time, Georgie had been reclining on a pile of ornately brocaded pillows at Sibylla’s feet, her head resting casually on the older woman’s lap. She’d taken a sip of Sibylla’s brandy and thought about that. “I do love both.”

Sibylla had nodded her encouragement, and made Georgie believe—or begin to believe—that Janus heads were in fact perfect, that being open to all things in every direction was a sign of vitality and strength, not a sign of duplicity or ambivalence.

Now that she was back in England, loving both—in herself and others—seemed a preposterous, distant dream, something misty and forbidden that she could only do in a faraway land where her family and connections were all severed. One more reason to sigh and hope for the shortest trip possible, after she’d delivered Cyrus and Saladeen to Trevor. And one more reason to get completely slewed in the meantime.

So, that first night at the Lion and Lamb in Donington, Georgie sat in her room and got summarily drunk. Without making a big stink in the bar downstairs, she simply drank alone and let the alcohol do its job. She wallowed in a bit of self-pity during the first few glasses. Then she laughed at herself—her wealthy, independent, spoiled self—during the next few glasses. Then she ordered a large tub to be delivered and sat staring at the steaming water for a few moments after the male servants had left with their empty buckets and their laughter.

That was another thing she was going to miss while she was all trussed up in lace and fripperies here in England. When she was George, other men—from haughty valets and rumbustious stable boys to enigmatic pashas—were accessible to her in an utterly nonsexual way. Well, in a sexual way too, on occasion, but it was the easy pedestrian camaraderie that was the most enjoyable. They would make rude jokes and laugh and speak inappropriately around each other, around her. Around her when she was George Camden, that is.

No one dared speak inappropriately around Lady Georgiana Cambury—no one dared do much of anything interesting around Lady Georgiana Cambury, heiress, sister of the Marquess of Camburton, daughter of Lady Vanessa Montagu Cambury.

After tossing back a fifth glass of Scotch, she set the crystal decanter down and began to untie her neckcloth. She removed her small amber pin and set it next to the liquor. She pulled off her close-fitting jacket, and then bent to remove her boots. Her buckskins came off next, then her stockings. She pulled her shirt over her head and let it float to the floor with the rest of the clothing she wouldn’t be wearing again until she returned to Egypt.

Then she began unlacing the intricate corset-vest she’d designed with the tailor. It was similar to a woman’s stays, but she’d designed it so it went over her shoulders like a skintight, sleeveless waistcoat. While it flattened her breasts, giving her the masculine appearance that let her be George, it also gave her back support while riding.

When her breasts were finally free, she arched her back, contemplating the unfamiliar weight of them, then slid into the hot water. The silky heat enveloped her and helped facilitate the mental and physical transition from lad to lady. While she lingered in the tub, she tried to envision herself perhaps enjoying the next few weeks as the jaunty Lady Georgiana. She sank deeper into the water and smiled, reminding herself that hot baths and silky undergarments were hardly trials to be endured.

An hour or so later she was languishing under the covers, in a light cotton night rail, slipping her feet around the clean sheets that covered the feather bed. For a brief moment, she missed the dank confines of the shipboard stable and the nearness of Cyrus and Saladeen, but quickly let go of her perverse sentimentality, burrowed deeper into the luxury of freshly laundered linen, and fell asleep.

The next morning she woke to a spectacularly sunny day, as if the weather were eager to provide a fresh start on this, her first day as Lady Georgiana. She narrowed her eyes against the brightness—that fifth Scotch might have been a mistake—then let the curtain fall back into place. She drank as much water as she could stomach, then opened her trunks filled with pantaloons and chemises and ribbons and gowns and riding habits. She opted for a dark blue velvet habit and a hat that would cover most of her short hair. By comparison, her female corset was softer, looser, and emphasized her breasts, and although it was supportive, it was far less constricting. She liked constricting, damn it.

When she was ready to go downstairs, she took a long look at herself in the mirror. Her face needed powder—she was far too dark by British standards of femininity—but otherwise she looked, well, rather pretty. She smiled at her reflection, grabbed a parasol, and tried to enjoy the swishing fabric around her legs and the luxury of so many layers cosseting her.

As she began to make her way down the stairs, she realized she was quite out of practice when it came to moving with all that skirted fabric. The silk velvet was everywhere, and there was so much of it. She nearly tripped on the last step and had to steady herself before continuing into the parlor where luncheon was being served. As she was turning in to that room, she heard a familiar deep voice coming from the front hall behind her.

“She should have arrived by now. Are you certain? Lady Georgiana Cambury?”

She wheeled around and was unable to repress a squeal of delight. “Trevor!”

He glanced in her direction and his face bloomed with pleasure on seeing her. “There you are!” He turned with a lordly look of disappointment to the innkeeper. “She is right there and she is quite obviously the most beautiful creature this side of the Channel. How you could have missed her arrival, I cannot understand.”

Georgie smiled benevolently at the innkeeper, then back to Trevor. “I slipped in late last night—”

“Yes, the other gentleman said you would—” began the innkeeper, eager to preserve his reputation.

“What other gentleman?” Trevor interrupted with a raised brow.

Georgie slid her arm through his and turned him toward the parlor. “Let’s catch up over lunch, shall we? The innkeeper must mean one of the men I’d hired to carry all my trunks and my special gifts for you and Rushford.”

The innkeeper shook his head and went back to his bookkeeping.

Trevor tipped his hat to the man and then squeezed Georgie to his side. “I am so pleased to see you, darling. And looking so well.”

“You’re such a charmer. I know I must look like I’ve been dragged through the Sahara. My skin has become coarse, my arms thick.”

“Your strength has always appealed to me, you know that.” He smiled and showed her to a table near the window.

His compliment gave her an unfamiliar blush. “Where is Rushford?” she asked quickly. “Did he also ride ahead to meet me, or are you traveling alone?”

“No.” Trevor seemed preoccupied, and he kept looking at her in an unusually assessing way. “I wanted to speak to you privately.”

“Truly? I can’t imagine what you could possibly have to say to me that you wouldn’t say in front of Rushford. Is he as darling as I remember? I’m hoping we can spend lots and lots of time together on this visit, so I can get to know and love him as thoroughly as you do.”

If Georgie hadn’t known better, she’d suspect that her innocuous statement was making Trevor blush. He looked unaccountably shy.

Before she could press him for details, the serving girl came over and asked what they’d like to drink, and told them what was on offer for lunch. They ordered, and then Georgie gave Trevor her full attention, reaching for his hands. “What is it, my dear? You look troubled. You know I’ll do anything you need. Is it money?”

He narrowed his eyes and exhaled. “In a way . . .”

“Well, that’s easily solved! It turns out I’m quite clever with my finances—my mother’s daughter, in that at least. How is Vanessa, by the by? Still managing everyone?” Georgie knew it was wrong of her to cast her mother in this negative light, but Vanessa was managing, and it was tedious.

“She and Nora are wonderful.”

Georgie looked at the wood of the round table, where the sun caught the high polish. “Nora has always been wonderful.”

“Vanessa has always been wonderful too, Georgie.”

She looked up. “Yes, yes. Of course she is. So how much do you need? I’ll have it sent up from London.”

When their drinks arrived, Trevor looked politely at the serving girl, then refocused on Georgie. “It’s a bit more complicated than that, I’m afraid.”

“Complicated?”

“This is rather more awkward than I thought when James and I were speaking about it.”

Georgie smiled and took a sip of her lemonade—her lady’s drink, she thought with a wrinkled nose—and set her glass down. “You don’t ever need to feel awkward with me, Trevor. We’ve seen each other through every possible stage of our silly lives, haven’t we? Remember when I first got my courses? What could possibly be more awkward than that?”

He paused, then looked straight into her eyes. “I want to marry you.”

She choked on the second sip of lemonade, and within seconds Trevor was standing behind her, patting her back and giving her one of his perfectly monogrammed linen handkerchiefs to help contain the spray that was threatening to explode from her nose. Several other patrons of the inn turned to make sure she wasn’t actually choking to death, but with a quick smile and nod from Trevor, they were assured of her non-imminent demise.

When he sat back down across from her, he simply stared. And she simply stared back. And then she started laughing uncontrollably. Her eyes watered, her nostrils burned. He smiled at her and let her mirth run its course.

“I’ve missed you terribly,” he said at last.

She breathed deep to prevent a new wave of merriment from overtaking her. “So much so that you now want to marry me?”

“No!” He smiled through his words. “I mean, yes, of course I’ve missed you desperately and wish you would just move home already, but this isn’t about that.”

“Are you certain?” She ventured another sip of the lemonade and prayed he didn’t say anything equally absurd while she attempted to swallow it. The idea of Trevor having romantic notions about her was just . . . preposterous. And yet, a silly flush was creeping up her cheeks at the mere idea of it. What if . . .? Of course not!

“Yes.” He was quite serious this time. “I’m certain. This is not some ploy to bind you to a life you despise.” It was a life he adored, so she always felt small when he said it like that.

“Oh, don’t say it that way, darling. I don’t despise England. We’re just . . . a poorly matched pair.” She smiled at the equine reference. “Speaking of pairs, have you seen Cyrus and Saladeen?”

“I have, actually.” He sat back and gazed at her. “I went into the stables a few minutes ago, and there they were looking as regal and out of place as you promised. I was surprised you weren’t bedded down with them in the hay.”

His good humor was contagious. “Truth be told, it was the first night in many that I didn’t bed down with them.”

“You can’t be serious.” He looked appalled at the idea. If he only knew.

“Quite serious.” She waved her gloved hand to swat away that conversation. She’d tell him about her life as George—at some point, or maybe never—but not now. “Now, go back to this perplexing marriage proposal. You must be serious about it or you never would have risked sending me into convulsions. Why?”

He tapped the table with his index finger several times, then stopped and looked up at her. “It’s my father. He’s gone a bit berserk ever since my mother died—”

“I’m so sorry for your loss—you received my letters, yes?”

“Yes, thank you. It wasn’t awful—as far as these things go. She was in fine fettle, and then last winter she fell ill, and she was gone in a matter of weeks. I understand my father’s misery—he was entirely devoted to her—but her absence has, well, made him quite . . . difficult. He’s threatening to withhold my inheritance if I don’t marry . . . a woman.”

She smiled at the unnecessary addendum. Of course, James and Trevor had been living together as bachelors for many years, but Trevor’s father had never—would never—accept the truth of their partnership. “Thank you for clarifying your father’s preference for the gender of the person you marry.”

When he looked at her then, Georgie saw something so much deeper, so much tenderer than her light words could possibly allay. The man was in trouble. Not because of who he was or whom he loved, but because this damnable society was punishing him for being the wonderful person he was. Her heart hammered for him.

“What about my assets?” she asked pragmatically. “I’m generous, but I shan’t become feme covert, even for you, my sweet. I shall never be a man’s property.”

“Are you s-saying—” He stuttered. “Are you even willing to entertain the idea, if we can iron out the logistics of you retaining your independence, financial and otherwise?”

She spread her arms wide. “As you can see. Here I am, entertaining the idea of marrying you.”

“Oh, my dear, dear friend.”

“There are many particulars, I presume. Your father isn’t going to simply accept a marriage of convenience. First off, I shan’t have children under any circumstances—”

“Oh! Of course not! No. I mean—” He stuttered again, and Georgie reached for his hand and held it in hers. “Not that I wouldn’t, you know, if you ever wanted that, I mean—”

The poor man. “I love you, Trevor. You know that. Just tell me everything and we will sort it out. You won’t ever need to bed me, if that’s what you’re getting to.” The words came out sounding cavalier enough, but something went a bit haywire in Georgie’s chest when she uttered the words bed me while looking into Trevor’s eyes and holding his hand in hers.

He squeezed her hand and breathed a sigh. “James thought I was crazy to even suggest it—the marriage, I mean!—but I knew you would be your breezy self. I’m so relieved you didn’t take offense.”

“Offense? James must think very little of me if that’s what he thought.”

“No. Quite the opposite. He thinks very highly of you and didn’t want you to think I was—oh, I don’t know—toying with you or forcing you into anything.”

“Well,” she chuckled, “then he and I really do need to get to know each other better, because you of all people know that I will not be forced into anything . . . ever.”

Trevor laughed and then leaned across the table and kissed her cheek. That damn flush crept up her neck again, and she shivered and pretended it was the draft that had just come into the parlor as the front door swung open.

“That’s exactly what I told him,” Trevor continued. “That’s why you were the perfect person to ask. You would never be coerced into doing something you didn’t want to do.”

She smiled back at him. “Quite so.”

“James then made a joke about whether or not you could be coerced into something you did want to do.”

“Oh, I like him all over again for saying that.” Georgie patted Trevor’s hand and slipped her own back into her lap. There had been some sort of tingling in her palms when she held Trevor’s hand in hers, and that needed to stop immediately. What in the world had got into her? Her best friend was asking her for what amounted to a legal favor; he was not pledging his troth, for goodness’ sake.

She sat up straighter, took another sip of lemonade, and then looked him straight in the eye. “How soon do you want to call the banns?”

They spent the rest of the afternoon meticulously sorting out the details of a settlement. It turned out Trevor really had no need of her funds; once he married, according to the terms of his father’s wishes, he would inherit both the real property and a sizable portion of the income from his mother’s myriad investments. His family home, Mayfield House, was a vast country estate in need of renovation and attention. All of the agriculture had stagnated under his father’s less-than-watchful eyes, and Trevor was eager to implement the latest crop rotations and irrigation schemes.

Knowing this, Viscount Mayfield was threatening to halt any financial support for the modernization of Mayfield House and the surrounding lands. If that occurred, Trevor was sure the place would descend into bankruptcy within five years, if not sooner. How his father could allow that to happen—to embark upon a self-destructive path that was so obviously motivated by spite—Georgie did not want to contemplate. The viscount had always preferred his life in London, and the glory of Mayfield was lost on him. Not so Trevor, who had inherited his mother’s love of the land.

The next day they rode into Derby and met with their respective solicitors. It was all very unusual according to Messrs. Ward and Wooley, but they drew up the papers nonetheless, and everything was sealed with wax and rings and stamps.

As the somber clerks went about their business, Georgie turned to Trevor. “I am finding this all quite delightful! To be poking fun at the law satisfies my rebellious nature, and to be helping you attain what was rightfully yours suits my heart.”

He lifted her ungloved hand and kissed it. “You suit me, Georgie.” There was nothing more to it, she told herself. They were best friends. That’s all he meant. Of course that’s what he meant. He loved James Rushford. Why was her silly heart fluttering, then? Preposterous heart.

“I am to marry my best friend. How lucky am I?” She turned to Trevor and laughed from the sheer joy of it all, then handed him the pen for him to sign the rest of the documents that granted her complete financial independence.

The lawyers and clerks merely shook their heads while Georgie and Trevor laughed and signed page after page. When Trevor had signed the last line, he set down the pen and looked at her. “There. Now you will be my wife.” His smile was tentative and adorable, filled with wonder and gratitude.

In name only, she reminded herself briskly.

They reached Mayfield two days later, and Georgie decided to stay on with James and Trevor for a little while longer—ostensibly to settle Cyrus and Saladeen into their new home, but mostly to postpone seeing her mother and having to remove to Camburton Castle for the remainder of her visit.

James was waiting for them at the front door when they rode into the forecourt of Mayfield. Trevor leapt off his horse and tossed the reins to a groom who waited nearby, then took the front steps two at a time to get to James.

Georgie dismounted more slowly, breathing in the familiar air of home, and trying not to be too obvious about her interest in how Trevor and James behaved in front of the servants. Did they embrace? Shake hands? Nod?

A second groom took hold of Cyrus for her and she turned casually to see James and Trevor by the front door. They were somehow intimate and appropriate all at once. Trevor had one strong hand gripping Rushford’s firm upper arm and was laughing and talking all at once. Georgie heard bits of the conversation on the wind—“she said yes” came out clearly, and James turned to catch Georgie looking at them. He mouthed a thank you, then returned his attention to Trevor.

She ascended the steps with ladylike poise, taking care not to stumble on the reams of fabric. She’d got back into the habit of being a lady over the past few days, but it still felt like she was playing a part.

“Lady Georgiana!” James patted Trevor once on the cheek, then walked around him to greet her. “It’s such a pleasure to see you again after all these years.” He took her hand and kissed her gloved knuckles. “I’ve missed your sparkling company.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you as well, Mr. Rushford.”

“What’s all this Mr. Rushford and Lady Georgiana blather?” Trevor asked on a laugh. “Come inside at once and let’s the three of us have tea and cease with these silly formalities. There’s much to celebrate, and I want to be festive with my two favorite people in the world.”

Rushford held out his forearm for Georgie to take. Very formal. Very appropriate. She rested her hand lightly on the fine fabric of his jacket and accompanied him into the grand front hall. “Thank you. A million thank-yous,” he said in a low, intimate tone. “You have saved this place, but more importantly, you have saved Trevor. I am indebted to you forever.”

He spoke with such earnest regard, and in a way that was a bit close to her ear. The hot breath of his words tickled Georgie’s neck and she had a strange sensual response to the man’s nearness. Her breasts tightened and a fizzing awareness simmered low in her belly. Perhaps she’d been too long alone on her journey, or perhaps being in England was doing something to her, because it seemed as if every man of her acquaintance was suddenly making her think of . . . fornicating.

She inhaled to clear her muddled thoughts and then smiled brightly up at James. “It was nothing at all. A favor from one friend to another.”

He looked taken aback, almost hurt. “Oh, no. It was so much more than that, Lady Georgiana—”

“Please call me Georgie. I insist.”

“Very well, Georgie. But you must know what an enormous gift you’ve given him, and how hard it was for him to ask. He simply adores you, you know, and the idea that he was perhaps risking the intimate friendship that you’ve shared all these years. Well, it has been quite a difficult few months while he tried to figure out how best to broach the topic.”

Perhaps a cold bucket of water was required, thought Georgie, because that devilish flush returned when Rushford said the words he adores you. And worse, she had an image flash in her mind of what it would be like if her intimate friend—and his partner—happened to simply adore her body. The vision was quite abrupt and quite clear. And then it was gone in a snap. She opted for silence, lest her voice betray her bizarre imaginings.

“I am garrulous and you must be tired from your journey.” James laughed at himself and Georgie felt it rumble through her. “I beg your pardon. I did not mean to launch into an endless stream before we’d even reached the drawing room. I’m just so grateful, on Trevor’s behalf of course. So grateful.”

He quieted until they reached the splendid drawing room. When they entered, the fire was crackling and a large tea had been laid out in advance of their arrival.

“Here we are,” James announced, patting Georgie’s hand where it rested on his forearm, then releasing her and crossing the room to join Trevor.

The two men stood close together, not actually touching, yet an undeniable heat arced between them. Heat, or love perhaps. They seemed relieved and happy to be in one another’s company, and Georgie enjoyed the simple pleasure of being with like-minded friends. She hoped her strange attraction to Trevor—and now, it seemed, James—would wear off in the next few days, and if it didn’t, at least she would be on her way back to Egypt soon enough. Neither of them fancied her, and it would be preposterous to pursue anything in the bedroom even if they did.

Preposterous.

At least that’s what she kept telling herself as one day passed into two, and then a week. She was avoiding going to see her mother, and spending time with James and Trevor was distracting and joyful. Trevor was as mad about horses as she was, and the two of them would ride for hours each day. James was quick-witted and charming, regaling them with stories over dinner about the latest on-dits from London. On-dits that nearly always featured titillating escapades of the aristocracy, which he would finish telling and then raise an eyebrow toward Trevor. The sexual tension between the two men was palpable.

And no business of Georgie’s.

At the end of that enjoyable week, Trevor finally played the adult and prodded her about visiting her mother.

“The longer you put it off, the more put out she is going to be. You know how she is.”

“Unfortunately, yes, I know exactly how she is.”

“What’s all this?” James slowly swirled his glass of claret as the three of them sat around the fire after dinner. “I adore Vanessa. We should all be so lucky to have a mother of such open-mindedness.”

“She’s not quite so open with her daughter.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Tell him, Trevor.” Georgie lifted her chin.

“She loves you, that’s all. She—”

“If love is a noose, then yes, that’s precisely true—”

“Now, Georgie,” Trevor soothed. “She misses you terribly when you’re gone, and then she’s all nervous that everything has to be perfect for the short times you’re here. Try to see it from her point of view.”

“Oh, enough! I’ll go tomorrow.” She looked at Trevor, then at James. “Will you two accompany me? It will be easier somehow.”

“Of course. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, you need to announce your engagement!” James stood up and grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off the chair where she’d been curled up with her legs tucked beneath her. He twirled her around and then set her down with a quick kiss on the lips. She laughed and tried to ignore the spike of sexual awareness that accompanied the buss. She’d had a few blessed days of not being overly aware of the two men around her. They were her friends, damn it.

She set herself away from him and caught Trevor looking longingly at James when she bade them goodnight. “Until tomorrow, then.”

She raced up the stairs and tried not to imagine what the two of them were getting up to in the drawing room after she left. Once she’d undressed and changed into her night rail, she slipped into bed and gave up trying. She let her imagination run riot, picturing Trevor and James in every sordid, compromising position she could conjure, until her own climax overtook her and she needed to bite the edge of the heavy duvet to muffle her own pleasure.

***

The next morning, feeling as if she were on her way to the gallows, Georgie chose one of the calmer horses and trotted from Mayfield to Camburton with James and Trevor beside her. They took the longest way round and still arrived sooner than she’d hoped. It was probably petulant or incendiary of her to do so, but she’d decided to wear buckskins for her first reunion with her mother. She was also wearing a jaunty hat with an outrageous lavender ostrich feather, so she couldn’t be accused of being entirely masculine. Begin as you mean to go on, she thought sullenly.

It turned out Camburton was filled to the gills with more than the usual assortment of poets and painters and hangers-on, including a young Spanish woman named Anna de Montizon who turned out to be Nora’s long-lost daughter. Georgie was thrilled for Nora, her de facto stepmother, and thrilled to meet Anna—a new sister of sorts. Anna was an exuberant, confident woman, and Georgie was especially pleased to speak with her at length because their meeting distracted Vanessa from focusing so much negative attention on Georgie’s numerous shortcomings: the fact that she’d been staying at Mayfield instead of coming straightaway to Camburton; the fact that she’d cut of all of her beautiful blonde hair; the fact that she was, well, Georgie.

“Why did you cut it so short? You used to be so pretty!” Vanessa cried at one point. Georgie wanted nothing more than to hurl her glass at the side of her mother’s thick skull.

“Used to be?” she couldn’t resist taunting.

“Oh, you know what I meant.”

“I live in the desert, Mother. With sand.”

There was no point in explaining anything to Vanessa because she knew everything already. Women, no matter how liberated, were supposed to be pretty, don’t you know. Georgie shrugged it off, like she shrugged off every other thinly veiled insult her mother tossed at her. It was endless. And tiresome. And soon enough she’d be back in Egypt.

Why was she the only one who saw Vanessa for the calculating, manipulative matriarch she was? Everyone else was fooled by all of her great works and social reforms. Georgie sighed and looked away from her mother. No point in hoping the woman would ever change where she was concerned.

Her sweet twin brother Archie, the Marquess of Camburton, swept in to repair the emotional damage, as he always did, but Vanessa still ended up making Georgie feel like she simply didn’t measure up. In light of Vanessa’s obvious disappointments, Georgie decided not to tell her just yet that she’d agreed to marry Trevor—having to explain the rather callous nature of their arrangement was beyond her at the moment.

After an hour or so in Vanessa’s drawing room, Georgie finally escaped with her dear Archie. James and Trevor took her horse and Archie walked her home—or rather back to Mayfield House—and he talked at length about his growing attraction for the novelist in residence, Selina Ashby.

After she bid Archie farewell late that afternoon, she looked forward to relaxing with Trevor and James for a few hours before returning to Camburton for the dreaded family dinner to which they’d all been invited.

 

Chapter Three

Relaxation was the last thing Georgie got when she entered the drawing room at Mayfield that afternoon.

“Why didn’t you tell them about our plans?” Trevor was the picture-perfect country gentleman. Quite literally. Nora White had painted his portrait so many times, he had become a sort of pastoral ideal in the picture galleries of London and drawing rooms across the continent. He was tall without being overbearing, elegant without being too feminine. His wide shoulders and muscled thighs were the result of constant sport and manual labor around his vast estate, not the work of fashionably deceptive cotton wadding. His dark hair curled carelessly around the folds of his collar—apparently bucks in London were already trying to imitate said carelessness, with great care.

Georgie sighed and shook her head—she’d taken to staring at Trevor far too blatantly. “Unfortunately, after you two left, the absence of my hair caused a commotion, then Pia announced she was enceinte, and then it turns out Archie has fallen hopelessly in love with some writer named Selina Ashby, so he spent the entire walk back spilling his poor heart out to me, and well—” She threw up her hands. “There really wasn’t a spare moment.”

“As bad as all that?” Rushford asked. Whereas Trevor was the picture of a vigorous country squire, James was more like a greyhound: whip thin, sinewy, quick-witted, and razor sharp. He set down the fabric trim he was working on and gave Georgie an assessing look. “You could have left your hat on and avoided the discussion about your hair altogether. It’s a fabulous hat.”

“You and your damned hats!” she joked.

Rushford laughed. “Women in London pay spectacular sums for those damned hats of mine, so you’d best keep your opinions to yourself.”

Georgie flopped on the large sofa next to Trevor, tossing the aforementioned hat to Rushford, who caught it with a quick one-handed grab.

“What am I to do?” she said on a moan, leaning her head back against the sofa cushion and looking at the angels across the ceiling. “I’ve only spent thirty minutes in her presence and already my mother’s driving me berserk. She willfully misconstrues everything I say or do.”

Trevor reached for one of her hands and took it between both of his, massaging her knuckles and wrist. “Stop worrying. You’ll be back in Cairo in no time. Anonymous and living your Bedouin existence.”

“Is that so wrong?” She shut her eyes and relaxed into his firm touch. “When you say it, I feel happy and free. When she says it . . . I feel as if I’m being irresponsible and running away. Why does she make me feel so wrong all the time?”

“Maybe you make her feel wrong, did you ever think of it that way?” Trevor was always trying to see every side. “Maybe her idea of being a good mother means her children are always near.”

She opened her eyes to look at him. He was so damnably perfect: the kind green eyes, never judgmental; the slight lift of his full mouth, always sympathetic, never sardonic. “Oh, Trevor. You must be understanding like that for all of us—I couldn’t possibly manage it.” She turned to James. “How can you bear it? All his kindness? It almost makes it worse. Now I feel heartless around my mother and heartless around Trevor for not being more understanding of my own heartlessness.”

“Come, Georgie. It can’t be as bad as all that. Vanessa is so loving.” James abandoned his work and joined them on the sofa. He was watching the way Trevor’s hands worked on hers, probably thinking the massage was wasted on her.

“I know!” Georgie exclaimed. “That’s why it’s so dispiriting. She’s so kind and open and generous and perfect, and then she looks at me and I can practically feel the disappointment roll off her in waves. Because I’m none of those things. I’m selfish and closed off and—”

“Oh, do stop it. That’s simply not true.” Trevor finished squeezing her pinkie, then rested her hand back on her thigh. “You are always helping others, even if you are not effusive about it. Look what you’re willing to do for me.”

Georgie waved her hand in front of her face. “Oh, that’s nothing.”

“Marrying me is nothing?” Trevor laughed and shook his head. “Saving this estate by fulfilling the outrageous demands of my father’s entail that I marry a woman. Emphasis his.”

“Well.” Georgie smiled at the way he said it. “When you put it that way, I see what you mean. But you know, even that, Vanessa is going to be appalled—tormented that it’s not a love match. Because it’s obvious I’m not in love with you or any such foolishness.”

She caught the glance that James and Trevor exchanged. “I mean, it would be foolish for me. I mean . . . See, when you two look at each other like that, that is love. Of course I love you as my dearest friends—I can tell you anything, say anything, do anything. But really? All that gooey emotion is just . . .” She shivered at the thought. “So cloying.”

Both men laughed, and then James stood up to pour them all drinks. With his back still turned, he asked, “If you’re really able to tell us anything, Georgie, have you ever . . . you know . . . been with anyone?”

Georgie smiled at his back and then looked at Trevor to see what he thought, if it was just a silly question. But his lips were quirked and he seemed genuinely interested.

“Fine,” he admitted. “I’ve also wondered.”

“Really?”

He shrugged adorably. “I mean, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it. But you know, you’re fabulous and my closest friend, and you deserve to have a bit of fun like the rest of us.”

“I’m so flattered you two have taken an interest in my physical needs.”

“Oh, never mind.” James obviously sensed her sarcasm. He crossed the room and handed them each a glass of whiskey. “I shouldn’t be so crass, but I always think of you as one of the boys, so I figured I might as well ask what I’d feel comfortable asking . . . one of the boys.”

Georgie loved that idea. Why shouldn’t she tell them about her rather blasé attitude toward her sexual activities? It was nothing more than a physical appetite she satisfied when the need arose, akin to eating or drinking. “Well, when you put it that way, as long as I’m one of the boys and all, I’ll tell you.”

“Ooh, exotic stories from faraway lands!” Trevor settled more comfortably into his corner of the sofa.

“So, I was in Egypt first. Lots of British expatriates and French soldiers and a lot of mayhem actually. I’ll tell you more about it, of course. But to get to the point, once you went behind the veil—pulled back the curtain, what have you—Egypt and Arabia were quite fantastic places as far as the sex was concerned.”

James perked up. “Really?”

“Yes. Of course, in some ways it was all very physical and matter-of-fact. When I was first there, for example, I met a slightly older British woman—a widow I think, but maybe an adventuress traveling under the guise of widowhood—who took me to a bathhouse, for women only of course. And oh, how the women take care of one another’s bodies, so tender and thorough. In an almost reverential fashion, they take hot baths, massage each other with splendid oils and fragrant extracts, and all that sort of thing, quite relaxing and luxurious. And trust me, there was nothing platonic about it. But I’m not really one for all that lounging, as you can imagine.” James and Trevor both smiled knowingly at the preposterous idea of her sitting still for longer than a few moments at a time. “So, after I had set up my own establishment, well, I guess you could say I pursued my own desires.” She sighed at the memories.

“Truly?” Trevor teased. “You were quite the belle of the . . . Bedouins?”

“Well, beau was more like it. All those men loved to treat me like their little British lad, to be played with, and used, you know, in all the ways men play with lads.”

“What?” Trevor nearly spit out his drink. “I beg your pardon?”

James’s eyes gleamed with anticipation. “Pray tell!”

“I mean, you certainly didn’t think I was allowed to attend the horse-breeding establishments and sales or visit the inner sanctums of the sheikhs while I was the upstanding Lady Georgiana Cambury, did you?” She leapt up from the sofa and struck a mannish pose, one trousered leg cast arrogantly in front of the other. “George Camden at your service.” With that, she sketched a perfectly masculine bow.

James bellowed out a laugh. “You passed yourself off as a chap? I adore you!”

She nodded and smiled and stood up a little straighter, feeling immediately comfortable in the confident, manly position. “Of course it was awkward at first. I felt so . . . oh, I don’t know, like an impostor I suppose. But when I gave myself over to it, really let it wash over me, it was quite wonderful. It was perhaps the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my own skin. Not only for the places I could finally go without raising the eyebrows of the matrons in the British social clubs in Cairo, but the actual feeling of it, of walking with my arms swinging and my legs strong. Keeping my chin up and looking out at the world instead of that mincing female business of always avoiding eye contact and staring at my feet.”

Trevor was still smiling after her revelation, but he obviously had other questions bubbling to the surface.

“What else?” Georgie wanted to take all comers.

“You were never a very mincing female to begin with, Georgie, so I don’t see how it was that much of a change.”

“Really, Lord Mayson?” She raised a haughty brow and spoke in her deeper masculine tone. “You don’t think it would be that much of a change for you to put on a dress and walk down Bond Street? You don’t think you would feel powerfully aware of how people looked at you, how confining and distracting all the fabric and petticoats and delicate shoes would feel against your skin?”

He flushed. “Well, when you put it that way, I’m powerfully interested.”

“Oh, you are terrible!” Georgie collapsed back onto the couch between them, all three taking sips of their drinks and sighing happily.

“He would, you know,” James remarked.

“Would what?” Georgie asked, still flushed from her confession.

“Walk down Bond Street dressed in the latest women’s fashions.” James leaned in front of Georgie and looked at Mayson. “Wouldn’t you, pet?”

Trevor smiled agreeably. “For you, darling, anything.”

“Stop it at once, you two. You’re far too affectionate. You know I can’t stand it.”

“You’d best get used to it if we’re going to be married and all.” Trevor gave her a conspiratorial wink.

“I shan’t be a member of your household for long. After we say our vows and the terms of your father’s will are met, I’ll be off soon after.”

“Oh, I know, but you’re still here for now, and I don’t like having to behave in front of you.”

“Is that what you’ve been doing for the past week since I arrived? Behaving?” Georgie asked.

“To be honest, yes.”

“Really? Well, far be it from me to tamp down your ardor. Feel free to do what you wish. I shan’t bat an eye.”

“Oh, how delicious! An audience!” James set his glass down on the Louis XIV table to the left of the sofa and stood up. “Move over, young Master Camden. I’ve some business to attend to with the lord of the manor.”

Georgie laughed and scooted to the far end of the sofa. “You’re terrible, James. As if you would do anything—” She gasped when James fisted his fingers into Trevor’s hair at the nape and tugged hard.

“Have you missed me, pet?” James’s voice had lowered to a menacing growl.

“Terribly,” Trevor panted.

With that, James rested one knee provocatively between Trevor’s spread thighs and dipped his mouth to Trevor’s, teasing him with the lightest kisses. At first, Georgie tried to look away, but the moans of pleasure were rather . . . inviting, and after a few vain attempts to appear disinterested, she curled her legs up beneath her and turned to watch the two men with her full attention.

James was a wicked, taunting beast. Giving Trevor little bits of suction here, a trail of his tongue there, a whisper of his lip along the edge of Trevor’s mouth, all the while tightening that mad grip at the base of the other man’s neck. Trevor’s entire huge body was coiled tight, broad shoulders and biceps flexing beneath the perfectly fitted wool of his riding jacket, hands fisted into the blue silk upholstery of the couch.

“Why isn’t he touching you, James?” Georgie asked, as if watching two animals in the wild with a local guide there to answer her inquiries.

When James took his attention away—reluctantly—from Trevor’s moist, swollen lips, he turned to answer her. “Because he’s not allowed to touch me today.”

“Really? How divine.”

“It is. Quite,” James agreed. “He has to sit there patiently and take it. And it makes him quite exercised, doesn’t it, darling?” James pressed the palm of his free hand into the straining crotch of Trevor’s buckskins as he spoke casually to Georgie. “He gets delightfully frustrated, as you can see. Barely able to reply.”

Trevor moaned unintelligibly to prove the point.

Seeing this huge, capable man willfully—happily—reduced to this moaning, desperate pile of desire made something flip in Georgie’s belly. She stood up quickly and set her empty whiskey glass on the side table. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“You’re welcome to stay,” James called playfully after her, but she knew he didn’t really mean it.

“Three’s a crowd,” she responded over one shoulder, her voice echoing his levity. James laughed darkly, and she heard Trevor moan again.

Georgie pulled the door to the drawing room shut behind her, and leaned against it with a heavy sigh. She shut her eyes and let her heart race unfettered. She was such a liar.

In fact, it hadn’t been a crowd at all. For the first time in Georgie’s life, she had actually wanted to be an intimate part of something—and not merely physically intimate. Georgie had wanted to feel what James and Trevor were feeling, to give of herself the way they gave of themselves to one another.

And it terrified her.

She stood in the dim hallway and tried to catch her breath. She’d been in any number of unwelcome scrapes over the course of the past five years—contending with runaway camels, fending off angry sheikhs, and being held at knifepoint . . . Well, that last wasn’t entirely unwelcome, come to think of it. She smiled ironically and took another deep breath, forcing herself to calm. If she could handle marauding gangs of Bedouins, she could certainly handle a bit of intimacy between the two men in the other room.

Right as she had the thought, Trevor let out a cry of sensual pleasure, and even though it was slightly muffled by the two-hundred-year-old oak door behind her, Georgie leapt away from the sound as if she’d been burnt. She strode across the black-and-white marble floor of the grand front hall, stepping only on the white squares, as she’d always done on her frequent childhood visits to this majestic country house. Hands clasped behind her at the base of her spine, bounding toward the large front doors, she jumped when the housekeeper, Mrs. Daley, called out, “Lady Georgiana, is that you?”

“Oh, do stop with the formalities, Daley.” Georgie let out a sigh and plopped down on the bench near the front door that had been there for decades to accommodate unwelcome visitors.

“Well, I can’t be calling you Georgie-girl if you’re to be the lady of Mayfield House, now can I, miss?” Mrs. Daley stared with narrowed eyes at Georgie. “It’s still hard for me to look at you with all your beautiful blonde hair disappeared into the desert wind. But it will grow back and you’ll be as pretty as ever. Though you’d make quite a dashing lad, I must say.”

Georgie smiled up at dear, dear Mrs. Daley. The woman had been sneaking sweetmeats and biscuits to Trevor and Georgie since the two of them were in apron strings. “Oh, Daley. I think I’m in need of a bit of cake. Have you got any?”

Mrs. Daley nodded and extended her hand in a welcoming gesture. “Come on.” Georgie stood up, towering over the servant who resembled Napoleon in both stature and authority.

“Thank you.”

“I’ve got just the thing for a frazzled day.” Mrs. Daley nudged Georgie back down the hall, steering her to the kitchen with chatter and bustle. “A nice cup of tea and something sweet to tide you over until supper. And you’ll be needing the carriage to take you back to Camburton, of course. And you’re going to put on a pretty dress for dinner at your mother’s house and not vex her. All right? All right.”

Even though Georgie might be on the verge of becoming the lady of the house, there was only room for one at the top, and Mrs. Daley was already firmly ensconced on her domestic throne. Georgie had no desire to unseat her. Instead, she gave herself over to the comfort and familiarity of the well-run manor.

The pace and rhythm of a large country estate—here at Mayfield at least—was a soothing current, like the rolling surf along the Barbary Coast, repetitive and reassuring. She heard the kitchen maids discussing something while they cleaned pots; the scent of the promised cake wafted down the servants’ hall; two footmen polished silver in a side room as Daley and Georgie passed.

Georgie wondered why she was able to feel a hint of admiration for this estate and its goings on, but the house in which she’d been raised, little more than a mile away—even though it was run in a very similar fashion—made her feel like a prisoner in the hulks.

Her mother had never been overly disciplined or draconic with them. Georgie and Archie had been afforded what many would consider an idyllic childhood. When their father had died at sea, Vanessa must have decided that one tragic childhood event was more than enough to build a seven-year-old’s character. Most of their time had been spent in Derbyshire or London, but they had also traveled occasionally with their great-uncle, the diplomat, social reformer, and scholar Fitzwilliam Montagu, to Spain and Italy. They had hardly been restrained at all.

But that just added to Georgie’s sense of her own inability to value life for what it was now. She had been raised in a world of exquisite privilege—and she thought she had appreciated it to the fullest—but her mother still made her feel she was, and always would be, lacking proper gratitude.

“You mustn’t think so hard, Lady Georgiana. We don’t want those lines of worry forming between your beautiful eyes, now do we?” Mrs. Daley set a plate of cake in front of her, along with a cup of black tea. Georgie always preferred eating in a kitchen—whether it was here in windy Derbyshire or in a grand city house in Cairo. Georgie felt closer to the earth, closer to what mattered, when she ate food near the hearth on which it had been prepared. There was honor in kitchens.

There was honor in the running of this grand house, an honor Trevor was eager to preserve. And that was a small something Georgie could do for him by agreeing to be his wife, even if it was in name only.

Once his father’s wishes were fulfilled, however, Georgie would leave Trevor to James and be on her way back to North Africa. She was already desperately missing the smells and the sounds, not to mention the wild freedom she had secretly carved out.

Until then, she would stay close to the kitchens, close to the ground.

***

“You mustn’t frighten Georgie like that again.” Trevor kissed James one last time, letting his lips linger against his lover’s mouth, tasting himself and feeling a renewed sense of pleasure riding straight to his cock.

“Yes, my lord.”

Still breathing heavily, Trevor felt far more like the rutty gamekeeper of Mayfield than the future viscount of anything. “God, you are fantastic.”

James smiled as if he’d just been complimented for a lofty academic achievement. “Why, thank you kindly, your lordship.”

“Don’t even start.” Trevor shoved James away with a friendly push and stood up from the pale blue sofa to fasten the placket of his buckskins.

Trevor, James, and Georgie had been talking casually and James had given him a look—one of those looks—and when Georgie had said it was fine with her if they were affectionate in front of her, James had leapt at the chance. Trevor had taken for granted how utterly attached he and James had become over the past few years. In the usual course of a day, when they were alone in the house or on the estate, the casual touches while they worked, the occasional buss, the brief, passionate embrace before one or the other went off to work or ride—not being able to do those little bits throughout the day had thrown them both into a sort of fever.

And it had become rather, well, heated within a matter of seconds. Georgie had dashed from the room like a deer getting its first scent of a hunter.

When Trevor finished with his buttons, he stared down at James Rushford, sprawling in all his masculine glory. Legs spread wide and careless, cock spent and resting against one strong, lean thigh. “Aren’t you a picture?”

James raised a brow. “I am quite content, if you must know.”

Trevor leaned down and kissed him on the lips one last time before turning toward the dwindling fire. “So am I.” He approached the large marble hearth, enjoying the familiar languid feel of satisfaction that always pulsed through his strong muscles after he and James took each other like that. He needed that feeling, more than he had realized. He needed James Rushford’s hands on him every day of his life in order to feel whole and settled in his own skin.

“Do you think Georgie’s really thought this through?” Trevor poked at the fire until a few flames licked, then turned to the pile of logs at his right and tossed one on. The idea of summoning a footman to put a log on the fire had always struck Trevor as preposterous.

“She’s a practical person, no question about it.” James started to sit up and attend to his own clothing. “It sounds as if you’d barely mentioned the circumstances of your father’s demands before she leapt at the chance to help you resolve this insane wish of his.”

Poking the fire again, Trevor said, “That’s what I’m worried about. She’s so cavalier about everything. Even if I’ve no intention of bedding her—not that her virtue is an issue in any case, given her revelation about her, er, busy nights in the Levant—I think she has failed to weigh the full consequences of our actions. She will never be able to marry for love. Do you think she’s trivializing that part of the arrangement?”

James remained quiet while he considered his reply. When the silence persisted, Trevor set the fire poker in the stand and turned to face him. “Well, what do you think?”

“Maybe she is marrying for love. Perhaps you need to ask yourself the same question.” James had always been blunt; it was one of the things that had initially attracted Trevor to him at Cambridge. James was fearless with words. Trevor had always been fearless with his body—taking up any fight, answering any taunt with his fists, making love with fervor—but he had never had the audacity to simply speak his mind the way James Rushford did.

Trevor narrowed his eyes and thought about how best to answer. Was he falling in love with her?

He and James had been entirely devoted to each other these past five years, but both of them had enjoyed being with women before they met. And it would be dishonest for Trevor to say he wasn’t at least intrigued by the idea of having Georgie in their bed. Initially, he’d thought of it as a possible romp, but over the past week of having her in his house, he was far more intrigued by her, not merely her body. His heart always raced when she entered a room—all bluster and chatter about the horses or disdain for some nodcock in the morning paper. In his mind at least—especially in his fervid imagination—she was no longer just a friend. Looking back over his life, he was beginning to wonder if she had ever been just a friend.

She was also very different from the girl he’d grown up with, the girl he’d always thought of as a friend. Her experience abroad had given her a gravity, some kind of solid bedrock he wanted to mine. And yet her heart—the fierce, joyful nature that was so distinctly her—was still there, if shuttered. So much like James, now that Trevor thought of it. Hard to break through, but so temptingly worth the effort. He also sensed an answering desire in her, as much as she tried to bury it beneath all her layers of independence and bravado.

“I would like to bed you both,” Trevor confessed. “Together.” When he saw the smile of slow, delectable pleasure spread across James’s face, Trevor realized it probably wasn’t the first time the idea had crossed James’s mind either. He began to walk back toward the sofa with a predatory stride. “Would you like that too, James?”

James nodded slowly. “I think I might like to . . .” He hesitated. “How did she phrase it? Use her like a lad . . . or better yet, watch you use her like a lad.”

Trevor was standing directly in front of James by then. “Tell me . . .” His voice had gone rough at the prospect of hearing James reveal what he had in mind.

“It’s hard to say,” James said blandly—as if he were contemplating which color velvet he wanted to use for his latest hat design—while his hand reached out and palmed the front of Trevor’s buckskins. James pressed against Trevor’s hardening cock as he spoke. “I think she’d like it rough and fast, maybe pinned to the bed—” Trevor’s cock twitched in response. “I know you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Maybe you could even hold her in place for me, let her take you in her mouth, while you watch me down the length of her back as I pound into her firm, tight arse.”

Trevor moaned and pushed his hips against James’s hand. “That might work,” he said, his voice raspy.

“But I’m a perverse bastard, ain’t I?”

“Yes,” Trevor gasped, never underestimating the extent of James’s sexual imagination. “You have something else in mind, I know it. What would you do instead?”

“I think—no, I know—I would make it soft and slow. She might need to be restrained much more to endure that kind of torture. Do you see how impatient she is? She is always in a rush and likely sees lovemaking as nothing more than an athletic exercise. A sprint of some sort.”

“Ah—” Trevor was devolving into a mist of sensuality again; words were becoming vague and meaningless as James’s hand smoothed and rubbed against him. “And you, you would s-slow her d-down, is that it?”

“Oh yes.” James stretched the two words out until they floated around the room like some sort of heady smoke. He pulled Trevor to the sofa and then slid down to kneel on the floor between his legs.

“I’d want to go very, very slow . . . ” James unbuttoned Trevor’s fall (again) and pulled his straining hard cock into his mouth. No urgency. No force. Just long, slow, languorous licks. Delicate, easy, sucking pulls. Light kisses. It was entirely maddening. And entirely delicious. “Slow . . . like this,” he said when he released him.

James kissed the tip of Trevor’s cock, trailing his tongue lightly over it. He licked at it, the flat of his tongue barely moving as he teased Trevor slowly. Trevor couldn’t help picturing Georgie’s mouth, imagining Georgie’s moans, as James worked on him—and the effect was stunning.

With one hand, James reached between Trevor’s legs, up, and behind—still at that delectably glacial pace—until he fitted the side of his hand into the crack of Trevor’s arse. “She would be forced into patience, wouldn’t she?” Trevor moaned as James began stroking, lightly at first, then deeper, until he was pressing the entire side of his palm gently and firmly into Trevor’s crease. The look James gave him—filled with awe and trust and desire—promised everything. They could have this, damn it; the three of them could have a beautiful life together.

“And then I would just make her . . . love it.” And with that, James dipped his head fully and pulled Trevor’s cock into his mouth, sucking hard and relentlessly, but still slow . . . slow . . . slow. He pulled his mouth away for a second while his hand kept working. “Because you know it now, don’t you? It’s not just her body you want to claim, is it, Trevor?” Trevor gasped when James squeezed his bollocks. “You are falling in love with her, aren’t you? You want the three of us to be together in truth?”

Without waiting for a reply, James opened his mouth and resumed his slow, patient torture of Trevor’s cock, until Trevor cried out his release. He may have said yes or he may have just screamed out something unintelligible—but that was the truth of it. He was indeed falling in love with Georgie.

from Rainbow Book Reviews

The locations and the ancillary characters are truly marvelous, but Georgie, Trevor, and James are stunningly compelling. . . . [T]imeless, universal, and gloriously captivating.

from Just Love – Romance by Any Definition

[T]his was a truly delightful read! Smoldering erotic scenes, a friendship that transitioned to a genuine romance, and some splendid characters all came together to create a book that I couldn’t put down!

from Smart Bitches

[A] good read for someone looking for more spice in their historical.

from Natural Bri

[A]n exciting, fun and detailed read. I highly recommend it, especially if you are fans of menages.