Read His Unexpected Bride Online

Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson

His Unexpected Bride

His Unexpected Bride

A Regency Romance

Jo Ann Ferguson

For Francesca

who understands the magic

One

He had to be dreaming.

Cameron Hawksmoor tried to make his eyes focus, but everything was blurred. Just as in his dreams.

But why was he dreaming of a delicately carved tester bed with curtains of pale rose chintz? That was not a man's dream. A man did not let his nightly fantasies take him to a room shadowed by drapes pulled closed over tall windows. Certainly not windows with brocade draperies of a deeper rose than the bed curtains. A man dreamed of tawdry taverns or dangerous roads through a mist-shrouded wood or a lusty maid who regarded him with an inviting smile as she slid her hand across his chest and …

Cameron choked back a gasp as his thoughts seemed to come to life. Raising his head, which ached as if he had struck it against a tree—
twice
—he saw slender fingers resting over his bare chest. He tilted his head to follow the arm, covered in white fabric that glowed too brightly in the dim light. With a moan, he sank back into the pillows and put his hand to his head.

It was not his habit to give a bottle a black eye, but from the way his skull resonated and even his slightest breath seemed to resonate like a bunch of fives against his face, he knew he must have done so last night. Even more uncustomary was the fact that, in a drunken stupor, he had brought some woman to his bed. He was not his brother, who seemed to believe it was a man's duty to bed every woman who happened to cross his path. He had been true to Pamela until he had arranged for her to find another protector before he left London last time for the Continent.

Dear Pamela. Cameron let his thoughts linger on her a moment as he envisioned the lovely woman who had been his mistress before he went to do his duty for England and join in the battle against Napoleon. Now he was back from the Continent, and he was ready to enjoy the pleasures he had fought so hard to preserve. Not, however, with sweet Pamela, whose flashing dark eyes and hair as golden as the summer sun and whose voluptuous form had captivated him from the first time he had seen her. Upon leaving, he had not wanted to hold her to a promise to wait faithfully for him. She had no interest in marrying, and neither did he. The arrangement had been perfect for both of them until he could not ignore the call to defend the Crown. He wondered if she still was with Stedley. Most likely, for the man had plenty of blunt to lavish on Pamela, who did have a weakness for pretty things.

The woman's fingers shifted on his chest, as ethereal as the passage of a lark over a meadow. Although his thoughts were filled with Pamela now, that must not have been the case last night when he brought this serving wench to his bed. He hoped she would be understanding about how he had downed too much of Masterson's brandy. Some small token would be sure to please her and enable him to disassociate himself from this unexpected complication.

He did not have to worry about distressing his host. Bernard Masterson had been jovial last night, if Cameron could trust his frayed memories. Masterson was not a member of the
ton
because he was the younger son of a younger son, but he set a good table and had an excellent cellar and had been a great friend of Cameron's late father. Once the two men had belonged to the same club, but Cameron seemed to remember they had had a falling out. Why could he recall his father grumbling about that when he could not remember the face of the woman in his bed?

Her fingers edged along him again as the wench murmured something in her sleep. Her provocative touch suggested she was not truly slumbering, but was teasing him, urging him to take his pleasure with her once again. Again? Blast it! How much had he drunk that he could not recall her before waking by her side?

With the dusk cloaking the bed and the pain riveting his head, he could not clear his eyes to see her well. He leaned toward her. Sweet fragrance wafted from her, and, fearing he was a leather-head, but knowing it was far too late for second thoughts when the wench was curled up by his side, he tipped her face up. He stared at her soft lips and watched them part in the moment before his mouth claimed them. His fingers swept up through auburn hair spread across her pillow and his. He must have been deeply foxed to forget the luscious taste of these lips. He should—

Cameron yelped as her slender fingers struck his face, sending renewed agony ricocheting through his head. Pulling back, he leaned on one elbow and cradled his forehead in his hand. He grasped the woman's arm with his other hand, crushing the fine linen and lace on her sleeve.

Linen? Lace?

“Who in hell are you?” Releasing her, he pushed himself up to sit against the headboard of the bed. Some carving jabbed his back, but he did not move, waiting for the room to settle itself before his stomach revolted. The sour aftertaste of brandy tainted his mouth. He ignored the disgusting flavor. He knew he had downed too much of it. What he did not know was why Masterson's serving wenches wore lace as fine as a lady's.

“What are
you
doing here?” she retorted.

He groaned. Not only did her clothing copy a lady's, but her voice was quality. A serving wench might be satisfied with a token, but an upper maid would demand much more. He was not interested in obtaining a new mistress. He wanted to think only of the one he had left behind two years ago.

When he grumbled an oath, the woman gasped, “My lord, please remember yourself!”

“I wish I could. I wish I could recall anything that has happened in the past twelve hours. I …” His voice trailed away as the truth of her identity finally penetrated his brain. He forced his eyes to focus. No, it was impossible!

But there was no mistaking the face so colorless that her green eyes shown like twin emeralds framed by the auburn fire of her hair. With lace curving up beneath her chin and linen dropping over her as she sat facing him, he was not treated to the view of her lithe curves he had admired yesterday when his host introduced him to his daughter.

Daughter!

What was Tess Masterson doing in his bed?

“I have asked you once, and I will ask again before I have no choice but to ring for a footman,” she said. “What are you doing in my bed, Lord Hawksmoor?”

“Quiet!” He touched his throbbing head. His mind was still working too slowly. He never had had such a bout with brandy, even when he had quaffed too much the night of his father's funeral to ease his grief. “By the elevens, have some pity on a man who is suffering from megrims.”

“A headache is no excuse for you being
here!
” She started to push past him, then pulled back, an expression of horror on her face. She must crawl over him to get past him, he realized, because the bed was not in the center of the room, but pushed against a wall.

“Be quiet,” he ordered again. “No, rather, give me an explanation of what in the blazes is going on. You can start with why you are in here in the room your father granted me for my use during my visit here.”

“I think not. This cannot go on a moment longer.”

“Miss Masterson …” How much more ridiculous could this become! No, not ridiculous, for he would have ruined the young woman's reputation if it became known she had been sleeping beside him.

His mouth straightened. Was that her plan? To sneak into his room and then cry out she had been compromised? He had heard of such things, but had not guessed he, Cameron Hawksmoor, would become a victim of such a scheme.

“Get out of my bed!” She shoved against his legs, pushing them over the edge of the mattress.

When they hit the floor, another peal of pain rang in his head. He was about to snarl at her, but stared down at his legs. He was wearing his cream breeches and one shoe. The other lay beside a small table covered with a tatted doily. Atop it, a small cage was covered with a cloth. A bird? If so, he did not intend to remove the fabric. A bird singing would add to the ache in his head.

Exasperation filled him as he stood. He wobbled the single step toward the glass over a washstand. That distance was almost too much. The washstand nearly toppled as he grasped it, trying to keep himself on his feet. Putting his nose close to the glass, he stared at his face and tousled black hair as if he had never seen them before. The reflection was his. If this was still a dream, he looked blasted pitiful instead of being the hero of his own nightly imaginings. Splashing water onto his face, he wiped it vigorously with a cloth hanging by the bowl. A mistake, for more pain followed.

“My lord,” came the vexed voice from the bed, “I do not know why you would believe I gave you leave to run tame through my chambers.”

“Your chambers?”

“Yes.” She crossed her arms over her breasts, which were tantalizingly shadowed by her nightdress. “Are you still so fuddled that you fail to recognize this is not a guest room?”

“I find I have little interest in looking about at the furniture when you offer such a tempting sight.”

Red flashed up her face as she grasped a blanket and, tugging it out from where it had been tucked in, threw it over her shoulders. “Forgive me for keeping you from making other observations, my lord. I am not accustomed to having profligates in my private chambers. If you will indulge me and look around, you will see I am quite correct when I say these are
my
rooms.”

Her very serenity added to Cameron's irritation. Taking a deep breath, he dared to lurch back to where she sat with the blanket now pulled nearly to her chin. He leaned his hands on the bed before he could fall on his face, but he glowered at her. “If you think to force me into the parson's mousetrap with such a show of blemished honor, Miss Masterson, I urge you to rethink your scheme.”

“Scheme?” Her eyes grew wide. “I have asked you to leave, my lord. Will you do so, or must I—”

“Must you what? Scream? That would bring the very servants you have ready to
intrude
upon us, wouldn't it?”

“You are mad!”

His reply was halted by what he was startled to see. Remnants of passion shone in her eyes. Mayhap he was insane, but he was certain of one thing. She had softened in his arms for the length of a pair of heartbeats before her hand had smacked his face with every bit of her feigned indignity. His fingers tingled as he remembered how silken that unruly fall of auburn hair had been.

He reached out, and she edged away. Slapping at his hand, she said, “Begone, I tell you!”

“Give me a chance to get my head settled on my shoulders.”

“You can do that elsewhere.”

“I can do what I wish where I wish.”

She frowned. “What stuff and nonsense are you spouting? Begone, or I shall—”

He was not sure if he was more determined to keep her from shrieking and creating a scene or if he simply could not restrain his curiosity to rediscover the flavor of her lips. Before he could decide, he had grasped her by the shoulders, pulled her up to her knees, and captured her mouth. She struggled to escape him, but he enfolded her to him. With her arms caught beneath the blanket, she could not free her hand to strike his face. The breath she had pulled in for a scream shuddered out of her in a sigh. Her lips quivered in the moment before he claimed them again while his fingers swept up through her hair.

He shifted to kneel beside her on the bed. Before he could, good sense clouted him even more viciously than her hand had. Was he bereft of his mind? This woman, no matter how lovely she might be, was not his to tumble. Her father was his host.

Shoving her back gently, for 'twas his own head that needed to be banged against the wall and have some sense knocked into it, he turned away. He was gasping for breath as if he had run from one end of a line of battlefield infantry to the other. Forcing himself to regain his calm took more strength than he had expected, but he was able to face her with a cool smile as he said, “That, Miss Masterson, is what I could do … if I wanted to.”

“You are loathsome!”

“Mayhap you should have considered that before you invited me to share your bed.”

Tess Masterson stared at the man standing beside her bed as if he had every right to be here.
Her bed!
Sweet heavens, how was she going to extract herself from this muddle with her reputation intact? She had not guessed when Lord Hawksmoor and his friend, Eustace Knox, had presented themselves at her father's door yesterday afternoon that before a single day had passed, Lord Hawksmoor would ruin her.

And himself as well, for the marquess barely resembled the man who had arrived here yesterday. Instead of being in prime twig, as he had been in spite of his long journey from a friend's house near Norwich, he was as wrinkled as a washerwoman's washboard. One stocking was torn and drooping, and he still had not put on his other shoe.

Yet his features remained compelling … and dangerous. That was the word Jenette had used to describe him yesterday, and Tess suspected her French abigail had much more knowledge in those matters than Tess did. Jenette was correct, because, beneath his dark hair, there was a small scar over his right eyebrow, just at the very place where he easily could have been struck by a rapier or a ball in a duel. The taut line of Lord Hawksmoor's jaw, now clenched with the pain he was struggling to hide, was softened only by a cleft in his chin. The rest of his face matched his name, because he had a strong, aquiline nose that would befit a bird of prey, and his startlingly blue eyes offered a challenge only a fool would confront.

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