Love's Savage Bonds

Love’s Savage Bonds

 

By Jeb

 

Copyright © 2012 by Jeb
Delia

All rights reserved

All characters and
incidents portrayed herein are pure fiction

 

For my one and only Lady Catherine

 

Foreword

For want of a better term, this is a “Damsel in
Distress” romance. All romantic heroines face distress of one form or another;
this tale is aimed at readers who enjoy seeing those tropes played out with
particular attention to capture and restraint; a "bodice-ripper" for
those who like their romance with a bit of rope. There is dark villainy,
gallant heroism, and the pluckiness of a heroine who faces danger with
determination.

The setting is a version of 19
th
century
England composed primarily of the author’s vague memories of Jane Austen
novels and film adaptations of
Jamaica Inn
or
The Scarlet Pimpernel
;
in other words, historical or cultural authenticity would be rather beside the
point.

Needless to say, it’s a fantasy, and though a
somewhat erotic one, it contains no sexually explicit material, and is intended
for the enjoyment of those who can distinguish imagination from reality.

 

J.D., 2012

Chapter One

 

 

How can a room so tall feel so
confining?

 

Lady Catherine Redmond sent her dark
brown eyes once more to the huge, vaulted ceiling of the Coutts Manor ballroom,
and for the hundredth time felt as though it had begun to press down upon her.
The heavy paneled wood, the burnished gold and shining crystal—could one be
imprisoned by such things?

 

“One year today, my dear. And wouldn’t
your mother have been delighted to see you so well and happy?” Catherine nodded
vaguely in the direction of the woman who addressed her— an aunt of some sort
on her husband’s side—and smoothed her peach-colored organdy dress for the sake
of having something to do with her hands.

 

One year. I have been the wealthiest
woman in the district—“Mistress of the Manor”, and wife to Lord Philip
Redmond—for an entire year.

 

The gown was Paris—of course; the
stones that encircled her throat and bedecked her full, firm bosom were the
loot of some Continental monastery, which she wore that Philip’s friends might
admire them… and her, too—another of his “possessions”.

 

 “And doesn’t Philip look
positively marvelous tonight!” The woman laid a hand on Catherine’s arm as she
nodded in the direction of Catherine’s husband.

 

And, to be sure, Philip was a sight to
weaken a woman’s knees. His coat, of royal blue, hung upon him as all clothes
did: as though it had fallen from the heavens for no other purpose than to
drape his figure. Exquisitely-tailored trousers accented his slim waist and
legs, and his golden locks and Adonis’ profile seemed to have the women in the
room dividing their gaze between looks of adoration at him, and looks of
jealousy at Catherine.

 

As she took in the sight, Catherine
smiled wryly to herself.
A haberdasher’s dream… if only he wasn’t so
convinced of it himself!
Still, to be the wife of a devilishly handsome,
and impossibly rich man… well, who’d ever have dreamed it would happen to her?

 

Not that Catherine wasn’t a considered
to be a catch herself: the smooth skin of her lovely face glowed with youth and
health, the glittering gold light from the crystal chandeliers danced in the
mass of sable tresses piled atop her head, and no gown in the entire ballroom
covered a bosom so fine. But a man like Philip could choose from so many women;
it seemed almost churlish not to regard herself as terribly fortunate.

 

Making her way about the vast ballroom,
teeming with liveried servants and elegantly-clothed guests, Catherine did her
best to “mingle”, though the majority of the guests were Philip’s friends,
rather than hers. She took her time, endeavoring to give every well-wisher a
few moments of her attention. Being mostly Philip’s friends, though, their
conversation, like his, had a tendency to dwell on such matters as the cost of
her clothes and jewelry, or the scope of their estate.

 

Seeking a moment or two of respite,
Catherine stepped out the door of the ballroom, and turned down the salon’s
main hallway. She deliberately turned her back to the far wall… but that didn’t
help.

 

It never did. She could still feel
them… the eyes.

 

This is ridiculous!
She forced herself to turn and once more confront
the portrait gallery there: Philip’s family, in lush oil, framed in deep
mahogany. Philip himself, of course, not long out of school, his late mother
and father, gazing sternly down… and his brother, Charles.

 

Catherine had heard of men whose gaze
could turn a woman’s insides to water; but what of one who could turn her to
flame?

 

Looking at the painting of Charles
Redmond, she wondered if she was in the presence of some work of unholy genius,
showing unparalleled skill with a brush… or was this, simply, life? Was Charles
so dynamic a figure that the force of his presence could not be contained by
mere canvas and oil?

 

Tumbling dark hair curled down over a
brow that already seemed to hint at tilting at the world’s troubles. His lips
were full and thick, all sensual amusement.

 

And his eyes… in the painting, they
were so dark as to seem almost black. They didn’t seem unkind, she
thought—certainly nothing to match the ominous stories she’d heard of him—but with
their intensity, they were the eyes of a man fully able to take that which he
would… eyes that seemed to Catherine to follow her all through this huge house.

 

She'd asked Philip to take down the
portrait, but he had just laughed.

 

"Can't be done, my dear. Chap who
painted it's apparently making quite the name for himself in the City now. The
thing's value has probably trebled in the past six months alone, and one
doesn't hide such a treasure-- one shows it off."

 

And, so, Catherine was left with the
constant choice of avoiding the painting, avoiding the eyes… or braving their
power.

 

As she re-entered the ballroom, she
pulled up sharply. Her husband was entertaining a small knot of his cronies,
and while Catherine regarded most of them as harmless boors, she noticed once
more, with distaste, the presence of a lean, dark-complected man affecting to
listen, but whose tiny pale eyes roamed the room in search of more interesting
topics.

 

"Catherine, my dear," Philip
barely broke the train of the story he was telling as he summoned his wife,
"... and then, of course, the blasted gypsies were at the sheep again.
Damn thieves!" He concluded, and was greeted with laughter from most of
the group... though the dark man's laughter seemed strictly for show.

 

The man was not as tall as Philip, but
so whippet-lean as to appear even taller. His narrow features had an
undeniable, yet intimidating, Gallic attractiveness.  His suit was dark and
simple, but its cut and cloth clearly of the finest. While Philip's other
guests reached for refreshed glasses, or boxes of snuff, the dark man sent his
eyes in Catherine’s direction.  She tried to turn away, but her husband
waved an imperious hand, beckoning her over.

 

The slender man had seemed to be
listening to his host more out of indulgence than interest; now, though, at
Catherine's approach, his eyes seemed to awaken, and glitter like those of a
serpent.

 

“You know Colonel Lefanu,” Philip
nodded to her.

 

“My Lady.” The dark man's Parisian
accent was light; his speech had the precision of one who has learned a
language from an expert tutor, and for professional reasons.

 

Catherine gritted her teeth as the
Frenchman bent over her hand, his cold fingers clammy on her skin; he never
failed to make her feel as though she were some new pâté that he was sampling.

 

"Colonel." She drew back her
hand, returning her attention to the room. Her curt dismissal seemed to amuse
the Frenchman, a sentiment that her husband clearly did not share.

 

"Really, Catherine..." Philip
reached a hand to take his wife's arm in reproof. Catherine gave a shrug of
mild irritation and easily slipped her arm from her husband's grasp.

 

You would think, if I mattered so
much to him, he’d try to hold me more tightly
, she thought to herself, with more emotion than logic. And, besides,
while Philip was entitled to have his circle of friends, surely not even a
hostess' courtesy required her to stay there and be tasted like some exotic
dessert!
Can't he see?
Catherine fumed.
Is he blind? I can
practically READ that snake's thoughts!
Was her husband that oblivious? She
shivered at the even more frightening prospect that Philip, did, indeed, notice
what was happening, but did nothing to stop it.

 

"Philip, I must dash-- why, here’s
Major Cathcart-- it has been ever so long since I've seen him."

 

Philip grunted, starting into another
of his stories, but Colonel Lefanu purred, "I hope we shall see you again
this evening, My Lady;" he made even this casual conversation sound almost
filthy. Catherine thanked God the man never used her Christian name-- she
doubted she'd have been able to stand hearing it again. It was with real relief
that she made her way to the tall, grey-haired figure in the red uniform tunic
and white trousers.

 

"Major Cathcart!" In her
relief at finally being away from Lefanu, Catherine had to restrain herself to
keep from running to her old friend’s arms. His ramrod bearing, unbowed despite
his 70 years, was like a bit of Papa, here in England. The two men had served
together in the Crimea, then India, and Cathcart was now retired. She wasn't
sure that the old soldier was still supposed to wear his uniform to an affair
of this type, but none could doubt the pride and dignity with which he bore it.

 

Cathcart started to spread his arms for
a hug; then his face reddened and he seemed uncertain what to do with his
hands. "My dear… Cath… My Lady…” he stammered.

 

"Please, just ‘Catherine’,"
she remonstrated. It had been like this ever since the wedding-- since the day
when she had gone from being just Catherine Tompkins, simple soldier's
daughter, to being Lady Catherine Redmond, wife and consort to the Lord of the
Manor.
Such a bother!
  “It wasn’t that long ago that I sat on your
knee in pigtails.” She smiled warmly at the memory. “But you’ve not introduced
me.” She nodded at the portly gray-haired woman in the garishly high-fashion
frock at the Major’s elbow.

 

“Oh!” The Major flushed even further.
“My sister—Miss Cathcart. Here for a visit.”

 

“Lady Catherine,” the woman beamed.
“Such a pleasure.”

 

"Miss Cathcart," Catherine
smiled prettily as she took the woman’s hand.

 

 “My brother tells me that he and
your father—and you! —spent some time together in India, of all places!”

 

Catherine nodded. “Yes, a few years
ago.  I was fifteen when Father’s regiment was called to India.  Mother wasn’t well enough to accompany him to run his household, and I fear that I made
a proper nuisance of myself until he agreed to take me instead.”

 

“That’s right,” the major beamed. “She
was the youngest of the
mem-sahibs
… and by far the prettiest!”

 

Catherine blushed as she continued.
“Four years later, of course, came the Mutiny. Even though we were hundreds of
miles from the worst of it, Father would take no risks, and sent me back home,
while he remained there. As fate would have it, my return coincided with the…
untimely death… of Philip’s father, and Mother decided to ‘strike while the
iron was hot’, so to speak, and arranged the match.” She paused, and continued
as though thinking aloud. “I suppose the fact that Philip and I had known each
other as children had something to do with it.”

 

“Childhood sweethearts, then.” 
The plump face beamed.

 

Catherine’s smile flickered, briefly.
“Well… childhood playmates, anyway.” Her voice and face grew more thoughtful.
“Philip was never quite like the other boys—he seemed to have no interest in
sports and games, I suppose because he wasn’t that physically strong. If he
wanted his own way, he used his family’s money to get it. We played, as
children do, even telling each other that we’d marry one day… but I don’t think
I ever expected it to happen…” she cast her gaze about the vast room,
“…certainly not like this.”

 

“Your husband has an older brother, has
he not?” Miss Cathcart inquired.

 

Catherine paused, swallowing hard, as
the eyes of that painting seemed to dance before her vision. “Charles. I… I
barely remember him from when we were children—he was a few years older than I,
and he was still away in The City when I left for India.”

 

“But if Philip is the younger son, how
did…?”

 

“Do you not know the story, then?”
Their party was joined by a strikingly handsome woman in her forties, in the
black livery of household staff. There was little to suggest the woman’s age
save the narrow streak of white that ran through her thick brown hair, and a
perhaps too-knowing look on her face.

 

“Mrs. Williams, our housekeeper,”
Catherine sighed. She’d more than once asked her husband to speak to the woman
about the familiarity she displayed around guests, but it seemed to make no
difference.

 

 “The Master’s brother was what we
call a VERY bad seed,” the buxom housekeeper seemed almost proud of the fact.
“Engineered a swindle that beggared dozens. It drove their poor uncle, who had
vouched for Charles, to suicide, and left their heartbroken father just enough
time to disinherit the wretch before he himself died of the strain.”

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