Amazon! KU! 99 cents Only on Pre-order NOW!
The gifts that the Good Lord had granted to Charles Compton, younger son of the Duke of Southbourne, had been many. Sound body, quick mind, kind father, loving mother, formidable education, stout-heart friends and few…if any, foes. He counted these regularly. One should, one would if one were the vicar of a parish with a congregation of one hundred and two souls who were, usually, moderate in their passions and hard-working for their master. Charlie—for he had always thought of himself in that informal way which was the address his mother had used—had come to his calling easily, at his father’s encouragement and at a young age. So when he had chosen to leave his first parish in Sussex and gone off to fight the wars in Spain and France, he’d done it out of as big a love, this time for Country and Crown. His service abroad had been long—years in fact. That it had also opened his eyes to the inhumanity of man to man was a dastardly result. Hard to swallow, really. So when he left the chaplaincy of the Army and returned home last year after Bony had abdicated, his displeasure with the failings of the human spirit had tempted him to leave the clergy altogether. Yet a man must be practical, eh?
And so he had resumed his morning practice of counting his blessings. Soon he was in search of his next assignment and soon took the offer of the Viscount Courtland. St. Andrew’s was a lovely chapel on the man’s estate. And the living he offered Charlie was extraordinarily generous, given the penury that most Anglican clergymen were thrust into upon taking a parish to themselves. That good fortune (not to put too much glory to five hundred pounds a year) was added to Charlie’s daily list.
Among those gifts he praised heaven for, no woman had ever appeared. Oh, he had enjoyed his early years as a young buck in London. His social status what it was, he had similarly well-bred friends and family whose invitations to balls and house parties he always accepted. He knew the One Hundred well. A duke’s son, you know, never lacked for acquaintances or opportunities. His friends and those who were not had marveled that he had decided to enter the Church.
“Trade?” asked one of his second cousins. “Join me. Sugar from the Indies. I need help.”
But Charlie had declined adventure in the jungles of the New World in favor of the church.
“How can you get on?” his friend, Winston Fullerton had pressed him. “You’ll never have a penny to call your own.”
Money had never been lacking in Charlie’s life so at that point, he easily answered Fullerton that coin was not what made people happy.
“And marriage? Children?” Fullerton had continued. “What if you fall in love?”
“Love,” Charlie had answered, “could come in church as well as out of it.” Or he hoped that would be so. After all, he’d had a general introduction to the varieties of male-female attractions. He had experienced lust, a sad but true admission. Most of those incidents, however, had occurred in his callow youth and five times in Spain (yes, he recalled each one vividly) after imbibing more than a temperate amount of bad Spanish red wine.
Now he was thirty years of age and so, he began to doubt love might come his way. In fact, he doubted love in general came to men easily. He’d seen men slaver after nubile debutantes and wonder at the attraction. He’d seen others mad to possess another man’s wife, a widow or a doxy from the streets. Charlie had admired a few women for their beauty or their skills at cards. But no one woman had ever captured his imagination with a look or a word…or a quest for understanding.
So it was with surprise at himself that he found a woman, head bowed, in one of his pews one spring afternoon, her ebony hair an intricate crown upon her head, her long gloved fingers clasped together in plea, as she argued with God.
“I don’t see why you would do this.” She shook her head, her eyes squeezed tightly closed. “It’s really quite unfair, you know. I’ve been very good.”
He put one hand to the curved back of the sturdy oak pew. He should tell her he was here.
“I’ve been virtuous, Lord. Though who wants to be?” She raised her face. “I’d like a man to savor. A true love to climb into bed with. Just like Esme.”
What? Really? Esme Harvey was Viscount Courtland’s daughter. Esme had climbed into bed with… Oh, this is none of my business!
“As her friend, I’ve stood by her through all her antics.”
Charlie smiled. A boon companion, eh? Well, hell. Ahem. We all need one of those. Or more!
“To my mother and father, I’ve been respectful. Obedient. Even to the point that now, I cannot be!”
If now she was going to confess sins, he should really make himself known.
“But you know that if I stop agreeing to marry, they will think me odd. I’m not odd!” She sat taller and the lovely line of her profile down the lone line of her neck to her charmingly generous points of her breasts was a vision that set his pulse pounding. And another part of his anatomy stirred to life too.
He raised his hand to announce himself when—
“I will kill them!”
What? Kill? Who?
“You cannot,” she seethed with despair and dabbed at the corners of her eyes, “you simply cannot betroth me to another man.”
No. Definitely not.
That hair, that perfect nose, those wonderfully full lips, that throat and those breasts belong to a man who could savor them…like me.