What could be more romantic than stolen kisses at a lovely gazebo on a starry summer night?
Let's face it, that charming white folly in the middle of Moonlight Square's private garden park sees a LOT of action. ;> As we enjoy the sultry nights of summer, I thought I'd share an excerpt from the scene where it all began ONE MOONLIT NIGHT...
A Chance Meeting
To set the scene for you: Suave, worldly rakehell, Gable, Viscount Roland, is playing cards at the Grand Albion gentlemen's club with his fellow lords of Moonlight Square when he receives a frantic note from his latest paramour begging him to go and find the diamond earring she apparently lost at the gazebo that afternoon during their (hot, sweaty) assignation.
Gable duly takes leave of his fellow rakehells and heads over to the park to see if he can find it. Instead, he discovers pretty redhead and self-described bluestocking Lady Katrina Glendon crying her eyes out over a jilt.
Mortified that this handsome stranger should come along and find her blubbering like a watering pot, Trinny quickly dries her tears. But rather than go home and face her disappointed parents, she endeavors to help him find the missing earring.
Touched by her vulnerability, Gable endeavors to cheer her up, in turn. And does he ever succeed.
Excerpt from One Moonlit Night "An Inconvenient Meeting"
Hurry, Roland! You must find it and get it back to me at once! My husband gave me those earrings. If one turns up missing, he'll fly into a rage. He may even call you out! ~ Lady H.
Unconcerned about old Hayworth or his drunken temper, Gable strolled out of the club into the agreeable spring night, then narrowed his eyes as he gazed across the street at the garden square. He walked over to the shoulder-high wrought iron fence around the park.
They kept it locked at night, but he did not feel like running home to get his park key, so he clenched his cheroot between his teeth, took off his tailcoat, and vaulted over the fence, landing on the other side.
Slinging his coat over his shoulder, he tucked a hand in his pocket and strolled back to the scene of his tryst with the infamously willing Lady Haywood that afternoon. A quick romp in the garden folly had quite taken the edge off.
He was bemused to hear she had lost the earring, for that matter, since they had barely undressed. There had been no need, with her sitting on his lap, both of them swept up in the cheap thrill of maybe getting caught. The only real surprise was that he hadn’t accidentally swallowed the thing.
Gable suddenly stopped short when he stepped around a bend in the winding path and the gazebo came into view.
His eyes narrowed, and his brow slowly furrowed as his gaze homed in on some poor female sobbing her heart out there.
Gingerly venturing closer, he softened his steps so the gravel wouldn’t crunch. It felt wrong to invade her grief, whoever she was.
I could wait, he thought. Finish my cheroot. Maybe she’s almost done.
But future earls didn’t like waiting, as a rule.
He took another drag, frowned to note that his cheroot was down to a nub anyway, then tossed it down and crushed it out under the heel of his new boots, unsure how to proceed.
Wonder what’s so wrong, he thought. Then it occurred to him that if the woman accidentally found the diamond first, she might try to claim it. He had no intention of buying his paramour another, so he concluded, I’ll just try not to disturb her.
As he walked on, her crying grew louder. Her shoulders shook, and he felt a tug of amused sympathy. Poor thing.
As he neared, the moonlight gleamed off her smooth, shiny, pale-red hair, alerting him that she must be one of Lord Beresford’s daughters.
How many of them there were exactly, Gable did not know. He could not tell the lot of pretty little redheads apart. Nor had he tried.
It was not wise for a dedicated rakehell to stare overlong at the daughters of a neighboring lord, unless he wished to have a bride thrust upon him.
Which Gable wanted like a hole in the head, so he kept his eyes to himself whenever he saw them.
Impatient to get his task over with, he cleared his throat as politely as possible. “Ahem.”
* * * Pretty well cried out by now, Trinny looked up abruptly. Her swollen eyes widened as she spotted the tall, broad-shouldered figure standing in the moonlight.
Oh, just when I thought I could not be any more humiliated!
The dashing fellow sauntered forward down the path with a suave air, his coat slung over his shoulder.
“I say,” he called in a deep voice as breezy as the night, “sorry to bother you, but it seems a lady friend of mine dropped an earring here earlier today. She’s quite frantic to have it back, so if you don’t mind, I should like to have a quick look round. This will only take a minute.” He hesitated. “Er, carry on.”
Carry on? Trinny stiffened with indignation. She drew herself up, mortified at being found weeping like a watering pot.
“No matter. I shall go,” she said in a brittle tone, lifting her head and avoiding the gentleman’s curious gaze in her embarrassment.
She marched across the gazebo to leave as the intruder was arriving, but when their paths crossed on the painted steps, two things happened.
One: He offered her his handkerchief.
“Here,” he said softly. “You look like you could use this.”
Two: She lifted her chin with a frosty air to decline his pity with what was left of her pride, and seeing him up close, she recognized the man.
Lord Sweet Cheeks!
Well, that was his name to the Glendon girls, anyway, and it had nothing to do with his strikingly handsome face. Trinny jolted back a bit in surprise—and nearly tumbled onto her derriere, naturally, as a result of forgetting she was standing on steps.
Instantly, his hand shot out and he steadied her with a firm grasp on her arm.
“Easy, there,” he chided, smooth as silk.
God, I really am a quiz, she concluded in despair as she caught her balance, clumsy as ever. “Th-Thank you.”
She gazed for a moment at his steely jawline, his loose fall of dark, glossy hair, and most especially, his sculpted mouth.
Then she quickly looked away and accepted his handkerchief to try to cover her awkwardness.
“You all right?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m just wonderful, thanks,” she muttered.
He stared at her as though she were a puzzle that he really didn’t have that much interest in putting together. Shrugging off a wisp of curiosity, he tilted his head and gave her a charmingly cordial smile; Trinny abruptly realized she was in his way.
He was waiting for her to step aside so he could search the gazebo for the missing item, as he had stated.
She did so, still clutching his handkerchief as the handsome rogue brushed by her. She turned to watch him pass. There was a reason, after all, that she and her sisters had mischievously named him Lord Sweet Cheeks.
My, my. The chap knew how to fill out a pair of pantaloons.
They had quite a few neighbors of his ilk here in Moonlight Square.
Dashing, gloriously handsome rakehells, highborn bachelors all, with nary a moral among them. Men who never looked twice at her or most eligible young misses, for that matter. Wealthy, loose-living rogues who Mama said had to be physically dragged to the altar.
In truth, Trinny did not hold these idle hedonists in the highest of esteem. They were overgrown boys in her view, the centers of their own worlds, living for the moment, chasing their pleasures all over Town.
Admittedly, they were nice to look at, though.
“Whatever it is, you know,” he suddenly offered out of the blue, “it’ll be all right.” He paused in hunting around the floor of the gazebo to send her a brief, reassuring smile.
Trinny’s heart quaked.
When she noticed that his eyes were kinder than she had expected, she could not help lingering on the gazebo steps for a moment to acknowledge the embarrassing state in which he’d found her.
“I’m not…usually such a watering pot.”
“I didn’t see anything. Don’t fret, my lady. I am the soul of discretion, believe me.” The words sounded wry, laden with sardonic meaning just beneath the surface.
He sent her a conspiratorial wink and turned away, continuing his search. He tossed his coat over the railing of the garden folly and crouched down to peer through a crack in the floorboards.
Trinny’s brow puckered with wariness as she watched him. If she were seen out here alone with the likes of him, she could be ruined. Then again, did it matter anymore? Would anybody even care?
The thought made fresh tears well up in her eyes, but she refused to be dragged down into self-pity and blew her nose on his handkerchief.
The sophisticated viscount looked up in surprise, as though he’d never heard a lady really blow her nose before.
Trinny didn’t care. There was no point in trying to impress the likes of Lord Sweet Cheeks. No point ruing the fact that their beautiful stallion of a neighbor had no doubt noticed her odd ways from the first instant he’d laid eyes on her sobbing like a cake head.
Why worry? She already knew full well she didn’t have a chance with a blue-ribbon stud like him. In truth, it came as a relief, not having to try for once. Not having to hold the teeth-gritting smile of a debutante and pretend to laugh at things that weren’t funny. Not having to watch the sweets at balls go by on footmen’s trays and never gobble down a one, all the while being laced into stays to smash her figure into shape.
All Mama’s rules for catching husbands…
They didn’t really seem to work, she mused. Then the thought of going home to that madhouse made her turn to Lord Sweet Cheeks.
“An earring, you say?” she asked with a last, brisk sniffle, tucking his handkerchief into her pocket. “What does it look like? I’ll help you find it.”
“Why, that’s very neighborly of you,” he said in surprise, looking askance at her. “Diamond chandelier of some sort, apparently.”
“Oh.” She nodded. “Well, the moonlight ought to help.”
“Moonlight always helps.” He sent her another knowing, wistful smile.
She returned it ruefully, aware he was alluding to her tears. “I suppose it does, a bit.”
Then she turned away and lifted the hem of her skirts a bit as she stepped down off the garden folly stairs, joining the hunt in that area.
While she crouched down and searched the flower beds beside the gazebo stairs for any promising sparkle in the dirt, she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that Lord Roland was studying her.
“So why the tears?” he asked after a moment, as though he could not resist.
She sent him a dubious glance, and one of her infamous “odd duck” questions escaped her. “Why do you want to know? So you can gossip about me?”
“I don’t gossip.” He scowled. “Suit yourself, then. I only asked to pass the time. You don’t have to help me—”
“I don’t fancy going home right now. I might as well.”
He shrugged off her answer and resumed his search, now looking slightly offended.
Trinny’s heart sank. There you go again. Being quarrelsome with men. She was always too opinionated.
“I got some bad news tonight is all,” she offered after a brief pause.
Hunting under the bench that ran around the perimeter of the gazebo’s interior, he glanced over at her curiously. “Sorry to hear it. Someone die?”
“Oh, no. Not that bad.” Trinny heaved a sigh. “I just found out tonight that someone I thought was courting me has got engaged to someone else.”
He straightened up and turned to her indignantly. “Bounder led you on?” he asked, bristling.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” she answered, a bit startled by his emphatic response. “I probably just deluded myself into thinking he was even interested in the first place. He was probably just being polite. And wondering what planet I came from,” she muttered under her breath.
“Really?” His lips quirked in amusement, and the dear fellow attempted to rouse a smile out of her. “Well, this is very exciting for me. I’ve never met a lady from another planet before.”
“Ha-ha,” she replied.
“Which one? You must tell me, for I’m something of an amateur astronomer. I even have a telescope. So tell me of your homeland. I do hope it’s Saturn. I love all those dramatic rings. I have a theory that they’re horseracing tracks. Am I right?”
She smiled at him. “Are you trying to cheer me up?”
He smiled back. “Is it working?”
She nodded with a slight blush.
“I really do have a telescope, though,” he informed her. “I find the sciences rather interesting.”
She looked at him in surprise. “So do I.”
“No, you don’t. You’re a girl.”
She arched a brow at him and shrugged. “Yes, but I’m an odd duck, you see, and something of a bluestocking. So I’m told.”
“A bluestocking who just got her heart broken, hmm?” he replied as he came down from the gazebo and began searching the next flower bed around the white lattice-clad foundations of the garden folly.
“I don’t know.” Trinny shook her head. “The truth is…I didn’t even like him very much. Maybe that’s why it stings.”
He stopped and looked at her. “Because you were willing to marry him if he had asked?”
She just looked at him, then bit her lip in guilty silence.
Lord Roland shuddered seemingly down to his bones at her answer.
Taken aback, Trinny felt her cheeks flood with heat at the genuine disapproval emanating from the bachelor at her willingness to marry a fellow she didn’t love.
She couldn’t believe it. A rakehell of his ilk, judging her? Of all the nerve!
“I have a duty to my family!” she informed him.
“Oh, I understand completely,” he replied. “I have a father who badgers me constantly about preserving the almighty family line. That doesn’t mean I give in to it. Miss…?”
“Lady Katrina Glendon,” she corrected with a smirk, annoyed. “As in, the eldest. I have a houseful of younger sisters who cannot marry until I get out of the way. But that is proving to be something of a problem.”
“Why?” he demanded, flicking a glance over her that was not unadmiring.
But she was too embarrassed to recognize the compliment and huffed at him. “Nosy, aren’t you? Humph. Why don’t you answer a question this time? Whose earring are we looking for?” she asked knowingly.
“Er,” he said.
“As I thought. So don’t send me your disapproval, sir. I know what goes on,” she said sagely, then continued looking.
The twist of his lips seemed to suggest he found her assurance of worldly wisdom terribly amusing. “Well, I’m sorry if I offended you with the question, Lady Katrina. It just seems strange, that’s all.” He glanced her over again, taking a closer look, almost rudely. “I’m something of an expert on the fair sex, and I don’t see anything particularly wrong with you. So what seems to be the problem?”
She looked over at him with another slight huff, still on her knees in the grass at the edge of the flower bed.
“What?” he asked.
“You’re very blunt, aren’t you?”
“Not usually. I feel bad you were crying.” He shrugged. “Just trying to help.”
“Why?” she asked in suspicion.
“Because you’re helping me—obviously!” he pointed out, nodding at the flower beds. “But as you wish! If you don’t wish to talk about it, I hardly care.” Despite his words, he clearly seemed miffed at her rejection of his offer of a willing ear.
Trinny looked at him in astonishment. God, he was more of an oddment than she was, him and his science jokes. Who’d have thought it? “Fine,” she said. “You really want to know?”
“Not really. I don’t care, as I told you.” He shrugged, but she knew better.
“Whenever I think a chap might like me—because sometimes, they actually almost do—I get so nervous I start bumbling like a nincompoop. I make bad jokes. I ask the same question twice in a row because I forget what they just told me. I say things that accidentally insult them, and somehow…” She sighed. “I ruin it every time.”
He was silent for a moment, hunting among the flower beds. “Well, there’s a simple explanation.”
“You undermine yourself unwittingly,” he said with a shrewd glance at her, “because it isn’t what you want.”
His low-toned observation struck her with the force of an arrow to the heart. Her defenses recoiled. “Oh, you think I do it on purpose?”
“Hit a nerve?” he asked softly.
“You think I like being lonely? You think it feels very good not having anybody want me? But, you… Look at you. How could you possibly understand that?”
“Because I do the same thing,” he replied.
She blinked. “You…undermine yourself? How?”
“Chase the wrong women. My father tells me so. But the truth is, I’m well aware. You want to know what I think?”
“I think you’re going to tell me either way,” she murmured.
He turned to her. “The problem isn’t us, Lady Katrina. The problem lie with this whole blasted business of marriage!”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, the whole thing’s insane, inn’t it?” he declared. “Who wants to end up locked in a cage with someone who despises you?” He scowled, pausing. “The earring we’re looking for belongs to someone in that situation. I would hate to see you end up like her. So take my advice—I’ll give it you because you seem like a nice girl. If there’s not a man out there who wants to make you happy, then make yourself happy, and let ’em all go hang.”
Her eyes widened slowly.
“That’s what I’d do, anyway,” he added.
When she finally recovered from her shock at his defiance, she couldn’t help but scoff. “Well, all that’s easy for you to say. You’re a man. Lack of marriage doesn’t mean social death for your kind. For us, it’s…” She made a slicing gesture across her throat.
His eyes twinkled as he gazed at her. “You are a quiz, aren’t you?”
“I told you.”
He grinned. “I kind of like it.”
She eyed him distrustfully as a fond, quiet laugh escaped him, then he kept looking.
Unsure what to make of her new friend, she continued poking among the pansies, hellebores, and all the way back to the tall foxglove, very much hoping that she didn’t accidentally touch a spider.
They fell silent as they searched.
Suddenly, right at the base of the gazebo, Trinny spotted something shimmering in the dirt. She carefully reached between the cool, succulent leaves of some daffodils, and her fingers closed around the sharp edges of the jewel.
“Found it!” With a beaming grin, she picked it up and brushed the soil off it, examining the earring. “Oh, that’s beautiful.”
“Yes,” he said softly.
“Here.” But when she turned to offer it to him, Lord Roland wasn’t looking at the sparkly diamonds.
He was staring right at her.
Trinny instantly felt self-conscious. “What? Did I say something daft? Because I didn’t even notice if I—”
“No.” He tilted his head, studying her intently and making no move to take the jewel.
She eyed him. “Uh, what’s wrong?”
He spoke abruptly. “My lady, I know you’re not interested in me, nor do I want you to be, but after all you’ve been through, I think there’s something you need to know…and something I’d like to do.”
“What’s that?” she asked, puzzled.
“This.” He took her chin between his thumb and finger, and gently tilted her face upward as he leaned down, lowering his head.
Trinny gasped just a little as his lips alighted on hers. She went very still, her heart pounding loud enough to be heard in the Midlands.
The light pressure of his warm, satin mouth became a caress, with the barest hint of a world of masterful skill beyond it.
Though brief, his gentle kiss left her dizzied on her knees beside him on the grass. When it ended, a long, dreamy second passed before she could open her eyes.
“Is this you chasing the wrong women again?” she breathed.
“No. This is me proving a point.”
She lifted her lashes and stared at him, slightly entranced. “What point is that?”
“Ah, you didn’t get it,” he whispered. “Let’s try that again.” This time, his arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her firmly against his lean, much larger body, and his kiss deepened, coaxing her lips apart.
The earring dropped from her grasp. If it was lost again, well, so was she. Astonishment, perhaps, kept her from protesting while his tongue swirled in her mouth, enthralling her, and a hundred realizations eddied through her mind.
So this is what a rake’s kiss tastes like. Liquor and danger and smoke, while the pleasant roughness of his day’s beard chafed against her chin.
Her hand slid up his chest to his shoulder, in search of something solid to cling to, for his embrace made her want to melt onto her back in the cool spring grass. She wasn’t even sure when she’d begun actively returning his kiss, seeking more of it, and trying things, instead of merely accepting its deep, luscious rhythm.
But then the other realization floated in. Hmm, so this is why young ladies aren’t left alone with rakehells.
Ack! What am I doing?
When her senses came back in a rush, she nearly threw her neck out, pulling back violently, the dangerous taste of him on her tongue, the scent of his cologne on her clothes.
“How dare you?” she panted in rather feigned, belated outrage.
He arched a brow, his eyes afire, chest heaving.
“I mean—what do you think you’re doing?” she demanded a little less emphatically.
“My dear young lady,” he ground out, “if you still didn’t get it, you’re not a quiz. You’re an idiot.”
To find out how they end up together after all, check out One Moonlit Night (Moonlight Square: A Prequel Novella).