Lizzie Tempest Ruins A Viscount (Felmont Brides Series Book 1)Maggie Jagger / History & Fiction / Romance & Love
LIZZIE TEMPEST RUINS A VISCOUNT
Copyright 2012 by Maggie Jagger
First published as Every Midnight, copyright 2007
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Lizzie Tempest owed the Beast nothing.
She glanced down the long drive to the gates. Unless the Felmont family had lied he was not due to return today, but that didn’t make her feel any safer. The family always lied.
Lizzie looked up at the mournful faces staring down at her from the windows of Felmont’s Folly and couldn’t resist waving to them, forcing them to abandon dignity and return her salute. Ever since she had imprisoned one of them for debt, the other members of the noble Felmont family had grown more careful of offending her.
Gravel crunched underfoot as she made her way around the carriage. The air smelled of freedom and of her Cleveland Bays snorting and fidgeting in their traces, eager to start their journey. Sunlight glistened on the golden stone of Felmont’s Folly as the great house rose out of the landscaped park painted golden by the dawn.
“Do get back in, Lizzie,” Aunt Tempest called from the safety of her seat inside the berline. “If the Felmonts see you walking about, they might all troop out to say their goodbyes again. If I have to suffer their slings and arrows one more time, I shall be glad my husband has cut them off without a penny.” Her voice faded into tremulous indignation. The lady had no wits to match against the Felmonts, who were masters of the veiled insult and the poisoned dart.
Lizzie gave a shudder. They were all conspiring against her. Even the two maids slowly searching the luggage for her aunt’s missing shawl. They all conspired to keep her at the Folly until the Beast returned to claim it for his own.
He did not come to claim her.
She had not forgotten the horrid words he had used the last time she’d seen him. “My dearest Lizzie, I don’t covet your money or your graceless manners. Consider yourself free from any engagement to me.” He had stared with mocking sadness at her body, then leaned closer to whisper, “You could not tempt me to matrimony, not even in my wildest dreams.”
Inside the great house the Felmonts waited for him, locked in verbal duels with each other. If they had been partial to pistols at dawn, the family would have died out long ago. The only thing they all agreed on was their need for her to marry one of them, to keep her fortune in the family.
Lizzie called, “I shall meet you at the gates, Aunt Tempest.”
“Don’t go by yourself!” Aunt Tempest cried, as if walking to the gates was perilous. “Wait until my shawl is found. Get in, Lizzie, I must insist.”
“Let me replace it, dear Aunt Tempest,” begged Lizzie. It was no use. She shrugged and laughed. “If you are not at the gates by the time I get there, I shall walk to Bath.”
“Fortune hunters will capture you long before you get to the village,” warned the irate lady.
Lizzie stepped resolutely onto the lawn. She had a dozen outriders waiting outside the gates to protect her.
The cool caress of wet grass felt like silk at her ankles. The sun played about her coal-scuttle bonnet and dark traveling dress. Anyone searching for the possessor of the Tempest fortune would never suspect her.
Inheriting her father’s fortune had been both a blessing and a curse. Life was full of blessings and curses. Her widowed mother marrying Viscount Felmont had truly been a curse, but the blessing was his gothic stone mansion.
The great house called as she skirted the edge of the lake. For one last time she turned to admire its golden beauty, to love its towers and turrets with all her heart.
She might even visit the Folly again, when the Beast was laid in his grave. Not that she wished him ill, but it was impossible to save any Felmont from debauchery. So many of them had died from that awful disease!
Her duty to the Felmont family was over, though she’d reinstate their pensions if she could. Even the new viscount would not be refused financial aid, if he approached her soberly. She hurried across the lawn towards the distant gates. If the new Viscount Felmont wanted to ask her for money or thank her for saving the Folly, she’d prefer it done by letter.
Not that she feared him now. How young and foolish she had been. Time had cured her of loathing the Beast. She had not thought of him much for many a year. She’d been too busy trying to keep emotions at bay, to not weep and feel each death so dreadfully.
Calling him Beast in her thoughts was wrong, a childhood habit, and not useful at all.
A quarter of a mile away the gates opened. Thunder rolled low in the distance.
Not thunder. Horsemen raced down the drive, their mounts lathered. She watched them tear up the lawn as they spread out and galloped towards the Folly. She could clearly see Lord Felmont riding in front of his wolf pack.
Her heart began a thunder of its own.
If he thought she lingered waiting for him, she meant to disabuse him of the notion. Lizzie drew a shaky breath, gathering her dignity against his arrogance, against his disdain for her.
Now was not the time to let childish fears surface. At almost twenty-two, she was long past girlish palpitations. Let him say his worst in that affected drawl the family used for their insults. Nothing he said or did could be worse than what she had heard and seen in the last few years.
And what was the point of her leaving the outriders outside the park, if he meant to ruin the drive and lawn with his pack of inebriated friends. Some of them could hardly stay in the saddle. No doubt the new Viscount Felmont couldn’t wait to begin his beastly debaucheries. Carriages full of whores likely followed him at a more sedate pace.
He dismounted and was momentarily lost to view in a noisy crowd of horses and men. His voice, a low rumble, drifted over the lawn. Raucous laughter greeted his words. He emerged near her berline to wrench open the door. Poor Aunt Tempest gave a cry of fright, which brought a cheer from Felmont’s drunken companions.
Drat the man! What had happened to his manners?
Aunt Tempest’s hand pointed in her direction from the carriage window.
Lizzie’s legs froze.
Lord Felmont turned towards her. One man hurried after him. She forced air into her lungs and waited for them to approach. She wasn’t afraid of him! Long gone were the days when she had struggled to not show her fear, or worse, faint at his feet. To her shame, she had done just that the day the Felmonts had celebrated her betrothal to him. Even her mother had found it vastly amusing, but those days were long gone.
He was hatless, an almost certain sign he was foxed. He moved with his odd loose-limbed grace, his long legs covering more ground than his companion. They left a silver trail in the morning dew coating the lawn.
Even the way Felmont walked towards her seemed insulting. She willed herself to be calm. He could only want to thank her for repairing the Folly.
He stopped. Close enough to touch.
His long dark brown hair had been bleached at the ends by a foreign sun, showing a strange reddish color, as if he had been singed in hell’s fire and spat out. Maybe Satan had no use for him either.
He had a handsome face if the Felmont likeness could be overlooked, not that Lizzie intended to try. It was said the Felmonts got their long noses and high cheekbones from the first Viscount Felmont’s gypsy wife, but then men always blamed women for everything.
She had always admired the Beast’s mouth, wide and finely sculpted. No one had ever admired the Felmont nose.
His skin ran tight around his jaw, which had not seen a razor this day. His deep blue eyes looked down the length of his long nose at her. No, not really at her. He looked around her, to the side of her, and for a moment he studied her wet hem. One side of his mouth drew down in a quirk of disgust.
She stared at him as if bored by the sight.
“Miss Tempest, I am sorry to see you have not managed to escape your fate.” His voice swirled around her like honey. She felt the sound of his words long before she made sense of them.
The breeze brought the scent of him to her nose. He had washed not long ago and changed his clothes. He smelled of soap from the Priory, as he always did. Of jasmine almost hidden by the low note of musk.
His hand reached out.
Lizzie retreated with dignity. She didn’t want to be touched by anyone.
He had obviously called at the Priory to fortify himself with brandy, a scent that made her take a further step away from him. Not that a drunken Felmont was anything new to her.
“Allow me to introduce my friend, Rackham.” He turned to the gentleman standing several yards away. “Miss Elizabeth Tempest, the woman who ruined me. The woman who has pretended to be engaged to me for these last six years so she could do as she pleased with the Folly.”
The slender man stopped dusting at his disheveled town attire. He removed his hat to wave a greeting as if he stood miles away. His fair hair fell over his forehead with boyish charm—he was obviously not a Felmont male.
Quentin Seraphim Dacey Felmont, the fifth Viscount Felmont, the Beast from the Priory and now the owner of Felmont’s Folly, smiled at her. He smiled at her like the Devil welcoming the damned and drawled in a soft voice, “My dear Lizzie, do I get a kiss of welcome? No? It is with great difficulty I hold myself back.”
Lizzie shook her head, unable to find her voice. She did not doubt his difficulty, all Felmonts lived to satisfy their wicked urges, and they died for their sins.
He lowered his head to whisper in her sensitive ear, “As you refuse my kiss, I have only to decide which to do next. Burn the house down and let you watch, or help you escape and then burn the house down.” He called to his friend, “Rax, how long do you think the Folly will burn?”
“Gracious, all day and night. Can’t detain a lady for so long,” Mr. Rackham said in an apologetic tone. “Or her horses, they are waiting, too. You had better let Miss Tempest go.”
She didn’t turn to thank him, not when the Beast held her mesmerized by his madness. Burn Felmont’s Folly? Burn it! He was evil and insane, maybe the disease already addled his brain. Unless he tormented her for devilment, and hadn’t he always done that! But she was not going to show him she cared about his threats.
“Be a gentleman, Rax,” the Beast chided. “A lady must be given a choice.”
In a soft rumble, he asked her, “What is it to be, Lizzie? Do you want to watch the house burn first or is it enough that you have ruined me?”
While she took a calming breath, Lizzie let his words dangle in the air between them. “I ruined you? How amusing.”
There was no use answering a madman with emotion and she had no intention of letting him upset her. She said in a suitably bored voice, “As for the house, burn it to the ground if you must. It is full of your relatives come to welcome you home. Why don’t you burn it down after they are safely out of it, and you are safely inside?”
Lizzie heard him give a low rumble of laughter. His obvious surprise at her words gave her a primitive satisfaction. The last time she had seen him, she would never have dared talk back to him. She had only managed to get one coherent sentence out of her mouth when faced with the Beast. Long ago, Lizzie had actually forbidden him to look at her face. By some strange quirk of his nature, he had never met her eyes since.
He stepped nearer. She stared at his chest while the brim of her bonnet grazed him well below his shoulder. Lizzie forced herself to look up at him. He towered over her, so close his boots touched either side of her feet.
Her heart thudded.
He snagged her waist with both hands to stay her retreat.
A gasp escaped against her will. He was so close that she could feel the heat from his body and almost taste the brandy on his breath.
His gaze drifted over her while she trembled in his grip. “Why didn’t you leave when your mother died?” he asked, in a voice that echoed down to her waist encircled by his hands. “You could have escaped me then.”
Lizzie couldn’t tell if he caressed her or if her shivering made it feel as if he did. Panic rose in her breast at his touch. “Release me! I won’t be held like a tavern wench.”
She raised her hand and slapped his looming face as hard as she could. “Let go!”
She struck him with such force her wrist pained her. Her fingers stung, grazed by the stubble on his jaw. She feared she had lost some of her skin.
How did women stand being kissed?
His lean cheek showed the mark of her fingers. He winced, she was sure of it. The Beast released her waist and reached to tug on the ends of the ribbons under her chin. His forearms brushed against her breasts. Lizzie could have sworn she felt fiery brimstone singe her sensitive flesh through all her clothes.
Her bonnet slid off and fell to the ground. He kicked it away with one slow deliberate slide against her leg.
She stepped backwards to break the disturbing contact and to allow him to attack her hat, if it amused him. She could afford to buy as many bonnets as she wanted.
He followed her, his mocking blue eyes studying her simple coiffure. “Why did you stay? Did I err when I broke our engagement, my love? Do you wish to be mine?”
Her body trembled, not quite under her control, but she managed to answer him calmly, “I have not lain awake languishing for you, Quentin Seraphim.”
He ran a hand through his hair in a gesture of amazement. This pleased her.
The first and only time she had ever called him by name, he had thrown her into the lake. He had fought every village boy who tried to taunt him with his name. They had been permitted to call him Dacey or Dace. Anything else he answered with violence.
He hated his name, Quentin Seraphim, because four baby boys had died at birth before him, so his mother had named him her fifth angel.
She should have called him Lucifer.
In a tone calculated to put the Beast in possession of the facts and bring him to his senses, Lizzie said, “The repairs to the façade were half finished when my stepfather died. To leave it like that was impossible. When your father inherited Felmont’s Folly, he didn’t have the funds to complete it. I did. None of this had anything to do with you.”
“Did you really think your banker uncles would allow you to squander your wealth without demanding their pound of flesh?” he asked. “My flesh!” He gave a half shrug. “They already own yours.”
He walked away, calling over his shoulder to his friend, “Let’s burn it, Rax. I cannot pay for it.”
Lizzie ran to bar his way.
The Beast swept her aside. She ran beside him, keeping out of reach.
“Let me explain, Beast.” She dared call him Beast to his face. It gave her courage. “I will sign any document swearing the debt is mine. I assure you, I can afford it.”
“But I cannot afford to pay you back and I’d rather burn in hellfire than marry a woman who hates me.” He took her hand to pull her towards the house, retracing the footsteps still visible on the lawn.
The heat from his fingers burned through to her bones. The strength with which he compelled her to go with him frightened her. She lashed out and tried to hit his shoulder, having no wish to lose more skin to his jaw. He leaped out of the way. A glancing blow struck him. To her surprise, he staggered. His face turned ashen under his tanned skin.
His recovery was slow, only her wrist caught in his grip kept him upright. At last, he rose to his full height to tower over her. His gaze settled on her ear. He drew her arm closer to hold her against his side. “Let me speed you on your way,” he rasped in a voice tight with pain. “Stay here, Lizzie, and we will both live our nightmares. Run as far as you can. It is your only hope.”
Lizzie pulled away to stop the Beast’s thigh from brushing hers. “Do you think I want to stay? Those are my Bays waiting for me. Let go!”
He dragged her closer. “Your banker uncles are the enemy, dearest Lizzie, not me. It is by their design that you are still here. They all plot against you. They want me to play the devil and force you to marry me, but I am giving you the chance to escape. Leave me to my fate, I am ruined.”
She couldn’t match his stride and had to run stumbling at his side. How did he manage to strip her of every ounce of dignity? How did he manage to return her to dithering childhood, when she had been so in awe of him, so fascinated yet repelled.
“Rax,” he called to his friend, “I must find a way to persuade the lady to leave. Do you suppose, if I insist on a kiss, that might do it?”
A yelp of surprise came from Mr. Rackham as he hurried along beside them. “Dace, let her go. She has gone white with fright at the idea.”
Lizzie twisted in the Beast’s grip. “Stop pulling me and stop threatening me!”
“What a picture of domestic bliss we’d make. She has tried to kill me, Rax, have some sympathy.”
Lizzie bit her lip. It was true. She’d been eight years old, determined to murder him before he had chance to drown her again. She’d offered the Beast poisonous toadstool tea. He’d had too much sense to drink it.
She stumbled over the edge of the lawn onto the drive. Where had all his friends gone? Why did the servants only stand and stare, didn’t they see the danger she faced?
He captured her flailing hand to hold both her wrists in one large fist. “Easy, Lizzie, I am trying to help you escape.”
Did he think she wanted to stay? He was devil and fool rolled into one!
“For heaven’s sake! Dace!” Mr. Rackham shouted until the Beast turned his head from his mocking contemplation of her unraveling hair. “Ask Miss Tempest to marry you. There is no point burning it down if she’ll have you. Lovely place. Breathtaking.”
“We discussed this, Rax.” The viscount had lost his drawl.
“Oh heavens, stop! Look at her face! She thinks you are going to commit violence on her person.”
“I never look at Miss Tempest’s face. She has forbidden me to do so. Besides, I have made it clear to Lizzie, I have no desire for her scrawny body. Never did have, never will. All I claim is a kiss.” He avoided her kick to his shins.
They reached the door of her carriage. He opened it with a flourish and gestured to her aunt to get out. Aunt Tempest fled. Clutching her reticule, she escaped up the stairs into Felmont’s Folly with undignified speed.
Lizzie called, “Aunt Tempest!”
The Beast pushed Lizzie towards the berline door. “The lady conspires against you. Flee while you have the chance. Alone!”
She turned and braced herself against the doorframe, almost managing to unman him with a well-aimed kick. She dared not let him enter with her for fear of what he’d do to her in private. Felmonts never stopped at a kiss.
He pried her hands free. One of her ankles twisted and scraped against the steps until he lifted her up, as if she weighed nothing, and carried her into the carriage.
Lizzie fought him.
Not able to stand upright, he held her pressed up against his chest with her arms pinioned behind her back.
“Let go! Beast!”
He leaned low to place her on the seat. “One kiss, Lizzie, then I’ll let you go.”
She kicked at him furiously. Before she had time to realize how she’d managed it, he’d gone. She’d kicked him out. She’d won!
She called to her coachman to hurry.
Her horses started and the carriage shot forward with a jolt. If he were the last man living, she’d never marry that rude, depraved Felmont Beast.