Self-made miss Aurora Calhoun has always possessed an uncommon amount of sense when it comes to men. However, within minutes of colliding with Lord Ramsden's carriage, she finds herself kissing the incorrigible rogue!
Crispin Ramsden feels restrained by the shackles of his unwanted inheritance. Especially when he is faced with a woman whose impetuous nature ignites a passion that is as uncontrollable as it is scandalous! Society is rocked by this outrageous couple. Can these two wild hearts find a place to belong?
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July 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Untamed Rogue, Scandalous Mistress by Bronwyn Scott
Early February 1835
Crispin Ramsden never saw it coming. One moment he was trotting peaceably down the dirt lane that led to the turn towards Dursley Park, savouring a countryside he hadn't seen in three years, and the next he was flat on his back, having been unceremoniously spilled from his stallion, who was even now rearing and flailing his dangerous hooves in reaction to whatever had spooked him.
Straining against the pull of a sore hip and buttocks that had taken the brunt of his fall, Crispin levered himself into an upright position to take in the scene. He saw the cause of the accident clearly: a tall, slender youth and his horse, an impressive-looking bay hunter that went at least sixteen hands. Even with a sore hip, Crispin noticed such things. The youth was standing in the road, managing to calm Crispin's highly strung stallion.
'Miraculous,' Crispin called out, hoisting himself to his feet carefully. He'd only ever met a handful of people who could handle Sheikh.
'That's what I was going to say about you.' The youth turned from the horse and faced Crispin, hands on hips, and Crispin realised his mistake. It was no youth who'd calmed his horse, but very clearly a woman; a woman with long athletic legs shown off to advantage in riding breeches that did nothing to disguise the delicious curve of her rear-end and high breasts that rose and fell provocatively beneath a man's cut-down white shirt.
'Miraculous? I can be.' Crispin sauntered towards Sheikh, doing his level best to not limp, wince or otherwise indicate the fall had left him in need of a hot soaking bath. This woman didn't appear to be the type to appreciate infirmities or she would have run straight over to him first and seen to the horse second. He reached out a hand and stroked Sheikh's quivering flank.
At this close proximity he could make out the long braid of dark hair tucked down the back of her shirt. In fact, it was quite amazing he'd mistaken her for a young man at all.
She shot him a hard look with eyes the colour of summer grass, a deep verdant green. 'I meant it was miraculous you didn't hear me shout when I entered the roadway. I called out twice to warn you of my presence. You had plenty of time to get out of the way. What were you thinking?' she snapped.
He'd been thinking how nice it would be to get home, to see his brother, Peyton, to see his twin nephews, who had been born two years ago, and the new baby, who had arrived a month early in January. He'd been thinking about settling the inheritance that had finally compelled him to stop making excuses and come back to the Cotswolds.
His attention might have been errant in regards to his surroundings, but Crispin Ramsden didn't like being taken to task by anyone and certainly not by a black-haired virago dressed in men's clothing a mile from his home.
Crispin folded his arms over his chest and faced her squarely. 'The better question is--what were you thinking? You're the one racing a horse into a country lane out of nowhere. In case you haven't noticed, this is a public thoroughfare. Any number of people or conveyances could have been on this road and you would have bowled right into them.'
'How dare you impugn my abilities as a horsewoman,' she shot back, boldly stepping forwards so that now they stood toe-to-toe, her dusty riding boot touching his. It was hard to tell whose was dirtier. 'You have no right to pass judgement on my skills when you were as absentminded as the vicar's grandmother. You could have ruined that fine animal of yours.'
Not only were they toe-to-toe, they were nearly nose to nose, give or take a few inches on her side, Crispin observed. He appreciated the benefits of her height. Being a tall man himself, he'd always had a preference for taller women--better compatibility when it came to dancing, which he abhorred, and bed sport, which he liked quite a lot.
He knew he should at least feign attention to the dressing down she was giving him, whoever the hell she was, but it was deuced awkward to concentrate when his mind was giving her a dressing down of another sort. Who could blame him when those luscious breasts heaved with indignation mere inches from his chest? When those grass-green eyes of hers flared with passion for her subject? It was rather difficult not to imagine how those eyes might fire with another sort of passion that had nothing at all to do with horses and everything to do with those long legs wrapped about his waist, locked in the throes of ecstasy, and those inky tresses spilled across a pillow, free from their confining braid.
He had himself thoroughly aroused by the time she drew a deep breath and brought her scolding tirade to an abrupt halt. 'Whatever are you thinking now?' she demanded, obviously alert to the fact that his thoughts had wandered from her lecture.
'This.' Crispin moved quickly. Their closeness made it no great matter to slide his hand behind her neck, to cup the back of her head through the layers of her thick hair, and draw her the short distance to his body. He took her lips in an open-mouthed kiss that tempted and tested.
She was more than up to the challenge, responding with a fierceness that rocked Crispin to his core. Her tongue tangled with his, she sucked hard on his lower lip, grazing the tender skin with her sharp teeth. At length, she pulled back, a knowing smile on her lips. 'Well, I suppose we can all be thankful for small miracles.'
'What would that be?' Crispin gave a wolfish smile. This was more like it. Women were usually impressed with his kisses. He stepped forwards, ready to claim more.
She stepped backwards towards her mount. 'At least you kiss better than you ride.'
Small miracles indeed! Crispin was still fuming over the encounter by the time he arrived in the drive of Dursley Park. She'd pricked his pride and ridden off without a backwards glance. She could not know, of course, that he took great pride in his horsemanship. It was the one thing he did better than anyone he knew and he knew many fine equestrians.
Her blind arrow had hit the mark perhaps more intensely than she'd meant. Crispin would love nothing more than to find the minx and show her just how wrong she was. However, he was grateful that his stinging pride had given his body something else to focus on the last mile home. It wouldn't do to show up at Dursley Park after a three-year absence with a painfully obvious erection straining his trousers and no good explanation for it.
Crispin jumped down from Sheikh and tossed the reins to a groom who'd come running from the stables the moment he'd been sighted. He mounted the wide steps to the front door, taking a moment at the top to survey the park spread out around him. The place looked the same as it always had: the lawns neatly manicured, the hedges that bordered the gardens impeccably trimmed, flowers blooming when and where they should. He chuckled to himself. Even nature in late winter obeyed Peyton and Dursley Park was clearly Peyton's domain; well-ordered and peaceful.
There was comfort in the knowledge that such a place as this existed in a chaotic world. But that comfort came with a price Crispin knew all too well: boredom. Just as he embraced the comfort of Dursley Park at the moment, he already knew two or three months from now he'd be chafing to get away.
His knock was answered by the butler who immediately ushered him in and went to inform Peyton. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. If he knew Peyton, he'd be in his study. Like the clockwork Crispin had bet on, Peyton emerged from the study ahead of the butler. His brother crossed the entry in three long strides and surprisingly pulled him into a firm embrace.
That was new.
Crispin could not recall the last time Peyton had hugged him and this definitely qualified as a hug, not a mere embrace done simply to make a show of expected, scripted affection.
'Crispin!' Peyton said at last, stepping back, his hands still gripping Crispin's forearms as if he were reluctant to let him go. 'Why didn't you tell us you were coming?'
'I didn't know I was coming until I got here,' Crispin said truthfully. He'd thought to come home so many times in the past three years. He'd even mentioned returning in a few of his letters, but then he never had. Something had always come up; some new adventure claimed his attention and he put off returning yet again. After a while, he stopped making any mention of coming home for fear of letting everyone down when he failed to appear.
Peyton nodded, perhaps understanding him as well as anybody did. 'It doesn't matter. You're here now. Tessa will be glad to see you and you have to meet the boys.'
With uncharacteristic informality, Peyton led him to the nursery on the third floor, the noise from which would have made it easy to locate even without a guide.
On the floor in the centre of a large, braided rug, two identical-twin boys wrestled and yelled in their excitement. Not far from them, Tessa sat in a rocking chair, holding a blue-blanketed bundle and watching the boys' antics, good-naturedly putting up with their noise.
'Tess, look who's stopped by,' Peyton called over the racket. 'Boys, come meet your Uncle Crispin. Crispin, this is Nicholas and Alexander.'
Two little dark-haired boys bounded over to them with no trace of shyness, two sets of piercing blue eyes looking up at him in curiosity. The boys were Ramsdens through and through. There was no mistaking the trademark dark hair and the blue eyes for anything less. Crispin dropped down to his haunches and met the boys at eye level. 'Want to see a trick?' The boys' heads nodded vigorously. Crispin made a show of flexing his hands and then slid one hand over the other to create the age-old illusion of his thumb separating from his hand. The boys' eyes grew large and they howled with laughter. Crispin ruffled their hair and stood up. 'They're Ramsdens all right.' He smiled at Peyton.
'Here's the newest one.' Tessa joined them, proudly holding up the blanket bundle to reveal another baby boy bearing the same genetic imprint, this one named Christopher and as healthy looking as the others in spite of his early birth. Crispin laughed and slapped his brother on the back. 'Three boys! It's you, me and Paine all over again. Probably serves you right, you old devil,' he teased, but he could see the obvious pride and love in his brother's face.
'I'll have tea set up downstairs,' Tessa said once the initial excitement of Crispin's arrival passed. She handed the baby to the nurse and shepherded the boys into a quieter activity.
In the drawing room, Crispin studied Peyton while Tessa made general small talk and poured out the tea. Peyton appeared the same as always: tall, fit, in prime health. But if he looked closer, Crispin could see subtle signs of change. His brother's Ramsden-dark hair showed brief signs of silver at the temples. Tiny lines faintly etched the corners of his blue eyes and the brackets of his mouth.
Very small variations on the usual theme, to be sure. He shouldn't be surprised. Peyton would have turned forty-one last August. Forty-one wasn't so terribly old. All in all, Peyton was ageing wonderfully, but Crispin still hated to think of Peyton as getting old simply because it meant he was getting older too. If Peyton was nearing forty-two, that made him thirty-eight and far closer to forty than he'd care to be.
Tessa passed him a teacup. 'Do you still take it plain without sugar?'
'Yes.' Crispin took the teacup, thinking how delicate, how fragile it was. He'd not drunk from such a frail vessel since he'd left home. Dainty teacups were not practical in the places he'd been.
'So you're home to settle the inheritance,' Peyton remarked, referring to the property a few miles away that Crispin had inherited from an aunt on their mother's side. Peyton took a teacup from Tessa. 'The manor is in great shape. I've been over several times to keep an eye on things, but the steward is doing an outstanding job. He's a younger fellow, highly capable and eminently trustworthy. I think you'll be pleased, Crispin. The stables are in prime condition; lots of light and big stalls. There are not any horses there at present, of course.' He smiled knowingly over the rim of his cup, taking a sip.
Crispin shifted slightly in his chair. He'd had months--a year really if anyone was counting--to mentally come to grips with his inheritance. It wasn't that he was ungrateful. Second sons rarely had anything to call their own if there wasn't some kind of settlement from the maternal side of the family. But after all this time, he still hadn't reconciled himself to the notion that he was a landowner with all the responsibilities therein. He'd already decided it would be better to sell the property. A wanderer like himself had no business owning land he had no intention of supervising.
'I'm not sure I'll be keeping the estate.' Crispin steeled himself for a cold scolding from Peyton. Peyton would think him most ungrateful.
Peyton merely raised a quizzical eyebrow. 'Perhaps you'll have a better idea of what you'd like to do after you've seen it. Woodbrook is an attractive piece of property for those who are horse-minded. Regardless of what you decide to do, there are a few papers that need your signature and some other minor points in the will to settle.'
'We can ride over tomorrow and take a look at things,' Crispin offered by way of a subtle apology. The least he could do was go look at the property. Peyton was no doubt disappointed he'd not immediately declared his intentions to set up a home and embark on establishing a superior stable. Such a goal had long been Crispin's dream in childhood, but these days, he had little desire to be tied down in the way such an enterprise would demand.
'Woodbrook is a bit too far for me to stable my horse there on a daily basis, I was wondering if I could put up my stallion in your stables, Peyton?' Crispin shifted to a safer topic.
'Of course, if we had room. However, we're full up just now for any long-term boarding,' Peyton said regretfully. 'But I'm sure we can think of something.'