Read Caressed by Moonlight Online

Authors: Amanda J. Greene

Caressed by Moonlight

“Dorian.”

Her voice brushed chills down his spine. He was afraid to turn around, to look upon her. His muscles clenched as he stood perfectly still.

“Yes?” he asked, his throat dry. His cold heart tightened as he listened to her cross the floor. She stood behind him, he could feel her, smell her, taste her. She placed a warm, small, thin hand on his shoulder and he shuddered.

Victoria came up to her tiptoes; leaned against his hard back, and lightly whispered, “Make love to me.”

A tremor of excitement and pure happiness shook him as he turned. Dorian took her lips in a ferocious kiss that snatched her breath away and left her helpless. She fell against him, her limbs liquid. He did not need to be asked twice and he was not about to give her the chance to change her mind. He could not possibly wait any longer. He needed her. Now.

Caressed

by

Moonlight

Amanda J. Greene

Publisher Amanda J. Greene

Copyright © 2010 by Amanda J. Greene All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be transmitted or reproduced by any means.

Cover art by Nadine Wiebe.

Edited by Danielle Donaldson and Rebecca Grimmius
www.amandajgreene.com

ISBN 978-0-578-06400-0

For my mother, Wendi Greene, who has always given me courage, strength, and love. You are the best mother a woman could have.

Acknowledgments

I must applaud Nadine Wiebe for designing a fantastic cover for this book.

Thank you, Rebecca Grimmius for all the years, months, weeks, days, and hours she spent helping me with this project.

I also need to thank Danielle Donaldson for me editing my work.

Thank you, Robert. You always had faith in me, even when I didn’t have faith in myself.

Chapter One

1814, England

Starvation gnawed at their bellies. They had not eaten in almost two days and their aunt sat at her over decorated dining table taking bite after bite of the delicious spread set before her.

“Right this way,” the butler said leading the two girls from the foyer and into the drawing room. He closed the doors behind him. Victoria was thankful. She did not wish to watch her glutinous aunt gorge herself as she and little Margaret's tummies rumbled.

“I'm scared Tory. Are you scared?”

Scared? Their mother had just passed away and their father had committed suicide soon after, leaving them all alone. Victoria had been forced to sell everything she owned including, the house that had been in her family for generations, to pay her father's debts. Knowing that she would not be able to support her sister, they had no choice but to move to London where their only living relative resided. Aunt Nelly was a hateful woman and Victoria had no doubt that she would try to take her sister from her. Scared?

Scared was not a fitting word, terrified seemed to match her emotions perfectly. But she managed to bring a smile to her lips for her sister's sake. She would not allow Margaret to see her worry.

The poor girl needed comfort.

“Scared? We have nothing to be scared of.”

“Aunt Nelly never liked mother,” Margaret stated, her eyes down cast and focused on the Persian rug. Her fingers gripped the wooden arms of her chair tightly.

Victoria's heart ached for her little sister. The girl had been the one to discover their father's body in his study. She had screamed and ran through the house hysterically, then locked herself in her room. For two days she refused to see anyone or eat a morsel and now, three weeks later, she was beginning to speak again.

“And,” Margaret paused, shuffling her feet nervously, “she doesn't like you very much.”

Nelly had no warm feelings toward her and she had loathed their mother. She had accused their mother of stealing her brother's life by becoming with child.

“Do you think she will turn us out?”

Victoria turned to the large windows. Thick gray clouds hovered ominously over the city, threatening to unleash a fury of rain.

“No my dear, she won't,” she said, her breath fogging the cold glass. “Everything will be all right. You'll see.” She prayed with all her might that it would be for Margaret's sake.

Victoria leaned against the glass, lightning flashed; thunder shook the window and rain began to pour. The Kingston girls anxiously waited, the rumbling of their hungry tummies sliced through the thick silence that filled the dark room while Aunt Nelly finished her extravagant meal. Victoria took deep steady breaths as she mentally prepared herself for a verbal attack.

The girls did not have to wait long. Aunt Nelly swept into the drawing room with a cool wind following her, Victoria shivered. She turned and met Nelly's brown beady eyes; the battle was about to begin. The old woman's thick lips were puckered and her brow was wrinkled in an ugly frown. Margaret stood and timidly straightened her dress.

“Stop fidgeting,” Nelly snapped. “And stand up straight.

You’re a young lady, not an urchin from the streets.”

Margaret nodded her head meekly. Victoria came to stand by her sister and placed a comforting hand on the girl's slender shoulder.

“Don't coddle her,” the old bitter woman snarled. “She needs to toughen up. The world is harsh and she should learn to face it.”

“She knows all too well the cruelties of the world. For the last four months she has watched her mother slowly die from sickness. As if that were not torture enough, she found her father's body.”

“Don't pity her. She must grow up. She is not a child.”

“She is only eight years old,” Victoria argued.

“I do not enjoy being talked back to, it is insulting,” she said harshly, stomping her foot, her face the brightest of reds.

2

Margaret hugged her sister's arm, her tiny nails digging into her flesh. Victoria wiggled her fingers while the tingling from loss of circulation began to settle in.

“Margaret, I would like to get you settled in. Follow the nice maid to your room. I need to speak with your sister alone.”

The maid ripped Margaret away from Victoria and dragged her out of the room and up the stairs. Victoria watched, her anger simmering. Aunt Nelly sat in Margaret’s vacant chair and fixed her evil eyes on her oldest niece.

“You look exactly like your mother,” she spat.

Men and women alike had praised her mother's beauty and Victoria had loved to be compared to her, but Aunt Nelly had loathed her sister-in-law and her good looks. Therefore, compliment was no compliment at all, but a grave insult.

“I am aware that your father, my beloved brother, has left Margaret in your care. However, you are unsuitable to support the child and you can't deny it. We both know you haven't got a penny to your name after paying all his debt. So, I am willing to take her off your hands.”

Victoria grew tense as her aunt slowly studied her form.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two,” she answered a bit hesitant.

“Yes,” Nelly said thoughtfully. “You are defiantly old enough to marry.”

“Marry?” she said, shock shot down her spin and made her toes tingle.

“Indeed,” she nodded. “I'm going to be perfectly honest, I don't want you here. You resemble your mother too much and I have no desire to be constantly reminded of the
bitch
that stole my brother. So, this is what I propose,” she paused in thought. Victoria held her breath waiting for her damnation. “I will allow you to live here, in
my
home, for one month and at the end of the month you must leave. I care not where you go.”

“What of Margaret?” Victoria demanded.

“She will stay here with me. She was not a child conceived in sin.”

Victoria ignored the jab and asked with the most level of tones, “Will I be able to see her?”

“On one condition,” Nelly said holding up a chubby finger.

“You must be married.”

3

Victoria sank to the seat behind her, breathless and light headed. There it was, Nelly's dagger.

“You see,” Nelly continued. “I would love if you would leave tomorrow but it would be nearly impossible to find a suitable husband in one day. So I have decided to give you a month to find yourself a man.”

“If I don't marry I won't be allowed to see Margaret.” Her aunt was trying to separate her from her sister. This was what Victoria had feared the most. She had hoped with all her heart that Nelly would not be so cruel, but she had known better. She had given Victoria a task to perform, knowing the likelihood of her failure.

“Of course not. No niece of mine will associate with the poor. You must marry. I will not tolerate you being a disgrace to the family name.”

Victoria bit her tongue so hard she thought it might bleed.

If anyone had been a disgrace to the family it was Nelly, she repelled all good society and had never married. No man would want such a cruel woman for a wife. Victoria was convinced Nelly’s lack of friends and suitors was due to her wickedness.

“Stop grinding your teeth, it is a horrible habit.”

“And one that I intend to keep.”

Nelly glared at her with her shrewd eyes. She knew her proposal was ludicrous but she did not care. She had wanted the girl gone and out of her house. Victoria would fail, she knew, and that brought a crooked smile to her lips. She was doing this for her own enjoyment, but it was also in Margaret's best interest. Nelly would make sure that her youngest niece would not be plagued by the shadow of her bastard sister.

“Well,” Nelly sighed as she stood. “I'm off to bed and I suggest that you do the same, no man wants a wife with dark bags under her eyes.”

Victoria sat alone in the drawing room. The storm still raged outside, the branches scratched at the windows, and the wind howled.

She had to marry.

It sounded so simple but it was near to impossible. She had no money, no land, and nothing to bring to a marriage. She was much older than the other women who would be enjoying the season. She had no gowns and even if she did possess fine clothing she would not have an occasion to wear them to. She was on no one's guest list for balls or parties or picnics.

4

Her childhood friend, Lana, could possibly help her. She would know what to do. She would know how to hunt for a suitable husband. Victoria nodded in decision; she would call on her friend in the morning.

“So

be

it.”

Victoria pushed her worries aside and went in search of Margaret's room. She mounted the stairs and pushed open the first door she came to. Margaret sat before a vanity, brushing her hair.

She smiled at the cute scene and crossed the room.

The young girl sat the brush down and spun around in a fury.

“That maid was not nice like Aunt Nelly said. She was mean,” she declared.

“Mean?” Victoria asked laughingly.

“Yes, she made me take a bath and scrubbed me so hard that I turned red.” Margaret pushed back the sleeves of her nightgown and held out her arms. “See?”

“She just wanted you to be clean.”

“Mother wanted me to be clean too but she never scrubbed until my skin turned red,” Margaret protested.

“No, but you hadn't bathed in days and I'm sure that you were covered in dirt from the ride here,” Victoria added. “But it doesn't matter, you are clean and you smell very nice.”

Margaret nodded and threw her arms around her sister's waist.

“I don't want to stay here, Tory,” she said. “Aunt Nelly is a mean old hag and that maid–”

“Everything will work out. Now it's time for bed.”

Victoria gathered Margaret in her arms and carried her to the large bed that swallowed her tiny frame. She lay beside her and Margaret curled up into a ball wrapping the blankets tightly about herself. Victoria sang softly the song their mother would sing every night before tucking her youngest in bed. Once Margaret was asleep she placed a soft kiss on her brow and moved to the chair before the fireplace.

She had lived in the country all her life and had only ventured out into the world when her mother had taken her on a tour of the continent for her sixteenth birthday. Hating the city and the gossip mongers who lived there, her parents refused to allow her to have a coming out season. She had attended a few parties and picnics back home but they were nothing like what she would
5

experience here. There would be more people watching her, criticizing her behavior, and gossiping about her parent’s hasty marriage all those years ago. Now they would be spreading rumors of their deaths.

Sighing, she rested her head against the back of the stuffed chair and let the warmth of the fire wash over her.

“This is not going to be easy,” she whispered to the flames.

Her whole future happiness rested on the out come of this very month.

6

Chapter Two

“You what?”

“I must find a husband by the end of the month,” Victoria said before taking a sip of the dark, delicious tea.

“Why?” Lana asked.

“It is rather complicated.”

“Complicated?”

Victoria took a deep breath. She did not want to show her nervousness to Lana. “Yes, you see, my aunt is going to toss me to the streets if I don't marry by the end of the month.”

“Oh,” Lana said in understanding. “Well you needn't worry about that, you can come live here. I'm sure that my parents would be glad to have you.”

“No, you don't understand. I must marry in order to see Margaret. Aunt Nelly has made it clear that if I don't wed I will never see my sister again.”

“Oh dear,” Lana sighed. “But one month isn't much time.

How can you possibly get to know someone well enough to marry within a month?”

“I don’t have time for a normal courtship and I am prepared to propose, if I must. Will you help me?”

“Of course I will help you. I just don't like these circumstances. A wedding should be something beautiful not a necessity.”

“I don’t like it either, but I don’t have a choice.”

On the thin side, Lana was fetching, with her soft blond hair and blue eyes. It was odd that she had yet to find a husband, but her family had never pressed the matter. Victoria longed to be in Lana’s position right now. Victoria had enjoyed every freedom there was when her parents were alive, but now her aunt was forcing her to marry. She only hoped that the man would be understanding and not oppressive.

“This is so unsavory. How can someone hate their own flesh and blood so much?” Lana said with disgust. Taking up her own cup of tea for the first time since Victoria sat down, Lana insisted, “You must accompany me to the balls this season.”

7

“I have no gowns, Lana. I have no money or dowry. Who will want me? I pale in comparison to the other women. This is going to be very difficult, if not impossible.”

“Difficult? Impossible? Tory, you will have men coming at you from all sides, money won't matter to them. As for gowns, I have old ones that we can tailor to fit your form and modify to match the trends of the season. It will be simple. Don’t you worry about it,” Lana smiled. “We will find a man to shackle you to.”

“Thank you Lana, I don't know what I would do without you.”

“I'm sure you would have managed without my help.”

“Do you think that I’ll have a problem because of my age?

I am twenty-two after all.”

“You are hardly a spinster, Tory,” Lana laughed.

“A lot of the other women are younger.”

“You are much more beautiful than those other women.

They don't stand a chance against you.” Lana squeezed Victoria's hand. “I always wished you and I would marry for love.”

“Most marriages are loveless,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Lana paused in thought, then with a smile and a chuckle she added, “You could always keep a lover.”

Victoria laughed, spilling a little of her tea on the great patio of the Richmond mansion. She could not remember the last time she had a good laugh. For some time she thought she would never laugh again. Her mother had lain dying for months and with the sudden loss of her father she was sure she would never find happiness again.

“The Allen's are having a ball this evening. It will be perfect for your first appearance.” Lana studied her. “Green would be an excellent color for your gown. I think I have an emerald one that will match your eyes perfectly. My aunt gave it to me as a gift last year, but it looks horrible on me.”

“I doubt that.”

Lana shook her head.

“Let's just say I don't have the bust for it, but we will deal with the dress later. Right now, we should focus on men. London is stocked with distinguished gentlemen. I'll make a list of the most eligible and worthy bachelors. Now, Victoria, I must warn you, London men are not like those nice boys out in the country. They are crude, ruthless, and will take advantage of you the first chance they get. Whatever you do, don't let your guard down.”

8

“Yes, I can’t afford a scandal. But I have been to the continent,
Lana. I spent four months in various countries surrounded by strange and randy men. I think I can hold my own.”

Lana nodded her head in agreement. She had spent a little time in France and she knew how forward some of those men could be. She sat back in her chair, bringing the rim of her cup to her lips. “Let me think. Whom could we match you with?” She took a sip and then another, her eyes focused off into the distance as she thought.

“Lord Albert is a great man. He’s about forty and is quite handsome for his age. He has a bit of wealth, but he’s never been married. He’s the old bachelor type but with your looks and figure we could get him to change his mind.”

“I don’t want to force myself on anyone,” Victoria said with a light laugh.

“Lord Rogers is suitable and wealthy. He’s very polite.

There is also Sir Wendell, who is a widower with three children.

You don’t mind children right?”

“I love children. I may even like to have a few of my own some day.”

“Sir Wendell is a sweet man.” Lana continued with her list,

“Baron Fraser would make a good match for you and Sir Millings.

Oh, and Lord Shillmend and Mr. Tavis. Yes, all of them will do,”

Lana nodded, pleased with herself. “They are all very nice and pleasant to the eye.”

“That is a plus.”

“However, I think I will have Ben investigate them.”

“Don't be dragging your brother into this.”

“He can help us quite a bit. All these men seem perfect and respectable, but he could get to know their true nature. Most of the men in London like to attend Willows.”

“Willows?”

“I'm not quite sure what to call it. Men go there to drink, gamble, and talk. It's a meetinghouse of sorts, a notorious dark place that’s only open at night. Men are more likely to act like their true selves when they are in privately.”

“Does Ben go to Willows?”

“Occasionally, he is married now, you know?”

“No, you never told me, tell him congratulations.”

“Do you understand what I am saying though?” Lana said.

9

“Yes and it is a brilliant idea, I just don't want to trouble your brother.”

“It is no trouble. You are like a second sister to him. I'm sure he will be more than happy to help.”

“Thank you,” Victoria sighed, her shoulders slumped in relief.

“I'm so glad that I can help. Don't worry about a thing. I will find you the best husband there is.”

It was nice of Lana to say that she would not have to worry, but how could she not? Victoria had only a month to find a husband. Why hadn't her father pressed her to marry? Why had he given her so much freedom? In truth a woman Victoria’s age should be wed, not hunting like a lioness for unsuspecting prey.

10

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